WFRT 2012 Post Ride Blog

This year’s Wrigley Field Road Tour was not daunting. After last year’s 25-50mph winds, I figured nothing could be as bad. Even if it was just as windy, half of the ride would be at our backs. Plus, I’ve become a much stronger cyclist in the year since WFRT 2011 and easily ride 150+ miles a week. I was a little concerned about my strength for the ride day, as I had a pretty emotional week and did not eat or sleep enough prior to the ride. However, when I woke up Sunday morning I felt pretty good, and made my way over to Wrigley quite early.
It was a different experience altogether this year. Last year, the Team to End AIDS had 60+ riders. We had lots of volunteers doing support and even had a rest stop that was run by T2. This year there were 3 of us registered, and no volunteers or coaches or T2 employees. I was planning on doing the ride on my own, like so many training rides this summer. The route didn’t go past my mom’s house or my familiar Milwaukee landmarks. There were no cheerleaders for me on along the way. I just hoped to be able to finish in under 6 hours so I could get in the car and drive to Colorado. When I got to Wrigley, I had a nice surprise to find last years T2 manager volunteering at gear check. Got a quick hug and hello and then I spotted a couple who looked familiar to me. Jacob and Kim are friends of one of my classmates and her roommate and I had seen them at a birthday party recently. I walked over to say hello and introduce myself and found out Kim was riding on her own as well. She didn’t know what pace she normally rides at because she doesn’t have a computer, but I suggested we ride together and see if she could stick with me. We lined up at the back of the Group A riders (ride time of 4 ½ to 6 hours). I put my list of people I was riding for in my jersey pocket and headed out through the concourse of Wrigley Field.
The first 15 miles were grueling and slow because we were riding through the streets of Chicago, stoplights and traffic and all. Plus we were in a very condensed pack, not spread out at all. I told Kim that when we got to the Baha’i temple, I would have to sprint down the curve just because it’s my favorite stretch of road. We did that, and I was going about 25mph heading to the front of the pack when some guy whistled at me and yelled “she dropped her chain back at the bridge!” So I pulled off and waited for Kim to catch up. We were then at the very back of the pack and had some catching up to do. At the first rest stop, she took her bike into the shop to have them check the derailleur. It was a much longer rest stop than I had anticipated, but ultimately helped her shifting and our speed. I kept my eye on my average speed on the computer. I knew that to make a 6 hour century, I would have to get my average up to 16. With the slow start, that was going to be difficult. However it was such an amazingly perfect day that every mile seemed to make us faster. Somewhere around mile 40 we caught up with a pretty fast pack and were able to cruise at 24-26mph for a good long time. By the time we got to the lunch stop, I was super excited and couldn’t believe I felt so fresh after 60+ miles. I was having so much fun. There was a point where I think I was smiling so hard my mouth felt like it was going to tear in half.
Before the ride, I purchased a mini speaker for my iPod and put it in my top tube pack. It took me a whole day to pick the playlist for the ride – and I kept it all upbeat and dancey. I got lots of comments from fellow riders along the way about having the music. 3 of the guys from the pack we hooked up with before lunch found us before heading out and we stuck with them the rest of the way. They wanted a team name, and one of them suggested Team Vega first because I brought the music. By the end of the ride, out team had a word for each of us – something like Team Vega-Kimistry-Penguin-Quick-something-or-other. It was great riding with them. One of the guys, Dan, said he always had a goal. He would spot the next pack of riders ahead of us and aim to pass them. He said we weren’t “catching” them, because that was actually a taxing way to look at it. He said instead, we were pulling them to us. I then asked, “wouldn’t it be better if they were pulling us to them like magnets?!” So we were pulled to each pack, one by one. The 4th rest stop came up really quickly. We were going so fast that entire time, being pulled to each pack. It was actually a bit too much. We missed a turn before the rest stop and had to turn around. The 5 of us agreed to slow down a notch for the next leg of the ride.
Rest stop 5 was just 10 miles from the finish. I had been feeling really good until about a mile before the stop. I don’t think I had been drinking or eating enough the previous 18 miles and was starting to feel nauseated and lightheaded. I scarfed down a banana and some pretzels and we got ready to head out again. We had caught up to a really large, fast pack just before the stop and decided to stick with them the rest of the way. Being back in Chicago meant slower pace, stop lights and traffic once again, and I was starting to get worried that I wouldn’t make my 6 hour goal. The last 4 miles were a little rough. I kept feeling dizzy and had to tell myself it was the home stretch. Kim started sprinting through lights to avoid reds and we actually passed up most of that pack. The last mile before Wrigley, me Dan and Frank kicked it up to 22 mph. We hit 100 miles just north of Irving Park Road. The air show was finishing at the lakefront, and as we approached Wrigley Field, the Blue Angels were soaring overhead. I was bursting with excitement! What a cool way to finish a century ride – with Blue Angels doing loops above your head!!
I crossed the finish line at 5 hours and 58 minutes. Kim’s boyfriend, Jacob, had been waiting for us. He is the one that said we were among the first 30 people to finish and were the 4th and 5th women to cross the line. We were so excited. Kim said she felt invincible. I didn’t feel anything like how I did at the end of last year’s ride. I went home, showered and packed my car. I headed back to Wrigley for free food and to meet up with my new riding buddy before heading out on a road trip to Colorado. It was such an amazing feeling of accomplishment. I was excited for Kim, who discovered how badass she really was – doing her first century ride. I’m excited I now have a girl friend who can ride at my pace! We’re already looking at doing the North Shore Century in September.
I left Chicago at about 6pm to drive to Colorado and after I had to fill the gas tank the first time, I reset my trip to see just how far 100 miles felt. Every time another 100 miles went by, I would think of how far that actually is – and get a different perspective of what I accomplished. I feel very blessed to have the physical ability to do something like this, and even more grateful that I can benefit others with this ability. The real heroes of the day were all of my sponsors who generously donated to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. Thank you!!

If you read this and feel inspired to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS, there is still time to donate; AFC will take donations through the end of the year on my page. http://afc.aidschicago.org/netcommunity/vegabells2012


WFRT Post Ride Blog

So the big day was on Saturday. I haven't really been able to bring myself to write this last log because I don't want to admit that it's over. I already miss my teammates and our training sessions. I'm going to do my best to describe the experience for you.

I didn't sleep at all the night before the ride. Maybe 2 1/2 hours. Maybe. I was mostly worried about the weather. Forecast said 20mph winds from the north. Not exactly what you want to be cycling into for 100 miles.
Got to Wrigley Field to check in at about 7am. There were so many bikes! We got a good T2 group photo in and then began to line up in the corrals. Group A was for people who anticipated finishing within 4-6 hours, Group B was 6-7.5 hours and Group C was +7.5. Alex, Dan, Coach Chris and I lined up at the back of Group A. We grabbed another assistant coach, Gillian, and waited for them to let us start. The horn went off and we began to ride into the Wrigley Field Concourse. It was sort of a mess in the beginning, pushing our way along with our feet rather than pedaling. We came out the front gate and headed up Clark St. The first 2 or 3 miles were very slow going due to the amount of cyclists and the lack of traffic control. Once we got a little further north speed picked up a bit, but that's when I had my first water bottle incident. I have 2 cages on my frame in which I keep a bottle of water and a bottle of electrolytes (usually Gatorade). I also have 2 cages on my seat post because I tend to go through more fluids than most people. My Gatorade cage on the frame snapped in half at about the 3rd mile. Alex came to my rescue (as he has during past rides) and put the bottle in one of the pockets of his jersey. We continued.
We were instructed to skip the first rest stop since it was only 13 miles in, so we kept rolling. As we were turning onto Sheridan Road, a group of XXX racers were riding by the opposite direction and I heard someone scream my name. My friend Michael was riding with them and just happened to pass by right in front of me. How serendipitous! We made our way back onto the street and not long after hit a patch of really rough road. I felt one of my water bottles fall off the back, turned around quickly to see that Alex was stopping to grab it. I wanted to shout back at him to leave it because I still had the other ones, but didn't get the chance. I slowed down to let him catch up and Gillian came by. That's when she told me I lost both of them, and he ran one over. Doh! I was down 3 water bottles in 14 miles. When Alex finally caught up he had all 3 of my bottles in his jersey pockets. Hooray!
At rest stop #2 we stopped. It happened to be at a bike shop so I ran in and bought a new cage for my frame. The bottle that Alex ran over was fine, just empty. I filled them all up, ate a banana and we were back on the road. This is when the winds became more apparent. I had committed to memory the general ride route and at which miles the rest stops were. I basically counted down miles, sometimes tenths of miles, until the stops. I was struggling by the time we got to rest stop #3, which was sponsored by T2. I knew I was going to see familiar faces and possibly get hugs, so I kept pushing. I fell behind our little pack for a bit. There was a point on the McClory Trail where Chris came up behind me, put his hand on my back and pushed me to catch up to the others. I don't know how many times I screamed "F@#$ you wind!!!" I was starting to have chest pains and was going through water quickly. I know we took longer than we should have at the rest stops, but it was the only way I could get my energy back up to make it to the next rest stop.
After leaving #3, we were 7 miles from the Wisconsin border. That's what I focused my next countdown on. We got a great shot in front of the Wisconsin sign, but it wasn't long enough to quell the cramping in my chest. I fell behind the group again. This time I was on my own for a bit. The winds were brutal. I came up behind a single rider and drafted off of him for a bit, but then he slowed down so I had to pass him. Every time there was a slight bend in the road instead of being blasted in the face by wind, I was nearly knocked off my bike. The chest pains became more severe. I was sure I wasn't going to make it to the lunch stop at mile 53. I started to cry. But then Alex came to the rescue, yet again. I saw him up ahead, slowed down and waiting for me. He let me catch up and then let me draft off him the rest of the way. The route headed straight to the lakefront along the most treacherous potholed road I have ever seen. Combined with the dangerous winds coming off the lake, we were only going about 8 or 9 mph for that last mile.
We got to the rest stop and took off our shoes (I was hesitant because I had a nightmare the day before that I lost one of my shoes at a rest stop and couldn't finish the ride). They served us sandwiches and cookies and chips, which was difficult to get down because I felt so lousy. My teammates kept reminding me to eat at every stop even if I didn't feel hungry, so that we kept our energy up. So I ate. After about 10 minutes my chest felt better, but my spirits were low. I couldn't imagine going another 47 miles like that. I was texting my brother and a couple other people because I wasn't sure I was going to make it. The longest stretch was before me (next stop was at mile 71) and I was incredibly disheartened.
We stayed at the lunch stop for at least half an hour, maybe more. Finally headed back on the road. I felt a bit more refreshed, but then we started hitting hills. There was one that I wanted to get off and walk, but Alex just shook his head. We slowly climbed to the top, only to be rewarded with a plateau. I'm still waiting for the downhill on that one! Other than the hills and the wind, there was not much that was eventful about that 18 mile stretch. We slowed down by a couple mph so I wasn't quite as exhausted when we got to rest stop #5. I sent out the warning texts: we were 16 miles from my mom's house. At the rate we were going, I told my mom and brother that we could be there anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. This is where things started getting interesting. Instead of becoming more and more fatigued, I found myself filling with excitement and energy. I was close to being home! Things were looking familiar. I felt a shift. We were just turning onto Chicago Rd in Oak Creek when another gust of wind nearly toppled me over. I screamed again, but then caught myself. I had this weird moment, maybe it was because I was becoming delirious from riding hard all day, but I remembered someone telling me to never resist anything because I am part of it all. And it was with that thought that my inner dialogue changed dramatically. I think I may have even said it out loud - I embrace the wind - and then started a new mantra in my mind, "I love the wind. I AM the wind." Over and over and over. Every time I felt myself becoming frustrated, I would double the efforts on the mantra. Pretty soon we were pulling into South Milwaukee, and I was visibly excited.
I started pointing out landmarks to my small group of T2 teammates - "That's where my great grandma lived" "That's where my dad's friend worked" "That's the Dairy Queen we used to go to when I was a kid." We were just about to turn onto Lake Dr, less than 2 miles from my mom's house when I heard someone shout my name again. My dad's best friend Dennis and his wife Brenda were camped out on a corner waiting for us to ride by! They snapped a picture and I started to lose my group, so I told them I had to leave. We had just passed the hospital I was born at (where Dan actually yelled out "Hi Vega's birth hospital") when a car pulled up and started snapping pictures. Dennis and Brenda chased us down to wave and cheer again. I told them to head to my mom's and we would stop to say hello and shouted out the address. I was probably glowing with excitement by this point. I'm sure it must have helped my teammates to have me suddenly rejuvenated and excited when we were at mile 86 or 87.
Then we saw them. My mom had signs and balloons on both sides of the street. There was a giant group of them on the side of the road. I barely saw who was out there - my brother Troy, his girlfriend Liz, Mom, mom's boyfriend Beaver, Grandma, probably Dennis and Brenda - but they were waving us on and telling us to head to the rest stop, just another couple blocks away. We got to the last rest stop and my friends and family started pouring in. Troy first on the bike, then Liz and my mom and grandma, Dennis and Brenda, and then Kory strolled over from somewhere in the park. I introduced them all to the teammates who were nearby, and Coach Chris. I was over the moon. I'm still shocked that I didn't start crying; I thought for sure I was going to be a sobbing mess (I've teared up a few times just writing this). I was too excited to be emotional. We hugged each other a couple more times and then I had to go. Troy decided he was going to ride with us for as far as he could, but that ended up being about 2 miles.
The last 9 miles to the stadium were through my old neighborhood where I was born (Bay View) and down Canal St. It was almost like I forgot I had ridden 90 miles to get to this point and felt more like I had just jumped on my bike from my brother's house and was headed to the east side or something. We passed my friend Courtney who had been riding by herself all day. I asked the group if we could slow down so she could ride the rest of the way with us. We climbed the last bridge and just as it crested, we saw the tents in the furthest gravel parking lot under the 35th St bridge. The last block was coasting down the hill and being directed into the parking lot by my friend Sean. As I turned, I saw Shana jumping up and down and screaming like crazy. I made it! I rode my bike all the way to Milwaukee!! I didn't even have my helmet off and a camera crew came over to talk to Alex and I. Just as I was finishing a sentence, Shana ran over and threw her arms around me. We stowed my bike, I put on my regular shoes, and then grabbed my camera. I wanted to be sure to catch the rest of my teammates coming in. We were about to walk over to the finish when Troy and Liz walked up. He couldn't believe that I had beat him there, and they had driven in a car. We walked over together and Troy snapped many pictures that my teammates are truly grateful for.

Now it's over. The training, the Saturday morning group rides, the anticipation. But I have hopefully gained some lifelong friendships and have proven to myself that I can do anything if I put my mind to it. While we were all at the game that night, the word started spreading that our head coach had said it was the most difficult century ride he had ever done. It turned out that the 20mph sustained head wind was punctuated by gusts of 25-40mph. He said directly to me that he would rather do an Ironman than ride that again. At least I know that any century ride I do after this will be less challenging.
That being said, I am aiming to ride the North Shore Century on September 18th. I was going to do the full 100, but may be accompanied by my brother for this one, so will probably only ride the "Diamond Century" (70 miles).
Other than accomplishing such a huge personal goal, I am filled with warmth knowing that what I did helped people. When I was struggling at the lunch stop, Shana reminded me that I was riding for people who can't. I thought of my friends and the people I was riding in honor of and was given a little more strength. This has been by far the most meaningful and powerful thing I have ever done. Not only did I help by raising funds for the AIDS Foundation, but I inspired others to get healthy and active along the way.

If you read this and feel inspired to contribute to the fight against HIV/AIDS, we are accepting donations until October 31st.


August 21st - WFRT Update

It's 6 days until the big ride. I have come down with some sort of sinus infection and sore throat so I am spending today in bed, attempting to kick it out before it gets worse. I missed the scheduled 60 mile "on your own" ride this weekend, but I logged 96 miles last week training. I am 7 miles from having ridden 1000 on the new bike! I'll post a pic when I ride next with my new odometer reading :)

Last Saturday we completed our longest, and last, group ride - 75 miles! The coaches were spread thin due to several events happening that weekend and we were left with just the head coach to manage the 25 or so riders who showed up. We all left at the same time and split up into our own pace groups. My friend Alex and I headed up the front straightaway where we met up with Dan. The weather was perfect, cool and partly sunny. I felt amazing and we kept our pace at around 20mph with bursts up to 32! While on Sheridan Road, we were passed by the XXX race team. It was intensely frightening and nearly caused me to hit Alex. The pack of racers sounded like a freight train as they passed us on curving hills by mere inches. No matter how much my cycling has improved over the last few months, I am nowhere near as skilled as those monsters!
Alex, Dan and I finished the ride in 4 hours and 1 minute - a full hour before anyone else did. Because the route ended at Murphy's Bleachers, I was only 3 blocks from my apartment (Alex was 4 blocks from his). We both went home to shower and change and then headed back to Murphy's to cheer on our teammates. I don't think I'll ever live down the fact that I came back in a dress. One of the women looked downright angry that I was cleaned up and pretty! All said and done, It made me realize that my goal of finishing the century in under 6 hours is totally attainable if I stick with Alex and Dan. As long as I'm healthy enough to pull through...

The Wrigley Field Road Tour posted the official ride route the past week. You can view it here: http://www.mapmyrun.com/routes/view/46173486 (ignore the fact that it says "map my run" as we will most assuredly be riding). My mother's house is on the route at mile 87.9 (just north of the last rest stop in Grant Park at mile 86.2). I will be texting her from that final rest stop so she and anyone that wants to join her in cheering us on will be ready for our drive-by. I wouldn't mind if someone wanted to meet me at the last rest stop for a big moral push to the finale as well.

As I sit here and think about the last 2 1/2 months of training, I'm full of pride, gratitude and a bit of sadness. The Team to End AIDS has been my source of companionship and strength. It has been my social outlet and much needed break from schoolwork. It has totally wiped me out, but made me ultimately stronger. I will miss the weekly computrainer sessions and group rides. One of the coaches and a couple of my teammates have suggested making me into a triathlete next year - we'll see about that - but I know that with their help and support I could manage. I am so unbelievably grateful for the opportunity to train with so many amazing people, and equally moved by the generosity of all of you who have donated. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I haven't even got to the payoff of the ride!

Lastly, I want to thank everyone who has helped me reach my fundraising goal before the ride! When I first put $2000 as my original goal back in April, I thought it was nearly impossible and most certainly unlikely. I even moved it back to $1500 at one point, just so I wouldn't feel bad about not making the lofty goal. I'm glad I was talked into changing it back because we totally did it! You are my heroes.

Thank you again for your help, love and support. It means the world to me.


August 8th - Wrigley Field Road Tour Update

Hi everyone!
I'm sorry I haven't sent any training updates in a while. It's been pretty crazy trying to get in all the training time and study for finals. Thankfully tomorrow morning I will be done for the semester.

I have passed the 800 mile mark on my bike. I will definitely hit 1000 before the day of the ride - how exciting!
Our computrainer sessions kick my butt on a weekly basis, but I haven't missed one yet. We've got our longest group ride so far this coming Saturday - 75 miles (80 for me). We will be riding from Foster Beach to Waukegan and back. That's from my house up to Great America for those of you who know the area. Insanity!

I really appreciate all the donations I've received. I think I mentioned in my last email that I have met a number of fellow participants who are currently living with HIV and it makes what I'm doing even more meaningful to me. One of these friends is the most amazing person and a huge positive influence on my life. I'm really grateful for the opportunity to be able to help this person directly, and many more like them.

The reason I'm emailing is because we were sent a link for friends and family to be able to purchase tickets to the Cubs/Brewers game (finally). They are $65, but they include a Wrigley Field Road Tour t-shirt. Just copy and paste or click the link below:

Again, if you feel like passing on my personal fundraising page, I would be more than grateful. I'm still $255 away from my $2000 goal. If you need to give people a better reason for donating their hard-earned cash, just let them know that the state of Illinois cut $1.5 million in funding for the AIDS Foundation yet need for the organization continues to grow.

Thanks again for your support. So excited for the big day (only 19 days to go)!!!
Love & Light

June 18th - Wrigley Field Road Tour Update

Hi everyone!
I started training this week for the Wrigley Field Road Tour, and I thought it would be fun to keep all of you who have donated updated on my progress. If for some reason you do not want to receive these emails, let me know and I will take you off the list. I'm doing a blog on the T2EA fb app, so I will just post that here after every update.
Thank you so much for your donations again. You have no idea how much they mean to me.
I'm still trying to reach my $1500 goal, so if you know anyone else that is willing to help out, feel free to pass on my website link: http://afc.aidschicago.org/netcommunity/vegabells

Also, for those of you in the Chicago area, if you are interested in volunteering for any of our group rides please let me know. For every person that volunteers, I get $15 in fundraising credit and you get to feel good about doing something to help others. We have group rides scheduled for July 2, 16, 23, 30, August 13 and of course the big day of August 27th.

Thank you thank you thank you!

First Group Ride
My alarm didn't go off this morning. It was set for 5:42am, which would have given me enough time to eat breakfast and bike to the training site to be there at least 15 minutes before our 7am start time. But I woke up at 7:10. I have never jumped out of bed so quickly. I was nearly in tears. I never oversleep! I shoved some blueberries in my mouth, threw on my bike gear and left. I got to the site quickly, and was added to a group that was practicing skills and agility. We did "slow races" and circles, practiced looking behind and grabbing our water bottles. Then they taught us how to ride in a pack. It was nothing new to me, except the little chicken wing signal to switch off leading the pack. We left for the 15 mile ride (which turned out to be 18 or 19) at 9am and ventured onto the streets of Chicago with maybe 40 cyclists. I was at the head of the pack and got to lead for a few miles. I've always been a solo rider, mostly because when I try to ride with friends, they don't move as quickly and I get frustrated. This was a different experience. Even though we weren't at a higher speed, I was enjoying meeting some of the other riders and entertained by the shouting of random things all the way through the pack. We somehow got separated and I was the first one back to the starting point by 15 minutes. The best part was shoving my face full of banana and nutella after the ride (I was staaaaaarving). I'm looking forward to the first computrainer session this tuesday, and when they determine who gets put into smaller training packs according to strength. This will be a fun experience!

April 18th - Wrigley Field Road Tour

On August 27th, I will be biking in the Wrigley Field Road Tour, a 100 mile bike tour from Chicago to Milwaukee, to raise money for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC). I'm taking part in TEAM TO END AIDS (T2) and over the next several months I’ll be preparing to bike to the finish line!

With your help, I hope to raise money for AFC in its work to develop a comprehensive system of HIV/AIDS prevention and care, advocate for sound and compassionate public policy, coordinate the activities of local AIDS service providers, and fund dozens of community-based organizations providing AIDS prevention, care, housing, education, and capacity-building projects.

Click here to visit my Web page

With over 40,000 individuals living with HIV in the Chicago area and approximately 1,600 new infections occurring in Illinois each year, your partnership in battling HIV/AIDS is more crucial than ever.

Please support me as I bike in the Wrigley Field Road Tour as a T2 participant. Any amount contributes to the overall cause, even if it's $5 or $10. Click here to make a donation

Thank you in advance for your contribution!
Love & Light,

PS. Because I will be training while in full time graduate school for Traditional Chinese Medicine, my time is extremely limited. 100 miles is a huge personal goal of mine, and in order to be allowed to ride in the Wrigley Road Tour I must meet the team's minimum fundraising amount by June 1st. It's quite a lot of money, so I'm asking you to forward this to anyone you know who would be interested in supporting the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. Your help means a lot to me. http://afc.aidschicago.org/netcommunity/vegabells


2010: Year in Music

Like I've done in the past, I'm listing 50 songs that caught my attention this year. Unlike previous posts, I am not linking each song. If you would like to download a zip file of these tracks in a playlist then click HERE for Part 1, and HERE for Part 2. Enjoy!

The Afters Light Up the Sky "Light Up the Sky"

Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele "Creep (Hungover at Soundcheck in Berlin)"

Anberlin Dark is the Way, Light is A Place "You Belong Here"

Apparatjik We Are Here "Antlers"

Band of Horses Infinite Arms "Way Back Home"

Blood Red Shoes Fire Like This "Don't Ask"

Brandon Flowers Flamingo "Crossfire" (the rest of the album blows)

Christina Perri "Jar of Hearts"

Circa Survive Blue Sky Noise "I Felt Free"

Cloud Cult Light Chasers "The Guessing Game (Journey to the Center)"

Coldplay "Christmas Lights" (yes, it's a Christmas song, but I loved it enough to put it on this list)

Delphic Acolyte "Doubt"

Eminem Recovery "Not Afraid" (one of my guilty pleasures)

Evaline Patterned EP "Hours"

Faded Paper Figures New Medium "New Medium" (my favorite track of the year)

Fortune Staring at the Ice Melt "Gimme"

Fran Healy Wreckorder "Buttercups" (solo album from lead singer of Travis)

Freelance Whales Weathervanes "Starring"

Future of Forestry Travel III EP "Did You Lose Yourself?"

Gorillaz Plastic Beach "Empire Ants"

Hawthorne Heights Skeletons "Bring You Back"

Hellogoodbye Would it Kill You? "Finding Something to Do"

Hot Chip One Life Stand "I Feel Better"

Ingrid Michaelson "Parachute"

Interpol Interpol "Lights"

Jimmy Eat World Invented "Littlething"

Jónsi Go "Kolnidur"

The Joy Formidable A Balloon Called Moaning "Cradle"

Ke$ha Animal "Your Love is My Drug" (another guilty pleasure)

Keane Night Train "Stop for a Minute (feat. K'naan)"

Kele The Boxer "Walk Tall" (disappointing album from the lead singer of Bloc Party, but this song is interesting)

Kyte Dead Waves "ihnfsa"

Linkin Park A Thousand Suns "Burning in the Skies"

Mumford and Sons Sigh No More "After the Storm"

Murder By Death Good Morning, Magpie "On the Dark Streets Below"

MUSE The Twilight Saga: Eclipse Soundtrack"Neutron Star Collision (Love is Forever)"

Neon Trees Habits "Animal"

The New Loud Measures Melt "Get Lost"

OK Go Of the Blue Colour of the Sky "This Too Shall Pass"

Paper Tongues Paper Tongues "Trinity"

Pineapple Thief Someone Here is Missing "The State We're In"

Ra Ra Riot Orchard "Boy"

Rihanna Loud "Only Girl (In the World)" (it's too catchy for me to not put on this list)

Rogue Wave Permalight "Right With You"

Stars The Five Ghosts "We Don't Want Your Body"

Steel Train Steel Train "You Are Dangerous"

The Futureheads The Chaos "Heartbeat Song" (totally out of alphabetical order, sorry)

Thriving Ivory Through Yourself and Back Again "Where We Belong"

We Are Scientists Barbara "Rules Don't Stop Me"

Wolf Parade Expo 86 "In the Direction of the Moon"

**I don't always catch everything right away, so here are 5 songs that definitely would have made my top 50 of 2009 if I had heard them in time!

Deas Vail Birds & Cages "Birds"

fun. Aim and Ignite "Be Calm"

Paper Route Absence "Are We All Forgotten"

The Temper Trap Conditions "Love Lost"

The xx The xx "Islands"


Top 10 Albums of 2010

10. Hot Chip - One Life Stand

9. Circa Survive - Blue Sky Noise

8. Anberlin - Dark is the Way, Light is the Place

7. Fortune - Staring at the Ice Melt

6. Hellogoodbye - Would it Kill You?

5. Steel Train - Steel Train

4. Faded Paper Figures - New Medium (this is my favorite track of the year)

3. Evaline - Patterned EP

2. The Futureheads - The Chaos

1. Paper Tongues - Paper Tongues

Honorable mentions:

Cloud Cult - Light Chasers

Linkin Park - A Thousand Suns

Jonsi - Go

Most disappointing album of the year: Brandon Flowers - Flamingo

Albums that I missed in 2009 that definitely would have my my top 10:

Deas Vail - Birds and Cages

fun. - Aim and Ignite

Paper Route - Are We All Forgotten


Love the Earth

This evening I let my mom's dog outside like I normally do, but instead of just holding the front door open, I decided to take him out back and sit on the picnic table. In the minute that I was outside, the fresh sweet-smelling air invigorated me and brought up an intense desire to connect with the Earth. I couldn't explain it, I just wanted more than anything to be in the woods away from the city lights. So without much thought, I put my shoes on, grabbed my car keys and drove to Retzer Nature Center.

I threw on a hat and gloves and rolled the windows down so I could really breathe in the air. When I got to Retzer, I put my iPod in my back pocket, pulled my emergency flashlight out of the glove box and ventured out into the night. I stepped onto the path and immediately felt my heart expand - it was like I could feel the spirits of the trees with me and they were just as excited as I was to be alive in that moment. I got to the top of the open hill, found a comfortable piece of ground and sprawled out on my back. It's nearly a new moon so the dark orange globe was fully visible with a small sliver of white cupping the bottom. The stars seemed somehow muted, yet closer. I took a deep breath, put in my ear buds and proceeded to play my favorite symphony.

During that 13 minutes of aural bliss I felt a number of things. Tears of joy ran down my cheeks over the sheer beauty of my surroundings and the appreciation for this planet and the miracle of life. I felt myself melt into the ground and become one with the grass and soil. I felt the pulse of the heart of the Earth as if it were my own. I felt calm and peaceful, and above all I felt loved. For every ounce of love that I was pouring into the Earth, she was pouring that much (and more!) right back into me.

The symphony finished and I shut off my iPod. I let the buzzing of the energy flow between my hands and the ground and silently thanked the Earth for sharing with me. I sat up and said a little prayer. As I walked back through the woods to my car, I felt compelled to touch each tree I passed and let it know that I loved it. I slowly made my way back without the light and took the time to appreciate the trees around me. I even stopped to hug one (I know that totally opens me up to jokes but I don't care).

As I got back in my car to drive home I felt completely at peace. I wanted to share this feeling of love and joy with everyone. Then I realized that all of my favorite things that bring me this sense of peace and joy are completely free and come from nature herself: the stunning sights, entrancing sounds and luscious smells. So often I neglect the things I truly love for something I think is more important or pressing. But really, nothing I do in this world can have much of a positive impact on others unless I am filled with love and appreciation, and for me the fastest way to replenish that emotion is to connect with Gaia.

The other thing I was thinking about on my ride home was how amazing it would be if everyone took time out to put a little love back into the planet. Feeling this connected and rejuvenated inspires me to be kinder and more loving to those around me. Imagine if every person that read this took the time out to appreciate and love the planet for just a few minutes (in whatever way felt right to them) and then passed on the message to someone else - there would be far fewer sour moods and a whole lot more smiles.

If you feel silly hugging a tree or talking to the stars, start somewhere else like noticing the new grass pushing up out of the ground or the buds that will be popping out on the trees any day now. Don't even tell anyone what you're doing if you feel embarrassed or ashamed. We are all alive in this moment solely because this beautiful planet sustains and nourishes us. There's no shame in loving it back.


Love Your Beautiful Self

I was just having a conversation with a friend of mine and we were swapping stories of how we struggle with body image and weight. I remembered when I first started college 10 years ago how the topic that got me fired up more than any other was how young women and their body image were effected by the media. I did many papers on how we (I included myself in the focus group) were heavily burdened by airbrushed images and groomed to believe we were nothing unless we were as thin and beautiful as the covers of the magazines. I know that these falsified images don't singularly influence young women. Men are just as susceptible to that perfectly sculpted ideal being blasted out on billboards and television. It seems that only the thin and beautiful have a chance at becoming successful.

Think about it. Who of you has never seen a commercial and thought "if only I looked like him/her..." or something of the sort? I'd bet that we all have been there or are there at the moment - constantly comparing ourselves to the images around us - and not just images, but other real people.

I'm here to tell you it's all an illusion.
Each and every one of us is so unique and so different that there can't possibly be an "ideal." Let that soak in.
It's time we stopped comparing what we have to what we don't have and accept the miraculous bodies we have been given as uniquely ours.
We need to start nurturing and loving ourselves exactly the way we are, and then give that support and love to everyone around us.
Let's remind each other that the faces we see in the movies, magazines and on tv are just faces and not a demand to replicate.
Real beauty is on the inside, and that permeates our surroundings when we embrace and accept our own inner beauty.
You ARE beautiful, just the way you are.
You ARE loved.
You already have everything you need.

Make a commitment to truth.
Start treating yourself in the most loving way possible. Treat your body with reverence. Feed it healthy, nourishing foods and get the exercise and sleep it desires. The more we love ourselves, the more love comes our way. Abundant love is the goal, for then we no longer need the illusion...

I believe you are beautiful and there is nothing you need to change except your perception in order for you to believe you are beautiful as well.

All my love.

The only time I can remember being complimented on how my body looked was when I was so ill I could barely leave the house. I had dropped 30 pounds in a month. I was unwell. But because I was thin, I was receiving positive feedback regarding my shape.
It makes me sad that others only seem to recognize beauty when it comes packaged in the way they are conditioned to believe it should.
From now on, I am going to make a point to compliment my friends (and strangers!) for their uniqueness and beauty - whether it's "conventional" or not. Be prepared to say thank you :)


2009: Year in Music

This year I'm not even going to bother putting my favorites in order. Here are 50 songs that I like from 2009. Hope you enjoy!

* Alice in Chains Black Gives Way to Blue Take Her Out

* Apparatjik Electric Eye

* As Tall As Lions You Can't Take It With You Sixes & Sevens

* Breathe Carolina Hello Fascination Velvet

* Coldplay LeftRightLeftRightLeft Death Will Never Conquer

* Dead Man's Bones Dead Man's Bones Werewolf Heart

* Depeche Mode Sounds of the Universe Corrupt

* Discovery LP Swing Tree

* Doves Kingdom of Rust Kingdom of Rust

* Editors In This Light and On This Evening This House is Full of Noise

* The Envy Corps Kid Gloves EP Kid Gloves

* Falling Up Fangs! Lotus and the Langourous

* Futurecop! NASA

* An Horse Postcards

* Jeniferever Spring Tides Sparrow Hills

* Julian Casablancas Phrazes for the Young Tourist

* Julian Plenti Julian Plenti Is...Skyscraper Games for Days

* Killswitch Engage Killswitch Engage The Return

* Little Boots Hands Stuck on Repeat

* The Lonely Forest We Sing the Body Electric! Blackheart vs Captain America

* Manchester Orchestra Mean Everything to Nothing Everything to Nothing

* Matisyahu Light One Day

* Metric Fantasies Collect Call

* Mew No More Stories... Introducing Palace Players

* MUSE The Resistance Mk Ultra

* Mute Math Armistice Backfire

* The New Loud Can't Stop Not Knowing EP Don't Dance

* New Roman Times On the Sleeve West End World

* Owl City Ocean Eyes Meteor Shower

* Patrick Watson Wooden Arms Where the Wild Things Are

* Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix Lisztomania

* Placebo Battle for the Sun Devil in the Details

* Regina Spektor Far Blue Lips

* Rob Thomas Cradlesong Still Ain't Over You

* Röyksopp Junior The Girl and the Robot

* Stars of Track and Field A Time for Lions End of all Time

* Starsailor All the Plans Tell Me It's Not Over

* Switchfoot Hello Hurricane Your Love is a Song

* Tegan & Sara Sainthood Don't Rush

* The Twilight Sad Forget the Night Ahead At the Burnside

* Twin Atlantic Vivarium Audience and Audio

* The Used Artwork Kissing You Goodbye

* Vedera Stages We Sing

* The Von Bondies Love, Hate and Then There's You This is Our Perfect Crime

* We Were Promised Jetpacks These Four Walls It's Thunder and It's Lightning

* White Rabbits It's Frightening Percussion Gun

* Woodhands Heart Attack Dancer

* Yeah Yeah Yeahs It's Blitz Heads Will Roll