Friday, May 26, 2017

FMM: Universal Studios - Pictures and Rides!

For my Mother's Day gift, my kadults sprang for the unlimited photo package at Universal Studios - it's like they know me or something!  Pictures??  Yes please.  Here's some of them, for your entertainment:
At the entrance to Universal Studios.
At the entrance to Islands of Adventure.
Other view at Islands - Sam was off checking out Express Pass pricing when we took this one.
Magically holding Puss in Boots and the Gingerbread man.

The best shots were on the rides:
We planned this and actually pulled it off on the first try - even the guy at the picture place was impressed!  This was on the Forbidden Journey ride, which is my favorite of all the rides there.
Sometimes they will pull you aside for a picture while in line for the Escape from Gringotts ride - and with Sam in the shot, you never know what shenanigans will happen.
Sam again with his shenanigans - it wasn't THAT scary, LOL.
Spiderman was a good ride but the spot where they take the picture wasn't particularly scary, hence the lack of reaction on everyone's faces.  Wearing 3D glasses - don't we look cool?
This is truly the faces of fear and trying not to die - you can even see their white knuckles!  The Hulk ride bashes your head around, which is why I won't go on it...I need what's left of my brain cells, thank you very much.  
...and here's where you can see who the real daredevil is in our family.

With the exception of the Hulk ride, we went on every ride multiple times over the week that we were there.  On the day we did the water rides, we wore bathing suits and/or lightweight technical clothing, plus we brought flip flops and changed into them once we walked to the rides, which turned out to be an excellent idea as we were completely soaked; it was a hot day, so getting wet felt great.  One ride where they don't take your picture is Popeye's Bilge-Rat Barges, which is a circular raft that seats 12 people - this one soaks you completely, with water gushing in around your feet and from above.  There was no line for this one, so we were able to stay on and ride again three times - each with a new group of people, and it was hilarious to see their reactions as the ride went under the first waterfall.

The other fun thing that we did was to squirt unsuspecting riders of the water rides with the water canons on the bridges - each squirt cost a token, and apparently we did that so often that Sam's credit card company called him to verify the charges, LOL.  Why yes, he did spend $5 for a handful of tokens multiple times - totally worth it.  We were expecting to get karmic retribution when we finally went on those rides, but only got squirted a few times. 

There are only a few rides that we collectively agreed are clunkers - E.T., which is incredibly dated and boring, Minions - but that could be because none of us are into the Minions, and Race Through New York starring Jimmy Fallon - for a new ride with all of the technology, it was just meh for us.  We didn't go on any of the Dr. Seuss rides, but Jeff and I did when we went there several years ago - they're fine if you have younger children or are not a fan of the more thrilling rides.

My favorite rides:
  • Harry Potter Forbidden Journey
  • Harry Potter Escape From Gringott's
  • Harry Potter Dueling Dragons
  • Hogwarts Express 
  • The Simpsons
  • Rip Ride Rockit
  • The Mummy
  • Dr. Doom's Fearfall
When we were on Dr. Doom's Fearfall, we happened to see Dr. Doom himself walking into the park (we were high up in the air) and started yelling "DR. DOOM, DR. DOOM!!"  He looked up and waved to us, which was pretty cool.  What can I say - when you're at a theme park, you can act like a kid and get away with it!

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Have a great weekend - it's a long one for those of us in the United States; we plan on getting in some grilling along with some hammock time, plus Allie will be home!  I'm taking Memorial Day Monday off from blogging so I'll see you back here on Wednesday.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

WWU - Back to Running

Oh man, even though I got a lot of exercise while we were on vacation via walking, getting back to running when we returned was rough.  I had 12 days off between runs, and during that break, our temperatures shot up tremendously; I jumped back into running with 4 miles in heat and humidity that made it feel extra rough.

Two days later I ran with Jeff and Diane but only managed to get in 2.5 miles before having to call it - the heat index was near 80 degrees at 5:45 am, ugh!  I wasn't feeling good during the run; as I sat at my desk, drinking a cold glass of water afterward, Jeff walked by and said my face was beet red and practically glowing in the darkened room.  Not sure what was up with that, if I was just unaccustomed to running in such extreme humidity or what, but in preparation for our Saturday run, I made sure to hydrate well the day before, along with drinking a glass of Nuun (I still have some old tablets that I've hoarded from before they changed their formula).

Saturday morning dawned, and as I always do, I checked the weather online.  Thunderstorms were predicted, but not until about 9:00 am - we'd be finished well before then.  I could see storms on the radar, north of us, but we seemed OK, so Jeff and I got dressed and drove to the clubhouse.  As we made the short drive, we started to see lightening flashes in the distance, so I checked the radar again, and in the 45 minutes since I first checked it, the storm had moved south and was predicted to hit momentarily.  We literally got to the clubhouse, parked the car, and all hell broke loose - it was a true Texas gullywasher!  So, no run that morning, boo.  Instead, we went to Blue Baker and enjoyed catching up with almost everyone (Cary was attending her last class and Jimmy was on a fishing trip).  Our baker gave us lots of treats - a fresh-from-the-oven loaf of ciabatta bread, and a plate of blondie brownie ends:
This plate was cleared, FAST!

We maybe get the blondies once or twice a year - I don't think they make them all that often, which is probably a good thing, as they are ridiculously delicious and much harder to resist than their other desserts.

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Yesterday, despite 100% humidity, my 4 mile run went much better.  Jeff, Diane and I ran around our neighborhood and it felt like a normal run, which was a relief after back-to-back hard runs.  Finished, being completely soaked with sweat - yep, sounds like what running in south Texas will be like for the foreseeable future.  But my legs cooperated, so I'm good with it.  You take what you can get; I was reading a blog where they talked about the importance of wearing technical fabric so it can wick away moisture ("moisture" - hah) and dry while you run so you will be comfortable, but it's impossible to keep ahead of the moisture here - running in such high humidity just means you are a soaking-wet sweat-fest.  I'm used to it at this point, and it almost seems normal to me, egad!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Family Vacation - Universal Studios Orlando!

We went to Universal Studios in Orlando again - we still had our annual passes, and there was one week in May that worked for everyone's schedule to take vacation, so we decided to go ahead and book another trip.  I will say that it helped getting super cheap airfare on Southwest Airlines for Allie, Jeff, and I; it was well worth the drive to Dallas to fly out of Love Field (our first time doing that) - we had a nonstop flight to Orlando, and the difference in flying from that airport vs. DFW was incredible...much more of a relaxed atmosphere, plus flying Southwest was great considering you can check your luggage for free.  Sam drove to Orlando from North Carolina and picked us up at the airport, which was very nice.
Our building
Beachside - located right next to the sand area, pool, and lazy river!

We decided to stay at the Cabana Bay resort again - we really enjoyed it last time, plus it was quite affordable.  This go-round, we chose a family suite instead of two separate rooms that adjoined; the cost was not much more, but the amount of space we had made it really comfortable for the four of us to be together for a week.  We ended up in a brand new building at Cabana Bay and we were the first people to stay in our suite, so everything was brand new as well.  We had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a little kitchen area, and a nice living room:
Our home away from home for a fun week!

The best part of our room was that we were on the ninth floor and had an incredible view of Volcano Bay, which is Universal's newest theme park.  It's supposed to open on May 25th, but I'll be honest - despite watching a huge construction crew working day and night (thankfully our rooms had blackout curtains, because they had some bright lights going all night long - but it made it easy to watch the action 24/7), I have my doubts as to if the entire park will be ready.  It looks gorgeous with a neat tropical theme, and the volcano is very cool, but there was a lot still to be done when we were there:
One day the water area on the left was being filled, and then we saw waves being generated...
Then it was drained...
Refilled and incredibly murky...
Looking much more appealing now.

I am not a water park person anyway, so this particular park isn't on my agenda.  I'm much more of a lazy river person - give me a float and let me drift away!  We usually hit the pool area at least once a day while we were there; some days we had breakfast at the hotel, then spent the morning at the pool before heading over to the park or to other activities:
Jeff and Sam on the lazy river; Allie and I enjoying beverages poolside.  We also usually ended up with an order of pool fries every afternoon...ahhh, vacation eating!
We also went bowling one afternoon in the retro bowling alley at the hotel.  I haven't bowled in forever and my scores reflected that - first game I got a 33 and the second game a 70.  No worries, it was still lots of fun - luckily I'm not competitive.

We had a great week together - it was wonderful to have my family unit all together again.  It's funny...you have kids and they are with you all the time for years and years and years, and then they grow up and get jobs and have lives in other cities and states and suddenly you're down to getting the family together once a year if you're lucky.  So this week was extra special and we all really enjoyed spending time with each other.

I'll do another post with more pictures of our time at the parks - we went every day, but most days managed to be done by early afternoon, so we could get out of the direct sun...besides, the pool was calling by then!  But I can't end this without some pictures of the ridiculous - yes, ridiculous desserts that we indulged in at the Chocolate Emporium, which is a really cool steampunk-themed restaurant that we went to twice - one time for a meal and dessert (and that was the only time we ate all day...believe me it was enough food), and a second time just for dessert:
 
Espresso milkshake
Peanut butter and jelly ice cream with a piece of cheesecake
S'mores delight
Milkshake with a rice krispy treat topper
Milkshake with a chocolate covered frozen banana topper
Milkshake with a red velvet cupcake topper
Allie trying not to die after eating some of her milkshake.

We never could finish any of the desserts, and we shared them, and yes, they were over-the-top, but it was our vacation and we had fun choosing and indulging in them.  Go big or go home right?  To be honest, I'm full just looking at the pictures again!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday Mishmash

While we were in Orlando for a week, we had a couple friends helping out with our pets.  Diane came over at lunchtime to let Paco out for a potty break, and one day, he apparently threw a temper tantrum and refused to leave Jeff's closet.  She said she couldn't cajole him out for anything - I mean, really Paco, was that necessary?  Here's the picture she sent me:
Here's what a big baby looks like...

Luckily that was the only day he acted like his world had ended; the rest of the time he interacted with everyone.

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Speaking of pets, I missed a kitty rescue last week!  My running peeps were on their Saturday run when they came across a tiny orange kitty in a wooded area, and they managed to rescue him:
Awww!  What a tiny little guy!
JimmyMEOW was called to bring a box for the kitty, but that didn't last long - the kitty was a little cuddle buddy.
The rescue squad - Karen, Andi, Jimmy, Diane, and Cary.

You'd think that Jimmymeow would have been the one to end up with the kitty, based on how much he was holding him, but Andi ended up being the one to take him home.  I'm sad that I missed out on the kitty rescue fun, but it was probably for the best, as I am a sucker for orange kittens and I do not need any more pets.

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Yesterday while volunteering at the gift shop, Rosalie and I decided to accessorize a mannequin; we ended up going with a small purse that went with the dress she was wearing, and added two gold necklaces in different lengths.  Were we ever pleased when not 30 minutes later, a customer took interest in what we'd done and ended up buying both of the necklaces off the display!  So we redressed her, and while we were choosing new jewelry, Kendall came in and said we needed to name her, as we kept calling her "the lady" - without missing a beat, Rosalie and I shouted out names at the same time.  I said Beverly, while she said Methuselah.  Methuselah??  I'm not saying Beverly is a real winner, but I think it beats Methuselah, LOL!

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I got my hair cut and went a little shorter, and even moved the part - OOH, THE EXCITEMENT!  I know.  But I said that because it's funny how I can be feeling just meh about myself, and usually that coincides with it being time for a cut and highlight appointment.  Amazing how much that impacts my well-being - and while I can't quite duplicate the curling iron waves that my hairdresser put in, I am pretty happy with my new style:
 All set for summer!

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I'm looking forward to running with my fellow renegades tomorrow - it's been two weeks since we've been home to run with them, so it will be nice to catch up with everyone.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Diane's First Marathon!

Because we all were so invested in the training part of Diane's first marathon, I asked her to write a race recap to share with everyone; she went above and beyond that, which I love!  Here's how she became a marathon runner, with a few side notes from your editor thrown in.

Hi, Diane here...the marathoner!  Wouldn't have happened without my crew, The Renegades, and all their support.

THE DECISION
For awhile now, I've wondered if I could run a marathon.  I ran the Houston Half with Shelley, using intervals, and this made me think I just might be able to pull this off. When I crossed the finish line, I realized I wasn't tired, sore or exhausted. I felt great! Others were struggling with blisters, leg & foot pain and I must admit, I sat there very quietly - feeling guilty, thinking I had the energy to go out there and do it again. Then it hit me, intervals! That was the secret!

FEAR OF FAILURE
At first I thought I would "sneak run." Just run to get my miles in on my own - that way, if I bailed on this crazy idea, nobody would be the wiser. But I realized a flaw in my plan...Shelley! She would know. Frankly, I'm just not that sneaky but we're also on Garmin connect and we can see each other's runs. Now there is probably a way to block certain runs...but when it comes to technology, I know just enough to be dangerous. And since Shelley and Cary helped set up my Garmin, that wasn't happening.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Funny thing, on one of our short 2 mile runs, after Houston, Shelley mentioned to me how she was going to cut back on the miles. The very next Saturday's long run, I mentioned I was thinking about a marathon. Now was the time. I felt great, no injuries and running felt good. Some how her "cutting back" led her to 6-10 miles for a Saturday run and 5 miles twice a week! She was running more miles now than ever before. Her monthly total for miles was at an all time high. And I appreciate all the time, effort and support to help make this happen, especially when I knew she was hoping to run less. But what fun is that?

PICK A PLAN
I had gone over a number of training plans. There are so many it's mind boggling.  But I needed one I could live with and not end up injured due to overtraining. I found one that had 3 runs/week and a long run on Saturday. I realize I have limitations and at 60 years old, I just can't run 6 or 7 days a week and survive. I had Shelley check out the plan since she had been so involved with USAFIT and training plans. She approved. And we were off and running! We would run together twice a week and on Wednesdays I would run the speed or hill workouts. As the mileage got higher, my legs were exhausted and hurting come Thursday mornings. She finally asked me if I really needed to do the Wednesday workouts since it was hurting so much. Speed wasn't going to be the issue...I wasn't planning on winning the marathon, it was a matter of just finishing. So as our miles went up, I eliminated the Wednesday workout and things went so much smoother. I learned it's OK to adjust your plan to make it work for you.

EARLY MORNINGS
Shelley would set up our routes every Saturday morning. We got so we would run 4-6 mile loops. That way others could join us or drop off at our water stop under the lamppost at their desired mileage. Jeff would always be there to meet me and start the runs sometimes even as early as 4:00 AM. I was so glad to have the company...it could be creepy at times that early. Jeff is a fast runner...I am not. He is used to running continuously and I have been working on intervals so adjusting to a much slower, interval run was a big change for him that he did happily. Shelley would always be waiting under the lamppost half way though my run to take over for Jeff. Cary & Julia joined in on some of our early morning runs too.

THE PERFECT RACE
This was a challenge. I was looking for a marathon that would allow plenty of time to finish. I was willing to travel throughout Texas, even Oklahoma, Arkansas or Louisiana in April, May, or June. I found a small race in Waxahachie, Texas. The Hachie 50 at Getzendaner Park. It allows for an 8 hour marathon finish. It's only 2.5 hours away. And BONUS, the marathon is the shortest distance offered. This is a huge positive for me. They also offered the 50K, 50 mile relay, and 50 mile distances. The 50 mile relay and 50 miler started at 5:00 AM. The marathon and 50K, the short races, started at 7:00 AM. I kind of was hoping for an earlier start...like 4:00 AM. Heck, the 5:00 AM would have made me happy but they didn't offer an early option for marathoners. The next thing I checked was last year's times. I do this with smaller races to make sure I fit into the timing. My only hesitation was the start time. Things can get hot by early afternoon in Texas.

PRE-RACE SENDOFF
The Renegades are an awesome group.  We got together Thursday before the big race and everybody was able to make it, even baby Mason. He even woke up so I could play with him.  I got all sorts of great and not so great advice. They gave me an inspiring 26.2 cutout and a 26.2 sticker for my car. And Shelley was able to find the perfect card! Inside it says "Cheering you on every step of the way." Talk about pressure! But I knew, if for some reason I wasn't able to make it to the finish line, they would still be cheering me on and be encouraging for that next attempt.

RACE DAY
I drove to Waxahachie on Friday, May 5th. I had time not only for packet pickup at Academy and additional shopping - who can leave Academy without hitting the sale racks and finding some great deals -  but also time to check out the race site. Beautiful park with lots of trees. Very nice. This was going to be good!

The Key Conundrum:  I had everything laid out and set to go. My plan...to be at the car at 6:00 AM and loaded up to head to the park for a fun day of sweat and pain. My plan was right on schedule, until I reached the car...the door would not open. I have a Prius with an automatic door opener when the key is close to the lock. I had my purse right up near the door. No luck. OK, maybe it's in another bag. I start grabbing bags off the cart and holding them to the door handle. I start flipping the bags in case the key was buried in the bag and needed to be closer...no luck...HELP! OK maybe I left them in my jeans pocket from the night before, I rip open the big bag and grab my jeans and hold them to the door handle. Still no luck. OK, think, think, don't panic. I grab the big bag and jam the top of the opened bag right up around the lock. Nope. OK, PANIC! I throw everything back on the cart and run it into the lobby. I start dumping my purse and backpacks onto the couch. Then it hit me...I planned ahead and the night before put the key in my hydration pack. Reload and off to the car. Disaster averted.

Ready, Set, Go: The race was one of the smaller races that I have run in a long time. There were a total of 200 runners in all 3 races and 60 relay teams. Standing at the start, waiting for the 50K runners to begin first, I began to feel outclassed. Everyone was younger and appeared that this type of race was just another easy run on a beautiful Saturday morning. The weather was perfect, in the low 50's to start the morning off, but things would be heating up. The race for the marathon was an out-and-back 3 times. It was mostly on a wide sidewalk, which was about 80% tree covered for the entire race. This race allowed pacers, they just asked that the pacer not to take anything from the water stations and to make room for the runners when necessary. This was an open trail so there were other runners and bikers not involved with the race, but still was not crowded and caused no problem.

Course support was tremendous. Frequent water stations with a number of additional items like orange slices, watermelon, bananas, pickle juice, candies, Fizz tablets and oh yeah...water and Gatorade. The volunteers were supportive and after the first time past they knew me. The absolute best water station was near the end of the turn around. This was a tough stretch that was in the sun for about a mile. And just before you ran into the sun, the water station had disposable cloths dunked in ice cold water. Ahhhh.
The first out and back was great. Felt good and it was nice and cool. The course was heavily shaded and the trees created a very welcome canopy for running. The trail meandered around near the river where you could hear the water flowing. We ran past a dog park, a field of horses, a butterfly garden and birdhouses on fence posts at the edge of grassy fields. In the sun stretch of the course we were treated to horses grazing along the fence line. At the furthest part of the course was a fire training school.

What could possibly go wrong: The beginning of the 2nd lap, I realized my phone was already down to 52% power. Man, I had gone over all this many times before just so this wouldn't happen. I knew I would need the music for that final lap, so I powered down and went without music for the entire 2nd lap. This was difficult - I really count on that to pull me through...but I knew I would need it for the final lap. Around mile 18, just starting the 3rd lap, the blister that had started to form on my toe miles before, broke. It took about a mile for it to numb out and not be noticeable. But that's when the leg cramps began. I stopped suddenly and the cramping got astronomically worse! OK, walk walk walk...but I started walking back the way I came. Then I realized I was going in circles...at least make forward progress! Don't waste steps going backwards. By then it had subsided enough to run again. I had to really focus and just try to relax because the cramping would come and go for the remainder of the race.  I turned my phone back on and somehow the power had dropped to 23%. WHAT?! This was not the plan. I figured, what the heck, listen to the music til it dies a slow and painful death.
There were, what appeared, to be very comfortable benches and swings all along the trail. And by this point  in the race I was eyeing them but also knew if I even sat down for a  minute,  I probably wouldn't have made it back up. Rounding a curve, around mile 21.25 I saw my husband John walking towards me. We kept moving forward towards the open sun stretch that I was dreading. But when we emerged from the wooded trail, I saw Mick, Heather, and Ben, my sons and Mick's girlfriend! They had traveled all the way from Austin to support me! And this is where I needed it most. They stayed with me on the open road for about a mile in the hot sun while John ran to his car and recharged my phone. At that point Mick, Heather, and John drove to the finish line while Ben stayed with me for the remaining 4 miles to the finish. We were also joined by Melony, better known as Marathon Mel, and the 3 of us powered through the remaining sun and back onto the shaded path. We stayed together, Ben and Mel with encouraging words.
Marathon Mel, Diane, and Ben

Things start to heat up: I was struggling, big time, but kept chugging along. Mel and Ben were chatting away...I was focusing on not cramping, and breathing.  I had even gotten to the point where I was having a hard time getting my water bottle out of my hydration belt. That's where Ben came in and just carried it for me and handed it to me when I needed it. He would also be in charge of refills at the water stations. We were closing in on the finish, only a mile and a half left. It just so happens this is where we run beside a cemetery for a few hundred yards. They did have a few openings and the last trip past I thought I might just collapse in an open spot...but it was in the sun and the sidewalk was shaded. Ben actually pointed out rows 34 and 35 had openings if I was interested. I guess I looked as bad as I felt. Gotta love that kid!

Grand Finale: With about a quarter mile left Mel went ahead and sprinted in to the finish. I was still focusing on one foot in front of the other and not falling over. Ben pealed off and I tried my best to look like I might have at least something left in the tank as I made it across the finish line.

Good news, Bad news: I finished...but ended up in the back of an ambulance hooked up to an IV. A bit dehydrated & my BP had dropped to 80/50 but after a pint of saline, I was feeling pretty darn good. Big thank you to Jett & Yaser, the from Ellis County EMS. They did an exceptional job taking care of me.

And once recovered...we went to the Smoothie Factory for a refreshing cold smoothie to celebrate with my Race Day Crew.

Take away: This is the prefect small town race. I would highly recommend it to anyone attempting their first long distance or coming back for more. The Race Organizer did such an outstanding job with details that make it a runner friendly race. I am hoping to convince The Renegades to add this to our race schedule...The relay is a minimum of 10 miles/person...what's 10 miles Shelley? Or we could go for a marathon...(editor's note:  that would be a big NOPE for me, HA!).

Just after finishing with Assistant Race Director & Founder of Waxahachie Running Club, Russell Williams. The Race Director, Paul Box is not pictured...he was working hard.
The very cool wood medal!

Editor's note:  I have to interject here with what was happening on the Renegade side of this race day.  Diane had started a group text when she began the race, and once she realized that her Garmin LiveTracking wasn't working, she was sending texts to me occasionally, during her walking intervals, saying what mile she was at.  Jeff and I were driving to Dallas while she was racing, as we were flying out to Orlando that afternoon - otherwise, we absolutely would have been there to support her.  So she'd text me, and then I'd text Cary, and all was well until I got this text from her:  "18 plus started 3rd and final lap.  3 laps total.  Dying.  Heat." - and then, radio silence.  I was watching the time, knowing when she should be finishing, and heard nothing.  Cary texted me, asking if I'd heard from her, and we tried to stay positive, just hoping that the battery on her phone had died and she wasn't in the medical tent.  Well, as you saw from her recap, she did end up in the back of an ambulance!  Eventually she felt well enough to have her son Mick send us a group text, and dictated what to say.  He paused, and asked her "do you really want me to send this?" - I'm not sure if her wording surprised him, or if he thought we'd be offended...but he doesn't know the Renegades.  Along with this picture:
ACK!  Not what we wanted to see!!

Her text read "1 and f@#king done!"  Yep, I can totally understand that.  Thankfully her sons kept us informed as to how she was doing immediately afterward, and like she said above, she had excellent care from the local EMS.  And it probably comes as no surprise that when Diane and I had dinner on Monday night, she was already talking about doing another marathon.  She's hooked!