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23
How to rock your 1st half marathon
zooma texas half marathon 2013

Oh yes I DID go outside that orange cone.

In case you haven’t been keeping up with my obnoxious running updates, I completed my first half marathon in March. Then I turned around and ran a 10k the first week of April. So obviously I’m an expert now in all the running things.

Or I learned a lot by trial and error and wanted to pass on my new found wisdom.

Or I’m a self absorbed boob. You pick.

So here are my tips on ROCKING your first half marathon. Or your second. Or third. Or a 10k. Jog around the block. Whatever.

Uh…Register for the race

This is a given, right? Well…The whole story is that when I was asked to participate in ZOOMA as a blog ambassador, they said they would register us closer to the race (benefits of being an ambassador: free entry!). Then I somehow completely missed the email that had minor details like pre race parties and OH YEAH NOW IS THE TIME TO REGISTER HERE’S YOUR COMP CODE.

So whether you’re an ambassador or not, make sure you get yourself signed up for the race you intend to run. Because you may not have folks as nice as Erika or the dude in the blue hat to squeeze you in at the last minute with no (audible) complaints.

Train

Few are the people who can show up at a race and just knock out 13 miles without training for weeks. I used the Hal Higdon Novice 1 training plan because it was the first one someone suggested to me, and I short circuit when given too many choices. It worked out great but they’re all pretty much the same give or take. It’s hard, monotonous, but worth it.

If there was one thing I would do differently, I would have incorporated more cross training. It was in my plan, but I usually blew it off. Training for a race is about more than just running, it’s about all around fitness. But seriously, I had a hard enough time working my runs in, so when it came to cross training, I embraced my inner Sweet Brown. “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

And with training comes rest. Getting up to run at 6:30ish really sucks when you went to bed at midnight or later. Trust me.

Zooma texas half marathon 2013

A fuzzy little pre-dawn, pre-race photo with my friend and fellow ambassador Missy, from Wonder Friend.

Get support

I could not have done this without the help of my husband, but it took us a long time to find a groove, especially for the early morning weekday runs. My guy, he is not a morning person. If he had to get up and feed the kids breakfast in my absence, he was grumpy. If I fed them and then tried to go once he got up, he was grumpy because he had to get ready for work. As supportive of he was of me running this race, we had to come to a compromise. We finally found the perfect solution: Sesame Street. They would watch, I would run. They were learning, I was dreaming of the delicious breakfast that would await me when I returned. That last part never happened. But he got his last minutes of sleep in, I didn’t feel as guilty, and no one felt the need to kill anyone.

Training for a half marathon is a commitment, and it takes a lot of time. Your other half has to be on board. I joke about our morning situation, but on the flip side, when my long runs came up on the weekends, I was all, “See ya!” and enjoyed my two hours of alone time.

Get in with other runners

Find a running buddy who runs at your pace even if it’s only for a few runs. I have always run alone, but this Runners World article advises that it’s good to mix it up.

If you can find an online running support group, join it, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Seasoned runners love helping newbies. Having the other Zooma ambassadors and Muscle Milk Light Half Marathon Challenge girls to turn to when I needed advice or just a kick in the pants really kept me going. I also love to take part in #runchat on Twitter when I can.

Get the gear

running gear

Buying new stuff is fun when you don’t get sticker shock that is. Running can be expensive! I honestly wasn’t banking on having to get a whole new wardrobe for this gig, but you have to invest in a few quality things.

  • Shoes — I  bought a new pair of shoes, nothing fancy, when I first started training in November. Come February I had plum worn out the inside soles of them from my overpronation and was experiencing a lot of pain. So I forked over about $100 for my Asics DS Trainers that I got fitted for at Luke’s Locker. That part hurt too, but at least the pain in my feet went away.
  • Clothes — Compression capris, running shorts, tech shirts, NO COTTON, headbands, hats…soon enough instead of perusing the women’s clothes at Target, you’ll head straight for the running clothes.
  • GPS tools — I use Runkeeper on my phone, but a Garmin is on my wish list. Ahem.
  • Earbuds — Never underestimate the value of a good pair of headphones. I’ve tried all kinds, but these Sony Sweet Little Buds are the best fit for my ears.

Embrace your pace

10 minute mile? Go you! 12 minute mile? Fantastic! 8 minute mile? Holy shit! I’ll see you at the finish line, after you’ve had plenty of time to recover and get a massage and maybe a pedicure while you wait.

I’m mostly a 10 minute miler, give or take, but at Zooma I averaged an 11 minute mile. The crowds at the starting line will sometimes slow you down. I fell into a comfortable pace behind various packs of runners, and a little over halfway through I realized I was behind the 2:30 pacers. I knew I definitely wanted to finish under that time, so I picked it up a little. And then slowed down again when I hit that damn golf course. *shakes fist at the heavens*

You’ve trained hard for this race. If you don’t have a buddy that runs your pace, then fly solo and enjoy the company of strangers. Running faster or slower than you have trained for will either overexert you or make you wonder if you could pushed it a little harder.

My friend Lisa wrote a fantastic post about embracing your pace on the Zooma blog. Must read.

Race without GPS

On race day, turn off your GPS tracking device. I usually use Runkeeper, but opted to rely solely on the mile markers along the route. I was afraid I would get discouraged if the Runkeeper lady told me I was going slower than my normal pace, and I needed to have a good run.

Dress your best

Wear something that’s comfortable that you love and feel good in, that you know works for a long run. You’ll be getting your photo taken a lot. Shallow, but true.

And go commando!  One word: chafing. In places that were not meant to be chafed. Embrace the panty free lifestyle! At least for the run. Please put them back on later when we meet for lunch.

Have good roommates

This is only for those traveling gigs, but having good roommates is key.

You know, the ones who will inevitably keep you up too late chatting, and especially ones with whom you are perfectly comfortable saying,

“Okay, guys. Just letting you know…I’m headed in for my pre-race poop.”

But most of all….

Have fun!

This is your first half marathon.  You’ve trained hard. You’re ready. But don’t forget to enjoy it. Take some pictures. Jam to your music. Have a good race.

zooma texas half marathon 2013 bluebonnets

Thanks to Lisa, Angela, Missy, and she who shall not be named for all the input! Now when’s your next race?

 

 If it’s an Amazon link it’s an affiliate. Because why not?

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13
Iconic Austin signs

Austin is a visual town. Colorful, vibrant, and full of art, there’s always something interesting around the next turn.

It’s also a town that’s struggled with some growing pains. Parts of town straddle the fence between old and new, crumbling and up and coming, hippie and modern. But this push and pull is a lot of what makes Austin Austin.

One of my favorite visual things about this town is the multitude of unique, offbeat signs and murals that jump out at you, especially in Central and South Austin. Here are a few of my favorite iconic signs that have that Austin flair we all fell in love with.

austin city limit sign

The original. I’ve lived here for over 15 years, and I’ve always felt a buzz when I enter the city limits from a road trip. It’s home.

greetings from austin mural

A postcard on a wall, the Greetings from Austin sign is a sought after photo destination for young couples and families alike. I’d love to drag my kids there and have them not smile for a photo op someday.

Austin Alamo Drafthouse

For those of you who have an Alamo Draft House in your town, you’re welcome. I mean, I’m not DIRECTLY related to the growth and spread of this awesome movie theater chain, but I can take SOME credit since I pretty much see movies here exclusively. There have been a lot of knock offs, but nothing beats the original. I love the old movie theater feel of this sign.

austin motel sign

Not only is the Austin Motel an Austin icon, it’s sign looks like a…well…you know.

austin i love you so much

The “I love you so much” graffiti on the side of Jo’s Hot Coffee on South Congress is a fairly new Austin icon. Story is the owner, Liz Lambert, was having a bad day, so her girlfriend, musician Amy Cook, spray painted the phrase on the side of the building. After the sign was vandalized in 2011, the wall was repainted green and the words eventually recreated by Cook and Lambert. It has remained untouched. This is Austin, y’all.

austin top notch

You’ve seen Dazed and Confused, right? You knew it was filmed here in Austin, right? (You also knew I was in a show with one of the cast members, right???) I can’t drive past this place without signing “Slow Ride.”

Can you tell murals are a thing here?  You may have seen this character on Kurt Cobain back in the day. The “Hi, How Are You frog,” also known as Jeremiah the Innocent, was an illustration on musician Daniel Johnson’s 1983 album “Hi, How Are You: The Unfinished Album.” Local record shop Sound Exchange commissioned Johnson to paint the image on their exterior wall in 1993, where it has remained since. Sound Exchange is no longer there, and when a restaurant moved into the building and tried to have the wall removed, neighborhood residents banded together and convinced the owners to leave the mural intact.

austin El Arroyo sign

Exiting Mopac and pulling onto 5th Street is one of my favorite drives, thanks to El Arroyo and their ever changing sign. Other fave phrases: “Be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Then be Batman,” “Rhinos are just fat unicorns,” and “Dumbledore dies. We just saved you $25.” They also have a reputation for political and social commentary that can be a bit tacky, but most of the time they give me a good laugh.

austin zombies ahead

 Finally, we have classic Austin. A road sign was hacked one morning warning traffic of an incoming nazi zombie apocalypse. Zombies are  bad enough, but nazi zombies? The whole town got a good laugh out of this one before it was inevitably restored. What can I say? We embrace the weird.

 

Does your town have any iconic or historic signs that you would hate to see go?

 

This post is sponsored by my new sponsor Signazon.com. Visit them for signs, banners, car magnets, decals, and more. As usual, all opinions and words and things are my own.

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28
Any excuse to eat chocolate

Here’s a conversation I had with a friend recently:

Her: Do you ever do reviews on your blog?

Me: Nah, not really.

Her: I’ll give you free chocolate.

Me: SOLD.

I’m not a huge fondue person, but my friend Vanessa sells these Velata warmers, and she just made it sound like the best thing since sliced bread (seriously, whoever thought to slice that stuff — GENIUS), so I had to give it a spin. And you know, the free chocolate and all.

Velata warmers are a simple take on the fondue concept, created by the folks at Scentsy. Instead of a traditional fondue pot that uses a burner (dangerous!), the Velata warmer is an electric warmer with a patent pending silicone dish, heated by a good old fashioned light bulb. Thomas Edison never saw this coming, y’all.

velata warmer chocolate fondue scentsy

So here’s how it works: You just plug on your sassy looking Velata warmer, melt your Velata premium chocolate in it’s little microwave pouch, pour it into the silicone dish, and dip dip dip to your heart’s content with strawberries, pretzels, bananas, marshmallows, whatever you want. The plus was that when we ran out of strawberries and my kids inevitably stuck their fingers in it, it wasn’t SO hot that it burned them. [Disclaimer: Don't sue me if you or your kids get burned. Maybe mine have a high tolerance for heat. We do live in Texas.]

We had a chance to try the warmer and all four kinds of chocolate offered, and I have to say, it was a fun little experiment. Not only will you be the coolest mom on the block when you bust it out for the occasional snack time treat, but you have an immediate go-to item to being to parties. The warmer is small and portable, yet still enough chocolate for several people.

We christened this warmer at a Super Bowl party. Chocolate + multiple small children = good times. Except for the one 4 year old who doesn’t like chocolate I REPEAT SHE DOES NOT LIKE CHOCOLATE.

Anyway, this first time I tried it the old fashioned (read: the really time consuming) way, cut open the bag of chocolate and placed the chips into the warmer to melt., because I didn’t want to waste any chocolate. It took about 45 minutes for it all to melt. Then I was all, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” and used my microwave for subsequent uses. Trust me, I didn’t miss that small amount of chocolate that I may have wasted doing it that way.

velata nior warmer chocolate fondue scentsy

velata nior warmer chocolate fondue scentsy

Milk chocolate was by far my favorite. Velata uses premium Belgian chocolate that is designed to melt beautifully and stay the perfect temperature for dipping, with no fillers or oils. I’m a huge dark chocolate fan, and the dark was good, but better in small doses. The white chocolate was delicious with strawberries and pretzels. Caramel milk, one of the company’s most popular flavors, ended up being my least favorite, but that didn’t stop me from nomnomnoming on it more than I probably should have.

velata nior warmer chocolate fondue scentsy

velata nior warmer chocolate fondue scentsy

Real men toast their chocolate fondue. And like it.

Now if I had been more crafty or organized, I would have created some beautiful Velata inspired treats to show off on this here blog. But unfortunately I’m more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pantser, so we mainly did a lot of dipping and eating. But Vanessa has some great ideas on how you can use the product for more than just dipping and eating.

velata chocolate warmer ideas

Clockwise from left: package of hot cocoa with chocolate dipped marshmallows and a chocolate-filled spoon for teacher’s valentine, place a cookie cutter in the warmer to create fun shapes with 2 types of chocolate, chocolate dipped rice crispie treats for teacher’s valentine.

She’s so crafty. But seriously, I bet those teachers loved those valentines! And there are tons more ideas for end of the year gifts, Christmas gifts, Mother’s Day. I mean really, do we need an excuse to give the gift of chocolate? You can even add on accessories like fondue forks, plates, and bowls. And don’t forget a lid for your silicone bowl so you can refrigerate your leftover chocolate and save it for later. We did this just about every time we tried a new flavor.

AND THEN! Breaking news while this post was still in draft! The people spoke, and Velata listened, and what those people wanted was CHEEEEEEESE. Velata is offering four flavors of cheese: classic cheddar, smoke gouda, fiesta queso, and BACON CHEDDAR. That’s right. I said bacon. I’ll say it again. Bacon. Cheese will be available April 1, 2013.

So you’re dying for some chocolately and/or cheesy melty goodness now, aren’t you? Me too. Visit Simply Dipping to choose which of the 3 different styles suits your sassy personality. And for the month of March, all products are 10% off! Just visit Simply Dipping, click “buy,” and select the Genie in a Blog partay and shop to your chocolate loving heart’s content!

 

Legal jargon: I was lent a Velata chocolate warmer to try, along with 4 flavors of chocolate, in exchange for this review. All opinions and words and things are 100% my own.

 

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25
Discouraged and blergy

grumpy face

I’m grumpy.

I’m hitting a wall in my half marathon training, and I’m getting discouraged  (I know y’all are so over me talking about this, but it’s a big part of my life right now. Can we still be friends?). There will be no inspiration or life lesson from this post today (joke’s on you — there never is!), nor am I looking for your pity and assurance that I can do this. Scratch that. I will take your pity. And heck, I won’t even turn away your encouragement.

Last week when I ran 6.25 miles for the first time, I was on cloud 9. I felt great the entire time. I felt like a badass afterward. I wondered if I’d hit that runner’s high that I’d heard so much about. But best of all, I felt like I could do this half marathon.

Today I’m feeling less confident and rather blergy.

Since then my runs have ranged from “meh” to “Like, OUCH,” most recently ending in ”ERMAHGERD THIRS SERKS!” My right foot’s inner arch hurts, making my ankle hurt, and radiating up my leg. I can’t depend on my right leg for any strength during a run. Stepping off a curb or over some wacky terrain the wrong way could possibly cause my whole leg to give out. Hopefully no one will be watching when that happens. OR maybe they will be, and I just might make someone’s day. SILVER LINING, Y’ALL.

I had a shoe fitting at Luke’s Locker at our Zooma training kickoff a few weeks ago. Shannon was super knowledgeable and really took a hard look at how I walked and jogged, inspected my shoes for signs of how I run, and thank God I had on good socks that day so she wasn’t subjected to my normally dingy whites. It’s the little things. She told me that I slightly overpronate and fitted me for a light stability shoe. I decided to wait until I could justify spending $115 on shoes, and unfortunately I think that time has come. Last time I bought a pair of shoes that cost that much I was a carefree teenager and Doc Martens were still in style.

It’s probably the pain talking, but since no run has been good like the one I mentioned above, I’m feeling down and discouraged. I love that I’m training for this race. I’ve always “meant” to register for a race, but never actually did. This gives me something to shoot for. Training for something gives me a goal and a challenge, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it when the girls run down the street calling out, “Look! I’m essercising!”

But it’s proving to be quite challenging indeed. How naive of me to think I could just go out and train for this thing with no real knowledge of the sport. How silly I was to think there would be no ill effects on my body and that I, of all people, could avoid injury. I’ve been to the ER 10+ times in my life. Avoiding injury just isn’t something I do.

So this means I’m now looking into things like compression socks, Trigger Point, calf sleeves, and MY BRAIN IS ABOUT TO EXPLODE. And my leg still hurts.

I have 7 miles on the calendar this weekend — meaning Sunday since I’ll be at MomCom Austin all day Saturday. Check in with me Sunday night to see if I’m still alive, mkay? And let me know if you’ve ever hit a wall during training where you just didn’t feel like you could — or wanted to — go any further.

 

 

 

 

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24
A running playlist (for the music snobs)

Now if only I could get a portly man on a scooter to ride along next to me.

I’ve been running. A lot. I’m chugging right along in my Zooma half marathon training. Some days I think I’m gonna rock this half! Other days I think This totally sucks, I’ll surely never make it. But thanks to the fact that I commit to things almost to a fault, I’ll be there and attempt my 13.1 miles. I may hobble across the finish line resembling Simon Pegg in Run, Fat Boy, Run, but I will cross that finish line.

Even on my hardest run days, a good running playlist makes the difference between a decent run and a shitty one. I don’t necessarily need thump thump pump it up tunes to keep me going — just something that I love. Some may be fast, some may be slow, but it has to my mind wander so I’m not thinking about RUNNING ALL THE MILES! It doesn’t necessarily mean that the run is easy, but it definitely makes it more enjoyable. Although you may want to check with me after my run today to see if I still feel that way.

Whenever I’m stuck and ask around to see what I should put on my running playlist, I get a lot of Ke$ha! P!nk! Britney! But those aren’t my cup of tea. I’m just not a top 40 pop music gal. So if you’re a bit of a music snob like me, here’s a playlist that will hopefully keep you going during your run. I usually just put my iPhone on shuffle, so these are in no particular order, although you definitely want Black Joe Lewis’s Boogie in the middle for when you need a boost.

 

What’s on YOUR running playlist? (I won’t judge if you say Ke$ha.)

 

Helena Beat – Foster the People.

Intervention — Arcade Fire. Live from Austin City Limits, no less (the show, not the festival).

Mountain Sound — Of Monsters and Men. Totally not what I expected these guys to look like. Also, do all Icelandic chicks look alike?

O.N.E. – Yeasayer

Sad Sad City – Ghostland Observatory. Another one live from Austin City Limits.

Boogie — Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. Live from Waterloo Records here in Austin. This song will get you GOING. It’s a good starting song, but a GREAT song for those times when you’re lagging in the middle of a run.

Time to Pretend – MGMT

Wild One – Thos Darlins. Also, this is totally my kids’ theme song.

Calamity Song – The Decemberists

Fader – Temper Trap

Tongue Tied – Grouplove

Australia – The Shins

Take a Walk – Passion Pit

*****************************************************

Leigh Ann Torres

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14
Halfway there

This was how I spent my Sunday morning:

runkeeper app

I was apprehensive about this run. It was just last weekend that I had upped my distance to 5 miles, after hovering at the 4-ish mark for way too long. I kept thinking, Okay, I’m at 4. I have to figure out how to run 9 more???

Talk about daunting.

When I hit 5 miles last weekend, it wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t too great either. I was supposed to do 5 again on Saturday, but we were deep into Operation Big Girl Bed the entire day, and I barely squeezed in a 3 miler before dinner. No way was I ready for 6 miles on Sunday.

Maybe I’ll just do 5 again, I said. Maybe 5.5.

So much of this training thing is a mind game. I’ll never be able to run 6 miles. I can’t imagine running for an hour straight. The thing is, the part of your mind that KNOWS you can do it has to be louder than the part of your mind that tries to convince you that you can’t.

I ran for an entire hour, and finished 6.25 miles. Even I was amazed at my pace. When I was training for Tough Mudder over the summer and running on treadmills at the YMCA, I was barely clocking an 11 minute mile. Whether or not I can keep this pace for 13.1 miles in the hilly Zooma half, I’m not sure. But I can’t stop thinking about how fantastic this run felt. Not once did I feel like I was going to die. Not once did I have to convince myself to keep going. I just did.

And afterward, I was on top of the world. I ran 6.25 miles!

So I’m halfway there. Halfway to a half marathon. As many times as I’ve told myself I wanted to be a runner, I never fathomed actually making it this far and feeling this good about it. I mean, I imagined I would, but making it happen is another story. Along with training my body, I’m also training myself to listen to that part of my mind that knows I can do this. Or at least training it to be louder than the other part.

Also, running 6.25 miles got me this:

foot massage

Yes, that’s my husband, lovingly soaking and washing my feet. He’s a keeper, for sure.

 

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14
I ran today, and you can too
luke's locker race bibs

Gorgeous display of race bibs hanging from the ceiling of Luke’s Locker.

Austin is a fit city. I’m talking FIT. Everywhere you go, especially downtown, people are milling around, basking in their high levels of moisture wicking fabrics and low levels of body fat. It can be a tad intimidating.

I’ve fallen a little behind on my training. It’s been cold here in Austin. Laugh all you want, northerners, but we weren’t build for near freezing temps, and we’ve barely gotten out of the low 40s for the past 2 weeks or so. It’s for this reason that I’ve slacked on my running, and I’m glad I padded a few extra weeks in my 12 week training schedule. Looks like I’m going to need them. But what I’ve noticed — and I never predicted — is that I enjoy these cold weather runs. I huddle in my bed in the mornings, reluctant to get out and expose myself to the icy air, but once I get going, I’m fine. Better than fine. Each time I tell myself to remember this feeling. Because I much prefer running in it than the heat and humidity of summer.

So it’s time to get back in the saddle, cold weather or not. Little known fact (because I didn’t tell anyone): I lost about 10 pounds this past fall, more as a result of changing my diet than increasing my activity. I didn’t say anything online because I have follow through issues. I start a lot of things. I don’t finish a lot of things. But I felt so good in the fall, good in my clothes, good on my runs, good in my body. The battery on my scale went out right before the holidays started, but I don’t need it to tell me that a few pounds have found their way back on. So no more slacking. Back to watching my food intake. I’m actually relieved that Christmas is over, and baking season along with it.

Saturday we kicked off training for the Zooma Texas Half Marathon and 5K at Luke’s Locker. Luke’s is right off of the trail at Lady Bird Lake, and is one of THE BEST running stores in Austin. Also maybe the only real running store I’ve ever been in, but still. I was wearing compression capris, so I think I kinda fit in. It’s a very cool place, and the perfect location to kick off our training with an easy 5k run along Lady Bird Lake.

There was a time with I never would have said the words “easy” and “5k run” in the same sentence. And though I’m not up to the double digits in my mileage yet, I’ve run this distance enough times that I don’t sweat it. (I totally sweat it. I sweat a lot. You’re welcome.) It was nice to be able to enjoy the scenery a bit instead of struggling with my breathing or lamenting the fact that I forgot my sunglasses and now everyone could see my huffy puffy run face. It ain’t pretty.

As usual, the trail was full of runners, but not crowded. The lake was calm, with only a few ripples here and there from the slight breeze. We cut through the crisp air alongside it in small groups, and there was that thing where I almost led the whole group the wrong way. Worst race ambassador ever.

After the run, we headed back into Luke’s for snacks, prize drawing, shoe fittings from their incredible staff (I slightly over pronate, you?), and massages yes massages. I think I definitely picked the right race to be a part of.

So I went for a run today in the cold, and I was rewarded with food, swag, and an ass kicking from a masseuse. But I went for a run today. And you can too. Run. Walk. Jog. Bike. Skip. Do cartwheels. I don’t care what you do, just do something.

Here’s to officially kicking off our Zooma training. It’s only two and a half-ish months to race day, March 23, and I have a lot of work to do. We’d still love to have you join us. Go here to register, and use the code TXAMB5 to get 10% off. Just don’t follow me on the trail. I have no idea where I’m going.

Here are some hasty, blurry shots from my run today. I need a shirt that says “WARNING: BLOGGER”  so it might somewhat explain my constant photogging and probably also my tripping over things and practically catapulting myself into the water. Totally worth it for these money shots.

Lady Bird Lake trail

Lots o’ runners out there in this fit city.

 

Lady Bird Lake Hike and bike trail

A rare moment of solitude on the trail.

Lady Bird Lake Hike and bike trail

 

 

 

 

 

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6
Santa through the ages

At four and a half, Rachel and Claire are VERY into Santa this year. They get more excited to see him. They’re catching onto stories in books and movies about Santa bringing toys to all the girls and boys. Do I discourage this thinking? Not really. It’s fun. We don’t use Santa as a threat, and we don’t own an Elf on the Shelf that “reports” back to Santa each night. He’s just a jolly old holiday fellow who maybe drops a few unwrapped presents under the tree.

santa2008

2008. My all time favorite Santa picture. As the photographer was asking me to look at the hideous photo she had just taken, I looked up, saw this, and said, “TAKE IT NOW!!!”

As a kid I remember telling a friend at school that I rushed into the living room one night and caught the edge of Santa’s boot slipping up the chimney. She had a similar tale, surely the reason we felt the need to one up each other. I was maybe 6? 7?

santa 2009

2009. I don’t know what’s worse: the fact that Claire has her hand firmly on Santa’s “package,” or the demure, flirty look on Rachel’s face.

One Christmas morning we went into the kitchen to find a note from the big guy himself, next to a plate of crumbs that used to be cookies. He thanked us for the treats and the milk, and said he hoped we enjoyed our gifts. Even Rudolph had taken the time to sign his name, with what opposable thumbs I have no idea. But we squealed with joy and giggles at the thought of this magic entering our home. I don’t remember how old I was. It’s quite possible I already had that inkling feeling that Santa was not what the stories made him out to be. Three years my senior, my sister surely knew.

santa 2010

2010. I have no words for this picture. Claire’s ridiculously messy hair, her continuing aversion to this strange man with a beard, Rachel’s slumped posture, both of their drugged up looks…I guess I do have a few words for it. The only saving grace in this photo is Zoe. Also the last year we went to see a mall Santa. Too much rush, too much money, and not nearly enough talking about toys.

I don’t remember a specific time when I stopped believing in Santa, a concrete fact or event that made me realize it was all a ruse. It was more gradual than that. As I aged I think I kinda realized that one man traveling around the entire world in one night with a massive bag of toys was a bit far fetched. I think it may have had something to do with the introduction of wrapped presents under the tree, bearing tags that read “To: Leigh Ann, From: Santa,” clearly in my parents’ handwriting. I don’t remember being crushed or devastated. Maybe a little disappointed, but even at that young age, I knew the purpose was for fun, not deception or trickery. I credit my parents for not ever telling us that our receiving presents depended on whether or not we were naughty or nice. Because if it ever comes up with my kids, it’s me. I’m  the one who’s not going to get you any presents if you keep hitting your sister upside the head with your baby doll.

Santa 2011

2011. We bid farewell to the mall Santa with his jacked up prices. Unfortunately the photography was now left up to me. But they got to talk about toys that year dammit. Look how happy they are.

Right now my girls believe in Santa, not because he brings them toys, not because he and he alone knows what they want, and not because we tell them that whether or not they get those coveted things depends on them “being good.” I expect them to be good, love their sisters, and respect their parents and other adults at all times, not just in December. They believe in Santa because Santa is one of the many things that indicates Christmas. I truly believe that my girls feel the magic of the holidays, in the lights, the music, and the joy of the season.

2012. No one could prepare Santa for this crazy crew, but he held his own. Very close second to the 2008 photo. Because for some reason, this Santa seemed REAL, even to me. (Photo courtesy of redsanta.org.)

We’re not deeply religious, but we do celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ. Still, I’m okay with Santa being real for now. There will come a day when I’ll get asked if I think it’s ridiculous that a morbidly obese man zips around in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer and delivers toys to every child in the world. But I don’t think it’s all that much more ridiculous than a gigantic bunny delivering chocolate (to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection?) or a fairy collecting your teeth in exchange for money.

Santa is just one of the many magical aspects of Christmas. So I let them believe.

The very Merriest of Christmases, Happiest of Holidays, and a very jolly Festivus for the Rest of Us. I’m thankful for each and every one of you who stop by here from time to time. Your readership means the world to me in my little corner of the blogosphere.

*****************************

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12
Don’t trust foods with WOW in the name

When I went away to college, I went away to college. Not far, but I embraced college life with full gusto. I lived in the largest dorm in the country (used to have its own zip code) at the largest university in the country.

College holds so many new experiences, even beyond the underage drinking and the harsh realization that no one cares if you don’t do your homework. I loved it. I was all “Wow! College!” These were my people. And the closet authority figure was our resident assistant down the hall, who was wise beyond her years and OMG so old at 21. (Engineering major. You know the type.) (Or was it microbiology? Hell, I don’t remember. It was nerdy.)

In that new school year, I made new friends, went to frat parties, dated a boy, ate in the cafeteria,…I even studied now and then. But it was in that cafeteria, specifically in the “late night” meal time, that my friends introduced me to the wonder that was…Wow Rings.

“You haven ‘t even been to Jester Late Night?”  They made it sound like some kind of deep fried comedy hour.

So in the interest of seeing what the fuss was all about, I decided to check out this Jester Late Night phenomenon and experience these Wow Rings for myself.

Picture this: Chicken. In ring form. Breaded and deep fried, like a nugget, but so totally not. It was a ring.

A Wow Ring. Because WOW.

baby chicks

Neon colored baby chicks, also unnatural.

It became a bit of a ritual. A few nights a week, my friends and I would sweat it out in a few games of racket ball in the gym across the street, then in order to make up for all those calories we just burned, we’d stop by the cafeteria and snag ourselves some Wow Rings and fries. Probably a soda too, because we were nineteen and HFCS wasn’t even a blip on our radars.

They were sinfully delicious, but we had no regrets. We nommed on those rings like we had the metabolism of a marathon runner, who ironically wouldn’t even be caught dead anywhere near a Wow Ring. They were little circles of heaven, breaded and deep fried, and dipped in even more liquid calories. Ketchup. BBQ sauce. I introduced everyone around me to the magic of dipping things in ranch dressing. We probably would have dipped them in straight up lard if it tasted half decent.

And let me remind you that it was dubbed “Late Night.” It was the fourth meal long before Taco Bell snagged that hellacious tag line. It didn’t even open until 9 pm, and you can bet that about 87% of the Late Night occupants needed a little Visine. (If you know what I’m saying.) (And I think you do.) (Don’t you?)

Which pretty much explains why when I went home for the summer and resumed my retail job, one of my super thoughtful co workers exclaimed, “Well, Leigh Ann looks like she’s put on a little weight since she was last here!”

WOW indeed.

 

Also, do you remember Lay’s Wow Chips? I do. So does my toilet. 

Also also, don’t Google images of Wow Rings unless you want to be inundated with images of rings from World of Warcraft and OMG nerrrrrrrrrdsssssssss!

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19
The hills are alive with the sound of my kids coughing

I love living in Austin. This town is chock full of fun things to do, year round.

Every summer in Zilker Park (it’s like Austin’s Central Park, only smaller, and with slightly fewer transients) the Zilker Theater Productions puts on a Zilker Summer Musical at the Zilker Hillside Theater. Are there enough Zilkers in that sentence for you?

Even the eleventy billion degree summer heat can’t keep Austinites down. We may complain, but we still go out and sweat in it. And complain. But I’ve always wanted to attend one of the summer musicals, and this year’s production of The Sound of Music seemed like the perfect opportunity.

And confession: I’ve never actually seen The Sound of Music. I know! Blasphemy.

I was nervous because when I mentioned on Facebook at about 6pm that we were going, several people warned that I might already be too late to get a good seat. The show started at 8:30. WTF? Classic Austin. You have to show up 5 hours early to get a decent seat to anything in this town, and it would be just like us to underestimate how crowded the place would be.

But we met up with our friends, claimed a good spot, and settled in for the long haul. We still had about an hour to go before showtime. Asking three 4 year olds and two 2 year olds to wait an hour is like asking…well, there’s actually no comparison to that. It’s horrible.

sound of music zilker summer musical

There’s a lot of sweat on that hillside.

But we endured, with popcorn, ice cream, and self portraits. And sweated, because at 8pm it’s still wicked hot, and apparently even lightweight, short sleeved cardigans are a bad idea.

sound of music zilker summer musical

Someone please come clean this child’s nose.

Right as the show was about to start, a man came over and asked if we’d like to move closer to the stage. Some reservations had cancelled, and he had a spot front and center. We hesitated, since moving all of our crap would be a hassle with 4 adults and 5 kids, but once the lady next to us piped up to say they would go, we picked up our crap so fast, we left her eating our dust. I’m still not certain we got all of our kids in the haste.

And he was not kidding. We had a clear, unobstructed view of the stage, sitting at the edge of a little half wall. Only the poor man who invited us to move likely regretted it, since Rachel spent half the show coughing in his ear, half remnant coughs from the Summer of Sick and half from some rogue popcorn kernels stuck in her throat. You know those kids you see out in public that you’re sure are spreading the bubonic plague? Us.

sound of music zilker summer musical

The show itself was wonderful. I quickly realized that although I’d never seen the movie with Julie Andrews, I knew all of the songs. My Favorite Things? Do Ra Mi? So Long, Farewell? Yup, yup, and yup. I fell in love with Maria and the Von Trap family. The girls were mesmerized by the action on the stage. Also, there was a large amount of sweat running down my back. Christian urged me to remove my cardigan, but like everyone wants to see my back sweat.

sound of music zilker summer musical

That’s Zoe’s betrothed, topless and sucking his thumb in the background. And her future father in law.

I can only imagine how much those poor actors were sweating in the Texas summer heat under those glaring lights, heavy costumes, and make up. I didn’t see any of their back sweat. Or even front sweat for that matter.

sound of music zilker summer musical

We left at intermission, as did most of the other people with small kids, and that still had us getting home at 11pm, and no, no one fell asleep in the car.

And no, no one slept late in the morning.

But I still can’t wait for next year’s musical. And back sweat.

 

Tell me what fun thing you’ve sweated through this summer.

 

GFunkified

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