Thursday, October 13, 2011

Travel Diaries Day 5: Playing Tourist in San Francisco

Welcome to my 2011 CA Vacation mini-series. ...Jon & I spent a week in San Francisco & Wine Country during September, and slowly but surely it is my pleasure to relive the memories & share our stories with you, one post at a time!

Thursday was our day to see the city!

It was also a day full of pictures, and I will let the pictures tell the stories, with a few captions here & there :)


(Also: I am silly. Today is NOT the last recap day! Tomorrow I'll cover our last day in SF -- including Coyt Tower & an aquarium tour...)

Our morning began in Chinatown, taking in all the colors, sights, sounds & smells of a different culture...

... And continued with a trip to the Cable Car Museum. (It was awesome, but un-air conditioned... so we didn't stay overly long ;)....

... Lunch was enjoyed at U-Lee, a small hole-in-the-wall place in Chinatown that was recommended by one of Jon's co-workers (thanks, Justin!) ... They had "the best pot-stickers in town". ... We whole-heartedly agreed with the rave reviews...

... After lunch, we explored some more ...

...And eventually found our way to Lombard St. 'The crookedest street in the world'.

... After walking down the crookedest street and taking a bazillion pictures, we returned to our hotel room, for a brief rest and some map reading...

... And then we headed out again :)

Destination? ....Chocolate -- but of course!

(I think we need to take a moment here to pause in awe of the amazingness that is pumpkin spice caramel & milk chocolate. Holy. Goodness.)

After Ghirardelli, we still had a bit of time before dinner, and wandering farther still, we found a gorgeous park ....

... and a beach! We decided to sit & stay awhile.

(And here is where I stopped taking pictures, apparently.)

An hour or so later, Jon and I headed back to Pier 39 for dinner. We ate at Luigi's Pizzeria, splitting a BBQ Chicken Pizza and a pitcher of beer (a.. um, large pitcher as a matter of fact. Heh.) We had a breathtaking view of the harbor at sunset :) We laughed and talked long after our plates were clean...

...A perfect close to another lovely day in California ♥ ...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

... Counting my blessings

(Note: This isn't exactly a bouncy-typical Amy type of post. But this is me and this is my heart, and it's what I have to give you today. I'll be back to business as usual tomorrow with my final *sniff* CA vacation post!)

Hi, friends! Happy Wednesday:)

Boy, has this been a week for me. I am an emotional train wreck (poor Jon, I know). I am exhausted, and it's only Wednesday. Methinks it's time to take a deep breath drink a glass of wine and count my blessings.

It's been rolling around in my mind for a while now that I need to write a post about the emotional ups & downs of marathon training -- and marathon tapering, which has been a whole new beast all together.

This coming Sunday, October 16, is the Columbus Marathon. I have been training for almost 6 months, and have put more than 400 miles in. I have had blisters between my toes, and learned *the hard way* that Gu does not agree with my tummy. I have taken ice baths, and crawled out of bed at sinful hours to put in long mileage before work.

... And through this, I have grown. I say with certainty that I am not the same person I was when I started this journey. Everyone has their own demons that they battle in their life -- those dark forces that seek to steal your joy and take away your feelings of self worth. For me (and this is hard for me to put into words, so bear with me) -- the demon taunts me that I am not enough. Not good enough, not dedicated enough, not strong enough... Earlier this year, my heart decided that it had had enough, and, in a moment of reckless spontaneity, I signed up to run a marathon.

Throughout the course of marathon training, I fell in love with running, I fell in love with my amazing training partners, and I fell back in love with me. The long mileage has forced me to come face-to-face with myself.... to judge, to distance myself and look with new eyes and find ... me. I am not (by any stretch of the imagination) flawless, but I am tenacious, I am willing and I am strong. I have found strength in my spirit that I always hoped I might have. ...I have taken that leap of faith and become the woman that inspires me.

...I have come so far. ...And this Sunday's race will just be icing on the cake. The "end" of a beautiful journey. I know that I do not need to cross the finish line to grow and heal -- I've all ready done that. This journey... the most physically & mentally challenging I've encountered yet... has proved to me beyond a doubt that I am enough.

But, even though I know that it's the journey -- not the destination that is the most important, I'm kind of invested in this. At this point, not being able to run my race on Sunday would be nothing short of heartbreaking.


So, now I have a story for you. (Hint: you aren't going to believe this -- and it is, in fact, the reason I've been avoiding writing for a couple days.)

This past Saturday when I was up in Toledo helping Laurie move into her new apartment (which is gorgeous, btw...), I stepped off a concrete step the wrong way and rolled my ankle.

Frankly, I roll my ankles all the time when I'm running... most of the time it happens because I'm running next to a friend on a narrow strip of sidewalk... Ooopsie-- no big deal. ...But this was a heck of a roll --the pain knocked the wind out of me. I immediately tried to save face walk it off... but I was limping... and becoming scared. When we got inside I took a look at it, and it was definitely swelling. But I iced, compressed and took my NSAIDs (heh. Laurie, are you proud?) diligently, and did my best to remain positive.

...It was when my ankle was still sore and swollen yesterday that I panicked. ...I had a miniature meltdown in my office at lunchtime, and followed that up with a call to Dr. Bright (MiT doctor extraordinaire.) I hadn't run since last Thursday and I was worried about going back out too soon and really getting hurt. Thankfully, Dr. Bright's staff was able to fit me in this morning in between appointments.

It's not a stretch to say that I had about a bazillion thoughts racing through my mind as I sat waiting to be seen by the doctor. Finally, as I sat trembling (nerves, not coffee... I made sure to drink decaf this morning!) I threw my hands up in the air and turned my face to the heavens, "Thy will be done."

The doctor walked in sometime after that, and after turning this way and pushing that way, gently pressing and asking, "Does this hurt?" ("No.... Nope. ...No.... Yoww.") He gave me the verdict: buy a good ankle brace and take it easy, but by all means, run the marathon. ...And then he shook my hand and left.

I am so thankful.

... After that, the rest of the day has been... well, long. I'm worn out. Lunch with my friend (since forever high school) Bethany was a definite high point ... but there have been some pretty low points, too. Life goes on.

My wake-up moment of the afternoon came when I received an email from my husband, telling me that he spent his morning driving a couple of friends to the hospital after they learned that 2 of their friends had been involved in a terrible motorcycle accident last night. After I read his email, I just sat quietly for a few moments, my heart breaking for the families of these two young men. And all I could think was "Why?" Why am I so lucky today while these others are hurting so deeply? ... I am indeed blessed, and today the gravity of that grace is weighing heavily on me. How small I am, and how small my problems are.

... Yet... how big my God is. And so tonight I will press forward, knowing that in Him, I am enough, and I am strong enough. I will pour a glass of wine and not stress about my marathon training, and I will kiss my kitties more & hug Jon a little longer than usual.

And on Sunday I will run my marathon, as a celebration of life: for the overcoming of the demons, for love, for the everyday triumphs of the human spirit.

...For me. For Life.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Day 4, part ii: Dinner Date on Pier 39

Welcome to my 2011 CA Vacation mini-series. ...Jon & I spent a week in San Francisco & Wine Country during September, and slowly but surely it is my pleasure to relive the memories & share our stories with you, one post at a time!

Once we left Muir Woods, we stopped for a quick bagel sandwich at a little deli in Strawberry, CA and we were on our way to San Francisco!

Having learned an important "marriage lesson" on our way to wine country, I was driving & Jon was navigating :) .... And, apparently, goo*gle maps was cooperating. ...When we were trying to get from the airport to Santa Rosa, we were taken on a scenic tour of the city... which was very nice, but rather wind-y and confusing. (Read: NOT what we needed after 12+ hours of travel and no sleep...) Conversely, our trip back into the city was a piece of cake. ...*Thank You, thank You, thank You*... We returned our rental car, gathered our wine baggage, and hopped in a taxi for a short ride to our hotel.

Then once we were situated, we headed out to explore :)

The first night, we stayed relatively close to 'home base' (a Holiday Inn at Fisherman's Wharf), winding our way to the water through a grid of vendors. We paused briefly to watch ships in the harbor, and then headed on to Pier 39.

Now, let me be honest: crowds aren't usually our thing. I loathe shopping during the holidays (often you will find me buying milk & eggs at 7 am to avoid the crowds, hehe), and I kind of dislike mall shopping for the same reason. I would much rather be somewhere quiet, where I feel like I have room to breathe .

But Pier 39 was vibrant. ... And the multitude of people milling around was part of that :)

There was so much to see: stores containing pretty much anything you could imagine (i.e.: "Lefty's", a left-handed store for those "right brained people in your life", an NFL store, "The Spice & Tea Exchange" ... etc.); street performers & live music; a gorgeous fresh fruit stand (a bit pricey to partake, but I loved looking!); and, of course, the views were lovely ♥

Jon and I wandered for a while, and then ended up at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. for dinner. Shrimp & veggie skewers for me, "Shrimper's Heaven" (a mix of favorite shrimp dishes) for Jon. We both enjoyed the strawberry/lemonade/rum drink. Divine.

After dinner, we strolled around the pier a bit more, pausing to watch (& listen to!) the sea lions, coming home to rest on large barges in the bay.

...The weather was absolutely delicious. It was about 70* at 4pm when we started exploring, and dropped into the low 60's when the sun set. ... Truth be told, I was a bit chilly, but Jon held my hand to keep me warm :)

We ended our night with a stop at Trish's Mini-donut stand, purchasing a small bag of donuts and hot coffees to warm our hands. When we returned to our hotel, we sipped coffee and reminisced about our day and our vacation so far... eating hot donuts and smiling as we licked the sugar off our fingers.

♥It was, all in all, a truly fantastic day ♥

Your Turn: Tell me about the best food you've ever tried on vacation! For me, all the dinners we had in CA were exceptional! Fantastic steak in Santa Rosa, and to-die-for sea food in SF. ... these mini-donuts pretty much stole my heart, too :)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Travel Diaries Day 4, part i: Muir Woods

(alternate post title) Spiritual Homecoming among the Redwoods

Welcome to my 2011 CA Vacation mini-series. ...Jon & I spent a week in San Francisco & Wine Country during September, and slowly but surely it is my pleasure to relive the memories & share our stories with you, one post at a time!

On Wednesday morning, Jon & I woke early(ish) to breakfast, pack the car and head off on the second leg of our journey -- to San Francisco!

... But before we got to San Francisco, we took a little side trip. When I was in CA in 2005, I got the opportunity to visit Muir Woods, and I remembered it being a very spiritually-filling experience. ... And add to that: for Jon & I, being in the woods is kind of "our thing".

While we don't camp in the woods or scale the most strenuous trails, I think our hearts just feel at home in the woods ♥

Ever since we started dating, walking in the woods has been a special, bonding time for us. ...We walked together in Blendon Woods that summer evening in 2001 when I finally confessed my feelings for him. ...And in the summer of 2008, on a trail in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Jon got down on his knee and asked me to marry him.

So... walking in the woods together is kind of sacred to us. ...And 'visit Muir woods' was on my list of *Must Do's * (...along with... you know, visit Ghiradelli Square. ... Feed your soul, feed your tummy. Priorities, people ;)

Our visit did not disappoint.

And our reverent moments together in Muir woods this September are memories I will treasure in my heart for years to come.

Peace is such a nebulous concept ... one that I feel I've been pursuing relentlessly for ages now. But there's just something about being out in the woods, soaking up the loud silence of nature that brings me *thismuch* closer to finding it. Something within me just clicks, and my very soul heaves a sigh of relief. It's as if, in those stolen moments of stillness, everything is right ... and I am so much more me than I ever allow myself to be in the vivacious blur of 'the real world'.

Even though our time was limited (we ached to stay, but were anxious about driving through city traffic in peak hours...) we took away so much:

... the warmth & fellowship of community. Standing with people from all cultures and looking up, in awe, at the majesty of the great trees....

...the heart-rending recognition of 'smallness' of "us", humbled by the vastness of the universe...

... and, somehow, a renewed sense of purpose. A grounding peace and courage to move forward. Confidence in the fact that, despite all the roadblocks, life is beautiful.

Every second as we wandered quietly, hand in hand, I fell a little bit more in love: with Jon, who knows & loves my heart better than anyone else ever could; with nature, and it's beautiful routines and anomalies; and with The God who breathed it all into existence.

It was absolutely time well spent. ...Perhaps the greatest 'side-trip' of my life. ♥

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."
-John Muir

Stay tuned for Day 4 part ii (tomorrow morning!) ... I just felt that I could do this vacation day more justice by breaking it up :) Tomorrow -- San Francisco!!