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My mildly convenient superpower

7 Jun

I remember reading an AskReddit thread once about mildly convenient superpowers. I never really thought about what mildly convenient superpower I might want, until it occurred to me the other day that I might already have one.

Almost every time I fly or travel on a Megabus, I never have to sit next to a stranger. There’s always an empty seat next to me.

I thought it was just a fluke at first. It used to happen on my frequent Chicago-Cincinnati Megabus trips when the bus was only half full. But then there was a time the bus was completely full save for one empty seat, which just so happened to be next to me. It began feeling like a superpower.

It’s been so long since I’ve had someone sit next to me on a trans-Atlantic flight that I don’t even know where I would put my headphones or water bottle if they couldn’t go on the empty seat next to me. I flew back to London last week and made sure to select an aisle seat next to an empty middle seat. I almost got ambitious and selected a row with two empty seats (maybe I could actually stretch out and sleep?!), but knew that was too much of a risk. Some couple could come along and choose those two seats. I checked the seat map on the Virgin app every hour or so during my 5-hour layover in Boston and figured I was golden — the middle seat next to me remained empty. But then I checked one last time while waiting to board, only to see a little X on the empty seat — as well as on every single seat on the plane. It was a fully booked flight. My superpower had met its match.

A few minutes after I sat down, uncomfortably holding my giant headphones, toiletry bag and water bottle until I could figure out where to store them, a young man came and motioned to the empty seat.

“I’m seated there, but my girlfriend is in 55E — would you mind switching with her?” he asked. Stephen and I have asked people to do this many times and I was happy to pay it forward. Until I asked them to confirm the seat.

“55E? Is that a middle seat?” I asked. It was. I felt like a horrible person, but I had to turn down their request. Being stuck for 6+ hours with your knees touching one person is bad enough, there was no way I was going to do it crammed between two people.

“It’s no problem, we understand,” the girlfriend said, waved goodbye to her boyfriend, and headed back a few rows. The boyfriend immediately put on headphones and closed his eyes while I tried not to bump his legs digging for my iPad in my bag. It seemed my superpower was no more and I was going to have to suck it up, just like everyone else seated in economy. But then they closed the cabin doors and I felt a presence next to me. It was the girlfriend.

“Hey!” she said to her boyfriend. “There’s no one sitting next to me, come on back!”

And that’s how I knew I truly have a mildly convenient superpower.

super corgi

 

The thrill (and pain) of the 5K

29 May

Man, I forgot how exhilarating, exhausting, exciting and painful running a race is. I haven’t run a single race since the half marathon last September, and since Pokemon Go came out my runs have been focused on hatching eggs and catching them all, not piling on in the miles and increasing speed. But since my phone gets horrible reception in the US, these past few weeks have been a good time for me to work on running fast again.

The 5K is a weird race. It’s easy to brush it off as “only 3 miles” when you’re used to marathons and halfs. But to really race it properly, you have to go hard the entire time. As a recent article in Runner’s World put it: “If you reach the halfway point of a 5K race feeling calm, comfortable, and confident that you can maintain your pace to the finish line, you’re doing it wrong.”

That’s the mindset I went into this morning’s 5K race with: go out too fast, power through the [minor] hills, then hang on for dear life. I made a killer playlist that (ambitiously) was only 28 minutes long. It was a beautiful day for a barbecue, but for a run it was a scorcher. The sun was beating down the entire time and the course only had one small stretch of shade right before the finish. As expected, I went out too fast, was huffing and puffing on the “rolling hills,” but I never stopped to walk. The Runner’s World article stressed the importance of motivational self-talk during a 5K, so I tried different approaches: “Remember that time you ran 13.1 miles without stopping? You’ve got this last mile in the bag!” “The quicker you finish, the quicker you can see Cherry at the finish line and get out of the sun!” “The top 50 female finishers get an award!”

That last one seemed like a long shot — there were certainly a lot of people ahead of me, but were most of them men? I definitely saw only men pass me on the bridge out and back part. So I powered through. I kicked it into high gear during the last half mile. Sunscreen-laced sweat was pouring into my eyes behind my sunglasses and there was a brief moment I thought I might be sick. But then I remembered the final tip from that article:

“If you’re chasing a PR, you should seriously wonder whether you’ll make it to the finish.”

I full out sprinted when I saw the finish line in sight, passing two of the girls who were ahead of me the entire time. At the finish line they had separate men and women crossing points, and when I crossed a volunteer handed me a medal. I was feeling weak, a bit delirious, and like I had just ran way more than 3.1 miles, and I just assumed it was a generic finisher’s medal. But then the girl who finished right behind me got my attention.

“Is this for finishing in the top 50 women?” she asked, holding up her medal. It didn’t even dawn on me that that was why they had a separate female finish line point.

“I don’t know, that’d be great if it was!” I replied.

I put the thought out of my mind, collected all my food swag and found my parents and Cherry. I felt weird — more exhausted than I’d been in a while, short of breath, but also really excited. Even if I didn’t get an official award, I got an official PR. I was absolutely miserable during that last mile, and yet the minute I finished, I was already wondering when I could do another race. I guess the runner’s high is real and runners really are crazy.

And the proverbial cherry on top of it all? I checked the results online and I really did finish in the top 50 women! If I had run 30 seconds slower I would not have made it in.

corgi running gif.gif

She got the way to move me, Cherry

24 May

Remember how I posted 3 weeks ago that my parents’ dog, Cherry, didn’t like me?

Well, now we have a different problem. She likes me. A lot. And I like her a little too much too.

Before, she used to give a “does SHE have to come?” look on our family walks. Now she hesitates to walk unless I come too. It’s amazing how something finally clicked in her little head and she realized I was someone she could trust. I can understand why she was apprehensive at first — she got attached to her original owner and she dropped her off at a shelter, then she got attached to her foster mom and she dropped her off with my parents. But now my parents have had her for two months and I’ve been with her exactly one month, and she’s finally starting to feel like she has a real home with some stability. Which I’m afraid will only make it harder on her when I go back to London in a week. Will she still recognize me the next time I’m home? Will it take her over a week to acclimate to me being around again?

I say I’m afraid it will be hard on her when I go, but I also mean it’ll be hard on me. I told myself I wasn’t going to fall for her, which was easy when she didn’t care for me. After all, she’s not “my dog” in the same way that Squirt was. But she’s just so adorable, cuddly and friendly, I couldn’t help myself. I’ve fallen pretty hard for the little girl and her cute corgi butt. So for now I’m trying not to think about how much time we have left together and am just enjoying the time we have.

cherry dog.png

Just because it’s your namesake doesn’t mean you can have any!

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We took her to a local dog-friendly tap room. (Don’t worry, she’s drinking water!)

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Cherry went on a playdate with her birth mom who’s still recovering from surgery. Here she is imparting some motherly advice!

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They were both vying for my attention!

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Cherry loves being with us — even if that means climbing onto the kitchen table while we play Mexican Train Dominoes! I love her little back legs subtly lounging.

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Fact: It is really hard to get work done when someone is splooting on you! (Splooting refers to the way she’s sitting with her back legs kicked out. It’s a classic corgi move, which makes me think she has some corgi blood in her. Squirt never splooted.)

Recovering from London Syndrome

15 May

According to a recent AskReddit thread, there’s a term for what I was suffering from before I came back to the states: London Syndrome.

london syndrome.jpg

I think it’s all but cleared up now, thanks to some quality time with friends and family in Milwaukee, Chicago, Cincinnati and Cleveland, plus the vast areas of emptiness that you can only find in rural and suburban America. When I run here, I’m lucky if I run into one other human being (though I am obligated to wave and smile at them, of course). The European stereotype of Americans is that we’re loud, fat and friendly, and I always forget how true that last one is. I was riding the lift (I’m sorry, elevator) in my hotel in Chicago and this guy just started… talking to me. As far as I know he wasn’t trying to pick me up, he was just being friendly. It happens at the grocery store all the time too. My mom and I were at Aldi talking about how much cheaper everything was than at Kroger, and this stranger just joined in the conversation like it was a completely normal thing to do. As an anti-social introvert who has apparently lived abroad for too long, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel comfortable about that aspect of suburban American life, though as far as American stereotypes go, it’s certainly not a bad one.

My running has been suffering since I’ve been back, though if I’m being honest, it’s been suffering since Pokemon Go came out last July. At first it was too rainy, now it’s too hot. My lungs have been suffering when I go more than 2 miles, and I’m not sure why. Am I coming down with something? Am I just choking on that sweet taste of freedom and unpolluted air? I was keen to do a local 5K this weekend, but now I’m thinking I’ll do the one in two weeks instead. When did running 3.1 miles become a struggle for me? And in light of that, why did I think this was a good idea?!:
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(I just entered the lottery. And if my luck is anything like my Royal Parks Half luck, I will not be allotted a spot. Though I have no idea what I will do if I actually am allotted one — could I really run 26.2 miles in April 2018?!)

Baby [doesn’t] love me, Cherry, Cherry

3 May

It’s hard to believe it’s been 2 1/2 year since Squirt crossed over the rainbow bridge. My parents were adamant about not getting another dog. The loss was too fresh and too strong to imagine ever going through it again. But there’s that ol’ phrase about time and wounds, and ever since they returned from Europe at the end of last year, they began to throw around the idea of opening their home once more to a furry friend.

Last month they were out shopping and noticed the new dog bakery next door to the Dollar Store was having an adoption event.

“Let’s just go in to look,” my dad suggested, seeming to forget that every time my mother goes out to “look” at furniture, clothes or electronics, she comes home with a new couch, dress or TV.

All the dogs available for adoption were large breeds, so my parents asked the adoption coordinator if they ever got any small dogs in — a chihuahua mix, perhaps. There was no harm in asking, right?

It turned out the rescue had just pulled a chihuahua mix from the shelter. Her name was Cherry.

cherry chihuahua

And — as you probably guessed — she’s now sitting right next to me.

OK, that’s a lie — not that my parents adopted her, but that she’s sitting near me. She’s sitting on the floor a few feet from me, because she refuses to jump on the couch with me. Because even though I’ve been home for over a week now and take her out for walks every afternoon, she’s terrified of me.

After my parents picked me up from the Megabus stop, I was eager to meet Cherry. I knew she wouldn’t greet me like Squirt used to (he’d get so excited he’d nearly wee himself!), but I expected a little curiosity and joy. After all, Cherry was described as the anti-Squirt. He was a barking, biting, little butthead Alpha Dog, while she’s sweet, affectionate, submissive and quiet. She didn’t bark the entire first month my parents had her. But she’s also a rescue, and rescue dogs often come with a little baggage. She was surrendered by an elderly woman to the local animal shelter, spent several weeks there before the rescue pulled her and placed her with a foster home, then finally made her way to my parents. My dad took time off from work the first few days to make her feel welcome, but she ended up imprinting on him like a baby duck. She followed him everywhere and took a month to get comfortable with my mom.

Which brings me to my relationship with Cherry. When I walked in the door that first day, she immediately bolted out of the room. She didn’t bark or snarl like Squirt would have, she simply wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. When I went with my parents on her walk, she constantly turned around, unhappy I was tagging along, and would sidestep or backup if I got too close to her. She wouldn’t accept a treat from my hand or sit on the couch with me. When I was out of sight, she was her normal, cuddly, happy self, but the minute I walked in, she would back up, run or avoid eye contact. She’d give my dad a “dear god, why is she still here?” look. Getting her just to stay in the same room as me was a milestone. Now that it’s been a week, she’ll walk with me alone on the lead well, but still won’t sit with me. This is the face she made when I tried to cuddle with her on the couch a few days ago.

cherry scared

It’s hard not to take it personally when a dog doesn’t like you. Part of me wants to just grab her, squeeze her, and scream “love me!” But maybe softly singing Bonnie Raitt/George Michael’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” would be more appropriate. At first I was chasing her around, making her feel even more uncomfortable, but now I’m just trying to coexist, giving her time to adjust to my presence. It could be worse — she could have a barking attack every time she sees me (like Squirt did with my friends), or be so enamored with me she falls into a deep depression when I suddenly vanish at the end of my visit.

…I am now typing one handed. Because the minute I typed “enamored with me,” a certain someone finally worked up the courage to jump onto the couch and sit next to me, and licks my hand the minute I stop petting her. It’s like she could read what I was writing, or I somehow willed it to come true by typing “she’s now sitting right next to me” above. Or I finally did it right — I gave her some time and she finally warmed up to me. Now hopefully we can have a wonderful month together and she won’t be too gutted when I leave. Or at least she remembers who I am tomorrow and we don’t have to go through this all over again…

Fun times at The Wilds

23 Jul

Trivia question: The largest wildlife conservation center in North America, a place where African, Asian, and North American species roam freely on over 9,000 acres, is in what U.S. state?

Did you guess Florida, California, or somewhere with way better weather than middle-of-nowhere Ohio? You’re wrong. The answer is Ohio (middle-of-nowhere Ohio, to be exact).

Last week we drove approximately 3 hours from Cincinnati to visit The Wilds, the largest wildlife conservation center in North America. Though it’s partnered with the Columbus Zoo, there’s nothing zoo-like about it — all the animals roam freely in open pastures. The only way to see them is through scheduled bus tours, which drive you through the pastures for 2 hours like you’re on a safari (or at Jurassic Park). They have open-air buses for the authentic safari experience, but since it was 90+ degrees F (33C) on the day we went, we opted for the “climate-controlled” buses. I put “climate-controlled” in quotation marks because whatever air-conditioning system they had on board did not seem to be working and I was a hot, sweaty mess by the end of the tour. If you want to get up close and personal with the animals (and have $125 burning a hole in your pocket), you can take the Wildside Tour. We first encountered a Wildside truck being surrounded by Persian onagers.

wildside onagers.pngAs we circled back around our bus met the same fate.

persian onagers.pngThey were everywhere! Apparently they were attracted to the bus because the exhaust kept the flies off them. Two of them parked themselves right in front of our bus and would not move.

onagers bus.pngOur driver had to call Animal Management to come and lure them away so we could continue on with the tour.

We got off the bus for a bit to see the parakeets and some other animals.

parakeets the wilds.pngCheetah!

cheetah the wilds.pngThey were feeding the African painted dogs while we were there.

painted dogs the wilds.pngZebra (with a less impressive wiener than the zebra we saw in San Diego. Sorry, it had to be said!)

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zebra close up.pngFrom a distance we saw the ostrich harassing the Wildside Tour, so we knew he was gonna be fun.

ostrich wildside.pngHe kept trying to stick his head in our driver’s little window.ostrich bus.pngostrich funny.pngWe had a great view!

ostrich the wilds.pngHow often do you get to see an ostrich and a giraffe together?giraffe ostrich.png

giraffe the wilds.pngSouthern white rhino

white rhino the wilds.pngScimitar-horned oryx have wicked horns!oryx the wilds.pngThey’re native to North Africa and still thought it was way too hot in Ohio.

Baby scimitar-horned oryx with tiny horns!

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Almost all my photos were taken from the bus, so you can see how close we were able to get to a lot of the animals. If you ever find yourself in middle-of-nowhere Ohio, I highly recommend a visit to The Wilds. Just maybe not on one of the hottest days of the year.

A long-awaited wicked 4th of July do

10 Jul

I had a right proper American 4th of July for the first time in a long time. Although I don’t think any American would ever use the adjectives “right” and “proper” together, so they may be on the verge of taking my citizenship away. (I’ve already got one strike against me for no longer drinking my water with ice.) Even when I lived in the US, July 4th was never one of my favorite holidays. As a kid I hated the loud noises, and as an adult I hated the crowded and the heat. But this year I happened to be in Chicago on July 4, so some friends and I had some delicious barbecue, then met up with some other friends to watch what we thought was going to be an amateur fireworks display. On our walk over there we encountered some true amateurs attempting to set off fireworks, one of which went off a little too close for comfort. “Don’t you wish you were in Kensington Gardens right now?” My friend whispered to me. (This was minutes after she whispered “Don’t you miss the Tube?” after we walked right into a hobo fight on the L.) Oh, Chicago. Your trains and streets smell like urine and some of your people frighten me, but you sure know how to celebrate the 4th. When we finally arrived we saw them unloading a U-Haul full of fireworks and knew we were in for a treat (that, or a multi-ambulance emergency. Likely both). The firework display they put on was out of this world, and we were so close we could feel the vibrations. We topped off the night with a classy visit to a champagne bar, which we had practically to ourselves, because Chicagoans apparently enjoy blowing stuff up way more than throwing back the bubbly. It was a brilliant end to my nearly two weeks of traveling. (Also brilliant: the Megabus to Cincinnati left on time and nothing exploded. A successful ride!)

Now I’m in Kentucky, happy to no longer be a hotel nomad living out of a [jumbo] suitcase. I’ve been savoring all the quality family and friend time, and also playing Pokemon Go. Freaking Pokemon Go. As if hitting my Fitbit step goal wasn’t reason enough to walk around aimlessly. But I can save that for another post.

I’ll end with what is clearly a better mascot for America than a bald eagle:
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(My favorite instagram corgi, supercorgi_jojo!)