Monday, September 30, 2013

Decision Made! The Biggest Loser RunWalk in Las Cruces!

New Mexico.   New Mexico.  New Mexico.  Gotta get a half marathon done in New Mexico! 

I'm more than halfway to finishing my goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states.   I need New Mexico (and a whole bunch of other mountainous states for that matter), but for a "flatlander" like me it's gotta be in a region where the elevation isn't gasping-from-oxygen-starvation high.  That kind of limits my choices.

There's a race in December that looks interesting, but it's uncomfortably close to Thanksgiving on the front end and a planned trip to Disneyworld with the grandkids on the back end.  Doable, but definitely not my preference.

So with that December race "penciled in" on my calendar way back last spring, I put it out of my mind.  I had other races to concentrate on for the rest of the year.

The reality show The Biggest Loser is my all-time, must-see favorite TV show.  I have watched every single episode of this show, going all the way back to the first seasons when Caroline Rhea was the host.  My DVR knows how much I like this automatically starts recording the episodes whenever a new season starts.  Good DVR!

And of course, to receive the newsfeed about their upcoming race events, I've "liked" The Biggest Loser RunWalk page on Facebook.  I don't know why I did that.  Curiosity maybe...and perhaps a bit of hope that they might hold a race in one of the states that I've not yet captured. 

When news of their Biggest Loser Walk/Run Las Cruces NM race showed up in my newsfeed the other day....Bingo! 

Isn't it funny how things work themselves out?

For the next four months I'll be chronicling my running, my racing, and all of my missteps (yes, life is never perfect) along the way, as I prepare to participate in the Biggest Loser RunWalk event, Las Cruces NM, on January 26, 2014.  Those posts will appear at my Biggest Loser RunWalk blog which will include some exclusive content and photos, but many posts will be copied here as well.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The New Floor Episode

After much indecision and procrastination, I finally made up my mind about that new kitchen floor.

I ordered the materials in early August and it was all delivered later that month.  The delay in getting it installed was in scheduling the installer.  They were booked up for a solid month!  But we did agree on a date - September 26 - and I tried not to worry about it or think about it too much for the ensuing month. 

I was a little nervous.  Okay I was a lot nervous.  I've never had a floor like this installed and I didn't know what to expect, how disruptive it might be or how inconvenienced I might be during the process. 

My trip to WV and upstate NY helped the time go by as did my trip last week to Omaha NE.  But once home from that Omaha trip, I had just a couple of days to prepare for the installation.  I got all of my laundry caught up and cleared out the contents from the floor of the pantry, and then moved the table and chairs out of the room.
I had to get the fridge ice-maker disconnected; and once the laundry was done, the washer hoses disconnected and washer unplugged; the dryer gas line disconnected and then unplugged.  I decided to go ahead and replace those 15-year old hoses on the washer to new, steel-braided hoses.

This didn't go very smoothly.  I couldn't get the nut loose on the gas line.  And I couldn't get the cold water hose loose from the water connection.   That meant a call to stepson Bruce to come over and get those items loose for me and to go ahead and get the new hoses installed onto the water faucets.  I could connect the washer to those hoses after the flooring is done. 

Bruce came over after work on Wednesday and with a bit of effort, managed to get the gas line disconnected.  But when he knocked the cold water line loose, even with the valve in the off position, water started spurting everywhere!  Oddly, when he screwed the hose back on, the water flow stopped.   Magic.  Or good juju.  Whatever the case, a call to a plumber will be in order, once the floor install is complete.

Dreading the installation the next morning - and wondering what else is going to go wrong - I slept fitfully Wednesday night.  I had received a phone call that afternoon from US Installation, the Home Depot contract installation company, to confirm the schedule for Thursday morning.  I also received an email late that afternoon, letting me know that the installer would be there between 8 and 8:30 AM and with a picture of his photo ID.  Very professional!!

And he showed up at exactly 8 AM on Thursday morning, neatly dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, ready to get to work.  He took a walk through, no doubt doing the installation in his mind and looking for any possible hang-ups or work-arounds.

Then he got to work.  First, he removed all of the quarter-round molding throughout the breakfast room, kitchen, pantry, and laundry room.  He was efficient, careful and extremely neat, sweeping the floor as he completed each room. 

Then the flooring installation began!  He worked alone but was extremely quick and proficient.  I marveled at how he handled the various cut-outs and angles in the rooms. 

How he undercut the door jams so that the flooring would slide underneath the casings.

By the end of the first day he had the flooring laid in the breakfast room and the kitchen.

  Left to do was the laundry room and pantry and the quarter-round molding throughout.  As he was leaving for the day, he asked if he could show up at 7 AM on Friday.  Fine with me!  I'm always up early anyway.


The installer arrived at 7 AM as promised, but our gate guard wouldn't let him in until 7:30 AM.  I knew about the "no Sunday" rule but had forgotten about the "no earlier than 7:30 AM" rule.  The installer called me to let me know about this and that he'd come back at 7:30.  I felt bad for not remembering this.  Hopefully he could use this time productively. 

Everything went so smoothly and he was done by 12:30 PM on Friday. 

It looks fantastic!  So much more stylish than the drab, dreary - and cheap-looking - vinyl flooring.

I hated that vinyl.  The dimple texture on the vinyl collected a dirty gray grunge and unless I got down on my knees and scrubbed it with a brush, there was no getting that grunge out of those dimples.   The floor always looked dingy. 

I am thrilled with my new floor!  My kitchen looks like a totally different room!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Cornhusker State Half Marathon is Done!

I love easy and simple...this was as good as it gets.  Great hotel, out and back race course, race start and finish line one block away, perfect weather. 

The race started and finished in front of the TD Ameritrade Stadium, an easy walk from the hotel and I didn't need to head over there until just a few minutes before the race start.   I had a nice chat with some folks waiting with me in the start corral and then we were sent off amid whoops and cheers.

When I got near the 2nd mile marker I heard someone calling my name and saw a man waving at me, moving toward me.  Who the heck is that?  How did he know my name?  Our names weren't printed on our bibs like they do for some of the races. 

As I got a few steps further down the road it dawned on me.  That has to be Lou from Omaha!  Then I felt bad that I only waved and smiled at him, didn't really acknowledge him, so I hoped he'd be there when I came back that way on the return leg of the race. 

Somewhere along the route
The route was straightforward:  a couple of blocks south, a couple of blocks west, then 6 miles straight north, around a pretty park, do a U-turn, then retrace our steps.  When I made that U-turn I was thankful to see that there were still quite a few folks behind me.   Always encouraging. 

When I got back to that spot on the race course, Lou was no longer there.  Oh, well....I vowed to send him an email afterward.

Route took us inside Ameritrade Stadium, where we
ran around the outfield.

The route took us into the Ameritrade stadium and around the outfield before dumping us back out onto the road and across the finish line.  Definitely unique.  A camera captured us as we made that loop and our image appeared up on the Jumbotron screen as we came around 2nd base, heading toward 3rd base. 
Inside TD Ameritrade Stadium

As I crossed the finish line and accepted my finisher's medal, I again heard my name being called.  It was Lou!  I was so glad he stuck around and waited for me to finish!   It really does mean a lot to have a cheerleader out there on the race route.    I thanked him profusely for coming out to cheer me on, and we chatted for a bit.  Unfortunately he couldn't join me for lunch later at Culver's.

Across the finish line

My finisher's medal:

I cleaned up, checked out of the hotel, and got on the road for home.  But not before stopping for lunch at Culver's in nearby Bellevue.  I first experienced Culver's while attending an MTF get-together in New Glarus WI.  I loved it!  It made the perfect post-race meal:

And of course, custard for dessert...a caramel cashew sundae!

A free room awaited me at the Marriott in Wichita, thanks to some Marriott Rewards points. 

What my 50 States map looks like now:

Next up:  Getting the kitchen floor replaced this week, then rest up in preparation for the Baltimore and Dover half marathons next month!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Goin' To Omaha!

A Willie Nelson song was running through my head as I piled everything into the SUV and got on the road, heading north to Omaha NE.  It was 6:15 AM and traffic was its usual horribleness, creeping and crawling north up Hwy 288 toward downtown Houston.  But, as expected, it opened up once past the US 59 split and I made good time up the Hardy Toll Road and then I-45 north toward Dallas.  Traffic getting through Dallas on 35E on the other hand...ugh!

It's cotton harvest time in north Texas and into Oklahoma and the roads were lined with the escaped bits of fluff.  Harvesters were working the fields, sending huge clouds of dust into the wind.  Some of the fields were already harvested and then scorched to lie fallow for the winter.

When I got into Kansas and onto the turnpike I noticed trees which appeared to be laden with green apples - or something - along the fence line, rimming large open fields of cotton and sorghum ...remnants of old orchards maybe? 

I spent the night in Wichita, using some Choice Hotels points to book a room at a Comfort Inn on the east side, just off the turnpike.  A Marriott was nearby and I thought I'd walk over and get dinner, but just as I stepped outside the skies opened up.  Driving the few hundred yards to get there seemed silly but arriving dry trumped walking and getting soaked.

It had been a long day behind the wheel - almost 650 miles - and I was anxious to get my food, eat it, pay the bill, and return to my Comfort Inn room where I could crash.  So of course the service was especially slow and I eventually had to chase down the waiter to get him to bring me my bill.  There was some kind of conference going on at the hotel and the attendees all converged on the bar and restaurant at the same time.  The skeletal staff were overwhelmed to say the least.

The next morning I had only 300 miles to go.  It was a relaxed driving day for me.  I even stopped at a Walmart in Nebraska City to buy some bananas to have in my hotel room in Omaha. 

The Omaha Hilton is gorgeous and nearly brand new.  Attached self-parking garage made it easy.  My room was very nice, very comfortable.  I dumped my stuff off in the room and headed back downstairs in search of late lunch.  The restaurant was closed, but they had a limited food menu at the lobby bar.  A really excellent turkey Panini sandwich and a fruit cup side made a perfect lunch!

The Fitness Expo was originally supposed to be held at the Hilton, but I could find no evidence of it, so logged onto the race website and saw that they'd changed the location.  It was now being held at the TD Ameritrade stadium.  That seemed like a rather odd venue for a fitness expo.  Well, I'll just walk over there and see.  As it turned out, it was held outdoors next to the stadium...tables set up under a canopy.

The race packet was spartan - just the race bib and a generic long-sleeve t-shirt with no race logo, just the name of the race organizing company that recently bought out the Omaha Marathon event.  Not much in the way of a "fitness expo" as there were very few vendors there.  I learned about the buy-out from eavesdropping on others' conversations.  Apparently it was rather sudden and somewhat last-minute.  I was not alone in my disappointment in the event shirt, usually a coveted and collectible piece of clothing.

I ordered room service that night - a personal-size pepperoni pizza and a fruit plate with slices of banana bread.  The pizza was excellent!  The fruit plate was huge, enough to save half in the mini-fridge for the next day. 

The next day I headed out on foot to check out a bit of the downtown area.  I realized that I didn't bring the right shoes for extensive walking and I don't like wearing my running shoes for casual walking, so I didn't wander too far.  But I did have a specific destination in mind. 

As  I came into town, getting off the exit ramp and heading toward the hotel, I noticed some really awesome bronze statues in a park downtown.  So that's where I headed.

Spirit of Nebraska's Wilderness & Pioneer Courage Park

These 1.25X life-size bronze works were spectacular!  The detail was incredible!  They were so life-like, so realistic.  All of the equipment on the wagons, the detail in the animals, the people was astonishing.    The wagon train "spooks" a herd of buffalo that, in turn, flushes a flock of geese.  This expansive piece of artwork covers several blocks and several buildings.  Ambitious, creative, and gorgeous!

Lunch again at the hotel, this time a Swiss mushroom burger and sweet potato fries and then I moved from the restaurant to the Starbucks lobby cafĂ© and had a cappuccino and some cookies while enjoyed the outdoor patio area.  The weather is just perfect and promises to be so again tomorrow, race day.

Back to my room, relaxing in front of a movie, I laid my running things out for the next morning.  Some tomato soup and good, crusty rolls from room service and my left-over fruit plate made a nice, light dinner.

Tomorrow:  Omaha Half Marathon!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Epilogue - Yellow Jackets and "Drunken" Lamp Pole

As much as I wanted to go play this weekend - get out early in the morning and take a motorcycle ride before the heat of the day - responsibility called.

Yellow Jacket Update:
The Bee-man showed up Saturday morning as promised, and his crew made quick work of eliminating the yellow jacket nest in my potted yucca plant.  He said the best way to deal with this was to block the opening to the nest, block any possible "back door" openings, and then suffocate it with a blanket of insulation.  Activity around the nest had been calm that morning, just the few workers coming and going, in stark contrast to how it was the other day when I "disturbed" it.  This will make work a little easier and safer for the Bee-man and his crew.

They suited up, blocked the tunnel with fiberglass insulation, then carried the pot to the back corner of my yard.   A thick layer of insulation was crammed into the top of the pot, on top of the soil, and more insulation was stuffed in around the bottom of the pot within the drain saucer.  He said to leave it alone out there for a couple of weeks and they'll be gone.   

His parting words to me, after I'd paid him, were "You don't have a yellow jacket problem anymore."
Good to know!

Yucca plant banished to the back corner
of the yard for time-out


While I was out of town running a half marathon in upstate New York, a very strong storm blew in on the leading edge of a cold front speeding down from the north.  I learned about it when I received an email from our neighborhood watch group regarding extensive tree damage, so called my neighbor to check on her and to check on my house.   She said she'd taken a quick walk around my house and everything seemed okay, no trees down, no house damage.

I received an email from her the next day, letting me know that she took a closer look at everything and that a lamp post had blown down onto my patio.  That particular post had been getting a little "tipsy," despite being sunk in concrete, but I didn't realize that it was slowly rusting away, the victim of the too-near sprinkler head.  Being constantly in contact with water will do that to a metal pole. 

When I got home, I cut away the jasmine that grows so lushly at the light pole's base, and inspected the damage.  The pole had rusted completely through just below ground level, leaving behind the remainder of the pole still firmly encased in concrete.

I gave this some thought and finally decided that the best route to take would be to remove the pole altogether and get the wiring spliced together to maintain continuity to the next pole in sequence.  I flipped off the circuit breaker dedicated to these lights and removed the light fixture from the top of the pole.  I cut the wires that connected it to the power source line and then threw the pole and light fixture away.

Then I contacted my late husband's son who is an electrical designer and asked for his help.  I described the set-up and told him I wanted to get the wires spliced together in some elegant way that would both meet code but also allow someone to tap into it in the future.

He has been my savior all these years since his dad died.  He has been a blessing and so generous of his time for me!

He came over this morning, bringing everything he needed to get the job done.  And in 45 minutes it was done!   We rerouted the wires a bit and then he ran them into opposing ends of a junction box suitable for outdoor underground use.  Screw-in clamps hold the wires and keep them from getting pulled back out.  He spliced the wires and then sealed the box with silicone.  A threaded cap on the top of the box will permit access to the wires to tap into them at a later time.   Well done, and very professional. 

I still have the major disruption of a new floor in the kitchen and breakfast room to look forward to.  That's coming up on the 26th of this month.  And I have a call in to a tree service that I regularly use, to get some limbs removed from trees in my backyard.  Then - hopefully - this will be it for a while! 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Of Hummingbirds and Yellowjackets

Yellowjackets?  Did you say yellowjackets?  Yes I did.
I was out on my patio just minding my own business, examining my flower beds around the deck, when I decided to reach for my little hoe, the one that was leaning up against the wall near the sliding glass door, and do a little weeding.  As I reached for it, Oh, NO!  There was enormous, busy-bee activity around the base of my potted yucca plant! 

Carefully, I leaned in a little closer to get a better look.  I could see flying, yellow-and-black striped things landing on the plant and then disappearing into a tunnel in the potted dirt alongside the trunk of the yucca.  This is not good.

My first reaction was bees - honey bees or Africanized honey bees.  And they're just two feet from my back door and right next to my usual path out that door.  Well, crud!

I logged into Google and searched for more information about eradicating them or getting them moved.  In that process I came across a company with an office in the Houston area that specializes in bee removal, so I put a call in to them.

Well, in the meantime, I stepped back outside and noticed that the flying, buzzing things were getting a little agitated by my presence.  This didn't seem right for honey bees, but might be right if they're Africanized bees.  I picked up my hoe and started to work on the bed between the patio and the deck when I suddenly felt a sharp pain on the back of my thigh.  Ouch!!  I turned around and looked, and there was one of those suckers...stinging me!  I swatted it away and ran back into the house.  Damn, but that hurts!

This is not good...I'm in and out of that door regularly.  I can't have these insects harassing me or my family.  I really need to get that potted plant further away from the house, because who knows how long it will take for that bee removal company to call me back.

So I had the bright idea to suit up in full motorcycle gear - boots, riding pants, armored jacket, helmet, gloves - and try to move that plant to the far edge of the patio, away from the door.  I made sure the jacket collar was tucked up snugly under the bottom edge of my helmet and the gloves tucked into the cuffs of the jacket, with the jacket cuffs cinched up tightly.  I felt ridiculous.  I probably looked ridiculous.  It was, after all, close to 100 degrees out there. 

Grabbing the hoe, I tried to hook it around the potted plant and start pulling it away from the house.  I ended up sort of scooching it and pushing it toward the patio edge.  The flying, buzzing things went nuts!!

I managed to get the pot to the edge and then dropped the hoe and ran around to the side of the house, away from the swarm of angry buzzing things. There I stood, in full heavy motorcycle gear, the sweat running down my face and trickling down my back, as I peeked around the corner of the house and watched the swarm of angry flying, buzzing things fill the patio area.  I stood there, sweating and cursing myself for not having the foresight to unlock the front door. 

Now I had no choice but to wait it out.  There was no way I could get in the sliding glass door without bringing a horde of angry flying, buzzing things into the house with me. 

I gradually eased around the corner of the house, back toward the deck, and then moved to the corner of the deck that was furthest from the patio.  It's the corner where the hummingbird feeder hangs on a bishops crook pole.  I was standing right under it. 

Even through the motorcycle helmet I could hear the buzzing coming from the swarm.  Then I heard a different kind of buzz, more of a deeper, thrumming hum.  It passed right next to my head and into my field of vision.  It was a lovely hummingbird, just inches from my face!  It landed on the rail of the feeder - right in front of my eyes - and began to lap the nectar.  It was so close I could see its tiny throat moving as it lapped, see its tiny, rapid swallows.   It paused for a few moments and turned to look right at me, a micro-second that seemed like eternity.  Then it turned back for another long, deep drink.

I was mesmerized.  The flying, buzzing things on my patio and the suffocating heat inside of the motorcycle helmet and jacket were momentarily forgotten as I wondered at this tiny little living being, drinking my nectar from my feeder, so close to my face that I could see the minute and fine detail of its feathers, the glowing coppery-red of its throat, the tiny ear holes, the ridges on its long beak.

And then the hummer flew away and I was left wondering how the heck I was going to get back into my own house.  Totally drenched in sweat and suffocating in the helmet, I waited for what looked like a slight lull in the buzzing activity and made a run for the door, edged it open a crack, and, waving my arms and legs wildly to discourage any of those buzzing things from getting too close, I squeezed inside.

Later, as I watched these flying, buzzing things beating themselves against the windows and slider, I could get a good look at them and determine that they were not bees, but were, in fact, yellowjackets.  this made sense now, given their subterranean nest in my potted yucca plant.

The bee guy did finally call me back and I am now on his schedule.