Kettlebell Training – An Interview With Steve Cotter

CO Hi Steve and thanks for agreeing to take part in this interview.

SC It’s my pleasure.

CO Could you start by telling me a bit about yourself and your sporting background?

SC Ok, my name is Steve & I’m a Capricorn, and I have an interesting life! I have a family, three children, and I live in San Diego, California. I’ve been involved in physical training for pretty much my whole life. I was athletic as a child and when I was 12 years old I moved to California from the East coast, and I became involved in traditional martial arts training, Chinese martial arts, and that became really the focus of my life from the age of 12 until the age of about 26. I was teaching professionally, many different people, youth programmes, tai chi programmes, older people, martial arts to adults, and that was really all day every day for a period of many years. After I’d been involved in the arts for 7 or 8 years I started get involved in the full contact and eventually full contact fighting competitions in the States, and had good success, myself and the school I was with. We went to national competitions and I personally won two U.S national titles in full contact kung fu fighting, the sport Kuoshu, which is a type of sport that’s like fighting in a ring without ropes. There was a movie years ago by Jean-Claude Van Dame called Bloodsport and they sort of were depicting this traditional sport which they call Lei tai fighting; lei tai is a platform. So that was my primary sporting background as far as formal training was concerned, mainly in martial arts and also the full contact fighting component of that. My martial arts training also included a lot of meditation and Qigong which is a deep breathing component. In addition I did some of the Chinese medicine, bone setting, massage, and things like that. I also learnt the use of certain herbal tinctures and liniments.

CO Cool. That sounds like an incredible foundation. So how did you get into kettlebell training?

SC Well, in 1996 I went from teaching martial arts full time to having a change of heart and deciding that wasn’t what I was going to do for the rest of my life, I didn’t want that to be my business and profession any longer; I had seen that sometimes people would change when they became involved in the business and would lose love for the art and I didn’t want that to happen to me, so I decided I wanted to continue to teach martial arts out of passion but make my money in a different way. So I became interested at that point in going to college full time, so to answer your question about kettlebells, after I’d been a full time college student for about three years I noticed that my conditioning was starting to deteriorate and I went from being a world class athlete who was training all day every day to being a person carrying a backpack who really wasn’t training very much at all, and I didn’t like the changes my body was making. So I was really wanting to get back to very elite type of conditioning but I no longer had the time or the inclination to train all day every day, and I also didn’t have my involvement with the martial art community so I really was kind of on my own and I was looking for ways to increase my fitness to a very high level but be able to do it in much less time. It dawned on me that I had to learn to accomplish the same amount of work, or a lot of work, in much less time and be smarter about how I used my time. There’s a saying that when the student Is ready the teacher will appear and so you could say that the kettlebell appeared, as a way to teach me how to use my time more efficiently and achieve a high level of fitness.

I came across kettlebells in a martial art catalogue and they intrigued me as they talked about using the body as a whole unit and how is was complimentary to martial artists and military athletics, so inherently it made a lot of sense to me. I was a little prohibited at first because I didn’t have any money so the kettlebells were too expensive for me, but after having investigated them for a few months I finally decided that I had a chance to try them and once I’d tried it once I was hooked and came up with the money to buy some kettlebells. I began training myself with them using Pavel’s (Tsatsouline) first kettlebell DVD back in 2002 and that was the beginning. I then started integrating kettlebells with personal training that I was starting to do professionally and had great results; I was really getting back into a much higher level of fitness again, I loved the way it felt and the dynamic expression and it just went from there.

CO Excellent. And what do you consider to be unique about kettlebell training?

SC There are a couple of main things. For one thing, the more traditional training protocols tend to segregate the different energy systems, so typically the formula would be that people would do their resistance training two or three days a week and then they would do their cardiovascular and cardio-respiratory fitness training, aerobics, separately, and still even flexibility they would have to separately, so these types of things take up a lot of time. So one of the unique things about kettlebells is that it really combines these facets into one protocol so you can work resistance training, cardio-respiratory fitness and range of motion therapy all at one time with one tool and even with one movement or just a few movements.

CO Ok. So I recently attended your certification course in Edinburgh, Scotland, which was brilliant by the way!; what led you create the IKFF and who is it for?

SC I’ve always loved teaching. I was able to be in teaching since I was 15, that was when I started teaching martial arts professionally, so I had the opportunity to teach many different people of all different backgrounds, and I loved just being in front of groups and directing them. My passion was in the whole physical culture, so I did have experience in teaching for many years before I came to kettlebells. After getting involved with kettlebells for a few years I developed some DVDs and then later on I was approached by a martial art DVD manufacturer who was interested in developing a comprehensive kettlebell DVD called the Encyclopaedia of Kettlebell Lifting, and once I did that my visibility started to increase and I was starting to become more well known, and I was able to sell my DVD in various markets internationally. So as a result of that I was getting various enquiries via email from folks who were asking if I would be offering my own certification, and also giving good feedback on the teaching approach that I offered on the DVDs. So that was what first planted the seed that there was genuine interest in it. However, it took me several years to finally come up with the IKFF. The reason I finally came up with the IKFF, and I want to quite frank about the certification process, is that there are a lot of various certifications in all industries and fitness is no different, and a lot of times I see certifications simply as ways of charging people more money for the same thing and by calling it a certification they are able to charge more money than than would if they didn’t call it a certification. So I resisted creating a certification initially because of that, because I didn’t feel that that was a reason to do something. I have no aversion to money but I do have an aversion to taking advantage of people and for a long time I didn’t see the need for it because I was already teaching and already offering workshops. However the enquiries persisted and as time went on I observed that the existing kettlebell certifications courses were lacking in the area of member support, that it really seemed to exist for the people that were running the show, for their benefit, but for the fitness professionals who were paying their money to attend the course, they were still on their own and weren’t really getting the support necessary to develop their own professional interests. So that was one of the primary reasons for starting the IKFF, I wanted it to be member centred and member based, not just about myself and my success but really to be able to help individuals to build their own professional career doing something that they loved, and trying to develop a federation that could support their growth in that regard. The other reason is simply that I recognised there was more and more interest for kettlebell certification and I felt that I could do a better job than those that were already doing it, so I felt that since people were going to get certified anyway I might as well be offering certification because I felt that I had their long term interests in mind as well as doing a very good job teaching them.

The reason I came up with the name for the International Kettlebell Fitness Federation was that I wanted it to be international, it’s a global effort and I think that the world has changed; we’re no longer limited to our local marketplace and the internet has really made that possible. The K, standing for kettlebell, obviously is a major component of the programme that we have; F being for fitness and kettlebells obviously being a component of that, and the final F for Federation, which really means that it’s focused on the membership itself. The IKFF was designed to not just be able to be a high quality kettlebell instructor training programme but also a comprehensive programme which expresses my complete experience and what I view as a holistic approach to training my body spirit, via kettlebells, and other protocols; Qigong and martial arts, joint mobility and flexibility, as well as body control via bodyweight conditioning. So these are what I call the five pillars, the five facets of fitness and well-being, and they are really what the IKFF is all about.

CO Sure. One of the things that really fascinated me when I attended your course was the quite significant difference between the ‘hard style’ of kettlebell training that I learnt during my original certification here in the UK, and the competition style that you taught. What would you say are the main reasons for using one over the other?

SC Firstly I view myself as a teacher, so it is my obligation to be willing to improve when I have new information and sometimes we have to be willing to throw away old information if it doesn’t serve us, or if we find something that works better. So when it comes to kettlebells there’s this sort of interpretation that there’s different styles, and really that is more of a marketing driven division. In reality if there’s such a thing as a style it has more to do with individual body types. By that I mean if someone is short and stocky they have different levers than someone who is tall and thin. So you’ll see stylistic differences in the way that they move their body, and in the way that is the most efficient path for that person to use. But the idea that there are different styles of kettlebell lifting is really, in my opinion, something that has been created in America as something that is a way to differentiate the business model. The reason I believe that is kettlebell lifting in itself is quite simple, it’s very natural, and once someone learns the basic techniques it’s not difficult to learn; the difficulty is in the amount of effort required to achieve a higher level. So I refute the idea that there is such a thing as a hard style and a competition style, but that’s the impression that’s given out. The hard style was something that was created by Pavel and the RKC, who borrowed the language from martial arts. In martial arts there is a division between what they call hard style and soft style, so we can use the same analogy to answer your question. The hard style is differentiated in the way that the focus is on the tendency for there to be a lot of rigidity, a great amount of effort in the movements. Traditionally, hard style in the martial arts, such as hard style karate, the movements are very rigid and tense; that’s not the same in all instances, there are very fluid stylists as well, but by classification hard style has a general characteristic of relying heavily on maximal force production. In martial arts what is called the soft styles are those which tend to be more fluid, inner based, and focused more on the redirection of forces rather than overpowering someone. The terminology would be to use the attackers force against them. So, using that comparison we can say that hard style kettlebell lifting strives to maximise the force in every rep, and what people refer to as the competition style, the idea is to minimise the force in every rep simply because the goal is maximal reps. And if you’re going for endurance the more tension you carry in your body the more fatigue you’re going to illicit and you’re not going to be able to last as long. So that’s the definition of terms, but in reality, the way we really differentiate is by skill level and not by style. If you get the best ten lifters in the world you’re going to see ten slightly different body styles, every move is not going to be the same, even though they all have an extremely high of ability. So the question really is what manner of movement do I want to use that is going to give me the greatest effects and results? With kettlebells we’re talking about fitness and volume, what method will enable me to have the greatest volume and therefore the greatest conditioning effect?

CO Right, so in terms of people who are training purely for fat loss, not for competition, would you say that the more fluid method of lifting would still be most effective?

SC I think that the answer to that is similar to having two cars at a race track, a Ferrari and a Toyota, which one’s going to win? The answer is quite obvious. The method that is going to illicit the greatest fat loss and the greatest level of conditioning is that which is going to allow the greatest volume. So, what is going to allow the greatest volume is the method that is going to enable you to go for the longest, do the most reps, and work for the longest period of time. That is going to be, using the earlier terminology, the competition style. I don’t try to reinvent the wheel so instead of me trying to sell my approach, I look at the best lifters in the world and see what their approach is and how they get to these high levels, and anyone that pursues sport at a high level is going to realise very quickly that if you’re using rigidity in your movement you’re going to fatigue very quickly and you’re not going to get very good results. To use a martial arts analogy, just as you don’t want to bring a knife to a gun fight, you don’t use 100lbs of force when 10lbs of force will do the job.

CO That makes sense. Another thing that I know there is a lot of debate about is squat depth and what is safe. In the strength and conditioning world the opinion tends to be that changing the position of the lumbar spine during the squat, particularly under load, isn’t a good thing in terms of the shearing forces it places on the vertebrae, whereas during the IKFF course we worked a number of squat variations through full range of motion and into what one would call a deep squat. What are your thoughts on that?

SC I would say that to be fair it wouldn’t just be the strength and conditioning community that would advocate that, it would also be the medical community as well, but you have to look at the physics and you have to look at the stressors on the spine, the mechanics. I think the real concern is going to be that when the spine is under load and the curvature changes at the bottom, the lumbar is going to tend to curve under, and that curvature, especially when you’re under a fair amount of load, is going to put shearing forces on the lumbar spine. So there’s a couple of components here. The first is where the weight is situated. There’s a huge difference between if someone’s just using their bodyweight versus where say they have a maximal load on a barbell on their shoulders. The other point is where the load is actually placed. If the load is in front of you, as in the front squat, it’s going to be very different to if it’s behind you, say in a barbell back squat. Then there is the range of motion and the overall flexibility of the lifter. A well trained lifter can do a full range of motion squat with a heavy load and not injure the spine because they have the flexibility in the hips to create space and allow the forces to dissipate. A very stiff person has no business putting a heavy weight on their back and squatting it full range of motion. With kettlebells we typically will do the overhead squat or the front squat, not on the back, so it’s usually not a super heavy load anyway. So with the weight in front of you you have an offset counter of balance, a mass in front of you, so that serves as a counter weight and enables you to sit back further and deeper. So to summarise this on the position of the spine, we have what’s appropriate for athletic performance and dealing with massive amounts of resistance, and then we have what we need for general daily function. If we look at the body and natural function there’s a definite need, from the time of ancestry, where the ability to go to a full squat was really crucial. For example, for someone who’s going to work in the fields they don’t have chairs and in any non-industrialised nation you’ll see workers moving into the full squat even into their old age, and if you look at children they’ll naturally do a full squat. And if anyone’s been to Asia, you have to move into a full squat to go the bathroom even, so the ability to be able to do a full squat with the bodyweight is really a fundamental movement.

CO Cool. Steve you mentioned earlier about Qigong and this was something you took us through after the first day of the course. Can you tell me a bit more about it and why you consider it to be so important as part of training?

SC Yes. Qigong, if we try to define the terms, can be difficult as Chinese language uses pictograph, whereas we use words, so we’re trying to change a picture into a word which isn’t exactly possible, so we can only estimate what the meaning would be. The only way to really describe the meaning is through a picture, but Qi will quite often be translated as breath, or energy, and neither of those are exact. A more precise explanation of Qi would be that there is an intrinsic force that exists that is most closely associated with the breath. Gong Is a terms referring to any ability or any skill, so we would say that Qigong is a system of breathing skill or energy mastery, and there is a very rich tradition behind it. The most famous method of Qigong internationally is Tai Chi, which has its origin as a martial art but is also a system of Qigong. Some of the key characteristics of Qigong are that it combines deep breathing with very relaxed posture, and there’s a mindfulness, a deep meditative presence in all of the movements. So another way of saying Qigong is that it’s a form of moving meditation.

Why it is important after training, it’s really important in general for everyone because we have our physical body, and then we have what you could call your energetic body. This is not to sound mystical or metaphysical but we have forces within our body that are not the flesh or the bone; in the west the Russians talk about the term bioelectricity and maybe that might be closely associated to what the Chinese call Qi. It’s this idea that energy radiates in, through, and around our body and all life forms. So through exercise and fitness we can condition our muscles and we can train our nervous system, and we can make our bones more dense through resistance training, but through just physical exercise alone we cannot actually train the energy. So Qigong is a method to train the quality of our energy and not just our physical body. In Chinese they talk about yin and yang to symbolise balance and so in life we have have to have balance between hard and soft, so the idea for health and well being and overall longevity is that we need to balance the vigorous nature of physical training with the recuperative and rejuvenate aspect of the deep breathing and Qigong meditative movements. The last point I’d like to make about this has to do with biology and the fact that we all age, and the reason why I include Qigong with my system of training and even with the kettlebells is that any exercise system that is based purely on physicality is inherently incomplete. This is because of the fact that we can’t sustain the hardcore aggressiveness indefinitely, we reach a physical peak, and every person will get to a time where the body ages to the point where they’re no longer going to be as fast, or be able to jump as high, and if your whole system is based on running faster, jumping higher, hitting harder, lifting heavier, lifting more, you can certainly do it when you’re 20 and 30 but maybe not when your 40, or maybe when you’re 40 but not when you’re 60, 70, 80. That’s not to say you can’t do the physical training but you have to balance it, so Qigong is something that anyone can do throughout their whole life, you can’t overtrain with it and you can’t do hard physical training all the time, so we need Qigong to really restore the body and it’s something we can use even into our elderly years.

CO Great. I think it’s fair to say that you are one of the world’s most highly regarded and inspiring trainers. What do you mostly attribute your personal success to?

SC That’s a really good question. Firstly there’s no replacement for going very in-depth into the subject matter; we can’t fake expertise and there’s definitely a prevalent marketing approach, particularly on the internet, to do with fitness, where people market themselves as experts, where in reality just because someone says they’re an expert and promotes themselves as an expert doesn’t actually give them expertise, so the first thing in success in anything is that we have to have not only familiarity but we have to have studied deeply the subject matter at hand. As a general philosophical thing, success has certain universal attributes and I believe, from what I’ve seen and experienced, if you study successful people who are willing to share their road to success, their secrets if you will, you’ll see many parallels and universal congruents among them, regardless of their field of expertise. So for me, fundamentally it’s an internal component, the expertise comes from the study and the knowledge base, the practical understanding, and part of becoming an expert is becoming a teacher. When I became a teacher it was initially for selfish reasons because I wanted to become a better student. And by teaching you get asked questions so you really have to study deeper. The techniques and the training and the knowledge, that’s what I’d call the external or the outer element of success. The internal component has everything to do with our mindset and our approach. One thing I like to say is attitude is altitude, and that is really the truth with success. Success is an attitude, an acceptance of being willing to be successful and to live our dreams and fulfill our purpose, and that begins with clarity. We have to know exactly what we want to achieve before we have any chance of achieving it.

There are many people that are sort of wandering, talking about what they want and look to others and say this person’s lucky or that person’s lucky because they have that wealth or that girl or they have that life, and they’re successful and I’m not, and they don’t see the inner workings of that, they just see the trappings of it. But really the first step is for an individual to really look inside themselves and ask themselves certain questions, and that’s what I call clarity. You have to have a clear idea of a) what you want to do and accomplish, it doesn’t matter how big or small; it just matters how meaningful it is. It could be something as simple as someone wanting a healthy life surrounded by friends and loved ones, which is a tremendous success in its own right, then it can be all the way to the level of someone who wants to be the president of America or wants to be the best in the world at something. There’s all different manifestations of what it means to be successful, but in my experience it begins with clarity. I believe another important component is the idea of creativity. We’re all creative and life is creative, a creation. And within every creation there is a creative process. If you take the most beautiful sculpture, before it was a sculpture it was just a block of wood, someone has to have the idea to turn that blank block into a beautiful chair or table, or a blank canvas into a beautiful painting. So success is the fruit, but the labour is what bears the fruit, the internal work and identifying what you really are and what you want to do. As the saying goes, the only thing to fear is fear itself. When we think of success we become successful. It begins within. We always hear about competition but this is a mindset we need to get out of. There is of course an element of competition in business and in sport; however to me competition is really something we have with ourselves, we are competing with what we are now because we want to become better. People focus so much on what the guy down the street or some other trainer or colleague is doing that they’re focusing their energy on that versus keeping it on an internal ‘what can I do right now?’ All we can control is ourselves, that’s the only tangible thing that we can really keep control of, and that’s where success really begins, the way we use our mind. What people actually refer to as success is the results of success, but success itself has nothing to with results, it has everything to do with the driving force which is behind the results, which is the mindset.

CO That is very true. Thanks Steve. Can you just finish off by telling everyone how they can find out more about the IKFF and upcoming courses?

SC Absolutely. Well first of all there is the IKFF website, which is our primary website and gives all the information about the courses. In addition we have quite a large group on Facebook so people are welcome to join that and we post information there, and we also have a really growing network of really high calibre physical teachers in every continent now, with the exception of Antarctica, for the moment! Here in the UK I suggest people go to your website as well to find information about kettlebells and the IKFF.

CO Perfect. Steve thank you very much for taking part in this interview and I wish you and the IKFF all the best for the future.

SC You’re welcome!

Real Estate Valuation

The Approaches to Establishing Property Value

Sales Comparison Approach

The sales comparison approach is used at property tax hearings for houses, land and owner-occupied buildings. It is sometimes used for income properties as a secondary method of valuation. To perform the sales comparison approach you need information on sales of property similar to your property. You can obtain this information from a variety of sources including the appraisal district, real estate appraisers, brokers and third party vendors. Inspect and photograph the comparable sales making detailed notes regarding differences between the comparable sales and your property. Then make adjustments for differences between the subject property and comparables. Adjust comparable sales to the subject property. For example, if a comparable sale has four bedrooms and your home has three bedrooms, make a downward adjustment to the sales price to the comparable sale to bring it down to the level of your house. Select sales as similar as possible to the subject property to minimize adjustments. Comparable sales data is given strong consideration in property tax hearings for houses, land and owner-occupied commercial buildings.

Income Approach

The income approach is typically used for income properties. The basic theory is that investors purchase income properties for the income stream they produce. This income stream can be converted to an indication of market value for the property. The primary steps in the income approach are to estimate the potential gross income using rent comparables and information regarding actual income at the subject property. An allowance for vacancy is estimated based on the performance of the subject property and average vacancy in the area. Operating expenses are estimated using actual expenses at the subject property and market expenses for similar properties. The net operating income is calculated by deducting vacancy and operating expenses from the potential gross income. Net operating income is converted to an indication of market value by dividing it by the capitalization rate.

Cost Approach

The cost approach is not typically used at property tax protest hearings except for new buildings. Appraisal districts often use the cost approach for properties up to two or three years old. After that, they typically use either the sales comparison approach or income approach depending on the type of property. The appraisal district will apply the cost approach for a new property by adding the market value of the land (typically the purchase price) to the construction costs for the building. In addition, they may add an allowance for soft costs and for entrepreneurial profit. If the sum of land and construction cost exceeds the appraisal district’s assessed value, it is unlikely they will reduce the assessed value in the property tax hearing. However, if the sum of land and construction cost is less than the appraisal district’s initial assessed value, providing this information at the hearing will likely generate a reduction in your assessed value and property taxes.

Uniform and Equal Approach

The Texas Property Tax Code was amended in 2003 to allow property tax for property owners to protest based on “a reasonable number of comparable properties appropriately adjusted.” This new section of the Texas Property Tax Code allows a protest based on a limited number (perhaps 3 to 10) of assessment comparables. Some appraisal districts agree and are considering protests under the section. Others have chosen to interpret this section differently.

To prepare a protest using Uniform and Equal, gather data on assessed values for property similar to your property. Make adjustments for significant differences between the assessment comparables and your property. This can include items such as building size, land size, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, size of garage, site influences, age, etc. Make negative (downward adjustments) to an assessment comparable for items that are superior in the assessment comparable. For example, if the assessment comparable has four bedrooms and your house has three bedrooms, make a downward adjustment to the assessed value for the assessment comparable for this item. After applying appropriate adjustments to the assessment comparables, calculate the median level of assessment for the assessment comparables. The median is the middle data point after the adjusted assessment comparables are arrayed in order of increasing or decreasing (on a per square foot value basis). Multiply the median per square foot assessed value times the size of your property (improved area) to calculate the value your home should be assessed for based on Uniform and Equal. Section 41.43 of the Texas Property Tax Code provides you the opportunity to protest using this methodology. However, don’t be surprised if your local appraisal district is not receptive to this method of protest. The appraisal division of O’Connor & Associates is a national provider of investment real estate appraisal services including commercial real estate appraisals, commercial comparable sales database, San Antonio commercial comparable sales [http://www.oconnorcomps.com/whatnew.aspx?pgType=Commercial%20Comparable%20Sales%20-%20San%20Antonio.htm], Austin commercial comaprable sales [http://www.oconnorcomps.com/whatnew.aspx?pgType=Commercial%20Comparable%20Sales%20-%20Austin.htm], condemnation appraisals, due diligence, residential appraisals and investment hypotheses.

All commercial property types benefit from our appraisal services including nursing homes, discount stores, truck terminals, tennis clubs, supermarkets, country clubs, medical offices, mini-warehouses, restaurants, vacant lands, skating rinks, community shopping, centers, power centers, car wash facilities and service stations.

Your 4-Step Beginners Guide to Fitness and Weight Loss

Step 1 – Food. Counting calories, carbs and grams of fat can be very intimidating. I do not and will not do it. It is easier and quite effective to just try to increase your nutrition, and cut out the foods that do not actually feed you. This will automatically reduce the calorie content. Look for high protein foods such as, meats, fish and eggs (if vegetarian there are alternatives). Add lots of green veggies. Raw is best as the nutrients are still intact, not heat damaged or diluted by boiling; Lightly steamed or quick stir fry is okay. Avoid white food (except cauliflower) as they are high starch, and high on the glycemic index (I will over simplify to say high on the glycemic index means it converts to fat easily). Avoid anything made from flour. This means cakes, cookies, pasta and bread. Do not worry, you will not starve. To keep from being hungry either increase the proportion of the proteins, or veggies or add beans. Beans are starchy so they are filling. They have high fiber, and although they have calories they are processed slowly so you do not get hungry for quite a while. This means you end up eating less. If after you fill up on these foods you want one of the foods you are avoiding go ahead. Have ONE. One cookie, or one slice of cake. Not one each. If you feel deprived of these things you will not keep up with the healthy eating. Or instead of giving yourself permission to have one treat a day, some people prefer being very, very strict with themselves 6 days a week and on the 7th having a "Cheat day". I can not stop with just one, so I like the cheat day myself. I even write down the foods I really want, it is a reminder that I do not have to give them up forever, I can still have cheese cake. Other people say no cheating, never. If you can do it, I salute you. I have tried and ever I just wave up. I want a plan that actually works, not one where I can play the martyr with my friends and family or where I try to impress people with my will power. I do not actually have any will power.

Step 2 – Water. You need water for your body to be able to flush out the fat, and the toxins stored in the fat (that could be a whole other article). Everything your body does, it does better with adequate water. Chances are, you are not drinking enough water (soda, coffee and juices do not count). Start getting more water by substituting water or tea for your soft drinks and coffee. Do this slowly, give yourself time to adapt. If you normally drink 4 soft drinks a day, then on day one make it 3 soft drinks and 1 water or green tea. When you are used to the change, substitute water for a second soda, then a few days later substitute for the third. You want to have no more than 1 a day. I would not recommend cutting the "bad" drinks (except diet drinks) out completely as that will make you resistant to keeping up with the plan. Only have one when you really want one and then take a little time – sit down and enjoy it. It will be more satisfying if you make drinking it an "event". Being satisfied will keep you from wanting another one immediately.

After you gradually reduce the sugary or caffeine laden drinks, you will want to start adding more water. Again do it gradually. Your body is not used to getting all the water it needs. It is used to storing and hoarding water. It will still store water for a while as that is what it has always done and it takes time to change. This means you may have a little water retention, be a little bloated. This is temporary. As your body comes to rely on you giving it water, it will start to store less. When it stops storing and starts releasing old water, you will have to go to the bathroom more frequently. This is also temporary. Your body (bladder) will get used to working again and you will have less frequent urges. Your body needs 8 to 10 glasses of water a day, but you have to allow your system time to get back into gear. Do not overwhelm your body or yourself by making this change too fast.

Diet drinks may not have the calories, but there are other problems. They are not good for you. Do not start drinking them. If you are drinking them, try substituting them out of your diet at a slightly faster pace. You may even consider using the regular soda instead of the diet while they are being phased out. There are numerous articles and books on the dangers of these drinks. I will not repeat them here (although I may at some point do an article just on diet drinks). Just think of them as poison and treat them as a disease you need to be rid of. I will just say one thing. Your body knows how to process sugar, but it has trouble dealing with unnatural foods like diet soda. There is an insulin response because it is sweet, but there is no sugar for the insulin to work on. What happens? My theory is the insulin that has been released because of the diet drink has to do something, so it works on whatever sugar is there in your blood stream, turning it into fat, and as your blood sugar lowers, you get hungry. So even though there are 0 calories in that drink, the extra snack you are eating because the diet drink made you hungry, does contain calories. Diet soda is one diet food you could do without.

Step 3 – Supplements. Do you need supplements? Supplements can help, but you do not have to have supplements for success. If you are currently taking supplements keep on taking them. If you are not taking any, but you are interested in boosting your nutrition with supplements go ahead, but again I would caution you to go slowly. Add one supplement at a time. Give yourself time to adapt to it and time to be certain there is no adverse reaction. People can be sensitive to supplements just as some people are allergic or sensitive to some foods. If you add a dozen supplements to your diet all at once, and you react to one, you will not know which one is the problem. Also your body has to learn how to process the supplement. Even if you are giving yourself something you really need, your body has learned to cope without it, now it has to do things differently. Even though it is a change for the better, it is something that your body must learn and adapt to. Do not overwhelm your system by too much at a time.

I would start with a good multi-vitamin. You could read the labels and find the one with the most vitamins and minerals, or ask a friend, or ask your doctor, or ask your chiropractor. After a few days, you can add another supplement. The second one I would add would be something to provide Omega 3. You have some choices here. Fish oil, hempseed oil, Chia seeds all are good. With fish oil, you want to be sure the manufacturer has tested it for pollutants. I believe fish oil, good fish oil, to be the best option, yet I do not use fish oil myself. I can not swallow the capsules, so I eat Chia seeds. If you get Omega 3's from fish oil, I would add vitamin E. It helps to protect you if the fish oil is even a little bit "off", which can happen. The third addition would be a good pro-biotic. If you have ever had an anti-biotic you probably need to increase the good bacteria that your body uses for digestion. The fourth one would be Vitamin D. The use of sun screens, has resolved in nearly all of us being low on vitamin D. Next I would add magnesium as my reading indicate it is a mineral we all seem to be deficient in.

I take several other supplements, but we do not all need the same things. This is a good start and for many people it is all you need. If you wanted to investigate whether anything else was needed I would recommend seeing a qualified naturopath, or getting a good book on supplements from the library.

Step 4 – Exercise. Exercise can be tricky. It is possible to lose weight without exercising; Harder, but possible. If you are losing the weight to look better, or to feel better, then do it with exercise. Otherwise the weight you lose may be muscle as well as fat. You may be thinner, but soft flabby muscles are not attractive. Working out also jump starts your fat loss.

With exercise, you have to start where you are; Where that is and build yourself up. Too many people start at a level that is several steps above where they are. At best they will get discouraged and quit, at worst they get injured. Take your time. A slow success is much better than a quick failure. If you are quite out of shape here are some very easy exercises you can start with.

• Gentle stretching. My mother is 92 and in very good physical shape. She starts her day by stretching (while still in bed). She recommends moving like a cat. Move everything that can move. Stretch your arms up, stretch your legs out. Lift your leg (you can use your hands to help) stretch your thigh. Bring your knees to your chest to stretch your lower back. Give yourself a hug to stretch your upper back. Just slowly and gently move yourself. Do not do anything that hurts. Do not do anything fast (too easy to go too far and hurt yourself). At her recommendation I started doing this. Before, when I first got up I would ache, just a little, walking downstairs was just a little difficult. This has made a big difference. Now I roll out of bed ready for the day.

• Walking. Do not worry about how far you go or how fast – it is not a competition. How much time do you have? Make the walk fit into your schedule, do not rearrange your whole life for the walk because you will become resistant to doing it. When you start your walk, pay attention to your energy levels. When you start to get tired turn around and come back (you have to have energy for the return). It does not matter whether you go half a block or a couple of miles. Just go. Do what you can. As you get stronger you will go farther. If your time is limited you do not have to take more time, you can build yourself up by doing your route faster. It is also effective to walk at a brisk pace for most of the walk, but add a sprint (full out run for 10, 15 or 30 seconds). Yes, I said seconds. You will be amazed at how much good you can do in just a little bit of time.

• Weights. You do need to weight train too. Hold on, weight-train is not a four letter word. It does not need to be super hard, difficult or complicated. You can start slow and easy. You do not even need equipment in the beginning. You can use your own body weight to start. Stand by a wall palms touching the wall about level with your shoulders, lean into the wall and then push away. As you get stronger move from the wall to a counter, then to a braced table (braced, you do not want the table moving and you ending up on the floor), then a braced chair, then a push-up from your knees . There are a lot of ab work outs. To start, just engage your abs while doing other things. Tighten them, hold the muscles but do not hold your breath. Another, while lying down on your back, try to pull your navel toward the floor. If you do these for a couple of weeks you will be strong enough to try a "plank". A "plank" is where you are on the floor, face down supported on your elbows and toes. Keep your back straight. It is your abs that keeps you from slumping. Try to work up to holding this position for 30 seconds. Work up to 30 seconds, if at first you can only do 5 or 10 that's okay, start where you are. You will get stronger. If you are a woman, the body parts most in need of help are the triceps. You know them. That is the part of your arm, that when you wave good-bye continueaving after your hand has stopped. Some people have you start training triceps with "dips" or with weights. They are tricky to work. Problem with "dips" is you may not be stronger enough to start there. You could try a reverse push away. Stand with your back resting on a wall, feet 4 to 5 inches from the wall, palms on the wall about hip height. Push yourself away from the wall just a couple of inches (you do not want to push yourself over, just a little movement is necessary). Pay attention to your muscles. If it is not the triceps that is doing the work of moving you from the wall you may have to adjust your hands up or down, out or in. Do these exercises and you will be able to feel yourself getting stronger.

• When you can do these easily you will be ready to start a more traditional work out with free weights (dumbbells) or resistance bands. I would do the bands first. You can easily adjust the tension to increase or decrease the level of difficulty. If purchased as a set, usually instructions and exercises are included in the package. Neither the bands or dumbbells are extremely expensive. Dumbbells can be purchase one set at a time, starting with just 2 pairs (light and medium weights). You can add bigger weights as you get stronger so you are spreading the cost out over time. If you are still concerned about the expense of buying equipment, it is possible to use items in the house as a substitute for weights. A milk jug washed out and refilled with water (how much water depends on how strong you are, increase the amount as you increase your strength). Soup cans also work as weights.

• There are many books and videos that describe the best method for using bands and free weights safely. While books and tapes are good references, and I know many people feel that gyms can be expensive, even so, if you can afford to go to a gym and see a professional trainer, even for just a couple of sessions; Go. You need someone to show you how to do things right so you do not injure yourself. A book can not see your form and could never correct it.

The information in this article is enough that, if you actually did it, regularly, every day, it would result in weight lose and it would build strength. You would get fit. If only it was really this easy. The real secret to fitness and weight loss is mind-set and motivation. The why? Why you are fat, why you want to lose weight, why you have failed in the past? Is much more important than what to do? Or How to do it? But that is a slightly different topic, for a different article.

Visiting Disney World With A Baby? It Can Be Magical!

My initial thought… this is crazy!

When my son and daughter-in-law told me they were taking my grandson, age 10 months, to Disney World, I wisely held my tongue. But I thought to myself that this was would be a waste of money — not to mention a little bit crazy! There was no way the baby would remember anything of the trip. And I had seen enough crying or soundly sleeping infants during our own trips there over the years to “know” what was ahead of them. But I also knew that my son, who was stationed in Alabama, had vacation time he had to use up. And there really wasn’t much for them to do with a baby where they lived. So I supposed it would be a welcome diversion for the two adults, but I hoped they weren’t expecting too much for the baby.

Well, was I ever wrong!

Things that Worked For Them

During the trip and afterward, they called us with all the details about what a wonderful time they were all having. Now admittedly, the trip was a LOT easier for them because they were able to drive. Flying with a baby and all the essentials that they require can be difficult and complicated. Driving also made it easier for them to work around the baby’s schedule, rather than a flight schedule. And having a car can make going to and from the parks more manageable as well. So I’m sure that had a big part to play in the relative ease of their vacation.

Another big consideration was staying at a hotel on the Disney property. With or without your own car, it can be less of a hassle to get back to the hotel for afternoon naps or pool time if the hotel is in close proximity of the parks. The room also had a fridge — a must for storing baby formula and opened jars of baby food. It also helped that they went in late September. Since it was no longer the peak season, prices were lower. Smaller lines meant less time waiting with the baby; plus they were able to take in more of the rides, which is not always easy when you have a little one along. And thankfully, although still very warm, the extreme heat of the summer was over.

Lessons Learned

One of the few “mistakes” they made was to not schedule a day off mid-week just to relax around the hotel and enjoy the pool. They were so exhausted by the end of their stay, they decided to stay a day longer just to do that before driving home. (Their big advice here was to be sure you bring or buy baby “floaties” for the pool).

There were a few other things they learned they had to do differently when touring Disney with a baby. First of all, you’ve got to take it a lot slower. When it was just the two of them, they were able to get an early start to get to the parks. But when working around a baby’s schedule, it often meant leaving a lot later than they would have preferred. On the other hand, they were fortunate in that they didn’t need to come back to the hotel during the day. Because they brought their own stroller, which was a lot more comfortable for their son, he was able to simply nap there. Plus he often fell asleep in some of the “dark” rides.

Although they visited the Animal Kingdom, they said later that they should have skipped that. There wasn’t much there for a baby his age. And for that reason, they did not even try to go to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. They discovered that when you go to Disney World with kids, it’s all about the kids and what they can and want to do. They were able to go on some “adult” rides, but it was difficult to try to “schedule” them while he was napping. For the most part, the “baby swap” worked well. But it was sometimes difficult to handle the baby alone. Fortunately, the lines were not long, and this was another plus of going off-season. And Fastpasses helped keep the wait short as well.

Positive Experiences (For the Most Part)

Even though there was not much for babies at the Studios or Animal Kingdom, there was more than enough at the other two parks to entertain a baby for days. Even though their son was very young, there were plenty of rides he thoroughly enjoyed: “The Magic Carpets of Aladdin”, “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”, the “Mad Tea Party” spinning teacups, the carousel, and the train. “Pirates of the Caribbean” was another favorite — especially the little “dip” at the beginning. And in Epcot, he particularly loved “Journey into Imagination with Figment”.

But he didn’t care for “Peter Pan’s Flight”, which makes sense, since you have to look down to see what’s going on: there’s very little to see at a baby’s eye level. And Ellen’s Universe of Energy in Epcot was too long to keep his interest. It really was a matter of trial and error to pick rides he would enjoy.

As far as the essentials, it turned out the baby stations were a real plus. More than just a changing area, they had everything you could possibly need for an infant: areas to breastfeed complete with rocking chairs, high chairs, changing tables, bathrooms for adults, a play area for toddlers, and even water available from a cooler. Plus you could purchase any supplies you might have forgotten or run out of such as diapers, food, formula and juice. The only downside was that they were not always centrally located or convenient to get to.

The Characters

For the most part, meeting the characters turned out to be a positive experience. He was already familiar with some of them from watching “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse”. So he took right away to Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and Donald. But he wasn’t too sure about Pooh, Tigger, and Eeyore, until they ate at the Crystal Palace character meal. This turned out to be their favorite meal, both due to the experience and the really excellent food.. And after mingling with the group from the Hundred Acre Wood there, he loved those characters as well. The only characters that scared him were Lilo and Stitch, because he had never watched them on TV. (And personally, I think they’re kind of scary anyway)! But in spite of that, it was felt that all the characters really knew how to handle kids… even young babies.

The Food — a Big Part of Any Disney World Trip

Speaking of restaurants, Chef Mickey’s (a favorite character meal for our family for many years), turned out to be a disappointment. Mickey didn’t walk around as he had in previous years — you could only have a picture taken with him (expensive); and the food was not as good as what they had in the past. My son and daughter-in-law also tried a couple of adult-oriented restaurants with some success. There were no problems with bringing a baby along. Menu items suitable for babies were available, although they still fed him his baby food too. But restaurant favorites included macaroni and cheese, turkey, bread, and especially the vanilla ice cream at Ghirardelli’s!

Going to Disney World With A Baby? Why Not!

So it turns out, there’s plenty for a baby to do, enjoy, and experience by going to Disney World. The pictures we saw later from their trip showed a baby whose expressions ranged from awe to absolute joy. And as my son and daughter-in-law went on and on about their trip during their weekly phone call home, I knew it wouldn’t matter that their son would never remember his first visit to Disney World — because the parents would never forget it.

Keep Your Home Clean and Dirt-Free – Hire Professional Cleaning Services

For a lot of people, professional home cleaning service is a mere luxury, which they can easily go without. Although you must spend a little for appointing home clean-up agencies, the benefits of doing so generally outweigh the fiscal outlay. Although you can always do these household chores on your own, we generally lack the essential skills and time to complete the task to perfection. Besides leaving you stressed and exhausted at the end of the day, there are also chances of potential damage.

On the other hand, an expert clean-up agency provides you with valuable services, which you can easily rely upon. Besides saving you a lot of time and energy, they help you in enjoying a clean and healthy environment. When you return home from work, it feels great to enter a place that's clean and fragrant. Due to these reasons, a lot of homeowners as well as business overseers choose professional property cleaning services.

When looking for these service providers, you'll come across many options in the market, offering different types of services to their prospective customers. Neverheless, not all of them have the skills and dexterity to meet your level of expectation. There are many companies that promise top-notch services, but fail to keep their words. Naturally, it only makes sense to stay away from such deceitful activities. Here are a few vital things that you must consider when choosing a home cleaning company.

When you opt for professional house cleaning services, you'll notice that they follow a special way of cleaning your property. Beside, they also offer a range of services like office cleaning, domestic cleaning, carpet cleaning and also end-of-lease cleaning. Before beginning with the cleaning process, the agency must give you details on their cleaning set-ups as well as fee estimation. This should help you in settling on the service that you need for your house. Moreover, when choosing a clean-up agency, it's important to check whether they have a system that assures quality services.

Before proceeding with the cleaning method, it's advisable to know about a few important things, chiefly because you own the property. This way, you make sure that they complete the task more quickly and efficiently. The agreement must entail all the cleaning services and systems offered by the company. This way, it'll be easier for you to avoid any future hassle. As a general rule of the thumb, consider appointing an agency with good name and reputation in the market. Although there are many agencies that make tall commitments to their clients, only a few of them really keep their words. So, stay cautious and make a sensible choice.

Staging Foreclosure Homes for Sale

Foreclosure homes for sale have taken a hit in previous months with the scandal surrounding mortgage providers’ documentation issues. This resulted to buyers shying away from the market for fear of being embroiled in a property dispute. This has greatly affected legitimate sellers of foreclosure properties, who are already dealing with declining demand.

The challenges faced by sellers of foreclosure homes for sale should further infuse them to engage in increased efforts to conduct a successful home staging that will ensure a sale. While cleaning the home can a go a long way towards proper home staging, oftentimes this is not enough. The home should look equally good on the outside and the inside. The home is after all a reflection of its occupants and this is what buyers will have in mind when they shop for their home.

Appearance from the Curb

More popularly known as the curb appeal, your home should meet most buyers’ requirements when it comes to the look of the exterior of the property from the street. Foreclosure homes for sale should look neat and fresh at first glance. So, make sure the exterior painting is interesting and lively. Mow the lawn regularly and trim the bushes. Clear out the trash and put away unnecessary items, especially clotheslines, which can be an eyesore. Apply a fresh coat of paint on your fences, garage and garage doors as well as the main door.

Stepping Into a Peaceful Place

Buyers look for quiet comfort when they inspect the interior of foreclosure homes for sale that they are considering to buy. Keep in mind that buyers are keen on seeing the potential of a home or what it can become once they already own it. In other words, they want a blank canvass, so it may be advisable to paint the walls in neutral colors. More importantly, keep the home spic and span through constant cleaning and dusting. Hide personal items, especially children’s toys and other personal paraphernalia. Clean areas that are highly susceptible to dirt like the kitchen and bathrooms. Regularly replace the sheets and other linen as well as the curtains.

Dog Sense – How To Give Your Dog Freedom

I am a professional dog trainer. As such I have a very specific way that I view dogs and how I think about dog training. I refer to this as my ‘dog-sense’. When I encounter new clients I discover them with varying degrees of dog-sense. It is my responsibility as a trainer to inculcate as much dog-sense into my clients as possible.

Throughout my years of training I have found that the majority of dog owners lack dog-sense in one key and critical area. If dog owners everywhere were able to improve in this area it could very well put me out of a job.

Dogs have dozens of natural instincts. A great deal of these instincts act out in contrary to what the average dog owner wants. Dogs instinctively pee on rugs, jump on newcomers, bark at things, and chew on whatever feels comfortable.

It remains the responsibility of the dog owner to mold every dog behavior. It is your responsibility to determine how your puppy or dog interacts with your sofa, with your rug, with your guest, with your child, and with every part of your dog’s surroundings. This is where the average dog owner goes wrong.

The average dog owner merely hands over freedom to his dog. This is a mistake. Dogs need to earn their freedom through good behavior. You can’t allow your dog to be loose in your house until he has learned how not to go to the bathroom on the floor, how not to chew on your shoes, and how not to make a wreck of everything. Every time a dog owner gives a dog freedom too early he runs the risk of the dog taking that freedom and acting inappropriately with it. If you give your dog freedom and he pees on the floor what can you do? The answer is nothing. You can’t find a problem after the fact and do anything about it.

So what is a dog owner to do? The answer is that you are to restrict your dog’s freedom until he has earned it. Keep your dog with you. If you want to mold behavior you have to see behavior. If you want to see your dog’s behavior your dog has to be next to you. So keep your dog with you at all times. Don’t let your dog out of your sight until you can trust him. If you can’t keep him in your sight because you leave the house or are too busy, put your dog in his crate.

As your dog progresses and is reliable in the house you can give him more and more freedom. Don’t rush it. Take your time and you will see that your dog can learn to be a perfect pet in the home.

Weymouth Holiday Cottages – Doggy Cottages

If you are the one who likes to take their pet each time you go for a vacation, then the Weymouth holiday cottagesare the place for you. This is the perfect break for you and your pet. There are over 100 cottages in Dorset. The Weymouth holiday cottage properties range from traditional thatched cottages to the contemporary newly designed houses.This will certainly be a great place to be for you and your dog. The facility provided in each set has a colored television; The kitchen has an oven with hotplate, rings, a gas burner and a microwave, a toaster a kettle and an iron. Duvets and pillow have been provided in all bedrooms.

There are many cottages available available for you and your pet. One of them is the Lulworth Cove. This is set up in an elevated position, surrounded by territories and lawns. Its a beautiful walk across the hills to the various bays. Within walking distance once can find the Village Inns and shops.

As far as the accommodation is concerned on the ground floor, in bedroom one, there is a king size bed. In the second bedroom, twin beds have been placed. There is a large lounge with an open fire. The dining table has a seating capacity of ten people. On the ground floor there is a bathroom with a bath shower and a separate kitchen. In the third bedroom and the fourth bedroom there are twin single beds, without any wardrobe. There is a double bed in the fifth bedroom.

Standard facilities have been provided in these Weymouth holiday cottages like a dishwasher, washing machine, and a dryer, fridge, freezer, a pay phone, DVD player. A garage is a also present with unrestricted parking on the road. There is a large garden on the sloping lawns. A garden table with chairs has also been placed. Internet access has been provided for, only for recreational activity and not for business related purpose. The speed or service may vary as per the package obtained by the owner of the property

For booking purposes reservations for these Weymouth holiday cottages are made upon the receipt of a deposit which is one-third of the total cost of the holiday or full payment incase the trip is for less than eight weeks away, plus an additional of twenty pounds, Along with a booking form signed by the applicant who has to be over 18 years of age, and he also signs on behalf of all the people who will e staying in the property. Only the number of people specified at the time of the booking will be allowed to stay during the trip. Once the payment has been received and the conformation has been made, any changes to the booking can not be done. In case the payment is made by a credit card, then an additional charge of 2.5% as the processing fee will be also charged to the guest at the time of the booking. Guests have to be responsible for their own belongings; The management will not b liable in case of a theft.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Dieting

The pros and cons to dieting can be deceptive. Really there is nothing bad about dieting if you do it right. I know someone who lost 3 pounds a week over the course of a year eating three healthy meals a day and exercising for at least an hour a day. There was nothing unhealthy about his diet, so there are no cons. The cons of dieting generally come from unhealthy diet that are too extreme. The sad thing is that most of these extreme never helped anybody lose any weight in the long term.

A healthy eating plan but no exercise will not help you lose any weight. Likewise a vigorous daily exercise schedule but poor eating habits will also not help you lose any weight. You need to have both vigorous exercise and smart eating if you want to burn body fat. The pros and cons of dieting may not be what you’re thinking about. The good thing about your plan could be your eating habits but the bad thing is not exercising.

Many people have a hard time understanding that moderation is really important. You can’t overdo anything and you can’t under do anything either. A reasonable eating plan and a reasonable exercise plan can help anybody lose weight.

The diets that everyone fail at are the diets that promise you can lose a lot of weight in just a few days. These extreme diets do not work over the long term. Since no one can sustain that kind of weight loss, people following these diets become really dejected and depressed. They are working so hard in making such a great effort, but they are not losing the amount of weight that the diet says they should be able to. As a result they become very depressed and just giving up. Sadly, after they give up the weight starts to come back on in a way just as much as they did before.

The first thing you need to do to succeed at losing weight is to set a year-long weight-loss plan. Whether you want to lose 30 pounds or a hundred pounds, do it in a year. If you want to lose 30 pounds, start out by trying to lose a pound a week. You’ll reach your goal in 30 weeks. If you want to lose 100 pounds, then set a goal of 2 pounds a week. You’ll reach your goal in one year. The key here is to be long-term in your thinking. If you only want to lose 30 pounds and you succeed at doing that in two months, that 30 pounds will come back on again in just 2 to 3 weeks. Why? Because in order to lose 30 pounds in two months you would’ve had to have done some very extreme lack of eating, and a lot of vigorous exercise. After the two months is all over, you’ll be so tired from all the exercise and very little eating you did. The first thing you want to do is just relax and go back to your old eating style. As a result, you’ll put all the weight back on. On the other hand, if you set a year-long goal in lose the weight that you want to in a year you will be developing a daily habit of reasonable eating and exercise that after a year will be easy to continue to maintain throughout the rest of your life. By doing it this way you will learn what it will take daily for you to maintain the weight you want.

The pros and cons of dieting are easy. A positive diet consists of a healthy eating plan and vigorous exercise. A non-healthy diet consists of unreasonable weight loss expectations gained by restrictive eating an unhealthy practices.

50 Cheap Valentine's Day Gifts to Romance Your Sweetheart (without Looking Cheap)

  1. Create an indoor picnic with available props, ie, picnic tablecloth, paper goods. Share finger foods and favorite trees along with a glass of wine. Spice up "dessert." Enjoy your picnic on the living room floor or in bed. Play card games, board games, or make up your own.
  2. Decorate a unique-looking jar or box with craft items. Write numerous love notes on small pieces of paper and fill the jar with them. Present the jar to your sweetheart.
  3. There are many local and national Valentine's Day giveaway contests with great prizes. Enter as many as you can and maybe you'll get lucky.
  4. For young couples with kids, get them involved in an all-family fun Valentine's Day dinner at home. Mom can prepare a dessert for two and light the candles while dad puts the kids to bed.
  5. Since Valentine's Day is on a Saturday, celebrate with a day full of low-cost activities you both enjoy doing (depending upon your location and weather). Do something with your significant other that he / she rarely has time to do, but loves.
  6. Take a 2-hour, one-time salsa or tango dancing lesson together. Or, identify some other interest you share and find a place to give you one-time extended lesson on Valentine's Day.
  7. Gals … Make the entire day full of his favorites: the breakfast of his dreams, the dinner of his dreams, TV that is his favorite, his music, etc. Do not say anything about it, surprise him all day long.
  8. Take the person you love to experience something spectacular in nature: a sunset, a sunrise, the calm of the beach, share an evening walk gazing at the moon.
  9. Create a framed group of photos that put your relationship in chronological order of events, by months or years (depending on how long you've been together).
  10. Create a CD with songs that make you think of your sweetheart, and give it to him / her.
  11. Choose specialty foods, such as wine, cheese, fresh bread / dessert from a favorite bakery. Enjoy in front of your warm, toasty fireplace.
  12. Create an at-home spa day for your mate. Deliver the gift in a basket filled with inexpensive candles, bubble bath, rose petals, facial mask and scrub. Then give your mate time to enjoy it. When he / she is done, heat up towels in the dryer for drying off.
  13. Give each other long-lingering back rubs or head-to-toe body massages. Invest in luxurious lotion or oils.
  14. Create a favorite drink together. Try all kinds of ingredients. Enjoy taste-testing. Be sure to record the ingredients, so you can make the "your" drink again on Valentine's Day year after year.
  15. Watch an old movie at home together, with popcorn and soft drinks and candy – movie-theater style.
  16. Share a scrumptious dessert and latté at a local patisserie or bakery.
  17. Pick a few household chores your Valentine usually does and surprise them by doing it before they get a chance, ie, making the bed. It does not sound romantic, but the thought will most certainly count.
  18. Walk around a favorite part of town, stopping at a nice locale for a glass of wine and appetizers.
  19. On Valentine's Day, place three pair of sexy undies on your bed and let your mate pick out which one you should wear. It's your secret!
  20. Write a "Top 10 Reasons Why I Love You" list.
  21. Since Valentine's Day is on Saturday, if you're a member of a wholesale club (like Sam's or Costco) have fun eating all the free samples! Then fill in any empty holes left in your stomach by going out to lunch. (That way you will not spend a lot of money at a restaurant!)
  22. What's a new activity you've both wanted to try that's low cost? Do it. Or, how can you creatively modify it to make it low cost? Do it.
  23. Leave a note on your mate's pillow expressing how special you think he / she is. Place a couple of mints on the pillow, too (or a single rose) … all to be discovered at bedtime.
  24. Guys … If you want to cook dinner, remember, she does not care what you make. There are many easy recipes on food web sites that look like you spent hours in the kitchen. Be imaginative and set the table special. Play romantic music softly while you dine. Leave the clean-up until morning!
  25. Guys or Gals … When you make that special dinner … Just like when you go to a fancy event and a "dinner menu" is put on each plate describing each food item, do something similar. For example, on your menu, write "Spaghetti & Meatballs, made with passion to be with YOU." Do not forget to give your "event" or "restaurant" a name at the top of the menu.
  26. Make a simple dinner at home, then go out dancing or to listen to live music at a jazz club.
  27. Buy two champagne flutes for use on Valentine's Day only to already toast your love. Keep them in a visible location as a year-round reminder of how special you are to each other.
  28. Play a sport together that you have not played in awhile, or that you rarely get a chance to enjoy. Before you start, determine what the "winner" gets (making it something to do with caring, loving, etc.).
  29. Leave a "racy" picture on your mate's cell phone. Text a romantic message at a time of day when you know things get hectic.
  30. Present your Valentine IOU coupons: I will make dinner; I will do the laundry; I will take care of the kids one day a month for the next year; I will clean the kitchen for a week; I will serve you breakfast in bed.
  31. Together, go "shopping" at a sex-toy store without spending any money. It'll give you ideas and get you "in the mood."
  32. The tough economy has lured many upscale restaurants to have high-end early-bird specials. Find out what's available in your area.
  33. Some volunteer fire departments use holiday fauna to create flower and rose bouquets as a fund-raiser. Prices are reasonable; Just get there early.
  34. If she loves chocolate … Take her on a chocolates tour. Find your hometown chocolate purveyor and ask for a behind-the-scenes tour. Next, go to a restaurant that serves her favorite chocolate dessert. Return home to snuggle with a cup of hot chocolate.
  35. Use a bar of soap to draft a love note on your bathroom mirror. Or, if you shower first, write a love note to your sweetheart in the steam on the mirror.
  36. Write "I love you because …." notes and insert them into balloons. Blow up the balloons, and spread the balloons through your bedroom for your Valentine to pop and capture each message.
  37. Many drug stores with photo departments offer a variety of Valentine's Day specials to make gifts from photographs. Use a good picture of the two of you together.
  38. Make homemade chocolate-covered strawberries: 1) Melt a package of chocolate chips in a double boiler and add a small amount of oil; 2) Remove from heat and quickly dip the strawberries into the chocolate; 3) Place on wax paper and refrigerate for several hours until chocolate is firm.
  39. Guys … If you want to order flowers for your gal, supermarket florists are generally half the price of the stand-alone or on-line stores, but the trick to for seeing real savings is to order two weeks or more in advance and Pay for the flowers up front … Another trick to save money, get other guys who want to order flowers to join you and place your orders to the same florist all at once. The florist may give you a "bulk" discount. Again, important to plan ahead.
  40. Plan a scavenger hunt. Write clues and place them in envelopes, and place the envelopes around town. Make the final clue a doozy of a destination.
  41. Get a small radio and take your partner dancing at a romantic hideaway, such as the woods or riverfront or ocean.
  42. Use fabric paint to decorate a Valentine's Day pillowcase for your loved one. Check arts-and-crafts web sites for other easy-to-make gifts.
  43. What did you do on your very first date? Repeat it.
  44. Create a year-long calendar with photos of just the two of you above (top page) each month. Office supply stores will insert the spiral / binding for you.
  45. Have a progressive dinner. If you're single, appetizers at his place. Entrée at her place. The middle course, dessert, after-dinner cordials … map it out a few days ahead. If you're married, one course at home, one course at her office, his office, etc. Use your imagination to set locations!
  46. Write new "updated" wedding vows, both serious and humorous, and share them with each other over a glass of wine in a candlelit room.
  47. In the morning, tuck a love note in his pocket or her pocketbook or other certain-to-be-found spot. Jot down some meaningful words on a piece of paper – "Can not wait to wrap my arms around you tonight!"; "What's for 'dessert'?"; "You make me happy every day!" – and tuck it in a conspicuous location to be easily discovered during the day.
  48. Have a 15-minute kissing session and try some new ways and places to kiss. The same old smoocheroo can get boring. Use your imagination … and sometimes a little whipped cream, chocolate syrup, etc.
  49. If you do not have a special sweetheart, focus on bringing a smile or laughter to everyone you come in contact with on Valentine's Day.
  50. What are your mate's quirks and habits that irk you? Do not nag about any of them the entire day. Then try to extend the no-nagging effort to every day of the year. Remember, you're never going to change the other person.