Saturday, December 27, 2008

Merry Christmakkuh!

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! I hope you all had delightful holidays and are closing out the year in style.

After getting Hanukkah started in style with an iTouch for Alex, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day with Mom and Dad. We had a full house Christmas Eve with siblings, nieces, in-laws, grandparents, friends of the family, and Godchildren! It was a Christmas Eve Texas style, with award-winning ribs, tamales and queso, and the always delicious olivye. We got in a lot of great family time, though it just never seems like quite enough. Santa was good to us this year--new tennis rackets to feed our growing addiction!

All else is well here in P-ville. Alex is constantly working to get two reports published on time. While it looks like the Brazil trip is on indefinite hold, Japan has now surfaced as a potential destination in 2009! I have signed up for my next Team In Training event: a century ride (100 miles) around Lake Tahoe in June. It's called "America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride" and I can't wait!

May all your days be merry and bright,


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

For Your Viewing Pleasure...

I realize I'm running about one holiday behind schedule, but here's my softball crew at our Halloween game. Yes, I am riding an ostrich. Enjoy!

Monday, November 24, 2008

#50: create photo book of trip to Ireland/London

Thank you, Oprah!

A friend sent me a code for a free photo book for all Oprah fans from Snapfish. While I ended up going way over the standard 20 pages, the $30 credit sure did come in handy! It was fun to look through all our pictures again and remember just how amazing that trip really was. I can't wait to get the book!

If you have a snapfish account, you can view the book here.

Now to make our China one!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Nice Catch--#39!

As my cousin pointed out to me today, the Thriller event definitely counts as going dancing with my husband! It wasn't exactly what I had in mind for that task, but I guess that's part of the beauty of our relationship: while it's not always what I expect, it's always fun and different!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

We Voted (#88)

Because Alex's voter registration didn't kick in until after early voting had closed, we had to wait until the day of to cast our ballots in the election. We arrived at our polling place--the elementary school by our house--at 7 a.m. sharp, and after waiting in line about 30 minutes, signed in and dialed in our votes!

We watched all the debates, and all the Saturday Night Live skits, so we felt like we were well informed on the issues at hand. (I even researched the different propositions that were up for voting, only to realize in the booth that they were all Austin propositions and weren't on the ballot in Pflugerville. Oh well!)

I was so excited for Alex--from Little Communist to active participant in the Democratic process! Although now he feels like he's personally vested in the outcome and will be so mad if his guy doesn't win!

I hope you all took part. What a great day to be an American. :-)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Medical Bills...Done and Done! (#67)

It's true. Thanks to a sweet deal Alex worked out with his company, all of my medical bills are officially paid off! I can't believe it!! Just one more reason to add to the million why we love love love Alex's job.

Hope everyone had a happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

We are World Record Holders!! (twice!!)

The Thrill the World event was yesterday. Officially, 881 Austinites danced the Thriller dance together, the single largest group to ever dance Thriller (previous record was 147)!! That's world record #1. We also broke the previous record for most people at multiple locations dancing Thriller at the same time; previous record was 1,722, and yesterday we had 3,960 zombies in 65 different cities in 9 countries around the world!!

Here is a shot of our breathtaking dance venue--as you can see, the day was beautiful!
Since this was all for the Guinness Book, they were very strict on the rules. No non-dancers could be in the camera shot, so our videographer (Alex's brother) couldn't stand near us to capture us on film. Sorry!! The video of me learning the dance will have to suffice, along with this one of that gives you a feel for the whole crowd and dance!

Thrill the World Austin from Blueberry on Vimeo.

Here's the official website for the Austin group if you're interested in more videos, pictures, new stories, stats, etc.

And, at the end of the day, here are two zombies who left their zombie garb at home but had a great time breaking two world records!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Backyard Beautification, Dancing, and Thrilling the World!

For my birthday this year, (that's March) Alex got me a tree. Well, he got me the promise of a tree. By the time we looked into getting one, hot Texas weather had set in and we were advised to wait until Fall and cooler temperatures. All summer I looked at our empty backyard and dreamed of shade from the afternoon sun. Cooler temperatures finally crept back, and our Oktoberfest party was as good an excuse as any, so when my parents were in town visiting us, we went and bought a tree! It's a Bradford Pear, and we are so excited to see fall colors and tiny white spring-time blossoms. This officially crosses #31 off the list. It's not a lot, but we figure baby steps are the best way to go with our first attempts at lawn/yard beautification. (Unfortunately (and FORTUNATELY), we paid to have the professionals plant it, so I can't yet check off #30...)

Here's Alex grilling us dinner!Last Sunday we went to see the So You Think You Can Dance tour at the Frank Erwin Center. What a show! It was about 3 hours long and soo worth the price of the tickets. We followed this show all summer long (I even voted one night for my favorite dancer), and the performance was even more fun than the series. The best dances from the entire season were performed, along with solos by each dancer. There was interaction with the audience, dancer trivia, and a cute, crazy Russian who finally won "his girl" over (I have a soft spot in my heart for cute, crazy Russians). Here are a couple of "stolen" video clips from the show...the quality isn't too hot b/c the camera had a hard time focusing with all the flashing lights, but hopefully you'll get the idea!

Finally, next Saturday Alex and I will be participating in a Guinness Book record-breaking attempt of the most people doing the Thriller dance! Austin will be one city participating in Thrill the World, and we spent almost three hours yesterday learning the Thriller dance (which, had I been thinking correctly, most certainly would have been on my list!). We had a GREAT, hilarious time learning it, and are so excited to take part in the dance with hundreds of others next Saturday. We'll be sure to get video of the performance, but for now, here's me learning the dance:

As you can see, we've been staying busy being goofy and having a great time! Hope this finds you all well!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Chicago! (and #81)

I flew into Chicago Midway thanks to my dad giving me a free ticket on SWA. I was nervous about leaving that weekend because of the likelihood of bad "Ike" weather, but we took off Friday afternoon just as the winds were starting to pick up. Upon landing, I let Alex know I had arrived and he told me he was making loops and to come outside. 20 minutes later, and still no Alex, I called again. He told me he had just driven by and where was I? I told him I was patiently waiting under the sign that said Southwest Airlines. I read other signs around me. Delta...Midway...wait, did you just say Midway?? Apparently there are TWO major airports in Chicago, and one of us was at the wrong one. It is debatable exactly who. So 1 hour and 45 minutes later, Alex makes it to the airport where I am and we are off!

It is raining. It is dark. I am STARVING. Alex is relying wholly on the Garmin GPS navigator. Note to readers: to effectively use a GPS navigator while driving, you must be good at following directions. Let's just say if there was a U-turn to be made in that city (and most of its suburbs), we made it. What was helpful about the Garmin was that we searched for local pizza places (when in Chicago, eat as Chicago-ans (Chicag-ites? Chicans?) do, right?), and soon we were on our way for dinner! Only we got there and it was closed. But right next door is Mama Thai, so we settle for Thai food and head inside. We were tired, hungry, wet, hungry, tired, did I mention hungry and tired? The table tent is advertising Thai beer--Phuket--so our waiter arrives and Alex blurts out "We'll have two f*ck-its and some pot stickers!" The waiter didn't find it nearly as funny as we did. The meal turned out to be the best thai food we've ever had! So if you're ever lost in a suburb of Chicago in the dark while it's raining and you stumble across a thai restaurant next to a closed pizza place, it's definitely worth it.

The next morning dawned to a whole lot more rain. Apparently Ike had decided to spare Austin and follow me up to Chicago, dumping more rain on the windy city than they've seen in 137 years. So glad I was there to witness that. Our original plans of the architectural boat tour were scrapped (all tours canceled for the whole weekend), so we decided to brave the rain and check out Millenium Park and the Mag Mile. (Sorry for the picture quality--these are taken with a throw-away as our digital camera battery charger was left in Texas.)

At one point we were so wet from having just one small umbrella between the two of us we stopped into a souvenir store and bought new T-shirts. I opted for my first-ever political shirt. While I haven't worn it around my friends here yet (we don't talk politics much), I'm hoping my candidate wins so that I can wear it for four more years!

Here I am walking on water!

We had a delicious lunch at Pizzeria Due. All the Chicago natives I've spoken with recommended Due over Pizzeria Uno. Apparently, the owner first opened Pizzeria Uno, and it was so successful he opened a second location (Due) across the street. So it's the same menu, same food, etc...just less crowded. Interestingly, he was from Texas and missed Tex-Mex food so much in Chicago that he opened a Tex-Mex restaurant right next to Pizzeria Due!

We then spent the afternoon in the Museum of Science and Industry. While it was interesting (especially the robotics exhibit!), it was geared a little more towards kids. We also discovered that Alex would be able to milk a cow faster than I would. It was an exhibit. Seriously. So while it was geared a little more towards kids, we are geared a little more towards kid-like-entertainment, so it was still a good visit.

Saturday night we had a delicious, fancy-schmancy dinner at the Palms restaurant and wondered how to go about getting our pictures up on the wall. We then went to see Wicked at the Oriental Theater! The show was amazing (and totally counts for #81 on my list). I highly recommend it if you ever get the chance to see it. I will never look at the Wizard of Oz in the same way again!

Here we are inside the Oriental Theater lobby:

And here we are on our way back to the car. Gotta love iconic signs!

Sunday brought more rain, and lots and lots of wind! I saw more umbrellas broken in the span of 10 minutes than I have in my whole previous life combined. We stayed inside most of the day, taking a scenic drive along Lakeshore Dr. and staring at the waves crashing against the rock walls and the inordinate number of people out running. People, look around you! It's raining AND windy! What are you thinking??

We went up in the John Hancock tower and were able to enjoy two cups of hot chocolate, some chocolate mousse, and the view through breaks in the clouds.

We finished off the afternoon at the Chicago Aquarium (which had a monkey in one of its exhibits...hmm....) before Alex dropped me off at the (right) airport for my evening flight back home. Here we are emerging from the Aquarium, headed for the airport, just when the rains come to an end. Of course.

It was the perfect quick trip despite the weather! Chicago is a very cool town. It reminded me of New York City and Austin getting married and having a baby...that baby would be Chicago. It was a the perfect mixture of each and I loved it!

PS--could it be?? Does Route 66 really end in Chicago?? (It's hard to see, but it says END Historic Route 66)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Rules for Living in Austin

If you're from Austin, chances are you've seen this, but it's always good for a laugh. The trip to Chicago was AMAZING, even though Ike followed me up there and dumped more rain on Chicago in one day than they've had in 137 years. Will post pictures soon!

1. First, it's pronounced AWS-TUN. It doesn't matter how they say it in other places.

2. Forget the traffic rules you learned elsewhere. Austin has it's own set of traffic rules. There's no book about them. All you can do is get in your car and hope you survive to learn them.

3. All directions start with " Go down Mopac...'cause you don't want to get on 35."

4. Burnet, Braker, and Lamar have no beginning and no end.

5. It's impossible to go around a block and wind up on the same street that you started on. The Chamber of Commerce calls this a "scenic drive"

6. The 8:00 am rush hour is from 6:30am to 9:30am. The 5:00pm rush hour is from 3:30pm to 7:15pm. Friday's rush hour starts on Thursday morning.

7. If you actually stop at a yellow light, then you cannot be from Austin. You may only apply your brakes when the end of a yellow light and the beginning of the red light create a "burnt-orange" hue.

8. If you like being an individual, don't even think of working for Dell. You'll be branded like cattle and made to walk all over town with your "Dell tag" around your neck or clipped on to your belt loop. 98% of the people within a 200 mile radius work for Dell. When someone says "Michael Dell", Dell employees are trained to face Round Rock, hit their knees, put their face to the ground, weep, and rock back and forth.

9. Just remember that Mopac IS Loop 1, Capital of Texas Hwy IS 360, and 183 IS Research, Anderson, Ed Bluestein, Old Bastrop Hwy. 2222 IS Northland or Allendale or Koenig. Ben White IS 290 AND 71. Don't try to figure it out. Just accept it. If you question the intelligence behind this naming convention, people will simply tilt their heads to the right and stare at you.

10. If moisture is determined to be rain, not sweat, all traffic must immediately cease. Ditto for daylight savings time, girl applying eye-shadow across the street, or a flat tire 3 lanes over. Do not attempt to access any road after an apocalyptic event like snow or South X Southwest.

11. Construction on I-35 is a way of life, and a permanent form of entertainment. Get used to it!

12. Keep in mind that the sloppily dressed "hippie" in sandals and earrings is probably the latest IPO millionaire around here.

13. Stay away from the Congress bridge at sundown if you do not like the thought of being in an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

14. And, yes, we all know that's a man in a teddy and a tiara on Congress. It's Leslie, and he probably makes more money than you do.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Labor Day fun and Chicago!

Happy Labor Day weekend!

We had a fantastic weekend!! I spent Friday night at a friend's house for game night and ended up staying out until 1 a.m. (For those of you who know me, you know that is HIGHLY unusual, but I was having so much fun I didn't even realize what time it had gotten to be!)

Also, one of Alex's best friends came into town for the weekend. He makes it in to visit about once a year--he is in the Air Force and is back stateside after being recently stationed in Qatar. He is a huge Longhorn fan (I mean, really, who isn't?), so we got tickets to the home opener Sat. night. We were only about 20 rows up from the field in the newly renovated stadium (with the new seats just completed, there were over 98,000 people at the game!). Tim LOVED all the girls walking around in short skirts/shorts and cowboy boots. I don't remember so many risque outfits at football games when we were in school...I guess times have changed. That makes me feel old. The other thing that made me feel old was realizing that we were 11 YEARS older than the freshman. Yikes! Anyway, the game was awesome and we had tons of fun--and we ended up eating at an all-night joint on the Drag at 1 a.m. Two nights out past midnight and you know we're really living it up.

We spent Sunday recuperating and had dinner and a sizzling scrabble game with our good friends and their adorable daughter. (For all of you scrabble fans out there, don't challenge "AE"--it is a word and you'll lose your turn.) Monday was spent getting in some quality solo time with Alex, which was better than all the excitement of the previous days combined.

In other good news, Alex's next business trip is a 10-day-er to Chicago. We had discussed me flying out over the weekend but decided to keep the miles in the off chance he will have another exiting international work trip in the not-too-distant future (think South America!). Last night, my world's-most-kick-ass dad gave me HIS free airline ticket so that I can do it all!! So it looks like a weekend getaway to Chicago is in the near future. I've never been, and I'm so excited!

Hope all your lives are as charmed as ours!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Just to share...

The English teacher in me has to share this! This is a poem I would have taught (back when I was teaching). I came across it today in search of something for work, and I can't believe I've never read it, much less had it taught to me in school. It has been added to my (long) list of favorite poems. I hope you enjoy your daily dose of poetry!


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master;
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run--
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

—Rudyard Kipling

Monday, August 25, 2008

12 years ago...

12 years ago today, my best friend asked me to do him the honor of being his girlfriend. We were just starting our senior year of high school. I said yes, and we've never looked back.

We had a wonderful "date" lunch to celebrate and spent the entire time talking about our favorite memories over the last 12 years. I feel so incredibly blessed that we had enough to talk and reminisce about that the conversation lasted the entire hour...and those were just the highlights!

Not many people are lucky enough to have met their mate so early in life and to have had such time together to watch them grow into the person they will be forever. I know Alex better than anyone on the planet--I know where he's come from, I know what he's been through. I've seen the forces and events that have shaped him into the man he is today. And he knows the same about me.

We are so very, very lucky.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hells to the Yi-zah!

Alex "surprised" me with tickets to the So You Think You Can Dance tour! (That gets " " because we had talked about it for a while but decided that we should save the money. Trouble was that we decided that same thing about FOUR different fun things we were going to do, so Alex decided he had had enough and got the tickets anyway!)

I am so excited!!! #81, here I come!!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Catching up

Have you ever had a lunch date with a friend who had all kinds of exciting news about his or her life when the best you had to share was the sale on bell peppers you caught when you went grocery shopping two days before?

That's kind of how I feel now. I know I haven't updated in a while, but quite frankly there hasn't been any blog-worthy events going on in our lives. I've considered taking the route some of my blogging peers have and start making posts about my personal feelings about global events (the IOC banning the Iraq athletes from this year's games; Yao Ming and Dirk Nowitzki representing China and Germany, respectively, at the games; the So You Think You Can Dance tour tickets being $65+; etc.), but I'm trying to keep this pure for family and friends who simply want to stay updated with life here in P-ville, TX.

So I'm that friend who has nothing cool going on. The most notable event in our lives recently is my sweet bruise I got in our softball game last Wednesday. This pic. was taken 24 hours after the game. We won the game, by a lot. In fact, we've won our first 4 games of the season, a feat unprecedented since we've been on this team. We may have to throw a game or two of the second half of the season because we'll be forced to move up into the "intermediate" league if we win our league, and we don't want to do that. Those people are serious. We just play to hang out with our friends once a week and drink beer. Well, Alex is serious about it sometimes. Like that game he got kicked out for throwing down his glove, kicking the dirt, rushing at the ump (just a little bit) and English. It was the cursing that did it. I told him there was really no excuse for that; if he's going to get so worked up, he needs to switch immediately into Russian.

I also have a nice new scar, but I'll spare you the pictures of that. On my last dermatology check-up, I had a spot taken off my back that came back as "severely abnormal" and the doctor hadn't gotten it all off. So I went back in to have the rest removed, which apparently meant he had to take a 2 mm perimeter all the way around and under it. So I have the first stitches of my life. But the wonderful news is that all the tests came back clear: no more bad stuff left in the area! Nothing more to worry about!

So, as you can see, if those are the height of excitement in our lives right now, we're living pretty smoothly. Jobs are busy. Cats are funny. House is clean. Grass is (amazingly) alive.

Life is good.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

#28: Keep a potted plant alive for at least one year

Unfortunately for the plants, I'm kind of limping across the finish line on this one. I was given two gorgeous plants as housewarming gifts last July: an aloe and a beautiful flowering plant (front left; hibiscus, maybe? who knows...). In the early eagerness of domesticity, I bought the third plant (front right).

Knowing how living-plant-challenged I am, my friend who gave me the aloe assured me they are hardy, nearly impossible to kill. Thank goodness, because as you can see, the poor, not-so-hardy mystery flowering plant only has about five leaves left, and one of them isn't looking too hot.

I haven't had blooms on either of the flowering plants since last August, a fact I was told could be remedied by repotting them with some fertilized soil or miracle grow or some such. I consider that to be level II care; I was concerned with level I care: water the correct amount in order to keep alive.

I nursed them through the winter, and when sunny skies and warm weather again arrived in central Texas, I happily moved them to the front porch, prematurely delighting in the mistaken assumption I had guided them through the toughest stretch. They were all promptly burnt to a crisp (literally--they were blackened), and I thought I (they? task #28?) was/were doomed for sure.

They've spent the remaining time since that ill-fated first warm-weather spate on our kitchen table. I feel like they are in an assisted-living plant ward--not too much sun, not any fresh air, no excitement. What do I do now? Continue to nurse them through a premature old age? Is that any life for a plant?

Maybe I'll plant them in our little shrub-bed in front of our front porch--this will give them the chance to flourish as they were meant to...and if it means they die, well, at least they'll die under the wild blue wonder of the great outdoors instead of cooped up in my kitchen.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I can't believe I forgot!

I can't believe I forgot to add these two stories to the post about our family reunion weekend.

We flew in and out of JFK. When we flew in, while we were waiting to pick up our bag, we were standing next to two girls and a guy who were all extraordinarily drunk and engaging in a fully clothed, very public threesome. Welcome to NYC!

On our way out, our flight was delayed 3-4 hours, so we sought refuge at the terminal bar/restaurant. When we walked up, a girl we assumed was the hostess walked up and grabbed a couple of menus. Alex said, "Two, please," to which she replied "Seat your own F-ing selves," and walked off to hand the menus to another table.

We were SO glad to get back to Texas! ;-)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sea Kayaking, Clambakes, and Fireworks!

(Otherwise titled: #58: Visit my grandmother)

We spent the 4th of July weekend at a family reunion in Connecticut. We had an amazing time. There were more than 20 of us hanging out in my aunt's backyard at any given time, munching on burgers and steamed clams. We went sea kayaking and hunted for seashells and sea glass. There was an island off the beach that you could walk to when the tide went out. There we hunted for treasure, searched for birds, and made cairns on the rocky shore.

The fireworks were great, too! There was no official town show, so all the ba-gillionaires who have beach-front property band together and put on shows of their own. Imagine looking down the beach and seeing three or four full-blown fireworks shows going on at once! And they weren't the little dinky kind--they were big, grand, and expensive! And because they weren't official city shows, there was no buffer zone for the crowd. We got to see the fireworks explode directly over us (and even got hit by ash a couple of times)!

The best part was getting to spend three days with my family, whom I rarely get to see as we are spread all over the country (and the world! My cousins flew in from Lebanon for the event!). I hear the next one is going to be in two years at our house...I'd better start getting ready!

Happy 4th!


Thursday, July 3, 2008

#4 (Get a promotion) and #64 (Get a raise) -- Yippee!

After two years, three months, and 19 days, I am FINALLY are "real" employee of my company!

*****pause for the Happy Dance*****

I was originally hired on through a staffing agency for a one-year project and told that typically "project employees" are hired on permanently after the successful completion of their first project. Well, six months later, my company went up for sale and a hiring freeze went into action. It took a long, long, long time, but the sale is complete, the merger is complete, the reorganization is complete, and staffing has begun again!

A senior editor position opened up in the Adult Education group (GED and college prep work), and I got it!!! That's a three-step jump as far as promotions go, and a small raise, but a raise nonetheless. And I get paid vacations days! And sick days! And an office! And it's a management position, so I'm actually going to be in charge of stuff! I am also really looking forward to getting back to 6-12 grade material, which is what my certification is in. For the last couple of months I've been on a K-2 phonics and spelling program, and while it's been educational to say the least, I'd rather be working on material that I know and am good at.

Goodbye bottom of the totem pole!

Have a fantastic Fourth of July weekend! I'm off to celebrate!


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

A friend of mine recently blogged about this website. Someone (Arukiyomi?) has put the 1001 titles from Boxall's book into an excel spreadsheet. All you have to do is put an "r" next to ones you've read, and it computes the percentage of total, as well as telling you how many you'd have to read every year until you die in order to finish the whole list.

As an English major, teacher, and editor, I had high hopes that I would have read a fair number of these books. Turns out I've only read 57 of them (that's only 5.69%)! There were a lot on there that I've been meaning to read, and a lot more that I've seen the movie (does that count?). But only 57 that I've actually gotten around to reading. I'd have to read 18 a year for the rest of my life to finish off the list. Yowza.

Maybe I should have stayed more active with that book club I used to be a part of. There are several titles on the list that they covered!

How many have you read?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pflugerville Tri

I competed in the Pflugerville Triathlon this morning, my first race since the half-iron and my first sprint in almost a year!

How'd it go, you ask? I'm not quite sure where to even begin.

Maybe I should start with how I fell off the wagon so hard after Wildflower that I haven't really worked out more than 5 times in the last month and a half. And how I hadn't run in over a month at all. And how I'd only been in the pool once. I'm actual living proof you can go from ironman-badass to washed-up-triathlete-with-a-beer-belly in only 6 weeks.

Or maybe I should start with the fact that my age group was 10-29 year olds and I got beat so bad on the swim by a 12-year-old it took me 12 MILES to catch her on the bike. Or how about that 76-year-old man who won his age group (he was the only one in it) who beat my time by 4 minutes?

But aside from all the laughable foibles of the morning, I was reminded why I love the sport. A sprint race (500-meter swim, 14-ish-mile bike, 3.1-mile run) is the perfect triathlon for me. It's the perfect distance for racing as hard as you want and still finishing with a smile on your face. The distance is accessible to first-timers and seasoned pros, making the atmosphere one of "we're just out here for fun." It was a marked difference from my half-iron experience, and one that I was glad to be reminded of. I will always be glad that I did a half-iron when I was young enough and still had enough free time to do it, but I'm also glad that intense single-mindedness is gone.

I'm glad I'm back to the level of the sport where I can train and race for fun, rather than survival.

And I'm celebrating with a cold one.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

New look, same great taste!

Dear faithful blog readers (all 3 of you),

I'm sure you've noticed the new look of Chausovsky Happenings. I got a little tired of the dots and haven't found a background yet that I like better, so for the time being, solid colors it is. I've also added a little slide show and, if you'll look to the right-hand column, a list of photo albums. All this is just an attempt to make the time you spend here a little more interesting.

If any of you are blog savants and don't mind coming over to help me spice things up even more, there's a cold beer in it for you!

Thanks for the reads,


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Goodbye Hil and Jay!

Two of our good friends are leaving this weekend to join the Peace Corps; they'll be living in Swaziland for the next two+ years, helping with AIDS awareness and prevention. We had their "going away" dinner last night, and I can't believe that I won't see either of them again until November of 2010!!

At dinner, Hilary asked for an update of what we thought would be different when they come back. It was such a fun discussion--it was very telling about how much goal setting we've done (or haven't done) and what our visions are for our lives for the next two years.

On a personal level, we hope to have a kid in that time. That led us to speculate about two new cars. We'd still be at our house. Alex predicted that he would still be at his current job and still quite happy with it. I didn't know what to think/say about my job--I know that I won't still be a contract employee for that long, but beyond that....??? I may find a permanent position with this company; I may find a way to stay home with possible kid; I may find a job I can do from home; or I may find a totally new and different job! While that uncertainty is unsettling to a certain degree, it's also kind of exciting. I'm the kind of person who could very easily get bored if I thought I was just stuck in a job interminably, with no sign of change in sight.

It was also interesting to make predictions about other family and friends. I think my brother, at least three of my cousins, and two of my friends will also be having (more) kids in the next two years. I predict my sister will be in love and in a serious relationship (both at once instead of just one or the other!). I think Alex's brother won't be living in Austin any more. I think that my parents (all of them) will be getting ready to retire quite wealthy, and I think Alex's parents will be happy and healthy.

On a bigger level, there will have been a new president for almost two years at that point, more than enough time for the country to become disenchanted with him and start all the griping all over. (I guess in that sense things will have both changed and stayed the same.) We were in disagreement over whether we thought the economy would be better, the same, or worse. I think hybrids will rule and that there will also be a new trend in cars (but not sure what that trend will be--mini cars? electric cars? flying cars?). I think there will be more incentives to recycle and that being "good stewards" (to borrow my dad's phrase) of the planet will be "in."

And, unfortunately, I think the New Kids on the Block reunion will have fizzled, plunging the fab five back into relative obscurity.

What do you think the next 2.5 years will bring in your lives, the lives of those around you, and in the world?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

#98: Put change in someone's expired meter

Alex and I met his brother downtown last week for a lunch. Eugene has recently started a very cool internship for an international political and economical consulting firm. Sounds cool, huh? Anywho, we lucked into a metered parking spot only a block from the Quizno's, and as luck would have it, it still had 30 minutes left! We were basking in the awesomeness of our good fortune when we passed a large van on the other side of the street whose meter was blinking an angry red "Expired." We already had the change on hand from what we were going to put into our meter, so I realized this was the perfect opportunity to help someone out and cross this task off the list. What's more, the van had a handicapped parking rear-view-window-hanging-thing. Not only was I going to help someone, I was going to help someone who probably needed it more than others! I dropped a quarter into the slot and was prepared to feel proud of myself.

Nothing happened. The meter still impatiently insisted it was "Expired." Dang it! I had another quarter on me, and $.50 was nothing compared to the satisfaction I would feel saving a handicapped driver from a stiff parking ticket, the cruel exaction of a heartless officer. I dropped the second quarter into the slot and saw the display flash to 15 minutes. Surely that would be enough time for the driver to get back to their vehicle! In the world of parking tickets, where $150 can be decided by mere seconds, 15 minutes was an eternity. Feeling elated that I had saved someone from an afternoon ruined by a ticket, we sauntered down to the Quizno's and thoroughly enjoyed our lunch.

45 minutes later, as we strolled back to our car, I saw that the van was still parked in the same spot, and the angry "Expired" flashing notice had returned. I was out of change, and my good mood at saving someone from a parking ticket was depleted with every red flash. Geez, didn't these people realize that meters expire??? Clearly they weren't all that concerned about getting back to their spot, and there were no ticketing agents in sight. I decided they'd be fine, with or without me dropping any more change into their meter (if I had had any, that is).

So, my $.50 was sacrificed to the meter with no good to show for it. I didn't save the driver from a ticket, giving him just enough of a window to get back to his van and leave before his expired meter was discovered. Maybe I'll try this one again in the future and hope for a more effective outcome.

On the other hand, maybe a ticketing officer drove by in those 15 minutes of safety, while Alex and Eugene and I were blissfully munching our sandwiches. Maybe I did do some good. I think I'll go with that. It's the thought that counts, right?

Friday, May 23, 2008


I'm making progress on several of my other goals, and wanted to give an update!

#13: Do 25 full-length push-ups. I did 30 full-length push-ups! I'm marking this off the list, but the reason I'm classifying it as "progress" and keeping it in my mind as something to continue to work on is that I didn't go all the way down to the floor on them. On the one hand I'm stoked enough to consider the goal accomplished, but on the other hand, my internal measuring stick won't let me forget that I didn't exactly do them perfectly. Maybe with more work in the future, my form will improve.

#17: Be comfortable in a size 8. As of right now, I'm comfortable in a size 8 skirt/dress. I can fit into 8 jeans, but I wouldn't exactly call it the most comfortable thing ever. The thing is, my butt/thighs are...well, let's just say "athletic." My waist is consistently one size lower than them. Should I cross this one off? I would say to wait a bit and see, but if this is the size I got down to after half a year of training and working out 6-7 days a week for hours at at time, then the chances are I'm not going to get any smaller on my own. If I could have three wishes, one of them would be that our bodies were made so that we could bust our butts to get to our ideal look, and then stop, and our bodies would stay there! Since that is unfortunately not the case, I'm considering this goal achieved as a reward for all my hard work during training. If I can stay at this size for a while on my own, I'll be even more pleased.

#18: Avoid getting sunburned. I have to say, I'm so freaking proud of myself on this one. It was one thing to be paranoid about sun right after my cancer diagnosis/surgery late last summer and avoid getting sunburned for the month of hot weather we had left. It's been another thing all together to be as diligent about protecting myself when we had 5-hour practices outside, at the 8-hour race where I had to make sure to reapply sunscreen at each transition, and when all my friends are talking about how glad they are to finally be getting some sun again and not be so white. I know our culture is all about the beauty of tan skin, but it's been hard to head into summer hearing everyone talking about how happy they are to be getting lots of sun and color and to know that I have to stay as white as possible. One of the girls at the race actually asked me the morning we were heading back to Texas, "God, how did you finish this weekend so white??" (read that with a shocked and condescending tone and you've got it). I was so irritated with her tone and implication that I shot back, "Oh, I had skin cancer last year, so I can't get too much sun anymore." She looked appropriately embarrassed and contrite. I know it probably wasn't the nicest thing to do, but it made me feel a little better, at least for that moment. So I'm not crossing it off since this is a goal I have to focus on for the rest of my life, but I am proud of my success so far.

#28: Keep a potted plant alive for at least one year. I got three plants when we moved into our house in July of last year: two flowering plants and an aloe plant. I diligently nursed them through the winter, and we survived an early spring scare when I put them outside to enjoy the sun and they got burnt to a crisp. They are still alive and green, albeit with no blooms and only a few leaves. Hurry up, July!

#67: Pay off all medical bills. We had three big bills (anesthesiologist, surgeon, and hospital) and a number of smaller bills to pay off after my September surgery. I am sooo happy to say that we paid off the first of the three big bills this week!! Woo-hoo!!! We only have another couple of months on the other big bill and most of the smaller ones, and then we'll only have the hospital bill left. Seeing as how we'll be paying on that one for a couple of years, don't expect to see this one getting crossed off the list any time soon.

#90: Go to the O. Henry pun off. Damn, damn, damn. We missed it. We were even in town when it was happening. I know there's always next year, but damn.

#95: Read a nonfiction book. This one should be crossed off already. I read Into the Wild. I just didn't like it very much, and didn't want to waste this goal on a book I didn't really like. However, I am now reading Under the Banner of Heaven, Three Cups of Tea, and Fear No Evil, all nonfiction books that so far have been absolutely outstanding!! I love having free time again!!

Hope all is well!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

#9: Avia Wildflower half-ironman!

Let me preface this with saying that I'm sorry that I don't have any pictures! There were so many people there with cameras, Alex just figured that he'd let them take the pictures. Now someone is putting them onto a DVD with a soundtrack, which will be awesome, but the upshot is that I don't have any to show you here. Sorry.

In the weeks leading up to the May 3rd race, I went through a bout of pre-race anxiety unlike any I had experienced before. When my coach asked who was nervous about the race and all of us raised our hands, his response was, "Of course you're nervous! We've been kicking your asses in practice for three months now, so all you know is 'pain' and 'hard.' But this has all been in preparation for the race, so that when you get there, you can actually have fun with it rather than having a miserable experience." I wanted to believe him, but my Pavlovian response after three-plus months of ass-kicking workouts was extreme anxiety about the pain about to be wrought on my body and mind.

The main source of my anxiety was that there is a time cut-off for the course. If you don't finish the bike within a certain amount of time, you can't finish the race. I wasn't the slowest person on my team, but I was far from the fastest. To cope with my anxiety, I visualized finishing the race, I calculated out my estimated times for each leg based on my predicted speeds, I made a list of inspirational words (fortitude, stamina, guts, strength, etc...), and I tried my best whenever anyone asked me if I was excited/nervous to only respond in a positive manner (I failed the most often with this technique, I think!). Our practices got shorter, and I once again started having fun with them. The taper segment of training is lovely in that it gives your body a chance to (finally!) rest and recover a bit, but it also means that the nervous energy has less of an outlet. Alex was in Germany for the couple of weeks leading up to the race, so I didn't even have him around to calm me down. I warned him when he came back that I was liable to be more quiet than normal (we were only 5 days pre-race at that point). He was (of course) brilliant in leaving me alone when I needed it and comforting me and getting me to laugh and not be so nervous, too.

We got in to California the Thursday before the race late in the morning. After stopping at In and Out Burger, a staple of California cuisine, for lunch, where I discovered ordering your burger "animal style" makes all the difference in the world, we headed out to the park/campground/race course. The event was held in and around Lake San Antonio in Monterey County. This is about an hour from the nearest anything, so most of the participants of the race camp for the weekend in the park. And there were literally thousands of participants! We got in early and got a primo camping spot, and then went for a short run to stretch our legs from the flight/drive. We jogged down to the transition area (where all participants rack their bikes and gear during the race), which was about 1.5 miles downhill from where we were camping. We checked out the swim course, felt the water (cold!!), and then jogged over to the first hill on the bike course. This hill is the second-most infamous hill on the course, known as Beach Hill, because it is long and steep and you are only on your bike for about 3 minutes before getting to it, so your legs have not had a chance yet to warm-up. We walked up the hill, and for the first time, I felt my anxiety start to melt away. This hill was NOTHING compared to the hills we had been practicing on in Austin weekend after weekend after weekend! Sure it was longer, but it wasn't as steep. All I would have to do is shift into my easiest gear and settle in. I started to smile and feel the familiar sense of eagerness that is my normal pre-race zone.

On Friday we went for a swim in the lake to test out the temperature with our wet suits (still really cold!!), picked up our bikes, and went for a really short ride around the park to make sure that they had been put back together correctly (we had them shipped out to the face site in boxes) and that they were ready to go. We think piled into vans and drove the 56-mile bike course, so that we could see the hills that made this course one of the toughest 1/2's in the world. I was surprised at how much of the course seemed flat. With everyone talking about the hills so much, no one really mentioned that so much of it is flat or gently rolling! My confidence grew another notch. Sure there were a few hills to worry about, but heck, you only had to get up them one time! We spent the rest of the day trying to stay off our feet and resting up. That night we had our big Team In Training pasta dinner, where all the chapters from around the country come together and celebrate our fundraising accomplishments and share inspirational stories. I was only $100 away from being in the top 10 fundraisers for the entire group! Thank you to everyone who donated!! My team ended up raising more than $107,000 for the LLS, and the total amount raised by all chapters topped $1.7 million. That is simply amazing!

The morning of the race dawned clear and cold. The day started in the upper 30's, but without any clouds in the sky, I knew the temps would rise as soon as the sun came up. Another plus to it being so chilly is that the water in the lake wouldn't seem nearly as cold. My coach was busy taping inspirational messages to our bike handles (Eat! Drink! Attack!), and I taped on a fortune that I had gotten in a fortune cookie two days before we left: "You know what you want. Now go get it." We had to be all set up and out of the transition area by 7:30 a.m. because the race started at 8. However, my wave didn't go off until 9:10, so I had quite a while to wait and relax before my wave. The first two waves were the professional men and women, respectively, so it was really cool to see them start and to see how freaking fast they finished their swim and were off on their bike! I got to see Chris McCormack, the current world champion (he won Kona, the world ironman championship), which was pretty cool. One of the last things I did before lining up with my group was to write "Chutzpah" in purple marker on my right inner forearm. I had decided that this was going to be my theme word for the day. All I had to remember was to have some chutzpah!

My two goals for the race were to finish in as close to eight hours as possible and (perhaps more importantly) to respond to every challenge with a positive attitude. It was really important to me that I enjoy my time at this race--I had been working towards this day for the last six months! When it was time for my wave, I got in the very back of my group. I would rather swim past people than be constantly getting swum over and passed myself. When the bell went off, one of the first things I noticed was that the water didn't seem as cold as it had the day before. Gotta love adrenaline.

Swimming is one of my favorite parts of a triathlon. It's not that I'm a fast swimmer, it's just that I really love being in the water. And I'm not necessarily a slow swimmer. I like to pretend I'm very average at this discipline. As we went out, around the first buoy, and down the straight away, I was relishing the feel of the water as it flowed over my face and arms. We approached a tall marker, and I thought, "Man! I am doing so good! That's already the turn to go back in!" Unfortunately, I then saw that people were continuing on straight. Laughing at my not-so-modest mindset, I settled in and got into a comfortable rhythm. I noticed some swim caps of the wave after mine starting to pass me, but I knew I wasn't the fastest swimmer, so this didn't really bother me. I expected to be passed. We approached the next tall marker and I thought, "Sweet! Here we are at the turn. That didn't really seem too long, and I still feel fresh and energized! I'm doing great!" And then I saw that people were continuing on straight. Crap. So this wasn't going to be a walk in the park. Well, I guess it is a half-ironman, after all, so it shouldn't really be a breeze. I stopped thinking about how fast I was or wasn't going and started concentrating on staying in a straight line, breathing, and swimming with my hips (thanks, Coach Annika!). I thought about all the people and moments who had helped me get to this point, from our swim coach and our 5:30 a.m. winter practices in the outdoor, heated pool at the JCC to my friends, family, and husband who had supported me and encouraged me and who all believed in me. I was overcome with elation. I remember thinking to myself, "I'm doing it. I'm in the middle of doing it--the thing that I've (we've all) been working toward and looking to for the last six months." How freaking awesome. There was one more exciting moment around the actual turn back in where a girl tried to swim past me by grabbing my shoulder and pulling me back. I in turn grabbed her arm and pulled it down and in front of me, effectively pulling her underwater. Not the nicest move ever, but I think it will help in the future for her to be a little more considerate in races. She looked a bit startled. I exited the water in exactly 45 minutes, a bit longer than I had optimistically predicted in my head, but considering I hadn't actually ever swum that distance in open water, I don't think my prediction was very accurate. Now it was time for the bike. The bug-a-boo of my training, the source of all my race anxiety. It was here that I would either make it or die.

Because we had jogged the beginning of the bike course on Thursday, I knew what to expect coming up to Beach Hill. I took it easy, settling in to the new movements of the bike, letting my legs slowly warm up. Beach Hill was there and then gone. I hadn't really even noticed it. I was watching each person in front of me get closer and then get left behind. I was watching the light poles, knowing that the one next to the big tree signaled the top of the hill. The first big hill of the course, the one that has been called "the hardest hill that nobody talks about" was behind me! On my way out of the park, I passed Chris McCormack on his way back in! He was in the lead, and I called out an encouraging shout for him as he passed. I wonder if he hears things like that or if he's in such a zone that he tunes everything out. I exited the park and started on my 56-mile ride around the lake, through wine country. The wildflowers were out in abundance and my race nutrition plan had me doing something--drinking, taking a gu, or eating something--at least every 15 minutes, so I just settled in and focused on the mileage signs ticking past one after another. I usually give myself about 15 miles on the bike to start feeling good, and I was surprised at how quickly the first 15 miles passed. The terrain was flat or rolling hills, which allowed me to eat and drink with ease. Before I knew it, I was at mile 25 and time for my "lunch": a PBJ and some potato chips. I had these stashed in bag on my bike, so I just munched on them as I went, slowing down a bit and taking time to get in some calories that would be sure to help me on the second half of the course...where it would get hard. Looking at the bike course elevation chart below, I had told myself that there were five hills that I had to worry about: Beach Hill (which you can see at the very beginning); the small hill at mile 35 (which I though might be a challenge after enjoying downhill for such a long time); Nasty Grade, THE hill on the course, which stands out on the chart like a giant nasty monster; and the two final hills on the course at about miles 46 and 51.

When riding, though, and looking back on it, I can really only remember two hills: Beach, which wasn't a problem at all, and Nasty. The others were such non-events that I don't even remember ever thinking, "ok, now I'm on a hill. Suck it up and get to the top." This is such a testament to our coaches and the endless practices of them kicking our asses up every single steep hill in Austin! As I rode, I was able to look around at the rolling hills (they seemed like mountains to this Texas girl, but I was told they are actually just hills) and the green vineyards and remember thinking, "This is so cool! I am riding my bike through California!" Then mile 40 hit and it was time to get serious. It was time to tackle Nasty Grade.

Thanks to having driven the course the day before, I knew where Nasty started and knew when to shift into easier and easier gears. I had never before ridden a hill so long (we don't have things like that here in Austin), and I remember getting anxious at the beginning, when my heart rate started to rise and my breathing became more difficult. It's easy to get panicky when you're starting to breathe hard and you know you still have such a long climb ahead of you. Then I thought to myself, "What do you want? To have a great attitude no matter what. Ok, what do you have to do in order to accomplish that? No bitch about how hard this is and only think positive thoughts. What kind of positive thoughts? That this isn't that hard! That I can do this!" The impact that this conversation had on me was immediate. My mood lightened, my brow unfurrowed, and I actually spent a good part of the hill singing "la la la la la" in time with my pedal strokes! The other thing that really helped my mood on this hill was all the people I was passing. It's one thing to pass other girls--I know I'm fairly athletic compared to the average girl--but it was another thing totally to pass big athletic men! What a high!! All those hills climbed in Austin, all that hard work, all those burning muscles and bad thoughts about my coach, it was all worth it. Totally, without a doubt, worth it. I was KILLING Nasty Grade! When I got to the top, I allowed myself a moment to enjoy the sight from the top of the course, looking down at the lake we had just swum in and at the surrounding countryside. I let out a joyous whoop--Nasty Grade was behind me!--and with a huge smile settled down onto my aerobars to enjoy the awesome descent that came right after. The rest of the course passed in a blur. I had survived the bike. I knew by my watch that I was going to make it in faster than I had predicted, leaving me with TONS of time to finish the race. When I pulled in to the transition area, the look on my coach's face was priceless--maybe my favorite moment of the entire day. He looked absolutely surprised and thrilled that I was back so early! That was my high of the race, too. I knew I had done a great job on the bike, and that it hadn't even been too hard!

Now it was time for the 13.1-mile run. This was probably the most overlooked part of the race for me because I was so fixated on completing the bike. I'm not a runner--it's by far the weakest of the three sports for me--so I just had to rely on my coaches and our hill and track workouts that I was prepared and would be ok! There's really not a lot to say about the run. It was really, really hard. It was 60% trail running, and they were like mountain (hill, whatever) hiking trails. I remember there being one particular hill where I could reach out in front of me and touch the trail. That's how steep it was. It was ridiculous. But the great thing is, because I'm not a runner, and because it was so important to me that I enjoy my time in this race, I had absolutely NO problem walking! So basically I ran when I could, and I walked when I needed to. I chatted with those around me (by this point in the race, with the pros and elites and other bad-asses already long finished, everyone around me was walking) and dealt with my stomach issues which were starting to surface. I stopped four or five times to go to the bathroom (always in a port-a-potty, Robie!!). The best part of the run was through the TNT campgrounds. The support from the crowds was overwhelming, and I didn't even have to try too hard to run through this part. They carried me along for a couple of miles. There was "The Pit," a one mile descent and then U-turn and come right back out, that kind of sucked, but like I said above, I was perfectly happy to walk when I needed to. In fact, the only discomfort that I remember for the entire race (aside from the previously mentioned stomach problems) was that my feet started hurting at about mile 9 of the run. I figured that by that point in the day, they were allowed to hurt a little. The elation that I felt on the run was incredible. I knew that I was going to make it, finish the race, probably in a faster time than I had predicted. It was a gorgeous day. I was about to successfully complete the thing I had been working toward so hard for so long. I thought again about all the people and all the moments that had come together to get me to this point. I teared up several times.

Then I was there -- the one mile descent that took me into the finish line. I usually don't run downhill because it's so hard on my knees, but nothing was going to keep me from running now. I thought about my coach running next to me, telling me to shorten my strides and keep my feet moving quickly ("Be dainty!"). I thought about my friend Shannon and knew that she would have loved to have done this race and pretended that she was there, finishing with me. I thought about my friend Kathleen, who had trained with us for four and a half months before developing a stress fracture in her foot that put her in a cast and out of the race for good, and how much she wanted to be doing exactly what I was doing right then. I thought about my husband, who had in his own way gone through the training with me for the last six months, having dealt with my exhaustion and mood swings and fundraisers and gear lying all over the house, who was waiting for me at the finish line. When I entered the finish chute, a crazy loud cheer went up from my teammates (or was that me cheering in my own head?) who had already finished, and Alex ran with me, on the other side of the fence.

And then, just like that, it was over. They were putting a medal around my head, a cold washcloth around my neck, and taking the timing chip off my completely dirt-covered ankle. I've never before cried at the end of a race, but I've never before worked for something so hard for so long, either. I cried as Alex hugged me and told me how proud of me he was. I cried because I had done it, something that was really hard and that had taken all that I had for half a year. And I cried because it was over. Now I couldn't say that I had this amazing thing in front of me anymore. It was officially in the past tense. I would get my life back, be able to hang out with my friends again, drink, watch TV, read for pleasure! But I would also have a huge void that I would have to find new ways to fill.

I spent the rest of the afternoon on top of the world, cheering in the rest of our team, comforting the ones who hadn't made the bike time cutoff. It was time for drinks, s'mores, the CalPoly Tri team streakers, and wildly inappropriate drunken antics around the campfire. It was time to celebrate!

Thanks to all who have supported me on this endeavor. It was one of my most amazing accomplishments yet, and I thank each of you who were with me on this journey. Now it's time for racing and riding for fun again. Or, as Alex put it, it's time for some "small goals" for a while. I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

#11: MS150

About a month ago, I completed the MS150, a 160-ish mile bike ride from Houston to Austin. The course is completed over two days, with participants stopping to camp overnight in LaGrange.

I signed up with a company-sponsored team; this was, I was told, the best way to experience the ride. Rather than having to fend for yourself at any point (well, except when you're actually riding), the team would transport your luggage for you, have a cot set up for you, have masseuses waiting for you at the half-way point, cook for you, etc, etc.... I joined Team TOTAL (pronounced toe-TALL), a team sponsored by a petrochemicals company in Houston. I didn't know anyone at this company; a friend's sister worked for them...or used to work for them...or something.

We drove into Houston late Friday night (late like we got in at 1:30 a.m.) and crashed at my cousin's house for a few hours before getting back up and heading down to the start line. Since this wasn't a race and I wasn't being timed, I couldn't have cared less whether I got to the launch on time. I just wanted to make sure there were still enough people around that I could tell which direction to ride! I have never before been part of an event with so many participants! Even though the official start of the race was nearly a half hour before I got to the line, I still had to wait another 30-45 minutes to actually make it to the front.

This is about half-way up the line at the start:

Once we got started, there were cyclists as far as the eye could see! There were thousands of cyclists doing the ride (each of whom raised at least $400 for the National MS Society). I have never been a part of something so humongous--it was very, very cool!

See the tiny little dots against the trees? Those are all riders!

There were all kinds of riders out there: young and old, fit and not-so-fit. There were tons of kids doing the ride with their parents, many on tandem bikes but just as many on their own bikes (some of which were nicer than mine!). There were several couples on tandem bikes and a few riders doing it on the sitting-down-chair bikes (I forget what they're called, but the ones with the nice big seats where your pedals are out in front of you rather than under you). There was even at least one guy doing it on a unicycle! Talk about saddle sore...yikes!

Cyclists aren't supposed to ride with headphones b/c they make it hard to hear cars or other cyclists approaching. Instead, I bought a small speaker that plugs into the headphone jack on my mp3 player and strapped the player to my bike. We upgraded my card to hold 10 hours worth of music or something crazy like that, so I just turned on my radio and rocked out. The people riding around me loved the music and would often ride with me for a while before falling behind or pulling ahead.

The route stayed mostly off the major highways, sticking instead to small FMs (Farm-to-Market roads for those of you not familiar with Texas road signage). The wildflowers were out in abundance, and as mentioned above, there were literally thousands of cyclists as far as the eye could see in both directions. Many of the families whose farms we were riding by came out to the roadside to cheer us on and thank us for riding. They were cheering us on? They were thanking us for riding?? I felt like it was us who should have been thanking them for sitting outside on a warm day and supporting us! The best moment was through Fayetteville on the first day--our route took us right through downtown, and it seemed like the whole town was out lining the street cheering for us. It was like being in a parade!

I'm not sure if the audio will upload as well, but I'm just commenting on the the crowd and the cold beer that one guy is "offering" us, and at the end I'm happy that at point I've officially ridden farther than ever before!

The worst part of the experience was the camping overnight. Our accomodations were wonderful as far as camping goes, and heaven knows I was so tired after riding 80-something miles on about 4 hours of sleep that I could have slept anywhere. However, the temperatures got down to 35 degrees that night!!! I was not prepared, having only my normal sleeping bag and having left my Antarctica sleeping bag at home, but I wasn't so bad off as some. Apparently last year it was stifling, so many returning team members had only brought thin sheets!

Overall this was probably the most fun I've ever had at all the events I've ever done. Everyone was out there to have a good time, no one had a bad attitude, the weather was gorgeous, the scenery rocked, and it's so cool to say that I've ridden my bike from Houston to Austin! I will definitely be doing this ride again every year that I'm able to! I'm so glad I put this on my list!


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Day 4: Beijing Zoo and Acrobats

Alex had to work Tuesday afternoon, so we spent the morning shopping for souvenirs together on Wanfujing street. If ever it was in doubt before, this was when I fully cemented my position as master haggler extraordinaire. Some hints to those of you who will be in haggling situations in the near future:

1. Don't need the item. If they think you are likely to walk away from it, they will be much more likely to offer a plausible asking price.

2. Give them your money to hold. If you'd really be willing to pay $10 for something, give them $5 to hold. If they won't come down to $5, ask for your money back. They really don't want to give back money they're already holding!!

After lunch, Alex went off to work and I went off for my own solo adventure: the Beijing Zoo! I love animals, and I couldn't wait to see the famous pandas, so I was really looking forward to this excursion. The zoo itself was built like most others--a maze of sidewalks that don't follow any discernible pattern or organization. Thank god there were English versions of the maps! My first stop, of course, was at the panda exhibit!

Apparently it was lunch time for the pandas. If you don't find this video of a panda chowing down one of the cutest things ever, you don't have a soul.

I couldn't get very many good shots on the inside because of the poor lighting, crowds, and the fact that the pandas were very clearly "so over" their notoriety and were mostly interested in eating and sleeping.

There were a couple of other pandas outside.

This sign made me laugh...always good advice at a zoo!

Here I am, thinking about leaping across the rails to pet the fuzzy panda!

The rest of the zoo was ok. Having been to the San Diego Zoo before, I know what an outstanding zoo is like, so the conditions here were a little depressing. There was not much at all in the way of habitat replication for these animals. Most of them, if they were outside at all, were lucky to be on hard-packed dirt. Many just had cement. However, they were still the lucky ones. The vast majority of the animals were inside in cages. Even the rhinos and elephants were inside!! Most of them were caged individually, not even allowing for socialization (or commiseration). Here, spectators are feeding this bear bits of cotton candy (this goes back to the locals' complete disregard for any kind of rules!):

Other than that, the only other thing of note was that there was a dog pound as part of the zoo! I guess people in Beijing (or all Chinese??) don't really have large dogs as pets, so there was a kennel full of medium- to large-sized dogs--Dalmatians, German Shepards, St. Bernards, Labs. I thought it was a funny sight for a zoo, but I guess those animals are just as exotic as camels!

Click here if you'd like to see other shots from the zoo, including some funny-looking birds and monkeys and other, more pedestrian zoo sights (camels, tigers, turtles, etc...).

After meeting Alex back at the hotel for dinner, we took one last trip--the Beijing Acrobats show! We arranged this trip through the hotel, so we had a "guide" and had a cab arranged to pick us up and take us to the theater. Our "guide" was a young girl who had at least four large shopping bags with her--I guess we had interrupted her shopping for the day. She went with us in the cab, purchased our tickets for us from the box office, and took us to our seats. Then she left! That was her whole job! I wondered how much we would have saved if we had just done it ourselves.

The different acts were entertaining and there was a fair amount of "Ooooh and Aaaah" moments, so all-in-all the show was worth it.

Click here if you want to see other pictures of the Beijing Acrobats in action!

We packed our things when we got back to the hotel and got up bright and early the next morning for our flight from Beijing to Shanghai. We had a long layover in Shanghai, so we took the MagLev train into the city and walked along the Bundt, the boardwalk of Shanghai. The sea breeze was either idle or reversed that day, so the pollution was hanging over the city like a thick fog. We saw a street sponsored by Pepsi and ate lunch at a Pizza Hut, which was fine dining there! There was even escargot on the menu!

Here's a video of the MagLev train in full swing: 432 km/hr!

The view from the Bundt. As you can see, the pollution is even terrible on a coastal town!

The Pepsi Street:

After a few hours in Shanghai, we took the train back to the airport for our flight home! The flight back wasn't nearly as grueling as the flight over. That's the benefit of traveling with your best friend instead of alone!

All in all it was a whirlwind, fantabulous trip! We feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to go, even if just for a couple of days.

Thanks for keeping up with our journeys! Now that I've got a little more free time on my hands, I can catch up with all the blogs I've fallen behind on, including the MS150 (a two-day bike ride from Houston to Austin) and my half-ironman race!!

I hope your lives have been less busy but just as wonderful as mine has these last few months!


Friday, April 18, 2008

Day 3: The Ming Tombs, THE GREAT WALL, and the Donghuamen Night Market

On our third day in Beijing, we took the BIG TOUR. It's the whole reason I even went on this trip. Seeing and walking on the Great Wall of China is one of my Bucket-List items. We had great weather and were lucky to be paired with our fleet-footed, ever-so-elusive guide, Allen, again.

In order to give any mist time to burn off and the temperature time to rise, we started the day with the Ming Tombs. Many emperors of the Ming Dynasty are buried here, but only a few of the tombs have been excavated. The tomb we visited was the tomb of the 3rd Ming emperor, a general who seized control from his nephew (the 2nd Ming emperor). When the Emperor died, his 18 favorite wives were buried alive with him, 9 on each side of his tomb. That sucks.

To get to the tomb, we passed through the Yin-Yang Gate. This served as the gateway between the world of the living and the world of the dead. You had to step through leading with your right foot and come back leading with your left foot, and when you came back through, you had to shout some saying and then jump up and down and wipe any lingering spirits off of you. I would have been suspicious that this was all just an elaborate ploy to make foreign tourists look like idiots, but other groups of Chinese tourists were doing it, too.

This is the Emperor's head stone! As Allen explained to us, if you're an emperor, everything that has to do with you is much bigger than normal. As with a traditional headstone, the body was buried just behind it. If you look to the back of the picture, you will see trees on a hillside. That hillside was the emperor-sized coffin mound! The Emperor's body is buried under that hill.

Click here to see more pictures of the Ming Tombs!

After the Ming tombs, we had lunch at the local jade factory (and got to spend a great deal of time in their showroom and gift shop), and then it was off to the GREAT WALL!! We went to the Badaling section of the wall, the best-preserved and most popular section close to the Beijing area. We were told this big rock says "The Great Wall of China," but really, for all we know, it could say "Chairman Mao rocks!"

The wall was very steep in some places, making it a great hill workout for me. Alex was able to keep up with me without much difficulty, and even beat me on a short race up! Another challenge of the wall was that the stairs weren't uniform in height. Some of them were two-inches tall, others were two-feet tall!

You can kind of get a sense for how steep it was in places in this shot! The going up was hard, but the coming down was hard, too! By the time we were almost back to the bottom, our legs were shaking!

Here you can see the fantastic view. It was still very early spring, so there wasn't a whole lot of green yet, but you can get a sense of the mountainous terrain and the wall that just goes on into the distance.

Click here to see more pictures of the Great Wall!

That night, we went back to our favorite shopping area, Wanfujing Street, which was only a short seven-minute walk from our hotel. It was just off Wanfujing that we discovered the Donghuamen Night Market!

This 1/4-mile row of food carts serves tasty snacks and delicacies almost exclusively on sticks! Many carts offered sugar-coated fruit, which wasn't really all that exciting, except that they had these really tiny apples (the size of golf balls!). The majority of the carts, however, offered much more exotic fare! I know what you're all thinking, but no, we did not get anything. The locals were buying, the tourists were taking pictures and staring.

Giant prawns (on a stick)

Grasshoppers and black scorpions (on a stick)

Grubs (big, fat worms) guessed it--on a stick.

Click here to see more pictures of the Donghuamen Night Market, including bees on a stick, centipedes on a stick, sea urchins (not on a stick), and a great example of "Chinglish"--what happens when Chinese people try to translate stuff into English!

We grabbed dinner in a small, local restaurant near the CCTV tower (the tallest tower in Beijing). This time we knew not to order too much. We had a feast of peanut chicken, steamed rice, and broccoli, for the equivalent of $4 (total). Sweet! We also caught a great view of the city from the top of the tower and were inundated with Olympic stuff! Click here for some shots of the tower, the city, and me giving an Olympic press conference!

It was a wonderful, exhausting day! On our last day in Beijing, I went to the zoo and saw the famous pandas and Alex and I caught a show of Chinese acrobats. I'll post pictures of that soon.

Thanks for keeping up with our travels and stories!