Saturday, July 30, 2011

Swim breakthrough? Mayhap...

I'm hesitant to blog this, because it was only one workout, but it was the first time in a LONG time that I finished a swim workout not completely disgusted with the sport of swimming (I'm telling you, it's a love-hate relationship).

I did my 300 yd warmup. I have a race in a couple of weeks and the swim is 300yds. So I decided to time much for the warmup :). I did it in 6:40, which is just a tad over 1:06 per lap. A pretty decent time for me. I did my drills -I've been really focusing on my rotation in the water. I am more comfortable rotating to my right than my left and I think that's causing some issues in my stroke. I have no idea how many yards of drills I did, I was just trying to create muscle memory by repetition. Then I started stroke count lengths (remember, a lap is one circuit of your lane, a length is just down to one end). The fewer strokes I use during one length means that I am swimming efficiently (i.e. gliding and not wasting energy by moving my arms too much). My stroke count has consistently been between 26-28. That's high.

I pushed off from the wall and started counting strokes (every time a hand enters the water, that's a stroke). I focused on rotation, high elbows, hand entry - all the stuff I have been drilling). I reached the 21. What!? WHAT!? 21? Fluke. Got to be. I turned around and headed back. 21 again. And again. And again. For at least 300 yds I hit 21 strokes on every length. And celebrated each 21 with a little "oh wow!" or "oh cool". Out loud. Pretty sure the rest of the pool thought that the girl in the purple swim cap was just a bit too excited about making it from one side of the pool to the other. I timed a couple of laps and I was going at a 1:05 pace. That's a big difference from my 1:12 pace a few weeks ago. I tried to speed up my pace but my stroke count quickly increased, so I obviously don't have the whole balance between stroke count and speed down yet.

I hope it sticks :). And what a blessing - here I have been whining and complaining and feeling like I have reached the end of my rope with swimming and I get this little glimmer. Thanks God.

More books!

1) Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear (#2 in the Maisie Dobbs series)

I stumbled up on this book in Half Price Books when I was stocking up for my trip to Moscow. It's a mystery and the first few pages read like an Agatha Christie (LOVE) so I bought it. I didn't realize it was the second in the series, but I didn't feel like was missing out on anything. This was a great book and I intend to read the rest of the series. Maise Dobbs is a detective/psychologist in England just after World War I. She was a nurse during the war and has her own memories to fight as she works to help others. This particular mystery revolves around Maisie's client, Mr. Waite, who wants her to find his 30-something daughter, Charlotte, who has decided to run away from home and the tight leash he keeps on her. Throw in a few murders of Charlotte's friends and Maisie is afraid she won't find Charlotte in time. The plot was sufficiently intricate, mixing in colorful and likeable characters, the feel of 1920s England recovering from a horrible war, mystery, and suspense. Great read.

2) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

After seeing this book recommended on several blogs, I decided to give it a shot.

This book almost got it's own post because it is absolutely incredible!!! I can't wait for more of Ms. Skloot's writing, because she is talented! This is a true story of Henrietta Lacks who had her cancerous tumor cells harvested in a time (1950s) when it wasn't required to get patient consent for...well...anything. Her cells never stopped dividing (hence the term "immortal") and that fact allowed scientists around the world to use them to advance medicine to mind boggling levels. Modern vaccines? Modern culture techniques? Thank Henrietta. And that's what this book is about, Henrietta. Her cells (called HeLa) are so well known, but she is not and that is what Ms. Skloot set out to rectify. And rectify she did. This book is wonderful balance of personality and warmth and science and hospitals. Her rich character descriptions of Henrietta and her descendants, her descriptions of American medicine in the 1950s-70s (the good, the bad, and the extremely disturbing and ugly), the honest and transparent emotions of the Lacks family as they learned of what their mother's cells have done for science, it's just a solidly written book. Don't let the cell talk scare you away, it's well balanced and explained incredibly well in layman's terms - you'll find you've learned about cell biology before you realize it, but more importantly, you will know the Lacks family. Read this.

3) The Long Run by Matt Long

My friend Erin V. recommended this book to me. It's a true story of New York firefighter Matt Long. He's a runner and triathete and one morning while he was cycling to work, a city bus made an illegal turn and crushed him. And he lived. His story is inspiring and real. That's what I loved about it the most - the realism in this book. Mr. Long didn't cut out the gory details (his descriptions of his injuries had me reading one handed - one had on the book, the other over my gaping-in-shock-mouth). He is real in his descriptions of the vulnerability and humiliation he experienced during rehab, the mental struggles involved in dealing with new physical limitations, and the vast hurdles that were set before him to overcome. Inspiring.

The roof...the roof...the roof leaks?

Yup. Well, rather, it did.

This has been an ongoing issue for just over a year. I discovered the first leak last July (the roof was replaced a bit after Hurricane Ike, so it's just over two years old - it definitely shouldn't be leaking yet). My awesome realtor tracked down the company who did the roof, they sent some guys out - who sealed the old gutter holes they had left unsealed (heavy rain-fills gutters-rain goes into unsealed gutter holes-leaky roof). My neighbor and I had taken care of another more minor leak earlier last July - I climbed into the attic and sealed around a vent and he climbed on the roof and sealed it there - and then informed me that they had used kitchen tile sealant (the white stuff) instead of roofing sealant (the black stuff). I should have known then it wasn't the end of the leaking problems.

The gutter hole leak did some decent drywall damage in my bedroom, so I filed the claim with the roofing company since everything was still (thankfully) under warranty. Then I got sick and about 6 months went by before I was able to follow up with it. In January, I started what ended up being a 7 month process of trying to track down someone who could help me. The company is called Aspen Contracting and they subcontract out to smaller companies all over the country. After months of their subcontractors not calling them back, or sending out a painting crew to my house instead of a drywall crew and me refusing to let them just paint over the damage, I finally reached an awesome woman in their main office, Kathi. After I took about 15 minutes to recount everything that had happened (I kept a log of all the calls that I made to the company and who I spoke to), she flat out interrupted me and said "honey, we are going to fix this". After several calls to their non-responsive subcontractors in this area, she finally gave up and told me to find my own contractor, fax her the quote, and she would write a check. I did and she did and the money is sitting in my account ready to pay the contractor who is coming on Wednesday to fix the damage.

Oh, but it's not over yet :). During the month of June/early July this year while I was working with Kathi to figure something out, another leak developed in my living room. We hadn't had rain for months (literally) so I am so glad this happened when I was in discussions with the company. I emailed Kathi and she told me to have my contractor come out and take a look and then send me the quote. It ended up being cosmetic and due to rain blowing in through a vent, so easy fix. AND THEN (oh yeah, it goes on), my housemate reported there was a leak in her bedroom. So I told Kathi and she sent out a great (they drove from about two cities away to get here) crew who did a full inspection of the roof, found two leaks, sealed them, tested them, the seals failed, so they ended up replacing two of the attic fans and the flashing around the fireplace. Right before the storms stirred up by Tropical Storm Don started coming through. And I am happy to report, a ton of rain and no leaks!

Throughout this process, I have been very thankful that it has gone so smoothly. You may think that all that I just wrote above isn't the textbook description of "smooth" but you and I both know that it could have been a lot worse. My biggest fear was that I would have to get legal on them and I really didn't want to do that, so I am thankful God answered that prayer. And also that Kathi works at Aspen. And that the company has been handing over money to pay for all the repairs (yes, that's what they should be doing, it's just nice that I just haven't had to argue with them about it or even ask).

Bottom line though, if you need roof work, don't go with Aspen Contracting. Their main office is competent and professional, but the three subcontractors I had to deal with initially were decidedly not. So until Aspen Contracting subcontracts out with some reliable companies, avoid them.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


I got a text from my sister today. She had taken the boys to the library and apparently John Michael ate too many beans this morning, because he was tootin' all over the place. When Monica told him that he needed to learn to control his gas when they are in public, he looked up at her and responded:

"Mom, this is the way God made me and I can't do anything about it!"

Pretty sure Monica broke the "quiet" rule in the library after that :)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Last launch of the Space Shuttle

Sorry for the delay on this post - I had technical difficulties with the video I took of the launch. I gave up and posted the footage from NASA of the launch.

I cannot believe I had the privilege to witness the last launch of the Space Shuttle.

My friend Lisa entered the lottery they had here at work for passes to park on-site at the Kennedy Space Center and she received a Turn Basin parking pass - about 3.5 miles from the space shuttle launch pad. And she invited me and two other friends to go with her. An 18 hour drive later, we were in Vero Beach, Florida and ready for the launch!

Launch was on Friday, July 8th at 11:26am. So we decided to leave our hotel at 4am just to make sure we got there in time :). They were expecting about 750,000 people, so we didn't want to get stuck in traffic. Since we were so early, there was minimal traffic and we had no issues getting on-site as we all had our work badges with us (which meant we also got free entry into the KSC Visitor Center later that day to buy more souvenirs :)). We were parked at our site by 6:30am.

Driving past the Vehicle Assembly Building (where the Solid Rocket Boosters and External Tank are attached to the Space Shuttle)

Atlantis - 3.5 miles away

We arrived so early, that the security wasn't yet setup around the press area, so we walked over to the official countdown clock and took some pictures.

Go Atlantis!!!

See the silver van/bus on the left hand side? That would be the AstroVan taking the crew out to the launch pad.

About 5 minutes prior to launch, my hands got all sweaty and my heart was beating fast. We were all laughing at how incredibly nervous and excited we were. My hands were literally shaking. And then, 31 seconds prior to ignition, I heard "failure" over the loud speaker. The crowd groaned and silence followed. It turns out the arm that has the vent cap (covers the tip-top of the External Tank) was showing data that made it look like it had not rotated away from the Shuttle, so they had to confirm with cameras that it was out of the way of the Shuttle. Talk about hair raising, stomach in throat moments. The launch window is only about 5 minutes long , exceed that time and it would have to be scrubbed and attempted the next day.

Launch Video

The launch control team did a phenomenal job and Atlantis launched only 2 minutes past her official launch time of 11:26am. I was able to see a launch last May, just before sunrise and was amazed by how bright the Shuttle is as she ascends. However, this time I was BLOWN AWAY by how bright she was in broad daylight!!! She had barely cleared the pad when I was overcome with emotion, not believing I was witnessing the last launch of a Space Shuttle. Ever. My hands shook as I held my little point and shoot camera to the side to try and capture the launch in video and tears streamed down my cheeks. It was over too quickly. My friends and I just stared at each other, cheeks wet with tears, trying to wrap our minds around what we had just witnessed. Discovery and Endeavor each put up a fight on their last launches, technical issues causing delays on both launches. Atlantis went out a graceful lady. Accepting of her fate and with a show I will never forget.

There was a low cloud ceiling so we were only able to see her for about 30 seconds, but after Atlantis left our sight, we could see the shadow of her plume projected on the clouds...and hear her!

We were there.

The end of an era. But not the end of the American space program. With the International Space Station, we will maintain an American presence in space until at least 2020.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Shadow Creek Ranch Sprint Triathlon

So, this is the only picture I took of this race. It's of my shirt :)

The day before this race, I tweaked my back...adding air to my bike tires no less. It went something like this: Front tire: pump, pump, pump, pump. Done. Back tire: pump, pump, pu-OH MY GOSH THE RIGHT SIDE OF MY BACK!!!! Yeah, it was hurting to bend at the in the motion that you use on the bike to lean down to grab the handlebars (and aerobars). So, I stretched, and iced, and popped some muscle relaxers. Rinse and repeat that series throughout the day. The back was feeling better by evening, so I went to sleep thinking, "if I wake up and it feels better, I am doing this race until The Back tells me to stop". And praise the Lord, when I woke up, the back was at about 85% (pretty much normal these days, although, I've been hitting about 90% lately). So I jumped in my car and headed to the race.

My stats:

Age group (30-39): 19/31

12:57 (slow, but only 50 sec slower than my pool time, which shows how nice the open water swim was)
T1: 1:55
Bike: 48:08 (16.8mph average)
T2: 1:14 (one of my longer T2 transitions because I forgot to lay out my Endurolyte capsules (salt pills) and had to dig them out of my bag)
Run: 36:04 (11:16/mile pace) - eh, I was just glad my face didn't explode away from my skull. It was so hot.

Total time: 1 hr 40 min.

The Story:
I met my friends Erin V, Rick, and Lisa L in transition, and we walked down to the swim start. This was the first time I was doing a swim where it was a point to point swim (ie, we started the swim in one spot and exited in another spot). What this meant was a glorious straight stretch of swimming with no buoys (and swimmer congestion) to swim around. As we waited for the swim to start, we were "treated" to a surprise shower of the ground sprinklers. Apparently, someone forgot to tell the park to turn them off that morning :). Despite the heat and humidity, 400 triathletes found themselves shivering at the swim start. Good times.

Swim (77 deg, 90% humidity)
The airhorn blasted and off we went, water churning. It was actually one of the less hectic open swim starts I have done, so that helped me get into my pace (my SLOW pace) quickly. I only finished 50 seconds slower than my pool time, so the open water craziness at swim start wasn't too bad (for comparison, my last tri swim time was 3 minutes slower than my pool time). I have so much room to improve in this area.

Bike (81 deg, 82% humidity, heat index, 86 deg)
The bike was pretty decent. However, I hadn't ridden my bike in 3 weeks and hadn't done an actually brick workout (bike then run - I did do two 'pseudo' bricks: after a 45 minute spin class, I ran 2.5 miles) so I was cautious on how much I pushed it on the bike, I didn't want to blow up on the run. I definitely could have pushed more.

Run (86 deg, 72% humidity, heat index, 92 deg)
The theme of the run was "hot, hotter, holy moly it's hot". There was no shade on the concrete trail that we ran on for 3.2 miles. I ran with Gatorade, something I have found key for me to do so I don't overheat (too much :) ) on the run. I also took an Endurolyte capsule. Endurolyte is a brand of salt pills - they are supposed to help you not to overheat. I forgot them on the bike, so I think if I would have taken one on the bike and then on the run, it would have been a bit better. I did have to stop and walk a couple of times, not because my muscles were tired, but because I was seriously afraid I was going to do damage to my skull as the top of my head felt ready to blow off. HOT.

I did not feel ready going into this race. Due to some other medical issues I had earlier in the month, I hadn't put in the training time I wanted to. However, after the race, my muscles felt great, so that tells me I did have the training. Now, I need to up my training so I can start getting faster. My back did GREAT during the race. It did AWFUL after the race. By the time I drove home, it was starting to tighten and by late afternoon, I could barely walk. I stretched, iced, rested, and eventually popped a muscle relaxer and a Vicadin because it was THAT bad. Thankfully, when I woke up on Monday, it had calmed quite a bit and I could walk without the "granny stoop". My chiropractor got me in at 9am and PTed me up. By the end of the day, things were much better. I've had to use the back pillow all week for additional support, but my run this morning went well (no back issues all day), so I am so pleased with how quickly the Back bounced back. Thank you Lord! But still, I'll take one day at a time. One race at a time. And be thankful for what I CAN do and for what He allows me to do. By the way, this race happened to be one year TO THE DAY from when I went to the ER initially for my back pain. How great is God? He has taught me so much about myself and my walk with Him, my position before Him. I would NOT trade in the past year for what I have learned. And that my friends, can only be typed because of His grace. Thank you God.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Confessions of a Swim Slacker

Hi, I am a Swim Slacker (i.e. not me in the above photo :) ).

See, I love swimming. My mom always says I could swim before I could walk. I have always enjoyed the water, be it pool or ocean. One would think with such a love of water and a decent introduction to swimming (my mom was a lifeguard and on the swim and dive teams in high school so she taught all of us kids to swim in early childhood) I would be a decent swimmer. So.not.true. (and not Mom's fault, by the way :) ).

Okay, I am not a bad swimmer exactly. I had one of my co-workers who has raced several Ironman triathlons come out and critique my swimming. His summary was that I have a technically decent stroke and a strong kick. I just don't glide. Gliding is important in swimming because it means you go faster and waste less energy getting where you are going.

So, I am a slow swimmer. And it bugs me. I wish I could hop in the water and Michael Phelps-out all my swim training sessions, but that isn't happening soon (okay, EVER :) ).

Why am I taking all this time to let you know my swimming woes? 'Cause the sad truth is that if something doesn't come easily to me or I don't see myself improving, I don't want to do it. And swimming fits right into this category. I want to be instantly good at swimming, without the work and effort required to improve (::rolling eyes at myself::, oh Melissa, you are so logical).

Anyhow, now that the cat is out of the bag publicly, that means I am accountable (in my head at least, maybe you all don't care, but I am going to PRETEND you care) to truly making an effort to improve my swimming. Up until this point, it's been half-hearted: I did correct my hand-entry position into the water (thanks to Ironman Coworker who warned me I could atrophy some arm muscles if I kept up my "Melissa-esque" hand-entry position). The correction has stuck and has definitely helped. I am also doing all of the drills he told me to do.

I swam 500yds today because I have a race this weekend and the swim is 500yds. And today was the first time since last year that I swam 500yds in a row. And it was slow. 12:06 to be exact. That, my friends, is 1:12 PER lap. ::heaving sigh::. I am slow.

So, I need to swim more. Three times a week is my goal. Now that I am back in town for a decent chunk of time, I think that will make it easier to stick with that goal. And I am going to create a new swim training plan, borrowing heavily from a swim article that was in the latest issue of Triathlete magazine.

God has allowed me to start training again so I'm going to do my part and glorify Him in my training and not whine about how slow I swim and rather, be thankful that I CAN swim.

It's time to shake this Swim Slacker attitude ::focused determined face::


Remember in my last post I mentioned that I wanted to read some of Churchill's memoirs of WWII, but wasn't willing to tackle all 6 volumes? Well, last week I was perusing the bookshelves in Half-Price Books in hopes of snagging a copy of Lauren Hillenbrand's latest book ("Unbroken"). I was unsuccessful. However, my disappointment was short-lived because I found this beauty: an ABRIDGED version of Winston Churchill's Memoirs of The Second World War for $6.98!!! Oh happy day! So I bought it. And it's only 1000 pages. ;-)

Monday, July 4, 2011

A couple of books

No, this is not turning into a book review blog -I've just had such a streak of great reads that I feel compelled to force my book-nerd excitement on you all :)

Two things inspired me to learn more about Winston Churchill -
1) Reading "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society", which takes place in England, post WWII.
2) Nerd moment - an episode of season 5 Doctor Who that takes place during the Blitz and features Churchill.

I started thinking about how much I don't know about this man, who played such an important role in history. After putting out a few feelers, my friend and history buff, Lindsey, recommended this biography to me. I was surprised by how short it was (I mean, biographies are usually tomes right?) - this was only 160 pages. From the start, I wasn't a fan of the writing style. It felt rushed, as though Mr. Johnson wanted to keep the book to 160 pages and was going to cram in as much information as he could. The flow of the book was choppy, jumping from Churchill fact to Churchill fact, but not so much so that it made me want to stop reading. I did learn a lot about Churchill and I appreciated how both Churchill's flaws and successes were discussed in the book. He was a person, not perfect. I discovered that Churchill was a prolific writer and I would like to tackle one of his tomes (yes, tomes is the apppropriate descprition for his books- for example: "The Second World War" consists of 6 volumes and 5000 pages!) in the future. Because of the nature of "cram everything into a 160 pages" of this book, some of the topics that I was interested in (specifics about the Blitz and Churchill's role) were glossed over and considering the length of "The Second World War" I think it will cover all and more of what I want to know :) (although I don't plan to read all 6 volumes). So, overall, good intro to Churchill.

"The Westing Game" by Ellen Raskin was also recommended to me by Lindsey.

Summary: A man, Sam Westing, dies in a mansion. Sixteen people living in an apartment complex next to the mansion receive letters summoning them to the mansion. Upon arriving at the mansion, these sixteen people are told that they are they are heirs, but only if they can solve who killed the man - the catch? It's one of them. The one who can figure out "who dunit?" is the true heir...of 200 million dollars. The group is broken into teams of two and each team is given four clues. The book is all about them trying to piece together the clues so that they can win the grand prize. Excellently written and a fun read, this young adult mystery kept me guessing until the end - lots of twists and turns, with a few surprises through in for good measure. "The Westing Game" is well-deserving of the Newberry award it received in 1979.