Leisure

Lazy Bum

Well I have been really lazy recently when it comes to blogging about my running (or anything else), even though I haven’t been too lazy with the running itself!  I’ve been keeping a tally all year of how far I’ve actually run, partly to help with my training and partly to know when it’s time to buy new running shoes 😀  (which I have just been treated to!) .  I also set myself a goal to see whether I could run as far as New York before we actually visit the city at the end of this month (in fact, in eight days time…).  Having never run a lot before the start of this year (I only started running in July 2013), I didn’t know whether or not this was achievable.  However, I’m pleased to say that I managed my goal (580km) on 12th October, a full six weeks ahead of my deadline.  And here are my new shoes to celebrate (no doubt there will be more excuses for a party when we travel to New York!):

shoes

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Still running…

Just a little update – so far this year I have run 335km, which is as far as from home to Washington DC! And astonishingly 104km of that was during the last 30 days! Time for a short rest I think!!

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Keep on Running

Well the training for the 8k (just over three weeks away) has been going well, despite some terrible weather here over the last month (when it hasn’t been raining torrentially, we’ve been under eight inches of snow) and I’m pleased to say that today I achieved a personal best time of 48 minutes on a practice run.  I think this is largely because I took a completely different route today, as I’ve been fighting boredom and predictability doing the same old same old run (with some small variations) for most of the time.  Considering that when I first started running last summer, my initial time for a 5k was around 48 minutes, I’m really impressed with myself.  What’s more, I’ve calculated that so far in 2014 I have run 116km, which is as far as Colonial Williamsburg.  I’m aiming to run as far as New York (58okm) before we actually go there in November.

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Stranded at the Drive-In

America likes things to be drive-in or drive-thru. It’s like the whole country has an aversion to parking and walking ten feet to get into a shop, let alone actually walking the whole way from home to said shop. When we first arrived, I was amazed to see a drive-thru pharmacy (who doesn’t want browse the shelves in a pharmacy?), a drive-thru library (REALLY, who doesn’t want to spend an hour or two browsing the shelves of their local library; you never know what literary delights you may happen upon), and a drive-thru ATM (in fact, our local bank doesn’t have a walk-up ATM, so despite living only across the street from it I have to get in the car and drive over if I want to get cash out). When we were in North Carolina we even saw a “Brew-Thru” where you pull in to buy alcohol – surely the very definition of drinking and driving.

Anyway, this week we finally went to a drive-in experience that I can understand the point of and I wholly embrace – the drive-in movie. The only experience I have ever had of this before is from watching “Grease” where Sandy & Danny go to see a movie together; in fact my over-riding memory of this is the advert showing the hotdog jumping into the bun ….. anyway, I was quite keen to see if the reality would live up to my expectations. Oh boy it did! Well, we reversed the car into a parking space, popped open the rear window, put down the back seats and lounged back in luxury on pillows and a duvet for two hours. The husband was even wearing his pyjamas. Our view of the giant screen fitted perfectly into the rear window space and we enjoyed popcorn that I’d made at home in the microwave and a couple of shakes from the Sonic Drive-In (of course).

Oh, the film was Oz the Great and Powerful, which was enjoyable (and free of charge) but to be honest it really didn’t matter what we were watching, it was just a brilliant, fun, although slightly surreal, experience. And we didn’t have to stand up for the National Anthem like we do at our usual cinema (that could have been slightly tricky in the boot of the car though, I have to admit). Can’t wait to see what films they have in store for the rest of the summer.

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Staying out for the Summer

Summer officially started on Sunday. It’s been warmish, on and off, for a week or so. Two weeks ago it was still trying to snow. However, I went to my first BBQ of 2013 on Sunday so the season has definitely now kicked off. It was a slightly shaky start, more like a day in the height of British Summer, as the sun swiftly went in within about half an hour of us all sitting down in the back garden – so of course we manfully stayed outside wearing fleeces over our Tshirts and shorts for as long as we could stand it (about another half an hour).

On Monday, however, things moved up a notch as I spent the entire day in a floaty dress and flip flops. I even had to put on sunscreen, and of course the smell of it immediately took me back to last summer when we arrived in the USA. It has felt like a totally different place since the end of October when last summer finished, but suddenly it feels like a holiday destination again.

Today I went for a stroll along the oceanfront. This is the perfect time of year; lovely and sunny but the kids are all still at school and the tourists are still a month or two away from arriving in their hordes so we get all the benefits with none of the annoyances – like not being able to park anywhere. (I know the city largely relies on tourism for its economy, but I don’t so Harrumph and Harroo to that). This afternoon I sat on our balcony for a while but quite honestly it was far too hot and I had to slink back inside after barely an hour.

In celebration of the summer’s arrival I have had to begin Operation Hobbit Hooves. I’ve painted my toenails in an attempt to prettify the HHs. Black, of course, my traditional summer colour.

Expecting thunderstorms on Friday, ahead of a higher than average hurricane season which kicks off in June. Best enjoy the sunshine while I can then!

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And the award goes to …..

It’s awards season. There seem to have been flippin’ hundreds of these shows on recently, on both sides of the Pond. I managed to miss the BAFTAs (although I imagine it mainly involved Stephen Fry being charmingly adorable) however I have seen the Brits and the Grammys and I’m now sitting through the Oscars. I suppose I should be drawing some insightful comparisons between the ceremonies. My current observation is that Russell Crowe can’t sing live, and Anne Hathaway is no Susan Boyle but is still sporting my haircut. So you can tell what sort of incisive comment you will get from me then.

What is it with Americans and late Sunday night events, by the way? Superbowl, Grammys, Oscars – do these people not have jobs to get to on a Monday morning?

I feel in Britain that we have always been taught that America does everything bigger and better and that American things are in some way more important. Like, the Oscars are the pinnacle of the film world but a BAFTA is nice. Now I’ve been in the USA for a while, I’ve realised that this is not the case (no disrespect, USA, I still love ya). The Grammys and Oscars may be bigger but not necessarily better. In the UK we just do things differently. For example, Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift performed at both the Grammys and the Brits, and both ceremonies celebrated the best talent from the respective countries. The difference, I think, is in the style of the shows which is really a reflection of the style of the countries themselves. Britain never takes itself too seriously while America likes to look polished to perfection. Hence Lily Allen happily tweeting before the Brits that she’s forgotten her nipple pads and is going to be late because she’s gone to the wrong address. We love a bit of that in the UK, makes us all feel better about our own slight crapness. I can’t imagine any of the Hollywood actresses sharing any such similar stories, and neither would most American women I have met want them to, as they are busily aspiring to be the best they can be, and good luck to them too.

You wouldn’t see James Corden or his Grammy counterpart sitting on the laps of various boyband members in the audience of an American awards ceremony. However, where else but the Oscars would you get the magic of Harry Potter doing the soft shoe shuffle with the kid who used to be in 3rd Rock From the Sun? Fabulous.

Anyway, I digress. Two hours down, one to go. And the award goes to me, for managing to stay awake right to the end……..

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Jan is Long

And it’s still not over. Traditionally January is the most depressing month for me and many other people. The fact that I haven’t had to stand at a freezing bus stop in the dark twice a day this January has improved it immeasurably, I have to say. Also, even when we have “bad” weather over here, it’s still pretty good; with the icy cold winds and snow we still get blindingly bright sunshine. Strange weather this week, actually. On Monday we went for a lovely bike ride and then had lunch on the beach in shorts and T shirts. On Friday it snowed. This week it’s expected to reach 21c again. How is that even possible in the space of a week?

We had Cornish snow on Friday. What I mean is, it snowed like crazy on Friday afternoon for a couple of hours, enough to ruin everybody’s commute home and plans for a night out, then it had all melted by Saturday morning. Exactly how I remember the snow every year in Cornwall. Only they are even less prepared for the bad weather here in this part of America. They didn’t bother doing any kind of gritting on the roads even though they have the shiny Doppler radar thing that predicts the weather pretty accurately. However they do ensure that all pavements are cleared of snow and ice. For a nation that favours driving over walking, this seems a little lopsided to me.

This month does seem to have dragged like a seal’s posterior. I can’t believe we’re still only in January, and yet another part of me is amazed that it will be February on Friday. Hmmm. I decided at the start of the month that I would make plans to go to the gym every day unless something else came up that I wanted to do instead. Like going out for coffee and cake. Usually my gym classes are on pretty early in the day so there are few clashes with other events. Or perhaps I just have a sad life and don’t get invited out much. Anyway, what this means is that out of 27 days I have been to the gym (or out for a bike ride) on 20. I have never really been a major gym bunny so this is pretty impressive, even if I do say so myself. I’ve just had three days off, going back to the gym today. Partly this was due to the weather but largely because I just felt like having a break. And why not? The thing is, by the third day I realised I felt really grumpy, slightly headachey and a little bit down. I actually wanted to go back to the gym. So today I did, and I felt so much happier for it. What is happening to me??? Please don’t tell me I’ve actually caught this terrible gym bug thing????! Oh my days. Is there a cure?

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Twinkle Twinkle

The weather here is usually dry and rarely cloudy. We’re also fortunate enough that even in January the temperature doesn’t often dip that low. I know, I know, I go on about it a lot. Sorry. The point, however, is that these favourable meteorological conditions afford us many brilliant opportunities for stargazing. When I was dogsitting in December I made the excuse to take the dog out late every night so I could have myself a bit of nightly astronomy. The dog just appreciated the chance for a late night toilet stop. The skies are so clear here that you can see millions of stars (and for once I am probably not exaggerating). The only snag is that there are lots of streetlights and neon signs around where we live, which of course means that one’s night vision is severely compromised.

So last night, the hubby took me on one of the best dates of my life. He was working until just before midnight, so I went to meet him and then we went to our local beach. Just the two of us, two deckchairs, a thermos and a map of the stars. Gazing up at the heavens for half an hour, the view was so good that we actually felt we could see too much, as so many of the less bright stars were clogging our view of the “major” ones that make up the well-known constellations. This was without the help of any telescope or other device. Best highlight was seeing Jupiter, which is really simple as it’s one of the brightest things you can see, but there’s a real sense of achievement in being able to confidently point out a whole other planet to someone else.

I can safely say that my favourite time to be on the beach is now midnight – give me a deserted stretch of midnight sand and some stars over a scorched July midday one full of snotty kids any day.

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Gym’ll Fix It

I decided to join a gym when I arrived here, as it seemed sensible to find something constructive to do with my plentiful free time.  It has been interesting to see the differences between the gym I use here and the one back in the UK.  The classes are, of course, pretty similar (there are only so many variations of the same exercises after all) although just named differently.  Chisel is my current favourite, which is a mix of step & Body Pump and gives an all-round good toning class with a little cardio.  I’ve also been doing Spin, which has both advantages and disadvantages over the RPM that I used to do in the UK.  RPM is highly choreographed, with eight specific tracks in a class that is done for ten weeks until a new eight tracks are introduced.  This means that you really get to measure your progress, although for me and my short attention span it gets really boring and predictable after about week three, which makes it a lot harder to keep going.  Spin, certainly in the gym I’m now attending, is different every single week, with seemingly random tracks each week and also with a different teacher for nearly every class.  This keeps things fresh and interesting but you can’t really challenge yourself or measure how well you are doing.  RPM seems more varied, with specific tracks for speed or for hills, whereas Spin has a lot of tracks where you just go Stand Up, Sit Down, Stand Up, Sit Down every couple of seconds…. probably very good for the thigh muscles but really uncomfortable and annoying.  The best thing about Spin, for me, is the music.  Actually this goes for all the classes in my new gym.  They have realised that you can work out to guitar-based music instead of that bang-bang-dance-noise-stuff that invades all exercise classes in the UK.  The other day in one Spin class we had Mumford & Sons, the Beatles and Metallica.  I can tell you, it’s so much easier to race really fast to a song that you really enjoy (in this case, “Enter Sandman”).  Far nicer than the old RPM track 5 that sounded like a blender.

The weird thing about the gym here is their unwillingness to put on the air-con or even the fans half the time.  Given the fact that it was regularly around 35C and really humid in July/August, this seems madness.  It did probably mean that I sweated out a lot more lard and toxins than I might otherwise have done, I suppose.

The weights in the gym are all measured in pounds rather than the kilos that we used in the UK.  I can’t always convert the measurements very well in my head, so I have no idea half the time whether I’m tricking myself into using heavier weights or whether I’m cheating myself.  It sounds a lot more impressive to be using a 10lb weight than a 4.5kg one though.

I’m pleased to say that this gym malarkey is paying off.  In the last six weeks or so I have lost 4 pounds and, more importantly for me, around 3% of body fat.  As a vegetarian it’s quite hard to eat interesting food that isn’t laced in sauces or cheese etc, as you can’t just have a plain grilled piece of meat or fish etc.  My body fat has gone from the low end of “Poor” to the low end of “Fair”.  Yippee!  I don’t think the improvements are just due to the gym.  I’m also using Frankie the Bike to get around as much as I can, plus I’m no longer chained to a desk from 9-5.  This means I don’t sit and eat out of boredom, I don’t have to eat at midday whether I’m hungry or not just because that’s my designated lunch hour, and I can generally keep moving around instead of being stuck in a chair for 8 hours.  I may need to get a job as a cycle courier when I get back to the UK.

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The Mighty Busch

Had a lovely day at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.  Possibly a strange choice for someone who doesn’t like going on rollercoasters and other such rides.  Indeed I did spend a large portion of my day holding the bags while my friends went on the stupid rides.  I wasn’t entirely left out though.  Oh no, I went on the Teacups!  (Bit fast and spinny, but I coped.)

This is Busch Gardens Europe and it was highly amusing having a wander around the Americans’ idea of “England” and “Scotland”.  Also a little bit weird seeing an actual red telephone box again.  Haven’t even seen one of those in the UK for a while now.  As well as all the rollercoasters, Busch Gardens also has animals, and in “Scotland” one of these was the Border Collie.  Not really what I would expect to see in a zoo, but hey.  Slightly odd seeing sheep grazing in a field too, as this is something you do not see at all in the US.

The best bit was the wolf cubs.  They were three and a half months old, but rather than the cute little puppies you might expect, they were the size of fully grown German Shepherds.  You could easily  mistake them for the same, apart from the piercing blue eyes.  In fact, one family on a holiday somewhere in the American Midwest did exactly that and, thinking the little pup they had stumbled across was a GS that had got lost, took it into their mobile home overnight before taking it to a vet the next day.  The vet realised it was a wolf, and potentially dangerous, and this pup has now ended up living in Busch Gardens as it couldn’t be released back into the wild.  The wolf cubs here have a domestic dog as their surrogate mother at the moment, who is teaching them pack behaviour so that they can be successfully integrated into the larger existing pack at Busch Gardens eventually.  I could have sat and watched them all day, they are so enchanting.

The American Eagles were pretty cool too, and rather large.  They would have been a bit more impressive if they didn’t totally remind me of Sam from the Muppets.

Busch Gardens has a daily pet show, which was really good.  It only lasts about twenty minutes and has at least 20 animals participating, so each one is on for a very short amount of time and in most cases does nothing other than run across the stage, so they are certainly not overworked.  All the animals have come from local rescue centres and are now given lots of love and care at Busch Gardens.  As well as cats and dogs they also have pigs and ducks.  I was particularly impressed by the parrot that could do maths.  There’s got to be some trick to it, but I couldn’t figure it out….

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