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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The skinny on Warrior Dash

Why do it?

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A very legitimate question, that, since one must wonder why hundreds of people get together and spend half of their precious weekend to crawl through mud and climb over tall walls. First of all, it's for a good cause. Warrior Dash proceeds go to St. Jude's hospitals - directly to research and treatment of cancer in children. If you participate in one of the St. Jude's Warriors waves, you get to contribute a little extra and get a few perks after the race (like a free beer, a separate gear check station, and a separate shower - which is a REALLY precious commodity at the Dash). Shoes donated by some of the warriors are cleaned using an innovative, environmentally friendly process (I've seen how some of them come out - they look almost new!) and donated to neighborhood and school sports programs, where families cannot afford to buy their kids decent athletic shoes.

Second, it's a way to find out what you are capable of. Sure, there are some hard-core participants, who have Warrior Dash annual membership (yes, there is such a thing), and run several of these competitively every year. There are many army and marine participants - they always have fun with it. But those are actually in the minority. Most participants are ordinary people of all ages, sizes, and fitness levels. They sign up for the fun, for the challenge, and for something out of the mainstream they can share with their families and friends. Besides, when else do respectable, grownup people have a chance to play in the mud and climb fences?

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How to prep?

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That is really a personal choice. Some people don't train at all. Some train a little. Some train like it's the Olympics. My first Warrior Dash (Huntersville, NC in 2014) was very challenging despite some prior training (such as long distance walking and weight lifting). I had a busted ankle and was recovering from the summer flu, which meant I couldn't run, was constantly running out of breath and overheating. In 2015 (Mountain City, GA), my goal was to run the entire event (3 miles) and take all the obstacles (12). To that end, I spent most of the year between the two events running at various speeds and through various terrains, including hills. I continued lifting weights, but also took up zumba and yoga to improve my endurance and stamina. Both helped, but not enough to fulfill my goals 100%.

Due to heavy rains the week preceding the 2015 event, the track was moved and upgraded from "moderately hilly" to "mountainous". Even the Warrior Dash veterans acknowledged the first mile of the Dash was murder - it was entirely uphill, jumping over rocks and fallen tree trunks. All but the toughest gave up on running that bit. There was a lot less mud compared to the 2014 Huntersville event, but a lot more water and climbing. As the event took place in April, in the mountains, a 200-yard swim across a very cold lake make moving challenging - let alone pulling yourself up and over some of the walls. The real bear for me came with the 20-foot "Warrior Wall" - the one obstacles I couldn't scale despite the help from my husband and other participants. The post-swim muscles simply refused to operate.

Lessons learned - I need to add climbing to my training. In the next year I plan to take advantage of the excellent climbing wall at one if the YMCAs in the area, as well as work on rope climbing and developing the muscles for pulling myself up. I plan to continue running, zumba, and yoga for the simple reason they are fun and good for me.

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What to bring?

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This depends a lot on the event - each one is unique. When you sign up, you'll start getting regular e-mails with the information about the event. READ THEM. Carefully. Yes, of course, there is some stuff in there just for fun, but most of the information is really important and useful. The one thing that is common across all the events is the waiver. Let's face it - Warrior Dash is a tough, gritty, somewhat dangerous athletic event. The waiver is important for protecting both the organizers and the participants. ...Especially in America where people file lawsuits for spilling coffee on themselves. Print out, read through, and sign your waiver the day before the event, put it with your stuff, and have it ready.

Between Huntersville and Mountain City, we got to see two formats of the event. In Huntersville, the parking was right there, next to the event site. So, you could leave most of your gear in the car and just keep your key (sealed in a plastic bag, in a zipped pocket, pinned close to make sure you don't lose it). In Mountain City, the parking was off site, you could bring your stuff with you, but you had to check it.

In Huntersville, the post-race Warrior Wash was a firetruck with a big hose, so there was no guarantee who will get how much water if at all - definitely not enough to rinse off. So, we had with us a camp shower, a portable camp shower tent, and three large containers of water to clean up after the race. In Mountain City, the Warrior Wash was at the lake. While ice-cold, it was a much better way to get the mud off. There were also showers for St. Jude's Warriors, as well as changing stations to get into dry clothes.

The point is - figure out your shower arrangements based on the format of the race, and bring supplies accordingly. Aside from that, you'll need a towel, a set of clean dry clothes, and toiletries. Obviously,you'll still want a REAL shower when you get home - nobody ever gets fully clean at the Dash site, that's just a given.

Keep hydrated before the race - all the way up to the point of the race. If you are like me and have a small bladder, bring athletic gel snacks and pop one just before you have to run. The taste is usually not bad, but they feel vile - like eating a bit of Bog of Eternal Stench, but they will keep you going. There are water stations right around each mile marker. If you tend to overheat, grab two cups at the station - one to drink, and one to pour on your head. It does help. If you absolutely don't think you can go an entire mile without sipping on something, find one of the smaller flexible water containers you can strap to your shoulder. Make sure it doesn't get in the way and can't get caught on anything (barbed wire is a common part of some of the obstacles.)

While there's beer and giant turkey legs to be had after the race, consider having another gel pack handy to swallow right after the finish - there will be some time between finishing the race, cleaning up, and finally getting to the food tent.

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What to wear?

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Once again - a matter of personal preference. Some people wear bare minimum (like bikinis). Some people wear costumes. Some wear wet suits. Most fall somewhere in between. Here is what worked for me - I pretty much kept my attire the same two years in a row: a techno-fabric sports top to keep the boobies strapped in, a light tee over that (incidentally, Warrior Dash tees you get are PERFECT for this - they use this amazing, light, breathable fabric, that is just great!), Jockey Skimmies, capri-length techno-fabric workout pants. The pants have a zipped pocket in the back, and that's where I carried my pedometer in a sealed bag. The capri length helped protect my knees from some of the sharp rocks and grit - although crawling over the rope netting was still pretty rough. Amazingly, while I incurred some scrapes and bruises, nothing I wore got torn or even snagged. I wore Fila Skele-Toes with five-toe socks underneath both years. The socks were REALLY helpful in keeping the dirt away from my feet and in helping my shoes stay on while slogging through the mud.

My husband wore running shorts and a tee last year, but opted for a long-sleeve techno fabric shirt this year, because it was chilly. It started out well, but worked against him after the lake swim, because the long sleeve took longer to dry. He wore trail running sneakers in all four events he did, and his favorites so far are The North Face Ultra MT.

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What to expect?

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Expect to push yourself. Expect not to be perfect. Most of all, expect to have fun. Of course, you can study the course in advance and see what sort of obstacles you'll get, but, honestly, nothing fully prepares you, until you are there. There will be lots of really exhilarated, really loud people - often with painted faces - and that's ok. During the Dash, you might feel someone's hand under your butt, pushing you up, or someone grabbing you by the arm to help you up an obstacle - that's ok too. Don't panic, it's very common. Total strangers, who might never agree on anything in real life, help each other out during the Warrior Dash, because, as things to have in common go - this is a BIG one.

Don't get discouraged if you can't scale an obstacle or if you don't scale it in the most graceful way. There are lots of other people there who have the same problem. Be in the moment, grunt, roar, cuss, do whatever you have to do - whatever works.

My zumba instructor told me something interesting recently. Apparently, it is not at all uncommon for people of average fitness levels to get addicted to things like Warrior Dash - for the very reason that it requires cross-training, and you get to do lots of different things. Based on that, if you do this once, chances are you'll want to do it again, and bring your friends with you. You'll blabber about it constantly. You'll describe it as the hardest and most awesome thing you've ever done in your life. And that's ok too. See you next year, warriors!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Big Little Change digest - April, 2015

Weekly small change challenges

Week 1 - find something that needs fixing and fix it.

You know the drill. The light bulb in the hallway that's been out for ages. The dowel between two chair legs that's been loose since forever and needs to be glued into place. The missing buttons. The falling down pant or skirt hems. Those things.

They might not seem like much, but remember - our brain, particularly our subconscious sees and processes things differently. And so, those little things accumulate, in the back of our minds, as signs of shabbiness, poverty, even squalor. Plus, they are constant irritants. I mean - how many times have you stubbed your toe in the dark because that light bulb is out? Or had to scramble for an outfit change when you realize that particular pair of pants had a seam coming apart?

Set aside some time - maybe just 30 minutes a week - and go looking for things to fix around your house. And fix them. If you don't have materials to fix them right then, make a list of what you need to get, get it, and fix it next week. Slowly but surely, there will be fewer stubbed toes, rickety chairs, and clothes held together with safety pins - translating into less stress and a better environment for you and yours.

Week 2 - teach a child.

My dad taught me about the solar system using Christmas ornaments and twirling them around one another. My maternal grandfather taught me to read from street signs and store marquees. Those of you who have children of your own do this all the time. But many of us forget.

The state of education in the industrialized world is, shall we say, inconsistent. So, consider what you can do personally to rectify the situation. It doesn't have to be anything big - although if you feel an ambition to start a remedial education program, by all means, go for it, and let me know because I want to contribute. But small contributions to the education of children are great too.

Some of the conferences and training seminars I've attended in the past often included parents who brought their kids with them. During breaks, I made origami frogs and airplanes, which invariably brought over some curious tyke who wanted to know what I was doing and how it worked. A conversation would develop. About frogs. Ponds. What frogs ate. What other things lived in ponds. Around ponds. Or about airplanes. And what made them fly. Why they didn't fall down. And all it took was a piece of paper folded a certain way. smile emoticon

Week 3 - do a 360 review.

While many people scoff at all things corporate, there are certain exercises and techniques originally developed in the corporate environment that are pretty good and can be used well in our every day lives.

One such exercise is the 360 review. In a workplace, these are done when performance reviews are coming up. Each person contacts his or her team mates and clients and asks three questions. "What should I stop doing? What should I start doing? What should I continue doing?" The answers can be very consistent or might vary greatly, but whatever they are - they are always surprising and insightful. They are later used to set up goals and, sometimes, modify behaviors.

Consider approaching your friends and family with the same questions. Yes, it is bound to be scary. And no, there is no guarantee some of the answers won't be startling or even unsettling. However, you are bound to end up with some very useful information that will help strengthen your friendships and improve your family life. If you are doing this with your family, to keep it fair, have everyone else participate in this exercise as well. See what you can come up with.

Week 4 - stop using "just" before your occupation.

Very often, when you ask people what they do for a living, they put the word "just" before their answer. "I'm just a teacher." "I'm just an admin". "Oh, I'm just a nurse". That one little word minimizes what you do in your own mind and in the minds of others. It makes it sound as if what you do doesn't matter and is not really worth doing, but that's what you are stuck with. Stop it. Never, ever, ever put the word "just" before what you do. Instead, not only answer proudly, "I am a writer." "I am an admin." "I am an engineer" "I am a nurse" but also sit down and write every way, in which your job makes other people's lives easier.

If you are an admin - you are taking off other people's shoulders the burden of paperwork and numerous calls, you are the one who knows where everything is - from paperclips and lightbulbs to computer screens and keyboards. If you weren't there, havoc would ensue, and other people's lives would be that much more stressful.

If you are a writer - your books feed people's minds and expand their imaginations. They take readers to other places and times. You are practically a TARDIS dealer - and you don't even need a time lord to do it. And so on. You get the idea. There is a reason you are where you are. You are needed. You are important. What you do is valuable and helpful. Never forget that.

Week 5 - buy something nice and donate it.

This is actually a derivative from a wonderful story by one of the Big Little Change members Gev Sweeney. At Christmas time a couple of years ago, she bought an enormous stuffed animal, marched by the line of parents buying gazillion toys for their kids, and donated the stuffed penguin to the Marines collecting toys and donations for the annual Toys for Tots effort.

We should do this sort of thing more often - not just during the holidays. When you have the means, the next time you are shopping, buy something brand new, then drive to whatever is your preferred donation organization and give it away. It's like giving a present to a friend you haven't met yet. It's awesome.

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Member contributions

My sister-in-law had to drop me early at 6:30am before she went to work. It was a 2 hour drive from delaware. My flight was at 11:30am. No problem. Then they cancelled my flight so while in line waiting to get on another flight I met bill. He was so nice and we talked for the hour and a half it took to change our flights. He told me about his family and how his daughter had just gotten married in Vegas and they had a wonderful time and then he went on to tell me how he had PTSD from watching a coworker being crushed in a machine at work. In this back and forth conversation I explained how my daughter and son both had PTSD and why. It was such a compassionate talk. Then I met another young women with Parkinson's disease she told me she had her PHD in eastern religion and we proceeded to discuss my buddhist practice. She said I had really inspired her when we talked about my children. Then I met another very nice young women when I was out smoking. I was complaining about being in the airport for 12 hours. She had just come from Asia and had spent Sunday (16hours) trying to get a flight to the U.S. It made me appreciate only waiting 12 hours. But my favorite person I met was Stephany. She has CP and is 35 or 37 years old and we had the best conversation about how it was when she was growing up. We talked about Alli and she gave me a completely new perspective on my beautiful girl. All in all it was a long but amazing day. When your stuck at the airport try to connect with people they are wonderful and can really put your life in to perspective. I'm very blessed.

I was the recipient of a random act of kindness yesterday. I used to work in a different building. I was in the same building as the electronics lab and so got to be friends with all of the guys down there. I rarely see them now that I'm in another building. We had freezing rain yesterday and they was a light coating of ice on my car windows. One of the lab techs saw me out there starting to scrape the ice off and came over to help me. Although I have the proper tools and am fully capable of doing that, Dave just jumped in and scraped my back window. I thanked him and gave him a hug. It was appreciated.

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Public service announcements

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LA uses city land to offer free veggie gardening.

A 10-year old enterpreneur starts a line of soft drinks that uses honey instead of corn syrup.

Businesses set out to fight the anti-LGBT legislation.

School basketball team stands up to a bully to defend a cheerleader with Down syndrome

Environmental innovations:

- Smog-fighting building

- Solar chargers

- Solar panels

Neighbors buy vacant buildings to support local businesses.

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About Big Little Change

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Big Little Change digest - March, 2015

Weekly small change challenges

Week 1 - meet someone new.

This one can be tough for those of us who live in isolated areas and work from home. However, there are still ways. There's the internet, of course. There is Meetup.com. There are grocery stores, book clubs, dog parks and other venues where new people are ripe for the meeting.

The new acquaintance may yield nothing. But then again - it might yield a new friendship, a potential customer, or a business venture.

Week 2 - dress up for no reason.

People ask me this all the time, "You work from home, you hardly ever go anywhere - WHY do you bother getting out of your pajamas?" Because. That's it. That's the answer. It just does it for me. Some days I wear something nicely casual. And some days I might go up a notch and dress as if I have a special event coming up later - like a visit to the theater or a cocktail party. I might go to the grocery store like that or for a walk through downtown. And feel good.

Try it. One day - for no reason at all - pull out something you normally save for a big presentation or a party or some such, put it on and wear it. Listen to yourself when you do this and notice the difference in how you feel and carry yourself.

Week 3 - reconnect with an old friend.

Whatever happens to some of the amazing friendships we enjoy in our childhood, at school, or in college? Some people stay in touch consistently for decades. But more often than not, they promise to do so and then drift apart.

Social media made it easy to track down and reconnect with old friends. So, dig up someone from your memory - someone you know you liked a lot and were close with all those years ago - and consider looking him or her up. What's the worst thing that can happen? The person might not be available. Or might not be interested. Or maybe the old friend has changed so much you don't have much in common anymore.

But, on the other hand, you might be on your way to reviving a great and positive relationship. And, let's face it, it's hard to beat having someone in your life who knows all those embarrassing stories from your past.

Week 4 - the day of help

Choose a day, preferably when you know you'll be out and about, open your eyes and ears wide, and spend the day giving and helping everyone who asks for it. If you know you'll be going into a downtown, bring a bunch of change and give to every street beggar. It doesn't matter what they might or might not spend that money on - just give. If you are at a grocery store and see someone struggling loading their car - walk offer and lend a hand. If you get an e-mail about your local soup kitchen or pet shelter needing a hand - go and help.

In that one day, you'll become a point of origin of a whole slew of big little changes.

Member contributions

Anyone can be a hero - including a librarian.

Public service announcements

Did you know? In addition to being a movement, a Facebook group, a book, and a web site, Big Little Change is also a Kiva team. Come join us and change the world - one person at a time.

A city residence can be a pollinator habitat.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Writer interview - Hannah Audrey Warren

Hannah Warren was born in Paris (Fr.) in 1956 as a second child to a Dutch father and an English mother. She has lived in The Netherlands almost all her life but maintains strong ties with her own favorite triangle: France, UK and Holland.

Hannah studied Dutch literature and Mass Communication at the University of Amsterdam and later obtained a B.A. in English Literature and Language and a B.A. in Translation from Rotterdam University. After having been a lecturer and a translator for many years, she now works as a staff member at the International Office of HZ University of Applied Sciences in Vlissingen.

Her free-time is taken up by writing fiction and doing Yoga. She also likes to go on long hikes while listening to audiobooks. After having been a single mum for nearly two decades, her three children have flown the nest. The great sadness that befell Hannah in March 2014 was the loss of her eldest child, daughter Joy, who died after an intense two-year struggle against bile duct cancer. Currently her second child, son Ivor, is fighting a brain tumor. Her whole life and the future of her children (-in-law) is totally upside down. Writing fiction is Hannah’s main outlet.

From the age of 8, Ms. Warren has written poetry and short stories but it took her over 50 years to become a published author. Her debut novel – the literary romance Casablanca, My Heart was published by Thorstruck Press in June 2014.

Psychic Confessions, first book in the series The Cottage on The Border (November 2014, Thorstruck Press) is Hannah's second novel and positions her as a writer of suspenseful family sagas. The sequel The Angel Within will be published in July 2015.

In December 2014 Hannah participated with 10 other authors in the first Thorstruck Press Anthology The Secrets of Castle Drakon with the short story called The Blood Red Nails of War.

In August 2015 the first book in the Daughter of the Alvar Series “Ingrid” will come out. This is a historical family saga situated in south-Sweden in the 1890s.

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What is your favorite virtue? My favorite virtue is ‘courage’. The courage to be honest, compassionate, persevering. Courage is not something you can train for or develop. It is an inner, in-born quality that you either have or don’t have. At the basis of every other great virtue lies courage. It’s the only real virtue that will change anything for the better. It are the cowards, liars and weak minds in this world that either deliberately or unconsciously destroy it. The opposing force to this is courage.

Your favorite qualities in a man. Inner and outer strength,passionate,respectful,intelligent,understanding, warm,courageous

Your favorite qualities in a woman. Inner and outer beauty, sisterly, tenacious, compassionate, intelligent, peaceable, courageous

Your chief characteristic. Observant

What do you appreciate the most about your friends? Loyalty, freedom from expectations, freedom from judgment, intelligence, fellowship

Your main fault. Impatience

Your favorite occupation. Writer

Your idea of happiness. The health of my children.

Your idea of misery. A world torn apart by rigid minds

If not yourself, who would you be? The Boudica

Your favorite heroes/heroines in fiction. Vincent Van Son in my latest novel Psychic Confessions, Konstantin Dmitrijevitsj Levin in Anna Karenina, Jean Louise Finch (Scout) in To Kill A Mockingbird, Old Jolyon Forsyte in The Forsyte Saga, Ingrid Gunarsson in Daughter of the Alvar (my new novel that will be published this summer), Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre, Yury Andreyevich Zhivago in Doctor Zhivago, Hassan in The Kite Runner, Mary Yellan in Jamaica Inn

Your favorite heroes/heroines in real life. Dalai Lama, Ruby Bridges, Ahmed Aboutaleb (mayor of Rotterdam), my deceased daughter Joy (although she may no longer be part of ‘real life’ she fought a heroic fight against bile duct cancer), Pope Francis, my neighbour Alie, who is always is open and smiling and wise and kind to anyone she meets, my son Ivor who’s currently fighting his battle against cancer, Malala Yousafzai

Your favorite food and drink. Food: Ayurvedic cooking: rice, vegetables, vegetarian dishes. Drink: coffee, tea, wine and water

What is your present state of mind? Waiting for the hailstone shower to pass over.

Your personal motto. You can’t do it alone; find a compassionate heart, hold a warm hand.

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Find more information about Hannah and her work:

- Website and blog

- Facebook author page

- Twitter

- Thorstruck Press author page

- Goodreads

- Instagram

- Pinterest

- Tsu

- LinkedIn

- Amazon author page

- Psychic Confessions

- Casablanca, My Heart

- Casablanca, My Heart (audiobook)

- The Secrets of Castle Drakon

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Artist interview - Stan Baldwin

I've been a fan of Stan Baldwin's incredible art for a long time now. Much to my delight, I was finally able to lure him in for an interview - no doubt through a combination of my feminine wiles and persistent nagging.

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What is your favorite virtue? My personal virtue is to be able to let my imagination run wild. In others, I like creations that are beyond the ordinary…it can be something in pottery, writing, or on the athletic field or just about anywhere..

Your favorite qualities in a man. Honesty and humbleness

Your favorite qualities in a woman. I love the character in a woman’s face, even more as she gets older. I love women who know what they want and go after it..

Your chief characteristic. I love art…..you will seldom see me without paint on my fingers…

What do you appreciate the most about your friends? Honesty and originality

Your main fault. Laziness

Your favorite occupation. Artist

Your idea of happiness. Staying vital

Your idea of misery. boredom

If not yourself, who would you be? Marlon Brando or Steve McQueen

Your favorite heroes in fiction. Lucas Davenport, detective in Sanford Novels..

Your favorite heroes in real life. Too many to name…. Elizabeth Warren stands out..

Your favorite food and drink. Lime juice and Cherry phosphate…..most smoothies. I love Mexican and Chinese food…occasionally Greek..

What is your present state of mind? My mind is like a continuous movie, before I fall asleep, a slide show..

Your personal motto. Never Quit..

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To find out more about Stan and his art, please visit his Facebook page.