Friday, May 24, 2013

Turning 30 Wasn't So Bad

As I mentioned earlier this month, we had a whole festival planned to celebrate 30 years of my life on this earth.   The Yeti Run was fantastic.  Update on the rest:

Flying Fish was tasty.  

YAY for dinner with good company and good wine AND a Happy Birthday pin
BOO for the special NOT being Surf and Surf with rock shrimp -and- for the kitchen goofing up our order.  ML and Michael's dishes were a bit dry.  I think the chefs messed up my scallops so their plates had to wait. 
YAY for the palate cleansing sorbet we got after the appetizers, while we waited for the main event.
YAY for my free dessert.   It was peanut butter and jelly creme brulee.

As a general rule, creme brulee does not excite me too much.  But this was peanut butter and jelly creme brulee so what could go wrong?   Even more exciting was the pipet of melted chocolate I got to drizzle on top.   It was a cute presentation but the execution left something to be desired.

After dinner we headed back home where ML had a peanut butter PIE waiting.  Y'all.  Two peanut butter desserts in a matter of hours.  I was definitely not seeing why 30 was bad.  

The pie was DELISH but I had a bit of trouble getting the first piece out.   Dessert plating FAIL.   

I ate it anyway.  It tasted great.   I said to Michael once I had set scooped it onto my plate "I did OK!" which for some reason cracked him up.

Wednesday May 8 I took the day off work and we headed to….. SPACE MOUNTAIN.    What can I say I am a kid at heart.      I even got the front seat of the rocket.  Life is good.  After just a couple rides, we were hungry so we shared a cinnamon role - which was the size of my face - and a "LeFou's Brew" which is basically frozen apple juice with liquid marshmallow fluff on top.   It seems like a Marissa drink for sure with the marshmallow!

Michael and I were in "Gaston's Tavern" and sadly you can only see glimpses of the fantastically themed antler decor as well as a portrait of him above the fireplace.  Hilarious.

We rode the "Mountain Trifecta" which is my nerdy way of lumping together Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain.   Big Thunder is my favorite so we did that twice . Dare I say it was a "Mountain Superfecta"?

One can only spend so many hours in the beloved Magic Kingdom, so we high tailed it over to the Polynesia via monorail.  Highly recommended.  Full service restaurants and alcohol await at the resorts!  The Kona Cafe is a favorite lunch option and they even brought me a cupcake - how nice

After lunch we hopped back on the monorail to rent a boat and doodle around in the lagoon in front of Magic Kingdom and also the lake to the east of the park.  Michael and I have been to Magic Kingdom countless times and have ridden the park's Staten Island style ferry frequently, but had never driven our own boat around.  The big guys have the right of way, but being in a small water craft allows you to see the area in a new way.   New experience for US at Disney World?  You bet!   We encountered a fellow Tribe fan, too!  A deck hand?  Sailor?   I don't know his official title, but he said "I love your hat by the way"  as I walked toward our boat.  The hat is an old spring training hat that doesn't even have Chief Wahoo on it - this guy is a super fan.   I make friends everywhere I go- but I am nothing compared to my mother.

They told us not to take pictures while we were out on the water, but Michael was driving so I snapped away!   I made him nervous.  
"Jules you are not supposed to take pictures"  
"What difference does it make?  You're driving"  
"The boat rangers are going to see you"  
"I look innocent.  They can't see a camera from far away.  Anyway, if they notice, I'll just say I thought that rule applied to drivers.  Easier to ask forgiveness than permission!"

The boat ride was super fun, and I have covertly taken photos to prove it!   

Magic Kingdom from the water!  The green awnings are boat docks, and the steel beam is the monorail track

Ferry boat, with Space Mountain behind it

What remains of River Country, an old school "Swimming Hole" that closed in 2001.  
I would love to be able to see this up close.

We would love to do a boat ride again, any time!  

Since the only thing better than one new Disney experience is two, we headed over to Downtown Disney to redeem a Groupon for the tethered hot air balloon ride.  

I do love a deal.  It was essentially buy 1 get 1 free and offered us a unique view of our stomping grounds.  

After heading home for dinner, we ate some cake.   (Oliver, our large tabby, is in the window, oblivious to the goings on)

Seriously this thing is a monster.   No peanut butter, but I was ok with it.  This is a Chocolate Zuccotto cake, which includes an Amaretto soaked cake, which is filled with both chocolate and vanilla mousse.   The Dessert Lady then covers it with ganache.  Oh boy.   I am sure there are no calories on your birthday right?   Ok good.

It was a busy, fun-filled day, which are my favorite kind!   A great way to usher in my next decade.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Expedition Everest Challenge

At the beginning of the year, after I had signed up for the Princess Half Marathon, but before I had run it, I heard about the Expedition Everest 5K Challenge at Disney's Animal Kingdom.  Mary Lynn, my mother in law, asked me if I would like to run it for my 30th birthday.

It did not take much thinking - I love the Animal Kingdom park, Expedition Everest is my favorite ride there, we both run, and it was a NIGHT race!   Excellent.   Plus, at only a 5K it would not require too much training aside from our regular 'stay in shape' running.   We decided to do it, for fun.   No pressure, just see what it's all about.  We even chose a team name - Tea For 2

Disclaimer: the following entry is very long, but I wanted to document the experience in detail.  That's what the blog is for- to remember all this stuff years from now!  

The fun started at the expo, where we picked up our race bibs, and also acted silly.

The race itself was a blast!   There were about 4,000 runners, We were placed in corral groups of 500.   We were assigned based on the date we signed up.   I think it was late January when we did it - our assignment was the 3rd wave, group C (out of a possible 8, up to G).  The course map is below.

I thought the parking lot start [bottom right, white dot] would be kind of boring, but it worked out really well.  This part of the course is pretty wide (a 2 lane road, essentially) so there was plenty of room for everyone and we were able to run around slower participants.  Around the 1/2 mile mark, we encountered our first obstacle- hay bales!  There were probably 5 or 6 and we could either climb over them, or hurdle them like a track star.   Considering my non-track star status, I chose option 1.   We got through pretty quickly - no one was slow in front of us, causing a wait.  We kept on running and hit mile #1 as we entered the park.  I saw on the official clock we ran our first mile in 8:36 which, for me, is A-MA-ZING!   I was very excited about hitting that, and also trying to keep it up.

The park itself is gorgeous at night with beautiful lighting on the Tree of Life, but also attention to detail in the smaller buildings and landscapes.   What a wonderful way to see a familiar area of Disney in a brand new way.   We ran through Africa, backstage for a bit, and then back out in Asia past Expedition Everest roller coaster, and then backstage again.   At this point we were running behind the coaster and could see the backside, where they only paint what you need to see.  Pretty cool.   The road here narrowed and was the 'out and pack' portion where we experienced our first bottleneck.   Our pace slowed a bit, and when we got to the tires we could only go as fast as the people in front of us.  There were not that many tires, so we picked up speed again and headed toward the finish.  We did not see mile marker #2 but figured the tires were at least at mile 2.   Looks like it was more like 2.5!   We approached the finish line, but not before seeing our final obstacle.  This was a low net strung very low to the ground.  On the ground, under the net, was turf and some sandy dirt.  We had to get under the net and crawl on our bellies/elbows/hands through the turf/sand.   It was very messy!   Also, side note, my cute pink headscarf came off here!   A nice girl behind me passed it up so I could fix my wild hair.  Unfortunately, the people in front of us were pretty slow so we had to wait for them to get through.  Once we did, we had no problem crossing the finish line.

We finished the 5K portion in 29:04 which is not too bad for us, considering we had those 3 obstacles.  What made me a little sad - but not too much because it was just a fun run after all - was that in the tire obstacle and the net, we caught up to the people in front of us.   In a regular race you can pass people, but with obstacles, you can go only as fast as the person ahead of you.   Therefore, folks in the first corral who were running (as opposed to walking) were probably in a good spot, without too many people in the obstacle portions ahead of them.

After the 5K and obstacles, we headed to the scavenger hunt portion.  Right after we crossed the finish line, we were handed a clue card and a very crummy flashlight that I have since thrown in the trash!  Mine was flashing on and off and looked like an SOS signal - not super useful.  Luckily the park was lit well enough that they were more an accessory than a necessity.  :)

We took a moment to walk and read the first card as we went from the finish line back toward the park entrance, where most of the hunt would take place.  (note the pink scarf in my hand!)

Our first card said
Zero in on this clue to look
for the pattern in place.
The answer is a direction that you will need later in the race.

Do you see it in the photo below?

We had just finished running and had a little trouble.  Pattern?  What pattern?!   We went to the "Oasis Palms" area without an answer.  A helpful volunteer gently guided us to the zeros, and had us ignore everything else.   If you follow just the zeros, you can see they form shapes.  More specifically, they form two letters- N in the first portion, and W in the second.   Answer: NW.  So, knowing we need a direction, we kind of got in the groove- NorthWest.    DUH!   She confirmed we got it, and handed us the second card with our next clue.

The second clue:
Confused as to which letters to pic
to spell out the answer in this clue?
"Wear" ever shall you look?  Let the staff
here provide you with a "heads up" and
you'll find it if you search high and low.

Do you see it in the photo below?

This one was pretty easy for me.   I didn't even think about the "Wear" and the "heads up" but instead looked at all the capital letters, which spell out  NORTHEAST.  We then high tailed it into the park, toward Camp Minnie-Mickey.   I was repeating NW in my head and out loud because I was afraid I would forget!

Camp Minnie-Mickey is the first 'land' off the entrance, around where 8:00 would be on a watch face.  Lucky for us we know this park very well and got on the right path rather quickly.   The bad part is that CMM kind of meanders down a dead end area so we were swimming upstream (kind of) to enter.  Folks finishing the race ahead of us, in previous waves, already had their next clue while we tried to give the answer for this one and move along.

We got into CMM and saw many different spots to obtain the next clue card.   A nice lady was yelling "Find your character!" and we noticed our character was Donald Duck.  We shouted NORTHEAST! at the people in this area, and got the next piece of our puzzle.  We were running and reading, which is kind of tricky, but we had to dodge the people coming IN because we were now the OUT people on the dead end path!  Nothing like a little adventure at 11:00 at night.

The 3rd card said:

For the answer to this one-
you need 19 and 23 of 26.
They are the answer you
need to add into the mix.

As soon as I finished reading [shouting] the clue, Mary Lynn said "Julia!  It's the alphabet!   What are the 19th and 23rd letters?"   So I know J is 10 so I just started counting - out loud and on my fingers - until I got S and W.   It was pretty amusing to be running in the dark at a Disney Park, essentially singing the alphabet song.  We kept repeating SW SW SW as we ran over to the Africa portion of the park, specifically, to Kenya.    After saying "We know the answer!  It's Southwest!" a nice man handed us the fourth clue:

At this point you may have figured 
out that all of the clues provide 
you with "direction" and this one is
no exception.  Don't look up - fall
down - and you'll find it stacked
within the three lines..

What do you think?

We were a little bit stuck, but before we could even think about asking for a help, a volunteer guided us to the word normally and we saw that if you took the N O R of normally, and then moved down to the, taking T H E, and finally, go the word fast, taking A S T you once again had a direction -NORTHEAST

At first I was thinking wait we already have a northeast clue in here (Clue #2 that we used to get to Camp Minnie-Mickey) but whatever- we went with it and high tailed it to Asia: Laos to get our fifth and final clue, so we could cross the finish line!  Woo hoo

We have runners from all corners of the 
world here tonight.
And that fact will help you determine what's needed 
to get the final portion of the hunt right.
Look back, and piece all of the answers together and a 
symbol will appear.
It matches something on your bib and it
will all become quite clear.
Point to that symbol as you cross the finish line
and you are all set.
As long as the volunteers see that you
indeed pointed correct.
Head to the front of the park now to the finish line.
Follow the staff instructions and you will do just fine.

We were stuck.   We knew that all 4 clue cards were necessary.   We figured what was on the back is what counted.

We noticed that the backs were identical with the picture of the race logo and the compass directions on the edges, and we noticed that the lines in the corners were a bit different.

We kept reading the poem over and over again.  Eventually we sat down on the pavement, covered in dirt and some rug burn (remember the final obstacle was crawling, army style, under a low net over astroturf and dirt).  What in the world?   I took my race bib off and set it on the pavement.   We were thinking it was a symbol on one of the 5 prayer flags, but could not get the correct symbol to appear. So we started to arrange the cards based on their clue - Northwest in the northwest portion of a grid, Southwest below it, etc.   We got stuck with those 2 Northeast clues.   Then we figured the race logo was the answer.  Nope!

What do you think?   (Admittedly, it is very difficult to figure out using 4 separate photos and not moving around 4 separate cards!)

Ultimately, Team Tea For 2 finished the 5K in 29:09 and the scavenger hunt in 33:51 for a cumulative of 1:04:12.  That was good enough to be 36th out of 504 female teams!   We were pumped.   We decided we should probably do this again at some point and will have an 'edge' since we will have experienced the clues before.   The corrals are assigned solely by the date you sign up.  So corral A folks signed up the day the race opened.   We would probably try to do that, if only to try to avoid slower people in the obstacles and shoot for a better time.  :)

Oh, and the answer to the scavenger hunt?   The 'direction' that served as the answer to each clue was ALSO a hint that the corner 'shape' between those two letters on each card should point toward the center.   It make the symbol on the white flag on our bibs.  I totally spaced and did not take a picture of the cards in this puzzle configuration, so I had to crop and rotate in iPhoto, hence the shoddy piecing-together below.  Rest assured, the cards did 'fit' and the image matched the bib.

See?  That weird shape is on the white flag.

Once the challenge was over, participants and their families were able to enjoy a post-race party at the Animal Kingdom.

The 'big' rides were open, so we rode Expedition Everest, of course, and even got the front car!    Side note- I do not know the kid next to Michael but he was super friendly and a lovely car companion.

Despite Mary Lynn's hope to avoid it, we also rode a very very loud Dinosaur ride,

as well as a raft ride.   Yes, folks, nothing like riding a water ride at 1:30 am to end the night with a bang.   No photo of that one.... although it would have been funny.

It was a great way to start off my birthday celebration, and definitely a race we would consider again.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Celebrating 30 Years of Jules

My 30th birthday is fast approaching.    The above photo was obviously not taken the day I was born, but it's darn close.   It was definitely taken in 1983, and that was 30 years ago!   Mom's hair has changed approximately 30 times since then.  (No joke)

A few years ago we had what Hannah dubbed "Festival of Jules" which was basically several days of me having lots of fun with family and friends and eating lots of cake.    I am happy to report that my 30th is shaping up to be a similar celebration.

Saturday May 4
Kentucky Derby
which only means that I am drinking a mint julep and singing My Old Kentucky Home [the only song my Dad taught me] and rooting for a horse with a funny name.

Expedition Everest Challenge
aka "The Yeti Run"
I will be running a 5K obstacle course with Mary Lynn (my mother-in-law) in Disney's Animal Kingdom at 10pm - the park is gorgeous at night and we are excited
Look what we get when we cross the finish line!

Sunday May 5
Dinner at Flying Fish with Michael & Mary Lynn
Last summer I ate what is probably the best meal of my entire life.  No exaggeration.   Surf & Surf special.  Fingers crossed they have it again

Wednesday May 8
My birthday!
I took the day off work and have not yet decided what we will do to celebrate.  Decisions decisions!

Friday May 10
Dinner at Victoria & Albert's
This is a joint birthday gift for Michael and I.   He turned 30 in April and I did not give him a gift because this is our gift to ourselves.   It is an experience that we enjoyed in 2011 and will certainly enjoy the second time around.    We are so lucky to be able to do this!

Maybe I will actually blog about these things.   I have been on hiatus partially because of laziness and I will try to be better.   a "new year" resolution for turning 30?!