Run Amuck!

On Saturday, I ran in a new kind of race: Run Amuck! This kind of race is more for fun than competition. The course is set up with obstacles like a climbing wall and, of course, mud! I got off to a quick start and made it to the first obstacles in the top 20. It was a good thing too, because if you were back in the pack, you had to wait to get over the wall. After bear crawling under some bungee ropes, and climbing over the wall, it was time to get in the water. Water up to my knees, and my shoes into the mud up to my ankles, for a solid 30 yards. Needless to say, I was not running through this part. On the way out of the water, we had to bear crawl through the mud again. Two more times through the water on the way back left my shoes waterlogged. A few more obstacles (a couple of hurdles, a maze of giant punching bags) and it was on to this:

The giant man-made mud pit at the finish line.

The duckies did not make it any less intimidating.

Check out that hair! Still looking good.

I was bear crawling like crazy trying to catch the guy in front of me.

Alas, I managed to clothesline myself on the last line of flags, and he escaped just ahead of me.

That’s as close as the kids wanted to get to muddy Dad.

Muddy shoes, muddy feet.

A top ten finish! Imagine if I actually trained for one of these things….

Some of the other entrants wore costumes. Pretty crazy stuff, some of them.

I had a great time doing this race. I’ll probably do another trail race or two before the fall, when the Warrior Dash is coming to Baltimore! That one has fire! And beer! Awesome.

Second Ride

Things seem to go more smoothly when preparations are made the night prior. Chilly again, but sweating again by the end. More cars today, still only the few biking stalwarts.
Then it happens. Ride home begins, and stops abruptly. Flat tire! 25 minutes later, the ride begins anew, take heart in the warm weather. Home again, a water bottle is casually tossed… on top of sunglasses, breaking them irreparably.
Last ride for a while.

First Ride

The night before: Lunch is made, bags are packed. Shoes and gear are pulled from their hiding places.
The morning of: Trying to make sure nothing is forgotten. Fill the tires with air. Bundle up. Cold for the first five minutes, huffing and puffing. Remembering every pothole, crack, and bump. Lights blazing down the deserted trail. Passing old friends, just as crazy as me. Am I halfway there yet? Hard to remember. Sucking down the water, breathing harder. There’s the old folks sitting out on their porch, as ever. Almost there, one more big hill. Sweating for the last ten minutes in spite of the 38 measly degrees. Relief: I made it.
The evening of: Much warmer now, stuffing the bags with the unneeded cold weather gear. Did I remember everything? I think so. Start down the road. My water! Always something forgotten. Pushing on, avoiding the sand and grit left over from last month’s snow. Up the really big hill now, that wasn’t so bad. More people on the trail this afternoon. New Year’s resolution folks, they’ll be gone in a couple of weeks. Stopped at a light, sunglasses fogging up. Hey, they repaved this formerly pothole infested road! Small miracles. Home again. Ready to do it again tomorrow? You bet.
The first bike ride of the New Year.

2009 Favorites

It’s time to close out the aughts with one last year-end wrapup. Let’s take a look back at the year that was, shall we?
I slacked off a little bit this year and only got through 32 books. But quality, not quantity, was the word this year. I really only felt like two or three books were real clunkers (*cough*Dan Brown*cough*), and there were a lot of 4 and 5 star ratings. Some of my 4-star ratings are ending up on other people’s top books this year! The clear non-fiction favorite was The Lost City of Z. Fiction is not so easy. The Gone-Away World was one of the most original I read. At Swim-Two-Birds was my favorite “classic.” If pushed to pick an overall favorite though, I’d have to go with City of Refuge, but be sure to check out all my reviews from the past year, lots of good ones I haven’t mentioned here.
Only 19 beers this year, definitely slacking on that front. By far the favorites came from the newcomer to the DC area, Founders Brewing, with their Breakfast Stout, and Red’s Rye.
Of course, one of the big reasons I slacked on beer reviews was the fact that I became custodian of my neighbor’s kegerator, definitely a big highlight this year. Evan started preschool this year, big for him. If you asked Ellie, her highlight would probably be the fact that we had a lease membership at the pool this year, so she got to have her birthday party there. We also went to see Bruce Springsteen in concert, awesome. The Spartans made it to the NCAA basketball championship game, but lost to UNC.
Last but not least, the highlight of the entire year was finally going to Ireland. Did I seriously never get around to writing about that? Jeez, what a slacker.

Fantastic Weekend

We had such a great weekend this weekend that I felt that I just had to write about it. Something other than beer and book reviews for a change, how about that?
It started off on Thursday night. Our curling club has an internal bonspiel designed to get some of the newer players to compete. We had 12 teams playing, and I was vice skip for our team. Our first game was Thursday, and we won fairly easily. Thankfully, I played a lot better than I had played on Sunday, and a bit better than Wednesday. It was a good start to the weekend. On Saturday morning, I woke up to rain and had to drive up to the curling club for our second game. Sometime while I was out on the ice, the rain changed to snow, and it started piling up pretty quickly. We went on to win our second game, and had to wait for the result of one of the later games to find out if we would advance directly to the final via tie-breaking procedures. As it turned out, we did win the tie-breaker, and qualified for the final on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, prior plans did not allow me to play Sunday, but my team did win, and I got one of these nifty wooden “stones” as a trophy! (Mine is the second from the left, that guy subbed for me on Sunday.)

I headed back home in the snowpocalyptic storm, and surprisingly the roads had not come to a screeching halt. After Lisa and the kids got back from the firehouse breakfast and dropping off Ellie’s friend, we went outside to make snowmen/women. The snow was absolutely perfect for making snowpeople. You could roll the snowballs around, and the snow would stick to the snowball and keep building up bigger and bigger. It was so easy we made two! Ellie and Evan had a blast and even toughed it out for quite a while before complaining about the cold and lobbying for hot chocolate. We went back inside to warm up. I managed to hang new IKEA blinds in the kids’ room with a minimum amount of cursing (mainly reserved for IKEA not including screws!). Later on, we had cheese fondue for dinner and roasted marshmallows over the fire to make smores.
The next morning we headed up to Baltimore to see Uncle Bill and Aunt Maria. We got there in plenty of time and took the light rail up to Woodberry Kitchen to have brunch. That was the most expensive brunch I’ve ever had, but it was definitely worth it. We had the Bake Shop Basket (with extra Lemon Glazed Doughnuts) to start. Everything in there was delicious, especially the doughnuts (they even gave us an extra order for free). The kids were devouring everything we put in front of them. Uncle Bill got the “Full Monty”: a Bloody Mary with shrimp, candied bacon and Natty Boh chaser, which he gave a wholehearted endorsement. Bill and I got the Hangtown Fry: shrimp, oysters and bacon with scrambled eggs. Lisa and Maria got the Morning After: two eggs, BBQ pork, potatoes and biscuit. The kids both got the challah French Toast. Everything was very good yet again. And then we somehow found room to share a CMP: ice cream topped with chocolate sauce, marshmallow fluff, and peanuts. Ellie got to crack the hard sugar top and nearly cracked the glass! We all dipped our spoons deep into the glass and pulled out the gooey goodness. The perfect ending to a great meal.
We finished eating just in time to walk up the hill to see the (scandalized) Baltimore Mayor’s parade. A crazy sound wafted down the hill toward us and we looked up to see a big steam calliope going by. We found a nice spot to sit in the sun and watched the many sights, including the “country’s only realistic Lone Ranger look-alike,” some Mummers groups, and more flamboyantly gay black men dancing than I’ve ever seen in one place before. The local Shriners had more vehicles than I’d seen before, including flying carpet cars, balloon wheeled ATVs and dune buggies. There were plenty of motorcycles (and mopeds!), fire engines, but sadly, no bagpipes. And of course, Santa to top it all off.
We rushed back from the parade to drive down to the curling club for my regular league game. I got there just in time, only to find I had forgotten my change of clothes and had to play in my street clothes. We fell behind early, but managed to get a couple of big scoring ends and went into the last end down by one point, but with the critical last rock advantage. When my last shot came up, I had to make a takeout through a tight spot to knock out the opponent’s rock. Instead, I came out heavy and wide, but luckily we adjusted to the shot quickly and played a promote to take out the opponent rock after all, and we won our game by one point in thrilling fashion.
Finally, we straggled home after a long day. I watched the end of the Redskins’ spectacular loss on our DVR, and watched the Giants pull out a victory over the hated Cowboys, meaning I can taunt our seven-year-old neighbor yet again.
Fantastic.

Short Long Weekend

I don’t feel quite as drained as I usually do after a long weekend. We definitely packed a lot into the weekend, but somehow I must have gotten just enough sleep to get by.
On Friday morning, we headed up to Wolf Trap to watch some flamenco dancers, which was pretty cool. We also went shopping to get me some sandals. Who knew it would be so hard to find a freaking pair of comfortable sandals? I tried on literally a dozen pairs and found none that I liked. More on that later.
Saturday we got up early and went to the farmers market for breakfast and shopping. Then we headed up to Fairfax to watch their parade. Parking was easier than I expected, but finding a spot to sit even 30 minutes before the parade was trickier. We eventually found a spot which turned out to be a great spot to watch. Later on, we went to the pool, had some root beer floats, went back to the pool, and had BBQ beef for dinner. The town fireworks this year were right down the street from our house, but we had a friend who lives right across the river from where the big DC fireworks go off, so we decided to try that for a change. And now we can say we’ve done it and never do it again. I should mention that the view of the fireworks was freaking spectacular (you can see my blurry cell phone pic here, the Washington Monument is that whitish blur just below and to the left of the fireworks), and we were far enough away that the noise didn’t freak the kids out. But getting out of Rosslyn was another story. Our first mistake was trying to wait out the crowds getting back to the Metro. When we got to the station, they were holding people outside the station because the platform was too crowded. Our second mistake was not taking the bus to East Falls Church that was pulling out as we arrived. If we had done that, we would have gotten to the relatively empty East Falls Church station and gotten on easily. Instead, we ended up walking up to Court House, which was further and more uphill than we had expected. We got into the station without problem, but the trains were all still full! We got lucky and a few people got off one of the trains, and we squeezed on and finally got home around 11:30.
We slept in on Sunday, which ended up being a very cool gray day, totally unlike what you would expect for July 5th. We went miniature golfing, which with a 5 and 2 year old is really quite entertaining. Afterward, we stopped by Hudson Trail Outfitters to look for sandals again. This time, I found some Keen Newport H2 sandals that I liked and bought. I was torn between those and the open toed ones, but went with the versatility of the closed toe, thinking I might take short hikes with them. They felt really comfortable at the store too. But when I got home, they weren’t as comfy. My toes felt pinched, so I might have gotten a size too small. Regardless, they’re going back to the store for a bigger size, or maybe the open toed ones.
Finally, the coup de grace. Evan woke up from his nap acting very cranky, so we had to drag him to his buddy’s birthday party. Five minutes in, we found out why he was cranky as he threw up all over the floor. Ugh. I took him back home and we snuggled and watched Tiger win his tournament, and he seemed to be feeling better by the time Lisa and Ellie got back home. Still, not exactly a great way to end the day, but at least he managed to miss the brand new sandals!
There’s only a few more days to help me win a Madsen, so click on the link and help me out!

Ketchup Is Evil

It has taken me a while to come to this conclusion, but I do not state it lightly: Ketchup is evil.

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen a few too many kids using ketchup in ways it was never intended, such as the most recent this past weekend: my nephew dipping his turkey and cheese quesadilla in ketchup.  But looking out on the vast world of food and condiments, I find myself coming to the conclusion that ketchup is simply a completely unnecessary condiment. It has uses as a base ingredient in better sauces, but by itself, I’ve developed a real disdain for ketchup.

Take a little tour with me, won’t you?

First we have the most common ketchup use: burgers and fries.  Let’s face it, the only time you really need ketchup on a burger is to cover up the fact that it’s a bad burger.  If it is a good burger (see: Ray’s Hell Burger, Big Buns), it has a nice natural juiciness from the meat.  You can even get other toppings like cheese or grilled onions to give it some missing flavor.  I realize that many people aren’t going to get over dipping their fries in ketchup, but I really enjoy fries just with vinegar drizzled over them.  Of course, you can also get fries done much better, like the parmesan truffle fries we had at the Town Tavern in Royal Oak, or served with one of the seven sauces from Eamonn’s Dublin Chipper in Alexandria (all mayo-based and delicious).  I admit that I myself am just coming around to this particular point of view, so consider this your impetus to go out and find a decent burger instead of slathering your crappy one in a crappy condiment.

Closely related to the burger is meatloaf.  OK, I freely admit to being a ketchup meatloaf guy, not a gravy meatloaf guy, so this may be the exception to my rule.  But this weekend I also had a meatloaf sandwich from Zingerman’s deli which featured a “spicy ketchup.”  Way better than using the standard ketchup, and I believe it was ketchup in name only, so I get a pass on this one.

Chicken nuggets: So many many alternatives, including the just-as-sweet barbecue sauce, honey dijon, etc.

Eggs: Baby Jesus is crying, you heathen.  Again, if you don’t want to actually taste the eggs, order or make yourself something else.

And finally, we have hot dogs.  Look people, ketchup on hot dogs is simply an abomination, okay?  You can make your dog Chicago-style with a freakin pickle and tomato and crap if you must, but please, don’t put ketchup on it.

The list of things my kids have eaten with ketchup could go on for ages, and it completely grosses me out just thinking about it: mac and cheese, broccoli, the aforementioned quesadilla (once their cousin had it, they had to try it too, ugh), etc.  What do you put ketchup on?  Could you live without it?  I know I could.  Feel free to chime in with a comment.

That Long Weekend

Sigh. Sometimes it just seems worse than usual coming back to work after the weekend. Having a 4 day weekend definitely adds to that malaise. Luckily, it’s rainy today, so it’s not like staying home would have been any fun.
We left DC on Thursday evening, to the usual early holiday traffic, of course. We rolled into bed in Pittsburgh just after 11pm. We then arrived in Michigan the following day, and handed the kids off to the grandparents for the night as we went out to dinner and a hotel for our anniversary. We headed to the lovely and scenic Southfield Westin ($51 on Priceline for a $120+ room, gotta love it), checked in, then headed out to the Town Tavern in Royal Oak. I have to say, we were not disappointed. I had the buttermilk fried chicken with cole slaw and root beer baked beans. The chicken was nice and tender, not overly greasy, and the beans were so awesome. Lisa had the barbeque braised short ribs, which were also very good. Afterward, we found a little cupcake shop in Birmingham for dessert, which hit the spot. After a night with no whiny children sharing the bed with us and kicking us off, we had brunch at the Beverly Hills Grill. I had the lobster cobb omelette, and Lisa had the bananas foster french toast, both very good once again.
Our children and the grandparents somehow survived without us, and we went out to Ann Arbor for more cousin time. It was Sam’s birthday party on Sunday, and everyone had a fun time there. On Monday, we had perfect weather for the Dexter Memorial Day parade, and all the kids filled their bags with candy, as if we didn’t still have vats of it from Halloween and Easter!
The kids did fairly well on the long drive back home too. Thankfully, Target’s $99 dual screen DVD players performed better than the crappy ones we had before, so they were happy watching their movies as we managed to stop only briefly for meals and toilet breaks. Of course, they were sorely disappointed that it was dark when we got home and they couldn’t play outside or go to the pool. Alas, you can’t have everything, and so it’s back to work and school for us today.

Bike to Work Week 2009

We’re halfway through Bike to Work Week 2009, culminating in Bike to Work Day on Friday. In the DC area, WABA organizes pit stops and commuter convoys to help introduce newcomers to the wonders of biking to work. None of the convoys head to where I work (most are directed toward downtown DC from the burbs), but I go out of my way to stop by the Vienna pit stop outside the Whole Foods grocery store. They always have good snacks there, and it’s not too far out of my way.
So far this week, the weather has been fantastic. It’s been a little cool the past two mornings (44 degrees this morning!), but my new rain jacket/windbreaker has done a fine job of keeping me warm but not making me sweat like my old plastic jacket did. Unfortunately, it looks like I may have the chance to see how well it does in the rain, as the forecast for the next couple of morning calls for rain. I’m committed though, so I’ll be riding regardless.
I know there are a lot of people out there who work too far to ride, but for those just don’t have a good idea of how to do it, check out your local Bike to Work events. The people who do this stuff are always willing to help and are excited when new people are out to give it a try. And even if you think you are too far, I started out driving in the morning, biking home in the afternoon, and then biking back the following morning. It’s a good way to get started by only doing half the mileage.
And hey, while you’re here, click on this link to help me win that Madsen bike, will ya?

Win Me a Madsen Bucket Bike

If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you’ve seen me rave about the Madsen bucket bike. Very fun concept, it basically sticks a Rubbermaid bin on the back of a bike for storage or transportation. A bit out of my price range though (but I’m still considering one of the “scratched” bikes they have on sale right now), so when I saw they were running a contest to give away two of the bikes, I knew I had to enter.
They are giving away two bikes: one at random to anyone who links to them (check), and one to one of the top twenty referrers over the next couple of months. That’s where you come in. I’m not sure how they collect the numbers on referrers, but if you could just visit this here blog and click on the banner (over there on the side) every so often, I’d certainly appreciate it.