Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays from my Clan to Yours!

Click it! Click it!

I can officially say that I got my card done ON TIME this year. Unless you live in a more eastern timezone than I do, in which case you're way too picky.

Have an excellent year!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

DIY Photo Framing on a Wooden "Canvas"

I know, it's been ages, and I do have lots of stories to tell you, but first a how to!

I've been doing yet more painting around the house and as I stare at my newly painted walls, their sad lack of artwork has been getting to me. I've been trying to figure out how to get something cool on the walls without breaking the bank when Pinterest came to my aid.

I found a little instruction on different kinds of mounting techniques and things related to engineering prints, but they don't seem to be as inexpensive where I live as the original posters have noted. Instead, whilst staring at a skinny blank section of wall, it struck me that there was a picture I wanted to put there and that the best way it would fit would be on a piece of scrap wood that was languishing in the garage.

I pulled out the 9" x 24" piece of plywood, eyed the spot and the idea all came together. For you, my step by step plan, with photos.

You will need:
  • scrap wood
  • ModPodge or other glue for decoupage
  • paint
  • paint or foam brushes
  • scissors
  • photo
  • measuring tape
  • sanding block
  • rags
  • pencil
  • picture hangar and a nail
  • level
  • needle-nose pliers
  • hammer

The piece of plywood I chose wasn't quite true on one side, so I had Eric give it a tiny trim.

After that, I sanded it down on the edges and the front side where I would be gluing the photograph. It doesn't have to be perfection, but splinter free is nice. You don't want anything poking you as you're smoothing your image down.

I wiped down the board with a clean rag and painted the edges. You could paint the entire board, but since the photo is going to cover the entire front side and the back will never be visible once it's hung, that seemed like a waste of time and paint.

After the paint was dry, I unrolled my photo to check out how much trimming it would require. I had it printed as a 20" x 30" poster (a standard size available at Costco) and then cut it down to 9" x 24" (a decidedly non-standard size). I trimmed it on my cutting mat with a rotary cutter and then switched to scissors as I got closer to the image.

Once almost all of the white space was cut away, I pulled out the ModPodge and slapped a coat onto the plywood face that I had sanded down and a coat onto the back of the photograph. I carefully laid the photo down onto the wood and smoothed it out carefully, to ensure there were no bubbles under the photo.

After I let that dry for about an hour, I used more ModPodge to coat the front of the photograph. I used all vertical strokes for the first layer. After that dried, a couple hours later I added a second layer of glue perpendicular to the first layer. The glue dries clear and forms a protective layer over your photo and will give it a matte look.

The next day, I picked up a self leveling hangar and hammered it down. You may need a pair of needle-nose pliers to hold the tiny nail in place, unless you have skinny, tiny fingers. You can use any hanging device you'd like, but my board weighed just under 3lbs and since I didn't want it to slide off the wall, I went with a heavy duty hangar.

Be sure to place something cushion-like under the photo when you go to hammer the hangar into place or you may nick your image. I grabbed Emma's blanket since it was begging to help.

Then it was time to pound a nail into the wall and hang that bad boy up.

I made sure to sign the back and wrote down that this image was of Igor Mitoraj’s “Tyndareus Cracked” from the Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy, when Eric and I went for our 10th anniversary trip in May of 2006. It only took me six years to finally print it.

Since that turned out so well, I know what I'll be doing with the big blank wall when you walk in the front door. I see a series of large black and white photos hanging there. Maybe six? I might even use the thinner 1/4" plywood so it will be even lighter and easier to hang.

Total out of pocket cost? $11. The print was $9 (plus tax) and the hangar was a dollar and change. Everything else I already had on hand. I also learned that if you want to make your own ModPodge, all you need is equal parts Elmer's glue and water, shaken together in a jar. Clearly I'm going to need a lot once I start gearing up for 20" x 30" images!

Now to find some more pictures to print!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Staring at Pronghorn

In case you didn't know, it's pronghorn hunting season here in Colorado. It's only 9 days long, so it's possible that hunters who eagerly desire a pronghorn trophy might be willing to trespass onto private preserve land. And if you want to keep them off your land, you need to watch over your land and gently remind those eager hunters that there are signs posted all around the property clearly stating that No Hunting is allowed.

If your best friend asked you to run off to Pritchett, CO to go stare at bison, pronghorn, hawks, prairie dogs, and hunters, you'd say "Yes!", wouldn't you?

I did.

But then, we already knew that I'm a sucker.

And so, off we went, gallivanting across the countryside to protect property rights and migrating herds of pronghorn.

On the way in to the Bison Ranch,

we passed The Hut. I didn't take the time to photograph it last time, but made certain to this time around. Creepy, no?

Its decrepit nature will only continue to worsen as the vagaries of wind and weather attack it relentlessly over time. Nothing good ever happens here. Do Not Enter.

After driving for hours and not seeing any pronghorn, we were starting to wonder if we would ever see a single one during our trip or if we were going to have to ask for a do-over. Pronghorn?! What pronghorn!

Then, pounding away from us in the distance, we saw a small herd of about 11 - 12.

Turns out that their brown/tan/cream coloration means they blend in really well with the dry grasses and scrub on the prairie. You don't really notice them until they start to move. At one point, Misty mistook an entire field of baled hay for a large herd as we were driving past. A very still herd.

At the ranch, we hung out and chatted about pronghorns, wolves, and politics. Suddenly, Misty yelled at me to come outside and have a look at the sky.

That night, at that moment, the sky looked like this:

Incredible. Awe inspiring. Fantastic.

Freezing cold.

It's an incredible experience that you just can't get down in the city. Even on top of Flagstaff Mountain outside of Boulder, you still have to deal with light pollution. Here, however, there are no lights and few houses, separated by miles of scrub and critter filled space. What I can't properly share with you in these photos is that behind the shivering photographer there came the sound of a pack of coyotes, howling into the distance. How far the distance was I don't know, but I was hoping they weren't making designs on my haunches.It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and reminded me why humans like caves, huts, and houses.

Just as I felt that I was finally getting the hang of night sky shots, my frozen hands and numb fingers forced me to stop for awhile and warm up. By the time I returned, the sky was completely clouded over, just as if someone had pulled a big woolly blanket across the plains. It was impossible to see a single star at that point and made me very glad that I had taken as many pictures as I had before going inside. It also made me wonder why I didn't have a flashlight, because a night on the plains without a moon is very, very, very dark.

Instead of the cabin, which appeared to be overrun with mice, we decided to sleep in the pop-up camper that Nicole had brought. An unheated pop-up camper, in a two person sleeping bag, in long underwear, PJs, two pairs of socks, a hat and a warm and fuzzy blanket. It was a little chilly that night, you see. Fortunately for me, Misty was like a roaring fire at my back and kept me toasty warm, in addition to all the other layers I was wearing. After giggling and shivering in our double sleeping bag (Misty is incredibly cuddly.), we finally settled down and fell asleep to the sound of the wind ruffling the camper's canvas sides.

In the morning, after waking up three hours later than planned, we got ready to go stare at the plains, wild animals, and watch for trespassing hunters. The plan was for Misty and I to take note of license plates of hunters in the wrong and phone them into the local Wildlife rangers. However, as it turned out, most of our time was spent sitting the in cold car and watching hunters drive around aimlessly looking for public lands to hunt on, miles and miles away from us. The preserves we were protecting are checker-boarded with private ranch land and public grazing grasslands, so it's easy to get confused as to where you can and cannot hunt. However, the pronghorn weren't abundant, so we'd see more trucks than ungulates. As far as calling it hunting goes, it didn't seem very sportsmanlike to me. Instead of having to trek into the woods, set up a base camp, create blinds or hide in trees and wait for your prey, pronghorn hunters get to drive around the vast grid that makes up the South Eastern portion of Colorado on dirt roads, stop when they finally see something and then shoot it. Even fishing has more of a mystery to it than that.

I also discovered that you can hear gunshots from very far away on the prairie. There's nothing but gently rolling scrub and distance to muffle the sound. It's also incredibly quiet out there, except for the sound of the local wildlife. No engine noises, no people, no equipment. Just wind, birds, prairie dogs, and the occasional insect. It's very soothing. Very zen.

A hawk and crow appear to be playing together, circling in the air.

A hawk sits on a pole and contemplates its next meal of prairie dog.

The Lone Prairie

Someone ate all of the sunflower seeds.

The colors are beautiful and make me think in terms of paint chips. You could make a really nice room with lime green, chocolate brown, cream, and tan.

Yes, something big clearly died here.

All of the most fashionable environmentalists are wearing Blaze Orange this year.

Plants are still blooming. 

Prairie dog having a snack. 

This p-dog thinks we might want to eat it. Maybe if I were a little hungrier.... 

We were getting ready to head back home and were making our way back to the ranch when Misty stopped the car abruptly. There, on the left side of the road was a single pronghorn. (Or perhaps it was married. I dunno, since I didn't ask.)

The Lone Pronghorn.

After taking a few shots (with our cameras!), we crept the car closer to it. My 70-200mm lens just isn't cutting it for wildlife photography. Clearly I should rent a big prime! The prongie decided it needed to hie itself home and trotted over to the other side of the road and ducked under the fence.

Pronghorns go under fences, not over. Strange but True Tales from the Prairie. 

The fact that we got to see the pronghorn actually walking under a fence was great, because I was honestly having a hard time believing that these deer-like critters didn't just jump every fence they came across. Turns out they aren't as sproingy as deer and it's the best reason why the bottom wire on prairie fences should be smooth instead of barbed.

Once it was on the other side, it turned back to us to watch us closely. Very curious was this ungulate. 

Having successfully survived this close encounter with humans, it took off at a trot to find some friends and maybe a mate.

As I mentioned last time, Colorado is a fence OUT state, which means if you don't want cattle on your land, it's up to you to keep them off of your property by putting up fences all along your borders. It also means you're very likely to run into them on the road.

Young cattle with winter coats look all soft and pettable. Also a bit daft.

Just try not to do it literally. Cattle will seriously mess up your ride.

Bison, on the other hand, will utterly destroy your ride and wreck your life, should you piss them off whilst trying to pass them in your suddenly completely inadequately safe vehicle.  I highly recommend stopping and waiting for them to move.

"You shall not pass...easily!"

Or creeping up to them really really slowly and encouraging them to get out of the way.

"Where are you goin'?"

Perhaps if you offered them a sacrificial hunk of gluten free zucchini bread they might be tempted to move out of the way faster.

Staring contest winner: Number 45!

No? Then you're going to have to do the best you can to get past them without somehow pissing them off.

Safety tip: Do not enrage the bison.

I also highly recommend that you don't forget your glasses on the bathroom sink, thus requiring you to drive through the herd of semi-unpredictable (Prediction: They will get in the way. True! Prediction: They will get out of the way. Possibly!) bison a total of four times instead of the two it would have taken originally. Although I was quite amused listening to Misty hyperventilate over just how BIG they were and how CLOSE they were and how utterly SURROUNDED we were by a dozen or more two ton animals. Well entertained, but you should know that I had my window rolled up tight. Bison kisses aren't on my Bucket List, you see.

Then, not-so-suddenly, we were no longer surrounded by giant shaggy beasts and were on our way home.

Gunshots heard: 5
Interactions with hunters: limited entirely to waving in a friendly fashion.
Trespassers evicted: Zero for Misty and I, Nicole snagged a few on her watch.
Close encounters with bovine: Six
Dogs acquired: Zero (But it was a very close thing, because Misty is a sucker.)
Fun memories acquired: Tons!

The six or seven hour drive out and back again was spent with almost non-stop talking, laughing, joking, and being completely inappropriate in ways I won't share. Misty has threatened to bring a recording device next time just so she has a record of how completely ridiculous I can get when cooped up in a car.

Ruh-dick-uh-luss. I'm tellin' you!

And just so you know: when you want to have an adventure, I am the friend you call.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Moving Forward

In case you're wondering what I've been up to all summer, I was off taking a few pictures of hummingbirds,

families other than my own,

and those monkeys of mine.

And thinking.

The twins are going to be in kindergarten this fall. Well, technically in August since we're in Colorado and we like sending our children into schools without air-conditioning when it's 106 degrees outside. (No joke - it's been incredibly hot this summer, with very little rain and the schools don't have A/C. Here's hoping they won't roast!) Clearly, I need to come up with a plan. What am I going to do with myself once the twins are in school full time? Other than run around, jump for joy and have a celebratory breakfast the day we drop them off?

I think I've been stuck on hover-mode recently.

Neither moving forward, nor backward. Stuck somewhere in the middle. I am not certain if I should go back to school or just get some job somewhere or the other to just make some cash. School clothes don't buy themselves, after all. If I do go back to school, what am I going for? What do I want to do? The age old question of "What do I want to be when I grow up?" is stuck reverberating around in my head. Again.


In the time it took me to get back to this post, all three children are well started into the school year. The twins are some of the youngest in their class, since they made the cut-off by three days this wasn't a big surprise to me. The fact that there are only 3 other kids right around their age did surprise me. Caitlin, our middle schooler, is having a great time. She now has to ride her bike ever-so-slightly downhill all the way to school and has done it willingly, compared to being completely unwilling to ride all the way uphill to elementary school. In her defense, it's a pretty hefty hill going up, but meh! She's OK now. Also, we're trying to turn her into Sporty Spice by signing her up for all manner of 4 and 6 week sports classes.

It's pretty amazing, actually. She leaves just after 8 am and doesn't get home until 5 pm. So far she's tried out volleyball, but that ends this week and then next week it's tennis! We're going to keep on throwing different sport "opportunities" at her until one sticks, dang it! We're also looking at signing her back up in skating lessons, since she really seemed to like those. The twins have also expressed an interest in learning how to skate after watching Caitlin do a performance, so that will be something new this fall.

All of this change is pretty exciting, actually.

The twins have scooter bikes without pedals that they were kind of iffy about, but over the course of the summer they've really taken to them. Now that they're in school, we have them ride their bikes home every day. They're at the point where they're able to glide and balance, so it's just a matter of time (Possibly even this weekend.) before we try them out on pedal bikes! They are loving being in kindergarten, love their teacher and classmates and are really enjoying the whole going to school process. I love all of the quiet that comes after dropping them off. I feel like I am regaining braincells and can occasionally maintain an entire thought process for minutes at a time!

I immediately started on a painting project in the basement that I then turned into a construction project for Eric. I'm awesome that way, you see. The Diderot Effect. I has it. It's just that after I had pulled all of the stuff out of the library/ex-plant nursery/out-of-sight-room-filled-with-crap and painted the walls, the giant purple paint stain on the 10 year old carpet was really bothersome. Since I'm turning it into a library/guestroom in an effort to lure friends and family members out to come see me, it only makes sense to replace the carpet with nice, new laminate flooring. Eric grudgingly agreed, so now we're at the demolition stage. How quickly I can go from a "quick" paint job to full on remodel I'll never quite understand, but apparently that's how I roll.

After he's done and we've pulled the room back together again, I'll post some pictures. Unfortunately, I don't have true Before and After photos because I didn't take any pictures of just what it looked like before I had cleared it out prior to my friend Val's visit. Oh, it was an eyesore. Instead, I have pics of what it looked like before I painted and removed the 17 year old bookshelves out. It should be pretty spiff when I'm done. Also, the books will be alphabetized again. Pet peeve. Gah!

Somewhere in here I'll start to seriously think about my future. Perhaps there's a book waiting inside me quietly trying to make its way out. Perhaps there are photos that need capturing. I know my garden needs serious attention after I ignored it all summer. Those 100+ degree days weren't my idea of gardening weather, so there's a lot of weedy neglect happening. Also, the front and back yards need a little more plant editing. As the summer finally cools off, I'll be out there again, ripping and shredding and revamping my beds.

I just wish I had as clear a plan for my own future as I do for the assorted rooms in my house. Ah well. I guess I'll just wait for my brain and creativity to wake back up and then I'll see.

Yup. I'll see.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Start of a New School Year - for EVERYONE

It just so happens that we start the school year early, here in Colorado. While Eastern states wait until after Labor Day, we like to get our chilluns back in the trenches in the middle of August.

So when Monday of this week rolled around, we went school shopping and bought three sets of school supplies. On Tuesday, we took the twins up to meet their new kindergarten teacher. On Wednesday, we took Caitlin to her new middle school (Which she loves!).
She's so BIG!

And only slightly terrified.

At the end of the day, we even picked her back up again. We're good parents that way.

And took the twins up for an assessment at their new elementary school, while Caitlin was being educated. On Thursday, Caitlin rode her bike to school on her own.

And on Friday...

I'm in love.*

With kindergarten.

When you make the cut-off date for kindergarten by three whole days, chances are really good that you're going to be the youngest and shortest kids in the class. That's OK, though, because they've got each other. As a matter of fact, they weren't even separated, as I had thought they would be. Maybe it's because they aren't identical?

Caitlin came with us to see the twins off, since middle school (I'm still not over the concept yet.) doesn't start until later in the morning. It was pretty exciting to have us come full circle with Caitlin here, as the big sister, dropping off the twins on their very first day. When we dropped her off in kindergarten, we had no idea what was in store for us the very next year.

Logan blinked or made weird faces all through my shots. Sigh.

Lining up to go inside, Logan turned back to me and told me he loved me in the one piece of sign language he knows. Yeah, that's mah boy.
No, I didn't cry, but I do admit to a heart clenching moment when he did this. Verklempt. So sweet!

After they walked inside, we dropped Caitlin off at school
Apparently Fridays are "Crazy Hat Day". At least, that's what she said.

and ran away for a triumphant celebratory breakfast with our friend, B.




And it was good.

I was reminded by a friend that I also needed to pick them up and that I didn't just get to leave them at school until another 6 years had passed. Since I figured that was probably true and that the phone calls would get annoying before the day was out we went to go pick them up by the end of the school day. Six whole hours later.

Six years from now, I'm going to be amazed just how small they are right here, in this shot.
Those ones! Over there! THEY DID THIS TO ME! Logan points out the Parental Units in a very accusatory way.

Daddy gets First Hugs, whilst Mommy photographs The Moment.

After Eric snagged all of the initial hugs, Logan ran over to me with intent eyes and gave me big hugs and squeezes and kisses. He's pretty darned cute, so I let him. Emma did too, but I can't shoot and hug and kiss all at the same time. I know, I need more arms.

Both of them were in a great mood and started telling us about their day while I tried to get a few more cute kindergartener pictures in.


Yeah, I'm in love with Friday. And with all of these school age children!

Wow! We survived! what do I do with all of this free time? Guess I'll have to write about it. On Monday. Or Tuesday, since Monday the twins don't have school, but they do on Tuesday! Squeeee!

* Yes, I'm a child of the 80's and here's the music video, because I know it's now stuck in your head, too.

** Just in case you need a second song to get the first song out of your head.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

So you say you want to get in shape...

but you're not exactly sure how to start. You've tried before, but failed and are currently convinced that your body is magic and just won't lose the weight.

I'm here to tell you, with some assistance from the internet, that you're wrong.

Your body is NOT magic. You CAN lose weight. You WILL lose weight. If you WANT to do it and are willing to put in the time and effort to do so.

The short version of this whole post is this (roughly in order, but that's up to you):
  • Be honest with yourself.
  • Set reasonable goals.
  • Take pictures of yourself right now, in your skivvies and save it for later. You'll be glad you have that when you're setting up your "after" picture.
  • Measure yourself (e.g. chest, waist, hip, thigh, upper arm). Track how those numbers change over time.
  • Weigh yourself, but take what the scale says with a grain of salt and only track your weight weekly.
  • Count (and track!) your calories.
  • Weigh your food.
  • Drink lots of water. No, more than that, lots of water.
  • Sleep.
  • Layer in exercise after you've gotten the hang of tracking your food intake.
  • Give your body time to rest between workouts.
  • Weight training is fantastic for both men and women. (Forget terms like "tone".
  • Updated to add: My friend S (She of Red Flashlight) reminded me that it's also great to get support from your friends and family on your weight loss journey. More thoughts on that way down below.

Don't bother reading magazines that suggest you can get "bikini ready" in 6 weeks. Skip any magazine that tells you that you can lose X pounds in Y time period, and oh! here's the latest recipe for this great summer time dessert! All of those folks just want to sell you crap. Mostly the concept that you suck and that you need to be skinny and yet eat all of these yummy, well photographed convenience foods.

Weight loss is about calories in vs. calories out. The hardest part is being honest with yourself and properly tracking your food intake. Get yourself a kitchen scale and sign up for - a calorie tracking website where you can log what you eat, track your measurements and progress.

"There is an inflexible law of physics — energy taken in must exactly equal the number of calories leaving the system when fat storage is unchanged. Calories leave the system when food is used to fuel the body. To lower fat content — reduce obesity — one must reduce calories taken in, or increase the output by increasing activity, or both."

Weigh your food. Eyeballing whether that chicken breast is 4 oz or 6 oz is not going to cut it. Start your diet by first tracking all the things you are currently eating this week. Note that you are the only one looking at this information and that if you lie to yourself about the data, you are not going to have significant progress in weight loss. The first step is to tell yourself the truth. After you've documented your actual intake for a week, I bet you can look right at the list of food you're eating and immediately know which kinds of foods to cut out.

Just in case you don't know, here are my suggestions:
  1. Any liquid calories other than water, coffee or tea (I only leave those latter pair in because I know how hard it is to give up caffeine in our daily lives).
  2. Candy.
  3. Snack size anything other than vegetables.
  4. Fast food.
  5. Food ridiculously high in sodium.
  6. Daily desserts.
  7. Any food you eat that you justify as you "deserve" to have it, you've "earned it" or "you only live once". No one is trying to take anything from you. Remember that you have made the decision to lose weight. Thoughts that keep you focussed on food you're weak towards will only drag you down. Also, keep in mind that dieting is meant to be temporary. What is meant to be permanent is your relationship to food and the knowledge that you are what you eat means the difference between being healthy or unhealthy.

Over 1/3rd of the American population is obese. Houston, we clearly have a problem here. --

Once you've started tracking, cut out the "low hanging fruit", it will be time to have a look at the rest of your diet. Is it primarily made up of convenience foods? Guess what? That kind of food, while fast to make, isn't good for you in the long run. Have a look at the ingredient list. Do you recognize those ingredients as food? It's time to eat real food again and it will take effort. It's up to you to decide how much effort you want to put into making food for your daily meals, but remember that you will pay for your choice with your health.

OK, so you've got your food under control, but you're desperate to lose weight so you're thinking you can lose 2 lbs or more a week if you starve yourself. Don't do it. My Fitness Pal will make suggestions, you get to choose how fast or slow you want to lose the weight and set your calories appropriately, but I'll tell you right now that if you're eating well in excess of 2500 or more calories per day, if you suddenly try to cut it all down to 1200 calories per day you're going to hate your life. And then you'll fail at weight loss again. Instead, consider trying to lose 1 lb a week. That's 3500 calories you would need to cut out of a week's worth of food - 500 calories a day. Want 2 lbs? OK, but that's 1000 calories, on average, every day. Set a reasonable weight loss rate as your goal that you can handle and stick to it.

You didn't gain all this weight in a month, you surely won't lose it in a month. It may take you years to lose it, if you have a significant amount of weight to lose. That's OK, though, because you're in this for the long haul. This is the only body you get and the sooner you stop taking it for granted, the sooner you will get healthier.

Take pictures of yourself, right now, just as you are today. Do it in your skivvies, or your bathing suit or your workout gear. That photo is the truth about what you currently weigh and what you currently look like. No matter what you may think you weigh, that picture is the actuality of it. You don't have to show it to anyone, but you do have to face up to it. It can be your motivation. It will be your "before" photo. Trust me, you'll appreciate it in a few months as you progress.

Take your measurements. Get a tape measure and note your chest, waist, hip, thigh and upper arm measurements. As you progress in weight loss, you may reach a point where you think nothing is happening if the needle on the scale isn't budging. It's very likely, though, that you are going through a period of body recomposition and are losing inches but not pounds. This is much more important to pay attention to than your weight on the scale.

Weigh yourself. Jot that starting number down. You can weigh yourself daily or weekly or monthly, but remember that your weight will fluctuate wildly depending on the amount of water you're currently retaining, what time of day you weigh yourself, whether you had a big meal late at night or any number of other reasons. I recommend weighing yourself first thing in the morning, but only tracking your weight once a week. Do not freak out when the number on the scale remains the same. That would be a great time to check your measurements again. Your body is an amazing instrument but all a scale can actually tell you is the effect of gravity upon your mass. That's it. It doesn't know the difference between the fat you or the more muscled you. Don't panic.

Thoughts on the scale from MFP:

Paper towel theory of weight loss. A great analogy.

Drink lots of water. No, more like lots of water. Eight or more glasses per day. First off, it will help to stave off feelings of hunger and will assist in weight loss. Often we don't drink as much as we should and it leads to snacking. It also helps to flush your bodies waste products. It's good for you and it's free. Squeeze a little lemon or lime in there if you want. Drink up!

Get some sleep. If you're sleeping, you're not eating and your body has a chance to rebuild and repair your cells as well as burn more fat.

Get active. I left this for last since this is the section I could rant on and on about, but honestly, if you aren't controlling your diet you can exercise all you want but you can never outrun your fork. Don't try to diet, run and lift weights all at the same time. You will get frustrated and quit. Layer in additional levels of exercise after you've gotten in the habit of putting down your fork and saying no to all of those tempting snack foods. There are a ton of sites out there that recommend doing this or that for losing weight. At the end of the day, it's all about controlling your intake and then getting a move on.

Start by walking. It's free and you already know how to do it. Track your mileage, speed and route with Runkeeper or any similar running program. If you're a goofy geek like me, join Fitocracy and sync your Runkeeper to your fitocracy account and get points just like a character in a video game.

Fitocracy is the game you play to improve your fitness. Track your progress, compete against your friends, and get real world results. It’s time to be fitter and look better naked.

Also, what could be more fun than leveling up, running fitness quests and making new friends online? Getting fit, that's what!

If you're feeling like you want a challenge, get off the couch and start running. The Couch to 5K program may be just what you need to move your weight loss along. Also, cardio is the first rule of Zombieland. It also helps you to keep up with your kids or pets or catch that bus. Very useful.

Weight training is awesome and filled with win. I highly recommend Starting Strength and have heard good things about You Are Your Own Gym, The New Rules of Lifting for Women and Strong Lifts. You will not get "bulky" if you're a woman. That's just utter crap. Also, how many times in your life have you ever wished you were weaker? Here's a great article on the myth of toning. There are so many fantastic resources out there related to getting fit, I can't possibly list them all. There's also an even larger helping of crap and lies. For a really great overall site, with a fun writing style, have a look at Nerd Fitness. He's awesome and so is Staci who shows us how it's done.

Get support from friends and family members. You know what else is great about losing weight? Doing it with someone else. Someone you can suffer with, share the highs and lows with, and with whom you can trade ideas or provide feedback on your weightloss journey. ("Honey, that 170lb squat makes your ass legs look fantastic!") It also makes it a lot easier to get into the gym if there's someone else who you, out of the goodness of your heart of course, have to ensure makes it to the gym. They need you to get them going. Sometimes it's easier if we play head games on ourselves, to keep going even when your motivation is low. Having someone else to depend on and who is depending on you is fantastic.

That being said, there will be plenty of friends or family members that will not like you getting in shape. That, however, is a topic big enough for a whole other post. It's incredibly important for you to be self motivated when it comes to weight loss since you are the only one putting the fork in your mouth. It's also why you may note that and are both social sites. Take advantage of the tremendous number of people - currently strangers - that are willing to give you a fist bump or virtual highfive for any attempt or success you post. Those strangers can turn out to be great fitness friends if you let them!

So you want to be in shape? Get up and get going. You can do it. Have a look at reddit's Lose It to see thousands of ordinary people, just like you and me, who are losing weight and talking about it. There's no magic. No way around it but hard work and sticktoitiveness.

You can do it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Adventures on the Colorado Prairie

In early May, my girlfriend Misty asked me to run away with her for the weekend, go camping, and fix barbed wire fences.

Of course I had to say yes. Who would refuse such an invitation?! Run off to the middle of no where in South East Colorado? Volunteer to spend 2 1/2 days exposed to the sun, wind, stars and possibly rattlesnakes? Sleep on the ground, grungy and unwashed? Develop calluses and play tetanus tag?


She had volunteered to go fix fences for an organization she is a part of and suddenly thought of who else she knew that might be interested in going with her when she realized that I was the perfect sucker friend to ask. It took me all of 2 minutes to think it over and after verifying that Eric would be okay with being abandoned with the mini horde, I joyfully called her back and gushed, "Yes!"

We began the trip on a bright and sunny Friday afternoon, went grocery shopping to ensure that we'd have the bare minimum of food in case the folks we'd be hanging out with were only supplying food filled with Misty-poison (Gluten). After gathering supplies and many gallons of water, we headed East on our new adventure.



Without the children.

Without the husbands.

Without any need to be anywhere but exactly where we were: together and driving off into the distance, laughing and talking and talking and giggling and being terribly rude, crude and silly just as we pleased.

Without interruption. For six hours.

If you have children, you know how incredible that experience is - to be all alone and have uninterrupted conversation. To do it with your best friend? Fan-freakin'-tastic! The time just flew. Even with stopping at two different grocery stores (And having been followed by a fellow shopper from one to the next...Creepy.) and assorted gas stations, becoming temporarily displaced (For the record we were never "lost", just temporarily displaced!) and finally finding our destination, it really only seemed as if we were driving for an hour. Amazing.

The place we were staying was a buffalo ranch in the middle of no where.

The road to no where.

Click to enlarge the photos. You won't regret it!

We drove down miles and miles of dirt roads that only had numbers and letters. The GPS unit had no idea where we were in the vastness of the Colorado plains. The landscape didn't roll so much as it unfolded before us as we drove mile after mile away from all we knew.

After fretting about whether we'd have access to running water and a coffee pot (For Misty, of course. After all, I'm a tea person!), it turned out that there was an entire house on the ranch. However, since we came prepared to camp, we set up our tent off to the side and thanked our lucky stars that we wouldn't have to pee behind a cactus. At night. With coyotes howling in the near distance. In case you're wondering, trees are few and far between out on the plains, while there are plenty of cactus and yucca. Colorado is basically a desert plain with those measly 14" of rain per year, thus no respectable amount of cover for covert urinating.

You've been warned.

After getting our sleeping arrangements worked out, we hung about and traded stories with the other weekend volunteers. Gardening stories were exchanged. Volunteering credentials were presented. ("I'm here because of the blonde.") That night, Misty and I stayed up way later than we should have, giggling and thinking about how much we resembled our own daughters at sleepovers. It was the first time we'd ever had one together! Eventually, after staring up into the infinite night sky that bloomed with stars and a radiant moon, we finally slept.

Then, typical of an early Saturday morning, we woke to the roaring of a lawn mower.

Outside our tent.

What the bloody hell?!

It was our host's way of waking us all up in a...distinctive manner. Well, we did need to wake up early to get the fence repairs done before it got too hot....

After mental threats of unspecified violence, we organized ourselves, slathered on sunscreen and drove to an unremarkable stretch of land that sported sagging barbed wire fences. There we received fence repair and rattlesnake avoidance instructions.

That's right: rattlesnakes.

For the record, I was utterly disappointed that there were no rattlesnake encounters the entire weekend. We did almost run over a bull snake, but they aren't deadly poisonous and thus are disappointing for near-death-seeking fence repair teams. OK, maybe that was just me.

He blends nicely into the background, doesn't he? Watch your step!

Then, tools in hand, our host set us loose on a half mile stretch of sagging fence that needed to be taken down so that it could be repaired, re-stretched and re-attached.

Grab with pliers. Unwrap post clip from wire. Remove mangled clip. Drop wire. Repeat ad nauseum.

Misty shows us how it's done.

The work wasn't hard...repetitive tedious, yes, but made much more fun when chatting with Misty and the other volunteers as we leap-frogged one another down the fence line. Hours later, with hands beginning to cramp and considering blistering, I took advantage of Misty's recent concussion to declare we needed a shaded rest back at the ranch for lunch. It was hot and she was clearly fading, while turning bright red in the sun. The fact that I, too, wanted a break was totally beside the point! (Wink!)

After lunch, a whole lotta water and a short nap, we returned to the blistering heat of the late afternoon sun and reclipped all the fence we'd unclipped after it was all re-stretched, repaired and ready to go.

Yes, all of that fence.

We had a little excitement in the form of cattle from the neighboring ranch that were interested in snacking on the greener grass across the way (The grass really was greener since no grazing was allowed on the conservation land we were working on. It was long and luscious and apparently too tempting to miss for the bovine crowd that snuck in through an opening while we were off having lunch.). Our fearless leader chased them off her land with cowboy-like prowess. That's when I learned that Colorado is what they call a "fence out" state: if you don't want cattle noshing on your land, you put up a fence or deal with the consequences.

The snack bar is now closed!

Most of the cattle easily crossed the road and hooked up with the rest of the herd, however there was a pair that were dumber than a pair of old boots that took off on their own down the road. Only after watching us repair the fence and then back the car up several hundred feet away from them, did they feel safe enough to come back down the road towards the herd. First, though, they needed to check to see if the snack bar was still open.

Seriously! One of the two walked to where the opening had been and then looked over at the car in what appeared to be a bovine glare before they finally crossed back onto the neighbor's land and shuffled off to the rest of the buffalo.

(Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

That night, we had a full moon. The Super Moon, they said. Unfortunately, my photo doesn't do it justice at all. I blame my lack of previous nighttime photography experience.

I can attest to the fact that the night was incredibly bright in a way you can't experience within the city or suburb. Way out on the plains, where there aren't any other houses and light sources for miles and miles, it was huge, bright and stunning. The quiet of the evening wrapped around us; bugs hushed, birds made their last calls to one another, and the soft wind were the only sounds we heard aside from our own breathing.

That night the clouds rolled in and the wind picked up.

A lot.

So much so that it woke me up at 2 am to the sound of the tent flapping around us, and the tree above us creaking as the branches whipped back and forth. The light from the huge moon dispersed behind the thick clouds was so bright I could see everything clearly. I turned to Misty and suggested we might want to move indoors since sleeping under such conditions was impossible while also being somewhat dangerous should the weather get worse. She had to think about it for a bit and suggested that I could go in without her.

I reminded her that we were in this adventure together and that if she wasn't going to go then I certainly wasn't going without her. After she cogitated a bit more we agreed that we could weigh the tent down with gear from the car and take ourselves in out of the windstorm. For those of you unfamiliar with Colorado, we easily get 100 mph winds without having actual tornadoes tiptoeing over our heads, but being out on the plains it could have easily turned into a tornado. Staying outside just to tough it out just wasn't feasible. Inside we were quietly welcomed by our fearless, cattle chasing, leader. Turns out that we were the last ones to take refuge indoors. Heh!

The next day, after a few more hours of taking down and clipping back up barbed wire fences, we said our goodbyes and headed back home. This time, since we weren't in a rush to return to family, friends and all of those responsibilities we ran away from on Friday, we took our time and I took a few landscape shots.

It's been a long time since I've shot anything that wasn't short and related to me or a plant I grew in my own yard. I was worried that I'd lost my mojo. My chops are rusty, it's true, but they still appear to be there.

I present to you the barren beauty of the plains.

Yes, it's flat. Still not as flat as Kansas. 

This is the effect that rock gardeners want. 

So very flat and mostly featureless. 

Pointy devils. I don't plant cactus in my yard because I just know that I'll fall on it. 

I couldn't not photograph this after it immediately reminded me of Lois Lane's car in Superman. Now you know where it ended up. 

I love how big the sky is out here in Colorado. 

Mesas and yuccas. 


A quick picture of the intrepid explorers! 

Turns out that I like my prairie with more trees on it. Go figure. 

Turns out that cattle love yucca flowers like kids love ice cream.

Wild flowers on ungrazed land. 

You know you're way out there when you can stand in the middle of the road without fear of cars coming by any time soon. 

Giant hammer meets earth. How else did it get broken up that way?

A tree grows alone. 

As we drove home we declared our undying love for one another that we should repeat this adventure every year. While we won't necessarily repair fences every year, camping alone is definitely a must. Getting away from it all, even when you love all of "it" is a treat when you take one of your favorite people with you. Silly stories, new inside jokes, terrible food, good food, fabulous conversation, and uncertain outcomes are the stuff of a life well lived.

Even when there aren't any rattlesnake encounters.

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