Wednesday, July 21, 2021

5 Bad Money Habits That Need to Go

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Whether you have money in your savings account or are drowning in debt, getting rid of these bad money habits will be a great step towards improving your financial well-being. Think of these bad habits as if they were a leaking faucet, flushing your hard-earned dollars down the drain. Once you fix the leak, you will be able to do more with your money, so let's get started.

Bad Money Habit #1. Letting your budget figure itself out. 

Think of your budget as a wild animal. If you let it run free, it will bite your head off. If you tame it, it will be a faithful and caring companion. If you're new to budgeting, begin with totaling your income (after taxes). Then subtract your fixed expenses (such as rent and other monthly bills that do not fluctuate depending on usage). Then calculate the average you spend on fluctuating bills (electricity, gas, etc.). For instance, add how much you spent on gas in the last 6 or 12 months and then divide that total by either 6 or 12. Repeat this for each fluctuating expense and subtract each average amount from your income. Finally, analyze your spending. How much do you spend on Uber, eating out, grocery shopping, entertainment, and so on? Many financial experts recommend that you save at least 20% of your monthly income. If you're able to do that, good for you. If you aren't, think about how you can lower your expenses (save electricity, walk instead of taking an Uber, eat at home instead of going out, etc.) to reach this monthly goal. If you cannot cut down your expenses, think of a way to make extra money on the side. Also, think about what you are saving for. Are you planning to buy a house? Would you like to go on a nice vacation at the end of the year? Having specific goals keeps you motivated to save and increases the likelihood of reaching your goals. 

Bad Money Habit #2. Paying interest on your credit card purchases.

While credit cards can be a great way to make large purchases that might be hard to pay for at once, they are designed to whet your appetite for purchases you cannot afford. They allow you to stretch your budget whenever you need (or want) to, which might lead to debt accumulation. That's how credit card companies make money and you lose money. Whenever possible, try to pay your credit card bill in full by the date it's due to avoid paying interest. Many credit cards offer cashbacks, so if you use your cards wisely, they will pay you to use your cards (and not vice versa). If you have to carry over a balance, come up with a plan to pay it off as soon as possible. If you have multiple credit cards, you can rotate your usage, which will give you more time to pay (use your Mastercard while you paying off your Visa balance) and save on interest. And, most importantly, avoid making impulsive purchases, especially the expensive ones. Consult your budget and see how that purchase affects your spending to saving ratio and decide if the purchase is worth it. 

Bad Money Habit #3. Downplaying your debt.

Perhaps, the biggest mistake you can make when it comes to thinking of your debt is believing that you "don't owe too much money." Maybe you don't or maybe you do. Think of your debt in terms of concrete numbers: "if I pay x amount every month, I will eliminate my debt in y amount of months." Knowing how much you owe and how long it will take you to pay it off sets up realistic expectations and enables you to adjust your budget accordingly. That credit card bill, back taxes and speeding tickets won't pay themselves. The longer you're putting off the payment, the bigger problems you will have in the future, so you need to have a plan. Check your budget to see how much money you can dedicate towards paying your debts and set up automatic payments if possible. Also, whenever possible, make sure the amount you pay is larger than the interest or fees you are paying every month. Otherwise, your debt will keep growing, and you won't get any closer to paying it off. 

Bad Money Habit #4. Spending Money To Make Money.

Though every job comes with its own expenses, you have to make sure to subtract those expenses from your income. If you drive for work, do you get reimbursed for gas? If no, subtract your gas expenses from your income. You are paying that amount regularly just to go to work. Once you do that, you might find that you are making less money that you thought you did. Adjust your budget accordingly. Considering your work-related expenses when budgeting helps you analyze your income and brainstorm some ways to increase it if necessary (switch careers, take on extra work, and so on). Whenever possible, try to minimize the amount you spend while making money. Otherwise, you run the risk of working hard and not seeing the fruits of your labor in your bank account, which can be discouraging and even depressing. 

Bad Money Habit #5. Not Investing into Your Retirement.

If your company offers to match your investment into your retirement (401K or its equivalent), and you aren't taking advantage of their offer, do reconsider. Investing as little as 3% of your paycheck adds up over time, and, if you budget well, you probably won't miss that in your paycheck. Find out the maximum amount your employer is willing to match and invest at least that amount if possible. If you can, aim to invest 10-15% of your pre-tax income into your retirement to make sure you can live comfortably when you no longer work for a living. If your employer isn't offering a 401K, research some other ways to save up for your retirement. Though retirement seems like a vague dream to someone in their 20s (especially if they are barely earning enough to get by and have student loans to pay), do your best to start saving up for it. Not having to worry about having no income besides Social Security, your future self will be grateful for your sacrifices.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Goodbye, 2020, The Year When Time Stopped

Even though the practically empty Times Square on New Years Eve seemed to suggest otherwise, the countdown to New Year was probably one of the happiest for many of us. 2020 has been an unusual and challenging year in so many ways, bringing on us the global pandemic, economic shutdowns, health concerns, the mixed blessing of working from home, inability to travel not only outside of the country, but pretty much outside of the neighborhood - and this is just scratching the surface. Many people lost their jobs and their loved ones. Many people courageously risked - and lost - their lives on the frontlines, making sure the essential jobs are being done. Many people were and are struggling to pay rent. Counting down to the beginning of 2021 was a symbol of hope that this coming year would be better. We can only imagine all the wishes and resolutions made. 

Yet, perhaps, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on everything we learned this past year. Guided by social distancing and self-isolation, we had a unique opportunity to spend more time by ourselves or with people within our household and to rely on hobbies we could engage in without leaving the house. We have recognized the sacrifices of essential workers we might have previously taken for granted: taxi/bus drivers, train conductors, cashiers, restaurant workers and other people who couldn't work from home and who put long hours into delivering us the essentials we needed. We have gotten accustomed to wearing masks in crowded public spaces, the habit that seems to be here to stay even after the pandemic is officially over. 2020 was the year when time stopped, allowing us to examine ourselves, the society we live in and people we encounter on a daily basis. Placed under the metaphorical magnifying glass, our virtues and flaws became clearer, for better or worse. 

As we look forward to "going back to normal," we have to admit: life will never be the same again after 2020. When the clock of time starts ticking again, it will mark the beginning of a new era, and it is up to each and every one of us to make sure we come out of this experience as better people than we were before. We have to recognize that there is healing to be done, and we need to show kindness and empathy towards ourselves and others. As 2020 taught us, life is priceless and fragile, and it cannot be taken for granted. As it also taught us, we are stronger when we are together and when we help each other. Let us take these positive lessons with us into the new year and use them as building blocks, on which our future will rest. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Hit The Ground Running: On Jogging and Its Amazing Benefits


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As far as I am concerned, 2020 has definitely been a year that forced me to challenge myself and try things I'd never thought I'd willingly try. It all started with staying at home. When taking care of my health became a priority, cabin fever no longer had the luxury of kicking in. Luckily, I was still working. As a bonus, I had a chance to watch nightly opera streams, courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera, which has definitely helped me preserve my sanity during these tough times. However, the transition from working on my feet to working from my armchair meant that I was barely moving. In the beginning, I was scared to go outside, even for groceries, fearing for my health and for the health of those dear to me. Consequently, I started quickly gaining weight, and I didn't like it. I was already doing HIIT and cardio workouts at home 5 days a week, thanks to Fitness Blender, which would normally keep me active and healthy, but with minimal physical activity to accompany that, I wasn't making much progress. That was when I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone and start running.

It wasn't easy, I won't lie. When friends told me I'd get a runner's high, grow to love running and even enjoy it, I was skeptical. In the beginning, all I could do was run for less than 5 minutes, huffing and puffing, with my whole body feeling like it was on fire. It was torture. There was no way I could ever like it. I endured it. That was the best I could do. Having never been a quitter, I kept going. Slowly but surely (running just a mile every day for the total of 12-14 minutes per session), I started discovering amazing benefits, which I want to share with you, hoping to inspire you to hit the ground running as well:

1. Visible and feel-able fitness benefits. Not only did I lose weight (16 lbs over 4 months - and counting) and toned up my leg muscles, I was also able to increase my speed and endurance. As I've mentioned earlier, I started with just under 5 minutes (one lap around the nearby park) and slowly built it up to 3 laps (the equivalent of a mile). My original goal was to keep building it up to 2 miles, but I found that I was most comfortable with 3-4 laps a day, and I didn't want to over-exert myself. At the same time, I noticed that I was running faster, shortening my lap time to just over 11 minutes (which is, by the way, not great, but I'm happy with it anyway, since it's faster than I was able to run when I first started). I also noticed that my breathing became more even when I was running, and I was able to pace myself better. As a result, running became less of a torture and more of a fun activity for me.

2. Bye-bye pain. Before I started running, I experienced pain in my heels, for unknown reasons. At first, I attributed it to working on my feet, but then I wasn't working on my feet anymore, yet the pain didn't go away. When I first started running, my feet still hurt. However, I noticed that they hurt less after running. Eventually, the pain went away completely, and my feet didn't bother me anymore. According to all I've read online about running, it strengthens your bones and joints because every time you run, you put a lot of pressure on your legs and feet, so your body responds to that by adjusting. It works in the same way your immune system does: the more stress it endures, the stronger it gets. 

3. Fresh air dose. Isolated inside my home, I only went out for groceries or medicine as needed, and regular running sessions gave me a great excuse to get out of the house and breathe some fresh air. I even got a runner's tan as a result of running during lunch breaks in the middle of the day. Even though I didn't enjoy running, I did enjoy being outdoors in the sun, and it motivated me to keep going.

4. Break for my tired eyes. Spending hours in front of the computer, I felt tired and sluggish towards the middle of the day. My eyes would start hurting, and my energy levels would plummet. Going outside for just 20-30 minutes, which allowed me to get to the park, run and return home, gave my eyes and mind a nice little break and allowed me to recharge and return to work with newfound enthusiasm, as a happier and healthier version of me. 

5. Active Meditation. Being an active person, I always find it more helpful to move in some way to clear my head when I'm anxious or need to think something through instead of staying still and breathing. Prior to running, I achieved that through walking or biking, activities I'm used to that don't require a lot of effort on my part. Never have I ever thought running would have the same effect on me, but it did! It all started with just trying to distract myself from the physical discomfort running caused. Before I knew it, I started using running to clear my head and unleash my creative energy, thinking up some new projects that didn't come to mind when I was cooped up inside with my computer. And yes, writing this post was one of those projects as well.

6. Motivation to eat less. In addition to moving less, eating more definitely contributed to my initial weight gain, so I made it my goal to eat smaller portions and avoid baking. Whenever I felt like indulging in some kind of unhealthy food or snack, I reminded myself that a cup of ice-cream equaled to another lap around the park, which I didn't look forward to. Eventually, I no longer craved sweets as I used to. As my weight went down, my motivation increased even more.

7. Quick and Efficient Calorie Burn. Running is a strenuous type of exercise, and it burns lots of calories in a short period of time. When I skipped too many running sessions during the same week, I noticed that my weight loss was minimal or non-existent. When I ran as scheduled, my weight loss was consistent. Though I believe that running alone might not have been enough, it worked wonders in combination with my regular exercise routine.

8. Sense of community. Running every day at the same time, I kept seeing the same faces of runners, walkers and phone talkers. At times we even waved and smile at each other as we passed by. Just the other day a neighbor I hadn't known before stopped me and asked me if I still went running. I'd changed my usual running time from morning to afternoon, and she no longer saw me during her morning walks. Becoming a runner helped me connect with people in my community even without talking. All it took was a smile and a silent nod of agreement that we were in this together: improving our health, preserving our sanity during these tumultuous times and doing whatever it took to keep us going. 

With all this said, if you're still skeptical about the benefits of running, I get it. You're in the same boat I was in when the thought first crossed my mind. After all, not everyone is a runner. I certainly hadn't been. And I certainly am now, to my own surprise, and I do find it enjoyable, to my own disbelief. However, if you have been wondering about whether you should hit the ground running, give it a try. Start slowly, noticing what running does to your body and consult your doctor if you have any health concerns or doubts. After all, the only equipment you need to start running is a good pair of sneakers and a nice dose of motivation. And even 10-15 minutes of running a day can make a huge difference in your health and well-being. 

#staysafe #stayhealthy #takecareofyourself

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Pre-Valentine Musings

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It's not easy to love me.

Rather, it's easy to FALL for me, but not easy to LOVE me. LOVE is something that lasts, that survives many seasons, that grows stronger in the times of struggle. Perhaps, the main reason why it's so hard to love me is because I don't bend under pressure like the young trees in the autumn wind, and because I prefer logic to heart, and also because I see the world in black-and-white, with little to no room for gray areas.

I have my fears. My fears are the reason why logic prevails over emotions. Emotions are scary, like the catastrophic force of nature, like a tsunami you're going under, or an earthquake that shatters your world and makes it difficult to recover from. Logic is like having a ticket to a destination. With traveling being a huge part of our modern lives, it's important for us to arrive there at or around the scheduled time. Back in the day when people traveled primarily by sea or horse and carriage, it was much harder to predict when you get there. Nowadays, unless something goes completely wrong, you'll get there on time. I'm a modern person, and I like to know that if I do A, then B happens. Logic makes life convenient. Living by its rules can also break your heart, but if that's the case, then be it. Broken heart loses every time versus a broken life, in my rule book.

If you're like me, I understand you and feel your pain. But you also need to remember that if you give up on looking for love, you'll never find it. Or it'll knock on your door and you won't hear it, deafened by the headphones of your self-pity. Keep your eyes and ears open. That's the only way not to miss LOVE and to recognize when it's the real deal, when it's the person who understands you and values you for who you are and loves you just the way you are. The wonderful thing about LOVE is that it's like a boomerang that always comes back to find you and check to see if you're ready to let your fears go and open up to someone new. With a new love interest, your heart is like a gate that's open wide but, at the same time, ready to be shut as soon as the emergency alarm starts buzzing. Being a modern person, you want to trust people and keep your guard down, yet you can't. You listen to the news. You talk to people. It's like a zombie apocalypse out there. You never know who's been bitten and is just waiting for a chance to infect you with his or her zombiness. How can you just relax and enjoy your roses when you can possible prick your finger on a thorn and die?

I'm sure that whoever you are, you'll find your own answer to this question. I know that some of you refuse to touch, smell or even look at roses, while others learn to avoid thorns instead. Whatever you choose, remember that you can't live behind your gates forever. The air, the sun and the warmth of the earth are just too beautiful to miss out on in the controlled comfort of your own home, so venture out, 30 minutes at a time, until you build immunity and find your own LOVE, the wonderful feeling that lasts forever, survives seasons and grows stronger in the times of struggle.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Through The Screenwriters' Loving Eyes: The Screening and Discussion of Black Panther With Joe Robert Cole

Photo by Olga Lalo

On what would have been a regular Wednesday evening, The New Yorker generously invited its faithful subscribers, on a rather short notice, to a special screening of Black Panther at BAM Rose Cinemas, followed by a Q and A with the movie's co-screenwriter, Joe Robert Cole. This was a unique opportunity to not only watch an amazing film that everyone must see, but also to get a peek behind the curtains for an insight of how the film was made and how the screenwriters Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole collaborated to make it happen. 

Since one of the main themes in the movie was choosing the common good over personal ambitions, it is interesting to know that the screenwriters had a similar approach to their script. Focused on the story, they can no longer tell who came up with some of the audience's favorite lines. Black Panther is a product of selfless teamwork by people who had their minds and hearts invested in the story. With a medley of action, love, politics, philosophy and other themes it explores, the film is thought-provoking, engaging and relevant to all types of audiences. 

Based on the comic book story by writer/editor Stan Lee and writer/artist Jack Kirby, Black Panther takes place in a fictional African nation, Wakanda, which is technologically advanced and hidden under the guise of a third-world country. Having in possession one of the most powerful minerals, vibranium, the Wakandans are cautious to keep it a secret from the rest of the world. Concerned with their country's safety first, they nevertheless can't help wondering how much good their technology could have done to the world, which introduces one of the main conflicts in the movie: isolation versus globalization. How much can we give without hurting our country? As one of the characters, W'Kabi, rightfully notes, "If you let in refugees, they will bring in their problems." It is a moral question that resonates with the current political situation in the world and cannot be answered unanimously. The king of Wakanda, T'Challa, chooses people's lives over politics again and again, driven by his heart rather than powerlust. Yet, his choices are not met with 100% approval. 

Torn by their own moral dilemmas, many characters in Black Panther are complex by design, which makes them all the more interesting. Turning the villain Erik Killmonger into T'Challa's cousin, whose father T'Challa's father had to kill, the writers make him an orphan literally and figuratively, as an African-American, whose ties with his roots are severed. Both of these losses make him bitter and angry, moving him to hurt others for what was done to him. Though his anger is justified, it ends up destroying him, while also affecting T'Challa, inspiring him to make positive changes in his own royal policies.

Discussing the setting of Black Panther during the Q and A session, Joe Robert Cole explained that they had intended to portray Africa independent of the European lens, explore the dialogue between Africans and African-Americans and root the modern world in African culture. Hence, the film depicts Africa through the screenwriters' loving eyes. Committed to staying truthful and respectful, they conducted extensive research on African traditions, and their Wakanda is a contemporary version of paradise that encompasses beautiful nature and high-tech health care and infrastructure. With different tribes peacefully co-existing under the rule of the same king, who can be challenged for his throne in a fair fight, Wakanda is strongest in its unity, when it doesn't allow outside influences to corrupt its citizens and turn against one another for political reasons.

Having superior technology, compared to the rest of the world, Wakandans neither imagine themselves better than others nor entertain the idea of conquering other nations. On the contrary, Black Panther advocates for inclusivity and diversity, inviting us to love our neighbors, regardless of their origin and cultural background. As T'Challa says in his UN address to the world in the end of the movie, "We have more similarities than differences." When we focus on our differences, fights arise and wars begin, and when we concentrate on our similarities, we forge friendships and set in motion a circle of goodwill. In the end of the day, we shape the world we live in, and it's our responsibility to keep the toxicity of biases and hatred out, or else it will poison us and prevent us from enjoying life and the company of other people. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Jersey Fresh Experience at Alstede Farms

Though a few of my friends had told me about the opportunity to gather fresh fruit and vegetables at local New Jersey farms, only this summer did I get to try it out. Choosing from close to 100 farms, I picked out Alstede Farms for two reasons: it offered all produce I was interested in, and the farm's website was clear and informative, so I knew exactly what to expect when it came to assortment, activities and prices (some of the other websites I visited suggested to call them for prices and availability). As it turned out, I made the right choice. I went for a ride in a hay wagon, filled my containers with fresh fruit and vegetables, petted donkeys, goats and rabbits, saw other farm animals, babies and adults, shopped at the farm store, tried homemade farm food and even brought some recipes home! In other words, in addition to a car load of fresh produce, the trip also left me with great memories of an authentic farm experience.

As soon as I arrived at the farm, I paid the admission fee ($6.99 / per person on weekends) and had my containers weighed for picking. The website recommended to bring containers from home, and I did so, although they did sell quarts for 10 cents and boxes for $2 in case visitors didn't come prepared. After checking in, I was free to wander around the farm or get right to picking. The farm's staff was welcoming and helpful, answering any questions with a smile. There was also a table with homemade foods to taste for free near the entrance. All the samples I tried were delicious and came with recipes. Thus, not only did I have a good time, I also learned something new. 

Off the hay wagon!
Having snacked on the offerings, I lined up for the hay wagon ride. It was not just entertainment, as I had thought. The hay wagons took visitors around the farm, so they did not have to walk around the fields. Every stop had different crops the drivers announced beforehand. I cannot imagine getting around without the hay wagons. I would have gotten lost and most certainly felt tired, which would have spoiled my overall impression. Another great idea on the farmers' part was to leave metal carts around the farm. At first I thought they belonged to other pickers, but since they were often left unattended, I helped myself to one, especially that my containers were getting heavier with blueberries, raspberries, peaches and tomatoes I gathered on my way. 

Picking up raspberries, in particular, reminded me of my maternal grandfather. When I was little, he would often take me raspberry picking in his garden. He would always remind me to break up each berry to make sure no worms were hiding inside. Visiting Alstede Farms, I thought of my childhood and of all children who grow up in big cities and never experience nature, never know what raspberries are supposed to look and taste like. I also thought that even if one lives in a big city, he or she can always create opportunities. Nature is all around us, and, if we make the slightest effort, we can touch, feel, taste and smell it. 

Though picking was supposed to end at 6 pm, according to the farm's schedule, we were politely warned in advance that the last wagons are picking people up at 6:30 pm. With that said, the staff was pretty lenient about dropping visitors off at picking stops close to that time, so we did not feel pressured to leave. 

Having paid for all of my picked goods by pound (the prices for their stuff are pretty good, considering that one is buying organic, locally-grown produce), I still had time to walk around, take colorful pictures and buy a few more things in the farm store. In addition to fruit and vegetables, they also sold homemade jams, maple syrup, fresh eggs, milk, and even homemade wine from a nearby winery. Hence, I did all my grocery shopping for the following two weeks in one place and felt great about it, especially because I got to pick up most of it from the ground and the trees myself. 

To sum it all up, I'd recommend visiting Alstede Farms for a number of reasons. Eating organic, natural-sized foods would be the main one. Some of the peaches were thick-skinned, but they were the juiciest I've ever tasted. The flavor of raspberries reminded me of my childhood, the taste I had been looking for - in vain - in a box of Driscolls, even organic ones. In addition, whether you had been on a farm or not, you might still experience something new, like petting a rabbit, or sitting on a pile of hay. And, finally, it is always good to simply reconnect with nature and, through getting your hands dirty, feel liberated and more appreciative of the food you consume and the world you are living in. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Holtzman Gallery: An Art Haven in the Heart of Atlantic City

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If you're visiting Atlantic City and you have curiosity - if not passion - for art, you should definitely visit Holtzman Gallery, located inside the historic Claridge Hotel. Though it seems tiny from the outside, the gallery occupies three levels (all of them wheelchair accessible) and exhibits a great variety of art works, including, but not limited to paintings and sculptures. 

As you walk inside, you're immediately captivated by portraits of famous people, recreated on canvas from photographs by the gallery's owner, David Holtzman. Bold colors the artist uses highlight the features of his subjects, among whom are Marylin Monroe, Muhammad Ali, Woody Allen and many others. There are two portraits of Marlon Brando, one in blue and one in pink. Though they're based on the same photograph, the use of different colors affects the impression each picture makes on the viewer. 

Having enjoyed these unusual portraits, keep walking - you're in for even more treats! The gallery's art collection includes giclĂ©es (digital prints of art works made on inkjet printers), abstract paintings by an 8-year-old boy from India, framed portraits of famous people done in pencil on matchboxes, paintings on Biblical themes, realistic landscapes, a couple of paintings in the style of French impressionists, some interesting sculptures and even works by John Lennon. In other words, there's something for every taste. Moreover, you're likely to discover at Holtzman Gallery at least one type of art you've never seen before, or, if you are an art collector, a fascinating piece you would like to hang in your house or apartment. 

For example, if you're into realism, you'll enjoy paintings by Marcos Monteiro. Among his pieces exhibited in the gallery are breathtaking seascapes and portraits of animals. Originally from Rio de Janeiro, Monteiro gained first-hand knowledge of the ocean and its inhabitants through diving, fishing, snorkeling and studying marine biology. Bright colors, attention to detail and the portrayal of life precisely as we see it in real life attract the viewers to his paintings. 

Another painter of realism exhibited by Holtzman Gallery is John Dzedzy, who was a student of Holtzman's when he began studying art. His oil-on-canvas portraits of Native Americans are based on personal research. Portraying his subjects, the artist aspires to stay true to Native American culture and history he has studied for years. Dzedzy also designs a unique frame for each of his paintings. The frames are grandiose and antique-looking and make the paintings resemble family portraits of rich landowners. 

If, however, realism doesn't appeal to you, check out Jon Allen's works. By painting on metal, Allen takes abstractionism to another level. Described on the artist's bio page on the gallery's website as "a marriage of industrial technique and visual grace," his paintings look modern, colorful and mysterious at the same time. Allen's work has been exhibited in over 200 galleries all over the world and will definitely be one of the focal points of any personal collection. 

Featuring a great number of artists who cannot leave the viewers indifferent, Holtzman Gallery also has Francis Mesaros Panctures. A combination of painting and sculpture, Mesaros's works are impossible to pass by, due to both their large size - they will surely occupy a large chunk of your wall - and the artist's unique technique. His abstract seascapes seem to be constructed of hundreds of painted seashells. In consequence, not only do we admire the final product, we are also amazed by the effort put into creating it. 

In addition to paintings, the gallery also displays photographs, sculptures, and even guitars, lovingly painted with lacquer or shellac by Peter Cree. As we learn from this section of the exhibit, painting guitars is more difficult than it seems, since it can negatively affect the instrument's sound, and the process takes "an average of 100 hours per top." Thus, Cree's art also overlaps with science and brings together painting and music. 

As you can imagine, the list of unique art works Holtzman Gallery has to offer can go on and on. Unexpectedly found in the East Coast's gambling capital, it is truly a gem for art lovers. If you consider yourself one, you should definitely check it out next time you're around Atlantic City. Visiting the gallery might just be the jackpot you've always wanted to hit! In the meantime, look at the gallery's website for the list of exhibited artists and examples of their artwork. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

5 Reasons to Start Juicing

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If you are, like me, not a vegetable lover and feel concerned with your diet, you should consider juicing as a path to a healthier you. Note: by juicing I mean adding fresh juice to your diet, not replacing all of your meals with it. Here are 5 reasons why you should be drinking fresh fruit or vegetable juice:

1. It's nutritious. Fresh-squeezed juices have all the same nutrients fresh fruit and vegetables contain, but your body absorbs them easier and quicker. Drinking one large glass of juice equals eating all of the fruit it was made of (for example, two grapefruits, a kiwi and an apple). What's even better, as opposed to cooking vegetables, juicing preserves all the nutrients, so you don't miss out on anything.

2. It tastes good. By means of mixing various fruit and vegetables, you will be able to consume products that you don't like. I can't even think of eating beets, but if I add some beet juice to my fruit and veggie drink, I don't taste it and don't mind it.

Also, taste is a matter of habit. Even though you might not like the taste of fresh juice at first, you'll love it once you get used to it.

3. It is easy to prepare. Once you have your first juicer and you learn how to take care of it (cleaning etc.), you don't even need recipes to prepare your juices. Choose your fruit and veggies according to your taste.

Don't forget, however, that fruit contain lots of sugar, so make sure to mix them with some vegetables for even better nutrition.

4. It charges you with energy. Even if you decide to eat nothing and only drink juice all day, you will not feel hungry. Remember that drinking the juice equals eating all of its ingredients, so don't feel like you're depriving yourself of food. Quite the contrary, you're giving your body what it needs, instead of processed food and fats. Fresh juice is all natural, and it serves you better than a five-hour energy shot. After a while, you will see your nails become stronger and your skin glow, and you will feel less tired in the end of the day.

5. It speeds up your metabolism. When I was first introduced to juicing, I drank fresh juice for dinner and ate whatever I wanted for breakfast and lunch. As a result, I felt hungry every 3 hours. I felt that my body was processing food quicker. I'm sure that was the consequence of juicing. In combination with exercise, I was able to lose weight quickly and without giving up food I liked.

With all these aforementioned benefits, the only downside is that you need to buy a juicer, suitable for both fruit and vegetables. If you feel that it's too much of an investment (the one I have costs around $150), try buying fresh juice by glass first, but make sure they're squeezing it in front of you. Ideally, you need to drink the juice no later than 15 minutes after it is squeezed; otherwise, you will lose out on some nutrients. Buying fresh juice is also expensive, approximately $5-6 for a 16 oz. glass. Still, it's a good start if you're not sure you enjoy juicing as much as I do. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Water Tubing? Thanks, But No, Thanks.

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Have you ever thought of trying water tubing? Perhaps, you should try it to find out you won't like it much. Having enjoyed it on the lazy river at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, I thought that water tubing on Delaware River would be even more fun. However, it turned out to be a long, exhausting journey and quite a bore as well. 

What I expected when I booked this "adventure" at Kittatinny Campground's Adventure Center was a relaxing trip down the river. I even though 3 miles was too short of a journey, though the description did say it would take 2-3 hours. Well, it took me much longer than that. Overall, the current was pretty slow, and I often felt that the tube was not moving at all. In addition, since the river was quite shallow, my tube got stuck on the pile of stones every once in a while. 

But, perhaps, the most frustrating part of this "activity" was that I had little control over the tube. I could easily make a 360 degree turn, but I struggled with directing the tube wherever I needed to go. Using my hands and arms as paddles, I battled with the current, which brought me to one bank and then the other, while I wanted to stay in the middle and relax. In the meantime, people were passing me by in kayaks, and I felt like I chose the wrong transportation mode.

Clearly, part of my misery was that I didn't know what to do with the tube. In my defense, the adventure staff did not help, either. We were dropped off on the river bank and given our tubes without any instructions, except for, "In case of emergency, the best way to get help is to walk towards the road and find someone there." By emergency, they probably meant that, if we got bored and decided to quit, the road was over there. 

As I was leisurely brought forward by the slow current, I kept wondering if I got unlucky. Maybe on other days the current was faster, and the trip really took 2 hours only. Maybe I needed more practice, and I would learn to control my tube eventually (though even Google does not have any good tips on how to maneuver a water tube). Maybe the trip should have been shorter, in terms of distance. There were, indeed, a lot of pleasant moments on the way. At some point, the current sped up, and I was moving faster towards my destination. I also got to sunbathe on the water and enjoy some beautiful views.

Hence, if you do decide on going water tubing (which I probably never will), make sure the distance you go is no longer than a mile and a half, especially if it's your first time. An hour on the water is enjoyable no matter what. You get to see if you like this kind of activity and if you'd like to go for a longer trip. Additionally, ask if the company that provides the tubes can give you a paddle. That will make your trip faster and give you more control over the tube. Also, do not forget to wear sunscreen. They say you get tanned faster when you're in the water, and you won't be able to reapply your sun protection until you arrive at the finish point. And finally, if you like to be active and are not used to lying down for hours, you should go kayaking or canoeing instead. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

9 Most Common Sleep Enemies

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If tossing and turning becomes your everyday routine, don't run to a doctor thinking there is something wrong with you. There are a few "sleep enemies," eliminating which can help you fall asleep quickly and stay asleep:

1. Caffeine. While drinking coffee or soda in the morning helps you get a shot of energy for the day, it may keep you awake late at night.

2. Alcohol. A common belief that a beer or a shot puts you to sleep is a myth. Like caffeine, alcohol is a strong stimulant, and it is more likely to keep you awake than make you sleep.

3. Heavy dinner. Despite feeling sleepy right after a meal, you will not sleep well if you eat a lot right before bedtime. You need to give your body at least 2-3 hours to digest food before going to bed. Otherwise, it won't be fully relaxed and ready for wholesome sleep. Same applies to the consumption of liquids. If you drink a lot of water before bed, you will have to take bathroom breaks in the middle of the night.   

4. Hunger. This is another extremity. I don't like eating a lot late at night. At the same time, it is annoying to wake up hungry. Therefore, I try to eat something light, like yogurt or fruit if my stomach growls before bedtime. That usually ensures that I sleep better.

5. Irregular schedule. When you wake up and go to bed around the same time, your body gets used to this routine. You feel sleepy during the same hours. For this reason, having an irregular schedule is bad for your sleep because your body will not be able to quickly adjust to your ever-changing hours. Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule, and you will sleep better and deeper overall.

6. Uncomfortable temperatures. If your room is too cold or too hot, or your blanket is too thin or too thick, you have to make adjustments. There are even special blankets for couples that allow them to set temperatures on each side to help people who have different heat/cold tolerance from their partners sleep better. 

7. Worries. These are the hardest to get rid of. They often keep us tossing and turning. Try meditation or any other relaxation technique to put your worries aside. Tell yourself that you will take care of your problems when you get up. 

8. A snoring partner, or any other type of noise. If you're sensitive to noise and cannot stand hearing your neighbors' pillow talk, use earplugs. I prefer silicon ones, those that swimmers use. They cover your ears completely and isolate most noises. 

9. Lights. This might be a problem if you sleep during the day, or have a street light right by your window. If that's the case, try getting blackout blinds or an eye mask to keep the light out.   Keep in mind that you might not be sensitive to all of these sleep-disrupting variables. Therefore, you should listen to your body, take a note of what bothers you the most and work on eliminating it. Only you know what is the most comfortable environment for you, and it is up to you to set it up for better sleep.