5K in Every State: Georgia!

The second stop on the great tri-state 5K tour was Georgia. We had lunch in Chattanooga Saturday, and as scheduled, hit the road to Stockbridge, GA (just outside of Atlanta) at 1:30. Hotlanta, ready or not!

Saturday’s schedule looked like this:

9:00-1:30 Explore Chattanooga & Lunch
1:30 On the road to Stockbridge, GA
5:00 AWARE Panola Mountain State Park Night Owl 5K
6:15 On the road to Atlanta
7:00 Check in at hotel
8:00 Dinner reservation with a friend in Atlanta

We hit traffic again through Atlanta, but got to Panola Mountain State Park in plenty of time for me to check in and pin my bib. This run was put on by AWARE (Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort), and there were a few critters there to welcome us–a barn owl, a hawk, and something in a cage I didn’t get my eyes on. These birds were impressive creatures.

Windy Sue Whoo is a Barn Owl whose right wing was permanently injured by a homeowner who thought she was a threat to the family cat. Windy now lives at the AWARE center.
Windy Sue Whoo is a Barn Owl whose right wing was permanently injured by a homeowner who thought she was a threat to the family cat. Windy now lives at the AWARE center.

It is an understatement to say that Panola Mountain State Park is picturesque. It is a 1,600-acre park with pavilions, picnic shelters, campsites, fishing lakes, bridges, and flat out breathtaking natural beauty. It’s a quick 30 minutes South of Atlanta, and I highly suggest you check it out. There are paved trails, so you don’t need to be a seasoned hiker to enjoy the beauty.

Paved trails at Panola Mountain State Park. I had hoped the entire course would be flat like this, but it was not so!
Paved trails at Panola Mountain State Park. I had hoped the entire course would be flat like this, but it was not so!
There were volunteers stationed along the run with more wildlife. How cute are these two?
There were volunteers stationed along the run with more wildlife. How cute are these two?
Picture-perfect views at every turn.
Picture-perfect views at every turn.

For an experienced runner, this course was probably cake even in the rain. For little old, non-runner me who had fully run only her second 5K the day before, my legs said it was out of the question. So I ran the flats and the downhills, walked the uphills, and stopped to take lots of pictures. My time was 44:59 (6th of 10 in my age group–not too shabby), which is about what my time was the first time I completely ran a 5K (without walking or taking pics). Hmph.

Feeling pretty darn good post-race!
Feeling pretty good post-race!

It was nearly 6:30 by the time we hopped in the car (15 minutes behind schedule–gasp), but we had a dinner reservation and I surely wasn’t going to show up rained on and muddy. We checked into the hotel, I showered myself back to human, and off we went to dinner at Lure, a seafood restaurant to please even the foodiest of foodies. I had the Whole Bramlett Farms Trout which was done to perfection. Trout is a tricky fish to prepare, in my opinion, because when it is filleted in half, it is thin and there is a fine line between fully cooked and over cooked. It’s easy to end up with a slightly dry, but still tasty, piece of fish. The chef at Lure prepared the Trout whole, which allows the fish to be cooked through and retain its moisture. Our server de-boned it table-side, which was a show in and of itself, and the result was a flaky, tender, and tasty fish that wasn’t even in the neighborhood of dry. It was a treat.

It was good to catch up with my Atlanta peep. The three of us ate, drank, talked, and laughed. It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed so much, and it was good for my soul. But after one large fish, a little dessert, and a couple of libations, it was once again time to rest my aching bones–remember, this was my second 5K in as many days. The AWARE Night Owl 5K was by far the coolest run I’ve done so far, and there’s nothing better than spending time with friends. This crazy trip was turning out to be pretty darn good.

My head no sooner hit the pillow and I swear it was daylight and time to find our way to some breakfast. Kathy suggested we do the old fork-and-knife-icon-on-the-phone trick, and we hit the jackpot at an awesome little place off the beaten path. We weren’t too far outside of Atlanta when we happened upon the Thumbs Up Diner. If you lived there, this is the place you’d have breakfast every Sunday. I had the Greek Scramble which checked off both of my breakfast boxes: delicious and big. Bonus: my tab was $7.44. Seriously. This is the kind of place where the servers wear their street clothes and the only thing that distinguishes them from everyone else is how quickly they’re moving.

Thumbs Up Diner. No-nonsense good food!
Thumbs Up Diner. No-nonsense good food!

Our bellies were full, and Atlanta was in our rear view. Next stop, Birmingham!


Tip: Take a stroll through Panola Mountain State Park and bring your camera!
Tip: Stay at the Atlanta Marriott Suites Midtown. Modern, spacious, clean, and a full-service lobby bar.
Tip: Breakfast at the Thumbs Up Diner. Great breakfast/cheap eats.
Tip: Dine at Lure. Excellent seafood, and you must sample the pistachio ice cream. Out. Of. This. World!


5K in Every State: Tennessee!

I’m on this quest to run a 5K in every state, and I’m not really a runner. For those just tuning in, I was diagnosed with Stage IIB breast cancer, which was a frightening and life-changing event, but I’m now 2 ½ years cancer-free and working on my Life List. Most would call it a bucket list, but that term doesn’t sit right with me, so Life List it is. I needed to inject some exercise into my sedentary life, and I missed traveling something awful, so I decided to throw “5K in every state” on the List. Stay physically fit and see the entire country while I do it. Super!

I knocked out a few states right off the bat: my first 5K was in my home state of North Carolina, next was a nice little trail run in Wisconsin while visiting family, and then I took a long weekend to South Beach with a friend and did a 5K through the Miami Zoo. How cool is that? But that was all a while ago, and if left unchecked, I’ll fuse to the sofa before you can say Netflix. A good friend told me I better get moving, and so I did.

My Wisconsin run near Madison was beautiful!
My Wisconsin run near Madison was beautiful!

I planned a ridiculous “three 5Ks in three states in three days” trip, and I actually convinced a friend to join me. Truthfully, she took pity on me. This junk isn’t even on her list, so she’s crazier than I am, right? I joke. Kathy made it clear she was not running anywhere, but she was coming along to have fun (yay!), and to be sure I didn’t get lost somewhere on my way from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Chattanooga to Atlanta, or Atlanta to Birmingham. Basically, to be an awesome friend.

So I sent her the itinerary and off we went. Kathy confessed at the close of our tour that she thought I had lost my marbles and there was no way that schedule was going to fly, but it did. Mostly. The one fault in my planning was not allowing enough time for the beast that is called Atlanta. The airport. The Disney-long line at Thrifty car rental. The TRAFFIC. So we were behind schedule from the get-go. Here’s what the first day was supposed to look like:

1:15 PM Land at ATL
1:45 On the road to Chattanooga, TN
4:00-6:45 Check in at hotel and explore Chattanooga
6:45 On the road to Dayton, TN
8:00 YMCA Funky Monkey 5K in Dayton
9:00 On the road to Chattanooga
10:00 Dinner in Chattanooga

Since we were a couple of hours late out of Atlanta, we didn’t get to see Chattanooga at all on Friday. We blew into town and barely had time to drop our bags at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, change into running gear, and hit the road to Dayton 45 minutes North for the YMCA Funky Monkey 5K Glow Run. The Choo Choo was a disappointment, but the only let-down of the entire trip, so success in my book. I had great expectations for the train depot once called Terminal Station turned vacation complex in 1973 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The lobby, which is what used to be the old train station, is gorgeous. Hotel 3—not so much. Once you are welcomed into the grand opulence of the hotel lobby, you are given a map, directed to get in your car and travel to Hotel 1, Hotel 2, or Hotel 3, none of which looked anything like a train station. Hotel 3 brought to mind “Orange is the New Black.” But we weren’t spending much time there anyway, so what the heck.

Hotel 3
Hotel 3. How’s that for warm and inviting?

We drove into Dayton with just enough time to circle around town searching for the race, to ask directions from folks who could not comprehend that we were not from there and had no idea where 3rd Street, the florist, or the funeral home were, and finally made our way to the event. Persistence. I got my glow on (one yellow tube around my neck—the Y kids wrapped themselves head-to-toe), and pop went the start gun! This was an 8pm run on a flat course with a cool temp. I ran the entire 5K (only the 2nd time ever) and came in with my best time ever by 10 minutes with a time of 33:57! I never thought I would do better than 40:00. I struggle that much. But, no time for celebrating–I caught my breath, and we high-tailed it back to Chattanooga to the Terminal Brewhouse for some food and drink. After running 3 miles, inhaling a hefty black bean burger and a glass of red wine, Hotel 3 didn’t seem so bad.

Terminal Brewhouse in Chattanooga
Terminal Brewhouse in Chattanooga

The next morning we finally saw a little bit of the city. Chattanooga is nestled in a valley between the Appalachian Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau with a population of about 175,000. We checked out Coolidge Park which is part of the Tennessee Riverwalk, a 15-mile long public greenway that runs along the Tennessee River. The park is beautiful with a 100-year-old restored carousel and an interactive water feature. The Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge is near the park entrance, and you get a great view from the bridge.


A view of Coolidge Park from the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge
A view of Coolidge Park from the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge
Looking across the Tennessee River from Coolidge Park
Looking across the Tennessee River from Coolidge Park

While we were at the park, we happened upon the Skyhoundz Word Championship disc competition, which had me beside myself, and then one of the competitors was a rescue dog! I had to take a moment and pull myself together. Seriously. Those dogs were incredible!

One of the competitors at the Skyhoundz World Championship disc competition
One of the competitors at the Skyhoundz World Championship disc competition

From there we walked to an adorable little art gallery, Tangerinas, and then drove to the Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar. If you remember nothing else, remember this. We dined on the deck overlooking the Tennessee River and the Riverwalk. The menu was vast, with lunch options from a $6 Wedge Salad to a $30 Wood Grilled Rib Eye. The Catfish Poboy dialed my number. It was served with slaw and fries, and I added Wood Fired Okra. You need to pay attention here: if anyone ever offers you wood fired okra, you take it and you never look back! That stuff was plain good food. It had the smokey wood-fired flavor, was slightly charred, and had a pinch of salt and olive oil. It was tender, it was flavorful, it was delicious. I can’t say enough about it. The catfish was excellent, and my meal was around $15 (because I added the okra). The place was fairly busy, yet the owner came over to check on our food and ask if we had been before and where we were from. He then came back a few minutes later to chit-chat, and then the chef came out to see if we were enjoying our meal. For $15! Repeat in your mind over and over “Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar…Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar…”

Catfish Poboy with Wood Fired Okra at the Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar
Catfish Poboy with Wood Fired Okra at the Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar. If you are in Chattanooga, you need to check out the Boathouse!

No sooner did we finish lunch and it was time to make our way back to Atlanta because the itinerary said so. I can’t say enough about Chattanooga and wish we had more time to take it all in. It is gorgeous! I’d love to go back some day, but I’ve got 44 5Ks in 44 other states and just two legs. Next up is Atlanta!


Tip: Eat at the Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar and the Terminal Brewhouse, but if you must choose, definitely the Boathouse.
Tip: Check out Coolidge Park along the Tennessee River with a restored historic carousel and interactive water feature. It sits below the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge from which you can enjoy a beautiful view of the park and the city.
Tip: Check out Tangerinas studio across from Coolidge Park. An aunt/niece duo making art from recycled materials. I little piece came home with me!


Skinny is Not a Compliment

A Calvin Klein ad portraying a size 10 model as ‘plus size’ has people riled up, and rightfully so. I’m sure there will be much discussion about CK and its bothersome campaign, but I’m irked about more than the ad. The conversation it started went from double zero to ugly pretty darn quickly. In a matter of minutes the conversation turned to hating the thin people.

It’s time to stop the double-standard. I can be referred to as skinny (which is not a compliment), but you can’t be called fat?

Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Let’s start with the definition of skinny. Dictionary.com notes this:

  1. very lean or thin; emaciated
  2. of or like skin
  3. unusually low or reduced; meager; minimal
  4. (of an object) narrow or slender

I don’t appreciate being likened to terms such as emaciated, like skin, or meager. Surely you all teach your children not to tease others based on how they look. You would hopefully be appalled if your little one harrassed another about the size of their nose or back side. Why, then, is it okay to ridicule people based on their small size?

I’m a small-framed woman, I eat well, and I’m a healthy weight. I know this from just about every medical chart, from every BMI index, and from my own physician. I am a size 0 by American standards (depending on the brand I could be a 00 or a 2), and if you have a problem with that, get over it. More importantly, it’s time you think about what your words do to others.

The range for healthy is pretty wide. According to the CDC, for an adult who is 5′ 4″ tall, a healthy weight is from 108 to 145 pounds. That sounds like a lot of different sizes and shapes to me, and more power to you wherever you land on that chart. I would not say to someone, “wow, you’re so big.” If I were to be so callous, I would likely be stoned for it. Yet it’s socially acceptable for people to comment on my size and how I look.

News flash: your words have chipped away at my self-esteem too.

For years, I thought my legs were too skinny and my chest too flat because of what other people said to me. ‘Skeletal’ is every bit as offensive as ‘fat.’ It took a lot of work, and despite your words, I love the way I look. Sadly, not everyone is fortunate enough to recognize what judgment from others can do to them.

A few things people say that are wildly inappropriate:

  • Oh my gosh, you’re so skinny. Think of this statement in the opposite. Pretty awful, huh? Might make you feel badly about yourself. It runs both ways.
  • You need to put some meat on your bones. Actually, I don’t. Unless you have something kind to say, honor what your mother taught you and zip it.
  • You eat like a bird. You’ve just affirmed your own ignorance on the subject of my eating habits, because I probably eat more than you do. Furthermore, what I eat is none of your business. I don’t comment on the contents of your plate–that would be rude.

People suffer from eating disorders, health issues, are underweight, are overweight, and need help. We should not be insensitive to those struggling with weight issues on either side of the matter and should not judge. There are sincere and tactful ways to raise the subject with someone you love. Categorically spewing cavalier and hurtful comments about how others look, no matter their size, is rude and reckless. It’s time we all check ourselves before giving an unsolicited opinion on someone else’s appearance.

Consider how you want your child to be treated at school. Should he or she be teased for being too thin or too big? Let’s treat each other with the respect and kindness we preach. Join me in learning this lesson we teach our children, about how our words effect others.

Cheers to your health!

After Cancer, Everything is a Scare. Aches and Pains Keep me on Pins and Needles.

Spoiler: I am okay!

However, once you’ve received a cancer diagnosis, every little ache and pain is suspect (in your mind) of being the thing that will do you in. I thought maybe I was being overly dramatic, but this is actually common among cancer survivors. Even though I’m in remission–possibly cured, and for all intents and purposes healthy, something like a nagging backache can sound alarms. So my back pain x3 months had me seriously concerned.

When I have random aches or pains, I do the self-talk: you’re getting older, you’ve been running, you lifted something, you slept in an odd position, but it never completely quiets the background noise (as my friend and fellow survivor John calls it) in my mind telling me this could be more than a backache. As much as cancer has changed my life, my perspective, for the better, there is still that constant wonder whether I’m cancer-free or have rogue cells traveling through my lymphatic system looking to set up shop.

After a few weeks of severe pain, I called my general doc who did an x-ray to rule out disc damage (especially since I’ve had a ruptured disc in my neck). Everything looked good. Some relief. I had a regularly-scheduled appointment with my oncologist two weeks later and left it at that. Calling her in a panic and being seen immediately would only have made the possibility more real. Remember how long I was in denial about the lump in my breast? Nearly two years.

So I popped into Dr. C’s telling her how great I feel as a 19-month survivor, except for some nagging back pain. Her face and her response snapped me right back to reality. Bone metastasis is most common after breast or prostate cancer, and especially within the first few years of remission. More sobering, it is usually not curable. It can be treated but not cured.

After many questions from my oncologist and a blood test, I was out the door and told they would call me with the results within a few days. Shaken and scared, my mind wouldn’t stop the what if loop. I thought about how my Mother should not have to survive the loss of a third daughter. For her to lose one child was horrible. A second was unfathomable. Losing a third would destroy her. To say my heart breaks for her is an understatement; I can’t properly put it into words.

I wondered who would love and take care of my dog [the same way I do] after I’m gone? Grace is my heart on four legs. How could I not come home one day, leaving her to wonder where I was and why did I leave her?

Grace is my copilot and my heart!
Grace is my copilot and my heart!
Grace and I see things like this gorgeous sunrise on our walks.
I get to see things like this gorgeous sunrise while walking my dog.

Something many of us struggle with: what have I done with my life? Have I done any good? Have I touched people in a positive way; have I helped anyone? For being allowed to live any length of time, the least we can do is leave this world in better shape than we found it. Until I get my carbon footprint to zero, save some animals, and feed some people…I mean really, what’s the point of having been here if I don’t do some good?

Lastly, do I have it right with God? Surprisingly, and maybe arrogantly, I feel the least anxiety about this one. I have faith, and I think I’m ok. We’ll see.

It’s scenarios like this–the back pain scare–that shed some light on why I live my life with a little more urgency now. For all I know my time is not ticking away any quicker than yours, but the realization that it could be has lit a fire. I was going to run a 5k in South Carolina this month, but had already signed up for a WordPress class because I’m intent on making my blog the best it can be. I bought a ukulele (another thing on my life list) and can’t wait to start lessons, except I’ve signed up for therapy dog classes with Grace first. There’s so much I want to do and potentially so little time in which to do it. Technically, that’s the case for everyone since none of us knows how or when we’ll cash in, but when you get that little wake-up call, you get moving.

My Life List. Lots to do!
My Life List. Lots to do!

But the lab results were good–my alkaline phosphatase level is normal. I’m still having back pain, so off to physical therapy I go. No idea what brought it on or why it’s lingering, which brings us back to getting older, running, lifted something, or slept funny. Of course, the possibility of something awful is still in the back of my mind. Although this scare turned out to be much ado about nothing, my mission to squelch the background noise, and to complete my list, continues.


Is Sugar the New Tobacco?

A little over a year ago, as part of my breast cancer treatment and recovery, I met with a dietitian to talk about my diet, more specifically, my love of sweets. She had a few suggestions for me, but the one that hung in the air was to cut my sugar intake. I was a chocoholic. An ice cream addict. A sugar junkie. But, to get myself in the best health possibly, I pledge my allegiance to the Better Safe than Sorry camp and vowed to not consume more than 25 grams of added sugar per day. This, my friends, is not impossible; it is actually quite doable.


The 25 gram recommendation is not a special medical diet. It is not a special diet of any type. I call it normal sugar consumption because it’s what the USDA recommends. For everyone. This is not a low sugar diet—it is what should be everybody’s norm. This information came to me from a registered dietitian affiliated with Duke University Health System, but take a look at some of the other resources who back it up as well:

The American Heart Association, www.heart.org, recommends limiting added sugars to no more than half of your daily discretionary calories allowance. For most American women, that’s no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons (40 grams). The AHA recommendations focus on all added sugars, without singling out any particular types such as high-fructose corn syrup.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, www.cnpp.usda.gov/DietaryGuidelines, reiterates the 6 teaspoons for women/9 teaspoons for men guideline.

World Health Organization: CBSNEWS.com reports that the WHO recommends a sugar intake of 5 percent of your daily calorie intake. For an adult of a normal body mass index (BMI), that works out to about 6 teaspoons–or 25 grams–of sugar per day.

I could go on, citing the Mayo Clinic, the LIVESTRONG organization, and medical journals, but I think you get my point—this is not me and a bunch of made-up websites making a crazy statement about sugar. This is the real deal folks.

If you’re still not taking this seriously, chew on this: it was in 1964 when the U.S. Surgeon General released the first report stating that cigarette smoking was a cause of lung and laryngeal cancer in men, a probable cause of lung cancer in women, and the most important cause of chronic bronchitis. Yes, the tobacco companies continued to market hard, and it seemed people turned a deaf ear to the information that could have saved lives. A lot of lives.

Today we have access to information every second of our lives. The food industry markets sugar even more aggressively than tobacco marketed cigarettes, but this time we have the data at our fingertips. No excuses. This time, shame on us for ignoring article after article, report upon report, and shaking our heads at the rate of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer in the U.S. as we pop open sodas, unwrap chocolate bars, and indulge in sweets on a daily basis. And that’s just our overt sugar intake. If you don’t take 15 seconds to read a food label, you’re likely ingesting even more sugar. For example, there are 10 grams of sugar in 1/2 cup of Prego Traditional Italian Sauce. That’s nearly half your allowance for the day ladies.

The bottom line is, I know too many people who have battled cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Some have won and some have not. You might argue that it’s genetics, and certainly there is that, but when the U.S. Government advises that sugar consumption is linked to each of these diseases, don’t you think we ought to listen? 1964 is when the government warned us about smoking and cancer. Few listened. I have to ask, is sugar the new tobacco?

Cheers to your health,

Five Foods that Taste Sweeter After I Nixed Sugar

It’s been over a year since I significantly reduced my sugar intake, and I am most surprised at how foods taste differently now. I used to consume a lot of sugar, and my guess is that I’m experiencing something akin to when a smoker kicks the habit and can finally taste something other than tar and nicotine. Now that my taste buds are free from their sugary shackles, these five foods taste sweeter to me than ever before.

  • Walnuts – I add these little gems to organic, unsweetened cereal and they make all the difference. I toss them on salads and into plain yogurt along with some raisins. Now I can taste their natural sweetness. Surprise! Even better, they contain omega-3 fat, vitamin E, and antioxidants.
  • Dark Chocolate (85% or higher) – what used to taste utterly bitter now tastes like sweet, cocoa decadence. When I sample milk chocolate, I can’t believe I ever ate that stuff; it tastes cheap, manufactured, and waxy. Dark chocolate not only tastes of indulgence, it’s high in vitamins and minerals, and studies have shown that it lowers your blood pressure and can harden tooth enamel.
  • Honey – I use it sparingly now because it tastes so sweet. While I used to squeeze, squeeze, squeeze the bottle, now I barely drizzle and am just as satisfied.
  • Carrots – who knew carrots were sweet? Okay, you all knew it and I’m late to the party! Carrots are so delightfully sweet already, only a sugar addict would glaze them. And they’re loaded with beta-carotene which the body converts to vitamin A.
  • Butter – a good smear of butter on any kind of bread (white, wheat, whole grain) will calm my sweet tooth. Has to be the real deal though–no margarine for me. Butter has suffered a bad rap for decades, but is making a comeback due to new studies that indicate it’s not the criminal we once thought. We are, however, still advised to use butter in moderation.
Walnuts contain omega-3 fat, vitamin E, and antioxidants
Dark Chocolate with 88% Cocoa
3 ounces contains a total of 10 grams of sugar (that’s less than 0.6 grams per square)
In comparison, a 1.85 ounce Snickers bar contains 27 grams of sugar
Good old sweet, creamy butter
      So there you have it. Healthy foods that taste great and take care of sweet cravings when they hit. That’s a win-win-win in my cookbook. Happy eating!