Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Intersection of Wonderful and Terrible

I don't think any of us will ever forget where we were on September 11, 2001 when we heard the news. I was in civil procedure class during my second year of law school. At 8:30 a.m. on that day I would have dramatically declared that it was the "worst thing ever." Fast forward 15 minutes for some perspective. My brother and I were sharing a car that week (mine was in the shop), and I walked outside where he was picking me up after class. I walked outside and blinked at the brilliant glare of the sun. I recall thinking that it was the most amazingly gorgeous day. The sky was perfect: azure and calm without a cloud. I slipped on my sunglasses and thought there was no way something so terrible could happen on such a flawless day. How is that possible?

Although 9/11 was one of life's most dramatic experiences, I was thinking last weekend that one of the craziest things about life is how something so terrible can be happening at the same time as something wonderful. Last Saturday I went for a run on an impeccable fall day. I ran onto the Lansing River Trail and marveled at the changing trees. The scenery was gorgeous. The air was perfectly crisp as it is wont to be on an autumn morning. The sun was dazzling as its rays peeked through the trees. I was marveling at my ability to get to spend such a perfect morning doing something I love. I was feeling thankful that I was feeling well enough to run 5 miles - my longest run since before my surgeries - when two months ago I could barely walk the hospital halls. It was overall a perfect hour.

A tree on campus in East Lansing on Saturday. Gorgeous.

Upon arriving home I had a text from my best friend that there was a death in her family, and I started crying. You know the kind - the big, ugly cry. I carried my phone to the front porch and sat down. I looked around and wondered how something so awful could happen on such a beautiful day.  

Life is amazing. You find out that you can deal with so much more than you ever think you can. Physical pain, emotional trauma, that gut-wrenching hurt that can come from both. And at the same time you're dealing with something so hard, someone else is experiencing something wonderful.

When I was in the hospital they played a lullabye in the hallways every time a baby was born. Eventually it became somewhat annoying (especially while one was sleeping), but there was something beautiful about it. It was a reminder that in a place where there is so much sadness and pain, there is also beauty.

This week I will travel to Washington, DC to visit my best friend to celebrate the life of a great man who was loved by both my husband and me (and so many others). The next day I'll travel to Northern Michigan to celebrate the wedding of two of our dearest friends. Those celebrations will be very different, and yet there is beauty and grace in both of them.

At any point in all of our lives the wonderful and the terrible intersect. It's what makes life amazing and precious, and it reminds me to take advantage of every moment. Stop and appreciate every golden tree this autumn. Tell people I love them. Smile with every step I run simply because I'm blessed enough to be out there. Surround yourself with people you love and enjoy the wonderful. After all that is what makes the terrible manageable.    

Stopping to enjoy the fall view of the Michigan Capitol Building

Friday, September 26, 2014

Is There a Magic Formula?

If I had a dollar for every comment I've gotten about my weight loss...well I'd have a lot of dollars. My favorites are "I wish I could lose 20 pounds" or "I need that problem". Not only did I not have 20 pounds to lose, but I was having the fittest spring/summer of my adult life. I felt amazing. My running times were off the charts (for me). Having two surgeries and losing 20 pounds was not in the cards. It's been really challenging to get back to a normal weight and feel like I'm no longer weak.

I know, I know. #skinnygirlproblems. Here's the thing about being in shape: there's no magic formula. Every body type is different, and some people are just going to be naturally thinner or more muscular or more athletic. But it takes work. I left my house at 5:15 this morning to go to the pool. Do you think I wanted to wake up that early? I can assure you that I most certainly did not. Once I got in the pool, however, it felt awesome. I pushed to about 200 meters more than I'd planned to do. My shoulders were burning. I just kept telling myself, "You can push harder than this. No excuses." It's not easy, and it takes work.

I have a small frame, and having Crohn's has made me skinnier in general. But to have the body I want that makes me happy, it takes constant work. Early running, early swimming. I love food, and I want to be able to eat essentially whatever I want. But that means that the rest of my life has to be filled with activity to balance whatever I want to eat. I like ice cream. And fast food. And wine. I don't want to give those things up.

I walk to work, and my dogs get walked twice a day. That alone is three miles of walking, and I don't even consider that part of my exercise routine. For me being in shape means being active in all facets of my life. Take the stairs, walk when you can, and just keep moving. I am basically always moving. I would probably be relatively skinny even if I stopped working out, but what would be the challenge in that?

I've gained back about half of the weight I lost this summer, and I'm finally starting to feel stronger, healthier and on the way back to a fit version of myself.  Being in shape will take lots of early morning workouts and an active life. There's no magic formula - you've just got to do the work. So the next time someone says, "I wish I could lose 20 pounds" I may have to be snarkier. You can. Set the alarm and get up. Or don't if you don't want to, but then shut it about how much weight you *wish* you could lose. It's not about wishing. It's about making it happen. I'll be hitting the pavement at 6 am probably wishing I'd stayed in bed. But you never regret a workout once it's over. We all make choices, and you've got to choose what's most important to you. 

My weight loss this summer was certainly not by choice, and I won't apologize for it or take the extra fat that you don't want. I'll be in the pool working to get back to my triathlon arms if you need me.    

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Has Anyone Seen my Motivation?

I have a confession to make that's really hard for me: I'm human. I know...you're shocked, right? It's hard for me to wrap my head around it. The last few months life has hit me with its best shot, and I'm having a hard time being motivated to run. It's not a feeling to which I am accustomed. 

In general I'm a very driven person.  I work hard, I play hard, I run hard. Lately it's been work hard, crash at home and sleep a lot. One out of three isn't bad? I obviously had to decide to defer the New York Marathon for a year, but I didn't expect it would take so long to get back into a workout groove. To be honest I'm still struggling to get back into a normal life groove, and working out has taken a back seat.

Last week I ran once and swam once. I get it - it's better than nothing. But given that my intention is to run four days a week and swim 1-2, I'm way behind. I took running clothes to West Virginia last weekend when we went to visit my parents and go to the WVU/Oklahoma game. I didn't even pretend like I might go for a run once I got there. I had several cups of coffee and sat on the couch. 

In West Virginia for the WVU/Oklahoma game

Yesterday, after driving 6.5 hours from Morgantown, WV to Lansing, I kept going three more hours to Boyne Mountain where I was giving a presentation. I packed running clothes thinking that I'd get up this morning and hit the pavement. I arrived at Boyne and worked until around midnight. When my alarm went off this morning at 7 am I promptly reset it. My motivation is non-existent. 

A few years ago I had a small bowel obstruction that took a shot at my motivation. I got it back then, and I know that I will again.  It's been nearly two months since I got out of the hospital. While I know that isn't a lot of time, it feels like an eternity. It feels like I should feel 100% again. In a lot of ways I do, but running is still a challenge. I'm really winded, and on days when I run I find myself struggling for the rest of the day.

I know the recovery process is a marathon. You'd think that's an analogy I'd understand. I remember back in July when walking to the door in my hospital room took Herculean effort. Now I'm working and running (even if it's less than I'd like) and being social and traveling. Life feels almost back to normal, and it feels good overall. When I think back to two months ago I can't believe how far I've come. I've got to remember to cut myself some slack. If I reset the alarm for a few months, the world won't come to an end.

So how can I get my groove back? Be kind to myself. Surround myself with people who are loving and supportive. Take a deep breath, read a good book, take a long walk. Even though this hiatus has been difficult for me (I haven't done a race in three months), there will always be races to do. I have to keep remembering that. If I forget I may need someone to remind me...and I'll even try to listen. 


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Those Times I Fell in Love Easily

I once had a boyfriend tell me he fell in love easily. My first thought was...thanks? So you love me, but you love easily so I shouldn't be impressed? I'm being only partly facetious...I am pretty loveable. But I was thinking of this interaction as I'm finishing Charles Montgomery's Happy City. I've already told you my all-time favorite statistic from that book: for a single person, "exchanging a long commute for a short walk to work has the same effect on happiness as finding a new love." I'm polyamorous in my love for cities, and I'm singularly focused in my love for running. I fall in love with cities and running routes easily and often. This makes me want to cut the boyfriend who made that statement some slack.

I remember visiting Washington, DC as a teenager, and I just fell so hard. I couldn't imagine there was a city anywhere as cool as that one. Even after all of my travels in the 20 (yikes) years since I first went to DC, I still love it there. But a few years after DC I met New York. Where DC was preppy and buttoned up, New York is an unpredictable bad boy. I fell in love with the fast pace, density and grit of the City. New York became my new love.

Showing love for Washington, DC in the spring of 2014
With my sister in New York City, 2003

A few years later I met Chicago. Wow...I mean wow. Shopping, amazing parks, the gorgeous lakefront. I fell fast, and I fell hard. Chicago was the perfect mix between DC and New York. Sometimes preppy, sometimes naughty, always just right for me. I thought this is it...I've found the one. Of all the places I've been THIS one is the best. We're a match made in Heaven.

With my sister and niece in Chicago, 2012

After Chicago came San Francisco. San Fran has it all. Everything. Walkability, public transit, parks, great weather. San Francisco is also a little edgy, and it had me thinking maybe San Francisco could be the one...but it doesn't have that certain something that Chicago has. My love affair with San Francisco, while real, does not have what it takes to keep it going long term.  

On a City Running Tour of San Francisco, 2013

Then I went to Boston. Ah sweet Boston. It's smaller than Chicago and more intimate. I'm not sure I love it more than Chicago, but it's definitely worth of a little fling. The quaint and historic neighborhoods, the abundant green space. 

Boston in 2011
After Boston I discovered Portland, Maine. My love for Portland is legit. It is my favorite city, and I love it so, so much. There are narrow cobblestone streets, restaurants, shops, green space, the water. Portland is amazing (although in fairness I have yet to visit it in the winter). I fell instantly in love with Portland, and that love has not waned. I dream of going back. I dream of living there. Portland is my lobster (pun intended). 

I felt the same way when I started running. I went from not being a runner to signing up for a marathon, because that's how I do. I ran my first 5k in June of 2006, and I was hooked from that moment on. Now I've run countless 5ks, 10ks, more than a dozen half marathons, and three marathons. I've run in cities from San Francisco to Washington, DC to Detroit. I have a goal to run a race in all 50 states. I've got a lot of work to do (39 more), and my love of running won't let me give up on that goal.

We've combined trips with races. I ran the LL Bean 10k in Freeport, Maine in 2012, resulting in my first visit to Maine and love affair with Portland. We went to Pensacola, Florida in 2012 specifically for the Double Bridge Run. Oh and then there was the Covenant Half Marathon in Knoxville, Tennessee. I fell in love with Knoxville (particularly it's fabulous pedestrian mall), and it started this entire blog.       

Running these towns keeps me sane, and it keeps me falling in love over and over again with different cities and running. One of my favorite things is finding a city (Knoxville is a great example) that is unexpectedly fabulous and falling in love with it. It turns out I have my moments of falling in love easily as well.   

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Running on Empty

Last week I talked about the difficulty I'm having moving at a snail's pace.This week I would take snail's pace over running on empty. I'm sitting in my living room taking a break from reading legislation while a plumber works on the two toilets upstairs. Since I arrived home (almost four hours ago - this plumbing situation is a whole thing), I've been guzzling caffeine like it's going out of style. I've read through more than 100 pages of proposed legislation which could account for my lethargy, but I think it's something else. It's that drive that usually keeps me going. Today it's wearing me out.

I've got a crazy week at work, and sometimes being able to sit down at home and read through emails and legislation without distraction is perfect. The problem is there are tons of distractions here - the drilling upstairs in my bathrooms and a barking Portuguese Water Dog who likes to alert me any time someone walks by. Our renters emailed with a list of things that need fixing in our rental property. Aforementioned Portuguese Water Dog is exhibiting signs of pain when she stands up. We have to work on completely redoing our adoption profile, and we haven't started on that yet. All of these things, combined with the capitalized bold print that fills pages upon pages of legislation on my computer screen, make me just want to take a nap instead of dealing with any of it.

It's always been difficult for me to relax in general, but running has always been my relaxation. Right now running is contributing to my angst. It's hard. It hurts. I'm slow, and I have yet to get into the runner's groove that usually helps me stop thinking about what stresses me out. My other most effective relaxation technique - reading - also hasn't been working. I start reading and my mind immediately wanders to something else (usually legislation...which is way less fun). 

The combination of all the busyness life has thrown at me this week makes me want to run to the Keurig and brew another cup of coffee. I realize given the curve balls that life can throw, these are minor league. Probably even little league. But it's one of those weeks (on Monday - already!) where things feel bigger and more dramatic than they actually are.

I've got some more reading to do this evening, and then I'll force myself to stop working, open a bottle of wine and watch a cheesy television show. I've got to do list upon to do list to deal with all of these issues, and they'll all still be here for me to address tomorrow. But if I'm going to get through my unread emails, I'm definitely going to need another cup of coffee.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

If You Could Waive a Magic Wand in Your City, What Would You Change?

My boss likes to ask people this question whenever we interview someone in our office, and as I've thought about it, my answer has continually evolved over the years. I've already discussed the changes I'd like to see in the City of Lansing, but I don't think those necessarily require a magic wand. I think they're sensible suggestions that just make sense. As a result I won't include them in my "magic wand" answer. I will say, however, if another new sub shop goes into the prime real estate on the corner of Michigan and Washington Avenues, my head will explode. But I digress.

If I could wave a magic wand in the City of Lansing, I'd eliminate surface parking - seriously pretty much all of it. Street parking is great. Garage parking I can live with if there is first floor retail (and I still won't love it), but the amount of surface parking in the Downtown Lansing is out of control. There are vast tracts of land filled with asphalt and cars, and those spaces are empty after 5 pm and on the weekends. Ethan Kent of the Project for Public Spaces said, "If you don't have a parking problem, you have a parking problem." Lansing definitely does not have a parking problem. I can find a spot any time without exception. As a result Lansing definitely does have a parking problem.

Unfortunately nearly all American cities have absurd off-street parking minimums, generally designed around peak use. You can see this system in Lansing with a giant parking lot between the state buildings and the Hall of Justice (that sits empty from 5 pm to 7 am and all weekend long). That spot would be prime green space for state employees and all of us downtown to use. The result of all of these parking minimums is that all of us are paying for parking even if we're not using it. It would be much more cost effective for communities to let the market determine off-street parking need.

We should all be outraged at the cost of parking. According to Jeff Speck's Walkable City (potentially my favorite book ever), one asphalt spot in the country costs approximately $4,000 to build. An underground parking garage costs between $40,000 to $60,000 to build. Who do you think is paying for this? All of us. According to Donald Shoup, Urban Planning Guru Professor at UCLA, the cumulative parking subsidy nationwide is between $127 billion and $374 billion per year. Yes, that's billion with a B for those of you playing with home. This puts the cost of parking in the range of our national defense budget. That, my friends, is f'd up. 

Okay look - if you want to live somewhere far away and have a commute have at it. But I don't think we should make it easier for people to not at least try to come up with driving alternatives. We can carpool, take the bus, ride a bike. I'm not saying every alternative is the easiest, but people aren't even forced to think about it. They can park in one of many surface parking lots that makes my downtown neighborhood look like an asphalt wasteland in the off peak hours and a car-filled no man's land during the day. 

Unfortunately I don't have a magic wand, and I'll continue to walk my dogs across the empty surface parking lots nearly every morning and evening. Parking is expensive for all of us, and I think it's money that could be invested in more important things - public transit and parks for example - rather than parking. Speaking of parks I'd also like a dog park downtown. I wonder if there's a surface parking lot we can eliminate to get one?  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Snail's Pace

If you know me at all or have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know slow and I are not friends. I don't do slow. My recovery from the surgeries in July has been much slower than I expected, and I don't handle slow well (nor can I handle not being in control). Last week I woke up and realized I feel relatively good. For the most part I feel back to normal (with the exception of bi-weekly visits to have my blood thinner levels checked to guard against another clot...which is quite annoying).  Life is slowly getting back to normal...slow being the operative word.

I started running again a few weeks ago, and I'm so slow. This morning I ran a few miles, and I needed several walk breaks. I'm agonizingly slow.  In a year where I've shattered personal bests and been in great physical condition, being this slow is frustrating. My mind is ready to run seven minute miles. My body? Not so much. I'm trying to be patient and realize that I'm starting from ground zero when it comes to my fitness level. But I'm even worse at being patient than I am at dealing with being slow.

I'm running my first post-op 5k this weekend, and I'll be following it with another 5k in a few weeks. I'll be doing a 10k at the end of October, and I'm stepping it up to a half marathon in November. This is relatively slow considering I'm still wishing I'd been able to start training for the New York Marathon in November.

Despite my best efforts, life doesn't always move at the speed at which I'd like it to. Even if I'm still operating at a snail's pace the next few weeks, I'll get there. I've heard slow and steady wins the race, right? 

The ultimate in slow:

Friday, September 5, 2014

With Enough Courage, You Can Do Without a Reputation

I love Gone With the Wind. It's my favorite book and favorite movie. Scarlett O'Hara is the most complex heroine - strong, brave, fearless. She will do anything (including be extraordinarily selfish) to get whatever she wants. She goes after the men she loves. She protects her home. She's both extraordinary and awful. She's a drama queen. I love everything about her.

Obviously Scarlett is a fictional character created by the brilliant Margaret Mitchell and portrayed beautifully by Vivian Leigh in the film. I first read the book in middle school, and I've been fascinated by Scarlett ever since. Here is a woman who not only goes after what she wants, but she does so while being brash and yet still feminine. She goes after love and loves passionately. Who wouldn't want a relationship as tumultuous and passionate as the one Scarlett shares with Rhett Butler?

Things are obviously different for women in 2014 than they were during the Civil War, but it remains the same that being a woman means walking a tightrope. Even today brash and candid women have to worry about being considered a bitch (not that I know this from experience...is the sarcasm translating?) You have to balance not being a pushover and being strong without being too aggressive. It's such a tenuous balancing act, and I know I don't get it right all the time...maybe I never get it right. 

With a portrait of Vivian Leigh as Scarlett at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta

I try really hard to be myself - candid, loud, aggressive, and fiercely loyal. I know it's sometimes shocking and sometimes off putting, but I hope that people always know where I'm coming from. Perhaps I could wear a hoop skirt and corset to soften the blow, but I don't think even tapping into my inner southern belle would help.  I don't have time or energy for subtleties or games. I like to think Scarlett would approve.

Like Scarlett I am relentless in pursuing and maintaining things that are important to me - love, family, friendship, my career.  I like to be kissed, often, and by someone who knows how. I love walking the tightrope of aggressiveness and femininity. Like Scarlett I often don't keep my balance, but that's part of what works. I think we should all strive to be a little more like our inner Scarlett O'Hara. Hoop skirts are optional.  

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Cold Midwesterner Seeks Heat and Humidity. A Perfect Match? Atlanta.

I love the South. I love it so much that I can barely stand it. I think in another life I was surely a southern belle, wearing hoop skirts, living on a plantation and fanning myself in the humidity. In this life I still enjoy heat, humidity, a cute dress, SEC football, sweet iced tea and bourbon. This is a combination of things that are not properly appreciated here in the Midwest. I think I might live in the wrong place.

At any rate we decided the best way to spend the last weekend of summer was to head to Atlanta, Georgia to see my West Virginia Mountaineers take on SEC/national powerhouse and number two ranked Alabama at the Georgia Dome. The game had a lot of nearly heart stopping moments (which I'll get to in a minute), but first let's talk Atlanta. And sweet tea.

We had a very early flight out of Lansing on Friday morning (also my 36th birthday), rolling into ATL before 10 am. We've all heard the horror stories of Atlanta traffic, and I was pleased to discover that Atlanta has a public transit system, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA). MARTA is one of the most accessible public transit systems I've ever used. I could not be more impressed. It's a lot smaller than systems in New York, Chicago or Washington, DC which probably helps, but regardless MARTA is awesome. We bought a 4-day pass, which is no longer an option in DC (unfortunately) for only $20. The MARTA station was only a quarter mile from our hotel, the Intercontinental in Buckhead. After exiting the train there were directory signs pointing riders to hotels and attractions. I've never noticed that in another transit system. It was very user friendly, and without MARTA the trip would've been considerably more logistically complex.

Representing my Mountaineers on a MARTA train
Thankfully we were able to check into our hotel early and then head out to explore Atlanta. First stop? The Capitol building. Obviously. We took the train to the nearest stop and walked a few blocks in the fabulously stifling Atlanta summer heat. The sun was so hot, and I'm quite sure it was the first time I've been REALLY warm all summer. I love visiting other Capitol Buildings to see how they differ from ours in Michigan. Georgia's Capitol is very wide and open with tons of natural light. All of the offices have glass windows (including the Governor's office) to maximize transparency.

The security guard suggested we pop into the Governor's office to sign the guest book. Signing the guest book turned into an impromptu tour of the Governor's office. We were given a tour of the office, shovel room (filled with shovels from various groundbreaking ceremonies) and given cold bottles of Coca-Cola and Georgia peanuts. Here in Michigan you can't even get into the Governor's office building without an escort (assuming you have an approved meeting), and the Capitol office is rarely open. It was certainly a more visitor friendly experience. Plus Coca-Cola is delicious.

My husband at the Governor's office.
We looked all around the Capitol and marveled at the differences. The Georgia legislature is in session from January to March/April unlike our year-round legislature. The building was preternaturally quiet, and it seemed like we had it to ourselves. We learned that the beautiful gold dome is made from gold found in the State of Georgia. We took my obligatory jumping in front of the Capitol picture, although I didn't realize how painful jumping still is until we got to it.

The Georgia Capitol Building

Obligatory jumping photo
After our tour we headed back toward our hotel for lunch. I'm sort of like a 2-year-old when I get hungry. There's very little warning, and then I'm starving and throwing a tantrum. Despite my desire to have some delicious southern food, we got to a point where I needed food. Immediately. Lunch was late at Fresh to Order, a southern chain without particularly southern food. It was passable though as I scarfed down a Bison burger, mac 'n cheese and my first of many glasses of sweet iced tea. 

We spent a few hours relaxing by the pool with cocktails, and we both fell asleep by the pool. That isn't something that happens to me - the early morning flight caught up with me. We were joined in Atlanta by my dad's two brothers and their spouses, plus one of my cousins and his fiance (my sister joined us on Saturday). We had a birthday dinner at Capital Grille about a mile from our hotel. It was one of the best steaks I've ever had, and lobster mac 'n cheese? Yes, please. For those of you keeping score, I DID have mac 'n cheese twice in one day.

Saturday was the best day of the entire year - the first Mountaineer football game! I will admit that I didn't have high hopes for the game. Alabama is an amazing team, and with only a four win Mountaineer season last year I didn't have great expectations. We met the family at Dantanna's in the CNN Center for food and drinks before the game. We got there early and ended up with a great vantage point to watch everyone coming and going. It wasn't traditional tailgating, but if I'm being honest it may have been better (although my husband points out not cheaper). 

Jones family tailgating at Dantanna's
The Georgia Dome was alive with college football excitement. I felt that familiar flutter of excitement watching the Mountaineer band before the game and seeing the team run out onto the field. My Mountaineers decided they would surprise everyone (particularly Alabama, I'd imagine) by keeping the game extremely close. After a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown we ended up down by only 3 at the half. We did ultimately end up losing 33-23, but it was much closer than the score indicated. I left the stadium feeling positive about the rest of the season. On the other hand if I were an Alabama fan, I would be stressed.

In the Georgia Dome before the game
Despite my insistence that I'm 100% recovered from all surgeries and related infections, I still find myself getting tired attempting my usual level of activity. We headed back to our hotel to eat at the hotel restaurant, Southern Art. Southern Art is an Art Smith restaurant, and Art Smith was Oprah's personal chef for a while. At our server's recommendation I had fried chicken and cheesy grits. Are you kidding me? I don't even love chicken, and it was phenomenal. It was southern and decadent and delicious. Operation Weight Gain (to gain back the weight I lost during my hospital stay in July) is finally starting to be a success. I thank the cheesy grits.

I never sleep in, and sometimes I think I've forgotten how. I must've worn myself out in Atlanta because every day I woke with a start between 8:30 and 9 am wondering how I had ever slept so long. On Sunday morning my husband and I went for a run near our hotel on the sidewalk abutting insanely busy Peachtree Road, the main artery that runs through the City. On part of the street near our hotel they created a boulevard with trees and flowers in the middle. It at least gave the appearance of a smaller street. Unfortunately the Buckhead area is a prime area for big box stores and large retailers. In some parts the big stores fronted the street, but around the corner from our hotel I had to walk through a parking lot to get to a Caribou Coffee. After reading (and being somewhat obsessed with) Jeff Speck's Walkable City I had plenty of negative comments to make about Atlanta's street design.

A gorgeous day in Downtown Atlanta
Later that morning my sister joined us, and we took MARTA to Downtown Atlanta. We'd heard that the World of Coca-Cola was a cool attraction, and we headed there. It was a neat museum with lots of Coca-Cola artifacts and history. We had our photo taken with the polar bear mascot and tasted enough soda to give me a sugar buzz. My absolute favorite part, however, was running into West Virginia University's President E. Gordon Gee. I behaved like a teenager at a One Direction concert, jumping out of line for the polar bear photo to get a photo with him and chat. He was so nice, and seemed genuinely interested in chatting with us. I was completely star struck which my husband found quite amusing. I'm a sucker for cute academics in bow ties.

With President Gee. He's adorable!
We took a jaunt through beautiful Centennial Olympic Park. The park was filled with people enjoying the beautiful, warm day. We headed downtown where DragonCon was happening, and the people watching was spectacular. As one not familiar with Cosplay (short for costume play) or comics in any way, it was...something. I'll try not to be too judgmental (actually I won't try that hard), but I must admit it seems very odd to have a group of grown humans dressing up as comic characters. Also it was hot, and there were some seriously legit costumes. My sister and I may have giggled a lot.

There are no words.
We took a break from gawking to pop in Alma Cocina for a delicious Mexican lunch. It was a chic spot with great Huevos Rancheros and sweet tea (of course). It was enough fuel for the mile walk to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthplace. On our walk to the historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood we walked along the new streetcar that should begin operating in the next 2-3 months. As a lover of neighborhoods and public transit I found something else to appreciate about Atlanta.

Visiting Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthplace was a stark and poignant reminder of the impact one person can have on history. Ebeneezer Baptist Church made me nostalgic for the Baptist churches I attended as a child, and the entire neighborhood creates an emotional homage to a great leader. There were various sites (the church, a firehouse, Dr. King's childhood home) that are all run by the National Park Service. It was an extraordinary place to visit, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone visiting Atlanta.

In front of Dr. King's birthplace

The final resting place of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King

After walking back to the MARTA station we spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing at the hotel pool before heading out to dinner at Seven Lamps. I had an incredible tortellini in a cream sauce that was divine. It was a great final dinner in Atlanta.

Monday was another late sleeping day as we struggled to get up and go for a run. The humidity and heat in Atlanta is fantastic except while running. We struggled through three miles before heading out to Midtown to check out the Margaret Mitchell house. I love Gone with the Wind (it's my favorite book and movie), so I wanted to check that out. We then discovered that Midtown is a very cool neighborhood.

The actual door from Tara in Gone with the Wind

As we were walking down the street in Midtown I said, "I don't need any more running shirts". As soon as those words were uttered we realized we were standing in front of a Big Peach Running Company store, and I am now the proud owner of a Run ATL shirt. I think my running shirt addiction is out of control. Midtown was a very cool, walkable neighborhood with lots of restaurants and shops. Lunch was at The Vortex. I LOVED this place. It was naughty and all around awesome. I had a burger with bacon and pulled pork (see Operation Weight Gain above) and tator tots. You're required to be 18 to enter the restaurant always. No kids allowed. I love that there's a place that says no to kids and just doesn't give a crap. It's awesome.

Debauchery at The Vortex
Midtown was our last stop before leaving Atlanta. I honestly didn't know what I would think of Atlanta. I had heard horror stories about its design and traffic that made me wary. I think downtown felt a little lost, but the neighborhoods were lovely. The City of Atlanta has a good soul and seems to be making some smart decisions, and overall I really enjoyed it. Plus there's the awesome heat and humidity.