Monday, December 2, 2013

A Visit to Green Machine Farm

We had a great thanksgiving at Sarah and Erik's house in Minneapolis. The day after thanksgiving we bundled up and tumbled into the car for a drive down to Zumbrota, Minnesota to visit Lee's sister Cathy on their new family farm.

Cathy and her husband JA have lived most of their lives in the small town of Fayette, Missouri, not far from Columbia, where we raised our kids. They raised their family in Fayette, trying their hand at farming off and on. JA's family had lived in Fayette for generations, as had many of Lee and Cathy's relatives. JA had never lived anywhere else.

Their oldest son, Andrew, has farming in his blood. He is a creative, innovative guy, interested in organic farming and raising cage free chickens and grass fed beef. He and his parents started talking. Where could they move in the US, to a progressive state with inexpensive land and a ready market for healthy food? Where could they go and live out this farming dream? The decision was made to purchase an old farm in Minnesota.

Andrew has a wonderful blog, Green Machine Farm, all about the trials and adventures involved in starting up a farm on land that has been neglected for many years. I love reading about this new life they are building together. How to renovate an old barn, how to feed and water the livestock, how to start an organic garden, these are things I know little to nothing about. It's like reading an adventure blog about a strange and exotic land!

The trouble with farming, and the reason I would make a terrible farmer, is the awful uncertainty involved in every step. I like at least the illusion of control in my life, but if you  are a farmer you are confronted daily with so many things that are out of your hands. Will we get enough rain? Will the animals stay healthy? Will the cows try to run away? Will the dogs eat the turkeys? (What??yes...). All these unforeseen things can and do happen to farmers. It takes a calmer and more sanguine personality than mine. Those of us that get stressed out making the pies for thanksgiving could never handle farming.

It was so much fun seeing this farm I had read so much about in person. After a yummy lunch of turkey soup and Cathy's delicious homemade bread, we headed outside in the brisk Minnesota weather to see the farm.

It was a bright sunny day, with a good stiff breeze. One of the challenges last year for these transplanted Missourians was the cold and snow of a Minnesota winter. This year they feel more prepared, with a tractor with a large snow blower attachment, and more appropriate clothing too.

We headed over to what remained of their turkeys, a graveyard of feathers. Some visiting dogs that shall remain nameless made short work of their turkey flock the day before thanksgiving. This was terrible, of course, and at the same time weirdly funny, in a horrible sort of way. All we could say as we viewed the sea of turkey feathers was "oh my God, " in an awed whisper.

Then we went over to meet the pigs. Pigs are smart and are full of personality. Their piggy little faces viewed my camera curiously and then turned away, back to their lunch. Pigs are the one farm animal I'm a little conflicted about eating, but that grass fed pork is so, so delicious, I have no intention of giving it up. I guess I should say a little prayer of thanks to the Pork God before consuming my next slice of bacon, or something.

We walked up the hill to where Cathy and JA plan to build their house next year. Right now they are living with Andrew and Calina in the old farm house but as soon as the ground thaws next spring they will start on a house of their own. They will have a lovely view from their back porch.

We watched Andrew let the chickens out into the yard to scratch and sniff around. Chickens are not very bright. I have no trouble eating them, or their eggs. They are funny and colorful though, nice for snapping a picture or two.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye and head back to Minneapolis. Now when I read Andrew's blog I will be able to picture the actual farm-in-progress that I saw on a cold November day. Hopefully we will return periodically and can see all the changes that are sure to occur. I love farming, but only vicariously! I'll stick to my flowers and tomatoes. That's all the farming I want to do.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Philadelphia Marathon

Last Sunday I ran the Philadelphia Marathon, my 4th. This was by far my most successful marathon to date. I enjoyed the entire experience, except perhaps for the 50 minutes I waited in line to use the porta potties before the race. It was the first marathon I have run where the last three miles weren't absolute torture. The entire run was fun, fun, fun, from start to finish!

We flew from Boston to Philly the Friday before the race. We decided to take the train from the airport to downtown, and that was a good decision. It wasn't as great a decision, however, to walk the mile from the train station to our hotel with our heavy bags. 

The Hampton Inn where we stayed was a great location, right around the corner from the Convention Center where the Race Expo was held, and less than a mile from the start of the race. From the moment we entered the lobby as a race participant, they made me and Lee feel special and welcome. They even had an early breakfast for runners on Sunday morning, and late checkout that afternoon for those that needed it.

Friday afternoon was given over to a little tourist behavior. We stood in line to see the Liberty Bell, which is just as iconic and impressive and you might imagine. I especially enjoyed the exhibit with the pictures of Martin Luther King and the Dalai Lama, appropriately, next to the bell. We tried to go see Independence Hall but it was too late that day to get tickets. 

We walked back through downtown Philly to the hotel. Philly is an interesting city. It is fairly blue collar in look and feel, intermixed with classic colonial architecture here and there. We couldn't help but compare it to Boston. It seems like Boston has made more of their history, but we didn't really have time to explore Philadelphia very thoroughly so I really can't judge.

For dinner that night we ended up at a fabulous middle eastern restaurant called Kanella's. Everything we ate there was great, my lamb shank was falling off the bone delicious; Lee's pumpkin ravioli was perfect, not too sweet, the pasta cooked exactly right. We strolled slowly back to our hotel and I slept very, very well. This was the night to sleep if I could, since usually the night before a race I'm too nervous to sleep much at all.

The next morning it was time to go to the Race Expo and pick up my bib, race tee shirt, and see if there were any goodies I couldn't live without. I always enjoy getting as many free samples as I can and getting some sort of souvenir if possible. This year I got a very nice grey fleece jacket. My favorite vendor, however was the amazing guys at Recovery Pump doing demos on their inflatable leg compression boots. I tried them out and boy oh boy did they feel great. They had to kick me out of the chair so that some other people could give them a try. Too bad they are so expensive!

Our hotel was right next to Chinatown so for lunch we had Bahn Mi Vietnamese sandwiches at a nearby little hole in the wall. Then we walked from the hotel over to where the race would start, to make sure I knew how to get there and see exactly how far it was and how long it would take me. There's a lovely fountain along the way, and the race start is right by the Philadelphia Art Museum and the famous Rocky Steps. I was trying not to be too nervous but of course my pre-race jitters were starting to make themselves known. Fortunately I was able to keep any doubts and panicky feelings under control. I had my race plan and I knew it was a good one. I was determined to stick to it this time.

Dinner that night was at a nice little Italian place, of course, Little Nonna's. I had spaghetti and meatballs, after sharing a salad and an eggplant appetizer with Lee. No wine for me that night, just lots of water, and a hazelnut cannoli for dessert. I didn't go away hungry, that's for sure, but we ate very early, so I was pretty confident that everything would have plenty of time to digest before race time.

I had planned to get up at 4 AM, but of course by 3:30 I was lying there wide awake. All my clothing, shoes, nutrition, phone, etc. was laid out ready to go. I got up, drank my coffee, ate my energy bar and did my back stretches. Then I got into my running clothes, put in my contacts, brushed my teeth and applied sunscreen. Experience from my previous marathons helped; I had plenty of warm clothes to wear before the start of the race, a comfortable way to carry my phone and energy gels, a plastic garbage bag to sit on while I waited for the start of the race. At 5 AM I took my last gulp of water and headed out the door. Lee kissed me goodbye and wished me luck. I would hopefully see him again, but not until around mile 15.

Its always so exciting walking to the beginning of a race in the predawn darkness of a strange city, with other ghostly running figures everywhere I turn. I love talking to strangers during the course of the race. There are so many different stories; young folks trying to Boston Qualify; old folks running their 35th marathon; family members cheering on the new runner that just wants to finish. 

After entering the starting area, I went ahead and peed for the first time. I planned to relax and pee again around 6:30, right before I went to my starting corral. I found a comfortable place to sit against a tree and struck up a conversation with a young lady running her first marathon. She was ready, but nervous. We talked about this and that and around 10 after 6 she decided to go use the porta potties. I didn't want to go again yet, but got bored sitting there by myself so I decided to see what the lines were like. I am SO glad I did, because if I hadn't gotten in line then I would have missed the start of the race!

Those porta potty lines in the starting area were they ONLY bad things about the Philly Marathon. I stood in line from 6:10 AM until right around 7 AM when the race began. For once I was extremely thankful to be one of those old slow runners way in the back. Since my corral didn't actually cross the starting line until around 7:30 I had plenty of time, but it still made for some anxious moments in the runup to the beginning of the race.

So, I found my starting corral, removed my warm up clothes and waited for our turn to start. I crossed the starting line and my race began. I was confident that my goal this year was a reasonable one, based on my past marathon performances. Instead of trying to break 5 and a half hours and starting out too fast, my goal this year was to run the marathon in 5 hours and 35 minutes. This would be 5 minutes better than my fastest time so far and seemed like a reasonable goal.

I had a simple pace chart to use during the race. It didn't change pace very often, and when it did I used simple whole numbers that were easy to remember.

I continued to use Jeff Galloway's Run/Walk/Run method, but this year I used Jeff's recommended run/walk combo of 30/30 (run 30 seconds, walk 30 seconds) instead of some anxiety driven derivative, with a little extra running like 35/25, that inevitably wore me out later on in the race.

And for the very first time in a marathon, I didn't go out too fast! 

The first part of the Philadelphia Marathon winds through their downtown. It was pretty flat, and the crowds were great. I stuck very closely to the slower pace I needed for the first couple of miles, even though that is so very hard to do. After that I picked up the pace to either 12:45 mpm or 12:30, depending on whether it was a hilly section, flat, or downhill. If my pace fell behind my goal, I slightly extended my running portion of 30/30 by counting to 10 after my beeper went off. I kept doing this for each 30/30 until I was within my pace again and then I went back to 30/30. This let me catch back up without panicking and exhausting myself.

We ran through the Drexel University campus, where frat boys handed out beer and kleenex (I took a tissue and passed on the beer). The crowds were friendly and enthusiastic. Off and on women from the Black Girls Run! organization would be on the sidelines encouraging all of us to keep strong, telling us that we rocked! Every time I saw them it made me happy.

After Drexel we headed to the Philadelphia Zoo and off through a wooded area and a park. We started seeing signs - Marathoners to the left, Half marathoners to the right. I'm glad they made it clear which way we needed to go, but they started putting up the signs at least two miles before the two race groups split which made me feel anxious because I kept on thinking we were almost to 13 miles, when we were not.

When we got to the half marathon turn off we could hear the announcer shouting things about each runner as they crossed the finished line. "How cool" I thought as I ran on past. "I hope they shout something about me!" Ha!

Now the marathoners headed out along Kelly Drive, toward the little town of Manayunk. Manayunk has a reputation for brownies, and beer. I had told myself that if I felt okay I was going to eat a brownie. That brownie started sounding better and better as I ran along the road.

 I also started to see unoccupied porta potties. I wanted to wait as long as possible, but I didn't want to pee in my pants either. Around mile 14 I decided to use the facilities, but that was the only time I stopped. Quitting drinking two hours before the start of the race, and only drinking to thirst during the race, really seemed to help keep me from having to pee more than once!

In prior marathons I had worried about getting ill during the race so I think I never took in enough nutrition. For Philly I had decided long ago that if it sounded good I would eat it. Besides eating all
 my energy gels, I ate an orange slice, a gulp of beer, and yes I did have one of those amazing brownies in Manayunk! Later on in the race I even ate a pretzel and a gummi bear! And in the second half of the race if it sounded good I drank Gatorade at the water stops, and if it didn't I just drank water. I had practiced drinking Gatorade along with my Gels and knew that I could do it without ill effect if I listened to my body.

Lee was right there waiting for me at mile 15. I still felt great, but I knew the real test wouldn't come until around mile 23 or 24. He would be waiting for me at mile 24 too, so I gave him a hug and continued on my way.

I had a lot of trouble this year during training with my aching toe joints. I finally found out that I don't have bunions; what I actually have is arthritis in my big toes, a fairly common ailment. There's not that much that can be done about it, but I decided to experiment with taking ibuprofen during the race. I researched it and yeah, some people say you shouldn't but it sounded to me like the risks for me at the pace I run were pretty minimal as long as I took them with water. I took some at 5 AM, and then again during the race at 9 AM. The only problem was that although I took them with water it still was harder to swallow pills during a race than I expected and one of them kind of bobbed around in my throat for awhile until another water stop finally washed it down. Unpleasant but certainly not the end of the world.

As I headed back toward Philly from Manayunk I kept checking in with myself to see how I felt. Miles 20, 21 and 22 I still felt good, but from experience I refused to feel hopeful about my time or my finish until mile 23. At mile 23 my legs were still strong and I still had energy, so I started my plan for speeding up by gradually adding a little more running to each run/walk segment. As long as I wasn't too tired I would keep this up until the end.

At mile 24 there was Lee. Instead of feeling awful like last year in St. Louis I felt great. I was starting to feel incredibly happy. Some spectators even commented "look at her, she's still smiling!"

Philly has a great end to the race. After a slight uphill it goes downhill for the last quarter mile. I ran that last quarter mile as fast as I could and ended up with a 9:23 pace for the end, nothing short of amazing for me!

One of the charming things about the Philadelphia Marathon is their Mayor. He stands at the start and the finish of the race, high-fiving anyone that wants to do so. By the time I finished he had a pretty stoic look on his face; after all, I was probably the 10,000th runner that had hit his hands that day. I high-fived the mayor at the end, grinning from ear to ear.

As I crossed the finish line I felt like crying. I had PR'd by 7 minutes, finishing in 5 hours and 33 minutes. Finally I had run a marathon the way they should be run, under control with a strong finish. It was a great accomplishment for me. I basically felt like I was walking on air, with very sore quadriceps.

After meeting Lee at the beautiful fountain, we walked very slowly back to the hotel where I took a long shower. I wanted a Philly Cheese Steak for lunch and a little more walking would be good for me, so we headed back over to the food market by the train station.

Wearing my big flashy race medal, I brought smiles to everyone's face, runners and non-runners alike. At the market, we got into the longest line, figuring the most popular place probably had the best sandwiches. I asked the guy in front of us what to order since I'd never had a cheesesteak, Philly or otherwise, and wasn't really even sure what they were! Roast beef, cheese wiz, peppers and onions he told me, and that's what I got. And yes, it was really, really good.

I'm already wondering about my training and racing for this coming year, what I should do the same, what I should do differently. Running 4 days a week was good for my race readiness, but seemed bad for my body overall. I had a lot more aches and pains this year. So at least for now I'm going back to three days of running a week, until I start serious training again. I'm also going to let my body fully recover before I run any sort of race. I think that's another mistake I made last year.

My next race is the New York City Marathon. I know it is a much more difficult marathon than Philly, but it has been my dream ever since I caught the marathon bug. I'm so excited that I finally get to run it, but I don't know yet what a reasonable goal should be. Can I try to match or beat my time at Philly? Is that foolish and should I be satisfied with a slower time? Can I train to handle the hills that will greet me at the end in Central Park? Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Bit of This, A Bit of That

I haven't written a post in awhile because it hasn't seemed like there was much to write about. I couldn't see writing another Westie Meetup post, I've done that before. I don't want to write a whole post about running, or wildlife classes. But between all three of these topics maybe I can create a single post to catch my faithful readers up on what's happening in my neck of the woods. We'll see!

Running...well, its one week, two days, and twenty hours (more-or-less) until the start of the Philadelphia Marathon. This will be marathon number four for me. I am working hard on my mental state, trying to stay calm and confident, but worrier that I am, its hard. What will the weather be like? Will it be hot? (that's anything over 60F for a marathon). Will it be cold? (that's anything below 35F). Will it rain? Will it SNOW??? (it has, for this late-season marathon in the past). I have what I think is a reasonable goal, but as usual I have no idea if it is REALLY reasonable or not. I try to tell myself and others that all I really care about is finishing but that's not entirely true. I would like to do well (that's well for me; it has nothing to do with anyone else). I would like to not slow down drastically at the end.  I would like to not start out too fast for once, so I can at least try to see if it makes a difference. I want to have fun, I want to stay injury-free, and I would REALLY like my stupid big toe joints to quit hurting! Okay, that's what I want. I have four runs left before the marathon, four pretty easy runs. I'm excited, nervous, hopeful, anxious. I can't wait and at the same time, I wish it were over. Sigh!

Last Saturday was the annual Westie Halloween Party for all of Diane's Westie's. Harper was a butterfly and Cosmo was a caterpillar. Cute idea, huh? Harper loved getting dressed up and looking beautiful, Cosmo hated his costume and looked quite miserable, and adorable at the same time.

Harper Showing Off Her Costume

Cosmo Looked so Cute, I Don't Know Why He Didn't Like His Costume!

I Did Get Them to Pose Nicely 

There Were Lots of Great Costumes But One of My Favorites Was the Three Dogs in the Kissing Booth!

The Pope Was a Highlight!

Another thing I did last week was take a class on Lichens at Garden in the Woods. Some of this class flew right over my head; there are an incredible number of scientific terms involved in the description of lichens. But I enjoyed viewing the teeny-tiny plants under a microscope, and out in the garden. There are many different kinds of lichens, growing on rocks, trees and soil, everywhere you turn. Now when we are out on our daily walks I notice them more than I did before. They are beautiful, and add color and interest to any garden.

Finally, I'm starting to try to learn how to use Photoshop. Its a big software package, even the smaller version, which is the one I have (Elements). I'm taking a video course and following along, trying to do the things that the instructor does to some of my own photos. The biggest challenge so far is thinking about developing a process using photoshop to edit my pictures. I've got a process in place for editing using Picasa that goes quickly, but there are so many options in Photoshop - how do I use it effectively without driving myself crazy? I think the trick is going to be to only use it to edit my very best photos from a shoot, the ones that would be really good (well for me anyway) with a little improvement to the lighting, color, background, etc etc etc....

Here are a few examples. I love this photo of Riley from her Bat Mitzvah. The original is a little washed out:

So I used Photoshop to improve the color.

The other problem is the blurry bit of the rabbi marring the background. I've learned how to get rid of things like that too! Here is the photo with the background improved. Its not perfect, but you get the idea.

I honestly could spend hours playing around with stuff like this on my computer. It would really make more sense to go outside and practice taking pictures...and I will, I promise, very soon....

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Reunion In Columbia Has Me Thinking....

5 years ago some old college friends of Lee's decided to try to get together and hold a reunion in Columbia, Missouri, where they all went to college back in the 60's and 70's. A few people took charge and started searching for everyone, using email, google, and of course, Facebook. Eventually over 50 people were found and contacted, friends, spouses, friends of friends. Over 40 people attended the actual reunion.

This first reunion was wildly successful, so much so that the organizers decided that a repeat was in order. Again many people were contacted and a surprising number showed up. It was a smaller group than last time, which made it a bit more intimate, with more time to visit with individual friends.

For Lee this was a chance to renew friendships that had been neglected for many years. He is now back in contact with people with which he was once very close. Despite all the years and the changes they have brought, they have found that they are still have things in common and enjoy each other's company.

For me of course, these reunions have been a different experience. Only a very few of the people that have attended are actually someone that I used to be friends with too. By the time I met Lee we were out of college and getting ready to leave Columbia so many of his old friends had already left.

It has been fun meeting people that I had only heard about in stories, or met only briefly. For me most of them are actually new friends that I have only started to get to know. The ones that I knew in that past I actually knew in a different context even if I initially met them through Lee.

This time especially it has made me think about my old college friends, the group of hippies that lived on Wilkes Boulevard, and later on a "commune" east of town. Although I have found a few of them on Facebook in the past couple of years, many of them are lost to me.

I am mainly curious about them and what they ended up doing with their lives. Are they still the artists, writers, builders, growers, dreamers and adventurers that they once were? Do they have children? Grandchildren? Partners? Are they happy? Are they alive? Would we still be friends, or was that long ago friendship built on circumstances instead of personal bonds? I just don't know.

The funny thing is that if I really wanted to find them I bet I could. Probably some of the friends I still know in that group would know the whereabouts of the ones I've lost. I could ask them, but I don't. I think I'm a little afraid to find out that I no longer have anything in common with them except our pasts. Maybe I'd rather remember them the way they once were instead of finding out who they have become.

Maybe, I'm not sure if that is really true. If one of those old friends decided to organize a Wilkes Boulevard or Stoneybrook Farm reunion would I attend? Of course I would!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Rockport in the Rain

Lee wants one more cruise on the sailboat before we take it out the water for the winter, so in between our trips to Minneapolis and Missouri we decide to sail up to Rockport Massachusetts, a little tourist town on Cape Ann. Wednesday is a beautiful sunny day. We take our time and get to the boat early in the afternoon, with enough time to load up the boat, motor over to Beverly to fill up on diesel, take the dogs for a walk, and go out to dinner in Salem, Ma. Although Halloween is a month away, the town is already gearing up for their biggest holiday of the year. They milk being the site of the infamous Salem Witch trials for all it's worth, never mind that this occurred over 300 years ago. But we won't be anywhere near Salem on October 31st, so we don't mind the occasional costumed bunny or pirate for now, and the dogs don't notice a thing.

This is our 3rd time going to 62 Wine Bar for dinner and once again we have an excellent meal. This time we try a couple of the starters, fried cauliflower and bruschetta; the arugula salad, and a couple of the specials, a lamb ragu for Lee and lasagna for me. It's so nice to find a consistently good restaurant, and it's only a couple of blocks from the marina too.

Thursday is another beautiful sunny day. After an easy run and breakfast at a nearby coffee shop we're ready to head out. The only problem is there is absolutely no wind AT ALL, so we end up motoring to Rockport. We even put up the sails but it's more for forms sake than anything else and we never bother to turn off the motor.

Rockport's harbor is really, REALLY small. It looks like a miniature harbor, for dolls maybe, and is very picturesque. I would be totally enamored if it wasn't so narrow and shallow, and it didn't happen to be low tide as well. The Harbormaster wants us to tie up to a little floating dock, instead of picking up a mooring ball, so we have to scramble to put up the fenders and the dock lines. I look apprehensively at this bouncing platform that I will now be expected to jump upon to tie up the boat. Suddenly I realize that the Harbormaster is coming to my rescue. He zips over to the dock in his boat, ties up, and nimbly catches the dock line I gratefully hand to him as we near the dock. Saved!

We grab the dogs and head out for a look at the town. Rockport is very cute, and full of tourists, much more so than any other place we have been so far except Plymouth. I wonder if this is the early contingent of the leaf peepers. The leaves are just starting to turn along the New England coast however, so they may be disappointed.

In the morning we wake to still clear skies, but we can see rain clouds moving in. There is plenty of time for a short run, shower and breakfast, however. There is only a 20% chance of rain so we should be fine, right? Uh no. By late morning it is raining hard. We had toyed with the idea of just motoring around in the boat, since there was still no wind, but now we decide to ditch that idea and just hang out in Rockport for the day.

One of the nice things about being stuck on a boat can be the enforced idleness. I read, relax, snack and catch up on my blogging (or try to anyway). My tired marathon muscles don't mind the enforced inactivity at all. My training plan has lots of rest days built in but sometimes I end up spending those days cleaning house or gardening. Here on the boat I'm doing some much needed resting and my body appreciates it.

In the afternoon the rain lets up for a bit and we take a walk to the other end of Rockport. We walk down a little street that leads to some nice views of the harbor. The tides here seem very extreme. From what we've heard this is what the ports in Maine can be like, showing a difference of 10 feet or more between high and low tide. The change here seems to be a good 8 feet. It's kind of astonishing that the water level can change so much over 12 hours.

That evening we leave our guard Westies on the boat and try out a Yelp-recommended restaurant called My Place. Very good, a bit pricey, and kind of French. I have swordfish that is just melt in your mouth, Lee chooses a slightly spicy fisherman's stew. This restaurant is now Nill-recommended as well!

I liked Rockport, but there were an awful lot of tourists there. I imagine mid-summer is very congested, and the chances of getting a transient mooring would be virtually nil. But for an early fall midweek destination it works out just great.

Saturday morning it's time to head back to Salem. The rain has stopped but the ocean looks like glass and there still is absolutely no wind. The one good thing about this is that without the complication of wind I manage to bring the boat up to our mooring ball without incident. It's good to have my last attempt of the year be successful, even though by spring I will probably have to learn how all over again.

We have to take the sails down before we drive home, so that the marina can take the boat out of the water sometime in the next couple of weeks. I thought it was going to be a big hassle but we work pretty well together and get the job done fairly quickly. It's also time to haul the dingy back home on its little trailer. On the way home the leaves seem to have suddenly turned all sorts of colors. Fall is here!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Minneapolis Wedding

I arrive in Minneapolis on Thursday afternoon. My nephew's wedding isn't until Saturday, but Sarah and I have wedding dress shopping plans for Friday, so I have come in a day early. However Sarah has to work on Thursday so I have rented a car and go to see my friend Cyndi. Cyndi used to work for Lee at 3M long ago in Columbia, and she and her family lived in Singapore when we lived in Hong Kong. We catch up on our kids, our lives, and our various running adventures. We sit in Culvers eating ice cream and having a great time chatting away.

Sarah finishes work just as I say goodbye to Cyndi so I drive over to north Minneapolis and meet her at her house. This is my first time there as an overnight guest. I love their stylish colorful guest room. It has one cheery and bright turquoise wall and a red industrial style desk.

I wake to my first ever run in Sarah's neighborhood. Sarah lives on a street that is almost, but not quite, in "the hood", so it is important that I run the correct direction. With Sarah's instructions I head toward the greenway on a warmish, windy morning. It is a hot day for Minnesota with a predicted high of 85 degrees.

Suzanne, Erik mother, and Kris, Erik's sister, are joining us for this bout of dress shopping. Before we head out we take a moment to view the dress Sarah had ordered online. It's pretty but the snaps and buttons up the back are scary and it has some fit issues that would need to be fixed.

The first shop we visit is Che Bella in St. Paul. There another dress is added to the possibilities. The only downside to this shop is this feeling on my part that the girl that helped us, although perfectly nice, was a little too giddy for our tastes. If this dress ends up being "the one" however, that certainly won't stop us!
Lunch is at a place called Wiseacres, charming and delicious, with amazing salads and a pretty mean bratwurst burger! And we all split a bottle of wine too, pretty crazy behavior for me at lunch!

After we eat we head to a place called Joynelle, which is mostly custom dresses, with some samples from other designers too. We find yet another dress we really like, and then the designer comes up with an intriguing possibility. She proposes making a custom dress similar to the sample, but with straps and a low back. This again might be "it", but it's at the top of their budget. I will leave Sarah to ruminate on the possibilities.

I head to hotel and meet up with Lee, who flew in earlier today. We set in to wait for the Beckers and Joanne to arrive. Frequent phone calls monitor their progress, but they manage to hit the flood of Iowans coming to Minneapolis for a football game that evening. We keep having to push our dinner reservation back, but fortunately the restaurant is flexible.

Finally around 8 pm we all meet at Blackbird, a restaurant on Nicollet, south of downtown. We order almost every small plate and appetizer they have and share them all.

I Can't Resist a Picture of Henry and His Mom at the Ceremony!

The wedding day dawns rainy cloudy and windy. Thankfully I have no running planned for today. Instead I manage to meet Cody for pizza and conversation. I'm glad to report the picture with the tattoo on Facebook was a fake. He looks great, sans tattoo....

By wedding time the rain has stopped, but its still cloudy and threatening looking. Out we go to Noerenberg Gardens on the north shore of Lake Minnetonka. Its a beautiful setting for a wedding. The guests sit in chairs overlooking the gardens and the lake beyond. There are four bridesmaids and four groomsmen. The bridesmaid's dresses all belong to the same general color palette, a golden yellow, but each dress is a different style, chosen by the girl wearing the dress. I like this idea because everyone ends up with a dress they like and that flatters them. There are two little flower girls that are supposed to scatter rose petals in front of the bride. They take their job very seriously, and make sure every petal is scattered properly. As Danielle walks down the aisle Sam smiles shyly. Danielle looks like she might burst into tears at any moment. Their vows are meaningful and heartfelt. All too soon it's over. Another wedding.,,,,

We have about an hour between the ceremony and the reception so it's off to a bar in the warehouse district for a before dinner drink. Then we walk over to 514 Studios, a large warehouse space that can be rented for weddings and other parties. The food is really good, tilapia, black beans, salads and rice. They have a GREAT DJ that manages to get everyone out on the dance floor, even Lee and I. It was just a little too loud for my poor deaf ears, but otherwise it was perfect. My favorites were dancing to Twist and Shout, almost winning the "who is married the longest dance", and all the old ladies (including me) dancing to YMCA.  Then the dance floor was given over to the younger set and before too long it was time to return to the hotel.

Sunday morning I go for a run along the Mississippi River, my favorite place to run in Minneapolis. Then its over to Sarah's house to make pies for Suzanne's BBQ that night. This is supposed to be a little engagement celebration for the two families. Sarah is making ice cream, but her ice cream maker seems to be broken. However we improvise with a handheld mixer and the ice cream maker bowl and the ice cream is saved. Nicole comes over while the pies are being constructed. Its great to see her and hear about her plans. 

At Suzanne's house,we sit in her backyard enjoying the beautiful fall evening. Its too bad the only day of bad weather on this trip was the day of the wedding. Someone has brought a box of strange conversation starters by Charles Klosterman. They involve improbable situations concerning desert islands and personal actions that have far-reaching consequences. Its funny to see how each of us reacts to the questions. Sometimes the women have similar reactions and sometimes its the couples that agree, but it varies from one question to another. 

Suzanne serves really good ribs, corn, beans. The pies and ice cream are a hit as well. Its time to say our goodbyes and return to New Hampshire, at least for a little bit. We will be back in Minnesota for Thanksgiving; I can hardly wait.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Long Weekend in San Francisco

Way too early on Thursday we boarded a plane in Boston, and headed to San Francisco, ready to visit with Daniel and Sarah for the weekend, eat some good food, even do a little wedding dress shopping.

We left the house at 6 am, thinking we would have plenty of time to catch our 9:30 flight, but traffic into Boston was already heavy and we made it to the airport with little time to spare. Although we were fine, I hate cutting it so close. But it's very hard to judge what Boston traffic is going to do. We could have left at 5:30 and ended up waiting at the airport for an hour. You just never know.

I spent the flight obsessively reading "Orange is the New Black" the excellent memoir by Piper Keirnan, on which the hit TV show on Netflix is based. I know part of my fascination with this story is because I also have a family member that spent some time in prison. It's a window into what that experience is like. As a white, upper middle class woman, Piper didn't fit the stereotype of your typical prison inmate, but gradually over her stay she comes to the point in her self knowledge that it was her choices and decisions that ended up putting her in jail, and that she had no one to blame but herself. Prison is horrible, but in an awful way it can also be a lifesaver. It's a puzzle and a contradiction to a bleeding heart liberal like myself. Strangely, this theme of contradictory thoughts will be repeated over the course of our weekend.

We took Bart into the city from the airport. Daniel had to work on Thursday, and Sarah, who had flown in the day before, was having lunch with a friend in the city. Taking Bart was very easy, but here's the contradiction. Bart is efficient and took us within a block of our hotel, but the stench of urine as we made our way up the escalator to street level was overpowering. San Francisco is such a beautiful city, but at street level it is often flat out disgusting. The homeless wander about disconsolately, huddle in corners, crouch in doorways, sleep in piles of plastic and rags in the middle of the downtown shopping district. Yeah this liberal girl gets angry at the situation. I dislike the ugliness and the nastiness; but what is the right solution? They need housing, and help, but in San Francisco nobody is going to force them into a shelter. But it also makes me much less inclined to like this city as much as I once did.

A little afternoon shopping with Lee and Sarah and eventually we pick Daniel up at the Caltrain station and see his new apartment. It's really a cool apartment, in Portilla Hills, with views of the city, a nice kitchen, shiny floors. My boy is coming up in the world! California is definitely agreeing with Daniel. Despite working very hard at his job, he still finds time to have a lot of fun too. I'm very happy for him.

Dinner was at Izakaya Sozai , a popular Japanese restaurant in the Sunset neighborhood. We got there early, and since they were very small, they had to push two tables together to make a table for 4 so we had to wait a bit even though we had a reservation. But once we were seated it was very good. It wasn't a sushi restaurant, per se; their specialties trended more toward noodles and yakatori, various grilled meats, veggies and fish, on skewers, with dipping sauces.

Although I was plenty tired I slept rather fitfully that night. Lee and I have a new mattress at home. It's a Temperpedic, and they have a different feel. It took us almost a month to get really used to it, but now we love it and other mattresses just don't feel as good. Spoiled!

Friday morning Sarah and I went off to do a little wedding dress shopping. This was really fun. Sarah and I shop well together, leaving the other person plenty of room to wander through the racks and try on things without trying to make joint decisions. But this of course was a different experience. We went to a little shop called "And Something Blue" (clever title, no?) where Sarah had made an appointment. The shop owner met us there, and explained how things would work, since this was our first experience with wedding dress shopping.

She asked Sarah what she thought she was looking for, what the venue was like, what type of material and style appealed to her. And, of course, her budget! Then we went through the racks, Sarah picking out some dresses, the shop owner suggesting a few others. Only one of the dresses was outside Sarah's budget, but it was so pretty we just couldn't resist.

We had 6 dresses for Sarah to try on in an hour, but Sarah is good at knowing pretty quickly what she likes, and even more importantly, what she does not. And since she is small, it was very easy for her to step in and out of the sample sized dresses, which were all too big. We could get a good approximate idea of how a dress would actually look by the use of large clips fastened in the back! It was kind of funny, but it worked.

My job was to take pictures, and notes. Sarah gave each dress an impromptu grade. Sometimes it was obvious that a particular dress was not for her, sometimes a dress initially seemed right, but then paled beside another dress she subsequently tried on. The rejects were either too prom dressy or too matronly. The winners were more modern and stylish, with some sort of detail that made them a bit romantic, and a bit different.

We ended up with 2, maybe 3 dresses that were contenders. No, you can't see them yet! You'll just have to wait. We have another couple of dress appointments this Friday in Minneapolis. I bet by the end of those we'll have a very good idea of the dress that will be "it".

After dress shopping Daniel and Lee reappeared. It was lunch time so we used Yelp to find a recommendation for Vietnamese food that wasn't too far away. I don't remember the restaurant's name, but it was great, with wonderful Pho, and other very good dishes. I'm always happy when we discover a place with good Vietnamese food!

After lunch we drove down to the marina area near the Golden Gate Bridge to try to watch the America's Cup. I took this opportunity to play with my camera a bit. The day was overcast and cloudy so the light was not the greatest, but I knew if I tried shooting in Raw, I might end up with better pictures.

What is Raw, you ask? Well, I've just learned myself, so this explanation may be a little confused. Most of the time when you take a picture the pictures are saved in a format called JPeg. I don't know what that stands for, but the data is compressed, and although they take up less room on a memory card, the compromise is that you lose some of the pixels that make up the picture. Although much of the time this really doesn't matter, in low light conditions it can make a difference. If you shoot in Raw the pictures aren't compressed and you have more data to work with when you edit your pictures later on. That's the simple explanation.

For awhile, the American boat, sponsored by Oracle, and the New Zealand boat, sponsored by Emerites, meandered around the bay aimlessly. Periodically they would speed up a bit, and then slow back down. Apparently they have to complete their course in a certain amount of time, and if there isn't enough wind they don't race. They were waiting for the wind to pick up.

Suddenly they were off! Sailboats don't just line up and go. I don't entirely understand boat racing. I know there is a course, with marks that the boats have to go around, but often they don't all seem to start in the same place. And these are not ordinary boats. Very large catamarans, with sails made of a material more like airplane wings that cloth sails, these boats are not built for safety. They fly through the water at an astonishing rate of speed, often with only an edge of the hull still connected to the earth.

We watched them until they sped out of sight behind Alcatraz. Filled with a cheery sense of exhilaration we wandered back to the car and decided to rest up a bit before dinner.

That evening we ate at Delfino's in the hip part of the Mission District. It was a fabulous restaurant. This is one of those areas of the city where one block is full of good restaurants and shops, but if you turn the wrong corner you can suddenly be in a very sketchy area. It's not so much that it seems particularly dangerous, but it can go from nice to iffy in a couple 100 yards. I'd rather stay where it's nice, thank you very much!

The next morning it was back to The Hong Kong Lounge for dim sum. We had eaten at this restaurant on our previous trip to San Francisco, back in March. It is the real deal, reminiscent of the best of Asian dim sum, although their dumplings are not quite to the Din Tai Fung standard. The last time we ate here I almost made myself sick, eating a ridiculous amount of dumplings, pot stickers, and congee. This time, with Daniel firmly ensconced in California and more confidence that we would be back here soon enough, I was able to control myself, and only ate a normal amount of dim sum, instead of twice my body weight.

We had lots of fun at Hong Kong Lounge. Our friends Corry and Jeff were able to join us, and so was Tim, my former brother in law. We had a good time catching up with everyone in between bites of dumplings.

It was a rainy afternoon in the city, so Daniel suggested that we try out the Exploratorium, a science museum overlooking the bay, with exhibits that appeal to grown ups as well as children. The exhibits were great, especially the ones involving human perceptions and the brain. I especially enjoyed anything involving optical experiments and illusions.

Sarah, Lee and I all had the same reaction to this museum. At the beginning of the museum exhibits there were a bunch of children, but after about an hour of participatory exhibits, the younger set peters out, and by the time an hour and a half had passed we were ready to go as well. The museum required so much concentration and attention that we couldn't enjoy it much longer than that.

When we left the museum the rain had stopped. We found a Blue Bottle coffee shop in the Ferry building and had some excellent nicely decorated coffee. San Francisco may have some serious problems, but they sure know how to brew coffee in this city.

Lee and I left San Francisco for Carmel Saturday afternoon. He had to prepare for his meeting on Sunday. My plans were to go on a long run Sunday morning and then meet the kids in Carmel By The Sea later that afternoon. We were staying at a nice, unpretentious golf resort. Tired and not very hungry, we ambled through the twilight to their pleasant restaurant, and fell into a dreamless sleep.

My Sunday morning run was only 8 miles. I didn't think I'd have any trouble finding an easy out and back, but it was harder than I thought it would be. We were in Carmel valley, and the space between the two mountain ranges was pretty limited. When I found a trail it would eventually head into an area marked "Private! No Trespassing!" I finally found what seemed to be a good trail, but even it dead ended at a locked gate that required a permit in order to proceed. I guess Carmel isn't that interested in providing good places for visitors to run!

I did have one amazing experience on this run, however. On my way out I passed a newborn baby calf, still wet from its mother's womb, curled up beside her while her mama licked her dry. I could hardly believe my eyes, and silently kicked myself for leaving my phone behind. By the time I passed the pair again on my way back, the little calf was standing and nursing by its mother's side. How cool is that?!

Sarah and Daniel drove down to Carmel for the afternoon. We walked around Carmel by the sea, admired the ocean, browsed through the shops. I found another miniature teapot to add to my collection (I guess now that I have three that makes it a collection!). After lunch we did a couple of wine tastings. Carmel is not ideal for wine by California standards, being too cool and foggy much of the time. They grow mostly Pinot Noirs and Sirahs. They were okay but nothing worth buying and shipping home. Hopefully on our next trip we'll have time to go to Napa again.

After one more excellent Japanese meal in Mountain View that evening (Daniel insists that the best Asian food in the area is found in some of the smaller towns south of the city), we headed to an airport hotel for the night. Back to New Hampshire early Monday morning, with only two days at home before heading to Minneapolis for my nephew's wedding. We are one trip through our three trip fall travel marathon. Will we make it? I hope so!


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