Monday, December 22, 2008

Headed to the North Pole

The Polar Express is a Christmas train ride for families that travels to the North pole to see Santa. A friend of mine told me about one that runs out of Old Sacramento. I was able to get tickets back in October (they sold out in 5 days) but the trip almost happened without me. I was at work in Reno Thursday and wouldn’t get off until 8am Friday. A storm moved in with snow and high winds that closed Highway 80 over Donner Summit, my way home. I had left the tickets with Pat so he could take the girls and head to Sacramento without me if needed. So between running calls half the night and stressing about getting home I didn’t sleep much.

Luckily for me, Caltrans decided to reopen the highway and I was able to get over the hill and join my family for a very fun event. Our first stop was Fanny Ann's restaurant for lunch. It’s a great burger and fries joint that we’ve been going to for years and it never changes which is its charm.

After lunch we walked the streets of Old Sac while the girls ran around and burned off some energy. Eventually we got them changed into their pajamas and made our way to the railroad museum which is a real treasure and will turn anyone into a train buff. While the family checked out the many different types of trains including the dining and sleeping cars, I headed over to the railyard and picked up our boarding passes. It wasn’t long before we were loaded up and moving on down the tracks.
Nana and Sara enjoy some quiet time

The cars were all decorated for the season and Christmas music played on the speakers. The first order of business was to get our tickets punched by the conductor.
Next came the cookies and hot chocolate and the reading of The Polar Express written by Chris Van Allsberg (we own the book and highly recommend anyone with kids to get it). The train slowly made it’s way to the North Pole where Santa waited for us.

Santa came aboard the train to hand out the magic bells from his sleigh and Caitlyn was the lucky one to receive the first gift of Christmas. The train car quickly filled with the magic sound of the bells ringing (we must truly believe because we had no trouble hearing all the bells).
A hobo who didn’t believe and therefore couldn’t hear the bells, made his way through the car. Caitlyn was afraid he’d try to take her bell so she hid it safely in the pocket of her robe.

All of the entertainment and support personnel was made up of volunteer docents, some who have been doing this for many years. This is Chuck and Jan, Chuck punched our tickets and Jan fed us goodies.
Soon we were headed back moving at a faster speed which allowed us to enjoy the rhythmic sway of the train. This was my first time on a train (other than BART) and I must say, it is truly magical.
My folks enjoying the view of the Sacramento Capital
After disembarking, my dad walked over to the Amtrak station to catch a train back to central California to take care of some things before joining us all again for Christmas. Due to the fact it was nearing 5:00pm, we weren't in a hurry to hop on the traffic congested roads so we headed back to the train museum and try to see the things we missed earlier.
Sara mimicking her daddy
So if anyone has kids and wants to enjoy a trip to the North Pole to visit Santa, I would recommend the Polar Express. It was a lot of fun to see the kids dressed in their pajamas and experiencing something they truly believe in.
Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It's certainly COOL in Reno

Yeah, I got in! accepted my registration for Way Too Cool 50K at 8:04am. I managed to get someone to come in early for me at the fire station so I could sequester myself at a local Starbucks and continuously push the "register" button starting shortly before 8:00am.

For those of you who don't know, Way Too Cool 50K is one of the most popular trail ultras in the nation. Last year it filled (450 runners) in 11 minutes. I really wanted to run it in 2009 so I'm definitely a happy camper. And guess what? Suddenly I'm filled with the desire to go for a run. Too bad it's so blasted cold in Reno. Maybe I'll just head home to my family instead :)

Good luck to all of those still trying to register.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

On The Hunt

This is a little late but I wanted to show off some pictures from our 5th Annual Great Christmas Tree Hunt. Since Caitlyn was born in 2004 we've made it a point to go out after Thanksgiving as a family and hunt down the perfect Christmas tree.

Doing it right after Thanksgiving has its perks. We each make up our ideal turkey sandwich, fill a thermos each of hot chocolate and spiced apple cider and throw in a few treats. The adults even have these funny looking flasks filled with something not appropriate for children. But you could probably start a fire with it if we got lost in the woods.

When you gotta go, you gotta go

After making a little pitstop for the little one going through potty training, we headed to our familiar spot near Gold Lakes off Hwy 49. In the past we've had every type of weather from the perfect post-snowstorm but blue sky day, to rain, to sun. This year proved to be perfect weather-wise but it was a little disappointing not finding any snow on the ground. It's been an exceptionally dry fall.

Our first stop was Mills Peak Lookout. We'd never been there before and it was a great spot to stretch our legs. The views were great, including the Sierra Valley, Loyalton, Sierraville, and the Sierra Buttes.

Sierra Buttes

Braving the chilly wind, camera-shy Caitlyn

Sara bundled up

Of course, someone had to take advantage of the potty with a view.

Mom, you didn't really think I'd leave this picture out did you?

After heading back to the tree cutting area and parking the truck we all split up looking for the perfect tree. This is a process that can't be rushed. We like this area because it has white firs which are tall but thin, perfect for our living room.

Pat and Sara

Caitlyn and I find a little snow but not the perfect tree

We searched and searched without any luck and headed back to the truck. My mom made the suggestion to try one other place before driving on so we did. And that proved to be the trick. Pat found the perfect tree and we set to work cutting it down.

I started the cutting but realized I would need more help so Pat jumped in. My mom spoke up and said she wanted to try. After innocent 4 year old Caitlyn said "Nana, you can't do it", my mom's resolve stiffened. She attacked that saw like never before and made a serious dent in the wood.

Watching Nana as she wields the saw

Caitlyn helping her Nana

My dad took his turn and the tree finally gave up its valiant fight.

Caitlyn helps her Papa with the big push

Every year the forest service issues permits to cut down trees. They have rules about which trees can be cut down and it's all with the thought of thinning the forest, making it healthy, and more resistant to catastrophic fires.

Caitlyn and Sara enjoying their lunch of sandwiches and hot chocolate

After wrestling the tree back to the truck we all enjoyed our turkey sandwiches, hot beverages (some with a little extra added) and treats. It had been another successful tree hunt. I realize now I don't have any pictures of us decorating the tree so I'll have to add those to a later post.

Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Strike Team

Time to get caught up. Last week at work turned out a little different than the usual go to work for 24 hours then go home. Sunday morning we got the call that Southern California was burning and we were to head down there on a strike team to help protect homes from the raging flames. A strike team is made up of 5 engines and a strike team leader. Our team would consist of 3 Reno engines, an engine from Sparks and one from Carson City. I drove Engine 11 from Reno. It was my first time on a strike team where I was the operator of an engine.

We picked up the Carson City engine on our way down Hwy 395. I have to admit I love driving down the east side of the Sierras on 395. We were a little late for the prime viewing time for fall colors but it was still beautiful. We made good time with a couple stops for fuel and food. About 10 hours after we started I found myself entering the Los Angeles area. We were headed to the Triangle Complex in Yorba Linda.

There's something pretty nerve wracking about driving down El Cajon pass in the dark, in a 40,000 lb engine, jockeying for position with 18 wheelers and crazy LA drivers (sorry LA drivers, but you know it's true). I think every muscle in my body was tense. And passing a fatal vehicle accident where the body was still on the side of the road covered by a tarp didn't help. Reality check. Even though I deal with accidents and life and death for a living, it never gets easy.

We checked in at base camp at the Irvine Regional Park about 8pm. One thing we brought with us was a change in weather conditions, the winds decided to die down, good for home owners and the firefighting efforts. We were told to check in the morning for an assignment so we headed to a Motel 6 (actually, more like a Motel 5). It was late when we finally bedded down and the alarm went off early to get us back to base camp. We waited half the day for an assignment that would never come. With the decrease in winds, the threat to homes was becoming minimal. We passed the time as firefighters do, eating, sleeping, telling war stories.

Hanging out, waiting for assignment
I decided to make the most of our downtime by throwing on my running shoes and exploring the park. It was a really neat park, there was a small train and a zoo. Lots of open space and green grass. I think I did about 5 miles (pain free-Yeah). I got some funny looks from other strike teams but after I finished I noticed a firefighter run by so maybe I inspired at least one person to run.

Some of the zoo's inhabitants checking us out

Monday night still found us unassigned so we were put up in another hotel close to Disneyland. There were some nice places to eat close to the hotel and some of us chose California Pizza Kitchen. Great food. I had one of the best pasta dishes ever. Highly recommend it.
Getting ready to hit the road. Yes, I'm in tennis shoes, easier to drive in
The next morning we were finally released but like any good government operation it takes forever to get all the paperwork in order and we didn't leave LA until about noon. We got to Lone Pine about 6 or 7pm. We were getting fuel when the Sparks engine decided it had had enough and died. Long story short we couldn't get it going and ended up having to stay the night in Lone Pine. We got an early start after loading the Sparks firefighters into the remaining rigs and leaving the engine to get repaired.
Early morning start in Lone Pine

Early morning light on Mt. Whitney

We finally arrived back in Reno about noon. It was a long way to drive and not fight fire which is tough to do. Our job is to fight fires but the fact that we didn't get to is actually a good thing. The winds died down, the fire came under control and our efforts were not needed. All good things for homeowners in that area.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I Am A Runner

Yep, it's official. After easing back into some easy running (12 miles 2 weeks ago, 13 miles last week and 15 planned for this week), I saw my doctor and he's pleased with my progress. There is no more pin-point tenderness around the shin and his flexibility/strength tests resulted in no pain. He's even given me the go ahead to increase my mileage on the TREADMILL but only wants me doing 1 trail run a week and nothing on the pavement. He wants to keep me on a flat, smooth surface for as long as possible.

It's been great running virtually pain free. There is still occasional achiness in the shin site but I would only rate it a 2/10 scale and wouldn't even really call it pain. So physically it isn't an issue but mentally it sure throws me for a loop. Every time it aches I'm convinced I'm going to be side-lined again. The doctor says that's normal and it's just part of the healing process.

So I'm a runner again. It will probably be after the New Year before I do anything but easy miles but at least I'm back on the running wagon. And now is the time to re-build my base anyway. My runs 2 weeks ago made it obvious my cardio was in the toilet. But it's already getting better and my times are getting faster (not that I'm trying to get faster but I can't get much slower :) Looking forward to 2009!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Discovering New Trails

This afternoon I got the opportunity to run a trail that I've never run before and it's right outside my front door. It's a new extension of an existing trail that goes by our house. My car spent the day at the mechanic so I decided to run to town to pick it up. Yuba and I hopped on the new trail which turned out to be some great rolling, twisting, turning singletrack built by local mountain bikers that also included some great views of Nevada City.

The day was perfect, sunny and mid-50's, beautiful fall weather. Yuba trotted ahead checking out all the new smells while I slowly followed, watching my step. I've started running again, easing into it and things are going well. My shin doesn't hurt and as long as I stretch religiously, my calves are doing ok. I'm trying not to get my hopes up and I'm also trying to keep it slow and easy. I'm excited about being healthy and injury free next year so I'm really trying to be cautious now.

It sure is hard not to be out running all of our wonderful trails in the nice fall weather. This has got to be the best time of year to run. So instead I'm concentrating on getting our winter wood supply in. Since Pat's accident, he's had limited use of his right shoulder and really has to be careful with it. He's been doing physical therapy with some success but he's still about a month out from going back to work. If he wasn't a firefighter he could probably go back earlier.

So that means the brunt of the work of getting the oak and pine cut and split falls to me. Now I'm no stranger to a chainsaw and I'm not afraid of hard work so it's no big deal. And Pat helps as much as he can. But today, watching his wife cut a pine tree into rounds and loading them into the truck certainly had to bruise his manhood :) I guess he'll just have to owe me.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

All right family, this blog's for you. Here are pictures of your wonderful/beautiful/darling/cute daughters/granddaughters/neices as they celebrate the one day of the year when it's ok to beg for candy. No, I'm really not that cynical about the holiday because I get to steal the good candy out of their bags when they're not looking :)

Mom, I hope you get a chance to see this on your long voyage back to the United States. Oh wait, you never left the US, it probably just feels like you did.

Sara starts us off with the "oh honey, will you stand there while we take your picture and look really really really cute?" picture. It's not hard for her to do since she is adorable. Caitlyn refused to have her picture taken: she's 4 (that should explain it). She said she'd rather have her picture taken while she was begging, I mean, trick-or-treating. So here it is.

Still no smile from her but it's early. The day started off drizzly, chilly and a bit windy but would get better as the morning wore on. Her attitude improved with the weather. Outside Tess' Kitchen Shop, Snow White and the 7 Drawfs (is that still politically correct?) were giving away candy. Here, Snow White tempts Caitlyn.

I guess I should mention the event we were at. Every year Grass Valley shuts down the main street in town and the employees from all the businesses dress up and give away candy to younger kids who don't normally go out at night to trick or treat. I've gone every year with Caitlyn and now Sara and it's a lot of fun. The weather kept the crowds down a bit this year but it was still enjoyable.

Caitlyn finally warmed up and decided it was ok to get her picture taken with Sara. She wanted her Nana to see her whole outfit so she took off her sweater.

After collecting candy we headed over to Paulette's for brunch. The girls are getting to an age where it's actually a lot of fun to take them out to a restaurant. After getting home we went through the candy and goodies and here's Sara showing off her zebra finger puppet.

The Center of Performing Arts gives away books each year and here's Caitlyn showing off hers, Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?

Shortly after we got home I had to head over the summit to work at the fire station (I had taken the first part of the day off). It was hard for the girls to see me leave and it wasn't any easier on me. But tomorrow it is suppose to be cold and rainy so I made them a promise: as soon as I get home we'll have breakfast, watch cartoons, movies, and football, eat popcorn, and stay in our pajamas all day. A family day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cross Training

I haven't had much opportunity lately to write about running because I haven't done much. I was able to see another doctor who did confirm the stress fracture in my left shin. But at least now I'm willing to do whatever I have to do to get better. He gave me some good stretching exercises to do and actually said I could run a couple miles occasionally on the treadmill if it felt ok.

Last week I ran a couple miles on the treadmill and it felt ok. It was more of a run/walk, walk 5 min, run 2 min. What's interesting is how my attitude has changed. I'm finding that I'm hesitant to try running again because if my leg starts to hurt I know I'll just get depressed. I'd rather just wait and let it heal and try running again in a while. But then part of me wants to run tomorrow.

So that leaves cross-training. I've been doing a lot of Bikram Yoga and loving it. Also swimming where I've been doing drills to try and get faster in the pool. Just before Pat had his little accident we went to Morro Bay for my mom's birthday and we took the mountain bikes. My dad gave us a tour of the wonderful trails around Cerro Cabrillo between Morro Bay and Los Osos.

Dad and I climbing

The singletrack is so much fun with some short but intense climbs and lots of great rollers. It's a small area and it wouldn't take more than a week to find all the trails but you can mix them up and keep it fresh.

Pat had to head home early so it was just my dad and I who headed out to Montana de Oro early one morning. For anyone who has done the trail races with Pacific Coast Trail Runs in that area would recognize the trails we rode. We headed out Islay Creek Rd for a nice warm up then hike-a-biked up Barranca Trail.

My Dad and I at the top of Barranca Trail

Descending East Boundary Trail

The fun really started as we headed down East Boundary and Ridge Trails. Eventually we climbed up near Hazard Peak for some gorgeous views of Morro Rock and the surrounding hills.

Morro Rock and Bay in the background

Fun Ridge Trail fans out behind my dad

Just this summer the CCCMB opened a new trail to descend down from Hazard Peak that involves more rollers and less steep hills so it improves run-off. It still needs a little work but is a real joy to ride. The CCCMB is incredible with their trail work and anyone who rides in the area should be very thankful to them.

I'm sorry Pat couldn't be there for the beautiful views since when we did the trail race over Labor Day it was completely foggy. And to everyone who offered such supportive comments since his fall, I can let you know that he's definitely getting better. The shoulder is still problematic but he's in physical therapy for that and it should be fine. Thank you everyone.

My mom showing off her trike

The girls have been getting older and Caitlyn is now riding her bike. So we all take off on our bikes and my mom finally got tired of getting left behind. Enter, the trike. She's thrilled because she can now go everywhere her granddaughters go.

Exploring the beach boardwalk with Caitlyn

Pat and Sara enjoying some trike time