Tuesday, December 4, 2012

November Music

October was a huge month, so of course November has been very slim in music that I like. 

No Sleep to Dream by Zella Day
Cut It Out by Kitten
Dark Again by Gold Fields
Default by Django Django (odd I know, it wears on ya)
Sweater Weather by Neighborhood
White Wine in the Sun by Tim Minchkin - yes, that is actually a Christmas song.
One More Night - Maroon 5 (Blame The Voice)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

October Music

I really love where music is going these days.  I had to wait through too many years of screechy boy band rock and now almost every new band sounds good to me. (slight exxageration).  But as I start to think of my 2012 Best of Playlist, there are a few contenders from this month alone.

OoOo bu Oberhofer
Get Away With It by Animal Kingdom
Change by Churchill
Champion by The Chevin
All I Want by Kodaline
Wild by Royal Teeth
RadioActive by Imagine Dragons
Global Concepts by Robert DeLong
True Romance by Citizens
Brother by Matt Corby
One Day by Asaf Avidan
She by Laura Mvula
Put the Gun Down by ZZ Ward
Yeahs by Alesso

Friday, November 9, 2012

Happy Anniversary to Me

Today is my 11th wedding anniversary, yet I will not be celebrating it.  On March 18th of this year I learned that Joe had been speaking with a divorce lawyer for nearly a month and wanted a divorce.  I was completely blindsided.  He still told me he loved me, called me his best friend who "knew him better than everyone" and kissed me good bye every morning, even the morning that I accidentally found out.

I could never have predicted the utter heartbreak and sadness that I felt.  I called in sick to work, spending three days sitting in my bed sobbing. I just felt so very, very sad.  I was hurt, worried, scared but mostly very, very sad.  The Friday night I started packing to move out, a mere 5 days after my world turned upside down, I honestly, to my core did not think I could make it through.

My friends and family rallied and came to my rescue.  They came bearing gifts of chocolate, beer, sleeping aids and french fries.  They came and listened, and some came and talked, knowing the distraction was what I needed to remember that I will be OK and yes, life does go on despite a wounded heart. I will never be able to thank my core group of friends that were there for me that first week, giving in ways I never expected and can never repay.  When I think of where I am today, it is due to the outpouring of love and support that I felt that first week.  In fact, as I spent the first night in my parents' home, I went to sleep feeling more loved than ever.

It's been a tough 7 months, but each month has gotten easier in some way and there has been a lot of good and fun that has happened. I can tell I am healing, working through the pain, hurt and grief.  I have learned a lot about myself and a lot about other people. I went to Ireland, a place I never would have gone with Joe, and had a fantastic time. I have developed friendships with people and done things I only used to wish I could do. I made a "Can Do Check List" and have been steadily working through it.

I loved being married to Joe.  He was my best friend and through the 20 years we were together we were able to grow up, find out who we were as people, with a wonderful safety net of each other to catch us when we stumbled. I am a strong, independent and assertive person right now because I always felt that he loved me no matter how silly, stupid or bitchy I was. I will forever be thankful to him for that.  I will always love him and I hope that at some point he can find happiness.  To be very cliche, we had a great love story filled with lots of laughs, but that is over and now it is time for the next fantastic book of my life.

I will never be able to appropriately thank my parents for all that they have done for me over this time.  They showed up at 10pm on that most horrible Friday night and just stood and held me as I cried.  At the exact time they should be enjoying their retirement, they let me and my bird move into their home, clearing out closets and having dinner ready for me every night.  They supported when I needed and gave me space without me ever having to ask.  I quite literally could not have gotten through this without them.

I also have to thank a small handful of friends who have really gone above and beyond the call of friendship duty. From talking me down off the crazy train, giving me a safe place to cry or simply being there to share a funny story or latest silly me adventure, I truly know the importance of a good support system and feel incredibly lucky to say I have a great one.  I remember my mom walking in late that horrible night while I was sobbing.  I just said "I can't do this by myself."  My mom just held me and said "Oh honey, no one expected you to except you."  I did expect to be able to do it alone. Now I know that was foolish to even consider not leaning on people that love me when I needed it the most.

So for the first time in 20 years, I am on my own.  I am living by myself for the first time ever (and so far love it!). I have a great group of friends and despite the year not being at all what I planned, I am doing pretty well.  Take out the hurt and pain, and our separation becomes a business transaction. Any decision that had to be made I tried to think of what the me in 10 years would think.  I've said from the beginning I want to handle this with as much grace and dignity as possible, and I honestly think I am doing a good job with that, or at least the best that I can.

I really hope that November 9 becomes just a day, that I will at one point not even realize it was my anniversary.  But I also hope that when I do realize it is my anniversary, I can look back fondly on it, think about how happy I was that day, with the rainbow over my head, friends and family surrounding me.  Because I was happy; but now it is time for me to be happier.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

In Defense of a Hero

Lance Armstrong stepped down as CEO from the Lance Armstrong Foundation and soon after Nike as well as Budweiser ended their relationships with him, with more to come.  I have spent all afternoon watching various tweets centered around his guilt, telling jokes (What is Lance's favorite animal?  A Cheetah) and generally jumping on the "We Hate Lance" bandwagon.  Not me.

I still am a Lance supporter and there are two main reasons why.

I remember watching Lance's first Tour de France and while at the time I knew very little about the sport, I was rooting for this guy, this AMERICAN, who just 3 years after having cancer was winning the grueling 23 day long road race. I cried when he won.  I have always had a bike and can remember as a kid just taking off and riding for hours just to explore. As a "grown up", I realized I missed my bike and started riding again. I wasn't the only one, as road biking suddenly became a topic of conversation and wearing spandex and riding on skinny tires was cool again.

Lance won again the next year and the next year and of course the next year and by then I was riding pretty steadily. I devoured his book "It's Not About The Bike."  I remember thinking that he is an x-man in the real world. His body processes oxygen at a higher rate than most people while producing less lactic acid than most. His spine is shaped in a way that makes him more aerodynamic. He simply is able to tolerate more physical stress than most people.  He also seems like a complete and total asshole.

Yep, you read that correctly.  He is an asshole. But I also think that he had to be to get through what he did and to continuously win like he did. The Tour de France is an incredibly impossible race to even complete. Each year there are multiple wrecks and even deaths. You simply cannot just decide one day to ride the Tour without any preparation. It takes years of training, days of riding in the rain, the cold, the hot and riding when the last thing you want to do is to ride. You have to fine tune your nutrition, focus everything in your life around one goal. I have done one thing like this in my life that is even remotely close and that was run a marathon.  I had to sacrifice parties, time with friends, dinners, ice cream, sleeping in and generally a life.  I hurt, all the time, and spent most weekends on the couch with ice packs on various parts of my body. I did all that for a sub par finish that is not even remotely close to what Lance could do.

I firmly believe that there are people that are naturally athletic and I am not one of those people, but Lance is. He is able to train to a level I never could dream of hitting. But the key piece of that statement is that he trained.  He did the work.  He put in the miles and miles and miles. He made the sacrifices. He prepared his body, his mind and his team for stresses they could never imagine.

I don't think anyone can deny that Lance Armstrong is more than a person, he is a brand. His name is synonymous with the  Livestrong logo that graces the yellow bands, t-shirts, bikes, hats, bags and cycling gear, seen at most races, sporting events and in any large crowd of people.  That brand has raised more than $470 million to support and empower people who are affected by cancer.  The Lance Armstrong Foundation has helped more than 550 organizations and countless thousands of thousands of people who have cancer. More than that, Lance has given HOPE to people who have cancer. He has revolutionized how people look at cancer. Instead of being a victim, Lance inspired people to fight, to take charge, to not surrender to the disease.  Livestrong is an immense resource center for people diagnosed with cancer, but Lance changed the status quo of those people.  Cancer is no longer a death sentence. Lance was able to fight cancer and come back to win the hardest road race in the world because he chose to fight.  He was the first person to say that a person with cancer can live.

Livestrong is about the fight.  It is about learning about the disease and living strong.  It is about acceptance of the fear, the anger, and working through all the emotions that a cancer patient and their support system are about to feel.  It is about living a life and having a life worth living.  Lance Armstrong showed people that you can live after being diagnosed with cancer.  His strength gave others strength.

For me, he will always be the person who got me back on my bike, and for that I thank him. Because of that I have met people that have helped me along in journeys I never knew I would be on.  The person I was 10 years ago has fundamentally changed, due mostly in part to my ability to ride my bike. More importantly, Lance is still the person who changed our society's opinions on cancer.  We fight.  We don't accept less than living.

I don't know the details on the doping scheme, I don't know if he was simply using his own oxygenated blood or steroids. I don't know if he was the only one or if everyone was doing it.  What I do know is it is impossible to finish the Tour de France without putting in the work. I know that he helped many friends of mine learn about their cancer and be better prepared legally, financially and mentally.  I know that in the pros and cons of life, he has done far more for society as a whole than most people can ever dream about. He had cancer. He fought and he won; continues to fight.  He taught all of us that we can also fight and win.  And for me, that is why I will always be a Lance fan. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

September Music

Teenage Icon by The Vaccines
Something Good by Alt-J
Ayla by The Maccabees
Bom Bom by Sam and The Womp
Read All About It by Emeli Sande
Flaws by Bastille
Talk Through The Night by Dog is Dead
Madness by Muse
Two Fingers by Jake Bugg

Music Notes this Month:
I have been very fortunate this month to see a lot of  concerts and with each one I was reminded how much I love music and how important it is in my life. I am constantly amazed with peoples' talent, especially since I myself have none. Sitting in a room listening to a great singer still gives me chills and I vividly remember some performances that have brought me to tears. So even though many of these really messed up my sleep schedule, here are some highlights from my month of music:

A Silent Film - This band has long been on my radar, included in best of lists since April of 2009.  So I was really excited when they were announced to play a work event.  Their songs are pretty and the lyrics are mostly sad, which is a trait that for some reason I really like.  Like most music I really like, hardly anyone was familiar with the band which is a shame. In person they were humble, sweet and very appreciative of people actually singing their lyrics.  Two of my favorites: You Will Leave a Mark and Driven By Their Beating Hearts.

Metric: This band has been around for a bit and their songs are played pretty consistently on the station that I listen to the most, Atl Nation.  I've never really loved them, never hated them.  Then I saw them in an acoustic performance and I was amazed. The lead singer's voice is pure and beautiful and it has forever changed how I think of their music. You will probably recognize Youth Without Youth.

The Wombats: This band peaked my interest a few years ago with their song "Let's Dance to Joy Division" because it is a good song and I love that they get the irony of that line. It made me laugh.  So I have been following them, purchasing all of their stuff and would consider myself a fan. Their newest single Jump Into the Fog addresses a woman as "love" (which I LOVE and want) and also has a great lines: "I'm only here because I want to twist the structure of my average day" and "life tastes sweeter when its wrapped in debauchery". So I was more than a little excited to see they were coming to Charlotte and that they would be coming to work. I was the only one that I work with that even knew who they were!  Now I see a lot of bands come through work, some big and some small.  Some do a great job interacting with the crowd and then there are bands like The Wombats.  They walked onto the platform, hardly said hello, unceremoniously sang two songs (the usual is three) and walked off stage.  That's it. I was very disappointed.  For a band with such a sense of humor in their lyrics, to have no personality whatsoever was not what I expected. I went to the show that night and they were better, but still they have lost a bit of their appeal.   I still like the music, but I will never again skip down the hall at work exclaiming "The Wombats are here!"  Check out one of my favorites, Tokyo.

Morning Parade: I liked this band's first major hit and since they were opening for the Wombats, they also came by work. They were the first band in the 16 years I have worked here that wore a sports coat.  They also smelled good, a rarity.  They did the normal introduction, sang a song and then said they wanted to play a game with the audience members.  It was hilarious!  They sang another song and when it came to the next break they chose me. Steve, the lead singer introduced himself to me and asked the question, then played their hit song.  We took pictures and that was it.  That night at the concert I bought a cd and went up to get it autographed. He looked at me and right away said 'Hi Amy, so glad to see you again!".  How awesome is that?!  We chatted, he said he'd be around afterwards and asked if I'd stay for a drink.  I was there with Shelia, so we both stayed and she bought the band a round of drinks.  I hung out and talked with Steve while The Wombats were playing.  He had been touring with them for a few weeks and said that they are funny and nice.  He also said he was so  impressed that the Wombats were playing in a small venue here when just two weeks ago they were playing to a sold out 50,000 crowd in the UK.  I asked him if that was disheartening and he said quite the opposite...that it was inspiring to be with a band that loved performing and loved the music so much.  So Steve bought me two drinks, we hung out talking for about an hour.  I am pretty sure we are best friends now.  :)  But seriously, they will be back in Charlotte in November.  Go see them; they are a group of nice guys with a lot of talent.   Headlights is great, but this Us & Ourselves is my favorite. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

New Music Update

It's been awhile...I am already worried that I haven't tracked enough music to properly compile my Amy's Audibles for 2012.  But better late than never.  Here are the songs I am loving lately:

Is Your Love Big Enough by Lianne LaHavas
Day You Die by Walk the Moon
No Hope by The Vaccines
Under the Westway by Blur
Savage by Hacienda *
Ho Hey by the Lumineres *
Let's Go by Matt and Kim
Little Black Submarines by Black Keys
Nice to Be Alive by Ball Park Music
All of Me by Tanlines
At Home by Crystal Fighters
Old Pine by Ben Howard
We'll Be Coming Back by Calvin Harris and Example
Forest Whittaker by Bad Books *
No Tell by Smoke & Jackal
Female Robbery by Neighborhood
Handshake by Two Door Cinema Club

Wee Little Recap

I never planned on going to Ireland and would have lived my life happily without.  But the opportunity arose and I went, feeling a need I couldn't explain, to do something unplanned.  I am so glad I did.

Ireland is gorgeous country which made me think of rural Pennsylvania where my grandparents live. Rolling hills fill the landscape and there is no way to count the many shades of green. There is rain, lots and lots of rain, so you might think that it is a grey place, but the opposite is true.  Everything is so lush and the flowers are amazingly vibrant. The purples seems richer, blues brighter, the reds and pinks pop out like none I've seen before.  Houses are painted brightly as well, at the very least have colorful window frames. Castle ruins are mere feet from the roads, which themselves are skinny, crumbling and have you wondering how in the world two cars could ever pass at the same time (the answer: one cars pulls over in the hedge).  It seems you are never far away from the coast and it is so scenic the effect is calming and serene.

We left Ireland on a rainy and grey day, typical considering the week.  The drive from Northern Ireland to Dublin was easy and we made great time.  We had an uneventful RyanAir trip back to London, grabbed a cab and made our way to the hotel about an hour north of the city.  The plan was to check in, drop off our stuff and head into London.  However, things close early on Sundays, and by things, I mean restaurants and shops.  Since both Dearlsey and I had been to the city, and Beth was about to spend a month there, we decided to walk down to the little town near our hotel.  We found a little pub and were delighted to learn that they do stay open.  We sat outside, drank, laughed, drank some more and ate whatever we wanted. It was another unplanned, but delightfully wonderful afternoon. I had brought my camera and took some of my favorite pictures on the walk back.  Exhausted, we were all in bed and asleep by 9.

I have been such a planner my entire life. I have 6 month plans, 2 year, 5 year, 10 year plans.  I have spreadsheets upon spreadsheets of different options so I can make a decision about a possible plan.  I have airport codes, budgets and potential hotels for vacations I want to do in 5 years. Traveling is very important to me and that is something I can't see changing. But this trip wasn't planned.  I didn't save for years.  I didn't even really know some of the people I travelled with, meeting one for the first time a month before we left.  I didn't have a budget, didn't stick to one, still don't quite know how I am going to pay for the trip.  But Everything Worked Out.  We all got along.  I didn't spend as much as I thought I would.  I laughed.  I had a great time and I felt more like me than I have in a long time. I enjoyed the experience, even though it wasn't perfect.  One of my favorite parts of the trip was standing out in the cold, wind and rain looking at a rock that is thousands of years old. It was something I would have never done before. I would have wanted to, but I wouldn't have done it.  This time I did.  I stopped often and took loads of pictures. I stayed up all night talking, something I haven't done since I was a teenager. This unplanned trip was just what I needed to remind myself that Everything Works Out. It really does.  Sometimes it doesn't work out like it was planned, but that doesn't mean it can't be just as good, and if you are open to it, it might just be better.

So to Ireland, thank you for being such a life changing place for me.  Thank you to the people of Ireland for being warm, open, friendly and accepting. Thank you to my travel partners who reminded me that the world is open to me, and that I am going to be alright.  Everything Works Out.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Big Bad Belfast...Blog Post or History Lesson...You Decide.

Honestly, I didn't know a lot about the whole Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland conflict when I planned the trip to Ireland.  We knew we wanted to see Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland and since we were up that way, I knew I wanted to check out the Titanic Museum in Belfast. Even though I didn't have the specifics, there was an inherent danger to the North and specifically Belfast.  I researched where it was OK to be Catholic, where I shouldn't say a word.  I registered with the State Department in case "Something Bad" should happen. I was expecting bombings, or at least buildings that had been recently bombed.  This was Belfast after all, home of The Troubles, the IRA and Other Bad Things.
So on our way to Northern Ireland, I read up on the issue.  While it is completely naive to summarize a centuries long conflict into black and white absolutes after reading a few articles, I will do just that for you.   In the 1600s, the English protestants looked across the English Channel and decided they wanted Ireland for their own.  Since the northern part of the country was wealthier, they sent missionaries to convert the Catholics and settle the land.  As you can imagine, the Catholics did not like this and many wars ensued.  In 1795 The Orange Order was founded, committed to upholding the Protestant Values and staying true to Englishman William of Orange (why orange is the color of protesters, even today). In 1801 Ireland officially became part of the United Kingdom.

Native Irish people didn't like that at all and the fighting continued between the Nationalists who were mostly Catholic and wanted Ireland to be its own country, and the Unionists, mostly Protestants who though Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom. In 1920 the country was officially divided into Southern Ireland that became The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which remained part of the United Kingdom.

The real problems started in the 70s with the formation of the Provisional Irish Republican Army.  The IRA had traditionally been non-violent; the new IRA relished in violence.  There were bombings, killings, shootings.  1972 was a particularly bad year. You have probably heard of Bloody Sunday, made famous by U2. That is when 26 non-armed civil rights protesters were killed.  Bloody Friday, a day when 22 bombs were detonated in Belfast in just over an hour's time, also took place in 1972. In that one year over 500 people died, most of them civilians.   Over the next 35 years there were more bombings, peace treaties, shootings, hunger strikes and over 3500 people died.  Walls were built between the Catholics and the Protestants.  Check points and searches were customary just to get around the city.

There has been relative peace since 2009 when major leaders announced they were going to try to settle matters peacefully,  the borders have been removed and for the most part Belfast and Northern Ireland is a safe place to go.  I say for the most part because as recently as July 12, 2012, there have still been riots.  The Orange Volunteers still do parades and are still banned in some parts of the country.  Peace is tenuous at best.  We were there on the 40th anniversary of Bloody Friday and protests and parades were planned, with orange being the color of the day.

So I rode into Belfast on the train expecting to see destruction, armies or at least some indication of their history.  I was quite surprised with what I found.

Belfast is a large city, industrial in parts, but quite lovely with an amazing energy about it.  Out first stop was the Titanic Museum.  My parents were Titanic buffs, so I knew a lot of the history.  Since the ship was built in Belfast,the museum really went into how the actual ship was built.  The museum included a ride, interactive displays and life size models of the various class rooms.  I was most interested in the after effects of the sinking; the story of the boat and the men who had to recover the bodies from the ocean (only 1 in 5 bodies was ever found), catalog them and try to identify them.  A lot of time was taken on the legal ramifications, the changes to ship safety and the impact on procedures. It was quite a neat tour. 

We left there and headed to St. George's Market, a local farmer's market with artists, craftsmen and lots of food.  There was fresh fish, every type of food you'd want (even over sized, fattening American food at Fat Daddy's). There was a jazz band playing in the middle and we wandered around for hours, sampling cookies, cakes, peanut brittle and buying jewelry and gifts.  This was our slice of life tour, as we sat and ate lunch we noticed we were the only Americans to be seen. We were living how people in Belfast live, going to the market for Saturday, meeting friends, grabbing a bite to eat.  It was fantastic people watching for sure.
We left St. George's and wandered the streets looking for cool architecture, which was everywhere.  We went shopping, took pictures and even stopped in a Catholic church, meeting a sweet little old lady who was looking to go to Confession.  She was from Belfast and asked where we were from. When we said North Carolina, she said "Raleigh."  No, we said.  We are from Charlotte.  She shook her head "Raleigh is the capital.  I know all the capitals of the United States."   Again I was struck with how ignorant we are as a country. 

We hopped back on the train and headed back to Portrush.  I wished I could have spent more time in Belfast and might try to take a trip back there one day.  The history, combined with the energy of the country is very compelling to me.  Everyone we spoke with was quite nice and the city itself is gorgeous. The Capital building has the huge grassy area and people were picnicking, playing Frisbee and a huge TV was set up for people to watch the Olympics. Belfast is very much part of Great Britain and Olympic Rings were everywhere, sometimes next to names of ships built along the docks.   The currency is in pounds, accents are sharper, more Scottish, and the feeling is overwhelmingly British. The city has FANTASTICALLY huge bike lanes, is very walker friendly and had musicians on almost every corner. Belfast was the opposite of the quiet farm community we had spent the first part of the week at, but it still was an amazingly comfortable city. It felt like a safe place to be anonymous, and that is something that appeals to me for some reason.
So I didn't see bombings and nothing BAD happened to me.  I'm not so sure that the war is over and while I sympathize with the Nationalists, there is a point where you are killing your neighbors and families and you just need to get on board with the change.  Again, easy for me to say.  I do think it is interesting to read how much The Troubles have affected Northern Ireland as a society.  Suicide rates are higher, sexual promiscuity is high with STDs being higher in NI than anywhere else. Alcoholism rates are higher and there is a general lack of trust.  But even with that I am intrigued by Belfast, feel an odd sense of wanting to know more, to see more, to feel more of it. Maybe it is just the change to see history made real, maybe it is something else. I was very aware of my religious upbringing in the city and that made me feel connected in a way that makes no rational sense.

If you get the chance to go to Belfast, go!  It is being touted as the next "must see" city and the local government has gone to great lengths to revitalize the entire area. It's worked, and I must admit I have a wee bit of a crush on Belfast.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Touristy Tourist Tours

We woke up Friday to the most gorgeous blue skies; it seemed crazy that it had been rainy for so long.  I can see how one sunny day makes up for the rainy grey ones. We had a fantastic breakfast that Karen cooked. All week we have been skipping breakfast or just having a quick piece of toast so it was luxurious to sit down to a fully cooked, delicious, made to order meal.  We then headed out to check out the area tourist attractions. 
Dunlace Castle
First stop was Dunlace Castle. We had to pay 8 pounds to get in which just seemed wrong after the first few days of traipsing through castles for free.  But once I saw the grounds, I was impressed.  Dunlace Castle is a huge compound since it also served as a village for most of the people that worked in the castle.  Only 17 miles from Scotland, the castle traded ownership from Irish to Scottish several times until it was eventually destroyed and abandoned. It was a pretty impressive ruin, and the views over the water aer fantastic.  There were more people than I would like, though I am a bit spoiled after the private castle tour!  But it was neat to see and I am glad I paid the money to see it. 

Next up was the Giant's Causeway, the reason we were staying in the Portrush area in the first place.  The Giant's Causeway is an impressive geological formation of almost identical rock hexagons.  There are estimated to be 40,000 of them and most geologists believe they were formed 65 million years ago.  The coolest part is the pattern which is most likely formed as a result of  rock crystallization under conditions of accelerated cooling, occurring when molten lava comes into immediate contact with water.  I had heard about these and seen some pictures online but I was unprepared for how amazing a sight it is when you are there in person. It really is quite amazing the power of Mother Nature. And really, the entire country kinda makes me want to go back to school to become a geology student so I could do an entire thesis on the geological wonders of Ireland. We climbed around the stones, making a wish at the wishing chair stone and taking a ton of pictures.  One of my favorite things was a wall on the back side where people have placed coins into cracks in the rocks.  The wind and the rain have caused the coins to bend. It is said that it is good luck to place a coin in the wall, and for some reason, this felt like something I had to do.  So I did.  Hopefully my wish comes true!

After a failed attempt to see Bushmills Distillery, the oldest whiskey producer in the world, we ate dinner and headed out to see a row of trees that forms a beautifully creepy hedge leading up to an estate. It has been featured in The Game Of Thrones, which a lot of people I know watch, so I figured it would be worth seeing.  We found it, but honestly were unimpressed.  Sure it was neat, but not what I thought it was going to be.  I was able to get some pretty great pictures out there and it actually was the site of one of the funniest moments of the trip.

Most cars in Ireland are stick shift so that meant that Dearsley and I did all the driving since Beth didn't know how to drive. We were on this quiet back road taking pictures and Beth asked to try her hand at manual transmission. Now the shifter is on the left, you have to drive on the left, so not only did she have to learn how to use the clutch, she had to shift with her left and remember to stay left.  She actually did really well, so well that I was a tad disappointed.  We got to the intersection where the other 3 girls were standing and Beth freaked out.  She was laughing, crying and screaming "GET OUT OF THE WAY."  We told her she was clear to go but she waited.  She finally started, drifted back and squealed the tires as she peeled through the stop sign.  It was funny for all of us, but became truly hilarious when we saw the video.  There is a long pause as Beth waits, she drifts back out of frame then peels out.  We watched the video over and over again, laughing until we were all crying.  Anyone who has ever learned how to drive stick will understand how hysterical it was, since every single one of us has done exactly that.  It was such an unexpected moment, but such a highlight of the trip for sure.

It is crazy that the trip is nearing it's end.  Only one more day in Ireland and then it is all basically travel back home. I usually don't like being a typical tourist and prefer off the beaten path scenery, but today was worth putting up with the crowds. It gave me a renewed sense of awe for the planet, for geology and a love of laughing until you cry, cough and double over from joy.  Five months ago I hardly knew these women I was with and yet I have such a feeling of love for them and that makes me happy in a way I really needed.  Maybe it is the luck of the Irish, all the green or the stories of magic and fairies, but this trip is truly magical for me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Changes in Lattitudes

Thursday morning we woke up to "warm" temperatures and more blue sky.  We were amazed at how far we could see from our house when it cleared....absolutely gorgeous.  We said goodbye to Ann and headed out to our next destination - Portrush, Northern Ireland. We were due to meet the other 2 travelers, Candace and Carol, whose work obligations prevented them from joining us earlier.  Most people said it would take us 5 hours to make the drive, but knowing how much Beth and I loved taking pictures, we were sure it would take longer.
We weren't on the road more than 15 minutes when we made our first picture stop at an old graveyard at the side of the road.  I don't know why I love old cemeteries and churches, but I do.  I think it is a sense of history, of love, of faith and devotion which are ideals that captivate me. This  one happened to over look the ocean with fields int he background and was stunning.  There were more than a few Celtic crosses, actually the entire trip was filled with Celtic crosses, claddagh rings and other famed Celtic symbols. It got to be a bit repetitive actually, but in the cemetery the cross took on new meaning.  They were gorgeous, with such intricate details.  I honestly could have sat there all day, reading the graves and being at peace in such a gorgeous resting place.
But we had miles to go, so we jumped in our car and made it north of Sligo before we stopped again.  We were driving down the road when Beth saw a castle in the distance. We decided to take a side road and see how close we could get to it.  We winded down quite a bit and never got very close to the castle.  BUT we stumbled upon one of the most naturally beautiful places I have ever seen.  It helped that it was sunny finally, but the deep blue water against the stone rocks next to the vibrant green grass with an actual castle in the background was just breathtaking. Pictures don't do it justice at all. We stayed there for almost an hour taking pictures of the land, the water, the nearby cows and of course each other. I think this is going to be one of my favorite memories of the entire trip. Obviously because it was so picturesque, but mostly because it was completely unplanned.  I am SUCH a planner, with my day, week, month, life in general, but have recently been reminded that plans don't always work out the way you intended. I have seen that as a negative lately, thinking "why didn't it go the way I had planned?" and this little spot, and pictures from it, will always be there for me to know that the most beautiful things can be spontaneous.   I'm not going to stop being a planner, but this does give me hope.

One of the most unexpected things about Ireland is the amount of daylight.  During the summer there can be 18 hours of sun, meaning the sun comes up at 5am and doesn't set until 11:00pm!  So while there was still plenty of sunlight, it was already almost 9pm so we jumped in the car and headed north.  We had all wondered what crossing into Northern Ireland would be like.  I didn't know a lot about the specifics of the Troubles, I had just heard of them and knew that Northern Ireland was not exactly the nicest place to be a few years ago.  In fact when I told people i was traveling to "Norn Iron", most asked if I was scared.  (I wasn't).  We wondered if we would get an extra stamp on our passport since we would be crossing into a different country.  Turns out there is absolutely NOTHING, not even a "Welcome to Northern Ireland" sign.  The only indication we had crossed the border came from gas station signs advertising prices in pounds, instead of the Euro from the Republic of Ireland.  I was disappointed for sure. 

We arrived at MaddyBenny Bed and Breakfast after dark and were greeted by owner Karen White, who immediately told us she could put her "mother worrying cap away" since we had arrived.   Booking online hotels is always a crapshoot, so I was pleased when I saw the place was exactly what I wanted.  I had booked a self catering cottage for Doolin, but I really wanted the bed and breakfast type atmosphere for NI.  The beds were comfortable, there was history, horses, peacocks and chickens everywhere and free wireless!  After catching up with Carol and Candace we went to bed, far later than we should have, but much happier and excited to be in a new part, with new friends. 

OK - I am verbose...so that is all for this blog. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Excuse me while I kiss the sky.

A fireplace in the castle
We stayed in the Gentian (pronounced Gen-shun) cottage in Doolin.  It is a lovely 3 bedroom 3 bathroom house with an amazing view of the water.  On Wednesday the mist had lifted so we met the owner of the house, Ann O' Callahan, to get a private tour of the Ballinalacken Castle.  They are not sure exactly when the castle was built, but they suspect in the 15th century as a home to the O'Brien's who were one of the richest and most powerful families in County Clare.  Ann led us through a private, locked gate and then let us climb in the castle.  The stairway was still in really great shape, even though most of the roof was gone, and parts of the walls had holes in them.  It is astonishing to think of someone in the 1400s making a castle like this, that is still so sturdy today.  I only made it to the third story, my fear of heights preventing me from making it to the partial 4th floor.  But that was enough for me for sure! 

Then Ann took us to her farm and let us feed a week old baby cow named Jake.  Momma cow had triplets, a very rare thing, and Ann was worried about the amount of milk produced for the babies so is supplementing Jake with milk, served in a wine bottle! She let us take a turn feeding him which was a fun, simple thing.  Cows are awesome. I cannot say enough nice things about Ann and her home.  If you should ever find yourself needing a place to stay in Doolin, Ireland, please look her up
The Cliffs of Moher
Since it was still cloudy, but not foggy, we decided to try the cliffs again.  Turns out that the visitor center that we paid to go into is a recently new development and the local townspeople are a wee bit upset that people feel like they need to pay to see the cliffs.  In fact, you don't have to pay to see them, the money you pay is to park at the visitor's center.  So on Ann's advice, we parked on the side of the road and walked up to the cliffs and wow am I glad I did.  When you can see them, they are amazing.  Pictures do not do justice to the size and scope of the landscape.   There are barriers everywhere, along with posters urging people to call the Samaritans if they are thinking about suicide (there are 3 suicides a day in Ireland, more than car fatalities.  The Cliffs are the top "black spot").   We walked to the end of the barriers, climbed past the private property signs and were treated to some spectacular views as we walked down a narrow pathway nearly 3 miles along the top of the cliffs.  I got pretty close to the edge, close for me, and was very happy that neither Beth nor Dearsley fell off the side!  This may be a super touristy location, but if you are in that area, check it out.  It is worth seeing for sure and if can take the heights, walk past the barrier.  There are some crazy areas where the wind tops 80mph, but other than that the walk is pretty easy and you will be glad to see this natural wonder from a different angle.
Blue Skies over the Cliffs of Moher
On our way back we were surprised and delighted to see actual blue sky peeking through the clouds.  You would have thought we won a million dollars based on our reactions, but after so many days of rain and grey, the blue sky was gorgeous.  It was the first of many utterly happy moments for me on the trip.  Here I was standing on a cliff that is over 720 feet tall, with some great new friends, looking at something that is not only old, but a testament to the power and wonder of the earth and it was amazingly serene, peaceful and made my heart happy.  Five months ago I never would have imagined myself here, but I am so glad it happened.

After the cliffs, we headed back to the house to shower and get ready for our last night in Doolin.  Tony the cabbie picked us back up and we headed to McDermott's for dinner.  This is a truly local place, where families gather for good pub grub and good music.  The night was pretty low key, so we ate and headed over to McGann's to see what was happening there.  I am not sure if it was a collective hangover from the night before or just a regular low key night, but the crowd was smaller, the music more intimate and as a result we found ourselves in a deep political conversation with some Irishmen.

The more I travel, the more I become aware of how ignorant and arrogant Americans are.  Here I was in a small town in Ireland and people knew not only the major political leaders, but also details on our system and major laws and issues as well as our history including presidents.  I was shocked but mostly embarrassed by my lack of the same information about a country I was visiting for a week.  I love traveling because it teaches me in the best way I know to learn, but it also keeps me grounded in all that I don't know, and what knowledge I need to seek out.  Traveling also reminds me of how similar humans are; wanting to be loved and needed and respected.  Meeting strangers, discussing common bonds and learning so much is the essence of why I love to travel and why it will remain a priority in my life.  It makes me appreciate what I have and the opportunities that I take so for granted as well.

So after 4 days in Doolin, we are packing up and heading up north to Portrush in Northern Ireland to meet up with Candace and Carol. I am excited to see another part of this gorgeous country, but sad to say goodbye to this wonderful town and its lovely people who have been so gracious to us while we have stayed.  Now that I see what a blue sky looks like, this is a truly gorgeous place that is worth seeing sometime in your life.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

50 mph winds to 3 sheets in the wind...

You don't come to Ireland for the weather that is for sure. We started Tuesday later than normal and that was perfectly fine with me.  There is such a rush to do and see and not miss a thing that it is easy to ignore the fact that you are just plain tired.  It isn't jet lag, just exhaustion.  The weather was horrible anyway, with a thick fog settling over the entire area.  We literally could not see 25 feet in front of us.  Figuring it wasn't ever going to be any better, we set off for the Cliffs of Moher. 

When I first starting researching Ireland, I was drawn to the cliffs and knew that I wanted to see them.  In fact the cliffs are why we are staying in Doolin,  5 miles away.  So we drove up, paid roughly $10 a person to park and walked into the visitor's center.  It was cold, rainy, windy and we could hardly see a thing.  We did spend some time in the gift shop and I was glad to see an ATM, e only one around for 25 miles.  After watching the documentary films, shopping and warming up a bit, we ventured out onto the cliffs.  Wondering what they looked like?  Take a white sheet of paper.  Hold it up to your face.  That is what it looked like.  We literally could not see a thing.  We knew they were there since the mist would randomly clear for 5 seconds, long enough to see that the cliffs were real, but not long enough to get the lens cap off the camera.  We stayed for a bit, then left pretty disappointed.  

You can't plan for the weather and the best bet is to make the best of it, no matter what.  Luckily we did just that.  We drove around, then went home, took a nap to rally for a pub night.  Since driving on the left takes full concentration, neither me nor Dearsley felt comfortable driving having anything to drink.  So we decided for Tuesday to get a cab so we could both drink.   Tony the cabbie picked us up and recommended we go to Doolin instead of Lisdornvarna since it was a bit more exciting.  He dropped us off at McGann's pub since a "fantastic piper was there".  We walked in and the place was packed.  I was disappointed to find that most of them were tourists, but I couldn't deny the atmosphere was electric.  When the famed piper came in (Michael from Foolin in Doolin, he plays the uilleann pipes) the crowd reacted like he was a rock star.  It was amazing! We drank, flirted with bartenders, talked to Americans, Dutch, Scandinavians, Malaysians and of course Irish.  It was fun. One thing that is different in the pubs here is that they do not waste space.  If two people are sitting at a table for 4, they might have another couple seated with them that they do not know.  Not only does this utilize the very tiny space, it is a great way to get to know each other.  We came home, Dearsley made Irish soda bread with honey, we drunk skyped people (drunk dialing is one area that really did not need technological advances) and had a great night. I am pretty in love with this little town of ours.  Not only is it gorgeous, but the people are fantastic.  I feel like I have stumbled upon a fairy tale and now I am not sure I ever want to leave!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

50 Shades of Grey, and I mean that literally

It was grey and rainy today and I mean ALL day. We woke up to a blustery morning but since we have limited time here, couching it was not an option so we packed up our bags and headed out. First stop was Lisdoonvarna, home of the world famous "matchmaking festival". The town is quite braggadocious about the claim that most true love matches are made here than in heaven, but in talking with a local we found that most of the village people think this is quite sad, a bunch of "older women from America" come over to meet a farmer to take care of them. The farmers think is is fun but the Americans take it too seriously. We finally asked how old and were told in the 60s. I got the feeling they are glad to have the tourism claim but that is about it. The town is quite small, so we were surprised when we came out of a store to see a traffic jam. Turns out there was a funeral and almost the entire town came out to pay their respects. At one point they were totally spilled out on the street. I knew it was rude to so didn't, but I really wanted to take picture of the event, it was so moving and so real. The rest of the day was spent driving around and stopping whenever we saw something we liked or wanted a picture. I took 217 pics and I am sure Beth took just as many. We were pretty silly, but we really made the best of the rain and horrible conditions. We tried to take a self portrait at any landmark and some were great and others not. But my favorite one, and perhaps favorite moment of the day was at the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a stone burial portal from 3,200 bc. The wind had really picked up, the rain was blowing and it was quite chilly. We were all up there with our raincoats on, hoods up. It was a great picture, but more than that, a fantastic memory. I've written before about how important good travel companions are and not knowing Dearsley that well and not ever traveling with Beth, I wasn't sure how it would go, but we all are getting along well and have very similar travel styles; no plans and make the best of it. I was so thankful that they would get out of the car in the wind and rain to see basically a big, old rock. We were all soaked afterwards but it was very fun. Ireland, even in the grey and rain, is beautiful. It changes between green farmland, sweeping hillsides and rocky barren landscapes. Stone is everywhere: houses are made from it, walls divide property and provide a barrier to the roads. The people here have a fantastic sense of color. Houses may be white but the window sills and doors are vibrant green or yellow or red. The abundance of rain is never more evident than with the flowers that are everywhere. Every store has hanging baskets of purples and reds and yellows. Most houses have window boxes making the town streets absolutely picturesque. We are staying in a small village that is not touristy at all, so I am very aware of being an American. The people have been lovely so far though, very helpful and nice. Nice breeds nice. It looks like rain and wind is the forecast for our entire trip, but if today is any indication, we will make the most of it!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Irish eyes are smilin'

I have been up and moving for 24 hours, but that is ok since I am in Ireland!  Honestly Ireland was never on my bucket list of places to go. Sure it was pretty but since I mostly stuck with tropical destinations, it was never a top 5 place to go.  But this year my friend Beth was chosen to be one of a very few people that get to film the Olympics for NBC. We talked and a European vacation was born. We chose Ireland because none of us had ever been and it was close to London where Beth would have to report to work. After deciding we really wanted to see the clifs of Moher and the giant's causeway, we set on finding a bed and breakfast or house to rent.  Then with 157 days to go, we waited. It has been so far away for so long that it is still strange that I am in Ireland.  The trip was ok.  The flight to London was in eventful and I actually slept.  Then we rushed through customs, followed the signs to departures, rushed mot the gate to be. Told we could not board the plane because we had not checked in.  After much running, sweating, and fantastic help by one particular security guard, we found out that by going through security with our boarding pass without first checking in voided our bairdin pass and we had to start all over.  So $200 later, we found ourselves waiting for the 2pm flight.  So that was not ideal, but we all managed through it, knowing that the number two rule in travel is to be flexible.  (number one is pack light).  We rented a car and commenced our cross country road trip.  To be honest, it only took us 3 hours to drive across country, but still, I have done it.  They drive on the left side of the road here and I was the first of the crew to start.  Luckily it was a straight stretch, but honestly, driving on the opposite side came back to me pretty quickly.  Some navigation is still tricky, some turns, pulling out of parking lots, take some thinking, but other than that, it is really easy now.l Our house is wonderful. The owner lives right next door and she is lovely.  She recommended a cute Irish pub for dinner so we drive the 3 miles down the road to get something to eat.  None of us have showered in 24 hours but we were hungry!  We walked in to a bar area where everyone was singing along to an Irish fellow singing an very familiar tune.  I loved it! Having never really given thought to what Ireland would be like, this pub exceeded my expectations.  I had fish and chips, a soda since I was driving and then it became very apparent that all of needed a good night sleep, So day one is done.  I am glad I am here.  The landscape is gorgeous, with more shades of green that you can imagine.  There are ruins and stonewalls everywhere.  It is pretty magical.  I get it now.    So off to bed.   

Friday, May 18, 2012

I'm Planning on Not Planning

I am a HUGE planner.  I love planning trips, researching, coming up with options and then making a decision.  Then I worry that I made the right decision and do some more research on the place I chose to make myself feel better about the choice.  That is why what happened today is so amazing and fun.

My travel buddy Shelia was given two free airfare vouchers but they had to be redeemed today.  We did a quick look at the map, found that the airline flew to Jamaica and 15 minutes later booked a trip to Montego Bay!

I was so nervous hitting the confirm button. I don't do this.  I think, I research, I plan.  And yet here I was, just doing. It was scary but also a bit awesome.  We needed to find a hotel but instead of doing a ton of research like always, I narrowed it down to all the 4 star all inclusive resorts, wrote them on slips of paper and put them in the "Sombrero of Fun" and let a co worker pull one out.  I figured the universe picked Jamaica, we will let it pick the hotel too!

I have a lot of trips planned this year, but in a way I am most excited to see how this one turns out.  Like Shelia said, it will be an adventure, and really, isn't that what traveling is all about?  We will make the best of it and no matter what, I know we will have a great time, laugh and talk and enjoy ourselves. That, I can plan on.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Thank you for being a friend....

From the theme song to Golden Girls to Lean on Me to You've Got a Friend, songs about friendships are just as popular as love songs.  Having friends and a strong support system has become a cliche', an overused statement and to me had really no meaning.  Sure friends were important.  Friends make life fun.

Then a few weeks ago my life took an unexpected turn.  I am not ready to publicly talk about it in this blog, but it has been devastating. I think of myself as a strong, independent person and yet with one action, I was so weak I could not function.

I called my friends.  I wanted them to know what was going on so they were up to speed.  I thought they would say some standard pleasantries and then go about their lives while I sat in a pool of my own tears.  But they didn't.

Every single friend I told rallied around me.  From coming by with food, beer, sleep aids, chocolate, to calls, texts, to manual labor, I had an outpouring of love that I never expected. In one of the worst times of my life, I felt lucky and loved.

I am so used to being the giver that it feels odd to take from these people. I am trying to not feel guilty for asking so much right now.  I would for sure turn around and do the same for them, but somehow me needing it feels weak.

I just read a letter from a friend that filled me with this warm sense of peace and hope. It has been a long time since I felt that so strongly and it reminded me of how wonderful that sensation is.

I could not have gotten through the last 3 weeks without a host of very close friends. For those of you that are reading this, you know who you are.  Thank you doesn't seem strong enough.  You have saved my life. You have supported me when I could not stand on my own. Your love and help has made me a stronger person. I am forever grateful that at the moment that I could never have imagined happening that you rushed by my side and helped me through.

I am lucky.  I am loved.  I hope that I can be half the friend to you that you have been to me. Thank you.

Monday, March 5, 2012

I Wish I Had A Time Machine.....A Dear Me-from-7-years-ago Letter

Something happened last night that has never happened to me before. We had our kick off event for Tri It For Life session 1 athletes and mentors and it went well.  Afterwards a small group of us went across the street for dinner.  I always have such a fantastic time with fellow TIFLers Wendy and Beth.  I end up laughing til I cry and just walk away smiling.  So last night there were just five of us gals, ranging in age from 30-50.  Topics ranged from crazy family members to clothing to dating...regular girl talk really.  Then all of a sudden Beth noticed that out of the five of us, only  one woman had children.  We all stopped and looked around - yep only Julie had kids.  We talked about how rare that is and how usually we without the children are in the minority.  How strange to have a group of women of all ages and only have one of us with kids.  How refreshing.

I wish I could go back in time and tell this story to the me from when I was 28-32ish.  I had such a hard time being the ONLY PERSON WHO DIDN'T HAVE KIDS.* It made my decision not to have them seem odd and unusual.  I felt unconnected to everyone I knew including people with whom I had once shared every thought. I hated myself for not wanting kids, wondered if I was making the right decision and worried I'd regret it.  I asked everyone how they KNEW they wanted kids, looking for some sign of their answer in myself. I joined group after group looking to connect with someone where the first line of conversation wasn't "How old are your kids?"  I stood shocked after a woman, upon learning I didn't have any kids, simply turned and walked away from me, as if I would have nothing else to contribute. 

I am lucky that due to Miller, I can talk kids with the best of them. I have childbirth stories, tales of infant cuddles and cries, daycare dramas and silly sayings as the once little baby turns into a spunky boy.  I can hang with the moms as a well informed tourist in their town.  But I'm not a resident.  Last night, I was.

So to the me that wondered if I was wrong, sick, alone or if I should have kids "just to fit in", or any other women who might have found this blog as they, like me, went online to find childfree support, stay the course.  Know that there are women out there who made the same choice you did and you will find each other. Know YOU ARE NOT WRONG OR SICK for not wanting kids, just as they are not wrong or crazy for wanting them.  Focus on you - look at what makes you happy and seek that happiness out.  When you find that passion, the childfree will be there too.  Find older women, who either never had or have grown children, for they know that you have value outside of sharing kid tips.  Those women exist and can help you find your way.  Choosing a non traditional path is never easy and unfortunately even today, a woman choosing to not have kids is still an outlier.  Don't let societal pressures get you down...you are stronger than that.  You might not know it or feel it, but you have value and worth and can make a difference in the world and have a fulfilling life without having a child.

Oh yeah, and that lady that simply walked away when she found out you didn't have kids?  Well, she's just a bitch.

*I wasn't the only person who didn't have kids, but it sure felt that way!

Monday, February 20, 2012

VERY LONG Myrtle Beach Marathon Race Recap and Celebration

Before I delve into race details, I have a host of people to whom I owe a debt of gratitude and I'd like to recognize them publicly.
First and foremost, I must thank my husband Joe. For the last 4 months he has put up with my training runs, getting up super early, going to bed even earlier and not being able to do anything but lay on the couch with ice on my knees the rest of every weekend. He drove to Myrtle Beach to make sure I got a good night's sleep on Friday, got up at 4am to watch me start and then waited around until I finished.   He hasn't laughed at my hobbling, has put up with me saying "I ran here" as we drove all over Myrtle Beach and about a million other little things that he has done to show me his support.  It was an "All about Amy" weekend which was no fun for him, but I was so glad to have him there the whole weekend.  He keeps me sane and I could not have made it without him there.

Next I thank Cindy and Doreen for getting my butt out of bed and running with me.  There were good runs and bad runs, but they were there the entire way. Cindy was my inspiration to even sign up and think I could do this and from the very beginning, they said they would train with me and they kept that promise.  They split up the long runs, encouraged me when I needed it and put up with my whining and insecurity. One of my favorite parts of the entire weekend was moments before the race started, the three of us had a group hug and Doreen said a prayer for us all.  I could not have done this without them and I am forever grateful that they were there for the training and when I crossed the finish line.

On Thursday my parents put a sign outside my house.  They drove down to the beach to watch me and were there mid course and at the finish line. My mom literally shook as she hugged me once I finished and they both could not contain their pride in me.  I was so happy to be surrounded by everyone I love; it made the experience that much better.

I also need to thank everyone who texted, emailed, facebooked, called and a few who did all of that. It was great to know other people were wishing me well and thinking about me. So thank you to all who reached out. It did make a difference.

OK - now onto the race recap.  I chose Myrtle Beach because it was flat and close by.  We got down there on Friday and went to the expo which was crowded and hot.  My favorite expo has been NationsTri because we walked out of there with bags full of free energy bars, drinks and samples. So this expo was a bit disappointing comparatively. They had a number of vendors there and I was happy to see one of my favorites, One More Mile.  They have the cutest sayings on their stuff including "Does this shirt make my butt look fast?", "this IS my race pace" and "Dear God, please let there be someone behind me to read this".  We got our race shirts, mine in purple, the half marathoners in orange.  The orange is way cuter and I was disappointed to have to get a men's shirt again since race shirts are SO SMALL.  Doreen wore her cute orange v-neck one on Saturday and I was really jealous I have an ugly purple one I will most likely never wear or donate to Joe.  It was fun to run into a bunch of Tri It people at the expo though.  Cindy and Doreen went to dinner and I waited for Joe to arrive.  As soon as he did we hit the "carb loaded" buffet the host hotel offered and then went straight to bed.

I slept pretty well and don't usually get pre-race jitters. Saturday morning I got up early, took a shower and drank a little Powerade Zero.  I have really researched over-hydration because I think I have been overdoing it on the fluid in other races.  I usually have all the signs, so this race I really cut back.  I had my standard pre-race breakfast; bread with Joe's mix of peanut butter, honey and oats. I was feeling whiny. My whole body was sore. My legs ached, my feet hurt, I packed the wrong pants so the ones I had were too big and was worried about chafing. I was worried about having to use a porta john since I forgot my travel Lysol. Bottom line: I DID NOT WANT TO RUN. I wasn't nervous, just did not want to do it at all.

We met Cindy and Doreen in the lobby and they were so excited for me I felt a little bad being so underwhelmed by the whole thing. I wanted to curl back up in bed and feel sorry for myself.  But like most of my training runs, it was Cindy and Doreen who motivated me to move forward.  We jumped on the shuttle instead of walking the block because I was tired, cold and my feet hurt so I wanted to really preserve them. Not drinking as much as I usually do really paid off because I only had to go to the bathroom once before the race started, as compared to the 5-7 times I usually do. 

As we walked up to the start line I started to actually feel excited. It was early - 6AM so it was still dark. I'm a morning runner so this felt good to me. We took pictures, stretched and had a group hug/prayer. After a hug and kiss from Doreen and a parting "have fun" from Cindy, we got in our respective starting lines.  The cannon went off, I kissed Joe goodbye and slowly made my way to the start line, only running right as I crossed.  Now usually my first mile is horrible but the excitement finally hit me and I couldn't help but smile. The sun started coming up and I fell into a rhythm with runners that were around my pace. I was running a marathon. It was really hard not to start off faster than usual but I kept telling myself to slow down because I had a long way to go.

The first 5 miles went by really quickly and I started feeling strong and wishing I could go faster and really push it. The crowd support at this point was steady and I was happy to see several people I knew from Tri It For Life running the half. In the most random moment of the race, I passed a beauty shop that had a live turkey, wearing a sweatshirt, standing on a pedestal, dancing to the Black Eyed Peas. I really wished I had a camera!  

The course is flat, really flat. I know that it sounds crazy, but around mile 8, I really started wishing for a hill.  I started using the drink stations as an obstacle course, jumping over the cups just to give my legs another motion other than the same stride over and over again. I knew that the half marathoners split off and I would have to run the back half of the course with far less people. Only 1,000 people ran the full, with almost 4,000 running the half so while the first half I was always surrounded by other runners, I was dramatically alone after the split.  I also made a huge mental error. I wasn't paying attention to where I was when the half marathoners split. I assumed it was at mile 13 and thought to myself that even though I was tired, I was half way done and I could make it 13 more miles.  So imagine my utter horror when almost a mile later I crossed mile 11.  The half marathoners didn't split off at 13.  They split at 10.  This was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I was tired, sore and the mental realization that I wasn't even half way was torture. At this point though I saw my parents on the side of the road with a customized road sign. It was exactly what I needed. I stopped, hugged them both and asked my dad if he would carry me the rest of the way.  Of course he said no so I kept running.

Miles 13-18 were the hardest for me for sure. The scenery was OK and I was surprised to see a pretty part of Myrtle Beach, but I just had a hard time finding my groove being all alone. I had really been looking forward to fresh oranges at mile 16 but when we got there, found out they were totally out of food.  I was so upset. Luckily I had packed my own food but I was pretty bummed to not have something fresh and cold.  At this point the sun was up and it was getting warm.  I had taken off all my layers and was starting to use the water stops as little showers for me.  I had been running behind another  girl but at mile 17 I caught up to her. She had been asking all passing people something so I asked if she was OK.  She was having some hip pain. I offered her some muscle rub or ibuprofen, but she declined. She kept running with me and introduced herself. I guess it was knowing her name but I felt like I needed to stay with her even though every instinct was screaming to get away from her. She was so negative. I get it, she was in pain, but it was more than that. She wanted to quit; even asked a cop to take her back but he said he couldn't. She threw away her timing chip so her "friends won't know how slowly" she finished.  Now remember, I was running my normal pace, the pace she was embarrassed to be doing.  I let her complain a bit then said" this is my pace - welcome to how the other half runs".  She didn't get it.  She contemplated cheating, cutting across the road instead of running down it. I encouraged her to cheat just to get her away from me but she said she couldn't do that while I was there. She kept telling me how I was the only reason she kept going so I stayed with her.  I got a spurt at mile 20 and started picking up the pace because according to my garmin, I could finish under 6 hours.  That was too fast for her so she asked if I could slow down.  I did.  Again, I didn't know her at all. We got to a rest stop and she asked a volunteer to use a phone so she could call her friend and tell him she was going to finish way later than expected.  I actually stopped and waited for her.  I don't know why I really felt like I needed to be there for her - she continued to be super negative as I saw my under 6 hour finish slip away.  After waiting at the rest stop for 15 minutes, we started running again.  She started another rant about how embarrassed she was finishing so slowly while telling me to slow down for her and I finally reached my limit.  I told her I was feeling good so she shouldn't quit and should keep me in her sights and I took off.  There was no way I was going to finish under 6 now and I was pissed at myself for altering my race for a complete stranger. 

The race was never about time for me so I adjusted my attitude and by mile 22 was feeling good.  I knew I could at least walk 4 more miles so I knew no matter what I would finish. My hamstrings were a little spasmy so I took a short break and stretched which felt incredible and took all the pain away. I approached the food stop tent excited again for the promise of oranges.  I could have cried when I got there and they were out too.   I don't know how a race could run out of food at both stops. They know how many people are running it.  There are ways for the rest stops to communicate.  As soon as a stop ran out, they should have called back to get some food delivered.  Both stops were off major roads so it's not like vehicles couldn't make it.  If the course is open for 8 hours, there should be support for all 8 hours.  This is a non negotiable issue for me and I was pretty pissed off.  Luckily I didn't NEED any food, but after running for 22 miles thinking about how great an orange would be, I honestly felt like this was cruel and unusual punishment.

Miles 23-24 were also harder than I thought but only body wise. My feet hurt, my legs were tired and sore.  I knew I would power through, but I was ready to be done. I was ecstatic when I saw Doreen on the side of the road at mile 25!  I danced around and though exhausted, seeing her was a little mental boost I needed to keep going.  I rounded the corner at mile 26 and started picking up my pace. I knew I was going to finish strong so I started sprinting as soon as I could see the finish line. It wasn't the fastest sprint, but it was what I could do for that last bit.  Cindy had the announcer talking all about me, calling my name and everyone was there at the finish line.  I actually stopped right below the finish line and gazed up at it.  Finished. I walked calmly across the line and my parents came to hug me.  My mom was shaking and I knew I was going to puke, but held it in until she let go.  I puked (what would a run of mine be without puking?) and then picked up my very large, heavy, adorable medal. I had done it! 

Cindy then ran to get an orange for me and I can honestly say it was the best orange I've ever had.  I didn't want anything else - nothing pre-packaged - just fresh fruit. Surprisingly, I felt really good.  I had a lot of energy and my legs and feet, while sore, felt good.  Climbing on the bus was a bit harder than I expected, but overall I was happy.  We rode back to the hotel and I was most excited for a shower.  At this point I was still beating myself up for wasting so much time with the girl who was so negative. She even rode the same bus back to the hotel and didn't even acknowledge me.  Wench.  I took a shower, stretched and Joe rubbed my feet.  Even though I wasn't hungry, we went down to eat something.  As soon as I smelled food, I was STARVING, so ate a huge hamburger.
So for all my pre-race worries, I didn't use the bathroom the entire time, I didn't get any blisters and I didn't have any chafing from my larger pants. I did however get a crazy sunburn thanks to an unexpected perfect sunny day.  My conservative drinking plan worked because my fingers didn't swell nearly as badly.  I still got some double vision that lasted a lot longer than I thought, but other than that, all my pre-race whining was for naught.

It's funny, but I'm not elated like I thought I would be. I'm glad I did it, I didn't hate it and I think I'd like to do it again.  Running a marathon was never about time for me, but I know I can push it and do it better.   I guess even though I worried and whined, deep down, I knew I could do this.  I knew I wouldn't quit even though there were times I could have just stopped.  I didn't perform as well as I wanted to, but I also feel pretty good and I think that is directly related to me NOT pushing it.  And while I was mad at myself for jeopardizing my  under 6 time for a negative person who I didn't even know, that's pretty much who I am and I think I'd feel worse if I had completely left her.  She finished and I really think that I was the one person who helped her over the hump when she needed it.  The actual race is the easy part.  It's the training and the time needed to train that will kill you and luckily Cindy and Doreen were there to help me with that.

So I'm a marathon runner now.  I am part of the 1% of society that has actually done it.  While I'm pretty proud of myself and love my medal, I am looking towards the next thing, the next goal, the next impossible thing that I will make completely possible.  I've always said that with training you can do anything and this is proof.  But this marathon for me will always be about my support group.  I have some amazing people in my life who lift me up in ways that I never imagined I'd need.  From Joe to my parents to Cindy and Doreen to all my friends who cheered me on from afar, to my brother and Joe's mom and friends who called to check on me afterwards, I feel very lucky to have such an amazing bunch of people in my life.  No wonder I think I can do anything - I have so many people believing in me!  I just hope that in some small way I can help them and inspire and encourage the way they have done for me.  Now that would be something to boast about for sure!

Monday, February 6, 2012

January 2012 Music I Love

I thought there was a bunch of new stuff this month, but when I looked at my notebook that I use to keep track of what I like, I was surprised to only have a few songs.  Lucky for you, there are some GREAT ones on it. One is so great in fact, that I have linked to the video, because the song is so good you simply must hear it.

Stereo by IAMDynamite
Apartment by Young The Giant
Come Home by Chappo
Lean Into The Fall by Mona
Simple Song by The Shins
We Are Young by Fun
This Head I Hold by Electric Guest.  Listen here.

Also, have you bought the Atlas Genius song yet?  What?  You haven't even heard it?  Shame, shame.  Go here, listen.  Love.  Buy. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

I'd still rather be fat and fit...but why can't I look cute too? (A vent)

My first marathon is less than 3 weeks away and if you know me at all, you know that I am all about the outfit. Why do these things if you can't look cute while doing them?  So I found an absolutely adorable top and jacket. The color is PERFECT (that means it matches my shoes). I ordered an XL. The website says that is for women sized 10-12.  Now I usually like my things big, so usually get a 2XL, even though technically  an XL fits my body.   I ordered it, figuring the cuteness will override my normal self consciousness with having something fit so closely. It came today and I literally jumped up and down. I ran  to my office, shut the door and immediately tried to put it on. I could not even get the jacket over my shoulders. The tank is a maybe, I will have to go home and try it on just over my body instead of over work clothes, but already it doesn't look like it is going to fit.  I am so sad. I started shopping, this time looking for 2XL or Plus sized stuff.  My chouces are bland, with no style or shape. I am mad and sad and feeling bad.

"Regular" runners have options. They have super cute patterns and different styles.  "Plus Sized" runners have essentially 3 options: pink, blue or white shapeless tanks.  I found one pattern that looks like a couch from the 70s.  WHY can't I big a big runner that ALSO likes to look cute?  Why do manufacturers' assume that anyone over a certain size has no taste?  Do they think fashion sense descreases when waist size increases? 

I know I am not the stereotypical runner.  I know my body type will be in the minority when I line up at the start line in a few weeks.   BUT I WON'T BE THE ONLY LARGE GIRL THERE.   I get a chuckle when people that don't know me learn I am training for a marathon or that I want to do a half ironman this year. I can see their judgement cross their face. I ENJOY THAT.  Yes, I am a big girl. Yes I am a runner. I want to look cute as I cross the finish line. Most importantly, I HAVE MONEY TO SPEND.

So to all you retailers that only have cute athletic clothing for sizes under 12,  to quote my favorite line in Pretty Woman: "Big mistake. Huge."

Monday, January 23, 2012

No Whining Here - A POSITIVE Run Update

I've been so whiny lately, I thought I'd share an actual good run I had. Yesterday I ran 18 miles. Yep! 18 Miles!  I can hardly believe it when I think about it and it seems surreal when I think of where I was just two years ago.  18 Miles, Holy. Crap.  By the way, 18 miles is a very, very, very long way. 

Even better than that, I FEEL GREAT.  My quads are a little tight but that is because the route was much hillier than I am used to since the Greenway was flooded. There are so many things I am really happy about with this run and a couple of hurdles I needed to jump for my own sanity.
  • I ran by myself for the first 5 miles.  I got up, out the door and actually ran on my own.  It was cold, windy and a bit rainy, but I still did it.  And the really odd thing is that it was fun. Instead of running to music like I usually do, I tried stand up comedy. Besides looking a bit crazy literally laughing out loud, I loved it. Without the beat of music I was able to set my own pace that was comfortable to me. I was able to enjoy the comedy instead of  concentrating on every little ache and pain.  I listened to all of Greg Giraldo's latest (and last) album which was just hilarious. The miles went by so quickly because I wasn't paying any attention to the running.  Now I just need to find stand up I like! 
  • Cindy met me at mile 6 and ran 9 more with me.  I am constantly amazed by her friendship and willingness to see me cross the finish line.  She has this fantastic ability to nurture and support and tell me exactly what I need.  She pushes me when I need it but allows me to walk when I need that to. I was sad to leave her at mile 14.  Even though I only had 4 more miles to go, they seemed like the longest ones.  I had mapped my course so thought I had some play in the route so I cut short one part of the run.  I should have realized I can't do math when I run so ended up two blocks away from my house at mile 17.  I had a debate with myself; I could go home- 17 was close enough and still my longest run ever. I had a meeting that I was already late to so going home early would be good. I could still feel proud of my 17.  But at the same time I knew I needed to hit 18.  I saw my house and turned away from it, running through a neighborhood and back up around my house.  I sprinted the last half mile and felt elated as I hit 18, more that I made myself do an extra mile when I was so close to home.
  • I enjoyed the run.  From the alone time in the beginning, to the sprints down the hills, I really had a good time. There was even a part when I was with Cindy that I just let myself zone out and just run. I wasn't paying attention to my stride or the pounding; I was just on automatic. I actually wondered how far I could go if I just closed my eyes.  I felt like I was on a track and could keep going forever. (Don't worry, I didn't try this.  Want to try something fun though?  Stand on one leg and get your balance. Make sure you are on your strong leg, the one you feel most sturdy on.  Get your balance.  Now close your eyes.  Did you fall?  I did...and I have good balance!)
Now that I have that in writing, those seem like such small things but they made a huge difference to me. I NEEDED to enjoy the run and more importantly I needed to know I could motivate myself. Cindy and I were talking about how far we've come and how a 5K used to seem like such a big deal.  I still want to do a full ironman but right now that seems VERY hard. But if I keep this up, maybe not really.  My biggest concern honestly is that I am too lazy to train for it. Now I know that when it comes down to it, I can do it alone.  I have said from the very beginning that with training you can do anything but I have never believed that more than now. I am continually amazed at my body's ability to grow and become stronger.  A month ago I did 14 miles and felt horrible.  Yesterday I did 18 and feel great.  People who don't ever push themselves will never know what their body is capable of.  I am so glad I am using, pushing, growing and taking advantage of the incredibleness and randomness of my body.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Where'd I go?

Last night was my first Tri It For Life meeting as Vice President. After a year of ups and downs, I was pleasantly surprised when I was actually excited for last night's meeting.  It's a great group of women and I do love what TIFL has done for me and my view of what I can do.

Anywho, so my friend Wendy is now on the board.  Wendy was the first person I met in TIFL and she is absolutely fantastic, funny and spunky.  She (along with Jeannine) was instrumental in making last year's Rock Hill TIFL team the special thing it was.  We were talking and she asked me about my half ironman this year. I groaned and told her I was scared to death and was wondering if I could do it.  She hit me and said "where's the Amy that is all gung ho? The Amy that says "With training you can do anything?" We laughed it off and the meeting got started, but I kept thinking about it.  She was right.  Where is that Amy?

I never thought I could do a triathlon.  I did.  I never thought I could do a half marathon. I did and now 13 miles is no big deal. Even with those things I worried about it, but there was always forward momentum. I was afraid and nervous, but doing it anyway.  With this I am paralized by fear.  I haven't registered yet. I can't seem to commit when people ask me if I am doing it. I've forgotten why I want this. My mom asked me if it was worth it and I paused before answering. I think it is but I've forgotten for sure. That's not me.

I had a 16 mile run last weekend. I ran the first 8 with Doreen and it went by so quickly. We were both running well, talking the entire time and having FUN. I ran the back 8 with Cindy (seriously have the greatest training partners ever!) and though it was a bit rougher due to foot pain, I still really enjoyed it. I did it. My longest run ever. I got in the car and drove home and honestly, I wanted to pull over and tell complete strangers I had just done 16 miles. The sense of accomplishment and pride was overwhelming (as was my smelliness, but that's another story). Not 5 hours later I was back at self doubt.

So here are my worries: the hills are too tough, I'll be last, I'm too lazy to properly train, all the other people will be "professional" or look like "triathletes", I'll be the fattest one, my knees hurt.

Those are almost exactly what other people tell me when I say I am doing a race. And I HATE IT.  I can't stand it when people say "Oh I could never do that."  I HATE when people give me excuses. 

And yet here I am, telling myself the same thing.

For as long as I can remember I've wanted to run a marathon but never thought I'd be able to since I was not a runner. In less than 38 days, I will run a marathon.  It might not be fast. I won't be last. I'm sure it's going to be hard, and I'll at some point think I won't be able to finish.  But as long as I can walk, I will cross that finish line.

So where did I go?  I guess marathon training has been harder than I thought it would be.  It's not easy for sure.  I hurt. I'm tired. It takes a long time, literally.  I miss my bed.  But I am pretty sure I am going to be obnoxiously happy after I finish.  I keep reading all these motivational quotes trying to find the old me; that person that jumps in feet first with enthusiam and positivity, yelling "With training you can do anything."  I'm Pollyanna Sunshine, Glass Half Full Girl.  I hope I find that version of me again, becuase quite frankly I don't like this whiny, negative me.