Sunday, January 01, 2017

Goals for 2017!

Okay, now that we're in 2017 and 2016 has been kicked out the door (and not a moment too soon) time to set some goals for the new year!

In the last couple of week so 2016 I started carrying around a little notebook that I use to jot down ideas, to-do lists (non-work related - those have their own notebook that STAYS AT WORK), etc. It's not really journalling per se, but I will try to write at least one sentence a day about something that happened that day.

I've once again taken the Goodreads Book Challenge and I decided to go back down to 30 books this year. Although one of my other goals is to catch up with some of the backlog of comic books I have, including some graphic novels and collected volumes, which I'm totally going to count in my book numbers (the novels/volumes that is, not the individual issues). I've tried to hit 35 in the past few years and came up short, so maybe 30 is more realistic.

Get a haircut. Yes, really. I'm way overdue.

More stitching! Actually, almost any stitching would be "more stitching" at this point. I did a little last year, but I could stand to do more since I find it relaxing and enjoyable. And I really need to finish some of those old projects that are loitering in my craft bins and staring guiltily at me.

Digital security improvements - mainly this will be updating some very old, weak, and duplicate passwords. The majority of these are on old sites that I don't even go to much anymore, so when I can, I'm planning to just delete the account (although not nearly enough places give you that option!). I also discovered that there were a lot of places that I had accounts for newsletters, etc. that don't seem to let you login any more, so I'm just deleting those. If that old data pops up somewhere, it's no big deal since the passwords associated with those old accounts won't be used on anything else.

Around my apartment the big goal is to take a bunch of books to Half Price and get the boxes out of my living room! I also have a few boxes of old collectible things that I might try selling to specialty stores and/or on eBay.

The big thing that I'm going to work on this year is my health, specifically:

* Generally speaking, I'm doing okay, but I know I can do better. I've been on blood pressure medication for a while now and I'm going to keep closer tabs on that this year.

* I'm also going to get a WAY WAY overdue eye exam. I'm turning 45 in a couple of months and I think I can count on one hand the number of real eye exams I've had.

* Eat better - I really slid back into some old bad habits in the past 18 months or so and my waistline is really showing it. I know that if I get back to cooking for myself and eating less processed food I will naturally lose weight because I've done it before. And when I do eat out, making healthier choices. Included with this - another dry January. I've been doing this for many years (even before I knew it was "a thing"... apparently it's the only thing I've been doing before I knew it was cool). This is one thing I actually manage to accomplish most years. I think of the years that I decided to do it, I only failed once. So, not bad!

* Walk more. I wrote down on in my notebook that I want to get to 5000 steps a day (yes, I realize that 10,000 is the recommended amount, but I'm trying to be realistic so I won't be disappointed when I fail miserably).

* Daily-ish arm and core exercises. I usually give myself Wednesday as a day off of these since I often have to work very long days and nights on Wednesdays. I'm going to give myself a pass on other days that I have to work at night and/or Saturdays. I usually get a LOT of steps on those days so I figure it kind of balances out.

That's it! Bring on 2017!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Good riddance 2016...

I know it has become a cliche over this year to yell invectives against 2016, but man, it really sucked in a lot of ways.

A lot of people have already been writing lists of all the horrible things in politics, terrorism, celebrity deaths, etc that have made 2016 just so depressing. There will be a lot of fallout from the politics alone that we'll be dealing with for years to come, but on the upside, it has motived a lot of people (myself included) to get more involved. We have come so far in recent years on many fronts and I'm going to fight like hell to keep us from sliding backwards. There were a lot of entertainers that we lost this year that I was a fan of, but the real kick in the teeth came in the last week of the year with the death of Carrie Fisher. I don't think I can begin to sum up the impact that Princess Leia had on me (starting when I was 5 and the first Star Wars movie came out) and how much I grew to admire Carrie Fisher as an adult. I'm lucky that I haven't had the struggles with addiction and mental illness that she did, but I really loved that she spoke out to de-stigmatize those things. Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder... so many good ones gone this year. On one hand, I know it's just the way these things go and that sometimes there will be clumps in the data, but DAMN, there were a lot of data points this year.

Even just selfishly thinking about my own life - I had two friends die of cancer, one a co-worker whose job duties ended up falling to me because we weren't able to refill the position. This caused a lot of changes for me at work that I haven't been terribly happy about (although the raise in salary was nice!). I know I'm lucky to have a job at all and to have worked in the same place for so long, but when the percentage of your time spent on the parts you really enjoy shrinks and shrinks... Unfortunately, the first few months of 2017 are going to be *crazy* busy at work, so keeping up with some of the goals I'm setting for 2017 might be extra challenging. There are more hectic times coming up later in the year but many should be enjoyable, including the American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin in June and a solar eclipse in 2017.

Now on to looking at how I fared with my 2016 goals... Well, yeah, not too good on most. I only made it to 26 books of 35 on my Goodreads challenge (although that didn't include a few re-reads and a couple of cookbooks I read, so I probably shouldn't be too hard on myself for that one). I definitely didn't end the year weighing less than at the start, although overall I ended up close to where I started. The one area I did much better was in finances. I don't think I technically ended up with less debt, but I managed to get almost all of my revolving credit card debt on to consolidation loans at much lower interest rates this year, which puts me on a path towards being debt free much sooner than I would have been. That felt really good. I didn't get any farther on my Shakespeare Challenge and I didn't do a whole lot of stitching, although I did build a number of Lego kits and 3-D puzzles, which was a lot of fun. I definitely think I could have done better at stress management, but by the end of the year I had acclimated to the heightened stress levels to some extent. That's probably not actually a good thing in the long run, but at least I managed to keep up with getting a decent night's sleep most of the time, so hopefully that balanced out some of the stress. And blogging here more than once this year - yeah, not so much. :) I'll post the goals for 2017 (because I'm going to make some definite ones this time) in another post shortly.

Well, enough of that - I'm ready to face what 2017 brings. I know it isn't going to be an easy year, but bring it on!

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Uuuuuhhh, Happy New Year?

I guess if we still used March 25 as the start of the new year like they did back in Tudor times I would be early. Or if I used the Asian lunar calendar I wouldn't be as late? Oh wait, it's my birthday today, so it's the start of MY new year. Yes, that's what I meant!

While I was sitting in my office waiting to see if the clouds would clear so I could run the telescope tonight, I decided it was time to finally update this blog and check in with last year's goals and lay out the goals for 2016. Of last year's goals, the only one I 100% met was to take a real, honest-to-god vacation. I went to England for two weeks and had a great time! Eventually I'll process the thousands of photos I took and get them posted on Flickr.

Of the goals that I did decently on:

* Watch a 'new to me' movie every week -- not too bad. I skipped the two weeks I was on vacation and a week that I had to travel for work, but other than that, I did really well up to the last two months of the year when everything went totally nuts.

* Read 35 books as my Goodreads Challenge -- I think I finished with 32, so close, but not quite.

* Do six 30-day challenges -- I did 3 really well, and pretty good on a 4th one, but I didn't manage 6.

* Finish 10 video games -- I managed 5. Not great, but at least I did get a few done!

And the ones that I totally missed on:

* Shakespeare's plays... ironically since I spent several days in and around Stratford-upon-Avon, I didn't actually read any plays last year.

* Writing reviews for my Tudor history site - nope. I haven't been reading many Tudor books lately since I think I've been a little burned out on the subject.

* Weight goal - nope, not even close. The stress levels I had in the second half of last year actually caused me to gain weight to the point that I'm almost to the point I was when I started to lose the 15-20 pounds I shed a couple of years ago.

* Finish the year with less debt than I started with -- nope. Partly it was because of the vacation, but a lot was vet bills and car repairs that ended up eating the money that I had planned to use to pay for most of the vacation.

* Stitching and craft projects - I hardly touched any of my stitching stuff last year. Given the stress levels at the end of the year, I probably SHOULD have done more stitching, but I didn't manage it.

Looking back at everything, I can see that I was pretty energetic and optimistic at the beginning of 2015, but I sure didn't finish it that way. The two weeks off at the winter break was good for getting some of my energy back heading into 2016, but it didn't take too long for me to start feeling stressed again. As a result, I decided not to set any firm goals for this year but I do hope to have some general personal improvements in 2016. I'm still hoping to end this year weighing less and having less debt than I started the year with and to read some more Shakespeare, do more stitching, etc. I did set my Goodreads challenge at 35 books again to try achieve the goal that I barely missed in 2015. Better managing my stress this year is going to be one of my top priorities, and I think doing that will be wrapped up with everything else.

Oh, and maybe I'll actually blog a little more than the ONE time I updated this site last year. :)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Welcome 2015!

Given that we're already three weeks into the new year and I'm just now getting around to writing my "Happy New Year" post, any resolutions about not procrastinating have already gone out the window. (Thankfully, I didn't actually make any procrastination resolutions or goals, although I probably should have!)

So, it's time to check in on last year's goals, see how I did, and write down my goals for 2015.

One goal that I didn't actually write about last year was something work-related that I was going to try as an experiment. We get a lot of requests for help at events and I was going to try to do more of them myself (in addition to the regular ones that I already do every year) instead of just soliciting volunteers. Well, I did, and it really wore me out. Early in my career I did most outreach events myself for a variety of reasons, but as I've gotten older and the climate has gotten a little friendlier for getting volunteers, I've backed off the number I do either by myself or with other volunteers. Well, by the end of the year, I was totally burned out, so this year I'll go back to doing fewer myself and mostly just stick with the usual events I've been doing. (And it will be easier to do since we had a number of extra events in 2014 that we won't have in 2015.)

Now on to the goals I did write about. The first one I mentioned was to read/watch/listen to all of Shakespeare's plays for the 450th anniversary of his birth. I only made it through one third of the plays and all of the Sonnets (partly thanks to the extra work I was doing, mentioned above), but I've decided to keep going on this one. It actually works out well that 2016 will be the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, so I'll do another third of the plays this year and finish them up next year (along with the other poems besides the sonnets).

Next up was a weight goal, which I didn't meet. I didn't really come close to the number or deadline I was aiming for, but I still ended up weighing less at the end of the year than I did at the start, so ultimately I'm happy with that. I also didn't really make much of a dent in reducing my credit card debt, largely in part to the extra income I get from Google ads on my Tudor history site was all over the place, which makes it really hard to budget. Plus I owed a bunch in taxes, had car repairs, my rent went up by a lot, etc. So that was pretty much just a wash, unfortunately.

For the craft projects, I did surprisingly well given the extra work I was doing. I did manage to meet the goal of framing or finishing 6 projects (I think I actually doubled that!), but I only managed to complete the stitching on 4 projects. I guess we can tell which one actually takes a lot more time! You can see what I did last year over on my needlework blog.

And finally, the book-related goals: I did make my Goodreads 30 book challenge, but I totally bombed the Tudor history book review goal. I started a few, but I didn't finish any of the reviews for books I had already read or finish reading any other books.

Now on to the goals of 2015!

* As mentioned above, I'm going to do another third of Shakespeare's plays this year, and finish them off in 2016.

* I've set my Goodreads book challenge at 35 this year, 5 over last year's goal.

* Continue to lose weight and hit [number redacted] by vacation.

* Actually take a vacation (the last real, honest-to-god, get-on-an-airplane vacation I took was in 2006).

* Watch at least one "new to me" movie every week. I have a whole slew of older movies I've never gotten around to that I need to catch up on.

* Finish 10 video games. I have a huge number of games that have piling up in my Steam library thanks to Humble Bundle sales and it's time to actually play some of them!

* Finish the stitching on 5 projects and frame/finish 5 stitched projects.

* Write 6 book reviews for my Tudor history site (and reviews that cover more than one book still only count as one).

* Finish the year with less revolving debt than I started with.

* Do six 30 day challenges. Right now I'm doing a no-alcohol January - which I often do anyway to give my liver a break after the holidays. :) (By the way, the idea of doing 30 day challenges came from Matt Cutts of Google. I think they are a great idea!) I'll keep track of which ones I end up setting for myself and report back at the start of 2016. I *may* try NaNoWriMo this year as one of them. I've been wanting to do it for years, but it always seems to sneak up on me and I'm not prepared with any good ideas (or the research to do something with a few things I've already dabbled with), but if I can keep it in mind more this year - maybe set a 30 day research challenge? - I might be able to do it.

* Keep going on some near-daily tasks I'm already doing. I use a nifty little app called WonderfulDay that you can set up for keeping track of daily, weekly, etc. tasks. Right now I'm doing daily arm and core exercises and reading a comic book (in an attempt to keep working on the backlog of hundreds of free or cheap comics I've picked up in various promotions over the years). I give myself Wednesday off the exercises since that's the day I often work late at the telescope and is usually already my most active day of the week.

Most of these should be pretty easy to do if I can just keep nagging myself about them. I think some of the future 30 days challenges I've been contemplating might be harder, but we'll see!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Game of Thrones Exhibition at SXSW 2014

One of the great advantages to living in Austin is that, even if you don't get SXSW badges and/or wristbands, there are plenty of great free events that also happen in Austin during that time. Last year, it was the NASA tent and the JWST model, this year, it was the Game of Thrones exhibition! They only allowed camera phones so these aren't the greatest photos ever, but I've uploaded the better ones to Flickr. The picture above goes to the full set. (Warning: there are spoilers in some of the photos!)

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy New Year!

This is the obligatory Happy New Year post, but also another place for me to put some of my 2014 goals (note - not 'resolutions'!) to keep myself honest about them. I'll also be posting on twitter and a few other places.

The first thought I had for a goal is specifically connected to this being 2014, which is the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare. I have been on a bit of a Shakespeare kick lately anyway, so I don't expect this one will be TOO hard to achieve: to read/watch/listen to all of Shakespeare's plays. I'm going to read a sonnet a day too as a bonus. I'll mostly likely be tweeting and blogging about this particular goal through my Tudor history accounts, etc.

The next one is a typical "lose weight" - in this case to continue losing weight since I had already lost about 10 pounds in the last few months of 2013 once I decided to kick myself in the arse about it. No, you're not going to get my goal number here, but I will say the goal date is at the end of July when we have our summer board meeting out at the observatory.

Another, probably fairly typical, is to continue decreasing my credit card debit. Again, no numbers, but I'd like to get half of my revolving balance on one of my big cards paid off. (Sadly, I'll still have one other large one, but I hope to continue chipping away at it too.)

The next two are related to the vast pile of craft projects in various states of completion. My goal is to frame (or finish into ornaments or whatever) six projects that I've already completed the stitching on and to finish the stitching on 10 projects (small ones count!). I'll most likely just post about those on Lara's Loose Threads.

The rest are book related. I've got a huge stack of books that authors and publishers have so generously sent me over the years and I've been really bad about writing reviews of them. So I'm going to set the goal of writing 10 book reviews for my Tudor history blog. I've already read several of the books, but I just need to sit down and review them! And for reading in general, I've set my 2014 Reading Challenge at Goodreads to 30 books, which should be doable since it includes all the audiobooks that I listen to driving to and from work.

So, let's see how I do! I'll go over the list at the end of the year and tally them up.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Another arbitrary milestone!

Yesterday marked the 8th anniversary of this blog, so it's another time for me to lament not blogging more here. I've figured out that part of the fall-off of posts is due to the fact that I started using Twitter and a lot of things that I would have posted here end up posted there. But I will still continue to try to post more!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sherwood Forest Faire photo set finally up at Flickr!

Well, I posted the photos on Flickr a while back, I'm just now getting around to posting about it here too.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

More thoughts on education

I have posted before on some of my thoughts on college education and a great post by Carl Zimmer over at his blog "The Loom": An Open Letter to Science Students and Science Teachers has prompted me to think on it some more. His post sounded *very* familiar to me, and after reading comments on Twitter, very familiar to a lot of other people working in popular science and outreach. And if you substitute "history" for "science" this is also what I see a lot of through my Tudor History site as well. The post is a good example of why Carl is such a great writer; he managed to describe and sum up something I've been struggling to put into a words for quite a while now. I don't really have much to add to what he said, but there are definitely conversations to be had between professionals and students and teachers.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Northrop Grumman and NASA brought the full-scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope to the annual craziness in Austin that is South By Southwest. (For the record, I twitch uncontrollably when people abbreviate it to "South By" - if for no other reason in that it breaks the reference to North By Northwest, one of my favorite movies!) Working with one of our professors, they asked for volunteers to come down and help talk about the telscope and work at some of the tables in the NASA Experience tent, so I was down there for a while on Friday and all day Sunday. At the last minute I decided to throw my DSLR and my little travel tripod into my backpack since I knew that they were lighting the model up colorfully at night and that I had to get some photos. And I'm glad I did since I'm really happy with the way the photos turned out! Click on the photo at the top to go to the full Flickr set.

I had a great time talking about the telescope for the first part of the day even if I did manage to sunburn the top of my head. I was a little surprised that a few people asked if the model was the actual telescope, although I think everyone who asked that prefaced it with "I don't think it is, but I have to ask...". At one of the tables in the tent there were parts of the actual materials of the telescope, mostly the left over ends of things that were cut for the structure. I played with the parts a little on Friday and they are quite light, but that isn't too surprising given that it will have to be launched in to space.

I spent the afternoon working at the table with the infrared camera (the JWST will be an infrared telescope), which was a lot of fun. Kids in particular had a blast sticking their hands into the bucket of ice water and seeing how it looked on the camera. The most interesting visitor was a man with a medical condition that caused poor circulation in two of his fingers on one hand and the difference was quite easily visible.

And at the end of the day, the JWST folks made a successful attempt for an official Guinness World Record for Largest Astronomy Lesson. (The Guinness people are often at SXSW for a variety of interesting attempts at official records.) I stayed to watch that, but took off as soon as it was over since a day of sun, wind, talking, and allergies caught up to me!