A Quote for the Weekend… or the Year

“The great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.”

– Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.  (American physician, professor, lecturer,
author, and mustache grower)

This quote headlined one of my very favorite blogs, The Happiness Project, a few weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.  It perfectly captures what I have been thinking a lot about this year…  certainly with the cross-country-for-no-reason-but-adventure move, but also in respect to what perhaps dominates the majority of my brain space – trying to find a career that makes me leap out of bed in the morning (among other things).

Sure, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the question of “What should I be doing?”  But I’m learning that even just starting to move – reading books that inspire and interest me (thank you again, Gretchen), signing up for a 10-week photography workshop, starting a blog (and now sharing that with others – vulnerable!) – is the only thing that can help bring about an answer.

What did my high school physics teacher say about inertia?  It’s easier to keep going or even to turn around if you’re already moving, than if you’re starting from a dead stop.

So, I turn to this quote on a cold, nor’easter Friday that began with little productivity, and even a dose of negativity, but that has ended with energy and genuine excitement.

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P.S.

I bet you were just dying to find out how the return to coffee went today.  Well, thank you for asking!

Let’s just say that I was THINKING IN CAPS AND EXCLAMATIONS ALL MORNING LONG!!!  Believe me, be grateful I’m not writing this post during that period.

I really wouldn’t have put money on how much the cup of French press affected me this morning.  As my boyfriend aptly put it, it kind of felt like we were on drugs – or as close to that feeling as I can infer from, um, not having done them.

I could have probably hopped around the room for 3-4 hours, and instead took that energy out on at 5.5-mile run this morning, at quite the pace.  Nearing the very end of the run, a grinning older gentleman (wearing an old man track jacket, making me hope he was once quite the outdoorsy fellow) pointed at me and exclaimed, “I don’t think I was ever that fast!  Keep it up!”  Well that done made my day.

Lessons?  Stick to one cup of coffee per day, if that…  Make weaker French press.  And, hey, maybe hold off on coffee for the month before I run the next half marathon.  I felt like a machine!


P.P.S.
I bet you also stayed up all night wondering which other items on Outside‘s grand list really got to me.  Sure, I’ll share.

When I took to my journal to try to process my thoughts on the list – especially given that it inspired some immediate changes – I broke it down into the following:


MUST DO
(By the way, I’m including the neat little footnotes in the paper article, which included reader suggestions for some great life list items as well)

OTHERS TO CONSIDER

HAVE DONE!
(Though shall vow to keep up)

I told you it’s a great list…

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A Month Without Coffee

Yes, you read that heading correctly.  I’ll explain why.

Just under a month ago, I picked up the latest copy of Outside, intrigued by the mention of their “Guide to Life” on the cover, including such teasers as seeing the world, building a mountain cabin, and brewing your own beer.  Yes, please.  To all of the above.

And the list didn’t disappoint, I’m happy to say.  I recognize my own bias in even picking up Outside in the first place.  But several items on their list inspired me so much I actually took to my journal, to make sure I recorded a couple to indeed take on, and to also think about the ones I’ve had a chance to accomplish so far.

Perhaps the most immediate take-away, though, was #44 – Give Something Up.  Verbatim:

Give Something Up. For a month.  And preferably something you think you can’t live without.  Like dessert.  TV.  Coffee.  Driving.  Diet Coke.  Meat.  That wasn’t so hard now, was it?  Next month, give up something else.

So, just as both of our eyes made it to that entry, my boyfriend turned to me and said, “How about coffee?”

Even though I didn’t even have a chance to sip one last grand, Diesel latte before taking the plunge, I said “Yes.”

And although I can hardly wait to hear the coffee grinder whirring tomorrow, and to greet the day with a beloved cup of joe made from Barismo, I’m still really glad we did it.

Why?

  • Of course, any act of will power, or even just of consuming more consciously, is good.  I also don’t give up things for Lent, so here’s my chance.
  • Turns out, chai tea lattes are insanely delicious.  Probably so much sugar that one should never consume on an empty stomach, but still.
  • I have slept better.  Though I never thought that I consumed too much caffeine before, and certainly never felt dependent, I now realize that two cups of French press and probably some coffee if I visit a cafe in the afternoon … adds up.  I started going to sleep earlier, and sleeping sounder almost immediately.
  • Tealuxe, Harvard Square.  Just go in and smell the place.

So, what now?

Yes, I’m itching to have coffee again tomorrow morning.  But now I see how much more of that is motivated by the taste, and the ritual of it.

The new plan:

  • Have French press in the morning…  but probably not all mornings.
  • Get delicious beverages during my afternoon cafe stops…  but make them decaf, whatever they are.
  • Stick to one cup of caffeinated coffee/espresso per day at most.
  • Revel in every single vanilla latte I have!
While the new resolutions are admittedly rather simple, I have even just been grateful for the opportunity to think about what I’m consuming.  To appreciate it when I do.  Think about why I want something.  And even mess around with just what it does to me (especially whether or not I want it to affect me in such ways).

Next month?  Perhaps don’t have meat until dinner – even if brunch bacon tempts me.  Thank you, Mr. Bittman.
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New England Folklore: Fall Foliage Maps

Just in time for our second fall season around New England, I’ve learned a few key things that the locals must have been withholding from me during my trial year.

First, as previously mentioned, apple cider doughnuts.  And I hardly ever think to reach for doughnuts.  But these… sigh… are unmissable.  NOTE:  Must be consumed on a cute country farm.

Second, and even more recently, was the phenomenon of fall foliage maps.  Brilliant, brilliant move, New England!  Just as family and friends come streaming in from the opposite coast to catch the leaves – and Boston has hardly produced any color just yet – I have been wondering where to head, or just how far this “day trip” will be.

Then a local friend casually mentioned the foliage map… How could I have missed these??

Without further ado, some favorites:

You’re still probably wondering why I am so darn excited about this particular phenomenon – be it the maps or the leaves, I suppose.  But something that was a tremendous, wonderful surprise last autumn was just how breathtaking this swath of color really is.  I felt like a kid at her first fireworks show any time I drove around/walked among newly-orange/red/yellow/maroon/speckled trees – exclamations of “Wow!” and “Ooooooh!” included.  My pictures and my words simply can’t capture it.

So I actually do hope you use these maps, and go out and learn why it seems as though all New Englanders are simply enamored with fall.  Though I have a hard time letting go of the balmy, warm evenings of Boston summer, I have to say that fall here makes that transition much easier.

 

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What’s Best About Budapest?

… besides the fact that this is the only rhyme I ever plan to attempt again?

I’m sorry, but I simply had a hard time finding an apt title for this one. Oh, you want to know the other candidates? Well, the essence of what I’m going for today is:

  • What Is Super Interesting About Budapest That I Simply Did Not Know Before Researching It On The Flight Over
  • What You Will Hopefully Also Find Fascinating About Budapest
  • Budapest Has Been Bombed/Attacked Too Many Times

So, it’s indeed confirmed that I just don’t know how to name blogs.

Regardless, in the spirit of sharing (with any Joe who will listen) the most interesting pieces of history or trivia that illuminates a new place for me, or recounting the best waiter I’ve met or island wine I’ve tried, here’s the first in a series of emails about my recent vacation to Eastern Europe/Central Europe/The Balkans/Land of the Magyars.

I’ll admit that I knew little before booking the flight to Budapest… or, really, before getting on said flight.  So, just in case you are in the same boat, whether you intend to ship off to Hungary in the near future or not, below are some of my favorite findings from the research I did both in books and on foot.  While I’ll admit that I didn’t fall head over heels for the city, it has so many interesting layers that I’m sure future visits would only entice me further.

So, again, poor-but-apt title for the following:

WHAT IS SUPER INTERESTING ABOUT BUDAPEST… THAT I DIDN’T KNOW BEFORE GOING, AND THAT PERHAPS YOU DON’T KNOW TOO

  • Budapest consists of Buda and Pest. I’m sure you travel pros learned this when you were 3 years old, but I somehow missed that memo.  It’s like learning that on one side of the Thames is Lon, and on the other is Don. Buda is the side of the river with a castle atop a hill – really quite pretty.  Some charming older buildings really set off the look.  Pest is the hip side with the cool kids and eateries and the music that blasts until the hour at which I wake up.
  • Hungarian is an obscenely hard language. Evidently, these Magyars (read: Hungarian people) pride themselves on being not far behind Arabic and Japanese as hardest to pick up. Real words in their language, I swear:  “elkelkáposztásítottalanítottítok” and “fiaiéi.”  Fantastic.  I learned “Hi” (“Szia”) and “Thank you” (“Köszönöm”).
  • The city’s architecture is quite new compared to what I’m used to in European capitals. Why?  They have troubled relations with people who decide to take over. The first big blow was, oh, 150 years of war with the Ottomans, from 1526-1699, during which the Turks got disgruntled and tore down most of the neat Roman ruins.  Next, the Habsburgs took over. Things were all right for a couple hundred years, until the locals had a tiff with the Habsburgs in the mid-1800s.  The Austrians decided to let the Hungarians be a little independent for a year.  But unfortunately the Magyars took it a smidgen too far, formed an army, and the Austrians retaliated by destroying the adorable medieval buildings all up on Buda hill. Then there was the incident with, you know, Hitler. Poor partnership, people.  They decided it was a good move to take sides with the Nazis, and then promptly regretted it.  However, Hitler caught wind of a potential new agreement between the Hungarians and the Allies, and decided to strike back.  The punishment?  He bombed Buda Castle, the Ministry of Defense (still just a yard of rocks with some flags in front of it), and all their bridges.  And, on a terrible note (complete understatement), Hitler deported 440,000 Hungarian Jews thereafter, mostly to Auschwitz.  And please excuse my brief recap of the history.  I can’t begin to even pretend to capture it all, so just remember that these are the points that stood out to me, and I’m sure the interesting complexities of what I left out are endless.
  • On the bright side, other conquerers left slightly more positive marks. My favorite?  The Turks, with their bath houses full of old men playing chess.
  • Whether the tough linguistic situation influences this or not, the Hungarians are known for their PATRIOTIC SORROWYikes.  (By the way, not helped by the chill and rain of early September – arguably still summer.)  On a more serious note, their suicide rate has been the highest in the world for most of the last century, at 32 suicides per 100,000 annually (about three times higher than that of the United States).
  • Finally, to send on a properly happy note, Hungarians make some great wine! Namely, dessert wines, and some funky grapes that produce a wine that we’re really not used to tasting in the States. Part of the reason we’re especially not used to it is that, until quite recently, Hungarian wine didn’t make it over the pond at all.  Even now, there are just a few distributors, and mainly just concentrated in – you probably guessed it – New York and SF.  Definitely not nationwide.  Some grapes to look out for: Furnint (or Tokaj Aszús) – the sweet stuff!; Chard (from the region of Eger); Bikauer or Kekfrankos (Eger) – this is the stuff that’s rather different for our palate; Cab franc (Villany); Kakorka – a light red; Pinot noir (from Eger).   Some noted wine makers: Demeter, Takler, Gruf Buttler, Sebestyén, Fran Volgli, Seepsy-Istvenn.  Valuable vocab: eder = sweet, száraz (accent) = dry.

As you can see, a city – and country, though I can hardly speak to that – with many layers. Peel back a couple more, and I just might become a convert.

Posted in Globe-trotting, Misc. Lists, Musings | 1 Comment

Music to Make You [Walk/Run/Ride] Like A Maniac

So, I got back to the long run this week.  Yes, even after just three short jogs in the week post-half marathon, I decided to push for ten miles today.  The running motivation is back, folks!

I feared, though, that it was going to be slow going.  I could hardly get my shoes on during the day I first attempted to run last week.  But I know how to play mind games with myself (see my recent post, of course), let me tell you.  So I put on my favorite Lady Gaga song of late, just to kind of get me dancing in my seat at home.  Five songs in, I was ready.

And as soon as I got out, even with a little discomfort, and the promise that I wouldn’t run that far, I found my rhythm.  Kept it up for a proper long run, even.

So, I write to share the list that inspired me to get back to/stay on the road so soon after my back-pain/fainting-scare race.  And look forward to adding to it as I remind myself that running is nearly – very nearly! – as fun as dancing for me.

The current Maniac Music list (will come up with better name in future months, I promise), in dorky alphabetical order (by song – keeps it fresh when it pops up on the iPod, I tell ya):

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A great thing about living in Boston…

Is getting out, every now and then, to NYC. Though I don’t want to live in New York (just yet?), the proximity is priceless.

Especially coming from big, wide open California, where it can easily take 2-3 hours to drive from just one end of the Bay Area to the other, it’s beautiful to keep discovering how much more you can reach in the same driving time from Boston.  And that’s the case whether you’re craving a city or a cabin.

You also can never make too many plugs for BoltBus.  $15 to NYC, with Wi-Fi, plugs, and great service?  Yes, please.

It’s a wonder I don’t do this more often.

From Brooklyn, with love.

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First Stab at a Half Marathon!

Yes, I showed up and did it, folks – contrary to what my anxious dreams the night before predicted.  And although the race was a bit more painful than I expected it to be, that little crazy part of my brain might actually be ready to think about doing another one.

Without further ado, here are some quick reflections on the good, the bad, and the ugly of running a half marathon for the first time. Okay, there wasn’t much “ugly” so, instead, I’ll go for bad news first, good news second.

BAD NEWS

  • It’s hard to run in the heat.  Defying all expectations, New Hampshire produced 80-degree, muggy weather for its September 25th race.  Which made for some nice suntanning opportunities for spectators, but caught me off-guard more than I expected.  As in, I felt pretty light-headed the second half of the race.  What to do? Hydrate more beforehand, and take not one but two cups of water when they offer it, and Gatorade every chance you get.   Maybe even stash an extra packet of Gu (and be sure to “eat”/consume that with water, folks).
  • Back pain can pop up even at the most inopportune times.  Like mile 4, and then miles 8-12.  Right to the good news:  the mind is a powerful weapon, and can really help get past it.  What to do? Core work more than once every two weeks. Bah!
  • Hills. I am a minor idiot and hardly read the website ahead of time.  Turns out, this course is known for hills, including one with an 11% grade. Whoops.  At least I still have some of my SF hill climbing muscles intact.  What to do? Add in hill training along the way, of course.  But be mindful of doing this too swiftly (which is why I didn’t do more of this in the first place) – hills = overtraining really quickly, so just aim for once a week, at least for a while.  Other advice:  read the race website.  Ahead of time.

GOOD NEWS

  • The mind is a powerful weapon. (Yes, I’m saying it again, verbatim.)  It can help talk you out of side cramps, back pain, and can repeat “Eye of the Tiger” as many times as you need.
  • Running alongside others makes you faster than you might even expect. As much as the run was a bit harder than I anticipated, particularly with the heat and my back twangs, I still kept up 9-minute miles somehow, and did the first half even faster than that.
  • Fall leaves don’t hurt. Beautiful run much?
  • The goodwill of others. I was just charmed by the number of locals who lived along the route, or who came in from elsewhere, who not only cheered us on, but in many cases blasted songs for us and/or set up hoses or sprinklers for us to run through.  It takes a very kind person to listen to “Eye of the Tiger” on repeat for two hours, and it really meant a lot, at least to me.
  • Accomplishment.  I really did feel pretty great about getting through it.
  • They sure treat you well. At least the Applefest folks do, oh my!  Not only did they greet us in the morning with some nice, long-sleeved, wicking shirts (no men’s XL t-shirt for me), but they ended the day with more food than I could fathom.  Not just the advertised apple crisp, but bagels, brownies, cookies, local cheese, yogurt, apples, bananas, bottles of Powerade, and gallons of water.  Oh and they fed and gave prizes to our trusty spectators while we were all out running for a couple of hours.  They even gave away extra apple pies once the winners took theirs.  I hardly knew what to do with myself.

So, while at about mile 8.5 and probably around 11.5, I was truly ready to be done, and thought “No way is there a chance I’m doing a marathon,” those endorphins have been buzzing in my brain for a couple of days, and I’m ready to look up another half marathon for spring.  Sure, it was kind of painful, but that makes me all the more eager to see how it goes when I can spend more than a couple of months training (and not go on vacation for two weeks of that, right before the race).  Try out some cross training, some core work, invest in more Gu than I could ever imagine consuming.  All of those handy tricks.

In the meantime, I’ll use the bottle opener that came on my medal (I kid you not) to pop open a beer and celebrate.  Wahoo!

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Positive Mind Games – How to Become a Runner

I never used to like running, and was totally fine with that.  I am pretty active, after all, and did my fair share of crazy speedwalking, city scouring on foot or by bike, plus doses of hiking, tennis, and dancing whenever I could manage it.  Plenty to keep the arteries free and flowing.

But then, one morning two years ago, I found out I was a runner.  It was a few days before my first backpacking trip with my boyfriend’s outdoorsy Oregonian family, and I was keen to make a good impression.  We’re talking 8-day trip in the backcountry, and while I’m plucky and determined and quite love getting dirty, I can’t do such things as light fires, and will likely attract bears unless told how not to.  So I figured my best bet would be to keep up on the trail.

So, rather than, say, drive to work from my boyfriend’s house, I opted to walk the 6.5 miles – usual heavy backpack in tow would be decent training, yes?  But then that was taking far too long, so I started jogging the intersections… and realized I didn’t mind keeping that up.  So I ran 6 miles straight for the first time in my life.  And grinned when I realized that just happened.

Fast forward two years and I’m now running my first half marathon tomorrow.  I wish I could say I had the guts to initiate the idea myself, but alas the final push came when a dear friend said she was running one and wanted company.  I’ll report on the results (or, at least, what it was like) after the weekend, but first, some quick tips on what got me to not just willingly run, but to love it.  Still surprises me to this day.

I’m pretty sure you’re aware of the obvious pluses:  runner’s high, excellent butt, healthy heart, all that.  We all know these things and yet don’t do such things as go for a run, or generally exercise as much as we’d like to.

So my list includes some of the tricks – positive mind games, if you will – that you can play on yourself to get the habit going… and then, soon enough, surprise yourself when you want to get out there with no prompting at all.

  • Trick your leg muscles into running. In my case, I used to have a 25-minute walking commute in San Francisco.  My roommate and I inevitably left late for the train in the morning, so we jogged down the first few blocks of hills (downhill running is so gratifying) and then sprinted through any intersection with a countdown clock of two seconds or more.  Other people prefer the more normal build-up of the run-walk method – run one minute, walk two (or whatever ratio you prefer).  Either way, don’t expect that your muscles enjoy the motion of running right off the bat – but soon they will.
  • Find some way of fun running. For me, it’s getting on a trail – it’s not running if you’re just skipping around over roots and such.  For others, it might be chasing little kids, playing catch with someone who throws terribly, etc.  Basically, we found running pretty fun as a kid – totally on the list of playtime activities.  So find your own version. This will accomplish the leg muscle tricking as well.
  • Read about it first. When I announced to my friends that I was finally running a half, one sent me a link to Born to Run. He’s never liked running but said that simply reading this book makes him excited to take up the sport.  And I’d agree.  I grin now when I run, and have much better form – an important read when I was on the verge of injury at the start of my training – in my over-zealous, sprinting mode.  Another favorite:  ChiRunning.
  • Think about whether or not you’re a racer. If you are, then signing up for a 5K is probably great motivation to just get out there and try it.  For me, if I have to do something, I sometimes fear I won’t want to (and indeed have lacked a bit of motivation the past week or two, right when I knew I really had to get out for that last pre-race push).  Hence, I put off a race for a couple of years, and will admittedly be a little happy to run as little or as much as I want, as often (or not) as I want next week.  I already feel like a rebel.  Perhaps the apt point, at least for a person like me, is to change it up – sometimes train, because that has definitely made me more focused and faster, even dared me to call myself a runner.  But then sometimes just keep it at play status, and follow what your body wants to do that day, running or not.
  • Use running to explore. In the spirit of this very blog, I obviously needed to mention this one.  As much as I love walking my legs off over hours in a new city, I’ve also come to really appreciate the running introduction to a destination – or even just new corners of one’s hometown.  It seems to me to be the perfect balance of going fast enough to really cover some ground, but slow enough (compared to, say, a bike, and definitely a car) to absorb the details and take a bit in.  Slow enough to bring a camera along.  Favorite recent exploration runs have been in Paris (my first jaunt down the Seine, 7ish miles) and Dubrovnik (9 miles = able to see what lies outside the walled city).

So, we’ll see if I’m singing a different tune on Saturday around noon.  But, for now, I also just appreciate how nonchalant I almost feel about running this half marathon tomorrow.  Just over two years ago, I distinctly remember saying to myself that I would never (dumb word to ever try to assert) run a marathon.  And balked when a friend first suggested I consider a half marathon.

Today, I’m considering a full (this is in writing, wow).  And what does MasterCard say about changing one’s perspective, one’s belief of his or her own capabilities?  Priceless.  No matter how it comes about.

Posted in Misc. Lists, Musings, Running | 1 Comment

Urban Biking?

Please just savor this picture for a second (source: the adventure life).  Now you see why, after my half marathon this weekend, I will seriously consider changing the name of this blog from Urban Hiking to Urban Biking.  And make good on what that implies.

Just a thought.

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