Happier

Things that make me happy?  Hiking, dog smiles, and dog hugs!

Things that make me happy? Hiking, dog smiles, and dog hugs!

Have you heard about Happier?  It’s a social media website that focuses on positivity – not a bunch of ads, political rants, or inflammatory comments.  Like any other social media site, you can create a profile, and then post about moments that make you happy.  You can also read happy moments shared by other users and “smile” at them (as opposed to Facebook “likes”).

I joined a few months ago, and I love it.  I definitely don’t use it as often as I would like, but I’m trying to change that.  When I’m stressed, a dose of positivity from other people can really help.  Plus, research has shown that focusing on small happy moments instead of chasing after an ideal of happiness can actually improve overall mood and life satisfaction.

I’m not affiliated with the site at all – I just love the idea of focusing on positive thoughts.  One of my favorite features of the site (and the iPhone app) is that it reminds me to be grateful for the little things.  Since I’m feeling so busy/overwhelmed right now, taking a few minutes each day to use the app gives me just the pick-me-up that I need!  Check it out!

A day at the aquarium

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I can’t believe my vacation is halfway over!  Sigh…  As much as I love my program, I’m not sure that one week is long enough to give my brain a true rest!  Ah well.  I’m making the most of things this week, trying to balance some work with some fun stuff.

One of my fun activities this week was a trip to the Mystic Aquarium!  I’ve wanted to go there for years, but it’s about 2 hours away and the New England Aquarium in Boston (much closer!) is usually enough to satisfy my need to periodically see penguins, rays, and colorful fish!

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Let me tell you – it was worth the trip!  Since it was a weekday, the crowds were minimal (in fact, we were often able to enjoy the exhibits alone or with only 1-2 other people).  The facility was clean and the staff seemed eager to share their knowledge about the various animals/exhibits.  The exhibits are mature enough for adults to enjoy, but they are also very kid-friendly.  Some have crawl spaces under the tanks for kids to climb inside (for a unique view!).  There are also some tanks close to the ground, and all of the tanks extend down nearly to floor level – the kiddos can get a great view without help!  The only downside to our trip was that we didn’t realize how much of the aquarium was actually outside – there’s a large area with Beluga whales, sea lions, and penguins.  While I loved getting to see those animals, I felt like I didn’t get to enjoy them as much as I would have liked since I left my coat in the car.  Whoops.  As the weather gets warmer, I’d like to go again and spend a little more time at the outdoor exhibits.

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Like most aquariums, the Mystic Aquarium is clearly focused on conservation and species survival.  There are signs throughout the facility that explain some of the aquarium’s conservation efforts, and the staff seemed enthusiastic about these types of causes.

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Jeb and I will definitely return to the aquarium – especially as the weather warms up, and definitely with Talia!  I tried to take some photos, but, as you can see, it is hard to get clear shots through thick acrylic!  Ah well.  🙂

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Prioritizing

She keeps an eye on me!

She keeps an eye on me!

Continuing on my thoughts about having realistic expectations for myself…

I’ve realized that I can’t do it all (at least not within the confines of my current commitments)!  I suppose we all come to this realization at some point, but I’ve spent a lot of time working on work-life balance over the past few years, so I’m a bit frustrated that things have gotten SO unbalanced again.  This frustration is not conducive to productivity – if anything, it leads to more stress and I find myself in that vicious spiral where I can’t seem to get anything done.

So, instead of stressing about this, I need to break things down and figure out the best way to maximize my time.  School and work are obviously top priorities, so those commitments have to pretty much stay as they are.  I also need to keep sleep and exercise as a priority.  However, instead of trying to drastically improve strength or speed, I think I should focus instead on maintaining my strength and building my running endurance.

Of equal importance (though certainly less tangible) is my family time, both with Jeb and with my parents/sisters/niece.  The time passes so quickly and I sometimes forget (during my marathon homework sessions) how much time has passed since I spent time with my family.  I’m much better about this with Jeb than anyone else, but that might be largely because he lives with me! 🙂

Then, I have to allow some time to enjoy life and recharge my brain.  As hard as it is to find the time, I’ve learned that I actually am more productive if I’ve set aside time to take a complete break.  This downtime includes time with my dogs (which has the added benefit of being motivating on its own – I feel a responsibility to make them happy and, in doing so, I get a little recharge).

So, in general, my priorities are school/work, family, sleep, REALISTIC workouts, and downtime (with dogs).  Now, I just have to figure out how to fit all of that into a 24-hour day!

Dreaming of Spring

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It’s Spring Break!  Granted, it doesn’t feel like spring around here – in fact, my weather app tells me that it currently feels like 5º F.  Awesome.  This winter has been long and brutal, and I’m definitely starting to get the itch for warmer weather.

Since I’m the proud new owner of a macro lens, I bought some flowers and decided to play around and get comfortable with it!  I definitely have some work to do, but the exercise was fun and helped to brighten my day.  Spring doesn’t feel so far away after all!

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Meet Fiona

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This is Fiona!  We adopted her from a local animal shelter.  Since she was about 7 months old and kind of quiet, no one at the shelter seemed to notice her (everyone was focused on the bouncing puppies!).  One look in those big, brown eyes, though, and I couldn’t leave without her!  Duke loves her (and is so much happier now – he had a hard time when we lost Wendy), and she is settling in nicely.  She’s roughly 60 pounds, but thinks she’s small – in fact, she’s curled up on my lap at this very moment.

She’s definitely the right dog for us, and at the right time.  Sometimes I feel guilty about how attached I’ve become, since I had to lose Wendy to find Fiona, but I’m learning to separate the two (especially since I was equally attached to Wendy).  Fiona is attached to me too – when I come home at night, she sticks to me like glue.  If I stand still, she sits on my feet!

I hope to teach Fiona to go running with me.  So far, she’s been pretty nervous to even go for walks, so I’ve been taking things pretty slow.  She had a rough puppyhood in Puerto Rico (she’s a Sato!), so she can be a little timid and jumpy.  Now that we’ve had her a few months, her confidence is improving so I hope to get her out on the roads with me once spring arrives!

 

Bash Bish Falls State Park

In the same area as Mt. Everett (the Mount Washington State Reservation), there are multiple state parks.  The day we hiked Mt. Everett, we didn’t have time to check out any of the surrounding parks, but we were pretty curious about Bash Bish Falls State Park.  According to the website, Bash Bish Falls is the largest single drop waterfall in Massachusetts (yes, I know – not saying much).  While the falls were nice, we also really loved some of the surrounding trails.

There are two parking areas – one in MA and one in NY.  These parking areas are only about a mile apart, and I highly recommend checking out both areas.  The hike down to the falls from the MA lot is very steep and strenuous, but there is also a short, steep hike UP from the parking lot to a scenic viewing area.  We liked the view so much that we went back again just after sunset to take another look.

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Same view, but sunset!

Same view, but sunset!

There was also a small trail off to the side of the parking lot that led down to the river (not sure what it is called, but it’s the one that feeds into the Falls).  No one else was down there, and we really enjoyed the quiet!  There’s nothing like the sound of rushing water for stress relief – plus, the dogs liked swimming in the calmer areas.

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After a couple hours hanging out by the river, we drove over to the NY parking area and hiked about a mile uphill to the falls.  It was a nice, relaxing hike with a wide and smooth trail.  We had to cross the state line (back into MA) to get back to the falls, and were excited to find that we were the only people there.  Apparently, the falls are very crowded in the summer, but it was quiet when we were there – likely because it was 7 p.m.!

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All-in-all, we had a great day!  The hiking wasn’t overly strenuous, which was relaxing (in a way), but we were rewarded for our efforts.  Plus, the dogs had a great time, and I had some fun playing with my camera!

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Snagged Some Sun

It has been raining here lately… a lot!  Normally, I like a bit of rain (hell, I used to live in Ireland – if you don’t like rain there, you’re screwed!).  I’ve also appreciated that there haven’t been too many oppressively hot days yet this summer. And, every day hasn’t been rainy (just most of them!) – we got in a hike on Sunday (during a quick reprieve from the rain), and have been less distracted by outdoor adventures enough that we’ve found time to go to the movies.  We saw Iron Man 3 and Star Trek: Into Darkness, and liked them both.   BUT, I’ve been lame and have not been running in the rain.  

Now, don’t get me wrong – I often really enjoy running in the rain, but I haven’t been feeling it (or any of the hassles that come along with wet clothes and gear!) and am really trying to keep things simple this summer.  So, for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been focusing on my lifting (cross-training) and yoga.  

Today, though, we had sun for about 4 hours (yippie!), so Wendy and I scooted out for an easy 3-mile run around the neighborhood.  It was nice.  Lifting is really helping with my running.  While my calves were screaming (as they always do when I take a break from running – even if only for a week), the rest felt great.  The same pace requires less effort – so, what would have been a really tough gut-busting workout has now become a relaxed run.  Why, oh why, did I put off getting back under the bar?!?!

When we got home, I had a nice glass of chocolate milk and read a magazine on the deck until the clouds came back!  Not a bad way to spend an afternoon! 🙂