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!