Alphabet Fun

F is for Fitness F.I.R.S.T.

I’ve been hesitant (thus far) to create a section of my blog about fitness. But I really want to. Really badly. So, you see, I MUST!

So, what is “fitness” to me? Fitness is so much more than losing weight, or reading memes about food intake. Fitness is about body and mind becoming one, a cooperation and competition in one (a coopertition® , if you will – Thanks Dean Kamen for instilling this in me when I was heavily involved with F.I.R.S.T.!)

F.I.R.S.T., or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, was something I was heavily involved with when I was in high school (and at both high schools, to boot!) At both high schools, it was my chemistry teacher who was involved … and that’s why I was drawn to Chemisty! Basically, you are given a task that your robot has to be able to complete, and then you have 6 weeks to build it, and ship it away. The game evolved over time to include teams, where your robot would have to be able to work with any other robot to achieve a task. It’s a pretty neat coopertition, and if you have never had the chance to be involved with it, I highly recommend you volunteer to be a mentor (if you are over 18), join a team (check out the website to see what kind of team you can join – this is for ALL students, from K-12), if there isn’t a team at your school, make one. I did at my second school, and it’s one of the best things I ever did.

Check out this year’s F.I.R.S.T. game! One of my favourites yet!


“You have teenagers thinking they’re going to make millions as NBA stars when that’s not realistic for even 1 percent of them. Becoming a scientist or engineer is.”  -Dean Kamen

You could say my brain was whipped into shape by F.I.R.S.T., and the teachers that mentored me along the way. Heck, it was because of my chemistry teacher Mr. Vandette that I even grew to love Chemistry, and it’s why I majored in it. And at that time, it was the hardest thing I had ever done.

Then, I got my first, and second, and third jobs – and each of those pushed me and taught me some invaluable lessons about work ethic, who I was, and how I fit in to this larger scientific landscape. Then one day, I was most likely out of my mind, I decided to get a Ph.D. During that time I was patiently hoping for a degree, as I was piled higher and deeper. Eventually, I emerged from the trials and tribulations of graduate school, only to land a postdoc, where I am now. At each of these steps, it was the hardest thing I had ever done.

I can always overcome these mind obstacles, and find a way to push myself forward. But, when it comes to body fitness, it’s like I’m flailing around in Devil’s Snare, waiting for Hermione to tell me to relax. It’s. Just. Impossible. 

I just have to tell myself to “Wake up with Determination. Go to bed with Satisfaction.”


E is for Expectations


That word, and the effects of that word, are soul crushers for me.

Do you want me to fail?
Do you want me to be upset?
Do you want me to judge myself harshly?

Expect me to do something. Expect me to be more.

Expectation is the root of all heartache. -William Shakespeare

One of my best traits is that I am a hard worker. When I open my life up to new avenues, whether it be a new position for work, or trying to conquer a weakness (like writing, ugh!), I do what needs to be done. I put in extra hours at work to overcome a learning curve, to get the science done, or try to catch up because I expected too much out of myself that week. I put in extra hours trying to think of words and how I could string those words into sentences so I could maybe, one day, write another article.

But when I feel like I am expected to put in the extra hours just because, I will under-preform. I will under-whelm.

There is a huge difference in results with the following pairs of statements:
1. I expect you to work 80 hours per week. (I will work 80 hours, but I will resent you.)
2. I expect you to get your work done. (I will work 80, 90, 100 hours, whatever it takes to get my work done.)

3. I expect myself to write an article a day. (Oh yeah! I’ll show you! … by never writing.)
4. I expect myself to write more than I usually do. (Easy-peasy. Writing one article is more than I usually write. But hey! I’m conquering something that is legitimately difficult for me.)

Is there such a thing as a negative and positive expectation? Because I feel that is what I just did there. In both pairs outlined above, the word “Expect” was front and center, but the outcomes were so vastly different.

Perhaps the difference, and the resentment, doesn’t stem from the word expect, but from the intention of that word. In the first scenario of both pairs, a rigid guide was established (you MUST do this in THIS timeline to be successful!) whereas in the second scenario, the guide was more fluid.


Maybe that is why I’m doing so much better … nay, so much more, when it comes to my fitness goals. I’m not expecting myself to exercise every single day. I’m not expecting myself to lose weight. Heck, I’m not even doing a “traditionally Nicole exercise routine” (you know, with weights and being hardcore and the like). I’m just expecting to have fun, and to move more, and maybe the weight will come off during the process.


Well, now my day has flipped completely around! Maybe I just needed to get this off my chest. Thanks for listening!


D …. D is for Decisions

As always, I really need to commit to this whole writing thing. I get sucked in to the daily minutia that I sometimes (ok, all the time) forget to think about, and be, me. So much so that I’m pretty sure this is the longest running alphabet blog game ever. In the history of this alphabet game. And blogs, for that matter.

D was a hard letter for me. I had so many choices and not enough blog space (unless I wanted to have D v 1.0, D v. 1.1, D v 1.2, etc.) It’s kind of like when you are playing a new person in the game Scattergories, and you roll a “D” … you tend to come up with a few answers for each category trying to think what could get you points, or at least cancel out everyone’s guess. But when you play someone new, you are playing someone who has had a vastly different experience in life: where they grew up, the countries they know, the names they have been exposed to. All of it makes for a great game. This is kind of what I’m experiencing right now. D. D can be for Dumbledore, dementors (i.e. depression), Detroit, D&D, Decisions. Decisions, so many decisions.

My first draft of this blog post tries to incorporate ALL of those D’s. I decided to just stick with one topic, even though I could talk about all of them.

I guess that settles it. Decisions and Deciding.

It’s no secret that I’m depressed, and that I am battling my own set of dementors right now (WHOOP! Tied them in anyway.) I just hate when they get in the way from me making sound decisions in my life, because ultimately, they are screwing with my success. Beachbody has a great motto: Decide. Commit. Succeed. Making a decision can be easy (example “I want to improve my fitness and start eating better”). Committing to it, however, well, that can be a challenge (“pass me the ice cream!”) BUT – if you committed to your decision to eat better and improve your fitness, then you will start seeing results … and eventually, you will have succeeded in your original decision. It’s such a beautiful thing …. until those pesky dementors resurface, demanding that you eat chocolate to feel better.

The decisions that I have made in my life have brought me to this very moment, and they have shaped the path that I will walk on in the future. And what a glorious future I see for myself! And it all started with 1 decision.

And when times feel bleak again, and my decisions are starting to look more like moments of delirium, I just have to remember Dumbledore.


C is for Chinese Cookies

I hope you didn’t think my long winded Scattergories reference was for naught. Because it wasn’t. How can you play an alphabet game with a huge category (like Nicole) and not think about Scattergories? I also decided to not go in order of the alphabet; I mean, if I’m going to be true to the game, I might as well be true to the game. And I am all about the rules.

This blog post was going to be about Chinese Cookies (i.e. fortune cookies) that I love to eat every time we order Chinese food. It’s seriously my favourite part, and I always want to know what my fortune will be. I even keep the ones that make me smile or remind me to keep going, even when things get tough (an they certainly did during grad school).

This year your highest priority will be your family.

[I taped this one in my calendar, so as my days in Nebraska become fewer, I will be reminded of just how important this next chapter is in the life of my family.]

Use your abilities at this time to stay focused on your goal. You will succeed.

[I pasted this one on my lab bench, so when the tough gets tougher, I can be reminded of that silver lining.]


These Chinese cookies serve as great reminders to keep my head in the game, and always strive for perfection, because there are huge benefits (not only to my personal and scientific reputation, but also for my family.)


And right now, during crunch time, I need these reminders.


I am moving out of state (again), for a new position (again) and this happens in 14 days.


Are we packed and ready? No.

Is everyone going to move together? No.

Does my wife have a job? No.


Despite all of this “negativity,” I know we will be ready (because I am a packing machine), and I know my wife will find a job (because he is mad talented and knows her stuff), which means the family will be reunited.



Everything is going to work out (foretold by my delicious Chinese cookies.)

B is for Beachbody (and being a brash biochemist)

Anyone ever play Scattergories? I’m not talking the “junior” edition, but the full on, awesome category game of scattergories! You must immediately buy this game if you have never played it. In fact, you can get it here (or here or here). UGH! I just noticed that they changed the game! What the eff is this team nonsense?! No, no, no. The best part of this game is that you don’t have to rely on a team to win. You have only your memory of far-off places that your family has never visited so no one else writes down your Street name that starts with a B, or a Boys name that starts with a K.

I’m going too fast, let me back up. In this game, you roll a 20-sided die, each side contains a letter of the alphabet (excluding Q, U, V, X, Y, and Z), whatever letter it lands on is the letter every single word in your 12 categories on the list must start with, and then you set the 3 minute timer and race the clock.

[Three lists from the game.]

So, let’s say we rolled an R and we were on List 7 (from the above image). We have 3 minutes to write something next to each of those 12 categories and they all must start with an R – also, you can only write one thing next to each category. Let’s play this one out for example (I love alliteration because you get more points – I will show you a few examples):
1. Rubeus Hagrid (this would yield 1 point); Roger Rabbit (2 points), if Roger Rabbit had a known middle name that started with an R, you would get 3 points.
2. Rice (+1), Refreshments (+1), etc.
3. Runway Magazine (+1)
4. You could put Raleigh or Richmond, but let’s be real – those are the only two capitals in the USA that start with R. And this category wasn’t specific to the USA (my faves!) So, to ensure I get my point, I would play Rome.

…. you get the point. At the end of the 3 minutes, everyone stops writing and everyone starts saying what they have (in an orderly fashion). If someone else wrote down what you have, no points will be awarded for that answer. Only unique answers count. If you wrote something down and everyone else disagrees with it (maybe it was the wrong category), then you don’t get awarded points. You add them all up, and move on to the next list with a brand new letter. It’s glorious. It’s fun. I am super competitive.

So being a Brash Biochemist (+2!!) who loves Beachbody …. or as I like to say Beach Body (because, +2, duh) … or a Bodacious Babe Bouncing Beach Balls (+5, Dang!). I am getting off topic – like a lot. But my title reminded me of the game, which I love, so I had to share it! I don’t have a script, people, and when I think about scripts, they freak me out and I don’t write.

Have any of you heard of the company Beachbody? They have many infomercials for exercise videos promising amazing results from your own home in X days. …. Exercise programs like P90X, Insanity, Focus T25, 21 Day Fix, Turbo Jam, etc. I absolutely, 100%, back up this company. I am not a coach (which are free, by the way) which means I don’t sell the products – but holy moly do they ever work. Not only that, but the fitness instructors are sooo nice! It’s hard to believe they are real people, but they are. And with Beachbody, you get to talk to them, and get to exercise with them. It’s just amazing to have those opportunities. And it’s amazing to finally accomplish something you thought was insurmountable … like losing weight.

[Shaun T demonstrating the ab move.]


Did I mention you can meet the trainers?

[Me with Shaun T!]

I don’t always stick with the programmes and I don’t always maintain my weight, but I am working on it. Sometimes that’s what matters the most; that journey you take towards self-acceptance. When I was doing these programmes religiously, I felt great about myself and the progress that I made. I was nearly in one-derland, and that excited me and motivated me to keep fighting against my food addiction (it’s a real thing, my nutrition told me I had an eating disorder because of it) — and then I got injured, required surgery, and I’m still in physical therapy trying to re-gain motion 1.5 years after the surgery …. from a surgeon who’s license is now suspended until he completes a drug treatment programme. Just my luck.

But, I AM getting better and I AM making progress and I can’t wait to jump back into my fitness journey!

Seriously, look into Beachbody if you need a great programme. They have something for everyone. And every exercise programme comes with a nutrition guide, and many free gifts (depending on the promotion) to help you succeed. I pretty much own all of their programmes …. because I am also addicted to buying exercise DVDs. (Don’t judge).

That reminds me. Beachbody has a motto that I feel fits every aspect of my life, and I wanted to share it with all of you. It’s “Decide. Commit. Succeed.” You see, a goal can’t be accomplished if you haven’t decided to tackle it. And if you aren’t committed to finishing, then who knows how long those cabinets won’t be hung, or the door will sit in the middle of the living room waiting to be put back together (haha, sorry Kristi, it just fit here!) And once you decided to do something, and you are committed to that project, success is in your future. Beachbody made the perfect motto, and I just love it.

Also – buy Scattergories and don’t play in teams. Because that ruins the competition.

A is for Appetite ….. just kidding, it’s for Arnold Schwarzenegger

I am pretty excited to jump on this bandwagon, albeit a bit late. The premise? I’m not entirely sure it’s the same for everyone. There is an A to Z Challenge, where bloggers can subscribe and blog everyday of a month (i.e. using a letter of the alphabet every day) on a particular subject, such as April’s challenge on the subject of Survivor. My friend Rachel is also doing this challenge, and her blog (Under the Tapestry) is incredibly insightful. She got the idea from her friend Lara, who also makes themes for her challenges. Her latest one was “A Romantic Alphabet,” as Lara is a “romance author (with a scientific twist).”


Starting this challenge was a bit difficult. I wanted to pick something fantastic for the first letter of the alphabet; but, the more I thought about it, the more items I had to choose from. Do I write about my sister Amanda? My academic aptitude? How I was this close to joining the Army? So many choices for just one simple letter. Naturally, I decided not to do any of these, and instead focus on my appetite and how that brings me to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

When I was younger, I was average build for a child. That is, until I was sent to live with my grandparents in Arizona when I was 6. It was then that my father, whom I was running from (long story that involves a lot of repressed memories …. that I am starting to remember), started telling me that my mother made me fat. I was 7.

This is me before being sent to live with my grandparents:
[From L-to-R: Reychl, Amanda, and Me …. we always dressed alike, whether we wanted to or not]

You see? Pretty average. I also had some straight hair at this age … which quickly changed by grade 4. But by grade 5, not only was I ‘fat’, I also made a friend who tamed my hair.

[Me, grade 5. Not fat and awesome hair. Is it bad that I think this is one of the best photos of me ever? I truly felt beautiful this day. Every boy in my class fell from their chairs when I walked in, and the girls stared and smiled. It was MY day and it was the BEST day.]

But, I say, what do you expect to happen when a child lives with grandparents? I missed my family, I was miles and miles away (seriously, I lived in Arizona and my family lived in Michigan), and I had no friends. So, I watched Top Gun every single day. Seriously. Every. Single. Day. I would even fall asleep next to a family portrait (of my aunts and uncles) staring at my mother. When the Easter Bunny came, he hid my Easter basket behind this portrait. He knew my sorrow. So, to recap, I missed everyone, I ate, and I sat on my butt watching Top Gun. Every day. …. until my sisters and mom joined me and we all caught chicken pox. It was beautiful misery.

But, I digress (did I mention the ADD thing?).

My dad was a pretty fit guy, and he was from ‘the old country’ (i.e. the former Czechoslovakia, the now Slovakia). When he lived there, he helped his family make marble caskets (which stayed above ground) and built many of the houses in the city (then village). He needed to stay fit just to survive his job; his life.

I don’t have many photos of my dad, but this is one of them.
[My dad and me, probably in 1982, which made him 32 years old. With all of those muscles.]

I keep talking about my dad like he isn’t here anymore, and that’s true. He died in 1998 (I was 16), and it still weighs on me. I still cry. So … call it “daddy issues” or whatever else, but Arnold Schwarzenegger reminds me of my dad. The accents aren’t entirely the same, but the humour is. And those muscles.

Arnold was completely driven from a young age; he wanted to make it to America and he knew bodybuilding was his ticket. My dad didn’t want to be in the military, he fled, and he ended up in Canada. Close enough.

I miss my dad. I miss him so much. Sometimes I wonder if it’s silly or unfounded because of my past, but I can’t help it. I miss him and I love him and I would give anything just to see him again and tell him those things. But I can’t.

So …….. it became a goal of mine to own every single Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Don’t laugh. I’m being serious. Plus, laughing would be mean, and I just poured my heart out. I have most of them; Arnold is credited for 54 titles, in which two are announced (hello, Triplets anyone?!), one is post-production (Terminator, YES!), and one is completed, making it 50 titles that are available. Some of the 50 titles also include television appearances, etc, so there aren’t really 50 movies. I need less tan 10 to complete my collection!


So, there you have it. I feel strange getting some of this off my chest (if you will), but hey, maybe this blog will be therapeutic.

I look forward to letting you all get to know me.