Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Sunshine State and the Windy City

At the beginning of the month I headed to Gainesville to surprise my dad for his 70th birthday. Despite a couple slip ups on the phone, the surprise was a great success. I really wish I had taken a picture of his face when he opened the door and realized it was me.
I was in Gainesville for a couple weeks and it was awesome! Sadly, I didn't take many pictures. I did a whole lot of nothing. You know, the good kind of nothing that is absolutely priceless? I hung out with friends and family, watched the Gators, shopped with my mom, ate fantastic meals, and celebrated my dad's birthday.
We do have some pictures from my dad's birthday party. We had a family canoe trip down the Santa Fe River. It was a gorgeous day. Someone came up with the idea of taking family pictures before we started canoeing. I got there a little early with the Brasingtons and took some shots of their family.
I think these shots actually turned out better than when the whole family showed up. I had more time and by the time everyone was gathered it was getting hot and we were getting cranky. It was nice though that my dad had all his daughters, grandkids, and great grandson with him to help celebrate.
Yep, I look just like my dad.
The canoeing was fun and the setting was beautiful. I don't have pictures because our family has a reputation of tipping canoes and I didn't want to ruin my camera. We saw tons of turtles and a couple alligators. Going down the Santa Fe made me remember how much I miss Spanish moss hanging from the cypress trees.
After the canoe trip we headed to Monica's for a feast that ended with homemade ice cream and apple pie. Delicious!
During my time in Florida I went to Niceville for a super fast trip to catch up with a lot of the friends I had made in England. I stayed with Jessica and her twins and Katie drove all the way from Albuquerque with her son Owen just to see me. Ok, she probably wanted to see Jessica too, but either way it was awesome! Jess put together a dinner where I got to see about 6 more friends from England. The crazy thing was when we were in England we were all kid free. Now I am the only one holding strong. Yikes!
I did quite a bit of running while in Gainesville. Most of it was from Monica's house, but one Saturday I met up with high school friend Faun and we did a 10.5 mile run. She's preparing for Chicago in October. She's going to do great. I also ran with my best friend from middle school, Kristina. It was so fun! She's marathon and tri training as well. One weekend I dragged mom and Monica to some trails out at San Felasco. They did great, but mentally I was fried as soon as I saw the soft sand. Luckily, they pulled me through.
I got to hang out with Mary multiple times and all I can say is that she is B-FAB! I love that we can hang out and act like no time has passed even when we're apart for a long time. When we're old and our husbands die, Mary and I will be roommates again. We'll probably have a lot of dogs.
One of the last nights I was there I met up with my best friend from high school, Nichole, and her family. I absolutely love the Arringtons! They might be the closest family I know. Nichole and her sister, Christi, live together. I know Monica and I love each other, but I think it could get ugly if we lived together full time.
Brother John was also at dinner, but I forgot to take the picture until afterwards.
And then, way too quickly, my time in Gainesville was up and I was on to Chicago to visit my friend Tiffany. She was my running partner in Okinawa and I still haven't found anyone to replace her. She's great!
She picked me up and we drove north to Rockford because we had a couple trail races to run. What? You're trying to tell me that not every vacation has to involve running? Hmmm, I'll keep that in mind.
The races were at Rock Cut State Park. This is an absolutely gorgeous park and huge! Our first race was at 8pm on Friday. It was a 10K trail run. It was dark and awesome! We had just our headlights. It was so much fun.
Since it's in the dark it is really hard to tell how far you've gone. You just run and feel one with nature. Earlier that afternoon we had done some recon. The trails seemed nice and firm so I decided to wear my new shoes I had bought in Gainesville. That was fine until about mile 5.75 where we encountered this:
Yep, a long, dark culvert filled with enough water to reach my ankles. After a minute of whining I bit the bullet and sloshed my way through. It was pretty cool with the glow sticks.
My shoes definitely weren't new anymore. Oh well, you've got to break them in sometime.
The next race was a 25K trail run at 8am the next day. That's right, over 21 miles less than 12 hours apart.
I know you all are used to my pictures on the run, but this is all I've got.
I actually put my camera away and ran! That's a first in a long time for me. It felt good (in a really painful way) to push myself again. The 25K course was gorgeous and besides a few thunderstorms the weather was great too. I was pretty pooped so I told Tiffany to go on without me. She came in right at 3 hours and I was 4 minutes behind her. We basically rocked it.
We got back to the hotel, took quick showers, and headed to the big city. Tiffany did a great job planning this trip. I gave her no input and she came up with a great itinerary.
We stayed at Hotel 71 right on the Chicago River. The views were awesome! These shots are from our 27th floor window. We had a corner room so the views were even better.
We decided we hadn't exercised enough today so we walked a couple miles to Sprinkles. If you've never been to a gourmet cupcakery, GO!
Sprinkles started in California and now has multiple locations. There was a line that was about 15 minutes long and it was so worth the wait.
We both got the red velvet, she also got a dark chocolate, and I got a peanut butter chocolate. Despite having run 15.5 miles we only indulged in one that day. The red velvet was heavenly.
Here are our room views at night:
That view was only beaten the next morning as the sun was rising giving the buildings a fantastic glow.
We had booked a kayak tour for that morning, but the company cancelled because the weather was threatening thunderstorms. Too bad it was a gorgeous day! So instead of kayaking we went on a bike tour.
The total ride was 22 miles. We rode along Lake Michigan (my first Great Lake) and saw Obama's old apartment and house. We also went past Soldier Field and Buckingham Fountain. It's hard to take pictures on a bike (and against the rules) so take what you can get. It really was a beautiful day and there were tons of runners along Lake Michigan preparing for the marathon in October.
I am such a rule breaker!
The skyline was stunning and Tiffany and the tour guide said it was one of the clearest days they've seen (we could see Gary, IN).
We went to a Japanese garden (funny, I know):
And that's where I fell in love with Jack:
He's a labradoodle and so stinking cute. By the way, if I was naming that hybrid I totally would have gone with poodador.
After the bike tour we went back to the hotel and devoured our second cupcake. My peanut butter chocolate was amazing. It was so moist and just melted on my tongue. It was kind of like peanut butter cookie dough, but better. And it had rich, creamy, dark chocolate icing. Mmmm.
That afternoon we went and saw Blue Man Group. It was so cool. I can't really explain it. There's music, paint, and audience participation. If you have a chance to see them, definitely do.
On our walk home we went by the famous Chicago theater and had to snap a shot:
The next day we did a double decker bus tour. The guide was great and very informative.
Before the tour we ate lunch at Gino's and had a little deep dish. It was delicious. I like the sauce on top because then you can really taste it. Yummy.
That evening, what did we see from our hotel window down on the Chicago River?
Taiko drummers, of course! I wonder if they are from Okinawa.
My last morning before getting on the plane, we decided a final run was in order. We went to Millennium Park (I think where Obama gave his acceptance speech) and got to see the "bean". It's a pretty sweet sculpture and with the sun rising I got some good photos.
We then turned and headed towards the water to run. I know you can barely see Tiffany (on the right side), but I love this shot.
Just a hop, skip, and a jump later I was back home in Okinawa.
I start my new job tomorrow. I will be Kadena's Youth Sports and Fitness Coordinator. I will basically be doing registrations, creating rosters, coordinating with refs, parents, and coaches for all the sports that Kadena offers. To give you an idea, we just did soccer (I was on loan from the Youth Center). We have close to 700 kids between 5 and 15 and I had to create over 40 rosters taking into consideration preferred practice days, when siblings are playing, and special requests. It's like a huge logic puzzle and I love it!
In other news, my toes are really loving the increased mileage due to marathon training.


Charity said...

Great pictures, you crazy woman! And now I want a cupcake. We no kid having women should have a cupcake party. Oh, and margaritas. Cupcakes and margaritas.

Mandy Andrews said...

Welcome back. I have so missed your blogs. Your trip back sounds amazing. You packed so much into so little time. I long for the day when we may meet again. Good luck with the new job. I would have gone for poodador too.

JoAnna said...

night run looks fun! hadn't thought of that (with headlights, and all) - neat! can't imagine running in the AM too. what an athlete! :)
is the dog pictured a vizsla?

Anonymous said...

E 'vero! Penso che questo sia una buona idea.
Condivido pienamente il suo punto di vista. L'idea di un buon supporto.