Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cross it off the Bucket List

I celebrated another birthday yesterday, one year older, one more rotation around the sun...and a lot has happened in that time. A new job, an international trip to visit my family, a new roommate. It's amazing how much can change in 12 months.

As I was reading through all the messages on my timeline feed, I saw one from a good friend who is traveling abroad in Australia and New Zealand -- where I was just six months ago. She posted that she had scuba dived in The Great Barrier Reef, checking something else off the bucket list. It made me think about something another friend said at my birthday party last night. She had just celebrated her birthday and said she didn't manage to cross anything off her 30 things before 30 list.

Our lives are packed with daily responsibilities and obligations, it's difficult to find time for ourselves, to do something for us, that will make us happy. After hearing both my friends' stories, I did a mental checklist of everything I had done in the last year to make sure I crossed something off the list...and, luckily, I did. I went to New Zealand.

It may only be one thing, but that's better than nothing.

Color Run Chicago
Looking back over the last year made me realize I haven't accomplished as much as I had hoped by this time. It didn't help that I happened to be looking at the Jetsetter page on Pinterest at the time, which has a Bucket List board, featuring all these incredible places and things to do in each destination. I scrolled through the images, adding more things rather than removing them. When suddenly I saw a pin of a large group of people throwing colorful powder into the air. The Color Run. Amazingly enough, I ran that this morning. I never would have considered it a bucket list item, but it is a different experience, something offbeat and exciting. So maybe I've done more than I think.

I'll admit that much of it requires money and time, two things that can be hard to come by, but some things don't. There have been some small triumphs this year that I can be proud of. I set a personal record in the Shamrock Shuffle 8k, finally ran the Soldier Field 10 miler and ended on the fifty yard line, took a road trip to Door County, visited Seattle, painted a room for the first time all by myself. Sure, they aren't bucket list worthy, but these little victories are something to be proud of, something that made my life better.

But I hope to cross more off the bucket list before I celebrate my golden birthday. And I have 12 months to achieve that goal...and this is what's next!
Cave tubing in Belize

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Charity: Water - Taking a Waterwalk for India

My arms ache and my shoulders are about to give out. I quickly put one foot in front of the other, eager to reach the end of the runway. There, I set down the two yellow Jerry cans and shake out my arms, happy I did it, and shocked that anyone could carry those longer than the forty feet I just walked. And yet women and children all over the world do it every day, walking miles to collect water.

Last night, I had the privilege of attending an incredible fundraiser for Charity: Water, a non-profit organization determined to bring clean and safe drinking water to everyone in the world. As part of the event, they ask attendees to carry two Jerry cans, each filled with 40 pounds of water, and walk down a runway, which is only a fraction of what millions of people around the world walk. And so my friend Jessica and I decided to test ourselves--for a good cause--and carry the cans down the runway.
Charity:Water at W Chicago
Jessica carrying the cans
I figured it wouldn't be that hard, I mean, I lift, I'm in shape, and it's only a short runway. And yet when I pulled those cans off the floor, my muscles immediately started to burn. And once I started walking, it was hard to stop, since the weight seemed to force me forward. It was good there were two cans, as it helped to evenly distribute the weight on either side of me, otherwise it would have been much more difficult. I made it the whole way without stopping or putting down the cans, but I'm sure if I had to go much further, I wouldn't have been able to do it.

It really makes you think about how lucky we are to have access to clean water whenever we want it; how so many people in the world are forced to trek for miles just to get dirty, unsanitary water that could ultimately lead to disease and death. In fact, unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, according to the organization's website. The most affected are children, especially those younger than five.

The best part of the whole evening was knowing that by simply doing that walk one time, I helped people in need of clean water. In fact, for every person that walked, W Hotels will donate $45 to the Charity: Water cause.

This month's campaign is for India, and the goal is to raise $2 million by the end of September. Two thousand people have already started campaigns to raise money, and $568,917 has been collected to give families in India clean water. If you want to get involved, you can support and donate to any of the campaigns on the Charity: Water website. Or, if you want to start a campaign of your own, the next ones on the horizon are for Ethiopia and Cambodia.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Trouble in Colorado: How to Help Flood Victims

As most of you know, my home state of Colorado was hit hard by rain the last few days, causing severe flooding and major damage, mostly in the Boulder area. Roughly 1,500 homes have been destroyed and hundreds are missing as water continues to rush through the streets. Air rescue operations are said the be the largest in the U.S. since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. The situation is incredibly dire, and, unfortunately, the weather is still not cooperating, hampering helicopter rescue missions.
Boulder Flooding. Credit:
The president declared the area a major disaster and freed up federal funds and resources to aid state and local governments. But more is needed, and there are plenty of groups lending a hand. If you want to learn how you can help, check out some of these organizations.

Help Colorado Now is a partnership between the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the Colorado Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. It is an initiative brings together agencies and non-profit organizations that are responding to disasters in Colorado and need assistance. It lists all the voluntary agencies helping with the flooding and all the requests those agencies are making. You can contribute money, materials or your time to any of the listed agencies.

Foothills United Way established a relief fun to help with the long-term effects of the flood, and information about how to contribute can be found at The Salvation Army and Red Cross are also both asking for donations to help victims of the flood who have lost many of their possessions. The Boulder Valley Human Society is taking animals that need shelter from evacuated areas, and is in need of heavy blankets, dog treats, bottles, rubber toys and storage bins. The organization also needs volunteers to help take care of the animals.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Life of a Triathlete's Entourage

I recently became a member of an entourage. I'm not quite sure how it happened, but I can pinpoint when the cortege formed: August 25, 2013. That was the day of the Chicago Triathlon, a major sporting event that draws thousands of athletes from all over the country. My roommate, Amanda, was competing in the Olympic distance, so a few friends and I decided to make her some signs and go watch her run the race. But what began as an easygoing idea soon transformed into a deliberate plan. 

It started with the sign making. It took an entire afternoon of research; dozens of colorful pens; thoughtful consideration of wording and spacing; and fastidious penmanship and decoration. It seemed odd to spend so much time on something as trivial as signs, but, for some reasons, it was important that they be perfect and that Amanda not see them before the race. 

When race day arrived, my friends Meredith and Laurel and I (along with Amanda's parents) woke up super early, grabbed coffee to go and headed down to the start line. The next five hours were a whirlwind of cheering, sitting, jumping, walking, standing, waiting, yelling, clapping, picture snapping and following. It became a purposeful coordination moving from transition point to transition point, looking for the optimal viewing location to make sure we saw her and she saw us.

It was when Amanda finished and we found ourselves consistently walking about four feet behind her that we dubbed ourselves her unofficial entourage. And yet we seemed to take the new title pretty seriously. We were holding her gear, offering to help with things, looking up times on our phones, inquiring if she was ok or of she needed anything. We were her loyal crew.

Then, at Amanda's celebration dinner, the entourage got it's next job. She had agreed to take a friend's bib for a triathlon in Lake Geneva in a couple weeks, and said it would mean a lot if we all came up and watched. Who were we to say no?

So, this weekend, I helped Amanda put her bike on her car and load up her gear, and then we picked up our friend Laurel on the way up to Lake Geneva. My first job, help with navigation. Sounds simple enough, right? Not when there's tons of traffic and no alternate route (pissing the driver off) and all of us are hungry, making us a little more irritable and anxious. (We eventually stopped for some food, which seemed to brighten all our spirits.) And after getting through the parking lot of cars, we were finally able to relax and enjoy the scenery of rolling green hills, farms and towering trees. 

As we neared the hotel, we decided to stop off to pick up some libations for the evening, since we would most likely just be relaxing in the room so Amanda could get to bed early (she had to get up at 3:45 the next morning). Laurel and I, not being from Wisconsin, told Amanda to pull into the Shopko thinking it would surely sell liquor...boy, were we wrong. We walked in the doors to find an outdated, badly lit department store, and no grocery section. Laurel and I were surprised, we were sure it was a supermarket; but Amanda knew full well what it was and kept that knowledge to herself thinking we had to know what we were getting into. The adventure continued as we proceeded to change our course of direction about three times from the Walmart, to the Walgreens and finally to the Piggly Wiggly, where we were finally rewarded. 

We got the hotel, where Meredith was waiting. Amanda's parents arrived shortly after that. As I predicted, the evening was spent sitting in the hotel talking, snacking and drinking. But we weren't opposed to this, since there isn't much to do in Delavan, WI. 

The next morning, Amanda headed out early to get her bike set up and check in. We followed shortly after, making our way to the starting line to make sure we had prime viewing spots. It was a chilly morning, lots of fog hung over the water, but the athletes were ready to go. Luckily, Amanda was only doing a sprint distance this time, much shorter than Olympic. 

Once again, we made sure we saw her at every point that we could: going into the water, coming out of the water, wheeling her bike out of transition, pedaling ferociously back to the drop off, and sprinting to the finish line.

We were there again to hold her gear, watch as she stretched and refueled on free breakfast--spectators had to pay--and hear all about her experience on the course, which usually includes some crazy story (this time she was hit by a truck and landed in a front yard). 

After packing up all our stuff at the hotel, we quickly ran back to Piggly Wiggly (had to stock up on New Glarus beer, since you can only get it in Wisconsin) and then we had a quick lunch at a local bar and grill before heading back to Chicago. 

I would have liked to spend some more time in Lake Geneva, exploring the area, going shopping, etc. Unfortunately, our lives cannot completely stop for these events and other responsibilities get in the way. However, it sounds as if we may try and make more of an effort to dedicated ourselves completely to watching Amanda compete in triathlons. Next October, she plans to do a half Iron Man in North Carolina, and we have agreed to go along for the ride. (In this case, though, she's trying to convince us to run the race as a relay, which may or may not happen.) She also wants to do Lake Geneva again next year and make it a full weekend event.

I'll admit, our entourage status is pretty modest compared to others. I've heard of people who act like a pit crew for athletes, repairing bikes, taping injuries and giving massages. At least Amanda can handle most of that herself, and has never asked too much of us. After all, we are first and foremost her friends, and more than anything, she loves our support. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Invest in Experiences

Where has all my money gone?

I'm sure most of you have felt this way at one point or another in your life. Being low on cash can be frustrating, scary and stressful, not to mention a total buzzkill to your social life. I always automatically put money into my savings--to use for a rainy day. Usually, my extra cash goes to utility bills, paying off credit cards and grocery shopping, and anything left over is used for anything else I might need or want (clothes, dinner/drinks with the girls, manicures/pedicures, etc). Lately, however, I've been putting my money towards something else: experiences.

And while many of the other categories can force pause or lead to some sense of regret or buyers remorse, I never think twice about investing in an experience, especially if it involves travel. How could I possibly regret taking the opportunity to better myself, to enrich my life, to learn something new and to go somewhere I've never been before. For that, I'm willing to sacrifice a night out at the bar, or brunch with the girls one weekend, or not going out to lunch and making it at home every day (but I've always done that, regardless of funds being tight). I figure those are things I can do any time.

The next experience will be a quick drive up to Lake Geneva to see my roommate compete in a triathlon. Ok, I know it might not be the most exciting thing to do with my Saturday morning. But, I've never been to Lake Geneva, and it is incredibly entertaining and inspiring to watch these elite athletes achieve their goal. Not to mention, it's a good bonding experience. My roommate and two other friends will have a nice evening at the hotel, a fun morning at the race and a pleasant brunch afterwards. It will be like a mini girls getaway.

In October, Chicago Ideas Week is being held at various locations downtown. This event includes workshops, labs, discussions and lectures, all from innovative and influential people sharing their thoughts, ideas, advice and insight. The talks are only $15, so my boyfriend and I decided to take advantage and see at least three. We both really like these kinds of things--we listen to Ted Talks, Ted Radio Hour and Freakonomics Radio all the time--so why not see it in person? I'm super excited to hear what these people have to say, gain more information and find some inspiration. Definitely worth a few bucks.

From there, I take a weekend to Washington, D.C., to see my friend Hannah and spend time with a few other good friends. While I've been to the nation's capital before, I was 13 years old at the time, and most of that trip was spent taking student tours of the monuments, museums and other tourist attractions. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against doing some touristy activities, but I'd also like to see areas of the city I never had the chance to experience before. Also, I can't turn down the opportunity to be around people I love and care about, because that just fulfills my life even more.

Plenty of people criticize these choices--for whatever reason--telling me to make smart financial choices, to save more than I spend. But in my opinion, I am being smart. I'm not wasting my money on an expensive outfit I'll only wear once, or some fancy electronics I don't need, I'm not blowing cash at restaurant or a casino. I'm making purchases--or more appropriately investments--that contribute to my growth as an individual. These experiences are more beneficial to me than a bunch of material items.

There's a saying I have hanging in my room that says, "How you spend your time is more important than how you spend your money. Money mistakes can be corrected but time is gone forever."