Thursday, September 29, 2011

Star Trek Fleet Captains

Based on our complete love of the last Wizkids Star Trek game, Seth and I picked up the newest one, Fleet Captains.

As always, super organized on the inside -- love it!

The rules are kind of complex the first go around, but they are also, in a way, intuitive. We played a quick run through, as time allowed, and I found it most enjoyable. It was like being inside an episode of Trek. (Plus, I got the Voyager as one of my ships!)

More to come about the game -- I will try to do a complete review when we play through completely and fully understand the rules.

Julia's Blanket is Done!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Happiness Project

Recently, I read a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Ruben. The author was basically trying to analyze the effect of happiness in her life so as to optimize her personal happiness. Of course, happiness is partially genetic -- so some of your general level of happiness is predetermined, but there is a factor that you can control. Gretchen put together a whole year in which she focused on different aspects of happiness each month.

While I don't think for me it makes sense to spend a whole year focusing on different areas of happiness, I understand what Gretchen is getting at. We should optimize how we feel so as to have the most positive interaction we can with our world. Basically, I think that people can regulate how they feel and adapt their feelings to create a better experience for themselves. I know that sometimes this is hard to do, but for the average day to day I think it's worth a try.

At the beginning of this month, I started my Phonathon season, which goes through April. This is a very busy period for me at work marked by a very varied schedule. I am by nature a very disciplined person -- I enjoy regularity, a fixed schedule, and dislike sudden changes to plans. Last year, especially at work, this was a challenge for me. I often found that I was not being as flexible as I might. I was also dwelling on minor issues, such as a slight schedule change and feeling cranky. Obviously, I try to always be cooperative, but this year, I want to focus on being happier overall and more adaptable. Changes occur and one needs to be able to deal with them -- there is no use in letting in get you down. In sum, I want to be less stressed overall. I can do this by (1) identifying the things that cause me stress, (2) making sure to regulate my emotions when encountering things that cause stress (after all, stress doesn't help anyone), and (3) focusing on areas of interest that reduce stress.

I think I have item one pretty ironed out -- I know what stresses me. I have been doing a lot of work on item two -- emotional self-regulation. Last spring I tried to do this to some effect and found it successful. This year I am trying even more. When I find something is stressing me out or making me agitated, I remind myself to relax and put it into perspective. I ask myself, "Am I going to do this this?" The answer is almost always, "Yes." So then I ask, "If you're going to do it anyway, the only thing you can control is how you feel about it. Do you want to feel good or bad?" Obviously the answer is always good. I try to adjust my mood to compensate. Honestly, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but in general, I have to say I have felt more happier this fall. Good news!

In order to help myself with number two, emotional regulation, I have been focusing on engaging in activities I find relaxing. One thing that always calms me down and makes me feel better is exercise. I am never stressed when I am exercising. Ever. As part of this, I have been exercising more and doing the Beachbody TurboFire workout I have been talking about. I am just through the first month of TurboFire (a 90 day program) now. I  am loving it! It has gotten me to do more stretching and some different strength training. My cardio is probably the best it's ever been. I feel great! I have been doing TurboFire in addition to my trips to the gym at work (I just take it easier at the work gym). This has been wonderful for allowing me to really de-stress.

In exciting news, I learned that my aerobics instructor at work, Rosalie, is also a Beachbody coach (meaning that she is an expert in their products and offers support to those doing the programs). I was super excited when Rosalie mentioned this to me and told her how I was doing the TurboFire workout. She mentioned to me that she has been taking one of their supplements, Shakeology, and recommended it to me. As part of my efforts to spend time on relaxing and fun things, I might take Rosalie up on the offer to order some and try it for a month with my TurboFire program. I will keep you posted on the results if I do.

I also want to make plans to try other Beachbody workouts when I am finished with TurboFire. I would like to do the Insanity workout, which I dabbled in last year, as a complete program and go all the way through. Then depending on how that goes, I might try the new Insanity: The Asylum workout, which is supposed to be even harder than Insanity.

Through all of this I tracking my workouts on an  app I purchased for my iPhone, Fitness Tracker 90 CE. Basically, doing the exercise program is combining everything I love. I get to exercise, I get to stick to a schedule, and I get to keep organized as I track the schedule in my app. All of this is keeping me relaxing and helping me focus on remaining so.

I am glad I read the book. I definitely feel like I've been feeling better as I spend time thinking more about how I am feeling. It's definitely making my free time more enjoyable, as I feel more relaxing and more pleasant. I am also making sure to look forward to things in the future (like the fun night I have planned out with Seth tonight or the trip to New York City to the Met). I'll keep you posted to my progress!

Thursday, September 15, 2011


On Tuesday night, Seth and I went out with our friend, Beth, to celebrate her passing of her exam to become a registered dietitian. We met in Northampton and decided to try a new restaurant, Ibiza Tapas. In addition to serving tapas, the restaurant also has a wine bar and (what seems to me to be) an excellent wine selection.

Seth and I had both never had tapas before, and I have to say that eating them out is a lot of fun. Tapas are little plates -- basically you have a meal that like eating all small appetizers. We all shared which allowed us to try a whole bunch of new things. We ordered in three rounds, just holding on to the menu, and deciding if we were still hungry and what suited our fancy next. We had, in random order:
Quesos: A plate with some bread, three cheeses and quince paste. (I tried them individually and in combination.)
Pan con Tomate: Basically bruschetta.
Albondigas: Pork and veal meatballs in a delicious broth that we then scooped up with some complimentary house bread.
Constillitas de Cerdo: Baby back ribs. They came very tender and falling off the bone, drizzled with a mayo-mustard
Paquetitos de Codillo de Cerdo: Crispy pork raviolis. Totally interesting -- one of my favorites.
Ensalada Moderna: This salad of watercress was a must try because the menu said it had grilled watermelon. In fact, grilled watermelon seems to be just the same as the normal stuff.
Queso Nevat con Higos y Nueces: This was my favorite thing we tried! Goat cheese with fig and walnut on crispy bread. So delicious!
Croquetas de Txangurro: Crab meat (fried into a ball) with avocado.
Pimientos del Piquillos: Peppers stuffed with oxtail. Very interesting. Oxtail basically tastes like you would think -- kind of like beef.

Seth and Beth also tried tacos that were made by the chef, who was Mexican and lived largely in Spain. We also got quesadillas with mushrooms. There was a complimentary item as well, a croquette of what seemed like fried guacamole. For desert, we had croquetas de chocolate, chocolate croquettes on spoons covered in coconut and with whipped cream, and churros, a relative of fried dough in stick form rolled in sugar and cinnamon.

A super fun time was had by all. I would definitely go back again for a special night out.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Alani's Wedding

Yesterday, Seth and I traveled to New Lebanon, New York, right over the state line from Massachusetts in the Berkshires to Alani's wedding at The Abode. The Abode is a spiritual retreat location with camp-style accommodations in a lovely location. Very rustic and woodsy.

The weather was perfect. The ceremony took place at a clearing in the woods, the location of a sanctuary that had burned down. The wedding ceremony was absolutely beautiful and incorporated many spiritual traditions.

Surrounding the ceremony site there were many spiritual locations and other locations of interest to visit. 

One particularly amazing feature was this bridge to nowhere.

The bridge provided breathtaking views of the mountains and valley below.

There was also a maze, probably used for contemplative walking (at least that's my guess).

The main portion of the reception took place at the main mess hall style building for dining with the adjacent building being where food was served buffet style. Both building were decorated very nicely for the wedding. I am sure a great deal of work went into putting the day together. Dinner and dessert were delicious!

Following dinner and time for chatting (with Molly and Clela, especially -- I need to visit them more!), we walked along a lit path through the woods to the dancing tent.

A very fun time was had by all. I am glad that the weather turned out so lovely for Alani's wedding at the Abode in the Berkshires.

P.S. Some updates:
1. Good news! We heard back from the town inspector and the Town of Amherst does not require you to encase in sheetrock a PL Vent pipe that goes through a living area! When the stove is installed on October 7th, the individuals who do the install from the Farmers Supply will paint the pipe white in the bedroom so it blends in with the walls. We are going to be installing in the corner by the slider -- a perfect location for the heat to easily flow through the house. The pellets should be delivered a couple of weeks before the installation. I have to send one form to the condo property manager for the board and otherwise we're all set for the install in early October.

2. After a two week break due to some shoulder troubles, I am back into TurboFire! Because of the long break, I restarted the program, which I was only about a week and a half into. I have just finished week two and am going strong. So far no discernible changes (i.e. I haven't lost weight), but I am really enjoying the program. Cardio-kickboxing is my favorite exercise, and the instructor is very motivating -- especially helpful for those longer workouts!

3. Super exciting! This year for my winter holiday gift, Seth is taking me to see La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera in New York! This is my first time going to the Met, although we have seen Met operas  presented at our local movie theatre. I am certain that being there is person will be vastly different in a good way. We're going the Friday before Thanksgiving, November 18 and will be spending the night at the Broadway Hostel again (because it's only $100, and you really cannot beat that). Instead of driving or taking the Metro North, we're trying Megabus. The bus will take us from the mall in Hadley to New York and back for only $16 for the two of us -- can't bet that. As an extra bonus, we hope to get to visit with Clela before we have to leave the City on Saturday. I can't wait!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Star Trek Expeditions

Yesterday, Seth and I picked up the game Star Trek Expeditions at our local graphic novels, comic books, and games store, Modern Myths. While I am not their main audience as I don't read a lot of comics or play Dungeons and Dragons, I have to say that I love that store. Why? It's so clean and organized! As a result, I like to support their local business. 

As a plus, they have store copies of games. This allowed me to check out what was included in Star Trek Expeditions. A true Trekker, I had to have it!

The game is from Wizkids/NECA, who recently acquired the Star Trek license. As far as I know, Expeditions is their first Star Trek title. It is based in the Star Trek relaunch universe of the new J.J. Abrams film that came out most recently. Their second, Star Trek Fleet Captains, is due out later this month. (It looks awesome and is already on my wishlist!)

The game is of good quality. As you can see below, the box is well organized -- there is a spot for everything.  

The game contains miniatures of Kirk, Spock (my choice to play!), Bones, and Uhura. There are also miniatures of the Enterprise and a Klingon battle cruiser. 

The minis are called HeroClix and contain dials in the base that allow you to keep track of how your character / ship is doing, as both ships and characters can take damage. The miniatures are quite good looking. My only complaint is that the glue on the Klingon battle cruiser was not very strong and the ship detached from its base on the first play through. Some double sided tape fixed that, but I would caution players to hold the figures exclusively from the base.

Game play is cooperative -- it's you and the other players (1 - 4, although their should be an expansion pack out next month that allows for up to five) against the game. There are three difficulties. You play out a story that is much like a Star Trek episode. You've arrived at a planet at the invitation of the leaders but when you arrive you find them less than thrilled to see you, plus it seems there was a mystery ship recently in orbit.

You then investigate what's happening on the planet. This is done by beaming down and investigating the surface. You get a number of actions per turn in role playing / strategy game style.

The goal of the game is to tackle all the problems / challenges happening on the planet while also fighting off the Klingon ship attaching you in orbit. You have a set number of stardates in order to complete your mission. If you run out of days or if the Enterprise is destroyed by the Klingons you lose the game.

Standard game play is designed to take around an hour. On our first play through, Seth and I probably spent around two hours playing. We played on the easiest setting, as recommended for the first time, and found it quite challenging enough for the first play through.

The game does involve some attention to detail to play. The rules are somewhat comprehensive, and I would recommend all players reading them before commencing game play. You have to strategize with your teammates to succeed and make sure that you're utilizing all your skills. This means that an understanding of the rules is imperative for everyone. The game is turn-based with each player playing one (or more characters). During your turn you can make a number of actions which help you fight off the Klingon ship and also advance you missions. There are three sets of areas of mission, and you must complete them all to win. The higher the value of points you obtain while completing the missions the better the outcome. All mission actions are taken by a roll of the dice. Player attributes, teammates, and the other cards a player holds in his hand (such as additional nameless crewmen and bonuses) adds to the number of the dice roll to help win each part of the mission.

While Seth and I did win the game, it was certainly a challenge and touch and go there for a while. We had to take a break for dinner and when we did the situation seemed pretty dire. (It didn't help that we'd been rolling very poorly.) After dinner and a mental break, we were able to come back to the game with renewed vigor and won -- quite exciting. There was only one stardate left as we completed the final part of the three-track mission.

Our score was moderate, fine for our first play through. I definitely see us playing again, perhaps with multiple characters next time instead of one each, as the characters all have special individual abilities. A great time. I definitely recommend it to any Star Trek fan!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day Weekend

It's the last weekend of summer, unofficially, and Seth and I have spent a lovely weekend with family.

We started the weekend with a trip to Connecticut.

While, Irene did cause them to have their power out for the better part of a week, there was no damage. As you can see, the house is looking quite fine.

There were some downed trees, but the roads are now clear. Seth and I went for a long walk and got to survey the clean up. Looking good.

My little nephew dog, Demo, is getting so big. He's almost thirty pounds already!

He is so well behaved and about the cutest thing that has ever existed.

Naturally, he loves his Daddy. Like Dozer, he thinks he's a lap dog. I imagine myself being crushed beneath his massive full-grown dog weight in a year.

Mom had a lovely picnic dinner. Aunt Geraldine, Uncle Jimmy, and John came. Lovely fun. Demo got to play with his best friend dog, Sophie. They are quite the pair!

Sunday, we traveled to Greenfield to visit with Seth's parents, plus his siblings, nephews, and niece. I wish I had brought my camera (but it ran out of batteries): they did a lovely job redoing their kitchen. The cabinets are painted and they have a new fridge and dishwasher (new range to come). They also did some lovely landscaping out front.

Today, Seth and I are looking forward to lunch with Dad and Lisa in Northampton. Fun times all around.

Next weekend, Seth and I are heading out to the Berkshires for a friend's (camp-out) wedding. One last hurrah before the Phonathon season starts and my personal life activities become reduced.