Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 The Year of Transition

To say that 2011 was a year of transition would be an understatement. I started the year as a PhD student at Michigan State University, living a thousand miles away from my husband and feeling very disconnected from the things that mattered most in my life. I am finishing the year living in the same apartment as my wonderful husband, back working in the private sector for a great company and focused on the things that really matter to me. While there are some things that did not fall into place as I had hoped; overall, it has been a pretty good year and I am very grateful for that.

Until recently, very few of our plans have gone the way we anticipated the past couple of years. This has meant that we have spent a lot of time in a holding pattern. Waiting to make decisions until pieces fell into place, or we had come up with an alternative plan. Since I am the type of person who likes to have control and a plan, this has made the past few years a bit stressful. It is hard when you are doing everything in your power to get things to go the way you want and they keep falling apart. I am slowly learning to accept that life often takes us down an unplanned path, and it normally turns out okay. 

As 2012 approaches, there are a number of things on the radar, but I am running my first marathon on January 8, and want to keep my focus on that now. Once I have completed the marathon, I can solidify my race list and other things I would like to accomplish next year. I also think that you can change your life at any point and there is nothing really all that special about January 1.  I am hoping 2012 will continue with the momentum and good things that have happened during the second half of 2011 and things will continue to move in a positive direction.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Traditions…Old and New

My husband and I recently celebrated our third wedding anniversary. Like many other couples we each brought our own traditions into our new family. I am a big fan of having traditions because in the craziness of life these simple activities can provide some stability.

Since I started my PhD the fall after we got married, this is the first year we were able to spend the entire holiday season together. This has allowed us to really think about the old traditions we want to keep and the new ones we would like to start. Here are some of the traditions we have decided to create for our family.

Molasses and Oatmeal
Christmas Cookies – This is not a tradition that is unique to my family, but some of my favorite Christmas memories involve baking with my mother or grandmother. These women taught me how to bake and this is still one of my favorite traditions. I made a couple of batches of cookies this weekend, and it really put me into the Christmas spirit.

Celebrating Christmas through the Feast of the Epiphany – Growing up, the Christmas decorations were normally taken down by New Year’s Day at the latest. Once Christmas was over and the presents were opened, it was a blink of an eye and the decorations were put away until the next year. In my husband’s family, they kept the decorations up through the Feast of the Epiphany and this is the tradition we chose to keep. In addition to the fact I love Christmas, I think this reminds us that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus.

An Ornament from St.
Augustine, FL. One of our
favorite places.
Collecting Ornaments – I am not someone who collects keepsakes or knickknacks or really anything. I don’t like clutter and most of these things are just something else to clean around. My one exception to this rule is ornaments. It is something I began doing as a young adult and it is something that my husband and I continue currently. When we go on vacation or do something special, we often look for an ornament as a souvenir. This means that our Christmas tree is full of memories.

As my husband and I are together for longer and start to think about having a family there are other traditions we would like to begin. One is having matching stockings for each member of the family, and another is celebrating Saint Nicholas Day. Hopefully our, currently hypothetical, children will continue some of these traditions when they have a family of their own.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

In search of the perfect cupcake

A few years ago, while I was living in Orlando, a cupcake shop opened just around the corner from where we lived. I had heard about the cupcake trend, but this was the first place close enough to visit. I am pretty good at baking and make some delicious cakes and desserts myself. I also have a sweet tooth, so I was very excited. From the beginning, the cupcakes at Sweet by Good Golly Miss Holly were amazing. Since it was right around the corner, it was not long before I developed a cupcake habit. Sweet is still a must hit location when visiting Orlando. 

While I no longer live in Orlando, I still have a love for cupcakes and have been looking for anywhere with cupcakes that are even remotely close to as good as those from Sweet. When I was living in East Lansing, I went to every cupcake shop that I could find. I think there were four or five places in town, which is actually a large amount for such a small local. Unfortunately, none of cupcakes were very good.

Cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcake and Sprinkles
This summer, we began our quest to find a cupcake place in Richmond, but have had little success. I went to the place that everyone recommended and the cupcakes were really dry. I went to the cupcake place close to home and they were tini-tiny for the price and I tried to go to the place with the cute name, but they have terrible hours and pretty bad reviews on yelp. It was then that I started to look more closely at the reviews for the cupcake shops in the area and found an interesting pattern. People who had been to cupcake shops in major metro areas such as DC, New York or LA, rated the local shops much worse than locals. With this discovery, my hopes for a great local cupcake shop were dashed. 

The final question for me was, how does my favorite cupcake shop compare to those in larger cities? Well, the past few weeks, I have had to spend some time in Northern Virginia for work and these trips gave me a chance to visit both Georgetown Cupcake and Sprinkles Cupcakes. First I have to say that both of these are the best cupcakes I have had outside of Orlando. I got a cocoanut cupcake from Georgetown Cupcake and a black and white cupcake from sprinkles. I enjoyed the cupcake from Sprinkles Cupcakes more than the one from Georgetown Cupcake, and would go back there if I am ever in the area. It is also the only cupcake to ever come close to those from Sweet. 

I know that the cupcake trend did not start in Orlando, but I can say that Sweet by Good Golly Miss Holly cannot be beat. I guess it just gives us another reason to visit Orlando more often. 

P.S. Sorry for the terrible photo. I only had my phone with me.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Weighting in on the Great Mitten Debate

Image from Travel Wisconsin
Earlier this week Travel Wisconsin used an image of a mitten shaped like the state of Wisconsin on their website to promote winter tourism in the state. This created an uproar with people from across the lake, in Michigan, complaining that Wisconsin stole the concept of being a mitten. This is an interesting case and since I was born and raised in Wisconsin, lived in Michigan while working on my PhD and currently work in marketing, I have a different take on the whole debate.

I completely understand where the concept came from. When explaining the geography of Wisconsin, it is easy to hold up your left hand, fingers together and thumb close, and point to parts of the state.  It is a simple visual prop, and when dealing with people who aren’t even really sure where Wisconsin is, it works well. I didn’t even realize it could be controversial until the first time I used the gesture with my husband, who spent a number of years in Michigan growing up. I am not the only person who uses the hand explanation for the state.

Michigan is also a mitten, but only if you forget about the Upper Peninsula, which they seem to do when it is convenient. When you add the UP, Michigan does not look like a mitten, and the two mitten thing is a real stretch. The thing Michigan needs to remember is that you really need two mittens to even have a chance of having fun in the winter. 

Looking at this from a marketing and communications perspective, there are two things that this campaign really highlights. First is that you really need to get out of your head and your perspective. If you are from Wisconsin and have lived there your entire life, the mitten image totally makes sense, but to someone else it may not. Second, it shows the importance of doing research and testing things before implementing them in a campaign. It is likely that the mitten controversy would have showed up in the results if they had done a little research. This would have saved them some public relations and crisis communication money on the back end.

It will be interesting to see if this additional publicity will help or hurt winter tourism. I prefer winter travel to locations where outdoor activities don’t require mittens at all.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Review of Richmond Beer Week

One of the things that my husband and I are trying to do is explore the things available in our new home town. Especially after living apart for so long, it is sometimes easier to just spend the weekend hanging out at home rather than looking for things to do. Last week was a busy one; we both ran the Richmond Half Marathon and took in a few of the events that are part of Richmond Beer Week.

Tuesday night we headed over to Whole Foods in Short Pump for a beer dinner. We had a delicious four course dinner and each course was paired with a delicious beer. Breckenridge Brewery provided the beer and, while they may not be local, they make some great beers. The Agave Wheat was my favorite beer of the night.

On Sunday, we went over to Capital Ale House in downtown Richmond to catch the bus for a Beer Historic Tour of Richmond. This was a great way to see the city, and celebrate our success in the half marathon. We discovered some great new restaurants and attractions, and we learned a lot about the history of Richmond. Did you know that there are beer caves in Richmond?

Yuengling Beer Caves
The tour lasted most of the day and made stops at five or six beer related locations around the area. We wrapped up at the Hardywook Park Craft Brewery where we had two of the best beers of the day. They let us sample Hardywood Singel right from the line and it was amazing. Their farmhouse pumpkin is also delicous. I would highly recommend a trip to the brewery for those in the Richmond area. The best thing about the tour was that it is a fundraiser for the Bottom and Back Bus, so we were helping the community and having fun.

Richmond Beer Week was a nice surprise and it seems to be a little bit of a Richmond secret. I have mentioned it to a couple of life-long Richmonders who didn’t even know it existed. I don’t think I am doing the Richmond half marathon next year, so I should be able to experience more of the beer week festivities.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Think I Might Actually be a Runner

A few weeks ago I talked about my fear of commitment, especially when it comes to races. It is pretty much impossible to fail when you don’t even try. Well, I officially sucked it up and registered for the Richmond Half Marathon and the Walt Disney World Marathon. I knew that if I didn’t register soon, the races would fill up and I would be pretty mad about putting in all the training miles and not being able to run the race.

The Richmond Half Marathon was this past Saturday, and I tried to view it as just another training run. It didn’t really fit into my marathon training program, but my husband wanted to run it and I figured it would be a great way to see parts of Richmond that I had not explored yet. Overall, it was a good time, and I had a far better run than I was expecting and finished in just under 2:40. Now I understand that there are people who wouldn’t even consider this running, but it was a huge accomplishment for me. I finished almost 19 minutes faster than my previous half-marathon time. It also makes me feel a little more comfortable with running the full marathon in January. 

Overall, the Richmond half marathon is a good race. It is sponsored by McDonalds, which makes me giggle.  The course is nice with just a few hills and some great sights. You also have people cheering you on over most of the course. Some people even set up their own aid stations. There was even one with beer between miles 9 and 10. I like beer and I like running, but not at the same time.  

Another interesting thing about this race is that they run both the half and the full marathon on the same day, and we were able to see the start of the full marathon before the course splits. The course comes back together at the end with a wide lane for those running the half and one for those running the full. Since I am slow, this meant that I saw the elite marathoners run past me again a couple miles before the finish line. 

The one concern I would have about doing this race again would be the temperature. It is in November and it is up North, so that means it is cold. The announcer said it was 34-degrees when we started. I know there are people who think that is great running weather, but it is not for me. I started running while living in FL, and don’t like to be out when it is below 60. I also like to feel my feet before I get to mile 3. seems like I cannot take a decent race photo.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Remembering to be Thankful

Fall used to be my favorite time of year. When we were living in Florida, fall meant that it got cooler, you know down to the low 80s, less humid and it meant that the holidays were just around the corner. Since moving north, my love for this time of year has faded rather dramatically. I still love the anticipation leading up to the holiday season, but when getting cooler actually means it gets cold (anything below 60), this time of year is not nearly as much fun. This is my third fall in the north and once again, as soon as the days start to get shorter and weather starts to get chilly, I get crabby.

This year the negative funk has been particularly hard to shake. I think that the permanence of being here has set in and that, coupled with a slightly crazy workload, has been a little rough. It also seems that since Labor Day, the weather on the weekends has been pretty terrible; so we didn’t get to do some of the things we wanted to this fall. The thing that I need to remember is that while my life is not exactly what I would like right now, I have so many things to be thankful for. My goal for November is to focus on all the good things I have in my life.

November is a time to take stock in and remember all the things I have to be thankful for. We are just over a week into this month, and so I am going to share some of the things.
  1. My Husband – I am lucky enough to be married to my best friend and my biggest supporter. Not only does he make my life better, he makes me be a better person. 
  2. Living with my Husband – after almost two years of living apart, there are few things better than knowing that I get to come home to him at the end of the day. 
  3. My Family – I have an amazing family who has been super supportive of the craziness of the past few years. I miss them all dearly and often wish we could all live in the same (warm) place. 
  4. My Friends – They are scattered all over the country, but I have some amazing and wonderful friends. They are always there when I need them most. 
  5. Health –I am very thankful that I am healthy and have never had any real health problems. My allergies may be annoying, but there are not something that really impacts my life. 
  6. The Opportunities in My Life – I have been able to take advantage of a number of opportunities throughout my life and I am very thankful for that. While things have not always turned out as planned, I have learned a lot on every adventure. 
  7. My Job – I haven’t been there very long, but I really enjoy what I am doing and I work with a great group of people. I know that there are a lot of people out there looking for a jobs and I am very thankful for this one.
While it is easy to focus on the things that are missing from my life, I know  I really need to think about all wonderful things I actually have in my life. There will always be things that could be better, but I am blessed to have a ton of wonderful things in my life. While it is going to be my focus for November, it is something I need to remember throughout the year.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Channelling My Domestic Goddess

When I was a teenager, I remember telling my mom the only thing I ever wanted to make for dinner was reservations. At that point in my life, I did not see the point in learning to cook, but it is amazing how things can change over the years. Cooking is now something that I really enjoy, and it is a lot easier on the family budget than eating out all the time.

After spending a good portion of the last two years up to my eyeballs in school work and cooking for just myself most of the time, I am really enjoying having both the time to cook and someone to share meals. There is nothing better that enjoying a homecooked meal with your husband. 

Fall is one of my favorite times to cook and today I took advantage of some of the wonderful flavors available this time of year. I may have actually gone a bit overboard, but it will be nice to have some things to heat up during the week. Cooking after working a long day and going running is still not my favorite activity. 

We started the day with pumpkin pancakes with apple cinnamon bacon from Whole Foods. I also made applesauce and butternut squash soup. Additionally, I steamed and pureed some pumpkins that will be turned into pie in a few weeks.

I know that is sounds silly, but there is something rewarding about creating a delicious meal. It also keeps me busy while my husband wraps up his class work.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Finding Some Balance

I tend to have an all or nothing personality. If I do something, it is with every ounce of my being, or I don’t do it at all. I often will jump in with both feet and then try and figure out how to keep my head above water.

I think this personality trait has helped me to be successful in most of my endeavors. It makes me very productive in the workplace, it is part of why I always did well in school, and it is why I have achieved most of my personal goals. The down side is that I sometimes miss out on things because I am eyeballs deep in my latest challenge or I get stressed out because there is too much to do.

This fall I have been particularly bad about this. As I mentioned in my post about fear of race commitment, I am currently training for a marathon. That means that a good portion of any weekend is spent running, especially since I am not the fastest runner in the world. My myopic focus has caused me to say no to a variety of events and activities, because I was worried about how they would impact my training and all I want to do is finish.

Right now I am looking for a balance between training, working and having a life. Not to mention those everyday tasks that still need to get done. I really want to finish this race because this is the third time I have trained for it and probably the last time I will be able to train this hard for a while, but time goes by so fast and I worry about the things I am missing out on. I want to explore my new town with the hope it will someday feel more like home.

There are times when I wish I could just do something part-way. It would take up less time and make me a little less crazy. How do you all balance all aspects of your life?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Looking for the Snooze Button on My Biological Clock

I wasn’t the girl that really loved babies and couldn’t wait until I kids. In fact, through most of my early twenties, I didn’t even know if I wanted kids. Once I met my husband, I realized I eventually wanted a family, but it was not urgent. I always hated when people would ask us when we were going to have children, because for me marriage is about so much more than just popping out kids.

Then all of a sudden, about a year after I got married, I woke up one morning wanted to have a baby. (In full disclosure, I wasn’t really excited about the whole pregnancy and labor thing, but I was ready for the baby.) It was like a switch just went off in my brain. While mentally I was ready, the timing of the alarm on my biological clock sucked. I was about a semester into my doctoral program, which would take me at least 3 years to complete, and living 1,200 miles away from my husband. Not really the best time to bring a child into the world.

Fast forward a couple of years; I left my doctoral program and am living with my husband. These are both steps in the right direction, but we are still not in the best position to start a family. I just started a new job and we are working to rebuild some of the savings we spent during the time we were apart. Plus, we would like to have some quality time together since we didn’t get much of that the past couple of years. Realistically, it will probably be almost a year before we can think about trying to have a baby.

The thing that makes this even harder for me is that between our close friends and family, about 9 or 10 babies have been born in the past couple of years. I also have two very close friends that recently found out they are pregnant. I am super happy for them, but can’t help being a little jealous, which I feel guilty about.

I really wish that I could find the snooze button for my biological clock. I am happy I finally get the baby thing, but I really wish I wasn’t reminded of what I can’t have right now every time I see a baby at the grocery store or a Facebook update full of baby pictures. Until it is our time, I will focus on preparing my body for getting pregnant and troll baby blogs now and then.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Facing My Fear of Commitment

I have a fear of commitment. Most people think of relationships when they think about fear of commitment, but that is one of the few areas where I can commit to without a problem. Committing to other things, especially races, is where my fear seems to rear its ugly head. I am often well into training before I actually register for the race.

My fear of commitment is really driven by fear of failing. I feel like I have failed in a number of life areas in the past few years and if I never actually commit to a race, I can’t fail. Ending up with a DNF is very scary to me. The rational side of me knows that if you enter enough races you will probably end up with one at some point, but I am not sure what I would do if that happens.

Right now I am looking at two races, and I need actually commit soon or the races will be sold out. The first is the Richmond Half-Marathon in November. Since, I had a great 13-mile run on Sunday, all I need to do is keep up my training and this race shouldn’t be a problem. 

The other race is the Walt Disney World Marathon in January and this is the one I am really afraid to commit to. I have started training for this race twice before and failed to ever start the race. The first time I was sidelined by injuries, and the second time life got in the way. (I would never recommend trying to train for a marathon while moving across the country and starting a PhD program.) Now, I am in the best shape of my adult life, I have been training since May and it is probably the last time for several years I will be able to do this type of training, but I am still finding it hard to commit to this race.

I know that you can never finish something you don’t start, but right now it seems that starting is more difficult than finishing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Running…Just Keep putting one Foot in Front of the Other

I love running! There are few things that make me feel better than hitting the pavement and putting in a few miles. Running helps me feel balanced and sane. It is one of the few things I can do without really having to think.

Running is a big part of how I managed stress and kept my sanity over the past couple of years, but it is something that I haven’t been doing very long. I wasn’t a runner growing up. In fact, I only started running because I wanted to do a triathlon. It was on my to-do list, and it is hard to finish one if you don’t run. My best friend and I decided to do a super-sprint during the summer of 2005. 

Looking back, I can see that was the first step in moving my life in a new direction. Participating in various races has been a big part of my life over the past five years. Since that first triathlon, I have done a couple of longer triathlons, a few 5ks and two half-marathons. Next up on my list is a marathon, but more about that another day.

A number of my friends have asked me how I started or said that they never could run a 5k/10k/half-marathon/etc. The thing is, if I can do it, anyone can. All you need is little time and patience. The patience is often the hardest part for me. I have put together a few tips from my experience to help those who are starting out:

  • Start with realistic goals and expectations – Running is hard, especially when you are just starting out. If you expect to get off your couch and start running 7-minute miles, you are setting yourself up for failure. Think about where you are and where you would like to be and set your goals from there. Remember that everyone progresses at their own rate.
  • Focus on baby steps – When I first started running, I was slow. Realistically, I still am slow, but each time I try and cut a few seconds or run a little longer than I did the last time. I track my distance, time and intervals and look for improvements over time. Once you have been at it a while, you will be amazed at your progress.
  • It’s okay to walk – I am a big fan of the run/walk training method. Jeff Galloway is a personal hero. As I have gotten stronger, I increase the ratio of running to walking in my training. I also think this method makes it easier to break down larger goals.
  • Change your perceptions about what is possible – This was probably the most important thing for me. When I first started running, I couldn’t imagine running 3 miles let alone 13; however, as I kept pushing my distance I kept achieving things I never imagined. I don’t know if running changed my perceptions or changing my perceptions helped change my running, but it worked.
Another thing that has helped me is having someone in my corner. For me, this is my husband; he is always there to run with me or to be my cheerleader. Knowing you have someone to help you reach your goals is helpful. We may not run at the same pace, but knowing someone is out there with you is great. The thing about running is that it is really just about putting one foot in front of the other.