Saturday, December 24, 2016

Holiday Miscellany

Time to wrap the year up with some random notes and photos from this year's holiday season.

Our community has a golf cart Christmas parade every year and this year's was the biggest yet. I walked about a half mile west on our little gated community's main street and found some ladies sitting out in their driveway, waiting for the parade. I joined them and we had a good time cheering and waving and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Some neighbors really went all out to decorate and light their carts. Click below to watch the video.

My next door neighbor and I always watch each other's houses while one or the other of us is out of town. This Christmas she flew to Cincinnati to be with family, so I offered to babysit her two houseplants. She brought them over the day before she left, and gave me watering instructions. It's almost like being a pet sitter! Nice to have a bit more live greenery in the house.

Chinese Ming on the left, orchid on the right. The Ming is decades old!
 I knew that my son and his family had been out of town for a week visiting her family in northern California, so I had to plan my gift shipments to them very carefully so that they'd arrive before they left. I also knew they'd be arriving home late on the 23rd to spend actual Christmas at their own home. I debated whether to order some goodies from Omaha Steaks or to just order a large floral centerpiece for their dining table. I decided the centerpiece would be safer, since my son's dad would be arriving at their house about the same time and spending a couple of weeks and he doesn't eat meat.

So on Thursday I logged into my USAA account and ordered FTD flowers (USAA members get a very deep discount), a nice large centerpiece with roses and candles. I arranged to have it delivered Dec 24. Fast forward to today, Dec 24, and my doorbell rang. I received a very nice delivery!! Great minds think alike!

Floral arrangement from my son and his family!
A couple of weeks ago, as soon as I got home from my Florida trip, I got busy and dragged out the holiday decorations. Mine was just about the only street on our cul-de-sac without any decorations. I pulled out the 6' artificial tree and got it set up.

Tree is up and lightly decorated.
My cat Nyla immediately found her favorite spot under the tree!

She waits 11 months for this day every year!

Every day during the holidays I can find her here under the tree.
Then I dug out the cute little two-foot tree that I bought to take to Orlando when our family went to Disneyworld for Christmas a few years ago. I didn't pull out all of the tree decorations for the big tree....just a few meaningful ones.

The cute little tree that I brought with me to Orlando the
year the family all did Disneyworld for Christmas.

Then I dragged out the box of exterior lights and draped a few strands onto the hollies in front of the house. I have an ancient little string of lights that keep expecting to die, but it still lights up whenever I plug it in, so I wrapped it around the branches of my Ficus tree on the front porch. It's finally beginning to look like Christmas at the house!

I ordered myself a meal from Omaha Steaks - Turkey Roulade wrapped in prosciutto, garlic mashed potatoes, green beans, molten lava cake - so I'll feast like a queen tomorrow with very little preparation required. I'll miss being with my family, but I had the holidays with them last year. This year it's other family members' turns.

Then I'll have a week to think about the first race of the new year, the Texas Metalsaw Marathon on New Year's Day.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Race That Went On Without Me

December weather in Texas can be "iffy" at best.  It epitomizes that expression, "Don't like the weather, just wait a minute." I know other states or regions lay claim to this saying, but trust me when I say that Texas represents it the best. In December it is typical to experience temperature drops of 40-50 degrees in just minutes as a "blue norther" roars in from the north. As my late husband used to say, "There are only a few strands of barbed wire between Texas and Canada to block those cold winds." It can be a wild roller-coaster ride the entire month as temperatures swing wildly between the 80's - even the 90's - and the 30's.
Packet pickup at San Luis Hotel

And so it was this past weekend as I got ready to drive down to Galveston on Saturday to run in the Santa Hustle Half Marathon on Sunday. I packed a little overnight bag with my running stuff, and then left the house early afternoon to make the 35 mile drive down to the very nice San Luis Hotel in Galveston to pick up my race packet.
Cute inflatable display at packet pickup

Cute "elf" volunteer at packet pickup

From there I drove a few blocks to the very elegant and historic Tremont House Hotel on Mechanic Street, just a block off the famous Strand. I love this hotel, having stayed here a couple of times in the past. It's richly restored into a luxurious hotel, with all of the very historic architectural features mostly preserved, including the beautiful hardwood floors throughout, including in the guest rooms.

Historic plaque for Tremont House Hotel

It was a lovely and warm 80 degrees as I walked the Strand after getting checked in. I stopped at the Starbucks, got a chestnut caramel latte, and then sipped and strolled. I was a little surprised at how shabby the Strand had become. Hurricane Ike did a lot of damage to this thriving tourist area, but it appears now that it's not really recovering very well. Many shops were still boarded up 8 years later. All of the nice shops I remembered from years ago are now long gone. Galveston is a major cruise port, so this is surprising.
The Strand in downtown Galveston

I returned to the hotel, had lasagna for dinner in the hotel restaurant, then went up to my room to get my things laid out for the next morning's race. A cold front is expected. Temperatures will drop more than 50 degrees, down into the low 30's in the early morning hours, and winds are forecasted to be 35 mph and gusting to 40-45 mph. Yuck! I ran another half marathon in Galveston a few years ago in very similar weather conditions, perhaps 10 degrees warmer but just as windy.

Giant gingerbread house in lobby of Tremont House Hotel

So...Sunday morning I got up, got dressed - bundled up, really - and started out on the 1.7 mile walk to the start line. I chose to walk rather than drive so that I could add approximately 3 miles to the half marathon race distance as I prepare to run a marathon on New Year's Day. It was 40 degrees and winds were blowing 35 mph out of the north.

It didn't feel too bad as long as I was among the buildings on the Strand, but as soon as I got south of the downtown area and out into the open, I felt the full strength of the wind. As I got closer to the ocean, the winds were stronger and even colder.

As I neared the start line, I thought to myself, "Why in hell am I doing this?? I don't need to do this race!" The route will be 6 miles south along the seawall, and then will turn around for 6 miles north along the sea wall, with that cold northerly wind directly in my face.

And then I did it. I bailed. I turned around and walked right back the way I came. I had my Starbucks card in my pocket so I stopped there, got a cappuccino, then walked the rest of the way back to the hotel and had breakfast in the hotel restaurant: an egg and ham croissant sandwich and a lovely plate of fresh fruit. Even if I had second thoughts on my renege, it was too late. The runners all left without me.

There will be other races....and this race will be here next year if I decide I want to try it again. In the meantime, it's almost Christmas!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Nice Race and Sojourn in Orlando

My trek across I-10 to Florida is pretty much an annual event. Every year I head east the first week of December. For several years a while back it was to attend a get together on Cedar Key, now most years it is to stay at one of the very nice Marriott timeshare properties in the area.

This year I put together a trip to Florida to include a half marathon in the very beautiful downtown Orlando, followed by a week at my favorite Marriott property, Marriott's Cypress Harbour. I love this particular property for its beautiful forested grounds, wonderfully spacious and modern apartments, and very nice amenities on-site, including a Starbucks. It doesn't hurt that it's a very nice distance for many off-property amenities, easily reached by comfortable running distance....good way to get a nice 3-6 mile run in.

Suitcases and car packed, it was off to Florida! Enroute to Orlando I stopped for the night at a Quality Inn in Crestview, FL, had dinner at Cracker Barrel, then got up early the next morning and drove the rest of the way to Orlando and my lovely room at the Embassy Suites Hotel in the historic Orlando city center.
Tree-lighting in Orlando

Beautiful holiday at Lake Eola in Orlando

It was a fabulous location!! I could walk to the race start, walk to all of the great little cafe's in the area, even walk to the Christmas tree lighting and concert Friday night on Lake Eola, just a block away from the hotel.

Saturday, race day morning, I walked to the race start on the north side of Lake Eola just in time for the national anthem and then start of the race. Temperatures were in the high 50's, perfect for running a half marathon.
Brick-paved streets of Orlando

The race route started and finished along the north shore of Lake Eola, and took us through many beautiful neighborhoods in the near downtown area. Most of the streets were brick-paved and lined with oaks dripping in Spanish moss. It was a really beautiful race route!

Brick pavers and old Live Oaks, dripping with Spanish moss

Race route through Orlando

Finisher medal

On my way back to the hotel after crossing the finish line, I took a slight detour to a Starbucks to grab a Vente triple-shot cappuccino to bring back to my room. Showered and rested, I walked to a very nice pizza cafe and ordered a pizza - pepperoni, mushroom and anchovy - then bought a bottle of beer and brought it all back to my room to eat in front of college football on the TV.

Christmas concert in Lake Eola Park

After dark, I walked back to Lake Eola Park to browse the lights and listen to the concert for a little bit.

The next morning after breakfast I walked back to that Starbucks shop and then, as I returned to the hotel, noticed a farmers market taking place in Lake Eoli Park. I sipped my cappuccino and browsed the vendor stalls, taking time to sit and enjoy the views of the lake and the beautiful swans.

Market in Lake Eola Park Sunday morning

There were many vendors lining the beautiful shaded walking paths through the park. This orchid vendor was the most intriguing. Too bad I was on the road. I would have bought one or two to bring home with me.
Pretty orchid plants at the market in Lake Eola Park

There were so many swans on this lake! Mostly white swans but a few black swans as well. They were very tame, since there were vending machines selling feed for the ducks and swans and they were very accustomed to humans. It was fun and relaxing to just sit and enjoy their presence.

Pretty trio of white swans

Lake Eola

Then it was time to return to the hotel, pack up, check out, and retrieve my car to make the short drive south to Marriott's Cypress Harbour.

I delayed as long as I could checking out, knowing that I would be "homeless" for a bit before I could check into the Marriott. I dragged my feet as long as I could, took my time driving down I-4 and expected I'd be having lunch at the resort before I'd be able to check in, but fortunately they had a unit ready for me and I was able to check in by 1:00 PM. I drove to my unit, brought my luggage in, and then headed back out to the grocery store to stock up for the next few days.

Now for a relaxing few days in this very luxurious and spacious 2-bed, 2-bath condo-style unit with full kitchen, screened in balcony. I had everything I needed. Food. Wine. Beer. Comfortable digs, nice resort grounds on which to get some walks and runs in over the next few days. And, of course, a Starbucks!!

Tuesday morning run at the resort

On Wednesday I drove up to the Deland area to join a few friends for a lovely laid-back lunch at the very nice St. John's River Grille. It was a nice mid-week change.

My plans for leaving Florida are loose at this point. I may leave on Friday, or I may leave on Saturday. We'll see....

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Quick Trip to Tulsa to Run Route 66 Half Marathon Again

Three times! That's how many times I've now run this really iconic half marathon, the Route 66 Marathon/Half Marathon.

This time I flew into Tulsa. The other times I drove, but it's a long, boring drive and the airfare to fly in was very inexpensive, approaching break even for the cost of gas/vehicle wear-and-tear. My flight went smoothly and I scored a really nice cab driver from the airport who kindly gave me his business card and booked my return ride to the airport on Monday.

Packet pickup...not too crowded yet.

Entrance to expo and packet pickup at the Cox Center

My room was ready at the Holiday Inn - my favorite hotel when in Tulsa - and I dropped my things off in my room and then headed to the convention center to pick up my race packets for the 5K on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday. I stopped by the Brooks booth, thinking I'd take advantage of their 35% expo discount and buy a new pair of running shoes, but....I won a new pair!!

I won a free pair of Brooks running shoes!!

While out and about, I made sure to stop at Pinketzel Cupcakes to buy a post-race stash for later.

Cupcake shop

I had many friends coming into town for this race, but most were coming in on Saturday so had dinner by myself at the very nice hotel restaurant. I returned to my room, laid out my running gear for the 5K race the next morning and then settled in for the evening.

It was cold the next morning as I headed out of the hotel. My wardrobe included a fleece jacket that had originally been earmarked for the donation pile. I intended to wear it through the entire 5K and then wear it at the start of the half marathon a day later, before discarding it somewhere along the race route.

I met up with another 50 States Half Marathon club member as I departed, and we walked the mile to the start of the 5K. I didn't have too long to wait before the race began, and I was pleased with myself for running most of the distance. I'd not been running much, having settled into a race-walking pace these last 18 months or so. But I'd been running/walking my training runs for the last couple of months, so this was a nice turn-around to my racing.

5K finisher medal

At the finish line I met up with a half dozen fellow 50 Staters and we all went to breakfast at a cute little cafe called Brambles. Afterward I walked back to the hotel and surfed the internet for a bit before showering and dressing and then getting a late lunch at the hotel restaurant. Then it was football on TV in my room for the rest of the afternoon.

Our little group of 50 State Half Marathon Club members

Saturday evening we had a great turnout for a pre-race dinner at Baxter's Interurban Grill. We filled four big tables! I'd walked to the restaurant before it got dark, but when we were done, it was close to 8 PM and pitch dark out. One of the gals offered me a ride so I gladly accepted it. We got to within two blocks of my hotel and ran into road blocks as they prepared for the race the next morning. Hopefully she found her way to the freeway, since she was staying at a hotel near the airport.

Nice turnout for the pre-race dinner

Sunday morning - half marathon race day - I took my time getting ready, then heading out of the hotel just a few minutes before 8:00 AM. The race start line was just next to the hotel, so no need to head over there early. Add to this the fact that I was in the last corral - corral D - and I knew it would be at least 15 minutes before we started to move toward the start line. It was chilly and I wore that fleece jacket with the plan to discard it around mile 5 or so.

The race started, I crossed the start line, and then took advantage of all of the downhills by running and letting gravity take over. I was accumulating a pretty good pace until mile 5, when a series of long uphills ate away at my good time. But I expected this.

Half Marathon race route ....very hilly!

I passed lots of other runners in the first 10 miles

I continued to pass lots of runners in the last 3 miles

I plodded along, took advantage of the peanut butter-jelly sandwiches that someone was giving out of the back of their car at around mile 9. Another long, grueling uphill stretch, and then we were running out to the center of a bridge on the old historic Route 66, turning around, and heading back toward downtown. Just 2 more miles to the finish line!

Half Fanatics special half marathon finisher medal and the 5K finisher medal

At the finish, I collected my finisher medal and headed for the logo gear tent, where I collected my logo pint glass, swag for those who ran both the 5K and the half or full. My next stop was the Muscle Milk tent, where I filled my glass with strawberry creme milk - ohh! So creamy and delicious!

Route 66 Half Marathon finisher1

My last stop was at the Marathon Maniacs/Half Fanatics VIP area, where I exchanged my ordinary finisher medal for the special Half Fanatic finisher medal then entered the big event tent where they were serving hot pulled pork sandwiches with coleslaw and other goodies for the finishers. Here I met up with my 50 States friends. We waited for one more person to finish, then walked to Brambles again for a post-race breakfast. It was so nice spending time with these running friends!

Post-half marathon breakfast at Brambles Cafe

We all went our separate ways after lunch, and I walked back to my hotel. I lolled for a little bit in my room, getting caught up on Facebook. Finally I made my way into the bathroom, showered, washed my hair, and then got dressed and dried my hair.

I had a free drink coupon for the hotel restaurant and I intended to cash it in! I had a wonderful dinner, a nice local draft beer and sat back and relaxed. It was a nice, if short, weekend, with two races finished, nice time spent with fellow runners. Monday morning I'd be flying back home.

Starbucks at the airport early Monday morning

My cab driver showed up exactly on time, got me to the airport in plenty of time, and I was upgraded to 1st class on my flight! All in all, a good day, a good race weekend. But I'm pretty sure this will be my last time doing this race. So many other great races out there to experience.

Next up, Thanksgiving weekend!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Four-Question Challenge - Game of Fours

The world is so much smaller now that we have social media, blogs, and Twitter. Remember way back when phones and TV and radio had that effect on our world? The pull of the internet has brought many friends from all over the country into my world. One of those people is Trobairitz. She's a fellow blogger who lives halfway across the country. But the miracle of this shrinking world is that I was able to finally meet her and her blogging husband in person after months and months of knowing each other only through the written word.

She nominated me along with three other of her blogger friends to participate in a Four Question Challenge in which the nominee must provide four answers for each question. Variants of this game circulate on Facebook and I usually don't "bite." But doing this in a blog is a new and different experience with more room to expand on the answers, so what the heck!

The four questions are:
1. What is your favorite food?
2. What is your favorite drink?
3. What places have you visited?
4. What names are you known by? goes!

Favorite Food
My favorite food is - drum roll please! - All of it! Any food! Anything edible!
Chocolate shop in Rome, Italy

No?? Well, if I must narrow it down, then okay...dark chocolate. I'm addicted to it. I'm forever on a quest to find the ultimate dark chocolate source, and have brought home stashes of it from all over the world.
A favorite of mine: SeƱor Murphy chile pistachio dark chocolate bark.

Homemade soup is tops on my list for comfort food. I begin to panic when my freezer stash dwindles. I mean, what is life if there aren't at least several containers of different soups in my freezer? Beef barley soup, chicken noodle soup, turkey rice with spinach soup, split pea and wild rice soup, navy bean soup.

I love how cozy it makes the kitchen feel when simmering on the stove, how it makes the house smell with those savory aromas wafting out of the kitchen and into the nearby rooms. I'll start the pot right after breakfast, sipping my morning coffee while I do the "sous chef" work to get the ingredients ready. That way, the soup will be done just in time to have a piping hot bowl for lunch. The rest gets portioned into 2-bowl servings and placed in the freezer for another day.

Smoked Salmon. On a trip to the U.K. with my husband, I probably ate my weight in smoked salmon, to the point where he told our waiter that I was going to grow gills if I ate any more. This was said as I ordered, for the umpteenth time, a smoked salmon appetizer with lemon wedge and capers (ohh, love capers!).

Don't laugh, now. I'm about to tell you another of my favorite foods: Green beans. You just laughed, didn't you?! It's true. I love green beans. When they're in season, I buy pounds and pounds of them, snap and blanch them, and then freeze them in serving portions. And along the way, dozens of them don't even make it into the pot or into the freezer. I love them raw. I love them blanched. I love them served in other dishes. I love them in soups.

Honorable mentions include pasta, anchovies, prosciutto, and candy corn.

Favorite Drink
Espresso-based drinks (de-caff) - Cappuccinos that are strong, with extra shots, prepared somewhat "dry" are my favorite and I treat myself to one a week at the nearby Starbucks when I'm home. I confess to Googling good coffee shops in towns of destination when I'm traveling.
I especially love sipping hot drinks out of a big ol' ceramic mug.

Other favorite espresso-based drinks include macchiatos with just a hint of froth dollop on top. And then there's pure, unadulterated espresso, rich and creamy, with a good ring of foam clinging to the edges of the tiny cup. In all of my travels, I've enjoyed a variety of "takes" on espresso-based beverages. I even got more than my money's worth out of the coffee card on a Princess cruise lines ship. The barista knew me by name by the time we returned to home port.

Sparkling wine, specifically Spanish cava. Once I open a bottle....well, suddenly it's empty. Goes down way too easy, which is a dangerous characteristic for any alcohol beverage. My local grocery store carries a wide assortment of different cavas, always something new to discover and try.

Sparkling water exists as a staple in my life. It's the tool I used to kick the diet Coke habit a long time ago, and is today a regular occupant of my pantry. I find the little bubbles refreshing and thirst-quenching and I don't need the additives, preservatives or the caffeine of diet coke.

Craft beer is a relatively new favorite of mine, first discovered when my late husband began home-brewing and more recently when my son took up the craft. I cultivated a further appreciation as I've done more travel around the U.S. in the past ten years or so. If it's locally brewed, with limited distribution, I'll try it. Always fun to discover the variety and the creativity of local craft breweries.

Places I've Visited
I've traveled a lot in my life. I was a military brat for the first 23 years of my life. As a grown-up I traveled extensively as a business professional visiting many U.S. cities and many countries in Europe. I've visited all of our own 50 U.S. states to run half marathons. And I've ridden 250,000 miles on a motorcycle, visiting National Parks and cities in all of the lower 48 states. That makes answering this question difficult. What to list? What have been the most meaningful or unique places I've visited? Giving this a lot of thought, I've decided to start with where my life began.

Four different homes I've lived in growing up as a child. This may not seem all that special to most people who live within an easy drive of where they grew up, but for a child who grew up in the military, moving as often as every 6 months, this is particularly meaningful.

The first childhood home I visited was in Madison WI while on a business trip back in the mid 80's. It had been 30 years since I'd lived there as a small child. We lived there for one year, from mid-1953 to mid-1954. I found the house easily. I didn't have a street address but I remembered it was up on a hill, above a golf course and in front of a large water tower. Find that water tower, and I knew I'd find the house. It was easily recognizable - had changed very little - and the neighborhood hadn't changed all that much. I visited my elementary school while there, meeting the school principal who, unbelievably, had been there as a teacher back in the year I attended.

House on Dean Street - 1954. That's me second from left, my little sister on my right,
older sister on my left.

House on Dean Street - 1984, 30 years later

A couple of years after that business trip to Madison, I had the urge to find more of the houses I'd lived in growing up. I took my mom on a trip to California where we visited the home in Venice CA where we lived when I was born. Mom said it hadn't changed at all. It was an apartment in a one story block of apartments, overlooking one of the canals.

Then we flew up to San Francisco, where we rented a car and drove down to Monterey to find the house in La Mesa Village where we lived when I was in the first, second and third grades. We then drove up to Hayward and visited the house we lived in when I was in the third, fourth, and fifth grades. That house hadn't changed much either, still the same color green it was when we bought it brand new in the post-WWII housing boom of the 50's.

Here's that Hayward house today (Google satellite street view)
and it's STILL painted green!
It was a significant and emotional "journey" to visit these homes. It was especially nice to be able to visit three of these homes with my mom while she was still healthy and able to share memories and detail about our lives in those homes.

Names I'm Known By
All of my life I've always been known as Barb. My dad called me that from my earliest memories. As I grew up, I always introduced myself that way and, on a number of occasions, corrected adults (teachers mostly) to call me Barb, not Barbara.

When I got into college I hung out with a group of friends who quickly assigned nicknames to everyone in my circle. I became known as "Blakey." Blake was my last name. I have no idea why this, but I do remember that others in our circle went by variations of their last names as well. That nickname is long gone, now that our circle has scattered to the four corners of the world.

Much later in my life, when I started running and participating in races, a circle of my riding friends began calling me Runner. Well, that stuck for years!

And now a variant of that, started more recently by a couple of my riding friends, is Iron Legs. It's a play on the term Iron Butt. I am an IBA member (Iron Butt Association), an organization which requires minimum qualifications to join. Specifically, it requires one to ride 1,000 miles in less than 24 hours and to get that ride certified by the organization. Receipts, witness forms, and odometer readings are required for that certification. So.... now my riding friends think it's cute to call me Iron Legs, a reference to both my IBA riding and my marathon running. It is kinda cute, come to think of it.

So there they four-part answers to the four questions put to me.

I challenge the following blogger friends to continue this game. They are:
Nomad Willie at The Future is Not Today 
Mike at Mike's Touring Journal - here's Mike's post