A Heart Transplant for Green Lightning (or The Writing on the Wall)

Green Lightning (otherwise known as my ’97 Saturn) gave me a fright yesterday when he wouldn’t turn on. Ever since I returned from the holidays, the car had not wanted to turn on properly, but would eventually turn over. Yesterday morning, however, he sputtered and sputtered, but would not come alive. Given the age of the car, I was quite nervous that this was the end of our journey together. I made calls to auto service shops and crossed my fingers that the damage would be minimal enough to get me through another couple of months.

Luck was on my side today because when AAA came to pick up my car to take it to the shop, the driver correctly diagnosed that I simply need a new battery. The sputtering was simply the car trying to do its best with the limited power and this evening, he was reduced to just a click. Twenty minutes later, the Mobile Battery Unit arrived to change out my battery right in my parking spot and I’ve got a car that starts again! Phew!

However, given the age of my precious vehicle, it seems that it won’t be long until Green Lightning goes to the Car Heaven and I have to find a replacement. I suppose seventeen and a half years isn’t too bad for an American car! I won’t be eulogizing the car yet (as I don’t think MY heart could take it right now), but for all those who have known and loved him, it is time to prepare to say goodbye to my little engine that could!

The End of an Era

The Chevy’s at Stonestown is gone.

(Actually, it may have been gone for a while as I seldom go to the mall next to campus and rarely go across the front of the mall when I do stop by. Nonetheless, there’s a Chipotle and a new sushi restaurant COMING SOON in its place).

Don’t get me wrong; if I never ate at Chevy’s again for my whole life, I’d be very happy. But that Chevy’s location is inextricably linked many of my favorite college memories and it’s very odd to think of it not existing any longer. It hasn’t been THAT long since I left college, right?

My first semester at State, I didn’t really make any friends, only going to classes and back home to study. The second semester, I was forced out of my shell by a fateful trip to Sacramento, where I made two of the best friends I’ve ever had (and still have to this day). After that, gatherings outside of class to studying and chat became more commonplace and Chevy’s was a prime location, given its proximity to school.

Christmas at Embarcadero Center

Christmas at Embarcadero Center

My last year in college, it was the site of many Political Science Student Association fundraisers, proving the even PoliSci nerds can throw back a pitcher or six of margaritas with the best of them. It was always great fun to hang out with our profs, as well as my fellow students, plotting our eventual takeover of the department and university. Of course, getting a grande strawberry margarita in me meant all bets were off. I’ll never forget the look on Prof C’s face when I told him his article was “totally boring,” before realizing I had said it out loud. Luckily, he found it charming instead of insulting. In fact, it was such a mainstay in our diet, that our end of semester celebration that fall was held at Chevy’s – but the one at Embarcadero Center, just to switch things up a bit!

Chevy’s was where I decided to take my first grad-level class, while still in undergrad. Margarita Mondays got me through the first time I had to present in said class. It was where Prof C starting laying the ground work for me to go to grad school, following in his footsteps. It was where I celebrated with my friends that after seven years and four universities, I was finally going to graduate college. And it was where I found a touchstone after graduation, when I felt a little lost in the big “adult” world, attending another PSSA fundraiser for the next class of PoliSci nerds.

Thanks for the memories, Chevy’s! It wouldn’t have been college without you!

Last Day of College EVER

Last Day of College EVER

Run 10K: A New Challenge

Almost five months after I ran my first organized race and swore I’d never run anything again, I’m back to training.

It started with a tweet from the Bay Bridge that the her new span will Labor Day weekend to people instead of cars. There are plans for a walk, a bike ride and two races, a 10k and a half marathon. I’d been looking at the Run 10k app for a while and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to break it out. I don’t think I’ll ever be a runner, but this will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance. While I could settle for a leisurely stroll across the new bridge span, I thought this would be a great chance to challenge myself and make history at the same time.

Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous day, so I knew I had to take advantage of it. One of the hardest parts of training last year was having enough good weather days on days when I had the time to run. The app recommends that if you’ve already completed their Run 5K app that you start on Week Five. Well, I’m no overachiever in this area, so I was quite happy to start with Week One, Day One. I figured the easy pace would give me a confidence boost if nothing else. I was half right.

The first week is 30 seconds of running and four and half minutes of walking. I was barely getting into my stride when the man in my ear would say “Walk now.” As it was a gorgeous day in February, there were plenty of other runners on my trail and it was very difficult to quell my competitive side and let them run past me. By the middle of my playlist, I decided to go ahead and run the entirety of Neil Jackson’s Gonna Have to Change. It got a little run toward the end, but I finally felt like I was getting somewhere.

I finished Day One rather easily, tacking an extra minute of running on at the end, so the cooldown would feel worth it. Another two days of that should be fairly easy to accomplish and I don’t feel the pressure to get the training done in a particular timeframe for fear I’ll lose my progress. There are 29 weeks between now and the opening of the Bridge, so I feel no need to rush through this process. I know I can get there and I know that if I need to repeat a week or lose a week due to travel or illness, I’ll still be ready.

And it wouldn’t be a run if I didn’t make a playlist. This is essentially the same as my last week of Run 5K, with the addition of Neil Jackson and rearranging a few things. It was a bit too long, but I made it work.

A Trip to Giants FanFest

Though I’ve been a Giants fan since 2005, I’ve never attended FanFest before. My dear friend, Jen, has attended the Chicago White Sox equivalent, SoxFest, since I’ve known her and raved about it every year. I know that Giants FanFest is run differently and this year I finally got up the courage to go. My lovely friend, George, a FanFest veteran, agreed to go with me and be my guide. It was everything and nothing that I wanted it to be, but I had a great day and I know I’ll be more prepared the next time I go.
Together We're Champions

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Music: Initial Impressions of Neil Jackson’s debut album, “The Little Things”

There’s a quote from my favorite movie, Playing By Heart, that goes “Talking about love is like dancing about architecture.” I feel the same way when it comes to writing about music. I’m not a professional critic, but I am a singer and I know what I like. And I like Neil Jackson (and not just because he’s hot and British).

The Little Things (Album Cover)This morning, I was running late, but the bus was running even later, so I ended up walking 30 blocks, most of it uphill, to get to work. This is after I blow-dried my hair and spent some time I actually trying to put together an outfit. I got to work, sweaty with windblown hair, but in a surprisingly good mood because I’d used the walk to listen to “The Little Things.”

I’ve followed Neil’s music for about a year now, back when he was just posting videos of him singing and playing his guitar in a little room on YouTube. (I guess that makes me a Hipster Neil Jackson Fan? Ha!) Because this was my introduction to him as a musician, I think he sounds best when you can hear his fingers, plucking the guitar strings as he croons the lyrics. His voice is smooth and rich, a soothing balm on my soul.

1. Holding a Candle
This was the first single (and video) from the album, but I think it’s the biggest outlier from his usual style. It’s more produced than any of the other tracks and even his accent fades when he sings. I enjoy the lyrics and melody, but I don’t think it’s indicative of the rest of the album.

2. Drive
The lyrics on this one weren’t my favorite, but I’ll listen to it over and over again for the lead guitar line. The faint bongo drums in the background give this a California feel, and I can easily imagine driving down PCH in the sunshine.

3. I’ll Be Your Home
As Neil tweeted about his experience recording the album, I was most curious about how the songs I was familiar with from YouTube would sound when properly recorded and mixed. The addition of a piano to the guitar helps balance the vocal effects, making it feel more produced. The last 30 seconds where everything drops out, except the piano, is exceptionally beautiful.

4. Hear in Time
It’s hard to keep the grin off my face as I listen to this little ditty. The pickin’ guitar and the rhythmic clapping just make me happy. It’s damn catchy and I know I’ll have this one in my head for a while now.

5. Save Me Tonight
Sad, whispery Neil with a guitar may be my favorite version of him. I really like the way the orchestra sneaks in gradually as the song goes along. There are moments when it overwhelms his subtle vocals, but the melodies are so pretty that I don’t really mind.

6. Gonna Have to Change
And we’re back to peppy and catchy, which just makes me smile (as does the surprise falsetto before the chorus). Again, this feels very California (shout out to the 405!) and I see the video taking place on the beach with lots of laughing, Frisbee and frolicking in the waves. His vocals feel very American, almost country, especially the little laugh at the end.

7. The Little Things
Neil’s British accent is back in full force on this track, which is fantastic. The guitar lines are even better than the YouTube version and his vocals are smoother, drawing you into the story of his Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I could have done without some of the other filler instruments, but that’s probably because I’m used to the stripped down version.

8. Got Your Own Shoes
I had to laugh at Neil’s use of “groovy” in the chorus (don’t worry, I had a similar reaction when Matt Morrison used “demagogue” in one of his songs), but then it gets sad, and I felt a little bad. It’s not my favorite track, as it has a lot going on, vocally and instrumentally. I’d be curious to hear the story behind this one.

9. Falling in Love
This is my new favorite song! It’s got a great jazzy piano/snare drum backing to Neil’s whispery vocal, evoking visions of dancing in a smokey club in a slinky black dress with a beautiful man. The trumpet solo in the bridge is unexpected, but it fits with the theme, even if it is a bit louder than the mood previously set.

10. When the World Was New
I absolutely adore the guitar line in this song and I love that Neil kept this one so simple, just acoustic guitar and his vocals. It’s the truest to the YouTube version, and yet the quality is just SO much better.

11. Rocket to Mars
This is the second single off the album and the video will be released next week. It seems much more indicative of Neil’s style, while incorporating the orchestra. And it only seems appropriate that the album end with a sweet guitar line.

I was already a fan, but the album has lived up to my expectations in almost every way (still needs “All That I Am!”). I’m hoping that there will be a live tour or at least a few shows in California because this music begs to be heard live. In the meantime, the digital download of Neil’s album is on sale at his website for $8.00 ($1.99 less than Amazon and iTunes), making it a great deal while putting a few more pence in Neil’s pocket.

Music: In Which I Am a Neil Jackson Fangirl

It’s no secret that I love me some Neil Jackson. I mean, seriously, have you seen him? When I first started to follow him on Twitter earlier this year, he linked to his YouTube account of him playing guitar and singing. I admit I had a little trepidation when I first clicked over to watch, not knowing what to expect. But it turns out he’s AWESOME, just a guy and his guitar, singing right to my heart. (You may remember my flailing here.)

Since then, Neil has recorded his first album, The Little Things, which comes out February 4th. You can hear a preview of each of the songs on Amazon (but you should buy it from his website).

Last week, the first single, “Holding a Candle” came out with a video:

The video also features Chelsea Hobbs (aka Emily from Make It or Break It), which was fabulous to see. I’ll admit I was a little squicked to see them together as the couple, since the last time I saw them on screen together, she was playing MUCH younger and he was playing her coach. But she’s ridiculously adorable and it’s easy to see why Video!Neil would be in the love with her. The lip-sync at the beginning of the video is off (and a bit distracting), but by the time, he gets to the chorus, it’s back together. The video storyline reminded me a lot of Easton Corbin’s “Lovin’ You is Fun”, with the guy singing about the pretty girl he loves, but this is clearly more grown-up. I also LOVED the improvised shot of Neil backlit in the rain.

I’m disappointed that my favorite song, “All That I Am,” isn’t on this album, but I’ve been promised it will be on the next one. That said, I’ve already listened to “Holding a Candle” enough times now that I can sing along, so clearly, it’s fantastic as well! Is it February yet?!

THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!

This team, you guys! This team!

I’m not a lifelong Giants fan. I grew up outside DC, decades after the Senators and decades before the Nationals. If you wanted to follow baseball, you were an Orioles fan. Cal Ripken Jr was my guy. Every year on Father’s Day, the whole family would caravan up to Baltimore to take in a game. Grandpa would be keeping score and all of us would be eating our body weight in ballpark food. Camden Yards seemed like paradise.

Until I found AT&T Park.

I became a Giants fan on May 5, 2005. My mom came to town for Mother’s Day weekend and I wanted to take her to a Giants game (since they were playing the Nationals). My favorite professor gave me his season tickets in the bleachers and I was hooked! The Giants lost that game, but I couldn’t wait to go back. Luckily, that favorite professor became my advisor, mentor and friend, lending me his tickets many times over the next couple of years. I got see Barry Bonds hit home run #725 from those seats.

The day before I left California, Barry Bonds broke the home run record. As I sat in that hotel room in Berkeley, I cried tears of joy that I was still in the Bay Area when it happened, so I could watch on TV. But there were also tears of sadness that I was going to miss this team SO much while I was gone. Grad school didn’t work out and neither did moving back home with my parents at the age of 28. So, when I got the change to move back to San Francisco, I jumped at it. It was June 2010.

I LOVED the 2010 World Series run. We lost some games, but we felt in it the whole time and the energy was great. We took it to Game Five of the World Series, but the whole time, I just had that Tom Hanks voice in my head – “We’re gonna WIN!” The group of players was fantastic – a cast of characters that embodied San Francisco from Brian Wilson’s beard to Aubrey Huff’s rally thong. Buster Posey was the Rookie of the Year. It was epic, amazing and ridiculous.

Two years later and the Giants are going back to the World Series. We’ve got a new cast of characters – from Happy Flight (Angel Pagan) to Marco Scutaro to Reverend Pence to Baby Giraffe (Brandon Belt) to BCraw (Brandon Crawford). I’ve been on edge for weeks, waiting for the Giants to break my heart.

A coworker gave me two tickets to Game Two of the NLDS. I was in AT&T Park when the Giants lost 9-0 and fell 2 games behind in the series. This team would have to win three games in a row, on the road to stay alive. And then they did. Reverend Pence was born and those Giants, this team, played “for the name on the front of the jersey, not on the back.”

We made it to the NLCS, which we got to start at home. We dropped Game One, but came back to win Game Two. Then we dropped Games Three and Four in St. Louis and I figured, “okay, this is it.” We made it to the NLCS when I never thought we would and the line ends here. But then Zito did something I never saw him do in a Giants uniform. And we brought the team back to San Francisco.

And finally, the team that never seemed to get it together to win at home, took the energy of the 43,000 people in the stadium and the millions in the City and gave us Game Six. I watched the game yesterday from Public House with my friend George, which is just about the best place to watch without actually being in the stadium. The energy was amazing once the game started, chanting and yelling, about to blow the roof off the place when anyone got a hit, a strike, a run, a good catch. We won last night and I started to hope again.

Today was a long day at work and I was torn between watching the game for pleasure and watching the Presidential debate for work. I moved back and forth between the two, getting updates from my dad via text and relaying updates to my favorite professor who now works at the same place I do. That 3rd inning was amazing and Brandon Belt’s solo home run (nearly another splash hit) in the 7th was fantastic. Everyone was playing well, playing hard and continue to play for the team on the front and not that name on the back.

I never get cocky with this team, even up 9-0. But then it started to pour down rain, like it had several times earlier that day and it just felt like a sign. We had three more outs. Lopez got us two and then they brought in Romo, our stripey socks closer. In the best justice we could ever ask for, Matt Holiday popped the final out to Marco Scutaro and the Giants won the Pennant. We’re going to the World Series again for the second time in 3 years, which seems so surreal. The Tigers are coming to our house on Wednesday and if these guys can keep the momentum going, it’s going to be a great series.

This team, you guys! This team!

UK: “It’s the saddest part of my day, leaving you.”

It’s been four months since I left the UK, so clearly this post is long overdue. But since my last postcard from the UK arrived in the States last week, I don’t feel like I’m too behind the Royal Mail. My last day in the UK, much like this post, was bittersweet. I was just finally figuring out how to get to the bus stop on time, which restaurants are worth a second visit and how to power-walk past slow-moving tourists in the Underground like a local. But all good things must come to an end, so armed with a list of things to do “next time,” I tried to manage the LONGEST DAY EVER with a little bit of grace.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012
I woke up at the same time I did on Tuesday and quickly got dressed. The sun was barely out, but the flat was already warm. I knew it was going to be another hot day. The weather had been a pleasant surprise, but I had not brought the right wardrobe! I dragged my large, purple suitcase down the four flights of stairs to the ground level, mentally apologizing to Katia’s neighbors as I went. It felt like I had just arrived and here I was, pulling my suitcase behind me again.

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Run 5K: The Giant Race

Told you I was going to cry when I crossed the finish line!

I did it! I ran my first 5K in 37:26!

Last Sunday, I got up at 6a and got my race gear on: my favorite Addias socks, my favorite black Gap pants, a black Lucy running top with my new Giants tank top and my hot pink Lululemon headband. My mom pinned my race bib on me (which was actually more difficult than I would have thought) while I ate a banana. We left the house by 6:45a to drive across the City to AT&T Park. There was very little traffic to be had until we got close to the stadium. Turns out we weren’t the only ones who had driven down and there was a long line of cars creeping along King St to turn on 3rd towards the parking lot. Despite my earlier anxiety, we managed to get parked and head back to AT&T Park by 7:20a.

Though it would turn out to be a lovely day, weather-wise, San Francisco in the early morning is rarely a warm and sunny affair. My adrenaline was running high, but I couldn’t stop shaking. My dad went back to the car for my jacket, so I could keep warm before the gun went off. I knew that once I got started running, my body would heat up and I’d start sweating, but I had about half an hour before that would happen. I also realized that I hadn’t loaded my carefully selected playlist onto my iPhone before I left the house, so I’d be scrambling for music to run to.

I fought my way through the crowds to find the 10min – 12min corral. There was an obnoxious women leading warmups with music blasting underneath her shouting. I know that warming up is very important before running, but at 7:30 in the morning (on a Sunday), I have very little patience for cheery people. I stretched out on my own on the sidewalk as there was not enough room in the corral for my time. My parents hung out with me until almost race time, which definitely helped the nerves. All around me, people had real race gear, running gear and shirts from previous races. I definitely felt out of my element, but more than anything, I just wanted to RUN!

Despite the advertised time of 8am, the gun did not go off until 8:10a, which was frustrating for everyone. Of course, they had to introduce all the dignitaries and talk about the charity that people raised money for. And then they had a gospel choir sing the National Anthem because apparently, you can’t do anything sporty without reminding everyone that you’re in America. (I kid, I kid, but seriously?) Finally, they removed the barriers and we were able to move closer to the finish line. The gun rang out at 8:10 and we were off! I crossed the start line at 00:40.

At first, it was really difficult to get moving at all due to the large number of people on the road. I also couldn’t get my Week 8 playlist to play in the order I wanted, but didn’t have the time or angle to deal with it properly. But I persevered and soon, I had room to run with tunes in my ears. Not having paid much attention to the landmarks on this route before, from a distance, I thought that Pier 28 was the Ferry Building (meaning I thought I was doing MUCH better than I actually was). As I got into the zone, I didn’t even notice the Ferry building as I ran passed it. I didn’t grab water at the turnaround as I was more concerned with just not stopping in the crush of people going from the road to the sidewalk.

I really started to feel how far I’d gone and how much there was left to go when I passed the Ferry building on the way back. The runners/walkers still heading to the turn around were cheering and high-fiving those of us on our way back, which definitely helped. However, as I passed Pier 28 and rounded the curve, I saw AT&T Park rising up in the distance as a beacon. My feet hurt, I was thirsty and my right calf was tight, but I knew I’d come too far to quit now.

We split from the road to run down the path behind the stadium and got cheers (and mimosa toasts) from the early brunchers at Town’s End. All of the sudden, AT&T Park was the only thing in my view and I was coming to the back gate. I cannot possibly describe the elation and emotion I felt as I crossed into the stadium and onto the field. I ran hard to the finish line, crying on the inside, even if my body couldn’t produce tears. There were people screaming and cheering in the stands and we all briefly appeared on the jumbotron as we finished. I didn’t really hear anything as I crossed under the time clock, just ecstatic that I actually finished. I ran the whole race without stopping.

I grabbed my finishers medal and a bottle of water, pulling my headphones off and my iPhone out of its holder. I was sweating too much to get my water bottle open as I stood in line to get my chip cut off my shoe. I called my parents to find them and enjoyed my time standing in Left Field. About 75% of the reason I wanted to run this race was to get the chance to touch the field and I loved it. My dad took the coveted photo of me with my medal on the field before we headed out to pick up my t-shirt and Matt Cain bobblehead.

Even with all the training and encouragement of my friends and family (which I appreciate SO, SO much!), I wasn’t completely sure I could really do it. But I’ve got the warning track dirt in my shoes to prove it. I ran all 3.1 miles without stopping with a pace of 12:04. I wasn’t the fastest, but I finished! I didn’t get an overwhelming love of running in my gift bag, but I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. I did it!

Run 5K: “Workout Completed.”

I’m going to cry when I cross the finish line on Sunday.

That was one of the many thoughts swirling through my brain as I did my last training run today. It’s not entirely shocking, since I’m a crier. I think I cried more when Michael Phelps won his last gold medal than he did. This moment still makes me well up. (Spoiler alert: I did NOT make it through this post without crying.)

But I remember a few months ago when I decided to scroll to the end of the training program in my app and saw that the last day call for me to run 30 minutes without stopping. I laughed when I saw that, knowing how much I was struggling just to run 2-3 minutes at a time. Running a 5K seemed more daunting then than ever before. I’d never really thought about how LONG it would take me to run 3.1 miles. The thought of just running, nothing else, for that long seemed ridiculous.

Week Eight was rough. I did Day One on Friday, feeling pretty good about running for 25 minutes without stopping. Again, I ran further on my trail before turning around than I ever had before and my playlist synced up great. Of course, my socks gave me a couple blisters, so it wasn’t all gravy. I had planned to run Day Two on the actual race course on which I’ll be running on Sunday, but I just didn’t have the motivation to go all the way out there. It was actually hot here in the City and I was not dressed properly for my workout. I had my armband for my phone, which worked great, but I was sweating buckets by the time I finished. My playlist didn’t sync up exactly how I wanted it to and by the time I got to the last song, I was ready to PASS OUT. I was out of gas and thought there was no way I could add another two minutes to that run today.

My body has clearly adapted to San Francisco’s weather because it was a brisk, foggy day when I got home from work, but I set off on my trail anyway. In 40 minutes, I covered 3.3 miles (including 5 minute walking warm up and 5 minute walking cool down). My playlist synced PERFECTLY (see below) and I felt like I hit my stride again. I was tired and a little breathless at the end of my run, but when my phone vibrated to tell me to stop running, I didn’t collapse. I actually had a little bit more in the tank! My calf is a little tight, but I’m hoping that continuing to stretch it out this week will help with that. And yes, I did tear up a little when my running coach’s voice said “Workout completed” for the last time.

Music is an integral part of this process, allowing me to focus on something else, so I don’t start thinking about how much running sucks. I’ll be tweaking this playlist a little before my race, but I really like how this worked. I noticed during Sunday’s run that the songs were getting longer as time went by, which wasn’t helping me get through the workout. I adjusted for today, using mostly 3 minute songs. That gave me a good variety of music (some with inspiration lyrics, some of a good beat, some with both), but no song went on too long. Enjoy!