Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


4 Comments

RIP Collage Video

I’m so old that my first exercise video was not even audio-visual: It was sound-only. An LP.

And it was ridiculous. Of course, the instructor (you may have heard of her—Jane Fonda?) tried to clearly explain what moves to do, but that just didn’t always work. What some of the moves were meant to be remain a mystery to me to this day. (But no, I don’t still have the album…)

So the advent of exercise classes on VHS home tapes were a clear improvement. Not all the moves were easy to do, but at least you could always tell what they were.

Exercise video coversAnd as is true in general, the exercise DVDs were an improvement over those. No more rewinding and fast-forwarding. More content could be put on each disk. Easier to pick and choose to do partial or combination workouts.

I love working out to videos. Nothing’s more convenient, you never have to worry about the weather, and unless you’re buying a crazy number of them, it’s way cheaper than a gym memberships. You get something of the illusion of working out with someone else, and even that illusion is more motivating than working out on your own. And the variety available—aerobics, strength, flexibility, or a combination of all. Short, long, or in between. Dancey or athletic. Easy-going, intermediate, or tough.

Whatever your mood today: There’s a home workout for that.

And so it really pains me to see Collage Video go out of business. They sold nothing but fitness videos (along with a few fitness accessories). And they did it better than anyone else.

They broke down each video by all the factors that home fitness die-hards care about: instructor, length, level, workout type, body part focus. They included video samples so you could assess whether a new instructor or style seemed appealing. They had fantastic forums and review comments. They rated the videos themselves, highlighting some as favorites.

But ultimately, they could not battle the price pressure from the likes of Amazon, nor the general decline in the DVD format.

So when I decided I could use some more workouts with a lower-body focus, I did what I always do: I picked up the latest Collage Video catalog and picked out about five that I thought would do.

Only now I cannot order them from the Collage Video website.

Amazon? It had exactly one of them in stock. OK, so I probably didn’t need all five, but I wanted at least one more. I went a-huntin’, and finally located a site that offered one of them as a download. I can burn that to DVD or play it from the computer (which is connected to my TV), so that’s fine. Only, I needed this rubber band thingie for that workout. Collage would have sent it to me with the DVD. With the download… Not so much. So more research for that, resulting in a trip to Walmart to purchase that.

Walmart!

I’m not sure this is progress. I know streaming is the thing now, but the best option there seems to be Gaiam TV, at $10 (US) a month. Not a crazy price, but then, I don’t think I was spending $120+ yearly on exercise videos before…


Leave a comment

Not cursing the snow

The day we were to drive to Bondi Village near Algonquin Park happened to be the day of the biggest snowfall of the year (so far!). Even though buses, schools, universities, highways and even malls! (by the end of the day) were cancelled and closed, Jean never seemed deterred from going. Even after shoveling twice. And discovering the car had a bit a low tire. (We just added air.) Even so. Off we went.

The bonus of so much closing and cancelling was that the roads were unusually free of cars. And, you know, it was just snow—not freezing rain, not whiteout conditions (at least on the roads we took). It was a somewhat longer journey than usual, of course. We took a leisurely lunch, but otherwise just focused on making our way there. And it all went fine. The tire even held. And still is. (Very slow leak, I guess.)

This was a Canoe Club trip, and we were supposed to be joining 20 other people. We arrived to find 2. A couple more made their way shortly after us, three more later that evening, than two more overnight. The rest all bailed for various reasons, one being weather, of course! So we were 11: the smallest number in years for this winter club trek, I’m told.

Those who did make it, though, were rewarded the next day with the best possible weather:

Winter scene in Algonquin Park

We took advantage to do some snowshoeing in Algonquin Park. We chose the Track and Tower trail, which offers a nice variety of vistas, including waterways.

Frozen rapids

We were five, and Jean talked us into including the 4 km (or so) extension that brought us up to a lovely viewpoint.

Foxicle at the Lookout

Mascot Foxicle modeling the view

The whole thing was about 10 km, and as the day heated up (to -5) while we were still dressed for the morning’s -15, it made for a tiring walk back. One of us was to0 tired to chew!

The traditional pot luck dinner was rejuvenating, though. Despite the diminished numbers, we somehow still had a good balance of sides, mains, and desserts. We made a slow cooker minestrone that turned out really well.

Slow cooker minestrone

Not sure it looks so great here, but the soup was a hit

In fact, Jean was rejuvenated enough that he went snowshoeing again at night! He was determined to try to take pictures of the stars, and convinced some others to join him on a “midnight” walk (though it was really more like 8:30 pm). He and I mutually agreed that it would be best that I not join him. And that way we both had a good evening.

Starlit night

It was a moonless night; they had to make their way largely by feel

Sunday was another nice day. We had only the morning for activities, so we stayed on the Bondi property for snowshoeing. We had a nice time, but didn’t see any notable wildlife. Some of the others did, though.

 

Deer

Photo by Andrea Chappell

Sunday lunch featured the potluck leftovers, just as good the second time out, then we cleaned up and shipped out for a smooth drive home.


Leave a comment

The reno

It’s been nearly a week since the new flooring was installed. The house is not all put back together yet (much remains to be “unpacked”), but it’s quite serviceable now, and we’re pleased with the results so far. The stress level in the household has gone down ten notches.

The most surprising thing was what a big difference the hardwood in the hallway makes. This was more of an aside to the whole thing–hey, why not also have these guys install that hardwood we bought for the hallway years, that’s been sitting under a bed ever since–but they did a great job, and the hallway really looks fantastic.

(Which you can’t probably tell that well from this mediocre picture taken by me with my phone. Maybe a better one by Jean will get substituted eventually.)

Hallway and stairs in hardwood

Almost worth the glue smell we’re still trying to dissipate!

The focus was actually on the downstairs, a now much emptier room–and not only because we haven’t unpacked everything yet. The extra floor space was a deliberate attempt to create a new exercise space for me (and Jean), by moving the main computer and accessories, the big desk, and the file cabinet upstairs to the former exercise room. (Which I hadn’t been using as such in months, since the DVD in there died.)

Here is an even worse (blurry!) phone picture of the a corner of our emptier downstairs, with its new (less glamorous than hardwood, but functional) flooring–including some leftover pieces:

Exercise room

What you can’t see on the other side of the treadmill is my big weight machine. And yes, there is still a computer in that room–the secondary one.

It’s a big room, so the other half remains a TV area, with couches, fireplace, and media storage. Even when unpacked, that part is going to look unfinished until we get the new TV purchased and mounted above the fireplace. (Maybe a Christmas prsesent?) And add some more shelving. And, OK, get the fireplace area finished with a stone overlay.

But hey, the hallway is definitely all done!


4 Comments

On things sporting

Have watched The Olympics, but not obsessively. I prefer the winter ones, as more of the sports are more interesting, and Canada is more competitive. The time difference is also difficult, as most events take place before I’m up or when I’m at work.

Live-streaming is a nice thing, though. The most thrilling thing I did get to view live via that technology was the end of the women’s soccer match, including that one goal! Though I didn’t watch much of the heart-breaker soccer match between Canada and the US, I heard so much about it after, I felt like I had. So I was vested in that Bronze medal match. Christine Sinclair is a good choice to carry the flag.

Another fun live-stream was that incredibly long tennis match between Miloas Raonic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Live on TV, I enjoyed the men’s 1500-meter swim, which was surprisingly exciting for such a long race, and I managed to catch the women’s eight rowing team final.

But I am really looking forward to the Closing Ceremonies, with its promised focus on British music, including Ray Davies, Queen, and The Who. Great Britain proved themselves athletically in these games with the amazing performance of their team, but they long-ago demonstrated that they were unsurpassed in producing great rock musicians.

————————————————–

For various reasons, my main workout choice these days has been via exercise DVD. I like to get new ones semi-regularly to shake things up, and avoid boredom. Looking up my collected titles, you might think I’m desperate to lose weight:

  • Dance Off the Inches! Hip Hop Party
  • 10 Pounds Down! Cardio Abs
  • Fat Burning Fusion!
  • Super Slim Down!
  • Secrets to a Great Upper Body!

Which is just starting to get on my nerves. I know it’s all marketing, and there are a lot of overweight people that might be sold on such promises, but… Does “thin-ness” have to be the only selling point for these things? I mean, I have one called Fat-Burning Yoga, for heaven’s sake. Yoga. And it’s not some funky fusion of yoga and aerobics or whatever; it’s just your basic yoga stretches and holds, maybe  a little more peppy. But not so you’re going to break much of a sweat.

Thing is, inside, they’re really good workouts that will do good things for your heart, lungs, muscles, stress level, sleep, and so on. In most cases, by the end of these workouts, I feel great. That’s why I do them. Yes, I’m sure it’s helping me maintain a healthy weight as well, but that’s not what’s motivating me to keep it up.

Is that so unusual? Reminds me of having been stopped by someone selling gym memberships, and asked why I exercise. I said, “To stay healthy”, and she looked down her list of possible answers and said, “Huh. That’s not on here.” So maybe it is that unusual…

—————————————————

And that big toenail that I damaged on my Amalfi hiking trip? Gone! Leaving just the stub of toenail that had been growing underneath it.

It’s kind of gross, of course. And the timing is really bad, because it’s still sandal season. (I’m thinking, cover it with a Band Aid, I guess?) But it’s still making me feel unusually athletic. Me, the marathoners, and the cross-country skiers: Losing toenails in our pursuit of extreme sport. 🙂


1 Comment

Working upright

It’s been a little over a month since the installation of my stand-up desk. It has certainly garnered attention around the office, particularly in the wake of CBC’s recent report on the dangers of sitting, and Andrew Coyne’s mostly serious commentary that excess sitting is a public health hazard. I’ve given numerous demonstrations of how it works, with several people declaring they want one for themselves (most of them don’t have pricing info), and one other person actually having it installed (the price of hers actually covered, as a medical requirement).

At first it felt weird to be standing up while working, but it didn’t take long to adapt. Turns out I can type, read, and edit just as well standing as sitting. The one thing that isn’t so hot is writing with a pen on paper (because sometimes I’m retro like that). For that, I either have to sit and use my desktop (my real, not virtual one), or grab a book to hold and write on while standing.

Proper footwear is really key to making this work. Heels just don’t work at all, both because they’re not that comfortable over time, and because they make me too tall for my keyboard stand! But even flatter shoes have to have good support to avoid foot fatigue. I don’t like wearing ugly running shoes at the office, so I’m mostly in Rieker shoes, as they manage to be both cute and supremely comfortable. When I get a yen for the impractical footwear, I’ll just wear them in and out and during the sitting times at work, then switch back to the Riekers for standing work.

My back and hips definitely feel better. I was getting some pain in my arm until I propped the mouse up higher on a book. Funny how such a small adjustment made such a difference. I also find it better for keeping up energy during the day.

Overall, it’s been so good I’m now eying the home computer to see what I can do. I don’t want make another investment of ergo office equipment, but maybe something can be jury-rigged with boxes?


2 Comments

Stand and deliver

Since the flurry of stories about how sitting too long at your job can, basically, kill you, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do about that short of, you know, quitting my sedentary job to become a waitress or something. Articles on the subject sometimes recommended things like walking around while talking on the phone, but this was not useful to me. What with meetings, email, messaging, and talking in person, I clock maybe 5 minutes a week on the phone. Not near enough to reduce my death risk through pacing.

No, I really needed a way to type standing up.

With all these stories you’d think the options for “stand-up” desks would be multiple and easily purchased, but I did not find it to be so. I saw nothing along these lines at local office furniture stores. Web research led me to an American company that had some options, but these were not cheap to start with, and the shipping from there added something like $130 to the price.

I was nevertheless considering it when the site added a link to a Canadian distributor. Prices weren’t any cheaper (but also not much more expensive—not always true in Canada), but the shipping was way less. This was http://www.ergocanada.com.

But trying to figure out what products would work with the desk setup I have was not the easiest thing. It was often not too clear what accessories you needed with what, and what the measurements meant… Even what everything did. Fortunately, they were really responsive to questions by email and phone, even steering me to cheaper options than I had been considering.

In the end, I bought a dual-monitor stand:

Dual-wing LCD arm

And a keyboard tray raiser. Despite all this effort to get the right stuff, though, the monitor stand ended up being too low to use standing up. I would have had to crouch down to work on it, which didn’t seem that healthy. So that meant another call, another order, and another installation of an extender for the monitor arm.

Now, finally, it works. The monitor arms holds both my 19″ monitors at the height of my choosing, moving pretty easily between sitting and standing height. The keyboard also moves up and down quite well. It would be too low for a tall person, I think, but is fine for me. I have an extra-wide tray, so it does get a bit wobbly at the edges in upright position. I’m not finding that much of a problem so far, with a centered keyboard.

It also arrived at a time when I’m having this irritating pain in my ribs on the right side (from coughing? I have no idea) that is very much aggravated by sitting too long. So whether or not I actually live longer because of sitting less, I’m definitely benefiting now.

Too bad it’s all so complicated and expensive, though. Lots of office workers out there, with little choice but to sit 6+ hours a day…

PS And apparently you can about double the number of calories you burn just by standing instead of sitting to work. Huh. I didn’t even know that part…


2 Comments

Southern Italy

Been quiet for me on the blogging front, as we’ve been out of country. We were on a hiking tour of the Amalfi Coast of Italy, followed by a couple days in Rome. The itinerary was as follows (each number representing a day):

  1. Fly to Naples via Rome, on Alitalia.
  2. Arrive and get shuttled to Bomerano. Meet the rest of the tour group and have dinner.
  3. Hike from Bomerano to Amalfi, that has a downhill bias, involving many steps.
  4. Ascend Monte Tre Caili, a small mountain. (On foot, of course.)
  5. Visit the lost city of Pompeii, then climb Mount Vesuvius—the cause of its demise.
  6. Walk through the gorgeous Valle delle Ferrie National Park (11k).
  7. “Free day”, in which we took in a visit to Herculeum (another city lost to the Vesuvian eruption) and the lovely Ravello.
  8. “Walk of the Gods” from Bomerano to Positano, then a boat ride back.
  9. End of tour and train ride to Rome.
  10. Visit Rome (museums on this day).
  11. Continue Rome visit.
  12. Direct flight back home.

The Amalfi Coast area is here:

Amalfi Coast map

You’ll note that the area we were staying in, Bomerano (actually part of Agerola), is not even on the map. It is up away from the sea, in the mountainous area, and not easy to get to. If not for being on a tour that brought us there, I’m sure we’d never have visited on our own.

Bomerano satellite shot

Where Bomerano is—the red A

Your transportation options are either not-terribly-frequent buses from Amalfi, spending a fortune on a taxi, or attempting to drive yourself—which would practically be a death wish on these very narrow, twisty, and busy roads. (Of course, with the tour, we either had help with the bus system or an experienced driver.)

Furthermore, there ain’t a heck of a lot to do in Bomerano. It’s quite small, not many shops, no bank, no museums (that I know of), and just a few restaurants. (Oh, and all the TV channels are in Italian.)

But as a place to collapse after a day of hiking or touring or both, it was just fine. Especially since it did have Internet, which really provided enough entertainment for the amount of time we spent there not sleeping or eating the multi-course meals. (More on that later).

The weather

The tour group the previous week had the great bad luck of experiencing a full week of cold, fog, and heavy rain. On a hiking tour.

We were in the much more fortunate position of experiencing the upswing in the weather. On the first day (of activity), the fog was heavy, so instead of climbing the mountain as would normally have been the itinerary, we did the walk down to Amalfi, eventually getting below the fog. Unfortunately, of course, we had few views on the way.

View below the fog

The view below the fog

The day of the mountain climb, though, we did have a sunny morning, and therefore nice views all the way up the mountain. However, then the fog decided to come back for our descent. And at the very bottom, we got our only rain of the trip–pretty heavy at the very end. But we all enjoyed the refuge at the Crazy Burger Cafe!

The fog rolling in

The fog rolling in at the top of the mountain

At Pompeii, the weather was fantastic. On Mount Vesuvius, the fog decided to reappear, though more in a hide and seek kind of way that did allow for some views. (A bigger issue was the strikers who prevented us from walking all the way around and partly down into the volcano, but the alternate route we did instead was a lot of fun.)

Peekaboo fog at Vesuvius

The peekaboo fog at Vesuvius

The next three days were nothing but sunny, and the final day got really warm, such that we were all discarding as many clothes as was decent, and getting a great round of sunburns.

Walk of the Gods

Perfect weather on the final hike, The Walk of the Gods

Managing the physical challenges

Though we both do some exercise, it turns out we weren’t really in shape for walking down 2700 steps one day, then climbing up a small mountain the next. By the third day, we could barely negotiate the tiny stairs in the hotel, so sore were the muscles. In my case, it was both calves (from the up) and quads (from the down).

I was actually worried about managing the rest of the trip, but by day four things were much improved, and by the end, despite continued hiking on hilly terrain, the muscles were actually pretty good.

My big toes on the other hand, got extremely whiny about the constant butting up against the end of the hiking boot, and by the end were unbelievably sensitive. That made walking in Rome the first two days something of a challenge, but that too improved in the end. Well, except that my big toe nails are now kind of black.

The group

The tour group we were with, Exodus, are British, so everyone on the tour but us were from the UK or Scotland. (We got a lot of comments about how far it was for us to come. Of course, true. They had only a 2.5 hour flight!) They ranged in age from, I’m guessing, early 30s to late 60s. And most of them in their 60s were in much better shape than us, which wasn’t embarrassing at all. 🙂

The merry band of hikers

The merry band of hikers

It was a good group. Interesting people who tended to have done a lot of traveling, and who worked in all different areas. Jean was particularly great with one of the older ladies, who had hurt her knee on the first day (!), and thereafter struggled with some of the more challenging terrain. He made sure she negotiated all the paths safely. He’s sweet, my husband.

Food and wine

We had all our breakfasts and most of dinners at Hotel Due Torri, where we staying, which is fortunately somewhat renowned for its food. It was, of course, Italian cuisine all week long, but a different menu each night, typically starting with a pasta, then following with seafood or meat, then dessert.

We also got to go into the kitchen a couple times to watch the meals being put together, which was a lot of fun. That’s a lot of olive oil in that seafood linguine! And if you have a wood-burning oven at 200 degrees, your pizza cooks in about 2 minutes.

Freshly made tiramisu

Freshly made tiramisu

The wines served were regional ones, not exported to Canada (or anywhere). They were good, quite food-friendly, but not the sort you’d make a big fuss over.

We had one night out to another Bomerano restaurant, the whole group together, and they did a fantastic job there, too. Jean and I still argue over which of us had the better meal there. And in Revello, we had a splurge lunch on a gorgeous patio. In Rome, we mostly stuck with Italian food, still. It was all good, but I think most notable was the ricotta and pear ravioli in truffle sauce. Jean liked it so much when I had it at lunch that we went back to the same place for dinner, and he ordered it.

Lunch in Revello

Lunch in Revello, “the most picturesque place on earth”, as one in our group called it

Rome

I should wind up before I’m writing all night (of course I’ll be adding more to the website, later), but not before saying something about our visit to Rome.

The first day in Rome it was 28 degrees and sunny, which you may think sounds great, but Rome is humid, I had to keep somewhat covered up due to sunburn, I had the sore feet, and so it was just uncomfortable. And then there was crowds.

We had been thinking April was still low season there, but not so much–especially late April. That first day, we walked to the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps, and the Coliseum area… And everywhere was just crawling with an unbelievable number of people.

Crowded Spanish steps

We had to share the Spanish Steps with just a few other people.

So truthfully, I wasn’t really liking Rome so much on day 1 there. (And did I mention our hotel had no air conditioning?)

Fortunately, Rome improved. It started by clouding over (but no rain) and lowering the temperature (but not getting too cold), which was much better. And, we largely avoided the big sites and saw some of the less well-known yet quite interesting areas we had missed last time:

  • National Museum of Rome, with fantastic ancient sculptures
  • Museum of Modern Art, with fantastic modern sculptures and a really neat area on optical illusion art
  • The Capuchin crypt, with its artful arrangement of 4000 monk bones (web photo below)
  • A synagogue tour, where I learned just how long Roman Jews have been persecuted
  • An interesting archeological site behind the synogague, unearthing another Colosseum
  • The lively Travestere neighborhood

Capuchin Crypt

We weren’t allowed to take photos here, so this one is a find

Archeological dig behind the synagogue

The not-so-well known colosseum behind the Rome synagogue

Roman Forum

And the more famous Forum (because this is a cool shot)

So Rome ended up fine as well. Thank goodness it was a second visit.

More Amalfi coast photos: http://jean-cathy.smugmug.com/Travel/2013-Travel/Italy-and-the-Amalfi-Coast/

More Rome photos: http://jean-cathy.smugmug.com/Travel/2013-Travel/Rome-April-2012/

More details (with photos): Amalfi and Rome Trip Diary


Leave a comment

Look better naked!

Cover of DVDI’m not entirely sure what to make of the marketing of this DVD. Six weeks to my leanest, hottest body ever—really? Even though I’m now in my 40s, and when in my 20s, apart from having 20 years fewer gravity effects to combat, I worked out something an hour or two a day? Still, this DVD’s going to make me look better than that?

I’m skeptical.

Also, it looks a little porn-y. But in case you’re wondering, the fitness instructors are in fact clothed during the workout, in fairly standard (not especially slutty) workout gear.

And, I assume the title is meant to evoke that Showtime series, How to Look Good Naked. Although the whole point of that show was not that fitness and better diet were necessary, but mostly improved self-esteem. (And maybe a more supportive bra.) It was all about making women feel better about their current size, not trying to change it.

So, it seems I should be sort of offended by this thing. But in fact… It’s a really good DVD workout. What I like is that in a compressed 30 minutes, you get a really good workout. One 30-minute option is called “Metabolic”; the other “Strength”. But with both of them, you actually get a combination of aerobics and muscle training. So covering a lot of fitness needs in a short amount of time. (You can also do the whole thing in 50 minutes.)

The queuing is excellent, with a visual appearing before each new move giving the name and number of reps, along with verbal queuing by the instructor. And she’s quite appealing, motivating without being irritating. Two other women do the workout with her, one modifying some of the moves for beginners.

And I’ve been feeling it. The metabolic one has this interval training approach that is a good addition for me, because you do get to some pretty intense moves, but only for a reasonable number of reps, then followed by an easier set of moves. The strength requires one set of dumbbells, and moves you through the items before any get tedious.

And you know, it may even be possible that my abdominals looks slightly more defined now. Though it hasn’t been six weeks yet.

So what can I say. Despite the dubious packaging, I do recommend this DVD if you are looking for an aerobic/strength training workout. (I also recommend Collage Video in general for fitness DVDs.)

And don’t discount the fun of having a reason to entitle a blog post, Look better naked!


Leave a comment

Since you can’t beat winter…

My catsitter thought we were crazy to visit Algonquin Park in February, but I don’t know. Appears the weather there was better than in Southwestern Ontario. Less snow, anyway.

This trip was organized by the Waterloo Wellington Canoe Club. Neither Jean nor I knew quite what to expect, but it turned out well. The whole group was in a housekeeping cottage, with shared kitchen and living room area, but we had our own room. With our own bathroom.

And, contrary to the mild but snowy weather predictions, we got mild and… beautiful sun, at least on Saturday. Made it a fabulous day to go into the park and do some snowshoeing. (I should have some Jean pictures to add to this post soon.) We did two different trails, one of which led to some really nice views.

Sunday was almost as good, still really mild, though there was a bit of snow this day. We stayed on the Bondi Village grounds and got in just as much, if not more, snowshoeing there. Very nice grounds also, even though we didn’t get to see the fabled deer.

For food, we had to bring our own, but there was a potluck supper Saturday night, with the leftovers served up again for Sunday lunch. Happily, the group seemed to include many with culinary talent, and it was quite a good meal. Or meals.

For entertainment, there was no Internet and no TV, so conversation and card games ruled. Also reading. I got through a whole novel and about five magazines. Whoosh.

I guess the group does this kind of trip twice annually, and we’ll definitely consider going again.


Leave a comment

Overdosing on self-improvement

For someone who doesn’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, I seem to have a lot of self-improvement efforts going on.

I actually did make a New Year’s resolution once, which I did keep that entire year and beyond: To practice the piano at least once a week. The “piano” in question at that time was my Yamaha digital keyboard, a lovely Christmas present, and a very nice-sounding instrument. But as I practiced, and improved (though never to anything terribly impressive), its limitations became clearer: Not being a full keyboard, meaning I couldn’t play all the notes of certain songs. Not having touch sensitivity, meaning that every note of the entire song had to be at the same volume (unless I borrowed one hand to actually turn down the volume button). Not having a sustain pedal, meaning that I could either set to have every note to sustain in equal amounts, or none of them to.

Well, now all of that is solved with my beautiful new Roland digital grand piano.

But with the cost of that thing (though we did get a nice discount on it), I’d better darn well get back to that weekly (minimum) piano playing.

But, I’m going to have to fit that in with my current efforts to try to get my house in better order. What suddenly motivated me to start sorting through the piles of paper, magazines, newspapers, catalogs, etc. in various parts of my house I have no idea, but there it is. Not that you’d notice anything dramatic yet. But the pile of reading material beside my bed looks semi-reasonable now, and you can actually see much of the top of the coffee table downstairs. And I seem to feel compelled to keep making the piles smaller, or at least more organized.

That somehow recently extended to the DVDs and CDs scattered across the TV cabinet and computer, now all put away—somewhere. Admittedly some are just in Lee Valley Tool boxes on the floor, but that still looks a little tidier. And it led to a discussion of how I really need more open cabinets, because I need to see my CDs and DVDs. Which gradually extended to a discussion redoing the entire downstairs, with me actually participating meaningfully in the discussion. This is unusual for me. I’m not a normal girl, and I don’t generally like thinking about renovating and recorating. But now, in the interest of eventually having more cabinets, plus a more integrated fitness room, plus a big-ass TV, I’m invested. At least theoretically. We now have a plan for designing the downstairs.

OK, so I’m practicing the piano, cleaning up my piles of paper, and planning renovations.

But that all has to fit in with my new fitness plan. Mind you, I was working out before, but what’s new now is exercising with the hubby. About a month ago I became convinced that hubby really  needed to exercise more frequently. But after attempts to convince him of this with nothing but intense looks and thoughts proved completely ineffective, I tried a radical approach. I used my words.

To my surprise, he actually agreed. Of course, there were some conditions. No girly activities like yoga, pilates, and dance aerobics. Only manly things like weightlifting, boxing, walking, canoeing, and ballroom dancing. (No sneering. Ballroom dancing is very macho. The man always leads the lady. And she has to wear high heels.)

I was expecting this to be a case of me dragging along reluctant hubby, but he’s turned out to be quite the slave driver himself. Let’s walk longer! No, I don’t need a day off! Heavier weights! Jeez.

Plus, the ballroom dance lessons themselves are somewhat self-improvement-y in another way, in relearning all those dance steps we’ve forgotten. (At least, I sure hope we’ll relearn them.)

OK, so piano practice, dance practice, daily fitness, cleaning up, planning renovations… Might as well eat better too, right? How else will I keep up with all this? So currently, our fruit basket runneth over. Literally.

The most annoying thing is all this happening in January, which culture tells us is supposed to be the month for self-improvement. Which I just hate buying into, because that would make me just like everybody else.

So, these aren’t new year’s resolutions. They are just a bunch of projects and activities that happened to all start around January. I’m in no way trying to become a better, healthier person or anything. Really.