"Why" fitness, and my favorite workouts & resources

I have a confession. I don't like working out. I like the results of working out, and I don't like feeling like a lazy excuse-maker (or being perceived as a lazy excuse-maker). I think 'traditional' gym workouts (lifting and cardio) are a big ol' bore-snore. They're hard, they make me sweat, and I have mild asthma, which makes it extra uncomfortable to do 'typical' circuits. But, being out of shape is the easy way out. It's pleasant to go home after work and sit with my husband, watch tv and eat deliciously unhealthy comfort foods…but that's not good for your body. With even a moderate exercise regimen, your life span is extended. I know people - particularly people that are out of shape - will joke and say that they're "fat and happy" - but it just takes a little work to find what physical activity you like to do, and it won't be such a chore for you any more. It's about putting in that little bit of effort at the start, insisting on better for yourself and holding yourself to a higher standard than you have in the past - and you'll be doing both yourself and your family a great service.

When I was in my second semester of grad school, I started going to the gym a few days a week. It wasn't that I was gaining a significant amount of weight, but I had gained 'comfort weight' in areas that I thought were really unattractive. Until that time, I had never, ever done "actual" physical activity (with the exception of marching band in high school. Really). I was going to school full time (grad school is a huge time commitment outside of the classroom), and I was working full time most of the time, as well. I didn't really "have" time to go to the gym and work out, but I made time. I either got up early or stayed up late and got in my hour, four or five times a week. Once I started to see results, I was hooked. I feel like so many people give up on working out because it's work, and it's not fun - at least not right away. But, if everything were easy, it wouldn't be worth achieving, and it wouldn't be rewarding - would it?

My one major piece of advice when it comes to working out is to find a way to get active and fit that you actually enjoy. If running and lifting aren't enjoyable to you, try classes - Zumba and yoga were my absolute favorite thing before I found climbing (in fact, I briefly considered becoming a yoga instructor). Lots of people are also really into hiking, biking, doing instructional videos like Insanity, or swimming. I may still actually become a yoga instructor, we'll see. Since I found climbing, I get a huge upper-body strength workout just from doing that. To supplement, I lift legs occasionally, do yoga once a week, do core workouts (great for climbers!) once a week and do cardio….well, occasionally. I  still hate cardio. I'm not trying to "cut" or lose weight, so I really only do it because it's good for my health.

Here are some of my favorite workouts and resources for anyone that would like them!

Jamie Eason's LiveFit Trainer

Jamie Eason is a fitness model and coach, and she developed this twelve-week graduated workout plan for folks who are trying to get into shape and build muscle. This is what I used when I first started. I googled things in the Trainer that I didn't know how to do or machines I didn't know how to work, and I went around the gym and did the workouts, figuring out how machines worked as I went. This was an incredibly useful tool for me when I first started on my fitness journey because it gave me a structured program and allowed me to learn how to use the gym equipment. I'm the type of person that, if I don't have a structured training regimen, I'll just wander around the gym doing random things. So this is perfect for me.


I love yoga. It is incredibly good for your body. Even without another form of exercise, I see a difference in my body's tone and function with doing yoga a few times a week. It is great for recovery, strength and flexibility, particularly if you're doing a Power or Rocket Yoga-type class (and I highly recommend classes over videos, much more motivating and super helpful to have an instructor and fellow yogis doing asanas with you). As with almost anything, you have to give it at least a few classes before you decide whether or not you like it. Many people give up on yoga because it is uncomfortable at first, but that's because you're really inflexible and out of shape - that's the whole point of trying yoga in the first place, so don't give up!

These are some of my favorite poses:

Half boat

Seated forward fold
Hand to toe, extended

Fire log
Yogic squat
Bound side angle

Side Crow

Crescent lunge
Warrior 1
Warrior 2

And I'm working on these poses:
Flying Crow (I can hold it for a split second before I smack my face into the ground, but I have to hop into it, which is a no-no.)
Bird of paradise (I can do this pose but I am working to get my leg straight)

HIIT cardio

If you look at the Trainer above, you'll see she does 30-second sprints. If I'm going to do cardio, I either do these or the stair climber. I know that there is a way to set a treadmill to cycle up and down from 8 mph to 3 mph, but I'm not smart enough to figure that out. So, I just set my treadmill to 8 mph and run for 30 seconds, hop onto the edges for 30 seconds, run for 30 seconds, hop off for 30 seconds, etc. I don't really recommend this unless you're really coordinated, though. Ha!


There are a multitude of core workouts floating around on the internet. The LiveFit Trainer above is a great place to get started with some basic floor-based core workouts, but some of my go-to favorites are these:

Split V-Ups
Ball passes
Hanging leg raises
Hanging leg raises with rotation
A Tabata-style core workout like this one

Just don't give up. If you can't hold yourself accountable, get a buddy or a personal trainer (I highly recommend a personal trainer, they are the best!) They say it takes 4 weeks of regular workouts for you to notice a difference, 8 weeks for those closest to you - like a spouse - to notice a difference - and 12 weeks for others to notice. So, keep at it.

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The winding road of my professional pursuits

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
(J.R.R. Tolkien)

I moved to DC five years ago to get my Master's degree in Foreign Policy and pursue a career in the intelligence community. (I touched on my background here.) After graduation I looked, and looked, and looked, for that 'dream job' for two years, and nothing every came of it. I watched my friends get those high-powered jobs, and after observing their lives and finding the climbing community, I've become much more content with where I am both personally and professionally.

I was miserable for those two years, and continuously asked myself why I wasn't getting those jobs, when people less qualified than I were. I was pretty unhappy with where we were financially and professionally, and I often took it out on my husband. I wasn't making amazing money doing what I was doing, but my husband struggled to even find full-time employment for much longer after he graduated than I did (yay law career - don't do it, kids.) I ended up making a lot of changes within myself and in my social circle that have vastly improved my outlook on life. I think focusing on my own happiness, my husband's happiness, being content, kind, open, honest and patient, avoiding people overly focused on the material, on themselves and their relative success compared with others and just letting life come to me has showed me what I'm truly passionate about and what I should really be doing with my life.

I wrote in the post referenced above about how finding climbing has impacted my outlook on life. I've developed a love for the sport that extends beyond the sport itself, and have started becoming interested in pursuing a career in the climbing community. Since I was in college, I always felt like if I wasn't making six figures, what I was doing wasn't worth doing - to the extent that I was willing to sacrifice my work-life balance and do something I didn't love. I think part of my personal maturing experience has led me to understand that you really only do live once, and that we really don't need a significant amount of money to achieve what I'm envisioning for us, if we're smart. And so, I've redirected my professional focus.

I'm currently working full-time as an administrator with a nonprofit organization. I may never have pictured myself where I am, but it all has worked out better than I could have envisioned at 21. Nonprofit work is the bomb in many ways - I know where I am now is way better than where I would have been if I had gotten a government job. My job is relaxed, my team is relaxed, and I have a very regular schedule that provides me plenty of free time to pursue my hobbies.

A few weeks ago, I started studying for my personal training certification. My entire goal with this certification is to have it and a few specializations (youth fitness, strength & conditioning, and nutrition….maybe yoga) as a foundation for coaching and instructing climbers. I haven't really decided whether I want to pursue a coaching and instructing career alongside my nonprofit career or if I want to make a full-time transition, but if I've learned anything in the last few years, is to let God lead me where He feels I am most valuable. We have pretty much everything we need, and tend to focus more on conservation and sustainable living more than we do on "bigger, bigger, bigger, more, more, more" anyway. So really, life has led me perfectly to where I am now, and I'm happier than I've ever been before.

Even the tiny house thing is fascinating to me, and maybe if we were at a different place in our lives we could have experienced that for a bit. ;) Buncha hippies.
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Climbing safety and our responsibility to the sport

I have read several articles recently that bemoan the lack of concern - particularly amongst the newest generation of climbers - for safety, the sanctity of the sport and for the care and maintenance of developed climbing areas. I was lucky enough to be brought into climbing by a seasoned climber with a high level of respect for all of these things, and I try desperately to pass down what he taught me to anyone just coming into, or ignoring critical foundations of, the sport. I witness too often climbers in the gym, or outside, ignoring redundancy in their gear, not doing appropriate safety checks, lacking crash pads, spotting improperly, allowing rando's to belay them, lazily using a grigri, or disrespecting the natural surroundings in a developed climbing area. All of these things drive me up a wall.

People are always mentioning to me in the gym about how conscious I am not only of my own pad placement, but of others', where others are in relation to someone that is climbing, if someone needs spotted - that's all because I was taught properly and because I have a healthy respect for the sport as a whole. I refuse to allow myself or someone else to get injured because they are being lazy or non-observant. I also refuse to contribute to any perception that climbers are either of those things, or that they shouldn't be allowed to climb outdoors because they don't respect where they are climbing. I think these are serious foundational lessons that need to be taught to new climbers that are being brought into the sport, alongside and as a complement to technique, endurance, strength-building, and training routines (and one of the reasons I'm interested in pursuing a career in instruction).

Lesson 1: Gear redundancy and safety checks

I saw an incredibly sad article recently about a man that died leading outside because he was climbing alone, bolt-to-bolt, with a stick clip hanging from his harness, clipping the next bolt and unclipping from his last as he went along. He took a fall, the one bolt he was clipped into failed, and he decked. He unfortunately ended up dying from blunt-force trauma to his head. I'm not saying that there is a 100% fool-proof method for ensuring you will not get injured when climbing. What I am saying is that there are shades of gray. Clipping properly, doing your appropriate safety checks, stick-clipping your first clip from the ground, using correct knots, having a belayer (like, hi) and using redundant gear when doing more complicated forms of climbing will decrease the odds that you will get injured. That's just how it is. Flouting those insurances, back-ups and safety techniques will increase the odds that you will get injured. I have personally witnessed, via safety checks, one of our strongest climbers tying into only one loop on their harness by accident. I also saw someone belaying someone on lead with the rope in their ATC upside-down, likely too nervous and self-conscious to tell their climber to come down and admit their mistake. New climbers have to be taught that these are important, that you are not immortal, no matter how strong and seasoned you are, and that if you forget a piece of gear or your belayer is otherwise occupied, guess what. You aren't climbing today. And that's that.

Graphic courtesy of Aman Anderson & Team Gorda
Lesson 2: Crash pad placement

I have witnessed two serious ankle injuries in the bouldering cave - both were during controlled falls where the climber landed between two pads that weren't pushed together properly. I get that you're excited to get on the wall. I get that you're a V5 climber and you're on a V3, and that you 'aren't going to fall, so it's fine.' But guess what you won't be psyched about....a broken ankle or a blown tendon. It takes two seconds to put your pads in the right place. Just do it.

Lesson 3: Spotting

Why am I always seeing people spotting so terribly, or not spotting at all? The "Oh, it's just a 5.10a, he won't fall, I don't need to spot him" mentality is dangerous. I might look like a big ol' dork, but if Amanda slips while trying to clip the first clip on any climb, I'll have her properly spotted so she doesn't land on her head. I don't really care what I look like, my climber's safety is most important. If I see someone doing a sketchy lay-back on an overhang in the bouldering cave, I'm going to move their pads and spot their head. I'm small enough that I have to body-check people into the pads, but that's fine with me. I see too many people afraid to take a hit from a falling climber in order to keep their body on the pad, and that's scary to me. Don't give a climber a false sense of security by calling out that you're "spotting" them if you're going to jump out of the way when they fall. Just sayin'.

Lesson 4: Don't let that rando belay you and the mental danger of the grigri

So... here's my thing. I think grigri's are great tools when used properly. They create redundancy in the event of human (belayer) error. I obviously have tons of friends that use grigri's properly. However, I see belayers in the gym all the freakin' time using grigri's like a bunch of lazy toolbags. Not holding their break strands, basically zoning out because they assume that, if their climber falls, that you-know-what is going to slam shut and their climber is going to be fine. Guess what. Gear can fail. Your climber's life is literally in your hands. I don't know of anything that's more serious than that. If they deck, it's on you. It doesn't matter how cool you looked belaying, because you were so chill and relaxed while they were climbing. I look like a big ol' dork when I'm belaying, giving slack, taking slack, looking up, left, right, walking back and forth, because I think being someone's lead belayer is a serious responsibility.

(This series on this issue in Rock & Ice is great.)

Additionally - if someone is offering to belay you, but you've never seen them belay before? Make no assumptions. Don't let that rando belay you.

(This flowchart is a representation of how to decide who should, and should not, belay you.)

Lesson 5: Leave no trace

This is like....a Boy Scouts motto, right? If you are climbing outside, don't leave trash any where. Don't break off tree braches, don't stomp brush, don't hike off a path to a crag, don't be a douche. The Access Fund exists to try and maintain access to developed climbing areas around the country, and they exist because there are unfortunately climbers that act like bulls in a china shop when they climb outdoors. Climbers lose access to climbing areas when they do these things. It raises the perception that climbers have no respect for the environment, that they're reckless and that they're infestations that destroy parks and habitats. Don't be that guy.

Obviously this post isn't applicable to everyone that reads my blog, but it's something that has been bugging me lately and that I wanted to say.
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Pros & Cons of Living in DC

Something pretty significant I've learned in the last five years is that, no matter where you live, there are going to be pros and cons to living in that particular place (or city). There are a multitude of reasons I moved to DC, foremost being that I got accepted to a school that is one of the most highly regarded for the degree that I wanted. The main reason I moved to DC, though, is that I just wanted to get out of Indiana. I wanted to live in a big city and I just wanted to get away from all of the things about living in Indiana that I felt were negative (and are still negative, but I've grown up and realized that the positives outweigh the negatives, and that we can work around the negatives by being diligent in the lifestyle we want to lead).

For the first couple of years, living in DC was awesome. It was novel, there was tons of free, incredible things to do, public transit was a new concept that I loved having available, the political culture was exactly what I was looking for, I was being challenged both intellectually and professionally by my peers, and living in a city where people actually came to be tourists was fascinating. My initial experience in DC was also colored by the fact that I was in grad school and living primarily on student loans. So, a lot changed when I graduated.

I want to lead with saying that though we will not be living in DC forever, there are awesome things about it (that have been especially awesome while we've been young). There is a heavy emphasis on education, which we really appreciate. The best public schools in the country are in a suburb of DC, there are multiple world-class colleges and universities located in and just outside the city, the best private schools are located here, and the city with the highest concentration of PhD holders per square mile is a suburb of DC. We love that, and wish we could justify raising kids here for that reason.

We really love that this area has a culture that is very focused on eating well and staying fit. People bike and walk to work regularly, everyone loves to get out and hike, the climbing community here is extremely active with several great developed climbing areas within a reasonable driving distance (and there are several climbing gyms), organic food is easy to come by and fast food is far less prevalent than it is in Indiana. We love all those things because, while we could of course stay fit and eat well in Indiana, having it be such an integral part of the culture here makes it a natural part of your lifestyle and a whole lot less work.

Since you're in the capital, there are a ton of resources and activities that are 100% free to the public that really enrich the lives of those living here (does it come out of DC residents' tax dollars? Of course. But I digress.) Having a dozen free Smithsonian museums in the city is amazing, not to mention the monuments, the Cherry Blossom festival, all of the readily-available ethnic food, and the amazing diversity. People actually want to come visit us here, because we live in such an awesome city. And that's novel to us.

But….our values have changed a lot in the last year. Despite all of those fabu things about living in DC, there are some serious negatives that for us outweigh the positives. First, DC is incredibly, outrageously expensive. Unless you graduate from school with very little debt and land a job making six figures, there is no way you will be able to responsibly afford a home for at least 10 years, if not more. And even then, your debt will be doing double-duty with student loans and a mortgage. In the meantime, you will be flushing about $2,000 a month down the toilet on rent. (The metro is even expensive, around $7 round-trip, every day, on average for someone that relies on it to get to and from work.) Since neither of us have been able to land the 'dream jobs' we were looking for when we graduated, we really aren't in the type of financial position to make living in DC manageable.  And we just aren't okay with that. I think it's great that some people are, because someone needs to be. Those people just aren't us.

The people here, by and large, are….tough. (I realize that is a broad brushstroke, and I have many fantastic and lovely friends in this city. But this is just my opinion based on the majority of what I have experienced.) People are aggressive, stressed, overworked, often underpaid, and hyper-competitive. At one point I actually thought I was looking for this high-intensity culture. I was wrong. As we've gotten older, we've realized we want certain other things more than we want the dog-eat-dog career-focused environment. That makes us different than folks that are happy settling here in DC, though it doesn't make us better or worse than those people.

It is crowded, and the drivers are awful. (You thought Indiana or Ohio drivers were bad? Fortune did a study that came to the conclusion that DC ranks among the top-10 worst places to drive in the United States. Spoiler alert: Unless you count Pittsburgh, no midwestern cities made the list.) At one time I thought I loved riding the metro, but I don't any more. There are mornings when I have to let two or three trains pass me because they are just so full I can even squeeze my little 110-pound 5'3" butt on there. Just getting to work is a challenge, and is a huge stressor for both of us. WHY.

We want to live near our parents and our family - not just as our parents age, but also as we start considering the growth of our own family. Our friends here are awesome, but I personally had a close and very special relationship with my grandparents that I want my children to experience. Neither of us could imagine having and raising children so far from our families, and for us that is a huge deal-breaker. It will of course be bittersweet for me to leave my climbing community here and assimilate into a new one. We love our friends here and will continue to visit DC regularly throughout our lives. For us, though, the proximity to our families is trumping almost every other reason to stay here in DC.

We love certain aspects of living in DC, and it has been a wonderful experience for us while we've been young. I don't have regrets about moving here, because we both got to experience living in a big city and won't ever have to wonder 'what if'. Everyone's life follows different paths, at different times, for different reasons. This is the path our life has taken, and I love it for all its twists and turns. Everything has happened for us for a reason, and we have an awesome life because I have (tried really really hard to have!) gone with the flow. I'm super excited for everything life has in store for us in the next few years, and can't wait to keep sharing it with you guys. :)

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A Haynes Apartment (and Future House!) Revamp

As you know, Seth and I are of the age when buying our first home is looming on the horizon. I am super psyched for this next stage in our lives, and we are hoping to buy early next year (whooooo!) Our current 633-square-foot apartment is great for keeping our footprint small, but we have accumulated a lot of stuff throughout the course of our seven-year relationship (especially dining/entertaining/kitchenware!) and we are ready to upgrade to a for-real home. We are planning to purge some of our belongings this spring once the weather warms up, because neither of us is into clutter or having lots of unnecessary junk hanging around. We're also trying to be very conscious of not only what we are spending, but also how our footprint is affecting the world around us.

These are the major reasons I've decided to take a piece-by-piece approach to overhauling our current apartment. I figure if we can work with the pieces we own now (which are great, solid pieces, but not necessarily the most up-to-date and modern), we can 1) save a ton of cash and 2) help keep our footprint small and our waste level low. I've done a few projects over the last two and a half years since we moved into our current space, and I have a few more planned. So I decided to bring you guys up to date on what we've done so far!

A couple of years ago, I found this genius tutorial on Pinterest, and decided to make one of my own. All the materials for it cost maybe…$10. It came out completely gorgeous and held up really well through our first Christmas with it hanging on our front door (Christmas, 2013):

There were a couple of cons to this project, however. First, it is super-duper breakable once you get it done, since it's literally made out of glass. So you have to be really ginger with it. Second, after one year in storage several of the balls have come loose, despite being wrapped in bubble wrap and not bumped or jostled (I guess hot glue on glass doesn't hold up well.) Before we hang it again, we will have to fix those that have come loose with some other medium, probably super glue or some industrial adhesive.

In Spring of last year, I decided I had had it with the awkward dorm-room wood color of our coffee table and started looking around for stains that I liked for it. I was going for a darker color than it was, but not super-dark, because I didn't want it to appear black. This is what the table looked like pre-stain:

and after:

(It looks slightly darker than this in our living room.)
It looks sooo much better, and has a nice finish to it that I am a fan of. It's a great, sturdy, solid piece, and was part of the suite of furniture my mother-in-law bought for Seth when he went away to college, so it was "free" to us. After maybe $15 and some elbow-grease, we have a coffee table that totally fits the aesthetic of what I'm planning for our future living room! If I had gone crazy and purchased a new coffee table, I probably would have purchased a $300 one from Crate & Barrel that I've been lusting after. $15 + elbow grease > $300. AND we haven't added to our footprint by buying new wood furniture!

Last fall, I decided to take on our next project and redo our bedside tables. I don't have "before" photos of them, unfortunately, but they were the same color as the coffee table was before we stained it. I wanted them to be a light grey with brushed-nickel hardware, which was convenient because we already owned a light grey paint from when we painted our apartment. (It's "Dolphin Fin" by Behr, if you're interested.) Here are the "after" photos:

I looove the way they came out, they look  brand-stinkin'-new, and the update only cost us about $20. Plus a lot of elbow grease. (These were also "free" to us, one gifted to me by my mom when I was a teenager and one by a friend when I got an apartment in college.) This project was a little more work, since 1) there were two tables, and 2) in addition to sanding, we also had to prime them for painting and remove and reattach hardware. But they'll fit perfectly in our future bedroom, with the pretty grey  bedding and throw pillows we got as a wedding gift! (Total girl stuff.)

I have one BIG project I'm planning on doing as soon as it warms up, and that's this bad boy:

This was part of the same suite of furniture as our coffee table, and is the same dorm-room wood color that I am not a fan of (so 1980's.) I am planning to sand, paint and back it, and if I can get my dad or some other handy man to put some doors on it once we move into a house, those will go on the bottom portion. Even sans-doors, though, I'm psyched to paint and back this. Once it's finished it's going to be amazeballs.

My other project, which will be much simpler, is sanding and painting this guy, which we recently salvaged when a neighbor was throwing it out:

(With a cameo by Mei Mei.)
It's a beautiful, old rocking chair that some butt munch painted this heinous rust color. (I do not, for the record, understand why this is the Pantone color of the year. Woof.) Can anyone say "future nursery"? Seth wants me to paint it a bright, clean, modern white, so that's probably what we will do with it. I love when he has opinions! He's my favorite.

My goal with all these projects is to have furniture we are proud of, and that creates a cohesive design aesthetic. We are going for clean, simple, and modern. By redoing our furniture now, pre-move, the hope is that we will just be able to drop all of our existing furniture into our future house and it will look purposefully decorated, rather than a hodge-podge of random college furniture that we just threw together when we got married.

I'll come back with another post once we have done another project!

P.s. Want to see all the tutorials and inspiration I use for my projects? Visit my "Successful DIY" and "Other/DIY Home" boards on my Pinterest. There's a social icon for it on the right sidebar!

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Heart Burn Bouldering Competition & The Risks of Underestimating Yourself

(I promise not all my posts are going to be about climbing!)

I know those of you that follow me on Facebook saw, recently, that I attended the Heart Burn bouldering competition at the East Falls Philly Rock Gym (PRG) on February 21st. A few people have asked me how bouldering competitions work, so I figured I'd write a post about that particular competition and how bouldering competitions work, in general.

First, you should know there are two types of bouldering competitions:

Redpoint competition - climbers send as many problems as they can in the allotted amount of time (usually a few hours). Scores are based on the difficulty of the climb - thus, more difficult problems garner a competitor more points. The top five most difficult climbs are counted toward a climber's score.

On-site competition - Competitors are held in 'isolation' and aren't allowed to see the climbs before they climb them (there are normally three-four climbs in an on-site competition). Competitors are released in a pre-determined order and made to sit with their back to their first problem for four minutes. Climbers are then told to turn around and are given four minutes to attempt their problem. The goal is to make it to the top of the problem on your first try, but it doesn't usually work that way, especially in higher-level competitions. Attempts generally count against you unless you make it to the top of the problem - 'topping' a problem is the most important factor in scoring (usually). The old-school way of scoring an on-site competition is to simply count how many holds you got to, as a pure number. Some places still do that, but most score with a complicated algorithm based on tops, then attempts, bonus holds, etc…even I can't explain that to you.

I've never participated in an on-site competition; those are typically reserved for official climbing circuits put on by multinational organizations like USA Climbing (bouldering or lead climbing national championships and the like). The Burn series, including Heart Burn, are redpoint competitions.

Heart Burn was a lot of fun. It was a super exhausting day, because the youth division started at 10 am with registration starting at 9. Since I took a couple of the kids from the gym, that meant 5 am wake-up, 6 am departure. That in itself wasn't so bad, but what was bad was that the adult division didn't begin until 3 pm and didn't end until 11:30 pm. So that was intense.

I did much better at this competition than I did at Beat The Heat back in August - which is great, because since it had been six months since Beat The Heat I had some pretty strict goals for myself. I won my division (intermediate women) and won a set of quick draws and a gift certificate as an award.

^ The quick draws and gift card I won!
The only real regret I have is that I seriously underestimated myself when I placed myself in intermediate. Intermediate is what I competed in in August at Beat The Heat, and I got fifth out of 19 at that competition. I figured I'd keep myself in intermediate until I could place or get bumped out of that division (when your score falls into the averages of the division above yours, you get 'bumped' out of your division in an attempt to keep scoring fair for those in your division). Big mistake.

The divisions are open (the pro category), advanced, intermediate and novice. I ended up placing first in intermediate with a final score of 2740. Because only four women showed up to compete in open and seven women compete in open finals (the on-site portion of the competition occurring at the end of the night), the organizers chose to pull the two girls from advanced to compete in finals and then the first woman in intermediate. (Only two women showed up to compete in advanced.) My scores were higher than both of the women in advanced. Essentially what I did to myself was that I so seriously underestimated myself that I denied myself the chance to compete in open finals. And that sucked. Getting first in intermediate? Not as awesome as getting to compete in open finals. Not even with a prize.

It was a little awkward, if I'm honest. I placed myself in intermediate because I felt I was an intermediate climber. That day, my top five scored climbs were a V5, three V4's and a V3. The V5 probably had ten falls recorded. I didn't climb like an open-level climber, but I felt judged for placing myself in intermediate. The "bumping" system exists for a reason, and yet I still feel that sometimes climbers judge one another - especially lower-level climbers - for placing themselves in categories lower than what other people feel they "should" be in. I didn't think I was ready for advanced. I was wrong, but it doesn't mean I put myself in that category as part of some grand strategy to try and win a division. I don't really compete to win, I compete to see how I measure up against my peers. As a climber that is relatively new to competing, I'm still learning a lot about division placement and what I'm capable of - and how fast I'm improving as a climber.

So that won't be happening again. Next time I compete, I'm putting myself in advanced and I'm just going to climb as hard as I can. This is probably one of the obstacles I personally struggle with as a climber - underestimating my abilities and not trying hard enough, whether that be out of fear of injury from a nasty fall or for whatever other reason. In any case, I am so glad I went to Heart Burn, because not only did I have an awesome time, but I learned a lot about myself and my athletic abilities.
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What Are Climbing? - The Ultimate Climbing Primer

One of my best girlfriends Rachel told me on Facebook one day that the lingo we use as climbers sounds like a foreign language. It takes a long time to get used to all the terminology used in climbing, on top of building the strength, technique, and endurance needed to not suck as a climber. So, for those of you that read my blog and social media nonsense about climbing but don't climb yourselves, here's a reference guide.

1) Types of Climbing
2) Terminology
3) Grading of boulders and roped climbs

Thanks to my awesome climbing friends for causing this post to get wildly out of hand. I've removed a lot of the more advanced terminology to try and cut this beast down. 0.0

And also thanks to my favorite little brother and crusher, Elan, for modeling for my photos.

Types of Climbing

Bouldering - shorter walls, or literally 'boulders' outside (big-ass rocks). No ropes. Crash pads are used outside, thicker moveable pads in the gym. Totally still possible to get hurt, but you can learn how to fall and sorta-kinda avoid it.

Sport/lead climbing - Climbers wear harnesses and other gear, and start on the ground with the rope strung between them. As the climber ascends, he/she clips the rope into quick draws (explained below). Outside, quick draws are not already attached to the walls as they are indoors, so the climber climbs with several quick draws attached to their harness. When they reach a clip, they first clip the draw into a pre-set bolt in the wall, then clip the rope into the draw. Indoors or out, when the climber falls, they fall the distance from their body to the draw below them, to the draw below that, and then typically a little more than that as the rope stretches and they pull their belayer off the ground (called a whip, explained below).

Top roping - Climber and belayer tie in to a rope that is strung over a cross-bar near the ceiling. As the climber ascends, the belayer essentially acts as a pulley system, keeping the rope taut so if the climber slips, they don't go anywhere. Literally no where. (Unless your belayer is literally the worst belayer ever, then why are you even allowing them to belay you....)


Approach  - the hike to get to a climb.

Ape index - the ratio of your height to your wingspan. Normally -1, 0, or +1, meaning your arms span a length roughly the same as your height, one inch shorter or one inch longer. (If you are 57 inches tall, and your wing span is 58 inches, then you have a +1 ape index.) It's typically considered better for climbers to have longer ape indexes because it allows them to reach further. The struggle here is real for me, because my ape index is -3. I'm basically a T-rex. It's fine.

Back clip - in lead climbing, when a climber accidentally clips the rope into the draw backwards so the climber's end of the rope is coming from behind the quick draw, closest to the wall. Increases friction, slows the climber, makes the climb more difficult and significantly increases the chance of a blown clip should the climber fall.

Barn door - one side of your body swings away from the wall, literally like a barn door.

Bat hang - hanging from a hold by the tops of your toes. Pretty sketchy; Elan didn't even want to model it because of the possibility of falling on your head.

Bat hang position
Beached whale - exactly what I do during a sketchy copout (explained below) - just lay down. On your face.

Belay - using gear and techniques to manage your climber's rope while they are ascending a climb. Top roping belaying is straightforward and easy, and lead climb belaying is a little more complicated and (to me) daunting, because in most cases your belaying abilities are what separates your climber from a comfortable whip (explained below) to a serious deck (explained below), and injury or even death.

Beta - information about a climb, how to do certain moves, or seeing someone else climb a climb before you. If I can't figure out a move on a boulder problem, I usually ask someone stronger than me to show me how to do it - aka, I ask them for beta.

Bicycle - squeezing a hold between the tops of the toes of one foot and the bottoms of the toes of the other foot.

Bicycle foot position
Blown clip - two types: 1) a lead climber has just pulled up slack to attempt to clip a draw and fell in the process, causing them to take a longer-than-average whip (explained below), or 2) when a climber has made a mistake in clipping that wasn't caught by their belayer, such as a back clip or z-clip (explained below) - when the climber falls their rope 'blows' out of the draw and that piece of equipment doesn't catch them.

Cheese grate - on a slab (explained below) when you fall, you slide down the wall and go bumpity-bumpity-bump, literally like a cheese grater. So much fun.

Crimp - A teeny little hold that comes out of the wall that is the width of the last pad on your finger, or less. Sometimes denoted by full-pad, half-pad, etc. Often called "sharp" for obvious reasons, or even "jug crimp" if it's little but super positive.
Hand position on a typical crimp
Crux - the most difficult part or move of a climb.

Deadpoint - the furthest point you can reach in one move. Usually requires a full extension of your body from the tip of your toe to the tip of the fingers of your reaching hand (if you're doing it right.)

Deck - when you have a sucky belayer and you fall from wherever you are on the climb all the way to the ground. Obviously not ideal.

Dyno - abbreviation for 'dynamic', or 'dynamic movement'. A dyno is a movement that is not static (see below.) Usually requires some sort of momentum or 'swing' in the movement to get you to the next hold. Because of my size and ape index, I tend to be a very dynamic climber. I fight against it a lot because it does take away some of your control over your movements, but it's often a necessity for me to compensate for my physical attributes.

Flag - using your opposite foot to counterbalance your weight. Usually used to help prevent a barn door….or just because it looks pretty.

Foot position for a flag
Flash - finishing a problem after getting some beta about the climb. For example, walking up to a boulder problem, watching someone else climb it, then climbing it yourself and finishing it on your first try.

Gaston - a hold with a grip facing toward you, so you have to face your palm away from your body to utilize it.

Right hand positioned for a gaston
Grade - the difficulty level of a climb. Different systems are used for bouldering versus roped climbing, and I'll explain them below.

Heel hook - putting your heel into a hold and pulling down on it to create momentum. My personal favorite climbing move, because I'm a shrimp.

Foot position for a heel hook
Jug - a big-ass hold you can essentially hold with your entire hand. As close to a ladder wrung as you're going to find in climbing.

^ That's a jug from the side
Lock-off - drawing a hold downward or across your body by drawing your elbows in - draws your body toward the forward hold without requiring you to dyno to it.

Elan locking off with both arms
Match - putting both hands on a hold at the same time.

On-site - to finish a problem (explained below) on your first try, without receiving any beta about the problem ahead of time.

Overhang - a wall that has an angle less than 90 degrees. Think climbing with your back toward the ground, more parallel than perpendicular.

Pinch  - just what it sounds like. A hold that is designed for you to have to 'pinch' it with your fingers.

Hand position for a pinch
Problem - a climb, from bottom to top. Used in bouldering because a climb is literally like a problem you have to 'figure out' - both mentally and physically - in order to get to the top.

Project - a climb you're working on but haven't finished yet. For me these are in the V5-V7 range.

Quick draw - a piece of equipment used in lead climbing to clip the rope into the wall. Consists of two carabiners attached by a thick piece of nylon.

^ That's a quick draw
Route - a roped climb, from bottom to top.

Send - completion of a bouldering problem.

Side-pull - a hold that has a grip facing sideways, away from your body.

Left hand position for a side pull
Slab - a wall with an angle of greater than 90 degrees from the floor. Thinking climbing with your chest slightly angled toward the ground. It sounds like it would be easier, but it's not - 1) If you fall you're going to cheese grate, making the climb a lot scarier (especially outside) and 2) slab climbs are usually a lot more technical. I personally love slab climbs, but that could be because there aren't many in our gym, so they are still very novel to me.

Sloper - a big round hold. Think trying to palm something, like a basketball.

^ That's a sloper
Smear - when no foot holds are present, literally 'smearing' the toe of your climbing shoe against the wall to get friction and cause momentum.

Foot position for a smear
Static  - a non-dynamic move (ok, I know that's lame.) Essentially means keeping most of your body still (static) while reaching for a hold using no swing or uncontrolled momentum.

Toe hook - using the tops of your toes against a hold to hold your body steady. I suck big butt at these. Elan does not.

Foot position for a toe hook
Top out - when the top of a boulder problem is reached, 'topping out' requires a climber to climb up and over the top of the boulder to complete the climb. Lots of indoor boulders require you to either down-climb or simply jump down when you reach the top of the problem, but some indoor (and nearly all outdoor) boulders require a topout.

^ This is what a topout boulder looks like in the gym.
Note the down-climb ladder.
^ This is not a copout boulder. To come down from this wall a climber must jump or down-climb.

Undercling - a hold with a grip facing toward the ground. Much more useful once your upper body is level with or above the hold.

Hand position for an undercling
Whip - when a climber falls on lead, they fall the distance from their body to the draw below them, plus the distance to the draw below that, and then typically a little more than that as the rope stretches and they pull their belayer off the ground. If a climber has just pulled up a large amount of slack and attempted to clip a draw and fell in the process, they will also fall the distance they created with all that slack. There are such things as 70-foot whippers. Learning to whip and becoming desensitized to the fear of whipping is a huge part of becoming a good lead climber.

Z-clip - in lead climbing, when a climber pulls the rope from below the last quick draw to clip into their current quick draw. Causes a ton of friction, making the climb more difficult and increasing the chance of a blown clip should the climber fall. Basically makes the climb feel as if gravity just increased tenfold.

Grading of boulders and roped climbs

The two basic grading systems you'll see in U.S. gyms are bouldering grades (on a V scale) and roped climbs (on a 5-point-X scale). Climbs are basically graded by how difficult they are - how big the moves are, how strong your muscles and finger tendons have to be to complete the climb, how technical the moves are, etc.

Boulder grades in our gym typically range from V-Intro (as close to a ladder as you'll get) to V11, though outdoor boulders go up to …the Hell if I know, V16? Someone can correct me on that. I typically finish V4's in a couple of tries, V5's usually take me a couple days, and I've done two V6's since I started climbing. You can see a video of me climbing a V5 here, and a video of Elan climbing a V8 here.

Roped grades in our gym typically range from 5.6 (as close to a ladder as you'll get) to …. 5.13d? I only occasionally do roped climbing and thus don't know my actual skill level, but I think the hardest thing I've done is on-site a 5.11a on top rope (leading is more difficult, for the record).

The End! SHEW!
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Guys…I have a really weird hobby.

I enter giveaways. Like, a lot. At any given time, I probably have my name entered into maybe 100 giveaways for things we want/need. I started this back in late November, and started winning stuff a couple weeks later. I have a whole method/process that I use every day to try and keep my entries in each giveaway maximized. It's super weird and type-A, and I get that. But, we've won stuff we would have needed to buy at some point, so to me it feels like I'm making money (and in a way it is literally making money.)

It's mostly baby/kid stuff, which seems to be the easiest to win because the entire mass of humanity isn't necessarily beating down the door to win baby stuff. That would be your stay-at-home/work-at-home moms that are entering those, or crazy people like me that are super-planners and building a storage of free baby stuff so we don't have to spend $13,000 later, even though we don't plan on having kids right away. Literally, $13,000. I read a blog post recently that said parents spend around $13,000 in the first year of a new baby's life. That is crazy. I don't want to spend that much money. First of all, I don't want that much stuff all over everywhere, but auxiliary to that, I just don't want to spend that much money. Because poor.

Maybe half the giveaways I enter are for gift cards, Paypal cash, and the like - but those are way more difficult to win (or at least, it seems that way so far.) Obviously, more people will be entering for cash than would be entering for any niche product. Of all the things I've won, only one has been non-baby-related. I only enter myself in giveaways that 1) don't take an enormous amount of effort to enter, 2) don't require me to blow up my followers on social media with giveaway content and 3) are for stuff I really want/need/will need in the future. Sometimes if a giveaway is sneaky, like, "Win this lump of cash and this really lame product!" I'll still enter because I want the cash. If doing this cost me anything besides my time, I probably wouldn't be so into it - but, it's free, so I figure, why not. Free stuff.

Like these, which I have coming in the mail!
I know people are going to read this and then ask how to do it. I recommend starting by following all your favorite brands on social media (Instagram is best, followed by Facebook - and maybe Twitter.) I also did some Googling for giveaways for things I was looking for (putting filters like "March 2015" will help weed out super-old giveaways). Nearly all the giveaways I entered are located on blogs. If you find an old giveaway for something you're really psyched about that has long since closed on a blog, visit their "giveaways" page and see if they are running other giveaways you're interest in. If they are, you can  bookmark that blog and checked back periodically to see what giveaways they're running. Enter email lists for any blogs running giveaways you like, so you'll be notified of future giveaways. If something is a "giveaway hop" that means at the bottom of that blogger's giveaway post will be a list of links to other giveaways, and you can literally "hop" from one giveaway to another, entering for things you want to win.

I'm a weirdo. It's fine. I'm embracing it.
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Comparison Is The Thief of Joy

Can't take credit for that…Teddy Roosevelt said it. :)

One of my main reasons for starting this blog is that, in the last year, my views on life have changed pretty significantly. I've developed a hefty love affair with climbing, and the climbing community and all it has to offer has completely changed what I want in my life. If you know me, then you know I am a pretty type-A personality (okay, very type-A). I'm a goal-driven, success-seeking, perfectionist, plan-everything-out-way-ahead-of-time person that loves to be busy and go, go go. For the most part, that hasn't changed.

But, a lot has. I moved to DC in 2010 to pursue a Master's in International Affairs and Foreign Policy, which I did. I got great grades, defended a thesis that was later published, and graduated. I thought I wanted to work in the intelligence community, 70 hours a week, wear a suit and have a powerful, big-shot job. And I tried really hard to get that job. And I couldn't. My husband graduated from law school and also couldn't find that dream job. (I mean, I found a job…but not the glamorous, thrill-seeking intense one I thought I wanted. Seth also found a job, but again….nothing like we ever thought either of us would find.) I wanted that big house, that nice car, that big-sunglasses-carrying-my-mocha-latte-in-my-heels-and-suit-downtown kind of life. Or at least, I thought I wanted that.

I was so down on us and our life, and looking at others and saying, "Why don't we have what they have?" "Why aren't we where they are?" It didn't help that I had others in my life doing the same thing - focusing on money, and careers, and homes, and achievement, always living in the future. And, comparing themselves to me. Always competing, always trying to stay ahead of where we were, anticipating our every action, always wanting more, more, more, now, now, now. Perfection and belongings, material goods, the perfect body. And guys…it totally rubbed off on me. It made me not only feel competitive with those people, but with everyone else in my life. And it made less than no sense. I was putting pressure on myself and my husband for no reason, and it was making me unhappy.

Then I found climbing. Climbers are simple. They are organic, salt-of-the-earth, live-in-the-moment, experience-all-the-things, happy-go-lucky, kind-hearted, down-to-earth people. My people. The people I needed so badly when I found them. Finding climbing and its community of sweet angels completely changed my life. I went to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky in May of last year (2014) and I remember standing under this classic route called Pure Imagination and just having this massive revelation like, "Holy shit, I'm wasting my entire life."

Jeremy Eskin on Pure Imagination, 5.14d, Red River Gorge, May 24, 2014
That's when I sort of changed my views on….well, everything. I quit putting pressure on myself to get that powerful job (which seriously….who wants that crap, the pressure and demands? How awful that would have been!) and starting counting my blessings that 1) I had a job at all and that 2) I had a job that was easy, with very predictable hours, generally understanding and kind bosses and great coworkers that allowed me to pursue my climbing career. I quit focusing on how much money we had, and the fact that we didn't have that big house at 26 & 27. And the biggest change was that I quit looking at what other people were doing, and quit maintaining relationships with people I felt were trying to keep an eye on what I was doing so they could keep ahead of me. Because really. Who cares? It may have become a douchey meme, but "you only live once" makes a lot of sense to me. Why spend your entire life focused on material belongings and competing with others when there is so much to experience, and so much love to be had?

I'm trying to live every day for the experience of that day. We travel. I compete. My friends are awesome, supportive, laid back and kind, and have no interest whatsoever in my job or my money. That is such a breath of fresh air. I'm so happy, and I love our life just the way it is right now. I'm in no hurry to get anywhere. I still have dreams for our future, of course (because duh, I'm still me)…but that's another story to be told another time.
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