Trying to have a heart for Valentine’s Day

I don’t heart Valentine’s Day.  I don’t ❤ it, like it like it, or even just want to be friends with it.  It’s been a long standing mutual dislike – February 14th and I have never gotten along.  It has always been my personal version of Friday the 13th.  And oh look this year, they are combined.  I’ll take the Friday the 13th, please and thank you.  We can skip the 14th, right?

But I can’t – I have two kids who are sugar loaded and home with boxes filled with pencils, stickers, tattoos and candy all attached to valentines.  So while I’d prefer to be the ultimate combined Grinch and Scrooge of Valentine’s Day, I need to find a better options and take my bah humbug on holiday.

After setting up a few treats for my little loves, here’s what I came up with on ways to celebrate the day without horrible cards, half-wilted flowers and terrible chocolate:

Help Someone Else’s Heart – literally:

– Every beat counts – Sign up for CPR certification – This has been on my to-do list way too long.  And it’s my gift to me this Valentine’s Day 🙂

– Give my heart away – sign up for organ donation.  I did this years ago at the DMV/BMV with my drivers license.  I just did a double check and yup – there’s that telltale heart on my license.

Help Someone Fall in Love

– Donate to a family or organization assisting with adoption.  Look for local groups like this one that help out families with the financial costs of adoption. Or I’m sure somewhere in your Facebook friends list is someone considering adoption or someone they know is considering it.  Run a search in and see if you recognize a name.

So my grinchy Valentine’s heart grew about 1.5 sizes – not too shabby.  Now that I’m done with that – I’m going to take a look into the this whole Galentine’s Day thing – I think it has some promise!!!

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There’s NOT an App for That – iphone app fail for texting and driving

I drive.  I drive a lot.  My daily commute is a minimum of 40 minutes on the road.  Outside of that I drive for hours on end in at least 3 different states and DC.  All told my car has over 200,000 miles on it and I average around 2500 to 3000 miles a month.  So this morning it wasn’t too much of a surprise when someone, who had a text-induced fender bender yesterday, asked me how I manage texting and driving.

Even though 2 of the primary states (and DC) I drive in have at least a no-texting law, this unfortunately was/is one of my worst habits. I have a deep love of technology and while I’ve curbed most of my phone/driving bad habits, I had actually just done some searching for an app to help manage the rest. Currently I’m in only in deep like with iPhone, as we’ve had a falling out recently.  Let me explain what happened to my apple crush collapsing – I wanted an app to help manage text messages while I drive.

Here’s what I wanted:

1) an app that I could set up an autoresponse to go back to people who text me while I’m driving

2) bonus points if I could tell it not to response to automated text alerts like Twitter and the dc metro updates

3) super bonus points if I could set up messages that would inform specific people when I hit certain points in my travels (example – I hit a certain location and it autosends “I’m 15 minutes away”, etc).

So there was nothing that did the #3 as far as I could tell but 1 and 2 seemed options.  Except I have an IPHONE.  For the first time ever, my iphone love affair was coming back to bite in me the bottom.  I really thought it was just me so I imessaged two other iphone app junkies.  And both told me – nope, I wasn’t missing it – there wasn’t an app for that.

Seriously, Apple??  The one person mentioned that it was part of the reason they had ditched the coveted iphone 5s for a Samsung.  The other person proceeded to lecture me that I needed more self control to not text so much – and that maybe I needed to upgrade my 4 to at least a 4s to get Siri and some handsfree.  Don’t snark, yes I still have a 4 and am Siri-less.

But I didn’t want an app to read my messages for me – I am trying to wean myself down a little bit from technology. (insert still bad habits I’m trying to break) I wanted an app that would do two things for me – tell people I’m traveling and get back to them (think of it as text voice mail) and if possible give them a heads up I was nearly there and making safe progress (this is just a nice to have).

Sadly iPhone – you won’t do any of that for me.  I’m disappointed.  The best solution anyone could come up with is to at least keep the phone from distracting me by setting it to Do Not Disturb mode.  It silences all alerts and I can let calls come in from everyone or just favorites, etc. – basically allowing for someone to reach me in an emergency.

Now – if you happen to be a non-iPhone user (and as I look at phone upgrades I may join your ranks) – you have options and lots of them.  Some of the apps will actually reward you for not texting and driving – like DriveAlive (note – it doesn’t block texts or auto respond, it simply keeps track of phone-free trips).  Others are free but charge for some options like  AT&T has, to go along with their It Can Wait Campaign, a *free app DriveMode (guess what I have AT&T, guess what else – can’t use it with my iphone).

Several other charge monthly fees – and I’m not sure how I feel about this.  I understand the need to make money and manage costs and ultimately it is the responsibility of all of us to act like grown ups and resist the urge to text and drive – but this is public safety.  To be fair, most of these seem to be designed for parents of teenagers who are looking for extra insurance that our newly licensed drivers are developing good habits.

As for the rest of us more experienced drivers, if you have an iPhone – bad news – there’s not really an app for that.  Hey, maybe we should consider ourselves a bit lucky.  Without the app to support us – we can call it a “growth opportunity” to be a better person and put our phones away while driving. Then we concentrate more fully on questioning the intelligence of the driver in front of us (IT’S CALLED A TURN SIGNAL, USE IT!!!).

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Crazy for Charity

When was the last time you did something a little crazy for charity? Cut off long lengths of hair to donate? Shave it all off for contributions and solidarity? Walked mile after mile to raise funds? Personally scheduled a race, a scavenger hunt, or food/clothing collection? Made dinner for 50 or more strangers?

This weekend I did my second polar plunge to support Special Olympics. And I’m proud to say I did it before Jimmy Kimmel made it cool. With sunshine and warm air, the water was still at a nice mid-30s temp just make sure our rescheduled plunge was still polar.

Even thought I’ve supported for years, and this wasn’t my novice plunge, this year brought me something new. I met one of the athletes. On the bus ride over and back, I had the pleasure to meet one of the local athletes and his dad. His dad put us all at ease, as this was this third plunge – this year (one at Deep Creek, one for Cool Schools, and then Plunge 2 that day).

After plunging, I caught back up with the group to head back and there with camera in hand was my new friend the athlete. Dad had completed plunge #3 and was thanking the MSP and rescue support teams for all their help in making the plunge happen, including those donning the dry suits.

Our athlete was thrilled to have a post card of the Sweet Leda band that had been rocking the stage. (PS – Julie if you read this – you have a huge new fan :). But it was the athlete who was the star when the bus driver recognized him and even listed the events that he had driven the athlete to.

Getting back off the bus, I thanked the dad for keeping our little group organized and I went to shake the hand of the athlete. It took me about two seconds to instead offer a hug and I got the most sincere thank you I’ve ever received – for wading into the bay and being a little cold for all of two minutes and bugging friends and family to donate.

Folks say the plungers are crazy, which is true you have to be a little bit to willingly walk into that water. But it’s the best kind of crazy. Call it crazy for charity. Crazy for compassion. Crazy for connection.

I’ve been a little grinchy so far this year. I reset my CFC contributions to charity back up on the hope I’ll be around for the full year at my job. So my funds were going to charity but when it came down to it my heart really wasn’t.

There are over 1.2 million nonprofits in the US. The shear volume of organizations asking for our help is overwhelming. You can’t help them all, much less even a small fraction. There are days when even writing a check is too hard because who do you choose or not choose. And then you sit back and wonder did it even make a difference.

Instead of dealing with shrinkage, my grinchy heart grew a few more than three sizes on Saturday and as I sit here and continue to pull sand from my hair (seriously can’t figure out where is it coming from since I didn’t go under the water) – I got reminded the importance of connecting. My limited contributions and my time made a difference to one person.

So can I be and instigator encourage you to be a little crazy for charity this year? Cut your hair, take a physical challenge, live on $1.50 a day for a week, volunteer a few hours to help make an event happen – whatever it is I can tell you that no matter how hard you try – you will some how manage to get back more than you give.

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The Habit Apps

Well they are three weeks late, but goals for 2014 are done and on paper.  Some are updates from last year (more hours volunteering) and others are new habits to start up (like meditating).

In case you missed it – I’m on the go – a lot.  So I’ve already got calendars and to-do lists settled into my apps (I dream of an app that will handle both but my to-do lists are little too complicated for most of those combo apps).

I put the goals and the related to-dos into the to-do app (ToodleDo in case you’re wondering), but the new habits had me searching out a new app.  I didn’t want to clutter up my to-do list to track new habits – which are mostly just repeating tasks.  My to-do list can do without a daily task for journaling – or the more complicated exercise 4 times a week.

So I sought out some of the free apps for the iPhone.  And what I came back with were three that looked like they had potential – Way of Life, TraxIt All and Habit Factor.  What I was looking for was an app that could:

  • sync across my ipad and iphone
  • track specific goals regardless of time frame (not everything is daily, some of it is weekly)
  • let me see how well I’m doing in a pretty quick easy and easy fashion
  • let me give myself gold stars – a little healthy praise is good to reinforce habits

Here’s what I found out when I tried each fo the apps.

Way of Life

–       Pros –

  • has a really nice interactive walk-through set up.
  • Gives you a pretty good list to start from to choose habits,
  • updating is very easy,
  • the trend charts are pretty nice
  • Color code of red or green
  • Will let you go back if you miss a day
  • Let’s you have “skip” days
  • Gives you a note section

–       Cons –

  • the free version limits you to 3 things (cost of full app is $4.99),
  • doesn’t let me get specific to my goal – like writing that I want to do three days a week
  • it will only let you start from the day you put the goal in (so last week’s trips to the gym don’t count)

–       Trends

  • Shows you both reds and greens, or just greens
  • Leaves out the skips
  • Let’s you have a trend line
  • Can change from #’s to percentages (good for those skips)

–       Share your results with twitter, Facebook

TraxIt All

–       Pros –

  • integrates a to-do list for items that you are working on (a bit like a journal entry),
  • allows you to categorize your goals/habits, – even create custom categories,
  • lets you be really specific to your goal (counts, time frames, specific 2 x a day or you want to be higher than – more than 3 times a week or less than – example less than ### of calories);
  • lets you see the yes/no to different features (like smiley/frown face, check mark and x or star and x for those of us who need gold stars);
  • will let you start tracking from whenever you want;
  • has a spot for notes

–       Cons –

  • just throws you right in,
  • interface is a little too basic (it’s not visually appealing),
  • reports are also a little basic,
  • the tracking is a Monday start week (not a calendar week)

–       Sharing – via email or Facebook

Habit Factor Lite

–       Pros –

  • cool motivational quotes,
  • breaks it up to goals and habits and you can related your habits back to your goals,
  • gives you a habit tracking period, (it doesn’t want you to keep track of it forever
  • has some basic categories set up for you
  • allows you to put comments for tracking

–       Cons –

  • full version is $6.99,
  • can’t back date (last week’s trips to the gym don’t count here either)
  • setting up habits is confusing – I wanted to set up exercise 3x a week and instead somehow turned it into 41 days – it made me select specific days that might do it in order to get the number down,
  • not designed for ipad (or at least the graphics look a bit horrible)
  • can’t change dates for goals

–       Sharing via Twitter, or Facebook

–       Based on the book the Habit Factor

After playing around for a few days – the winner ended up being Trax-It All. The way the habit tracking is set up is much more of what I had in mind.  Habit Factor’s was way too complex to actually set up a simple habit but the concepts were really good so I added the book to my reading list.  Way of Life was much more visually appealing and the reports were the best I saw but the tracking wasn’t specific enough.   I’m not sure why these apps think I have the need to share my new habits but they all had that feature while NONE of them had the sync I wanted.

Given all that, for now, Trax-It all is now my go-to spot to give myself all the gold stars and smiley faces I can earn.   And I’m adding another to-do to check out apps two months from now to see if there’s anything better. So a 🙂 and gold star for me for improving my organization today!

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Maryland Polar Plunge – 2nd Time Around

It’s been a chilly start to 2014.  You’d think with all this time spent inside I’d have all my goals and New Year’s resolutions set.  Not even close.  I’ve downloaded some apps to help build habits.  But yet again I’m stalling on starting.

The holiday season has drained me a bit and my head is still swimming with all the details.  But something inside of me is saying it’s time to do more than a resolution (or twenty).  Maybe it was the slew of traditions from the holidays but there is this urge to re-evaluate how to spend my time.

One thing I’ve decided to make a tradition. The Polar Plunge.  Last year was my first year actually taking the plunge.  And as I’ve been watching the snow fall and the temperatures dip, I’m suspecting that last year let me off easy.

But there’s nothing like 37 degree water and a few thousand crazy people to help clear your head of holiday clutter.  And it’s for a good cause.  Every year money for Maryland Special Olympics comes rushing in – like the plungers back out of the bay.

I’m not sure how to encourage people to take part in this event. “Hey want to go freeze your body parts off to raise money” – doesn’t seem to work.  A few years ago I was interviewing someone who does an annual plunge into the bay on January 1 to reconnect with mother nature.

I’d like to think my own reasons were that honorable.  Quite frankly, last year was just to prove that I could.  And I did… DSC02614The video I took with the camera I had in my hand makes it very clear the moment I hit the water and it’s hilarious with the sounds of shrieks and laughter.  It was fun – very very cold, but fun.

This year I want to go back and do it again.  See after I plunged I did have a few moments of serenity as I stood in the music tent with the Amish Outlaws belting out in their distinct style. It might have been the wine talking but I was actually feeling pretty good.  There was that sense of accomplishment, challenge accepted and challenge conquered.

And life offers up plenty of challenges but how many of them can you jump into, smile for the camera, and come out with the sideliners asking “how was it”?   Plus with this one, you know that you’ve also helped a Special Olympic athlete enjoy that same satisfaction of taking on a challenge.

Have I convinced you to jump in? Sign up at  Not quite ready to be a plunger – take a moment, find out which of your crazy friends is and sponsor them. Be sure that they send you a picture for proof. Or better yet – go with them and be the official towel holder and photographer.  Encourage a little crazy to usher in the new year.

**Don’t know anyone plunging? Here’s a link to sponsor me –

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Double or Nothing – upping the ante to 10k

As a kid, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge meant summer time and a trip to the beach.  The view from the top is still something that can bring on a smile, even in traffic.  So when the chance to get that spectacular view on foot, I had to sign up.

In years past there was a walk that crossed the bridge, but sadly the walk for 2013 was cancelled.  But not long after I successfully finished my first fun 5k, I heard about the Across the Bay 10k.

Logo - 10k Across the Bay

And with that I took my opportunity and signed up.  3 months ago I went ahead and did early registration.  Excited to have finished a 5k and contented to know that I had over a year to get ready.  I’m still not a runner by any stretch of the imagination (yesterday I may have made my best time ever – my mapmyrun app failed me so I’ll just assume I did based on a clock and well I just want to believe it).  If you want to know what one really looks like – check out my friend’s facebook page as she has just finished her first marathon and will be doing her second this weekend. (which just leads me to the question – if there’s a runner’s high, at what level do you get runner’s stoned?)

Still if you’re looking for a new challenge (someone was kind enough recently to note the lovely incline of the bridge) and a beautiful view – go check out the Across the Bay 10k.  The nice folks setting up the race were kind enough to share some discount codes with us (ABBANGELAW) that are good for 10% registration through the end of October.  It’s a year away, you only have to be able to pace a 19 minute mile, and it will support 6 charities.  So sign up – be part of Bay Bridge history 🙂

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Good Bye Summer

Here it is – I have to admit summer is gone. The kids have gone back to school and I’m two weeks into my own fall semester. I saw the sign – it was in the store and it was advertising Halloween costumes. And I sadly lament – where did all that time go???

Countless loads of towels in the laundry say we had fun at the beach and the pool. But I fight the end of summer every year. I go into it kicking and screaming.  After the near-90 temps of last week, and that last final dip in the pool, it was harder than ever to surrender.

There were a few things we missed out on that I think I can still make happen even if summer is gone:

– swim lessons – for them and for me as they are now better swimmers than I am.  Thank goodness for indoor pools.

– making homemade ice cream – I’m sure I can work some pumpkin into a recipe somehow and call it a fall activity (or maybe some mint chip for winter)

Not to bad for checking off the summer to do wish list I suppose. In the mean time, it’s time to pack up the pool and beach gear and gasp, put on “real” shoes again.  So while the kids asked for hot chocolate and are ready to make apple pies with apples picked from the orchard, I’m still looking longingly at the flip flops.

In my best attempt to get over it, I decided the best way to accept the end of summer by registering for the Polar Plunge 2014   I figure it at least means I’ll be back in the water sooner rather than later, even if it will be about 37 degrees.

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The Buy Local Challenge – Do Gooding that Tastes Good

I’m always up for a good challenge.  Especially one that involves food.  Not in that Man Vs. Food kind of way.  Think more like Chopped (the pantry holds boxed Mac n Cheese, a chicken breast and pineapple… now come up with something!) However, this challenge should be a little easier – it’s the Buy Local Challenge week.

Very simple and delicious challenge – each day eat at least one thing grown from a local farm.  As I was sipping my coffee and reading my twitter feed, I was already making a list and searching pinterest for ideas of what to get from Anne Arundel County Farmer’s Market – (thinking something for a nice frittata for brunch).  I might have been grumbling thinking about parking to get to the downtown farmer’s market tomorrow (maybe grumbling about parking, maybe)

But later in the week when I’ve decided to go out and grab a bite – I can still support the challenge by heading to any of my favorite spots that support local farmers – Metropolitan, Wild Orchid, bb bistro, Level, Davis’s Pub and there’s plenty more.

So while my menu plans are starting to shape up – corn chowder, sautéed zucchini, maybe a little cucumber water – the farmer’s market list is growing.  Quiet frankly this may be the easiest food challenge yet.  Delicious food and doing the right thing to support local farmers – I think I got this one 🙂

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Mirror, Mirror – a girl and her glue gun – or how I avoided working on a paper

While trying to avoid working on a paper last semester, I ended up going to Home Depot to buy two things.  Only two items – and yet spent nearly an hour in there wandering – and here’s what I learned: Home Depot, Lowes and all the other home improvement stores are now the second worse playground of pinterest.

As I wandered trying to find the two things I was there for, I started looking for potential pinterest projects.  I’ve been needing/wanting a full length mirror and had seen someone take a plain “walmart” mirror and hot glue flowers all over it.  Now I’m not a fake flowers kind of girl but I appreciated the flagrant use of a glue gun.

I found the mirror – $5.  That part was simple.  In my wandering I also found some lovely glass tiles – 1 inch squares – and $5 for the square foot.   12 x 12  =144 tiles.  Mirror was 49 x 13 – so that’s 124 – a quick bit of math says I had enough and then some.  GLUE GUN FUN HERE I COME!!!

$4.99 glass tiles    Mirror, tiles & glue gun - OH MY!

A bottle of cider – a little television background noise and I set to work having a nice quiet mindless Friday night.  The tiles were sticking quiet nicely to the mirror and then I went to finish the first length of the mirror when I noticed something. I was coming up short.  About half of a tile short.  My first thought was to just add the extra tile (I had extras by my math) – and then find a tile cutter at Michaels to adjust it later.

So I kept going – length side two and I started getting concerned – because I should have a lot more tiles left than what I see.  This is where the problems multiplied.  Or more aptly I miss multiplied.  See I assumed my tiles were 12 x 12.  If you look at the picture – it’s 11 x 11.  So instead of 144 – I only had 121.  This would’ve been ok because again my math was wrong (49 + 49 + 11 + 11 = 120).  But to add to the complication, I went by the signage to thinking my mirror was all nice and even inches.  Flipping over the mirror – it was 49 1/2 by 13 1/2 – thus explaining the 1/2 a tile difference…

Now had I been paying attention in the beginning – I could’ve carefully spaced and worked with the issue.  But I didn’t.  So this was my result – one end with an extra half of a tile sticking out and the other side looking like this

IMG_5812IMG_5799 - Version 2

It’s a bit bare in that one corner. Ok a lot bare 😦

The total finished mirror – $11ish with tax – turned out cuter than a plain mirror.  And I’ve hidden the errors at the bottom – so it’s not completely noticeable (this is what I’m convincing myself).

All in all – the idea wasn’t bad but execution needed tweeking.  So here’s my advice should you decide to try it.

1) Measure, measure, measure.  The adage to measure twice, cut once goes into full effect here.  This was the worst of my errors and not easy to fix.

2) Hot glue sticks quickly.  So if you think you can be sloppy about placement and wiggle it around real quick to get it straight – you’re probably wrong.

3) Check how flimsy your mirror is and how heavy your tile is.  I was pretty sure about the weights for both of these together but any tile that would have been heavier and the mirror wouldn’t have made it.

4) Think about how you are going to hang it.  Propping this cheap mirror up against the wall at the wrong angle creates a fun house effect which is fine if you’re looking for decorative only, but can make for a less than stellar self image.

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Finished my first 5k – Color Run survived, Goal Accomplished!

About six weeks ago, I started preparing for my first 5k – the DC Color Run.  And here’s how that worked out for me.

Advice for preparing to do a 5k.  (Some of this is advice that I got from serious runners and chose to ignore.  Be smarter than I was and heed this advice.)

1) Don’t wait until 6 weeks.  Yeah I know, but at least I did 16 out of the 18 proposed workouts/training session.  I started with a slightly more than 13 minute mile. When I finished the recommended trainings, I was at just under an 11 minute mile.  So every little bit counts.

2) Don’t do it all on the treadmill. Running outside is definitely a different experience.  On the treadmill I was under an 11 minute mile… today at the race, slightly more than 12 minute mile.

3) If you must use the treadmill, change the incline on occasion.  It didn’t dawn on me how grateful I’d be for downhill sections after running up a gravely uphill bit.

Advice for the Color Run:

1) Bring something to sit on for the ride home and make sure it’s nothing you are deeply attached to.  A change of clothes isn’t a bad idea either.


2) Bring your sunglasses – even if it’s cloudy.  The color sticks to everything including eyelashes.

3) Beware the blue.  I was warned by a previous Color Runner – the blue dye likes to stick around.  After some serious scrubbing, I still look like I wrestled with a smurf in a few spots.All in all this was about the most fun doing something I always thought I’d hate doing – running in a race, even an untimed one.  But I had a genuine good time and would definitely do it again. And even though it felt really good to click the checkbox for the goal – run a 5k, I’m getting ambitious. November 9, 2014 is the 10k Across the Bay.  I think giving myself a year and a half is plenty of time to prepare for that one.

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