Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Floating pumpkins in the pool

Can you believe that pumpkins float?
Well they do!

Tonight when I went to my swim lesson the pool was full of pumpkins! At first I thought they were fake inflated pumpkins (I have a history of assuming that if something looks strange then it must be fake). But after the swim instructors laughed at me for a while they showed me that in fact all the pumpkins were real and you can use them as buoys! What a phenomenon.

The gruesome Seattle hills

San Francisco is notorious for its super-steep hills, but people don't realize that Seattle has some of those too. In fact sometimes you can't get your car up a hill (as we have experienced) and it's not totally uncommon to hear a story about someone losing control of their car (or bike) going down a hill. Just yesterday a co-worker told a harrowing story of her mom losing her brakes going down a huge hill in her minivan - a cop started going after her with his lights flashing as her van slowly picked up speed (up to 70 mph), At the bottom of the hill the van hit a bump in the road and the brakes clicked back into place just in time to stop before roaring through an intersection, and when the cop came up to her and asked what she was thinking she said "I'm thinking you should give me a ride home!" Fortunately the cop believed her that the brakes had gone out (it does seem unlikely that a soccer mom would try to outrun a cop in a minivan) and helped her get the minivan to the nearest car mechanic.

Since the Studly Hubby and I signed up for the Seattle half-marathon, we've been thinking over the idea of running some hills. The half-marathon route goes downtown and includes some huge hills that we've never attempted before. It's not hard to find hills to practice on - all we have to do is alter our normal route slightly. So last night we tried a moderately big hill, about ten (long) blocks going from Lake Union up to Wallingford Square (where the grocery store happens to be, with a huge bag of salt-and-vinegar chips waiting for us as our reward). We conquered that hill and were so excited we actually brainstormed other bigger hills we could do as we were walking home with our big bag of potato chips.

Happy Halloween everybody!! Hope you have a spoooooky (or totally relaxing or totally fun) evening.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A short history of my butt

When my butt was 18, it was lean and mean. I got it that way by being young and by riding horses, which makes for a georgeous butt (and nice tight abs too). But(t) at the end of college my butt went on a long vacation, and it lost both the meanness and the leanness. This was unfortunate, so I took up running. My butt got right back into shape, but surprisingly took on a new look. It was a little bit smaller and a little bit flatter. Then a few years later I got addicted to indoor spin classes (and eventually taught them), and my butt got mean again - but this time it was also pumped up. It was round and high and solid like a rock. I was very proud to have such a fine and intimidating rear, but also had some trouble with the jeans. I needed jeans with a nice wide back end to fit all that mass, and those are kind of hard to find. In the middle of all that I went through a tough time (job interviews) and lost a little weight, and I found my perfect proportion. My butt was still mean and pumped, but no longer stifled by ordinary jeans. Unfortunately this was a few pounds lighter than my comfort zone and I eventually put the weight back on. I started a new job in another state, and switched sports again. Now I'm back to running, and the rear is fading back into a version of its former self - small and tight and just a shadow of what it recently was. As I begin yet again to branch out from running, I wonder what new shape my butt will find...

(PS I don't think my Studly Hubby or anyone for that matter has noticed any of this, so these differences may not have been so extreme from an outsider's perspective, but I've definitely noticed my butt and all kinds of other changes whenever I switch sports and I find it fascinating)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I love my Civic!

In my effort to cross-train/drive around more in our new Honda Civic, I went to hot yoga again tonight. It was super fun driving the Civic over there and feeling all fancy-pants in such a pretty car. Here's why I love the Civic so much:

1. It's a feel-good car. Honda cares about the environment, and the Civic gets really good mileage. Plus it used to be a FlexCar.

2. It's so pretty! The dashboard is pink and purple! It's sparkly and shiny!

3. It has cruise control. I've never had cruise control before!

4. It knows when I need a light on - and it knows when I need it back off again. It's so smart!

5. It's mean enough to run over a trash can every once in a while without any belly-aching.

6. It can go uphill! Even when two people are in it!

Well on a different topic, hot yoga was painful as always. But I'll probably go back because it's so much fun driving over there in the new civic.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

8 Mile

We are full-swing into training for the Seattle Half-Marathon at the end of November. Not only is it a 13-mile run, but the route goes through downtown which has some very steep and horrible hills. Normally I avoid running hills like the plague, so this worries me. Another thing that worries me is that we haven't run more than 5 miles since mid-July and we only have four weeks left to train. So last weekend we ran 6 miles, and this weekend we ran 8. No hills yet. I'm still attached to the around-and-around Green Lake running route because they have drinking fountains and bathrooms. It's also flat. This won't help me with the hills. So after I recover from today's 8-mile run, I will have to get myself psyched up to do some hills. Maybe I should do some stretching too, I've heard that's a good thing.

I started taking swim lessons at the Green Lake Community Center. For one thing, we just bought a sweet new (used) car and I wanted an excuse to take it for a spin through the neighborhood. For another thing, a friend from work signed up for the lessons and she made it sound like a fun and smart thing to do. Unfortunately it did not sound so fun and smart anymore as I was driving to my first lesson on Wednesday night in the pouring rain and freezing cold, but what kept me going was the nagging feeling that I definitely should cross-train (e.g. something other than running), and what better time to do that then the nasty rainy cold winter months? Plus I paid for six lessons in advance and I wanted to make it worth my money by actually going. So swim lessons first, then maybe some actual lapswimming later, if I can stay motivated beyond the lessons...

Friday, October 26, 2007

sooooome week

I've actually been in town all week, but racing from one thing to the next (sometimes literally). We are now in full-swing training for the Seattle Half-Marathon, which is at the end of November. We are behind schedule as usual. We are increasing our miles every week with wild abandon and suffering the consequences afterwards. I gave a Big Talk for a regional conference on Wednesday, which went well but the practice talks on Monday and Tuesday were awful, and I ended up practicing the talk about 4 million times Monday and Tuesday night - it was painful but worth it. I started swimming lessons on Wednesday night at the Green Lake Community Center and it was fun, but made for a really long day. Then Thursday I was wandering around at work like a zombie. Hopefully today I'll be able to get back to feeling normal. At least I'm blogging again.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The search for the perfect restaurant

Ever since the Studly Hubby and I moved to Seattle we have been searching for a few good restaurants. We are picky, so this is quite a task. We like to get consistently good food, reasonable prices, an accessible location (this is very limiting in Seattle, because traffic is so bad), and a mellow and pleasant atmosphere. In Minnesota we searched high and low and finally found two pizza places (Punch and Campus Pizza), a Mexican restaurant (el Norteno), an organic cafe (Birchwood), a BBQ joint (Famous Dave's), and a diner (Lake St Garage) that we just adored. That was quite a lot of choices, but we were there almost 6 yrs so we had a lot of time to find good restaurants. Even in our last year we were still discovering good ones, so it's definitely a process. We expected it to take a while in Seattle too, but we've been here over a year and haven't found anything we really like except a Mexican restaurant (Isla Bonita) way over on Bainbridge Island.

After my Studly Hubby started making big bucks over at Microsoft we doubled our efforts to find a good restaurant and started with all the ones in our neighborhood. Unfortunately most were too pricey, unimpressively bland, too crowded, or some awful combination of all of those. We found a pizza place (Wallingford Pizza House) and a Thai restaurant (May's) that are both really good but not quite perfect. We were starting to think the magic just wasn't going to happen when we finally hit the right place last night.

It's a Mexican restaurant, Guadalajara, only ten blocks away from us that we run past almost every day. They recently changed owners and previously had a bad reputation so the place was very quiet, but totally fantastic. Just the right combination. Plus they are really close. Now I just need to get the word out that they're good so they get enough business to stay open.

It's amazing what a huge step it is to just find the right restaurant.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My Studly Hubby's Crush

My Studly Hubby has a crush on Chef Ramsay. He has read Chef Ramsay's autobiography, watched his show Hell's Kitchen with fierce loyalty, and now that Kitchen Nightmares is on, the crush has reached a whole new level. My Studly Hubby has a spring in his step all day Wednesday because he's so excited that Kitchen Nightmares will be on that night.

I wasn't a huge fan of Hell's Kitchen (it stressed me out), but Kitchen Nightmares is really good. Chef Ramsay can enter any type of situation, hold his own through everyone's defensiveness and anger and denial, and then turn everybody around in the end so that they are successful and love him. It's very heartwarming.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Car Action

We've decided it's time to get a new bumper sticker for our new car. My old car had the most awesome bumper sticker ever, "Goddess on the Loose" but when we gave away my car and my Studly Hubby moved the sticker over to his car (it's on a bumper sticker magnet), he got made fun of. At his old job they even called him "Goddess". So he voted that when we got a new car, we got a new gender-neutral bumper sticker.

I vote we get one that speaks to our dedication to the environment or something pro-peace. That seems like it's gotta be helpful in some way.

So we went bumper-sticker shopping at our local propaganda store and were pleased to discover that they actually get a lot of their bumper stickers from our previous bumper-sticker source (home of the "goddess" bumper sticker), The Northern Sun in Minneapolis, MN. If you don't have a local propaganda store or other such bumper-sticker source, you can order bumper stickers from Northern Sun online.

The Studly Hubby found the perfect one for him, "Make Love, Not War" (this speaks to my Quaker roots, so I like it too) but I think he was looking for something more original. I've never seen that on a bumper sticker, so I think it's pretty original. I also liked "Tree-hugging dirt worshipper" and "Girls Kick Ass" (although the latter didn't fit our gender-neutral rule so was immediately discarded).

But oh, I will miss the "Goddess" bumper sticker.

Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day, so we're all supposed to blog about what we do to help the environment and get everybody else to do that too. Well we both were raised by hippies in Hippieville, Iowa so we've always been pretty environmentally conscious (I have used recycled toilet paper as long as I can remember). But since we moved to Seattle, and my Studly Hubby got on the Live Earth project, we have picked up a few new habits:

1. Buy local, eat local to reduce food transportation energy. This means lots of local chocolate and local wine (yum!).
2. Support the companies that support the environment by buying their products. We are still figuring out which companies these are, but so far the list includes our local co-op, organic farmers and environmentally sustainable foods like bison, Honda (Honda and 9 other commended "green" Fortune-500 companies can be found here), and countless small or local companies that are putting out that extra effort to be green.
3. Unplugging our entertainment center and anything else that sucks energy.
4. Getting on the National Do-Not-Mail List to reduce our daily junk mail.
5. Paying bills and receiving paychecks online.
6. Changing out ALL our lightbulbs to fluorescents.

What we're working on for the next year:

Reducing our trash output by composting more and buying less packaged goods (this is tricky but speaks to #2 above).

And now I ask you, my dear readers, for your ideas. In particular, does anyone out there know of any other environmentally concious companies or have new ideas for how to reduce trash output?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Our Sweet New Honda Civic

Right before I left for the conference we bought a sweet 2004 Honda Civic from a dealer in Seattle. It's so pretty!!

This is the first car we've bought together and the newest car either of us has ever owned (only by 2 yrs though). The car we traded in for this one, the '95 Geo, was bought in '99 by my Studly Hubby who owned it for 7 yrs. We traded it in for $400. The car dealer was embarrassed to even have the Geo on their lot and immediately moved it to their "back lot" as soon as we signed it over. They kept trying to convince us to keep the Geo and have two cars ('wouldn't it be nice to be a two-car family??'). We were not tempted. We were also not tempted to try to sell it ourselves, since it is a stick-shift covered with midwest rust it is pretty worthless here in Seattle.

Yesterday we washed the new Honda and waxed it and put new plate-covers on it and cleaned the windows and the dash and took it out for a joy-ride around Green Lake. We got awesome new plate-covers that look like a monster is eating our license plates.

We also bought some touch-up paint from the Honda dealer and tried to cover up some of the dings and scratches on it. It was a Flexcar rental car so has quite a few scratches and dings but I consider that good for the nerves because now I won't be so paranoid about running it into a bush or a street sign. And it's a bonus that it was a rental car because the engine was meticulously taken care of as confirmed by our mechanic.

The car-buying experience was interesting. First we decided whether to buy a car and what price range would be appropriate, then we narrowed down what we wanted to four cars (Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda Protege and Hyundai Elantra) by studying the Consumer Reports and every car in our neighborhood. Then we systematically drove to dealers around the city to test drive the cars. We never got around to the Mazda but tried the others and liked the Honda the best by far (Corolla was second best). We checked that the car insurance wouldn't be too insane, went home to look for a better deal (the one we test drove was the best deal), looked up the CarFax report, and then went back the next day and bought it.

The only big pain in the neck was dealing with the car dealer. We walked in at 10 am on Saturday wanting to buy the car. By 5 pm that same day we were finally sitting down with their accountant going over all our warranty and loan options. The whole time in between we were sitting around waiting. Considering we were planning on spending a big heapload of money there I was pretty miffed at their inefficiency. I hate it when people waste my time like that, but it's hard to find a way out of it other than to throw a fit (which I was on the verge of). They knew we wanted their car so they knew we would wait. We probably won't go back to that dealer again (although they did have the best deal).

But we sure love our new Honda!!

The Party in Austin that Did Me In

Sorry I went offline again for a while folks. I was at a conference in Austin TX.

This wasn't just any conference. My former advisor from graduate school in Minnesota was there with several of his roadies, plus old friends from that lab and lots of other familiar faces from previous conferences and collaborations. I had lots of formal and informal socializing to do and had to plan it around a very busy conference schedule (talks went from 8:30 am to almost 10:30 pm every day).

Austin has an amazing night life. The first night we were there we went to a Rilo Kiley concert at a famous BBQ joint in downtown Austin called Stubbs. It was a huge outdoor venue (weird for downtown) that was quite crowded for a Sunday night. It ended early and beer in Austin is obnoxiously cheap so we went out afterwards and had fun dancing the night away at a small bar. I got back to the hotel late, lost my way in the super-dark hotel room, and ended up smashing my nose on the bureau and getting my first bloody nose ever. Worried I would end up with a black-and-blue face for the first day of the conference, I stayed up late icing it. My poor roommate woke up but didn't remember it in the morning.

The last night we were there we had a final banquet and then we headed out to see the Spazmatics, an '80s cover band playing at the Cedar Street Bar in downtown Austin. Again the large crowd amazed me (this was Wednesday night). The cheap beer tempted us all and pretty soon all of the nerdy scientists were dancing the night away, again, on the dance floor to '80s music. I even got hit on, not once but many times.

The days were full of good talks and interesting science, and I got to sample some of Austin's finest for lunch and dinner while having useful meetings with collaborators and colleagues. In Austin, chain restaurants and businesses are not welcome so every place we went was local and unique. And the locals at the conference directed us to some of the best. A friend of mine from way back that picked some of us up at the airport took us out to some taco stand in the middle of nowhere that was delicious, and my Seattle boss took out the whole crowd to a very fancy and expensive Austin steak joint that was some of the best food I've ever had.

The only negative was the payback I was due when I finally ended the whole thing. I don't do well on little to no sleep, especially many days in a row, and started throwing up as soon as we got to the airport. This is not fun, let me tell you. I am not sure if I was severely hungover and tired or actually sick (a friend I was partying with on Sun also got sick that week) but whatever it was blossomed into a killer cold that kept me home the next day and mos of the weekend. So I have yet to go back to work. Meanwhile I'm enjoying being back home with my Studly Hubby, eating home-cooked food and watching movies and sleeping many many hours.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Going Car-Less

Before we decided what kind of car to get, we actually had a bigger decision to make: whether or not to get a car. So early this week we did some research into what kinds of options we have for going "car-free" as they say (many people here in Seattle actually do this and it works for them). There's quite a lot of good stuff going on, like:

1. Public transit. This works well here. Buses go to useful places and run all weekend and late into the night. My Studly Hubby currently takes the bus to work every day.

2. Bike. This could work well here, because the weather is very mild (when it rains, it's just a light drizzle). Unfortunately, it doesn't. Seattle is a little behind on making this a bike-friendly place, although they claim this is on the to-do list. Here are some examples of lost potential: (i) Everyone is very proud of this awesome bike trail that goes around North Seattle (the Burke Gilman), which is a pretty good trail. But, it's only one trail. And because it's all there is, it is so crowded with bikers that it is notoriously unsafe for pedestrians. Plus it's not well lit (making it worse for pedestrians) and there are no enforced speed limits (making it bad for both pedestrians and mediocre bikers like me). (ii) Many buses pick people up at hubs that you can bike to. The hub my Studly Hubby bikes to was recently "renovated," which meant that all the bike racks were ripped out about a month ago. We're not sure what they're planning to do next. Therefore my Studly Hubby can't bike. (iii) The city took the initiative to add bike lanes to all the streets. This was very nice of them, but they didn't physically add anything. They just painted lines on the street designating two feet of space for bikes between the already-narrow car lane and the already-narrow parked car lane. Would you feel safe biking here?

3. Flexcar. This is awesome. It's a car rental program with a twist: you can rent by the hour, and the cars are parked in convenient locations all over the city so you can usually walk to one from your house (there are four within ten blocks of our apt). Unfortunately it is not so great for long weekends (too pricey), car availability is sketchy, you still have to carry car insurance, you may have to pay a monthly fee, and the hourly fee is not that cheap ($10/hr in our area). But I know several people who have it and rely on it and love it, it just depends on how flexible you want to be.

4. Standard car rentals. This is still the stand-by for my car-less friends. For only $100 or so, you can rent a car for the entire weekend. If you rent a few weekends a month, it's still way cheaper than insurance and car payments. I think this is a pretty common thing in Seattle because there are car rental places everywhere and one close enough for us to walk to.

Well despite all that good stuff we decided in the end that we still need a car. Mainly because I work strange hours sometimes, we aren't very organized, and we felt like we could afford it. So when I get a chance I'll update you on our ongoing Adventures of Car Shopping.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Getting drunk with the in-laws

We had a grand ole' time with the in-laws this weekend and managed lots of new adventures. One of my favorites was a guided tour through a local winery the Chateau Ste Michelle. What I liked about it was not that we saw how their white wine is made (which was pretty cool) but that they took us by the hand and taught us about wine without any pretentiousness. We learned about the regions of Washington where grapes are grown, why they grow well here, how the different varieties are fermented to make wine, how they determine fermentation length and oak aging (my oh my those oak barrels are expensive) and how to correctly taste wine. We picked up some cool wine lingo and came out of the tour feeling like newly minted wine experts.

After the wine tasting we headed downtown to the fancy restaurant 94 Stewart to celebrate my Father in-Law's birthday (he turned 29, again). We were feeling very fancy so we ordered not one but TWO bottles of wine and subsequently shared all our newly learned lingo with anyone who would listen, which was mostly each other. I liked 94 Stewart a lot too, again because of something very abstract: it was fancy and upscale without being pretentious and our waiter was sincerely nice and helpful. And the food was very good too.

Another neat thing we did this weekend was officially initiate some car-shopping. The Studly Hubby and I, having low standards and all, have never been on the market for a car. So we needed his parents support and encouragement for that first test drive. What you are probably wondering is what exactly we are in the market for. Well, let me tell you what I want first.

A Lime-Green Volkswagon Beetle (convertible), much like this one:
Isn't that a cool car?

Well it isn't very practical. We don't have a garage or any off-street parking to speak of, we live in a high-theft, high-accident neighborhood (our car has been hit twice this year), and we don't even drive very much.

So we're going for a more practical (a.k.a. more boring) type of car, like perhaps a used Honda or Toyota. My favorite car in the whole wide world, the apple red 1989 Toyota Camry, unfortunately is getting hard to come by (especially the kind we would want - one with no rust, low miles, and a warranty). So we'll see what else we can find.

Meanwhile, the manager at that first dealership fed us some lines to remember. He looked over our car to determine what the trade-in value is, and declared it a "ticking time-bomb." Then when we hedged on the cars we test drove (the Kia had no power, the Jetta was nice but overpriced), he said, "what can I do to get you excited enough to buy a car today?" We laughed hysterically, which I don't think was the answer he was looking for.

And we're off to our next adventure.