Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010: The year in review

I've thought about this post for quite some time — how to write it, which details to include and whether I should even write it at all. The memory of this first incident hit me one morning and I realized how far I've come in just a year, both in achievements and attitude. I think I'm proud enough of where I am and who I am today to be able to write about this quite sad, embarrassing time in my life. Maybe it'll help someone who now feels like I felt a year ago. Who knows? Here goes.

On December 31, 2009, I went to a New Year's Eve party with my then-boyfriend, who I'd been dating for about 6 months. The party was at his friend's apartment, and I wanted to have fun, watch the fireworks and ring in the new year right.

For some reason, "ringing in the new year" that night meant mixing myself some really strong drinks and drinking them too quickly. It meant feeling sick and going to lie down while everyone else enjoyed the party. And then it meant feeling really sick and spending the first few hours of 2010 leaning over a toilet, experiencing all the ickiness that comes with drinking too much while also sobbing uncontrollably.

I was that girl. So embarrassing. But wait, it gets worse!

My then-boyfriend later told me that as I sobbed on the bathroom floor of his friend's apartment, I kept repeating something over and over:

"I'm never happy."

I had no recollection of saying that, so I was surprised, and I think I even laughed. "That's so weird," I said. "Of course I'm happy! I might have said that, but I didn't mean it."

I wasn't just saying that; I believed it. But things were rocky in that relationship. My then-boyfriend had a ton of energy, and loved to run, ride his bike and go out with his friends all the time. I was just getting used to my first full-time job, always felt tired and would rather stay in and watch a movie than go out to a bar or theater. He always had events, races and travel plans on the horizon; I did little besides go to work, read and sleep.

We fought about these differences a lot. One time I walked away from him in the middle of an argument because I was too upset to talk through and settle it. He never forgave me for that. He broke up with me the first week of January.

I was heartbroken at the time, but looking back, I can see why he couldn't date me anymore. Who wants to be with someone who just wants to sit at home all the time? Who wants to date someone who confesses through their beer-tears that they're never happy?

In hindsight, I know that I wasn't happy. I wasn't depressed, either, but I was discontent with my life as it was. I had quite a bit going for me, having recently graduated college and landed a good job, but the same thought kept creeping into my mind: "Is this it? Is this what my life will be like until I retire or die — whichever comes first?"

Human-resources-types would say I was missing a work/life balance. Angsty, twenty-something blogger-types would say I was having a quarter-life crisis.

I was always tired. I didn't see my friends very much. I had no hobbies. I didn't exercise. I didn't really watch what I ate. None of these individual elements was particularly alarming to me, but the combination left me in a sort of quiet desperation. For lack of a better way to describe the feeling, I was just kinda bummed about life.

One of the reasons I was bummed was because I thought I wouldn't meet another guy my age anytime soon. I spent the majority of my time commuting on the bus or plugging away at work, and those scenes weren't exactly hopping with eligible young men like college was.

So let's just talk about for a second. Yup, I was on there for a little bit, at the encouragement of my dear mother. I went out with a few guys, all normal, most nice, but none too extraordinary. Then I met a really, really great guy who I dated for a few months. I don't have a single bad word to say about this guy; I just didn't see it going anywhere and very sadly ended the relationship. That was also the end of my experience, thankyouverymuch.

I came out of that just wanting to be single for a while. I was in the midst of paying off my debt and wanted to focus on getting the rest of my life together. I wanted to learn how to navigate on my own, since I always had boyfriends in college and wasn't all that familiar with solitude. I always needed someone else's approval to feel OK.

Leave it up to the universe to throw two guys my way that I couldn't ignore. I ended up dating both of them briefly, despite my well-meaning intentions to stay single. Neither experience went very well, and I was back to being single at the end of the summer and wanting to stay that way.

Something changed at that point, and I decided to start living my life the way I wanted to live it instead of waiting for someone else to tell me that I was OK.

I reconnected with my friends, ones that I've been close with for 10 years, and it breathed some life back into me. I started doing a lot of reading and began realizing that life could be about so much more than work. Opportunities that I never thought I'd be able to have suddenly seemed attainable. I paid off all my debt, which had been a huge burden and a large part of why I felt so trapped in the first place.

I started running. I made calculated efforts to become more adventurous, and started saying "yes" to a lot more invitations and activities. I started initiating activities myself. I went skydiving. I registered for my first 5K (very scary). I made an effort to eat healthier and get more sleep.

I posted more on this blog and remembered how much joy I get from writing. I decided to start taking my dreams very seriously. Ayn Rand's quote, "The question is not who is going to let me, it's who is going to stop me," became a big deal to me.

I finally began to stand on my own two feet.

This didn't all happen at once; some of it has happened slowly over the course of this entire year, but I feel like most of it has happened since the beginning of September. That's when I stopped looking for approval from someone else, and instead started becoming a person that I approve of. After all, I'm stuck with me for the rest of my life, so I might as well like myself.

This is not to say that I now have a perfect life or that I'm the greatest person ever, but I've come a long, long way from the girl who sobbed on the floor last New Year's Eve. I can now say, with absolute conviction, that I am happy every day. I'm not necessarily happy all day, and sometimes not even most of the day, but I am happy. Every. Day.

And actually, I can think of several days in the past few months that I have been happy all day. Last Thursday, I was happy all day.

Things could have easily gone the other way (into a depression, perhaps), or just stayed the same. I could still be pretty bummed about life.

But I realized that I couldn't just sit around and wait for something or someone to come along and make me happy; I had to think about the things in life that would bring me joy, then pursue them. I realize that it's not that simple for everyone, but I feel very fortunate that it was for me.

Nothing is ever hopeless. I wish I'd known that a year ago. Also, I wish I'd known that my own attitude was the main thing that was holding me back from enjoying life. Ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes wrote, "If we could just free ourselves from our perceived limitations and tap into our internal fire, the possibilities are endless."

If it seems like I'm super excited about all the things I have planned for 2011, now you know it's because my life is so different than it was a year ago. I didn't have much to look forward to at the end of 2009 because I wasn't interested in much more than getting through each day. Now I struggle to not get too far ahead of myself with all the things I want to do in the next year and beyond. Now I set goals and challenge myself to be better.

This New Year's Eve, I plan to enjoy a glass of champagne at midnight and then get some rest before I run and dive into a 5K/polar bear plunge on January 1, 2011.

It'll be an absolutely fantastic fresh start.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Blog swap! Angel's 2011 goals

I'm a member of 20 Something Bloggers, a social network for... twenty-something bloggers! I'm not as active on it as I'd like to be — I have a profile, but haven't made the time to connect with many people — so when 20SB emailed me about a blog swap, I figured I'd jump in and participate.

All the participants were randomly paired with another 20SB member to write on each other's blogs about a chosen topic. I was paired with Angel from South Carolina, who was also a blog-swap newbie! Today, she put my post up on her blog, Confessions Of A College Angel, and here is her post on the same topic. Thanks for swapping with me, Angel! And thanks for saying such nice things about me on your blog, although I don't actually run marathons... yet.  : )  —Devon


I’ve never had much use for resolutions. I try every year to make some, and I start out with good intentions, but do you remember that kid in middle school, the one who came to school the first day with a Trapper Keeper (lol, I LOVED those) all organized and neat, everything labeled lovely and so set up? Then within that first week, they were pulling crumpled papers out of the bottom of their bags and digging through piles of papers for one? Yeah, that kid was and still is me.

I have never had a guest poster or swapped blogs with someone before, so when 20 Something offered me the chance to swap with Devon, I was psyched! I was a little worried when I saw the topic, though:

"Action. What will you do next year that you've been putting off for too long?"

What will I do in 2011? This is hard… I have so many things I want to do, and so many things I have been putting off and off and it just seems like they get farther and farther away from me.

Devon has all her junk together, which actually makes this topic a little harder for me. See, I’m in the situation that Devon was in a few years ago right now.

So what will I do?

First, I need to get a car. Preferably a cheap car that I don’t have to make payments on.

I had a large problem in my past with my car that you can read all about here. Go on, I’ll wait. Yes, it’s been a year from the last time I had a car that was mine, so I do need a new car badly. It is hard to work without one, and I’ve had to put off school a little as well.

I also need to move. I have been talking about moving to Memphis for a LONG time now, and never really made strides because I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have a car, I needed to stay and help my family… as Kensei, my fiancé (who’s in Memphis) puts it, a lot of excuses, but no real results.

I also want to have some fun this year, too. I have honestly never been the “fun” girl. I’ve been the girl who got your parents to let you go out because she was going, all of my life. I want to go to parties (or at least get invited, lol), I want to go dancing and clubbing, and just enjoy life because, well, I won’t be in my 20s forever, you know?

But I also owe a LOT of people a LOT of money, so I want to pay off some of my debt and maybe get a handle on myself.

So for 2011, I will get my junk together, get a car, move to Memphis and hopefully have some fun.

I hope that you enjoyed this look into the Confessions Of A College Angel, and I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog!


Friday, December 17, 2010

Back to the beginning

Last month, I used my credit card for the first time since I began to pay it off in January 2010. It had been void of any activity since May, when I paid it off completely. No purchases, no payments. Just sittin' in my wallet.

I used it for my purchases on the cruise — drinks, gratuity, drinks, gifts, drinks, etc. It all came out to about $300, and it was worth every penny.

I was so relieved to pay it all off as soon as I got home, to see that balance drop back to its rightful $0.00. It reminded me of how I started all my trouble with credit four years ago at this exact time of year.

When I began Googling around for a student credit card in December 2006, I was broke but had good intentions. I had realized that after paying for tuition and books that quarter, I wouldn't be able to afford Christmas presents for my family. (My parents would be horrified to find out that this is why I signed up for my first credit card, but if it hadn't been this, it probably would have been something else down the line.)

With a meager income and no credit history, I snagged a student credit card with a $1,000 limit and six months of 0% interest. I totally thought I would buy the presents, pay off the balance before the 0% interest rate expired and be free and clear. Ha!

My roommates and I booked a cruise around that same time so we could set sail for our spring break in March 2007. Guess how I paid for my share of the cost? Yup, with that shiny new credit card. My guess is that tacked about $600 onto my balance. Stupid, stupid.

From there, the whole debacle is a blur. I always paid at least the minimum payment on time, and I was rewarded for my good behavior with an ever-increasing line of credit. I celebrated with an ever-increasing balance to match. I figured that as long as I stayed under my limit and made my minimum payments, I was fine.

I should note here that my interest rate jumped from 0% to 19.99% after the six-month introductory period. That's when the credit card company began to make unholy amounts money off of me, and also when I began to drown.

I would use the actual money I earned at my job to buy frivolous stuff, like clothes, then use my credit card when I realized I didn't have enough money in my checking account for slightly more important things, like groceries. I was spending all the money I had, then spending more that I didn't have. And I could never make a dent in my balance that wouldn't be eclipsed by the interest that was tacked on the next month. "Vicious cycle" is the overused-but-applicable term here.

This continued until September 2009, when I moved back into my mom's house and started my first real job. I planned to throw as much money as I could toward my credit card debt (just over $6,500) and pay it off completely before I moved into a place of my own. I figured it would be a piece of cake since I would be making much more money than I had made from my part-time job in college and I would have far fewer expenses to cover.

It probably would have worked out that way if I had made a priority of paying down the card and if I had paid more attention to how much of my income I was spending on happy hours, clothes, etc. It turns out that if you don't manage your money very well to begin with and tend to spend it rather than budget and save it, having more money only means you'll spend more money. Huh.

I finally got my finances straight in January 2010, and the rest is history (you can read about it here and here). I feel like I've come full circle in that four years later, I'll be buying Christmas presents for my family with money that I actually have, and I've recently enjoyed a cruise that was funded by me, not some credit card company.

The story of how I got into debt is full of coulda-shoulda-woulda regrets and hindsight-is-20/20 "d'oh!" memories. Would I go back to 2006 and shake little 19-year-old Devon by the shoulders before she started down the destructive path of irresponsible credit use? After everything that I've learned from this experience, no.

Luckily, I never got into too terrible of a financial situation and I was able to get myself out of debt fairly quickly. I never lost a car, a home or the ability to attend college due to my debt. It didn't negatively affect any friendships, romantic relationships or my family members. And I actually have a sterling credit history, as I never missed a payment or exceeded my credit limit.

But being in debt did hold me back in some ways. When I graduated from college, I was very anxious to get a job because I knew I needed the money to make my monthly credit card payment. I didn't have the luxury of taking time off to travel, do an unpaid internship or just figure myself out before jumping headfirst into the job market. I had no savings to fall back on. The credit card company essentially owned me.

I particularly remember finding an intriguing internship with a community newspaper on Molokai, a small Hawaiian island, shortly after graduation. The six-month internship began in August and paid very little, but did provide room and board. No offense to my fellow journalism grads, but most every aspiring reporter starts out with a position in some little Nowheresville town to pay their dues. I figured why not do this in Nowheresville, Hawaii?

The editor of the Molokai paper contacted me by saying that my application stood out, and that he'd like to schedule a phone interview. But first he wanted to know: Could I not only survive, but thrive on only $40 a week on a remote island where I'm unfamiliar with the people and the culture?

The dream died at "$40 a week." Sure, I could survive on that if I only had to worry about feeding myself and such. But my minimum monthly payment alone was something like $150 at that point. Plus, my student loan repayment would kick in midway through the internship, tacking another $50 (minimum) on to the Money I Owed Other People each month. Goodbye sunshine, coconuts and sandy beaches.

Coulda, shoulda, woulda.

Molokai may have never happened for me anyway, or maybe I would have hated it there, but the point is that my debt held me back from a big adventure. It dictated the decisions I made, and all because I spent a bunch of money I didn't have, then had to pay it all back — plus interest! — for the privilege.

You'll notice that I've been pursuing all kinds of adventures — including some costly ones — since I've become debt-free and accumulated savings. I've been able to skydive, run races, register for a half marathon, book a weekend conference, go on a cruise, plan to buy a digital SLR camera and realistically dream about traveling to faraway places — all because I've prioritized adventures and new experiences over buying a bunch of stuff that I don't need and will forget about anyway.

I don't know if I would have realized that adventure is one of the things I really want in life had I not been hit so hard with some things I really don't want: slavery to creditors and desperation between each paycheck. No, thanks. I choose freedom, financial and otherwise. I choose the bananas.

And I wouldn't trade that realization for the world.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Grabbing the bananas

Several good things happened today. I'll begin at the beginning.

Good Thing #1:

My mom emailed this to me after I told her that my future roommates and I signed a lease for a lovely townhouse this morning. I laughed out loud. And then I nearly teared up.

But then I began envisioning how I would decorate my new room, and I got so excited. We get the keys the day after Christmas.

(Yes, my mom calls me Devie-Doodle. You heard it here first.)

Good Thing #2:

(Please note that if I were the Punctuation Fairy, I would add a possessive apostrophe to this logo...)

This is happening. I was innocently browsing 2011 races by month, looking for a 10K to do at some point before I attempt a half marathon in June, when I thought, "Hey, I wonder if there are any races on my birthday!"

Lo and behold, this 15K (9.3-mile) race around Lake Union falls on the 24th anniversary of my screaming entrance into this world. (My poor mom, Mama Bird up there, was likely also screaming on that day, since she asked for the epidural just a tad too late. Oops! I plan to request my future epidural approximately nine months before I'm due to give birth. On the rocks, please.)

I ran into a snag while completing my registration for this race, because not only did the online form ask for my date of birth, it also asked, "How old will you be on May 21, 2011?" Ummm. Hmmm. I'll be 23 until about 1:30 p.m., then 24 for the rest of the day.

(The race starts at 7 a.m. I put 24 anyway.)

Good Thing #3:

Well, hello, Chris Guillebeau! This man, who is a massive source of inspiration and general awesomeness, visited the UW Bookstore this evening as part of The Art of Non-Conformity book tour. I'll have you know that he told me I was awesome and gave me a hug just as I finished chatting him up and he finished signing my book.

I'll also have you know that this was not the first time he told me I was awesome.

When I got back from the cruise, this note from Chris was waiting for me on the kitchen table:

I told you the man has a way with words! Inside the note, he wrote, "Devon— so glad you're coming to WDS! —Chris."

I thought this was pretty sweet, but I wondered about the stamp on the back of the envelope. What does this dude have against monkeys?

If I had his book more fresh in my mind, I would have remembered the monkey story he referenced in The Art of Non-Conformity, a story that I first read about in one of Dave Ramsey's books. Ramsey tells the story like this:

John Maxwell tells of a study done on monkeys. A group of monkeys were locked in a room with a pole at the center. Some luscious, ripe bananas were placed at the top of the pole. When a monkey would begin to climb the pole, the experimenters would knock him off with a blast of water from a fire hose. Each time a monkey would climb, off he would go, until all the monkeys had been knocked off repeatedly, thus learning that the climb was hopeless. The experimenters then observed that the other primates would pull down any monkey trying to climb. 
They replaced a single monkey with one who didn't know the system. As soon as the new guy tried to climb, the others would pull him down and punish him for trying. One by one, each monkey was replaced and the scene repeated until there were no monkeys left in the room that had experienced the fire hose. Still, none of the new guys were allowed to climb. The other monkeys pulled them down. Not one monkey in the room knew why, but none were allowed to get the bananas.

Chris uses this story to illustrate that people may try to bring you down if you attempt to live an unconventional life, just because they think everything should be done a certain conventional way (but can't really explain why). They'll get mad and punish you if you attempt to reach an amazing goal that they never believed was possible for themselves to achieve. I instantly realized the significance of the anti-monkey stamp when I read what Chris inscribed in my book:

Such a good day, and so much good stuff coming up. I hope y'all are ready to go out and grab the bananas, too.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Two great things

Today my cousin sent me some photos that he'd taken over Thanksgiving weekend.

This is my 91-year-old granddad looking through some family photos on my cousin's iPad. I'm looking on in awe because I couldn't believe how quickly he caught on to using it. My cousin couldn't believe it, either — hence this photo.

This was a great day. All of my granddad's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were under one roof for the first time. I'm glad that I will always remember this day and the time we spent with him.

On another, slightly related note, I came across this beautiful instrumental today. It made me a bit emotional after I had looked at the pictures of my granddad.

This song makes me cry, but I've listened to it over and over today. I'm really good at burying inconvenient feelings, like sadness, deep down so that they don't creep up on me unexpectedly. I'm really good at pretending I'm OK even if I'm not. Sometimes it's nice to have something like this bring those feelings up so I can actually feel them like I'm supposed to.

Some stuff in life is just really, really tough. But at the very least, it helps me remember to be grateful for every moment, and to treasure the time I have with the people I love.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Winding down 2010, gearing up for 2011

Dear blog,

I'm sorry that I've been ignoring you. But guess what? After a year and three months of living with my mom, I'm house hunting!


When I was in the midst of paying off all my debt, I wrote a list of specific financial goals — ones that I needed to accomplish before I could move out. I'm happy to report that I have only half of one goal left to cross off, and that is moving out itself:

1. Pay off my credit card by my birthday.
2. Pay off my student loan by July 1. (OK, technically it was July 16.)
3. Move out of my mom's house by the end of January 2011 with no debt and more than $10,000 in the bank.

(A year ago, the last half of the last goal seemed impossible, but here I am. It wasn't easy to accomplish, but everything has been worth it.)

Looking for a place to live is exciting, but time-consuming and a bit stressful. Mostly exciting. I'll let you know when my future roommates and I nail down a place and get the details worked out.

Until then, posting on Answering Oliver will be light since I'm a perfectionist and like to spend way too much time writing these posts. It's a sickness.

In the meantime, you can keep an eye on my running blog, where it's much easier on my psyche to throw up quick posts that I don't have to obsess over. Plus, I'll have tons of stuff to write about there since I need to start training for my next 5K and another little race that I'm registered for...

Oh, yes. It's happening.

I'm ridiculously excited for 2011. The half marathon is just one of many adventures I have planned. Let's finish 2010 strong, and then go get it!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Notes from the Caribbean and beyond

The answer is yes.


The cruise hit Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos...

San Juan, Puerto Rico...

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands...

And Half Moon Cay, Bahamas...

We were pretty tired by the time the ship stopped at Half Moon Cay, so this is about the most exciting picture I have from there. I was also really sunburned, hence the hat. I had done a pretty good job of keeping my sunscreen on (went through a whole bottle of SPF 50!) until we went to St. Thomas.

Watch out for St. Thomas. The rum will sneak up on you.

We were able to do all the excursions we wanted to do: clear-bottom kayaking in Grand Turk, where we searched for conch shells and held non-poisonous jellyfish; ziplining in San Juan, which is something I've always wanted to do and had a lot of fun doing; and snorkeling in St. Thomas, which is pretty much the greatest place in the entire world, ever.

Fun fact: our snorkeling guide was from Woodinville! He graduated from my high school a few years ahead of me. I'm thinking the whole leave-Woodinville-and-move-to-St.-Thomas thing sounds pretty good. Or move to any part of the Caribbean. The weather was sunny and warm — upper 70s and low 80s — every single day.

Did I mention that it snowed the day after I got back to Seattle? Did I mention that it began snowing about 10 minutes after I crossed the finish line at the Green Lake Gobble 5K? Did I mention that I thought I would never cross that finish line since I had just spent a week eating and drinking to my body's capacity nearly every day?

Oh, man. Was I ever happy to cross that finish line.

How to look like a giant nerd while... you know.

I was only back in Seattle for a few days before I was off to southern California for Thanksgiving with my dad, his fiancee, my brother and our extended family — my 91-year-old granddad, his partner, my aunt and uncle, and my cousins/their wives and kids.

The goal of the trip was to spend time with my granddad, as his time left on Earth is growing shorter. I was able to hear more of his great stories, fill him in on my recent adventures and tell him some things I wanted him to know before he passes.

My granddad once wrote in a Christmas card that he wished he knew me better, and that broke my heart a little bit. I grew up in Washington and only visited him every few years, and never had in-depth conversations with him. There obviously wasn't time this Thanksgiving to catch up on all 23 years of my life or all 91 of his, but there was time to tell him about this past year, during which I've been able to catch my footing in life and figure a few things out. I also printed out several entries from this blog that I thought would help him know me better, and I'll never forget how delighted he was as he started to read them.

Most of all, I just wanted him to know that I'll be OK. That we'll all be OK. That he's been an amazing father and grandfather, and that he's helped create a thriving family of slightly weird people who really love him a lot.

I know he's visited some fantastic places in his life, and I told him that I'd like to see the world. He said he thought that was a fine idea. "I really hope you do that," he said. "You'll never regret spending the money."

I said yes, I will do that. And when I do, I will think of you.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"When a great adventure is offered, you don't refuse it"

I'm skipping town for the next week.

This Friday, I'm flying south with friends and going island-hopping in the Caribbean. We'll be aboard a giant cruise ship, so please send "canned Spam, canned fruit, canned milk and munchies such as Pop Tarts" if something goes wrong.

"Munchies such as Pop Tarts." Look at you go, LA Times!

My friend works for a cruise line and got us an insanely great deal. Insanely great. That means there's plenty of vacation money left over for fun activities like ziplining, snorkeling, kayaking, cocktail-drinking, etc.

I'm a little excited.

It's November. I'm in Seattle. I scraped ice off of my windshield this morning and, while doing so, stepped in dog poop. Fresh dog poop. I didn't notice this fact until I was halfway to the Park & Ride, when I finally realized what the stench was. And, oh, what a stench it was.

The only thing that got me through it was picturing myself on a sandy beach in less than a week. With a very strong cocktail in my hand.

This trip wouldn't always have been possible for me. If I was still in debt, I'd probably have to pass on the opportunity, or just go deeper into debt — neither of which sound like very fun options.

If I hadn't recently decided to be more adventurous, I'd probably have passed on the opportunity since it wasn't a sure thing until just a few weeks ago. We bought plane tickets several weeks before the cruise was even confirmed, and, while this would have freaked me out not too long ago, my mindset was, "Well, I'll either get to spend a week in the Caribbean or a week in Florida. If necessary, I'll find something to do in Florida!"

I'm pretty sure Florida in November is more pleasant than Seattle in November. Or so I've heard.

Chris Guillebeau — who's right up there with Gandhi and Santa Claus in my book — recently reminded his readers to register for his upcoming World Domination Summit by busting out this quote from Amelia Earhart: "When a great adventure is offered, you don't refuse it."

A cruise may not be a "great adventure" for some people, but for me, it qualifies. Remember, I'm "a stay-at-homer, a curl-up-and-reader, a call-me-when-you're-done-and-tell-me-how-it-was... er."

I'm trying to be less of that, and more of a doer.

A year ago, Devon (that's me) would have said, "But, Devon, Amelia Earhart disappeared on her adventure. Wouldn't she have been better off just staying at home and watching reruns of the Real Housewives of [Anywhere]?"

That's true, Devon, but at least Amelia was out doing something. She was following her heart, chasing her dream, squeezing her life to its last drop — all that good stuff. Besides, what have the Real Housewives done for you lately?

I've written this about my self-doubt:

I find that when I dream of something, whether it's running a marathon or traveling around the world, I almost immediately start thinking, "But... [I'll never have enough endurance] [I'll never have enough time/money/bravery]." I can be too practical and too realistic. The "But..." comes all too quickly for me.

I'm going to try to wedge the quote, "When a great adventure is offered, you don't refuse it" in the front of my brain, right ahead of the, "But...". By the time I can start to doubt myself, I've already signed on for the adventure and the ride is in motion.

For example, this idea was planted in my mind just last night. I'll be signing up for this when I return from the cruise. (Just the 13.1, people. I'm adventurous, not crazy.)

I also registered for the World Domination Summit a few hours after the Web site went live, about a month and a half ago. A great adventure was offered. I couldn't refuse it.

So those are some of my upcoming adventures, and I'll be back in a little more than a week to tell you how the cruise went. I've got my fingers crossed for good weather and, you know, whatever the opposite of an engine fire is.

If things don't work out, remember... Pop Tarts.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Halloween 2010: The lobster costume

So, this happened:

I can't explain it. For Halloween 2009, I really phoned it in and dressed as a witch. Ever since that poor showing for my favorite holiday, I knew that I wanted — no, needed — to be a lobster for Halloween 2010.

And a lobster I was.

A month or two ago, I was sitting in the Creative area of my place of employment, waiting for someone to set up a video camera so we could film a brief segment for the agency's new homepage video (not finished yet, but you better believe I'll link to it at some point). I don't usually have any business in Creative, so I noticed for the first time an odd, slightly creepy piece of art on the wall. It featured what appeared to be a wide-eyed marsupial.

"Is that a... lemur?" I asked the creative director, who was also waiting for the shoot to begin.

"Yeah," he answered casually, barely looking up from his iPhone. "Nate painted it. It's his spirit animal."

The lobster, friends, is my spirit animal. The lobster costume was meant to happen.

First of all, let me give credit where credit is due: to this dude.

Apparently you can pay money to subscribe to this Instructables Web site and follow step-by-step directions for constructing this costume. Or, you can just study the pictures and wing it.

Winging it has always been my forte.

If you read the description, lobster dude says it took him eight hours to put this costume together. I didn't believe it would take that long, but it did. Oh, it did.

Don gets one-thousand gold stars for putting in hours and hours of work on this with me on Saturday the 30th, immediately after we ran an exhausting 5K. All either of us wanted to do was take a nap, but he helped me string plastic cups onto red yarn to make lobster legs. He helped me cut claws out of red plates and staple them onto fingerless gloves, which allowed me to hold drinks and project ping-pong balls with the greatest of ease at the party I attended. He even came up with a way to make my feet look like lobster feet, even though I had to ditch those things early in the evening due to their instability and the very-crowded nature of the party.

He wins.

What you see here is:

- 48 red plastic cups
- 15 red plastic plates, plus one cut in half for the claws and two for the feet
- two ping-pong balls
- two red pipe cleaners
- a bunch of red yarn
- a bunch of clear packing tape
- red shirt, shorts, tights and fingerless gloves

All the work was well worth it, as several people complimented the costume and even asked to take pictures with me at the party. It was awkward and creaky to walk in, sure, and going to the bathroom was very difficult, but it was the best Halloween costume I've ever sported and it made for a super-fun night overall. All my best friends were at the party and I had a great time.

The only question is: What will I be for next Halloween??

Friday, October 29, 2010

How to look like a giant nerd while running a 5K

Click to make the giant nerdiness more giant.

I need to make this an ongoing "how-to" series. I really excel at looking like a giant nerd in various situations.

Tomorrow morning I'll be running the Pumpkin Push 5K at Seward Park and trying to break 30 minutes. You can find out what happens here. The suspense!

Considering that my food intake today included pizza, Halloween cupcakes, more Reese's peanut butter cups than I care to divulge and one giant Santa mug (you heard me) full of beer from the office kegerator (YOU HEARD ME), it'll be a miracle if I break 30.

No matter what, I'll have a heck of a time. Plus, my very favorite holiday is this weekend! It just doesn't get better than this.

Which reminds me... How to look like a giant nerd on Halloween (2009 style):

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to look like a giant nerd in your high school yearbook

I was 17 in 2004 and could not vote in the November election, so I decided instead to create this super awesome t-shirt — using red Sharpie and Scotch tape, thank you — to peer-pressure my 18-year-old classmates into voting. Preferably not for George W. Bush, but I didn't state that on the shirt.

I guess I should have. Oops!

This is a friendly reminder to all of you to VOTE this week! You have until Tuesday, November 2, to drop your ballot in the mail in Washington state. If you're reading this in another state, you should do your voting thing, too — whatever you need to do. Then go do a keg stand, because the other kids are doing that, too!

Ahh, I miss college.

Speaking of silly, regrettable things... it's not a great idea for a Senatorial candidate to shove fliers under the windshield wipers of all the cars in the Park & Ride, ANDY HILL, because when it rains, as it often does IN SEATTLE, you look like a huge jerk when people have to spend three minutes peeling your soggy face off of their windshields when all they want to do is go home, heat up a Hot Pocket and watch Dancing with the Stars.

I didn't vote for you anyway, dude.

So that's all I have to say right now. Vote. I'm not gonna say VOTE OR DIE, because, wtf? Is that a threat? Vote or don't vote. But it'd be pretty cool if you did vote.

As my super-cool high school friend Carl, who now works for Congress, reminded us everyday citizens on Facebook, "Decisions are made by those who show up."

(That quite possibly came from The West Wing. Amazing.)

**Random memory update: I don't recall a whole lot from 1996, but I do remember quite vividly the mock presidential election we had in elementary school. My family had just moved from Seattle to northern Indiana; I was in 4th grade. I voted for Bill Clinton. Nearly everyone else voted for Bob Dole (this was Indiana, remember). Even then, at 9 years old, I remember being like, "Bob Dole? Really, guys?" I just love voting.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The photos!

If I do say so myself, the coolest photo from the hike on Saturday is this one of Aaron climbing a giant tree stump that looked like a piece of broccoli (click photo for larger view):

I'm sure he's happy that he beat out trees, a waterfall and random mossy things for best photo. America's Next Top Model status! (So many hours of my life dedicated to that show, my God.)

We used his Canon 5D Mark II with a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens (I have no clue what I just wrote) for these shots, and he also did some magic tricks with Lightroom, I believe.
I was obsessed with trees that sported ugly protrusions. Again, ANTM-style, I was all, "Give me pretty, but make it ugly. I said ugly-pretty!"

I also liked this tree that looked like a claw. It reminded me of the Fremont troll's claw-like hands. Check it.

And here's a leaf. A leaf on a log.

"This will be a good one for the blog," said Aaron:
Please note that I'm rocking a Jansport, thank you. And I'm glad the camera is hiding my face, since I found myself making all kinds of crazy faces while taking photos. I believe the crazier your face is while shooting, the better the photo. Truth.
This one might be straight out of the camera. Aaron might have taken this one, too. This is the flowy water look I was trying to learn about.
Aaron took this one. This little guy grew out of the top of a tree stump. So cute!
This one reminds me of the Henry David Thoreau quote I keep in the right margin of this blog, which I shortened a bit, but says: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

I hadn't actually been to the woods in a while until Saturday. Despite its name, Woodinville doesn't exactly count. It was peaceful and fun, and as much as I enjoyed seeing the sights through an awesome lense, I liked seeing it all in real life even more.

Some things just can't be captured in a photo. I remember I was trying to take a good picture of something interesting and finally just stepped back and said, "Maybe I'll just enjoy it in real life for a sec." Of course, I can't remember now what I was looking at, but I enjoyed it at the time, and that counts just as much as a cool photo, I think.

I had Aaron take this last photo because I knew I'd never remember where we were. This was a nice, easy and very pretty hike, and a great place for me to start learning about photography from a very patient teacher.

I highly recommend that you go to the woods sometime.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Awesome/exhausting weekend

It started with a hike.

My friend Aaron, a knowledgeable and talented photographer, was cool enough to go on a hike with me Saturday and show me how to use his ridiculously nice Canon camera. Most of our conversations went like this:

"So, if I want to make the water look flowy, the number needs to be high so that the shutter speed is... slow?"

Typing that now, I have no idea if that's right. He taught me about ISO and aperture and other stuff and my brain just does not grasp it all very easily. But, I know way more now than I did before (I think??) and I'll only learn more with time, reading and practice.

Best of all, there was a super sweet waterfall at the end of the hiking trail, which Aaron swore he did not know was there, but it made for some cool pictures.

This photo was taken with my phone. There's Aaron playing a fun game with his camera practically in the water. He's much more adventurous/brave than I am!

I'll post some actual pictures I took when I get them and we'll see if they're any good.

Today was the Dawg Dash 5K at my alma mater, the University of Washington. The race started and ended in Husky Stadium, which was also where I started (Dawg Days orientation) and ended (graduation) my college career. I'm sure that's symbolic somehow.

You can read about my super awesome 5K playlist (played on my gangster iPod mini, which worked wonderfully), the rain magically clearing up for the race and my new personal best 5K time here.

Yes, that's a plug for my new little running blog. I figured I wouldn't bore you with a bunch of running stuff here. I'm too busy boring you with other stuff!

Side note: How cute is my mom?

Speaking of other stuff... I've been slacking on my push-ups. But, as so often happens at my house, a random push-up challenge commenced on Saturday and some personal-best records were set. My mom did four — she had never done even one before. I did 10 — the first seven pretty easily, then numbers eight through ten with great, head-bursting effort. Aaron did 50, but he's a guy, so whatever.

Also, I'm doing another 5K next weekend. Also, I really need to construct my lobster costume for Halloween (meant to start today, took an epic nap instead). It should be a good week leading up to another fun weekend!

Side-side note: Congrats to my dad on his engagement yesterday! I don't write a lot about my dad here, but we're very close and I'm so happy he's found a wonderful woman who loves him [almost] as much as I do. We don't always agree on everything, but he's the most important man in my life.

He's always in the front row of every event I participate in, from my pathetic attempts at junior high track meets and random award ceremonies to high school and college graduations. He's right there, filming everything and snapping photos like it's the Olympics. He's listened, given advice and cried with me over multiple heartaches and heartbreaks. He never hangs up the phone without saying, "I love you." And I'd need all the fingers and toes of an entire army to count the number of times he's said the words, "I'm proud of you, Dev."

I love you, and I'm proud of you, Dad.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Don't be shy... I see you

I don't get a whole lot of comments on this blog, and that's OK. I write mostly to organize the tangle of thoughts in my head and put them somewhere else so they don't clog up my brain.

But some friends will mention in passing that they've read certain posts, and I've gotten some nice emails and Facebook messages from old high school friends with words of encouragement. It's always nice to hear that people read what I write and don't think it's complete crap. (And if you do think it's complete crap, feel free to keep that to yourself. Thanks!)

If you follow my blog and don't want to comment because you're afraid I'll think you're a creeper, don't worry about that. Chances are I already know you're a creeper, especially if you're the only person I actually know who lives in a certain state or city.

Google Analytics rocks. It lets me know that people do read my crap! And they read it all over the country. Not so much in the midwest, but I've never been a big fan of that region, either.

All those dots represent visits from 77 different cities in 21 states. Doesn't look like that many, I know, but The Google never lies. At least I like to think it doesn't.

People have also viewed this blog in Germany (hi, Moo!), South Korea (hi, Sarah!), Canada, India and New Zealand (no clue on those last three).

And while the largest concentration of visitors obviously comes from Seattle and the surrounding cities, there are a surprising number of visits from Portland, Oregon, and Mesa, Arizona. Who are you, Portland people? Holler at me, Mesa! Don't be shy. I appreciate your visits, and I'd love to hear from you, too.

This is not meant to be an OMGLookHowCoolIAmBecausePeopleReadMyBlog post. (I've already established that I never have been, am not and never will be cool.)

I just thought I'd let y'all know that although I expose quite a bit of my thoughts here, I can also see a little bit of you, and I'd like to see even more (in a completely non-creepy way). Don't be afraid to comment, or just email me if you'd like to holler (talking to you, Mesa!) or ask me any questions about how I got to be such a weirdo.

And I'm sorry I've been MIA from blogging lately. (Yes, I see when people check my blog even when I haven't updated it for several days. I appreciate you.) I've been running. And going to sleep early. And getting up early. And running. You can read a little more about that here, if you want.

I get ideas for blog posts right about the same time I get into bed (which is 9:30 on weeknights, holler!), and I usually fall asleep writing them in my head. Then they're gone when I wake up.

I also have lots of random notes, quotes and lists on the memo app on my phone. The problem is that I tend to write looong, boooring posts and don't want to just knock out a post if I won't have time to get all my thoughts out. And if I start writing a post at 8:30, I'll inevitably be up until 11:30 obsessing over it, and then be tired and miserable the next day.

I highly suggest a 9:30 bedtime, grandma style. I didn't know what it felt like to not be tired all the time until I actually started getting enough sleep, and then I realized it was awesome and I don't want to go back. This hinders my blogging. I need to make the time.

I knew I was going to like J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly when I read something he wrote that was along the lines of, "I've been meaning to do [such-and-such], but I haven't made the time." He deliberately avoided saying, "I didn't have the time."

We all  have the same amount of time. We all choose what to do with it.

I currently make plenty of time for:
  • exercise
  • sleep
  • life admin (boring stuff like laundry, writing my budget, clearing clutter)
I need to work on making time for:
  • my close friends
  • blogging
  • keeping up with people (calling my dad, setting up lunch dates and happy hours with friends I rarely see, etc.)

Well, this post turned from a Creepy McCreepathon into a self-improvement call-to-action...

Now to sleep. Hiking Saturday. 5K-ing Sunday.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Start taking your dreams very, very seriously

I've decided to buy myself a really freakin' nice camera for Valentine's Day.

Why? Because I've also decided to start taking my dreams very, very seriously.

I've realized that dreams I never act on will always remain dreams. If I let obstacles — real or imagined — stand in the way of my dreams, I'll end up staying right where I am, wondering what would have happened if I'd acted.

Once I decide to act, a dream becomes a goal. A goal, when reached, becomes a reality.

Ben Davis once weighed 360 pounds and was deeply unhappy with his life. Check out his new reality — please watch the whole thing, get really emotional and then vow to take your dreams seriously:

A very good thing to remember: "If you want to do it, all you have to do is do it."

The obstacles I face in acting on my dream to take up photography as a serious hobby are mostly imagined. I wrote that I feel paralyzing self-doubt when I think that I might not be good at it, that other people will always be better and that it's too late for me to master a new skill.

The funny thing is that real obstacles, like not having enough money to buy a nice camera or enough time to practice taking photos, aren't the issue here. I have enough money. I have plenty of free time on the weekends. The fact that the biggest obstacles exist only in my head is an interesting realization.

I find that when I dream of something, whether it's running a marathon or traveling around the world, I almost immediately start thinking, "But... [I'll never have enough endurance] [I'll never have enough time/money/bravery]." I can be too practical and too realistic. The "But..." comes all too quickly for me.

Henry Ford said, "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right." If I accept my self-doubts as reality, they'll become reality. If I choose to overcome them, I will.

It all starts with taking my dreams seriously. Instead of thinking about all the reasons why I can't do something and letting them stop me from accomplishing anything, I can look for ways to conquer them. In the case of learning photography, I can simply believe in myself. Having other people believe in me, like the people who left nice comments on Facebook about my previous post and who emailed words of encouragement, also helps.

I also do really well with having set goals. My goal to buy a nice camera for Valentine's Day has nothing to do with the issue of money, but more with the idea of making it really special for myself. I don't want to just decide to take up photography, immediately spend a bunch of money on a camera and then take it for granted. I want to plan for it, look forward to it and really appreciate it when the time comes.

In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes, "Because money permits a constant stream of luxuries and indulgences, it can take away their savor, and by permitting instant gratification, money shortcuts the happiness of anticipation. Scrimping, saving, imagining, planning, hoping — these stages enlarge the happiness we feel."

Also, I've decided to forgo a new laptop for a while. When I got my laptop "fixed" (it was never really broken...), a new laptop went from being a "need" to a "want." I want a nice camera more than I want or need a new laptop. I could have both, I suppose, but that just seems excessive. It's fun to have smarter, better, faster and stronger things, but the satisfaction of getting use out of something that's still useful is fun for me, too (see: periwinkle minivan, 17 years old and going strong).

As for the Valentine's Day timeline, that's just so I can have something to look forward to on Valentine's Day (sounds sad when I type it, but I assure you, it's not). I'm on an open-ended, self-imposed dating hiatus, which will have to be explained in a different post, since the long-story-short version is still a long story. I'm quite happy with the single life, so I won't mind spending V-Day alone, but it'll be even sweeter with a new, badass camera in my hands.

And what better day to start pursuing a "passion" than Valentine's Day? : )

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Talent, passion and love, love, love

This morning I awoke to a very nice and unexpected email from Jesse Tarnoff, the extraordinarily talented filmmaker behind Sandbox Love. He had read my August post about weddings and wrote to thank me for the praise that I heaped upon his very praiseworthy wedding films.

Specifically, I had summed up the work of Sandbox Love in three words: "Gorgeous. Romantic. Stunning."

So then I thought, "Hey, not only is this guy crazy-talented, but he's also nice enough to send a thank-you email to some random girl who watches his videos! Awesome."

But there's another reason that I admire Jesse and the other folks at Sandbox Love: They are clearly doing what they love. They are doing meaningful work that will be treasured forever by these newlyweds and their families. And they are doing an amazing job.

I've been struggling a bit with figuring out what I'm passionate about and what I'm good at. After all, wise people say that the best career route you can take is to find something that you love to do and then find a way to get paid for it.

Chris Guillebeau says this about pursuing meaningful work: "The world is waiting for you to figure out what only you can contribute. Take as much time as you need to find the answer, and then get started on it."

I'm still working on figuring out what I can contribute. I find myself thinking of things I might like to do, whether for a future career or just a fun hobby, and then I feel paralyzed by self-doubt.

For instance, I've always liked photography. I enjoy whipping out my camera to capture bits of life that I'd like to keep around a little longer. But I worry that if I tried to take photography more seriously, perhaps by buying a more sophisticated camera and really learning how to use it well, I might find that I'm no good at it. And I have this odd feeling that since I've never taken a photography class, I'm somehow behind (but behind who?). And because I focused on writing in college, I feel like that skill defines me, and that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

I know that no matter what I do, there will always be someone who is better at it than me. But I have to remember that just because someone is better at something doesn't mean that I can't be good at it, too. And as soon as I refer to myself as an "old dog" at 23, I know I'm being ridiculous, but I'm just being honest here.

Just yesterday, I read this encouraging piece of wisdom in Gretchen Rubin's book The Happiness Project: "Enthusiasm is more important to mastery than innate ability, it turns out, because the single most important element in developing an expertise is your willingness to practice."

It's obvious that Jesse and the other filmmakers of Sandbox Love have incredible raw talent, but on top of that, they must have spent years studying, practicing, observing others' work and developing a vision for the kind of films they want to produce. Being passionate and putting in the work is what really brings that initial talent alive.

Talent without passion is a dormant quality. It's like Play-Doh that forever stays shut inside the container. It has the potential to be so many things — anything, really — yet it will be none of those things if no one puts time and effort into shaping it.

Having potential is one thing; living up to it is another.

I may or may not have a natural talent for photography — I don't know — but if I can start pursuing it with passion, maybe that's just as good. It's certainly better than just thinking about it and doing nothing.

Back to Jesse Tarnoff, my inspiration for this post. He writes on his blog, "I have the best job in the world. I get to tell love stories." He's certainly found what only he can contribute to the world, and he does it so well. Check out a few of my favorite wedding films from Sandbox Love:

Dan + Danielle's Wedding Highlights from Sandbox Love on Vimeo.

Ahh, my current favorite. The Dashboard Confessional song is perfect. The best parts, in my opinion: All the shots that "peek" around corners; when Danielle rounds the corner of the stairs and her family cheers; the incredible dome of the church; the look in Dan's eyes as he watches Danielle walk down the aisle; her father telling them to keep each other safe and make each other laugh. (The fathers always kill me in these.)

Allison + Craig from Sandbox Love on Vimeo.

This one's probably my all-time favorite. Again, the songs are spot-on and perfect for the pre-wedding and post-wedding moods. Best parts: The entire thing. It looks like it was such a fun wedding! (Plus, the father's speech — again, it kills me!)

Check out the Sandbox Love Web site for more. And big thanks to Jesse for being awesome and giving me an inspirational boost without even knowing it. (And I was serious when I told you I'll be hiring you someday!)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The death and rebirth of a laptop

My laptop died in February while I was using it to refer to a recipe for lemon-thyme cakes. The good news was that I was able to complete the lemon-thyme cakes even after my laptop died, and they were delicious.

Then I stashed the laptop in the hall closet for eight months and pulled it out for the first time this morning.

I took it to the Apple Store to see if a Genius could figure out what was wrong with it. I had already paid several hundred dollars to get this laptop fixed in college — don't fall asleep with your laptop open on your lap, kids — and I really didn't want to pay to fix it again.

Plus, the laptop was filled to capacity and slooow as all heck. I just wanted to see if I could somehow get my photos, music and other files off of it so I could transfer them to the new laptop I'll be purchasing soon.

This is a friendly reminder to back up your files on an external hard drive, kids.

Can I just say here that the University Village Apple Store is kind of scary? It's giant, first of all, and there are approximately a million people in there at all times. There are employees running around with their eyes glued to iPhones and iPads. There are children bouncing around on beanbags. There are dogs. Why are there dogs?

I took my seat at the Genius Bar with trepidation. My Genius did not offer me a vodka-soda with lime, which is when I decided that this was the lamest bar I'd ever been to. But he seemed friendly and didn't scoff at my dirty white laptop that had clearly seen better days (2005 — a good year), so I settled in for a nice, long computer chat that I probably wouldn't understand.

First, the Genius plugged his own power adapter into my laptop. Then he turned it on. Wait, he turned it on?

"So... what's the problem with your laptop again?"

The problem was that my power adapter was bent a teeny, tiny bit out of shape and wouldn't charge the laptop enough to turn it on. This was clearly evident by simply looking at the adapter and remembering the time that I fell asleep with the laptop in my lap and it fell to the ground and broke and also bent the adapter out of shape. (Don't do this! Don't do this!) The bent adapter had worked for a while — if you turned it juuust right, which I became an expert at doing — but it had finally had enough in February.

It shouldn't take a genius to figure this out. In this case, it did.

My Genius tweaked my adapter for about five seconds and got it to work again. He was a gentleman and didn't even call me a big freakin' idiot for not realizing how simple the solution was. Then he assured me that no matter which Apple laptop I choose to buy next, it will be a million, trillion, gazillion times better than this gangster one that I'm typing on right now, even if I buy it stock, because this one may as well have been cobbled together by cavemen shortly after the wheel.

(I'm still going to buy a new laptop. In February, my net worth was thousands of dollars in the negative zone, and I didn't have a spare penny to toss into a well and wish for a new laptop. Since then I've waited and saved and waited to be able to afford a new laptop, one that's smarter, better, faster, stronger, one that has enough memory to hold the musical stylings of Daft Punk and Kanye West. I'm excited.)

I love my Genius. I want to marry him, or any one of those other Geniuses I spotted at that bar. My mom has always told me that any guy I meet at a bar is sure to be trouble, and she's actually been completely right, up until today.

Geniuses make miracles happen. Geniuses save lives.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tequila shots that don't kill you will only make you stronger

What I failed to mention in my skydiving post was the violent ear-popping I experienced while hurtling through the air toward certain death. It didn't occur to me that this would happen, but in hindsight it makes perfect sense.

It didn't detract too much from the amazing overall experience, but I had a headache for the rest of the night. I was also completely exhausted — all the heart-racing anticipation, last-minute adrenaline pumping and insane flipping through the air while free-falling can do that to you. So I went to bed around 9:00 that night, content to sleep in and take it easy the following day.

Just kidding! I did go to bed early, but got up at 7 a.m. on Sunday to the sound of buckets of rain pounding the skylights above my bed. We had a 5K to run, people!

Don and I dressed for a theme we thought appropriate for the Fremont Oktoberfest Brew HA-HA 5K: partying! His subtle-yet-effective shirt is from the 70s; my "This Girl Can Party" shirt was purchased at the mall shortly before my 21st birthday specifically to make my mom cringe.

It totally worked.

It rained so violently the entire way to Fremont that we thought the 5K run/walk might morph into a swim/paddle. Luckily the storm subsided right as Don, my mom and I parked the car. God smiled on Fremont that day, and the sun even started shining later on as the beer garden festivities kicked off.

Don had been training for this 5K for months and left my mom and I behind right away, as expected (he finished in 28:15). I stuck with my mom until about two-thirds of the way through the race; then, at her vehement encouragement, I pulled ahead to finish on my own. She came in a mere two minutes (35:34) behind me.

There were several people dressed up in Oktoberfest outfits, plus a trio of true American patriots (crazy wigs, shorty American-flag shorts, cropped tops with beer bellies on full display). Then there was the very talented guy who dribbled two basketballs while running the entire 3.1 miles; the group of guys dressed like Ghostbusters; the guy who ran in a full polar-bear suit to raise awareness for... something; and the guy who ran only wearing a sheer, pink thong.

The front view of the latter was beyond horrifying. Watch this video and check him out 25 seconds in.

I was definitely not one of the top finishers, but I thought I had a decent time (33:32) for my first 5K and for sticking with my mom most of the way when I probably could have gone faster. I have not always liked to run, and in fact have hated it more often than I've enjoyed it, but this was a lot of fun. I'm already working on running faster for the next 5K (or two) that I'm planning to do near the end of October.

It ain't where you start, but where you end up! Which brings me to the tequila story.

Over the summer, I played on a softball team. I was also working out more than I ever had before and building up unprecedented strength and endurance (for me). I could do — get this! — an all-time personal best of four consecutive push-ups. I was pretty darn proud of that.

One evening, during a post-win celebration with the team at the Ravenna Alehouse, I was gifted with a few shots of tequila by a creepy nice man as a thank-you for getting out of his way as he played pool (I was sitting directly in the way of most of his shots). My enablers teammates encouraged me to accept these gifts, and I did.

I can get a bit competitive after a few drinks, and, in the great tradition of Festivus-style Feats of Strength, I have been known to challenge people to arm wrestling matches. Usually I challenge someone who is much, much stronger than me, with the full knowledge that I will lose. But everyone likes to pull for the underdog, right?

This evening in particular, I decided to challenge a much-stronger (i.e. male) teammate to a push-up competition. After all, I had four solid push-ups in my arsenal! How could I go wrong?

I shocked everyone, including myself, by knocking out 12 push-ups before I collapsed. My opponent not only kept going, but started doing one-handed push-ups just to rub it in.

Defeat aside, I've interpreted this event as irrefutable scientific evidence that tequila makes me 3X stronger. Obviously.

However, tequila is inherently evil, and I now refuse to drink it (or shots of any kind, actually). The stench alone is repulsive, and only bad things (or really fun things — but mostly bad) come of its consumption. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits even includes this fact on his list of 20 Things I Wish I Had Known When Starting Out in Life (item #18).

Instead, I've turned to a different method to improve my upper-body strength and my ability to do push-ups. Enter the One Hundred Push-ups training program. I found out about it — where else? — via the Art of Non-Conformity, where I read that Chris Guillebeau had managed to do 100 consecutive push-ups "by doing the final exercises in the Ulaan Bataar airport in Mongolia this summer, waiting to fly back to Korea."


My living room is a little less exotic than Ulaan Bataar, but it works just as well for doing push-ups. Before starting the program, I could only do three (with great, great effort). Now, at the end of week two, I can do eight solid push-ups. No tequila required!

I've got a long way to go until I reach 100 push-ups, but where you end up is much more important than where you start. And starting something is always much more effective than just thinking about it and doing nothing.

I don't want to be able to do 100 push-ups just for the bragging rights. I want to be able to 100 push-ups because it seems, to me, to be impossible.

I know from experience — from paying off my debt, for example — that once you accomplish something that you previously thought was impossible, the world becomes a much less scary, much more fun place to live.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hurtling through the air toward certain death

Oh, man. Crazy weekend. Where to begin?

Wait, not here! Gotta back up first.

I went skydiving with my brother, Brandon, and my mom's boyfriend, Don, on Saturday evening. We had originally scheduled to skydive last Sunday, but the weather was horrible and erratic — dumping rain one minute, kind of clearing up the next, then dumping rain again.

Luckily, Saturday's weather was perfect. The sky was completely clear and the temp was in the mid-70s. It felt like an awesome July day.

I spent the morning touring Woodinville wineries with my recently engaged friends who are searching for a wedding venue, so that took my mind off of being nervous for the skydive. Then I took a nap, which I attribute directly to the flu shot I had gotten on Friday. Right when I woke up, it was time to head to Snohomish. No time to be nervous!

The atmosphere at Skydive Snohomish is very relaxed, which I think is crucial for jumpy people like me. Music and skydiving videos were playing while we paid and signed our lives away — pages and pages of initialing statements like, "I acknowledge that skydiving is DANGEROUS and EXPERIMENTAL and that I may be SEVERELY INJURED or KILLED."

I'm not kidding — they were very generous with the caps-lock key.

Then we watched a brief video, which walked us through what we would be doing. I was all good until it got to the part where you actually jump out of the plane — it turns out that you and your tandem instructor scoot on your butts over to the open door, and then you have to hook your legs under the plane and wait for your instructor to go "one, two, three!" before he shoves you both out.

I'm sorry... HOOK my LEGS under the PLANE? I'm not sure why that really freaked me out, but it did.

We went outside and did a little practice arching our bodies, which is apparently the optimum position for hurtling through the air toward certain death.

Then it was time to put on our sweet jumpsuits and get harnessed up.

My instructor was a jolly fellow from England named Spotty. Yes, Spotty. That's not his real name, but that's how he introduced himself, so I was hoping that it wasn't his skydiving skills that were spotty. He was a cool guy and kept me relaxed and informed of what we would be doing at all times, which I really appreciated.

He also encouraged me to do jazz hands during freefall, which I totally did!

Once we were ready to go, it was right out to the little plane. The sun was about to set and we had to be back on the ground by the time it went down. Again, no time to be nervous, thank goodness!

We all sat on the floor of the plane — no seats, obviously — in between each other's legs. The flight was beautiful — about 10 or 15 minutes of flying up to 13,500 feet, with awesome views of the mountains and Puget Sound. This part wasn't very scary, either, since Spotty kept chatting me up about wineries and other random stuff.

When we were almost to the right elevation, Spotty strapped me to him really tightly and put my little hat and goggles on. It felt really safe and secure. Then the door opened and I watched two groups jump before me — Don with his instructor first, then another guy with his instructor.

It's really, really weird to watch people fall out of the plane you're in.

Suddenly it was our turn. We scooted to the door and I instinctively grabbed the right side of the opening, which was immediately nixed by Spotty. I was supposed to hold onto my harness, which I did, as I HOOKED my LEGS under the PLANE — my first "HOLY S#!T!" moment, but not as scary as I thought it would be. Then it was "one, two, three!" and out we went.

At first we were not level. We were freakin' headfirst, sideways, all over the place. I was screaming and freaking out, but having a lot of fun, and did I mention freaking out? Once we got into the correct position (see above, on the grass) the freefall felt much more controlled. And it didn't even feel like falling because it didn't seem like the ground was getting all that closer.

Spotty was making swimming motions with his hands and laughing, and I was doing jazz hands and realizing that I should keep my mouth shut (i.e. stop screaming) so that I could actually breathe and not have tons of air rushing into my throat.

I was also trying to look at the horizon and not just stare at the ground, but it was hard to hold my head up since it felt like Spotty's chest was right above my head. Apparently we were in freefall for about a minute, but it felt like it went by so much faster.

I was really, really glad when the parachute opened (for many reasons!), since I got to relax a little and stop completely freaking out. I was able to take my goggles off and look around more, and Spotty had me hold on to the handles that controlled the parachute. He showed me how to pull on them to go left or right, and he did some pretty scary, fast turns. I was happy to hang and chill and look around without the deathly whipping around that some of the other skydivers were doing.

I was shaking and in awe the entire time. I kept saying, "Holy s#!t!" and "Wow, this is crazy!" because it really, really was. Who jumps out of planes?! Who does this every day?!

The landing was the last semi-scary part, but Spotty really knew what he was doing and told me exactly when to lift my legs up to avoid viciously breaking them. We slid to the ground harmlessly on our bottoms, and I couldn't stop laughing. Spotty captured the moment perfectly when he said: "Welcome to skydiving — the sky is now your playground."

I've perused many lists of people's lifelong goals around the Internets, and skydiving pops up on most of them. If you're thinking of going, do it! If you live near a reputable skydiving facility, the only obstacles to overcome are lack of money, lack of time and lack of will.

I've decided to make new experiences and adventures a priority in my life, so the decision to dedicate some money and time to skydiving was really easy. As for will, I was much more scared to jump off a bridge last summer than I was to jump out of a plane last night. I've come a long way, baby.

Life is crazy like that.

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