Thursday, February 27, 2014

101 in 1,001 update: February 2014

With just over six months to go in my 101 in 1,001 list, I've checked off a few items since my last update. I think I'm at 56/101 complete now, with 17 more in progress!

Here's what I checked off the list this month:

#33 Go to a hot air balloon festival
Josh and I went to the Hot Air Affair balloon festival earlier this month, and it was amazing. I will jump at any chance to attend another hot air balloon festival.

#63 See my out-of-state friends at least once a year
My trip to Washington, D.C., earlier this month completed this goal! I didn't visit these friends simply to check an item off the list, obviously, but keeping this goal on the list reminded me how important it is to take care of these friendships.

#88 Participate in a soup exchange with friends
A few weeks back, Sara and I planned a soup exchange that she hosted at her house. Here's how it worked: six or seven households each brought a pot of soup and several containers. Sara had soup on the stove when everyone arrived, and we enjoyed soup and bread and salad before the soup exchange began. Then everyone introduced their soup (I brought a Moosewood chili), and each person got to choose three soups to bring home in the containers they had brought. It was very fun to have different soups for lunch that week, and it felt like a little treat from each person. Speaking of the guests: another neat aspect of the party was that none of the guests knew more than a couple of the other guests - we all just knew Sara - but the soups were a good icebreaker. I think it'd be a fun way to bring friends from different parts of your life together for a party.

In progress or about to be in progress:

#23 Visit the dentist four times
This month I notched my third visit since beginning the list. One more trip in August and I'm done! (With the goal, not with visiting the dentist.) Honestly, it has been good to have this item on the list to get me in a regular routine (because there's no good reason not to).

#38 Learn 10 phrases in a new language. I haven't picked my language yet, but when I was in Washington, Ellie showed me this website, Transparent Language's Word-a-Day, that she likes. I'm going to explore this goal soon.

#42 Research three issues in current events. I wrote this goal with the moment in mind when you say to yourself, I have absolutely no idea what's going on with [fill in the blank]. This week I am learning all about bitcoins.

#82 Cook one new recipe per month. This ongoing goal has been one of my favorites, both as motivation to seek out new recipes and a place to collect them. (And I just realized I haven't tried a new recipe yet for February! Luckily and coincidentally, perusing Cooking Light this morning yielded a ton of prospects.)

Here's the list so far: January 2012: bacon-butternut pasta, February 2012: samosa pie and daal with vegetables, March 2012: mini ham and cheese quinoa cups and quinoa mac and cheese, April 2012: sweet corn and quinoa with honey-lemon vinagrette, May 2012: salted nut roll bars, June 2012: caprese lasagna, July 2012: blueberry corn muffins, August 2012: pulled pork tacos, September 2012: Jamaican pumpkin soup, October 2012: pumpkin bread, November 2012: tortellini with pumpkin alfredo sauce, December 2012: chewy ginger cookies, January 2013: roasted potato soup, February 2013: spicy sausage pasta, March 2013: best birthday cake, April 2013: lemon blueberry marble cake, May 2013: southwestern quinoa and black bean casserole, June 2013: cilantro pesto, July 2013: zucchini-basil lasagna, August 2013: tomatillo salsa verde, September 2013: sweet corn and bacon skillet mac and cheese, October 2013: lasagna soup, November 2013: pecan pie, December 2013: vanilla-bourbon peanut brittle, January 2014: slow-cooked carnitas

#96 Learn three poems by heart. I have a few poems sitting next to my computer on my desk, ready to be memorized.

In the "oops" category:
I tried to make a snowman one day last week (that's #13 on the list) when it was warmer and the snow around me was too deep to get it started. Yikes. There are 21 inches of snow on the ground. The snowman will have to wait.

This has been a very long and cold winter, and having a ready-made list of ideas and projects on which I can draw has been just one of the list's unexpected added bonuses. But I am ready to shift my focus to the spring and summer goals. Cartwheel, here I come?!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Shadow Falls: winter edition

On yesterday's run I ventured down to the Shadow Falls trail, a rare treat. This place is fairly new to me, but I have a soft spot in my heart for it because it's right in St. Paul, next to a busy road and pedestrian path, but it feels so quiet and peaceful. The little half-mile path leads to a waterfall, which I discovered last year in late March. Josh and I visited again in early June, but it was too muddy to get to the waterfall. (We also went there for some of our engagement photos later that month.)

Yesterday was the first time I've seen the area in the winter, covered in snow. The path was neatly packed down by the ice climbers, hikers and runners that use the trail in the winter. I ran over to the waterfall and looked at it (frozen and covered in snow!) from up high but didn't hike down to see it up-close.

First amazement: after an extremely cold winter, the creek is still open:

I think this stream will always remind me of our Tennessee hike back in November 2012, but the memory was even stronger this time because the stream was steaming, just like the creek in Tennessee had been steaming at the end of our hike.

Second amazement: the snow had frozen on the rocks in the prettiest way:

Third amazement: I haven't seen anything green in nature in months, but tucked in this little creek in the ravine, here we are:

I also loved the little footbridge at one stream crossing, covered in snow:

I only had a few minutes to explore, but I love rediscovering this place in each season.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Marvelous Monday: Week 8

It's Monday, and that means five marvelous tidbits to begin the week:

1) Yesterday was a great day with family and friends. We spent the afternoon at my parents' house for my sister's birthday celebration, which had been pushed back to Sunday because of the snow that fell on Thursday night. One of Wish's favorite things in the world is my parents' fenced-in backyard, and this time, my mom had stomped down a big figure-8 path with her snowshoes so he could run back there in the snow. I thought this was a little bit funny until I saw him try to run outside the figure-8 and plunge into snow that's possibly deeper than he is tall (or at least close to it). He loved running around back there.

And one of the whole crew around the cherry-chocolate-cream torte (we love the timer function on cameras now):

On our way back home, Josh dropped me off in time to catch the last part of book club (less book club and more baby snuggles for me, but I heard the book was discussed) and then we met up to celebrate another friend's birthday over pizza and the closing ceremonies.

2) On Saturday I got back to my long run routine and got eight miles in. I wore my Yak Trax over my shoes for the first time this winter, and the run was infinitely better because of it. (Total credit for this goes to my husband, who asked if I was wearing them as I headed out the door!) Most of the sidewalks were shoveled, but the Yak Trax were great for the sometimes-loose and sometimes-packed snow. No speed records were broken, but I caught up on some podcasts and felt good about the run.

3) Per last week's Marvelous Monday, over the weekend I did assemble our holiday cards into a little keepsake book with the help of a three-hole punch and some ribbon. Thanks to Natty for the idea!

4) Josh and I finished the fifth and final season of "Friday Night Lights" over the weekend. Not marvelous: it's over. Marvelous: I loved it. Next up: I think we'll circle back to the final season of "The Wire."

5) It's almost March, but temperatures are going in the wrong direction this week. I am glad to be buoyed by the prospect of another run outside today (and maybe Wednesday) and some fun plans this week with friends.

What's nice about the start of your week? What are you looking forward to in the days ahead? Do tell!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Weekend in Washington

My friend Nat is having a baby!! (Soon!)

She was just out of her first trimester at our wedding back in September, and I was really hoping I'd be able to fly out to Nat and Mike's home in Washington, D.C., to see them either right before or right after the baby was born. Then we found out that two of their friends were planning a shower for them in February. I booked my flight while our friend Ellie was making her plans to come down from New York via train and automobile!

This was my second trip to Washington, after last April's visit for the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run. That whole weekend, Nat and I were on the go: museums, a guided cherry blossom running tour, walking around the city, running the race, and so on. And to be clear: I wouldn't have had it any other way. We had a wonderful time. This time around, the visit was less structured. We had the baby shower, of course, and one other scheduled activity (read on!), but outside of that, it was so nice to have lots of time to just catch up. I was only there from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon, but it felt longer (in the best way) because of how much we all got to talk (see: our 2 a.m. lights-out on Friday).

Saturday afternoon brought the main event: the baby shower!

The party was at D.C. restaurant Thomas Foolery, which has the tagline "Little-kid food. Big-kid drinks. Toys for all ages." That meant grilled cheese and grilled PB&J sandwiches, fruit roll-ups, Pop Rocks, Mario Kart and a Lite-Brite and hopscotch - and hula hoops!

I also tried my first bottle of cheerwine. I've read about it before but never seen it in a store or restaurant - if I've got this right, it's a North Carolina specialty - so when I saw it on the menu, I knew I had to try. It's a soda (no wine involved) that tastes like cherry coke but maybe a little sweeter on the cherry and less fizzy (to me). I loved it.

It was great to meet more of Mike and Natty's friends and to celebrate all together. This picture (posted earlier in the week) is from near the end of the party. We are very happy but very full of cupcakes and cookies and Pop Rocks.

I think the only really quiet time in the whole weekend (besides sleeping) happened when we got back from the baby shower and needed about half an hour to recuperate. We rebounded while Natty cooked a wonderful dinner, and then we looked at teeny baby clothes and tried to keep Sophie the Giraffe away (or not) from their dog, who was wildly curious.

The dog! Nat and Mike are fabulous people, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one of the other beloved creatures at their house. I always look forward to seeing this guy.

We were determined to get to bed earlier than the previous night because we had an earlier wake-up call on Sunday, but then Nat proposed a friendship bracelet-making session, and we had to do it.

For some reason my childhood included no friendship bracelet-making experiences, so I was fascinated. We each chose our three colors from her embroidery floss pile, and then she taught us how to weave them together. Her fingers were flying back and forth as she wove the bracelet, and I thought I might be in for a rough time, but after one botched first try, I figured it out.

And then we had a photo session to model our bracelets with the dog as our enthusiastic prop.

On Sunday morning, we had the opportunity to tour the White House's West Wing (a huge, huge thank you to Nat and Mike's family member who arranged this and gave us the tour!). I was so excited when I found out this was happening!

It was cool that morning but brilliantly sunny. The view from the security checkpoint:

And here we are at the West Wing entrance:

W walked through the West Wing and saw the beautiful photography hanging on the walls as well as conference rooms, the Rose Garden and the hallway leading to the president's residence - and we got to peek into the Oval Office! After seeing it depicted so frequently in photographs and movie scenes, I couldn't believe I was seeing it for myself in person. It's an amazing room.

I had a similar reaction when we walked through the briefing room (where photos were allowed, unlike other areas of the West Wing).

Then we made our way outside to head over to the Old Executive Office Building. Here is the mama-to-be's shadow:

This building houses lots of White House staff offices. It was gorgeous.

For example, this hallway:

We pretended Ellie was hard at work:

I loved the details.

At one spot along the hallway, Ellie whispered, "Come here and look down!"

After our tour, we got bagels and headed back to the apartment for a bagel brunch.

Before I knew it, it was time to make my way back to the airport. All three members of the household were able to accompany me for the drive.

I am grateful for weekends like these, the chances to build on these longstanding friendships. All of us met a decade ago because we went to the same college, and on this visit Ellie and I were both feeling particularly sentimental during our time with Nat and Mike, a few weeks before these great friends become parents. I am so excited for them - and can't wait to meet the new addition to their family when she arrives.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Midweek update

Wow - this week is flying. Here are a few updates (all from today):
  • I received a clean and cavity-free bill of health from the dentist today. Whew.
  • Today it was 40 degrees and I ran two miles with Wish and three more on my own. The part with Wish was slow going because he hates puddles, so he would gingerly and disdainfully try to avoid them at all costs (which didn't work out well, considering that our route was about 70 percent puddles). It was still nice to get outside with him - and really nice to not have to wear gloves or any kind of hat or headband!
  • Tonight: the monthly craft night I've been doing with a few friends. This month's installment included more crafting than usual (with the Olympics on in the background), pizza and a bundt cake. I also got to see our friends' baby as well as one of the sweetest bulldogs I could ever hope to meet.
That's a good, full Wednesday. It felt great to get out before the snow flies again tomorrow.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Marvelous Monday: Week 7

I'm still grinning from my weekend in Washington with my friends. Ellie and I traveled there to attend a baby shower honoring Nat and her husband and their soon-to-arrive baby!

I believe we talked nearly continuously for the hours that we were awake. It was so great to have a couple of days to catch up with these dear friends, who have been part of my life for more than a decade, and so special to be able to celebrate with the two wonderful soon-to-be parents in person. (A big thanks to Nat and her husband for hosting us!)

The week is already marvelous because of those friends. More marvelous tidbits:

1) This morning in Minnesota, winter kept on truckin' with four or five inches of fresh snow. I got out for a few miles this afternoon for the first time in a few days. In Washington, I got a preview of what 40 degrees feels like, and I am looking forward to that temperature this week in Minnesota.

2) On my run, I saw a little girl learning how to skate on a neighborhood ice rink, using a folding chair for balance.

3) Josh cleaned the house today and I cleaned my side of the closet out this evening. I am very excited.

4) We're celebrating my sister's birthday with the family later this week.

5) I had been pondering a good way to preserve our holiday cards (which are still up), and learned this weekend that for the last couple of years, Nat has been punching two holes in each card and then stringing them all together with ribbon to form a little book. I love this idea and hope to try it this week.

The Olympics are on TV in the background and there are cowbells ringing, and they are rallying tonight's blogging. Cowbells are sort of appropriate for Marvelous Monday.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Back home

I got to spend the weekend with some dear people in Washington, DC!

I'm back in Minnesota now and will tell you more about the whirlwind trip soon, but I'm starting the week with a happy, full heart after spending wonderful time with my friends.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A two-day Valentine's Day

Partly because I will be out of town this weekend, Valentine's Day festivities started yesterday. Besides this practical reason for celebrating early, Josh and I also decided that, because we got married on the 13th (of September), it would be fun to keep celebrating a day early in the years ahead as a little midwinter shout-out to our wedding day. We went out on the town last night and had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant that we love and hadn't visited in ages.

One of my colleagues kicked off the celebration yesterday, too. She handed out little packages filled with M&Ms, a little plastic shovel, and a heart-shaped note attached that read I DIG YOU. It was amazing and I loved the whole thing.

I dig you all, too. Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sparkly trees

When I saw that amazing sun dog last week, it made me think of another beloved winter meteorological phenomenon of mine: hoarfrost. I usually notice hoarfrost once or twice each winter, and so far, it had evaded my observation.

And what do you know? This morning the trees were sparkling.

I don't know if it was full-fledged hoarfrost, exactly, or just a fun twist on a regular old frost. All I know is that the light shining through the trees was pretty nice.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Marvelous Monday: Week 6

This weekend included volunteering at the Valentine's Day TC 5K at Lake Harriet, a few Friday Night Lights episodes, pad thai, the hot air balloons and the annual White Elephant birthday party with my extended family. My parents host it, and this year was the first at their new house. It was a great afternoon (with a Mardi Gras inspiration to boot - credit my brother for the idea!).

Here is our traditional waving photo. My brother is hiding behind my husband's hand.

I keep laughing whenever I look back at this photo. Recapping this party might have to be a separate post.

Five more nice tidbits to begin the week:

1) I get to see some dear friends later this week and am so excited.

2) I've had the ingredients for no-boil macaroni and cheese since Friday and finally made it for dinner tonight. I like this recipe a lot.

3) This week includes both Valentine's Day and my sister's birthday!

4) My mom lent me The Language of Flowers yesterday. It was perfect timing, because I was just about to look for a new book.

5) I read today that this winter in Minnesota has been the coldest one in 32 years. The marvelous part: beginning tomorrow, the temperatures are climbing upward!

What's marvelous about the beginning of your week? What's for dinner tonight (or later this week)? And what are you reading now?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Hot air balloon festival

Yesterday I saw a hot air balloon mass ascension, and it was about as amazing as I thought it might be.

I've wanted to go to a hot air balloon festival for years, and when I made my 101 in 1,001 list, I put that goal in writing. I narrowed my options down to a few festivals: the famous one in Albuquerque, one near Josh's hometown, and a local one I stumbled across through a quick Google search.

This is Hot Air Affair, a festival held annually in February in Hudson, Wisconsin, which is about half an hour away. Hot Air Affair celebrated its 25th anniversary this weekend, so it has been around a lot longer than when I first found out about it a few years ago. That's also when I learned that coordinating a hot air balloon launch is a precise and challenging task, especially in Minnesota in February. Per Hot Air Affair's website, there needs to be a light wind (but less than eight miles per hour), good visibility, and either sunshine or high cloud ceilings. The festival hosts several launches each weekend, and in 2012, Josh and I tried to go twice but conditions ruled out a launch both times.

This year, we were in luck! We were about halfway to Hudson when we got word via Twitter that the afternoon launch was on!

When we arrived at the elementary school site that hosts the festival, we went over to the field, where plenty of people had gathered for the launch. One balloon was preparing. It was hard to get a sense of how many balloons there would be, but I was already in awe.

We popped inside the school for a minute, and I loved the concession area's decorations: hot air balloons hanging from the ceiling, of course.

When we went back outside, that balloon was in the air already!

Trucks and trailers kept rolling in with more and more balloons, and each crew would go through the steps to prepare its balloon. The whole event happened over about an hour, and I'd guess three dozen balloons lifted off during that time. It was neat to see several waves of set-up, preparation, and launching. I loved all the colors. In addition to the traditional bright stripes, there was one balloon that looked like a fish and one that had tomatoes and horses and butterflies on it.

Even with overcast skies, the balloons in the air were magnificent. The crowd was loving it, and the people in each balloon's basket would wave as the balloon lifted into the air.


It was beautiful. I went into the day hoping but not expecting to see a launch, and this was a wonderful surprise. I have a hunch that this will be among my 101 in 1,001 list's highlights.