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.)

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)

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.)

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

runemployed 03: Bryan Park

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

So far on this little jaunt I've done a city landmark and a famed street, so I figured it was about time that I ventured over to one of Richmond's many parks. I randomly pointed at a map thoroughly studied my options and chose Bryan Park.
Don not taunt Happy Fun Gate.
Situated in the city's Northside area, Bryan Park housed Confederate troops during the Civil War as Richmond's Outer Defense Line. Years later it became the home of developer and newspaper publisher James Bryan until the land was given to the city to turn into a park following his death in 1908. These days it's chiefly known as a place where dudes have sex in public.

Fountains of Bryan.
Within Bryan Park's 262 acres you can find rolling hills, lush greenery, and beautiful flowers. There are soccer fields, tennis courts, playgrounds, and a disc golf course. You'll also encounter gentlemen sitting alone in their cars waiting for someone - anyone - to come along and provide them with the thrill that can only be achieved via an outdoor tryst.

Today was a cool and cloudy day, but that's the kind of weather I thrive in. It was perfect. I had a good run among the park's mostly pedestrian-only roads. Thankfully, the men in the midst of their amorous episodes took it into the woods or restrooms, so I didn't have my run interrupted by them. 
Fowl weather.
Even if I was approached by a lonely chap inquiring about my receptiveness to a sweaty, anonymous fling in the shade, I'd just tune him out because I have to have my music pumping during my runs. Today's selection from my running playlist is Keane's 2004 single "Everybody's Changing." I'm not really into this band (largely out of ignorance of their catalog), but the song really hits home. I look around at my friends and at this point in their lives they have advanced careers, loving spouses, growing families, disposable income, retirement plans, reasons to pay property taxes, etc. I'm sort of feeling left behind and, I admit, jealous. Being rudderless is the worst. I can only do my best making my way and hope that something will come along that strikes my fancy, putting me back on track to getting the things that right now seem unattainable. Or at least knock out my crippling student loan while I'm still on this mortal coil. (Yeah, right.)

So little time
Try to understand that I'm
Trying to make a move just to stay in the game
I try to stay awake and remember my name
But everybody's changing and I don't feel the same

Please don't eat the whatever the hell these are.
While I enjoyed my run, I don't think I'll be adding Bryan Park to my rotation. It's kinda out of my way and I'm not really into the prospect of stumbling upon fellas engaged in an impassioned rendezvous. Not that there's anything wrong with it.

My car looks on approvingly.
I capped off my time on the Northside with a well-deserved trip to Roy's Big Burger, a Richmond culinary institution. There's nothing quite like some hot and tasty meat rammed down your gullet, right? I know where you can find some enamored blokes who'd agree.

Friday, September 05, 2014

runemployed 02: Grove Ave.

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

I really didn't feel like running this morning. For the past few weeks I've been suffering from stress-related insomnia where I just can't shut my brain off. Some nights are better than others. Last night was one of the terrible ones. I got barely any sleep. Restless around 2:30 am - clearly a time when you're using your better judgment - I took a sleepy time cocktail of melatonin and ZzzQuil. Unfortunately, it failed me. My alarm proceeded to go off at 7:00 am. Still extremely groggy, I figured since there was no way I was going to sleep in that I might as well continue on with this project.

What further enticed me to roll out of bed was that I planned on running in one of the areas I was looking forward to the most when I conceived of this endeavor:  Grove Ave.  In retrospect, though, it was probably unwise for me to operate heavy machinery in order to reach my destination. That was one cloudy-headed drive, I'll tell you what.

Just before Gozer came down  and reclaimed his throne.
Why do I run? Health? Mental wellness? A license to eat and drink terribly? Yes to all of those reasons, but like all of man's endeavors big and small - from shaving to the moon landing - it all comes down to one thing: women. And in all of my years at the University of Richmond and living in the West End afterward, one of the city's surest constants is that Grove Avenue is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to hosting attractive women out for a run.

My hopes weren't too high, though, since I was going to be there in the late morning, after peak hours. Clearly the beautiful people have better things to do while the rest of us schlubs are watching personal injury lawyer commercials on TV. To my surprise there were several pretty women out running then, automatically putting my normal suburban route to shame.

No creeper shots because those are, well, creepy. So here's a panorama of some retail and dining spaces.
But really, it's all just eye candy and motivation for me to get out there. Realistically, I'm not going to be picking anyone up while running for two reasons:  1) It's rude to interrupt someone during their exercise routine, and 2) I have zero game. I'll just have to meet my future mate at a more traditional venue, like a grocery store or mud wrestling night at the Booby Barn.

Which brings me to today's running song from my playlist:  "All the Pretty Girls" by fun., off of their 2009 album Aim and Ignite. If you're one of the many who got hip to the band with Some Nights, definitely give their debut a listen. It's a good listen.

All the pretty girls on a Saturday night
Let it be, you'll come to me with the look in your eyes
Will you break and take all the words from my mouth?
I wish all the pretty girls were shaking me down

So rather than a hook up joint, Grove Ave. is just a plain great place to run. There are shady sidewalks on either side of the street, which is a key thing to look for during Richmond's hot and muggy summers.

Lots of greenery and bricks to be found on Grove Ave.
It's also a pretty level and straight stretch of road. I went down one length of it and returned on the other side. My Strava app, however, got all jacked and thought I was trying to shake a cop's tail or something. It completely miscalculated my run. It was closer to three miles, not five. Also, my pace was much, much slower than that.

Wildly erroneous.
I did get to take advantage of one of Richmond's running landmarks: The Grove Avenue Water Stop. I only found out about it this morning when doing some pre-run research, but it was set up several years ago by Sheri Crowell as a way to keep runners and walkers along Grove hydrated. Every morning she fills it up with water and even sets out dog treats. How cool is that?

More than a water cooler. It's community.
While I was drinking my cup of gratis water, Ms. Crowell's mother parked her car in front of the Water Stop. I talked to her for a few minutes about the thing. It turns out that Crowell also organizes impromptu fun runs and collects used jackets to donate during the winter, all centered around the Water Stop. This is exactly the community spirit that I love about Richmond. She is an RVA sticker personified.

That's some high quality H2O.
I capped off my morning with a well-deserved iced coffee from Starbucks. Now, that place is the meat market I've been looking for. Wow. Chicks dig an overly sweaty guy wearing a fanny pack, er, "waist pack," right? RIGHT?

Coffee pickles way outsell the dill.
All in all, Grove Avenue is one of the best places that I've run around here. No wonder it's so popular. I'm definitely going to add it to my regular rotation.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

runemployed 01: Canal Walk

Since my job was phased out last week I suddenly have a lot of free time on my hands. I don't want to sit around watching Netflix all day. Scratch that. I do want to do that, but it wouldn't be very productive. After the stress of combing through job listings and putting together cover letters, I need an outlet to release my frustrations. And given my current situation, it has to be cheap. Enter running.

I hate running. Well, that word may be a bit too strong, but I don't enjoy it very much. I do like to eat, though, so you gotta do what you gotta do. I'm getting kind of bored on my suburban route, so why not check out some parks and neighborhoods around Richmond? At least there'll be a better likelihood of eye candy out and about there.

Though summer is unofficially over, you wouldn't know it. It's hot as balls out. Given that, my first journey was a short one: the 1.25 mile path around Canal Walk.

Ain't technology grand?
So I loaded up my running playlist and hit the path. The first song that randomly popped up? Modest Mouse's 2004 breakthrough "Float On." That seemed like an apt choice for keeping positive during this phase of my life. It's funny how things like that happen.

Bad news comes, don't you worry even when it lands
Good news will work its way to all them plans
We both got fired on exactly the same day
Well, we'll float on, good news is on the way

And it was indeed a short run. I was expecting it to be a bit longer, but nope. The path is scenic along the canal and it was pretty empty around 9 am, save for a couple of cuties out jogging and a few homeless guys on the fringes. It wasn't as humid as I expected, so I decided to extend my run down Dock Street on the path that runs parallel to the elevated railroad tracks and then turn back and do the Canal Walk loop again.

That was the plan until I entered back onto the Canal Walk, hit a grate, and BOOM. Wipe out. I may have been a bit distracted, but it happened so quickly I can't remember what caused me to hit the pavement. So I'm placing full responsibility on that grate.

There will be blood.
I'm a rightie, so thankfully my love life was spared.
Shoulder bruise. I'm rugged.
I figured that since I was now a bloody mess, enough was enough. Plus my earbuds' plug broke in the fall and the only thing worse than running is running without music to distract you from the fact that you're running.

And this is why I don't invest a lot of money in earbuds.
My spill was embarrassing, but I don't think anyone saw me tumble. I did get some looks as I was walking back along the route to take some pictures. (Shameless Instagram plug!) One such person was a woman named Sheila who was walking her dog Weezy.

Shaky image because the rapid blood loss kept me from holding my phone still.
She offered to let me into her apartment building so I could clean up in the lobby bathroom, which I gladly accepted. Who says that Richmonders are unfriendly? Yes, Virginia, there are still kind people out there. I wish I would've thought to have gotten her full name and address so I can send her a note. Hopefully my thanking her profusely then will suffice.

My hero.
So this whole endeavor wasn't my most graceful moment, but it was nice to get out, see part of the city, and have my faith in mankind reaffirmed. My friend says that my new battle scars make me a real runner. Um... thanks? Anyway, I'm looking forward to going to the next spot on my map in a few days. Except for the running part.

Don't worry, even if things end up a bit too heavy
We'll all float on alright

Monday, September 01, 2014

This is the end.

I’m done.

About a year and three months ago I set out to clean myself up and lose some weight. It wasn’t easy, but I was diligent and determined. The shocked reactions from people who haven’t seen me in a long time have been intoxicating. Compliments are my drug. But lately those positive remarks have been punctuated with “… but you’re done dieting, right?”  As of this morning I’ve lost 88.4 lbs. I think that I’m at a good place now. They’re right. It’s time to slow my roll. And eat more rolls.

Though I welcome the input from my loved ones, this is my call. I reached this decision for three reasons:

1) I’m more than content to be “TV fat.” All along through this process I never desired to be svelte. The waif look wouldn’t suit me. You know what I mean by “TV fat":  In the bizarro world of sitcoms, characters will make fun of the weight of actors who are average-sized in real life. The most recent examples that come to mind are Nick from New Girl and Max from Happy Endings.

While they aren't super fit, those guys are hardly obese.  I never dreamed I’d be their size. “TV fat” is just fine with me.

2) Buying new clothes every few months is getting expensive. My fixed income can't support the buying and rebuying. It’s gotten very tiring. A suit I bought for a wedding in December now needs to be taken in a few sizes.  The other day I weeded out about 95% of the now-too-big clothes in my closets and now I have barely anything left.  I want to be one size and build my wardrobe back up.

3) I want to eat and drink like a normal person.  Well, maybe not today’s Biggie Sized version of “normal,” but an idealized version from yesteryear. For fifteen months I’ve restricted myself to a daily intake of around 1500 calories. (A little more on workout days) That doesn’t leave much wiggle room to enjoy life. And since alcohol burns before fat – and most drinks are empty calorie bombs – I’ve more or less severely restricted my booze intake. On the plus side, though, that’s made me a cheap date, which is nice.  Anyway, I want to go out to dinner and get more than a salad. I want to drink more than one beer in a sitting. We’re fast approaching pumpkin spice season and I want to LIVE, dammit.

So that’s my reasoning for why I’m packing it in. Sure, in my mind I could stand to lose more. I need to come to terms with the fact that, like with almost everyone else on the planet, there are parts of my body that I hate, but am just going to have to live with. (I’m talking to you, gut and moobs.) Building back the muscle mass I’ve lost – and then some – should help out with that.

The trick from here on out will be maintaining.  I’m pretty confident that my being deathly afraid of backsliding into my old ways will keep me on the straight and narrow. And so long as I’m still on the market I can’t get complacent… ladies.

Lastly, I’d like to give a shout out to my brother-in-law RJ and friend Suzanne, who convinced me to start this whole weight loss thing in the first place. You can't put a dollar figure on how much I owe them. I’m cheap that way.

Note:  this post was written while shoving a piece of pumpkin pie down my face.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

"And the Oscar goes to... Grown Ups 2!"

It's time once again for that glitzy Hollywood circle jerk commonly called the Oscars. As I have no DVR, I have a painful conflict: this airs at the same time as The Walking Dead. Do I watch a horrifying portrait of an eroding society controlled by a mass of decaying ghouls? Or do I watch my zombie stories? I guess I'll tune in to the silly awards show. Who will take home the top prize? A tragic tale of being lost in space ("12 Years a Slave"), the story of a lonely man falling in love with his phone ("Captain Phillips"), a brutal examination of America's racist past ("Philomena")? Maybe one of the other nominated films that'll show up on Netflix in six or seven years?

I haven't seen any of the films nominated in the big categories. I know, I know. I'm really behind. So having no knowledge on the merits of the honored movies, it's all speculation on my part. I'm going to say that, oh I don't know, that latest Thor flick sweeps the night.

And then there's the fashion! I have no interest in any of that hoo-ha! For those that do, though, I'll say that tonight I'm wearing a shirt by Pierre Marvel, pants by Anton de la Nautica, and slippers by Kohl's Store Brand.

As I do every year, I'll be live blogging in the comments section of this post. Why don't you come on in and join me? The snark is strong in you. I can feel it.