Archive for April 2011


April 29, 2011

The weather, oh, the weather!  It’s warm enough to run in shorts, cool enough for long sleeves and a cap most mornings.  Light, sweet breezes push me along.  Everyone is out running, walking, gardening, happy.  Magnolias are out in full force, cherry blossoms explode in pink and white.   Their sweet smell mingles with the fresh scent of salt air.  Even the misty mornings feel delicious against my bare legs.

Cars zoom by and people I don’t even know wave and beep ‘good morning’.  I ran by a dog yesterday and I swear it smiled at me.  The owner proudly held the leash and the pooch trotted along beside him with his eyes on me, looking like he wouldn’t mind coming along for a couple of miles if I would only take the leash in my own hand.

I start off thinking “Okay, just the six this morning”, but reach Andrew’s Point and instead of looping around, my feet, all of their own accord, take me up the long, slow hill at the other end of Phillip’s Ave.  I can’t bear the thought of not taking the little loop through Halibut Point State Park, and the long, delicious downhill on the return route along Granite Street. I press up Phillip’s, enjoying the way the pavement seems to glide beneath my worn out Nike Free sneakers.

Halibut Point is greening, the leaves popping brightly.  Yesterday I caught a glimpse of a wild pheasant pecking for bugs in the tall grass beside the edge of the woods.  It’s bright tail feathers disappeared as I bounded past, and I slowed to watch in delight.  The soft mulch path sprang up to meet my sneakers as I made my way back to the road.

Each run this week has seemed easier than the last, if that is possible.  Nothing less than six and a half, but averaging about eight.  I’m loaded with energy and excitement each time I head out the door.  I have been singing along with whatever is playing on my iPod (and hoping no one is listening!) and maintaining my speed on the hills, even the big ones.  A lot of the time, I feel as though I barely touch the ground.   I’m surprised by the way the miles and the time slip by, leaving me wanting more.

The Twin Lights Half Marathon is coming up soon. A week of hotel treadmills and too much driving left me wondering if I will really be ready.  Today’s 10.5 in just shy of 90 minutes relieves me of my worry.  As I sprinted up the last hill home this perfect April morning, I knew I’d be just fine.


Stumbling Upon Virginia Tech

April 22, 2011

We slept in this morning, deciding it was more important to be well rested than to exercise before two long days of driving home.  We left Wytheville VA around 11 this morning, planning lunch at Gillie’s in Blacksburg.  We read good things about Gillie’s—lots of vegan choices and a great way to start the journey home.  Parking was a bit challenging, but we soon found a lot within close walking distance.  Twenty-five cents-an-hour was a far better deal than we expected and we dropped in our two quarters, ready to eat and then explore the fun-looking little downtown area after lunch.

Gillie’s was hoppin’ busy.  We managed to get a table right away, and as we waited for our waitress, we took note of the re-purposed tables and chairs, all old, mostly oak, and the interesting selection of flatware, plates, and glasses.  Nice to see this kind of recycling on Earth Day!  We ordered coffees with soy milk and two vegan entrees to share.

The seitan and mushroom burger with chipotle vegan mayo was yummy, as was the grilled veggie open-faced sandwich with vegan cheese.  As we ate, we noticed how many other diners seemed to be either college students or professors.  We asked the waitress if we were near a school.

“You are!  You are at Virginia Tech!”

We had no idea.  We pressed her with more questions and learned that Virginia Tech is also a school with a very well-known and respected architecture program.

“One of the best in the country!” she chirped.  She told us her roommate had majored in architecture, and this was project pin-up week.  I looked at Savannah.  I knew we were both thinking the same thing.  How could we have missed this school?  And when could we come back and have a real visit?

We gorged ourselves on dessert.  Vegan chocolate espresso cake with chocolate ganache frosting.  We shared one slice, but were full enough afterward to have a little trouble breathing.  Glad to be able to stand at last, we paid our bill and took to the town to walk off some of lunch.

We looked in lots of shops—dress shops, import shops, Virginia Tech’s school store.  The people we met were kind and friendly.  The town felt safe.  We strolled along in the damp spring air, the smell of cherry blossoms filling us with hope.  We found a tee shirt bearing the school mascot drawn into an intricate abstract design for Savannah to bring home.  She will wear it as a reminder that there is a new choice, one we stumbled upon by surprise.

We drove the rest of the day in the rain, talking excitedly about the possibility of Virginia Tech, wondering what they would have to offer, what it would be like to be in that friendly community for five or six years of college.  Of all the states we drove through, we both thought Virginia was the most beautiful, with it’s rolling hills and tall mountains, its farms, green pastures and grazing cattle.  As we flew by the scenery along the highway, I heard my daughter breath the word ‘cows’ over and over again in awe, and the click of the camera as she took one picture after another through the rolling raindrops on the windows.

Tomorrow we will drive the rest of the way home—back to daily life—but with the promise of a new choice in our pockets.

Clemson and a Prom Dress

April 22, 2011

Six and a half miles on the treadmill at the Hampton Inn in Clemson, NC left me both rejuvenated and exhausted.  Running in place, watching the time, the distance and my pace is incomparable to my outdoor runs.  While I sweated away my free hour in an air-conditioned room, Savannah slept in, building energy for our final college tour of the week.  We were told to arrive 15 minutes early for our noon tour, so we took our time and arrived on campus at 11:30.

We drove around and around the Clemson University visitor center on campus, a futile attempt at finding parking.  At last, I pulled up in the circular driveway of the visitor center and Savannah ran into the building to ask what our other parking options might be.  As we were now close to our tour time, we were told we could park right there in the circle.  Happy to not have to walk too far before we began our tour, I tucked the visitor parking pass on the dashboard and we hurried inside.

We found more than a hundred prospective students seated on tiny folding chairs in the alumni conference room.  There was not a seat to be had, so we made our way to the back of the room and stood, listening to various departments of the college discuss admissions, financial aid, housing, “Greek life”, and football.  We looked around the room, wondering what our tour would be like.  After only 15 minutes, the mass of students and parents were divided into about seven groups and then we were led outside.  We learned that there were few high school juniors.  Most of the students were seniors who had already been accepted at Clemson.  I was happy we were visiting before acceptance; it felt right to see what the school was like before Savannah had her heart set on attending.

We walked for what seemed like miles around the campus.  Although the student population at Clemson is smaller than UNC Charlotte, (19,000 and 25,000, respectively) the campus is much, much larger.  We were shown freshman dorms, historic buildings, particular buildings for particular departments.  We saw the student union, the new student union, the athletic fields.   Our guide was a friendly, knowledgeable junior at the school.  He explained how the housing worked, how the meal tickets worked, transportation systems, and class sizes.  We walked the campus for over two hours and did not seem to make a dent in seeing everything.  I felt lost most of the time, continually turning around and looking for landmarks to get my bearings.  By the time we were through, we had not seen the architecture buildings, had not eaten lunch, and had no idea what specific requirements there were to be accepted into the program Savannah had heard so many great things about—sustainable architecture.

After the tour, we found our way to one of the dining halls to try the food.  Our guide had ensured us that there were lots of vegan options, so we were confident that we would at least have a great meal before stopping by the admissions office and then uncovering Lee Hall, the building that housed the design studios.

It was well after 2 p.m. when we entered the dining hall.  We were told that all that was available was “quick lunch” and were unable even to get a veggie burger.  The deli was open, offering lots of sliced meats and cheese.  The burger and corn dog station was open.  You know what they had.  The salad bar was ordinary at best, and a small metal box held some plain sliced tofu for protein.  There was pizza, too, sitting on trays under heat lamps.  I tried to find some decent whole grain bread or a wheat wrap for our pathetic salads.  None.  Worst of all, none of the people working in the dining hall were friendly or helpful.  When I approached the “Organic Bar”, the woman sullenly boomed, “Closed!”  We ate our meager meal and headed out to find the admissions building.

We were immediately ushered into the head of admissions office.  The woman was friendly and kind, explaining the process to us.  When we asked about the architecture program, she gave us the name, address, and phone number of the head of the department.  We trudged back outside into the hot day and I called.  We were invited to make the ten minute walk over to his building and visit.

The building was at the opposite end of the campus.  We used the site map to find it; the building was hidden behind another.  The head of the department welcomed us in, but lacked enthusiasm for both discussing the programs the school offered and for Savannah’s questions.  When we asked about seeing the studios, he stepped with us into the hall and pointed us in the direction, but did not offer to take us through.  We did learn that no portfolio is required for admittance—unusual compared to any other architecture programs we have investigated.

The studios were unimpressive, and each student had to share their station with at least four other students.  We left the building feeling let down and disappointed—this school was the main reason for our road trip.  Clemson is listed as one of the top colleges in the US for its sustainable architecture program.  As we plodded across the weaving pathways of the campus, looking for the landmarks to find our way back to the visitor center, we wondered how a school with reviews like we had read could be so unenthusiastic about such a program.  It seemed as though the football team and games took precedence over everything else.

As we climbed into the car, removing our sandals from our blistered feet, loud warning horns began to sound all around us.  A voice boomed over loudspeakers announcing severe lightning warnings.  We threw the Magical Garmin onto the windshield, quickly selected our next destination, and got out of there as fast as we could!

We had planned our return route to accommodate dinner at a vegan-friendly restaurant in Johnson City, TN.  We drove through a few rain showers and along a busy strip mall highway that became a divided highway until we reached Johnson City.  We followed the instructions on the Magical Garmin and were led into a run-down part of the city.  Near a bunch of boarded-up buildings, the Mad City Grill huddled alone.  There were a handful of big men standing outside smoking, and we did not see a parking lot.  I didn’t need to say a word.  Savannah groaned, “I’ll did out some of your homemade powerbars, Mum.”

“No.  Let’s get back on the highway.  We’ll find something, honey.”

We went a bit farther along and saw signs for a mall.  We exited onto another strip and I pulled into a place called Moto—Japanese fast food, a first for us.  We ate, hungry, but not impressed.  When we were finished, I asked the cashier about the mall.  We listened carefully to the directions and headed back onto the strip.

The other goal of this trip was to find a prom dress.  Savannah will attend two proms consecutively on May 6th and 7th.  She and I both thought it would be cool to find a dress in the south—something different from what everyone else at home would have.  Our time had been tight the whole week and we did not have the opportunity to explore any shopping.  With such a disappointing day, we eagerly hopped out of the car and headed into the mall.

JC Penny was the big store there.  I kept my voice bright.  “Maybe there will be something good in this mall.  You never know.  Let’s just take a little walk around.”

Seconds later, down a short side wing of the mall, I spotted a store.  Princess Diaries.  The front window was jammed with gowns.  All fancy.  Bright, dark, pouf-y, slinky.  My heart started to race.  Where were stores like this when I was a teenager?

We went in were greeted right away by a pretty young girl.  In minutes, Savannah was lining up gowns to try.  The salesgirl asked about colors, styles, and sizes.  I sat in a comfy chair while my daughter slipped into one beautiful dress after another.  Two young girls were in the shop, too, and they stood beside me, waiting for Savannah to come out and model each dress.  They oohed and aah-ed over each one, giving their opinions in their soft southern drawls.  Finally, Savannah chose, with the help of those charming girls, a plum gown.  It fit her curves without being too clingy, showing off her figure in a new, very grown-up way.  The fabric draped over her tiny waist, and a rhinestone accent gathered the fabric slightly to the side of her middle.  The material pleated just beneath the accent and flowed down over her hips to barely graze the ground.  The top was a one-shoulder style, flattering her slender neck and the back dropped low, showing off her shiny, hip-length hair.

“We’ll take it!”

As we strode out of the mall, gown safely encased in a long plastic bag on a hanger, we grinned at each other.  The day turned out to be a good one after all.

Southern Hospitality

April 20, 2011

Exhausted.  That’s us this morning.  Any ideas about running, cycling, or even just packing up our stuff and checking out of the hotel were almost beyond our imaginations.  All we managed to do was the packing and checking out before heading to Zada Jane’s in Charlotte for a delicious and very late vegan breakfast.  We used the Magical Garmin once again to find University of North Carolina at Charlotte and arrived in time to try and get on the wait list for a general tour before our scheduled 1 p.m. tour with the School of Architecture at UNCC.

We found visitor parking and began a long walk through the lovely campus, trying to follow the instructions given to us by the head of admissions at the School of Architecture.  The weather forecast had predicted rain for the day, and in our lady-like skirts and pumps (Savannah) and sandals (me), we toted umbrellas as we hiked across what felt like miles of brick pathways and up countless sets of outdoor stairways, asking one stranger then another how to find our way.  Everyone we asked eagerly directed us and eventually we found our way to the admissions office.

Once in the building, we found the place to sign up for the campus tour waiting list.  As Savannah carefully filled out her information, the woman at the desk asked us questions about Savannah’s interest in the school.  She recommended we speak directly with the admissions director, then attend our 1:00 tour in architecture, and finally, take a self-guided tour through the campus.  We nodded in agreement and moments later were ushered into a luxurious office and spoke at length with the director about what the school had to offer Savannah, including the likelihood of a four year merit scholarship, based on her transcripts and standardized test scores.  Lisa made us feel so welcome that I was ready for Savannah to make this school her first choice before we had even looked at the department she is most interested in.  After almost an hour of chatting and learning about the school, we left to attend our tour.

The head of the admissions department for the School of Architecture, Redeena, led us through the building herself, excited to not be under any time constraints.  She showed us the design labs, the cutting-edge light lab, the presentation hall, the classrooms, and even cornered a professor to take us through the production studios and show us all of the equipment available to the students.  We saw students at work in design labs, students giving critique-based presentations, samples of end-of-semester projects.  She personally spent almost two hours with us and we finally had to break the spell of the enchanting tour to find some lunch (it was 3:30 already!) and head out to our next destination, Clemson, SC.

We ate in the student union before we left, checking to see if there were regular, viable vegan options and discovered delicious choices.  We sampled several different meals, sharing back and forth and discussing the requirements for the architecture program.  The school seemed to lean far more toward art and much less toward technology, but the program and building were enticing enough to keep the school on the list of possibilities.

It did not take us nearly as long to find where we parked as it did to find the admissions office.  As we headed up the final stairway to the car, we both found it hard to believe that this school has an undergraduate population of 25,000 students.  Although the campus was large, it had the feel of a much smaller school.  The students we passed and asked for help were all friendly and kind, some even leading us directly to the places we sought.  Everyone addressed us as “Miss”, or “Ma’am”, and held doors for us.  It was a bit surreal, coming from a place where most people walk right by without acknowledging us at all.  And, it’s warm.  So far, the south is looking pretty good.

Rainballs, Bugsplats, and a Mack Truck Sandwich

April 19, 2011

Leaving Harrisburg this morning by 10 and right on schedule, Savannah and I began our eight hour drive to Charlotte.  I headed to the highway, following the instructions of the female voice of the Magical Garmin.  Rain pounded the windshield; the wiper blades cut back and forth but did not help with the visibility as one 18-wheeler after another flew past us.  I chanted my little inner-chant, “Drive at the speed you are comfortable with” (thanks, Laura!) and hoped we would drive out of the storm.  The rain hit the car so hard that I imagined a giant fist hurling handfuls of water down upon us—rainballs like fat, splatter pellets smashing the glass.  After a couple of hours, the sky ahead of us began to clear and the sound of the rain diminished until it was gone altogether.

Right away, we both noticed another splattering sound on the windshield.  Bugs.  One after another—smack, smack, smack—white, yellow, and orange smears marked the windshield.  Wipers and windshield fluid proved no match for the constant, tiny deaths.  Occasionally, a fast flutter of black would swoop down in front of us and leave a giant mark.  The sun lit the fresh glass cemetery and we both groaned in disgust as we continued to collect more tiny bodies.

We soon stopped noticing this, as more and more trucks collected on I-85 and then I-77.  The trucks swooped down on us at every decline of highway, then chugged miserably slow on each incline, inspiring me to switch into the passing lane and go around them.  I was stunned by just how many trucks are on the highway and wondered about the efficiency of shipping this way instead of using trains.  There was not much time to focus on pondering this, as, over and over again, my car became sandwiched between two trucks.  There were even times when I felt like a club sandwich, with a truck behind me, in front of me, beside me on my left, and merging on my right all at once.  I tried to feel like seitan and not bacon, a tactic that helped me stop worrying about whether we would become a tightly pressed Panini sandwich by the end of the day.

A particularly strange segment of I-77 consisted of a seven mile downhill with dozens of warning signs in both words and universal symbols for downhill danger.  The angle was pretty steep!  Savannah noticed huge signs along the side of the highway for Runaway Trucks.  These warning signs were followed soon after by sharp, uphill ramps that ran right off the side of the road.  Unpaved, these hilly inclines, like black diamond ski slopes, had what looked like Mother Nature’s speed bumps—thick, high patches of grass, apparently to help those semis get a grip on themselves quickly if their brakes failed.  Each time I passed one, I felt weak in the knees, picturing any of the trucks behind me losing control of themselves and not having one of those special Runaway Truck ramps available before they drove right over us in our little wagon.

We arrived safely in Charlotte at 6:30, checked into our hotel, and found a place that served vegan sushi with a buy-one-get-one-free special.  Tomorrow:  an early morning run, breakfast at Zada Jane’s, then on to tour the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Road Trip

April 19, 2011

Okay, it’s been a while since my last post.  Not to make excuses, but we have been kind of crazy with sorting all my husband’s parents’ stuff to prepare for an estate sale (THEY WERE SAVERS!!!), my dad has been back in the hospital and then in rehab, my husband’s office thinks they own him 24/7, and my daughter is a high school junior who still does not have a driver’s license. Something had to give, and it was not the running.

I am training for the Twin Lights Half Marathon on May 15, which essentially means I am still running most days, doing some intervals, speed work, a long run and a relaxed run.  Nothing different.  I am logging around 45 miles each week, mostly alone and in this cold, windy spring weather.  I feel good, though, no aches, no pains.  I am trying to utilize my gym membership so have taken up kickboxing on Tuesday nights.  I would never have imagined the pleasure I take in shoving my hands into thick boxing gloves and pounding the daylights out of some stranger who holds the hit pads.  The kicking is just okay, but the hitting?  Who knew?!!!

I also have taken a liking to the pull-up assist machine and a couple of other free-standing pieces of equipment that support me for core work at the gym.  Although I am seeing new and different muscle definition in my upper body, I think that when my three month membership is up, I will revert to the privacy of my living room and train with my free weights.  Going to the gym requires planning and effort.  The living room is right there, no driving, no packing, no excuses.  But I may still go to kickboxing!

So here I am on April vacation, sitting at my computer in a highway DaysInn motel in lovely Harrisburg, PA.  I am dressed in my running clothes and waiting for my daughter to ready herself for a trip to the motel’s fitness center.  That’s what they call it, anyway.  It’s really a small room containing a treadmill, elliptical machine, and stationary bike.  We have an eight hour drive today to Charlotte, NC to visit UNCC and check out their architecture program.  I took yesterday off from running because we had a 9 am. tour at Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI, and also because I ran six days in a row.  But now, I need to move my body before we get back in the car for the day.  There is no way I am going to run outside here.  I do not have the safe vibe in this city!

Break—headed for the treadmill…

35 minutes later…

Worked up a good sweat, ran three and a half miles, but had enough of breathing in my own stink in that tiny room.  My daughter chugged along on the stationary bike beside me, not complaining, really, but none too pleased to be spending her free time this morning accompanying me on my run.  She despises cardio workouts, preferring weightlifting and core work.  At least we were safe and dry, as it is now pouring here in Harrisburg.  Showers for us both, in-room breakfast from home, vegan-friendly, of course.  I’m not exactly homesick, but sure do miss my ocean-side run, my soy cafe misto, and my own bathroom.  One college down, two to go.  Off to Charlotte!