It. Was. Hilarious. And warm, and touching, and just really really adorable. This is only the second or third time I've watched the show, but my husband is a regular viewer, and through him I know most of the characters. Really, you don't need much background to understand the episode. There are no back-stories or inside jokes. It's just a lot of fun.
I'd describe it as part "Wizard of Oz," part "Willy Wonka," part "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and part "Team America: World Police." Only not as...um...questionable as the latter. And a lot of it is about psychotherapy, which, let's just face it, thrills me like nothing else. I have been sworn to secrecy about the episode's contents and Abed's search, but I can tell you that I really enjoyed watching it. Stop-Motion animation fascinates me. I can just sit there and watch it and think about how long it must have taken to do all those cool things and just get lost in the beauty of it.
I hope you're able to watch it TONIGHT at 8p.m. Eastern/7p.m. Central on NBC. While you're watching, why don't you jump online to the Twitter and chat with some of us from One2One Network, as well as the cast of Community! We can talk about the episode and what Christmas means to us. Some cool prizes, like a Sony Bloggie HD video camera and Community Season 1 DVD's, will be given away to some lucky participants. Click HERE for more details. Please sneak away for 30 minutes--say you have to go to the bathroom, and bring your little bedroom TV in there with you. 30 minutes is TOTALLY reasonable for a bathroom break. You'll want to see this episode, trust me. Even if, like me, you haven't seen the show more than a few times, OR at all! There's music, adventure, and I'm telling you, it's funny and adorable. So please, won't you join us?
*DISCLOSURE* I was provided with an advanced "copy" of this episode streaming to this here computer in exchange for my honest opinion about the show. I was given this fun opportunity because I am a member of One2One Network. This review also enters me into a drawing to win the Season 1 DVD of Community and a Sony Bloggie HD video camera, or one of ten $50.00 gift cards. These opinions are mine and mine alone.
It's taken me a while to get my thoughts together about the OUC Half Marathon last Saturday. It's still hard for me to believe I ran 13.1 miles, let alone process the information that I ran those miles in 2 hours 3 minutes.
I left for the race EXTREMELY early, knowing that I wanted to be at the race site no later than 6:15. I took my chances going toward streets I knew were going to be closed during the race, in order to find parking. I had absolutely no problem getting into the parking garage and found a spot on the third floor! So I braced the cold (it was right around 40 degrees outside!) and left my car, heading in the direction of the starting line. On my way out of the garage a very friendly gentleman from the West Volusia Runners asked me where Lake Eola (where the race was starting) was, and we struck up a conversation all the way to the port-o-potties. We separated there, and I didn't see him again, but I thought about him several times during the race--I hope he did well!
After the port-o-potty stop, I decided I needed to get warm, and praise the Lord...the Panera right by the lake was open! I found a little table, sat down, and just stared into space for a while. I was lucky--because I was there so early I was able to sneak into the bathroom with minimal wait. On my way out of the bathroom I was THRILLED to find my friends Claire and Jen, and Jen's husband Mark, sitting in Panera. I was so relieved--this was a group I wanted to run with, at least for the first several miles, because I knew they'd be going at a fairly quick pace. After a few extra minutes of warmth, we went outside and headed to the starting line. We picked the pace group between 9 and 8 minutes per mile to start out with.
Chatting with my friends kept me calm. That's the only way I can explain it. I am usually SO NERVOUS before a race. But this time, it was like the clock started, and I just casually started running. It was great! It was hard to get into a good pace because of all the people, and trying to stay with the group was a challenge, but we were able to stay together and get into a groove.
The first 1.5 miles was a piece of cake and went by so fast I didn't even realize it. And the miles just kept ticking by. When we passed 3, Claire turned to me and said "Well, now all you have to do is what you did on Thanksgiving, 10 miles." And I smiled, because even at that early stage in the race, I knew I could do it. I had set out with a game plan; I wanted to go at least five miles before taking any water or Gatorade. I had not been training with any water at all, but after last week's 10 miler where I was crazy thirsty by the end, I knew water was going to be necessary. When I hit five miles and realized I had reached my first goal, I was ecstatic. We were having a great time talking and joking around, and the consensus was that we all felt really good. There were many smiles and laughs, and I loved that.
I think it was at that point, or just a little bit before that, that I lost my group. Some of them had slowed down to take water, and I kept going, and just going and going. For a split second, I was scared. I didn't know if I could stay on pace without them, or if I would be able to stay mentally strong without the laughter to distract me. I was going it alone, and I was going fast. I turned up my music, and it felt great to open up on the road. I stuck to my gut feeling that I should take water, so I did. At each water stop starting after five miles, I took a cup of water, slowed down to a brisk walk for five steps and counted them off: one, two, three, four, five; tossed the cup and started running again. It was beautiful. I felt like a well-oiled machine.
The miles ticked by and I kept a mental tally of how many I had left. After five miles the time passed much more slowly. But each time I crossed a new mile, I was amazed that I had made it that far.
When I got to mile nine, and I mean literally as soon as I stepped past the sign, my stomach started to growl. I realized "Holy crap...I'm STARVING." I had to make a quick decision--should I stick with water or go to Gatorade? I hadn't trained with water, so even taking THAT was a risk. But I had no GU, no gels, no gummy snacks, because again, I hadn't trained with them. I decided to take the chance and made the decision to get Gatorade the next time it was offered, knowing that it could totally backfire. I took the cup, took my five steps and sips, threw it to the side, and went on my way. I was fine. The only thing that bothered me was that it seemed to dry my mouth out, but it quelled my hunger, so I just decided to go back to water at the next stop. And let's face it, I only had 4.1 miles to go, so I was almost there!!
At this point we began to run on more brick streets. I had been warned that the brick would be hard on my feet and knees, but I honestly didn't have a big problem with it. And there were sidewalks available that I used if I thought I could go faster.
As I was picking up my pace on one of the brick streets, I noticed two men running in bright neon yellow shirts. The two of them were holding a rope between them. I thought, "what a neat way to stay on pace--hold a rope and just don't let go!" But as I got closer I noticed that the man on the right was talking softly to the other: "Ok, we're on brick now, do you feel that? There's a little dip coming up..." The man on the left was blind. And he was running a half-marathon. He couldn't see the brick, the trees, the beautiful historic Orlando homes, or the other people around him. But he was running. That moment was such an inspiration to me and really kept me going through the rest of the race.
The last 3.1 miles were the longest. And to my knowledge, for at least the last two miles, there were no mile markers. I had been mentally and physically strong up to this point, and I had to fight just a little bit to keep it up and not let myself break down. Then I started to see the elite runners walking back to cheer us on. And I knew--it was almost over. As I rounded the corner onto the last street, "Awake My Soul" by Mumford and Sons came on my iPod. It's a song that means SO MUCH to me, and I had used it the day before to help tell my story in my final presentation for graduate school. I was flooded with emotion and adrenaline, and pushed my hardest. At this point I knew exactly where I was, because I am familiar with downtown Orlando, so I was talking my way through it as I passed buildings and streets.
I can't describe my feelings as I sped up and sprinted to the finish. There were tears in my eyes as I thanked the runners who had come back. I crossed the finish line with my arms in the air, partly out of triumph, partly out of praise to God for giving me a strong body and mind to get through the race. The tears were falling as I walked toward an open area to stretch and text message my husband, who was waiting for me somewhere at the crowded finish line. When he smiled and said "I'm proud of you," I BEAMED. I'm proud of me, too. I felt great. I felt great through the whole race. In just a couple of months I more than doubled the distance I was able to run, and ran a race, finishing in two hours and three minutes. Like I said, it's still hard for me to believe. My friends finished about a minute behind me, SMASHING Jen's goal to finish in 2:05, which would be a new PR for her.
Now I'm left wondering, what's next?! I feel like I can do ANYTHING.
On December 4, 2010, I accidentally ran in the OUC Half-Marathon in Orlando, FL. I stumbled upon a start line, and just said "Hmm. I'm not doing anything today; I certainly don't have any motherly responsibilities to take care of *cough cough* so I guess I'll run 13.1 miles! Here I go! Wheee!" Nah, it wasn't THAT kind of accident, but I didn't start out with OUC as my goal, for sure. I guess I'll start at the beginning.
I started running when I stopped dancing, around 2006. I ran with a friend, we ran a couple of 5K's, we felt super-accomplished, and then I stopped running with any sort of purpose or intention and ran every once in a while for fitness, on a treadmill, especially after training to teach Body Pump. Cardio is great in combination with strength training. Don't take my word for it, talk to my six-pack. ANYWAY, I started running seriously again about 2 weeks before we moved back to Florida from Missouri, as I had enrolled in a "Couch Potato to 5K" training program. I wasn't REALLY a couch potato, but I wanted to get back to the basics of running technique and work on improving my time.
When we moved back to Florida, I started running again for fitness, again on the treadmill or briefly outside. Throughout this whole process I never found running to be incredibly difficult, but I always wanted to do it better. So I entered some 5K races. My time at the first one, in the heat of the summer, was 28:00. The next one was 26:37, and the third? 26:00.
Ambitiously, I thought, "Now I'll go for a 10K," and was pretty nervous about SIX WHOLE MILES. I got a training program off the internet, and started on my way. Meanwhile, a group of soon-to-be friends was running three mornings a week, starting at our gym, and gradually adding mileage depending on their race goals. I thought, "I'm too slow for them, I'm sure they're going really fast and really far." Well one day I got lonely and decided to join them, tossing aside my formal training program, with the knowledge in the back of my brain that there was something more for me out there. They accepted me into their fold, and I set out on my first "long" run--FOUR WHOLE MILES. The next week we did FIVE. Then SIX. And then I realized that I'd done it. I'd completed just about 10K, without the training program. AND I had a scheduling conflict and couldn't even run in the 10K. I skipped a week due to illness, and when I found out that my crew had run 8 miles, I was upset. I wanted to accomplish that, too! I kindly asked if they would do 8 the next week with me, and they were more than happy to push me to my goal. The next week, we did TEN. TEN WHOLE MILES. At that point I realized that it was done. The decision was made for me (although I didn't actually register for the race until about 4 days prior), I had trained for a Half-Marathon, completely on accident.
Oops, my bad.
And how did the race go?
If you follow me on Twitter, you already know. But if you want to know the details, you'll have to come back tomorrow and find out.
I hope you enjoyed reading about this great gift for the "staff" people in your life.
But what about the rest of them? The kids, the adults, the pets? I personally don't get presents for people's pets but maybe you do. *cough cough*nutjob*cough cough*
If you're like me, and your family contains a lot of people, you have a lot of gifts to buy. Even paring it down to "just kids" is a challenge because most for me, most of those people are kids. So far I haven't pared it down that far, but I have taken it down to "just immediate family." Unfortunately that means I don't usually buy presents for cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. Only mine and my husband's parents and siblings. And sometimes the grandparents. They most often at least get a card with a cute picture in it. It kills me to not buy presents for EVERYONE, but it's just not possible right now. So because of the sheer number of people I am buying for, I find it necessary and helpful to stick to a budget. For me, that is a set dollar amount for each person. If you do a "couple's" gift, like a combined gift for mom and dad, then that dollar amount gets doubled for the gift--but if you can keep it within the "singles" dollar amount, that's great!
The set dollar amount is why Black Friday shopping is absolutely necessary for me. I don't have to go crazy with the doorbusters....usually...but it's imperative that I find some pretty sweet deals in order to stay on budget. This year Old Navy was my saving grace. I was able to pick up gifts for all the kids, plus an adult or two, within my budgeted per-person price point. Later, I moved on to J.C. Penney and Barnes and Noble, where I also nabbed some great deals, using coupons to score even more bargains.
So really, I'm almost done with my Christmas shopping. Since Black Friday is over and I'm not QUITE done yet, you might be wondering how I'm going to stick to my budget AFTER the doors have been busted. Here are a few ideas, for me and you, on how to get some great after-black-friday-and-cyber-monday prices:
1. Amazon.com. Every day they are slashing prices on different products. You just have to watch. I suggest "pre-shopping," which is what I do in stores a lot, too. Go onto the site, scope out the product you want, and then wait a couple of days. If it doesn't go on sale for 3 days, go ahead and buy it. OR wait it out! If you have time before NEEDING to ship something, wait to your little heart's content. Also, make sure you sign up for a free trial of Amazon Prime, which will get you free shipping! After your free trial is up there's a charge for it, but depending on how hooked you are after your Amazon shopping experience, it may be worth it. If you have a student email account (ending in .edu) you get a membership for free!!!
2. Kohl's. Y'all know Kohl's always has everything on sale. I have my own personal thoughts on that, but I'll save them for a rainy day. I find it difficult to sort through the racks of the sale items, so I usually find coupons online by Google searching for "Kohl's Printable Coupons" and combine that with other sales to make better deals. Also, they usually have some sort of $5.00 item at the front of the door; right now it's Dr. Seuss books and stuffed animals, and that might be an easy way to get some shopping done.
3. Book stores. Any book store is going to have a "Bargain Books" shelf. If you look hard enough, you can find something for everyone. Keep your smart phone handy so when you come across something you THINK someone might like but you're not sure, you can do a quick Google search. For example, "Was Henry Kissinger a Democrat?" "Yes." "Okay, not a good book for Dad. Let's find a Republican bargain book."
4. iPhone Apps. I'm not sure about other smart phones, but there are a few apps for the iPhone that let you take a picture of any item's bar code and it will tell you if there are any local retailers or online retailers that sell the product for cheaper. I always feel like I'm cheating when I'm using my app, but I have more often than not put the item down and headed elsewhere for it.
Alrighty, there you have them. My four biggest tips for Holiday gifts. These are the tips I'm using to get me through the rest of my Christmas shopping. Do you have any more suggestions?
What is your budget this year? How do you plan to stay within those confines?