Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What (Not) To Buy Your (Sunday School) Teacher

There are probably a million gift-buying recommendations out there for buying teacher gifts. This is mine.

Despite being only 36, I've been a Sunday School/Bible School teacher in some shape, form or fashion, for more than 19 years. I'm sending many of my former charges off to college and careers at this point. I've seen a lot of Christmas and birthday gifts for teachers in my time and can list a lot of Do and Don't tips.


1) For the love of all that is holy, please do not have your child actually participate in the giving of a gift that is more appropriate for a bachelorette party. Yes, I have had to thank a four-year-old for gifting me sexy underpants. I get that you and I, Parent, know each other as adults, but... no. Just no. You can give me those and say it's a thank you for teaching your child and give me a card from your adorable little cherub at the same time, but maybe don't have your four-year-old watch me open them. That's hella awkward for the decidedly single young Sunday School teacher and frankly makes me kind of wonder about you when you later freak out over a piece of student literature intended for adolescents that mentions the mere existence of breast feeding as though it were describing, in graphic detail, the orgies Sodom and Gomorrah used to put on, with pictures. (True story.)

Like, if you can floss your teeth with any portion of the underpants, this might not be the best option. I'm not a prude by any means, but I'm having a hard time reconciling this gift choice of yours with your insistence that both Harry Potter and tattoos are evil. How do you stand on bikini waxes?

2) No dust-gathering tchotchkes that only perform the function of dust-gathering and being a tchotchke. If they've taught more than a year or already graduated high school, I guarantee you they have plenty of tchotchkes to gather dust. No one actually needs another angel figurine or another vague "this was the year I gave this to you, it had a Christmas in it" Christmas ornament. Exceptions are made for dust-gathering tchotchkes hand-crafted or decorated in some fashion by your adorable cherub with the intention of giving them to me and personalized ornaments that actually took ten seconds of forethought. Know I like to run and buy me a personalized runner ornament? Awesome job, you, this is a DO. Give me a one of a kind lopsided Popsicle stick stable held together with Elmer's Glue? I will cherish it. Seriously. Buy me a shiny ball that has nothing but the year on it for no particular reason? Then I feel like you mechanically ticked a box next to my name on a list of chores somewhere. Then I have to find somewhere to store it. 
Arthur Court swears this bunny snowman is "adorable". I'm leaning more toward "it's staring into my soul in a slightly disturbing way", but at least the engraving ensures I can accurately tell my therapist when the nightmares started.

3) No makeup, perfume, hair care or bath products without doing at least thirty seconds of research, please. At least ask a spouse or relative if there are allergies, strong pro or con feelings for any particular brand, or any preferred/hated scents. Or cunningly bring it up in conversation. "You know, I tried that Dove shampoo/vanilla lotion and I really like it. Ever tried it?" will probably provide enough of a response that you can pick out a shampoo or a scented lotion. I'm stupid enough to assume not everything in the world revolves around me, so I won't even suspect you're digging for information. I'm really not good at picking up subtle hints like that.

I'm pretty allergy-free and like most everything you can slather on, personally, but I did once get a lip liner that, seriously, made my lips swell. And not in a sexy way. More in a "the skin around the perimeter is missing and I'm oozing blood" kind of way.

Also, go light on the makeup if you do buy it. A person can only wear so much. This also applies to nail polish. I think I have a ten-year supply despite not being a huge makeup person, mainly from gift sets. If they don't wear full eye makeup every single day, maybe the eye shadow gift set is not the best choice. Especially if it has 20 colors. I love bath and shampoo stuff, though, and it's rare to find a clunker among those. It's the kind of thing you can easily find out about anyone in short order and can be really cheap.  A full-size bottle of a common shampoo and conditioner can be bought for less than five bucks at your local Mega-mart or grocery store, I'll get months of use out of it, it will be one less thing I need to remember to buy and as a bonus, I do not have to store it in perpetuity. You use it up and move on to the next thing, and maybe I try something I never would have bought for myself. It does not have to be some fancy-riffic gift set from an overly-perfumed shop with one of those oddball scrubby-net things to let me know you were thinking of me.

Razz Gentle Mini Net Sponge

You don't fool me, so-called "bath pouf". You couldn't hack it as a pot scrubber, could you?
4)  Don't feel like you're a bad person if you don't buy me anything. I don't teach your child exclusively for the really super-awesome Christmas gifts, I promise. Honestly, I probably prefer you maybe volunteer to lead a craft one night at Bible School or something equally constructive. You might be surprised how wearying it can be at times to Be Responsible all the time. 
Throw a girl a bone and maybe spend 30 minutes organizing gluing some stuff when I've already had a long day at work?


1) Try to think of something useful. Useful doesn't even have to be all that personal, so don't panic if you don't know the teacher well. Preferably find something that will be used and used up. This is why lotion/shampoo/body wash is a supremely solid choice. Most people practice personal hygiene or can find some kind of use for a product they don't like. Everybody eats, and I'm betting you've seen this person eat something they like at a potluck, unless you have the saddest church family ever. A tiny little snack bag of imperfect brownies or cookies or snack mix your kid helped with, tied with a ribbon is awesome beyond words. I make exceptions for storing snack foods on my hips in perpetuity, because at least that doesn't need dusting and does not need to be protected from squirrels in the attic.

Do they ever eat out at lunch? New restaurant open up in the city where they work? Ask if they've tried it out yet. If the review seems positive, a gift card from there might be welcome. If the answer is no or they don't like it, ask where they recommend eating when you're in town. Sneaky, sneaky.

Do they have a car or ride the train? Everyone commutes. Gas station gift cards or public transit fare cards are practical. Do they have a body? If you want something a little more pampering-but-useful, I've never seen anyone go "Oh, darn, someone got me a gift certificate for a massage, I hate when that happens..." when opening an envelope. Do they have hair? Most everyone gets their hair cut. Say, "Gee, I like your hair, where do you get it cut?". Listen to the answer. Buy a gift certificate from said salon for any service they offer. Get together with the other parents and suggest everyone pitching in a little bit of money for a more impressive amount if you can't stand the idea of a small gift card. The other parents will probably want to hug you for saving them from having to think up something to buy.

Also, you will be allowed to gloat about finishing your Christmas shopping early.

2) Thoughtful is good, too. Thoughtful doesn't have to be expensive, either, it just requires knowing a speck of personal information. Maybe you've heard them natter on about running. A good pair of SmartWool running socks can cost like $12 at your local sports store or online. You don't even have to know squat about running socks. Just go in and say, "What running socks do you recommend?" in a half-decent sporting goods retailer or search "best running socks".
Know they like to cook or that they make a mean casserole/dessert for all the potlucks? You can never have too many cookbooks or too many casserole dishes, Pyrex portables or cake pans. Feel impersonal? They make personalized cake pans that don't cost an arm and a leg! Google it!

Sunday School teachers are people, too. I bet if you ask your kid, they might even know about their hobbies or what they like to do in their spare time. Anyone can buy a Sunday School teacher the Devotional Book Of The Week. Truly amazing parents might actually spend enough time talking to their child or the teacher to find out that, hey, Miss Stacie really likes playing the piano/running/reading/that movie/that television show/that series of books/that color, too!

Discworld Stickers - Clubs and Societies 
Honestly, I'm not that complicated. If it can be described as "geeky", you're probably good. People who think runners are not geeky have never spoken to a run-nerd. Warning: Do not ask me about my geeky interests unless you're prepared for at least five minutes of gushing.

3) Feel free to write something priceless that no money can buy. Take five minutes, a piece of notepaper, and write all of three sentences thanking me for spending a block of minutes a week with your kid that make a difference and you will have hit me square in The Feels. It doesn't even have to be inside a Christmas card. Sunday School teachers worry about having an impact. They worry that maybe 90% of what they're saying doesn't make it beyond the classroom door. They worry that you might not approve of everything they teach or that they might inadvertently offend someone. They have to tiptoe around wide and varying beliefs, some of which they don't necessarily agree with, without belittling any of them. They worry that they're getting taken for granted. They worry that they're not going to be able to come up with a single freaking craft idea for the next Bible School.

Did your kid remember something about a particular lesson that impressed you? Do you think class is making them more mindful of being kind or thoughtful about others? Are you happy that reading Bible verses out loud in class has improved their reading skills and made them more confident when they used to be terrified of reading in front of anyone?  Are you just pleased that someone other than you is even willing to take on the frankly terrifying minefield that is Answering The Big Life Questions For Wee People Aged Roughly Six To Fourteen? Tell me. Bonus points for having your adorable child write a sentence or two. A "thank you for being so nice to me" from a kid can keep me going for months.
Yes, the retirement plan is awesome, but the occasional job review is welcome.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Dear User... I Sometimes Do Other Things

Dear User,

I understand it can be frustrating when you have an issue and don't get a resolution right away. Guess what? It's also mega-frustrating when you assume that I have zero issues to deal with besides yours. Especially when your issue is of your own making and I have a backlogged pile of about three projects and twenty other issues that need seeing to.

First of all, I'm kind of amazed that you managed to forget how to do a thing that you've done, bare minimum, twice a year, for the past 20-plus years. Especially when you last did it just one month ago. You pull up a single record in a screen, change the dates, save and that's it. And forgive me if I'm extra-amazed that you managed to totally forget how to do this while attempting to train another user how to do this in your absence. Yes. That's right. You were sitting down with a fellow user to show them how it's done, and suddenly, you are unsure how to do the thing. You have no idea how this thing works. You didn't once take down a note, screenshot, or even, prior to sitting down with your trainee, whip out that brand new iPhone I know you have and take a picture of the screen? Apparently not.

So excuse me for kind of losing my mind with you on the phone because 1) You suddenly have no idea how to do a thing you've done on a regular basis since I was in middle school. We all have our off days and moments of "I can't believe I did that!", but this leads me to the second point... 2) You never once took notes on this very important thing that can hold up billing statements being sent out to students. Yet I'm supposed to drop everything and figure it out for you because it is, emphasis yours, VERY IMPORTANT. If it's so important, you think maybe you should write the steps and the values that never change down somewhere? Like maybe in case we all get hit by buses or something? Or in case my head actually does explode one of these days and I'm not around to figure it out for you? Or, God forbid, I actually take a day off and fail to notify the entire campus so they can cease forgetting how to do very important things in my absence? 3) You seem to expect that I should know how to do your job when you don't know how to do your job. Up to and including what is a policy question, not a computer question. If you don't know what your policy is, why would I know? Why should I know?
 Amazingly enough, I also have some other stuff to do. I'm trying to do about three IT jobs alone, because this college thinks just saying "lean and mean" enough means one employee can magically do the work of four. Because that extends to the other offices, not just IT, I'm in high demand. This is to say nothing of the project I've been attempting to work on, with zero success, for the last two weeks because people will not freaking leave me alone for ten minutes straight.

On occasion, I have to do things that do not include "hawking my email inbox constantly on the off chance that you have sent me another email message about this issue that I thought I had already resolved after a set of three highlighted screenshots and a fifteen minute phone conversation to explain what I already explained in writing". So, no, don't be so sure I'm already looking at your message when you phone me after I fail to respond fast enough for your liking. And please don't give me the "very important" line again, that is doing you no favors. The other five people breathing down my neck think their things are very important too.

And then I feel bad because I'm frustrated and sound frustrated.

And this, people, is one of the reasons why I run.

P.S. I figured out the one thing that needed to be changed on the screen somehow, despite the user's insistence that she had "tried everything", and the day was saved, at least until the next time someone forgets their own policy and decides it's my job to know their job even thought they have no clue how to do my job. Or theirs.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Plan? What Plan?

The last couple of weeks, the training plan has somewhat gone off the rails. The last Saturday of September was a 5K race day. It's my annual "slowest time of the year, but, hey, the last mile smells like country ham breakfast" festival run, so I hate to miss it, even for a better half-marathon time. Anticipating this, I banked on skipping one of the training plan easy runs, and time constraints meant that I couldn't quite get in the entire 10-mile long run before squeezing in two rest days. I still did about 8.67 miles and called it good. 

Then I left work on Friday afternoon. The plants were all apparently having an orgy, because my chest tightened up the moment I stepped out the door.

I'm guessing all the goldenrod and ragweed in Kentucky are having the sexytimes, because there are globs of pollen everywhere and the sneezing and coughing commenced. Coughing, mostly. I was a little wheezy and coughed a bit on Saturday, but I went into Monday only slightly choked up and my nostrils were 95% functional. My sinuses were being fairly cooperative, no pain, no pressure. 

I figure I'll head into the last cutback week, get over the allergies and cruise into the last month of training plan in pretty good shape. Only, The Saga Of The Monday Blue Laws happened.

I work in a fairly fun department. Good folks, friendly, funny, and most importantly, we can all throw down with some good eating. We wanted to buy some baked goods for a little celebration. And maybe buy a little lunch while we're at it. We head off for a neighboring town, their cupcake bakery and their extremely good local roadside barbecue joint.

We pull into the barbecue joint, only to discover it has recently changed its hours and is closed on Mondays. Right. So we'll pull down the street and pick up the cupcakes, right? Wrong! Closed on Mondays. The only other restaurants available in this neck of the woods are a Hardees that shares digs with a gas station, and a local restaurant that we're not quite sure is open. It once housed a combination Italian/Mexican restaurant that had since vacated the premises. We set off to see if that, at least, is open on Mondays.

Behold, it is open, and it is a little country cafe. We stroll in to discover that it is, apparently, the only non-cigar bar smoking establishment left in North America. Smoking is not only allowed, apparently it may be required to get in. There's a two smoker per table minimum, possibly, to keep the ashtrays on every table hot. We're starving by this point, so we decide to stick it out. From a "good  and affordable food" point of view, it wasn't bad. The beef stroganoff, cottage cheese, macaroni and maters, plus green beans went well with the very sweet sweet tea. From an "I kind of like breathing" angle, it was a terrible choice.

I'm 36 and have lived my entire life in Kentucky. My family raised tobacco when I was growing up, I've helped in setting, cutting and stripping it. I've never smoked, but in my childhood years, smoking was common and not many people hesitated when it came to lighting up in public. Somehow, in the ten years or so since "non-smoking" became the default choice and "smoking" practically became synonymous with "societal outcast", my lungs must have gotten spoiled rotten from all that fresh air. Just in case there were a few molecules of fresh air anywhere near our table, one lady helpfully took her cigarette along when she went to get a drink refill. I guess she was worried she would get lonely on the fifteen foot walk and couldn't bear to leave her cigarette in the ashtray for ten seconds. Maybe twenty seconds if she got winded. As soon as I finished eating, my tongue tasted of tobacco and my eyes felt gritty. Our hair and clothing reeked.  We all had the sinking feeling we had just shaved three to six months off of our life expectancies.

To add to the annoyance, they turned out to be a cash only establishment, probably because they can't be assured their customers will actually live long enough to make a payment on their credit card bill. We tried another cupcake joint back in town and it was also closed on Mondays. At that point, it was reaching the level of the absurd. We finally found a bakery that was open and bought cookies instead, since, clearly, the forces of fate did not intend for us to be able to feast upon cupcakes this day.

An hour after leaving the Den of Smoke, my respiratory system basically thanked me for bringing it along by trying to shank me. My sinuses and nasal passages more or less swelled shut, my cough became horrible and fits lasted for several minutes, my eyes were gritty, and in general, I was miserable, sleep- and oxygen-deprived for a week. I finally broke down and bought some Tussin Tab DM from Good Neighbor Pharmacy. I've spent a lot of the weekend taking some heavy duty naps and recovering. I'm back to running regularly tomorrow, I hope. It may be indoors, on the treadmill, and it may not be pretty, but I'm gonna run.


I mean it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Someone Needs To Turn Vivienne Westwood On To Some Pratchett

This Vivienne Westwood article seems to be doing the rounds of the internet lately.

The most discussed bit, it seems, is this:

Speaking after the show, Dame Vivienne said: "Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody's buying far too many clothes. I mean, I know I'm lucky, I can just take things and borrow them and I'm just okay, but I hate having too many clothes. And I think that poor people should be even more careful. It doesn't mean therefore you have to just buy anything cheap. Instead of buying six things, buy one thing that you really like. Don't keep buying just for the sake of it. I just think people should invest in the world. Don't invest in fashion, but invest in the world."

And somehow, I feel rather vindicated that the majority of comments about this piece of advice seem to be saying, "Yes, that's all very well and good if you can afford it and feel like it, Dame Vivienne, but kindly take that piece of advice you've helpfully aimed at the 'poor' and shove it in your probably $5000 borrowed kid leather handbag, because a pair of your shoes may be half the rent". 

It's the Captain Samuel Vimes "Boots" Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness, in other words. The non-Pratchett fans among you might be going "The whose theory of the what, now?" at this point.

Sure, many of us are lucky and comfortable enough that we can be choosy with how to spend our money. And the wise thing to do, if you're so inclined, is indeed to invest in better quality goods that cost more up front but are cheaper in the long run due to durability. But there's a fascinating, and quite real, economic phenomenon in which you can be too poor to save money. Not just in the "there's no money left over after paying the bills" sense, either.  You lack the resources to be able to effectively plan long term. 

You're living paycheck to paycheck and can't afford to pay your dental or medical bill early enough to reap a discount. So, you have to wait until payday and end up paying the full price.  You can't afford the Costco membership and buying in bulk, so you pay full price for those goods and make more trips when you have the money. You occasionally have to pick one bill to pay late and incur late fees, thereby spending more in the long run. You can't afford the good pair of leather boots that will last a decade, instead, you end up buying boots that cost a fifth as much but last only a tenth as long. It's something many politicians don't seem to grasp.

It's a phenomenon that cannot be explained more brilliantly and succinctly than it is by one of Terry Pratchett's characters, Samuel Vimes.

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

I'm sure Vivienne Westwood meant well enough, and there's certainly a segment of the population that could probably save money and closet space over time by following her advice. You know, assuming you're also one of those people who are lucky enough to never fluctuate in size in addition to being well off enough to afford being choosy about when and where you're spending your income.

But the instant she brought the word "poor" into it, someone really should have handed her a copy of Men At Arms and suggested she read that passage.   

Sam Vimes as drawn by the brilliant Paul Kidby. Go buy all the things he sells at, Vivienne Westwood be darned. Also, read the Vimes books. Start with Guards! Guards! You won't be sorry.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Many Guys Doing Manly Things

You may have picked up that I'm slightly geeky and tend to get most of my entertainment from the interwebs. If not, allow me to state the obvious and point out that when I'm not running, I'm probably doing something slightly geeky, possibly involving the interwebs. I also like video games and  sci-fi and comics and usually prefer action movies to chick flicks. 

We've been around decades, tone-deaf entertainment producers. Seriously, stop reacting like this when we keep calling you on your "Women don't buy this stuff. So we're good treating female characters like bikini-wearing pork chops, right?" malarkey. Especially when you keep acting like our money's not just as green as a teenage boy's. And more plentiful, too. Kind of side-eying you here, DC Comics and large portions of the video game industry...

I rather like web comics. There are some brilliantly drawn, engaging, and erudite comics out there. They extend beyond the well-known xkcd.

Sometimes I'm a little behind the curve in discovering something great, but one of the wonders of modern technology is the web archive. Which just means you can binge like crazy when you finally hop on board the bandwagon.

Then react like this when you reach the end and have to wait for more.
Image from the hilarious Instant No Button. For all your "Nooooooo!" needs.

I just recently discovered the web comic Manly Guys Doing Manly Things. The shortest way to describe it is "Imagine a sort of halfway house for all the super-macho "Stubbly McWhiteguy"s that tend to populate about 90% of popular entertainment and as they try to (re)integrate into society." It's the sort of concept that could, in the hands of the wrong person, be a very two-dimensional, one-note joke that ceases to be funny five strips in. In the hands of Kelly Turnbull, it's anything but. While a lot of the humor comes from poking a healthy dose of gentle, loving fun at the manly tropes that crop up so often in video games and movies, you're not required to be a major gamer geek to get the humor. The tropes are common enough that if you have ever consumed any popular culture whatsoever, you'll get it. If not, scroll down and she's sure to have provided some context. Google it if you have to. I swear it will be worth it. 

Additionally, the original characters are brilliantly drawn, and I'm not talking solely about the art. They have actual personalities and character arcs, romantic subplots and the occasional road trip where they sing Cyndi Lauper songs. There's a lot of very clever and subtle commentary on gender roles and solid female characters who are there for more than the wearing of the skimpy bikinis. It walks the fine line of making fun of the macho stereotypes while it celebrates them. It is, in short, awesome that way, because it doesn't shame macho men for being macho. It's fine and dandy to be macho. Macho does not automatically mean "misogynistic loudmouthed jerk". Some of us ladies just want in on the fun, too.

Basically, it's like a big, fat love letter to manly men who have to shave twice a day, have broken noses and yet are still secure enough in their manhood to bake muffins with their toddlers. Perhaps I can put it no better than the About page.

"Sometime this is a comic about macho action heroes. Sometimes this is a slice of life comic about a time traveling Navy SEAL single dad from the nonspecific spacefuture. Really, it just depends on how things were going that day."

Get over there now. Seriously, it is so worth it.

The Commander said so.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Yay, I Won A Flipbelt From!

If there's one thing I love even more than finding and buying a useful product, it's winning one in a contest. Because trying new running-related products can be extremely expensive. $25 here, $50 there, before you know it, you're talking real money. Particularly when we're talking about all the various hands-free "I need to wrangle some stuff while running" products on the market.

Like most runners, I like some tunes while I'm on the move, partially to get that famous psychological and performance boost from up-tempo music, partially to drown out my pathetic and sometimes distressing huffing, puffing and wheezing. Seriously, I have no idea how people could miss hearing me coming. Also, I like knowing how far I've gone, running from imaginary zombies and being able to phone the office for a pity pick-up if need be. Obviously, this means taking your phone along. Having accidentally drowned my iPhone 4S in my own sweat while on a 14-mile treadmill run (I'm dainty.), I sprung for a Lifeproof frÄ“ case for my replacement iPhone 5. The case is pretty awesome, bar a minor complaint or two, and Lifeproof also sells an armband that's compatible with said case. 

The armband is... considerably less awesome but serviceable. But then, I've never gotten on well with armbands in general. It often seems to be so tight that you're pinching your arm or bouncing down your less-than-manly biceps and swinging wildly around your elbow. The earphone cord is in the way a lot of the time. It's easy to pinch said earphone cord in the cradle meant to... well, cradle your phone. After a certain point, the neoprene band picks up a case of runner funk and has to be washed and dried, which is easier said than done when there's a padded portion that goes behind the hard plastic cradle. It works, but it can occasionally be annoying and adjusting it for comfort is not easy, is what I'm saying.

Not too long ago, I ran across a mention of the Flipbelt. It's basically one long, stretchy pocket belt with several slits for easy access and a single short seam that eliminates the need for a buckle. You pull it on over your head or step into it and let it grip around your waist or hips. If you want to make your items more secure, you simply flip the belt over and put the slits next to your body, making it difficult for the items to fall out. If that's not enlightening enough, the Flipbelt site has a video demonstration.

I was somewhat intrigued, and put it on my "maybe someday I'll check this out when the thing I'm currently using either gives out or sufficiently annoys me" list. I also, as is my habit these days, did a quick search to see if said thing on my list was maybe being featured in a current giveaway or sweepstakes. Goodness, it was, over at and I was lucky enough to win one. 

After a bit of debating about size, I went with the Small. I figured if it was a bit snug for the hips, it would still fit my waist. For reference, I usually wear a size 4 pant/skirt. I'm somewhat kicking myself that I didn't get the neon yellow when offered a color choice, but the carbon/black combo seemed like a nice, under the radar color for those cross-training days at the gym. The neon yellow would have offered visibility and also been a great accessory for all your Wonder Woman running costume needs. Seriously. I bought a running skirt from SV Forza just because it looked like Wonder Woman's costume. I'm now on the hunt for a suitable red top.

The folks at Holabird got my choice out to me quickly and I gave it an trial run (hah!) during a race, but not during a road race. I was a participant in The Dantastic Race, a Boyle county version of The Amazing Race complete with clues, puzzles, physical challenges and driving/running from spot to spot. We didn't have the chance to coordinate the elaborate group costumes that some of the other teams sported, being late entries, but hey, The Fast And The Curious were in third for a bit (even without a challenge skip in hand) and we had a great time, which is the most important part. I'm pretty sure we had more per capita fun than anyone else.

And more awesome purple mustaches.

Participation required registering one team member's smart phone, and needless to say, mine rode in my Flipbelt when it wasn't currently in use. It was out of the way but accessible, comfortable, and not bulky at all. It was a slightly tighter fit than a naked iPhone because of the Lifeproof case, but still tucked away fairly easily. After that success, I wore it on outdoor runs ranging from 4 to 5 miles and found it equally comfy and there was zero annoying bounce. I also found the earphone cords were much easier to wrangle when they're plugged in near your waist as opposed to your bicep. You can likely get several runs in before the belt needs a wash. I'll certainly continue swapping the armband out for the Flipbelt when the belt is in the wash, but let's just say I was quite happy to see the belt make its return from the washing machine.

And I'm already enviously looking at the bright yellow one to go with that skirt and looking to see if Holabird might have a nice, bright red running top.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Have You Tried Posting To Facebook About It?

I will never completely understand human nature. Particularly the bit of it that drives supposedly intelligent, well-educated employees of an institution of higher learning to totally avoid three completely convenient and well-advertised modes of communication available for conveying their problem directly to the highly trained professionals available on site who are actually paid to solve it.  Plus, there's the only marginally less convenient but additional option of "get your behind up out of your chair, walk across the beautiful and compact campus in the fresh air and sunshine to the office building which houses said professionals and have some probably pleasant face to face interaction.

But somehow, this is way too much trouble. Yet, somehow, they've got the time, motivation and bandwidth to get on the internet and "Vaguebook" about having an issue of some sort.

I have a revolutionary idea. If  you have an issue with the setup of a lab machine, maybe try notifying the department responsible for setting up the lab machine in something other than the most roundabout way possible?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Heisenberg's Uncertainty Pacing

I'm really, really terrible at self-pacing. Basically, I would like a built-in speedometer or an app shouting at me approximately once per minute or every couple of minutes to either speed up or slow down to meet my goal pace. 

I've never owned a GPS fitness watch-and-thermonuclear-reactor thing, just various iterations of the iPhone, though I'm soon going to be the proud owner of a Bia and Go Stick combo, for I am a Kickstarter backer who is down with supporting the technical ladies and female entrepreneurship and the rather innovative idea of having a built in SOS button for all your "I'm being attacked by a bear, send help."-type needs. Heart rate training for me consists of clinging to those capacitive metal thingummies on the treadmill handles and wondering if it's even slightly accurate. Over the years, I've tracked time and distance on outdoor runs using, as the notion strikes, Zombies, Run! (regular and 5K training versions), Run 10K by Felt Tip, Run 5K by Felt Tip, Charity Miles, MapMyRun, and Nexercise.

Back when I was training for my first half, I did almost all of my training on the treadmill. Look, it was winter, it was cold, I was starting early and running long, and I did not have any desire to be a cautionary tale about dying of exposure after bonking or slipping and breaking a leg. 
Or being eaten by a bear. They just look all cute like that to make you drop your guard. Then they eat your face.
As luck would have it, around the time of my half, I also won a free month's membership to MapMyRun's MVP features. Now, most of the MVP features, I don't give a flip about (no one with a smartphone really cares to track my runs second by second, I like my interval training with a side of story and character and zombies, thanks, and I rarely run anywhere unfamiliar and need the advanced map features) but one caught my eye. Live Coaching. For a brief, shining moment, Live Coaching was just plain built into the paid MapMyRun app. It is, in fact, half the primary reason I bought the darned app. It lasted for about three weeks before they moved it behind the monthly paywall that is MVP. *shakes fist* I had barely gotten to test it out, but it allowed you to set a goal pace and have the app alert you at intervals how well you were doing in hitting that pace. I'm surprised they didn't also move the "control your playlists from the app" feature behind a paywall. The playlist feature simply wasn't all that great.  You couldn't just point it at a playlist and make the controls more accessible from the main part of the app, developers?

Uh... seriously, guys? This is it? You not only have to go into the Record screen to look at the controls, you have to go into Songs and pull in all the songs you might want to listen to individually? Even if they are on a playlist? Every time? You can't just load the playlist? And if you double-tap the plus sign next to a song, it gets played twice? With no real indication that you've added it twice until you start wondering why the song is playing again? You can't see the playlist you're compiling? Then when you start recording your workout you have to go into the screen again to get at the controls? I've definitely seen better designs...

So I did what any self-respecting cheapskate-who-can't-estimate-her-own-pace would do. I saved that free month for the half, activated it just before and used Live Coaching during the race. I was annoyed to find that, along with a move behind a "monthly membership" fee, it had very little flexibility. You could only set it down to intervals of 5 minutes or more. Helpful, but not as helpful as I might have liked for keeping me on pace. Works okay during a half that takes you more than 2 hours to run, not much help when it comes to keeping you on pace for a narrow 5K PR, right? 
When Zombies, Run! can also be set to let you know your distance and pace every mile or kilometer, that feature's not really worth a monthly fee all by itself. Also, this app gives me a serious case of The Feels. "Current Pace... Ten... Minutes... Per... Mile... Slow down!" doesn't really hit me right in the emotions or make me laugh the way the idea of naming a pet chicken Mildred Van der Graaf does, MapMyRun. Have you thought of hiring a better writer?
I've got another "free month" code thanks to another MapMyRun, which I may need to hoard and activate once more for the trail half, at least if I have no alternative for pacing. Worst case, I can get past denial and straight on to acceptance if it is not in the cards that my second half will be no speedier than the first well before reaching the finish line.
At least until the Bia watches ship, I'm just going to come to terms with the fact that I'm not so much bad at pacing, I simply cannot know where I am and how fast I'm going at the same time without breaking science. Heisenberg said so.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Plan I Ran - Week Two

Week 2 was pretty much like Week 1, with more of the same. The table contains the target distances and paces in column 1, and the other columns contain the free, bonus, extra, new and improved non-running things I managed to do. Conservatively, I've been shooting for at least a couple of sessions of pullups per week, a day of low or no impact cross-training, and some plyometric jump squats. Because "plyometric" is just fun to say.

Yay, cross-training!

DateTargetPullupsPlyometric Jump SquatsAvg HR
8/19/20135 mile speed work, 1 mile warm, 1600 m @ 9:36 then 800 m jog x 2, 1 mile cool

8/20/20135 mile easy run @ 11:4827 @ 455 sets of 15
8/21/2013Rowing machine24 @ 45

8/22/20138 mile long run @ 11:48

8/23/20135 mile easy run @ 11:4824 @ 45, Bonus 5 chin-ups @ 455 sets of 15

Since I can't be having with metric, I just did a mile and half-mile stretch instead of the 1600 and 800 meter intervals. It made the math nice and easy on the treadmill. Since the treadmill offers the "make the pace or fall on your face" factor, making the pace was not a problem. My paces were a tiny bit faster than prescribed otherwise, partly because I had this nasty habit of abusing the snooze button every morning except Thursday. Wednesdays Row To Nowhere was 30:05 of stroking for 4306 m. 

Week 3, I'm coming for you. Game face! I'm bringing it!

And by "it", I obviously mean this lemur's invisible bicycle.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Continuing Saga Of People Signing Me Up For Things

For some reason, people seem to really enjoy signing up for stuff with my email address. In the past, I've had some random woman's Home Depot credit card emails, a Lord Of The Rings MMO account and a account associated with my email. I assume it's mostly not malicious, just... typos, but honestly, I can't take chances.

So I do what any self-respecting person would do these days. I grab the account and take control of it without prejudice. People seem to have been very  busy signing me up for amusing things this weekend, as I've got not one, not two, but three new email-related things I didn't acquire myself!

And man, are they random.

One signed me up for Habbo Hotel, a Finnish social site that seems to consist entirely of buying stuff for your fictional character and chatting with people while wandering around virtual hotel rooms. User lsweetcoke, who seems fond of the pirate-y eyepatch look, since their (my?) character has one,  might be surprised to find that I've changed the password, activated the extra-secure security questions and that it will be verrrrry difficult to guess the answers as I doubt they share my third grade teacher and even if they researched it somehow, what random collection of letters I stuck in front of the answer. And I've turned off any setting that allows you to be "social", like receiving friend requests or having your profile viewed. Oh, and I changed the email address the account is associated with for good measure. At any rate, if you're lsweetcoke and would like to explain how/why you came to associate your account with my email address, explanations are welcome. Also, why an eyepatch? I mean, it's not as though I have anything against eyepatches, some of my favorite fictional characters have worn them, at least briefly, but is it what all the hip Finnish teens are wearing today? Inquiring minds want to know.

This looks... um... whimsically delicious. I'll take my picnics non-virtual, please, potential cyber-suitors. And remember, no hiding in the locker and freaking out the rubber ducky, creepers!

Someone else decided I needed to join the exciting world of Tumblr! So now that Tumblr is mine, and I've changed the URL from to something I might use. Anyway, again, random Tumblr-person, if you would like to offer an explanation, I'm all virtual ears. I mean, I'm just wondering how, with the name "Maria" you managed to mistype your own email address that badly. 

But I'm picturing something like this. 

I would love to properly credit this minor work of gif-tastic genius, but it came from Tumblr. I think. How the heck do you ever manage to credit any image from Tumblr when you found it on Google Image Search? Tumblr is like one massive tornado of liking and reblogging. You can never find a thing a second time unless you reblog it, based on my past experience. And apparently, you also can't find it a first time, either. Tumblr. It's like that one drawer in your house where small, unorganized things go to disappear permanently. That's one reason why I've avoided actually joining.

An additional person, I presume, decided I simply HAD to get the specials from Now, that one appears to be just a newsletter containing specials as opposed to an actual login, which saved me the trouble of having to swoop in and take it back for myself. Mind, this may only be because the site doesn't actually have logins. Otherwise, I would fully expect to be logging into your account and cancelling your orders for you. So, thank you, kind cosmetics-buying sir or madam for only making me unsubscribe!

Anyone else thinking of using my email address to sign up for random stuff, skip it, please. I can't even keep up with all the junk I actually sign into. I'm sure as heck not going to play your Sim knock-off and reblog all the things for you. And I'm sure not going to be buying your direct from Hong Kong cosmetics for you.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

No Thanks, and smithy123

Now, apparently, I'm supposedly in need of some light reading, because smithy123 signed up for with my email. Near as I can figure, it seems to be a sort of site with more quizzes and boy band fan-fiction. The generally expected stuff, like Harry Potter and fill-in-the-Harry-Potter-imaginary-boyfriend fic all seems to be there, so evidently they don't ban-hammer Real People Fic. I have zero comments on the quality of the writing, because I'm not particularly interested in finding out whether the One Direction or other teen singing sensation fanfic is everything it's cracked up to be.

It doesn't have any Discworld fanfic that I could find, so I'm almost minded to go over there and post some, if only to steer people to some excellent reading when they get done with the Justin Bieber fanfic.

 I belieb I will pass, The Biebs... 
But I would like to know if a family of four is living in your hat.

Since I don't so much need more[1] One Direction fanfic in my life at this time, I doubt I'll be using the account much, but thanks anyway! I'll stick to my Kindle backlog and try to finish The Long War instead.

[1] any

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

One Does Not Simply Walk Into Mordor

That goes triple on a Friday.

I work in higher education. I work in IT in higher education. Now, I've been at the institution that employs me for 14 years now, so obviously I usually enjoy what I do and have developed Stockholm Syndrome strong emotional attachments to many of the fine people I work with. People don't go into IT because they like saying "no" or because they hate making people happy by making their lives easier or giving them what they need to do their jobs or making technology work minor miracles. People definitely don't go into IT areas that involve "customer service" because they're misanthropic or anti-social, despite the stereotypes. We all have personalities fully intact in our department and can hold a conversation like a real, live human being. I've also only rarely fantasized about strangling people and there are many enjoyable and highly hilarious opportunities for venting with other overworked, understaffed brothers (and one sister) in arms. 

What I'm trying to say is, "We like helping you, users, but for the love of all that is holy, people, you are not the only person on campus with a need, and there are only eight of us, and some of us occasionally like eating, sleeping, going home and other recreational activities that do not involve hovering expectantly in case you decide that, I, personally, have a thing to be done for you. So do lots of other people. Get in line. We occasionally even go outside in order to work on someone's computer or have a meeting with someone. Do not bank on us sitting right next to the phone to pick up your call or assume we have less than four hundred other messages in our Inboxes."

But even 14 years on, I still comically rant with major amusement at how many people will wait until 2:50 P.M. on a Friday, during one of the busiest times of the year, only to directly email/call one person in the department, vaguely describing a thing that gets run for them once a year, all puzzled that they didn't get the person they originally directly called at the last minute because he's done this crazy thing called "Taking his well-deserved and hard-earned Floating Holiday before the college takes it back". And act equally puzzled that you don't immediately know which report out of the many hundreds of reports lying about the place is the one that they refer to as something along the lines of "you know that list I get once a year with the mailboxes on it?" might be.

And then when you ask when they need it, they answer, "I was hoping to get it this afternoon."

This afternoon. The afternoon of which there are two hours left? That one?

So, because you actually like doing things for people, you promise to look, but ask that they do what they should have done in the first place, put in a helpdesk request. The helpdesk where their request would have had a better chance of being noticed and assigned to someone who is actually on campus if it's so darned urgent. When you find it, you go to see them and they are nowhere to be found, despite "hoping to get it this afternoon". They still haven't put in that helpdesk call that you asked them to put in. And since you're trying to actually prove with real, live statistics that you are, as you have always been, not equipped with enough bodies to handle all of these "hoping to get it this afternoon"s, you end up having to put in the helpdesk call on their behalf as well.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am occasionally tempted to just keep running some mornings before work.

Friday, August 16, 2013

I Ran With A Plan - Week One

I'm actually training when I have a plan. I still feel sufficiently clueless about training that I just plain love it if I have someone who allegedly knows what they are doing telling me how far to go and how fast and when. Especially when I'm training for anything longer than a 10K. Granted, my ability to pace myself (or rather, to estimate my own speed at any given time) is pathetic, so I practically need a treadmill or a speedometer to hit a pace reliably, but that's a whole other post.

So I downloaded the SmartCoach app for my iPhone. It's from Runner's World, a publication that allegedly knows some stuff about running and has never really struck me as too "out there" when it comes to telling you nonsense like "triple your speed while sitting on the couch!" or similar. Their advice tends to be the far more sensible "Run Your Butt Off! Lose weight by... well, running your butt off..." variety.

The app is pretty simple, in that you plug in a recent race time and distance, goal distance, pick a target training intensity, weekly mileage and training plan length, and the number-crunching pixies in your phone tell you how far to go and how fast and when. 

I wanted to finish up the Dash For Life 5K first and use that as my starting point for the training plan. I was really hoping to best my 5K race PR of 28:31, but it was hot, humid, muggy and so on. When the sun came out, you could quite literally feel the steam coming up off of the damp road, so I opted to not run until I hurled. I still finished in a pretty respectable 29:06, just out of placing in my very competitive age group.

I plugged in 29 minutes even for my 5K time, half-marathon goal distance (obviously), 21 - 25 miles weekly mileage, Very Hard training level, 12 weeks and picked Friday as my long run day. Combining that and a bit of cross-training of my choice, my dream target for the week was as follows:

DateTargetPullupsPlyometric Jump SquatsAvg HR
8/12/20135 mile tempo run, 1 mile warm, 3 @ 10:10, 1 mile cool

8/13/20134 mile easy run, 11:48 pace24 @ 455 sets of 15159

8/15/2013Rest Day

8/16/20138 Mile long run, 11:48 pace

Monday's tempo run  was pretty close, though mile 2 might have been a smidgen slow at 10:30. Tuesday's 4 mile easy run was dead on within a few seconds, because it was on the treadmill. I rowed 4446 meters in about 30:10. Thursday was my day off, and Friday's long run was glorious. The weather was perfect, not too not, not too cold, but I was a bit rushed due to oversleeping. So I shaved about 5 minutes off the recommended pace. Next week should be better and  hopefully, I won't spend as many late afternoons trying to escape the gravitational pull of the office long after I meant to leave.

Also, hopefully next week will produce less "ho-my-goodness plyometric jump squats are making me walk like a cowgirl!" as well.