Monday, February 16, 2009

Exercising on Vacation

When I vacation, I always check out the running facilities of my destination before I leave. Am I in an area that's good for running? If I'm in an urban area, is there a park nearby? Is there a college with a track? If the area is not conducive to outside running, is there a gym in the facility where I'll be staying?

When I mention this in passing ("I can't wait to go running in Central Park, even though it's the coldest December on record!" "I hope the gym has an elliptical because there's construction for blocks around the capital...."), I get funny looks.

Often, there's at least one person who screws up the courage to ask, "You're not really going to run on vacation, are you? That's why they call it vacation!"

And I laugh. Of course I run on vacation. Every vacation I've taken as an adult (except for a couple late last year) I find myself lacing my shoes in the morning. My family doesn't even think to ask if I plan to run, but when. Even on Christmas Day, I'm out in the elements, pounding the pavement. (After gifts; I'm not completely crazy.)

A trip I took this past weekend proved to me the joy of running while on vacation. I didn't know exactly in which South Carolina city I'd find myself, so I couldn't plan. I didn't know much about lodging, or amenities on site or around where we'd be.

But I was ready for anything: I had gotten lost for an hour in San Francisco in the 90s and, one summer in North Carolina, run twice my normal distance (quite by accident, I assure you, and got a sunburn to prove it). I couldn't be thwarted.

I was pleasantly surprised the night David and I arrived in Columbia. We were within walking distance (okay, my idea of walking distance) of the city's throbbing night life areaa. As David and I walked back to the hotel from dinner, we saw the dome of the state capital building. I couldn't wait to check it out in the light of day.

The following morning, David was up with the dawn. I was not. The day was gray and drizzly, but it was 25 degrees warmer than it would have been at home, so I couldn't really complain. I donned my running gear around mid-morning and hit the street.

People rarely see bars in the light of day for a reason, and other "hot night life" areas often suffer from the same spirit. Without the neon and the press of stylishly-dressed bodies, the center of town looked underwhelming and very definitely under improvement. The streets were quiet, the doors were locked and there were only a few cars on even the busiest roads. I loved it.

I discovered a lovely park full of war memorials a couple of blocks from the hotel, and I made a mental note to return with my camera. I could read the historic markers and knew the answers to David's questions about the "train depot" look of part of the strip (it was a train depot at one time). The flour factory was, indeed, in operation. The convention center was getting itself gussied for its next group (Spa Expo 2009, according to the marquee and the two-story inflatable rubber ducky on the lawn). And yes, that was the state capital building.

And I saw it all because I went running.

So, the next time someone wonders why you aren't leaving your walking (or running) shoes at home on your next vacation, know you made the best decision to discover your surroundings while getting a workout. Just remember to be careful — and don't forget to take your camera (a little tip I'll remember next time).

Monday, February 9, 2009

Valentine's Day Screed

We think, as a nation, that a true division of Us vs. Them is whether one says "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." However, I disagree. I think it's Valentine's Day.

Go ahead: start a conversation with your co-workers and see how many opinions pop right up there. Some think it an artificial holiday, while others blame Hallmark or florists for the emphasis on romantic love on a single day of the year.

I'll tell you right up front: I think it's a little hyped — but that's America for you. If we as a group love something in this country, it's turned up to 11. It's not just everything you want, but MORE! Diamonds, roses, edible pan — er, anyway, VD (as I like to call it) is ratcheted up as high as the market will go. On that day, everything costs more and is in short supply. Dinner reservations are rare, flowers had to have been ordered weeks in advance and no one can find a heart-shaped anything within a 5-mile radius.

Not that I haven't benefited from the day. On our first Valentine's Day together, David made me dinner and hand-dipped chocolate-covered strawberries. His office was closed on that snowy and icy day, but mine wasn't — and that gave David the day to prepare my feast. It was a total surprise, and it was lovely. (Actually, we have our own special Valentine's Day: we met on February 11, 2006, so when we celebrate the anniversary of our meeting, we actually get to "beat the rush," so to speak.)

But this doesn't change the fact that I think VD is totally hyped in this country — as is every other holiday that benefits merchants. It's their job to make us believe we can't live without that super-duper box of fireworks for Independence Day (don't get any ideas, David!) or that floral arrangement on Mother's Day. How about that "perfect gift" at Christmas? Did you notice how the prices go up and the availability goes down? Whose idea is that?

Does that make the holiday bad? No. What makes it bad is when we fall for the hype and spend beyond our means or comfort level.

Then there are those who fight against the idea of holidays. I hear mothers all over the nation tell their families to celebrate them every day, and that's a nice idea. Let's keep Christmas in our hearts all year 'round. Don't save the tofu turkey for only one day a year. Startle the neighbors by lighting fireworks in August. (Just don't hide eggs in the summer — the FDA would blanch.)

However, I like the idea of holidays. I like that we all agreed to celebrate community and togetherness at Thanksgiving. Easter is a time of hope and renewal. Halloween is fun, despite half the nation deciding it's "Dress Like a Trollop Day" and donning clothing accordingly. (Note the lack of "e" on the end of the word: I doubt anyone wants to dress like a 19th century novelist. Not as much cleavage.)

Holidays give us opportunities to focus on that which is important to us. And we should decide how we will celebrate. Maybe on February 14, you can take your friends out to lunch or make them dinner to remind them how special they are to you. Perhaps you'll make heart-shaped cookies and pass them out at work because you spend so much time with these people, you have to admit they have a place in your heart. Maybe you have a boyfriend or wife and you want to give them those dozen long-stemmed red roses.

Hate the holiday if you want, or turn it into something that is special to you. Ignore it, if the mood strikes you. Just do what you want. After all, isn't that what holidays are for?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"Jai Ho" Means "Hallelujah!"

Well, kind of. It's more of a cross between "Hail!" and "Hallelujah!"

I absolutely love this song — which is fun because the only part I understand is the Spanish lyrics. I also loved the movie "Slumdog Millionaire," which is one of my favorite movies this year.

Here's a great video with footage of the movie and a great Bollywood dance scene. [Update: the video is no longer avilable, but here's a dance demonstration by a professional Bollywood choreographer, plus a whole lot of people having some great fun.]

And if you are curious like I was, here's a link to Inkspill, a blog with a translation of the song "Jai Ho."

And to Ellen Degeneres, whose television crew and audience also couldn't resist.

Everyone's getting in on the act, including Mr. Bean, but you'll have to see them all yourself.

Enjoy the song, see the movie and purchase the soundtrack!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Chris' Favorite Videos

Here are a few videos you can check out on the Internet. Very clever, and pretty fun.

Hollywood Declares Themselves — Part 2
The first "Don't Vote" ad from the Hollywood opinionated (Leonardo DiCaprio, Halle Berry, et. al.) was clever. This one was even better.

Dreidel by Erran Baron Cohen (featuring Jules Brooks and Y-Love)
Hebrew grafitti? Hebrew rapping? And all featuring the younger brother of Borat himself? As if I could resist!

Where the Hell is Matt?
When you travel, what do you do? Take a few photos, wander through landmarks, maybe dance with strangers on camera? Well, that's what Matt Harding does. He goes to very visually recognizable places and dances. Once the world caught sight of this somewhat chunky average American, he was beseiged by people who wanted to dance with him — which they did — then he told people how he managed this fete. Also check out his outtakes.

Dancing in Fairfax
What's the sincerest form of flattery? Watching a few high school students take Matt's idea and apply it to my neighborhood.

"Ron Howard's Call to Action" on Funny or Die
Will Ferrell put this site on the map, but Paris Hilton's fake presidential campaign kept it in the limelight. Next: comparing Forrest Gump to Benjamin Button!