Friday, December 19, 2014

Rod & Ring: A DIY Alternative Christmas Tree

Growing up my family had a fake Christmas tree, but it was all I knew so I've never missed the experience of picking out or cutting down a real one. Plus, though I don't have any true moral issues with real trees, I just don't really like the idea of cutting one down just to have it in my house for a month (I'm similarly not a fan of cut flowers). Yet having a fake tree, which (1) requires storage somewhere for 11 months of the year and (2) is made of plastic and is part of the big commercialism of the holiday, isn't ideal to me either.

Once I was living on my own, I decided to have a real real tree - that is, an actual living tree in a pot (to be set outside during the majority of the year). However, I ended up killing at least two such trees, so it turned out to not be such an environmentally-friendly option for me. Abe would be able to keep it alive now, but he just wasn't excited about the idea.

But I still wanted something! I found a few ideas - this book tree is intriguing, but we don't have enough books to make it work. I also like this spiral tree, but wasn't sure what materials would be readily available and easy to work with (tagboard?) yet also sturdy enough (metal of some sort?). Then I came across this pole tree - it's actually a product for sale, but I was pretty sure I could make a smaller version of it myself.

Once I figured out the best assembly method, this was quite easy to put together, and will be just as easy to collapse and store in minimal space until next year. It's also quite cheap: the core items are 6 dowels at $0.99 each and an embroidery ring for $1.99 - under $8 for the main supplies. I also bought two bottles of paint at $1.39 each (but this could also be done with a natural wood look instead of painting) and two 22' light strands ($2.99 each at Target), and used a paintbrush and low-temp glue gun already owned. 

Supplies needed:
  • 6 wooden dowels, 36" long and 7/16" in diameter
  • 1 embroidery ring, 12" wide (just the inner portion)
  • Paint and paintbrush for the dowels and ring, if desired - I used a white base plus silver glitter paint
  • 7 twist-ties (I used ones that came on the Christmas lights bought for this project)
  • Low-temp glue gun and glue sticks
  • Christmas lights
  • Measuring tape and pencil

1. Unless leaving the dowels and ring with natural wood finishes, paint all pieces before assembling. My tip for painting these awkwardly shaped items: do half at a time; while the painted portions are drying, stick the dowels in a vase or pitcher, and hold up the ring with a clip on a chair rung. I did two coats of white paint to fully cover, followed by one coat of the semi-transparent silver glitter paint.

2. Measure the circumference of the ring (if 12" diameter, that'll be 38") and divide by 6 (6 1/3"); then make 6 equally spaced (every 6 1/3") marks on the top of the ring.  On the dowels, make marks 12" up from the bottom (the ones I bought had black marks on one end - each size of dowels was coded in a different color - so I used that end as the bottom, and painted the other end to be the top). 

3. Matching up the measured-out marks on the ring and dowels, use a twist-tie to connect the dowels to the ring. These should be tight enough so the dowels won't just slip out, but loose enough to be able to slightly maneuver and angle the dowel.

4. Stand it upright (with the end with the ring closer to the ground), and pull in the dowels at the top, creating a sort of "teepee" overlapping. Use the final twist-tie to hold these in place.

5. Your tree is now put together! To provide some additional stability, I put a small drop of hot glue on each dowel where it's connected to the ring, and where each dowel is pulled together with the twist-tie at the top. 

6. Cover with lights! It would also be lovely with tinsel or garland (per the original inspiration). If you're using the same dimensions as mine, two strands with 22' of lights (24' total length) will do the trick; if you adjust the size of the tree or want more or less density of lights, here's the formula for figuring out how to properly space the wrapped lights to have enough, courtesy of my engineering-student-husband:

Take the average diameter (diameter at top = 0, diameter at bottom = 19, rounded to 20; average = 10"). Take the total lights available in inches (2 x 22' x 12" = 528"), divided by the diameter times pi (10 x pi = 31.4), which equals the number of rows you have enough lights for. 36" length of the dowels divided by 17 rows means they should spaced just over 2" apart.

7. Admire your handiwork, and add ornaments! (And prevent your cats from eating the lights or knocking over the tree.) I'm (1) lazy and (2) busy at work with year-end tax planning stuff so I haven't gotten around to it, but I'm planning to add some ornaments by hanging them from the light strands, and probably come up with something as a topper that will nestle in the little nook where the dowels all come together.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Vegetarian's Dilemma: Eating at Omnivore Restaurants

I've often said I have the palate of a 10-year-old, so I'm never been one to try out lots of new restaurants. I like what I like, and go to the same handful of places, and order the same things at each place. 

I've had to branch out a bit more lately, both in self-imposed goals, and because of the influence and expectations of others in my life. Abe is definitely one who loves exploring new restaurants and flavors. His mom is also that way, but not only does she enjoy seeking out new restaurants, but she's very much into seeking out upscale restaurants.

Personally, even aside from the main issue I'm about to bring up, I don't think these fancy restaurants are worth the price. I guess the plates look pretty, and the food tastes good, but it doesn't taste proportionally better than food at lower price points. It doesn't have a value I would consider worth spending extra cash on. But, her money, if she wants to spend it at ritzy places and invite us along, that's her choice.

However, these upscale restaurants - even in a liberal hub like Portland - tend to have extremely limited vegetarian, much less vegan, options. There are some upscale veg restaurants (and especially as I think I'm going to set a goal for 2015 to try new vegan restaurants each month, I'll probably do what I can to push the group consensus in such directions as much as possible), but ultimately when it's her treat it's her decision, and it's often also influenced by location (e.g., when we're going out to dinner before a show).

There's been at least one place that literally had nothing vegetarian on the menu. Sure, since they're so fancy, you can just ask the chef to make something for you, or they'll willingly adapt something on the menu to make it vegetarian, but it still makes me uncomfortable that they don't think our patronage is important enough to deliberately set forth options, that meet their standards, on their menu in the first place. 

On the other hand, maybe they simply haven't had enough business by vegetarians to warrant investing in such options, and they need to have customers to ask for that in order for it to become economically feasible.

I'm not saying this isn't a problem at more budget-priced restaurants, but in my experience the more "family restaurant" style a place is, the more likely it actually does have vegetarian option. Something about the fancy places seems to have an ingrained concept that dishes must have meat to have merit.

Which do you think is better economic activism: rewarding restaurants who already provide numerous veg options, or pushing the request at restaurants who don't?

Monday, December 15, 2014

2015 Race Schedule

Are we really that close to next year for it to be reasonable to plan out race goals? My overall goals are unfortunately halfway the same as last year's - have yet to meet the 5k and half marathon time goals. 

In order of importance:
1. Run a sub-30 minute 5k. (See training plan for the First Run to get closer to this.)
2. Run a sub-2:30 half marathon.
3. Beat my time from last year on a sprint-distance triathlon.
4. Set a new 10k PR - I beat my prior PR by 10 minutes last summer, but I'd really like to continue inching closer to an hour (which, of course, is also related to getting a sub-30 5k).

As I've mentioned previously, I'm tempted to do a full marathon and Olympic distance triathlon next summer (before trying to get pregnant next fall), but realistically I don't think that's a good idea based on my current ability level*. Even the 200-mile bike ride (Seattle to Portland) is a bit iffy in terms of doability, but since that would also be difficult logistically with kids (it's a two-day event, and point-to-point), I want to do it now, in case it's my one shot. Other goals, one-day races that are just a matter of regaining my fitness, will always be an option in the future. It might mean it's five years out instead of two, but it'll be waiting for me eventually.

*At the tri I did the sprint at last year (Aluminum Man), and the other I considered doing (Portland), the last Olympic finisher was less than twice my sprint time - and a race that's twice the distance is virtually always going to take more than twice the time. I know someone has to be last - but I'm not willing to start a racing knowing that that's going to be me!

Pre- and beginning of busy season: Focusing on shorter distances and speed.

January 1: First Run 5k - Portland, OR
January 1: Micro Marathon 2.62 miles - Lake Oswego, OR
January 25: Fight for Air 80-flight stairclimb - Portland, OR
February 22: PRC Winter Series 5k - Beaverton, OR

Busy season motivation: Medium distances, both coincidentally with big hills (or, um, in the Lewiston one, the entire course is one big hill - see unofficial course and elevation profile here). Since longer work hours limit my availability to train, the distances don't require as much time for long runs as a half marathon would, but still present a good challenge to make sure I do fit some running into my schedule. 

May 3: Bloomsday 12k - Spokane, WA
May: Run for the Hill of It 8M - Lewiston, ID

Summer:  After busy season, build back up to half marathon distance, as well as ramp up swimming and biking (especially biking). 

July 4: Foot Traffic Flat half marathon - Portland, OR
July 11 - 12: Seattle to Portland Bike Ride

Late summer/early fall: Hit harder on the triathlon disciplines for a fall triathlon, while still mixing in short-to-moderate running for HTC, and maintaining a reasonable base for another half. If - and this is a really really big never gonna happen IF - double-digit runs suddenly started feeling super easy and my easy pace got like 30% faster, I would consider training for an early fall marathon.

August 28 - 29: Hood to Coast Relay 
September: Aluminum Man sprint triathlon - The Dalles, OR 
September 19: Bridge of the Goddess half or 10k - Cascade Locks, OR

Nothing scheduled in March - April, since that's the midst of busy season at work. And then nothing planned for after September - that's when we're planning to start trying to get pregnant. If things don't happen as quickly as we'd like, though, I might do another half in October or November.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

First Run 5k & Fight for Air Training Week 2 & NROLFW Phase 1 Week 1


Monday: Easy run 1.2 miles (13:58 pace) + NROLFW phase 1 workout A

Tuesday: Stair climb 6 floors (1:23) + easy run 2.15 miles (13:20 pace) + swim 1,400 yards + plank 0:40

That was a lot harder to climb real stairs than on the stairmaster!

Wednesday am: Bike trainer 15 minutes (est 3.5 miles) + NROLFW phase 1 workout B
Wednesday pm:  Treadmill speed workout 3.5 miles (13:07 overall pace, 1% incline)

Goal: 1 mile warm-up, 4 x 0.25 @ 8:30, 1 mile cool-down
1 mile warm-up - 13:44 (variable 4.2 - 4.6)
2 x 0.25 @ 7.0 (8:34), 2 x 0.25 @ 6.5 (9:14)
4 x 0.25 recoveries (variable 3.0 - 4.0)
0.5 cool-down - 14:08 (variable 4.0 - 4.6)

I really should have done 7.1 (to be below goal of 8:30), but was scared enough of flying off the treadmill (in front of people, no less) that I decided 7.0 was close enough. And it was still hard, both physically and mentally. And then dropping the third and fourth intervals to a slower pace was my compromise to actually make myself at least finish all the intervals at all.

I think on the track, I have a lot of variation within a quarter mile repeat, even if I end up at the right average pace - e.g., in last week's track work I'd let up and go probably 9:30 for a few seconds to get a breather, then make up for it with a few seconds at 8:30. But trying (being forced) to keep a steady pace that fast on the treadmill was challenging, though undoubtedly something that'd be good to learn how to do. 

Thursday: Easy run 3.0 miles (14:18 pace) + plank 0:45

Friday: Run 1 mile (11:44 pace) - Keeping the running streak alive!

Saturday: Tempo run 4.0 miles (11:49 overall pace, 10:26 tempo pace)

Goal: 1 warm-up, 2 @ 10:20, 1 cool-down
Warm-up: 12:55
2 tempo: 10:14, 10:37
Cool-down: 13:29

Well, technically not quite to the goal, but pretty damn close! I feel good about the speedwork I'm accomplishing this month, and I think my PR goal for the 5k is definitely in reach.

Sunday: Run 1 miles (13:50 pace) to/from a nearby transit center + stair climb 20 floors at the TC (10 x 2-floor staircase)

Total swimming: 1,400 yards
Total biking: 3.5 miles
Total running: 15.85 miles 
Total stairs: 26 floors

Friday, December 12, 2014

Fight for Air Training Plan

Another training plan! After the NYE 5k, my next upcoming race is the Fight for Air stair climb, which benefits the American Lung Association. It takes place January 25, so starting last week I had eight weeks to prepare for it.

There are actually two pieces of preparation needed - one, fundraising, and two, physical training.


In order to participate, we have to each raise $100 for the organization. If you are so inclined to make a tax-deductible* donation to the American Lung Association, you can do so here to have it count towards our fundraising goal. 

*Tax-deductible if you itemize deductions and maintain the proper documentation; please speak with a qualified tax adviser who is knowledgeable about you specific situation for additional information.


Obviously, one should train to climb stairs by climbing stairs. Apparently while stairs should benefit running, running won't benefit stairs, so though having some cardio base will be useful, for the leg muscles being used I'm more of a beginner.

The race website has this "Stairclimbing 101" guide but it's not really a training program or even suggestions to building up endurance or muscles, it's more tips and tricks, especially for race day. 

One really crucial piece of info from that guide (that makes sense but I wouldn't have thought of it), is that unlike running - where you stay to the right if you're slow, and pass on the left - for stair climbing you stay to the outside if you're slow, and pass on the inside.

But aside from that, I didn't see any "training" type of advice, like how often or far you should climb per day or week, relative to the race distance, that sort of thing. I did, though, find this guide from the same race in a different location (and slightly shorter, 70 flights). It also has some great ideas for stretching and strengthening exercises to complement the direct training.

I'm not planning to specifically follow any of the exercises in that program, though I am working on my strength training in general! Actually, that's going to limit my stair climbing this week, as my butt and legs are still sore from doing deadlifts on Wednesday.

But for the stair climbing aspect, as the above linked guide recommends, and similar to how one would for running, I'm planning to do one "long climb" per week, of increasing distance approaching race distance, plus one or two shorter climbs per week, along with complementary strengthening and stretching. Though I didn't plan my 5k training to coincide with this, I think the speed intervals will likely be a benefit here as well.

Long climb distances (in # of floors)
Week 1: 40 (last week; actual = 48)
Week 2: 50 (this week; actual is unlikely to actually be there)
Week 3: 60
Week 4: 50 (cut back week, and to taper slightly for a 5k the following week)
Week 5: 70
Week 6: 60
Week 7: 75
Week 8: 80 - race!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Three Things Thursday: A Few Years Behind

It takes me a while to jump on bandwagons sometimes. Sometimes because I haven't heard of it, sometimes because I'm just scared of doing the trend wrong.

1. Leggings. This is the first winter where I've explored the wondrous comfort of leggings with a dress. It's workplace appropriate but basically feels like pajamas! I'm really hating myself for not joining in on this earlier. So much loungewear-in-the-workplace that I've missed out on. :( 

2. The TV show Commander in Chief. Airing for only one season in 05-06 before being cancelled, it's about a female, independent (as in, no political party affiliation, though she's "independent" in the more common sense, too) president who gains office when the president for whom she's VP dies. The whole series is currently available on Hulu; I just started watching it a couple weeks ago and it's really interesting! There's some family/teen drama mixed in which maybe isn't entirely necessary (but adds some lightheartedness that maybe is good to contrast the missing warheads and such), but overly it's a very intriguing political drama, based on a dream political situation.

3. NROLFW - New Rules of Lifting for Women. As with many, if not virtually all, of the runners I know in real life or on the internet, strength training is not my strong suit (heh! no pun intended). I've tried a few variations - DVDs by Donna Richardson (popular-ish in the 90s, I think) (circuit training), Kemme Fitness (functional fitness), DVDs by Jillian Michaels. Hard for me to stick to any one plan long enough to see real progress, though. It's just not as much fun as running, and so hard to motivate myself to fit it in the schedule.

I've done a couple workouts and read a few chapters of the background and advice so far. I really like the attitude - yes, it's a book for women written by a man, but he has a very no-nonsense, don't let them tell you to do something stupid just because you're a woman approach that I really like. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Toastmasters: Toastmaster of the Meeting: Tradition

There are multiple roles to be fulfilled during a Toastmasters meeting, in addition to the actual speeches. They tend to assign new people roles for meetings in a way that eases them in: first you'll have an easy thing to do like word of the day or quote of the day, then lead table topics, and then move onto being an evaluator of a speech.

Eventually, though, they'll make you be Toastmaster. The Toastmaster (not to be confused with the title of "Distinguished Toastmaster", a title/certification earned through completing a series of speech and leadership projects) is essentially the host of the meeting. You obtain speech information and prepare an agenda, and introduce each speaker and the general evaluator, providing segues between sections and generally keeping things on track.

In our club that person also selects the theme for the meeting, and use that in your spiels between agenda items. Realizing that the meeting for next week (the last meeting before Christmas) would likely have a more specific holiday theme, I picked "tradition" and tried to subtly use my platform to no just discuss fun holiday traditions (though that happened, too), but push my agenda a little bit that not all traditions are benign (see: wedding crap series), but that as I've grown older I have nonetheless learned to savor some traditions that provide comfort in specific types of situations.

Traditions, especially those of the more ritual and ceremonial type, are something I'm often not a fan of. In fact, perhaps the most significant of my teenage rebellion (such as it was) (or at least the most hurtful to my mom) was refusing to participate in graduation ceremonies.

Traditions usually start for a reason - like my family has hot cider on Christmas Eve because it’s winter - but it’s now associated with Christmas Eve celebrations, and I’d continue to have hot cider even if I moved to Florida.

Especially for non-holiday traditions, there’s often a reason it starts that becomes irrelevant over time, like patriarchal expectations, that lead to the tradition becoming harmful down the road. For holiday traditions, they’re probably not harmful, but sometimes it’s fun to reevaluate them and the enjoyment they provide. As a newlywed, my husband and I have a bit of a free pass this year to think about which traditions each of our families of origin has, and choose which ones to incorporate into our own family.

Sometimes we might not agree with the origin of a tradition, yet still find meaning in them. The last funeral I went to was for a great aunt, about a month ago. She as Catholic, so the service was in her Catholic church, with many traditions that I was not particularly familiar with - there was a fabric draped over the coffing, a sprinkling of holy water in the service, before loading back into the hearse, and before lowering into the ground. Even though I don’t have my own connection to those traditions and necessarily believe in the reasons behind the rituals, it was nonetheless lovely to see the traditions that I knew meant something to her (and to her surviving daughter), in that transition of life.

As I mentioned before, my husband and I are starting our own family and thus our own traditions, coordinating with each of our own families to determine to spend the holiday. It’s been interesting to think about what stands out from my childhood - I realized that going to a Christmas Eve church service, since we’ll be here at home on that day rather than with my parents, is very important to me, even though I’m not a regular church-goer. But that’s simply how we spent the holiday growing up, and it provokes a feeling of ritual that I actually do want to continue.

Our table topics was facilitated by a different member, but of course based on the theme of traditions. She create some great questions about different types of traditions - such as a tradition you'd like to form, or a tradition you'd like to give up. My favorite response in table topics was about giving up a tradition - a member discussed how as a kid, her mom decided to make Swedish meatballs on Christmas Eve, which was quite an endeavor to make a huge pile of them. After a few years, the mom thought she might skip making them, since it was so much work, and asked the family if that was ok. Hesitantly, they each told her that they actually didn't really like them anyway!

The one thing I would hope you can take away from the theme today is to be particularly thoughtful about your traditions this holiday season, maybe doing away with one here or there that no longer holds meaning, but truly savoring the ones that are significant to you, and perhaps developing new ones to savor as well.