The Comfort Zone and Beyond

Irish gal living the American dream in Austin, Texas y'all!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Month one done: I still wanna be a hippy

My hippy month is over.. except It's kinda not. I did survive the month, and I was expecting to want to head to the nearest steakhouse last Sunday, but no.. I still haven't eaten any meat. So, I survived in the end, despite majorly struggling with tiredness like I mentioned last time.

Kale smoothies were the saving of me..Here's the one I'm making . I'm a lot less tired and until I started making them, I was hanging on till the month was over. Weirdly, I now have no desire to eat cheese or any dairy... I kinda do want a juicy piece of meat, that's all. Maybe iron deficiency??
BUT I confess that I did break my veganism for Thanksgiving! The food I made was kinda icky so I had some mashed taters and other vegetarian stuff that had butter and cheese in it.

Doubt this would make it into Jamie's kitchen

I can forgive myself though; it's fairly tough being surrounded by food all day that you can't eat.

So, can I do it longterm? 

I'm gonna try.

I was a vegetarian as a teenager and I kept it up for 5 years until the morning after a night out on the town (my 18th birthday), a sausage sandwich managed to make its way into my gob..and a mighty cure it was! I was anemic despite taking those awful iron tablets and I don't think my diet was good enough. I was a picky enough eater but I would eat anything now, so I don't think It'll be much of an issue. If the doc tells me otherwise next time I get a blood test though, I will rethink it coz I definitely won't take supplements. You should be able to get all the nourishment you need from food, that's my thinking anyways.

I went vegetarian for ethical reasons. I wanted to be a vet and I thought it would be hypocritical to eat animals  and also want to help them. I also saw a disturbing documentary on how pigs are reared for meat. I'm not going to force this information on anyone, that's what Google is for. What kills me about pigs is that they are actually very intelligent animals. Chickens, sheep and cows are a different story so I don't have as many issues with eating them.

This month's challenge wasn't brought on by my guilt per se but I have decided that I won't eat pig products again. I also really really want a pet piggie one day... so it'd be a bit funny to be eating its cousins :)

Cutest thing ever
Yes, I think that eating animals was probably a big reason why we rose to the top of the food chain and was key for evolution, and if I lived in Ireland, my issues with meat probably wouldn't have spurred me to keep eating vegan as much as possible. But it really bothers me that you see advertising campaigns in america for ''grass-fed'' beef. Say this to anyone in Ireland and they'd look at ya and say, ''sure what else would they be eating?'' Well, surprisingly few are exclusively fed grass (read more about it here).

I also read in a proper science article this month (i.e. a trusted source) that 73% of antibiotics consumed in America are consumed by animals.. isn't that kinda ridiculous and disgusting? Again, I don't want to push my opinion/ the facts on people but if ya want to know more about the link between antibiotic resistance and meat, read this and this.

So, I'm going to eat vegan for the mostpart but I won't say no to my mother's food (we have eggs fresh from the hen's arse!). If I eat meat, it'll be from a cow that roamed the fields. Eating that kinda meat would be fairly pricey here so about once a month I'll go to Whole Foods (expensive supermarket) and get something good.

Things I didn't know before veganism

One thing you mightn't know about veganism till ya try it.. there are repercussions for dramatically increasing the amount of beans ya eat!  I made this chilli and apparently everyone knows what chili does to you. Here's a hint: beans, beans are good for your heart, the more you eat, the more you *art. Apologies to Mr Man if ur reading this.. hope you didn't think I was a lady. Moral of the story, beans are key for vegan survival but gradually increasing the amount of beans in the diet would be a good idea.

Another thing this month made me realize is that it's the fat in foods that makes you feel satisfied. This was learned though evenings of scavenging the kitchen for food every half an hour. Vegan fats to include in all meals can be nuts or avocado on a salad or using coconut milk in a curry. Or dark chocolate with the tea.

So how did I get on with the yoga?

I was attempting to do yoga every day for a month,or practicing as the yogis call it. My confession numero uno is that I was supposed to start my year of experimenting in September, with Bikram yoga, and it was a flop.

It you're wondering what the feck Bikram yoga is then I'll share my limited knowledge  It follows a sequence of 26 postures (the same 26 every time, see here), it lasts 90 mins and It's in a 110 degree room.. ah that's 43 degrees celcius. Basically it'll like having no air conditioning in Texas in August ;)

How did I think this was a good idea? Well, a certain Ms O'Donovan might think that I just love torturing myself but I'm also easily talked into trying new things so my friend Esteban invited to join him for a class, so I did. I went to 4 classes total. And that was that.

I got used to the nakedness (not total but you wear as little as possible).


Believe it or not the heat wasn't as bad after the first class (the first one was terrible), and I finished every class fairly proud of myself for surviving and attempting every posture. Some things you mightn't expect: even if you feel like you'll pass out, you aren't allowed to leave the room. You just lie on your mat. I think it's incase you faint outside.. kinda scary though. 90 mins and I'm trapped..eeeekk!

The smell is absolutely foul. The only way I can describe it is in relation to a smell of dog. Stale, sweaty wet dogs in a confined space X 100. You can even smell it from the street. After a while you get used to it. They don't recommend you wiping your sweat off coz It's supposed to help keep you cool.. I'm not convinced!

To cut a long story short, it wasn't for me. It was too intense. My job is stressful enough and after a summer of worrying about drinking enough water (with the running in the heat), I didn't want to spend my days constantly drinking water again. The classes are too structured too, the same sequence, the instructors all even say the exact same things, it's too regimental, for me that is.  Some people swear by it. Each to their own, at least my curiosity is now satisfied.

So I still wanted to give yoga a shot, since it's supposed to be relaxing and help prevent injuries and I actually did it every day for November.. and really liked it. Yoga has lots of benefits but if you're thinking of starting, here is a good article of he risks as well as rewards of yoga.

I did it through online classes, two websites I'd highly recommend are Doyogawithme and Reflexion Yoga. Yoga definitely can be super relaxing and mellow but it doesn't have to be. Doyogawithme has more relaxing ones (for beginners at least) so if I wanted to do one just before bed, I'd do one of these. The classes can be as short as 10 mins. On Thanksgiving, I still hadn't done it when I got home around midnight and did a 15 min class, just to stick to my everyday challenge!

Reflexion yoga has more proper sweaty workouts.. give it a lash! Free 15 day trial and It's only 12 buckaroos a month for unlimited classes. once you've gone to a few classes in person to learn how to do the basic poses right, I think the at-home classes are just as good as the real deal. is totally free by the way. I really like the flexibility of not having to leave the house sometimes too.. and unlike running, you can pretty much do it on a full belly, or right before going to sleep.

Keep an eye out for free classes too.. Austin is kinda a haven for the hippy types, so there's nearly always free classes somewhere in town. I go to a free one on Sunday's at Luke's Locker. I'd give it the two thumbs up.

If you don't like a particular class or instructor though but still like the idea of yoga, then definitely try a few more. I went to a terrible class 2 weeks ago.. it was seriously hippy in a bad way. I'd never been to a class with music and her choice was bad! Gipsy Kings and Ace of Base while we are supposedly connecting with our breath.. are you having a larf!

She goes 20 mins in to class and says ''If you didn't pick up your feather on the way in, please go grab one now''. Say what now? I was intrigued as to what was coming next when she pipes up.. I want you to hold the feather up and then watch it as it drops to the ground. Now, I want you to embody that feather. Serious eye-rolling ensued. Oh, and I saved the best part till last. We had imagine all our troubles were a ball of clay and then to smear said clay ball all over ourselves and then vigorously shake it off. Stupid. Asking you to recount all your problems is ridiculous, and to me counter-prouductive. And don't get me started on the clay! But hey, it was an experience, glad I went. It's good to know what you don't like too :)

So, what did I learn/achieve from yoga?

Firstly, I learned that yoga is a genuine form of exercise! I used to think that yoga was for people who were too lazy to actually do cardio exercise, but it's alot harder than I expected. I learned that I have a lot of work to do to even attmot 99% of the yoga poses but that's not a bad thing. Yoga takes years to build up. I like that it's non competitive and you are only doing it for yourself. People that have done yoga for years still struggle with certain postures so I like the idea of you always seeking don't reach a peak at a certain age or whatever.

I attempted this today.. Oh I am sooo far off being able for this!

I have more upper body strength.. got me some guns now (very little ones mind, hardly lethal weapons).
My legs are stronger. I went for a run with my running group a few weeks back and although I was puffing and panting more, when I went to sprint at the end my legs felt wayyyy stronger.. yoga has a lot of lunge holds. I expected my injuries (calve and foot half marathon injuries) to feel better, but not really yet.

I probably put on a pound or two.

I think my circulation has improved. I am always cold, and I didn't need to get extra layers at work as often. Might be the extra insulation on me too :)

My finger after biking with TWO pairs of gloves
So I'll keep it up, maybe 3 days a week and get back to the running a bit more.
Speaking of which, I have a race next weekend, at the formula one track! How cool is that?! I have no intention of going to see F1 but It'll be really cool to see the track! The month off running means the 10K will be a struggle but it'll be a good time since there's a few of us running together. See, excited!!

So, what's up next?! 

Dancing! Well I haven't actually done anything yet, but I will now that I've written it here! I love dancing and I'd like to actually have a move or two so I bought a Groupon and I'm gonna go tomorrow and aim for 3 classes a week, unless they ban me for crushing too many toes ;)

My other thing I wanna do this month is to call up all my close friends/family. It's really hard to stay in touch when you're on a different timezone than most of your peeps and Facebook/email are no substitute for real conversation. This'll be a good way too to ward of loneliness since I'm not going home for Christmas.

Wowee, sorry for the long post! As a reward for getting to the end, here is a fetching pic of me.

Hope y'all have a great week and as the yanks say, ''Happy Holidays''!

chilly willy

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Don't mention the cheese

Don't talk to me about cheese please. It's day 17 of being a vegan (not that I'm counting or anything) and while i'd love to say, so far so good... we'll just say it's been interesting!

What do I miss the most? You've got one guess... cheese. You can put cheese on top of dog crap and it'd taste good (I'm imagining, haven't tried it myself.. input here anyone?).

So what else is off the menu for vegans? Animals and fish, obviously. Eggs, milk, yogurt. Most baked goods, honey, most chocolate. Anything with gelatin in it.

So alot then.

My month as a vegan began on Friday the 1st. Since I normally do my food shopping on a Sunday, I had nothing in the house except cheese, butter, eggs and yogurt. Seriously, it was like my sub-conscience (or the other half of my split personality) was playing a cruel joke on me. Having that little in the fridge is normally not a problem, since I pride myself on being able to make a meal out of very little.

I always have sweet potatoes, rice, quinoa and garlic around. Peas, corn and spinach are in the freezer, so throw some things together with eggs and you've got a tasty omelettey thingy. And of course, you have to grate some cheese on top. So I learned the hard way pretty fast that you can't just throw a meal together when vegan; some preparation and stocking of the fridge and cupboards with non-animal staples is in order. I acknowledge this would have been obvious to most people. Mr Man told me ''you better get used to being hungry for the month'' and I feared that was the case. 

The first week I made one tasty meal, with tempeh as the protein source and one awful meal, which left me eating protein bars (Larabars are vegan) for lunch most days that week.

Spaghetti squash alfredo with cauliflower sauce.. tasted worse than it looked, if you can believe it

Getting enough protein so that you feel full for a while is the hardest part of being vegan. We had a visiting professor that I had to go for lunch with too that week. Thai food was ordered in for the group of us, but with no labels on anything I had plain rice with some soy sauce. Yummy in my tummy.. I can hear your stomach rumbling from here ;) 

Parties are a bit awkward too. I was tempted by some vegetarian lasagna at a party last weekend, but I couldn't be bothering the host asking  about the list of ingredients, so I passed. Plus it was almost guaranteed to have ricotta in it.

Eating out can be an ordeal, and I definitely don't want to be a pain in the ass for people by insisting on a vegan-friendly place. Luckily I have some pretty cool friends who love to try new things and they have been the ones to suggest completely vegan places. I have been to Casa de Luz  twice. It's a really interesting place.. kinda has a commune, I-just-joined-a cult kinda feel to it but lovely otherwise.

hippy sanctuary

I told my friend Charles that if I start spending a lot of time there to stage an intervention ;) They are super vegan and don't even believe in soy products like tofu, it's all plants. Soy is bad apparently (I'm skeptical but here is an article on it. No coffee or alcohol either and it's a set menu. I know I'm probably not selling many people on it, but Austinites should go there once at least.

Ice cream is right up there with cheese; it's my fav treat. But sure when you know you can't have something there's no point in writing ''an ode to thy ice cream''. I tried coconut-based ice cream at Sweet Ritual and it got the thumbs down but So Delicious brand was almost as good as the real stuff. I'd recommend it even if you aren't vegan.

So, what are my resources for recipes and tips for survival in general?

  • You have to like to cook. I do.
  • Meal planning and shopping lists are essential. And I am now one of those that has to read labels of everything.
  • No meat athlete blog. There are so many vegan (and vegetarian) recipes on this blog and I made this tofu red Thai curry last week that was so good. I hadn't eaten tofu before this month, and I don't like it (and according to that article I'm a goner for eating it) but it's a great source of protein so the curry did a good job of disguising it. Thay blog is great for running tips too, FYI.
  • Pinterest. I don't know if many people use Pinterest, but I love it. It's especially great for finding and saving recipes. You can create boards, like a vegan board, and then if the people or companies you follow post something you like, then you pin the image, and you can look it up later. I often find a link to something i like and I dont have time (or care at the time) to look it up, so I save it there until I wanna decide what to cook. Anywho, I have used it to find tips for being vegan and recipes. (you can follow me here if u like.
  • Have a plan B (not the contraceptive). Carry almonds or a piece of fruit with ya. 

So, why am I doing this to myself again?

well because it's claimed to be a healthier way of living. Because I'm interested in having hands on experience with how different people live their lives. I normally don't use logic when signing up for something and often bite off more than I can chew (like moving to College Station by myself on a whim) but if you don't sometimes push yourself beyond your capabilities once in a while, you don't ever learn what you can do. Many people have said to me, ''I could never be vegan'', or ''I could never live without bacon/ cheese/'' But yea, I think you could and not be miserable. Once you push past the resistance, which I compare to getting passed 3 miles of running, then it ain't so bad.

I do need to do better though, since I am as tired as 25 tinkers (read: iron deficiency), so I better get some kale smoothies in me, or something. I haven't fully decided what I'll do beyond this month; watching the Thanksgiving dinner turkey feasting will be a good test. If I can't stick that then there's no way I can handle Christmas dinner.

I'll let y'all know how the month of yoga is going soon, but suffice to say it's the easier of the two experiments.

Have a great week y'all,


p.s. I think I fixed the commenting so that should be possible now 

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Month one: I wanna be a hippie!

It's in my nature to experiment. In fact, I've made (or am attempting to make) a career of it! For those of you who don't know me too well I'm a research scientist, trying to figure out how proteins important in many diseases interact in the human cell.. dozed off yet?

me and my PhD sitting in a tree...

K this is all the science talk ever on here, promise, so bear with me. We come up with hypotheses (propose scenarios), test them with experiments, they are wildly successful and I win the Nobel Prize.. whoops I must have drifted into fantasy land there, but we do hope to discover important things that will impact human health positively.

In real non-science life, for a year I plan to test a number of hypotheses, one at a time for a month each and see if it is something I will stick with or not or make any changes at all to my regular routine. The overall aim of the game? To push myself to do new things and maybe learn a thing or two. I am approaching that big 3-0 in a little over a year so I figure I might as well start early with the getting wise part (the old, not so much ;)).

First month? I wanna be a hippie!! I propose (as do all the hippies I've met) that doing yoga and going vegan will make me a more chilled, happier healthier person. To test this out I will eat vegan food only (gulp) and do yoga everyday for November. I'll leave off the hairy legs part of being a hippie

....touches leg....

hmm, maybe i'm halfway to becoming a hippie already, moving swiftly along!

I'll pick a different theme each month based on things that are likely to a bit challenging but once I've committed/forced myself to do I will likely enjoy. I'm thinking dancing will have to be in there, like salsa or two stepping.. I reckon I'm a great dancer (who doesn't after a tipple or two?!) but my boyfriend reckons I have no rhythm..hmph, I'll show him!

getting my two-step on with a random gent at the Broken Spoke
I also wanna prove that you can do things on the cheap (I kinda have to coz I'm not exactly flash with cash).. basically I want to prove to myself that where there's a will there's a way so excuses don't fly.

Manageable tasks.. I think so! My brother just cycled 2800 miles in a month, this'll be easy peasy! I'm seriously proud by the way.

It's all about pushing beyond that comfort zone. That's where the name of my blog came from and that's also why I started to blog. Writing a blog that a few people seem to like reading and reaching my half marathon fundraising goal gave me confidence. It really is mind over matter and once you set your mind on a goal, something that might even seem out of reach, you have so much to gain by challenging yourself and just going for it.. don't think about it for too long. Tell a friend (or tell everyone like I did) so you don't chicken out. By putting myself out there on the blog, I also learned to not care about what people think.. you gotta do stuff for yourself, and if you fail, who gives a crap? Just you.. Put your ego aside because it's very likely at least one good thing has/will come of it.

I also want to be one of those people, where someone asks ''have you ever tried x,y,z'' and i'll be like, ''yup, sure did''! so maybe i'll get more adventurous as the months go on. Have you any suggestions? I'll take them seriously as long as it's not cycling 2800 miles, a la Tabby :)

Yoga will be good for managing stress and gaining flexibility to ward off those pesky running injuries. I try it every so often but I think it's something you need to do very regularly to see any benefit. And it definitely won;t be easy. you know all those images of yoga poses where someone is just sitting cross legged on a mat with their eyes closed just breathing and stuff.. lies I tell ya, I was sore for 2 days after I tried it first!

Going vegan should be interesting! I was vegetarian for 5 years as a teenager but me thinks this will be another ball game altogether. Bill Clinton reckons it changed his life and all that so we shall be seeing if there's some truth in it.. well here goes! If it's a flop and I'm just hungry for the month I'll counter it and eat raw steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner in December :)

Question time: have you ever gone vegan? Ever tried some crazy yoga or practice regularly?

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Value what's important

This week, my family received some devastating news of the passing of my cousin. A mere 28 years old.While it's too soon to even talk about it, I am posting mostly because I wish to feel closer to my family and maybe someone will read this and maybe it will mean something.

It was just weeks ago when I posted on my brother's wedding and rejoiced at how great it was to have us all together, and for a happy occasion. Just as it is our privilege to help our loved ones celebrate the good times, it is the support of your family and friends that pulls us through the tough times. It doesn't have to be a motivational speech, words of wisdom. It can be a pat on the shoulder, a hug.. putting the kettle on for tea and just sitting with them.

We all face tough times at some stage in our lives.. so I urge you.. celebrate the good times. When you are feeling like life is great for you, get out a pen and paper. Write down everything that is good in your life. Life is a collection of fleeting moments so we need to remember the good times to pull us through the bad times. Just as good things come to an end, so do bad... so we need to hang on in there, until things come good again.

Unfortunately I don't have hugs or much support to offer right now, just words.. but my thoughts, prayers and love are with the O'Connor and O'Neill families and everyone who knew and loved Shane.

It's tough being far away from home when bad things happen.. luckily I will have two visitors in a bit.

In the meantime, Mila is doing a good job of keeping me company.

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Home Sweet Home

Well howdy doody y'all!

It's been forever and a day since I've been on here but I'm back to tell y'all what I've been up to since the half marathon (a trip to the homeland happened)

Well let's see..

Went to Ireland

Millie on top of Toorsaleen mountain

Met my darling nephew 

and Godson Aaron (pronounced Ah-ron, not Ae-ron like the yanks say).

I have to say, it was very strange seeing my younger sister as a doting mamma. She's a natural :)

Introduced himself to the family.

I guess it's a big deal bringing a yank home to meet the family but he got on so well with them all and instantly became 'one of the lads'

Family wedding

Colm and Aisling were married and had the most beautiful classy wedding.

everyone looked damn fine (PS Aisling's dress was amazing)

Mighty craic was had at the wedding and the O'Connor men didn't even take their shirts off this time!! It was so great to have most of my relatives under the one roof, and for a happy occasion.

when you grow up in the middle of nowhere it's no surprise that your cousins become your best friends.. miss this crew

Best friend's wedding

Miss Claire Roche became Mrs Walsh!! Claire and I lived together for 3 years in college in Dublin and I'm so happy that although we've probably only seen each other 10 times since we graduated in 2006, she is still one of my peoples! Rochie sure loved a good par-tay and this wedding was a Claire-style wedding for sure.

just found this gem! good auld college days :)

A band were going table-to-table during the dinner playing requests.. If there wasn't food on the table they may have been danced on!

Sidenote: In keeping with my habit of oversharing, I have a funny story for y'all about my rush to make it to the church on time.. I know it's only the bride that should have drama about making it to the church on time but I had my share too!

We were late leaving the hotel...Claire's wedding was on 2 days after Colm's and I was feeling a little under the weather let's say ;) Then there was a 4-5 hr drive to get there and I didn't know where the church was.. somewhere on a country road in Kildare. I found out an hour before the wedding I was doing second reading.. uh-oh. My saviour Liz rang with directions, which was all good and well until we took a wrong turn (OK I) and were a bit lost.

At this point ''my water was nearly down my leg'' (I needed to pee REAL BAD) so I apologised to Mr Boyfriend (well I apologise now OK?!).. a roadside pee in my dress was essential. I pulled in off the road in the grass (I'm classy like that).. and would you believe it.. the car got stuck! The ever patient boyfriend got out and pushed (does anyone have a medal we can give him!) and we were on our merry way! 25 mins late but we made it for second reading.. phew!!

Gave Doug a taste of Ireland.

A pint of the black stuff at the Guinness Storehouse
Kilkenny.. so purty!

And of course no trip to the motherland would be complete without a) walk up to the top of the mountain (my family's mountain) and b) the ateing a feed of Sneem black pudding!

I was talking about it for weeks before I went home. If any of you haven't had it make a point of getting some in your belly. It's made by a local butcher in a village called Sneem in Kerry and there's nothing like it. FYI for the American's: it's not like a chocolate pudding, it's made of pig's blood but don't let that put you off. Doug loved it.

But, you know what Doug said was the best part of the whole trip? The people.

I know Irish people have a reputation for being friendly but Americans are friendly too, so I never really got what the big deal was. In America you hear 'have a nice day' all the time so I guess what sets Ireland apart is that people are generous with their time and genuinely curious and interested in you. Ask for help and people will bend over backwards to help you. I hope the Americans won't take offense to this.. the pace of life is just faster here (I think) and people tend to have all of their time scheduled to a T.

Honesty is a given with the Irish, be it a good thing or a bad thing! If someone doesn't like you, they just won't bother.  I love they way of speaking too.. Irish people have slang and ''sayings for everything''.. or is that just an O'Connor thing?! Suffice to say, I love my peoples and my country. And I was sad leaving. I wish I had had more time with everyone but we made the most of the time we had. Yea, I do love Austin and It's a really great experience to live somewhere so different but cheesy as it sounds.. home is where the heart is. Specifically is it on the top of Toorsaleen mountain with the dogs by my side and the wind in my hair on a sunny day (yes, we get sun once every year at least!).

Right, no more nostalgia for now.. time to live in the present sooooo let me introduce my new housemate, Mila!!

pretty lady!

I adopted Mila from Austin Pets Alive last weekend. She was rescued at 4 months, pregnant.. and the poor kitty is only 11 months herself now! She's lovely..I think we will get along well :)

Since I am not fundraising anymore and I don't want to hassle anyone who doesn't want to read my blog, I will no longer have this on an email list.. sooo you can follow the blog on my new facebook page ('like' me) .. follow me on Pinterest..  or subscribe by email at the bottom, whatever ya fancy.

The big question is why you would keep reading? What I will be writing about to make you want to read? Hmmm, well, a plan has hatched for what I'm mostly gonna write about for the next while. It will be something along the lines of ''12 months of experimenting''.. stay tuned for the deets! It's a few days in to this month already so I'll be back to y'all in a bit once I've got motoring on my experiment for this month!

Parting question:
Can you vouch for how good Sneem black pudding is?

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Napa to Sonoma: Inspiration for Life

Bit of a dramatic title, but once I explain to you all the goings on from this past weekend, you'll understand why it really was so inspirational.

Team Challenge South Texas, A.K.A. The Austinites, set off for Napa via San Francisco bright and early Friday morning. I'd never been to San Francisco before and I hadn't slept a wink since 1.30 AM so wouldn't ya know it, I scheduled my nap for our drive over the Golden Gate bridge, dang it! Not as bad as the time I napped while flying over Kilimanjaro, but still.

Friday and Saturday were travel and rest days, apart from an easy two mile team run on Saturday morning and a gruelling amount of bicep curls that consisted of lifting wine glass to lips, swallow, repeat. Tough work, but we managed it! Four of us set off to visit Healdburg on Saturday morning, a really pretty local town, just 10 minutes from the town we were staying in, Windsor.

You know when you visit Napa Valley.. what's your first stop gonna be.. a winery perhaps? Not in our case! A dog accessory store!

appropriate for our crowd!
America certainly love pooches more than any other country and Mr Esteban is no exception.. although we still had to give him a hard time for brooding over what to get his little fella :)

In case you were getting worried about where our priorities lay, our second stop. at 10.30 AM, was a tasting room, hurrah! The trick to pre-race drinking.. start early! Don't judge me, I'm going home in two days and have to prepare some little bit.The weather was fab, there was a cute farmer's market to wander and we had ourselves a mighty fine day of rest and relaxation.

On Saturday evening, Team Challenge hosted a party for all of us across the country that had fundraised. This, for me, was the highlight of the weekend. We all arrived in buses to the event field and all our coaches and support teams were lined up as we got out, cheering us on as we walked through. Cue cheesy grin .

The atmosphere was amazing. We sat in our teams, stuffed our faces and then the speeches started. This is where the bigger picture of what I was working so hard for finally started to dawn on me. We were informed that there were 632 of us running for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, making up at huge number of the ~4,000 total for the Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon. Best fact of all.. together we raised a whopping $2.4 million!! Some serious buckaroos to fund research and provide hope for sufferers. New biomarkers for the condition have been identified with money raised by the charity, so this should speed up the current lengthy diagnosis process.

Next came two very moving speeches from a well known ex-American football player, Sam Madison and his wife. His wife, 40 years old, has both Crohn's and Colitis and was diagnosed 15 years ago. (FYI: Crohn's and Colitis are most easily differentiated by the areas of the intestines that they affect. For her, both areas are affected.) Her talk conveyed the mental and physical toughness of sufferers. To most of the world, she appeared normal and always looked great. In fact, many of her friends didn't event know about her condition until she decided to become part of Team Challenge.

It's embarrassing to tell someone you have to go poo all the time, so making excuses and hiding it becomes part of life. Extra toughness is required for coping with a flare-up that seemingly has no trigger. Sufferers can have the condition under control for years and all of a sudden, no drugs work and they are back to pooping 20-40 times a day (no exaggeration). I cannot imagine how hard that must be and the anxiety that it generates.

I was getting teary at this point.. as was many other people... and then to our surprise, our Austin Teammate Mickey G took to the stage. There was hardly a dry eye in the house after this. I knew his story but not the graphic details.. and boy was it graphic!!

Mikey, now 30, was 24 when he was diagnosed with cancer, Hodgkins's lymphoma. He had a very tough battle with it and eventually was given the all-clear. About a year later, he started to experience Crohn's symptoms and feared the worst, that his cancer was back. Tired of fighting, he vowed not to face cancer treatment again and put up with Crohn's for much too long before seeking treatment. He had to have an ileostomy (link) and now has a bag for waste.

What I loved most about his speech was that Mickey put all his humility aside and detailed the everyday life of a Crohn's sufferer going through a flare. He spend most of his days on the toilet, going 35-40 times a day. He had to bring his entire life into the bathroom with him; he took work calls, worked on his laptop and he even had to eat in there! Straddling the tank and using the cistern as a table, Mikey ate his cereal while on the toilet.

Pause for a second and imagine if this was your life.. your reality... your version of normality. Puts our problems in perspective, that's for sure.

My heart breaks for all the suffering this guy has gone through and.. ladies and gentlemen Mikey G ran his second half marathon with Team Challenge on Sunday! This was despite two rough nights in Napa on the john. I think his speech inspired others to be more honest (about whatever personal suffering they are going through), made people feel less alone in their suffering with Crohn's and Colitis and gave family and friends a little more insight into what their loved ones put up with.. because sure as hell, not everyone is as honest as our Mikey! What a guy. Doing everything he can to find a cure.

After that, we were early to bed, since we had a 3.45 wake up call and a 7AM race! Julia and I woke up to these our door.


Our coaches Megan and Paul and manager Meredith knew exactly how to motivate us gals at 4 in the morning.. imagining Mr Gosling at the finish line!

Then I got my tattoos on! Remember when I said I would dedicate miles to my top donors.. well it didn't turn out so well but here's my attempt!

The list: 1. Biddy (my momma), 2. Amanda Sue (Coffey), 3. Alessandra (Rossi), 4. Dominic Taylor, 5. Tricia (Sheehan), 6. Rajashree, 7. Eimear (Plow Plow), 8. Tab & Manboy (my brothers Fergal and Colm), 9. Mary Coffey (my aunt), 10. Popsicle (a.k.a Popalooch or my sister Steph), 11. Baba Aaron (my baby nephew Aaron), 12. Douggie Pooh (Mr Man Douggie Pooh), 13. Flinty (Dad), 13.1 Mikey Mac (me!)I'm revealing a lot of nicknames here, hope ye don't mind! at least I'm outing myself too.. Mikey Mac :)

We took some team photos

Love these guys. Coach Megan (beside me) went all-out 80's!
ready to roll.. I ditched my fetching pants shortly after this

All 4,000 of us set off at 7AM to run through beautiful countryside, surrounded by vineyards. Esteban and I had planned on running together, but after 3 miles, my right foot started hurting and I honestly thought I'd have to quit. I knew our endurance manager Meredith was waiting at mile 6.5 so I vowed to keep going until then at least.

not looking too happy :(

I had to take a few breaks and Esteban was nowhere to be seen by now and I started to get really negative and upset about not being able to race. I knew I could push through and run, but not race and give my very best. I tried not to beat myself up over it and kept reminding myself that I put as much work into fundraising as I did training and just because the race was falling apart didn't mean I shouldn't be proud of myself. I finished the race in 1:45:11, 8.01 min/mile.

I believe I can fly!!

I was upset and in pain (foot hurts bad now though) but my ego got over it and I enjoyed the rest of the day by the pool, sipping wine with my teammates. What a great bunch of people, many of them with Crohns/ Colitis.

So I think you'll agree it was indeed inspirational and I hope my blog over the past few months has served to educate people a little bit more on Crohn's and Colitis.. I certainly didn't know much before I started this! Maybe it will allow you to spot symptoms in yourself, your child, your future child and encourage poop talk at home! Luckily embarrassment about poop talk has never been a problem in the O'Connor household!

I hope you have been entertained in some capacity too... kisses for donations anyone?! How about dress like a dude for money? Most of all I want to thank all of you that donated.. it's hard to raise money for a cause you are not personally affected by. Clearly, plenty of you can empathise with a condition that doesn't personally affect you.

My fundraising page will remain active until August 21st so if want to donate do it here! Have you guys heard of Charity Miles? Well if you are a runner, walker, cyclist, install this app on your phone and select CCFA as your preferred charity and for every mile you run/walk 25 cents goes to charity, 10 cents for biking. pretty easy way to be charitable if you haven't much cash to spare!

Well that's all from me for now folks.. I leave for Ireland on Saturday, Mr Man in tow and I couldn't be more excited! Meeting my nephew for the first time, my brother is getting married, one of my best friends gettting married... and Mr Man meeting the family!! (not enough exclamation marks to convey my excitement!)

For those of you I promised earrings to I will be bringing them with me and it'll be a good excuse to meet up! The international and American peoples should have got them already and fingers crossed they arrived intact?! If not, let me know! For the guys I'm still working on the bbq rub I promised..a real-life Texan is helping me make his bbq rub recipe tomorrow evening.. and of course we'll have to test it out and get the grill going after.. yum yum, can't wait!

So for now my friends, chat to ye soon and hopefully you'll be seeing some of your faces on here with photos from the trip.

Long-time love,

Hazel x

P.S. if you think this post would serve to educate others or support them (or you know someone who sufferers from Crohn's and Colitis) please share and like this post. They might even be encouraged to sign up for Team Challenge! They are running in Vegas in December!

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Friday, July 12, 2013


Fundraising target reached!

In the past week, I have had donations from the O'Connor's of Toorcladane, my brother Colm, the Ryan's of Direen and a little girl by the name of Amanda Sue raised $500 in NYC!
Amanda & Dad having the craic in Dallas

Amanda is my dearest cousin who's almost like a sister to me.. I changed a few nappies (diapers) in my day (sorry Sue!). She took it upon herself to start her own little fundraising campaign on my behalf and raised all that money. Once again, my family have gone above and beyond to help me reach what seemed like a lofty goal. I really can't believe we actually have raised this much money.. thank you all!

I really believe this is a great cause (I'm sure you've gathered at this stage!) and this money will do great things for those who currently face no cure for Crohn's and Colitis.

So I guess all I have to do now is run the race!! Oh and make 24 pairs of earrings but I'll focus on the running for now. One week today I leave for Napa.. yipeeeeee! I'm more excited than nervous.. I've been training hard for a long time so I'm as ready as I'm gonna be. 

Here's what my training has looked like over the past few weeks:

getting fancy making pictures.. just pretend I didn't crop off the end of last week please :)

(Oh if you're wondering what the injury was it was so bum trouble.. I'll leave it at that!). 

Rugby legs: intervals on the elliptical
Sexy arse: really steep walking intervals on the treadmill
Tempo run: 10 min easy warm-up, 2.5 miles at ''easy end of hard'' pace, 0.5 miles easy, 1.5 miles at ''hard end of hard'' pace, 1 mile. cool down.

Tempo runs are supposed to be great for getting faster and I've increased my speed every week. Fingers crossed all this has got me ready to run a 7:30 minute mile.

I mostly can't wait to run in cooler weather.. on my last long run my two main thoughts were ''It would be a really good idea to get stick-on super-hairy eyebrows so sweat wasn't pouring in my eyes'' and ''IF I manage to finish this run I'm getting a Snickers Ice Cream''. No idea why I was craving that, I haven't had one in years. I finished the run, bought the ice-cream and I'm letting my eyebrows grow ;)

Since I started writing this at 4AM when I couldn't sleep, I will love ye and leave ye for now. But not before I share this ridiculous photo from our drive in the Texas countryside on 4th of July. Nick forwarded it on to me saying: ''conundrum: to show off the monstrosity of this truck, but face the ridicule regarding the hair? The decision is yours''. Lucky for you guys I made the right decision.

bam-bam hair due to scalp burning susceptibility.. that's my excuse & sticking to it ;)

Happy friday y'all!!!

P.S don't forget it's not too late to donate, right here. I still have 2 miles left to dedicate for people who donate over $100 and there's plenty room on my arm.. I've been growing my biceps especially :)

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