Monthly Archives: December 2013

Dashing through the snow

I know I said in my last post that I’d write from California, but I just didn’t get around to it. Sorry. The truth is, I spent ten days in San Francisco relaxing and didn’t do one ounce of writing the entire time I was there. Sometimes you need a break, and I figure Christmas vacation is the perfect time to embrace laziness. And embrace it I did!

Hanging with Dougal on the back porch

My mom hanging with Dougal on the back porch, San Francisco

Now I’m in Bangor, Maine, with Al’s dad, step-mom, two brothers, and his family’s two dogs and three cats. It’s a full house but it doesn’t feel crowded. It just feels cozy. I love coming to Maine around Christmastime because it really feels like Christmas here. It’s cold (and getting colder). There’s snow (and there’s a lot more on the way). We all sit inside near a blazing pellet stove and eat unhealthy food. Like I said: cozy.

Hanging out in Bangor

Hanging out in Bangor

 

It’s quite a contrast from San Francisco, where the weather during our visit was stunningly gorgeous: warm and bright, with clear, blue skies. We took walks to the beach in short-sleeves, I went on a bunch of perfectly temperate outdoor runs, we had drinks on the back porch, and we saw some beautiful sunsets. I love a good California Christmas, and always will. But Maine in late December provides that classic, wintry feel that reminds me of growing up in Michigan, where Christmas was always white.

California Christmas weather

California Christmas weather

Yesterday morning, I went for a five mile run around Bangor and enjoyed the snow. (Ginger, Al’s step-mom, let me borrow her snow cleats, so I didn’t fall on the ice — always a risk with me). I paused to take some photos of the streets as I ran, and tried to remember the last time I saw snow. It must have been Christmas two years ago, when I went to Ottawa to visit Al’s mom and step-dad. Crazy!

Snowy Bangor

Snowy Bangor

Since Al and I have lived abroad for the past year, we’ve totally missed out on seeing any snow (not that I’m complaining, mind you), so it’s quite a shock to be surrounded by it now. And Maine’s just getting started: the weather report says that there’s a big blizzard on the way, and the high temperature in Bangor on Thursday will be negative 4 degrees Fahrenheit. I repeat: NEGATIVE FOUR IS THE HIGH.

IMG_4898

Those kinds of frigid temperatures are mind-boggling to me. I guess I’ve been away from the North for too long to be able to even process what negative temperatures mean anymore. Not that I’ll be venturing outside to experience them for myself. No, no: you can find me by the pellet stove.

Flying

I’m writing this post from Boston Logan airport, where I have a six (!!) hour layover before my flight to San Francisco. Oh, and I took a seven-and-a-half hour flight from London to get here. So by the time I arrive in San Francisco, I will have been in an airport or plane (most likely without sleep) for a full twenty-four hours. Yippee.

The view from the airport window, Boston

The view from the airport window, Boston

 

When you live abroad for extended periods of time, you have to do this kind of travel fairly often, at least if you want to ever see your family or attend milestone events, which I do. Things get complicated when one’s family lives in San Francisco, which seems to be the furthest city on Earth from every other city I’ve ever lived in or have wanted to live in. (São Paulo-San Francisco was bad. Joburg-San Francisco was ridiculous. London-San Francisco, perhaps not surprisingly, is also not great). But sitting on long plane rides is one of the tradeoffs you make to live in cool, far-flung places. And, as I pointed out a while ago, living abroad does involve some tradeoffs.

My attitude on long-haul travel has shifted over the years. When I was a kid, I loved riding on planes and thought going to the airport was exciting and even a touch glamorous. Then 9-11 happened and I started to get really rattled by turbulence, which, I realize, is not logical, but there it is. (I guess my brain thought the terrorists were shaking the plane? I don’t know. Don’t question it). This new phobia meant that I no longer enjoyed the experience of being on a plane. Airports also no longer seemed glamorous, but instead seemed vaguely menacing. To make matters worse, over the years, my patience for sitting on my butt in a cramped plane seat has decreased as the hassle of air travel has increased. I mean, for the last twelve years or so, going to the airport has become such a colossal pain in the butt, you know? International travel is an even BIGGER pain in the butt, because of customs, and passport controls, and long lines, and time zones, and threat levels, and so on. Just the thought of it is exhausting. But you grit your teeth and you get through it. What’s the alternative? Don’t travel? Come on.

Of course, I miss the days when I looked forward to travel, but my attitude toward flying has improved a bit over the years. I no longer white-knuckle it through turbulence, unless it’s really bad. (This blog helped). Today’s travel, so far, has been really smooth, and even had a few moments of luck thrown in. The first bit of luck was that the guy in Heathrow decided not to charge me for my grossly overweight bag (which, oddly, never happens when I’m traveling with Al — hmm!). Then, I got an aisle seat on the plane (score!) and every single time I went to the bathroom (approximately 20 times), the lavatory was empty (double score!). That has NEVER happened to me on a flight before. Normally, I’m the small-bladdered lady standing in the aisle, impatiently waiting for someone to get out of the bathroom, already. But not today! My good luck sort of ran out in Boston when I couldn’t get on an earlier flight to San Francisco and I got charged $50 for my ginormous bag, but at least they let me check in for my flight six hours early. So things aren’t all bad.

Next time I write, I’ll be in San Francisco (and not on a plane OR in an airport). Can’t wait!

Road races

There’s something so invigorating about running a road race. I ran my first road race, a 5K, when I was twelve and a newly minted member of the Derby Middle School track team. After that, I was hooked. In the intervening two decades, I’ve run more road races than I can count or remember, although a few stick out in my mind as particularly memorable. There were the races I’d do every year with my cross-country team: the Howell Melon Run in the summer and the Birmingham Jingle Bell Run in the winter. There were the random one-off races in strange places; I seem to recall a 5K that largely took place in a series of iced-over shopping mall parking lots. There were the inevitable disasters: for example, the time I stopped to pee during a race and realized I was crouched in my friend’s backyard, which happened to be along the race course; or the time I missed a turn and cut off a good half mile of a course and thought I had set an astonishing new PR. Then there are the wack-tastic races I’ve run, like the Bay to Breakers, which is not for the faint-hearted, in any respect. Road races are the best.

Three years ago, I herniated a disc in my back, and my running habit — and thus, my road racing — had to be curtailed. Running made my back hurt, you see, and I was lucky if I’d run one road race a year, if that. Two years ago, on a whim, I signed up for a 15K race and felt great while running it, but my back screamed at me for the entire week afterwards. And so for the last two years, I stopped running races completely. So sad. But a few months ago, fed up with my wonky back, I went to a physical therapist here in London (the amazing Richard Game at Physio on the River — the man’s a miracle worker!) and he set my back straight (literally). Now, I can’t run every day, but I can run a few days a week, and it’s incredible.

Carried away by the spirit of my newly regained running ability, I signed up for a 10K race a couple of weeks ago. The race was yesterday morning, and it went really well. I hadn’t run more than five miles in years — literally, years — because I was afraid of hurting my back, but yesterday my back felt fine running the race and, more importantly, afterwards.

Regent's Park 10K

Regent’s Park 10K

What was so great about running this first race in years was that it reminded me of all the road races I used to run — it felt like stepping right back into what I used to love about doing road races. After all, no matter where you are, there are certain common elements to any road race that make you feel at home. One of those elements is an old man with a megaphone who’s in charge of herding participants and shooting the (proverbial) start-gun. I love these old men because they remind me of the guys who used to run my middle and high-school track meets: former coaches and teachers who care about kids and care about running and want to spend their Saturday morning standing in a dewy field yelling into a megaphone. Those old men are the best. Road races wouldn’t be the same without them.

Now that I’m back on the running train a few days a week, I’m eager to sign up for more races in the new year. Anyone interested? Perks include a goodie bag with an energy bar and/or a banana, an old man with a megaphone, and a sense of accomplishment. Email me.

London winter blues

My life in London is great. Really great, actually. I have a wonderful group of friends here, Al and I take awesome weekend trips, we’re surrounded by cozy pubs that serve roast beef and mulled wine, and we have the option of watching Downton Abbey in real time. What more could one want, right? Well, it turns out there is one thing one could want: sunshine. Dear me, I miss the sun. It’s one of those things where you don’t realize how important it is until you don’t have it. Sunlight: kind of key, as it turns out.

Now that we’re into the darkest part of the year in London (I hope?), I’m really starting to feel the effects of living in a gray, dark city where the sun sets at four o’clock in the afternoon (SERIOUSLY). The effects are not good. I’ve been low on energy, kind of mopey, unmotivated, and a bit stir-crazy. SAD is a real thing, you guys. I think I didn’t totally believe in it before I moved to London, but, hoo boy, it’s real. (Also, according to Wikipedia, “Around 20% of Irish people are affected by SAD, according to a survey conducted in 2007. The survey also shows women are more likely to be affected by SAD than men.” CHECK AND CHECK).

Before we came to London, people had warned me about the weather, and I had brushed them off. “London’s great,” they’d say, “except for the weather.” Pshaw, I’d think. At the time, when people said this to me, I was living in South Africa, which has fabulous weather all year ’round, and which I totally did not appreciate. What I wouldn’t give today for those clear, sunny Joburg skies! You can be depressed in South Africa for a lot of reasons, but weather ain’t one of them.

Before we got here, I thought that London would be kind of rainy and blustery, but I was pretty confident I wouldn’t mind the nasty weather because it would be “cozy.” Coziness is something I value very highly, to the point where I romanticize crappy weather because it enhances the experience of being inside and warm — kind of a “you’ll never know joy until you’ve known pain” type thing. I guess I was imagining a sort of “weather outside is frightful but the fire is so delightful” scenario in which I’d spend my afternoons in London hunkered before a roaring fire while it snowed charmingly outside my beveled glass window. This (false) idea of what London winter would be like was informed by movies (Bridget Jones, Love Actually) and little else. Guess what? The movies lied. It doesn’t even snow here! It just gets dark insanely early and the wind blows a lot. Also, we don’t even have a fireplace, so the injustices just keep on coming.

The good news is, my SAD will be cured (at least temporarily) in a little over a week when I blow this popsicle stand for San Francisco. And San Francisco in the winter is delightful. It’s chilly but not cold, and, if you’re in the right part of the city, it’s downright sunny! Even in my parents’ neighborhood, which is notorious for being foggy, it’s pretty sunny in the winter, and you get some beautiful sunsets.

San Francisco, last winter

San Francisco, last winter

Never again will I complain about San Francisco fog, by the way, because no matter how foggy it gets, at least the sun still sets at a normal time in the winter. London is just punking all of us with this four PM sunset nonsense. As I write this, it’s quarter to six, and it started getting dark two hours ago. All this is to say that I’m totally fine, and having a case of SAD is a small price to pay for living in a really cool city, but I’m learning that I need to live in a climate with sunshine, long-term. At least now I know. See you soon, San Francisco, and the sun. It’s been far too long.