Saturday, August 5, 2017

Getting Back in the Running Groove

The summer running doldrums! When the overnight temps don't fall below 80°, you know it's summer in Texas. It's the time of year when hardly any half marathons can be found anywhere in the country except the far northern reaches of the U.S., and motivation to get out of bed early in the morning and put some miles in has all but disappeared. It is just so hard to crawl out of bed at 5 AM, leave the comfort of a/c and of snuggling kitty cats, and get going.

July 24 - just a little over 3 miles

Coffee pot started, mailbox key pinned to my running shorts, a slug of water, start the Garmin GPS watch....then just go. Don't even take the time to think about it.

July 27 - 4.5 miles

The first mile is usually the worst. But then, as I move along, get in the groove, it gets better. The roosters are crowing off in the distance, neighbors are just starting to rouse, getting their newspapers from the end of their driveways, walking their dogs. A few "regulars" are out there walking or riding their recumbent bicycles. We greet one another with familiarity as we go about our morning routines.

July 30 - just under 4 miles

We're almost two months past the summer solstice and, as Earth makes her way around the sun, tilted on her axis, the days are getting shorter. It's dark at 6 AM now, which means I'm usually treated to a nice sunrise somewhere along my running route.

August 2 - just a little over 4 miles

Squirrels and rabbits are up and about, and the golfers are just starting to tee up for their first hole as I'm finishing up my morning run.

August 4 - 5.5 miles

It's all about keeping the fitness level somewhat in line until the race season fires up again in the fall. Just gotta stay somewhat aerobically fit until that first race on my calendar comes around. That will be a half marathon in Philadelphia in mid-September. Just gotta start ramping up the miles again in preparation...just gotta.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Orange Cat Story - Finding His Place

Well, Orange Guy has now been living with me for six months. Time to report on his progress, and it's all good news! Orange Guy has settled in very nicely to his new home with me. He's adjusted to a more indoor living style, and Nyla has adjusted very well to sharing her space with the new guy.

Yes, there have been the occasional hissy fits on Nyla's part when the Orange Guy gets too close or moves too suddenly, but she's never outright attacked or been aggressive toward him. In six months they've learned to accommodate and to tolerate each other, especially Nyla, who's usually afraid of everything!

Nyla being perfectly relaxed in OG's near presence

Orange Guy's daily routine includes having a special breakfast treat then going outside first thing in the morning while I make the coffee. OG comes back inside and we start our day. On mornings I don't go for an early run, I return to bed with my coffee and my Samsung tablet to check emails and Facebook and Orange Guy joins me in bed for an hour of snuggle time. Many times Nyla joins us too, even though she's had me all to herself in bed overnight.

A cat on my left, a cat on my right...and when I crawled out of bed,
careful not to disturb them, they stayed where they were.

OG might go out one or two more times in the morning, finding a sunny spot on the deck or patio. Sometimes I take my coffee out and sit with him on the deck. He loves it when I do that, rubbing against me as he circles around. But then he comes inside and finds a comfortable spot somewhere in the house and takes a long nap. As I move about the house, he sometimes follows me into the next room, and he's found the perfect spot in the breakfast room/kitchen merge where he can lie down yet still see into other rooms and know where I am.

He goes out after dinner, staying out on the patio within sight of me through the patio door, and then comes back in to join me for an hour or so before being put to bed in his space in the laundry room/garage.

One of his favorite spots: sprawled in the walkway
between kitchen and breakfast room

He's settled in nicely and has adopted a couple of other favorite spots as well: On the back of the sofa and on the bed in the den.

On the trundle bed in the den, snuggled up with the giant stuffed lion

On the back of the sofa. It's a leather sofa so a cover was in order

I love how he makes this really cute little trill sound every time I start petting him. And I love how deeply he sleeps and how cute he looks when I wake him to pet him or take his photo.

That look on your face when you're awakened from a deep sleep!

OG saying, "Let me sleep!"

My biggest challenge and concern has been my travel. I had several trips planned for late spring and into summer, and this was uncharted territory for OG and me. How would he handle being cooped up for more than just a couple of days?

My first trip longer than just a quick weekend getaway was 3 days and 3 nights and I'd kept him contained in the laundry room/garage. But with summer coming and the days getting hotter,  this wasn't the best solution. Overnights were fine since the temps were comfortable in the garage and the a/c kept the laundry room cool. But daytime temps soar in the garage and bleed into the laundry room with the open door and with the door to the kitchen closed.
A real garden kitty!

So my next trip, in April, I switched things around. I put Nyla into the master bedroom suite, a very spacious area including the bedroom, giant bathroom, and enormous (9' x 11') walk-in closet. She spends much of her time in this part of the house anyway, so it made sense to do it this way. I put her food and water in the bathroom and her litter pan in the walk-in closet. Then I closed the door to the master bedroom suite. This gave OG the rest of the house. His food is always in the laundry room, and the communal big water bowl in the kitchen, and I left the door open to the garage where his litter pan is located.

I worried the whole time I was gone, but when I returned, was pleasantly pleased with how well OG handled things. He behaved perfectly, Nyla behaved perfectly, and I had two kitties who really missed me and were competing for my attention.

Absolutely desperate for closeness and attention!

Since that trip I've taken a couple more increasingly longer trips, the last being six days/six nights...a good test for OG and a good chance to test his trustworthiness a little more. And he passed with flying colors!

One his most endearing qualities: his adorable little tongue sticking out

I love this little orange kitty! He is so sweet-tempered, so affectionate! I love how he follows me around the yard as I do my garden chores. I love how he comes galloping around the corner of the house when I call him. He is a squeezable, lovable ball of purring orange fur!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Santa Fe....Again.

Santa Fe is such a cute little walker-friendly town! It has a draw that keeps me coming back almost every year. Even though I've walked the pretty downtown area many times, put together some nice running routes, too, it just never grows old. It helps that there are two Starbucks cafes within walking distance - each in different directions.
The 4th of July traffic was just awful! ;-)

What is getting a little "old" for me is the dreadfully boring drive to get there. I announced on Facebook that I would be spending the long 4th of July weekend in Santa Fe and two different friends moaned and groaned about how bad the traffic was going to be for me.

When I go to Santa Fe, I always use some of my Diamond International points to stay at the Villas de Santa Fe, a nice little complex tucked within the trees just to the north of the historic downtown area, an easy 1/2 mile walk to the historic Santa Fe plaza.

I stopped at an Albertsons grocery store just off of the I-25 exit. This was so much easier than trying to get into and out of the Albertsons that is just one block from the Villas. I must remember this for future. I arrived at registration desk about an hour too soon, so I went ahead and parked my car in a shaded spot next to the building I knew would be where my unit assignment would be, then walked into the center of town to get a Starbucks.  I returned back to the Villas and then sat on the pretty front porch of the main building and sipped my cappuccino and checked my emails.

The very pleasant front porch of the resort main building

An hour later I was in my unit, groceries unloaded, and I was making plans for dinner. I'd bought a rotisserie chicken and makings for salad, a bottle of wine, and had a very nice dinner after a kind of crappy day of road food.

The next morning early I donned my running clothes and shoes and headed out for the Starbucks southwest of my villa. This is about a mile away and a nice short jog to acclimate myself to the 7,000 foot elevation, which is always a shock but getting to be even more so as I age. Back at my rooms, I had breakfast of Cheerios and strawberries along with my cappuccino, lingering a bit as I browsed the internet and checked in on the status of Iron Butt Rally, which had just started that Friday morning.

This event, put on by the Iron Butt Association (IBA) is held biannually and is truly for the most hard-core of distance riders. While I have myself earned 15 different IBA ride certificates - several SS1000 (1000 miles in 24 hours), two BBG (1500 miles in 24 hrs), one SS2000 (back to back 1000 mile days), and five National Park Tours (two of them Silver level) - I never aspired to do the hardest of them all, the Iron Butt Rally. But it is sure fun to be an armchair cheerleader for the many friends of mine who have completed this in the past and those who were doing it this year.

So with this going on in the background of my consciousness, I spent less time than I usually do getting out and about. It has the same draw for me as do the Olympics when it comes to following and watching the event(s) unfold.

But I did get out and did put some miles in each day, did visit the Starbucks in the center of town every morning, did have some really fine SW cuisine.
Basilica gardens

One of my favorite places is the Basilica in the center of town. It sits majestically at the end of the main street in town and has a very pleasant shaded plaza with benches just begging for me to have a seat, sit back, and enjoy the scenery and the weather.

I made sure to stop into my favorite chocolatier in town  - Senor Murphy's Candy - and buy a couple of my favorite chocolate bars and then browse a bit, enjoy the plaza a bit, visit with all of the dogs and their owners that are enjoying the shade in that plaza.

One of the IBR bonuses happened to be right in the center of town. I noticed this while watching the SPOT tracking aggregate page. Many SPOT's were making their way into the downtown Santa Fe area and when I zoomed in, I could see exactly what the participants were going for. So the next day, noticing two SPOT tracks making their way into town, I walked into town myself, bought a Starbucks and then positioned myself next to that bonus location to wait for one of the riders to show up. The administrator of the SPOT aggregate page builds in an intentional 20 or 30 minute delay so that folks can't stalk the riders. But I'm good friends with that administrator and know about this delay so I timed my arrival in the center of town accordingly.

As I waited for one or more riders to arrive, I noticed that police were closing off all of the side streets accessing the street where the bonus was located. Soon I saw a very large procession moving up the street, many of the people in some sort of costumes, and heading toward the Basilica at the other end. Looking more closely, I could see that these costumes were 16th century conquistador and senora costumes.

The start of the procession
Many people joined this procession, everyone from monks and priests to tourists and townspeople.

I soon realized that it was a religous procession, the return procession of la Conquistadora from Rosario Chapel to the Basilica. Doing a little research on this afterward, I learned that there's quite a bit of interesting history here. This particular Madonna is the oldest continuously revered Madonna in the U.S.

The procession seemed to go on forever! I realized this was really going to gum up the riders' plans who were approaching this bonus location. These riders are on the clock and have their routes planned to within minutes with very little room for delay or error. But then I saw an obvious long distance rider on the other side of the street, on foot, trying to get across through the religious procession.

The end of the procession: the very old and very special Conquistadora Madonna

When he got over to my side of the street I watched him as he seemed to be confirming the bonus item (a statue of a donkey carrying a load of wood) and then seemed to be looking about at the various people milling about and watching the parade. I approached him, asked him if he was doing the IBR rally, then introduced myself. When I commented on the parade, he agreed and said he'd had to park a couple of blocks away and walk in. It was then that he asked me if I would take his picture in front of the bonus item. Clearly he'd been looking for a likely candidate to do that for him, and seemed relieved that he'd found a fellow IBA person to do it for him. He'd apparently lost his rally flag somewhere along the way, which meant that he himself had to appear in all subsequent bonus photos. That is a tough thing to do when using a required point-and-shoot camera. No cell phone cameras are allowed in the rally. So that excitement over, I slowly returned to my villa.

My early morning run route

The next morning I got up early and went for a 3 mile run on a route I'd worked out the last time I was here. It was pleasant temperatures in the high 50's with nice shade and pleasant views along the way. I of course made sure I stopped at the Starbucks in the center of town before finishing my run. I had breakfast then got showered and dressed and ready for the day.

I was starting to "lose steam" on this trip and began thinking about cutting it a day short. With my fairly new cat, I am still anxious about leaving him home alone. I've been taking this slow and cautious, adding one day to each trip and judging his reaction and how well he handles being home without me. My last trip - to Niagara Falls - left him home for five days/four nights. This trip would leave him home for six days/five nights. The last trip he seemed to handle it well, but every day I add to the experiment is uncharted territory for this cat.

I walked down to the shopping center nearby and had a very nice lunch at a little restaurant with a lovely outdoor patio. Here I contemplated my plans for the next day, even considered if I even wanted to stay another day or not.

So Monday evening I made the decision to leave a day early and got my things packed up, made a hotel reservation for the next night in Abilene, and then moved as much as could out to the car in advance of an early departure the next morning.

I had no trouble waking up early (my body still thought it was an hour ahead) and managed to get on the road by 6 AM on the 4th of July. I packed my perishable food items as best as I could to preserve as much cold as possible. It helped that I had an unopened bag of frozen vegetables, an unopened bottle of chilled wine, and the better part of a 12-pack of sparkling water. All of these items helped to hold the cold for the fresh fruits and vegetables I was determined to bring home with me. I triple bagged all of this into my reusable fabric shopping bags, and brought all of it in with me to my room in Abilene to keep it cold in the mini-fridge in the room. I watched the fireworks on PBS and then switched to NBC to catch the New York City fireworks and then fell asleep quickly.

By noontime the next day I was pulling into my own driveway and greeting my cats. And of course, they were both just fine! All of my anxiety was for naught.  Orange Guy has proven to be quite capable of handling himself in my absence without doing naughty cat things. Nyla was happily enclosed in the master suite, a very large space including bedroom, large bath and giant walk-in closet. She spends much of her days in there anyway and seems fine being enclosed in that space with food, water, and kitty litter since she's given a bit of a respite with space and privacy from Orange Guy.

Trip is done, and now it's home for several weeks, dealing with the heat and humidity of Texas summers. Lots of things to do as I work on various projects for our upcoming play production in November. Then a nice vacation with family at my place on Captiva Island in August. Can't wait!!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Class Act!

Our little gated community of over-55 active seniors is a wonderful collection of talent, creativity, and skills. Many of our residents are active in the many various clubs, committees, and groups, bringing their particular skill sets to the mix. Donation of skills by our various members saves us residents hundreds of dollars per household each per year in HOA dues. Landscaping, building improvements, repairs, and maintenance, enhancements to the grounds and property are all performed by our volunteer committee of White Hats, amounting to over $100,000 savings in labor per year.

One of the major improvements made to our activity center, called The Carriage House, included installation of a sound system and of professional quality theater lighting for our stage. This would never have happened if it hadn't been for the married couple - Syd and Len - who worked for years in professional theater on Broadway in New York before moving here to Texas.

Some of my fellow booth volunteers: Paul on left and Phil (a trainee) on right
They are such a wonderful and giving pair and their contributions over the years have enabled our community to stage theatrical productions, musical reviews, fashion shows, dances with live music, and many, many other fun and engaging activities every year. None of these events would be possible without the professional quality sound system and stage lighting.

With current Players group president (on left) and past president (seated)

All of us in the CountryPlace Players club, a group that stages two to three plays and musicals a year, felt it was time to honor the contributions of Syd and Len to our community. Once the seed of an idea was planted, the planning took a life of its own.

Program for the fete honoring Len and Syd

Months of planning, involving all of the groups and clubs that Syd and Len participated in, culminated in a wonderful Sunday afternoon fete for the couple.

So much food!

Finger food, cookies, cakes, and more filled multiple tables. In fact, as food continued to arrive, more tables were hastily pulled out and set up to hold it all.

Len and Syd sing along with the Ragtimers band. Len
was the director of this band for many years before stepping down.

Our Ragtimers band played a few numbers, and Syd and Len sang a couple of songs. Afterward, a few of us each took the microphone to say some words to them and to the very large group in attendance.
Saying a few words to Len and Syd. Big Red and a
flask of gin were in that bag on my arm.

When my turn came, I surprised everyone by bringing out a bottle of Big Red, a flask of gin, and a couple of cups and then, as I opened and poured the Big Red and added some splashes of gin, I proceeded to tell everyone how much I'd learned from Len over the years and how professional he has always been about making sure that our play productions were as high a quality as possible. But I also let everyone in on Len's and my little secret - he and I would sit back there in the sound booth and drink a little wine, or perhaps have a little mixed drink. This got a huge reaction from the audience, especially Len. Once my narrative was complete and cups filled with the concoction, I proposed a toast to Len and Syd and we all raised our cups.

 A full house, all honoring Len and Syd

The significance of Big Red and gin is poignant. The last play that Len and I worked together was last summer and it was then that many of us noticed he was no longer able to keep up mentally with the challenges of sound booth. He is, after all, 90 years old. One of the major props within that play was the classic soft drink Big Red. So he and I sipped on a mixture of Big Red and gin during the dress rehearsal and the performances.

After my little speech, and amid the hugs with Syd and Len, he leaned in and said how much he enjoys working with me and is looking forward to working with me in our next production. It was a tough moment for me. We all miss his expertise as we struggle to recreate things that he did effortlessly: lightning effects, special lighting, microphone set-ups. We're managing and will eventually figure it all out.
Len and Syd

The Community Board approved the placement of a dedication plaque on the front of the stage, in honor of Len and Syd. So appropriate and so much deserved.

The day we realized he was no longer up to working the sound booth was a sad day. It will be an even sadder day when they are both no longer with us. On the day of the fete, they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Niagara Falls!! Day 2

Race morning and I overslept! I was wearing earplugs to block out the hallway noise and didn't hear my smartphone alarm, which is unusual for me. I must have been tired!!. Fortunately I woke up on my own, just a half hour later than I'd planned, but still with little time to eat breakfast of Cheerios and banana in my room and then get dressed and out the door toward the start line 2 miles away. I didn't even brush my teeth before leaving the room! Good thing I'm in the habit of laying out everything I need for the race!

My friend Dan had offered to get up early and drive me there, but I just couldn't ask him to get up so early, and especially since they were checking out later that morning. They could sleep in, have breakfast and maybe do a little sightseeing before hitting the road for home. I was going to walk but then remembered I could use Uber instead. I made the request on my phone app and within minutes the driver was there to get me. He'd already made a couple of runs to the start line so knew where it was and what to expect in terms of traffic. As we found ourselves in a long line of cars trying to turn left into the parking area, I had him just make a U-turn and drop me off on the shoulder. It was only a short distance into the park where the start line was. It was raining, a cold rain, but we had a short wait, standing under trees to stay as dry as possible.  I positioned myself near the back of pack and then soon we were off and running.

The route was stunningly beautiful, traveling north along Niagara River on Niagara Parkway, through the heavily wooded Dufferin Islands Nature Area, to Niagara Falls, then past the Falls, past the visitor center, and past the American Falls. Right at the turnaround, there was a public bathroom building and I took advantage of it. I'd not seen any porta-potties, but after this stop, I realized that I'd passed at least one other public bathroom along the way and clearly this was the race organizers' intention that we take advantage of these. Now we were all heading south, back past Niagara Falls and the visitor center and back toward where we would pass the starting line area and continue south for another 8 miles along the river.

the race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

We went through Kingsbridge Park, through the cute little community of Chippewa, and past lovely homes overlooking river. As I got within a mile or so of the turnaround point, I heard my name called and saw a woman approaching me as she passed me going in the opposite direction. It was a running club friend I'd never met in person but had connected with at the club Facebook page. She said she'd wait for me at the finish line.
At the finish line!

Then I made that U-turn and began heading toward the finish line. The rain had stopped and the sun was struggling mightily to break through the thick clouds. Soon I was making that last turn into the park and toward the finish line and there was my new friend, waiting for me.

Finisher medal, honoring Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad

We introduced ourselves to each other, chatted a bit with others, then realizing she'd be going right by my hotel in order to cross rainbow bridge back to US, I asked her for a ride back to hotel.

Running club friend Estelle and me at the finish line

As we walked to her car, we chatted some more and compared notes of upcoming races we had scheduled, wondering if we'd soon cross paths again. I enjoyed her company and the fact that she was close to my age, which is becoming more and more a rarity I'm learning, as I keep doing these races.

At the hotel, I bought a cappuccino at Starbucks then went up to my room. I rested in the room for a bit, hydrating, snacking, sipping my cappuccino and enjoying the views. But then hunger for real food hit and I showered, dressed and went down to TGIFridays off the lobby for lunch. I sat in the restaurant and got caught up with emails and Facebook while I enjoyed my hamburger.

I considered what to do next but then decided I'd done plenty that day so went back to Starbucks, bought myself a treat, including a cake pop, and returned to my room to watch TV and relax.

For dinner that night I walked to a nearby Applebee's and picked up dinner to go, some kind of Asian shrimp stir-fry which was actually quite good and with plenty left over to save for the next day.

That night I was treated to a fireworks  display over the falls. I was pleased to learn that they do this every Friday and Sunday night, and since I didn't arrive until Saturday and missed the Friday display, this Sunday display was the perfect way to end the day. View from my room:

Early the next morning I got up, got dressed and headed down to the visitor center to be there as soon as they opened. I bought tickets for the Behind the Falls experience and for the visitor center movie experience, Niagara's Fury. That done and with tickets in hand to beat the rush, I went down to Tim Horton's there in the lower level of the visitor center and bought myself a maple glazed donut and a coffee to enjoy while I waited for the first showing of the Niagara's Fury film. I'm glad I got my ticket so early because the line was very long!

The screen inside the theater, before the movie started

Then along with all of the others in line, I donned my blue poncho and filed into the surround-theater where we viewed a 360 movie about the formation of the falls. We were warned that the closer to the front, the wetter we'd get. Well heck! I stood right up close to the front railing where I got splashed... a lot!!

Then got in line for the Journey Behind the Falls experience, this time donning a yellow poncho and filing into an elevator with a group and taken down 150 feet where we exited into 130 year old tunnels that run under the falls.

In the tunnel, heading for the portal behind the falls
The tunnel itself: deafeningly loud and a bit claustrophobic

The sound of the water roaring overhead was deafening! I walked to the tunnel exit just at the base of the north end of the falls horseshoe, where I had a spectacular view of the bottom of the falls and out toward American Falls. It was breathtakingly powerful and beautiful!

View platform at the base of the falls

View platform at the base of the falls
Here's a short video taken at the base of the falls:


I retraced my steps back through the tunnel to a tunnel branch and took it to a viewpoint that looks out through a portal that is immediately behind the falls themselves. Here the noise was beyond deafening, and seeing the water thundering down in front of that opening was actually frightening. Here's hoping this 130 year old tunnel doesn't collapse!

One of the viewing portals behind the falls
I continued to the end of the tunnel where we had an unobstructed view of the falls. Impressive but loud and I was pretty much ready to get out of these tunnels and up at ground level again.

Here's a short video taken at this portal:


I decided to splurge and have a leisurely lunch at The Keg, an upscale restaurant at the hotel with wall-to-wall views of the falls from the 9th floor. The food and service were excellent and I lingered as long as I dared to enjoy the views. Did I want to walk back over to the falls again?? I thought about it for a while, but then decided that staying close to the hotel seemed like the better idea. But Starbucks sounded like a good idea.

Rainbow over the falls

Back in my room, I started to gather my things and do some preliminary packing. I warmed up my leftovers from Applebees for dinner that night, my last night in Niagara falls.

I had breakfast at Starbucks then checked out and called for my car. They park off-site so a van ride was in order to get to the remote parking lot and my car. The drive to airport was straightforward from here. I had hand-written directions to get to a gas station a couple of miles before getting to the airport, but the car's GPS system routed me a different way and, not being familiar with this GPS system, I was at it's mercy.

Next thing I knew,  I was on the spaghetti mess of elevated roadways that headed into the airport. Then I found myself at the wrong terminal and wrong Avis garage. I got that sorted out and finally got myself headed to the right terminal and garage. By this point I had to pee enough that I was willing to pay the steep penalty for not refueling. The rental car return attendant offered to let me exit the garage and go in search of gas, but I knew my bladder and patience just wouldn't last.

In the airport, I got checked in, navigated the very simple and painless re-entry into the US as a Global Entry traveler, then found a place to sit and have something to eat while waiting for my flight. I'd gotten there plenty early, not knowing how long it would take to get there or how much traffic I'd encounter along the way. But with my Kindle Fire, the time passed relatively painlessly, and pretty soon they were starting the boarding process for my flight. First class seat, dinner, and on-board personal entertainment on my little ASUS computer and I was a happy camper.

It was a really great trip, fun to see Dan, Pam, and Sal while there, great to meet a new running friend, and wonderful to FINALLY see Niagara Falls in person! It was one of those really well-done and scenic races that I'll long remember. I can't think of a better way to see Niagara Falls!

Next: a couple of months' rest from doing half marathons.