Category Archives: Travel

The sound of silence

If I hadn’t been buck naked, I would’ve run screaming when I saw it.

After peeling off my sweaty shorts and sports bra and flinging them into the corner, I’d lifted the bath mat to straighten it before stepping in to the shower. I’d seen something skitter in the mat’s shadow. A beetle, perhaps, upset that I’d shifted the roof of its clammy encampment.

I yanked up the mat and looked closer. It was a goddamn SCORPION.

Horrified. Or fascinated. I wasn’t sure which I was. My adrenaline-fueled bare legs hopped around the small bathroom as I looked for a cup or something with which to trap the thing (which, blessedly, was only about an inch-and-a-half long) on the tile.

I mean, I don’t typically see scorpions in my bathroom in midtown Atlanta.

Someone else needed to see this. It was kind of cool, and made me feel like I was truly in the Wild Wild West.

Unfortunately, as I scrambled for a makeshift trap, the tiny arthropod took refuge in the gap between the wall and the vanity, thereby haunting everyone who used that particular commode for the rest of our week in Texas.

Yep, Texas. Seven days, nine people, one log-framed cabin smack in the center of Texas. That is how I spent my Christmas vacation.

I know it seems random. I am from Washington. My husband is from Illinois. We live in Georgia. But my in-laws have a house in the Texas Hill Country now, so that’s where we spent our holidays this year.

It was an unbelievably relaxing week. We sprawled on sofas and paged through novels. We played lazy rounds of Gin Rummy. We snacked endlessly on popcorn and crackers and clementines. We sipped wine and watched through large paned windows as the wind turned the wiry desert oak trees into spastic ballerinas, swaying unpredictably and startling the squirrels that scampered on their branches.

Occasionally, someone would peer over the top of his or her magazine and say something that, in the course of our normal urban/suburban lives, would seem preposterous. Such as: “Anyone want to go out to the main road and look at that dead armadillo?”

(For the record, a dead armadillo looks exactly how you’d expect it to look.)

All week, I did exactly zero running. Zilch. Three weeks into this Pfitzinger plan and I’ve already blown it. Oh well. I guess this is why I don’t do training plans. I certainly hope you weren’t hoping for inspiration here. (Although maybe I’ll get back on track.) Running blogger fail.

Honestly, I would’ve been happy to spend an hour or two of my (very unscheduled) vacation days running, but there was nowhere to run. Literally. This was straight-up desert country. No regular streets. No gym within an hour’s drive. No treadmills. No running…not unless I wanted to do strides up and down the short, dusty, cactus-lined driveway. Or brave the main ranch road, which specialized in large pickups driving 80 MPH and featured no shoulder whatsoever, and, well…I didn’t want to end up like that armadillo.

It wasn’t a fitness fail, though. My sister-in-law brought her Insanity DVD set. Much to the amusement of the older generations who sipped coffee and watched from those big-paned windows, we spent an hour each morning under the dancing oak trees putting on our own show, directed (from a laptop perched on a rock) by Shaun T. (And that Insanity stuff is no joke. My calves and obliques are still cursing me.)

Until last week, I’d never been to Texas. Which is sort of strange. I’d traveled to (or lived in) just about every other state/region in this country. Texas was a glaring omission in my personal domestic travelogue.

Every place has unique sights and sounds and smells and memories, which I enjoy mentally cataloging and then recalling reflexively. Like:

You say ARIZONA and I smell chalk and sweat on dry granite, picking my way up a rock face with my hair in a matted bun.

You say OHIO and I see thunderheads rolling in from the western shores of Lake Erie, bearing (depending on the season) a deluge of mayflies or a refreshing summer storm or an unwelcome dose of lake-effect snow.

You say LOUISIANA and I feel a sweet mildewy basement-dampness seep into my flesh, mixing with the liquor from a Pat O’s hurricane which is still coursing through my bloodstream.

You say MAINE and I taste saltwater spray coming off the side of the speedboat that I am riding across Casco Bay in the dark, trying to make my way from a bar in Portland to a friend’s house on the islands in the middle of the night. (Have I ever told you guys that story? That’s a good story for another post.)

And so forth.

Well, now I have a TEXAS to add to that collection, and that makes me happy.

You say TEXAS and I hear…nothing. Near total silence. Wide, brilliantly blue skies that gape at the edges of the horizon and seem to somehow enhance the lack of sound. Almost imperceptibly, trees rustle and the pages of a paperback novel turn. The backs of my hands crackle, dry from the desert air. Someone discreetly crunches a handful of popcorn. From time to time, you can barely hear a beefy pickup barreling down the narrow ranch road, crushing the occasional unlucky armadillo.

It was so the opposite of what I’ve become used to here in Atlanta, with our front yard full of high-rises and foot traffic and an eight-lane interstate.

It was wonderful.

And in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t run screaming when I saw that tiny scorpion. That shit would’ve echoed for miles.

The dumbest injury in the history of injuries

I have not run since last Wednesday and for the stupidest reason ever. Even stupider than the time I strained my Achilles on the dance floor.

But before I give you the gory details, let me recap the events that lead to my condition. Boston –> Chicago Road Trip 2012.

Day 1: It’s 2:05 PM and I’m all packed for my 4 PM flight to Boston. Killing time before I need to leave, I hop online to check my flight status. It turns out that I’m an idiot and my flight actually leaves at 3PM…in 55 minutes.

After thwarting the speed limit and parking in the most expensive (read: closest to terminal) airport lot, I get to security with just enough cushion. Panting and sweaty, I call Meg to inform her that I will “probably” make my flight. We agree that the situation is pretty funny and, unfortunately, not terribly surprising.

I inquire about the status of her packing. She tells me that we’ll need to paint her apartment that night. In the dark, because all of the lamps are packed. We agree that this, too, is about par for the course. We are a mess.

Day 2: Departure from Boston!

And we drove all the way to Chicago holding a mattress on the roof! Just kidding, we were just driving it half a block to the dumpster. Working smarter, right there.

It’s late afternoon by the time we leave, so we don’t get very far. We make it just across the state line to New York, landing at the small-town home of Meg’s in-laws, who shower us with food and booze. Good people.

Day 3: …doesn’t start until almost noon. Whoops.

I go for a five-mile run and it’s postcard pretty:

And I see an herding dog actually herding sheep. Or maybe they’re goats. Bleating white creatures. I don’t know, I’m a city girl.

We lounge at the in-laws’ pool for most of the day (amazing) and finally get back on the road late in the afternoon. We’re making great time…until our brush with the law.

Officer: “Is it just you two and the dog?”

Oh no, there are three more people and a sheep/goat in the trunk, officer…

Officer: “Do you realize I clocked you going 80 miles an hour?”

Sir, have you seen our vehicle? A ten-year-old Hyundai Elantra? With the check engine light on? Are we even capable of going that fast?

Sigh.

We proceed at a considerably slower speed to the fine city of Buffalo – well, Buffalo Adjacent. Tired and grimy from our day of pool lounging, we bypass the Chippewa street bars and Niagara casinos in favor of a pet-friendly Econolodge on the edge of town.

We ask about nearby dining options, and the clerk highly recommends “The Warehouse,” which is conveniently located at the back of the motel parking lot.

Really? A place called The Warehouse adjacent to an Econolodge with a bunch of semi trucks parked outside…and you’re telling me it isn’t a strip club?

Nope, as it turns out, just a sports bar. And the food is not bad.

When in Buffalo…

And I have some beer that I probably don’t need, but let’s face it: my diet has consisted mostly of Chex Mix and Sour Patch Kids and Diet Coke for the last three days. Not exactly a banner week for nutrition.

With full bellies, we wander back to our room. We’re on the ground floor at the back of the motel, facing a storage facility that looks like a good place to cook up some meth.

At least we have Stewie the redheaded terrier to protect us.

(As long as you don’t interrupt his 23 hours a day of sleeping, that is. Most adorably lazy dog I have ever met.)

Day 4: Otherwise known as the day we shall conquer Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.

But ten minutes back on I-90 and that damn engine light…starts flashing. And the transmission gets all jerky if you try to speed up or slow down.

I’m riding shotgun, so I fish around in the glove compartment until I find the owner’s manual, which offers no guidance other than to “consult an authorized Hyundai dealer.”

Meg and I exchange a look. We are more likely to consult a pay-per-minute psychic than we are to consult an authorized Hyundai dealer. I pull out my phone and turn to Google Mechanic.

Within twenty minutes, I’ve confidently diagnosed our problem (catalytic convertor – duh), identified the risks of ignoring it, and researched the replacement cost of the part.

“Listen to this!” I exclaim, and begin to quote from the totally legitimate and 100% factual message board I’m reading: “Sometimes, the problem can be resolved by running the engine for a long period of time under a heavy load, causing the buildup to effectively burn itself off.”

Long time, heavy load? We’ve been leadfooting for three days now and the car is packed to the gills with shit. We’re golden.

We pass through Cleveland, my onetime home, and I wave hello to Jacobs Field-slash-whatever the hell they’re calling it now. Go Tribe!

And onward we press to our destination: Chesterton, Indiana…home of the world famous Indiana Dunes.

Finally, we get to break out the camping gear!

Meg sets up camp while I take a quick trip back to town for firewood, a flashlight, hot dogs, and a box of wine. (The latter being “strictly prohibited” by the campground, but…WTF, Indiana? Who camps sober?)

And now the car is working fine. The check engine light is still on, but it’s no longer flashing, and the weird jerky-transmission thing is gone. We fixed it! By being nonchalant and irresponsible, we fixed it! Hooray for us.

So we celebrate by sitting around the fire talking for several hours, which is quite remarkable considering that we had already been talking nonstop for the entire week. (Seriously: we didn’t turn on the car radio once during this trip. We just talked. This is why Meg will always be one of my best friends.)

Anyway. If you’re still with me here, I’m finally getting to the part of this story where I get the dumbest injury in the history of injuries.

I’m giving you a scroll down warning here, because these pictures are disgusting.

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Those are mosquito bites. On our night of camping, I had (responsibly, so I thought) donned jeans and a sweatshirt so I wouldn’t get eaten alive. But I was wearing flip-flops and, uh, wasn’t wearing gloves…so the little shits just attacked my hands and feet instead.

My right foot happens to be the worst, although both feet and hands are pretty chewed up. Bites cover the tops of my feet and all of my toes and wrap around the inside of my arch. In places, you can’t even pick out individual bites – it’s just one continuous welt.

My right foot is so swollen it won’t fit in any of my shoes. Walking (even just around the house) rubs the bites, especially the ones on the underside of my arches, and makes them itch desperately and puff up like shitty little marshmallows over a campfire. Heat and sweat makes the whole situation ten times worse. Obviously, running is out of the question.

And holy hell, it itches. The only thing that stops the itching is a regimen of ice baths, calamine lotion, and oral antihistamine. So I spent most of the weekend on the couch, doing just that.

Okay, I’ll stop with the pictures. Sorry.

At one point when I was bored on the couch and applying calamine for the six hundredth time, I tried to count the number of bites on my right foot. There are at least 100.

I really don’t even know what to say about this. I’ve always been allergic/reactionary when it comes to bug bites, and am often the person in a group who gets disproportionately bitten, but…this is just insane. (Meg had some bites too, but just a handful: a normal amount you’d expect to endure on a one-night camping trip.)

Also: it’s not like I’ve never been camping before. I’m a pretty outdoorsy person. I’ve camped all over the country. I’ve never experienced anything like this. (I actually have a routine physical scheduled this week and will definitely ask my doctor about it…and possibly get tested for West Nile Virus.)

Anyway…that’s my excuse for last week’s paltry mileage. I realize it sounds ridiculous to say I can’t run because of my mosquito bites. But…I can’t run because of my mosquito bites.

Dumbest injury ever.

And, unlike Meg’s plucky little Hyundai, I don’t think it’s going to be fixed by running for a long time under a heavy load.

Gross and creepy

I came downstairs this morning – braless and barefoot and beelining toward the coffee cabinet – and promptly stepped in a watery puddle of cat puke, conveniently deposited right at the base of the stairs.

Gross.

Then, coffee and smoothie in hand, I sat down at the breakfast bar to finish the post I started yesterday about Saturday’s 5K. I looked up and saw this a few inches from my nose.

Creepy.

When I try to explain why spiders are so much worse than other bugs: THIS IS WHY. Other bugs hide in corners and skitter away when approached. Other bugs buzz obnoxiously and crash repeatedly into the window and land on your cheeseburger. Other bugs bite you and make you itch. But at least they don’t stalk you from the ceiling above your favorite chair and then silently lower themselves on to your face like this crafty asshole.

Where was I? So much for finishing that other post about the 5K. I’ll summarize instead: mediocre.  Right off the bat, there was an enormous hill. We are talking 100+ feet of elevation gain in a quarter mile. It’s the sort of hill that I’ll run extra miles to avoid during a training run. I thought they were joking when I saw the course map.

My first mile was 7:17. I don’t remember the last time I had a mile split that slow in a 5K.

The rest of the course was rolling and downhill, which you would think would make it fast, but apparently I suck at running the downgrades too. Going in to mile two, I was the fourth female and gaining on third, but every time we’d go down a hill she’d open the gap back up. Somewhere around the second mile marker, we were both passed by another girl, who was moving pretty quick. Fifth place.

Then, on the final (downhill) stretch, this other girl came up and blew by me. Oh hell no, I thought, and chased after her. She beat me by a second. Sixth place in 21:33.

I was mad, but comforted myself by deciding that she looked pretty young and maybe was a couple of years out of college running or something like that. Then I checked the results: she was 38. FML.

Given the hilly course, my time is okay, but I’m disappointed in how I raced this one. Third place would’ve been better than sixth.

Anyway. I didn’t have a ton of time to dwell on it because I had a (make-up for a rained out) boot camp session to attend. (Not ideal, but I’d already paid for the session so off I went.)

It’s been a while since I tracked weekly workouts on here, but now that I’ve got a goal race, I’m bringing ’em back:

Later this afternoon, I’m headed up to Boston to meet up with Meg (of Candy Cat Story fame). She’s moving to Chicago and I’m joining her for a little moving road trip! We have camping gear and no real plan; I have a flight out of Midway on Friday night. I can’t wait.

We’ll try to stay out of any feline-themed strip clubs we might encounter along the way. Because that, too, would be gross and creepy. But I can’t make any promises.

I’ll check in from the road when I can. Have a great week!

P.S. Happy Birthday to another college girlfriend, who happens to write a beautiful and hilarious blog herself. Miss you! (And I hope you get home okay!)

Pink and sparkly

Today, my husband and I drove two hours to eat at an Arby’s.

It wasn’t entirely intentional.  I mean, I love curly fries, but I don’t make a destination out of them. We were trying to explore our new Georgia geography and ended up in an area where nothing is open on Sunday.

This is something about the South that I am, to phrase it tactfully, still getting used to.

Anyway. We found this big lake on a map. We looked it up online, reading that it was one of the “most popular recreational lakes in the country.” We headed adventourously out from our Midtown Atlanta home, thinking we’d be game for some boating and floating and whatever else the local scene had to offer.

You would think that one of so-called  “most popular recreational lakes in the country” would have some…restaurants? Ice cream shops? Something? Besides fast food?

You would be wrong. At least on a Sunday. And as much as I am a fast food apologist, this situation was not approved by me. For whatever that matters.

We stopped at a state park beach and tiptoed across the red clay beach to dip our toes in the warm water. We watched pontoon boats cruise by, circled periodically by speedboats pulling gleeful skiers and hearty tubers on inflatable rafts.

After a longish drive home, we were ready to spend the rest of our day relaxing on the roof deck. We’ve had several events at the house lately so I had absolutely every kind of wine ready to go.

So even on a Sunday night: a bubbly rose. Which should be rather light and tasty. And pink…and sparkly. Like a…uh, shit. I hate pink shit and I hate sparkly shit.

But this wine isn’t half bad.

Not a bad pick at all, actually,

Good night!

Attack of the waspjacket bumblehornets

When I was younger, I spent a summer in Thailand. It was a classic slacker-bum trip: nonexistent itinerary, overstuffed backpacks, sketchy hostels, and a dog-eared (and inexplicably sticky) Lonely Planet book.

One of our impromptu stops was Chiang Mai, the northern provincial capital and jump-off point for the region’s requisite tourist trek: Elephant Camping.

The Chiang Mai hostels were happy to arrange a guided tour of the surrounding countryside, populated by Karen tribes, who most people identify as those long-necked women who wear stacks of gold rings around their necks. It was supposed to be culturally immersive, and to some extent it was, but really the draw was that instead of having to walk, your group would cruise through the jungle paths atop a pack of large, surly elephants.

It was a blast.

One morning, we were all packed up and ready to leave our camp when I realized I needed to take a last-minute bathroom break. Because straddling a lumbering five-ton elephant for several hours with a full bladder sounded like a really uncomfortable idea.

Of course, there were no bathrooms. There was jungle. So, per the usual, I tromped up the hill flanking our campsite, fighting through the maze of trees and ferns and vines until I found a nice little clearing, shielded by a fat palm tree.

Although I’d done my share of pop-and-squats on domestic camping trips, being in the dense jungle was kind of scary so I didn’t exactly stop to examine the area in detail. Hastily, I assumed the position.

That is probably why I overlooked the fact that I was emptying my bladder directly over a hive of some sort.

First, I felt an unpleasant pinch on my tricep. But at this point, I was used to being bitten by all manner of bugs…and I was mid-stream, so I brushed it off. Then I felt one on my shoulder, and on my ankle, and then (horrifyingly) on my ass cheek.

I looked back over my shoulder and saw a group of about a dozen massive bee-like creatures hovering over their urine-splashed hive in an understandably agitated manner. About a million more were crawling out of the hive’s pockets.

OH HOLY SHIT.

I took off through the jungle, running back down the hill toward the campsite, vaguely aware that I was feeling little pinches all over my body. I tried to sprint, but this was challenging because my shorts and underwear were still around my ankles.

The bees were fast. I could hear them buzzing behind me. As I flailed down the densely vegetated slope, I glanced backward to check my lead and two questions simultaneously popped to mind:

1) Why am I looking back? Coach always told me never to look back. Looking back is a waste of energy. Just run.

2) Why are there strings flying behind me? Oh. It’s because my halter top has somehow come untied. That’s…additionally awesome.

Neither of these thoughts were particularly useful, but somehow, as I crashed through the last stretch of jungle to the campsite, the swarm of bees faded away.

I had won.

Unhappily, my victory was tarnished by the fact that the finish involved stumbling inelegantly – half naked and covered in welts – into a semi-circle of fellow Elephant Campers. Who were fully geared up and waiting for me, overstuffed backpacks and all.

(I think it’s relevant to acknowledge that this group included my then-boyfriend, who is now my husband, and who obviously wasn’t totally scarred by this sight. Thanks, babe.)

I held my disconnected halter top up with one hand while tugging my shorts up with the other and tried, through panicked and panty breaths, to explain the situation.

But to be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what had happened. Obviously, I’d picked a poor place to pop a squat. I’d disturbed the nest of a large stinging insect, unintentionally assaulting their home with what, to them, must have been a hurricane of urine.

And I’d been stung. A lot. Like, My Girl a lot. If I’d been allergic, I totally would have gone the way of Macaulay Culkin.

Our Karen tour guide then proved himself to be the baddest bad-ass on the face of the earth. After making sure I wasn’t going to die and asking me a dozen questions about the exact location of my unfortunate restroom, he left me with a tube of ointment and took off up the hill. When he returned ten minutes later, he explained that the hive had been “taken care of.”

HOW DID YOU NOT GET STUNG? I wanted to know.

He did get stung, he explained. But he was so accustomed to the bees and their venom that his body didn’t react.

Bad. Ass.

Anyway, why is this long-winded story relevant?

Because this happened ten years ago and since then, I hadn’t been stung by a bee. Until today.

I was up on our roof deck, sweeping up dirt and stray flakes of cracked slate tile in preparation for the application of a coat of sealant. Apparently there’s a nest up there. Somehow, with my gruff broom action, I disturbed it.

A dozen red buzzing insects appeared. (Wasps, hornets? Who knows.) In some ways, it was like Elephant Camp all over again. I felt that first pinch. Then I stood there, dumbfounded, for several seconds while I processed what was happening.

And then I got the hell out of there.

On the plus side, I only got stung twice, and today’s incident didn’t involve any nudity.

On the minus side, this problem is…actually mine to deal with. No bad-ass Karen trekking guide is going to “take care of” it. And no lumbering five-ton elephant is going to carry me away from it.

I had planned to go back up there in the cooler evening hours (when bees are generally less active) and spray the area with poisonous spray, but sunset came and went. And I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t think I was scared of bees until today’s minor incident brought back these ten-year-old memories.

As it turns out: I’m kind of scared of bees.

And I think I’ll leave this problem for someone else to deal with. Husband, roof guy, pest control guy. I don’t know who, but I know that I’m not going to fight this particular battle. There are plenty of other projects around this house that don’t involve declaring war against a colony of stinging red bees.

Incidentally, one of those projects is fixing our perpetually-running toilet. This toilet is annoying and less than ideal, but we’ve been living with it. Because, hey – you’ve gotta go somewhere.

Which is exactly the sort of attitude that got me in to trouble in the first place. 

If I’m not going face the bees, I suppose it’s only appropriate that I deal with the toilet, right?

As disgusting and creepy as toilet tanks are…at least they don’t sting.

A different kind of recovery formula

My husband and I spent last weekend up in Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, for the wedding of one of my best friends from college.

It was a beautiful wedding – perfectly fitting for the couple. I was honored to be a part of it. And of course it was fantastic to see friends that we hadn’t seen in ten years and be all like, “OH my GOD, YOU are a LAWYER?” before remembering that we are all in our thirties now and having established, grown-up careers is perfectly normal.

And staying up until 4:30 in the morning is decidedly not normal.

When you’re in your thirties, such behavior will probably leave you in a nasty wake of exhaustion and dehydration for no fewer than 48 hours afterward. And will cause you to develop an embarrassing stuffy nose that you really can’t claim is “just allergies” because, um, it’s almost July and allergy season is long gone.

Not that I’d know.

But seriously…to help manage our expectations, someone should develop a Recovery Rule of Thumb for situations like this. Like how they say that you need a day to recover for every mile raced? I’m thinking it takes an hour to recover for every hour stayed up past midnight, multiplied by the number of years of age over 29. Plus two penalty hours for every post-midnight drink consumed. Make that three penalty hours if it’s a drink you’d never consider consuming under normal circumstances. Like Jaegermeister. Or White Zin from a gallon jug.

According to this formula, I should be good to go by…Thursday.

Of course, I don’t regret a single minute. It was a wonderful weekend. Congrats to Meg and Derek!

These shenanigans meant that I took the entire weekend off of running/exercise. It’s okay, it happens sometimes.

Truthfully, I’m more bummed about not making it to f*cking yoga last week than I am about the hangover-slash-rest days. In spite of the fact that it makes me feel like a stumpy, sweaty gnome, I’ve kind of come to enjoy hot yoga. Or at least not totally dread it. Well, I still dread the class itself a bit, but I love how it makes me feel afterward. Kind of like a hard track workout.

Speaking of which: tonight’s was a bitch.

I’ve been approaching my track workouts with more intensity these last few weeks. Because this session is my only quality running workout of the week and I’m not racing much right now, I feel like I can (and should) push it pretty hard. It’s been fun watching my splits drop; in spite of the 90-degree heat tonight, I was thrilled to be able to run an 84-second 400 at the end of the workout. Fun!

And because I’m sure you are all wondering whether my wedding weekend bender affected my half-hearted efforts to lean up the bod:

I guess…not really? Hard to tell. Maybe I worked some of it off on the dance floor.

I’m thinking of changing up my eating habits a little more to see if that helps me drop a couple of more pounds. When I embarked on this OMG EPIC JOURNEY seven weeks ago, I really didn’t do anything drastic with my diet outside of cutting back on the weeknight boozing (as you may have inferred from the sad lack of beer reviews on here) and trying to eat a few more veggies and a little less crap.

But I’ve still been eating a fair amount of crap, and probably eat too many superfluous carbs, so I’m gonna try to switch the emphasis to protein for a few weeks and see what happens.

Disclaimer: I’m not anti-carb, and when I’m training for a distance race I believe my body needs quite a lot of them. But I’m not training for a distance race right now. So minimizing my consumption of things like pasta and rice and bread probably won’t kill me.

Or maybe it will. If I stop posting for a while, please send help.

Unless it’s before Thursday, because, you know…I’m still recovering.

Greetings from the…

…land of no internets.

Since I’m still trying to figure out the best internet solution for the new house, I’ll be coming to you live from the Starbucks down the road for the time being. I think it’ll work out well, because I haven’t unearthed the coffee maker yet anyway.

Thanks so much for all of your congrats on our anniversary! It was a great little getaway. We stayed at the H2 Hotel in Healdsburg – the newer, more eco-focused sibling of the venerable Healdsburg Hotel down the street – and I can’t say enough good things about it. (And they’re not even paying me, imagine that!) A few of the highlights:

  • Free bikes for guest use. I had actually looked in to booking one of those wine tours/limo thingies because I knew we wanted to visit several wineries and not have to deal with driving – I’m so glad I didn’t! Doing our own thing on bikes was much more fun (and FREE).
  • Most ridiculously comfortable bed ever. My husband stayed at the Healdsburg Hotel several years ago on a business trip and always talked about how it was the most comfortable bed he’d ever encountered. I don’t know if H2 uses the same beds, but it certainly didn’t disappoint.
  • FREE COLD WATER. I’m sure this was part of their eco schtick, but instead of having bottles of water in the mini fridge, there was a glass jug filled with chilled water and a note that invited us to refill at our convenience from the ice-cold filtered tap in the hallway. I am sure I annoyed my husband by remarking several times a day that this was the BEST THING EVER. Seriously: why can’t every hotel do this?  I always get dehydrated when I travel because I’m too cheap to pay for the $6 bottle of Aquafina and I hate drinking lukewarm tap water from a skeevy coffee mug.
  • Amazing free breakfast. I wanted to fill my suitcase with Rosemary-Pine Nut Scones.
  • Location and price. Froufy little wine country towns like Healdsburg aren’t cheap, obviously, but compared to the other “upscale” options in the area, it was quite reasonable.

Anyway. Enough about that. On to the running…or lack thereof. This was last week:

And the month of April:

That’s officially my lowest monthly mileage number in two years. Even last June/July/August, as I was cursing my way through my first Southern summer, I managed 120+. Ouch.

But oh well. I think that’s just how it’s gonna be for the next few months. I don’t want to curse my way though this summer; I want to hit the fall feeling refreshed and strong and ready to tackle high mileage. In order to get there, I need to get my strength up and body fat down and that means working hard at other things for a little while.

Speaking of which…next week, Gesina and I are starting this monthlong bootcamp that she found on Livingsocial. Should be a good time for my glutes and pecs, which haven’t seen a squat or a pushup in months.

Well, my coffee cup is empty; time to get on with my day. Thanks for bearing with me and my sporadic posting during all of this transition and travel!

A little bitta chicken, fried

My husband loves fried chicken.

Doesn’t matter if it comes from a fancy restaurant or a grocery store deli counter or KFC: he loves it. (In fact, he claims to love KFC the most, which is something I cannot quite wrap my head around.)

So guess what I got him (us) for a (belated) Valentine’s Day gift this year?

I MADE THAT CHICKEN. Well…sort of.

Saturday night, we headed to The Cooking School at Irwin Street for a little education in the form of Southern Buttermilk Chicken and Biscuits taught by Chef Diana Darris, aka the “Food Diva.”

A cooking class. I know. I KNOW! It’s such a trite date-night-y thing to do. But it was actually really fun, and now we know how to make fried chicken!

Tacked onto a funky sandwich/ice-cream shop in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, Irwin Street’s space is unpretentious and welcoming. Mismatched dishes and brightly painted, slightly sloping concrete floors hint that Irwin Street is going for a warm and cheery vibe.

Chef Diana kicked things off by pulling out three large bags of chicken, which she’d marinated overnight in buttermilk and herbs. She walked us – ten students, total – through the process of taking the chicken from marinade to platter.

After the demonstration, we washed our hands and got to work.

We tasted our first batch of chicken and everyone agreed that it could use a little more seasoning. But Chef Diana “fixed” it by whisking together a spicy honey glaze (clover honey, hot sauce, creole seasoning) and drizzling it over the chicken.

Problem solved.

Once we’d cranked out enough chicken for dinner, we moved on to biscuits.

Oh, beguiling biscuits. It’s a good thing this class wasn’t graded because I’d have failed. I did something terribly wrong with my dough and it ended up far too dense. Fortunately, everyone else’s turned out great – and, oh god, they were great. Not that I’m a connoisseur, but those were definitely the best biscuits I’ve ever had!

I won’t spill all of the stuff we learned in the class, but here are a few general concepts that stuck with me:

  • Use every step of the preparation as an opportunity to add flavor. Nothing touched our chicken that wasn’t seasoned in some way – Chef Diana even “scented” the cooking oil with rosemary and turkey bacon while it was heating up. The flour and the buttermilk in which we dipped and dredged the meat were both spruced up with spices, too.
  • Be gentle with the flour. Both the chicken and biscuits are best when light and fluffy. That means sifting the flour and using a light touch when handling it.
  • Take your time. Chef Diana instructed us to let the chicken pieces, dredged and ready to to fry, to sit for a few minutes before cooking. Apparently this “activates” the flour and its rising agents, which leads to a fluffier crust.

It was a fun night and I definitely learned a thing or two. My only complaint is that the class ran quite a bit longer than I expected it to, and I was STARVING by the time we sat down to actually eat our projects! Overall, though, it was a great experience.

Thanks, Chef Diana!

Soooooo clearly, I was down in Atlanta this weekend. The main purpose of the trip (besides spending time with my husband, of course) was to seal the deal on our housing situation. We’re, um…getting there.

And I’m back in Raleigh now. Two weeks to go until moving day. I guess it’s time to start packing…

In (and out of) a funk

Last Friday morning, I tweeted some whiny crap about how I had failed to complete my long run.

Yeah. That didn’t happen.

To be honest, I’d been in a running funk all week. It all started with this workout I did last Wednesday night, which included barefoot strides around a grass field. They were supposed to be strides, not sprints. But my little group was having so much fun racing each other around the goal posts…it was like being a kid again!

Unfortunately, my legs aren’t kids anymore. Come Thursday morning, I totally felt that shit. That day’s planned 10-miler became 6 and change. I figured I’d rest up for Friday morning’s long run.

But Friday morning, I still felt like a slug. I set out with a Gu shoved in my pocket and 18 miles on the docket. I shuffled miserably for a little over two before turning around and heading home.

So I tossed the Gu into my suitcase, along with my swimsuit and platform heels, thinking I’d carve out some time to make up the miles during Meg’s South Beach Bachelorette Extravaganza. And, of course, I tweeted that dumb tweet…as if that would make it more likely to actually happen.

AHAHAHAHAHA. Do you want to know how far I ran Saturday morning? THREE MILES. Not eighteen. THREE. Sunday morning, I felt a little better and managed seven. And looking back, those combined ten miles were really quite a feat.

A “splash of cranberry and soda” in vodka is not an appropriate way to hydrate for a long run. WHO KNEW?

(Also: guess how much a Heineken Light costs in a South Beach club? FOURTEEN DOLLARS. I did not drink much beer last weekend. I am sure that contributed to my crankiness.)

Anyway. Moving along, Monday was a travel day and a running rest day. Tuesday? I have no excuse. I just didn’t really feel like running. I managed five, but that’s a drop in the bucket during these weeks of peak marathon training and mileage. Meh.

That brings us to today. Wednesday: track workout day.

The worst thing about running funks is that they tend to self-perpetuate. The longer you’re in a funk, the harder it becomes to pull yourself out of it. As I set out on my warm up this morning, I was pretty sure that this run was going to go down in a funk as well; that I’d end up bailing.

But when I got to the track, I actually felt okay. On the agenda? Classic 12 X 400M. I’d planned to hit them around 1:35. When I ran the first one in 90 seconds and it felt like a jog in the park, I knew the funk was gone.

I’m running a local 5K on Saturday, so I hung back a little from that 90-second mark. This workout was definitely in the discomfort zone, but totally manageable. (Of course, that’s not really my 5K pace. I’ll be happy to crack 21 on Saturday, which would be 6:40 pace.)

Anyway. That’s the story of how a solo track workout made me love running again after a week of hating it. Scintillating, I know. Someone should make a movie.

Last week’s mileage. Roughly 18 miles short.

Oh well. Does it really matter? Of course not. I’m not an elite athlete and cutting a few workouts short isn’t going to change the course of my life. And sometimes, it’s nice to kick marathon training to the curb and live it up for a weekend. That’s what bachelorette parties in Miami are for.

Or so says my alter ego. His name is Peter. (Or Pierre, depending on my mood.)

The Candy Cat story

Meg and I met in college, but it was after graduation when we became really good friends. Those were the “LA Years,” which are legendary for many reasons, but chief among them is the mischief made by me and my blonde counterpart.

We were both a little lonely. She, on the heels of a breakup; me, with a boyfriend who worked 100-hour weeks. We started making dinner together a couple of times a week – Hamburger Helper, mac and cheese, pasta with marinara – which eventually morphed in to hanging out pretty much every night.

She had a cat; I had a cat. She liked Bud Light; I liked Bud Light. It was one of those easy friendships where the question isn’t do-you-want-to-hang-out, but -where-and-when.

On a typical weeknight, we’d convene with our respective cats at one of our apartments. The cats would play, and we’d drink cheap wine or head over to the local bar, where we’d hang out for a while, shooting pool or playing darts, and then coyly tell whatever guys were hanging around us that we had to go home and bathe our kitties. (Which was totally true, and I mean that literally.)

Our favorite bar with a little dive called Del’s on Santa Monica Boulevard in West LA. We could walk there from Meg’s apartment. The beer was cheap and the jukebox was well-stocked with classic rock. It was the antithesis of the typical LA bar scene, and it was perfect.

Del’s was totally our bar. Our “Cheers.” Everybody knew our names. I can’t even tell you how many nights we spent at Del’s. Hundreds, probably.

Sadly, though, all eras must end. Meg started grad school and moved up to Northridge. The Valley. A long and treacherous journey from LA.

But I missed my friend, so fairly regularly, I packed up Emmy and make the trek up there. Kraft dinners were just as lovely in The Valley, but one thing was missing. Our bar.

One day, I got an excited call from Meg. (This was before texting, kids.)

“I FOUND IT! I found our bar,” she gushed. “Get this: it’s called the Candy Cat. A cat bar! I drove by it earlier today. We have to try it!”

I completely agreed and immediately planned a trip up to the Valley.

A few nights later, with bellies full of mac and cheese, we left the cats (shampooed and blow-dried, of course) to play and headed over to this promising new establishment.

Now, if you have half a brain, you can probably see where this story is going. But Meg and I don’t even have a quarter of a brain apiece, apparently, because we charged ahead cluelessly.

“There are cats on the front window!” I squealed as we pulled up.

“Oh good, there’s parking in the rear,” Meg noted, turning in to the driveway.

We parked and walked toward the back door.

“Dude, check out that girl’s shoes,” I whispered with a slight nod toward a young woman smoking by the curb, looking sullen in a trench coat and platform heels.

We smiled smugly and quietly congratulated ourselves for being the kind of chicks that go to the bar in flip flops. We were rocking ponytails and tee shirts. We didn’t need to try so hard.

Two bouncers loomed over the door, from which muted Def Leppard blared behind. One asked for ID and a $5 cover, and immediately the other cut him off, gave us a once-over, and waved us in. “They’re cool,” he said.

Hell yeah, we are, we thought.

We crossed into a brightly-lit room. A little too bright. There were a lot of lights. Colorful lights.

“It’s…a theme bar?” I said, genuinely confused. There were two bars and a pool table but why did it seem to be all guys…?

Then we saw the boobs.

The cartoon cats. The rear parking. The platform heels. The cover charge.

What happened next is the kind of moment you remember forever; when I think of Meg and our friendship, those next few seconds pretty much say it all.

A look passed between us. It said: Convey no emotion. We cannot leave now, we’ll look stupid. We have to act like we totally meant to come here.

“You get the cues, I’ll rack ’em?” I said.

“Sure. Bud Light?” she replied smoothly.

So we hung out for a couple of hours, shooting pool, chatting with random people, singing along to classic rock, trying our best to give off a casual, we-come-here-all-the-time vibe. And it was almost like being back at Del’s again…but with more sparkles. And more boobs.

In the car on the way home, we recapped.

“That was fun but I think we should, you know, keep looking,” Meg said.

“Yeah…I don’t think that’s our bar,” I agreed.

We never did find our new Del’s, and eventually Meg and I both moved out of Southern California and on with our lives. Although we haven’t lived in the same city for years, she’s still one of my very best friends. On the rare and happy occasions when we do get together, it’s like nothing has changed. We still share a brain – and yet somehow, even with our combined craniums, lack common sense. It always leads to good fun.

Meg’s getting married in a few weeks. This weekend, I’m in Miami for her bachelorette party.

I can’t promise that we won’t accidentally end up in a strip club – excuse me, I mean a theme bar.