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“To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift.”

~Steve Prefontaine

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2012 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 10,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 17 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

A Day to Be Thankful

While you should be thankful for what you have everyday of the year, I think that Thanksgiving provides a great opportunity for reflection and evaluation of where you are in life and how you got there. This year, these are the things I am thankful for and, more importantly, the reasons why:

1. My Health…specifically my health plan: Regardless of your political affiliation of reasons why or how to fix it, it is undeniable that many people can’t access or can’t afford quality health care. This year, I needed knee surgery in order to allow me to continue running and racing for the next few decades. It was important to me and took a lot of appointments, tests, and finally an out patient surgical procedure. After all was said and done, this surgery was done by a quality surgeon and cost me under $100. I am thankful to have an employer that provides me many health care options at extremely affordable prices so that when issues arise I can take care of them without fear. It is my hope that soon all Americans can say the same.

2. My Family…specifically Virginia: With our move up to Merced, CA to work at UCM this summer it is once again apparent that I am lucky to have a partner who is willing to take so many leaps of faith for our future. I imagine that if you would have asked her in her junior year of college if, in four years, she would be packing up and moving to California, she would have laughed in your face. In truth when I was job searching at the end of grad school California was the state she completely rejected. I am thankful that when the time comes to make life path decisions she is open and willing to keep taking these leaps of faith that take us to places and jobs we never expected. I am even more thankful that she never forgets to remind me to stop thinking 10 years down the road and to focus on the present and doesn’t get too upset when I only listen 10% of the time.

3. My Job…specifically doing what I love to do: Not everyone can say with confidence that, in this moment, they are doing exactly what that want to do at work. I am thankful that I have the privilege to come to work every day and do exactly what I want to be doing. I don’t wake up each day dreading what’s to come, I wake up with the opportunity to build a leadership program at a new campus and develop student leaders at every level. I also work for a department and a division that provides flexibility, autonomy, and encouragement for professional development. All three things I need to be happy and successful.

4. Financial Security: While it is true that working in education is not the highest paying gig, we can safely say that we are financially secure. This is extremely important to me since we want to buy a house, start a family, and travel to see our relatives all around the country. I am thankful that Virginia deals with my crazy financial schemes and budgets because, in the end, it helps us do all the things that make us happy. I am even more thankful for our parents and grandparents who have worked hard all their lives to help us establish ourselves and build a life that is happy and healthy. This is something I will not forget and is important for future generations of Lerers.

5. Food: Where we are in life, I am thankful that we can afford to eat every day. Millions of children and adults right here in the country can not say the same. On this Thanksgiving day of socially acceptable overeating this fact is even more apparent. It is the responsibility of those of us who have to give back to those who don’t. No one should have to go hungry today or any day and we can all do our part to help. You can start by donating as little as $5 to my Feeding America donation page. Not only will you feel good about yourself, you will benefit from a portion of my massive list of great restaurants across the country.

So that is my 2012 Thankful list. What are you thankful for? Comment below and tell me why.

Why Knee Surgery is Good For Workaholics

For the past four years (and my whole life) I have been a workaholic and a busybody. Every weekend was something else,  a conference, a retreat, or a campus event. Even weekends when we were off I tried to get as much done as possible because who knew when I’d have another free day. I spent those days building furniture, cleaning, hanging stuff, riding and running miles, or going somewhere. Not even vacations were relaxing because they were spent trying to suck as much activities out of the vacation location as possible. Moving to Merced made it even worse. We have been here for three months and I have yet to sit still. Never did it cross my mind to just do nothing; in fact the idea of doing nothing was scary. This weekend changed all of that because knee surgery forced the issue.

For the past 9 months I have needed knee surgery but moving and insurance issues had postponed the procedure. Finally, after almost two months of weekend events at UC Merced, I had a weekend to do the surgery. This past Thursday I went in for a 17 minute procedure that would keep me immobile for 4 days. Though I was really scared going in to the operating room and don’t like the look of my shaved leg, this necessary surgery was a blessing in disguise. Since it hurts to walk and I am sufficiently doped up on Vicodin for the pain, I have done absolutely nothing for the past 72 hours, and it has been glorious.

I got home Thursday at 4:30pm and took over my place on the couch which would be my home until Monday. Bella decided that it would be important to help so she took up residency as well.

So here is what I did since I got home:

Thursday night:

  1. Ate pizza and garlic bread
  2. Took pain killers
  3. Iced knee
  4. Relaxed on the couch and watched movies
  5. Woke up, felt dizzy and nauseous…not so fun

Friday:

  1. Ate leftover pizza
  2. Took pain killers, many times 🙂
  3. Iced knee
  4. Dozed on and off
  5. Watched tons of TV
  6. Read a book
  7. Ate Chinese food

Saturday:

  1. More pain killers, feeling better and very relaxed
  2. Iced knee
  3. Ate leftover chinese food
  4. Watched 12 hours of College Football go RU!!!
  5. Ate assorted snacks in “Get Better” bag from my office

It was at this point that Bella exhausted herself in her Dad protection mode

Sunday:

  1. Took off the leg wrap
  2. Showered!!!
  3. Took only a few pain killers (Ok, that’s not entirely accurate)
  4. Walked a little
  5. Watched 12 episodes of Triple D and more football
  6. Went out to dinner with Virginia’s Mom and Angel

As I wrap up this recovery with another day of TV on Monday and go back to work on Tuesday I have to say that these were the most relaxing days I have had in recent history. I had no concerns about getting work done, I was not anxious about working out. I knew that physically accomplishing tasks would be impossible so my body just gave in and relaxed (with a little medicinal assistance). I feel so rested and ready to go back to work that it gets me thinking about balance. We talk so often about finding balance but in those conversations it is almost always about finding something else to occupy your time when you are not working. This thing is usually a hobby, an exercise, a sport, or a task but perhaps for balance sometimes all you need is to spend some time doing absolutely nothing. Even if you don’t meditate, a day on the couch with no worries can go a very long way. We shouldn’t feel bad about that and we definitely shouldn’t need to have knee surgery to force the issue.

Here’s to taking some time every so often to just relax and be lazy, it can work wonders. Hopefully you can do it without doctors orders. Good thing though that I might need surgery on my other knee pretty soon. Just something to look forward to.

Leaving a Better Planet to our Kids

What changes can you make to impact your world?

In preparation for the “Think Globally, Lead Locally” themed Leadership Conference at UC Merced, I read the book written by our keynote speaker. “Ten Ways to Change the World in Your 20’s“, by Libuse Binder is a book that provides people interested in making a difference a variety of ways to impact their local and then global community. The ideas she describes range from small and easy commitments to harder and more complicated life changes. In my opinion, the best suggestion in the book was when volunteering, first figure out what you want to do and what you are passionate about. Too many people join causes because they think they have to or because their friends are interested but they are not passionate. She says that for every person passionate about ending poverty there is another passionate about saving the environment. Every single person can make a difference in their passion area and they should not feel guilty about making that choice.

After reading the book I decided to make some small changes to help the environment while I figured out my passion area. I felt like this was a good start because even if you are an animal rights activist, reducing your carbon footprint will help keep the world clean and livable for future generations of people and puppies. Here are some of the changes we have made some of which will both help the Earth and save us money:

1. We reduced the amount of water we use. I decreased the frequency that we water our lawn and tried to decrease show time. I also started to shut off the shower while using shampoo and soap instead of  turning the shower head away like I’d done for 20 years. This will save hundreds of gallons of water a month.

2. We raised the temperature 4 degrees on the thermostat to average 80+ degrees throughout the day. This will reduce our energy use significantly and save us some money.

3. We purchased outlet additions that can be switched off in different ways to reduce the energy drain of standby plugs. For example, your TV in the off position and your iPhone chargers unattached to a phone will continue to suck power all day unless unplugged. These outlets attachments from Belkin Conserve will help reduce our energy use and cost even more.

4. We made the commitment to buy carbon offsets annually to help cover the carbon output from our home, car, and airline trips. We used Terrapass.com to add up our carbon footprint and then purchased 35 carbon offsets, which we will do annually. Now we live a “Carbon Balanced” life which means we pay for the carbon we have to use. In order to pay for some off the offsets we now collect and recycle our own cans and bottles. That $5 per month goes directly to our savings for carbon offsets.

5. After reading about how big an impact buying imported food has on the environment we have started to buy more locally sourced fruits and vegetables and in Merced that is super easy. We are also trying to reduce our food waste because discarded food in landfills is a major source of global warming gasses.

6. We put aside $50 per month to donate to a cause of our choosing at DonorsChoose.org

These few small changes will help get us on our way to changing ourselves and soon the people around us. They also make us feel better about who we are as habitants of the Earth. Now we can leave a better world to our kids while working on a college campus to leave better kids to our world. Since we’ve made those changes I have been evaluating what I do with what was the start of this blog; restaurant reviews. With some inspiration from a friend thousands of miles away I think I have figured out a way to make an impact with what I write about on a regular basis. This idea will help me reignite what was a dwindling interest in the posts I was writing weekly in this blog.

What changes can you make to impact your world?

Two Crazy Weeks

These past few weeks have been intense and the reason why I missed a blog post but now I want to reflect on these crazy two week. On July 14th we took a leap of faith, packed up a truck, and moved 336 miles north to Merced, CA. We had two days to get moved into our new house before I started work as the new Assistant Director of Student Life at UC Merced. Additionally, Virginia was going back down to finish working a UCR so I was left on my own with the dog and without a car. Thus began my adventure in many different ways.

Biking Everywhere

I had not riden a bike since I was 24 but I bought my first road bike and went from 0 miles per week to 50+. The house we are renting is 3.6 miles from campus so round trip is over 7 miles each day. I was prepared for the workout but not for some of the issues that would come along with it.

I wasn’t prepared to ride in slacks each way. The end result of wearing pants were two crashes one messing up my front wheel and I think my bag gear shift (Going to get this checked out soon). Luckily, in order to stave of smelling bad at work, I don’t wear my work shirt, I keep it in my bag until I arrive. Additionally I keep a small towel and a bar of deodorant in my office so even with crashing I didn’t look horrible all day. I also didn’t properly treat my wounds so of course I got two infections which landed me in urgent care for antibiotics. Thank god people are nice at work and helped me get my bike fixed no questions asked.

What I was able to do was rearrange my office so I can bring my bike right inside. This was great because it saved me time since I did not have to lock it up anymore and I could leave my heavy lock at home. I also wouldn’t be worried that my bike would disappear somehow during the day.

The hardest part were errands and deliveries. In order to get things set up I had to ride all around town to Best Buy, Lowes, Target, Post Office, and more. This sometimes added 10 miles at night which made the next morning a little harder. Also, some of the places I needed to go closed at 6pm so I had to swing home, walk the dog, change, and go right back out. It was also very interesting to go grocery shopping with only one backpack. It really makes you think critically about what you really need.

Renting a Home

We decided that we had enough of apartments so we luckily found a great 1850sqf house with a fenced in backyard. The problem was this meant that we had to furnish the entire house all in one shot because we own nothing. This came along with many deliveries, lots of building, and garbage, so much garbage. Some of these deliveries were wrong and now we have to wait for the correct replacements and some were just a complete mess.

Our dryer didn’t work the first time they delivered but since they did not bring a voltmeter the delivery crew assumed it was the dryer and took it away. Since the next delivery day was August 13th, we decided to go get one and hook it up ourselves. Now, I thought that it just plugged in but no, you have to install a four pronged outlet. Turns out I had no idea what I was doing and dropped a screw inside the drier. Thankfully the Associate Director of my office and her husband are super friendly and volunteered to help me. With all of our heads together and two, eight mile bike rides to Lowes we were able to get it hooked up, only to discover that it was the outlet that was broken, not the dryer. Argh!

Adding to the dryer issue there were so many little and larger issues with our house. From cleaning, to power, to hot water, I ended up sending our landlord a huge list of “Fix me now”. Thankfully they are very responsive and made all the repairs within a few days. Somewhat frustrating that these issues were not addressed prior to moving in but at least they are all fixed and we can settle into our house. Now we just need to wait for the rest of our couches and our correct dining room table.

New Job, New Campus, New People

Most people know that I am a self-assured person but I was really intimidated by this job on day one. I think all the stress, pressure, and change got to me and I was terrified that I wasn’t good enough to be successful. I felt like they wanted the sun, moon, and stars but only got me. It was a really odd and new feeling and not one I like very much. This resulted in me having a complete meltdown on my first night after realizing that I would be all alone the next day and the house was a mess. In the end I just needed to sleep and calm down a lot.

This was all compounded by some complete idiocy in HR back at UCR. For some reason my HR manager in housing didn’t process my transfer so I lost all my vacation, sick, and service credits, was unenrolled in my health care benefits, and my flexible spending card was shut off. I spent days trying to fix the issues and it was just a nightmare. Thankfully I didn’t lose my final UCR paycheck which would have been ridiculous. I wish when people don’t know what to do they ask for help instead of doing nothing, which is what obviously happened here.

As I finished up my second week I began to realize that I can do this and my knowledge and experience will set me up for success. Even when my job expanded in the first three days, it was only more chances to learn, develop, and grow. I will have so many opportunities at UCM to do what I love, develop leaders. I also am working with an energetic and friendly team and though I am sure there will be issues here and there, I am prepared to jump in with both feet. Good thing too because I have three retreats and two conferences to plan and implement before the end of September. Trial by fire!

Overall

Change is HARD!!! I never thought how difficult and scary it would be to move off campus for the first time in seven years compounded by a new job in a brand new city. At the end of these crazy two weeks my fear has been replaced with excitement and a more reasonable level of anxiety. I really believe that this was the right move for Virginia, Bella, and I. A great step to move us into the next chapter in our lives. While I will miss the friends I made at UCR, I can’t wait to see what the next few years have in store for us at UCM!

Europe and Back Again: Episode Italy

We arrived in Italy and took the train from the airport to Rome, my favorite city on this trip. Our hotel in Rome was near the Piazza Navona, which was where we had our first taste of wonderful Italian pasta. After our driving adventures in Greece we decided that tours and trains were the better plan. Our first tour was of Vatican City and the Catacombs. Vatican City is really an amazing place as were many of the other churches we saw throughout Italy. We were taken through part of the Vatican museums and then into the Sistine Chapel. This was truly an amazing sight and one that you just have to see in person. After eating lunch we headed over to the catacombs. The catacombs were where the early Christians were buried and though the bones had been removed it was an impressive underground city.

Our second day in Rome we lucked out and had a personal tour with a fluent English speaking tour guide. He took us through the old city and showed us the history and the growth of Rome over time. It was cool to see thousands of years of history built on top of itself in layers. Next he took us to the Colosseum, one of the most famous sights in Rome. It did not disappoint and through our tour guides storytelling he was able to bring the history to life. Did you know that animals were kept under the floors and they could also clear them out to fill the area with water for naval battles? Well, you do now. It was time to head down to Naples on the Eurorail. Quickly we learned that the Europass was a terrible deal and made it very difficult to travel but we were stuck so we made the best of it. What’s another couple hundred Euros for fines and seat reservations between friends?

We arrived in Naples in the early evening and it became quickly apparent that this was not a great place to stay. Piled high with garbage with instructions to hide your valuables from pickpockets, Naples was a taxi required locale if you wanted to be safe at night. We settled in and made our way to the best pizzeria in the world. Pizzeria Brandi was where the margarita pizza was invented and they had been making it for hundreds of years. It was so good that we went back both nights in Naples and Virginia even got to take a picture in front of the famous pizza oven. Since Naples was not a good place to sight see we spent both days on tours in other cities. First, Capri, a wealthy island paradise where you can spend a night in a 2000 Euro per night hotel. Our second day we took a tour with one other couple to the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii. The Amalfi coast was beautiful and Pompeii was amazing. To see a city frozen in time is something indescribable which you just need to see for yourself.

Next stop, Florence! In Florence we realized that we were only steps away from Michelangelo’s David and we quickly bought tour tickets for the next day. We ate dinner at a cool local place and I got what was basically tripe scampi. Interesting to see tripe used in Italian cooking, it was delicious. Our hotel was no fun, they turned off the air conditioning during the day and in the middle of the night but if you opened the window you were swarmed by mosquitoes. Oh well, you can’t have all good hotels. We went to see the David and we were not disappointed, this was truly one of the world’s most beautiful pieces of art. The next day we took a trip on a bus out to Pisa to see the leaning tower. Both Virginia and I got out required “Holding up the tower” pictures but that was about it. This was a complete tourist trap but the church and tower were pretty awesome.

As we continued our train trip up to northern Italy we arrived at Venice the one city where we could not be run over by cars and mopeds. Riding through the Grand Canal was something to remember, what a fun way to live. We ate both nights at our hotel mainly because I couldn’t get enough of the squid ink pasta. Our tours in Venice took us around the city and into the church and Dogi’s palace. A nice final tour since Virginia and I were starting to get a bit worn out. Our second day in Venice we took a ride out to Moreno to get some of their famous blown glass. We found an artist who made glass in our style and bought some fun gifts for our parents and a nice piece for our house. It was also in Venice where we found a beautiful piece of art to hang on our wall.

We completed our trip with a few more days in Rome where we ate at the best spaghetti place I have ever been to and had gelato from the most famous place in Rome. A great end to an amazing trip. Our last two days were spent right by the Spanish steps and since Virginia was tired I wandered through Rome by myself for a few hours. As I had some beer while walking around and spent an hour in the Leonardo da Vinci museum I realized that I would love to live in Rome. Too bad they don’t have a target or we may have sent for our things and Bella and never came home. As we rode out to the airport to take our flights to Greece and then back to the US I reflected on our wonderful adventure, how much we saw in those seventeen days, and how much more there is left to see. Next time, Spain, Germany, and France!

Take a look at highlights from our ten days in Italy:

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