Friday, January 19, 2018

2018 Aramco Houston Half Marathon Recap!

This year's medal.  The race committee went with a graffiti theme, which of course we loved - after all, we've searched out the cool graffiti art each year for pictures!

My eleventh half marathon will be one I'll never forget, for a lot of reasons - even before I started the race, I'd already decided that this was going to be it for me with half marathons, as I spent most of the day before dealing with a nervous stomach and race anxiety, and that's just not fun for me.  So I went into the race thinking enjoy your last half, you don't ever have to do this to yourself again - and as you'll read in a bit, things got crazy, but this was the hardest I've ever pushed myself in a race, and I am really, really proud of myself for crossing that finish line.

Here's the recap - it's long, but you probably already guessed that - and I still have a post planned about our expo fun, but I'll save that one for Monday.  We stayed at a different hotel than previous years, so we walked to a local restaurant, Moonshiners, for an early dinner the night before the race.  They had some really tasty-sounding menu options that I would  have liked to try, had it not been, you know, the last meal I'd eat before running a half marathon:
Despite being interested in the blueberry chutney chicken and waffles, Jeff and I split a burger and fries to be on the safe side.
Group shot - from left: Andi, Julia, Jimmymeow, Karen, Diane, Cristy, Brian, me, and Jeff.

So you might notice we are missing Cary from that group shot.  Diane, Jeff, and I all drove together to Houston on Friday, as did Cary, Brian, and Logan, while Cristy and Cindy (their mom) drove in from the Austin area.  We went to the expo, then checked into the hotel, and finally met up with them that evening and hung out in their room (forever known as GROUND ZERO) for a while.  The next morning, Cary, Cristy, Brian, and Diane all ran the ABB 5K, and then we met up for breakfast.  We'd just started getting our food when Cary said she felt like she was going to vomit, so she left and went back to the hotel (it was right around the corner).  Poor thing spent the rest of the day sick, and Brian ended up taking her to an urgent care that night after dinner to get her some relief from all the vomiting.  But on Saturday night, we enjoyed our meal and the rest of us hung around more when we got back to the hotel before calling it a night.

Sunday morning, I woke up, nervous as usual.  We got dressed and met our group downstairs for a picture before heading out to the corrals, but as we were getting ready, Cary texted that Brian, Cristy, and Cindy had all gotten sick overnight, so none of them would be running the race.  Her mom had come to babysit Logan while Cary and Brian ran, but instead they all were struck by the same, obviously highly contagious, vomiting bug that Cary had.
Group shot, fewer Renegades.  We were sad to not have Cary, Brian, and Cristy there for the race after training all fall, especially with the new parents ready to run their first big race just four and a half months after Logan was born!

It was cold, right around freezing, so we put on our throwaway jackets and headed out to the corrals, which had been changed around this year.  Karen was in corral B so she went one direction while we went a different way.  I don't know if this is a usual occurrence because we don't normally see the A (fastest runners) corral pre-race, but there were race officials on bullhorns announcing the countdown to closing the corral (it was at three minutes when we heard them), and a lot of runners were sprinting to the corral!  Now, it was in a different area than previous years, but the race committee had been telling us that the corrals were changed for months now, in weekly emails and on their Facebook page, so if that was the issue, it was on the runners not paying attention.  But ooh, the panic was interesting to witness!
We walked by Minute Maid Park, which was new for us.  The Houston Astros won the World Series this year, so it was extra special to walk past their ballpark.
My 2XL closeout-priced windbreaker from Walmart worked perfectly for my throwaway!
Trying to stay warm, pre-race.  We were having fun, although Jeff mentioned his stomach wasn't feeling great - and he doesn't get race anxiety, so that was not good to hear.
Diane and I, pre-race selfie with Jeff photobombing.

I liked the new road that we were on for our corral, which held C and D - it was much wider, much more open, and we never felt crushed like we have in previous years.  The race started and we crossed the starting mat about 7:42, which is the latest ever for us, but no matter, it's all good.  The race was ON!

Jeff ran his own race, while Julia and Andi ran together.  Diane and I ran our standard 1:30/45 intervals, and tried not to go out too fast although our first mile was, of course, our fastest.  I know I say this every year, but this is such a good race - the spectators are amazing, the hoopla along the way is energetic, and it's an interesting route.  Plus, with this being the fourth time running the race, I liked coming up on familiar locations.  I have great affection for the Aramco Houston half marathon, even though I don't want to run that distance ever again, LOL.

I kept my throwaway jacket on until mile two - every time I thought about shedding it, we'd hit an area of shade, or were between tall buildings, and it was cold enough that I kept it on.  But I finally got rid of it (the race officials collect all the discarded clothing for donation), and even eventually removed my neck buff and my gloves.

We were running, but strangely, both Diane and I were not talking, which is odd - usually we'd be making comments about the spectator's signs, or other runners, or just random stuff.  Around mile four, I realized that I actually wasn't feeling great - my stomach was cramping up every time we did a running interval.  I mentioned that to Diane, and she said she wasn't feeling well, either.  Well, at least we were in it together.  We hit mile six which is, in my view, halfway there, so at that point we were committed to finishing the race, right?

We decided to reverse our intervals as the cramping was really only bad when we ran, and that helped a lot.  Although that slowed us down a bit, we were actually faster than all the previous years when we hit the marathon cut-off, as it was still completely open when we ran by it.  Normally it's just been closed and we've seen some really upset marathoners, because once they close that cut-off, the marathoners do not get to complete their marathon - they have to continue on the half marathon course to the end.  So that was encouraging to me...we were making decent time and would get to the finish soon.  Well, sooner.  Also, because of the stomach cramps, I ate less than one package of my Bolt chews, and I stopped drinking water around mile seven for the most part.  So hey - I can run a half marathon on very little fuel and water, as it turns out!

The sad thing is, that although I felt so bad with my stomach cramping up, I actually felt good during the race.  My back didn't hurt, my legs were fine, and except for a blister on my baby toe that I started to feel in the last mile, nothing really bothered me.  Oh, what this race could have's too bad that we were getting sick during it.  We ran our intervals, literally gutting it out, and except for one bathroom break around mile nine (we paused our Garmins for that), we just kept going.

We turned onto the last long stretch before we hit downtown and my Garmin went into low battery mode, what the what??  That was just after we hit mile 10, and what that meant is that I could only see the mile I was on and a large LOW BATTERY alert covering the screen.  So I couldn't see if I was on a 45 or 1:30 interval, and at that point, it was a little confusing.  I don't know where we were, maybe around mile 11 or so, when Diane said it hurt too much to run so she was just going to walk fast.  Well, her fast stride means I still have to run to keep up with her, so I just kept doing my intervals and ended up a little bit ahead of her, chugging along, wanting to get to the finish line.  I have never been so determined to finish a race in my life!

The strangest thing happened when I crossed the finish line - I threw my hands up in the air like I usually do, and then?  I burst into tears, and could not stop crying.  There's a long gamut you have to walk through once you finish, and I just kept crying as I was handed a water bottle, crying as I passed people, crying as one official hugged me (sorry dude, you probably got sick from that), crying as I got my was weird.  I even paused for a couple photographers, wiping my tears so I could get a picture - always get the post-race picture, no matter what.  I think the fact that I actually finished this most difficult race just overwhelmed me and I couldn't keep it together for a bit.

I was close to heading into the convention center when I heard Diane call my name - I turned around and she caught up to me, saying she felt really bad, so I did the only thing my half marathon-addled brain could do at that point, which was to push her toward medical, saying she is sick - yes, I am a true friend.  But I wasn't all there, seriously.  They took her and I continued through the gamut of photo ops, bananas, snacks, etc, before finally getting to where I would normally see Jeff waiting for me when I finish.  I didn't see him, so I continued on to get my finisher's shirt.  I'd just picked it up when Diane texted me, saying that Jeff was in medical as well, and he didn't look good.  It took me about four tries to finally get directed to the family area of medical, and I was able to get a report on Jeff (but wasn't allowed back where the patients were).  They thought he had the flu, but he was vomiting like crazy.  I checked on Diane and she was also vomiting.

I texted our group - Karen and Jimmy had already left for home, but Andi and Julia were still at the convention center, so I asked them to come take my backpack from me as it was a pain to carry around.  They arrived, took my stuff and Diane's bib so they could get her finisher's shirt for her, and we talked for a minute...and then?  I felt like I was going to barf.  Left them and made it to a trash can where I was heaving into it; then I was surrounded by a bunch of medical people with a wheelchair and I got to see what that whole medical side is all about.  So if you're counting, all seven of us who spent Friday evening together were down with a very potent gastrointestinal virus. 

Now, the interesting thing about medical at the Houston marathon is that they have medical students and aides assigned to each patient, with a physician overseeing each little group.  My group was awesome; they asked if they could remove my wet shirt and put a dry one on me, and held up blankets for privacy and took care of me, then did a whole bunch of assessment in between my bouts of heaving into a barf bag.  My blood pressure was super high so that had them concerned, but they were all calm and really great about trying to get me feeling better.  Fairly quickly, they gave me a small dose of Zofran, which is an anti-nausea medication, and when I still felt sick, they gave me a full dose and I started to feel decent after a bit.  I had to drink some Gatorade and keep that down before they'd release me, but I was only there for about 45 minutes, I think.  My medical student was so nice, she said I was her first lead case of the day, and I'm just glad she took such good care of me.  I asked for a picture when I was ready to leave:
I think her name is Victoria?  Any case, she's going to make an excellent doctor.

I went back to the family waiting area, as Jeff and Diane were still vomiting.  I wasn't there very long when their doctor came for me and said they needed to be transported to the hospital, as they weren't getting any better.  They had Jeff on a wheelchair transport, but the medic came over to me and said that he didn't want to go to the hospital.  I hadn't even talked to him at that point, but I could see he looked horrible, so I walked over, looked at him, and said YOU'RE GOING and he said oh, ok.  Then they told me Diane was putting up a fight about going, and I kind of forgot where I was and from across the cots, I looked at her and said GET IN THE F*CKING AMBULANCE.   Oops, not my nicest moment, but I was barely functioning and thinking, I have to go with Jeff, what am I going to do with Diane, not to mention she still looked horrible and was continuing to vomit.  I did go over and talked nicer to her about going, and she finally agreed - but geez.  Talk about difficult patients!
I was standing over by Diane when I took this picture of Jeff being taken to the ambulance.  

So here's the difference with their medical aid at the convention center vs mine - I was given Zofran almost right away, while they were not.  Different doctors, different opinions, but that might have changed their situation.  Or not - Jeff was so sick he ended up walking and weaving from mile eight on, and finally stumbled into a medical tent on the route at mile 11.5 - so close to finishing, but he was really sick and started vomiting, so they shuttled him back to the convention center, right into medical.

At least they got to ride in the same ambulance, although I have no hope that the bill will actually be split.  At one point a medic was asking me where we were staying to see how I could get to the hospital, and I realized he thought I might somehow make my way over half a mile back to the hotel, get our car, and then find that hospital?  Nope.  I told him I needed to ride with them, and magically, that happened. 

We ended up at a downtown hospital, not the best, but the ER doctor who took care of them was good, as were both of their nurses.  My major complaint was that they placed them at opposite ends of the ER, so I kept having to traverse the entire department to check on them.  It took a couple bags of saline and whatnot to get them better, along with that magic drug, Zofran.  There was a questionable lab result on Jeff's potassium levels that had to be redrawn twice more, and if it didn't improve they would have to admit him for treatment, but we decided, since he was feeling better, to discharge AMA if necessary and go to our local, more-trusted hospital.  Luckily that didn't happen, but the amount of how much treatment we were willing to allow there was minimal.
Diane gave me permission to post this - said she looked as bad as she felt.  Please note the double barf bags, as she was covering all her bases at that point.

Julia and Andi were still in town - mind you, we had a lovely, late check-out of 3:00 pm at the hotel, which was going to be so nice and relaxing after the race.  They told the hotel what was happening with us, and I also called, so we kept our rooms.  Thankfully, they came by the ER and brought me a sweatshirt, as I was freezing.  Andi shoved a bunch of twenties on me, because you know, we'd just run a race and had nothing on us, no cash, credit card, nothing but our phones.  At one point I really wanted a Sprite and found vending machines in the lobby, but they only took one and five dollar bills, and no one could give me any change, which was a bummer. 

As Diane and Jeff started to feel better, I started to feel bad again, which now that I know how long it lasts, realize that the Zofran had worn off for me.  I was sitting in Diane's room when I started vomiting; luckily we all were familiar with where the barf bags were.  She was being discharged so I went back to Jeff's room and vomited some more.  The doctor came in to discharge him and offered to admit me for rehydration, but we all were beyond ready to get out of there so I declined.

You'd think we're at the end of this story, but not quite.  I had the Uber app on my phone so that's how I was planning on getting us back to the hotel.  Shuffling like the walking dead, we made our way into the ER lobby, which is old-school, institutional, and underground.  I got the Uber called but couldn't make it take my credit card - it kept saying I needed to touch my fingerprint to authorize, but when I did that, it didn't work.  I was nearly in despair and about to vomit again when Jeff realized that I was trying to touch the picture of the fingerprint instead of putting my finger on the home button.  Yeah, my brain was shutting down.  I got that done, and then apparently I sat down on the steps inside the lobby and just started barfing my guts out - into a bag, at least, but according to Diane and Jeff, I didn't care who saw or heard me.  Luckily I finished by the time the Uber got there (sorry, Raul in a white Camry, your car is contaminated), we got back to the hotel, got our key cards recoded for another night, and stumbled up to our rooms, where I was sick all night long.

We finally made it home late Monday morning, and have been trying to recover from the most memorable, and expensive, race weekend ever.  While I love having adventures with my fellow Renegades, I'd like for this to be a once-and-done, if you know what I mean.
Not only did I get a finisher's shirt, but I got a bonus race crew shirt while I was in medical.  I'll wear them both with pride.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

WWU - Delayed

I finished the race, and it was one for the memory books, that's for sure, but I'm sick right now and can't string together enough words to do it justice.  I'll be back soon with all the details.

Monday, January 15, 2018

2017 Knitting Projects!

In keeping with my tradition, I present to you my second annual roundup of knitting projects.  Randomly, I ended up knitting 16 items in 2016, but did I think about making sure I knitted 17 projects in 2017?  I did not.  However, in counting everything up, I actually finished the year with 21 items!  Wow.  This time, instead of socks being my number one knitted item, it was all about the baby gifts, with a grand total of 9 items for three different babies.  I also finished my sweater, which was a huge project for me...and who knows, maybe in 2018 I'll knit one that actually fits, ha!

Here's what I made, starting with socks:
THREE PAIRS OF SOCKS???  I really thought I knitted more.  Well, I do have half a pair finished, but it looks like I slacked off on my beloved sock knitting in favor of something projects.   Although I knitted fewer socks in 2017, my love for them has not diminished, nor has my supply of pretty sock yarn, and except for when I'm starting out with the toe, and then when I'm making the heel, the rest of the time socks are a mindless knit for me, so I always have a pair on the needles.

Next up, adult headwear:
I made five hats and two earwarmer headbands!  And I actually kept one hat, woohoo!  The hat in the top left picture is mine, all mine.  The pattern is Runner's Watchcap, yarn is Malabrigo sock, colorway is Arco Iris.  I put a ponytail hole in it and it's kept my head and ears nice and warm while I run without feeling too hot, thanks to the lightweight wool yarn.

I went outside of my comfort zone and learned how to do stranded knitting with the Branta hat, and that turned out to be my favorite of all that I made, although honestly I look at each one and love them all.  I'm including the cabled ear warmers in this category; again, I went beyond my ability with them and expanded my knitting skill set a bit more, so go me!

I'm adding a new category to my finished projects this year - other.  Yes yes, very creative, but what should I say?  Shoulders?  Neck?  Nah...other:
A lace shawl and an adult-sized sweater!  Both of these were challenging for me, and while the sweater still needs some revisiting in order for me to get to wear it, I finished it in good faith that it would fit, so I'm calling it done for this post.

Finally, the cutest category - baby items:
Gah, the cuteness still gets me...and seeing the babies wearing what I've knitted?  It's almost too much to handle!

I stocked up on some beautiful sock yarn while I was in North Carolina, so I'm good for some more projects in 2018:
This all comes from Ireland - it's hand dyed and the colors are just amazing - it's taking everything in me to not wind it up and cast on a new sock...I'm forcing myself to finish the current pair first.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Knitty Gifts!

Now that Christmas is over and presents have been opened, I can show you what I made for my parents this year.  It helps that they live in an area where they have cold winters with snow - they actually need warm items, and I cannot resist knitting hats.  The first two are what I made for my mom, and the last one is what I made for my dad.

I was scrolling through the new patterns on Ravelry when this hat jumped out at me - it was so cute, and I knew I had the exact same yarn colors in my stash - so I had to make it!  Plus, I was feeling a little adventurous after my success at knitting some baby hats that used the stranded knitting technique, so I thought I'd give this one a go.  You guys.  I was so happy with how it turned out!  And, even though I overthought the colorwork section a bit (seriously Shelley, just do what the pattern says), it ended up being one of my most favorite hats that I've knitted!  Here it is:
Pattern is Branta Hat, yarn is all Madelinetosh DK in Tern, Grasshopper, and Antler colorways.  Shown with the full brim/slouchy look, but you can also fold the brim over and give it a closer-fitting beanie look.
How about that pompom?  That thing makes this hat POP!  

I love the pompom, even though it's a mental challenge for me to make one - not because it's hard (I use a Clover pompom maker, easy-peasy), but because it uses so much yarn.  But this hat needed the pompom, and I can always get more lime green yarn.  What can I say, I might have a little problem with hoarding pretty yarn...


This hat drew me in because of the top - you finish it completely different from normal hats, plus when you block it, you use marbles to hold the space open, which I fell for hook, line, and sinker.  I even ordered the exact yarn used in the pattern, which conveniently came with marbles.  Check it out:
Blocking, with marbles.  I'm sure you could use something else, but the marbles were a throwback to my childhood, so that's what I used.
Still drying...
 Pattern is Keepsies, yarn is Lemonade Shop DK, colorway is Stormy Day.
THE TOP!  I love it.

The pattern designer is a big proponent of swatching, which means to knit a sample using different size needles, and seeing which swatch produces the fabric feel you prefer.  She had a recommended gauge, which is amount of stitches per inch, and I kept hitting it with a variety of needle sizes, but I was trying to get this yarn to stripe, and I had issues with that - the fun colors kept not meeting to make the nice stripes.  I ended up trying it out with three different size needles before finally hitting on the right one - good thing I liked this yarn, because I had a lot of interaction with it before I really got started knitting the hat!


My dad spends a decent amount of time outdoors in the winter, and I've knitted him a variety of hats - some are more beanie-style, some with heavier yarn, but for this one, I wanted to knit a hat that could either be a bit on the slouchy side, or worn as a beanie if you folded the brim over.  Because of that, I could use a pretty yarn and let that be the star of the show, so to speak:
I used the Branta pattern but didn't do any of the colorwork - it's such a nice-fitting pattern that I knew it would work out for this hat.  Yarn is Madelinetosh DK, colorway is Plaid Blanket.

The funny thing about these three hats is that I finished them all in about three weeks.  I'm not a fast knitter; I'm a "thrower" which is a slower way of knitting to begin with, plus I just don't speed through things.  So I was shocked when I ended up with all of my Christmas knitting finished in October - maybe all of the baby knits I did made me a faster knitter?  I don't know for sure, but it was nice to have everything finished and wrapped well before Thanksgiving for a change!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

WWU - 6@6on6th

You know I have a thing for cool numbers, right?  Like, when the date was 11/12/13, or 7/7/07 - ahhh, I just love it when things line up like that.  Which is why, when I was posting our route and start time in our Renegade group's Facebook page and wrote "6 miles at 6:00 am" I had to change it to "6@6(am)" - but later, when I was logging that run into my running journal, I realized that the date was the 6th and, well, I was way too happy.  Hey, it's the little things in life that thrill me, what can I say?

Anyway, you can probably surmise that we ran 6 miles on Saturday.  And because we were running a shorter distance, it was really nice to not start running until 6:00 am for a change; I liked setting my alarm where the first number was a 5 and not a 4.  It was cold, right around 32 degrees, but by now I've got my gear figured out and except for my standard frozen fingers for the first couple of miles, I was comfortable.  Diane was still out of town on her Christmas holiday, so it was just Cary and I who ran together, which was nice as we had a couple of weeks worth of stuff to catch up on.  Considering this was the first time I'd run in 9 days, and the first time Cary had run in two weeks due to the cold she was still dealing with, the run went well and we ran fairly fast for us, thanks to the cold weather.

This was our last long run before the Houston half marathon, which is on Sunday.  If you'd asked me a month ago, I would have said I was decently prepared for the race.  But the problem with a half marathon coming so close after the holiday season is that sometimes you get off track with your training, and although I really only missed one long run, I did miss several weekday runs thanks to the extremely cold weather and the long drive, and now, I just don't know.  I mean, I know I'll finish the distance, but I suspect it might be more of a struggle than usual - and believe me, running 13.1 miles is ALWAYS a struggle for me, it's just a question of at what point during that distance will the struggle become evident?  Generally I have my "I can't do this, I want to quit" moment right around 3 miles (yes, 3 miles, which is ridiculous I KNOW), and then I physically start to hurt around mile 8, and that becomes rough as I grit my way through another 5+ miles.  Hey, maybe that won't happen until mile 12 this year?  One can hope...

But Diane is in the same boat as me, so we're planning on just enjoying the race, soaking up the experience as much as possible, and in the end, we'll cross the finish line, same as we always do.  And if any other Renegades need to join us as we run around downtown Houston, we are happy to have them - the more, the merrier!


After our run on Saturday, we changed into warm, dry clothing and headed over to Blue Baker, where this was waiting for us:
Two giant loaves of ciabatta bread!  Our baker is so good to us.

It was great fun to be with everyone after being gone for two weeks, and I was sitting right next to Logan, so I couldn't resist taking some pictures:
I love this - it looks like he's pondering what he's going to say to me.  Oh, and also?  He's found his voice and was making all kinds of noise, probably trying to rise up with the loudness of the Renegade chatter (but we were still much louder).
And then, his eyelids started fluttering, which elicited all kinds of "awwwws" from everyone around him...and then he was out!  Adorbs.


Yesterday morning Jeff, Diane, and I ran a couple miles around our neighborhood, and we'll do the same tomorrow, weather-permitting (currently rain is in the forecast).  And then, it's race day!  We're ready...I think.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Christmas in North Carolina!

We had such a fun Christmas day!  Sam and Allie had been to Universal Studios during Thanksgiving week, getting one last visit in with their annual pass, and while they were there, they bought all kinds of Harry Potter items for stocking stuffers and Christmas gifts.  Everyone was happy with their presents, including Paco:
He loves tearing into his gift almost as much as he loves eating it!

The kadults gave Jeff a Chewbacca suit, which he wore proudly:
He even walked the dog while wearing it, and as the days got colder, the suit seemed even more necessary.

I wasn't kidding about the Harry Potter loot:
Everyone got something - for the record, the Gringotts chocolate coins are delicious, while the jelly slugs are about as gross as you might imagine, LOL.

I gave the kadults a picture collage of our visit to The Simpson world, along with a photo statuette of my favorite family picture of us:
Some families go formal, some coordinate their clothing - but we happily pose with Homer, Marge, Bart, and Lisa Simpson!

I got a framing staple gun, which I've wanted for years but never could justify buying for myself.  I've already used it and love it:
Why did I go so long without having this?  It's freaking awesome!

The other thing that I requested, and received, was a combination hairdryer/brush, which lets you dry and style your hair at the same time.  I cannot believe how easy it is to do my hair with it, and I'm thrilled with how it looks:
Well apparently I have a certain side when I do selfies, LOL.

Christmas dinner, with traditional crackers beforehand, which gave us our traditional paper crowns:
Hmmm.  I think I see which kid takes after which parent...

Followed by mandatory rest time:
So full, so sleepy!
So bery sweepy!

It was a great day, and just really nice to be low-key and get to spend time with our family; while our humor might not be for everyone, there is always a lot of laughter happening and I'm glad we get each other so well.  We also had another full week together after Christmas, which was especially nice - the times when all four of us are together are too few, so we have to make every moment count.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Christmas in North Carolina - Gettin' There

We spent Christmas at our son's place in North Carolina - all told, we were gone for 13 days because we drove there, which takes two days each direction.  It would have been nice to fly out there, like Allie did, but we had to take Paco, plus Sam had a lot of electronic equipment that he was passing on to Allie and us, so we needed a vehicle to bring everything back.  We had enough points to rent a car for free, which was very nice - we ended up with a Nissan Murano, fully-loaded, and I have to say, it made the drive as pleasant as it could be, all things considered.

We left Texas on the Thursday before Christmas, and drove to Birmingham, Alabama, which took us just over 12 hours.  While long, that drive was fairly uneventful; we listened to a book on Audible, thanks to our friend Cary, who shared her account with us.  We all had Happy Meals from McDonald's - yes, even Paco...he loves a cheeseburger - and I have to say, the fries that come in the Happy Meal are adorable:
Honestly, it was the perfect amount.
A retro McDonald's in Mississippi - we sat outside and had lunch, just like in the olden days when they only had outside seating.

At first, Paco enjoyed the ride and was happy in his spot in the back seat:
Did someone say HAPPY MEAL??

The next day, we woke up early and got on the road, where we encountered traffic jam after traffic jam - it was stop-and-go basically from Georgia to Sam's place in North Carolina:
Here's the Olympic Flame from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics...and stopped traffic.
Boiled peanuts at a gas station in Georgia.  Wasn't. Even. Tempted.  This was also where we got a call from our credit card's fraud department, as we tried to get gas at a station across the street from this station but couldn't get our card to read, so we left and went to a different gas station.  At least they were quick to note weird activity (two swipes at two gas stations within five minutes).
Here's the peach water tower, not in Georgia (aren't they famous for peaches??) but rather, South Carolina.  One of the few times we were actually moving at normal speed there - I swear, that entire state's highways were under construction and down to one lane.
Here's Paco, who had given up on life and wouldn't even face me.
Hey, here's yet ANOTHER traffic jam.  This was about two hours from Sam's place.  We were despairing of ever reaching it at that point.  We finally arrived at 7:45 that evening, which was about three hours later than we should have gotten there.
One of Sam's coworkers likes to bake, and he made this triple-layer cake for us, which was so nice, and a sweet reward at the end of our epic journey to North Carolina. 
 Paco was very happy to be with his boy, and especially happy to be out of the car!

Next up, Christmas day!  Yes I know I'm a little behind and should be posting about new year resolutions and all that, but we just got home on Wednesday, and I'm finally at my own computer and have time to blog.  Pretend it's still 2017 when you come here for the next few days, OK?