A van pulls over near you in the middle of the night

high school parking lot
When a fence appeals: it was 10 feet from the van.

When else is a van in the dark a good thing?

It’s fun to reminisce with friends from afar who have also competed in a 200-mile relay.

My not-too-surprising main takeaway from this year’s experience running in Ragnar Relay Great River: prioritize rest/sleep. Maybe even above showering; certainly above food. Because: hot, hot summer. The van will smell, and your guts will get confused no matter what you do.

I clearly needed the rest because once it was over, I conked out for a record 15 hours. That heat (90 something in the day with pretty high humidity; 75 or so in the middle of the night)… oof, it took a lot out of me.

getting soaked
Soakers: save your runners and make new friends: everyone wins

Another item to remember for next summer: never join a Ragnar team van in Minnesota in August if said van doesn’t contain super soaker guns and people unafraid to use them. We had three such weapons/instruments of heat stroke banishment.

Atop this post is a shot of my little nest outside Ellsworth High School, during rest 1 (of 2). I got little sleep but at least I got to stretch out a bit, do an Eka Pada Rajakapotasana or two, rest my eyes (most helpful were earplugs and a buff to pull over my eyes, to block out parking lot distractions), and send a friend a text remarking on the surprisingly high number of crossfitters doing the relay this year (her response: “are you that surprised?”). I was not, but in the porta-potty line earlier that day, I overheard this and compared to prior years, it was unusual: “oh, my god so I did this snatch on Wednesday and then on Thursday I was so sore and I was like shoot, I messed up Ragnar…”

Crazy Train
Our van art was good, but this team took it to another level. Pro tip: chalk pens wash off of windows very easily.

Another thing that struck me this year, sadly at a moment when I did not have a camera at the ready: it truly is a bizarre sight to walk around the perimeter of a high school at around dawn and see at least half of the ground surfaces (grass, tennis courts, sidewalks) littered with human beings arrayed (each alone) in an amazing variety of positions and entanglements with sleeping bags or blankets. It was like a flash mob of narcoleptics. Or a nonfatal zombie apocalypse.

camp trailer
Rest #2 Accommodation: YESSS the best 58 minutes of sleep EVER.

Despite the heat, it was a great time (again) and we performed surprisingly well-32nd place out of 421 teams! With no injuries nor heat-related problems, either. Bonus: more of our team – maybe even all of us – were able to hang around for the free beer and pizza.

A day or two after the race I quite seriously suggested we consider doing Ragnar Antarctica, if it’s ever invented. But if we place this well in heat, why the heck bail on an August relay if it is reasonably cool, almost every other year? Go Team Loo Lovers: 7 years and counting!

Santosha and tapas in subscription boxes

mirabilis flower
The Four O’Clock flower finally bloomed. At Nine O’Clock.

What I have is a flower that bloomed from a seed packet we’ve had for years that I finally planted in haste in June because our vegetable garden is having a rough year and I’d really like to see something other than non-flowering weeds happen in fresh dirt in our yard.

Beautiful things from tiny seeds found in a drawer and a bare patch in the yard.

There is a parable here.

Scratch, scratch.

For my UX work at this place lately I’ve been reading up weekly on e-commerce payment technology and customer loyalty program trends. One hot item these days is subscription box programs – the news last week was that Sephora is planning on booting one up.

It looks to me like this move was made simply to jump on a bandwagon: this omnichannel retailer already does something similar: whenever I order something, I have the opportunity to select and receive a handful of samples in that shipment, and also to bank points to apply toward slightly larger samples in the future. What it amounts to is a pile of stuff I’m going to donate to the nearest women’s shelter, if possible. Here and there is a sunscreen or perfume sample that I’ll keep – the packets are handy for the gym bag and travel.

cupcakes at Buttered Tin
I may not have have been as inclined to cancel a subscription box of these, seen at Buttered Tin.

However, apparently a lot of people really get excited about their subscription box services; I tried Naturebox for awhile and I enjoyed some of the treats they sent; but then the baker and whole-foods nut in me took control and I cancelled it. I know a few people who enjoy their Birchbox or Ipsy Glambag deliveries.

Sometime in the last week or so I also read about a yoga-related subscription box, BuddhiBoxes (BB). It’s apparently not the first of its kind but it’s the first I’d read about, so I was curious and did some research; here’s one helpful review. It looks to me like this and others like it pack in a variety of the types of items that I see advertised frequently in Yoga Journal magazine – both its ads and content – as well as in certain aisles of food co-ops in my neighborhood: Candles, aromatherapy, yoga mat spray, cosmetics that may not give you cancer, mala beads, various accessories and clothing items that are either useful while practicing yoga or are a way to share with the world that you love your yoga. Plus an inventive assembly of poetry, recipes, a yoga pose information cards – the latter with some adorable illustrations. One notable appeal of BB is that each month BB picks a charity and donate proceeds from the sale of the boxes to that charity.

In all, it sounds like stuff I do and will use, so I’m sure I’d get appropriately excited when the package would arrive. Who doesn’t like presents? Even when you pay for them yourself, in advance? At least this way, you’d have had some say in the genre of contents.

Moose art at Lego Land
Moose guru: art at LEGO® Mall of America

There was one nugget in the review above that has had me thinking for a few days, though: “…I’ve received very little that is directly involved in the yoga practice….” It strikes me that while it may depend on your flavor of yoga and what you seek in your practice, is there really anything that could arrive in a box that would be directly involved in a yoga practice?

Conflicted: I first thought she’s right: no, Yoga mat, clothes, studio and teacher wouldn’t fit, literally, and if you’re talking about home practice, time management can’t be boxed. If you open the field up to include things beyond  mat practice, perhaps some mala beads or a nice perfume could be nice reminders to be mindful, but really… no.

But then, YES: that inspirational quote from Thich Nhat Hanh is almost exactly the type of thing I find myself looking for now and then, so it would be fab to get one in the mail every month or so – if not more often.

But then, NO: the idea behind authentic inspiration is that you stumbled upon it… literally, on the street, or maybe in your reading, in a movie or in a conversation … any of which already happen in your everyday life. While a box of curated good may count as serendipitous, the whole setup is perhaps a little too engineerered.

And again, YES: the guru is everywhere. Just don’t let yourself settle into the idea that inspiration or enlightenment will all come from one source – be it box, one yoga teacher, a Lululemon shopping bag, or a book of Rumi poems.

Mike at Northfield Oils and Vinegars
I am almost content with the amount of time I’ve gotten to see my brother this year. Here he is, determining if he liked a sip of what appears to be sour olive oil.

And then no: investing in some good instruction is worth the expense, but aside from that, finding something new that is branded with “yoga” to spend money on seems to be mostly a distraction from an alternative that’s free and less bulky. Be content with what you have, and let your practice itself be what drives you to practice.

So: contentment and burning enthusiasm! Here are two of the mindful-living guidelines from the second of Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga. I love exploring these ideas but, like my mostly fruitless searches for inspiration in poetry books, enlightenment on these is most succinct when I stumble into them – by reading a press release about Sephora’s “Play!” box, for example.

Funny.

On contentment, or the Santosha niyama: the idea is to be content with what you have, materially and immaterially. Objects, love, skills, status. Does a pre-arranged box arriving in the mail indicate that there is a void? Or that there is none?

Then, on burning enthusiasm: or the Tapas niyama: What drives you to your mat and your yoga mindfulness isn’t a t-shirt with Ganesh on it, a lovely-smelling candle, and a guided 20-minute podcast sequence of poses, though those can help. What drives you to your mat is desire and willingness to practice.

it’s not easy, but it is simple. Let it work.

Some helpful reading is here: on tapas, and on santosha. But don’t take my – or the writers, there – word for it.

Oh, and back to the mirabilis story, at top. Maybe this: it required some contentment on my part to accept the current state of the yard, and work with what we had on hand. And it took some work and intention to care for those seeds and then seedlings. And they grew!

Tenuous, perhaps. Happy August.

Oohs, ahhhs, and amazed gapes

true fir cones
Some things we saw from the Bald Mountain Summit trail in the Uintas Mountains of Utah
Vacations for me usually include at least two of the items below:

  • An escape from the frigid Minnesota winter
  • An escape from a frigid Minnesota winter to someplace even more snowy because winter + mountains = better and usually not as cold plus great skiing
  • Discovery of someplace new and likely far away, to open our eyes to new cultures, ideas and foods
  • A reunion with family, usually at familiar, loved places
  • A visit to a national park or something similar, because we heard about it from friends or read about it in a magazine. It’s usually rather high in elevation or remarkably low in elevation because it’s near to (or surrounded by) a very, very large body of water. Much oohs and aaahs are uttered and at the former, I always get a bloody nose
  • An epic cultural event that simply should not be missed if one has the opportunity. Examples include the Kentucky Derby, the American Birkebeiner (well, at least the first trip could be categorized this way), the 2002 winter Olympics in Utah and also our visit to the temples in/near Siem Reap, Cambodia (Angkor Wat, et cetera)
  • A testing of mettle: an endurance run or ski event, a relay race, cragging, hiking and/or camping trip

Snow Lily china pattern
Lenox china pattern “Snow Lily”
This summer, Steve and I opted for a road trip mainly because we got a new car. New automobiles are better than old automobiles for trips, at least from a potential for problems standpoint, right? This turned out to be true.

And then, when we decided how far we planned to drive, it also became a trip to see Mom and retrieve the set of china that she had set aside for me, which she would not trust to any shipper because a) it’s beautiful and b) I helped choose the pattern way, way back when I was wee and wasn’t as well equipped to prepare food to put onto the plates.

I’m pleased to observe that at that tender age, I already had good taste: I still love the pattern and a few friends who have seen the shot (shown here) agree that it’s a nice one. I guess we’d better find room to store it and, more importantly, throw an event in which to use the china and the crystal punch bowl that also made the trip back to Minnesota!

The things in between Minnesota and Oregon, any way you drive it, were bound to be interesting, so about a month ahead of the trip, I stopped by the local AAA travel office and got a great route planned for us by the friendly consultant there.  In retrospect, I’ll offer this note of advice: if you want up-to-date road closure info, get your TripTik within just a few weeks of your trip. Apparently, summer is not just construction season in Minnesota, it’s also especially true in North Dakota and in a few other spots out in the American West. Fortunately, we were never in a time crunch and we had plenty of entertainment and foodstuffs.

road trip map
Oh, the places you’ll go
What I told her: we have two weeks. We need to get to the Oregon coast by July 4. We’d like to hit Custer, South Dakota and Park City, Utah to visit relatives. We want to visit Great Basin National Park, because Backpacker magazine did a great write-up on it (which included the fact that it didn’t get a lot of traffic: a plus in our book) and plus it’s Mom’s favorite national park. We have friends in Portland and Fargo. We plan to camp for some of this trip, where there is enjoyable camping. We’d love to visit more than one national park or monument. Some hiking would be great.

Here’s a great interactive map, to give you an idea of the itinerary that resulted. We strayed just a tiny bit from the TripTik, mostly at the end, with a visit to Itasca State Park, because we had time, we had camp food, and I’ve always wanted to visit that park.

The maps should give you a feel for the sequence of things (we started off on the southern route), so I’ll arrange this recap as a list of highlights, instead.

  • We still love camping. Despite needing 2 sleeping pads each, plus full-size pillows, and despite campgrounds that don’t allow us a full night’s sleep due to people (and dog) noise and early summer sun, it’s still a wonderful thing. We love to cook and eat dinner outside, to giggle in a tent, to unzip it and peek at the sunrise and to discover over and over again how much better coffee -even instant- tastes when your nose is also taking in sage and/or pine scents and you might need to put on a warm cap while warming your hands around the cup.
  • Yes, it was a lot of driving. But the Mini is super fun to drive and also fairly comfortable, even with a set of china in the car
  • Road tripping in a Mini, even with camping gear is doable, but it helps to be people whose camping gear is somewhat minimalist due to past trips and fondness for cool technology. Small tent, superfast and small stove, no pots or camp chairs: they fit. Even when we took 4 sleeping pads and two large pillows.
  • Next time we camp where there are not fire restrictions, we plan to do campfires and also bring camp chairs because: how did I forget – or not know – that campfire smoke is a functional – and less sticky and gross than Ultrathon – mosquito repellant? Also: I missed s’mores: I made two on the kitchen stove, the day we came home.
  • mushpot cave
    Mushpot Cave at LBNM: no headlamp needed but maybe the room needed more disco lighting
    Steve’s favorite discovery of the trip was Lava Beds National Monument. As we entered California, we realized that 2015 didn’t have a caldera visit in it yet, and it was easier to swing by this place than to veer way off the plan to hit Lassen Park. Caves in 95+ degree weather are a great way to beat the heat and they are pretty cool, geologically speaking as well. Molten lava made these caves! And this park sits on a volcano larger (wider) than any other Cascade range volcanos.
  • Steve’s favorite part of the trip was Great Basin National Park. As promised, it was not crowded for a National Park in July – mere days before July 4 – and the extremely helpful and sympathetic ranger advised us tenters to head for the campground with exceptionally high elevation. It was 20 degrees cooler up there and also cooler (in a different way) as the road was bendy enough to forbid RVs. While it was kind of fun to see so many happy RV people on the western roads during out trip, we found that fewer of them in campgrounds usually meant a more enjoyable camping stay for us, mostly due to generator noise and congestion on smaller highways. This was in contrast to a trip we made years ago to more secluded Forest Service campgrounds in bear country, where a noisy engine seemed to deter ursine visits. One interesting item, here: there’s no entrance fee at this park, maybe as it’s so remote.
  • I think my favorite discovery on the trip was those lovely fireflies that came out as we sat down in the dark to have our very first meal of the trip, the very day we left the Twin Cities. We had camped at Blue Mounds State (MN) Park before but later in the year and rain had driven us out the following morning. This time there was some light rain as we arrived, so we put off setting up a tent and dinner and went for a hike. It was pretty dark when we came back (the rain had abated) so we lapped up our first meal made with the JetBoil – a delicious Mountain Home Beef Stroganoff – with some gentle but lively illumination by fireflies in the grasses surrounding our campsite.
  • firehold canyon, WY
    Awakened by the sun… glad I didn’t miss the view.
    My second favorite discovery was the exhilarating feeling of scoring a campsite when we elected not to reserve one (or any, for that matter) ahead of time. Even at Itasca State Park! On a July Friday! We experienced this five times on our trip. For two people who have had more than a few .. highly … planned, too-busy trips in the last few years, this element of spontaneity was rewarding, even if not in the sleep department.
  • My favorite part of the trip, which may be due to the item above, was our camping night in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, at Firehole Canyon Campground. The turnoff for it from I-90 didn’t betray the jewel that was hidden about 40 minutes away. The color and visual depth of the scenery was stunning: not so surprising for this part of the country. Maybe it had just been too long since I’d gotten to a place like this by car, rather than by airplane? This was our third night out of MN and what we were taking in had a slower reveal and thus perhaps allowed for a deeper recognition of the expanse and visual variety to be absorbed. In a surprising way, it was like discovering Paris on foot, 4 years after discovering it by metro: lots of interesting pieces but once you see the seams – or seamlessness of gradual change – its so much bigger and more complex.
  • So many gatherings –and selfies– with extraordinary people we don’t see as often as we’d like!

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  • Just to prove that we didn’t do that much driving: we sampled and enjoyed plenty of good beer, along the way. We made two stops in Wyoming (Freedom’s Edge and Coal Creek) and three in Montana (Lolo Peak406 and Überbrew), Great Basin Brewing in Nevada, Fargo Brewing and the usual, vital visit to Rogue in Newport, Oregon. We also paid a visit to our friend Lisa’s terrific Belmont Station bottle shop in Portland! Every single sip was delicious, and that’s including the ciders with which the bartender at Rogue plied us, right as we entered the Bayfront shop. We had him refill the fancy metal growler we’d bought in Nevada and emptied … somewhere shortly thereafter. I think that “6-hop” that we got there was my favorite of the trip.
  • Minnesota may have weird beer purchasing laws (no retail sales on Sundays), but Montana’s are weirder (you can only have 3 pints per day from tap rooms and the establishments (or maybe just the government) “help” you keep track of those three with a slip of paper). We had to keep on driving, so didn’t get much past one anyway… but we kept the artifact!
    beer at 406
    In Montana, a tap room can only sell you three.
  • I cannot believe how stunning (here’s a shot by someone one Flickr), and how hot (I stopped looking after 105˚F), the Columbia River Gorge was, that week, which apparently was normal for that area, even if Portland was experiencing a somewhat rare heat wave. Many of our holiday trips growing up were to a place in Washington very near the gorge but I don’t think we ever approached it from the south, so the sights further east than Multnomah Falls were new to me. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t stop to camp somewhere or the night to at least take photos and view the sights more slowly than from a speeding Mini. However, as someone who has camped before in temperatures above 100, we made the right choice by continuing on to a hotel further up the road. We did stop in The Dalles to check out the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, which was full of great information about the area’s cultures and history.
  • July 4 in Yachats, Oregon was wonderful, as usual. We ate our fill of great seafood and had a great time hanging out with Betty! We visited the site where we’d gotten married, just over nine years ago and enjoyed several beach walks. Most of Oregon seemed to be there at the same time, having escaped the inferno (just a heat wave, not forest fires) on the other side of the coast mountain range.
  • sand shrimp
    Shrimpy
    A special treat during our three days there was to join Betty and her friend Sally on their monthly CoastWatch beach walk: volunteers up and down the entire coast report monthly on things they observe on their designated one-mile stretch of beach. What goes into the report: things appearing on the beach that are not sand, other unusual things, how many people (adults, kids, dogs) are there during the walk, what they are doing (i.e. clamming, walking, shooting pictures, running) and so forth. Notable on this day were jellyfish, sand shrimp, the typical debris from personal fireworks, about 14 people and a few dogs, all out for walks.
  • I really liked some art that we got to check out in Bozeman, up on the walls in the 406 Tap room. Mimi Matsuda‘s paintings were a good portion of the show. I’m usually drawn to fish paintings of almost any kind, so there’s no surprise there with several of the works on display. But I also loved the playful scenes with bears & other wildlife – one of which we’d already seen near a gas station, nearby in an electrical station wrap.
  • Funniest moment: we saw no notable birds in Great Basin National Park aside from several ravens. However, late in the day that we left that park, right from the bed in our casino hotel room in Sparks, Nevada, we spotted a Black-crowned Night Heron. Barfing and peeing on the pavement, right outside our window. It’s one of my favorite birds because it looks like an Edward Gorey cartoon character. It seemed so perfect that what he threw up was large, dark and slimy! We only got a good, identifying look at him after he took care of that business and walked out from beneath a pickup truck; until then all we saw was his huge beak and huge feet. Here are three I saw in May 2014 in Southeast Oregon.

That’s about it, for my trip story. I hope you enjoyed the reading and pictures! More photos can be viewed here on a SmugMug gallery.

Dinner table scenery: #tbt

 
Just over two weeks ago, we enjoyed a campsite dinner in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area‘s Firehole Canyon campground, pictured above (behind the chef). It was amazing! 

More travel stories from our recent trip are coming to this blog, soon. Here’s a map of our adventure.

Speaking of dinner and things amazing: the chef above made us a great dinner last night, of some Vatapa. Here’s a recipe for you! I ate something very similar while recently at Local Ocean in Newport, Oregon with him and Mom. 

Beastly

Highway 35 to Duluth
Going north to do some running on pavement.
Things that ran through my head, in the minutes and hours after I finished Grandma’s Marathon, my second marathon, yesterday afternoon:

  • Holy cow, that long straightaway approaching the finish line just seemed to get longer and longer, like it was a hall of mirrors. I was so, so happy to cross that finish line!
  • After discovering that I didn’t beat the time from my first marathon, some pretty vocal disappointment (“sh**!”). This was not so much at the lack of a new PR.  It was more in frustration at the discovery that my plan to “save it for the end” by running more conservatively at the start … did not work as a plan to help me feel more energetic for the last 6 miles and/or able to get a new PR.
  • carnation from a marathon
    I missed all the postrun snacks BUT NOT THE FLOWER
    Gratitude! For the Grandma’s veterans, Allen and Mike who knew the easy way to get to the YMCA (uphill and across an interstate from the finish area) where we could shower and put on dry clothes. For weather that ended up optimal – not just for keeping our bodies cool but also for this Tacoma-raised kid who prefers running in rain. For my superfan husband who joined us on this adventure and for the running friends and Grandma’s spectators that made this anything but an ordinary day outside in running shoes. For the terrific friends and other fans, volunteers and race officials that made this a great and fun event.
  • This came later, as in today, but also: gratitude also for this strong body -and mind- that held together for the duration and presented me with no blisters and with a time that wasn’t very much slower (four minutes) than my PR. For finishing the beastly test of a marathon, again.
  • Back to a big thought, last night: Maybe I’ll be one of those impossible people – someone who only runs two marathons? More on this, later.

The facts:

My main goal for this event was to run more conservatively in the first half (than I did in the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon last fall) by sticking to my goal pace. I did exactly that. Goal achieved! But it feels like I was tricked by one of those riddle-goals that a genie might present to you. The idea is that it would help leave more energy in my tank to tackle the last 6 miles of the event which will be hard, no matter what. Well, those last 6 were even harder. My pace just seemed to keep slowing down (except for the last 2 miles!). Check out these charts of my pacing, captured from Strava:

What felt to be the main problem: I struggled with a side ache (or really more of an entire front-side, complete rack-of-ribs ache) from mile 20 onward. Not the worst one I’ve had but one that ticked me off! I used to get plagued by these but it’s been a few years since it last impacted my running. There was a water stop in every one of those miles and I used all of them for a short walk-break to try and loosen up that tightness, while also periodically trying Coach Greg’s “exhale eveything you’ve got, three times, that’ll clear it up” prescription, to little avail. I pressed on. Both knees were sore (it was sore ankles at the marathon prior) but those front-muscles (abs, diaphragm, whatever) were giving me quite a fight. Many times, my working mantra drifted from my planned second-half “Light. Soft. Strong.” to “It won’t hurt any more intensely if I run faster so GO FASTER.”

This morning, after a difficult afternoon yesterday of failing to nap or even rest comfortably and then a slightly less fitful night of sleep, the analysis began. I didn’t necessarily do anything wrong, but if I did, what could it have been?

  • Flat Arah
    Planning the outfit, gear & nutrition
    Maybe my mind & body aren’t folks for whom that “save it for later” theory works. Maybe we are more of a “use it or lose it” type of a crowd? I have yet to a) not finish a marathon or b) crawl to the finish line. Fitbit tells me my average heart rate for this was 153. Perhaps I could have turned it up a few notches.
  • I only ran once, in the prior 7 days and it was a 6 mile run with 6 100-yard strideouts. My schedule got difficult and my rationale was that if I found an extra hour somewhere, it would be better spent sleeping than fitting in a workout. Given how tired my quads were throughout the race, maybe a couple shorter runs that week would have been better. Or maybe I’d needed more strength training. Or maybe 26 miles on pavement is simply that hard on one particular set of muscles.
  • As I detailed in an earlier post, my training plan was a bit of a hybrid – which I fear meant it may have been lacking in professional guidance. My plan included 3 easy midweek runs , and 2 harder weekend runs; my club pretty much did the reverse, but now and then I crossed the streams and did hard midweek and hard/long weekend runs. Maybe it resulted in overtraining?
  • Mentally, I think the run 5-days-per-week plan qualified as overtraining for me. It may have worked back when I had a five-minute commute, but it was simply too much to fit it into a week containing five 8-hour workdays that each contained 90-120 driving commute minutes.
  • Due also to schedule complications, I was unable to keep at the weekly yoga class for strength, though I did fit in a climb night or two each week. It’s possible that this flexibility made the plan more workable overall, but maybe I had a strength imbalance that resulted in the side ache?
  • My sleep quality (length) seemed to suffer, this time around.
  • Nutrition wise, in terms of the few days before the race: I had good pasta dinners 2- and 3- days out. The day before the race, dinner (out, in Duluth) was nachos and fish tacos: maybe more salty and meat-heavy than optimal? I felt fine on race day, food/digestion wise. I may be hyperfocused on the snacking of the Grandma’s vet in our group (who finished ahead of me), but maybe I’ll try a few handfuls of Cinnamon Pecan Special K the night before my next endurance event.
  • I opted out of using a pace group, though I’d considered using one, based on feedback from experienced friends. I spoke with the people at the expo pace group table who were somewhat helpful but frankly not very encouraging or enthusiastic at all. We arrived at the start line a little late for me to find the pace group I’d thought of joining, but I figured maybe I’d end up near them or at least using them as a marker. Alas, I passed one of the slower pace groups and fairly quickly determined that I needed to get as far away from them and their brethren as soon as possible. I’m sure the pacers & racers were all nice people and a possible recipe for success, but … I needed space and peace. Maybe this is a sign I need to go back to trail running, or maybe it’s a sign that I was in a mood that needed fixing? Not sure. I will say that I could’ve used a little more conversation on the course, in the form of a buddy or fewer other runners clammed up in headphones.
  • GPS watch! It may have to go, for races/events. I finally got a new one about 5 weeks ago, but maybe not having one is key to finding the right pace in my body, during an event. Constantly looking down at my pace made me feel neurotic in the first part of the race, and just frustrated in the last part.
  • Perhaps a negative-split is a foolish goal for a marathon.
  • Maybe I needed to run harder though the darn side ache. My running pal Maggie advised me to use a “you are stronger than you think you are” mantra for this race’s final miles and though I consulted it and riffed off of it, maybe I needed to sing it.

Or, maybe there’s nothing to study except the fact that it’s an endurance test, and each one you do is different, even if on the same course but certainly if it’s not on the same course. There’s no promise of improvement, ever. There can be promise of new insight and growth and I am the one in charge of my attitude and how I choose to feel about how the day went. If I find that I want to do another one of these, so be it.

Let’s see what the next several months hold. I’m looking forward to less structured free time for awhile, and a few 200-mile relay events with good friends, and at least one fun trail race.

Dinner Ticket

I made the reservation –or rather, bought the tickets–  a month or so ago, because I finally could make a reservation there.

Didn’t tell him where but nearly begged him to ask me

That day, advised him to eat a light lunch, as an experience involving at least 14 tasting courses would start at 5:45pm

We drove, drove then drove: through two cities and into a third

Parked, we walked by windows showcasing glimmering wine glasses lined up like a fragile, lethal army, beneath cured meat slices hanging by hooks on the ends of string. Then, past a bright blue industrial freezer door, you know, with a chrome handle as wide as the door? It opens and the bearded Helpful calls to us “guys! C’mon back here! You here for dinner?”

YES

You’ll be sitting with these fine 6 people. That centerpiece that looks like it might have food in it, slide it away to help open up conversation with them. We went to college with one of them, anyway

Hopefully my response to “are you lawyers?” did not offend

Two bites came before our drinks did: a tasty toothpicked canape dipped in “porcini garlic dirt” and then several gems of vegetables and fish, arranged on personal granite trenchers

boubon drink
I already drank the smoke

My drink emitted smoke

Bourbon and smoke go together

The drink for one of the lawyers hissed, foamed and probably glowed in the dark, too. This was … unexpected. The server came back with a cleanup rag and more of the beverage, to top off the class

The evening moved forward, upward, outward with several courses that didn’t require a utensil, one that involved walking though kitchen to have the artistes assemble the course in a plate as we walked it through the line

Smoke (steam) came out everyone’s noses: a roomful of dragons, we were. Such trust in the guy with the bucket of pearls

My first taste, I think of fiddehead fern, raw scallop. And first and maybe final bites of morels, this year

Pork belly that ruined all bacon in the future, forever. Well, for a few days anyway. Bacon can’t be ruined, if it’s still available

menu
This came with the drink bill

The bread in the meal came all in one course, just over halfway through, and we seasoned it with amaretto and bone marrow butters

Ever had a deconstructed beef wellington?

Ever had beef wellington and were able to comfortably move away from the table, when done? Why do that? Perfect portion, cutest little pastry. A plank of tidbits

So, part of the centerpiece was, in fact edible: I KNEW IT. Chocolate breadstick.

The macaron! It was unfair to all other macarons, to dip one end in chocolate, and help it stand up

And just like an rollicking evening spent by a campfire, with scary stories, unfamiliar and sometimes eerie views of familiar things, and much laughter: the last bite was of marshmallow.

20 courses of familiar flavors, unusual textures, exuberant specialists and thoughtful presentation.

Happy birthday to my sweetheart. I’m glad you enjoyed the meal at Travail.

Please pardon -or maybe you enjoyed? – my semi-poetic stream of descriptions. I wasn’t sure how else to describe this ride of a meal, and there was rarely a moment, much less an appropriate moment, to stop and take a picture of all the edibles that came our way, nor of the wide range of facial expressions all over the room, during our time there.

Crunchy crooked forward what?

gong at River Garden Yoga
“That is a huge gong.”
I’ve had chapped lips for 2 weeks.

When last I did training for something big and athletic, my secret weapon was a deep-tissue massage every 5 weeks and a really tough weight training session, every Sunday. This time it’s getting comfortable with 5 runs per week – and organizing my runs so that I can get to a weekly yoga class and spend motoring time with fantastic husband (and his super fun new car). I changed it up out of desire to improve my running but also out of desire to set up time to spend with said husband.

I’m feeling strong as a runner but a little out of whack as me. One of my best friends at work, climbing and cake appreciation moved 1,669 miles away last fall. I’m teaching not four but one yoga class per week. My body spends seven times as much time in the car each week. I’m no longer the knowledgable long-timer at work. I have six…SIX! socks that have lost their matches in the last month.

Those are some of the losses. The recent victories include: better pay in new job, new challenges. New faces, plenty of new things to learn in a new business for me. New conversation topics at breakfast and dinner. New opportunities to listen to great podcasts. That one awesome yoga class I teach each week is populated with a terrific and slowly growing pack of regular students. I continue to discover new music (thanks to husband and Adrienne) and great pose sequences and cues (thanks to the Ted Roseen classes I attend on Saturdays).

Change is good, right?

I don’t know if the chapped lips are due to exposure while running, or nervous chewing on said lips.

I’ve had a kink in my neck for two weeks now, which might be due to something in my new work arrangement – the longer drive that can’t be substituted for a 40-minute walk, the open seating arrangement that offers less privacy but more communication, the laptop, the ebb and flow of my project. Sleeping hard, or not sleeping well at all. Worrying about new things. Or old things. Plenty.

My friend Amy suggested I come to her gong meditation class at River Garden Yoga tonight, tempting me with words like relaxationhealing and even gong which brings not fond memories of TV talent competitions and Jamie Farr. “Sign me up!” was my reply. This is a Friday, a rest day in my training. It’s just another -additional- day in my 14-day run with this sore neck that doesn’t seem to allow me to sleep as restfully as I desire. As part of the practice tonight we needed to choose an intention – sort of like the sankalpa in Yoga Nidra. I did not hesitate to be extremely precise with mine: “Release the movement restriction in my neck. PLEASE.” This was not a day for “I have compassion for me” or “I am steady.”

You know, it kind of worked.

Time for bed.

Dervish I mean Derby Party

still life with julep recipe
Teach a man to fish…

Well, it’s still not quite as good as being in Louisville for the festivities, but it sure is fun bringing a little bit of Churchill Downs to Saint Paul for a few hours. We hosted another Derby Party last weekend, and made a few modifications that I think went well: I spent more of the party outside of the kitchen, and didn’t have too many leftovers of sweets. I still collapsed in a heap after the last guest left, but that may be more due to the fact that I’m in the middle of marathon training and did a 9-mile hilly run, the morning of the party. And no, I didn’t keep count of the juleps I’d enjoyed over several hours… but at least the cups were small, and the whiskey not as strong.

Changes we made this year, that I hope to remember for the future. I wholly confess to heavy use of Pinterest to find some (all) of these recipes:

  • Hot browns! This is apparently a tradition for the event, though we didn’t experience them at all, in Louisville. After reading one recipe for these (in a “slider “version… baked all in one pan) and knowing full well how fond a certain individual (who wore seersucker) is of sandwiches, turkey and cheese… I added it to the menu. And it was amazing, even with the parmesan accidentally omitted.

Hot browns, resting now but bound for baking. #kyderby

A photo posted by Steve Morman (@stephen.morman) on

 

  • Benedictine spread: another one we never saw in Kentucky, but it’s a keeper that has just a tad more vegetables than the pimiento cheese spread/sandwiches we did last year. We made up a few white-bread sandwiches (I didn’t have the nerve nor time to cut off the crusts) and left the rest out for dipping with hearty crackers.
  • Kentucky Butter Cake: So few of the bourbon balls I made last year got eaten that I decided to try a dessert without nuts or chocolate. Also: making a bundt cake is a bit less time-intensive than chocolate-dipped candies. This was a great pound cake-like recipe that I’ll do again, though only a few of us enjoyed it at the party. We’ve been happily chipping away at it at breakfast, in the days since. I suppose people got enough sugar for the day from their juleps?
  • A bag of crushed ice. I am so glad I was able to buy this, the night before the party from Shamrock Group! Last year I was making crushed ice on a nearly per-julep basis with the VitaMix, which was terribly noisy. I spent a good part of the afternoon alone in the kitchen making juleps. This year, we converted most of the food table to a beverage station, complete with julep recipe, the appropriate supplies and tools, the world’s best muddler (the souvenir bat you get at the Slugger Museum), and a bowl of ice that we just had to replenish from the cooler on the back porch, from time to time.
  • There’s a hat store at the Mall of America now: Chapel Hats! I found a great fascinator there just a week before the party, for just $20. To be fair, it wasn’t … big enough if I were trying to impress (or win our own hat contest), but it was fun to wear, and saved me a ton of time.
  • I’d love to say I planned this, but alas: it simply happened. It was a gorgeous day out and people were able to sit out in our backyard and on the front porch, sipping and conversating. I gave a few tours of our garden. It has yet to reach its full potential (of course: it’s only May) but still had a few blooms to offer up: a ton of scilla, and a few bright tulips.

Some great things we didn’t intentionally change and yet they happened:

Mary's handmade cloche
I dared her to make it
  • One most excellent hand-crocheted Derby hat (see photo at right)
  • Everybody looked great! It was fun to see friends dressed up a bit, sometimes with ties, a waistcoat, a great hat or fascinator here and there, and some festive spring dresses.
  • A tie: three of our most excellent and non-underdog-picking friends decided to bet on American Pharoah. And yet no one placed actual bets, likely because we were too busy socializing to lay down the rules: the money jar was empty. So… we had to battlefield-promote most of the best-hat/tie prizes to race winnings. I’m not sure anyone noticed?
  • We shared a treasured treat with friends who appreciated it: some of our Angel’s Envy Rye.

It was so enjoyable to spend some relaxing time with good friends, and to share some specially-made food and drinks with them! Some of them traveled from pretty distant burbs/busy lives, and that was a super special treat.

I was really happy that I wasn’t frantically trying to make a fascinator, 30 minutes before the party, like I was last year. However, I was frantically trying to prepare the list of horses and the julep recipe, and facing frustrations with my computer. And a plate of veggies never made it out to our guests. For the most part, I think paring back our food plans made it easier for me to squeeze in the “necessary” 9-miler the morning of the party – but when we do this party again, I’ll make sure to keep the morning more open for party prep.

Onward! To the garden. And maybe the Angel’s Envy Rye.

Because … reasons

As I round the corner of the suddenly enormous queen-size bed, feeling every inch of the way the blister on my right big toe, the chafe-burns on both thighs and … sore triceps? “Why am I doing this?” It felt like it took several minutes to crawl into bed and get sufficiently reclined for sleep.

“You’re strong. You’re awesome…” comes from the other side of the bed. From a loving, supportive creature.

“Ok but this is just nuts.”

A few hours earlier I’d completed a 17-mile “LSD” (Long, Slow Distance AKA run as slow as you possibly can for a few hours to train your mind and body to handle a marathon) run, albeit on a beautiful, 50-something-degree day with a light, cool wind with good podcasts, music and scenery. And, I hadn’t needed to call him for a ride home, as I halfheartedly predicted when I headed out. “I’ll have my phone. I may call you. I’ll text you from out there, at any rate.”

That run came about 24 hours after an 8-mile “pace” run – 8 miles, attempting to hit and sustain the pace I want to run on June 20 at Grandma’s Marathon. The sensations that evening had me worried about my low back … some quality time with that foam roller didn’t even seem to help, though I felt better the next morning.

That workout came a few hours after a particularly intense upper-level YogaTed vinyasa yoga class in which we did approximately 36 side planks, in between a lot of good leg-muscle lengthening and gravity-relationship work.

I … selected (designed?) this weekend-warriorized marathon training plan. Because doing long runs on Sundays  allows me to get to that yoga class, and also allows me to be a functional participant in our household/relationship for more of the weekend. Why not be sore at work on Monday, rather than sore at home on Sunday?

Seriously. I am doing this … because I want to see if I can pace myself just a little bit more conservatively at the start, so that I may shave off a few minutes (10? more?) overall. Is that a good enough reason?

I’m not doing this for someone who is sick, or someone who is dead. I haven’t overcome any huge personal life challenge and so don’t really have a need to share celebrate a success story (oh wait, hold on there. I finally got a new job. That’s pretty huge but what the heck does it have to do with committing to marathon number two?).

In a text-message conversation I recently had with a friend who also enjoys long days outside while moving forward and perspiring, I was lovingly reminded that you don’t really have to have a reason other than “just because.” The weird, wild and lovely sounds -and hats- in the music video above seem to fit the feeling that inspires me to do such stuff.

I will add this: I haven’t been to the North Shore in several years. I’m overdue! What better reason? I’m taking back Interstate 35.

Marathon #2 Training Plan

Pike Island
Spring on Pike Island. A weeknight training run!
  1. Follow one of the Higdon plans. I’m going with Intermediate 1.
  2. Get on trail more. It’s better for my mind and knees. Probably is good strength training, at least for my glutes. Logistics are oddly simpler. It’s much easier to pee when you need to.
  3. Every couple weeks, log some serious miles on pavement with running club friends.
  4. Get in as much yoga as I can, meaning about 1 class per week plus at least 5-10 minutes of asana and/or meditating by candlelight each night.
  5. Strength training = that one (vinyasa) yoga class and/or climbing with friends at the gym and/or 10 minutes of core work after a couple of my runs each week.
  6. Every now and then I experience an evening in which my running/training and other (social/work/?) plans smash into each other. The solution that has worked a few times already: go home to cook a dinner with my husband.

So, I’m going about my preparation for Grandma’s, my second marathon, a little differently than I did for my first marathon, last summer and fall. The new job and commute have thrown a few new surprising … decision factors into each week. Mostly it’s the longer commute, which shortens my mornings and evenings and eliminates the option of a noon run. However, the newness of everything related to my workday has perhaps changed my attitude a bit. I feel slightly less available on the personal front, and far more conservative with my free time schedule, as I don’t get to see Steve as much as when we worked together.

Time’s precious.

Nice reminder, eh? I don’t think I’ll ever advocate for a longer driving commute, but perhaps it’s helping me make some healthy time management decisions that I never had to make when I had a 5-minute commute.

New Music in 2015

A view of the Seismic game
An upset of a winter, illustrated in a board game

It may not be a good sign if, when a friend asks you if you’ve run into any great new music for your yoga classes, you are completely stumped.

That said, my climbing buddy Josh did ask me this question right about when I was trying to prepare for teaching my very first Restorative Yoga class – as a substitute teacher. I normally teach Vinyasa, when for much of the class, stimulating and driving music is par for the course. I wanted to make sure I didn’t interrupt any healing that may have been going on for the students who dared to come to a class taught by a -gasp- sub. I had some good, nothing-in-English, flutes or strings music but I wasn’t sure I had a whole 90 minutes’ worth.

So, I went surf-shopping, and found some great new stuff.

I’ve been using some great other new stuff in my classes – and in my running – lately and I’d love to share these with you. Some were most excellent suggestions by various students (Adrienne, most recently but also Zoe, Art, Jessica and others) in my yoga classes.

In seemingly related news, I’m about seven weeks into my new job and I’m surprised to admit that it’s turned my world a little more topsy-turvy than I had expected. It’s weird, not being the person who has been there for 15 years. It’s a real challenge to my week, having a 30-minute (each way) commute, when for at least 8 years, my commute was a mere 5 minutes by car. It’s an adjustment, but a welcome one, not being the one person in charge of the look and feel of the optimal experience of a project, from beginning to end – to be a part of team that works together but also passes parts off to each other, at times. I opted in to this, to specialize, but I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was, to share in the responsibility. Music’s been … grounding through these changes.

Back to the music. Here is the stuff I’ve been digging – sometimes in my yoga class playlists, sometimes elsewhere – while cleaning house or going for a run. Enjoy!

  • Hindi Zahra’s Handmade. Ok I bought this nearly a year ago but I think Steve’s heard it playing in the house three times since and said HEY THAT’S GOOD!
  • Beck’s Morning Phase: a swing back into his Gordon Lightfoot mode. I love his funk mode, but this chill mode is so lovely and perfect for the first 5 or last 15 minutes of my yoga classes.
  • Fink’s Hard Believer. Thank you, Adrienne!
  • Rhiannon Giddens’ Tomorrow is my Turn. We saw her perform with Carolina Chocolate Drops a few years ago. More fabulous music!
  • The Civil Wars’ Barton Hollow. I have no idea how I found this but this album keeps coming back into rotation.
  • Dengue Fever’s The Deepest Lake: we are still emotionally processing our most excellent adventure in Cambodia in January 2014. This wonderful, versatile pop music is from there!
  • Haley Bonar’s Last War: I finally get why people like Haley. Yes, kinda 80s but also… some kind of wonderful. ‘Nuf said? (Yes, I loved the movie with that title)
  • The Rose Ensemble’s Fire of the Soul. My oh-so-musical family in Victoria introduced us to these people who are based mere miles from where we live in Minnesota. Rich, nearly-qualifies-as-ancient stuff for a track or two in yoga.
  • The Handsome Family’s Singing Bones. I fully admit to buying this because one song on it was used for the theme song to the “True Detective” TV show. But darn if a different song, “Song of a Hundred Toads,” hasn’t since become my favorite, maybe partly due to it being part of my soundtrack on the drive down to the Iowa Yoga Festival last October.

I did end up buying some new (to me) music in preparation for Sunday’s Restorative Yoga class. I ended up using none of it on that day, but I hope to integrate a few tracks into future classes:

Happy Monday, all. If you have musical suggestions for me, leave a comment here!

better living through technology

“Aren’t you going to ask where the alarm clock went?”

I had swapped our clock radio for my iPad. We used to sleep in a room partly illuminated by the nearly-nuclear green glow of a Sony clock radio. We used to awaken to the news on MPR.

Now we sleep in a slightly darker room. We awaken to a song personally selected by me each evening, from my MP3 collection; the above song was one of the first ones I picked when we started this, about a month ago. Surprisingly, I don’t miss the news that we used to get via the alarm clock. Besides, I now have a long enough commute that I can get the news while driving in to work. That is, if I’m not tuned into a podcast: I’m loving “Serial” and “Criminal” lately, and still enjoying various The Moth, RadioLab and Freakonomics episodes.

So: hi! I haven’t posted in awhile. In fact, I started this post way, way back before I started my new job. A lot has happened in that mere three weeks and I’m sorry that these posts haven’t been very frequent. Rest assured that you haven’t missed much in the travelog department, aside from last weekend’s annual pilgrimage up to Hayward to get a few racers onto the Birkie trail for another battle in that enormous race.

toasts
Fancy cabin snacks

If that trip were to have its own post, here’s a summary: Ten of us enjoyed our stay, again, at Mystic Moose Cabins. It was mighty cold but also beautiful out. We enjoyed spectating, though preferred it indoors (watching the dots progress on the athlete tracker site) to outdoors. Our friend Jon toiled valiantly on the course, though the course won, this year (he’s fine). Once again we over-planned for food. Though we had plenty of it for eating solely at the cabin, the cold and our thirst for adventure got us into a few more Hayward pubs than usual: Good fun, good beer, and … good curds.

I experienced two surprising side effects of the Birkie trip this year: 1) a few of us opted for the much shorter and completely non-competitive “family fun ski” event, the afternoon prior to the big races. It was the first time I’d skied in a year and I enjoyed it more than I’d thought I would. In fact, we drove back up yesterday, to put in a few more kilometers on those waxless skis. And 2) I’m feeling more pull than usual to go back up for a summer visit. Or maybe in the fall – the Birkie trail marathon is in late September; that could be fun!

cardinal art
Visit 2 to Urgent Care in the past month

The new job is the main reason for all my distraction from this site lately. Lots about it very strange and new, though the work itself is fascinating and really kind of irresistible for me. I’m digging it, though the commute, while not particularly long, is 20+ minutes longer each way than my old commute. It’s surprising how big of a chunk of the day the driving now takes. I was spoiled, by living so close to the office, especially in the last 8 years. Perhaps once we’re out of the dark of winter and I’ve gotten used to a few more things, it’ll seem like nothing at all (aside from a bit more gas to buy).

Also keeping me busy: a few minor injures. A slip on some ice on a trail run, a week before my new job started (five stitches on my arm and a very mild concussion), then a nasty paper cut last week. Somebody up there is checking to make sure I’m awake. As if! What a February.

That’s it for the update. We’re excited to head to Utah next weekend for some mountain skiing and a visit with family!

 

Holidays, over.

Candy Surfer
Gingerbread house detail

Sorry, it’s been real quiet here on this blog, lately. A few holidays, a trip to the home state, some bigger changes at work, a trip to Mexico with the in-laws, and the passing of another calendar year have happened! I can offer these recommendations, as fruits of the above:

Travel Tips

  • After what feels like 45 years of waiting, I finally did Seattle’s Underground tour, and with three good friends. It was worth it but I felt strangely disappointed to not see a single rat, especially as the reason I hadn’t done the tour yet is: Mom always said it was too filthy. We did get dripped on and were probably grateful to have had our tetanus shots, recently. Good fun with history!
  • The Humphrey (Southwest & Sun Country Airlines) Terminal now has not only a Surdyk’s outpost (yay! Decent airport food!) but table service at same. Bravo! This makes allowing tons of time for TSA madness almost tolerable.
  • kiskadee
    Great Kiskadee

    The Yucatán peninsula in Mexico is still a lovely, tropical place. While doing our best to get some R&R, we did see some beautiful birds, all new to us: the Yucatán jay, the Great Kiskadee, the tropical Mockingbird. We also saw our fill of perennial favorites: brown pelicans, chachalacas, a little blue heron, some magnificent frigatebirds, and American flamingos. My recommendation: bring the binoculars! Also helpful: my Audobon Birds iPhone app, and this terrific webpage that lists and illustrates birds that you can find down new Cancun (some are not in the Audobon app, which just covers North America).

Keeping sharp

  • All that airplane and airport riding means: I’ve read a few books. Faves include: The Left Hand of Darkness, The Book Thief, The Bookseller, and Billy Collins’ book of poetry, Aimless Love.
  • I got an iPad mini for Christmas. Which means I have an alternative to my Nook Color for reading library e-books. And hallelujah, it is so much easier now, browsing, downloading, and for the most part, reading library books this way! The St. Paul Public Library offers a few ways for you to borrow e-books; I’ve found that the 3M Cloud Library app works very well, though it isn’t quite as versatile as the Nook reader, from a reading experience standpoint – the typeface and search options could be a little more robust. However, more often than not, I have my iPhone on hand to do Wikipedia lookups, when needed. LOVE THIS APP!
  • Our Mexico trip afforded us another visit to the group of flamingoes parked (as in, fed) at the resort. Did you know that a group of flamingoes is called a “flamboyance”? This probably isn’t the first time I’ve posted about collective nouns, but it’s such fun. Here’s a list of them.
  • Some friends may be shocked to hear that we didn’t leave the resort at all during our recent Mexico trip. There’s much to see and do in the Yucatán, though it can be complicated to organize an excursion, and we’ve done most of them. Alas, it was true that we kept within the confines of the 3.5 mile loop of new wooden walkways around the resort. We did find something fun to keep us occupied in between happy hours,  multiple-hour book reading stints, and a couple marathon CodeAcademy sessions for me: a Spanish language class, held by the pool. Carla, our most excellent and friendly resort activities director, and her colleague Armando did a daily class in conversational Spanish. Steve and I got so into it that we followed a tip from a fellow classmate and downloaded an iOS app called duoLingo, and we’ve been keeping up with the daily practice with it. I even managed to make the server smile with an idiom (“Barilla llena, corazón contento”), at breakfast our last mornin. I’m hoping I stick with it enough to comfortably handle the El Burrito Mercado cafeteria line – or to manage a more complicated excursion, the next time we are down in Latin America.

“Yummy” sounds better in Spanish

Coffee, French style. Was feeling... noodly, today. Yum!

A photo posted by Arah Bahn (@arahbee) on

  • I am still loving the tiny spiced skirt steak tacos we get at the shady food stand by the golf course in Mexico. Why are corn tortillas so big, back here in Minnesota?
  • My favorite bite down there, however, was a scoop of the Belgian chocolate helado (ice cream/gelato). So rich!
  • For Christmas, Steve received North, the cookbook produced by the chef at Dill Restaurant, in Reykjavik. He’s been working through a few of those complex, fascinating recipes and our biweekly shopping adventures have become even more … adventuresome. A few weeks ago he made rye crackers out of rye bread. This week, we hunted down skate and soy lecithin. The skate dinner (last night) was delicious! Poached skate has a texture kind of like raw catfish or cooked fettucine. The flavor – enhanced by my Montana Gold tea, of all things.
  • We continue our exploration of Asian (mostly Vietnamese) noodle places in the Twin Cities. Last weekend we enjoyed a great lunch at Trieu Chau Restaurant on University Avenue. Oddly enough, neither of us ordered pho, so we couldn’t compare it to that at other places, but we left with bellies full of noodles, meats and vegetables and plans to return for some pho.

That’s about it for now. Good travels and winter wonder to you! Feel free to leave any recommendations here, for noodle places in St. Paul. Or for anything else!

Good beer, exposure, and a spa

mural near the waterfront
Pileup: a mural discovered while walking around town on day

Following our return from Iceland, it took well over a week for me to sleep until the alarm clock goes off, on weekday mornings.

It’s winter, here.

So, about our trip to Iceland, just a few weeks ago this year:

This was my second trip to Reykjavik and to the Airwaves music festival; my first, also for both, was in the fall of 2001. What I remember:

  1. The city (the parts we saw) was relatively clean and remarkably designed. Things like curbs in parking lots and street signs were not all uniform but they were attractive and their design was consistent with that of the proprietorship they belonged/were nearest to.
  2. Locals had great style.
  3. The beer sucked.
  4. There was way more live music happening than I could possibly even hope to listen to.
  5. Blue Lagoon was awesome.

Great music & hot soaks

Numbers 2,4 and 5 are still true. And while there was even more live music going on this year, the festival had a wonderful iPhone app that made planning our days easier. What was amazing was that it also allowed us to sample – via YouTube our SoundCloud links – the bands a little, before (or instead of, in the case of simultaneous excellent gigs) going. And most of the features worked even without a wifi connection!

Greta Svabo Bech
Getting our Faroes on with Greta Svabo Bech at the Nordic House

Most memorable, of the music? That’s tough. My judgment may be impaired by proximity: the last gig we attended was a midday show by BYRTA, a pop electronica band from the Faroe Islands, in a pop-up venue run by Nordic Playlist Radio. It’s the only show we got to on the last day of the festival, but it was just so energetic, light, and yet rich. Or maybe we finally figured out a shorter walking route into town, and arrived with a little energy left to bop? At any rate, there were lots of grinning, bouncing-to-the-rhythm people there, including ourselves. Other great gigs included those by PHOX, Greta Svabo Bech, Moses Sumney, Una Stef, Himbrimi, Védís Hervör, and Rósa Guðrún Sveinsdóttir. All good stuff from the USA, the Faroe Islands and of course, Iceland.

We went to the Blue Lagoon, our second morning there. The lockers and cocktail payments still operate on a fancy high-tech bracelet system. I still love this place, with its milky, slippery water, black sand, mists that obscure the crowds, and crowds that are then somehow welcome compatriots in this restorative play date in water.

A day or two later, the music festival had several bands scheduled to play there, but we decided against it, perhaps as we wanted to keep plenty of distance between us and “Viking behavior,” which seemed very likely at a huge hot tub with booze. And yet…

Smooshed by Vikings

Airwaves wristband line
Compfier times in Harpa: in line to get our festival wristbands!

We went to about two dozen shows, including a few sequences of several very short (30 minute) gigs in tiny bars. Most memorable, though not so much for the music, was going to Swedish band The Knife’s “last” show. It’s been awhile since I attended a concert with such fanatical and happy-to-be-packed in like sardines crowd behavior. In fact, it bordered on dangerously full in that hall, but luckily – for the short time we stuck around – everyone was friendly and staying upright.

I like interesting cultural experiences, but The Knife’s music hasn’t resonated with me. Steve digs them. We endured (though couldn’t participate because it involved calisthenics that take up more room than a small mummy) the humorous crowd warmup by a Knife member, then hung around for … let’s just say you could count them on one hand … songs. Then we pushed our way out of the Harpa concert hall for some mental and physical relief. We’d had a long, rich day but the 40-minute walk back to the hotel was about all we had juice left for, by that hour. It didn’t help that a few people near us had lit up cigarettes. It’s been awhile, but I probably could have tolerated the smoke. I was afraid of getting burned, it was so crowded.

That’s about it for the Viking behavior, though the elements there were fairly brutish – in the 30s-40s (˚F) and quite windy on most days. This festival now happens later in the year than in 2001; I don’t know if this was colder than normal for November. We had packed enough clothes, though I wore more layers than expected, every day of the trip. We opted out of most motor transportation, in favor of walking, but in retrospect, it may have been more wise to take the city bus a few times. Our hotel was wonderful, but was about 40 minutes’ walking away from downtown. Still: you don’t go to Iceland in late fall without expectations of … ice. Or at least icy air. The chill wasn’t a big surprise, but we did put off the Icelandic pony ride until we return in summer months to tour more of the country see see more of the outstanding waterfalls. I look forward to riding a horse again – but not to getting hypothermia whilst atop one.

You call that a waterfall?

Gullfoss
Gullfoss (Golden Falls)

One day we took the “Golden Circle” tour by coach to some of the nearby extraordinary natural features. Geysers? Check. A gigantic, roaring waterfall that makes Multnomah Falls look two dimensional? Check. A rare above-sea level crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge which was also used for Iceland’s earliest parliament gatherings, whose name uses a cool character (Þ: the Þorn, pronouced “thorn”) not used in English? Check. Acres and acres of 10+-foot long indoor tomato vines (and a color spectrum that confounded my SLR camera’s white-balance setting)? Check. Lamb stew for lunch, shopping warm woolens for dessert? Yes, all of it.

Above is a Vine clip I took at Geysir.

What exactly is a spa?

snowy owls
Something to examine while waiting for an excursion bus. Better on the neck than my iPhone!

Steve’s hotel booking included the extra of access to the “hotel spa.” I had no idea what this meant, though I hoped it meant more than “access” to spend more money on something like a massage or pedicure. It only took me three days to investigate. What we’d normally consider to the be the hotel pool was a much more welcoming, soothing, meant-for-stressed-out-adults place than a standard American hotel pool. This was not visible from the lobby or parking lot, nor did it make most of the public area (or any area of the hotel) smell like chlorine. This did not have harsh fluorescent lighting. What it did have: lovely, soft towels. Warm, somewhat dim lighting and a tiny bit of daylight (this spa was just below ground level, with one window). Small pool, hot tub, sauna, steam room. Buoyant swim caps and leg floaties, with instructions for how to use them to enjoy a relaxing float in the pool. A fireplace, a pitcher of drinking water & snack menu, comfy seating. Mellow music. A friendly woman, greeting you as you enter.

Why is this type of arrangement so foreign? I am fortunate. I did pay for an extra pampering session- a lovely hourlong facial with a talented aesthetician names Dagny. Kudos to her and to Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Natura for a wonderful stay there.

Other nice touches, in this hotel: sculptures in the lobby that looked like people, two wonderful books of hand-drawn bird life and plant species of Iceland, and a well-designed dining space. The lighting and semi-spacial dividers made it welcoming for breakfast but also for cocktails or dining.

Memorable consumables

We enjoyed a few good meals on our 2001 visit, though the awfulness of the beer (whether it was the sulphurous local one or typical-default-for-Europe Heineken) and the uninspired basement hotel breakfasts back then cloud my memory. This time, however: thank heavens we were doing all that walking, because we ate well and plentifully. Hotel Natura’s breakfast spread was very good: an exceptional array of fish, breads, jams & jellies, biscuits, eggs (including soft-boiled) and cereals. As mentioned in my prior post, the coffee was phenomenal, but I also enjoyed the fruit cake, grainy fresh-baked breads and plenty of fresh fruit. Steve was in seventh heaven each morning, with skyr available with good muesli.

tasting menu at Dill
The menu at DIll

We managed to dine at several of the restaurants we’d read about, prior to the trip. My favorites were Dill, the “no name pizza shop”, and Aalto Bistro, though Grillmarkadurinn and Icelandic Fish & Chips were very good, too.

At Dill we chose the 5-plate tasting menu with wine (+ one “lambic” wine – an excellent bitter ale we’d discovered at the fish & chips place) pairings. We got treated to a “mistake” of a 6th plate. What a marvelous succession of great flavors, textures and thoughtful presentation. I don’t know if this qualifies as “molecular gastronomy,” but the unusual forms that mostly familiar ingredients took was beautiful and delicious. The beet dessert, for example. Beets for dessert! That was Steve’s favorite, though the earlier course of beef cheeks thrilled me more.

We found the no name pizza place while trying to find Dill, a few evenings earlier; they are right around the corner from each other. Stumped for where to grab an early dinner, a few days later, we found it again. It offered great, imaginative pizzas & other snacks, some delightful menu art, and a kind of steampunk/Victorian decor that I found very relaxing, maybe because it reminded me of various places in Tacoma and Seattle, where I grew up.

Aalto Bistro too had exceptional food, but it also had charming interior design, most of which appeared to be inspired by its namesake, FInn architect Alvar Allto, who had designed Nordic House, the larger building that housed this restaurant.

The only restaurant we visited that disappointed (on the food front) was Perlan, though its view of the city – Perlan is a revolving restaurant on a hill, with 360˚ windows – was remarkable. The wild game buffet dinner lived up to typical expectations for dinners served on a buffet: too much volume to allow for high quality or appropriate temperature, and too little information on each dish to allow you to make decisions that won’t make your plate overflow. Which resulted in simply too many flavors on the palate.

It was still very much worth the visit: the service was thoughtful, and we did get to try a few meats that we’d never had before: minke whale, cormorant, moose, and reindeer meatballs. The latter was by far the most interesting, as it was flavored with an interesting herb, perhaps angelica.

Jola Beer
Festive aluminum

In addition to the breathtaking view of all of Reykjavik at night, the experience entering was impressive. We walked there – braving treacherous and dark paths around the hill the restaurant sits atop – but upon arrival we realized, with a huge, almost Hollywood-gala lit front entryway. Getting there via car (fancy car, if possible) would have been far more fashionable! Was this place ever used in a Bond movie? Ah well – the food would have been more disappointing, if that had been the case. We were bundled up like winter campers, too. We’re not in Duluth any more, Toto.

I mentioned bad beer here, in 2001. Not so, this time, though of course we paid heartily for it. Available at all venues were some good winter or white ales, and often we’d find what we thought was best: the Borg brew Úlfur No. 3 IPA. I also really enjoyed the Einstök Ölgerð Icelandic White Ale. In all cases, the label design was delightful.

The urban plan

Oddly enough, the style and layout of Reykjavik, this time, didn’t stand out, though perhaps it’s because we were in a hotel on the other side (and kind of outside) of town. There did seem to be more biking and walking paths – and more people then I expected on bikes, in 30-45 degree weather – out where we were. The path into town that we walked each day was wide and quite protected from traffic, but it was still alongside major motorways, which I found a bit unpleasant, especially as the moving vehicles added to the wind chill factor. I did enjoy our daily walks past Tjörnin pond, on the edge of downtown where a nice variety of ducks, geese, swans and starlings gathered & poses for photos (bread).

I also enjoyed the volume of public art, be it in murals, sculpture gardens, or fascinating architecture. The Harpa concert hall has been added to the waterfront since 2001, and it’s really quite amazing, both inside and out. I loved this space! Both dark and light, strong and weightless, colorful and yet serious.

The locals were still very stylish; certainly more stylish than me. Once again, while my clothes kept me warm and relatively acceptible, I found it hard to pack for a trip that includes a wide array of activities: outdoors, fancy, casual, nearly naked, dressed for Siberia. Maybe I just need to shop for more luggage.

What a trip! If you’d like to see more of my photos from the trip, visit this Smugmug page. Enjoy!

whooper swan
Whooper Swan

Iceland Trip Listicle

Harpa, Reykjavik
Getting fishy at Harpa

I am mustering up a more thorough review of our recent trip to Iceland. For now, here is a photo and some top memories.

Flavor

The coffee, every morning at Hotel Natura’s breakfast. We had several great meals in Iceland (including all our breakfasts), but having fantastic coffee every morning was really the best part, especially after being out late, then sleeping in late. Also: beets for dessert. And yeast-battered fried redfish.

A few more senses

Fuzzy, fuzzy wool. Small, cozy bars. Soaking, meandering in slippery, salty, milky, hot silica water.

Joy

Synth pop, and a brilliantly easy and fun-to-use festival app. Sleeping past nine … for several days in a row.

Agape

Gullfoss made every other waterfall I’ve ever seen look two-dimensional. A guy on our tour bus joked that the experience “could use more dragons” but Gullfoss was plenty fearsome!

Melodies

We saw 21 bands play over five days, and many of them were fantastic sets. Una Stef’s show, early in the festival at Fredrikson Ale House was best. LOVE a horn section!

Spaces

Fríkirkjan: Moses Sumney played in a church, and it was glorious. The relatively new Harpa concert hall (a mezzanine is pictured above) was an elegant, welcoming space, inside and out – very evocative of the human relationships with ocean, and the future.

A vacation

As per our usual M.O., this was not a restful trip. But it was restorative! I feel inspired to get out & experience music more regularly at home.

Iowa Yoga Festival: Enjoy your yoga!


It was like soccer camp, but with bare feet and some fantastic music. The Iowa Yoga Festival 2014 was better, and not just because it was shorter and with better weather.

To be fair, there are a lot of things that were and are more enjoyable than my 9th grade soccer camp experience –including getting a root canal– but it was still a useful experience for me. I worked hard, I had to put up with various hardships, I got fitter and better at the sport, but not so much better that I could make our high school team. In the end, not getting good enough for high school soccer probably served me best. At various moments last weekend, while attending my first yoga festival, I was reminded of moments back on Whidbey Island, so many years ago.

Why did I go?

I’d been thinking of attending a yoga festival or conference for several years: what a great opportunity to experience different types of yoga and teachers, to learn, to visit a new place, and to enjoy some great live music. I fear I missed my window of having friends who are available and able to commit to this time and expense, a year or two after our teacher training course. We’ve all spread our wings, gained partners or kids, taken on financial burdens, or just evolved into people that have new dreams and realities that tug on our schedules and wallets.

I finally committed for two reasons: a) I’d been training for my first marathon, which happened on October 5. Fall is my favorite time to run, especially in trail races. I knew that for October 11, I’d need to find (and commit to, ahead of time, with money) some way to keep me from signing up for a trail race, in order to let my post-marathon body recover safely. A yoga festival in an affordably close destination sounded like a great idea. I’d heard good things from a friend about this one. Reason b) was Sadie Nardini (see below). The festival’s list of presenters looked varied and promising, but I needed to bank on at least one workshop giving me something I needed, and this was it.

The good

The handstand clinic with Bryce Yoga. I’ve been working on forearm balances and handstands in my own practice, and I received some new and helpful cuing from these two energetic and warm teachers, Briohny Smyth and Dice Iida-Klein. However, what I think I liked best about this session is that it was quite vigorous. These were my last few hours at the festival, and it felt good to get some blood flowing, followed by a good cooldown/closing to the class, before getting into the car for a 4-hour drive home. It wasn’t the ideal way to close the festival for me, but it worked and I went away pleased.

mala meditation beads
Rudraksha, carnelian, lava and other beads. Agents of alchemy? Well, agents of meditation practice, at least …

The sobs that snuck in, during Hemalayaa’s wonderfully cathartic and fun healing dance-and-primal-scream party (I think I texted my husband “OMG yoga rave!”). In my yoga practice, I’ve had very few of those “powerful physical/emotional experiences” that people speak of: ones where you’re working in a difficult – or easy – pose and suddenly tears well up and you have no idea what happened, at first or ever. I get them fairly often (a few times a year) outside of formal yoga practice. Just ask me to watch an American Flag, to sing Battle Hymn of the Republic or even Annie Lennox’s “Little Birds”, or to watch certain epic sporting events and the waterworks will start up. Well, while bouncing and yelling and  spinning and laughing and jumping and thrusting around the room in this “Healed: Dance and Subtle Body Practices” workshop, I felt some crying coming on and stifled it, hid it. A few times. It still came and while I didn’t want others to see it, I still felt what was coming on. Dance can do this to me. What fun, what terrific release. Kudos to DJ Drez as well, for the fabulous tunes and timing.

Dancing that hard probably wasn’t the greatest “recovery” activity for 6 days post marathon: my feet and one ankle were particularly sore after this. Looking back, they are the real reason I opted out of that evening’s festival offerings. Worth it? Yes. I slept like a rock and woke up feeling much better, all over.

The marvelous

A sequencing and cueing workshop with Sadie Nardini. I started practicing Vinyasa several years ago from videos and podcasts produced by various teachers, several years before I went to (or could even find) a local Vinyasa class. Sadie’s short videos with inspired visualizations and anatomically mindful phrasing were inspiring! She seemed to be full of such love and intention. I hoped to meet her some day, or at least to practice or learn from her in person.

Given this, I probably should have enrolled in more than just one of her workshops there, but I didn’t want to miss out on other teachers and opportunities. So, I picked her sequencing workshop, which involved no asana. This was a disappointing idea in the grand scheme of me following her for years from afar, but at that hour of the weekend, I needed rest more than sweat, so it was a great decision. She and Tyler Mccoy shared lots of great ideas on safe cueing and engaging pose sequences. I was pleased to hear that some of her coursework has included study with some of the “anatomy masters” whose books I’ve been reading and whose courses I’m considering taking: Leslie Kaminoff and Thomas Myers.

Mara Healy‘s “ABC: Authentic, Balanced and Creative Yoga Practice” workshop was my first there, and it was a nice segue from the cornfields to the event. She took us through some yoga tenets in a thoughtful, intuitive way, just enough to help drive what I think was her main point: it’s not a pose, it’s a circumstance. In everything you do, there is opportunity for self-examination, and a physical yoga practice is one more formal, proactive and in some ways, simple way to find deeper understanding.

Then, she took us through a practice that put us into a pose that felt, and possibly looked, like a hand-tied fishing fly. A small one. Say, a mosquito? She had a name for it and honestly, to my ears while going into it, it sounded like “tied fly”. She had warned us that she’d take us through some challenging moments: she was spot-on. My upper back got a hell of a good stretch from this work, and my mind did, too.

The drive down, Friday morning. It was a gorgeous October day and the amber, undulating waves of Minnesota and Iowa grain were very picturesque and provided terrific backdrop for some of the new music I listened to, from Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabeté and Giovanni Sollima. The Vine videos bookending this post were both shot -very carefully- during this drive.

The not so good

Places, now!
Right in the middle, “Where I’ll pick on you” – Hemalayaa

General discomfort: sitting on the floor for hours at a time, in between two four-hour drives. It’s better for the body than sitting in chairs, but even so, my body wasn’t used to it. Sessions were two hours long and at least one of those hours was typically spent seated, listening to the speaker. The time not spent sitting was spent in asana (poses and flow) or dancing, guided by terrific but unfamiliar instructors and often into unfamiliar, uncomfortable shapes. So … yes, the weekend was exhausting. It was restorative for the mind but not all that restful for the body (or mind, for that matter). So: soreness and character-building. Like soccer camp.

I ran into Mara Healy for the third time, at a coffee shop as I was getting ready to leave, and she mentioned that she had observed some fatigue in festival-goers. I’m sure that’s par for the course, because it’s not a normal weekend for many of us: hotel rooms, hotel conference rooms, many strange faces, some strange experiences, maybe some different food, et cetera. And yet I did wonder if I hadn’t paced my plans smartly. Looking back on how I selected my sessions, I likely picked them based on topics rather than, perhaps, alternating between physical and cerebral workshops.

Beer at El Bait Shop
Rye for the weary yogini

How it turned out: I’d skipped the opening ceremonies in lieu of visiting a good friend, just east of Des Moines. And I passed on the Saturday evening festivities, having finished the planned sessions that day at 5pm fully exhausted, out of ibuprofen, hungry, needing a shower, and wanting a little time to myself. I found a pub near my own hotel, about 3/4 mile away from the festival. Two beers, a burger, a bath and then a great pillow were welcome respite. I missed some things, notably a Yoga Nidra class and some great live music, both of which may have helped, though those activities may have contributed to added fatigue for me.

I attended this alone, and I don’t think the event was designed for a loner participant. The discounted rooms at the hotel were only large suites, and people moved in packs. Like with soccer camp, most people appeared to have arrived with friends and stayed -rather tightly – with those friends throughout the event. As such I found myself drawn toward some of the bazaar vendors, for conversation. Which was nice – the women tabling for Aveda and BaliMalas were very friendly. While in sessions, fellow attendees were a bit more outgoing and I enjoyed meeting them. It appears there are other people as enthused about Ms. Nardini as I am.

The just plain weird but surely there’s a lesson in there

I arrived to find out someone had checked in as me. This didn’t yield any fewer benefits to me, nor any larger benefits to the impostor (that I know of), but it was just so … odd. Thus began my yoga for the weekend: did this mean anything, obvious or not? Was it just a test, an invitation to let go or to seek the person who checked in as me? I went with the former. A coworker’s adieu for me via email on Thursday included an “Enjoy your yoga!” Clearly the experience was going to go deeper than a pleasant savasana or two.

More tests: my hotel room clock went off at 6:30 am, unexpectedly, on Saturday. Then my hotel room phone rang at 5:30am, unexpectedly. The Sunday one was less welcome, though it did help me get ready in time to go to an optional and excellent 7am pranayama practice with Mara Healy.

Perhaps “the weird” is appropriate for a summary here. I too easily observe some similarities between this yoga weekend in Iowa and a week spent dormed in former military barracks, trying to improve my soccer skills. It is uncomfortable that the weekend drummed up that particular experience from my memories! Both were excursions from which I was seeking transformation, and I certainly got it at soccer camp, but in unexpected ways. Time will tell, if my Des Moines experience will yield more fruits for my practice, teaching and life than the lovely “alchemy” mala that I bought and a few new cues that I have already introduced in a few of my classes. I’m looking into getting more anatomy training, getting back to my yoga text studies, and developing some truly new, inspired sequences. Stay tuned. And come to my classes!

Have you been to a yoga festival or conference? Which one, and what was it like? Will you go to another? I’d love to hear about it, in the comments to this page.

Marathon One

ARAH on tape
Fail sauce on my chest sticker.

My cell phone rang just as I’d found Steve in the finish line area – about 40 minutes after I’d crossed the finish line. Dad was calling to congratulate me on my finish of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, and ask me how I was feeling. He also asked if, at that point, I felt like I wanted to do a marathon again.

I told him to ask me again in a week. I was feeling pretty good, but throughout training for (and deciding to commit to) this race, it’s been the race recovery experience that had me worried.

I did have a good time doing my first marathon, and at that point (and today, as well) I was feeling like it was worth all the time, money, stress and Body Glide. Things went as well as I expected, and certainly way better than I feared.

I nailed my rough goal of 4:20, which beat my newbie “just finish” goal by an hour and 40 minutes, and missed my foolish dalliance with this idea: “damn, my training paces indicate that it’s possible that I could qualify for Boston.” If I were that arrogant. As if I didn’t have enough to think about already. I don’t even like the town of Boston, that much, and anyway I prefer running on trails. When I looked at my watch, more than 3 miles from the finish line, and saw that that my qualifying time (BQ) was about 5 minutes away (and thus impossible), I was immensely relieved. I’d been enjoying it but once that stressor was removed, I really started to enjoy it – and at that point I was pretty uncomfortable, too.

I loved it.

  • The hoots and hollers from all runners as we went under the HCMC tunnel, just after the start.
  • My husband rushing to find me at multiple mile markers along the course to cheer for me. He was surprised that I stopped to give him a hug!
  • The ukelele player.
  • All those human & canine spectators. It kept me going, and kept me smiling.
  • Oh yeah, the running part: maintaining, for the most part, a steady & challenging pace. Handling that sideache that started at mile 23.

Along the way

I went to the Expo the day before the race, to pick up my packet and maybe do a little shopping. I’d been to this event before, and enjoyed the festive, energetic atmosphere, sweet deals on running gear, and running talks. Maybe I’d run into a friend? This year, however, I was a nervous wreck there! So many things were running through my mind. I was a little nauseous, either from the frayed nerves or from the too-rich dessert I’d had the night before. I got the packet, snagged one freebie and said hello to a few people I knew, then headed home, on foot.

By the time the starting gun went off, I was so much calmer, which was surprising. Maybe at that point there were so few decisions to make, relatively speaking, that I just had to, well, run with it?

This was a good state to be in, because my plan to use my heart-rate readings as a guide for pace ran into a little complication: that morning I’d had success putting in my contacts… but I’d forgotten that I can’t read tiny text while wearing those contacts (I don’t wear them often: only on climbing excursions and some races). Well, I can read the number, but not if my arm is moving swiftly and I also have to navigate a sea of fellow runners. For the third race in 2 months, I’ve been forced to find my pace by feel (at the other 2, the GPS function of the watch wasn’t working, nor was the heart rate receiver). This has been my first running season with a GPS watch, so perhaps I needed to continue follow my body’s signals, not anything coming from a gleaming screen.

TCM training log
394+ miles: a long road.

Around mile 5 or so I discovered that I was near several of my Club Run teammates – all of whom I had reason to believe are faster marathon runners than I am. I got a little nervous that I’d started out too fast, but then left it at that. I bid a good race to them, and continued maintain my pace, pretty much until I’d arrived in Saint Paul, about 20 miles in. I also continued to allow people to pass me at least until the halfway mark, as advised by a few veteran TC Marathoners.

At miles 8, 9 and 11 I found Steve, Becky, Tara and other friends, cheering on the sidelines. I held back an unexpected sob after I hugged Steve. It was going well, but… well, this runs in the family. I was overcome with everything going on. Happy! I kept moving. This was my sole sob of the whole day, surprisingly!

I rolled my ankle in a pothole at around mile 18, but after walking around a tree on the boulevard and swearing a little, I got back on the course, on pace. Thank heavens for rubber (AKA sprained at least thrice, each) ankles, I suppose.

I approached the famous 20-mile marathon “wall” and was humored to find that there was a big inflatable stone wall (arch) over the course, erected by one of the local running clubs. Otherwise I didn’t really sense that mythical marathon “wall” of massively increased difficulty. Looking back at my splits, this is likely because I’d already started to slow my pace a little – as early as mile 13. Well, isn’t that interesting.

Around mile 22 or so was the aforementioned No-BQ moment. Sure, we were in the last few miles of this beast anyway, but if I’d have known that the race may have been even more fun, or at least a lot stressful, had I never looked up what time I’d need to qualify, I’d have never done it. Bah! Can’t take the runner out of the runner.

Where things did start to get more difficult, though still manageable, was around mile 23. That was in the middle of some hill-climbing, and I’d wound up with a side stitch that stuck with me until the finish. I stopped to walk a few times in those last few miles, but just a few steps, maybe 10 or so, each time. At times I managed to ignore the side stitch, mainly when I’d encountered a friend on the sidelines, or later, Kristin –one of the aforementioned speedy Club Run women– who apparently was having a rougher day than expected on the course. She and I got running again together, and ran across the finish line together.

Newbie errors

Things that I will do differently on race day, should a “next time” happen:

    • No. Last-minute. Gear or clothing. Decisions! But, the watch thing didn’t ruin my day, for sure. The few times I was able to get a reading, it was 160ish, when according to the charts I should have kept it at 152.
    • I am curious to find out if I do start out slightly slower, I’ll be able to run a steady pace or even negative splits. That’s the theory… but part of me wonders if I just need to focus a little more after mile 13, now that I know I can handle the 26.2, and maintain a pace like the one I started with, on this race. Sideache, schmideache. I’d tried to get a half-marathon into my training this year, but the weather foiled those plans. Perhaps it would have given me a little more confidence at the longer distance.
bikkies
ANZAC Bikkies: runner fuel that did not fit into my waist pack, but did fit into a Ragnar Relay van in August.
  • That’s about it. I was happy with my starting line arrival time (even though my toes froze), my clothing decisions, and my fueling and hydration. I had 2 servings of fluids at every stop, walking through the station, making sure one of the fluids was a Powerade, if I wasn’t trying to wash down a Clif Shot. Every 45 minutes or so, I had a Clif Shot or banana chunk.

Thank you!

Things went very well! I have so many people to thank, mostly for their patience with me these past 6+ months but also their expertise, technology, inspiration and … love. A marathon surfaced as a specific goal for me pretty recently (let’s say March this year) but it was this year’s version of “I must accomplish something physically difficult” and as such I attacked it with ferocious intention:

  • Steve! The best friend and husband ever. For encouraging me to run, but also to take sufficient rest from running and training.
  • My dad, for inspiring me to keep running, for expressing his professional reservations about marathon running, and his interest, nevertheless, in following my training.
  • My mom. Because she’s mom, and told me she’s proud of me for this accomplishment. I’m quite certain I got the drive and sensibility to pull this off from her.
  • My brother and sister-in-law, for also expressing their professional (or maybe just personal?) reservations about marathon running, but persisting in their support and helpful advice for my training.
  • My climbing buddies, of whom I’ve seen less lately: Josh, Julie, Mike, Gaby, Al, and Joe. Keeping a few gym climbs in my training plan helped keep me sane and probably healthy.
  • My trail running buddies, of whom I’ve also seen less lately: Chris, Marise, Joe, Carolyn, and likely a few others. Keeping a few trail runs in my plan helped keep me sane and probably healthy.
  • All my other running buddies who include the Loo Lovers Ragnar Team and Team Smellstrong. Relay races keep me loving running.

@rebeccerd I think we found your high school runner boy friends. #woohoo #finishline #ragnargr

A photo posted by Arah Bahn (@arahbee) on

  • Rebecca. The day after the race, Steve and I determined that the idea to actually sign up for this marathon came from her.
  • Our vegetable garden and neighbors, for tolerating the neglect from me throughout this growing season. Ah well, there’s always next year!
  • My yoga students. The misfortune of our March – July hiatus from two of my regular classes gave me time to consider the race, and to start training. I am so glad they kept in touch and that they are coming to my new classes at Saint Paul Yoga Center!
  • Club Run Minneapolis, whose coaching efforts, training expertise and awesome team spirit provided structure and camaraderie for my training, from base-building all the way to a post-finish gathering. At times it was challenging to get over to Minneapolis for those group runs -aw hell, it was super challenging for me to run with a group!- but the smiles and support, as well as discipline it developed were key to my training.

And then there was rejoicing. Way to make 17.5 miles fly by!

A photo posted by Arah Bahn (@arahbee) on

    • The staff at Discover Strength. I added this component to my training in late July and while I won’t say that I felt physically stronger for it, I’ve stayed injury free, and adding this to my schedule allowed my running parts a little rest each week. Battling heavy weights with my own confidence was good mental training, as well. Who’d’ve thunk that my blood-curdling cries in the leg press would come to good, not evil?
    • Jes Post, for her amazing hands and massage therapy. We met up every 4-6 weeks to ease-my-achin’ whatever.
Tesla and moi
Fast – or at least stylish – as Tesla in my Mizunos, earlier in my training
  • The Twin Cities Amazons Rugby team. It’s been several years since I retired, and I don’t see my teammates very often. Nevertheless, my memories of certain moments with them gave me fire and fuel, at various points of my training and race: of the fun, the required grit, the real value of things we do. That mile 20 “wall” has nothing on a full season of Amazon competition. But I thought it might, and I had to find out.
  • Brooks, Mizuno & Saucony for the shoes I’ve run in, all spring and summer.
  • Bia Sport for the fancy new training watch that I got in the spring, via a KickStarter campaign contribution waayyyy back when I hiked down into the Grand Canyon with Steve, Mike and Laura in 2012. It’s been helpful to use in my training, and also affirming and fun to be a sort of late beta tester on (the Heart Rate number needs to be bigger, ahem).
  • Race staff and volunteers!
  • Friends I managed to spot along the course: Tracy, Jen, Rebecca, Sophie #sophiestyle, Nyla, Steve, Todd, Karla, Amy, Karen, Diane, Mark.
  • The ones I missed, at least the ones I know about: Dawn, Alane, Maggie, Thomas, Christy, Ratchet. And also the ones I didn’t know about, and all the encouraging strangers.

What is next?

Stay tuned. But I have already committed to a relay with Team Smellstrong: the Tuna Run, in North Carolina, in mid-October 2015!

Park City and Food

garlic bulbs
From Betty’s garden (and Sharpie)

In the middle of the party, Carol – a longtime Utah resident – asked me what I most liked to do, when I visit family in Park City, which I’ve done several times now. We’ve skied, hiked, visited a farmer’s market or two, shopped ’til we dropped, checked out amazing views via automobile, and now mountain biked, all in addition to enjoying some great meals out and in. We were in a room that had at least 15 dishes brought by people in the room or made by us, all of which featured some form of garlic.

At that particular moment I was so full that I was about to burst and was afraid of failing in my duties to choose and announce a “best dish” for the party. Still, my answer for Carol was, “the eating.” I’m not sure, but I don’t think she was impressed. She went back to asking more questions of the highly amusing and adorable (and 7-year-old) fellow party guest, Tanner.

“Garlic Fest 3” has come and gone, and it was great fun! The winningest dish is now facing controversy so let me just say that the dish that I thought was best was brought by the chef for the US Ski team, Allen Tran (featured here): a quiche with roasted garlic and sage. Not only was it gorgeous to look at, but it was delicate, delicious and something I’d really like to have for lunch today. It shouldn’t be surprising that it would be good, so it was ruled out of competition.

Another item that was ruled out was the dish my brother made: garlicky sliders. All evening, he was grilling more of those savory patties for pleading guests, and I think they were even better when dressed with the super-sharp (HOT!) toum that I made for the party.

garlic sauce: toum
Toum-tastically hot

The toum kind of suffered from misrepresentation – it really needed spicy kebabs – but people still seemed to like it as a dip. I’ve had a much better (fluffier and not quite as hot) toum while dining out at Shish Café in Saint Paul. Laura’s awesome KitchenAid food processor wasn’t up to the speed (literally) needed to whip that stuff up into a proper frenzy. I may try it again – here’s the recipe if you are interested; thanks go to Splendid Table for the fun radio episode featuring it, a few months back. Ahh, I’m going to miss this marathon training, if only because the drive over to Minneapolis early for the Saturday morning club runs has given me quality time with Lynn Rossetto Kasper.

Garlic Fest is a an annual party that my brother and sister-in-law host, for fun, friends and food. It was great to meet and spend some time with these amazing people, most of whom are or were involved with the US ski teams or the US speed skating teams, with whom my hosts worked or have worked for a few years now.

Dishes that came to the party included gazpacho, a roasted-vegetable salsa, cheesy potatoes, a quinoa pilaf, Chicken Kiev, roasted garlic, wings with a super hot garlic sauce (hotter than my toum), cheesy grits, and a dip with crudités arranged in athlete shapes. A little disappointingly, no dessert came but I figure it was due to the fact that these people all work in sports medicine and science, and sugar’s place there may be questionable. It’s also kind of a tough puzzle, to identify a garlicky dessert!

mountain biking in Utah
Fearless riders

The next day we selected an activity to help our bodies sweat out all the garlic: a couple hours of mountain biking on the trails around Park City. This was a first for all of us, and we had a blast, especially the two of us who rented full-suspension bikes. The trails were good fun, though a little rocky in parts, and so the adrenaline surged a few times. That morning was beautiful, if a little chilly, so we got started late enough that our next stop was lunch at High West Distillery and Saloon, a favorite for their great whiskeys and cocktails.

The rest of the weekend saw some flavorful/amazing wasabi-shunning sushi (at Sushi Blue), a Sunday brunch buffet with such an oeuvre of sweets available that it was even labeled as the dessert table (at Sundance), french toast and some great pulled pork at No Worries Café, and some delicious (hot) Thai food down in the valley (at Skewered Thai).

mackerel sushi
3 kinds of mackerel

I also managed a training run, on as flat a trail as I could find, and I’m happy to report that at 4,000+ feet it was easier for me to keep my effort low than it was during my long run yesterday at home in Saint Paul, at about 600 feet. Go figure. Perhaps credit can be given to the love I got from their two friendly cats: pets are clearly great for stress management. But maybe not when one of them repeatedly wakes you up in the middle of the night for snuggles…

Given the volume of food words in this post, it’s fairly clear that I came for the food this time. I certainly wouldn’t want the food without the terrific visiting time with family that lives so far away. I’m looking forward to visiting for the powder too, in March. Bring on the schuss!

 

Oatmeal is my teddy bear

After Working, by Robert Bly
A terrific poem by Robert Bly: thank you.

After a long drought of poetry, our local library has helped me find some new poems to enjoy before bed, and to share with some of my yoga classes. One such poem is posted above. It’s from his “Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems.”

I have a month to go before my first marathon. I feel like training for it has taken over my life, which is making me just uneasy enough to think that it may, in fact, change my life by the time the sun sets on October 5, as promised. I am curious to see the how part of this equation. I can share these surprising recent discoveries:

  1. I am able to run 20 miles with no food (no pre-run meal and no mid-run Gu, etc.) in me other than a few calories from Nuun-fortified water…as long as I run slowly enough. Which won’t be happening on race day, but it’s been an interesting experiment in trying to train my body to burn something other than glycogen (AKA fat). Truthfully, skipping my pre-run bowl of oatmeal was more of a mental test, anyway. It’s like my teddy bear for long runs.
  2. I need more sleep than my standard 6.5 to 7 hours, if I’m logging 35+ mile weeks. And, I can’t just chop off the last 1.5 hours or my evening; I still need to do my rituals, but skip whatever fun I’d normally do before those rituals.
  3. Trying to balance the various elements of training for the race, as well as trying to balance life around it has helped me make a few decisions … faster. Priorities seem to come into clearer relief.
  4. Running with a GPS watch – this is the first running season I’ve done so – has been helpful in a variety of ways. I rely most on the heart-rate reading it gives me, to help me determine my training pace on most runs. It’s also been nice to have a mileage counter, though I still spend a little time pre-mapping out some runs, to help hit mileage goals. However! I ran two races last week, a back-to-back 10k and 5k, and the GPS component to the watch wasn’t working. And it was ok, if not better, to just go by feel and use the watch as a stopwatch. I did not PR in the races, but I did run consistently faster than I’d predicted I would.
  5. I put away (ate) a 3-cup volume of cut-up raw veggies, on Saturday.
  6. I have found a way to elevate my feet while watching TV after a long run: put ’em up on the rocking chair!

I can also share these not-so-surprising discoveries:

  1. I have not lost weight, but I think my shape has changed a little. I didn’t so much run my butt off as run it … denser. There are certainly worse things that could happen but I still harbor some degree of hope that I would carry just a little less weight over those 26.2+ miles on October 5. Ah well. I doubt it will happen in taper. As a result, I think my mantra is evolving into “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
  2. a walking commute
    One one of those sunny commutes

    Man, I go through a lot of laundry. Way more than I did when I went through yoga teacher training, four years ago. A week with 4 runs, 1 strength workout, 1-2 rock climbing evenings, teaching 2 yoga classes, and at least one round-trip walk or bike commute… this does not equal a week of 5 superheated yoga classes.

  3. I haven’t yet suffered – though there’s still time – through blackened marathoner toenails, though I had a close call a few weeks ago on a 20-mile trail run. However, every single run leaves a few bites on my torso, usually from abrasive parts of my running bra. So … I’m not unscathed.
  4. Good god, my orthotics SMELL. I’m re-thinking the decision to go with full-length style ones, versus the 3/4 length ones I’ve had in the past. Yes, it’s nice that they don’t slip around in the shoe a little, but I don’t think there’s a way to get the stink out of the insole glued to these $700 wonders. Grrr.

Loving Loos and Ragnar Relay in 2014

Glowy wand
The nighttime run fairy’s weaponry

Notables from this year’s Ragnar Relay Great River, which ended for our Loo Lovers team around 3pm last Saturday: I ran all the way up that 2-mile hill. I kept a steady, pretty strong pace on my last (exhausted, humid) leg. And, I only showered once.

The former two seem to be signs that I have trained well. Maybe for Ragnar, but most hopefully, for my October marathon. I’m not sure what the latter means. Maybe that I’m getting older and it just doesn’t matter? Except it does, especially when it feels so darn good to shower off.

I have now done 7 relays in 6 years. All the priors are chronicled here:

2013 Reach the Beach

2012 Bourbon Chase

2012 Ragnar Relay Great River (RRGR)

2011 RRGR

2010 RRGR

2009 RRGR

I continue to love this kind of running event, mostly because it’s much more thoroughly engaging – and social – than the standard road or even trail race: the event itself takes longer, you need to bring along a few friends (or strangers), you’ll need to do more planning. You see new, or at least different from your regular, scenery, once a year. You may hallucinate, and if you don’t, you’ll feel weird in at least 3 ways anyway, until the following Tuesday.

Stockholm Exchange
All that you need

Also: Time becomes a different substance than usual; still linear but more fluid and on several planes. You see a van with a beaver painted on it, ahead of you, at 2pm, and suddenly it’s behind you at 5pm. Then it’s in a parking lot when you arrive, with snoozing occupants, at 2am. You see the same green running bra and pumping short, muscular legs, passing everything in sight, then you see it slide into a van’s open door. Which has already happened, at least once. Red licorice, Gu, dry cereal or fresh fruit each sound like a great idea, until they don’t. You grow tired of drinking water and its various salted forms. The only thing you’re sure of is that you need a porta-potty, and soon. Oh, you’re also sure that your post-race hash browns need more salt.

The above things are constants with the relay, as is the terrific fun I’ve had with 2 great, slightly fluctuating, and in wondrous ways, teams. Some things that seem different to me, this year, aside from too many runners wearing earbuds:

  1. As mentioned above, cleaning up after every run wasn’t as much of a priority; I felt ok staying salty, but I did change out of damp clothes each time. I did discover that putting clean clothes onto a salty body is more difficult than putting a wet swimsuit onto a wet body. Who knew? I was the only one in our van who caved, but that hot shower I took in a high school locker room was lovely and enabled me to relax and “sleep” for a couple hours, along with 300+ others on the Stillwater High School gym floor. How in heaven was there only one snorer in that room – who started right as I was leaving?
  2. I had expected an average pace of 9:15, based on my recent training, but was consistently just a little faster. Yay! I credit my mantric focus on short steps, using my glutes, getting as tall as I can be, and leaning/reaching forward from the hips (not necessarily in that order).
  3. This was my first relay wearing a GPS/running watch. I’m not convinced that I liked having access to my pace data in numbers, but it was interesting observing the regularity of my pace from a this perspective, rather than just by feel.
  4. The watch has two parts: a wristband/display component, and a clip (containing the GPS/antenna) that goes somewhere outside on the watch side of my body. I learned, for good, that it should never be placed on the waistband of my shorts. Not because of the raw, abraded skin that the metal clip caused, but because the clip fell into the porta-potty hole. Yep. I never, ever thought I’d be thankful for a mostly-full porta-potty, but I was. I was able to retrieve the antenna unit. Thankfully, there was still hand sanitizer available. It took me about 6 hours to get up the nerve to share the story with a teammate, who gave me said nerve by sharing an even better john-on-the-go story. No wonder we are called the “Loo Lovers”!
  5. I was happier than usual with my performance, even though didn’t PR, inasmuch as you can, on a relay. The weather wasn’t ideal for running (85 and somewhat humid), but it could have been worse, as it has in past years (95 and very humid). I was not fighting a sinus infection. My plantar fascia is behaving. I wanted to nail what I believed to be my 10k pace (9:15) at this point in my marathon training, and I beat it (hovering on either side of 9:00 mile splits).
  6. Packing a cooler and plenty of real food (as opposed to bringing along less perishable junk food and “energy” bars or relying mostly on dining out) was friendly to both the guts of the runners and to the other people around us at the major exchanges. This combo is a great way to make new friends!

So, that’s my 2014 Ragnar Relay experience, in sum. Except for the pictures. Here we go:

Is your soul hidden?

Photo of a Kabir poem
Calcutta or Tibet?

Poem credit: Bly, Robert. Kabir : ecstatic poems / versions by Robert Bly. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004. Print.

It seems like more than a year has passed since I found a new poem that I liked enough to share at one of my yoga classes. Then bam! I picked up a book at the library, and the first poem I read is one that is perfect: resonant, vivid and worthy of a brief rest in a comfortable chair.

This one speaks to me about contentment, and about making the mistake of looking at what others are or have, in order to determine if you are satisfied. It’s a helpful reminder for me, in this season of marathon training, an out-of-control (and yet non-productive) garden, not having great immediate travel plans, and an ever-filling calendar.

Here’s another: “For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.” ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

Frustrated runner is frustrated

foot shot
Admiring the view. I was listening to “Purple Rain”

My marathon training is driving me completely bonkers.

I am not even close to quitting this, and until this point I have avoided dwelling on the whole thing, feeling that putting my hazy thoughts into silent or uttered words would be feeding the beast that does not need an extra meal.

At this point, however, I’m hoping that a brief venting session would be a cathartic and healing experience. I need to move forward; I keep finding myself overreacting, albeit quietly, to things that are small and irrelevant.

Here are the things that are driving me nuts about the last five months and the two that remain in front of me, before I run the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, which will be my first, and perhaps my only, but maybe not, marathon. Note that the list is filled with counterpoints to every argument, and this is why it’s all so frustrating.

  1. The fact that I’m keeping my mind open to the idea that I won’t want to run another one – or my body will refuse. Every other new distance I’ve run hasn’t had this “what if” burden attached to it. I’m an endurance machine and if I could handle 11 years of playing rugby, and most of them playing a very strong pony, helping to push 1400+ pounds of scrum forward, repeatedly, in the second row, running for 4+ hours straight on pavement should be doable, if not a (relative) piece of cake.
  2. Except now I’m in my 40s, not my 20s.
  3. BAH! I’m feeling strong. 40s appears to be long-distance running prime for a lot of women.
  4. Except I’ve been doing high-impact sports for most of my life.
  5. BAH! All this weight-bearing activity in my life means I’ve made my bones as strong as Adamantium. My soft tissue… perhaps not so much.
  6. It’s been a year since I recovered from a battle with plantar fasciitis, and I’m pretty sure that it has not returned. However, that heel is more tender than it used to be, before that round with PF.
  7. I joined a running club, because it seemed like a good idea at the time. The knowledge and support of experienced marathoners was something I thought I’d need. The companionship on tough training runs sounded appealing, too, mostly as I would be abandoning my trail-running buddies for most of the season.
  8. And yet very few of the people in the club will follow their own coaches’ advice to run very slow on the long, slow runs. Some days, it has felt like I was the only one actively trying to run an 11 minute mile (or slower). I’m somewhat willing to believe that all of these people are crazy-fast runners and that a 9-minute mile is the recommended low-intensity pace for them… but is it?
  9. training t-shirt
    I paid for this tee

    Running an 11 minute mile pace (or slower) is really, really difficult, especially when it’s warm out. My body heats up quickly at anything above 50, so on some days, I have to repeatedly stop to walk, to lower my effort level, which lately I’ve been gauging with a heart-rate monitor. I’ve always run faster and been comfortable in that faster zone, but I think the coaches (and various articles I’ve read) are trying to slow us down on those long runs, to help speed us up in races.

  10. Apparently, I should not have a time goal for this first marathon. But if you don’t, how do you decide what pace at which to start running the darn race?
  11. Having some of idea of my marathon pace is supposed to help me figure out how to do the speed workouts that the club does. So, I signed up to do a half-marathon in June. However, it was cancelled due to an electrical storm that morning.
  12. So I did a 2-mile time trial on my own, a few weeks ago. I did it the week after I had a head cold. I had to stop a few times to cough, so it wasn’t all that useful as a race time or training paces predictor.
  13. So, I did a 5k last week. It was fun, though not a PR, but I was happy with my effort. My time on that race gives me a better idea, though not a great idea, of what my marathon pace will be.
  14. And it’s a bit slower than I had been thinking, due to the times I had for two 10-mile races I did 18 months & two years ago. So, I feel like I’m on a downhill slide. And feel like I am likely the slowest runner in the whole club.
  15. Which makes me feel like I’m in grade school again. Always the last one picked, the one who caught softballs with her face, the one who once kicked a basketball to keep it from going out of bounds and then got kicked off the court by the coach whose breath smelled like whiskey and cigarettes.
  16. I pay a reasonable membership fee to the club, which appears to defray costs of setting up a water/Gatorade stop on our long runs, reserve space in the rec center where we meet, get us gear tchotchkes once a season (I just got my hat!), fund a website and newsletter, and maybe also help pay for the coaches’ certification fees. Cool. When I registered – twice now – I had to indicate what race I was training for, and we did so again on posters at a recent potluck/meeting. And yet a newsletter came out today, listing what races people had signed up for, and my name wasn’t anywhere – though I had typed/printed clearly at least three times. I’m sensing that I have stumbled on that rare but real event in which someone reads my strange name and is incredulous that it is spelled that way, so they just ignore it. THIS HAPPENS. Sometimes the reader assumes that I misspelled my own name, and SARAH appears in resulting documentation.
  17. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
    You learn a new acronym every day

    These coaches are really nice, earnest people and I’m pretty sure they squeeze in these duties in addition to day jobs, raising kids, house and yard work, and/or plenty of other things, just like me. Worrying about my name on an monthly newsletter item is ephemeral and ridiculous.

  18. Early in the season, one of them told me that I needed to run more than the three days per week that I usually run. This will evidently help my body get ready for massive mileage.
  19. So I built up to running five days a week. Then the same coach told me to stop doing that; that I need to trade one or two of those running workouts for some other, less impactful, possibly more fun workout. Which is what I was inclined to do in the first place, to keep injury and boredom at bay.
  20. So! I have a day/evening or two free to climb each week! It’s summer, the best/only season for rock climbing in Minnesota, and I love to rock climb outside, and inside, for that matter. Every year I vow to get out more in the summer. However, all my climbing buddies are out of town, injured, or busy with lives that are just as action-packed as mine, and we end up almost never going climbing.
  21. The above schedule vacancy –sometimes– allows a weekly time slot to do some other kind of strength training. Maybe just a routine I can do in my backyard or basement (this Neila Rey routine was fun, while attempting to also watch an episode of Burn Notice, and it took the whole 42 minutes). Last weekend, a trail running buddy offered me a free session at the strength center where he goes, weekly. It was fun, and I think I want to do it again. After many years of going it alone, assembling circuits, battling the noise demons at BodyPump classes and similar, all I had to do was show up and do what the trainer told me to do. And yet, it’s kind of expensive, takes more time away from house & husband, is frightening, and the sales pitch, delivered over the screaming of my quads, was suspiciously strong. I worry that weight machines aren’t functional training for running (or anything else, aside from body building).
  22. On a bike
    Watch me cross-train

    I was so tired/sore the next day –Monday– that I had to skip a run. For the third Monday in a row (the prior two were attributable to other Sunday adventures: an outdoor rock-climbing day –yay!– and a 25-mile bike ride around town). I think this is fine, especially as the activities were fun and I must have a rest day, each week. But that rest day, for three weeks, has demanded to happen on specific days. This is not how I normally take my rest days, like nasty-tasting cough syrup. That is, unless there is a movie or art show I want to see, but Mondays are 11-hour work days and museums close on Mondays.

  23. I am feeling better about this today, as my “loose” shorts actually felt loose (can you tell, in the photo at top of this post?) and my skinny jeans are fitting well again, but initially in this training season, I gained weight and girth. I build muscle like a boss, in fact after some hill workouts I feel like the Incredible Hulk. So, it should never be too surprising or upsetting to see numbers on the scale go up, but I had really been thinking, hoping, that those long, slow runs and the accumulating mileage would burn down an inch or a couple pounds, in places. But it did the opposite. I seem to have found a sweet spot: by avoiding sweets. Or rather, avoiding processed foods, as much as I can. No crackers, cookies, and less bread and pasta. More veggies. Fewer gels. More probiotics, more greens at breakfast.
  24. Sometimes it really makes me mad, how stuck I am in the mentality that svelte-skinny is more important than strong, muscled and confident. I have mostly stopped even bothering to pick up women’s fashion or fitness magazines, but man, they did a number on me in the 1980s-2000s. I recently had a brief conversation on this topic with a much younger woman, and her attitude about women, bodies, and strength was refreshing and astonishing to me.
  25. My dad, a retired cardio-thoracic surgeon who is also a runner (of shorter distances), worries that marathon is a dangerous endeavor to undertake. I worry that he worries. And that he may be right.
  26. I really love trail running. I’m glad I could swap in trails one day, this week! I miss it, and I miss my super fun trail running friends.
  27. The running club is sponsoring a trail race on an upcoming Sunday, and they are encouraging us to run in it. However, a couple months ago, one of the coaches convinced me that I had to choose road or trail for this race prep, and aside from a few exceptions, most of my runs, especially my longer weekend ones, would need to stay on road. So I’m conflicted about this upcoming 10-mile race, which falls on the day right after a long, slow, training run on roads.
  28. I’m still trying to figure out hydration and electrolyte replacement. How the heck do you put a Nuun tablet in your bottle mid-run, and not have the pressure from the fizz cause the bottle in your waist pack to leak down your leg? Should you resort to using only a hand-held bottle? Will the fizzy stuff be a bad idea in a Camelbak? Should you bail on fizzies and try electrolyte pills?
  29. A few weeks ago I read a column by Kristin Armstrong that was very insightful for me. I know that I need to be careful about assuming the advice given her for myself, especially as I’ve taken no such blood tests recently, have no idea if she’s even training for a marathon at this time, and I don’t know if a “day with wine” infers more than one glass. But, I read it right about when I got other advice to dial back my running days (see #19), and I felt like I had a few things in common with her –chiefly in that I noticed weight gain, and I tend to overdo it, sometimes until I easily catch the nearest flu bug and it takes me down, hard. Her story gives me a little solace, when I need two days of non-running, after a long run. And it helps me try and cut back on alcohol, a little more. I drink moderately – on most days, zero to one glass, though on some weekend days, two drinks – but it’s extra sugar that, if I could skip it, would be a good idea to skip.
  30. But a daily glass of wine is good for my cholesterol! And my husband is really getting into his new beer-brewing hobby. I like to be supportive (and it tastes good).

The list will likely continue to grow if I continue to sit here, typing. This is probably enough, for this exercise.  I am really pleased that I’ve recently found a friend in the run club who runs a pace similar to mine. It makes so much difference on those Saturday mornings, and for the whole week. She’s great, and it helps me just let all these list items … go.

Thank you for reading!

Favorite Yoga Mats in 2014

3 yoga mats in trunk
Heavy Lifting

I just realized that it’s been 10 months since I set out to review some yoga mats. This is overdue! Here we go. Based on reviews I’d read online, I selected and purchased a Manduka PRO black mat, a Prana Revolution Mat (the olive-colored one, above), and a Manduka Eko Superlite Travel mat. I compared them with the mat I’ve been using for many years, a sunset-hued Hugger Mugger Tapas mat (pictured above, sheathed in a grey mat bag).

Thick and grippy…

Right now, my favorite mat for a vinyasa class or home practice, of the ones I’ve tried, is the Manduka PRO.

Manduke and Apple logos
Frog > Apple.
  • It’s thick, so provides padding for knees, back of head, or whatever other body parts may need a little give during a practice in which you don’t move the mat around very much.
  • Its substantial weight helps it not slide around much.
  • It does tend to hold some of its curl (from storage/toting to class), but it doesn’t take long for it to release & flatten out.
  • This brand guarantees their mats for life…
  • …which is nice because they are expensive: $100, though you may be able to get a coupon directly from Manduka or discounts from other vendors.
  • The progressively-recycled PVC material initially smelled a little differently than my old standard mat, though not so much now that I’ve, er, marked it with my own sweat (and later wiped it down with mat cleaner). A scented candle when I practice sometimes distracts my nose sufficiently. So does focusing my thoughts on my breath (of course): there’s practice available everywhere.
  • I feel ambivalent about the black color, but I adore that little frog logo (the Manduka logo) that is visible during my practice. Irony: I dislike frog pose (Mandukasana).
Prana Revolution mat
Prana mat as toy/movie prop

Running a close second for me is the Prana Revolution Mat.

  • It’s a little heavier than the Manduka PRO.
  • It’s slightly less thick/padded.
  • It flattens out very quickly (in fact, it can be difficult to roll it up and keep it rolled without a mat carrier strap).
  • It’s wider than the standard yoga mat. I can see this being helpful for one pose in particular: wide-legged downward facing dog. And maybe quite a few running stretches. This extra width might pose a challenge if you attend jam-packed flow classes where the arrangement of 30+ yogis and their mats is already a mathematical –and social– puzzle.
  • It also smells different. It’s made of natural rubber and is biodegradable, which is comforting, if you ever wear it out or tire of it.
  • It now comes in more colors than when I ordered mine – the greenish clay color is attractive in … some light (it’s surprisingly similar in hue to the walls in our living room).
  • My husband has claimed this one for his own use, and I think it’s because when it arrived it was very heavy and tubular and covered in thick shipping paper with caps on both ends. Gamer geek (and former boy) that he is, it bore a strong resemblance to a rocket launcher, especially after we removed one of the caps.
  • This one costs $90, possibly cheaper if you can score a discount. REI sells these (and the Manduka PRO, as well), so this may be a good candidate for using your co-op dividend.

Those are the two I’d recommend if you would like a little more padding than the standard 10-30 dollar mat provides, and have the dough to invest in these practice partners-for-life. They are both pretty heavy, which might be problematic if you think you will need to carry it across town on your back (rather than just from your car’s trunk to the studio across the street).

One thing to keep in mind with the heavier mats is shipping costs, if you mail/internet order them. These could add up, if you don’t have a way (be it Amazon Prime or some other shipping discount option) to get free shipping. If for some reason you find yourself in the position of ordering at least $125 worth of stuff on the Manduka site, shipping is free, as advertised on the site, at least today.

… or lightweight and portable

If you go to an Iyengar class very often (like I do), a less heavy mat is helpful. In these classes, we tend move around the room a lot: once or twice to the wall, a few times turning our mats from vertical to horizontal orientation to the front of the room, later folding it into a blanket taco while preparing for salamba sarvangansana (supported shoulder stand), or rolling it up as padding and insulation from the seat of a folding chair. These small trips around the room or origami projects are a lot easier to manage with a lighter, more flexible mat. Extra padding can usually be found with folded-up blankets that are often available at Iyengar studios.

Sunset from Cozumel
Sunset from Cozumel

So, the mat I bring to such classes is a Hugger Mugger Tapas mat.

  • I’ve never had it slide around on me.
  • I’ve had it for many years and it isn’t showing much sign of age.
  • I keep it in my car’s trunk, which is handy on some days, even though I prefer practicing on the Manduka PRO.
  • I love, love LOVE its color: a sort of sunset-like blend of reds, oranges and golds.
  • I also have an older, basic but extra-long blue PVC Hugger Mugger one that has started to drop bits of blue here and there. It’s destined for one of the yoga mat re-use projects detailed here.

And then there is super-portable

As a nearly last-minute decision to bring a mat with me (on a trip that we planned to only take carry-on luggage), I bought a really light, foldable version of the Manduka mat, the Eko Superlite on my travels in Asia, and I really liked it. Here’s a video I shot on the trip, that features a cameo of the mat right at the start:

  • I traveled with a carry-on sized packpack, and the mat fit down the outside of the pack, cinched tight with the side straps. A few times, I folded it up and put it into the pack. It’s lightweight and extremely packable!
  • It doesn’t offer much in the way of padding.
  • It was sticky enough to keep my feet from sliding.
  • It provided a nice barrier from sometimes questionably clean hotel room floors, which were most often tile or wood, on that trip. It sometimes moved around or bunched up on hard floors (just a little), but that wasn’t much of a problem for the small amount of mostly slow yoga I did while traveling. I suspect that when I use it for domestic travel, I’ll see more carpeting in rooms, which will provide a little traction and padding underneath the mat.
  • The bright, cheerful color options were a plus; I chose a red that was called, strangely, “swoon.” Color is a powerful mood lifter for a lot of people. Everyone has a favorite color.
  • Angkor Wat photo
    13 temples visited in 2 days? Hello, yoga mat on day 3.

    Additionally (and oddly), this mat’s earthy and strong natural rubber odor also helped transport me from whatever travel stresses drove me to the mat.

In conclusion: shop for your needs.

So, this concludes my view of some top-rated and/or familiar yoga mats. As I mentioned above, I prefer the Manduka PRO for my Vinyasa/flow yoga class and home practice, but keep a lightweight, standard $30 PVC mat in the car to take to Iyengar classes and the random yoga workshop.

This doesn’t mean the above mats would be the best solution for you, especially if you’re very new to yoga and not even sure that you’ll be spending all that much time on your mat, in the future. I’ve outlined several other personal factors to consider in my prior post about mats.

If you’ve got your heart set on one of the more expensive types, perhaps you can find one on Craig’s List? I saw one there in the Twin Cities CL site today for a very nice price. Good luck!

The hippest bar recipe

lobster traps
Lobster traps in BAR Harbor, Maine.

Above is one search result when you are me and you do a search of your Flickr images on the term “bar”. More shenanigans with places and food can be seen on the results page, here: it’s a nice reminder that I do get around, both in my kitchen and around the world.

Alas, today I’d like to share some results on a recent cooking adventure involving bars. The lobster traps above are more photogenic than the bars in question, so they get top billing.

I normally keep the cookie jar full of biscotti (cantucci if you’re Italian and you make the cookies very small), as Steve and I like to have a little sweet crunch with our coffee in the morning. I’ve made so many biscotti over the last few years that I am finally willing to experiment with recipes. In fact, with biscotti recipes I always modify the flour part, so that it’s half regular flour, and half whole-wheat pastry flour, which I do to try and replicate the superfine texture in real Italian cookies. Note: Real Italian Cookies of this kind can now be found at the Cossetta Pasticceria in Saint Paul. They are delicious and plentiful in variety.

energy bar
A July Hippy Bar

Back to the non-Italian cookie story: This is a summer of a lot of endurance activity and slightly heightened awareness about the ingredients of the food I’m using to fuel up my training. Lately, the cookie jar has seen less action, because my experimental time in the kitchen has been hijacked by bar production (and I store the bars in the fridge).

A few years ago, I found a great recipe for energy bars, on Winnipeg Cycle Chick’s website (link to it is below). Thank heavens for Canadian women who bike! Steve, my brother and sister-in-law and I took a double batch with us, when we hiked the Grand Canyon, rim to same rim, a few years back. These made for very packable, good and tasty calories (and protein), they were. We also took a Costco-sized bag of Jerky, and a few other edible items, of course.

One thing I love about the recipe is that I almost never need to buy anything new, to make it. In fact, for my most recent batch, I did, and to a small degree I regret it (the item in question: Rice Syrup, which seems sweeter than corn syrup, at least in this batch, and is very, very sticky).

Another thing I love about the recipe: the oven isn’t needed, so they come together very quickly. They do need to set in the fridge for a spell, but very little extra heat will be added to your July kitchen, making these: yay!

The last two batches we made have been very good. I’m posting the better one of the two here, to help my own memory in a few days when I make another batch, but also perhaps to help you, with your bar-making efforts.

Note: I usually do a half-batch, as indicated below, as with that volume I’m more likely to have enough nut butter and binder syrup around. It also takes a lot of energy to cut up the bars (maybe I should let them warm up first, eh?), so a half batch seems less intimidating for me.

Steve has had one of these for breakfast almost every morning, the last two weeks. I reserve them for a semi-meal on the go, or for recovery fuel after a tough run.

Some additional notes I can share, as we’ve made these nearly 10 times with some less-than-success stories: adding protein powder has never been worth it… the taste isn’t great and the powder will often make the bars too crumbly. Hemp hearts/seeds work a lot better for injecting a little more protein in. Cereals in flake or flat-shape form work a lot better than … other more voluminous-shaped dry cereals. I add the chocolate forms at the end, as adding them to the warm syrup mixture makes a really hard-to-handle mess. Chocolate chips seem to work best, though I’ve tried crushed-up malted milk balls (I blame the Vitamix for the powdery mess) and hand-crushed toffee/chocolate bars. Powderly stuff like wheat germ or flax meal is good, but only in small quantities, around 1/3 cup. Don’t try mini-marshmallows or corn puff cereal. Just … don’t. I like adding coconut, but darn if I can ever taste it. Maybe I need to add more??

A Winning Hippy Bar Variation

  • 1 cup sweetener/binder: a 3:1 blend of corn and agave syrup. Or all corn syrup.
  • 3/4 cups all natural almond butter
  • 2 cups old-fashioned (not instant) oats
  • 2 cups dry cereal of your choice – Cinnamon Toast Crunch (or similar) and/or some high-protein flaked cereal
  • Roughly 2 cups total of hippy fillers: almonds, dried currants & dried tart cherries (or chopped dried apricot), coconut, hemp seeds or wheat germ (1/2 cup maximum of this powdery stuff), sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, and chia seeds.
  • About 1/3 cup of chocolate chips – add these last, pressing them into the top of the mixture in the pan right before putting it into the refrigerator.

Directions for assembly are here. I use an 8×8 pan for this half-batch, and cut it into 16 squares.

Reading exhortation on school readerboard

Read for 30 minutes each day

Trefoil flowers in the mississippi river
While I was reading, the Mississippi River flooded.

A few months ago, I promised here that I’d do special write-ups for the larger segments of our big trip in Southeast Asia. The Cambodia component was one that made a big impact on me, but I’ve been waiting for my experiences and thoughts on them to distill into something actionable. I am not sure I’ve got a fine whiskey, gin or blog post just yet, but what I can say is that since our trip to Siem Reap, I’ve felt more compelled to read.

Specifically, to read more about ideas, cultures and political situations of which I feel … ignorant. Or, at least, not sufficiently informed.

Sometimes, if feels like this includes pretty much everything on this earth except maybe the projects I work on directly at work, my marathon training, and perhaps the current status of my household (including my marriage) and yard.

So, the pile on my bedside table looms large and may topple and crush me soon.  I’ve read some interesting books, lately, in addition to making a better effort to read the world news and opinion sections of our Sunday New York Times:

Katharine Graham’s autobiography, Personal History. I’m about 2/3 the way through this one. The company I work for has done business with the company her family built up (The Washington Post, then Post-Newsweek) and that she headed up for many exciting years. It’s fascinating to learn about her upbringing and about the foundations and history of the Washington Post. Surprisingly, it makes me feel glad, if not proud, that I’ve spent so much of my education and career in roles in or associated with journalism.

Robert McNamara’s In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. This one I picked up at the suggestion of one of my favorite history teachers. It was timely, as when I returned from Cambodia I was eager to learn more or at least refresh my memory on the Vietnam War, which did involve and impact neighboring Cambodia. McNamara’s candor about the sequence of events, and his honesty about the decisions made are very helpful to me, for trying to wrap my mind around what happened and why things are the way they are today, in that region. I would really like to visit Vietnam.

Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness. I am still not the slightest bit inclined to join the ranks of ultra runners in their quests to run insanely far distances, even though this year I’m training to do my first marathon. Jurek’s story about his motivation and training make for a good read, and I may try some of his vegan recipes. To a degree, I get where he’s coming from and this inspires me to keep running.

comics
Booty from The Source Comic and Game Store

Comic books! A few years ago (2009-10) I was a very enthusiastic reader of the Power Girl series. The artwork done by Amanda Conner was delicious and inspired, and the character and storyline – Karen Starr/Kara Zor-L was a tech executive for her day job – were accessible, admirable yet fun enough that I even dressed up as her for a Halloween party, one year. DC eliminated this series and in the four years since, I have struggled to find a new book and character that get me to the comics store as regularly as Power Girl did. Kara has appeared in a few other books over the last few years, but they haven’t stuck with me.

Neither have flirtations with Birds of Prey, Batwoman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn, Captain Marvel and Painkiller Jane, to name a few. Sometimes I would follow talented artists to find a new book, sometimes I would read comic reviews by women who like comics and then go check out a few titles, but nothing stuck. I did get into a great series called Ex Machina, but it’s been complete for a few years now. While I have some catching up to do with past issues, it’s not as fun to do this as it is to anticipate a new story each month or so.

And yet lately, I think I’ve finally found a few! I’m really digging a Marvel book called Ms. Marvel. It’s main character, Kamala Khan, is a 16 year-old Muslim Pakistani-American from Jersey City who is suddenly endowed with superpowers. She’s excellent. The book is excellent. And I can’t wait for the next issue.

I’m also really enjoying Rocket Girl, now on its fifth issue. This time-traveling teenage cop with a rocket pack and a billion freckles is terrific.

Powers: Bureau is one that’s been around long enough that I wish I’d found it earlier. Its blend of hard-boiled detective fiction, superheroes and sarcastic humor worthy of one of my favorite 1990’s Saturday-morning shows, The Tick, is perfection.

That’s what I’ve been reading, lately.

It’s been an interesting year, so far: a year in which one big goal has been achieved (that big trip, mentioned above), and one that’s also included some experimentation with smaller, more easily-attained goals. For several months I managed to get some meditation into every day, moving forward from three minutes a day, up to 15. When I got to 15, I found the challenge to be not so much the sitting still part, as the finding a reason to meditate. And so, I stopped. I figure, I already sleep well and have a variety of other ways to settle my mind and make decisions. Should the need or desire arise, I’ll pick up this ritual again.

Last month, in a sort of random impulse to literally battle the bulge around my belly, I took on the social-media meme, “the 30-day ab challenge”, and made it nearly to the end; this head cold that I’m battling beat it to the 30th. Ah well, the marathon training is taking up plenty of my time, already.

On a school reader-board in our neighborhood, there’s a message (shown at top of this post) encouraging people to do 30 minutes of reading activities, every day. That’s a darn good suggestion, and I’ve taken it to heart. It may help me with that stack of books, and me endeavors to learn more about the world around me.

mississippi river flooding

Rules for a super slow-runner

  1. Run slower.
  2. If that doesn’t work, try harder. Give up worrying about your stride rate, and carry along sunscreen to reapply.
  3. Get a running buddy, and converse.
  4. Maybe rethink the idea of going for a long run with your former rugby teammate, who played in the wing position, scored a lot and ran 7:30’s the last time she did a marathon.
  5. Monitor your heart rate: for me, this means keeping it under 145 bpm. Let out a rebel yell, if you can get and keep it near 135.
  6. Breathe only through your nose. Then notice that your farmer blow has improved immensely.
  7. Listen to folk music during the run. Yes, Jack Johnson’s music is too fast. NO LCD Soundsystem, funk or disco! Science Friday podcasts may work, because Ira’s voice is so soft that you’ll have to soften your footsteps.
  8. Try a breathing tweak that sounds like it will be even harder than just breathing through your nose: 3:3 or 4:4 (where you take 4 steps for each inhale breath, and four for each exhale breath).
super player rules
The inspiration for my list

I haven’t tried #8, but I may resort to it soon. One of the interesting and surprising discoveries I’ve made while preparing for my first marathon: it’s difficult and necessary to go slower. Evidently I’m not alone; here’s one recent story about the apparently importance and benefit of dialing my effort back for a lot of my weekly mileage.

A friend recently gave me a tarot reading. A portion of our conversation drew my attention to balance. On that particular day, I was feeling slightly less balanced, in terms of where I’m putting my waking hours, along the jock (physical activities) – nerd (mental activity) continuum. I often think of the current status as more of a pendulum swing, rather than a position on a bar that can be moved in increments. Maybe that needs to change, not just in terms of life balance but also in terms of how this marathon is going to go for me. Sure, fine-tuning my running still qualifies as athletics, and I’m not entirely convinced that marathon running is the activity of a balanced person. And yet: maybe if I sweat less doing it, I’m more boho, and hence more balanced?

A summation of my efforts working in the right direction, thus far: Yesterday and today I’ve gone on fun, short bike rides with no intention at all of getting anywhere swiftly. The above photo I took this morning on the way to work: we see the river making a very slow and deliberate attempt to completely flood the metro area. On this commute I also stopped to photograph some lovely landscaping that has been done recently, in a yard along my route. Biking or running with a camera certainly helps me slow down, though it relies more on average pace than on consistency from minute to minute. I’m curious to know what kind of difference this subtlety makes.

brownies
Cooked, but not baked.

Yesterday was a rest day on my running calendar, which meant I had another excuse to dial things down. I did a few hours of reading as well as some cooking. A raw brownie batch using this recipe from OhSheGlows.com turned out wonderfully! This may be the first thing I’ve put cocoa nibs into that I’ve liked.

If you have strategies for slowing your training pace down, or if you have an innovative and tasty brownie recipe, I’d love to hear it in the comments on this page. Have a great, slower day!

 

wilson's snipe

I went on a snipe hunt…

Well, I may not have gotten as much nature as I wanted out of our January trip, but I got my fill last month on a bird watching trip with Mom in southeastern Oregon. If you find yourself considering your first birding trip, here are some of the finer points of this one, and then a few challenges and coping strategy suggestions.

I’m glad I went! It was great to be with Mom doing something she truly enjoys, and I had a great time too. I may even consider taking another Horvath trip, though the travel planning pendulum may swing in other directions (a ski trip, a camping trip, a weekend in NYC, and a bike tour in France are all in the running), first.

The birding trip rocked because …

Lake Abert
A very dried-up Lake Abert
  • I saw way more wildlife than I was able to photograph. This sounds like a disappointment but it isn’t! I’m thankful for the excellent optics of my Nikon binocs and the three spotting scopes brought in our van, and also for the helpful co-travelers and guide who got the animals into view, in the scopes.
  • I got better at spotting birds! God bless the new eyeglasses, which may have had something to do with it.
  • Here’s a map of the places we went. I’d never been to many of them. The scenery was astounding, especially when it included an alkaline desert or a Ponderosa Pine forest.
  • Favorite bird from Day 1:  a tie between a Great Horned owlet and a colony of Cliff Swallows (they were cutest/most Muppet-like when viewed in their nests via spotting scope… this is a similar view)
  • From Day 2: Black-crowned Night Heron – my favorite view, of which I did get a shot, was of these three thuggish ones. The scene reminded me of Edward Gorey art.
  • Day 3: the Sora. This was one that our guide drew out with the aid of a recording of sora call on an iPhone with a small amplifier. It waded low in reeds – without causing any of the reeds to move. Such a Ninja bird!

    Wilson's Phalarope
    A phalarope, not spinning
  • Day 4: the Loggerhead Shrike: my shot of it is here. This wee beast can take down birds bigger than itself. It’s a non-raptor raptor.
  • Day 5 (and my favorite from the whole trip): Wilson’s Snipe, which is shown in the big photo above. So adorable and strange. And beautiful, with those fine brown stripes.
  • Day 6: a tie between Eared and Horned Grebes. So alien, so … Jurassic.
  • Special additional sightings: the Sandhill Cranes and their fuzzy orange colts, Cinnamon Teals, Chukar, Barrow’s Goldeneye, American Bittern, Prairie Falcon, Snowy Plover, Wilson’s Phalarope, Franklin’s Gull, Burrowing Owl, Say’s Phoebe, Yellow-breasted Chat, Western Tanager (“Wasted Teenager”), and Yellow-headed Blackbird. As a group, we identified 143 bird species (I saw only 141 of them), 13 mammal species, and 3 reptile species.
  • We took several opportunities to spend some time, just observing these animals in their native (albeit transient) habitats. How else would I learn that pelicans do their fishing collectively? We spent at least half an hour watching two of them on Mud Lake, periodically dunking simultaneously to herd/catch fish together. Watching the Sora carefully pick his way through the reeds in front of us was both fascinating and very peaceful.
  • Best food of the trip was the pork ribs, at the Hotel Diamond. We may have had way more meat (versus fish) on this Oregon trip than I could have ever expected, but this particular dish sure tasted good. The pear bundt cake at breakfast the next day was excellent, as well. Even when breakfast was after 3 hours of birding.

    Oregon Petroglyph
    Nifty petroglyphs
  • My fellow travelers were wonderful company, including the knowledgeable and entertaining guide, Eric Horvath, and especially my amazing Mom. I learned a lot and laughed even more.
  • I didn’t mind getting up at 5:30 (though Mom and I skipped the 4:30 morning), partly as the sun usually woke me up and my body stayed on Central Daylight time throughout this trip.
  • I want to learn more about digiscoping.
  • The picnic lunches that Eric planned were great: healthy and tasty. It was nice to not be stuck with what we could find on the road. The blackberry shake at Fields Station was delicious, but I’m glad we didn’t have to roast the rattlesnake roadkill or consume more beef stew.
  • I learned that you can call birds. The magic of iPhone gets out to the desert/wetland/forest to tease out the creature by making, say, the male believe he’s got competition for the one female in the county. This tool (various birding apps like Audobon’s “Birds” have recordings) was what enabled us to see the Bittern, the Chukar, the blur of a Virginia Rail’s butt, a Sora, and a few warblers. Hopefully it’s not done very much, and doesn’t create too much of a ruckus for those species! Update on 6/11: I totally deserved the outcome, but I experimented with same-species recordings just last evening on a young Mourning Dove perched on one of our windowsills. His reaction: he pooped. On our windowsill. The poor little guy got a little flustered, but stayed there for awhile, and didn’t end up injured or eaten (yet) by a raptor in our close-to-the-Mississippi-River ‘hood.
  • My camera assortment (a digital SLR with a 70-300mm zoom, a compact digital camera, and my iPhone) proved a pretty good combination that allowed me to take a good variety of close-ups of wildlife, scenic panoramas, and quick snapshots or Vine videos. That said, our guide had a fixed long-range lens. He explained to us that these tend to last longer, as the moving parts of a zoom allow debris to get into the lens apparatus. Most of the time, I had the zoom all the way out, anyway, so this is something to consider if I buy a new camera that isn’t a Canon (I’m flirting with checking out the mirrorless variety).
  • Best sound of the whole trip: the “booming” (it looked like burping) of the American Bittern. There’s a great recording of it on this page: click on the LISTEN button to the left of the range maps. I also liked the Snipe’s monkey-like calls.

Reasons the 3 days in Portland after the trip were wonderful

  • Firstly: they were spent with my Dad! Visiting OMSI (and doing the submarine tour there); doing a little running; checking out Belmont Station with Lisa and Mark; shopping at Powell’s; enjoying great food at Bridgeport Brewing, Gilda’s and Gracie’s; going to a pro women’s soccer match; and relaxing in the very nice Hotel Deluxe in a part of town called Goose Hollow.
  • mountain bluebird
    Mountain Bluebird. Shot from inside the van.

    Then, back to the challenges of the birding trip. It was a lot of time in a van. Viewing wildlife from a large vehicle was the best way to go for much of the day, as many of our creature sightings were enabled by the “disguise” of a large white reflective box on wheels. However, it was hard on this body, which has a daily work commute that doesn’t even last one song on the radio (and is often done on foot or via pedal). Perhaps this was less the case for others in the trip. I think I was the only person in the middle of base-building for a fall marathon.

  • It took my neck and rib cage a few days to adjust to swiveling 180+ degrees with binoculars, while in the van.
  • Great Horned Owl
    A Great Horned Owl, half asleep and yet still twisting like he’s trying to photograph a human from an Econoline van.

    We got out almost as frequently as in those 12-person, 24-hour running “Ragnar” relay races I do each year. Getting out of a 16-passenger van is a bit more work than popping out of a minivan. My butt and quads were sore for a few days.

  • I was the youngest on the trip and also the one with the smallest bladder. I didn’t think to plan ahead by dehydrating myself, the week prior.
  • There was so much to see and our guide was so eager to share it with us that our days as a full group started at 5:30 in the morning and didn’t end until around 8:30pm, after dinner. It’s great to play so hard during the day that falling asleep at night isn’t a challenge. However, it would have been more vacation-like to unwind and/or socialize for an hour or so in the evenings, outside of our box on wheels.
  • Comparatively, our bird watching trip in Maine a few years back, with Road Scholar, did offer sufficient down time for Mom and I to reconnect and recover from the exertion, excitement, and weather. We may have missed out on some prime bird-viewing time (AKA dawn), but the rest of the day had offered enough puffin, tern and warbler goodness that I was satisfied. A more serious birder may have been disappointed, however.
  • Hotel Diamond cocktail hour
    The rare cocktail & hors d’oeuvres hour, which erupted on the Hotel Diamond veranda on our next-to-last evening of the trip.

    Related: the yoga mat and my nonfiction book, never mind the running kit, didn’t get much attention ’til Portland. I did manage to do some meditation on a few evenings, but the daily itinerary forced my head to the pillow almost every night, pronto. As my husband said (in similar but not exact words) on the phone on one of those evenings, “You’re out in nature. That’s your yoga.” All the clean air, fascinating animals, breathtaking natural scenery and lack of the usual distractions (work, fitness, TV, internet, etc.) were very likely supplying for me what I normally seek in my home yoga and meditation practice.

  • This trip needed more hot tub soaks! We were graced with very comfortable weather, compared to the frigid Maine birding trip a few Mays back. But any temperature under 80 or so is a great temperature for a soak! The dip I took in the Hart Mountain Hot Springs (pictured here), in the rain and hail, was worth the effort of getting semi-dry clothes back onto my wet body when it was time to go. I wish more people in the group (it was just me and the guide) had joined us.

All my trip photos are here: My SmugMug album for the trip. Post a note in the comments of this page, if you have any questions or a suggestion for my next trip!

Here’s one of the Vine videos I recorded. I found Vine really helpful if (when) I wanted to record sounds on this trip.

buncha hippos

Have camera, will run

I recently went on a 10-day vacation in Oregon. For most of it, I would have very little control over the schedule, as it was a guided nature tour (stay tuned for post about it). I was a little torn over whether to pack any running gear. I am in a base-building phase for my fall marathon, so taking a week off might help, rather than hurt me. However, I figured the aforementioned super-packed stuck-in-a-van with-binoculars agenda may force me out for a little sweaty personal time at some point.

Portland Rock Gym
Cute gym logo made cuter by trees

Prior to the trip, one of my running coaches told me this: “It’s vacation. Don’t even take the running shoes.”

I caved. I packed one running outfit & my smaller, lighter Mizuno Inspire 9 shoes. I was headed to a state where if you like to run, you must.

I didn’t run until seven days into the trip. Early on that day I went for an 8-mile run, across a large part of Portland; Dad joined me for the first part of it. I took my iPhone, partly as it contains maps, music, phone and RunKeeper. It also has a camera. This, in collusion with all the interesting things to see on the streets, made my run sort of a slow intervals run. These are the photos I took; enjoy!

elephant statue
No bees around here.
More pottery
So much sunshine. Plus chain-link.
Timbers mural
I’m yellin’ TIMBERS
Outdoor Store
So do you think they sell Camelbaks?
tesla pose
Someone else’s Tesla, and me. I was ready for crispy bread pudding french toast.

 

Two days later was my second run. More fun with camera, on a different route! Dig:

Willamette River
Willamette, damnit.
carnival ride
A Bear Affair
Duck Store window
The Duck Store
bus shelter in portland
Wet.
broadway in portland
Mary’s Club

rules at providence park
Aren’t vuvuzelas a requirement at soccer games? I have much to learn.

That is all! It’s National Running Day. Do what feels good!

ginger cookies

Kentucky Derby 2014 Party

20140505-203953.jpg
Hats, Juleps and Smiles

Well, you also need a horse race. Thank heavens for television!

Going to the Kentucky Derby is the best way to experience it. Though I do hope to do it again some time, if I don’t manage that, I’ll be okay with it. The memories are grand, even with the rain we had last year. Louisville, a town with plenty of great food & fun things to do, just buzzes with excitement over the several days of Derby activities. The Churchill Downs race track, with 150,000 guests, boils over with such interesting scenery that it’s a wonder I didn’t injure any eye muscles.

There’s the obvious eye candy: all the colorful hats, fascinators, bow ties, suits, and dresses that you’d expect, plus a few surprisingly elegant or garish ones. There’s also a great number of other out-of-the ordinary things like gorgeous horses, their trainers, owners, riders, the betting windows, the julep vendors, the insanely long but nevertheless enjoyable (likely because I’d only had one julep by then) line for the ladies’ room, the friendly people in the box next door, the drunk people in the box in front, the Syracuse fan who liked my orange and blue outfit, the race track venue itself, and even the horse I chose, which came in … nearly dead last. Alas, poor Frac Daddy. There is just so much to see, which surprisingly isn’t conveyed well via the NBC coverage.

pimiento cheese sandwiches on table
Sammiches!

However! A very close runner-up to going there would be to throw a Derby party, wherever you may be on the first Saturday of May in the afternoon. A few bonuses that I’ve just identified: less expensive juleps, the option of going barefoot when your feet can’t stand the heels any longer, and zero worries about rain. These were our discoveries, when we hosted such a party this year. I’m so glad we did it, despite some stress that very morning, when I had neither hat nor pimiento sandwiches ready when I’d hoped to have them ready. Details on the party follow, partly as notes for me, if we do this again, but partly also to share what worked for us. Maybe you would like to celebrate Derby, spring, getting crafty, and/or friends with a party, too? Go for it.

Fixins

  • bow ties & juleps
    Bow ties & juleps

    Juleps! Of course. Herein we’ll find the one item I’d like to refine, before next year. We had about 20 guests, and I made probably 25 or so juleps, not counting the one I needed before the party started. We were unable to find crushed ice, so I had to make it on the fly with our very capable but also very loud VitaMix, and it took me away from the party, if briefly. This is the recipe we used, though I had higher-proof (Old Granddad 100) whiskey and everyone at the party was new to juleps and/or bourbon, so I reduced the bourbon amount to 2 ounces. Either people were putting me on, or they were very happy with their drinks. If you have a tip on making volumes of juleps, let me know in the comments of this post! Perhaps we just need to get a new fridge that crushes ice, in the next year. Ours is older and likely inefficient, anyway.

  • A few other whiskeys, and some ice. Templeton Rye, Buffalo Trace, and Knob Creek Single Barrel. And some Laird’s Applejack, which I think everyone avoided.
  • Plus water, a few sodas, wines, and plenty of beer.
  • Pimiento cheddar cheese sandwiches.
  • Creamy cheese grits with chilis.
  • Mini pretzel twists.
  • Bourbon Balls.
  • Kentucky Nut Tartlets.
  • gingersnap roses
    Run for the Gingersnap Roses

    Gingerbread cookies cut into horse, jockey, and rose shapes. I used the Golden Gingersnap Stars recipe from Flo Braker’s Baking for All Occasions. It was a lot of work, and I skipped the gold dust step, but the cookies were and are very tasty and crisp! We’ll be enjoying these with our morning coffee for a week or two.

  • Some store-bought macaroons. I love my own recipe, but I was running out of time and wanted something without nuts and gluten on the menu.
  • Some great pickles, cheese dip, brownies, and pimento spread, brought by guests. Yum!

Activities

  • Watching the TV coverage of the event. We moved the TV upstairs for this. A small part of me was terrified that we wouldn’t get it to work, more due to NBC being a jerk about non-cable subscribers, than about our ability to finesse the big screen TV. Alas, Derby coverage is still free for media cheapskates like us. I was so busy with the juleps that I only watched the coverage before 3:30 pm, when guests started to arrive, and then during the two-minute race itself, around 5:30. I did get to see Jonny Weir’s fabulous Pegasus hat. Inspired, I’m tempted to do something silly next year, like put an ersatz fruit tart on my head. We’ll see; better taste may win out.
  • Simple bets: I designed a one-sheet showing all the horses, with their jockeys, owners, silks colors, and post draw. We invited guests to pick a horse & drop a dollar in a jar. Shockingly, only one person picked California Chrome, and she walked home with $17 in winnings.

    still life with gingersnaps, fascinator and roses
    Me, my fascinator, and the prizes
  • Getting dolled (and … gented?) up! We invited people to dress up for the party, and encouraged them by offering prizes for the best bow tie and ladies’ hat. Our friends got very imaginative and filled with nerve! It was fun to award prizes, and even more fun to see our house full friends in seersucker, ties of various flavors, feathers, flowers, and even a felt piglet. Our prizes were two pairs of commemorative Derby glasses, each filled with a miniature rose bunch.

A perfect finish to the day

screenshot from Woman of the Year movie
Much hats. Very 40s.

We kept the TV upstairs until the next morning. A few hours after the party, PBS aired the Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy film ”Woman of the Year” and I watched a middle portion of it. In it, the stars attended a sporting event or two, and of course did so very fashionably, as it was a 1942 movie. I’m not exactly sure why I have the 1940s in my mind when I think of Derby, but I do. After all, the very first Kentucky Derby was in 1875! Perhaps any black-and-white picture with hats would do. At any rate, watching men and women in hats, from my perch on the couch, bare-footed and snacking on party leftovers, was a nice way to finish a long, busy, yet very fun Derby day. Cheers!