Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The woolly bear rescue mission

I absolutely love running this time of year. Is there a better time in Minnesota than the fall?

This afternoon was a glorious 59 degrees, overcast, and with a nice breeze. A fantastic day to run. I always feel so much faster and stronger when running in the cooler weather, and today I was indeed fast and strong.

I should say I was fast when I wasn't stopping to save the fuzzy woolly bear caterpillars from certain doom on the bike trail!

These little dudes are all over the place, and for the last week or so I have been on a mission to help a few of them out. I have carried many of them to the safety of the grass on the trails edge. Even though they have lots of feet, they aren't very quick, so I am hoping they appreciate the assistance. Cute little buggers!

A woolly bear, rescued from the trail!



The trees continue to turn rapidly, and I am still seeing some different birds making their way south. Today I saw a few chipping sparrows on the move, a yellow-shafted flicker, and there were also a number of cormorants on the lake.

Crisp, cool mornings, mild days, pretty colors; you can tell that fall is most certainly here.

Now, how soon until we see snow? :)

Saving the woolly bears, one at a time,

Jean

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The fuzzy squirrels are upon us

A shot from my deck on this slightly foggy morning. Fall is here!



Following the marathon last weekend, it has been back to work and back to similar routines. There is always something of a letdown after a journey has ended because you have to fall back into your normal routine. But, that gives me an excuse to start planning something else, right? :) I need to get going on that!

By and large, I felt great following last weekend's race. I even went running four times this past week, including an 11 miler on Saturday, and a 5 miler today. All of the runs were very easy, and I didn't push myself very much.

Saturday's run was overcast with a slight mist, but it was oh, so comfortable for running. I had a number of birds and some wildlife, too. I saw a belted kingfisher, great egret, great blue heron, the resident eagle, tons of robins and sparrows, and three bunnies over the course of 11 miles (a mere .27 BPM).

Today, I ran in dense fog with a temperature of 50 degrees, making it somewhat clammy, but still pleasant. Not as much wildlife today, but there were tons of sparrows, and I saw as many bunnies today in 5 miles as I did yesterday (a total of 3 for a .60 BPM, effectively skewing the Bunnies Per Mile ratio data).

One thing I did notice was that there was an abundance of gray squirrels, and they are getting fuzzy. Their whitish winter fur is becoming noticeable on their fluffy tails and tiny ears. This can only mean that colder days are upon us when the squirrels become fuzzy! Now, where did I put my winter running gear?

Dinner tonight was nothing extravagant, but it was darned tasty. I made a chicken tetrazzini, a baked chicken, mushroom, and pasta dish in a wine and cream sauce.

Chicken tetrazzini; a good dish on a cooler fall day!



Anthony Bourdain would hate me for this, but I used a Jamie Oliver recipe from his Jamie's Italy cookbook! Aside from adding peas and seasoning the chicken with herbes de Provence and some crushed red pepper, I followed the recipe pretty closely and it turned out very nice. The result is a creamy baked pasta with a crusty layer of cheese and crispy noodles on top. Not too shabby!

Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Goose droppings, celebratory dinners, and talking cows

Following the race, I wandered back to the hotel. It was probably a mile or so, and I think the slow walk did me good to loosen up a little bit. I called my folks to let them know I finished and that I was in one piece. A quick shower later, I lounged around taking in a veritable buffet of sports; football, NASCAR, and the Ryder Cup in golf. (Just a note about the TV in my room; it was an old 19 inch set. After having HDTV for a few years now, broadcasts on regular tube TV sets look almost blurry!) I rehydrated with lots of fluids and ate the better part of a bag of "Cool Ranch" Doritos. With only some mild stiffness in my legs, I felt remarkably good and had no stomach issues like I did at Walker last year. Nice!

Eventually I made it out of the hotel in the evening to scare up some dinner. I arrived at my car to find this (please accept my apologies in advance for the following photo and paragraph, but I found this funny!):

The Silver Hornet, befouled!



My initial thought was that an inebriated Packer fan was doing a little pregame celebrating and puked the first car he could find with Minnesota plates. But no, it appears that I was "carpet-bombed" by a goose (or some other large waterbird). This was actually kind of cool in a sense because with a little detective work you can tell the direction the bird was flying based on the dispersion pattern. In any case, the mark on the fender is obvious, but if you look closely at the sticker in the lower corner of the windshield on the driver's side, you will see another direct hit. And, the picture does not capture the stuff that hit the ground after the bombing run! I've never seen anything like this. Can you imagine if this had hit a person? You would have to shower twice and your clothes would never be the same! Wow. Needless to say, a car wash was in order.

But enough about goose poop. It was time to get some dinner!

Usually when I am running in races at home, I have a semi-regular post-race tradition of getting Chinese takeout. Since I was traveling, I decided to go out and dine in on the usual take-out food. I ended up at a place called GingeRootz, and Asian-style bistro, in Appleton.

Kung POW! My dinner at GingeRootz in Appleton.



The restaurant itself was beautifully decorated and quite modern on the inside. A very classy establishment, for certain. Everything on the menu looked incredible, but I settled for the "Kung Pao in 3 Styles." This is essentially what I know as the infamous "triple kung pao" at one of my favorite take-out joints back home. It consists of chicken, beef, and shrimp with peppers, water chestnuts, and peanuts stir-fried in a spicy, garlicky brown sauce. A delicious meal, with big chunks of meat and very plump shrimp. It was well-prepared, quite spicy (spicy enough to make my nose run, anyhow!), and really hit the spot after a day of running. I would eat here often if I lived in Appleton. Good choices in restaurants on this trip, if I do say so myself!

Following dinner, I pretty much retired to the hotel room again to relax and take in the Packer game. The game was not especially interesting, however the beer that I purchased to consume while watching the game was. I bought some Wisconsin brew, the New Glarus Brewing Company’s “Fat Squirrel” nut brown ale. Of course, I bought it simply because of the name and due to my appreciation for squirrels, but I found it to be a flavorful brown ale with a lot of character and a pleasing roasted malt aroma. Very nice stuff! Unfortunately, I learned it is only available in Wisconsin. Drat! Oh well, I will remember this for the next trip to the Badger State.

After a good night’s rest, it was time to head home. I fueled up with the tasty "Hired Man's Breakfast," a hearty plate of eggs, hash browns and southern-style sausage links at The Machine Shed in Appleton, and then I hit the road.

I took a different route home, opting to take US Highway 10 all the way across the state until it connects with I-94. I have been on this road before, and I just love it. West of Stevens Point, the road becomes two lanes, and it is a quiet road with very little traffic. This was a driver’s dream, as I had the road to myself. The scenery from the town of Neillsville all the way to Osseo is gorgeous. Fall colors and rolling hills make for spectacular sights. And if you stop in Neillsville, you also get to see "Chatty Belle," the world’s largest talking cow. Who can resist that?

MOOOOOO! The World's Largest Talking Cow!



So, with a pleasant drive home, my Fox Cities Marathon weekend camee to a close. It was a memorable and fun experience. I was treated well, had a great time, ate some outstanding food, and learned a lot more about my abilities. A very successful weekend in my estimation.

While watching the Tour de France coverage this past July, cycling analyst and former professional rider, Bob Roll, was asked what he remembered most from his cycling days. You would expect to hear an athlete tell some stories about big or important races in his career. However, Bob surprised me and started reminiscing about his long training rides with just him, the road, and maybe some teammates. Those were some of his fondest memories.

I thought that was kind of neat to hear and I think I can appreciate his sentiment. While my race itself was certainly memorable, the road to get there took time and effort, so there is satisfaction in the preparation to reach a certain destination. And my road to get there was filled with enjoyable long weekend runs that included gorgeous sunrises over the lake, a multitude of bunnies on the trail, humorous encounters with foxes, and a large variety of birds, not to mention witnessing the seasons gradually changing. Those are the fond memories that I will take with me from this year's racing season.

These remarks are fairly unoriginal, and I’m not saying anything that hasn’t already been expressed by countless others (and probably more eloquently); but it has been said it is all about the journey and not the destination. I have to believe there is some truth to that. And now that this journey has reached its destination, another one can begin. I can’t wait to do this again.

The race medal



As the boys on the TV show Ghost Hunters always say at the end of their episodes; "On to the next!" :)

Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

“Run faster…there are pretty girls ahead of you!”

Sunrise through the clouds at the 2008 Fox Cities Marathon



Race day arrived, and we really hit the jackpot for weather. Temperatures must have been in the mid 50’s at the start (and I don't think they exceeded the mid 60's during my time out there). It was mostly cloudy with the sun peeking through on occasion, but the cooler weather was ideal for running.

There was a good crowd on hand at the start line outside of the UW Fox Valley campus, and the runners and spectators were really fired up. After a beautiful National Anthem, they sent the wheelchair and hand crank marathoners out first. The runners and spectators gave them a rousing send off. Then it was our turn.

A sea of runners at the start line



At 8:00, the horn sounded and we were on our way. Even though there were tons of runners, the streets at the start were wide, so the race started quite efficiently without any real bottlenecks. I settled into a comfortable pace.

In the early stages, I heard another great conversation between two people running together, one wearing the headphones, the other not. It went something like this:

Girl without headphones: “What was our pace for the first mile?”
Girl with headphones: “I’m NOT speeding up!”
Girl without headphones: “NO, WHAT WAS THE TIME FOR OUR FIRST MILE?!?”

Gotta love it. It reminds me of a story that my Dad tells involving a past coworker who couldn't hear well:

"Do you know Joe Cameron?"
“No, but I had a damn good one stolen from me!” :)

Only my folks can fully appreciate that one, but you get the idea. Anyhow, back to the race...

The Fox Cities Marathon course was largely flat except for a few very minor hills that are barely worth mentioning. It runs through several cities and communities along the Fox River. Many of these neighborhoods were just beautiful. Not extravagant, just really nice, well kept, working class neighborhoods that screamed of Americana. Aside from an area where we ran past a shopping center and crossed a busy highway with the help of many fine police officers and volunteers, most of the route went through neighborhoods such as this. I very much enjoyed the course.

Spectators came out in full force to cheer on the runners. Everyone seemed to be out on their lawns, people were ringing cowbells, and they rooted for friends and strangers alike. Cheerleaders from various area schools were stationed at different points along the course. Bands played. Some of the aid stations even had themes (The Flintstones, Gilligan’s Island). This was a race, but it was also a big party!

Here are a few of the more clever comments and words of encouragement I heard throughout the course of the race:

“No need to rush, kickoff isn’t until 7 PM!” – Packer fan at mile 16 (the Packers were playing a night game on Sunday)

“Just like REO Speedwagon, ‘Keep on rolling!'” – from a cop controlling traffic near mile 4 (As a "classic rock" kind of guy, I personally loved him quoting from the song "Roll With The Changes" and laughed out loud; the officer's younger female partner chided him for the dated reference!)

And, my favorite:

“Run faster...there are pretty girls ahead of you!” – from an elderly lady at mile 15, pointing out the two attractive ladies in pink just ahead of me (Hey now...game on!)

My point is that everyone along the course was incredibly supportive, and some even had us in hysterics. It was great.

I was quite happy with my race. I thought, by and large, I managed myself pretty well. My best performance points of the race were between miles 8 and 14. I felt really good and strong here. Progressively, I got slower, and with about 8 miles left, I felt noticeably slower. But I just kept plugging away, and with the exception of slowing to a walk at the aid stations to take water, Gatorade, and gel, I kept moving and ran the whole thing.

At one point, I briefly entertained the notion that I could crack 4 hours. However, that thought was short lived, as I realized I was getting slower as the race went on. I made it though the half marathon checkpoint at almost 2 hours flat and the 20 mile mark at 3:05, so you could kind of see where this was going! Throughout the race, my mind stayed sharp, and the sense of humor was always present, but the legs just started to get heavy!

The finish line party in Riverside Park



The race finished in Riverside Park, a beautiful peninsula along the shores of Lake Winnebago. There was a big party going on with lots of cheering from the crowd, and many smiles on many faces. I shuffled across the finish line in 4 hours, 12 minutes, and 39 seconds (results are here), very pleased with my performance. I had a snack and some water, milled around to regain my bearings, chatted with some of the other runners, and pretty much enjoyed the moment. It was a very good day.

Finished! Also, thanks to the nice girl who took my picture!



I love the atmosphere of marathons. Everyone has a story and a reason for running, and you know they mean something special to the racers. I just wanted to share the best thing I witnessed at the race. It involved one of the hand-crank wheelchair participants, a frail, older lady. When they sent the wheelchair and hand-crank participants out, most of them were off like a shot. She, however, slowly pulled away from the starting line. I actually ended up passing her at mile 4. It looked like she was having a very tough time, and I thought there was no way she was going to make it.

After the finish, I started walking back to my hotel. I watched more runners make their way to the finish. Much to my astonishment, there was the lady in the hand-crank wheelchair! The spectators were going absolutely crazy. Not only was she still moving forward, but she was smiling! What a fantastic thing to see. The greatest performance of the day, by far. I guess the lesson here is never to underestimate people. She was determined to finish, and she brought it home. That was just incredible and awfully inspiring!

Even though I never did catch those pretty girls, I still thought this was a fantastic race. They are in their 18th year of putting it on, so it is obvious they know what they are doing. It was well organized, the course is pretty (especially this time of year), the spectators and volunteers were awesome, as were the dozens of police officers providing traffic control at the busy intersections. The Fox Cities Marathon gives you that “big city marathon” feel without being too huge or overwhelming. A very nice, well orchestrated event.

Another marathon in the books! And still, more of my report to come. To be continued...again.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Warm up The Silver Hornet

Of course, my "Silver Hornet" is a little nicer than Clouseau's... :)



Saturday morning I hopped in The Silver Hornet and headed east into Wisconsin for yet another adventure. I would be going to Appleton to run in the Fox Cities Marathon.

The drive across the central part of Wisconsin on Highway 29 was most pleasant. It was a sunny day, perfect for driving. The fall colors actually appeared to be more vibrant here than they were back in the Twin Cities, so the scenery was quite beautiful as well.

I stopped in rural Curtiss, WI, at the Abbyland Restaurant for breakfast. As I entered the restaurant, the hostess asked me a question I haven't heard in ages; "Smoking, or non-smoking?" (Apparently a statewide smoking ban has not hit Wisconsin as it has in Minnesota.) As I waited for my food, I also realized that much like Bob's Country Bunker (the bar that Jake and Elwood Blues performed at in "The Blues Brothers" movie), the restaurant played both kinds of music on the radio; country and western. ;-) Hey, we were in farm country after all, and the size of my breakfast was testament to that. An enormous "Western Skillet" later (made with yummy, locally produced Abbyland sausage) and I was on my way.

Welcome to Marathon City! Population: 26.2



About 10 miles west of Wausau, I made a detour. I figure if you are driving somewhere to run a marathon and you pass a town named Marathon City, you really need to stop and look around, if for no other reason than to hopefully generate some good karma. I was glad I stopped, because it was a really charming and scenic little community. Highway 29 runs right by it on the north side, so you would never know what you are missing unless you left the main road.

After successfully negotiating some confusing detours and road construction around Wausau (I swear this same area was under construction more than two years ago when I went to Green Bay) AND around Steven Point, I made it to Appleton. Packet pickup was at the Fox Valley Technical College, and I was pretty much in and out of there. Actually, I was quite interested what was occurring next to the packet pickup in the neighboring parking lot; a Porsche driving event! There were a whole bunch of Porsche 911's squealing their tires around a makeshift driving course. I thought about heading over there with The Silver Hornet to see if they would let me play, but I think that would have been a lost cause. Looked like fun, however!

The old city hall clock tower in Neenah



I stayed at the Holiday Inn in downtown Neenah, which would be within walking (crawling?) distance from the race finish line. Neenah is a very old industrial town. They have done a lot of nice things with parks, the riverwalk, and keeping up the historic downtown area. My hotel room was nice and quiet (as they tend to be at races, since most of the people staying there keep the same hours!).

The park along the Riverwalk in Neenah



For dinner, I stumbled upon a gem. I dined at Big Tomatoes, a cute, dimly lit Italian restaurant, which was about a block and a half from the hotel in downtown Neenah.

Everything was made fresh and cooked to order, and I found the menu creative and interesting. I had a house salad (fresh greens and tomatoes tossed with a light lemon-garlic vinaigrette) and munched on the complimentary basket of assorted small breads to start. This included crusty Italian bread, a fluffy and delicate focaccia, and mini cornbread muffins laced with bacon (mmmm...bacon!). The bread alone was worth coming here.

Dinner at Big Tomatoes. Mama mia!



For my entree, I had pasta. "Shrimp Cavatappi," to be precise; curly cavatappi noodles tossed in a tomato and basil cream sauce with chunks of sun-dried tomatoes and topped with some beautiful grilled shrimp. Wow! The shrimp were perfectly cooked, and the sauce was flavorful and fresh, lightly dressing the nicely al dente pasta.

Great stuff! This was one of the better restaurant meals I have had in some time. I guess what I am saying is if you are ever in Neenah (or Green Bay, as they have an outpost there, too), by all means, go to Big Tomatoes.

Upon returning to the hotel, the was a wedding reception underway. The bride was out in the lobby with all of her bridesmaids. And the dresses of the bridesmaids were perhaps the most unbelievable things I have ever seen; black and turquoise, and the turquoise was made of extremely shiny satin material. Yikes! Thoughts of Phyllis' wedding on the TV show "The Office" came to mind, as her bridesmaids dresses were not much better.

Anyhow, that gave me good chuckle to end my evening. I retired to the hotel room for some relaxation and college football. Tomorrow would be a busy day, as there was a marathon to be run!

To be continued...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fox Cities Marathon finisher!

I earned my shirt!



Hi Everyone,

I have made it back from Wisconsin, and I am pleased to say that I finished the Fox Cities Marathon! My official time was 4 hours, 12 minutes, and 39 seconds, and I am very happy with my performance.

There are many pictures and trip notes to go through. It was a very good time, I was pleased with how I ran, and I felt great afterwards. I had a pleasant trip to and fro, found a couple damn good restaurants, and experienced a few comedic moments as well. I will try to post a full recap of the weekend's events as soon as possible.

In the meantime, thanks to all of you for your support and inspiration!

Jean

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fall is near. So is race day.

Fall colors showing up along my running trail



Some of the bigger trees around the lake are starting to show some yellow



As you can see, things are starting to get colorful here in the Twin Cities. Every day, you are seeing more and more leaves changing.

Our weather this week has been nothing short of spectacular. We have had high 70's, sunshine, and no humidity for several days now. I am hard pressed to recall a stretch of days that have been this comfortable. These are the days you dream about here in Minnesota! I've had a couple of good, easy runs this week. With the weather like this, it certainly isn't hard to want to be outside.

Of course, I am going through the typical anxious last few days of the taper. Feeling like you need to be running more than you are, trying to eat well, getting some good rest, etc. The big race is three days away!

This will likely be my last post before my "Assault on Appleton." I've got a laundry list of things to do (laundry included) before I leave. Also, there is a happy hour at work tomorrow afternoon (yes, I said "at work"...my company is cool!). I won't be imbibing, but I should make an appearance. But then I need to get in one final, really easy run, pack my bags, and I will hit the road Saturday.

Have a great weekend, everyone, and I look forward to returning with many stories from the Fox Valley in Wisconsin! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Trivial things

So for the last two days at work, I have been in a project management training class with my colleagues. As with many of these classes, the instructor tries to make it fun in order to keep things light and interesting.

This instructor used various versions of Trvial Pursuit, including questions from the original edition, the 80's, and even a Minnesota-specific edition. Teams were awarded points as part of an ongoing contest.

At the end of the training class, the instructor offered sort of a "Final Jeopardy" style question where teams could gamble their accumulated points for one big all-or-nothing wager. Each team would get their own question to answer.

Predictably, the other teams' questions were of the common knowledge variety. Their questions were as follows (the wording might not be exact, but this is the general idea):

Team 1: "What is removed as part of a hysterectomy?" (Note: we all work in a facet of the heath care industry, so asking that question of this group would be akin to letting Phil Mickelson play from the ladies tees in golf)

Team 2: "What liquid product derived from trees is a large part of Vermont's economy?"

As you can see, the other teams got some ridiculously easy questions.

Our question, however (from the Minnesota edition):

"The old Fugles Mill near the town of Simpson, MN, received its power from the north branch of what river?"

You've GOT to be kidding me...

I had never even heard of Simpson, or the old Fugles Mill, for that matter. I thought about it and assumed that Simpson was most likely a tiny, unincorporated locale. It was probably somewhere in southeastern Minnesota, since there were lots of rivers and creeks in this area, and there was something of a milling tradition down there back in the day.

I suggested to our team that we take a guess and say the Root River, since that was one of the "major" rivers in this area.

We answered the question as such...and, we were correct! The town of Simpson, MN was indeed located south of Rochester.

Our team broke out into a raucous celebration, prompting me to openly taunt and shout down the team who just answered the hysterectomy question. Unfortunately, we were aced out by the team who knew that Vermont was known for maple syrup (obviously). But, our late-inning heroic did vault us into second place, so that has to count for something. Here is to the power of deductive reasoning and wild-ass guesses! :)

On to running; the last couple days have seen a return to summer. Absolutely gorgeous weather is upon us at the moment. This afternoon's run was slightly warm in the low 80's, but the humidity is almost nonexistent, making things rather comfy. My run was good. I'm just taking it pretty easy this week.

One thing that occurred to me today is the bridge that I run under is completely devoid of the barn swallows and cliff swallows that were nesting there. They were always around in the summer, but they are gone. Headed south, no doubt. Also, the goldenrods are starting to shed their fine yellow petals, and more and more colors are appearing by the day.

In food news, my roasted tomato pasta sauce from the other night was fantastic. It ended up being a meat ragu with onions, garlic, green peppers, mushrooms, olives (green, black, and Kalamata), and artichoke hearts, so there was a lot going on here. The tomato sauce was out of this world, too. Nothing quite like fresh, in-season tomatoes. This sauce rocked. Yum!

Fresh tomato goodness over pasta



Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Weekend of running, fall weather, and tomatoes

Signs of fall from a Sunday morning run; a young maple tree changing colors



Saturday was the last "long" run until Fox Cities. I did 13 1/2 miles, working in a couple of loops around my local lake. The weather was overcast, cool (59 degrees), with occasional drizzle. Just a gray, gloomy, hazy, foggy day, great for running but not much else!

The drizzle did not keep the bunnies away, however. I encountered 10 on my journey (for a decent .74 BPM ratio). Given that it is now fairly dark at 6 AM, the bunnies are harder to see during the early part of my run. However, there is always the telltale sign of their little white cotton tail bouncing and zigzagging down the trail in front of me when I scare one up!

As for birds, there are lots of ducks and geese that are starting to flock together right now. I saw many waterbirds in the air and congregating on the lake. I also encountered several catbirds. These guys will be missed, as I have enjoyed seeing them on my runs. They are a sleek and social bird, and I also learned they are smart. If a dreaded brown-headed cowbird (the "deadbeat parent" of the bird kingdom) lays an egg in a catbird nest, the catbird is sharp enough to get rid of the cowbird egg! A cool bird. They have been fun this summer!

I went running this morning as well, just my normal 5 miler. I was fortunate that the sun was out, as clouds have since rolled in. The sights were extraordinary.

Another sunrise shot over my local lake. I have taken lots of pictures here in this same spot, yet they all look different!



A small pink flower along the trail, still blooming. I believe this is a swamp smartweed.



The sumac are really starting to turn. I noticed a patch of them along the trail that is turning a brilliant crimson. Several of the smaller maples are showing more and more yellow colors every day, and in some cases are turning red (as is evident in my photo at the top of the post). Minnesota is looking good right now.

I've been purchasing a ridiculous amount of locally grown grape, Roma, and beefsteak tomatoes because they are just so darned good right now. So today, I made tomato sauce!

I took two pints grape tomatoes and about a pound and a half of Roma and beefsteaks, halved (or if they were big, quartered) them, tossed with chopped garlic, fresh thyme, salt, pepper, and a good slug of olive oil and roasted them in a hot oven for about 20 minutes until slightly soft and caramelized. Then I blended the lot of them, making perhaps the sweetest, most delicious tomato sauce that has ever come out of my kitchen. This is the basis for my pasta sauce tonight.

I am deliriously excited to cook today! More to come...

Until next time,

Thursday, September 11, 2008

10 days

Field of goldenrod in the meadow along my running trails, the picture doesn't do much justice in showing how pretty this is!



I’ve had a busy week at work. Some client meetings ate up most of my day yesterday, and I have some training that will occupy most of my Friday. Needless to say, I am looking forward to the weekend!

Running was nice this evening, but the weather had a little bit of everything; it started out sunny, progressively got cloudy, and I was caught in a downpour as I arrived back home!

There are more signs of fall every day. I am seeing a yellowish tint to the trees in some places. The meadow along my running route, pictured above, is brilliant right now with goldenrod everywhere you look. This is such a pretty time in this state.

Today I noticed large numbers of blue jays. This is definitely a signal that fall is approaching when you see all those guys on the move. Also, I had a very odd sighting. A dozen or more nighthawks were busy feeding over the trails. This is unusual, as they are generally seen feeding as dusk and dawn. Perhaps they were duped by the dark, overcast conditions? Whatever the case, it was fun to have a chance to see them in daylight.

Thanks to all for the birthday wishes. And the pizza I made for my birthday dinner was most delicious; bacon, sliced grape tomatoes, fresh basil, and four kinds of cheese. Yum!

The birthday pizza



My “big race” is fast approaching. In 10 days, I am going to be running in the Fox Cities Marathon in Appleton, WI. Currently I’m in my “taper,” so I have been dialing the mileage down a bit as I head into the final week of training. Very excited about this race; it seems like a nice, medium-sized event, providing a sort of a “big city race” feel at a cheaper rate and without the enormous crowds (like Twin Cities or Grandma’s, for instance). Also, the area looks quite pretty. I think Wisconsin is vastly underrated in terms of its beauty, so I am looking forward to the whole experience.

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

You say it's your birthday

On this day in 1991 as a college student, I strolled into an Iowa liquor store and bought a case of Miller Lite, just because I was finally old enough.

Seventeen years later, I am happy to say that my taste in beer has improved dramatically.

That is right, folks, it is my birthday! Another year older, hopefully wiser, but probably not any better looking! ;-)

This week has been blessed with cooler temperatures. We are now entering a great time of year to be a runner in Minnesota. Sunday I did a little over 18 miles and had a most fun morning run. Adding to the enjoyment was the inexplicable fact that the trails were nearly vacant on Sunday morning. Not sure if most of the runners were taking Sunday off, but I didn’t see more than 10 people during my entire journey.

I encountered 10 bunnies on this day (that would be a .55 BPM ratio), even stopping to chat with one of my regular dudes who is always in the same spot happily munching away on his grass. There were lots of birds as well, including a pair of swans (Tundra swans, I am guessing – they were too far away to be certain), cormorants, catbirds, flickers, and many young song sparrows (there must have been a large number of late hatches or second batches of them, because the little guys are all over the place!).

Signs of fall are upon us. I am starting to see a slight yellowing of the leaves on the trees. Some of the sumac and other smaller shrubs are even developing a reddish tint to them. A few more really cool mornings like today (44 degrees!), and we will definitely be noticing a visual change in the seasons.

Eating local; bacon from Thielen’s in Pierz, locally produced cracked wheat bread, and Minnesota grown basil and tomatoes



In food news, I’ve been enjoying a bounty of great produce. The Minnesota sweet corn has been nothing short of outstanding this year. And over the weekend, I had some wonderful tomatoes that were perfect on my “BBT” (bacon, basil, tomato) sandwich, also made with a locally produced artisan bacon. It is a shame that you can’t get vegetables this good year round, but I think that makes us appreciate them more when they are in season. Needless to say, I think I have eaten my body weight in sweet corn over the past few weeks!

Tonight’s birthday dinner is going to he a homemade pizza (no doubt some of my awesome little grape tomatoes will be used as a topping), and then I am going to watch that new show, Fringe on FOX. It looks weird, kind of like “Lost,” so it could be right up my alley.

Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, September 6, 2008

My dental hygienist says the sweetest things

Yesterday I had my dentist appointment for the regular twice a year cleaning. My dentist is awesome. She was an Olympic runner years ago, so we always get to chat about running. She was asking me about races I had done, and what I had coming up. We talked about how many people think it is strange to plan a vacation around a race. She's cool, and believe it or not, it is always fun to visit the dentist!

The dental hygienist was not my regular one, so she did not know me prior to yesterday. She was listening to the conversation, and when the dentist finished up the exam, the hygienist resumed with the cleaning.

She asked me, "Are you a runner?" to which I answered yes.

Then she asked, "Were you also in the Olympics?"

I have been mistaken for a lot of things. But an Olympian was never one of them. Up until yesterday, the best was being mistaken for a U of M cross country runner at a local race. Yesterday's dentist visit topped that episode by a long shot.

After a fit of laughter, I explained that I was a only a mere mortal recreational runner at best, neither fast nor talented. The hygienist laughed too and said, "A lot of the doctor's patients are athletes, so I wasn't sure!"

"But," she said, "you look like a runner."

Now wasn't that a sweet thing to say? I am now nearly 20 years removed from playing any sort of organized sport, but now I finally at least resemble an athlete! Of course, she might have a different opinion had she seen me trying to drag my sorry ass up and down Moose Mountain at the Superior Trail Races last spring, but I will take a compliment wherever I can get one. :)

So apparently, I look like a runner. To borrow a line from Bill Murray in Caddyshack, "So I got that going for me...which is nice."



P.S. - No cavities, either...even after eating all those sugary gel packs on my long runs this year! :)

Yours in Olympic greatness,

Jean

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fall approaching?

Fall colors, soon coming to a Minnesota tree near you (well, if you are in Minnesota, I guess!)




Wow, what a difference a few days makes! This past weekend we had temperatures reach 90. Today, we aren’t supposed to crack 70. Heck, it is only 65 as I type this.

This is definitely a good thing for runners. The temperature has been so comfortable, and it makes for great running. You feel so much more energized when you don't have the heat to bog you down. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last couple of days.

There are signs of fall as the bird activity is definitely starting to pick up as well. Late summer is usually fairly stagnant, but now I am starting to see some birds that are presumably on the move. I had not seen the Eastern kingbirds for awhile, but now they are present in the meadow again. I’ve spotted a few flickers and lots of different hawks as well. There was even a cormorant flying over the lake this afternoon, and I have not seen one of them since early spring.

And I had an interesting encounter with a cedar waxwing. He flew up out of a shrub and landed in a tree at eye level along side the trail. I stopped running. The bird just sat there with a giant berry in his mouth. I was 5 feet from him. The waxwing sat there for about 10 seconds, squeaked at me with his high-pitched trill, and flew off. There are no signs of mass migration just yet, but that will pick up soon.

Another sign of fall is that I am deliriously excited that tonight officially marks the start of football season! I am looking forward to watching all the NFL action over the coming months. There seems to be a lot of excitement surrounding the Vikes this year, but I am not convinced. I am setting my expectations low in hopes that I will be wrong! My fantasy team has the potential to suck pretty bad, but who cares? It’s football season!!!

Ready for some football,

Jean

Monday, September 1, 2008

Is anybody cooking? And, today's run.

From Thanksgiving of last year. Mom and me making the traditional lefse



I love to cook.

"Well, duh!" you say. "Your so-called running blog contains more drivel about food than anything!"

OK, true. But I do love to cook. And as I get older, I am seemingly learning that more and more people don't. Or in some cases, don't care. Or maybe don't know how.

It happens on a regular basis. As I microwave some leftovers in the break room at work, I often get the "What's for lunch today?" question, followed by "Did you make that yourself?" My invariable "Yes" response to the second question occasionally elicits a surprised look, followed by something like, "Wow, you must really like to cook!"

No, you didn't hear me. I love to cook!

I have been cooking since I was a kid. I have great memories of food; making my own scrambled eggs when I was young, helping Mom and Grandma make lefse, and watching Dad brew up his beer batter mixture to deep-fry fresh walleye from the local lakes.

Both my Mom and Dad are excellent cooks. We always had great meals, even though we were not rich by any stretch of the imagination. Food and cooking was important, as was the act of the meal itself. My brother (also an excellent cook and grill master) and I learned this well, and we both spend a great deal of time in the kitchen pursuing our culinary interests.

I had a few recent break room conversations with coworkers regarding cooking at home.

One girl told me opening a box of macaroni and cheese for dinner was considered ambitious for her. Another told me she hadn't cooked in her kitchen for over two months. And, while nuking some of my homemade lasagna, a girl told me that her sister had given her a recipe to make lasagna in, of all things, the crock pot, which she couldn't wait to try. (Crock pot lasagna?!? Ewww! I actually did ask if you needed to blow torch the top in order to brown the cheese!)

The most amazing story was the coworker who has lived in her house for five years and admitted she has used her stove twice in that time. (Good grief, sometime I have that number beat in a day!)

It should come as no surprise to anyone that many of the TV shows I watch are food and cooking-related. I read essays and books by food writers Ruhlman and Bourdain, and my bookshelf is overflowing with cookbooks. I love reading about cooking as much as I enjoy cooking itself.

In the near decade and a half that I have lived in the Cities, I have seen a huge transformation at the Minnesota grocery stores. Previously hard-to-find foods and ingredients are now readily available.

For instance, fifteen years ago when I was cooking with chipotle peppers that I had to track down through mail order, nobody had any idea what they were. Now these smoky peppers are everywhere, in seemingly everything, and the eponymous McDonald's-owned fast food burrito joint has helped bring the word "chipotle" into the national lexicon. Nuoc mam (Thai fish sauce) was never seen anywhere outside of an Asian market, but now it appears in the Asian food aisle of my local grocery store. Honest to goodness heirloom tomatoes are available in the produce department. For crying out loud, there is now a guy making take-out sushi right there in the store!

We are at a time in America where we have a bounty of good stuff to cook with. TV's Food Network has soared in popularity. People are crazy about restaurants and chefs. The number of cookbooks printed and sold in the US has increased dramatically in recent years. Enrollment numbers at culinary schools are rising rapidly.

But nobody seems to be cooking. Or, at least the people around me that I mentioned above. Perhaps they are a bad demographic? All of them are younger than me by at least a decade, many lead busy lives, etc. But it also made me wonder; is it that the younger generation doesn't care about cooking? Or perhaps even worse, maybe they don't know how to cook?

While food television, food literature, celebrity chefs, and great ingredients are everywhere, many schools' home economics programs (my Mom's profession) have disappeared from the curriculum. People are leading busy lives and work long hours, leaving precious little time to cook for themselves, or to teach their own kids to cook.

None of this is to criticize anyone who doesn't have time, or doesn't like, to cook. Certainly, cooking is not everyone's thing, and just because I am passionate about it doesn't mean that you have to me.

Still, it does worry me because so much cultural identity comes from food. If the people who can and like to cook do not have time to cook, which translates into not having time to teach their kids how to cook, who is going to make the lefse in 20 to 30 years?

Or, are they all going to grow up thinking a proper lasagna comes from a crock pot?

I don't have the answers, just lots of questions and observations. All I know is that lefse must be turned using a traditional lefse stick, and I won't let anyone forget that! :)

Since this is a running blog...

I had a really nice run this morning. Temperatures were in the high 60's, and it was humid and kind of breezy, but I still had a good strong run.

Today was just a 5 miler, during which time I encountered 5 rabbits, making for a perfect 1.0 BPM ratio, the highest of the season thus far! A good day for the bunnies.

I also saw one of the resident eagles. This was a treat, as I had not seen the eagle family in some time, since they don't hang around the nest as much now that the youngsters have grown.

Tonight's dinner is Thai basil chicken with rice stick noodles. The leftover's will be bound to strike up new and interesting conversations in the break room tomorrow!

Hope everyone had a fantastic and safe Labor Day weekend!

Until next time,

Jean

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