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I reviewed a sweet little summer read over at BlogHer — Karen White’s The Beach Trees. Below is a snippet, but you can head over to the full post for the real scoop on the book!

Culture shock doesn’t always require a passport, proven in Karen White’s latest book, The Beach Trees. There’s no other way to describe Julie Holt’s initial reaction to everything she experiences on her first trip to the Gulf Coast, visiting the hurricane-ravaged landscape and heartbroken family her best friend, Monica left behind but described in detail, both with words and paintings, until her untimely death.

Julie, a lifelong New Englander living in New York, attempts to put tragedy — her sister’s childhood disappearance 17 years ago and her best friend’s recent death — in her rearview mirror as she drives south to River Song, the beach house Monica left her in Biloxi, armed only with the keys to the home, which was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, and Monica’s 5-year-old boy, Beau. For the first time in her life, she has no plan, but, she soon learns that Biloxi, New Orleans, and Monica’s estranged family have plans for her.

(Seriously, go over and read the full review. Go on, now!)

I accomplished my goals — I placed within my division, I finished with a time I was (mostly) happy with, and I was not eaten or even nibbled by an alligator. Overall, I’m calling it a success.

Kristen and Patrick at Moss Park tri

With Patrick, sweaty, dirty and smiling big.

One of the biggest challenges of this race, for me, was the fact that it was a 7:15 start in a location more than two hours away, and I had to drive down the morning of the race. Honestly, I never would have done that myself — that 3:30 wake up was pretty unkind, and, while a single (albeit very large) cup of coffee was just fine, I know that drinking too much coffee does Very Bad Things to my tummy, and when you pair that with nerves and then biking and running and no bathrooms nearby, it’s, uhhh, problematic. So a single cup of coffee it is!

Fortunately, I didn’t have to do it alone. In fact, the main reason I signed up for the race is because my good friend (and coach, and inspiration, really), Patrick, had signed up for it and was moving to New York a few days later, so although we’ve done plenty of workouts together and talked extensively about races, we’d never actually done one together.

Of course, by “together” I mean he did it in half the time. He did win the damn thing last year, after all, and despite doing basically no tri training at all in recent months, he still placed 3rd in his age group and 12th overall. See? Inspiration.

As for me, I honestly did just fine. We ran a little late, so I had to rush through setting up my transition area in order to have time to hit the bathroom before the pre-race meeting. (Tangent — who else believes that a pre-race bathroom break is a non-negotiable? I mean, I would actually start the race a minute or two late rather than stop during the race.)

Unlike other tris I’ve done, this swim took place in a lake (hence my alligatorly concerns), and although the water was, like, black, and I couldn’t sight the buoys for the life of me (which turned out to be a common problem) it was a nice swim. Pretty smooth, and I love that half-mile distance. I was 12th out of the water in the women’s wave, which was a bit of a disappointment, but, hey, that’s what you get for not training, I suppose.

The bike took a challenging but interesting route, through neighborhoods and with lots of twists and turns. My bike computer broke during St. Anthony’s, so I had no idea how far I’d gone, which, honestly, was kind of fun. I just pushed hard without totally blowing my legs for the run and finished the bike right around the middle of the pack.

And the run. Oh, the run. I was actually really excited because it’s just a 2.8 mile run, but I hadn’t taken into account the fact that some of it was on trail, and all of it was on packed dirt, which is great for the knees (it’s softer), but tough on weak ankles. I might’ve aroused a bird or two with my near-constant shrieks of, “Oooh! Woooo!” as I nearly fell over from stepping on a rock or in a shallow hole. I kept something around a 11 minute mile pace — far from great, but nothing I’m going to be embarrassed about.

About 10 minutes after I finished, as Patrick and I were loading up the bikes, I got the best surprise. Jared (who was working in Orlando that day) called, which he said he would do around 9. Here’s the conversation:

J: “Hey, where are you?”

Me: “Still at the race, packing up.”

J: “No, where are you?”

Me: “Ummm, Moss Park? You know, at the race?”

J: “NO. Where in the park are you?”

Me: “Shut up. Shut up shut up! Are you here? No way, you’re not here. Wait, are you here?”

Spoiler alert — he was there. It had been a few days since I’d seen him anyway since he’d been traveling, and then, having him surprise me by showing up at the end of the race was just … well, if you ever hear me complain about him, just remind me of this, okay? It was really freaking cool.

Also, just a note about the race itself — definitely a good one to do. Swimming in a lake is a bit of a novelty when you’re used to swimming in the ocean, and the park itself is lovely, if a bit buggy, so pack bug spray with your sunscreen. It’s not a huge race, but there were multiple events (aqua bike, etc.) which really lent to a bigger feel. And it’s a great one for first timers — they even have a My First Triathlon division with shorter distances (or a shorter swim, anyway, not sure about the rest). I definitely see myself coming back to do this one next year!

A big part of the reason we chose the house we currently live in is because it’s an excellent space for entertaining, and, if you know me, you know it doesn’t take much for me to decide to throw a party. Like, say, my dog not dying — as far as I’m concerned, no better reason, right?

Fortunately, I have a lot of incredibly awesome friends who feel the same way, and who had zero reservations about heading over to our house on a Monday night to celebrate my sweet, healthy pup. And drink wine. You know.

Rudi couldn't wait for her guests to arrive. Such a good little hostess.

And, get this — not only did we have a bunch of the regular crew show up, but two of her doctors from her stay in the ICU came! (One didn’t make it, but he explained that it was because he was stuck in the ER until 11:30. Apparently he didn’t realize that it would’ve been totally acceptable to show up at that point.)

As far as Rudi goes, things continue to look good. Her numbers are within the normal range, and though we’d still be happy to see the creatnine come down just a smidge, we can certainly work with where it is if need be. As Dr. Bandt told me yesterday, it’s back to normal life now. I’ve never been happier.

(Okay, fine, I’d be happier if more of the shrimp salad I’d made for the party had been left over. What’s that? You want the recipe? Fine. It was basically shrimp, which I chopped up into large chunks, mayo, celery, green onion, shredded carrots, dill and salt and pepper to taste — I’d send you to the recipe, but I printed it out and promptly forgot where it came from. It was delicious, but I really wanted to make Mango-Curry Shrimp Salad in Wontons, but somebody thought it sounded like too much work. For me. Not him. Why did I listen again?)

So, it’s not just me, right? It’s fun to come up with a reason to throw a random weeknight party. Now, squirt gun to your head — if you had to throw a party, like, tomorrow night, what kind of fun reason could you come up with for doing so?

The rumors you’ve heard are true. (Which probably isn’t a surprise, since I’m the one who started them.) I wear glasses now. It’s like being full-time fancy, I guess, except that I’m just wearing glasses all the time* instead of, I don’t know, whatever it is you might do if you’re full-time fancy. Eat bon bons? Drink wine you didn’t get on sale for $6.99? You tell me.

You like them, right? (And by them, I mean me, naturally.)

Anyway, this is kind of a big deal for me, and I’m talking about how it happened, what I think about it (and also which other glasses I think are super cute) over at BlogHer Style. You should probably read it. And then tell me you like my glasses, unless you want your glasses shoved in a very uncomfortable place. And I don’t mean the back of a Volkswagen.

(*Obviously, when I say “all the time,” I mean a good portion of the time, when it’s convenient and I remember and I haven’t misplaced them somewhere in the house. If I ever get to a point where I need to wear them for running or something, I’ll be looking into contacts, thankyouverymuch. I’m not a running in glasses kind of girl. Unless they’re sunglasses and, you know, it’s sunny out.)

This is getting serious. My Big Race is in three days. THREE. And while I mostly feel excited rather than nervous, well, there are still some nerves (as evidenced by my super weird nightmare about getting lost on the bike leg and riding through gravel and then ending up in an office building, which appeared to be where Chrysler’s executive offices are, and while there, I ran into the Dyson guy who tried to sell me a vacuum and when I explained I was in the middle of a triathlon, he started showing me pictures of himself doing that exact race).

But, here’s the thing. At this point, I’m just going to have to rely on the training I’ve done over the last four months. There’s nothing I’m going to do in the next couple of days that will make me faster or stronger, other than eating and drinking properly and getting plenty of rest. At this point, I’m just trying to make sure I find a way to relax and enjoy the event I’ve worked really, really hard for.

Still, I have some goals, and while more often than not, I keep those to myself, I’ve been so open about other parts of the training for this that I feel like keeping my goals from you all would be a little unfair. So, here we go.

  1. I want to finish in under 3 hours. This is going to be a real challenge for me, I know, but I also know that, if everything goes right, I can totally do that. And yes, 2:59:59 is still totally under 3 hours.
  2. If I go over 3 hours, I want to still keep it close to that time — no giving up and walking* because it’s looking more like a 3:10 finish!
  3. I want to be one of the first people out of the water in my wave. If I’m being totally honest, what I really want is to be the first woman out, but I’m certainly not going to be brokenhearted if that’s not the case — because I’m competing in the novice division, it’s really hard to have an idea of what I’ll be up against.
  4. I want to finish strong. The run is probably where I’m weakest, and, as it turns out, I’ll be starting that 10k run around 11 a.m., which means I should finish right around noon. And it will be in the mid to high 80s at that point. But I’ve prepared for this. I’ve run in the midday sun, I have Gu, sodium tabs, and plans to drop ice down my pants to cool down (what?). I know I won’t run my fastest 10k ever, but I want that final mile to be just as fast as the first. Ideally, faster.
  5. I want to enjoy it. I know that sounds a bit crazy, because there’s no doubt in my mind that this is going to hurt like hell. But, you guys, this is such a big deal to me. I kind of can’t believe that I’ve trained this hard for so long and that I’m SO READY. Once upon a time, I interviewed Lucy Danziger, the editor for Self Magazine, and she gave me the best advice ever: Always remember when you’re out running (or biking, or whatever) that you’re doing this because you can. There are so many people who can’t, for whatever reason, and what an amazing privilege it is that I’m able to be a part of this. If you happen to be at the race and you see me going by and I have anything but a smile on my face, please remind me of that fact. I might throw something at you, but I won’t have anything heavy on you, so you’re safe.

Those of you who’ve done challenging races — what kind of goals did you have? Did I leave anything out? Well, other than get a cute picture, but I feel like that’s almost a given, right?

*The one caveat to the finishing strong — if I have a flat or something else that puts me way, way, waaaay behind my goal time, I’m just going to have fun with it. I hear that the homeowners come out during the run, and some of them offer beer. If I’m already going to be 30-45 minutes behind what I aimed for, you can expect me to be a bit tipsy by the time I cross the finish line. Hooray beer!

When I was in high school, I had to run two miles for basketball tryouts. I want to say that we were supposed to do it in under 20 minutes, and let me tell you, it was not easy for me. I was not a runner — I was scrappy, and I was strong, and I was tough and a little mean, but I was not much for running. I worked at it and made it, although I sometimes wonder if the coach would’ve actually cut me my senior year if I hadn’t.

The first race I ever ran (7 years ago or so, I think), was a half marathon. I trained hard, but not properly, really — I mean, I just kind of went running and kept adding miles on, you know? I finished with just over an 11-minute pace and was proud … and determined to never do any sort of long distance again.

Since then, I’ve done lots of short distances — 5ks, 4-milers, and sprint tris (which include a 5k). But the triathlon in May has a 10k run, so I’ve been building my mileage. And, when I got the notice for a 10k right down the road from me, I signed up in a flash with a goal to finish in under 60 minutes, which would put me at just under a 10 minute mile pace.

What I didn’t realize until a couple of nights before was that just over half the race was through the woods. On sort of a trail. You know, in the woods. And hell, I hadn’t even been running on uneven sidewalks or streets with potholes, so, I was nervous to say the least.

The first mile and change felt amazing. It was a beautiful day, my legs were fresh, and I had to really work to keep myself from starting out too fast, and even so, I caught myself running at a 8:45 and 9:00 pace. That adrenaline will really get you, you know? Once I got in the woods, though, it was a different story. Although they did a great job of clearing debris, it was still tough.

There were basically three types of terrain — soft, sandy ground, like running on the beach; layers of slippery leaves, leaving me with no traction; and gopher holes, both seen and unseen. And since this wasn’t my big race — I really saw it as a training run — I decided to really slow it down and be cautious to avoid injury. Don’t get me wrong, I was still pushing myself, just keeping it where I felt comfortable. And I still almost fell about five times.

By the time I got out of the woods, I was feeling pretty beat but have never been happier to see a level stretch of asphalt. I gave it all I had, and finished in 1:01:30 — just 90 seconds over my real goal. And you know what? I’m totally okay with that. It’s a huge improvement over what I could’ve done a few months ago, and my confidence was lifted enormously. I mean, if I was able to come that close to my goal with over three miles of trail running thrown in there, I honestly think that I could knock that goal out on a regular 10k. And the next 5k is going to be great — it’s a PR or nothing, baby.

I still really don’t know if I’ll be able to hold that kind of pace in the tri, because, well, my legs certainly won’t feel so fresh coming off a 40k bike ride. But I’m glad I did it, am really glad I didn’t get hurt, and am excited for my next race (a sprint tri in Jacksonville next month, unless I sign up for a 5k in the meantime).

Tonight’s moon is Cheshire Cat grin. Fittingly enough, when I got home and popped back outside to get a picture, it had disappeared.

I’m going to take this smile, mischievous and vanishing though it may be, as a sign of good things to come. What else can it mean when the night sky is smiling down on you, even if it’s only for a moment?

What kinds of signs has the universe given you?

Before he won a Super Bowl, before he was named MVP, and before he made Green Bay forget about that other quarterback (who now totally skeeves me out — dude, keep it in the cutoffs), Aaron Rodgers got on the phone with me to talk about yoga and other fitness-y stuff.

Now, I’m not going to claim that talking to me instilled in this promising, young football player the confidence he needed to become the incredible player he is today. That would be pretty cocky.

But I’m also not going to say it didn’t. And since you can’t prove I didn’t have anything to do with it, I’m pretty sure that means I get a ring, right? I do love chunky jewelry …

I used to be great at holiday shopping. I made my lists well before Thanksgiving, I spent time cultivating great ideas, and then, when deals cropped up, I snagged ’em like Meeko snags every featherweight tee I own. I haven’t been doing such a great job the last few years, but, this season, I’m at least making things a bit easier for you.

(And yes, this is a bit of shameless self-promotion. I almost never do it, and you really wouldn’t find these articles otherwise, so hush!)

Savannah Bee Company is a terrific organization that makes quality honey products (as well as goodies from beeswax) and, to make it even better, they work with Heifer International. You can learn more about their charitable Peace Honey Project at SpecialtyFood.com, or you can just go ahead and order me a jar of cheese honey right now. It’s cool. I’ll wait.

If you like the idea of a gift that gives back but want to make it super green to boot, might I suggest one of these 10 virtual green gifts I’ve listed over at My Life Scoop? Or, if you have your own go-to green gift, be sure to tell me all about it in the comments. I love that stuff.

If you’re feeling a bit stressed, don’t worry — technology’s got your back. And so do I. Check out these great apps to relieve holiday stress, also found at My Life Scoop.

I did a couple more gift guides at That’s Fit, one for guys and one for gym buffs (and for these I owe several of my friends a great big thank you — y’all know who you are), and I’ll have several going up at Paw Nation before long.

Moment of truth, and don’t be shy — where are all of you on your holiday shopping?

I’m thankful that our families came to stay with us this Thanksgiving. I’m thankful that I don’t have to work today. I’m thankful that nobody expected me to go shopping with them (or for them) on Black Friday (oh god, I’m shuddering just thinking about it). I’m thankful that there’s plenty of wine leftover, though since I bought a case, I’m not exactly surprised.

And I’m still thankful for my fun new camera.

I'm thankful that Jared handles the frying of the turkey.

I'm thankful for CityMama's jalepeno corn pudding recipe (and I'm not the only one).

I'm thankful that my family and friends don't give me a hard time for having lots of veggie-friendly side dishes.

I'm thankful that there are leftovers in the fridge.

I'm thankful that everybody had a great time.

I'm thankful that my parents have a new kitty. Meet Tebow.

I'm thankful that Mom and Dad get to dogsit for this sweet lug, Zach. He and I went running. I'm not sure it was pretty, but it was a good time.

I’m also thankful to have this little blog. I love the outlet it provides me, and I love that it allows me to share with those I know and those I don’t. And I love that it’s little enough that it doesn’t really matter that I haven’t posted every day this month.

What are you feeling thankful for?