Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Hotlanta"...Not Really

In a slightly surprising turn of events, I found myself in Atlanta, Georgia for an education conference. Due to budgetary issues combined with a bit of miscommunication, I wasn’t sure I would be attending until a mere week before we flew. However, being the flexible person that I am, I only freaked out for about a half a day. Really, the whole thing seemed to work out and I actually learned quite a bit. In fact, I even had more fun than expected. One of the things I was looking forward to was the heat and humidity, if only to remind myself why the Northwest is a great place to be in the summer. The second I walked off the plane, I felt it. “Ah, humidity. It finally feels like summer…now where’s the air conditioning?” Growing up in different parts of the country, Jon and I have had many conversations about our different perspectives and have come to the ground-breaking conclusion that it’s all what you know. This becomes glaringly obvious when discussing the weather. Maybe if you’re from the Northwest, 70 degrees and no humidity is your idea of a perfect summer day. The same scenario would be a lucky day in early October. But, back to Atlanta… In all actuality, we really lucked out on the weather. The mercury barely made it to 85 and although the humidity was supposedly high, I hardly noticed (my colleagues from the Northwest, on the other hand, were more susceptible). According to local weathermen, this was very uncharacteristic for early July, but it worked out great for us. Most days were fairly sunny, although we did get a brief thunderstorm on our first day, something I miss out west. Who would have thought that the girl who used to refuse to sleep upstairs in her bed during a thunderstorm would get excited at the thunder and lightning?!? It turned out that although we arrived on a Tuesday night, the conference festivities didn’t truly begin until Thursday. We had a quick state-wide meeting on Wednesday afternoon, but were essentially free for the remainder of the day. Perhaps this was not the most cost-efficient choice the district could have made, especially in this time of economic downturn, but it did allow us the time to adjust to a different time zone, get comfortable with the public transportation system, and do a little sightseeing. I know that I was able to focus more on my conference sessions because I was not lamenting the missed opportunity to explore a new city. Plus, it’s providing fodder for this blog post. I’m sure none of you—not even the other teachers—are too interested in hearing about topic-based gradebooks or common assessments and data analysis teams. [Side note: the latter example was a session presented by a group from Hazelwood East High School in St. Louis. While they provided excellent information, I couldn’t help but resent them for their school’s victory over my alma mater in the 1995 State Championship. It’s a small world…] Now that I’ve effectively wasted a considerable amount of white space building up to the trip, I need to get to the interesting parts. Fortunately, our conference was located in the heart of downtown Atlanta, right in the middle of several tourist hot spots. One such spot was the CNN Center, home of, you guessed it, CNN. We went on the official studio tour, and I must say that I don’t really watch the news in the same way now that I’ve seen a glimpse of what’s going on behind the scenes. Unfortunately (especially for one member of our group), we didn’t see Anderson Cooper, but we did see anchor Tony Harris in line at the Starbucks the next morning.
View of the CNN Center from Centennial Olympic Park
In addition to CNN, we also checked out Centennial Olympic Park, which was constructed for the 1996 Olympics. This is where the bomb went off during those Games. We spent about 20 minutes waiting out a downpour. Across the street from this park is where the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium are located. Lucky for us, both of these locations were open late enough for us to visit after our second day of conference sessions. Not being a huge pop fan these days, I still thoroughly enjoyed the World of Coke. Despite the propaganda, it was interesting to learn the history (remember the New Coke debacle?), watch some old commercials, and go on a 4-D “ride.” The highlight, however, was the tasting room, where you can taste over 50 types of Coke products from around the world. I think my stomach expanded to double its normal size due to all the carbonation; I felt a little like Charlie Bucket in that part of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when he and Grandpa Joe are floating around in the fizzy room.
Mmm...high fructose corn syrup!
I’m really glad that the Georgia Aquarium extended a discounted offer to conference attendees because I’m not totally sure we would have ponied up the full entrance fee. It would have been worth it, though, because it was an incredible aquarium. We could have spent hours in the ocean exhibit alone. Before gawking at the 60-foot long tank, we traveled through the acrylic tunnel with sharks swimming overhead, a la Jaws. In fact, we even witnessed a hammerhead shark eat a fish, which sounds a little gruesome, but happens so rarely, it was kind of cool to see.
Whale shark front and center
On the morning we left town, we had one final destination to check off on our list: the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. I agree with one of my colleagues that it’s a shame that it took until the 1996 Olympics for any money to be spent on this landmark, but I’m glad that it was. Touring the Visitors Center was a moving and humbling experience; I felt ashamed of our nation’s treatment of African-Americans. I found myself wondering what type of action or non-action I would have taken if I had been alive during the Civil Rights era. Needless to say, I'm glad we made the time to stop at this important location.
The final resting place of the Kings
On a less serious note, the highlight of the trip (besides spending time with colleagues I hadn’t known very well previously), was our BBQ adventure. Thankfully, the other people in our group like to experience the local flavor of a particular destination as well, so we asked around for some restaurant recommendations and were told time and again to check out Daddy D’z. We liked it so much, we ate there twice. Being the fiercely loyal person I am, I won’t come out and say it’s better than Arthur Bryant’s or Gates, but it’s pretty close. We ate some of the biggest ribs I’ve ever seen, along with homemade mac ‘n’ cheese; collard greens; fried okra, zucchini, and green tomatoes; red beans and rice; broccoli casserole; corn bread; and of course, sweet tea (we all ordered different sides and shared). I felt like such a failure when I couldn’t clean my plate.
"We ain't pretty, but we're good."

See, teachers don’t have the whole summer off…

“20 Miles of Hope, 6.2. Miles of Reality”

There is a myriad ways to begin this post about our marathon experience. Heaven knows I had ample time to think about it…4 and ½ hours, to be exact. I’ve been asked more than once what one thinks about when running for that long, and the only answer I can come up with is everything and nothing. Since I am incapable of completely turning my brain off (just ask Jon how frustrating it is having me jump from one topic to another twenty times in a single conversation), I usually just let my mind wander.
A lot of times I find myself planning for school or singing that one song stuck in my head. Sometimes I finish a run and realize I have no clue what I had been thinking about for the past hour. With that in mind, please allow me to attempt to re-create my thought process over my 26.2 mile journey… Mile One: Okay, I can do this—that didn’t take too long. In fact, I’m ahead of the pace I had planned on. It’s a good thing Jon made me move up in the pack to start the race. Mile Two: Still going strong. Only 24 more miles…er… Mile Three: “OFFICIAL RACE PHOTOGRAPHER AHEAD.” Now, how should I handle this? Do I smile at the camera? Grimace in agony? Look off into the distance intensely? That’s a smart move, having the pictures taken early in the race. That way, no one looks too worn out yet. To see these pictures, follow the link to photographer’s website: www.brunkphoto.com. In the San Juan Marathon photos, Jon was #42, while I was #43.­­­­­ Mile Four: “FLAT SECTION OF THE COURSE BEGINS NOW.” Literally ten feet later, “FLAT SECTION OF THE COURSE ENDS NOW.” That’s some sense of humor… Mile Five: Just passed a guy who’s breathing pretty heavily. Guy: “(Gasp, choke) I’ve never run more than six (gasp) miles (gasp) before.” Me (entirely too chipper): “Until today!” Guy, aka Nostradamus: “Isn’t there supposed to be a big hill up here somewhere?” Mile Six: Hello, Hill! Bring it on. Show me what you’ve got, bi-atch. (Author’s note: this is when I thought I was tough.) Mile Seven: What goes up must come down…wait, there’s another one?!? Mile Eight: Time to separate the sheep from the goats: half-marathoners to the left, marathoners to the right. Three other lonely souls and I head to the right… Where in the heck are the beautiful ocean views? This is an island, right? The farmland is nice, but I can get that in the Midwest! Mile Nine: Ah, there’s the water…and another giant hill. Time to open that Gu. Mmmm…sugary, flavored toothpaste…yum. Mile Ten: Still eating the Gu… Mile Eleven: Hey, there’s Jon! I guess that means the turn-around is coming up soon. Um…not that soon. Mile Twelve: The kids at the water stand ahead are doing their best to cheer us on and direct us to the “last bathroom on the course.” WTF?!? This would also be the first bathroom. I must really be dehydrated, though, because I’m going to take a pass. If I stop now, who knows if I’ll be able to start again. Mile Thirteen: Now headed back the way we came, which is a little boring, to be honest. But feeling okay. Have only seen a couple of women in front of me…I could actually place, which would be absolutely ridiculous. Mile Fourteen: Ah, there’s that hill again. It didn’t seem this steep going down… But wait. That house is having construction done, so there’s a port-a-potty in the front yard. Maybe I ought to take advantage of it… Mile Fifteen: Now catching up to the half-marathon walkers. They’re having way too good of a time. But it is nice to run with people again. Mile Sixteen: Just told by one of the course volunteers that I don’t look tired enough. What’s that supposed to mean? Am I not running hard enough? I must be an incredibly good actress. Mile Seventeen: Throughout the entire race, there has been an SUV full of kids and their dog cheering on the runners, specifically their mom. They’ve just set up camp and are now doing choreographed cheers: “I say ‘RUNNER,’ you say ‘POWER.’ ‘RUNNER!’ ‘POWER!’ ‘RUNNER!’ ‘POWER!’” Mile Eighteen: We’re starting to approach where the area where we started which can only mean one thing: we have to do a loop. Arrrggghhh! Mile Nineteen: Now I’m starting to get passed by the guys who are in the process of winning the marathon, about six miles ahead of me. Awesome. Mile Twenty: That was a nice little trip through downtown. There were actually some fans…or people who just happened to be out and about while a marathon was going on. I have now officially run farther than I have in my entire life. Holy crap. Mile Twenty-one: Just struck with an ingenious idea. Instead of merely drinking water at the water station, I am now going to dump it over my head. Overdue for Gu #2. Mile Twenty-two: Ridiculously tanned and fit man running in the opposite direction. Man: “I missed the turn-off!” Yeah, he was almost finished with the race and then accidentally ran an extra two miles. He looks like he can handle it, though—I have little sympathy. Just like I tell my students, “Follow directions!” Mile Twenty-three: Narrowly missed being hit by a car on a curve. Mom would be so pissed if I got hit by a car. Mile Twenty-four: The race has now become akin to a tent revival: Oh, sweet Jesus! Where is the next mile marker?!? Lord, give me strength! Mile Twenty-five: Holy Mary, Mother of God, one more mile?!? Mile Twenty-six: This last .2 is like a kick in the junk. Uphill? Yeah, that’s about right. Several minutes later: Thank you, Heavenly Father. Bring on the M&Ms! Enthralling, isn’t it? Just imagine stretching that out over four and a half hours. At any rate, while we are satisfied with our experience (I even got first—out of only seven—in my age group), I think it’s safe to say that we are hereby officially retiring from our marathon career.

Before the race: "What were we thinking?!?"

After the race: "That was the dumbest thing we've ever volunteered and paid money for."

For official race results and information, follow the link to www.sjmarathon.org.

Vancouver 2010 or Bust

In an effort to get psyched up for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games (or for the simple reason that I’d never been there), we spent Memorial Day weekend in British Columbia. It’s not often that we both get three-day weekends at the same time, so we wanted to make the most of it. Our original plan was to take the Amtrak to Vancouver, but apparently everyone else had that idea because the train was booked by the time we began making our plans. Not that we waited until the last minute or anything… Therefore, we hopped in the car and drove north. Jon did have the foresight to check the border crossing times, and we wisely took a less crowded route that was only slightly out of the way. We breezed through the checkpoint and for the first time I got to use my “enhanced driver’s license,” which in Washington essentially doubles as a passport for Canada. The customs official was not as excited as I was. Once we arrived in British Columbia, we decided to stop off at a Visitors’ Information Center to get a better feel for how the trip was going to shape up. I have a bad habit of being an overly go-with-the-flow traveler, so I was up for anything. Not very helpful in the planning stages, but I usually tell myself that Jon gets a kick out of that part. He had been to Vancouver years ago, but that trip was more of a drink-Molson-while-watching-hockey kind of adventure, so we were both eager to try something new. Unfortunately, said Visitors’ Information Center was closed (on a Saturday, mind you), but lo and behold, it happened to be next door to a brewery. I am not making this up. It would have been bad karma to not stop, so we enjoyed a nice lunch before continuing on to Vancouver. On our way to the hotel, we took a little detour through Granville Island. It’s a pedestrian friendly area with lots of little shops and restaurants and even a public market similar to—albeit not as cool as—Pike Place. Oh, and there’s a brewery there, too. Shocking development. I swear Jon has some kind of “brew-dar.” Since the weather in late May was beautiful, the majority of our Vancouver activities were outdoors. We spent that afternoon checking out the flowers and exotic birds at the Bloedel Conservatory. We also couldn’t help checking out the flocks of dressed-up teenagers taking pictures of themselves. Evidently prom is not just an American tradition. To conclude our evening, we headed to an area of Vancouver known as Gastown. We got the vibe that Gastown is a touristy/trendy neighborhood (not what you’d expect from the name), and what do you know, there’s even a brewery. We had a hankering for tapas/dim sum/small plate food and relied on our friendly bartender and his new-fangled iPhone for recommendations. Our outdoor adventure continued on into Sunday. Still marathon-training at that point, we had a short 8-mile run to cross off our to-do list. We chose Stanley Park for our route and were greeted with some incredible views from the sea wall as we ran. It turned out to be quite fortuitous that we needed to run because we saw sections of the park we probably wouldn’t have otherwise. Plus, we saw a couple of bald eagles close enough to poop on us (they didn’t). Forced to choose between several appealing options (everything was pretty darn expensive), we opted to check out the Capilano Suspension Bridge in the afternoon. 450 feet across and 230 feet above the Capilano River, it was not for the faint of heart. However, it was much sturdier than the bridge from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom—which I thought about the whole time—as this bridge could hold 96 elephants or 9 737 jets. That’s what you have to tell yourself when you can feel the whole thing sway with every step. For the heck of it, we took a little ferry ride after our bridge experience. We rode to Bowen Island and back and were “those” people who didn’t even get off the boat.

On our final morning before making the long drive back to the U.S., we decided to return to Stanley Park for the Aquarium. I had momentarily forgotten that Canadians don’t honor Memorial Day, so we toured the aquarium with numerous school field trips. It made our visit more authentic, though. In addition to all of the cool fish, frogs, snakes, otters, seals, dolphins, etc., we watched a “birds of prey” show, complete with a bald eagle. Not something you see every day…except for the day before. Content with the touristy vacation, we’re now ready to return for the Winter Games in 2010. Lithuanian curling, here we come!

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