Sunday, August 31, 2014

Garden update: Week 14

I botched this year's garden plan a little bit. Namely, with the exception of herbs and jalapenos and a handful of lingering purple beans here and there, the main crop coming out of the garden in August is tomatoes: big tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, all kinds of tomatoes. Even the volunteer tomato plants I spotted earlier in the summer are starting to produce tomatoes. Next year, I will plan for a little more variety in late-summer production: some summer squash, carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, maybe an even later round of beans.

But just to be clear: I really love those tomatoes. On Friday I stopped by the garden on a whim after a day or two away to see what was happening. The photo below is what had happened in the short time between visits.

I harvested more this morning, and I think that calls for some salsa.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday notes

Three notes for Friday morning:

1) One of my ongoing goals is to cook one new recipe each month, and I realized over the weekend that I hadn't tried any new recipes yet in August. Monday's solution: sausage and sweet potato zucchini lasagna from Pinch of Yum, a blog with lots of recipes I enjoy. I was unsure about how it would turn out, but I loved the flavors (especially the ancho chili powder!) and it helped me use up a big zucchini that my mom brought from my grandma's farm. Cheers to the 101 in 1,001 list for nudging me to try something new!

2) The college football season is underway!! This is our fourth year as University of Tennessee fans (read this post for context if you're curious - I can't believe it has been four years!), and the team opens its season on Sunday night at home in front of more than 100,000 fans. (One neat storyline: this year's legacy class, a group of incoming athletes whose fathers also played in the University of Tennessee football program. This is a big deal for a fan base that values this program's history and traditions, and this week I came across this article on Twitter that tells that story beautifully.) This season may be a bit of a rollercoaster for the young Volunteers. But much like how I feel on baseball's Opening Day in April: right now anything can happen!

3) I cleaned and packed a little bit last night, and as I was noting the contents of one box (specifically "CRAFTS/SEWING"), I thought of one of my favorite box labels of all time (seen on a trip to California three years ago this month!).

I might have to find my household's own dog costumes this weekend.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A big week

Over the past week, I've gotten to spend some wonderful time with my dear friend, her husband and their new baby, at the hospital and back at home. I have shared many great memories with her, beginning more than a decade ago during our sophomore year of college, but these visits are without a doubt a new highlight.

Last night we got Dairy Queen Blizzards and then sat at the kitchen table with the baby and the pup while the new mother caught me up on the last few days.

I am so, so happy for this family.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kayaking with Sara

Today Sara and I figured out that, two years ago this week exactly, we were on our Boundary Waters canoe trip together. It was kind of fitting, then, that we'd made plans to kayak on the Chain of Lakes tonight - for our first time paddling together since that trip!

Even though it was a perfect late summer night for being out on the water - 70-75 degrees or so - the lakes were much quieter than when I visited on a Friday afternoon a couple of weeks back. And the sky was spectacular! We paddled around a little bit of Calhoun, Isles and Cedar and watched the sun get lower. Sometimes we just sat in our kayaks and drifted.

My little scrapbook for the evening:

I give weeknight kayaking a ringing, resounding endorsement.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Brother's birthday

As part of my brother's birthday festivities tonight, we got out the timer function on my camera!

We thought one hand on my brother's shoulder might look posed, so we figured we should all try it.

The cake is the traditional caterpillar cupcake train. Also a tradition: the wave photo. This was for my dad, who was there for part of the evening but had to leave for a work trip before the candles were lit.

This celebration was a very good start to the week.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Biking the Cannon Valley Trail

This summer, I've been seeking out outdoor adventures on Friday afternoons - the kind that sound like fun summer activities but sometimes stay in the wishlist category when the season gets away from you. Once in awhile I had to fight the urge to go straight to the couch and the DVR, but each little adventure has been so worth it: I've loved visiting new places (and favorite places) around the Twin Cities. With summer hours at work wrapping up this week, I wanted to cap off this series of mini-adventures well.

The plan: Check off #19 on my 101 in 1,001 list: Go for a very long bike ride. The destination: the Cannon Valley Trail, a 20-mile point-to-point paved trail that connects Cannon Falls to Red Wing in southeastern Minnesota. (I was deciding between this trail and the Gateway Trail that links St. Paul to Stillwater, so I'm hoping to venture up the Gateway Trail this fall.) The fun thing about the Cannon Valley Trail is that it seems much farther away on the map than it really is: I think it took me about 35 minutes to drive there. I parked in Cannon Falls at the trailhead, then started out on my bike ride.

The trail meanders out of Cannon Falls neighborhoods pretty quickly, and I bought my $4 daily pass at the first mile marker and then settled in for the ride. The whole trail traces a former Chicago Great Western Railroad line, so it's flat - it descends 115 feet into Red Wing, so while there are a few spots on the return trip where I noticed an uphill slope, it was all very gradual. And the trail stretches on and on in a beautiful way:

It also follows the Cannon River, and at several points, I could see people on innertubes and kayaks, floating down the river. The day started out overcast, but the sun was out in full force by the time I got back to my car: a good day to be out on the water.

There are several rest stops along the way, but the main one between Cannon Falls and Red Wing is Welch.

At Welch Station (remember the railroad history!) there are restrooms and a drinking fountain and spots to stretch out for a picnic.

There is also a neat wall depicting the Cannon Valley Trail's route.

My key mistake for the entire trip, I learned after I got home, was not wandering the one-third mile away from the trail to see the town of Welch. One of my hopes going into the bike ride was to find ice cream somewhere along the route, and based on the Trip Advisor reviews I read afterward, it sounds like there is a delightful ice cream shop in Welch that I think I would have enjoyed very much (especially on the return trip).

I continued onward without awareness of this ice cream shop, and the trail got more rural. The well-marked trail included caution signs for every type of intersection, whether it was a road or a mountain bike path.  On my bike rides along the Greenway in Minneapolis and Summit Avenue in St. Paul, I'm used to waiting for lots of cars before I cross these kinds of intersections. Here? Not so much.

I did see other cyclists regularly, though I read it's more crowded on weekends. I also saw some cows.

Most of the trail looked like this post's first photo, cutting through the forest. Some stretches, though, were open prairie. I said "Wow!" out loud when I went through this section.

I wasn't necessarily set on getting all the way to Red Wing, but after Welch, the path had little diversions evenly spaced out (a wetlands overlook, an archeological preserve, etc.) that made the miles pass quickly. Then I was at the end of the trail in Red Wing!

I had kind of figured that the trail would end in downtown Red Wing, a place Josh and I visited a few years back with lots of shops and restaurants. Though the Cannon Valley Trail linked up to other trails quickly, it turned out that downtown Red Wing was still 1.8 miles away. Even though my pace and effort was far from aggressive, I knew 40 miles was going to be pushing it for me, and I didn't want to tack on another four or five miles when I was only at the halfway point. Also, I still tend to estimate bike trip durations by my speed from the days when I used to ride my road bike a lot, and on my mountain bike (and with a few photo stops) the leisurely trip was taking a little longer than I expected. I bought a wonderfully cold can of soda at a machine outside a hardware store and then turned around.

The next few miles flew by, and I stopped only to refill my water bottle at Welch Station (again, utterly unaware of ice cream a stone's throw away). Then I got tired (or more specifically, my quads got tired), and the last few miles were slower. If I were to do this trip again (and I'd like to!), I would probably plan for a full day with a lunch stop in Red Wing and an ice cream stop in Welch - or maybe start from Welch, go to Red Wing and spend time downtown before heading back. By cycling from Cannon Falls to Red Wing, then turning around and coming straight back, I think I missed out a little bit on an element of what makes this destination trail especially fun.

But make no mistake: I definitely understand that this trail is special. Less than an hour away from home, I got to ride my bike along an old railroad corridor for 40 miles without seeing one stoplight. I loved seeing how green the trees framing the trail were, and I hope I can return in the next couple of months to see the fall colors, which must be unbelievable. I was happy to be able to spend a Minnesota summer afternoon on two wheels on the Cannon Valley Trail.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Painting adventure

This has nothing to do with spray paint, cans of paint, or anything else to do with home projects!

This spring, my friend Kate invited me to a painting class advertised through Groupon. I've heard of these classes before—hosted at a bar or restaurant, a teacher guides participants through a painting exercise—but have never signed up for one and thought it sounded like fun. We booked our class through the company Paint at Nite, and after perusing the painting options and seeing how far ahead classes filled, we finally chose the mid-August "Love Birds" session at Lone Oak Grill in Eagan.

We chose our spots at easels near where the teacher would be working, put on our aprons, and got some refreshments. In front of each easel: a white canvas, three paint brushes and a plate with several blobs of paint: blue, red, yellow, white and black. The teacher introduced herself and walked the 25 or so people in the room through our oath/toast for the evening, which included promising to have fun and not grouch about your painting skills.

Then painting got underway! We started by creating a sunrise or sunset, and it was settled: I knew I was going to love this class. (I took some photos along the way to look back on the steps we took.)

We blended the sky and added little white clouds as we wished. One of the things I liked about this class was that even though we were all creating basically the same scene, people made different choices along the way. And our teacher encouraged that, too—she also said we were free at any time to go in a totally different direction and paint something else.

Then we mixed paint to make orange and added a lake.

Y'all know I love my craft projects, but playing with paint was totally new to me. I liked playing with the colors to find a blend I liked, and I liked covering the canvas with the paint and brushes. This part was very relaxing. Along the way, Kate and I were sometimes chatting and sometimes just painting (and sometimes doing both). The teacher would explain each step and offer tips (she was demonstrating on her own canvas) and then put music over the sound system while we painted.

We switched to black paint and made some mountains.

Then we made our branches, which was daunting (but less daunting thanks to the teacher's tips). I kind of wanted to pause because I liked the little sunset scene, but we all kept going:

Finally, we added the little bird, the setting (or rising) sun, and twinkly lights in the mountains.

My painting!

I knew the evening would be fun when we signed up, but because of the process from blank canvas to final result, I am more fond and proud of my little painting than I expected. Our teacher was great, the atmosphere was positive and funny and low-key, and it was a neat weeknight activity to do with a friend. I'd definitely try another Paint at Nite class in the future.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Home updates

I've been tinkering with a couple of home projects lately, but before going on about furniture that doesn't really make sense for our current apartment, I'll explain:

Josh and I bought a house!

Well, we're in the process of buying a house, anyway. It's a Craftsman bungalow with three bedrooms and two porches in a neighborhood we love, and I can't wait to tell you all about it once we close next month. While we'd love to be settled in our new home sooner, it's good to have time to prepare for the move. For now, I'm having fun brainstorming furniture and room and garden layouts (and we're slowly starting to organize our current belongings).

Despite that enthusiasm and excitement, I'm sort of trying to hold off on purchases and projects until we actually are living in the home—and ideally settled in for awhile, to be able to see how we use each space. But there are a couple of exceptions, including a little cabinet that I bought off Craigslist that we're hoping to use as a TV stand (first idea), a buffet for our dining room (second idea) or in one of a few other places (if the others don't work). We also wanted to just figure out how to do this kind of project. We stripped the stain off—which we may or may not have needed to do—then sanded it and painted it white. (I've learned there are some strong opinions out there about painting over wood, but I like it on this one.)



In search of knobs that tied the white and brass together, I bought a different set (not pictured) but Josh said those knobs looked like disco balls and then of course that's all I saw, too. Then I found some other knobs on Etsy (also not pictured) and I think those are actually going to be the winners.

I also wanted to add some comfortable chairs to our (eventual) front porch, and I was hoping to find at least a temporary option to maximize the number of evenings out on that porch this fall. Last month I (literally) ran by a garage sale and saw a pair of wicker chairs for $5 each. All they needed was a fresh coat of spray paint, so I hurried home and drove back to pick them up. I added some self-imposed urgency to the chair project when our patio furniture sold faster on Craigslist than I expected, leaving us with an empty patio for the rest of the summer (or until I finished the chair project).


Halfway through:

And after! (The true color is probably a cross between these two photos.)

Then our makeshift patio set-up needed some sort of table, so I looked in our basement for something to use as a side table and found an old Ikea Lack table that was already navy blue. It was a good size but seemed like a little too much solid navy when paired with the chairs, so I went in search of some gift wrap or fabric to Mod-Podge over the top. At Patina, I found a sheet of matte gift wrap that was a fun version of a Minnesota map (and incorporating a bit of blue color to boot!), and I decided to go with that. I adhered it to the table with Mod-Podge and then added a couple of topcoats to seal it.

We've since shifted our focus to organizing and packing, but we both learned a lot even from just these two projects—and we're excited to learn more in the months and years ahead.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Over the last few days

In the last few days...

...the garden's tomato harvest turned into tomato salad:

Some new flowers appeared on the garden fence:

I volunteered for Twin Cities in Motion at Fifteen's 5K, a race that finishes on Target Field!

And I was excited for some more lake time:

We also wished Josh's mom a happy birthday from Minnesota. This week I've also been thinking often of a dear friend whose first baby will arrive anytime now. I was hoping that Baby would share that birthday, but Baby has other plans and is waiting a little while longer.

We did a serious, deep clean of our home today, and we are ready for the week ahead - which includes both the start of the Minnesota State Fair and (weather permitting) our annual Twins game with my grandma!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Tomato party

Finally, at long last, the garden's tomatoes are ripening!

It took more of the summer than usual to get to this point, and that might be because this corner of Minnesota hasn't had those long strings of hot days that tomato plants love. (I think it has been 90 degrees or higher only once in the Twin Cities this summer, which is hard to believe!) The possible trade-off is that my purple bean plants have been producing for longer than I remember last year: never overwhelming but just a nice ongoing supply of purple beans.

Today: a pleasant overlap in harvests.

So far the cherry tomatoes (pictured above) are the stars. But I've picked a handful of grape tomatoes, and one of the first big tomatoes is only a day or two away. I love this part of the summer.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Morning overlook

I scrambled out for a short run this morning. My favorite part of today's route? No question: this view.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

101 in 1,001 update: August 2014

Nearly a full season has passed since my last 101 in 1,001 update back in May, and I'm about six weeks away from the this project's end date. It's time for a report.

Here are some of the items I've checked off my 101 in 1,001 list this summer:

17) Participate in an adventure race/scavenger hunt in the Twin Cities.

Josh and I did this together in June! I saw a discounted race entry via Crowd Cut for the City Solve Urban Race Series event in Minneapolis, and I figured it'd be our best opportunity to try out an urban scavenger hunt.

From the event's home base at Cowboy Jack's on a rainy Saturday afternoon, more than 600 people (more than 200 teams) solved a clue that sent all of us out of the restaurant and over to a nearby intersection. From there, each team got the packets containing the clues, each directing us to a checkpoint, some of which were mandatory. We had to get to eight of them over the course of the afternoon or else risk a big penalty added to our finish time. Most checkpoints required a photo of all teammates next to the checkpoint's signage; others required completing an activity. And you figured out each checkpoint's location by solving puzzles that, through exercises like word finds and crosswords (often with local trivia), eventually point you toward an address. Then it's up to each team to figure out their strategy for getting to each of the checkpoints the fastest!

This was one of the most fun parts of the event for me. I don't watch Amazing Race but I am one of several people in my age bracket who still keeps up with Real World/Road Rules: Challenge. We mapped out our strategy (literally and figuratively) and then made our way around Minneapolis on foot and via the newly opened Green Line trains. (The rules stipulated that transportation modes were limited to walking/running or public transit.) We ended up walking several miles around the city, mostly in downtown Minneapolis and in Dinkytown by the University of Minnesota. 

The checkpoint I'll remember best, the one that still makes me laugh, is our last one. By the end, the rain was coming down harder and the wind was picking up—my baseball hat was great protection from the rain until the wind lifted it off my head and dropped it squarely in a puddle—and Josh and I got a little lost getting to the last checkpoint on our list, a Crossfit place. We'd had a great time but were both pretty tuckered out at that point. It turned out that our last stop was the only one that required serious physical activity: to be specific, one teammate had to do burpees while the other held a plank, until the team accumulated 40-50 burpees. Burpees are among my least favorite calisthenics and we were not especially fond of this stop, but after that, we were heading back to the finish line!

Even with the burpees, the whole event was a fun and novel way to explore a familiar city for the afternoon, and it was definitely outside our usual weekend routine. I'd do an urban scavenger hunt again for sure.

68) Have a progressive dinner party.

This happened last weekend! Our group met at our house for appetizers, then went to my brother's house for dinner, and then returned to my house for the homemade ice cream we had assembled earlier in the evening (vanilla with Golden Oreos, to be exact).

Here they are, in motion to show that we are indeed progressing to my brother's house:

The key to the main course at a progressive dinner is something that can be prepared in advance or without much attention from the person cooking. My brother figured out a great solution by making chicken in the crockpot, so by the time we arrived at his house, all he had to do was shred the chicken and broil it (like preparing carnitas but without pork) for tacos. Nicely done, Brother!

71) Sew a dress.

This happened in June!

73) Take a photo of the same place every month for a year.

This happened from August 2013 to July 2014, and I shared the final results last month. I want to repeat this project and am brainstorming new locations for it.

100) Read 30 minutes per day for two weeks.

I mentioned this before, during one of my unsuccessful attempts to complete this goal, that for someone who calls herself an avid reader, this project was trickier than I expected! I usually read magazines in the morning and books in the evening, and I learned that I was prone to reading for a few minutes and then falling asleep at night. But the upside is that this kind of goal is a great way to really delve into books. Sometimes I have a hard time getting drawn into a book when I'm reading it 5-10 minutes at a time. When you're reading for half an hour per stretch, getting hooked is much easier. During these two weeks, from July 25 through August 7, I read Americanah, Dixieland Delight: A Football Season on the Road in the Southeastern Conference, and The Circle.

I believe that leaves me with 74 items complete. My list's items are grouped into 11 categories, and I reached another little milestone this summer when I closed out my first category by finished all the projects in the "Creativity" section.

But I'm not done yet. Six weeks to go!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Kayaking on the Chain of Lakes

With the exception of some rain over the weekend, the last couple of weeks have been really enjoyable summer weather in the Twin Cities: low 80s, partly cloudy skies, and usually not too much humidity. On Friday afternoon I decided to make the most of this weather by renting a kayak and puttering around the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis before meeting up with my mom.

As you'd expect on a gorgeous summer day, the Wheel Fun Rentals kiosk was bustling, but I filled out the paperwork and got a kayak surprisingly quickly. Instead of meandering out into the more open Lake Calhoun, most people went into the tunnel that connects Calhoun to Lake of the Isles. I decided to follow the crowd through the first tunnel. (I'd guess that Wheel Fun Rentals has definitely expanded its paddleboard fleet in the past couple of years!)

After crossing under one more bridge, I arrived at Lake of the Isles, a more irregularly shaped lake than Calhoun with more little bays to explore. It also offers a view of the downtown Minneapolis skyline, only a few minutes away from where I was sitting merrily in my kayak.

I took this trip at a very gentle pace and effort. After the narrow water connection between Calhoun and Isles, people spread out father apart, and there were times when it was completely quiet on the water. I'd paddle for a little while and then let the boat drift while I watched the water or sky.

I paddled under another bridge and entered the little canal that connects Isles to Cedar Lake. Parts of this stretch were very quiet - and so green, with all of the trees reflecting in the water:

And then I was in Cedar Lake! Last time I kayaked on the Chain of Lakes, I was with my family and we went across Cedar Lake and into Brownie Lake. I eyed the beaches on the other side of Cedar and wanted to head over there, but my leisurely pace meant it was almost time to turn around.

I paddled back up the canal and across Lake of the Isles. The closer I got to Calhoun, the more people I saw:

And more sailboats, too!

If you're seeking a paddling adventure in which you may be the only person for miles, the Chain of Lakes on a summer afternoon may not be the right place for you. But even given how many people were out there, it was more peaceful than I expected - and renting a kayak is an easy way to access being on the water within the Minneapolis city limits to spend some time paddling (and drifting) on these pretty lakes. I'm glad I took this little local adventure.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Little frog

"Little frog" is one of Wish's nicknames, but in this post, I am referring to an actual little frog.

I spent the afternoon with my mom, and before she gave me a haircut (thank you, Mom!), we ate lunch and walked around her garden. Because my parents moved to a new home last fall, this is her first summer with this garden, and in that short time she has utterly transformed the yard space. I was in awe. I would love to someday have even a tenth of the green thumb talents that she has.

Here she is, in front of an arbor, waving a cucumber:

We were taking lots of peeks at individual plants and talking about each one. About halfway through my tour, at the same time, we both noticed the tiniest frog nestled on a leaf.

A bustling garden is lovely both in the big picture and the small details.