Eye of the Tiger

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I took up Flywheel Boston’s “Summer Challenge,” and a challenge it has been.

In my new-found experience, the thing that sets Flywheel apart from other indoor cycling classes is the technology. Those of you who have taken indoor cycling classes know it’s an imprecise science. You base your effort on perceived exertion, and we all likely lie to ourselves at some point when it comes to exertion. Upping resistance is left to the individual turning a knob to the right, however much they want. RPMs can only be calculated by counting how many rotations your leg makes in ten seconds and then multiplying by six. Seriously. Math while pedaling.

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With Flywheel all of this is quantified for you. Your resistance, or torq, is clearly displayed on your bike, your RPMs are also displayed, no need for arithmetic. While this is a godsend for those of us who want to get the very most out of our workout (and proof of it), it can also fuel real competition when your ratio of torq to RPMs gets tabulated into a “Power” number that then ranks you on a large screen for everyone to see.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, I covet a spot on the torq board. I usually make a brief appearance at the bottom of the top ten in the opening moment of class, but then I am banished to abyss of 11 and greater none of whom are displayed. But that doesn’t stop me from working my butt off to earn a spot on that darn board.

I’m a competitive person, but if you’re not, maybe you wouldn’t feel this need to push yourself to the point of utter exhaustion to achieve the elusive goal of having your Flywheel user name (while mine is a simple derivative of my name, there are a tons that leverage “sweat,” “fly,” or “Boston”) flash on a flat screen. But if you’re not a competitive person, you likely will not end up a Flywheel devotee.

So what’s up with the torq board? I had a lively discussion about this with friends over dinner. Would I work has hard, pedal as fast, climb the hills as aggressively, if I opted out of the torq board (which you can do when you check in for each class)? The answer is simple: no. It’s human nature to push a little more, run a little faster or pick up the pace if we’re trying to catch someone, or if we feel someone on our heels. If during most group exercise classes you are competing against yourself, at Flywheel you are competing against the person on the bike next to you, or across the room from you.

So each class I work my butt off to try to remain on the torq board throughout the class. Last week I identified my problem: Sprinting. I’m a great climber. Hills are easy for me, I can take on a lot of resistance without much of a problem. Sprinting is another story; I just can’t spin my legs fast enough to get to 100 RPMs. But I’ve been making progress over the course of the Summer Challenge, and this morning I had a break-through! While it was not really a physical breakthrough (it was a strategic one) it yielded the results I had been hoping for.

Today I added more resistance than my teacher suggested; I was playing to my strength. My RPMs were not as high as she suggested, but I knew from experience I was never going to get there anyway. With the added resistances my power number skyrocketed. During the last sprint of the class my eyes were locked on the troq board, stalking the 10th spot, hoping my name would flash up there. It took me a while to realize that my name was already on the screen…in the fourth spot! I was number four, but it may as well have been number one. I finished the class with an overall ranking of ninth in the class. Now full disclosure, the 6:30 a.m. class was not full, but there were at least two dozen people there, 15 of whom I beat (It’s my blog, I don’t have to feign modesty here). And it was a victory of the sweetest–and sweatist–kind.

And the Torq board is not Flywheel’s only technological innovation. Each person in class can also access a report featuring the stats of their rides, so you know exactly what you accomplished and approximately how many calories your burned. So even if you don’t make it onto the torq board, at least you can feel better about those fries you just ate.

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While I receive a complementary membership to Flywheel for the Summer Challenge, the opinions expressed above are, as always, my own.

Panic! On The Green Line

I have often ruminated on this blog about how trying, and sometimes failing, at all these new things has helped me shake off some of my Type A tendencies. I admit I used to be pretty tightly wound, but I am certainly making strides. But last week I took a step back; a step back into panic.

It’s not easy for me to admit, but I have had four panic attacks in my life. Well, I think they were panic attacks, I felt pretty darn panicy. But for the sake of full disclosure I was never clinically diagnosed with any sort of anxiety disorder, been under a doctor’s care or taken medication. But for me, these were panic attacks. The circumstances surrounding my three previous panic attacks sum me up to a tee: I had two after making mistakes at work and having those mistake show up on TV (one was a misspelling, the other was getting a New York city council person’s first name wrong, disappointing my absolute favorite anchor and friend). The third took hold of me when I was running late for an appointment with a councilor whom I started seeing because I wanted to stop having panic attacks. While the irony of that last statement is not lost on me, it turned out to be helpful for this counselor to see me in the throes of my anxiety.

What do these instances say about me? Basically, I don’t like to be wrong and I don’t like to be late.

Yep, that’s me.

I learned some techniques for calming myself down and leaving the insanely fast pace TV news industry certainly means less acute instances of extreme pressure (although stress was certainly not the reason I left the news business). The world of advertising and PR can be stressful, but it’s not the same as working on the lead story of the 5:00 broadcast, but because the signal from the satellite truck is weak, its 4:58 and you are still waiting for Minton to feed (sorry Tim, I had to say it). As we joke in PR, “We’re not curing cancer here.” And we’re not. We’re also not breaking news.

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Last week I left work to head to one of the many Flywheel classes I am attending each week, hopped on the MBTA’s Green Line (yes, I know, that was my first mistake) intending to stay on for just four stops and make it to Flywheel with plenty of time to change, get on my bike and ease into a stress-releasing after work ride. Had I walked, maybe even crawled there from work I probably could have made it faster than that darn subway, but the T stopped between each stop for what seemed like an eternity. As the seconds ticked by, I could feel my blood pressure rising, the muscles in my back tensing and my shoulders inched closer to ears. I started fidgeting trying to release some of the tension that was building up inside me. I felt hot, but also had goose bumps. When the conductor announced he would be letting everyone off the trian one stop before mine, I could feel myself getting hotter and hotter.

I ran off the T, down Dartmouth Street IN HEELS, completely freaking out. I really must have looked as if I were escaping from an insane asylum. By the time I reached Flywheel I was sweating, hyperventilating and nearly crying. The kind and patient staff said they cut off entry to the class five minutes after it starts, so I had to change quickly. In the bathroom I started peeling clothes off my sweaty body as I tried to control my breath, I was cursing myself and my eyes welled with tears to the point I could not see clearly. When I tried to put my belonging in a locker, I froze. I literally could not comprehend the directions printed clearly on the front of the locker. Put in my four digit code? Not once but twice? I use the same bloody code for everything in my life and in that moment I had no idea what it was.

With tears now streaming down my cheeks, I begged a staff member to help me, while admitting, “I can’t work the locker. I think I’m having a panic attack.” Really, ya think? They were so nice, grabbing my stuff to hold behind the front desk and making sure I had water before I headed into the studio. When I got on my bike, the lights had already been dimmed, so luckily no one could tell that I was already sweating, breathing heavy and had tears rolling down my face.

After a few minutes, my erratic, panic-induced breathing pattern was replaced by  a hard, yet steady flywheel-induced breathing pattern. I was calming down. After class, I apologized to the Flywheel staff “for acting like a freak.” As I walked home I went over the evening’s events and got upset (and embarrassed) again. I was upset with myself for letting the possibility of being late for a gym class–one that I didn’t even pay for–reduce me to an anxious, sweaty mess. But that’s the thing about panic attacks; you have no control.

Typically, I wouldn’t share this, or any of my other shortcomings with anyone…let along the world wide web. In fact, I would likely not admit that I have any shortcomings period. But over the last week, I have been thinking about this a lot, and I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t share, it would be acknowledgment that a anxiety is a shortcoming, or something to be ashamed of. It’s not. It’s just who I am. The NIH estimates that 4 million Americas have had at least one episode of acute anxiety in their lives. I’ve had four in 30-something years, and that’s ok. I’m ok.

Have others had panic attacks (diagnosed or undiagnosed) and felt embarrassed or ashamed about it? I have to say, I feel much better, and even a little more clam, now that I have shared this with you and the entire interwebs. I’d love to hear from others if you feel comfortable sharing.

 

 

Spinning My Wheels

Today I’m embarking on a slightly difference challenge than I typically do. But variety is the spice of life, right?

I have always been a really active person; from Chestnut Hill Father’s Club softball, to playing three sports in middle and high school, and squash in college. I think sports have contributed to my drive, determinations, work ethic, and certainly my competitiveness and helped shape the person I am today.

After college, having defined myself as an athlete for so many years, I yearned for a new challenge, and ways to validate my desire to still call myself an athlete. That’s when I started running half-marathons and marathons. I love to run, and staring up a hill at mile 10 certainly presents a challenge. But even distance running is not quite the same as being on a team. Having people to cheer you on and motivate you. And most importantly, a coach to yell at you. Yes, in the years since college, I have come to the realization that I like to be yelled at (under certain circumstances).

It’s because of all of this, that when the nice folks at Flywheel Boston asked me to take their Summer Challenge, I jumped at the chance. I, and the others who accepted this challenge, will be attending four of Flywheel’s indoor cycling classes each week for six weeks. To help me stay on track I’ll be getting daily motivational emails, and if that isn’t motivation enough, those who do make it to four classes a week will be entered to win prizes. Who doesn’t like prizes?

When you arrive for a class, you pair of shoes are already set aside for you, how nice

When you arrive for a class, you pair of shoes are already set aside for you, how nice

Now let’s back up: Flywheel is a specialty indoor cycling studio. It started in NYC where it exploded in popularity with a cult-like following. Last night I found out why. I attended my first class of the challenge with instructor Christina Lodde. Christina has been teaching indoor cycling for nine years, and has been at Flywheel since it opened here in Boston last October. I asked Christina what she liked best about her job, she said it was the fact that she is motivating so many people. The Flywheel Studio is set up stadium-style, so when Christina is on her bike at the center of the group, I can only imagine how much energy she feels coming at her. And boy does she succeed at motivating people. To my slight disappointment, I would not call what she was doing “yelling.” But between her music selection (which included a healthy dose of hip hop, thank goodness), her energy and her motivational words (which thankfully were not delivered high-pitch squeal like I have experienced in other female spin instructors) I was in it to win it.

Christina helping a fellow Flyer with her bike before class

Christina helping a fellow Flyer with her bike before class

My first class was exhausting, exhilarating and humbling all at the same time. Christina warned me before class to do my best to get my torq (the level of resistance) and my speed in the range she would provide as a target during class (all these numbers are displayed on the bike, so you can track your progress). I nodded politely, but didn’t think I would have much trouble. I run a lot, and have taken indoor cycling classes for years, yet when the lights dimmed and the music was turned up I had trouble achieving the RMP (revolutions per minute) that Christina provided.

So while I thought this endeavor would just challenge my schedule (while just in Back Bay, it is not as close as my go-to running route along the Charles River, and therefore takes a  little more planning) and stamina, it seems this will challenge my athletic ego as well.

I will keep you posted on my progress over the next six weeks, but you don’t just have to read about my Flywheel challenge, you can take this challenge with me! May 23st is the last day to sign up for Flywheel’s first summer challenge, so you still have some time! Wish me luck!

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While Flywheel Boston is allowing me to take their Summer Challenge for free, all the opinions express on this post are my own.

On Writing

Starting this blog has brought me many things I expected (an outlet for writing, a way to be creative) and many I had not expected (lots of new skills, confidence, breaking me of some of my Type A tendencies). One of the biggest gifts of this blog is the entrance it earned me into the tight knit blogger community. I have made some great friends who have shared technical tips and inspiration along the way.

My co-worker and friend Molly from the great blog Pop Bop Shop invited me to participate in “My Writing Process Blog Tour.” It’s a pay it forward initiative with bloggers answering the same four questions and sharing details of their writing style and inspiration each Monday. In her introduction of me last week she called me her bloggy hero, which is so flattering because she has had such amazing success with her blog, that I feel like chanting “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy” whenever I’m with her. Pop Bop Shop has a little bit of everything: amazing restaurant reviews, especially for vegetarian foodies out there, shopping, details on her travels and a weekly Grey’s Anatomy recaps that keep her very loyal readers coming back. That is a longwinded way of saying that I respect Molly’s work—and enjoy her company—so much that it was easy to say yes to the Writing Process Blog Tour.

So let’s talk about one of my favorite things…Writing!

What am I working on?

A better question is what am I not working on? After a very busy winter of travel for my day job, I am excited to return to my regular weekly cadence of posting here on this blog. I felt pretty guilty when a week or two would go by without me posting, but I truly believe in quality over quantity. I have pretty high standards; you know that by now, so I will not post anything that is not worthy of you spending the time to read. So I’m planning an exciting summer of adventures and experiences for you (and me).

In additional to this blog, I also have a demanding day job that pays the rent. Thankfully I get to interview, write and edit as part of this job as well, plus I have the pleasure of working with some of the most intelligently creative people out there. I’m not that good with unstructured time, so I also take on freelance writing projects, some of which I am really excited to share with you once the deals are done. And as if that was not enough, I am forever toiling with what I hope is the next great American novel, or at the very least, a nice beach read.

How does my writing differ from others of its genre?

Honestly, I think this has been one of my biggest challenges in trying to grow this blog; The Great Wide Open does not fit into any existing blog genre so it’s hard to explain to people, particularly potential advertisers, what it is that I do. It’s not a fashion blog, although I have had fashion-focused posts, and it’s not a food blog although I have written about food and restaurants. For lack of a better way to describe it, I frequently fall back on calling it a lifestyle blog, although that’s really not accurate either.  Fencing, for example, is a tough thing to categorize.

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But don’t think I’m complaining, I would prefer to have to explain my blog in a paragraph rather than a word. I wouldn’t, and couldn’t, write about the same thing day in and day out. What’s the fun in that? As I have learned, investigating and writing about new things keeps me on my toes, and hopefully keeps you coming back.

Why do I write what I do?

When I decided to start a blog, I didn’t want to just take pictures of what I was wearing that day (not judging fashionistas out there). And I didn’t want to write all about me. I wanted to go back to my roots as a journalist. I wanted to report, interview, take pictures and write. This was always going to be a reporting-driven blog. At the time all my ambitions and aspirations had been solidly focused on journalism, a profession, and passion, I had just left to move to Boston. I had just thrown my professional bucket list in the trash, so it seems only appropriate to start a new one, and try all sorts of new things to see what else I am passionate about.

How does your writing process work?

My process is multi-faceted. First I have to come up with a concept: an activity, job or adventure that I think will make for a good post. I consider how challenging or dangerous it will be, whether it will interest a wide variety of readers, and whether it has the potential for me to learn something new…maybe even about myself. Then I start outreach. I send tons of emails to businesses and individuals asking if they would be willing teach me about their passion. I am happy to report that a majority of people say yes. When you love something, you instinctively want to share that. Coordinating time and dates to do my adventures is what takes a while. As I mentioned above, I do have a day job, so my adventures have to happen at night, on weekends or on an occasional vacation day.

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Writing doesn’t take me very long. Years of writing under tight deadlines for TV have given me the discipline to write quickly and efficiently, especially when I am writing about something I just had a great time doing. I will say that I re-write and edit for ever. I am always finding a way to tweak a phrase to make it “better.” And when I craft a line or paragraph that I think is particularly funny, poignant or strong, the sense of accomplishment I feel can’t be matched. Simply put: I love to write.

So there it is, my version of Stephen King’s “On Writing,” a must-read for all writers out there. I am passing the torch to two other Boston-bloggers, both of whom loyal readers of this blog will recognize:

Kelly from Gets Me Every Time is the brain, and hands behind Toyidermy, which was featured here last year. She is one of the craftiest people I know, in addition to her animal business card holders, she gifted me a framed needle pointed llama for my birthday. Not only is she crafty, but she knows me well. On her blog Kelly chronicles her DIY lifestyle, her gluten-free kitchen creations, her love of dancing (she is the grand-niece of Gene Kelly, so it’s in her blood) and her cat Louise.

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Judging from the title, you would rightfully assume that Molly from Wicked Cheap Boston keeps Hub residents in the know about what to do around the city, while watching the bottom line. But Molly also doles out tips on the Paleo diet, and her journey to become a licensed massage therapist. You met Molly when she taught me how to be a masseuse (if only I felt more comfortable with rubbing oil on people’s backs). She is kind and thoughtful and super fun.

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Please check out their blogs, and see how they approach writing next Monday. We will return to our regularly scheduled post next week!

Me and My Llama

So this post has been a long time coming and it’s also a dream come true. I’m really going to let my freak flag fly here and let you in on a not very well kept secret: I love llamas. I mean, seriously, LOVE llamas. It borders on an obsession.

It all started when I was a small child. Sesame Street had segment that featured a little girl leading her pet llama through the streets of New York. They were heading to the dentist. Its soundtrack was an up-beat song, “Me and My Llama.” I desperately wanted to lead my own llama through the streets of Philadelphia, and take him or her to the dentist, to the vet and maybe even a friend’s birthday party. I imagined it would make me the coolest girl on the block, with the coolest companion. I asked for a llama every Christmas for many years, yet Santa never managed to fit one in his sleigh. Years later, my mother confessed that she looked into what it would take to care for a pet llama, but alas, it was more than our backyard, or her patience, could support.

 

So when I got in the car on Sunday to drive out to Granby, MA to Pinetum Farm where Dave and Karen Seiffert own and run a llama farm, my excitement was palpable. I have certainly seen llamas before, at petting zoos, farms, etc. but I was overjoyed that I was going to spend some quality, one-on-one time with my favorite animal. Dave and Karen have owned llamas for about 15 years. They thought caring for llamas, and using their fiber for spinning and weaving would be a great way to spend their retirement (note to self). Since then they have become pseudo-llama celebrities appearing in the Boston Globe, the New York Post and event The Rachel Ray show.

Dave, Stone and Karen

Dave, Stone and Karen

The appeal was instant. “We fell in love with them, just like you,” Dave told me (I found my people!). Karen spoke about how peaceful llamas are, and how they are wonderful companions. “And they have eyelashes any woman would kill for,” she rightfully observed. Dave and Karen lead groups on hikes with the llamas on their 150-acre property. They also shear them and sell items that Karen makes out of their fiber in a small gift shop.

The llamas fiber that Karen uses to spin and weave.

The llamas fiber that Karen uses to spin and weave.

When we walked into the barn I started to giggle uncontrollably, and I think I said “This is so exciting” half a dozen times. While my reaction was not as much of a meltdown as when Kristen Bell met her favorite animal (a must-watch if you’ve never seen it), I could empathize with her near breakdown-producing excitement.

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I feel llamas get a bad rap because they occasionally spit. But as Dave and Karen told me, that is really just a defense mechanism. Llamas don’t like to be touched on their faces, so image how you would feel if a dozen elementary school kids approached you at a petting zoo, screaming and wanting to tug on your ears. I’d spit too. Because I wanted desperately for the llamas to like me I was a little nervous about touching their faces. Although I totally wanted to kiss their noses, I refrained and stuck to patting the soft down on their necks that hides under their so-called “guard hair” which is much coarser.

Stone is ready for his close-up

Stone is ready for his close-up

We hung out in the barn for a while where the females (and neutered males) are separated from the male, Honey Crisp (female llamas can get pregnant any time so they have to be kept apart). Then we put a harness on one of the Seiffert’s sweetest llamas, Stone. Just like the little girl from Sesame Street (sort of) I grabbed Stone’s leash and we walked up a hill to a knoll where he happily nibbled on grass, and I happily pet him as I tried to absorb all the llama knowledge that Dave and Karen were giving me. They were right, Stone was so sweet. And I think he really liked me too.

Just like the Sesame Street video...

Just like the Sesame Street video…

 

Me and my llama

Me and my llama

I was surprised to hear that Llamas don’t take that much attention. Dave spends about an hour in the morning and night feeding and taking care of them. They are sheared about once every-other year, although that can be more often depending on if a llama is pregnant (they can get over heated) or how fast their hair grows. Dave and Karen hike with them, but they are also content to just hang out with each other in the barn.

I’m not saying my next passion in life is to own a dozen llamas (That would be bad, right? Talk me out of it…), but it was so fun to spend the afternoon with these awesome animals (not to mention their amazing owners) and to see that they really lived up to all my hype.

If only my apartment building allowed pets…

I don't know who's more excited me or the llama

The llama wasn’t quite as excited to see me as I was to see her

 Many thanks to Dave and Karen Seiffert for allowing me to spend the afternoon with them and their llamas. If you love llamas as much as I do (although I’m not sure that’s possible), or are looking for a fun activity with kids check out their llama hikes! I was not compensated for this post in any way.

One Year Later

A lot has been written about Monday’s 118th running of the Boston Marathon, and I don’t think I can add any incredible insight, or encapsulate the emotion of the day any better than the hundreds of talented writers who have already offered their observations.

But I feel compelled to write about it, and because I am the boss of this blog, that is exactly what I’m going to do.

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Monday was not a typical day. It was bigger than just a marathon, and bigger than just a city. It was bigger. You could feel it. It was in the air.

If a year and a week before had been one of the darkest days in Boston’s history (although some would argue that it was also a great day on account of how neighbors and strangers came together), than this Monday must have been one of the best.

A dear friend of mine was running so I watching the elite runners from home (although by my standards, she is an elite runner as well, finishing in an amazing 3:13:06) before setting out to cheer her on.

After leading for the first half of the race, Shalane Flanagan fell back in the pack and I felt my whole body sigh. Maybe it was too much to wish that an American would lead us back from the terror of last year. But come on, Americans never win, right? So as Meb Keflezighi pulled away from the pack, I didn’t get my hopes up. But by the time he crossed the finish line I had tears streaming down my cheeks. It seemed like divine intervention. Days later when I read how other Americans in the field worked together to help Meb, I lost it again.

After I composed myself, I set out, sign in hand, to make my way to Boylston and Fairfield. I had cheered other friends from that same spot in past years, but left myself extra time to account for the increased security that I knew would surround the route. Well, I never made it to that corner. I could get no closer than Newbury Street. Check points were closed, barricades up. Under other circumstances I probably would have been pretty annoyed, but I just thanked the police officer who turned me away and devised a plan B.

I finally found her after she crossed the finish line

I finally found her after she crossed the finish line

I wasn’t going to miss cheering these runners, not this year, so after a quick cab ride to Kenmore and secured myself a front row seat at the 25 mile mark, exactly where I knew they need a strong cheering section.

That's how to finish up a marathon

That’s how to finish up a marathon

I always find marathons moving. Watching people of all shapes, sizes and shades leaving it all out on the course gets me every time, and this year those feelings were more acute. There were countless runners who paused to shake the hands of the police officers that lined the course, thanking them for all they did that day, and every day. And for those of you who have run 26.2 miles know that stopping at mile 25 is hard.

The amputee runners made me cry, the visually impaired runners and their guides made me cry, even the drunk BU students with their cheers of “USA” and “Run for Beer” made me cry.

A visually impaired runner and his guide

A visually impaired runner and his guide

Last year I wrote on this blog that I was glad I was in Europe for the marathon and the terrifying week that followed. I had lived through 9/11 as a New Yorker, and didn’t want to be afraid of another home. But I am so happy that I was in Boston for the marathon this year. 36,000 people ran and a million people took to the streets to cheer them on; to prove that you can’t keep us down. We won’t let fear get the best of us, and ruin a Boston tradition, that has been adopted by the rest of the country and world in the last year

No, Monday was not a typical day. It was bigger than just a marathon, bigger than just a city. You could feel it. I could feel it.

Thank you for keeping us safe

Thank you for keeping us safe

My Winter in Pictures

So you may have noticed that I have been a little MIA recently. I apologize. I have been traveling basically non-stop since January—mostly for work, a little for fun –so I have not had the time for my usual adventures.

I’ve been beating myself up about this every week that I don’t post. But instead of feeling guilty about it again this week, I figures I should just come out and tell you why I have been absent and show you what I have been up to…even if it’s not exactly what I usually post about. So here it is…my last three months in pictures.

I hope you enjoy!

After a year of determination, hard work and a little benign stalking of some military officials, I finally was able to visit the Marine Mammal Unit of the United States Navy. This was work-related, not blog-related, but still a dream come true.

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I spend some time in Denver, where I got up close to some fighter jets. If you ever get the same opportunity, one piece of advice: take the ear protection, whatever they offer you!

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I managed so squeeze in some skiing  on a separate trip to Colorado, this one for fun.

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I managed to escape most of the brutal winter that hit the northeast, but was able to enjoy some of the beauty that the snow brought with it.

Acorn Street, Beacon Hill

Acorn Street, Beacon Hill

In the middle of all this traveling, in addition to giving myself a concussion, I also gave myself a black eye. Yes, I am a total mess.

You should see the other guy!

You should see the other guy!

I went to Puerto Rico for a photo shoot, and learned about a great organization, Save a Gato that strives to fix and adopt the stray cats of San Juan. There are a lot of them.

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San Juan

I also visited Las Vegas for the first time. Again, I went for work, so my time was not my own, but it was still quite an experience. As I ran down the strip at 6:30 a.m. (and sprinted up escalators, a higher tech interpretation of bleacher sprints I hated from college squash) and past people with beers still in their hands, I had the realization that they probably thought I was as crazy as I was thinking they were. While I may have been underwhelmed by Sin City, I did think the Bellagio fountain was worth the wait…and boy did I wait.

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Best of all, on many of these trips I had the very talented photographer Jeff Allen as a travel buddy. I have featured Jeff on this blog in the past (here and here) so you may know his face and his work. If this post is your first introduction to Jeff, you should know two things: he is extremely talented, and he will climb just about anything to get “the” shot.

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And now I’m back in Boston, settling back into my routine, enjoying the slightly warmer weather, sunrise runs, and hopefully getting back to my adventures soon.  Thanks for your patience!

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Dress For Succsess

How do you decide what to buy, and by extension, what to wear? You may choose an item of clothing based on fit, color or the latest trends. But even before you make that decision, before you step into that dressing room, or pick a hanger from a rack you see a blazer on a mannequin or in the window. Where in the store, how a sweater is displayed or what those jeans are paired with impacts what you pick up, try on and inevitably purchase. And who decided where and how things are arranged in the store? A visual merchandiser.

I got the opportunity to spend a day with the great Wayne Hirst, the National Visual Manager for the Italian fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo. Yep, he’s big time. After focusing on interior design at the University of Rhode Island, Wayne cut his teeth as merchandiser at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodmanbefore joining Ferragamo. Wayne provides direction to those who run Ferragamo stores on brand standards for boutique windows and the interior displays. If we boil that down, he helps guide stores on how Ferragamo boutiques should look; how they design their windows and how they display the clothes and accessories. “Looks” come down the Ferragamo runway, and those looks should remain consistent in the boutiques around the world. Visual merchandisers help decide what items you see in a shop and what they are paired with.

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Wayne, who is based in New York, was in New England to visit the stores in Massachusetts and I met up with him at the Ferragamo outlet in Wrentham, MA. Outlets are an even bigger challenge, Wayne told me, because they do not get every item that came down the runway. To create a “look” that is consistent with brand standards and the way it was presented at either a fall or spring show may not be possible, so some structured improvising is necessary.

Wayne and I started by attacking the mannequins in the shop’s window. Don’t worry, we were gentle when we broke off their arms to better fit the clothing on to their lanky frames. Wayne, who has an unbelievable knowledge of each Ferragamo line from season to season, set out to create looks that were either on the runway, or when a piece of clothing was not at the store, found the closest thing to remain consistent with the original look.

Wayne putting the finishing touches on the look

Wayne putting the finishing touches on the look

I know the mannequins were not real people, but working with them was one of the hardest parts of the day. I was being too gentle with them. I was delicately tugging these very expensive items made out of the finest materials over their heads and shoulders as if they were toddlers I didn’t want to hurt or annoy too much. I was just as concerned with the clothes as the dummies. That’s when Wayne encouraged me to take off their arms and just get into it.  The message was received and I worked much faster after that.

It was so interesting to see and hear (Wayne was great about telling me everything that was going through his head as he tried to assemble these new looks), what goes into creating these looks. If the actual bag that was shown with the outfit could not be found in the outlet, then Wayne would mentally rundown the other looks shown side-by-side with that looks on the runway. It was fascinating.

Once we had the window in shape we tackled the nearly full wall of the store that was men’s shoes. When we arrived the shoes had been arranged to allow for a portion of the wall designated for a sale. Wayne took the approach that the entire wall should be organized by type of shoe (sneaker, driving loafer, hard-soled dress shoe, etc.). I started at one end of the wall and he started at the other. I was surprised that Wayne let me do this on my own, and I was really concerned that I would not do it right and he would have to re-do my work. Wayne shared with me some general rules (shoes should be grouped in twos and threes with pairs that have similar stitching or color, some should point out, some to the side), but I had been doing this for exactly…well, five minutes. I was almost panicked…then I was disappointed…in myself. Hadn’t I gotten over this need to be perfect? Wayne knew I had never done this before; he was not expecting me to be a wiz right out of the gate.

Part of our shoe wall

Part of our shoe wall

Wayne put my mind at easy by telling me that there is no real right or wrong answer, because it is very subjective (not counting the brad standards). Feeling liberated, I got back to work. At the end it really turned into a puzzle. If I had five shoes left but four had the same stitching along the toe, but they had to be in groups of two or three… You get the idea. It was like high fashion Sudoku.

I created a stand-alone table for sneakers

I created a stand-alone table for sneakers

Our shoe wall turned out pretty great if you ask this novice.  Then we moved on to women’s shoes and bags and I got more confident with each project. And as we wrapped up our day Wayne said that it was fun to work with me, because its great to hear other people’s ideas on what shapes, sizes or colors go together.

Women's shoes

Women’s shoes

Handbags

Handbags

As I walked out of Ferragamo at the end of the day, I was struck, not just by how much fun I had with Wayne, and how amazing it was to play with all these gorgeous pieces, but how much I learned. It was reinforced for the ump-teenth time that I should not be so focused on getting it “right.” And also I had a realization of just how much influence professional merchandizers, like Wayne, have over the decisions that consumers make. They are single-handedly the biggest factor in determining what you end up wearing whether at the high-end of Ferragamo, to your local J Crew or even displays at Target stores.

I didn’t see that lesson coming.

I’d like to thank Wayne Hirst and the folks at the Ferragamo Outlet for letting me spend the day with them. I was not compensated in any way for this post.

Olympic Adventures – Curling

I hope you didn’t think a concussion could keep me down!  Just like Bob Costas, I’m back in fighting shape in time for the second week of the Olympics. This week I tried curling, a sport that sometimes seems to be the butt of many Olympic jokes, but I found it to be my kind of sport: a fantastic combination of strategic and social.

I started my curling adventure with Greg Eisenhauer of the Broomstone Curling Club in Wayland, Massachusetts. Broomstone was established in 1968, and now has about 325 adult members and 80 junior players. Greg was kind enough to give me an introduction to the sport, and even let me “deliver” a few stones.

A curling team consists of four members: the skip who is the strategist of the group and offers his team members direction, the vice who releases or “delivers” the stone (which is exactly that, a stone that has been cooled for at least 24 hours), and two sweepers who, yes, you guessed it, they sweep those brooms that have come to personify the sport.

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The Broomstone Curling Club

In a nutshell, the object of curling is to get your stone as close to the center or “the button” of the target, referred to as “the house” at the end of the lane. You can strategize to get your stone close to the button, to knock one of your other stones close to the button than it already is, or to knock one of the opposing teams’ stones away from the button.

The sweeping can smooth the pebbled ice surface (resurfacing curling ice required a totally different technique than a typical ice rink’s zamboni, it includes scraping the surface first than dripping warm water in a process called “pebbling”) to make a stone slide further. You can sweep near both your, and the opposing team’s stones, but you can’t touch the stones with the broom, that’s called “burning the stone.”

Once Greg explained the basics of curling to me it was time for me to hit the ice and deliver some stones of my own. All members of a curling team wear special shoes that allow them to slide on the ice. For no one are these shoes as important as for the vice. A vice launches themselves from something that resembles the starting block in a track meet, and slides across the ice in a lunge-like position, bringing the stone along with him or her, until they gently release their grip on the stone, which then slides the rest of the way to the other end of the lane on its own.

Outfitted in a loaner pair of sliding soles, I took to the ice and started sliding. Greg gave me a plastic frame so that I had a little more balance (which, after my speed skating fiasco, was much appreciated). My first problem was that I was lunging too aggressively, bashing my knee on the ice, instead of gently letting it skim the surface of the ice.

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Eye on the prize

But practice makes perfect, and after a handful of attempts, and a few falls (thankfully landing on my butt instead of my head this time) I got the hang of it. I was able to glide across the ice, deliver the stone somewhat elegantly, and have it come to a stop inside the house, if not on the button. Curling does take a lot of coordination, but as I have learned over and over again on this blog, the more work it takes to master something, the more rewarding it is when you do indeed master it. And even when I was slip-sliding over the ice, I was having a great time and both Greg and I were laughing.

I am really concentrating on not falling over!

I am really concentrating on not falling over!

What I loved about curling was that it’s technically challenging, strategic and collaborative. Working together as a team can be a challenge in itself, cooperating both verbally and physically at the same time ups the ante. But as Greg explained, and as I saw by watching the matches that followed my lesson, curling is a very social sport. I could see teammates and opponents laughing and joking in between throws. And the best of all, the winners buy the first round once the match is over. This is my type of sport.

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Having a blast!

Many thanks to Greg Eisenhauer from the Broomstone Curling Club. They offer leagues nearly every night of the week, if you are interesting in getting your curl on. I was not compensated in any way for this post.

Olympics Endeavors: Starting Off with a Bang

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I LOVE the Olympics and during the summer Olympics in London I tried out some events like taekwondo, fencing and synchronized swimming with varying degrees of success. So as the competition in Sochi heats up, and the icky saga of Bob Costas’ eye drags on, I set out to see if I could master some winter events. And I started out with a bang, literally. I got a concussion.

Speed skating is one of those sports that appears effortless when experts do it. Each stride is so powerful that at times it almost seems as if they are skating in slow motion. I knew it would be a challenge, but I thought I could master at least the large arm swings associated with the sport.  The kind folks at the Bay State Speed Skating Club provided a sizable list of supplies for me to collect and bring to my first lesson.  There were so many elements needed, I ended up looking like a sporting goods store’s back room: volleyball knee pads, a hockey neck guard, gloves and my ski helmet (you will understand the importance of this in a moment). After gearing up and strapping on my loaner speed skates I was ready to hit the ice.

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Speed skating is all about the quads. The correct positioning for a speed skater is a low crouch, so that each stride is powerful. Your arms are less for balance than to amplify the power of the legs. When a speed skater goes around the turn of the track, they lean very far in to the turn, which again is all quads.

The Bay State Speed Skaters going really fast

The Bay State Speed Skaters going really fast

My problem began just about as soon as my blades hit the ice. Speed skates have a much longer blade than the figure skates of my youth. They are completely flat on the bottom, with sharp edges on both sides. On just my second lap around the rink I misjudged the length of my blade (my muscle memory was thinking figure skates) I clipped the back edge of one blade on the tip of the other skate and down I went. Hard. The back of my head slammed against the ice and bounced up before my entire body came to rest on the ice in a heap, the wind totally knocked out of me.

Tod, my speed skating tutor rushed over and asked if I was ok. I lied. He asked me if I wanted to stop. Again, I lied. I had barely been on the ice for 10 minutes, I couldn’t give up now, I thought. But in fact I probably should have; my head was killing me, my vision was blurry, my balance felt off and my confidence was non-existent. Continuing on was not so much about me being tough as it was about not wanting to seem like a wimp. This blog has helped me make such strides in becoming unafraid, gutsy, and strong that to stop almost felt like a regression.

For the next hour I moved around the track at a glacial pace, it was as if I had never skated before. I was so nervous about falling again that I wasn’t able to throw myself into this adventure the way I usually do. Five-year-olds were lapping me, many time over. But Tod was incredibly patient, always staying only a few feet from me and at one point holding my hands while I practiced cross-overs in place (Yes, I was basically a 5’8” toddler).

See how low Tod is? See how not low I am?

See how low Tod is? See how not low I am?

I have rarely felt such an odd, controlled, slow motion fear in my life. It wasn’t as if someone was chasing me and I was running for my life.  I was putting myself in this situation, moving at a snail’s pace, knowing something was wrong with me and terrified to fall again and hurt myself further.

Although my vision was blurry, I could see the skill of the other skaters around me. They ranged in age from 5 to their 50’s of varying skill levels, all more advanced than me, of course. I could tell they were all having an amazing time. Some of them were former hockey players, others were long-time speed skaters, there was another adult who was brand new to the sport. While I was not able to experience all that speed skating has to offer, I gained a new respect for what speed skaters are able to do: hug tight turns, skate at very high speeds, and most importantly maintain their balance.

Don’t worry about me. A week after my fall I am feeling much better; no more headaches, my vision is once again clear…I’m pretty much back to normal (or as normal as I usually am). But I’m going to be less afraid of seeming like a wimp in the future. Sometimes safe and practical is the way to go.

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I’d like to thank Kim, Tod and all the wonderful folks of Bay State Speed Skating Club. Despite my fall, I learned a great deal and I encourage anyone who is interested in speed skating to attend one of their classes. Just don’t forget your helmet. I was not compensated for this post in any way.