Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

The New Year is right around the corner! If you haven't already rethought the way you were living your life when the world was rumored to end, then you're probably busy making a resolution list.

The winter solstice has come and gone and the days are beginning to get longer again. The symbolic change from the old year to new is a great time for reflection and for looking ahead to what will be. The tradition of resolution-making is thousands of years old. The types of resolutions have changed over the years, but often focus on some kind of self-improvement.

The problem with setting resolutions is that people often think of their future self as a separate person, often vastly different than their present self. This future self is more attractive, more organized, more generous, has more time and less bad habits. This future self is someone who has it together and will pick up the slack that you left behind. Planning ahead is a great practice, and it's fun to think about being fabulously charming, giving and successful, but we tend to be far too optimistic and goal-focused rather than thinking about the journey we must take to become that future person.

This year, write down everything you want to do and then pick out your number one goal. What drives you to  do this one thing? Is it fulfilling, life-changing? Are you doing it to look good for other people, or is it something that will help you be a better person? How can other people help you with your goal? Can you read a book or take a class, or is there a community group that can support and guide you? If no community exists, can you commit to creating one? How much time each week can you dedicate to your goal? Each day? What prevented you from achieving your goal last year?

Here are a few things to focus on that make you more likely to achieve your goal. Keep these in mind when picking out your resolution and creating your plan for the new year.

  • Mix it up by doing new and unusual things. If exercise is your goal, don't run around your block every day. Try throwing in runs for charity, group classes, going to a park, planning a hiking trip, etc.
  • Get a support group. Find people who are genuinely interested in what you're doing and have been doing it for a while. Close friends are great, but meeting new people is great motivation too because you want to impress them! Having a role model or mentor to guide you is even better.
  • Make it easy for yourself. If you have other things that always seem to interfere, try streamlining them or getting them out of the way at the beginning of the week so you can focus on your resolution. If that's too hard, delegate the tasks in the way to someone else.
  • Pick something close to your core values. You're more likely to do something and feel fulfilled doing it if it's meaningful to you. If you're trying to eat healthier and are also passionate about protecting the environment, try adopting a vegetarian diet.
  • Take note of your pitfalls. Don't focus on failing, but do take note of when you're making excuses for yourself. If you make it to the end of the day and find you're no closer to doing what you intended, think back on what you reasoned was more important than your goal. This will help you plan ahead to succeed.

Resolutions are often surface-level changes, like losing weight or improving your wardrobe. When you think about what it will take to achieve your goal, and the different options available to achieve it, you may rethink what it is that you really want and why you're doing it. Take the time to look inside, and then put that good person on the inside to work on the outside. You may know that you're a good person, but good thoughts are no good to anyone else unless you do something with them! Until next time, keep it clean!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

December 21, 2012 - Is The End Nearing?

     With December 21st upon us, there has been a lot of talk regarding the end of the world. There are countless numbers of prophecies regarding what is going to happen tomorrow. With that upon us, I thought it would be fun to discuss some of those possibilities!

     The Solstice on December 21, 2012 - precisely at 11:11 AM Universal Time - marks the completion of the 5,125 year Great Cycle of the Ancient Maya Long Count Calendar. Rather than being a linear end-point, this cycle that is closing is naturally followed by the start of a new cycle. What this new cycle has in store for humanity is a mystery that has yet to unfold... 2012 is also considered the completion of the 26,000 year Precession of the Equinoxes cycle, and some say it also signifies the end of a 104,000 year cycle. There are many theories why this date ends the Mayan Calendar. Many feel that this date is the day of end times and the world will be destroyed. Others feel this will be a time of major earth disasters, space changes, and mythical planets invading our galaxy along with strange Milky Way alignments.
     While some people are set in their beliefs that the world is actually ending, I think it is a very interesting topic. I personally had the opportunity of visiting the city of Tulum (which is a Mayan ruin) over the summer. Tulum not only was a beauitful place (picture to the right), but we also were able to have a tour guide educating us on the different structures, as well as an insight on the Mayan's translation on December 21, 2012.
     The mind set that was explained to my while visiting Tulum, is significantly different from the end of the world doomsday-ers. When we contemplate the expression "end of the world" let us all realize the term "world" can refer to a cycle; a period of time; a world age era. Therefore some like to believe that 2012 is signaling the completion of one World Age Cycle, transitioning into an emerging New World Age to come. Some rumors say that the world we are ending is the one that is dominated by materialism and ego consciousness, therefore it may be that the world to follow will be founded on different values that honor the spirit of the interdependence of all of life.
     Carlos Barrios, from the Eagle Clan of the Mam Maya of Guatemala has bee quoted stating:
"The world will not end. It will be transformed... Everything will change...Change is accelerating now, and it will continue to accelerate...If the people of the earth can get to this 2012 date in good shape, without having destroyed too much of the Earth, we will rise to a new, higher level. But to get there we must transform enormously powerful forces that seek to block the way...Humanity will continue, but in a different way. Material structures will change. From this we will have the opportunity to be more human..."
     While there is no certain way of knowing what will happen tomorrow, I have enjoyed sharing with you a few ideologies I have come across! We'd love to hear what you think about 12/21/2012! Until next time (may there be a next time ;) from us here at Azuma, keep it clean!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Father Christmas: A History!

     With Christmas nearing in on all of is with only 6 days left, I felt it appropriate to talk about holiday related topics! Today I'd like to talk about Christmas, and everyone's favorite: SANTA CLAUS! Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nickolas, Father Christmas and also "Santa", is a figure with legend, myth, history, and even magical origins! Santa is rumored to bring presents to the homes of all the good children during the late evenings and over night hours of December 24th, also known as Christmas Eve.
     Santa Claus is generally portrayed as a hefty, joyful, white bearded man - sometimes with glasses - wearing a red coat with white collar cuffs, white cuffed red trousers, and a black leather belt and boots. According to tradition, which can be traced to the 1820's, Santa lives at the North Pole, with a large number of elves and nine flying reindeer to pull his sleigh named Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer leading the pack!
     Santa has been believed to make a list of children throughout the world categorizing them according to their behavior ranging from naughty to nice. Santa is rumored to deliver presents of toys and candy to the good children of the world, and coal to the naughty children.
     The tradition of Santa Claus entering ones home through the chimney is shared by many European seasonal gift-givers. In the tale of Saint Nicholas, the saint tossed coins through a window, and, in a later version of the tale, down a chimney when he finds the window locked. Santa's entrance into homes on Christmas Eve via the chimney was made part of American tradition through Moore's A Visit from Saint Nicholas where the author described him as an elf. The North American traditions associated with Santa Claus are derived from a number of Christmas traditions from various countries. Some rituals (such as visiting a department store Santa) occur in the weeks and days before Christmas while others, such as preparing snacks for Santa, are specific to Christmas Eve. Some rituals, such as setting out stockings to be filled with gifts, are age-old traditions.
     Santa Claus appears in the weeks before Christmas in department stores or shopping malls, or at parties. The practice of this has been credited to James Edgar, as he started doing this in 1890 in his Brockton, Massachusetts department store. He is played by an actor, usually helped by other actors (often mall employees) dressed as elves or other creatures of folklore associated with Santa. Santa's function is either to promote the store's image by distributing small gifts to children, or to provide a seasonal experience to children by listening to their wishlist while having them sit on his knee. Sometimes a photograph of the child and Santa are taken. Having a Santa set up to take pictures with children is a ritual that dates back at least to 1918. 
    Writing letters to Santa Claus has been a Christmas tradition for children for many years. These letters normally contain a wishlist of toys and assertions of good behavior. Girls generally write longer but more polite lists and express the nature of Christmas more in their letters than in letters written by boys. Girls also more often request gifts for other people.
     Santa isn't the only one who loves Christmas! Here at Azuma we love the holiday season and recognize as many different holidays and traditions as we can! Until next time, keep it clean, and ha-ha-ha-happy holidays!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Getting Things Done

Do you ever have difficulty managing all the things you have to do, sometimes not even knowing where to begin? You have a huge project you need to work on, but somehow find yourself organizing your books or sweeping the floor while you worry? You might want to try a method of organization called Getting Things Done (GTD), by David Allen. It's the organizational method for the scatter-brained and overwhelmed.

GTD is based on a simple principle: If a task you need to do pops into your head while you're working on something else, write it down and manage it (at a predetermined time) later. That way you don't have to waste time and energy worrying about it. Once it's out of your mind, you can focus on other things. This sounds like an easy way to procrastinate, but you'd be surprised what a relief it is and how simply it breaks down how to manage your day.

It's not required to use a smartphone or computer program to use this method. You can easily use a notebook to make your to-do lists. However, if you do have a smartphone, I recommend checking out different apps that support it. Evernote is a popular free app for most phones, while Omnifocus is an incredibly useful tool for iPhone and Mac users.

Here's how to do it:

  • Get rid of your thoughts. Sit down and immediately dump out everything in your head that you need to do by writing a giant list. It doesn't matter if it's cleaning the cat box or making a presentation for your boss.
  • Make projects. Once you feel you've sufficiently cleared your mind, begin organizing the tasks into groups, or projects. If you have chores you need to do, make a chore list. If they're clients you need to call, make a phone call list. Whatever clearly divides them for you.
  • Decide what's important. Sometimes you can delegate smaller tasks to other people, and somethings are downright not your responsibility. Put those on the bottom of your list. Bigger things that you need to take care of sooner go towards the top. If the big projects are too big, break those down with actionable items (a small to-do list) to complete in a timely manner.
  • Decide when to complete the task. Once you have your lists going, put down on your calendar a reasonable time to do each task. For the big stuff, try to put down one or two items you feel you can do rather than planning on doing the whole project in one day.
  • Cross it off. When it's done, cross it out! Didn't that feel good? Out of your head forever.
  • Set aside a time to do it again regularly. Any time you feel yourself balancing tasks in your head, keep a notebook or scrap of paper with you so you can scrawl it out and then organize it later. At the end of the day, or week, or whenever works for you, organize it into your projects again. Wash, rinse, repeat. :)
The advantage of having a computer program is that a lot of the organizational work is done for you. You can just write down categories next to each item and it automatically sorts it. You can browse your to do's by where you are, what you're doing, when it needs to be done, or what it's related to. You can also link documents, save pictures, make voice notes and connect web URL's to different tasks. I save lists of everything from what I'd like to fix in my home, what clothes I'd like to buy in the future, bands whose albums I want to listen to, and down to regular projects like organizing my closet.

The other advantage of a program is you can figure out which organizational style you use most. I tend to work best with arranging my to-do's on a calendar and seeing what's next because I work day-by-day. Other people with more flexible schedules may work better by taking one project at a time, or by chipping away by completing a task here and there based on where they're located (for example, a research project would be categorized to do when you're at or nearby the library; shopping for a better shampoo would be categorized for when you're at the drug store).

The best thing about this method is that it's flexible and customizable to your needs, versatile enough to be complex or simple. Enjoy your peace of mind. And until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Exercising Backwards

If you don't have a lot of time to work out, or just aren't very motivated to do it, there's a way to squeeze in a full body workout in 10 minutes once or twice per week. It's actually just as effective as running 30 minutes a day and more effective than regular daily workouts to help you lose weight and get toned. It's called Eccentric Exercising. Most exercise, like lifting weights, is concentric exercise. This means that the work out focuses on contracting or shortening the muscles. Eccentric exercises focus on lengthening the muscle. So for example, rather than working on lifting the weight, you're working on lowering it down after you lift it. The idea is that lengthening the muscle requires more force which requires more effort for your body. More effort means that you're working every layer of muscle tissue, not just the superficial layers. In turn you build and repair more muscle more quickly and boost your metabolism by having denser muscle mass. Here are a few simple exercises to get started, based on the compiled research of Jonathan Bailor.

Negative Pull-Ups
Start by raising yourself on a chin-up bar so that your chin is level with the bar. You can use a chair to get up there if needed. Slowly lower yourself from the bar for a full 10 seconds. Repeat until you've done this 6 times.

Negative Push-Ups
Start in a fully extended push-up position or "plank" pose. Bend your elbows slowly for ten full counts until your nose touches the ground. You may start on your knees if you can't hold yourself up that long. Perform exercise 6 times.

Negative Squats
Stand next to a bar, railing, or anything firmly anchored that is about waist-height.  Place a chair behind you. Hold on to the rail and lean back until your arms are fully extended. Put your weight on one leg and slowly lower yourself 10 seconds until your butt touches the chair. Perform 6 times for each leg. Be sure that your knees don't extend past your toes. Use your other leg to support you if you cannot lower for a full 10 counts.

These exercises are short but very difficult, and you will feel sore for several days after completing them. If you feel sore, you're doing it right! Enjoy the time you save, and until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The History of Hanukkah

It’s the season of celebrations, and, for many people, Hanukkah is at hand! This traditional Jewish holiday, also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated by millions around the world, and it’s a great way to teach your child about celebrations in other cultures.

Like Christmas, Hanukkah celebrates and commemorates events which happened a long time ago in Jerusalem. Around 200 BCE, Jews in the land of Israel were under the rule of the Syrian king, but were still allowed to follow their own religious beliefs. However, a new king named Antiochus IV came to power. Antiochus forbade the Jews from practicing their religion, killed many of them, and desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem by placing an altar to the Greek god Zeus inside it.
Mattathias, a Jewish priest, objected to the cruel edicts of Antiochus, and along with his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah, he decided to fight back. Led by Judah (known as “The Hammer”), they led the Jewish people in a revolt, using clever strategy and guerrilla-style warfare to defeat Antiochus’ much larger army.
Flush with victory, the Jews returned to find their Temple dirty and desecrated, with pots of consecrated olive oil broken everywhere. Working together, they cleaned and rededicated the Temple (“Hanukkah” means “dedication” in Hebrew). They lit the holy fire in the Temple menorah (a many-branched candelabrum and symbol of Judaism). However, although the flame was supposed to burn continuously, they were dismayed to find that there was only enough oil to fuel the flame for one day! Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight full days, and gave the Jews time to properly prepare more oil. This is often referred to as the miracle of Hanukkah.
Since then, Jews the world over have celebrated this occasion by lighting the Hanukkah candles in a menorah over the course of eight days. Starting with one candle on the first night, and ending with eight on the eighth, the ceremony involves the saying or singing of a blessing while the candles are lit by the helper candle, or “shamash.” Traditionally, the illuminated menorah is placed in windows so that passerby may be reminded of the Hanukkah story.
Since the holiday is, in some way, a celebration of oil, the practice of eating food fried in oil, such as potato latkes and jelly donuts, is a major part of the holiday. Also included in the festivities is the traditional game of dreidel and the giving of “gelt,” or money, to children.
No matter what holidays you and your family celebrate, there’s always room for learning. So introduce your child to new customs and cultures this holiday season by frying up a few latkes, spinning the dreidel, or just talking and learning  about the meaning behind the holiday! Until next time, keep it clean! :)