The Diet Dirt Week 5 (sorry, no Week 4)

Last week my diet was basically non-existant.  I was eating every single meal at work, which is always hard.  By dinner - which is always my biggest meal - I was tired, sore, hungry and weak with cravings.  I was getting sick of Lean Cuisines and coffee only takes me so far with the energy.  I needed calories, and even though I was pretty sure that I didn't exercise enough to justify it, I ate on-campus two nights in a row.  Both nights contained french fries, and one night also included chicken fingers.  Fried, fried, and more fried.  But it helped, and although I sort of regreted it, I had to be ok with my decision.

On Monday morning I weighed myself and was pleasantly surprised!  I had only gained about 6/10ths of a pound!  However, I wrote it off just being a fluke - I was probably dehydrated or something.  But the next morning I was back down to the 149.8 that I had started off the week at, even with all of those fries!  And this morning I was down even more!

Days on diet: 38
Starting weight: 154.4 (as of Monday, 8/24)
Current Weight: 148.8 (9/30)
Goal weight: 140
Weight lost:5.6
Weight left to lose: 8.8

I'm feeling great and happy that I didn't totally undo all of the hard work from the previous weeks.  When I sat down and added up all of the time that I spent patrolling campus, it was nearly 16 hours.  Now granted, I was walking at cardio speeds or anything during those 16 hours, but I was walking, and 16 hours of leisurely walking apparently adds up to a lot of calories burned.

And remember that exercise ticker that I posted a few weeks ago?  I've been keeping up with that as well and am now at 875 minutes.

I'm about halfway through the challenge, which ends on October 31st, but am only at 43.75% of my goal, so I do have some catching up to do.  I plan to work hard tonight and tomorrow, since Friday night I'll be going to a Freedom Area High School football game and Saturday night is our now annual Oktoberfest bonfire.  It's been cold in Pennsylvania, so hopefully there won't be snow!

Rest In Peace, Alien


On Saturday night, a terrible thing happened during a particularly vicious game of tug-of-war with Murphy.  Alien's foot was torn off.

For those of you who didn't know Alien, he played many roles in our lives.  Alien was always the first toy that Murphy would run to in the mornings and when we got home from work.  It was the one toy that he knew by name.  I believe that Murphy thought of Alien as his best friend.  Dave, on the other hand, believed that Murphy thought Alien was his son.  Whatever the case may be, Murphy really loved Alien, and it's sad to see him mangled and lacking an entire leg.

Murphy in the background, eating a biscuit, oblivious to Alien's pain

Murphy, in his grand excitement to have us home after a long evening locked up in the bathroom, didn't understand what had happened and moved on to eating.  Knowing that Alien likely wouldn't be able to hang on for much longer, I took a few minutes to document his existence, and to make this video in his memory.

As of right now, Alien is still hanging out and can be seen around the house, but we have been slowly trying to introduce New Alien into his life - a purple alien made from the same material and from the same alien planet.   His days are surely numbered though.  Rest in Peace, Alien.  Murphy will miss you more than you'll ever know.

Happy Birthday, Kyle!

Saturday night was the birthday party of my dear cousin, Kyle.  His 30th birthday party was held at a restaurant near our house, and it was a fancy affair, with gourmet macaroni and cheese (made with goat cheese), squash and pumpkin raviolis, mini-burgers, and fried zucchini stuffed with cheese.  Had I known how much food was going to be there, I would have skipped dinner. 

I didn't get many pictures from the night, but his whole family was in attendance and I did get one of Kyle with all of his siblings!

What a nice picture!

Happy 30th Birthday, Kyle!

I Survived The G-20

Do you think that there will be T-shirts out in the near future that say something like that?

There was definitely activity on campus today, and it was actually the largest gathering on campus this entire week.  However, the group was relatively calm, and they were all holding signs that said things like, "Solar Power," "Wind Mills," and "Safe Food," all things that I could agree with.  That was different than the anarchist group that came through yesterday that had signs with sayings such as "Declare War on Sterile Machines Now!"  What does that even mean?

Marching towards Forbes Avenue

 These protesters were so peaceful they actually waited at the corner for the "walk" signal 
And here is a video of a part of the protest - sorry for the poor video quality. 

The other exciting thing that I saw today were these mini electric cars that were literally zipping around campus for about half an hour.

Apparently, the Chinese (or maybe the Koreans) will be opening two plants to manufacture these vehicles - one in Allegheny County and one in Philadelphia.  They're very similar to the Smart Cars that you see on the road now, just a different brand.  They're electric, so they're practically silent.

The G-20 is over, and the last hurdle that I have to overcome is getting to the North Side tonight without any confrontation - apparently there is a protest going on over there right now, and we are going to the Pirates game!  Perhaps I'll have even more photos after tonight!

Oh, Oakland....

Pitt students are a crazy bunch. As a Pitt alum, I really do love Oakland and have fond memories of exciting events during my college years.  But Pitt students are getting a bad reputation for their love of rioting and causing mass destruction.  There is some weird group-think mentally that permeates the students there whenever something exciting happens.  I was part of that too, back in the day, but I feel like we were never destructive then - instead, it was more about just being out in the excitement and being a small part of something much bigger. 

I woke up this morning (at 4:50 a.m. nonetheless) and turned on the 5 o'clock news to see that there had been a lot of activity in Oakland overnight.  My drive in this morning confirmed that - boarded up windows in multiple businesses and trash everywhere.  It was a very similar scene to that of the post-Super Bowl celebrations and riots that occurred in Oakland last year, only there were significantly more police present this year, and probably a lot more non-student protesters as well.

I'm patrolling Forbes Avenue this morning, until noon.  They are expecting significantly increased amounts of pedestrian traffic due to the scheduled protest at Fifth and Craft at noon today.  Hopefully all will be quiet.

G-20 End of Day Update

Things got exciting for a brief time this afternoon.  After my last update, one of the break-off groups of anarchist protesters headed to campus and I encountered them as I was trying to walk back to my office.  

A co-worker and I was walking through campus looking at some of the various art projects on display for the G-20, and noticed that the helicopters that had previously been following the protests in Lawrenceville were come closer and closer.  That's when we saw this crew:

After hearing all of the news about the problems they were creating in Lawrenceville, I was a little nervous that something would happen, but they were actually quite peaceful and just yelled things like "Come join us!"  Needless to say, I did not.

Protest group crossing the street to campus

Since we were campus monitors, we decided to follow the group across the street to see where they were going. We were stopped, however, after another - unrelated protest group - headed our way.

 I named them the "Fairy Protesters"

Oddly enough though, you can't really see the fairies in these pictures

Around this time, the helicopters really started hovering directly over campus, particularly over the lot where I park my vehicle.  Later on, I realized that they were actually following vehicles traveling to Phipp's for the state dinner.

Speaking of Phipp's and the dinner, we walked to the edge of campus nearest Schenley Park where they had erected the giant perimeter fence.  

The picture does not begin to do justice to describe how expansive this fence was

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there were quite a few art projects up around campus.  During my morning rounds, I had the opportunity to meet quite a few of the art professors who were supporting these student based projects, and it was fascinating to know that all of these "installations" were for academic classes.  Here are a few of those projects:

The shanty town

"Heads" of State

A giant "help wanted" sign
(you can see the N and T from wanted most clearly here)

A giant LED squid 
(I can't remember what this was supposed to mean or represent)

And finally, I'll end with a few photos of Phipp's Conservatory shortly before the State Dinner was scheduled to begin. 

Dignitaries arriving

Military police

Country flags of the G-20 representatives

All in all, the day ended up being far more interesting than I had anticipated.  There were a few moments there were I thought that things were going to get ugly, and I know that there was quite a bit of property damage in the Bloomfield/Shadyside/North Oakland area, but for some reason, by the time they got to us, it was completely peaceful.  I am thinking that tomorrow is going to be quieter, but only time will tell.  I have to go in at 7 a.m. tomorrow, which will be an interesting experiment in waking up early.  Until then....

G-20 Update

Lots going on with the G-20 right now, although campus is still quiet.

President Obama has just landed and I just watched him exit the plane on a live TV stream through KDKA.  The unauthorized protest consisting of as many as 2000 protesters (mostly self-claimed anarchists) started their March in Lawrenceville and were quickly stopped by police.  Through Twitter feeds, it sounds like tear gas has been deployed and there are rumors that sound weapons emitting noise that bring people to their knees.   Video is up showing the tear gas being tossed at the protesters and the protesters trying to kick the cans away. 

KDKA just confirmed the use a "high-pitched" sound to drive away protesters. Apparently the police are moving towards downtown to form a new "line," and the protesters are trying to break apart into smaller groups to get around them.

Source -

Campus activity is expected to pick up around 4:30.  I plan to go out around that time to see what's going on.

I Wish Everyday Was G-20 Day

The city and media has effectively scared all residents and employees into staying in their homes.  Traffic this morning was AMAZING.  I wish every day were G-20 day if it meant that my commute would be as easy-breezy as it was today.  So much of my stress and anxiety would be eliminated!

I woke up at 5:15 a.m. (ok... I actually set my alarm for 5:15 but work up around 5:35 a.m.) so that I could turn on the morning news to see what the traffic reports were like.  There is a particular blond newscaster (I won't name names) on the local news channel that I generally watch that I do not like at all.  She makes random comments that make her seem unintelligent, and today was no exception when she said, "I'm sure that traffic is just a mess; let's check in with Traffic."  Traffic then reported than everything was great and amazing and that there were no back-ups or delays or accidents or anything and that all roadways were essentially clear.  Stupid.

Anyway, I was thrilled to hear that my commute wouldn't be a problem, but I was already up and showered, and decided that it woudn't be worth it to go back to sleep.  So, I just took my time getting ready, and left around the same time that I usually do to get here at 8:15, and yet I got here at 7:45 instead.

Today is day 2 of 3 days of campus monitoring, and my second day in a row where I have to work a 12 hour shift.  I should be able to leave here at 8 p.m. and I have to be back here by 7 a.m. tomorrow morning.  I will be glad when this week is over (minus the great traffic perk) since this kind of schedule leaves me exhausted.

My weight loss plan is essentially non-existent this week, and I'm ok with that.  Last night at ate seasoned waffle fries and they were amazing!  Totally worth the guilt.

I'll post an update later today if there is anything to tell!

It Breaks My Heart...

A week or so ago I was going through my Google Reader, and noticed that one of the blogs that I follow had a link to another blog, with the note to pray for this person who had suffered through breast cancer, had just given birth two weeks ago, and was not doing well.

I start following this new blog as well, and was captivated by the couple.  If you have some time, I definitely encourage you to check out their blog -

Since I know that not everyone will have time to read their site, I am going to give a summary below.  Please keep in mind that I don't know these people at all, but I found them to be so amazingly positive and inspirational.  I will also mention that they are very religious and write about this frequently, so if that bothers you, you might not find this as interesting. 
I simply can't help but feel like I know them through reading their blog, and the story is absolutely heartbreaking. 

Sara was diagnosed with breast cancer in the spring, and found out around the same time that she was pregnant.  She went through surgery and chemo and all of the horrible things associated with cancer and yet always had a smile on her face.  Their baby continued to grow at a healthy rate but then Sara had some complications with her pregnancy, probably due to the chemo.  Because of these problems, they had to deliver the baby two months early and possibly due to a problem with the epidural injection, Sara suffered from strange headaches and pains in her neck and spine following her c-section.  There was apparently brain compression, and she was declared brain dead only two days after she was able to take her baby home.  Her baby is only 2 and a half weeks old.  I was choked up reading the last few posts, and her husband dealt with the news, and had real tears when he had to make the decision to take her off of the ventilator.

She was a beautiful and inspiring woman and a great example of why we should all live to see the positive aspects of life.  She was always smiling....

And So Begins the G-20

Today is day 1 of 3 where I am a campus monitor for the G-20 summit (yesterday I was also a monitor, but it was for the Bill Gates speech.)  I started my first shift at 8 a.m. this morning and it proved to be interesting.

My shift starting by patrolling a building where a Board of Regents meeting was occurring.  Nothing particularly exciting happened but I did get to see the fence and barricades that has been constructed around Schenley Park in preparation for the state dinner being hosted by President Obama tomorrow evening at Phipp's Conservatory.  Campus was definitely buzzing and there were a few small groups of protesters at the intersection near my building.  There was a call over the some of the police officers CB radios reporting at group of approximately 30 protesters and also requesting back-up.  We started walking the campus and realizing that the "group of 30" was actually split into 3 smaller groups.  There was honestly nothing to be concerned about with them, but I do think that campus police are nervous that things will get out of control.

There is a tent city/shanty town that was constructed as an "art installation" which has attracted some protestors, who are led to believe that protestors are welcome to set up camp.  It has certainly become the meeting place for individuals that look like the "stereotypical" protesters.  Some are students, some are not - it's hard to tell and since it's a manageable number right now I think that the university is going to let them be.

Around 10:30 a.m. or so, a group of about 40 to 50 state troopers arrived on campus and surrounding the main administration building. 

Image credit -

See the corner of the red banner in the upper left corner?  That's where I was standing when the officers arrived and lined up.  I was with a relatively high-ranking university official, and can't share details, but I will say that it's is fascinating and at the same time intimidating to see that kind of police presence on campus.  I spoke with quite a few of them over the next hour or so and they were all very kind and respectful.  I actually feel bad that they have such a boring job.

There was a student protest that was scheduled to come through campus at noon.  One of the group's leaders notified campus police that they would be coming through, and to let the police know that they had no intention of stopping on campus or causing any trouble.  They did as they claimed, although we stayed there while they went through to be an administrative presence.  The picture below is not a high quality photo, but is the actual group that went through while I was on duty.

Photo credit -

The roar of the helicoptors is constant.  ( Some are news helicoptors, and others are apparently police choppers.  The noise of sirens and motorcycles has already become a regular sound.  Most students are confused by the police presence and have been unabashedly photographing them.  I actually feel bad for the police, since they've basically become spectacles.

There is a definite feel of static electricity in the air, almost as if you can feel that something might happen.  I think that feeling might be created anytime there is a large police presence, but this being one of my first experiences with a political issue of such a magnitude, it's a new feeling. 

It's raining now, so I think that will dampen the protests planned for this afternoon.  Although I hate being out in the rain - and I will be out ALL day tomorrow - in many ways I hope that it will rain tomorrow as well, so that things are quieter than they are currently predicting.

I will be working until at least 8 p.m. tonight.  If there are any updates, I will let you all know!

My Final Harvest

On Wednesday (same night as Murphy's seizure) I spent an hour or so in my garden, collecting what I believe will probably be the final harvest of the season.  The cucumbers have been long gone and the bean plants are now dying and turning brown.  Unfortunately, I didn't catch this earlier in the week, so quite a few beans were lost.  I started picking beans like crazy - and even though the plants are dying, for some reason, new beans keep popping up like the plant doesn't know that it's end is near! (Ok, maybe it really doesn't know.)  I picked small beans that I normally wouldn't, and only left the really small ones.  I know that it's possible that these will die over the next few days if the plant dies, but they were so small and underdeveloped that I don't even think they would have tasted right.

What was perhaps most exciting for me was the corn!!! Our corn plants never really matured.  They were always only about 4 feet high, and each only had one ear of tiny corn growing on it - never more than that.  So, I had low expectations for the corn even though I was thrilled to see that corn was actually being produced.

Well, now the corn plants are dying and starting to turn brown as well, so I figured it was time to pluck the corn and see how it fared.  I was pleasantly surprised!!!


Even though the ears were tiny, there was actually corn on them!!!  The corn that was there seemed to be fully developed and looked good!  I was able to get about 8 miniature ears - more than I ever thought I would given the appearance of the stalks.  I'm not sure how it's going to taste, but I'm excited to find out!

The Nightmare that is the G-20 Summit

This is the week where the city of Pittsburgh will be hosting the G-20 summit.  I am basically uneducated about the event, but I know that the general idea is that world leaders of the 20 largest economies are going to meet for two days, lots of people are going to protest, and lots of streets and businesses are going to be closed.

My workplace, unfortunately, will not be closed.  When I heard about the G-20, I asked if I could use vacation days for those two days, since I already have a hellish commute and wanted to avoid something even worse.  However, my request was denied and not only am I not permitted to take off those days, but I have to work multiple 12 hour days in a row!!!  I am NOT an hourly employee, so all of my extra time is 100% uncompensated.  It is frustrating to say the least. 

I am not good at crisis management - as I wrote just the other day, I can barely keep it together when my dog is having a crisis, let alone a large group of people.  I don't understand protestors or their motivation for protesting, and honestly, I find the whole idea rather annoying.  There are a million ways to raise awareness about something - rioting and reeking havoc on a poor city selected by the government to host an event isn't it, in my humble opinion. 

Everyone here seems to be preparing for the worst, except for me.  Call me reactive, but I like to hope for the best and if the worst happens, then I'll deal with it at the time.  All of the planning and media attention only draws more attention to the matter and creates a greater sense of panic, which we really don't need right now.  I can't wait for this week to be over.  I've been saying that for weeks already, but now that's it's finally here and I know how much my life is going to be sucked in by being at work, it's even more so.  I am a person who greatly values a strong work/life balance.  Work is a big part of my life -simply because of the amount of time that I have to dedicate to it - but it is NOT my life, and sometimes when weeks like these come up, I feel like everyone expects work to be my life.  It is one of the main reasons that I generally don't hang out with co-workers outside of work - although I am easily able to control my on/off switch, I've found that others can't do it quite so easily, and since I'm not interested in talking about work outside of work, I avoid situations like those.

That said, the G-20 has been a nightmare from the beginning, but now that nightmare is becoming a reality.  I've already been warned that I might not get to go home, that I should bring an air-mattress and keep it in my car just in case.  That's probably a smart idea, but I'm going to hope for the best and just keep hope that I will make it home each night.  After 12 hour days, I am NOT interested in sleeping on an air mattress in my office.

Wish me luck....

I Have Under-Appreciated My Left Arm

Being a right-handed person, I have not consciously thought much about my left arm.  Until yesterday actually, when I got a flu shot by a nurse that I am pretty sure was brand-spanking new, and now I can't move my left arm up or down, and can only really function if movement is contained below the elbow.

I am not generally a cry-baby.  I am the type of person that burns my arm on a hot stove and I scream silently.  I'm not one to call off sick from work every time I have a cold, and in all of the years that I've gotten a flu shot, I haven't been particularly inconvenienced.

My left arm hurts. So. Bad.  I can't even tell you.  I was the weirdo at my Zumba class last night doing all of the arm movements with my right arm only.  I moaned in pain and woke up every time I unconsciously rolled over on my left side in my sleep.  I literally screamed in pain this morning when I was trying to take off the T-shirt that I was sleeping in so that I could dressed for work.  It is basically undescribable how much this hurts.  One of my co-workers went to get her shot (which she didn't get because they ran out) and she happened to mention that "someone that she worked with" was really sore from the shot.  They basically didn't believe her. 

Is it normal for a flu shot to hurt SO bad?

Little Seizer

I enjoy giving Murphy a new nickname almost every day, depending on his most recent antics.  Sometimes I called him "Barker" or "Digger" or "Deer Hunter" - not very creative, I know.  But last night, I had to bring back a nickname that I'm not so fond of - Little Seizer.

Yes, Murphy had another seizure last night.  It's only been two months since his last one, and as always it broke my heart.

My Little Seizer

We had just gotten back from a walk, and I was downstairs on the exercise bike, trying to get an extra 15 minutes in.  Two minutes into my workout, Murph comes downstairs.  He's panty and looks a little shaky but I figured it was just because he was exhausted from our walk (we also jogged for a short period of time, which always wears him out more than just a normal walk.)  Murphy walked towards me and right into my moving foot on the bike pedal.  I stopped pedaling, and Murph looked dazed.  He continued coming towards me, and sat on the carpet next to the chair for a moment before heading for the coffee table.  He was unsteady on his feet and definitely looked confused.  He keep looking at me with sad, sad eyes, and I started to realize that something might be wrong.  I got off of the bike and patted a spot on the couch where he likes to lay.  He jumped up, but wouldn't lay down, and I noticed that his front legs were trembling.  I tugged at his legs to get him to lay down, and that's when his body started contorting. 

Now, understand that I am NOT good with these kinds of things.  I get all panicky and crazy and all of the things that are NOT helpful in emergency situations.  And I was alone in the basement.  Not good. But, I managed to quickly pick up Murphy as gently as I could (considering that he was bent at weird angles and all of his limbs were stiff) and start running up the stairs, all while yelling, "Dave!?!? Murphy is having a seizure!"  On the phone with his mom, he quickly hung up and I laid Murphy down on the living room floor. 

He was moving and contorting in the weirdest, least natural positions ever.  His mouth was open and saliva was dripping from it.  I had my hands over my mouth, trying not to make any panicky noises.  Dave was petting Murphy and saying comforting things, since there's really not much else that we can do.  I went and got a bowl of water, as he seemed to be coming out of the seizure, but as soon as the first seizure was over, another one started up and he got all crazy again.  He knocked over the bowl of water during a particularly spastic seize and I could barely stay in the room.  I went and got some treats and a paper towel - anything to keep myself occupied. 

After about three minutes, he started calming down.  We were on high alert for a third round, but thankfully it never came.  After about 10 minutes, he was willing to eat, and he enjoyed receiving multiple treats in a row.  Since our theory is that his seizures are related to low-blood sugar, we felt that getting some food into his body was important.  That may or may not be true.  We did take him to the vet after the seizure in July and most of his tests came back normal, except for his thyroid, which was slightly abnormal.  The subsequent tests to confirm a thyroid problem were going to be over a hundred dollars, and we sat on thinking about it for too long to use the original blood draw, so we just let it drop, thinking that we would see how the low-blood-sugar-theory played out.  Now, with this latest episode occurring on a day when we know that Murphy ate his regular serving of food, I'm concerned that it may not be low blood sugar after all.

I've always said that I would do anything for Murphy, but spending hundreds of dollars for tests that might not prove anything is frustrating.  What to do.... what to do?

Diet Dirt Week 3

Week 3 ended a few days ago, but I am only now getting to post about it. 

Here are my stats so far:

Days on diet: 23
Starting weight: 154.4 (as of Monday, 8/24)
Current Weight: 150.4 (9/15)
Goal weight: 140
Weight lost: 4
Weight left to lose: 10.4

I am no longer keeping track of the number of days that I exercised or ate at or under my recommended daily caloric intake.  Suffice it to say that I try to exercise for at least 60 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, and I always try to stay under my RDCI.  Usually, as long as I exercise, I'm there, since burning calories means that I can eat more as long as I still net around 1200 per day.

Exercising is finally starting to feel like a part of my routine again.  Early on I was having the hardest time finding the motivation.  But now that the fall TV shows are starting up, it helps to keep me on track.  I start at 8 with a good show, and usually try to do 30 minutes on the treadmill and 30 minutes on the exercise bike. And recently we'v been walking Murphy around 9:15 p.m. or so since there usually aren't many dogs out around that time.  It's been working well over (until last night, when there at least 5 other dogs out and he was horrible!!!)

Even with all of this exercise and eating, I know that my weight is plateauing because I've been stuck around 150 for a few days now.  On Sunday morning I was 149.8, but I slept late so I think I was just dehydrated.  My goal for the next couple of weeks is to burn at least 500 calories per workout. This means that I need to do a lot more running and a lot less walking, and when I'm on the bike I need to have it at a resistance of 5 or higher.

Tonight I start my Zumba class again, which is probably more than just "low impact aerobic" exercise, but I'm counting it as that for lack of a better option.  For 50 minutes (I always like to underestimate), it tells me I'll burn 268 calories.  If I do some additional running/walking/biking tonight, I'm sure I can reach my goal of burning 500 calories.

Here's my exercise ticker, which may not show how many days I exercised, but it does reflect how many minutes I've spent exercising since September 1st!

Now the battle to lose weight really begins...

Vacation Destination #3 - Riviera Maya

I had not previously considered Riviera Maya at all.  In my mind, it was basically Cancun, and Cancun is sort of spring-breaker-trashy, which I wasn't interested in.  However, we went and spoke with a travel agent yesterday (well, actually we wanted to just pick up some brochures, but ended up having to spend almost 45 minutes there while she tried to sell us a trip), and I've decided to include Riviera Maya into my list of possible destinations, since long flights and high prices were making some of the Caribbean islands that I was looking into less desirable.

We told the agent some of things that were looking for as well as our budget.  She listed the Dreams chain of resorts as a possible option because they do not require reservations for their restaurants and because the Dreams resorts are usually 4 or 5 star hotels.  However, the prices that she was quoting us were around $1700 per person, which seemed like a little much, especially when you consider that the Dreams resorts do not include  tips at the bars and restaurants within the resort, which can add substantial cost.

However, I went to since that's one of the main sites that I use to read reviews, and the prices were substantially lower.  Now, I do know that the Apple vacations prices includes transportation from the airport and that the Orbitz prices do not, but from what I read on reviews, it's very economical to just rent a car and that way you can drive to the various excursions as well without having to pay the exorbitant "excursion" prices.  And even if you want to add the roundtrip airport transportation through Orbitz, it's still relatively affordable.

Dreams Tulum ( is located south of the main section of Riviera Maya, but close to Tulum, which houses a set of popular Mayan ruins.  Dreams does not require you to make reservations at any of their fine dining restaurants - you basically just show up to be seated and sometimes you may have to wait a few minutes, but it's basically like going to an American restaurant.  Most reviewers actually commented that they never had to wait at all to be seated.  Other reviewers also commented on how there were always a lot of beach chairs available and that they never had to "reserve" one - a clear plus for me.

In general, most reviewers gave the resort 4 or 5 stars, except for one person who was displeased with not receiving a honeymoon package.  Tips are not included at this resort, and most reviewers did mentiont that it is important to make sure that you leave tips, but some also mentioned things like "$50 in tips for a week goes a long way," and to me, that seems very reasonable.  It's also child-friendly, has a designated children's area where they are supervised during the day, and reviewers commented that the children were never in the way. 

I priced Dreams Tulum on both Orbitz and Apple Vacations.  Orbitz prices definitely won out, with the total package price adding up to about $2850 for two people, which included an upgraded room (from a standard room to a suite) and shuttle transportation from the airport.  Apple's price was $3100 for two, but did not include their trip insurance, which they really pressure you to buy (the travel agent also pressured us to purchase this - I'm not sure that I see the value considering it adds almost $200 to the overall price.)

So, Riviera Maya is definitely in the mix now, and I will continue to look into other resorts in this area to see if there are any others to add.  Swine flu and the Mexico drug violence is something to consider before going to Mexico, but none of the recent reviewers mentioned anything about either.

I know that Riviera Maya is a popular destination - have you ever been there before?  Where did you stay? What did you think?

Vacation Destination #2 - Curacao

Vacation destination #2 is Curacao.  I initially chose Curacao as a country that I would like to visit based on my love for blue alcohol drinks (the liquor Blue Curacao is named after this country.)  Not a very good reason I admit.

The second reason I initially started look at Curacao is because it has a Breezes resort.  I was totally open to also checking out other resorts in Curacao, but as it turns out, Breezes is one of the only all-inclusive (I say "only" because there are some where all-inclusive is an available option, but they generally aren't true all-inclusives.)

One of the main differences between the Jamaica location and the Curacao resort is that it is family-friendly, which can really change the atmosphere when you're used to adults-only.  It could also be a non-issue, depending on how childcare is handled.

So, as I mentioned Breezes is the only all-inclusive resort in Curacao.  I know that the buffet food will be "ok," but that the fine dining restaurants are definitely decent.  Since it's family friendly, this would be a great option if my 5 year old niece ends up joining us, since they have a kid's camp where she could participate in organized activities with other kids during the day while her parents relaxed.

A huge con is that flights to Curacao are long and expensive since it's WAAAAY down near Venezuala - I'm talking close to 12 hours (with layovers).  Thus, to stay within our $1500 per person budget, we would probably only be able to do 5 nights instead of 7.  Couple that with the long flights and it really only leaves us with four full days to spend vacationing.  It is worth it? Every time I look at the pictures of the beaches I think so... (click on the source link under the photo above to see other photos from the Breezes site.)

As far as reviews go, they couldn't be more disparate!!! People either loved the place or hated it, and I'm not sure what to make of that.  I can say that the majority of reviewers though did love it (perhaps 5 loves for every 1 hate.)  Food was mentioned as being average - which is what I expect at an all-inclusive anyway - and there were a lot of raves about the friendly staff.  The haters generally complained about the rooms - one said that there was mold in his room.  Definitely gross, but why didn't they speak with someone about getting a different room?

Has anyone ever been to Curacao?  Part of it's appeal for me it that it doesn't seem like many people have been there, so it's definitely a unique destination.

Vacation Destination #1 - Jamaica

Today's vacation destination review will be Jamaica!!!

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I am starting with Jamaica because it's a country that 1. we've been to, and 2. we're willing to return to.  (We decided recently that we probably won't return to the Dominican Republic.  Although we had a good time there, too many people that we know have had bad experiences, so we're nixing it from our least - at least for this particular trip.)

It's also easiest to start with this post, because I have a lot of pictures and personal experience that I can share.

When we went to Jamaica, we stayed at the Breezes Runaway Bay Resort.

The trapeze and beach view from the buffet seating area

We booked this resort based on conversations with our travel agent, who mentioned that it had been upgraded, and because she knew that we wanted an adults-only resort with lots of included activities.  The resort was beautiful, the staff was excellent, and the food was decent.  We learned very quickly that it's best to eat at the buffet for breakfast and lunch but to do a fine-dining restaurant in the evening, since dinner at the buffet was often leftovers from lunch.  We never had any problem getting reservations at the two fine-dining restaurants, and the third didn't require reservations.  We only ate dinner at the buffet once - the first night.  The rest of the nights we at at restaurants and the last night was the "Managers Buffet" which was poolside and excellent.

One of my meals from the Italian restaurant, Pastafari

Our initial room was nice, but early on we noticed that there was a weird sewer smell coming out of the bathroom whenever a lot of people were showering or using the water.  We mentioned this to the front desk the first day and they sent someone to "fix" it.  The second day, when it wasn't fixed, we mentioned it again, and they offered to switch us to a different room the next day (they were booked that particular day because it was a Saturday.)  When we moved to our new room, we were pleased to find that it not only was sewer-smell free, but that it was newly renovated and had it's own private patio and pool!!!  We LOVED our private pool and used it every day for the rest of the trip.

Oh how I loved that pool..... 

Did it suck that our first room smelled bad? Yes, absolutely.  But the way that the staff dealt with the situation and worked to remedy it made all the difference to us, and definitely bought our loyalty.  On other note, when you're looking at hotel brochures and you see those rooms with the private pools, it's so easy to say, "I don't need that."  But ooooooohhhh.... they are so nice.  If we ever went back, we would definitely pay for the upgraded room.  With a husband who likes the shade and me who loves the hot hot sun, the private shaded patio and pool in the sun was a match made in heaven.

Finally, there are few other reasons why we would return to Breezes Runaway Bay.

1. The energy and attitude of all of the people - staff and guests both - was amazing.  Everyone was there to have a good time. Everyone was friendly to everyone else.  It made me want to go back with my friends and family.  It inspired this ENTIRE trip.

2. We didn't have to wait in line for reservations or beach chairs.  There were always more than enough chairs available whether it was by the pool or by the beach.  No one was pushy, no one needed to "reserve" chairs.  We could make reservations for dinner up until 3 p.m. each day.  Not once did we have to wait in line early in the morning.

3. The activities were great.  D and I aren't ones to participate, but we were highly amused just watching others.  From drinking games to beach volleyball, there was something for everyone.  We took advantage of everything that we could, including the trapeze lessons, snorkeling, wind sailing, and kayaking.  Everything was real and available (I say "real" because in the Dominican Republic, things that were advertised weren't always available.)

The trapeze - one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life
If we did return to Jamaica, I would also be willing to check out some of the other resorts, including the Sandals or some of the other SuperClubs-owned resorts.  Also of note is that many of the destinations in Jamaica are adults-only, so no little ones allowed.  Breezes does not have any "couples-only" restrictions, although it's possible that other places will have this restriction.  I'm not anticipating that this will be an issue, since I can't think of anyone that we know that is single and would consider going, but I suppose it's always a possibility!
Finally, things that we did not like about Jamaica was dealing with the constant attempt by locals to sell us drugs.  We were asked repeatedly if we wanted to buy drugs whenever we left the resort  - on the resort was fine though. Shopping was an awful experience because the shop-keepers were very pushy, but we're not big on shopping anyway, so we just walked away.  But it is disappointed that I wasn't even able to browse without feeling totally itimidated.
Have you ever been to Jamaica?  Did you stay at any great places???

What I'm looking for in a vacation

As I begin these summaries of prospective vacation destinations, it might be helpful for you to know what our criteria are for this trip, and how I came to these 5 finalists.

1. It must be tropical and outside the US -  I'm looking for white beaches and blue waters people! And I want to use my passport!
I'm looking for something like this

2.  It must be affordable - Our approximate budget for this trip is $1500 per person, which should include airfare, hotel, transfers, taxes, and all food and drink.  It would also ideally include water sports at the hotel such as snorkeling, however, we will consider places that do not include this.  We expect to pay more for excursions.

3. It must be All-Inclusive - (see above.)  We're hoping that quite a few people will join us on this trip, and we want everyone to have a good time.  Going to an all-inclusive means that everyone is pretty much on the same playing ground. There is no "splitting the bill" or buying rounds of drinks - everyone can just eat, drink and be merry.  On the other side of this though, all-inclusive can also mean limited dining and beverage options.  While that's ideal for us, we recognize that not everyone is going to be into this.

I love blue drinks

4. It must have decent reviews on travel sites - I've been reading reviews on Orbitz and TripAdvisor, primarily.  I'm looking for places where the majority of reviews are positive, or at the very least, honest and fact-based.  For example, if someone says that the food was awful, that doesn't tell me much, but if they tell me that they didn't enjoy the food because it was a buffet and there was only fish and pork, or something like that, then at least I know why they didn't like it.

5. It must have universal appeal - Like I mentioned above, we're hoping that perhaps a few other people will join us.  Thus, we want to make sure that it's a place that everyone will have a good time.  For example, going to a place that specializes in spa treatments or a really child-focus resort would not make sense for us. 

6. I don't want to wait in lines for hours to get dinner reservations, or have to wake up at the crack of dawn to put a towel on a beach chair to "reserve" it - Doesn't that really say it all?  Any reference to any of these two things existing at a resort, and I am immediately turned off.

For now, I think those are my main criteria.  Obviously, no matter where we decide to go, there may be others who hate the place that we chose.  Someone might hate the food, or think that their room is disgusting, even if we are perfectly happy with the exact same scenario.  My hope is that as long as we are honest about the pros and cons of each place, people will feel comfortable making the decision as to whether or not to come, and that they'll ultimately be happy or at least have a good time.  That's all that I can ask for right?

If you know of any great places that meet all of the above criteria, please comment below!

Coming up, destination #1 - Jamaica.

A New Focus

This weekend was hard on me, but I have no one to blame other than myself, so "shame on me!"

In terms of eating, I actually did ok.  But it's those liquid alcoholic calories that really did me in, in more ways than one.  After a summer of almost no drinking at all, my body was not ready for party-hardy alcohol consumption and I was hurting the next day. But I did have a great time (at the time) and I did take some pictures, so I'll post some of those soon.

I'm sad that I gained back some of the weight that I spent the last two weeks losing, but the past is the past, and I can only control the future.  So, moving forward....

This week, I'm going to focus less on the diet.  I am doing some preliminary planning for a vacation that D and I (and hopefully some of our friends and family) will be going on next summer, probably in July.  We have a budget, and I spent some time last night looking at the options that are approximately within our price range.  I am going to do a variety of posts this week, each one highlighting one of the areas that we're considering.  I'll also talk about the specific hotels that we've looked into so far that are in our price range, to see if anyone knows of any of the places and to give feedback.  Then at the end of all of the posts, I'm going to have a vote so that you can vote for where you think we should go!  Fun, right?  Hopefully... and even if no one votes, I'm sure we'll be happy with wherever we end up. 

Even though this vacation is practically a full year away, it's still exciting to plan, and keeps me occupied in the evenings (maybe to a fault, since I didn't go on the treadmill last night because I was too busy looking at beaches.)

I LOVE snorkeling....
First up will be Jamaica, since that's where we went last year, and it was a trip that really helped us to define some of the expectations that we have for a hotel and a vacation in general.  D's comment last night was, "Well, I want something at least as nice as Jamaica," and I agreed.  So, although we have a strong interest in going to a new island, we are also willing to consider going back to Jamaica, and even to the same resort if we can't find something else within our budget. 
So, anyone have any places that they LOVED in Jamaica!?!? My full write-up will come tomorrow!

Diet Dirt Week 2

Week 2 doesn't officially end until Sunday, but since I am rarely on the computer on the weekends, and since I will heading to my hometown tomorrow morning for a couple of days, I thought I'd post my reflections on week 2 today.

As of today I have officially lost 2.4 pounds.  This was initially discouraging, since I lost 2.4 pounds last week, meaning I didn't technically knock off any additional weight this week.  But, when I think about it, the first week of any diet that I ever started has always been the strongest week for me, and then it tends to plateau. And, when you consider that the plan that I'm following is supposed to result in 1.3 pounds lost per week, the fact that I've lost nearly 2.6 pounds near the end of week 2 means that I'm right on track!  I definitely feel about good about the path that I'm on, and have no doubt that I can lose that additional two-tenths of a pound by the end of the day Sunday if I'm good.

HOWEVER! That doesn't mean that it's become any easier, or that I'm any less tempted.  For example, today as I drove past the Arby's that I pass each and every day on my way to work, I noticed that they're running a special for 5 regular roast beef sandwiches for $5.  Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good sale. But do I really want to throw all of my hard work away on one meal???  (Not that I could eat 5 sandwiches myself).  We all know that it is SO easy to undue weeks of hard work in one weekend, and eating healthy can be extremely expensive (especially since we are going the organic route whenever available, which is always more expensive.)  But I persevere....

So, my week 2 stats:

Starting weight: 154.4 (as of Monday, 8/24)
Current Weight: 152.0 (9/4)
Goal weight: 140
Weight lost: 2.4
Weight left to lose: 12

# of day on diet so far: 12
# of days that I exercised: 11
# of days that I stayed with my calories: 10

With Labor Day celebrations coming up, it's going to be tough weekend, but I will do everything that I can do stay strong.  

2000 minutes

I'm fairly active on some of the "boards" on  Some of them I just read/stalk, but others I actively participate in because I genuinely enjoy it.  One thing that I love about the MFD groups is that it's completely anonymous - none of the people there know me at all, and I often like that when I'm putting myself out there.  The second thing that I like about it is that everyone on that site is there for the same reason - to lose weight.  So I've found it to be an incredibly supportive community, and I can be as involved or as uninvolved as I want to be with the groups.

There's one group in particular that I've been a part of for a long time.  Every two months, there's a new "challenge," usually named for the season or a holiday that occurs during that time frame.  Each member signs up and sets a goal for how many minutes of exercise they hope to complete during the course of the challenge.  Each day you go and post your minutes, and watch it add up towards your goal!

My goal for this challenge is 2000 minutes (hence the title of this post.)  It's just over 30 minutes per day for 61 days, which is how long the challenge runs.  I don't exercise every day, but of the 4-5 days that I do, I usually work out for at least 45 to 60 minutes, so in the end it averages out to being almost the same amount of time each week, and it allows for me to take a day off if I've worked particularly hard that week.

I just started a new challenge yesterday and began posting my stats today.  I used a ticker from to keep track of my minutes, and though some of you might enjoy using something like as well! It's great for any sort of countdown (like to a birthday or a wedding) or for a count up to a goal (like minutes spent exercising), or even for tracking weight loss.  Anyway, I think they're fun!

My exercise tracker!

Some people in the group have really ambitious goals - in fact, most of them have goals of 4000 minutes or more! However, many of those individuals don't work full-time, and I'm pretty sure I could work out more if I wasn't spending 8 hours in an office and nearly two hours in a car getting two and from said office.  Oh well...

Do you have any other fun and easy ways to keep track of things like this?

Getting used to eating "whole"

Back in the day, when we started the "anti-cancer" diet we suddenly had to incorporate an entirely new world of foods into our lives - "whole" foods.  Whole grain, whole wheat, raw vegetables, natural everything.  It was tough and for two very (previously) unhealthy eaters like D and I, it took a lot of getting used to.

Our all-natural, organic garden

You see, even back in the day when D and I were both dieting, we still weren't necessarily "eating healthy."  We would still basically eat whatever we wanted, just less of it.  So, we still ate french fries, or food with hydrogenated oils or trans fats, but just made sure that at the end of the day we didn't go too far over our allotted calorie counts.  We actually still lost weight this way, although I certainly wouldn't recommend it to anyone. 

We had tried healthier alternatives, like whole wheat pasta instead of enriched macaroni pasta, but we just didn't like it.  We didn't like the consistency or the taste.  In fact, I'm pretty sure we hated it, so at the time we just threw away the box and went back to our normal pasta-eating habits.

So when we decided to implement this anti-cancer diet - which consists almost entirely of natural foods! - we had to take an enormous step back in evaluating what we ate.  No hydrogenated oils didn't sound so hard, until we started reading ingredients and realized that nearly EVERYTHING we ate had hydrogenated oils in it.  (Everything that comes from a box nearly ready to eat and is tasty and has a long shelf life has hydrogenated oils in it.  Basically, it's a preservative.)  Eating whole wheat and multi-grain bread products didn't sound so hard either, until we realized that it meant completely cutting white bread out of our diets. What!?!? No white bread?!?!?

At first we hated it.  HATED it.  I hated reading the ingredients on a meal that I was particularly excited about, only to realize that it contained an ingredient that was a definite "no," or only to find that it lacked "whole" flour, the only kind of flour that is a definite "yes."  But we sucked it up and bought the healthy food, and even though we weren't excited about it, we ate it.  And kept eating it, and kept eating it.  Some days I was so sick of multi-grain bread that I craved sugar and simple carbs like crazy.  When that happened, I put a piece of sugar free gum in my mouth, and most of the time, it worked.   I found myself not wanting to make pasta, because I didn't like the whole wheat version, but I made it anyway.  For a short while, I stopped eating salads because I wasn't loving only getting to have raw spinach, but then I started making salads again. I wasn't willing to give up.

Slowly, gradually, at some point, we started developing a taste for it.  I used to say that if you eat something 15 times, ou'll develop a taste for it, but I'm not sure that I totally used to believe it.  Now, I'm starting to think I was on to something.  That manta go me eating broccoli many years ago, and it's now one of my favorite vegetables.  Not unlike the broccoli experience, we found ourselves slowly embracing this new food lifestyle.  It was amazing to see that we were really actually developing a taste for these healthier foods! It was definitely a turning point for us.

So we started eating all of these amazing, healthy "super foods."  And we discovered a problem that we hadn't anticipated.

As we started eating more and more of these healthier foods, I noticed that I was having more stomach problems than usual.  This healthy food can be  hard to digest and my body was NOT used to it!  Eating a full spinach salad ripped my stomach up!  So much fiber and I was NOT used to it.  Instead of mayonaise I was putting mashed avocado on my sandwiches, and the natural oils and fats were painful to digest.  D experienced similar pains as well.  Eating healthy was suddently hard AND painful because our bodies were so used to only digesting pre-processed foods.

There are still days when I really struggle.  I still crave some of my favorite, unhealthy foods (Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich tends to be my most common craving), and I have to use a lot of will power to not give in.  There is no secret, no simple trick or word of wisdom that I can share to help you avoid those temptations.  For me, I just woke up one day and told myself that I needed to make a serious change.  And I struggle and fight with my inner glutton each and every day.  But I've found that talking about my lifestyle change to others - such as co-workers and family - really helps to validate what I'm doing, and by putting it out there to the world, I hope that other people will help to hold me accountable.

I know that some people - a lot of people - have been eating healthy whole foods like those that I listed above for a long time.  And they actually enjoy it!  I envy those people, who get to eat what they love and be healthy and anti-cancer at the same time.  Perhaps some day I will be there as well.

In the meantime, I'm off to make a spinach salad!


I have always loved the fall - the cool weather, absolutely no humidity, the changing colors of the leaves (ok, well I USED to like the changing colors of the leaves.  But now that I have over an acre of leaves to rake each fall, that part has lost it's romanticism.)

 Murph enjoying just one of our hundreds of leaf piles each fall

Anyway... like I said, I've always loved the fall.  But I love it after a long, hot summer, full of swimming and sunning, sweating and bronzing.  It's 49 degrees right now in Pittsburgh, and I am NOT ready for fall yet.  I am unwilling to get out my sweaters, and I refuse to stop wearing open toed shoes.  I didn't go swimming once this summer, and I have absolutely ZERO tan lines....

Again, I am just not ready for fall yet.  Indian Summer, anyone?