Saturday, June 26, 2010

I didn't run away. I promise.

Where have I been? Well, I haven't been buried alive in cupcake batter...don't you worry. My life and my blog have been under construction. The good news is that both are looking good. A new site is in the works and will launch soon.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Cupcakes and Conclusions

When my dog has a thorn in his paw, he is very careful not to let us see it, see him in pain or see him licking it. But, in a one bedroom apartment there are only so many places to have any secret moments. We tend to catch him. Laying in his corner. Curled up tightly around his paw. Nursing his wound. Trying to fix it on his own.

I find people to be the same way. Well, to be more specific, I find myself to behave the same. (Note: my last blog entry was in November 12, 2009.) And if you could see into my one bedroom apartment (and thank God you can't because that would be creepy), you would have found me in the corner nursing my wounds and pretending it didn't bother me much. If you got closer, you would have seen a full on pity party.

The fact is the marathon was in the top five experiences of my life. But it also created the greatest amount of lasting pain I've ever experienced. From a severely sprained tendon in my right foot and ankle to a left leg that remains severely angry, I have not been in any shape to run. So, I've been pouting. And baking. This is not a good combination.

It has been 11 weeks since I crossed the finish line. Eleven weeks of pouting and baked goods. It's not a pretty sight. Well, actually, some of my cupcakes were pretty adorable. But I digress. The clothes in my closet that no longer fit aside, I miss running. I miss the 3 hour runs that let me clear my head. I miss how inspired running makes me feel. I miss how good it feels to get in 14 miles on a Saturday morning, and be home and showered before most people have started their day.

Eleven weeks and several dozen cupcakes later, I've finally come to some conclusions:

Substitutions are allowed.
I make substitutions when I bake (applesauce for oil, honey for sugar, etc) so why don't I allow it for my running? I may not have any applesauce in the cabinet, but I do have pumpkin. So I can use pumpkin, instead of applesauce that I was going to use instead of oil. And it turns out the pumpkin is better for me anyway. I can't run pain free right now. But an elliptical feels okay, and walking actually makes the pain hurt less. (Really, Erica, it took you 11 weeks to figure this out?)

Sitting gets you nowhere.
I took a couple baking classes at Kiss My Bundt Bakery. And Chrysta, the owner, teaches about how baking is a science. As you mix all the ingredients chemical reactions take place. (That's my abbreviated version. Take one of her classes for the real what what.) One night I made too much cake batter and didn't get around to baking it for days. Lesson learned: You can't let mixed batter sit for days on end. The cake will get dense. Very dense. You also can't let a runner sit for a weeks on end without running, or moving, or stretching. She will get dense. Very dense.

Find your happy place.
When you hide yourself in a corner and pout for weeks on end, you tend to forget the moments that make you happiest. I had to move my itunes files this week to a new computer. It took less than 2 minutes of my marathon mix to play before I felt inspired all over again, to feel the spirit of the runner in me again. Find that trigger for yourself. The one thing that makes you feel inspired, brings motivation or gives you sight of reaching your goal. Hold onto it. And move forward.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Going Bananas

I finished a marathon. I spent four days on crutches, and have four weeks of physical therapy in front of me. There is no running for me in sight. It is affecting my ability to blow off steam, to work out my emotions, to let go of everything weighing me down, and to run off dessert.

So, I’ve started baking.

You are correct. Baking is, in fact, not the smartest hobby to take up when you aren’t able to run it off. But, here I am nonetheless with my skinny jeans mocking me from the back of the closet. Buttoning my pants aside, it has been a very fun and delicious consumer of my time. And, when I’m done with my hours of hard work, bengay is not necessary.

Last weekend, looking for any excuse to bake I looked at the bunch of very ripe bananas taking up residence on my countertop and decided to attempt a banana cupcake. And then I got bold. I decided to venture away from any one recipe that I found, and instead make my own recipe. Gasp. If you know about my Francese Fiasco, you understand that this was a potential disaster. But apparently when it comes to baking, I can handle this type of challenge because these cupcakes were pretty fan-freakin-tastic.

Using a family Spice Cake recipe as a base and tweaking it a bit to my own liking, and adding banana, here’s what I ended up with:

1 cup butter

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

4 mashed, ripe bananas

3 cups all purpose flour

3 tsp cocoa

¼ tsp cloves

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp all spice

2 cups buttermilk + 2 tsp baking soda

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until blended. Sift dry ingredients together. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and buttermilk to the bowl. Beat only until well blended. Bake at 350 for about 18 minutes (for cupcakes).

These were super moist with a very light banana flavor. If refrigerated the banana flavor came out much more and tasted like ridiculously good banana bread.

The frosting. I went back and forth on a few that I wanted to try (Carmel, Cream Cheese, etc) but it always comes down to one thing –ingredients that I have on hand. The final outcome was this Honey-Banana Frosting with a little vanilla added to the mix. It was delicious, but it was more icing or glaze than frosting. The consistency was not right at all which led to adding more and more powdered sugar and a large mess.

In the end fashionable cupcakes went out the window, but they weren’t really around long enough to look at.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Marathon Diaries, Part Two: 26.2 Lessons I learned while running my 1st marathon

With the Caskey crew at the Vienna Metro, dark and early. Mamma C & Joya did the 10K and then cheered us on at Mile 16.

Whose idea was this? That question did enter my mind in the weeks leading up to the marathon. I'm not sure who mentioned it first, my husband, or his dad, but last March we decided to embark on a family adventure and sign up for a marathon, together. It turned out to be one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Here are a few things that I learned along the way.

1. I wear my emotions in my running shoes

In the darkness of the early morning, I saw the lights of the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Capitol. I would run by all three in just a few hours. I was about to run my first marathon. I cried. (no surprise there really) And I was brought to tears during about 70% of the race by the people I saw, the pride that I felt in myself, and sometimes just from the pain.

2. Recognize the heroes around you.

In Part 1, I wrote about the wheelchair racer on the hill. What I didn’t tell you is that he was a wounded vet, and he was one of many. Throughout the race I saw several young marines running with their buddies names on their shirts. No doubt their lives were lost in Iraq or Afghanastan. And then there were the fathers, running for their sons. I ran behind Cpl Ward’s dad for about 6 miles. The back of his shirt “Cpl Ward. My Son. My Hero.” I read those words over and over for miles. The last time I saw him was in Crystal City. A female runner said – “you’re son was a hero” as she ran past him. He said “Yes. Thank you.” Of course, I cried. Again.

3. Be grateful. Say Thank you.

The Marine Corps Marathon is nothing short of inspiring. The course is beautiful, every last step of it is under the shade of brightly colored fall leaves or with a view of the monuments that make our Nation’s Capitol. There was rarely a moment that we weren’t being cheered on by crowds, large or small. It was incredible. And the Marines. Oh, the Marines. Their faces kept me moving. These men and women who have given their lives to serving our country. They may have thought I was saying thank-you for their cheer of encouragement or for the Powerade, but I was saying thank-you for so much more. As the daughter, sister, niece, daughter-in-law and granddaughter-in-law of Marines, these men and women hold a very special place in my heart. Seeing them in uniform throughout the course….well, I cried, and just said thank-you to any of them that I made eye contact with.

4. I love hill work

There were two significant hills in the first half of the race. There was a collective groan in the pack when we hit them, but I actually kind of smiled. Neither hill was as fierce or as long as “The Beast” in Griffith Park, so I felt good. My team’s Saturday can include the beastly hill up to three times in long training. So, two hills, not nearly as long or as steep, I owned them.

5. Funny signs of encouragement are better than a shot blok

They say that laughter is the best medicine. And it’s true. A funny sign held by someone in the crowd will make you laugh out loud and forget your pain for at least 90 seconds. You will swear to remember all of them, not knowing that you will forget most of them in your exhaustion. But here are a few I remember.

- Run Like You Stole Something – a classic, but made me laugh nonetheless; I also used it as the caption for the picture I took of Watergate.

- Free Mimosas if You Stop Now – tempting!

- Jack Bauer never ran a marathon, but you are. – hilarious

- The End is Near – held by someone dressed as the Grim Reaper at the end of the 14th St Bridge

- There are CUTE MARINES at the Finish Line! – enough said.

- And a group of girls dressed in full 80’s neon attire held 80’s Trivia signs and a boom box. It was a reminder that this is “fun.”

6. “Almost there” is a very cruel phrase

You came out to cheer on the marathoners, and for that I thank you. But calling out “almost there” at any mile prior to 24 is just cruel. This is also a mental race that I’m running.

7. A table of orange slices is prettier than a rainbow

Coming out of Georgetown and towards the Kennedy Center, I saw the most beautiful sight. A table of orange slices. I think I cried.

8. I like half marathons

Seeing the mile markers for 12, 13 & 14 on Haines Point, I realized that I like Half Marathons. You have to work for it, and you can still walk the next day. Thankfully my brother ran with me from mile 11 to mile 16 to help me not focus on that very fact.

9. Your ability to take self portraits significantly lessens in quality while running a marathon

me attempting to get a picture of myself with the Washington Monument

my brother's view of me attempting to get a picture of myself with the monument

my brother gets a much better picture of me and the monument

10. When in doubt, rock it out

Some of my favorite new additions to my playlist were:

o Us – Regina Spektor – on Spout Run Parkway

o Me and Bobby McGee- Janis Joplin – at Georgetown Reservoir

o Meet Me Halfway – Black Eyed Peas – on National Mall

o Halo (Club Remix) - Beyonce – on National Mall

o Get Right Back (Where We Started From) – Army Navy – on 14th Street Bridge

o Best Supporting Actor – One For the Team – in Crystal City

o Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes – at the Pentagon

Shortly after Seven Nation Army helped me get my game face back on for the finish, these fun songs led me in the final stretch. I was so happy that I put such fun songs at the end. Despite my pain, I smiled the whole way to the finish line.

o Come On Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners

o Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond

o Don’t Stop Believin’ (Glee Cast Version) – Glee Cast

o Walkin’ on Sunshine – Katrina and The Waves

o I Gotta Feelin – Black Eyed Peas

11. A true friend will hug you when you are covered in powerade and smell like 18 miles of hard work

Getting a hug from my dear friend Jodie who I hadn't seen in nearly a year. She drove a long way to cheer me on and was in the perfect spot - Mile 18 - when I really needed some encouragment.

12. The Rocky Theme Song never gets old

At the Capitol steps, a high school band started to play the Rocky Theme Song. As a pack, we instantly regained some determination in that moment.

me trying to take a picture of myself with the Capitol. see lesson #9

13. As terrible as you look and feel, you will smile for every official race photog you see on the course.

taken by my an unofficial race photog, my brother. me & my nephew (and #1 cheerleader) at mile 11

14. I am stronger than I think but I cry like a girl.

But I think we've established that.

15. The 14th Street Bridge is the longest bridge known to man

I addressed this in Marathon Diaries, Part 1, and have since discovered that I was not the only one that felt this way. It truly felt longer than the entire first 6 miles.

16. With enough determination, I can push through more pain than I have ever known. Not finishing, isn’t an option.

Left leg calf cramping began at Mile 3. Right foot pain started at Mile 14. Pain everywhere, mile 18-24.

In the days after the race, I was on crutches. It seems the pain in my right foot was real and I couldn’t put any weight on it. I saw a running friend of my sister-in-laws the day after the race. Seeing my crutches, she asked what happened. She said, “oh, so you didn’t finish.” I blinked in confusion of the statement. Not finish? “Oh, no. I finished.”

17. Never take food, or pills, from strangers – unless you’re running a marathon

Regular rules of life don’t apply during a marathon. Pee on the side of the road in full view of others? Fine. Unwashed hands? Acceptable. Taking food, electrolyte pills, or painkillers from strangers? Whatever helps. Thank you to the kind woman in Crystal City with the large bag of pretzels. To be able to get the taste of gu, mixed with shot blok and blue powerade out of my mouth was a gift that I can’t thank you enough for.

18. The smell of cheap, warm beer at mile 23 may activate your gag reflex

Speaking from experience.

19. A Marine saying “Congratulations Ma'am” and putting a Marathon Medal around your neck = tears

Finishing a marathon is emotional. A young man in uniform, who has dedicated his life to serving our country (who has endured more hardship in his service than I have in the last 6 hours) putting the medal around your neck for running 26.2 miles will make you cry. Again.

20. I have no idea what those silver blanket things do, but I’ll wrap it around myself because it’s shiny like my medal.

with my father-in-law & my husband after we finished. Dad C - congrats on your first finish and the inspiration to do this as as a family adventure!

21. Your mom will be so happy that you finished the race alive and standing, that she will take off your dirty shoes and sweaty socks and put the crocs on your feet that you’ve been thinking about for the last 12 miles.

Thanks Mom. I loved the excitement on your face as I charged the hill to the finish. And of course, I loved the Whoopie Pies.

22. If you look like you are about to make a serious mess in the middle of the floor, a security guard of an office building will unlock a bathroom for you.

Him: Is she going to be sick? My Mother-in-Law: Yes. Him: Come this way. Beautiful secret corridor to a bathroom without a line. Me: Relief.

23. Few people will massage your feet on the metro, after nearly 6 hours of running. But your dad will.

Thanks Dad (pictured below running alongside me from Miles 9 to 11) Not just for the foot massage, but for running to different mile markers to cheer me on. It meant the world to me to have you cheering me on in this same race that you’ve rocked three times.

24. An Ice Bath will change your life

I live in a smallish 1930’s apartment that doesn’t have a bathtub. I had never experienced an ice bath after a long run. Back at the hotel, desperate to try anything to make the pain go away, I filled up the tub with cold water and ice and got in. Holy. Cold. Pause. Smile. I can’t feel my legs. And that’s a very, very good thing.

25. Running for dessert only works if your system will accept food after 26.2 miles of brutality. But we stopped for a cone and a shake anyway. And enjoyed my mom's traditional marathon whoopie pie.

26. Pain is temporary. Glory is forever.

So many people had this saying on their shirts or on signs in the crowd. I didn't understand it until I saw the finish line. In those moments I felt no pain. Exhilaration. Euphoria. Mild disbelief. Pride. Relief. Joy. Overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Look how far I've come.

.2 I want to do this again with a stronger finish and better time

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Marathon Diaries, Part 1: Perseverance: Get it.

I gave everything I had to get to that finish line. But, along the way I took in an incredible amount of perspective, insight and inspiration. So much in fact that to tell you about it, it will have to come in pieces. Here is Part 1 – Perseverance: Get it.

As I was carbo-loading the night before the marathon, my nephew was excitedly telling me that he can now skip a bar as a he swings across the monkey bars. His actual words: “Yeah. My friend taught me how. I couldn’t do it a first, but I just persevered. And then I could do it.” Yes, he uses words like persevere. He’s 7.

I never thought I’d be a marathoner, but after months of training I was there at the starting line of the Marine Corps Marathon with 25,000 others. I had hours of work ahead and the determination to get to the finish line. Words like perseverance, determination, hard, almost there, cramp, happy, dig deep, pain, finish - all of these words took on a new meaning last Sunday as I moved through all 26.2 miles of my first marathon. Inspiration and insight came from within this pack of people around me – runners, walkers, bystanders, Marines.

Mile 3

I saw him first in Georgetown on the hill up to the reservoir. A racer in a wheelchair digging deep to get up that hill. He was working hard but the progress was slow. Very slow. There was a battle between determination and defeat going on, you could see that in his face. But one thing was clear, he was getting up that hill. Every runner that passed cheered him on – Get it. You got this. Way to go man. A mile after that hill, I heard shouts from behind me. Get left. Chair coming through. Get left. We all started to yell it forward as he made his way through on the right side. We cheered as he passed. All of us happy to see that he won that battle. Each hill for the next 6 miles, the same would happen. He flew by me coming out of the water stop at mile 11, heading into Haines Point. I never saw him again. I would have loved to see him finish. That last .2 hill to the finish line was brutal, but I saw his determination and I know he got to the top.

Mile 20

Everyone says you hit the wall around mile 20. It’s true. It’s a brick wall built of extreme pain, self-deprecating thoughts and exhaustion. My foot was throbbing. My legs. Oh, my legs. It hurt everywhere. My time was much slower than I had anticipated and I was becoming more and more terrified of not being able to “beat the bridge.” (not getting to the 14th Street bridge by a certain time, meant not being able to finish the race) And as I turned onto 14th Street, I saw my dad, brother and nephew cheering me on. I burst into tears. My brother paced me for about a half a mile. He told me – this is the part I told you about. I know it hurts. But you’re there. You’ve done this. Now, you just finish it...Or something like that. What he didn’t tell me is that the 14th Street Bridge is the longest bridge known to man. It may as well have been a mountain. I felt like hell, and it seemed like I was making zero progress. This bridge was never ending! And, it wasn’t just me. So many around me appeared to be so relieved to beat the bridge that their paces slowed significantly. We were all just shuffling forward, giving into the battle of determination vs. defeat.

Then something switched. I just wanted to get off this bridge and finish this race, but I was going to have work for it. I asked a bystander in the crowd to tie my right shoe tighter. Delirious Race Logic: if you can’t stop the pain, just make your shoe tighter so you can’t feel it anymore. I turned up my music, and for the next 5 miles told myself, sometimes out loud, “it’s all in your head.” I dug deep, and I got to the top of my personal hill. I couldn’t do it at first. But, I just persevered. And, then I could do it.

Post Marathon finish with our nephew.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I Know I'm Not Hopeless Case

This is it. I am 7 days from my first marathon. The Marine Corps Marathon. I am, in a word, emotional. I think about the finish line and my eyes well up with tears. The finish line. Sigh. In my short running career (18 months), I’ve cried every time I’ve crossed one. All four times. It’s an experience that is hard to describe. All in one moment you feel empowered, accomplished, humbled, proud, and most of all a euphoric joy.

In October 2001, I was a spectator at the Marine Corps Marathon and cheering on my brother in his 2nd face-off with this course. There was an incredible sense of unity in the nation’s capital, just a few weeks past the dreadful events of 9/11. The patriotic spirit in the crowd was palpable. As a kid, I’d been to the race at least 3 times to cheer for my dad, a career marine. (His P.R. on the course – 3:03. I won’t even be close.) This race in 2001, I remember clearly. Jumping on the metro here and there with my dad and husband. Racing to cheer Travis on at the next mile marker. Seeing runners clad in American Flags, taking out their cameras for pictures of the monuments. Watching exhausted runners push themselves up the hill to the finish. (Yes, you read that right. It is UP hill to the finish. Marines....)

The most inspiring image came at the finish line. With my dad’s connections (he's kind of a big deal) we had secured a prime vantage point behind the finish line. It’s an amazing spot to see the runner’s expressions as they cross the line that they worked so hard to reach. For 8 years, I’ve thought repeatedly about one woman’s finish. “It’s A Beautiful Day” was blasting through the speakers. The sun was shining down on the finish line. And after watching several runners finish in what appeared to be excruciating pain, I saw this woman approaching the line. She was determined. She was focused. She was smiling. And, just as Bono reached the full emotion of the song, she threw her arms out to her sides, arched her head up to the sun, and crossed the finish line. Her expression was full of joy, accomplishment, pride and peace. To this day, when I hear that song, I see her face. It was that beautiful of a moment. I’ve thought a lot about her as I’ve trained for this race. And, I’ve thought a lot about crossing the finish line myself. "What you don't know you can feel it somehow." That is what has pushed me through this training, through the pain and through the desire to hit the snooze button instead of going out for a run.

It should be no surprise that I’ve also thought a lot about dessert. Whoopie Pies to be specific. I’m not sure where or when the tradition started. I just know that anytime my dad or brother ran a marathon, my mom made Whoopie Pies. Now, I will have earned mine. And because Carl’s Ice Cream is positioned perfectly half way between D.C and my parent’s house, we will be stopping there for a cone. And perhaps, a milkshake.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Francese Fiasco

The night of our 1 month wedding anniversary (9 years ago), I decided to make my husband his favorite dinner from our favorite Italian Restaurant. Chicken Francese. I was a married, grown-up woman and I was going to cook a fancy dish for my man because that’s what married, grown-up women do. I was excited. I felt domesticated. Empowered. The queen of my kitchen. Or, so I thought.

I grew up watching my mom and grandmothers in the kitchen. They rarely had recipes out or cookbooks. They just moved about the kitchen in a fluid motion, as if they didn’t have to think about it. Dashing this and that into the pan. Making substitutions if they were missing ingredients. Somehow on this night, I got into my head that after just 1 month of being married, and of cooking for two, I had reached this level of domestic diva. I had not.

As I opened the Joy of Cooking to the recipe, I realized the only ingredient that I actually had on hand for this dish was Chicken. But, I really wanted to make this dish so, I substituted, very poorly, every other ingredient. My substitutions and thinking went like this: Chicken Broth. Hmm. I don’t have any Chicken Broth. So, it needs to simmer in liquid…..i’ll just add more butter. Capers? Who has capers? They’ve got kind of a lemon flavor. I’ll just squeeze some lemon in there. Shallots. What the hell are those? I think they’re like onions. I’ll just dice up some onion. Clearly, you see where this disaster is headed. I was also doing all of this while talking on the phone, no less. My mom can talk on the phone while she cooks. But not me, not at this point in my cooking career. So on top of the ignorant solutions for substitutions, I burned the chicken.

My husband of one month came home to find 3 smoke alarms on the porch (because frankly I couldn’t get them to stop) and all the windows and doors open. But, I was not yet deterred. I had opened two place settings of our still boxed wedding china. Lit candles and had music playing. And, I very proudly presented him with his favorite dish. He was kind. He ate. One bite. Two bites. Looking back, I can see the fear in his eyes, but at the time I didn’t recognize it. I ate.

It took me one bite to realize that I was nowhere near the cooking expertise of my mother or my grandmothers. I could not make substitutions or be distracted while cooking. And, this thing on the plate tasted nothing like Chicken Francese.

We ordered pizza.

I’ve come a long way from the Francese Fiasco, but I have never attempted to make it again. Seth, however, makes a delicious version. I had so many expectations of myself as a new wife. Of what I should be. Of what marriage should be.

On my longer runs lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. You tend to do that when you have no access to TV, Facebook or Twitter. And ever since seeing 500 Days of Summer (which you should see if you haven’t), I’ve thought a lot about expectations vs. reality. It was one of my favorite scenes in the movie. Who couldn’t identify with the comparison of how you want and imagine something will turn out, and how it is in reality.

So I run. And, I think about the expectations that I have of myself, and the pressure I put on myself to meet those. I think about goals and what’s next. It can get overwhelming and daunting. Just like opening the Joy of Cooking for the first time. Or training for 26.2 miles. So, I just remind myself that I am here in this moment, running this mile. I’ll deal with the next mile when I get there. I know the next mile is there. I can plan for it. I can train for it. Substitutions and expectations will do me no good. If I'm missing ingredients or elements, then I may need to change my plans, or at least my expectations.

It is what it is. To not accept that will only set off smoke alarms.