2016 Resolutions!

Back when this blog lived at Stellar Path, I tried to do resolutions on a few separate New Years.  Some I kept, some I didn’t.  I am going to plan for 2016 to be the biggest, best year of my life.  I’m doing four resolutions this year.  And I’m going to make sure I meet them by the end of the year by giving me a target for each resolution for each month.

In the past, I’ve done fuzzy “I want to be healthy” resolutions.  Not this year.  I’m doing numbers.  Feet to the fire.  Time to be accountable.

Finish my doctorate.

I am done with coursework for my doctorate in post-secondary leadership.  (If you’re wondering what this means, it is hopefully gearing me up to have an administrative career in higher education in the not-too-distant future.)  Now that the coursework is done, it’s time to finish the dissertation.  I should easily be able to meet this goal this year.  Here’s a little “stretch” goal: I want to be done by August.

Goal for the end of January: Complete (and pass) my qualifying exams and prospectus proposal.

Reduce debt by $20,000 this year.

This one is going to be tough.  We owe a lot of debt.  ($20,000 will make a dent, but not take care of it.)  And I do not anticipate a $20,000 raise this year, either.  This one will require more work.  Fortunately, I’m not afraid of hard work.  I’ve got some passive income coming in that I plan to ramp up, some freelance work on the horizon, and some other avenue sources.  I’m not going to divide this evenly by 12, and I’m starting off slow, because I don’t want to burn out.

Goal for the end of January: Reduce debt by $500.

Complete my young adult novel.

I enjoy writing for pleasure, and if I’m not careful, every spare second of my writing time this year will be dissertation.  I want to make sure I take some time to write for me.  It’s rejuvenating and enjoyable, and I have to make time for it.  I’ve got an idea that I love that I’ve been plotting out for a while, but it took a bit of a backseat this past semester.

Goal for the end of January: Finish plotting novel and write out two sections.

Lose 120 pounds.

This one is the biggie.  I came across this photo on my hard drive.  At left is me at around 330 pounds in 2008.  At right is me, this past Christmas at Disney, at around 415 pounds.  (Note: The “before” picture is just an exceptionally good photo of me.  I don’t think I looked this thin at that weight, but still… it gives me hope for the future, knowing this could be me again.  (And it also reminds me that I need to start dyeing my gray hair again.)

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I’m going to do this with cardio, weight lifting, and calorie counting.  Eating healthy foods and exercising.  No tricks, no expenses.  Just the simple math of calories-in, calories-out.

Goal for the end of January: Get down to 403.

Christmas at Disney

Ordinarily I would space these posts out, but since we went at Christmas, I feel a need to get our vacation photos posted BEFORE Christmas.  I had plans to devote a day to each park, but I’ve been enjoying the time off, hanging out with my family, taking a break from school work and work work, and this has slipped to the end of my list.

However, today is Christmas Eve, so there’s still time!

I’ll start off with telling you all about Hollywood Studios!  We only spent one night here, largely because it was SO crowded due to this being the last year of the Osbourne Family Lights.  Gotta be honest – the lights were amazing, but they weren’t “drop everything and go to this park only” amazing.

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We also enjoyed a great dinner with Minnie at Hollywood and Vine.  They started our meal off with the richest hot chocolate I think I’ve ever had!

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This is probably one of my favorite photos ever of my family!

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Epcot is next on our list.  Epcot is probably our favorite park AFTER Magic Kingdom.  (Even though my favorite ride, Tower of Terror, is at Hollywood Studios.)

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Not a ton of photos here.  That’s one thing I tried to be a little more aware of on this vacation.  I wanted to enjoy vacation without being behind the camera.  We did do the Photo Pass, but I haven’t downloaded those photos yet.  Henry’s favorite two things at Disney are “space” (Spaceship Earth, a.k.a. the big golf ball) and riding the Nemo ride.  We rode Nemo at least ten times.  My favorite part is at the end, when they project images of Nemo on the actual aquariums located in the ride.  For the last little bit of the Nemo ride, they sing the song “Big Blue World,” and the Starfish at the end (the same Starfish from Finding Nemo, whose name escapes me at the moment) has a great commentary.  My favorite thing she says is, “Take me with you!  I mean, it’s a great song but it just never ends!”

And last but certainly not least, Magic Kingdom, including some pictures of the Very Merry Christmas Party!  One of my favorite things about the party is that it snowed on Main Street during the parade, which is pretty awesome.  Given that it was an unseasonably warm Orlando and the temperature was about 80 degrees.  (The snow is soap foam, I think.)

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And of course, we also have to ride Dumbo, a classic ride.  (Although Henry likes the playland in the waiting area for Dumbo even more than the actual ride.)

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The castle after Elsa covered it with ice, as well as a few firework shots.

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A Tomorrowland Christmas Party!  It was surprisingly fun!

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We decided to get the Kitchen Sink Ice Cream Sundae.  The bowl will be one of the many Disney decorations in our kitchen.

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The Barnstormer, a legitimate roller coaster for little guys (35 inches and taller) that is actually a lot of fun!

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These new few pictures are of food.  Ohana is a great restaurant at the Polynesian Resort.  It is, by far, my favorite food in all of Disney.  It’s a buffet served Family Style, and… man, I could eat these shrimp forever.

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And lastly, Chef Mickey’s!

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Oh Disney.  I can’t wait to go back!  We love it there.  We’re not going back until we have some significant debt paid off, but we will definitely be back!

Christmas at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

A few days ago, Tina, Henry, and I got back from a wonderful trip to Walt Disney World!  Tina and I decided to take the family to Disney this year as our Christmas gift.  (Please note: we would not have spent this much on the family otherwise for Christmas.  This was both a splurge and a gift for me completing my doctoral coursework.)

We never planned to spend even a second at Animal Kingdom.  Not gonna lie – it is my least favorite park by a huge factor.  It just doesn’t offer much to me that a zoo doesn’t also offer, and I’d rather spend my valuable Disney time at a better park.

However, as soon as we left the driveway at 3 a.m. on our way to Disney, Henry told us he wanted to see baby animals.

For this reason, our very first stop when we finally got to Disney was at Animal Kingdom.  The kid loves animals, so we decided to go first thing. 

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They also have a fun animal-themed tree out at Christmas.

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And of course, the iconic Tree of Life that the entire park is based around.

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We had Chef Mickey’s reservations for that morning, but we were able to move that dining experience later into the trip, so we ate breakfast at Tusker House!

Tusker House is a fun character dining, where you get to see Mickey, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy in Safari gear while eating a great breakfast buffet.  The kid LOVES his Disney characters, so this was a great way to start the trip.

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The food there was also quite good, with some very standard American breakfast staples and some with a slight African twist.  One of the highlights of the meal is Pog juice, which is pineapple, orange, and gauva.  Delicious!

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And it’s just not a trip to Disney without at least one (or six) Mickey waffles!

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We did the Kilimanjaro Safari, which gave Henry his animal fix.  We also rode a few rides, all of which were in DinoLand.  (The kid is a huge fan of dinosaurs.  So am I, honestly.  Who doesn’t love dinosaurs?!)

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I did not get to ride Expedition Everest, which is my favorite ride at Animal Kingdom (and probably top 3 for all of Disney World), but no big deal.  We were excited to get back to the room to get our nap in so we could go to Magic Kingdom for the Very Merry Christmas Party!  (Stay tuned – I’ll talk about it here on Christmas Eve!)

Our Christmas Stockings Tradition

Growing up, my family had a Christmas Stockings tradition.  We would each get the other family members a small gift, and on the night of our church Christmas play (usually the Sunday before Christmas), after the play, we would come home and open them.

Well, I now have a family of my own and our tradition has evolved a bit.  For one thing, Tina and I attend a church that doesn’t do a Christmas play.  However, I work in higher education, so for the past few years, our tradition has been to open our Christmas stockings on the last day of school.  This is because on this day, I have three glorious weeks of no work or school in front of me.

Our tradition evolved just a tiny bit this year.  Instead of opening stockings on my last day of school, we opened them on Henry’s last day of school.  He attends a speech-based preschool two days a week, so last night, it was Henry’s last day of school before the new year.

Tina’s family had a tradition of always including candy in the stockings, so our two family’s traditions have merged a bit.  We have a rule – never spend more than $15 and always include something to eat.

I’ve always been a big fan of Christmas, but I never really realized how much fun Christmas could be until your own children are involved.  I filmed this little video of Henry working his way through his stocking.  He got some generic Christmas legos, a sword from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, a lollipop, gummy spiders, and confetti popcorn from Disney World.

This is our little stink before he opened his presents in his super-adorable Mickey pajamas.  His hands are blurry because he’s pretty much a never-ending source of energy.

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I got Tina some fuzzy socks for around the house, some Godiva chocolates, a candle warmer, and a blu-ray which was kind of a gag gift that we each ended up getting for each other.

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The truth of it is, we actually really, really liked Glee for the first three seasons, and apparently, we each thought it would be worth $2.88 as a gift.  We were also probably thinking of Glee a bit more than usual because on Tuesday, we spent eleven hours in the car driving back from Orlando and we listened to a lot of our old music, including some Glee songs buried on our phones.

I also got some socks to wear around the house, some candy from the Japanese area of Epcot’s World Showcase, and the previously mentioned Glee Blu-Ray.

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This is definitely one of my favorite Christmas traditions.  Just opening some small gifts definitely gets me excited for the big day coming up!

The Ranger Project

Welcome to The Ranger Project!

I’ve started and stopped, resurrected and forgotten, and just let this blog sit here and collect dust more times than I can count.

Or maybe eight times.  I can count to eight.

Either way, I wanted to put up this first post because I am going to try again.  Now that my school work is over (other than that pesky dissertation – more on that in a moment), I feel I can devote a few minutes a day to keeping this blog alive.

This blog is going to document a lot of things about my life.  You’ll learn a lot about me and my family and some of the things we want to accomplish.  I’ll be honest – the theme of this blog may be a bit different at times, so I completely understand if this isn’t your cup of tea.  On the other hand, if you like random things, this might be right up your alley!

RainTree Productions

This one refers specifically to my family life.  We have a fairly inactive YouTube Channel called RainTree Productions, so named because I have both Cherokee and Shawnee blood in my family tree and one of my closest Indian relatives had the last name Raintree.  We just thought it had a nice ring for our videos.

I’ll periodically post videos about our lives, what we do, what we like, our plans, et cetera. 

Disney

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In the last year and a half, we have become huge Disney fanatics.  It happened when we took our son to Walt Disney World in May 2014 and he had a very literal and exciting language bump.  Our son is pretty much on track now, but he does have a bit of an articulation issue with his speech, and we discovered that every time he goes to Disney, he seems to have a bit of a speech explosion when he returns.  (It could potentially be not connected at all, but we cannot deny that we all have a great time at Disney World.)

We just got back a few days ago.  Seriously.  We love the place.

I’m not saying every vacation we ever take will be at Disney World, but we do want to get our debt paid off we can join the Disney Vacation Club and go once a year.

We have plans to do our kitchen in a Disney theme.  I’ll probably post about Disney once a month or so, just to keep the magic alive.

Disney is one of those things that people either love or hate.  Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve found that a lot of people who hate Disney haven’t even gone.

All I can say is this – Walt Disney World truly is a magical place for my family, and I see us going many, many times for the rest of our lives.

Debt

Speaking of Disney and wanting to join the Disney Vacation Club, we have a fair amount of debt.  Nothing crippling, but more than I’d like, for sure.  Tina and I both have healthy student loan debt and we want to see this gone.  I’ll periodically post about how we’re living as frugal as we can (90% of the time, anyway – we do still go to Disney sometimes) to get this debt paid down quicker.

People like Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman say that we should live like paupers to get our debt paid off.  I’m not entirely sure that’s smart.  I’d rather take a little longer to pay off our debt and actually enjoy my life.

Still, that doesn’t mean I’m not a big fan of avoiding needless expenses.  We don’t really eat out.  (We do get pizza every Monday night, but that’s because a local pizza parlor has a special with half-off pizza once a week.  We can get a thin crust cheese pizza for $5.29 that feeds all of us.  That seems like a decent deal, and it also has the added benefit of keeping us on track with avoiding eating out.)  I try to stretch the grocery budget as best I can.  We’re frugal, not tight.  Oh, and I’ve also found some painless ways to make a little money on the side, too, which I’ll talk about from time to time.

Cooking

We love food!  I love to cook, and I’m going to share my recipes and my interpretations of recipes on occasion.  We also have an Instant Pot which we love.  Granted, it is now the HOT kitchen appliance of the moment, but if you’ve ever used one, you’ll understand why.  It really is a great appliance.  One of my first recipes is going to be for my super-easy roast beef in the Instant Pot.

Weight Loss

I’m fat.  I’ve been fat for a long time.  I’ll write a longer blog post in the coming days about my weight loss efforts, but I’m going to weigh-in every Friday in 2016, starting with New Year’s Day.  I weigh over 400 pounds right now (around 415, last I checked), and I’m tired of being fat and unhealthy.

While I do plan for this blog to be a positive place, I may occasionally rail on the disturbing trend that now exists for some people to glorify obesity and promote bad health.  There are people out there (with audiences, sadly) who claim that it is impossible to lose weight (it’s not), that medical research says obesity is healthier than being normal weight (it’s laughably not), and that if we just eat ‘til we’re full our weight will settle where it’s supposed to (yet some who have made this claim have packed on the pounds since finding Health at Every Size).

So again, most of my weight loss talk will be about myself, but when studies come out that some of the elite trained researchers out there wildly misinterpret to suit their own needs, I’ll probably have to talk about it here.

The Ranger Project

So, why is this blog named what it is named?  Because I want to be a Power Ranger!

Seriously.  I want to lose weight so that I can get a movie suit and cosplay as the Blue Ranger.

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And I’m not doing it fat.

I hope you’ll stick with me.  I think this might be an interesting journey.