Monday, December 27, 2010

How to Sleep on the Plane - Traveling Happily

For those of you faced with lengthy airline travel, sleeping on the plane is the only redeeming factor to look forward to after crowded airports, mediocre (at best) airline food, and TSA.  If you can't sleep on the plane, you're screwed.  What to do?  Learn.  Follow these guidelines to help you get the most possible rest before reaching your destination...

Before you go.  Try not to sleep too much before you get on the plane.  It helps to be a little tired if you're going to have to sleep sitting up.  This may sound obvious, but many people try to be too well-rested before they get to the airport.  This makes sense if your flight is going to be less than three hours, but I can't imagine why anyone would think they can sleep on the plane after already having a full night's sleep.

At the airport.  Try to stay calm.  Getting all wound up is just going to make you have to wind down before you can get to sleep.  Try not to let anything that happens at the airport bother you.  You're there.  You have your ticket.  You find your gate and wait for your turn to get on the plane.  No big deal.  Let security hassle you if it makes them happy.  Tune out the family with the annoying kids.  Have an overpriced beer if you must.  Just don't worry about anything.

Getting comfortable in your seat.  Okay, you've found a place for your carry on and now you're in your seat.  Chances are, your seat is uncomfortable.  For some reason, seat designers for both cars and airplanes have decided that seats that make you sit like Mr. Burns are the most cost-effective.  I don't know why, so don't ask.  The solution to this is to use a little airplane pillow, a folded up sweatshirt, or some other soft thing that can fill some space and stuff it behind your lower to mid back.  This should help you straighten out a bit.  It should also help your neck fall back at a more natural angle when you get the go ahead to recline your seat back the full five inches or so that it's designed for.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  Scoot your bum all the way into the back corner of the seat.  You are much more likely to get mid to lower back pain if you let there be a space between you and the seat for your lower back to sag into while you sleep.

Dealing with space confinement.  This is a really difficult one for a lot of people.  Feeling confined is very psychological.  Here's an example... a lot of people move to island paradises and get "island fever", which is a term used to describe the claustrophobic feeling of knowing you're stuck on an island and can't easily go anywhere.  The interesting thing is that most of these people never drive more than two hours worth of distance (so not stuck in traffic) in any direction in their home town.  They stay in their city most of the time.  They only start to panic because they are suddenly aware that they can't leave even if they wanted to.  That said, a lot of discomfort on an airplane really comes from knowing that you can't move around much.

Here's what to do.  Find a reasonably comfortable position to sit in.  If you know you're sensitive to light or sound, bring an eye mask or earplugs accordingly.  Take a nice slow breath, and let your body sink into the chair.  Try not to move other than just breathing.  This will help you avoid feeling restricted.  If you chose not to move, there is no problem.  Once you're in this relaxed position, try to just let all the thoughts in your head fall in importance.  If you think of something, just remember that, "Yeah, who cares?  It's nap time."  Consider those imposing thoughts a phone that keeps ringing as you are trying to sleep.  It's best to not answer, even better to turn it off.  (Yes, I just called that better than best...)  So stare at the back of your eyelids if you must.  Think about how much you just can't wait to sleep.  Think about how happy and relaxed you are.  Pretend you just got into bed after a long, hard day.  Before you know it, you will probably be asleep.  If not, even just being calm in this position will help you avoid discomfort and feel rested by the time you reach your destination.  When you do reach your destination, try not to snap to attention.  Take a moment and let your thoughts come back and plan out what you need to do next before you start moving your body around.

Being restless.  There are two remaining things that ought to be addressed.  The first one is the restless body.  If you find yourself trying to relax, but your body won't cooperate, give your body what it wants.  Take a moment from your reasonably comfortable sitting position and tense every muscle in your body.  Hold it until it gets difficult to hold.  Repeat if you must.  Once you find yourself losing power to stay tense, let go of all that tension and just relax.  Hopefully, that will get out that physical antsiness and let you get to sleep.

Another thing worth trying is a solid stretching and relaxation session before you leave your house.  I do this any time I'm going to be in a car or on a plane for more than two hours.  It helps my ability to sit still for long periods of time without becoming uncomfortable.  A good work out is recommended for those of you who are energetic.  Also, airport gates have plenty of floor space.  I'm not above stretching for twenty to thirty minutes between flights if need be.  It helps kill time during a layover and it feels wonderful.  Most people just ignore me while I do this, although I've had a few people join me once or twice.  I will never see those people again anyway, so I don't care at all if they think it's weird.  My traveling experience is much more pleasant than theirs, so I win.  If you are traveling with a close friend or significant other, it doesn't hurt to trade a little neck and shoulder massage while you wait for your flights.

The second thing is mental restlessness.  Similar to the body, sometimes simply relaxing isn't enough and you need to sort of "burn off" whatever tension needs to get out.  Choose something that is strenuous for your mind and do it.  Try to visualize math problems and solve them mentally if that works for you.  Visualize folding up a piece of paper, punching a couple of holes in it, and try to figure where the holes would be located if you unfolded it.  Try to remember all the signs you saw on your way to the plane.  Whatever it takes, just tire your mind so it is willing to submit to relaxation.

If you have any questions about your particular sleeping challenges while traveling, place them in the comments below and I would be happy to help you come up with solutions.

Friday, December 10, 2010

My Core Sequence, Part 3: Lower Body Figure Eights

If you haven't already, first read Core Strength and Me and Introduction to Isolating Movement.

Figure eights are probably the most complicated and difficult movements in the sequence, so make sure you have a good handle on Lower Body Linear Movements before you get yourself frustrated with this.  Do not attempt to learn this without a mirror.  Remember to start with ten movements on each side, or twenty total.


Basic Figure Eights

Remember the Pendulum?  This movement comes from that.  The difference is that you will not drop your hip on your way back to zero position.  You will keep your hip up until you get to zero position.  So essentially, you will be making a big upward circle on one side, then another on the other side.  Start in the same position as you would for the Pendulum, do not forget your good posture.  Bring your hip up as you let it slide out to the side as usual.  Now slide your hips back to your centerline without dropping your hip.  This should remind you of Up and Down.  Now that you are here, come back to neutral position and repeat the movement exactly on the opposite side.  When you put both sides together into one movement, you should see your hips making a sideways figure eight (or infinity symbol) in the mirror in front of you.

Inverted Figure Eights

This is to the Inverted Pendulum as the previous movement is to the regular Pendulum.  You will start the movement exactly as you would the Inverted Pendulum only maintain your hip down as you return it to your center line (also like the Up and Down).  You will pass through neutral position on your centerline as you repeat the movement on the other side.

Stationary Twist

This is not a figure eight, but has the same relation to the Twisting Figure Eight as the Up and Down has to the Figure Eight.  Stand at neutral position in good posture.  Without moving from your center line (neither side to side, nor forward or backward) facing the mirror, twist your hips such that one hip comes forward and the other goes backward.  Now repeat on the other side.  It can be difficult to do this in good posture if you're not used to it, so really fight for it.  It will be impossible to keep your whole rib cage still with this particular movement, so just try to keep your chest and shoulders in the same place.

Twisting Figure Eight

The figure eight in this movement will be parallel to the floor, with each hip making one of the circles and the center being at neutral position.  Start from neutral position.  Do one side of your Stationary Twist.  Now, bring your rear hip in a circle, parallel to the floor, toward the front as you twist.  Now that hip should be in front, your other hip to the rear, and you should be back at your centerline.  Repeat the movement on the opposite side, bringing that hip in a circle from the rear to the front as you twist and return to your centerline.  Again, try and keep your chest and shoulders still.

Reverse Twisting Figure Eight

This is exactly like the previous movement only you will bring your hips in circles that travel from the front to the rear as you twist.  Do not move your chest or shoulders.

Bicycle Hips

This is a tough one.  There is no figure eight in this movement.  Your hips will make alternating circles in a forward, downward motion just as your feet would if you were pedaling a bike.  You will be using a combination of Up and Downs and Stationary Twists.  This is a smaller movement, so you should be able to keep still from the diaphragm down.  Start with the first half of your Up and Down motion so that one hip is high and the other low.  Now, twist your high hip forward and your low hip backward while your bring both hips level with eachother (parallel to the ground).  At this point, you should be half way into a Stationary Twist and your Up and Down will be neutral.  Continue the downward, forward circular motion with the hip that was up, and the backward, upward circular motion with the hip that was down until the low hip is up and the high hip is down.  That is one half of the movement.  Repeat on the other side.  Your hips should be circling forward and down to mimic two feet pedaling a bicycle.  Your body should not be moving up and down or side to side.  All the work will be in your legs for movement and your lower torso for keeping your upper torso still throughout the movement.  It is easy to lose posture during this movement, so once you get a feel for it, really fight for that good posture.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  This really is a lot of leg work.  Stretch those legs, especially your quadriceps, before you do your Core Sequence.  It is a good idea to also stretch out your hips and torso in any direction you can think of.  Take a break and shake out your legs if they're starting to burn.  As you become comfortable with the movements, you will make be able to do a greater range of motion, which should slowly increase your flexibility.  Stretch.

Reverse Bicycle Hips

No explanation required.  This is exactly the same as the previous movement only your hips will be pedaling backward.

Snake Hips

I know, snakes don't have hips.  What you're looking for is a rolling movement that, from the side, resembles a figure eight combined with a pendulum.  It definitely rolls more than a pendulum, but it is not as clear as a figure eight.  It is snake-like movement.  Remember the Front to Back Slide.  Start with that.  Bring your hips forward.  As you reach the end of your motion, tilt your pelvis upward.  Now, when you go backward, try to do it in a rolling motion starting from the middle of your back and ending at your sacrum.  As you bring your body forward again, start by pushing out your stomach just below your diaphragm and rolling all the way out to your hips.  When your put the whole thing together, you should have a nice rolling motion that is equal on the front and back sides.

Inverted Snake Hips

This is the same idea as the previous motion.  Starting from neutral position, tilt your hips upward and push them forward.  When you reach the extent of your range, tilt your hips downward and push them out toward the back.  Tilt them forward again as you bring them forward.  This should help you achieve the upward rolling motion with your body that should move from your pelvis to your middle back.  Try to keep your chest and shoulders still, more if you can.  Make sure that you count these like the figure eights, one count for the front and one for the back.  That helps you mentally emphasize both sides of the movement instead of focusing more on one half or the other.

My Core Sequence, Part 4: Upper Body Linear Movements

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Acing the ASVAB: How to be a Good Test Taker

I was helping a friend study for the ASVAB the other day and I think I understand why he has always been, as he says, a "bad test taker".  This is a very common ailment but I had never really thought about why until then.  So, to all of you future service members (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard...), I present this guide to doing your very best on the ASVAB, and any other test you take from this day forward.

I'll use my friend as an example.  He's neither unintelligent, nor uneducated, so there is no reason why he should ever do poorly on this test.  His problem, and I suspect most "bad test takers'" problem, is that he goes about taking a test in a way that makes it more difficult and more stressful on himself.  In other words, he both does things the hard way and gets in his own way emotionally over it.  For example, let's say he has a word problem (math) that he's trying to figure out.  He's worried about time, so the first thing he does is rush in and try to start figuring numbers.  Next, he realizes that the numbers are too difficult to deal with without a calculator and take too long to compute anyway.  Half way through, he finds out he's not really sure what the question is asking because he rushed into it.  He may or may not come up with a good answer eventually, but by now he's getting flustered and makes a simple error of not converting feet into yards.  Reluctantly, he chooses and answer but is really worried about whether it's right.  He hurriedly moves on to the next question, still thinking about the last possible failure (and the clock), and starts layering on stress and frustration with each new question.

Wow.  I made this journey with him through about three questions before I realized that he actually intended to do the whole test this way.  I can't imagine anyone ever doing well on a test with that attitude.  Stress and frustration have a nasty habit of clouding your mind and making you more stressed out and frustrated.  I like to skip that part.  Here's how...

Stop.  Smile.  "Okay, we're about to answer some questions.  This should be fun.  Let's go!"  This may sound very strange to you, but this is the way I look at test taking.  I am great at taking tests, so maybe this method has merit.  Hear me out.  Your attitude greatly affects your mood and your ability to learn, focus, perform, etc.  When I go to take a test, I only bother to think about stuff that's going to help me.  I ignore things that will not.  The ASVAB is a great test because it is multiple choice, there is no point penalty for answering incorrectly, all of the math is meant to be done without a calculator, and everything is at a level meant for people who just passed high school.  In other words, the test is meant to be passed.  That's the good news.  There is no bad news.  Just remember not to waste too much time on any one question because you may run out of time.

Multiple choice tests are the greatest.  On the ASVAB, there are four options to each question.  Normally, you can eliminate one or two of those questions without having to do much work, if any.  If you're looking at an English question, at least one answer is always ridiculous.  In math, if you take a moment to see what the question is really asking, there is always at least one answer that, if you even just estimate, is not even close.  What that means to you is that when you inevitably come across a question you don't really know the answer to, you can make a blind guess between the two or three answers that look reasonable and still have a pretty good chance of getting it right.  That said, there is no need to panic whatsoever.

Speaking of math, keep in mind that, as mentioned, all of the questions are meant to be able to be done in a reasonable amount of time without a calculator.  You have scratch paper.  You'll be fine.  Just remember that if you're getting too caught up in strange numbers that are difficult to calculate, you're probably working too hard.  Who wants to work too hard?  I don't like dealing with strange numbers that take me too long.  I don't even like dealing with familiar numbers that take me too long.  If I don't know 13x9=? right off the top of my head, I don't waste my time trying to remember it.  I know that 3x9=27 and 10x9=90.  It's much quicker and easier to at 27+90 than try to remember multiplication tables, so I skip that part and do the easy adding instead.  There's no pride here.  I don't get hung up on why I can't remember my multiplication tables from third grade.  I don't care.  I can get that same answer much quicker my own way right now when it is needed.  In fact, after I add it up, I know that 13x9=117, just in case that comes up in another problem later on in my test.

It is also a good idea to glance at the answers before reading through the problem so you have a good idea of what your answer should look like when you're finished.  This will help you make a decision if you're unsure exactly what to do with the information they give you.  At least you'll know if they're asking for a dollar amount or a square footage of carpeting or a time or temperature.  Also, if the answers are just a number value and each one is very different, you shouldn't even have to do any real math.  You can just estimate and choose the one that is closest.  That way, you get the answer really quickly and save some time for the questions that will actually require a little scratch paper.

There is a section pertaining to shapes and spacial awareness.  A lot of people panic when they see this, but you don't have to because I'm about to tell you how to finish it quickly and get them all right.  If you sit and stare at all the shapes in front of you, you won't see anything but a bunch of odd shapes staring back at you.  Most of what you will be doing is matching up shapes in the example with shapes in the answer options.  Step 1: Pick a detail in the example.  If there is a particular shape of triangle, or a particular angle or side or arrow sticking out of a square or something distinguishable, find it.  Chances are, each answer will offer some version of this.  Most likely, upon closer inspection, two of the answer options will have a different version of this detail.  Immediately, you can eliminate those two answers.  Now you are left with only two to choose from.  Step 2: Pick another detail.  Which one of your two remaining options has the correct version of this detail?  That's your answer.  If you can do those two steps, you can avoid confusion and get all of those questions right, every time, in a timely fashion.  You are left with absolutely nothing to worry about.  Congratulations.

The most important thing for you to do is to stay in the moment.  Do not dwell on any previous questions.  In this test (if you take in on the computer, like I did) you will not be able to go back and change any of your answers.  Stay away from stressing about anything you can't change because it doesn't matter.  My friend was getting hung up on two basic things.  The first one is that he would answer a question and then really want to know what the real answer was.  Who cares?  You answered it.  Move on.  You won't know.  They will give you a number score when you're finished and that's it.  That question is over and effectively no longer exists.  Next.  The second thing is that if a question was vague, or let's face it, stupid, he would actually be judging both the test itself and the people who wrote it.  Again, who cares?  Just answer.  Guess if you have to.  Eliminate two answers and flip a coin.  You can get a great score without getting every question right, so let it go.  The sooner you answer the question, the sooner it's out of your life forever and you can move on to the next one.  The sooner you get them all done, the sooner the test is over and you can move on with your life.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  Feel free to just guess and move on if you feel like you're getting too frustrated over one question.  If you're stuck on something you honestly don't know or remember how to do, make your best educated guess and save yourself some time and frustration.  Once you choose an answer, be sure to feel satisfied with it and relieved that that question is now gone.  This will help you move on to the next one with a positive attitude.  Remember, you really can get a great score without getting every single question right.

All of this is related to Emotional Discipline, which is another article for another day.  In a nutshell, just calm down.  You can't fight your emotions.  You can't try to force yourself to not get upset.  You can't get mad about getting frustrated.  Those are all just ways of trying to fight fire with fire.  The only way to lower your emotional level is to calm down.  Whatever it is, it's not helping you, so it doesn't matter right now.  You can get all worked up about it when the test is over if you want, but right now you need to focus on the task at hand.  Whatever it is you're worried about, let it go.  Maybe you're thinking about how much pressure you have on you to get this one question right because you need to get a good score to qualify for the job you want which is your future and your career.  What if you fail?  The military was your plan.  Now what are you going to do with your life?  How are you going to pay for school?  Ahhhh!  Deep breath.  How about we skip that part?  All of that pressure is stressing you out and clouding your test taking brain.  Plus, all of those thoughts are distracting you from your work.  The military does not ask you for a particularly high percentile to qualify for pretty much any job you want to do, so don't worry about it.  All you have to do is take your test.  You're not allowed to panic unless the test is over and you actually failed.  Even then, you have the opportunity to just study up a little and take it again.  No worries.

If you do feel like a little studying would help boost your confidence, offers some untimed practice tests and a little more information about the way the ASVAB is scored, etc.  ASVAB for Dummies gets pretty good reviews, so feel free to study up before you take your test. has a free online test that is timed, so that may help you.  If you have any questions about math or word meanings, a quick Google search should put your mind at ease.

Good luck on your test taking future.  Please remember that that ability to stay calm under pressure will help you at basic training, during your whole military career, and throughout your life.  Keep your head and it will look after you.  Thank you for your interest in serving in the US military.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sick Dog Who Won't Eat or Drink?

After nine years, my dog has finally gotten sick enough to be cause for alarm.  Normally, she drinks water constantly and will lie to me just to get a second helping of food, so when she refused to eat or drink I was concerned.  It all started off with what appears to have been a sinus infection.  After about a day, she was becoming lethargic and disoriented.  I noticed she was drinking significantly less water, so I figured she was just dehydrated.  We switched her food to chicken soup, which she loves.  Fever ensued.  After about another day, she refused to even eat that.  What with the arthritis on her back legs, she was just stumbling around sideways like a drunken camel.  Not so good.

We took her to her doctor and he prescribed her an antibiotic in a pill form, which is hard to feed a dog who doesn't want to eat.  I snuck it in with the eggs and tuna that I had to actually put inside her mouth, but after another day she wouldn't even accept that.  Even after her fever broke, she still refused to eat or drink.

Running out of ideas, I went online to look for some more information about dogs who won't eat or drink, and I stumbled upon this article, which talks about feeding dogs maple syrup and water or chicken broth via syringe or turkey baster.  I must say, I felt strange injecting a maple syrup and water solution into the back of my beast's cheek, but she liked it.  After a few minutes, she was willing to take a short walk, which opened up her appetite for a little more tuna and turkey (in which I hid her pill).  She even ate some by herself out of her bowl and then had a little water.  This morning, she had more maple syrup, plenty of water, and some puppy treats with a few bites of tuna.  The puppy treats she's willing to eat on her own.  We will take another stroll soon and hopefully open up her appetite a little more.  She's definitely on the mend.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  Spoil your dog when they're sick.  Just give them whatever is necessary to get them to eat and drink and take their medication (if applicable).  Try not to think about how impossible they will be once they're both healthy and well-accustomed to eating gourmet dodo bird eggs drizzled lightly in unicorn tears and served up on a gold platter.

Update:  Osa is eating just fine now and drinking plenty of water.  Now it's just a matter of weening her from being picky, now that she's used to all the special treats.  I let her be hungry all morning and she finally ate her food.  We had some blood drawn a couple of days ago to test for Lyme Disease, which is quite possible in coastal California, just in case.  Just waiting for the results.

Update on Lyme Disease:  Results- negative.  (No more excuses... ;) )

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My Core Sequence, Part 2: Lower Body Linear Movements

If you haven't already, first read Core Strength and Me and Introduction to Isolating Movement.

Linear movements are fairly simple and easy to do and a good way to get yourself ready for more complicated movements like figure eights and snake-like rolling movements (called "camels" in belly dancing).  Lower body linear movements work exactly how they sound.  They involve moving your hips back and forth or front to back in specific trajectories and articulating from varying points.  The articulation point determines what area is not involved in movement, meaning from which point your body will be staying still.

Don't forget that all of these movements should be initiated with your legs. The core work will come from keeping your articulation points still. And keep your eyes on that mirror! It really makes all the difference.


Back and Forth Slide

The first movement is a simple back and forth.  Starting from good posture (lifted chest, tucked hips), give your knees a little bend and get low in your center.  You will articulate from the ribcage (at about the diaphragm) down.  Slide your hips to one side as far as you can without moving the ribcage.  This movement will be done with your legs.  You should feel a little stretch in your side.  Once this is achieved, push the other hip out to the other side.  Again, nothing from your ribcage to your head should be moving.  Keep a close watch in the mirror to make sure this is the case.  You will notice that the muscles in the ribcage are working not to move your hips but to counter the movement in your hips.  This is a result of having an articulation point above which nothing moves.  This is where the core work comes from.

Up and Down

Starting from good posture and low in your center, you will be lifting one hip while lowering the other simultaneously.  The articulation point in this will be a single point located in the center of your pelvis.  The movement will occur by bending one knee, and then bringing it to neutral while bending the other knee.  This is an important motion to get as it will be the basis of many other related movements, so give it some attention and make sure it feels comfortable.  Your torso should not be moving.


This motion will combine the previous two.  Slide your hip out to one side.  As you reach your full extension, incorporate your up and down motion so that your hip lifts on the side of the extension.  Because of the extension, you may need to come up on the ball of your foot a little on that side, but the other foot should be firmly grounded.  Let your hip come down and you return to the neutral position and repeat on the other side.  With your ribcage still, your hips should appear to swing as a pendulum would in the mirror.  Check to see if your movement looks like this.

Inverted Pendulum

This movement is a little trickier than the pendulum because it feels less natural and involves a bit more of a stretch.  You will do this exactly the same way as the pendulum only your hip will drop down instead of lift at the extension of the hip.  Again, make your best efforts to maintain posture and not allow your ribcage to move from around the diaphragm up.  At the very least, your head and chest should be still and he ribcage will follow with practice.  If you were not moving side to side, your articulation point would be at your pubic bone.

Front to Back Slide

The concept here is exactly like like the back and forth slide only it is front to back.  Try not to roll over your heels or toes.  Do your best to keep your ribcage from moving.

Pelvic Thrust

Men love this one.  Try to articulate from about your belly button down.  If you were to do this sideways in front of the mirror, it would bare resemblance to the pendulum motion you were doing a moment ago.  Start from the neutral position.  Bring your pelvis forward and slightly up as far as you can go without moving anything just above the belly button.  Now bring it back to neutral and mirror the motion for the same distance in the opposite direction.  You should feel a squeeze in the lower abs when you move forward and probably a little butt squeeze as well.  You should feel the same thing on the lowest part of your back as you move backward.  That's it.  You've got it.  You're a rock star...

Pelvic Rock

This one is also really good for your lower back and is excellent for training yourself to keep your pelvis centered (not tilted backward, which is the tendency).  Like the Inverted Hip Circle and Inverted Pendulum, the articulation point will be at about the pubic bone.  Rock your pelvis forward from that point so that your belly button pushes forward as far as you can without losing technique.  Now reverse the motion pushing your lower back out while pulling the belly button area in.  Your pubic bone should not be moving forward and backward in space and the ribs up should not be moving either.  This is a tricky one so give it some time and practice.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  Since linear movements are done on both sides of the body, all linear movements must be done twice as many times receive equal attention as neutral movements like circles.  Left and right or front and back each count as one.  So, if I were doing ten each of my circles, I must do ten per side or twenty total of each linear movement (and figure eight, as you will see in the next installment of this series).

My Core Sequence, Part 3: Lower Body Figure Eights

My Core Sequence, Part 1: Lower Body Circles

If you haven't already, first read Core Strength and Me and My Core Sequence, Introduction to Isolating MovementIf you're having a hard time with circles, start with Lower Body Linear Movements.  It may help you get a feel for it.

There are many ways to make lower body circles.  You can articulate your circles from different points on your body, but they are all circles.  That means that whatever part of your body becomes the widest part of the circle, it should stay an equal distance from the center line you would have if you were standing up straight.  This is important for the circle to stay fluid and also important to ensure that you are working and stretching the muscles on all sides evenly.  For example, if you push your circles more out to the front than to the back, you will be doing more work on the front than on the back and, therefore, develop unevenly.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  Remember to keep good posture throughout the movements.  Lift your ribs and tuck your hips.  Letting your back or shoulders sag or curve unnaturally can put undo strain on specific vertebrae, which can cause you pain or exacerbate pre-existing injuries.  None of these movements should hurt.


Big Circles

Big circles articulate all the way from your head.  Your stand from good posture and lean to one side while sticking your hip out to the other side.  Try to keep your head in the same place.  It will be impossible to keep it in exactly the same place, but do your best.  Now try it on the other side.  Once you see how this feels and looks, try it to the front and to the back, making sure that when you stick your hip out in any direction, the end of your movement places your hip at the same distance from your center line as it would in any other direction.  Once you have a feel for that, try taking your hip in a big circle connecting all the dots from side to front to side to back.  Do maybe ten and then try it in the other direction, making sure that your head is staying in the same place as much as possible.  Big circles should resemble the big hip circles one does to stretch before working out.

Upper Hip Circles

The idea of these is exactly the same as the Big Circles only instead of articulating from below the head, you will articulate below the ribs as viewed from the front (so right around your diaphragm).  That means that from the ribs up, you should not be moving.  Your hips will still be the outside of the circle.  You may just jump into this if you feel up to it.  Otherwise, try the same approach of feeling each side individually before connecting the dot.  Do the movement slowly in front of the mirror.  As you move in a circle, you will notice that the muscles surrounding your given articulation point will engage in attempt to keep that area still.  Those muscles are countering the movement that you are doing.  Keep your movements even and controlled and those muscles will build strength and control all the way around your body.  Do ten in each direction.

Middle Hip Circles

When you first start, it is difficult to drive distinction between upper, middle, and lower circles.  When you get used to it, you will see that they engage very different muscles.  Middle Hip Circles are exactly like Upper Hip Circles only the articulate from a lower point.  This point should be around where the lowest ribs are (located on the back side).  On a woman, this will be around your natural waist (smallest part of the waist).  On a man, this will vary.  Same as before, feel it out carefully and then do your circles, ten in each direction.

Lower Hip Circles

Same thing.  Your articulation point should be around where your belly button is.  You will notice that the circles are getting progressively smaller.  Try to keep your good posture.  Do your ten in each direction.

Sexy Hip Circles

These circles are a little bit different.  Some people find them easier and some people find them confusing.  Imagine your pelvis is a plate, parallel to the floor.  You want roll around the edge of the plate.  To illustrate, drop a coin on the table.  Once it falls to once face up, it will roll around its edges (staying in one place) before finally laying to rest.  This is what you will be doing with your hips.  If the center of that coin or plate was in the middle of your pelvis, facing up, you will be making that same motion.  Everything above that area should be still.  The movement will be coming from your legs, as usual.  You should feel the muscles working very low on your abdomen and back.  Do your ten in each direction.

Inverted Hip Circles

This is the most confusing one and the one my ladies will probably find very useful.  This one articulates from below the pelvis (around the pubic bone) up.  Everything until this point has been from a given point down.  The widest part of your circle will not be your hips, it will be probably around the height of your belly button.  At first, this is all you need to worry about as it is difficult enough to figure out what you're actually doing in this movement.  Once you figure it out, try to do it keeping still from at least the chest up.  For a visual, imagine that your pelvis is a bowl.  Do the same rolling motion with the bottom of the bowl that you did with the plate.  Do your ten in each direction.

My Core Sequence, Part 2: Lower Body Linear Movements

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Core Sequence, Introduction to Isolating Movement

There is a common misconception related to any kind of abdominal articulations (hula, bellydance, etc.).  People think that you work your abdominals because you're using them to initiate movement.  This is false.  If you see someone trying to move their hips, for example dancing salsa, and it looks awkward and wrong, this is probably why.  The lower body (hip/abdominal) movements always start with the legs.  The core muscles are used to isolate the movement.  That's worth repeating because it is the core concept (you like that little pun?).  Your legs will initiate all lower body movements.  You will use the muscles in your core to counter those movements.  If you use your legs only, your whole body will move.  Add the muscles of the torso to keep everything else still and only the hips will move.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  You will find that the upper body movements pretty much match up with the lower body movements. If you find that you are either very uncoordinated in the hips, or just nervous about looking goofy, upper body movements may be a good place for you to start.
Don't be afraid to bend your knees and get low in your center of gravity.  Take off your shoes and feel the floor if you have to.  These should all be very solid, grounded, strong movements.  Try not to get too high up on your toes or on straight legs.  There should be no jerking or straining.  Everything should be very fluid and controlled.

You will need:
1 mirror, that's it.

It is really important that you can see what you're doing.  When you first start, it feels completely unnatural, so you will have to train the motions by the way it looks and as your body gets used to it, you will get a feel for when you're doing it correctly.  I have been doing these kinds of movements for near twenty years and I still prefer to practice in front of a mirror.  That's another thing worth mentioning.  I have been doing this for a really long time.  For me, most of it is pretty easy.  If this is new to you, you must have patience.  It will probably take you quite awhile to get it right.  For some of you, it will take a long while.  I will do my best to explain and demonstrate, but it's really a matter of you practicing a little each day.  Do the movements every time you pass a certain mirror in your house or every time you've been sitting at the computer too long and the practice will add up without having to sit down for long sessions that can become frustrating.

I will be writing and later demonstrating related movements grouped together.  These movements will be thoroughly explained, so I will have to do a series of posts, one group per post.  Within each group, certain moves will be more basic and probably easier for you.  Start with those and they will hopefully help you build up to the more difficult ones.  Also, some movements may require more strength than you yet have.  Work into these slowly so as to avoid injury.  Learn one entire group, then another.  It doesn't really matter which group you do first, so just choose one you think will be easiest for you and have at it.

Posture, posture, posture!  Before you start.  Take a look at yourself in the mirror.  All movements start from one specific posture.  That posture is called "good" posture.  Check out the Good Posture Checklist on this page in blue.  If you do not work from good posture, you are training yourself to have bad posture.  If you already have poor posture, training from that position will not help you fix it.  It will also have you engaging the wrong muscles and possibly hurting yourself.

As with any kind of exercise program, use good judgement.  If something makes you sore, no big deal.  If something causes you pain, check your technique.  If that doesn't help, stop.  Be mindful of any pre-existing injuries that you may have.  Take your time.  New movements may be using underdeveloped muscles or use muscles in new ways.  Give your body a chance to adapt and develop.

My Core Sequence, Part 1: Lower Body Circles

Monday, November 29, 2010

Core Strength and Me

I'll just say it outright, I have a pretty strong core.  I tend to do pretty well on sit-up tests and planks and bridges and other core related things, especially for one who rarely practices these things.  Somewhere down the line of being a teenager, I decided that these things were boring (which I still maintain), and I didn't plan to do them unless I was told to or if I had little else to do in the way of exercise.  So why am I good at them, you ask?  I grew up dancing.  Not ballet.  Not jazz.  Not modern.  I grew up with homegrown salsa dancing from the womb.  My mom is awesome.  By the age of eight I started bellydancing, thanks to the talented mother of my childhood friend.  In retrospect, this was such a wonderful start to my life for so many reasons.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  Not so much a problem for my female readers, but many of the men will get scared when they read "dance" or "hips".  Bare with me.  I also mention "striking" and "grappling" if it makes you feel better.  No one ever has to see you do my core sequence if you don't want them to.  I typically do it in front of the mirror before I get in the shower either in my room or in the bathroom.  Few people have ever seen it.  Just keep it discreet and only impress the people you want to impress, like your wife or girlfriend.  You will thank me later when you discover new things you are capable of...

Over time, I developed a changeable sequence of core articulations to make it easy for me to practice.  It's a nice way to get warm in the morning or get a little physical activity in before a shower.  It keeps me strong in some really important places, which does wonders for my back and posture, while making me feel like I'm actually digesting my food.  I have a balanced muscle tone in the torso, which creates a natural-looking waist line.  I feel that doing a lot of (boring) exercises tends to give people a square look or just a funny, overdeveloped "six pack" area and a really weak back with big "love handles".

I realize that there are special workouts like pilates and certain yoga sequences that are meant to deal with this, but I think mine is better.  The reason I think this is that, in addition to making the muscles strong and evenly developed, my sequence also encourages flexibility, full range of motion, and the kind of coordination that helps you on the dance floor and in the bedroom (be you a man or woman).  Also, instead of holding poses or doing small articulations, you are really moving the torso in all different directions, which according to me just feels really good.  Plus, this kind of functional core strength helped me a lot in martial arts, both striking and grappling.  I'm not a big girl and my arms and legs are not super strong, but I can pull my own weight because of my core strength and flexibility.  I may gain or lose fat, but the muscle and strength are always there.  By the way, if you have a weak core, increasing strength in that area will likely cause you to gain weight (muscle weight) with little to no change in size, so don't be alarmed if you put on a couple pounds and don't know where they are.

So what is this, "Core Sequence"?  Essentially, I took all the basic bellydance/latin hip and torso movements and strung them together in a way that incorporates various articulation points, ranges of motion, and types of motion including some movements that are not as practical for this type of dancing but very practical for training for this type of dancing.  That said, you can do them to music if you want, but I tend to just pop out the sequence in sets.  I like to do the whole thing together in sets of 30 reps per movement.  If I haven't done them for awhile, I will do 20.  If I am doing them frequently and have the time, I will do 40 of each.  I would recommend 10 for anyone just starting.  It is important to keep the same number all the way through so that the body stays balanced.  No fair doing more of the ones that are easier or the ones that you think will tone one specific area the prettiest.  That would be ridiculous.  This takes me anywhere between 30-45 minutes, depending on how quickly I do it, so it's a pretty good core workout.

I will be posting videos to demonstrate the movements via my YouTube channel.  These will accompany written explanations (see below) and be grouped by movement area and type.  Eventually, I may put together some more dance related combinations to practice (once you adventurous types master the movements) so you can dance like Shakira and impress your friends.

Disclaimer:  I am in the process of getting back into shape myself, which is very difficult during the good food season, so just ignore the little belly you will most likely see in my videos.  I have recently dropped 25lbs of fat, so please don't think that that little belly means my methods don't work.  They do.  It's really just a matter of time before I have my old body back.  And before you all ask, no, I wasn't pregnant.  I put on weight largely due to stress and a couple of other factors that made me unresponsive to things like good food and exercise for quite awhile.  I've sorted that out.

My Core Sequence, Introduction to Isolating Movement
My Core Sequence, Part 1: Lower Body Circles
My Core Sequence, Part 2: Lower Body Linear Movements

Finally Updating Again!

Hello, Awesome Readers!  As you know, it has been quite some time since I've updated my blog.  My apologies, but I have had some important personal things to attend.  It appears that everything is now back on track and I can spare some time and attention to produce more information to share with the world...

Please check back soon as I plan to have new articles up within the next couple of days.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Safety and Awareness Go Hand in Hand

There is no such thing as complete and total safety.  As living beings, it is up to us to assess risk for ourselves on a constant basis.  Most of this is unconscious and purely habitual.  We learn these behaviors from our parents and our societies.  For example, any time you start you car, you are approaching a potentially fatal situation.  You accept the risk and take precautionary measures such as checking your mirrors, buckling your seat belt, checking your brakes, using your signals, and driving defensively.  Basically, someone is likely to dies in a car crash eventually soon.  You don't want it to be you.  It may still be you, but there are certain things you can do to minimize your risk.

All of that said, I've noticed that people are often extremely careless about their personal safety in relation to other people.  At the risk of quoting myself, I would like to submit this little exerpt from the Break the Cycle of Dating Users article:
I think it's important to know what a predator looks for. People like to do what requires the least effort and gives the most benefit, period. Predatory people are no different. This article was put together from the idea that all predators have a list of desired traits. To avoid predators, the best thing to do is to not possess those traits. Here's a story to help illustrate my point:
Two guys are hiking in the forest until they come across a ferocious bear. One guy starts running. The other guy follows, yelling, "What are your doing? You'll never outrun the bear!" The second guy yells over his shoulder, "I don't have to outrun the bear. I only have to outrun you..."

So true. Although nothing will guarantee your safety, it's best to make sure that you are not the prime target in a roomful of people. Predators are not typically looking for a challenge. They usually are looking for the zebra with the broken leg, if you know what I mean. That said, if you show some assertiveness, show that you know what you want and deserve to get it, and show that have your eyes open for red flags, most predators will simply move on to the next target. If they see that you fit the profile of what they're looking for, they will start to focus their resources on luring you in and trapping you. Don't be that person.
Perhaps living in a college town has shown me an unusually high concentration of sheltered, naive, intoxicated, careless people who lack a healthy sense of vulnerability.  Regardless, I feel this topic needs to be addressed.

First and foremost, ask yourself if you ever feel vulnerable.  Do you?  The answer should be yes.  There are certain situations that can make you notice your vulnerability, but you should be able to make yourself aware of it on your own.  For example, if I am walking in the parking lot at night and there are only two cars there right next to eachother, who owns that other car?  I know one is mine.  I look around and don't see anybody.  Does that mean the car is empty?  No.  That just means that nobody who can help me is watching.  If the windows are tinted, I should be paying a little more attention.  That's not because bad people tint their windows, it's because I can't see inside them at night and have no idea who or how many people are in their.  Am I paranoid.  This may surprise you, but no.  I'm just a little suspicious.  I like to ask questions.  I like to pay attention.  I've avoided a lot of pain and suffering in my life by keeping my eyes open and looking around.  I'm not paranoid for putting my seatbelt on before I drive.

I'm going to pull a few examples from my own life in hopes of opening the minds of some of my readers.  Hopefully, you all will be able to see the patterns and maybe pick out some examples in your own lives in which you could change the way you do something to cover your bases a little better.

Walking to My Car

If it is day time, I look around as I walk to my car to make sure that no other cars are coming to run me over.  A lot of people don't pay attention to pedestrians while they're looking for a parking place so I don't just assume they will stop if I'm crossing the street.  Next, I make sure my keys are in my hand.  I hate the idea of fumbling for my keys in front of my car.  I generally keep my keys clipped to my pants because I find it useful.  If you wear a purse, you should fish those keys out before you leave the building.  Keys are also a great thing for slashing at the eyes of an attacker.  I've never had to do this, but if the time one day came, I would be glad I had my keys in my hand.

I'm a huge fan of keyless entry.  I like having my car door ready to open when I walk up.  This is useful if I'm carrying groceries.  It also cuts down on the amount of time I'm just standing there in front of my car.  The best thing about keyless entry is that when I push that little button, it turns on the light inside my car.  If it's dark, this makes me really happy.  Just think, I can see the inside of my car before I get too close to it.  If there were someone inside or even next to it, it would be a lot easier to see them before I got too close to do anything about it.  There has never been anyone inside my car when I got there (thankfully), but who knows?  I've been rear-ended on the freeway and I'm really glad I had my seatbelt on that day.

As I approach my car, I look around.  I look at the face of anyone near my car and smile at them if they look back.  If there is anyone, I give them a quick sizing up.  I just like to see if they look like they're noticing me, as someone looking for trouble would be.  I open my car door, look around once more, enter immediately, check my mirrors and over my shoulder, and start driving.  If someone is standing really close to my car, I give them the courtesy of letting them get into their car before I get into mine.  I'm just being polite.  I'm also clearing out anyone with whom I would share a tight situation between cars.  If it is dark or I am in an unfamiliar neighborhood, I lock my door as soon as I enter.  It's safe to say that I don't feel scared when I walk to my car.  I just like to look around and pay attention.

Going Clubbing

When I go out with friends on a Saturday night, I like to follow certain guidelines to make sure everyone is safe and accounted for.  First and foremost, my friends and I always know who's driving.  Second, whoever shows up in a car gets a ride home in that same car.  Everyone has their phone in case we lose someone.  If one person for some reason wanted to seek alternative transportation to go home early, they are required to alert someone in the group or they will not be coming out with us again.  Period.  It's terrible to be looking around for someone at 2am who isn't there.  We don't go out with people who need to be babysat.  If someone has a habit of getting too drunk or out of control, or too stupid when they drink (doing dangerous things) they will not be given a second invitation either.  It's selfish and brings down the whole group.

Once we're out, we keep an eye out for creepers and problem starters.  If we are a group of only females, chances are that we will attract the date rape types more than any other type.  As soon as they bother us, we get rid of them in no uncertain terms.  We're not afraid to be rude because they are clearly not just "nice guys".  Nice guys take no for an answer.  Being very clear and firm is a good way of telling a predatory person that you're not their type.  More than likely, they will move on and look for someone that is an easier target.  You're never 100% safe from these people.  However, you can last a pretty long time by simply not being at the top of the list.  You're best off being at the lower 50% of the list.  Remember, you just have to outrun the stupid ones.  Just by paying attention, you are already typically below the top 20-30%, sadly enough.  If you're really drunk or stumbling, you start moving back up the list.  If you are alone, you move up the list.  Remember to look over your shoulder a few times as you're leaving the establishment to make sure that no one is following you to wherever you're going.  People have really stupid ideas when they're desperate/intoxicated.

If you are a guy, your risks are very different.  You are much more likely to have problems with other guys who just want to start a fight.  There are certain things you should keep in mind to avoid this.  First, try not to step on anyone's toes.  Both figuratively and literally, this is all the trigger needed for someone who is intoxicated and looking for trouble.  If you do, apologize immediately.  If you have girls in your group, notice if they're being bothered by a guy who looks like trouble.  If she turns him down and then he sees her with you later, he may get territorial and/or jealous and try to start problems with you.  There isn't much you can do to prevent this, but it's best to see it coming.

As was explained to me by a bouncer friend, there is a magical time of the night when most of the guys at the club realize they are going home by themselves.  They each react to this in different ways.  Some guys just have one last beer and catch a ride.  Some guys get upset.  Some guys try desperately to molest any and all females walking out the door.  And some guys get really bitter about any other guy that looks like he's going home with someone, especially if that someone was someone he was interested in.  That time of night is really when all the trouble starts.  It's right around close when people are pretty well liquored up and making their last, desperate attempts to get whatever they wanted out of the night.  That's when the bouncers go on alert.  You should too.  If you're out with only other guys, it's a good idea to be friendly with whoever you meet.  This cuts down on the amount you threaten other groups of guys who are more likely to see your "team" and their "team" as an us against them situation.  After a few drinks, it is difficult to get a group of guys to back down.  Your best bet is to just get out of there as soon as possible of problems do arise.

Remember that there are bouncers at every bar and night club.  It's a good idea to make friends with the ones who work the places you frequent.  They are often really nice people, and they are there to look out for you.  They have no problem putting someone outside if they are causing problems.  They have plenty of experience with drunk and difficult people and they know exactly how to deal with them.

Inside Your Home

Just because you're home, it doesn't mean the world stops.  Home is a great place to relax and kick your shoes off, but make sure you keep it that way.  I always lock my door when I'm inside.  I have a very large dog that lives in the house.  She is a big puppy at heart, but she has an extremely intimidating bark and a set of teeth that isn't to be trifled with either.  As soon as it gets dark, I close all the blinds.  It drives me crazy when it's dark outside and the lights are on inside and the blinds are open.  Why?  Try this.  Turn the lights on inside the house once it's dark and open the blinds.  Have a friend stand outside the window.  How close do they have to be before you can see them?  On the flipside, anyone can see you and your every move from pretty far away.  This is a great way to get attention from stalkers.

Running Outdoors

Speaking of stalkers, it's a good idea to mix up your running schedule.  If you consistently run the same path at the same time, every day, you are more than likely to get noticed by someone eventually.  This will likely be a normal person that has a similar schedule.  It may also be someone who is not so normal that you would prefer not notice you.  Break up your schedule a little bit.  While you're at it, run with a buddy.  The more people in your group, the more you move down that list I mentioned.  Just make sure you know the people in your group or you may find yourself moving up one of their lists.  For those of you who listen to the ipod while you run, try listening in only one ear if you're running through a less populated area.  There have been cases of people being attacked near where I live because they had both headphones in and couldn't hear their attacker approaching.  That moved them up the list.

Blind Dating

Online dating counts as blind dating because you really only know what you've been told.  Any time you are going to meet up with someone new, let someone intelligent know where you're going, who you're meeting up with, and when.  Send them a text to let them know that things are going well a little while into it.  This goes for men as well.  There are some crazy people out there.  Most likely nothing will ever happen to you.  On the other hand, it doesn't hurt to let someone know what you're up to.  You don't have to tell them in a paranoid sounding way.  Just say that you're going to meet up with a new date and you'll drop them a text if you need rescuing.  Any good wing man (that includes females) will have your back.  Do not get in this person's car until you know them.  Do not let them into yours.  Do not go to their house or have them at yours.  Save it for after you've had time to reflect on what you've learned about them.  If you must, take note of your surroundings, like what's in the car, how it smells, etc.  All these things will give you subtle clues about who you're hanging out with.  Some people do this naturally and without noticing it.  Others have to learn.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  While we're on that subject, consider the possibility that the things this person tells you may not be true.  A predatory person will say and do things to get your trust.  These things are often things that will gain sympathy, like telling you that they are too trusting.  They may also manipulate you into giving up your skepticism if they notice it.  Many predators call out their victims on their distrust.  Once the victim's distrust is exposed, they often feel embarrassed into ignoring their instincts.  Don't let this happen to you.  This works on men, too, in case you are one.

Just remember that all situations have little precautions available to the aware and creative that are little or no extra effort but that go a long way in preserving your safety, even though that safety is subjective.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Clean Bathroom in 15 Minutes or Less

To be fair, this excludes the shower.  The shower doesn't always need to be cleaned.  As for the rest of it, each one of the little tasks below should take no more than a minute or two each and there aren't that many of them.

You will need...

1 toilet brush and toilet bowl cleaner
Glass cleaner
A few paper towels or a bathroom sponge (only used in the bathroom)
Disinfectant wipes
Baking soda or Barkeeper's Friend
Swiffer or vacuum
Trash bags
Gloves (I like disposable, non-sterile med exam gloves that are cheap at Costco)

Put on your gloves.  Pour toilet bowl cleaner over the toilet bowl so it has a chance to start.  Dampen a paper towel or sponge and pour a little baking soda or Barkeeper's Friend on it.  Use it to polish the sink and sink area.  Rinse.  Spray a little glass cleaner on a new paper towel and polish the mirror.  This should take 30 seconds to a minute. Pull out a disinfectant wipe and wipe down the light switches, the door handles, and the counter.  Throw it away.

Grab another one and use it to wipe down the toilet handle, the top of the toilet, the toilet lid (both sides) and outside of toilet.  You will probably need one more for the seat (both sides) and rim of toilet.  Toss it.  If there are men in the house, it pays to give extra attention to the whole perimeter of the toilet and the floor around it.  I'm not kidding, check the wall.  If there is stray urine anywhere, the smell really comes out with the steam from the shower and makes it smell like a public restroom...or worse, a bachelor pad!  Use your toilet bowl brush to scrub the toilet bowl.  Flush placing the brush in the stream of clean water.  Swish the brush and give the whole thing one last quick scrub.  Flush again.  Tap the brush handle on the edge of the toilet to shake excess water into the bowl (do this gently unless you want to wear it).  Replace the brush in it's holder.  Remove your gloves inside out and throw them away.

Shake out or replace your rugs and towels.  Vacuum or Swiffer the floor.  (If your floor is actually dirty, wipe it down with one of the disinfectant wipes.  You can do this quickly on your hands and knees or you can attach it to your Swiffer.  Remove the trash bag.  Done.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  When you replace your trash bag, layer two or three.  This is a good idea for the kitchen as well.  If you have a hole in the bag or something especially messy, this avoids spills.  Otherwise, it just means you don't have to put in a new bag as often.


About once a month it's a good idea to run a cloth over the baseboards if you have them.

About the shower...  I personally hate cleaning the shower.  If it's just me, it can be done once a month or less.  If there are other people around, it seems to need to be done all the time.  I avoid needing to clean the shower by not getting it dirty.  This may seem obvious, but it requires a little attention to detail.  I'm in the habit of closing all my bottles after using them and rinsing them for a split second before I replace them.  This avoids the leaky shampoo thing.  Having something that drains (like a shower caddy) to hold all of your bottles/soaps will avoid leaving moldy rings on the edge of your tub.  I try to place as much of my loose hair as possible on the wall in the shower.  When I step out, I just swirl it and throw it in the trash.  I have long hair but my drain very rarely gets clogged and I have no screen.  If I get dirt (now mud) on the shower floor from walking barefoot, I rub it out immediately with my feet.  This gets it out of the texture of my tub before it gets a chance to settle and require scrubbing.  I hate scrubbing.  Last thing is that I splash a little water over the shower wall and curtain at the end of my shower to remove any stray soap suds that had planned to dry there.  These habits are not much different than clicking my seat belt and checking my mirrors before I drive.  They are automatic and they save me a lot of trouble.

When I do clean the shower, I usually clean it the same way I clean the sink, using an old plastic container to rinse the walls if I don't have a removable shower head.

Anyway, time yourself.  You can definitely get this whole task done much faster than you thought if you have a plan and make it happen.  Fifteen minutes or less isn't all that intimidating.

The Healthy Smoothie

(Click here for more cooking ideas.)

Today's post covers the basics of making smoothies in your own home.  I grew up with a lot of homemade smoothies (licuados) and I absolutely love the way I feel when I'm regularly drinking fruits and berries.


You will need a good blender.  This does not mean that you need an expensive blender, just one that can get through frozen fruit.  A cheap blender will work well in the hands of someone who knows how to make a blender work (more below).  If you live in an expensive area, please do not pay more than $40 for a nice one.  If you can get a good one for $30, you're in the right price range.  Check Craigslist before you shell out for a new one in case someone is selling one for $15-$20.  Once you find a decent blender in your price range, check a place like Amazon that has a high volume of customer reviews to avoid buying a lemon.  The main feature you want in a blender for making smoothies is an "ice crush" button.  You will probably be dealing with frozen fruit, so that's a good idea.  No one ever really uses more than two or three of their ten to twenty available speeds, so don't pay for them.

Once you have a decent blender, you should hang onto it for years to come.  There are two important ideas that extend the life of your blender and make your blending life easier in general.  The first is that you should not try to blend ice or icy things without enough liquid.  If your blender sounds like it's choking, it is.  Be nice.  The second thing is to not leave food or juice in your blender.  This actually works to your advantage anyway, since cleaning the blender is the worst part to any smoothie.  As soon as you pour out the smoothie, rinse your blender immediately.  This makes it easy to actually wash later on.  Try to avoid the temptation of letting it soak as you would a regular glass.  Blenders have little rubber, metal, and otherwise just moving parts that do not like to soak.  If you make this a habit (as they do at many alcohol and juice bars alike) you tend to get a moldy growth in the innards of your blender that is nothing short of disgusting.  Just rinse your blender and place it upside down.  Better yet, take it apart and rinse it while you still have the momentum of making things in the kitchen.


You may not realize it, but many of the places you currently buy smoothies from increase their profit margins by watering down their products with ice and then adding sugar.  They may not be as healthy as they are marketed to look.  I like to use only fruit, juice, and yogurt.  Yogurt tastes good and gives your smoothies a bit of a creamy flavor.  If you do not like yogurt, you do not have to add any.  Frozen fruits give that icy effect if you like it.  If you are very sensitive to sweet things, you may find that you need to water it down a bit with actual ice.  Remember, a little goes a long way.  Add a few cubes and see what happens.  Then, drink it before it melts because when that ice turns to water, it coincidentally tastes like the ice melted and there is water in your smoothie.  Not so good.

Fresh fruits obviously are your best option.  If you happen to have a fruit tree or berry bush handy, you should take advantage of that and maybe freeze some of it for when the fruit is out of season.  I like to also use frozen fruit from Costco.  It's a good price.  Before you purchase a bag, roll it through your hands.  If it feels like the fruit is stuck together, that probably means that it was not refrigerated well while being transported and has melted and refrozen at least once.  Just a thought.

The best fruit juice is just fruit in liquid form.  A lot of juices contain a surprising amount of [not fruit] very high on the ingredient list.  If it's orange juice, the "ingredient list" should read "oranges".  That's just my opinion.  A lot of bottled juices (especially those that are not refrigerated) are "cocktail juices".  This usually means that they contain comparatively little of the fruit juice marketed on the front of the bottle, like blueberry or pomegranate.  They are mostly grape juice because it's cheap.  They are often loaded with sugars, syrups, and/or preservatives as well.  Sometimes you get lucky and find a NSA (no sugar added), healthy bottled juice.  If you can find one on sale, stock up.  I found $4 juices on "manager special 18 hour sale" or something to that effect for $1 a piece at Albertson's one day.  Limit 2?  So I bought two, put them in my car, and returned for two more.  Four for the price of one is what I like to pay.

Pulpy juices taste the best in my opinion.  I love apple juice but it tastes tastes terrible in smoothies, especially ones with berries or tropical fruits.  I like orange juice, carrot juice, pineapple juice, and coconut juice the best.


Blending well starts with filling the blender in the right order.  It really pays to have something soft at the bottom, like bananas, yogurt, soft fruits, etc.  Frozen fruits should go on top.  The blender really needs some liquid to help it blend frozen things and it blends whatever is next to the blades first.  Once you have all of the soft stuff and frozen stuff in there, pour in juice to about the same level.  That should give it a good consistency.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  Everyone makes way more than they need the first time they make a smoothie.  To help you gauge the amount you should be putting into the blender, try a little trick we use at the bar to avoid waste.  Fill the glass you plan to drink out of with the fruits and frozen stuff.  Pour that into the blender.  Add liquid to the same level.

Put the top on the blender.  Use your "ice crush" setting first.  Once the icy ingredients seem manageable, use another blend setting for a good minute to make sure it blends evenly.  Listen for the sound of the blender either choking or running hard without actually blending.  The latter will be somewhat similar to punching the gas peddle in your car while it's in neutral.  If this happens, it is probably not because your blender is inadequate, as most people assume.  If air gets trapped in the mix, the blades run in a bubble while the mix is unaffected.  There are three things you can do about this.  The first is to hold the blender firmly to the motor and shake it a little.  If that doesn't work, try tilting the whole thing at a slight angle for a few seconds.  If that doesn't work, turn off the motor, shake the bubbles to the top, and then start again on a slower speed.  Once you get a good swirl going on a slower speed, transition directly into a higher speed so that it will blend thoroughly.  This should help you avoid the bubbles.  Every so often, you get a frozen strawberry or something legitimately stuck under the blades.  If this happens, turn the whole thing off and remove the blender from the motor/stand.  Use something with a long handle (not your hand) like a butter knife or something unimportant to pry it out of there.  Replace the blender and start again.

To your health!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Furry Pets and Hot Days

We're having a nice heat wave right now in S. California.  Great for me.  Not so great for Osa.  As you may know, German Shepherds have two coats of hair.  That extra undercoat they have is for insulation in cold weather.  On hot days she can really suffer, especially now that she is getting old.

I'm assuming that not everyone has a chance to take their dog to the beach half the day and let them play in the cold ocean.  Probably, most of you have jobs or other matters to attend.  Before you leave your canine pal outside in the heat, please consider that he/she will be there, wherever you leave him/her, until you get back.

Make sure you have a dog house or umbrella or something outside for them to have shade.  Fill up the water bowl before you leave with fresh water.  If you can, fill it half way with ice and the rest with water.  Then, make sure the water bowl is somewhere in the shade.  They really appreciate it.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  What else is all that fur good for?  Absorbing water.  On hot, dry days, I like to chase my dog around with the hose for a few minutes.  It's a fun game for her and good target practice for me.  All that water helps keep her cool until it's time to bring her back in the house.  With this heat, she is dry enough to come in by then.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Guilt Free Apple Oat Cobbler | Recipe

(Click here for more cooking ideas.)

Today's post is a gluten free fruit cobbler recipe.  These are great for breakfast, afternoon snack, or desert for health conscious guests.

Apple Oat Cobbler

30 minutes, serves 6.

1 cup of oats
2 large apples
Coconut oil (optional)
Walnuts (optional)
Berries or raisins (optional)

Cover the bottom and sides of an eight or nine inch glass pie pan with a thin layer of oats.  You may oil the pan lightly first, but it is not necessary.  Peel and slice the apples and layer them inside the pan.  Feel free to add other fruits if you wish.  This is excellent with peaches.  Sprinkle cinnamon over the top of your apples.  Add chopped walnuts if you wish.  Sprinkle the rest of the oats evenly over everything.  Drizzle honey evenly over that last layer of oats.

Bake the cobbler in the toaster oven.  I suggest trying whatever pizza setting you normally use.  The cobbler is finished when the oats have absorbed the honey and moisture from the fruit enough to stick together like a crumble dough and then lightly brown.  Serve hot.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  Cobblers are traditionally served with vanilla ice cream.  This one tastes great with yogurt.  You can also serve it with hand-beaten whipped cream.  Just pour a half cup of heavy whipping cream into a container with a teaspoon of honey.  Beat it by twisting a whisk in between your palms until it is light and foamy (think starting a fire with two sticks).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Blurry Line Between Yes and No, Negotiating Consent

The subject of what is and is not "right" to do with/to a person who has had some liquor came up this week in two conversations with two different friends about the same event.  It shows me exactly how unclear the line between yes and no can be.  Here's what happened:

One of mine friend had an extra drink in celebration at a night club.  We later encountered some other friends of mine.  The first friend accepted one of that group to dance with her and was having a good time.  They accompanied us out of the club when the night was over and we walked with them to the car of the person who was to pick them up.  The two friends that had been dancing together were walking together enjoying eachother's company and keeping from getting cold.  As the group was loading into the car, the guy that was dancing with my original friend took a moment to put his hands in places they didn't belong and attempted to steal a kiss before he left.  No luck, but still in my mind he had really crossed the line.  I can safely say this because I know what my first friend's boundaries are.  I can understand the attempt to kiss her.  It was the general forcefulness (pushing her up against a wall) and touching her in uninvited ways that I felt was inappropriate.

The next day, one of my friends from that group asked me about the situation and I responded that [the guy] seemed cool until the end there when he really crossed the line.  This confused the guy that I was talking to, who thought she seemed like she liked it.  I disagreed, but to be sure, I asked my friend about it and she didn't remember too much of that last part, but remembered thwarting the kiss and mentioned being disappointed by the overall grabbing at the end of the night.

This is a common scenario to varying degrees that I feel needs to be honestly explored.  I can't say that inadvertently or purposefully taking advantage of someone who is drunk is unique to men.  It is not.  What I can say is that I find many of the men that I know personally are unclear on what is and is not taking advantage of a woman, especially one who has been drinking.  In effort to shed light on the subject, I offer the following analysis:

It is a strange policy, in my opinion, to find a person's limits by pushing until that person actively resists.  It is even stranger to try to circumvent that resistance once it is received.  It is much easier and much less offensive and legally dangerous to find out through asking or by passive suggestion whether a person wants whatever it is you're offering.  One of the interesting side effects of alcohol in many people is apathy.  As in my friend's case, her attitude was much less, "Awesome, this guy is grabbing me," and much more, "Whatever, we're leaving now."  I can see how someone who is not attentive or doesn't know my friend very well might not notice her passive disapproval.  However, I cannot imagine perceiving her overall stumbling drunken apathy as her "liking it", especially after she still managed to evade the attempted smooching while in such a state.  Regardless, the majority of onlookers assumed that that was the case.

All that said, I cannot speak to the date rapists out there who really are selfish enough to intentionally hurt another person in order to get what they want.  I am not an expert on the subject, but I don't see how trying to reason with such a person would make any sense.  For the rest of you, please consider that the opposite of no should be an enthusiastic yes, not a drunken apathy.  It appears to be common practice to assume that a lack of firm disagreement is encouragement.  It also appears that many are under the impression that agreeing to one thing counts for automatic agreement to other things.  This seems to be the basis of the "that person was asking for it" mentality.  Really, they did not ask for it unless they really *asked* for it.  Furthermore, just because one has consented to something once, it does not mean that they have consented to other instances.

To illustrate my point, I would like all of my readers to imagine meeting a new person in the neighborhood.  Perhaps you've had a good conversation and they appear to be a nice person.  You may feel inclined to introduce that person to other neighbors and maybe even invite that person to a barbecue at your house.  All of this is invited.  So how would you feel if they suddenly entered your house or began eating your food all on their own?  Is it safe to say that you've "asked for it" simply because you've been friendly and invited this person to your house to share your food in the past?  Of course not!  It is your home and you decide when someone shares it and when they do not.  Even though all of your behavior has led that person to believe that they are welcome in your home, they are expected to know that they cannot just enter as they please.  So why is it different in reference to sex?  It isn't.

My point is, for those of you who are good at heart and do not mean anyone any harm, please remember that people's affections, especially those that are sexual in nature, must be constantly evaluated.  Trying to enter into sexual relations with another person is treading delicate ground.  Think of it like driving.  Simply assuming the light is green can have horrible consequences.  Even in the absence of a red light one can still move forward at the wrong time.  In social/sexual situations in which people are consuming alcohol or other drugs, it is much like a defect in the red light signal, like the power being out.  Tread carefully.  Make sure the agreement you get is actually agreement, not just passive acceptance or tolerance.

As it turns out, I am not the only one to feel this way about it.  For further explanation, check out The Opposite of Rape is Not Consent, the Opposite of Rape is Enthusiasm.  While you're at it, read Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced.  Both articles offer a good deal of perspective, which is good to have if you're having a hard time getting your mind around a situation.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ah, Europeans...

About a month and a half ago, I was sitting in my car by the beach at sundown, watching the end of the sunset.  My husband sent me a text message, and while I was reading it I heard some people (two guys and a girl) approaching the car next to me, which was the only other car.  They were speaking what sounds like some Eastern European language that I'm not familiar with, so I didn't really bother to look up.  I just sat their texting back a reply.

By the time I finished my text, I looked out the window to see a surprising sight.  There was a white, naked butt right next to my driver side window.  Surprise!  The girl was dressed standing in the open passenger door of their car while the two guys were bent over, drying off and changing.  Normally, we from California change cleverly inside our towels, but our European tourists don't always bother with such hassles.  They were naked right there in the neighborhood.  (Lucky girl.)

So the guys who's butt was facing me was about half way into his dry pants, while the other, who was in the street behind their car, was still drying off with his towel.  I would have checked to see if there was someone in the next car over before bearing it all, but they didn't think that far ahead.  As a reward, I started my car, which was awesome!  The guy next to me jumped pretty high off one leg, and by the time he landed, his pants were all the way on.  The other guy tried to pull the same trick, but he wasn't dry enough yet.  He got stuck half way, with a towel stuffed part way down his pants, hopping on one leg.  It didn't seem like his bare feet were used to that.  Oh my!

Needless to say, it was a treat for both me and the other girl, who was laughing hysterically through the whole thing.  The two guys laughed after the initial shock wore off.  Even in the dim light, I could see how red their white faces were.  I backed out of my parking spot and said, "Looks nice!" with a big thumbs up, just to rub it in.  I could still hear the girl laughing as I drove off.

I suppose I could have knocked on my window and been nice about it.  I thought about that one.  If my window had been down, I might have given him a little slap.  I know, I'm a mean person.  I also could have just sat there in my car until they left, which they probably never would have noticed.  Nah.

The Basics of Cooking and Kitchens

A basic understanding of cooking and how to handle a kitchen can go a long way in keeping you healthy, saving you money, and impressing your company.  Unfortunately, many people are afraid of the kitchen simply because they're unfamiliar with it.  A person who is inexperienced in the kitchen will often think that there is some special trick to cooking.  There isn't really.  You don't have to be a professional chef to make really good food at home and enjoy it.  This article is written to take some of the mystery out of the kitchen and cooking.  Consider this Cooking and Kitchens 101.


Cooking can be time consuming if you don't know how to plan.  Personally, I advocate cooking in bulk on the weekend or a day off, freezing ready made meals in microwave/freezer safe containers and pulling them out one at a time all week.  You can label them or surprise yourself.  If you're really good with time management, you can leave certain things to cook themselves while you get your weekly housework done.  If in half a day, you have a clean house and all your meals ready, you are awesome!  While everyone else you know is wasting money eating out and trying to fit in housework, you are enjoying your time off with a nice home cooked meal.  Bonus, you can come home from a long day at work and eat a hot meal without having to cook.

It's important to remember that if you're new to cooking, everything will probably take you a lot longer than it otherwise would.  Stick it out.  Soon, you will become more confident and find more efficient ways to do things and learn to multitask.


Non-stick pans are great as long as you take care of them.  Do NOT use anything metal on them, ever.  That includes forks, knives, spoons, metal spatulas, tongs, steel wool, etc.  There is no point to have non-stick pans if you wish to destroy them.  As soon as the Teflon gets scratched and starts to come off, you're eating it every time you cook.  Don't.  Plastic or wooden spatulas work great for everything.

If you like to cook, stainless steel cookware is nice and lasts a long time if you take care of it.  I have some.  They're a good deal more expensive, so remember that it's not worth it if you're not that into cooking.  Whatever you decide to buy, make sure at least a few things have lids.  You should be fine with a medium sized pot or two and two pans, hopefully medium sized or one large.  Little pots and pans are often useless unless you want to cook one small thing frequently.  You can scramble a couple of eggs on the medium pan and it's fine.

Regardless of what kind of cookware you have, do NOT ever run cold water over a hot pan.  The quick temperature change can warp the shape of your pan.  Also, most pans are constructed in layers, especially non-stick pans.  A quick temperature change can start to separate the layers (like remove the Teflon).  Metal utensils and cold water on hot pans are the two major cookware crimes that you must never commit (unless you like to waste money and eat Teflon.

Speaking of hot pans, do not place them on your counter top.  Use something made for putting hot things on.  If you don't have anything like that, just put it back on the stove over a cold burner.


Everyone has a different taste in spices.  Stocking a spice rack is something you shouldn't put too much money into.  Don't buy something unless you need it.  If you do buy it, buy something you will be able to use more than once.  The little individual packets are a rip off.  I'm happy if my spice rack has sea salt, cinnamon, cumin, 21 seasoning, basil, vanilla extract and lemon pepper.  Sometimes I will use a powdered garlic or onion, but I prefer the fresh onion and the pre-minced garlic that comes in a jar and goes in the fridge.  Some people can't live without curry.  Pick out whatever it is that you really like and keep just the basics.

Cutting Boards

They sell these great hard plastic cutting boards that are dishwasher safe.  I suggest getting one for cutting vegetables and one for cutting things like meat and fish or sea food.  Do not cut meat on a wooden cutting board because the meat juice soaks into the wood grain, meaning it's never really clean.  I know some people are really into glass cutting board, but they dull your knives.  Plates do, too.


Knives are expensive, so whatever you buy, take care of them.  Do not cut on top of hard surfaces like metal, ceramic, or glass.  I have a nice set of Henkels that I got for a good price from Costco.  They come with steak knives, which I use.  I bought a minimal set because I mostly use the tomato knife, the bread knife, and the large meat knife.  I honestly am perfectly fine with using a sharp steak knife for all kinds of food jobs.  If you live alone or don't cook very often, all you really need is one medium to large knife for preparing meats, and some good steak knives.  You will use these anyway, but they are great for vegetables and peeling fruits or potatoes if you have nothing else, because they're very sharp and fit in your hand.  Also, they are serrated, so they work well on bread.  The most important thing is that your knives are sharp and straight, and that the handles don't jiggle.  Keep them that way by not using them to pry anything or to cut anything they shouldn't be cutting.


It's your food.  Keep your kitchen clean.  The easiest way to do this is to try not to make a mess and to clean things up as they get dirty.  For example, try to cover things in the microwave so that they don't explode all over the place.  Try not to let things boil over your pot on the stove.  Try not to splash a lot when you stir things.  There is really no point.  Most of the time, you just need to mix the food and keep the bottom from burning.  Because of the high heat, both of these things tend to require scrubbing, which is better avoided.  Along those lines, avoid frying things and letting the oil splatter all over.  Be extra careful not to spill things that need extra sanitation, like milk, chicken juice, fish juice, egg, steak blood, etc.

Once you leave something to cook itself for awhile, use that time to start putting away things you are no longer using and start cleaning up things that were spilled.  If you are getting a lot of dishes dirty, now is the time to get a few out of the way (or start loading the dishwasher) before they start to pile up and look like a task you don't want to tackle.

Wear gloves.  This is a good idea when dealing with special contaminants (like chicken, fish, steak or sea food) and things that just stink a lot (like onions and garlic).  I hate getting these things on my hands because I feel like they're difficult to get off.

Preparing Meals

As mentioned before, I truly advocate cooking on day per week.  Once you're making a mess in the kitchen, you might as well get it all done.  Come up with two or three things you want to eat for the week.  Make sure you're having some kind of vegetables in with your meat.  It's a good idea to make use of those black beans and rice and have one vegetarian option for those lighter days.

For example, let's say you want to have a Stuffed Chicken Alfredo Over Pasta (coming soon) for one option and black beans with rice, vegetables, and corn tortillas for the other option.  Start your black beans first and let them cook while you prepare your chicken.  Put it in the oven and let it cook itself while you clean up the chicken stuff.  Start the rice and then start the vegetables.  While those are cooking, start the pasta.  This way, things will finish cooking around the same time, so you can put them all into meals and freeze them.

Once you put the meals into the containers, let them sit out with the lid skewed (to let out the heat) before you put them in the freezer.  Once they're not hot, freeze them immediately.  Stick one or two in the fridge for today and tomorrow.  When you reheat your meals, you can eat them as is or with a fresh salad.

Freezing ready made meals gives you excellent portion and budget control.

Actual Cooking

The secret to a good steak is to sear both sides on a hot pan right away.  Once you do that, you have the freedom to cook it a little longer without worrying about it getting too dry.  Put whatever you want on it (salt and garlic are a good start), but that one special trick is what makes it stay juicy inside.

You can cook chicken in so many ways.  If you're cooking it on a pan, the steak method works great.  Make sure you cut a slice in the thickest part to check for pinkness if you're not sure.  Raw chicken is not good for you.

Oven chicken is excellent.  Make sure you use some kind of oil or marinade to keep it from drying out.  Cook it with a high temperature so that it happens faster and has less time to dry out.  Make sure it's not so high that the outside burns too fast.  It helps to cover it with aluminum foil at first to help keep the heat in and keep the top from burning.  I suggest a glass Pyrex for easier cleaning.

You cook fish more or less the way you cook chicken.  If the fish comes with the skin still attached, don't worry about it.  Cook it like that in the oven with the skin side down.  Once it's cooked, the skin will separate easily with any spatula.  Fish is ready when you can stick a fork in it, twist it, and have it separate easily (or "flake") along the grain.

You can do anything with rice.  There are different kinds of rice and they're all good.  Most of them cook in more or less the same way.  You can get creative with it and try different spices and vegetables.  Mix in a little wild rice (the black stuff) for a change in texture and flavor.  You can add chopped onions and you don't have to saute them first if you don't want to, they will boil.  Lentil also cooks well in rice.  Arborio rice is an exception.  It is a little more expensive and it's used for making risotto, which is excellent.

There are so many kinds of pasta to experiment with.  Some are standard, some are whole grain, some are rice...  I strongly suggest adding a couple of drops of oil to the water so the pasta doesn't stick together.  If you add oil after it's cooked, you will have to add too much.  I like my pasta slightly undercooked, which is called "al dente".  This gives it a texture you can actually chew.  Sometimes I like fully cooked pasta, depending on what I'm eating it with.

Cooking these varies depending on what exactly it is.  If I want to make a stir fry with zucchini and broccoli, I will have to start the broccoli first because it takes longer to cook.  If not, my zucchini will be soggy by the time the broccoli is ready.  I like to cook my vegetables covered most of the time because the steam helps keep them from drying out, keep them from burning, and cook them faster.  I also like to cook them minimally because I like them a little crunchy.  It's all up to you.


If you're new to cooking, I suggest going online and looking for some nice, free, simple recipes with minimal ingredients.  Don't try to tackle anything too complicated with too many steps.  Too many ingredients can be costly, especially if you're not sure how it's going to turn out.  It's important to remember that recipes are estimations.  I don't measure when I cook for the most part.  I've estimated for my recipes.  Also, cooking times and temperatures vary from stove to stove, oven to oven, altitude to altitude, and desired outcome.  You will learn to feel these things out as you go.  For now, following a recipe is a good way to get some cooking experience.  It's also a good way to find patterns in how certain things are generally cooked.

Don't feel bound by what is written in a recipe.  You are perfectly free to add a little more of this or less of that.  If you like more garlic, add more garlic.  If you don't like pepper, don't add any.  Usually, it doesn't really effect the outcome all that much other than flavor, which is personal taste.  The food will still cook just fine.

The exception is baking, which is usually more of an exact process.  Even then, I usually cut the butter and sugar in half and substitute for something else if I have to.  Most classic baking recipes were invented in cultures that like greasy and sugary food a lot more than I do.  It usually makes me feel weighted and thirsty.  A decent understanding of how recipes and substitutions work gives me the freedom to control what I do and do not put in my body.

So get started!  Choose a day when you have plenty of time.  Find a simple recipe with good instructions.  Read it a couple of times before you start and make sure you understand the process.  Buy your ingredients.  Invite a friend over who is also new to cooking and have fun with it.  It's a nice change of pace from the typical friend activities and it makes prep time and cleanup twice as fast.  As a reward, you both get a home cooked experiment and a new way of bonding.  Many people start cooking this way and find out they really enjoy it.  Maybe you're a chef at heart and don't know it yet.  Happy cooking!