Friday, July 19, 2013

Two amazing days of running and adventure

Business travel tends to be brutal on running mileage. The sleep deprivation can be even more severe than being at home with a four year old who keeps losing her pacifier and a 16 month old who (say it with me) STILL DOESN'T SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT! The early and late night flights, the inevitable delays all make for long days, short sleeps ad even shorter runs. This time the stars lined up and I had two solid days of running in beautiful and interesting places as well as some adventures.

Tuesday morning I got an 8 km tempo on the hotel treadmill (not interesting or beautiful but a solid work-out and 13.8 km total). Had I known what I was going to find on Tuesday evening, I would have held back. For various reasons the work day wrapped up fairly early and I found that not far from where I had been working was a state forest! Talk about a four star running experience compared to my usual tooling around suburban strip malls or hotel treadmills while traveling. I got to the visitor's center right as it was closing to ask about a trail suitable for running and got a wide eyed stare from the forest ranger. Seriously, he just stared at me speechlessly and I was left wondering if I had broken some kind of American societal convention of which I was ignorant. When he finally broke the silence, it was to say: "Amanda, it's me, Fred." whereupon it was my turn to stare blankly. Eventually he explained that he had mistaken me for his neighbor's daughter, I guess I am her doppelganger. 

Then he proceeded to read me the riot act:

"It's extremely hot and humid and dangerous to be exerting yourself."

I was nonplussed.

"The only trail you could possibly run it the lake loop and even it's rocky and uneven and you could turn an ankle."

I remained unconcerned.

"And it's four miles long."

I had to hold myself back from making the whatever W with my hands.

"And you could easily wander off the trail."

That piqued my concern, I am a poor navigator under ideal conditions (see "Bridge George Washington, wrong exit" further down).

"And there are rattle snakes."

Now THAT got my attention.

"Though no one here has ever been bit."

I decided to focus on that.

"And there are lots of bears."

Ok, now I was officially reconsidering. From polar bears in the arctic to black bears in the Adirondaks and Yosemite, I am officially DONE with bear incidents. I have had my lifetime quota with no wish for further interaction and I sense the feeling is mutual.

Feeling duly chastised, I set out and found the trail was indeed technical (by my standards) and tricky to follow:

Nevertheless I ran out about 1.5 miles my imagination growing wilder all the time. The trail got better and worse but was generally run-able:
Then I came around a corner and came across a scene that made me freeze in my tracks. Bush upon bush drooping under the weight of perfectly ripened raspberries. Terrifying. The only mammal I know who enjoys raspberries more than me is Mr. Black Bear and though he wasn't immediately obvious I felt certain he was nearby. I wish this could be the story about how I was scared and kept going and discovered the lake, went skinny dipping, had an amazing run etc. and probably, had it been the 25 year old PPC out on this run that would have been the story I had to tell. But 38 year old PPC with too many bear encounters under her belt and suddenly very aware of the fact that no one really even knew where she was and she had not encountered anyone since entering the trail turned tail and ran. Hard. Back to the visitor's center whereupon I decided to start around the loop the other way and got to the lake very quickly:

And also found MY kind of "trail":

Ah... asphalt, with your smooth, even surface, the love affair will never end. All in all I got another 9 km in for the day and relaxed enough to tackle the next part of my adventure... DRIVING INTO MANHATTAN.

So I don't have much experience with GPSes and certainly this was the first time I had used one on my own while driving. Let's just say that things went MUCH more smoothly once I realized the GPS would actually TALK to me and I did not have to drive with one frantic eye on its screen and the other trying to watch the road. I love the GPS. So well designed. So easy to use (once you find the crucial un-mute switch!) and infinitely better than driving with one eye on the road and one eye on badly printed mapquest directions (my usual modus operanda). I have strong luddite tendencies. I only got a cell phone about 2 years ago and figured out how to text on it about 6 months ago; suffice it to say it is NOT a smart phone in fact the only thing less smart than my phone is its owner. All that being said, I am SOLD on the GPS, love having that soothing woman's voice gently reminding me of upcoming manoeuvrings. It works so well.

Except when it doesn't... like for example when you miss your turn off of the George Washington Bridge and the various other exits come up fast and furious... so fast and so furious that before GPS Lady can recalculate to bail your ass out you have already missed the next turn she wanted you to take. So I missed the Henry Hudson Parkway, then her re-calculated plan of the Harlem River Parkway, then her re-re-calculated plan of Amsterdam Avenue. It was a white knuckle, tension-filled few moments set to the sound of me berating the GPS Lady and the sound of her calm voice saying "Recalculating." Probably things would have gone better had I not been trying to take pictures like this:

But I admit to being excited about driving in Manhattan. All in all though I have to say that driving in Manhattan at 7.30 pm wrong turns and all was way less painful than I had anticipated. I would actually say it was painless, very little traffic and congestion. I returned my rental car and headed off to my hotel.

Which was, bar none, the worst hotel I have ever stayed in in my life. I should have known something was up when I entered and found a long line of angry "guests" yelling at the beleaguered and extremely pregnant receptionist. Given the volume and aggression of the conversation, it was clear something was up. Indeed, the hotel's AC was malfunctioning in many rooms (95 deg F outside) and so many people who had booked double rooms (myself included) had been moved into single rooms with no toilet or shower. And that turned out not the worst part:

The worst aspects of this room can not be seen in the picture above. The worst parts were the unimaginable stench (even worse than other stenches described later, see "Running clothes, unwashed") of some kind of cleaning product that was clearly meant to cover up an even worse stench, the fact that the AC did not work (though it worked enough to thoroughly soak almost the whole carpet with water) and the ROAR of the non-functional AC (that could not be turned off). Hot, smelly and noisy. My favorite way to sleep. I do come prepared for every sleep-related eventuality when I travel on business. In fact, I even have a protocol I follow when entering a hotel room: ensure alarm clocks are not set for ungodly hour, cover clock with t-shirt to avoid glow of numbers, unplug mini-fridge to avoid humming motor, pre-cool room so noisy ACs can be turned off before sleeping, DO NOT DISTURB sign on door, insert ear plugs before sleeping (yes, when I am away from home and there is the possibility of sleeping through the night, I OPTIMIZE it) but this situation was beyond repair.

Then and there I decided to fore go my lifelong dream of running in Central Park in the morning as I figured I would be kept awake all night by smell, noise and heat however I fell asleep at 1 am and awoke at 5.00 a feeling somewhat refreshed and decided I needed to partake in the Central Park running experience.

So first off, here is the answer to the question "is it be safe to run in Central Park at 5.30 am":

That would be "Hell, yes!". The biggest danger in running in Central Park at 5.30 am, it turns out, is that your ego will be CRUSHED by all the extremely thin, fit and fast people whizzing by you. In fact the scariest thing in the park that morning was probably this:

Again, the scariest part of the above is not captured in the picture. I had run in this clothing 3 times in 85 deg F + temperatures without washing. Scary. If I ran at all fast that morning it was in an attempt to outrun my own stench.

Bad smells aside, running in Central Park really has been a lifelong dream of mine and it did not disappoint. I think the experience was made all the more poignant by the sheer contrast to the running I had done the day before:

Before this trip I had already made a decision and running in Central Park reinforced it. In October of 2014 I will turn 40. I have decided I will celebrate my 40th by running the NYC marathon.

Then, as an added bonus on the way home, I sat on the tarmac while my flight was delayed due to thunderstorms in Montreal. I sat in my seat feeling dejected... I had been so looking forward to seeing the Booble & The Big Poopa not to mention their Papa. The pilot had no idea how long we would be there since the airport in Montreal was actually shut down. Suddenly it hit me... there was absolutely nothing I could do about this situation. In the grand scheme of things it was NOT a big deal. Papa would manage one more bedtime without me and in the meantime I had a laptop with a dead battery so I could not work (no guilt) and a TV screen in front of me with ON DEMAND television with no one demanding to see Dora. I laughed my ass off watching a 30 Rock marathon while the flight attendant brought me drinks, snacks and even a blanket (someone brought ME a blanket!). In the end we were delayed two hours and let me tell you those two hours went by in half a second. I almost cried when the pilot said we were cleared for take-off.

On the flight home I was able to capture some amazing cloudscapes (that had no doubt been behind the delay):

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Booble

Before tackling the fascinating topic of the booble, I just wanted to mention that I think my last post was horrendously confusing and misleading. None of the events in the post actually happened. The entire vacation-gone-wrong anecdote was analogous only and intended only as a vehicle to allow me to comment on the ability of the human mind to adapt to continuously worsening frameworks and find the good within the context of worsening realities. I think I belabored the analogy so painfully that it was hopelessly confusing. I do want to state for the record though that although finishing the John Muir trail would indeed be my dream vacation (we are missing the section between Reds Meadows and Bishop Pass for those of you who know of this trail); doing so with a toddler and pre-schooler is actually a recurring nightmare from which I awaken screaming. Regularly. Our vacation this year was visiting family in Wisconsin and that was adventurous enough for now.

Onto the Booble. The Booble is now 16 months old. She has earned this unfortunate nickname due to her reluctance to give up a certain item belonging to me (actually certain items). After the continuing battle with Thing 1 over the nuk (we have given up, she uses it whenever she wants, we are done fighting that particular fight; presumably she will not go to high school with a pacifier) we decided Thing 2 would never use a nuk. She doesn't. She uses me instead. It makes me feel needed, bonded, cherished, annoyed and trapped all within the space of 10 minutes at times. Most recently I came back from a 16 km run in 30 deg celsius, 10,000% humidity weather. I was exhausted, depleted, beyond sweaty and was gagging because of my own stench. I sat down on a towel on the floor (certain my toxic body emissions would burn a whole in our wooden floor) to recover and sure enough the Booble toddles up, plops herself in my disgusting lap and starts pulling on the bottom of my sports bra. I have never known a human more immue to disgusting odors (her other hobby is hanging out in the bathroom while we relieve ourselves!). I am sure that her inability to sleep through the night (seriously, still!) is related to the continued, avid nursing. So we have one child with a nuk addiction, one child with a boob addiction. Good thing we are not having a third because I am not sure how we could go wrong in a different way on this particular issue!

The Booble is now chatting away. Her first words appear to be:

en bas: pronounced ABA! ususally said with urgency to mean "put me down" or, alternatively, if she is down "pick me up".

mama: used to mean me sometimes but generally any object of her desire.

These words comprise her first sentence: "mama en bas!"

encore: pronounced anca, to mean more often accompanied by the baby sign.

no: used to mean no, yes, maybe. Always said in a string "no, no, no, no, no".

She is really getting into this mix of things now. If, for example, Thing 1 and I are making cookies, she will climb onto the counter-top and plop her diapered butt right onto the dough and try to work with a cookie cutter drooling away into the batter (side note: if ever you are at our house, don't eat any food offered to you unless it is in its original, still sealed packaging - anything else is suspect). She is beginning with the temper tantrums and biting. The biting! Apparently this is the big next phase at the daycare. Biting as a form a self expression. The thing that kills me (with laughter) is that they are not allowed to tell parents which other child was involved in the biting incident (probably a good policy) so when I come to pick her up, her teacher will say something to the effect of "Well, she bit one of her little friends today." or "One of her little friends bit her." or, on a good day "She bit one of her friends and her friend bit her back." Which always makes me want to say "I don't know what the word friend means to you, but for me biting generally precludes friendship!". I guess the biting is normal (despite the extremely annoying assurances of one person in my life who assured me it is most certainly NOT normal and the children she raised NEVER bit... yeah, uh huh, thanks a lot).

The Booble has fully mastered walking and actually runs fairly quickly. She leads with her head using excellent "fall forward" technique advised by the Alexander Method! Generally anywhere she wants to go, she leads with her head using it as a weight to force her way anywhere or into any situation. She is a nightmare to share a bed with (usually when she cried for her 1 am feeding, I am too tired to put her away when we are done). She will very deliberately turn perpendicular to the other occupants of the bed and then spend the rest of the night kicking ribs and worming her fingers into armpits.

Her relationship with Thing 1 is at times splendid and at times fraught. As I write, the two of them are 100% entertaining each other, no intervention from me required. No one can break a grumpy spell or make her laugh like Thing 1. No one. At other times the fighting, pushing and, yes, biting makes me want to jump out a window (until I remember we live on the ground floor and that would just be silly).

All in all she seems healthy, happy, thriving and reassuringly normal. I know as a mom I am supposed to wax poetic about how "advanced" she is but whatever... time will tell if she is a genius, for now she is our adorable, bed hogging, biting booble.

Friday, July 5, 2013


Imagine we're finally going on our dream vacation. We count down first the weeks, then days, then minutes and finally the day arrives. It does not start out well. We are flying to our destination and boarding is delayed by 30 minutes. It's ok though, with a 90 minute layover in Chicago we can still make our connection. We board; 60 minutes late. It'll be tight for the connection but we can still do it. Then we sit on the tarmac, interminably. It becomes obvious that we are not making our connection. Nor the next connection. Soon it seems like we might miss the last flight form Chicago to San Francisco. Finally we take off. The relief of actually having forward momentum mitigates the extreme frustration of the long, unpredictable wait on the tarmac. Arrive in Chicago. We have indeed missed the last flight to San Francisco. Quick math. Even though we will be forced to spend the night in Chicago, if we forego the day hiking we were going to do in Death Valley, we can still make it to the Cottonwood Pass trailhead outside of Lone Pine, California by the date on our backcountry wilderness permit which we applied for 6 months ago; we can still make it up Mount Whitney and hike the last section of John Muir trail we have yet to do (ok, it looks like we are going on my dream vacation here, we can do yours next time).

Next morning, all flights to San Francisco are oversold. We are on stand-by with not much prospect of getting out before late afternoon. Frustration mounts. Now we will also have to forego the pre-backpacking expedition to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains outside of Lone Pine and jump right onto the trail to respect the dates on our wilderness permit. At last, a break. An earlier flight to Los Angeles has opened up. We can change our car rental, fly into LA and drove from there. We give up our spots on the lengthy San Fran stand-by list and run to the LA gate, only to be told the flight has closed (with empty seats on it!) and we will not be allowed to board. We run back to the San Fran gate and take a now, even lower spot on the stand-by list. Frustration is extreme. This vacation has been in the making for a year. The thought of it has been keeping us sane during some trying times at work and home.

Finally, seats open up on the last flight of the day to San Francisco. We are now a full 36 hours behind schedule but we have made the mental adjustment. Frustration and disappointment have ebbed. Our new reality is that we are 36 hours late; we are working in this framework. We have  mourned the loss of the Death Valley excursion and the Ancient Bristle Cone Pines and have adjusted to the reality of our truncated vacation. It feels good just to have a seat on a San Francisco-bound airplane. We don't even notice or care that the seats are small and uncomfortable. The fact that we are not sitting together and each have a dreaded middle seat, aisles apart is a trivial detail. We are on our way and we are grateful! We are still going to be able to summit Mount Whitney and finish the final stretch of the john Muir trail we have never done.

It's strange though because we were the last to board this plane. The air hostess urged us to hurry as she gate checked our carry on that there was no hope of finding a spot for on the already packed plane. We were so elated to finally be on the plane that it took a good twenty minutes to register that we have not actually pushed back. In fact the cabin door has not even been closed. It's almost as if... the thought is interrupted by the inevitable announcement: Minor delay. Might be just a faulty indicator. Waiting for maintenance. Thank you for your patience. And of course it is not just a faulty indicator, there is a real problem that will prevent this aircraft from leaving the ground. Though of course it takes close to three hours to ascertain that. The de-planning is interminable. Retrieving the baggage seems like a cruel joke especially when it takes extra long due to the departure of most of the baggage handlers given the late hour of the day. The good vibrations of relief and gratitude have long vanished, the rage, frustration and despair have returned acutely. We are too discouraged and disappointed to do the mental math. The equations are not in our favor.

The next morning, a stroke of luck, we are winging our way on the first flight to San Francisco. We are exhausted having only gotten 4 hours of sleep after arriving into a motel late after the luggage debacle and then returning to the airport early in the hopes of catching this very flight. Exhausted but cautiously elated. We work up the gumption to return to the mental calculations. We can forego the summit of Whitney and just do the planned portion of the John Muir trail. We can go to the Wilderness Office in Lone Pine and get our entry and exits adjusted on our permit. It will all work out. Then, a surprising twist, favorable headwinds hasten our arrival into San Francisco.We are jubilant. In fact, if one could quantify happiness, we are actually far more content at the moment we touch down a generous 20 minutes ahead of schedule than we would have been in the alternate reality in which we reached San Francisco almost 48 hours earlier.

The ability of the human brain to adapt to new conditions, to mourn the passing of a certain reality and move to work within the framework of a new reality is incredible to me. The fact that we can be elated by arriving 20 minutes early rather than enraged that we are arriving 47 hours and 40 minutes late is one of the triumphs of the human brain and spirit. Because of course I am not talking about taking a vacation and delayed flights, it's a convenient analogy for almost any forced adaptation in life. It's a convenient analogy for things I don't really feel comfortable writing about directly. It is astounding to me how the human brain can, after awhile, accept a new reality and rejoice in "good news" that prior to the adjustment/adaptation ago would have been disastrous news. To move away from the somewhat trite airplane analogy; it is amazing to me, for example, that a person could be involved in a horrific accident, become permanently disabled, adjust to the new life, make the most of this new life and find new opportunities within the framework. It is amazing to me that a person dying of a terminal illness can receive a modicum of good news about their condition and within the framework that their illness remains terminal, celebrate this news as heartily as they may have celebrated any joyous life occasion. The ability of the human mind to bend, adapt, accept and optimize is a wondrous thing.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


Everyone seems to be in agreement that time goes by way too fast. The little annoyances, waiting at the bank, doing your taxes, waiting for a light to change, seem to take forever but the weeks and months fly by. I have never felt this so acutely as since we implemented a development process called scrum at work. Without going into the specifics,it essentially works on a month long cycle and the end of each cycle culminates in various activities one of which is called a retrospective during which the development team meets to inspect and adapt their development process. I lead the retrospective meeting. During our last retrospective, I almost couldn't breathe; I was gripped in disorientation positive that we had had this same meeting just yesterday. I blinked my eyes and we were in yet another retrospective. Another month of life gone.

Then of course there is the fiercely annoying cliche that everyone and their cousin (and most recently the man who took my money as I was paying for gas) will beat you over the head with if you even dare look like you are in anything but in pure bliss over your children. Say it with me: "Enjoy them now..." Or some varia thereof (last one was "before you know it, you'll be crying at their wedding." to which I wanted to reply "Gosh, I hope not, I have nothing against lesbian couples but I think sisters marrying each other would be a little unhealthy.").

So yes, time goes by too fast. We all agree. Enjoy your (kids/health/childhood) it'll be gone before you know it. You will scream with regret in a few years that you did not enjoy these precious days more!!! But how? How do we enjoy these precious times now? How do we ensure that we are not wracked with regret over not having lived our fully? Given that time is marching on in a constant manner dictated by the orbit of the earth around the sun and is not likely to yield to our desires to hold on to anything; how do we seize the day, so to speak?

This is something I really have been asking myself as I seem to be trying to hold on to a number of fleeting things right now, obviously my children's youth and others too painful to go into. The only thing I come up with are more cliches yet nonetheless they are good practices which I have to remind myself of. Live in the moment. I often find myself mentally fast forwarding over whatever it is I am doing now in anticipation of the next day's event. Just trying to "get through" my run so that I can "get through" getting the kids to daycare so that I can "get through" my day at work so that I can "get through" getting the kids fed and to bed so that I can "get through" tidying up the house so that I can... you get the idea. Sometimes it feels something akin to mental resistance training to shift this attitude but if I don't wind up living only for a few moments on week-end days or for our annual vacation (which we are on now actually, Hello Wisconsin!). I think people who live lives without regret are those who find pleasure in mundane tasks. Perhaps the people who are happiest use time in line at the bank to mentally re-live a happy memory or to plan an approach to a challenging problem. Living without regret means both (sorry here come the cliches) making the most of every moment (while appreciating that some moments consist of much needed downtime), living in the moment, finding pleasure in the ordinary and being aware of one's good fortune. For me, I need to stop living my life like a checklist of things to get through and be present for what I am doing right now. Something as  simple as taking pleasure in the feeling of stretching a sore calf or using time at an interminable traffic light to start a new game with Thing 1. I hope if I live this way, when I am 70 I will not spend my time admonishing strangers to enjoy their children ! health ! youth ! because I will be too busy enjoying my moment.