Thursday, December 31, 2015

How Did I Do On My 2015 Goals?

In addition to setting a word for 2015 (adventure), I wrote down more specific goals for the year. As 2015 comes to a close, it brings an opportunity to reflect on all those goals we set last January.

  • Run a marathon. I also want to run 500 miles. Done! I ran the Kentucky Derby Marathon in April. It was surreal running through Churchill Downs, where the most exciting two minutes in sports take place. My total mileage for 2015 so far is 566.7 miles, my highest ever. This may be a humble brag, but I am proud of myself for achieving this goal.
  • Move. Either into a new, bigger home or away from Phoenix. Preferably the latter. I wanted to move from Phoenix (not because I hated it, but because I wanted to grow), and I did. Moving to Chicago is one of the best decisions Graham and I have made together.

  • Volunteer more. I wanted to double the amount of time I volunteered in the previous year, and I failed to do that. When I moved to Chicago, other parts of my life took precedence. In 2016 I want to be more a part of the city I live in by volunteering at the neighborhood garden at least three times. 

  • Travel outside of the country and to (at least) one state I haven't been to yet. I was able to see New Mexico, Utah, Wisconsin, Missouri and Illinois thanks to our big move. I didn't get to travel outside the country in 2015, but I did make plans for Costa Rica in January 2016.

  • Teach yoga again. Another failure. I applied to three yoga teaching positions but only heard back about one, though it wasn't at the location I wanted. I had the opportunity to get on a sub list at another studio but I didn't pursue it because I knew I had a busy couple of months of travel coming up. I hope to pursue teaching in 2016.

  • Do a handstand away from a wall. I stopped trying to do this. I figured it would happen when it happens. I have made progress against fear, but I need to be more consistent in my home practice if I want to be able to do a handstand away from the wall.

  • Work on a book. I have written 31,000 words in my book. I planned to finish it in November but only added 8,000 words. I consider that progress, though I need to get serious about it if I ever hope to finish it.

Other goals:

  • Completely unplug after dinner time. Big fail.  In fact, I have even gotten worse about this. 
  • Cook more. I succeeded in this. Working from home allowed me to make dinner more often. I'm no chef, and I take shortcuts, but at least more of my meals were prepared at home.
  • Work on my decision making. This will always be a work in progress. 
I think it's important to reflect on how we did so we can become more self-aware, notice patterns and hold ourselves accountable. How did you do on your 2015 goals? What did you succeed at and what goals did you tweak or abandon?

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2016: The Year of Growth

Chicago Botanic Garden

In January, I declared that 2015 would be the year of adventure. Little did I know that Graham and I would be moving from Phoenix to Chicago in our biggest adventure yet. It was fun, terrifying and eye-opening. The move was difficult at first, and it tested our relationship. But once I made the decision to just be where I was, things changed. I was ready to start living out our plans and I thrust myself into my new world wholeheartedly. I started to actually enjoy living in Chicago. I made friends. I gained more confidence. I started to realize what I want out of my career. 

For the next 12 months, the word I am focusing on is growth

Personal: I want to continue my self-study. Who am I and who do I want to be? I feel like I get closer to an answer every year. Yoga-teacher training two years ago was a turning point in my life in that I realized I need to speak my truth more, and that's still a work in progress. Some of the ways I've tried to figure out my path are by using a self-exploration journal, meditating and pushing myself in physical challenges like training for races. For me, traveling to new places is a part of personal growth as well. I hope to do more of that in 2016.

Financial: 2016 is a year for growing our savings and paying off debt/student loans. It's not always fun to make smart financial decisions, but it's satisfying when you pay something off and it sets you up for a more carefree and comfortable future.

Career/Blog: My goal is to make moves to improve my career. I want to finally sign up for the photography classes I've been talking/blogging about for months. I want to finally finish a book. I want to grow my blog community and yes, it'd be nice to earn a few bucks in the process. Who doesn't want to get paid for doing what they love? I also want to find my voice on this blog. The journalist in me wants to be professional, while the goofball in me wants to have more fun. I hope to find a balance one of these days.

Body: I want to keep growing stronger and faster. I want to run my second marathon (Chicago Marathon) and finish in a better time than my first one. 

Marriage: Our first year of marriage was a wild ride, but I wouldn't change a thing. We learned more about each other, and the challenges and changes we faced brought us closer. I'll continue to support my husband and nurture and grow our marriage in 2016.

Friendships: 2016 is about growth in both old and new friendships. It's tough to maintain friendships when you're separated by thousands of miles, but it's worth the effort. At the same time, I hope to grow my connection to the friends I have made in Chicago. 

Community: I hope to grow my connection to my community in Chicago by volunteering, attending events and exploring more. 

In 2015, focusing on a particular word was my form of manifesting. I completely believe that if you say you want something, believe it will happen and act accordingly, you will get what you ask for. The more specific you are with your manifestation, the better. In the coming days, I'll be reflecting on what I'd really like to see happen in the next year and beyond. I love the possibilities a new year brings. It's a blank canvas. How will you fill it?

Enjoy the last days of 2015!

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Butcher Jones Recreation Area

Saturday's plan was a hike at Butcher Jones Recreation Area. Taylor and Capone joined us for the mini-adventure, and they took the opportunity to jump in Saguaro Lake to play. You can't keep Taylor out of the water. It's her happy place.

We had originally planned to drive to Sedona or Flagstaff, but it was too cold up north that day. "Why did we come to Arizona for the holidays if we want to be in the snow and wind?" I asked. We will get enough of that back home in Chicago. It was even a bit chilly in the Phoenix area.

The trail was popular that day. It seems everyone wanted to be out in the sun to work off some of that Christmas celebrating. To be honest, I really wanted to stay in bed all day. I felt so off all weekend thanks to all the sugar and lard (tamales) I ate.

At least I was able to test out my new camera lens. Watch a video of the fun on my YouTube channel and subscribe, will ya?

If you go:

I completely forgot to buy a Tonto recreation pass ahead of time, so we had to drive back to Walgreens on Power Road to get one. Save yourself a trip or a ticket by purchasing one on your way there. Also, dogs are not allowed on the beach, but they can join you on the trail. Have fun!

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmastime at Camelback Mountain

If you live in Phoenix, or know anyone who does, you've probably heard of the Christmas tree atop Camelback Mountain. It seems to be what everyone's talking about nowadays, besides the weather. You've probably also heard about the guy who dresses as Santa and poses for photos with hikers on weekends leading up to Christmas. While I didn't get a photo with the big guy, I saw the Christmas tree for myself for the first time in a few years this week. As soon as I saw it, I kicked myself for not bringing an ornament to hang on it. (If you're reading this and plan a hike soon, please hang one in my honor.) I did, however, pick up an ornament that had fallen and hung it back on the tree, which counts for something, right? 

But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

My friend Ashley and I planned a hiking date to reunite after months of not seeing each other. Ashley is a New Yorker and I am a wannabe Chicagoan (?) now, so we have missed the mountains. I researched Camelback parking online and asked Instagram friends about the parking situation, and what I read made me nervous. Everything I read said that you'd have to wait for parking to open up and that the mountain gets busy on holidays, and in the winter overall. I decided we should be dropped off so that we wouldn't have to worry about finding parking. We awoke at 6 a.m., sipped on coffee courtesy of Ashley and made it to the mountain. What did we find? A nearly empty parking lot. We didn't complain, though, because that means fewer people on the mountain. 

I was out of breath almost immediately as we began the Echo Canyon hike. Those inclines are even more intense than my Orangetheory workouts! I had been proud of myself for being in better shape after three months of sessions, but now I see I still have work to do. The views are completely worth the effort though. See for yourself.

Camelback Mountain

Camelback Mountain

Camelback Mountain

Camelback Mountain
Have you hiked Camelback recently? Do you stick to the Cholla trail or the tough Echo Canyon side?

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Arizona Storytellers Holiday Spectacular 2015

I laughed hysterically one minute and held back tears the next.

I  wanted to attend the Arizona Storytellers Holiday Spectacular for years, and I finally made it this week. Storytellers events are nights when people share tales from their lives, often with a particular theme. The audience is encouraged to actively participate by taking the story in and being engaged listeners. It's my second Storytellers event -- I attended one last year at The Newton -- and this time the audience was 630 people vs. a couple hundred. The Arizona Biltmore opened up its McArthur Ballroom for the event and served holiday cookies, hot chocolate and coffee. I opted for a glass of wine to calm my anxiety about being among so many people. Introversion, you know? Among the audience members were some of my former co-workers from The Arizona Republic. It was such a treat to catch up with a fellow (former) copy editor and hear about his adventures traveling the country with his wife. Retirement sounds like a distant, heavenly dream. *Sigh.*

The stories began with Joe Finnerty, who is not related to host Megan Finnerty, talking about his family's Christmas traditions. I was already emotional hearing it, and it was just the beginning. Not all of the stories were about joyous family traditions, though. One story talked about the harsh realities in the teller's life one year, including finding out a loved one was addicted to heroin. That story hit home because I have relatives who suffer from addiction and I know the impact it has on the person and his or her family and friends. That sadness turned to laughter when I heard another story about a father who made extra-special tamales for his family one year after being pressured to make them. And then I craved more tamales.

I have absolutely zero photos of the night because it's not an event that can be easily documented while being an engaged listener. I wanted to truly get into the stories and the messages, and I did. The Storytellers nights have expanded to cities like Louisville, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. Find a list of them in this Poynter article. If you have a chance to go to a Storytellers event, I highly recommend it. You can also sign up to be a teller, which Megan will be thrilled about.

Get more information about the events in Phoenix on the Storytellers website, and let me know what you think!

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Getting Workouts in During the Holidays + Runner's World Run Streak Check-In

My goal for the Runner's World Run Streak is to run 37 miles from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve, and so far I've done about 21. I thought I would have logged 37 miles by now and would finish the Run Streak at more than 50 miles, but I've spent most of this month doing other things, namely catching up with family and friends, going on a road trip, hiking, eating (too much) delicious food, holiday shopping, and watching Christmas movies. Now I have 10 days to hit and hopefully surpass my goal. Wish me luck!

Thoughts about my workouts lately:

  • After 14 sessions at Orangetheory, I've noticed a difference in my endurance, body, running speed and recovery time. After the first few classes, I would be sore for three or four days. Now I can recover in about a day in a half. My push and all-out paces have improved. On a treadmill, my push pace used to be about 5.5-5.8 mph. Now I usually bring my push pace to 6.5 and my all-out has been as high as 7.2 mph (for 30 seconds). Progress.
  • I've been neglecting yoga other than a few poses after Orangetheory classes. I plan to a visit to a yoga studio this week to reconnect with my practice yet again. I can think of no better time to go to a yoga class. Christmas week can be so chaotic; it's such a treat to have an hour to yourself. Focusing on one workout is typical for me; I tend to get really into one type of workout for a while before revisiting others. And lately I've been all about Orangetheory and the results I am seeing. 
  • I'm typically a planner, but this month I haven't been doing it as much. I'm going to re-start my daily to-do list that includes time for running, yoga or Orangetheory. It's a mental trick for me: If I see it on paper, I have to do it. 
  • I'm loving Orangetheory playlists lately. I often wish I had my phone on me during class so I could Shazam my favorite tunes. The instructors play a mix of old and new songs. I love when a song I haven't heard in years comes on and I get really into it as I do my reps. The music makes the workout exponentially more fun. 
  • I tried running outside only a couple of times last week. I started my run, realized how cold I felt and thought, let's try tomorrow. Using the cold as an excuse is lame, I know. I'm heading back outside to close out the Run Streak, and adding some hikes this week. 

How to get workouts in during the holidays:

  • Make it a date. Ask a friend or family member if he or she wants to run, take a class or go on a hike early one morning before the busy day begins. You'll start the day on a positive note.
  • Schedule time for the workout in your calendar. Treat it as you would any other appointment.
  • Reward yourself for your hard work. Give yourself something to look forward to after the workout so you're more likely to do it.
  • Sign up for a holiday run and make it a family affair. You'll make memories with loved ones while working out. Win-win.
  • Take short, regular break from cleaning, work, or cooking to do some squats, pushups, burpees, lunges, crunches, etc.
Stay tuned for my recap after the end of the Runner's World Run Streak. How have you been doing on your workouts?

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P.S. Joining the Tutu Tuesdays linkup today.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Where to Hike in Phoenix (Besides Camelback Mountain)

One of the best things to do in Phoenix during the winter months is hike. If you're not hiking, what are you doing with your life? Highs of 60 degrees mean that you'll still feel cool even after you've worked up a sweat, which you'll do on the inclines. My favorite time to hike is after a storm when the clouds are clearing. The most gorgeous sunsets happen on partly cloudy days, after the rain washes away the dust, leaving a clear view of the colorful sky. 

The sky might look something like this.

Besides looking up, feast your eyes on what's around you. OK. maybe I'm a little biased because I grew up in the desert, but I think it's beautiful at any time of day.


Dreamy Draw Recreation Area, Phoenix, hiking

Dreamy Draw Recreation Area, Phoenix, hiking

Dreamy Draw Recreation Area, Phoenix, hiking

Dreamy Draw Recreation Area, Phoenix, hiking

Dreamy Draw Recreation Area, Phoenix, hiking

Where to go:

Five options for hiking in Phoenix:

  • Dreamy Draw Recreation Area, 2421 E. Northern Ave. The photos above are from the Dreamy Draw area. It's seldom crowded and you can find miles of trails for mountain biking, hiking and running.
  • Piestewa Peak, 2701 E. Squaw Peak Drive. The first time I hiked this trail was in seventh grade. Our school went to the mountain on a field trip, and any student who made it to the summit was rewarded. That hike sparked my love of hiking.
  • Usery Mountain Regional Park, 3939 N. Usery Pass Road, Mesa. I've only hiked there once because it's on the complete opposite side of town and I had many other options much closer to me when I lived in Phoenix. It offers a different viewpoint of the Valley that is worth the hike to see. Try Wind Cave trail for a shorter, not-too-difficult trek.
  • South Mountain, 10919 S. Central Ave., Phoenix. I love the view of the city lights after sunset. But the view is nice any time of day. I've tried running on the trails, and the workout was intense. I haven't even made a dent on the list of trails to take at the park.

  • White Tank Mountain Regional Park, 20304 W. White Tank Mountain Road
    Waddell. Try the waterfall hike after a rainy day to actually see water flowing.
What are your favorite trails in the Phoenix area? Do you prefer morning, afternoon or evening hikes? Let me know in the comments.
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Friday, December 18, 2015

2016 Chicago Bucket List

After only 10 months in Chicago, I'm still a newbie. I still have so much to do and see, so I need a game plan. Step 1: Make a list of what you want to accomplish in 2016. Step 2: Share that list. Step 3: Go out and do it! Here's what I want to do in the city in 2016:

Photo courtesy of Choose Chicago.

  • Go to a White Sox game at the Cell. I want to check out the stadium, but I also have a soft spot for the White Sox because I've been to a lot of games at their spring-training facility in Phoenix. Why isn't Wrigley Field on this list? Because I'm lucky enough to be able to go to Wrigley Field as often as I want.
  • Run the Chicago Marathon.
  • Stand-up paddleboard yoga on Lake Michigan.
  • Laugh my ass off at a Second City or IO Theater comedy show.
  • See a show at Chicago Theatre.
  • Stroll through the Museum of Contemporary Photography and the Art Institute of Chicago.
  • Check out the view from the John Hancock building.
  • Attend the Wicker Park Fest.
  • Visit the J. Parker.
  • Kayak on the Chicago River.
  • Race to Wrigley. It's a 5K that combines my love of running and baseball. Win-win.
  • Ice-skating at Lincoln Park Zoo, or anywhere. I've actually been never ice-skating. It sounds terrifying to me but I'll try it, as long as I can hold on to Graham the whole time.
  • Check out the Harold Washington Library. It's free, and it intrigues me.
  • Walk around Garfield Park Conservatory.
  • Tour buildings participating in Open House Chicago.
  • Go to a music festival. I missed out during my first year in Chicago but I want to finally go to one.
  • Cruise on the water taxi.
What else should I add to this list? 

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Victoria's First Time at Phoenix Zoo

I have even more respect for parents after taking my niece to the Phoenix Zoo. I was nervous when we picked my niece up that day. The trip started with Graham and me struggling to properly secure the car seat. It's so important that we wanted to make sure we were doing it correctly. We had to enlist the help of my aunt, who showed us how to do it. Twenty or so minutes later, we were on our way. The next little challenge was the stroller. It kept collapsing on us in the parking lot when we tried to unfold it. We figured it out after a few minutes but not before we caught the attention of passers-by, who I'm sure were thinking we need to get it together. 

After those initial two hurdles, it was smooth sailing. Victoria pointed and smiled at every animal. She seemed to be a little confused about the glass or metal enclosures, but she would say things (in her baby language) to each one. She's so tiny, but she's tall enough to see into the glass.

I loved seeing the smile on her face when she saw a new animal. It warmed my heart.

She's a true pearl, that Victoria.

And of course she had to climb on the alligator.

And wave at the monkeys.

The emus are terrifying. Their red eyes intimidated me, so much so that I took a few steps backward from their enclosure.

 We saw the new tiger exhibit that had been under construction that past couple of times Graham and I visited. We were able to get a close view of the tiger (and snap a few photos).
We had a wonderful time walking around the zoo before the rain hit. Even then Victoria laughed as we ran toward the gift shop, where we picked up a $40 orangutan plush for only $5!

We also saw the baby orangutan, Jiwa, who was born in September. Jiwa was active that day, and Victoria was enchanted.

It was a successful, tantrum-free visit to the zoo that I hope to repeat on a sunnier, warmer day. Have you seen the new tiger exhibit at the Phoenix Zoo?

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Christmas Tunes

Christmas is fewer than 10 days away! As we hurry to finish our holiday shopping and travel to see our loved ones, we need tunes to get us into the spirit. Below is my Christmas playlist, which I'll be updating until the big day. You'll find a mix of classics with newer versions. I hope you enjoy it. 

What are you favorite Christmas songs?

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Monday, December 14, 2015

Arches National Park

Arches National Park has been on my bucket list for years. Seeing those sunset-colored arches has been the cherry on top of a sweet 2015. You can take in the splendor of the park even if you don't have time for much hiking, but schedule some time for exploring if you can. Now that I've had a taste, I need more. I plan to return to Arches for more hiking as soon as Graham and I can.

Arches is outside of Moab, Utah, a cute town with tons of dining options. It's easy to incorporate Canyonlands and Newspaper Rock State Park into your Arches trip, too. The scenic drive starts at the visitor center, where you'll pay a $25 entrance fee per car. You can see the impressive rock formations as soon as you drive into the park. The park map shows points of interest and trails, along with information about the length and difficulty level of each hike. We were pressed for time so we only went on the shortest hikes. If you look to the north, you can spot the snow-capped La Sal Mountains. 

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah
Give yourself time to stop often to look out and reflect on the age of the rocks your are seeing. It made me feel small, much like my recent trip to the planetarium. You could easily fill your camera memory card with photos. I tried to force myself to put down the camera at times and really look around, although I almost had no choice but to only take mental photos. When we started our drive through the park, I asked Graham to stop so we could take a picture of us with the beauty of the land behind us. I carefully set up my tripod, changed my lens, and set the self-timer. The screen read the last message I wanted to read: I didn't have enough battery life to use the self-timer. I had forgotten to charge the battery the night before. After years of talking about Arches, I finally had made it, but my camera wouldn't work. I could have cried. Instead, we went back to the visitor center so I could plug my camera charger in for a while and get at least some of the pictures I wanted. Sorry, Graham, for throwing a mini tantrum! 

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah
Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

You can see many of the arches on the drive, but to see the more famous and large spans, you'll need to hike. You could do some yoga, too! I couldn't help myself.

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah
I'm sure Arches is beautiful year-round, but we liked that the park wasn't crowded in the late fall. Stay for sunset to capture amazing photos.

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah
And here it is: my favorite photo taken with my tripod.

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah
Graham and I checked out the campgrounds, too, and I definitely want to return. (We won't be taking Taylor and Capone, though, because most of the park is off-limits to dogs.) I can only imagine what it's like to wake up, climb out of the tent and see the morning light illuminating the rock formations. Sounds like a dream!

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