fresh from the Makery: early holiday shenanigans

Wow, a Makery post! And on a Monday! But, alas, no (brand new) products to sell here (that said, read to the end for a recap of items added to the shop before and after the Patchwork show). Just a little - holiday edition - crafty show 'n' tell. We hosted my in-laws for Thanksgiving this year and my one decorative effort was this banner I purchased from Paper Source:

The kit comes with almost everything you need - ribbon, scallop circle cards, printed labels - but you have to put it all together, including cutting out the leaves, so it may not look like it but this actually took me about an hour to throw together. There was no way I was taking it down after just one week. In an effort to squeeze two holidays out of one holiday banner, I used some materials on hand to transform this Thanksgiving message into one somewhat more appropriate for Christmas.

The poor lighting on this rainy day makes the new labels look even more yellow than they really are, but yes, they're yellow. Not exactly Christmas-y but that's all I had on hand as far as 4 inch circle labels go. And Paper Source's "curry" yellow does go fairly well with the gold and brown; it's coordinating with red and green that becomes a problem. I also, obviously, only had 10 letters total to work with. But if you're a Christian kind of person and are taken aback by my "Xmas", you need not take offense.

I removed the burlap ribbon and leaves and replaced those with a simple set of mitten die cut cards tied together with red and white baker's twine, and a moss green satin ribbon to top it all off. Other than the curry yellow labels, not bad for a quick Thanksgiving banner makeover, don't you think? Frugal decorating FTW!

In terms of other early holiday shenanigans, I went a little crazy with my son's advent calendar this year. I couldn't find the $1 (give or take) chocolate calendars that we typically buy at Trader Joe's and when I was talking to my son about it, I believe he was the one who suggested we use leftover yogurt cups for each day. Ever since he learned the "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra at preschool, he wants to "reduce, reuse, recycle" everything, which basically means he wants to throw away nothing. I personally would be happy to recycle them, but reuse them I did.

We just happened to have exactly 24 plastic yogurt cups at the time - true story - so I decided to add a little toy and/or treat to each one, wrapped with tissue paper I had leftover from various craft fairs, a simple number tag I printed on two sheets of white card stock, and then punched out with a 1 3/4 inch circle punch (plus a 1/8 inch circle punch for the twine), and tied off with some green baker's twine.

The only thing I have mixed feelings about, other than the fact that this advent calendar is about 30 times more expensive than the one we bought last year, is that I bought most of the tchotchkes at The Dollar Tree and from Target's dollar bins (then went to Cost Plus to finish the job and balked at their prices - $3, $4, $5 for essentially the same stuff). I'm definitely going to handmade hell for this one.

Also, one thing I didn't think about before is that while this project does reuse the yogurt cups, it only does so temporarily. We still have 24 plastic yogurt cups that my son will want to hang onto for a future project. Sigh. So perhaps our commitment to the environment and crafty use of materials already on-hand makes up for our support of cheap Chinese exports?

I was also happy to use the "calendar" as decoration on a side table where the remnants of Halloween and Thanksgiving shenanigans previously resided. Unfortunately, however, at least one of my two cats has been knocking off individual cups and nibbling at the tissue paper. Is it because it's green? Do they think it's grass? Or are they crazier than ever (do cats go senile?)? At any rate, days 3 through 24 will probably need to find a new home pretty soon - I don't want to know what happens if a cat ingests too much tissue paper.

In other Makery news, I added a few new products to the shop - items that I'd made for the Patchwork show but didn't have time before the show to add to the shop (and obviously, items that didn't sell at the craft fair). A new ready-to-send case, above, as well as a variation on the Mother's Cookies inspired holiday ornaments I typically carry this time of year.

The white, red, and green "cookies" are stitched onto sparkly red and green felt holiday ornaments that measure about three inches in diameter.

These slightly smaller ornaments (about two inches in diameter) were made from repurposing felt I'd cut two years ago for a few coffee sleeves to display at my first couple of craft fairs. My specs when cutting the patterns were off and the only thing these itty-bitty coffee sleeves would keep warm was a shot glass. So I decided to reuse the "cookies" and pink and tan felt for some non-holiday ornaments, which proved to be more popular than the red and green version above - the two ornaments pictured are all I have left of this batch.

Finally, I added a set of seven original 4-color separation CMYK 5 x 7 inch screenprints as well as a set of folded notes made from some of the more pattern-y prints (4 out of 11 total images) to the shop right before the craft show.

Now I just need people to buy this stuff to fund my "maternity leave" beginning in January! I have one more set of original screenprints to add to the shop as well as a list of about a dozen projects I didn't get around to before the craft show. I'm hoping to use the latter to resume weekly Makery posts. Maybe the Makery will be fresh on Mondays again, after all! Oh, and one final note. If you're wondering how the most recent craft fair went, I'll just say for now that craft fairs are a little bit like that vegetable you don't like but feel you should try once every year or two just to make sure you still don't like it. Yep, still tastes odd to me.


fresh from the Makery: patchwork

The Makery sure has been awfully quiet over the past year or so, but things are ramping up this fall as I prepare for the Patchwork Indie Arts & Crafts Festival on November 18th and try to bulk up my shop with ready-to-send items so that, perhaps, I'll continue to make a wee bit of an income after offspring #2 arrives in late January (aw, yes, did I mention I'm pregnant? 'bout 6 months, to be exact).

In addition to working on over a dozen new "limited edition" Android phone cozies, I've been going through art projects between college and grad school, but mostly stuff I worked on during grad school, to see what I can put - either directly or in digital print form - in my shop. It's tough to market abstract work (though to me these are pretty figurative - do you feel like someone's looking back at you when you look at these? well, that's because they're based on faces from earlier paintings, actually!), but here are a few highlights of the first batch of digital prints (5 x 7 for this round) to go in the shop:

There's more where those came from! A lot more. If grad school was good for anything, it was great for cranking out a ton of (mostly incomplete) projects at an artificially accelerated pace. So I have a lot of stuff - digital prints, original screenprints, hand-printed wallpaper, snow globes, and miniature Adirondack chairs, to name just a few material results of all those "crit pieces".

My goal is to have something, theoretically at least, to easily package and send while caring for a newborn/infant, especially since I don't really have a return-to-work "plan" yet. The best part of being a self-employed parent is that I can take off as much time as I want; the bad part, of course, is that the less I work, the less money I make. And in all honesty, I'm not sure what I want the next stage of my "career" to look like (sheesh, there sure are a lot of quotation marks in this blog post - I guess that's what happens when I write about art and parenting). So I think taking some time off from one shop and shifting what little time I'll have left after caring for a baby and soon-to-be Kindergartener all day to focus on the other might actually be a good thing for me. And I kinda like the idea of creating this sense of closure around past projects - documenting them and, with any luck, releasing them into the world to make room for future ideas. We'll see how it goes.

In the short-term, I'm preparing for a craft fair in less than four weeks. Two years ago, after I participated in my first two craft fairs within weeks of each other, I unofficially decided that craft fairs weren't for me. But this one appealed to me for a few reasons: a) press of past shows put on by this group; b) it's in Oakland; and c) it was pretty reasonable, with the smallest booth size option I've seen yet at just 4 by 6 feet. That, I can handle. And it's been good motivation to get my act together for my unique brand of maternity leave in a few months. Stay tuned for more updates to the shop in the next few weeks and wish me luck!


strictly contemporary

Now that So You Think You Can Dance has officially wrapped up its ninth season, I find myself wondering, has the show finally peaked?  Re-reading what I wrote when the show first kicked off at the beginning of summer, I'd have to say, in a word, that I was disappointed this season.  I had such high hopes for the show this summer precisely because the dancers were so good and seemed to have interesting personalities.  And that was true. Other than a couple of things possibly out of their control, I point a finger at the show's producers and here's why:

1. 50% less SYTYCD

While the results show always tended to be a bit drawn out, I really disliked grouping the competition element for voting purposes with the results from the week before tacked on to the end.  Did you really like dancer X this week? Well, then, be sure to jot down dancers X's number, but - oops, sorry, he or she just got cut based on last week's results.  And let's face it: there's nothing to watch all summer.  I missed my Thursday night SYTYCD fix.

2. The Olympics

Okay, I know this one's not totally fair, but Craft Wars continued to air during the two weeks that the Olympic games took over just about every other channel; why not SYTYCD?  I watched a bit of the Olympics, almost exclusively recorded. I definitely would have watched SYTYCD live had it been on and I think the essentially three week hiatus, just when the show was getting going, didn't do the show any favors. And I know this is only an issue every four years but, refresh my memory: did they do this in 2008?

3. Guest Judges

I think, other than a strong interest or some sort of background in dance, the one requirement of guest judging should be that those invited have at some point watched at least one episode of the eight years of the show, preferably from the current season.  Other than Jesse Tyler Ferguson (my all-time fave guest judge, hands down) and Christina Applegate, each week I said, "Meh," to that week's guest judge, with the lowest blow coming in the form of Ballet Boyz.  I mean, honestly, guys, I don't care how amazing your act is, do a little homework before you come on the show.  And then the other judges tried to spin the fact that they'd obviously never watched a single episode, saying something to the effect of, you know, how great it was to have fresh eyes critiquing the dancers.  Yeah, yeah, whatever.

Next year, the judges ought to invite Emma Stone to guest-judge. I read this little tidbit recently in Vogue:

"Stone, who spent much of her Arizona childhood studying dance, described it to me as 'the most ultimately revelatory form of expression' besides movies."
I couldn't agree more.

4. Primadonnas

But maybe I'm being overly harsh.  This was also the episode that immediately followed their break for the Olympics and included only routines choreographed (and in some cases slightly updated) by Mia Michaels. This is unfair to the contestants but who could help comparing the current dancers with the vets who originally performed the routines?  And why single out one choreographer, especially one who's been absent from the show for an entire season?

5. Choreography & Production Transparency

So, from the 4th point you might guess that not only am I not a huge Mia Michaels fan, contemporary is not my favorite style.  And yet there was so much of it this season!  When you have a lot of strong contemporary dancers in one season and combine that with a lot of contemporary choreography, it's a little boring. There have been seasons where the diversity of styles and the extent to which the dancers were pushed out of their comfort zones each week was almost overbearing.  Well, they've pulled way back from that model this season.  I don't necessarily need to watch the contestants pick names and styles out of a hat, but a little more transparency would be nice since it really seemed like they were grooming certain dancers to make it to the final four or so.  I never thought I'd say this, but a little more ballroom, please.  And just mix it up - Cyrus in particular got crazy lucky a few times (see below - one of my favorite routines of the season, but c'mon) and when he didn't I felt the judges were way too easy on him. Where's the constructive criticism? Other than a couple of dancers, they didn't have much to hand out this season.  The dancers were that good.  But push them out of their comfort zone a bit more and then we can talk.

So what did I like?  Well, despite being a bit critical of how far Cyrus made it (while I did single him out as one of my early favorites I made it clear I didn't think he'd last too long because of technical limitations), I was shocked he didn't win the top guy spot. I could obviously see his appeal as one of the "favorite" dancers and figured Nigel's comments about voting for Chehon instead would send America into a voting tizzy (Nigel pulled that sort of thing a couple of times - what I like to call passive-aggressive judging). And between the two, I voted for Chehon as well so I was happy he won, but in previous weeks felt a little sad to see dancers like Will and Cole leave the competition, I felt, prematurely.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well Lindsay did each week (in the end I thought she was much more memorable than Whitney, for example, or Tiffany, for that matter) and would have liked to see her in the final four. But Eliana was one of my favorite girls from auditions so needless to say I was happy with her win and in general pleased with the end results of the show.  It just wasn't as exciting to watch along the way.


so you think you can craft

Before another week of summer reality television passes me by, I wanted to briefly write a few thoughts about the two shows I'm currently watching: Craft Wars and, of course, So You Think You Can Dance (which will henceforth be referred to as SYTYCD...if you don't know that abbreviation by now, we probably shouldn't be Internet friends).

But first, Craft Wars.  As you all know, I dabble in crafts.  I'm not sure if I'm as "avid" a crafter as Tori Spelling (who knew, right?), but since graduating from art school a few years ago, I've spent more time on the craft side of the age old art/craft debate.  So when I heard about the show, what with my love of crafting and reality competition-based TV shows, I applied.  I even got a response back.  Additional information they requested at that time included pictures of art I'd made that used unique materials, examples of any building or construction me or my "assistant" had done, a description of the most "out of the box" piece I'd ever created, plus my age and a picture of me and my "assistant." Again with this "assistant" business - I'm a one-gal show, y'all!  I can't afford an assistant!  Well, after the first few minutes of the first episode of the show, it was clear that my "assistant" could have been my husband or a friend.  Do I have to share the whopping $10,000 prize?

This brings me to my first criticism of the show.  I don't consider myself a greedy person and admit I felt better about the measly $10K prize when I saw that it was just for one show's worth of work, but seriously TLC?  What is that, about $6K after taxes?  Even Bravo's Work of Art rewards the winning artist with $100,000, and that's in addition to a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum, which is, as they say, priceless.  Oh, but wait - now I remember. Crafters craft out of pure love for what they do. Perhaps. Clearly, I was not quite right for the show. In a way I'm sort of the opposite of what they seem to be looking for. Rather than make functional products out of unconventional items, I tend to use fairly conventional materials to, I hope, somewhat unusual ends (classical columns out of paper, etc.). And rarely is what I make, as an artist at least, at all functional. As a crafter I do indeed hope my products serve a function but in the end, I'm a pretty conventional crafter. Also, I haven't used my sewing machine since I was 14. And that was a little while ago.

Anyway, enough about me. My second, and really only other criticism of the show is with the judging.  I like the format of the show, beginning with a Top Chef quickfire-esque "pop challenge," giving contestants one hour to make a common crafty product (birdhouse I get, duffle bag not so much) out of the items at their disposal.  Two of the three contestants then go on to the master challenge which, up to this point, has basically consisted of a very similar structure built out of wood, but accessorized in different ways with a different theme each week.  Even Tori-as-hostess is growing on me.  She's very mom-like when talking to contestants about the projects they're furiously working on (and I don't mean that in a comforting way, I mean that in a slightly sort of scolding way, which is, of course, delightful to watch). And that's about as critical as it gets.  When the judges aren't saying thought-provoking things like, "overall, I think it's great," they're mostly complaining with one another about where they stand on the glitter spectrum.  This, my friends, is what I see to be the main difference between art and craft - a good ol' fashioned ass whooping.  I mean, constructive criticism.  I love, love, love the community of crafters and how incredibly supportive they are (I basically cannot look at my Twitter feed on Tuesday nights until after I've watched the show).  But God forbid anyone say anything even remotely critical - and constructive - about something someone has made.  Or perhaps art school has damaged me forever.

With SYTYCD, on the other hand, the judging is one of my favorite parts of the show (in addition to the dancers and the choreography and sometimes the music and the format and the fact that I can call in, and, and, and...).  And I know everyone connected to the show says it every season (to which I actually disagree the last couple of years) but I really think this season, season 9, is going to be really, really fantastic.  The dancers keep getting technically better, but this season it seems like the dancers are good and have really captivating personalities, not to mention a great range of dancing styles, including a few that can't really even be categorized.  Early faves include Alexa (I'm truly smitten with her very 80s look and think Mandy Moore will have a lot of fun with her), Cole (I love watching highly choreographed martial arts-type films - wishing Steven Soderbergh would turn Haywire into a TV series, for example - so it's not surprising that I dig his unique style...he's also pretty easy on the eyes, wouldn't you say?), Cyrus (what's not to love about this guy, although, to be fair, I do think he has some serious limitations as far as the competition goes and would be surprised to see him make it too much further), Eliana (I think she's my official girl-crush this season), Janelle (two words: belly dancing!), and Whitney (a ballroom hot tamale, indeed). And for the record, Matthew has got nothin' on Ryan Gosling. Amirite? (I link to his Wikipedia page, as if you don't know who he is! LOL)

On a slightly negative point, I'm not as excited as everyone else seems to be about the return of a certain someone, but I'll try to refrain from hatin'. I'm also a little concerned about this one-night-only format.  Partly because that means I only get 50% SYTYCD this season as compared to past seasons, and partly of course because I'm just confused as to how exactly that will work, what with the calling in and all.  But I guess the mystery won't be a mystery much longer. Needless to say, after a two-week hiatus, I'm eager for the first real show of the season. Bring it!


wild 'n' crafty fun for the four year old

My son turned 4 a couple of weeks ago and we celebrated with a birthday party at the Oakland Zoo.  I blogged about the zoo/safari/jungle themed invites I created using a few of Neal's illustrations well over a year go, but took this opportunity to tweak a design I was never fully satisfied with.

I guess the end result isn't all that different, just a little simpler, and printed on the very eco "paper bag" card stock from Paper Source.  Coordinating paper products included little favor tags and thank you cards:

The favor tags were attached to my, in the end, somewhat pathetic attempt at a pinata alternative, not because I have anything against a good ol' fashioned pinata (though I am a fan of the pull-string variety), but because, for some reason, the Oakland Zoo does not allow them.

I had already bought a big bag of candy from Costco when I read the fine print. I had to do something with all that candy!  So I stuffed three or four pieces each in a dozen large, plastic Easter eggs, wrapped that in tissue paper and attached the favor tag with brown baker's twine.

Favor bags this year included not a single, handmade-by-an-Etsian item! I know, right?!  I didn't even take a picture of the mass-produced items included within but in the goody bags kids found binoculars, sunglasses, a little mug with a zoo animal on it, and limited edition "jungle animal" green and white Mothers Cookies (you know I'm a fan), topped off with animal print bandanas.

Party decor was pretty simple, consisting of orange table cloths, and plates, etc., in blue and brown.  I had ordered these little animal finger puppets as possible cupcake toppers/favors but didn't care for them so ordered an alternate set and had these on the tables instead.  Most of them came home with us, unfortunately (what, you don't like chintzy finger puppets?!).

Instead of balloons, which I always find to be problematic (does one parent spend half the morning schlepping professionally helium-filled balloons from party store to party site, do you spend twenty bucks on one of those DIY kits, or do you blow them up yourself, pass out, then hang them from a tree?), I ordered these animal print "lanterns" instead.  Unfortunately I didn't really brainstorm how I'd quickly install them so after trying a few things, in the end used the orange crepe paper I had to hang a few grouped together in three or four spots.  These would be really cute for an outdoor, evening party, assuming you have the space and time to string some outdoor lights through them.

The only other DIY project I tackled for this party was the cake. This was our biggest birthday party yet (with about a dozen kids and even more adults) so while I was seriously tempted by a Costco cake, in the end I went ahead and baked up a double-layer nine inch vanilla and chocolate marble cake and a dozen vanilla and chocolate cupcakes. And it's a good thing I did because we only went home with about two pieces of leftover cake. The kids all wanted cupcakes, of course, then asked for servings of cake, too!  I don't know why I was shocked by this (they are kids, after all) but I have to admit I was a little taken aback.  Perhaps more by the parents' willingness to allow me to totally jack their kids up on sugar? At any rate, I was pretty pleased with how the cake turned out. I dabbled in Pinterest for this party, saving ideas here and using some of my favorites, including pirouette cookies for the outer edge of the cake (kind of like a bamboo fence, I guess), this circus train topper (I also ordered animal print cupcake liners from her), pieces of Hershey bars for the train tracks and a much nicer set of zoo animals for the cupcake toppers.  I frosted the cupcakes and the birthday boy helped me sprinkle the tops with crushed chocolate cat cookies from Trader Joe's, to look like dirt and grass. For the cake itself I used Trader Joe's box mixes (they are really so good) and for the frosting I used my go-to recipe for white chocolate buttercream and a mixture of Trader Joe's chocolate frosting mix and caramel for the filling. Yum.

For activities, we "led" a scavenger hunt through the zoo for the first hour or so. Somewhat disastrous, not surprisingly, what with trying to keep a dozen kids more or less together to answer eight or so questions that they can't actually read while you walk through hilly terrain, all in an hour's time. Then the kids came back, enjoyed some pizza, a few rides (the party was in the rides area of the zoo), and the two other activities I'd come up with - photos with this safari Jeep photo prop (what can I say, it was six bucks) and temporary tattoos I'd printed using the same illustrations used on the invites and paper goods.  The temporary tattoos were a huge hit. Initially I thought about face painting but I knew I wouldn't have the time to do it nor did I want to spend $150 or more to hire someone.  We went to one of several Easter egg hunts this spring at this place called Pump It Up and one of the activities they offered was a temporary tattoo station.  Brilliant!  This is the paper I used to print the tattoos (you do not need a Silhouette machine - just an inkjet printer). It's a little pricey considering you only get two sheets but I could fit 8 or 9 pretty large tattoos on there so if you size them a bit smaller you actually get a pretty decent amount, assuming you don't make any printing errors.  The birthday boy is above, sporting one of the snake tattoos. Clearly, this birthday stuff is very serious business.


word of the day: kerkuffle

Last night, as I caught up on Facebook, Twitter, and Glee, simultaneously, I came across a tweet from one of the folks I follow via about four different accounts that sparked my interest since I'd caught a glimmer of something brewing over at Etsy about a recent featured seller interview. It's taken me awhile to wrap my brain around what's going on, working my way backwards. Today, I've been perusing the Etsy forums and news blog and read this post, which is obviously, but not directly (they've yet to issue a direct statement or apology about essentially featuring a distributor), in relation to the interview and resulting kerkuffle. Etsy now describes the seller/shop as a "collective," since the seller supposedly works with a half-dozen or so, first-name-only "carpenters." 

Now, don't get me wrong, I love me some Etsy. I do a fair amount of shopping there and, of course, make my meager living thanks to how easy the site has made it for me to begin and grow my business. But thank God for Regretsy at times like these, right? If you're curious about the latest kerkuffle (is the shop a "collective", which itself poses some interesting questions for the site, or is it a "reseller", which is a whole 'nother bag of worms?), I suggest you read Regretsy's series of posts on the topic, in this order: whoa, then the who and the what now?, then un-freakin'-believable. It will rock your handmade world.


Dude, I ran through fire!

I wrote in my pre-marathon post that I'd have a recap in the week or so following the marathon... Next week, next month - who's keeping track, right? But seriously, now, did you think I was still out there? Like the epic finish in Run Fat Boy Run?  Well, I'll cut to the chase and let you know that I did indeed finish, only about five hours and fifty minutes after I started. But I finished. Let's back up a bit, though, shall we?

On Saturday, as planned, I headed to the race expo to pick up my bib, finisher's shirt, and a pathetic assortment of freebies. In fact, all I managed to squeeze out of that expo was a Gu sample and a Geico lizard pez for my son. I wasn't expecting much, though - as a young marathon (well, the return of it, anyway), the ORF expo is notorious for leaving runners feeling a little underwhelmed.

After the expo, we headed to the Team in Training inspiration luncheon, where I loaded up on a couple of different kinds of pasta, a little bit of salad, and, because I have absolutely no willpower, several pieces of at least three different kinds of cookies.  It's a good thing lunch was substantial because my pre-marathon dinner, despite having made it before, didn't turn out too well. I ended up having a small bowl of the mac 'n' cheese I'd made for my son and some peanut butter crackers later that evening. Otherwise, I spent the afternoon and evening relying on Neal to tend to our son as I fretted over making sure I was ready for the next morning.   I was on the fence about decorating my shirt, but in the end I did what most of my TNT teammates did and I have to say, hearing a total stranger holler out a personalized few words of encouragement put a huge, goofy smile on my face every time. "Oh my God, Becky, look at that hill. It is so big." (I'm just kidding, no one really said that.)

So what did I watch for my final "pasta and a movie" night? Nothing running related - after watching Running the Sahara the night before and having a really hard time falling asleep (that American runner is a piece of work, huh?), I didn't want to take any chances on Saturday night's sleep. I know we watched the remake of Footloose sometime that weekend, but I honesty can't remember if it was the night before or the night after. It did get me thinking about a dance movie series leading up to the premier of So You Think You Can Dance...but that's another post entirely.

I slept pretty well that night, surprisingly, waking up at 5 am Sunday morning to begin getting ready. I took a shower, chose one of the two finalist running outfits (going with my tights over the running skirt I'd only worn for shorter runs), enjoyed a breakfast of peanut butter toast with banana and a cup of coffee, and headed to Snow Park, deceptively similar in routine to my weekly morning runs. I didn't plan on listening to music during the marathon but did want a song or two to get pumped up on the way. I never did get around to creating an on-the-way playlist but I lucked out when Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger" came on (is it "(Stronger) What Doesn't Kill You" or "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)"?), followed by Britney Spears (I forget which song...Does it matter?), both perfect for getting in the running spirit.

The entire pre-race experience in Oakland was so different than my memories of Big Sur (getting up cuh-razy early, being bussed to the starting area, waiting forever for a porta potty, only to feel rushed to finally get in line to begin!).  It took me all of ten minutes to drive and park at the corner of Harrison and Grand.  I walked the couple of blocks from there to Snow Park, chose one of several empty porta potties, changed out of my warm-up clothes and checked my bag, and still had time to pose for a picture and take one of my own of the starting area before heading to the TNT meeting spot.

There was much concern about the weather, as earlier in the week the forecast was pretty solidly calling for rain. But, as you can see from the image above, the clouds parted and the sun was rising. All of which put me in a downright giddy mood.

I warmed up a bit with my fellow TNT teammates before walking back to Snow Park, pictured above, and made my way to the back of the group, knowing I'd likely finish after even the final pace group (pacing runners to a 5 hour finish).

The 5K race started right after the full marathon so we had quite an audience.  I enjoyed an encore serenade from Kelly (it's a popular running playlist selection, can you tell?) and nervous chatter with a few other TNT runners. And then we were off.

The first 10-11 miles were perfect. After being sidelined for almost the entire month of February, I was just so happy to be out there running, so far, pain-free.  We ran from uptown to downtown and back again, then made our way near Piedmont, along Telegraph in the Temescal and finally, up the long Broadway hill.  Maybe hill training paid off in the end because I really didn't think it was too bad.  Slow and gradual and never quite as challenging as I remember Big Sur's Hurricane Point to be:

Here's Oakland's elevation chart, to compare:

They're actually pretty similar so I'm not sure what I did differently this time. Kept my head down and ran "through the hill," as Coach Al says. The real kicker, as far as hills go, were the "rolling hills" that immediately followed, between miles 9 and 11.  That last bit, right before mile 11, got me walking for the first time this marathon.

But the view from the top was well worth it. This picture doesn't do it justice, but that's San Francisco there in the center of the image, running alongside the Mormon Temple (not pictured; the golden dome you see is actually the Greek Orthodox Church just down the hill from the Mormon Temple...either way, they both enjoy killer views). I continued to walk a bit down this steep decline until we were solidly in Oakland's Dimond district, worried that any steep downhill running would kill my knees, and still tentatively just waiting for the IT band pain to start up.

It was more or less downhill or flat from that point on.  I was hoping to rendez-vous with the fam' near Fruitvale Bart, the 14 mile mark, but a half-hour wait for the bus delayed them getting to that point. And I obviously wasn't going to wait around! My time was pretty good at this point, too, holding a steady 10:30-11 minute mile pace, and I started to get my hopes up for a PR, despite that not being in the game plan a couple of hours before.  Probably not coincidentally, since 14 miles was my longest run pre-marathon, I hit a little bit of a wall, I guess you could say, around then. Maybe it was the disappointment of not seeing friends and family I'd hoped to see between miles 13 and 14, maybe it was the pain in my feet (when I'd been expecting it in my knees, not my feet!), or maybe it was the knowledge that despite being in the flats, I had 12+ miles to go. Whatever it was, things got, well, challenging between miles 14 and 20.  I was running from water stop to water stop at that point, roughly every two miles, when I'd walk a bit.

My average pace slowed considerably at this point and there went my brief dreams of a marathon PR. I was also bummed that there wasn't more distraction along the course - I'd been really pumped up about the bands (several of which canceled due to the forecasted possibility of rain) and what I'd heard was a pretty good community turnout in different neighborhoods. There were some areas of note (Rockridge Bart area, Montclair Village, the Dimond district, the kids from St. Elizabeth High in Fruitvale, for example), but overall it was pretty quiet along International Blvd. You definitely got the feeling that there were a lot of folks surprised by the road closures, crossing over the lanes anyway and resulting in much horn-honking and police whistles. Kind of annoying and very different from my experience in Big Sur.

But, just in the nick of time, the much-anticipated "arch of fire" appeared ahead of me along 7th Street.

There I am, running through it. The actual fire wasn't as impressive as I'd imagined - in fact, you can barely see it in this picture - but whatever, dude, I ran through fire.

The next few miles felt pretty good. My feet were really killing me at this point but I enjoyed running through one of the few areas of Oakland I haven't spent a lot of time in - West Oakland. Now home to the fairly well-known Brown Sugar Kitchen (which I think is pictured in the thumbnail image below, if I remember correctly), there aren't all that many reasons to head out that way, other than picking up the occasional postacrd order from PS Print, or making my way from Target or Michael's to 880.  But I really enjoyed this section for some reason.

I was also sufficiently rejuvenated by the TNT cheer station around mile 20 or so and an appearance by mentor and now ultra-runner Anya (who briefly ran alongside me - in boots!) and Mama Lisa and her cowbell shortly after.  I had my phone so Neal could track me and so I could take pictures and I'd packed my single ear bud just in case I felt I needed music. Well, after about mile 22 or so, shortly before hitting the lake, I felt I needed it.  It did help a bit but the lake was still tough.  It's become such an easy 3 to 3 1/2 mile loop that I've run four times in one week before (and sometimes twice around in one run), but that lake has never felt so endless as it did between miles 24 and 26.  The real kicker was when we turned onto Lakeshore Ave., instead of running on the sidewalk or trail that hugs the lake, they had us on the street.  But unlike the first 23 miles, we were limited to the bike lane, the area of the road that's really banked. Finding the higher, flat portion of the road wasn't an option and just that little bit of side incline, after a challenging 23 miles already, resulted in a tweaked peroneus brevis tendon in my left foot that took a solid three to four weeks to fully recover.

But not finishing was never an option, certainly not this close to the finish line. With a 7 hour time limit, I figured I could probably finish even if I had to walk most of it! So there I am, above, between miles 25 and 26, making my way around the north side of the lake to the start/finish area.

I finished strong, with the final .2 incline and Neal and Elias finally in view.

Five hours, fifty minutes later. No PR for me, but I finished and I finished running and my knees never gave me any problems. My feet were another story. It probably didn't help that we wandered around the finish area for a solid half-hour, trying to decide if I wanted to go to the victory celebration at Luka's Taproom or if I'd prefer to just go home for a cold bath, a hot shower, and a long nap.

I opted for the latter.  I actually felt pretty miserable immediately after finishing, which is different than my memories of Big Sur. After Big Sur I remember most of my pain disappearing as soon as I stopped running, and generally alternating between feelings of euphoria and ravenous hunger.  But after Oakland I felt nauseous and dead-tired and the pain most definitely did not go away until I was completely off my feet for awhile.

That said, it didn't take me long to rally. I soaked in the cold bath as long as I could stand it, followed by a warm shower, and about an hour-long nap. Around 4 pm I woke up but stayed in bed for awhile, until I felt ready to don my ORF 2012 finisher's shirt and head to Fenton's with the fam' for a celebratory BLT and sundae.  So worth it.

Fast-forward almost five weeks and I'm finally feeling fully recovered. My foot was causing me so much pain in the days immediately following the marathon that I went to my podiatrist the Wednesday after where she confirmed the strained tendon mentioned above, pretty certain nothing was broken or torn, and recommended these insoles, which are finally on their way.  I've only run four or five times since the marathon (instead spending much of my workout time tackling Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred) with the last couple of runs feeling pretty darn good, making it all the way around the lake without stopping, without foot or knee pain, and even pushing my typical 9 minute mile pace yesterday morning. But I don't have any immediate plans for another race, nor did I stay on with TNT as a mentor, despite being very tempted to apply. As much as I enjoy the group and the training, something had to come off the plate and that was the most obvious choice. But I raised almost $2000, surpassing my minimum fundraising commitment by a couple hundred dollars (almost $500 if you take my alumni status and discount into consideration) and feel pretty good about my marathon finish, slow as it was, particularly considering where I was just a couple of months ago. And I'm happy that I'm done!


everybody was carbo-loading

And just like that, almost five months later, the marathon is just two days away!  I haven't watched any running movies yet this week, but I have done a whole lotta carbo-loading.  Here's what my week of working out less and eating more has looked like so far:

As I'm looking at my calendar now, I honestly can't remember what I did for exercise or what I ate that evening. That's the kind of week it's been, but more on that in a bit...

A ha! Tuesday! Tuesday I remember!  I opted out of the last morning "buddy run" of the season in favor of sleeping in (y'know, until the late, late hour of 6:30) since Elias decided this week would be a great week to get sick - again (okay, okay, I know it's not his fault, but seriously, folks - talk about bad timing) - and was up about 2/3 of Sunday night with a seal bark-like croupy cough. Nobody slept well and it always seems to take a few decent nights to recover from one bad one.  Miraculously, I did manage to muster up enough energy to do a 45 minute cardio workout later in the day, never quite feeling up for a run.

Over the weekend I had perused my pasta and a movie series, picked out what worked well, added a few recipes, and planned my meals out in advance, having pasta and protein in the beginning of the week, and slowly transitioning to less protein, more carbs as the week has progressed, specifically carbs that are a bit lighter and quicker to digest like orzo and rice.  To that end, on Tuesday we had a mix of vegetable radiatore and whole grain penne with Trader Joe's turkey bolognese sauce, along with some asparagus on the side.

Since I woke up feeling the slightest tickle in my throat, I took no chances and my only activity consisted of walking around Costco that afternoon.  I made a tuna pasta salad for dinner, the leftovers of which I enjoyed today for lunch.

Still feeling congested but overall pretty good, I went for an easy "dress rehearsal" 3-miler. I wore almost all the gear I plan to wear on Sunday. For dinner I made a chicken, orzo, and pomegranate salad.

That's today! No running for me, no sir! I'll do some stretching and icing tonight, after a dinner of Santa Rosa Valley Salad.

Tomorrow will be another rest day. I haven't told Neal yet, but I fully intend to follow coach's orders and stay in bed as long as possible tomorrow morning.  To quote Mama Lisa:
On Saturday, do sleep late. At least stay in bed and stare at the ceiling. This may not be so easy. You are going to be keyed up, but if you think of the next morning and its demands, you may decide to remain stationary a little longer.
Aye, aye, cap'n! Once I feel sufficiently rested and ready for the day, we'll head to the ORF Expo to pick up my race bib, packet, maybe buy a t-shirt, etc.  Most of my final stretch of carbo-loading will take place at an "inspiration luncheon" tomorrow with the rest of my Team in Training peeps.

For dinner, I plan to make this black rice salad with butternut squash and pomegranate seeds. I had a great run the morning after that meal a couple months back, so that's what I'm going with for my last supper, pre-marathon.

So far, tapering and eating well this week are the two things that have gone pretty well. How 'bout we get into what hasn't gone so well?

As I mentioned already, the wee one was sick the earlier part of this week. I remember looking at him at some point on Friday last week, our "mommy day" together each week, and thinking, "man, he looks beat." Never a good sign. Sure enough, by Saturday evening/Sunday morning it was clear he was coming down with a minor cold, at least.  That minor cold turned into a horrible croupy cough that had me calling the advice line around 10 pm on Sunday night and Neal sleeping in his room Sunday night, while I took Monday night. If you've never had the experience of taking care of a kid with croup let me just say it seems usually, thankfully, a lot scarier than it actually is. Anything that messes with that tiny airway is cause for concern.  Additionally, he had a little bit of conjunctivitis (not sure if it was officially "pink eye" and, contrary to common belief post "Knocked Up", pink eye is not, in fact, caused by getting feces in your eye. At least, I'm pretty sure it's not. It's basically just what happens when the virus causing the cold symptoms affects the eyes and results in "eye boogers" and redness.).

It goes without saying that Monday Elias stayed home from school with me.  We braved the petri dish that is the pediatrician's office and got some steroids for the croup and drops for the eyes, neither of which we administered all that well.  Oh, and did I mention I slept on a pull out sleeper chair in his room Monday night?  Yep. Because, you know, I was trying to get my very best rest this week from the start.  To be fair, Neal not only had the worse night on Sunday with the coughing and such, but that chair sleeper, with a duvet thrown on top, is actually pretty comfy.  And the humidifier right next to my head was probably a good thing, considering how I was feeling by about Monday afternoon - tickle in my throat and sinuses congested. Not good, man. Not good at all less than a week before a race.

I had mixed feelings but having gotten the green light from the pedi, took Elias to school that day, desperate to get some work done and start the process of getting my game face on in time for the weekend. Did I mention that on Monday afternoon, when Eli and I decided to hang out in the backyard for a bit, we confirmed that the barking I heard on Sunday night was from our next door neighbor's new dog. He barked at us the entire time we were outside. And all day Tuesday (I work from home which is why that's a problem). Awesome. I love when folks get loud, aggressive, barking dogs in lieu of alarm systems.

Feeling moderately caught up on work, I decided to run a few errands, first of which was to Title Nine to buy a - dare I confess it? - new sports bra. The thing is, I know you're not supposed to do anything new on race day, but the chafing my year-old frog bra has been causing the last couple of weeks was becoming unbearable, even on relatively short runs and especially in the rain, which is now what the weather report is calling for on Sunday.  So I faced a dilemma: change nothing but experience almost guaranteed under-boob chafing or buy something new and hope for the best.  I went with the latter.  Funny thing is, I ended up driving all the way to Mill Valley since the Berkeley store didn't have the size I thought I needed after trying sizes smaller and larger in two different styles (the frog bra temporarily unavailable), only to buy the size I could have bought at the first store had I had the other size to compare. You follow?  Annoying, but at least I felt pretty confident about my purchase.

Neal had a long commute on Wednesday, one of those days when he's technically working in the Bay Area but might as well be in New York as far as help with the wee one before school and during dinner and bedtime goes.  I was on my own all day and Elias was not cooperating. At all.  But he was still a little sick so I suppose I should cut him some slack.

Ah, to breath again through my nose! How nice. I had a great run in the morning, after I dropped off Elias at school (I'd normally get up early but wanted to focus at least partly on getting as much sleep as possible this week, as previously mentioned), then spent the rest of the day wrapping up a large order.  My hairbrush broke in the afternoon.  I know it's a minor calamity but annoying nonetheless - I don't have time to go buy a new one!

Otherwise, without going into too much detail, there's this other thing I've been dealing with all week that I worried would be an issue on race day but now seems like maybe it won't be after all. And that's all I'm gonna say about that. Period.

Today's been a pretty decent day so far, actually (hopefully I didn't just jinx it). I took advantage of a drop-in policy at school that's pretty reasonable, with attendance light on Fridays anyway, and Eli went to school for about four hours this morning so I could catch up on work and start to re-focus my attention on this weekend. In the process, I bugged Neal to fetch a few boxes of photos and scrapbook stuff (alas, no actual scrapbooks to speak of after, oh, sixteen years of collecting memories) and dug out all the swag from my first marathon experience with Team in Training, in Big Sur, nearly eleven years ago.

Race results, bib number, medal, of course, pictures, various TNT thank yous, the bracelet I wore with the names of my honorees ("too many damn names," as Coach Al says) - it was a little overwhelming, I have to admit.

Yep, that's Neal, then my boyfriend, now my husband, running the final 6.2 miles with me - just one reason I married the guy. He was a big part of the experience then and an even bigger part this time around, solo parenting our 3 1/2 year old almost every Saturday morning for nearly five months, without a car, to boot. Now that's supportive.

The bib! The medal! Soon I'll have a collection going!

And the results - 5:33:22. Not a great time, but not a horrible time considering I was then, like I am now, recovering from a knee aggravation and the incredible head-wind we faced that day from miles 10 to 20, give or take. Based on my training runs I'd been hoping for a finish time between 4 1/2 and 5 hours. When my knee started really hurting between miles 12 and 14, I just wanted to finish.  I remember afterward everyone complaining about how their time was about 1/2 hour slower than anticipated, thanks to that head-wind.  Getting into training this time around, I figured a PR would be a sure thing - I know what I'm doing this time as far as the importance of strength training and stretching, I'm going to push myself on the mileage (run 20 miles when the range is 18-20, rather than stopping at 18 and saying, "yeah, that's enough"), the course is a little less challenging (so I hear), and, let's face it, 5 1/2 hours isn't a terribly tough time to beat.

And yet, several weeks later I experienced almost the exact same injury at the exact same point in training.  So, once again, my goal is simply to finish - cross that finish line on Sunday and enjoy the 19 bands, the arch of fire, the views at the top of the 5-mile hill, the various Oakland neighborhoods and communities we'll be running through, and of course all the finish area shenanigans. Wish me luck! And stay tuned for a post-race recap hopefully sometime next week!