Thursday, July 31, 2014

Proud of this sister

Last night my mom and brother and I went to see my sister perform with her drum and bugle corps. It was an outdoor show - and a perfect night for it - and 10 groups took the field over the course of the evening.

We caught her for a quick greeting before the show during her warm-ups:

And at the end of the evening, after the sun set, her drum and bugle corps took the field for the closing performance:

My mom had the camera and tracked her down with the zoom lens:

It was my first time seeing her group perform this season. Like previous shows, I left feeling immense pride for my sister: the energy and skill she brings, how she has grown as a percussionist, how she and the rest of the ensemble collaborate so closely to make each performance as seamless as possible.

Congratulations to her, and everyone, for a great show!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A year of monthly photos

Yesterday, all of a sudden, I realized that my monthly photo goal is complete!

#73 on my 101 in 1,001 list: Take a photo of the same place every month for a year.

Last summer I chose a spot on Summit Avenue that I run by fairly often, a place that's open enough to illustrate seasonal change. And as simple as it was, I loved this project. I loved snapping a photo once a month and seeing the changes over the course of one year.

The most consistent time period turned out to be the summer, with quite a bit of month-to-month contrast in almost every other season. One of my favorite pairs is December 2013 and January 2014, two photos I expected to look nearly identical: blue sky, bare tree branches, deep snow. I loved seeing that the footprint paths in the snow had changed over the month.

Here are my 12 photos, from August 2013 to July 2014:

August 2013

September 2013

October 2013

November 2013

December 2013

January 2014

February 2014

March 2014

April 2014

May 2014

June 2014

July 2014

I liked this project so much I think I'll keep it going for another year, in a different place.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Visiting the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

With a handful of summer Friday afternoons left, I'm brainstorming little outdoors-oriented trips around town to make the most out of the season. One destination on my list for awhile: the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen. The only other time I remember visiting the arboretum was for our friends' wedding four years ago, and of course, I didn't spend much time that day wandering around the arboretum grounds. (I love this: to celebrate their anniversary, they had returned to their wedding site earlier in the week to take a closer look at the gardens themselves!)

On Friday afternoon, I drove about 40 minutes west to the arboretum and paid the $12 admission fee at the entrance gate. From there, you can park at the main visitor center and walk through many of the arboretum's 32 gardens within a hundred yards of that building—or you can explore, per the website, "more than 1,100 acres of gardens and tree collections, prairie and woods and miles of trails." My plan was somewhere in the middle: I was hoping for a nice long walk, but would also love to come back to run, ski or snowshoe the trails.

I started looking through the first few gardens...

...then wandered into the rose gardens, home to a gazebo I liked...

...and then realized I had almost bypassed the entrance to the Cloistered Herb Garden (and Kitchen Herb Garden!):

The herb gardens were a great example of the arboretum's educational elements. Most plants were identified, of course, but also scattered throughout the garden were tidbits about an herb's history or tips on how to use an herb. This is where the arboretum really started to feel not just like a collection of gardens, but a vibrant outdoor museum. It actually reminded me right away of the Desert Museum in Tucson, which I visited a few years ago and loved!

This little spot was near the Kitchen Herb Garden and was just as refreshing as it looks.

Early in my visit, I was introduced right away to the featured Nature in Glass exhibit, artist Craig Mitchell Smith's striking series of 32 glass sculptures placed all over the gardens. The glass poppies in this picture of the annual garden are part of "Poppies of Oz":

After I browsed the gardens near the visitor center, I decided to venture out onto Three-Mile Drive, a scenic tour more or less around the arboretum's outer perimeter. It's a one-way, one-lane road designed for cars, bikes and pedestrians. See the little pedestrian lane?

Three-Mile Drive winds through both wooded areas and open spaces like the one pictured above. On my Friday afternoon visit, a car passed me every few minutes, and I saw five or six other pedestrians. There are lots of options to cut the loop shorter, and I decided to take a leisurely stroll to see the arboretum's full range of collections. A lot of the shrub and tree collections were along this loop, and I loved the hydrangea collection.

My favorite stop on Three-Mile Drive, though, was the prairie section, with lots of little paths to explore the prairie plants and flowers.

Along Three-Mile Drive, in addition to other collections and a sculpture garden (not pictured), there is also a maze designed for families:

I tried my hand at the maze, took a few quick wrong turns, and left before I spent the rest of my afternoon in it. One dead end:

And soon enough, I was back to the main visitor center. The gardens bloom at different times, of course, and even the ones that aren't in season were pretty. There's a peony walk lined with all kinds of peony bushes, which will likely draw me back to the arboretum earlier in the season next year. And look at the iris garden!

Ready for my tips on visiting the arboretum and walking Three-Mile Drive?
  • If you want to walk Three-Mile Drive, dress for it. This advice seems like common sense, but I was dressed for a casual garden stroll in a maxidress and flipflops (Chaco flipflops, but flipflops nonetheless) and pleasantly surprised to find a longer walking tour option. If I were to visit again on my own, I would dress for the activity: I'd probably pretend I was going for a run and wear shorts, a tank top and running shoes (or at least regular Chaco sandals).
  • Consider what you want to carry. I carried my purse on my shoulder the whole way, which was okay, but I would probably bring a little drawstring backpack next time.
  • Bring refreshments (at least a bottle of water). I would have brought my lunch. There are lots of benches along the way that are perfect for stopping for a little picnic!
  • Allow enough time to be leisurely. You could definitely visit the central gardens quickly, but the arboretum is no place to rush through. Wander around and take a closer look at the gardens that pique your interest. Take in your surroundings. I even saw some visitors relaxing on a bench and reading a book, and it looked wonderful.
I loved exploring the arboretum—and I'd welcome the chance to visit again in different seasons.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lifetime Torchlight 5K race report

This week I ran the Life Time Torchlight 5K race in Minneapolis - for the first time in 12 years!

During the summer after I graduated from high school, I was building up to my first half-marathon and logging more mileage than previous summers. I remember doing a handful of races around town, including the Life Time Torchlight 5K. I have happy memories from this race but didn't make a point to register again over the years, mostly because the weeknight July evening is usually hot and the race-day logistics on the point-to-point course in downtown Minneapolis are trickier than the Saturday morning races I like. Then my friend Kate invited me to run this year's race with her, with her employer offering discounted registration for staff and their friends and family. I don't have much structure in my running this summer but still wanted to run a few fun races, and all of a sudden, this 5K sounded great!

Now that I've run it again—especially because I attended the event with a friend instead of solo—I see that the reasons I've ducked this race are actually what make it such a fun event (well, except for the summer evening temperatures). With races so rarely held on weeknights, running a 5K on a Wednesday night instead of the usual weekend morning felt novel. The point-to-point course was neat, especially because the finish line was across the (oft-mentioned lately on this blog) Stone Arch Bridge. And the logistics did require more planning, but it was easier and more fun to coordinate with a friend (and especially nice that her employer distributed bibs and t-shirts well in advance!).

I drove over to Minneapolis and parked near the finish line at about 6 p.m., then met Kate a few blocks away from the starting line. Because of how the course was mapped, I couldn't cut too much off the 5K distance and ended up running a little over two miles, meandering over to downtown Minneapolis for an early warmup.

Kate and I walked over to the starting area and hung out until race organizers started sending everyone into the start corrals. The start was at the Basilica of St. Mary, and there were a lot of people milling around.

When we lined up in the start corrals, we learned via the loudspeakers that 6,000 runners were registered for this race. That's why it felt so crowded!

The race began one wave at a time, the starts staggered to avoid the new Green Line trains crossing the course.

I loved the first few blocks. The first part of the course went straight down Hennepin Avenue, matching the route for the Aquatennial festival's parade that started just after the 5K. Crowds were lining Hennepin even when we arrived in the early evening, which also meant great spectator support. The early blocks must have been a gradual downhill, the runners spread out across all four lanes of Hennepin, the pavement was so smooth, and it felt like my feet were barely touching the ground. 

It was so easy to start out too fast. I tried to hold back the way I had at the Pork Chop Trot a few weeks earlier, keeping my pace at what felt like a hard but sustainable effort, and I was happy with that plan. The temperatures were in the low 80s and the sunshine was really warm, but the humidity was amazingly low for July in Minnesota. I wasn't aiming for a PR, but my hope was to run faster than I had at Pork Chop Trot. Like that race, I had intentionally left my watch at home so I could run by effort.

We ran down Hennepin, then turned on 3rd Street to start heading toward the Stone Arch Bridge. I really liked the whole course: there were a couple of short segments, then a loop around Gold Medal Park by the Guthrie Theatre before heading down the West River Parkway hill and turning onto the Stone Arch Bridge for the finish. My personal strategy to break up a 5K race is to get a few minutes past the first mile marker and note that I'm about halfway done, get to the second mile marker and know there's less than 10 minutes left, and then try to hang on with a steady pace to the finish. This race fit very nicely into that approach: there was nearly a full mile on Hennepin, then I just had to work my way toward the West River Parkway downhill and the Stone Arch Bridge's long finishing stretch. My mistake in previewing the course map was not noting whether the finish was right at the end of the bridge or slightly beyond, but I figured out early enough on the bridge that there was still a little stretch past the bridge (not very far, though).

(I did not take this picture during the race but instead doubled back afterward to catch another wave approaching the finish line.)

What happened next was a funny little challenge that I don't remember happening to me at a race before and now wish would happen more often. I glimpsed a couple of different times on the finish line clock because of the wave starts, and with no watch on my wrist, I didn't have any idea of my finish time for two hours afterward. (The actual and accurate results, adjusted for each runner's chip, were already online when I got home.) So I had to make an early conclusion about how the race went for me without the one piece of data that, for better or worse, so often guides our entire reaction to our race efforts. My approach to racing has varied tremendously—I've raced many times entirely by feel and many times aiming for a precise time goal—but this experience was a new one and a healthy one. I decided I was happy with my pacing and happy with my effort on a warm evening run, and I felt really good about how it went.

Later that night, I saw the results and learned that my Torchlight 5K time was five seconds slower than my Pork Chop Trot time. My snap reaction went along the lines of "Argh!" - until I remembered how positively I felt about my race effort before I knew my finish time. That time is a key piece of feedback, but it need not dictate entirely how I feel about my 5K that night. A few days later, I'm more tickled that I ran two 5Ks this month, on very different courses, at different times of day and in different weather conditions, within five seconds of each other. How does that happen!?

At the finish line, I was excited to see some of my favorite post-race treats: pretzels, Salted Nut Rolls, and popsicles! But that wasn't even the end of the refreshments. I found Kate, and we got to visit the Allina tent for refreshing pasta salad, wraps, cheese and fruit—another much-appreciated perk connected to our registration.

I give the Life Time Torchlight 5K high marks. The course and crowds were fun, the t-shirt is really lovely, and it was a fun evening with Kate. My 5K races this month are a benchmark for what I hope is more structured 5K training in August and September. And I won't wait 12 years before running this race again!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Visiting Mill Ruins Park

Last weekend I got to practice some local tourism in Minneapolis for a marvelous, unexpected window.

Josh needed to go into work for a couple of hours before we met our friends at Medicine Lake, so rather than driving separately later, I decided to go with him and visit the Mill City Farmers Market while he was in the office. I've always wanted to check out this farmers market but in past summers had been doing long runs on Saturday mornings when it's open, so it never worked out.

The market is next to the Guthrie Theatre, with many of the vendors in the Mill City Museum's historic train shed. I got there at 11 a.m. (too late for blueberries!) and there was a great crowd. I liked wandering through a farmers market in a new-to-me place.

I've been picking up a bouquet of flowers at the farmers market (usually the St. Paul one) most weekends this summer, so although it wasn't entirely practical given that day's upcoming trip to the lake, I still had my eye out for flowers. At one table, I noticed a bouquet composed entirely of snapdragons of all colors, and any sense of practicality flew out the window.

I liked my market visit a lot, but here's where the true little adventure begins: I decided to amble back to Target Field (and maybe the main Minneapolis Farmers Market) the long way, via the river parkway. I walked down the street toward Mill Ruins Park, across the street from the Mill City Museum. Just for fun, because I wasn't in any hurry, I wandered a few steps into the park and saw a new view of the museum and theatre right away:

And then I noticed that people were walking on paths way below the ruins and the Stone Arch Bridge. (I think I really said "What!?" out loud, followed by "How did they get there?!") Cradling the huge bouquet of snapdragons in one arm a tad awkwardly, I followed the sidewalk around the corner toward the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam, an area I had previously thought was restricted.

And all of a sudden, I found myself almost literally under the Stone Arch Bridge...

...and then literally under the Stone Arch Bridge!

I've run over the Stone Arch Bridge many times, but always with a focus on getting across and turning left to make my way back to St. Paul (or admiring the skyline at bridge level). I had no idea it was possible to wander under the bridge's first few arches. The museum, theatre and "Gold Medal Flour" sign are an iconic view of Minneapolis, and it was pretty amazing to be gifted with an entirely different perspective.

I love being caught by surprise like this in a place I thought I knew well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Letterboxing: Round 2

Earlier this summer, my friend Kate and I figured out that we both often had time on Friday afternoons for some local adventures. Our schedules finally aligned last week, and we decided to visit a nearby park for more letterboxing!

A refresher on letterboxing per Atlas Quest, a resource on the activity:
Letterboxing is an intriguing pastime combining artistic ability with delightful "treasure-hunts" in beautiful, scenic places that the whole family can enjoy. Participants seek out hidden letterboxes by following clues, and then record their discovery in their personal journal with the help of a rubber stamp that's part of the letterbox.
Kate introduced me to letterboxing last summer at Thompson County Park in West St. Paul, and this year she suggested a site that turned out to be practically adjacent to that park: Kaposia Park in South St. Paul, across a bridge from Thompson County Park.

I had it in my head that we were going to the same park as last year and got confused when the directions led me to a parking lot that I didn't recognize at all. I was googling search terms and actually figured out the difference when my own blog post recap from last year popped up in the search results to assist. (That was kind of strange!) At that moment, Kate also arrived and we got started.

Well, I'm leaving out some information. Kate arrived, yes, but our expedition was a group of three this year! Kate's family started letterboxing together when she was in high school, and I was thrilled to be part of her baby's first letterboxing adventure.

Last time we did this, we participated in what's called a series: a group of letterboxes connected to each other and in order. This time we decided to just find a few individual boxes. One got the best of us, so we switched gears and started down a long descent in search of another letterbox.

It truly was that green all over the park...

...with the exception of lots of blackberries:

One wonderful part of letterboxing is tromping (respectfully) through the woods, using everything from paved paths to deer trails to fallen trees as guides. Near the woods pictured above, we found a letterbox named "Night Fliers" that had been visited by another group just the day before. (The name corresponds to the hand-carved stamp that's in the little box you're trying to find.)

Here is the "Night Fliers" clue:
"Park in the lot of Kaposia Park. Cross the bridge to Thompson County Park. Shortly after the bridge, you will see two wide dirt paths that branch off from the paved path. Take the one on the right. The path will curve to the right and you will see cut limbs on the right side of the path. Just before the path curves to the left, stop. Look into the woods on the left. Take 17 steps to the fallen tree with an upright stump in the woods. Look at the base of the fallen tree and stump (under the trunk). You will find these night fliers under bark and leaves."
The bridge to Thompson County Park:

Everything I remember about last summer's letterboxing held true again this year: the fun activity to do with friends and family, the reason to visit a new local park, the neat challenge of observing and interacting with your surroundings closely enough to find the letterbox, and the great care the letterboxing community invests in this quiet hobby. I hope the second half of 2014 includes at least one more letterboxing adventure.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Garden update: Week 8

In the last few days, it feels like our garden plot entered pandemonium. My hunch is that it's the combination of less pouring rain and more seasonable summer temperatures, but whatever is happening, things really seemed to accelerate into action this week. So far, I have harvested purple beans (and then more purple beans), rosemary, a jalapeno pepper, and a big bunch of lettuce.

Here's the garden in mid-June:

And a month later (from the opposite viewpoint):

I haven't been using the herb garden too much yet, but that will change soon (I googled "what to do with lots of oregano" this week). The dill is still flowering, though I've been cutting off pieces to keep in a vase at home. My favorite part of this area of the garden is all the vibrant shades of green. Here's most of the wild herb garden, with the rosemary just out of the picture:

Next up: the purple beans. The main group of bean plants is producing beans right now, and there's a second, slightly smaller group that's about two weeks behind and just starting to flower.

Also visible in that picture to the right: the tomato tree. Another tomato plant got out of the gates faster, but this one is taller now - and taller than I remember last year's plants. I took the next picture on one mid-run visit not to check "selfie with a tomato plant" off my list of dream photo opportunities but to give context for the plant's height. "This plant is out of control," my mildly bewildered expression reads.

This isn't new, but one of this year's highlights continues to be the climbing and flowering beans, my first attempt at adding something to a garden layout just for decoration.

Speaking of climbing vines, this is the view across from my plot's fence. I don't know whose plot it is, but I love the morning glories.

After a slow and erratic start, the lettuce is growing fast now. This is pre-harvest. I thought it would only be a few leaves, but it filled up one of those little paper lunch bags and is growing back pretty quickly already.

Other updates: The jalapeño plant is full of peppers, but the poblano is still very quiet. I tried to transplant some more onions from a batch left at the garden, but they didn't do well. The basil is coming along slowly, but I'm hoping a few hot days this week will help speed that process up. I think there is Swiss chard coming up, too, but that could still be weeds.

In other "weeds versus not weeds" news, earlier this month as I was pulling up weeds by the purple beans, I noticed that I was ripping up plants that looked like tomatoes...and happened to smell like tomatoes, too. I'm about 80 percent sure that these plants grew from a few unpicked cherry tomatoes that sank into the ground at the end of last year's growing season. I left a couple of remaining seedlings in the ground and transplanted the two I had pulled up, so I will either have more tomatoes than anticipated later in the season - or I just transplanted some hearty weeds. Time will tell.

I'm waiting now for the summer garden's next milestone: the first ripe tomatoes, likely in the next week or two!