Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas in Boulder

Yes, I'm back in sunny CA where it should hit 78 or 80 degrees today.  Perfect weather for the Rose Parade which ruined my morning outing to the Pasadena farmers' market.  Cancelled today even though things (Parade, Game...) don't happen until Monday.  Totally unfair.
I should, however, back up and wax poetically about the white Christmas that we spent in Boulder, CO.  We arrived last Wednesday night, snow just starting to fall in the early evening.  By the time we woke up Thursday morning, about 12 inches had accumulated.  Exciting!  It was the lightest, fluffiest snow that I've ever experienced.  I tried to make a snowball to throw at a certain person, but the snow didn't even stick together.  Crazy!  We depended on the kindness of a brother-in-law to chauffeur us around town since our awesome Toyota Camry wasn't quite up to the task.  I spent most of the first few days oohing and aahing over the snow and also complaining about the cold!  Still, we did brave the elements several times with the pups who LOVE the snow:

(Gus is too busy eating snow in the second photo to pose for the camera.  As I look at these photos now, I wish that I had spent more time in the snow!  Agh - I hate those regrets.)

We seemed to celebrate Christmas for several days, a non-stop eating, drinking, and present-opening fest.  The best present that I received, hands-down, were a bunch of socks from one of my in-laws.  I realize that socks don't necessarily scream "Awesome present!", but these do!  THREE pair of awesome SmartWool socks and a pair of cycling socks with "Colorado" stitched on them - I hit the motherlode with that present, and my brother-in-law may now be my favorite family member ever.
Given the snowfall in Boulder and our aborted ski efforts in Taos, Michael and I were pretty determined to go skiing while in Boulder.  Nothing crazy, like Breckenridge or Keystone, but we figured that a nice day at Eldora, a local ski place, would be perfect.  We went up last year to Nordic ski, but we both wanted to try out our downhill legs, despite years and years away from the slopes.  So, we (and half of Boulder) geared up on Tuesday and headed up the mountain.  By 10:00 am, we'd already gotten in two runs - success on the green runs at least!
Not to sound like one of my students, but I felt like yelling "OMG! This is so FUN!".  I was really nervous about trying to downhill ski again, since my last run, on March 23, 2003 (I found the tag on my ski pants which I hadn't worn since that day) ended with a torn meniscus.  Well, we started out on the easy runs and didn't challenge ourselves with anything beyond a blue slope, but as we spent more time on skis, we both relaxed into the movement and had a spectacular time.  I think that I had forced myself to forget how much PURE fun skiing is because I thought that I'd never ski again.  Thank you again, Dr. Hatch, for my new ACL (and thanks to the cadaver who gave up his ligament).
By noon-ish, we were tired and hungry, so we settled into a relaxing lunch in the lodge.  The food was so-so, but the Bloody Marys were damn good and strong!  After that, we were pretty much toast - tired and relaxed.  So, we did two more runs before calling it a day.  It was the perfect way to end our time in Boulder!  We are also jonesing to ski again soon - maybe here in SoCal?!

Ah, the post-Bloody Mary relaxed state!

Heading back out to ski - yes, I look like an alien with the goggles on!

No trip to Boulder is complete without lots of good food and drink.  We skipped some of our standards (Snarfs, a great sandwich shop, and Lucilles, a rockin' brunch place), but discovered a few new favorites.  One place, Bitter Bar, replaced a great Asian restaurant.  We were disappointed that the Happy Noodle had closed its doors, but Bitter Bar served up good food and drinks and had an awesome happy hour!  I have also continued my love with Avery Brewery.  I almost fell OUT of love with Avery on Christmas Eve afternoon because it was closed (in fact, most bars in Boulder were closed on Saturday afternoon which was an outrage!).  However, we made it back on Monday night, and it was worth the wait.  I discovered a crazy-strong beer called "The Beast" which has 16.83% alcohol.  It is definitely a might fine sipping beer.
All-in-all, a stand-out trip to Boulder, CO and a great way to enjoy the Christmas break. Now we just need to toast both the old year and the new year, and our celebration will be complete!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lazy days in Taos

Hello winter break, Christmas break, holiday season, whatever-you-want-to-call-it!

Taos, NM

I survived the final week before break which is always packed with preparations as we try to leave town as soon as possible. In this case, our departure was Saturday morning, bright but not terribly early (7:30 am rather than 6:00 am or something horrible like that).  We arrived in Flagstaff, AZ Saturday afternoon and enjoyed an early dinner at the Beaver Street Brewery - it came as a recommendation, and I'd definitely pass the recommendation on!  Pretty good food and great beer!

We pushed on to Taos, NM on Sunday, arriving mid-afternoon.  The drive through New Mexico always blows my mind - I definitely feel that we are somewhere in the wild, untamed, still uncivilized West, to a certain degree.  The colors and views are amazing.  Neither of us had been to Taos, and the drive from Santa Fe north treated us to more views and oohs and aahs.  We were happy to arrive Sunday afternoon, not just because we were tired of the car but also because a huge storm was supposed to hit the region.  We planned on a relaxing Monday - take a snow day and be lazy.  We we woke up on Monday, Michael commented "This is the thinnest 12 inches of snow I've ever seen!".  I think the snow may have dusted Taos, but that was it!  So, we spent two relaxing days here, sort of waiting around in anticipation of snow and then we just embraced total laziness, drinking margaritas and beers at noon, taking naps, strolling around town, reading for pleasure, drinking plenty of wine at night and enjoying the company of family (we are here with siblings)!  Poor Michael has listened to me bitch for the past six, nine, twelve months about how I want a REAL vacation.  Well, this definitely meets the definition of a vacation.  We didn't even get on the slopes because we didn't want to wake up early, gear up, deal with traffic, get fitted for skis...  Talk about lazy!
To add to the sense of total relaxation, my sister-and-law and I went for a massage yesterday at some spa here in town.  I signed up for a "Muscle and joint massage" out of curiosity - I know the full-body and deep-tissue experience and thought that this would be something quite different.  It was, and it was AWESOME!  I would rank this as one of the best massage experiences ever, and I'm not being hyperbolic.  It was not full-body - the therapist focused on specific parts of my body that I talked to her about before she started - my left knee, of course, being a problem area, and then my shoulder area which seems to carry all of my stress!  While not all of the massage was 'relaxing' because she stretched me out and put me in uncomfortable positions, my body has rarely felt so stretched out, relaxed and completely functional, without any ache, pain, or tightness.  I'm now wishing that I could get one of these a month just to keep my body feeling great!
In addition to the massage and to being lazy around the house we rented, we've also spent a few hours at the Taos Inn which boasts a great bartender who whips up strong margaritas and bloody marys and excellent food.  Also, I'm back on the read-for-pleasure-bandwagon and have plunged into Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, which, while I don't know if I *LOVE* it, I am enjoying it as a good vacation read.  It hasn't all been over-indulgence as I did get out for a very cold run when we arrived and this morning.  Shew, that's a way to wake up!
Despite the lack of skiing, I would still call this a very good start to Christmas break 2011!  We head on to Boulder, CO, so more fun and relaxation will follow - and maybe even a few runs on a local slope?!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Renewed faith in life and running

After my negative rant/whine extraordinaire on Saturday, I now feel like a complete ass because the weekend pretty fantastic, half-marathon included.  Yippee skip!  Also, I am now confident that I will survive the next 2.5 days of work and will then breath a huge sigh of relief.  This is the final stretch of THIS time of year, and I plan on taking full advantage of 2+ weeks of vacation!
As for the weekend, everything came up roses.  Michael and I were total movie nerds, watching the final disk of the LOTR trilogy - the director's cut.  Even though I had seen it before (like everyone else in the world?), watching the entire trilogy again was completely satisfying and quite tragic and "The Return of the King" is really well done.  Even though I knew the ending, it still made me sad.  On Saturday night, we opted for a period piece, the most recent cinematic interpretation of "Jane Eyre" which was great!  I always forget how different Charlotte Brönte is from Jane Austen - talk about Romantic with a capital "R"!  Souls, spirits, mysticism, freedom, the individual, love...  Yes, I ended up in tears at the end!  It has been several years, maybe 20 (see, several), since I read "Jane Eyre", but maybe I should venture back through those pages?  I hate it when a movie prompts me to read the book, it makes me feel guilty for not having read the book.  But, in this case, I'll give myself a pass since I really DID read the book, albeit a while ago.
As for the Sunday morning race - it ended up being a real "race" rather than a pathetic and miserable slog through 13.1 miles!  The weather was chilly but perfect - as much as I love a sunny race, the overcast sky made for a pleasant run.  Adding to that, the run was well-organized, flat and fast!  It also offered up a taste of an area that I don't know well at all - Oxnard, CA!  My love of strawberries has bred a certain familiarity with Oxnard, more or less the "Strawberry Capital" of Southern CA.  I had not, until now, ever wandered down its fine streets!  While some of the course took us through a random industrial office area, we also ran by fields, schools, and great neighborhoods, ending at the Oxnard waterfront - which I didn't even know existed!  The local support was amazing - there were bands, plenty of water stops, port-a-potties at several of the mile stops. As for the run?  I couldn't believe how great I felt throughout the race!  I tried to run a relaxed pace, not too fast, not too slow.  I also had the good fortune to meet up with Kalli around Mile 6!  She was looking good and ended strong!
Regarding my final time - it was a surprise to me.  I hoped to run a sub-2-hour and crossed the line plenty under that, much to my total surprise and delight!  After stumbling around happy yet a bit dazed, I returned home to pizza, an ice bath for my legs (KILLER) and then a nap - all contributed to my recovery!  I was even able to pull it together to look 'appropriate' for the evening's festivities - the annual holiday party (on a Sunday night - really?  How is that a true party?).
As for the week, I am sticking to my plan to take a needed break from running and can't wait for the break from school that will be here sooner than later.  However, I've revised my view of running - I *heart* running, training, non-training, the races, and, of course, all the pain and anxiety involved.  That said, I do look forward to 2012 as a new year that will offer new challenges.  Looking back, I've enjoyed some amazing experiences this year that connected to running, in one way or another, and I can't wait for more!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

December and running ruts

I'd like to shirk my sense of responsibility and blame how I feel right now about running and other aspects of my life (work burn out?) on: the fact that it's December, we had weird weather a week ago, and I simply feel crazy busy and just want to get the hell out of dodge.  Nice, right?!  This is not an ideal mindset going into a, gulp, half-marathon tomorrow which will be the longest distance I've run in recent years.  In fact, my last half was about 7 years ago.  I would like to say that I took the opportunity to focus and train well, but that would be a blatant lie.  So, yeah, we'll see how the run goes.  I would like to aim for a sub-something-minute mile pace, but I would also like to actually enjoy the experience and be happy with my performance, either sub-whatever or sub-par.
The "enjoy the experience and be happy with my performance" is good advice for me to take, especially considering a serious lack of focus on my part.  Still, it amazes me that even when I don't really put the time/effort in, I find it frustrating when/if I don't feel that I've run my "best".
The 5K I ran last week represents this perfectly! Initially, I signed up for the race hoping to run a fast 5K, a distance that I don't particularly like too much. As race day approached, we experienced bad weather and much uncertainty, and I should have changed how I was framing this run mentally (should have, should have, should have...), especially when we woke up on the later side with fairly foggy heads from a wee bit too much vino and we crossed the starting line about a minute after the gun went off.  This was Michael's first 5K, but I wanted to run fast, so I ditched him and ended up having a so-so experience, running somewhat slower than I hoped/expected.  Hindsight is 50-50, and looking back, I see that running with Michael and just viewing the race as an opportunity to have fun would have been advisable.  I'm going to try to take that advice tomorrow as I slog my way through 13.1 miles.
I will say that it's not just my racing mojo that seems to have hit a hard spell. Thursday's run marked one final sign that my running game is in sore need of rejuvenation.  While I pounded out 6.5 or so miles without a huge issue physically, I found the mental release to be zero, zip, nil, and THAT was what I needed most.  My seventh period class put me in bit of a foul mood (not because of the students but another reason played a role) and then I got home and discovered that one of our dogs had decided to help himself to part of an expensive chocolate bar (he is fine, by the way).  So, I hoped and expected the run to be a zen moment for me, after which I would feel trouble-free and enjoy a clear mind.  THAT did not happen - instead, I was still fuming about my end of day encounter.  So much for the healing powers of running.
Looking at all of this, it signals to the obvious:  I need to take a break from running.  Gasp!  So, from December 12-December 30, I plan on skiing (downhill and Nordic, if possible), walking, hiking, maybe some indoor rock-climbing, snowshoeing and ice-skating, and more walking and hiking and lots of hanging out with friends and family and dogs.
Now, I just need to get through 13.1 miles tomorrow and 5 more days of work, and then life will be grand!
Then, come January 2012: Swim, bike, run!  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Birthday celebration!

While much of the energy and 'buzz' at this time of year is due to the Thanksgiving and Christmas crush, one of my favorite moments in December is whatever we do to celebrate my better half's  birthday.  My birthday is in January, so we are really into the birthday celebration, and then for Christmas, we actually don't exchange presents. It seems kind of ba-humbug of us, but it actually makes our birthdays way more fun (more gifts!) and then we don't have to stress about MORE presents for Christmas.  One other fun aspect, to me, is that whoever's birthday it is also has the pleasure of exchanging ONE gift to the non-birthday person.  See, win/win!
Probably the best gift that I ever gave Michael was a few years ago when he had one of those significant birthdays that end in -0.  I bought plane tickets out to Colorado and we went to a Broncos game.  They actually won too!  Most of our celebrations are more low-key, but we still have a great time!
This year did not disappoint, although we tried to keep a more flexible attitude, especially when we still did not have power on Friday evening.  I ended up cancelling our dinner reservations for Saturday night because I couldn't imagine getting ready for a nice dinner while cursing the lack of heat and electricity and feeling like a drowned, dirty rat.  That would not have been at all conducive for a merry celebration.  I was, in fact, feeling a bit dismal about the whole birthday thing on Friday night.  After all, I had planned on a LOTR evening with a viewing of the director's cut of "The Return of the King", one of Michael's birthday presents.  That obviously didn't happen.  As for Saturday, we were supposed to kick off the day with a nice 5K run, but I was in no mood or mindset to get up and go for a run in the morning.
Well, the morning came fairly early.  I rolled around and asked Michael what he wanted to do - stay in our warm bed or get out of the bed and get ready for a RACE!  Somewhat to my disappointment, he chose the latter.  Gasp.  So, in a disorganized manner, we quickly prepped for the race - he sported a new running shirt that I had given him, just for the occasion (and for his birthday!), and before heading to the race, we grabbed coffee and a scone at Starbucks - which was packed with people STILL out of power!  I think that we arrived at the race about 15 minutes prior to the start which I almost never do!  This was Michael's first race, and I had done the 10K last year and knew that the 5K route would be a fun course for the both of us.  We separated, but I did think about him, and once I crossed the finish line, I ran back to meet up with him and ran to the finish line with him.  He respectfully ran under 10-minute miles which was great for a first race!  Major high-five.
We were both in good spirits, and even coming home to a cold and dark house could not dampen our mood.  We decided that the best thing we could do would be to leave the house.  Rather than picking some of our usual favorites (Venice, Santa Monica, the Malibu beaches and north of there), we ended up in Japantown.  This is embarrassing, but it was my first exploration of J-town.  We stopped in some random giftshops, poked around in a supermarket and bought a few items, Michael picked out some birthday desserts from a pastry place (I wasn't sure about them, but it WAS his birthday), and we ate noodles at Orochon, a noodle place, obviously.  It was a super fun experience, but the noodles were SO f-ing hot and spicy that I really couldn't eat them.  I would take a bite or two and then my lips would start to burn, so I'd wait a few minutes and then foray into the eating process again.  Despite the weird desserts and the mouth-burning noodles, it was a GREAT experience!  I often forget that Downtown LA offers so many interesting places and experiences.  
Note to self: Must take advantage of cool experiences more often!
For the evening, rather than trying something new and unusual, Michael opted for a recent favorite:  Palate Restaurant which is in Glendale. We actually went there last year for the first time on his birthday!  It's a really great place - the front is a fairly formal restaurant and the back is a wine merchant/cellar with a bar and a few tables and the menu focuses on local, seasonal food.  We opted to sit at the bar which was SO much fun.  There, we proceeded to over-order and then eat every single bite and drink really good wine.  It was the perfect end to a pretty great day.  Okay, maybe coming home to a nice warm house was the perfect ending (sorry!). 
Now I just have to wait another year to spend the perfect birthday celebration with this random dude!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Wind storm and gratitude

Oh, yes, Thanksgiving was more than a week away which means the ubiquitous "I'm thankful for..." moment has passed me by.  I did, however, assign my students a short essay with that topic, and one of them noted that they had similar assignments when they were in first grade.  Nice.
As for Turkey Day, it was a great weekend.  We braved the crowds of LAX, which ended up being lighter than we expected, and made it safely to Texas.  Over Thanksgiving, we enjoyed much good food and drink (lots of good drink).  In addition to the usual turkey, we stuffed ourselves on Friday, eating Mexican food for lunch and dinner, once on "our" side of the border and the other time on the "other" side.  Good times and lots of margaritas!
We also made the most of our travels!  The first photo is from our layover in Houston - damn, those beers are Texan-sized!

Upon our return to LA, our bags were delayed for no reason at all.  So, we got a drink at the Encounter bar, this crazy, futuristic 60's-style bar/restaurant (it looks like something out of "The Jetsons!").  Instead of being angry and impatient about our bags, I totally chilled out:

Now, back to the theme of gratitude.  It's a timely topic since I found myself more grateful than ever yesterday afternoon when we walked into our house and discovered that we had POWER for the first time in 60+ hours!  Power meant heat, lights, heat, refrigerator, heat, washing machine, heat.  Did I mention heat?!  I realize that we don't live in the Northeast, so losing power for 2.5 days doesn't have quite the same bite that it could, but our house had settled into a rather cold state, not budging much above 58 degrees (or something like that - maybe 55?!).  I spent the past few days wearing long underwear, Smart Wool socks and a beanie as I wandered around the house!
All of this made me hyper-aware of the fact that:
1. I obviously could not survive well if suddenly transported to a different time period where heat was not common.
2.  I am totally lame.
3.  I am totally lame.

Despite days of some grumbling and feeling 'on edge', I tried to be appreciative of the fact that we did NOT have any major damage, unlike many, many people in the Pasadena area who were not so lucky.  Michael and I also enjoyed a few candlelit nights of backgammon (I emerged the winner one night while he completely routed me the next) and good conversation.  I try not to take for granted the fact that I consider myself lucky in many ways, but this served as an important reminder, especially when it comes to living and sharing a life with a person whom I actually like and with whom I enjoy spending time.  I do believe that the regular day-to-day humming along of life can mask whether or not you actually like the person that, in theory, is your partner, in one way or another, but when you have nothing else but candles and conversation, then you sure as hell had better enjoy each other's company!
So, we did survive the crazy, record-breaking windstorm of 2011, and we both enjoyed a serendipitously unexpected day off work on Thursday.  I have experienced snow days before, when I lived in Philly and Seattle, but never a 'wind day', so this was something new.  Michael and I spent much time in the car driving around so that we could charge our cellphones.  Crazy, I know!
Friday was a bit complicated at work.  We still did not have power on Friday, nor did many of my students.  I took my cellphones and other electronic items to work and plugged them in; so did many of my students!   Needless to say, very few people (I include myself in this group) could focus on Friday.  I think people's emotions ranged from giddiness to frustration to anger.  While we resorted to bar food on Thursday, we were determined to eat in house on Friday.  We still had eggs and a few other items that we could cook up on the stovetop which did still work thanks to the gas stove.  Cooking by headlamp and candles - almost like camping!  Especially considering that I wore multiple layers.  I think my teeth were still chattering:

Finally, on Saturday - bliss, oh, bliss, our power came back on!  I would like to say that I'm a more profound person, but I was ecstatic when we walked into a WARM house.  After avoiding being in our house for a few days because of the chill that set into my bones as soon I walked into the house, it delighted me to feel welcome in my own house and to not pull on my long underwear to hang out on the sofa!

So, we still have a little shrine that we resurrected in order to remember our 2.5 day 'ordeal'.  Please note the bottles as our candle-holders!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Having my cake and eating it too

This is NOT actually a post dedicated to eating, although that would certainly be timely, seeing as Turkey day is not merely 'right around the corner' but UPON us!  (How did that happen?  Holy crap!)
I've been thinking about the either/or dichotomy that I often set up - it has to be this or that, X or Y, ying or yang, law or order.  Never both.
I began thinking about this earlier in the year when I was tutoring a student from another school for a few weeks.  I hesitated to tutor this student and then agreed for a variety of reasons.  Initially, I found tutoring to be...  not boring, but not as fun or interesting as teaching a group of students.  With a group, the students' personalities play off each other and they often learn from each other.  Tutoring an individual student does not, obviously, offer the dynamic atmosphere of a classroom (in its ideal "zone").  However, as I tutored this student, I learned to appreciate the one-on-one with a student, getting to know a student without the social currents that often run through a classroom.  On the day of the last tutoring session, I was quite sad to say good-bye to this person, a reaction that I did not anticipate.
At this point, it seemed like a good idea for me to revisit the notion I held that so many things in life fell into the either/or category.  Why couldn't I handily teach a class AND tutor a student, and find both of these experiences equally satisfying?  And to feel, in both cases, that I failed in my duty when said student/s don't perform as well as hoped on certain standardized tests?
Along the same vein, I often view running and racing as either/or activities, that it has to be one or the other.  Why can't I enjoy BOTH - running and racing?  They tap into different energies and satisfy me in distinct ways.  Rather than fighting with the notion that it must be either/or, I've recently decided to embrace both.  Running, after all, is the daily, meditative activity that is a 'healthy' activity and will satisfy the soul.  Racing, on the other hand, is the exhilaration and the devastation, the putting yourself all out there.  To be honest, I prefer the daily or weekly running, heading out the door and hitting the trails, losing myself in thoughts.  However, I can't deny that I love the excitement of race day.  Everything about it - waking up, worrying about the time, getting the bib, trying to be aware throughout each mile, pushing myself to the finish.
So, as I reexamine my worldview (weltanschauung!), I'm trying to fit the concept of "both" into my life.  It's expansive, this new way of interpreting life, as I suddenly find that more options are viable.  Perhaps I'll eventually want to narrow my vision, but for now, it's kind of exhilarating that my interpretation of life has opened up, that I can have the ying and the yang to make that perfect circle.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bad and brash decisions

So, as a teacher, I know that people banter around the concept of "make good decisions/choices" when working with the youth of today (I love using clichés like that!).  As much as they might roll their eyes - and I might too - there is something to be said for that advice.  I, unfortunately, like to push it off on others rather than follow it myself.  This week offered plenty of evidence to support my less-than-stellar decision-making abilities.  Usually, I can blame alcohol consumption for bad choices (just what we tell kids about alcohol), but this week I don't even have that useful excuse on hand.
Just to give you a few examples of these bad choices...
On Thursday, while walking our dogs, some bug stung my leg - the back of my thigh.  It was definitely not a bee, probably a wasp or yellow jacket?  At any rate, it hurt like a bitch, as they say.  This happened around the 4 o'clock hour, and I had a spin class to attend at 4:45.  Did the sting prevent me from attending?  Why, of course not!  As I was halfway through class, it did cross my mind that exercise after an insect sting was not, perhaps, advisable.  Sure enough, when I returned home and researched said topic,  several websites came back with the "Do not exercise!" imperative.  I survived, however, so it looks as though I don't have an allergy.
I can excuse Thursday out of sheer ignorance - I've never been bitten by wasps or yellow jackets before!
Friday's lack of judgement belongs to another category: brash decisions.  The first one occurred about mid-morning.  Clearly my blood sugar had spiked and I was feeling GREAT!  So, when an email entitled "Oxnard Half-Marathon" enticed me to open up its contents, I was drawn into the idea of a half-marathon and impulsively decided HELL YEAH!  So, I signed myself right up.  Then, I thought about the time that I have between now and the half-marathon and realized that I need to get about a 10-mile run in between the next two weeks so that I can finish the half-marathon in 3 weeks.  Ahem.  I've obviously become trigger-happy when it comes to races, and this just showcases how problematic impulsive choices can be.
The final brash decision came later in the day, revolving around dinner choices.  I admit that we have become somewhat lazy in our household - between Michael's class schedule and my... (I don't have a reason) stomach, we've been doing take-out and/or eating out more than usual.  Now, I haven't cared too much about this slump, but we had just ordered out pizza on Thursday.  There were a few pieces left, but we decided that there wasn't enough for dinner.  So, what did we do?
We ordered ANOTHER pizza.  From the same place!
I realize that this last decision is not, for some people, too shocking, but it seemed to epitomize my laziness.
It was, however, the perfect accompaniment to the movie "Bridesmaids"!
So, do I have any regrets about these decisions?  The "good" part of me would like to affirm that yes, I do, but to be honest, I had a great spinning class on Thursday, I will love getting my ass kicked in a few weeks as I struggle through the half-marathon, and the pizza last night was worth it.
In terms of dinner, I am going to start anew - just as soon as we go out for Mexican food tonight!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday randomness in Starbucks

So, Starbucks is kind of a love/hate place for me.  Personally, I'm not ga-ga over their coffee drinks.  In fact, I don't really drink their coffee and I take that as a point of pride.  Coffee snob?  Yes, yes I am!
However, I've developed a once or twice a week habit/ritual of going to Starbucks for a chai latte.  I've come to realize that this habit is less about the drink and more about taking a walk, getting outside, being off campus (not by much, but still), and just not DOING something for work.  It's usually a hurried affair - a swift walk to and from Starbucks, but it gives me a mental break in a way.
The other aspect that I like about the excursion is that I see "normal" people - meaning, non-work people. I'm not saying that I work with a bunch of crazies (although there might be one or two who would definitely benefit from good meds), but we're all kind of awkward, nerdy people in one way or another.  I walk to Starbucks, and there is a whole 'nother world of people out there - business men and women, stay-at-home moms, office types taking a break, kids of different ages, retirees.  Some people go there to have a meeting, others are reading, hanging out with their pet, or just socializing with a friend.  It reminds me of my life during the summers, when I can languish around and see people in the middle of the day in the middle of the week.
I occasionally will run into a colleague or the random student on a latte run, but it is highly unusual for me to open the door to Starbucks and a stranger (to me) call me by my first and last name (the maiden name - although that's a different topic).  I did not recognize this woman at all, and then she identified herself, first and last name as well.  WOW - talk about a blast from the past.  I think that we went to kindergarten and first grade at the same school and took piano lessons from the same teacher, but then our lives went their separate ways.  While our parents see each other socially, I went off to study and live in a variety of different places and she did the same.
So, I couldn't believe that we ran into each other in a Starbucks in what is more or less Pleasantville, a far cry from the place that she and I grew up along the South Texas border.  I was even more amazed that she recognized me, but I'm terrible with names and faces.  Apparently I haven't changed since 4th or 5th grade?  That could either be a good or a bad thing!  It means that I haven't blossomed into a cool, sophisticated LA-type.  Nor have I aged beyond belief and recognition?  Apparently I've mastered a classical look - at least for myself?
I returned to school shaking my head over the encounter.  It's not every day that I randomly bump into someone from my childhood - talk about a different place and time!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A gloomy Saturday

It is 5:00 pm, and almost officially dark.  While I love the time change in the mornings, it does depress me a bit that night draws close so quickly these days.  However, when I remember that I used to live in places that get dark at 3:30 or so in winter (Philly and Seattle), I try my best to not complain too much.  And, even in sunny LA, there is something comforting about the sense that the year has moved on and that I can hibernate a bit because it is fall.
As for today, it has been the fastest Saturday EVER.  Okay, slight hyperbole there, but how is it that my weekdays seemed to stretch out forever, and then today I'd like to add a few more hours to the experience?  I feel that I just woke up but here I am, changing so that I can look respectable enough to go out and be in the public eye?
As for the day?  I'd call it lugubrious.  What a great word, right?  And not one that I can often use here in Southern CA.
The word has all of these negative connotations, but was lovely to enjoy the gloomy weather from a warm house for most of the day!  It rained a few times throughout the day, but at one point, I looked out the window, and all of these whispy, low-lying clouds were moving through and around the San Gabriels.  It was so beautiful, and I do love that I could take in the view right from the kitchen window.
Sometimes, I love living where we do.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Running by numbers

So, I tried to cast all of my fears, doubts, worries from Saturday aside.
Yesterday morning, I woke up bright and early, 5:15, very appreciative of the extra hour of sleep.  The time change also meant that I wouldn't be driving south in the dark - double yay!  It was strange to head to the race as a driver - Michael is my one and only supportive crew, so I missed him yesterday morning!  I felt a bit stressed about the drive, the weather and about a bazillion other issues.  However, I made it pretty easily to Huntington Beach, aka "Surf City, USA", and a beautiful morning greeted me.  All I needed to do was wait and then run.
The race began promptly at 7:45.  While I tend to hang back and not worry about scoring a choice spot for the start, I knew that I wanted to actually RACE this 10K and not just run it.  There were two reasons pushing me to "race".  First of all, I ran the "Huntington Beach Distance Derby" last year and loved the experience.  At that time, it was a five mile race, so they changed the distance this year to a 10k.  With that in mind, I thought that it was possible that I could shave some time off my last 10k which was around the Rose Bowl.
So, I felt pretty anxious at the beginning of the run and tried to navigate that fine line between pushing myself enough to start out fast and strong but not run out of gas.  At a certain point in the first mile, I tried to refocus: not that I wanted to slow down, but I wanted to have a positive experience, even if it meant that I didn't run faster than the last time.  Eventually, after all, I will cease to run any faster, and I don't want every run (or race) to feel like a bitter disappointment because I can't continue to beat my last time.  So, I tried to center some of my thoughts on being thankful for being out and about on a gorgeous Sunday morning, running on PCH, which they had closed down for the race!  I occasionally took in the waves crashing along the beach, watched the surfers bob in the water, admired some of the dogs that were playing along PCH.
In the meantime, I also kept my focus on my pace.  It seemed like I had started out at a fast pace, and I hit Mile 1 around 7:30 or 8:00.  I wore my watch, but it's not digital, so I had to 'guesstimate' the time.  I knew, however, that it was 15 minutes at Mile 2.  For me, that is SUPER speedy!  It concerned me somewhat that I started out at a 7:30 pace, but the course was so flat that I couldn't help it.  I kept the pace, even for Mile 3 which did incline slightly, and at Mile 4, I looked at my watch - around 30 minutes?  "Holy crap!" was my main thought.  For miles 5 and 6, we had to turn around, and at that point, I felt the headwind.  No wonder the first two miles were so fast!  Also, the weather turned a bit and rain began to spit down on us.  Still, I felt great, and when I saw a woman who had passed me at the beginning, I realized that I was closing in!  At Mile 5, I decided to challenge her a bit - I pushed my pace and caught up with her and then slowed down for a bit while I ran right with her.  Then, I decided to push it just a bit more to see if she could keep up.  She couldn't!  Success!  I kind of feel like an asshole for finding it SO satisfying that I passed her.  But, she was definitely younger and she wore a t-shirt tucked into her leggings - I feel like only a real badass should sport such an 'outfit'.  And, if I passed her in mile 5, she obviously wasn't such a badass!
The last mile (or half mile) - I worried that I'd suddenly bonk in a big way, which would have devastated me.  That never happened, and I crossed the finish line at 47:30, running strong, even at the end.  I was super jazzed about my time because it is a PR for a 10K.  Mind you, this was a fast, flat race, so I'll tip my hat to the course, from which I definitely benefited.
Final thoughts?  I definitely enjoyed running in a somewhat familiar place that still feels like a "destination" with its beautiful scenery.  It was NOT, however, nearly as fun as the Lasse Viren run last weekend.  Maybe the focus on time and on a final "product" detracted from the overall experience?  Maybe I missed the social aspect that was such a treat before and after the race last week?  Maybe I missed being able to fully celebrate and share the experience with Michael?
These are interesting questions to ponder, especially as I think about the question:  Run vs. Race.
Do other people see a dichotomy between running vs. racing or am I alone in that?  It is definitely fun to actually feel that I've "competed" (in my limited definition of the term), but I'm not sure if a pure focus on numbers (speed, mileage and whatnot) will continue to leave me fulfilled.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A change in the air

The weather has definitely signaled a new month, as rains and colder temperatures hit Southern CA.  We lit our first fire of the fall/winter season last night, and I, for one, am looking forward to falling back this evening (or morning) so that it isn't dark when I leave the house for the long walk to work.  I had hoped for some snow tipped peaks today, and while there must be snow on Mt. Baldy and some of the higher peaks, no such luck right around our whereabouts.  Still, the day after a rain storm makes me appreciate living where I do - it has been a gorgeous day.  We just walked the boys around the neighborhood and enjoyed the clear, late afternoon sky.
The cooler temperatures and more fall-like chill in the air also informed our weekly farmers' market run.  While I continued to buy tomatoes and strawberries through to last week, this week, I stocked up on apples, a few persimmons, and tons of root vegetables.  Yep, it is no longer early fall!  We'll be making soups around here soon.
Speaking of the weather, it is supposed to rain again tomorrow, which I would normally welcome, but I am hoping that the rains hold off at least until later in the afternoon.  I am running a 10K - my first in a while (!) - and would like to enjoy a rain-free run.  It is a selfish hope, I realize, because we can always use the rain around here.  For myself, I know that I would enjoy the run a bit more if I don't have to deal with weather.
But, if the weather doesn't cooperate, it should be a great run, no matter what - flat, which will hopefully translate to "fast" for me, but I don't want to bank on it.   I did this run last year, but they changed the course a bit - it used to be a 5 miler and now it's a 10k.  A part of me wishes that it were still a 5-miler so that I could compare my performance.  I guess I'm being picky these days, complaining about the weather, not satisfied with the course...
Obviously I need to 'get over it' and just run!

Monday, October 31, 2011

"Race" Report: Lasse Viren 2011

Waking up groggy and with a headache on a Sunday morning (thanks the martini the night before - possibly?) did not exactly motivate me to hop out of bed, full of energy and ready to go.  But, I did haul my butt out of bed and started on the coffee and a somewhat healthy breakfast, hoping that this, along with an Advil, would better prepare me for the day.  Not the best start and it certainly did not forebode that the day would unfold splendidly!
By the time Michael and I were headed west, the sun was up, greeting a beautiful day, but the temperature stayed stubbornly around 48 degrees.  I kept my eye on the car thermometer, wondering how much I was going to freeze on the run or whether I should wear my old blue Patagonia top (circa 1996) for the run.   We found parking on PCH, ooohed at the scenery as we walked to Sycamore Canyon Campground, and shuffled along to stay warm.
The main thought running through my mind was not "Oh hell, I hope that I can finish this thing!".  If it weren't for the chilly weather, I probably would have turned over that thought time and again.  Instead, I kept looking at my watch, wishing that the 9:00 am hour would arrive sooner than later, so that I could get moving!  Finally, the hour arrived!  It was time to race, or merely run, depending on your definition.  I told Michael to expect me in 2 hours - I set the bar low for my expectations!  While I would be running along trails and through canyons, he planned to cross PCH and hang out on the beach.  I envied him for just a moment!  Putting aside such thoughts, I peeled off my top layer, begrudgingly, and tried to improve my position before the race organizer/announcer called "On your mark, set, go!".  No gun, just a running start.
As for the race?  It seems like a blur, but I will call it a 'race'!  I definitely started out on the slower side, unsure of the pace that I should try to set for myself, and cautiously feeling out the dips in the rocky trail as we wound our way through the canyon.  At a certain point, remembering someone saying "The first six miles are uphill and and the last six are downhill", I decided to kick it into gear.  My only chance of moving up was to push on the uphill - from experience, I can actually pass people on the ascent!  I didn't actually notice much of an uphill, more rolling hills, until I hit miles 5-6 when there was a nice, looooooonnnnnnggggg climb.  Lovely!  I stuck to my plan, pushed myself on the uphill and managed to pass a nice group of people, and then I kicked it on the downhill.  At that point, I was elated with my performance, and was ready to call it a day, but no such luck.  Many more miles remained...   Fortunately, my body and mental will/resilience (or whatever) held up over the last few miles.  I tried to enjoy the run, feeling the trail, especially when I returned to the familiar territory that I traveled the first few miles (it was a "lollipop" course), but by miles 10, 11 and 12, my mind was entirely focused on one thing: the finish line!
Which I crossed at 1:50 and some change.  I was psyched about finishing and being able to walk, and there was a nice group of people who gave me a few high-fives and/or hugs as we shared the post-race high.  We chatted over bananas, pretzels and other post-race goodies.   It was a low-key event on the whole, which made me appreciate the entire race experience that much more.  Even better - I love the t-shirt!  I can't wait to wear it!
Post-post race - a somewhat relaxing lunch at Neptune's Net, something of a seafood dive along PCH, just south of the race.  A nice cold beer and a plateful of fish and chips later, and I felt that life could not be more perfect on a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Unprepared, at best, but here goes!

I actually looked for another word on an on-line thesaurus, but things like "unrefined, unrehearsed, off the cuff, dashed off, extemporaneous" just did not seem able to replace how I am feeling about a little 20k trail run that I am undertaking tomorrow.  It is not 'unplanned' because I signed up for the Lasse Viren run four to six weeks ago.  At the time, it seemed like a good idea - and it wasn't even an impromptu, drunken decision!  I signed up when I was totally sober, maybe even on a school/work day!
But, here I am, the race is now tomorrow, and I definitely feel unprepared to run 12.4 miles of trail.
At the same time, I'm also pretty excited about the race.  It is a GORGEOUS weekend here in Southern CA, I've been slightly inspired by watching students haul butt at their cross country meet, and I know that I'll have some great views during the "race" tomorrow.  I'm hoping to get something like this:

Add to that, it will be something of a social experience since I know several people going/participating, so I can give myself points this weekend for being an extrovert! An all-around win-win situation.
Leading up to this week, I've felt a bit nervous about my knee which has a history and can be kind of tricky.  I scheduled an appointment with the knee doctor for Tuesday, hoping for the best but not totally confident that he would say, "Yes, you should keep running!".  Well, that was more or less what he said - he wants me to continue to be active (I don't know if that is so that I will continue to return to see him or if it is for my mental/physical health, but I'm not sure that it matters...).  So, based on that recent assessment, I have far more confidence in my knee, and I went out and enjoyed an short but awesome last night, a good way to top off a crazy-busy week.
So, despite my reservations about lack of training this fall, I am pretty psyched about the run tomorrow.  I have no aspirations to run fast, but I plan on enjoying it.  Hell yeah!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What happens in Vegas...

...doesn't always stay in Vegas!
I'm definitely 'lifting' an ad for STD (sexually transmitted disease, for those "not in the know") testing, billboards that I've seen around town.
It is, however, an accurate description of our trip to Vegas, Saturday to Sunday.  A quick trip, but it has had a somewhat lasting impact.  Maybe not long-term damages or major regrets, but I've felt completely "off" this week.  It doesn't help that we've been dealing with the car and I had a doctor's appointment that included a cortisone shot straight into my knee which knocked me on my ass.
But, back to Vegas, which was awesome but exhausting!  It's been five years since we've been to Vegas, so the quick trip over the weekend was, I suppose, overdue.  We arrived in time for lunch and ended up at China Poblano, a relatively new restaurant that is the creation of José Andres, a Spanish chef who trained at elBulli, that mecca of molecular gastronomy (now closed?).
As for China Poblana - we had a GREAT experience!  And it didn't seem like a very "Vegas" experience (whatever that it).  The idea is small plates, emphasizing, obviously, the cuisine of Mexico and China.  Some of the plates involved the fusion ethos, but others were pretty traditional.  We started out with some drinks that I could have sucked on all day long:

My drink has the corn husk as 'garnish' - it was awesome.  I don't know what it was, but it tasted great. Michael's margarita was served with salt foam, and it was a fantastic margarita.  The food was also damn good - we had a variety of Chinese and Mexican food:  a tamal wrapped in swiss chard rather than a corn husk or banana leaf; a yummy shrimp dish; a duck tongue taco and a beef tendon taco.  We definitely went out an a limb on the tacos, and while I can't say that I was necessarily crazy about the tacos, the flavors were interesting, to say the least.
We waddled out of the restaurant, back down the Strip, quite content with lunch.  And that was only meal number 1.
Dinner was pretty fantastic too...  Lots of courses, probably the best black cod dish I've ever had, an amazing cheese course, and a fantastic Sauternes that accompanied the cheese and chocolate at the end of the meal.  It was great to share the experience with my brother and his wife.  Also, Vegas on a Saturday night brings out an interesting array of people!
After a too-short night of sleep, Michael and I woke up early, determined to leave by 10:00 am.  With that in mind, we showed up bright and early as they were opening the doors to Bouchon, Thomas Keller's bistro in Vegas (yes, they have one in NYC and now in BH).  The server asked us about drinks and I went for a traditional cup of strong coffee - no breakfast cocktail for me.  As for the food at Bouchon - it more than lived up to my expectation of a great breakfast.  I honestly think that I had the best waffles that I've every had in my life - sourdough, light but dense...  And I ordered a side of bacon, and they brought something like an entire of PLATE of the stuff!  Someone else enjoyed his meal as well!

After stuffing ourselves again, we left Las Vegas around 10:30 and booked it back to LA.  However, we did bring a few things back from Vegas.  The extra pounds that we must have brought back!  And ta-da:

Extra goods from Bouchon!  A blueberry muffin that was pretty damn good, some bread pudding thing, and a pain au raisin.  I'd give two thumbs up, except for the pain au raisin, which needed more butter.  
Overall, no complaints about the weekend, although it is funny - as we packed up to leave, a wish to stay a bit longer fleeted through my mind.  Once we got in the car, however, I felt nothing but relief about leaving.  I also felt exhausted - not that we had a crazy, wild time, but the constant stimulation of noise, crowds, people drinking, shouting, celebrating, gambling, shopping is a lot for me to take.  Also, as we left, I realized that I had felt a bit like a lab rat - while we certainly stepped outside to walk down the Strip, it doesn't feel like you are "outside".  The crowds contribute to a constant sense of claustrophobia on my part.
So, all-in-all a success.  No gambling, so we didn't win or lose, which is fine by me, and we controlled any other impulse that the bright lights might have brought on!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sin City: Here I come!

I'm already prepping for the 24 hour visit that we have planned to Vegas - plopped down on the sofa, ice packs on my knees and a super dirty martini keeping me company!  It definitely feels like Friday, and I have zero complaints about that!
Tomorrow morning, we'll head out on the earlier side of noon and try to arrive around 1:00 - perfect for a late-ish lunch.  After we stuff ourselves (maybe at Bouchon if we are lucky), it should be time to check into our hotel and settle in for the afternoon/evening, during which we plan to eat and drink more.  We will also see some family, the "real" purpose of this quick trip, so I'll have a bit of bonding time.  Win and win!
As for Vegas, it is a bit like Whole Foods - a place that I love to hate, but for different reasons.  The whole premise of the city is fairly disgusting, and I'm not talking about the sex, gambling or the historical gangster piece.  No, I'm talking about the idea of building a city in a desert and draining resources of surrounding areas just so that the flashy lights, the canals and water shows, the pristine pools, and all the electricity pumping through can keep it up.
Talk about wasteful - that is definitely the bigger sin here.
And talk about hypocritical - I will definitely be crying into my drinks all night tomorrow!
While I think that 24 hours is just about the perfect time span to spend in Vegas, it won't give us the chance to visit my favorite part of that city:  Red Rocks Canyon.  It's actually outside the city, but almost worth a trip by itself.
Not, however, worth sitting in traffic on Sunday afternoon for hours and hours because I insisted on a hike to cleanse my spirit, tainted from the glitz and plastic fakery of Las Vegas.  No, I'll take all of that grime back home with me, along with a possible hangover!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Student presentations + Running = Not a great idea

After taking a few days off to rest the calf and the knee, I was determined that today would be the day:  run, run, run!  The weather cooperated for an afternoon run, so I tried to head out as soon as possible.  The calf felt pretty good, ditto for the knee, but there was another major issue that I hadn't foreseen:  my stomach.  Now, I have a very high tolerance for food, and I trust my stomach to digest without too many issues. Well, apparently, it (my stomach) has its limits, and I learned what some of those limits were today.
In fact, they seem to come in the form of multiple taquitos/flautas, tacos de carne asada, cake and also a sketchy churro (just one) con chocolate.  Now, this assortment of foods is not a part of my regular diet, but in recent days, I've definitely been eating more random 'stuff' than usual (yesterday, for instance, I ate empanadas, carne asada, tacos de pollo, tacos de pescado and sancocho, a stew thing).
Why would I do this to myself?
Definitely a sacrifice - the whole 'taking it for the team' concept.  In this case, the 'team' would be a class project, the ubiquitous "food as cultural expression" experience.
While I felt a bit like the calf, fattened up for slaughter, I also thought that I had waited long enough between my last bite of a churro and that I could fly through a nice, easy run.
Ha!  I did finish up the run, but not without having to stop a few times so that I wouldn't throw up while running uphill or down as multiple food stuffs sloshed around in my stomach and threatened, time and again, to do more than just "slosh".
I survived the run without puking on my shoes, so I'll count it as a successful venture on the trails!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday ride - Instant cure for a foul mood

After a week that was short (thanks to a 3-day weekend) but felt terribly long due to many after-work-obligations-for-work, the weekend finally arrived, and I couldn't have been happier.  I/we had major plans:  a longish bike ride Saturday morning and a longish run Sunday morning or afternoon.  It ended up that we switched the ride and run which worked out quite well.  I was, however, pretty pissed yesterday morning - we decided to do a ride around Irvine Lake in the OC (yes, we drive to ride and yes, I know that it sounds idiotic, but I do like to ride places that have nice wide roads, huge shoulders and rolling hills, and our little neighborhood does not offer these in abundance), but on the way down, about 30 minutes into the drive, I said "Shit, we have to turn around.  I forgot the helmets."  And I had forgotten the helmets.  This is what happens when you have gear scattered throughout the house.
So, we scratched that plan, returned home and opted for a run along the Arroyo.  I planned to run back home from our starting point, making it a 10-mile run or so.  As soon as we started out, I knew that it wasn't going to happen - my calf was incredibly tight.  Call me paranoid, but the last thing that I wanted was to end up stranded 5 miles from home (and no cellphone to call for a ride).  So, I tried to content myself with a 3.5-4 mile run, but it felt pretty lame to me.  What was even lamer was that I did not focus on the fact that it was a lovely Saturday and I had the good fortune to be out and about.  Rather, I stewed in my negative mindframe for the entire run, and then when I got home, I obsessed about tight calves and bad knees, looking up every possible website on both calf issues and osteoarthritis (the back of my knee is bothering me again and I like to self-diagnose).
I decided to focus on the possible ride this morning and found a great route - a loop that would take us to some nice rolling hills and not much traffic.  We set out, AGAIN, for the southland, and arrived at more or less our destination, which was shrouded in a very thick fog.  I'm happy to call myself a light-weight when it comes to the whole bicycling culture, and this is just one example of that.  Because it was a new and unknown route, I didn't feel super safe about biking in the fog.  I cursed and probably would have stomped my foot, if I could have.
Michael, however, suggested that we head to the coast since we at least know plenty of routes in Newport and environs.  We arrived in Newport and started to gear up.  I continued to curse because it was rather chilly, but he told me "You'll warm up" - that was a nice way of telling me to shut the f-up, which I needed at that point.  From Newport, we set out and more or less followed the route described here, which I found on the way to Newport.
Can I just say that the ride was AWESOME!  We were along a bike path for part of it, which was beautiful, and then we climbed a bit, only to be rewarded with a lovely downhill.  Nice shoulders and good roads for most of the ride.
Before heading back home, we stopped at A's Market, and treated ourselves to a scone and coffee.  The scone was just what we/I needed - fat and sugar?  Yes, please.  I did start to crash as we got home, as my need for protein kicked in.
Fortunately, all of this erased the crappy way that I was feeling about the entire weekend.  It's obvious that I need to adjust my attitude, but October may not be the best month to try to be all 'zen'.  Maybe I'll tackle all of this in June when I'm on summer break?
Back to my Sunday afternoon - I do have to dedicate a few hours to grading and planning, but knowing that I had a great ride makes that so much easier.  Here's to a good Sunday ride and maybe a great week!

Monday, October 10, 2011

An almost-perfect fall weekend!

"Almost-perfect" is kind of a lame way to describe a great weekend, but considering that I did spend a few hours (not nearly enough) sitting on my butt, grading papers, it would be hard to say that it truly was a chocolate-syrup-topped-with-a-cherry type of a weekend.  I'm now suddenly talking about sundaes, which have nothing to do with fall weekends.  Not even metaphorically!
Back to the perfect part of the weekend - it actually felt like a fall weekend here in Southern CA!  Not quite as much last year when we went to Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park and spent a night in one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.  I am a sucker for the alpine lake experience, no doubt.  We briefly flirted with the idea of a return trip, but homework for Michael called and grading papers definitely loomed over my head.
So, we stayed home and enjoyed a great 3-day weekend!  As I said, there was something autumnal in the air, which is definitely not always the case here in Southern CA during the month of October.  Often, the Santa Ana winds kick up and the temperature rises.  However, a crazy winter storm mid-week put me in a fall-ish mood, and the weather - cool at night and warm but not hot during the day - did put my mind to a change of seasons.  The Halloween decorations that have begun to pop up around our neighborhood and others also help contribute to that feeling of "fall is here!".
As for our weekend, we ate well, and we both worked a bit, but the best part of the weekend was spending time outside.  Since we nixed a camping trip, I entertained the idea of a great hike, and that WOULD have been pretty awesome.  However, I also considered our busy schedules these days and decided that a lazy weekend might be appreciated, especially by Michael, who has lots of late nights these days.  Still, we did get out and about, and we took advantage of the good weather!
Michael has started to run a bit with me, which is such a new and different experience, in a great way.  He doesn't identify himself as a "runner" (neither do I, for that matter...), but I think that he'll soon trounce me.  We've been running the occasional 5K around the Rose Bowl, but on Saturday, we ended up on the Arroyo Seco trail in Pasadena.  It's funny - I tend to run all of the horse trails that are accessible from our house - just a block or two away - but I almost never venture over to the Arroyo Seco.  After our Saturday experience, however, that MUST change!  It was a great experience, and Michael far preferred it to running around the Rose Bowl which does, I admit, get rather boring.  We did a 3.5 mile run or so, and then he drove home, leaving me to hoof it back.  The run home was pretty uneventful, although much of it was uphill - we're talking a few miles of lots of uphill pushes!  I decided that if it didn't kill me, it would make me stronger.  As I came to the end of my more-or-less 9 mile run, I thought "I can't believe that I ran 10 miles after a longish swim and bike ride!  I'm AWESOME!".  I almost never think of myself as "awesome", so that was a nice thought, brief as it was.
After Saturday's excursion, we ended up taking the bikes out on Sunday.  I am embarrassed to say that it's the first time I've been in the saddle since the end of August.  Crazy!  Especially considering that the Tour de Colorado should have inspired us.  It was a short but really great ride - my legs felt strong and fresh, even after my Saturday run, and there was NO traffic on the road, so I felt pretty safe.  Michael and I had fun chasing each other - sometimes he would lead, other times I would lead.  While we aren't biking enough outside, I could feel the results on the hills of the crazy-kick-ass spin classes that we've - not that I 'dominated' the climb, but I did enjoy the hills and felt strong enough to push myself, rather than just hold on until the end.
So, a weekend of good weather, good eats, and lots of time outside - I'll consider that a success!
Now I just can't wait for the next one!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The adult brain: Still learning

After spending a few years of my adult life in the education field (such a lame expression, by the way), there are certain buzz words in the teaching world that we banter around, for better or for worse.  A few of these phrases that came to mind this weekend were "teachable moment" and "life-long learning".
I'll start with the latter, considering that the years continue to move along and our brains, whether we like it or not, slow down a bit, not quite firing on all cylinders.  I don't put myself into the geriatric group, but I'm aware of the need to continue to learn, grow and stretch my brain and also my sense of self.  While life-long learning may include common concepts such as attending night or weekend classes, brushing up on language skills (oui, oui! which I'm not doing), reading a challenging book (that's also on my to-do list, but not currently happening),  I also like to include other aspects of life experience that don't fit into an easy adult-education-class box.  These vary from learning how to ride a bike with clipless pedals (shew - that was a long process) to adopting dogs and changing my life, to a certain degree, to accommodate them.  On occasion, I like to do a quick inventory to check on my capacity to learn or not.
Last week, I did experience a pretty major moment of insight.  After spending two different nights tossing and turning because of random work emails, I realized that when I'm angry, I tend to play super nice rather than show my claws and fangs.  Instead of responding with anger, annoyance or frustration, I tend to default to the "just be nice" mode, which, I learned in a short span of time, is NOT really effective.  Not that I'm going to become a major jerk and slam people with a scathing email, but I've now decided that I will wait until the next morning to reply to any tricky emails.  See, the teachable moment at work!
Over the weekend, the learning moments were more reminders or confirmations rather than experiences of major self-enlightenment.  We actually went out with different people on both Friday and Saturday night, perhaps a new record in my recent social life.  I can revert to my more introverted tendencies when school resumes, but this reminded me that I like people (shocker, I know!) and that it often opens up my eyes and broadens my experience to be social.  Friday night involved good Mexican food and strong drink along with said company, and on Saturday night we actually went to a music fest.  Not that I've *never* been to a music festival, but I confess that it has been a few years.  This experience was good and fun, and hit that learn-about-yourself note, or confirm-what-you-know-about-yourself note.  I felt very uncool and middle-aged.  WOW.  The uncool part I knew and I can embrace it, but the feeling middle-aged is new and not exactly fun.  However, I'm going to try to embrace that part too, since it is a sign of what is to come!  Aging, more grey hairs, creaking joints.  Okay, that's the negative - I know that there are many positives too!  Being wise, for example.
Finally, despite all of the evidence that supports the idea of learning from experience, it never ceases to surprise me that I just don't learn some things.  Or maybe it's selective memory?  At any rate, year after year, it never fails.  I survive September more or less swimmingly, and then October hits me like a ton of bricks.
So, yeah, that is where I am.  Learning, sometimes.  Not so much the other times.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Over already: the Dog Days of September

September seemed to pass in the clichéd 'blink of an eye', and it is now October.  While September is marked by highs and lows, as the school year begins, bringing with it the usual ambivalence - high hopes and excitement about the new year mixed in with some dread and also nostalgia for summer days.  Forever the optimist (okay, not really), I love the beginning of most months, the promise that they hold, but October is particularly promising, offering up the possibility that the weather might change and I'll have to pull on a sweater or fleece on occasion.  Probably the only time of the year that I find myself cringing at the beginning of the month is springtime, strangely enough.
The last week of September presented a bit of work stress which resulted in some very restless nights of sleep, or lack thereof.  I did, however, learn a valuable lesson that most people already know:  when I receive an email after 5:00 pm, I should not reply until the next day.  Just wait.  I also realized that I am so happy that I don't have a truly stressful job or life.  I think that it would kill me, or I would be so sleep-deprived that people would just take me for a zombie.
September was also a bit remarkable in that we settled into very new schedule at our house.  Michael is taking classes at night, so I find that the afternoons, after work, are packed as we try to walk the dogs, cook dinner, maybe go for a run or take a spinning class.  When he leaves for his classes, I then crash out on the sofa and try to plan and/or grade.  After a summer in which we spent so much time together, it is strange to be home alone for hours on end.  The dogs and I have bonded, but I think that they still prefer their male 'food-giver' to me.  And, despite my attempts to stay on top of my work load, I find it more and more challenging to do so.  It *IS* October now and the piles of quizzes and essays have gathered, and I am inching closer and closer to that edge of "I-will-never-be-caught-up".  Once I hit that point, I feel behind all year long.
Activity-wise, I'm still running but not swimming.  Also, I've avoided any true cycling since the Santa Barbara tri.  Lame, I know, but at first it was really hot and I wouldn't dream of biking in 90 degree weather, and now the days are growing shorter and shorter, especially as we try to accomplish so many things between 4:00 - 6:30 pm or so.  However, Michael and I have continued our spin class addiction and maybe even upped the ante a bit.  We have started to attend the occasional 90-minute Sunday class, which sounds like hell but is a great workout.  Because it is longer, we don't push quite as hard, so I don't even want to puke during the class.  Win and win.  I do, however, have a new teacher/trainer crush.  We had a random substitute for a class on Wednesday, and this guy, Ron, kicked our butts, making us do intervals for 45 minutes.  He was INTENSE - from his general demeanor (kind of like a drill sergeant with crazy tattoos), to his style (not using the mike but just barking out commands) and even the music he played (nothing nice and "poppy").  It was both awesome and awful, but I'm now obsessed with attending more of his classes.
Finally, we've eaten a good amount of Mexican food throughout the month, and last night was no exception.  We had a great night out on the town at one of our favorite Mexican places, Amigos, in Pasadena.  Good food, a strong margarita, great conversation.  What more could we ask for?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Do the right thang!

So, every other year or so, I sign up for a CPR/First Aid class and then watch three hours of my life slip away, three hours that I'll never get back, sitting in a room with other people, playing around with modified dummies and masks.  Sounds like kinky fun, I know!  The worst part of the training are the baby manikins - totally weird:
Creepy, right?  Source.

My major take-away from the entire experience is to call 911 on a land line!  Attending the class also informs me of how much I just DON'T know about CPR and first aid.  In other words, it reinforces my sense that I would be fairly inept.
So, why, then, do I put myself through these three hours of scintillating information?  
On more than one occasion, I wish that I had extensive training or that I knew outdoor/wilderness first aid.  In the meantime, however, despite my poo-pooing whatever I may or may not learn during the training, I actually do have some faith that I might know how to react in case of an emergency, even if it is theoretical knowledge at this point.  Therefore, I might be able to respond appropriately.  At the very least, I might stay calm and not freak out.  At the very least, I'll know how to call 911!
And, the other thought is that this training, in one way or another, is some sort of social responsibility.  Since I have the opportunity to take the class, with no charge to my person, I really owe it to myself, people I know, and even people that I don't know, to have this very general knowledge.  
Whether I have to use it or not is another question altogether!  Our instructor even said that he hadn't ever performed CPR on a person, and then he followed up that statement with "Thank goodness!".  
To be honest, I hope that I won't have to respond to a situation, but I also hope that, if the situation should arise, that I'll know HOW to deal with it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My jet-setting lifestyle: 25 hours in Boston

So, I've now recovered from it, but over the weekend I took the red-eye to Boston from LAX, arrived Saturday morning at 6:00 am, and then hopped BACK on the plane Sunday at 7:00 am and returned to LAX around 10:00 am.  In between those hours of travel, I attended a 40th birthday party - major celebration!!
An added bonus to the trip was that Michael and I spent Friday afternoon and early evening around Venice Beach, grabbing sushi before he dropped me off at LAX.  It was bizarre, though, because I went from this:

To something more like this:

Both places definitely have their charm!  It was especially nice to step out of the airport in Boston and reach for my fleece.  The air had a chilly bite to it, and it totally felt like fall, even though the leaves had yet to change.   It was nice to have that sense of being in the Northeast and reminded me of the years that I spent in Philly.  
I flew on Virgin America, my first experience with that "hip" airline, and I would definitely pay more to fly the friendly skies with Virgin America again.  The seats were small, but pretty much everything else about the flight was pretty damn awesome.
As for the 24 hours in Boston - it seemed crazy when I bought the ticket, but this is a friend from college whom I've known for going on 20 years (Yikes!  That sounds like a lot of years!).  I did not see much of Boston, except for the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, but I took a nice long walk through a pretty cool cemetery.  
As for the party on Saturday night, it was low-key in all the best ways - people from different parts of her life, eating pizza at a great place called Bella Luna and talking about anything and everything - Lisa, kids, dogs, work, school, travel, racism, politics, aging...  
After talking until late into the evening, I crashed and then woke up a very few hours later, brushed my teeth and headed back to the airport.  Just a few hours later, I stepped out into the sunny, breezy Los Angeles air.  It was a nice welcome back - and it sort of seemed that I'd never even left!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Trying the new and unknown

I've decided that even though summer has ended, that doesn't (or shouldn't) mean that my spirit of adventure is quashed!  So, while during the week, I've tried to transition to a more professional look these days, the weekends are still reserved for fun.
Case in point:

The first picture, obviously, is Day 1 - back to the grind!  Don't I look like I'm miserable?  I actually was pitting out my shirt because it was an unbearably hot day, but I did have fun being back in the class!
The second picture was taken on Saturday when I participated in my first ever "Mud Run"!  Somehow, hanging out with a random group of really funny people and running (and crawling) through mud pits seemed like the perfect antidote to the whole "I'm-an-adult-thing".  I will admit that I was nervous before the race - there seemed to be a LOT of unknowns.  I was meeting up with people whom I didn't really know, so would it/I be awkward?  Would I suddenly try to be competitive and be a jerk?  Would I twist an ankle or tweak my knee as I scaled an 'obstacle' or would I just get stuck in the mud?
Michael, my trusty photographer, accompanied me, which went above and beyond the usual call of duty, but he's a winner like that.  When we arrived at Irvine Lake, thunder and lightening greeted us - SERIOUSLY!?  I could not believe it!  Rain in September in Southern CA?!  I figured that I'd be getting wet and muddy at any rate, so what did it matter, as long as the lightening let up.
Once our team ("We Got the Runs" - nice name!) started, the race was a blast!  There is something joyful and childlike about running around, jumping over walls and crawling in mud.  By the end, however, I was more than ready to exit the mud and shower off!

On our way back to LA, we stopped at Jerry's Wood-Fired Dogs, a hotdog place in Orange County.  That was a serendipitous discovery - as we were driving around strip mall hell, we luckily spotted a sign and it piqued our interest.  A Chicago-style hotdog, a sausage and an order of fries later (Michael and I split everything), I was in a comatose state.
It must have been because of that comatose state that I fell completely asleep during the drive home and Michael ended up missing an exit and driving almost to LAX!  I woke up to signs pointing to Redondo Beach rather than Pasadena.
Again, that was also a new and different way to get back to Pasadena (cough, cough)!
Maybe I won't always embrace the new and unknown, but there is something exhilarating about meeting a challenge head-on.  Whether it is a new start to the year, meeting new people, or pushing myself physically, getting out of my comfort zone keeps me sharp and makes life more interesting.  And while there are plenty of times when I'll opt for the familiar, I do know that I *need* to step out and greet the "known unknowsn" (thank you, Donald Rumsfeld) with open arms.
I will, however, happily return to the comfort of a shower (or two)!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Summer's end (Redux)

My first "Ode to the end of summer", my last post, was pretty much an ode to my slovenly side, something that really doesn't deserve too much recognition.  Also, I have tried to fully embrace this last day of summer, despite knowing that summer is expiring, sighing its final, dying breath.

So, I give you, in brief, our Summer 2011 wrap-up:

June started out with high hopes of adventure, which we put on hold while this guy dealt with a bladder stone operation:

He recovered before our whirlwind trip to the East Coast.  In two weeks, I bounced between DC, Delaware (of all places, where I learned how to manage people, at least in theory), NYC, Rhode Island and Boston!  We spent lots and lots of time with friends and family, and I suffered the loss/theft of my laptop.

Back in SoCal, we celebrated our 5th year wedding anniversary with an epic hike to "The Bridge To Nowhere".  Soon, however, we were on the road again and in Colorado where we spent time in Allens Park, Boulder and Breckenridge, visiting with more friends and family.  We also played a lot!

We collapsed upon our return to CA, before steeling ourselves for more family and friends - visiting US this time around!  And I capped off the summer with my last feat of physical endurance for a while - the Santa Barbara Triathlon.

In addition to the rather intense activity of coming and going and going and coming, I read a few good books (like this and this series).  It was, obviously, not the most intellectually engaged summer that I've had, but I feel okay about that.
I also spent way more time in the saddle than I ever had before, so I'll chalk that up to success.  My bike and I are almost friends now, although I still don't understand him/her/it!  Along the same vein, I attended many morning spinning classes, most with Rod, who is a total spinning guru.  This morning, I attended my final class given by Rod, at least for a few months, and I wanted to die.  Or to kill him.  Seriously.  How is it possible that I've worked hard all summer and I'm still a lame-ass in the saddle?!  Okay, moving on...
Michael and I also discovered a few new loves.  First of all, there is Umami Burger.  It is, quite simply, amazing.  I think that I could eat there every single week.  That did not happen, and we actually haven't been there since (GASP) July.  Must go back.
While in Boulder, we also fell in love with a few local products.  First of all, there is this granola that is pretty kick-ass:
We particularly like the sweet cranberry pecan flavor.  

Thanks to our bus 'booze cruise', we discovered Avery Beer, and I am now obsessed and buy it whenever I see it in California.  "The Reverend" is one of my favorites, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I feel like a naughty school girl when I drink it!

Finally, there were a few other highlights that added to our summer fun.  I'm a fan of summer sports events, but usually the non-traditionally American sort.  This summer was a bit of downer, considering that a few of my favorites lost (Rafa, the US Women's soccer team), but I *did* enjoy following the Tour, and Cadel Evans is my new boyfriend.  
On the food front, we indulged far too much in pizza and other less-than-healthy choices, but we did add to our own repertoire when we purchased a Weber charcoal grill.  It has revolutionized our cooking/grilling experience, and most of our cooking this summer seemed to involve throwing fish, chicken or an elk/bison burger on the grill.  Great fun, especially because we can look at the sky turn crazy colors as we wait for the food to cook.  Lots of oohs and aahs!

This wasn't a summer in which we explored totally new and exciting places, but familiar stomping grounds were good to visit.  Also, spending time with family and friends and bonding over beer or a Colorado 14-er (like Mt. Lincoln) enriches our lives and serves to remind me of the importance of those relationships.  Finally, Michael and I enjoyed having time together.  This is certainly a gift that we've tried to take advantage of the past few summers, knowing that his schedule may not always be so open.  
So, tonight, while there will be some panic on my part as I freak out about documents and classes and students, we will definitely celebrate summer's last evening!