Thursday, October 25, 2012

New Bathroom

The summer of 2012 will be marked with remodeling our master bathroom. Our contractor, Alex, started in mid-July and was finished before Labor Day weekend -- 7 weekends, plus 3 evenings.

We didn't fully appreciate how quickly he worked until we spoke with others undergoing bathroom remodeling projects. Alex has a full-time job. His side business is remodeling. He squeezes this in on weekends and the occasional evening. He came when he said he would come and he did what he said he would do. What more can you ask? Oh, he also has a great sense of humor and is a fabulous story teller. As Don says, you pay for the construction and get the entertainment tossed in for free.

Alex often gave us ideas as to how to make improvements to the bathroom. He really kept on top of us, which is exactly what we needed in a contractor!

Before --- The bathroom was original to our 26 year old house.  

Middle of the project.

The end! 

Alex swapped the shower and sink. The bathroom is a bit larger, as it now juts into the master bedroom a couple of feet. The shower now has a "knee wall." The colors are brighter. I'm no longer walking into the wall between the shower and the toilet, because that wall no longer exists. 

As all homeowners know, once one room has been repainted, all the rest suddenly look shabby. We repainted the master bedroom a shade lighter than the bathroom.



Still trying to figure out what to do about curtains in both rooms. Ahh...home ownership is always a work in progress.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

2012 Columbus Half Marathon

In 2011, Aunt Joanie and I had a blast running the Disneyland Half Marathon. We took our time, posed for pictures with characters, walked on the warning track at the Anaheim Stadium, and mostly laughed our way through all 13.1 miles. As Joanie and I emailed back and forth about the 2012 Columbus Half Marathon, I had a similar vision for this race. We'd take our time, and soak up the entertainment. 

Let me backtrack a minute. I'm often asked "why Columbus?" I have family and friends who live in Columbus, OH. I knew at least one of them (Cousin Allie) would be running in the race. Allie's Dad, Uncle Tom's, band, The Danger Brothers, always play at the start of the race. Cousin Laura and Aunt Debra spend the day chasing Allie around town. The route was also very appealing to me as it wound through the parts of Columbus I know -- downtown, past Aunt Debra and Uncle Toms's old neighborhood (Franklin Park) where we went to AmeriFlora in 1992, through Bexley where they live now, back to Franklin Park, over to German Village (where Heidi lives) and back downtown again. It is also a very, very flat course. Even I could not complain about the hills.

Back when I started to train, Joanie was planning on flying out from California to run with me. Back when we made this decision, we were going to pull Ashley out from school for a couple of days. 

Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans...

Aunt Joanie's vacation time was not approved until the last minute, by which time the race was sold out. Ashley had some troubles in school and we couldn't pull her out even for a day (in the long run, that was the right decision). Oddly Aunt Debra was in New Jersey at her high school reunion while we were racing.

It was time for a mindset change. I was in it to beat our old time of 3:24 (16 minute mile). If I had a good time, too, that would be nice.

After months of training, the race day was finally here.

With Allie before the race

The race started at 7:27, just as the sun was thinking about rising.

I was blessed to have a lot of sag support. At the starting line, in the spot reserved for band groupies, were Don, Cousin Laura, Aunt Joanie and Joanie's friend Valerie cheering me on as I started the long race. There was even a shout out from Uncle Tom, the drummer, telling the crowd how proud he was of his daughter and niece.

Here I ditched the gloves.

I saw my parents and Ashley hanging out at miles 2 and 7 (they stayed still while I ran for an hour). The first time they caught my white sweatshirt. The second time they were handed my long-sleeved tee. I wish I had hung onto that tee for a few more miles, but alls well that ends well.

Don took his bike to Columbus in order to keep up with me. After seeing him at the start, he caught up with my parents at mile 7. He found me in German Village (by this point, Heidi went inside to get warm) and took my camera from me. He looked for me at the last watering hole, but gave up in time to find me at the finish line.
I stayed true to my training and did not jackrabbit out, as I am prone to do when I run by myself. My first mile was 11:35, and my last was 12:40. My worst mile was 14:00, when I had a 2 minute port-o-potty break. I have wider range in every training run. 

All along I trained to run 4 minutes, walk for one. I was doing great at this pace until about mile 8.5. At this point I realized I had lots of strength to power walk, but I would lose it if I insisted on running 4/5ths of the time. I still picked up my pace to smile for the paparazzi (mostly Don at this point) and to finish with a big grin.

Prior to the race I debated about joining a pace group. I started out ahead of the 2:30 pace group. They passed me at the halfway point. They were going with the running a mile, walking a minute, and walking through water stations mentality. I lost them at the port-o-potty break, not long after I found them. 

I have no complaints about the run. As I completed my second half marathon I began to finally think of myself as a runner. All along I've been "Goldilocks" grumbling about my training runs -- too hot, too cold, too hilly, too boring. When it came down to race day, I really enjoyed it.

Two days after the half marathon I put on a new pair of sneakers and started training for the Trenton Half Marathon (November 10). The next day, I even went out for a 5K run with Sharon, my running buddy.

Family picture at the finish area. Cousin Laura, Uncle Tom, Cousin Allie (with her blue medal for finishing the whole marathon), me (orange medals for half marathon finishers), Don, and Aunt Joanie. 

Final note: Allie and I both earned PRs. Mine was 2:43:46 (41 minutes faster -- 12:30 minute mile). Allie finished the full marathon in 3:46:10 (13 minutes faster, and 11 minutes away from qualifying for Boston)!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Photo Walk 2012

Now celebrating its 5th year, PhotoWalk is a day where people all over the world meet in groups to take pictures. Each person is invited to share their favorite picture of the day with their group. The group leader, in our case Alina Blianch of Alina B Studios in West Windsor, NJ, then selects the top photo from the group to participate in a larger contest.
I didn't know any of that when my friend, Sharon, invited me to participate with her. Our 1/5 to 2 mile walk through Mercer County Park included a dozen photographers, plus the coordinator. Ashley was one of the photographers as it was either join me or go with Don to a class at Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS). She wisely chose us, and had a great time. I still need to upload her pictures and have her tell me which one is her favorite from the day.

Before we headed out, one gentleman mentioned he sets his camera on aperture priority. Someone else was discussion ISO settings. Yet another person talked about improving their picture in PhotoShop later. 

Yup, even with my "big camera" (Panasonic FZ100) I was in over my head. I tend to shoot in the auto setting. My biggest debate is often flash vs. no flash. On this walk I learned how to change my ISO setting, and also learned that it was set to default at ISO 200. I'll have to play around with the higher settings for taking pictures in a dark theater at Ashley's next play.

I did try changing the ISO setting that day. Even though my photo software will tell me what settings I used, I really should take notes and compare each photo at home and learn what I like. 

Instead that afternoon I focused on taking several pictures of the same location, but with slightly different angles -- portrait vs. landscape, frame it with a tree branch or not, changing where the horizon appears, zoom in, zoom out, etc. 

Here are three pictures of basically the same spot. I like the middle one best.

I also took a lot of pictures with my macro setting -- something I do not tend to do very often. Of those pictures, my favorite one is of these berries. Sharon often posts pictures taken with her macro lens. After seeing how this picture turned out, I think I will start taking more pictures like this one.
I almost always only edit photographs through scrapbooking -- I mean using real scissors and not computer generated cropping tools. After hearing my fellow photographers rave about using photo editing tools, I decided to give it a try. It is a small step, but I felt with the old rusted tank adding a sepia tone would give it a timeless look and feel.

Some statistics from Alina:

There were 32,138 walkers registered worldwide who participated in this event today. There were 1339 walks taking place worldwide today. This was a social event for people who have a common interest to meet, make friends and have fun. 

I actually find it kind of incredible to think that we just took part in such a great event going on worldwide in places like India, Argentina, Italy, France, etc. It really amazes me to think how this was all planned and coordinated via social media. Really an incredible effort. 

Thank you, Alina, for coordinating a great event.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sandy Claws

Growing up I did not have a pet last lasted more than a week, and that was a goldfish I won at a fair. My parents did not adopt Oreo Cat and Tigger Cat until I was in college. 

Not long after meeting Don, he adopted Pumpkin Cat. Don always had a cat growing up. Again, I never did.

If I were to list the types of pets I would want, a reptile would not even be on the list. 

It took Ashley well over a year to convince me she was serious about wanting a bearded dragon. That is over 1/10 of her life. That is a long time in a child's life.

The first time I met a bearded dragon was at the Delaware Museum of Natural History. Their dragon is a rescue dragon that is about 2 years old. I think I might have pet him that day.
A couple of months later my sister Rebecca told me an acquaintance of hers needed to get rid of her sister's bearded dragon. Would Ashley like him? Would she? Does a dragon like crickets? Of course!

A couple of days before adopting our dragon, we watched the movie "How to Train Your Dragon."

The day after school ended, we drove to Wyckoff, NJ to pick up the dragon. The beardie is 8 years old (their life span is 8-10 years, however others now tell me 8 is middle-aged for a dragon). His name was Nicco. We are told he is a male dragon. I have no reason to doubt them.
Ashley was a little apprehensive when she first met him. That only lasted a couple of seconds. The owner put "Nicco" on Ashley's chest and it was love at first sight -- for both of them.

We loaded the tank and all his treasures into the back of the car. Stopped off at Rebecca's house (she didn't want him inside -- oh well). Then we drove home. During the ride home Nicco was renamed Sandy Claws -- after the man in the red suit because he, too, has a beard, and because the dragon is sandy-colored and he has claws. It suits him.

The first night he came home he immediately pooped on Ashley. All I could do was laugh! To her credit, she cleaned it up. That was our first research question: how often do dragons poop? Once every 4-7 days. 

That was June. Sandy has had many adventures since coming home. Most days he spends more time out of his tank than inside of it. He sits with us when we have dinner (not on the table, but nearby).

Sandy often goes with Ashley to the Lenape Village at Churchville Nature Center. This summer he went with Ashley while she was a Junior Counselor. He was a big hit with all the kids. A think a couple of them went home and begged their parents for their own dragon.

Last week Father Vince blessed him at their annual Blessing of the Animals. A seventh grader, Lydia, also brought her bearded dragon. He was a big hit at school, and on the bus.

Yes, Sandy travels in our cat carrier. We're still trying to figure out the best way to take care of him. Ashley read a few books on taking care of a bearded dragon before we adopted Sandy. Just like all those books I read before Ashley was born, nothing compares to having a real-live dragon (or in our case, a real-live baby).

Fortunately we've met people who have their own bearded dragon and have been able to figure out what we are doing wrong. One issue was he was becoming even lazier, and had little appetite. He spends so much time out of his tank and UV light does not travel through our new windows, he was acting Vitamin D deprived. With the start of the school year, Sandy spends more time in his tank and he is perking up again.

Another issue we have had is that he is no longer pooping every week. He is pooping every 2-3 weeks. We met a woman at Churchville Nature Center who gave us some advice. We're now seeing an increase in appetite, so hopefully "output" will soon follow.

We are still trying to figure out what Charlie Cat and Ariel Cat think of Sandy. For the most part they have kept their distance, which is a good thing. This picture is one of the rare times Ariel and Sandy were next to each other.

Columbus Day weekend we took Sandy to Peddler's Village in Lahaska, PA. We couldn't resist taking a picture of Sandy Claws with a Santa Claws scarecrow (Sandy is next to the gourd on the straw).

Sandy resting on the first day of school. Too pooped to eat.

Sandy in the bay window in the kitchen. He likes to crawl into tiny nooks to hide.

Overall, his favorite spot to be is snuggled up with Ashley. I'm a close second, though. He will snuggle with me while I read books. 

He is a great dragon. he has turned this reptile-detester into a dragon-lover. The jury is still out on the rest of the reptiles, though she seems to be admiring the blue-tongued skink

Only one reptile at a time, please!!!