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?

28 December 2014

Not My Holiday

I've posted before about how I don't do christmas and how I consider thanksgiving to be just another Thursday.  I was glad this year to see Angie at Angie Eats Peace post about how she doesn't celebrate holidays. Because often it feels like I'm the only one.

To me, holidays have come to represent nothing more than absurd, out-of-control consumerism, obligation-fueled-guilt, expectation-induced-disappointment, the depression that those who can't afford or are alone (because we're told it's the worst thing to be alone for the holidays) experience and SO. MUCH. STUFF.  It saddens me greatly to see such an emphasis put on toys when so many are in such great need for basic necessities. 

Just thinking about how many trees were killed to produce the shiny paper used to wrap all those presents...so many of which were not what people wanted or needed but were given because...well...you have to give *something*.  The stress, the expense, the waste...for what?  I mean, really, why do people do it?  The pressure to do enough...be enough...BUY enough...I just don't get it.  Perhaps if more people stood up and said, "Actually, no, I'd rather not. It doesn't bring me joy or happiness.  Honestly, I just want to take a nap (okay, maybe that part's just me!)," we could start a movement away from the madness of it all.

Mind you, I had a great childhood with very happy holidays and there are traditions my family has that I cherish. But from a rather young age I thought it was very excessive and wasteful.  I've tried to convince my mother of this but she still insists on buying far more than we need.  My father has always been on board with me. 

One of my favorite scientists started a firestorm by tweeting,

On this day long ago, a child was born who, by age 30, would transform the world. Happy Birthday Isaac Newton b. Dec 25, 1642.
Which is true. But apparently sharing the celebration the birth of your deity with a fat man in a red suit who delivers toys (or coal if you didn't behave) is okay but mentioning that the man who discovered the laws of motion, the universal law of gravitation, and invented integral and differential calculus - all of which served as the mechanistic foundation for the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries - was born on that day is somehow egregious.  Seriously, if your religion is so fragile that it can't stand up to a 125 character tweet about Isaac Newton or someone saying they don't celebrate the holiday (which is seen as some sort of world evil based on my experience of expressing my lack of celebration) then ...well...maybe you need to reexamine your faith.  

I'll stick to calling 25 December "just another day" and saving my sanity and bank account the terror that is rampant, senseless consumerism.

How do you feel about the holidays?

07 December 2014

Help-Portrait Baltimore - Sundays in My City

Volunteering with Help-Portrait in Baltimore is one of the most amazing experiences I've had!  When I first saw the opportunity posted I noticed they were looking for photographers to volunteer.  I thought, "Hey, I have a camera and can take a fairly decent picture."  Then I saw they required you to have your own portable lights, backdrop, etc. I have none of that and honestly, wondered why so much was required. They also wanted people proficient in photo editing.  I don't edit my pictures.  Ever. Don't even know how. But, once I saw the results of what this project produced, I was amazed and am glad I didn't try to pass myself off as being capable enough!  I worked on the "hospitality" crew which basically means I helped people when they needed it, took lots of "behind the scenes" pictures and sat and talked with the men. I was honored that they were willing to share their stories with me.

You can read about Help-Portrait (a world-wide, once-a-year event) and the Helping Up Mission (which is where I volunteered today).  I had never heard of the Helping Up Mission (then again, despite living 15 minutes away from Baltimore for the last year I don't really know anything about anything the city offers). Putting my opposition to religious-based...well...anything aside, I was extremely impressed with what they do at this facility.  There are between 400-500 men there at any one time participating in a year-long addiction-recovery program which includes counseling, education services, medical services, housing and a lot more and it's free (receiving no public money).

Average age of residents: 40
Average length of addiction: 23 years
Average time in jail: 30 months

This is not a typical homeless shelter and, in fact, not all of the men living there and receiving treatment are homeless. They do, however, offer what they call "overnight guest services" which include a bed, shower and meal for those who simply need a place to stay and don't want to commit to the program. On very cold days those beds will fill in just a few minutes leaving many still with no place to go.

The goal of today's project was to give these men (another team in Baltimore did the same thing at the House of Ruth shelter for women and children) a professional portrait. Simple as that.  Many of them had family members come to be in the picture with them.  It was great to see the family love and support these men are receiving while they're working towards recovery from addiction and return to productive society.  It was such a joy to see how proud they were of the work they've done so far and how excited they were with their pictures. 

Here are a few of the pictures I took (all with permission!). 

The REAL photographers setting up.
This man had a beautiful family and you could see how happy he was to have them there.

One of the photographers shows one of the men his picture.

Reviewing the pictures and picking the best one (each man got to select one picture to be printed, on the spot).

One man and his beautiful mother.
One of the men shows me his portrait.

Son and grandson there for support.

A young man and his mother. The young man wanted to have his official portrait done just of himself so that he could give a copy to his father for Christmas (his mother and father are not together) but he also wanted a picture with his mother.  Since only the professional pictures are made available to the men I'm going to print this one and drop it off there for him.

This man was stringing some beads that were there for the children. He said he wanted a reminder to keep from this day. When I showed him the picture he told me how his hands used to be swollen so badly they looked like grapefruits. He was amazed at how good they look now. 

I talked to him (the same man as the photo of the hands) for quite a while. He has a lot of ambition and he seems to be doing very well.
This photo was posted by Help-Portrait Baltimore on their FB page yesterday.  You heard a lot of similar stories.  "This feels good. Last photo I recall was a mug shot for DUI in 2005.  Looking good, feeling good, smiling good came of my recovery. It's a whole lot of people lovin me!"

Seriously, this was such an incredible experience.  I hope to get to do it again and I hope it gets to where it happens more than once a year.  [I think I've edited this at least 5 times now because I keep thinking of more I want to say.  I just can't capture how happy this whole thing made me!]

Unknown Mami

26 November 2014

The Best Time to Do Yoga Is When You Really Don't Want to Go

I recently started going to yoga again. I went for years and then didn't for years when there weren't any offerings to my liking nearby.  I knew from past experience that it would be very difficult at first but, over time, would get better.  I used to really enjoy going on Saturday morning. I found it to be a good way to start the weekend.  Lately I've been going after work and most days, I really don't want to go.  But I've found that on days that I really do not want to go, even if I struggle through Every. Single. Pose, I end up getting the most benefit and leave feeling much better than when I arrived.

This is pretty much how I feel part, if not all, of the time!

I just wanted to remind myself of this the next time I start thinking how much better it would be to just go home and take a nap!

How do you feel about yoga?

04 November 2014

Awesome Travel Company (That Happens to be Vegan)

About a year and a half ago I posted about my trip to Malaga and the fabulous Vegan BnB where I stayed. The proprietor of the Vegan BnB, Emma, has expanded her operation and now runs a vegan tour company in Guatemala half the year. 

Even if you're not vegan (I am not) I can tell you that Emma's food is fantastic and her approach to tourism is very responsible, sustainable and locally-focused - which I love.  She has some amazing tours coming up in the next several months and if you've ever thought about visiting Guatemala, taking an eco-friendly vacation, trying amazing vegan food or are just looking for an adventure, I urge you to check out what she has to offer. 

She also offers accommodation (with amazing vegan breakfast) and tours in Malaga during the spring/summer months.  Malaga was one of my favorite vacations and Emma is part of the reason.

Check out The Veganbnb Travel site and book your next vacation!
IMG_1142  v1  shutterstock_3075863  IMG_0063  shutterstock_26691376  3
All photos were borrowed from Veganbnbtravel.com (hope Emma doesn't mind) to show you what you can expect from Emma's trips!
**I received no compensation for posting this recommendation and all opinions are my own...I just think Emma is great and I'd love to see her business really take off.  Please feel free to post about her or pass along this information if you're so inclined...especially if you know other people interested in vegan travel!

02 November 2014

Plitvice Lakes National Park - Sundays in My City

A year ago I was traveling around the Balkans.  One of the places I knew I had to see was Plitvice in Croatia (please don't ask me how to pronounce it...I never could get it right and always had to write it down to tell people (ticket agents, bus drivers...) where I was going.  It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest national park in SE Europe.

A million pictures wouldn't do this place justice.  The waters are so exquisitely blue-green that your brain almost can't process the color...it's too beautiful to be real! There are 16 interconnected lakes renowned for their distinctive colours, ranging from azure to green, grey or blue. The colours change constantly depending on the quantity of minerals or organisms in the water and the angle of sunlight. I feel like the camera didn't even come close to capturing the true intensity of the colors.

The day started off very foggy. I wondered if I was actually going to be able to see anything.

The trail leading into the park.

There are multiple different trails you can follow depending on how far you want to walk. 

I was pretty sure this was one of the views that comes up when you search for images online but all I got was a hint of it first thing in the morning.

The waters are so clear!

Finally getting to see some of the amazing colors!

And then the incredible reflections!

Miles and miles and miles of well-maintained (if not a bit slippery in the damp weather) trails throughout the park let you get right up close to, above and below the lakes and waterfalls.

Every time you think the view can't get more stunning, it does.

Back where I started but most of the fog had lifted and I could see!
Be warned, if you decide to ask the google to show you pictures of this place you'll likely end up with drool on your keyboard!  I could definitely see myself going back here!

Have you ever been somewhere that was so beautiful you couldn't capture it in pictures?

Thanks to Unknown Mami for hosting the SIMC link-up.  Go on over there and check out more stunning views from around the neighborhood or around the world.

Unknown Mami