Friday, November 30, 2012

Turkey Day Trail Trot

Earlier in the month, blogger Lora wrote about the Virtual Run for Hurricane Sandy Recovery she and a friend were organizing. Basically, you'd sign up, pledge a donation that goes straight to the Red Cross, and find a race in November (or just do a run on your own). I think it's the first time Lora and her friend have done a fundraising project of this nature, and they've raised nearly $1,500! Pretty wonderful.

I thought it was a fun idea and signed up, so I was on the prowl for a local turkey trot. My search, though, was pretty restricted: it had to be close enough to St. Paul, and early enough in the day, to allow me to get back home, pick up pup, and scoot over to my parents' house in time for brunch and the rest of the day's festivities. (My priorities lie with brunch!)

Then I found the Turkey Day Trail Trot: a 5K and 10K at nearby Battle Creek, a popular park in the winter with cross-country skiers. I emailed my brother and asked if he wanted to run it with me, and he was up for it! It would be a total fun run for both of us, as neither one had been racking up the miles this fall.

On race day/Thanksgiving, I woke up really early to take Josh to the airport and took Wish for a sunrise walk. That's always a good way to start the day - the sunrise walk, that is.

Then Brother and I went over to the race. The field was capped at 400, which is a pretty nice size that allows for nice race energy but not too many logistics headaches. There was a big parking lot right by the start line, and we checked in easily and did a warm-up shuffle (and I saw my friend Holly from running club!). The sun was rising over these fields of tall grass by the start line, and it was gorgeous. I was excited to try the Battle Creek trails.

Oh, yes. Shorts! The day ended with blowing snow and temperatures in the 30s, but temps that morning were in the 50s. I almost wore a tank top!

The race began. Reader, do you know those runners who take long breaks from running for whatever reason and then crank out amazing results at a race, like, "I took five weeks off and ran a three-minute PR!"? I am totes not one of those runners. I was happy to be out on the trails, but man, I felt sluggish. I wanted to try to run this one as my first harder workout post-marathon. That turned out to be no problem at all, because the trails were ski trails: that means hilly!

There are several trail networks inside the city limits of Minneapolis and St. Paul where it's hard to believe that you're technically in a city, and now I know that Battle Creek is one of them. There were a few spots on the course where you could see railroad tracks just outside the park, but most of the course felt like it was in the middle of nowhere - not five minutes away from the state capitol and downtown St. Paul.

I crossed the finish line totally spent, in 28 minutes and change, and 45th of about 200 runners. There was trail mix at the finish line, which I will always get a kick out of seeing at trail races. All in all, I give this race a thumbs up. (My brother is probably laughing at that endorsement, given how tuckered out I was at the finish line.) It was a good way to explore new trails without heading out there solo, and a fun start to Thanksgiving before the drive and all the food that would follow - and my caramel roll (or two) later in the morning did seem extra-tasty.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012



Has it seemed like Miles and Laurel was a little bit quiet lately? Yes?

Did you think that maybe I was omitting something from the Tennessee trip report? Yes?

Okay, you got me. I have been keeping a secret for what seems like 20 million years two weeks.

Josh and I are getting married!!!

He asked me to marry him, on what was already my favorite porch in the whole world, at my favorite time of day: sunrise.

(It was Day 5 in my six days of Tennessee sunrises, which is by far the weirdest photo in that post. We had watched the sun rise, and he proposed with a ring that I loved right away, and I was so overcome that I forgot to take a sunrise photo until about 20 minutes after the sun came up.  So much for that souvenir!)

The whole thing was perfect. (And yes, I said yes!)

Later in the day, we drove through the national park to Clingman's Dome, the highest point in Tennessee. We stopped at one little parking lot for a view of the hoarfrost at the top of the mountain - and for our first photo as an engaged couple, thanks to the timer on my camera!

Later that week, we took another one at my parents' house, with Wish looking totally deranged:

When Josh proposed, we had agreed to tell my immediate family and then try to keep the news as quiet as possible until he could tell his parents in person on Thanksgiving. This felt very reasonable at the time - and in all seriousness, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way - but by the time Thanksgiving rolled around 10 days later, I was ready to burst! I am so glad that it worked: to my knowledge, he got to surprise them with the news without advanced notice from anyone else (or Facebook). On Thanksgiving, with the news no longer under wraps, my grandma helped spread the word quickly by grabbing my wrist and pulling my hand toward every new family member that arrived, to show them my ring.

Now, because we want to get married in the Twin Cities in September or October, I've landed in the deep end of the wedding planning pool and am grabbing for a pair of floaties. No, I'm kidding - kind of. Reservations for the venues around town have been filling quickly, so we've been busy researching and visiting places. (Wish glares at my laptop, to scorn whatever I could possibly find more interesting than playing fetch with him.) Besides attending wonderful weddings in the past five years, I truly have not been mulling over wedding-related details for years or even months, so there is so much information to process and consider. My mom, who dove under her bed to unearth a stack of wedding magazines minutes after I told her the news, has been an unbelievable source of information (and enthusiasm!).

But while my mind has spun from time to time, my spirits are overwhelmingly full of joy. We are so grateful for the warmth we felt this week (and always) from our large families and from those who are like family. We can't wait to celebrate with those people! We are so excited for this new chapter and for the next year - and for all of the years beyond that.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving at Grandma's

This Thanksgiving, I was grateful that my plans worked out to include time with both my extended family (Thursday and Friday) and time with Josh's family (the rest of the weekend).

My immediate family's tradition is a brunch at my parents' house before spending the rest of Thanksgiving at my grandma's house, about 90 minutes westward. Get this: when we left my parents' house, it was about 55 degrees and beyond pleasant. (My 5K race that morning was done in shorts!) We drove straight into a crazy front, and by the time we got to my grandma's house around 1:30, the temperatures was in the 30s.

A relatively new tradition on my mom's side of the family involves threading long strands of popcorn, oranges and cranberries to string on my grandma's beloved birdfeeding station outside her kitchen window. I was in Colorado last year and missed it, so I was happy to join the crowd around the table working on the strands.

When it was time to arrange the little bird treats/holiday decorations outside, the snow arrived: big, fat, fluffy flakes. It was really beautiful. My mom and cousin got to work on a snowman.

Meanwhile, I was captivated by how pretty the popcorn and cranberry strands looked hanging against the snowy bushes!

The snow stuck around through the evening - and overnight, it turned out - and so did the snowman, although he began to tip! (He looked not unlike how I felt after my gigantic Thanksgiving dinner.)

And then I got to go home and finish the day by playing with Wish in the snow. It was a very happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Back in Minnesota

Hi, Reader!

We've hopped on a plane from Denver to Minneapolis, picked up the pup, had dinner with my parents and just got in the door and dropped our bags from our Thanksgiving travels. It was a great long weekend (well, except when I got sick for one day, which wasn't great) and I have much good news to report, including but not limited to a Turkey Trot, Thanksgiving with my family and my time in Colorado with Josh's family.

Many more details, as soon as I catch up on some zzzs. Good night!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wish and the snow

I am grateful for many, many things. Today I added a new item to that list: getting to see Wish in full-on crazy mode playing in his first real snowfall.

He saw snow last week and by all accounts didn't seem to be a fan. Playing in the snow? Totally different story.

Here's the evidence in the backyard:

Happy Thanksgiving to you, Reader!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tennessee scrapbook

This is what we call the "hodge podge vacation photos" wrap-up post!

Here's everything I haven't covered yet, in the form of my 10 miscellaneous favorite photos:

1) My chair and my book and my coffee mug, on the cabin's porch.

2) I could go on and on about how much I liked the cabin we booked through Air BNB, but one of our favorite features was Copper, our hosts' dog who roamed freely on the property. He was a beagle (or something close to it) and every morning when I was out on the porch, he would putter around the mountain and give his little howls. Sometimes he would come over and say hello, which we loved. It was our first vacation away from Wish, and we were very happy to have a little dog nearby.

3) From "our" porch, we could see a couple of the classic ranges in the Great Smoky Mountains - you know, those wavy lines created by the rounded hill tops. Oh, Reader, I loved them so. I mean, I'm not exaggerating. When I got home, I realized that I had taken nearly the exact same picture of those mountains, like, hundreds of times.

4) Refer to #3. The lines!

5) One day, we drove to Cades Cove, a popular 11-mile driving loop in the middle of the national park that brings visitors past historic buildings and lovely fields - that sort of thing. In the summer, it can get mega-crowded - I've read it can take up to four hours to drive that loop - and we got just a small sense of that on a warm fall Sunday afternoon. We parked at the visitor center and walked along a path with a few of the buildings grouped together into interpretive exhibits, including this grist mill:

6) We were driving along the Cades Cove loop, and all of a sudden I looked to the left and saw a scene straight out of my puzzle. "It's my puzzle!" I yelled, and reached over the driver to document it. I wish I could tell you we continued up the road and coincidentally saw the exact scene, but we didn't. This was as close as it got. And now it doesn't even really look like the actual puzzle, but some parts are the same, okay?

7) For as often as I lug my camera around, we don't really take a lot of current photos of the two of us. On this trip, for as much as Josh feigned disinterest in this, I got better at setting up the timer function on my camera and then balancing it on top of the car. Voila! Souvenir!

8) Ha! See  #3 and #4. Actually, I like this particular wavy-lines photo because we usually didn't get back to the cabin until after the sun set on most days, so it was neat to see the late afternoon light on the mountains. And the red trees. I was surprised by how many trees still had a few brilliant leaves clinging to their branches for mid-November, and you know I was happy about that.

9) Another day we drove over to Clingman's Dome, the highest point in Tennessee and a great 360-degree view of the national park when the weather is cooperative. As our little car climbed and climbed up the switchbacks, we approached the area known as Chimney Tops and there were foggy clouds hanging low over the peaks, and I thought for sure we wouldn't get a good view. There was also hoarfrost at the higher elevations, with blue skies and then fall colors still hanging on a little lower.

10) Once we got all the way up to the parking lot at Clingman's Dome - and then hiked one-half mile straight up to the observation tower - the skies had cleared and it was a beautiful day to check out the view!

Oh, I do love those wavy lines. I think we covered only a tiny bit of what the Great Smoky Mountains has to offer - we didn't even make it into the eastern half of the park in North Carolina! - but I hope I get a chance to go back to explore some more.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Abrams Creek hike

One morning in Tennessee, when rain in the western part of the state was marching slowly toward our cabin, Josh and I were lounging around reading and watching a Law and Order: SVU rerun. It was an SVU marathon day - not exactly a rarity on the cable networks - and I figured we would more than likely get drawn into the marathon and then be faced with a rainy day when we were ready to go out to explore. I suggested going for a little hike to stretch our legs - just a mile or two - as a preview to a longer hike we had planned for later in the week, and Josh was game.

We drove to Abrams Creek, a network of trails on the western side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that our host had recommended to us, and set off on a flat road winding through a campground to the start of the real trails. "I want more rustic trails!" I crowed. Famous last words!

As soon as we passed the campsites, we got right into the woods:

This is what I saw when I looked up:

We had the option to hike up part of the trail system and turn around - or, if we were feeling like a big hike, we could go 8-10 miles. We chose to follow a square route that totaled eight miles: from Cooper Road  Trail to Little Bottoms Trail to Hannah Mountain Trail to Rabbit Creek Trail. (Whatever happened to that "one to two miles" we had planned, by the way, I'm not sure.) Because each leg of the square was around two miles, it was important that we made the right turns. Josh pulled out our trail map at intersections.

Over the eight-mile route, we encountered several stream crossings. Some were pretty tame:

Others - well, to be fair, only one other - I considered to be a little more advanced!

We scampered and hopped across safely and soundly, if not completely dry. Josh considered that crossing The Best Time Ever.

By the end of the first mile, we were warm, especially in the wooded sections when the breezes were blocked. (Those are Josh's sweatpants draped over his shoulder.) Around that time, a light, light drizzle started falling. I watched the clouds and felt comfortable that more serious rain wasn't too close, so we were free to enjoy nature's version of those little fans that spray water into the air. It felt great.

In some ways, the rain also made the terrain even more beautiful. The raindrops piled up on the leaves on the ground and the air was misty and thus kind of mysterious in some parts of our trail. We saw a big old frog (lower right in the following photo) and a snail (not pictured). We were fine with that being the extent of the fauna we saw on the trip. Good flora, though!

(Side note: In case you were wondering, we agreed that Josh would keep the same pace each time I dropped back to snap a photo, so I kept doing quick little shuffles to catch up, and our pace wasn't too sorely affected!)

Each leg of the square route we covered took us into different terrain, from paths that felt jungly... creekside trails to way-up-high, quad-burning singletrack to winding paths... trails that meandered through big woods:

Midway through, we were hiking up and up and up, basically along a ridge of a big hill, and enormous trees were littered on the ground below like toothpicks: the product, we would learn later, of a tornado and a terrible windstorm that both went through the area in the past 18 months.

Here I am, standing next to a downed tree to show how big it was:

Some parts of the Abrams Creek trail system were still closed because of the damage. It gave me a shiver to be way up high and see the destruction in such a quiet, peaceful part of the park.

We were always on a well-marked and well-established trail, yet because it was a weekday in the off-season in a less-traveled part of the park, we did not see another person for the last seven miles of our hike. It wasn't that I felt unsafe, although I wouldn't have hiked this trail alone - it was just hard to believe, given the reports of how packed the national park is in the summertime. It was also wonderful because the trail we chose wasn't even on the lists of best hikes in the Smokies - yet it was completely beautiful and interesting, with varied terrain and great views.

Near the very end, we got to walk across the sweetest footbridge I've ever seen. The side Josh is holding onto is the only actual side, and it's only wide enough for one person to step across at a time:

Meanwhile, the rain was picking up...

...and when I peeked down the river, steam was rising off the water.

A few hundred yards later, we glimpsed the glorious, familiar sight of the trailhead and the parking lot. We were tuckered. But triumphant!

On the drive back to the cabin, the rain became more steady - and by the time we were back home and scarfing sandwiches for a late lunch, it turned into a good old fashioned downpour. And, if I recall correctly, the SVU marathon was still in full swing. That's what I call perfect timing, Reader.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Marvelous Monday: Week 47

Well. The optimism of Saturday's post didn't exactly pan out as planned:
  1. I put my goal of bowling 100 in writing and then bowled a 99. NINETY-NINE!
  2. Later that night, Tennessee got trounced, walloped, demolished in its game against Vanderbilt, and the Vols' head coach got fired on Sunday morning. (I had known that was probably coming for several games but was still sad. The search for a new coach is underway, and there is only one name on the list of possibilities that would cause my household to really cringe, so we'll be moving forward with the rest of the fan base in a new chapter for Tennessee football.)
Okay, moving on to some marvelous things:

1) It's Thanksgiving week! I will spend the holiday in Minnesota with my family and then hop into the sky again, zipping over to Colorado for Josh's niece's birthday party.

2) Reading report: Last week, I finished The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and read Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Blue Nights by Joan Didion. (That got covered over the course of two flights and several leisurely mornings spent reading on the porch on vacation. Also, yes, yes and yes to all three books.) I started 1Q84 and am working my way through that very long book, with my fingers crossed that I'll finish it before my Kindle loan expires!

3) Minestrone is on the stove as I type.

4) I ran this evening after work in an effort to get back on the horse, or whatever that expression is. (I don't think I've run more than five times since the marathon a month ago but might have possibly signed up for a 5K on Thursday.) I ran along the Mississippi River for awhile just as the sun was setting on the other side of the river, and the sunset colors against the dark trees were so beautiful.

5) It was nearly 60 degrees and sunny in the Twin Cities today - cooler than the warmest days in Tennessee last week, but lovely weather nonetheless for November in Minnesota.

What are you having for dinner tonight, Reader, and what's on your reading list? Are you traveling later in the week, or will you stay close to home?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Saturday Hodge Podge

After the trip recap business, some run-of-the-mill Saturday notes, under the umbrella of Hodge Podge:

1) I am reading 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami and I had no idea how long it was before I began reading it, because it's a Kindle version. The recommendation came to me from a friend whose reading tastes seem similar to mine, and I'm enjoying the book so far. It's just that I thought the little "x percent complete" ticker on my Kindle was broken for awhile!

2) I took a long yoga hiatus when I was approaching the marathon and then recovering from it, and I went back for my first class in weeks yesterday. My brother just started yoga at CorePower, too, and the best summary of my experience yesterday was my text to him this morning:  "Profoundly sore." I'm looking forward to getting back into that routine, so I can just be pleasantly sore.

3) On the same day I scheduled a post about Wish's firsts, he got to experience another first: his first Minnesota snowfall! Josh and I were in Tennessee, but the word from my mom was that he wasn't very pleased about his fur getting damp from the flurries. She took it upon herself to remedy that problem via a dog jacket that she sewed with fleece on one side and windproof fabric on the other! AND A PAWPRINT FLEECE TAM!!

I am pretty impressed - despite his expression in that photo - but I also just love the word TAM and try to say it as often as possible now that Wish has one.

4) Tennessee plays Vanderbilt tonight and I'm crossing my fingers for a win. Two more wins and the Vols will become bowl-eligible!

5) My goal over the next couple of days is to make crockpot honey sesame chicken - and maybe my favorite minestrone recipe, too. This all assumes that I'll go to the grocery store, which I've apparently given up doing since we got back from vacation.

What are you up to this weekend, Reader? I'm off to the bowling alley, with lofty dreams of cracking 100.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Rocky Top in person!

Warning: This post is so long. Maybe that's fitting, since it's one cap to a two-year project, right?

The Cliffs Notes version of my SEC football project, for those who skip over my football posts but for some reason want to read this one, is that I decided last summer to choose a Southeastern Conference football team to follow, to get a better sense of the deep tradition of college football in the South. (Here's the full story laid out, if you'd like the unabridged version.) I chose the Tennessee Volunteers. I followed beat writers and athletes on Twitter, started reading up on the team and watched and listened to a surprisingly high number of Vols football games. I was in some strange zone of fandom - I wanted to be a fan, but I was kind of just pretending, right, because I didn't really get it.

But then I started to get it. As I wrote in my season recap last December, I had crossed the line between pretending to be a fan and just being a fan.

The next step? Going to a game! Josh and I scoured the 2012 schedule to make our decision. We considered buying tickets for the UT-Florida game, held annually the third weekend in September. That weekend turned out to be crazy in Knoxville, with both teams in the hyped rivalry ranked nationally and the game being the host of ESPN's GameDay and the resulting national coverage. But Tennessee's loss in that game was a rough one, and I was hoping this late-in-the-season conference game against Missouri would yield a happier result for Vols fans. (I was also very excited that the trip would allow us to spend time in the Great Smoky Mountains, a key reason for stretching a game weekend into a longer stay, which we might not have been able to do in other more remote SEC towns.)

We flew into Atlanta, drove up to Tennessee, and on Friday, we drove into Knoxville to get the lay of the land and stock up on game day essentials. (The orange component of my wardrobe would multiply exponentially over the course of the trip.) We walked around campus and checked out the stadium. We also investigated the Vol Navy, an area along the river near the stadium where fans dock their boats beginning Friday afternoon on game weekends for a big, long tailgating party on the water.

Here's Josh walking in a crosswalk near Neyland Stadium on Friday. Tennessee's endzones are in that checkerboard pattern. I loved it! "And he's into the checkerboards!"

Saturday's game was a noon start, so we left the cabin just as the sun was rising, to be part of the festivities.

We were really decked out in the home team's colors, thanks to our shopping extravaganza the day before.

"No, no, I'm not trying to take a self-portrait of my ponytail ribbons at all."
Tennessee's season has not gone according to anyone's plan (with the exception of some notable individual offensive performances), and the fan base is really peeved about it. It affects attendance - the stadium's capacity is 102,000 and Saturday's game drew "only" 90,000 people - and it affects the mood on the streets. It was way quieter than the footage we saw from that Florida game, where students were lined up for the GameDay broadcast at, like, 6 a.m. But even a "quiet" SEC game is about a zillion times more wild than any college football I've seen - and the game day traditions were still in full swing.

Those traditions include the Vol Walk, a weekly routine during which the home team's players hop off their team bus two or three blocks from the stadium and walk the rest of the way in suits. I wanted prime seats for this, so we headed over early enough to get a front row spot.

We posed for a photo while we waited. It would turn out to be a sunny day, topping out at 70 degrees. Perfecto.

Meanwhile, two guys and their sons grabbed seats next to us, and one of the men noticed my Mankato Marathon chip still on my shoe (oops) and struck up a conversation about running. We started talking about Tennessee football, and he said as soon as his son had turned six earlier this year, they'd started going to football games on Saturdays together. He asked how long we'd been fans, we told him about my project (and how the Neyland experience factored into my decision), and he was loving the whole thing. He said to his son, "It's their very first Tennessee game! Isn't that cool?" and his son looked at me and said, "It's my fifth." Love it.

And then the bus pulled up, and the players got out, and the crowd started cheering.

I didn't take any other photos because I was too busy loving the experience. The players and coaches were giving high fives and greeting fans, especially young kids. It was pretty wonderful - and as we decided, fewer things would pump up an athlete more before a game.

Elsewhere in the pre-game festivities, it's very important to note that I met Smokey, the Tennessee mascot!!!!!

After the Vol Walk, there were a lot more fans milling around. We mingled.

And then we went into the stadium, about an hour before the game started. We watched warm-ups. You like those checkerboards, don't you?

The real reason for our early arrival was to get settled into our seats well before the next tradition, the Power T. The Vols' band, the Pride of the Southland Marching Band, marches across the field in the shape of the Tennessee T, then positions itself near one endzone, and the players run out through the T. How beloved is this tradition? As our new friend from the Vol Walk told us, the Power T would never fail to give him chills - and Josh had picked our tickets specifically with it in mind.

The stadium began to fill up, and by game time, it was a sea of orange. I have never, ever seen so much orange.

By halftime, the Vols were up 21-7, so we got to experience the energy of the stadium when the Vols were controlling the game. (In one word: amazing.) I had also gotten to hear the band play "Rocky Top," my favorite stadium tradition, what seemed like several hundred times. Unfortunately, we also watched that lead erode in the second half.

And then we watched not one, not two, not three, but four overtimes to determine the winner. And it wasn't Tennessee. We were part of a dejected crowd that couldn't quite believe what had happened as we all filed out of Neyland. The score-or-go-home overtimes made for an unbelievably exciting conclusion, with monster roars from the fans - but in the end, Tennessee fell to 0-6 in conference games, a record that is not acceptable to the fan base.

As the days passed, I'd understand the depth of that passion even better thanks to the local sports radio station, which hours and hours of Tennessee football analysis and discussion. On Tuesday - that's three full days after the game - callers were still going over specific plays and calls. They were endlessly debating the best decision for Tennessee's next coach - and the current coach (a big part of my Tennessee choice last year) hasn't even lost his job yet. And by all accounts, this is a down year, when fans aren't quite as into the season because of the win-loss record. (By the way, Josh downloaded that station's app for his phone, so we've been able to listen to more Tennessee football talk even after we got back to Minnesota. Very comforting.)

So there you have it: the game day experience for these two Rocky Top fans. We loved our time at Neyland Stadium. We'll just have to make another trip so we can see the Vols grab a win, in person, for ourselves.