Monday, August 30, 2010

Music Monday -- Pandora Radio

I know I usually highlight a band I'm listening to on Mondays, but today I've got something totally different. If you already know about Pandora Radio, then I'm not going to tell you anything new. If you don't know about Pandora, then this is your lucky day.

Pandora Radio is the result of the Music Genome Project. It was started in 2000 by a group of musicians analyzing music for commonalities. They capture what is unique about every song, band, album, whatever, and then basically code it with this metadata. Then, you can think of a song, band, or album that represents a certain sound that you like and enter it as a radio station. The system then finds music that has similar "genes" in the pool of all the music that's been analyzed and plays them together as your station. As songs come along that you don't like, you can tag them with a thumb's-down so they won't get played again. The concept is brilliant.

I've been listening to Pandora Radio for at least a couple of years now and one of the best parts is discovering new songs or artists that have a sound that I really enjoy. That, and I get to listen to music that I enjoy without having to put together my own playlists (which I'm really bad at).

Wait, maybe the best part is that it's free. It's just like listening to any other radio station with a few adds here and there, but not too many. You can buy an add-free subscription, but I find the adds to be pretty low-key and they only play one add for every 20-30 minutes that I listen.

Biography Badness

And when I say "badness," I mean the kind that actually is bad, not the kind that is good. I've tried to read two biographies this year. I have still not finished either of them. I usually only read one book at a time and I seldom give up on a book. I've now read several other books while still not finishing the two biographies. Ugh!

The first was inspired by watching Julie & Julia. I thought Julie was a narcissistic windbag, but I was intrigued by Julia. I wanted the whole story so I picked up Appetite for Life. That woman lived a fascinating life.That is, until you drag out the telling of it into 592 pages. There are books about the entire history of the modern world that are written in fewer pages. Worse yet, it started getting tedious before I'd even gotten 50 pages into the book. At almost halfway, I've given up. I'll just have to enjoy the fact that I have an idea of what happens next, because I won't be finishing this book.

The second biography I picked up was Pearl Buck in China. I loved The Good Earth and knew that Pearl Buck had lived in China, so it would have to be interesting. At least it's only 320 pages, so it's not quite as drawn out as Julia Child's biography, but I think it was written by a literary critic. It reads to me more like a dissertation than a novel and I really want a good story to latch onto. There are so many opportunities in the material, but it just never happens. I'm afraid, now that Pearl is living in the US again, that I've lost interest. I won't be finishing this one either.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Music Monday -- Sera Cahoone

On Saturday, the DH and I set out for the No Depression Festival 2010 at Marymoor Park in Redmond. The day turned out to be sunny and warm (after the scary forecast of cool and rainy), so we started out happy. No Depression is an organization dedicated to roots music that used to have a monthly magazine that I subscribed to. They do a lot of music reviews and I've been introduced to a lot of great music through them.

The lineup for the festival included a couple of artists that the DH and I both like, and then a few we'd never heard of. Sera Cahoone is one that I hadn't heard of before the festival and I really enjoyed hearing her. The sets were all only 45 minutes, so I was sad that she couldn't play longer. I definitely could have listened to her a lot longer.

Her last album is called Only as the Day is Long and features many of the songs she sang at the festival. This is the song Baker Lake. It really highlights her lovely voice and guitar playing. I think I'll go buy the album now.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love -- The Movie Review

Last weekend, while Annzy was here, we snagged Sam and sent to a matinee of Eat, Pray, Love, the chick flick of choice for August. I had seen a few minutes of the Oprah show featuring the cast of the movie and it was a total love fest. Perhaps that got my expectations up a little too much. I was expecting something a bit more universally important and perhaps even more profound. Julia Roberts talked about several soul-stirring moments filming the movie. I expected something!

The good: The movie is visually lovely. The scenes in NY, Italy, India, and Bali are all beautiful. I enjoyed everything about the views in this movie. I also thought I liked the premise of a travel writer traveling a little more for herself and going on a journey of self-discovery. And of course, I love Julia Roberts and enjoyed her performance. Overall, the movie is like a Summer novel. It's great to enjoy while on vacation, but really won't stay with you.

The bad: I found the main character to be a little too narcissistic for my taste. I realize this is a journey of self-discovery, which by definition requires a certain level of navel-gazing, but it really was a bit much for me. I was looking for more Aha! moments for myself and found that particularly lacking in this movie.

The main character decides to enjoy a Neapolitan pizza while in Naples. I know very few people crazy enough NOT to do that. The real discovery for the main character in Italy is that she can be a whole, real person all by herself. I realize that this is an issue for some folks and I'm glad she figured it out, but it's not an issue I deal with.

In India, while living in a guru's ashram, the main character's goal is to learn to forgive herself. Although I think this is a very important concept that all of us have to learn, we don't get enough of the inner struggle to really understand that part of the journey.

In Bali, our main character decides that she can love someone without totally losing herself. It has to be conscious though. Again, we know that she has the struggle, but we don't get enough of the inner thought and learning to be able to learn and grow with her.

The ugly: The only ugly in this movie is the very strange side view of Javier Bardem's face. He's a fairly attractive guy, but there's something just a bit off about his face.

The verdict: The movie is lovely and skims over the surface a real issues that lie deep in the ugly parts of our psyches. If you want to while away a hot Summer afternoon in a cool movie theater, this movie is the perfect pick. If you're looking for any depth, then keep looking.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fun, Food, and Friends

On Friday, we got together with a few friends for a tapas party. We were requested to bring tapas to share with the group, so I had to put my thinking cap on. I don't really know anything about Spanish food, so I went online and looked around. Tapas is either really simple (like bruschetta) or really complicated. Because the party was on a Friday evening, I simply couldn't do complicated. I finally decided to make up my own recipe for empanadas and hope for the best. They ended up being really good! So, because I love you, I'll share my recipe.

Easy Empanadas
1 rotisserie chicken (I like the ones from Costco the best)
1 large can diced tomatoes
1 package taco seasoning
2 packages of prepared pie dough

Debone chicken and put in a large frying pan with tomatoes and seasoning. Simmer on low for 20-30 minutes so the flavors can mingle. Using a large round cookie cutter, cut circles from the pie dough. Dab water around the edge of the dough circle, place a spoonful of chicken mixture in the middle, and fold over to make a turnover. Crimp the edges if desired. You can also mix one egg with 3 T water and brush over the dough to make them shinier.

Bake for 14-16 minutes at 350 degrees or until lightly browned.

Serve with cilantro cream sauce.

Cilantro Cream Sauce
In a blender, mix one large tub of sour cream with one large bunch of cilantro. Add the juice of one lime and salt to taste.

Danskin Triathlon -- Part 4

This is the part where I share my feelings, so get out now if you can't handle the gooey stuff of life.

The journey is still going on, but the Danskin Triathlon was a huge milestone for me. When I signed up, Kathleen and Annzy signed up too and it was so fantastic to know I wasn't doing the race alone. I've also had amazing support from my family, friends at work, at church, at the gym, and everywhere else imaginable. It has been so uplifting to have people tell me along the way that they know I can do it, that they believe in me. Seriously, the girl at the smoothie bar at LA Fitness in Ballard has been awesome! She asked me every time she saw me for months about how my training was going, how long I had to go, and how I was feeling about it. There was also one woman that I ended up sharing a lane with many times at the pool who was always super positive and supportive. I'm overwhelmed now just thinking about how much love and support is out there when you tell people what you're doing.

I've loved meeting up with Kathleen for years now to exercise, but it was even better to kick it up a notch and meet to swim both at the pool and the lake and cheer each other on. I'm so proud of her for doing this and believing in herself. She's a great example to me for doing this with gusto.

Mostly, it's been amazing to have the DH right there by my side this whole way. I don't think he realized what he was getting into when he agreed that I should do the triathlon. I know he'd like to know how fast he could run a 5K, but he has run every 5K right by my side encouraging me along the entire way. I know I've run faster because of his support. He's the perfect partner for me because he has been great at pushing me and still letting me go at my own pace.

During the race, I was extremely emotional. I was actually surprised at myself how emotional I was. I had been super calm during the days leading up to the race, but once I got to the transition area to put on my wetsuit, I started to get really panicked. It was hot and I was a little sweaty and it was hard to get the wetsuit on. It all went on fine, but i was getting a little worked up. When I finally walked out to the swim start, I had major butterflies in the tummy and anxiety on the brain. Fortunately, there were plenty of women talking and laughing and giving each other pep talks, so that made it easier. Once the swim started, I actually calmed down completely. It wasn't as crowded as I expected and I was prepared. It still seemed like an eternity in the water, but I could see the progress and just kept going on. When I finished the swim, I was totally relieved.

In the transition area, taking off the wetsuit and getting ready for the bike, I started to cry. I was just overwhelmed realizing that I was doing it. I was in the race. And I wasn't going to come in last. Then, I had almost a full hour in my own head while I cycled. That's a long time to be alone in a race, but I really wasn't near very many people for my entire bike ride. Part way in, I realized that it was a lonely sport. There were no spectators on I-90, no one doing any cheering there, just some other cyclists all spread out on the ride. I got pretty emotional again with mixed feelings. I was proud of myself for doing this thing and a little lonely doing it all by myself at the same time. The most exhilarated I felt during the whole race was when I got to the half-way mark of the bike leg. It was half over and I was owning it.

By the time I got to the run, I was just plain tired. All I could think about was keeping my feet moving. When I got to the top of the one hill of the course, I was simply relieved. Relieved that I had gotten that out of the way. Then, I just willed myself to keep going the rest of the way. Once I got close to the finish line, I was so happy to see my cheering section and to finish. Honestly though, it was a tiny bit of a letdown. I think I was too tired at that point to really feel the excitement of what I had accomplished.

Later in the day, I went to see if the times were posted on the Danskin website. They were already there and I could check my times and see that I had met all three of my goals that I gave myself. At that point, I cried again, all alone in front of the computer, by myself. I was so happy that I had met my goals!

And with that, I think I've broken it down every way possible now. You don't have to hear any more about my experience unless you ask.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Music Monday -- Pink

Pink is my musician of choice today because she was my best training partner. I love running to her music. She was with my when I ran my first full 5K and hundreds of training sessions over the past year. She really knows how to rock it. The album that I listen to is Funhouse and it's got a pop meats punk kind of feel to it. It's not really that edgy, but the girl's got style and strength and I like both.

Now, I'll admit that when I bought the album, I didn't realize that it had explicit lyrics in it. On iTunes and Amazon, you can buy and listen to the clean versions of the songs. All of them are pretty easy to clean up because there's not that much that's questionable there (an occasional swear word vs. really awful subject matter).

I think my favorite song is Please Don't Leave Me. It's got a great beat. You can really dance to it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Danskin Triathlon -- Part 3

First, the spoiler. I did it! Now on to the story...

I didn't sleep well the night before the race. To begin with, it was what will most likely the hottest weekend of the year. We bought the air conditioning unit for the bedroom, but it was still hot. On top of that, I was pretty nervous. The worst part of this is that I was nervous the alarm wouldn't go off even though I had checked it twice. And of course, I got up before the alarm even went off because I was awake anyway.

the DH and Annzy and I left the house at 6:30 with the intent of watching my friend Kathleen get into the water for her wave at 7:10. We didn't move quite fast enough to see her get in, so I went and put all my things in my transition area and then we went down to the water for her exit and she looked great. I had signed up for the open waves, and those didn't start until 8:20, so I also took some time to help Kathleen pull off her wetsuit. After that, it was time for me to get ready for my race. I went to my transition area and put on my timing chip, set up all of my things to make it easier after the swim, and then put on my wetsuit to the waist. At 8:05 I headed over to the water to line up for the open waves of swimmers.

When I got to the swim start, it was amazing to see all the women there in red swim caps with me. There were three waves that still had to go before the open waves were ready to start, so I waited a little while to finish putting on the wet suit. It was pretty hot in the area and I knew I would be really warm with the wet suit on the rest of the way. I finally put it on and I loved how helpful all the women around me were. I had gotten a little sweaty, so it was hard to get the arms up, but with a little help from my new best friends, I was in the suit in a jiffy.
I was in wave 31, so had to wait for another four waves of red cap lovelies go in front of my while I tried to quell the butterflies. We moved into the "on deck" position while wave 30 waited for their start and then went down to the water after wave 30 left. It felt great to get in the cold water. Finally, we got the signal to go. I was right at the front on the right-hand side. I swim to the right on accident, so I wanted to be on the right so I wouldn't be able to swim all the way across the route and spend too much time going sideways. It was a good strategy. I felt strong in the swim, but I will say that it was really hard to swim with the huge group of women in the water. When I swam hard, I ran into groups of swimmers that were hard to get around. It felt a little like being on a crowded freeway when you come up to people going slower than you in all the lanes. It was good to have the experience and I think I'll be able to swim faster in the future.

As we came around the second buoy, the water got really choppy. The good news is that I never got panicky or had a problem swimming. I just knew I had to swim harder to stay on track and finish. There were tons of weeds in the water for the last 100 yards. I hate swimming in the weeds! It was great to get out of that. I was so happy to see the DH, Annzy, and Dr. Bowers and his wife at the end of the swim. I also finished in 25:46, below my goal of 30 minutes.

I then went to the transition area, peeled the wet suit off and then dried off a little and put on my t-shirt, shorts, helmet, gloves, and sun glasses. I got the bike off the rack and then walked over to the bike start area. I got on the bike and started riding toward I-90. I had been told about a tricky part at the entrance to I-90. It was a narrow steep area, but there were not a lot of cyclists around, so I really tried to ride the whole way up the steep area. I only got about 2/3 of the way up before having to get off my bike and walk it the rest of the way though. Then, I got back on and rode as hard as I could. The beginning of the I-90 portion of the route was down hill, so I wanted to get as much speed and momentum as possible. After that, it was kind of rolling up and down with flat in between for the rest of the way out and then the opposite heading back in. The end of the route, back to the park was super easy. I finished in 56:33, below my goal of 60 minutes.
After the bike ride, I dismounted and rolled the bike back to the transition area. I racked the bike, took off the helmet and gloves, and put on a ball cap. From there, I headed toward the run start. On the way, I ran into Kathleen. She was done and I was so proud of her! I started the run and could tell that I was really tired. My goal for the run was not a time, but simply to run the entire way. The course was flat all the way out and my run was very slow, but still a run. At about 2.5 miles into the race, there's a hill that is about the length of one city block and very steep. I knew it would be the hardest part of the whole day for me and it really was. I actually quit looking up and just concentrated on keeping the jog going and putting one foot in front of the other. I envisioned jogging in 1st gear. It worked and I made it to the top of that hill. I kept up the jog for the rest of the way and was excited to see my cheering section close to the end of the race. I ran pretty fast the last 100 yards, but that was my last bit of steam. I was so glad that I had accomplished my third goal and run the whole way. Even better, I was done!

It was really warm and I was totally spent at the end. I was so grateful to see Brock and Layla and Colin, Sam, and Max at the finish line in addition to the DH, Annzy, and Kathleen. It was a great time and it was wonderful to know that I had done what I set out to do.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Danskin Triathlon -- Part 2

Today was check-in for the Danskin triathlon. Kathleen and I (and Annzy) met up at my house where Kathleen left her car with the bike rack and went in my car with Ann and me to Seattle Center to check in and get our packets.

When we arrived at Seattle Center, the line to get in was all the way around the block. It was insane! Fortunately, we met some really nice people in line that helped pass the time more quickly. It took about 45 minutes to get into the Exhibition Hall. When we got there, we went to the big books to find our race numbers. Then we got in another line to pick up our bibs, another line to get our chip anklets, and then another line to get our swim caps and shirts. After that, we got some additional swag (really great stuff like razors and deodorant!) and some free samples of Bear Naked granola, Luna Bars, and flavored water. We did everything we needed to there, then called the DH to bring the bikes to meet us at Genesee park.
With Kathleen at the expo building getting checked in

We drove over to Genesee park and met the DH and Dr. Bowers and his wife there. We racked our bikes and then walked to the swim area so we could see what it looked like, then walked back to the transition area and to the bike exit and entrance, then back and to the run exit. We both got great spots for our bikes right by the letters that were assigned to us so they'll be easy to get to. I'm also taking the chartreuse towels to lay out so I can see my spot easily.With Dr. Bowers and Kathleen at Genesee Park getting final prep done

Once we'd done all that, we had done everything we could there and headed home. Annzy and I went to a move with Sam and then Annzy and I met Patrick and Serafina for a fantastic carb-load dinner. This evening, I'm spending the rest of my time before the race packing my gear, checking it twice, and making sure I have everything I will need for tomorrow.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 3!

Danskin Triathlon -- Part 1

A year ago in April, I started a journey to lose some significant weight. I knew that I would need something more than just the scale to keep me motivated, so I thought about what I could take on as a really big goal.

Later last Summer, I had lunch with a couple of friends from my Microsoft days and started to think seriously about doing a triathlon. My friend Jan is a super athletic, but also super positive and supportive. She thought it would be a great idea. My other friend, Rob, had just started his own business as a personal trainer and was certain I could meet my goal.

In the Fall, my friend Kathleen brought it up as something she'd like to accomplish in her 50th year. She, like me, wanted to do something big. I loved that she wanted to do it, because I knew she'd be a great partner on this journey. Our physician also supported the idea and volunteered to help out. With that, the decision was made. I would do the Danskin triathlon in August this year.

I started working out with Rob in October. At that point in time, I couldn't run a mile without stopping. For the record, I had NEVER been able to run a mile without stopping, even when I was in Junior High School and had to run the mile for P.E. class. It was something that I really wanted to be able to do. We got serious about running after Christmas. By January, I had conquered the mile. Patrick and I also signed up for a 5K in February as my second goal. I wanted to be able to run the full 5K by then.

On February 14th, we ran the Valentine's Day Dash at Greenlake and I ran the full way. It was exhilarating! I was so excited that I had done it that I actually cried. Great tears of joy! Rob and his partner Ron were there to cheer me on and Patrick stayed by my way the entire time to keep me going. I was so grateful for the support and happy that I could make it. I knew my goals were attainable at that point.

In April, Kathleen and I met at the pool at the gym for our first swim. I've never been a strong swimmer, but I took some lessons five years ago when I thought about doing the triathlon before. I wasn't sure what to expect. It wasn't pretty. I couldn't even swim a whole lap before getting too tired to go on. Rob suggested that I swim every day, and that gave me the confidence and stamina in the pool. Then Dr. Bowers and Kathleen met me and Patrick at the lake to do several open-water swims. All of that made me know that I can get through it. My swim time is slow, but it's good enough to get me through the race.

Patrick and I have also been on several bike rides to get ready for the race. It's been quite a lot of work, but also a lot of fun along the way. I've enjoyed more 5K runs, a lot of walking, and a lot of swimming -- including a swim in the 50-meter pool at the YMCA in Boise. I've done all I could do to prepare and lost 55 lbs along the way. I'm really excited to actually do the race now!

Here's some of the photographic evidence of how the goal has helped me change...

Monday, August 02, 2010

Music Monday -- Kickin' It Old School

On our trip last week, I spent quite some time listening to some of my older music. Really, it was my first favorite... The Beatles. It was a result of my iPod synch going all wrong, but fortunately The Beatles were still there to keep me company. When I was young, my older brother and I had rooms across the hall from each other. At night, he would play the few albums he owned, including Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band and other Beatles classics. They became an integral part of the soundtrack to my childhood. I love a lot of the Beatles music, but my all-time favorite Beatles song is Norwegian Wood.

I also love quite a few covers. The I Am Sam soundtrack is another of my favorites. Sarah McLachlan singing Blackbird is one of the songs I like best from that collection.