Friday, November 22, 2013

Two things come to mind while moving

When it's time to move, two things always come to mind: The #AnniesMove episode of Community, and this cartoon from Hyperbole and a Half. 

Annie's Move, well, just because it's hilarious. The Community gang destroys Annie's old apartment above a porn store as they move her in with Troy and Abed where -- SPOILER ALERT (seriously if you haven't seen the episode by now...) her room is revealed to be a blanket fort. They tweet the whole thing, which is how Jeff gets busted for faking illness and going to the mall instead where the dean blackmails him into hanging out, and Shirley and Britta pick up an interesting passenger.

In the Hyperbole and a Half post, the author, in great detail, describes her dogs' complex and not-so-complex emotions as they move.

The characterizations of "simple dog" and "helper dog" fit my two to a T. Lizzie is "simple dog." She's fairly intelligent, independent and carefree. She doesn't let things bother her until they really bother her, then she breaks down into a bundle of nerves.

The first canine breakdown came when I brought her home from the sitters. I had taken a carload of stuff, packing the car after I dropped them off, and when she came home, she paced around the house, looking for all the missing things.

Then she stopped. Her eyes got wide. Her ears pointed. Like she just remembered something really important. She rummaged around her crate, emerged with her tail wagging, prized green ball in her mouth. We tossed it around, and all was well with the world again.

It squeaks.
The next week it happened again. I was packing and Lizzie was hanging out, unphased. Then someone came to buy my dresser. This was her tipping point.

As the strangers carried my dresser out the door, she started whining, and it didn't cease for 15 minutes. I tried petting her, coaxing her, feeding her, nothing worked. She finally laid down on my bed. I sat down next to her, talked to her like an adult, and promised her everything was fine.

Oh, Lizzie.
I scratched her ears for awhile. Then she suddenly jumped up, rummaged around her crate, again emerged with her ball, and all was well again.

While Lizzie is having her ups and downs, Brandy has settled into the role of "helper dog".

Brandy is a quiet, shy girl, and gets startled easily. Unlike the dog in the cartoon though, she didn't pick up on the fact that her environment was changing.

Until Lizzie had her first panic attack.

While Lizzie recovered, Brandy hasn't wanted to be alone. She gets anxious when I leave, and when I get back. She hoovers over me when I'm packing. She freaked out when I moved the couch.

My landlord was showing prospective tenants my apartment. When I go running, Lizzie and Brandy take turns lapping around Corn Hill with me. One tenant showed up early, Lizzie was with me, Brandy was at home.

Steve described her reaction when the strangers walked into the house: "She was like, umm, I don't know if you're supposed to be here and I don't know if I'm supposed to do something about it." So she stayed on the couch and watched intently.

Lizzie wears her emotions on whatever the canine version of a sleeve is. Brandy is harder to read, and I can't tell the difference between her worried look and her "feel bad for me and let me on the couch" look.

The Brandy look.
Either way, our lives will return to normal soon enough.

In defense of Candy Crush Saga

Level 254. I'm stuck. 
There's a communal thing going on in social network land that's been around for awhile, and not going away anytime soon: A minor addiction called Candy Crush Saga.

I normally resist the Facebook crazes. I refused to change my profile picture to a giraffe. I never posted 5 or 7 or 10 or 25 things about me. And I never played games, until now. I was that person who silently cursed that Facebook friend I haven't talked to in years who would send me daily invites to FarmVille. I never played Angry Birds.

I'm not quite sure what made me pick up Candy Crush Saga. Possibly the perpetual ads on Facebook or friends announcing their achievements. I think I was just bored one night. The latest news is that the game has reached 500 million downloads.

I'm one of them. At first I'd sigh reluctantly. "Yes, I'm one of those people. A candy crusher."

But, as I played through the levels, I grew to appreciate it. It's a very good game. We'll get to why in a minute. But first my one major criticism: It does try to trick you into Facebook spamming your friends. Sorry about that. But there's a way to block it. So hide all requests from Candy Crush and get over it.

I've been on a roll lately, passed about 20 levels in a week. But I think my streak has come to an end. Enter Level #254, you have to line up two disco balls or whatever they're called, together. I have yet to get close.

First, it's a game for intelligent people. You need smarts to make it through. Especially in the later levels, you have to think strategically and think ahead. But it's also a game of chance, you don't know what candy will come from the top.

Some people like to say the game uses the science of deprivation. I like to think it looks out for my best interests. You can only play five lives at a time, then you have to wait a half hour for another one. So, it's impossible to kill hours, instead you just make slow progress. This also makes it last so you don't get sick of it.

It's free. You can pay if you want to, and I'll admit that I've thrown King, the game's maker, a few bucks. At first I didn't want to bug my friends to get to the next episode so I payed to unlock the first few (but then realized everyone else was doing it so what the heck.) I'll also confess, I was stuck on a level for weeks, the move was one away, and I paid for extra moves. It befuddles me to think people spend hundreds of dollars on the game, I guess it feeds a gambling addiction. But I've gotten a lot of entertainment from the game, and the $4 or $5 I've shelled out is not a big price to pay.

It encourages interaction with people. Real, live people. Well, on Facebook, anyway. Every 15 levels, you can either pay $1 or find three Facebook friends to send you a train ticket. As you go through the levels, you can see how your friends have scored and what level they are one. Sometimes they send you lives. I consider a life played that came from a friend good karma for the level.

The game seems to sense when I'm getting frustrated with a level, because at some point the right pieces will magically fall into place. Normally I'll play all five lives before bed, but if I'm getting sick of a level that will slow to once or twice, or none at all. I'm sure there's a probability factor at play, but that disco ball-striped combo that saves the day always seems to come when I'm getting frustrated enough to quit.

So well done, King, and please send a double disco ball soon to get me out of Delicious Drifts.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

5 in 1 blog: The #ROC, The Lizzie, The Y, The iPhone and The Birthday

Life has gotten a little crazy lately.

I've been splitting my time between Albany and Rochester. My Albany days are consumed by the drive, hitting the road before dawn, spending the night, then coming back around 9 or 10 p.m. the next day. On the road I've been playing the license plate game. I have six states left: Hawaii, West Virginia, Wyoming, South Carolina, North Dakota and Nevada.

While I'm in Rochester, every moment I'm not working, I'm cleaning, packing or running around town dealing with the logistics of the move.

I'm in Rochester through the weekend. Most everything is done now, so I can finally relax a bit.

As I'm shuttling back and forth, I've written a dozen blog posts in my head, only to find myself too exhausted when I get home to get them in type.

So here's a potpourri of sorts, little things that have been floating around in my head that I've been anxious to get down.


(Cross posted from Capital New York's anticipations, coming out Friday)

After college, I lived in a series of small towns. Then one day I'm sitting at my desk in Newark, Ohio (somewhere between Columbus and I-77) when Len, a former editor and mentor, called me up and told me about an opportunity in Rochester, New York.

Rochester was my first experience in a bigger city, getting to be a young professional in a place with a culture of young professionals. I have loved living there: The unique neighborhoods, the culture, the recreation, the friends I've made. 

It's my last weekend in the Roc, and I have a long list of "lasts" I'd like to get in: Last run around the South Wedge and Park Avenue, last dog walk around Corn Hill, last trip to the public market, last drink at Tap and Mallet, last cup of loose leaf tea at Boulder Coffee Company.

I'm going to dodge weekend Pittsford traffic, where I'll give Rochester's beloved grocery chain Wegmans a sizable portion of my paycheck to stock up on some of their more unique goodies, have another eyes-bigger-than-stomach moment at the Food Bar and grab a couple cases of Finger Lakes vino from Century Pittsford Wines.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dirt Cheap Stage Race report: Lingering in last place, running with the devil

Last weekend I participated in Fleet Feet Rochester's Dirt Cheap Stage Race, three races, two days, 19 miles. I took the races easy, with a combined time of 4:23:46.

Report on Stage 1.

Devil's Bathtub.
Stage #2: Devil's Bathtub

Stage #2 was a 5-mile (4.82 by my GPS) run around a landmark called Devil's Bathtub, a kettle hole. I finished in 1:08:43, and this involved a small but well-worth-it set back.

Allison had already given me one heart attack earlier that morning. As I snoozed in my car in our downtime, I had misread her texts and thought she was en route. I'm parked overlooking Devil's Bathtub at Mendon Ponds State Park. It's beautiful.

Several cars are parked next to me. We're all resting up.

The race starts at 1 p.m. Just before noon, I hear from a mildly panicked Allison. She's still tied up, hoping to break free soon, and still in Greece.

12:10 comes along. She's getting gas, she's coming!

12:15. I can't get ahold of her. I don't want to give up on her... but... I make a playlist. Just in case.

12:30. Ok, she forgot her ATM card, now she's really getting gas, she's finally coming. I GPS it, 40 minutes from Greece to Mendon.

"Step on it!" I tell her. "Drive like there's a pregnant woman in your backseat. Actually, no, drive like you're the pregnant woman! Traffic laws don't apply to you right now." (But do be safe.)

She curses the many grannies on Ridge Road.

"Allison, I don't know if you're going to make it."

"Oh I'm going to try!"

I love this girl.

But wait, isn't the race chip timed? I go up to a race official. "If we start ten minutes late, is it a big deal?" Yea, he said, it kind of is. "We pick up the flags after the last person."

So I hatch a brilliant scheme.

With Allison zooming down Clover Street, the race starts. I trot along at the back of the pack, Allison on the line. "Keep coming. I'll be that last person, and I'll go slow and speedy you can catch up."

(Another thing the old me would have hated.)

So I shuffle along, chatting on the phone as Allison is pulling in, trying to keep the person ahead of me in sight, but stay ahead of the guy coming up behind me, picking up the flag. I can just feel him looking at me. "Are you really being that person barely running and talking on her phone in a trail race?"


After seven minutes, I'm a half-mile in and Allison is at the start. They don't know if she can find me, the trail was curvy and relatively easy to follow up until this point, but now we're in the woods. Dilemma. "Wait, I can see a mile marker from here, I'll just wait for you there!" Allison said.


"The guy here is probably thinking 'Are you really being that person jumping in mid race.' I should probably explain," she said.

Whatever. But wait! I'm in last place. I don't like being in last place! I step on the proverbial gas, pass a few people, and then there's a grinning Allison, standing with a volunteer one mile in. "We did it!" We're both laughing hysterically.

Me and Allison. We found each other!
The course is challenging, but easier than the first. The scenery is breathtaking. Allison, full of adrenaline from rushing to the race, keeps pulling ahead. I'm exhausted from the morning, and trying to keep Sunday's 11-miler in mind. We eventually find a rhythm.

Staircase to the finish. 
Allison and I, along with Tara, my Wine Glass buddy, Kim and Nupur all met on Facebook knowing two things about each other: We ran at about the same pace, and we all had fall marathons. We got to know each other in an online Facebook chat, conversations often drifting away from running.

This is just the third time Allison and I have gotten together. We ran once, before she did the Rochester Marathon and I met her at the finish line of her race. But in this new world order, we know each other well.

We caught up as we followed the flags, twisting and turning through the woods, then attacked the staircase to the finish.

"Great teamwork ladies" Ellen says as we cross.

I eat more than one hot dog, and we part ways.

I get home, stumble around the block with the dogs, then collapse to the tune of Arrested Development on Netflix.

I wake up hacking. This always happens to me, I cough excessively after the first cold-weather run of the year. I took some Sudafed, rested the rest of the evening, and woke up Sunday well-rested for Stage #3.

I don't know how Allison does all that she does. She worked all night, and has two children.

Part 3 will post at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Dirt Cheap Stage Race series report: Adventures in Mendon Part 1

Exhausted selfie. The point is, I got the
coveted sweatshirt.
This weekend I ran 19 miles through the woods, split up over three races in Fleet Feet Rochester's Dirt Cheap Stage Race in Mendon.

Last year I did Stage #2, at Devil's Bathtub, billed as a 5.5 mile race but actually a little shorter. I was jealous of all the people who did all three and got the coveted sweatshirt. I vowed to come back.

Life being as crazy as it has been lately, though, there was a good chance I might have let this one fall through the cracks. Enter Allison. We decided to do this series long ago, before our marathons, and she kept reminding me. She had me on the hook, I couldn't back out.

I was by no means trained for a trail race. I've just run casually since the Wine Glass Marathon a month ago. I haven't done hill training in eons.

So I took it slow, walked all of the hills, Allison stuck with me in the last two stages (more on that saga, an adventure in itself, in Parts 2 and 3.) I finished the series with a combined time of 4:23:46.

This will be a 3-part blog. Stage 2 will post this afternoon, and Stage 3 Tuesday morning, then a special post on Wednesday.

STAGE 1: Time Trial

The first stage was a 3-mile hilly time trial Saturday morning, which I finished in 40:46.

The morning started with an adrenaline surge. Alarm went of. Hit snooze for ten minutes. Drifted away again. I wake up to the phone ringing. The caller ID says "Allison."

I immediately assumed it was a runner's first nightmare: I overslept and Allison was going to say "where on earth are you?" I relaxed when I saw it was still 7:30-something. The phone call wasn't good news, she had a family matter to attend to so she'd have to miss the first race. Bummer, but I'd still have her for the second two stages.

Took the dogs out. It wasn't that cold. Drove to Mendon. What a difference 20 minutes makes, burr, why didn't I bring gloves?

They lined us up, and we started one runner at a time, 5 seconds apart, I was #145, so I had about a 10 minute wait. In this time it started snowing oh so slightly. We started on a slight uphill grade, my legs hated me immediately.

When they said hilly, they meant hilly. These were some of the most treacherous, brutal climbs I've ever faced. I walked most of the inclines, some I couldn't have run if I tried. I laughed at my old self who might have forced myself to run the whole way. The light snowfall made the run absolutely beautiful.

The best volunteer ever stood at Mile 2. She cheered us on as we turned a corner and started to attack a giant hill. "This is a bad hill, it is not the last hill, and you are not almost there," she said.

The well-intentioned-yet-lying volunteers at Musselman constantly promising me that "this is the last hill" still haunt me. Gotta love the honest ones.

I clawed my way up the beast, which seemed never ending, and at the top was Boots, coowner of Fleet Feet. "This is a no standing zone" he says as I'm huffing and puffing my way to the top. I grin. "It's all downhill from here, right?" I say, repeating an oft-heard but rarely true phrase that comes from most volunteers.

"Nope. There's a little one, it doesn't last long."

"Thanks for being honest!!"

I slog my way through the remaining mile, then head back to the lodge for delicious Nutella and cashew butter. A chiropractor there adjusted my back, oh so good, then I got coffee and drove to Devil's Bathtub, the start of Race #2, put my headphones in and closed my eyes for a bit.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Updates on life: Getting used to Albany

Less than a month until yet another move.

This one is different from the others because I get to do it slowly instead of throwing everything on the cheapest moving truck I can find.

Being given the luxury of taking my time to find an apartment for me, Lizzie and Brandy, it was only natural that I had a total a-ha moment with the second apartment I walked into. I will be living in a brownstone near the intersection of State Street and Lark. The apartment is two blocks from work, in a wonderful neighborhood called Center Square. The place is close enough to the fun (which includes a wine store and a gluten free bakery in a very easy walking distance) and close enough to a few parks will be great for the dogs.

Though this is the second apartment I've had to give up a few luxuries. When I moved from Newark to Rochester, I had to give up quite a bit of space, in-unit laundry and a dishwasher. Now I'll be giving up off street parking and on-site laundry.