Sunday, July 24, 2016

Update, I like running again.

For about three weeks after we came back from Ireland, every run felt awful--just a slow, unpleasant, walrus-with-emphysema slog. Which, yes, I knew I was coming off of two weeks of near zero physical activity and only a little bit of running in the weeks before that. But still. (I am sure it had *nothing at all* to do with the quantity of bread, butter, meat, & booze I consumed on the Emerald Isle.)

Let's just call this symbolic of the whole trip.

Then a couple of weeks ago (thankfully!), I finally felt like I turned a corner. I started seeing lower numbers on the watch (both pace and HR), and occasionally caught myself thinking, "Hey, this actually feels NOT like the 9th circle of hell!" Weirdest of all, I sometimes came home from work on rest days with crazy ants in my pants, kind of desperate for some physical activity. "I'll just sneak a quick 4 miler in before karate, no one will ever know..." I gave myself July 4 completely off as a luxurious present and wound up running 10 miles because I couldn't stand the inactivity. Saturdays have also generally been rest days but last week, screw it, I wanted to go do a free 5K somewhere novel with my friends. (Also I woke up full of energy so I went early and ran ANOTHER 5K before the 5K because WHY THE HECK NOT??)

I've been loosely shooting for right around 40 miles/week but hadn't been keeping super close track of the numbers, so it was a little startling to total things up & find that I ran 45 miles this week, 43 last week, and 46 (!) the week before that. Also I've done my 3 hours of lifting/strength work/PT every single week since we got back, plus karate & some rock climbing. And...I feel kind of great.

Even when I haven't necessarily felt great, running has felt like the path of least resistance. Like, no energy to work, cook, clean, run errands, catch up on misc. tasks, read, play dumb clicky video games, or even follow the plot of some Netflix show? Eh, I'll just go run. While running 13 miles last Sunday, I bumped into some friends & we chatted for a minute about the weekend. They asked what I was up to & my response was basically "Yesterday was busy & we were up late & today I feel kind of blah so I'm pretty much going to chill & relax & do nothing."

"By running 13 miles."

"Oh, that doesn't count as doing a thing, that's just running."

"We have very different ideas about what is relaxing."

I'm trying to keep tabs on my body so that I don't accidentally do something *really* stupid and end up with an injury before CIM training even starts, but honestly, everything feels really good. And the upside of really enjoying running & trying to err on the side of NOT doing too much means I don't have any weird anxiety or guilt or hand wringing about taking a rest day if I feel like I need one. Eg, last Wednesday I hadn't slept well the night before, got slammed at work, felt generally crappy, & had no interest in doing anything but eating chocolate for dinner and going to bed at 7. But even then, by Thursday afternoon my legs were itching to go again and I felt like I hadn't run in FOREVER; ten easy miles that afternoon felt like three.

Even on days that have felt a little tougher, I kind of don't mind? Like, academically, I can register that I feel tired or my legs feel heavier or whatever, but my reaction is, "Yeah; this is a thing that happens and it's cool," and "Yep, I'm pretty awesome at running strong through this, actually; good job, me!"

I'm traveling (and working pretty long days) this next week, and after three straight weeks in the 40s, I think a bit of a cut-back week will probably be good for my legs. I'm planning to just kiss 50 miles in the weeks after I come back, leaving me about three weeks to cut back a little as I start speed work & get ready to run a 10K on Sept. 4.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Race Report: Crissy Field parkrun 5K

I'm super, super excited for my running buddy bt and her husband Mr. bt who are taking a year sabbatical to relax, travel, & generally go have tons of fun in Places that are Else. (Ok, also a little bit jealous. Ok maybe a lot jealous.) To see her off, some of us met up at Crissy Field on Saturday for the weekly parkrun 5K that happens there.

I first learned about parkruns from Cathryn's blog. They started in the UK and are wildly popular there. From the website:

    "parkrun organise free, weekly, 5km timed runs around the world. They are open to everyone, free, and are safe and easy to take part in. These events take place in pleasant parkland surroundings and we encourage people of every ability to take part; from those taking their first steps in running to Olympians; from juniors to those with more experience; we welcome you all."

In the last couple of years, parkruns have started popping up in the U.S., and we've now got one here in San Francisco up at Crissy Field, literally in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Crissy Field

Now, this is more of a casual timed run than a real race (there are sponsors to handle the few costs involved), so you shouldn't expect anything like medals or shirts or timing chips or anything like that, and the course probably isn't perfect. But anybody can show up and run, and if you want a time result you just have to register at the website (you only have to do it once) & print out the bar code they send you so that it can be scanned at the finish.

Jen & Layla & I showed up around 8:30 to get a few extra miles in before the race, then met bt at the start a little before 9:00. The volunteers in charge for the day welcomed everyone, gave a little background on parkruns, explained the course, then directed us all to the start area. bt wanted to go all-out, but the rest of us just used the race as an excuse to get in three more easy, scenic miles.


Karl [the San Francisco fog] eating the Bridge again...

Post-race coffee & donuts!

Such a lovely way to spend a Saturday morning & see a friend off on a year of adventures!

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~LOGISTICAL STUFF~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Location: Crissy Field, San Francisco, CA

Date: Every Saturday at 9:00am


Deadlines/sellout factor: No cap.

Field Size: I dunno, 50? I heard that the week before was their biggest turnout ever with 65 finishers. (The week we ran was Crissy Field parkrun #78 as I recall.)

The Course:

The start is basically right in front of The Beach Hut Cafe at 1199 East Beach St. The course runs along the Bay Trail for a little over a mile, then makes a sharp left, does a little triangle-shaped lollipop, and retraces its steps back to the parking area. A lot of the Bay Trail is gravel, but it's pancake flat.

It's completely exposed, but since Crissy Field is foggy & cold 95% of the time, sun is almost never an issue. (On the other hand, it can get REALLY windy. We had an insane headwind for the first outbound stretch, but the tailwind was nice on the way back.) No aid stations but there are water fountains here & there all over Crissy Field if you get really desperate.


Basically, everyone just kind of gathered at the parking area by The Beach Hut. Pretty informal, since they do this every week & it's free. No bibs/shirts/etc. to pick up so obviously that's not an issue. Crissy Field is a popular recreation area so trying to park in the middle of the day can sometimes get dicey, but there is nobody there at 8:30 in the morning so it was easy to park right in front of The Beach Hut.


It's free, you guys! What you get is a time result emailed to you, if you want it. They also post finisher pics on their facebook page (see above) so that was nice too.

If you decide to run:

Just remember, parkruns are free and run completely run by volunteers, so manage your expectations accordingly. Also know that a lot of the course is gravel and it can be windy.

Overall Assessment:

I had fun hanging out with friends and seeing what parkruns are all about! It was great to get out of my neighborhood and run somewhere different for a change, and it was a really fun, friendly atmosphere.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Kind of a plan, kinda sorta maybe

I only have one really big goal for the rest of the year & that's to run a kick-ass race at CIM on Dec. 4. Now that I'm starting to put some miles back on my legs, a kinda-sorta plan is maybe kinda-sorta beginning to vaguely take shape. Ish.

Baby Marathoner Angela losing her marathon virginity at CIM '11. Memories!

Now - Aug. 14: Base Train, Base Train, Base Train. I have run races without base training, and I have run races after ONLY base training, but this year I'd kinda like to see what happens if I actually do both, the way that God & nature intended.

I am only on ~day 23 of this cycle & this plan will give me 60 days by Aug. 14. Back in fall 2014/winter 2015 I base trained for 80 days & it made a pretty remarkable difference in my running economy, and although I'm only a few weeks in, what's happening now does seem to track pretty well with what happened then.

Perhaps slightly better, even? Time will tell.

So that's encouraging (which, to be honest, I need. Seriously, all runs feel incredibly slow & sloggy right now).

Aug. 15 - Sept. 4: Add in speed, prep for Race to the End of Summer 10K.

It will only be 3 weeks of speed work, so I don't actually expect it to make THAT much difference in the 10K, but starting speed/tempo work in mid-August gives me 16 weeks of real marathon training, which is really as little as I want to do.

Really, I just want to use the 10K as a time trial/fitness gauge in order to be sure all my training paces are in the right place. I'm not *super* excited about the fact that this race is in San Jose in early September, but at least it's flat, paved, has only one real turn, & starts at 7:50am, so maybe it will not be awful.

Sept. 5 - Oct. 22: Slog away at marathon training, run a sick half on 10/23.

That is, I'm *hoping* I'm still capable of running a sick non-goal half in the midst of marathon training. I've done this twice before and run sub-1:40s, but then again I tried it earlier this year & ran the second slowest half of my life. So.

Here's hoping the fact that it's late October & thus NOT likely to be 80F will make some sort of difference.

Oct. 24 - Dec. 4: Eyes on the prize.

I will probably spend these last six weeks or so mostly praying to the injury gods.

St. Pio, patron saint of pain & suffering.
Stay with me, man.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Books: 2016 Quarter 2

As you probably already know, I've been reading a classic a month for the last two years. It started as a one-year project in 2014, but I've enjoyed it enough to keep going with it & will probably continue until it starts to feel like a chore.

Here's my second set of classics of 2016:

April: Ulysses, by James Joyce (1904, 810 pages). I'm not going to rate this one because in two and a half years of the whole classic-a-month thing, this is the first book I've ever abandoned. Not because it was bad or I didn't like it, but because I was trying to listen to it as an audio book I and just don't think Ulysses lends itself particularly well to that medium. There's a lot of stream-of-consciousness and a lot of word play and a lot of "I bet there's something deeper there I'm missing, I should read that part again and/or look it up in the Cliff's Notes" or whatever, and you can't really do that when you're driving or out running. So, I'd still really like to read this, but I'm putting it off until I'm feeling up to attacking this beast in hard copy (probably with a pencil, highlighter, & Cliff's Notes in hand. It's just that kind of book).

May: Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arhur Golden (1997, 434 pages). 4 stars. The story follows the life of a young Japanese girl in the early-to-mid 20th century who is sold by her desperate parents to a man who in turn sells her and her sister to a tea house to potentially be trained as geishas. For all that the details of the geisha's lives are not perfect, I still learned a lot about the general history of how the whole geisha/tea house system and how it functioned, even up through the 40s and 50s and 60s. I enjoyed this book & was glad I read it, but I have to admit my enjoyment was tainted a bit when I learned that it was not biographical and in fact not even terribly accurate (though it was loosely based on conversations Golden had with a real Geisha. Who later sued him for writing this.

June: Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov (1955, 378 pages). 5 stars. I think a lot of people will probably be put off by the subject matter (there's just no getting around the fact that it's about a forty-something dude banging a 12/13 year old), but it is worth noting that it's not an explicit or graphic book, and there's only a couple of scenes early-on that you actually "see" as a reader that are kind of gross (though they're described in very poetic, metaphorical terms). The rest of the book is more about the impact that Humbert's & Lolita's relationship has on both of them as they rove about the country together. I can definitely see why people have described it as one of the most breathtaking novels ever composed in English. Don't avoid it because you think you'll be puking the whole way. It's not like that


Here were my favorite reads for April through June:

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart. (2014, 242 pages) 5 stars. Cadence Sinclair Eastman is a 17 year old member of the Boston Sinclairs, "old money Democrats" who spend every summer on a private Massachusetts island with her grandfather, the family patriarch. Smart, pretty, athletic Cadence led pretty much a charmed life until her 15th summer on the island when she apparently went swimming alone and suffered some kind of traumatic head injury. Back at the island two years later, most of her memories of that summer are gone, including the accident. Her family refuses to talk about the accident or anything else that happened that summer, insisting that it's better if she remember on her own. One of THE most brilliantly written YA books I've ever read; as soon as I finished it I immediately flipped back to the beginning & started over again. Avoid spoilers *at all costs*.

The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks. (1988, 293 pages) 5 stars. This book made me glad I didn't give up on the Culture series after Consider Phlebas. 'The Player of Games' refers to this one dude in the Culture, Gurgeh, who's, well, really good at playing games. Which, how convenient, given that the Culture has encountered a new, rather primitive civilization whose entire society and system of government is based on this insanely complex game. Every six years there is a great tournament where a player's performance determines their role in society, and circumstances conspire such that Gurgeh ends up on a ship bound for this civilization to play the great game. Brilliantly written, and cleverly devised from the first page. Not only accessible but actually COOL AND INTERESTING for a non-sci fi geek (which I couldn't say about Consider Phlebas.)

Work Clean: The life-changing power of mise-en-place to organize your life, work, and mind, by Dan Charnas. (2016, 304 pages) 5 stars. This book really spoke to me, probably because it jives simultaneously with a lot of my life philosophies & neuroses. Basically, it takes the principles of mise-en-place used by professional chefs & looks at how non-chefs can maybe become more productive/happier by employing them. Some are more applicable than others and I'm not saying I immediately implemented every strategy in the book, but I did spend half a day stripping down my office & getting rid of the stacks of papers & books that tend to accumulate, another half day cleaning out my work & personal email inboxes (not quite at zero, but close), & have gotten super rigorous about using time efficiently, working harder at not wasting things (especially food), & constantly cleaning up after myself. I have a feeling that if you enjoyed Marie Kondo, you'll probably like this one.

Us, by David Nicholls (2014, 400 pages). 4 stars. Middle-aged (boring, uptight, plain vanilla) husband & father Douglas Petersen is about to take his wife Connie & son Alfie on a European tour before Alfie leaves for college. Between his already-strained relationship with Alfie & Connie's sudden admission that she is considering leaving him, Doug spends the trip feeling as if his life is crumbling around him. The book flashes back and forth between the precarious Petersens' misadventures in Europe and Doug & Connie's entire history together as Doug reflects on his life and relationships. Not life-changing or super deep but cute & really well written.

Old Man's War, by John Scalzi (2007, 362 pages). 4 stars. Definitely, like, 9 stars for unique/interesting premise: in the not-that-distant future, at age 65 people can register for the Colonial Defense Force (CDF) & then officially go enlist any time after that, which basically means becoming legally dead on earth & flying out into space to go defend human space colonies/fight in space wars/etc. (the details of which are all kept strictly secret from normal earth people). Why would you want to do this at age 65+, and why would anyone be recruiting old folks for soldiers? Because by some mysterious process, everyone knows that the CDF turns recruits young and hearty again. It's kind of a mind-blowing premise and Scalzi explores it thoroughly. A quick, fun, & entertaining read.

Disapperance at Devil's Rock, by Paul Tremblay. (2016, 327 pages) 4 stars. Paul Tremblay is an amaaaaaaaazing writer and I 100% plan on gobbling up everything he writes as quickly as it appears; also this book was right up my alley--dark and creepy and all about mysterious happenings that are all the creepier for the fact that the weirdness is subtle and ambiguous and plunked right down in the middle of normal, everyday people's normal everyday lives. For the first 80% of the book, I could not put it down because OMG WTF is going on?!?!?!11!? Alas, I was a bit disappointed in the last bit for reasons that I don't think I can explain without spoilers. It was all built up so incredibly skillfully and with such perfect tension and crazy expectations that there was just no way any real, actual ending could have lived up to it. (Also I'm not sure anything could have lived up to A Head Full of Ghosts.) That said, I still enjoyed reading it & Tremblay is still for sure one of my new faves.

* * *

Currently Reading:
House of Secrets
, by Brad Meltzer

Currently Listening To:
The Marriage Plot
, by Jeffrey Eugenides

Up Next:

And who knows, whatever else tickles my fancy. (Taking future suggestions as always!)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Shoe Review: Kinvara 7s (spoiler: thumbs up!)

So, yeah. I've been loving my cheap-ass Brooks Launch 2s &, like the original Launch before them, they've served me well as a great marathon/long run shoe. Here's hoping version 3 will be just as good.

I was pretty excited about how great the Launch 2s were working out since my beloved Kinvara 5s had long since sold out, and, update on the Kinvara 6, they pretty much suck. I don't know what it is about the upper but the more I ran in them, the more they started to feel like a vice grip on my foot in the vertical direction. I finally got to the point that I couldn't even tolerate the one pair I had for an easy 3-4 miles & relegated them to gym shoes. I took them to Ireland for walking around in, but even that was a mistake.

This made me a little iffy on trying a pair of the 7s. For the last couple of years, when Saucony has done a new Kinvara release, I've done a X-vs.-X+1 head-to-head comparison post using a brand-new pair of each (K3 vs. K4, K4 vs. K5, K5 vs. K6), but there was no way I was buying another pair of 6s just for that. In fact, the only reason I own a pair of 7s at all is because I picked up a barely-used return at Sports Basement for like $25.

So, post-Ireland I decided to give the Kinvara 7s a shot & see if there was any hope for them as functional running shoes, and the answer is an emphatic YES.

Now, I'm not doing a head-to-head comparison with the K6 here because the K6 is so completely awful that there's just no point. (However, Running Warehouse has, if you're curious about their thoughts.) But since the K7 is the current iteration you can actually buy and it's not completely awful, here's just a quick run-down of what I like about it:

Sizing & Comfort

Other than a few aesthetic adjustments to the upper, the 7s look more or less like every other pair of Kinvaras I've ever owned.

Full disclosure: In the past I've worn a size 7.5 in Saucony shoes (vs. 8 in most other brands), but lately I've been desirous of more and more room in the toe box.

(I mostly blame this on walking around in Hoka Cliftons when my PF was at its worst; they may be the weirdest, sloppiest, most useless running shoes I've ever tried, but they are UNBEATABLY comfortable for just tooling around with a messed-up foot, partly because of the cavernous toe box, which I will admit to kind of falling in love with.)

The discounted pair from Sports Basement was a size 8 and that was comfortable, so I bought them (which I mention so that it's clear that when I'm comparing the K7 to previous iterations, it's not really apples to apples).

That said, as soon as I slipped my feet into them, I got an undeniable "Ahhhhh...." sensation. I've mentioned before that part of the reason I like Kinvaras is because the last they use seems to fit the shape of my foot really well, and that is definitely still true.

But in addition to that, they were just comfortable--cushioned but not squishy, no hard or rough edges rubbing against my foot anywhere, and plenty of room not only in the toe box but in the mid-foot as well. I A/B'd them with a few other pairs of (size 7.5) Kinvaras I have, and it's unmistakeable--these are the most comfortable pair of Kinvaras I've ever owned.

The K5s are a close second; who knows, maybe the difference is all in that extra half size.

I'd been wearing a pair of K3s around this morning, which felt more or less fine until I slipped on one of the 7s, and holy crap, the 3 suddenly felt intolerably tight and pinchy! How did I used to run in these???

You can see just by looking that there's a noticeable difference in the width of the K7 & K6:

K7 on the left, K6 on the right.

K6 on the top, K7 on the bottom

K6 on the left, K7 on the right

Flexibility & Support

No real difference here that I could detect. I A/B'd them on some short runs with a recent pair of K5's and it all feels more or less the same, but with a little extra toe room.


My first pair of Kinvaras were version 3, so I can't speak to what the first two versions felt like, but I have read that some folks who have been wearing this shoe since it first arrived on the scene in 2010 felt like none of the versions since the first two have been as responsive as the K1 and K2, and that maybe the K7 recaptures some of that original feel. From Running Warehouse:

    "Since the fit did not change much [I beg to differ but that's neither here nor there], the improvement of the Kinvara 7 takes place underfoot. Gone is the PowerGrid heel inset, which has been replaced by Everun. However, I think this change is only a small part of why the Kinvara 7 feels better. More so, I attribute the change to the midsole sculpting along the lateral side of the shoe. The sculpting allows for more compression and a smoother feeling of deceleration of impact forces. Also, the outsole IBR lugs have a different orientation and are wider for better shock dispersion. The result is a more comfortable ride. A ride that moves in the direction of the original Kinvara and its first successor."

Again, pretty similar to the K5s in terms of how they feel on the road--a nice balance of flexibility & support, enough cushion to stay comfortable for multiple hours of slogging but firm enough for decent ground feel, and a little extra room for the toes. Definitely my new favorite for long runs in terms of comfort & plain old getting the job done.

That said, I think I'll probably stick to these for long, easy runs. Yes, they're super roomy and comfortable, but on the track or in a short, fast race I'm not sure they'd be quite responsive enough for my liking. In those cases I actually like a snugger fit like in the Kinvara 3 or 4 (which doesn't bother me for short periods of time).

Bottom Line

Man, I am loving these shoes. After version 6 I'll admit that I had begun to lose faith, but version 7 has restored it. They're still full price right now but the second this shoe starts to show signs of disappearing, you can bet I'll be stocking up just in case the next version sucks.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Plantar Fasciitis & Brooks Launch 2

For the past few months I've been dealing with some incredibly tiresome plantar fasciitis in my left foot. I don't really know if running caused it or not, but funnily enough, running actually isn't painful 99% percent of the time. In fact, it actually seems to help--my best days seem to be the ones after a long run, and after Eugene I felt almost normal for several days.

Literally any excuse to post this picture. #eugene

Even walking isn't that bad if I've been up and around for a while and all the muscles & things have gotten nice & warmed up. Walking after I've been off my feet for a while, though? Sucks.

Worst of all for a while there was waking up in the morning. Not even kidding, there were plenty of days when I felt like a pair of crutches at my bedside would not have gone amiss. (Thankfully, it always got significantly better after five or ten minutes of walking around.)

Any time you've got a persistent injury everyone's advice seems to be to stop running for a while & let it heal, but during the ~3ish weeks around the time we were in Ireland I didn't run at all, and guess what? It got worse, not better.

Needless to say, all this had me scouring the internet for tips & tricks (like you do when you can't get an appointment with your foot doctor inside of a month). The good news is, people know a LOT about PF & there is a lot of helpful information out there. I can't remember now all the articles & posts I read, but this one by Kelly O'Mara stands out because a) it was aimed at runners and b) it was written by a runner who I know for a fact is both realistic but also extremely legit. (A lot of what's out there is aimed at older or sedentary/inactive people, which for the most part is different advice than maybe what you need if you're a young-ish, very active person.) I also found this one by John Davis helpful.

Long story short, here are the things that I feel like have (arguably) helped improve my symptoms over the last month or two:

  • Wearing flats as much as possible
  • Stretching my calf/Achilles several times a day
  • This stretch several times a day (from the Davis article)
  • Taping my foot for runs over about 6 miles.
  • Wearing a blue SuperFeet orthotic in my left shoe, along with strategically placed metatarsel pads
  • This technique from PT Kelly Starrett
  • Sleeping in a night splint (which has pretty much eliminated altogether the first-thing-in-the-morning need for crutches)
  • Switching temporarily from my 4mm drop Kinvaras to a 10mm shoe

(In case it isn't obvious, almost all of this has to do with fixing calf muscle tightness, which is apparently one of the biggest causes of PF.)

I read the bit about how switching to a higher drop shoe had helped some people when I was at maybe the worst of my symptoms just a few weeks before Eugene. I love me some Kinvaras (except for the 6, which was awful) but at that point I was willing to try just about anything. Thankfully, I am also a big fan of the Brooks Launch when it comes to longer distances, which happens to have a 10mm drop, so I decided to try switching back to that for a while & see if it made a difference.

I have a couple of pairs of the original Launch kicking around in the closet which I would have happily worn, but around this same time a friend of mine was raving about the Launch 2 which I didn't even know existed. Apparently that version was on its way out, which meant they were being hugely discounted everywhere, so I figured what the heck & managed to find a pair in my size for like $40.

The Launch (versions 1 & 2) is a bit stiffer than any Kinvara I've worn, but they're nice & roomy as traditional running shoes go with a bit less cushioning than most (= better ground feel).

And? It worked!

Launch 2s in the wild.

Generally I try to rotate my shoes both for the good of my feet as well as to prolong the life of the shoes, but I got the Brooks 2s in early April & ran in them for basically every run between then and Eugene (including the race). Between that and everything else on that list above, my symptoms gradually got better in the weeks leading up to the race, and I was able to run it completely pain-free (and was even pain-free for several days following the race!). So I'll definitely be holding on to those babies.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Sojourn on the Emerald Isle...

Don't worry, this isn't going to be an eight-part modern epic on My Summer Vacation. I just wanted to say HEY! and I AM BACK! and HERE IS A TINY FRACTION OF THE COOL STUFF I SAW AND DID IN IRELAND!

The backstory is that Don and I have actually been attempting to plan an Ireland trip since 2010. But it didn't work out, and instead we ended up in Alaska.

Why yes, I did climb a glacier up to the highest ice field in the world!

We tried again in 2013 and wound up in Hawaii.

Making undeniable progress on the 50 States bingo card,
but still longing for the other side of the Atlantic.

In 2014, we found ourselves in Italy:

Technically, getting closer.

Don't get me wrong, this was all AMAZING, but for all that we'd declared we were not not not leaving the country and/or taking any big trips this year due to the ongoing saga of our house renovations, it was a little hard to say no when Don's parents mentioned the "Gourmet Ireland" trip they were going on with two professional Irishmen and there were only a few spots left and were sure we didn't want to tag along.

Since our renovations show no sign of actually beginning soon (le sigh) AND we wouldn't have to be in charge of anything except showing up, we finally said "What the heck" & sent the Irishmen a check.

We have never done a group tour before and only did this one because a) it was a tiny group (less than 15 people) and b) Don's parents, who are not package tour people either, had done a "Gourmet Spain" tour with said professional Irishmen & utterly raved about them.

I'm happy to report that we had an absolute blast. Yes, it was a very specific type of trip with a very specific focus, so there are definitely plenty of things in Ireland that we didn't see or do, but we also got access to people and places and experiences we never would have on our own.

So here you go -- "Gourmet Ireland" in one roll (24 shots).

70° and sunny in Dublin!

Pints at the Gravity Bar, Dublin

The Long Room, Trinity College Library, Dublin

Dublin Castle Gardens

Dinner at The Pig's Ear, Dublin

St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

Christchurch, Dublin

On the way to lunch in County Clare

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath

Whiskey tasting with Ireland's top whiskey expert (A LADY!) in County Kerry

Midleton Distillery, County Cork

Midleton Distillery, County Cork

Ballymaloe House, County Cork

Ballymaloe Cookery School (where we cooked our own dinner!)

Dinner at Ballymaloe (we cooked it!!)

Dessert at Ballymaloe Cookery School (Raspberry fool made by yours truly!)

Cheese Tasting at Cashel Blue, County Tipperary

The Giant's Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Belfast River Walk

Belfast River Walk

Belfast Cookery School (where we cooked lunch!)

Teeling Distillery, Dublin

Ha'penny Bridge, Dublin

{We now return to our regularly scheduled program.}