Saturday, June 30, 2012

Eight Exciting Things: Number 7


My husband turned 40 recently, a fact that I'm pretty sure he'll be glad I'm sharing with the Internet.

A few months before The Big Birthday, my mother-in-law told me that she and my father-in-law wanted to come surprise Bill for his birthday.  The plan was to tell Bill we were having dinner with our friends at our favorite local special-occasion place, but then when we got there our actual dinner companions would be his parents!

Now, let me pause here and say something about my ability to keep secrets.  I am an excellent secret-keeper.  You tell me your secret about an Important Life Issue, and I will understand the importance of keeping it a secret and not tell a soul.

And of course when it comes to fun secrets, I would never spoil a surprise.

Or at least, not intentionally.

The trouble is, although I try my very hardest to keep secrets, I also tend to obsess about things to the point that the obsession sometimes takes over my rational thoughts.

So, when my in-laws were coming to visit for the weekend, I was laser-focused on getting the house clean and procuring groceries for the guests, and it was so so so hard not to accidentally blurt out something like, "Come on, pick your socks off the floor, your parents are coming!" 

But, I'm proud to say, I held it together.  Even when I had to say things like, "I'm cleaning the house because a babysitter is coming," and, "I bought four bags of Pop Chips because you never know when Aldi will stop carrying them."

And, after a lot of lying on my part, Bill's parents finally came to the restaurant.  Bill was legitimately surprised, which is always so fun.  Unfortunately I don't have a picture of the moment of surprise because I'm not that together, so you can just imagine what a surprised person would look like.

Like this random baby I found on the Internet, but with more clothing.  

So, it was a fun surprise and a delicious dinner, and Bill got his birthday cake: 

That picture makes it look like he's eating with his hands, but I assure you he used a fork.  Unlike with his first birthday cake:

 Apparently in the 1970s babies and dogs ate out of the same type of bowl. 

A very key element of the surprise was that Nathan also didn't know anything about his grandparents' visit, because children are horrible secret-keepers.  So Grandma and Grandpa were a surprise for Nathan, too.  

We enjoyed a fun weekend with our guests.  On Saturday we went to Legoland Discovery Center.  

 Nathan, mother-in-law Diana, and me at Lego Navy Pier.  It's better than regular Navy Pier.  

 Bill, Nathan, and father-in-law Walt in the Lego jungle.  Nathan looks a bit like a monkey himself. 

 More Lego Chicago

 The indoor playground, God's gift to everyone

 This is where you build a vehicle and launch it down some ramps.  I built an awesome purple and pink one that got destroyed on the ramp. 

Legobama 2012!

Then, in the gift shop, my mother-in-law bought me this girly Lego set, because I was saying that our extensive Lego collection really lacks pinks and purples (and kitties!). 

The next day was Father's Day, and we had a barbecue in our yard, complete with a birthday cake my mother-in-law and I made, which I somehow lost all the pictures of.  

So, all in all, that was a really fun weekend.  And a really awesome surprise. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Eight Exciting Things: Number 6


We're all familiar with the MasterCard Priceless ad campaign.  It's a clever series of ads, one with just the right hint of poignance and nostalgia to drive home the message that money can't buy happiness, but it can help make the priceless happy experiences happen. 

But you really don't understand the true meaning of Priceless until you have a priceless experience of your own.  Recently, Nathan and I got to have our MasterCard Priceless experience at Wrigley Field. 

Our priceless package was provided to us, free of charge, through the MasterCard Priceless Chicago Cubs Pledge program, and made possible by fellow blogger Hope Bertram

Here's how this awesome day went: On the morning of Wednesday, June 13, Nathan and I took two trains up to Wrigley Field.  By 1:00 our feet were planted right on Wrigley Field.  Here are my shoes touching the soil of the Friendly Confines:

I'm not just saying it: This was priceless.  There's such a special aura about Wrigley Field, such a sense of history and an infectious spirit all around the stadium.  To be right down there on the field was just magical.

OMG I'm on Wrigley Field!

Nathan was a bit overwhelmed at first, saying he wanted to "go back to the chairs."  I like to think he's demonstrating the stubborn Cub fans' attitude of Well, there's always next year. 

I'm at the famous ivy:

Nathan, now with a much-improved attitude, is taking his own photographs:

And here we are 368 feet (yards?) from home plate:

Photo by Nathan of an awe-struck Mom:

We had the opportunity to practice hitting and catching with some real Cubs coaches, but Nathan and I were both too insecure in our baseball skills to practice with the big leaguers.  So we just played catch by ourselves:

Then we saw the dugout:

Can I get an Awww?

We're on the warning track:

After an hour on the field, we all had to vacate the stadium for three hours while the players and employees prepared for the game.  Knowing it was going to be kind of a long haul for a little kid, I brought in reinforcements in the form of a new toy.  We got this adorable stuffed animal pretzel, which proved to be hugely entertaining for all:

We spent some time in the Cubs Village next to the stadium, where Nathan practiced hitting:

And played beanbags:

And took a photo with Ernie Banks (and the pretzel):

Finally, at 5:00, it was time for our free dinner buffet at the United Club inside the stadium:

The buffet included turkey breast, rack of lamb, prime rib, and lobster gnocchi. 

Also beer.  Of course, beer.

 After dinner we headed out to our seats to watch the Cubs play the Detroit Tigers.

Please stop!  You're eating my cousin!

The only thing Nathan could talk about was cotton candy, so we spent at least an inning scouring the entire stadium to find the one stand that sold it. 

Around the sixth inning, Nathan announced that Pretzel was ready to leave.  At that point the Cubs were winning, but in the end they lost, 4-8.  Oh well, there's always next year. 

He does look a little peaked.

A huge thank-you to Hope and to MasterCard for this truly priceless experience!  And if you want a chance to win this same priceless experience, visit the MasterCard Cubs Pledge Facebook page before June 26.  To enter, you'll have to pledge to do something wacky to support the Cubs, then take a picture of yourself doing it. 

I'll tell you my wacky pledge later. 

Eight Exciting Things: Number 5

The Triathlon!

On June 10, 2012, I completed the Naperville, Illinois Toyota She Rox Triathlon

But before I tell you about that, I'd like to say something about the training.  Looking back, I can say I enjoyed the training (I means as much as I am capable of enjoying any exercise), but I suspect I can only say that because time has erased some of the memories of the agony of training.  I have heard that it's impossible to physiologically remember physical pain, but I do recall thinking around Week 5 (the halfway point of the training) that I should write a blog post to remind myself of the physical and emotional agony that was the triathlon training schedule.

But I rallied, and as time went on I did start to enjoy the training.  I mean, sure, it felt like a part-time job sometimes, but since you have to exercise anyway, I guess this was a pretty good way to do it.  And as far as my mental health goes, tri training was a dream come true.  I remember just feeling healthier the whole time.  I remember at one point it occurred to me that I hadn't had a single bout of hypochondria in weeks.  I don't have to worry about mystery diseases anymore, I thought.

And I liked how the training just made all my emotions just feel so much more intense.  I can't exactly explain it, but everything, from the good to the bad to the touching, just felt so much more real.  For weeks I felt like I was traveling on the razor-sharp edge of humanity, all my emotions were just so sharp.

Of course, as triathlon day drew nearer, I was also nervous as all hell.

Here's how it all played out.

Saturday morning, after neatly packing everything on my ridiculously-detailed list and organizing it into well-labeled Ziploc bags, we mounted my bike on the top of the car and made the hour-long trip to Naperville:

Yes, I did attach the water bottle holder with blue-and-white-polka-dotted duct tape.  

Saturday was the packet pick-up day: 

I got a t-shirt: 

They wrote my number on my arm: 

And my wave number on my calf: 

Nathan made me this adorable motivational poster:

I went to the orientation meeting, which is when I started to rethink this whole triathlon thing:

Hahaha, not really.  I was actually rarin' to go at that point.  Anyway, after the orientation we ate lunch and checked into the hotel.  I went swimming with Nathan in the hotel pool, then took a little drive to check out the race course.  We ate dinner.  I attempted to go to bed at the ridiculous hour of 8:30, which didn't go all that well because I was nervous.

Soon it was 4:30 a.m. and time to get up:

My dad went with me at 5:00 a.m. to drop off my gear at the transition area.

Alright, let's do this!

Here is what a triathlon transition area looks like.  You put your bike, helmet, and whatever clothes you want post-swim on a rack according to what wave you're in:

We were all set up by 5:45 a.m., and all I had were the clothes on my back, my super-awesome neoprene band that held my waterproof timing chip, my suckily chipping pedicure, and my free giveaway Quaker flip-flops from BlogHer:

This is as close as I will get to having a sponsor.  Not really, FCC, they aren't my sponsor.  

Fortunately my dad bought me Starbucks, and we went back to the hotel to get my stepmom and take the hotel shuttle back to the race site.  Bill and Nathan were in charge of checking out of the hotel and driving the car with all the luggage.  (I mention this to point out that triathlons are logistically complicated, a topic I will discuss in further detail later in this post.)  

At that point it was about 7:30 a.m., and I had until 8:20 to start my wave.  Having taken care of all the little chores of the morning, I had nothing else to do but sit on the beach and get nervous.  Oh, and we watched the other waves start.  The atmosphere was really exciting and positive.  

This is a picture of the swim area, which I think was sort of a hybrid pool/human-made lake, filled with water from a nearby river.  Which is to say, I have no idea how to classify this particular body of water: 

Unfortunately, the waterslide was not part of the event. 

As this map shows, you had to swim 800 yards by doing zig-zags, Disneyland line-style: 

Finally, it was time for Wave #21 to start.  Here I am getting ready:

They led everybody into the water, and the announcer asked all first-timers to raise their hands.  There were a lot of us:

The first part of the swim was disorienting.  Swimming is by far my best athletic skill, but I'm not used to open water.  You couldn't see through the water, and there were 50 other people around you frantically kicking.

Eventually the crowd thinned out, and I developed a strategy wherein I would stay close to the rope to make sure I was going straight, and then periodically look up to make sure the next 25 yards or so were clear of other people.

The swim went great.  After exiting the water, I ran to the transition area and discovered that I was one of the first people in my wave back to the bike racks.

Here I am on the way out of the transition area, where you had to walk your bike:

This map shows the bike and run routes.  It's a little hard to see, but basically the bike route (blue) was a 7-mile loop that you had to do twice.

The bike portion felt like it went on forever.  You couldn't have headphones, and I wasn't used to biking in total silence.  But the bike was the most fun part, because that's when everybody was the most spirited.  Everyone was just cheering each other on, especially people who passed you.  Like, they'd say, "Passing on your left!  You're doing great!"  We complimented each other on our clothing choices or bike colors.  That's the beauty of an all-women's event.  Everybody is so supportive.

Toward the end of the bike portion I saw Nathan and Bill:

Eventually I finished the bike portion and made it back to the transition area.  Remember how I said I was one of the first people to finish the swim?  Well, when I got back to my wave's bike rack I realized I was one of the last people to finish the bike.  Which is cool, I was in it to finish, not win, but I just wanted to point out that I might be the world's slowest biker.  Speed scares me.

(Oh and also, pulling over to update my Facebook status couldn't have helped my bike time.)

Then I was out of the bike area and onto the run:

That picture is a little bit deceptive, because in all honesty that was maybe the only time I was actually running.  I walked almost the entire 3-mile running course.  It was so hot, like 90 degrees, and a lot of the course was in direct sunlight.  Also, I am pretty sure the entire city of Naperville is uphill.  

A more accurate photo of me walking:

Psychologically, I really struggle with running.  Just knowing that it was so hot and so uphill made me want to stop and walk approximately every 3 feet.

I did see my little love on the running path:

Another runner passed by and saw me hugging Nathan and said, Aww, that's awesome.  That's how sweet and positive this event was.  

Finally, after what felt like forever, I crossed the finish line and got this:

Sopping wet from at least 3 wet towels, ice cubes dumped down my shirt, and, oh yeah, sweat.

An unforeseen and annoying fourth leg of the triathlon was the long trek back to the car.

Let's get out of here!

Later that night, after the World's Greatest Shower followed by the World's Greatest Nap, I got my official results: 

Click to enlarge.

Since it's tiny, I'll break it down:

Swim: 14:04
Transition 1 (swim to bike): 7:22 (I've always been a pretty fast clothing-changer)
Bike: 1:14:59 
Transition 2 (bike to run): 45:18 
Run: 45:18
Total Time: 2:25:00 (which is a really long time to be working out in 90-degree heat)

Place in age group division: 193rd out of 196 (NOT LAST!)
Place in overall event: 1426th out of 1493

Yes, I know, you always beat all the people who stayed home and sat on the couch, and as you can see, those were about the only people I beat.

But, as I said, I was in it to finish, not win.  And honestly, I like to think that those of us in the bottom percentiles have the most heart.  (In fact, I actually felt a little sad that there were 67 people who had more heart than I did.  That's how competitive I am about pointless stuff.)  

Predictably, in the end the triathlon proved to be a fun and fulfilling experience.  I loved the spirit of the whole event, so positive and supportive.  And, as cliched as it sounds, I loved setting a goal and achieving it.  

However, the event did not make me want to go and sign up for another triathlon, as I feared thought it might.  For one thing, I was kind of tired of all my workouts consisting of the three triathlon modalities.  I needed to mix up my exercise a little and go back to things like Zumba and the elliptical.  

But, more importantly, I don't think I can go through the hassles of another triathlon, at least not this summer.  It was so much work to acquire the necessary gear, and then to pack it up for easy access the day of the event.  Everything had to be organized carefully into different bags and compartments.  It was a big pain to get the bike mounted on top of the car before the event, and then to schlep it all the way back to the car and re-mount it at the end.  Plus there was the massive effort of getting my immediate family and my parents up to Naperville and in/out of the hotel and where we needed to be.  

In fact, it took the effort of all these people just to get me across the finish line.  I am truly appreciative to my dad and stepmom, and to Bill and Nathan, for helping me make it all work, and then for giving me all the glory.  It was truly a multi-person effort, an effort that included getting up at the crack of dawn and then standing around in searing heat all day.  That's love.

So, due to the rigors of this massive multi-person effort, I will not be doing another triathlon this summer.  But if I come around and want to do another one by next year, I am definitely going to do the Toyota She Rox Triathlon again.  It was so well-organized and so fun, and the other women in the event were so kind and supportive.  

And if you want to do a triathlon (and you're a woman), I would definitely recommend this triathlon series.  They're held all across the U.S., or if you're really motivated you could do the final one in Bermuda.  Go here for more information on the She Rox Triathlon series. 

As a final note, all photos in this post were taken by my dad and Bill.  If you'd like to see my official race photos, including one where I look like I want to kill somebody, go here.