Friday, October 31, 2014

runemployed 07: University of Richmond

In which I try to turn a negative situation into a positive one and explore Richmond in the process.

It's been over a month since I've done one of these posts and, honestly, I've really missed getting out there. (Who am I?) See, I had a terrible case of poison ivy - stemming from a bizarre gardening accident - and I didn't want to aggravate my condition while I was recovering. And when I was ready to come back, rain put the kibosh on some of my planned trips. But in that time I became a member of the Richmond Road Runners (No, really, who am I?) and registered for a couple of races in November, bringing the total for that month up to three. (Stop it. You're scaring me.)

I'm back at it now, though, and what better place to resume this series than my alma mater, the University of Richmond?

Groundskeeper Willie's working overtime.
Though I didn't start matriculating there until 1994, UR was established way back in 1830. (Thank you, Baptists!) I guess some stuff happened before my time, like eventually losing its affiliation with the church and focusing on molding the minds of young men and women decked out in Izod. FUN FACT: while a certain school whose colors are yellow and black has the arrogance to claim to represent the entire city, ours actually has the word Richmond in its name. Plus you have a significantly less chance of getting mugged on our campus.
Insert a "The Waltons" reference here.
Without a doubt, the best years of my life were spent on these grounds. I made several close, lasting friendships and we generated four years' worth of good memories. Oh, and I learned a few things, too. But one thing I wasn't back in the mid '90s was fit. The "freshman 50" hit me hard. Yes, I really committed to that common curse. You should see our dining facility. The Wall of Cereal alone...
Come for the Leadership Studies major. Stay for the beautiful foliage.
I think I can say with authority that one of the things I never did during my time at Richmond was move at pace faster than "hurried mosey." (Okay, maybe if I was late to class I would break into "rushed amble.") Exercise was not a priority. Considering that I ate a grilled cheese sandwich with every meal, you'd think I'd be mindful of that. Nope. So jogging around campus yesterday provided a point of view that was brand new to me.
Sports!
And that point of view mostly consisted of "Boy, this place sure is hilly." Honestly, I never realized that until doing this run. Sure, Boatwright Drive as you enter campus is steep and twisty, but the other roads on campus never registered that way to me. Earlier this week I signed up to do a 10k here on Thanksgiving morning. What have I gotten myself into?

When viewed like this, the fact that you can't run the lake's circumference bugs me.
Back in my day, the two schools that make up the university - Richmond College for the men, Westhampton College for the women - were separated by Westhampton Lake. Yes, it was like summer camp with textbooks and Milwaukee's Best. Unsure if my old restraining order was still in effect, I kept my run pretty much on the RC side.
Squint through the leaves and you can see my freshman dorm room on the 3rd floor. Good times.
The loop around the lake is a very pretty run. Bonus points if you enjoy looking at water fowl. Sadly, there were no lake dogs there yesterday. I ran past lots of bricks, fallen leaves, and co-eds that (sadly) look like children to me now. Aside from the lake, everywhere I went seemed like I was going uphill, which I probably was. Next time I'll venture over to the Westhampton side and get a feel for its terrain.
There's a pirate joke in there somewhere.
My initial thought for this post's selection from my running playlist was to use a song that was a big part of my college experience. Oh, how I tormented my friends and dormmates with my incessant playing of G. Love & Special Sauce's "Cold Beverage" and Blood, Sweat & Tears' "Spinning Wheel." But this being Halloween time and all, I figured that I should bust out a spooky tune, so I'm going with the Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer." There's no personal significance, just a driving beat that'll keep you going. Pretend you're getting chased by Patrick Bateman!


Psycho killer
Qu'est-ce que c'est
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa better
Run run run run run run run away
My only legacy.
They say you can't go home again, but I proved them all wrong. In fact, it was really easy. SUCKERS! It was great seeing UR from a new vantage point and recalling some fond memories while doing so. Richmond is beautiful all year round, but especially in the fall. If you don't mind a bit of a climb, I suggest you get out there and enjoy its rolling hills while they're at Peak Prettiness. I'll be back there early on Thanksgiving morning, banking enough calories for me to eat an entire pumpkin pie later on that day.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Every Simpson dance now!

When I was invited to my friends Tony and Lauren's Halloween party - in which men were to dress like women and vice versa - my mind reeled at the costume possibilities. My first thought was to go as Marilyn Monroe so I could show off my slammin' new bod. (Sarcastic "Ha!") But then I thought that one was kind of played out. Inspiration struck and I got a great idea. One that would embody one of my greatest passions and reflect what makes me me. So this past Saturday I achieved Peak Simpson Mania and dressed up as Marge Simpson.
I really should've brought a couple of gallons of homemade Pepsi to bring to the party.
I put a lot of time, effort, and money into this costume. Probably way more than I should have, but it paid off. I was a real head-turner. (In a good way, I hope.)
No need to purchase any Blue Dye #56.
It all started with the wig, which also was the most expensive part. At first I was going to go with this one since it was fairly cheap, but I was afraid that the "shiny mylar accents" would look weird, especially up close. So I ponied up a little more and bought this wig. Luckily, I had a lot of Amazon gift cards at my disposal (thank you, Bing Rewards!), so it only set me back a few dollars. It came with these bushy sideburns that obscured my face, but they were easily lopped off. To get it to stand up straight I stuffed newspaper up inside it. Voila! Instant Marge hair.
It really accentuated my curves.
The next problem to solve was what to do about the dress. Goodwill was a bust, as were other retail outlets. It's every boy's dream to have his mom make a dress for him and thankfully my wonderful, caring, and talented mother was game. She put a ton of work into making this for me (in between fits of panicked laughter) and it turned out great. The elastic band around the waist really gave me the illusion of having hips. She left room up top to accommodate stuffing. I'm not proud of it, but I wore a strapless boulder holder, which I filled with stuffing material. (I wore my Fitbit in there, too.) All night I was struggling to keep "the girls" up. I now respect your plight, women.
Sensible just like Marge.
Shoes were also a concern. I found a pair at Payless that would've worked, but there was no way I was going to lay down $20 for some flats I'll never wear again. K-Mart came through and had these on clearance for $5. Luckily, with that chain being the ghost town that it is, not many people saw me trying on womens' footwear. Marge's shoes don't have perforations, but that's a compromise I was willing to make for the price. Also these were originally black and white, though that's nothing a few coats of spray paint didn't fix. I kept them on throughout most of the party until the discomfort became unbearable. Again, much respect, ladies.
Heh heh. Pearl necklace.
The last piece of attire I needed was Marge's string of red pearls. Like with the rest of this costume's components, I was fairly clueless about them. My friend Suzanne introduced me to the world of beads and I picked up these perfect red wooden ones and a length of elastic string from Bangles and Beads in Carytown. Unfortunately, I bought too many beads and learned of the store's terrible "no refunds" policy firsthand. You've been warned.
Mommy's little girl.
The right accessory will knock an outfit out the park and it's no different for Halloween costumes. I think this Maggie Simpson doll that I bought on ebay put it over the top.
Winner winner, pork chop dinner!
The costume all came together nicely. So nicely in fact that I won the contest at the party. Initially I tied with a Samantha from Sex & The City. (Who somehow morphed into Joan Rivers during the course of the night.) I emerged victorious from the tiebreaker by one vote. Hey, a win is a win. A big thanks to everyone who voted for me. I dedicate the fancy bottle of Spanish wine that I won to you.

I've long held the notion that one of the things that makes Halloween great is that, in Jim Gaffigan's words, "women use it as an excuse to dress like prostitutes." Now it was my turn to be the belle of the ball. It was the prettiest night of my life, even if it didn't end with my elbows getting nibbled.*

*I'm confident that one of these days my dream of being dressed as a woman and making out with a woman dressed as a man will finally come true.

Monday, September 22, 2014

runemployed 06: Church Hill


In which I try to turn a negative situation into a positive one and explore Richmond in the process.

Today was a beautiful day for a jog. Bright yet the air had a crispness to it. Still green, but with none of the drawbacks of summer. Of which there are many. (Yes, I'm a hater.) Why not spend it in the part of town that I've frequented the most, aside from the times I was schooled and resided in the West End? That's right, it was time to go to Church Hill.

Liberty, Death, or Draw!
Church Hill is a lovely part of Richmond where you'll find old houses owned by people who aren't too keen on new baseball stadiums, some great places to eat and drink, and O.G. patriot Patrick Henry's favorite place of worship. Sections of Church Hill are quite upscale. Others... uh, not so much. Last week I used this space to gush over my friends and this neighborhood has the largest concentration of them, hence my spending copious amounts of time here. Heck, I was even part of a formidable pub trivia team for a while. (The Publicans 4 life, son.)

Fat and awkward file photo, 2009
So, I love this area and figured it was about time that I jogged through it. Over the weekend I went to Chimborazo Park for the first time, to catch a showing of O Brother, Where Art Thou? As I am bona fide, that was a good enough starting place as any for me today.

The inspiration for Weekend Update with Dennis Miller.
Chimborazo is a National Battlefield Park, which during the Civil War was the site of the largest military hospital in the world, consisting of 150 buildings and 100 tents. Long gone are the 76,000 patients, but I assume their specters still roam the park, forever trapped on this mortal plane. Or not. The only other entities I saw as I ran through there were a few guys sitting in parked cars. I should've stopped to pick up one rock of crack while I had the chance.

Not a cloud in the sky. Except for that one. And that one. And that one...
The jog through there itself wasn't bad. Some of the streets are closed to traffic, but the ones that aren't have wide sidewalks that run along them. The loop around the entire park is pretty short, so I continued on to another park a few blocks away.

Taller than the Union Soldiers Monument, so technically the South has risen again.
I made my way to Libby Hill Park next. Here you'll find a spectacular 180 degree view of Richmond. It's said that the city got its name because William Byrd thought the view from this point closely resembled a village west of London called Richmond upon Thames.

I just don't see it. Byrd was crazy.
As its name implies, Church Hill has got some hills, broseph. I kept away from the major inclines, but still hit some that made me put in some effort. And this is where I found them. Part of the perimeter loop around the park is pretty steep. It mixed things up nicely, though, and kept my run interesting.

You're gonna hear me roar.
This is by far my fastest run since I started logging them with Strava, if not of all time. (Previously I used Runtastic and I think you have to pay extra for that kind of information. Eff that noise.) It could've been the day's weather or possibly the elevation, but I think I pushed it harder than usual because I was running against the wind for the first part of my trip. Whatever it was, I set personal records for my fastest mile and kilometer. Remind me to check the DMV site to see if HOTSHIT is an available license plate.

It's not every day you find motivational sidewalks.
Being up here gives me a strong itch to get out of the suburbs. Every day my soul dies a little more down there. I need to be around my friends and non-chain dining and interesting sights, sounds, and smells. Which brings me to today's selection from my running playlist: The Killers' "Read My Mind," off of their 2006 sophomore effort Sam's Town. More than any other band currently working, these guys really have a way with a soaring chorus and this is my second favorite number of theirs, right after "All These Things That I Have Done." I think my desire to leave is reflected nicely by the song's narrator.



I never really gave up on
Breakin' out of this two-star town
I got the green light
I got a little fight
I'm gonna turn this thing around

Three cheers for carbs!
Having banked some calories and with it being lunchtime, I decided to stick around Church Hill for a bite to eat. My first choice was Proper Pie Co., which I've been wanting to try for a long time now. Savory pies made by a Kiwi? Count me in. Well, it was poor planning on my part because they're closed on Mondays. So I hit up aspiring den of iniquity Capt. Buzzy's Beanery for an iced coffee, a bacon, egg, and cheese on wheat bread, and a chocolate and peanut butter scone. I left full and satisfied. Not bad for a second choice.

I know all about bloody runs.
It was a great early autumn morning to get out and while I only covered 2.6 miles, I hope to traverse a lot more of Church Hill in the future. Maybe as a resident? We'll see. I could probably find a burnt out townhouse in the sketchier part of the neighborhood that I could squat in. Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!

Friday, September 19, 2014

runemployed 05: Carytown & The Museum District


In which I try to turn a negative situation into a positive one and explore Richmond in the process.

I don't know what I'd do without my friends. They're the best and have been a huge help during this rough patch of mine. (Now in its 39th year!) Without the support of them - as well as my wonderful family - I don't know what I'd do. Honestly. You'd probably find me in a gutter somewhere, more pathetic than 30 Rock's Lenny Wosniak:  "I gave my gun to my pastor. You know, in case I get the ol' 'gloomies' again." (BTW that is the greatest line ever uttered by Steve Buscemi.)

I like how my car's photobombing via my sunglasses.
That's why I was delighted this morning when my friend Suzanne, a confidant and very knowledgeable resource during this blog project you're reading, asked if I wanted to get out of the house and join her for a run through Carytown and the Museum District. Of course I did.

They are Groot.
The Museum District is where you'll find not only the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Historical Society, but also a residential area with lots of wide, shady sidewalks. They are particularly great for running. I was pretty impressed with this part of our jaunt and will definitely add it to my rotation.

Shopper's paradise.
Ever since my high school years, Carytown has been my favorite place to hang out in Richmond. During those impressionable years I considered Plan 9 Music my Valhalla. These days it's Bev's Homemade Ice Cream, located a few blocks away. This section of town spans several blocks of Cary Street and features a plethora of great restaurants and interesting shops. The sidewalks there are also good for running, but I don't know how they'd hold up during peak shopping hours. Probably not ideal, what with the shoppers moving at a Southernly pace.

I'm sorry, Mr. Jackson. I am for real.
This morning's run was a great one. Beautiful, cool weather and a very scenic route. I had a good guide. Suzanne's a hardcore runner currently training for November's half marathon, so I joined her as she was already a few miles into her run. That worked out well for me because by then her pace was slower, but still a little faster than my usual one. Sometimes it's nice to be pushed like that.

The shortest point between two distances is a line.
How did I do? I have NO FREAKIN' CLUE due to my being confounded by technology. After three miles exactly we took a little breather. I thought it was the end of the run, so I went to upload it on the Strava app. It turns out that Suzanne was just assessing where to go on our last leg. So I cancelled out of that upload, which ended up discarding my whole run up to that point. ARRRGGGGHHH!!! Inadvertently doing stuff like that gets to me - like when I notice halfway through the day that my Fitbit Flex is in sleep mode - and will dampen my mood for hours. The run was wasted! There's no record of it, so it never was! (Yeah, yeah, my health... whatever.) So just look at Suzanne's Strava results on the right above and reduce it to the three miles on the bottom of the map. That's me.
It's not what you think it is. What a letdown.
As this was a social run, tuning out the world with my music wasn't an option. I'm not a jerk. It speaks volumes about how far I've come this year that I can carry on a conversation while running, albeit between loud gasps for air. But still. Anyway, my playlist song for this particular run is Placebo's "Pure Morning," the lead off single from their 1998 album Without You I'm Nothing. Strip away the seedy subtext and it's a lovely little ditty about friendship.



A friend in need's a friend indeed
A friend with weed is better
A friend with breasts and all the rest
A friend who's dressed in leather

A friend in need's a friend indeed
A friend who'll tease is better
Our thoughts compressed
Which makes us blessed
And makes for stormy weather

Window dining.
We capped off our run with a trip to Starbucks, where I finally redeemed my free birthday drink voucher for a pumpkin spice latte, natch. (Skim milk, no whip, thank you very much.) Then I dropped Suzanne off at her house and I went back to Carytown to take some pictures for this post. Normally, I take breaks during my run and snap those, but I didn't want to slow her roll. That gave me a chance to do some leisurely browsing at Road Runner Sports and grab a French toast donut from Dixie Donuts. Yeah, calorically I was back at zero, but I earned it, dammit!

This is why I run.
As much as I love getting lost in my own little world when I hit the road, it does feel great to go out with friends. They make you step up your game, strive to do better. It gives you an excuse to hang out under the ridiculous guise of "being healthy." Plus, doing so gives me the basic human contact that I need and that escapes me way down in the suburbs. Since pretty much all of my friends are located in Richmond, my desire to get out of here burns with the white hot intensity of 1,000 exploding suns. No, that is not hyperbole. I don't even know what that word means.

Seriously, what does it mean?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

runemployed 04: Pocahontas State Park


In which I try to turn a negative situation into a positive one and explore Richmond in the process.

I am what one would charitably call "indoorsy." I've never enjoyed getting dirty. Bugs are the worst. Camping holds a tiny bit of appeal, but then I think of the bathroom situation and the lack of AC and I'm content with staying put. Darling, I love you, but give me Grove Avenue.

And yet ever since I started this thing I've been curious about trail running. Maybe it's because it's supposed to be easier on your joints than street running. (My aching knee would certainly appreciate that.) Maybe I've been longing for a change of pace. Maybe it was an aching to commune with nature that's laid dormant in me all these years. Either way today I decided to give it a shot and I made my way to Pocahontas State Park.

You are here.
At 7,925 acres, Pocahontas State Park is the largest state park in Virginia. There are 80 miles of trails of varying degrees of difficulty for hikers, runners, mountain bikers, and even horseback riders. It's only 20 miles south of Richmond, but even closer to me here in the 'burbs. I used to go to summer camp there, but haven't been there since I was a kid. I certainly wasn't running on trails back then. More like counting the days until I could be reunited with my TV.

Nice Beaver... Lake.
Studying a map of the park and doing a little online research, I chose the Beaver Lake trail chiefly because it is one of the shorter ones in the park. If I found that trail running wasn't for me it would be over quickly and I could sooner be reunited with my TV.

Chesterfield or the forest moon of Endor?
Anyone who knows me knows that I have zero sense of direction, so there was a fair chance that I'd be wandering around the woods for days, on my way to being the subject of a Dateline NBC segment. The Blair Witch may or may not be involved. Luckily, I was able to find my way to the lake without incident.

I did *none* of these things.
Now, one reason why I've held out on trail running is because that I've heard that you've really got to put your full attention towards it, what with the roots and stumps in your way on the paths. Not to mention the fact that you're sharing the trails with mountain bikers. And so tuning the world out with music is a no-no. Well, I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel. Plus I need music when I run otherwise it's a real chore. I was able to both step lively and have a soundtrack to my jaunt. Suck it, haters!

Ensconced in green.
It was a beautiful, cool, sunny afternoon, so only one song from my running playlist was a contender to be featured in the post. That'd be The Polyphonic Spree's 2003 single "Light & Day." Really, if you want to be at one with nature, this overly joyous ditty is your guy. It makes me want to put on one of my old graduation gowns and run through the hills in a state of pure, optimistic rapture.



You don't see me flyin' to the red
One more you're done
Just follow the seasons and find the time
Reach for the bright side

You don't see me flyin' to the red
One more you're nuts
Just follow the day
Follow the day and reach for the sun

I took the road less traveled... like an idiot!
Running the trails turned out to be quite fun! It's a very pretty park, though I expected there to be a little more lake to be viewed along the Beaver Lake trail. Some of the hills were fairly steep and I fully expect my legs to be feeling it in the morning.

Hey! I'm relatively healthy! Why not?
I have three constant companions when I'm on my runs: my shoes, my phone, and one of my sweatbands. For some odd reason I totally forgot to put the latter on. A few minutes into the trail I was being blinded by sweat, but I pushed through until the end. Who says I can't handle great adversity?

Not pictured: Jason Voorhees.
All in all, I enjoyed my time today. Unlike the rest of my runs during this project, this one actually cost me money: a $4 parking fee. (Actually, $5 because there was no one working the gate and I didn't have exact change. Yeah, I could've chanced it and driven on through, but I'm an honest rebel.) Next time - and with so many trails to try, there will be a next time - I'll pack a lunch and spend more time there to get my money's worth.

So, I followed the day. I reached for the sun. I made it home in plenty of time to watch the New Girl and The Mindy Project season premieres. Whew!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Pumpkining: Beyond Pumpkindome '14

A new (hopefully annual) culinary throwdown was started yesterday: The Pumpkining. My friend Suzanne suggested that the two of us each put together three pumpkin-based desserts and decide once and for all who is Master of Pumpkins. The gauntlet was thrown down. I picked it up.

The GS3 *really* needs a dedicated camera button.
So after a brisk run down Monument Ave. to bank some calories for later on in the day we got to work. Well, I did. She prepared most of her dishes beforehand, which was just as well. No one was getting in the other's way.

First up: My entries.

Nutty for Nutella.
Pumpkin Nutella muffins. (Recipe, only mine were gluten-full.)

Carbtastic.
Pumpkin bread pudding. (Recipe)

Easy like Sunday morning.
No bake pumpkin oatmeal cookies. (Recipe)

And now Suzanne's offerings:

I'm this many years old!
Banana pumpkin mousse tart. (Recipe)

iScream.
Pumpkin cinnamon roll ice cream. (Recipe)

(Note: I woefully neglected to take a solo picture of her third dish, a pumpkin gingerbread trifle. My bad.)

Pumpkin gingerbread trifle (Recipe, but Suzanne "replaced heavy whipping cream for the Cool Whip because gross.")

All together now.
With them all now fully prepared, two tasting plates were given to the judges:  food blogger Paola and her husband. She even classed up the presentation by a factor of ten and put it on Instagram.

It looks like it belongs in the pages of a magazine, if such things still existed.
A little while later the verdicts were in and slipped under Suzanne's front door. (Did I mention that the judges are her next door neighbors? Hmmmm... biased?)

The rundown.
Kneel before Suzanne! Her pumpkin desserts pleased the judges' palates more so than mine did and I can't quite argue with their findings. I would've given top honors to the trifle. But at least my muffins made a good showing. They were pretty damn good.

She and I were pretty much in agreement with our own personal notes. The trifle would make an excellent Thanksgiving dessert, as autumn transitions into the Christmas season.  The banana overpowered the pumpkin in the tart. Ain't nothin' wrong with the ice cream. The muffins were great as is.  The cookies were way too sweet. The bread pudding was just the opposite and could stand to be topped with caramel, ice cream, whipped cream, or some wicked combination of the three.

Also of note was that there was way too much sweetness going on the judge everything at once, so modifications will be made for next year's contest. I think we're looking at an appetizer/entree/dessert format.

So the First Annual The Pumpkining came to a close. Laughs were had, tears were shed, diabetes was narrowly avoided. With that stress now out of the way, I can fully commit myself to enjoying all the fruits of autumn. (Fun Fact:  a pumpkin is classified as a fruit.)