Monday, December 28, 2015

Holiday Adventures

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

I called the Roraima Tour company to ensure everything was in order for my hike over Easter break. Hike-Venezuela's Andreas was great to work with. Quick responses and thorough with his planning. I was excited to work and trek with him. The problem was I didn't let him know I was a US citizen until this past week. Apparently earlier this year, Venezuela has required US citizens to get a visa as opposed to just a tourist card(like in Suriname). Their website suggested not making any plans within 4 months of applying as there is a good chance it won't be processed before then. Andreas concurred that it did often take that long. I had already purchased my bus ticket to Brazil(this is the only way to get to Venezuela from Guyana because of a long-standing and ongoing border dispute). In a moment of impulsivity, I called up the bus company and transferred the trip to this week thinking I could at least do a trip to Brazil during Christmas break.

The timing couldn't have been worse. My US debit card had just expired(Kenny is bringing down the new one when I see her in Barbados), but my Guyana bank assured me that I could use the debit card in Brazil. To clarify, I went to the bank, stood in the exceptionally long lines just to ask. So I had some funds but not as much as I'd like for a trip to another country. Throw in the huge masses of ride  people traveling over the holidays with huge amounts of gifts, my traveling without a map or a real plan of where I was going and add in an 18 hour overland bus just to get to the Brazilian border and an adventure is sure to ensue. And it certainly did.

You know you are in the midst of an adventure when you'd rather be in front of a fireplace curled up with a good book.

The bus trip wasn't even the start of the trip because I had to get to the bus from New Amsterdam which is always interesting. Shared taxis cost $7,50 and depart whenever the car is full. Usually that means there are four passengers. However this day there were six passengers as a woman had her two children on our laps. That's right our laps. They were sitting on her legs but sprawling their legs across onto me who was stuck in the middle. Lucky me. I didn't even have to pay more for this great experience. My legs were totally asleep by the time I got to Georgetown. But before we get there we have to drop off each passenger one by one, which is a nice feature personally but an annoyance if you happen to be the last one dropped off which always seems to be the case. This means that this 1:20 trip usually takes at least two hours despite reckless driving where at least 5 pedestrians and twice as many livestock almost lose their lives. And this day I was riding with a driver who apparently had never been to Georgetown before because he needed directions to each stop. This became a problem when it came to my turn to be dropped off because I had only been to the bus company once and did so walking. Finally after driving down several one way streets the wrong way, we made it there. Now the bus trip starts...

Well, the packing at least. I didn't bring my phone with me which means I didn't have a camera so I am going to request that you try to really imagine this bus. So lets start with the basics. It's a 12 passenger van with the  last row taken out. In it's place is what appears to be Christmas presents for every single person living in Lethem and the surrounding towns. It is so packed that the spaces under the seats have all been stuffed,every crevice crammed and things all packed and jammed. There is no daylight coming from the back window. I can say with all honesty, that this guy who packed this was a pro. Probably a very good Tetras player. Is there such thing as Tetras anymore? Okay anyway, let's move to the outside.

On the roof is the Christmas presents for most of Northern Brazil. The luggage on the roof is stacked so high that it looks like someone wanted to climb directly to heaven to celebrate with Jesus up there. Without hyperbole though, the roof luggage at least doubled the height of the van(minus the wheels). The porter had to climb onto the roof just to reach the roof to strap it all down.

Okay so let's move inside again now. Because we, the passengers, have to fit in here too. In the front seat we have the driver and the porter and one unlucky guy sandwiched between them. The middle seat is raised a bit above the rest and with every bump(and this road has plenty) he hits his head. IF YOU ARE PUT IN THIS SITUATION: Opt out. Take another bus. It looked miserable. Obviously if you're petite, it may not be quite an issue. Alright moving to the second row. Four passengers. Yet again, children apparently don't get counted when delegating seating allotment. This girl looked to be around 10 too so it wasn't like she was tiny. So the four are crammed into a bench seat that is not terribly comfortable sitting three. Wall to shoulder to shoulder to shoulder to shoulder to wall. Luckily I am not in that row. In fact, I am in the primo spot. Back left seat. In addition to about 2 inches of extra legroom, it has about 6 inches of space to the right between my seat and the bench seats next to me. This allows me to put my backpack in that space. Oh, I forgot to mention: everyone else has their personal luggage on their laps. For 18 hours! And I was complaining about a 4 year old's legs for 2...

Finally we are off! Well not so fast. Within 5 minutes of driving, the driver stops at a gas station cum restaurant and comes back 10 minutes later with what looks to be a 100 piece fried chicken box. Okay so that is clearly a hyperbole and I don't want you to get the impression that he bought it for all of us to share. It was probably 20 pieces and he was NOT sharing. Well except for the wafting of fried food smells for the next 30 miles. But we don't make it that far because we stop again 15 minutes later to fuel up. Why we didn't stop at the first place I will never know but the prices were the same. Then another 20-25 minutes we stop for a bathroom break. So in the course of an hour we have driven about 10 miles. But now we are off for real!

If you have ever been to Guyana(or I hear some Caribbean countries-none of the ones I've been to-boy do I love Aruba), there seems to be a need to blast music at full capacity well mixing it in such a way that it becomes something close to pure cacophony. Sirens, horns(car horns NOT musical ones), and other totally inappropriate musical accouterments rip a pop song to shreds which is made even worse by the DJ(radio not Grand Master Flash) yelling indiscriminate nonsense over and over. Why am I telling you this? Well because every taxi or bus ride I have taken in Guyana, blasts this "music" and I had steeled myself with the expectation that this would be happening again on this trip for 18 straight hours. And for the first hour it was like that, but then(I think to weak broadcast signal) I was saved and he put on a pretty good mix at a reasonable noise volume. Quiet enough in fact that I was able to listen to Adam Ezra on my CD player(yes I have a discman-so what? I didn't know whether I would have any reliable source of electricity/music so Kenny was good enough to think ahead and got me that- A life saver). Haven't heard of Adam Ezra? You should look him up. I love every song that he has. Well that's not true. There's two songs that I don't like all that much but other than that, I like them all:)
So good music and an adequate amount of personal space. It soon occurred to me that this was not going to be 18 hours of driving. My brother and I had just done 18 hours of driving when we brought my car down to Atlanta for him to use right before I left for Guyana and this is a different kind of traveling. First of all, it's a hurry up and wait game. Hurry up through a minefield of Volkswagen sized potholes. Luckily(or unluckily) the road is fairly wide so the driver was swerve back and forth across the road to try to find the least bumpy section. Not sure if whipping my head side to side is any better for my brain than up and down, but at least he thought so. From the amount of doing it, you'd think he was getting paid by the mile which he probably at least doubled.

This  mad dash to get to the Essiquebo River is purely to get in as many hours of sleep before the 6am ferry opens. Witnessing the cluster of ferrying and how few buses can be transported per trip, you definitely wanna be on that first one. So we got to a little road side parking area about half a mile from the the river's edge around 2am after having made two more stops along the way for bathroom and drink breaks. The driver hurriedly throw up a hammock, while some passengers went to the all night bar nearby and I slept somewhat in my seat. Then at 4:30a our driver springs out of his hammock, calls all the passengers back to the van and then we pile in and drive to the river's edge. We then spend the next 1 1/2 hours waiting, first in line for the ferry. By 7a we are back to driving.

The sun had risen and it was amazing the transformation of the scenery. The night before we were in the rainforest. So much so that I was yelled at not to go off the road to pee because of all the critters lurching there. Even from my vantage point on the road, I spotted a bunch of monkeys. This next morning, the forest was gone and in its place was the Savannah. High grass and huge ant hills as far as the eye could see. And intermittent Ameri-Indian villages and that was about it until we got to Lethem which is a spread out little town.

I didn't waste much time in Lethem as I had wanted to get going into Brazil, so I got a taxi(NOTE: taxis in Lethem have far less competition than those in Georgetown or New Amsterdam and thus charge significantly more for example it cost me the same amount to get to the Brazilian border as to get from NA to Georgetown). So if you're doing this trip, definitely plan on increased taxi expenses and have the taxi wait for you while you're in immigration. And that's a bit of a nuisance. You go to the Guyana customs then drive across the bridge and have to do it again with the Brazilian side. Those are two separate taxi fares but the distance is just long enough that it's probably worth it. That being said, when I got to the Brazilian side and the only taxi was going to charge me 50 Real to go 5km to the bus station(Rodavaria), I opted for the walk.

Side Note: As I mentioned above my US debit card had expired so this wouldn't have otherwise been an issue, but if you don't have a debit card that gives you a good transaction rate, I'm not sure how to otherwise prevent getting ripped off on the exchange rate of Guyanese(or US dollars for that matter) to Brazilian Reals. I had checked before leaving and the rate was 50 GY to 1 R, but the only guy selling them wanted 65. I was able to haggle down to 60 but he really did have me in a bind. But I exchanged only enough to get me to Boa Vista, dinner and the first night's hotel stay thinking I'd withdraw more with my Guyana debit card.

Okay, so after having walked the 5 kilometers I got to Bon Fim. Not before almost walking right by it. I really mistook it for one of those roadside truck stops. Nope that's the town of Bon Fim. From Bon Fim to Boa Vista there are 4 busses each day(7a, 10a, 2p and 4:30p). I got to Bon Fim at 11 so had three hours to kill(which, if you are familiar with mindfulness, is an awful way to view life. Wouldn't it be better to be in every moment and experience every experience rather than to kill time? Isn't time the most important thing any of us have?) Okay anyway. I ended up not having to existentially determine whether I was killing or using those hours because I got picked up by a taxi driver. He had just dropped off a car-full of people and was heading back to Boa Vista. Since he was going there anyway, he was willing to charge the same as I would have paid by taking the bus. And I got there substantially earlier. Which was good because I then spent the next 2 hours walking aimlessly totally lost.

How did I get there? Well that goes back to rushing and poor planning. I focused on Manaus which is where I planned on going after the one night in Boa Vista and had gotten directions etc for there. Completely neglected to do so for Boa Vista. I think I have been spoiled by taxi drivers dropping me off wherever I want that when I was dropped off at the bus station, I was at a loss. And this was made worse by the total and utter lack of any one speaking English. Nao was the common refrain to Fala Ingles as well as onde esta rua abracaba or voce tem um mapa da cidade? Now I realize that I probably butchered each and every one of those expressions as I am apt to do in any language but usually I will get some kind-hearted individual who can at least point me in the right direction. No such luck. So my logical next step? Knowing that the hotel was 1.5 kilometers from the bus station, I decided to walk what I assumed was that distance in one direction and if I didn't come across it, I cross over a couple streets and walk back(doubling my chances of finding it each lap). The problem with this is that the city center fans out in a neat organized series of straight roads and all you have to do is walk down any of them and you'll eventually get to the center. But I wasn't coming from the city center but instead 1.5 kilometers outside of it so my plan spiraled out of control quickly and within 4-5 kilometers of aimless walking, I had gotten myself utterly lost. And it was getting nerve wracking since even the hotels I stopped in didn't have receptionists who spoke English or had any idea where my hotel was located.

Now in reality this wasn't a HUGE issue. I could always just stay at another hotel, but this would mean being charged for two hotels(neither of which were expensive by US standards but expensive enough on a PC shoestring budget). But I was starting to really consider this option. Luckily right about then, I happened upon a taxi driver parked on the side of the road. While he didn't speak English, he did know the location and for the same price I paid for the 1 1/2 hour ride from Bon Fim to Boa Vista he took me the mile to my hotel.

I arrive in at the Hotel Colonial to find there is no receptionist and the hotel looks like it's undergoing some serious renovations. By this time, I am crashing pretty hard, having only slept 1 1/2 hours at most in the last two days. I just wanted to go take a nap. Finally a maid spotted me and in my portu-spanglish and a lot of pantomiming, I made it known that I had a reservation and wanted my room. Unfortunately, she didn't have the ability to get me into my room so she made numerous phone calls trying to get a hold of the front desk. I dozed(duermo) on the lobby couch for probably close to an hour(uma hora) before someone came(chega) to give me my keys( minhas chaves). By this point I figured I better get dinner before I slept. I went first to an ATM to withdraw more cash. And lo and behold, my card doesn't work. Not yet panicking I go to a second and then a third and I realize that I am now limited to the money that I had exchanged, begrudgingly, at the border. Certainly not enough to make it to Manaus. Well I guess enough to get to Manuas but not enough to do the Amazon river boat trip that I had planned once there.

So my trip to Brazil ended pre-maturely in the town of Boa Vista, which actually, despite what I have seen written about it, actually a pretty nice town. There were plenty of good places to eat and everyone seemed nice. It was just bad timing to be there during Christmas because the whole city shuts down so Christmas day was like a ghost town. Luckily, I understood the receptionist enough to make out nao voce come amanha, voce tem comida hoje(or something like that), which I took, correctly to mean that I couldn't eat tomorrow so I better stock up today which I did. Peanut butter sandwiches and an entire sheath of cookies plus a few skopps was my Christmas lunch and dinner.

The next morning, I decided to head back to Guyana where I could take out more money and maybe explore Lethem a bit. I am glad I did. I stayed at the Savannah Inn for $20 a night and if I wanted to be frugal could have been cheaper but I opted for an en-suite room. Which is kind of ridiculous since I had an en-hotel room since I was the only guest staying there. I didn't mind, I used my time to explore the town and did some pretty nice runs in the Ameri-Indian villages. One day I set out to run to the base of the Kanuku mountains which looked to be about 5-7 miles away. I got to what appeared to be the base of them only to be turned back by the town elder(I'm assuming that's who he was), who told me I needed formal paperwork to hike them and technically I was breaking the law just by running on their land. But he was friendly about it and allowed me to run back.

Lethem is interesting in that it is surrounded by really cool nature with potential for fun adventure based activities but doesn't seem like much goes on in that manner. It seems like most people that come there do so for the big box stores that look like they sprang out of nowhere. All of them sell ripoff designer clothes and products very reminiscent of Shanghai's markets. It's amazing that being surrounded by all of these very inexpensive products that are usually so expensive makes you want to buy things you don't need. I found myself on a few occasions when heading out for a meal, stopping and almost convincing myself I needed a new Dolce and Gabbana dress shirt or Rolex watch. Yeah like I need either of those. But apparently other people do since that's all that anyone in town seemed to be doing.

Before succumbing to the siren call of consumerism, I boarded the bus back to Georgetown thinking I knew what to expect. To quote Urinetown: [with Guyana] the only thing to expect is the unexpected.

This ride home was nothing like the way there. Apparently the gift giving only goes one way, this time with almost no one with more than a backpack. Which made room for that back row of seats to be put back in making way for 4 more passengers. And while I was so happy with my spot when it was the back row, now as the second to back row that little space between passengers next to me that I so coveted became the only egress for everyone behind me. Meaning, every time anyone behind me had to get out, I had to finagle my backpack which was crammed in there out and get out myself. Not a huge deal but definitely something to consider after hyping it up as the best seat in the house. Which at least on this ride was also the most slanted. Probably due to the fact that it wasn't supported by the seats to its right, over time to had slanted to the right so every turn the driver took had me grasping at the row in front of me to keep from sliding off. Oh yeah, there are, of course, no seat belts.

The other difference with this trip was that, even though we left at the same time, we arrived at the river crossing substantially earlier, like 10p earlier. Meaning that we now had 8 hours before the river crossing. Which for everyone well prepared meant a good night's sleep in the hammocks that they brought. Having no such hammock, I resorted to trying to sleep in the mini-bus. Which didn't work out great since my legs hung out about 2 feet from the end. I did get a few hours of sleep eventually but what this also meant was that we now had the majority of the drive still to do the next day. I didn't realize when they say 18-24 hours they meant depending on the direction you are traveling. So if you're going back from Lethem to Georgetown, definitely bring a hammock and plan on a longer day.

And so that how I spent my Christmas vacation. Hope everyone's was wonderful.

Until next time,


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Actors Playing More Than One Super Character

I just saw the new Deadpool movie preview, and I’m pretty excited to see it. Not nearly as much as the Suicide Squad but in tie for second with Batman vs Superman.  In it, Ryan Reynolds who plays the title character, makes a comment about not wanting a green costume which, I’d imagine, was an intentional reference to his portrayal of the Green Lantern. I do think it’s strange that the movie industry utilizes the same actors for multiple characters. In fact, Ryan is probably one of the most prolific actors playing comic book characters also starring in Blade III and played Deadpool in one of the X-men movies

And now Ben Affleck is playing Batman after having played Daredevil. Which I think is actually really cool because he plays a masked vigilante who thinks he is above the law and can bring justice to criminals. But at least those are DC vs Marvel.

Well, Marvel, DC, Marvel in the case of Reynolds.

I know that an Infinity Gauntlet series is unlikely involving all characters in the Marvel universe because X-men and the Fantastic Four are owned by one production company while Avengers and Spiderman are owned by two other ones.  But it’d be made even harder with Chris Evans having to play both The Human Torch AND Captain America.  I think Fox actually did a reboot of the Fantastic Four with a new Human Torch so that may have solved that problem.
Captain America
Human Torch

Overall, there are actually a lot of actors who have played multiple super-heroes(or villains). I’m sure my list is not comprehensive but here’s who jumps out at me:

Nick Cage
Kick Ass
Ghost Rider

Jim Carrey
Kick Ass 2
Batman Forever
Will Smith
Suicide Squad

Halle Berry 

Josh Brolin

As Thanos in Guardians of the Galaxy and the lead role in Johas Hex

Aaron Taylor-Johnson

In Kick-Ass and Avengers as Quicksilver- This is an interesting case of Quicksilver being able to be used both by X-men and Avengers since the character crossed over a lot in the books and neither producer has full rights to him. So that's the instance where two actors are playing essentially the same character at the same time(X-Men Days of Future Past and Avengers-Age Ultron). Obviously a bit different than Eric Bana then Edward Norton both playing the Hulk prior to Mark Ruffalo now taking the lead.

Benicio Del Toro In Guardians of the Galaxy and Sin City
Hugo Weaving

In V for vendetta and as Red Skull in Captain America

And looking at the above picture, how can we forget Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta and then as Thor's love interest in the Avengers Series. Then you've got the cross-over, actor of  Rebecca Romijn (Stamos?) as Mystique in x-men but then playing a non-hero alongside the Punisher.

I'm sure there are so many more but it's funny just looking at the list I've created how many actors have taken on several roles. I wonder if after having poor success with their first(look at Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Green Lantern, Johas Hex, Ghost Rider) they wanted redemption with a second(better produced hero).

So far, I'd say they've all succeeded and I'm hoping Ben Affleck does with Batman vs Superman(as well as a role in Suicide Squad I believe).

We will have to wait and see. Happy watching!

Until Next Time,


Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Beauty of Running; or The Intersection of Math and Running

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

Since my walk to 4th place at the Suriname Marathon, I have wanted redemption and to run a fast marathon. The thing is that there aren't too many marathons(despite what you may think from Guyana and Suriname having back to back marathons a week a part) in this neck of the woods. However, after a web search, I did find one in Trinidad in mid- January. Luckily, flights to Trinidad are super cheap and I was actually able to change my flight to include Trinidad with my Barbados trip( I am meeting Kenny in Barbados after the race) for a minimal price change. So I'm doing another marathon in about a month....

Walking those last 6 miles in Suriname is still vivid in my mind and I do not want to do that again. So I've been ramping up my mileage. The thing is, I do a fair amount of trails so I have had to guess how far I've been going. I've got a rough estimate of how far I've gone but it's pretty much just based on my estimate of distance based on how long it took me. Which can be variable with my having to dodge cow droppings and jump trenches.

An easier way to do it would be to use some math. I can use the pythagorean theorem to do this.
(c is the hypotenuse(the long side of the triangle) and the a and b are the other two sides. Square the two sides add them together and then take the square root. Then you know the hypotenuse's length.)

For example, one trail is the hypotenuse of two roads whose mileage I do know. While it may not be an exact 90 degree triangle it's pretty close. So the sides are: 1.2km and 1.3km. So 1.2 squared plus 1.3 squared equals my distance squared(so I'll need to take the square root of it). So it's about 1.77 km or slightly over a mile. Not bad. Definitely a closer estimate to the actual distance.

If you've ever run a race outside of the US, you've probably noticed that the mile markers come a lot sooner. Like every kilometer or so. Oh! That's probably because they're kilometer markers! Stupid logical measurement system. So if you're like me you probably only think in miles(sorry all you European readers). And will most of us know the basics like: 8 kilometers=5 miles, 13 kilometers= 8 miles, 21 kilometers=13 miles if you delve into the recesses of your mind, you may remember Fibonacci's principle which is an approximation of the Golden spiral or ratio. The golden ratio, not to get too mathy on you, is when two lengths have a ratio(the longer one over the shorter one) that's equal to the sum of the two over the longer one. Meaning: if you divided larger over the smaller you'll get a number that's the same if you add the two and then divide it over the larger number. To steal from wikipedia the equation looks like this:  \frac{a+b}{a} = \frac{a}{b} \ \stackrel{\text{def}}{=}\ \varphi,

So someone discovered that that ratio is 1.61... and then Fibonacci came up with a sequence of numbers that approximated the Golden ratio. And they are 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89 ... ad infinitum. The cool thing is, while the above math is pretty complex-at least for my simple mind, Fibonacci's principle is pretty simple to figure out. You start with 1,2 and then just add them together and get the next number. So 1+2=3, 3+2=5, 5+3=8 etc.

What's even cooler is that this pattern is seen everywhere. Music has it is as the basis for its musical notes. In art, Da Vinci, amongst others, used it. It's even seen in nature. Actually it's seen in nature the most. From trees to galaxies to sea shells.
15 Uncanny Examples of the Golden Ratio in Nature

It is amazing that this sequence, or ratio, is found in so many places in our lives. It doesn't surprise me that running is one of them. Patterns and consistency is a foundation of running and training(just look at the data collection most runners put when writing in their training logs) and this is just another way to express how beautiful running really is:) And another fun example of the intersections of math and running.

Until next time,


Friday, December 11, 2015

Becoming Vegetarian; or eating the "glue" of the fish

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

If you've read Upton Sinclair's Jungle and still eat processed meat, I'd say it's pretty safe to assume that either you probably did read it very thoroughly(or forgot it) or you have a poor imagination. I can say that the thought of biting into a sausage after reading what is likely to be in it is certainly not an appealing thought. But I still eat meat just not processed meat. Which I recently read is healthy for you since the carcinogens in the processed meat supposedly cause cancer at similar rates to cigarette smoking. 

Just by living off of a small food allowance has curtailed my meat eating while I am in Guyana but just as large of a factor is how close I get to the livestock. I have cows and pigs that just roam free in my neighborhood and there isn't a run that I have done that doesn't at some point involve negotiating around a herd of cows. Being so close to them allows me to see how disgusting they are. There are sores all over them and they are just filthy. So I've pretty much limited my meat intake to chicken and fish. 

That was until last night. I was out with some friends and ordered some fish cutters(a generic term for anything fried here usually some meat and is a snack). I guess I haven't looked too closely at them before but after getting a fried head complete with the eye balls, I have decided that I can cross fish off my list(at least when eating out) too. 
The fish head

Even grosser, in my opinion, is the jaw of obviously a much bigger fish. One friend said: "that's the best part. You get the glue." Yes glue.

But you have to be wary of fish here anyway because, supposedly, the way the transport the fish catch is up to international norms so it's actually safer to eat the salt fish.  

I may just go vegetarian. When you think about it, it actually makes sense. Part of my mission here is sustainability, and eating meat is far less sustainable than eating a plant-based diet. When you think about it, we are providing nutrition to livestock, only to get nutrition. Why not cut out the middle man and just eat the plants ourselves? 

I  just read a study that livestock is one of the number one reasons why we are developing antibiotic resistance, because farmers use them to prophylactically keep their cows from getting sick(and thus losing weight). We them consume the antibiotics and the bugs get resistant to them and ineffective.

In addition to antibiotic resistance, livestock have been blamed for increases in greenhouse gas emissions. The UN found that raising animals for food contributes more pollution than all of vehicles in the world! And while I don't want a flame-war over whether you believe in global warming or not, I cannot think of anyone who can argue more methane gas is a good thing...

Add to that the amount of water and land livestock have to consume and then throw in the amount of water becomes polluted with water run-off and it is pretty compelling to avoid meat. Then consider how much we have depleted our fish stock throughout the world and I'd say becoming a vegetarian is easier and easier to consider.

I probably won't ever really become one, because once I tell people I am, there's all this pressure to NEVER eat meat. I don't want to make that kind of commitment. But what I will do is commit to eating as little as possible which I am sure will probably help.

Until next time,


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A New Spin on New Year's Resolutions; or getting to the root of our ruts.

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

Every year since the beginning of time(or at least I started writing this blog), I have done a new years resolution blog a few days before January with all of these recommendations on how to stay(or get) healthy. Even last year, I did one, albeit my laziest to date. But I'd say that through the years I've given everyone some pretty good insight on how to get and stay healthy.

As well-intentioned as they were, I think the problem with this is that(besides the fact that my readership population skews to the healthy side of the nature) it doesn't address motivation and getting you away from the computer and out the door(or at least standing or brushing your teeth).

What I should have done and what I hope to do this year, is give you some info on some of the subtle ways your body and mind may be holding you back."Getting healthy" often isn't enough for most people to make huge changes in their lives.  And while most of my recommendations weren't too huge individually, when you look at them together they can be overwhelming.

And that was my first mistake. To increase the likelihood of getting someone to do something, you really should minimize choices. Too many and you get decision paralysis which can lead to increased stress and decreased feelings of control.

Feelings of control is imperative in health and wellness. People who feel they have no control over their situations(i.e. an external locus of control), have significantly worse mental health outcomes and are harder to motivate and actually have shorter life spans(remember those patients in the nursing home who were told they needed to water the plants and then lived longer?. This also of control(real or perceived) can lead to learned helplessness.

I know there are better videos online to explain learned helplessness but I like this one because it's from 1952 which tells me we've known about this theory for a long time.  Loss of control can go hand and hand with low self esteem(but doesn't have to: think of the overachiever in school who has plenty of self efficacy but maybe not such high self-esteem).

Low self-esteem besides obvious mental health issues, can also impact one's motivation through something called the attributional theory. Typically when we do something good we attribute it to an inherent intrinsic skill(i.e. get an A on the test and you are SMART). Fail the test though? Now you blame it on a malleable intrinsic fault(like not studying enough). People with low self-esteem may view that A as being due to luck while an F is sure sign of stupidity. This also occurs with health where people with low self-esteem may view themselves as unable to get healthy because of some intrinsic  fail in their body.

So obviously the perfect storm would be someone with an external locus of control, learned helplessness, low self-esteem and efficacy who has decision paralysis. What to do with a person like that?

I'd say pick the easier thing to accomplish. Maybe that's flossing your teeth everyday or spending some time dedicated to mindfulness. Whatever is least stressful and most do-able. Like those nursing home residents who "just" watered the plants, this one task may be what it takes to improve your ability to view yourself as having the opportunity to make a change. I realize this has already been pretty esoteric, but there is one more theory that can come into play. And that's the exposure effect.

This theory suggests that things we are frequently exposed to we will eventually develop a natural fondness of. Obviously we can all think of  a song on the radio that we have been OVERLY exposed to that negates this theory but the thought is more on the moderate frequency(like exercising 5-6 days a week, or participating in a yoga class a few days a week). The more you do it, the more you like it.
Coming from someone that used to hate running, it is true. It just takes time. I promise.

Good luck!

Until next time,


Sunday, December 6, 2015

New7Wonders of the World

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

I'm not sure if you remember back to 2007 when the new 7 Wonders of the World competition had completed and, after weighing in on 100 million votes, the new seven wonders of the world were announced.

I think I briefly looked at it but didn't give it much thought. But, as I solidify my plans to travel with my brother to Peru and Machu Picchu, I have looked at it again. Definitely offers  a good variety of locations and a good challenge to visit them all.

For a refresher, here is the list:

1) Great Wall of China- China
So far the only one that I have been to.
Danny with his Sissy and her husband:)

2) Petra- Jordan
I think only my brother Andrew has been to Petra...
The end of the Siq, with its dramatic view of Al Khazneh ("The Treasury")
3) The Colosseum- Rome, Italy
I think all of my siblings, except me have been to the Colosseum.
The Colosseum at dusk: exterior view of the best-preserved section
The Coloseum-probably the most accessible wonder
4) Chichen Itza- Yucatan, Mexico
Again, Matt has been here. Looks cool:)

Chichen Itza 3.jpg
Chichen Itza

5) Machu Picchu-Cusco, Peru
This June, my brother Matt and I will be going here and my sister Marilyn and her husband may join us too:)

Machu Picchu

6) Taj Mahal- Agra, India
The Taj Mahal
I don't think anyone in my family has been here or anywhere in India... Unless you count our adopted brother, Harry.
The "family"

7) Christ the Redeemer- Rio, Brazil
As far as I know, only my brother Matt has been here. I may try to sneak over when I finish up in Guyana.
Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro
The Redeemer
While all of these places certainly are wonder-full, I have to say that in nature we can find so many more wonders. The view from a mountain top, smell and sounds of the ocean(or of a first snow fall), the depth of a canyon and the beauty of a country side are just some pretty amazing wonders that I hope I never tire of seeing and experiencing.
View from my bike ride tonight

My little neighbor:) 

Until next time,


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tolstoy’s Daily Schedule

I was reading a National Geographic article on Leo Tolstoy(from our collection of magazines from the 1970-80’s. In it, the author spoke about his daily schedule. Supposedly, every day was broken up into four parts.

Here’s his schedule:
  •          Waking until Breakfast: Physical Activity
  •          Breakfast until Lunch: Mental activity(in his case, reading and writing etc)
  •          Lunch until Dinner: Artistic and creative activities
  •          After Dinner: Time spent with his family and loved ones.

Obviously, he had the advantage of being an author and not having to “work” during the day, but I think we can all do a better job of balancing our lives. I know some very good athletes who provide themselves very little intellectual stimulus and some very cerebral individuals who are one milk shake from death. And there are others who neglect their family for one of these other endeavors. It’s the balance of these activities (you don’t have to knit, just find something that brings out some creativity), that allow us to have full life experiences and enjoy all aspects of our life.

Tolstoy is actually a pretty amazing person. Supposedly it was him who convinced Gandhi to utilize non-violence to elicit change in India. And I believe two of his books are listed as numbers 1 and 3 on the all time best book list. Not too shabby. 

I guess it's probably time that I suck it up and read his books.

Speaking of avoiding reading by paying attention to other mediums, I'm taking a Coursera course right now on leadership and it was talking about happiness. There is a lot of evidence that about 50% of our happiness is genetic and fairly rigid(meaning that it's our base line and doesn't change with events). 10%  of our happiness depends on life circumstances(like employment, relationship status etc), and the remaining 40% is internal. And it's in this 40% that we can make our own happiness. People who exercise, help others, adapt positive attributes, have positive social interactions are happier. Amazingly, they also get sick less frequently and live longer!

Note:How is it possible to know whether happy people live longer as opposed to people who live longer are happier(maybe because they have less things making them sick)?
The answer came in a longitudinal study on nuns which looked at their affect when they were in their 20's and then they were followed through their years(and years) in the convent. Those who had expressed higher levels of happiness lived longer!

Take away from today's blog. Set a schedule and dedicate yourself to all elements of your life, help others, be positive and stay active! Happiness will follow.

Until next time,