February 28, 2014

8 Weeks 'til the next Half

So I registered for the SLO half marathon.

I desperately needed a goal. The Kaiser half was my last goal. And it successfully got me out of my slovenliness.  But, I needed a new goal to actually try to regain my former status as somewhat fit.

I'd originally hoped to do the Oakland Half Marathon for the third year in a row. Such a great race. But, family travel killed that plan.

So, here I am.  Registered for a race in my Dad's hometown instead. 8 weeks away.  Last week's long run was 8 miles, so I have distance on my side.

I have a good feeling.

I've got a tentative training schedule in excel that involves consistent long runs on the weekends, some HITT in the shorter weekend runs, and some yoga, a track day a week, and good easy running days to round it out on the calendar.

Also, after today's visit to the doctor and the reality of my BMI, I'm more committed than normal to some very healthy eating -- yikes.

My goals are simple:

1. To Finish.
2. To Finish in less time than it took me to finish Kaiser SF (the course in SLO is *much* more demanding).

Based on how my training goes, I'll likely add more specific time goals closer to the event.

It feels good to have running goals again.  I look forward to seeing how these 8 weeks play out.

Happy Running, Friends!  

February 25, 2014

Makin' Mochi

In case you were wondering what it looked like when E was being yelled at by the dudes at Inakaya to pound sticky rice:

video
The answer is -- very entertaining.

Book Club

We read Wuthering Heights for February's book club.

I'd never read it, nor seen any of the movies. 

But somewhere along the line, I'd heard about the dark and dreamy Heathcliff.  And his love for Catherine.  I had a picture of the grave with his name in my mind as well.

I thought I'd signed up to read a classic romantic tale.  You know what?  I had no idea what this book was about.

While there were a few moments of tenderness and love, for the most part, it was a dark and sad tale of mental illness, alcoholism, hurtful behavior, oppression of women, child-abuse, and just general sad human reality.  The mental and physical violence were staggering.

Also, the writing was difficult.  Unlike our last two books, The Great Gatsby or Age of Innocence, none of us had any favorite passages we wanted to read aloud to the group.

I'm glad I finally read it, discussed it with my book club, and now have my own opinions about it.  But truly, I'm perplexed at how this book became known as a romantic classic.

There is very little about it that is romantic at all.  If anything, the most impressive part is how Emily Bronte writes such believably bi-polar and alcoholic characters a full 45 years before Freud even begins his foray into psychoanalysis.

In short, this book was hard work.  I am glad I completed it, but I doubt I will return to it again.

February 24, 2014

Home

We're home for several weeks in a row.  It's a nice change.

Last week was a nice recovery from travels week, although if I had to do it again, I think I might have turned down some of the new work that came in.

In addition to the work, we fit in the usual necessities.

Laundry.

Guito. 

Home cooking of light meals.

One night and two half days in SF for work.

Gardening.

Running -- a slow 25 miles last week including several walk breaks, but at least I got in 3 X (4X200) at the track on Wednesday.

Weekend brunches with E and spontaneous social activities with friends.

And now, it's Monday again.  I'm not going to lie.  I could really use another day or two on my weekend.


February 18, 2014

Japan

The trip in food shorthand: sushi, traditional multi-course japanese meals, shabu, kaiten-zushi, teppanyaki, onigiri & rice crackers, xiaolongbao, ramen, robata, and more onigiri and rice crackers.  Mmmmm....Did I mention I LOVE Japanese food?

Prettiest Bento Meal I've Ever Seen (and Eaten)
  

So, E & I just completed a week-long trip to Japan.  We had a wonderful vacation in Japan back in 2008, visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagano and Okinawa. This trip, in contrast, was for business, and it was all Tokyo.
Entrance To the Hie Shrine

On the flight over, I listened to about 4 hours of language lessons (shout-out to http://www.japanesepod101.com/) and was pleased to realize that my brain had actually kept a bit of the Japanese language study I'd done before our last trip somewhere deep in the recesses.  It was quite fun, actually.  For every lesson I did, I recalled another 4-5 words, phrases, or concepts from my memory that I thought I'd completely forgotten.  Bonus.

All the Foxes (Toyokawa Inari Shrine)

Even so, my command of the audio and spoken language was nowhere near what it was last time (and it's not like my Japanese was very good then, either).  But, in a surprising (to me) development, my Chinese studies actually paid off quite a bit.  I could read the few characters I recognized and know what basic things meant, even if I couldn't say them or understand what was being said.  Also, I can memorize what a character looks like thanks to my Chinese studies, which was helpful when trying to identify restaurants, etc.  I think it was actually easier to get around this time than last time, even though my spoken language skills were much worse.  Reading is important kids!

We arrived at almost midnight and caught the very last train to Shinagawa from Haneda.  Nothing lets you know it's time to get out quite like the meticulous shutting down the train station ritual of ten or so uniformed and white gloved Japanese guards.  From there, we managed to get a taxi to understand where our hotel was and he dropped us off in front of a completely closed building.

Yay for international adventures!  We were officially in the land of the weird.

Big Fox (Toyokawa Inari Shrine)

Eventually, we found our way through a mall and some banquet rooms to the lobby and an early morning sleep.  Wednesday we both worked, although we did manage to hit a sushi bar in the hotel for lunch.  E splurged on a more expensive set meal than I did and for his troubles he was rewarded with both uni and a live shrimp that waved its little legs around immediately prior to being butchered and placed on his nigiri rice -- that was a bit more graphic than we were expecting, but when in Rome...

For the first dinner, since the negotiations were done and the deal was closed, we met up with some of E's Japanese business partners and they treated us to a delicious 9 or 10 course meal.  Oh man.  I love me some Japanese food.  So many delicate, delicious, fabulous treats.  The partners were very impressed with our appetites for Japanese food and chopstick skills, and surprised at our explanation that in the bay area, it's considered standard to have good chopstick skills, regardless of whether you are Asian.

View of Roppongi

Thursday, E had press meetings and I had calls and work.  I woke at 4 AM and couldn't sleep any later, so, trying my best to be quiet and directing my laptop screen away from the bed, I was able to work 6 hours straight before 10 AM -- such a luxury.  From there, I hit the gym, which required me to walk through the mall (of course) in my workout clothes.  Given the looks I received, I'm fairly certain I was committing some sort of serious social faux pas.  Oh, well.  I'm a gaijin.  Not my fault...

Since I managed to close out all of my immediate work needs, I decided to treat myself to some culture and walked to two nearby shrines for my lunch break.  We were staying in Akasaka, which is primarily a business district, so I ended up walking amongst the salarymen and salarywomen and watching them delve into their phones in the calm of the shrines.  In both shrines, I was the only non-asian person and one of the few people who were actually taking in the sites.  Most of the people seemed to be simply seeking a peaceful break from the density and chaos.

Shrine, just smack dab in the middle of sky-scrapers


These shrines were both designated shinto shrines (apparently at least one was originally a Buddhist shrine but its story was modified to avoid destruction at some point), and each had its own designated animal (fox and monkey).




On Friday, we woke to snow.  Actually, I woke at 6 AM and worked 'til 9 without looking outside, but when I did, I was amazed at the view.  It hadn't snowed in Tokyo in 14 years before the week prior, and now it had snowed twice in one week.  We were a bit concerned about the logistics of moving to our weekend hotel, as we'd heard horror stories of the city's inability to handle the snow, but we managed to get to our new hotel in Roppongi unscathed.



For Valentines' day dinner, we splurged on teppanyaki at the Ritz Carlton.  E opted for the Japanese beef and I had spiny lobster.  For dessert, we sat at the window and watched the snow fall.  The hotel is on the 45th floor and supposedly has great views, but due to the snow, we really could only see for a quarter of a mile or so.  Even so, it was a wonderful way to celebrate.

Saturday, I woke, worked from 6-8:30 or so (it was Friday evening back home), and then headed to the gym at our new hotel, which was to die for.  I spent 2.5 hours working out, stretching (pigeon pose!), doing core and arm strength work, showering, getting in the hot tub, the cold plunge, and preparing for the day.  Such a luxury!

For our Saturday tourist activities, we enjoyed xiaolongbao at Nanxiang Dumplings, took in the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Mori art museum (and enjoyed a drink afterwards, as the 53rd floor view of Tokyo from the Mori Tower was wonderful now that it had stopped snowing), walked around Akasaka in the snow a bit, had an early dinner of ramen (complete with automated order ticket machine confusion), snacks of rice triangles and beer, and I was in bed by 7:20 PM.

53rd Floor of the Mori Tower
After the super early bedtime, I was worried that I would wake up too early and would be stuck trying to be quiet and not making light pollution, but I slept a blissful 11 hours and 25 minutes 'til 6:45.  Glorious.  I headed to the mall attached to our hotel and worked from the Starbucks for an hour and a half -- amazing how working on a Sunday AM doesn't bother me at all when I've had a supreme sleep beforehand.  From there, I headed back to the amazing spa and gym and repeated the 2.5 hour routine from the day before.  I can only imagine how fit (and relaxed) I'd be if there was a spa and gym like this in my daily life!


Tokyo Skytree


For Sunday's fun, we headed to the Tokyo Skytree, but were informed that the observation decks were closed due to wind (it was quite windy).  So, instead, we waited in line to take the elevator to the 31st floor and after surveying all of our options, had a traditional Japanese lunch (pictured at the top of the post).  This was like no bento box I'd ever seen and the servers were all in full kimonos with the toe socks and flip-flops.

Oh, well, this gives us time to navigate the subway...


For dinner, we headed to Inakaya with E's coworker.  Much yelling and cooking of items as ordered ensued.  E was recruited to pound mochi with a large wooden dowel while men who looked like sumo wrestlers yelled at him.  The food was delicious but couldn't begin to outweigh the hilarity of the experience.

And then it was Monday, time to go home.  Some work, another trip to the awesome gym/spa for me while E met with potential Japanese customers, then a quick trip to the market to buy rice triangles and rice crackers for the bus to the airport.

And voila, here we are.  Back home.

February 2, 2014

A Super Sunday

I woke early.  In the dark. To the sounds of rain.  Ordinarily, I'd be annoyed at rain on a race day.  But California needs rain so badly (and I really do want to have a decent garden this summer without too much guilt) that I just thought, "I *LOVE* that it's raining.  I *LOVE* that it's raining."

I headed to Starbucks and compiled a pre-race feast of a tomato-cheese croissant, skinny vanilla latte, water bottle and banana.  Yeah -- unlike the Foster city 10 miler, I could tell right away that today was going to be a good belly day, so I wanted to pre-load (and I did, easily putting everything except all the water away before parking).  (I may not be fast but when it decides to engage, I've got an invincible gastro-intestinal system and a body that can take more long distance damage without too much trouble than is appropriate.)

The drive to SF was easy.  Parking near the finish was a piece of cake at 7:20 or so.  I walked to the buses and got on one in 5 minutes.  Side note, Kaiser SF is a *very* well run race. Apparently, it's the largest Half Marathon in Northern California. Yet it's still reasonably priced, and has free shuttles from the finish parking to the start that are plentiful and easy to board. Bless you Kaiser SF! No medals this year, but nice long sleeve shirts and the saved $ donated to charity -- excellent priorities!

I was at the entrance to the park by 7:45.  I walked into the park towards the start, got in line for the porta potties, heard my name and was happy to see Jen, who I *knew* was going to smash her 2 hour goal.

We started together, crossing the mat at around the same time.  I didn't see her again until she was at approximately mile 10.5 and I was somewhere after mile 9.  The out-and-back along the Great Highway was particularly brutal this year because the rain picked up, as did the wind opposing the runners heading uphill and south.  I had to stop to walk to put my long sleeve jacket back on and confirm that my mp3 player had died due to exposure to the elements (I think).

Overall, it was a great day.  I cleanly met 4/6 of my goals, and by Boston Marathon rules, I get # 5 as well... (Final time, 2:20:42, 10:44/mile AVG pace, first 6 miles in 1:02:22 10:03/mile AVG pace.)

Lunch after the race was so absolutely enjoyable -- KT gets mad props for organizing.  I sincerely enjoyed hanging out with female law school colleagues that were hand selected by people I know -- It's so rare that I get to spend time with people who share random things like career ambitions, experiences, gender, and life that I felt so lucky.  Bonus, several of these folks were people I only knew through the shit-talk of fantasy football.  Say what you will about gender/societal norms -- I don't care about your gender or class, I just dare you to do a season of FF and *NOT* feel an immense connection with the group of strangers from your league when you meet them in real life.

At some point, the Super Bowl started.  As a proper San Franciscan, this year, I didn't really pay attention.  I went to the train station.  I picked up E.  We went to the hospital.  We hung out with KG and CD.  She's kicking ass.  We did a lap.  She regaled us with tales of doing stairs (1.5 days post open heart surgery).  I had the presence of mind to order a side of mac and cheese at brunch, which I brought and she enjoyed.  I felt so good to have actually brought something joyful into that hospital room.  We left before halftime when it became apparent that visitors hours were tiring her.

We drove home.

We had no real food in the house.  I put together one of the most inspired random clean-out-the-kitchen dinners I've done in a while:  Wok Bindhi Masala.

Butter - melt in wok over medium heat
3 shallots, chopped -- sautee
4 garlic cloves, minced -- sautee
cumin powder -- add to sautee
tumeric powder -- add to sautee
cayenne powder -- add to sautee
ginger powder -- add to sautee
curry powder -- add to sautee (note: spices are open to interpretation in terms of amounts and type)

1 bag frozen okra -- rinse and drain, toss in wok, stir fry
1/2 pint canned home-grown tomato sauce -- add, stir, move to high heat, add additional spices and salt to taste
3 T corn meal to thicken (I used polenta) -- when taste is correct, add thickener, lower heat, stir until correct consistency, remove from heat, allow to cool

And that my friends, was our Super Sunday.  I hope you enjoyed yourself as well.