Friday, April 21, 2017

Foiled Again!

Once again bad weather threw a monkey wrench into my plans. Weather cancellations were becoming a trend and it's almost comical, really. These cancellations have really played havoc with my plans to nail down which race would be my Fifty States Half Marathon Club 100th half marathon.

Alamo Dome, San Antonio, where packet pickup was held for the HEB Half

So imagine my disappointment when my 99th race in San Antonio, the HEB Marathon/Half Marathon, was cancelled literally at the last minute due to severe weather. We were all at the start line waiting, delayed, as the staff struggled to make the cancel decision. It was the right decision, despite the grumblings of many of the runners, because a very severe front moved through about 1.5 hours after the start time of the race, bringing heavy rain, strong winds, hail, and a couple of tornadoes. It was a long, sad, disappointing drive back home.

Back when things were finally starting to settle down on my race calendar, it began to look like the Go! St. Louis Half Marathon was going to be my Fifty States 100th. This was actually perfect, since running friend Colleen, with whom I've done several previous half marathons, was finishing her 100th at this race. We were excited at this prospect. It killed me to have to message my friend to let her know the bad news about the San Antonio race cancellation. Now Go! St. Louis would not be my 100th.

Colleen is a supreme planner and organizer, and she had begun working in earnest, making reservations for a pre-race dinner, having a special cake made, even thinking of a cute theme for the group of us. She and I were going to be "Thing 100's", a play on the Dr. Seuss Thing 1 and Thing 2. She had bought us blue wigs, had signs made to pin to the front of our shirts that said "Thing 100" and had Thing 100 Crew signs made for all of the other runners in our group to wear. I had even bought a red running shirt to complete the Thing 100 outfit. Now I was going to be on the outside looking in on my friend's celebration, rather than being a co-celebrant.

This is what Colleen made me to wear on the front of my shirt

One week later, I flew into St. Louis on Friday, getting there early afternoon. I took a cab from the airport directly to the Chaifetz Arena where packet pickup was being held. It was a quick grab of my race bib and race shirt, then back outside to the shuttle bus stop, where free shuttles were bringing runners back to the downtown area. I got checked in to my lovely room at the Hyatt Regency, dropped my bag, and immediately grabbed a Starbucks at the shop off the hotel lobby.

I wandered outside and took some photos of the Old Courthouse and of the Gateway Arch. At this point I had no idea how I was going to get to the group dinner. It was being held 25 miles away, west of the city in Chester. It would have cost a fortune to take a cab or Uber. I didn't know who else was here for the race that I could call to make transportation plans

So in the end, I'd pretty much decided I wasn't going to make that dinner at all. Now, feeling sorry for myself that this wasn't going to be my 100th, that the celebrations weren't going to include me, and that I couldn't figure out how to get to the dinner, I eventually returned to my hotel room after going off on an unfruitful search for post-race cupcakes, to charge my phone. It had died while I was out and about taking photos.

When I plugged it in and turned it on, I saw that I had a message from my friend Colleen, offering to pick me up at the hotel. Well, crud! But she'd left that message at 3:30, probably about the time my phone was dying, and it was now 4:30 and no way was that going to work out. I had dinner at the Brewhouse downstairs off the hotel lobby and called it a day, but not before laying out my things for the race in the morning.

Race day morning, I was up, fed, dressed and out the door about 15 minutes  before the start of the race. It was a short walk down to Leonor K Sullivan Boulevard, below the Arch park. We had to walk north to Lacledes Landing Blvd in order to gain access to the boulevard and then had to walk south along the edge of the corral fencing to gain access to the corrals. It was tight, and jammed with other runners trying to get into their corral. It was reminiscent of the logjam of bodies at the Little Rock race. Eventually, as the front corrals were released, the congestion eased and I was able to squeeze into my corral.

I so desperately wanted to see my friend before the race started but felt there was no chance of that. I had no idea what corral she was in. But then, as my corral began to move forward toward the start line, there she was, unmistakable in her blue Thing wig! I caught up with her, gave her a hug and then stayed with her and a few of the "crew" in the first mile, but then pulled ahead of her as we began our ascent over the Mississippi River bridge toward the Illinois side.

It was a beautifully laid out course, with lots of enthusiasm from the volunteers and great support at the water stations. The route took us back over the river to St. Louis after about 4 miles, giving us a breathtaking view of the Gateway Arch, the Old Courthouse and the skyline along the river (many runners were stopping to take photos and selfies), then headed south of the city toward the historic Anheuser Busch brewery. 

Original Brew House at Anheuser Busch..dates back to 1880's.

The race route took us through the brewery campus and we could see the beautiful old red brick buildings, the historic Brew House, build in the 1880's with it's imposing Gothic architecture, the roundhouse used to keep the wagons and a group of horses that are rotated in for viewing.

A few Clydesdales out in a paddock for our viewing pleasure.

When we exited the brewery campus, we passed through the historic Soulard neighborhood where the infamous "pajama brigade" greeted us with raucous cheers and offers of free beer. This large group of spectators, dressed in pajamas, robes, slippers and drinking beer early in the morning really got us energized again. This historic French neighborhood hosts the annual Mardi Gras so they definitely know how to party!

The middle miles of a race are, for me, always the hardest, especially when the race route has been taking me in the opposite direction of the finish line. But now we were more than half way finished and heading north, back toward downtown. We ran through the lovely Lafayette Square neighborhood, one of the city's oldest with its beautiful park lined with gorgeous mansions, then continued north to Washington Ave where we could now see the Gateway Arch in the distance. Less than three miles to go to the finish line!

The last miles went quickly as the race course took a few turns then headed down to the Mississippi River's edge. This really was one of the best race courses I've done, for it's continually changing scenery, interesting turns, not to mention running across two giant bridges across the Mississippi River!

And then there was the finish line!! As I crossed the line and then began walking to the end of the finisher chute I heard my name called. It was a few of our Thing 100 Crew, sitting on the curb, eating decadently delicious ice cream sandwiches made especially for this race with Ted Drewe's frozen custard and fresh oatmeal cookies from Dad's Cookie Company, waiting for our friend Colleen to cross the finish line so that we could congratulate her and get photos.

Finishers at the finish line!

I walked back to my hotel room, got cleaned up, then headed for the Brewhouse restaurant for a late lunch and a beer, grabbed a cappuccino at the Starbucks afterward, and then waited to hear from Colleen about plans for dinner that evening.

The race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

Dinner was at a really great little neighborhood restaurant called Tucker's Place. It's in the historic Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis (same neighborhood where the pajama brigade were that morning). There were three of us and the food was great! I had grilled shrimp and a baked potato, more than enough to share some with Colleen.

Cute little Thing 1 and Thing 2 toys

I was able to give her the gifts I'd brought with me, meant for the pre-race dinner, but better late than never. I'd gotten her a pair of 100 Halfs glasses, made by another running friend Ali, and some really cute little Thing 1 and Thing 2 soft dolls. She loved them!!

Afterward, Colleen took us to local tradition for frozen custard at Ted Drewe's Frozen Custard stand. It was beyond an experience to remember! The lines for the walk up windows were 20-deep with people, all cramming into the space between the building and the road.

Huge crowds waiting in line at Ted Drewe's

But the lines moved quickly and the folks waiting were all pleasant and friendly. I ordered a Cardinal Sin, made with vanilla custard, tart black cherries, and hot fudge. It was sinfully good and a cute nod to the home team,

Kathleen and I enjoying a frozen custard

Then it was back to the hotel to pack and get ready for my cab ride to the airport the next morning for my flight back home. It was a memorable race and good trip!

A really great race!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Orange Cat Story

I am such a sucker for cats! That's why, when an orange and white tabby cat showed up on my patio a year ago, I took notice and began paying attention to his comings and goings.

This sweet orange kitty showed up at my back door in March 2016

He was there, hunkered down on the mat outside my sliding glass door every morning when I walked toward the kitchen to start the morning coffee. So patient and so sweet, he just sat there looking straight into my eyes. Now anyone who knows cats would agree that this is quite unusual that a strange cat would make and keep eye contact with a complete stranger human. This is how I knew that, in his own way, he was asking for help.

He was here at my back door every single morning

Nyla got to know the orange kitty through the glass and grew to recognize him.

So I began setting food and water out for him every morning. And every morning he was there, grateful for my care, sweet as he could be, letting me pet him and scratch his ears. He was dirty and thin, had ear mites and tape worms, yet he was wearing a collar with a city license tag. I tried calling that number many times and could never get anyone to answer the phone. So I gave up.

A month later, in April, I was gone for 12 days on my trip to Rome, Italy. I hated leaving him without any support, but what could I do? I was, at that point, merely feeding a cat that seemed to have lost his way. But I did worry about him the whole time I was gone.

When I returned from my trip, the cat was gone. I didn't know if he had just moved on or if he'd had an accident or died.

Orange kitty disappeared for months, but showed up again in October, this time
with stitches in his lip, but otherwise looking in better shape than before.

Then, several months later, just when I'd pretty much given up on him, he showed up again. It was now October and when I saw him on my patio my heart leaped a bit. He wasn't looking so thin, and the tape worms seemed to have been treated. He also had a fresh wound with stitches on his lip and several puncture wounds on his face of varying degrees of freshness. Clearly he'd gotten into it with another animal (raccoon? opossum? another cat?) We have plenty of feral animals and loose cats in the neighborhood.

The orange kitty stayed close to my patio and deck, and was very friendly,
gladly accepting my attention and the food/water I set out for him.

No matter the cause, I was happy to see him again, a bit disturbed about the stitches on his lip, but glad that he'd gotten treatment. I began feeding him again and he stuck around nearly 24/7. He stayed very close to me when I was outside in the yard, even coming from who-knows-where when he'd hear me outside. He responds quickly to my voice when I call him, too!

Always somewhere in my back yard.

He never let me out of his sight when I was near a window or door.

Early one morning I woke to find him here, on the table.

I bought him a little outdoor cat house, which he took to immediately.

As the weather got cold, I bought him an insulated outdoor cat house.
He immediately took to it.

And I fed him regularly and gave him fresh water every day. I couldn't leave the food out after dark. Wild animals quickly discovered it and gobbled the food, dragged the empty bowl across the yard, and totally fouled the water every night. So the cat had to learn to eat during the day and to not despair, that fresh would be set out the next morning.

I set one of Nyla's cat toys outside....he played with it for a long time!

I noticed a new tag added to his collar, this one for a veterinarian that is just a couple of blocks away. I called the number and the gal on the other end immediately knew what cat I was calling about.

"Someone else just recently called us about the cat, too," she said. She gave me the owner's phone number and I could tell by the exchange number, that it was on my side of town. I called the number and introduced myself. I told her I wanted to come over there to talk about the cat.

In that conversation I asked her about the stitches, mentioned that they probably need to come out now that its been more than two weeks. Actually, I had no idea how long they'd been in before the cat showed up again on my patio. I learned from that conversation that the woman I was talking to was the daughter, staying there to care for her dad now that her mom had died. She told me the cat had been her mom's, and that her dad really didn't like the cat, didn't like how it meowed at the door all the time to be let out so it was pretty much relegated to the outdoors full time.

Poor guy! All he wants is love!
This information explained so much!! The cat was clearly in mourning and desperate for human love and attention that he was no longer getting at the house he used to call home.

I also asked about all of the scratches and wounds on his face, all of which seemed to be of different vintage; some were very fresh, some were scabbed over and healing. She said she feeds the cat in the garage, leaves the garage door partially open. So clearly the raccoons and/or opossums have discovered this food, and possibly even other cats. This is not fair to the cat and I told her my thoughts on this.

At that point I told her that I'd like to start caring for the cat full time. She seemed indifferent to this, saying she thought her sister might take the cat but she wasn't sure. She asked me to stop feeding him, so that he'd stop coming over to my house. But as I walked home, I made up my mind. I was going to take charge of this cat and claim him as my own. And I did.  I called the owner back and encouraged her to get the cat to the vet's to have the stitches removed, so she picked the cat up and brought him to the vet's, but the cat immediately returned to my house afterward.

I gave him a dose of Advantage II flea medicine and began letting him in for short periods during the day, I continued to feed him regularly, and began moving his food and water inside, right next to the sliding glass door. When I had to go out of town for a couple of days, I put food and water outside for him first thing in the morning and hoped he'd be okay until I got home, knowing he'd probably have to go a day or two without once the wild critters cleared out the bowls. But I also learned from my neighbor that another lady on our street was feeding him, too. So I didn't worry as much.

OG's first experience indoors. He seemed right at home. I took his collar
off, so that he could enjoy the peace and quiet without tags constantly jingling.
The collar had also rubbed away the fur around his neck and the collar itself was filthy.
OG's first experience sleeping on one of my chairs.

He slept for a really long time in that chair! So sweet! He even snores sometimes.

He was definitely sticking around, spending his days mostly on my patio or deck, coming inside and sitting with me in the living room. As the weather got cooler, I began leaving the sliding glass door ajar just enough for him to squeeze through, and he could come and go as he wanted. He began to voluntarily spend more and more time inside with me. I started calling him the Orange Guy, and a friend shortened that to OG. His new name!

Snuggling with his new mommy in the recliner and in front of the TV.

Then in December, heartened by his desire to adopt me, I made the decision to begin acclimating the cat to being more of an indoor cat. I started enclosing him in the laundry room each night. He had access to food, water, and a litter pan. I was happy to learn that he did indeed know how to use cat litter. This gave my other cat Nyla some breathing room and stress-free access to me in the bed at night.

His first real test - and mine, too - was when I was gone overnight to run a race in late January. It would be for less than 24 hours, but would restrict him more than I assumed he was used to. But he was fine! He didn't destroy anything, used the kitty litter and was happy to see me when I returned.

He's never far from the back door, spending his outdoor time on the
patio or deck or in the flower beds nearby. But always within sight or
earshot of the back door.
Over the next few months we developed a routine. He stays in the laundry room overnight. I let him into the house as soon as I wake up. Then we sometimes crawl into bed together for some bonding time before I get up for good to get breakfast and get dressed. This is one snuggle puss of a cat!

OG is a great lap cat!!

I began leaving him in the house for longer and longer periods as I ran errands, went shopping or worked our play rehearsals. But I still didn't feel ready to leave him inside the house proper overnight as I traveled for various races. I put him into the laundry room with the door open to the garage while I was away on these trips. The longest one so far has been 3 days-2 nights. I'm trying to convince myself to give him a trial run at staying in the house while I'm gone on my next short overnight trip.

Squeezed in next to me...his favorite spot! other cat, Nyla, had a chance to get to know OG through the sliding glass door in the early days of his coming around. So when I started letting him into the house, she wasn't totally freaked out. In fact, she was pretty much indifferent to him, and he to her. Once in a while, if they happen to make eye contact or he walks by her too closely, Nyla will hiss at him, but never gets aggressive. And this boy...he is totally passive toward her. What is also so amazing is that they leave each other's food bowls alone. I feed Nyla a special grain-free food and give OG Purina One.

The two cats in bed with me recently:


So here I am today, the mom to two cats - Nyla and OG. Our new resident - OG - has settled in as if he's always lived here. He is very clingy, squeezing in next to me in my favorite chair and staying with me for as long as I let him. He's a real sweetheart! Nyla joins us in the living room in the evenings, lolling on the floor near my chair. It's like a Rockwell painting!

Relaxing in the shade on the deck while I work in the yard.
He doesn't let me out of his sight.

I am so happy that OG decided to adopt me! He is one of the sweetest, most 
affectionate cats I've ever owned.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spring is Trying to "Spring"

Despite a warmer-than-usual winter, it seems that my garden is having a hard time getting its "bloom" on. Looking back on my previous years' blog entries, things seem to be about 2 weeks delayed.

This time last year I had open blooms on my Magnolia. Today, there are plenty of buds - probably the most it's ever had - but they are still at least 1-2 weeks from opening fully.

The Society Garlic is looking very lush but it did have a major set-back in January when it got hit very hard by a prolonged freeze. Today it has sent up its first couple of blooms.

Last year I neglected to cut back my roses. Their blooming suffered for it. This year I got out there and cut then all back at least 1/3 to 1/2. I'm being rewarded nicely for that prickly effort!

I'd been letting my back corner bed get a little out of hand, so this spring I've been working on getting it under control. With coordination with my yard care person, I'm letting the bed recede back to its original boundaries. Our grass variety here in south Texas - St. Augustine - is already filling in the space nicely. I trimmed back the pomegranate and the fringe tree - pruned them hard - and they're shaping up very nicely.

The peach-colored Yarrow is in bloom, and the white-colored Yarrow is just starting to bloom.

I cut the Althea back pretty hard, as well, and it's starting to leaf out. It probably should have been cut back a little more, but too will set its buds on this new growth.

It will be a couple of months before the day lilies begin to bloom. In the meantime, I really do need to work on that last bed in the back, the one under the bedroom window. Someone give me a push!