Running the Race

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Hebrews 12:1

After 4 months and nearly 200 miles of training, Nate and I ran our very first half marathon in Irving, TX. All the carefully patterned sleeping and eating routines, the gallons of water faithfully consumed, the worn shoes and sweat and injuries consummated in this one goal: to finish, and to do it in under two hours.

I am not one of those enviable runners who adore running and live to pound the pavement. Before this spring I'd only run an occasional three miles because I had to. I view running as a necessary discipline that must be endured to improve overall health, fitness and mental endurance. My secret weapon is books on tape which distract me from the misery I'm putting my body through. Multiple times during that race - specifically on miles 7, 9 and 11 - I asked myself again why on earth I was doing this. But I finished. I ran every step of the way, spurred on by Agatha Christie and cheering spectators with cowbells, and I placed second in my age group.

Nate and I held hands as we crossed the finish line, and celebrated in a steaming jacuzzi as our screaming knees and hip flexors called us every name known to man. We hobbled around Irving for the rest of the weekend, enjoying wonderful food and movies and museums and sunning ourselves in parks while trying not to look too much like 80-year-olds with arthritis.

We love Jefferson Street Bed & Breakfast!

Farm-to-table restaurant with incredible food

Venison chili and wildflower honey cornbread (elk tacos for an appetizer)

Yeah, I married him.

Fluffy hair and pale skin just needs to come back in style.

An original Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Boy Scout Museum. So good!

Love this man.

Then we came home and did the unthinkable. We registered for the Disney Marathon on January 12, 2014. Yes, we are out of our minds. Yes, in a moment of extravagant confidence I forgot every painful step of that 13.1 miles and convinced myself that I could do it twice. I hit the "register" button, and then dissolved into a puddle of quaking disbelief.

But today I laced up my running shoes and pounded it out again. We have 8 months, after all. And who knows? Maybe in that 8 months I'll learn to love running. Maybe my body will cross a threshold where I can crank out mile after mile without my joints dying a miserable death. And maybe we will have the time of our lives, flying through all 26.2 miles of those glorious Disney parks. In any case, whether we set a new record or have to stop every 20 minutes and take pictures with Mickey, it feels good to set a goal - a challenging, impossible goal - and make steady progress towards attaining it.

If there's one thing running regularly has taught me, it's a deeper appreciation for all of the Apostle Paul's exercise analogies:

"Run in such a way as to get the prize. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever." - 1 Cor. 9:24-25

"Train yourself for godliness, for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way." - 1 Tim. 4:7-8

"Run with endurance." - Hebrews 12:1

Comparing physical training with training in godliness has shown me that becoming like Christ doesn't just happen. Just as I could never set off one day to run a marathon on a whim, I can't hope to have Christlike words, thoughts and actions without applying myself to His Word and example. This race, reaping imperishable rewards, is so worth my entire life's devotion. May I run here, and wherever God places me, with endurance and with joy.

A Weekend in NOLA

For the 85th time I begged to know where we were going. Nathan refused to budge and even made me close my eyes whenever we passed a telltale road sign. Finally, my internal compass kicked in and I realized we were driving east. To New Orleans. Unbeknownst to me, my love had planned an entire weekend seeped in Cajun culture, complete with sightseeing, live music and more seafood and French pastry than I could dream of.

We pulled up to a breathtakingly beautiful hotel, a white jewel set in the midst of high rises and bustling streets. A gloved, tailed and top-hatted doorman took my hand and helped me from the car. We dumped our luggage in the room and immediately took off exploring, like two five-year-olds racing each other down silent, brocaded hallways. The elegance was magnificent. Heavy draperies, fresh flowers and hand-painted details adorned every inch of the place. We stumbled down forbidden stairwells, danced to the thrums of wedding reception music vibrating through every floor, and feasted on complimentary PB&J and hot chocolate in our jammies.

Every night at 10 pm a bedtime snack of sandwiches, milk and cocoa is laid out in the lobby, and guests have a PJ party.

There was even art on the ceiling!

Such an exquisite elevator

 Our weekend was packed, mostly with food. We breakfasted at a delicious French bakery, where Nathan died and went to heaven over the raspberry tarts.

We spent an afternoon at a fabulous WWII museum, spellbound in a Tom Hanks 4D film that literally transported us into the streets of Berlin. Then it was off to a dinner of crawfish and goat cheese crepes, a stroll through the French Quarter accentuated by spurts of live jazz and the lively bantering of locals at a moonlit market, and unbelievable cafe au lait and beignets at the famed Cafe du Monde. We walked home through Bourbon Street and barely made it out alive, and that's all I'll say about that.

Muriel's for dinner

6 pm, and the party begins.

Perfectly cast musicians.

Nate's beignets and chocolate milk

On Sunday I convinced Nathan that seafood is just as good at breakfast time. Cheddar grits and seafood omelet? There are no words.

He played it safe with steak. 

NOLA's most popular form of transportation

The party never ends.

I love New Orleans. I love the architecture; whole neighborhoods in rainbows of color where no two houses are alike. I love the festivity and the beauty and tradition. I especially love the food. And I love my husband who, after nearly three years, has never let the honeymoon die. 

I Left My Heart in Hawaii

Daily temperatures hover blissfully in the low eighties. The air is clear enough to inhale deeply without stifling from humidity. Brisk afternoon showers are soon routed by dazzling double rainbows. Roads lined with coconut-laden palms wind between blue-white beaches and towering mountains disappearing into the clouds. Local fruit stands and shrimp trucks peddle the freshest of foods. This, my friends, is the much-fabled but very real North Shore of Oahu, where time truly stands still. Our anniversary trip is one continuous blur in my mind of driving, eating, swimming, hiking, repeating. Every day for nine days. Here are some highlights and the best of our 1,000+ pictures...

Sunrise from our backyard

Day 1.

After being much too excited to sleep and leaving for the airport at 3 a.m., we arrived in a sunny and very bustling Honolulu. We picked up a sporty black Mustang convertible, ate at good ole' Subway and drove an hour to our rented house, singing along to the radio (Hawaii has the BEST radio stations), mouths and eyes gaping open at the postcard scenery surrounding us, and my finger never leaving the camera button. We found our sweet little house, made friends with the owners' dogs, walked and swam at the private beach in our backyard, then unpacked and grabbed some dinner at a local shrimp truck before grocery shopping for the week. My multiple spasms of delight got a reality check as soon as we walked into the grocery store, where staple foods cost at least twice as much as I'm used to (think $3 avocados and $6 store-brand peanut butter). I kissed my immaculately planned menu goodbye and we settled for 5-ingredient-or-less meals that turned out surprisingly delicious. 

Our sweet ride

The coastal scenery was breathtaking!

Day 2.

Our confused body clocks woke us at 4:30 a.m. and we set out chasing a sunrise that, unfortunately, occurred in the opposite direction. We still got some pretty good shots and found a bakery with the most incredible breakfast pastry. We snorkeled in Turtle Bay and Nate found a seal. I was dashed against some rocks. We visited a local fruit stand and drank coconut water. 

Day 3.

Surfing day!!! I don't believe I'd as much as touched a surfboard before this day. After meeting up with our seriously chillaxed surfing instructors, we headed to a beach with some rather large waves and learned the mechanics of paddling and standing on our boards. On land. Water was a much different story. We paddled pretty far out, and before I knew it it was my turn to catch a wave. I saw it coming...the instructor started shrieking: "Paddle...paddle harder - harder - harder - STAND UP!" I did just as the wave caught me and the board at a rather shocking speed. I managed to stay on and balance, then lay back down and paddle back when it was over. First wave win! Nate was pretty fantastic himself. The instructors finally told him to go find his own waves and leave them alone :) At the end of the day: Me - 18 and Waves - 1. Score. 

Nate ran over this poor girl by mistake. Notice his smirk of victory.

Day 4 (otherwise known as the Day of Extreme and Life-Threatening Adventure).

We set out early to beat the snorkeling crowds at the famous Hanauma Bay (Nate couldn't get his pronunciation quite right and kept referencing "Hmininima Bay"). It was the most beautiful underwater world imaginable. We went out past the others and were cloaked in an all-enveloping stillness, alone except for schools of rainbow-colored fish and each other. We held hands, examined intricate coral reefs, chased schools of yellowfish and floated close enough to touch three-foot-long fish of brilliant green and turquoise. Everything was perfect until I found myself in deep, strong currents with malfunctioning snorkel gear. I was dashed against more rocks and swam myself silly before we finally made it back to shore. I bear the battle scars today. Later we learned that the reason we were all alone out there was due to rip tides and dangerous rocks. We are extreme. Then, as if nearly drowning wasn't enough, we hiked up Koko Head Crater, a nearly vertical mountain with WWII-era railroad ties you had to climb like a ladder under the cloudless, scorching sun. I don't know how we made it to the top, but the 360-view of the whole island was more than worth it. Also on this day, I was reunited with my beloved 7Eleven. Twice. Hawaiians are nearly as fond of slurpees as I am - there were 7Elevens everywhere. We dragged our exhausted, sweaty, dirty selves to an ice-cold beachside shower and quickly changed clothes before heading to an official Polynesian luau in Waikiki. We were appropriately leid and the show and food were phenomenal - although I won't be visiting the Polynesian island where men dance and grunt ferociously with their tongues hanging out as a form of welcome. 

At last!

Hanauma Bay!

We climbed that thing.

The view was so worth it!

I don't know how I didn't fall on my face running down all these steps...

Our favorite Polynesian.

Day 5.

We chilled. We sunned. We stood in line in a storm for Matsumoto Shave Ice - one of the best things I've ever tasted. We read (caveat for Khaled Hosseini - one of my current favorite authors. I devoured A Thousand Splendid Suns while we were there, and we watched The Kite Runner on the flight back. So, so good). Nate grilled. We ate chicken-pineapple quesadillas and broiled Parmesan avocados. We slept.

Our private reading nook

Day 6.

 Independence Day! The beach was extremely crowded, so we stayed home and enjoyed our private little backyard haven. At low tide, we tramped through the shallows to Goat Island - an isolated stretch of rocks and a natural wildlife habitat. That evening we got fancy and enjoyed a lovely dinner at Turtle Bay Resort. The fireworks were more or less rained out, but the restaurant's computer system crashed and we got our dinner free! 

4th of July at Turtle Bay (thanks for the dress, Mom Farlow!)

Our delicious, free dinner on the beach!

Day 7.

We hiked Diamondhead, which was a cakewalk compared to the insanity of Koko Head. The views at the top were amazing! We visited Dole Plantation, explored a few tucked-away local shops, got more shave ice and I bought my first fresh papaya. It was to die for. 

He surfed all by himself!

Gorgeous views from Diamondhead

An old WWII lookout post

Day 8.

We packed our things and left the peaceful solitude of the North Shore for a night in Waikiki. Picture New York City transported to a crystalline beach under an endless expanse of pure blue sky. It was dazzling, breathtaking and overwhelming all at once. We visited Pearl Harbor and spent hours exploring the Arizona memorial and historical information. Later we checked into our hotel, refreshed with chilled pineapple juice and perfumed towels, and walked on the beach for miles. Downtown Waikiki shopping rivals the best that I've seen (they even have their own Galleria!). I bought a green scarf, we ate delicious burgers and frozen yogurt and watched the sun set behind a magnificent hotel. 

On the memorial

Remains of the Arizona...still leaking oil

We really love our burgers.

Day 9.

The morning was muggy and rain clouds hung heavy and dark, but we ate a quick breakfast and set out, undaunted, for a reportedly muddy and mosquito-infested hiking trail. Armed with water shoes and walking sticks, we trudged through a downpour that drove away mosquitoes and less hardy tourists. This, at last, was the Hawaii that I'd always imagined - flowing streams, thick and lushly green foliage and, at the end, a breathtaking waterfall - the stuff that rain forests and Jurassic Park are made of. After quickly showering and throwing all our things in bags, we checked out of our room and ate at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the beach. There was only one item on the dessert menu, and after one bite it was obvious why. Macadamia nut ice cream pie on an Oreo crust, smothered in rich chocolate sauce and topped with whipped cream. The kind of dessert where we both ate in complete silence, subtly racing each other for the last dollop of rich chocolate and staring wistfully at the empty plate 30 seconds later. (The key to my heart is nearly always food, in case there was any confusion on that point.) We made the necessary stop at Hawaii's capitol, then discovered a quiet cemetery in the mountains that beautifully memorialized the heroes of the Pacific Wars. That evening we boarded a red eye flight that truly lived up to its name - we arrived in Houston at 2 pm the next day with 0 hours sleep. Was it worth it? Heavens, yes. I would go again in a heartbeat.

Double rainbow outside our hotel!

Jurassic Park anyone?!

Incredible waterfall at the end of our journey!

Keep Hawaii LOOSE! (Jared)

Best lunch EVER

Beachfront restaurant and an indescribable dessert. 

Capitol building!

The plane that took us away from Paradise :(