Saturday, April 6, 2019

It's been a minute


Let's see, what have I been  up to? 

I'll try to make it as quick as possible. I feel like we haven't had much downtime lately, and that trend will likely continue in the near future. Last year, we stayed close-ish to home; at least staying within the United States. We did end up getting TSA PreCheck, which has been AMAZING. After I almost missed a flight out to my Staff Forum last October, we decided to sign up. It has been awesome! In hindsight, I do wish that we would have signed up for Global Entry instead, since we do a fair amount of international travel, but TSA PreCheck helps a lot for domestic travel. 

First, we spent Thanksgiving in Arizona with Colleen and her (err, our?? it's complicated..) family and took some fun photos in the wash for our Christmas cards



Me and sis with matching shirts

We had an amazing time with Colleen and her family. It was also nice to have some extra help with Mark.

We returned home for about ten days before leaving again for a wedding in Florida. The grounds, wedding, and reception were beautiful, however, as you can read about in the link, the caterer left much to be desired! Fortunately we had eaten before we went, since we had a feeling that we might be hungry. Other guests weren't so lucky!

Jay, me, Silvia & Brian at Villa Toscana in Homestead, FL

Despite the wedding debacles, we had an awesome time catching up with friends and making some new ones as well.

After the festivities were over, Jay and I headed south to Marathon for a few days to celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary. We didn't like the traditional anniversary gift for this year, so we decided to gift each other with experiences. My gift to Jay/us was a sailing lesson. Jay's gift to me/us was a package of private dance lessons with Dancing on the Shore. It was hard to fit them in, but we enjoyed the refresher. We're hoping to get back into some ballroom dancing!

Oh Captain my Captain


This was the view from the front of our beachfront apartment in Marathon. We stayed at Tranquility Bay in Marathon, and I can't recommend it enough. The entire experience was perfect and we hope to return with Mark in the next few years. After our last trip to Key West, we wanted a place that was a bit more low-key - still a place where you could go have a few drinks, but not such a crazy party atmosphere. We'll be back to Key West of course, but the middle keys seem to be more our speed these days. We also went diving in Key Largo, but that photo didn't download for whatever reason.

Obligatory Santa photo

This is my most favorite Santa ever, he's at the Salisbury Mall - this is the second time we've gone to him. He's fantastic.


Quick trip to New York

We made a quick trip to New York the weekend after Christmas to visit Jay's family. His dad was in the hospital, so we got to see him as well. This is one of the few photos where almost everyone is together in the last few years.

This is from early in the night of my company outing

For the second year in a row upon hitting our special number at work, my boss has rented a limo to take us out with our spouses/guest to Ruth's Chris in Annapolis. This year was quite the debacle and probably left a few people scarred. We had a great time though!


Ocean World in Puerto Plata

In February, we returned to Lifestyles Holiday Vacation Club in Puerto Plata for the first time since having Mark. They suckered convinced us to upgrade our timeshare to the Villa level, which is what we've always wanted. We've tried to book the villas before with our plain old vanilla Studio level without success. But now we can finally book the villa. It's obvious that they are continuing to upgrade and update the resort, and the actual city is looking better than it has in previous times, so I know that the company is improving life for their employees and continuously looking to update their properties. So we will be trying to get to the resort at least once every year or two so that we can take advantage of our membership.

 Outback Beach Safari in Puerto Plata

 My favorite beach at the resort - Serenity Beach

Mark with a new friend and a hermit crab friend in Puerto Plata

This is what happens when you can't reach the dog food at the bottom.

Shortly after this photo was taken, someone tipped out of the dog food container, which broke.

 Mark with his second (errr, third??) cousin & Jay's Goddaughter - "Baby Spatula"

I've always wanted to donate my hair - especially before I start to get too much grey in it. I noticed that my hair had been kind of gross, limp, and I was starting to get a lot of split ends. I have also been starting to find more and more grey hair. I decided that this is the time and cut it off. I donated about 10 inches of hair to Children with Hair Loss

Before

After - feels so light!


Other news -- after slowly grinding at the Beachbody thing for a while, I started getting discouraged and a little frustrated. I was never big on the whole MLM kind of thing, and messaging people to join my challenge groups, pushing Shakeology, etc, just felt fake to me. It was taking up a lot of time and I slowly realized that I had NO training or business really to be suggesting this crap to people. I was suggesting fitness programs to acquaintances and people who I hadn't evaluated, not to mention I'm not a medical professional. Yes, I love the programs and they work, but it didn't feel scientifically sound to me. 

So I sent a message to a friend who is a Certified Personal Trainer to get her take on whether I should get a personal training certification or a nutrition certification and she said BE CAREFUL about the nutritionist certification, because really only REGISTERED DIETITIONS can prescribe meal plans and that kind of thing. WHAAAAT?? Then WTF is Beachbody doing?? Makes me wonder if this whole coaching thing borders on being against the law with some of the stuff.

At any rate, I decided to up my game and become a Personal Trainer. You know, with all of my spare time. LOL. I'm not going to do too much with it probably - just do in-home training with a few people here and there, but I wanted something else to hold myself accountable.

For travel this year, I got an AMAZING airfare deal from DC to Brisbane for about $800 roundtrip (thanks to nextvacay.com, so I am actually heading out to visit my aunt next month, but just for a week. After that trip, we have no big plans this summer, then probably a long weekend trip to Idaho for my cousin's wedding, a bucket list trip to Oktoberfest in Munich, then 4 days in Prague (all with a group of about 24 friends). I come back for a few weeks and then I'll be at my company's Staff Forum in San Antonio, where I think I will be presenting some stuff. 

SOOO there's a lot going on this year! I'm tired just thinking of it.



In MUCH sadder news, my baby boy Draco had to be put to sleep two weeks ago. I was absolutely devastated and am still pretty sad about it. He was an amazing cat and I am really going to miss him. He was older and definitely in ailing health. I wasn't a fan of him pooping outside the litterbox and tracking litter everywhere, but I really thought that we had another few years left with him.

Piper is a bit more skittish without him around. I'm not sure how much she misses him, or if she's happy to be the only cat right now, but I think she wants another friend. I do really want another cat and I'm hoping that Jay will warm up to the idea. When I got Draco, what I really wanted was a Maine Coon. I chose him because he was allegedly a MC mix. He definitely had a lot of the same traits, like the chirping that he used to do at birds, and he loved to play in the water. 

Anyway, if I can convince Jay that we need a Maine Coon, I am looking at these two breeders:
RP Cathouse which is pretty close by, and Makanacoon who are in Virginia Beach. I've talked to them both and they have good quality cats. Either way, I wouldn't be bringing a kitten home most likely until the middle to the end of summer. I'm torn though, because I should really be getting a rescue instead. Maybe I'll offset my guilt with a donation to our local shelter. 

So I think that's it for now! I should really be off to bed, I am tired. :)

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

An update on my progress

This post is waaaaay overdue. I’ve been busy making more progress.




I have somehow finally found the balance of exercise, healthy eating, and having fun. 

It’s really weird, but I love the results.


I have actually had people tell me that they didn’t recognize me... although I’m down about 30 pounds from my heaviest, I feel like overall my body is just totally reshaped. I’m still not quite where I want to be, but I need to celebrate what I’ve accomplished so far.

Surprisingly enough, I am barely within the “normal” BMI range, which I attribute to muscle mass. I think I’m finally to the point where I don’t care so much about the numbers on the scale. It’s more of how I feel and how I feel about myself. And let me tell you, I feel STRONG!! 


Thursday, June 7, 2018

A New Commitment


This is what 6 weeks of hard work and learning how to eat healthy food looks like

Twelve Pounds and Ten Inches gone 

I’ve struggled with my weight and body image for a great deal of my life. I’ve always attempted to be active with varying success and have been “donating” to the local Y for 7 years. Dieting has caused me to gain and lose the same 10-15 pounds over and over again (with Medifast & Atkins), because it wasn’t sustainable.  I gained 40 pounds over the past 10 years (not including my pregnancy, which put me into the 60-70 lb range).

Around my birthday, Gina Notes (a friend of my cousin-in-law Meg, that I met at Pat & Meg's wedding) sent me a message asking if I wanted to join a health and fitness Challenge Group. I had been giving some serious thought to my health and weight lately, as I had just lost and regained the same 5 pounds in the last month. I have hypothyroidism and have been on medication for years – the condition makes it harder for me to lose weight, among other things. Diabetes also runs in my family, as does high blood pressure and cholesterol, which have both been steadily creeping up over the years.

I had recently seen some Facebook posts from an old classmate who had recently undergone an amazing transformation with the 80 Day Obsession program. After being inspired by her, I decided to say yes to Gina and commit to my health.

I joined her April challenge group and completed one round of the 21 Day Fix program without straying from the program at all. At the end of those 3 weeks, I had lost 7” and 7 pounds. Since then I have lost an additional 3” and 5 pounds by (mostly) following the Fixate healthy meal plan. It’s not easy. At the end of the 3 weeks, I had a few cheats. And then Memorial Day weekend happened, and I had more cheats.

The truth is that I felt like crap after my cheat days. My body felt wrong and I felt guilty. I have changed my mindset with my cheats. I now consider them a treat instead of a cheat, and I don’t overindulge. If you know me, you know that I love food and eating. I’m now just trying to eat the right kinds of foods now and to find some balance in my diet. 

All of that said, instead of drinking the Kool-Aid, I’m officially drinking the Shake-O. It’s true, I’ve decided to become a Beachbody Coach. I just ordered Beachbody's new 2B Mindset Nutrition program and will be trying that out along with some of their other programs (I'm pretty pumped for their LIIFT4 program - just four days a week AND a cheat day??? I LOVE IT!!).

I still have another 20+ pounds to go to get back to the weight I was ten years ago, but my biggest goal is to just keep eating well and staying active (pushing play as the BB Mantra goes). 

Don't worry, I'm not going to become a crazy Beachbody person who is constantly posting sweaty selfies on Facebook and Instagram. I'm just looking forward to helping others on their journey. I've always thought that I was pretty disciplined and could do anything that I set my mind to. It turned out that I needed a tribe, positive words, encouragement, and the daily accountability of checking in to my challenge group. Even better, the workouts are 30 minutes or less a day. It's not rocket science. Anyone can do it, and I love that there is a program for everyone.

So I'll be starting my own challenge group in the next few weeks. There is an early access to the LIIFT4 program that starts in July that I think I will do. I'm really not looking at this as any major way to earn income - I just want additional accountability for myself and to support people who need it. I think that this will satisfy my long-held desire to inspire others and help them reach their full potential. 

My why: helping others makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and as a a slightly older mom, I want to be able to keep up with my kid for many years to come. 



Friday, February 23, 2018

Thoughts and Prayers

After every shooting, I see an offer of "Thoughts and Prayers." I cynically posted a "Thoughts and Prayers" meme after the church shooting in November in Texas. I said "If only those people in Texas had prayed harder." One of my friends commented "REALLY!?!?!"  Social media has become an increasingly polarizing place. The anonymity of posting memes and arguing with friends and strangers online has taken out a human element of reasonable discourse. We say things on Facebook that we would rarely say to another person's face, let alone our friends. I have been trying to be better about doing this, and taking these conversations offline and out in public.

Here are some of the comments and suggestions I have seen along with my own "thoughts and prayers."

People need to do a better job raising their kids!
Some children live in one-parent households (for a multitude of reasons) and their parents are doing their best just to put food on the table. We don’t know their situation; maybe they shouldn’t have been parents or didn’t want to be a parent in the first place. Maybe they couldn’t afford birth control, or their partner left them after they got pregnant. Not everyone is cut out for parenthood and unfortunately some people only realize it after it’s too late. 

Let’s not forget the half million kids in foster care and their unique challenges. What do we do about those kids that get left behind? It is true that it "takes a village", and we all need to do our part to help out the kids that we see struggling. 

Some of these parents are doing everything they can to raise their kids right. Some children are born with antisocial personality disorder and don’t know the difference between right and wrong. There aren’t enough resources for the parents of these kids, and they also might have a hard time believing that there is something wrong with their child. Deinstitutionalization is another part of the problem, but that is a bag of worms for another day.

Teenagers can be insanely impulsive. As someone who was once a teenager, I can give quite a few personal anecdotes on this topic. According to researchers at the NIH, this is because teenage brains are in the process of maturing – their prefrontal cortexes are still maturing. The rational part of a teen's brain isn't fully developed and won't be until about age 25. As adults, we reason better, develop more control over impulses and make better judgments. This also makes me wonder why we are sending people to war without fully developed brains.

So while everyone is screaming mental illness, let’s be honest with ourselves – teenagers are impulsive and do stupid things. It's because they have developing brains.

If you see something say something! 
People do. Unfortunately, these systems fail as they did in Florida. Reports are now emerging that the latest shooter was reported to authorities multiple times. Also, not every incident is meticulously planned – some are impulsive teenage immature brain problems. There was also the 12 year old girl who brought a gun to school in her backpack. The backpack fell on the ground and discharged the gun, wounding 2 kids. That also puts to bed the "guns are inanimate objects" argument as well. They can misfire and accidents can happen. 

Video games and violent TV/movies/glorification of violence are the problem!
Study results have been inconsistent at best and have produced conflicting results at worst. Canada and Europe have many similar shows/movies/music, yet they don't have these problems. That said, those countries have some major differences: socialized medicine and strict gun laws. 

Mental Illness is the problem!
According to NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Health), approximately 1 in 5 adults in the US (43.8 million) experience mental illness in any given year. Certainly many of the mass shooters were suffering from mental health issues, but to say that anyone who has a mental illness will commit a violent crime is simply false. It creates even more stigma for those who suffer from these invisible illnesses. 

Our schools need more security!
There was an armed guard at Parkland High School. It is now reported that he froze in the situation and never went inside to confront the gunman. If this was a trained deputy, why should we expect better from armed teachers? Teachers are barely paid enough as it is for the work that they do. Most of them went into the profession to teach children, not defend them from armed maniacs. Assuming that the teachers would want to be armed, we would also have several officers carrying guns to protect each school entrance, of course we would also install metal detectors. 
Are we sending our kids to school or sending them to prison?

We already have gun laws / gun laws don’t work in Chicago/Baltimore/other place
While it is true that there are plenty of gun laws on the books, the inconsistency between state laws create a lot of problems. Due to lax gun laws in neighboring states, all it takes is an hour or less drive into a neighboring state to have someone make a straw purchase or even a legal purchase. 

On to facts.
Part of the reason that gun violence is difficult to study is because of the Dickey Amendment of 1996, which ties the hands of the CDC and prevents them from using Federal funds to “advocate or promote gun control.” The NRA pushed for this amendment at the time, after researchers had produced studies that suggested that having a gun in the house increased the risk of homicide and suicide (spoiler alert: it does). 

Since 1968, more than 1.5 million Americans have died in gun-related incidents, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By comparison, approximately 1.2 million service members have been killed in every war in U.S. history, according to estimates from the Department of Veterans Affairs and iCasualties.org, a website that maintains an ongoing database of casualties from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the record, this number includes suicides. 

There were nearly twice as many suicides involving firearms in 2015 as there were murders involving guns, and the rate has been increasing in recent years. Suicide by firearm accounts for almost half of all suicides in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found there was a strong relationship between higher levels of gun ownership in a state and higher firearm suicide rates for both men and women.

More guns also means that more police officers are killed. Researchers looked at federal data for firearm ownership and homicides of police officers across the US over 15 years. They found that states with more gun ownership had more cops killed in homicides: Every 10 percent increase in firearm ownership correlated with 10 additional officers killed in homicides over the 15-year study period (American Journal of Public Health).

Here’s another data point: Although we hear a lot about AR-15s and “assault weapons” during mass shooting incidents, most murders caused by guns involve handguns (FBI). The nature of semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 makes it easier for mass shooters to take out a large amount of targets in a short time frame, due to accuracy and lack of recoil. This said, the truth is that these types of weapons statistically cause fewer deaths than handguns.

Proposed Solutions

Store your weapons securely. Guns should be secured unloaded in a biometrically locked gun safe, with a trigger lock engaged. If not in a gun safe, all guns should have a trigger lock device installed at all times. There are now biometric trigger locking devices available. If all gun owners followed these procedures, it would reduce unintentional injuries and deaths. 

Repeal the Dickey Amendment to allow the CDC to study gun violence. It is truly a public health crisis. Let's study it and create solutions that are backed up with scientific data.

Congress should pass legislation requiring universal background checks. That would close federal loopholes on background checks at gun shows and other private sales. Additionally, anyone who would like to own a firearm should pass a skills test showing that they know how to properly use their weapons and that they have the knowledge necessary to be a safe gun owner. This would be similar to the training already required for those obtaining concealed carry permits. As a part of this, a firearm registry could be created so that gun sales can be tracked. The registry should be able to be accessed by mental health professionals, school counselors, police officers, and anyone else who would need the information in their professions to “red flag” someone as going to hurt themselves or others.

Congress could also limit the number of guns that can be purchased by one person in a period of time. They could also raise the age limit of all gun purchases. It would be nice to say 25, as per the earlier immature teenage brain, but at least increase the age to 21. Lawmakers could toughen penalties for straw purchases. Mass shooters often carried more than one weapon; one was found with 24. At least 167 weapons of mass shooters were obtained legally and 49 were obtained illegally. It’s unclear how 76 weapons were acquired.

Institute a gun buyback program. The cost is not too much. With each mass shooting, schools are renovated or torn down and rebuilt, costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. How much is a life saved worth? How much do you value your life? Your child’s life? Another loved one? Your neighbor? What about the people in your community?

Although I personally don’t believe that anyone needs semi-automatic weapons, I do recognize that some people really enjoy guns. I believe that certain weapons should require an increased level of scrutiny or “extreme vetting” if you will. The folks that want weapons like the AR-15 should face closer scrutiny than someone who is hunting deer with their bolt action rifle. Perhaps congress needs to specify classes of firearms with screening procedures for each.

I recognize that America is a unique country. I would love to say that America can simply enact the same kind of wildly successful gun regulations that Australia has: 28 day waiting periods, thorough background checks, and a requirement to present a “justifiable reason” to own a gun. Their gun buyback program meant about a million guns went back to the government and were destroyed. 

The problem is that in America we have a gun for every person. However, it is estimated that less than one third of Americans own a gun. So one third of Americans own an estimated 320 million guns. What do you do with that? It’s hard to shut the barn door after the horse has already left the stable. 

Even though the horse has already left the stable, we have to do something and we have to start somewhere. The number of guns in this country has roughly doubled in the past 50 years. Perhaps 50 years from now the changes that we make today will have made a meaningful impact. I hope that my grandchildren never have to fear being gunned down in the classroom or on the street.

I live in a rural area with a big gun culture. I know families here who rely on hunting to provide food. Guns are a way of life here. We need hunters to control our wildlife population. Trust me, you’d wish that Bambi had been killed before she ran in front of your car. 

What it really comes down to is do we value our guns more than we value the lives of children?

I am in awe of the kids from Parkland who have started this movement and discussion. It's sad to say that fear seems to be the only effective motivator for change, but it appears that it is. The NRA pushes fear based motivation all the time: "bad guys" are coming after you. The Democrats are coming for your guns. 

It is both terrible and inspiring that it has taken children to stand up and say that they are tired of being slaughtered in their classrooms for anyone to do more than send "thoughts and prayers." 

My thoughts and prayers: March for Our Lives will be the falling of small stones that will start an avalanche.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Coolangatta, Australia - Part One of our trip

I made a video of our fun in Coolangatta. I still have a lot of photos on my old phone from diving and whatnot, so I think I will be making four or five videos from our trip.

This video is mostly from all of our fun with Aunt Nancy and Uncle Darryl, in Coolangatta -- then at the end is from our last night having dinner at their house in Surfers Paradise.

Hope you enjoy!


P.S. I also made an update to my Traveling with Tots post with new travel suggestions!

Diving MUSA

Another video that I made for our dive in MUSA.


One Percent Travel - Cenote Oxman in Valladolid

Here is a little video I made of the cenote at Valladolid. Alberto of One Percent Travel took us here instead of the crowded cenotes by Chichen Itza where all of the tourists go. I highly recommend his tour company for travel in Mexico. We will probably be going on one of his Day of the Dead tours or perhaps Cuba.

This is Cenote Oxman, and it is pretty much deserted except for locals and people who are "in the know." What a neat little spot.