A year from now, what would you like to be able to do?

When I was in middle school, I read a little nugget that I still use to organize my hobbies and my life. By focusing on the end goal, it makes it so much easier to put in work day after day, especially on voluntary projects or towards personal goals. What if, a year from now, you could wake up, decide to run a few miles, and just lace up your shoes and go? For me right now, the thought of this is laughable (I am the anti-runner. I like walking.). But I would like to be able to run short or medium distances — I feel like it’s an important skill as a human, and would be a sign of improved basic health.

I use this approach as motivation for many different projects, including rock climbing, computer programming, learning languages (я немного говорю по-русский, но я понимаю основы), and juggling. A little bit of practice each day or each week goes a long way. I’m not trying to be an expert at any of these, I just like to dabble.

In reality, I know I dabble too much, and could benefit from focusing on a single project for longer. But for now, this fits 🙂

As an aside, all the kittens have finally been adopted! We recently received this adorable picture of Bartholomew and Ziggy happily snuggled together at their new home.

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Programming

It’s been increasing clear to me over the last year or so that computer programming is a vital skill to have, and will only become more useful as technologies further develop. No matter what discipline your work or hobbies fall under, understanding how to communicate with technology will probably help. As will.i.am puts it, “great coders are today’s rock stars”. And as the guy before him in this inspirational video puts it, “the programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future”. I want to be a wizard. Who doesn’t want to be a wizard?

A huge part of learning a new skill, especially one as complicated, in-depth, detail-oriented, and, frankly, frustrating, as learning computer code, is to stay motivated and determined. My journey into this world, because I’m doing it on my own and not as part of an educational program, has drawn upon dozens and dozens of resources. It’s amazing that I have all these at my disposal through the internet, but it’s also hard to stay focused and really dig deep into them because there are so many to be distracted by. I’m slowly getting better at figuring out what resources are useful for me right now, and which are not helping.

I recently started following Harvard’s CS50 intro to computer science class that they offer free through the EdX online learning organization. In the past I’ve found free online classes to be uninformative, poorly organized, and frustrating; however, this one so far is extremely impressive. All of the information, slides, resources are located in one spot online. There are no expensive textbooks to buy to accompany the free course; all the material is provided. The lectures are interesting, the pace takes into account both square-one beginners (me a year ago) and people who kind of understand what’s going on and can code basic projects, but are still very much beginners (me now). I enjoy that it doesn’t focus on one computer programming language, but uses a few different ones to illustrate important aspects of logic, diving right in to basic but interesting projects.

I also appreciate that the course works really hard to make computer programming sexy, marketable, community-oriented, and fun. Some of the performances and gags are a little hokey, but I appreciate them anyway. They really show that the course organizers understand how intimidating programming can be, how hard it is to get started, and that they don’t want anyone to miss an opportunity to learn this important set of skills.

Maybe I’ll put together an outline of the resources I’ve used so far in case anyone would find them helpful. Until then, this is a great place to start.

Get coding!

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Fostering

Our time fostering the Sparrows is almost at an end — Princess has gone home to a wonderful family, and the Bartholomew and Ziggy managed to get themselves adopted together even though the couple initially only wanted one. Those boys could charm anybody 🙂 Hectorina (aka Calypso) is the last one left, but she too has an adopter all lined up and should be headed home in just a few days.

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This experience has for the most part been extremely positive. E and I have learned a ton about cats and about life, and about working as a team and “parenting” baby kitties. We struggled with keeping little Earl alive as long as we could, and keeping our apartment in one piece as these little claw machines sharpened their nails on one fun new surface after another. My entire apartment is covered in a thin layer of pine-dust from the litter we use, and the couch is still half-heartedly draped in towels to protect it from high-speed chases. The folks down at Pet Valu have been incredibly supportive, getting to know us, giving invaluable advice on caring for sick kitties, and helping us find food in the donations box so we wouldn’t go broke feeding these hungry little mongrels.

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The BARCS staff are very enthusiastic folks who are up-front about the dire situation with so many animals coming into the shelter (thousands and thousands every year). They’re great about asking for help when the shelter is full.

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I’m fostering because I can, because I love animals and want to have them around me, because I’m not ready to adopt yet, and because it is a positive service that I can do for my community. That it connects me with interesting, usually crazy, but generally very nice like-minded people who have also opened their hearts and homes to stray animals has been an additional plus.

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These are just four of the dozens and dozens of kittens that did not grow up in a cage in the shelter this summer because of the fostering program.

I’m so happy they’re all going to such wonderful homes, but I already miss them. Here’s a few pictures from way back in the beginning:

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Climbing

Aside from kittens and food, the hobby E and I probably spend the most time on is climbing. We love rock climbing because it’s both a full-body workout, and a mental workout  — many of the routes or bouldering problems are like puzzles you have to do with your body! We’re fortunate to have a few great gyms in the area, and when time allows we boulder and top-rope 3-5 times a week. I’m terrified of heights, so top-roping is an exercise in facing my fear, as well as actual exercise!

Top rope routes in my area are graded on a scale of roughly 5.3 to 5.14 or higher. The ‘5’ indicates that it’s a vertical wall, and the decimal tells you how hard it is. A 5.intro, 5.3, or 5.4 is essentially a ladder; a 5.14 is something spiderman would probably not be able to climb. Bouldering paths or “problems” are graded from V-Intro (the easiest) to V12 or higher. V-Intros are usually doable for people who have been climbing for only a few weeks, and are sometimes equated to being a 5.9 or 5.10 when compared to top-roping paths; but their brevity makes them more doable. There is also lead-climbing, which is when you climb a tall route with a belayer, but you bring the rope up with you and clip it to the rock as you go. This is a more advanced way to climb.

Toproping picture from wikipedia -- we don't usually bring our camera to the gym!

Top-roping picture from wikipedia — we don’t usually bring our camera to the gym!

E and I have both been climbing for about a year and a half. For the first month or so, we were working on basic top-roping routes, discovering back and fore-arm muscles we didn’t know we had, and working on balance, movement, form, and other basic climbing techniques that you learn just from going up and down the wall.

Once we had the basics down, we switched to almost solely bouldering for more than a year, mostly due to my fear of heights (I’m convincing 🙂 )

This summer, E and I decided to switch back to primarily top-roping to break through a perceived plateau in climbing ability :/ Also, we began incorporating free weights (kettlebells!) into our routine this summer, which gave me a huge boost in upper-body strength (my weakness)! All this combined has led us to break past our plateau in the 5.9/V2-4 range, and in the last month we’ve done paths in the 5.10a-d range (harder paths start getting more specific ratings) and even a few 5.11a’s!

Our ultimate goal, aside from simply being strong and flexible, is to be able to do this activity outdoors on real rocks, and seeing an increase in the level we climb at means we’re a few steps closer to learning to climb lead.

And now, kitties:

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Kitties, kitties, and more kitties

While I am doing other things in my life, like working, climbing, eating, showering, scheming and socializing, the fostering project is currently the newest, the cutest, the most photogenic, and probably what I’m learning the most from right now. It’s extremely rewarding. The little kits are all growed up (about ten weeks, give or take) and we’ve had ups and downs with them — parasites, learning to live with claws, giving meds, litter-box training, and even a dip into the world of the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) that took little P. Earl. We tried really hard to keep him fed and watered and warm and healthy, but in the end, the poor little guy couldn’t keep food or water in his tummy for more than a few minutes. He’s in a better place now.

Oh, right, and we got some of their genders wrong — turns out Pearl was a boy, so we renamed him Prince Earl. Hector is a lady, so now we call her Hectorina (I’m advertising her as Calypso because she’s a deep gray-blue, but we can’t bring ourselves to call her that at home). Since the name Jack is super popular right now for kittens, and has a few other drawbacks, our vocal little captain has been renamed to BartholoMEW Jackson.

Even though they were all exposed to FeLV, Princess, Ziggy, Hectorina and Bartholomew all tested NEGATIVE for it last week at the vet, so in theory they are ready for desexing and adoption. But because they were exposed, they’re not allowed to go to events, and still might end up going to a rescue organization. Rescues are more specialized animal care facilities that are prepared to take in animals with special needs (either medical, like diabetes, or behavioral, or any other issue you can think of).

Even though cats with FeLV generally live normal lives, because the virus is contagious, they shouldn’t live with other FeLV negative cats in case the infection spreads and causes leukemia in another cat. Cats with FeLV can either fight off the virus and become immune, remain healthy but be carriers of the disease, or at some point in their lives (usually when they are first infected but sometimes later on) develop complications from the virus — basically cancer of any/all parts of their body. Not awesome, but definitely not an automatic death sentence. Since these guys have been exposed, and the tests are not very accurate, they have to get some special attention and anyone we adopt them out to should be aware that they could still be carrying the virus. They’re our first fosters, so it’s been a little confusing trying to navigate through this process, but everything is a learning experience, and the folks over at BARCS have for the most part been extremely supportive.

In light of all this, today I finally posted a craigslist ad for these furry little monsters. Fingers crossed we get find an amazing forever home for each of these guys! It’s going to be so hard to see them go.

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Adventures in Fostering

As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted a furry pet. Growing up, we had fish and toads and frogs. These were awesome experiences for my brothers and I, but it’s hard to cuddle with amphibians, adorable though they may be. Because E and I are both varying degrees of super-organized, detailed planners, commitment-phobic, overly financially responsible, and not sure where the next few years will take us, it hasn’t seemed like the right time to adopt little furballs of our own yet (plus, our current living situation, though it is perfect in every other way, doesn’t allow us to keep dogs).

Enter fostering! As fosters, we’re responsible for housing, feeding, and generally caring for animals until they are adopted by a loving family. We finally made the plunge a week ago, and visited the shelter planning to pick up a pair or trio of young-ish (1-2 years) cats who needed some lovin’ and a place to play away from the crowded shelter.

We left with a litter of 5 six-week old kittens. Captain Jack, Pearl, Hector, Ziggy and Princess have been terrorizing the bathroom and tearing around the living room ever since! We’ve had our share of struggles with getting them to eat and poop the right items in the right places, as well as the added stress of having one come injured (Ziggy, the gorgeous tiger-faced kit has a little peg-leg) and one get very sick (Pearl is the runt, and had some trouble eating which is very dangerous for a kitten who weighs less than a pound to start with).

Let’s have me stop rambling, and get to what everyone is actually interested in: pictures of the kittens!

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Yes, they are painfully cute. Yes, they will have to leave us soon to go to permanent homes and it will be heartbreaking to say goodbye. And thank goodness for the batch of heart jerky we made last week, because that’s the only thing it’s possible to eat when you have a sick kitten whose only desire in the world is to be curled in a ball on your warm lap.

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Think about it

What are you doing today to challenge yourself?

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