Sunday, March 30, 2008

Catching up from the week

Sorry there have been no posts for several days! I had a lot to get caught up on at work after my Easter trip, and the weekend was fairly busy as well.

Yesterday morning I did a very comfortable 11 mile run. Temperatures were in the mid 30's and the sun was shining brightly. Nice! Feels real good after the winter we had.

There have been several new bird arrivals over the past couple of weeks. I saw my first red-winged blackbirds along the swamps, my first robins, and yesterday on my run, a flock of grackles made an appearance. All are very common, but they are signs of spring for certain.

Yesterday I also went out on the town with some friends. My friends Brett, Lisa, Eric, and Kim made some dinner plans for Saturday night. Before that, Brett and Lisa asked me if I wanted to attend a high school drumline competition to watch Brett's niece perform.

I had never seen a drumline competition before, and I was truly impressed. The kids were very talented, and it is clear that a lot of preparation goes into it, not only from a pure musical perspective, but also from a dramatic and creative standpoint. Very cool stuff!

Following that, we headed to Lilly's Cafe and Wine Bar in downtown Osseo to meet up with Kim and Eric. This cute little 8 table cafe served a selection of mainly paninis and flatbreads with a variety of toppings. All very casual, with a nice and inexpensive wine list. The owner herself was even waiting the tables, and she was a most gracious host.

We had an appetizer platter that consisted of the fresh baked bread with a variety of toppings (tomato & basil, sun-dreid tomato butter, black olive tapenade, hummus, and a hot tomato and goat cheese). Following that, I ordered a panini with pastrami, white cheddar, and a spicy relish. Yum! The food was really, really good. And so was the wine, for that matter! We had a few different bottles through the course of the evening (a California Merlot, Argentine Malbec, and a delicious French Burgundy...did I write down any of the names? Of course not!).

The whole dinner was very reasonable, too. Five people, appetizer platter, entrees, and three bottles of wine set each of us back $45 including the tip. What a deal! I was a fantastic evening with even more fantastic friends. We had a ball, and I can't wait to go back. If you are ever in Osseo, Lilly's is worth stopping at.

Today was lazy by comparison. I watched sports and made a homemade pizza for dinner (see below).

Pepperoni roasted peppers, assorted olives, with three cheeses...awesome!



A great way to wrap up a very fun weekend. Now, I am ready for Monday and will be bracing myself for the 6 inches of snow the National Weather Circus is predicting for tomorrow. Yeah, I said it. 6 inches! We are even under a "Heavy Snow Warning." Not too bad for almost being April, huh? At the rate we are going, they will still be ice fishing in May! :)

Looking for my snowshoes,

Jean

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Nuthatch Whisperer

The last three holidays where I have visited my family (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter) have all involved some interesting weather. Thanksgiving and Christmas weather events were both well-documented in previous blog entries, so I will just focus on this past Easter weekend.

Return of winter? This morning's 3 inches of snow on the North Shore.



I left for the North Shore on Friday in the midst of a winter storm warning. And this morning, just in time for my trip home, we awakened to 3 inches of wet, heavy snow. This winter really has it out for me!

However, unlike the previous trips, I managed to dodge the brunt of the action. The heaviest snow from Friday passed south of the Twin Cities, leaving the roads only slightly wet (my only worry was looking out for the 100+ deer that were dining on the grasses in the newly melted ditches...they were everywhere!). And this morning, the temperature warmed to the mid 30's, so the roads cleared off in no time. Finally, I lucked out for my winter...er, excuse me...I mean "spring"...travels!

But a lot of fun things happened in between the trip up and the trip back. I spent a long Easter weekend at Mom and Dad's and got to see the whole family, eat well, run, visit friends, trek in the woods, and bond with birds.

Easter ham with all the fixings!



We celebrated Easter on Sunday at church, and we capped off the day with family and friends back at Mom and Dad's place for dinner. Dad picked up a double-smoked ham from Old World Meats in Duluth that was quite possibly the best ham I have tasted. (I am still enjoying leftovers, by the way!) And one of our friends, Cathryn, made an absolutely awesome homemade apple pie for dessert. Yum! What I am saying is that we all ate extremely well over the holiday weekend! :)

I went running three times. Despite being cold on Saturday morning (14 degrees), I did 8 miles. Sunday and this morning offered warmer temps in the 20's for my 5 miles on each of those days. Pretty good running overall.

In addition to running, I also spent a lot of time in the woods hiking with Mom and Dad. While the mornings were cool, we were blessed with some beautiful, clear days in the mid to upper 30's. I don't know if I have ever seen the sky so blue.

The ice blue skies of the North Shore. Also, Dad appears in this photo somewhere. Can you find him? This is kind of like "Where's Waldo?" :)



Our hikes take us back in the woods to find our resident bird friends. The chickadees are always there to greet us looking for their handout of sunflower seeds. And of course, Norris was there. He is the assertive little red-breasted nuthatch with a whole lot of swagger who I have talked about on a number of occasions.

And this time, I also got to meet Noreen.

Dad hikes in the woods daily, and Norris always makes his presence know (even on the worst of winter days), as he is truly the guardian of the cedar grove. Nothing gets past him. If a predator is in the area, Norris and his band of chickadees sound the alarm to alert other birds of danger. It is really remarkable how smart these bird are. This intelligence, coupled with a bold and daring personality, has made Norris a fun mascot on our hikes.

All throughout the winter, Norris had his companion in tow, who Dad has dubbed "Noreen." Noreen is a female nuthatch, and we know she is the significant other of Norris because he is territorial and will run all other nuthatches out of the area. Except for her, that is.

While Norris is fearless and will swoop in at will to grab his sunflower seeds from your hand, Noreen is a skeptic. She would flutter around your hand and head, but never sat down. Instead, she would simply follow Norris around and take the seeds that he was stashing away!

On Monday, Dad and I were hiking near the cedar grove feeding Norris and a number of chickadees. Dad went off to photograph a woodpecker in a nearby tree, leaving me standing near the trunk of a large cedar with all kinds of bird flying around me. I had a number of chickadees taking turns grabbing seeds from my hand. Suddenly, I see Noreen climbing down the trunk, very interested in what was going on.

I am not sure if she got sick of seeing the steady procession of chickadees visiting me, but curiosity got the best of Noreen. She took off, fluttered over my hand for a second, landed, grabbing a sunflower seed.

By the time Dad returned, he was astonished to learn that Noreen had visited me several times for seeds. She obviously learned that I was harmless, eventually becoming more and more comfortable making a beeline straight to my hand.

Even with Noreen learning this new trick, make no mistake that Norris still rules the roost. On a couple of trips where she was sitting on my hand, Norris barged in, forcing Noreen to jump to a branch, or sometimes to my shoulder or hat! She was a treat.

Yours truly with my new friend Noreen



Dad insists Noreen has never landed on him before, and he was out there every day this winter. I joked during our hike that I must be a "nuthatch whisperer" or something. :)

With that, I left Noreen and Norris this morning, all the while hoping they will be fruitful and multiply, ensuring future generations of birds in the cedar grove will not be without their guardians.

A nice way to wrap up the Easter weekend.

Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Goodbye to winter?

So we go from having the most gorgeous of Sundays to a Tuesday where we got about 2 – 3 inches of snow. Then it got warm and everything melted. And now more snow is expected on Friday, just as I am trying to get out of here for the Easter holiday weekend. This is the never ending winter.

But hey, spring starts tomorrow, so that has to mean changes are in store. Things are changing. More and more birds are arriving. I am seeing all kinds of ducks, and a flock of Canada geese flew over my place this morning, honking like crazy.

I had a really nice run on Monday night in the pretty snow. Big flakes were falling down, and I had the trails all to myself. Snow was clinging to the small branches in the thickets, causing the poorly camouflaged bright red papa cardinal to stand out. It was an easy run the day after the race, but a most pleasant one.

Not too much else going on. As I mentioned, I am out of here for Easter as of Friday. I will be heading up to Mom and Dad’s for a long weekend, and I will not be returning until Tuesday. This will be great. I have not been up there since Christmas, so I can’t wait to hang out with the family, eat well, and take in the local wildlife.

Everyone have a fun and safe weekend, and I will talk to you when I return!

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The spirit of a new adventure at the Human Race

This Sunday, I marked another milestone. I ran in my fourth St. Patrick's Day Human Race. Astute readers of my blog will remember me talking about this race last year because this is where the whole race/fun run thing started for me. This is one that will be on my calendar every year.

Impressive statue on the St. Thomas Fieldhouse



In its 36th year, The Human Race takes place at St. Thomas University and runs out-and-back on Summit Avenue. It is a relatively flat and fast course that most of the Minnesota speedsters show up for. This is a well-attended race.

Human Race registration



We couldn't have asked for a much nicer day. Considering just last weekend we were enduring below zero morning temperatures, today we were blessed with 40 degrees and sunshine. What a contrast!

I arrived early to get a good parking spot, and so I could mingle and watch the 5k. I was glad I did because I got to see my supervisor from work! She was there to run the 5k with some friends, so we got to chat for awhile before her race started. I love it that my boss is a runner!

A shot of the 5k start



Fast forward to the start of my race; it was so nice out that this ended up being the first Human Race where I didn't have to wear a stocking cap! Awesome.

The first mile is always a little interesting because there is a lot of traffic to sort your way through. It is pretty congested, but this give you time to take in all of the gorgeous homes along Summit Avenue! :) But things fanned out quickly enough, and I made it through the first mile in something like 7:25.

I ran very comfortably and felt good about my pace; that is, until I was closing in on the two mile mark and the leaders were already running past me the other way! Wow, those guys are fast.

Rounding the corner and turning back west at the William Mitchell College of Law, we found ourselves hitting somewhat of a headwind. It wasn't much, but that combined with a slight uphill resulted in my slowest mile of the day for me between miles three and four. I passed through the 4 mile mark at darn near 30 minutes.

From mile four on home was a breeze, though, and I really picked up the pace. A wee bit of a downhill, followed by flat terrain all the way to the finish line. I crossed in 36:22. Not my fastest 8k ever, but not my slowest by a long shot. And I finished strong. After the brutal winter I ran through, how could I not be pleased? This is a good start to the 2008 racing season!

As is tradition, I celebrated with some post-Human Race Chinese take-out food (Mandarin beef & chicken in garlic sauce from Ming's Garden in Plymouth...yum!). Because the race starts in the afternoon, this gives me a good excuse not to cook on a Sunday!

Ming's Garden rocks!



The fortune cookie I received with my take-out was more than appropriate for the start of a new race season. It is now tacked up on the fridge:



May the spirit of adventure continue to lead all of us on exciting new paths! :)

Jean

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I like short shorts

For the first time in 2008, I got to wear shorts on a run!

On Thursday, the temperature skyrocketed to 52 degrees. Wow, did that ever feel good! I broke out the summer shorts, long sleeved running shirt, cap (my summer cap, not a stocking cap), and did not need to wear any gloves.

What a treat! I am sure I probably blinded a few people with the glare off of my pasty white legs, but I don't care. I felt almost like a kid on the last day of classes. The suffering is over! Bring on spring! :)

Needless to say, there is hardly any snow left, and it is even starting to look like spring. I am also noticing the return of ducks and geese. It won't be long (perhaps a month or so) and we will start seeing a lot of the warblers making their way to their nesting grounds in the north. I can't wait!

Tonight I am going to make a shepherd's pie. I have not made this dish in ages. There was some excellent ground lamb at the local Byerly's, so I thought I would cook something a wee bit Irish this weekend since St. Patty's Day is just around the corner.

Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

That's more like it!

So when I went running on Friday morning, the temperature was -9 degrees.

Last night for my run, I am happy to say I was able to ditch the facemask and the running jacket for the first time in 2008. A blissful 47 degrees, partly cloudy, with a light breeze!

A 56 degree temperature swing from Friday morning? Woohoo, three cheers for spring!

What a treat. All I needed was the running pants, a long sleeved base layer shirt with a light top over it, and my stocking cap (well, and my running shoes, of course). After the winter we have been having, this felt almost balmy. I went out along my usual weekday route. The snow that remains was melting like crazy, and the damp smells in the air were reminiscent of spring.

I had a fantastic run, and a fast one by my standards. This may sound a little strange, but I am finding myself taking a little time to get my “summer legs” back. It is strange having actual solid footing after spending the winter running on snow packed trails! I clipped right along yesterday.

My two resident eagles were sitting in and near their nest in the park, staring at me, seemingly unimpressed at my running prowess. I will enjoy watching them raise a family over the summer. I also saw a couple more big hawks, so they too are beginning to infiltrate the North Country.

One unforeseen aspect of nicer weather is that it brought all of the fair weather walkers and runners out of the woodwork. The horror! These trails that I had practically to myself all winter now had a number of people on them. Oh well, I suppose I will have to learn to share. :)

Bring on spring,

Jean

Sunday, March 9, 2008

We will drink no wine...before daylight savings time

I have to believe we are about to turn the corner with this winter weather. I ran on both Friday morning (-9 below zero) and Saturday morning (a sweltering -2 below zero), and it is a week and a half until spring starts. Something is bound to change...right? I mean, daylight savings time is here!

My Saturday run was quite nice, even if it was slightly on the chilly side. I did 9 miles at a fairly decent pace. There were lots of birds singing, and I even saw my first big hawk of the year (I believe it was a juvenile red-tailed) sitting in a tree along the trail. If the big hawks are returning, spring is on the way (or at least that is what I keep telling myself!).

The reds from last night's wine tasting



Last night my friends Brett and Lisa had a wine tasting event with their wine club, and they invited me to partake in the festivities. The wines all had a summer theme (whites that would be nice for drinking on the deck, and reds to go with steak on the grill).

We had a Spanish white from the Rias Baixas region to start, followed by a rather delicate but expansive Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Italian white, and then we had a very powerful 2006 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.

Moving on to the reds, we tasted a 2005 Emeades Zinfandel that had some beautiful fruit up front with lots of vanilla on the finish. The final wine of the evening was a rather complex 2003 Chateau Montelena Cabernet. The Montelena was initially pretty tight, but after Brett decanted the second bottle, it really opened up beautifully. All of the wines were excellent.

We had an assortment of food to munch on as well; fruit, crackers, cheeses, bruschetta, and Brett even grilled up some whole beef tenderloin that was crusted with garlic, cumin, and cilantro (a Bobby Flay recipe), which was absolutely outstanding. It was just a fantastic evening of food and conversation with some wonderful people. Thanks for having me, guys!

Today was lazy by comparison; basketball, golf, and NASCAR on TV, and some beef stir-fry for dinner.

Nice and spicy



Not a bad weekend. And the days are getting longer, too. See, I am telling you, spring is on the way. I BELIEVE! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Preview of Summer

We are still chilly. Monday’s run was 8 degrees, and this morning’s was 11. Hard to believe we are a little over two weeks away from the official start of spring!

Monday was the tougher of the two. I was greeted by a 25 MPH northwest wind and a -7 wind chill, which (unfortunately) I needed to run into for the last half of the route. Brrrr! This was one of those winds that felt like it was going right though you.

Today offered much nicer, and prettier, conditions. Winds were calm and the sky was clear to the east with a layer of clouds moving in, which contributed to one of the more spectacular sunrises that I have seen in some time. How great to start your morning with such an artistic display of pinks, oranges, and purples! In addition, mama and papa bald eagle were hanging out in and near their nest, silhouetted against this gorgeous backdrop. Throw in a solid run, and that makes for a most pleasant morning, I would say!

I’m already looking forward to the weekend. Some friends have invited me to a wine tasting party at their house on Saturday, so that promises to be a good time. The theme is “Preview of Summer,” featuring some white summer sippers, as well as some reds to accompany grilled fare. Sounds great! And after this winter in Minnesota, who here isn’t looking for a preview of summer? :)

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Drink of the Tiger

Today at the local grocery store, I picked up a bottle of this:



This I did not know, but apparently Mr. Woods inked a huge deal with Gatorade last fall, and his new sport drink just hit the shelves. It was on sale, and I couldn't resist. They say he even specially chose the flavors himself. (I am picturing him wearing a lab coat and safety goggles with a whole bunch of beakers and test tubes in front of him, feverishly trying to come up with his own special blend!) Anyhow, I am sure that once I start drinking it, I will be pounding 300 yard drives, or hanging out with Swedish models. Either would be fine. I will be sure to report back. :)

March came in like a lamb today, and we are currently in the mid 30's. The sun is actually out, too! The day did get off to a chilly start. When I began my run it was 12 degrees, but by the time I finished, we had already hit 20. Another nice, easy 13 miler in the books.

One thing I have noticed is that the chickadees have started to change their vocalizations. They make this descending whistle that sounds like "feeee-beeee," and you really do not hear them do this during the dead of winter. I am counting this as another sign of spring!

I am still kind of frustrated, however, because my morning long runs on the weekend are still so cold that it freezes my Gatorade solid halfway through the run. Perhaps I need to write to Tiger to see if he can solve this dilemma for me? :)

Not much on the agenda today. I got all my shopping and errands done, and we have a little NASCAR this afternoon. The easy chair will feel good after running around all morning!

Until next time,

Jean

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