Monday, November 26, 2012

My Black Friday was very bright!

A few years ago my family started a wonderful tradition of NOT getting each other Xmas gifts. I know I've mentioned before on this blog how much this one decision has enhanced my enjoyment of the holidays. Fighting through crowds at stores with a long list to purchase in a ridiculously small amount of free time is not my idea of the Christmas spirit! Plus my husband and I work very hard not to acquire unnecessary "stuff" thus getting a bunch of well-intended but hard to store presents is not ideal! So our list of people to buy for this year numbered five- 3 nephews and 2 nieces- and all have been purchased.

One wonderful consequence of this present-free Xmas is we are free to spend Black Friday however we want. This year, my family was kind enough to make the drive into the city to visit. And, yes, we entered retail stores, but without any pressure of "having to buy things". Mom, Anna-Lisa, Jason and I made the short trek to Macy's on State to look at the Great Tree and window decorations. This is the 105th year that Macy's (formerly Marshall Field's which traditional Chicagoans like myself preferred...and it will always be the Sears tower, forget Willis), assembled the 45 foot tree. There are over 1200 ornaments on the tree and 25,000 lights. Just think, at the first lighting of the Great Tree, people arrived in horse drawn carriages and there was probably no line for dinner at The Walnut Room! Back when the tree used to be real (they changed to artificial a few years ago), they had firemen on hand 24/7 just in case!

Mom and I

Jason, A-L, and Mom

It was fun to people watch the folks in the Walnut Room from above. It was an eclectic group of children, elderly folks, families, fairies (employees, we suspect) and people dressed as elves (turns out they were patrons). It was also fun to watch other visitors take photos in front of the tree. Many of them (particularly the pre-teen boys but a surprising amount of adults who one would think made the tree trip under their own free will) were BORED and GRUMPY looking! Maybe they spent the morning fighting over door-buster deals......So we decided to take some grump photos of our own:)

Blurry grumpsters

Slightly less blurry grumpsters

We didn't really shop- did some fragrance smelling and some animal print vest perusing, but nothing serious. I was surprised to find that being in the huge eight floor store actually made me WANT to do a bit of shopping, a task that I usually abhor. Maybe it was all the Xmas decorations? I might even try to convince my husband to wander around the store with me later this week. Without any "must buy" items on the agenda, it might be fun!

We then walked all the way to 900 N Michigan and stopped at Lululemon Athletica and then over to WaterTower Place for stops at 2 quick stores. The area wasn't any busier than a usual Saturday - I think the ridiculous crowds were probably in the suburbs- at least that's the impression I got from Facebook!

After our 4 mile urban hike, we enjoyed a lovely dinner of ravioli casserole (thanks, Mom!) and left over apple pie from T-giving. Adam and I had rushed to get the tree and other decorations up before my family arrived and were successful- my Mom helped by putting up the final ornaments.

Overall, it was a nice, relaxed visit. A little walking, a little eating, a little chatting and a very little shopping. Happy Black Friday to us!

Another cool consequence of this minimal gift giving is that we've been using the SAME roll of Xmas wrapping paper for 10 years! Can you believe it? Yes, it was a big economy sized roll when we first bought it, but it's still impressive to me that's it's lasted 10 years. Back when we did gifts, every single Xmas present Adam and I gave each other was wrapped in this paper as well as the majority of gifts we gave family and friends. Well I used the last of the roll yesterday on my niece, Maya's, gift. I guess both my husband and I have a bit of a romantic streak in us because we both felt like it was a pretty monumental occasion and we mutually agreed that we better keep a sliver of the paper in our "scrapbook" since it's had such a role in our joint life. Seriously, we've had this paper since we lived in Roger's Park before we were even married! Dorks that we are we'll probably have to make an announcement about this at Christmas, likely with another picture, before eager Maya opens her gift!

Hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving!

45 on 4 of 5

Motivation is contagious. Today, I became infected. And that's a good thing.

How did I catch this bug? A friend of mine posted the following on Facebook:

"Inspired by [insert her friend's name], I'm pledging now: at least 45 minutes of cardio every day between now and Christmas Eve. Today was day 2. Keeping myself accountable."

Sounds like a great idea to me! But despite my intermittent athletic fanaticism, this might be a bit unrealistic for me in the coming month with my work schedule. So I had to make some modifications, and I came up with 45 minutes of exercise (weights count too) in 4 of 5 days between now and Christmas Eve. That's 29 days (counting today), thus I can have 5 days "off" where I "just" run my daily mile. I can do that! (I think!)

So thanks, Emily R. H., for sharing your plan and motivating me to jump back on the exercise train. Despite running two marathons in the past month and a half I've otherwise been very sedentary for a variety of reasons (some are good excuses, some aren't), so this might be just the kick in the pants I need to stay accountable to myself and the roughly five or six people who read this blog:)

Anyone want to join me? Feel free to make your own modifications. The point is to commit to being active in whatever form or timeframe you can!

This weeks's plan:

3 mile run, 15 minute swim
8 am: LLAC class, 1 mile run
6:30 am spinning, 1 mile run
800 yard swim, 3 mile run
9:45 am Sculpt class, 1 mile run
1 mile run (rest day 1 of 5)
1 mile run, 35 minutes pilates video

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What to do in OBX

At Jockey Ridge State Park.

Our front steps
The Outer Banks are a long stretch of barrier islands on the coast of North Carolina. They are divided into Northern and Southern sections. We were in the Northern section with our home base being a beach house on the ocean in Kitty Hawk, NC. The outer banks are not anchored to coral like some other barrier islands thus suffer significant erosion during storms of any magnitude. While Sandy did not hit this area directly, the winds definitely affected the area. Highway 12, the road our house was on, was closed in parts due to over wash and as you can see in this picture, the sand piled up on the non-beach side of the houses, requiring it to be shoveled like snow.

In case you ever visit the area (and runners, you should seriously consider point #1 below!), I've developed a top eight list of things to do in OBX for your consideration!

#1 Run a marathon. I probably would never have visited this area if not for the Outer Banks Marathon and Half Marathon and I'm glad that the race drew me here! If you are a 50 in 50'er or just like destination races, put this one on your list!

Adam and I after the race.

Me running past the Monument.
#2 Visit the Wright Brothers National Monument. Orville and Wilbur Wright were the first ever to fly a powered vehicle back in 1903 at Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk. The first flight lasted 12 seconds and traveled just a few tens of feet, but later that day they had a 59 second flight that covered 800+ feet. The first ever time man operated a powered vehicle causing it to fly. Pretty amazing! And just to emphasize the rapid pace of aeronautical progress, one of the Wright brothers was actually in attendance at the launch of one of the space shuttles. Incredible!

#3 Kayak in a Maritime Forest. According to wikipedia a maritime forest is "an ocean coastal wooded habitat found on higher ground than dune areas within range of salt spray". There are very few such forests remaining in the world and one of the largest- over 1800 acres worth- is the Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve. My entire family took a leisurely 2 hour paddle in this reserve on a beautiful sunny afternoon. The water was perfectly still and we saw multiple yellow-bellied sliders (turtles) and an interesting bird (not sure what it was to be honest!). The weather was so mild- it was just wonderful to be comfortable out on a boat in November!

Mom and Dad.

The whole gang.

Family photo!

#4 Fly a Kite. My brother and his family are into kites, particularly "power kites" which are larges kites that are designed to create significant pull, some even with the ability to carry people from here to there over water (ex kitesurfing) or even off the ground (kite-jumping, snow kiting, etc). They definitely require core strength to manage properly! We used a nice sunny, windy day on top of a sand dune to play around with some kites.

My Dad being tamed by the kite.

#5 Run down a sand dune. Jockey's Ridge State Park is the largest sand dune in the Eastern United States. There are opportunities for hiking, kite flying, parasailing lessons and general frolicking. Here are a few pictures of the latter. We happened to catch a costume club doing a Star Wars photoshoot on the dune, which was pretty fun as well.

Garrett can fly!

#6 Golf! We had beautiful weather for the first four days of our trip (sunny in the 60s), but it became a bit overcast with intermittent rain for the latter half of the week. But that didn't stop us from doing some golfing! Given the inclement weather, we choose to forgo the many beautiful, more pricy courses for the very reasonably priced Holly Ridge Golf Course. I'm glad we did because the owner was a very friendly chap who gave us a raincheck when I got away too cold after 5 holes the first day despite the fact that it was barely drizzling (certainly no lightning!). The next day we returned and completed the 18 and turns out it was the best round of golf I've EVER had- a 94! My previous best was a bit over 100 (maybe 102?) so this was really a monster golf PR which I was really happy with. I would certainly recommend this course (we ended up going 3 days in a row), but I'd also consider checking out some of the nicer ones (Nags Head, Kilmarlic and Carolina Club) if the weather was more favorable for enjoying the views!

#7 View sunrises and sunsets. The view from our back porch...and our upstairs porch(es)....and the front room....and the screened in porch....and the hot tub were all of this:

In addition, multiple dolphin pods made their way right in front of our house! One solo dolphin was only 20 feet from shore! Absolutely wonderful. The pelicans were fun to watch as well.

#8 Drive through the Brew Thru. Yes, North Carolina has drive thru liquor stores. Go figure on that one. So of course we had to drive thru!

And this was the off season! During regular season there are tons of water sports, mini-putting for the kids, wild horses to see, plenty of activities. To be honest though, I'd recommend the off-season. I can only imagine how packed the place gets during the summer, probably a bit unpleasant.....So bottom line, come for the race, it's a good one! :)

Outer Banks Marathon Race Report

I should start this post by saying I have the coolest family in the world. When Adam and I suggested we run the Outer Banks Marathon and Half Marathon and the family should join us in a beach house for the weekend, they said "Sure". My parents, my brother, my sister-in-law and my niece were not hard to convince. Much like my closest friends ('hey, want to go to Hawaii for the weekend', BK: 'sure!' or 'hey, we should do a triathlon this summer!', SW" 'sure!'), they are generally up for anything, even marathon spectating!

I'll write more about the trip in future posts. This one will focus on the marathon. The lead up to the race did not go so well for me. I developed a wicked cold, mostly involving a sore throat and cough that prevented me from sleeping at night. That, plus a 6 am flight the day we left for North Carolina left me in pretty rough shape. But I knew there was no way I was going to skip the marathon because of a piddly cold no matter how bad I felt. I have bailed on destination marathons twice before- once in Newport Rhode Island when I had a really bad cold- fevers, chills, had to stay in bed for a few hours each day, terrible runny nose etc, etc. The race would have required a really early wake up call and I was worried about how much sicker it might make me, so I decided the night before to call it off. Then, this past summer, mental and physical exhaustion after a long first year of fellowship caused me to bail on the Ann Arbor Marathon. I was just a few weeks away from the HOT Med City Marathon and I just didn't have it in me to slog through another hot race. I don't feel bad about missing either of those races. I'll go back and do Newport another time and there are actually other races I think I'd prefer in Michigan (like Traverse City). But I would feel bad about going all the way to North Carolina with my family and then missing a race, especially because I don't have any other marathons scheduled until next fall. So I was doing this race, no matter what.

Race morning I actually felt a little bit better. Still sick, but okay. Did I feel like running a marathon that morning? No. But I wasn't full of dread, and knew I could handle it and maybe even enjoy part of it.

The weather was absolutely perfect. It was about 50 degrees and sunny at the start. There was a nice breeze. Not too cold, not too hot. The first few miles were through pretty residential areas, some along the sound. There were very pretty views with fog over the water. I trucked along at a comfortable pace which ended up being b/t 8:50-9:20 min/mi or so. This is actually a bit faster than I projected so my family missed me at the first spectation point they attempted. Running too fast for your spectators is always a good problem to have! We ran by the Wright Brothers Monument (First in Flight), which was cool. We then entered a dirt trail through a park (the Nags Head Woods Nature Preserve) which provided for lots of elevation changes on what was otherwise a flat course. Around mile 10 my dad showed up on a bike and rode with me for a bit. This was a good distraction because while I could appreciate the beauty of my surroundings on some level, I mostly was not feeling very well and not very excited about still having 16 miles to run. He rode with me for a few miles then headed off to re-unite with the rest of the family as I trudged on.

Just before mile 13, the trail turned to single track, HILLY single track. Right before a pretty dramatic hill, there was a rest stop offering fruit and banana bread. A tasty bite of banana bread seemed like  perfect opportunity for a walk break up that hill which of course resulted in a 10:30 mile. Oh well. I pulled it back together for a few timely miles but after mile 16 or so I slowed down quite a bit to a 10-10:30 min/mile average, which was more in line with what I expected give the cold.

Thankfully, my parents were all over the course in the latter half because I was struggling. I tried to stay optimistic for them keeping in mind that they did travel all the way to the Outer Banks for a weekend vacation and were donating half a day of it to spectate for me, but I definitely wasn't the most cheerful version of myself! As usual, my family members were super spectators, wearing goofy hats, taking pictures, providing water, running along with me (thanks Dad!) and wearing super-amazing-sparkly spectator shirts. Check out this amazing sequined shirt she was wearing- I could see it from half a mile away, shining in the sun!

The whole gang. This picture does not do the sparkles justice!

The latter 10 miles of the race were........let's just say I held it together and got them done but it wasn't pretty. I stayed focused (or blank!) and did not let my mind wander to negative thoughts. I focused on forward progress and getting to the bridge. "Just get to the bridge" became my mantra. Miles 22-24ish were over the Washington-Baum Bridge and I just focused on getting to that bridge. Like most bridges, there was a significant hill to the bridge and I told myself once I got there I could walk, relax and enjoy the view knowing I only had a few short miles to go. For some reason I thought the bridge started at mile 20 and I'm sorta glad I didn't know it was actually 22 because I could hold out hope that I was "almost to the bridge" to pull myself through a bit longer!
The Washington-Baum bridge is in the background,
quite the incline.

The bridge was really neat and I was able to enjoy it a bit even though I was feeling pretty rotten. Beautiful day, sun shining, nice ocean breeze, just a few miles until completion of my 14th marathon in my 9th state! I was able to ignore my sore throat and inability to swallow properly for just a few minutes at the top of the bridge then re-focused to get the work done to get to the finish. I surprised myself by actually running up the bridge, figuring I didn't need a walk break, I'm an experienced marathoner, and I should keep it together!

In the finish chute.

I was definitely happy to finish the race and even happier to partake in a delicious post-race meal of skillet cheese toast back at the house with the family. Delicious!

While I didn't have any big revelations or amazing moments (or record times) during this race, it was a solid marathon. Not my best, not my worst, but an overall good experience especially because I got to share it with my family!

I would definitely recommend this race to others. It was well-run, the course was beautiful and the aid stations were plentiful and well stocked with cheerful volunteers. I must admit I gave fewer "thank yous" than I usually do because my voice was so hoarse and instead was surprised to hear the volunteers thanking us for coming! Turns out the race is a big money maker during the off-season in the Outer Banks. I'm happy to be able to contribute- it was well worst the cost!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

For Grandpa Monson

I've been meaning to sit down to write this post for a while, but, you know, life gets in the way! But here it is, a brief ode to my Grandpa Monson!

I like this one because has traded his usual stoic "picture"
expression for a smile.
My Grandpa has been retired my entire life but nonetheless is one of the most active folks I know! I don't think he'd mind my announcing that he is now well into his 90s (90s!), but is still playing cards, visiting friends, tinkering around the house not to mention staying active with his many grandkids and grandpets! He always has a story or a joke to tell, sometimes not wholly PC but most often hilarious! He has so many interests! I think this is key to a full life- staying social and retaining interests. From history to engineering feats (bridges, dams and the like), to trains and planes, to the goings on in Chicago, he always has something new he's read or heard. He often sends Adam and I clippings from the Tribune- he's way more up to date than we are and I always appreciate the articles especially because he has a great handle on what we are interested in- beer, running, my Elly, to name a few.

One of his interests is trains. Multiple family members have become interested in trains over the years so much so that for as long as I can remember there has been a huge working train set in the basement. I haven't been down to see it (or certainly to play with it!) in years, but I remember it like I saw it yesterday. Electronic switches to make the trains go, various switches to change the tracks, a huge train play land. My brother and I used to spend hours down there playing with the trains before we graduated to pool, and then cards, and then sitting around chatting with the adults:)

Courtesy of Nelson Stills.
My brother recently has become quite the photographer, truly impressive. You really should check out his work- Nelson Stills Dramatic Photography- for some absolutely stunning images including some recent ones in Alaska with the aurora borealis. One of his recent photographs is of a train in California. He dedicated it to Grandpa Monson it so seemed perfect to include here!

iPad early adopter
In addition to being a devoted grandfather and social butterfly (he never misses his AM McDonalds coffee with the guys), Grandpa is an early adopter of technology. A few years ago he became the first member of the family to own an iPad, here he is learning how to use it. For a few months there my grandpa and my then 2 year old cousin were the only two in the family who owned iPads!

A bit of rain at my wedding rehearsal didn't stop them!

Grandpa (and Grandma) always attended our important life events. They sat through countless (probably really bad) band concerts, athletic events and (probably the most boring of all) graduation ceremonies. They participated rain or shine, always full of smiles and praise.

Thanks for everything, Grandpa! I'm lucky to have you in my life!

Chatting with little Aly.

My Brother, Dad and Grandpa.