Saturday, February 9, 2013

Down Time

Like everyone else in New England, Seth and I are currently completed snowed in from the 20 - 24" of snow that fell on Amherst last night. With this unexpected free time, I decided to tackle a project I've been working on for some time, the caplet from knit.wear that I've been knitting for my step-mother.
This was supposed to be a holiday gift, but unfortunately, there was a disaster in the finishing. I overestimated my ability to figure out how to graft the final knit piece using the tiny pictures in knit.wear and ended up with a mess. My mother assisted and now the seam looks like this. (I assure you this is a huge improvement, and my mother was a genius to get it looking this good.)
It's not perfect, but it's way better than it was. After the "grafting" I still had to pick up stitches and knit the neckband, which was what I finished today. Now the project is finished and looking as good as it will look, which is very good minus the seam.
I'm fairly safisfied. The caplet warm and can keep her cozy at home. My step-mother, being a very cool lady, is very excited about this gift regardless of its less than perfect nature.
Also, in my down time, I took the opportunity to check the Tough Mudder website to see if there was any update about the location for the Boston event. There was. Apparently, the event is getting held at Gunstock Mountain in New Hampshire, a three hour ride away.
This was super disappointing. I mean, what a drive; I was hoping they would settle on something in Western Massachusetts, as the internet rumors has proposed. Another thing I noticed was that the date had changed from May 11 and 12 to June 2 and 3. Woah! But then there was good news -- because of the date change, they were offering people the opportunity to transfer to any other Mudder free of charge.
I checked the website and noticed that there is a New England Tough Mudder scheduled for August 10 and 11 at Mount Snow in Vermont, only a 90 minute drive away.
While it would be a bummer to have to wait until August to do the Mudder, I want to transfer my registration. Going to the New England Mudder would mean a total of three hours travel time instead of six, which is much more manageable.
While I was excited for the May weather for Boston for the running part of the Mudder, I had thought that it might be very cold considering the cold water elements. In August, this aspect of the Mudder, which I am most fearful of, should be much easier because of the hot weather.
I'm hoping to change my registration tomorrow after checking with my teammate and getting her okay. I'm disappointed to have to wait and delay, but I think it will make the best sense.
In the meantime, I have another event to look forward to, Fitathon. Yesterday, my very nice boss e-mailed me a Groupon for this event. It's a 5K obstacle race, which is taking place on April 13 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut, about a 90 minute drive away.
I decided right away to sign up. I've been wanted to have a smaller and shorter obstacle course under my belt before the Tough Mudder to give me an idea of what I might expect. This is going to be a great first try. The obstacles look to be somewhat similar (thought easier) than those for Tough Mudder and pretty much water free.
Looking at the sample map of the 5K course some obstacles listed are:
Tire flip
Tunnel crawl
Chain pull
Cargo net
Blance beams
I'm very excited for this. I will keep up the current level of training I'm doing now (Insanity / Asylum 1 / Asylum 2 and moderate runs 3 - 6 miles) to stay fit for this course. If I end up doing the New England Tough Mudder in early August, I'll begin serious training with longer distance running in late May. In the meantime, I'll look forward to this closer event.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Geek Day

This Sunday was the last day before I resumed my work schedule of irregular hours. As a result, Seth and I wanted to make it quite a fun day.
We decided to kick things off by playing the new Star Wars card game (by Fantasy Flight) that we had purchased on our adventure on Saturday. The card game is what's called a living card game, meaning that you can play the game with the base set that you get and never increase your cards. However, you can occasionally purchase either expansions or small booster decks. These add some additional options to game play. With the Star Wars card game, very few options are available for customizing your deck. This approach is somewhat different from card games like Magic, where you customize every card in your deck and are constantly purchasing cards so you can have the best deck possible.
Seth had watched some how to play videos online on Saturday and read the rule book as well, so he helped guide me through our first trial game.
The game started by both of us assembling our decks. The game has pre-set decks, as I mentioned previously, so you don't have to worry about selecting every card you need. I like this approach, as it streamlines the process and allow you to focus on strategy during the game, instead of strategy based on deck selection prior to game play.
I'm not going to go into a complete write-up of how the game is played. After one play-through I'm hardly qualified. I did find the game to be fun. In brief, the goal of the game differs depending on if you're playing the light or dark side. For the light side, you want to destroy three enemy objectives. This means you want to attack strongly and quickly. For the dark side, you want to complete building of the Death Star. Since the Death Star gets closer to being built each turn, you want to draw out the length of the game.
One highlight for me was the interesting combat mechanics. Before each combat, you do something called an edge battle. This is supposed to represent your forces doing reconnaissance. Winning the edge battle gives you an edge in combat. This added a new layer to the game that differed from what I've seen in card games in the past.
The game wasn't too hard to learn, but, as with most card games, there are lots of steps to each player's turn and also lots of details on each card to keep track of. We, of course, failed a little at this during our first play-through, but I'm confident that we'll be able to just fine in the future.
After we concluded our game, we started work on dinner. Because I have to bring dinners to work when I work my second shift hours, Seth wanted to make me something with lots of leftovers. Solution: matzo ball soup -- yum!
We also made a spinach bread to go with the soup, as this is a family tradition.
Dinner was amazing, but I wanted to make sure not to eat too much, as we had plans to have tasty treats during our "Super Bowl party." I put this in quotes because Seth and I couldn't have cared less about the Super Bowl this year. I never care about football. Seth does care about football but really only for the Patriots, so this game was of no interest to him. However, we had a mission to complete for the Star Trek Into Darkness app that made us both eager to watch.
The app told us that during the second quarter of the game, there would be a new Star Trek Into Darkness trailer. We had to scan the audio with the app to unlock the trailer on the phone and get experience towards increasing our rank to Ensign.
This was too good a chance to miss. We watched the game, enjoying the ads, and were easily able to scan the new Star Trek trailer when it came on television. (My new favorite dialogue. Kirk: Who the hell are you? Harrison: I am better. Kirk: At what? Harrison: Everything.)
After successfully completing our mission, we decided to make some snacks. Since I'm much better at making beverages than food, I had offered to make something exciting and new. I chose a recipe from the book Green Tea by Mary Lou Heiss. I made toasted coconut iced green tea. It was excellent -- the toasted taste of Genmaicha green tea paired really well with the coconut flavors. The tea was subtle underneath the coconut and pinapple tastes, but a very nice touch.
Seth also made his famous dip to go with our beverages. I don't usually eat chips and dip, but I make an exception for this tasty treat.
This was a very fun evening and a wonderful way to round out the end of my much enjoyed six weeks of normal work hours.
Today, before work, I got up early to do some exercise. My legs are still bothering me a slight bit (although probably now more because of how Lily slept on me two nights ago than because of anything I did). Because of this, I though I'd do a round of the Strength workout from Insanity: Asylum: Volume 1. This is a fullbody workout, but it definitely focuses more on the upper body than the lower.
I hadn't done this workout since I completed Asylum: Volume 2. This workout is no joke. As with all of Shaun T's workout, it involves a lot of push-ups. In the past, I've always had to do at least half of these on my knees due to fatigue. I was interested to see if today, having completed Asylum 2 (and the crazy Upper Body Elite workout session), I would do better.
And did I! Not only did I make it through the entire workout without dropping down to my knees once, I also kept up completely with the people on the video and didn't have to rest or miss a rep even once. My upper body strength has always been my weakest link in my fitness, so I'm very very excited to see this progress. This bodes extremely well for the Tough Mudder in May!
This weekend and today's workout have been an excellent start to the month of February. I'm planning to keep focused through my crazy work hours and make sure to spend as much time as I can with Seth.
I'm ready -- let's do this.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Going on an Adventure with the Star Trek Into Darkness App

I'm a Trekkie. Or Trekker. Whatever you want to call it. Either way the thrust is this: I'm a big fan of Star Trek.
As a result, you won't be too surprised to learn that I'm hugely excited for the new movie, Star Trek Into Darkness. I'm actually extra excited because Benedict Cumberbatch, who I love in the BBC show, Sherlock, is going to be playing the villain.
Of course, with all this anticipation for the new movie, I went and downloaded the Star Trek Into Darkness app right away when it came out this week.
The app contains missions, which require you to listen to things or scan things. When you complete these missions you increase you level and can work your way up through the ranks of Star Fleet.
Every week there will be new missions, this week, we had to start by watching the Into Darkness teaser trailer and announcement trailers. We also had to scan pictures from the issue of Empire magazine that featured Star Trek as the lead story and scan the cover of the Into Darkness comic book.
Eager to be members of Star Fleet, Seth and I decided to go on an adventure to scan all the things we needed to this week's missions. We started at home where we were able to complete the missions of seeing both movie trailers; an easy two missions down.
We then headed out of the house for what would be the longest mission, a trip to Modern Myths, a comic book and gaming store in Northampton, where we hoped to find the Count Down to Darkness comic we would need. Upon arriving at the store, we found that we were in luck. Comic book scanned -- mission completed!
While at the store, we took the time to honor Seth's love of the other Star francise, Star Wars, by purchasing the new Star Wars card game. (Seth is sleeving the cards literally as I type this, and we hope to play the game tomorrow afternoon. Perhaps a review will follow.)
Since we were all the way over in Northampton, we took a brief detour over to Tea Trekker. We had been planning to go to Tea Trekker on Sunday, as we had signed up for a tea tasting as part of their new Tea @ 3:00 series. Unfortunately, one of the owners was ill and the class had to be canceled. Poor gentleman.
I was in need of more oolong tea though, so we decided to head over to the store. I got a very nice Tieguanyin green-style oolong. Mary Lou, the owner, also gave me a sample of Tung Ting, another green style oolong, and a small oolong square to try.
Seth was super sweet and purchased me a surprise Valentine's Day gift, a beautiful gaiwan.
I plan to use this when I'm not using my tea pot. It's lovely and holds around 3.5 ounces. I can either drink the tea out of the gaiwan or steep in the gaiwan and then poor the tea into a second cup.
After the stop-off at the tea store and then at Off the Wall Games in Hadley to pick up sleeves for Seth's new cards, we were back on our mission. We knew the we needed to find an issue of Empire magazine. We had to scan multiple pictures from the issue for our missions.
We arrived at the Barnes & Noble and were in luck -- they had the magazine we needed. As we scanned the pictures, we completed multiple missions, increased our rank, and got the privilage of having the pictures added as a reward to the app.
Also, we opened up a couple of new missions. We had to find and scan the movie poster and also some images that we were to find online. I knew that there was a copy of the Into Darkness poster at the Cinemark movie theatre nextdoor to the bookstore, however we decided that we'd find the movie poster's image online and scan it as we were to do with the other missions. Success -- I had made it to the rank of Chief Petty Officer. Next week, more missions would arrive, giving me the chance to increase my rank.

Also, they are supposedly playing a Star Trek Into Darkness ad during a commercial break during the second quarter of the Super Bowl tomorrow. If I scan the ad using my app, I'll supposedly unlock great things.
I was given one bonus mission at the end of the day today: travel to the future location of Star Fleet Academy. Since it's unlikely I'll be able to make a trip the Presidio in San Francisco any time soon, this mission might, sadly, be a wash.
After all the excitement and fun of completing our various Star Trek missions we headed back home to make some dinner. As I've mentioned before, Seth and I do most of our eating at home. As a result, we've both been looking for some interesting and new meals to make. Last week, Seth made us a new and delicious dinner of Caesar salad. Tonight, I decided to do my part and make something new as well.
Last week, I'd seen a recipe online for burrito bowls. It looked easy, healthy, and delicious, so I decided to make it.
Our version included brown rice, black beans, avocado, roasted red peppers, and low fat shredded cheese, topped with peach salsa. Seth also included sour cream.

The meal took less than ten minutes and was absolutely awesome. We'll definitely be making it again. It was a great end to a fun day of adventures all around.

Asylum: Volume 2: Pure Contact and Ab Shredder

Now that I'm finished with the Asylum: Volume 2 program, I wanted to take the time to give you my two cents about the two "extra" workouts that come with the program. The first is Ab Shredder. This workout is meant to be done during weeks three and four of the Asylum 2 program following the Power Legs workout. The Pure Contact workout is an additional DVD that is included as a bonus when you get the program if you're a member of the Beachbody community. I am, so I got this DVD included in my set.
I had decided not to do the Ab Shredder workout while I was doing the program in the interest of time. I do my workout DVD programs when I get home from work and added another twenty minutes after doing an hour of exercise when I got home pushed dinner way too late. Plus, I also was doing about forty minutes of exercise at the gym at work during my lunch hour, so I really didn't feel like doing more.
As a result, I had saved both the Pure Contact and Ab Shredder workouts for when I was done with Asylum. Since both workouts are twenty minutes, I chose to pair them together today as one workout session. Both of the workouts went together well and are the only workouts in the Asylum 2 set that didn't involve hand-weights.
I started with the Pure Contact DVD. This workout, according to the package, is designed to help you train to make the best contact with the ground in high contact sports and activities. Since I do a lot of running and other high impact activities, such as plyometric workouts, I thought this workout would be a big help for me.
The Pure Contact workout has lot of jumping, plus some agility work in the ladder thrown in for good measure. The jumping is not so much the high power jumps that you see in Power Legs (or Vertical Plyo from Asylum 1). Instead the focus is on more of a bouncing jumping movement where you power off the ground with your toes, flex your feet in mid-air, and gently land, rolling off your toes only to bounce up again. Here, you are really focusing on the form of your jump and, naturally, the way you're making contact with the floor underneath you. These "hop-ups" are done in place and up and down the ladder.
Mixed in with the hopping jumps are sets of the agility ladder drills featured throughout the Asylum 2 program. Of course, these agility drills feature small hops and fit right in with the focus of the workout.
The final move that was heavily utilized in the Pure Contact DVD were pike-ups. There were many variation of pike-ups which focused again on contacting the ground in a hopping motion and on agility. There were in and out pike-ups, pendulums in a pike-up position, one-legged in and out pike-ups, and three hop side to side pike-ups. I liked that doing these jumping moves in a pike-up added a bit of resistance training to this mostly cardio workout.
The Pure Contact workout is a good addition to the Asylum 2 program. It's a little easier than the other DVDs but definitely gets you sweating. It's perfect for when you want a quick burst of cardio on either a day when you need to squeeze in a short workout or on a day when you want to resistance train but still get in a spot of cardio.
After finishing with Pure Cardio, I moved on to the Ab Shredder workout. Shaun T incorporated a lot of plank work into this ab set. I found that my upper body, especially my shoulders, were as challenged as my abs by the Ab Shredder workout.

The program featured work with the ladder. There was plank work along the ladder in droves. There was also a pretty tricky set that made you move along the ladder in a low hover. This was paired with spider plank moves done on either end of the ladder. My arms were shaking at the end of this move.
Shaun T also had us doing quite a few v-sits/holds. One memorable exercise was v-sit and pyramid in and out abs, which we did eight sets of. The move had you doing a v-sit and then flipping over and doing an in and out ab. By the end, we were doing eight of each.
Another tricky move was cross-overs, where you sat in c-sit position with one leg out straight and hovering off the floor. With the other leg, you crossed over the outstretched leg. This really seemed to work my obliques, lower abs, and also that extended leg. For people like me who aren't very flexible, this will definitely be a challenge (as are the v-sits for that matter). I could barely keep my legs straight.
The final move of the day was elbow rolls with a knee touch. You start in a low plank with arms under your shoulders but forearms touching underneath you. Slowly, your roll your arms one over the other twice forward. Then, with abs tight, you touch your knees to the floor once and roll back. The minute spent doing this exercise was quite a long one. At the end my shoulders were spent.
I definitely like the Ab Shredder workout. I felt as though, with all the plank work and low hovers, my arms got a great workout along with my abs. It felt like another good quick workout for when you want to get in a little strength training but are low on time. You could also easily pair this workout, as in the intention if you do it with Power Legs like you're supposed to.
I also like how the Ab Shredder workout was resistance training without weights. It reminded me a lot of the Cardio Abs workout from the original Insanity workouts (although without the cardio). I enjoy functional resistance training without hand-weights, and this really hit the mark.
I think that I might want to incorporate this workout into my Tough Mudder training. For the Mudder, training with my body weight instead of hand-weights is key because it will more closely mimic what will happen during the race.
I'm looking forward to starting my training for Tough Mudder in two weeks. In the meantime, I'm doing a lot of work to get my outer hips feeling better. They are still a bit tight, but I'm doing some foam rolling daily and stretching more diligently. It's definitely starting to work. I'm hopeful that I'll be 100% for the start of my training in two weeks. Fingers crossed!