29 August 2015

Losing a Friend

I had no idea how lucky I was a little over 9 years ago when the next-door neighbor knocked and, crying, asked if I'd be willing to take her dog.  I was exactly 1 week away from moving from AZ to NC.  The neighbors had moved from Michigan to AZ because the dry air was supposed to be good for the husband's allergies (I think...some medical reason like that). They got the dog thinking it would be good for the husband's arthritis to go on daily walks.  Well, the husband was often sick and sometimes barely got out of bed for weeks at a time. Because of the allergy situation, the dog was mostly kept outside. They felt like they weren't giving the dog a very good life and wanted better for him.  The dog got along very well with my dog and they wanted him to go to a good home.  How could I say no?  So, Tex joined us on our cross-country road trip. 

In the back of the truck driving from AC to NC.  I cannot believe how young he looks here!

The dogs were fast friends and I was often asked if they were from the same litter because they looked so much alike. 

Tex has brought so much joy and happiness to our lives.  He had such a great personality!  His smiles and kisses and always-wagging tail were sure to cheer you up no matter what your mood.  He could be so goofy you couldn't help but burst out laughing. But he was also so amazingly sweet and caring (both to humans and his adopted-dog-sister).  Together we've moved across the country, across the ocean (visiting 4 countries while there), and back.

Just look at that smile!

Tex was diagnosed with cancer 2 months ago.  It was very aggressive and, despite trying chemo treatments, took him very quickly.  I can't express how difficult his loss has been. Chey definitely misses her best buddy and I feel so badly for her.  They were inseparable for 9 years. 

He loved to sleep under my bed and his always-wagging tail would go thunk-thunk-thunk on the floor.  Not hearing that makes the room seem eerily silent.  I still can't quite believe he's actually gone.

Smiling and tail wagging...such a happy dog.
Thank you, sweet boy...for everything. You were the best and I hope you know how very much you were loved.  You are missed.

28 May 2015

For Our 11th Anniversary, I'm Thinking...Dog Biscuits

This past weekend marked 11 years since I found the sweetest girl at the animal shelter.

11 Years Ago
 She's moved across the state, across the country, across the ocean and back with me!

A little whiter in the face  now but still just as sweet!
Happy 11th anniversary Cheyenne!  Love my baby girl!!

01 May 2015

the.book.chat {Recommended Reads}

Happy Belated Birthday to Jessica over at The Tangerine.  For her birthday she requested book recommendations.  What a great gift!  If only I could have written this post a little faster so that it was done in time for her birthday. However...

I recently read a fantastic book and am excited to share it. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness,  by Susannah Cahalan, was both fascinating and terrifying.  I was hooked from the very beginning!  In this book, Susannah tells the true tale of her battle with a disease that involved her own immune system attacking her brain...basically her immune system tried to cook her brain.  Like I said, terrifying and fascinating!

Front Cover

At first, there's just darkness and silence.
"Are my eyes open? Hello?"
I can't tell if I'm moving my mouth or if there's even anyone to ask. It's too dark to see. I blink once, twice, three times. There is a dull foreboding in the pit of my stomach. That, I recognize. My thoughts translate only slowly into language, as if emerging from a pot of molasses. Word by word the questions come: Where am I? Why does my scalp itch? Where is everyone? Then the world around me comes gradually into view, beginning as a pinhole, its diameter steadily expanding. Objects emerge from the murk and sharpen into focus.
I know immediately that I need to get out of here.

Susannah was lucky...I know, "lucky" is not a term one generally uses when talking about someone whose immune system tried to cook her brain, stay with me here...that she lived in a major city with a large hospital, she had insurance and she had family nearby to both help her and fight for her.  Had she been in some small town in Nebraska (no offense, Nebraska), for example, I doubt her chances of a positive outcome would have been anywhere near as good.  If she hadn't had family to help her she might not have been treated at all. If she hadn't had health insurance she surely wouldn't have received the treatment she did.  Let's face it, this country is not a good place to be if you have a serious illness and no health insurance.

I shudder to think of other women facing this disease who are misdiagnosed, as Susannah was initially, and end up in a psych ward...or who do not survive. Terrifying.

This was a fast read because it was so fascinating.  You can't make up stuff like this.  It's amazing how much we still do not know or understand about the human body.  Check out this book if you want to be both fascinated and terrified by what your body can do to you!  For more information on this disease check out Susannah's website.

Sorry for being so late, Jessica, but I hope you had a fantastic birthday. Gefiliciteerd!!  Check out other recommendations at Jessica's birthday link-up.

What book would you recommend to someone?

18 April 2015

the. book. chat {Favorite Self-Published Book}

This week's Book Chat, brought to you be Jessica at The Tangerine, is about self-published books.  Admittedly, I don't necessarily pay attention to publishing information.  However, I happen to know a self-published author very well (in fact, we're going to a baseball game together later today).

Per the book's blog, Blame it on Barbara, a well-written YA debut novel by C.B. Lilley:

Barbara and Jesse are charged with guarding the nation’s most valuable secrets from a group of rogue SVR agents, and they must protect them at all costs… possibly with their lives!  
Before her grandmother came to town, Barbara Birnbaum was just an average seventh grader at Warren G. Harding Junior High in Clarence, Indiana. She was, in fact, what some might describe as exceedingly average – average height, average grades, average looks, average everything. Her older brother and sister were the family favorites, above average in almost every way, and her younger brother and sister…well they were just weird. Over time, Barbara slowly blended into the background of her own life, not just at home but also at school where she was scarcely noticed by her classmates. Barbara never imagined that she could miss her old boring life, but that was before she was being hunted down by some of the world’s most dangerous villains!
In his hometown of Los Angeles, California, Jesse Jessup was a mischievous trouble-maker whose parents had long since washed their hands of him. They shipped him off to live with his grandmother in Clarence, Indiana, where he remained a mischievous trouble-maker whose parents had long since washed their hands of him. This big-city kid from California might as well have been from Moscow, since Los Angeles seemed just as foreign a place to be from to the other kids at Warren G. Harding Junior High.
Social misfits Jesse and Barbara find friendship in each other as they embark in the greatest adventure of their lives. Jesse’s fearlessness and Barbara’s keen insight make them a perfect team of temporary CIA agents as they inadvertently land themselves smack in the middle of a dangerous mission led by Barbara’s grandmother. They’ve got no one to depend on but each other as they face rogue SVR agents, dangerous thugs, mad scientists and their own insecurities in order to save themselves, their town and possibly even the world from certain destruction.
It is available on Amazon and I encourage you to support this independent author. While you're there, check out her debut movie, All American Christmas Carol.

All American Christmas Carol
What's your favorite self-published book; or who is your favorite self-published author?

Book Chat

05 April 2015

the. book. chat {What Are You Reading}

The Book Chat, over at The Tangerine, is back!  This week's topic is, "What Are You Reading."

I'm currently reading Bury Me Standing, The Gypsies and Their Journey by Isabel Fonseca.

Isabel Fonseca spent time among several gypsy communities. So far I've only read about the first group but I'm finding it very interesting.  Gypsies have been persecuted and misunderstood throughout history.  Much of the misunderstanding probably comes from the fact that they rarely let outsiders in and even when they do they closely guard many of the truths about themselves.

I've yet to figure out the meaning of the title of the book and I look forward to reading more and, hopefully, finding that answer.

What are you reading?



08 March 2015

Deep Down Dark - A Book Review

I don't often read books on my Kindle unless I'm traveling.  I have lots of old-fashioned paper books waiting to be read.  But, sometimes there's a book I hear about that I want to read and I find it available through my local library as an e-book so I put my name on the waiting list.  When I get the notification, I download it and then put aside whatever else I was reading.

I recently received notification that Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free  by Hector Tobar was available so I downloaded it...and then didn't exactly get around to reading it right away.


When I got the 3-days-till-your-loan-expires email from the library I tried to renew it but since there's a waiting list I was not able to do so.  That left me with only one option...to spend 3 days (good thing it was a weekend and brutally cold out) staying inside reading this book!  It's been a long time since I dedicated so much time to reading a book.  I realized how much I miss long stretches of getting lost in a story.

I remember when this tragedy took place and thinking, as the days and weeks passed, that there was no way they were going to rescue these men.  Spoiler Alert: the men are rescued after 69 days trapped miles underground with almost-no food and only marginally-drinkable water.

I found Deep Down Dark to be well-written and I had no trouble reading it for hours on end.  The individual stories of them men were interesting enough and were presented from before the accident to their 69-day ordeal through to their lives after being rescued (not surprisingly, many suffered long-term effects of the trauma they endured). I couldn't help but imagine how I would have dealt with such circumstances and whether or not I would have made it out alive or sane. 

However, what I found most intriguing were the incredible feats of engineering (Engineering...not a miracle) that went into getting the men out of their subterranean tomb.  That and the dedication of the drilling teams that pushed beyond hope and plausibility to reach the open space where the men were clinging to life. Necessity truly is the mother of invention and engineering marvels never-before-seen  took place on the side of that mountain.  As an engineer, it was fascinating to read about that aspect of the rescue operation.

I don't root for tragedy but I do not-so-secretly enjoy it when mother nature reminds us all that there's only so much she's willing to take. When Eyjafjallaj√∂kull, the Icelandic volcano that erupted a few years ago, grounded European air traffic, I cheered.  I loved the fact that there wasn't a damn thing humans could do when faced with the power of nature.  They could do nothing but sit and whine about how inconvenient it all was.

Mining is an inherently very unsafe occupation. There's no excuse for mining companies cutting corners to save money and, thereby, making it even more dangerous than it already is.  However, to think that raping and pillaging the Earth (via mining, drilling, fracking, etc.) for minerals and metals and natural resources, regardless of how safely it is done, can go on indefinitely is to invite the wrath of the very being we depend on for life.  We are at the mercy of this planet and just when we think we're in control, we're reminded that we most definitely are not. 

Sadly, had these 33 men not been rescued it wouldn't have had much of an impact on anything beyond the loss their families would have suffered.  Mining practices would not have changed (I'm sure they still haven't).  No lessons would have been learned.  I was honestly somewhat surprised that so much effort and money went into getting these men out.  Of course, most of the cost of the rescue was not borne by the negligent mining company. Do a Google search for "33 dead" and the number of different incidents where just that specific number were involved is eye-opening ("VA Tech shooting", "plane crash on Namibia-Angola border", "were killed by a knife-wielding attacker", "northeast Nigeria bomb attack", "clashes in Yemen"...).  33 men in a mining accident is a pretty small number yet, for some reason, a nation and far beyond rallied to overcome seemingly-insurmountable odds to make sure this "33" was not followed by "dead." 

I'm not sure what the Earth has to do to convince humankind that it needs to show respect to this living, breathing being that, so far, is allowing our species to inhabit it.  At some point I feel like we're going to be tossed off or snuffed out when the Earth decides it has had enough of our disrespectful shenanigans.  And we'll deserve whatever fate we're dealt.

Have you read Deep Down Dark?  DO you think you would have survived? Do you have thoughts about how we go about extracting what we want/think we need from the planet?

18 February 2015


I signed up with a personal trainer.  YAY!  I had one before, several years ago and loved it (it was a friend so it was free).  Here...it's expensive and we don't get a discount at the gym where I teach.  I've wanted to sign up with one for a while but never wanted to bite the financial bullet.  I finally did. 

I went for my first session today and I was really excited to get back to working really hard in the gym.  He promised a tough workout but I figured he'd underestimate my ability and be surprised.  He did not.  Or, perhaps I overestimated my ability.  I made it through the first set of exercises just fine (about 12 different exercises or so).  Shortly after starting the second set I had to stop.  I was really lightheaded.

As an instructor, one of the things I tell participants at the start of class is that if they feel dizzy, lightheaded, nauseous, faint or like they're going to throw up, STOP.  I've never had to stop a workout before.

This is normally me.
I felt like a failure.  After sitting for a couple minutes I was able to start again but only made it through 1.5 more exercises before having to stop again.  The trainer decided that was enough for one day and he was right to make that call but I was very disappointed in myself and felt pathetic...like I was making excuses even though I knew I wasn't.  It was a tough workout but not by any means the toughest I've ever done.  And I workout a couple times a week so it isn't like I'm starting from zero.  I have no explanation as to why I got so lightheaded. 

The trainer said I did fine but really, what's he going to say?  "That was sad...I expected more out of you!"  Of course not...you can't keep clients that way.  I wish he had said that, though.  Why?  I don't know.  I'm really hard on myself and I guess I want others to have the same high expectations of me that I have. 

How I felt today.
I feel like this experience was good for me in a way.  It showed me that I have work to do (although I already knew that) and that things aren't as easy as they were when I was younger (I'm fighting this notion of getting older pretty hard!).  I'm looking forward to the next session. I like a challenge and clearly this is going to be one!  Hopefully this will help me turn around some of the bad-eating habits that have crept back into my life (hello cookies and ice cream that aren't in my house because I ate you all).  Can't perform well if you're not eating well, right?

Have you been in a situation where you didn't perform the way you expected/wanted?  How did you deal with it?

02 February 2015

On My Toes

One of my favorite classes to teach at the gym is boot camp.  There are so many different ways to do it and many of the exercises can be done without any equipment so people learn that they can exercise anywhere...at home, while staying in a hotel, in the park.  There's often a look of surprise when new students see me for the first time. I don't exactly look like a typical fitness instructor.  I'm really short and although I'm pretty strong, I'm not thin and don't look muscular.  And I'm very self-conscious about not looking the part. 

Yesterday I went to a free offering of boot camp at a gym nearby.  One of the exercises in the circuit was diamond pushups; so called due to the hand placement which makes a diamond shape.


These work the little triceps muscles on the back of the arms (the ones hidden by our "bat wings" or "granny arms").  This muscle is small and that makes these pushups harder to do. 

I've always had a relatively strong upper body.  In elementary school I'd not only climb the rope to the top of the gym but I'd do it repeatedly until the gym teacher made me stop.  I have large-ish shoulders (not linebacker large but big for a tiny girl) and can pound out quite a few pushups...on my toes.  Remember when girls did pushups on their knees and boys on their toes?  Yeah, not me. I do them on my toes and always have.  In 10th grade or so I did more pushups than any other girl in my grade.  The gym teacher didn't believe I did that many (we were working in pairs and counting for each other) and made me do them again.  A boot camp instructor I had overseas used to say, "Good, you're doing them boy-style," and I'd reply, "No, I'm doing them girl-style!"

So yesterday, in this boot camp class I was doing diamond pushups on my toes (okay, to be honest, I can't do as many of those as I can regular, wide-arm pushups but I can still do them) and the instructor saw me and said, "Look at you doing them on your toes!"  Of course, she did not know that I'm also an instructor and, not looking the part, I can understand why she would be surprised. 

My blogger-friend Angie posted just the other day about body image and not meeting image standards (check it out, it's a great piece...and if there was a poster of me on the door to the gym I'd go into hiding so good for her getting past it!).  It's not easy.  I know I'm strong and fit even if I don't look it.  But that doesn't stop me from wondering if people don't come to my class because they feel like they will get less of a workout from an instructor who doesn't look like she lives at the gym.  I worry about not looking "good enough" to be an instructor even if I can out-pushup the guys in the class.  I want to be satisfied being strong and fit but I'm not sure how to get there mentally.

How do you feel about body image or about what expectations you have from fitness instructors? Have you overcome body image issues?  How many triceps pushups can you do (on your knees or toes)?  Challenge yourself!

11 January 2015

So. Much. Cuteness!!

There's a PUPPY at the rescue where I volunteer (I've been walking dogs on Sundays for almost a year now. I've said it before and I'll say it until I die...If you want a dog PLEASE adopt!!). 

I'm seriously on cuteness overload right now!!!  I give you Blake.

How can you not love this?!?

Fighting sleep

Asleep on my lap

You're welcome :D

There's sure to be more cuteness and other fun things to see at Unknown Mami's link-up Sundays In My City.  Check it out.

Unknown Mami

09 January 2015

What Makes a Good Workout?

When you've been taking workout classes for years it can seem like it would be pretty easy to be an instructor...heck, you practically have the entire class memorized yourself.  Then you stand in front of a class for the first time!  When I taught my first class years ago I had no idea how much extra effort was involved simply in having to give instructions out loud the entire time.  When I started planning classes I couldn't believe how hard it was to come up with an hour's worth of material and then to do it again and again in new and different ways. 

Sometimes you spend hours drawing up a plan that looks great on paper only to have it completely not work the way you thought when you're there in class.  Other times you pull something out of your mental arse at the last minute, fully expecting it to bomb, and everyone loves it.  One thing I learned early on is that you can't please everyone!  I've had plans that one class loved and repeatedly ask for and then used that same plan with a different group and received very negative feedback (one woman actually yelled at me).  It's so hard to know sometimes what will go well and what won't. Some students want the security of knowing exactly what they're going to be doing while others don't want to see the same thing twice. 

I'm not a yoga instructor but I taught a yoga (-ish) class.
Recently I went to one of my weekly yoga classes and the instructor didn't show up.  Being an instructor (not normally of yoga) I told the other class participants that I could lead them in *something* yoga-ish if they wanted but warned them that I normally teach boot camp, not yoga (and th end result was probably a boot-camp-ish yoga class).  It was definitely the most stressful yoga class ("stressful yoga class" is not a phrase you want to use) I've ever done.  I've taken yoga for years but as soon as I pulled my mat to the front of the room I suddenly couldn't remember more than a couple poses. And interestingly, I'm very used to saying "right" but using my left when facing the class (if I say "right" and use my right they will mirror me and use their left) when teaching other formats but I could not do it in yoga.  Probably partly because I was so nervous but even when I realized what I was doing I couldn't get it right (or left!).  I'll say with certainty that it wasn't the greatest class ever but the participants seemed grateful to have had something and I learned that pulling a yoga routine out of my arse (much like trying not to fart in class...seriously, read this article, it is HILARIOUS!)  is Really. Freakin. Hard.  I'm sure, though, that they were almost as relieved as I was the next week when the instructor was there!

This week I was having trouble coming up with something new to do in my water aerobics class.  I'm still not quite sure how I even ended up being a water aerobics instructor.  Back when I applied to teach here locally but before I was assigned a class I got a text message asking if I could fill in for an aqua class (a class that started in 1.5 hours not really leaving me a lot of time to prepare).  I replied that I've never even taken an aqua class, let alone taught one.  I was told it was just like teaching on land (for the record, it's not).  Sure, I said. I'll come up with *something.*  And I did.  And I was terrified. And it went surprisingly well (I've actually used that plan many times since).  I was asked to teach again the next week.  And then I got my assignment and didn't teach water again for months (which was actually just fine with me).  When the classes at the gym on post were all canceled (the contractor who offered the classes pulled out of their contract and we were all out of a job) I signed on with a national chain.  The first availability they had was a water aerobics class.  So I took it.  And it turns out I like it. 

But this week I was struggling.  I came up with an idea that I feared would bore them to tears but gave it a shot anyway.  I'm pretty honest with my students and told them that they should tell me if it was really boring and I'd figure something else out.  They liked it so much they asked me to do it again when I sub on Saturday.  I was surprised.   I'm still surprised. 

So, what makes a good workout?  Damned if I know! There's no magic formula, that's for sure!

Do you workout? How do you define a "good" workout? What are your favorite class formats?