Sunday, July 31, 2011

Welcome to catamount country!

The University of Vermont Catamounts, that is!

(Immediate problem: I can't believe Blogger thinks "catamount" is not a real word.  Take that disapproving squiggly red line elsewhere, please!  Thank you.)

Today I trekked by air from MSP to Burlington for a four-day conference on communications hosted by my job's national professional organization.  I've been looking forward to this for a long time, and from what I saw today, it's going to be an amazing and enriching week.  Travel was smooth, even with a layover at O'Hare.  I got into Burlington and was brought over to campus by a cabdriver who not only identified Minnesota as the site of Little House on the Prairie but also rattled off all of the actors from that TV show and provided updates on their acting work since that series ended.  I was suitably impressed.

I arrived early enough to take a walk around this beautiful campus.  I'm enamored by this catamount mascot (and the little paws painted on the sidewalks) and will probably provide more information about him this week, but in case you were wondering, this is a catamount:

I hope to not see a real catamount this week.
Once I got to the western edge of campus, I could see peeks of Lake Champlain down the hill.  This was a powerful lure, and I felt pulled toward the lake.  I got down to the waterfront about 15 minutes later, and I could've stayed all afternoon, but I checked the time and realized I needed to start back in order to be in good time for the opening session.  That's when I realized that the "powerful lure" that "pulled [me] toward the lake" was actually a powerful downhill, so the trip back was one massive, hot uphill.  Oops.

We had a fascinating session on the current landscape of social media, and I hope to write a separate post on all of the lessons I gleaned from these sessions later, probably on the way home when I'm processing everything.  (But for now, just try to watch this and not tear up. Just me?)  Later, the whole group headed to the ECHO Lake Aquarium for a networking reception.  The aquarium is right on Lake Champlain, and the night was heavenly. 

Everyone I talked with was great, and there were even Adirondack chairs (my favorite) on the aquarium's deck.  This was my view from my Adirondack chair: 

And the same view, later in the evening:

I'm excited for what the rest of the week holds.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cat grins

Not too long ago, my mom spent an afternoon kayaking with her sister and sister-in-law and left with a plan concocted to take her own family out on the water.  

This is a unique idea because it's completely out of character for my family.  We love our family dinners together but rarely plan special outings outside of those evenings, especially now, when my brother and sister and I live on opposite ends of the metro area from my parents.  When I was younger, my dad took Monday afternoons off one summer, and our family went on adventures all over town.  Today reminded me of that!

One by one, my brother, sister, dad, and boyfriend jumped on board (let the water puns begin!), so we planned to meet at the Lake Calhoun pavilion, rent three double kayaks and cruise around the lakes to our hearts' content.  The only snafu of the day happened right away, when we arrived and learned that all but one of the double kayaks were already out on the water.  Mom and Dad hopped in the last double kayak, and the rest of us went solo.  

We couldn't have asked for better weather.  The temps were in the 80s, but the humidity was blessedly low and there was a perfect light breeze.  We started off, paddling our way through Calhoun and Isles, the busiest parts of the Chain of Lakes.  

I immediately fell to the back, partly because I kept pausing to take photos and partly because, as it turns out, I am sort of a sorry kayaker.

This picture makes me laugh because my kayak is perpendicular to my sister April's, which means that one of us is in the wrong.  (Me.)

What is a family kayaking expedition without some friendly shenanigans?  At least twice, my dad managed to covertly hook Phil and April's kayaks together.  What is that saying?  "Fool me once..."

Before the trip, I had engaged in some jovial trash-talking about who would go in the water unintentionally.  (Yes, I was worried this would backfire and result in my own dunking.)  No one tipped over, but there was plenty of splashing, as Josh is zooming toward April to demonstrate:

The Chain of Lakes is magnificent because it is, well, a chain of lakes right in the middle of Minneapolis linked together by creeks, straits, and tunnels.  Here's one of the narrowest ones we passed through:

We covered Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles, Cedar Lake, and ended at Brownie Lake--the quietest and most peaceful of the four--before turning around and heading back to the Calhoun pavilion.  We saw packed beaches, swimmers lounging in inner tubes in the middle of Cedar Lake, and lots of people out kayaking and canoeing.  Everyone we passed seem to be wearing a Cheshire Cat grin about being able to be on the water on such a gorgeous, lazy Minnesota summer day.  Here's my own Cheshire perma-grin:

By the end, our arms and cores ached.  It was time for my mom's second best idea of the day (next to the kayaks themselves) to play out: the picnic.  She had packed an exquisite cooler filled with cold lemonade and sandwich wraps and strawberries and chocolate-covered pretzels...and on and on.  The six of us sat down (and laid down) in the shade, ate, took cat naps, talked, ate more, people-watched and belly-laughed.  We didn't get up for a long time.

Now, I'm prone to hyperbole, but it's no exaggeration when I say that it was one of the best days I can remember. And it definitely made me want to scrounge up a whole bunch of other  adventures while the days are long and the sun feels hot.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A key party ingredient

Last night, I went to the annual barbecue hosted by Bolder Options, an organization dear to my heart.  It's a local mentoring program for kids ages 10-14 with mandatory nutrition, goal-setting, and physical fitness (either running or biking) components.  I have been a mentor for two years and could never find praise high enough for the organization.  The staff is fantastic and supportive, and the program does wonderful work in which I believe deeply.

Anyway, my mentee and I ate sandwiches and corn on the cob and watermelon and popsicles, then checked out the post-dinner activities.  Here, I learned another life lesson from Bolder Options, this time about party entertainment.  Whenever I host my next outdoor party, I will absolutely be sure to have a full stock of...

...hula hoops!!

(Pause: My mother, also known as my most devoted reader, would accuse me of flagrant half-truths if I didn't note my past shady behavior regarding hula hoops.  One time when I was 9 or 10 and my brother was 7ish, I did what con artists big sisters do and offered him a steal of a deal: $5 to take ownership of one of our family's hula hoops.  Money was being exchanged when Mom broke up the transaction.  I told my mentee this story, and my mentee agreed that I was in the wrong.  Harrumph.)

But here, there was a big pile of hula hoops in the parking lot, and instead of trying to sell them, we joined other mentors and mentees in putting them to darn good use.  We must have hula hooped for a solid hour, after I got over the embarrassing hurdle of remembering how to hula hoop.  By the end, my mentee was working on managing three hula hoops at a time, we were downright tired and I felt like my stomach was bruised--but it was a blast.

Obviously, no pics of kids.  Instead I will subject you to my own feeble efforts.

Can one ever be in a bad mood and keep a straight face when hula hooping?  I need to add one to my fitness equipment, pronto.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A missing letter

This morning, I was up for an "easy" run--easy in quotation marks because it felt completely not easy because of my poor tired bod and the humidity.  Anyway, the road I start on is a popular route for runners, so it's always busy with foot traffic, but very little car traffic.  I usually end up on one of two main streets, which draw a lot of early-morning delivery truck traffic, given the high number of grocery stores and restaurants in my neighborhood.

Today, a big truck advertising Ron Diaz rum rumbled by me.  Unfortunately, the logo was looking a little worse for the wear. Instead of the slogan "TASTE OF THE ISLANDS" plastered over the side of the truck, a letter had been dropped, so it read:


Needless to say, I'm wary of this product even on a good day.  But I definitely would not like to experience the taste of a sland.  Pass, please.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

No love for the treadmill

It takes a special, nasty day to get me onto a treadmill. 

I jump on one probably two or three times per year.  I remember one day this winter when my marathon training schedule called for 10 miles.  I walked half a mile over to the gym to change into my winter running gear and head out, but on the walk over, the bitter cold and wind were so disheartening that I couldn't bear to do the mileage outside.  I did the workout on the treadmill instead, wearing a random cotton t-shirt shoved into the bottom of my gym bag with my winter running tights.

There were a whole bunch of triumphant feelings at the end but also a concrete awareness of my upper treadmill mileage limits. I can't mince words--I find the treadmill exceptionally, horrifically boring.  I regret that I've never been able to lock into the zone that dedicated gym runners channel.  I know runners who have toughed out enormous long runs on the treadmill, which I can't even fathom. Music, TV, people-watching: none of it works for long.  But sometimes, on special Minnesota weather days, it's just the lesser of two evils.

Today, nearly 100 degrees warmer, I found myself in that place. 

I was planning to join my club for a hill workout at 6:00, but when I checked the weather at 4:30, the temperature had soared past the predicted high to 89 with a heat index of 97, courtesy of some Muggy Mugfest 2011-style humidity.  I did a cost-benefit analysis of joining my group and decided to do a short run outside on my own instead.  Then I actually went outside and learned that running outside was not a remotely pleasurable plan.  I headed over the the gym with the intent of doing the hill workout and swimming.

Well, I badly mismanaged my schedule. Seriously: if the pool is open until 7:30 and I'd finish my run at 7:20, how could I think I would have time for a 30-minute swim?  So, just a run.  But thanks in part to the treat of tunes on my new tiny iPod nano and a Twins game on the TV, I got the workout done and ran four big old pseudo-hills.  I couldn't imagine being much warmer or sweatier, though, and I cringe thinking of how lousy I'd feel if I had done the hills outside.  When I am at the gym on the treadmill, by the way, I have this bad habit of imagining that I look steely and tough as I churn out miles, only to learn afterward (every single time) that my face is actually the color of an overripe strawberry and my sweat glands are practically popping out of my cheeks.  Whew--I am tuckered out.

Treadmill, I was grateful for you today, but I hope it's the last time I visit you until the snow flies fast and furious.  In almost any weather, I choose the open road--no belt under my feet, please.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

And a happy day!

I had to create a separate post for this message, because it is important and also because it did not fit at all into the last one.

Happy anniversary today to my wonderful parents!  They are still just as fabulous, 31 years later.

Petty mysteries

I describe myself as a curious person.  Most writers would--in fact, I dread the day that I meet a writer who wouldn't.  It's a pretty crucial element of enjoying my work.  This isn't a trait you can shut off outside of working hours, either.  One summer, I started a list of questions on a legal pad: things like "Is there a busiest day of the year for renting U-Hauls?" and "If the national baseball schedule really favors the AL East, is that a proportionately fair decision based on the population that identifies as Boston or New York fans?"  I had dreams of making a massive list and then researching each chapter and publishing it as a book.  

It would be a book that only its author could love, of course, because everyone has different curiosities and quirky things that they love about the world.  I love strange and kooky sights.  I love signs that flash quotation marks haphazardly: What does something like Come on in and buy one "today!" even imply? (See also: the "watermelon" label on Cake Wrecks.) One early morning a few years back, I ran by a drugstore and noticed that pranksters had rearranged the marquee sign letters trumpeting that week's sale into an inappropriate (but creative and quite funny) new sentence.  By the time I passed the store again later in the morning, it had been fixed, with (hopefully) no harm done. 

Another key element of kooky sights around town is almost missing them completely but not quite, a double-take of sorts. (I think most of the world passing by that drugstore sign never saw the mishap.) This morning, I got to work and settled into my office.  I have windows, which let in wonderful light, but they face another building's brick wall, so looking out the window doesn't usually yield much entertainment.  I'm on the second floor, and if I were to climb out my window, I'd land on something that is sturdier than an awning, but definitely not a roof.

My colleague peeked out the window this morning. "It seems that there is a cone on our roof today," she said.

And there it was.  Overnight, a large construction cone had appeared outside my window.  Where did it come from? Is it a prank?  Is it marking something, thus serving a very functional purpose that I just can't see?  Should I feel cautioned?  This poor huge lone cone, an utterly innocuous sight 15 feet above street level, made me burst out laughing.  Those tiny, tiny quirks--the not even overtly funny ones--those are what I enjoy.

What do you get a kick out of?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

There will be no DNF today!

Here's my "No, I'm totally not nervous!" face.
Dropping out of one race (known as a DNF for Did Not Finish) with a flat tire is bad luck. Two DNFs in a row starts an ugly streak of which I want no part. Thanks partly to a wonderful volunteer, there's no streak!  I finished my race!

Today's race was the Chisago Lakes Sprint Triathlon, in a small town about 40 minutes north of St. Paul.  I did this race last year, and I love the course: a short swim, a beautiful, mostly-flat bike ride, and a nice run course.  There's also a half-Ironman option for the race, with a swim course that stretches way across the lake, making the sprint course look even shorter by comparison!

This morning, temperatures were cool, and I rejoiced during the car ride on behalf of the half-Ironman athletes, who wouldn't have to compete for hours in a sludge of heat and humidity.  We got to the race site, and I set up my bike, shoes, sunglasses, hat, and other miscellaneous gear at my spot in the transition zone.  Fog sitting on the lake resulted in a few minutes' delay.  You can see the remnants of it in this picture of the half-Ironman start.

The swim was wonderful.  I've written about my troubles with swimming in the past, and I felt nervous before the race that I'd panic in my first open-water swim since last August.  But my wave started, and I took one ugly wrong breath in the water and then settled into a good rhythm, which lasted for the rest of the swim.  I wasn't fast by any means, but I was hanging in with my wave, swimming with the pack instead of bringing up the rear.  Yes! 

(Fun fact: just as the wave before mine started, the announced told that group that the race field's oldest athlete was in that field.  How old was he?  87.  He got a huge round of applause. So cool.)

The first 10 miles of the 24-mile bike leg were blessedly uneventful, and I felt strong.  Then my back wheel started to sound a little bit clunky. I worried for a second that I was getting a flat for my second race in a row, then wryly reminded myself that no, I would now definitely know a flat when I saw it.

Half a mile later, I knew a flat.  Rats.

I pulled off to side of the road and started to pull out my spare tube and tools.  I can fix a flat tire, but my problem is that I'm so slow.  (This week's goal: spend an evening fixing a flat over and over until it's easy.)  But unlike last time, I was stubborn: no quitting.  If it took me an hour, I'd bring up the rear of the race. 

Then a truck pulled up, and a guy jumped out wearing a "Forest Lake Cycle and Skate" t-shirt.  Turns out that there were bike shop employees driving around the race course, looking for people in situations like mine.  He was a complete gem and helped me change the flat in 10 minutes or less.  He also pulled a piece of glass out of my tire that may have lingered from the last flat and caused this one, too.  I was so grateful.  People: please patronize that business.  

And then I finished the bike leg!  No DNF for me today!

I'm in the "dismount" zone, preparing to demonstrate
what is obviously going to be a very graceful dismount.
I dropped my bike, switched from bike shoes to running shoes, grabbed my sunglasses and hat, and headed out for the 5K run.  I had a surprising amount of energy left, possibly stemming from my unscheduled rest break on the bike course, and proceeded to burn it all up over the next three miles.  I was super-pleased with the run.

I crossed the finish line and saw Josh.  I was covered in sweat and probably smelled like Eau de Lake Water, so I gave him a high-five.  (Totally romantic.)  The food tent was my next destination, and the results were eclectic.  Breakfast was the theme.  There were bowls of dry cereal and a big jug of milk sitting out on the table.  It seemed like a good idea for about a minute, but I resisted.  The best food in the tent?  Pancakes, hot off the griddle.  Divine. 

Cookies and pancakes: a really nice breakfast.
I am ready to pronounce myself over my fear of the open-water swim.  (In races, anyway.)  Now the scariest part of a triathlon comes afterward.  Wetsuit best practices call for rinsing out the lake water in the shower, and then hanging the wetsuit up in the shower to dry.  Every time I open the shower curtain and see the wetsuit hanging, I scream because there's a headless intruder who happens to be wearing a wetsuit in my shower.

He's scary, isn't he!?  Look at those broad shoulders.
Despite the temporary mishap on the bike course, I had a great time out there.  I started to really, really like triathlon, instead of viewing the race as two sports to simply get through before getting to run.  Each segment is a little adventure in itself, with highs and lows that can have nothing to do with the other segments.  I encounter so many good people on the race course, from families and friends cheering (thanks, Josh!) to volunteers to fellow triathletes.  All around, it's such a positive atmosphere in spite of (or perhaps because of) the challenge. 

And a sprint triathlon's early start time means I'm back home by noon with a pile of Chipotle and a watermelon granita by my side, with the newspaper waiting for me and a Twins game coming up on TV.  That makes for a very nice Sunday.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Saturday afternoon

This post will be a short one, because my main projects this afternoon include tending to two recipes from The Pioneer Woman's blog, and photographing and writing about recipes I read about via other blog entries feels pointless and, well, weird. On the speakers, "Waitin' on a sunny day" by Bruce S. just segued into Regina Spektor's "Fidelity," two staples on my happy cooking playlist. (And in the interest of full disclosure, the Glee version of "Don't Stop Believin'" is now playing, which is still part of the happy cooking playlist but overlaps with the guilty pleasure playlist.) I'm getting the corn ready for grilled corn guacamole and have a pan of blended watermelon in the freezer, slowly morphing into watermelon granita.

Today, I went for a short shake-my-legs-out run, watched a thunderstorm, and took my bike into the shop for a minor maintenance tweak.  I think if the bike could talk, it would say it is ready and rearing to go for tomorrow's race.  The other big bike news is that...

...Josh got one!

He spotted one on Craigslist he liked, and we checked it out this morning.  (I went along to serve as his bodyguard should the transaction go awry.)  Before now, the rare bike rides we took together involved me on my road bike (which involves bike shoes and a less leisurely, fun feel) and Josh on my mountain bike. Now we will both have mountain bikes!  I'm already getting excited about future bike adventures.

test ride
But before that, tomorrow is a solo bike adventure (and swim adventure and run adventure) for me: it's my first triathlon of the year.  I'm excited and ready to go!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Clouds, bridges and wrestlers

I can't count the number of long runs during which I've wanted a camera on hand.  One of the best ways to see the kookiest things a city has to offer, I'm convinced, is to spend two or three hours on its streets. Today I ran by half of an entire youth wrestling camp running up a big hill by the U of M, lugging the other half of the campers up the hill on piggyback.

Anyway, I never carried a camera, mostly because I didn't know what exactly I'd do with the photos. Well, enter Miles and Laurel.  Now I have a spot to share them!

(A Friday long run, by the way, is thankfully a rare anomaly.  Because of travel or other commitments, I end up shifting my weekend long run to a weekday once or twice per marathon training cycle.  Sunday's a triathlon this week, so my alarm clock rang at a most unpleasant hour today and I headed out to get it done.)

Here's the St. Paul sky early in the run.  I guess I'm not keeping
the secret that I love clouds very close to the vest, am I?
Some people love short, intense interval workouts.  I love long runs.  I find them simultaneously relaxing (well, when they go right) and a fun adventure around the city, early, when the city is quiet.  By the end of marathon training, planning a long run can get horribly monotonous, so I try to think of themes, like one run that took me past as many stadiums as I could fit into the distance.  I get a kick out of running through downtown Minneapolis or fraternity row by the U of M early on weekend mornings, when the streets are empty.

Today's route was a staple for Twin Cities runners: the river road, which winds for miles and miles on either side of the Mississippi and connects Minneapolis and St. Paul.  I made it over to a spot that provides one of my favorite views of the Minneapolis skyline, the Stone Arch bridge:

Every time I cross the bridge, I peek at the condos that face the river.  Downtown Minneapolis is not my style for residence, but I just love the huge windows in the buildings.

Not the property on the left, though.  (That's the Mill City Museum!)
 And this is the view from the river road, peeking back at the Stone Arch bridge:

Now, home for the day because of summer hours at the office, it's time to harvest a pile of mint and a nap.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Muddle mania

Overnight, the heat broke.  Ahhhh.  Josh and I celebrated by eating breakfast outside.  While we were sitting, I noticed that a certain plant was spiraling out of control.

"Oh, my, I have a lot of mint," I said.  "I need to figure out something to do with all that--"

It was like a sitcom, when the protagonist gets bombarded with the best idea ever. Muddle it!!!

Part of why I went straight to summer beverages and not, say, a nice rack of lamb garnished with mint was that I had just read a Pioneer Woman post on watermelon granitas and had already added that pretty little thing to my weekend to-do list.  For me, it's not at all about the rum--and actually, this whole adventure happened without a drop of it.  It's about mint.  I could add mashed-up mint to just about anything. I'd probably eat it by itself. (That's gross but true.)

Once I get a hankering, it's hard to shake. Ten hours later, I was still curious about muddling, so after work, I trekked to my neighborhood Target in search of a muddling stick. I started at one end of the kitchen utensils and worked my way over to the other side.  I saw ridiculous tools ranging from a strawberry huller to an avocado slicer, but no muddling stick. 

You know how the longer you're searching for something, the more you decide you're willing to pay for it?  It was like a supply and demand lesson unfolding before my eyes.  First, I decided $3.00 seemed reasonable.  Then $5.00.  By the time I found the muddling stick, over in the "liquor tools" section, my limit was $10.00. I trudged out of Target with a very serious $12.99 muddling stick.

 Once I got home, serious muddling stick in hand, I picked a fistful of mint.  It barely made a dent in my mint supply, which means I will have to try this experiment again. (Watch a sad tear slip slowly down my cheek.)

Then the work began. I started muddling away, mushing the mint down into the bottom of the glass.  The mint scent amplified almost immediately.  I poured ice cubes in and added lime juice, a dash of sugar, and club soda...a combination I will now call paradise.  My sweet mint mash-up:

I sat on the patio and ate dinner and drank my mint mocktail. 

I will never have too much mint again.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Commemorating a heat wave

Readers, I'm not into one-upping duels.  They remind me of Penelope on Saturday Night Live, a skit which has dwindled in popularity and wit lately but used to be one of my all-time favorites. She's that friend--and everyone has one--who always tops her conversation partner with an anecdote, connection, or personality trait that's just a little bit more outrageous (or in poor Penelope's case, a lot more outrageous).  

But in Minnesota, we Penelope ourselves sometimes on the topic of the weather, chatting in casual conversations about how hot it is now and how much worse it's going to be tomorrow. One main piece of evidence is our freakish love for the heat index, which incorporates the humidity to demonstrate how horrifically hot it feels, which is inevitably higher than just the straight-up temperature. (I am not immune to this love.) We complain and we grouch, but I think we also revel secretly in the amazing extremes of meteorological conditions here and the idea that it must breed some sort of collective toughness.

Or we cling to that idea, anyway, during weeks like these.  Yesterday, Minneapolis was the hottest city in the United States, with dewpoints higher than places in the Amazon. I want to make it clear that I'm writing about weather today not to channel Penelope to show you how over-the-top horrible it feels, but for two reasons:
  • I love weather.  You will read about this in the future.  I get overly excited about storms and blizzards, heat waves and cold snaps, downpours and dewpoints.  Mother Nature has serious tricks up her sleeve.  It's marvelous stuff.  I used to want to be a meteorologist.
  • This week's weather is more than just awful and literally breath-taking. It's incredible and thus worth documenting to me (especially for when my January self is paging through Miles and Laurel's archives to see what summer felt like).
The conditions are both wholly energy-sapping and an enormous, exciting spectacle. This kind of heat really whips Minnesotans into a frenzy, and it becomes a collective experience because we all feel exceptionally uncomfortable together.  (Well, when I write it that way, it doesn't sound fun at all.  But I hope you know what I mean.) Between the soaring temperatures and the dewpoint and humidity to match, I have never encountered hotter, more stifling conditions in my entire life.

Yesterday, I drove home on Summit Avenue, a scenic boulevard with big sidewalks for runners and bike lanes for cyclists.  Around rush hour time, morning and night, it's packed with people going about their workouts and walk/bike commutes.  Yesterday: ghost town.  It was downright eerie. 

But no wonder: it was 98 degrees, with a heat index of 112. I sure wasn't out there running.

I did head out early this morning for a run with my brother.  I suspect I sweated more than I ran, if a method existed to equate pounds of sweat lost to mileage completed.  When I got home from the run, it was 83 degrees, with a heat index of 95. And again, no wonder I felt tired and slow, right?

When I got home from work yesterday, I made quinoa and black bean salad and a mish-mash quinoa-beans-salsa-potatoes-cheese casserole.  Using the stove and oven was probably a miscue. It reminded me of when my brother and I used to beg my dad to take us to McDonald's for dinner because it was "too hot to cook," because he used that phrase, like, one time, and we latched onto it as a reason for Happy Meals.  (I still justify Chipotle trips this way sometimes.)

The heat is making pavement buckle on the interstate, fierce thunderstorms pop up out of nowhere, and store windows fog up with condensation. It's making a 10-minute midday walk into Sweat-o-rama 2011. It's making my face melt.  But:
  • I'm not scraping ice off a windshield.
  • It takes only a minute to dress for a run (bonus: no layers or facemasks involved).
  • It's a very good excuse to watch movies and eat copious amounts of watermelon and ice cream. 
So, for now, I'll try to enjoy this summer spectacle. Penelope sure would!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday morning

I am extremely fond of lazy Sunday mornings.

I plan my long runs for Saturdays so I can maximize lazy Sundays whenever possible.  Next week at this time, though, I'll be at a triathlon.  The week after that, I'll be on a plane to Vermont for a conference.  When I come back, it'll be August.  Thus, taking advantage of Sunday mornings at home when they present themselves is very important.

A copy of the Sunday Star Tribune has been an integral part of Sunday morning as long as I can remember. I spent the last few years' worth of Sunday mornings saving up quarters to use in the paper box across the street, trotting to the neighborhood coffee shop to buy a copy when the quarters were sparse.  This year, I finally ponied up for a subscription, and now I open my door on Sundays and find a copy waiting on the doorstep.  (Yes!Three cheers for print journalism, right?  No amount of web content can replace reading a hard copy of the Sunday paper.

Today is supposed to be a scorcher. One meteorologist informed me that the dewpoint would be as high this weekend as earthly possible, if that's a viable expression.  But I stuck to my resolution of making decisions based on my January-self wishes (e.g. In January, would I give anything to eat breakfast outside on a warm summer morning?  Yes.) I headed outside with my cereal, peach and paper.

It was sticky, but there was an occasional breeze that made it more comfortable. Who am I kidding?  When I came back inside an hour later, I checked the weather. Temperature: 89.  Heat index: 101.  Time: 10:45 a.m.  Yikes.

I start with the sports page, reading about last night's Twins game, then work my way through the sections in order, from the front page to the travel and variety pages toward the back. I checked the grocery circulars and said "Ooh!" when I noticed a buy-one-get-one-free coupon for strawberries.  Seriously, this is what drives where I purchase groceries this week?

Midway through, I took a peach break.  A couple of summer ago, I got burned by a series of lackluster, mealy peaches, and as a result, my passion for them cooled.  But I took a chance this week and bought three peaches, which turned out to be extraordinary.  I set a knife aside to cut this one, but left the knife in the kitchen, so decided to tackle it with my spoon.  A perfect peach, the spoon sliced right through it:

I love that weird uneven spoon-cut.
And then I finished with my CryptoQuip, my favorite puzzle.  In high school, I used to have CryptoQuip races with my boss at my summer job.  Solving the puzzle and reading it out loud usually elicits a nerdy chuckle from me, especially because I love puns.

The rest of the weekend will involve possible grill-buying, definite watermelon-eating, movie-watching ("Horrible Bosses")...and staying out of direct sunlight. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Better than a macaroni card

I love discovering tidbits about people, especially hidden talents that one would never guess.  As it turns out, my boyfriend is skilled in the art of the photo slideshow, something I would never really know how to even begin. (Powerpoint?) 

"I'm making you a surprise," he told me one day recently.  Needless to say, I was stumped.  I entertained thoughts of woodwork and macaroni cards.  He went down into the basement, where our DVD player rests. "Come down here for a minute," he said, and pressed play.

(Go ahead, press play.)

I kept my cool burst into tears because I loved it so much.  I admit, I'm totally biased.  I meant to post more trip photos this week anyway, but this will definitely suffice, and I'll stop reduce the amount of Washington-related yammering from here on out.

I hope you enjoy the tiny peek at the trip. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

6:03 a.m.

Oh, let me be clear: the sound of an alarm clock heralding an early morning run can be practically painful.

But as soon as I throw on my gear, half-asleep, and start the trot around my neighborhood, I am often rewarded with a sunrise like this one cooking on the horizon.  The best part about this morning's scene is that now, an hour and a half later, the sky is overcast, with storms on the way.  The sunrise feels like my little secret--although I guess I share it with the woman walking her dog who saw me, midrun, snapping photos like a maniac. 

Today was seven miles, gently, because tomorrow's long run with my club is going to be h-o-t and I'll need all the energy reserves I can get. I am armed with a watermelon, which I do not plan to carry during the run but do plan to have cut up and waiting in my refrigerator when I get home.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


This morning, I vetoed packing a lunch (how easy is that on days when you're scurrying off to work, by the way?) and headed out around the work neighborhood on foot to find a noontime meal. I thought about grabbing my iPod or Blackberry for company, but I decided against it. I found myself strolling to the grocery store unplugged. No watch, no music, no phone, not even my ID or credit card--just a fistful of cash ten dollar bill to cover lunch.

How often, reader, do you do that? A lot? Never?

I used to do it more. I lived four blocks from my office door and walked pretty often, and I got in the habit of going technology-free for the trip pretty frequently. Now, when I run, I usually either have headphones on (with a quiet podcast so I can hear traffic) or am gabbing with running buddies. When I bike, I'm keeping eyes and ears peeled for wayward vehicles. I'm probably in the middle of the spectrum in terms of being attached to a smartphone. But even when I'm walking from the car to the grocery store or my apartment, it's not uncommon to grab my Blackberry and scan an email or check Twitter. Blugh!

It felt really nice to walk for 20 minutes without anything in my pockets (save for the previously-mentioned lunch fund), and then I thought how goofy it would be to explain that to someone my grandma's age or, heck, my parents' age. I took in the trees and the restaurant signs and the perfect July weather. I even got to notice, when I passed by an old residence of mine, the window decor that indicated that Naked Man still lives in the second floor apartment across the street from my old place. (PSA: Do draw your shades if you are in the habit of not wearing clothes in your home with large windows facing a busy street.)

It was relaxing and great, and I pledge to take more quiet walks--until it's nothing special to write about.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Seen on my run

Tonight's run: five miles in lots of sun and more pleasant temperatures. I ran a loop that I almost always run in the morning, and for some reason it felt like a completely different route.  Most importantly, the best sights:

1) I passed a mom and her two young daughters, who were walking to a baseball t-ball game at the park in my neighborhood. One sister was wearing a fab sundress and her mom was holding her team t-shirt, which leads me to believe she was refusing to put it on until absolutely necessary. The other little girl was carrying a big baseball glove. She was decked out in the tiniest Orioles baseball hat and a t-shirt with the classic hem that hits at mid-calf.  Great contrast between the two sisters.

2) A few blocks away from home, I ran by a woman walking her black lab on a road with a big-grassy-area-between-the-sidewalk-and-the-road (I know there must be a real word for that landscape feature, so I'll use that description as a stand-in).  The dog wasn't quite a puppy, but he still had that pudgy-puppy body that labs have before they grow into their adult build.  The pup was in the grassy area and was taking heavy, labored steps, like he was at the end of his walk and the weight of the world was on his shoulders. Then, all of a sudden, he belly-flopped down to the ground. His owner laughed, walked over to him, sat down in the grass and gave him a big dog-hug, with rush-hour traffic on the boulevard passing by. 

Summer in St. Paul, right?

Monday, July 11, 2011


A short report of what I've been up to, in handy list form! The categories are in groups of three, which I heard once is the most memorable number for writing and speaking. So, go forth and memorize!

1) I've officially been tinkering with a Cooking Light recipe for baked ziti with summer vegetables. I made it just before we left for Washington, and it turned into a very nice little casserole.  But midway through the preparation steps, it smelled so good that I wanted to stop the process and eat dinner then and there.  Last night, I tried just that, and it turned into a good mix of pasta, vegetables (summer squash, zucchini, onions, and tomatoes) with basil and garlic and oregano, minus the baking and ricotta-adding.  I guess I learned that both "Baked ziti and summer veggies" and its friend "Ziti and summer veggies" are great dinners. As an added bonus, I was on the phone with my mom while I was cooking and thus gleefully eyeballed all of the herbs and spices, and it still turned out edible.
2) I got a big bag of green beans from the CSA box late last week and just love them. It reminds me of the long rows of green and purple beans that we used to pick in the garden at home, except this time I don't have to pick them and chop the ends off--I just get to eat them!  If summer had a taste, it would be a real battle between green beans and watermelon.
3) Popcorn.  Its inclusion here could be misleading because I haven't actually had popcorn in the last month, but some friends recently were talking about being on major make-your-own-seasoning kicks, using different combinations of herbs, butter, cheese, etc.  I vow to get on a similar kick. Suggestions welcomed.

1) Sisterhood Everlasting, the latest book in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants saga. I am not part of the Harry Potter craze, but I guess you could call this my equivalent, if only I were actually a young adult when I started reading these books. (I have a hunch that I was firmly in "adult" range.) My sister and I love them fiercely (even though, yes, our ages add up to 48) and we were practically breathless--her in Germany, me in St. Paul--when the book was released in June. I was able to wait until our flight to Washington, read 93 percent of the book on the plane (thanks, Kindle), and finished it while we were waiting in line for a ferry.  Then I regaled Josh with the summary and I think he was thrilled.
2) Maine was next on my vacation fiction list. It tells the stories of three generations of women in a family that makes annual summer trips to a beach house on the Maine coast. I enjoyed the book a lot, but even more importantly, I would really like to summer on the Maine coast. (And yes, summer as a verb, too.)
3) Next up: Little Bee, recommended to me ages ago from my friend Meghan.

1) I saw "Bridesmaids" over the weekend, and since I'm not really one to compile lists of things that I hate, you can probably deduce by this point in the post that I loved it. Kristen Wiig cracks me up. I was that weirdo in the theatre who laughs longer than everyone else.
2) "Next Food Network Star" is my current guilty pleasure on TV. Josh and I love it but we can't seem to find anyone else in the United States who also watches it.
3) It's Tour de France time! I've followed this magnificent race in varying degrees of detail for the last 10 years, but lagged this year because of our trip's timing. I turned on the television yesterday and got sucked into a very exciting stage. Today's a rest day for the cyclists, but tomorrow I'm back in. It's an enormous spectacle, a beautiful race, and dare I say, one of the most incredible athletic achievements on earth. It's great.

1) Running club session #2!  I did my long run on Saturday with the group and got to explore trails on the other side of the city that I rarely encounter on my own. It was muggy, muggy, but I felt pretty good and loved my new fuel belt that I got last week. So comfortable.
2) Dinner with family on Friday night: the first time all five of us have been in the same place since January!  Welcome back, Sis.
3) Trying to stay cool: It's really summer here in St. Paul, with temps in the upper 80s and low 90s and humidity and dew point charging to keep up. Last night, a big thunderstorm rumbled through and broke some of the humidity. Before that, Josh and I went for a walk around our neighborhood and made a sharp turn to cut our route short because we were melting. Hence, all of the TV and movie references earlier in the post!

Instead of saying goodbye, a friend of mine signs off from a conversation with, "Happy days."  So, happy days.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I vote Pogo!

Although our week in Washington only included two nights in the San Juan Islands, I really fell in love with the islands and their relaxed pace of daily life.  Unlike some places I've visited, I felt like I got a good look at how the local residents went about life on Orcas Island, instead of being isolated in a tourist bubble. Part of why I liked Orcas so much was those peeks at the quirky island character.  For example, there was a fundraiser for the Orcas Childrens House that involved a mayoral race...for the island's animals.  What's more: it seemed like the island embraced the contest whole-heartedly and really got behind their candidates of choice. Most readers know that this kind of thing is right up my alley.

This was our first glimpse of the campaign, about halfway between our hotel by the water and Eastsound:

At the time, we were under the impression that Paycey was human.
 Once we got to our destination in Eastsound, we walked around town and saw a poster in a store promoting each of the candidates.  I started laughing and the two clerks told us that they were rooting for April the cow, a write-in candidate.  They were aghast that any of the other candidates stood a chance, because April was actually from Eastsound proper, the biggest town on the island.

Later, in the grocery store by the ferry terminal, I noticed some campaigning on behalf of Pogo. I snapped a photo of his campaign poster, but what the picture doesn't show is Pogo's campaign platform, a full-page, single-spaced letter. From what I recall, Pogo is enthusiastic about everything he does and is tired of big government.

"A small dog for a big job"
The next day, we ended up stranded on a neighboring island for a couple of hours (again, a story for another time).  We bought a copy of the Islands Sounder and took turns reading up on the local news.  Josh got to read first, and I noticed he was making more sounds than he normally would reading the paper. (Sidenote: I have learned the world falls into two camps: those who comment freely as they read the paper and those who hate it when others comment freely. I'll let you guess where Josh and I land. Hint: one is in one camp and one in the other.) 

Anyway, here's what he was chuckling about:

Later in the paper, April herself weighed in with a letter to the editor about her strengths.

A buffalo?!
My only regret is that I didn't get a chance to vote.  For the record, I'm with Pogo: nothing if not special.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Balloons and other tidbits

A few items to report as I settle back into life in St. Paul after a week away:

1) For my readers who have been on the edge of their seats ever since I revealed tentative plans last month to finally join a running club: I did it!  I went to my first ClubRun workout last night, the first meeting for the group's fall marathon training session.  The group meets near Lake of the Isles three times per week for workouts and long runs.  I got there a little bit early and ran through part of the Kenwood neighborhood that I had never seen before, and it was a very fun way to stretch out some of the vacation running excitement I felt on the routes I covered in Washington. Part of my motivation for joining the club, besides the obvious social and training aspects, is to mix up my routes, which currently tilt too heavily toward Summit Avenue and the river road. These workouts will definitely accomplish that--it seems like I'll be doing lots of miles around the lakes and also Theodore Wirth trails. It's a great location.

Yesterday's run was a series of pickups around Lake Calhoun, and the group covered Lake of the Isles for the warmup and cooldown on either side of three miles' worth of alternating two minutes of pick-up (roughly at half-marathon race pace) and one minute of recovery jog.  By the end of the repeats on the other side of the lake, I was feeling it. A side benefit to the evening workouts, I suspect, is that my aptitude for running in hotter temperatures (last night, in the low 80s) will improve. But judging from my red, red, sweaty, sweaty face after the run, there's work to be done in that area. Anyway, I had a blast meeting some new people and chatting with them on the run, and I'm really looking forward to the rest of the training sessions.

2) My sister is home!  She spent the semester studying abroad in Rwanda and just followed up her program with a month of traveling around Germany. My family is thrilled to have her back in Minnesota, and I can't wait to hear more stories from her about her time abroad.  She flew in last Friday and came home to her bedroom filled with balloons by my mother. (I suppose that's a story for later.) Over the weekend, my kooky sister strung all of the balloons together and decorated the yard with them.

I wasn't even there to witness it first-hand, but I loved the pictures my mom sent me. I thought it was simply because of the aesthetic appeal and the whimsy of the whole scene, but today I realized it sort of reminded me of another beloved children's book about what would happen if everyone threw Earth a birthday party.  I think such a party would definitely involve a long string of balloons.

I googled and googled but couldn't find or remember the title of that book.  Along my search, using phrases like "birthday party for the world," I did come across Happy Birthday, Rotten Ralph, which cracks me up. Ralph is such a punk. Along the way, Amazon also thought I might be interested in How to Plan a Kick-ass Funeral. (I didn't click on that link.) Something in the algorithm got busted, I think.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Seeking sunset

Hot on the heels of a post that including musing about my apparent fondness of hokey conclusions, here I am, tapping out a story about a sunset on my keyboard.  It’s either an alarm that Miles and Laurel is about to degrade into a long series of posts about parades and people hugging at airports and television commercials that make the author tear up, or to frame it positively, a heads-up that I probably just have a healthy affinity for life’s hokey things.
But check this out: because this sunset was a true highlight of our time on Orcas Island, I’m going to give it a go.

For the first two days that we were in northern Washington’s San Juan Islands, it was cloudy.  It was definitely short of dreary, because the clouds gave this wonderful extra layer between the piles of mountains and water where you couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began.  But it didn’t quite have the ring of a sunny summer vacation (see right).

On our last afternoon in Orcas, the sun started to pop out in a big way on the western horizon. We visited a neighboring island, and by the time we rode the ferry back to Orcas, the water and sky looked like this:
Better, right?
I considered this to be a prime sunset-viewing opportunity.

We canvassed the western half of the island in search of the right spot.  We started down Deer Harbor Road, a solid bet that showcased the island’s character perfectly but cut to the south before it crossed over a ridge that would’ve provided a great sunset. Cormorant Bay Road turned out to be the answer: a tiny, weaving, narrow, isolated forest path meandering toward the island's western coast.  I wondered for a fleeting second whether this was potentially a terrible idea but dashed it in fear of sounding, even in my head, like a major stick-in-the-mud.  We drove slowly down it, intersecting with private road after private road and accidentally turning up a very steep private road (sorry, owners!).  Then we found a barely visible public road that drifted two hundred yards into a gravel turnaround: next to the coastline, next to crashing ocean waves, next to the setting sun.

It was a pretty good adventure.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The beloved market

Visiting Pike Place Market was a mandatory must-see on this trip, and that activity fit perfectly into the last day of our schedule, after a day and a half of Seattle summer activities: running around the lakes, barbecuing, watching fireworks over Lake Union, taking in a Mariners game.  

Typing out our time in Seattle actually looks a lot like a list of beloved St. Paul summer activities, which might explain part of why I love Seattle so much.  It matches my favorite pieces of the Twin Cities: the culture, energy, lakes, outdoor opportunities, arts, and so on, but then it also throws mountains onto the horizon and into the mix.  The weather has been amazing every day I’ve ever spent in Seattle, and on clear days, you can see a great view of Mount Rainier from the city.  (That view was an unexpected surprise on this morning’s run.) 

I spent more time at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market than the Minneapolis one, so I’m not the best person to provide a comparison, but I think Pike Place Market has a totally unique feel that isn’t matched by anything in Minnesota.  It’s a huge market with aisles and aisles of flowers, fruit and fish, with tables of art, socks, toys, t-shirts and other curios mixed in.  There are also loads of restaurants covering a wide range of kinds of food: pastries, Greek, Thai, breakfast, Mexican, ice cream, chocolate, and of course, coffee and fish.  Besides the red sign, Pike Place Market’s iconic scene is probably the fishmongers tossing huge fish from one end of their shop to the next.  It’s a satisfying mix of cheeky tourism and a glimpse at a local tradition. 

Josh and I didn’t know what to expect when we stopped by the market for the first time two years ago on our first visit to Seattle, and we became temporarily but utterly fascinated by it, visiting the market every day we were there and eating our way through the aisles of produce, fish, and treats.  We were excited to spend a day there on this trip, too. It wasn’t even a point of discussion as we sorted out our plans.

As we made our first pass through the market this time, I think we both had a moment of feeling surprised that it was the same place as last time: that life had gone on and on for two years since we last visited, but when we arrived, found the same man still singing in the alley by the clam chowder restaurant.  People were still crowding at the top of the hill to take photos of the iconic sign and by the fishmongers to snap photos of fish flying through the air.  The spectacle was just as wonderful and amazing as before, but I felt torn momentarily between the natural pull from the restaurants and shops I adored--to replicate the zeppoles and sandwiches and ice cream and wine from our last trip--and avoiding those spots in favor of trying new things.

The gentle tension dissolved pretty quickly.  We remembered the layout readily, but even wandering past familiar spots, it’s easy to find unfamiliar corners and also easy to give into spontaneity.  (Example A: a vendor waves a nectarine sample at me and I make the fastest impulse purchase in world history because it was so good.)  Way in the basement of the market, we found a quirky shop featuring, for lack of a better description, archived things.  By the door, there were stacks and stacks of old Sports Illustrated magazines, and there were similar shelves full of old advertisements grouped in categories like “travel,” “alcohol,” and beauty products.”  But what grabbed me were the boxes in the back corner of the stores labeled “Yes, this is heaven: It’s all $1.00!”  Inside the boxes, I found the epitome of the phrase one person’s junk is another’s treasure.

The boxes were full of old newspaper clippings, photographs and postcards.  There was no rhyme or reason, no hint about where the memorabilia originated.  Honestly, it felt like remnants found in the bottoms of old drawers after people die and their descendants don’t know how to begin identifying the characters in the photos and letters.  One postcard opened with the apparently timeless “By the time you get this, I’ll be home!” in careful script. Some photos were blank; others were labeled meticulously with names and dates.  One could argue that they were meaningless pieces of paper without the context of family histories.  But I could have spent hours flipping through the boxes, making up contexts and stories.

As an aside, I’m working on paring down the posts that contain utterly hokey conclusions, which apparently are a personal forte. To be sure, not every tiny story or box of unlabeled photographs should be extrapolated into an obvious larger narrative of life revelations.  Today’s trip to the market was just a reminder that one of the lessons I love best about travel is that sometimes gems are found in surprises, not plans or expectations.