Sunday, April 1, 2018

March 2018 Reflections

March felt like a really long, hard month.  However, when I went through this exercise, I only came up with one thing in the Challenges section.  I think that is a testament to how overwhelming work is to my life at the moment.  My frustrations there overshadow what seems to have been a pretty good month in every other aspect.  Here are my reflections for the month.

The Good

CPA Exam – I took the REG exam on Mar 3rd.  I received my test scores on Mar 20th.  I passed with a 90 which boggles my mind (0-99 range, with passing at 75).  It felt so hard when I was in there taking the exam.  I felt like I was guessing on so many of the Multiple Choice questions.  Although none of the Task Based Simulations totally stumped me, I was often unsure if I had picked the right variation of the rules to apply.  I honestly walked out of there unsure of whether I had passed, so finding out I did so with such a high score just amazes me.

Hiking – We managed to get a nice weekend day during March for my husband & I to take a walk.  It was not the warmest day (50s and a little windy), but the sun was bright.  We went to Burke Lake Park and walked the lake trail.  It is about 5 miles on relatively flat terrain.  There were lots of people out that weekend; everyone wanted to enjoy the sunshine.

Ballet Burn & Pilates – I continue to enjoy the Ballet Burn class at my gym.  I really wish I was a little better at it, but if I just keep going I know I will improve.  I can already tell my flexibility is improving, because my forward fold is better.  It looks like we might have a Pilates class for a few more months too.  Work has not reinstated it, but one of the guys at work made arrangements with the instructor to do the class independently.  The first one was this past Wednesday.  It went well, and I will probably continue to do it for as long as they keep it going.

Diet – I did much better at my diet this month.  I reduced my soda intake to about 1 a week, and even none last weekend.  Going forward, I am trying to make soda an out to dinner or at a party only drink.  I mostly kept up the breakfast at 300 calories, although I still struggle some weekends.  I added a second low calorie day to my week.  So now I am doing low calorie Tuesdays and Saturdays, trying to keep my calories under <1200.  I did all but two days this month.  One Tuesday, my husband totally messed up dinner and delivered me a carb fest.  Yesterday, my family did Easter dinner, so I did not even try.

PA Trip – I took my trip to PA to see my sister, baby T, and the rest of the family.  Friday evening, I met my friend for dinner in Wexford at Emporio: A Meatball Joint.  This place was awesome!  I had a meatball grinder with beef balls and crack sauce.  I also had cheesy bread with bacon and warm ricotta donut balls with hot fudge and cream cheese icing.  Saturday, I spent the morning with my sister, baby T, and an aunt at Impact Christian Church for an Easter Egg Hunt.  Baby T is an expert egg hunter, although she really would have like to participate in every age group not just her own.  Afterward, I hung out at my sister’s house until it was time to go to a different aunt’s house for Easter dinner.  I enjoyed a delicious dinner and spent the rest of the time there talking with my dad and my uncle.  After dinner, everyone went to see my grandmother in the rehab center with cheesecake for dessert (she fell and broke her hip, but is doing really well and should be discharged soon).  Today, I went to church with my mom, sister, and baby T, and then out to lunch with them plus my dad.  Overall, it was a really great trip.  I miss my sister and baby T so much.  I wish I lived closer.

The Challenges

Work –Work was awful this month.  As I predicted, the really big transaction slowly trickled through the system.  When I left work on Thursday (took Friday off), we still had not gotten the ledger straightened out for it.  On top of that, there were somewhere around 100 leases discounted for the month.   There is just so much work all the time, and we never seem to get caught up on it.  These crazy transactions are becoming standard instead of rare occurrences.  There is a new one every couple of months, and it takes us months to get them straight.  Then, the tax manager is always having a fit over the way we accounted for them in the ledger, and I am the one who has to bear the brunt of her frustration.  There is no breathing room, and I am so tired of it.

The Future

Year-End – April will be dominated by year-end close at work.  I expect that it is going to be awful.  We still have a pretty big mess because of that huge transaction.  On top of that, we have many discountings, which have the potential to cause a lot of a certain type of time consuming quarterly entry, but I will not know for a couple more days.  Then, year-end is always busy and stressful just because it is the fiscal end.  There is so much pressure to get everything done correctly and quickly.  People start pestering me for schedules before we have even closed the books.  I expect to work late most nights and be there for the next 3 weekends.

CPA Studying – I passed my first section, which means now there is a clock ticking on the rest of them.  I have 18 months to pass the remaining 3 sections.  I thought about starting on the next one during March, but after realizing I was out of town for a weekend and then heading into year-end, I changed my mind.  I see no point in getting into it until after year-end.  The next one I am studying for is FAR, which is generally considered the most overwhelming.  It covers a lot of material, so I am allotting myself more time to study for it than the other two.  I think I am going to schedule it for beginning of September which will give me approximately 5 months.  I plan to give about 3 months for each of the other 2 sections.  Then, I would have 6 months if I need to retake any of them.  I almost wish I had not passed REG, so then I would not be obligated to move forward.

Hiking – The weather is warming up, so I know there will be more hikes in the future.  April will be tricky because I work practically every weekend.  Even if I am not working, I am not sure how motivated I will to be to take a hike.  My downtime activities tend to lean more toward binging TV shows than exercise.  I have many ideas on where I want to hike next, but I think I have decided to do Harper’s Ferry National Park next.  It will be about a 4 mile hike in and out, and some walking around the little village.  I do not yet know if I will be taking my husband on this one.  Sometimes it is nice to hike with him, and sometimes not so much.

Husband Home – My husband has now been off work for a little over one month.  He has done a very minimal amount of looking for a new job.  I have been trying to keep my mouth shut, because I understand that he wanted to take some time off before jumping back into a job.  I want the same courtesy if/when I quit mine in August.  However, now that it has been a month, he needs to start doing something other than playing video games.  Obviously, I want him to look for a job first.  However, it would be nice if he also did some of the house projects that are waiting his attention.  We have a broken toilet, an unfinished deck (although I guess weather does need to be better for this one), a room he started to rip apart and is now unusable, several burnt out lights including one that needs to be rewired, etc.  He originally told me he was going to work on these while he was off, but so far the only house projects he seems to have done is clean the basement (yay!) and reorganize the shelves in the kitchen (why?).

There you have it, my month in review.  See you next month!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February 2018 Reflections

February is always a bit of a rough month for me.  It is so short, but it just drags every year.  I am so glad that it is finally over.  Here are my reflections for the month.

The Good

Staycation – The best part of the whole month was my staycation week.  This year was not as good as prior years because I have the CPA looming over my head.  I felt the need to focus some of my time on studying, and I had general anxiety creeping into everything during the week.  Even still, I managed to pack some fun into this week.  I had a massage at The Red Door Spa.  I saw The Greatest Showman in the theater.  I read two books, Lies She Told by Cate Holahan and Lean In:  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg.  I went shopping.  I ate at several yummy places including Eggspectations, Coastal Flats, The Silver Diner, and Cupcakes Actually.  I managed several really long, lovely naps.

Wardrobe Reorganization – My one home project for the staycation week was to work on reorganizing my wardrobe.  This was not so much a physical reorganization of the space as I did that during last year’s staycation (and it has mostly stayed organized).  Instead, I am working to create a coherent stylish wardrobe that changes with the season.  I am taking inspiration from the capsule wardrobe crowd by trying to streamline my colors and styles to make everything more mix & match.  However, I am not participating in the whole minimalist trend that capsule blogs seem to encourage (who wants to wear only 15 pieces of clothing for the next 3 months?).  This round of project was mostly about organizing my clothes into the 4 seasons and taking stock of what I own.  Over the next few years (as budgets allow), I can start making strategic replacements.  The end goal is to feel classy and confident in my clothes without feeling so overwhelmed by them.

Hiking – During my staycation week, we had a couple of extremely nice spring days (70s and sunny!).  Of course, I took the opportunity to do my first hike of the year.  I went to Manassas Battlefield Park.  I hiked the First Manassas Trail.  This is a 5.4 mile loop trail around the area where the first Manassas Battle was fought.  I purposely cut off the Stone Bridge Loop, which shortened my hike by a mile.  However, I messed up my directions around the Matthew’s Hill Loop area, and ending up adding half of that mileage back.  In total, I walked about 5 miles on relatively flat grass paths.  It is the longest hike I have done to date though not particularly strenuous terrain.

The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte – Last month I mentioned that I had previously read The Desire Map, and that I was using the associated Daily Planner this year.  This month I started working on some of the exercises in The Desire Map.  I have only just begun, but I am excited to keep going.  I am currently working on the Rapid Fire Questions, which push you to quickly answer questions with your gut.  Part of the Desire Map work is to create Core Desires.  I have not actually gotten to that part of the workbook, but I did come up with some current mantras to use until I actually work through the exercises.  They are 1) Work with a passion, 2) Be healthy and strong, and 3) Feel calm in my own space.  Of course, these might change drastically as I actually do the work to figure out how I want to feel.  For now though, they give me some focus when trying to do my planning.

Ballet Burn – I have continued to do the Ballet Burn class, and I still love it.  The class is very challenging for me.  I am sweaty and tired at the end, but I also feel great.  My muscles remember some of these exercises so well.  I am pretty inflexible and clumsy now, but I am hoping this improves over time.  My work is canceling the Pilates class that they were offering, and I really want to add the Ballet Burn instructor’s Monday Pilates Barre class to my schedule.  This would put a further crimp in my husband’s dinner plans though, and he was already annoyed over the first class, so I do not know whether I can.

Book Club – It was my month to host.  We enjoyed a power brunch complete with Bloody Mary’s.  Well, I passed on the Bloody Mary, since I am not a big drinker or a fan of tomato juice.  We read Lean In:  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg.  All of us that attended are working professionals.  We all basically agreed that the book makes some great broad sweeps about things women can do to keep their career moving forward.  We all also agreed that Ms. Sandberg leads a life in an entirely different ecosystem than most women, and some of her examples and solutions were hard to translate to those of us with less money and social connection.  The book itself was a quick enjoyable read, and book club this month was a great chat.

The Challenges

CPA Studying – I did continue to study during February, but I did not do as much as I originally 
hoped.  My biggest problem is sheer brain power.  When I get home from work, I am tired and spent.  Although I pushed myself to do a section most nights, I do not feel like I always absorbed it well.  On the weekends, I was trying to get 6-7 sections in each day.  I never could manage it.  My brain just stops after a certain point.  As such, I am swiftly approaching my test date, and I am not completely through the study material.  I was hoping to have the last week to test and study weak spots, but now I am just trying to get through the remaining sections.  I am very anxious about my ability to pass.

Work – It was not the quarter, and I still struggled.  I was hoping that the staycation would refresh me, but I still feel as unmotivated and frustrated with work as before it.  When I sat down at my desk on Monday, I felt like crying.  I am just exhausted.  There is a huge (I mean huge!) transaction coming through that everyone is arguing about how to handle, which means that we never seem to get started on it.  I am afraid it will still be an open mess by the end of next month, when we plunge into the fiscal year end.  I also was informed yesterday (by someone other than my boss who has not yet bothered to mention it) that I am on a list of people being assigned to implement the new Leasing Standard.  While this is not unexpected, it is just more work that I do not have to time to do.

Tooth – I am having a crown replaced.  Of course, it is not going smoothly.  My dentist is replacing a crown in my mouth that has been irritated and bleeding intermittently over the past year or so.  On this first visit, we removed the crown and we should have taken scans to make the new one.  However, my gum around the tooth was bleeding so badly they could not do the scans.  So now I have an antibacterial rinse to use for a couple of weeks to try to get the gum to heal.  When I go back, we will redo the scans and then of course I will need to have the new crown installed.  The gum irritation is part of the reason we are replacing this crown, but apparently it was much worse underneath than he realized.

Husband – My husband went through with quitting his job.  February was pretty brutal on the frustration charts for him.  He came home practically every day fuming about things that supposedly happened.  I still do not have a very clear idea of how much of what the company did was unreasonable and how much is just unreasonable expectations on his part.  Although I am a little anxious about his unemployment period, I am glad to be done with the crazy ranting every evening.

Diet – I tried to make further changes to my diet this month, but I really struggled to follow them.  I wanted to cut my soda intake a bit further, to about 1 a week, but this remained at 2, sometimes 3, in a week.  That is still better than where it was originally, but no improvement over last month.  I wanted to cut my breakfast down to about 300 calories.  I managed this very well some days, but not others.  I am especially struggling on weekends, because my husband and I prepare bigger breakfast meals that are hard to quit.  Finally, I am working on restricting calories on one day of the week.  I am considering trying the 5:2 intermittent fasting method, but I have not committed to that.  For February, I just tried to restrict calories on Tuesday to 1200.  This was the one goal that I actually did accomplish every Tuesday of the month.

The Future

CPA Exam – March 3rd is my REG exam.  I do not feel ready for it, and I have pretty much run out of time to learn new things.  I am just going to take it and see what happens.  If I pass, then I will move on to taking FAR.  If I do not, then I think I am probably looking to switch jobs before I attempt again.

Hiking – I set myself a goal of doing twelve hikes this year, increasing length and difficulty.  I made a good start this month with the First Manassas Trail hike.  I have high hopes of doing one with my husband this coming weekend on Sunday.  As the weather warms up, I will feel more motivated to get out there.  I really need to prioritize hiking over other activities though, if I want to meet my goals.  Ultimately I hope to do a full day hike, something in the 10-12 mile range.

Husband Home – I am feeling very anxious about my husband being off work.  Surprising, I do not feel that anxious about finances yet.  I make a good salary, and we have a decent amount saved.  I know we can survive several months even if we made zero changes to our spending habits, longer if we are more careful.  However, I am very worried about him being home by himself all day.  He does not do so well being alone.  Although the first few days have not been so bad, the longer he is here by himself, the more I worry he will start to be impossible to deal with at night after a long day at work for me (kind of like a puppy that jumps all over you the minute you walk through the door).  I also am a bit worried that the thinks too highly of his skills and he will pass up good opportunities by trying to go after jobs more senior than he is qualified to do.  While I am not worried about finances yet, I also do not want to get to the point where I have to worry about them either.

Easter – I am hoping to go home to PA for Easter this year.  I am still trying to coordinate between work and my family, but I think I can figure something out.  It will probably be a quick trip, just three days over the weekend.  I really want to see my sister and baby T, but my schedule just does not seem great over the next few months.  I finally decided Easter seemed like the best option.  Otherwise it would probably be the end of June before I could get up there again.

There you have it, my month in review.  See you next month!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January 2018 Reflections

As I mentioned in my last blog, I do not have the resources to do much blogging at this moment in my life.  However, I do not want to abandon it completely.  Here is my attempt to keep some activity without having to expend a lot of time and energy on it.  For 2018, I will try to do a monthly reflections blog posted on the last day of the month.  If my schedule opens up later, or I feel inspired to post something extra, then I will do so.  This however will give at least 12 blogs for the year if I can stick to it.

I am borrowing and adapting a format that I read on someone else’s blog.  I wish I could remember who it was, because I would definitely give her credit.  The other blogger did this format for a daily reflection to end her days.  I am going to do it as a monthly reflection to review how my life is going.  It is broken down into three sections:  The Good, The Challenges, and the Future.  The Good focuses on gratitudes, special events, accomplishments, and other things that make me happy.  The Challenges reflect on problems, disappointments, struggles, and other things that did not go so well.  The Future looks forward to things I am excited for in the future or perhaps challenges I know are coming my way.

The Good

The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh – This was an awesome book to kick off the year.  It is a complicated story full of interesting twists and moral dilemmas.  It was entertaining while also making me think.

The Desire Map Daily Planner by Danielle LaPorte – I read the book The Desire Map last year, and I am using the planner this year.  So far, I really like the layout.  It includes the time schedule and the to do list that other planners always incorporate, but it adds little sections to help remind yourself what is most important.

CPA Studying – I have done much better with studying for the CPA this month.  Towards the end of this month, I determined all the sections of the Wiley software for REG that I had not completed yet.  I scheduled them out, taking into considerations obligations already made, through my testing date March 3.  So far I have stuck to the new schedule.

Ballet Burn – Pilates class at work had a two week hiatus, so I tried a new class at my gym called Ballet Burn.  It is a combination of ballet and Pilates done at a pretty fast pace.  I really loved it.  I was going to use it as an alternative to Pilates when there was no class.  However, work is apparently changing Pilates to Wednesday going forward, so I should be able to do both now.

Less Soda – I outlined some healthy eating goals for myself for the year, adding changes one month at a time.  I tried to keep it light in January, because I knew changes during a quarter close are difficult.  My goal was 1-2 sodas per week, and I actually managed about 2 sodas per week.  For reference, I was more like a 1-2 sodas per day type of girl.

The Challenges

Work – It was the quarter so that is always hard.  I am so unmotivated by my job right now, that I really struggle getting through all the extra hours.  I feel frustrated with all the weird transactions that they do last minute and the lack of communication that surrounds them.  I get impatient with my staff who are great workers but not so great at the little details.  I just know it is time to move on to another position, but I feel so guilty.  I know there are challenging things in the future (like the updated Lease Accounting Standard implementation) where they are probably counting on me to contribute.

Sick – I had some kind of virus during the month.  Lately I feel like I get sick every quarter.  I assume I had a virus this time (though I do not think it the flu that is going around), but sometimes I wonder if I just work myself into the ground and my body gives up.

Husband – My husband is extremely unhappy in his job right now.  It is making him a miserable person to be around at home.  I am trying to be supportive but it is hard.  I am going through my own job burnout, and I do not always feel I have the patience and energy to deal with his too.  I also think he is sometimes unreasonable about what he thinks the company owes him.  It is hard to be supportive when I think he is being a bit obnoxious at times.  He has put in his notice with his last day during the end of February.  They supposedly have been trying to convince him to stay, but at this point I hope he really does walk away.

The Future

CPA Studying – Studying is going to dominate my February.  The schedule plan that I created has about 1-2 hours per week night (except Wednesday which is a hubby night) and about 7-8 hours both weekend days.  There some changes to the schedule based on obligations I had already made, but otherwise February is study month.  I waited too long to get serious, and now I really have to focus if I have any chance of passing March 3rd.

Book Club – My book club meets about every other month, rotating houses as meeting places.  I volunteered for February, before I realized how crazy my schedule was going to be.  None the less, I am looking forward to it.

Staycation – The last few years I have tried to take a week off at the end of February, and I am doing it again this year.  I need some space away from work before we get into the fiscal year end craziness.  I use this time to relax, read, watch movies, eat good food, and do some projects around the house.  This year of course I will be studying too.

There you have it, my month in review.  See you next month!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

In The Tradition 2017

It is time for the third annual In The Tradition letter.  Continuing the format from last year, I start with the five things from the past year that stand out in my mind.  I followed that with my Top Ten recommendations from the books, movies, and TV shows I consumed over the year.  At the end, I talked about a goal for the upcoming year that I am excited to pursue.

Five 2017 Highlights

Road Trip:  When I think back across the year, the number one best thing that stands out to me is the Road Trip I took in August.  It was the longest, most intense vacation I have ever taken, and I did it all on my own.  I started on a Thursday morning and drove to Asheville, NC.  I spent two nights in Asheville, eating at some awesome restaurants, shopping downtown, and visiting the North Carolina Arboretum.  Saturday I drove to Spring City, TN where I had dinner at this great little hometown pizza joint called Winsteads American Grill.  Sunday morning saw me head to Fall Creek Falls Tennessee State Park for a hike to the waterfalls.  From there, I drove across Tennessee for a quick overnight in Memphis.  Monday morning I continued on my way to Collinsville, OK to spend some time with my cousin and her two little baby girls.  After two great family days in OK, I dipped down to Arkansas for a night in Hot Springs.  Thursday morning I hit Garvan Woodland Gardens before driving all the way to Nashville, TN.  I spent two nights in the Gaylord Opryland Resort, where I relaxed in my hotel room, roamed the garden conservatories, went to the Grand Ole Opry, and had a massage.  The last night of the trip saw me in a restored 1920s hotel in Marion, VA eating at a speakeasy for dinner.  Sunday morning I hiked at Hungry Mother State Park before heading home.  I had so much fun, though I have to admit all the driving was a bit much for me.

Work:  Work always has a place in my highlights of the year, because good or bad, it always stands out.  This year has been bad, at least on a personal level.  It continues to be a volatile environment with staffing changes, new companies being purchased, enormous strange transactions done last minute, and a software testing project that never seems to go anywhere.  I have had enough, and I just cannot do it anymore.  This job is just not for me.  While I have become much more comfortable in my managerial role and I have actually delegated many of the tasks that were bogging me down, I realize that I still do not enjoy the time I spend there.  In August, I gave myself a year to find a new job or quit without one.  So hopefully, August 2018 should find me either in a new job going a new direction or relaxed at home looking for one.

Blog:  I kept the blog going for almost two years, but I had to take a step back from it.  I maintained the weekly schedule for the first three months of 2017.  Then, I took an intentional hiatus during the April yearend close schedule at work.  Upon my return, my intent was to keep posting on a more relaxed schedule for the rest of the year, but I only managed five more posts including this one.  I doubt this is going to change much for 2018.  I am in a period of personal struggle at the moment.  I have major doubts on my career path.  I have been pushing (quite unsuccessfully) to study for the CPA exam.  I have been fighting increased periods of anxiety and depression this year.  I am weakened by a general state of not feeling well physically.  The blog is really more than I can handle right now.  However, it is not my intent to abandon it forever, so hopefully in the future there will be a comeback.

Hiking:  Last year I set a goal to do more hiking, specifically to make eight trips over the course of the year.  I did increase my number, but I only managed seven trips for the year.  In March, my husband, stepson, and I took advantage of an early warm weekend to go to Shenandoah National Park.  In May, I took my solo birthday hiking trip, also in Shenandoah.  Over the summer, I went with my husband to hike on what I think was the Bear’s Den Trail, but we were kind of confused about finding trailheads.  The end of August, I did the two hikes mentioned above in the road trip, Fall Creek Falls and Hungry Mother State Park.  In September, my husband & I did the trail out at Hemlock Overlook Park.  Then, November saw us back at Wintergreen Resort where we did part of the Old Appalachian Trail.  I really enjoyed myself on all of these, but my favorites were Fall Creek Falls and Old Appalachian Trail at Wintergreen.

Trying New Things:  I made a commitment to try new things this year.  I get stuck in ruts where I do certain things, or I only allow activities during certain times of day/week/year, or I only will join if I know the people involved.  Being more open to doing things has let me to some great experiences this year.  I joined a book club where I only knew two of the members (one of which was not even there the first time I went).  This has been a great activity for me because not only does it open me up to new reading experiences, but it has helped me socialize with new people who I really like.  I also signed up for the Pilates class my company started offering once a week.  I was a bit nervous about working out with my coworkers but it again turned out to be a really good experience.  I do an intense workout once a week, and in the process share a lot of laughs with coworkers I did not know well before.  Although there is some speculation as to whether the company is going to continue to offer the class in 2018, the success of joining a fitness class has made me more confident in perhaps giving some of the group classes at my gym a try.  Finally, I allowed my husband to take me to several non-theater type shows at venues other than the Kennedy Center this year.  The result was some wonderful shows that I would encourage anyone to see given a chance.  We saw Brain Candy Live in March at the Warner Theater which was a lot of fun. It is an educational, humorous, family friendly option.  We saw Mike Birbiglia at the Warner in October, who is as great live as he is in his Netflix specials.  Finally, I we saw Brent Smith and Zach Myers from Shinedown in their acoustic tour at the Fillmore, which I think is hands down one of the best concerts I have ever seen.

Top Ten Favorite Entertainment Items of 2017 (no particular order)
Note:  These were consumed by me this year, not necessarily released this year.

TV Series:  The Following (only watched Season 1 so far)
TV Series:  Anne with an E (Season 1 released)
Movie:  La La Land
Movie:  Logan
Movie:  Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2
Movie:  The Accountant
Book:  The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
Book:  The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
Book:  Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
Book:  A Million Junes by Emily Henry

One Upcoming 2018 Goal

More Hiking:  My goal again is to increase my hiking.  I made it on seven hikes this year, which have all just reinforced my interest in this hobby.  For 2018, my goal is twelve hikes.  This is roughly one per month, but it unlikely I will do many in the winter months.  Along with increasing the number of trips I take, I want to increase the length and difficulty of the hikes.  I have been sticking with ones that will not take more than an hour or so, and staying in easy/moderate difficulty ratings.  The Wintergreen hike was more challenging this year but it was so much fun.  It has encouraged me to be more adventurous in the future.  Although I am sure there will be some staple hikes (Shenandoah, Wintergreen), I am hoping to expand out more for different adventures in the general mid-Atlantic region.  The ultimate goal is by the end of the year to do at least one full day hike.  Maybe by 2019, I will be ready to do an overnight.

There you have it, my third annual In The Tradition letter.  I hope 2017 was a good year for all of you, and I hope 2018 is even better.

I am unsure how often I will be posting in 2018, but hopefully I will not disappear completely.  So I will end 2017 by saying ‘Until next time’ to you all.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas Movies 2017

It has been quite a while since I blogged.  While I wish I could say I was going to pick up the pace in the new year, I think it unlikely.  I have been busy being an adult, working a demanding job, attempting to keep my house in one piece, trying to eke out time to study for the CPA exam (recently rescheduled to March from January because I cannot get it together), and fighting waves of depression.

I started an annual post for Christmas movies two years ago though, and I decided it would be an easy one to do again.  Somehow I managed to watch seven movies even though I should have been putting that time to other uses.  Here are my mini reviews, ranking them from least favorite to favorite.  (Caution:  Although I tried not to give too many details, there are some spoilers below.)

The Night Before (2015)
Synopsis:  Ethan spends Christmas Eve every year with his best friends, Isaac and Chris.  It is a mishmash of immature antics, traditional activities, and searching for tickets to the fabled Nutcracker Ball.  Chris and Isaac have declared this will be the last year, so Ethan is determined to make it the best.  Nothing goes according to Ethan’s plan though.  Things get stolen, an ex-girlfriend shows up, Isaac takes too many drugs, Chris is side-tracked by his new famous friends.  Ethan quickly finds himself on his own and feeling unimportant to everyone.  He is also bummed because his life is quickly going nowhere, while Isaac and Chris are swiftly moving into true adulthood (thus the reason this is the last Christmas Eve blast).

Review:  I have no idea how this ended up on my Netflix list.  It is a holdover from last Christmas.  I can only assume I was captured by it starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  It is an average stoner movie set at Christmas time.  The humor is immature and predictable and accounts for 95% of the film.  However, it does have some touching moments in it, especially toward the end.  Plus, I do still like Joseph Gordon-Levitt even if this was not his strongest movie.  This was not the worst film in the world, but it relied too heavily on predictable and cheap laughs.  I would not waste my time on it again.

The Christmas Prince (2017)
Synopsis:  Wannabe journalist Amber gets the chance of a lifetime when her magazine editor sends her to Aldovia to cover the Prince’s coronation.  Once there, the Prince fails to show up for his scheduled press conference.  Amber refuses to let this chance pass by and manages to get invited into the castle under the mistaken identity of the Princess’s American tutor.  During the next few days, she makes friends with the Princess, captures the Prince’s heart, finds long-held secrets of the Queen and late King, and makes enemies with the Prince’s scheming cousin Simon and ex-girlfriend Sophia.  All the while, she fears being exposed before she can uncover the true story of Aldovia and secure her position as a journalist.

Review:  This was predictable in the extreme.  In fact, it is downright boring when it comes to the central love story.  There is not a lot of chemistry between the actors playing Amber and Prince Richard.  What saves this film from being in the last place on my list is the Princess.  Princess Emily is delightfully charming and sassy.  The interactions between her and Amber, and her and Richard are entertaining and heartwarming.  In addition to the forced love story, this movie highlights the importance of family and that family is more than just blood.  This is a take it or leave it made-for-TV movie, easy watching but nothing special.

Four Christmases (2008)
Synopsis:  Kate and Brad avoid their families on Christmas every year, instead taking exotic vacations just the two of them.  One Christmas, severe fog rolls into San Francisco and cancels their flight to Fiji.  Outed by the local news, they are forced to endure four Christmases with the various factions of their family.  First up is Brad’s Dad, brothers, and brothers’ families for a wild wrestling match of a Christmas.  Next is Kate’s mother, sister, and various relatives for a dose of aging cougars and Jesus praising.  Then, it is off to Brad’s Mom who has taken up with Brad’s former childhood friend.  Last is Kate’s Dad for a surprisingly normal end to the day.  The combined Christmas experience forces Kate and Brad to reevaluate their life together and face some uncomfortable truths about themselves.

Review:  I have watched this several times since it came out, and each time I expect it to be better than it really is.  It has an all-star cast that really delivers in the first half of the film.  I laugh so much through Brad’s Dad’s house and Kate’s Mom’s house.  Then, the rest of the film falls a bit flat.  The laughs dry out, and it attempts to be a more heartfelt family film for the second half.  Maybe if Brad and Kate were a bit more likable and they showed some true character maturation by the end, it might have worked.  The very last scene of the movie though shows that maybe they did not grow as much as all the heart-to-heart talks at Kate’s Dad’s house implied.  This is an easy watch if you just want to fill some time with a Christmas movie, but I think there is much better Christmas fare out there.

Christmas Inheritance (2017)
Synopsis:  Jim wants to pass on the reigns of his business to his daughter Ellen.  However, he is not sure she has what it takes to rise above her pampered upbringing and assume the responsibility of running a huge company.  As a test, he sends her to deliver a personal Christmas letter to his old business partner Zeke in his small hometown.  While there, she is not allowed to tell anyone who she is, and she must survive on $100 and no credit cards.  Ellen soon learns that small town life is much different than New York City.  The conveniences are minimal and the pleasures are simple, but the people are more kind and helpful.  While there, she of course begins a flirtation with the gruffly charming inn manager even though she is engaged to a suave city man already.

Review:  This movie is not particularly original, being a cliché fish-out-of-water tale complete with love triangle representing the old and new paths in life.  However, Eliza Taylor as Ellen and Jake Lacey as Jake the inn manager have good chemistry, and you cannot help rooting for them to be together despite her prior engagement.  It also helps that this movie knows it is a cheesy made-for-TV movie.  It does not take itself too seriously, and it makes sure the audience knows it knows.   It is everything a TV Christmas movie should be:  small town charm, learning lessons in selflessness, forgiveness, snowstorms, community parties, and romance.  This is cheesiness at its best.  While this movie will not go down in the awards book, it was fun.  I will probably watch it again.

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Synopsis:  The movie opens with the Smith family excitedly talking about the World Fair coming to St. Louis in the next year.  The rest of the movie showcases some of the pleasures and trials the Smith family faces during the ensuing year.  There are mischievous kids, new beaus, broken hearts, Christmas dances, and a potential move to New York.  In the end, the family is happy together as they witness the lighting of the exhibition space for the World Fair in St. Louis.

Review:  This came up on a list of best Christmas movies, but it is not really a Christmas movie at all.  The movie spans an entire year, though it does have a small portion set during Christmastime.  It also features the iconic Christmas classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.  This film is actually a wonderful classic Hollywood musical.  The story is a delightful tale of the importance of family, home, and the simple pleasures of life.  Judy Garland stars as the main character, Esther Smith.  Her acting is good, and her musical performances, including the aforementioned “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, are superb.  I wish it had been a true Christmas movie for purposes of my blog goals, but I loved this film anyway.

The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
Synopsis:  The Bishop Henry wants to build a new cathedral.  His wife Julia just wants her husband and her life back to the way it was before he became a bishop.  When Henry prays to God for help in building his cathedral, heaven responds by sending the angel Dudley.  Dudley certainly shakes things up, but perhaps not in the way Henry had hoped.  Along the way, Dudley develops a crush on Julia, and Henry becomes quite jealous of Dudley.  In the end though, the angel puts things to right just in time for Christmas.

Review:  This is a Christmas classic and a Cary Grant film too, which automatically gave it a good start in my mind.  The Bishop’s Wife is a delightful example of the classic feel good Christmas film.  Cary Grant is one of my favorite film actors, and here he pulls off a wonderfully mischievous angel perfectly.  The story is light-hearted and playful with many characters getting a fresh start on their dreary old lives.  The story emphasizes the importance of family and friends over material matters, especially at Christmastime.  It also drives home the message that sometimes we do not get the things we want, instead we get the things we need.  The film does show its age with dated references and primitive special effects.  I recommend you look past all that and just enjoy the warm-hearted story.

Joyeux Noel/Merry Christmas (2005)
Synopsis:  For Christmas 1914, World War I was well underway.  However, Scottish, French, and German troops on one front find a way to move past the hostility to celebrate Christmas.  The lieutenants call a ceasefire.  A German tenor and his visiting soprano entertain the troops.  A Scottish Anglican priest says mass for everyone.  The men from all three troops leave their respective trenches to sing Christmas carols, share champagne, play soccer, and bury their dead.

Review:  Loosely based on true events, this movie is absolute magic.  War is declared by leaders and fought by common men.  This movie is a reminder that down in the trenches those men have more in common with each other than the leaders whose orders are being followed.  Though long and full of subtitles, this movie captivates me each time I watch it.  The journey is emotional as you see these men rise above the hostility and their differences to celebrate life and the holidays.  The film does a great job of balancing a war movie with a heartfelt drama.  It is visually beautiful with great acting from the main cast.

I hope you all were able to enjoy some wonderful Christmas movies this year.  I already have some new possibilities lined up for next year.  I hope you had a happy holiday season, however you may have celebrated it.  See you next week!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Birthday Hiking Trip

For the first time in a long time (and possibly ever), I took my birthday off work.  My birthday is May 3, which has always been a bit of a problem as an adult.  In college, it landed during finals.  As a working accountant, it tends to be during the month end close cycle.  In my most current company, it is during the fiscal yearend close which is the busiest time for our department.  This year, I have just had enough of work taking all the fun out of my life.  I politely requested that I be allowed the day off, and my boss agreed with the caveat that I cancel if a crisis came up before I left the day before.

I wanted to do something nice for my birthday that was just for me.  I chose to go hiking because it is one of my goals to do more hiking this year.  I went to Shenandoah National Park and hiked the Stoney Man Trail.  Stoney Man Trail is a relatively short trail, only 1.6 miles of fairly easy terrain.  There is a slight incline as you are hiking your way to the mountain summit, but most of the height is ascended with the drive to the starting point of the trail.  I wanted an easier hike though for two reasons.  One, I wanted to enjoy a pleasant stroll in beautiful weather, and not to wear myself out with a challenge.  Two, I had brand new hiking boots, so I did not want something too strenuous in case they started to rub (they did not).  The weather was gorgeous, sunny but not too hot, with a nice breeze.  The trail was fairly well traveled, and even mid-week during the school year I saw 5 or 6 groups of people while I was hiking.  Once I got to the top, I was rewarded with an absolutely gorgeous view of the valleys below.  In addition to my hike, I also stopped at all the overlooks between Thornton Gap Entrance and Skyland Lodge.

In all, it was an amazing birthday.  After my day to myself, I went home to my husband who made me a delicious dinner.  It is so hard in the rush of modern life to carve out those moments for ourselves, but days like this just reinforce how important it is.  In the future, I am going to try to take my birthday off again, if conditions are right at work.  I am also reinforcing my commitment to get in more hikes before the end of the year.  Being out there, surrounded by the nothing and everything of nature, just makes me feel at peace in a way I seldom do any more.

Of course, I took pictures of both the hike and the overlooks while I was out.  I have shared some of them below.

Jewel Hollow Overlook

On Stoney Man Trail

Stoney Man Summit

Hemlock Springs Overlook

Pinnacles Overlook

Hazel Mt Overlook

Tunnel Parking Overlook

Until next time, I hope you are out living the life you always dreamed you would have.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Misadventures in Health Take 1

Time Period Covered:  4/2/2017 – 4/29/2017 (4 weeks)

Like many of us, I struggle with maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  I constantly make plans to do better in the future.  I stop and start many routines over time.  Nothing really sticks for more than a few weeks.  Now I am trying yet again to lose some weight.  My doctor says it is a must to keep my blood pressure in check.  I was diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure) about two years ago.  I am on a medication for it.  I am supposed to work on stress reduction (not my strong point).  I am also strongly encouraged to lose at least 10 pounds.  I can in fact attest that about a year ago when I was down approximately 10 pounds, my blood pressure was consistently in a much healthier range than it is now.  My blood pressure has recently shot up into the worry zone (higher than even my normal); I blame mounting pressures at work.  Anyway, all this has led me to try to get back down the needed 10 pounds.  If I can go further, bonus points to me.

For inspiration, I decided to buy the book The 28-Day Challenge:  Healthy Eating & Lifestyle Guide by Kayla Itsines.  I first heard of Kayla through an article in Bloomberg Business Week.  I have since followed her on Instagram and poked around her website.  I was hesitant to buy her Bikini Body Guides though as they seemed kind of pricey for a PDF file, and I am not really much of a phone app girl.  So when I discovered she was releasing a book, I figured that was the perfect option for me.  What can I say about the book?  In a word:  ambitious.  I think it would be really hard for your average unhealthy girl (like me) to pick this book up and follow it.  The book was beyond me, so instead I used it for inspiration and motivation rather than an actual plan to follow.  See below for my application of The 28 Day Challenge.

The majority of the book is dedicated to meal plans.  I like the fact that she includes a very nice section full of information about nutrition in food and meal preparation guidelines.  There are a boatload of recipes included, all nicely laid out in the 28 days that you need, plus extra ones that you can swap in if a substitute is required.  Many of them look very tasty.  Alas, I did not actually follow her 28 day plan, so I have no idea how those recipes turned out.  The only recipe I actually tried was the beetroot dip, which I really like.  Sadly, I do not find her plan very practical for the average working adult.  My three main complaints:  cost, time, and waste.  She has a lot of variety included in her meals, which from a nutritional standpoint I understand, but all those foods have to be bought.  Along with that, I found it rather wasteful when recipes called for things like half a banana, but the other half shows up in no other recipe near it.  I cannot spend so much money to throw unused pieces of it away.  Additionally, many of these meals require a lot of preparation with little of it seeming very make-ahead friendly.  Since I work full time, it just did not seem very doable.

What did I do instead of following the lovely 28 Day Challenge meal plan?  Not a whole lot of anything.  On weeks 1 & 4, I was able to curb my soda consumption somewhat.  The other two weeks were full caffeine intake.  Unfortunately, I chose to start trying to be healthier during my yearend close, which is basically pointless.  I live on sugar and caffeine during those weeks.  Weeks 1 & 4 were less stressful than 2 & 3, which is why I was able to reign in the soda intake a little bit.  Otherwise, I consumed a lot of fast food and sweets.  This is pretty typical for me in high stress periods.

The exercise portion of the book is more of an afterthought than the meal plan.  However, it does have enough information to guide you through her exercise routines.  Each week has a 5/6 day workout plan, including 3 days of circuit training and 2 or 3 days of low-intensity cardio.  She also includes a 10 minute rehabilitation session, which can be tacked on anywhere in the schedule.  Each week includes one circuit training day for legs, one for arm/abs, and one full body, interspersed with the cardio days.  Each day’s workout includes 8 exercises broken into 2 sets of 4.  You are supposed to do 4 exercises for 7 minutes, short rest, the other 4 exercises for 7 minutes, a longer rest, repeat the whole thing, and stretch.  The light cardio days are walking, swimming, etc. for 30-45 minutes.  Again this is an ambitious plan for someone not in shape (me).  While the exercises themselves are basic enough, and she has nice step by step instructions and picture guides, if you are not used to exercising full time you probably are not going to be able to complete the whole program.  However, this plan is definitely something you can work up to, and overall I think much more useful to the average girl than the meal plan was.

So how did I fare on my first round of the 28 Day Challenge Circuit Training Program?  Here is a quick look at my schedule.  Week 1:  Mon Leg Day where I barely made it through each exercise one time (as in one set of recommended reps) and was a bit sore afterward, Tues 20 minute cardio session on the elliptical, and Thurs Arm Day where again I barely made it through each exercise one time and was so sore I could barely move them for 4 days.  Week 2:  Mon Leg Day where I did each exercise one time with minimal soreness afterward, Wed 20 minute cardio session on the elliptical, and Fri Arm Day where again I did each exercise one time and was quite sore afterward but at least I could move this time.  Week 3:  Tues Leg Day where I did each exercise one time with minimal soreness afterward, Wed 20 minute cardio on the elliptical, and Fri Arm Day where I did each exercise one time with soreness afterwards though not nearly as bad as the first week.  Week 4:  Tues Leg Day each exercise one time through with minimal soreness, and Wed 20 minute walk.  I did not do arms; I was out of energy, time, and motivation.

I know my version of the goals was not anywhere near what was outlined in the book, but really I think it inspired and motivated me to do a lot better than I normally would have done during the month of April.  I do not regret buying it at all, but I am not sure I would necessarily recommend it to others.  I think there are probably much more user-friendly guides out there, especially for beginners like me.  However, I intend to stick with the exercise plan because I assume I will keep improving if I keep trying.  I hope to use the meal plan as more of a recipe book where I pick and choose some of the things to include in my journey toward eating better.  However, I will probably never actually follow the 28 Day Challenge as provided in the book.

So here is a peek at where I stand now.


Current Weight:  167.7 (prior weight was 167.5 but I do not have pics to go with it)
Doctor Goal:  155 and blood pressure in the 110/70 range
Personal Goal:  140 and blood pressure in the 110/70 range
Can I Even Dream It Goal:  130 and a picture of perfect health

Until next time, I hope you are out living the life you always dreamed you would have.