Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Remains Of The Days

I'm having trouble remembering what we did when and most of the real highlights have already been spelled out. I'll try to get the rest of it down here - may or may not be in order.

Friday: Cooking class. Attending a class with three other Americans. One couple had just returned from a two week tour of Turkey. Said it was amazing. They really, really enjoyed Cappadochia. I had really wanted to go there as well as Ephesis, but didn't want this to turn into another march across a country like the trip to Ireland did. Back to cooking class - it was a nice way to spend part of the day. More than cooking, I really enjoyed getting to hear about others experiences in Turkey, trading tips and getting some background information from the class leader. We made red lentil soup, stuffed grape leafs, stuffed, fried eggplant, cheese pastry cigar thingies, and dried figs stuffed with walnuts.

Pebbles and I really wanted to visit the Blue Mosque again, but it being Friday afternoon, that was inappropriate.

We had tried to visit the Carpet and Kilim Museum, but it was closed for renovation. The Süleymaniye Mosque was closed for renovation. It is said to be the most beautiful mosque in Istanbul. We couldn't find the mosiac museum.

We visited the Archeology Museum complex. Wow! If one were a student of archeology, the main museum would keep you enthralled for days. There was a lot, lot, lot of relics to see there. Also on the grounds was Museum of the Ancient Orient and the Museum of Turkish Ceramics. The ceramic museum was one of my favorites. It was a small display, but was housed in a gorgeous tiled structure. One of my favorite remembrances of this site isn't actually in the buildings at all. There is a space adjacent to the courtyard where many old relics are displayed upon pillars - statues without heads, heads without statues - just lined up in a walkable space underneath some majestic chestnut trees. Interspersed are modern pieces of sculpture. Why these antiquities are outside, I don't know. Could be that they have just so many and these are unnamed and blemished. But there is a refreshment stand there and a couple of tables, but being able to just walk through these things is this setting is pretty amazing.

We took the cruise up the Bospherus. The Bospherus Sea separates the Black Sea from the Marmara Sea, the Agean and eventually the Mediterranean. The trip is about twenty miles and the ferry makes about six stops and takes about an hour and a half. You can get off at any of the stops, but we chose to ride to the very end and spend three hours in Asia. We really didn't have an agenda, other than to grab some lunch, but we ended up following some other people up the hill to see the ruins of a castle at Andolu Kavagi. Obviously, we hadn't read the wiki entry or we wouldn't have accidently stumbled upon the military base. We stopped to take the pictures and all of a sudden, whistles started sounding. We looked back over our shoulders, and there was an armed guard, whistle in mouth, pointing to a HUGE sign that said "No photographs allowed". Luckily, they let us just move on and didn't take our cameras! Oh, and there is a picture of me enjoying a lovely fish lunch overlooking the village.

The Basilica Cistern was another thing that hadn't even made my list of things to see, but turned out to be amazing. Built by Justinian at about the same time as the Hagia Sophia, it is this huge underground water storage area supported by massive columns, over 300! I've never seen anything like it. Pebbles got one really cool shot, as they have certain rows of columns lit.

Istanbul University Incident: We were returning from our thwarted trip to the Süleymaniye Mosque (closed for renovation) and we routed ourselves back down through the campus of IU. The jury is still out as to whether this was some sort of scam - my gut says no - anyway, we were walking through campus and up ahead of us were two men in their twenties who were working as shoe shiners. They were talking to each other, not paying any attention to us, when one got up, packed up his stuff to leave. As he was leaving, one of his soft brushes feel out of the kit. Pebbles called after him and gave him back the brush. We continued walking. A few seconds later, he is in front of me, with his kit, trying to sit down on the stool thingy saying "It's a courtesy, It's a courtesy" - I kept saying no thank you, no thank you and kept walking. Personally, I think he was just trying to thank us (and perhaps secure a tip) - I don't think the whole dropping of the brush thing was an act. Anyway, I did not get my shoes shined, but hoped I didn't offend him.

We returned a couple more times to the new restaurant. The next visit had me in a discussion with the owner about anchovies, which were part of the cold dish mezzes, but not available as a hot dish main course. I'd always heard that fresh anchovies were very good and very different from the things we get in cans. He offered to have the chef fix fry me up some fresh ones. And I agreed. Holy moly - he brought out a large plate stacked with anchovies, heads and tails. I think there is a picture of them as well. Oh, note about some of the pictures - Pebbles posted these pictures to FB in no real particular order. Rather than wait until she actually gets me a complete set of her pictures which will happen NEVER, I just downloaded her pictures into the picasa album. I'm still working on integrating them into the appropriate time sequence, as best I can remember. But back to the fish. So I start to eat the fish with a knife and fork - the owner comes back by our table, laughs and tells me that anchovies are finger food and that I must eat them with my hands "to pick" he says. He promises to bring me a towel to clean. Then he asks me if I like chips. Yes, I tell him. Then he says I must eat the fish tails! They taste just like chips. And he breaks off a fried tail, pops it into his mouth to demonstrate. And so I follow suit. Pebbles is about to break out in a rash! She is laughing herself silly over this sight. We finish our delicious meal and order dessert and it is on this night that we discover the food of the gods - kanafeh. The best thing in the history of ever! We go back again the next night, even after late lunch at cooking school - we go in just for a Turkish coffee and a dessert!

Coming home wasn't nearly as smooth as the trip over. Security is much more stringent than we are used to. We went through three levels of security, with the final security check being done at each flight gate. We were also delayed in taking off, but made up the time on the long flight - upon which I did not sleep going home. Made for a long, long day, but that dear Bick met me at the airport with a Route 44 Diet Cherry Limeade and said that Texas had missed me.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Day Four, cont'd: Thoroughly Modern Istanbul

Pebbles and I began to settle into a comfortable routine. While there were some tense moments, the vast majority of our time together was wonderful. I understand how fortunate I am to get to spend this much time with my adult daughter. Our evenings were spent laughing and talking and listening to the daily calls to prayer and the nightly return of the Door Slammers. Every evening at pretty much the same time, the people staying across the hall from us would come home and begin to slam the door repeatedly. Not just four of five times, but more like ten or twelve. Evidently, the door had trouble closing and we all heard about it, complete with cursing in German! And because the walls were so thin, we tried to stifle our giggles, which as everyone knows, when try not to laugh, all you want to do is laugh. And laugh we did.

We also played about eleventy billion games of Word Jumble on her iPhone. We are both avid word-game lovers. Specifically, we both adore Boggle, but no one will play with us. So we dorked out while we were there. And it dawned on me very late in the stay, that if our neighbors could overhear us, they would think we were practicing our English, using some sort of flashcard system:


for an hour or so every night.

I also began to take my showers in the evening, which would allow me to get up and get out of the (small) room with as little disturbance to Pebbles as possible. I'd get up, get dressed (did I say I packed for this trip in a carry-on?) and go down to the breakfast area to drink coffee, read about our planned activities, take a few notes and have a leisurely breakfast. This allowed me to get up early, as is my wont and allowed her to sleep in for a while, as is hers. This would usually put me downstairs soon after 7am to find the chef and his staff having their own breakfast. I don't know that any of the kitchen staff actually spoke much English. It ended up being a curious thing - whenever I would come down (breakfast was from 7-10am) and the staff would be the only people in the dining area, the Turkish version of CNN would be on the television. As soon I as would come in, someone would get up and change the channel to PowerTurk - which is the Turkish version of MTV!! I never could figure out the reason, other than music is the international language?

It was interesting to watch the videos, however. I can't really make such a secular thing jive with the country being so Muslim. However, I did love that the stars of Turkish music videos were generally significantly older than their American counterparts, and were significantly rounder. These women were curvy, with that bellydancer body, if you know what I mean. Hips and a not-flat tummy. There was not a skeletal waif amongst the ones that I saw. Very interesting.

Oh, and speaking of the chef. At some point in our stay, he started cooking me an omelet each morning and would bring it to me at my table. Why? I don't know - being hospitable, I suppose. I didn't want an omelet and I didn't ask for an omelet. I was more than happy with the Turkish-style breakfast, but in order not of offend, I started eating omelets each morning. And while they were good, they were omelets just like I can get here. But he seemed to be so happy to do, I just thanked him and ate omelet :-)

So day four took us to the Dolmabahce Palace. This wasn't on my list originally, but when I met with BossMan's Arty Friends pre-trip, Jim said it was a "don't miss" for him. The Palace was built in the mid-19th century and became the home of the Ottoman rulers after they moved from the Topkapi Palace. Dolmabahce is much more European in style and looks like something one would see in London or Paris. In fact, many of the famous artifacts of the palace came from one of those places, including the bannisters made by Baccarat. Gorgeous place. The center Hall is amazing - the chandelier made of grey crystal is the largest in the world at four and one half TONS! It is massive. No pictures were allowed so the above are from wikipedia.

This was the one place where we waited in line for a long, long time to get in. The Dolmabahce does not allow self-tours, so we had to wait in line until one of their docents was available to lead an English-speaking tour. The tour lasted about 45 minutes and the facility really is something. Those people with tour groups were allowed immediate entry. I think we waited for almost two hours prior to getting in. It was worth it, but had I known better, I would have things differently. Also, there was a Harem tour available for this palace, which we took, but it was a waste of time. Our guide was not good and the Harem had fallen into disrepair. There was not a separate entry fee for the Harem, however.

This palace still is used for some state functions, including state dinners. President Obama attended a function here soon after taking office.

After spending a half day at the Domlabahce, we were ready to rest our feet (my shoes were AWESOME) and get something to eat, so we headed back to the modern museum. This Pebbles enjoyed. It was a lovely facilty - a converted warehouse right on the, and I do mean on, the Bospherus. Smaller cruise ships are literally docked right there. The deck offers what may be the best views in all of Istanbul. We sat out on the deck and had a leisurely lunch and a Turkish coffee. And then toured the art space. The museum is only five years old. I know nothing about modern/contemporary art but I did find it interesting to see so many female artists represented at what was primarily a venue for Turkish artists. I would venture the rate to be nearly 50%, which is not how it is here in the states for art, modern or otherwise. I don't know if the high rate of representation was by design, availability or what, but it did shatter some notions that I held.

After we closed down the modern, it came time to go back to The Grand Bazaar. Bick had made a special request for a qaraqul hat. So we were back to the market in search of said item. It took a while, but we did find one at a traditional arts shop. I tried it on - our heads are the same size and began the unpleasant task (for me) of bargaining to determine price. I ended up getting confused and paid about 5 TL more than I should have, but so it goes. Bick has his hat. Why he wanted one? I don't know. But he does now look very much like that other famous hat-wearing dude. He's got the perfect Halloween getup, should he choose to do that.

I don't think we actually ate dinner after our late, late lunch. I think there may have been a trip to the patisserie, but whose counting?

Day Four: A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing

The evening of day three was our scheduled trek to the Turkish bath. Pebbles wasn't at all excited about the prospect, but was willing, if not enthusiastic. I'd read enough reviews to know that we were not going to have the spa experience. This wasn't about that. This was having a bath in pretty much the same place and in pretty much the same way that it had been happening for hundreds of years. For that very reason, I chose the oldest bath still in operation (or at least that's what they say).

I enjoyed the experience, once we sort of figured out the logistics of all of it. While I can't say I was completely comfortable with the whole being topless thing, I got over that pretty quickly. The room has this huge, heated stone in the center. You just put your towel down towards the center of the huge stone and get steamed. There were maybe a ten to fifteen women there are one time? You are free to heat up, cool down - there are niches around the room with cool water to go to and cool off, or you can go into another room with a couple of soaking pools of varying levels of heat. When you are ready for your scrubbing, you move yourself (and your token depicting the level of service you've paid for) around the perimeter of the stone to get ready for your scrubbing. Pebbles opted for the self-bathing and did not get the loofahing and lathering from the (also topless) attendent. Again, I may have left a few more freckles after the treatment, but I enjoyed it. I didn't opt for the oil massage, as I didn't want to get oil in my hair and have to go through the trouble of washing it again. Again, I thought the experience was interesting, after overcoming our uncertainty about how it all worked. I was hoping to go back again and really sink in and wallow in the experience, but our schedule didn't allow.

Now to my favorite story of the whole trip and why we came to love the fact that we were staying a bit of the beaten path. So I think it was the first night of our stay and Pebbles wanted a kebap (restaurant avoider!). We head out in search of said kebap - and find a stand. Kebap vendor doesn't speak English, so gesturing happens and she gets her kebap. Actually, she gets two kepabs because the vendor assumes we both want one. No matter. She tastes it and pronounces it chicken. I taste it and pronounce it lamb. She disagrees. No biggie. Cut to a couple of evenings later and we are walking back home to our hotel past the same kebap shop. Parked sort of up on the sidewalk, next to the curb is a late model, black Hyundai car, with the driver leaning out talking to the vendor. As we walk by, Pebbles whispers to me to look in the car - and there in the front, on the passenger side of this sedan is a sheep! A sheep in a Hyundai in Istanbul! I stopped to take a picture, but Pebbles shooed me forward - she has no sense of adventure! I did tell her that she could be assured that the kebap she had the other night was, in fact, lamb! I did want to hurry up because if that sheep came out of the car, I didn't want to see that! We would crack ourselves up laughing everytime we saw a Hyundai! Sheep Hauler! Okay, so it's not really that funny - I guess you had to be there.

Running way late today. More later. Photo is of our street, with our hotel being on the right.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day Three: Got Your Nose

Quick! Don't think about elephants! So, what are you thinking about? Elephants. Such is the case with me. In my desire not to offend anyone in my host country, I'd looked up things not to do. I read the list and decided that I didn't use any of those gestures, so I was safe.

A bit of background and observation: Pebbles is pretty intimidated by Istanbul. My intrepid travel partner has turned out not to be so intrepid. Very, very surprising as she lived and studied in Italy and traveled through Europe pretty extensively at that time. She finds the men very intimidating. And there are a lot of them. I didn't find them intimidating, not nearly like I did the Italian men when visiting Italy, who could be both vocal and handsy. Not a lot of women, excepting tourists, out on the streets. All the shopkeepers are men. All the waiters are men. And as their cultural tradition, they stare perhaps more than we Westerners are accustomed to. And if we are close to a shop or a restaurant, they want us to spend our money there. I mean we are obviously Western (most pegged me as German, rather than American until I spoke) and are there on vacation which "means" we have money to spend and they want us to spend it with them, either on goods or services. The bottom line on this is that she refused (initially) to 1. return to the Grand Bazaar and 2. eat in an actual restaurant. The truth is, by the afternoon of day three, she was "done" with Istanbul and was looking at other places we could easily visit. Turns out this feeling faded and by the end she was wishing we had more time, but on day three, having to spend the rest of the week in Istanbul was a bit much for her. To her credit, she was giving this her best shot. She wasn't being whiny about it and she was really trying to make it a good experience for me, but she wasn't having a good time at that time.

I let the aversion to the Grand Bazaar last a bit, as it was an overwhelming experience when we went on the busiest day at the busiest time and it was our first exposure to Turkey. It was the first thing we did upon arrival. It was a bit too much to take in at that time. But I did want to eat at a restaurant, so I was firm with her and told her that I wanted to eat out, I didn't care where, and we could go where ever she felt most comfortable. What made her uncomfortable re: restaurants were the "barkers" outside - the men who would thrust a menu in front of you and insist that you come in to dine and wouldn't really take a "No, thank you" as an answer. But as I saw it, we weren't treated any differently than any other tourist.

So we headed out, rather tensely, I might add, to find a restaurant. We headed down the street from our hotel into the Kumpaki fishing village and found restaurant row - a beautifully lit roundabout, complete with a fish fountain with restaurants spoking off on every street. Dining al fresco, Turkish style. Pebbles speed walked us up and down the streets while I followed behind. She wasn't happy and I wasn't happy. After leading us past all of the many restaurants, all with "greeters", she just led us back to the hotel. It's probably a good thing, as in all of my tensing up, I had balled my hands into fists in the "got your nose" manner and thus, was flashing the "F.U" sign in Turkish. And I think at least one other time during the trip, in an attempt to communicate, I may have given the "thumbs up" sign - which here, means "good", and there, means, well, not nice things. Sheesh - this is what happens when hillbillies travel.

We ended up with more pistachio "happy" rolls for dinner that night, I think.

The morning of day three took us to Topcapi Palace, which was one of the highlights of the trip for me. There are really three areas to see at Topcapi - the Harem, the administration buildings and the museum-like displays. We had read the guidebooks and headed immediately for the Harem once inside the Palace gates. What a lucky break. We got to tour the Harem with a very sparse crowd. There were times where Pebbles and I would be the only ones in the room. Being alone in the space really allowed us to absorb (better) what we were seeing. We could take our time and discuss what we were seeing. It truly makes for a different experience. Yes, the harem was AMAZING, but I don't know that it would have affected us both that way had we been in the usual conga-line of people moving as a centipede through the sites. This insight is an important take-away from the trip. Throngs of people can really change the feel of an experience.

We took tons of pictures in and around the Harem. I really lack the words to adequately describe the grandeur, the tile work and the "foreign-ness" of the place - it was just so, well, intriguing. The pictures will have to tell the tale. The whole idea of Sultans and wives and concubines and eunichs. Definitely a trip highlight and we got it right. It was a rainy day, which kept the crowds down early and our trip was on a non-weekend. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. We spent hours on the Topcapi grounds, touring buildings and then trying to see some of the displays of amazing jewelry and weaponry, but the crowds had grown to big and it was really pretty impossible to get a good view. If I were planning this trip again, I might even move it back another week or so in October. After the weekend crowds died down a bit, it was certainly a less crowded experience - although the median age of the travelers shot up dramatically.

We headed back onto the main tourist drag, where Pebbles picked out a self-serve cafe for lunch. The food was quite good. I had roasted cauliflower and roasted chicken. She made the best choice of a fabulous moussaka, followed, of course, by more baklava. Discovered that our neighborhood sweet shop charged far less for their Turkish "delights" than did the main drag. And speaking of the traditional Turkish Delight, I tried some, but didn't much care for it.

We puttered around the main drag area and then headed back to the hotel. Pebbles is very fond of her afternoon nap. Actually, she is very fond of her husband. If we get back to the hotel early enough, she can Skype-talk (no video) over wifi with her husband, so we found ourselves back there most every afternoon, which was okay.

On evening three, we did have plans. I again requested a dinner out and she agreed to give it another go. I don't know if we would have had these issues had we stayed closer to the main tourist area. However, our location did turn out to be one of our favorite things as we settled in to Istanbul. Again, I said we could go to any restaurant of her choosing. So we headed out again and again we made the walk down through restaurant row. This time, however, I kept a smile on my face and my hands in my pockets. She turned us around and headed back towards the hotel, but this time she said she'd spotted a nice space a block or so back. So we hiked back up the hill a bit and walked into what was going to be one our loveliest memories of Turkey - this new restaurant space that had just opened that day. And I say space because the dining area - a mere 8 tables wasn't in a building. It was in an area between two buildings that had a floor and had a roof, still with holes for may possibly contain skylights one day that basically just covered the area. It had exposed brick on both sides and was dimly, but beautifully lit. Each table had candles and votives were stuck into any crevice in the exposed brick. Warm and lovely space. We walk in to get a table and the owner immediately apologizes - because of the rain earlier in the day and the holes in the roof, all the chairs are too wet to sit in - and asks us to wait. He goes somewhere else, next door, I guess, and brings back some dry chairs.

And we have our first traditional Turkish multi-course meal. The owner brings out a large wooden tray with lots of little dishes on it - probably ten or more - and explains about each one. This is the meza course. I chose spicy, roasted eggplant and Pebbles chose a purslane in garlicky yogurt. We shared, of course. For our main course, she chose the calamari and I had the shrimps in garlic butter. Again, we sampled each others. Her calamari was fabulous - some of the best we'd ever had. My shrimp was good, but in the face of the calamari, was average. Of course the meal was accompanied by, not the bread basket, but the bread barrel! Lots and lots of bread is served in Turkey, at every meal and it is some fine stuff. Ha, I just realized I covered the Harem in Topcapi Palace in about a paragraph and I'm rambling on and on about the food. Doesn't take an Einstein to figure out why I have a weight problem! ha.

Anyway, back to the menu. We ordered a Turkish coffee. While I don't love espresso, I loved Turkish coffee. My guess is they served it to us medium sweet. It was thick and had a good-dark-chocolate taste to it - that delicious combination of bitter and sweet. Again, served in beautiful little cups. And as a gratis treat, the restaurant brought us out their signature dessert and the owner wouldn't tell us what it was. "Just be surprised" he said. It turned out to be an indescribably pumpkin thing. It was pumpkin was cooked way down and then combined with sugar (cause the Turkish love their sweets) and cooked into almost a paste. It was served by the small scoop, had a walnut and some creme inside and was garnished with ground nuts. A yummy complement to the Turkish coffee. And this meal and this interaction sort of turned the tide for Pebbles. Talking about food and receiving such a lovely experience from the owner of this restaurant so close to our hotel caused her to feel much more comfortable. We ended up going back to this place three times, each time having a wonderful experience. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.

Still uploading/tagging photos here

Next up: Roxie gets (semi) naked.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Day Two: Attack of the Shower Serpent

Awoke about 8 am (thanks, A****). Turns out that A is the jet-lag prevention miracle. The flight from JFK is about ten hours. Our flight left about 5 pm. I got on the plane, had dinner, piddled around with the personal tv for a while, took an A and slept for almost 6 hours. I woke up two hours outside of Turkey and the airline was serving breakfast about a half hour later. I was able to go through that first day since I got a decent amount of sleep on the plane. I took another one the first night in Turkey and then I was fully on Turkish time (8 hours ahead of Texas).

So now it's the morning of Day 2. As I've said, our hotel was very serviceable - very clean, recently updated, nice linens, but small, as are most European hotels. The bathroom was also very European - tiled walls to the ceiling with a very, very small corner shower. Seriously small. As in to shave my legs (story of razor for another day), I had to do a really amazing yoga pose. But that is not the story.

I get into the shower and close the half-round doors. Think about this like going into a very small phone booth. I took the hand-held shower off it's high perch and turned on the water. Holy Sh*T (Sorry, Jack). That hose jumped out of my hand and began doing the twisty-twirly thing and soaked, and I do mean SOAKED the accoustical tile ceiling in the bathroom before I could get the stupid thing shut off. I finally get a death grip on the shower and try it again. Oh, okay.

So I'm love, love loving this water pressure. I think I actually blew off a freckle or two. I'm showering and rinsing and I look down and notice that I'm ankle deep in water! And it's flowing out of the shower and on to the floor! Oh, hell's bells. There is a drain in the corner of the shower and it has a PLUG in it. Who the hell puts a drain plug into the bottom of a shower? So now, I've got water pouring all over the floor. I manage to sloosh around the floor and pull the plug, but I've turned the floor into a wading pool. Luckily for me, there is a drain in the actual floor of the bathroom. But the funniest thing of all was when I came out of the bathroom and told Pebbles. We looked back at the bathroom door and there was still water dripping off the top of the door jamb! I anxiously awaited the hotel to give me a bill for that little fiasco. Luckily, everything dried out. And from the looks of the pictures, I can see that it's not the first time that the ceiling had been wet!

Our hotel serves a Turkish breakfast as part of the deal. I wasn't expecting much, but it turned out to be wonderful. All kinds of breads (they had me at bread!), fabulous yogurt - think the best Greek yogurt you've ever had and then times it by about three, some fruit, raisins, etc. Plus coffee, tea and some really nasty orange drink (think Tang for all you oldsters). But the traditional breakfast really is tomatoes, cucumbers, olives on bread for breakfast. Totally, totally yummy.

Disclaimer: I'm trying to get this all down while I can still remember and it's still fresh(ish). I have some of the names of places misspelled, I know. I'll come back and correct when I have time. I'm battling against time and a feeble memory.

Turkey is about 99% Muslim and one of the tenets of that faith is cleanliness and good grooming. Most every one we saw was very well groomed, pressed, starched, and shined. And that included even the most average restaurant - including the breakfast room at our hotel. Sharply dressed waiters, beautifully laid table and attentive service, which at a buffet, turned out to be a different experience. Plates were whisked away the second one was finished with them. It took a while to get used to that.

So we are off on first adventure. It's Sunday morning and we make the trek up the hill and over to the Sultanhumet area, with the Blue Mosque as our first stop. On our way we walk through this big park which during the Roman rule, contained the Hippodrome - complete with some of the original Egyptian obelisks. And the Istanbul Marathon was being held! Amazing. There were crowds of people to watch the runners finish - we were there when the half was coming down the ancient hippodrome track and finishing, all the while the big tv screens were showing the progress of the lead marathon runners. Pretty amazing and fun thing to just stumble into the middle of. I thought about all my running friends back here. I ended up meeting some people at our hotel who came in from the north of England to run the race. They pick an out-of-country marathon each year, go run the race and then visit the country for a week or so.

On the to Blue Mosque. It's so named for the beautiful, primarily blue tiles that are used to decorate it's interior. The Islamic faith doesn't allow for portraiture of any kind in their places of worship, so decoration was done with tiles, rather than the traditional iconotry that most of us are familiar with. The interior of the mosque was breathtaking. It's difficult to show the scale in photos. Turkey, while being overwhelmingly Muslim, is lenient in that they allow non-Muslims to visit their mosques, but request that the women cover their heads and shoulders, if bare. It's written in all the guide books and even written on placards outside the entrances to the mosques. I was stunned at the number of women who failed to show this courtesy. Anyway, Pebbles and I removed our shoes, covered our heads with the scarves we brought for just this purpose and went in. Gorgeous and vast. This particular mosque is the only one (if I remember correctly) outside of Meccca to have six minirets. The lights are very interesting - while they are electric now, I can't even imagine how beautiful it must have been when they were candles. Unfortunately, my little camera doesn't take the best pictures. Pebbles' takes much better photos, but it will be a cold day in hell before I get a copy of her vacation pictures! ha! So, we'll just have to make due with the fuzzy, dark shots I took. Just trust me when I tell you it's an amazing sight to see. I must confess to one disrespectful thing that I did out of ignorance. It is also requested (in a guidebook that I later read) not to include any active worshippers in photographs inside the mosques. I accidently got a picture with some men in prayer at the front of the mosque. There is a cordoned off area behind which visitors are asked to stay. Those coming to the mosque to pray obviously go to the front of the mosque, facing Mecca, for their prayers.

Next stop was just across the way - the Hagia Sophia. This was originally a church built by the Roman Justinian around 540 AD. It stood as the largest such place in the world until Saint Peter's in Rome was built some eleven hundred years later. At some point during another takeover in Constantinople/Istanbul's amazing history, it became a mosque and the traditional iconography was plastered and painted over. Now it functions as a museum. It, too, is amazing - especially considering how old it is. It is in the process of being restored, as are a lot of things in Istanbul. When one considers the vast amount of world history that took place at this very strategic point, there's a lot of stuff to be seen.

All of this brings up what became very obvious to me during this trip - my ignorance. I have a graduate degree, an MBA, and yet after coming to this place, with it's long, long history, I didn't have enough of a grasp on world history/civilizations to have a framework upon which to hang the facts. I might as well have gone to trade school. While I had a pop-up map of the city to use to get around, what I really needed was a pop-up map of the world during each of the main eras of domination - Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman - and what they ruled and when. I SHOULD have read fewer guidebooks and more history books. I'm trying to remedy that now. Without the historical framework to use to categorize information, the sites and facts just become a jumble.

Still uploading/tagging photos here

Monday, October 25, 2010

Day One: The Grand Adventure Begins

Day One. Arrived at approximately 10:30 am. Found our way through the airport to the Metro. Rode it to the transfer station and switched to the tram. Got to our hotel at about 1pm. It was a small, but very clean and nice hotel. Typically European in appointments. Not luxurious by any means, but had comfortable beds, nice linens and a very good staff.

First stop - The Grand Bazaar. Pebbles hated every second of it. There was a crush of people and lots and lots of vendors hawking their wares. The Bazaar is around 3 million square feet, all totaled. It really was an overwhelming experience. We took a quick exit and headed to the water front. Right away, we fulfilled one of my wishes - the fisherman's lunch at the Galata Bridge. Fish are caught right there in the Bospherous Sea, grilled up and served on the wonderful, wonderful Turkish bread. Four Turkish lira for this sandwich for two. We then walked across the Bridge, over the Golden Horn and headed for the "new city" - Taksim. We took an immediate left after crossing the bridge and ended up in an amazing open air fresh fish market. Also encountered a rather impromptu "restaurant row" set up on the waterfront. We didn't know it at the time, but impromptu coffee (kaveh) and tea houses (chi) would spring up whenever the weather was clear and there was space on a street or under a tree. We took the Funicular (one of the oldest in the world) up the steep hill to the main avenue. Took a dodge and ran into one of the impromptu tea houses. We had a seat on a little bitty stool (Ottoman) at a little bitty table and pretty soon a waiter came from somewhere to take our order. Turns out we are not very good at sipping tea or coffee, for that mattter. We are more gulpers! Ended up drinking two cups each. Amazing tea.

Tea is the most popular drink and it is taken very seriously and served in a petite tulip-styled glass (no handle) seated in a small saucer - all on a large silver(ish) tray. We would see tea being carried through the streets on these trays all throughout our stay. It was so cool to see no disposable cups - all tea was served this way. Even in the working class neighborhood where our hotel was located. I guess tea houses/restaurants had a routine stop in the shoe shops during tea time. There seemed to always be a man delivering silver trays of tea on every street we went on.

Continued up the avenue to Taksim Square where we encountered some soft of flag-waving protest. I can't read Turkish, so I don't know what was being protested, but I do know that seeing so much of the police force decked out in full riot gear was a little disconcerting. I didn't however, see that they were armed. There was also an agricultural products of Turkey exhibit set up adjacent to the Square - think the Texas food and fiber exhibit at the Texas State Fair. Took the modern funicular down the side back to the tram.

Istanbul is a hilly, hilly city - bent knees, lean into the grade, steep. Our hotel was near the bottom of a steep, steep hill. Men were doing all they could to keep their handcarts full of shoe-making supplies from rolling down the hill into the Sea. We finally learned to cut the trip up in half - we'd go halfway up, traverse a side-street over one block, catch our breath (mostly Pebbles) and then hike up the rest of the way. We ended up taking the tourist tram from one end to the other. That proved to be beneficial, as we'd now got the lay of the land, so to speak. However, the old city was very compact and very walkable. Ninety percent of what we wanted to see was within twenty minutes of our hotel.

We returned to our hotel at about 6:30 pm, exhausted. We took a nap and were awakened by the after sundown call-to-prayer. Turns out, our hotel is within spitting distance of four mosques, so we heard the calls sort of in stereo. It was pretty awesome. Got up in search of food. For the life of me, I cannot remember what we ate that first evening. I do know that it didn't take us very long to find the local baklava/pastry shop. And since we were out of the main tourist area, the clerk didn't speak English, but we managed to get our sweet on by pointing. Funny story - they had several varieties of baklava. We had managed to convey that we wanted 6 pieces (yea, I know - but there were HILLS!) when Pebbles made a comment about wanted the baklava with the pistachio on top (ground, green looking nuts on top - or so we thought). The clerk stopped getting THAT baklava and gave us six green roll looking things. Rather than try to gesture our way out of that, we just took what he gave us - something made of pistachios. Turns out, these "happy rolls" as we came to call them were beyong spectacular! Yummy. And yea, we went back a few evenings for a little something. That is until we ordered the best dessert in the history of ever a few nights later.

Still uploading/tagging photos here

Exhausted and Exhilarated

I'm home and still in information overload. I will post trip report and pictures as I can get a handle on it all. Over 1000 pictures taken. In the old days, I'd set up the Bell and Howell projector and have everyone over for stuffed grape leaves and baklava. These days, when I can get the pictures all off-loaded, I'll send a link and you'll have to supply your own coffee and dessert.

Take good care of yourself. Be kind to others. Why, yes, I'd love dessert.

140.5 - who is suffering a definite case of baklava butt and regrets it not one whit!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hold On Loosely

Yesterday was an exercise in tension. While visiting my bank to deposit a check and let them know I would be out of the country for a bit, I heard the unnerving news that the bank didn't allow ATM transactions from my destination. Oh Shit. With the added bonus - Pebbles and I bank at the same place. If I don't want to get taken to the cleaners at the airport exchange areas, I'm going to have to make a run to an exchange office in Dallas today. And carry ALL our trip cash with us. And before traveler's checks are suggested, they are not particularly easy to cash these days. That would be like taking three chickens and a goat in exchange for a cab ride. So anyway, this really threw a wrench into the works. I think I have a plan in place, as does Pebbles. She's opening up another account with a different banking system all together, with the assurances that all will be okay. I did get a call later in the day from my bank saying that there may be something that they can do, but they've never done it and have no way to test it, etc. I said go ahead and try it and I will be the test case. I was ready to pull 30 years of business if they hadn't tried to do something. While I understand that fraud is an issue, "protecting" me by not allowing access to my money isn't a service and don't tell me it is. I've got plenty of other protections. Cutting off access is protecting THEM. So anyway, I am grateful, grateful, grateful that I decided to handle this yesterday rather than today, as it will take a while for the TL to get here from New Jersey. Of course, that could fall through, too. The courier is supposed to arrive in North Dallas on Thursday afternoon. We leave Friday morning. Of course, the airport is still an option, but you just get killed with the exchange rate and fees. Lesson: talk to your financial institutions EARLY before any international travel. So couple that with another request from The Family for some additional financial entanglements, and I had a helluva day.

So it was more than time for a little doodle in the park with Cha-Cha. Turns out, I'd been grabbing aholt of poor Cha-Cha like I was Bill Pickett - putting her into a bulldogging hold, elbows akimbo, and away we would go. I was so tense and coiled, concentrating only on wringing out miles. No wonder I'd started hurting. So last night's ride was all about being loosey-goosey. Keeping good posture, keeping my shoulders out of my ears, keeping my back flat and supported and not having a death grip on everything. I constantly repositioned myself, trying to find the most comfortable spot and if I found myself contracting, I'd tell myself to Hold on Loosely. And I just played in the park. Not looking for speed or mileage, but just fun and sun and some mind-and-stress-clearing relaxation. And Clementine Peddleford came through.

Sleep Report: No discernible NS, although I didn't sleep as long as I would have wished.

I got to make the armored car run this morning, so no lunch workout for me. But I think I'll try to hang loose with Cha-Cha again this evening.

Take good care of yourself. Be kind to others. Hold On Loosely.


photo credit espn canada

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Perfect Posture

My posture sucks. It always has. And I think my bad posture, coupled with a weaker-than-it-should-be core are the culprits in my neck and shoulder pain when riding Cha-Cha. I made a conscious decision a couple of years ago to get my shoulders out of my ears and I've been pretty successful with that. However, I spend my days at a desk and I think I will spend my dottage sort of bent over, complete with the dowager hump. Not a pretty picture.

So it's time to do some work on strengthening my core so that everything just doesn't collapse into my shoulders when I'm cycling. Plus, I do think I need to raise my seat just a smidge. I'm not as much on the ball of my foot as I'd like to be. I spent some time on last night's ride analyzing what all was amiss. I think I need a realignment, for sure.

So sleep results - last night's sleep wasn't as solid as it was the night before. While I did wake up several times, I didn't notice any NS. So perhaps it is movement in the right direction. My body isn't dealing well with the additional carbs, even though they are "good" carbs. It's as though I have swelled. Oh well.

I'm taking my sister to lunch today, so no lunchtime workout for me. I'll try to get in a bit of a bike ride this evening, as this fall weather is pretty spectacular. While I do have some other errands to run, I'll wait until dark to do those.

Take good care of yourself. Be kind to others. Stand up straight.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Slumber Party

My personal belief is that getting the right amount of sleep is the foundation of good physical and emotional health. It is the thing that I struggle with the most. Everything for me, it seems, manifests itself in sleep disturbances. I will say that I am much, much, better than I have been in years - but I am still far from good. And while I have an Rx for the leading prescribed sleep-inducer, A*****, I do not like to take it.

So I am performing yet another experiment on me. My symptoms are well-documented here, with the main culprit being night sweats that wake me up. Last week I read somewhere that one of the outcomes of a higher-protein diet is shorter sleep cycle and a tendency to have night sweats. Bingo! While I've talked to my doctor about it, he seems to tie to it perimenopause and just takes a look at my hormone levels -which in the past have remained in the normal range. I've tried eating an apple at bedtime, which wasn't much help. I think the GI was too high. Last night I tried something different - 150 calories of steel cut oats at bedtime. I woke up for the first time at about 4am, looked at the clock and went right back to sleep within a few minutes. I woke up naturally at 6:30 feeling refreshed.

So for the time being, I'm following the night time ritual that I'd wiki'd up a week or so ago. I'm using deep breathing, cooler ambient temperature in the bedroom, aromatherapy, plus I'm now going to add a small meal of something with a "slow burn" at bedtime. It flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but if it works, I'll take it.

Saturday's ride was 40.3 miles. Upon my return, I need to go in for a professional fitting. My neck and shoulders were killing me on Saturday. I had to stop twice on the way home just to stretch. There must be something about my position on the bike for long periods of time that is causing this. According to my reading, my handlebars are probably too low and I know that I am locking my arms. Whatever it is, it was darned painful.

I am planning a ride this evening, if it doesn't rain. I'll have to hit the gym if it does, as I am planning on taking my sister to lunch today.

Take good care of yourself. Be kind to others. Sleep.



Friday, October 8, 2010

Walk A Mile In My Shoes

This afternoon I bought my fourth pair of traveling shoes. The first pair just didn't turn out to be as supportive as I wanted them to be. They are a pair of Skechers - sort of an athletic shoe but with a fashionable bend. The next two pair went back - well, actually one pair is on it's way back. I'll never buy shoes over the internet again, except possibly at Zappos. That little experiment cost me $15.00 in here and there shipping. The shoes were billed as light traveling shoes and were highly rated, but felt like wearing hard plastic on my feet. Not comfy at all. The last pair were a pair of pink Land's End soft of sport-athletic-fashion shoes in pink, but they turned out to be too small. Pebbles is going to try them on before they go back. A friend told me I could return them to Sears. If I have to pay shipping back on them, I will be unhappy. Tonight's purchase is a pair of Borns - Mary Jane style. On sale, with a coupon, at DSW. TTL $24.00. I will wear them every minute of every day from now til next Friday to see if they are going to blister me up. I remain hopeful. I've got the Skechers as backup.

Continuing the shoe theme, the above pictured shoes are the one's I received for my birthday from my Mom. This time they came with a gift receipt, so they went back to the store as a credit on her account. There just aren't enough scenarios in this fifty-year olds life that call for 5 in heeled hot pink patent leather shoes with zippers up the back. "But you are so thin" she says. "But I'm still fifty" says me. Just a bit too "Snookie" for me.

In other news, I'm packed. In a rolling backpack carry-on. For seven days. We are trying to go as light as possible. We'll see how this works. I've never, ever packed this early. It may be a brilliant strategy or it may backfire, who knows.

Bick is just leaving Sadie at home tomorrow, so I'll get up and ride in the morning and then head up there in the early afternoon. It will be just like a regular work day for her, so that's good. It will save him time in dropping her off and I still get to do what I want for a good part of the day.

Take good care of yourself. Be kind to others. Travel is good for the soul.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Plan Nine From Outer Space

So it's on to Plan B. I sent out an email blast/Facebook query yesterday asking for recommendations and so far, I've got about nine names. So I have a good start on the information gathering part of this. Actually scheduling visits for bids will have to wait as I do not have the time to handle this right now - because, OMG - I'm leaving for Istanbul in ONE WEEK! I've got enough to say grace over right now and I don't want the run up to the trip of a lifetime to be anymore stressful than it has to be.

My new strategy to reduce anxiety and stress over this is to reframe this as a problem to be solved, not a crisis. If I view it this way, I have much more "power" in this situation and it becomes less antagonistic. Again, I just wish all of this was cut and dried and transparent! I do not like situations where I feel like I am at the complete mercy of someone else who is out to be underhanded. It feels very much like buying a car and longtime readers will know how well I deal with that! So I'm trying to look at this from a different perspective and have faith that the right option/decision will make itself available. Things have worked out so far.

I didn't go for a bike ride last night. I was just too tired. I tried to give myself the "20 minute" pep talk (as in, just go for 20 minutes and then you can come home), but I wasn't buying it, apparently. So much for my need for more exercise - I did go to the gym yesterday, but it wasn't much of a workout. Today is restorative yoga and I've got a meeting tonight. Friday and Sunday are my traditional rest days, but I may shake that up a bit this week, due to Bick.

Bick's mom, 87, fell and broke her patella. She had surgery to wire it back together and is now in a rehab facility. She seems to be doing as well as can be expected physically, but mentally and emotionally, she is not. During our last visit down there, I got the sense that she is "done". Bick and Sandy are going down to visit this weekend and I may be keeping the dog. SadieLu gets anxious at my place when left alone and I hate to do that to her, so my exercise this weekend will be built around her needs. She's a grand old dame of twelve and she deserves to be comfortable. So we'll see how all that works out.

Take good care of yourself. Be kind to others. It's all in how you look at it.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Building Confidence

Great yoga class yesterday. I ended up sweating like crazy and it wasn’t even Bikram! I don't know why I choose to miss class. I always love the way I feel after practice. Today’s activity should be some upper body weight work, but I haven’t found a way to do that that I like, so it may just be some easy treadmill or elliptical work, as I want to save my legs for an after-work ride.

Turns out when I put pencil to paper and compared the bid I received with a bid my coworker received from the same contractor, there were issues that may not be the fault of the insurance coverage. He bid her cabinets at $95 a linear foot and bid mine at $200 lf for the same paint-grade cabinets. When I called to ask him if it was a mistake, he gave me all sorts of reasons about how it was justified, etc. His bid to her was right in line with what her insurance covered and right in line with what my insurance covered - so three of the four data points are in agreement. He said that he’s changed suppliers, etc. I am grateful to have these issues now, while no money has changed hands. So much for my initial impression! Oh, and he said he wouldn’t take the job and install cabinets purchased elsewhere. Pebbles also told me he was charging me double and she has experience dealing with cabinet makers for her high-end jobs. She also told me to just get the repairs done and we (who the heck is we??) could level in the cabinets. Sometimes I think she might be a bit delusional ;-). I’m looking for a much more turn-key solution as I really don’t want to be the GC on this project. But if I have to break this down, I guess I will. I am much more concerned about finding someone to repair the floor/sub-floor issues. First things first.

I am back to seeking more contractors for more bids and it may turn out that I have to go with option one and I certainly didn’t burn any bridges there. I will just continue to gather information and trust that the right move will make itself obvious. I may have to go back to the insurance company, but right now, more info is required. I’ve got a couple of leads from a newspaper ad, but I much prefer personal recommendations.

So here we are….I feel much better about things, as I sat down with my insurance info, my bid, coworker’s insurance info and her bid and I have some idea as to where this should come in. I looked at my “while we are at it’s” and put a cost on them. I just like things to be transparent and they never are. Looks like I had some expectations that things would go smoothly and they didn’t. Where my fear always comes in is BEFORE tackling something. I’ll let the envelope of DOOM sit around and cause me all sorts of anxiety and fear BEFORE ripping the thing open and facing whatever is inside head-on.

So it’s time to beat the bushes and drum up more names/recommendations for contractors. Angie’s List has proved to be very unhelpful. Any other ideas?

Take good care of yourself. Be kind to others. Build your confidence.


Photo credit:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The September Issue

I realized I had not done a wrap up of September. It is still my goal to put together a multi-strand necklace with a single small bead for each tracking event, plus a larger bead for more significant events. One of these days I will get to the bead store to pick them out, but right now, I'm pretty darned busy. I got myself a bit overscheduled which has kept me off of the bus and in the car, which is not how I like it. Today is another car day, as I have errands to run after work.

So the whole sleep thing was a fail last night. Lots to do and a bit of worry thrown in - the contractor bid came in yesterday for the repair of the water damage, significantly higher than what I'd hoped. Right now I am dealing with fear and avoidance over the whole issue. What I should be doing instead of writing this entry is to sit down with a pencil and paper and figure out where I actually stand. I did succumb to the "while we are at it" scenario on a couple of issues and so I need to separate those from the initial bid. Plus, and this is what causes me such fear (of what? - it's not like the insurance company is going to cut me up into little bitty pieces and eat me), I need to go back to them and negotiate for more $$ on what they should be covering. I need to figure out where this specific fear is coming from.

So back to September. Here goes:

Scale numbers:

Beginning weight: 140.5
Ending weight: 137
Weight range for the month: 142.5 - 137

Logging numbers:

Logged my food for 25 days. Exercised for 14 days. Logged my weight for 21 days.

Total small beads for September: 60. I don't recall any "large bead" events or achievements in the month.

Boy, I didn't realize how much I'd let the exercise slide and it's getting to be a habit. While I did go for a nice ride last night, I did let my lunchtime workout go, as I was buried at work. The problem with this is that sliding becomes a habit and with the change of the seasons, my lunchtime workouts are apt to become my only weekday sessions. It's time to nip that one in the bud. I think today is yoga. It's time to hit the mat with some consistency.

And speaking of last night's ride - OMG the bugs! Gnats or nooseeums or whatever - big swarming clouds of the things. I forgot my sunglasses and it was miserable. I rode with my head sort of downish in order to keep the suckers out of my eyes, mostly. I don't know how many of them I inhaled or swallowed. Unpleasant to say the least. And I had a helluva time tracking the extra calories - has an exercise category for Running to the Outhouse, but nothing for the protein count of ingesting nastyass bugs. Ptooey!

Take good care of yourself. Be kind to others. Keep Count.


Monday, October 4, 2010

A Brand New Ending

Celebrations, albeit personal and understated, are over. What a lovely weekend it was. The fair was wonderful. My Saturday bike ride was wonderful (more on that later) dinner out was good and fun, and the car show was a blast.

I read on another blog today something along these lines - we don't get to go back and get a brand new start but we do have the opportunity each day to create a brand new ending. I'm loving my brand new ending! I am grateful for every pebble, (ha!), speed bump and obstacle in the road that nudged me off of the course I was on. Many of us only change at the rate of pain and now I can see that it took what it took to get my attention. I remain hopeful that I can make the next lessons less extreme :-)

Saturday's ride was wonderful. I reached the end of the lake riding area - there and back logged in at 44.3 miles, so I got in my 40! What I did discover is that I only have about 35 miles of fitness in me, as the lake ride is much more hilly than I am used to. I did the proper hydration and nutrition (I think), but the last ten miles my quads were aquiver. I actually recovered pretty quickly and didn't hurt, so that was good. I'd have hated to take a scooter to the car show.

And speaking of that, my actual 50th birthday was on Sunday. Bick and I were walking around looking at cars, arguing the design merits of the Studebaker - I think they (some models - certainly not all) are a design marvel, he thinks they are ugly as sin - and there, riding a scooter past us is a man I dated back in 83-84. Granted he was older than me by a goodly margin, but it was strange to see him on a scooter. Whatever disability had befallen him, it wasn't obvious. I didn't speak - no need to dig up those old bones, but it was a little unnerving to see. I hope whatever it is is temporary.

I'm having a bit of success with my new sleep practices. The aromatherapy is helping as I'm already conditioned to relax and fall asleep to the scent of lavender. In my restorative yoga class, we can get a shot of scent on our hand towels and then drape them over our faces during savasana, so my body is used to lavender as a relaxation cue. I'm still waking up once a night, but have been able to fall back asleep rather quickly for the last three nights.

My caffeine consumption is still way down. I cut off all drink-related caffeine at noon and that has helped as well.

Take good care of yourself. Be kind to others. Rewrite your ending.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Baby Got Back

No, not there. Back, real back. A couple of years ago, I saw this woman at the county fair. I was sort of enchanted by the look of her, especially her back. She had this great back. She wasn't "skinny", she was just fit, toned, healthy and natural looking and it showed through her upper back, arms and shoulders. I wanted that for myself. I have carried around that vision of her, both physically and seemingly mentally, as where I wanted to be. She seemed just so comfortable in her own skin - she had a presence to her that really spoke to me. I have carried around that picture, that physical manifestation of what I wanted for me, for the last couple of years. When I would think about what I wanted out of this journey, it was that mental image that would always come to mind. And as I was getting ready for my own trip to the fair yesterday, I caught sight of my own back in the mirror. Baby got back.

I write about this to remind myself of the positive powers of visualization. The same powerful brain that we trained/wired (I believe) to be disordered about food can be harnessed and used for good. Visualization and affirmations are just a couple of ways techniques that are powerful tools of suggestion. I've used visualization years ago when I was showing horses. Running through my mind the pattern I needed to complete, how the horse's movement would feel so that I could time my request for the next maneuver, etc. And now I'm going to use another mind over matter - power of suggestion - you are what you think "self-hypnosis" BESTME technique to focus on my sleep issues.

I believe that I can train my brain and my body to sleep soundly for eight hours. I've done what I can to deal with the physical and environmental factors, so now it's time to address my brain's part in all the insomnia. I've cut out caffeine after noon. So I usually end up with a cup of coffee in the mornings, followed by two Diet Cokes. Or visa versa - so my caffeine intake has been drastically cut back. Last night, at 3am, I also started using aromatherapy to assist with the sleeping. I remain hopeful.

So the art gallery opening was fun and interesting. It wasn't the kind of art that spoke to me, but it was a new experience hearing the artist talk about her inspirations, her technique and what she was hoping to convey in each piece. The dinner was quite nice as well. Bossman's friends are a lovely couple who have traveled the world. They just returned from two weeks in Russia. That being said, their mode and method of travel differs greatly from mine, so the very pedestrian questions that I had went unanswered. I like a very on-the-ground travel experience. I like to feel like I actually live wherever I am going. I want to shop in grocery stores and take public transportation and dine where and how the "regular" people who actually live there eat. So those things I will just have to find out for myself. It will be part of the adventure.

Yesterday was a wonderful day. My Mom did cancel at the last minute and I hate that, but it was her choice. She felt like she couldn't keep up with us, but we had already made provisions for many stops and rests, etc. I will try to come up with an alternate activity for us, as I understand things are pretty rocky in The Family. Seems like there's been yet another high-drama familial explosion. The worst one ever, from the sounds of it. I hate that it happened, but perhaps it will part of the light that shines on path for my sister to make some different choices for herself.

Pebbles prepared nice pre-fair snacks so that we weren't just starving upon arrival. The weather yesterday was spectacular and we walked around the fair for hours. My favorite part turned out to be a surprise and I wouldn't have gone, except that Pebbles insisted. The children's barnyard/petting zoo area was just delightful. We spent a long time there. Slater had never been to a state fair, so he was quite taken by all that was there. Oh, and while I have always admired Earl Campbell, I don't so much admire him in butter. That was this year's butter sculpture - a larger than life 3-d model of The Tyler Rose, made of butter.

And speaking of made-of-butter, fair food. The four of us sampled two of the deep-fried things - deep fried s'mores and deep friend peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwiches. I wanted to taste them and I am glad I did. I did have some ice cream as well. All in all, a beautiful day at the fair.

So that brings me to today. I am about ready to take off for my bike run today. I am envisioning a 40 today. Oh, and since it's 7:20, I'm sending good running thoughts to Shelley, who is about ready to start her race. Go Shelley! I've got my hydration covered and I've got a snack for the road. I think I need one more bottle of water and I'll be good to go. Today I will make my forty. I will take appropriate rest and fuel stops. It will be awesome!

After my ride, I think I'll treat myself to a mani/pedi and then head up to Bick's. We have dinner plans for someplace I've always wanted to try. I'll report back later.

Take good care of yourself. Be kind to others. Create a vision.