Thursday, November 01, 2018

Halloween in my 'hood

I live in a new-ish neighborhood of town houses. I remember watching the development being built from my old apartment (it's true, I didn't move far) and hating the sight of it, thinking it looked too much like Northern Virginia. When I started looking for a house to buy, I didn't even consider looking at these town homes. I was really against them for some reason. But my real estate agent wanted me to see one of the units just in case, and sure enough I ended up liking it. I liked the size, the location, the fact that I don't have to do any yard maintenance, and the amazing view off my deck. So here I am, in a place that is great overall even if it has the soul-less look of NoVa.

Unfortunately I don't really know most of my neighbors. Being an introvert, I'm not great at meeting new people. There was even one terribly awkward time when I shoveled snow for an hour right next to my neighbor who was also shoveling snow, and we didn't say a word to each other. (To be fair, I think he might be even shier than I am. I coincidentally sat next to him at a movie once and he fumbled a little, not knowing how to reply to my "hi there, I think you're my next-door-neighbor" besides saying "my wife will be right back" and leaving the rest of the talking to her.) Anyway, I don't really feel much of a sense of community with my neighborhood except for one day of the year: Halloween.

My street is awesome on Halloween. Lots of houses decorate for the occasion. My pumpkin and owl decoration look pretty measly compared to several of the houses. And apparently word has spread that it's a good street for trick-or-treating, because we get a ton of kids. Today my coworkers were complaining that they had little or no kids show up at their doors last night, but I sat outside on my stoop with a steady stream and passed out over 300 pieces of candy. Some got two pieces. Some only got one. That means a lot of kids.

(Full disclosure, this photo was taken last year. I took a couple photos last night but it was too dark and they aren't worth sharing.)

Clearly many (most) of them don't actually live in the neighborhood. But I love that on this one night a year I join a bunch of my neighbors hanging out outside sharing candy and a friendly Halloween spirit with kids from our larger community. It makes me proud of where I live, and happy I ended up in this place at which I originally turned up my nose.

Monday, October 22, 2018


After not riding my bike outside at all in 2017, I did pretty well on the cycling front in 2018. Most of it was training for my August triathlon, but I kept it up until mid-October. Over the summer I did two rides with friends, a couple solo rides on the Capital Trail outside Richmond, a couple solo local rides, and that mountainous group ride as part of the Red Wing Roots Music Festival. After the triathlon I wanted to keep up my cycling fitness and build up my mileage to do a metric century, and some of those weekend training rides were spent inside attending two cycling classes in a row at the gym (plus a little extra after the second class, until I reached 40 miles on the bike computer).

Heading off for 60 miles around Culpeper County.
Two weeks ago I drove up to Cupleper to attend my third Culpeper Century. I just did the metric century ride (about 60 miles), which went well. It's a pretty ride but it was really overcast all day and I didn't get to see the mountains in the distance.

About to start the Tour de Greene. This was probably my chilliest ride ever and I wore a jacket plus wind breaker. I warmed up plenty once riding though.
 I thought that would be my last ride of the season, but then I learned about the Tour de Greene the next weekend and wanted to do another 60 miles. So last weekend I drove to Stanardsville for that ride, but about 11 miles in I found myself losing steering control and realized I'd gotten my first flat tire ever. Knew it would happen eventually. I pulled off the rode and up a little driveway to get away from the road, and luckily a really nice lady spotted me as she rode by and decided to stop and help me out. I was prepared to figure out how to fix the thing myself (even if I had to use my phone to look up tricky parts), but it was so much better to have someone helping who knew what she was doing. It still took a while and involved her telling me I needed to clean my chain more often and probably need new tires. Oops.
Getting ready to fix my flat rear tire. But look at that beautiful sky!
We eventually got me back on the road and continued on another 9 or 10 miles. By this point we were way behind everyone else, however. I had already decided to drop down to the 40-miles ride after losing all that time, but then my knee started bothering me a little from my IT band. And since I'm also training for a half marathon that I've already paid a bunch of money for I didn't want to mess up my running legs with unnecessary end-of-season cycling. So when the SAG vehicle pulled up with the lady who'd helped me out hitching a ride to the nearest aid station so she could finally catch up with her group, I went ahead and asked for a ride to the finish. The SAG guy was super nice and I learned all about the Greene County amateur radio club. He was happy to give me a ride because it gave them all something to do and radio each other about. At the end I went ahead and stuck around to eat some finish line food (these rides all seem to favor barbecue) and the ride organizer there was super nice. The Tour de Greene is a no-frills (no t-shirt or swag) ride that raises money for Habitat for Humanity and only costs $20! That's way less than some of the other fall rides I was also looking into. And Greene County is beautiful, so I will definitely keep that ride on my radar in the future. I ended the day having only ridden about 20 miles, but I was still happy since the day had been so pretty and I had learned how to fix a flat. (And the next day my leg didn't give me any problems when I ran 10 miles!)

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Labor Day Camping

Labor Day weekend I went camping with some friends. We like traditions so we returned to Crabtree Falls Campground where we'd camped the year before, and even stayed in the same two sites. We also arranged our tents in the exact same places as last year, though I'm not sure all three are ideal spots. Anyway, it was fun. I wish I had time to go camping more often.

We'd been worried about storms in the forecast, but luckily the weather wasn't too bad. We showed up Friday night and got set up and then enjoyed Cory's homemade grilled pizzas. And of course we had a fire.

 Saturday morning we had bagels for breakfast, then set about rigging up lines and tarps to protect some of the tents from any impending rain. Then we drove about four miles away to hike up Spy Rock. It was about 2.5 miles uphill (but not super steep) and then a final little scramble to the 360-degree views at the top. The top also had puddles in the rock with lots of tadpoles. And even though we sat for a little bit and enjoyed a break and snacks, we didn't stay too long because there were clearly storms in the area and sounds of thunder sent us down to get away from any potential lightning. (Though I was surprised at how many people we passed going down who were still on their way to the top, umbrellas in hand and weather-be-damned.)

Luckily it didn't start to rain hard until we'd reached the cars. Then it poured for a little while and got all our chairs wet even though we'd gathered them under a little popup tent. Oh well. Once the rain calmed down a little and we'd all had some food we sat under the popup and played Mexican train dominoes. And when we realized it really wasn't raining any more we took a break to go down the little trail from our camp site and check out the river. It was running much harder than last year.

For dinner Saturday I made everyone frito pies. Then we had another fire and made s'mores before one more game of dominoes.

Sunday we ate more bagels for breakfast and then packed up our site. I'll be honest I was bummed we were all cleared up and ready to leave by about 9:45am. I wanted to stay longer. But at least we kept the fun going by stopping at Devil's Backbone Brewery on our way home for a 3k walk and an outdoor lunch. I'm ready for a 3-4 day camping trip next time, but it was still fun to get outside with good friends. Hopefully we'll do it again next year!

Monday, August 27, 2018

Walnut Creek Triathlon

Saturday I finished the olympic Walnut Creek Triathlon just outside of Charlottesville. I'm pretty pleased with how it went, even if I came in (almost) last place.

This was my fourth triathlon, but also the one for which I trained the least. I did a few weeks of base building that I made up on my own, and then followed an 8-week training program. Mostly. There were several weeks in which I didn't get all the workouts in, which is unusual for me. But I guess I was mostly just training for this tri as a way to stay fit over the summer and mix my physical activity up a little after last fall's marathon and the IT band troubles that followed. I also spent week 7 of the training program at the beach and didn't do a single workout, so that didn't help. (Though it felt like great rest.)

Anyway, Friday after work I went to packet pickup and stayed for the optional pre-race briefing. I also got a look at how far apart the buoys were in the lake and panicked a little. Not only did they seem very far apart, but we were going to have to do two laps. Yikes.

The right half of the swim course, showing the middle yellow buoy on the left and the third buoy on the far right.

Saturday I made sure to get to the race venue plenty early. I got my bike set up in transition, then sort of hung out for a while chatting with a few other people I knew who would be racing. I also made several trips to the restroom (of course), and was grateful for real bathrooms instead of the usual porta potties at races. Finally it was time to leave my shoes behind and head down to the beach.

Nervous and excited to start!
I was nervous about the swim. I'm terrible at the swim in tris. In the past three I've done I've always been unable to get into a good breathing groove and have panicked and just done the backstroke instead. (Which hey, has always worked. But isn't ideal.) So this time my main goal for the whole race was simply to swim normally, no matter how slowly I needed to go. So going into the swim I was nervous but also determined to slowly do what I needed to do, knowing I'd probably come out last but also knowing I've always been one of the last people out of the water anyway and it's okay.
What a pretty day!

I started in the back of the pack (which was all the olympic women and relays and was still probably under twenty people), and took it slow. And my breathing seemed fine, and my sighting was good, and everything worked out just as I'd hoped. I did it! I swam freestyle the whole way! And I made it just in time not to be clobbered by the sprint swimmers who started forty minutes later. I was a little annoyed a few times with how closely some kayakers clung to me, but I think they were just trying to help. I'm sure I looked like I needed a lot of help. Finally after making my two big laps I finished the 1500 meters, but not without getting tangled in a patch of lilly pads on my way out of the lake and actually shrieking a little and turning on my back to kick them off. That was the part where I realized I could just stand up and walk out. I got out, said "hey" to my friend Rachel who came to spectate, and ran up a grassy hill (already out of breath) to get ready for the bike.

Swim--1500 meters, 46:05, 32 out of 33 overall (I could have sworn I was last out but apparently I passed a guy?)

T1--2:14 (I should have used the buckets of water they had to help get grass off my wet feet.)
My bike and transition setup.

Next up was the bike ride. Unfortunately I was already feeling pretty winded from the swim, and the bike route got really hilly really quickly. I'm never fast on the bike, even if I try, but this was also the first time I remember starting the bike when I already felt a little tired. (Thanks a lot freestyle.) In any case, I just looked forward to enjoying a bike ride on a beautiful day, not terribly optimistic that I'd ever actually catch up to anyone else. I was also extra cautious on the hills, because the last time I'd ridden outside (about three weeks prior) I had actually failed at shifting properly on a steep hill and had fallen over in the middle of a street with a car crawling right behind me to witness the whole embarrassing thing. I was fine, but it made me paranoid about hills and I spent most of the race downshifting drastically on all hills, and thus going a little slower than I could have. Oh well.

Bike--23.5 miles, 1:36:19, 31 out of 33 overall (Apparently two ladies had slightly slower bike times but were far enough ahead of me that I still came in last on the bike.)


Finally came the run. I had been worried during the week leading up to the race that I'd be cold before and after the swim, but thought the running temp should be perfect. Turns out the running temp was a little warmer than perfect. And there were still so many hills! (The first mile+ of the bike and race course are the same as you head out of the park, and there's a giant hill!) The run was an out-and-back, and I wasn't really feeling it. I was also not about to push myself enough to cause any IT band trouble again. So I ran what I could, and walked most of the big uphills. I also walked a steep downhill. And I stopped briefly at all the water stops. I already knew I was in last place and didn't feel like killing myself. And about 1.5 miles from the finish I did actually pass a guy, who I think might have been injured and walked the whole run course. So when I headed into the finish line and saw Rachel cheering on the side I was able to say "I'm not last!" Barely.

Run--6.2 miles, 1:05:47, 30 out of 33 overall

Total--3:33:21, 32 out of 33 overall
Happily finished!
I had been hoping for a bike time under 1:30 and thought my run might be closer to 1:00, but I also didn't care that much. (Obviously, or I would have trained better.) I had still worked hard for over 3.5 hours and was sore and happily donned my finisher's medal. I also finished just in time for the award ceremony. Turns out I was the only person in my age group (they divided by 5s) and got called onto the podium for a first place award! Highly amusing. I got a neat pint glass and a reusable cooling towel thingy.
First time on a podium!

Overall it was a great race. The swim was my biggest accomplishment, and the rest just leaves room for improvement. This was also my first local tri, and everyone seemed really friendly. Maybe I'll finally join the local tri club next year? Maybe?

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Red Wing Roots Music Festival

Last year I attended the Red Wing Roots Music Festival for one day, and I liked it so much I told myself I would return the next year and camp for the whole weekend. And that's what I did two weeks ago.

I took Friday off work to pack up and get ready (which always seems to take longer than you'd think). Finally I left town and drove the hour+ to Natural Chimneys Park in Mount Solon, Virginia. I schlepped all my stuff from the overflow parking lot to the "no frills" camping area (thankfully they had a golf cart shuttle to help with some of that), and set up my tent. It was pretty hot out, so when that was finally done and everything was stowed away I headed to the music meadow to sit in the shade and listen to some tunes. John Moreland and Kuinka were great. Trampled by Turtles were also fun but I was getting pretty tired by the end of the night so I cut their set short to shower and hit the hay. I needed a good night's rest because I had a bike ride coming up! Who doesn't love a music festival with a bike ride?! (They also had organized runs and yoga.)

The natural chimneys lit up at night.

Fun lights in the beer garden

Saturday morning I woke up and ate some breakfast in my tent, then got ready for my bike ride. That meant walking a long way in one direction to fill my water bottles and then walking an even longer way in the other direction to my car and bike. I ended up starting the 8am group ride about ten minutes late, but luckily I figured out which way to go. The first fifteen miles or so (I don't remember exactly) was through rolling farmland, and then we headed into the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest. Which means we also started heading uphill. At about mile 17 there was a water stop, and the intermediate ride turned around there and headed back. But I decided to attempt the "intermediate/advanced" ride and head another 6.5 miles straight up to the top of Reddish Knob. It was a slow and painful climb, and I'm so proud of myself for making it. I passed some other riders, and one guy commented "you're fast!" but it's all relative because at one point I was logging 13- to 15-minute miles, which is pretty darned slow. I had heard we'd be riding along a ridge at some point, and I looked forward to that flattish ridge so badly. When I finally got there about four miles in I was feeling pretty spent, and then I spied a spur road making a steep and immediate left turn up to the top. I couldn't make that turn right away, since I'd psyched myself out so much about the flat ridge. So I stopped and ate a snack and drank a lot of water and then actually rode a little ways out on the flat main road just to get my legs spinning again and to gain some momentum. Then I turned around and headed up that dreaded last two miles. I saw some of the people I'd passed earlier make that turn without stopping, so in some ways I feel like I cheated. But I still made it (and re-passed those riders). I made it to the top just in time to hear the bluegrass band play their last song before packing up. I ate some snacks and enjoyed the 360 views of Virginia and West Virginia. (I knew I was seeing West Virginia somewhere, but wasn't sure in which direction. And it wasn't until I got home and looked at a map that I realized the state line was actually right up there on the knob, and that some of the rode up actually crossed into West Virginia a couple of times. So I was in another state without realizing it.) Then it was time to head back, which was pretty miserable. You'd think having several miles of downhill would be relaxing, but it wasn't. I clenched my brakes almost the whole time, which was actually kind of painful for my hands and arms. Not to mention the general tense stressful feeling of not wanting to crash and die. And then it was a strange sensation to have to start moving my legs again when the road actually started to level out. Overall it was a forty-mile ride and definitely the hardest cycling I've ever done. It was also my favorite part of the weekend.

Virginia? West Virginia? Beautiful either way.

Parking lot at the top, with drinks and snacks (and musicians packing up).

Back at the festival, Patrick arrived to join me for two days of music in the mountains. Saturday some of my favorites were the Secret Sisters, the John Stickley Trio, and of course my favorite performing artist of all, Josh Ritter. He didn't come on until 10:30, but he was also the only set of the weekend I actually stood up front for. I love him. Patrick and I also made the short hike up to the top of the natural chimneys to check out the sunset.

Yes I bought a fanny pack for this festival. It was perfect. And it wasn't cold, that's just the newly-purchased festival sweatshirt Patrick bought me that I didn't want to carry all the way back to the tent.

Josh Ritter!

Sunday morning I had originally intended to go for a run on my own (since the group runs were only on Saturday), but I didn't have it in me. So I hung out in the music meadow enjoying a dirty chai and watching a man make giant bubbles. Then it was more music. Favorites included David Wax Museum and the Steep Canyon Rangers. 

Giant bubbles!

Enjoying a set from inside the shady beer garden.
The whole weekend was amazing. Yes it was very hot, but other than that I loved being outside all weekend, camping and biking and listening to great music. I love Red Wing Roots and definitely want to go back next year.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

busy busy

I'm so neglectful of this poor blog. I was going to post about my trip to Montauk, where I spent two nights at an ocean-front resort with Celia on another work trip of hers. It was pretty great. One day we got a few hours of sunny warm beach time in. The next day we got some chilly windy beach time in. We also ate lobster rolls two days in a row, took a private water aerobics class, and had a two-hour spa treatment with full body massage, facial, and foot scrub. All free (to us). But that was several weeks ago now. Time flies.

Our trip was all courtesy of the company on the paddle board!
nerdy beach time
bundled up on the beach

I finally started writing my dissertation, which is now sort of consuming my attention. As of today I have a whopping twelve pages! Only a billion (or so) more to go! It's kind of stressful.

I'm also training for another triathlon. Olympic distance. I've been trying to do each of the three activities 1-2 times per week in a sort of "base building" phase, but next week will start a more official 8-week training program. After my marathon last fall I stopped running for several months because that race messed up my IT bands (I used to just have problems on one leg, now it's both!). I've been building back slowly, and have run up to five miles but I take regular walking breaks. I'm hoping I'll be in shape enough to be able to run the 10k during the triathlon without having to stop, but I'm not going to try to push myself so much that I just get injured again. Don't worry.

And I'm a little obsessed with house plants recently. Some day I'll share pictures of my growing plant family, though they never come out nearly as well as all the plant photos I look at on Instagram.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

I went to London!

Two weeks ago I got to tag along on a friend's work trip to London. I haven't been back to London since I spent a semester abroad there in 2004. It was a short but awesome time!

I arrived Friday morning, and made my way to our Kensington apartment. I arrived a few hours before Celia, and after dropping off my bag I headed to the Gloucester Arms for lunch. When I got back I had a shower and then Celia finally arrived (her flight was delayed). After she had a chance to freshen up we headed out to dinner (Nando's for Peri-Peri Chicken), then walked to the Victoria and Albert Museum. They had a neat special exhibit on fashion and nature. After the museum we stopped by a shop for a late-night snack and provisions for breakfast. Back at the apartment we enjoyed cheese and crackers and the free bottle of sparkling wine left for us.
Our adorable street in Kensington

Our apartment!

View from my bedroom.

Spotted at the V and A
Saturday morning after making breakfast we hopped on the Tube and visited Westminster Abbey. We had to stand in a long line in the drizzling rain before we could get in, but it was worth it. We used the audio guide and saw a ton of famous dead people.
Westminster Abbey
From the abbey we took the Tube back to Kensington, and after grabbing a quick lunch we visit Kensington Palace. They had a special exhibit on Princess Diana's dresses. After touring the palace we took a tea and scone break at the gift shop, then visited the sunken garden.
A Catherine Walker day suit owned by Diana
More of Diana's dresses
Break time
So many tulips! And clouds.
After the palace we headed toward the City of London and walked around St. Paul's Cathedral, then across the Millennium Bridge. Happening to see the Globe Theater we stopped in to see about attending a show, but the only tickets available (for the next night) had obstructed views and since it's an open-air theater it would have been pretty freezing. Next time. Then we visited the Tate Modern. By this point we were pretty tired and achy (getting old!) and hungry, so we didn't enjoy the modern art quite as much as we might have otherwise. When we finally found a comfy bench to rest on we were stuck with a view of Duchamp's Fountain.
St. Paul's

A view of the Globe across the Thames

We cut our time at the Tate short and walked back over the river to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese for dinner. It's a really old pub that was frequented by literary guys like Charles Dickens, and was also the site of my end-of-semester party when I'd studied abroad. After dinner on our walk to a Tube station we happened upon a sign for Samuel Johnson's house, and naturally wanted to take a peak. The sign was a bit misleading and turned us down an alley, and more signs kept pointing us farther down the dark (kinda scary) winding alley so that at one point Celia said "this is the nerdiest way to die." But we finally found his house and we didn't die.
Fish and chips! And mashed peas! And a pint!
Sunday we enjoyed our last breakfast in our apartment (finishing off the sparkling wine in mimosas), then packed up our things and walked a few blocks to our new accommodations, a fancy five-star hotel looking directly across at Kensington Palace. (Don't forget, this was a work trip for Celia and we didn't have to pay for either of these awesome places.) After checking in (the butler said we had the "best junior suite") and getting a little tour of the joint we headed out for a tour of the Tower of London.

Our new digs.

View from our only window. If you zoom in, that's Kensington Palace behind the big tree in the forefront.
We spent several hours at the Tower of London, first enjoying a guided tour with a beefeater, then wandering all the other sites inside on our own. The place is so old! And we got to see the crown jewels. It was also really cold.

Tower of London

Neat Tudor buildings inside the Tower of London

Tower selfie. That building is from the 11th century!

View of Tower Bridge

Guarding the Crown Jewels

We finished up at the Tower just as it was closing. From there we headed to Trafalgar Square, then walked to an Indian restaurant (Dishoom) in Covent Garden that our concierge had recommended. We had to wait outside in the freezing cold for about 45 minutes, but they brought us hot drinks which was nice. And the food, once we finally got to sit and eat it, was delicious.

Trafalgar Square

After dinner we headed back to our hotel, where we found scones and Negroni makings. The Negroni makings were compliments of the hotel (they said Meghan Markel likes them), and we later learned the scones were actually thanks to my brother calling up the hotel!

Drink makings and late-night scones.
Monday morning we enjoyed traditional English breakfasts at the hotel, then took a train ride out to Windsor. Celia had an interview scheduled with a shoe company so I looked in touristy shops and got a coffee until she was done. Then we headed into Windsor Castle! We got the audio guides and listened to all the stops. St. George's Chapel is inside, and is where the royal wedding is happening soon. We were there for a few hours, then enjoyed a cream tea break before our train ride back to London.
Breakfast! (Yes, I at least tasted all of it.)

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle selfie!
St. George's Chapel
Cream Tea

Back at the hotel we changed into nicer clothes, then went to a dinner appointment with a PR person. The restaurant (Galvin at Windows) was on the 28th floor and had amazing views of the city. The sky also cleared for the first time during our trip so we could actually see the sunset! The food was fancy and French, and really good. Before we left for the night our waitress said she had a special treat for us, and walked us through the kitchen to a small balcony with a view of the full moon and lights of the city below.
Dinner views
fancy appetizer
special treat night view
Tuesday was our last day, and the most hectic. After another nice breakfast in the hotel we went across the street for the Kensington Palace photo op we'd missed the day we'd visited, then hopped on a bus and headed to Celia's interview with a well-known clothing atelier (maker of the red suit above). It was pretty neat to see the workshop and get to sit in on the interview. From there we went to two more interviews with royal warrant holding jewelers, and at the first one we each got to try on a diamond tiara!
Fancy photo-op Kensington Palace gate
We loved riding in the front on the top of the bus!
Gorgeous fancy clothes

Festive Piccadilly (and blue skies!)
The interviews ran a little long, and as soon as we finished with the second jeweler we had to rush back to the hotel to change clothes, check out, and head our separate ways to different airports.

It was a short trip, but so much fun. And while I repeated some of the same touristy things I'd done years ago, I also got to experience a much fancier side of the city thanks to Celia's work situation. I'm so grateful she invited me!