Monday, December 31, 2007

1350

This past Saturday, I was treated to a really great day of running. I did 9 miles through my neighborhood on the trails and around the lake. Temperatures were around 20 degrees, and a light, fluffy snow was falling. All of the trees were coated with the fresh snow, so I truly felt like I was in a winter wonderland. Along the route, I saw a few cardinals. There are few things more striking than seeing a bright red bird against a canvas of white. Those guys positively glow in the winter! Anyhow, I had a very nice run.

Otherwise, the weekend has been spent mainly doing some cooking. I was supremely bored by all of the meaningless Sunday NFL games (where most of the good teams benched their players to save them for the playoffs, as well as the hapless Vikings), so much of my day was spent in the kitchen. I made some beef jerky on the food dehydrator, homemade ravioli with whole-wheat pasta dough stuffed with a mixture of Italian sausage, potato, and Parmigiano-Reggianio and Swiss Emmenthaler cheeses (haven't tried this out yet, they are in the freezer for later), and a homemade pizza for dinner in the evening.

Today I only had a half day of work, so I left the office at noon. I went home and did my run. Prior to that, I had noticed my mileage log for the year was at 1342.5. I went out and did an 8 miler just to put over 1350 miles for the year (I figured that was a nice, round number!). The run was rather chilly today. It was 17 degrees, but they was a pretty stiff breeze coming out of the north, so that created a decent wind chill. But I did my lap around the lake, only encountering one other person (a runner) along the whole route. A great way to cap off 2007!

I have no big plans for New Year's Eve except for some football and Giada's balsamic roasted chicken (I haven't made this in ages, and it just sounded good!).

Another year is in the books, and what a year it was! I got to do a lot of fun races, achieved some new goals, ran more miles than ever before, got a new job, and a new place to live. Not bad!

Here is wishing everyone a safe and Happy New Year, and all the best wishes for a fantastic 2008!

Until next year, :)

Jean

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas giving and weather matters

Christmas Day was spent sharing a great meal of prime rib, exchanging gifts, and tuning in to watch "A Christmas Story" on TBS (No doubt, one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time. Would you believe I actually saw it in a theater when it came out in 1983?)

And Christmas was especially kind to me. I received a lot of clever, thoughtful gifts, such as some books on Minnesota landmarks and history, clothing, Jelly Belly jellybeans (yum!), and other food-related items.

The envy of every NASCAR fan



Other items of note, I got a small, 1.3 gallon keg of Bell's Two Hearted Ale, a craft brew out of Michigan, from my brother and sister-in law. And, my Mom (an extraordinary quilter) hunted down some fabric with NASCAR print and made me this one-of-a-kind cooking apron (which is reversible and has numbers on the pockets for the great Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart on the side pictured, as well as Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne on the other). Nice! What NASCAR fan wouldn't fantasize about this combination of gifts? :)

But that is not all; Mom also made me a quilt with a collage of wildlife prints. Honest to goodness, I wasn't expecting to receive such a precious, handmade gift. What an honor! As Ralphie from "A Christmas Story" said of his Daisy Red Ryder BB gun, "One of the greatest Christmas presents I ever received, or ever would receive." It is absolutely gorgeous, and it now serves as the blanket for my bed. Thanks, Mom!

My beautiful quilt



OK, now I need to talk about the weather. Over the past weekend, the North Shore was supposed to experience a big snowstorm, with the worst of it hitting the easternmost tip of the Arrowhead. Dad is a volunteer snow spotter for the National Weather Circus (as I call it), so he regularly reports snow totals to the office in Duluth.

The area where my parents live was predicted to get upwards of 14 inches of snow by Sunday. Sunday morning, the freezing rain started, and shortly thereafter it changed over to all snow. While there was a brief burst of snow, it never seemed to really get going. They ended up with barely 2 inches. It turns out the storm track went a LOT further west, so Duluth absolutely got clobbered.

Later on Sunday, the phone rings. It was a guy from the National Weather Circus calling Dad to find out what is going on up in our area! Of course, I found this hilarious. The guys with the high-powered "Super Doppler" radar and all the scientific equipment can't figure out what is happening, so they have to call my Dad! Unreal. I think Dad knows more than they do anyhow, so this was probably a good thing.

But there is more; Tuesday night we watched the local weather on the news and all signed pointed to a relatively decent travel day for me on Wednesday, with Northern Wisconsin being the only area under the gun for a chance of snow. Wednesday morning, I awaken to a northeast wind and the dreaded "lake effect" snow, which gave me the wonderful treats of snow-packed roads, occasional white-out conditions, as well as an unbelievably slippery stretch on the outskirts of Duluth (the exact same area where I experienced difficult driving at Thanksgiving). A positively miserable drive, with over 200 miles of it being driven at well below the speed limits. It took me forever to get home, but thankfully I arrived in one piece.

My folks actually got more snow out of this unpredicted lake effect snow than they did from the "big storm" that was predicted for the weekend. It goes to show that you can't believe anything you hear about the weather in Minnesota. It is just so unpredictable.

And despite any grumblings I might have about my drive home, there is nowhere I would rather live. This state is awesome! :)

So that is my Christmas weekend. Great food, family, and a whole lot of fun; how could it not be the best ever?

Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Good eats over the holidays

My weekends when visiting Mom and Dad are usually centered around some really excellent food, and this Christmas was no exception.

We had a lunch of Mom's chicken & wild rice soup with our friends, Marland and Nancy. Dad made venison stew one night, shrimp in cream sauce over spaghetti, and a prime rib on Christmas Day. Of course, I can't forget snacking on my brother's venison summer sausage that he made in his own smoker.

The meal highlight for me was this one; our Christmas Eve menu of pork roast, Norwegian polse sausage, mashed potatoes, scalloped corn, roasted vegetables, cranberry relish, and some traditional lefse on the side.

A plate of Norwegian Christmas goodness



As noted Norwegian chef and food writer Andreas Viestad said in his "Kitchen of Light" cookbook, "Almost everyone I know eats pork rib roast, and for them a Christmas without it would be unthinkable." So who are we to argue? :) Mom made a most excellent pork loin roast; incredibly juicy, flavorful, delicious, and the gravy should be nominated for its own food group.

Sticking with the Norwegian tradition, Dad prepared some of his homemade Norwegian polse sausage. This has been a traditional Christmas dish for years. It is not easy to find, but you might be able to track some down in the smaller Norwegian communities in southern Minnesota. Polse (as we know it) is a ring sausage made of beef and pork, and is seasoned predominantly with allspice. It is a familiar flavor to us, as a market in my Dad's hometown used to make polse sausage. And I actually prefer Dad's version to the original! His recipe is awesome.

Wow, what a meal!

So now you know why I run as much as I do; when I am fed like this when I go home, calories need to be burned off! :)

More to come....

Jean

Finally, some snowshoe running

I discovered snowshoe running a few winters ago. I tried going out once last year after one of our few snowstorms, and it was an embarrassing failure. So in a year where we finally have some decent snow, how good was it to get back in the snowshoes again?

I went running on Friday up at Mom and Dad's, but otherwise the rest of my fitness activities were done wearing snowshoes. I am lucky that my folks have a network of trails that wind through their woods, which gives me a great opportunity to snowshoe to my heart's content.

Snowshoe runner



Saturday, I got in a scant 20 minute snowshoe run (it was freezing rain and really heavy, wet snow at the time...), but I followed that up with a much better 30 and 40 minute run on Monday and Tuesday. Doesn't sound like much of a workout, you say?

Here is how I figure it; go out and get yourself to a point where you think you are in great shape. Then, strap some snowshoes to your feet and try running on an unbroken trail. Soon, you will find out what kind of shape you are in! This is a pretty intense cardiovascular workout. It feels a bit like you are running in sand, even after you have pounded down the trail a little bit. This is fantastic exercise.

The snowshoe trail on Christmas Day



My Monday and Tuesday runs were great, with the best coming on Tuesday. By Tuesday, I had packed down the trail really well, and there was a light dusting of fresh powder on top. I was able to cruise through the woods and absolutely fly on the downhills (Which is really fun, by the way...your footing is so secure, and the claws on the bottom dig right in, so you can go downhill with great speed and confidence. Wheeeeeee!!!).

And what a treat to be able to run in such a tranquil setting. It was peaceful in the woods, and the trees looked so beautiful with the fresh layer of snow. And of course, I had to carry sunflower seeds with me, as I was occasionally accosted by Norris and his roving band of friendly chickadees. As always, they were happy to see me.

One of my chickadee friends



Norris, enjoying some seeds while sneering at my running outfit



So my return to snowshoe running was both successful and fun. I can't wait to go out again. (And judging by the condition of the trails back in my neighborhood, I could just as well have worn my snowshoes on my afternoon run!)

More to come... :)

Until next time,

Jean

Best Christmas ever?

A hazy Christmas Day on the North Shore



Hi everyone,

I have returned from the North Country following my long Christmas weekend. A good time was had by all with plenty of food and drink, outdoor activity, and excellent company. And the weather cooperated (for the most part...more on that later).

For the sake of organization, I think I am going to break up my weekend into a few different posts. It is much easier to stay on topic that way! In the meantime, please enjoy this photo of my favorite kitty, who is always happy to see me when I visit Mom and Dad!

Kitty loves my duffel bag



Christmas 2007 - Index of Posts

Finally, some snowshoe running
Good eats over the holidays
Christmas giving and weather matters

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merry Christmas

Just a quick note to wish you all a Merry Christmas!

I am heading up to Mom and Dad's place right around the lunch hour today for a long holiday weekend. The trunk of my car is full, and I have my snowshoes along, so there is bound to be some outdoor activity...along with some really good food, of course!

Safe travels to you all, enjoy the holidays, and I will talk to you when I return next Wednesday!

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Snowshoeing, anyone?

A strange week compared to our recent cold snap. This week has felt downright mild. We have had days approaching the freezing mark, and there is actually a little bit of melting that has transpired.

My run this morning was good, just the usual 4.5. I must be getting on a fairly regular morning schedule, because I keep meeting the same two female runners on the same stretch of the bike path in roughly the same spot! (One of them wears a headlamp now, too...I am a trend setter!)

With the New Year rapidly approaching, it is time to start filling in the race calendar. I have my first event of 2008 scheduled. It will likely prove to be an interesting one. I am doing the Yukon Day 3 mile snowshoe race on Feb. 2nd in White Bear Lake. Perhaps to be more accurate I should say it is ON White Bear Lake! :) I have never done a snowshoe race before, so I will be in uncharted territory. This should be a lot of fun.

As for other races, I will do the Human Race 8k for certain (this will be the 4th year in a row), and I am tentatively thinking that I might do the Superior Trail Race 25k in May for my first "big" race of the year.

That is all I've got so far. The rest will fill in over time as I get my goals ironed out!

Time to finish this post. The Unit is on in about 20 minutes... :)

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas baking!

Christmas is getting really close. And it wouldn't be Christmas if I didn't do a little baking!

This week, my office is having a cookie baking contest. Today I prepared my entry; dark chocolate chip-toffee-M&M drop cookies.

Danger: Loaded With Chocolate!



I used dark chocolate chips, M&M's (also of the dark chocolate variety), and little chopped of bits of Heath English toffee bars. The cookies are fantastic, and I am going to have to hide them from myself so I don't eat the all before the contest! :)

I went running on both Saturday and today. Saturday was pretty brisk again with a temperature of 0 degree, but it was ever so calm. I put in 7 miles, saw chickadees, downy woodpeckers, and even a pileated woodpecker. There were a couple of human signs of life as well; a lady walking a black lab, and I met one runner. I greeted the runner, both of us with our facemasks and hats completely frosted over. Choosing to put a positive spin on the weather, he said to me, "Hey, at least it's not windy, right?":) I love running in this stuff.

Today I put in a little over 5 miles at a much warmer 16 degrees. Some flurries from overnight had slightly dusted parts of the trail, but no significant accumulation. I had solid footing all the way around. The only living thing I saw was a deer I startled when rounding a corner.

I hit a significant milestone on Saturday. I surpassed 1300 miles for the year! While I had already run further than I ever have in any year before, 1300 is a nice even number and one that I wanted to pass before year's end.

Today, in addition to baking cookies, I have been watching football and wrapping Christmas presents. Yesterday I got the last of my shopping sone (thank goodness). Speaking of shopping, I drove by the Shoppes at Arbor Lakes in hopes of hitting the bookstore, and there was not a place to park. People were parked all the way out in the outer ring of the parking lots, and cars were lined up to get into the complex. This is insane!

Shopping online next year,

Jean

Friday, December 14, 2007

Change in channels

A very busy week with a lot to do at work; but hey, it is the weekend!

And it is really my last weekend before my Christmas vacation starts. I will be heading up to the North Country this coming Thursday for an extended holiday, and I can't wait. That does mean that I have quite a bit to do this weekend, particularly in terms of last minute shopping. Plus, I should do laundry, buy some groceries, and pretty much get things in order for the week to come. I'm also looking forward to doing some running tomorrow and Sunday. Saturday morning is supposed to be bitterly cold again, so it should be perfect running weather! :)

I noticed recently that my channel lineup has changed somewhat in recent days. I now have the Food Network HD channel, so I can now watch Giada and Alton in high-def. Woohoo!

Also, I am getting some channel called Universal HD. They show a mishmash of TV shows, sports, and movies like "D.C. Cab" and "Meatballs II." It is something like what I had in mind for the JeanTV network I want to launch, but a little more classy. They manage to sneak in the occasional, honest-to-goodness classic, such as "The Day of the Jackal," for instance, whereas I just want to show the obscure comedies and TV shows that left before their time. My dream is still alive! :)

Whatever the case, my HD options are expanding, and that, as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing.

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Warming up, looking ahead, and game shows

The weather has warmed up dramatically. It was actually 20 degrees when I went for my run this morning!

A recent plow job exposed some of the pavement on the bike path, which means I had solid footing for the first time in over a week. I felt downright speedy. Nice! The run today was a very good one. I even met three other runners, and two of them were wearing headlamps like mine. I would like to think of myself as a trend-setter in this regard… :)

Sunday's run was quite good as well. I decided to go out for a short 4 miler just so I could explore a little more of the trail I discovered on Saturday. It winds its way along a creek, through some woods, and over some wide open meadows and grassy areas. I saw no other people on this day (it was 4 degrees at the time), and the only signs of life were downy woodpeckers, gray squirrels, and three deer that I scared out of the creek bottom. This will become a regular route, I am certain.

I am starting to get excited because the local 2008 races calendars are starting to get populated with information. It is always kind if fun to look ahead to the local running events and trying to figure out what I want to do. I know I want to focus more on distance this year, do fewer short races, and hopefully run more races on trails. Time to start planning and setting some new goals!

Unrelated to anything, here the venison chili that I brewed up on Sunday; yum! This batch turned out excellent, with a pleasant heat level and a hint of sweetness. It was the perfect meal to enjoy on a cold Sunday afternoon while watching the Vikes beat the Niners (sorry, Rick!).

Fine football fare



Also unrelated to anything, I have been watching a fair amount of "Deal Or No Deal" lately, and there was a story in our local news about the show. Apparently, over 10,000 people showed up to audition for the show at a Twin Cities car dealership during our bitter cold weekend. Insane, isn't it? I will run in sub-zero temperatures, but not even the prospect of getting to meet the holder of Case #3 in person would be enough to get me to stand around in weather like that.

Running in the cold? Deal. Standing around in the cold? NO DEAL! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Minus 5 equals 7

I woke up this morning to a temperature of -5 degrees (with a wind chill factor of -16 for anyone keeping score at home). Why not go for a run!

Here is what -5 below zero looks like! A shot of Weaver Lake in Maple Grove.



With the full face mask, winter base layers, gloves, and trail shoes, I hit the bike paths and trails and did 7 miles. It was absolutely exhilarating. I love running in weather like this! The crunch of snow underneath your feet, the frost that builds up on your eyelashes, and that very audible, crystalline, tinkling sound you hear when the weather is below zero (Minnesotans know what I mean). I would take running in this over running when it's 90 degrees any day.

I only saw four other signs of life. Four people, all runners, all die-hards. Is there anything more comical to a runner during the winter when runners meet and exchange an almost incomprehensible "Good morning!" that is muffled by ski masks, scarves, etc.? :) I even got to explore a new bike path that was beautiful, and will provide me with a better route to the lake loop that I run. It winds through a wide open meadow and along the edge of a creek. Awesome!

Once I thawed out from my run I did some grocery shopping, as well as some Christmas shopping (finally!). I managed to get to the stores early enough to beat a lot of the crowds, although I did pretty much get run out of the cookbook section of Barnes & Noble. There were about a dozen people tearing down cookbook displays, moving books, and setting up audio equipment for some apparent story time session or something. I felt like I was totally in the way, nobody even said "excuse me," and on top of that I didn't find the book I was looking for, either. So that pissed me off slightly. This is a further reminder why online shopping is a great thing! :)

But hey, 'tis the season to be jolly, right? So why not have a little lunch at The Lookout Bar & Grill? I tried something new today; the pork tenderloin sandwich. This just in; pork tenderloin sandwiches rock! :)

Breaded porky goodness at The Lookout



For the rest of the afternoon, I sat by the fire, watched some football and basketball, and got all of my Christmas cards done. A very productive day, if I do say so myself.

I might even go for another run tomorrow morning. The low temperature tonight will be a balmy 0 degrees. Perfect weather for running... :)

Winter running rules,

Jean

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Winter when it isn't even winter

I just returned from the official company "holiday happy hour!" It was held at Axel's Bonfire. Nice place, delicious appetizers, and the Guinness tasted mighty good. I had a good time getting to know some of my coworkers outside of the office setting. They are a fun group!

So far, I am finding this December to be a little bit challenging for running. Monday served up some unplowed sidewalks for me, and today, while the sidewalks were plowed, the street plows had thrown a bunch of chunked-up snow onto my path. There were areas where I had to stop and walk through, or in some case, hop over, because it was impossible to run. Ugh! Perhaps I should just start snowshoeing along my route? :)

I've had some interesting drives home from work, too. Tuesday was one of the worst rush hours I have ever seen. It took me an hour to get home from the office (a journey of only 13 miles, and I did not see a single snow plow). I take the back roads, and they were clogged by people trying to avoid the freeways, which by all accounts were parking lots. One of my coworkers was stuck on the road for 3 hours trying to get from the west metro over to St. Paul. Yikes! This winter is off to a quite a start; and it isn't even officially winter yet!

Speaking of snow plows, here is something that would only happen in Minnesota. Interestingly enough, I had similar thoughts on my Tuesday drive home, but as I said, no plows were in sight... ;-)

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Two months, and four days...

...that is how long it took to get all the administrative stuff from my move straightened out. I've been waiting to get everything resolved until I posted about this just so I could unleash it all in one big bitch session, because this is positively unbelievable. Here is a list of everything that got screwed up through the process of moving, in no particular order:

1. I updated my new address online with my bank. At a later date when I had to call them to order checks, the addresses did not get tied to all of my accounts, even though I am certain I did it correctly.

2. When you cancel your phone service, your phone company is supposed to notify your long distance carrier that service has been stopped. That never happened, because last week I got a bill from my former long distance carrier (even though my phone service was turned off two months ago).

3. Given that I started a new job, I wanted to take my 401k and do a rollover. One of my 401k accounts would not send the check directly to my new fund, so they had to send it to me. This got returned to them because they had my old address. It would seem the post office apparently would not forward this, even though I registered a change of address and was getting other forwarded mail. Yesterday I finally received the check to give to my financial advisor.

4. The management of my new apartment does the courtesy of notifying the power company to get billing set up for new residents. Shortly thereafter, I received a confirmation letter from the power company that listed an old address that I had years ago (which was the last time I had an account with this particular power company). I had to call them to verify they had my current address. On top of that, I called them again last week because, after living here for two months, I had yet to receive a bill. Something apparently got fouled up with the last resident at this address, so they never billed me.

5. Last week, I got a call from my old apartment manager. She said she sent me the check for the balance of my security deposit, but it got returned to them. Even though I had provided them with the correct new address when I moved out, she somehow managed to send it to a wrong one.

6. A couple of weeks ago, I got a letter from the State of Minnesota saying that I owed $5 for a "wheelage tax" on my car, a tax which was being levied by Anoka, Washington, and Ramsey Counties. I found this interesting, since I live in Hennepin County. When you update your driver's license in Minnesota, it automatically should update your vehicle registration. After calling the DMV, it appears that that never happened, either. (But hey, now I don't owe $5!)

7. My cable provider completely screwed up the transfer of cable/internet service to my new place. Not only did the tech have problems with the installation because of the way the it was set up by the person I spoke with to arrange the transfer (a call which took 35 minutes, and I was put on hold four times), but I got double-billed at my new place, AND they never closed out my account at the old apartment (so I got a past due notice for $300+ at my old apartment). This only took me three different phone calls to resolve.

8. The only things that actually went smoothly were changing the address for my cell phone and my car payment.

As the late, great Peter Boyle would have said; "Holy crap!"

This is astonishing to me. As I told my Mom and Dad when all of this was transpiring, I'm not some deadbeat; I'm someone who is just trying to be responsible and pay his bills. How does such a high level of disorganization, incompetence, and horrible customer service keep these outfits in business? Moreover, I am just one person! How many other people have to go through this kind of garbage when they move? Wow.

Anyhow, enough about that. We are in the midst of a whole lot of snow. In fact, they sent us home early today because the commute was going to suck (and it did!). We are in line for 3-5 inches more today.

I tried going running on Tuesday and only made it 3 miles because the sidewalks and bike paths had not been plowed. So I was relegated to running around the neighborhood on some quiet, plowed streets. Today was much better. My routes were plowed, and I made it the usual 4 1/2. Those first runs on the snow are always a bit of a challenge. You need to get your "winter legs" back so you can get used to running on the snowy surfaces!

Things are definitely looking favorable in terms of a "white Christmas," as they say. :)

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, December 1, 2007

First snow of the season

Yes sir, we've got a winter storm on our hands!

The view from my deck




It is hard to say for sure how much we have because of all the blowing and drifting, but after looking at the parking lot, it appears there might be a couple of inches or so. They are still insisting we will have 6 - 10 inches when all is said and done, so we will see. Certainly not the most powerful storm I have seen, but a pretty darned good one for the first of the season.

I actually like being snowed in on weekends in the winter. It kind of takes the pressure off for finding things to do! And, it gives you a great excuse to sit around, watch football, cook, and update the template for your blog (do you like the new look?)

But before the snow started flying, I went for my run early this morning. 8 1/2 miles, which is the longest I have gone in well over 6 weeks. The run was a little slow going, but it was comfortable. The temperature was only around 15 degrees, but that is why they invented things like ski masks, Thinsulate gloves, and winter running tights! :) A nice run around the lake (which, of course, was frozen over).

Following the run, I walked over to a nearby grocery store to pick up some spur of the moment cooking supplies (because hey, being snowed in is a perfect excuse to make beef jerky on the food dehydrator!). By the time I exited the store at around 9 AM, the flurries were coming down!

So here I am. The Army-Navy game just wrapped up, and there is football on the rest of the day. Homemade burritos are on the menu this evening. Otherwise, I am just going to sit by the fireplace and watch the snowflakes come down.

Reporting from a winter wonderland,

Jean

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