Category Archives: Odds and Ends

It’s Marathon Time

Early tomorrow morning, I board a plane with a phenomenal cast of characters, we fly to the bustling city of Chicago, and (the majority of us) run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

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26.2 miles. All at one time. Let’s suffice it to say that I’m not overtrained. In fact, as well as I can calculate, I only ran 191.45 of the 435 training miles Hal Higdon would have preferred. Clearly, overtraining won’t be an issue. And I am perfectly ok with that. I prefer it, in fact. I’m pretty sure my body would have fallen apart if I had doubled my training. Either that, or my head would have exploded in attempt to juggle the multitude of obligations and activities crowding my proverbial plate. Having said that, my only goal is completion. And enjoyment (as much as one can enjoy running nonstop for 4+ hours).

Ready or not, marathon weekend is upon us, and I. AM. PUMPED.

Vacation starts NOW!

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Running Hiatus Comes to a Screeching Halt

I just booked a flight to Chicago.

To run 26.2 miles.

When I woke up this morning, this was not part of the plan. Up until a few days ago, this marathon was not even on my radar. But through a series of fortunate events, encouraging friends, enticing ticket prices, and available race bibs, it has manifested into a concrete event that will actually be taking place in my life on October 7, 2012. This is real life.

I know, I know…I realize I said never again. In fact, upon completing my first marathon, I believe these were my very words:

Two days later, I am still in a world of pain; every fiber of my being hurts. Walking is difficult, the act of sitting makes me grimace, and going down stairs nearly brings me to tears. Even sleeping hurts. Once I am a bit more removed from the pain I might feel differently, but as of now, I declare that I am not running another marathon. I’m told my feelings on the matter will change as I regain mobility and forget the discomfort, but as for now, I am hurting, and I am not inclined to even entertain the idea of putting myself through another round of torture.

So yeah, call me crazy, but I just committed to another dose of this. On purpose.

Which means, coming off a much-needed running sabbatical, I am back in full-force training mode in preparation for the Chicago Marathon.

After achieving a half marathon PR in Mississippi, I gave myself permission to take a guilt-free break from running, and it has been so, so good. My body loves me for it, my mind loves me for it, and my social calendar loves me for it. For roughly two months, I haven’t run more than ten miles total (with the exception of this past week, which marked my official comeback to the running world). The hiatus has not only given me a chance to focus on some other areas of fitness – weightlifting, yoga, core, biking, and various other activities – but it has also relieved my mind of the demanding and somewhat monotonous rigours of routine running. Not only that, but I firmly believe our bodies deserve seasons of rest. It is both physically and mentally draining to continuously perform at a high level, and every now and then you just need to settle down for a little rejuvenation.

Fortunately, time off has made me miss running just enough to where I am pumped to begin marathon training. Good thing indeed, because I’ve got 16 weeks of intensive training ahead of me, and the mileage adds up quickly.

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Forfeiting Your Memories

If we are standing in an audience at the foot of an admired musician, and I see your hand raise and wobble around while holding an illuminated LCD screen trying to capture a picture or recording of said performer, I can’t help but shake my head. Chances are, your production value isn’t going to be of any quality worth reproducing, and more importantly, you are missing the point of live music. It’s about being there in that moment without distraction, appreciating the art in front of you. While it is being performed. You lose the beauty of the moment when you allow your iPhone in. Essentially, what you are saying is that your reality is less interesting than the story you are going to tell about it.

Put down your cameras, people, and just be present.

I once attended a Wilco show at the Orpheum (circa 2009) where Jeff Tweedy literally held a video-recording spectator’s phone hostage, accusing the offender of “forfeiting their memories to an imperfect medium.” Maybe that was a bit harsh, but I respect the principle behind it. If you spend your night zooming and clicking in an effort to capture the event on your smart phone, you are robbing yourself of the real-life experience, and what’s better than being totally engaged in the here and now? By electronically documenting the moment, you are letting go of something that was uniquely yours (your memories and personal experience), something that no one else can have, and giving it away, and there’s something somber about that loss.

I’m not saying I’ve never been guilty of this behavior, because I have stage photos (never recordings) from the past (though certainly not since Tweedy reprimanded the audience for living life second-hand). I’m also not saying it’s the ultimate crime if you are watching the show from behind your iPhone screen, or that I like you any less for doing so. More accurately, I’m just sharing some fresh food for thought, encouraging you to have a more present, and therefore more fulfilling, experience next time.

Besides, what are you planning on using that picture for? Are you going to look back at the out-of-focus blur fondly? Or are you just posting it to your social media outlet of choice to prove that you were there?

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I Just Might Go Paleo

I have always been interested in food. Interested in eating and enjoying it, absolutely, but also more recently in its composition and effects on the body.

Fortunately, I’ve eaten relatively well for as long as I can remember. I swore off fast food and soft drinks my senior year of high school and never looked back. I’ve always loved my fruits and veggies, I eat whole grains, I chose the low sodium option, I drink lots of water, and I know how to make dessert an occasional treat rather than a nightly occurrence. You know, the basics. In college, I took a nutrition class that taught the scientific fundamentals of a carbohydrate and the detriments of a Vitamin A deficiency, but while I absorbed the information, I didn’t fully put it all together or apply it to my lifestyle in any meaningful way. I ate what I knew to be good, but I didn’t really know why.

Despite my ongoing natural tendency of eating a balanced diet, it’s only been in the past several months that I’ve begun eating with a new mindset. More than ever, I’ve been interested in feeding my body foods that will give it healthy nutrition. Not necessarily the lowest calorie food, but the food that makes my body the happiest. Foods that come in Mother Nature’s packaging, that are natural and fresh (added bonus points for being organic and local).  

It doesn’t feel like deprivation, it feels natural, satisfying, clean, and pure. It’s about respecting my body, being thankful for this vessel God gave me, and taking care of it as best I can. It’s hard to describe, it’s something you have to experience on a personal level, but just know it’s a good place to be. Which is why I’ve been considering going Paleo. Paleolithic eating, for those of you who don’t know, is a type of eating that mimics the habits of our ancestors. The ways people fed themselves before there was high fructose corn syrup and highly processed candy bars. It comprises a diet high in (good) fats with plenty of protein and not so many carbohydrates.

At this point, as I said before, I have not absolutely decided on this conversion; I’m just merely researching the details of this lifestyle. It may not be all that different from my current patterns, though I’m positive there are tweaks to be made. There’s a wealth of information out there, and I’ll keep you informed as I uncover more.

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Greek Yogurt Conversion Chart

If you are as obsessed with Greek yogurt as I am, then you might find the conversion chart below highly useful. And if you are not as obsessed with Greek yogurt as I am, might I implore you to become so. It is absolutely the way to go, boasting double the protein and half the sugar of regular yogurt. Not only is it a quick and healthy snack, but it can also easily be incorporated into your other cooking endeavors as well. How very versatile!

Chobani Conversion Chart

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Calendar Overload

I have been going, going, going nonstop, and I’m beginning to feel it. Over the years, I’ve developed a unique talent for fitting plans into small blocks of remaining open time slots until my days are so tightly arranged that I barely have enough time to fly from one event to the next. Ask me what I’m doing on a random weekend in September, and chances are it includes some event involving physical stamina, live music, travel, or a loved one’s important life event. I’m the queen of the calendar, and while there are some benefits that flow from that, there are negatives as well. It’s no secret that I like to keep a full schedule, but I’ve found that too many consecutive days of too much activity a rested Mel does not make. More is not always better.

My plan-filled week looks something like this: dine with the fam, attend Grizzlies game, prepare and host a dinner for friends, try out a new dance class, play in a late-night soccer game, catch up with an old friend over dinner, attend a rocking concert, swing by a bachelorette party before heading to Nashville, belay and rock climb the morning away, then turn right back around to catch another round of the Grizzlies taking care of grizzness. And that’s just the evenings *catches breath*. Overlay that onto a full-time work week, your typical daily errands, a rigorous workout schedule, and performing normal daily functions such as eating and showering and occasionally sleeping, and you can see how it’s difficult to find a moment of stillness.

I thrive on filling my days with various and random activity, that’s plain to see, but somewhere deep down, I know we weren’t made for constant action. We need down time. It’s a necessity, a requirement. We need time to rest, to reflect, to be quiet and still. I fight this notion, though I know it has merit. If the Author of Life prescribed rest on the seventh day, He must have had a very good reason for it.

So, I think I’ll give it a try.

I’m excited for the remaining days in this week, thankful for the people I’ll get to spend my time with, for the ability to push my body in these ways, for the opportunities I might have to bless others. But I’m also looking forward to Sunday, my day of rest. I await the spiritual renewal that comes from attending church, the emotional rejuvenation that comes from sunbathing with my mom. Might throw a yoga class in there for a little relaxation, perhaps a nice run. Spend time with the family. Sure, some good tunes will be thrown into the mix, and undoubtedly a little reading too, but I’ll also make time for quietness. And stillness.  

Yes, this is what my Sunday will be made of.

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Breaking Two Hours

For months, I’ve been teetering just above the two hour half marathon mark, but it has continued to elude me. Until now.

Let March 31, 2012 go down in the history books as the day I broke through the 2 hour time barrier, finishing the Viking Half Marathon in 1:59:44. That averages out to a 9:08 mile, which may not sound terribly impressive, but my battered left hip and black toenails beg to differ. That’s roughly 17 minutes faster than the first half marathon I completed 3.5 years ago, and 15 seconds faster than my goal. As long as my official race time started with a 1, I didn’t care what the remaining digits were. And numbers aside, from an emotional standpoint it was one of the most meaningful races I’ve ever run.

Meaningful, because I was accompanied by a devoted pit crew. Two of my dear friends, Kim and Cristen, joined me on the trip solely to see that I accomplished this goal. It is not lost on me that these ladies essentially gave up their Friday nights, their Saturday mornings, and their own shots at a PR all to support my endeavor. They ran beside me, offering me pace updates and encouragement at regular intervals, and I absolutely could not have done it without them. I am so blessed to have friends who care enough about my goals to make them their own. What a rare act of sacrifice in a world so consumed with self.

We left town at 5am and passed the two hour drive to Greenwood, Mississippi with plentiful conversation. Upon arrival in the Delta, we gathered our race packets, stretched our tight muscles, discussed strategy, then situated ourselves at the start line. The second the gun announced go time, we hit the ground running. We ran the first half of the race a little ahead of pace, and I was feeling great. I often enjoy chatting during my long runs, but on this particular day it was all business. I was in the zone. I bounded along, admiring the overhanging canopy of trees, a lone bird sitting atop a telephone wire, the warm sunshine cut by an occasional breeze.

At mile 6, one of my pacers fell off with a piriformis ache. Kim passed me her Garmin and insisted that we press forward. And then there were two. Cristen and I continued onwards, but my spryness was fading. While the roads we ran were scenic, I no longer noticed. By mile 9, we were both hurting, and 10 and 11 seemed endless. Other than the occasional coaching tip and inspiring word, there wasn’t much room for conversation; we were more focused on staying upright and breathing at this point. At mile 12, my partner stopped for a quick walking break and sent me ahead to tackle the beast on my own.

One mile to go, and it was just me and God. I wanted nothing more than to lay down in the green grass, but that’s no way to run a sub 2 hour half, so I refrained. I ate a well-timed orange slice and hunkered down. Each step was a struggle. I prayed for wings like eagles, for God’s strength to carry me those last dreadful meters, and He showed up. Each trudging step moved me a little closer, and I eventually found myself approaching the most glorious, magical, welcome sight – the finish line. Even at this point, even with only a few steps left, I didn’t know with certainty that I would make it. It wasn’t until I literally stepped foot across the threshold that I knew my efforts had paid off.

And just like that, less than two hours later, I was done. I crossed that line with seconds to spare, fell into Kim’s congratulatory hug, and then went straight for the water jugs. It took a while to really sink in that we had accomplished what we set out to do, and oh, what a sweet, sweet victory it was.

 

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Soccer: Our Goal is to Stop Yours

Aside from a brief stint playing soccer on a coed 4th grade team, I know little to nothing about the sport. I recall something about a right forward and a sweeper and the goalie wearing a brightly colored shirt, but beyond those few basic details, I’m what you would call a novice. And I’m fine with that. I have no illusions about my current abilities, or lack thereof.

Which, naturally, is why Jax and I decided to join an indoor soccer league. Always eager to try something new, no doubt. I am unquestionably one of our least impressive players (my team is stacked with talent), but that does not stifle my enthusiasm. I love it. I may spend the majority of my time running around without a clear understanding of my position’s role, but that doesn’t stop me from attempting with gusto. And every now and then, the stars align and I make a great defensive block or some unexpected steal, and I revel in that moment of glory and the encouraging words from my teammates. There may not be a lot of evident strategy there, but I’m not afraid to go at it with everything I’ve got. Even if that means bodychecking guys double my size and landing in a discombobulated heap on the ground.

And that’s not to say I’m not attempting to hone my skills. I’m eager to improve, and I’m learning new takeaways every time I don my shin guards. The wall is your friend – use it to your advantage. Cut the opposing player off from the ball. Don’t assume a timeout has been called. Tie your shoes tight enough to where you don’t run straight out of them. Take as many shots as possible. Don’t let them get between you and the goal. Bring a water bottle or you’ll surely risk dehydration. Don’t make the mistake of touching the ball with your hands or your goalie will be forced to endure a straight-on power kick from a member of the opposing team. And so on and so forth.

One thing I love about soccer is the team aspect. In both kickball and softball, both of which I played last year, the emphasis falls on the performance of the individual player. Not exactly a reassuring notion to those of us who didn’t grow up on sports. But in soccer, sweet soccer, it’s all the team, all the time. We pass the ball up and down the field, we defend each other, and we’ve got each other’s backs. We sub players in and out, laughingly rehash our minutes on the field, and loudly cheer on our teammates from the box. And let’s be honest, being on an allstar team such as mine doesn’t conceal my blunders per say, but it sure makes them a little easier to recover from.

We’ve been scrimmaging and practicing for about a month now, and tonight marks our first official game. So here’s to teamwork, happy kicking, and a hopeful victory!

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Now That Moment Is Gone

The problem with concerts is that they end.

Somewhere along the string of songs, inside that lovely cloud of music, I often feel this pang of dread that the show will inevitably come to an end.

And this weekend, watching my beloved Avett Brothers in Springfield, MO was no different. They are wildly talented musicians, know how to put on a fantastic live show, and produce powerful lyrics that speak volumes. Their music is relatable and has a way of eloquently capturing emotions that can’t be voiced, and it is a downright beautiful thing.

I am giddy from the start, and Avett does not disappoint. We smoothly transition between deep ballads to acoustic duets to rocking group numbers to folky hymns and back again, and the guys nail every last one of them. It’s emotional, it’s passionate, it’s authentic, it’s raw, and it’s so good. I deliberately soak in every sensation, and I don’t want to see it go.

I sing along loudly, fully savoring the magic before me. I can feel the buzz of the bass lifting through my cowboy boots, and I want to freeze this moment and live inside of it. I want to stop time and put this experience in a box and keep it for future enjoyment. Pull it out whenever I need an Avett fix. But that’s not how life works. We are given these sweet opportunities to taste something beautiful, something that speaks directly to our hearts, but the moment cannot possibly be endless. Thankfully, however, once the encore concludes and the applause dies down, we walk away with the gift of memories, and that is a treasure in and of itself.

When nothing is owed or deserved or expected
And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected
If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it

Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise

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These Are a Few of My Favorite Words

I like words. Words of all shapes and sizes. I like the way they look and the way they sound, their etymology, their personalities, and the way you can string them together to describe deep, seemingly unexplainable thoughts. If words were tangible objects, I would collect them in a pail to sift through later. Gather them into colorful bouquets like freshly picked tulips. I am the girl who treats the dictionary like an old friend, who sees looking up definitions not as drudgery, but as a legitimately rewarding opportunity to meet a great new word.

And so, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorites. This list is by no means inclusive, not even close. It’s just a small inventory of a few that I especially like and that I actually use in my daily life. Sure, I like the word ellogofusciouhipoppokunurious (it means good), but it’s just not practical. This particular list is reserved for words that aren’t overly pretentious and are actually quite welcome in everyday conversation.

  • Conundrum – The word itself sounds like a puzzle, and all of the syllables have a consistent vowel sound. I like things like that.
  • Effervescent – It’s fun to say, and it means bubbly, lively, vivacious, and sparkling. What’s not to like about that?
  • Estivul – Pertaining or appropriate to summer. And it rhymes with festival. It just makes sense. What a great word!
  • Dapper – One of my favorite ways to complement a man’s outfit. Neat, trim, and smart.
  • Frolic – A longtime favorite meaning merry play, merriment, and fun. It takes me straight to a field of wildflowers on a sunny day.
  • Persnickety – Overparticular, fussy, and snobbish. It sounds just like it means.
  • Peculiar – Say it out loud, and try and tell me you don’t use a British accent. I don’t think it can be done. Jax and I literally spent 45 minutes one evening laughing over this one word. It’s that good.
  • Wanderlust – A strong, innate desire to rove or travel about. I love it because it sounds so dreamy, and it describes my constant state.
  • Whimsical – Excessively playful, fanciful, and capricious. It just sounds fun.

I know I’m missing some good ones here. It was, unfortunately, inevitable from the beginning. It’s nearly impossible to round up all the good words in one place (there are just so many), but it’s a valiant start. I’ve been holding on to this list for weeks for fear of leaving out a deserving candidate, but the time has come to unveil what I’m working with thus far. From here, we can add to it together.

What are some of your favorites?

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A Word About Valentine’s Day

Single people love to hate it. Those in relationships love to plaster it all over their chosen social media outlets. But the fact of the matter is, Valentine’s Day is a man-made “holiday” designed to increase greeting card sales during the first quarter lull. It’s a force-fed occasion that makes us all act a little crazy, and I wish everybody would just get a grip and realize that today is today and tomorrow is tomorrow, and it’s not our actions on this one specific day that define us, but our actions over a series of consecutive days that create our humanity.

Men feel they must attain some incredible showcase of undying love or else risk disappointing their woman, who has usually built up this elaborate expectation in her head and will be let down by anything less than a dozen red roses, a scavenger hunt, and a romantic (read: expensive) dinner, topped off by a surprise gift. Single ladies either drown their self-pity in 35 pieces of heart-shaped chocolates and discussion over how despicable men are, or they buff up their defense mechanisms and act as though Valentine’s Day is the most abominable day that ever existed and that it is positively liberating to be unattached for such a detestable event.

Everybody just needs to relax. Why let a day with such a synthetic, unemotional origination have the power to evoke such strong feelings, one way or the other?

Sure, February 14th is a fine day to give your sweetheart a little something special, but so is February 15th, and next Tuesday, and the last day of the month. Valentine’s Day should not be a litmus test for how happy and healthy your relationship is or an indicator of your worth as a human being, so stop putting so much expectation on it. We don’t live and die by Valentine’s Day, people. If you need society to appoint a predetermined day for you to express your love or to validate your emotional needs, then there are bigger issues at hand.

Valentine’s Day isn’t some kind of magical balm, nor is it the definition of love. Love is a good thing (the best thing), this I don’t deny. I’m just afraid Valentine’s Day, along with silly pop songs and ridiculous romantic movies that wrap into neat little packages, have distorted our perception of love into this unnatural obsession with hearts and flowers and flaunting it all for the world to see, and somehow we mistakenly get our identities all knotted up in it, and it ends up becoming a whole different thing altogether.

And that is how I feel about that.

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Maps Are Cool

I have suddenly become overtaken with an unexplainable interest in maps, specifically maps that have a creative spin to them. I’m not sure what triggered this strange behavior (this is how my zany mind operates), but I now find myself scouring the internet for unusual interpretations of maps. So I’ll share, and maybe you’ll develop an insatiable desire for more maps in your life too.

We’ll start with a typographic map of the United States:

Then there’s this one, which presents each state as the title of a famous movie that took place there:

And now one that depicts each state by its license plate:

Moving along to a wider scope, we have this gorgeous watercolor illustration of the world:

Watercolor World Map Illustration: Earth in Technicolor print

A typographical layout:

And lastly, this incredible portrayal of the leading economic and social themes in each area.

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Now try and tell me that wasn’t fun.

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Twitter Road Race

This Saturday, January 21, 2012, marks the first ever Twitter Road Race, and you should join in on the movement!

My awesome friend alerted me to this universal social media inspired race, and I just had to pass it along. It takes place anywhere in the world – on the treadmill at your gym, in your neighborhood, at the local park, during the 5k race you are already signed up to run (I fall into this category) – the venue is totally up to you. All you have to do is register here, run the 3.1 miles, then report back with your finishing time Saturday evening. Nothing to it. At this point, there are over 700 runners participating, and they represent countries far and wide across the globe.

Get in on the action! And don’t forget to print off your official race bib!

For more information, visit the founder’s website and dig around for a bit.

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The Unforeseen Challenges of Blogging

Blogging is many things to me. It is a live journal, a way to sort out my thoughts, a creative outlet, an opportunity to share, and a challenge. Challenging for several reasons, some of them quite obvious, some lurking just below the surface.

I have many random ideas floating around in this jumbled, sporadic, ever-churning brain of mine. I would say at least 90% of them don’t make it to print. Some are better left tucked away in the caverns of my mind, but some would make great blog posts. Of course, that requires A) that I remember the train of thought long enough to document it, else it’ll easily get swallowed by some equally riveting idea swimming around up there, and then B) that I take the time to pamper it into a finished product. Once the idea is captured, I then have to begin fleshing it out. Kneading the dough, if you will. Examining it from different angles, deciding where I want to take it. What do I want my readers to leave with? How do I want them to feel? Once I’ve churned out a basic draft, I reread ad nauseum, adding a bit here, nipping a bit there, until I’ve fashioned something worthy of being taken public (worthy being a very subjective term here). Only after deliberate labor do you get the finely tuned finished post I’ve chosen to share with the world

But that’s only half of it, and frankly, that’s the easy part. I love the writing process, so that part comes naturally. Which is why I relate so well to Ernest Hemingway’s statement:

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

The other thing you have to worry about is content. And audience. And whether that content will offend said audience. My life doesn’t involve just me, and praise Jesus for that, because that would be a painfully lonely existence. There are stories worth telling, but I’m not the only character; there are other personalities to protect. Maybe they don’t want their story told. Or maybe somebody doesn’t appreciate my opinion on a particular topic. Or, on the rare occasion, I’ve had a reader disgruntled with what I’ve written even if it has nothing to do with them. Where do you draw the line? How much do you hold back at the risk of salvaging others feelings, versus how much do you willingly share in an act of personal vulnerability? There’s no solid answer, and therein lies the complication of it all.

And don’t even get me started on the time factor, because we all know I struggle in that department.

And then there’s this handy piece of guidance, which reminds me not to take any of it too seriously, anyway:

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The Haze Has Lifted

It’s that time again, ladies and gents.

Time to start fresh and new, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in anticipation of all the future holds.

Or so they say.

Not me, not this time around. I kicked off the new year with an uncharacteristicly low level of energy. I didn’t hit the ground running. Quite the opposite in fact. I spent my first few days of 2012 plastered to the couch. Sure I finished a book and several movies, but that is not my definition of productivity. At first I thought I was just being lazy, but then I realized I was physically sick. Guess that makes my inactivity a little less excusable, but it’s still hard for me to digest. First day back to work, my boss noticed my malaise and generously sent me home to rest. I sipped some chicken noodle soup and a mug of Emergen-C, and then I was out. I slept approximately 13 hours before coming back to work the next morning, and it made a world of a difference. The haze has lifted, and I’m starting to feel like myself again. Good thing, because I missed me.  

I’m a couple days late to 2012, but I’m here! Let’s do this!

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