Monday, May 30, 2011

Lesson 6: Collect Something Worthwhile

(While watching the movie "Home Alone")
Boyfriend: "Why don't you wear more outfits with shoulder pads?"
Me: "I dunno. I really should. I know how much you're attracted to linebackers."

Some people, as a hobby, collect certain items. Stamps, coins, dolls; the list can go on forever. When I was in 6th grade, I had a small collection of bookmarks. No idea why, it's not like I was ever reading more than one or two books at a time. But nonetheless I had a stack of about 120 bookmarks, and I was very proud of it.

Now that I'm an adult, my collections have changed a bit. Of course during my undergraduate years I, like many (if not all) college students, went through a shot glass collecting phase. My boyfriend and I also had a decent collection of local beer glasses, but after accidently putting all of our dishes in the "donation" pile during our last move, we've recently had to begin rebuilding the collection from scratch.

However, there is one thing we do collect that we're actually fairly proud of. It's a hell of a conversation starter, and the source of envy for more than a few of our friends. I don't even know how it got started really, but I've got to say, it's been a seriously useful group of items to have around the house.

My boyfriend and I collect awesomely bad movies.

First of all, we must define the term "awesomely bad", and I would define it as something so incredibly awful that it's hilarious. Now these are different than movies that are intentionally trying to be bad. I mean don't get me wrong, "Airplane" and any of the Monty Python movies are hugely funny, but they would be under the category of awesome, not awesomely bad. I think the perfect storm is when a movie tries to be scary or serious, while at the same time trying to make a political statement or teach a lesson. When it all goes wrong, the corniness factor basically skyrockets. And when that happens? It ends up in our living room, on our special awesomely bad shelf.

A little top ten action, you ask? Why certainly!

Top 10 Awesomely Bad Movies

10.) Sidekicks

Take your overall karate movie plotline: a kid considers himself a nobody so to turn his life around, he begins idolizing someone who is seen kicking ass on a regular basis. Who better than Chuck Norris? And no I don't mean Chuck Norris as a character, I mean Chuck Norris as himself. In a classic case of overacting and good vs evil (not to mention some seriously impressive nunchuck action), Chuck once again goes the distance in awesomely bad movie #10. Unless you want to spoil the climactic (although possibly predictable) ending, here's a little peek:

Oh and by the way, if you happen to come across a movie starring Chuck Norris called "Octagon" buy it. Pay whatever it takes. It's probably Chuck's worst yet, but being that it's only available in Japan, I didn't find it fair to put it on a list meant for more mainstream films.

9.) Nothing But Trouble

I actually struggled whether or not to put this movie on the list. Since it has a cast consisting of Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, and John Candy, I really had to debate if the movie was meant to be horrible. Nonetheless, while there was an abundance of slapstick humor (the judge's removable nose is the tip of, some basic laughable dialogue (c'mon it's John Candy and Chevy Chase), and even Demi Moore (in an obviously insignificant career move), I just couldn't get past the utter ridiculousness of the characters and premise. The movie literally has no plot, just a string of events that seem to be an excuse to...well honestly I have no idea. Still, looking back, I just can't fathom how a movie could be made this bad unintentionally, so maybe I'm in the wrong on this one. Still, if you consider yourself an individual who happens to be rather friendly with a young lady named Mary Jane, you might want to consider putting this one in your overall movie collection next to Fear and Loathing. Here's a look at the preview:

8.) Class Act

Oh where to start...

Set in the early 90's, from the rap/pop duo Kid'N'Play in the midst of shoulder pads, stonewashed (or is it acid washed?) jeans, and electro jams, this movie clearly shows the longterm effects of inhaling large amounts of hairspray for an entire decade. Two high school students, the honor rollee and the criminal, enroll in a new school where they find their transcripts have been inadvertently switched. With both students desperate for a chance to live life on the "other side of the tracks", they don't alert the school to the error, and shenanigans ensue. Add on an over the top "Say No To Drugs" message, and the movie crosses over into the realm of awesomely bad. Although basically anything from this time period provides a weath of movies known for their embarassing 90's existence, this one just barely finds itself in victory lane. It was a close one though (I'm lookin at you Return To Frogtown). Here's a preview:

7.) Street Fighter

In this video game adaptation, you've got all the makings of a great movie. A $20 million ransom, a fictional region of Asia, gang infiltration, an amazing amount of fighting and explosions, mutants...

Problem is, you also have some incredibly cheesy lines combined with some brilliant overacting. Don't believe me? It stars Jean-Claude Van Damme. 'Nuff said. Here's the 1994 trailer:

6.) Airborne

Ah your everyday love story about a kid from out of town, just trying to get by on his above average skating skills. Throw in a predictable conflict with the high school hockey jocks and a gigantic, completely unrealistic downhill "course" named Devil's Backbone, and you've got yourself a stage set for some awesomely bad rollerblading redemption. There's also the rare treats of seeing some of our more successful stars in their beginning days (Jack Black, Seth Green, among others). I present to you a slice of my listworthy movie #6:

5.) Only the Strong

I know, I know, another early 90's pick, but I just can't help it. They really are that fantastic. This movie contains the airtight logic that troubled youth on an obvious path to drugs and destruction can be turned in the right direction by the introduction of a martial arts style of dance. Plus the main character is "The Chairman" from Iron Chef (as well as other movies, but that's how I know him best). Grab some cheetos and give it a shot:

4.) Roadhouse

If you're a man, there is no reason for me to explain further. Plus you probably already own it, and it's not in your "awesomely bad" collection, it's in your "best movies of all time" collection.

If you're a woman, watch this preview, and I dare you to challenge me on the incredibly unrealistic (and hilariously misleading) nature of the following movie:

3.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze

I know this seems insulting, to put a movie so incredibly spectacular as this on a list as moronic as this, but there's just no getting around the fact that it's about teenage mutant ninja turtles. I'm sorry to those of you who are fans (I'm a huge one) but just because people love it doesn't mean it's not awesomely bad. Why the second one? It's titled "Secret of the Ooze". It's about ooze. And there's a secret about it. And the entire movie is based on this secret. C'mon, it's just asking for a spot.

2.) Zombie Strippers

I really can't say it any better than the title already does. God I love this movie:

1.) The Last Dragon

If you've never heard of this movie until now, let me say "you're welcome" ahead of time. It's got karate, a main character named Bruce LeRoy, a mystical power called the glow, a pop princess (singer Vanity - disovered by Prince and clearly blowing her big break), a bad guy wearing NFL shoulder pads and venetian blind sunglasses, not to mention a wise old karate man who seems strangely similar to Mr. Miyagi. Give it a go, thank me in the morning:

Alright folks there it is, my top 10 awesomely bad movies. The collection has others, but these are the main attractions. So tell me, what are you favorites? Does my list hold up, or is there a gaping hole (something by Nicholas Cage perhaps?) I might have overlooked? Let me know!

P.S. As always, don't forget to vote in the poll on the right! Read this post for explanation!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Lesson 5: Have A Backup Plan

Reality TV girl #1: "It just, I have to tell you guys, you, like, you just, OMG you are going, you are just going to die. It was like World War 9."
Reality TV girl #2: "Ya all of us cried."
Girl #1: "I cried. It was insane."
Girl #2: "Who's your best friend in that? Tish?"
Girl #1: "Alexis. Alexis definitely."

This is an actual quote from reality television "characters" promoting their next episode. The awesomely fantastic part of it though was that I told my boyfriend to flip to a reality television show so I could get a stupid quote for the start of my next blog post, and he found The Real Housewives of New Jersey on the menu. It wasn't on yet though, so we settled for the last 30 seconds of the show right before it that consisted of someone interviewing two reality "stars". This quote here? Literally the first thing we heard.

Now I'm not condemning those who watch these shows consistently, I mean we all have our guilty pleasures. I'm a particular fan of "The Next Food Network Star" even though I openly admit I'll probably never actually watch the show the winner eventually ends up hosting. I'm also addicted to anything even remotely suggesting a conspiracy theory of some kind, so I'm not saying I'm in the clear here either.

But come on! Is that quote really indicative of what makes good television? Is that all it takes to make thousands and thousands of dollars? Because if it is, then what the hell am I doing in college? Why haven't I just brushed up on my jersey shore fist pump and valley girl slang, hiked up my skirt, and scheduled an appointment for some sort of plastic surgery? What the hell am I waiting for?

Well I'm not sure, really, so I made a list of possible premises for a reality television show I could possibly star on. So here it is:

Top 5 Reality Show Ideas:

5.) Yoga Cats

In this show, I would chronicle my cat's struggles of perfecting "Tree Pose".  I might even suggest she warm up with "Downward Dog". Cue dramatic stare-down.

(Commercial Break)

Welcome back. Stare-down continues. Now my cat is hungry. Oh this crazy life of mine! Next week I go to sleep and awaken to find her lying next to me. Will I survive? Tune in to find out.  

4.) Car Treasure Hunt:

The premise here would be what people find when they clean out their cars. Yeah that's pretty much it.

3.) Oil Rig Women of Rock Springs, Wyoming:

Because, well, why not? Reality television seems to be on a feminist streak right now, so I think it would be smart to cash in on it.

2.) Date Night Countdown:

In this show, men win a prize if they accurately guess the amount of time it takes their date to get ready. If they guess correctly, down to the exact second, they win a trip to vegas with the guys. Not even close? Two months marriage counseling.

1.) Ice Cream Wars:

As I mentioned in this post, I own my own ice cream truck, and believe it or not, things can get pretty intense. There are territories; I don't sell ice cream where you live and you don't come trolling through my neighborhood. Anything in between is fair game, and it's quite a competition to see who can get to which parks when the business is good. I'm sorry to say, the ice cream truck business can get a little dirty. If you've ever wanted to see a catfight with a fudgebar and watermelon popsicle, this might be just the show for you.

So there it is folks; I'm dropping out of school to pursue a career in reality television. I think my talents of, well being completely unproductive, can be better put to use elsewhere.

Just kidding. But if this whole college degree thing doesn't work out, at least I have a reliable backup plan.

P.S. Don't forget to vote in the poll on the right! Read this post for explanation!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Weight Loss Super Ingredient #1

Well I'm feeling rather healthy today, and since I got so much positive feedback from this post regarding the psychological aspects of weight loss, I decided to share some of the basic recipes I've learned throughout my coursework and personal experience. Today's super ingredient?

Nonfat Plain Greek Yogurt

I'm sure many of you have heard of this, and I'm sure a brave few of you have tried it. I'll be honest, when I first tried it myself, I hated it, and to this day I can't stand the taste of it on it's own. I really do wish I could be a part of the club that finds greek yogurt rich and tangy, but alas, the invitation eludes me.

So to those of you who have been there, done that, and refuse to try again; I feel your pain. I really, really do. But how about we let bygones be bygones, because greek yogurt, my friends, is a nutritional landmine, and when used in some creative ways, you can reep the full benefits and your tastebuds will never be the wiser. 

So first of all, why make the switch? Because this stuff is ridiculously healthy. In one 1 cup serving it's got roughly 23 grams of protein (more than many protein shakes) 350 mg of potassium (almost equivalent to the amount in a small banana) and no fat. Not to mention it's a great source of calcium, and also has a incredibly low sodium level compared to other types of yogurt, not to mention other foods in general. Make sure to get the plain kind, to minimize the sugar content.

Some suggestions, you ask?

1.) Try it in place of sour cream. Try this once and you'll never go back. My boyfriend (the burger/pizza eating beer drinking baseball coach) actually prefers greek yogurt to sour cream now because it takes exactly like it, but you can absolutely smother your enchilada with it, 100% guilt free. We mix it in chili, put it on tacos, enchiladas, and eggs with salsa and hot sauce. Drop in a heaping scoop to make creamy garlic mashed potatoes, or use it in your homemade alfredo sauce. My die-hard italian mother even approves.

2.) Use it to make fruit and cream oatmeal. Now this one I'm proud of so hear me out.

For preparation take a bag of frozen fruit (I use strawberries, no sugar added, but any fruit is fine) and let it thaw in the fridge. Now make oatmeal with the basic quick oats (yes the incredibly bland boring ones) but instead of adding water or milk, add the liquid in the bottom of the thawed out bag of fruit. It's zero calorie fruit flavored water, how convenient! Throw in a few pieces of the thawed fruit and follow the directions. Usually microwave on high 2 minutes. When you're done mix in a 1/2 spoonful of greek yogurt and bam: fruit and cream oatmeal.

Want to sweeten it up? Feel free to add a bit of real sugar or honey. It's still immensely less sugar than the store brand fruit and cream oatmeal. You can also add cinnamon, nutmeg, or any other spice you so desire. My boyfriend's favorite is blueberry'n'cream with blueberries, peaches and cinnamon. My personal favorite is bananas'n'cream with banana slices, walnuts, cinnamon and a touch of nutmeg. I've also made strawberry'n'cream with strawberries and banana slices. It's really all up to you!

3.) Smoothies.
Basic recipe:
1/2 cup plain nonfat greek yogurt
1 banana
2 cups thawed fruit
1 cup frozen fruit
1/3 cup juice (or thawed fruit water)

This makes about 2 servings, roughly 200 calories (usually less) each. Change this up anyway you like. I always tend to use frozen blueberries, they're little and easier to blend. Anything larger (strawberries, peaches) I tend to thaw out first. Of course I have a pretty basic blender so if you have something with a motor belonging to a small motorcyle or chainsaw you might not need to thaw anything.

Be careful of frozen pineapple though, as I've found the texture is a little different. Same goes with apples or applesauce. It's still delicious, just a different texture. If you want the flavor maybe try using apple or pineapple juice. Buy smart though, no point using an apple juice that's 2% juice and 30 grams sugar.

Some ideas? Start with a banana and some greek yogurt, then try adding:
1.) Blueberry - Applesauce - Apple Juice - Cinnamon
2.) Raspberry - Blackberry - Lemonade
3.) Banana - Peanut Butter
4.) Strawberry - Banana -Vanilla - Orange Juice
5.) Blackberry - Pomagranate Juice
6.) Strawberry - Blueberry - Banana - Orange Juice/Pineapple Juice
7.) Peach - Banana - Blueberry - Strawberry Water
8.) Blackberry -  Raspberry - Strawberry - Blueberry - Blueberry Water

This is your chance to be creative! I've made pina colada smoothies with sugar free key lime pudding mix, bananas, vanilla, lime juice, sugar free whipped cream and a drop of coconut extract. There are so many different frozen fruits and juices available there should be no reason to ever get bored. Try some tropical ones like mango, papaya, watermelon or kiwi; the options are endless!

4.) Dips.

This one is easy. You know all those packets of ranch dressing? Or Lipton Onion Soup Mix? Mix a packet with some greek yogurt and you've got a great dip for veggie or chips.

Now this might seem a little sudden for some people. So instead of going all out greek yogurt, use half the yogurt half sour cream. Sure it's not exactly healthy for you, but it's a hell of a lot healthier than using all sour cream or mayonaisse alone, and that's really what the first steps are all about. Then slowly, over time, use less sour cream and more yogurt.

Remember that concept of making changes so small your body doesn't realize what's going on? Put it into play here. Your mind is the parent and your body is the child. The child wants chips and dip. Would a child really notice if the ratio is 55%-45% yogurt to sour cream today rather than the 50%-50% ratio it was yesterday? Probably not. So take the first step. Try mixing in a teaspoon next time you make guacamole. You might surprise yourself (in a good way).

So take the risk! Any small change is better than no change at all. And remember:

There is no such thing as a diet. There is either healthy eating, or nothing.

I'd love it if anyone tries these recipes and gives me some feedback! Do any of you have any recipes using greek yogurt? Do you have any that you have tried, that ended up miserably? Let me know!

P.S. Keep voting in the poll on the right (see this post for explanation), time's ticking away!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The First Official Day Of Summer

" that the...oh my god I think it is...."

How do you know it's officially summer?

For some maybe it's the first meeting of your slowpitch softball team, or the scent of freshly cut grass. Maybe it's the first bite of a bbq'd hotdog, or the first time you ride in your car with the windows down. For me? Well brace yourself for another little secret of mine...


I own my own ice cream truck.


Clap your hands.

Do some kind of giddy dance/laugh/facial expression.

Sit back down.

No really, sit back down.

Aaaaand we're back.

See my mom always wanted one since she was little. It was just a life dream of hers from the first time she saw one. It's the perfect business for us, especially someone like myself who goes to school full-time. During the off-season I work night shifts at our local psychiatric hospital, and the flip from days to nights kills me. During the summer I'm my own boss, with a well paying job. My roomates and I even used it as a shared summer job a few years ago. 

Not to say it's not difficult, though. Going 1 mph down the exact same streets you travel down all summer long, in 100 degree weather, while listening to that music...can truly drive anyone mad. But it's our own business, and we're proud of it. My dad never allowed it, so long story short she got a divorce and we built an ice cream truck. Well worth the trade, if you ask me.

We built it from the ground up. Bought a little Cushman truck (basically a 3-wheel metermaid), put on the freezer, music box, speaker system, you name it. I named her Lazy Sue, and she runs (almost) like a dream. Another fun fact? We bought the music box in Mexico, so a set of about 50 songs play in a loop, and they must've run out of ideas so they filled the last 8 with Christmas music. That's right, if you're ever lucky enough to hear an ice cream truck rolling through your neighborhood playing "Silent Night" it just might be me. 

So how do I officially know it's the first day of summer? The first sighting of...

The ice-cream zombies. Kids that hear the music but can't place where the truck is yet. They all freeze at the same time, their lips quivering. No breathing. No blinking. Nothing. Every fiber of their body focused on finding the source of the gypsy music they have ingrained in their minds. Must. Find. Iccccce Creeeeeam.

They're terrifying, and should never be underestimated.

I've even had parents describe to me their 1 year old infants crawling toward the door mesmorized by the sound of the music. "She's never seen an ice cream truck before!" they exclaim. "I wonder how she knew?" Because your daughter is an ice cream zombie, that's how.

It's most entertaining when we see them in an open field separated from the road by a fence. The freeze in the field, see the truck and run straight toward us. And never see the fence. Let me be clear on this. They don't run straight to a nearby gate. They're incapable of thinking that far ahead. They run toward the truck, and if there is an obstacle in their way they attempt to go through it. If there happens to be a gate between us than it makes accomplishing their goal a whole lot easier, but it's by no means a requirement to reach the frozen treat they so desire.

Not so fast grown-ups, don't think you're off the hook. Half the time you're worse. You fall victim to the ice cream zombie curse just as easily (if not easier) than the kids. I can't count the number of times I have been run off the road by a minivan. Or a Ferrari. Or a police officer. Yes, I have been pulled over, on numerous occasions actually, my mind racing trying to recall any possible speed limits I may have broken going 2 mph, only to be confronted by a giddy 38 year old man desperately hoping I haven't sold out of fudgebars yet. 

We also have a small donation cup on the back for children who don't have enough money. The phrase "enough money" covers trade items as well. Lemonade, feathers, leaves, candy, rocks, buttons, lint; these are all acceptable trades for an ice cream bar. Because we don't have the heart to say "no" to a 4 year old who hasn't learned the concept of the economical system, the donation cup allows us to cover kids who are short when they attempt to trade a worm and some Pez for a popsicle.

So folks summer offically starts at the first sighting of the ever so flagrant ice cream zombie. And if my calculations are correct (and if the weather cooperates) summer in Montana will officially start on May 27th :).

What offically marks the start of your summer?

P.S. Don't forget to vote in the poll on the right. For explanation see this post. I'm in your hands!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Proudest Moment

Warning: Very personal post.

Recently, while at work, a coworker mentioned that her proudest moment was the birth of her daughter. Another said hers was the first time she officially became a homeowner.

They then, of course, directed the question in my direction. I stuttered something about winning the state championship my senior year of softball (first softball state title in my high school's history, mind you), but I was lying. This is definitely on my list of proudest accomplishments, but my true proudest moment is something I was sure neither of them would understand. So I smiled, and kept it to myself.

I'm not upset I didn't share at that place and time what I am about to share with you now. This memory is incredibly personal, and I don't think work is the place to have to explain it. But just for the record, I want it to be known that this particular event was hands down the proudest moment in my entire life.

First, it's necessary that you know that my childhood was, to put it lightly, a bit dysfunctional. The fact that my adopted father was a diagnosed psychopath (36 out of 40 on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, for any curious psychologists out there) meant that punishments in my home were slightly Forgetting to brush your teeth meant you slept in the laundry hamper for 3 weeks. And that was the "nice" option. Needless to say, openly challenging his authority was not encouraged.

So one night, when I was about 14, my father and I got in a fight that went the same route as mostly all of our fights. After roughly 6 hours I was left sitting on my bed in the middle of my room, surrounded by the debris of everything I owned. My dresser had been dismantled, the contents emptied, and the wooden pieces smashed over his knee one by one. Any trinkets I had been foolish enough to have on display had been shattered, and anything he could carry in one generous armful to the backyard was smoldering in the firepit.  My head ached, I had cuts on the bottom of my feet, a curling iron burn on my left arm, and I was alone. Broken.


But then while scanning my room of remains something caught my eye. My radio/alarm clock/CD player. Now this thing was my life. Earlier that year, a handful of friends had all pitched in to buy me a birthday present and this is what they chose. They also bought me a CD (Natalie Imbruglia) to go with it. It was the first CD I ever owned. To me, these two items symbolized people that truly cared for me. Besides my softball glove, I loved them more than anything else in the world. Unfortunately, there it was, sitting against the wall, completely destroyed.

I went over and picked it up. Random pieces fell to the floor. It was strung out to around 3 feet, bits of wire, metal and plastic holding it together. A fallen soldier on the field of battle. Next to it was the Natalie Imbruglia CD. In perfect condition. Hmm...

I was going to fix my CD player.

Now keep in mind I was 14, didn't know the first thing about electronics, or the fact that this sorry heap of parts and pieces was about as far gone as most characters lying in a soap opera mortuary. But also, like all the delusion of a proper soap opera, it didn't matter. Anything could happen. In a true plot twist, it could still come back to life! Unrealistic, yes, but I guess sometimes focusing on one thing helps to forget everything else going on around you. So I went to work.

And I worked for hours. I used paperclips and hairpins (stripped of their covering) to hold wires together (probably dangerous, but come on, I was 14). The lid was already broken off, so I used it to wedge the little laser (used to read the CD) in place. I took the speaker apart and put it back together. For the buttons (play, skip, etc.) I was quite creative.

See the original buttons were flat on top, and then had a prong on the bottom that would go into a tiny hole. At the bottom of the hole was a little clicker. This is what needed to be pushed in order for the button to work. Being as most of the buttons were torn off, I bunched up tiny pieces of paper until I filled each hole, then taped the top to not only hold it in place, but to also create a little bump. Push down the bump and the paper compacted and pushed the little clicker on the bottom. Bam; working buttons.

Finally, around 5 in the morning, I felt I had done all I could do. This thing looked like it had come straight out of a Terminator movie. You could see all the working parts and moving gadgets. All but one side was completely removed, and the others were taped back on to keep the contents from spilling onto the floor.

I put the Natalie Imbruglia CD on the little spinny thing above the laser. I pushed play. It spun. I waited. This was the moment of truth...

It worked. 

I was ecstatic. It didn't even skip! The music carried throughout my room. I turned the volume up as loud as it could go, and it filled the house. I sat on my bed and faced the door. I protectively held my C3PO CD player in my arms and waited for the sound I knew would come. Soon it did. Footsteps.

One at a time, coming down the stairs. Heavy breathing. The door flew open and slammed into the wall behind it. He turned to me, furious. We locked eyes, and glared. Pure hatred from the both of us. After what felt like an eternity, he lowered his eyes to musical pile of junk I was cradling in my arms. He looked back up to me and in that instant, I saw a small flicker cross his face to the tune of, "How...?" I braced myself.

Nothing. He turned and went back upstairs.

I sat on my bed, held my radio, and cried. I won, and I have never, ever, been as proud as I was in that moment.

Now perhaps someday something will top it. Maybe the birth of my first child, or the day I pay off the last of my student loans, or maybe just the day I find my way to Walmart and back without having to call someone for directions. But until then, this will be the standard, and I'm happy for it.

My radio has since passed on, but I still have the nightstand it rested on. It's the only piece of furniture he never broke, so I think it's earned it's place in my eternal belongings. I also still have the CD of course, and listening to it always provides me with an overwhelming feeling of triumph. There has still been times when I have been taken advantage of, mistreated, and used as a complete doormat, and I know I still have a lot of work to do when it comes to standing up for myself (which I am improving on, see this post). But anytime I'm scared to do something, I just go back to when I was 14, sitting on my bed, and I think, "I know I am strong, and I know can do it, because there was this one time when I was unbreakable. And I proved it."

So tell me, what is your proudest moment?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Spring Cleaning = Play Time

"Why on earth are you wearing ski boots?"
"I'm cleaning."

I believe it would be safe to say that the vast majority of people in this world have another childlike version of themselves that tends to show up in certain situations. Maybe the sight of stamps causes a sudden flashback to the massive sticker collection of your youth. Or maybe that friendly game of checkers with Grandpa brings out the aggressive competitive nature of your varsity days (it doesn't matter if he's 95 and has a fake hip, you're undefeated and damnit it's going to stay that way!).

Besides anything with an underlying competetive nature (of which mine is extremely prevelent), the activity that brings out my inner child the most is, surprisingly, cleaning.

I, like many people, am horrible at cleaning. I want nothing to do with it. I get no joy from seeing a freshly scrubbed kitchen; I only dream of ways to dirty it up again. And cleaning for me takes forever. Why? I'll get to that.

Often, in his desperation, my boyfriend will resort to giving me small, simple tasks to do. He'll agree to clean the entire house if I just focus on one or two things (I know, right? Have I found myself a good man or what?!). So he'll ask me to clean out one room. Just one. That's all. Usually it's the closet. Just a closet, how hard can it be?


Well... to put it bluntly? Effin' hard. The closet is packed with hazards, and my lack of focus combined with the new discovery of things I had completely forgotten about makes for some dangerous territory. Here's the breakdown:

1.) Box of old clothes I forgot I had. Commence imaginary fashion show. Try on 80's legwarmers, tutu, and leather vest.

2.) Clothes from even younger days. Remove old t-shirt I'm currently wearing and replace with 3 sizes too small hand-knit sweater from Grandma. Layer with leather vest from previous box. Add gelly shoes.

3.) Seasonal items. Remove gelly shoes and replace with ski boots. Add goggles.

4.) Holiday decorations. Add witch's hat and plug in Christmas lights. Stare at Christmas lights through goggles. Eat a piece of 6 year old Easter candy. Spit out candy.

This is usually when my boyfriend comes to check on me.

"What," he askes, "are you doing?"
"While wearing ski boots?"
"I'm a robot."
"You're not cleaning, you're playing. This looks worse than when you started."
"It gets worse before it gets better."
"That's only true with renovations. Are you saying you're renovating the closet?"
"Take off the goggles."
"You have a sandal hanging from your belt."
"It's my walkie-talkie. Yours is right here."
"You're standing on a pile of books."
"The ground is hot lava."

He takes his "walkie-talkie" and leaves. I continue.

5.) Box of broken electrical appliances I swear I'm going to recycle. Put aside.

6.) Box of old holiday cards and elementary school homework assignments. Sit down and go through 1st grade "What I want to be when I grow up" booklet. Laugh. That's clearly the wrong spelling of 'astronaut'.

7.) Box of games. Practice shuffling cards.

8.) Box of tools. Pretend to build a time machine out of the broken appliances found in box #5. Answer walkie-talkie. Keep it short the line is probably tapped.

9.) Box of old pictures. Go through them. Pay attention they could be a clue...

He returns, holding the other sandal. "My walkie-talkie doesn't work."
"I know. I gave you a faulty one. It was for your own safety."
"Ahh," he smiles. "Thanks for looking out."

Then he usually sits down with me as we reminisce over old pictures and love letters. Progress for the day comes to a halt, but that's okay. The closet can wait. At the end of the day I get to relive all the reasons why I have those boxes of junk, and it makes me incredibly content, appreciative, and grateful. Besides, thanks to my boyfriend I know the rest of the house is positively spotless.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Stupid And Crazy

I am going to confess to you one of my greatest fears in life:

I fear that my passport will go unused.

I got one years ago when I was offered a position on a professional softball team in Sweden. Long story short, life happened and I chose not to go. I still have my passport though, always ready at a moment’s notice, just in case I’m called on for a secret government operation. Right now it’s in the living room on the little desk that sits between my keyboard and my vintage record player, just waiting for me.

So here’s what I propose. Earlier I posted this emphasizing the importance of spending money on experiences instead of things. It’s a lesson I don’t think I am applying to its greatest potential. Therefore, I have decided I am going on a trip. To another country.
Now I know I’m not going to be able to afford any kind of vacation package or guided tour, so here’s what I’ve come up with: a plane ticket. Roundtrip. That’s all. I’ll pack a small backpack of some extra clothes and essentials (toothbrush, camera, journal), $100 (I've heard that's the going rate for bungee jumping in most countries, and I'm not passing up an opportunity to go bungee jumping in a foreign land), and maybe $50 for food. No hotel, I'm essentially planning on being homeless for the duration of my stay. I’m shooting for mid-late July/early August, since my last day for summer school is July 15. I want to go for roughly 8 days, depending on what combination of arrivals and departures will result in the lowest possible fare.
I have no idea where to go, and I have no idea what I am doing. I'm basing my decision completely on ticket prices. The lowest I have found so far have been (rountrip):
Trinidad: $970
Belgium: $1052

Ireland: $1206
To budget for it I will literally be spending my money only on things that are absolutely needed (school, bills, feminine products) and nothing else. More about that later.

So what do you all think? Any seasoned travelers out there who would be so kind to fill me in on any secrets? Please let me know! I’ve never done this before and I’ve got a serious case of cabin fever.

Also, on the sidebar on the right (under the "about me" section) I've made a list of possible countries to travel to. Please vote! If you have a better suggestion, comment about it and I'll add it to the poll (update: I won't be able to add it to the poll but I will absolutely keep it in mind). If you have any tips about where to go (or where not to go), please comment or email me ( Any information is greatly appreciated!!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Weight Loss From A Psych Point Of View

Ahh yes, the weight loss issue. I've been there myself, along with every single person I have ever known. So I'm not sure why I was surprised to find so many blogs dedicated to documenting weight loss that are instead being used to document frustration.

As a graduate student studying to become a Nutritional Counselor, this intrigues me because it's right up my alley. Working with clients with food addictions, over-eating disorders, or just plain trouble losing weight is what I want to do for a living. Therefore, I thought I might share some things I have learned so far that might help people approach the concept of weight loss from a different, psychological, perspective.

1.) Understand the concept of willpower.

Willpower, contrary to popular belief, is not something we are all born with, it is a skill that needs to be learned and developed, just like reading or writing. What do you think would happen if you handed someone who barely knows their ABC's a 600 page novel and demanded it be read by the end of the week? Personally, I would probably start off incredibly motivated, put all my effort into the first page, end up getting frustrated by day 6, and then ultimately resort to setting the book on fire.

Sound familiar?

Point is, there's a probable chance of failure right from the beginning.

Yet this is how many people approach the lifestyle change of healthy eating. They say, "No more fast food for me, I'm going to do it this time!" or "No more carbs, no more sugar: that's what Jessica Alba did for bikini season!" And does it ever work? Really?

No, and you know why? Because you're attempting to read a novel before learning your ABC's. You have to build your abilities from the beginning, which brings me to point number 2:

2.) Stop and think.

Why are you eating? Is it because you're hungry? Or is it because you're bored, tired, upset, or lonely? Since you now know willpower is a skill, treat it like one.

What happens to your ability to concentrate when you're tired? Your driving skills? Any skills? They suffer. Willpower is no different. It takes practice to get good at it. Ever wonder why there's infinitely more advertisements for junk food at night rather than in the morning? Simple: people are tired after a full days work, so their willpower is more likely to falter. It's more effective to advertise crap food when peoples' guards are down. Try and recognize when this happens to you.

One strategy is to think of your body like a spoiled child, and your mind as the parent:

Body: Ooooh french fries! I want some french fries!
Mind: No, you just had potato chips, and you have dinner waiting for you when you get home. You don't need any french fries.
Body: But I want some! Potato chips were such a long time ago! I promise I'll behave myself when I get home, I promise!
Mind: No. Last time you said you would behave yourself and instead you ate a pint of Rocky Road.
Body: But I want some! Last time I promise!
Mind: I said no...
Body: Pleeeeeease? Please please please please...
Mind: I said no!
Body: Pleeeeeease please please please please!! I'll be good I promise please please pleasepleasepleaseplease....
Mind: Fine! Have the damn french fries just shut up already.

See what I mean?

Basically, your body gets what it wants by wearing you down, much like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. So step 3:

3.) Start slowly, very slowly.

During my coursework I've learned there is no such thing as breaking a bad habit, there is only creating a new, stronger habit to replace it, and it takes roughly 3 weeks for any habit to become fairly routine. The hardest part about forming a new habit? Your body is going to fight you tooth and nail on every decision you make. Why? Because it's different and therefore, it's uncomfortable, and your body HATES being uncomfortable. So the key here is tricking yourself into thinking it's not really missing out.

So start small. Put a tablespoon less of sugar in your coffee. Instead of eating your morning bagel and cream cheese, eat a banana and then only half the bagel and cream cheese. Make this one small change until it becomes a habit, and then move onto the next one. Keeping the changes small will ensure your body doesn't feel too uncomfortable, so it won't resist as much. Too many changes at once make for a very frustrating 3 weeks. This brings me to step 4:

4.) Read the labels.

In the very beginning, don't worry yourself about the percentages of carbs, protein, and fats; that's for later when you're running marathons and saving the world. Early on, it's more important to look at things like sugar content, sodium levels, or calories. It's about making small changes. Go from white bread to wheat bread, and then to a different wheat bread with more fiber, and then to a different one with less sugar. Someday, it will be second nature to choose healthier foods, which brings me to step 5:

5.) Document your behaviors. 

Yes, it is extremely useful to document what you eat, what time you ate it, and how you felt when you ate it. You should absolutely document all of this as much as possible, but it may be even more useful to document your behaviors. 

It's all a part of that habit formation. Write down when you choose vegetable soup instead of cream of potato, or when you choose a yogurt containing less sugar. Write down when you take the stairs instead of the elevator, or just how often you go to the gym, not necessarily what you do there. This will get you into a habit of being mindful of your decisions instead of simply coasting through your day reacting to your body's temper tantrums.

This also creates a situation of two habits reinforcing each other. Writing down all of your good decisions makes you feel good, which subsequently makes you want to make good decisions the next day so you can write them down. It's a cycle of positive reinforcement. This leads me to step 6:

6.) Plan ahead.

We eat what we see, it's that simple. Why do you think every restaurant that offers chicken wings as an appetizer has a picture of them on the menu? Because they are the food with the highest profit ratio. They're incredibly cheap to make, and are therefore the most profitable. A picture dramatically increases the chances of them being ordered. That's why it's there.

So plan ahead. Have a strategy before eating at a restaurant and stick to it. If you plan on ordering a salad, open the menu and only look at the salads.

Bring a lunch to work, as well as a preemptive strike for those morning meetings. Are you eating the donut because you're hungry or because you just want anything to eat during the hour long meeting and donuts are the only option? If it's because they're the only option, bring another option. Bring a granola bar and eat it slowly.

At home, pre-cut and pre-package fruits and vegetables, putting them at easy reach when you're rushed or hungry. Plan your meals throughout the week. This puts you one step ahead of the game.

7.) Be clever.

Go back to the metaphor of your body being a spoiled child and your mind being a parent. What's one of the oldest scams in the book when a spoiled kid wants something and won't shut up? Trick 'em.

Take the old peanut butter issue. Peanut butter on bananas, apples, or celery is a great snack in between meals. Thing is, if you're like me, you end up eating a scoop of peanut butter per bite of banana, which adds up to some serious caloric intake. So trick yourself.

I've found if you heat a tablespoon of peanut butter in the microwave for about 15ish seconds, it melts into more of a syrup. So cut the banana into bites and dip it into the peanut butter. You end up eating considerably less peanut butter per bite of banana, and your body doesn't know the difference. It just knows it's eating a bite of banana that is absolutely smothered in peanut butter. Win-win.

8.) Set a goal.

Something realistic and well-defined. You're not going to wake up tomorrow, run 6 miles, and then do it again all week. Walk half a mile and make a homemade smoothie instead of a store bought sugar laden one.  It all adds up.

9.) Find a support system.

Even if you feel completely on your own, there is someone else out there, somewhere, going through the same thing. Hell even a community of bloggers will provide a sense of support!

10.) Take it easy on yourself.

You are most likely your harshest critic. Try to keep that voice in check. Write down the sentences you say to yourself and then come back when you're ready to look at them objectively. Would you ever say to your friends the negative things you say to yourself? Would you ever let your friends say those things to you? Probably not.

Work at this to understand the difference between when that little voice is being constructive and when it's being downright abusive. Just being able to identify it is the first step to changing what it's saying.

In closing I leave you with this: there is no such thing as a diet, there is either healthy eating or nothing.

Anything extreme (cutting all carbs, cutting all sugar, no solid foods) is sure to backfire because it's unrealistic. Anything that does the work for you (Nutrisystem) will leave you frustrated, dependent, and broke (think give a man a fish vs teach a man to fish). And anything describing foods you can't eat one week but can another week (Pure Protein) is, sorry to say, complete horsesh*t. All that weight you lose in the first week? Water weight.

So start slow, and create healthy habits that will become second nature. It takes time, but it's worth it!

And you can do it!!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Inexpensive Mother's Day Top 10

Ahh Mother's Day.

One day a year when I am expected to wrap up all that my mom means to me. One day. Each year I rack my brain for a gift that's worthy of such an occasion, but my budget tends to squash any extravagant ideas that might come through and I'm left trying to be clever. I have to admit though, something I've learned? My mom is never really looking for anything expensive. So here it is, my list of: 

Top 10 Inexpensive Mother's Day Gifts:

1.) Clean her entire house from top to bottom. I mean heavy duty spring cleaning. Make a full day out of it. Be sure she comes home to the cleanest house she's ever seen.

2.) Weed her entire garden. And do it right. No point chopping everything off at the surface if it just comes back in a few days. That's really more of a sick joke than a present...

3.) Run her list of errands. I don't mean pay for her list of errands, you can't afford that. But you can get everything done for her. Grocery store, post office, pharmacy. You pick up her cat's diebetes medication from the vet. You take her car in to get the oil changed and tires rotated. 

And be sure not to bother her about it either. Getting a call from you every ten minutes asking questions will cause more stress than if she just did it herself. Store sold out of wheat bread? Go to a different store! Don't call her asking if white bread will be fine (of course it will be fine, she's not a bread-nazi); but that's not the point. It's her day, damnit, and if there's wheat bread at the store across town than drive your lazy ass across town and get it.

4.) Play any game she wants to play. You hate backgammon? Gin and Rummy? Suck it up. I'm sure she's played plenty of games with you that she hasn't wanted to play. Think "hide-n-seek in store clothing racks", "how many things can a toilet flush", or my personal favorite, "please don't tell dad". 
5.) Make her favorite meal (and clean up afterwards of course). Something you don't know how to make? Figure it out. Use your big kid skills. It's the effort she's looking for here, not whether or not it's Iron Chef worthy.

6.) Organize the family photos. All mother's want a collection of their family memories at their fingertips. Start with a blank album and organize everything chronologically. Bonus points if you can scrapbook!

7.) Make her a quilt of yours and/or all your siblings' baby blankets/baby clothes. Can't sew? Me neither. Find someone who can. Surely you have a cousin or a friend who's a wiz on a sewing machine. Don't feel like spending hours a day at your Great-Aunt Murtle's learning to sew? Deal with it. This isn't a list of easiest, last minute presents, it's a list of frugal presents. You probably don't see your Great-Aunt Murtle enough anyway.

8.) Make her a list of all the reasons why she is the best mother ever.

I know, I know, this sounds like a 2nd grade cop-out present, but I've heard from a lot of mothers (mine included) that there's always a sliver of doubt in the back of their mind wondering if they were the best mothers they could have been. Reassure her of these doubts. Were you in ballet and hated it? Explain how it made you appreciate soccer. Were you upset about moving to a new school in junior high? List the different friends you made, or opportunities you had because of the move.

For example, my mother was a single mom for awhile, and she waitressed early morning shifts at a cafe. She would get my brother and I ready for school at 3 in the morning, bring us to work with her, and then give us a quarter for every table we bussed after a customer left. Of course I didn't like it then, but that experience is a huge part of the "do what you need to do" work ethic I have now. Tell her that. She would like to know.

9.) Surprise her with a picnic. Do all the planning, all the packing, and all the cleanup. Bring a camera.

10.) Make her a card the old-fashioned way. This has always been my mom's personal favorite. She keeps all the cards, whether it's from when we were 5 or when we were 20. The importance here is that it's hand-done. Don't type the words out, hand write them. Just the sight of your handwriting adds a personal touch.

I say if you can afford an expensive spa day or jewelry for your mom than go for it! And if you can't? Do something on this list. The point isn't how much money you spend, it's that you do something that can convey how thankful you are for all she's done for you. This seems like a tall order, and it is, but if I've learned anything about mothers it's this: their love is unconditional, and they don't ask for much. So put in the effort, try your best and enjoy your time together.

Think about it. That's what she's been doing your entire life. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Marlee vs Baby

Something interesting you may not know about me before this trip? I'm 26, and have never held a baby. Ever. And not by lack of opportunity either. It takes a lot of skill to keep from holding a baby when everyone in the room assumes that since I am a woman I must be naturally inclined to holding an infant. That I want to hold them. That I simply can't wait to oooh and aaah over their little fingers and toes. Not the case.

I'm the random girl who stands in the corner when a coworker brings her new baby to work, making slow movements towards the door and secretly praying for a meteor to hit directly across the street so that I may direct my attention elsewhere. I grab whatever is nearby so my hands are full. I develop a hacking cough and excuse myself to the restroom. I'm so skilled in the baby deflection dance I could be on a friggin' reality television show.

You may laugh, but I'm going to be frank here. Babies. Are. Terrifying.

Why? Not because of the potential spit-up or diaper blowout, or the sheer fragility of their existence, but because they haven't learned how to sugarcoat their criticisms yet.

That's right. Babies are rude. If you're not funny, they cry. If you smell bad, they cry. If you look strange, they cry. With all this information I am left to think if someone hands me a baby and the baby starts crying, they are confirming my deep-seated fears of being a boring, smelly, strange-looking individual. I'm defective, and somehow this tiny person can sense it, and they are going to spread the word like wildfire.

So for the entire 8 hour drive on my way to meet my 4-month old niece, my mind was racing trying to recall my best baby deflection one-liners:
"Oh I'd love to hold Junior, but I'm really sick...with tuberculosis."
"I have a phobia of miniature sized clothing."
"I just got off work at the roadkill processing plant."
"I didn't take my seizure medication this morning."
"I'm actually deathly allergic to babbling."

These aren't even the good ones (I'm still kind of saving those), but the fact is nothing really works on my brother because he knows me. He knows I don't have seizures and he knows I don't work at a roadkill processing plant. I had no way out.

I walked in the door and my sister-in-law put her in my arms. I held her in a position crossed between holding a cat and holding a football. She squirmed. We made eye-contact.

Moment of truth.

She stared. I stared. Days passed. Months. I could feel my face turning red. She was judging me.

She laughed.

She thinks I'm funny!

Score. My niece is freaking awesome. She thinks I'm hilarious. No big deal. 

The rest of the week was cake. She never cried, except for a small 2-minute warning whine to let us all know she had started her internal countdown to explosive torture, but 2 minutes is a long time to determine wet, hungry, or tired, so explosive torture never really arrived. Add on the fact that my sister-in-law has her daughter's sounds down to an exact science, already knowing ahead of time exactly what was coming next.

I found I'm not as bad as I thought I was. I played with her all week, ingraining into her head that I am the most amusing aunt she has, and even fed her a couple times. Sometimes she looks at me in a condescending "you're making a fool out of yourself" way, but I like to think that she is simply being sarcastic. Which I also like to think she picked up from me over the weekend.

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