28 December 2013

2013 Off Season in Review

Every year it's pretty typical to do a look-back critique of the past season, see what you did right, what you did not-so-right, and what you can improve on for the following year.

This is not that post.

This is much more important. As Training Peaks workout reminders have started flooding my inbox (and I'm actually welcoming the influx), the off-season is coming to a close. Time to look back and see what I did right, what I did wrong, and what I can do to improve my off-season experience for the next time around.

Pool? What is a pool? I did not swim AT ALL during the month of November. I think I voluntarily got in the pool once in early December, before Training Peaks told me to, and paddled around for about 1,000 yds and then I got out. It was a much needed break. And even though I feel pretty slow in the water right now, I'm also not burnt out and that's going to be key for having a successful 2014 season.

The FDA has altered its food pyramid and it is now filled with chocolate. Lindt chocolate, peppermint bark, chocolate buttercream frosting, chocolate ganache, chocolate macarons. Let's also throw some gingersnap cookies in there, marshmallows, hot chocolate (we are currently on the hunt for the type of chocolate that makes the best hot chocolate - Cadbury is the frontrunner).

Try something new. I think one of the best parts of the off-season (besides the unabashed consumption of chocolate) was not having a schedule to stick to. There was nothing I HAD to do - I was free to do whatever I wanted, when I wanted, and try new things. I gave Pilates a go a couple of times at the Athlete's Studio in Dupont Circle. I never realized how many different exercises you could do as part of Pilates. AND there is a trampoline involved. Did you know that your feet can feel EXHAUSTED and sore after using the Pilates trampoline? They can. I've also been going mountain biking - it's great to get off the road and try out some trails and not be a slave to my Garmin.

Misplaced Training Equipment and Forgetting Your Training Peaks Login. Speaking of my Garmin, I know where my watch is but it's a mystery where my heart rate monitor strap went. Part of me never wants to find it because I detest that thing (it is responsible for 95% of the chafing I experience during training/races). I have ideas on where it could be, but I haven't bothered to look too hard. And it took me a few minutes to remember my Training Peaks login when I went to log my first workout into the system.

Go up a pants size. There's a reason why my winter pants are a size bigger than my summer clothes. Not to toot my own horn, but I ate 4lbs of M&Ms the week before Thanksgiving this year.

Bake so much you cannot stand to look your KitchenAid mixer in the eye. There was one weekend this month that was filled to the brim with holiday parties, brunches, etc. I baked until 2am on a Thursday night in prep for the parties. Macarons, gingersnap smores, homemade marshmallow, meringues. It was awesome until about midnight and then I'd about had it. I couldn't look at my mixer for a week. We also went through 5 boxes of butter the week of Christmas, between the Christmas Eve seafood chowder, the Christmas Bread, the cookies, the BUTTERCREAM FOR THE BUCHE DE NOEL.
Gingerbread cake rolled in eggnog buttercream, topped with chocolate buttercream and decorated with meringues.
All in all, it was a good 1.5-2 months. Exactly what I needed. Success!

17 December 2013

That Holiday Tradition You Love and Hate (But Actually Really Love)

I give you... The Holiday Chicken.

I practically need shades when looking directly at the blinged-out chicken beak.
Especially when bathed in the soft glow of electric sex. 
 What has turned into one of our family's greatest (and most obnoxious/most fun - depending on if you are the receiver or the sender) holiday traditions was born out of a friendly holiday cornhole game back in 2007. That year, Mr. Sweetie and I went to World Market (the mecca for ridiculously useless housewares) and found a chicken on the stick. This would be the prize that the cornhole winner would get to take home with them. Needless to say, we all tried to lose. That year, the chicken ended up staying in California and each time we came out to visit, we'd see the chicken laying around the house somewhere and crack a few jokes about it.

Then the chicken made it's way to our house. Mr. Sweetie's parent's were sneaky and left it behind in the guest room after they visited. They made sure to hide it just enough so we wouldn't find it until after they were safely on their plane home. Sneaky.

So we got them back and tried to one-up the sneakiness. Mr. Sweetie arranged a handoff to the person who housesat while the whole family was up in northern CA for Christmas one year. He instructed her to place the chicken on the island in the kitchen, snap a photo, and send it to him. I think we then posted it on Facebook or something and tagged everyone. Or maybe Mr. Sweetie just showed the photo to everyone at the dinner table. Either way, the level of sneakiness had escalated.

During another trip, Allie snuck it into Mr. Sweetie's golf bag, texting us a picture of the chicken next to a sign taped to the golf bag "Off To DC I Go..." We sent the chicken to live at the beach with Jackie. I think it eventually made its way to the Arizona desert to Stephanie's apartment. And then, just a few weeks ago, it made a reappearance to DC. This time with a blinged out beak (have you ever seen something so flashy?), tail feathers, and a santa suit. 

Watch out West Coast Family - we are plotting revenge! 
(though, we will admit, the chicken makes a jolly addition next to the leg lamp)

Don't worry, chicken. We'll be sending you back to CA with a bathing suit and beach umbrella.

10 December 2013

Worst Bike Commute in Bike Commuting History

OK, maybe the title is a little dramatic (I suppose the worst bike commute would be the one where you are run over by a car), but this morning's bike commute in was pure MISERY. For the past few days, meteorologists had been forecasting SNOW for DC during the Tuesday AM commute. They alluded to the fact that, with the timing, it had the potential to become another Commutageddon. Metro is crap on a regular day, so I figured I'd play it safe and take my mountain bike out for a snowy commute to work instead. Faster, more reliable, etc. I woke up this morning and the ground was dry so I rushed to the pool, arriving just after it opened and squeezed in the swim that I wasn't able to do yesterday due to the weather-related late opening. By the time I left the pool, sleet was coming down hard. This isn't going to be pleasant to bike in, but at least I won't have to worry about traffic and egotistical drivers causing traffic jams I thought to myself. By the time I got home and had a quick breakfast, the sleet had turned to big, fat snowflakes. I instantly pictured what my commute in would be like - sure, it may be a little wet on the bike trail from the initial coating of sleet, but besides that, I would be riding my bike in a swirling confection of snow, the only sounds being my tires crunching softly over the coating of snowflakes.

Reality couldn't have been more different.

When will I learn that snow in DC is NOT the pretty, dry, swirling snow you see in movies and in places where it normally snows actual snow, not sleet? The snow here is wet slop that soaks your jacket, drenches your butt from all the tire kickup, and sucks the joy from your soul. Instead of a coating of snowflakes, I rode through puddles. By the time my feet were frozen blocks of wet ice, it was too late for me to bother turning around. And the kicker was that the roads were completely free and clear of anything but puddles - including ice and traffic. Never thought I'd utter these words but gosh I wish I had metro'd today. My feet were the kind of cold where, when you take a lukewarm shower, they tingle and itch as the feeling slowly comes back to them. I looked like a miserable drowned rat when I arrived at the office. I also used the excuse that I didn't want to put wet bike clothes back on to ride home to rope Mr. Sweetie into picking me up from work.

There has never been a day where I wished I wasn't riding my bike. Until today. I get shivers of cold just thinking about my morning. Bleck. I don't care if it is wimpy, but I am never going to willingly ride my bike in borderline freezing weather with precipitation. If it is going to be cold, it must be SUNNY and cold. Or at least dry and cold. DC needs to get with the program when it comes to delivering the proper type of snow.

01 December 2013

A Kid, Cancer, and How to Help One Family

On Wednesday of last week, Mr. Sweetie and I were congratulating ourselves on getting a jump start on our Thanksgiving holiday, making it out to Pittsburgh without having to fight any traffic. We enjoyed a fantastic Thanksgiving-eve dinner of Indian food with his aunt, uncle and three cousins. We were thrilled to be with family, on a mini-vaca, and on the cusp of the holiday season, which is simply the most wonderful time of the year.

At about that same time that Mr. Sweetie and I were sitting down for dinner, my co-worker and friend, Melissa, and her family were receiving devastating news. Their youngest son - two-year old Christopher - was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on Wednesday evening. Melissa had taken him in to the pediatrician to get a fever checked out that afternoon, with no reason to think it was more than just a bug that needed to be nipped in the bud before the holiday. Seven hours later, her and her husband were being told the grim diagnosis by doctors and they settled in for an extended hospital stay.

Melissa was one of the first people I worked with when I started working at my company back in 2009. Her patience, knowledge, and willingness to help me were some of the main reasons I found success on one of the more complex projects I was assigned to. She has been an incredible mentor on every project I've worked on with her and she is someone I hold in very high esteem. In addition to being a great colleague and friend, she is a wonderful mom to her two boys and her and her husband are truly a parental dream team. Remembering what a crummy big sister I was growing up and the sheer mass of sibling rivalry that existed between my brother and I, whenever I talked to Melissa I always asked how her boys were doing and if her older son still loved being a big brother. He did, he absolutely adored his little brother to pieces from day one, and still thinks he is the bomb.com 2.5 years later. They are an extremely close family and Melissa and her husband have done a bang-up job instilling strong values and love in their two kids. The cancer diagnosis is something they will overcome as a family, but boy I wish this was a storm they did not have to weather.

According to a number of medical websites, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia has a survival rate of at least 90%, which is great news. But I still can't fathom how scary this whole experience must be for Melissa and her family. Their lives are changed forever - no sniffle, fever, or bruise will ever be looked at the same again and there will always be that quiet fear, just below the surface, of a relapse, even well-past the 5 year timeframe when the cancer is considered "cured." This isn't going to be an easy or quick journey to a cure and it will be one filled with uncertainty.

I was hoping people who read this could keep Melissa and her family - especially two-year old Christopher - in their thoughts. They are lucky in that they have many wonderful family and friends to be a support system. They also have health insurance, which is great, but unfortunately don't cover everything and there will be some hefty co-pays coming down the pipeline. If you're interested in lessening the financial burden, please feel free to visit the fundraising website that has been set up (you can also see from the photos on the site what a fabulous little kid Christopher is). Any little bit helps and it would be an incredible gift to take away any financial concerns so they can be free to focus completely on Christopher's health.

Cheers to Christopher and his family; cheers to his ability to smile through the treatments; may his recovery be fast AND may the hospital cafeteria rain cups of vanilla ice cream down on him whenever he feels well enough to eat!