Product Testing

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I was convinced I was born to row because I made it through a Learn to Row class without falling in the water.  Let me take another moment to brag–I made it through the entire two weeks of classes without falling in.

Fortunately, one of the requirements for the class was to get back into the boat from the water.  This is fortunate in that, having not fallen in, I didn’t get to learn this on my own.

Getting back into a sculling shell from the water is no easy task.  You have to get your body up onto the boat while holding the oars into position so the boat doesn’t tip back over again.  It took me several tries and I was badly bruised by the time I made it back into the boat.

Since then, I’ve been feeling like I was never going to fall in.  I’ve been rowing twice a week and I’ve managed to catch myself every time I started to tip.  Then, the other morning when it was about 54 degrees out, I did my usual route around a section of the river that is mostly still within sight of the rowing center.

When I got to the downstream end of my rowing route, as usual, I stopped rowing to drift by part of Maclellan Island and see what birds were out.  Just then, four Great Blue Heron came swooping overhead.  I turned to see where they were headed and the next thing I knew, my head was completely underwater.  I didn’t feel the boat tip at all; I was just suddenly submerged.

Fortunately, the river was still toasty warm.  But, I had a moment of panic.  Once I got my mind around the fact that I was, in fact, in the water, I realized several things:

  1. One oar had come out of the oarlock and was floating away from me and the boat
  2. The boat was completely upside down
  3. My iPhone was strapped to the boat in a waterproof case and cute little lifejacket
  4. I had lights suction cupped to the boat since it was dark when I’d started rowing–they were now completely submerged.

Accepting that there was nothing to do but get the boat back together and myself back in it, I swam after the lose oar, pleased to find that it does, as advertised, float.  I got the boat righted and was equally pleased to discover that my lights were not only still attached, but also still it.

I got the oar back in the oarlock and managed to get myself back into the boat in one smooth try like I’d been tipping sculling boats for years.  And, the moment of pure delight came when I confirmed that my iPhone had floated and remained dry inside its case.

For once, all products performed as expected!

The only down side was riding my bike home in 54 degree weather soaking wet.

Night Lights

I haven’t shot the Chattanooga skyline at night for a long time.  And I probably shouldn’t have now, either.  The sky wasn’t doing anything particularly interesting.  What attracted me though, was the changing lights on the aquarium.

The aquarium hadn’t been lit at all for many months.  Then, suddenly, the lights turned on and they were red.  As were the lights on the Blue Cross Blue Shield building.  And the lights running along the pier, the lights on the Riverwalk on this side of the river, and even the lights running along the  Walnut Street bridge were covered in red film.

I asked someone if they knew why the lights had suddenly appeared in red.  They guessed it was for the upcoming “Wine over Water” event, but that really didn’t make sense.

I googled Chattanooga and red lights.  I got hits on all the traffic cameras at intersections in Chattanooga.

Then, on the night when I finally broke out the camera, the Blue Cross Blue Shield building was lit in pink and the aquarium lights started changing colors.  The aquarium lights rotated from pink to red to orange to yellow to pale blue to dark blue to purple to pink, and finally, back to red.

I guess I should have just made a video of it because I ended up taking way too many pictures trying to get one of each color.

Then, like a kid suffering from ADD, I was more taken by the streaking head and tail lights of the traffic going through the scene than by the lights on the aquarium.  What is it about long exposures with steaks of car lights going through them that’s so much fun?

But, back to the mystery of the colored lights.  After shooting these, several things happened that made me suspect the red and pink lights were for breast cancer awareness.  It started when I saw a “Save the Tatas” bumper sticker on a car in the grocery store parking lot.

Then, when I crossed the Walnut Street bridge, I realized there was a lighted ribbon symbol that could have been for heart disease awareness, but that’s in February.  Then,  the building lights were appearing in pink more often than in red.  And, I learned that the 30th was the Chattanooga Race for the Cure.

So, I have concluded that the colored lights are supposed to be for breast cancer awareness and that they just started a little early (October is breast cancer awareness month) in honor of the race.  That’s my theory anyway.

I still haven’t figured out why most of the lights are red instead of pink.  Perhaps my theory will be proven or disproven as the month of October progresses.

In the meantime, I’m having fun with lights of all colors.

Re-Hike

Sunday has become unofficial hiking day.  Of late, I seem to have fallen into a new routine.  Saturday, I recover from the previous 5 days of hiking, biking, rowing, and yoga.  I do this mostly by laying on the couch with the occasional interruption of taking Tisen for walks.

But Sunday, Sunday I hike.  And this past Sunday, Pat needed to work, so it was the perfect opportunity to make my second attempt at Edward Point.  This time, Tisen and I would start at 10:30 in the morning instead of 4:30 in the evening.  We were mentally prepared for a rather challenging 6 mile hike, up and down Signal Mountain, scrambling over rocks.

This was our fourth trip to the Signal Point overlook.  It’s an easy walk down a paved trail from the parking lot.  We spent 20 minutes covering the 100 yards from the parking lot to the overlook–there were lots of places to sniff.

But the overlook is it for the suburban park setting.  After stopping for a couple of quick shots, we headed to the Cumberland Trail.  Even with its manmade steps, it’s not an easy trail.  Many people make it the first half mile to a “natural” overlook point over the gully that our trail would wind its way around.  But it involves clamoring down steep and big steps, jumping onto rocks, and stepping carefully.  Tisen did an amazing job navigating all the obstacles.

Every time we go on a hike that starts out with an accessible view, I notice the drop off in population as you get further from the parking lot.  We were still on the most traveled part of the trail, but already we were down to only 2 other people who we didn’t see until we made it to the overlook point.

Before we’d rounded the first blind turn, a Pileated Woodpecker called from so close to where we were standing that I was sure I would look up and see it clinging to a tree.  As I searched for the shape of this giant woodpecker, it called again, sounding slightly further away.  I searched frantically, watching for shadows against the dark forest floor.  When it called a third time, the Doppler effect kicked in–I could hear it moving away from us as it called.  I was bummed.  I haven’t seen a Pileated Woodpecker in quite a while–I would have loved to have gotten a shot of it.

We continued our hike possibly in greater safety now that the woodpecker was gone–I have a tendency to forget I’m walking on the edge of a cliff when I’m searching for a bird.

When we stopped at the first natural overlook, Tisen was already panting hard.  I got out his portable water bowl and tried to coax him into drinking water.  Tisen stuck his elbow in the collapsible water bowl and stared at me, pink tongue lolling from his black-and-white mouth.

Why I Don’t Cook

When I returned from my recent adventure in Vermont, I was feeling motivated to eat as healthy as possible.  I also triggered an addiction to lobster, having stopped in Boston on both the way there and the way back, indulging in lobster rolls in both directions.

As such, I got out my favorite cookbook, “The Ultra-Metabolism Cookbook” and found myself drooling over the Lobster Fra Diavalo recipe.

By luck, my noon meeting cancelled and I managed to spend lunch at the grocery store.  I bought the provisions necessary for a 3-course meal–salad, entree, and dessert.

When my day had mostly wrapped up (I did have one evening conference call with some folks in Australia, but it didn’t last long), I started cooking.

Now, this is a rather rare phenomenon.  Finding me in the kitchen usually means I’m making coffee, eating yogurt straight out of the carton, or perhaps doing something as creative as making a smoothie.  But on this night, I was undertaking making 3 courses all for the same meal.

I started thawing the lobster tails for the Lobster Fra Diavalo.  I made pomegranate salad dressing and prepped the salad.  I put on wild rice to cook without fully reading the instructions (quite the risk taker).  I served the salad around 8PM, right after my conference call was over.  Not bad if you ignore the fact I’d started prepping around 5:30PM.

I thought I’d started the rice too late, but then I realized the sauce for the lobster had to cook down, so then my rice was going to be done too early.  I turned up the heat on the diavalo sauce in the hope of reducing it faster.  While it cooked, I made up some chocolate sauce from a New Life Hiking Spa recipe available on their website.  I was going to serve banana “ice cream” and chocolate sauce for dessert.

Note the time in the photo of the lobster cooking on the stove.  At 9:17, I was still trying to reduce the sauce.  We ate our lobster at 9:30.  It was actually quite good, if I do say so myself.  But, can lobster ever really taste bad?

Next, I took frozen bananas out of the freezer only to discover they weren’t really frozen all the way.  I decided to try to make the dessert anyway.  I put them in the blender and tried to puree them into an ice cream consistency.  Between their unfrozen state and my crappy blender, they came out more of a pudding consistency.  I enjoyed it anyway.  My husband wasn’t so keen on the dessert.  The chocolate sauce was tasty, but sweetened with maple syrup (not from Vermont), it was a little too mapley for him.

All in all, I invested about 5 hours of my time between planning, shopping, cooking, eating, and cleaning up for this one healthy meal.  I texted my friend that I now understand why I have time to workout–I don’t cook.

Indulgence

On our last full day in Vermont, after lunch, we decided to take a field trip.  We went to the famous gift shop of a hotel a few miles down the road.  This required making some arrangements.

For starters, we didn’t have a car.  We also didn’t want to walk, having already hiked that morning.  Fortunately for us, the owner was willing to come pick us up and drive us to her shop.

I am not a big fan of shopping.  But, I really wasn’t feeling up to trying Zoomba for the second time (definitely not an exercise for me) and we could get back in plenty of time for yoga class.  Plus, I thought I might find a gift for Tisen.

I was right.  I found an adorable moose to add to Tisen’s collection of “babies.”  I also found a book of guitars for Pat.  And a book of top 10 lists of places to go for Pat and I to share and fantasize about.

And then, I found the most dangerous thing of all.  It was a bag of maple syrup jelly beans.  This was not a wise purchase given that I was at a weight-loss spa, getting tons of exercise, and eating extremely healthy foods.  There is nothing that triggers a binge for me more than pure sugar in convenient handfuls.

When I got done paying for my items, I opened the bag of jelly beans and poured the first handful before I even put my wallet away.  By the time my friend got up to the counter to pay for her stuff (it was at least 10 minutes later, I swear), nearly a quarter of the bag had mysteriously disappeared.

As it turned out, it was the last bag of jelly beans and my friend had wanted to buy them as a gift for her son.  Had I not torn into them already, I would have given them to her.  As it was, she couldn’t really take him a half eaten bag of jelly beans.

Back at the “spa,” I opted to take a nap before yoga versus going to the strength class.  Funny how a person can eat jelly beans while taking a nap.  The darn things just disappeared and I was left in a sugar coma, having polished off 8 oz of maple syrup jelly beans in about 2 hours.

I do not do well feeling like I’m being deprived of anything.  When I get in a situation where I feel like I’m not “allowed” to have something, I start craving it.  When I get any kind of candy, I eat it until it’s gone like I’m afraid someone will steal it from me.  It’s not good.  I’ve been combating this problem by having a few small pieces of dark chocolate everyday.  It’s good for me and it’s so strong, I can’t eat a lot of it.  I guess I should have brought some along with me to the spa.

The Necessaries

Our second hike in Vermont was on a gravel road that ran next to a stream.  The stream spoke the usual stream language, babbling to us as we walked.  Something we don’t always think about when we imagine the sound of a happily babbling stream is the way it seems to connect directly with our bladders.  Or, at least, mine.

I love the sound of running water diving and dipping and dropping over stones in a shallow bed as it makes its way downhill.  I love it less when I really need to use the non-existent facilities.  This is a case where perhaps the advanced hike might have been more accommodating–finding a private place at least 50 yards from water to go off and take care of one’s needs when walking along a relatively popular dirt road with a group of 15-20 people is not such a simple undertaking.  I endeavored to prove I still have good bladder control.  I made it to the turn around point, through the snack break, and about halfway back, but then we arrived at the juncture between the road and the stream.  The very thought of water rushing beneath my feet as it crossed under the road was more than I could bear.

I made a break for the woods and climbed up an overgrown hillside, bushwhacking my way to a private spot, trying to do as little damage to the hillside in the process as possible.  Fortunately for me, my selected site was in fact private and no one caught me in the somewhat awkward act of re-positioning clothing after the fact.

This, did however, evoke a memory from a long ago jeep trek up a mountain jeep trail near Ouray, Colorado in Yankee Boy Basin.  It was a trip I took with my father, brother, and elderly aunt to deliver my mother’s ashes to her favorite location in the world.  About half way up the jeep trail, my elderly aunt needed to use the facilities.  When I explained to her that there weren’t any facilities, she exclaimed, “What??!!!  They should have a bathroom if they’re going to let people come up here!!!”  The concept of wilderness was a bit lost on her.

I took her to find a spot in the woods.  I don’t think she’d ever walked through the woods except on a fairly flat and easy to follow trail before, let alone found a hidden spot to squat.  I found a secluded spot for her and walked around to another secluded spot for myself not far away.  About the time I was getting re-situated, I heard squealing.  I ran over to where I’d left my aunt and was greeted by two feet, pants circling the ankles above them, kicking in the air amongst the underbrush.  My aunt had fallen over backwards.  Now that is a sight I wish I could forget!

Thankfully, I managed to enjoy the hike in Vermont and leave un-traumatized.

Being Moderate

At the New Life Hiking Spa, everyone gathers outside the front door and the staff announces the hikes each morning.  They’re categorized into “Nature Walk,” “intermediate,” and “Advanced.”  The Nature Walk being mostly flat, a non-challenging surface to walk on (like a gravel road), and only about 4 miles or so in distance.  The Intermediate walks have more ups and downs, and may require a little scrambling over rocks.  The Advanced hikes are more vertical and are on “unimproved” trails.

While I might have opted for the Advanced or Intermediate hikes, I was there more for the company of my friend and less for the physical challenge, so I was more than happy to do the nature walk.  Plus, I wanted to shoot and I figured I’d have more opportunities on the nature walk than on an advanced hike.

This happened to be the day for the most difficult Nature Walk of the week.  It had a long, slow climb in the middle of it.  This worked to my advantage.  I got to take my time shooting because the group wasn’t moving as fast as they would have been on a flat trail.  I had time to shoot and then run to catch up to my friend.

This was even more perfect than I realized at first.  I got a great workout by running hard to catch up (when I say running hard, I mean any attempt to run on my part is hard–I don’t run fast or far or at all if I can help it).  We would walk along together chatting until the next photogenic subject appeared.

I would have hated being on an advanced hike and feeling like I was holding other people up every time I stopped for a shot.

Plus, the road we walked was lovely.  We were afforded many views of the mountains and lots of pretty open fields full of wildflowers.  The only slightly traumatic part was the graveyard near the beginning of the walk.  We had to wonder what kind of message they were sending us by not only walking us past the graveyard on the way out, but stopping there for our snack break on the way back.  I loved it for the photographic opportunities it provided, but it’s a little odd to snack amongst the dead.

We extended the hike by going past the trailhead to another trail that led up a hill to a lovely view of the valley below and mountains in the distance.  One of our fellow hikers was starting to worry us with his heavy breathing, profuse sweating, and red face.  It was hard to believe the hike was that much of a workout for anyone, but it was a pretty good uphill, I guess.  We were concerned he had heat stroke.  In the end, he, along with the rest of us, did survive and we left no one in the graveyard.

Unguided Tour

After arriving at the hiking spa in Vermont, I worked on getting settled into my room while waiting for the spa director to call for our tour and orientation.  They’d given us some paperwork to sign when we checked in.  I was more than a little shocked when I realized one of the things I was supposed to sign was acknowledging that I was going to be on a restricted calorie diet.

I somehow missed that there was going to be a limit on calories.

Under “special dietary needs,” I made sure I put that I needed at least 1800 calories a day if I was going to be hiking and working out, worried that this was some kind of crazy starvation diet.  Then, I stared at the phone.

There is nothing I hate more than waiting for a phone call.  It’s been so long since I’ve even had that experience that I’d forgotten how annoying it is.

I tried to find things to do.  After taking photos of the room, I opened a bar of soap and washing my hands.  No call.  Then, I moved to unpacking.  I hung things up in the closet.  I placed folded things into drawers.  I got out my toiletries and lined them up on the bathroom sink.  Still no call.

I called the front desk.  The front desk guy said he would call the spa director again.  We waited another 5 minutes and then we took off.

We wandered down the hall and found some stairs.  We were deposited in an outdoor courtyard.  We walked around, discovering the golf course that abutted the hotel lawn.

The indoor pool looked a little suspect and the hot tub that was supposed to seat 10 looked like it would only be comfortable for 4 people who knew each other well.

We wandered around discovering the features of the hotel and eventually found the front desk.  When the guy at the front desk saw us, he rolled his eyes as he asked if we still hadn’t been called.  I smiled and explained that we got bored and left.  The front desk guy called the spa director and told him we were in the lobby.

The spa director found us and took us on a repeat tour, showing us far less than what we saw on our own.  His idea of showing us something seemed to be waving his hand in the general direction while we were standing in the hall.

I can’t say that I understood any of the positive reviews of the spa or the staff by the time we’d completed our orientation.  He hadn’t asked us a single question about why we were there or what we were hoping to accomplish and he had rapid-fired information at us.

I chose to simply be amused by this adventure.  After all, we were there, it was beautiful outside, and we were only staying for 3 nights.  I could think of no reason to complain.

Speak No Evil

I am having a lot of issues with my TMJ.  It feels physically impossible to relax the muscles of my jaw.  Some have told me that this implies I’m holding back.  I wonder about that.  Generally, I am an outspoken person.  But, when I think about the things I would like to say vs the things I actually say, I realize I do hold back.  A lot.

For example, when I’m at work on a call with someone who is preventing me from moving forward with a project and I can’t figure out why they are even involved in the decision making process,  I don’t say, “why do you think you have the right to an opinion about this?” or “I’m sorry, why are you here?”

There was a time in my life when I probably would have.

Acclimating myself to a career in the corporate world has largely meant learning how to keep my mouth closed.  Apparently, clenched tight.

Oddly, people seem to feel like they’re a “value add” (one of my favorite corporatisms) by pointing out any possible reason why we shouldn’t do something.  It’s rare to meet a person who wants to suggest how we could do something.

Even more oddly, this has been consistent across the companies I’ve worked for throughout my career; it is not unique to the company I work for now.  I wonder what it is about corporations that create the need in people to be gatekeepers?  Or is it that they feel that way their whole lives and a corporation just provides a place to express their inner selves?  Is there such a thing as a born gatekeeper?

When these people say “I’m here to help,” what they mean is, “I am here to maintain the status quo by causing delays so that we’ve completely missed the market before you can force any changes.”

In the meantime, I clench my jaw and try not to scream.

I guess I am holding back.

Thankfully, I now have Tisen to nudge me with his nose during the highest stress moments in my day.  Tisen reminds me that there are far worse alternatives to being gainfully employed and able to work from home.

Working from home also saves me an hour and a half a day that I get to spend on trying to become a better photographer.  So, who am I to complain?

On the subject of photography, this is the final edition of “Going Vertical.”  Today’s shots are, however, macro shots rather than landscape.  Well, at least some of them.  I’ve been told the official definition of “macro” means a 1:1 relationship between the size of the image and the size of the subject in real life.  Clearly, not all of these photos meet that criteria.

I had a lot of fun shooting reflections in the wetland area.  Unfortunately, I’ve found that how much fun I have while shooting is not a predictor of how much I like the resulting images.

UPDATED:

The completely original 3 images processed into the horizontal shot:

All-in-One Resolution

Let’s say, for arguments sake, that when you thought about your New Year’s Resolutions for this year, you decided that you wanted to lose weight.  But, instead of setting that as a goal, you decided to set some specific steps as goals instead.  Your New Year’s Resolutions might look like this:

  1. Take the stairs instead of the elevator every time you go up or down the 4 floors to your home.
  2. Get up earlier so there’s time to start every day with a walk
  3. Eat less
  4. Take a long walk at least 3x a day

Perhaps you will undertake these resolutions for a week or two and then, the elevator is mighty nice when you come home with a load of groceries.  Suddenly, the next time it’s harder to take the stairs.  Getting up early wears you out, makes it too difficult to walk in the morning.  Soon, you’re sleeping in and skipping that morning walk.  Then, you’re not walking at all.  And, when you give up walking, you spend more time sitting near food and suddenly your food consumption goes back up.

I think I have the solution for these New Year’s Resolutions.  First, if you don’t already live in a 4th floor apartment or condo, move into one, but make sure they allow dogs.  Second, make a single resolution to foster a pair of adolescent dogs who have apparently lived in the woods most of their short lives.  Preferably ones who don’t know how to walk on a leash, aren’t potty trained, think elevators are leftover from the holocaust, and have never been around traffic.

Log, Day One, Early Morning:

4:15AM Get up.  Get dogs out of crates.  Put on leashes.  Take them outside as quickly as possible, pausing to squat down and call them every time they balk at walking on a leash.  Coax them down the stairs, which are only slightly less terrifying than the elevator.  Walk around the block while reassuring dogs they are not going to die.  Make sure they both go potty.

5:00AM Feed dogs breakfast.

5:15AM-6:15AM Take Dogs for long walk in the dark, in the pouring rain.  Discover one dog doesn’t like puddles.  Carry over large puddles when necessary.  Discover other dog is capable of backing out of his collar if panicked.  Feel grateful said dog doesn’t run away after escaping from said collar.  Avoid getting poop on hands when picking up out of tall plants (which seems to be Rex’s preferred potty).

6:15AM Return to building.  Coax dogs up stairs to entry door.  Coax dogs through the door.  Coax dogs into stairwell.  Coax dogs up the stairs.

6:30AM Attempt to dry dogs with large towel they think is a new chew toy.  Get dogs back behind the barrier separating the non-puppy-safe area from the semi-puppy-safe area.  Watch dogs wrestle and try to keep them from waking up all our neighbors.

7:00AM Curl up with said dogs on couch.  Smile to self while nodding off.