Looking Back on Summer Vacation

It the last evening of “summer” vacation for me. I have to pick out my good clothes, pack my lunch, and get a good night’s sleep because in the morning I’ll return to work, this time as part of the Cultural Affairs team in Tbilisi, Georgia. I was excited that the job was available, even more excited when I was hired for it, and am thrilled to begin – while still mourning the end of a really pleasant three-month break.

So, since it is obvious I did not spend my time writing blog posts, what did I accomplish the past three months?

1. Hagoghutyun Yerevan!
Once we wrapped up our jobs and sent our belongings hither and yon in the most complicated set of shipments, we got on our various planes back to the United States. Everybody but me had complicated work arrangements; I got the longest vacation of all.

2. The Bride Wore Blue Shoes!
We got the entire family assembled to celebrate the marriage of our very own adorable college-sweethearts, Claire and Steven. Their down-to-earth love and devotion shone over the entire day while their quirks were on full display from the Dr. Who color theme to the Star Trek processional. And after the obligatory formal stuff everyone enjoyed the All-ages Dance Party of All Time!

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3. You Have a Quirky Race? We’re In!!!
You don’t have to be fast to agree that racing is the best part of running, so I had my eye out for the most unusual local races my family and I could participate in. Though every race was fun, in retrospect, I think the best part of all was how eagerly my parents joined in! We celebrated the Veg Fest by running the “Largest Tofurkey Trot in the United States,” raised money for awareness of heat injuries by running a 7km Soaker Run during which we were squirted by supersoakers and sprayed with firehoses, and wrapped up the season by joining 30,000 others in a colored cornstarch extravaganza at The Color Run. Along with fitness, we gained a new appreciation for our home city as we ran through parks, city streets, and neighborhoods that we had either never visited or had forgotten about.

Tofurkey Trot!

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Tofurkey Trot, Soaker 7, and Color Run!

Tofurkey Trot, Soaker 7, and Color Run!

4. Left Coast Here We Come!
For years, I’ve been The One That Was Always Somewhere Else. My loyal family has visited in me “on location” but I had never returned the favor for my sister. Given that I had nothing but time on my hands, this was the summer for a trip to Seattle. We spent three days cramming in: Pike Place Market, Seattle Center, a pilgrimage to the Seattle Public Library, a Mariner’s Game, Port Townsend, hunting for agates on the beach, eating doughnuts as big as our heads at Sluy’s Bakery in Poulsbo before spending a day paddleboarding and swimming (dodging a bazillion jellyfish) in Liberty Bay. We left knowing that there would be a place for us when the day finally comes to spend some time in one place.

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Seattle (I'm finally here! And as long as I am, I think I'll make sure the Space Needle is bolted in securely)!

Seattle (I’m finally here! And as long as I am, I think I’ll make sure the Space Needle is bolted in securely)!

5. Buffalove!
So when did my hometown get all cool?! From the Taste of Buffalo (one of the country’s largest two day food festivals) to the Jack of All Trades Festival at Larkinville (I’m pretty sure there was no such place when I still lived in Buffalo!), from Buffalo Lighthouse park to the Botanical Gardens, from Bisons Baseball to the Thursday night concerts at Canalside, from Elmwood Village to Allentown, we enjoyed a city that felt youthful and energetic and offered us as much food, entertainment, and cultural opportunities as we could cram in.

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Larkinville, Coffeeshops, Record Stores (in which I went all fangirl over The Smiths, Botanical Garden, Waterfront, Elmwood-Bidwell Farmer's Market, Science Museum (Mummies!), and MOBY!!

Larkinville, Coffeeshops, Record Stores, Botanical Gardens, Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers' Market, Science Museum & Mummies, and MOBY!!!

Larkinville, Coffeeshops, Record Stores, Botanical Gardens, Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers’ Market, Science Museum & Mummies, and MOBY at Canalside!!!

6. Lobstah, Sun, and Sand!
Because hanging out, running races, and visiting interesting places was so strenuous, Sal and I had to take a break to the beach at the end of summer. We joined my parents on the southern Maine coast for two weeks of art museums, lobster dinners, days spent laying on towels reading books, and swimming in the ocean. It was awesome – I suggest it to anyone! But that wasn’t enough for us, so we then repaired to Gloucester where we added a couple of nephews and some more time spent soaking in salt water and sun.

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Lobstah Dinnahs, Ogunquit Museum of American Art, and Glosta!

Lobstah Dinnahs, Ogunquit Museum of American Art, and Glosta!

7. Off to School!
Finally, it was time to face facts – it was time for college to start. So my sister-in-law graciously drove a nervous mother and daughter into Boston so Sal could be installed in her dorm-room. Cue the usual excitement and anxiety: this is AWESOME! This room is so SMALL! I’m going to MISS YOU! I can’t wait to START!!! Walking away from each other for months and months goes down as one of the hardest things in an admittedly very blessed life, but sometimes great things call for you to do the hard thing and I am so proud of and happy for her.

8. Gamarjoba Tbilisi!
The adventure begins again! Though we thought we’d be moving to Moscow, recent events changed our plans to a move within the Caucasus. It was our shortest move ever and we were disappointed to think it would be not as much of a change as we have gotten used to, we were very happily surprised to see how much difference there could be in a mere 160 miles. I’ve been here such a short time that I’m only gathering impressions at this point, but there seems to be more openness, more variety, and more progressive energy here. Things are bound to feel different personally since this is our first home as empty-nesters and the first time we’ve had a downtown apartment. So far we’ve gone out of our way to take advantage of our surroundings, enjoying coffee in different cafes, buying our veg from different greengrocers, and not eating one single dinner at home as I spent 15 hours a day unpacking our household goods this week.

Tbilisi at night

Tbilisi at night

And now, farewell summer and hello to the excitement of a new job. I am assured that there is never a dull moment in Cultural Affairs and I look forward to fact that my job will make it inevitable that I will learn about this interesting place from the roots up.

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Transitions: Home to House, Grumpy to Glad

When I woke up this morning (not that I’d done much sleeping), my house was still a home. I went off to a morning of meetings, by the time I returned around 11:30, it had reverted back to being just a house. It is the 13th time we’ve gone through the process and it is obvious I’m never going to grow to like it. Here are some reflections on the process and the day:

1. Drama leading up to the move does not improve the situation. Were going to Moscow; are moving to Tbilisi, Georgia. Spun our heads, kind of broke our hearts, definitely challenged the never-too-smooth wheels of bureaucracy.

2. After years of living in places with once-every-two-weeks trash pickup and restrictions on how much you put in your wheelie bin, you’ve got to appreciate the three-times a week garbage crew of Vahakni. Best of all? No guilt; if it’s marginally good but no longer useful to you, put it next to the bin and while you sleep, elves will whisk it away!

3. Anyone who knows more than a little knows that I have put those elves to the test.

BeforeTheElves

4. Seeing my bed in the living room does very little to improve my mood.

BedLivingroom

5. Finding my accidentally-packed-away duvets made me feel in control of the situation. If there is one thing I’ve learned through the years it’s that some objects have the power to soothe. I lived with loaner sheets and blankets for months when we moved to Yerevan. Never again.

6. Nevertheless, the rest of the house feels like a bad vacation rental. I resent this. We spent three years laughing, crying, growing in our home; it can’t shouldn’t be just a house.

7. Once the mopes set in, the only answer is a run. (Fight/flight? Maybe). Truly, I slept very little and worked very hard today so I convinced myself that I’d just do a couple easy miles. I forgot how loose you can feel at the end of a busy day; before I knew it, I had five miles of sprints under my belt.

8. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s true that my favorite shoes make me run fast.

Sneaks

9. Running fast (this is admittedly a relative term) makes me happy. Being happy makes me whistle. Loudly. Loud whistling makes the Guy-I-Didn’t-Know-Was-Walking-His-Dog-Around-the-Corner laugh. Thus, running fast makes everyone happy.

10. Mark’s Lavender Wheat Beer and fajitas didn’t hurt either.

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One more day and this phase will be over. My bags are packed and all that will be left is the fond farewells. I’ve done this before, I know the drill: my future holds some tears.

 

Buffalo Girl

Several things were calling me back to my hometown of Buffalo this spring. Fortunately, all of them were foreseen and I’ve been planning for and looking forward to this trip for more than a year.

The first looked like this:

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That’s our first college graduate! There were fewer tears than I expected; I was just so happy for her. And proud, proud, proud. Several years as a Resident Assistant in college taught me that every freshman has their own story and their own hurdles which really helped me deal with a 3,000 mile transatlantic separation as Claire weathered her first year. It was a sort of crazy year anyway with Mark in Afghanistan and us preparing for our unforeseen (but really, how did we not anticipate this?!) move to Armenia. But Claire’s struggles to survive a grueling year as a Music Education / Trumpet major ended in a crash and a change of major. Totally traumatic – like happens so many times, she’d pretty much never failed at anything up to that point and coming to grips with failure is a process. Nevertheless, she worked her way back step by step and I believe the process finally allowed her to take charge of her own life. Not many classes transfer between Music Ed. and English Lit and it would be reasonable for her to still be in school catching up, but she took seven classes a semester for a year and a half plus a full load in the summer and graduated on time with a nearly perfect GPA in her major. AND (oh, this is major!) she had a legitimate job before graduation. Who says you can’t use an English major?

There was hardly a chance to catch our breath before we got to the second thing calling me home:

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Oh, yes it is. That is a wedding shower in a coffee shop. Later this summer that college graduate is going to make me cry for sure as she walks down the aisle. She’s so happy, Steve is so happy, so we are all so happy. I’m not sure if anyone ever thinks the day is going to come and it takes some mental gymnastics to get your mind around. My BABY!!! Who used to look like this!!!

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And you worry, and you fret, and you wonder why is it that no one ever suggests you sit and think about how great it is all going to be? What is it with motherhood that’s all about worry? You know – like this:

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Or is that just me? Could be just me. Anyway, it’s going to be an exciting summer!

Naturally, the first two events led to this:

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The little birdie found herself her own nest. For once I was around to help with her move and we spent a lovely (if exhausting) couple of days dragging around furniture, unpacking boxes, and making trips to Target for more things to feather that nest. She’s now the proud possessor of tub mats, toilet scrubbers, garbage cans, over-the-door hooks, silverware sorters, and a whole bunch of things that I cannot remember – perhaps because I am still dazed from the total… We worked in the dark (electricity not turned on yet), we worked through our meals, we worked so hard neither of us could find anything we wanted to buy in the whole ginormous Barnes and Noble we stopped by as a treat. (That is tired). Helping was all choice and I never would have missed the chance to spend these last few days together with Claire. I’m pretty sure we will both remember this special time for years and years. (Okay, now those tears are threatening).

The moments between events were just as much of why I couldn’t wait to be here. There was Sister Silliness:

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Nope, I don’t think I’m ever going to master the duck face…

And Niece/Nephew Silliness:

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And there was kissing! So much kissing! (They don’t call me Aunt Kissy for nothing).

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And hey, I even got one this time (you can always count on a brother)!

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And now I’m just waiting and growing anxious for the last reason I wanted to be in Buffalo in May:

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I’ve wanted to run this one for a couple of years. Hometown marathon, along the shore of Lake Erie? Family and friends around? Family running with me? How could I resist? Our schedule in the past two years made it impractical to fly back just for this race so I bided my time knowing I’d be in town for a graduation this year. I chose to focus on Vienna as a goal race for this spring and happily, all systems were go on the day. Alas, that was the last time they were. I suppose I should be happy that I it wasn’t a catastrophic injury that laid me up, nor was it exhaustion or burnout. I was ready to run, I wanted to run, but………. I had the world’s ugliest chronic blood blister on the ball of my left foot. Every single run either made it worse (at first) or brought it back (after I started taking rest days weeks). Rest weeks. With a half-marathon looming. And the sort of competitive nature that makes my skin crawl every time I think, Well, I could just run it. I could just not wear a watch…

Right.

Only, given the fact that the stupid thing did not really agree to heal until last weekend, I suspect I might not have a choice. I think this one is going to be about finishing. Maybe about taking the time to see some of the prettiest parts of the city (yes, there are plenty of them here) at a slow enough pace to actually observe them.

Who knows? Maybe it’ll go perfectly, or maybe I’ll be slow. No matter what, I want it to be fun. I waited two years after all!

Just About the Worst Run Ever

OceanAtEndofLaneI owe one to Neil Gaiman. I swear if I hadn’t been absorbed in his voice as he read the final chapters of his completely mesmerizing story, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I never would have finished today’s workout. Some co-workers joined me at about the halfway point and were vocal in their amazement that I could run and listen to a book but I know it is all that saved me.

The problem probably started with running on the treadmill. I thought I was pretty well hydrated before I began, but it’s pretty warm in the gym. I had all the fans strategically directed but there’s only so much they can do in a kind-of-stuffy room in the basement. Still, I rather like the treadmill for speed days – at least all I have to do is think about keeping up (and keeping form) instead of constantly checking to see if my pace is correct.

Maybe the problem was the pace. I’m actually having a bit of a dilemma regarding pace. As I mentioned back in January, I’m hoping to break the 2:00:00 watershed at the Vienna City Marathon in April. I’ve been following the Hanson Brother’s Method and I have some unresolved pacing questions that might be coming to bear right now. Basically, it seems like I have a choice of running my usual 5k and 10k paces for my speedwork OR I can run the 5k and 10k paces that translate into my goal time. The two are not the same – in fact the two are about 30 seconds per mile different. Since I really do not want to miss that goal, I’ve been running close to the plan’s suggested pace.

I wanted to die. I was making loud gasping noises. I finally conceded to lowering the incline on the treadmill. I immersed myself in the story and Mr. Gaiman’s fantastic voice. I finished the stupid workout telling my stupid muscles that they’d better be learning to clear the stupid lactate more efficiently and that if my stupid heart wasn’t improving its stupid stroke volume, there was going to be a reckoning. Then I went home, grateful I’d had the foresight to roast a chicken yesterday because otherwise it would have been Ice Cream For Dinner Night.

And now that I’m fed and I’ve had a chance to drink some Gatorade (the fact that I’ll not only drink the stuff but actively look for it after a hard workout is one of the most shocking results of this much training), I’ve also had a chance to pull out the book that convinced me to give this plan a try: Hansons Marathon Method (apparently a Half-Marathon version is on its way but it wasn’t published yet this autumn when I was researching this). Result? More questions! The 18 week half-marathon training plan that I bought from them does not include paces for the strength workouts in the pace chart; it just indicates that the workout is at 10k pace. The book includes a full pace chart with marathon and half-marathon goal times and paces for easy runs, long runs, speed intervals, strength intervals, and tempos. Turns out the strength interval pace is … Yes. My actual 10k pace.

On second thought, there’s no question. I’m using the slower pace. There’s only 11 minutes left in the book and there’s at least three more murderous workouts left before the taper starts. Neil can’t save me every week – I’m going to have to have a better plan.

If You Had Told Me ________ Ago, I Never Would Have Believed It

If You Had Told Me a Week Ago….

… that I would be running in capris, a short-sleeved tech shirt, and my light running jacket on February 16th, I never would have believed it. Even more surprising, by the middle of my run I was so warm I really could have done without my jacket. Nevertheless, I was unwilling to remove it – something to do with my shirt. What could it be? It’s jazzy, I earned it in a terrific race, it fits and wears perfectly. See? Nice shirt, right?

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Hmm, could it maybe have something to do with this?

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Even in a country whose language uses a completely different alphabet, this is riskier than I’m willing to take on. There’s already enough hooting and honking when The Teenager and I are out running – no sense inviting it!

Anyway, the weather seems to have taken a turn for the warmer. Tomorrow to Tsaghkadzor before all the snow is gone!

 

If you had told me a month ago…

… that I would win third prize in a chili contest featuring four chilis made by Texans and one made by someone born and raised in Mexico, I would never have believed you. Worse yet, for a contest that started at 3:00pm, I got up at 10:30, pulled the meat out of the freezer and stuck it in the sink at 10:45, made some cookies, ran out of eggs so I didn’t make cornbread, and at 11:30 decided that it might be time to focus on the chili. I opened the fridge and discovered I had some pancetta (there is NEVER any bacon around this joint. You have to wonder about the person who does the shopping, don’t you?), opened the cupboard and discovered I had some Armenian chili pepper and we were off. The result? Third prize! And what was my Fabulous Prize, you ask?

 

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Why, a Lifetime Supply of Kilikia! 

 

If you had told me three years ago…

…that this would be one of my favorite places to run, I never would have believed it.

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Before moving to Armenia, I ran or walked through the forests at the edge Odenwald six days a week. Frankenstein castle loomed on the mountain to my west, and there were birds and fruit trees and streams. Before moving to Armenia, I ran or walked along a sandy beach on the coast of the Baltic Sea six days a week. I came home weighing an extra pound from all the sea-glass I picked up. Before moving to Armenia, I ran or walked through fields, hopped ditches, scrambled through hedges six days a week. I scared rabbits and pheasants, saw otters, petted cows. Now I run around my neighborhood, lap after two mile lap, six days a week. On winter weekends (or anytime of the week once the days are long enough) I can venture out into the greenspace near my neighborhood. It’s dusty and stony and it’s either up or down (flat’s boring anyway!) but it’s just so Armenia. The apartment blocks, the abandoned structures, and the dry, dry ground are all around me all the time. It takes a certain focus to see the beauty of it, but there is something about it that moves me. I guess it’s that if I’m going to spend my life moving all over the world, then the more it is different, the more worthwhile the experience seems. 

Also, sometimes this is view…

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… and I LOVE running uphill. 

And other times, this is the view…Image

Enough said.

Five Things: Resolutions

I love the New Year and I love making resolutions. Every year there are plenty of articles detailing exactly how useless resolutions usually turn out to be, but I just can’t help myself. I love starting out a new year with good intentions and I figure that even if they don’t last, I was a little better than before for a little bit of time. One of the things I kept reading and hearing about making your resolutions stick was to share them with others, so in the interest of success, here are my top five resolutions for 2014.

1. This blog. As I mentioned in my last post, I let my blog languish so long I forgot the log-in information. Hypocritically, I’ve been nagging my daughter to blog more because a. I love reading her posts, and b. I think she has some aspirations to be a writer and a blog is a good excuse for writing often. Naturally, she nagged me back until I agreed that maybe I had some things I could write about. I’d like to post at least once a week, but with this internet connection, we’ll have to see.

2. One push-up every day. I can practically hear the chorus of “Ooh, go crazy!” but one of my beliefs is that if you want to stick with it, you have to make it too easy to quit. As I start each year, I think, “Hey, this should be the year I commit to upper body strength!” Every year I think that means I should do a classic three sets (or more!) of different pushups every other day. Every year I bag it by the end of January. This year I decided just one, just one a day for 365 days. The total will probably be higher than I’ve managed any other year. And once I’m down there, one seems pretty pathetic so I do a couple more. Exactly a couple – I would have thought this would be a bit easier. It’s not.

3. Sunday Purge. Though we still have no idea when or where, we are definitely moving this summer. Anyone who moves regularly knows that the third year will kill you. You don’t accumulate so much in a two year tour – that basically feels like you are either moving in or moving out – but in a three year tour you can start to squirrel things away. Basement, closets, attic, garage – each one isn’t too bad so you don’t mind popping another thing in there. The next thing you know, you have six months left and enough baking supplies to open a Cinnabon franchise with no start-up costs, just to mention one area of excess. The regular movers among us will also understand the horror of the Anything That Gets Packed Eventually Has To Get Unpacked Phenomenon and thus the Sunday Purge Resolution was born. Using my finely honed Get Rid-of-It skills, each Sunday I plan to pick just a shelf, a drawer, a closet, or a corner to look through and decide what stays and what goes so that Moving Day isn’t Panic Day.

4. Break 2:00 in the Vienna City Half-Marathon. Oh, I hate saying that one out loud. History shows it’s pretty risky – 2:00 has been my goal for seven half-marathons. 2:04 is my PR. I’m giving the Hanson Running Marathon Method its day in court this time since my running girlfriends have had some incredibly impressive results with that plan. And since I suspect their results were more based in dedication and talent than the plan (one of which I can muster), I have resolved to commit to this plan and Run All The Runs! and see what’s possible. I read this book and liked the science but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was ultimately hooked by the fact that the run paces are over a minute a mile slower than those at which I usually train. So far, I’m finding it  easier than normal to lace up my shoes for an easy run day after day, but the real test is when the speed intervals get long and longer. Then the only thing that going to keep my going is the dream of 1:59 on the timing board as I round the corner into the Hofburg Palace courtyard in April.

5. Read more non-fiction and longer books. I have shelves full of books that have lived in at least two houses with me. I want to read them. As I finish a book and am thinking about what to read next, I go and visit them and dream about reading them and yet there they still are. This is the result of my annual reading resolution which began as Read More Books Than I Did Last Year until the year when I read 44 books and realized that it might just be possible to read 48 books in a year (just four every month! Not even one a week!). I made it that year (deployed husband) and the next (we moved and then I was only working part-time), but over time it became clear I was making my goal by choosing books that wouldn’t get in my way.  I was often reading with an eye toward being finished, groaning and getting annoyed when a story took too long (here’s looking at you, Titus Groan), and not savoring them along the way. Therefore, I have resolved to not keep track (after all these years, it’s already killing me!) and read the books I’ve collected and dreamt of reading, books about WWI, and design, and Shakespeare and doorstops by authors I love like Dickens, and China Mieville, and Neal Stephenson, and Mark Helprin. And to slow down and enjoy and learn and indulge my curiosity.

Some of these are more goal than resolution but with all of them I hope to capitalize on the positive energy of a clean slate to be just a little bit better than I was before.

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

1. Discovering that it had been so long since I’d written a blog post (or, indeed, even logged in to the site) that I’d irretrievably forgotten all of the necessary log-in information. While I found this both embarrassing and annoying, I’m trying to take some comfort that you have to be determined and smarter than me to figure out how to get Gmail to cough up a forgotten password. Anyway, the upshot is this shiny new place for what could have been here: http://reallycantstandstill.blogspot.com/

2. Heading to the mountains in search of some sun. It’s been cloudy for 27 days straight and we had a stretch right around Christmas when the high temperatures never got out of single digits. Luckily, we live right at the beginning of a big uptilt toward the mountains and somewhere between 15 minutes and 40 minutes (depending on the day and the direction) drive brings us above the clouds and into brilliant sunshine. The improvement in our moods is reason enough, but sightseeing is entertaining too.

Sun so bright we have to squint!

Sun so bright we have to squint!

The Letter B?

The Letter B? It was our best guess.

Sometimes we go to Aparan just for the bread!

Sometimes we go to Aparan just for the bread!

Cold clothes

Cold clothes

Descending into the fog

Descending into the fog

Back home in the fog

Back home in the fog

3. Finding love all around. (Once you start looking for hearts, you just can’t stop seeing them).

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    Heart!

    HeartShapedPotato
    Another heart!

4. Skiing. There’s barely enough snow and it definitely isn’t a luxe resort, but there’s sun and things to witness both scenic and amusing.

TsaghkadzorPano

Not so much snow but more than enough scenery

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You’re not really a hipster until you try skiing in leather boots

5. Running. Remember I said it was cold? Yep, sometimes I looked like this; I wouldn’t have been able to keep it up without these:

Smartwool Socks

Begone Frozen Feet!

And this sweet reward might have helped too:

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Christmas beer, Christmas tea

Alas, sometimes this happens:

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Whoopsies!

Sadly, tomorrow means back to work and back to routines, but I’m going to try to hang on to the last shreds of the holidays by focusing on the sparklies.

Christmas sparklies

Christmas sparklies