Friday, March 18, 2011

As young as you feel (or act).....

With the exception of 21, birthdays which bring you to an age ending in a 1 are not exactly milestones. Milestones would be the ones ending in a zero, the ones signifying a decade passing...30..40..50..60.. Or the ones ending in 9, bringing the "I'll stay 29 forever" mentality. In fact, the namesake of my junior high school, comedian Jack Benny, made a whole schtick out of being 39. So much so, that our team name was the 39ers. Seriously, google, it, in Waukegan, IL there is such a school, my father taught there for much of his career, my brother and I attended.

This picture is of me, yesterday, on my most recent 1 birthday, a birthday on which a friend tweeted "no way you were as cool then as you are now". The weeks leading up to this birthday had caused me to acknowledge the change in me over the last couple of years. And to reflect on the birthdays before.

I was excited about turning 30. At that time, I'd just been promoted to my first true management role. 30 felt like a good transition, an age to take me away from the uncertainty and indiscretions of my 20s. Five short years later, everything had changed. 35 was a tough birthday. I cried much of the day. Was at a miserable place in my life - unhappy marriage, feeling stuck in my career, obese, health problem after health problem. Unable to see a bright future. I felt old, really old.

In hindsight, attending a school where I was a 39er, seems to have been karma for me. Set up a bit of fate.  Not in the "I'll lie and say I'm 39 forever" sense (tho' it has crossed my mind), but in the idea of challenging conventional age wisdom. The point where I started to get it right. The age I got re-married. Not too long before my 39th birthday, I discovered I was pregnant. Was going to have my first child. An unexpected surprise, but one I am thankful for each and every day. I don't have any memory of hand wringing or fear over turning 40, was probably too far into the sleep deprived world of the mother of an infant to care. Never really thought of it as a milestone.

Seems like the next few years passed in a blur. Career moves by both my husband and I moved us around a bit. I got settled. Maybe too settled. Slipping once again into a life by rote. Comfortable, yet increasingly uncomfortable. Sedentary. Health issues creeping up as my weight crept back up. Slowly coming to the realization that if I continued down this path I would not be able to keep up with my son. That my health, my weight was affecting the things I loved. Many of the activities I enjoyed, visiting amusement parks, gardening were becoming harder and harder. Unable to do horseback tours or ziplines, because I was over the maximum weight limit. Beginning to avoid or dread activity. Knowing this 39er was about to be a was time for a change, time to once again challenge conventional wisdom around age.

Heading towards my 49th birthday, I changed. As my weight went down and my fitness up, I gained back confidence in myself, in what I could do. At 49, I finally got scuba certified, entered and completed my first half marathon (and my second), began to re-discover the joy of cycling, bought a road bike, learned the empowerment of fitness.
Turning 50 didn't slow me down either.  This was the year I truly began to believe the mantra "you're only as old as you feel". That being fit not only changes your health, it changes your life and how you see things. Opens up so many more possibilities. 50 was the year that being active became a part of who I am. Another half marathon. Renting bikes while on vacation, trying mountain biking (and getting my first couple of battle scars), while Kiddo learned to snowboard, I re-learned how to ski.
Here's to 51....the year I will complete a triathlon, run a couple more half marathons, finally run my first 5k, continue to learn to mountain bike, continue to bike commute, hopfully, try a zipline or two. Continue to set an example of a fit, active lifestyle for my son. Continue to bring activity and fun into my family's life. Maybe inspire a person or two. But mostly, relish the freedom and agelessness being fit provides me.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Laissez le Bon temp rouler...a weekend in NOLA

 As many times as I've visited, as much as I love New Orleans, I've never been there for Mardi Gras. I've always been intrigued by the Krewe parades, but worried about my reaction to the crowds. A recent visit over Valentine's weekend confirmed that fear - New Orleans had about as big of a crowd as I can handle.

One local guide provided by the hotel defined Mardi Gras as being from Epiphany (Jan 6th) until the day before Ash Wednesday, which is Wed. Mar 9th this year. However, that seems a bit of a stretch. The weekend I visited would have been part of Carnival, but was the week before the first Mardi Gras parade. Still the city was crowded, maybe the most crowded of anytime I've been there. The Rock-n-Roll marathon/half marathon was on Sunday, and the streets were filled with folks obviously in town for the race.

Mardi Gras decorations seemed to be just going up. Some balconies, homes and businesses were already fully adorned in purple, green and gold. Others were in the process of being decorated. Kinda like the first week or so of December and Christmas decorations. In fact, I saw evidence that just like the companies that will hang your outdoor Christmas lights, there were professional Mardi Gras decorating companies at work.
I love New Orleans for it's mix of the beautiful and the decadent. From the balconies of the Quarter and the mansions of the Garden District to the drunks on Bourbon Street and the wonderful food (and drinks which of course lead to the drunks on Bourbon St). Only in New Orleans would someone give directions with a perfectly straight face that included "From Lafitte's walk west on Bourbon St, turn right at the first street past the big dildo shop".
Of course, we indulged in quite a bit of that food and drink. I knew we'd hit old stand-bys: Camellia Grill, Cafe du Monde, K-Paul's, but I'd reached out to one of the MKE tweeps who seems to know not only a bit about food and restaurants but also New Orleans. @Im_X1 (Christin) strongly recommended we try Green Goddess (@greengoddessFQ or So glad I listened to her advice!

One of the best and most memorable meals in a long, long time. Green Goddess has an eclectic menu, not to mention staff, that blends a variety of ethnic cuisines with ingredients from all over the world; including Wisconsin's own Nueske's bacon. Christin even tweeted ahead for us to tell the folks at Green goddess to treat us well, and gave me a little DM'd tip which lead to a yummy fig and blue cheese amuse-bouche described on the menu as Armagnac-Soaked Mission Figs: These boozy morsels are stuffed with Strathdon Blue Cheese,wrapped in Serrano Ham, quick-roasted, and finished with Leonardi Balsamico aged 20 years in Cherrywood Barrels. Oh. My.
 The restaurant is tiny, with maybe room for 25 diners inside, perhaps another 15 outside. We were seated along a bar/counter giving us a great view of all the action in the kitchen. Chef Chris DeBarre takes an active role in interacting with the guests, explaining courses as they are served, but it was the expediter at work directly in front of us that we found most fascinating (even if I did joke that he scared me just a bit). We ate far too much, beginning our meal with the chef's choice cheese platter accompanied by a Pecan Nut Brown Ale from Lazy Magnolia Brewing, moving to an amazing caprese salad, followed by Shrimp in a grass skirt and Cochon de Lait/Lei pulled pork wrapped in banana leaves (you *must* try this entree). The wine list offered several options of great wines by the glass to pair with the dishes (my memory is a bit hazy on that part of the night).
But that's not all...remember I mentioned Nueske's bacon? We ended the meal with Vietnamese pressed chicory coffe and their  “Notorious” Bacon Sundae. Praline ice cream, caramel sauce, bacon, sea salt. Sweet, salty, rich goodness. I still dream about that sundae.

Other dining highlights were a dinner at K-Pauls (where somehow I took no pictures) and Camellia Grill - both of them - breakfast at the Camellia grill in the French Quarter, and lunch another day at the original one a street car ride away down St Charles Avenue at Riverbend.
We also did a bit of drink touring. A stop at the Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone, Pimm's Cups at Muriels by Jackson Square, Hurricanes at Evelyn's. And of course, I had to have  blue Moon or two along the way.

We stayed at Wyndham Vacation Resorts' La Belle Maison, located at the corner of Magazine and Gravier, a block and a half west of Canal. Great location, one of Wyndham's timeshare resorts (we own points, acquired on eBay, in the Wyndham system). Stayed in a 1 bedroom "Presidential" Suite. Loved the room, the location. Would give rave reviews except for the incident where the valet lost our rental car. Could not find it for over 2 hours, long story involving a cab to the airport, the car finally recovered (they forgot which garage it was parked in among 5 or 6 options), returned to the agency by the hotel valet service. Something in all my traveling for business and personal I have never heard happen to anyone before.

And on that note, I'll leave you with the traditional photos of the accomodations: