Monday, April 30, 2007

Lost and Found

All that I had left to give just wasn't enough. And so it got sluggish. It staggered, until it stopped.

And although I haven't really been spending much time in San Francisco anyway, I had to get out of the city. Again. Away from laundry and cleaning and errands. Away from messages to return and phone calls to make. Away from the professional stress. And the personal drama.

We headed to Tahoe. Some people - well, MOST people - backed out at the last minute. But that only made the trip that much better. Just us. And our bikes. Plus running shoes and gloves and a baseball. We forgot CDs, and the iPod transmitter didn't really work, so for three hours in the car, we only had each other.

It was a long drive, but still, I think it ended too soon. Tired, we went to sleep immediately after our arrival. But we woke up to gorgeous sunlight. And a beautiful day in the mountains, that of course, begged us to ride. So we set out, and 45 miles later, we returned home. Exhausted and happy.

I threw on my Asics for a post cycling run, Wildlfower only one more week away. It was painful, at first, but it got better. How can it NOT get better when you're running next to that gorgeouos lake? And those beautiful snow-capped mountains! Yes, running at altitude makes it's hard to breathe; but when running at altitude, every breath feels so much more worth it...

Afternoon naps. And dinner, with good food, good wine, and good friends. New friends. Someone you never knew you needed to meet. Who makes you smile. And feel good. Healthy, both physically and emotionally. And yet who makes you want to be better. On the bike. On the job, and on that road of life. Every minute, of every hour, of every day.

I always want to feel this happy. This tired, and yet this energized. This excited, and yet this calm. Lost in the middle of nowhere, atop a bike and a mountain, I found exactly what I've been missing. What I've been needing.

I never want to let go.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Trying to Tri

I woke up early on Sunday morning, determined to REALLY train for the upcoming Wildflower Triathlon that is only a few short weeks away. Seriously, I’m SO under-trained for this event. Compared to how much time and energy I invested in my past marathons and half marathons, I’m probably only ready for a 10K. Which is a total shame considering that prior to running a 10K on May 5 I’m also going to have to swim a mile and cycle through 25.

So Sunday I woke up and headed to the pool.

(That’s right, the pool. Because I still have yet to purchase the wet suit I was going to purchase before my trip to Morocco. Because my week was rearranged when I had to go to Chicago for work. And after being “back” in San Francisco, I’m again in Chicago. So ridiculous… Anyway, I’m hoping to buy that wetsuit this week, and once I do, I’ll take her for a swim in The Bay ASAP. But I digress…)

I walked the mile and a half to the pool on Sunday morning, swam a pretty decent mile and then walked a mile and a half back home. I traded my tight Speedo bathing suit for some sausage sucking cycling shorts and hopped onto my bicycle for a spin over the Golden Gate Bridge, up to the top of Marin Headlands, and then down into Sausalito before turning around and heading back home.

For the first time EVER, I really felt like I dominated my bike ride. There were no falls. No mishaps with my pedals. I was only passed by some cyclists who truly looked bad ass, despite climbing some of the most challenging hills. Sure, I panted and chugged water and felt like I was totally out of shape at the crest of each hill, but I managed to regain control of my breathing as soon as the road flattened… just in time to start climbing again, most of the time!

And I have to admit, both my swimming and cycling really are getting better. It’s just that I don’t have a whole lot of time left before Wildflower! And I’ve yet to do a full practice triathlon. I had every intention of lacing up the Asics for a quick lap around the neighborhood after my ride yesterday, but I caught a glimpse of my couch when I returned my bike to my apartment and the urge to sit down and just stare at the ceiling was too strong to deny.

All of this activity plus travel is pretty tiring. Not a surprise, however.

So, I unfortunately ONLY completed a 1 mile swim and 30 mile ride yesterday. I know this workout was still substantial, and, well, decent. And I know that I still have quite a few opportunities to fit in additional training sessions before the race. All hope is not totally lost. And I am in respectable enough shape to confidently attempt to finish Wildflower. I just hope I don’t have to travel AGAIN the week before the race!

Oh, Triathlon Training. You are much more fun than Marathon Training. And I swear, I really am TRYING to Tri. Tri Training just doesn’t travel well! If only I could cram my bike and my pool into my suitcase the way I can always squeeze in my running shoes...

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Just Keep Swimming

I obviously didn't do a whole lot of swimming in Marrakech... So this week, after nearly 10 days out of the pool, I tried to get back into the swimming groove.

Sadly, I have lost my rhythm.

Today wasn't as terrible as the past couple of days, though. I managed to swim a mile in 27 minutes, my normal time, and I only felt like throwing in the proverbial towell to drown twice. I think the only way I got through the workout was by humming to myself the famous lines of Dori from Finding Nemo: "Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!"

I said those words to myself so many times that like Dori, I forgot where I was and what I was doing. And eventually, I had swam an entire mile, and I was finished. Success!

Swimming, despite its difficult nature, manages to clear my head. Sure, it clogs my ears, but a half hour underwater with nothing but my mantra really does help to drown out all of life's other noise...

So, if I can offer any other struggling swimmer any advice, it would be to "Just Keep Swimming."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Monday, April 09, 2007

London Calling

I had only been in the UK a few moments when I realized that I absolutely must live here at some point. The feeling mirrors that which I felt about San Francisco prior to my settlement there. I can’t really justify it with tangible examples or experiences – it is a feeling. A feeling that I cannot shake. I must live in London!

I arrived in London Saturday afternoon, traveling via The Underground to my hotel in Mayfair, near Green Park. My hotel was perfectly situated between all the touristy things one must see on their first visit to London. I arrived at my hotel and immediately crashed on my TWIN bed for an hour before showering (hot water!) and STYLING my hair (hair dryer!) and then hitting the town.

My hotel was right off of Picadilly Street, so I took a stroll towards Picadilly Circus to get a feel of the neighborhood. I held back my urge to take too many pictures during this walk, as it was getting dark, and because I hadn’t really eaten all day. It was time to eat!

By the time I found a pub, it was 9:45 PM. And by the time I actually got up to the bar to order my food, the bartender told me the kitchen was closed. I pleaded that I would eat anything they had left in the kitchen, as I was STARVING, and she pulled some strings to get me a platter of fish and chips. While waiting to place my order, I had started talking to two American men, who bought me my dinner and a pint of Stella Artois. LOVELY.

They asked me if I grew up in New Jersey, which I immediately scolded them for doing. To make it up to me, they bought me another pint of Stella. LOVELY! (London is expensive, so I’m not going to get all feminist about a couple of men buying me drinks.) It was fun to hang out and talk to people, too. After several more pints, they walked me home to my hotel, which was just around the corner, and I passed out in my twin bed. Kind of college style, really. Because the last time I got so drunk off of beer and then passed out in a twin bed has to have been sometime in 1999.

I woke up on Sunday with a killer hangover. Always nice to start Easter with a hangover, isn’t it? After breakfast at the hotel, I set out on my journey to see London. ALL of London. Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, 10 Downing Street, etc. I walked all the way down to London Bridge, past Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, and then back to the neighborhood of Kensignton. Unfortunately, I did not get to go shopping at Harrod’s, as it was closed for Easter, but I did pop into a few boutiques, so my London shopping was successful.

Approximately 35,000 steps on my pedometer later, the equivalent to 15 miles, I took myself back to my hotel, where I again collapsed on my twin bed for a few hours. A light dinner a couple of hours later and back to my hotel, as I was completely exhausted from my day of sightseeing.

However, I am still certain – I will live in London. At some point… For now, though, I find solace in the fact that my next three projects for work will require some travel to Europe. I'm not really ready to go back to work after this amazing vacation, but at least I have London Calling in the not so distant future.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Saturday, April 07, 2007


I didn't get a lot of sleep in Marrakech. That is an understatement, actually. I didn't get any sleep in Marrakech, especially the night of the wedding.

So when we woke up on Thursday morning - EARLY - to head out to Essaouira, I was exhausted. And at the time, I didn't feel like piling into a van to make the trip. (If you've never heard of Essaouira, check out this posting from LEF herself.) However, the journey, which we were worried wouldn't happen at quite a few times Thursday morning, was well worth it, despite exhaustion, anxiety, and a long car ride.

Around 9:00 AM, 10 ladies exited Riad al Tainam lugging all of their luggage through the streets of Marrakech, almost a mile to Riad Blanc, where we were meeting the rest of the wedding guests. I've described the streets of Marrakech before - they are a little hectic - and 10 ladies pulling suitcases and lugging large bags full of purchases from the souks must have been an interesting sight for the locals.

My favorite cat-calls for the entire week are definitely, "Hello, Flower..." and "Fish and Chips!" both of which we heard quite often, as white women traveling alone DO stand out a bit in Marrakech. But ten white women dragging luggage almost a mile throughout the winding streets of the Medina DEFINITELY draw attention. I guess we looked Brittish, hence the calls of, "Fish and Chips!" Really, it was too funny.

After a brief meeting at Riad Blanc, we again lugged suitcases and bags a few blocks to where our vans were waiting for us. Getting our luggage into the vans was not an easy task, and getting our drivers to agree to drive us to Essaouira - three and a half hours away - proved more difficult than we had expected, given that reservations/plans had been made in advance. One van of 10 people had to unload all of their belongings after sitting in the van for about an hour because the driver decided - at the last minute - that he didn't really feel like driving to Essaouira, anymore.

(If only I didn't have to go to work because I didn't "feel like it" anymore...)

After a few negotiations, and likely the exchange of additional dhiram, we did get the transit situation settled. And after a quiet three and a half hours through the Moroccan country-side, which amazingly enough resembles I-10 along New Mexico and Arizona, we arrived in Essaouira.

I had been sleeping when we pulled into this beautiful, quaint beach town. When I opened my eyes the first sight I noticed was the sparkling Atlantic Ocean. Now, I've seen the Atlantic hundreds of times in my 27 years, but mostly from places like Ocean City, NJ or Myrtle Beach, SC. Until that moment, I had never seen the ocean from Africa; I must say, it gives a view of the Pacific from California a run for its money.

Essaouira, like Marrakech, is a city with winding narrow streets. However the chaos and intensity of Marrakech are replaced with peace and tranquility in Essaouira. There are cafes at which people sit sipping coffee for hours. The shopping is not quite as intense. In general, the town is relaxing. After an hour there I was already sad I was eventually going to have to leave.

We spent the day wandering the city, shopping, and getting lunch. We went to a fantastic restaurant for dinner, where I dined on Patiste aux Fruits de Mer. Basically a Moroccan chicken pot pie with seafood, only a bit more elegant, and definitely more delectable. The waiter kept the wine coming; the band, the music flowing. And after a dinner lasting nearly four and a half hours, we headed back to our riad.

Staying up all night talking. Making new friends. Tightening the bond with people I have already shared so many memories. It was an amazing night, a night that no one wanted to end. Because in the morning, I had to pack my bags and return to Marrakech so that I could catch a flight to London...

This trip to Morocco was made possible by life-long friendship and eternal love. In Marrakech and Essaouira, we both celebrated and again discovered these feelings. It was truly, an amazing journey and a perfect destination.

Friday, April 06, 2007

A Toast: To Best Friends Forever

I first met LEF when we were 13 years old and on the soccer field. We were in eighth grade at the time. I have to admit – it was not best friendship at first sight. LEF scared me to death! Even at thirteen, LEF was confident and opinionated. And throughout her entire life, LEF has always known what she wanted; furthermore, she has never been bashful about going after it. I was a little directionless back then, so this confidence really intimidated me.

LEF and I sat next to each other in AP Chemistry, during our senior year in high school. She was energetic and talkative, and before I knew it, she had “instructed me” that I was to meet up with her to work on our labs and problem sets. Collaborating on homework quickly turned into partying after Fall Dance and talking on the phone. Actually, LEF always called me at 8:00 AM on the weekends… Funny how I remember things like that! But very quickly, this girl that I had known since I was thirteen, and with whom I had been cordial and friendly throughout all of high school, had become my best friend.

As luck would have it, both LEF and I decided to attend the University of Virginia, and honestly, I cannot imagine having gone away to college without her. At 18 years old, I had probably only left Philadelphia a handful of times, and almost always to the same place – Myrtle Beach, SC – for an annual dance competition. At 18 years old, LEF, however, had already been to Europe. Her presence in Charlottesville was a welcome comfort.

Throughout college, LEF and I often did our own thing. We were in different schools, with different majors. We lived in different dorms, and we ended up pledging different sororities. We had different friends and different interests. Our paths, however divergent, always seemed to wrap back around and to again coincide, though. It has been the true beauty of our friendship. No matter where life has taken us, and even at 27 years old it has already taken us around the world, LEF continues to be my best friend.

I would not have had the courage to move to San Francisco without the support of LEF. She is my inspiration, showing me the beauty that we can find in being bold. The strength that we can find in being courageous.

LEF, I wish you and MAS a lifetime of bold, beautiful decisions stemming from the strength and courage you consistently demonstrate. I also wish you infinite moments of the softness and compassion that you and MAS have found in each other by falling in-love.

Happy Wedding, LEF. Cheers!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Going to the Riad and You're...

...gonna get married!

The festivities really began on Tuesday evening. The group at my riad gathered to begin our procession throughout the winding streets of the Medina to the restaurant where we had the rehearsal dinner. I’m not sure how we got ourselves there, especially since even the little Moroccan boy who tried to lead us also chose the wrong path at one point, but we made it. On time, and safely.

Few events are as warm and exciting as a wedding. And since the rehearsal dinner is the first time many wedding guests see each other, or meet for the first time, the rehearsal dinner has become my favorite part of a wedding celebration. I reunited with LEF’s family and her in-laws, I said hello to Peace Corps friends I had met years before. I met new faces, as well, from both the s side of the bride, as well as the groom.

Smiling and hugging, love radiated throughout the restaurant throughout the rehearsal dinner. LEF, gorgeous in her red dress, shined. MAS, quiet and proud, stood tall. Salads, lamb tajines, orange desserts, and bottles and bottles of wine later, the group returned to Riad Blanc to continue the celebrations. We played games and we danced and by 3:30 AM, MM, LC, and I realized we really needed to go home. But since we were the only women left at the Riad, JB and OB escorted us through the winding streets of the Medina and back home to Riad al Tainam.

The wedding was scheduled for 6:00 PM on the following day. I arrived at the riad a little early, and proceeded up to LEF’s room to say hello and to see how she was doing. She was all smiles, and I honestly don't think I have never seen her so happy. And although I cried while hugging her, I have never known myself to be so happy, either.

The ceremony was beautiful; the right combination of thoughtful readings with light-hearted speeches and the presence of so much loving energy. I couldn’t look at LEF and MAS without feeling butterflies in my stomach - their love makes even me giddy.

The ceremony concluded with a big fat kiss and the popping of plenty of bubbly. As if the love and wine that filled the riad were not enough to get the party started, the dancing commenced with a belly dancer. After about an hour of cocktails and belly dancing, the wedding band lead us through the streets of the Medina from Riad Blanc to the resuraunt that was hosting the reception. The procession was fantastic! Donkeys, wild cats, Moroccans, cars, motor bikes, bikes – nothing could stop us. We had a wedding to celebrate!

Under the stars of Marrakech, friends and family totaling up to fifty people gathered to eat, drink, dance, and tell stories about our bride and groom. Laughing until we were crying, crying until we were laughing. It was a perfect evening.

LEF, I’m so happy that you and MAS “decided to move forward with getting married.” I wish you all the happiness and love that I have seen the past several years, but especially on this wonderful night, and during these unique, wonderful days in Marrakech, throughout every day of your marriage.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Medina Madness

The Marrakech Medina is a crazy place, day or night. Honest confessions of a shopaholic, the two days I spent navigating open marketplace – the souks – were overwhelming and stressful, and yet still adventurous and exciting, all at the same time.

Our day commenced with one goal: exchange dollars for dhirams. When I arrived at the Marrakech airport the night before, the ATMs didn’t have cash and the exchanges were closed. (Very lucky that LEF’s family had already arranged for my transportation, or I would have been hanging out at the airport all night…) Tuesday morning I found myself in the same predicament. Four ATMs and several exchanges later, I still hadn’t been able to obtain dhirams, nor had I been able to exchange my dollars for dhirams. The escapade finally ended a little after lunch (great timing – I was starving!) and I was able to set off into the souks to do some shopping.

Silk scarves, rugs, ceramic pottery, ceramic tajines, essential oils, beanie hats (!!!), leather bags, leather shoes… All for a fraction of the price they would cost in the US and yet still over-priced for someone who is clearly non-Moroccan. The haggling got on my nerves, mostly because the difference of 20 dhiram to the shopkeeper is a lot whereas $2.50 for me is nothing, but I did come away with some really great deals.

To complete our experience in Marrakech, a group of us girls decided to visit a Hammam for a Moroccan spa treatment. What treatment!!! For 350 dhiram (roughly $40) we spent an hour and a half getting scrubbed down with black olive soap, relaxing in a steam room, getting head to toe exfoliation, followed by mud baths and more time in the steam room, all completed with mint tea and relaxing Moroccan massages with essential oils. The few hours we spent in the Hammam were welcome respite from the chaos of the medina.

Between our shopping and spa services, we ate tajines, couscous, fresh figs and peanuts and almonds. We wandered down alleys and played soccer with little boys. We gave our spare change to little girls. We saw snake charmers and turned down the opportunities to pet monkeys and snakes. (In all honesty, I kind of lost it after the guy asked, “Would you like to pet my monkey?”)

On the international level, I do not consider myself to be well-traveled. I therefore did not have expectations of the daily activities and pace of the people of Marrakech. However after spending a few days within the walls of the Medina, I look forward to a return to the chaos, the excitement, and yes, the madness, of Marrakech.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

At Last

After thirty-one hours of travel, including three plane rides, two Tylenol PMs, and one Lunesta, I safely arrived in Marrakech at 9PM Local Time last night. I met up with LEF’s brother and sister-in-law at Heathrow, and together we were whisked away by a driver who transported us from the Marrakech airport and into Marrakech.

We arrived at Riad Blanc, LEF’s riad, after a twenty minute drive across town and through the Medina, Marrakech’s “downtown” labyrinth of small streets and alleys. LEF, as well as her mom and dad – who at times feel like my second mom and dad – were waiting to greet us.

I have never been so happy to see LEF in my entire life. Not even after her return from London, Second Year at UVA; or her return from Copenhagen, Third Year at UVA. Not after all of her return trips from Senegal during the two and a half years she was in the Peace Corps. And not even after I returned to the East Coast for the first time after moving to San Francisco, when she picked me up at Dulles Airport at 6:00 AM. Last night, amidst a sea of taxi cabs, motor bikes, wild cats, and Moroccans, I embraced LEF with the most love I have ever felt for her.

She looked beautiful. Smiling and excited, yet calm and composed amidst the chaos of the Medina. LEF has extensively traveled the world and spent many years living abroad. As I hugged her, it felt special to be spending my first time in Morocco – not to mention my first time in the continent of Africa – by her side.

After greeting the rest of LEF’s family, I headed over to check-in at my riad, Riad al Tainam. It was a short walk from Riad Blanc, but a series of many turns down dark streets and alleys. Upon my arrival I was greeted by our host, who had prepared a meal for everyone staying at the riad, all of whom had also traveled to Marrakech for LEF’s wedding. The girls staying here are a collection of friends from high school, college, and years in Washington, DC. I hadn’t seen some of them in over a year and a half, so it was a great reunion.

We feasted – and I do mean feasted – on traditional Moroccan foods for an elegant dinner. Tajine, couscous, etc. We were lucky to be offered wine with our meal, as well. (It is illegal to sell wine to Moroccans in Morocco, so our hosts at the riad were very proud to have obtained wine for us!) We told stories about LEF throughout all of our years knowing her – high school, college, Peace Corps, and post-Peace Corps in Washington, DC.

It was a wonderful way to kick-off the week’s celebration, and listening to everyone’s stories about our mutual friend really brought out the uniqueness of my relationship with this amazing woman. We have been friends for over ten years, now; and our friendship has thrived across oceans and continents. We have grown up together, and figured out who we are together, despite often being apart.

And now she is getting married… and I’m so glad that we get to share this experience together, in Marrakech.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Flying by the Seat of My Pants

Remember when I was a list person? Life seemed so simple back then. Write it down, get it done, cross it off.

Well, lists and I don’t really get along, anymore. For many reasons. 1) I never really have time to write things down. 2) Even if I do make time to create a list, I have trouble finishing it, as the lists I create quickly become unmanageable collections of infinite tasks. 3) As the lists continue to grow, with no end in sight, I quickly lose control of my stress. I get anxious (how will I ever finish all of this?) and I develop feelings of worthlessness (I suck because I cannot accomplish anything). 4)…

Shit! See why lists suck so much for me?

So, a couple of months ago, I decided to abandon my lists, favoring a new philosophy, which is as follows: If it is important, it will happen. (Meaning if it is important, there is no way I won’t remember to do it.) This new philosophy does have its strengths and weaknesses. It facilitates living in the moment, a lifestyle for which I continue to strive. And it thwarts panic attacks by prohibiting me from ever seeing – on paper – all that I have to do at any given time.

However I have recently uncovered a few problems with this paperless tracking system, in that, sometimes, things really SHOULD be written down. On napkins. On post it notes. On the backs of hands. Or fuck, on a piece of steno paper that is labeled at the top, TO DO LIST.

In hindsight, if I could do it over again, I would have verified the departure time for my Thursday night flight to London sometime on Wednesday. And I would have written the verified departure time down. Both on my hand and on a piece of paper. I would have written down 7:23 PM, ideally, and not 11:23 PM, which I know I saw at some point in time on one of my 100+ United Itineraries. Yes, in hindsight, I would have abandoned the paperless tracking system in an effort to ensure I would not miss a very important flight to London.

But instead, I logged onto the United Airlines website the evening of my flight – that flight I thought left at 11:23 PM – to see if it was scheduled for an on-time departure. And at 8:18 PM on Thursday night, I confirmed that my flight – that flight I thought left at 11:23 PM – was in deed on time. On time, and already in the air, as it took off at 7:23 PM. Which, as anyone who can tell time can surely understand, is not the same as 11:23 PM.

I have never – never in my life – missed a flight. Part wise-traveler (why would anyone EVER connect through O’Hare?) and part travel-snob (why would anyone EVER connect when they can almost ALWAYS fly direct?) and part experience (status = first class security = short lines!). But Thursday, for myriad reasons, I just confused everything, and I missed my flight to London. Which means I missed my Saturday flight to Marrakech. FUCK!

While trying to maintain perspective, I realized that I DID NOT miss LEF’s wedding, as it is scheduled for Wednesday. And that despite having to rearrange my flights, I was still going to make it to Marrakech by Monday evening. So thankfully, I did not miss this wedding. And my paperless tracking system, as well as the, “If it is important, it will happen” philosophy are still in tact. The wedding is what is important, and I'm going to be there for it. Flying by the seat of my pants to get there, almost literally, but I'll get there.

Hiccups in travel behind me, I am now sitting at a cafĂ© inside Heathrow Airport. I have been traveling for over twenty four hours and I am QUITE tired. But I am ready for a week of exploration. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean for only the third time in my life. With friends from high school, college, Washington DC, and life in general. For a trip celebrating that which is truly important in life – family, and friends, and love.

It is going to be a great week. Stay tuned…