Table for one

It takes a good amount of confidence to go to a movie or restaurant by yourself. Many people feel awkward going out by themselves, but I rather enjoy it. Being in a long-distance relationship, I don’t always have someone nearby to do things with. And at times, an outing with me, myself, and I is just as fun as a date night.

One benefit of eating alone at a restaurant is the silence. You can really focus on your food and your thoughts. Lately I’ve been having trouble finding peace and solitude during my day. On my lunch hour, I often walk campus to find a quiet spot to sit and eat. It’s an increasingly difficult task. Students are everywhere, talking on their phones, blasting rap music, holding conversations full of foul language. And then there’s the train, motorcycles, and cars with deafening mufflers.

Some days I spend way too much time walking and exploring, simply trying to find a place where I can enjoy nature and be alone in my thoughts. It’s a struggle only fellow introverts would understand. In a busy world, it’s hard to find opportunities to reflect. At times I’ll find myself having a profound thought when suddenly it’s interrupted by the startlingly loud blare of a car horn.

So no, restaurant hostess, I’m not here to pick up a to-go order. I need a table for one. Let me enjoy the quiet, serene atmosphere of this cozy, uncrowded, hole-in-the-wall place for an hour or so. I have a boyfriend. I have friends. But sometimes I just like to eat by myself, and that’s perfectly okay.

The Hallmark movie paradox

We’ve all seen at least one Hallmark Channel original movie that raises the theme of choosing between true love and following your dreams. You know the ones, where the female protagonist is living an ordinary day in married life–frustrated with juggling a husband, kids, and not-so-great job–when she bumps her head and wakes up the next morning in a parallel universe.

In said universe, she learns that she never got married, but instead left her hometown to pursue her dreams. She discovers she’s now a wealthy, important career woman whose biggest ambitions have been realized.

After accepting this new reality, she soaks up the fun and excitement of her newfound freedom. She goes out with the girls, enjoys being single, and lives out her dreams. It doesn’t take long to realize, however, that this  life is lonely. She finds herself longing for her past life. She wishes upon a star (or bumps her head again) and wakes up back in the real world, with a new appreciation for her husband and the life she chose with him.

Reflecting on La La Land, I realized it’s the opposite scenario.

*Spoiler alert–don’t read on if you haven’t seen it yet!*

La La Land is also about what you sacrifice in order to have your biggest dreams realized. But in this case, Mia gives up the perfect romance to pursue her dream job of being an actress. In the epilogue, she is wildly famous and successful, but has a vision of the life she could’ve had if she’d stayed with Seb, which to me was hauntingly sad.

What Hallmark and La La Land have in common is that they both pose the idea that somewhere in life there is a fork in the road where you choose between the perfect love and the perfect job. Which would you choose?

My Valentine and the Cupid Shuffle 5K

Happy belated Valentine’s Day! Whether single or in a relationship, this has always been my favorite holiday. I just love the idea of love…*sigh*

I love the heart-shaped balloons, the adorable teddy bears, the chocolate, and the flowers. But most of all, I love the fact that anything can happen on Valentine’s Day. It’s the perfect opportunity to express your love for someone–whether it’s a crush, a friend, or someone you’ve been married to for 50 years!

16665952_10155918203708228_5715648938234742358_oThis Valentine’s Day was extra special because I had a great person to share it with. A little over a year ago, my mom’s cousins out in Texas decided to play matchmaker. Little did they know, Nick happens to share my love of dogs, Sandra Bullock movies, sitcoms, running, and ice cream. More importantly, we share the same beliefs and values.

The weekend before Valentine’s Day, Nick’s work sponsored the Cupid Shuffle 5K in Lumberton, Texas. I drove in from Louisiana on Friday and stayed up late making a pink, red, and white tutu for the occasion.

The 5K was held at Lumberton City Park the next morning. That week, the flu had been going around my family, and I’d had fever, runny nose, and a cough myself. My plan was to walk the race, but once I got out there with the crowd of people, my competitive side kicked in. I ran the entire thing with a time of 28–a whole three minutes slower than Nick (and my previous 5K time), but not bad considering.16422649_1685139921783129_6774431180354357117_o

After the race, there were snacks, a DJ, and a video game truck. Nick and I played Super Smash Brothers, and I walked my chihuahua around to visit with everyone (Stu is a social butterfly). And then, of course, we did the Cupid Shuffle.

This year I got to enjoy Valentine’s weekend doing what I love with someone I love. It was the perfect way to celebrate my favorite holiday!

Louisiana Marathon 2017

3167129_img_2820-jpgThis weekend I participated in the Louisiana Marathon race weekend for the fourth consecutive year. My mom and I earned the Deja Vu Award by running both the 5K on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday. We love the Louisiana Marathon, and this year was extra special because my cousin Vivi joined us for the 5K, and my boyfriend Nick and good friend Ben joined us for the half marathon.

Friday evening I headed to the Baton Rouge River Center–along with Mom and my cousins Vivi and G–for the race expo. After we grabbed our race packets, we discovered the plethora of free stuff being offered by vendors. We got headbands from Supreme Rice, coffee from Community Coffee, snack samples from Honey Stinger, sunglasses, chapstick, ice packs, and more!yoga

My cousins and I joined a group in the center of the expo for some pre-race stretching led by Yoga Rouge. One guy in the group was really enjoying himself at the expo–in fact, we saw him later taking a shirtless picture at the photo booth. (His antics continued to amuse us throughout the weekend). Mom and Vivi ended up finding a great deal on some lightweight Mizunos and each bought a pair. We had a blast at the expo and left with lots of treasures.

My boyfriend Nick drove in from Texas that night. Thanks to his generosity, I was able to stay with him in the Hilton downtown for the weekend. Saturday morning we met in the lobby at 6am. It was filled with runners, including several of Ainsley’s Angels, who were setting up as Nick and I ate breakfast in the restaurant hotel. We had the most delicious breakfast any runner could hope for–eggs, grits, fresh baked muffins, fluffy waffles, berries, yogurt, and more. I had to stop myself from eating too much before the 5K!

Nick and I walked through a very foggy downtown to the race start. It was so foggy, we couldn’t even see the State Capitol building looming only yards away from us. We met my mom and Vivi at the gear check. After a few minutes of stretching, us girls weaved our way to the front of the race corral. At eight o’clock, the cannon blew and we were off!

I managed to stay by Vivi until the one mile mark, at which point she disappeared in the crowd. I ended up finishing around 25 minutes, Vivi around 27, and Mom around 34. Pleased with our times, and joined by Nick and my aunt and uncle, we headed to the finish festival to celebrate.

The finish festival featured restaurant vendors and businesses from all over Baton Rouge. Nick (a Texas native but Cajun at heart) enjoyed the jambalaya, gumbo, and crawfish etouffee. Vivi liked the fact that people were handing out freebies galore. In fact, our phrase of the day was “Let’s go find more free stuff!” Mom enjoyed the live music. And me, I loved the experience of being around hundreds (er, make that thousands) of runners from all over the world. I never wanted it to end.

But alas, the crowd thinned and my family left. The fog had lifted and it was a beautiful afternoon, but because Nick wasn’t feeling well, we walked back to the hotel. Once he was settled in, I took a walk to the downtown grocery to get him some ibuprofen.

On my way back, a reporter stopped me on the sidewalk and asked if I was in town for the race. We chatted a bit and then she asked if she could interview me. Of course I happily agreed. Then she whipped out a video camera, to which I reacted “Oh, this is for TV…? Cool!!”

Here’s the news clip from that night, featuring yours truly.

The next morning Nick and I met in the lobby even earlier–at 5:45 am. We walked to St. Joseph’s Cathedral downtown for a very unique, 26.2 minute runners’ mass. Father Michael Alello, a marathon runner himself, does this mass especially for those running the Louisiana full and half marathon. It was interesting seeing the church filled with people in Nike shorts, compression socks, and racing shoes.

After mass, we met up with Mom and Ben. This was the first half marathon for Mom, Nick, and Ben, and I could sense their nervous excitement. When the race started, we were in the back of the pack, with nearly 3,000 people ahead of us. Ben, who can run a 45-minute 10K, sped ahead of us and ended up finishing in under two hours.

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Half marathon finishers in order: Ben, Mom, me, and Nick!

Nick and I stayed together for the first half of the race–high-fiving cops, waving to spectators, and enjoying the sights of City Park and LSU. Using a mile split tracker I tattooed to my forearm that morning, I paced myself for a 2:15 half marathon. However, Nick refused to keep that pace, nervous that he might burn out. So, I confess…I was a bad girlfriend and left him in the dust. I sped up in the second half of the race and ended up finishing in 2:12.

Some interesting things I saw along the route:

  • A spectator wearing nothing but a speedo and a unicorn mask
  • Guys handing out water and donuts wearing some sort of stripper cop outfit, including disturbingly tight short shorts
  • A runner in a shirt reading “This is a lot of work for a free banana”
  • Volunteers handing out mimosas and beer in the middle of the race
  • Signs reading “At least you’re not at work” and “If Trump can run and win, so can you”

I met up with Ben at the finish line, and we watched as Nick crossed the finish with a time of 2:21 and Mom with a time of 2:47. We headed to the finish festival for some more food and free stuff!

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Thanks to Conner and Vicki for their support and friendship –and tour of downtown!

We met up with my friend Vicki and her husband Conner, who had come out to cheer for us. It was great to see them! We were enjoying some jambalaya and Abita beer when I suggested we give Ben (a New Orleans native) and Nick a tour of downtown Baton Rouge.

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Nick bears a striking resemblance to the Walk-On’s mascot…

Vicki and Conner were up to the task, both of them quite knowledgeable of the area. They gave us a lesson in history and culture, walking us down the main streets and past the old state capitol. We ended our tour at the old governor’s mansion, where we sat on some benches and talked for a while. According to Nick’s Fitbit, we’d walked several miles in addition to our 13.1!

With my friends and family spread out in different cities and states, it was great to have this event bring us together. The Louisiana Marathon is fun, fast, and well-organized. It benefits many charities, including the Rett Syndrome Foundation, who my registration fee benefited (thanks to the generosity of my dad’s company Albemarle). I can’t wait to do it all over again in 2018!

Food for thought: Do people change?

For the last month, I’ve been taking a nutrition class; starting tomorrow, I’m taking a stress management class. So I’ll be switching from thinking about food all the time to thinking about stress factors, self-esteem, personality, and stress management techniques. (Aw, who am I kidding, I’ll still be thinking about food all the time.)

Anyway, I was reading through some resources for class when I stumbled upon this NPR article about personality. The author argues that, despite the common belief that “people don’t change,” our personalities can change drastically throughout our lives.

There is research and anecdotal evidence supporting the idea that humans are capable of becoming a completely different person–given time, effort, and change in perspective.

This news is a little unnerving, considering it means a friendly person could potentially change into a sociopath. It also means that our relationships could suffer if one or both parties become a different person and no one’s willing to adapt or compromise. But on the flip side, some relationships could be repaired if the individuals are willing to change.

I was skeptical when reading this article; personally, I don’t think people can change their personality. An introvert will always be an introvert–it’s how their brain is programmed, right? I do think it’s possible for people to change their beliefs, attitudes, morals, outlook, and countless other aspects of their being, creating the effect of a whole new person.

What do you think, can people change?

Girls on the Run 5K

13235639_10154933504668228_4858850113780936631_oOn May 14th my 12-year-old cousin Vivi did her first 5K race through the Girls on the Run program, and I happily served as her running buddy. Girls on the Run is a non-profit organization for grade-school girls that encourages healthy lifestyles and builds confidence. Vivi participated in this program for several weeks leading up to the run, and her training paid off. We finished the 5K in 27 minutes–not bad for her first rodeo!

My mom and I arrived at “Inspiration Village” (held in the fields behind the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge) around 7:30 that morning. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and it was a beautiful day for a run…albeit, a little hot.

Various schools and organizations had tents set up for their girls in the program. A DJ was playing on a stage. There were several stations for the girls (and boys) to get decorated for the run, including colored hair spray and bandannas with individualized expressions like “just keep running” or “sunshine.” We also got buttons, and someone was selling tutus (but for the record, I made mine myself).

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Vivi, her sister G, and my aunt and uncle arrived shortly after us. There was a station for spectators to decorate posters, so my mom and G made some while me and Vivi got ready. Then at 8:30, there was a Zumba warm-up in “Balloon Field.” This activity was for everyone, so my mom, G, Vivi, and I all did Zumba. The girls were clearly embarrassed at my mom and I getting into the dances, which just made it more fun for us (hehe).

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Mom & G cheering us on!

After the warm-up, I wasn’t just warm–I was already sweating! I hoped I could keep up my energy and have a good race; I didn’t want to let Vivi down. We lined up near the back of the race corral, and at 9 am we were off.

I explained to Vivi that it’s important to go slow at first, to avoid burnout. We weaved around walkers and slower runners, keeping a slow and steady pace. When we reached the first water station at mile 1, I encouraged her to go a little faster. She seemed okay, but she didn’t want to go faster. Not wanting to push her too hard, I kept the slow and steady pace.

As we ran, I explained some of my racing tips and tried to keep her motivated. At mile 3, when I was telling her to go her fastest, she wanted to slow down. When the finish line came into view, she wanted to–*gasp*–walk! She complained about a stitch in her side. But I refused to hear it.

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Vivi & Sophie!

We reached the final stretch, and I told her to sprint. Out of nowhere she starts sprinting full speed ahead, leaving me in the dust and finishing a good 20 seconds faster than me. That stitch in her side must have miraculously disappeared!

I was very proud and impressed by Vivi, but I have a sneaking suspicion she could have done better. Next year I want G and my mom to run with us, and I’m not letting anyone slow down.

After the race, my brother and sister-in-law, who were visiting from out-of-state, came out with my niece Sophie. There were pancakes, fruit cups, music, and a photo booth at the post-race party. It was fun dancing with little Sophie, who just turned a year old.

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I love these girls!

This is a fun race for anyone of any age. Everything about it was adorable. I had a great time with my family, and I can’t wait to do this one next year!

 

The Great Huey P. Long Bridge Run

IMG_20160506_152111This weekend I ran my first bridge run, a 5K stretching from the East Bank to the West Bank of the Mississippi River, across the Huey P. Long Bridge in Harahan, Louisiana. My running buddy Ben’s mom, who lives just minutes from the bridge, offered to host me for the weekend. Thanks to her, I was able to get plenty of good food and rest the night before the race.

Saturday morning, me and Ben arrived at the start line 15 minutes early, despite a last-minute run to Starbucks so I could get breakfast. We spotted our fellow grad student, Nick, checking out a sweet Lamborghini parked at the race start. We took some pictures and then lost each other in the crowd of about 1,000 runners. A few minutes later, the Lamborghini started rolling and we were off!

So, confession: I didn’t actually train for this run… My last 5K, two weeks before, was the last time I’d been running. Now considering I was about to run across the Mississippi River on an incline, I didn’t expect to be very fast.

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Ben, me, Nick…and a sweet Lamborghini.

So I went slow and steady. Taking off at a leisurely pace, I set my goal to finish in under 30 minutes. We ran for about a half mile before reaching the actual bridge. Then there it was: the first incline. I kept telling myself to go slow, not knowing what to expect.

The bridge leveled out for several yards, and then we faced another incline. I felt thankful when I saw a water station staffed with several wonderful volunteers on that second incline.

As we increased in elevation, I became distracted by the awesome view of the river and city below me, everything looking so small. Then I saw a sign that said “You made it to the top. It’s all downhill from here!”

I slowed down for a moment to sneak a glance at all the runners behind me–hundreds of determined people, all running uphill. It was an inspiring view.

Just as the sign promised, it was all downhill from there. I picked up my pace and let gravity work its magic. I could see what was ahead of me, and I knew the finish line (and free food!) was near. I laughed when I heard one man say “I’m just running to the beer.”20160507_090000

The race finished in Gumbo Festival Park, where a live band was playing and several vendors were set up. They were serving delicious gumbo and jambalaya, as well as beer and donuts. Ben finished exactly two minutes ahead of me, with a time of 23:44, placing third in his age group. I finished 6th in my age group, and was quite pleased with my time.

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Representing the health & kinesiology department!

The band, Imaginary Frenz, was awesome. They played a great mix of oldies and contemporary stuff, like Better Than Ezra and Blues Traveler. I absolutely loved them and their song choices.

Ben and I caught up with Nick and got some food. I held off on the beer because the line stretched all the way across the field.

Later, we were heading over to the finish line to take a picture when we noticed the last runner coming in. It was a man who had walked the entire 5K with a cane. Everyone flocked to the finish line to cheer him on. He is awesome!

Ben and I hung out for a while after the crowd thinned out, enjoying the band while we waited for the awards ceremony. I eventually got my beer–not because I actually like beer, but because supposedly it restores electrolytes (and it’s part of the whole experience, especially at a New Orleans race).

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Chicken gumbo? Yes please!

I took a shuttle bus back across the bridge, marveling at how I had just run over it. Me and Ben headed back to his mom’s place, where his family and friends were having their annual Kentucky Derby pool party. We had boiled crawfish, gumbo, cake, and tons of snacks. It was amazing. My chihuahua, the social butterfly that he is, had a great time as well.

The Huey P. Bridge Run is definitely worth doing again next year. I recommend it to any runners reading this!

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A 5K and crawfish in one day. I was one happy girl!

Am I a good person?

Today I walked to the quad on campus with my lunchbox and picked a lovely sunny spot in the grass to spend my hour-long break. A southern baptist group was out there, with one man was standing on some milk crates preaching. This particular group, unlike another baptist group who frequents campus yelling brimstone and hellfire, is actually quite nice. They simply try to tell students what the Bible says–not convert people or harass them.

The preacher man offered $20 to anyone willing to do what he called the Good Person Challenge. He asked “Who among you considers yourself a good person?” A young man named Lucas stepped up. The preacher proceeded to ask Lucas if he’d ever lied, disrespected his parents, taken God’s name in vain… By the time he went through the whole list of sins, he determined that Lucas was indeed not a good person (but for the record, Lucas seemed like a very nice boy).

Poor Lucas didn’t disagree with him, but pointed out that God is merciful and might send him to purgatory for these sins. The preacher shot down this idea, claiming that purgatory is nonexistent. The two never reached an agreement. Lucas, a Catholic, was convinced that his soul is alright; the preacher was convinced that Lucas needed to be saved, saying that Catholic doctrine is unbiblical.

As a Catholic, I’m no stranger to the fact that there are fundamental differences between these two religions. However, I didn’t disagree with the man’s message today, and I actually enjoyed his sermon.

I did, however, have a problem with a girl who interrupted the Good Person Challenge to ask Lucas if the guy was bothering him, implying that he forced Lucas to be up there. Lucas was the one who volunteered–Lucas was making $20! The man asked her to not interrupt, since he was having a conversation with Lucas. The girl responded very rudely.

Many students are rude to these evangelists on campus. Some students are downright hateful, cursing the people out and starting debates. These students claim that evangelists are intolerant, but in all truthfulness, the intolerance goes both ways.

Coincidentally, the concept of a “good person” is a theme that’s been running through my head a lot this week. What makes someone a good person? Am I a good person? Is anyone actually a bad person, or is there mostly good in everyone? Do other people care about being a good person as much as I do?

I like to think of myself as a good person, but I can recall times when I’ve been cold, jealous, distant, stand-offish, defensive, or selfish. The man’s message today was comforting to me–no one is perfect, and no amount of good deeds can make us perfect. But because of Jesus, we’re forgiven for all that. It’s up to us what we do with it. We can start by treating others how we’d want to be treated, which includes religious tolerance and respecting others’ beliefs.

Dealing with criticism

It seems that there are two types of criticism: just criticism and unjust criticism. I’m not great at taking either, but I’ve had my fair share of both.

Just criticism is actually a good thing. We learn and grow through criticism. Each time a teacher takes off points for something, we make a little note to not do that again. Criticism at work helps us do our jobs better. It shouldn’t be mean, rude, or personal. It should add a tool to our life’s toolbox. Don’t sweat a little criticism–it’s part of any worthy endeavor.

To avoid criticism: Do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.

-Aristotle

Unjust criticism is a whole different ballgame. It gets personal. Maybe you’re criticized for something that wasn’t your fault, or maybe for something you can’t change. Some people like finding petty things to criticize, nit-picking your every move. It’s mean, rude, and unnecessary.

Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.

-Dale Carnegie

In my adult life, I’ve received a lot of criticism for being too quiet. It’s come from professors, boyfriends, acquaintances–even total strangers. I’m learning to take it with a grain of salt because the criticism is unjust. It doesn’t alter my ability to get my job done. It doesn’t make me a bad person.

And since I can’t change my personality, how does this criticism benefit me? Unjust criticism hurts the person more than it helps them.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

-Ephesians 4:29

Oftentimes unjust criticism has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the other person. As Dale Carnegie put it:

Unjust criticism is usually a disguised compliment. It often means that you have aroused jealousy and envy. Remember that no one ever kicks a dead dog.

 

Unjust criticism gets me down. Like, really down. On the same token, praise and accolades have the opposite effect–it can cause me to think I’m somehow better than others. I’ve learned to avoid this by using the metaphor of an ice chest: be insulated against both criticism and praise. Take both into consideration, but don’t let it affect you personally.

Don’t let compliments go to your head and don’t let criticism get to your heart.

 

Green & Gold 5K

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My new racing shoes!

My most recent 5K turned out to be less than a 5K–and that’s okay. It was my first race with my fabulous new running shoes: the women’s Asics gel hyper speed 6. These shoes are more minimalistic than traditional running shoes, with a thin sole and very little support. They’re as light as a feather; one of the kinesiology professors in my department even compared them to ballet slippers.

 

The Green and Gold 5K was held at Southeastern University’s campus last Saturday to benefit our athletics program. It was neat in that the finish line was the end zone in Strawberry Stadium. Two of my fellow grad students came out for it, as did my friend Nick from Texas. We were surprised how small the group was on the morning of the race. Only about 50 people ran!

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My work friends are the best!

Despite the small size, I still didn’t place in the 20-30 age group. The ROTC runners and my friend Ben took the medals for that. According to our Apple watches and running apps, the course was about 2.9 miles. Me and Nick tied, crossing the finish line in 23 minutes flat.

I just registered for the Girls on the Run 5K, which raises money for young girls and helps them to get healthier. My little cousin is doing their training program, and this will be her first 5K. As her running buddy, I will make sure she successfully finishes. She’s extremely fast, so I’m hoping she doesn’t beat me.

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Me & Nick in Strawberry Stadium!

My friends from work also want me to do the Huey P. Long Bridge Run 5K. This race goes across the bridge and back, so it will be a challenge. If I stay on top of my schoolwork, I’ll be able to do this one (even though it’s right before finals).

So many races, so little time!