Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Searching for Treasure

Every day, while you are walking around -- going to the grocery store, running to the dry cleaners, living your life -- you are walking by hidden treasures. And I don't mean this in a stop-and-smell-the-roses, Hallmark-y sort of way. I mean that people have literally hidden millions of these tiny boxes all over the world and there is a game being played to find said treasures called geocaching.

Once I found out about this a few years ago, it kicked in my inner skull-and-cross-bones, plundering side, and I desperately wanted to join the hunt and find these treasures, which often are nothing more than a notebook where you sign your name. It's more the joy of the find than the gathering of riches, though we do own several more random plastic figurines due to this experience.

I mean, how insanely cool is it to discover that you've walked by a point in town several billion times without knowing that underneath a stone someone has hidden something and only those in the know are meant to find it?

The twins and I started geocaching several years ago, sans GPS. You may wonder how this works, and in short, it doesn't work very well. What we do is plug the coordinates into Google Maps and look at the topography of the area. We take notes at home and draw our own map. And then we go into the woods and just start walking, trying to find a certain pattern of trees or a natural marker to point us in the right direction. We are rarely successful.

With the remains of our REI money, we bought a Geomate Jr, a GPS meant solely for geocaching and kids. It is preset with 250,000 caches. The idea is that you turn it on, it finds the closest cache to your location, and points you in the direction to walk. Sounds like a much easier way to geocache instead of our ass-backwards way (and uses fewer pieces of paper, and requires fewer stick-figure-like drawings of trees) so we thought we'd have a go at it.

We brought it home, fed it some batteries, turned it on, and within 10 minutes, the thing had died. We gave it two more batteries, turned it on again, and within 20 minutes, the thing had died. After much cursing and very loud sighs, we drove it back to the store where we got to test REI's amazing return policy. The employee took the box out of my hands, asked a few questions, and refunded the entire amount. Just like that.

We had to go to a different REI location to get a second Geomate Jr. Armed once again with the mini-GPS, we headed out to the inner harbour at Baltimore, certain that it was the sort of spot where someone would hide a little treasure.

We exited the aquarium and turned on the device (after feeding it two batteries -- for the love, please don't eat these batteries, tiny machine), and within a few minutes, it told us there was a cache maybe a quarter mile from our current location. We started walking in the direction of the arrow.

The Wolvog held the device because he is into all things gadgety:

Though I had little faith in the product at first, it turned out to be very easy to use:

Following the GPS took us to places around the aquarium that we had never explored despite our constant visits, and we found a cool sculpture during our walk:

The GPS didn't seem concerned that it was telling us to cross the harbour. It took a moment to convince the twins that it didn't really want us to jump into the Bay and swim, so we backtracked and found a bridge so we could continue on our way. It led us to a small park which we began exploring. Within a few minutes, I spotted the cache hidden up on a metal beam.

It seemed insane that it was that easy: just step out of the aquarium, follow the directions on the GPS, and find the cache within a few minutes of looking. But apparently, when you do geocaching the correct way by using a GPS, you actually find caches. We opened it and signed our names to the log, and then returned it to the hiding place. Actually, first we did a happy dance on the rocks, then we all repeated in various ways that we couldn't believe we found it, then we put it back.

The GPS now lives in my purse, in the compartment usually meant for a cell phone. It is programmed with 250,000 caches all across the United States. As we travel about -- both on vacations as well as just moving through errands -- we can turn it on and see if there's a cache in the area. By always having it with us, we leave open the possibility of filling empty minutes with a treasure hunt. Which is pretty freakin' cool.

So that's how we're getting outside this summer (as well as fall, winter, and spring).

What outdoor activity do you pledge to do with your family this summer and how would a $100 REI gift card help you get there? Take the REI Outdoor Pledge and submit your comment to be entered.

The Rules:
  • No duplicate comments.
  • You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:
a) Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post
b) Tweet about this promotion and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post
c) Blog about this promotion and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post
d) For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.
  • This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older and runs from 9/7 – 9/27 .
  • Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail.
  • You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.
  • The Official Rules are available here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Why I Read BlogHer Daily (and Write There Too)

I obviously write for BlogHer as a contributing editor, so I'm biased about the site, but underlying that point is the fact that I write for BlogHer. Meaning, for four years, I've dedicated myself to this site other than my own; attended conferences, participated in group projects, and written anywhere from one to seven posts a week. It is quite literally my home away from home on the Internet, and it's my outlet for everything I don't want to put on Stirrup Queens.

At the most basic level, I write there because I like being surrounded by smart, funny, articulate women. The listserv alone is enough to keep me on board, but then you also add in the posts that come out of those listserv discussions and no matter how busy I become, how stretched thin I feel from life, I make the time there because the posts make me think. They make me talk. They piss me off sometimes and I call friends and rant. They make me cry sometimes and I track down the author and write them an email directly. They teach me about lives completely different from my own by opening me up to differing points-of-view.

And then, once we get past that basic level, I write for the site because of initiatives such as Own Your Beauty. A year of people standing up and saying they're beautiful and why -- it is such a powerful message; and it's a balance to the posts we inevitably write about our bodies. It's a message that BlogHer has driven home in the past with projects such as "Letter to My Body." I think women are often taught to put themselves down; we're definitely sent messages that we should be unhappy with our bodies. So anyone counteracting that is a good group to stand behind.

So I guess that's my explanation for why I am so involved with BlogHer. It isn't an accident, it isn't something I do mindlessly. I stand by this organization and site because they do good work. They fight the good fight. Everyone can blog there; and I hope that you do. There are people on staff whose whole job it is to read great posts that go up on BlogHer and move them to the front page and help direct traffic to the post so that people see your words. It levels the playing field and means that a blogger with a small amount of traffic can suddenly have a lot of attention on their ideas.

My favourite part of my job there is that every day, I get to choose one post from the BlogHer Network (meaning, people who are members of the site) and put it up on Facebook and Twitter. Knowing that it makes another person's day to see this spike in traffic coming to their personal blog is a cool thing. And ... okay ... that's another reason why I stand with BlogHer. Because they would think to do that. Because they care if people read your words.

In honour of the site's redesign, they're running sweepstakes of the next three weeks (and yes, I am looking at this as my chance to possibly get my hands on an iPad). This week's sweepstakes is for a full conference pass to BlogHer '11 in San Diego. The contest is open to US and Canadian residents (except Quebec) who are 18 or older. In the upcoming two weeks, they'll have sweepstakes for an iPad, and then another conference pass.

So, why do you love BlogHer? If you don't know BlogHer, go over, check out the site, register, and post a blog entry or two. Who knows, you may find that post on the front page.

Monday, September 27, 2010

This is a sponsored post from Disney and BlogHer.

My grandfather told me the story of Secretariat. One year before I was born, an unlikely horse was moved through the horse racing circuit by an even more unlikely female owner, landing the Triple Crown -- the trifecta of horse racing. It's a feat few have accomplished in over 100 years of horse racing, and there hasn't been a Triple Crown winner since 1978 when Affirmed took the title, five years after Secretariat.

He told me the story as we watched the movie Phar Lap, a similarly unlikely tale of a non-pedigreed Australian race horse that beat the odds to become one of the best race horses in the world. I was a horse-loving girl, a rider who volunteered at the stables mucking stalls and cleaning shoes in order to spend more time around the horses.

Even without following the racing circuit, it's easy to have your heartstrings tugged when you hear stories such as Secretariat because in the end, it is just as much about humanity as it is about the extraordinary horse. It is just as much about Penny Chenery, a housewife of 18 years (and mother of four), who showed the world that the skills needed to run a house do apply in the business world and that child-rearing is work. She successfully transitioned from raising children to running her father's stable, making the keen decision to hire Lucien Laurin as the trainer.

It's a story about a woman who broke other barriers. Penny Chenery was one of the first women (she was one of three) to be inducted into the all-male Jockey Club. She helped create a foundation that took care of aging Thoroughbreds after they left the racing circuit.

And it is easy to place yourself in the context of the story -- we all have our own private Secretariat moments -- those times when the first answer was clearly "no," but we ignored it and pushed ahead and grabbed the prize. My own twins are my Secretariats -- though early losses and fertility treatments, a twin pregnancy and premature birth, a NICU stay and an inability to breastfeed, it felt like ocean waves pounding down on us. Our two options were to retreat or push ahead, and we pushed ahead. It's amazing to see them now in kindergarten and know how close the world came to not having them here at all.

I have been planning on taking the twins to see the new Disney film, Secretariat, which comes out on October 8th, because it sends an important message, one that is best paraphrased from Norton Juster in the Phantom Tollbooth, "anything is possible just so long as you don't know that it's impossible." People need to see these stories because they serve as a reminder that while working hard is not a given in the most important aspects of life, without that hard work, you don't stand a chance.

BlogHer is asking readers to share their own impossible story for a chance to win a $100 Visa card from BlogHer. Leave a comment below telling them about a time in your life when it looked as if you didn't have a chance -- and yet you pulled through in the end. One comment will be chosen for the winner, but there are additional ways to up your chances.

Not only can you leave a comment (2 valid entries per person only), but if you tweet about the post and leave a direct url to the tweet as an additional comment, or blog about the post and leave a direct url to the blog mention as an additional comment, you'll be entered an extra time. US resident, must be 18+ to enter. The official rules for the contest can be found here.

In Theaters Oct 8

For more information:

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Crystal Light Pure Fitness: Natural Ingredients

This is sponsored content from BlogHer and Crystal Light Pure Fitness.

A few months ago, I read Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food. One of his points is that we need to stop eating foods our great-great-grandmothers wouldn't recognize in an ingredients list. And while some of our great-great-grandmothers back in Hungary wouldn't recognize, let's say, an avocado, what he means is that our food should be food--not man-made chemicals.

Hand Pouring Sugar From Measuring Cup
Our rule is that we don't eat anything we can't easily pronounce and it has served us fairly well so far. It meant I had to give up Equal because even though the brand name is easy to say, I once mispronounced the actual name as "ass-part-of-me" instead of "as-per-tame." We've been using honey and sugar and I've been playing around with creating simple syrups.

I've been making our bread and bagels rather than depending on store-bought which usually has additives to extend the shelf life. I started making our ice cream too when I got freaked out by the long list of ingredients on the brand we were purchasing. While there are a few convenience foods I buy, I try to cook from scratch as much as possible.

I try to drink pure water as much as possible. If I need a bit of flavour, I add a slice of lemon. Okay, I actually almost always need that base slice of lemon. If even the lemon isn't cutting it, I can get myself to drink a few extra glasses of iced tea daily. Since the good people at Crystal Light Pure Fitness sent me samples, I'm also drinking their natural lemon-lime drink.

How about you? How do you incorporate natural ingredients into your life? Tell me by leaving a comment below. Each comment is an entry in the sweepstakes I'm holding at the end of this four-part series for a $100 gift card. And I'm not the only one running this contest: by clicking here, you also have 4 other chances to win $100 as well as a $1,000 sweepstakes on the round-up page. You can also read more on the official rules page.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Crystal Light Pure Fitness: Why Do You Stay Fit?

This is sponsored content from BlogHer and Crystal Light Pure Fitness.

This question gave me pause. Why do I stay fit? It's obviously partially vanity--I'm trying to remain active in order to fight the weight that seems to creep on year after year. I try to remain healthy for Josh and the kids--I owe it to them. I'm conscious of how many health problems are rooted in a lack of exercise, so I run in order to keep healthy, as well as eat right and drink a lot of water.

Young woman lying on bed, resting head on arms, eyes closed, close-up
But a lot of it is that without running, I don't sleep. It's something I discovered the first time I had to stop running during fertility treatments. I could technically get more sleep since I didn't need to wake up an hour and a half before I needed to leave for work. Except I was getting less and less sleep because I'd lay awake in bed while Josh slept, the nervous energy from my day still inside my body, making my thoughts race.

When I returned to running this past winter, I could finally fall asleep again at night. And I find that on the days when I don't run, I stay up well past my bedtime, often with the lights out but sleep still far away. I need to stay fit in order to not drive myself crazy and it turn, drive everyone else crazy from my sleepless grumpiness.

It all fits together--eating right (and for me, a big thing hasn't been the right foods, but instead, the right amount), and drinking a lot of water and iced tea and Crystal Light Pure Fitness, and exercising daily. And the reward is a release of tension, setting aside all of my worries, and drifting into sleep at the end of the day.

How about you? Why do you stay fit? Tell me by leaving a comment below. Each comment is an entry in the sweepstakes I'm holding at the end of this four-part series for a $100 gift card. And I'm not the only one running this contest: by clicking here, you also have 4 other chances to win $100 as well as a $1,000 sweepstakes on the round-up page. You can also read more on the official rules page.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Crystal Light Pure Fitness: How Do You Stay Motivated?

This is sponsored content from BlogHer and Crystal Light Pure Fitness.

Um...I'm currently writing this rather than following my normal exercise routine, so it's sort of an ironic topic. How to stay motivated with a fitness routine, not only when it's hard to push yourself to run when you're already exhausted, but carving out the time when too many other things get in the way.

But stay with me on this one.

For the most part, I'm fairly strict with keeping on my fitness routine because I schedule it into my day in the same way I schedule doctor's appointments, phone calls, and work meetings. None of those items are life-and-death in the same way meals and sleep get automatically worked into the day, but all are tasks I'm trying to accomplish and as long as they go into my daily planner, they tend to get done unless other items throw them off course.

Er...such as a blog post.

Which is to say that there has to be a healthy flexibility in a schedule lest you become resentful of fitness. I never want it to be a chore; something that takes me away from other things I love. Instead, I try to make it my "me" time and then it looks a lot more enticing. I use it to think, work out blog posts in my head, unplug for an hour. Sometimes I lose my "me" time in order to take care of more pressing tasks, but I always try to get back to my "me" time.

Woman in garden holding water bottle, wiping face with towel
I also remain motivated by keeping a notebook where I record what I did, how long I worked out, and--because the Wii gives me the information--how many calories I burned. Seeing what I have accomplished often gives me the energy to keep going. There are times when I'm on the fence about heading downstairs to run, and then I start fanning back through the pages that stretch to last winter and I'm so proud of myself for all of the miles I've logged that it gets me off the sofa and back into my sneakers.

Eating well and drinking water follow the same ideology. I give myself flexibility to eat junk from time to time, knowing full well that you need to look at the big picture and not beat yourself up over the individual choices. If I'm at an amusement park, I know that I'm going to end up with the ice cream bar rather than the cut fruit, and I take that in stride. It means that I double my efforts while at home, where it's easier to eat well and drink a lot.

And while I don't record what I eat or how much I drink, I still use visual cues to stay on task. I stock the refrigerator with fruits and vegetables--taking the time to sometimes cut them up beforehand so I have no excuse for not tossing together a salad instead of reaching for yet another bowl of cereal (my go-to meal when I don't feel like cooking). Currently in my refrigerator, in addition to the twins' milk containers, there are pitchers of iced tea, Crystal Light Pure Fitness, and a full Brita. Having those options on hand and ready to go make it more likely that I'll drink it.

How about you? How do you stay motivated? Tell me by leaving a comment below. Each comment is an entry in the sweepstakes I'm holding at the end of this four-part series for a $100 gift card. And I'm not the only one running this contest: by clicking here, you also have 4 other chances to win $100 as well as a $1,000 sweepstakes on the round-up page. You can also read more on the official rules page.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Crystal Light Pure Fitness: How Do You Stay Fit?

This is sponsored content from BlogHer and Crystal Light Pure Fitness.

Before having the twins, I was a runner. I'd wake myself up every morning before school and run three miles. If it was nice outside, I'd run on the Crescent Trail. Most of the winter, I ran indoors on a treadmill.

Running was how I maintained my weight. It was my stress relief, my alone time, my thinking space. I can't say that I always loved dragging myself down to the gym, but I always loved the afterglow of exercise. I spent a lot of time feeling proud of myself for sucking it up and putting on my sneakers even when I'd rather stay in bed.

My doctor told me to stop running during fertility treatments and I truly didn't know what to do with myself at first. I stopped sleeping at night because I wasn't working out my nervous energy. The weight started creeping up and I felt sluggish. But soon I grew accustomed to having that time back, and once the twins arrived, I couldn't imagine giving up sleep for exercise. Even long after they were sleeping through the night, I could still find a better way to spend my time rather than running in place.

In the six years since I gave up running, my body has changed drastically and unhappiness with how I look and feel coupled with the fact that I can't afford a new wardrobe drove me to get back into shape starting last winter. I began with getting a Wii and committing myself to running every day, recording my progress in a small notebook that resides on my desk, reminding me of my commitment to schlep down to the basement and trot around WuHu Island.

So far, it's working. I've been able to stick to a five-day-a-week plan. Part of it is that it's easy--I don't have to leave the house to exercise so I can do it at any time. I even exercised straight through Washington, D.C.'s Snowmageddon since I didn't need to leave my house and get to a gym.

The increase in exercise has increased my water consumption. I've been mixing it up by drinking plain water, water with lemon, unsweetened iced tea, and some samples of Crystal Light Pure Fitness the kind people of Crystal Light sent me for this program.

Some of the weight has come off too. It's slow-going, but I'd rather have it sustainable and have the weight stay off. Beyond that, I'm feeling better and I'm sleeping better and both of those things are just as important as fitting back into my jeans.

So now I'm asking you--how do you stay in shape? Tell me by leaving a comment below. Each comment is an entry in the sweepstakes I'm holding at the end of this four-part series for a $100 gift card. And I'm not the only one running this contest: by clicking here, you also have 4 other chances to win $100 as well as a $1,000 sweepstakes on the round-up page. You can also read more on the official rules page.