Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Year in Review - 2015!

While I may not have been blogging, it has been one heck of a year. Unlike the past few years, there have been some very difficult times as well as some really unexpected things that were pretty darn amazing. Life has been very steady and good for quite a while so I guess it was time to shake things up a bit. Not one to disappoint, God provided. I could say it was a difficult year because there were some really difficult times, but there were too many wonderful things thrown in to feel sorry for myself.

Unfortunately I had to say good-bye to my furry companion who had been my buddy for over 12 years, the Charlie dog. Charlie started showing signs of not feeling too well around August, and a trip to Vet confirmed that he was fighting cancer. He lost his fight after Thanksgiving, but he had a lot of great years. When I got him, he had just been rescued by a place that saved him from sure death - a high kill shelter.  The way I see it is that every day he received after that was a bonus day, and he received a lot of bonus days! We had also adopted Honey Bear so he would have a companion, and it was easy to see how much happier he was with her around. I think he stuck around a bit longer for her. I sure do miss him!

Things on the job front changed as well - multiple times! My project manager and good friend took a job with another company, and it changed the entire landscape of our project. Our company also merged with another larger company.

I soon switched to another project which helped me to realize how awesome my last project manager was, as if I didn't already know that. He and I were friends for a long time, and I miss our discussions and brain storming sessions. I don't know if we could have solved all the world's problems, but I think we could have checked a few of them off of the list.  With the big change at work, I decided it was time to look for another job. Whammo presto! God provided in record time. I will start with a new company in the New Year. I am definitely going to miss my SRA Dayton friends.

My coworker, friend, and breakfast buddy also lost her fight with cancer. It was very sudden and very sad. Karyl always had a smile on when I'd walk into her office. I'm not exactly sure when our friendship began, but it was years ago. We'd go and get tea together almost every morning around 10am. Tea time! That eventually turned into ladies' breakfast every few weeks with Karyl, Karrie (Karyl's daughter), Linda, Mom and me. Karyl's funeral was yesterday, and I still cannot believe we never get to have another tea or another breakfast together. I know she belongs to God, but her leaving is still a very difficult thing. It's been years since I've shed this many tears.

So that was a lot of rough stuff for one year, but I cannot possibly ignore all the great things that have happened as well. My mom's appendix ruptured while I was out of town.  Well, actually, it ruptured before I left but we didn't know it. I had a call on my voicemail from mom after I finished a 50 mile race, "Cassie, I am on my way to the emergency room. The doctor says my appendix ruptured." I was in Montana. Mom was in Ohio. I felt my heart sink and fear gripped me, but I was already planning to leave for home early the next morning. This could have ended terribly, but it didn't! After a week in the hospital, mom was released. A few months later, she had that bad little appendix removed laparoscopically. Thank you, God! I'm chalking that up in the good category.

The other huge, and rather remarkable thing, is that I got married - at the age of 39. Over the years I learned that I could find joy being single and that it didn't make me less valuable even if society might hint (or shout) otherwise. Life was good, and I liked my life as it was. I had spoken to Jim a few times over the years, but it took us a long time to actually go on a date.  Actually, it first started with going on runs which turned into getting food after running, which turned into dates, and more runs.  I liked Jim. He liked me. We had a lot in common, and we enjoyed spending time together.

My handsome groom
I remember once upon a time Mr. Gray asked if a guy I was dating treated me well. I couldn't honestly answer that question with a yes then.  Well, Mr. Gray, I can now honestly say yes. Jim treats me well. He's a good man. You'd like him.

Marrying Jim also brought other people into my life: his daughter and his family. They all treat me like family, and I couldn't ask for a better group of folks to call family.

Jim, I am thankful to have you in my life!

We will be sharing our new adventure in a new blog.

While it seemed as if this year brought a huge amount of change in my life, there were some constants that I am so very thankful for. My tough mom who wanted to go shopping despite an appendix rupture. She took pain medication only after they told her she couldn't leave the hospital. This year I was also able to spend some time with my sister from another mother and friend of almost 20 years, Mary, who is now US Army (Retired)!

I am also thankful for all my other friends who've shared this year's journey with me. It's crazy to think I know so many wonderful people. I can't imagine what life would be like without you all. Thank you for being so awesome. Happy New Year!

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Friday, January 2, 2015

Initial Impressions: Altra Olympus and Hoka Bondi 4

After my disappointment with the Bondi 3 and subsequent Bondi 3 donation to the Salvation Army, I managed to find a pair of Bondi 2s at a reasonable price and have been running in those. Unfortunately the sole is on the way out so it was time to get new shoes for an upcoming double marathon. I have wanted to try the Altra Olympus for a while, but I wasn't up for paying full price. I noticed the price dropped significantly at Running Warehouse so I decided to pick up a pair. I had read that they run small so I ordered an 8 rather than my usual 7.5. As soon as I put the shoes on my feet, I knew I needed another half size larger. I've found that if I feel like a pair of shoes feels like they might be too small, they will be by mile 30. Luckily Running Warehouse is great about such matters, and I soon had a 8.5 at my door.

Instantly I liked the upper of these shoes. The inside has nice padding and the quality of the materials is impressive. Of course, they also have that distinctive Altra shape. These are my first pair of Altras so they felt different than what I am accustomed to. The Olympus is a trail shoe, but it is hard to imagine that the tread would be effective on technical trails. What really struck me as strange after putting these shoes on was the "cliff" that seems to occur slightly forward of the ball of my foot. I expected zero drop shoes to be... well... flat. You know, slope of 0 an all of that. As I rolled from my heel to the front of the shoes, it felt as if there was a cliff near my toes. Odd. This strange drop makes it feel as though I should be impacting the ground on the ball of my foot. Do all Altras have this rocker "cliff"? If you know the answer, please let me know. My first run was a 6 mile run on the roads which went okay, but I am fairly certain these will not be my next long distance shoe. 

Women's Size 8.5 comes in at 8.5 ounces (no insole)
I looked around for another pair of Bondi 2s with no luck. I noticed that the Bondi 4s had just been released so with a couple of looming races, I pulled the trigger. I had been told by Running Warehouse that the 4s should be lighter than the 3s (yay!), and I noticed they had changed the tongue of the shoe back to something that looked a little more comfortable.  

Despite Hoka still using my less than favorite upper that they incorporated since changing ownership, I was hopeful that the design change would make things better. For the most part, it has, but the stiffness is still a bit uncomfortable around the ankle area. The tongue of the shoe is significantly better than the one on the Bondi 3s, however. Instead of being a flat inflexible piece of material, it has some very comfy padding. 

Bondi 4 versus Bondi 2 sole
Hoka says they have added better material in key wear areas to increase durability, and the soles do look different. They also look slightly more narrow than the previous versions. Since I've read many complaints about the narrow nature of the Bondi model, I really do not know why Hoka would choose to do this. Perhaps to cut weight?  If so, it worked. 

Hoka Bondi 4 women's size 7.5 - 8 ounces (no insole)
The Bondi 3 came in at 8.5 ounces for a size 7.5, and now the Bondi 4 is 8 ounces. That still isn't as light as the original Bondi which came in at a mere 7.4 ounces for size 7.5, but it is a step in the right direction. I should also mention that I was told the new 4s run a bit larger than previous models, but I chose to go with my regular size, 7.5. I really see very little difference in the 7.5 Bondi 4s and the 2s. I am quite certain 7 would have been too small for me. The 4 seems more narrow than previous models, but things may feel different with added miles.

Left: Bondi 4 Right: Bondi 2

Left:Bondi 2 Right: Bondi 4
Just for kicks, I ran some miles on the treadmill in the Hokas and then switched over to the Altras. The sole of the Altras is significantly harder than the Hokas. The strange rocker shape of the sole felt as if I was slapping the ground with my feet unless I made the conscious decision to run on the balls of my feet. Making this effort in a 5 mile race is doable, but after mile 20 in a marathon my mind isn't up for a lot of thinking. I then switched backed to the Hokas which felt a little odd, but not as odd as the other way around.

If I could combine the feeling of the uppers and the anatomical shape of the Altras with the sole softness and rocker of the Bondi Bs, I think I might just have my perfect shoe. Until then, I'll put in some more miles with both of these shoes and see what turns up. Happy running!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanks to God

For entirely too many years, I had no idea what it meant to be thankful. "Be thankful for what you have!" - a directive that implied it was as easy to be thankful as flipping a switch, or maybe it was simply a matter of changing your mind. I would do the best I could to will myself to have an "attitude of gratitude". It was short-lived. Rinse. Repeat. It felt as if I had an obligation to be thankful. How could a feeling of obligation ever really bring a feeling of thankfulness? Looking back, I have no idea how I believed that was possible, but I kept trying.

I often noticed a lot of the things I didn't have. I was also worried that what I did have would be taken away. Perhaps I would lose things if I didn't behave a certain way. Perhaps I would lose them simply by chance. Perhaps I never received the things I wanted because I wasn't behaving a certain way or maybe God just didn't want me to have them. I had no idea what was going on, but I was pretty certain it was all about me. Strangely, it was all about me, but not in the way I had imagined.

What I didn't understand was that it took more than just changing my mind or my attitude. What I now know is that I could only truly understand being thankful with help. That help came from Jesus.

I've had people ask about proof of the existence of Jesus and/or God. Of course, I cannot provide the rigid, almost mathematical, proof I assume they want. I've heard people say that their proof of Jesus comes from the change that occurs in them when they ask Jesus for help.  This proof might not be concrete enough for some, but the truth is that most people are not capable of making a change deep within their core. We might like to think they can, but experience shows otherwise.

One of the biggest changes I experienced was being able to feel thankful. Instead of worrying or fearing loss, a good portion of my day I feel like I have everything I could ask for. My life has certainly changed over the years, but it hasn't been so drastic that I went from nothing to everything. It feels that way, though. Sometimes doubt creeps back in, and I wonder if I lost all that I have whether I'd still feel thankful as often as I do. More often than not, that brings to mind Paul's words while sitting in prison, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" Philippians 4:4. He never said rejoice in things you have. He said rejoice in the Lord.

I have many reasons to be thankful, but without the capacity to feel thankful, that would all mean very little. That is not something I gave myself or taught myself because I had no clue how to do that. This Thanksgiving, more than anything, I'm thankful for feeling thankful. Thanks to God!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Shoe Review: Hoka Bondi 3

After a lot of procrastination and 196 miles, I thought it was about time to review the Hoka Bondi 3s. When I first read about the new uppers on the 3s and the fact that it made the shoe a bit lighter, I was excited to give them a go. I went with the coral version.

Hoka decided to go with their new lacing system on these, but they did throw in a pair of regular laces for those who aren't fans. I changed out the laces just after taking these pictures. The other big change was the uppers. The sole felt just like the original Bondi Bs (read my review) to me.

Women's Size 7.5 (no insoles) = 8.5 ounces
Hoka Bondi B Size 8 Women's (without insole) = 7.4 ounces
Hoka Kailua Tarmac Size 7.5 Women's (without insole) = 7.5 ounces
Well, hmmmm, those new Bondi 3s appear to be a full ounce heavier the my old Bondi Bs. I'm not exactly sure where I read they would be lighter, but this was disappointing.

Bondi B vs. Bondi 3 vs. Hoka Kailua Tarmac

The new upper was supposed to make the shoe more durable, and from what I can tell with almost 200 miles on them, it has done just that. I can wash the shoe, and it looks basically brand new. The other thing the new upper did was make the shoe feel a bit larger because it just isn't as thick as the old Bondi upper. Unfortunately there was another side effect of this new upper. After putting 20 training miles on the shoes, I took them for a spin at the Georgia Marathon and wound up with a slight bruise on the top of my foot near my ankle due to the stiffness of the material. It must have softened a bit with miles as I had no bruises after the Delaware Marathon, but I still was not loving them.

I noticed the uppers on the Hoka Conquest felt stiff as well after a test run at a local running store in March. That is one of the reasons I went with the Bondi 3 over the Conquest. While the material has softened enough so that it does not cause any more bruising, it still feels a lot less comfy than those old Bondis on my feet. If I could go back and buy a pair of the originals, I would.

What to do, what to do. It appears that Hoka is starting to use this material on most of the new shoes being released. Since these shoes are Hokas, I shouldn't have to purchase a new pair for quite a few more miles. I'm just not excited about buying another pair with this new, stiff upper material. Part of the reason I was dragging my feet on writing this review was because I really wanted to like these shoes as much as the old ones. Truth is, I don't. I'm scoping out the new Altra Paradigms for my next purchase, but the colors in the women's model are ... well ... ick. I just can't do it. Hopefully by the time these wear out, Altra will release some new colors or maybe Hoka will make an adjustment on the upper material. Believe me, this was not the review I was hoping to write.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Shoe Review: Hoka Kailua Trail

I picked up a pair of Kailua Trail shoes at Running Warehouse for $99 during a sale. I wasn't in the market for a Stinson Evo Trail (review) replacement, but I decided $30 off made them worth a try. While I like the Stinson Evo for trail running, I always felt like the tread offered a little less than what I expected as far as grip. I got that impression after running in the Mafates (review) which didn't fit me overly well but gripped the ground like nobody's business. After having these shoes for a few months, I finally got a chance to take them out on trails that weren't completely ice and snow covered.

Before I did that, I managed to get a few shots of them:

A tale of 3 Hokas: Kailua Tarmac, Kailua Trail, Bondi B (1)

Women's Size 7.5 (no insoles) = 7.7 ounces
Kailua Tarmac = 7.5 ounces

Bondi Bs = 7.4 ounces
Stinson Evo Tarmacs = 8.8 ounces 
trail Stinson Evos = 9 ounces
Mafate 2 = 10 ounces
Trail - left  : Tarmac - right
I just wore the Kailua Tarmacs in the El Paso marathon so I assumed a long trail run in a brand new pair of Trails should be just fine.  Just like the Tarmac version, I removed the thin little insole and replaced them with a pair of regular insoles. Just in case, I did throw my Stinsons into the back of my car. I headed over to meet my favorite Marathon Manic for an easy long run, but our first few steps onto the trail made it obvious this was going to be a little harder than anticipated. Part of the trail had a significant amount of mud and other parts were covered in slushy ice. There were some parts that were in absolutely perfect shape which made this a great trail shoe test course. The front of the Kailua Trails have a toe guard which was a good thing as I managed to kick something sticking out of the ground. I kept myself upright, and my toe didn't get hurt thanks to the hardened toe area. The tread also had a good amount of grip which meant I didn't do much slipping in the mud and ice slush.  The mud did stick quite a bit to the bottom of the shoe. That said, I would take this tread over the the Stinson Trail tread any day.

10 miles later, I never even considered switching from the Kailuas into the Stinsons. I did consider running my next trail 50 miler in these, though. These things were covered in mud by the end of the run, and after a quick washing, they look as good as new. They do have less cushion than the Stinson Evo trail so I'm still not certain which pair I will be wearing during longer events, but I may have found my new favorite trail shoe.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Tecumseh Trail Mix

The last truly muddy long distance trail run I ran was in 2011. It was not fun. I vowed never to torture myself that way again. It's funny how time makes us forget.

I had signed up for the Tecumseh Trail Marathon expecting a snowy run in December. It was so snowy, in fact, that the run had to be postponed due to a snow storm in Indiana. The Race Director opted to reschedule the event to January 11th. This was a hit or miss proposition with the harsh winter the Midwest had been having and continues to endure. Up until a couple of days before the race, I wasn't even sure that running it was going to be an option. Tecumseh was originally a point to point course which happens to be my favorite type of course. There is something about someone dropping you miles and miles from your car and then saying go! The harsh weather conditions this year turned this course into a lolly pop with 3 loops and then back. Not my preferred option, but I really wanted to kick this year off to a good start with a January marathon. It also helped that Jim was as brave (or crazy, whichever you prefer) as I and had planned to run Tecumseh, too. Difficult times are much easier when shared.

The beginning section of the trail was on road. Normally this feels a lot like cheating because it gives you some faster miles, but not on this day, on this course. The road was completely covered in ice. This was the only time I fell during the entire event. I slid on the ice and some lovely soul behind me grabbed me and helped me get up off of the ground. No clue who you are, but thank you! After that slip, it was time for a water crossing (in the middle of the road?!) that had ice along the bottom and water that went up to my knees. Rather than go into all the gory details of the trail portion of this race, I will just say that we were usually either running in 1. mud or 2. water with ice floating in it or 3. on ice. We did that loop 3 times and then it was back to more ice water and then onto the icy road. While all these things were impossible to ignore, another thing that was impossible to ignore was the volunteers. They were all so nice and friendly, and they stood out there in the freezing cold helping us so we could finish this race. We both managed to finish without any major injuries which was not a given on this trail in these conditions. That said, we didn't get out unscathed. I am very thankful that the falls, slips, slides, blisters, brier scratches and multiple ice water crossings didn't do more damage.

I also must say I have never had so many pictures taken during a trail race. That means I can show you some of the fun we had.  I also want to give a shout out to Ed who I bumped into after the race. Good to see you again!

On with the pics...

Icy roads...
It begins...

Ice water trail... 
Might as well run through it.

Creek crossing....

Yep, hills, too.
Mud and hills!
With my January race complete, my February marathon will take me to a warmer climate. Is it too early to be ready for Spring?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

2013: My Year of DIY

Some people seem to believe engineers can do any type of engineering. Okay, well, at least my mom seems to think so. "You're and engineer! You can do it!" At this point I always point out that I was an electrical engineer and not a mechanical or civil engineer. Apparently I am not alone in this with my fellow EEs. Give me a math problem, and I will be just fine. Give me water running through pipes or dual bladed saws, and I start to twitch a little. Okay, maybe a lot. This year I took a few steps waaaaay outside of my comfort zone, and nothing flooded or fell apart. Thank God! Truly...

I updated a half bath. Unfortunately I didn't take before pictures, but I removed pink and white splotched wall paper (who picked that?!). I added shutoff valves under the sink. I removed a vanity, sink and mirror. I painted.  I installed a new vanity, sink, and mirror. Mom framed and matted a picture that looks great. Most importantly, I did not flood the bathroom. You know how they take a weekend on television to do this sort of thing? Well, this took me 4 months or so. Part of it was waiting on a wood floor to be installed downstairs. Part of it was me dragging my feet. Part of it was trying to figure out how to do things.  The other part was buying the vanity from a company that didn't pay attention to the sink dimensions I provided. (I even took the sink with me!) Another part of it was hiring a plumber that almost ruined the vanity so I decided I would do it myself which required cutting a very thick bamboo vanity. That's where the saw came in. I have to say, power tools can be fun. Scary, but fun. Somehow all these parts came together. After it was complete, it took a while to sink in (ha ha) that it was really finished.

My upstairs has a vanity that looks like the one that used to be in the half bath. This is what was there:

Here's the finished product:

My next project involved a ceiling fan. Two actually. I had a fairly new ceiling fan in my room that was a remote control fan. Unfortunately the receiver began malfunctioning and decided to turn both fan and blade off and on at random times. That isn't good when you are trying to sleep. Finally it got to the point that it no longer wanted to turn on at all, but the remote control was the only way to turn it on. Who decided to make a fan with no manual switches?! Hunter, that's who. I also needed to replace a fan in the guest bedroom because it wobbled like a drunken sailor and had no light. I found one heck of a deal online on two fans that were exactly the kind I wanted. I was pretty determined on this project so it only took me a weekend and one backache. Out with the old....
Why would this room not have a

Hey, wires! This I can do.

In with the new...

Ta da! Wood blades shaped like leaves - Bu-tee-ful.
My last project was my closet. This one only took me 6 years to do! Okay, really, I started it in December '13, but this closet needed to be replaced when I bought the house. The height between the shelves was designed for childrens' clothing, I guess. I couldn't use a quarter of the closet. Rather than moving the shelf up, it took me years to decide I didn't like the white wire shelving and instead wanted a cedar closet organizer. I bought this kit directly from Northern Kentucky Cedar which made the price less than most of those wood closet organizers AND it smells like cedar. Saw + cedar or drill + cedar = aromatic delight.

Here's what it looks like before... but unlike the picture, mine was without the ability to hang clothes in a quarter of the closet. This is the closet in the guest room that has white wire shelving:

Naked closet with patched
drywall and fresh paint.
Getting there...
Ta da!
Cedar is bu-tee-ful :-)
Still standing!
I learned a lot in my year of DIY:
- I can do it! Who knew?
- Even if I do something wrong, I can usually fix it.
- If I can't fix it, there is someone I can call who can. Thankfully I haven't had to do this... yet.
- Watching DIY channels made me want to take on the entire house.
- Talking to friends who do this sort of thing regularly is very helpful.
- Youtube has a lot of useful DIY videos. Mental rehearsal is a good thing.
- There were challenges I did not expect so I should just go ahead and expect challenges.
- It will take significantly more time than I think it will.
- It's okay to take significant time to think about what you are going to do before doing it.
- Sometimes professionals aren't so be careful who you hire to do work. 
- Home improvement hurts: my back, my hands, etc. Strength training regularly is a good idea.
- I ♥ wood.
- I ♥ power tools.
- Eye protection. Seriously.
- There is no such thing as perfect. Stand back 5 feet and look. If it looks good and works, you did well.
- Once you start DIY projects, you will notice great work or flaws everywhere: hotels, other houses, etc.
- Taking a few minutes to say a prayer before starting made starting significantly easier.
- Getting to enjoy work you've done yourself is a great reward!

Hopefully 2014 will be the year of PhD dissertation, and maybe a few more DIY projects. :-)