Category Archives: travel

Olympics done, my racing begins

After a two-month break from competition (but not from training), it’s time to plan, pay and play once again.

I have a new calendar and it is getting full already. At this point, I have one free weekend in September, October and November. December has one competition (the state Senior Games), to be followed by minor surgery and two weeks off. I ramp it back up and prep for an event I said I’d never do again (a half-marathon) in March.

Some would say I have lost my mind. I question whether I ever had any sanity to work with in the first place. Regardless, I am having fun at this, even when the body is tired and the brain cannot keep up with work, workouts and stuff at home. And I don’t have kids. I have no idea how people who have kids do it all. They are brave and heroic souls.

It’s been fun and inspiring to watch the Rio Olympics. I’ve learned new stroke techniques during the swim competition, and picked up a pointer or two on transitions during the triathlon. And let’s be honest: at age 41, few really thought Meb Keflezighi was going to medal in the men’s marathon event. It was an amazing achievement that he qualified to be there, and while his 33rd place finish was not memorable, he turned a slip at the end into some Jack Palance-worthy pushups.

So much about the Olympics was good – there were moments of athletic greatness and  sportsmanship, along with compassionate acts and contributions for residents of Rio’s favelas for whom the Games held no benefit, other than to spotlight their plight. And then you have Ryan Lochte and his little band of ugly American aquatic brothers, with their party-hard attitude coupled with the ability to lie badly about it afterwards. A trio that deserves a podium of their own – gold, silver and bronze in the douchebag competition.

With these games over (and the even more powerful Paralympics yet to come), it’s time to dig down, rest up, eat well and train steady. It’s time to go out and play. inspire

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Filed under athletic competition, Current news, Cycling, Exercise, Rio Olympics 2016, Running, Swimming, travel, triathlon gear, Triathlons

Swim in a meet, meet new friends

Watch and learn: even when you're waiting for your event, other swimmers teach a lesson.

Watch and learn: even when you’re waiting for your event, other swimmers teach a lesson.

I drove (and swam) a little outside the proverbial comfort zone this weekend. I went to a three-day swim meet about two hours away.

I’m wiped out, but it was worth it.

I was the only swimmer from my team to make the trip (hey, you’ll have to ask the other swimmers why they didn’t go!) and of course, it gets a little lonely being a solo act. Fortunately, I was adopted by another team. The group was from Georgia, and there wasn’t a “y’all” to be heard from any of them. Actually, they all sounded like they were from anywhere except the Peach State. Their hospitality, however, was pure Southern. They want me to come to their next meet. They’ve promised me great barbecue and adult beverages. I’m not planning on turning any of that down, by the way.

As for the meet itself: it went well enough. I brought back some hardware.  There were a lot of better swimmers there, and a lot of old swimmers. And by old, we’re talking about athletes age 85 and older, who can still go fearlessly off the blocks and haul hindquarters up and down the meter lanes with the best of the whippet-thin whippersnappers. I saw family while I was there; my niece was my counter for one of the long races. I warned her that what she would see at a Masters meet was nothing like the high-school team she coaches. “You’ll see bodies that don’t belong in these kinds of swimsuits,” I said. “And body parts that should never, ever see the light of day. Just letting you know.”

Her reaction? “I hope I can still swim when I am as old as some of these people!”

Kids say the darndest things. And I agree with her. I hope I can still swim when I hit the age where they stop bothering to keep official records. By the time I reach that age, it shouldn’t matter anyway. What should matter is that I’ve made more friends than I can count (and hopefully, they’re still around) and that I can stagger out of bed each day and steer my rear to the nearest pool.

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Filed under Aging, Exercise, family, Relationships, Swimming, thought, travel

Visions of Chicago: good brews, blues and ethnic eats

I just returned home after spending a week in the Windy City.

I’d be happy to return pretty much anytime.

It was my first visit, and initial impressions were of a big, brawny metropolis, full of new skyscrapers and too many fast-food joints, but also a place that respects the past by refurbishing old buildings, brewing great beer,  promoting seedy little blues clubs and maintaining a long, loud love affair with its sports teams.

A friend once described Chicago as “New York with cleaner streets, nicer people, weird pizza and ridiculous hot dogs.”  I cannot honestly argue. The streets were incredibly free of trash, locals offered directions when we looked lost and while The Husband ate a Chicago dog and deep-dish pizza (on the same day), I was not tempted by either. OK, I did have a bite of the pizza. Not as doughy as I expected, but it’s still not pizza as I know it.

Chicago seems to have a lot of emergencies involving the need for an ambulance. The constant cry of the sirens never seemed to let up. One afternoon, while having lunch near Michigan Avenue, we saw the same ambulance by our restaurant five times. Werethere multiple incidents that necessitated the ambulance, or was the crew doing drive bys,

It's not all about the alcohol, but Chicago breweries do great work.

It’s not all about the alcohol, but Chicago breweries do great work.

looking for the next pickup? We never did figure it out, and later heard that the firefighters, in addition to getting an 11% raise this year, will also get more ambulances and paramedics. Good for them, but hard on the hearing.

Then there’s the Lake Michigan Effect: an odd weather phenomenon that provides slightly cooler air along the lakefront than in the downtown metro area. It’s nice to walk along Lakeshore Drive and feel the difference, especially in the summer. In the winter, however, there is lake effect snow. I have seen lake effect snow in October while in Cleveland and do not ever want to see it again.

Beer is brewed and coffee is roasted in Chicago and the immediate environs. Both are outstanding, and you should make an effort to bring some of each home. The food scene is as varied as the neighborhoods. Be willing to take the Red Line south to Chinatown for real Chinese food and north for Ethiopian food , the Blue Line for Polish food or walk to the east side of the city for the Irish food scene in the bars and pubs. There is more to Chicago than deep dish pizza and hot dogs slathered in neon-green relish.

Speaking of things to do, there are world-class art and history museums, theater, year-round professional sports and festivals almost every week. One of the best things about our trip was arriving a day earlier than planned, and attending the final day of the Chicago Blues Festival. One band, the Homemade Jamz Blues Band, was worth the walk and the long wait until the gates opened. There’s nothing fancy about this festival, only a few food and souvenir booths. It’s all about the music, played on multiple stages throughout the day and night. Admission is free and you can bring chairs and coolers to the venue.

Downtown hotels aren’t cheap, and nearly all of them charge for parking, since few have their own parking lots or garages. You can stay cheaper in the Chicagoland area (as the suburbs are called) and catch a train into town. But it’s an experience to stay in the city, hear the noise, eat and drink with the locals and get to know the streets and waterways. Take a riverboat or bus architecture tour your first day, just to get acquainted. Then get out there on foot. Chicago is a city that deserves to be known at street level.

 

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Filed under food, travel, vacation

Leaving life in style and five-inch heels

Cousin could wear them, walk in them and make it look she was born in them. Wikimedia Commons.

I went to a cousin’s funeral yesterday. Hard to believe, even after nearly ninety years of a life well and usefully lived, she’s gone.

Cousin was just beautiful: tall, red-haired, impeccably dressed and coiffed at all times. She was in the workforce over sixty years, full-time and by choice. She raised two sons, lived in several fine homes, stayed married for fifty years and drove mostly big, showy American cars (one of her earliest was a ’57 Chevy Bel-Air). She was a rebel from her youth, leaving home at sixteen to work thousands of miles away because she needed an adventure. She fell in love with the airline industry in the 1940s after a twenty-six hour, nineteen-stop flight from Tuscon to New York. Hey, that was a “direct” flight in those days.

She worked for the airlines for almost forty years, retiring just ten years before she passed away. She loved her work and her coworkers, never forgetting a birthday, always remembering to treat them as special and worthy of attention. She was not fond of retirement, saying that work gave her a purpose and made her a contributor to society.

She had a repertoire of one-liner jokes, and her bluntness could invoke a blush from anyone who heard her opinions. She was not the type who called attention to herself; attention always managed to find her first. She loved old films; On the Waterfront was her all-time favorite. She was never the classic mother and wife; she loved working first and foremost. But she was there for her sons when it mattered, and they lacked for nothing when it came to parental love.

She was laid to rest in a designer suit and five-inch stilettos. A former foot and leg model, she made walking in those shoes look easy, right into her eighties. She was stylish to the end.

 

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Filed under death, family, travel

Twelve To Race Before You Die…Maybe Reykjavik, Iceland?

English: Ashton, Idaho.

English: Ashton, Idaho. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was an online article from USA Today about amazing road races to run before you kick your bucket – and  kiss your bucket list – goodbye.

Three of the races were in the United States: Honolulu‘s marathon, which I could totally understand, and the Emerald Nuts four-miler at midnight on Dec. 31 in New York’s Central Park (it’s not like you can move, much less run through Times Square, so you might as well run somewhere in the city. Besides, there are restrooms in Central Park, and you can get to them on New Year’s Eve. Good luck with that in Times Square). The third one is in Ashton, Idaho, and it’s supposed to be very laid-back and relaxed and well-attended by the locals.

The other nine are in Kenya, Japan, China, Australia, Myanmar, Arctic Canada, Italy, Chile and Iceland.

Just for giggles, I looked at each run and what was offered. I nixed the Emerald Nuts (four miles in a New York winter does nothing for this born-and-raised New Yorker). Japan is either a marathon or 10K distance choice and Arctic Canada is marathon or ultramarathon only. The others offer the half-marathon distance.

Honolulu’s race is in December. Do I have to tell you what it costs to fly to Honolulu in December? The whole world wants to go there. I don’t know a soul in Idaho, though from what I see online, the area looks fabulous: lots of outdoor activities, very little industrial activity and no urban blight.  China’s race involves climbing the Great Wall, or 5,164 Steps of Doom for  This Flatlander. Kenya’s race is run in a wildlife preserve, in June, in temperatures approaching 95 degrees. I could stay home for that kind of heat, though the lions, tigers and elephants might make it interesting. Oh, and the sleeping accommodations on this adventure consist of tents. Nice tents, according to the organizers. But tents. I can camp with the best of them. But after a race…not so much.

So I’m looking at Iceland next August. Looks nothing like home, the flight is five hours (plus the gain of a day) from Washington D.C., ticket prices are about what it cost to fly to Toronto (of course, we still have to get to Dulles, but we can drive or fly there), the people seem nice, the race sounds very well-organized,  hotel prices are not bad, the weather is good at that time of year…I wonder if I can convince The Husband that this might be a really good idea:

“Hey, sweetie, wanna go someplace a little, yanno, different for our next trip?”

“Sure, where were you thinking?”

“Oh, someplace just a little out of the way.”

 

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Filed under Running, thought, travel, vacation

It’s Summertime. Time For The Guests From Hell

Erin chowing down on a tasty MarshaMallow duri...

Erin chowing down on a tasty MarshaMallow during out summer camping trip. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know who these people are. You may not know if you are one of them. The Guests From Hell, that is.

If you live anywhere near a place that is a desirable vacation spot (beach, mountains, major amusement/water park) and your house has floor space and an extra bathroom, then you will likely get company this summer. I was always brought up to be a good host and an extremely good guest. In other words, I welcome those who come to my home as if it’s their home, provide as much space and comfort as possible, while affording them cleanliness, good meals and good company. In turn, as a guest, I’m considerate to the extreme. I bring a small gift, offer to pay for meals, offer to help with anything and make sure any facilities I use are left as clean or cleaner than I found them.

Apparently, I am a little behind the times on the host/guest memo. I’m hearing some really disturbing “guest from hell” stories lately. Like the one from an acquaintance who had to put up with her husband’s friends (husband, wife and their kids) crashing at their place after their camping trip went bad, with their camping gear and ten loads of laundry. And that was on top of expecting to be fed and entertained for four days, complaining about the size of the guest room, and not lifting a finger to help or pay. Let’s just say these are not people who would be on my holiday card list anymore.

Another acquaintance recounted two weeks’ worth of taking time off to take care of her visiting mother-in-law’s needs while her husband continued to work without time off. She did this while mother-in-law dearest reminded her often of how unworthy she was of being her son’s wife.

There are plenty of examples from this hilarious New York Times story, part of a 2007 book review of Judith Viorst’s “Alexander and the Wonderful, Marvelous, Excellent, Terrific Ninety Days,” the story of household life when the author’s son and his family moved in with her during a home renovation:

  • “Shortest staying houseguest: My husband’s brother, who had hardly put down his bags before looking me up and down, gasping and saying “Wow! You’ve got so fat. You should work out. Look at my abs!” He was hastily handed a cheese sandwich to eat on the train during the journey back home an hour later.”
  • “My worst houseguest invited herself to my home when I was on maternity leave with my 4-week-old firstborn. I was hesitant about having a guest but she insisted, saying she would be visiting other friends most of the time and just needed a place to crash. Instead, she was around all the time. My newborn was extremely colicky, and I was underslept, bleary, and tearful. Still, I dragged myself around trying to entertain and feed her (She never offered to help with a thing). The kicker was when she asked me what I would DO all day if I didn’t have her to entertain, and told me I would be incontinent in my old age because of giving birth vaginally.”
  • “When my Australian daughter-in-law arrived she ordered that all the sheets and quilts for herself and the rest of family be re-washed, cleaned out perfectly good food in my fridge and said she would take over the cooking; sniffed the milk and jars and pronounced most of the stuff unhealthy, and kept my washing machine at work almost all day long. When I offered the grandchildren chocolate and gifts she removed them saying only SHE could decide what they could eat or have. I wanted to tell her off, but didn’t in order to spare my son. But next time she comes, if ever, she can stay in a motel.”
  • “Cousins from the Midwest stopped by for just one night on their way home. They had been touring Cape Cod, but it smelled as though they had been to a garlic festival and sampled every form of the stinking rose known to humankind. Their combined breath was so bad, it was … well, breathtaking. Our entire house reeked of garlic for days after they left.”
  • “Within days of my moving into a new house an old friend showed up unannounced and needed a place to stay for a few days, which ended up being 8 weeks. She moved her girlfriend in, smoked crack in my spare bedroom, broke dishes and “hid” them in my bathtub (why??) and spilled candle wax on my new carpet. She had gross habits like taking a bath and leaving the water in it ‘in case somebody else wants to take one too.’ The day I kicked her out she proceeded to lecture me on how messed up my life was and that I should get help.”

Summertime, and apparently, the living isn’t so easy when you have guests like these. How about you? Got any good guest from hell stories to share?

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Filed under Children, Relationships, thought, travel

Travel That Broadens Your View, Not Your Waistline

One of the many produce stands in Toronto's Kensington Market area.

One of the many produce stands in Toronto’s Kensington Market area.

I had the good fortune to spend a week in Toronto, Canada recently. Having said that, I have to tell you it cost a small fortune.

The airline tickets were a bargain, relatively speaking, about $750.00 round trip for two, plus another $100 for baggage fees. A decent hotel in GTA (Greater Toronto Area) is not cheap; our hotel was about $1,200 for the week, and that was for the smallest room in a downtown boutique hotel. The tradeoff was that the hotel was literally near everything we needed: shopping, public transit, great restaurants, sports venues and Lake Ontario.

It was my first time traveling anywhere that required a passport, and for the record, Customs was no problem. Yes, I was honest and declared what I bought. Yes, I brought back only the legal amount of alcohol (and no one is willing to ship any from Canada to the U.S., unless you are a commercial distributor). I brought back Grade 3 maple syrup (almost impossible to find in the U.S., unless you live in maple syrup country), twenty bars of chocolate (for my other blog), a half-dozen food books and very nice things to say about our northern neighbors.

  • They are very polite, I never entered or exited a building without someone holding a door.
  • Pedestrians rule, at least from what I saw on Toronto’s streets. Cars stop when you step into a cross walk; you’re not considered a target.
  • Public transit is cheap, clean and fast.
  • Gay marriage is legal.
  • The bookstores are locally owned, independent and carry an array of titles that will blow your mind and fill your suitcase.
  • People drink at lunch on business days.
  • The coffee and pastry shops are fantastic.
  • Torontonians seem to be a pretty fit bunch, in spite of all the good food and drink. There are lots of outdoor activities and gyms and frankly, the city is built into the side of a sloped plateau, so it’s constant uphill and downhill. The Husband and I lost almost ten pounds combined on this trip.
  • For every ethnic group you see on the streets, there are restaurants and food shops somewhere, providing the food that reminds them of home. Toronto has several ethnic neighborhoods: Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Italy, Little Portugal, Roncesvalles Village (Polish), Corktown (Irish), The Danforth/Greektown,  and many more small, old enclaves featuring well-preserved homes and small shops.

We did a lot of walking in our week’s visit. I believe in on-the-ground contact as much as possible in a new place, because it’s the only way to understand the lay of the land and meet the people who live there. You cannot talk to the locals on a tour bus or in a taxi, though you certainly can on a subway or streetcar. Shopping the weekly farmers markets, eating in the side street restaurants and visiting the back alley music venues is the best way to find out what people are doing, thinking, buying and how they are living. Turns out they are doing it all pretty well in Toronto. I hope to return some day and experience more.

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Filed under thought, travel, vacation