Monday, December 31, 2007

The birds and the bees.

Last night, Nathaniel and I saw one of our best friends from college. Kevin and Nathaniel went way back to high school, where they became steadfast friends. Each guy was into his own goofy stuff, but they bonded over gaming, had personalities that "clicked", were both interested in joining NROTC at Wisconsin (Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps), and their friendship steadily grew.

The first two years of college, Nathaniel and Kevin shared an apartment - and their friendship survived. Kevin was a bit crazy about his DVD collection and gaming figures that he hand-painted, while Nathaniel was a bit of a slob, who "forgot" to pick up after himself. Nathaniel's room smelled so bad during Spring Break 2000, that Kevin and the two other roommates confronted him about it. Nathaniel swore that it wasn't him, that he hadn't forgotten any perishable items, but the smell persisted.

A few days later, a body was discovered in the apartment directly below Nate and Kevin's. (Natural causes, but the guy's roommate didn't know as he had been gone over Spring Break). The stench had alerted authorities, and Nate was let off the hook - sort of. No, he couldn't help it that a Body was discovered on the floor directly under his room, but he could certainly do his dishes.

After two years of living together in college, Nathaniel got a different room mate and Kevin moved into an apartment on his own. But the friendship held strong, and continually grew. That's about the time (Fall 2000) that I met Kevin. I had just started dating Nathaniel (we met Sept 6, 2000 in Soviet History and had our first date September 8 - we've been together ever since... very romantic), and it was clear even to me - the new girlfriend - the the two were great pals. Kevin and I were friends immediately; I wanted to make a good impression and was really really nervous, but Kevin was great. He was really nice, put my nerves at ease, and I was stuck wondering why this great guy didn't have a long line of women clambering after him.

Kevin is as smart - intelligent - as he is handsome (in a slightly geeky sort of way, which I find oh-so attractive. Think Clark Kent with glasses), and a genuinely really nice guy. Yes, he collects DVDs, loves complicated electrical equipment (he's got a degree in computer science), paints his own gaming figures, and enjoys gaming. A few quirks: but the "right" woman/girl would be lucky to get a guy like him.

Over the next two years, I had the pleasure of becoming friends with Kevin. Nate and I house sat for his ferret (Virgil, a wonderful little guy who loved glasses cases, a squeaky banana toy, and who could sip coke from a straw), and we would get together and "shoot the breeze". Kevin was usually in the middle of dating a "crazy" girl - so Nathaniel and I were updated on the antics of Kevin's various girlfriends.

Nathaniel explained to me that Kevin's girlfriends were all a little crazy, all a little nuts, and that he just plain sucked at choosing women. He would meet a girl, become convinced that she was the next best thing to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, only to get his heart broken when he realized she was psycho.

Not psycho in a "ha ha ha" - you're funny! kind of way. No, one girl friend was a stalker, another was "dating" several other guys at the same time, another was in NROTC with Kevin and Nate and a control freak who organized every bit of his life. (That was the time when Nate and I rarely saw Kevin, as he was with this other girl and her posse most of the time). Some girls liked Kevin, but insisted on changing him - either they didn't like his intricately painted figures (he had thousands), or they hated his gaming and would try to break him of his habit (which he so loved). One after another, these women were all the same: a bit crazy, bad for him, or wouldn't accept him for the wonderful person he was.
None of them deserved Kevin. And Kevin was a little sad, because he so wanted to meet someone to share his life with. He was such a great guy, but just couldn't find "the one."

Kevin soon graduated, while Nate (who was a year younger) had an additional year. Me, being the youngest of the bunch had two more to go. But despite the fact that Kevin was commissioned in the Navy and moved onto a new life in Seattle and then Virginia Beach, we stayed in touch. Kevin always called on my birthday to wish me a happy birthday, and would call and check up on me whenever Nate was deployed. The two of us exchanged emails and have stayed in touch throughout the years. When Kevin deployed, I would send as much email as possible, making sure he was okay and letting him know that the two of us were always there fore him. When both were stateside, Nathaniel and Kevin would talk on the phone, conversations that lasted hours and made them reminisce about the "good old times."

Nate and I would hear about various women in his life, but nothing too serious. And then the conversation would return to old memories, new gadgets and technology, Navy stuff, and the topics that I would be clueless to - because Kevin would say something and Nathaniel would say something else, and then they would laugh. Some random reference to years past that I didn't get, because I hadn't been along for that long.

A few weeks ago, Kevin emailed me and Nathaniel, and mentioned he would be in Waukesha around Christmas. The two of us jumped on the opportunity to see our old friend, and immediately set up a time and date to get together. And then Kevin mentioned that his girlfriend, Lauren, would be there also.

Nathaniel and I had heard a little bit about Lauren, but hadn't met her as of yet. Kevin and Lauren met last January (January 11), and have been dating ever since. Which was pretty impressive, as Kevin's current job has him living and working out of Singapore (a top sales rep for the SE Asia Region for Abbot Corp). It was a tremendous opportunity when he was offered the job - and as he had no reason to stay stateside, he decided to "go for it." It was during his training for the Singapore job that he met Lauren.

Lauren is a very talented singer, who is in the process of recording her third album. She and Kevin met after one of her performances: Kevin asked her out (which he never does), and Lauren accepted (which she never does). The first night, they talked for 3 hours - the conversation flowed, and they vowed to see each other the next night. And they've been together ever since.

Lauren lives out of Dallas, and Kevin is stationed out of Singapore: the two don't get to see each other all that often, but their connection is strong, and the love they share is apparent on even the most basic of levels.

Last night, Nathaniel and I finally met Lauren. Kevin had announced that he was going to marry her - and after last night, there is little doubt in our minds that this will in fact come to pass.

I won't bore you with the details, however, for the first time since I've known Kevin (7 years now), I saw him head over heels in love. We didn't discuss gaming, we didn't discuss cool electronic gadgets, we didn't hash over "the old times": Kevin talked about how much he loved Lauren, how lucky he was, how wonderful they were. All while she was sitting right next to him, and saying how much she loved him. It made my heart melt the way they looked at each other, it made me happy to see how much in-love Kevin was.

I knew it would happen at some point, and feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to meet the love of Kevin's life. She's not crazy (certifiably crazy, crazy-in-love - yes), she loves him for who he is, accepts him - technology and painted figures and gaming and all - just as he is. She's beautiful, and he's obviously smitten by her. He joked that one day she'll wake up and realize him for who he really is.

Obviously she has - and she loves him for who he is.

It was a beautiful thing to behold, and I wish them all the love and luck in the world. I felt lucky to see my friend so obviously smitten, and to see the same love returned.

So here's to Keven and Lauren - love to you both! I look forward to hearing about all of your future adventures.

And now, I feel like I'm really getting old. Friends from high school and college are falling in love, speaking of marriage... while others are having kids or trying to have kids. It makes me appreciate the special times that I've had with Nathaniel, the love that we share, the life we lead.

And I'm especially lucky that I sat next to him on September 6, 2000 in Soviet History. Who would have thought that the fall of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc would have resulted in my meeting the love of my life? Just goes to show - it can happen anywhere, and at any time. So try to look your best, if possible...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bourne, Duck!, Pod

Today has been an interesting day. I'm a person who tends to follow the Greek ideal of "balance, order, symmetry" - a unique rule of three. Weather or not this translates to my day-to-day life is another matter entirely (it usually doesn't). But occasionally, the stars fall in alignment, and things happen in three.

Like today.

1) The Full Bourne Marathon
2) Duck!
3) The ipod

Not really sure if the aforementioned three have anything in common aside from me... I suppose one could argue that Jason Bourne probably at one point ate duck, and used cool technology. Or that Bourne had to Duck! after getting a lot of different gadgets thrown at him. Or even that Jason Bourne got all of his ducks in a row with the accompaniment of really cool music.

But anyway, I found these three themes prevalent throughout my day.

1) The Full Bourne Marathon

Last night at the Lauterbachs, we started something that we couldn't stop. We began watching "The Bourne Trilogy" - a feat impressive by any standards. The longest DVDs that Nathaniel and I have previously managed to watch (in a row...), were 2 and a half episodes of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The extended editions. Yeah.

We got through the first two episodes in one day, and started the third with the intention of finishing - but had to give up. Not moving for that long of a time was awful (one of the OTHER reasons why I hate long plane trips. Staying put and staying still was never my forte). Well, for that reason and the fact that our eyes were turning red and whenever we looked away from the TV, we saw white stars.

For future reference, we decided to avoid long term eye damage, and stopped watching (but we did finish #3 on day two. It took a 3 hour bike ride on my part to get back on track).

Nice.

So yesterday, Nate, Jim, Barb and myself settled in for a "Bourne" marathon - but only got through the first two episodes. The great thing about watching the first two right in a row, is that it makes the series a whole lot easier to understand! There were bits and pieces that didn't make sense before, but now (for the most part) they fit together pretty well.

Which makes watching the third "Bourne" a heckuva lot easier. Because I actually know and get what's going on. Hurrah!

And that's also why I still get what's going on in the movie AND I can write at the same time. Sweet. (Then again, when I re-read this tomorrow, I'll probably be horrified at all the mistakes, errors, and bad punctuation. But rest assured that I had a blast.)

Oh yeah, and quotes and phrases that were mentioned in the first two movies, play an important role in the third - my favorite being said by "The Professor" (another Treadstone production who Bourne had had a showdown with). Just before The Professor's death, he uttered, "Look at us. Look what we've become. Look what they've made us into..." and then he dies. Okay - a little grim, but certainly philosophical... At the very end of the third Bourne movie, Jason is on the roof top, unarmed, and facing off against yet another assassin who he (Bourne) refused to kill in an earlier scene. This guy was pretty perplexed by Jason's refusal to pull the trigger, to which Bourne replies - nearly ver betum - the comments of "The Professor".

Then Jason jumps off the 10 story building into the Hudson River. Just goes to show... brilliant philosophical moments CAN be followed by crazy and daring escapes.

Alright, one down, two to go.

2) Duck!

On my run this morning, I was hit by a flying duck.

I'm not kidding.

I headed out to the Fox River trail, a 1.8 mile loop around a section of the Fox river in Waukesha. It was a grey morning, but the snow sparkled beautifully, and the black branches of the trees shone starkly against the sky. The contrast was like a well filtered black and white photograph. And I was just about the only splash of color along the water's edge - my blue hat with red hearts bobbed steadily, along with my cadence. The path was a beautiful combination of white, grey, black, brown, and more white. A winter wonderland on the Fox River.

And my steady breathing helped keep my company.

I choose the river path because I knew it would be well plowed, and possibly salted. After all the snow we had gotten (6-8 inches, yea!), there were still a lot of slick spots, and I didn't want to chance a fall on my derriere. I was doing a few sprint sets, and figured that I would be slipping and sliding around enough without the added snow and ice. And while there were a few slick spots along the path, for the most part I handled myself reasonably well.

During my run, I was accompanied by the incessant quacking of ducks. There were literally hundreds of ducks, just hanging out on the shores of the unfrozen river, just before the small waterfalls. Okay - not hundreds. But certainly 40 or 50.

There were a lot of ducks!

With the finish of each lap, I would pass by their hang-out spot, their incessant chatter and loud quacks keeping my company and bringing a smile to my face. They were so cute, just doing their own thing. And it was a good distraction to look forwards to after each and every lap.

On my final 2 minute sprint, I rounded the edge of the bridge and saw the ducks covering the middle of the path. Near the lamp post and park bench seat, a little old man was scattering duck food along the slushy ground. The ducks were very happy, and their quacks seemed happy and conversational. The little old guy was having a blast feeding his duck friends, and it seemed such a shame to plow through them in the middle of my sprint set.

For Pete's sake, if I was a duck, I wouldn't want to get interrupted by some crazy runner while I was trying to eat. Sheesh! Who do they think they are? Always plowing through our turf, no regard for us or our needs.

But being the animals lover that I am, and remembering all the good times I went out to the lake with my parents and fed the ducks, I decided to stop my run mid sprint (a very big deal here...), and very carefully tread past the ducks. Hopefully they wouldn't notice me, in their haste to gobble as much duck food as possible.

That was the idea, anyway. Unfortunately, it didn't work.

I entered the feeding duck pack with the utmost caution. The old guy feeding the birds apologized, but I laughed it off. "Ducks need to eat - they're so cute!"

I guess that was my mistake. Calling them cute.

No sooner had the words escaped my mouth, one duck flew off, away from me, angrily quacking in his wake. That caused another and another and another to fly the coop, and before I knew it, I had no less than 20 ducks surrounding my person. Not on the ground - no - that would have been too simple. No, these ducks were all taking flight, and I was in the middle, stuck, in a virtual tornado of ducks.

And in my effort/hast to avoid getting hit by one particularly large duck, I bet over. And because I bent over, I was thwacked very soundly across the face by a fat winged duck. At least it felt like it had a fat wing - because the smack that I received smarted. Luckily, because of the "cooler" temps (still a balmy 26 degrees, but as I was sprinting, a bunch of perspiration had built up on my nose and cheeks, and then got really cold and numb every time I slowed down) - the blow was pretty well insulated. It just left a red mark across my nose and right cheek.

Next time you find yourself running through a bunch of feeding ducks, I advise you to either stop and go around them completely, OR sprint through before they realize that you're there. Otherwise you too, will get hit by a duck.

And now, for numero three.

3) The ipod.

First, I need to mention, that Nathaniel and I have been the proud co-owners of a 3 year old ipod. It's survived deployments, field exercises, treadmill drops, sweat from bike trainer workouts, and other odd assortments of uses and abuses.

These past few months, our ipod has taken a turn for the worse. There have been a few moments where it's crapped out all together - once during a particularly difficult bike workout (which turned out to be okay, as I managed to look at the workout as an "opportunity" instead of giving up because the ipod had quit before me).

Nathaniel has been gently suggesting that we invest in a new ipod. But me, being the penny-pincher that I am when it comes to electrical gadgets (tvs, dvd players, computers, etc... stuff that we have, that works okay for the most part, but should be replaced one day - just not yet), have refused to budge.

Nathaniel kept hinting, though... how wonderful a new ipod would be, how much "more fun" my trainer rides could be, how much more relaxing air travel, car travel, any kind of travel would be with a shiny, new ipod... he kept mentioning all the really cool music I could download, and how I could make my very own play lists, rather than listening to "On-The-Go 2" for each and every workout.

I just couldn't be bothered to upload new music, and didn't really have the patience to take the time (translation: Marit didn't quite know how to used the ipod site).

Now, things have changed.

In the airport on the way to Minnesota, I let out a string of curse words... what would cause me to do this in a non-race situation??? I realized that I had forgotten our trusty old ipod, and was dreading Sunday morning's (December 30) 3 hour bike ride in heart rate zones 3-4. (Yep, my coach is evil. But then again, the training for Ironman is more difficult than the race itself...according to Bree Wee. I'll take her word for it, and it's helped me on more than one occasion at this point.) The real kicker about this workout? It'll be on the trainer. My favorite.

It would be one thing if the workout was zones 1-2, just sitting and watching movies or TV. But zones 3-4... shoot - that means that I have to work and concentrate on maintaining my heart rate. (Past experience has proven to me that Me + zone 3 or zone 4 heart rate assignment + TV or DVD player = workout end heart rate that ends up being in the mid to upper zone 1 or - if I'm lucky - zone 2)Not the kind of thing I'm aiming for in an Ironman build, eh?

And it's not that I can look back on past IM training - because thus far my furthest distance has been the half ironman, good old 70.3. I'm finding that the training is very different, but if my coach calls for 3 hours in zone 3-zone 4, then by God, I will do my damnedest to make it happen.

It would have been a lot easier with an ipod, though.

Until last night...

I walked into the kitchen, and Nathaniel came in, a mad gleam in her eye, and promptly said, "Colder."

I looked up at him, befuddled by his statement. I made a move towards the fridge, and he said, "your getting even colder."

Water bottle half way raised towards my mouth, I made a move closer to him

"Warmer."

And so the game was played, until I found myself standing in front of the Christmas tree in the dining room.

"You're burning up!"

But hard as I try, hard as I may, I had no idea what I was look for OR at. I gave Nathaniel a wary look, but he just laughed and encouraged me to keep looking. Finally, hidden deep within the branches, I caught a glint of silver reflecting beautifully off the twinkling lights.

Odd...

I reached in, a slow grin spreading across my face, and triumphantly pulled a brand new, shiny blue ipod from within the branches. It was smaller than a credit card, a beautiful metallic blue-color and extremely light. I couldn't believe it! An ipod of my own... very cool. Okay okay, so I'm not totally anti-technology. I would just rather spend money on tri stuff. Or books.

But I have to admit, this was pretty neat. I gave Nathaniel a huge grin, and then said that he shouldn't have done it, "because we've already got an ipod..."

He gave me a blank look. "Maritka," he said (my Czech name that he's heard my Mom call me). "Maritka - you yourself say that it's the hundreds, if not thousands of little decisions, little things on a daily basis that make a difference with your training, racing, and overall results. An ipod will help your training - especially with a 3 hour ride in zone 3 and 4. You need this, and I'm happy to give you things you'll love and enjoy. No complaints!"

I gave him a sheepish grin, and then a huge hug.

Unfortunately, Nate's timing was a bit off, as I was headed out the door for my Duck! attack run. But we decided to make a "date" on the couch, and spend part of the afternoon downloading music.

After the run, I spent 3 and a half hours picking out music, listening to various clips, playing around with the new toy, and enjoying myself tremendously. Who knew that ipods could be so much fun! Nathaniel could tell that I was really enjoying myself, as he would hear random humming from behind the laptop screen, where I was seated in the overstuffed arm chair. I was in my own world, listening to the likes of "Cowboy Junkies", "Korn", "Aaron Lewis (unplugged)", and "Dido". Very odd assortment.

Going from Korn to Dido was pretty interesting.

Nathaniel even let it slip to the rest of his family that I've got Brittney Spears on the ipod. Oops! (And now you all know as well. Track 8 and 9 from her new CD are great. Very fun to work out to - if you like that kind of stuff.)

So that's it. My own personal Greek "three" for Saturday. Not exactly the ideals of "balance, order, symmetry", but it still held value for me. Bourne Duck! Pod was a great way of spending a long Saturday. These things in "threes" are pretty cool.

Then again, I am a triathlete. Swim, Bike, Run. Duh. I think that I've been up North a little too long. I seem to be forgetting my sport. I could be doing the winter triathlon thing - run, mountain bike, ski... or something like that. Then again, the theme for most Wisconsin weekends are: Packers, beer, cheese. So there you have it. For now, I'll stick to the swim, bike, run. Well, that and the Bourne Duck! Pod. Luckily I've already experienced the later!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Churchill and Snowfall

Today it literally rained Silver Dollars. Silver Dollared size snow, that is. It started early this morning, just a bit of mixed rain and sleet. As the morning progressed, the precipitation switched to snow. First, small flakes, gently drifting towards the ground. Then it gradually became heavier. And wetter. And before we knew it, the light flakes had switched over to penny sized balls of moist snow and were falling thick and fast.

After a few hours, the snow was so heavy and wet, the branches, trees, rooftops, cars, fence posts - everything visible - was covered in 6-8 inches of heavy, wet snow. The snow had clumped so much together, and the mass of it (especially on high places, like trees and gutters), caused snow ball sized clumps to fall.

So yeah, it was coming down in Silver Dollar sized clumps.

And if you weren't careful - you would get hit... lobbed by a tree.

But it was beautiful (and slippery to drive in!). Thankfully, Nathaniel drove me to the pool, and then did some shopping on his own (very mysterious...), and then returned to pick me up later.

The snow fell thick and fast throughout the day. It was beautiful to watch...

And there was even a new Big Bunny Track sighting in Waukesha. You never know where that bunny will turn up (green boxer shorts and all!).

So what's with "Churchill"?

Nathaniel told me a funny story, that I thought was great. Pardon me for not quoting it exactly ver be tum, but bear with me. I'm doing my best, and it's funny anyway. So enjoy!

Winston Churchill was at a party once, and having a great time. Rumor had it, that he had enjoyed a few too many fine beverages, and was beyond inebriated. He was drunk, potted, sauced, gone, finito.

Some woman, who apparently had quite a large stature, commented on his state of drunkenness.

"Winston," she said. "You're drunk!"

Without missing a beat, he replied. "Yes, but tomorrow morning I shall be sober. And you will still be ugly."

So there you have it. Winston Churchill had a great sense of humor, was a quick wit when drunk, and it snowed silver dollar sized snow flakes in Waukesha.

It's great being on vacation, up North, and spending lots of time with family and loved ones. I hope that you all get to experience the same joy and laughter that I have!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Wisconsin Welcomes You!

Well, what do you know? We're in Wisconsin!

Last night, Nathaniel, my parents, and I went over to a mutual friends house. A very late night turned into a very early morning, and we talked the evening into its wintry slumber. Susannah and Nick are lovely people; brilliant, eccentric, thoughtful, and kind. Nick is a VP for a medical company and Susannah - German by birth - was a member of the German government with ambitions for the Chancellorship, until she met and fell in love with Nick. Their story is a tale of love, romance, of brilliance and devotion. Our conversations are always interesting: they flow like the ebbs and tides of the ocean herself.

After a wonderful dinner of bread with dipping oils, homemade chicken curry with rice, seasoned green beans, and a delicious dessert of cake, cookies, and other candies, we were all stuffed.

But happy.

Nathaniel, Mom, Dad, Nick, and Shannah were especially happy - as they had been downing bottle after bottle (after bottle) of wine and other spirits. I had elected to be the designated driver for the evening; this morning (Thursday) I had a key run workout, and didn't want to start out by feeling sick. (That was for after the run). But I still had a great time - everyone was so lively! When I drink, I tend to fall asleep, so it was a good choice all around.

And who knew that Nathaniel was so fluent in German? Apparently inebriated Nathaniel has quite a tongue for the language. Nick and Susannah were very impressed.

We ended up getting home around 2:30 am - I don't think I've ever been out that late with my parents in tow.

Come to think of it: I don't think I've ever been out that late while watching everyone else around me get shnackered!

But it was a phenomenal evening, and I'll carry fond memories of it for a long time to come. And next time I'm in St. Paul, I'll be sure to party with "the posse".

As for this morning - well - I was the only one who woke up sans hangover. Lucky me! And then I got to do my workout. I was actually really happy; the weather was beautiful, the temperature was a balmy 25 degrees, and the overcast sky further illuminated the thick blanket of snow on the ground.

I ran, lap after lap, around the 1.6 mile path of Como Lake, and was thoroughly entertained by the ice fisherman in the middle. About half way into my run, they caught a VERY big fish, and their "whoops" of joy reverberated from one shore to the other. I was thoroughly entertained and hardly noticed the discomfort of my sustained effort. It was great.

Its runs like that - where the temperature is "just right", where the snow is as bright as your outlook, where your footsteps provide the ultimate companionship - that I miss living in Minnesota. It was beauty personified.

After the run, Nathaniel and I quickly packed up our stuff - bike, trainer, and a bunch of clothes - and set off towards Waukesha, Wisconsin, a quaint city on the outskirts of Milwaukee. We made great time, and entertained ourselves by counting the number of visible Perkins's flags along the way. This game didn't last too long - as we were disheartened that after only an hour we had come across 2 Perkins. So we gave up, channel surfed on the radio, and remembered the "good old time" at UW-Madison (where we met and fell in love).

Before we knew it, we were rolling into Nate's parents house. And not a bit too soon! After a quick hug from Jim and Barb, I sprinted to the bathroom. Apparently me + coffee + lots of water + 5 hour drive = disaster. We stopped once to grab a bit to eat and use the bathroom - but it didn't make that much of a difference. Especially since I drank twice as much as before.

But now we're here, and happy for it.

I love going home, seeing our families, and getting to spend time with everyone.

And now if you excuse me, I need to go do my bike ride. I've done the family thing, spent some great hours with everyone: but my bike is calling. She beckons - and I know that I need to finish this workout, complete my day. If I was still in my off-season, or if today wasn't such a big/important day in the grand scheme of things, it wouldn't make that much of a difference. But it does. And I've set out some preliminary goals, thought about what I want to accomplish next season.

Ironman Arizona calls my name, and I respond.

And besides, I made my choice last night, when I opted for coke instead of wine. So there you have it. I may be in a different state with different family, but I"m still the same.

And now I really must bike!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Snow Bunny

Happy Christmas to all, and to ALL a good night! Oops - er, not yet.

No, I'm not Santa, far from it. But apparently Santa's a pretty busy guy - he really got around last night! What a man! It's a good thing that we left out a plate of sweets, just incase he was hungry when he hit up our place (always good to be "in" with the jolly guy in the red suit, eh?). Surprisingly enough, MOST of the candies and chocolates were gone, devoured, by the time I woke up this morning. Was it Santa? Perhaps?

I'm not exactly sure... but Nathaniel looked a little off-color, mentioned a "sugar high", and complained of a "heavy stomach" all morning.

Poor guy!

I could tell exactly what he and Santa enjoyed, as a lot of the buttery wafers, pecan covered chocolates, spice drops, fruit slices (the sugar kind!), and carmelized nuts were gone. The peanut toffee chocolate thingy was completeley MIA (I had a part in that, though), and even the flourless chocolate/licorice cake had a few nibbles. It wasn't that popular though, as it's still sitting out - rejected - on the dining room table. Next to the Model Train set that Nathaniel and Dad built.

What a day!

Along with Santa, there's been a mysterious "Snow Bunny" sighting in our neighborhood.

Who is this Snow Bunny and WHERE did she come from?

Not exactly sure, but she emerged sometime around 1995. There were various sightings throughout the St. Paul area - usually only tracks. Big, feet-like tracks, left in soft, fresh snow.

Occasionally, she was even spotted - blond hair, and face filled with concentration as she hopped her way from one jump to the next, leaving a bunny-like track in her wake.

She is me and I am her.

Sometime in high school, I decided to become a Snow Bunny.

For Pete's Sake - it was just too fun, and I couldn't resist. Besides, its SNOW - who WOULDN'T want to go outside and romp around?

Me, apparently.

Whenever it snowed, I would throw on a pair of shoes, a warm jacket if it was in the immediate vicinity, and dash outside. The minute I came into contact with the new-fallen snow, I would put my heels together, carefully squat down, balance myself, and then HOP down the snow covered sidewalk, leaving a bunny-like trail behind. Okay, it wasn't exactly like a bunny, but it's as "rabbit" like as I can get.

And besides, it's a lot of fun leaving BIG BUNNY tracks behid - better than plain old walking.

Even better - it's a whole lot of fun.

It's a chance for the little girl in me - the same one that used to run around the backyard in her underwear yelling "Mr T, Mr T, Mr T!" - emerge. (I was 3 at the time, NOT older...) Now, she usually hangs back, waiting for just the right moment to come out.

Fresh snow, the powdery stuff, the soft stuff, the kind of snow that leaves every path, every trail, every road covered in a fresh, white blanket, beckons and calls to this little girl. Before I know what's happening, she's throwing on my running shoes, and running outside - all while I'm wearing my green polar bear boxer shorts and long sleeved white shirt. The 27 degree temperature, bare legs, and exposed ears don't bother her a bit. She just puts her heels together, and happily hops down the sidewalk.

Hop, hop, hop!

Hop.

hop hop.

If by chance, you happen to be in the Twin Cities area, around the Como Lake region - and see a woman, wearing green boxer shorts, orange running shoes, and hopping down a sidewalk, don't worry. It's just me.

Don't be alarmed. Just know that the little girl in me has once again emerged. Just honk your horn and wave. She'll probably wave back, but focus on the untreaded path ahead.

You may want to even try it yourself. It's a lot of fun. And it leaves great tracks behind in the snow.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Sub-Zero Poopin' Hero!

Happy Holidays to EVERYONE out there!

It has been an honor to share my blog with everyone. I really appreciate the kind words and wonderful feedback. Even though I haven't had the pleasure of meeting many of you - I truly look forward to it at some point. With that, I wish you the warmest of holiday cheer! Eat great food, drink lots of beverages, indulge in the holiday festivities, and relax (as much as you can!) around your loved ones. We are lucky to have them in our life - aren't we? Supporting us, loving us - all while we participate in this crazy sport, do this crazy life-thing. And again, I wish YOU - all of my readers - a very wonderful, safe, happy, jolly, and merry holiday!

Let's Celebrate!

As for the title of this blog post, well... My sister decided that her "holiday theme" for Nathaniel, would be The Polar Bear.

Just wait... it's coming.

She gave him a pair of Polar Bear PJs, knowing full well that I would be giving him the EXACT SAME Polar Bear print in boxer shorts. Additionally, she gave me a pair of really cute girl boxer shorts with - none other than - Polar Bears on them! Yea!

And for the grand finale, the big kahuna, big Tuna, whatever you want to call it... She gave Nathaniel a plastic Polar Bear dispenser that shoots jelly beans or other brown colored candy out of it's Polar Bear Butt.

Hence: The Sub-Zero Poopin' Hero.

A cute, plastic poopin' Polar Bear Candy Dispenser.

I promise to get a photo up ASAP.

Priceless!

With that, I'm off to bed. It's been a busy day, as I can imagine it has been for everyone else out there. As a quick side note, I just "happened" to be walking by the place I've gotten my eyebrows done before - THE BEST person I have ever allowed to touch my eyebrows works there - and they just "happened" to have an opening.

I was very lucky!

So now, my eyebrows look shapely, clean, trimmed, and essentially - normal.

Just goes to show that the little things can make just as big of a difference as the big ones.

Then again, there's only one Sub-Zero Poopin' Hero.

Happy Holidays to All! Thank you for accompanying me on this journey.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

We're here...and COLD!

(Please be patient with my awful spelling! Using a computer where I can't quite figure out how to "edit" my work without erasing it. Spelling is overrated anyway... right? Thanks for your patience!)

Nathaniel and I arrived safe and sound into Minneapolis/St. Paul in the wee hours of the morning - 1:32 am to be exact. Let's just say it was a late nigt... Got home by 3:30 (after the rental car, baggage claim, and drive - happy to say that my bike and trainer arrived safe and sound...)

The flight itself wasn't that bad. I took the advice of my massage therapist - she's been right on most things thus far, and made a HUGE Apple Martini just before we drove to the airport.

Boy - people were sure nice at Pensacola Regional!

By the time we arrived in Atlanta, I was just getting warmed up. This flying thing really isn't all that bad, after a drink, or four.
With dinner I ordered not one, but TWO Long Island Ice Teas. They were delicious, and I've got to say - I was really getting the hang of this flying thing. Now I'll know what to do on the return trip.

On the flight from Atlanta to the Twin Cities, I figured that I should be a little "healthier", as I had a 75 minute run today. So I ordered spicy tomato juice... with a splash of vodka. Delicious!

Nathaniel said that I was the MOST pleasant person to fly with.

And that's all I remember, because next thing I knew, we were bumping along the runway in Minneapolis. At least it looked like it, due to the drifts of snow out the window.

Today I had a 75 minute run (as mentioned before). Surprisingly, I'm not feeling any of the affects of my previous night's alcohol indulgence. Sweet! (Not that I advise liquor all the time, but it certainly does the trick for "medicinal purposes")

Ah - the run.

It was cold.

Very cold.

Cold as in 12 derees, snowing, windy (with big drifts) and a windchill of negative 6. My Nordic ancestors beckoned, and I felt impelled to respond.

Bundled up agains the cold and wind, I faithfully completed my 75 minute run (infact, turned it into an 80 minute one - just because I could!).

However - I refused to look at my watch for the first 5 laps around the 1.6 mile lake that my parents live on. I knew that if I saw the numbers "28" or "45" or even "56", I would become disheartened and start counting down the minutes. I didn't want to do that! I refused to fall into that trap! So inspite of the wind and cold, I pressed on. My eyelids were crystalized with ice, the snot rockets I shot out were frozen well before they hit the ground, and the 4 inches of my face that were exposed were as cold as ice.

It was heavenly.

And Crazy.

To keep my mind occupied on things other than the cold, or the time, I tried to think of funny things. I thought - with great fondness - about all my new blogger friends who live up North and brave the cold, long, dreary winter (You Guys ROCK!), and I thought about Mary's HTFU and Bree's comment, "the training is harder than the race..." and tried my hardest to keep my mind busy on things other than the freezing wind chill, drifting snow, and pellet like snow that was blowing sideways.

Here's what I came up with:

C, as in Crazy
R, as in Really Crazy
A, as in Ass Cold OR Assicle (which is what I had)
Z, as in Zero degrees (If I'm lucky!)
Y - good question.

C, as in COLD
O, as in Obviously Nuts for being outside
L, as in Loco - I've got a screw loose
D, as in Dumb. No one else was out there

But I feel better for it. I've embraced my Noridc heritage. And believe it or not, I can't wait until my next run.

Now... about all the Christmas shopping that I've put off...

Friday, December 21, 2007

2007 Season Boards

The time has arrived: for the first time EVER (not like I had a blog last year...) - but for the first time EVER (ahem), I'm going to show the world my 2007 Triathlon season boards.

What are these you ask?

Great question.

I'm one of those sappy, creative types who likes to collect things, including race memorabilia, race numbers, wrist bands, race posters, cards I receive from family and friends about races, etc etc. I'm one of "those" people that you'll see two days after the race still wearing her silly wrist band. Think what you may, but for some reason or another, I form emotional attachments to onjects and things.

Not in a scary my-house-is-cluttered-and-packed-full-of-junk kind of way. And also, not in the way that I've saved every single paper or project I've ever done (leave it to my Mom for that - it's all stuffed away in the attic. Leaf booklet and all). But each race that I do is such a phenomenal opportunity, and I just don't think that it's right to throw everything away. So I'll save the race numbers, at least.

When I was in high school and used to Nordic ski, there was a local shop we skiers would all trek to to gear up on skis, supplies, wax, and that sort of stuff. Finn-Sisu was run by a really friendly family, had great staff, and had a ton of really great stuff for skiing and outdoorsy, wintry type stuff. One of the things I loved about the shop, is that the ski owners (former Finnish National Team Members!) had creatively arranged their ski bibs all over an entire wall's worth of space. There were bibs from races throughout Europe, from races across the US (the Mora Vasaloppet and the Birkibiner being my favorite), and nearly everywhere in between. The shop keepers had also accepted donated bibs from Minnesota high school state champions, along with US Ski team members, and famous skiers from across the globe.

It was a ski mecca collage!

Then and there, staring wide-eyed as a mere 14-year-old at the ski-bib hall of fame, I decided that one day I would do something similar with my jerseys - whatever sport I participated in.

Last season I made a huge board of race numbers, as it combined 2006 with bits and pieces of races from 2005 and even 2004. I didn't find all of the old numbers, but enough to make a pretty respectable board.

This year was different: to Nathaniel's dismay (but also to his credit - he never uttered a single word about the excess papers piling up at times), I saved a ton of stuff from each and every race packet. Rather than dump everything in the garbage, like I've done in year's past, I painstakingly went through it all, decided what to keep, trying to picture how it might look a la collage, and then worked from there.

Mid season, I had a 2 month break from racing. I had just raced 70.3 California, a local race (the Mullet Man! triathlon - named for the fish, not haircut...which I found out race-day), St. Anthony's, Gulf Coast Half, and another small sprint. Along with the Pensacola Marathon, and L'Archie Mobile half marathon, I was pooped! Much of June was spent recovering, getting over being sick, and starting another build.

The second half of my season was geared towards Clearwater: I raced about once a month, on average, and unfortunately, had 3 races cancelled due to bad weather (Gulf Coast storm swell, and such) and in one case, an uncooperative left hamstring. It left me with the Chattanooga Tri, Timberman, Santa Rosa, Clearwater, and finally the Timberlake half marathon.

I'm really happy with how my season went: although not every race went as planned, I still learned a heckuva lot along the way. And had a whole hell of a lot of fun (most of the time). So here are my race boards: be inspired and create!


First half of 2007 Board.



Second half of 2007 Board




"Holy Bright Colors Batman!" Clearwater 2007 Board

And I figured I would add two more photos, just for fun. I should explain first: Tabbitha hates my bike. No, I take that back... she hates my bike when it's being used on the trainer. Usually she'll sit in the corner of the room, scowling at me as I ride. I can feel her "bad vibes" that she sends my direction. Sometimes she'll even streak by my side as quickly as she can. She just doesn't likely the wind my cycleops trainer makes. I love it (as much as someone can truly love a trainer). It's a great alternative to training in the rain, or getting struck by lightning. Tonight, while I was writing, I found Tabbitha - curled up asleep under my bike. So the cat does, after all, like my bike. Or at least the bright towel that it's stationed over.


Oh - and in case you're wondering... The books that I've got under my front wheel are twofold: one is the local Pensacola area phone book... but that wasn't quite thick enough. The second is my Anatomy and Physiology Textbook. Fitting, huh?

And last, but not least, I'm going to include a picture of Yours Truly. Nathaniel and I got back from a great dinner of Sushi (I had THE BEST rolls ever - they were Colombian with this amazing sauce... I would be willing to do my bike workout over again just to have as many of these rolls as possible... they were great!). But because we got back around 10:30 or so - I was pretty tired, but I wanted to get my blogging done. I really really enjoy writing - just about as much as I do reading. I like to stay up late and write. For me it's just a lot of fun; a great creative outlet. When I don't write, I feel as though part of me wants to burst, either with energy, thought, or feeling. So here's what I look like, full of sushi, Colombian rolls, and as much "energy" as I can muster around 11:45 pm.



There were two things I immediately though about when I saw this photo (after I got over my initial laughter, of course :)
1) No matter how much sunscreen I use, my Minnesota genes will never adapt to the Florida sunshine. My nose is perpetually sunburned.
2) I am in sore need of a brow wax.

So with that - I'm off. Either to bed for a good read or to watch a bit of the bube tume. Tomorrow we're flying back up to Minnesota and Wisconsin for the holidays. I thought briefly about not bringing my bike, but decided against it: my training for IM Arizona is just too important at this point. So me, my bike, and my wonderful trainer will become very good friends for the next 12 days or so.

Tomorrow will be busy, as I've got my morning workout, and then I'll have to pack. Hopefully it'll go by quickly, and before we know it, we'll be back up in snowy Minnesota.

Let me back up for a sec, though... I should probably attack my eyebrows before anything else, as they've been in need of grooming for a while. I knew I had forgotten something...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Rain

I love the sound of rain. It makes a beautiful drumming noise against the side of the house, a tap-tap-tapping against the windshield, and it leaves soft marks on my skin as I used to jump from one puddle to the next.

Today it rained. A lot.

I woke up to gray, angry skies: the kind that matched my mood. I'm not exactly sure what brought about my bad mood, but unfortunately, it stuck with me for most of the day. Sometimes you just need to be happy, sometimes you just need to cry, and others, well - other times your mood is simply a reflection of the sky.

As the clouds kept rolling in and growing in thickness, my mood went from bad to slightly depressed. Not that great of a combination. And when I find myself in this mindset, I'll usually get sleepy (actually, it's exactly the same way when I drink. I don't get more and more boisterous as the drinks go down, no, I tend to fall asleep. Not exactly the life of the party, eh?). The 4 cups of coffee (with my favorite creamer) did nothing to "wake me up", and I was left contemplating what exactly the deal was.

Could it be the stress of the impending holidays? I haven't quite finished all of my shopping yet... well, that's a lie. I really haven't done a whole lot of shopping period: I've gotten a few things, but I'm no where near where I usually am at this point. My biggest struggle has been with Nathaniel. He is the most un-materialistic kind of guy out there. Doesn't go for brand names, doesn't like overly complicated stuff. He likes books, but he's extremely particular about the kinds of books that he reads. And quite frankly, I'm tired of giving him another Barnes & Noble gift card. Nothing says "Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas - you're the love of my life" like a gift card. Yeah.

Perhaps it was the worry associated with travel? I hate flying. I hate flying. The plane will crash. And maybe if I'm lucky, the running shoes that I'm wearing will protect me from the hot oil spewing everywhere as I try to manically exit the aircraft.

Actually, the plane ride isn't what my main worry is - I'm worried about my parents and Nathaniel's parents. Each and every year, Nathaniel and I feel virtually tugged between our two families. They live far enough apart so that we can't see them both in the same day. But they live close enough together that a 5.5 or 6 hour ride will bring us from one front door to the other. (Mine are in Minnesota, his are in Wisconsin). Nathaniel is great about dealing with the holiday stress; me, I just keep piling it on. Even now, I'm still trying to work out what dates we'll be where, when we'll leave one house and go to the other, etc etc etc. It's tough, but it's really important that we see both families. Again - I realize that I'm making more of a big deal out of this than is necessary, but I have a hard time stopping. Sometimes I think it would just be easier if one family lived in Maine, and the other lived in Southern California. No chance of a drive...

So yeah, the plane ride isn't that bad...

And then there's the issue of training. I'll be the first to admit that most, if not all triathletes I know, are a little OCD about training and their workouts. It's in our blood; it's in our nature, part of the very fiber of our being. There's a reason why we do this sport, why we love the journey that it takes us on. Unfortunately, not everyone else shares this particular passion. And therefore, when I need to go the a local pool and get in my swim, I'm worried that the workout will just fall to the wayside. My family and Nathaniel's family are extremely supportive of my training and love of triathlon, but I can't help but feel awkward when I'll have to hop on the trainer for X amount of hours to finish a workout while everyone else is partaking in yuletide festivities.

Right now I'm just worried about things I can't control, fretting about scenarios that haven't yet occurred. And the weather only solidified my ill temper.

So I decided to "cool off" for a bit and take a nap - when in doubt, perhaps lack of sleep or lack of food could be the main culprit. Seeing as how I had only recently eaten, I scratched the food idea off my list.

As I clambered into bed, I tried to let my body relax, my mind settle. For a few minutes this was really hard; my mind kept jumping from one scenario to another, playing out and rehearsing once scene after the next. Past Christmas's reverberated through my mind, and fears of this Christmas loomed large.

And then Tabbitha, our 18.2 pound tiger, er kitty, jumped up on the bed next to me, circled a few times, found the exact right position, and plopped herself down right next to me. Her golden-yellow eyes studied me, and she blinked.

"Hi Tabbitha," I said.

She blinked again, and started purring. We were looking at each other, eye-to-eye, and it was almost as though this kitty (who likes to attack our friends, can be ill tempered at the best of times, but who never fails to follow me from one room to the next always seeking my affection) knew how I felt. Her presence was reassuring, and I found myself petting her soft fur.

Soon she started purring, eyes closed, and I listened to her breath her soft kitty breaths.

Slowly her purring was replaced by the sound of the rain.

I closed my eyes, and listened intently as the rain hit the side of our apartment. At first it was a light drumming, just a melancholy staccato against the window shutters. As the wind whipped, the rain became more fierce, lashing - almost violently - against the screen. It sounded for a while, like it was coming down sideways and in sheets. As there was nothing but forest outside of our window, I could imagine the tall pine trees being whipped by the wind, could envision the angry pellets hitting the screen.

Thunder rumbled in the distance, and I burrowed deeper under our comforter, Tabbitha faithfully by my side. No longer was I thinking. I was simply listening.

Thunder echoed again, sending sound waves through the forest outside. Lightning illuminated the dark skies, and the heavens herself responded by opening up more.

The rain continued to pound at the windows, angrily at times. It sounded as though it was demanding entry into the sanctity of my bedroom. But I was safe, and listening.

Slowly, the rain eased off, returning back to the soft shushing noise, lightly skimming the surface of the building. I felt myself relax, but was amazed by the different symphony of sounds I had just heart. The rain lulled me into a gentle sleep, and before I realized it, I was impervious to all sounds, dimly aware of the soft kitty by my side.

I can't say that I woke up in a better mood - perhaps more contemplative than before. I wish I could better describe the sounds of the rain; it was truly wondrous.

But I did learn something: sometimes we just need to quiet our minds and listen.

It's much easier said than done, as we all have so much going on, a lot on our plates, and we're usually rushing around to make sure it all gets done. Today I realized that I don't listen enough to myself: not in a work-out kind of way, or in a what-do-you-want-to-eat kind of way. No, I don't usually take stock of my feelings, my moods, my anxiety. Sometimes its just easier pretending that it doesn't exist, than even acknowledging it's ugly presence in the first place.

The fact of the matter is, is that I'll have to get on the plane, Nathaniel and I will work out our travel plans, and some way or another, I'll get in my workouts. But sometimes life just seems a little overwhelming.

Next time I feel this way, I'll try to quiet my mind the best that I can. I'll try to relax, try to feel my emotions, try to listen to myself. The rain made things easy today: it was a beautiful way of focusing my mind, of relaxing my body. Well, that, and my 18.2 pound tiger, er, kitty helped a lot too.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Save the Lobsters!

Currently, our fridge is running on low, near empty.

I knew it was bad, when I got up this morning to grab some fruit with my oatmeal, eggs, yogurt and coffee, and discovered to my horror, we were out of fruit. I take it back - we had some apples, the ones that had been sitting in the back of the fridge for 3 weeks... they didn't hold much promise. So I ate my breakfast, minus the grapefruit, and vowed to stop off at the store after my swim.

My swim itself was tough. I've got to send a personal "thank you" to Bree Wee. Let me explain. I've officially started my training for Ironman Arizona (my FIRST IM!!!!), just the basic base work. A lot of endurance with a little bit of intensity thrown into the mix (to keep me honest!). A few weeks ago, Bree sent me an email with some GREAT advice for my first IM - the best being to "do the training! If you can do all the training, the race will be easy..." Now I'm not sure if the race will be "easy", but I was really comforted and inspired by her message - thanks Bree!

Back to my swim. It was tough: I was assigned endurance, but endurance + speed. Not my favorite combination. By my third 500, I was growing weary of the workout, and was trying to focus on "just getting through." Bree's words echoed through my mind, as I swam lap after stinking lap: the training is tougher than the race itself... I kept repeating those words throughout my set, and even though I was a few seconds off my T-pace (training pace) for my 4th set, I kept going. I thought briefly about using a pull buoy on the 5th set, as my body felt so heavy, stiff, and cumbersome in the water, but squashed the thought as Bree's words reverberated through my head. I was happy to be done, but happier that I had toughed things out. I finished my workout with some technique work, kick sets, and then promptly emptied the contents of my stomach into a garbage can (NOT the pool, thankfully).

It's been a while since I completely tossed my cookies. I usually try to plan my workouts well in advance, as I don't have the greatest stomach. For some reason, my eggs, oatmeal, and coffee stuck with me, and decided to make their presence known (and felt). I felt a little queasy after the third set, but attributed that mostly to the workout. By the fifth set, every flip turn was painful, and I was happy to finish out the workout with lots of kicking...but about 10 second after I got out of the water, my stomach did a flip-fop of its own, and made its discomfort known to all.

Sorry!

But again - at least it wasn't in the pool...

Afterwards, I gingerly made my way back to the car, and tried to think about stuff to eat. Even though food didn't seem like the wisest of choices, I was extremely depleted, and I knew that what we had at home wasn't sufficient. I decided to stop off at Albertson's, and just let myself peruse the isles.

Just as a side note - we're usually pretty good about planning our meals out, making sure we've got enough in the house (I HATE going hungry, and not feeling like I have "healthy" options to eat), so when I haven't got the food I like available, I'm not the happiest of campers. After really tough or long workouts, I usually let my eating standards relax.

4 hour ride + :45 run? Sure, eat whatever you want!

Just ran a marathon? The bottle of wine and yellow cake with chocolate frosting calls your name!

Swam so hard you puked? You deserve to eat whatever you want!

Needless to say, after my swim, I allowed myself to peruse Albertson's (first stopping at the candy bin and "sampling" a Swedish fish or two... or eight :). Even though I didn't know how well I could stomach food, I wanted to get grapefruit, some tofu and chicken for our Pad Thai dinner, and treat myself to something yummy after the swim. Whatever you want baby - you GO Girl!

While I was making my way up the gum and candy isle (did I just see Peanut M&M's???), I caught a glimpse of the meat counter. The salmon looked wonderful, the tuna nice and deep red, and the shrimps looked perfect to go with our Pad Thai. And then I glanced towards my right.

And that's the exact moment my world came crashing down.

Let me first explain so that you'll understand. Even though I enjoy eating meat, I don't like thinking about where it comes from. Cow? Pig? Duck? Sure - they exist in the wild.... but those that are in the store... well.... they just come that way... they're made in the shape of a patty, and meant to fit into a little container!... we don't eat anything like the "wild" ones, just the ones that are pre-packaged... At least that's what I tell myself. I don't like thinking about cute little animals being slaughtered for my own personal gain.

For Pete's sake, I hate watching survival shows where cute little animals are killed to demonstrate how to survive in the wild. Hey Buddy, I've got a better idea: why don't you NOT go wandering alone in the Canadian Rockies in the middle of winter? But also, I recognize that survival is important - Nathaniel will have to go through something called "SEARS" school, where, among other things, he'll learn how to "eat" rabbit (eat meaning kill, skin, and cook...)- I just don't like to think about little animals being harmed.

As a little kid, I was traumatized when I watched my second cousin Petr kill and skin an old rabbit. At the time I was 6 and living in Czechoslovakia, and we were visiting my Teta Liba's farm near Hradec Kralove. We were going to have rabbit for lunch, and being a curious 6 year-old, I wanted to see how the deed was done. When I finally figured out what was about to happen, I was horrified, but couldn't pull my eyes away. It was like watching an accident in slow motion: I saw the rabbit get killed, skinned, and then saw the two rabbit feel left hanging below the farm rafters next to the house. I was sad for the rabbit, but drawn inexplicably towards the rabbit feet. It was hard for me to believe that they had once belonged to a living rabbit. Later, when the bunny was cooked and supper was served, I refused to eat any of it, because I "didn't want to hurt the rabbit's feelings" (according to my Dad).

(And as a side note, if Nathaniel ever needed to eat a bunny to survive, I would encourage him to go after the flippin' thing... they reproduce all the time anyway...just don't look into the cute, little eyes...)...

Needless to say, I'm a little sensitive about living creatures.

(I try to buy "Cadge Free" Eggs, for Pete's sake...I brake for squirrels.... and I deliberately will stop ANY workout and move a turtle safely to the side of the road, even if I'm in the middle of an intense bike set....I love turtles...)

So when my eyes glanced to the right of the meat counter, I was horrified when I saw the cage of LIVE LOBSTERS!

I know that Albertson's (and a lot of grocery stores) will carry live lobsters for customers to pick out... but this was ridiculous. These poor lobsters were stacked, one after another, right on top of each other. The tank was filled, nearly to the brim, all waiting to be hand selected and then...steamed...and...eaten...

It made me sad to think about all these little lobsters, living out their final moments in a tank filled with other lobsters, just waiting to be plucked and thrown into the Great Silver Pot.

I turned away, but not before trying to plot a way to free all the lobsters.

In the past, I've contemplated buying ALL of the captured lobsters, and then setting them free in whatever lake, river, or ocean is nearby. Rationally, I know that they would never be able to survive... but at least they wouldn't be thrown into a pot of boiling water. I also debated contacting the local aquarium and seeing if they were interested in a new "lobster exhibit".

The sad thing? I've thought about this nearly all my life.

I don't know why today was more difficult than other days: perhaps it was the swim, perhaps it was the "holiday season", perhaps it was because there were so many little lobsters, just waiting - patiently - in the tank.

I just found myself wanting to save the lobsters.

What do I make of this? Well first: people in Florida sure like their lobsters. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Could I ever hand-pick my food before I ate it? Absolutely not. No, I prefer to believe that it's born in a package, pre-wrapped and ready to be eaten.

But I know that they're there, I know they exist.

So this holiday season: if you pick out a lobster, at least put it in the fridge before you toss it in the pot. Because of the lobster physiology (I hate to admit that I've actually researched this...), when lobsters encounter cold, they essentially fall asleep. So then when they DO hit the boiling water, they won't register the pain of their imminent death by the time they're, well, dead...

Me? Well, we'll probably have Lutefisk. It's a Norwegian type of fish, Cod - soaked in lye. It's covered in melted butter, and tastes like, well, melted butter. Lobster may taste better, but at least I know the fish is dead well in advance of my consumption of it.

Then again, doesn't it come pre-packaged?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Joys and Sorrow of a Great Book

I just devoured a book. No - I didn't actually eat the pages, binding, or cover. Rather, I tore through it, furiously reading each word, turning each page, and eagerly waiting, breathlessly, for the end. I couldn't put it down, yet was forced to abandon said book within 30 pages of the end. I had to complete a run (lots of work in zone 3 with a gradual rise to zone 4. The kind of work that's comfortably uncomfortable. Or uncomfortably comfortable, depending on your take). Afterwards, I had to drive up to Whiting Field for a meeting at the Fleet and Family Service Center, as Nathaniel's helicopter squadron was having a workshop on surviving military marriage. (Hint: let one spouse, who has feverishly read a Great Book, finish the Great Book before the meeting. Otherwise she may become a little distracted. And agitated. And therefore can't possibly be held accountable for her actions.)

Ahem.

When I was a little kid, it was just the same. My Mom would always shake her head, marveling at my ability to turn page after page, never loosing focus or concentration. She would ask me to do something, only to find me - 3 hours later - in the same spot reading the same book. I'm sure it was frustrating (sorry Mom, but your encouragement with Brian Jacques and the "Redwall" series left a permanent love for good books imprinted on my soul. Thanks.)

When the books I read were really good, I would abandon sleep, reading late into the night. My schedule was busy enough as it was, between violin practice, school, sports, and all the things that kids do. I simply didn't have enough time to read what I wanted.

So I stayed up late. Mom or Dad would tuck me in, whisper "I love you!", and kiss me goodnight.

And then my adventures began. This was my signal to switch on my bedside lamp, grab my current read stashed away under the bed (but being careful of the monsters that surely lurked underneath), and burrow under the covers with the book peeking out, just enough for the pages to be illuminated. I would literally read myself to sleep.

Sometimes, I would read so fast, be so eager to find out what happened, that I forgot what I was reading about. But ever the faithful reader I was, I would figure out where I left off, re-read the pages I had plowed through, and then continue on with the story.

I really enjoyed the "Redwall" series by Brian Jacques, but have to admit that "Sweet Valley High" and "The Babysitter's Club" were thrown in for good measure. But Brian Jacques remained my favorite author throughout my youth. In the third grade, As a special surprise, Mom took me to the Red Balloon bookshop one day for a "very special adventure."

In the car, she had a present: a bag of carmel corn, and the promise of a wonderful treat (not the candy). As we parked in the bookstore lot, my curiosity was piqued, but I didn't quite know what was in laying in wait. As we entered the bookstore, I was amazed to come face to face with Brian Jacques himself!!!

I was starstruck - I remember thinking "oh my gosh! A REAL famous person!! Wow!" (My spectrum of fame included authors, violinists, and the Indiana University Hoosier Men's Basketball Team. My Dad was an alum, and I grew up a Bob Knight and Hoosier fan.) But Mr. Jacques... a REAL star.

He was wonderful. A tall, friendly British gent who loved children and reading. During his discussion, one of the kids in the audience asked him if he had memorized his words. He responded by asking us to whip out our copy of "Redwall", turn to chapter 2, and then proceeded to recite word-for-word the first 2 pages. He had each and every person, kid and adult alike, in the room hooked on every word. It was magical, as though time herself stood still, and the stars in the sky were left breathless.

The room was so silent, a pin could have dropped, or a mouse squeaked and everone from one corner to the other whould have known. No one dared whispter and break the sanctity of the moment. I will remember it forever.

After the discussion, Mom and I were 3rd in line, waiting to meet Mr. Jacques. When he asked my name, I mumbled, "Marit", as I was too shy and too amazed by his mere presence to speak clearly.

"Marit," he replied, repeating the name, and turning the "r" over. "Let's see, Ma-rit... I like it. Perfect name for a little mole maiden, don't you think?"

His eyes twinkled, his face formed an inviting smile. If I could, I would have sat near him all afternoon, listening to his accent, enjoying his stories, and marveling at the creative mind who produced my favorite characters. To this day, I still hold out that he'll name a "little mole maiden" Marit.

During the school year, I would read our class reading lists (ever hopeful that a book on the "Redwall" series would made an appearance. Unfortunately, it never did), even reading ahead when a particular book caught my fancy. For a while, I was stuck on Roald Dahl, author of "The Twits", "James and the Giant Peach", "Matilda", and "The Witches". I read these books all in progression, marveling at the wonderful stories this author crafted.

At first, I was very disappointed when my 4th grade teacher made me sit still through her own reading of "The Witches". I already knew what happened, had already enjoyed the book, so I figured that I didn't need to re-read or hear her version. But soon the story snagged my imagination, and with her words and her voice, I found a new appreciation for the story. Even though I already knew the end, it didn't mean that I couldn't re-read it, just for fun...

A few weeks later, after I had finished yet another round of books, I went back to Roald Dahl's adventures, and re-read my favorites, staying up late into the night. I enjoyed each and every one, and found that I actually learned more from a second reading than on the first. Because I already knew what happened, was already aware of the plot, characters, themes, etc, etc, I learned so much more.

And I've re-read books ever since, returning to them like old friends.

My Mom mentioned that our next door neighbor had remarked that it was, "always nice to see a light on in Marit's window. She's a late night reader, and I find myself doing the same - after everyone has gone to bed, of course."

Libby was another kindred spirit, I suppose.

Through high school and college, even though I was very busy, I tried to make sure I had enough time for reading. I enjoyed Harry Potter, Sue Grafton, and several other books that I can't immediately think of. Even though my time was precious and limited, I always returned to the safe haven of a good book.

To this day, it's the same way.

In the words of my Dad, I, "burn the midnight oil."

Touche!

Books are wonderful: they are a place I go to, a place I visit outside of my own life. No matter what kind of workout I had, how stuff is going, what's happening all around, books are always there, their pages beckoning my fingers to peruse, my eyes to glance. And then, they inevitably draw me in.

They are wonderful to enjoy, and I find myself - especially as of late when I don't have to get up really really really early to swim or get my workouts in - staying up late, furiously tearing through another great book. (okay okay, it happens even when I've got early morning sessions....) My Dad would be proud of all the "midnight oil" I've burned.

The thrills of a good read are numerous. The pages, characters, themes, plots - they all capture your attention, they come to life. You take notice, enthralled and captivated by every entrancing word. When an author weaves a plot, we become ensnared in their world, slowly becoming oblivious to our surroundings. I can still relate to "Mariel of Redwall", her sense of adventure and daring. I want to think that I know the girls from Sweet Valley and The Babysitter's Club. I imagined that The Twits lived nearby, always wary of worms in my spaghetti. Harry Potter was simply magical, while I always try to find a little of Kinsey Millhone in me. Books are wonderful, and they are marvelous at complimenting our lives.

And the sorrow? The only sorrow in a wonderful book is coming to the end. (At least in my opinion) When the end is in sight, the final pages drawing near, I always feel a little bit of sadness. I've just become acquainted with the characters, the novel, and it seems such a shame to end it all. I want to keep reading, to keep learning about the adventures, to find out what happens next.

The same happens with a great workout, or even with a race (to a certain extent). While my end goal is to finish, I also want to enjoy the journey. The sensation of flying above the ground is nameless, reaching that zen-like place of workout bliss is priceless. Same with a great book. We don't want it to end, because we're enjoying it in the present so much.

But I guess that's life in general. We want to know what's around the next bend, around the next corner. But we won't know until we venture out on our own, ready and willing to take on the world. (Push PAST that finish line, and power through the hill, not just up).

I once got an email from a fantastic triathlete who reminded me that, "We all write the end of our own story." And she's completely right. While I love reading, and even though I'm a little sad to finish a great book, I'll always be comforted by the knowledge that I have the power to pick up the next good book, find my next Great Read. Or, I can always write a novel of my own.

For now, I'll keep reading, thanks.

And for the record, the Great Book was Sue Grafton's "T is for Trespass." If you're in the hunt for a good book, I strongly recommend it. Enjoy reading. And writing your own story.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Das Foot

Yesterday on my run, I was paying more attention to the woods and beautiful scenery than on the trail ahead. I was running deep somewhere within the trail system of UWF, enjoying the peace and tranquility of a December late afternoon. The temperature was "cool" and "crisp" (49 degrees, but it felt like 44. I know, I know, I should HTFU. Sorry!), and it felt pretty good to be running. I had donned my trusty tights (the ones that were a little too big - so I was pulling them up the entire time), a long sleeved shirt, and my beautiful blue running shoes.

The shoes I love. The shoes that I ran the Timberlake half marathon AND Clearwater in (I've already made the mistake of wearing race flats during a half-IM... never again. I couldn't walk normally for a week afterwards.) Essentially, I love these shoes. They have happy memories. They are HAPPY shoes. And now..

Well, now they're covered in poop.

And why?

Because I was "in the out to lunch club" and wasn't paying ANY attention to where I was going. OR, where I was stepping. But it's just so easy to drift off while I'm trail running... I know, I know - I should be paying more attention to my footing and surroundings, and believe me - I've taken a tumble more than once. But running on wooded trails, with only the sound of birds and wind as your company is, in my opinion, the essence of beauty.

Which is why, at exactly 48:16 into my run, I found my right foot covered in horse manure. I checked the time, because it made such an interesting "splat" noise. I was briefly annoyed at both the horse and myself, and then pressed onwards. What could I do? Really?

I kept running, and when I crossed the creek on the way back to my car, I made sure to rinse the bottom of my foot off in the flowing water. Well, first I checked for crocodiles (even though it's "cold", you can never be too cautious. Just like sharks: they're there, even if you don't see them...) - and then dabbled my foot in the water.

It really didn't make that much of a difference, but at least I tried.

But my shoes were still gross. Gross, but well loved. I guess that's just what happens when we use stuff.

And what does "Das Foot" have to do with my hose spattered shoes?

The truth, is that I really don't like feet. Yes, you read correctly. I don't like feet. Not poopy shoes, not uncomfortable heels, or too-tight bike shoes (all uncomfortable in their own way), but I'm just not a fan of feet in general.

Especially my own.

I'm not really sure when this started. Perhaps back in high school, when the "Most Beautiful Feet" Award was presented to a fellow classmate. I remember sitting in Ancient History, looking at this girl's feet - perfectly shaped, gracefully arched, with a narrow width, no foot flab (for me, acquired after years of wearing running shoes...my feet just sort of spread out, or at least that's what I tell myself), and manicured nails finished with a pink, pearly white polish. I had to admit, they were beautiful feet.Didn't look a thing like mine. And they were perfect for strappy sandals and high heels.

Later, as I was examining my own feet after Track practice, I remember thinking how different my feet were. First, strappy sandals just didn't fit PERIOD. So I always wore flip flops (still do). My feet are just a little too wide, and the straps look as though they're cutting into a meaty sausage. (Not to imply that my feet ARE sausages, just in my humble opinion - as I see my feet every day - fancy strappy shoes like that aren't really made for feet like mine). Second, my feet were pale, whereas Rachel's were tanned and lean. Mine were short, and stubby looking. And my big toe looked disproportionately large, compared to the rest of my toes, which all looked really small. My pinkie toe, and the pinkie toe nail were almost non-existent. And, to top it all off, the red nail polish that I had so carefully applied two weeks earlier, were flaking and chipping off.

It was then and there that I decided that I didn't like feet. Especially mine.

So I kept them in running soes, sturdy sandals (ie flip flops), doc martins, ski boots, track spikes, and threw in the occasional "old lady" high heel (the ones with lots of support, no sass, just shoe...the kind that Grandmothers - you gotta love 'em - wear because it helps them balance...) when I gave a violin concert or went out on a fancy occasion. My feet were supported, but rarely let out. Except for when I life guarded in the summer. Or, when I ran around the house and backyard. My feet were usually bare, but covered in dirt and the smell of the Earh. Then they actually looked "normal" because they were the same color as the rest of my body. Not pasty, er "Nordic" white (as in never-see-the-light-of-day white that one gets when spending one's childhood in Wintry Minnesota).

My foot fears haunted me throughout college. When I rowed, I always took care to bring an extra pair of socks to practice. I had been warned, well in advance, about the various foot fungi that lurked in the shoes of rowing shells (unless you're rowing in your own boat, chances are the boats will be shared. And because the feet/shoes are nailed down into the gunwale of the shell itself, a new pair of feet will row in the same shoes almost daily). Put your bare feet in at your OWN risk!

I would carry an extra pair of socks, just in case the first got wet, or fell in the water (which happened once when I flipped a double. I remember kicking around in the middle of the Mississippi River, while my socks, which were already half way down my foot, came off and slowly sank to the bottom. Almost as though some invisible force from beneath the current had snaked its creepy hands upwards and snatched away my socks. I felt the tug and relinquished said socks. A small sacrifice to pay to the gods of the Mighty Mississippi). But as I clamored back into the upturned boat, I had another pair, safely tucked away in my shorts, ready and waiting. My feet were safe.

Triathlon has done little to improve my opinion about my feet. I've lost countless nails, have innumerable callouses, and have been forced to reconcile with the tan lines from miles upon miles of biking and running.

My Mom has been great: she's gotten me all sorts of really great foot lotions, nice smelling creams, and even a pair of socks to help keep moisture in my feet while I sleep. While these remedies DO make me (and my feet) feel better, it doesn't solve the problem.

Okay, here we go. This is the biggie. One of my big fears or phobias (depending on how you look at it)... Worse than 80s music and wet sweatshirt sleeves. Even worse than sharks and crocodiles. Not quite as bad as mean or unethical people - but almost as bad...

I hate it, absolutely HATE it, when other people touch my bare feet.

I can't explain it. I don't know why, how, or when it got this way.

It became really bad a little over a year ago when Nathaniel was about to get home from his second deployment.

Correction: this phobia started when I got my first (and last) ever pedicure.

My Mom and my neighbor had suggested that I get a pedicure - just a nice way of treating myself, pampering myself, and making myself look nice for when Nate finally got home (ironically, my feet were the last thing he looked at). So I set up the appointment, and made sure I could get an hour off from the YMCA, where I was the fitness director.

Everyone was really great about it, and couldn't wait to see my polished feet when I returned. (I managed to sneak back into my office before I was forced to reveal my feet...)

I got to the appointment, and the pedicurist helped me pick out a nail polish (Smokin' Havana Red!) She was really sweet, and loved nails. Even though she was a mere 4 foot 8, her bright red fingernails and bright orange toenails made her appear larger than life. Her bright white hair, and pink lip stick shone through, and I could tell this woman was serious about her colors.

And feet.

"Just put your tootsies in this nice, hot bath, and I'll be back in a few minutes."

I looked at the chair, parked right next to what looked like a plastic bin with water jets. I took my shoes and socks off, and made for the plastic bin as quickly as possible. I had just finished teaching my 9 am "Low Impact Aerobics" (something I probably won't ever do again!), and the odor from my shoes and socks was downright offensive. Even though it was "low impact", I made sure everyone got a good workout. Including me.

Darn it! I knew I should have washed my feet!

Pedicure lady looked up a few seconds later, sniffed the air, turned her hair in my direction, and then quickly looked away when she caught my eye. She busied herself with the phone, and pretended to have not looked up.

I pretended not to notice.

This was going to be a long hour.

Sigh.

After a good 15 minute soak in hot, bubbly water, Pedicure lady came over.

I felt that something needed to be said about my feet, in lieu of the smell. "I'm so sorry," I babbled. "My feet are gross! I just got done teaching a class, but didn't have time to change my shoes - you don't have to touch them if you don't want. It's okay!" This was more for my benefit, than it was for her. I could feel the anxiety building as she examined and scrutinized my feet.

"It's okay hon," she said. "Most people only get a 10 minute foot bath, but I thought you could use a 15 minute one..." she trailed off when she saw my horrified look.

Were my feet really that bad? I thought.

"I just figured that with you being an aerobics instructor and all, that you might enjoy a little extra time off your feet." Again, she trailed off and busied herself with examining my feet.

I was speechless, but watched her poke, prod, and run her hands over my toes.

I winced. It was all I could do to stay seated in the chair and not run out, barefooted and screaming. I felt her fingers all over my arches, feeling my nails, running her hands over the little hairs on the tops of my feet (like Hobbit feet! But THANK GOD BLOND! so not noticeable...well, now you all know. oops.)

I felt my hands grow sweaty, and I wish she would just start the damned thing.

Didn't she know, couldn't she tell how much I hated feet? And second, by agonizing second, it was just getting worse.

My stomach clenched. I secretly hoped that I didn't throw up.

After she had decided that my feet were fully disinfected, she got out her clippers, trimmers, shears, and whatever else she had in her kit. There were some items that I didn't even know existed! They looked like a cross between a scalpel and the thing the dentist pokes you with when he's testing for cavities... All devices that would surely bring pain and discomfort to my already sweaty feet.

IS there a bathroom in this torture chamber??? I thought frantically.

Because if my sweaty hands weren't enough, now my feet were sweating. So was my back.

And worse, Pedicure lady could tell. Because she got out a towel and wiped them down for me. The same way I wipe down my bike after a wet ride. (Just my feet, not my back.)

No longer are my feet gross, but I'm gross. This was getting way out of hand. Yuck yuck yuck! I started scanning her walls, in search of a drink of something strong. Vodka would do. Hell, even nail polish remover had some sort of alcohol in it... I'm sure it would do the trick. Pedicure lady looked as though she had some sort of lithium or Valium laying around (hello! plethora of bright colors spread all over her body + chronic cough of a smoker)... at this point I was even considering lighting up a cigarette, even though I don't smoke.

Anything to calm me down.

And then she did it. She found my major fault, the thing that has been plaguing me for years.

She found the wart on my big toe. Sorry if you're squeamish, this is way too much information. But it's integral to the story, to part of who I am (literally). So bear with me.

The ONE TIME I didn't wear socks in the boat....

"Woa! What's this? Hiding something, are we?" she proclaimed, a little too loudly, as she found the wart. Did I have a temperature? I felt feverish! She peered, she poked, and then she declared, "I can shave some of this down for you, and then we can shape your nail to cover it up. But..." She stopped for a moment, and then continued, "I don't usually see ones that look like this, though..." she crumpled her forehead, lost deep in thought. No doubt, wondering the best approach of attacking my big toe wart. I felt myself involuntarily swallow a bit of the post-class energy bar that I had consumed on the drive over. Gulp.

Good times.

Even writing this now, I can feel my heart beat quicken, my palms start to sweat.

I felt as though I was having an out-of-body experience.

I watched, in disbelieve, as she raised the scalpel, and proceeded to peel away layers of skin. It was simply too much, more than I could handle.

I clenched the seat, so hard that my fingers turned white, and my finger tips turned blue. I focused on breathing, steady. I visualized a "happy place", and did my best to not focus on the sawing sound coming from somewhere down near my big toe.

I squirmed, I looked away. I tried to guess how many times she had dyed her hair, how often she did her nails, and how many different colors of nail polish she had on the wall (hundreds!) - but nothing could distract me from the fact that this woman had her face a mere 2 inches from my toes, her hands on my feet, peering intently at a big flaw.

Finally, after what felt like forever, she had finished the job to the best of her ability.

I could have really, really used a drink at this point.

"I can't make it go away, hon. But this will do better. I don't recommend the French Pedicure, because that'll only make it more obvious. But the Smokin' Havana will look really nice, and people will hardly notice your wart."

Thank God there were no other customers in the shop. Actually, they probably would have made a mad dash for the fire exit the first moment I took of my shoes.

She then clipped my nails, and my feet once again grew sweaty.

And more sweaty.

Where WAS the bathroom?!?

When she started going at my cuticles, I could feel the beads of sweat begin to pop on my forehead. I tried not to squirm, to seem too uncomfortable. This was, after all, what she did.

My stomach clenched. Again, I swallowed, and tried to not reproduce my energy bar.

I didn't realize how nauseated I would feel while getting a pedicure.

Her job, was to peer at feet. Mine were only one of a gazillion she had already seen. So what if I had a little wart? So what if my feet were a little stinky? No one is perfect!

But no matter how I tried to rationalize it, it didn't make me feel any better (liken this experience to going to the gynecologist. NOT fun.) - I was just miserable.

When she got to the actual nail polish, I breathed a sigh of relief. Which Pedicure lady took as a sign of pleasure.

"That there," she exclaimed in her Eastern North Carolina accent. "That there polish looks go-od!"

She had finally finished, and was no worse for the wear. I, on the other hand, was scarred for life. Having her touch my feet, examine my feet, peer intently at my feet, was just not fun. Again - this is what she did. But I had my own foot issues, which had just gotten 100 times worse.

All in a measly 60 minutes.

Before my pedicure experience, I didn't really like feet. Afterwards, I HATED them, and was decidedly uncomfortable with other people touching my feet.

Socks, I can tolerate. Socks are nice. They cover up hairy, pale, and even smelly feet. They keep feet warm, they keep them comfy, and they keep them confined. I can deal with Nathaniel rubbing my feet - as long as I'm wearing my warm, squishy socks. Otherwise, all bets are off.

In retrospect, my feet aren't all bad. Just something I don't particularly enjoy. But I'm learning to love them: they serve an important function, do a lot of great work for me, and are literally - my base. I'll treat them with lots of tender, love, and care. Massage lotion, moisturizer socks, and slippers are all wonderful treats to help my feet stay comfortable. But I draw the line at a pedicure. By this point, I'm pretty good at doing my own polish, thank you very much!

Then again, it doesn't make that much of a difference. Because the polish usually flakes off after a long ride or run. Horse poop or not.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Lunch Ladies Rule!

If you're reading this, chances are that you've seen my profile. And therefore - by now - you must be aware that I'm a Survivor fan.

So guess what I'm doing right now? (Aside from writing??)

A++ to those of you who guessed watching the Survivor China Finale!

And at this point, I have to write. I am SO sad... not in an "orphaned kitten" or "world hunger" or "broken bike" kind of way. I'm sad that Denise, the spunky lunch lady, was voted off. She had formed a solid alliance with 3 other players, and when it came down to the vote before Tribal Council, Amanda, Todd, and Courtney voted her off 3-1.

Poor Denise. Not because she's a lunch lady, or has a mullet - gotta LOVE the mullet! But I really wish she would have won. She was ethical, she was honest, and she played a heckuva game. I was rooting for her! She was a self-proclaimed "outsider" all of her life, and in the end, this title did her in just as much as her teammates. Because she believed that she was on the outside, it affected her confidence, her image.

But it was also endearing, sweet, and honest.

I can relate to Denise. I think a lot of us can: she's a bit awkward, a bit clumsy, but her heart is pure, she'll fight to the end, but remain true to herself throughout the journey. But she still remained on the outside of "the clique" or "the crowd". I understand some of what she went through - and no, this won't turn into a "sob" story about me OR Denise. No, I can relate because I've always been an introverted person, someone who prefers to stay on the outside of the crowd, the outside of the group and kind of do my own thing. I suppose that's why I loved rowing a single so much, or love swimming, biking, and running on my own (or with a very small group). I've always been a bit shy, and it's been a challenge for me to be a bit more assertive. I can see a bit of myself in Denise, and I truly do admire how she remained true to herself while playing the game. She wasn't necessarily an introverted person, but she wasn't truly in with "the group". They formed an alliance with her out of necessity, but she hung in there and remained strong. In the end, it was simply her time.

I take back a previous statement: Denise is not poor! On the contrary, she walked out of this game, this "outwit, outlast, outplay" keeping her integrity and moral fiber intact. She was honest, ethical, true, and a kindred spirit throughout. Qualities that not everyone, Survivor or not, can possess. Even though she won't walk away with 1 million dollars and the title of "sole survivor", she's a winner in my book. Great Job Denise!

And now, for the final vote... who do I want...? Denise, if it was still possible. Well, the votes haven't been cast (as of yet). But the final tribal council, where the jury gets to grill, er "ask" the final 3 survivors questions, is going on as I'm writing... so I'll settle back, diet coke and some crispy, crunchy delight in hand, sit back, and enjoy the best that I can.

But I'm still holding out for Denise. I know that it's not possible, but I personally think it would be really cool if a lady with a mullet won the entire game.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Raining Cats and Dogs!

Today I had my FINAL time trial... the one and only, 10 mile bike. 25 minutes of agony at the end of an already stressful/exciting/intense fun-filled week! Rather than bore you with yet another blow-by-blow account (hey - I love writing them, and I the sensation of living each moment again is neat- and I really feel that the "inner-me" comes out... but 3 deeply-intense reports in one week? Holy Cow!), I'm going to lighten the mood and recite a poem from one of my favorite authors, Pablo Neruda.

In a bit...

First, it really was raining cats and dogs today (and you thought I couldn't get another animal reference in - ha ha!). When I woke up, the overhead clouds were dense, heavy, and saturated. The atmosphere was just waiting to erupt - and I started my piece just after it let loose.

I drove up to Milton, all the while watching anxiously as big, fat raindrops spattered off the windshield. Rain, I could do. Lightning, not so much.

After reaching my "start" point, I parked the car and waited while the rain fell. I figured that - as all the storms on the Florida Panhandle do - this one would soon blow over.

Boy, was I wrong.

It kept raining. And raining. And then raining harder.

After 2 uneventful minutes in the car, I had had enough waiting around. Let's just say I'm not a very patient person when I've got a mission to accomplish. No piece, no test, no race is perfect. I can't control the weather, won't always be able to decide when I can and can't race/train. So I figured that my wonderful bike - Sjofin (she has a name, its Teutonic for a Warrior Goddess who inspires passion - good, huh?) - was due for a cleaning, and by riding in the rain I would get a heckuva head start.

About 3 minutes into the warm-up, I was drenched, cold, and cursing the cold front that was about to move through. But it didn't matter: I put on my blinders, hunkered down, redoubled my efforts, and thought to heck with everything and that pouring sheets of rain weren't going to prevent me from riding my hardest.

So I did.

The piece was great and I felt the crazy woman in me laughing manically at the rain. It came down in sheets; it was spraying in my face, hard pellets bouncing off my helmet and off my shoulders as I propelled myself forward. The rain did nothing to dampen my drive, my spirit. I howled in the wind, forced my legs down, and held steady at 24 mph.

It was awesome.

I was 3 seconds off my previous best, but felt that my effort was much steadier, much greater. And then I cursed the fact that I don't have a power meter (yet!), because it's times like these they would come in awful handy! But I couldn't control ANY of that - just me, myself, and the manic, laughing woman within.

The harder I pushed, the louder the rain pellets pinged off my helmet, off my soaked back and shoulders. It took every bit of energy, every bit of reserve to drive myself forward: but the heart was pure and strong, the mind was powerful, and the body was a willing accomplice.

And I was trashed afterwards.

And drenched!

A quick 20 minute cool-down, and I was back at the car, wiping Sjofin down as quickly as I could, and then throwing on a dry shirt. There was a brief respite in the clouds and rain, and I could feel the electricity crackle in the air.

The earth and all her elements were holding their breath before the explosion of lightning, thunder, wind, and driving rain.

I phoned Nathaniel to let him know I was safe in the car and would be home in 45 minutes. He replied, "And not a minute too soon. I've been watching the radar all morning, and we're getting serious thunder down here. It's not exactly heading in your direction, but you'll probably run into a bit on your drive home."

A few minutes after the call ended, I saw the explosion of lightning, felt the reverberations of the thunder, and thanked my lucky starts that I had finished my ride when I did. Good thing that my legs felt as though they were somewhere 8 miles behind, otherwise I would still be biking, and caught out in the open in a thunderstorm.

Speaking from experience, riding in lightning is NOT fun... I'd much prefer the raining down of cats and dogs.

So, because I love biking. And because I love my wonderful bicycle Sjofin, I am dedicating this post to bikes in general (and bikers, of course!)

Ode to Bicycles, by Pablo Neruda

I was walking
down
a sizzling road:
the sun popped like
a field of blazing maize,
the
earth
was hot,
an infinite circle
with an empty
blue sky overhead

A few bicycles
passed
me by,
the only
insects
in
that dry
moment of summer,
silent,
swift,
translucent;
they
barely stirred
the air.

Workers and girls
were riding to their
factories,
giving
their eyes
to summer,
their heads to the sky,
sitting on the
hard
beetle backs
of the whirling
bicycles
that whirred
as they rode by
bridges, rosebushes, brambles
and midday.

I thought about evening when
the boys
wash up,
sing, eat, raise
a cup
of wine
in honor
of love
and life,
and waiting
at the door,
the bicycle,
stilled,
because
only moving
does it have a soul,
and fallen there
it isn't
a translucent
insect
humming
through summer
but
a cold
skeleton
that will return
to
life
only
when it's needed,
when it's light,
that is,
with
the
resurrection
of each day.

"The Poetry of Pablo Neruda" p 432-434.

Happy biking, happy training! Each day is a new one, and with the promise of a new dawn, we are all reborn. Today it was raining cats and dogs, but I still flew on my bike, still had the time of my life, still laughed in the face of the howling storm. Tomorrow, it may be sunny, it may not. But it won't matter: because my bike will still be there for me, waiting in the light - waiting for another adventure.