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Adventures in Exercise: Open-Water Swimming

I am hoping that next year I’ll start posting more regularly. But for now, I’m going to post about some things that happened this year that I never blogged about when they happened.

One item that’s been on my bucket list for years has been doing an open-water swim, so I made it my mission to do it in 2016. I’d heard about the James Doty Memorial Mile Swim, down on the beach in Southie, so after spending several weeks swimming at the gym in the morning whenever I could, one Saturday in June I went down to the beach and signed up. They gave me a bathing cap with a number on it and wrote the number on my arm.

At the beginning, I had some doubts about whether I could keep doing it, but as I kept going, I felt better and better. We started off all pretty close together, but at one point we were so spread out that I couldn’t see anyone else and started to worry that I’d gotten lost. And then, 33 minutes after I started, it was over! That wouldn’t be a great time for me in the pool, but I’ll cut myself some slack since it was the first time I’d swum in open water. And since it was a nice day in June, the water wasn’t that cold once I started moving!

The whole event was incredibly well-run but also very low-key. They explained everything to us before we started, including that it was very safe and that the only sea creatures we were likely to encounter were a type of jellyfish that doesn’t sting. Everyone I talked to was incredibly nice, and they had food for us afterwards.

One reason I wanted to do an open-water swim is  in preparation for doing a triathlon next year. I’m making that one of my 2017 goals. The only challenges I’d foreseen in doing a sprint triathlon were that I will need to do some major work to be ready for the bike part (that’s still true) and that I’d need to learn how to handle swimming in open water. Now I’ve got that down!

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I Bless The Rains Down In Africa

(Okay, it was the dry season, so we didn’t actually see any of the rains down in Africa, but I did want an excuse to share this video.)

 

We’d been talking about going to visit Tiana in Zimbabwe since she moved there two years ago due to her husband’s job with the Foreign Service. In the spring, Erin, Julie, Jackie and I decided we were definitely going to do it. So one night on Google Hangout, we went online and bought our tickets, and with that, we were going to Zimbabwe!

Sunday, August 7

We were flying through Dubai—Julie, Erin, and I from Boston and Jackie, who lives in DC, meeting us on our Dubai flight. Our flight left at noon. Twelve and a half hours—the longest flight I’d ever taken. I’m terrible at sleeping on planes, so my plan was to try to stay awake until normal sleeping hours, then sleep. I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (which I liked, and I know that’s a controversial opinion) and watched some of the Olympics. (I’m pretty obsessed with the Olympics, so back at home I was DVRing the primetime coverage.)

Monday, August 8

We landed in Dubai and had a tight layover—about an hour and a half. After wandering through the huge airport, we got to our gate and discovered they were already boarding. And it was kind of weird—the gate didn’t lead to the plane, but to an escalator, and they would only let a certain number of people down at a time. Jackie met up with us during this time and joined us in confusion. It turned out that the escalator led to the shuttle bus that took us to the plane.

So, anyway, we got on the next flight, which made an hour-and-a-half stop in Zambia before continuing to Zimbabwe, and I realized that I’d made a terrible mistake and should have tried harder to sleep on the previous plane, since it was morning by the time we took off. I actually like long flights, but I hit my limit on this trip. I ended up getting very little sleep.

We finally landed in Harare. Zimbabwe has been having a currency crisis in recent years and they now take the American dollar. You can’t really get money from ATMs if you’re a tourist, and most places don’t take credit cards. I got a taste of that right away when I got my visa—they didn’t have enough cash to make change for me and I had to wait while they found some.

Then we went over to the baggage carousel to get our bags. We waited. And waited. And…nothing. We were thinking, “They can’t possibly have lost ALL of our bags.” But…yep. They had. When we went over to the lost baggage claim area, they already had printouts from Emirates with our names on them. We would have to wait twenty-four hours until the next plane from Dubai landed.

So that was a bummer, but at least we were going to Tiana’s house and could borrow most of the things we needed from her. And by the time we got that sorted out, I was no longer tired. At her house, we said hi to her husband Nick and her adorable eleven-month-old baby, Evelyn, and went to bed.

Tuesday, August 9

The plan for the day: lunch at a restaurant Tiana likes, then a visit to a wildlife sanctuary called Wild Is Life, then pick up the bags.

We drove to the restaurant, and after we parked, Tiana suddenly said, “Hey, get over here on the grass so this car can park.”

I should mention that I have another college friend, Bridget, who also works for the government and has been living in Pakistan for the last few months. At the reunion (which, ha, I never wrote about), we FaceTimed with her, and I figured it would be a long time before I saw her again.

Well, you can probably see where this is going. The car behind us pulls in…and out of it steps FREAKING BRIDGET! She’d decided to come visit during her R&R and had been corresponding with Tiana about it secretly. It turned out she was bcc’d on all of our emails with Tiana about this trip—we had no idea!

We had a great lunch outside at this restaurant Arroma Caffé. There were chickens wandering around. I felt a little weird about it, since I was eating a chicken sandwich.

chicken-sandwich

chicken

Then we headed to Wild Is Life, a sanctuary in Harare for orphaned and injured animals. It was pretty freaking awesome. We got to feed some of the animals—including giraffes and a warthog named Pickles.

pickles

Giraffes are pretty awesome.

giraffes

We also saw a lot of elephants and impala and watched them feed the lions.

lion

ellie-in-dirt

 

We also met Marimba the pangolin. I’d never even heard of a pangolin before—it turns out they’re highly endangered, and there are so few of them that no one really knows how long they live.

pangolin

About halfway through the afternoon, we had tea, which was fun. At the end, we had rosé as giraffes looked on and tried to steal the drinks from us. You know, like you do.

giraffe-and-rose

 

us-at-wild-is-life

After all that, we went back to the airport, where, thankfully, all of our bags had finally arrived.

Wednesday, August 10

This vacation turned out to be a nice combination of sightseeing and relaxing. Wednesday was nothing but relaxing—hanging around Tiana’s house with her cute baby and cute dogs. Evie is a really great baby—so cute, so easygoing, so happy, so easy to make smile. Everyone would be having kids if every baby was guaranteed to be like her.

And Tiana’s two dogs, Kiro and Moki, are pretty awesome, too. I saw a lot of animals in Zimbabwe, but these two were my favorites.

kiro-and-moki

A friend of Nick’s from work came over for dinner. Afterwards, we packed for our trip to Victoria Falls.

Thursday, August 11

We headed back to the airport to go to Victoria Falls! We were flying on this tiny African airline, Fastjet. Julie had looked up the airline’s baggage rules earlier and found this gem:

bucket-of-fish

We actually had a great experience with the bucket-of-fish airline, though.

Here’s the hotel, where all the rooms were named after animals. Tiana and I were in “Buffalo.”

buffalo-room

We went out for lunch—where we ate, among other things, impala and crocodile—and did a bit of shopping.

For dinner, we went to the Boma, where we tried warthog and I even had a piece of a fried worm! They had a show toward the end of the night, where they gave us all drums for an audience response-type drum thing.

After we got back, Tiana and I were settling into bed in our hotel room when the hotel phone rang. We both looked at it in confusion. Tiana finally picked it up and discovered Erin and Bridget on the other end. There was a spider in their room, it turned out, and they weren’t sure if it was poisonous or not. I only heard Tiana’s side of the conversation, but it was hilarious. Erin was saying they’d actually been trying to call Jackie and Tiana was like, “How would Jackie know if it’s poisonous or not?” I was cracking up by the time the call ended and headed over with Tiana to see the spider. In their defense, it was pretty huge, and Tiana pretty much laughed in my face when I asked if you could just kill it with toilet paper. Tiana ended up whacking it to death with the hotel room bible. Or smiting it, if you will.

 

Friday, August 12

We headed off to see the falls. They were pretty awesome—there’s a reason they’re one of the seven wonders of the natural world.

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It was the dry season in Zimbabwe, and usually you can’t go too far out on the rocks because they’re too slippery, but we were able to go out farther than usual. We also didn’t need the raincoats we’d rented.

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Then we got lunch at the Outlook Café, from which you could see people ziplining. Ziplining is something I’d wanted to do for a long time. There were three options— these two looked way too scary, but the third, the Flying Fox, didn’t look too bad. So I decided to do it and managed to convince Erin to do it, too.

 

ziplining

IT WAS AMAZING! So much fun—as close to flying as I’ve ever come. The operator even let both me and Erin do a second run for free.

Afterwards we went shopping and bought safari hats to wear on the safari the next day, then went out for dinner at the Victoria Falls Hotel.

Saturday, August 13

Safari day! We had to get up early to get in the car that was coming for us. The safari was actually in Botswana, just over the border. (Victoria Falls is right where Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia all converge.) So we had to go through the post at the border, then get in the safari vehicle. Ours was called the No. 1 Ladies Safari, after the book and TV series No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, which is set in Botswana.

us-safari

On the land portion of the safari, we saw a lot of elephants, giraffes, some buffalo (including one old buffalo who crossed the road right in front of us), mongooses (spellcheck just informed me that “mongeese” isn’t a word), hippos, impala, crocodiles, and some cool-looking birds.

elephants

giraffes-in-wild

hippo

buffalo

We then went to the safari lodge for lunch and began the boat portion of the safari. It was pretty awesome—we saw animals like crocs and hippos up close, and this fantastic scene with elephants.

When we got back, we got dinner, then went back to the hotel and drank wine while watching the opening scene of The Lion King.

Sunday, August 14

Our flight wasn’t until late afternoon, so we spent the earlier part of the day shopping, then headed back to Harare. Tiana was happy to be reunited with her cute little girl, and we had dinner and played with Evie again.

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Monday, August 15

We packed, got lunch at a place near Tiana’s, and headed to the airport for our flight to Dubai. I got almost no sleep on the plane, which was not the plan, and I started going stir-crazy. I also engaged in some airplane parkour at one point—the guy in between me and Erin was sleeping, so when I had to use the restroom, I had Erin get up, got up on my seat, and literally jumped over the guy into Erin’s seat without waking him up.

Tuesday, August 16

Dubai day! This whole day felt like a weird dream, actually. For one thing, we were all really tired from not getting any sleep on the plane, and for another thing, Dubai is a study in contrasts. You’re very clearly in the Middle East, but you’re also surrounded by American and British stores.

The most surprising thing about Dubai? It was humid. I knew it would be really hot there, but I was thinking, oh, it’s the desert, it will be dry heat. No. It wasn’t. It was so humid you really couldn’t go anywhere outside. Which wasn’t a huge problem because everything we wanted to do was indoors, anyway. (Including skiing- one of the things I’d wanted to do indoors was skiing in a mall, but in the end I didn’t have time.)

We checked into our hotel rooms, then got in a cab to tour the Jumeirah Mosque. The cab driver, who took us right from the hotel, was a bit sketchy- he kept trying to get us to change our plans and go somewhere else, and we kept telling him to just take us to the damn mosque already. But luckily, that was as sketchy as the trip got. The mosque was beautiful, and we listened to a woman talk about Islam and answer questions.

jumeirah-mosque

Then we went to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. It was pretty cool, but you actually couldn’t see that far from the observation deck due to dust. That is a weather forecast in Dubai—dust.

burj-khalifa

I think I mentioned that in London, we went to tea at Fortnum and Mason. After discovering that there was a Fortnum and Mason in Dubai, we decided to do it again! It was just as delicious as it was in London.

fortnum-and-mason

After that, it hit us that we were jet lagged and had gotten very little sleep, so we went back to the hotel to lay down for a bit.

Then we went out to dinner. Bridget wanted to have a great last meal before she headed back to the not-so-great food in Pakistan, so we went to a nice French restaurant.

And then it was time to head back to the airport. Bridget headed back to Pakistan, Jackie to DC, and Erin, Julie, and I to Boston.

Wednesday, August 17

Okay, I wish the story ended there, but I have to describe the absolutely INSANE flight back to Boston.

It was going okay until we were somewhere over Greenland. Then all of a sudden, on the map that shows where the plane is, I saw that we were going BACKWARDS and our destination was now Iceland. We were, it turned out, experiencing a medical emergency and had to land the plane. Someone told us later that the emergency was a little kid with pneumonia. Because we landed at a small airport, they had to jettison fuel and then re-fuel at the airport. So that took even longer, and then as we were taxing through the airport, we paused for a long time. Apparently, there was a SECOND medical emergency. (I have no idea what that one was.) So we had to wait some more.

Also, not long before we went on this trip, Emirates had this incident where a plane burst into flames. I think the flight crew was paranoid from that, because a couple of hours before we landed, Erin opened her eyes to find two flight attendants standing over her sniffing. One of them apparently thought she smelled something burning, and they made our whole row get up as we all looked at each other like, “What the hell? I don’t smell anything!” I honestly think the flight attendant must have been imagining things, because no one else smelled it and we returned to our seat pretty quickly.

So, we landed, finally, about five hours after we were supposed to. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to spend the whole day sleeping at home, as planned, but things didn’t end there. Logan Airport took over two hours to return everyone’s bags. I have no idea why- they said something about being short on grounds crew but for the life of me I can’t figure out why it took as long as it did. We were standing by the baggage carousel as a small amount of bags would emerge every fifteen minutes or so.

So, yeah. Not the best flying experience I’ve ever had, but at least it made me happy to be home. Because this trip was such a great time, I didn’t want to go back to my normal life.

Maybe I’m a Runner Now

Two weeks ago, I ran half-marathon number five. It was my best half marathon, both in terms of my time and in terms of how I felt. Here’s why this one was different.

 

I’ve posted about how miserable and lonely I was this summer in the aftermath of the fire. Early in the summer, I was making an attempt to eat healthier and exercise, but I abandoned that completely as the apartment situation got more and more depressing. It’s a cruel irony that you need healthy living the most when life is hardest, which is also when it’s hardest to do it. I stopped paying attention to eating healthy and ate a lot of crap, and I couldn’t force myself to exercise. One day, when I was particularly down and it was good running weather, I tried to get up and out of the house to run. I made it a total of two blocks.

 

I haven’t weighed myself in a long time, but I know I gained weight. A lot of my clothes weren’t fitting me right, and when I saw pictures of myself taken in July, I burst into tears. I looked hideous, and much heavier than I should be.

 

So when things calmed down, I signed up for the Bay State Half Marathon, the same one I did last year. I’d come so close to breaking two hours before, and I felt like I was really capable of it now.

 

While this was my fifth half-marathon, the training for it felt different from any of the others. Before, I often felt like I had to force myself to get up and run. This time, I got into a good routine and was actually looking forward to my runs. I think it helped that I started my new job a few weeks into the training—having a new routine in general helped me fit in a new running routine. I started using MyFitnessPal more consistently and keeping better track of what I ate.

 

When I set that goal of breaking two hours, I’d thought that I would barely make it. Instead, while I was running, I looked at my watch at one point to see how I was doing and thought, “Wow…you totally have this!” I ended up finishing in 1:54:56—ten minutes faster than last year. The weather undoubtedly helped (it was nice and cool that morning), but I’m still thrilled with my time.

Half Marathon 2015

I’ve never really gotten the “runner’s high” that I hear people talk about, but during this training, I had way more runs where I felt great afterwards than runs where I felt lousy. I still haven’t weighed myself, so I don’t know if I actually lost weight, but I certainly feel better, and definitely more motivated to keep working out. When I first started getting into half-marathons, I blogged about how I still didn’t think of myself as “a runner.”

Well…it took a while, but I think now, maybe I do.

Dancing About Architecture

Last month, I watched a movie on Netflix that I hadn’t seen since high school. Jon Stewart was, sadly, about to leave The Daily Show and I was remembering how I saw him in the 1998 movie Playing by Heart, which I’d sought out as a teenager because Gillian Anderson, whom I loved on The X-Files, was in it. Pre-Daily Show Jon Stewart plays her love interest. It’s a pretty good movie, although not likely to be anyone’s favorite- an ensemble drama about love with a cast that also includes Angelina Jolie, Ryan Phillippe, Dennis Quaid, Sean Connery, Ellen Burstyn, and Gena Rowlands, among others. It was trying to do what Love Actually did more successfully a few years later– show a big group of people and their various romantic scenarios, although it’s more of a drama than Love Actually (there’s one storyline about a guy dying of AIDS). In one scene, Angelina Jolie is yelling at someone on a pay phone, which amused me.

 

The notable thing about this movie, though, is what it was almost titled– Dancing About Architecture. It was only changed because there was a movie out at the same time called Dancing At Lughnasa. But Dancing About Architecture would have been a much better title. It comes from a scene where Angelina Jolie’s character recounts how, when she tried to talk with a musician friend about his music, he told her that “talking about music is like dancing about architecture,” and she countered that talking about love was the same way.

 

I tend to agree. But for now, let’s focus on talking about music– though it might indeed be like dancing about architecture, I’m going to make an attempt.

 

I have the hardest time discussing music. When someone asks me what kind of music I like, I wince. There never seems to be a good answer to that question. Back in middle school, people started to define themselves by what music they listened to and would make judgments about you based on your own music taste.

 

Here’s the thing, though–it never ends. Even as an adult, people judge you by the music you listen to. You might not make fun of someone who’s bad at sports or isn’t into partying, but judgment about music never ends. When I read this post I wrote a long time ago, I cringe at how defensive I sound. But I feel that way because I can’t believe that even as we’ve grown up, we haven’t evolved beyond these petty judgments we made as pre-teens.

 

There’s much more music that I like than music I dislike and, ironically, I feel like a lot of people would say that means I don’t really love music, as if you can’t love many different things. It’s hard for me to talk about music to the kind of people who consider themselves music lovers by virtue of being picky about what they like, prizing the obscure and wanting to be ahead of the curve with popularity, and making a hobby of seeing live shows. I don’t think I’ll ever be a very picky music consumer, as my tendency is to go with my instinctual like or dislike without thinking too much about why. And while I get how it feels good to like something before it becomes popular, I seem to be missing the disdain-for-popularity chip.

 

I think I’m coming around on live shows, though.

 

I wrote about it a bit here and here— how I don’t like most concerts, at least ones in small venues, and how I don’t seem to get the high from live music that so many people seem to. I did go to a concert earlier this summer in a larger venue, and I really enjoyed it. Due to that middle-school judgment factor, I’m hesitant to say who the artist was–it’s a popular artist about whom people tend to have strong opinions, both positive and negative. But I started to understand that high-on-live-music feeling that people have described to me.

 

Then I got that feeling myself in August when I went to New York to see Les Mis again. Ramin Karimloo was leaving the show at the end of August and I wanted to see the show one last time with him in it. So I did, and it was fantastic. My obsession with Les Mis is well-documented, but this seriously put me in a good mood for the next week. It was actually kind of amazing– I spent way too much of this summer in absolute misery, and not without good reason, and yet the thing that made me happier than I’d been in months was the power of this show’s music. (I was brought out my misery by a show called…Les Miserables. Heh.)

 

This led to me spending a truly embarrassing amount of time watching clips of Ramin Karimloo on YouTube. I got really disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to see him in Les Mis again–my new job (which I’m liking so far) started the day after Ramin’s last show, so going down for that was out of the question. But then I remembered that he was playing two concerts at BB King’s in New York the following weekend- and I was pretty sure I could make it down for the Saturday show.

 

So I did.

 

I have Ramin’s album and, like I said, have spent a ridiculous amount of time watching him on YouTube. He does these shows in a style he calls “broadgrass”–everything from Broadway to bluegrass, and sometimes Broadway in the style of bluegrass (like singing “Bring Him Home” on a banjo). I love, love, love this guy’s voice, and I was excited to see what he’d do at the show. (And, let’s be honest, also a bit excited to look at him.)

 

The show was at BB King’s on 42nd Street, which has first-come, first-served seating. It started at 7:30 with doors opening at 6. I got there at 5 and the line was already pretty long. I’d brought a book to read while I stood there. The crowd was, hilariously, about 90% female.

 

I was standing there in line when suddenly I heard screaming coming from up ahead in line…and the next thing I knew, Ramin was standing right in front of me. Because he’s freaking awesome, he’d decided to come out and say hi to everyone waiting in line. I said hi, and he shook my hand and said, “Thank you for coming.” I think I started to tell him that I’d come in from Boston, but he’d moved on by then.

 

So it was a pretty amazing night already. I had not been prepared for Ramin walking right up to me, so unfortunately, I didn’t have my phone out and didn’t get another picture of me with him, but I did get a shot of him with the people behind me. (Random side note: when I ended up sitting at a table with some random people, whom I talked to, they told me that a minute after Ramin came out, George Takei walked by! I didn’t see him at all and wouldn’t have believed it if they  hadn’t shown me the picture they took with George.)

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I settled in at the table once they let us in and talked to the people around me. There was an opening act, Jamie Cunningham, who told us about how he became the opener after connecting with Ramin on Twitter. And then it was time for broadgrass!

 

He sang all kinds of things- songs from his album, songs from shows he’d been in, songs from shows he hasn’t been in, bluegrass, Broadway in the style of bluegrass, original songs, covers, mashups, you name it. He also made me tear up when he sang “Bring Him Home” and dedicated it to Kyle Jean-Baptiste.

 

Most of the concert ended up on YouTube, and I’ve been rewatching obsessively. A few favorites: here he sings “Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime, a fantastic song that his voice is perfect for:

 

I wasn’t familiar with James Bay, but after Ramin covered his song “Scars,” I looked it up and…sorry, James Bay, but I think I like Ramin singing it better: :

 

And here’s “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma!, broadgrassed-up. Beautiful morning, beautiful man.

 

I think I get it now– how people get a high from live music, because while it had happened to me with musical theater before, this was the first time I got it from a concert. I don’t know how many artists could provoke this kind of reaction in me, but I understand now the feeling people get from live shows.

 

What I understand even less now, though, is looking down on other people because of their taste in music. Ramin’s music does something to me that I can’t even describe, but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. And there are people out there who have the same kind of experience I just had with music I don’t like or am indifferent to.

 

I wish I could do a better job explaining the feeling I’ve had since that concert last week. But it’s like dancing about architecture.

Heaven and Hell…Aka Grand Cayman

Okay, I’m finally going to write about the Grand Cayman trip. Here we go.

 

I found on New Year’s Eve that I’d been chosen to attend my company’s CEO Summit. Essentially, I had two good sales years where I made my goal, which, by some measurement of performance over time, placed me in the top 10% of sales professionals company-wide. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but if the result is a free trip to Grand Cayman, I don’t really care.

 

Everyone could bring a guest, so, since I don’t get to see her nearly enough, I asked Christina. She was going to be in Boston the preceding weekend anyway for her sister’s graduation, so she stayed in Boston a night longer. This was during the two weeks post-fire when I wasn’t in the sublet yet, so we got a hotel room near the airport. I figured out how to stream the Mad Men finale online (even though we had to be up super early for our 6 AM flight the next day, there was no way I was missing it), and the next morning we were off.

 

I knew the trip was going to go well when we got to the hotel and, within about five minutes, someone handed us a free rum punch.

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There were, I think, a total of eighty-eight people from sales there, plus a bunch of higher-ups and everybody’s guests. There were a handful of people I’d met in passing before, but no one I knew well. They were from all over the place—all over the country but also foreign countries. I met people from Australia, England, and Tunisia, among other places. I met a lot of people from LA. Other than some managers who work in the Boston office, I was the only person from Boston there. I was also one of the youngest people, which was weird—in the office in Boston, I work with people who were born in the 90s and don’t have the same pop culture touchpoints as me. And I’m almost positive I was the only person there who was both single and childless. The vast majority of people brought their significant others and most of those who didn’t either brought one of their kids or at least had a significant other back at home. I’m pretty sure everyone thought Christina was my girlfriend until we explained that we were friends who lived on opposite coasts.

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But most of the colleagues and guests that I met were really nice and interesting. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday there were mandatory dinners that we attended with everyone at the summit, one of which culminated on releasing these lanterns over the ocean. We also had went on a couple of sponsored activities with colleagues. One was a sunset boat cruise on our last night there. The other was a trip that included snorkeling and a visit to Stingray City, where you can swim with stingrays!

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Christina and I also rented a cabana and spent a whole day there, lounging on the beach and having food and drinks brought to us.

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On another day, we went to Hell. Literally.

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Yep, Hell is a rock formation in Grand Cayman. There’s even a post office so you can send post cards from hell. Christina sent one to her dad’s church.

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Also, free booze. SO MUCH free booze.

 

It was an awesome trip that came at the perfect time—and it was all free since it was a work trip!

Update on Life

A lot’s been happening with me recently, and I thought I’d take a minute to recount it here.

 

If I’m being honest, I have to admit that lately I’ve felt really, really lonely. It seems like it’s been weeks since I had a real, honest conversation with someone.

 

So for now, I’ll write about some of the good things that have been happening.

 

First, I bought a car!

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Even though I’m thirty, this is actually the first car I’ve ever owned. I had a car as a teenager, but it was only “mine” for a year, since it became my sister’s after I went to college. I also don’t really enjoy driving and don’t need to drive to get to most places I need to go. But sometimes I do need to get out of the city and I was sick of depending on other people for rides. So now I have this car! I mostly just drive to chorus every week and I drove to Marblehead a few weeks ago to meet my cousin’s cute new baby. But it’s nice having the option to drive places if I have to.

 

Second, I finished my fourth half-marathon!

bay state half marathon

Even writing that is weird. How did I become the kind of person who does four half-marathons? I still do not think of myself as a runner. I’m not an athlete and I’m actually kind of lazy about exercise most of the time. And yet…I just did this fourth half-marathon (the Bay State Half Marathon in Lowell) and got a really good time for me. This is a really flat course (there’s a marathon at the same time, and since it’s so flat, people use it to qualify for Boston- even their advertisements say so) and the weather was perfect and autumn-y, so that’s part of where the good time came from. But I also just feel faster, and while it might be awhile before I do another half, I kind of want to try again and maybe break two hours. It feels possible!

 

Third, I’ve had a couple of fun experiences at book signings lately. The first one was with none other than Neil Patrick Harris! He was doing a signing of his new memoir at Brookline Booksmith, so I got a ticket. None of my friends ended up going, but I made friends with the people around me in line. (Although two of them, who actually ended up being pretty cool once I talked to them, started off their time in line having this really graphic conversation about how someone they knew had an infection and I was dying to say, “Guys, I JUST ATE.”) They were hurrying everyone through the HUGE line as quickly as they could, so there wasn’t time to take a picture with him, but my new line-friends and I took each other’s pictures and sent them to each other.

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I had all these things I was going to say to NPH, like, “Congratulations on the Oscars! Are you going for a hosting EGOT?” (They’d just announced the day before that he was going to be the Oscar host.) Or, “Will you sing ‘The Confrontation’ with me?” But they all flew out of my head and I just ended up saying something like, “Thank you for being here!” and that I liked what I’d read of the book while standing in line. So I don’t think I left much of an impression on NPH, but I’m glad I went.

 

The other book signing experience was last weekend at the Boston Book Festival. You remember my post about the book series I loved as a kid? Well, I was really excited when I learned that Ann M. Martin, the creator of The Baby-Sitters Club, would be there. So of course I went to her panel and got her autograph and a picture with her afterwards! Ten-year-old Katie is so jealous of thirty-year-old Katie. (I met some cool people in that line, too. Lots of interesting people to meet at book signings.)

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I always try to do NaNoWriMo and never succeed. I do have a new idea this year, though, so we’ll see how I do. Some writing completed is always better than nothing, after all. You can friend me there if you want—purebrightfire is my name there.

 

And happy belated Halloween!

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Ramin Karimloo, No Hurricanes, and This Time I Remembered My Pants!

Last week, I took a long weekend in New York for a little solo vacation. Aside from forgetting my phone charger and having to buy another one, it was a very successful trip. No hurricanes and I didn’t forget my pants! I also went to Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where the waitstaff sings to you while you eat, went to Coney Island on Saturday and rode the Cyclone, had some awesome pizza and garlic knots, and went to Central Park, where I went to the zoo and found the sea lions. (Ten years ago, on my pre-GPS first trip to NYC, Christiana Krump and I wandered around the park forever trying to find the zoo, specifically the sea lions, and never did. Mission finally accomplished!)

But none of that is the reason why I went there.

If you know me or have been reading this blog for awhile, you know of my love for and obsession with Les Miserables (and if you’re new, here’s my 3,500-word explanation of why I love it so much), so of course I had to go see it when I heard it was going back on Broadway. And I got even more excited when I heard how amazing Ramin Karimloo, who plays Jean Valjean, is. Listen to him here, singing “Bring Him Home” on Katie Couric’s show.

So on Friday (the 20th), I took the bus down and went to see the show. And Oh. My. God.

I’ve seen Les Mis in Boston a few times, but this was the first time I’d seen it on Broadway. I can say definitively that this was the best production I’ve ever seen, and unquestionably the best portrayal of Valjean. Ramin’s rendition of “Bring Him Home” brought me to tears—and that’s not even my favorite song from Les Mis! I thought that performance on Katie was good, but multiply that times a zillion awesomes and that’s how he sounded in person. I’ve never heard an audience applaud that long after a song not at the end of an act. And of course I was crying again a bit later during the finale. The cast was just wonderful—Caissie Levy, who played Fantine, was particularly impressive. Immediately, I went into my “Les Mis high,” a phenomenon affecting…well, just me, that will put me into an incredibly good mood for about a week after seeing Les Mis onstage. I talked about this a bit in this post, but while I don’t really like concerts and have never gotten the high from live music that so many people seem to, I do get that from musical theater, and that high is much stronger from Les Mis than from any other show.

I wanted to meet the cast at the stage door afterwards, but I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t until Sunday that I read online that at this theater, the entrance is on 45th street but the stage door is on 46thstreet. So on Sunday, I grabbed my program and went back to the stage door after the matinee show. I met most of the cast and got their autographs and it was AWESOME! I also got a teeny glimpse of Idina Menzel, aka the wickedly talented Adele Dazeem, since the If/Then stage door was right next door.

Then came the moment  I’d been waiting for—Ramin came out and signed my autograph and I told him how incredible he was. Then I asked if I could take a picture with him and he took this one of us.

HOT VALJEAN HAS TOUCHED MY PHONE, YOU GUYS.

The whole trip was fun, but man…this musical.

Sometimes it’s nice to have things to obsess over. It makes me feel alive to have so much passion about something, and my love for this show is now over ten years old. I love it even more now than I did back then, and I hope that never changes.

Why E-Readers Are the Devil

I moved about a mile away on May 31 and am loving the roommate-free life so far. Moving is a huge pain, though, and despite my efforts to get rid of as much as possible prior to moving, I still ended up realizing that I have way too much stuff. I do, thankfully, have more space for it in my new space and I’ll be working again to get rid of more of it, but still.

A lot of the stuff I have, though, is books. Here’s what my bookshelves look like AFTER I got rid of the ones I didn’t want:

As much as a pain it was to move six or seven full boxes of them, though, I’m glad I own all these books. I have no intention of being a person whose bookshelves aren’t full.

And I absolutely have no intention of being a person whose books are all contained in an e-reader. As a matter of fact, I think e-readers are the devil.

Why? Well, there are many reasons, but the biggest one is that they are putting bookstores out of business.

Let me repeat that: they are putting bookstores out of business. For book lovers, I don’t know how that’s not the end of the argument right there, but somehow it isn’t. It seems that after years of reading the printed word, book lovers have suddenly found it inconvenientthat books are, you know, objects. With mass. And weight. And apparently, the desires not to carry things under five pounds and for more room in their bags have seduced them towards these bookstore-destroying e-readers.

Back in the days when You’ve Got Mail portrayed big bookstore chains as the enemy, I never imagined that I’d be defending Barnes and Noble as fervently as I have been, but here I am lamenting that aside from college bookstores, there is now exactly one Barnes and Noble in the entire city of Boston. Borders is now long-gone, slain by the e-Reader phenomenon. The Boston area does, at least, have a good number of used and independent bookstores, but I miss having options for book superstores, where you could settle into a chair and read and where you KNEW they’d have the book you were looking for.

There are plenty of other reasons, of course. I don’t think the experience of reading should feel like looking at a computer, which I do all day long at work. You can’t lend eBooks to your friends. You can’t have them signed by your favorite authors at readings. If you have kids, your kids will have no idea what you’re reading if they see you on your Kindle or Nook and won’t ask about it or try to read it themselves. E-readers might spare you some embarrassment if you’re reading 50 Shades of Grey in public, but they also spare you the shared experience of someone else who’s read the book bonding with you. And you can’t hand your favorite eBooks down to your children and grandchildren.

There’s also the matter of Amazon being a bully towards publishers. Here’s what they’ve been doing to Hachette Books recently. If you have a Kindle, you’re supporting this—so for the love of God, at least get a Nook if you absolutely MUST have an e-reader.

I’ll admit that there are a few upsides to e-readers aside from the more-room-in-the-bag thing. eBooks are less expensive to produce, so they allow publishers to release books that wouldn’t see the light of day otherwise. I actually do have a Nook for PC on my laptop because I wanted to read this book by Lois Duncan, a sequel to Who Killed My Daughter?, which is only available in eBook format. eBooks also help authors because they don’t have to worry about losing money from used book sales.

But that’s it. I can’t warm up to the idea of e-readers because I just keep getting stuck on the bookstore thing. I do not want to live in a world without bookstores. Browsing a bookstore and flipping through pages of a book I haven’t read is one of my greatest pleasures in life. A couple of years ago, Ann Patchett (an author whom I’ve seen speak twice and who is as talented at speaking as she is at writing, which isn’t always the case with famous writers) appeared on The Colbert Report and spoke about how, since her hometown of Nashville no longer had a bookstore, she’d opened one herself. She thought the community needed somewhere to have conversations about books and have story time for kids and get recommendations from actual people. In a wonderful bit of wisdom that applies to so many things besides buying books, she said, “If you never, ever talk to people and you meet all of your needs on the Internet, you wake up one day and you’re the unabomber.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Look, I’m not saying you’re a bad person if you have an e-reader (really, I think more than half the people I know have one), but I am saying that you should think about the consequences of the choices you’re making. Because when bookstores are all gone and buying online is our only option and there’s nowhere to go and browse and we’ve all turned into little unabombers? Well, I hope you enjoy all that extra room in your bag.

Ode to the Juno

I’m moving on the 31st, only about a mile away. I’m going to be living alone for the first time, which I’m really excited about. Eventually I might change that by getting a cat.

Until then, though, I’ll be living without a cute furry thing for the first time in three years. That’s because for those three years, I’ve been living with my roommate and her dog, Juno.

 

Juno, in my humble opinion, is the best dog ever. She’s probably a flat-coated retriever, and she loves you. Really. Even if she doesn’t know you, she loves you. Because she loves EVERYBODY. It doesn’t matter who you are. If you are a human, she loves you.

We should all be more like Juno.

I like to think she loves me more than the average human, though. I love her so much. I love how she likes to cuddle even in 90-degree heat. I love how she never stops wagging her tail. I love how she’d rather have attention than dog food and is always rolling on her back begging for a belly rub. I love how she’s six years old but still acts like a puppy. I love that she thinks she’s a lapdog despite being sixty pounds. I love how many kisses she gives. I love how excited she is to see me when I get home.

I have a lot of nicknames for her: Junebug, Puppy-girl, The Black Furball of Need, Princess Waggytail, Cuddles McFurry, You Ridiculous Beast. She doesn’t call me anything, but I call myself her Backup Human. If she could talk, as I’ve said before, I’m pretty sure she’d be singing a song that goes something like, “I’m the cutest! I’m the cutest! I’m the cutest!” (It’s not a very complicated song because she’s not a very complicated dog.) But she does have very high self-esteem.

She’s super quiet, though, which I appreciate. She very rarely barks, and when she does, it’s usually because she saw a cat out the window.

I never had a dog or a cat or any pets aside from fish growing up- my parents are just not pet people. This was the first time I’d ever lived with an animal, and living with her improved my quality of life immeasurably. During the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bomber, I spent a lot of the day anxiously petting her on the couch and thinking she’d make a great therapy dog.

No, even the best dog ever isn’t perfect. She sheds like crazy. She’s ridiculously needy and completely shameless. The firefighters down the street give her treats, which she knows, so one day when I was walking her, she saw that the firehouse door was open and yanked my arm out of the socket and the next thing I knew, I was in the firehouse, awkwardly standing there like, “Uh…hi. My dog wants a treat?” And she is the lickiest dog I’ve ever met in my life- while I like getting puppy kisses, my friends are not such big fans and I constantly have to tell her, “Juno, I know you love everybody but that does not mean you have to kiss everybody.” But even so, someday in the distant future I want my own dog, but I feel really bad for that hypothetical future dog—Juno has set the bar really high. It’s going to be hard to find a dog who’s half as awesome as she is.

I’m going to miss you, Juno. Keep being the best dog ever, and it has been a privilege to be your Backup Human.