The Holly That Will Be

Merry Christmas Eve! I know I haven’t blogged much lately, but I wanted to pop in and wish everyone a happy holiday.

It’s been a mighty happy holiday season already at the Army Amy Household. In fact, Stephen and I just returned from a 10 day vacation! We visited family in Dallas and spent 5 nights in Montego Bay, Jamaica as part of Stephen’s post-deployment leave. I plan to write a full recap of the vacation, but the short and sweet of it is we ate, we drank, and we beached! Isn’t that what those kinds of vacays are for?

The view of the resort from the beach. Although I mostly looked the other way - at the water!

The view of the resort from the beach. Although I mostly looked the other way – at the water!

As fabulous as the vacation was, I’m over the moon to be home, sleeping in my own bed, and reunited with Geronimo. The entire 10 hour drive from Dallas to El Paso, I kept thinking of the song lyric “the prettiest sight you’ll see is the holly that will be on your own front door,” a la Bing Crosby. Though there is no holly on our door, I could have kissed it for how happy I was to return home.

I also have plans to write about what I’ve read lately (as I madly dash to finish one more book this year), reintegration, running (current status of and future goals), and more. But since I’m finding myself glued to the couch in a state of perma-relaxation and I’m sure all of you are have your plates full with holiday cheer, all that can wait. For now, just know that my family is wishing yours a merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Holiday Run 8k Race Recap

This past weekend I was able to participate in one of my new favorite distances: the 8k! I love the races at Fort Bliss, and I had been eagerly anticipating this one. The morning of ended up being a little hairy. I found myself rushing, there was an issue at packet pick-up, and I almost skipped the race in a classic Amy Hissy Fit. Stephen, however, talked me off my ledge, and I lined up at the start along with a few of my Wear Blue friends.

I wanted to ditch my goals of PRing due to the way-less-than ideal pre-race moodiness, but my pal Jennifer told me to set the pace. So I did. And I set it high. To PR, I would need each mile to be under 8:45. The gun went off (I think – we didn’t hear anything!) and we went off as well with high hopes and fast mile splits in mind.

Mile 1: 8:46

Even after deciding to aim for 8:45, I didn’t know if it was doable. My regular runs are substantially slower than that. Somehow I manage to bust out speed during a 5k, but I thought the pace was ambitious for 5 miles. I wasn’t wearing headphones (I ran without my phone! Ack!), so Jennifer and I talked as we ran. That’s normally not something I would do if I was trying to PR. But I needed a way to pass the time, and I had good company. I figured that if I crashed and burned late in the race it would be worth it.

holiday run

Mile 2: 8:51

I felt solid all the way through the second mile. There was a water stop at the end of it, which I opted to walk through. I wasn’t thirsty, but it was the only water stop of the race. I figured I should get while the getting was good. About this same time we passed another WB runner pushing a double stroller. He mentioned that his kids kept jumping in and out of the stroller. I let him know that they next time they jumped out, I’d be happy to jump in and provide some additional resistance for him.

Mile 3: 8:22

holiday run 2

The race was a lollipop loop with two switchbacks. Stephen told me he hated those short turn-arounds, but I liked getting to see the other runners. Jennifer and I cheered for all the people we saw that we knew. I always feel more pepped up when I cheer for other people. We were maintaining our pace and our conversation, although I know I was huffing and puffing a lot more by this point.

Mile 4: 8:22

I felt like I was going slower with each mile, but my watch said otherwise. (This is why I can never run by feel!) I know I struggled with a little bit of uphill, which is laughable considering how flat it is on post. I’m a hill weenie and even hills too minor to be seen by the naked eye are perceived by my legs. I hunkered down, hung on, and told myself one more mile.

Mile 5: 7:48

What I really like about running with Jennifer is that we are both pretty competitive. During this last mile, we worked on picking off the runners ahead of us. There were a few that I thought we couldn’t get, but we did. We passed at least 5 women in the final mile and even more men. At one point, I was pushing hard and lamented that I felt “like shit.” Hey, it’s how I felt! Jennifer reminded me that I’d feel good afterwards. That was enough to keep me going! She peeled off during the last .3 and I kicked with all I had.

holiday run 1

My Stats:

  • 4.99 mile finish time: 42:07
  • Average pace: 8:26

A new personal record! I only have one other 8k under my belt, but I’m happy to take a PR regardless of what it takes to get it. I ended up getting 4th in my age group (not too shabby!). The nearest woman was more than a minute ahead of me – no way I could have caught her! I think there’s another 8k in March, so I’ll be aiming to better my time again.

The race after party was one of my all time favorites. There was a hot chocolate bar with all kinds of fixings: whipped cream, chocolate chips, cookies, and more! The music was good, there was a hokey (but cute) snow machine, and my friends were plentiful. At the end, I was kicking myself for being such a baby early in the race. All that seemed so trivial (it was!) that I wished I hadn’t gotten so worked up. The day was made even better by a trip to Taco Cabana with Julie for friend time and tacos.

I’m currently training for the Fort Bliss half marathon in January, but the term training is being used loosely. December is bananas for me this year. Although, isn’t it that way for everyone? I have no doubt that I can complete the race, but can I better my time from October? I guess we’ll see when I line up on January 10th.

Amy Reads: November

I squeezed out 4 books this month! High Five! With a week off for Thanksgiving, I figured that I’d be able to trump the 3 that I’ve been averaging. It still looks like I’m on track to miss my goal of 60, but I’m having fun getting as close as I can. And I’ve decided that I want to finish off the year with the best books possible. Leave me your suggestions for all time best books in the comments! As for November, here are the 4 I sunk my teeth into:

1. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (Young adult fiction)

mango street

Short version: A collection of vignettes about Esperanza’s hard luck life in urban Chicago.

Long version: 5 out of 5 stars. I had read excerpts of Mango Street over the years, but I finally, finally sat down and read the entire book. It’s beautiful. The vignettes are range from straightforward to touching to dark to sad to beautiful. I loved the structure and the prose. My favorite part, however, was the foreword that Cisneros wrote especially for this 25th anniversary edition. Getting to read about how she came to be a writer (and to view herself as one) was such a treat. My crush on Cisneros is alive and well!

2. The Martian by Andy Weir (Science fiction)

martian

Short version: In the near-ish future, an American astronaut is stranded on Mars and trying to figure out how to survive completely on his own while back on Earth everyone is scrambling to find a way to bring him home safe.

Long version: 4 out of 5 stars. I picked this up after seeing Interstellar. I want more science in my life! The author is extremely intelligent, and it he was able to create a real, thought-out, plausible narrative about space travel and an intergalactic rescue. The book didn’t even really read like science fiction. That said, some parts were a little too math and science heavy. Still, I liked the characters. They were funny and relatable, and they kept me reading.

3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie and Ellen Forney (Young adult fiction)

sherman alexie

Short version: A Native American high school student challenges the norm and finds himself (and friendship) by leaving the reservation for school.

Long version: 4.5 out of 5 stars. I picked up this novel after seeing how frequently it was challenged as a banned book. (I love a little controversy!) This book was everything that I love about YA. It was funny and relatable. It also opened me up to an entire life that I wasn’t familiar with. (Bonus, I’ve been wanting more diversity in my reading.) Alexie managed to write a book that was deep without being mushy. I can see this one being a big hit with high school boys, but girls will like it, too. I can see *sort of* why the book has been challenged (many a boner reference), but people who are banning it are missing the bigger picture about self acceptance delivered in a teen-friendly way. (Ugh, I officially sound old!)

4. The Broker by John Grisham (Suspense)

the broker

Short version: A convicted lawyer gets a presidential pardon only to be shuffled out of the country, on the run, and in the middle of a scandal.

Long version: 3 out of 5 stars. I listened to this book on CD during our Thanksgiving travels. I was hoping that being a Grisham novel with a promising plot, I’d be riveted. Instead, I wasn’t. The character descriptions are vivid and the idea is good, but with plot was delivered in a way that was too straightforward. The narration gave everything away. With no surprises, there was no tension, and I didn’t feel compelled to keep listening. I did, but if I hadn’t been trapped in the car with 10 hours to drive, I would have taken a pass on this one.

*

Total # of books read so far this year: 53

Total # of pages read so far this year: 14,556

Running & Such

Greetings! If you are working this week, I hope it has been an easy week so far. If you’re not working (like moi), I hope you’re enjoying the time off. I took advantage of having absolutely nothing to do yesterday by going for a rare weekday morning run. Despite the fact that it was 37 degrees and I had no idea what to wear, the run was amazing.

Cold weather running is my jam. I became an expert during the 8 snowy months that I lived in Germany. Since then, I’ve become a bit of a wuss. (Hey, I live in the desert!) Still, cold weather running is my favorite. My body loves it, my mind loves it. Yesterday I set out to run 4 miles and ended up doing 4.5. I would have probably gone even farther, but I was starting to get hungry. Priorities, yo’.

I feel like I haven’t talked about training much lately, but it’s been on my mind constantly. Lets take it race by race:

The Fort Bliss 8k Holiday Run

holiday 8k

It’s one week from Saturday and will be my second 8k ever. The first was back in September. I ran that race at an 8:53 pace. I want to PR this time around, so I’m going to aim for 8:40 miles.

That said, the race is only about 10 days away. There isn’t too much I can do between now and then to guarantee that I’ll be able to hit the paces that I want. Right now I’m focusing on consistency. The goal is two weekday runs and one long run each week. No skipping runs! With this week off of work, there’s really no excuse. I’ve got my fingers crossed that the weather is nice on race day and my legs feel good. With those two things, knock on wood, I should be good!

Fort Bliss Half Marathon

fort bliss half

I waffled on signing up for this race. After Flying Horse, I kind of wanted a break from half marathons. Alas, I caved to peer pressure, and I realized that I had another half in me, so I signed up! I don’t have any big time goals. Right now I am enjoying running longer races without the pressure of the clock. I do, however, have an actual plan.

bliss half training plan

Courtesy of Julie! Thanks for putting this together, J! I probably won’t be doing the speed work, and I definitely won’t be doing the hills. Haha! Instead, I’m shooting for the total mileage. That should be enough to get me to the starting line.

You’ll also notice that the plan includes notes about BTP. That stands for Bataan Training Plan. My Wear Blue homies are in talks to participate in Bataan this year. My initial reaction was “hell no!” I loved Bataan last year, but I always felt it was a one and done race for me. It’s brutal. However, the more it keeps coming up in conversation, the more I keep thinking about it. After all of my long races, I’ve said, “I don’t want to do another full alone.” Well, this would be a chance to do a full with an entire team. That’s pretty tempting! I’m going to wait and see how I’m feeling after the Fort Bliss half before I decide, but it’s definitely on my mind!

Ballers

Saturday was a busy day for us. After participating in the Fort Bliss Turkey Trot, Stephen and I got beautified and attended our very first Army Ball!

ball3

Stephen’s unit in Germany held a ball after their deployment in 2012, but it took place a month before I moved there. While in Deutschland, Stephen got to attend a German ball in Munich with his fellow soldiers, but it was dudes only. I’m not sure how frequently balls normally take place, but after 4 years of his service and no ball, I was over the moon about finally getting the chance to attend!

There were a few false starts (ticket issues lasting months, and a meltdown on my part the way to get my hair done), but eventually everything came together.

My look:

ball1

I bought my dress at Cache after my mom suggested looking there. I loved how flattering and comfortable it was. I would have liked something other than black, but it just so happens that the dress I liked best hands down was black. I opted to get my hair and make-up professionally done since I’m utterly worthless in those arenas. The Blow Dry Bar did a great job with both. I envisioned my hair being bigger (hey, I’m a Texan), but what’s a small bun in the grand scheme of things? I really loved the dramatic eye liner and fake eyelashes. (Although, I worried I’d have a Lucille Ball moment from the movie Yours, Mine and Ours. In the movie, her fake eyelash falls into a beverage while she’s on a date. The movie is an oldie, but one of my favorites! And luckily my eyelashes didn’t budge all night.)

Stephen’s look:  

ball2

Of course, he wore his uniform. It takes a lot of work for the soldiers to get their dress blues exactly right, so Stephen went to work on it in advance. It sure looked good to me! The blue cord going under his arm is his infantry cord, which I helped put on him at Basic Training graduation (in 2011!). The silver cord across the front is called a Schützenschnur, which he earned in Germany. I couldn’t tell you what 90% of the rest of the stuff on his uniform is. :) He got a fresh hair cut the day before, and he look smoking!

The ball was one part pomp and one part wild party. It started with presenting of the colors, toasts, a wonderful tribute to a soldier who was killed on the deployment, and dinner. Dinner was excellent, by the way. Pasta for me, and steak or chicken for the meat eaters. Plus a salad to start and cheesecake for dessert!

ballfood

That portion of the evening, as expected, was tame. But as the night went forward and the drinks keep flowing, the festivities devolved into sheer craziness. I got a firsthand look at grog. A huge bowl/small trough is filled with random alcohol of all kinds, each addition holding some sort of significance. (Fire whisky to represent napalm and the battalion’s role in Vietnam, champagne because we are the finest soldiers, and so on.) I think maybe 10 different types of alcohol were combined. Then everyone drank it!

#dontdrinkthegrog

#dontdrinkthegrog

Not me. I was the designated driver, but even if I wasn’t, it would not have touched my lips. There were things floating in that grog.

We spent the rest of the evening chatting, drinking, and dancing. We learned that Stephen can’t hula hoop, and I can’t two-step. There was even a photo booth with goofy props and free pictures that kept us occupied. Late into the night, the music eventually stopped, the lights came back on, and I couldn’t believe that I was still awake! We hung around a little longer before making the drive home.

At the end of the night, still in one piece.

At the end of the night, still in one piece.

I’m so glad we finally got the chance to attend a ball together! I had a blast! Even though I didn’t know most of the people there, I loved seeing everyone dressed up (and dressing up myself), people watching, playing, dancing, and generally having a damn good time. I think we definitely need more than 1 ball every 4 years, but I also know that I’ll need a while to recover from this one!

Fort Bliss Turkey Trot Race Recap

Like my races increasingly are these days, I signed up for this one due to peer pressure. (Gotta love some positive peer pressure!) My friends from Wear Blue: Run to Remember planned to run the Fort Bliss Turkey Trot, a 5k, instead of holding our regular meet-up. Stephen and I both signed up and arrived on post bright and early Saturday morning.

turkey trot1

It was colder out than it had been for most of my runs and windy. That coupled with the fact that my running has been inconsistent since Flying Horse had me nervous! It’s interesting how running ebbs and flows. 5ks intimidate me these days! 3.1 miles of running all out is hard! Still, I felt pumped at the starting line and took off strong when the gun went off.

  • Mile 1: 8:14

One of my WB friends had said that she was going to aim for an 8:45 pace. I had no idea if that was realistic for me, but I figured I might as well stick with her as long as I could. That first mile ended up being a lot faster than I expected. Jennifer (the friend I considered my pacer), was pushing the pace, so I pushed it, too. I couldn’t manage to stick with her stride for stride, but I was right behind her. I felt good. I couldn’t have gone any faster, but I was maintaining my speed.

The course was a lollipop, as opposed to an out and back, so I couldn’t see my other friends for most of the race. At one point, I was at a good angle to see Stephen up ahead. He looked like he was doing good! He wasn’t sure how he’d do, so it was great to see him killing it.

turkey trot

  • Mile 2: 8:13

I was holding steady with Jennifer right up to mile 2. There was a water stop at the mile marker, and I debated running right past or stopping. I don’t think I need water in a 5k. On the other hand, I worried that in half a mile, I’d regret skipping it. I took a 5 second walk break to grab a water, chug it, and toss it. In those 5 seconds, Jennifer sped on, definitely out of my range. I had been a few feet behind her, but now the distance was yards.

I’m really motivated by passing people, but the crowd was extremely thinned out. That meant not many people for me to try to pass. I’m not sure I could have overtaken anyone even if I wanted to. I felt like I had really slowed down, but my Garmin said otherwise. I continued my strategy of “run till the wheels fall off.”

  • Mile 3: 7:52

The last mile went by faster than the others. I was suddenly zooming through the finish line! Huzzah! Stephen and Jennifer were there to greet me, and we all congratulated each other on being awesome. (Stephen finished almost exactly a minute ahead of me. Jennifer beat me by 15 seconds, but she looked so much farther away than that!)

turkey trot2

  • 3.17 mile finish time: 25:36
  • Average pace: 8:04 per mile

Not long after, our other Wear Blue friends (including Julie!) came streaming through as well. We all hung around, joking and listening to music, while we waited for the results to be posted. Shock of all shocks, I managed to get 2nd in my age group! It was even sweeter of an achievement because had I still been in the 20-29 age group, I wouldn’t have placed. Thank you 30! It’s a bummer that I didn’t get first (I was about 90 seconds too slow, which is a lot!) because that would have won me a turkey. I didn’t really want a turkey;I just really like winning things. :)

After collecting my medal, Stephen, Julie, and I hit up Taco Cabana. We spent the better part of an hour eating tacos and catching up. It had been too long! And I’ve decreed that Julie can never move. The next race on the docket is the Fort Bliss Holiday 8k. My goal is to beat my 8k time from September. Time to stop being so lazy and start running consistently!

Everybody Loves Voting!

Ah, voting season. Sweet, sweet voting season. Full of obnoxious advertisements, lawn signs, and Facebook rivalries. So maybe the trappings of voting season aren’t as appealing as say, any other season this time of year, but I don’t mind because I love voting! The whole thing makes me feel very American.

In previous years, I’ve been able to vote right at the school that I worked at. Convenient, eh? In 2008, Stephen and I went together to city hall, then spent the evening watching the results stream by on TV. for the 2012 presidential election, we were very easily able to get absentee ballots and mail them from Germany in advance. We missed out on the cool sticker, but it was pretty neat all the same.

Proudly voting absentee in 2012!

Proudly voting absentee in 2012!

Although it’s not a presidential election, I was still eager to participate. I sent away for my registration weeks ago, and when it arrived, I put it in a safe place. Upon pulling it out in preparation to vote I realized that my address was wrong! It’s a very slight difference, like Road instead of Street, but the zip code is also wrong. Eep! I was starting to get anxious about what that meant. Would I not get to vote? My driver’s license has my current, correct address, while my voter registration has a type-o. Do I go to the voting location near my house and just hope for the best

Not wanting to leave it up to chance, I called the county clerk. Turns out it’s no big deal. Phew! But, I have to go to the polling place associated with my voter registration, which is 30 miles away

voting

Sigh.

I enviously eyed the nearby polling station on my way across town. As much as I wanted to blow it off, I couldn’t let the drive deter me. I’m doing it for my suffragette sisters! The drive there actually wasn’t bad, and the wait in line was short. My address mix-up was no big deal. All in all, I was back headed home in less than an hour.

But the return trip was in rush-hour traffic. Funny how it’s called rush hour but everyone is just sitting still, going nowhere. The whole experience made me thankful for country radio and the fact that I don’t have a commute. I guess in the end it didn’t matter because I got to vote. It’s crazy to think that less than 100 years ago, women couldn’t do that. We’ve come a long way, baby!

voted