Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best of 2015: Songs

Well, well, here we are again. Better late than never, right? It's time for me to count down my top 10 songs of 2015!

I did something this year that I've failed to do in previous years, and it ended up being really helpful: in January, I created a playlist that said "Best of 2015" and I added songs to it gradually, over the year. Obviously you need to be pretty confident in your song selections if you're going to go this route, though you could also add more than 10 songs and pare them down at the end of the year. But I'm apparently really good at this sort of thing, and I ended up with ten songs I loved and didn't have to pare anything down. It was such a relief to not have to go combing through my archives to find songs I loved but didn't write down, or something. I'll definitely use this method in the future.

A lot of good albums came out this year. My album of the year is definitely The Wombats' Glitterbug, an incredible achievement of disco-electro-fucking perfection. But there have been a lot of other albums I've listened to a lot, as well. There have even been albums that were great, but a song didn't particularly stand out enough to make it onto this list (Best Coast - California Nights comes to mind, along with Grimes' Art Angels).

I focused on a lot of stuff other than music this year, in my own life, and I think that's why I feel less emotionally attached (overall) to this list than I have in years past. These are still all great songs and they are all songs I've loved to death this year, so take a listen! Maybe you'll find something you like.

1. The Wombats — Give Me A Try

It is no surprise that The Wombats are one of my favorite bands. Ever since I discovered them on radio in 2008, they've been one of those bands who can do no wrong for me, ever. I know every single one of their songs, can sing along with every one of their songs in concert, and they touch parts of my heart and soul that no other band can. I love them so much even though I've largely abandoned my love for indie rock, and they are a band who has never sold out over the years, never evolved in a way that wasn't conducive with my own evolution, never strayed from the same path I've been on. It's a band match made in heaven, really. But on to this song, one from their perfect 2015 release, Glitterbug. Every single time I listen to this song, I feel a euphoria that I otherwise rarely, if ever, feel. It's one of those songs that hits every pleasure button, almost like being on drugs (sorry mom!). It's so beautiful in every way and on an album full of highlights, this one still stands out.

We could be gigantic, everything I need
Vicodin on Sunday nights
This could be worth the risk, worth the guarantee
This could be the drug that doesn't bite
Just give me a try

2. Torul — All

Torul is a synthpop band out of Slovenia. I first began hearing this song on Sanctuary Radio last year, but was unable to get it on an album until this year. Like every other song on this list, there's just something about it that makes my heart swell, something that sticks with me. It has touches of other bands you might love, and if you love synthpop -- popular synthpop -- you will like this, too. I encourage you to give it a listen, because if you love it then you'll love a Slovenian band, and that's really cool, right? Thank goodness for the internet and for Sanctuary Radio.

3. Belle & Sebastian — Enter Sylvia Plath

I had just seen Belle & Sebastian again around the time this album came out. I am typically more a fan of their live shows than I am of their albums, but this song stood out to me immediately upon listening to the album, and not just because it name checks one of my favorite poets, Sylvia Plath. It also has some synth action, and that is really awesome, because this band does not often go that direction, and this year has pretty much been the year of the synth for me. This is a great song, and it's a great way to introduce yourself to Belle & Sebastian if you aren't into them already.

Boy, you don’t know what you want
It isn't what you think it is
All the dreams, and guilt and loneliness, loneliness
Boy, if we were to be friends
Subtle is the art required
To draw the evil from this lonely pyre, lonely pyre

4. Blur — My Terracotta Heart

OK, so, first things first: I love Blur, and I have for about ten years now. It's a very emotional thing for me, my relationship with this band. They haven't been my #1 band for years, but it's like any kind of relationship where you still feel like you're sort of in love with them, even though you haven't been together in a long time. And speaking of emotions, these guys have a lot of emotions for and with each other. Back in the day, I knew about the intense friendship between Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon, and the awful falling out they had, which was rumored to be the subject of the heartbreaking song "Battery in Your Leg" off of 2003's Think Tank. Interestingly, time seems to have brought perspective and a lot of open emotions to this friendship, which is decidedly back on (and thank goodness for that!). "My Terracotta Heart," off of Blur's new album, The Magic Whip, is new Blur at its best. It is also a song that both Damon and Graham say is about their relationship, which as you might imagine, makes my heart go pitter-pat! And it's such a vulnerable, raw song. It makes me so happy and sad to listen to it.

I was running out of heart that day
I was running out of open road to you and I know
I was emoted, I was dazed
Is there something broke inside me
'Cause at the moment I'm lost and feeling that I don't know
If I'm losing you again

5. Grimes — REALiti (Demo)

I really love Grimes, and her new album, Art Angels, is fantastic. But this is the song that made it onto my list this year. This is a demo version of the song that made it onto the album, but I am pretty sure I'm not alone in my belief that this is way better than the album version. It's "just" a demo, no bells or whistles and it's not mixed or anything, and I love it that way because it's REAL. And it's really really fantastic. I have listened to this song more than any other this year, and it really helped solidify my love and respect for Claire Boucher.

Oh, baby, every morning there are mountains to climb
Taking all my time
Oh, when I get up, this is what I see
Welcome to reality

6. Ashbury Heights —Phantasmagoria

I've loved this synthpop/futurepop band from Sweden for years, and this year Ashbury Heights managed to put out a new album, even though they're busy with college (yup) and don't have a ton of time to make music right now. The album, The Looking Glass Society, is a major grower, one that I really enjoyed as I listened to it more, but "Phantasmagoria" -- a pretty cheesy tribute to all things goth/Sisters of Mercy/Edgar Allen Poe/darkness -- stands out as the best song on the album, by far. Catchy, cheese-goth lyrics at their best, synth hooks for days, danceable in all of my favorite ways ... it's really too bad I wasn't able to find a better version of this song on youtube. In fact, this is the only recording or post of it that seems to exist, which is crazy, but hey, I guess I do listen to some obscure shit.

And every ghastly apparition
Claims to be the soul I'm missing
Even though I keep on saying 
That chair is empty now

Can't you see, can't you see?
That chair is empty now

Life is phantasmagoria now
And every shadow is reaching out to me
Life is phantasmagoria now
And all that's left is the stranger part of me

7. Ayria — Feed Her to the Wolves

I had been waiting all year for new music from Ayria, and we finally got some near the end of the year, in the form of an EP. This was the song that stood out on it, and I had it stuck in my head after listening to it only twice -- which says a lot. Super catchy with undertones of feminist ideology and some really catchy synth stuff. A nice evolution of the Ayria project, for sure. I can't wait to hear more from Jennifer Parkin in 2016.

She could have ruled the world
But we fed her to the wolves
Because we all abhor it
Oh vanity, it kills
You left her there as a warning in case it wasn't clear
Don't misunderstand, we rule by fear

8. Orange Sector — Glasmensch

Electronic Body Music at its best, and it was made in 2015! What could be better than that! Many say "EBM is dead" and I agree it's waning, but we can't let that stand, can we?! I'm so happy that bands like Hannover, Germany's Orange Sector are out there fighting the good fight, making pure, classic EBM. "Glasmensch" was, I believe, the first single off of their 2015 release, Night Terrors, and features a healthy dose of Big Brother/1984/CIA/White House-quoting paranoia, which, well ... someone's got to do it, and I don't hear many American bands doing it.

9. Tyske Ludder — Meskalin

Speaking of awesome German bands, Tyske Ludder has always been a sentimental favorite of mine, not just because they make good music, but because their name means "German Whore" and was a term used during WWII in Norway/Denmark to describe a native woman who slept with a Nazi soldier. See, didn't you want to know that?! Isn't that a great band name?! Anyway, "Meskalin" is the first single off of Tyske Ludder's recently released album, Evolution, and it's catchy as hell. Every time it would come on Sanctuary Radio, no matter what I was doing, I'd get sucked into this song and eventually look up to see what it was. After this happened a few times, I realized it had to go on the "best of" list, because I couldn't shake how much it made me groove.

10. Frozen Plasma — Crazy

And finally, wrapping up this year's list, another German band, Frozen Plasma. This song has one of the best opening synth lines I've ever heard in my life. I kept listening to the album, over and over, in recent weeks, and although the lyrics can get pretty cheesy (that's futurepop!), and there are songs on the album with better lyrics/choruses, I can't get past the impact of the synth work here. It's fantastic. Best synths of the year, probably (that's an important distinction, if you're me ...). Anyway, this is a great band and a great song and if you're looking to see what I largely listen to day in, and day out, this is a great example of what I dig.

dancing into ecstasy
every touch from you is killing me
I'm going crazy in this torture game
twist my brain until I scream your name


And there we have it! Another best of music list complete! Let me know what you think and have a wonderful new year <3 <3 <3

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


September went really fast. It really feels like fall now. I love that, because summer is exhausting. I love summer, but over time I become so overwhelmed by how much there is to do, how long the days are, and the expectation that you're always just go-go-go! all summer long. Fall is a time where I start to redirect my life inward, and it's always such a relief. This year it feels like even more of a relief than usual. I need time to put myself back together after an extremely active summer.

There was a time when I used this blog to make monthly goals for myself. In the last two years it has seemed ludicrous to even try to make monthly goals when I've been trying to build my life back up again and the only goal has really been don't fall apart.

But that isn't entirely true, either, because with each passing month, I've added more and more of my old goals back into my life, felt more like my old self (though I still fear, I will never feel like my "old self" ever again -- maybe I should stop fearing that and move on?). ANYWAY. Over time, I've gotten back to some pieces of myself, become really driven again, really decided to get back to being goal-driven and hard on myself and all of that stuff. In certain ways, this is good -- achieving stuff is good. But in certain ways, it's bad, because I push myself so hard, when I don't accomplish things I come down so hard on myself, and it's really hard for me to just relax and do nothing. Doing nothing is accomplishing something important too, you know?!

This is something I am trying so hard to believe with my heart and soul, this year.

So while it doesn't feel appropriate to go back to the days of monthly goals, I do want to say something here about what I hope to accomplish this fall, even if they're more general goals. I'm really happy to say that I've been doing great with running, I've read 7 books since July, and I'm going back to Portland in early December for a long weekend. I feel really good about all of those things, and they help me feel fulfilled. I'm also ramping up for more photography, and a better business, in 2016 -- next year is the year I really try to grow this business of mine. I'm excited about the future and I really don't want to sit back and let life rule me anymore. I can do this.

Anyway. I always digress so well. Here are some things I'd love to do this fall:

-- Visit a pumpkin patch

-- Keep reading; always be reading a book

-- Find a therapist, if possible

-- Do something photography-related every day

-- Get back on my bike; do at least one long bike ride (10-15 miles)

-- Clean out my closet and donate to Goodwill

-- Practice my clarinet

-- Finish the puzzle currently sitting under my bed

-- Plan and execute a scaled down but still delicious vegan Thanksgiving dinner

-- Run at least one half marathon

-- Do yoga three times per week

-- Continue paying down my debt

-- Begin making plans for 2016 travel, saving money, etc

-- "Don't worry, be happy."

I've spent several days putting this post together. I feel like I make mountains out of molehills and creating this post is no different. Several times, I wondered what the point of even writing all of this out is. I still have a really love/hate relationship with blogging. I want to write stuff, yet I don't feel like what I have to write contributes to internet in any meaningful way. This is the same thing I've been feeling for the last couple of years. I want to get back to a place where I do feel like I am contributing something meaningful on the internet. Not just for me, but for others. Like, posting recipes and sharing things that I'm happy about or proud of or worried about or whatever.

I've thought about doing another 31 days of blogging, but I need to get some ideas for posts first before I launch into something like that. But -- I am thinking about it. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Wet Hot Oregon Summer, Part Three: HOOD TO COAST!!!

How on earth am I going to write about Hood to Coast?!!?!

That is what I keep thinking right now. But I really need to start writing this down before I forget it. It was one of the most amazing, wonderful experiences of my life, just as I thought it would be. The memories I made this weekend will stay with me forever, and I absolutely cherish them.

I find that words are really not sufficient enough to describe how amazing this experience was, but I'm going to write a lot of it down anyway, because I'm stubborn and I want to capture as much of the magic as I possibly can before the little details start to fade. To summarize Hood to Coast, it's a relay that this year was 198 miles long, and goes from Mt. Hood to Seaside. Two teams of (usually) 6 people each run three legs each, for a total of 13-19 miles each over up to 36 hours. As an Oregonian this race was really important for me to run and a rite of passage as someone who still holds Oregon so close to my heart. Although, interestingly, before last year I'd never actually considered running it. You can read my pre-HTC blog post for more on that.

It had been a while since I'd had a grand adventure. I really wanted to have one. And this race, which is "the mother of all relays" was just what I wanted. The greatest challenge I've had in my life since shooting a music festival in the middle of Germany two years ago, certainly.

My team this year was Van 2, and my best friend from high school, Stefanie, is the one who got me into this mess in the first place. She took most of the photos in this post, by the way, so you should definitely go check out her blog, which is really awesome and inspiring (just like her!). Her husband Zach was also on our team, along with friends Jason, Aubrey, and Scott. New to all of us was Kim, a really great lady from Southern California, who was friends with at least one person in Van 1. I really believe we had the best van of people ever this year, the perfect match of people, and I can't imagine going through this trial by fire with anyone else:

Zach, Aubrey, Jason (back), Stefanie, Scott (front), me, Kim (back) 
Stefanie and I had gone on a trip up to Centralia, Washington, to get our van on Thursday, the day before the race. Although we had to spend a day doing that, it was really great friend bonding time. We've been friends since 1996 but until now, we'd never run together. Whoa, right? This was really special for so many reasons, none more than that. To get to do this with Stefanie was priceless.

The night before the race, we converged at the house of our Team Captain (from Van 1) in surprisingly hip North Portland. We had pizza, hard cider, and talked logistics, as well as receiving our t-shirts, race bibs, and screen printing a TON of clothing with our team's logo. I realized at the party that I'd failed to get any of my food ready for the race. Oops! This caused a bit of stress in my mind, but given that we were in the second van (and therefore started later) I knew I'd have time to put everything together in the morning. That being said -- I didn't get back to my mom's house that night until after 9:30pm, and I was pretty worked up about having time for everything. Anything I could manage to worry about, I was worrying about. What if what if what if? But honestly, I did know that everything was going to work out. This was just part of the adventure.

Friday dawned warm and muggy: race day! Well, one of them, anyway. I spent the morning getting all of my stuff packed, making sandwiches, shopping for food, and had more than enough time (thank goodness!) We all converged at Scott & Aubrey's apartment at noon, loaded up our gear, decorated our van ... the important stuff:

And then ... we were off to the first exchange. We were meeting Van 1 in Sandy, the first major van exchange, after they'd run all of their first legs. This was my first introduction to the vastness of Hood to Coast. When we pulled into the parking lot at Sandy High School and I saw a literal sea of vans, it took my breath away. We got to hang out there for a while, so I was able to take a few photos and walk around in circles and generally get antsy about the weather, about life, about everything. We walked around and got our first look at the other vans, many of which had clever names and dirty names and were generally amusing. We ate a sandwich. We got our gear ready. We paced about. But thankfully, eventually Van 1 finished their first legs, and we were off!

Leg 1

My first leg was supposed to be "pretty easy" -- a slow downhill on a paved trail, and had a moderate ranking. It was 5.5 miles, which is a distance I consider myself able to run easily. It was not easy, however, and this was my introduction to the giant mind fuck that is Hood to Coast.

First -- at this point I'd waited all day to run. The downside/upside of being in Van 2 is that the race starts, for you, much later in the day. I had a ton of stuff still to do that morning (like get my food and beverages together, and pack!) so it was great in that regard. But I was also really eager to run from the moment I got up on Friday morning, and it just wasn't going to happen. The theme of the day was "hurry up and wait" and I am not exactly good at that.

I was also runner #10 this year, which meant I was 4th in my van to run, when we were running our legs! Things did go quickly, but for this first leg, I was burning energy just worrying about when I was going to get to run already, and that turned out to be a bit of an issue. Also, speaking of issues ...

This was our only major fuckup of the race, but we totally got confused and went to the wrong exchange after Zach (right before me) started his leg. Thus began a 40 minute stressed out journey to the wrong exchange, and then backtracking to the right exchange so I could start my first leg! Needless to say this did nothing good for me and I was super stressed out to the max before my first leg started. As a result, I started out of the gate too fast, wound up and tight. This actually stayed with me the entire 5.5 miles and really impacted my mental state for most of it.

The weather was also a factor with my struggles during this first leg. The major storm we were expecting hadn't quite moved in yet, so it was still really warm (80) and really, really humid. Humidity is so hard to run in and really beats you up. I felt really mentally challenged as well as physically challenged during this leg. It also wasn't much to look at, relatively, though the course smelled heavily of blackberries -- a "summer in Oregon" favorite that I absolutely loved.

I managed to finish this leg with a pretty fast pace (10:54) because I was running out my anxiety and emotions about basically everything under the sun. Silver lining? Heh. See, in hindsight, I realize now that this is how Hood to Coast goes, and I had just received my initiation.

One surreal and awesome experience that I really want to mention here is about the second major exchange, off of Water Avenue, under the Hawthorne Bridge in downtown Portland. We got there after it had gotten dark. Major exchanges are CRAZY because everyone is there -- both vans. And they have this atmosphere that reminds me of a huge campground at a music festival. That's the only thing I can relate it to -- it's surreal and the vibe is absolutely electric. People everywhere. People screaming and cheering on their teams. This was one of the few times we got to actually interact with Van 1 and I felt really bad telling them that we'd fucked up the exchange point a few legs back, and I was involved with it. I know it wasn't my fault, but I still felt so stupid saying it.

After we handed off the bracelet to Van 1, we in Van 2 got to rest at Scott and Aubrey's apartment in SE Portland for a couple of hours. This is where amazing things like showers and spaghetti and a nap happened. It was wonderful. This is where foreshadowing of things to come began, though. As we lay in the living room trying to sleep, I remember being woken up by a really bright flash, with a sound that mimicked that of a camera flash. I knew what it was: lightning.

That was just the beginning of our weather-related fun.

After "napping" badly for a couple of hours, we were up and back on the road to the next major exchange, in St. Helens. It was 2 in the morning when we got there. We were already loopy. We were also entering a huge zone where we would no longer have any cell phone service, something that made me simultaneously nervous and relieved for various reasons. It was also here that it began to rain in earnest. It was so dark and there were people everywhere and we were making jokes about the Sausage King (he's a false king! Where did he get his crown?!) and man, I was glad to get back in the van after we bid Stefanie goodbye for her leg. I was amazed, absolutely amazed, that we did not lose anybody at this exchange, considering how dark and crazy it was.

Leg 2
"The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep."
Robert Frost
I had been very nervous about leg 2 for so many reasons, leading up to the race. First, I had correctly calculated that I would be running this leg in the middle of the night, and I am a 33-year-old person who is legitimately afraid of the dark. I knew I'd have my headlamp, but my biggest fear on this race was being out there alone at night and getting lost. Everyone assured me beforehand that this was basically impossible, but the fear of the unknown really bugged me out. I was really wigging out before I went out for this leg and I was super neurotic and unhappy, as you can so CLEARLY in this photo Stefanie took right before I went out in the dark:

Second, this was my longest leg. Could I do it? How exhausted would I be? Would my knees/IT band hold up? Third, I knew I wouldn't have cell phone service. Four -- as it turned out, the weather situation had become exactly what I'd feared and (of course). It had been raining like crazy. Two legs before mine there had been an insane lightning/thunder/rainstorm that we had been afraid would shut down the race. Jason was running his leg during this time, and we were pretty damn worried about him, though every runner I've talked to has said this time was "awesome" and "really fun" so maybe we're all just crazy people after all? I mean, we're all out there doing a crazy endurance challenge in the first place, and I keep getting the feeling we all loved how wacky the weather was, because it made the challenge even crazier.

What's really great is that this turned out to be my favorite leg of the race. I did end up having to begin in pitch black dark of night, at 5:38am. And right after Zach handed off to me, I was directed by a volunteer to go up a steep gravel incline, into nothing but darkness. I was terrified. There were volunteers telling me where to go when there was a corner in the darkness, but after I was on the main road that I'd stay on for the duration of my 6.7 miles, there were no more volunteers. And in case that wasn't scary enough -- I was alone out there. There weren't any other runners around me at that point. I had to swallow my fear and remember that Stefanie told me I needed to deal with it and get through it. And this was one of my proudest moments -- getting through this period of running in complete darkness, by myself, with only a headlamp to light a few feet in front of me.

Fortunately for me, starting at 5:38am meant it was only 40 minutes until official sunrise, at 6:20am. And the sun begins rising long before that, as you may know. So the terrifying darkness was only about 10-15 minutes of the total run. After that, it grew increasingly light. At the same time, the weather, which had hovered around "light rain" began to improve, and by the end of the run, we had some legitimate sunbreaks! Seeing this beautiful world light up around me, the hills around Vernonia with their beautiful forests, low hanging mist, a wet world fresh with rain -- wow. I mean, there is absolutely nothing like this for me. This is the reason I ran Hood to Coast, to have this experience.

It was incredible. And I couldn't take any photos because I was running and I was trying desperately to maintain a good pace and not slip on any wet leaves or trip on anything. Also, about halfway through I caught up to this guy who was running around the same pace I wanted to run. Instead of making a point to pass him for roadkill, and out of a sense of loneliness on the course, I decided to match pace and keep with him. We ended up running the rest of the leg together, almost entirely in silence until the end, when we acknowledged each other and I thanked him for letting me share the morning with him. It was a really neat runner's moment. I love running. That's what I kept thinking. My knees/legs were really locking up near the end, but I felt absolutely fantastic as I finished.

It was really my favorite leg, by far. How funny, right?  I mean, I guess it does make sense. It was a leg where I had to triumph over some things that scared me, and had a spiritual experience in the woods, exactly the experience I'd wanted to have. This was my Hood to Coast.

After our second legs were finished, we continued on to Mist, which is the home of Tent City. We'd really hoped to be able to sleep and rest here, and we were seriously fading by this point. We arrived when the weather was starting to get really nasty, rain wise. We actually got tents easily at Tent City, probably because we were so late (the tents are usually used by Van 1 people), and very miserably dragged our sleeping bags and pillows to our tents. We were plagued by wind and rain and leaky tents during this period of time, but did manage a bit of terrible sleep. We then had to get up when Dick's Sporting Goods (who provided the tents) began breaking down the tent city, but it was just as well, because we needed to be on the road to our last major exchange, at Leg 30, outside of Astoria.

We reached the exchange and the mud/rain/wind situation was definitely deteriorating. The really cool thing about this exchange is that it was literally in someone's yard. There is a house at exchange 30 that has been serving HTC'ers food and beverages out of their garage for the last 19 years. 19 years! Multiple generations of this family have been involved! It was so cool. The storm had knocked out their power hours prior, so they were unable to do hot coffee, but they were grilling burgers in their garage like a boss, so I wolfed down a veggie burger in the rain -- something that was great at the time, but I'd sort of regret later due to heartburn ... whatever. I mean, really. Totally worth it.

Then, we began our third legs. I felt we were all starting to get pretty frayed mentally and emotionally at this point, so I was eager to get it all over with and move on to the eating and drinking beer part of the event -- something we'd been daydreaming about for hours already! I was also really worried about the weather, something that turned out to be completely valid.

Leg 3

When I watched the Hood to Coast documentary before my trip last week, I remember a quote from someone talking about the third leg:"Nobody can run the last leg with just their body. It has to be their mind, because the body doesn't work anymore."

This quote was definitely in my mind the entire time I ran this extremely challenging leg, which was listed as an "easy" 3.48 miles through the rolling hills of the Oregon coast. Ha! Easy, my ass. Definitely not easy, for multiple reasons: one -- my legs were pretty much not working at this point, as in my knees decided they weren't really going to bend anymore. I was exhausted. And two -- by this time the wind storm we'd been warned about had arrived in earnest, bringing hurricane force gusts and a sustained wind of 30-40mph. It was not a crosswind, as we were actually running south at this point -- so I was running directly into those winds, on legs that didn't work anymore. Fantastic.

It was really slow going the entire time. My spirit was faltering -- I actually ended up having to walk about half of this leg because the winds were just too much. I felt like I was running as hard as I could and yet, I was barely moving! It was demoralizing and I felt at the time like it was the most difficult run I'd ever done. But I knew I would finish, and that meant I would finish Hood to Coast, so that softened the blow a little. There were a lot of people on this leg who were walking because the wind had worn them down so much, as well, and every van that passed hooted and hollered because they saw all of us struggling out there, so that helped as well. One really lovely thing about this leg was that it smelled frequently of manure -- Oregon dairy farms, I assume!

Fortunately, it really was only 3.48 miles, which I was so incredibly grateful for, and before too long I did reach the exchange, and Stefanie and Aubrey were there waiting for me, and Stefanie was yelling my name, and it breathed so much new life into me. I did it. I did it! It was fucking terrible, one of the worst runs I've ever had, that last leg, but I DID IT!!! 

One crazy and funny and awful thing that happened during our last legs is that the wind was so ferocious, it knocked over a Honey Bucket (a porta potty). Thankfully nobody was in it, but that is a great illustration of the type of winds we were dealing with.

Another illustration of how bad the storm was -- the finish line had to be moved off the beach at Seaside for the first time ever, and the post-race party was moved indoors. I took some photos of the beach after we got there (the beach was definitely closed) and it was absolutely wrecked.

Crazy, right?!?!!? At least nobody thinks we were exaggerating about the storm out there???

Ha. Anyway. We ran across the finish line with Kim, our final runner, after 6pm -- just a couple of minutes off of our expected finish time, in spite of the 40-minute delay we'd had the day before! -- and met up with Van 1 to distribute our medals. It was a triumphant moment even though we were exhausted. I know we were also a bit cranky, and hungry, and right at that moment it started to absolutely pour down rain. And I'm talking about the kind of rain that's blowing sideways in sheets.

Needless to say, the walk back to the car, where we became absolutely soaked to the bone, was NOT my favorite part of the weekend. In fact, it was my least favorite part of the weekend. We decided to drive to Astoria for dinner at Fort George Brewery, which was great because BEER, and warm food, and a warm room where it wasn't raining (though it was dripping on Jason, and we almost strangled a bunch of Jenga-playing hipsters) but also delayed us getting back to Portland for a lot longer. It was at this point that I had to give up my dream of being back at my mom's house before midnight. I mean, I am one of those people who likes things to go the way they are "supposed to" "ideally" and I've been known to get very bent out of shape when reality doesn't live up to my expectations. Fortunately I was so tired at this point that I didn't have much time to get bent out of shape, and after dinner I crawled into the back seat of the van with Stefanie and we both slept the entire two hours back to Portland. <3

I arrived home at midnight that night, at my mom's house, and she was there to greet me, like the awesome mom she is. It meant a lot to me that she stayed up to greet me, and had a bottle of wine waiting there for me! And I will say this: I've never slept better than I slept that night.

This was the experience of a lifetime. I am so, so grateful for this incredible adventure.

And I really, really want to do it again next year.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Wet Hot Oregon Summer: Part Two

On the second day I was in Oregon, my mom and I went to the Oregon Zoo. This was something we'd both been planning for at least a couple of months, ever since we independently approached each other saying we'd been thinking about how much we wanted to go together! This was a really special thing to me, because the Oregon Zoo has been special to us for only my entire life, but we'd never been together in the time since I've been an adult.

To tell you how much the zoo was important to us: we had a membership when I was young and we'd go very frequently. When the zoo's star lion died when I was in grade school, my dad apparently told us before I left for school one morning and caused a giant meltdown (oops!). I also attended Zoo Camp for two years, and it was a really important part of my childhood. It was one of the only camps I ever attended that didn't reduce me to a ball of useless social anxiety.

It was a ton of fun to be there with my mom, even though much has changed. Also, the Oregon Zoo is doing some great conservation work, particularly with California Condors, a cause very close to my heart, and I absolutely freaked out when we got to see condors in person. It is my first time actually seeing condors in person, and it was really special. Also: bald eagles (not my first time, but that never gets old).

Here are some images from our trip to the zoo. These are all from my phone; the DSLR shots (it was really fun to take my camera to the zoo, even though I hadn't brought a telephoto lens with me!) are on Facebook, but I don't think I'll post them here.


Gift shop stuff:

I managed to escape from the gift shop without buying anything. Amazing. A first!

This was a great day, really good mother-daughter time, and it really is nice that the Oregon Zoo isn't as large as something like San Diego, where you could be there all day. We took a few hours, but just a few hours. It was enough. And it's great to see my childhood zoo involved in good conservation work. It helps me feel a little better about zoos in general.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Wet Hot Oregon Summer: Part One

Beaverton | tonight 
This morning I flew to Oregon. 

This place ... this place always makes me want to write long, rambling verses. This place is like a tribal drumbeat in my heart. Is this how people always feel about home? Only when they love it? Only when they miss it? Oregon holds power over me. Spiritual power. 

But to be clearer, more practical: I came here because I really wanted to go home and visit my family and friends, who I hadn't seen in more than two years. But I'm also going because this year I am participating in the legendary Hood to Coast relay. With my best friend from high school, no less. 

Back up: I had never thought of running a relay type race before last year. Last year, Stefanie and her husband participated in HTC and it sounded like an incredible amount of fun. Stefanie has always been a running motivator for me -- she began running around the same time I did, and she has accomplished way "more" than I have if you're calling it a competition, which it's totally not, and I never want to think of it that way, since running is something you do to compete with yourself, and to share with your friends. Anyway, I try to use that friendly competition/motivation to keep me hungry, and it has. After last year's HTC, I decided I really wanted to do it someday. But then I injured my hip and the nightmare of that nearly 6-month injury made me realize I could be done with running forever. It actually wasn't until right after I returned to running this year that Stefanie approached me about an open spot on her team for this year's relay. I said yes immediately, because I don't want to say no to something I want to do just because of the unknown, or because it scares me, or anything else. I just said yes -- for so many reasons. 

Over time, those reasons have become clearer to me. On top of the challenge of the race -- this will be the first time, the very first time, that Stefanie and I have run together. We've been friends since 1996, and our friendship is of the type that is rare and forever and special and all those things. I have two of those friends in my life, with whom the bond will never be broken for any reason. I am so grateful for this relationship in my life. It will be so special to do this with her. 

Also -- I have come to realize that as a displaced Oregonian, running this race is really personally meaningful to me. Here's what my heart actually looks like: 

So ... I mean ... really. Doing this race is something I need to do as an Oregonian. It will heal my heart, my heart that has lived in California for 17 years now, in ways that are impossible for me to describe in words. My homesick Oregon heart. I need to do this. It is a rite of passage.

As the date has approached (the race begins on Friday) I've suffered from several really stupid physical injuries that have made my preparation more challenging. Last Thursday I tripped during a training run in Berkeley and skinned my knees and palms, and bruised my right kneecap. The swelling was really terrible for a couple of days. I've spent all of the days since then trying to recuperate. Today, I came to Oregon and I was feeling really good about my recovery. So of course, tonight I went to pick up Thai food with my mother, and I went to open the door for her and the door got stuck in my right toe, taking a huge chunk out of the tip. Turns out -- toe injuries like this result in BLOOD EVERYWHERE. This was a really traumatic and shitty incident for me this evening and I've spend all night trying to mentally/emotionally/physically deal with it. Fortunately, it really does seem like a shallow wound -- just one that produced a ton of blood that freaked me and my mom out. I've been resting it and taking good care of it tonight. I have until Friday. Until Friday.

I'm sitting here right now, 11pm, on the floor in "my" room at my mom's house at home. I remember being 18 and coming here for Thanksgiving and feeling so alone and alienated and misunderstood and like I had to write journal entries that quoted Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" (yes I really did that). Even though I sit here having had an entire bottle of wine over the course of the night, with skinned and bruised knees and a cut up toe -- I can tell you that I sit here happy tonight, 33 years old, spending time with my family and my friends and my state that I love so very much.

It's so good to be back here. I needed to be back here. Oregon, Beaverton, Portland, I love you. I've been fully aware of how much I missed you, and nothing is quite like breathing in your summer air.

I am a better person in San Francisco when I am able to come home and rejuvenate. ♥

Remembering that I am actually, truly on vacation is also a good idea. Almost all of the trips I've taken in 2015 have been not vacation and I've gotten used to the idea of trips being utilitarian. I keep telling myself to check my work email. No. This is a vacation. This is for me to remember the great things about myself and my happiness and to challenge myself and recharge and be the best version of Amber I can be. And do absolutely nothing if that is what the moment calls for (early this week, anyway). It's amazing how much I have to remind myself of this. There is no need for productivity. I need to let up on myself. This is time for my heart to rest, away from my normal routines.

Until I get to the race, of course. Then I'm going to kick some ass.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Half Marathon #3: Recap

Today I ran my third half marathon, the second half of the SF Marathon. I ran it last year and only last week did I make the decision to run it again this year. It went quite well, and here are my thoughts:

Miles 1-5: I really don't recall this many miles taking place all within Golden Gate Park last year, but everything up to mile 6 was completely within the park -- who knows, maybe it was the same last year (I'm too lazy to look this up right now). The weather was cool and foggy, but after the first mile this didn't really matter. There was a lot of winding around and many hills. I felt some minor knee pain, which is unusual for me, and I'm wondering if my pains today have to do with skipping yoga for the last week. Maybe it really was keeping me going during the last few weeks. Anyway, there were also the delightful views of GG Park: bison, lakes, the trip around Stowe Lake in particular, the adorable boathouse, and merging with the full marathon runners (I always love that, because they're so inspiring, and on a much more amazing journey than I am). I tried to keep at my natural pace, which is 11:30/mile, and did so without much effort.

But back to hills, and this is where I had a major epiphany today, friends: hill training really works. This year I'd implemented hills into my regular training and long runs for the first time, and really pushed it by going up some of San Francisco's most brutal inclines. I had no idea if this was going to make any difference -- until today. While others were huffing and puffing and complaining and often walking up every hill, I easily, truly easily, ran up every single hill in this race. I had no problems, and that's something new for me. Given that my training runs took me up large hills so steep I'd have to stop at least once on the way up to catch my breath, none of these hills seemed challenging to me by comparison. I was SHOCKED by this. I honestly thought that all my running up and down hills these last few weeks wouldn't make a difference, but it made a huge difference.

Mile 6: We emerged from Golden Gate Park at last, and re-entered civilization running up Haight Street. I was suffering from some more pain in my legs and some mental doubts, but was buoyed significantly when I saw Meghan at the water station located conveniently in front of her apartment on Haight and Masonic. She was screaming for me, and cheering me on, and seeing her was exactly what I needed to get my head back in the game! I didn't stop smiling for more than a mile after that encounter, and I felt so happy, even though my mind was screaming you're only halfway done!

Miles 7-9: I grew increasingly bothered by IT band pain during this time, which I hadn't experienced in months, and which was quite frustrating. However, instead of getting worked up about it, I tried to keep my pace, hit every water and electrolyte station as I had been, ate part of a banana, and took a small walk break per mile. It seemed that -- today, at least -- every time I walked for a minute, or walked at the aid stations, my IT band pain would subside to the point where I didn't notice it for a while. I also kept kicking my legs up so that my feet hit the back of my thighs, and that seemed to make it better for good spells, too. Still, I was frustrated and worried that I was going to be in bad shape by the time I got to the dreaded last 5k. I pressed on, trying to listen to my body, reminding myself that I was doing everything right. I still didn't really know how I was doing, time-wise, but I wasn't worried, since this wasn't a race where I wanted to push a personal record.

Mile 10: "Just a 5k left to go!" is something you hear a lot when you get to the 10 mile marker, and it's supposed to make you feel like an easy distance is the only thing separating you from the finish line. I think this is really well-intentioned, but also really funny, because the reality is that it's more like if you had to run a 5k with legs that feel like gnarled tree branches that have been set on fire.

At any rate, I slowed down a bit at this point, and began taking more short walk breaks to give my legs and feet -- now in a fair amount of pain -- a break. But the end was near, and I was really excited about that, and nothing was going to stop me from reaching that finish line in one piece. I realized at this point that I wouldn't break last year's time of 2:28, but since that nearly did me in last year, I wasn't too upset. My race experience had been almost perfect so far -- no regrets. So I soldiered on, only trying to maintain my pace and not lose ground to walk breaks.

Miles 11-13: I continued to slow and the pain became more difficult to handle, but many others around me seemed to be going through something similar, so I didn't stress too much. I knew I was going to finish, and that kept me going (I also knew G was waiting for me at the finish line!). Other than the pains of distance running, I felt great, and that was a glorious miracle to me. Somewhere along mile 11, a dead rat appeared in the middle of the road, and some people were seriously unable to handle this dead rat. I just ran by it and moved on. Lots of screaming around me, though. I guess if anything it was a break from thinking about how much my legs hurt!

Just after I passed the mile 12 marker, however, a minor incident occurred. We were running around the perimeter of AT&T Park, and a baseball game was apparently (poorly) scheduled for 1pm this afternoon. A huge number of baseball fans were almost entirely blocking the race route as we tried to run by, and by that I mean at its worst point, only one runner could get by them at a time. Here is what I have to say to that: do not fuck with someone who has just passed mile 12 in a half marathon, because I do not give a single fuck what you're doing, you need to have some respect and get out of the way of all these runners who have given so much and are nearing the finish line. So I got extremely upset, and I am not one to really be subtle when I'm upset, and I grumbled loudly, "Are you kidding me? SERIOUSLY? Get out of my way!" to which irate, entitled baseball fans began screaming at me as I ran by: "Oh yeah, SERIOUSLY???"  To which I thankfully did not engage -- but lets get real here, stay out of the way at the end of a marathon. Whoever was on staff at the marathon or the Giants organizations who let this happen: super uncool. Fix that next year.

The good thing about this rage-filled altercation is that suddenly I had a second wind! I wasn't hurting nearly as badly, and I had more energy for the rest of the race. So .... thanks, idiots!

Mile 13.1: There it was, the finish line! I crossed it and I finished the race and I felt ... good! Fantastic, actually. I ate a banana, waited for G to find me, then went and ate a huge lunch, still feeling good. And I still feel good now, actually, as I'm writing this. A miracle!  I also finished 10 minutes below my goal time, at 2 hours, 35 minutes.

Hooray! Today has been really good. Yay running!

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