Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunshine Junkies

This weekend (well, really this entire past week) started off on the wrong foot. Both Casey and I were EXTREMELY busy at our jobs, we were really grumpy and to top it off, the weather has just flat out sucked for the past several days. It reminded me of one of my favorite childhood books The Phantom Tollbooth and the Doldrums (a colorless, bleak place).

Boring, rainy weather aside, we (meaning Casey) finally had an excuse to get started on the bathroom project. For those that don't know-- we've been without a master bathroom shower since October. What we thought would be a cheap $100 regrouting project turned into a >$1,000 shower demolition/remodel project. To save money, and because I married an engineer, we've decided to do this all ourselves. The picture is of this weekend's progress. Casey got the showerpan installed and the flooring reinstalled-- you'll notice that we've still got a way to go; but progress is progress--

Later that night, we had mini-date night at Pei Wei (PF Chang's little brother restaurant). Afterwards, we went to two places that really should have automatic drafts from our bank accounts-- REI (where I bought a rain jacket and then immediatly tried it out on the walk back to the car) and Pet Supplies Plus.

Finally, on Sunday, the sun re-emerged. We also realized that we have slowly become sunshine junkies. Meaning-- despite the glaring state of neglect of the outside of our house, or the fact that the inside needed a thorough deep-cleaning... the first thing we did when the sun peaked out was go for a run at a nearby lake and then take the dogs for a walk at NCSU's campus. Then we bought a tri-suit for me (a top and shorts that I can swim, bike and run in at the triathlon...which is only48 days away).

As the sun went back to bed Sunday night, we returned to reality and cleaned the house and attempted to put a small dent in our laundry pile(s). Also, we made a really awesome veggie lasagna tonight with broccolini, squash, zucchini and spinach. It was way better than the traditional meat version... this healthy living thing isn't too bad after all.

Also, ESPN just posted a video and a story about a race Casey was in last month: The Krispy Kreme Challenge. For those who don't know-- its run two miles, eat a dozen (not freshly baked) doughnuts and then run two miles back. Its a lot of sweat, a lot of calories (enough calories to burn a 60 watt bulb for 125 hours... no, not joking) and a lot of puke. Check it out here: ESPN Video.
This is Casey on doughnut number 2:

This week should be better. My boss is out of town (never a bad thing) and the sun is supposed to be out to feed our addicition the entire week long. We start a new swim class this week-- Triathlon swimming. This should be interesting.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Charleston Pictures

Monday and Tuesday of this week I was in Charleston working on a project, and had a chance to get on a rooftop to snap a few photos. These were taken from the top of a 12-story building, which is the highest point in the city(make sure you click on each to get the full-size image):

Here's the Cooper River Bridge, which connects the peninsula of the city proper with Mt. Pleasant to the east. In the foreground with the square white parapet is St. Paul's Church (Episcopal).

Here's a view of the Ashley River, which runs along the western edge of the city. On the horizon is James Island:
This is the neighborhood adjacent to the Medical University of South Carolina. The red roofs are not painted, but are constructed from rusted tin and oxidized copper.

Here's a view of the entire lower peninsula.

I also snapped a few photos at night, just to see how they'd look. This first one is from the Battery at the extreme south end of the city. It's the Daughters of the Confederacy marker (and fountain), which sits at the intersection of Battery St. and Meeting St:

This is the steeple of St. Michael's Church on the corner of Meeting and Broad Sts. Although it sits in the middle of town, it has a walled cemetary that takes up almost a block around the church.

This last one is (obviously) an open fire hydrant on Broad St. I just thought it was a cool shot, and the city worker who was attending to it was nice enough to chat with me. Apparently he was flushing the system to get a water sample. I had never seen one of those cone attachments put on a hydrant, but it did keep the water from shooting too far. Also kind of funny - notice the USA today paper vending rack that the water is gushing onto:

That's all for now - check back for updates later!

Monday, March 23, 2009

CROP Walk Durham

Sunday we attended the 2009 Durham CROP Walk as part of the Syngenta team - led proudly by Team Captain Ashley! For those who haven't attended one of these events, the CROP Walk is put on by Church World Service to raise awareness and fund projects that address hunger problems in over 80 countries. Participants walk approximately five miles to empathize with those on our planet who unfortunately, experience at least that length of a walk every day just to find food and clean water. The Durham event takes place annually at Duke University, where we walk from West to East Campus and back (link to route map).

Of course, since we were going, the dogs were going (any walking species is welcome as long as you've got poop bags). Not to make light of the destitution that this event represents, but Cooper couldn't walk five miles a day just for a meal. Nonetheless, he attended, as did Mattie and Arnold, who had no problem whatsoever. Arnold even made a new friend, as he is apt to do with small children. Mattie wore her backpack proudly.

The Syngenta team had at least a dozen four legged friends, as well as 35-40 people in attandance. This is a true community-wide event, as you can tell from the official website. Several churches, community service groups, Boy and Girl Scouts, the Durham Bulls' mascot (Wool E. Bull for the uninitiated), and corporate teams made up a mass of people covering the entire front lawn of Duke Chapel. Overall, we think this CROP Walk had about 4000 participants and totaled close to $200,000 in fundraising in Durham alone. Not too shabby, Durham.

The event was fun, and kudos to my amazing wife for a job well done in organizing the Syngenta team and exceeding their fundraising goal! Even better, we were the only team with neon yellow t-shirts, so we would have been visible even if 1.) Cooper's stumpy little legs had given out, leaving us stranded near dusk or 2.) accidentally wandered into a land of giants who needed some people to serve as human tennis balls. Always prepared, those scientists.

After finishing the CROP walk (which, by the way, is an acronym for Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty), we retired to Parker and Otis, a fantastic local restaurant near Brightleaf Square in downtown Durham. Ashley chose the site for their delicously simple food and dog-friendly back porch. Food was delicious, and we ended up with about 36 extra sandwiches (currently sitting in our fridge) because so few people stopped by after the walk. We didn't intend to have this much food left over, but several passers-by rebuffed our free sandwich offers (side note to snooty "vegetarians" - you can't think about taking a turkey sandwich, and then decide to turn it down because it has bacon on it. Meat is meat, so just tell me you don't like bacon or something like that). Anyways, if anyone else is ever in Durham, you should go to Parker and Otis to eat and to check out their small shop. They've got a little bit of everything and many unique food items.

The excess food got me thinking about the strange juxtaposition of modern western (and American) culture. We drove fifteen miles to walk five, and then celebrated that by not only eating a full meal but going home with enough food to feed a small village. Even in our efforts to give this to someone else, we were rejected. I bring this up not mock the tremendous efforts of those in our community that truly care and put on a great event, but to put into perspective the great number of blessings we have been given. We (friends and family) are very lucky.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saturday Adventures

Before we get into the meat of today's fun, let me make this one point: whole wheat waffles are terrible, even if made from scratch. Anytime you start with batter that looks like the picture to the left (which, honestly, looks like dog vomit), you can't really expect a delicious final product. And, since we gave up sweets for Lent, there was no drowning the waffles in hot syrup. I did make a berry-and-peach compote for the topping, which was good even without adding sugar. You win some and lose some.

Anyways, after a swim at Pullen Aquatic Center this morning, we spent a trip running errands around town. Fun errands, though, as we're gearing up for the triathlon and Peru trip. Simple enough, we thought, even as we headed into the lion's den of Cary (there's a whole lot more to that story, but this is neither the time nor the place for a rant on characterless suburban sprawl).

First up was a trip to Performance Bike, where we bought Ashley a bike helmet and shoes. I picked up this awesome cycling cap, which has the benefit of making me look like a lost European tourist. I also chose it because it was the team cap of Euskaltel-Euskadi, a Basque professional cycling team that is on the major European racing circuit. I think it's cool, but my wife disagrees. "From this picture you are able to see that this cap accentuates my husband's fat head.", was the exact quote. On a side note, Basque culture really is neat and unique - Mark Kurlansky's book The Basque History of the World is good reading if you want a non-traditional look at European and world history. His other books are great too, but I digress.

We escaped the bike store with what we came for, and look forward to a ride soon. From there it was on to REI to look at boots and sleeping bags. Ashley found the boots she was looking for, and we tested out sleeping bags in the store. If we ever buy one at REI, we'll make sure to ask for an "untested" one. For what it's worth, I now know the difference between a three-pound sleeping bag and a six-pound sleeping bag - about $65. We'll try and find lightweight bags online for a little less.

From REI we went to get the last two books in the Twilight series, which Ashley has been reading incessantly (read: two books in two days). I, on the other hand, pick through books at a snail's pace. I'm currently reading Choke by Chuck Palahniuk (thanks to Jay) and The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson.

Upon returning to the house, we found this scene: That is, of course, Mattie, with two socks in her mouth. The culpable party in the plan was probably her younger brother, but that is speculative, as he was soon feigning a squirrel watching safari on the deck. Arnold was too busy guarding a rope toy to be responsible, but he took the blame anyways.

Look for CROP walk updates tomorrow!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fr-a-gile... must be Italian! (updated)

I (Ashley) have won an award! A major award, even! Well, not that major...

I won "Campaign Leader of the Year" for Durham County, NC for my work with the Syngenta United Way campaign. Its an actual trophy, with MY name on it!!!

Also, we have a busy, busy weekend ahead of us. We're interviewing a new petsitter, working in the garden, and walking in the CROP Walk. Look for pics!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Dog Whisperer

We've had visitors with us for the past few days-- Duke and Nino. Now our dog collection runs the full spectrum of sizes (XS-XL!)

Our friends, Ryan and Danielle, had to go out of town/out of the country for business so we volunteered to dog sit. Duke is a previous house guest and when he arrived, he fit right back into our pack. His little brother, Nino, on the other hand has visited for lunch; but never stayed over night. We were a little worried that he may get stepped on by the giants in our house.

Not at all the case. He and Arnold are long, lost friends and have formed an alliance against two things: the mailman and our weirdo neighbors (both viable threats).

We're very pleased at how well everyone gets along. Mattie finally has someone who wants to play!!

Also their stay has allowed me to work on a technique first perfected by my father: The Chihuahua Hold

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fully Assembled!!

We (again, Casey) put together the furniture last night and it looks great!

Check it out:
1. New Kitchen Table-- can extend to fit up to 6 people.
2. New Mirror-- See, not 'above the bed'; just 'over the bed'
3. New Bed (we've had this assembled for a while; we're just now getting up pictures!)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Feeding the Addiction...

Friday we went out for "date night" and tried a new restaurant in Downtown Raleigh, 18 Seaboard.

The atmosphere was nice; although it was packed with a lot of "business drunk" dinner parties. Service was a little slow; but not terrible. The food was good, not great. On the plus side, we had a cheese plate for an appetizer (which had three kinds of cheeses and candied/dried fruits) and the wine (a Pinot Noir called "A to Z") was excellent.

Saturday we secretly went back to IKEA. We thought we would sneak into Charlotte under the parental radar and exchange the kitchen table (we bought the wrong size two weeks ago). The original plan was to get up and leave Raleigh around 7AM, be at IKEA when it opened at 10, have a quick breakfast (the $0.99 one, of course!), exchange the table and ski-daddle out of there before anyone knew we were in the area.

Well, we didn't wake up until 7, leave until 9, meaning we didn't get there until noon. By then, the place was a nut house. We parked on the very last row; probably somewhere close to Randolph County.

So instead of breakfast, we had lunch. Which, to be honest, as disappointing. Casey braved the Swedish meatballs... the gravy was questionable. None the less, we got a new table (and a few other things...) and headed back to Raleigh.

I'm glad we didn't see anyone we knew (especially family)... I didn't want to be responsible for our foul temperments. Trust us, you wouldnt have wanted to be around us either. We were in HORRIBLE moods after the rainy walk into the store and the unbelievably packed crowds.

Plus, all throughout the first floor the smell of warm cinnamon rolls wafts around the place and had us under its magic, whispering spell (we gave up sweets for Lent this year).

Of course, in the end, Ashley's big mouth blabbed our 'secret' trip to her family; and the cover was blown. We'll post pictures soon of the new furniture. We just have to get it assembled (and by we, I mean--Casey).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Just getting started...

We decided to totally steal Evan and Leah's idea of using a blog to update our friends and family about our lives. (Sorry, guys!)

We figured it really is the easiest way to stay connected with everyone.

Currently, we're spending a lot of time with three major things:
2-Triathlon training (mildly all about this)
3-Peru Preparation

Ikea: After several months of driving past the "Coming in Spring '09" signs, it's finally here! We recently visited the new Ikea store in Charlotte. We learned two things: Western North Carolinians were more excited about the $0.99 breakfast and Swedish meatballs then they were about the actual furniture designs and its actually possible to spend more money in 4 hours then you have spent in the past month. We can say this because came close to remortgaging the house to pay for our purchases...

Triathlon Training: That's right... we signed up for a triathlon in May. Yes, we may be crazy and yes, one of us (and I think we all know who that is) may be carried out on a strecher at the end. I (Ashley) recently started taking swimming lessons at a local community pool in anticipation of the 300m swim. I'm learning a few things... how to breathe without drowning, how to backstroke (instead of doggie paddling), and if needed... how to walk the last 25 meters. I'll keep you posted on how things progress (don't expect much!).

Peru Preparation: We're just shy of 8 weeks until the big trip to South America. Land of the potato. Most of you know, but we're heading to Peru to hike Macchu Pichu on May 20th. We'll spend 5 days hiking into the Inca Valley and the other days getting used to the altitude. Already, we're using our guest bedroom as a storage bin for all the things we might want to take along. We've got our backpacks out, camelbacks sanitized, and antimicrobial undies purchased. We've been taking weekend hikes to nearby trails to get used to carrying weight up hills. If all else fails... we'll just practice with Cooper in one of the packs. That's a weight you don't want to carry around! The picture is from this weekend at Raven Rock...Cooper searched for any and all spots to cool down (fatty).

Check back periodically to see what we're up to; what we're into; and what the dogs are destroying next...