Saturday, March 16, 2013

Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area

I discovered a little gem in my "backyard." I'm a little ahead of schedule in my half-marathon training, but I decided to keep up the miles instead of taper early. I also wasn't thrilled with running any of my regular routes—I didn't want to see the same things for another 13 miles. So, I took a road that I had been down before, but I had never gone all the way to the end, if there even was an end. The bad thing about finding a new route is that I simply don't know what to expect. I prefer loops or out-and-back courses because miles are easier to count and because, to me, it just seems shorter that way. I was fully expecting to have to find an additional route to make up the remaining miles, especially considering the dead end sign not too far from where I would normally turn around, but what I found, to my utter delight, was a 2+-mile trail through the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area. This is what I got to run through!

It was beautiful, and the weather was beautiful. I couldn't help but smile.

To make this story even more worth posting about, I have to add a moral to the story by way of analogy:

I wouldn't say that I am anxious about the future, not in the nervous sense at least; I'd actually like to get on with it. I want to get to the "good stuff." What I had hoped my future (which would be now) would hold has yet to come to pass. And that is ok. But it would be nice to know that what I am doing isn't going to impede any of the "good stuff" from happening later. (I put good stuff in quotes because I don't want to diminish or devalue any of the good things that are happening at present, but I feel like I have been living the same routine for the past seven years. I just want to move on to another phase of life. That's all.)

Once I got to the unknown part of my route, I thought at every bend in the road and at every fence This must be the end. I will have to turn around now. But at every bend in the road and at every fence there was more road, well trail really. My limited sight and perspective did not allow me to see what was ahead and how far I could go. It seems that such is always the case in life: we cannot see our future, but there exists a never-ending trail through beautiful countryside. Some times you have to squeeze past fences and dodge bird and horse poop, but the effort is worth the idyllic vistas that are around the bend.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Economic Intelligence

Last President's Day I committed TWO grievous crimes against economic prudence. And then I committed one again today. I guess I didn't regret it enough to be truly repentant of my previous transgression.

Before you can understand the gravity of my actions, allow me to present a few economical practices that have proved beneficial to my financial existence.

I am always amazed at how people who make more money than I do seem to have less of it. Rather, I should say, I am amazed at how dumbfounded (emphasis on the dumb part) those people are that they don't have more money. Well, they don't have more money because they spend it all, and they typically spend it unwisely. It's basic addition and subtraction that they apparently didn't learn very well in elementary school, but I will admit that it does go beyond simple math. There is some common sense involved, which turned out is not so common at all. That's the unwisely part.

Priorities and value determine much of that. But there are very simple things people can do to have their cake and eat it too:

  • Plan menus and cook meals around what is on sale. Most people want to eat a certain dish, and they go out and buy the ingredients at full price. Look at the weekly ads; some weeks have especially good sales. The results of this can be compounded with the following.

  • Make your own meals; don't eat out frequently. Restaurants pay wholesale prices for their food; the actual dishes are very cheap to make. You pay for the overhead. Make yourself a meal, and you can give yourself a generous tip with your savings.

  • Take advantage of a good deal—know what a good deal is and know prices/value.  Looking at the ads regularly will also give you a better idea of what a good deal is. But don't be fooled: some stores will advertise something at a "special" price, but that doesn't mean it is a good deal. (I also like to compare prices to prices at Costco. If an item is cheaper than it is at Costco, it is usually a good deal.)

  • Use coupons. There is no shame in using coupons. The trick to using coupons is not to buy things you don't need just because you have a coupon. (See below.) That's how companies suck you in. The other trick is to know whether the value of the coupon will reduce the price enough such that it is as good or better than a weekly sale. Better yet, use the coupon for an item that is also on sale. It happens frequently but maybe not as conveniently.

  • Don't pay for things you don't need or use. This exercise does not require further explanation, but for the fun of it, I will provide an example: I don't watch TV. I don't have the time. Yet, I've been paying for TV service, and I have been paying for it for the sake of my roommate, who has been with me for over three years now. Well, my service provider now requires some box to get service. I don't even have the time or I don't want to spare the time to set up an appointment to get the box because it makes no difference to me whether I have the box or not because I don't watch TV. I asked myself why then am I paying for it. I brought up the issue with my roommate, and she was confounded that I would ask her to pay for her own TV service. I figured that I have wasted $1,800 over three year on a service that I have not used. Believe me, I'm giving myself a very disapproving look.

  • Comparison shop. If something is cheaper somewhere else, get it where it is cheaper. Recognize, though, that if you have to go clear across town, the gas/time spent increases the supposed cheaper price. Estimation and basic math is sufficient to determine the proper choice. This goes along with the following practice.

  • Travel efficiently. Go to the store on your way to or from work or while out doing other errands. There is no sense in going home just to go back to where you just were. I go to work straight from the gym. It saves me 12 miles and about 20 minutes.

  • Don't buy on impulse. I think it was Jean Chatsky, financial editor on NBC's Today Show and former partner when I worked at FranklinCovey, who recommended thinking about something for a full 24 hours before buying. If you still want it after 24 hours, you are more likely not to regret the purchase.
    (Tangent: This is somewhat related to a presentation my friend recommended that is interesting enough to share. (Dan Gilbert: The surprising science of happiness.))

  • Don't prescribe to retail therapy. Emotional distress befuddles economic judgment every time. Nuff said.

I practice these suggestions constantly, so now you will understand the hypocrisy of my decisions this particular day.

I had the day off work, with surprising little to do. I woke up at my regular time (4:55 AM) and went to the gym. I came home and dillydallied for a time until I thought I had better be productive. So I went back out to run some errands, one of which was going to Costco. Usually things are pretty uneventful there. I go with a list, get what's on the list, and I go home. That day, though, I was mesmerized by a sample, the first time I was tempted to buy something completely unnecessary, certainly useful, but nonetheless unnecessary. I told myself it was impractical, so I carried on.

Later that day I got a phone call from a dear friend who was going though some difficulty trying to decide what to do with her future. She and I were/are going through a very similar mini life crisis but as a result of opposite circumstances. She boosted my spirits and gave me encouragement to keep going. She also recommended a book: So Good They Can't Ignore You. The first chapter is available online here. I read all that was available and decided it might be worth reading further. I did some comparison shopping (see above) and found (incorrectly) that the price was the same online as it was at the store. I debated whether I should go get the book. Then I thought about the sample at Costco. The bookstore is just one block south of Costco. I managed to convince myself that it was worth going out again. And with that decision came the two economically abominable crimes of which I mentioned: I made three trips, not just two, to the same place in one day and I bought on impulse (though, thinking about it for at least four hours somewhat negates the impulsivity, but you know what I mean).

I should also add one crime against common sense: I thought to call the bookstore to verify that they had the book. I didn't call—and the bookstore didn't have it. But it didn't turn out to be a total waste. I found another book, which I will retroactively post about.

Nothing bad, of course, came of this: I was about $6 poorer from buying the jam, but I increased my wealth of culinary pleasure (This is really, really good jam.); I lost a few dollars of gas going to the bookstore, but I gained knowledge from random books that I read while I was there.

Without any negative consequences, it is no wonder that I repeated these offenses again.

I reserve my Wednesday lunch break for a trip to Sprouts, a local farmer's-market-type grocery store that is located not too far from where I work, when I take advantage of their Double Ad Day (when the sales from one week overlap with the sales of the next). I had the time off work, so I thought I would go to Costco while I was out; and in that I committed the crime against efficient travel: the SLC Costco is a bit out of the way. Then while I was at Costco, I tried a sample that I could not pass up buying; and in that I committed the crime against not buying impulsively. Shame on me.

The funny thing is that sometimes these practices seemingly contradict themselves, but really, certain practices just supersede others. In fact, abiding one rule at the expense of another might, itself, be a crime against economic sensibility. For example, the purpose of my last trip to Costco was to get milk and gas. That was it. But I happened upon some delicious bottled Tikka Masala, the sample I could not refuse. Any other day might not have been so infused with economic criminality if it weren't that I had been craving Indian food. I had even looked up some recipes but decided that the effort and special ingredients weren't practical given my hectic schedule.

I've never looked at prices for Indian food, except for what it costs at a restaurant. So I couldn't say whether it was a good deal or if I could get it cheaper somewhere else, but because I do have some common sense and because I knew what its value was to me, I determined that it was a very worthwhile endeavor. And it was Costco; you often can't go wrong there. Turns out I was right: it cost me about $2.20 a bottle. At Wal-mart (I looked it up online) it is $3.66 a bottle. So in this case I overrode the don't-buy-on-impulse rule with the take-advantage-of-a-good-deal rule. See how smart I am.

I cooked it up yesterday, and I don't regret it for a second. Quite the contrary, I get giddy thinking about it, and the jam too.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Fire Point

Call me stupid. I didn't know that oil could spontaneously combust. I learned first hand that it certainly can.

I learned on Pinterest that Pillsbury Grands biscuits make pretty good doughnuts (more like scones, though, or fry bread; it doesn't have the same flavor as doughnuts). They were on sale, so I thought I would try it out. Because of my lack of time, they sat in my fridge for a week. Finally, on Sunday I had the time to try it out. I put some canola in a small pan and put it on the stove. I started making the rest of my dinner, too, when the doorbell rang. It was a good friend from a previous ward. I invited him in to catch up, but after only a few minutes of talking with him I saw a flash of orange light come from the kitchen. I knew instantly what was going on. I had taken the asparagus off the stove, but I didn't think I would need to take the oil off, too. Oops.

I immediately took it off the stove. Then not sure what to do, I just held it. Then, I thought I would try the baking soda suggestion, knowing that water was not the right course of action, but the baking soda seemed to make it worse. The fire flared up. Smoke was filling the room, so I took it outside to prevent any further smoke damage. Fortunately the fire was contained within the pot. Every smoke detector in the house was going off, but with the problem at least removed, even if it was just relocated to the outdoors, I googled if baking soda was really the proper extinguisher. The Internet confirmed my initial though, so I tried it again. This time it worked without a problem. I guess the fire was just too hot for it, or I didn't put enough on the fire. I learned a couple lessons that evening: baking soda really does work and don't over heat oil.

From the Internet:
"Heat points for fats include "flash" and "fire" points at 600 and 700 degrees, respectively. Do not put out an oil fire with water, the water will splatter the burning oil and spread it more quickly. Smother the fire with a tight-fitting lid. If the fire has spread outside the pan, suffocate it with baking soda or a fire extinguisher formulated for oil fires.

"Cooking oil that has reached boiling point (bubbling) is very dangerous. If the oil starts to boil, remove it from the heat source immediately. Simply turning off the heat source may not be enough to reduce the heat immediately for electric appliances, or cook tops because they retain heat even after they are turned off. An oil reaches its flash point at about 600°F. when tiny wisps of fire begin to leap from its surface. If the oil is heated to its fire point 700° F. for most oils, its surface will start vaporising and spontaneously ignite, surging up and out almost instantly."1

For your entertainment, this is what happens when you use water, sent to me by my similarly pyro-happy friend:

I might try the wet towel next time. But over all, the worst that happened was a small though not so minor burn and some soot throughout the house. It could have been much worse, so I am grateful that it turned out to be nothing more than some unexpected pyrotechnics.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ode to Havasupai

Dedicated to Kristin for planning and organizing the remarkable trip.

Bright and early we did meet
With our supplies quite replete.
Wal-mart was our first encounter
In the men's room one did wander.

We traveled down in two Toyotas
But they could not fit our sofas.
We tried to sleep with what we had
Though that made us somewhat mad.

Sister Stewart was so kind
To provide us lunch and ease our mind.
Then off we were to the hilltop.
On our way we made many a stop.

In Russian accents we did banter
And so the miles we did conquer.
Tiredness we did try to thwart
Laughing at wet wipes made to part.

When we arrived it was quite dark
And far away we had to park.
But what a sight to see the stars
And finally sleep outside the cars.

In the morning we all hiked down
On no one's face was there a frown.
Down switchbacks and over rocks
It would have been easier to go by ox.

We finally arrived at the village
And through our packs we did pillage.
Because it was about lunch time
And we were covered in red grime.

Then two more miles to the camp
With our foreheads very damp.
Finding a spot was a debate
But the separation we did hate.

Mountain House was our lunch food
Which put us in just the right mood.
So off we went to Mooney falls
Holding chains down steep walls.

The water was a bit cold at first
But before too long we were immersed.
The waterfall made quite a splash
And through the water we did dash.

Then back to camp for dinner and rest.
John played the harmonica at our request.
We slept uneasy 'cause the ground was flat,
And Trent thought he was awakened by a rat.

Havasupai was our next stop
The scenery made quite a backdrop.
We learned by reading on a sign
That the water is green because of lime.

After some playing in the water,
We went exploring over yonder.
We came upon an old mine cave
Where a pit was nearly our grave.

For lunch we thought we'd go authentic
With Navajo tacos that pleased the gastric.
Then back in the water we went to play
At Rock Falls for the rest of the day.

Will and Sara jumped off the top.
It was more than just a hop.
The three boys traversed Fifty Foot Falls
Because adventure to them calls.

Kristin and Christy found a small snake.
Over the cliff it did betake.
Then we met up at the campground
Where our things did still abound.

Then at night for our diversion
We played some games of face card version.
Christy gave up her best card
And all cried out and laughed so hard.

Chef John made some apple cobbler
That turned out to be a dazzler.
Then again it was time for bed
To look forward to the day ahead.

The next day was the holy Sabbath
Our Book of Mormons we all did hath. (ok, that's kind of a stretch)
We found out that it was Stake Conference
But had a lesson to ease our conscience.

Then to pack and say good bye
Because three girls left to fly.
They went their way in helicopter
Many a picture they did capture.

The rest of us hiked through the night,
And got to Vegas before it was light.
We slept upon the hard concrete
But taking a shower was such a treat.

Then for lunch we did unite
At the Bellagio, which was a sight.
We did not gamble our money away
But ate a hearty lunch buffet.

There was food of every type.
It was deserving of all the hype.
With stomachs full of our feast
We were satisfied to say the least.

Then 'round the strip we took our start
But made it back for the water art.
Then back to Utah we did begin
And camping we did finally win!

Looking back we had a blast.
It's too bad the fun can't last.
So the memories we will savor
And hope a return will be our favor.

Bug bites, we all had quite a few
And the toilets made us say "pee yew."
Our blisters needed Neosporin,
And the hammock kept John from snorin'.

Will was surely the best food packer
While Trent was the yoga master
A spider gave Kristin a fat hand
And all our shoes were filled with sand.

Christy's feet were covered in tape
And Kathryn photoed the landscape.
Sara had just so much fun,
And no one was burned by the sun.

Now with this poem you can recall
That despite everything you had a ball.
We'll all remain each others' friend.
Though our trip has come to its end.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Runner's High.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results." By that definition, I am insane. I ran my second marathon, and for some reason I expected it to be easy. It wasn't. At about mile nine I began thinking to myself, "Why am I doing this? I don't have to. No one is making me. This is hard. What was I thinking?" I even questioned, "If I die doing this, would this count as suicide?"

The first eight or so miles were pretty easy. It was downhill and I wasn't expecting to see any hill until mile 14 or so. I was wrong. The rolling hills started about mile 10. And that is when I hit my wall. That is when I typically hit my wall, so I wasn't too surprised. The hard thing was that I didn't get my second wind until mile 20. So for ten miles I struggled. Normally I will get a second wind between miles 15–17, but it just wasn't coming. That is when I started questioning my sanity.

Near the end however, the miles started to seem shorter. The funny thing is, that according to my handy GPS watch, the miles were getting longer. Up until mile 16 my watch was accurate. Then all of a sudden it was off. What was going on? Was my watch inaccurate or were the mile markers for the race getting off. My conclusion is that I indeed ran not only the standard 26.2 miles, but I ran also an additional .18 mile at least. Now some people might think, "Well, you already ran for 26 miles, what's another two tenths?" It's a big deal! I could have taken two minutes off my total time.

Now this is when the insanity kicks in. As soon as I crossed that finish line, I immediately thought to myself,"Well, that wasn't that bad. I think I want to do another one." Am I thinking that it is going to be easy the next time? I don't think it will ever be easy. As I get better, I will be pushing myself harder, probably making it harder than the previous. I think this is what they call the runner's high. Although I looked that up, and there seems to be some controversy about it.

From Wikipedia:

      A widely publicized effect of endorphin production is the so-called "runner's high," which is said to occur when strenuous exercise takes a person over a threshold that activates endorphin production. Endorphins are released during long, continuous workouts, when the level of intensity is between moderate and high, and breathing is difficult. This also corresponds with the time that muscles use up their stored glycogen. During a release of Endorphin the person may be exposed to bodily harm from strenuous bodily functions after going past their body's physical limit. They may be able to keep running despite pain, and thus possibly come to bodily harm from endorphin release.
      However, some scientists question the mechanisms at work, their research possibly demonstrating the high comes from completing a challenge rather than as a result of exertion.

Whatever the case may be, I still want to do another one. It's a wonder I want to do multiple considering my thoughts during the race, but once I'm done it is rewarding. I don't know when that other one will be. I think one may be enough for this year. I will apply for St. George next year and if I don't get in, then I will take advantage of the third-time's-the-charm program and run in 2011 for sure.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Mistaken Identity.

Unbeknownst to me, there have been quite a few people that have mistaken me for someone else. At the gym I swim at there is a physical therapy office adjacent. There is a girl there that specializes in water therapy. And some of her patients have come up to her and asked her how she changed so quickly. Responding, she asks what they mean. They tell her that they had just seen her swimming a minute ago. She corrects them and tells them that it was not she in the pool. Well, today was the first time in the two-and-a-half years that I have been swimming there on a weekly basis that we have both been in the pool together.

I was having a conversation with another swimmer in the pool, and as this other girl was turning around to do another lap she smiled a me as if in acknowledgement of a common understanding. However, I had no idea what she was smiling in reference to. In fact, I had never spoken to her before. I had only seen her in the pool area giving instructions to other swimmers.

In the locker room, as I was doing my hair, she came up to me and said, "I bet we confused a lot of people today." I still had no idea what she was talking about. She had read my expression of confusion and proceeded to tell me that many of her patients think that I am she. From what I gathered from her, there aren't too many swimmers at the gym that can swim for a long period of time without stopping. She said, "Endurance impresses them." Who would have thought? I can impress people? So, all these people think that I am this other girl based on the fact that we can both swim for more than two laps without stopping. That's a compliment to me because the person I am mistaken for swam competitively in college. She is certainly a lot better than I am.

Well, I have made a new acquaintance as a result of all this. I enjoy meeting new people and hearing their stories. She is from Louisiana and came to Utah for her current job as a physical therapist. She isn't too sold on Utah and is frustrated with the lack of initiative the guys have in regard to dating. (Join the club.) I didn't think she was a member, but she seems to be suffering from the single syndrome as much as the rest of us. Missionary opportunity?!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Are You Kidding Me?

Every day there is new evidence that I am an idiot:
A little before ten o'clock I finally started gathering the things I needed for the big race (SLC half marathon) the next morning. I looked down at the spot on the floor where I keep my running shoes. They weren't there. I checked my gym back. They weren't there either. Those are the ONLY two places I keep my shoes. For good measure, I checked my closet. They weren't there. I checked the car. They weren't there. I checked everywhere else in my room. They weren't there. The only possible thing I could think of was that I had inadvertently left them at the gym. I called. No one answered. Then I realized that the open-24-hours gym that I go to actually closes on weekend nights. I was too late; they had already closed.

In a panic and with terror, I called my good running friend for ideas or advice of what to do. We had planned to carpool down there together, but with my situation as it was, I thought that maybe I should go separately so I could stop by the gym in the morning and pick them up. We both concluded that there would not be enough time to get to the start of the race. Fortuitously, or rather through divine intervention, I had purchased some new shoes just the week before. I had planned to break them in for the next marathon in a month. But, I wanted to test them out on the treadmill before I ran outside to make sure that they would work for me. Well, I sure tested them, but now I've got to keep them.

They say that if you get the right shoe for your feet, you don't really need to break them in. I don't think these are the right shoes. I wore out my abductor digiti minimi muscles in both feet and have a huge blister on the arch of my right foot. It could be that I had just laced them a bit too tightly. If it weren't for the ibuprofen that I took right before I don't think I would have been able to finish. Or, I would have finished, but barefooted.

Considering the circumstance, however, I had one of the best races ever. I beat my goal time by three minutes and I took off more than five minutes from last year's time and more than 13 minutes from my time last month. I was very happy with the result. I just wonder if I would have done better with my regular shoes. Although, there is the possibility, too, that I could have done worse. Yikes.

Lessons learned:
Always have an already-broken-in pair of shoes.
Gather things sooner than the night before.
Never forget ibuprofen.
Be worthy of blessings.