Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Building a House Off-Grid

You want to talk about adventure on the Byway? We are building a house in the desert. Completely off-grid.

That means we will have no utility services. We will pay fees and taxes for services, but we won't get any of them. Instead we will drag and maintain our own dirt roads around and into our property. We will drill a well and set up storage tanks for our water supply and we will dig and set up a septic system for our sewage. We will install a large solar system for our power (plus gas that we will have delivered to the house regularly). We will have to set up a really good satellite system for telephone, internet and television. There is no cell phone service anywhere on our land. No one will collect our garbage; instead we will have to drive it out to a dump and recycling site, which means more careful use and planning than most households probably do. We will have to install a sprinkler system and emergency water tank for fire protection because it is unlikely that the local fire department would make it there in time to save the house or the land around us. Building codes require this fire protection set-up. It is a good idea to protect ourselves, our house and the land, but it comes at a price. I feel a twinge of bitterness about the amount of local fees we will have to pay compared to the services we will receive...but it is what it is. That is the price you pay if you choose to live in this country and choose to live off the grid.

All of this stuff is so freaky and new to me...and exciting. To build a new house? Off grid? Really? Lots of people think about living off-grid, but most people don't ever do it. I never thought I would be involved with building a new house from the ground up or that it would end up being off grid. I certainly never thought I would be learning about surveying and county building laws and permits and construction phases and well drilling and septic systems. I work with solar, but I never thought I'd be spending time figuring out what kind and size of system we will need to run a modern home. We aren't building a little cabin with hardly any power. We are building a proper, "live in all year round" house that will need solar power (and gas) to run most modern appliances. 

I never gave much thought to building materials for ceilings and walls and floors and wrap around porches; or to the many sizes, shapes, styles and placement of doors and windows; or to how wide should the outside porch area be; what kinds and colors of cement will we want to use for the flooring indoor and out; will we dye or stain the concrete and what kinds of materials and how much grinding; how will we mix wood and stone and metal on the outside to look attractive and blend into the landscape? I sure think about it a lot now! Staring at ceilings and floors everywhere I go. Visiting home shows and cement trade shows. And the number and complexity of questions that require serious contemplation and committed answers is growing.

Last Friday we started the process that will lead to the drilling of our water well. We had a water dowsing or "witching" session to find the most likely spots for water and thus the best place to drill. Drilling is not cheap, so you want to do everything possible to find the right spot the first time. Dowsing works. It was  my first time seeing someone dowse for water. It was very, very cool and I got to try it. Stay tuned for a blog entry all about the water witching...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Winter Scenes

What I see. Color. Light. Shape. Structure. Art is all around us.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I'm in Vegas for Concrete, Baby

Yep. Its true.

I am sitting in our car, in a Wendy's parking lot, in Vegas. I've been sitting here for two hours. On a work conference call. I am simultaneously watching a presentation on line on my computer and participating by cell phone. The mute button is on right now AND I am actually listening. I've asked questions. I've offered suggestions. I am taking notes. I am participating. I can multi-task. Actually this training is coming to an end and I am starting to lose it a little because two hours in a hot car on a phone and computer with the Wendy's drive thru busy for lunch behind me is making me a little nuts. Which is why I started writing this while I still listen as the training session winds down. This is the advantage of being a telecommuter. With my computer, cell phone, wireless internet connection and my own enthusiasm, I can do my job from anywhere - including a car in a Wendy's parking lot in Vegas. Oh the modern world we live in. I do need to get up and stretch my legs soon because my legs are starting to fall asleep. And its hot as hell in this car now.

We woke up at 4:30 am, left the house just after 5 am and got here to Vegas around 10:30 am. Paul drove and I started working in the car, in the dark. I actually get a lot of work done on these road trips. Because I am stuck in the seat for hours of driving.

Why are we in Vegas on a random Thursday afternoon? For concrete. Yes. We are about to attend one of the largest concrete shows in the world. I'm talking about World of Concrete. World of Masonry. At the Las Vegas Convention Center. Since 1975, this is apparently the only annual international event of its kind. Why are we going to this thing? To get ideas for concrete flooring. For the house we are building. And because we know someone who can get us in for free. We weren't going to pay $75/person to attend. And because Vegas is on our way to the desert, where we need to be this weekend to meet with a guy about drilling us a well.

So...my call is just about to wrap up and then we head off into the wild world of concrete, followed by dinner and a night staying at the Hard Rock hotel/casino. Here's hoping we get some good ideas for cool concrete floors...and that we see some funny stuff at the trade show. Trade shows are weird, especially when its not your industry or line of work. I can't wait to see what a concrete trade show is going to look like. Stay tuned for a report from Vegas on the World of Concrete World of Masonry trade show.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

More Hamster TV

As always, the PETCO hamster cages were full of these little plastic televisions, and every tv had a cute little hamster in it. This time I got some video.

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reflections, Thanks & the Future

January continues to be reflection time. So...I'm taking a long hard look at My Scenic Byway. I've been writing here for 1 year and 5 months now. 17 months, 589 posts - that's an average of 34 posts per months. I'm happy that I've been able to keep up the writing and the photographing.

Thank you to everyone who comes to check out My Scenic Byway. I hope you enjoy my blog. Writing is cathartic and fun for me, but I also write with the hope that I might be bringing some information or ideas to you that will be interesting, fun and helpful. It has been fun to see my viewership grow.

While I only have 27 official followers that show up on my page through Google and Networked Blogs, I know there are many others who follow regularly through Facebook, Bloglovin, email and just heading straight for the blog site. Most people find My Scenic Byway randomly through Google searches for a whole range of things.  I wish I knew more about you - who you are, what brings you here, what you like, what you want more of. I invite you to please leave comments or better yet, write to me. I appreciate your thoughts, insights and feedback.

It is fun to see the Google and other site searches that brought you here. Interesting to me is that right now the most searched thing that brings you here to me is "Mojave Phone Booth." That random little movie, and the phenomenon that was the Mojave Phone Booth, sadly now gone, intrigued me and obviously it does you as well. If the Mojave interests you, I have a lot more Mojave adventures coming up, so keep visiting. If all goes as planned we will be living in the Mojave Desert area within a year.

Other top searches that have led you here to My Scenic Byway:

hedgehog (I love them but I really don't write about them, although I have been known to torment my FB friends with disgustingly cute photos and videos of them. You must love them too because you sure are doing a lot of searches for them);
smokey bear (he's a creepy man bear);
grey sky (my photos, someone else's poetry - every year in April I post poems for national poetry month); 
Miami Art Basel (been there two years in a row - a lot of fun and more art than anyone can handle);
david shrigley (a favorite funny artist I discovered at MAB);
lambs canyon (one of my favorite places in the SLC area - please, someone buy me a cabin there!);
adrien brody (the one celebrity I seem to see every year at Miami Art Basel);
weird art (I like weird art and so apparently do a lot of people); and
- my scenic byway (I like to think that my use of this term is catching on in meaning).

I get many, many random visitors from all over the world and that is fun to see. After the US, I get the most visitors here on My Scenic Byway from the UK, China, Germany, Canada, Ukraine, Russia, France, Malaysia and the Philippines. I can never tell how many of the visitors are first timers or repeat customers. I hope you will keep coming back for more.

In 2011 I had quite a lot of travel to write about - around Utah, in the US and overseas (Liberia, Republic of Georgia, Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, California, Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, DC). Was any of that of interest? I hope so.

For 2012 get ready for a lot more posts about places in and travel tips for the Western US, and on building an off grid house in the Mojave Desert. I expect to have some work trips that will take me abroad to Liberia and the Republic of Georgia so I hope to write more about those places, but I am not expecting too much international travel this year as we need to focus on building our house.  I think a lot more of my travel will be in the US this year and not so much overseas, but we'll see...routes are always changing on the Byway. Stay tuned.

Happy travels xo

Monday, January 23, 2012

Achieving a Healthy Balance - Weight Watchers

Last week I wrote about my New Year's resolution to get back in shape and drop the extra pounds I've put on over the past two years. Sound familiar? While this is not my typical subject matter for My Scenic Byway, it is a big part of what is going on for me right now, I like to share information, and I want to tell folks about some things I've discovered that are helping me. Maybe they will help you too.

Nothing magical here. We all know its about getting enough physical activity and eating healthy - achieving a balance. Sometimes easier visualized than actualized. For exercise, I found the Bar Method. I am just into my second month of doing it and I love it, I feel great and it is working. I am getting stronger and more in shape, and pretty fast. The important point here - you have to find something that is easy for you to do and that you enjoy doing. However, even with that, as we age we know that exercise alone won't take care of things. Diet matters. I am not saying you have to diet. I do not diet. I think diets are a bad way to live your life. In saying that diet matters, I am referring to what and how we eat. For that I have turned to Weight Watchers, and I really like and recommend this program.

Weigh Watchers
I tried Weight Watchers (WW) many years ago for a brief period of time and it worked for me. I liked what I learned from the process. I didn't buy any of their meals, I just followed their advice. I learned to think about what I eat, to make choices, to moderate, and to write down and track every day what I ate. In WW you can eat what ever you want, but you learn that everything you eat comes with a price. Every item of food has a number of points. So you learn to make choices. You also learn about portion control. You discover what satisfies and fills you, and what does not. You pay attention.

The Point System
In WW you are given a certain number of points per day and you try to eat to come within or under those points. You are also allocated a number of extra points for the week. You can use your daily points and extra points any way you like. The span of a week is important. You can do whatever you want within that week. You are trying to end the week by not going over all of the points you've received during the week. One day you might not be very hungry and you may use less points. But some other day that week you may find yourself hungrier than usual and you use more than your daily number of points. You can use your extra points each day for some extras (dessert, wine, snacks), or if you have a party or special dinner planned, you can blow it all at one time. You get more points if you exercise. Knowing that you can earn more points by exercising is a great motivator. It works for me.

Sticking With It
You do the best you can during a week and then after the week, you start a new week. So, if you blow it one week and can't stay within your points,  just forget about it and move forward. You can regroup the next week. You only check your weight once a week, so you have the whole week to show some progress, which is important because we all have good and bad days. If you are like me, your weight might fluctuate a lot during a week depending on many factors. We also have good and bad weeks - which is why you just keep on going. A bad day or a bad week doesn't mean you quit the program. That can be a hard thing to remember. This is a slow way to lose weight, but it is effective and usually sustainable. You learn healthier eating practices and they tend to stick with you. You aren't denying yourself things. Denying yourself pleasure from eating sucks. It doesn't work for most of us. The WW system is not a diet, it is a lifestyle.

Joining WW this time, I continue to only follow the practice, not buy the meals. I know the meal packages work for a lot of people, but I am too obsessed about preparing my own unprocessed and unpackaged foods to go that route. Unlike last time I am only doing WW online and choosing not to go to the weekly meetings for the pep talks and weigh ins. I chose not to do that because its not that convenient for me and I believe I can do this without it, but I recommend those meetings if you are new to the system or concerned about sticking with it. They can be helpful motivators.

Of course nothing motivates more than starting something like this and having it actually work. I lost 3 pounds my first week and 1. 5 pounds my second week. That feels great! Often the more weigh one loses, the slower it will drop. That is just how it is. When I did WW last time they told me to expect to only lost around .5 to 1 pound per week. That makes sense because you aren't starving yourself or denying yourself - you are just moderating. Losing my first 5 pounds is fairly easy because its there from too much holiday indulging. While we were excited to find the best holiday peppermint bark that's ever been made, in hindsight we probably shouldn't have bought and eaten 3 pounds of it. I know that for my next 15 pounds I want to lose it means tempering the fun, bad habits that caused my slow weight gain over two years, including: cooking with too much butter; not being able to be satisfied with just one glass of wine; not saying no to the extra slice of pizza even when I was full; deciding that microwave kettle corn is a great idea to have several times a week and that I need my own bag to myself; not being able to resist, a little too much, the chocolate that my husband regularly brings into the house; and generally loving all cheese way too much. Sound familiar?

I recommend WW for anyone serious about losing some weight, not interested in fad diets but interested in learning better eating habits. It worked for me and is working again and I've seen it work for many, many others. It doesn't have to be expensive if you don't buy the meals, and to be honest, you only need to do it for awhile to get information about the system. Once you feel like you have it down, you don't have to continue subscribing unless you feel that helps motivate you. You pay a monthly fee to access their website and tracking program, plus recipes, tips, etc. In my case knowing that I am paying a little money each month for this program actually does help me take it more seriously and stick with it. However, after I achieve my goal of losing 20 pounds, I will probably drop my subscription, but continue to monitor my eating habits more informally.

Lessons Learned
Here are a few things that I've learned through WW and that are helping me stick with my new eating program. None of this is rocket science - you've probably heard it all before, but sometimes a reminder is helpful. You can do all of these things without joining WW. Good luck!

          Practice Portion Size: With WW you can eat anything you want, but you need to understand portion size. You will be shocked at how screwed up our entire country is with portion size. For example, your typical chicken breast that you will find in the grocery store is actually about two servings according to WW standards. So forget about eating that whole breast. You cut it in half and eat a lot of vegetables with it. You aren't denying yourself the luxury of eating it, you are only denying yourself the luxury of pigging out on it. You should count out a portion (10) of corn chips instead of just dumping out a huge bowl, or worse yet just chowing from the bag and having no idea how much you are eating. Measure things. I've come to realize that 1/3 cup of shredded cheese is plenty for an omelet and I don't need to dump in more.

          Love Vegetables and Fruits: I am very fortunate in that I love all fruits and vegetables because most of them carry zero points under WW. If you like them too you are in luck. Incorporate these into your meals and snacks as much as possible. Not all fruits are zero points (oranges, pineapple for example are higher), but many are. I eat more fruit than ever - bananas, apples, grapes, berries - all have become snack foods. I eat a lot of veggies on their own, raw or steamed or sautéed with as little olive oil as I can, but I also add them to omelets, pizza, pastas, etc. More veggies, less of the other stuff. It helps to buy good, fresh vegetables (they taste better than frozen and canned) and to flavor them. Vegetables can taste great if you prepare and spice them right.

          Spices Are Your Friends: Pepper and spice the hell out of everything. The more flavor, the more satisfied you will feel. You can't do it with butter, so get creative with dry and fresh herbs, hot sauces, flavored vinegars. They take away zero points. I have always loved herbs and spices and I love hot sauce on just about everything, so this has been easy for me. My new discovery is lemon flavored vinegar. Vinegar is zero points. Put that on a plate of cooked vegetables with some pepper and salt and you won't miss olive oil. Olive oil may be good for you but you need to use it sparingly as the points for using it add up very quickly.

          Drink Tea: We all know that drinking water is good for you and you should drink a lot. But sometimes water gets boring. Soda, diet or regular, is really not good for you and should be avoided as much as possible - we all know this. Juices are good for you but they burn a lot of points. What to do when you are bored with water? Add lemon for one. But you can also drink herbal tea. I got a bright red, sweet, sweet Le Creuset tea kettle for Christmas which made me want to make tea more often (new things can inspire). Then I realized that drinking tea is a great filler for when I think I want something to snack on but I am really not hungry - its just the bad habit of wanting to eat something. So I now have 13 types of herbal, green and black teas to choose from and I drink 3-5 cups a day on average. This is best of course if you don't need sugar in your tea.

          Plan Ahead: You absolutely have to plan ahead, make a shopping list, and shop and fill your fridge and kitchen with the right foods. You have to have choices and things that make you happy and will satisfy you, or it isn't going to work. For example, a typical weekly shopping list for me will look like this: eggs, egg whites, whole wheat tortillas, whole wheat english muffins, shredded parmesan cheese, string cheese (2 points only!), organic fat free yoghurt, apples, grapes, bananas, lemons, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, scallions, carrots, sugar snap peas, spinach, frozen vegetables, salsa, brown rice bowls (costco), Amy's vegetarian, organic soups, pretzel crisps, veggie burgers,  skinless chicken breasts, creamies (low calorie chocolate popsicles that are the only preservative filled things I will allow because they are only 3 points each and its a nice easy dessert when you are craving something like this); and on and on. Basically think fruits, vegetables, high fiber items, whole wheat vs regular, low or no-fat vs full fat, healthy cuts of meats. Your usual kinds of healthy food choices. There are lots of processed foods out there in the grocery store that promise low calories, low fat and probably mean very low points. That might work well for you. Personally I don't buy those kinds of things. I won't eat all of that processed and packaged stuff (except for the creamies) so it makes creating good meals more challenging. Through trial and error you will figure out what works for your meal plan, but planning is everything. Also, don't ever let yourself get too hung. If you get too hungry, then you tend to eat more. Small, healthy meals and snacks throughout the day will keep your body running. There is nothing worse than being really hungry and then also having no good, healthy options that you want in the house.

Most important of all - if you have a day of splurging, just regroup and rebalance the next day. Your plans aren't ruined and you don't need to give up. You can and will get back on track. One day at a time.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Motivation Boost

Talk about motivation! I just finished doing a Bar class with one of the founders, Burr Leonard who is visiting the new SLC studio from her home base in San Francisco.

The SLC studio, just open since December 19, 2011, is the 56th or 58th studio (can't remember the exact number I was told) to open in the US since 2001.

Burr is in her 60s and let me tell you, she is what I want to look like when I am in my 60s. Strong, tight, fit. She looks better than most people I know in their 40s. That right there was a super motivation boost for my commitment to this new program. Enough to get me up early tomorrow (Saturday) morning so that I can get my 4th class in for this week.

And even more motivation? There was a spunky 87 year old woman doing the class, looking great, holding her own, showing us that getting older doesn't have to mean giving up on being fit and active and feeling good. Bless her. There's a good role model and even more motivation.

If you want to know more about the Bar Method, check out what I wrote a few days ago, complete with some helpful information and internet links. You can also check out Burr's blog here.  I love this exercise program.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sliding Liberia - A Story of War, Peace and Surfing

Most people know very little about Liberia, in spite of its long history and connections with the United States and the violent civil war that raged there for so many years. It has been in the news lately due to two Liberian women - President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman President in Africa, and Leymah Gbowee, women's rights activist - sharing the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. I've been fortunate to work there over the past two years and so I am always interested in learning more about the place.

I've been wanting to watch this documentary I'd heard about for years - Sliding Liberia - about surfing in Liberia. Sliding is a term some Liberians used to call the art of surfing. You can rent this film from Netflix. Written, produced and directed by Britton Caillouette and Nicholai Lidow, and released in 2008, the short film (48 minutes) follows American surfers Dan Malloy, Crystal Thornburg, and Chris Del Moro surfing in Liberia, interspersed with some history and interviews with Liberians. You meet Alfred Lomax who appears to maybe be the first real Liberian surfer there.

If you are a surfer or surfing admirer and/or interested in Liberia, you may find this film interesting. It is pretty light in my opinion and doesn't get very much into either subject, but it does give you a nice introductory feel of the country and people, with its film shots and interviews in Monrovia (the capital), Robertsport (the best place in Liberia for surfing), and the countryside. You don't find much out there about Liberia, so this film is a good addition. There are subtitles because while Liberians speak English, many speak with heavy accents that can be tough to follow for some listeners if you aren't familiar with it. Here is a trailer from the film.

Robertsport, about 50 km north of Monrovia along the coast, and only 10 miles from the border with Sierra Leone, is a getaway hotspot (in a country where getaway hotspots are few and far between) for expats and locals in Monrovia looking to get out of the city over the weekend or for holiday/vacation time. Don't let 50 km fool you. In a place like Liberia a 50 km drive like this one can take around 3 hours, so it is definitely more of a weekend place, not a day trip. For surfing, Robertsport is the place to go and Nana's Lodge is the place to stay. They have luxury tents and a restaurant and it is not cheap. Fortunately one can also camp on the beach for a lot less money, and many do.

What is cool is that surfing in Robertsport does appear to have continued, with some positive results in that Liberian young people have become interested in surfing and have learned the sport, and in that the local economy has received a little boost due to this surfing tourism. There was even a NYT Travel article back in 2010- On Liberia's Shore, Catching a New Wave - about surfing here!

There is a website called Surf Liberia that looks fairly up to date and gives you some information about surfing sites in both Robertsport and Monrovia. The film was done back in 2007/2008 and it is tough to get information on line about what really is happening these days with the surfing movement there. Most information I found was positive, but only reported up until around 2010. I found information about past surf competitions and surf workshops to teach local youth and surf scholarships to help Liberians get the equipment they need for the sport - all great stuff. But I can't tell what is still happening here in 2012. I know that some of the expats who were really supporting this work back in 2011 have left the country. I believe and hope that efforts were transferred to the local community. If anyone has some updates on this scene, I'd like to know.

I will be traveling out to Liberia soon for work so I will see what I can find in the way of some updates on the movement. I've never been able to get out to Robertsport to see it as when I am there I am always working and there is never enough time, but I'd like to try to make that happen on one of my future trips. Sounds like a good Scenic Byway adventure, doesn't it? Who wants to join me? Too bad I don't surf.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lament for Bad Grammar and Punctuation in Spam Messages

Oh spammers! When will you learn that I will never believe you are a real person or company if you send me emails with bad grammar or weird punctuation or misspelled words or missing Capital letters to start sentences? Please make some effort! Case in point...

dear madam / sir

you have been selected for assignment as detective shopper
in your area. you will get $ 200 to shoppe detective.
pack your work will Iiclude funds for expenditure.
detailed job description will be sent to you prior to your assignment.

we want you to participate because it's fun & rewarding.
once you sign up, you will have access to training materials.
ive the following details if you are interested :

name :
state, city, zip code :
email :
telephone number:

more details will be given upon your reply.
your quick response will be highly appreciated.  

secret shopper application art®

The Bar Method

This is not my typical subject matter for blogging. I am a travel blogger, not a fitness or healthy you blogger. But hey, I am not traveling this month and this is a huge part of what is going on in my life (aka My Byway) right now, plus you might relate and find this interesting, so I thought I would share. I had never heard of the Bar Method before and maybe you don't know about it either, and maybe it will interest you. So if you want to know what is the Bar Method and why am I talking about it, please read on...

New Year Resolutions
I'm trying. And of course I have some of the very typical ones we all do, beginning with getting back in shape and shedding some pounds. There was a time, about 2+ years ago, when I was stressed out, overworked and unhappy. I was also in some of the best shape of my life. Funny, isn't it? How that happens? I was doing cross fit training and not eating much and while my inner self was in shambles, on the outside I was rocking some toned arms and clothes 2-3 sizes smaller than I'd worn since college. But then I met my now husband and fell in love and became very, very happy on the inside, which started to show on the outside.

It Sneaks Up on You
Moving away from the DC area and leaving my familiar routines affected me. I no longer had the cross fit training I loved. I found a gym but wasn't really motivated. Loving to cook meals for my husband and drink wine also affected me. Hey let's order pizza and drink wine and watch movies and snuggle on the couch! Also, working from home where I never have to wear anything but sweat pants and can walk into the kitchen and eat whatever I want - yeah that affected me too. Does any of this sound familiar? So slowly over 2 years I realize I've put on 20 pounds! I'm not talking about trying to lose that 5 pounds you gained over the holidays (an easy feat). I am talking about 20 pounds people! That means life style change. There is no other way around it.

I carry this weight pretty well (if I do say so myself) - its all evenly distributed. But when you realize you can't fit any of your clothes anymore, that is a problem. Carrying around that extra weight? That feels like a problem. When you realize you are losing the awesome strength and flexibility and stamina you once had - that is a problem. I will be xxx years old this year (I am not going to reveal!) and I refuse to become that person who gets all unfit as they get older. I want to be one of those people who actually gets more fit. I don't want freaky Madonna arms, but I refuse to have them flapping in the wind. I want muscle definition back. I have a long list of strenuous (but awesomely fun) things yet to do (hiking, camping, kayaking, etc.) in my life and I won't let weakness get in the way. I want my strength and stamina back. I don't want to have to buy a ton of new clothes. I want my old weight (and my wardrobe) back.

Diets Suck
So, I have started - exercising again and watching what I eat. Notice I did not use the word diet. I hate the word diet. I am not a dieter. I will never go on a diet. I love food. I love to cook. I love to eat. I won't diet. But what I will do is try to watch what I eat and try to eat smartly and try to practice moderation, and the easiest way I've found to do this is by using Weight Watchers. Not by buying their weird meals, but rather by following their practices. More on the Weight Watchers experience in an upcoming blog entry (and I have a heck of a lot to say about that). Here I want to focus on the exercise part of the life style change equation.

Returning to Exercise
Those of you who have drifted away from steady work outs know how daunting and challenging it can be to get back into it. Being so long away from intense work outs, I didn't feel like I could jump back into cross fit training. I would die. Seriously, the kind of stuff I was doing two years ago shocks me now. I pictured myself signing up for a local cross fit class and crying and crumpling into a ball of out of shape defeat and shame. Cross fit will have to wait. I had to remind myself - two years of laziness can't be turned around in two months. It is going to take time. That reality sucks, but it is what it is. What also sucks is realizing - I mean seeing it and feeling it - that as we age it all becomes so much harder. So. Much. Harder. I didn't see this coming and its kind of scary. At first. But once you stop feeling wimpy and suck it up, you realize you can do it. All the more reason to get back in shape. Staying fit helps absolutely everything about aging.

Walking Takes Away the Crazy
One thing I do is a lot of walking. I've come to realize that walking takes the crazy out of me. If I am feeling a little (or a lot) down or stressed or angry our out of sorts, a walk turns that around. It works every single time. Every. Single. Time. I know my husband appreciates it when I go for walks. I come home more sane and lovable...

I love walking outside the best - fresh air, sun (if there is any), seeing what's happening in the neighborhood. I use it as time to listen to and lose myself in podcasts on my iPhone. This American Life is my favorite. I adore that show. Many podcasts are an hour long - a perfect motivator to get in a 60 minute walk. And bonus - my neighborhood is all hills, which means an even better work out. If I get bored, SLC is full of parks and canyons with walking trails. I am sure where you are you have many great walking opportunities too. I will always recommend walking to everyone. It is a beautiful low impact exercise. However, I know that for me, as for many, walking alone won't get me into the shape and weight that I want, and fast enough. It is beautiful and healthy and I will keep doing it and keep promoting it, but I need something more aggressive than walking, yet not as intense as jumping back into cross fit or running. Lucky for me I discovered the Bar Method.

The Bar Method
I had never heard of this Bar Method before seeing an ad on Facebook. Yes, for once - just once! - those annoying pop-ups with freaky weird photos that appear on the right side of your page was useful for me. I saw an ad for the first Bar Method studio opening in Salt Lake City, which is how I discovered this wonderful work out.

The Bar Method claims to be "the most targeted body-sculpting work out." I don't know if it is the "most," but it is indeed a body sculpting work out and I've been doing it now for one month (I've done around 13 classes during that time) and I love it. Love it, love it, love it. Bar Method classes are typically one hour long. They use interval training, muscle shaping isometrics, dance conditioning to elongate muscles, and some elements of physical therapy to strengthen your core and define and reshape your muscles. Unlike Pilates, you just use your body, not machines. You do work at the ballet bar and on the ground. You do some work with light hand weights. Before and after class you hang from bars for a complete body stretch that is amazing.

Bar Method History
The Bar Method is based on the technique of Lotte Berk, a German dancer who fled the Nazis in the late 1930s. After a back injury she developed an exercise system combining her ballet training with rehabilitative therapy, opening her first studio in London in 1959. The first studio in the US was opened in 1971 in Manhattan. In the 1990s two sisters, Burr Leonard and Mimi Fleishman opened studios in Connecticut, but adjusted the practice with the help of a physical therapist for more focus on muscles and less impact on joints. With this new practice, they called it the Bar Method and opened their flagship studio in San Franciso in 2001. Studios spread throughout California and the east coast, as did many Bar Method spin off movements. (For my DC friends, the Bar Method is now open there. Try it out!)

Celebrities Do It (If you care about that kind of stuff)
Remember, its been big in California and New York, so for those of you who are led to exercise movements not from recommendations from nobodies like me, but rather from celebrity endorsements, Hollywood followers include Drew Barrymore, Zooey Deshanel, Eliza Dushku, and many more.

My Personal Experience (Results + Feeling Great = Love)
I love it. I just signed up for my second month of unlimited classes with a goal of doing it consistently 4 times a week. They say that you should do it 3-5 times a week to really get the full benefit (in other words you need to do it this much if you want to see faster results, which I do).

I have seen results already. The most noticeable is my posture. I feel straighter and my core feels stronger. I notice it when I sit and when I walk. Its weird and wonderful. My arms are definitely stronger and starting (just barely, but its there) to creep back to being toned. That is because we do push ups every class. Push ups do get easier. I am so far away from the form and amount of full body push ups I could slam out when I was doing cross fit, but I am seeing progress. The exercises we do in class are getting easier and my form is better. It is never not challenging, so I shouldn't say the exercises are getting easier - its just that I am noticing that I am stronger in doing them. Everything feels firmer - which is a beautiful feeling. Most important of all, I have more energy and I just feel better. I leave class feeling energized, not tired. Another thing I love about this work out is that it is low impact. I used to love my intense cross fit training that included running, but my feet would always hurt after working out. The beauty of the low impact Bar Method is that my feet and joints never ache - only my muscles (in that great way that exercise does).

Review of the Salt Lake City Studio
The studio in Salt Lake City is wonderful, and so are its owner and teachers. The studio is brand new (always nice) and located conveniently on 2100 South in the Sugar House neighborhood. I never have trouble parking. There are many classes offered Monday-Saturday. Because the studio is new, they are still figuring out the class schedule, so it is likely to change. Right now all classes are mixed level, but eventually I am sure they will offer advanced classes as we improve and master the basics. While there are a few customers who have experience taking classes from visits to other places, for the most part, we are all new to this practice. Anyone of any fitness level can take this class. Like other practices, you do what you can and expand as you get stronger and more comfortable.

The Bar Method is not cheap. Like many yoga classes, individual classes can cost $20. Package deals like I am doing make it much less expensive, but like any package deal, its a value only if you know you will use it. I am definitely getting my money's worth from the monthly unlimited package. It is completely worth it to me to find an exercise practice that I like and enjoy doing. As you know, with exercise motivation is key. If you join a gym or a class you don't like, you won't go, or you will go and be unhappy and that is probably not sustainable.

This coming Friday and Saturday the SLC studio will have their official open house and one of the founders, Burr, will be present and teaching a few classes each day. I've already signed up and am looking forward to taking a class with her. Maybe I will see you there?

For more information about the SLC Bar Method Studio, go here.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

There's Even a Shoe Tree in Park City!

If you follow my blog you know my obsession with shoe trees ever since discovering my first one out in the California desert on one of our Byway adventures. I've written about shoe trees. I love finding new ones.

Have you Seen a Shoe Tree? - my first siting in California

RIP Shoe Tree,  You Shall be Reborn - our discovery of a former shoe tree and a new one on Route 50 in Nevada

I was Here and I Left my Shoes - discovering yet another one in the California desert on a drive east to Arizona

So imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that all this time there has been a shoe tree in my backyard - Park City. To be honest I rarely get into Park City even though its just up the road and my dentist is right outside of the town. However, one day we decided to drive through town just to see it before heading off on a driving adventure around the back way to Orem/Provo and I finally saw it in all its glory. 

You can find this shoe tree (which is quite large) along Deer Valley Drive near Heber Avenue, right next to a park in downtown Park City (which if you've been there you realize is not very large). I am not sure when this shoe tree was started, but I have seen several references to it being around for 30-40 years!  There is even a plaque there about the tree (which I have not yet read). The unique thing about this shoe tree as compared to all the others I've seen out in the desert is that because this is a ski town, you will find a lot of snow shoes and boots in the tree. Check it out next time you are in Park City (perhaps for Sundance which starts next week...). Here are some shots I took. If you know of other shoe trees I should see, please let me know. I want to see them all!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fun Road Side Sitings on the Byway

Happy Wednesday! Here are a few images of amusing things I've spotted on the side of the road on our Byway adventures. All of these were shot as we were speeding by, so forgive the poor quality of some of the photos. America is full of fun road side sites. What's your favorite road side siting?

Car lot - Pahrump, NV - December 2011

Art - Miami - December 2010
Route 80, Nevada - May 2011
Kites on the beach - Oregon coast, July 2010

Dinosaurs! - Thanksgiving Point, Utah - March 2011
God - Outside of Vegas, 2011.
Shoe tree wannabe - California to Arizona - 2011
Kings & Queens! Very sad bar/castle: Pittsburgh to Chambersburg Route 30 - September 2011

Monday, January 9, 2012

Instructions for Living a Life

OOOh I like this. Found this today courtesy of Jonathan Carroll and had to share, because it speaks to me and what My Scenic Byway means to me and the simple philosophy I want to practice in life, and I think you'll like it:

Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

- Mary Oliver - American poet

It's so simple, but dead on, right? 

Pay attention: Be present. Open your eyes and clear out the junk and see the world - the places, the people, mother nature - around you every single day. The places, the people, nature. 

Be astonished. Feel the joy and the beauty and the magic that is our world. Let it knock your socks off. Soak it in and wonder.

Tell about it. Spread the wealth. Share what you see with others. There are so many ways: writing, photographs, drawings, paintings, sculpture, storytelling, conversation.

If you are a FB user, Jonathan Carroll has a face book page. If you "like" it, you will get his posts in your feed. He often posts lot of great quotes and photographs. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

On the Road with TripAdvisor and Yelp

TripAdvisor: Do you use TripAdvisor? I've been using it for several years now, first for information about hotels, and now also for information about restaurants and site seeing attractions. If you aren't using it in your travels and travel planning, I recommend that you try it.

We used it a lot planning for our honeymoon in Europe - to find hotels in Paris, London and Bruges, and restaurants in Berlin - and we weren't disappointed. In the US we travel though a lot of little towns in the west and we use it to find decent hotels and places to eat when the choices are slim. TripAdvisor has an iPhone app, and you can just use the internet browser on any smart phone to find it. We use it on our iPhone while on the road to find places to stay the night or grab a meal. Its especially useful when you are traveling through small towns and looking to eat someplace that isn't a fast food chain or scary.

The site's information has grown so much over the past few years that I find it really covers most places all over the world. While some places have mixed reviews that make it tough to get the real picture, you can usually weed out what is a real trend of bad service/experience vs. one person's personal bad experience which can happen even in the best of places. 

For a long time I have wanted to give back by writing my own reviews. We visit a lot of sites, hotels and restaurants and I feel that if I am using this wonderful information from others, I should also be giving back with my own information to help others. Well, a great, magical restaurant experience we had last week in the small town of Pahrump, Nevada finally motivated me to write my first review. You can see the link here: Tommasino's Fine Italian Dining. I am proud that I finally stopped being lazy and did this. Now I owe long overdue reviews to some dear friends who own hotels in Monrovia, Liberia and Tbilisi, Georgia. This is one New Year's resolution - to write reviews.

YELP: Another great place for travel recommendations, especially restaurants, that I use more often than TripAdvisor, is yelp. I started using this when I lived in Washington, DC. We used this a lot while driving across the country on our move to Salt Lake City, and I use it all the time when we are on our road trips. 

I am a bit obsessive about checking out yelp anytime we want to get something to eat anywhere. I think it drives my husband a little crazy. Wait...scratch that...I KNOW it drives him a little crazy. He feels that using these services takes a bit of the mystery and adventure out of just stumbling upon a great place. I get that and I agree, but I also pose that even with the information you get from these sites, you are still not sure what you are going to get. There is still a mystery there when its your first visit to a place. You don't know if those reviews are really going to be right. Things change all the time. We've found some terrific places using yelp and TripAdvisor, and this year I am going to give back more by adding my own reviews, good and bad, of places we've experienced.

Happy travels on the Byway and may you find excellent restaurants and hotels on your journeys...and if you do, please share your reviews!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Obsessing on Death Valley

I've got Death Valley on my brain. I still can't get the place out of my head. I was so blown away by its beauty - I can't wait to get back there and see more!!! We made a very brief half day visit. The place is worth it if that is all you can do, but you will want to do more. I say put this on your list of must see places. Make your Byway take you there. You won't regret it. I will be blogging soon about recommendations for places to stay and eat in the area.

Death Valley, nestled between the Armagosa mountains to the east and the Panamint mountains to the west, is home to the lowest, driest and hottest locations in North America. Did you know that the lowest and highest elevations in the United States are here, only 84.6 miles apart? Those would be Death Valley and Mount Whitney to the west.

Death Valley National Park has 3 million acres (!!) of land, or 5,262 square miles. The salt pan on the floor of Death Valley (seen in my photo further below) runs 40 miles long and 5 miles wide.

Winter is definitely the time to see the park. We were there on December 30 and it was sunny and cool. I would not want to visit in July when the temperatures are at their highest record breaking temperatures. It might not be so beautiful then...

Below are some photos from my husband. He takes gorgeous photos and makes me look good :)

Looking out across the Devil's Golf Course - amazing.

I am in love with this rock that looks like some kind of alien being.
My photo of Paul walking out onto the salt lake bed. 
My photo of my feet on the salt lake. At this point you are standing at the lowest elevation in North America - 282 feet below sea level.
See the tiny people out there walking on the ridges?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Pipe's Canyon/Flat Top Mesa - New Year's Day Hike

Happy New Year! Don't you think that a hike in nature is a wonderful way to start a new year on the Byway? I love this tradition. Today we hiked out into the canyon between Black Lava Butte and Flat Top Mesa in Pipes Canyon and then up onto Flat Top Mesa. It was a beautiful day with blue skies, sun and temperatures in the 60s. Perfect. I am so excited that soon - hopefully before 2013 - this will be our backyard!

Rising moon over the mesa.

In the canyon between BL Butte and FT Mesa.

Gorgeous rock piles.

The view into the canyon climbing up Flat Top Mesa.

View from the top of the mesa looking out where there are some houses.