Friday, September 30, 2011

Like a helicopter

Oh ho ho ho, Reader, have I got an excessive amount of photos for you! 

I came home from work last night feeling tired and thinking only about kicking my feet up and selecting "Hart of Dixie" on the DVR.  (In my defense: this decision was born out of my love for "The OC" and not any real expectations.)  I lugged my CSA vegetable box out of my car, and on the way past my patio, I saw something that that literally made me squeal with disbelief and delight.  

I am pretty sure this confused my neighbor, who was smoking a cigarette outside.  I started trying to take photos while he was finishing up but then went inside acting all cool and then rushed back outside as soon as I knew he was gone so I could explore it undisturbed.  (You gotta be smooth, you know?)

It was a very gusty day, Reader - I'm talking 40-50 mph wind.  Do you know those little leaves or seeds that I grew up calling helicopters?  For this post, I got to google "helicopter leaves" to find the correct name, and it turns out they come from maple trees.  You probably knew that.

Somehow, based on the ferocious wind, dozens and dozens had all plunged directly into my patio furniture in the same pattern and angle!

Start big.  I've blogged about my furniture before, but in case you need context, this was my first glimpse:

That glimpse showed this angle, which makes them look like a big pile of little darts:

I was completely struck by how beautiful they were, especially when you looked at them straight on, when they looked to me like little lanterns:

But wait, there's more!  I wondered for a second what the underside of the table and chairs looked like, so I scruffed up the knees of my cords.  Ready?  Here's the top...

And there's the bottom!  Icebergs, no?

Sometimes when you live in the city, little forces of nature aren't as obvious, so you have to look closer for them.  I felt lucky that I noticed these little guys before the wind switched around and blew them all away.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Boys of summer

Two factual statements:

1) I love baseball.
2) It has been a dismal, terrible summer for my favorite team, the Minnesota Twins.

Now that you know those truths, I will tell you about three more things: my life as a baseball fan, this season and last night.  As I've alluded to in previous posts, I am a lifelong Twins fan thanks to my dad.  We saw the Twins through some very trying years in the 1990s, but I also got to watch the 1991 World Series as a second grader.  My parents didn't let me skip school to go to the championship parade downtown, which remains a bone of contention between us.

The quirks of Minnesota baseball: snow on Opening Day
falling gently on the Metrodome roof (pre-Target Field).
More recently, the Twins have become perennial contenders for the AL Central title and moved from the Metrodome into beautiful Target Field. They have built a narrative around crafting a thoughtful farm system, working together as a strong defensive team and being a classy organization.  (By lodging a cliche between parentheses, I'll spare you partially from the most frequent description: a small ball team that "does things the right way.")  

I'll leave serious analysis to the better informed, but this year, everything just plain old went wrong and the win-loss record imploded in spectacular fashion.  It has been a tough season for the players and the front office and the fans.  I've been to games this season that have involved more groaning than cheering. Instead of watching the team fight for a division title, fans watched the team slide toward 100 losses.  (For non-fans wading through this post: it's not good.)  Instead of seeing players on the stats leaderboards, the team is in the cellar for many of them. 

But when Josh asked if I wanted to check out the last game of the season this week, I agreed right away.  See, even as frustrating as the season was, I still felt a tinge of melancholy (if that's not too dramatic) creeping in this week.  When I was a kid, I dreaded the season's end because of how much I loved hearing the game on the radio every night. I guess, simply, that a Twins season has been a key part of my life for many years.  The off-season is just not as much fun as baseball season!

Target Field Opening Day tickets, April 2010
So I scooted over to Target Field after running club last night, and the game was rolling thanks to little offense on behalf of either team.  Today's baseball culture is a little bit different than how I grew up watching the game, and much different than the culture my dad and grandpa watched.  Seeing a pitcher throw a complete game (all nine innings) isn't too common any more thanks to pitch counts and the role of the set-up man and closer (and his saves).  I love, love, love seeing a pitcher dig in and battle for the full nine innings, and I love Carl Pavano's tenure with the Twins because he has modeled that gritty spirit and accountability.  You kind of get the vibe from Carl (and the inanimate objects in the dugout that suffer his wrath after a poor outing must get it, too) that anything less than a CG is a failure.

And it was Pavanotime last night at Target Field, complete with his legendary mustache.  He pitched a complete game shutout last night on 90 pitches or so.  But until the ninth inning, the Twins hadn't contributed any runs to their line on the scoreboard either.  Denard Span, another one of my favorites, stepped in to pinch hit and smacked a double up the first base line, and one of the many new faces on this year's roster, Trevor Plouffe, knocked him in with another hit for a Twins win!

By the numbers, the game doesn't matter - in fact, the only real meaning was that the Twins had avoided 100 losses by winning the game, an achievement that doesn't exactly inspire joy in your heart.  But you couldn't tell that by being at Target Field last night.  By the final inning, the crowd was roaring: for the starting pitcher, for seeing Span step up to the plate after a season hindered by a concussion, for seeing the team eke out a one-run walk-off victory to close the season.

If you've read two percent of my blog entries, it shouldn't surprise you that I'm a sucker for a good video montage. As I watched this year's montage while fans filed out of the stadium, I thought about the season's highs: of Michael Cuddyer carrying the team for most of the season, of Ben Revere's sassy catches, of the great Jim Thome hitting his 600th home run - and I thought of John Gordon, who I've heard on the radio for 20 years, calling his final Twins game that night.  By the numbers, it was a lousy season.  But I believe that because there are so many moving parts in baseball, so many stories and narratives, you can always find pieces of a season that give you goosebumps just the same. 

Goosebumps: literal and figurative last year. Brr!
If you are a fan, you know that yesterday shaped up to be a magnificent, historic night all over both leagues.  If you aren't, you probably don't care at all.  But suspense and thrill seemed universal in watching the last night of the regular season unfold: take your pick between the Rays coming back from seven runs down to beat the Yankees and grab the wild card, the Phillies beating the Braves in extra innings to close the book on Atlanta's collapse, and the Orioles sending the Red Sox home after a long rain delay.  Do you remember a few weeks back when baseball analysts lamented the lack of division races still in play?

No, the Twins won't be playing this weekend in the first round of the playoffs.  Yes, the season was unbelievably disappointing for all parties involved.  But last night was a reminder of the intangible thrill that a win-loss record and run differential statistics don't capture. You can still get goosebumps in the ninth inning of the last game of a 99-loss season.

See you April 9 for the home opener.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


You readers are always up for adventure.  I was pleased to receive several double-dog-dares to get the scoop about the flower shop sign I spotted last week.  To refresh your memory, in case you are feeling too lethargic to click on that link:

I had a lot of guesses.  I thought about calling the shop for several days.  At lunchtime today, I put on my Serious Investigative Journalist hat (all the rage on this season's runways) and finally made the call.

Mystery solved: Turns out that Izzy, Karlie, and Sophie are three girls whose grandma requested the sign for them!!!!

In case you are curious, I also learned that the sign can be customized with a name of your choice for $10 in cash, which goes to charity.  If a particular day is not reserved, the owner picks a name at random. This is a wonderful idea that I support wholeheartedly.

And yes: the roses have been claimed.

Sidenote/P.S. A quick shout out to whoever stumbled across this blog by googling "pumpkins puzzling paths pumpkin patch bonanza." I'm not sure how you did it, but that's what we are all about over here at Miles and Laurel.  Welcome.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Soup production, kitchen destruction

Over the last few months, it's a recurring theme that a free weekday night leads to culinary misadventures in Chez Miles and Laurel.  At lunchtime today, I marched over to Whole Foods in dreary drizzle to redeem my Living Social spend-$20-pay-$10 coupon.  Outside the store, a big pile of butternut squash was on sale, and I snapped up two of them.  And then I snapped up really heavy cans, carrots, onions - basically lugging the most dense basket possible around the store.  And then I remembered, as I was checking out, that I was on foot and thus setting myself up for a miserable trudge back to work with two of the heaviest bags possible. Dumb!!!

I am sharing this story with you to show that I was Very Serious about soup tonight.  Pandora is blasting, and right now, there is a trio of recipes in various stages of production in my kitchen:

1) Minestrone via a recipe from the Food Network's Ellie Krieger.  This is a key, key part of my fall and winter meal rotation.  It is healthy on its own and even tastier with a big pile of cheddar cheese mixed in.  It also freezes well - per the recipe, for up to four months.  This batch's fate is the freezer.

2) FIRST CROCK POT USE OF THE SEASON!  I got a crock pot (you may know it as a slow cooker) last winter, and although I had to get used to the idea of a meal cooking on my countertop all day while I was away - well, I got used to it.  The best part about crock pot meals is that you come home from a long day of work, when it's probably either dark or cold, and when you open the door it smells like someone has been cooking a fabulous meal all day just for you.  It makes you feel special, even if you must block from your mind temporarily that you were the one throwing the ingredients in at 8:00 that morning.

Anyway, this crock pot meal is a curry hodgepodge of butternut squash, onion, cauliflower, chickpeas, coconut milk, peas, and red curry paste.  When I am ready to go to sleep, I will turn off the crock pot and put it into the fridge for lunches.

3) The last soup is the real reason for this post.  It is called Sweet Potato-Peanut Bisque, and as soon as it popped up on my computer this morning, I gasped and said, "That's strange!"  Per Eating Well, it's a "satisfying vegetarian, sweet potato soup ... inspired by the flavors of West African peanut soup."  If my crock pot meal was a hodgepodge, I don't know how to describe this: sweet potato, ginger, peanut butter, green chiles, tomatoes, allspice, onion, garlic.  I followed instructions to garnish with cilantro, because I could top anything with cilantro.  It's wonderful and has a little bit of zing and/or pep and is so different from most of what I cook.  Ooh, I love it.  Please try it!  Look at how satisfying the color is, too:

Perfect for fall.

The good news is that I am set for lunch and dinner through Twin Cities Marathon weekend and, heck, probably through Chicago Marathon weekend.  The bad news is that my kitchen suffered a severe degree of destruction, and I'm taking the approach that if I alternate ignoring it and staring at it hard enough, it will clean itself.

My favorite part is my dumb old Garmin watch acting as though it has serious reasons to be in the middle of the action, like measuring my vegetable-chopping pace.

It's time to clean up, catch up on Gossip Girl important programs and watch my sweet Minnesota Twins play their second-to-last game of 2011.  I'll let you guess the order in which those activities fall.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Marvelous Monday

Okay, it is really late (10:56 p.m.), but I have a hankering for a Marvelous Monday.

1) Part of that is because a non-blogging friend just emailed me her own Marvelous Monday list!  I loved hearing about her day. This is a practice that I now highly recommend.  Let it be known that I will gladly receive any reader's Marvelous Monday list.  Get your five items ready and send them my way.

2) On the third-to-last game of the 162-game baseball season, I finally saw a Twins game this season with my dad!  We were long overdue.  Our game got rained out earlier in the season, and then I couldn't attend the make-up game, so I sent my brother instead.  Tonight, we saw nine innings of Twins baseball in person for the last time until 2012.  It was no W, but it was great time with Dad.

3) It's Twin Cities Marathon week!!  This morning as I was ironing, I pronounced this week as one of my favorites all year in Minnesota because of this race.  It was my first marathon (back in 2007) and I haven't run it since because I volunteer on one of the race committees, but I probably get more excited about it than people who are actually racing it.  Sunday!  Sunday!

4) One word: Pinterest.  That's all.

5) 11 days til we go to Chicago and 13 days til I'm on the start line!

Marvelous, indeed.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

An afternoon at Whistling Well

Reader, if the words "Sunday afternoon" and "autumn" and "apple orchard" went together any better, they'd, like, rhyme - or at least alliterate more than 80 percent.  Visiting an apple orchard is far from an annual activity for me.  I've run a race in one with my mom (very fun!) but I can't remember ever actually picking apples at one.  Until today!

The weather was perfect for late September:

Cold enough for a sweater...
...and warm enough for sandals!


I set out for this expedition with my friend Sara.  Because our schedules rarely coincide neatly, our activities tend to be of the movie-watching, tea-drinking, and neighborhood-walking variety around town.  Earlier in the week, we realized that we both had Sunday afternoon seriously open for adventure.  To the eastern metro we went!  Our destination: Afton.  More specifically, the St. Croix Trail, which is loaded with orchards!

Here is a good example of why Sara is great.  Just up the road from the orchard, we passed a baseball field with something that looked out of the ordinary taking place on it.  "What's that?" she said. "It looks, like, Civil War baseball players?" I ventured.  We kept driving.  A minute later, Sara said, "Should we turn around?" and I said, "Yes."

We pulled into the field's parking lot, and I was content to just watch the strange scene of a Civil War-era baseball reenactment unfolding.  But Sara noticed one of the players still getting ready at his car, which was next to ours.  She cranked down her window.

"Excuse me...what is this?!" Sara asked him, and I burst out laughing.
"It's 1860s baseball," the man explained. "You should stay and watch!"
He turned around and started walking to the field.
"We're going to the apple orchard!" Sara exclaimed.
He turned around. "What?"
"We're going to the apple orchard!  But maybe we'll come back to watch afterward."

We continued onward until we reached our destination. 
Its specialties: apples, fall mums, and pumpkins.  Lots of pumpkins. Lots of apples.  Lots of squash, too.  I obviously wasn't keeping a good eye out for fall mums.

We got our bags and learned that each peck (10 pounds of apples) cost $18.  If you are seeking context, rest assured that my scientific analysis proves that 10 pounds is technically an enormous amount of apples.  We headed merrily down the trail toward the rows of Haralson and Honey Crisp trees.  Sara, being a veteran of farms and this kind of stuff, took the lead.  She dove into the trees and started picking. 

I caught up.  By the end, we both had full bags of apples.
Of course, the apples were beautiful. 

My only regret is that we didn't take one of the red wagons.  This one seemed to be abandoned.

Back at the apple shack - no, the right word is probably the barn - we checked out the farm animals (goats, chickens and a donkey) and the pumpkin supply, which was plentiful.
Sara and I even asked a kind young mother if she would take our photo.  We walked up from behind and Sara called dibs on the pumpkin really quickly

It was a perfecto afternoon.  Twin Cities readers: if you remotely like apples, the outdoors, farms, or fun things, I highly recommend this region of apple orchards.  Ours was Whistling Well Farm, but you can see on the map that there are four or five orchards in very close proximity - and it's all just half an hour away.  We used our interest in procuring caramel apples as an excuse to check out another orchard, and it was fun to see the different character and vibe of that farm.

And yes, you'd better believe that we took our caramel apples and apple cider and hightailed it back to the baseball game.  We watched the last couple of innings and got to see the team captains each perform rousing speeches about the great game of baseball after the last out was recorded.  There were some confusing parts - apparently, in 1860s baseball, you can let the ball bounce on the ground and still count it as an out without throwing to first base - and I sure don't remember who won.  But the guys - and were they ever a motley mix - were having a blast!  We Sara talked with one of the spectators next to us and learned that this game was the last in an occasional matchup through the summer.  Sometimes the best adventures are detours, no?

As soon as I got home, I assessed the apples.  I peeled them and then chopped them up.  We all know where this is going, right?


Hint: it smells like apple crisp in here!  Happy Sunday night!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Double feature at The Sky

Because of weekend plans that will pull us in different directions today and tomorrow, Josh and I had a midweek dinner date this week!  

It was Thursday, the same day that I ran with my brother and didn't have a camera to capture the magnificent sunrise.  Luckily, The Sky had a double feature in mind and dished out a spectacular sunset, in similar themes: hot, hot oranges and pinks and purples.  We made our way west toward Minneapolis, and I pulled out my camera, with no shame about taking photos through the car window.  

But as we were about to cross the bridge over the Mississippi River, I remembered that a glorious view of the Minneapolis skyline was about to pop out on the passenger side - allowing said passenger to open her window.

"Please move over to the right lane," I requested to my patient driver politely, and there you have it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Do you know these women?

Okay.  There is a flower shop in my neighborhood, located just off a busy street, with a marquee sign next to it.  Instead of hot specials and rose deals, the sign always says "<first name>, PICK UP A FREE ROSE."  Obviously, it has become a life goal of mine to drive by and see "REBECCA, PICK UP A FREE ROSE."  In the years I've lived in this city, I have never seen Rebecca. I am coming to terms with the realization that it may never happen, especially since the names have trended toward the less common in recent years.

But yesterday's choice was a first.


What on earth is going on here?  Who is Sophie?  For that matter, who is Izzy Karlie?  Is adding a second name the next level of intricacy that ensures no free roses are ever doled out again--or is there a fantastic story here about Izzy Karlie and Sophie?  Are they two names drawn out of a hat?  Sisters?  Mom and daughter?  Is this Sophie's way of ordering Izzy Karlie to buy her flowers more often?

My imagination runs wild. 

Does anyone double-dog-dare me to go into the shop to get the scoop?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Oh, Brother

You were dying of curiosity about how my running is going, weren't you?  I could tell.

Two or three weeks before a marathon, a period called the taper begins.  More context: most training plans call for three weeks of increasing mileage and then a cutback week - so over one month early in the plan, weekly mileage might look like 32, 36, 40, then 36.  For the final month leading up to race day, I have my peak week, usually coinciding with my longest long run, then begin a three-week taper.  The taper contains progressively less mileage each week to allow the body to be well-rested, recovered from the training workload, and fresh for race day.  It's not complete kick-your-feet-up-on-the-couch rest, but it feels like a lot less.

But it's not as much fun as it sounds.  It's often a time when little teeny-tiny mini-injuries sound their alarms and leave you convinced and despondent that you won't be able to race.  Last night, one of my running buddies noted that one of her colleagues was sick at work and my friend considered bathing in a vat of Lysol to avoid catching a pre-race cold.  Some runners might even be aware of what weather websites include 15-day forecasts and which ones stick to the more rational (but still pretty unrational) 10-day forecast. This sort of goofy behavior is par for the course during taper.

I have been refreshingly chill (ha, ha) about race day weather this time around so far.  After several experiences of pitching fits when the weather wasn't ordered-just-for-me perfect in past years, I finally truly understand that whatever happens on race day - whether I wake up to 35 , 55 or 75 degrees - just happens. It won't be devastating or ruin my weekend in the Windy City.

The early taper madness side effect that is hitting home (besides trying to get more sleep and chugging Emergen-C) is that I've been running out of steam and positive energy on runs I do on my own.  That's pretty standard (and understandable) at the end of a 16-week cycle.  I'll take a break after the marathon and will be mentally ready to go again by the time the snow flies.  But for now: oof.  Running can be boring, guys!

Luckily - to get to the point of this post - I got to run with my brother this morning!  He has a long shift at work today, so I was surprised that when I pitched the idea of a run, either pre-work or post-work, he chose pre-work!  I don't think he expected to have a start time that began with the number 5, though.  I toddled over to his apartment in the dark and met him, and we ran seven miles around the city.  

Two major highlights:

1) When we ran by a golf course, we saw four young deer standing just off the side of the road - I'm talking no more than eight feet.  I noticed them from about 100 feet down the road and we oohed and aahed because we live in the city now and don't see deer all the time.  Then, about 20 feet away, I said, "Do you think they're going to move?"  Nope.  We passed them, and their legs were shaking and buckling, but they didn't run.  You could practically see them whispering, "Should we be scared?  Should we be scared!? Someone take the lead!" I've never seen anything like that.

2) We saw an amazing, gorgeous, wonderful sunrise.  It was like Neapolitan ice cream: the sky was perfectly segmented into horizontal orange, pink, and purple layers.  For the last mile, I alternated between lamenting that I left my camera at home and badgering asking my brother to admit that he was happy to get up to run early enough to see this magnificent sunrise. Wow. It was so nice.

It was also so nice to spend time with my brother.  It was such a treat. He is a great running buddy and I am lucky to be able to run with him, hopefully more frequently now that we are in the same city.

I will leave you today with a message from how my mother signed off from a conversation this morning.  Instead of "Have a good day" or "Talk to you soon," she gave me "Make tracks in the world!" 

I kind of like that - so go on, make tracks in the world.

outside the neighborhood cheese shop

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Don't ever call me Dreary Deary in real life

Last night, revenge was mine!

I should also note that I'll stop posting my puzzles after tonight. In terms of ranking how much you care about my day, Reader, I have no doubt that my Cryptoquip success rate rightly falls very low on your list. 

I only wanted to include it because it aptly captured last night's mood. Nothing actually bad is happening, which I should keep in mind and perspective.  It's just that this week is gray and weird and super-blustery and mucky. Last night was the kind of night that makes you want to hunker down and get into your best, softest, ugliest winter pajamas.

Around 3 p.m., I identified that lasagna would be the best weapon with which to battle the chilly night, so after work, Dreary Deary here finished her run, retrieved her car from the shop (yay!) and hightailed it to the grocery store for ingredients.  Did you know there is a recipe on the back of the pasta box that includes microwave directions for a 9x13 pan of lasagna? Gross. While the dish baked (in the oven), I conquered Cryptoquip and watched the Twins game.  Josh came home, we ate lasagna, and then we went for a drive and got ice cream.  Presto!  The hapless drear could not stand up to this ferocious defense.  

Write that down: lasagna, Cryptoquip, baseball, ice cream.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


I waxed poetic about my beloved Cryptoquip puzzles in yesterday's post.  Barely an hour after publishing it, I was growling.  

I was mumbling in chagrin while Josh watched a movie.  "It has to be the greatest difficulty on Mondays, right?  Right?!"

Brutal. Reader, if you see an easy path to the solution, now is not the time to reveal it in the comment field.

Tuesday is a new day and a new puzzle.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Marvelous Monday

Today is a day that makes one wake up and feel happy to live in Minnesota.  It's 6 p.m. right now, and I just walked home from work, partly because I am sans vehicle but mostly because it is a heavenly beautiful day.  It's 70 degrees and the sky is a perfecto September blue and there's a light breeze.  Kids are playing football at neighborhood parks.  It's the best kind of fall.

With that spring in my step, I'll take a cue from my friend Nathalia and try another Marvelous Monday post this week.  It shouldn't come as a surprise that I like the exercise of drumming up five marvelous items to note about the day - especially a Monday.

1) Whenever I am home by this hour on a weeknight, I like to try a new recipe - or at the very least, cook a recipe.  I see them as fun mini-projects and mini-adventures to try, even though 90 percent of my favorite recipes year-round are built around the same theme - beans + onion + garlic + other vegetable + cumin + chili powder + complex grain. 

Tonight is not too different, although it's a totally new recipe for me.  I'm roasting butternut squash and pumpkin from last week's CSA box and then making pumpkin and black bean soup.  There's nothing magic about this - really, google "pumpkin black bean soup" and you'll get something close to what I'll be eating for dinner.  But it marks my first foray into roasting.  If it's a success, A) I won't keep Whole Foods in business due to my butternut squash soup consumption alone and B) preparing a butternut squash for a dish will no longer feel like a grueling endurance event.

The squash and pumpkin are in the oven and just starting to smell good.  I could get used to this.

2) As mentioned, the walk home was gorgeous.  I got to meander along one of my favorite stretches in the Twin Cities, the section of the Summit Avenue boulevard that ducks into a tunnel of lilac bushes by Lexington.  In the spring, it smells amazing, but year-round, it's a peaceful little trail that is literally a stone's toss from traffic but feels in the middle of nowhere.  

3) Outside that little dirt trail, the sunlight was streaming in a way that only fall afternoon sun can do.  And the first yellow leaf of the season grabbed my attention! I apologize in advance for posting too many photos of leaves.  I will try to curtail this as much as possible but can't make any promises.

4) Two Cryptoquip puzzles in one day!  I love these guys.  I did the first word puzzle from yesterday's paper at breakfast and will do the puzzle from today's paper before bed.  Wild!!

5) I saved my favorite for last.  Given what I have learned about writing for the internet, this is probably a major mistake.  But if you read this far, consider this your reward!  At my alma mater, I stumbled on an exhibit today: a collection of several dozen baby pictures, hanging on a wall facing the door of a building.  I looked closer and saw that it was members of the new Class of 2015 - people who are in their first weeks on campus at my alma mater. 

Underneath each photo was a message from the student's parents, blessing the next four years of their lives.  Their parents are proud of them, they love them, and they miss them. I read message after message.  I could have read them over and over.

This was my favorite:
"'You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars,
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear for you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.'
-Max Ehrmann

Love YOU, Sparkly Unicorn."
I hope Sparkly Unicorn is having his or her own Marvelous Monday.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chock full of SPORTS

Yesterday was a day devoted to sports of all kinds.  We even had Twins tickets and were unable to use them because the schedule was that jam-packed full of sports.  It is good that I love sports.

1) The morning kicked off with the annual Bolder Dash, a 5K and 10K run around Lake Nokomis benefiting Bolder Options, a mentoring program I've written about before.  My mentee and I ran the 5K.  Bolder Options requires kids in the running program to complete three 5Ks per year, and some of the 5Ks around town seem like they would feel a little overwhelming for kids because only a handful of mentor-mentee pairs will enter.  But this race is awesome because practically everyone in the program clears their calendar for the event, so there are dozens of mentor-mentee pairs on the course all at once.  It's great to see pairs in all stages of the program out there, including new pairs running their first 5K. My mentee loves races, so this is something like our eighth or ninth race since we got matched a little over two years ago.

There were signs posted all over the course for encouragement.  My favorite displayed the Bolder Options slogan:

After the race, I dropped off my mentee and headed back to Minneapolis to pick Josh up at work.  We are temporarily a one-car household because of an utter failure on my vehicle's behalf, which will require a less-fun sporting event later today called jumping my car and hoping the battery holds until we reach the repair shop.

2) But that wasn't on my mind yesterday.  Yesterday, in addition to Bolder Dash, was Ring Ceremony Day!  Josh is an assistant coach for a nearby college's baseball team.  They won the conference tournament last spring for the first time in program history!  Everyone was tremendously proud and excited (and rightfully so), so the head coach arranged for the players and coaches to get rings a la World Series rings to commemorate the event.  They are big and flashy and fabulous, but more than that, it was a neat experience to watch the families, players and coaches take a moment at the start of the new season to recognize what a special achievement unfolded last spring.

The head coach told a story about how seeing the look on one of the player's faces after the team made the final out in the conference championship made all of the challenges and low points during the years leading up to the championship worth it.  Because of that, he had the players and coaches open their ring boxes in unison, so he could see their faces again.  He was right: it was great.  They loved their rings.

I think Josh tried to act tough but was really quite pleased:

3) After everyone's rings had been distributed, some of the group went to a local bar.  And not five feet away from my chair, my game was on!  We had the DVR set at home for Tennessee vs. Florida, the season's first conference match-up and a big test for UT, but we decided to watch it at the bar instead.  The crux of this sports story is that I was really into a football game on TV at a sports bar.  This is a new experience for me. UT looked pretty overmatched for most of the game but kept the game close and even provided a few moments that allowed me to pound Josh's back in excitement.  We also had a lovely quiet moment where we sang "Rocky Top" along with the mp3 recording on his cell phone when UT scored a touchdown.  Florida won, 33-23.  But heck!  I really had fun.  My project is going well.

4)  Finally, I have one more thrill to share.  On an impulse whim, I bought a pair of riding boots on ebay last week and my fingers hurt by the time they arrived because I was crossing them so hard for these boots to fit me and my calves.  It was a real and probably irresponsible roll of the dice - on par with buying a pair of random jeans online and guessing on a size - as women with generous calf muscles will understand.  I put them on yesterday and they fit!!!

This counts as part of my sports-themed day because A) they are riding boots, therefore covering the equestrian component (even though most of you know I haven't ridden a horse in more than a decade) and B) the excitement in my heart was on par with crossing the finish line after a good race.  Truth.

The sports-themed weekend continues.  I just finished my last long-long run of the training cycle and will usher in the taper period (i.e. rest - more on this later) on the couch, possibly with a baseball or football game on TV while I make some fall afternoon zzzs.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A new member of my household

Last night, Josh worked late at a charity event at a bowling alley, and whenever this type of evening work event rolls around, one could make generous amounts of money staking a bet that I would be fast asleep by the time he got home.  We usually start chatting when he gets home and then I have a bear of a time falling back to sleep, so I received word last night that he would not interrupt my slumber this time.

You can imagine my surprise when he came into the room and said, "I won you something!"

My mind started churning with excitement.  What on earth was he talking about?  A raffle?  A silent auction item?  A weekend getaway?

Then I saw the prize!

My sweet boyfriend won this in one of those claw machine arcade games.  In case you don't see the dinner table for context, this thing is huge.  He has also, regrettably, already suffered a grave injury.  When victory had been secured and he was being pried out of the machine, his neck was nearly severed, which accounts for the strange droop in his neck.  It will probably require some sort of surgery. (I'm reading this over and hoping it's clear enough that "he" is the creature, not Josh.)

Once again, in case you didn't take it in fully from the first photo: This morning I rolled over and saw this face next to my bed.

Somehow, in the last 12 hours, this creature has acquired the name of Pin Man.  Pin Man declined to accompany me on this morning's run, but he does seem to enjoy a morning cup of coffee at the table.  (I don't blame him a bit.) He did not provide much assistance for the Cryptoquip but agreed that yesterday's puzzle was disappointing.

It's never a dull moment, right?  I'm a little scared to leave Pin Man unattended for the day.  One can only speculate what kind of mischief he will find.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fall follies on the Chain of Lakes

So I arrived early at my running club's meeting spot yesterday afternoon and had enough time to go for a warmup jaunt.  There are some challenges of running with this club (namely, the drive across town at rush hour), but one of the main reasons why I joined was validated completely over the course of the summer: getting to run in different places around the city. 

I feel like a monster brat if I even begin to complain about the monotony of Summit Avenue and the River Road, two roads I believe would be competitive with any other urban path in the country for most beautiful urban street.  But by the end of every marathon training cycle, I begin to dread miles on the River Road.  A major part of my goals with the club, therefore, was to mix up my training routes--and that really worked.  I loved exploring the network of lakes and trails in Minneapolis.

And those routes are beautiful, too. We run in places where there are dozens of other runners, walkers, dogs, cyclists, rollerbladers, and families out being active and enjoying the city together.  (The latter is unsurprisingly a soft spot in my heart.) Most evenings, I wished I had a tiny camera to bring along on every run.  But it was also the time of day and year when the sun was so high that the lighting was poor and wouldn't have showed a sliver of how pretty a scene was.  Well!  Now that the days are getting shorter and the sun is setting earlier, I figured it was a perfect afternoon for my camera to accompany me on my warm-up. 

Ever the optimist!

This pile of canoes and kayaks is right at the start and end of most of our club's runs.  Sometimes at the end of a long run, I think about wrangling a kayak away from its lock, paddling fast into the water and jumping in to cool off.

This is the dock overlooking Lake of the Isles.

If you look closely at this photo, you'll see the geese flying low overhead.  I thought this was sort of a neat shot, until two of their friends who were lagging behind decided to fly even lower and thus closer to my head. I worry that I did not keep my cool.
From most vantage points on the lakes, you can see at least part of the Minneapolis skyline.  Cool!
I had time to scoot over to Lake Calhoun, which is connected to Lake of the Isles by Dean Parkway. There were sailboats out all over the lake being propelled by a very cool breeze.  I personally would've needed sweaters to be out on the lake today, but I liked the view from the path.

And these big trees were lining the route back to Lake of the Isles.  Is it any wonder that Forbes just named Minneapolis the healthiest city in the United States, given this accessible urban trail network?  Nope.

When I finished my warmup, the sun was even lower.  Most readers have figured out by now my penchant for taking photos directly into the sun.  I don't know why I love this so much!  I know it looks bad!  But to me, I guess it looks beautiful.  I also like the willow trees that droop to the trail's left.

But, oh, Reader, I really wish I would've had a camera for the rest of the run.  The runners in training for Twin Cities Marathon are tapering now and went off on a different route, so I was part of a smaller group doing Yassos on the Kenilworth Trail.  Yassos, in short, are a workout that involves 10 800-meter (half-mile) repeats done in the time you're aiming for in the marathon.  For example, if you want to finish a marathon in three hours and 50 minutes, each of your Yassos should be done in 3:50.  (They are named, by the way, after Runners World's Bart Yasso.)  I've never done the full set of 10 before, and ooh, it's a good workout. 

Well, that wasn't the part that I wanted to capture for you.  For the last few intervals, the sun was sinking lower and lower in the sky, which was cast in this rosy pink light.  It was the first run of the training cycle that I had finished after the sun officially set. The trail winds through the woods, and it smelled undeniably like fall.  Because I was in the small group doing the longest workout, I was basically on my own at the end of the run, save for a few bike commuters whooshing past me on the parallel bike path.  It was cold and getting dark and my legs were heavy and I was alone, but it wasn't lonely at all. 

On second thought, maybe it was good that I didn't lug my camera along.  I don't have the skills to make a camera capture peaceful.