Cruising in your Twenties

When you’re in your twenties and feeling the tug of wanderlust, you’ll find so many travel options. Between backpacking, road-tripping, all-inclusives, cultural experiences, and much more, you face the tough choice of how to spend your vacation days and best see the world. Have you considered taking a cruise? I personally just returned from my second Royal Caribbean cruise in as many years, and had an awesome time. Cruising in your twenties isn’t usually the first vacation that comes to mind. But cruises aren’t just for families and older travelers. Depending on the experience you’re looking for, it might be a great choice for you!

The Variety of Travel with the Comfort of an All-Inclusive

The main draw of a cruise, for me and many others, is the opportunity to visit multiple destinations with a consistent “home base”. I love being able to stay in one room with tons of amenities, then step on-shore and experience new locations and cultures. Last week, my family and I traveled to Nassau, St. Thomas, and Sint Maarten, all of which were interesting and beautiful. From this and my previous cruise, my boyfriend and I can pick our favourites, and decide where we’d like to travel again in the future, and where we want to try next.

Excursions: Optional On-Shore Adventures

If you’re looking for an authentic cultural travel experience, then you may opt out of the additional expense of on-shore excursions. These are activities you book through the cruise line with some safety built in (i.e. the activities have been vetted, and the ship won’t leave without you if the excursion runs late). Examples include parasailing, ziplining, cultural tours, dolphin swims, scuba diving and snorkeling, or even just a comfortable bus ride to an exclusive beach. My family and I even participated in an “Amazing Race”-type activity for a few hours in Sint Maarten, which was a riot. (And we came in second place, haha! Not too shabby!) For a summary of my excursions on last year’s cruise, check out this post!

These activities can get pricey. But you’ll want to compare those prices to whatever you would be spending otherwise on taxis, food, and activities. To each their own!

Entertainment

Many cruise lines these days pride themselves on quality entertainment for all ages. If you’re cruising in your twenties, you’ll probably be less interested in the kid-friendly costume parades. But on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, for example, there was a Broadway musical, an ice dance, a high-diving water show, and a very creative acrobatic performance. And that’s not including the numerous smaller activities and events held throughout the ship, basically all day, every day. If you’re a fan of the arts, this is definitely a plus! There’s also a full assortment of sports and fitness activities and amenities, if that’s the kind of entertainment you’re into.

Nightlife? It Depends

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no party animal. On my most recent cruise, I went to the onboard nightclub twice, but it’s not exactly my cup of tea. From what I’ve heard, if you’re into that sort of thing, Carnival Cruise Line could be the way to go. They’ve got a reputation for hosting the youngest crowds, wildest parties, and best DJs. But if you’re just looking to party and dance the night away on your vacation, perhaps a cruise would be overkill. You could just as easily travel to a single city or venue and save money on the extras that come along with a cruise.

The Food!

There is so much delicious food on a cruise. It’s kind of insane. And while there are lots of ways to spend more money and upgrade your dining experience, there are also tons of free options! I’m talking multiple buffets, sit-down dining, pizza, 24-hour room service — all included! The price tag of a cruise might look outrageous at first, compared to your standard hotel or vacation, but you really need to factor in the food you’ll be enjoying throughout your trip.

A word of warning, though. Most cruises are cashless and use ID cards to load your tab for the week. That makes it so easy to rack up charges without realizing it, especially at the bar (or at Starbucks on board). I didn’t drink much on my trip, but I’d recommend keeping an eye on your account if you’re on a budget!


All in all, I’m now a huge cruising fan (and, apparently, evangelist). If you have a reasonable budget and are looking for a good balance of adventure and relaxation, then I’d definitely recommend cruising in your twenties!

Where will your next vacation take you?

Choosing Your 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene

You may have heard of Yoga with Adriene. It’s a YouTube channel with around 2 million followers (at the time of writing) led by quirky, lovable yoga powerhouse Adriene Mishler. (Maybe you’ve read my two previous posts on the subject, here or here? Check these out if you’re curious about my experiences so far.) If you’ve heard of Adriene, then you’ll definitely know about the 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene challenges. They’re guided video practices released daily in January for the past three years.

Each series is available for free on YouTube, and contains 30 (or 31) videos at 15-45 minutes in length. If you sign up on the website, you’ll also receive a daily message to supplement the practice of the day. In January 2015, there was the original 30 Days of Yoga, and in 2016, Adriene released the sequel, 30 Days of Yoga Camp. This year’s series, Yoga Revolution, wrapped up this past week. I’m happy to report that I really enjoyed this year’s practice, but I’m finding that each one is unique, fun, and invigorating in its own way.

Why a 30 day experience? While it’s awesome to practice yoga wherever and whenever it fits into your life, a daily practice provides great structure for growth. This was true for me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Adriene gets into some of this in the intro video for her first series, 30 Days of Yoga:

So what if you’ve just found out about Yoga with Adriene, and want to begin a month-long yoga journey? Should you choose 30 Days of Yoga (2015), Yoga Camp (2016), or Yoga Revolution (2017)?

Naturally, I (and Adriene, I’m sure) would recommend all three — probably in chronological order. But perhaps you’re looking for a particular type of yoga challenge. If that’s the case, I want to provide you with some context and insight to help you choose, based on my own experiences with these three 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene series.

If You’re New to Yoga

My recommendation for newcomers would be the original 30 Days of Yoga. Adriene’s guidance is very clear and informative in this series — but don’t worry, there’s lots of fun and silliness along the way. There’s also a natural progression of difficulty throughout the series. As a relative newbie myself, I found the earlier videos helped me build strength and mindfulness to prepare me for the rest of the series.

If You’re Looking for a Physical Challenge

Is yoga your workout of choice? Awesome! I’d recommend Yoga Camp. I found this series to be the most physically demanding of the three. Like the first challenge, this sequel series provides a ramp up to the more challenging videos. Adriene provides opportunities to practice new, more difficult poses, but also offers modifications as you work towards them.

If You’re Seeking a Journey of Self-Love

Committing to any yoga experience is an act of self-love, but if your ultimate goal is an emotional experience, then Yoga Revolution is for you. This series is the embodiment of Yoga With Adriene’s slogan/mantra, “Find What Feels Good”. The focus is much more on mindfulness, positivity, and “tapping into your inner smile” than the other two 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene experiences.

If You Want a Consistent Practice

Maybe you’re having trouble sticking to those New Year’s Resolutions. (It is February, after all.) If you’re looking to make yoga a daily ritual to carry you into the rest of the year, I’d suggest starting out with 30 Days of Yoga. I found this series to be the most consistent in terms of style and length. The day-to-day cadence of difficulty and focus was also more predictable in this series. This made it easier to fit yoga into my daily schedule. And after these particular 30 days of yoga with Adriene, I felt the most prepared to continue my home practice without YouTube video guidance.

If You’re Looking for Something New

After practicing for a while in a highly structured public yoga class (or the same old YouTube videos), things can start to get stale. Yoga Camp and Yoga Revolution will help you step out of your yoga comfort zone, in slightly different ways. Yoga Camp focuses on the link between mind and body, using mantras to channel energy and breath throughout both gentle and challenging sequences. I found Yoga Revolution to be a bit more instructive, as Adriene discussed alignment, energy, and chakras, for example, throughout the series. Both experiences incorporate a bit of Kundalini Yoga as well, which was new for me, and might be new for you.


I hope these considerations help you Find What Feels Good — whether that’s 30 Days of Yoga, Yoga Camp, or Yoga Revolution! If you’d like, take the next three months and do all three 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene series! Let me know which one(s) you choose! 🙂

My relationship with Fitbit has changed drastically over the last year. In September 2015, I purchased a Fitbit Flex and wore it religiously for eleven months. I lamented my Fitbit failings along the way. Then I lost the charger. (Hah.) I could have easily found a new cable and kept stepping along. But I found that there were some deficiencies in my Flex compared to my now-current fitness tracking needs. And after scoping out my options, I finally acquired a black Fitbit Charge 2. I’ve been using it for two weeks now, and I’m extremely happy with the results.

 Fitbit Charge 2 Review

What I Love

The Band and the Charger

After using a Fitbit Flex for a year, I noticed the band starting to wear out in colour and stretch. It was a solid colour, so the change was obvious. Plus, the clasp was (and had always been) precarious, and popping the device out of the band to charge it was an unnecessary strain on the band (and on me).

The Fitbit Charge 2 comes with an integrated device + band, meaning you charge the device while it’s still attached to the band. The Charge also has a belt- or watch-type clasp, so I’m a lot less worried about it falling off. Plus, the simple textured design will keep any discoloration down the road hidden for longer than a solid, smooth band would.

Heart Rate Monitor

This was the main reason I purchased the Fitbit Charge 2 over, say, the Fitbit Alta or something a little bit smaller. Now that I’m getting more active, it’s a lot more important for me to track my heart rate and cardiovascular health. This is Fitbit’s HR-monitoring option with the lowest cost and the most narrow band.

Simple But Sufficient Display

Unlike my Flex, the Fitbit Charge 2 doubles as a step counter and a watch. It also lets you cycle through other screens to see your heart rate, start tracking an activity (like a run), use a stopwatch, begin a guided calm breathing exercise, and view your upcoming alarms.

The App

I’m used to using the Fitbit app from my Flex days. But with floor counting, heart rate monitoring, and more detailed activity info, there’s so much more to do now that I have a Charge 2! I especially love tracking my heart rate throughout the day. I went through a phase of tracking my nutrition via the app as well, but with the Tone It Up Nutrition Plan, it’s way too time consuming (and probably unnecessary).

Nitpicks

No Ability to Control Smartphone Music

I would gladly trade the smartphone text/call notifications for the ability to skip through a playlist via my Fitbit. Unfortunately, the Charge 2 doesn’t have this functionality. I would have to trade up to the Blaze smartwatch for that ability — but that’s a larger device, with an extra $100 on the price-tag. I opted for the simplicity.

Not Waterproof

I don’t do much swimming (at all), so removing my Fitbit for a swim isn’t a big deal. The larger challenge is remembering to put my Charge 2 back on after a shower. So far, it’s been two weeks and I have yet to forget. But I’m still concerned, as my memory is pretty awful. We’ll see how long I can last before I walk out the door without my Fitbit!


In summary, I’m very happy with my new Fitbit Charge 2. In spite of some slight shortfalls, I definitely don’t regret choosing this fitness tracker out of the others out there on the market!

How do you track your fitness?

Tone It Up Nutrition Plan First Impressions

After weeks of debate, and swooning over nutritious Instagram stories, I finally caved and purchased the Tone It Up Nutrition Plan. That means I’m a full-fledged TIU member! Never thought I’d be saying that, but here we are. Just a few weeks ago I started following along with the Daily Workouts on ToneItUp.com. I’ve really enjoyed the process and the community thus far. So before I get too entrenched in the TIU 2017 Challenge (for better or worse), I thought I’d share my Tone It Up Nutrition Plan first impressions!

 Tone It Up Nutrition Plan First Impressions: 2017 Challenge

Tone It Up Nutrition Plan First Impressions

Curiosity killed the…wallet?

Let’s just start off with the price. This plan is expensive, yo. Dropping $150 (USD, I might add) is a hefty commitment, especially since I’ve never done anything like this before. Can’t I just Google all of this nutrition info? Pull together some recipes on Pinterest and make my own plan for free?

Technically, yes, anyone could do that. The question is whether anyone will — and for me, the answer is a definite “no”. By the time I put in the effort to research which foods I need to fuel my body for mental and physical exercise, I’m already chowing down on Tim Hortons. I have made some healthier choices in recent months, but my self-regulation is my downfall. The convenience of having things explained, and aggregated in one spot is my biggest draw to the Nutrition Plan. I wanted to see whether the layout and guidelines of the plan would work for me.

I also took advantage of the current bundle offer. For $165 I received the Nutrition Plan membership and the Body Love video series. These video workouts currently appear quite often in the 2017 Challenge Daily Workouts. The challenge is already 1/3 of the way through, which is a bummer for the bundle. But from what I saw in December, members-only videos from previous challenges show up pretty often during non-challenge period Daily Workouts. Plus, I can always do the workouts whenever, right? (…Right? Hah. We’ll see about that.)

This Plan is Future-Proof.

Usually, when I’m making a commitment like this one, I’d take forever to come to a decision.

Should I wait until the next challenge comes along? Should I wait until I’ve used up all of the frozen pizzas in my freezer? Should I just try to eat healthy without any Nutrition Plan? (Continue ad nauseam…)

But the payment structure of this plan is a huge plus — or, rather, the lack thereof. It’s one fee. One-time. Flat rate. And you get every Nutrition Plan update and Challenge supplement download, for free, forever. This is perfect whether you just want to dabble, or if you’re an all-in-or-all-out kind of person, like me. Here’s the current spectrum of Plans available to members for download:

 Tone It Up Nutrition Plan First Impressions: All Plans 2017

I likely won’t use all of these, but they’re helpful to have when the opportunities arise. (Granted, TIU Challenges also usually require a paid set of videos, which are not included.)

Nutritional Science(ish).

I read through the “plan” portion of the download (i.e. not the recipes) on Saturday night. The guidelines seem solid, and there’s even some chemistry in there to explain the “why” behind them.

Even though I’ve got a Bachelor of Science, my biochemistry background is super limited. I appreciated the basic explanations Karena & Katrina included in the Nutrition Plan. But then you come across stuff like this:

Fatty acids are broken down by the enzyme hormone-sensitive lipase~ or what we like to call the “Burn Baby Burn Enzyme!”.

My boyfriend was reading over my shoulder and dying of laughter! So take the science sections with a grain of salt…

Meal Prepping is Madness.

My original plan was to dabble in some recipes and try out the Nutrition Plan whenever I could fit it in. But I just knew that I would revert to pasta and takeout, and wouldn’t be giving it a fair shot! So instead, I spent Sunday afternoon grocery shopping and meal prepping, as instructed by the 2017 Challenge Guide.

Wowza.

That grocery run was so expensive! I probably could have guessed. So much healthy food, and some of it premium or organic. Also, I was stocking up on bulk foods that I wouldn’t otherwise have purchased, like coconut shavings and flax seed. (And apple cider vinegar. Apparently that one’s important.)

Joe helped me with some of the meal prepping, since he loves to cook and I’m a mess in the kitchen. But as we all know, practice makes perfect! I made Egg Muffins, Almond Butter Cookies, and Chia Seed Pudding.

Things I Wish I Had Known 24 Hours Ago.

I’ve only had this Nutrition Plan for a day, and it’s already been a learning experience. Here are some things that might be helpful if you’re taking the TIU Nutrition Plan plunge:

Print it out.

If you have an iPad or tablet, you’re probably okay, but it was a nightmare switching between my phone and my laptop all afternoon. There are also printables at the end of the Plan — so at least print those. Plus, there’s just something so comforting about holding the pages in your hands, isn’t there? Okay, maybe that’s just me. I’m thinking of printing and binding mine at Staples ASAP — at least the main Nutrition Plan book, anyway.

Rewrite the grocery list in an order that makes sense for you.

This applies if you’re following a Challenge, like the 2017 Look for Love Challenge, with your meals all laid out. Joe and I kept having to go back for things in the grocery store because we skimmed over an ingredient! Take more time to study the grocery list than I did…

Join the gosh darn challenge on time!

At the end of 2016, I was convinced that my reasons for skipping out on Look for Love were solid. I’m participating in Yoga With Adriene’s Yoga Revolution, and still following the Tone It Up Daily Moves. That’s all the time I have to commit!

But you know what I still had time for?

Facebook.

Netflix.

And lots and lots of dawdling.

So you know what? I’m going to bite the bullet, try something new, and hopefully be healthier for it.


Those are my Tone It Up Nutrition Plan first impressions. To summarize, I’ll say that I’m cautiously optimistic, motivated, and curious! If you have any questions (for a newbie like me), ask away!

(P.S. I also created a TIU Instagram account to document the journey — mostly so I wouldn’t annoy my main account followers, haha! Let’s connect @tiu.hillary)

Are you on the #TIUteam? What were your Tone It Up Nutrition Plan first impressions?

Agendio Planner Review

If you’re like me, one of the most exciting things about the New Year is starting out with a brand new planner! I find that putting my thoughts and commitments down on paper is one of the best ways to get organized. Plus, it’s so satisfying to check items off that pesky To Do list! I went a totally new direction with my 2017 planner than I ever have, so I want to share my Agendio planner review and customization experience.

(Note: this post contains my referral links. I hope this review helps with your planner decisions — thanks for your support!)

What about Erin Condren?

Last year, I was a huge Erin Condren Life Planner fan. I’d been using the planner for six months when I first blogged about it, and continued for another six months before letting the habit drop. (It was an 18-month planner, by the way.) So what happened?

  • It became too bulky and cumbersome for my needs. I couldn’t bring it along to meetings, and I was hesitant to take it home stuffed in my laptop bag every night.
  • The layout was very daily-focused, without much space for weekly lists or notes. With my schedule becoming more erratic, I wasn’t able to assign many tasks to certain days ahead of time.
  • The interchangeable cover was starting to get a little damaged, and I couldn’t justify ordering a new one (especially with shipping costs).

That being said, I’m still a huge fan of Erin Condren’s tools and aesthetic. I will definitely purchase products from the shop again someday, though they might be other types of stationery or accessories.

I started shopping around for my 2017 planner in early November, and I wasn’t finding anything that met all of my requirements. And yes, I may have been nitpicking. But if I’m committing to a planner for the year, I don’t want to compromise! Eventually, I gave up searching for pre-existing planners and just typed into Google, “customizable planners”. There were a few misses as I scrolled through the results, but I found a real winner: Agendio.

Agendio Planner Review

Agendio’s web app allows you to walk through the entire process of building your perfect planner, essentially from scratch. You first choose your general layout: the size, timescale (daily/weekly/monthly) and orientation (horizontal/vertical). From then on, you’re in the driver’s seat. Create customized list areas, add check boxes, manually adjust section sizes or day breakdowns (hourly or into sections), pick your colours and fonts — basically do whatever you want. Click here for a sample of Agendio’s “customer creations” if you want more examples, but I’ll show you my own!

 Agendio Planner Review — Cover

First of all, I selected the smallest size and the leathery binding with small interior rings. I’d heard in an unboxing video on YouTube from MissVickybee that this format felt lighter than it looked, and that’s what I was hoping for! The exterior on this version has the Agendio logo, and the only customization available is the colour. That was fine by me. If you’re looking for something more substantial, the sizes go up to 8.5×11″, and there are customizable laminated covers for the full-spiral binding. (See images of other planners here.)

My weekly layout looks like this:

 Agendio Planner Review — Weekly Layout

If you’re curious, that’s weekly layout Model #32064. I’m also using Enriqueta as my font.

The left-hand side I’ve devoted to daily notes, while the right-hand side is for a weekly overview. There’s space for goal-setting, random notes or doodles, a to do list, blogging ideas, and a weekly thankful thought (borrowed that idea from Erin Condren!). Each of these sections were things I either appreciated or wished for when using other planners. I customized the sizes, lines, and shading for each of the boxes on the right-hand side. The web app was very easy to use as I set up the layout. I’m so excited to use the sections!

Now here’s my monthly layout, Model #32060:

 Agendio Planner Review — Monthly Layout

I was able to customize the look and feel of the page, plus the notes area on the right-hand side, which I’ve kept in list form. Plus, you’ll notice on the 12th that I’ve included my dad’s birthday. You can add your own events to the calendar in weekly or monthly mode (or both), and you can make them recurring if you need to. While I didn’t use the feature very much, I was extremely impressed with it. I can totally see how that would come in handy!

You can set the colour of each month separately, if you wish. I decided to follow the Life Planner trend, giving each month a different colour (dark blue for January, for example). Other than that, though, I will admit that the planners aren’t nearly as colourful as others on the market. No worries! I ordered a bunch of stickers from Amazon last week to spice things up throughout the year. And to accommodate the stickers, I added a cardstock pocket to the back of my Agendio planner (for $3 extra). You can also add an elastic for the cover or coloured monthly tabs for the interior.

If you’ve missed the start of the year to find the perfect planner, fear not! Agendio allows you to choose the starting month of your 12-month planner.

Every Agendio planner review I read before ordering my planner was very positive, and this one is no different. I’m so excited for 2017 — with my new Agendio planner in tow!

What’s your planner of choice this year?

Yoga Revolution - I'm In

Happy Almost New Year! We’re counting down the hours with eager anticipation until…2016 is finally over. This year has been quite the roller coaster for most of us. I’ve found that one of the most positive, grounding experiences for me this year has been a renewed commitment to yoga practice, as guided by Adriene from the Yoga With Adriene YouTube channel. So starting tomorrow morning, I’m going to be embarking on the Yoga Revolution journey: a 31-day yoga practice video series with a daily mantra or focus. I’m pumped!

You may remember from that I participated in the “first annual” 30 Days of Yoga back in the summer. This video series launched in January 2015, so obviously I was a bit behind. It took me 44 days to get through the 30 videos, but at least I made it! You can read more about that experience in my Lessons Learned post. To summarize, I learned to build a habit of self-care, find what feels good, and expand my focus from just the physical aspects of yoga to the whole experience.

I continued to attend weekly yoga classes at my office gym and walk through a YWA video every so often. But I was becoming uninspired and the habit was falling away. So in mid-October, I took on the 30 Days of Yoga challenge from January 2016: Yoga Camp.

The main difference between the 2015 and 2016 challenges was the introduction of simple mantras to each practice.

I am strong.

I am supported.

I go with the flow.

I’ll admit that I never got to the point of chanting the mantras out loud, but I did find them very helpful in focusing my energy and intentions throughout the practices.

For this challenge, I actually completed one video each day for 30 days straight, finishing on time! I could feel both my mind and body becoming stronger through the experience, and I’m so glad I did it. And now that I’ve done the New Year challenges from 2015 and 2016, I’m officially caught up — meaning I’m ready for 2017:

Yoga Revolution.

So this will be the first time that I’m following along with others through this yoga “bootcamp”, and I’m very excited! These practices are super diverse: cleansing, challenging, creative, you name it. And participating is totally, 100% free. If you’ve even considered doing yoga, I want to encourage you to join me. It’s going to be awesome!

Sign up right here!

For those of you that have been following my blog recently, you may be wondering, what about Tone It Up? In a previous post, I mentioned that I’ve been following along with the Daily Workouts on the website for a few weeks now. For the duration of Yoga Revolution, I’m going to let Tone It Up take a backseat. I’ll still complete the Daily Moves, but the other workouts/cardio will generally be replaced by my yoga practice — unless I somehow find enough time and energy to do both!

Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope to see you tomorrow on the mat!

How I Won NaNoWriMo Six Times

Welcome to November – the first day of the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I hope you thoroughly enjoyed your Hallowe’en, because that’s the last chance you’ll have to experience joy and happiness for the next thirty days.

Just kidding!

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo six times over the past eight years. And each of those times, I’ve “won” the challenge, meaning I successfully wrote the first draft of a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. (Check out this post for more info on NaNo and why you should join me this year.) This is not an easy thing to do, but it is a fun thing to do, and it’s a really neat experience to be able to truthfully call yourself a novelist (at least in progress).

Many people have had false starts and failed years when participating in the writing marathon, which is totally normal. So how did I manage to win each and every time I signed up to write? Here’s my advice for current and future Wrimos hoping to knock it out of the park this year.

Start with a Winning Mindset

I’ve heard lots of people, in person and on the NaNoWriMo forums, saying things like this:

  • “I’m going to try NaNoWriMo this year.”
  • “I have a huge problem with procrastination, but we’ll see how it goes.”
  • “My cousin’s wedding is mid-November, so I probably won’t finish.”
  • “I’ve never won before, and this year likely won’t be any different.”
  • Or my personal favourite: “I missed the first day. Maybe I’ll try again next year.”

STOP. Right now. If you head into this challenge with the mindset of failure, or even potential failure, you are so much more likely to give up all motivation and sell yourself short.

I went into my first NaNoWriMo thinking that I was going to write a book in a month. I wasn’t going to try to do it, I wasn’t going to hope I could do it – I was just going to do it. This year is the busiest and most stressful of my life so far, and I’m still not thinking about whether I might fail. (Though I am thinking about whether this is the craziest idea ever…!)

I’m not just promoting a motivational technique here. From what I’ve seen, many people use the excuse, “I always knew I wouldn’t be able to do it” to drop out of the challenge long before they needed to or should have. Give yourself a fair chance. Consider it something you’re going to do for sure.

Get in the Habit

All it takes to win NaNoWriMo is 1667 words per day. Not perfect words, but simply words. I can usually bang that out in 30-45 minutes. Maybe it takes you a little longer, but that’s okay.

Now, if you wait for five days (because you’re so busy with work, school, or anything else to spare 30-45 minutes), you’ve now got a backlog of 8333 words (or so). And because we’re all human and not robots, it’s not simply a matter of multiplying 30-45 minutes by 5. You’ll need to add time for rest, food, interruptions, bathroom breaks, procrastination… and suddenly, you’ve spent an entire Saturday trying to catch up. Overwhelming to say the least. I’ve done it, and it’s definitely not the ideal case.

The trick is to get into a habit of writing every day, or almost every day. Find the free time in your day at which you’re most productive, and use that time for a writing routine. For me, it’s usually around 9pm, but I’ll squeeze it in whenever I can – as long as I’m writing every day.

So what happens when you do fall behind? Try the next two tips:

Get Out of the House

When I’m in a writing rut, I find it’s so important to get a change of scenery, especially if the new locale has a certain buzzing, writerly energy about it. The typical spots are coffee shops and libraries, but anywhere will do.

It’s also often better with other writers! Take your Wrimo friends along, or join a local Write-In organized by your city’s Municipal Liaison.

SPRINT!

Sometimes, you just don’t have the time or energy to generate well-crafted, thoughtful prose to hit your daily wordcount. Besides, the focus of NaNoWriMo is quantity over quality – editing is where the quality comes in, and that can wait until December. I often use “word sprints” to boost my wordcount without taking up hours of precious time.

Word sprints are simply periods over which you write really, really fast, without really stopping to think or edit. You can either write for a defined length of time, or you can try to hit a particular word goal as fast as possible. NaNoWriMo runs “official” word sprints on Twitter so that you can race against your fellow Wrimos. But for writing on your own terms, you can definitely race against the clock instead.

It also helps to have some sprinting tools in your back pocket. My two favourite websites for this are Written? Kitten! and Write or Die (I use the free version). Check them both out for two very different varieties of motivation.

Tell Everyone You’re Doing NaNoWriMo

If I hadn’t blogged about it and talked about it with basically everyone I know, I probably wouldn’t be doing it this year.  For me, this is probably the most effective method for making sure I don’t back out. So here we are.


Well, folks, that about covers the entirety of my plan to write a novel in a month for the seventh (eek!) time. I am starting off today with a single idea and literally no other details prepared. I’m definitely pantsing it this year!

Are you joining me for NaNoWriMo 2016? What tips do you have for aspiring novelists-in-a-month?

My 3 Latest Binge-Worthy Netflix Faves

Hello, friends! It’s been a hectic few weeks around here. In the midst of the hustle and bustle this month, I’ve found it so necessary to take the time to chill out for an hour or two and watch a favourite TV show. With my current schedule, I don’t really have much time or brianpower for following multiple shows at a time. Netflix has been a godsend, then, since I can watch a single series straight through at my own pace. I’m glad I made time for these three recent Netflix picks!

Stranger Things

 Netflix: Stranger Things

Quick IMDb Synopsis: “When a young boy disappears, his mother, a police chief, and his friends must confront terrifying forces in order to get him back.”

This is one television bandwagon that I’m so glad I hopped on. Obviously, this show is blowing up right now, and for good reason. I’ll admit that I wasn’t hooked right away, though. I’d gone into this paranormal thriller expecting something similar to The X-Files. The first episode went essentially according to my expectations, so I didn’t feel particularly compelled to continue watching. A week later, I watched the second episode. And two days after that, I’d completed the entire eight-episode season. So.

In spite of its niche genre, Stranger Things has a very broad appeal: mystery, sci fi, nostalgia (it’s set in the 80s, in case you didn’t already know that), awesome characters, you name it. I am so impressed with the quality of Netflix Originals these days. Whether it seems like your cup of tea or not, give Stranger Things a shot next time you log into Netflix!

Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23

 Netflix: Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23

Quick IMDb Synopsis: “Chloe is a New York party girl with the morals of a pirate who bullies and causes trouble for her naive small town roommate June.”

This show is definitely not the stereotypical, formulaic sitcom I was expecting when I sat down to watch the first episode. It’s incredibly zany and surprisingly self-aware. The vibe is more Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt than Two Broke Girls, thankfully, but I’d say it’s more clever than Kimmy as well, especially in its use of clichees and tropes. Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 is still predictable, like most sitcoms, but it’s worth a shot if you’re looking for a quick laugh with a twist.

Galavant

 Netflix: Galavant

Quick IMDb Synopsis: “The adventures of Galavant, a dashing hero who is determined to reclaim his reputation and his “Happily Ever After” by going after the evil King Richard, who ruined it the moment he stole the love of Galavant’s life, Madalena.”

So one major thing missing from that synopsis is that Galavant is a modern musical. No, seriously. And it’s kind of hilarious. It’s essentially an Americanized Monty Python (Holy Grail comes to mind). The writing and musical team behind the two-season show is also responsible for Disney’s Tangled, which makes perfect sense. If you liked Tangled, you’re pretty much guaranteed to enjoy this.


What binge-worthy Netflix shows would you recommend?

30 Days of Yoga: Lessons Learned

A few days ago, I finished the final video session of 30 Days of Yoga on the Yoga With Adriene YouTube channel. It was an empowering and enlightening experience that taught me quite a bit about yoga — and myself.

I mentioned in an earlier post back in the spring that I was just beginning to practice yoga regularly, so I definitely classify myself as a newcomer. After taking a weekly class at work for a couple of months, I realized that my yoga practice was hindered by the length of time between classes, and the amount of stress endured during that time. I felt like any progress made was superficial and I wanted to take things to the next level. In the interest of a healthy lifestyle, I decided to undertake a 30-day home practice video series.

30 Days of Yoga — in 44 Days

With my highly variable weeknight schedule, I knew it would be more reasonable to commit to a morning yoga practice. I took “days off” from the videos in order to attend my usual morning yoga class on Wednesdays. Plus, after the first full week of the program, I went camping and delayed my progress until I returned. So all in all, it took me 44 days to complete 30 videos.

A Private Undertaking

Since I started this blog, I’ve taken on a number of “challenges”. I wrote a post a day back in April for the A to Z Challenge; I basically invented my No Buy July to save money (but mostly so that I could blog about it); and I committed to a number of monthly goals that I posted for the world to see. It’s helpful for me to use this blog as a form of accountability. But when I decided to begin 30 Days of Yoga, I kept it to myself, with the exception of a handful of close friends and family.

Why didn’t I declare my intentions online? There were two reasons in this case.

First, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to commit. Waking up at 6 is quite the adjustment when you’re used to 6:45 — especially when you know you don’t need to be up that early.

And second, I felt that using an external form of motivation would defeat the purpose of the commitment. If I really wanted to use this time to deepen my practice and create a ritual, the drive would need to come from within. And while it took two weeks longer than intended, I think the decision to keep my 30 Days of Yoga to myself was a good one.

“Find What Feels Good”

One of the things I love about yoga is that its main focus is not on the poses themselves. Many sequences are physically demanding, and can be out of reach for some people, depending on their practice and development. From what I’ve learned on this so-called 30 Days of Yoga journey, there are two priorities in yoga that overshadow the quest to “achieve” a certain pose: mental/emotional/spiritual connection with the body, and physical alignment.

Without a focus on the first priority, you may as well be exercising in a boot camp class rather than taking yoga. And without a focus on the second, you may cause yourself unnecessary injury and stress. There are ways to modify essentially every pose to allow for a positive, yet challenging, experience. Adriene provided a lot of direction on this topic in the video series, which I found very helpful. She summarizes this concept in the slogan “Find What Feels Good”. The self-love aspect of yoga feels very authentic, even at the beginner stages, especially when compared to other health and wellness trends that are popular online.

Spoiler Alert: Day 30

Note: I’m going to spoil the ending here. Only read this section if you have completed 30 Days of Yoga, or if you have no intention of ever doing so, for whatever reason.

Or maybe you’re the kind of person that reads the last page of the book first. In that case, read on.

It’s easy enough to follow along with a yoga video. Sure, there are tricky poses and pranayama techniques, but you learn the tips, the tricks, the physical alignment “checklists”, and the lingo along the way. But as I neared the end of the sessions, I started to panic. What would I do once it was all over? Would I stop practicing daily? Would I find a new series of videos to follow? Or would I have to — gasp — make up my own routines?

As the series neared its conclusion, Adriene’s instructions tended to be more open-ended. At a given point, I could take on a challenging flow, use the time for rest, or anything in between. She was building up my confidence in directing my own practice. She convinced me that I could, in fact, have a self-directed practice.

I made grand plans to do my research. I’d develop some sort of weekly plan for the types of poses for which I would prepare each day. I wanted to create the perfect playlist that would ease me into each portion of the practice. Maybe I would set goals for developing my endurance, strength, or patience. I procrastinated on all of this. I figured it could wait until the evening on the day I completed my 30 Days of Yoga.

But then, a twist!

Adriene intro’ed the 30th day video as a self-directed practice!

If I had been really paying attention, I would have known that each of the previous 29 videos had been leading up to this one. Without my intense preparation, though, was I really up to the task?

Turns out, yes, of course I was. (Plus, the video provided the playlist.) It wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. The important thing, though, was realizing that my preparations would have defeated the entire purpose of the exercise. There is a whole lot of yoga I have left to learn, but when it comes to making the most of a home practice, as Adriene says, it’s all about finding what feels good.


Now that my 30 Days of Yoga are complete, I intend to continue with yoga at home, with a blend of both personal and video-led practice. If you haven’t tried 30 Days of Yoga for yourself, I would definitely encourage you to try it out, whether you’re brand new to yoga or a little further along. The videos are light-hearted and instructive, and Adriene is hilarious and awesome. I really believe you’ll get a lot out of the experience, like I did!

What has been your favourite yoga experience?

When you’re looking to add a new board game to your home collection, one of the most important things to ensure is that the game won’t get stale. What’s the point in buying a game that gets boring after the first few play-throughs? Joe and I were on the hunt for something fresh and fun this weekend. We landed on Pandemic, a popular cooperative strategy game released in 2007. So far, we’ve played in three different groups: with my family, with his family, and just the two of us. And we had lots of fun each time!

The goal of Pandemic is to save the world from four deadly diseases. You play as a team of specialists with various randomly-assigned skills. As your turns progress, you and your team travel the world to treat these diseases and research their cures. At the same time, new cities are infected and outbreaks spread. It’s a race against the clock and the forces of nature to save the world.

Pandemic is the first cooperative game I’ve ever played. It took some adjustment, but I really enjoyed being able to work with the other players. Instead of competing via psychology and betrayal, your shared enemy is a series of random card draws. That way, the suspense and excitement were equally high for all players. Plus, you can share everything: the cards in your hands, your plans for next turn, and suggestions for your teammates’ moves.

The cooperative gameplay worked best when all players were engaged in the game. That wasn’t always the case, though. But even when a player was distracted or disinterested, they wouldn’t fall behind like they might in other games. The team still could still direction and use that player’s in-game special skills as things progressed.

My favourite part of Pandemic is the role of randomness in providing a unique game experience every time you play. Your strategy will change based on which cities are infected, when your cities have an epidemic, and what your special role will be for the duration of the game. I’ve noticed that some board games get very repetitive the more you play. That’s not the case with Pandemic, especially because you can also adjust the game’s difficulty at the start of each round.

 Pandemic — A Board Game Review

I do have a couple of warnings for new players. First, the game gets harder and the strategies get more intricate as you add additional players. It’s intended for 2-4 players, but we tried playing with 5, which made it much harder (but not impossible). Extra players essentially lengthen the time it takes to execute your strategies, and there are more opportunities for random events to ruin your plans.

Also, be aware of your team composition. Team strategies in cooperative games like Pandemic tend to gravitate toward the suggestions of players with stronger personalities. Do your best to ensure that every player gets a chance to voice their opinions and make decisions with the group.

In short, Pandemic is a great game for groups to have fun and be competitive – but with common goal. It looks a bit daunting at first glance, but the mechanics are really straightforward once you get the hang of the three-stage turn system. I would recommend Pandemic for groups of all kinds!

What are your favourite cooperative board games?