Habitica: An Awesome Self-Development Tool

I have a new obsession. It’s called Habitica, and it’s become a huge part of my life for the last month or so.

I had been looking for a checklist app of some kind, so I didn’t have to keep re-writing the same tasks over and over. Bullet Journals and Day Books are fine and all, but there’s only so much time in a day. Sometimes we have to look for speedier ways of doing things. I used to have the app Home Routines on my phone and I really loved it, but once I left the iPhone world, I was out of luck: Home Routines does not have an Android version. In my search for a new checklist-type app, I had run across Habitica before, but I’m not a big fan of pixel art, so I had not given it the time of day. But eventually I decided to give it a shot, and am I ever glad I did!

Habitica is an app that turns your life into a Role Playing Game. Now, I have to be honest: I had never role played before, thought it’s always been an interest below the surface—something I wanted to do but never really had the time for. Habitica has allowed me to enter some role playing while remaining productive (and becoming even more so), and I’m loving it.

 

Habitica: An Awesome Self-Development & Productivity Tool, www.marianamcdougall.com

 

How the game works

On Habitica, you have a little character. As you complete tasks in every day life, your character earns Experience Points (XP) to level up and gold to spend on stuff within the game. You can also create real-life custom rewards that you can spend your gold on. For example, one of my rewards is to watch a movie, and it costs me 120 gold. So before I watch a movie, I have to complete enough tasks from my task list to earn 120 gold. You can set your rewards and how much they cost however you want, but the things to “buy” within the game cost a specific amount. You also have to buy certain things in a series before you’re allowed to buy more advanced equipment.

A fun aspect of the game are the “drops,” which randomly give you pet eggs, hatching potions, and pet food. As your character grows through the game, you can hatch and collect pets that you can then feed to grow into mounts. It’s a lot of fun doing this, at least for me—and it’s attracted the kids to participate in the game as well, which is awesome; they’re actually looking forward to doing their chores now, so they can go to the game, check things off, and get pets. This has been great because we loved ChoreMonster, but that company seems to have gone kaput, and we were looking for something to replace it. But truth be told, I’m enjoying this even more than the kids!

A new community 

The most valuable aspects  of this game for me are the guilds and challenges. Guilds are groups of people centered around a common interest or goal. Many of these guilds will have challenges you can join; there are challenges for almost anything you can think of. For example, I’m taking part in a challenge to read for 25 minutes per day, a challenge for scheduling a full week ahead of time, and a fun challenge about taking a virtual vacation. All of these challenges help me grow as a person and learn new things, as well as organize my life. For most of the challenges, you have to report back to the guild on whether you completed the activities or not, which makes you feel part of a group (and keeps you accountable).

For someone like me, who hasn’t been part of the traditional work force for many years, this aspect of the game has been invaluable. For example, while Dan is on vacation, I’m working full-time with my freelancing and blogging. One of the guilds does “pomodoros” together. We state what we plan to do for the next 25 minutes, and then we have to report back to say whether we did it or not. On Friday, I spent the day doing this. I was extremely productive while also feeling like I was part of a group of workers again. Even if there’s no one physically in the room with me, it still feels like I’m working “alongside” people.

 

checklist graphic

There are three types of tasks on Habitica: Habits, Dailies, and To Dos.

Habits are things that you want to develop a habit of doing (or stop doing). You can have positive and negative habits. For example, one of my positive habits is to put on lip balm, because I frequently forget to do this, and thanks to my super sensitive and dry skin, I really need to remember to do it. Every time I remember, I get to check that and get some gold and experience points for doing it. It’s a great motivator for me. I have a negative habit of raising my voice at the children. Each time I do it, I have to click the negative habit, which means I lose experience points and gold. It’s not as much a motivator to not do it as it’s making me notice how often I do it and helping me work towards better forms of communication.

Dailies are tasks that must repeat daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly. The important thing to note about dailies is that if you don’t perform them, you get “punished” in the game by losing gold, health, and if you leave enough dailies undone, you’ll lose all your gold, a level, a piece of equipment, and your character will die, so you’ll have to “refill health and try again.” In my dailies, I have such things as taking my medication, doing my physiotherapy, using assistive devices for my connective tissue disorder, and more.

Finally, To Dos are things that you only need to do once. For example, some of my to dos have been to put a letter in the mail or to create a new budget for my business (Budgets would be reviewed monthly/quarterly/year, but creating the new budget itself is a one-time thing).

Free Accounts and Paid Accounts

Habitica is free to access for everything I mentioned above. Paid subscriptions get a few extra perks, but it’s important to note that this game is not “pay to play.” You can access everything in the game from the paid account, but a subscription will give you fun things like the ability to purchase gems with gold. Gems allow you to buy certain things in the game that you otherwise would have to wait for a random drop for. These don’t affect your levelling up at all, they’re just fun little things to collect. There’s a few other extra perks as well.

Having said that, Habitica depends on subscriptions to continue running, so if you can afford to get one, it would be good to do so. I myself am considering buying the Groups submission, which allows you to assign tasks to people in the group, have a private chat, and other functionalities. This would be useful as a family to get stuff done around the house, and could even work as a chore chart that may be more effective than other things we’ve tried. I’ll keep you posted about my subscription purchase.

If you’d like to give Habitica, a try, visit the website here. If you want to learn more about the game and how it works, there’s a huge Wiki that will tell you everything you need to know.

Have you tried Habitica? What do you think of it?

What We Read During COVID-19, Part 1

Returning home after our  year on the road proved extremely busy, which is one of the many reasons I haven’t been blogging. With Dan working reduced hours, I also shifted focus to start pitching articles again so we can bring in a bit of extra cash. Finally, I continue to do user experience testing, which I really enjoy. It won’t make you rich, but the extra pocket cash does help—and it’s fun!

Continue reading “What We Read During COVID-19, Part 1”

Gratitude Amidst a Pandemic

The world looks quite different than it did three months ago. We have all had to adjust to a much different way of thinking, living, and doing business. Some of us have adapted well, some of us have refused to adapt, but all of us have been affected in some way by what’s going on in the world.

During these difficult times, I think it’s even more important to focus on gratitude and on the things we are blessed to have or experience. With that in  mind, I wanted to write a post about the things I feel privileged to have and grateful for.

This is my own experience. It’s not my intent to tell anyone how to feel. We all process grief differently, and this pandemic has certainly brought grief to all of us. For some, the grief is for the life we knew. For others, grief for the life with knew intermingles with grief for the passing of loved ones and is made even more difficult as a result.

Expressing gratitude is one way in which I can experience my grief and still be comforted. Whichever way you need to experience your grief is personal and only you can decide how to proceed.

Here, I’m sharing the things I’m grateful for as a way to process that even during this pandemic, even as a high-risk person, even as someone dealing with anxiety about being in public (ironic for an extreme extrovert…), even with all of that, I have much to be grateful for.

Living with gratitude during the pandemic, www.marianamcdougall.com

1. A big backyard

I’m grateful to live in a home with a large backyard, where I can walk and play with my children while not having to expose myself to potential contact with the virus.

2. My loving family

I’m grateful to live with my loving family, where spending time together is a joy.

3. Summer

The sunshine on my face makes it easier to bear the days of isolation. I already struggle in the winter, so I’m grateful that this is happening when I can have some sunshine.

4. A home (and our RV, too)

I’m grateful that we went on our adventure year before the pandemic hit, and that we decided to keep the RV even though we don’t have plans for long-term travel at the moment. The RV has been a great distraction for the kids, who play happily in it, pretending to explore the world while staying put on our driveway. I am also grateful for my home, where we can safely shelter in place.

5. Acceptance and safety

I’m grateful that despite being considered a minority by some, I feel accepted and safe in my community. I pray that all people can feel this way, wherever they live, and that the violence we see play out so often will come to an end.

6. Habitica

During the pandemic, I discovered the website Habitica, and it has brought so much joy into my life. I’ll write another post dedicated to the website, but for now, if you’ve never heard of it, look it up; you won’t be disappointed. It’s a habit-forming website that makes your real life tasks into a role-playing game. It’s a blast and it’s making me a better person.

 

What are you grateful for during this time?

Awesome Art Online

10 Places to Admire Beautiful Art Online

One of the things I like to do in my very limited spare time is to look at art online. Of course you can visit museum and art gallery websites, but one of my favourite ways to look at art is to go straight to the source. I enjoy looking at freelance artists’ websites and Instagram accounts and dream about the art I’ll add to my home some day. Here are just some of the places I like to look at art online.

Continue reading “Awesome Art Online”

Say Their Names

I had many posts planned for the next few weeks.

But it didn’t feel right to post any of those without first acknowledging what’s happening in the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, Italy, and around the world in response to not only George Floyd’s murder (murder. Stop writing “died in police custody.” He was murdered.), but the inequities that keep Black people marginalized and targeted by police brutality.

Continue reading “Say Their Names”

Vegan Red Lentil Soup

A delicious vegan soup even veggie snobs will love

My son is a very particular eater. There is very little he is happy to eat, and  he does justice to his Italian name: carbs, carbs, and more carbs, please. Give him pasta and fruit and he’s happy. But there is one thing I make that he eats and asks for more. The best part? It’s healthy, delicious, and vegan to boot. And the rest of the family loves it, too. This Vegan Red Lentil Soup freezes well and is a great thing to pull out of the freezer on a busy night to save your money and your time.

Let it be known that I’m not a vegan (I’m not even a bona-fide vegetarian), but I do enjoy making high-iron, high-protein vegan meals frequently, because they’re healthy, keep well, and are often super tasty.

Red Lentil Soup: vegan, nutritious, and delicious, www.marianamcdougall.com.

I started making red lentil soup from a recipe in a cookbook, but over the years I have changed this soup so much and added so much to it, that now mine is a recipe in its own right. So here I give you the instructions for a delicious meal that will please even the most avid meat lovers. Oh, the photos of the soup are from a Creative Commons site and not of my actual soup, because kids. I guarantee that though my soup looks nowhere near as pretty, it tastes just as delicious as the ones on the photos look.

Vegan Red Lentil Soup

Ingredients:

2 tbsp canola (or other cooking oil)

1 yellow onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, diced

1/4 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp ground ginger (or 1/2 tsp fresh ginger)

Dash cayenne pepper

4 large carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery sticks, diced

1 can diced tomatoes (8 fluid ounces)

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

2 cups red lentils, rinsed

6-8 cups vegetable broth (more broth if you prefer a more watery soup, less broth if you prefer a thicker soup).

Salt to taste

Method:

Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, cumin, ginger, and cayenne pepper, and sauté until fragrant, about 2- minutes. Add the carrots and celery and mix to coat with the spices. If the onions and garlic are starting to stick to the bottom of the pot, add a splash of veggie broth or water. 

Cook the carrots and celery until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, quinoa, and red lentils and stir to combine. Cook for another minute or so, and then add the veggie broth.

Cook, uncovered, and mixing occasionally, for about 15-20 minutes, until the lentils and quinoa are soft. If the soup starts to boil before the 15-minute mark, be sure to lower the heat until the quinoa and lentils are cooked through. Do a taste test and add any more spices and/or salt to your liking.

Take about half the soup and place it into a high-powered blender. Blend the soup, then add it back to the pot and mix together. The result will be a deliciously creamy, orange-coloured soup that’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Enjoy!

 

Heavy Metal Bands Advocating for Suicide Prevention

This article originally appeared on a now defunct website named Komorebi Post.

While suicide is a difficult topic, we need to talk about it now more than ever. 

Man with head in his hands, sitting in a field. Photo by Francisco Gonzalez on Unsplash. Heavy Metal bands advocating for suicide prevention, www.marianamcdougall.com

Worldwide, almost 800,000 people die by suicide each year. That’s one person every 40 seconds. Mental illness, especially depression, is often cited as one of the major factors leading to suicide. But over the years, other things have been blamed for our rising suicide rates. Some believe video games play a part. Others point fingers at absent parents. Yet others suggest some TV shows aren’t helping. But perhaps the cultural phenomenon that receives the most blame for suicide deaths is heavy metal music.

Heavy metal’s long and difficult history as a scapegoat for suicide

Grieving parents, confused scholars, and shocked communities have often blamed heavy metal music for individual suicide cases. Singers and bands such as Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Slayer, and more have even been taken to court as families try to come to terms with tragedy.

In 1985, Ozzy Osbourne’s music was blamed for the suicide of a California teenager. Although the case was thrown out in 1986, there are still those who believe Osbourne’s music encourages fans to take their own lives. In 1990, two families sued the band Judas Priest after two fans took their lives. The young men had been listening to the band’s albums before committing suicide. 

The arguments that heavy metal bands drive fans—especially teenage fans—to suicide continue, even when the evidence is scarce. And it’s no wonder. When tragedy occurs, laying blame is often easier than dealing with our difficult emotions, and it provides a focus outside of our conflicted thoughts about loss. But blaming music for the death of loved ones is neither productive nor well-informed. And while the scapegoating continues, some heavy metal bands are using their platforms to do the exact opposite of what they’re often blamed for: they’re working to prevent suicide deaths.

 

Heavy Metal Bands advocating for suicide prevention. www.marianamcdougall.com. Photo of a hand in an ocean. Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

Heavy Metal Bands and Suicide Prevention

While some believe that violent lyrics can influence already confused young people, Disturbed fans would beg to differ. That’s because David Draiman, the lead singer of the band, has been personally affected by suicide. It took several years, but he finally worked through his pain with the song “Inside the Fire.”

In the song, he recounts the image he had when he was staring at the coffin of his ex-girlfriend, who took her own life. And in the video for the song, Draiman gets personal. In an introduction before the video begins, he explain his experience dealing with tragedy, and provides the number for the Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Another band working to help prevent suicide is Five Finger Death Punch. With the song “Coming Down,” the band offers the perspective of someone struggling to stay “away from the ledge.” In the poignant video for the song, two teenager’s painful experiences are recounted, and by the end of the song, a simple act is shown that prevents their suicide. The video ends with the words “One friend can save a life,” and the suicide prevention hotline number is shown on the screen.

 

Some will always need a scapegoat for the tragedy of suicide, and heavy metal bands, with their often violent lyrics, provide an easy target. However, these two bands are proving that while exercising their right to creativity, they can also make positive change in the world.

How to Eat More Vegetables

Get Healthy: How to Eat More Vegetables

7 to to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. That’s how much Canada’s Food Guide recommends we all eat, and yet most Canadians aren’t getting enough veggies and fruit—less than half of Canadians meet the quota. Sometimes, people can’t get more veggies and fruit, and sometimes, they just don’t know how to eat more vegetables.

Continue reading “How to Eat More Vegetables”