Saturday, December 28, 2013

Making a Mom Feel Special

This year my mom turned 70.

I really wanted her to feel special and loved.
I wanted the memory of the celebration to meaningful as well.
I didn't want us all to be somewhere so that the memory was "remember that time we all went to X?"
So, I figured that doing something in her new home town would be the best way to accomplish all goals.
At first I thought a dance party would be fun. My mom loves to dance. After consulting with her partner, we decided that had too much risk of failure.
We figured that a visit from her favorite kids doing her favorite activities would be the best celebration ever.

My mom spent most of her life teaching and mentoring people. She always talks fondly of the memories of people who have come through her life when they get in touch with her many years later and talk about the affect she had. I have always wanted to collect those memories for her, and I figured 70 was a good birthday to target. Early in the summer, she came to visit me, and was having a hard time with all of her online passwords. We sorted it out, and in the process I got access to her email address. I exported all of her contact's email addresses as part of the plan.
I sent an email to everyone on the list saying "you may be her doctor, or the bank, but if you are not, please would you send me a note about how you remember my mother."
I figured that in this busy life, if people forgot, I would just not talk about this "present".
I got SO many notes, that I had to go back to the craft store 3 times to get more pages and parts for the book.

This surprise was actually spoiled, because one of my mom's cousins forwarded my email to her saying "how exciting, happy birthday!"
- sigh.

The surprise visit celebration was nearly spoiled too.
A couple months before her birthday, my mom started talking to me and my brother about how much she wanted to spend her birthday with us.
Neither of us really knew how to lie to her, so I decided to throw her off by sending her a card inviting her to a surprise. I used an online card company, and made up a return address.

This didn't work either because my mom saw the black card cover, and threw it away... twice...
both times her partner fished it out of the trash. The second time, he told her to read it!
now she wanted to know if I sent it... I said: if someone sends you an invite to a surprise celebration, there kinda isn't any surprise if they admit to it!
she read this as - it wasn't me.
- sigh.

Then, my brother blew the surprise. He told her we were going to visit.
But he didn't tell her when.
She spent the weekend before her birthday expecting us to show up everywhere she went.
We didn't. She must have forgotten that the card included dates.

The plan was for me and my partner, my brother, and a very close friend of my mom's and her partner to all show up at the house at 5pm on Sunday.
Our flights from VA were scheduled to get us to AZ by 11am.
I figured this was time for my brother and I to do some last minute present shopping, check in to the hotel, and show up at her door.

Well - United Airlines was against this plan, and at 11pm the night before our (6am flight) we got a phone call telling us that our connection from Houston to Tucson was canceled. We'd been rescheduled on a flight to Phoenix with a connection to Tucson that got us in at 5:30pm.
All day we worked our way across the country (after getting up at 3pm, mind you), to finally arrive in Phoenix to the news that our flight was delayed an hour. Our new Tucson arrival time was 6:30pm.
Now I know what it means when people say "It's not a problem if it can be solved by money".
A trip to National and we were driving ourselves to my mom's.
Scheduled arrival time 4:30pm.

We all congregated outside of the house, my mom's partner going in and out to try and wake her up from a nap. We rang the doorbell, waiting, heard her telling him to get the door. So we just went into the bedroom!

This was the best way to make this surprise happen because she was not expecting it at all!

We all went into the living room and had tea and chats.

Since my mom knew we were coming, she had cooked up a storm! We ate every meal at the house because there was so much delicious food. The first night was meat and chicken Cornish Pasties, the second was curry and rice, and we all loved the Pasties so much we made them again on the last night with the lamb stew as filling.

During the first day we went up to Madera Canyon for a BBQ.
After buying a bunch of meat and some eggplant at the store, we caravaned to a cool high-altitude picnic spot.

The spread.


Celebrating with Family

The next day, I gave my mom the book. She was very moved. I think she has been collecting more memories since I gave it to her.

On the last day, we went to Tubac and had lunch, walked around, and acted silly.

Making more Pasties:

All in all, the whole surprise was a success! I'm grateful to the peeps who helped me make it happen, and give my mom some great memories in celebration of her 70th Birthday!

Cookies 2013

Since January of last year, I have been eating according to the principles of the primal/paleo way... it seemed hypocritical to bake my usual repertoire of cookie recipes this year.
So I skipped the cookie deluge and made some paleo treats.

I did break the dietary restrictions by baking an AMAZING fruitcake with a fellow ex-pat.

I got a tiny cake to taste the fruits of our labor.

so yummy!!

Cookies of the Past


2007, a catch-up retrospective






Monday, December 09, 2013

Winter Garden

We had a lot of fluffy snow and then freezing rain yesterday and last night. Here is the result...

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Little Bits of Color

I love putting a little vase of whatever's blooming on the kitchen windowsill.

I can't believe I got this much color from the garden in the cold rainy October fall.

(Zinnia, lavender, chrysanthemums)

First Fall Cleanup

I took out some of the really dead plants last week, and the garden looks much "cleaner".
I rearranged the porch pots so that they will all get the fall rains.

I am hesitant to cut down the zinnia as I want them to self-seed for next year!
Also waiting for the buddleia to stop growing new shoots.
I think I've missed the window for fall transplanting - it went from 80 to 50 overnight; so I will move the liatris and agastache in the spring.

Mom, please note that the Mums came back!



Clematis is doing fine; Medusa is gone.

LOVE my kitchen-garden-herb-bed!!
(thanks Mom)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Travel no no!

Day of departure home from NY, the reality of the NY late night hits in that I wake up at 8:00. This puts my time consciousness off two hours.
My plan is to leave for JFK at noon, so that I have plenty of time for my 2:55 flight.
Didn't think anything of it when my brother suggested we go get breakfast. I thought it was 11:00.

We walked about 15 (NY) blocks to Bedford neighborhood and sat down to eat. I looked at the time:

We'd just ordered, the place was slow...
We calculated that I'd be ok.
Paid when the food came, ate fast, walked briskly back to the loft for my bags.
I decided to take the "45" minute subway to Airtrain because it's more predictable than traffic.
I was standing on the platform as a train pulled up at

OMG! This train has a kazillion stops, and it's so slow! My brother lets me know that there is no Pre at T2, and the shuttle between Pre at T4 and T2 is 15 mins.
I watch the stops between me and the train, and they go by slowly.
Eric looks up seat availability for alternate flights so I know I can get on the next one standby.

When we arrive at Jamaica, I get stuck trying to navigate me and my bag through the exit turnstile and get to the elevator as the doors close.
Breathe... Escalator or wait?
I wait... Good thing cause the Airtrain is 4 floors up.
I decide its time to run, and as I go, I'm praying that I have enough money on my metro card.
Make it through the turnstile and am waiting for train 2 at

While waiting, I figure I have no time for Pre, so I take out my 3-1-1 and pack away my belt. Everything is ready for security. I'm at the mercy of TSA, and the people in the line!

2:35 exit the train, run to the terminal, sprint up the stairs and to the security line.
I figure "preferred" is my best bet and I'm standing behind 10 people ... I don't know what I look like, but the guy in front of me says "are you ok?" I realize I'm shaking. I tell him my flight is at 2:55, he says go ahead. I express doubt, and he starts telling everyone in front of me that I need to go!
They let me through, the nice people in the scanner line let me through, it's a small terminal and I figure I'm going to the same gate I used at arrival, and I get there at

The gate team is having some issues getting it straight with issuing standby tix, boarding multiple planes through the same point, and I just cut through and say "where are you for boarding Dulles?" More confusion and someone says "we close the gate 10mins before departure time"; I say "just let me through!"
I run down the jetway, to the covered walkway that has signs and separate tunnels for each of the CJ's, and of course, Dulles is the last one!
There is a rope across. I see the plane stairs still down, I wave at the ground crew, and they let me come by. I give them my bag, board, and am seated at

There were two ladies boarding behind me complaining that they had been waiting at the gate for 2 hours and had not heard the boarding announcement. 

So, 1 hour for the train from stepping on to stepping off.
10 mins to get from train to gate!

I've never cut it that close before, and if I'd missed the plane - it would have been 100% my fault.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Triathlon Season Recap

I feel like this has been the first season that I've actually been a triathlete, and I want to document the decisions I made and how they created that feeling.
There are a couple things that make this season feel more real, and mostly it's because I was actually strategic. Being 3 years into the sport with people looking at me as a veteran helps, as does the fact that I'm not the last to finish each leg.
So, here's what I did strategically this year, and my intent is to do it again next year!
This is kind of the Garden Planning post, but for triathlon.

Last fall I decided I wanted a break from the stress and intensity of worrying that I didn't put in enough miles/yards, and would shorten my distance focus for 2013 to Sprints and Olympics/Internationals. But mostly, I wanted to put some effort into increasing speed on the run. My Shamrock half marathon in 2011 was at a 9-something min/mi, and at the end of last summer, after two seasons of long distances (Half IMs and a marathon), my pace was closer to 12. I wanted that 9 back!

I asked our track coach if she would help me PR a 5K turkey trot. She gave me a pace-based training plan, and I went to work! My friend Janet was a huge help. She would run next to me and call out our pace to make sure we stayed at the required number. When I was huffing for breathe and form was going out the window, she would remind me that pain was the point!
Finding that pain point, and then pushing through it; realizing that you can still go on, and you can run in pain was a huge breakthrough. My times kept improving, and we both had excellent runs at that 5K. From that point on, it was easy to keep improving and I run as many 5Ks and 5mile runs as I could fit into my schedule.

My next goal was to put some focus on the bike! I had to find a way to get over my fears!
I was feeling very empowered by our computrainer sessions and knew what I was capable of in the safe setting of a classroom with no cars passing and my bike mounted to the ground! I knew that my FTP was, basically, the same as Janet's and spent the winter racing her on those virtual courses. I knew from these sessions that when I wanted to, I could get double my FTP to sprint to a finish. So why couldn't I do this on the road?
I decided to give it a try at one of our time trials. Our computrainer coach recommended I use cadence and heart rate to approximate power. I went out there and executed as if I was in computrainer class, and there goes Janet, screaming past me. What the...!
Back to paying attention to my HR relative to power in computrainer, and attempt two at execution was during the Kinetic Sprint. Once again, Janet goes SCREAMING past me as if I were standing still. I caught up to her on a climb, and when I pointed out that I was about to overtake her, she bit down and flew so far ahead that I couldn't even see her. Why couldn't I do that?!
Kinetic Sprint: Swim - 18:56 T1 - 3:45 Bike - 1:00:07 T2 - 1:37 Run - 27:38

I needed to get it together... I had to find that pain point on the bike, and I needed something equivalent to pace to track my performance while I was riding. I was looking for a number to tell me what my brain and body couldn't - push harder!
So, I thanked the IRS for giving me my annual investment distribution, and went out and bought a powertap.
My first race with the powertap Williamsburg Olympic. I hadn't had the powermeter for very long, so didn't have any experience by which to use it. After talking with my peeps, I decided to put out 90% FTP, and push 100% FTP for the last 5 miles (there were some hills in that stretch).
I was able to execute my strategy and came into T2 really proud of myself for having the most aggressive bike ride of my (short) racing career.
and then... I totally bonked on the run after mile 2... One of our older teammates, who always beats me because she is such a strong rider, saw me at the turn around and called out "come and get me, Lisa!; let's cross the finish line together". No matter what I did - run/walk, walk break, yell at my legs, yell at myself - I just couldn't catch her! She beat me by 2 mins.
Williamsburg Olympic: Swim - 42:57 T1 - 6:08 Bike - 1:28:25 T2 - 0:27 Run - 1:07:21

I had a conversation with my Coach about how bad that run was, and he pointed out that this is a common problem with triathletes - bang out the bike, and not have anything left for the run. Who knew? I guess I had really never put out any energy on the bike before. And here is the start of my bike education.

I spent the next couple of weeks playing on the trainer with percents... what percent of FTP could I put out on the bike, and still knock out the run?
Luray was my next race, and in my mind somewhat of the measure point of improvement since it was the only repeat race from last year. I was very stressed!
I used the Luray course (well, part of it, that course MF'ing SUX on a trainer!!) and a 5mi hilly route in my neighborhood as a brick, and calculated that I'd need to do about 75% power on the bike. Man, I was stressed before that race! worried that I couldn't/wouldn't do it.
My swim time was 2 mins slower than last year. So I went into the bike with focus.
That course is excessive false flats with some nice downhills and some hefty ups. Practicing on the trainer really worked to empower me because I knew I needed to NOT BREAK on the downhill, and stay patient on the false flats. I was pleasantly surprised at how much easier the course was in real life and while everyone POWERED up the last steep climb, I calmly kept a steady cadence with as lower a power output as possible.
I always think about T2 on the bike ride, and I decided that at this race I'd see how fast I could do it! 1:08... and thus starts my focus on T2 efficiency ;-)
I had my virtual runner set to 9:30, and I tried hard to stick to that. With the hills and heat, that course is brutal! I fell behind, but focused on staying as close as I could.
Well - strategy worked! I finished that bike strong (PR'd) and ran my fastest 10K ever! About a 20min PR overall from last year (times in parenthesis below).
Luray International: Swim - 39:46 (37:41) T1 - 3:25 Bike - 1:47:43 (1:59:10) T2 - 1:08 Run - 59:39 (1:09:24)

So what should I do for Patriots, my last race of the season? I was not really looking forward to racing and went to bed wishing I didn't have to get wet.
Last minute I looked at my race stats and decided:
beat 18mins on the swim (my Kinetic swim time)
keep 16mph on the bike, or 85% of max power (my Williamsburg bike speed, some area so figured I could be more aggressive than Luray, and picked the FPT % thinking I could push it a little since it was my last tri of the season, flat, and shorter than Luray)
Beat 8:30 min/mi on the run (this would make Patriots my fastest triathlon run of the season, beating my relay run time at General Smallwood)
oh... and the MOST important one! I wanted T2 to be < minute.

The swim was messed up because by the time the "old lady" wave started, the first turn buoy had mutinied and left the course, they gave us instructions to "aim for the boat" and "aim for the white kayak"... everyone was clueless, and so I just followed the pack. I didn't look at my watch at the finish, focusing instead of getting my wetsuit off ASAP so that I could run more easily the long distance to the transition area.
I made another tactical error. The transition area was wet with recently cut grass, I thought I would carry my shoes and put them on at the mount line. I forgot that, umm, there's nowhere to put your bike at the line! so I was balancing on one foot with my bike balancing on me, putting on my shoes. The ride was uneventful, I forced myself to let go of the people leapfrogging me and pushing up the "hills", forcing myself to look at my power and keep that number at 85%. When I got off the bike, I was very focused on hitting "lap" right on the mat... I RAN down to my rack, threw things down, grabbed things, and pressed lap as I crossed the mat at the exit. I heard Daniel say "nice fast transition, Lisa"; but my watch had a big 1:05 on it :-( oh well... keep going.
Everyone has been telling me to work on negative splits on the run, so I went out looking at 9min/mi and held that for the first half mile, then I varied between 9 and 8:45 until I got to the turn around (I think it was at 1.75). After the turnaround, I picked up the pace. My virtual partner said I was behind by 38 seconds. It's REALLY hard to gain time on that stupid little guy! and with just over a mile to do it, I was worried. I looked down every couple seconds to see what that deficit was and it was slowly moving up by 2 seconds. I would use that as motivation to push a little harder! I was conceptualizing sprinting the last quarter mile. When I got to my mental milestone, it said I was 2 seconds behind. I thought to myself... do you really want to finish this race at this point and know that you had 2 seconds and you didn't do it? is that really what you want?! no it isn't, so make it happen!
When I crossed the finish, that time was a positive 2 secs :-)
Patriots Sprint: Swim - 13:55 T1 - 3:57 Bike - 46:45 T2 - 0:57 Run - 26:39
I made every goal I set!
Swim was fastest race pace ever, my ave power was 85% on the nose, T2 <1min (I need to see what my Garmin is displaying on that screen, cause it's not total time), run was my fastest in a triathlon ever!
This is a 20 min PR over Kinetic, I was 9/18 in my AG (15 mins off of the AG winner)

So, yeah, I am super happy with my whole season and really impressed with myself for learning, practicing, figuring, and making it happen. I am not one of those people who is athletically gifted - I was a couch-potato until I was 38 - every second I get is hard hard earned!
My big lessons this year:
If you are pushing yourself to the edge of your capability, it is supposed to hurt!
Your brain is a bigger obstacle than your body. Enlist your brain to help!
Once you get focused on feeling the pain, and pushing past the limit that your brain gives you, improving gets easier.

Not sure if I can do it again, but here's my plan to give it a try...

Get my run down to 8:30min/mi for the 5 mile distance.
Hold that 9:00min/mi pace for a longer distance (Half marathon in spring?)
Really find some more power in computrainer, and see if I can increase my FTP.
Put it all together and execute at Sprints and Olympics/Internationals next year.
and the big one... work at holding that 9 for 26.2 miles! I'm thinking towards the end of the summer!!

Late Summer in the Garden

This is my worst time of year for the garden. I don't like how so many things are starting to fade, and everything looks scruffy. There isn't much new growing, and the sun and heat have taken their toll.

Here is the late summer garden after some cleanup.



The herb bed is looking amazing! I have already harvested a giant mass of basil and have some pesto in the freezer.
Medusa continues to exist...

Now why is that Zinnia growing UP?
The flowering onion saves the fall!

Zinnia are new this year, and I need more!


Even the butterflies like the Zinnia.

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2014 Spring Garden Maintenance

Divide and move Liatris
Transplant Agastache
Plant Hydrangea next to Buddleia
Divide and plant Del Oro along the edge of the bed.

Place Supports:

Liatris Care

Deadhead fading blooms by cutting the stems back to the plants' basal leaves. Make new plants by allowing flowers to go to seed or by dividing overgrown clumps every 2 or 3 years.
Plants do best when you divide in spring, but you can also divide them in fall as long as transplants have enough time to develop roots before the ground freezes.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Feeding the Wildlife

There were magnificent hosta here.

Last weekend, I spent time forcing the neighbors berry bush back up and off of the walkway. They then had someone cut the berries down. This allowed a nice path for the deer.
I know my mom will say "install a fence"

Friday, July 26, 2013

Garden maintenance - support

I need to remember to place supports for more of the bushes. This is my reminder!

First, the plants I seem to remember to support:

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white 1
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white 2
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The plants I need to remember to stake next year:

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Black-eyed Susan/Heliotrope
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Garden - mid July

These last couple weeks have been a heat wave, and the garden looks ragged. Here are some photos of the garden cleaned up right before we started getting melted.

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(July 14, for future reference on the start of hibiscus blooming)

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Another visiting butterfly

This has been an amazing year for butterflies. Not only is the buddleia covered every day with one of every variety in the Mid-Atlantic, they are all over the wooded roads around the countryside.

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