Thursday, May 31, 2007

Shoes of the Summer

I am a little obsessed with shoes. My mother will tell you that when we go to department stores, she needs to pry me away from the shoe section. I could sit there and look all day. Not necessarily buy, but just admire. Above are my top five (six) picks for summer. Some are more affordable than others, but they’re all my favorites and at least semi-affordable. I will preface my picks by saying that I do not like the trendy new metallic shoes. I also hate hoochy-high platforms, and am generally not a fan of super-high heels. I do need to walk.

1. My first pick is the “playfully sweet” Loeffler Randall Mazzy Flat in yellow. These sandals are made in Italy and available at Oh, and I lied, these shoes are not at all affordable. They are $325. Alas, I will never have them.

2. Second pick is the leather Reef sandal appropriately named Yeehaw. This sandal has western detail and is available at for $44. Comfortable and fun!

3. My third pick is a hot fabric-covered heel from J.Crew. It’s the Isabella printed d'Orsay high heel, which is a black-and-white polka-dot number with a little sour lemon tie on top. I also kind of like the shoe in bright sherbet, mostly because of the sound of that color, but ultimately prefer timeless and multifunctional black. Also completely unaffordable at $175. But they sure are pretty.

4. Next, the mid-heel peep-toe canvas espadrille from Banana Republic. Comfortable and classy, it’s the one pair of shoes that I do already own and wear almost every day. Love the lower wedge. Also available in many other colors and patterns, although once again I prefer the multifunctional black or brown in this particular shoe. Pretty affordable at $68.

5. And finally, the Leather Small Wedge in tomato from Dolce Vita. Currently on sale at for $55.30.

6. Okay, I lied again. I'm not done. I also must add the Na Na ‘Darian’ multicolored leather open-toe sandal. Now it’s a list of top six picks. These shoes are perfect for summer and available at Nordstrom’s for $64.95.

Can I Skip the Swim? All I Really Want is a Cookie.

Tonight I will brave the frigid temperatures of Lake Mendota for the first Aquathon of the season. The Aquathon series ( is comprised of five races during the months of May, June, July and August. Sponsored by Fleet Feet Sports, the races are held at Warner Park on the northwest shore of Lake Mendota. The Aquathon consists of a 1000-meter swim followed by a 5000-meter run. Each race is chip-timed and scored with points, and the final series scores are based on each athlete’s best four finishes out of the five events.

It’s a fun, mid-week event. Many of the competitors use the series to practice their open water swimming skills and transitions, and to gear up for Ironman. You wouldn’t believe how challenging it is to transition from the swim to the run. As you probably know, the order of events in a triathlon is the swim, followed by the bike, and then finally the run. Transitioning from the swim to the run in the Aquathon is totally awkward and gives very little time to catch your breath and warm up your legs.

Last year, I was the second overall female of the series. It always happened that I would be leading out of the swim, and then be caught half-way through the run by a former UW track star that passed me like I was standing still. We’ll see how I hold up this year. My favorite part of last year’s races was the Potbelly’s cookies waiting at the finish line. I would seriously hover over that box all night. Mmmm…Potbelly’s cookies. I sure do hope they have those again this year.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Waitress Serves up a Slice of Hilarity and Heartache

Last night I revisited Sundance Cinemas 608 to see Waitress, a movie I have been dying to see since attending the Sundance Film Festival in January. The film was much hyped at the festival in the wake of writer/director Adrienne Shelley’s brutal murder on November 1, 2006 in her New York apartment office. The film, starring Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Cheryl Hines, Adrienne Shelly, Jeremy Sisto and Andy Griffith, is the story of a sweet, southern pie-making extraordinaire waitress named Jenna (Keri Russell), who is stuck in a horrible marriage to Earl, her controlling and jealous husband, and doesn’t realize her own strength. When Jenna discovers, to her great dismay, that she is pregnant, she finds herself more trapped than ever in a life of poverty and unhappiness. Although she feels helpless, Jenna does find great pride and joy in her latest pie creation, and solace and friendship in co-workers Becky and Dawn, as well as Old Joe, the owner of the diner at which she works. She also finds a reason to smile when she meets gynecologist Dr. Pomatter, a handsome, neurotic, gentle (and married) man with whom she has a sweet and passionate love affair. In the end, she finds inner-strength and happiness, and the greatest love of her life.

I loved the film. It’s sweet, sarcastic, genuine, and optimistic, with a very witty sense of humor. The characters have great depth, warmth, and authenticity. The story could have easily been too sweet, or too predictable. But instead, as New York Times film reviewer A.O. Scott describes, “[Shelley] has tamed and shaped [realism], finding a perfect, difficult-to-achieve balance of enchantment and plausibility. The story, in which resilience is rewarded, and meanness is banished, is comforting without feeling unduly sentimental, thanks to its mood of easygoing, tolerant honesty. If “Waitress” were more strenuously uplifting, it might be labeled a feel-good movie, but it isn’t that. It’s just a movie that leaves you feeling good.” The film certainly left me feeling good, and wanting very much to see it again.

Apparently the film was inspired by Shelley’s own feelings when she was pregnant. As Shelley relates, “I was about eight months pregnant, and I was really scared about the idea of having a baby. I couldn’t imagine how my life was going to be, that it would change so drastically that I wasn’t even going to recognize myself anymore. I was terrified and I really had never seen that reflected in anything, not in a book or in a movie.” Shelley ultimately saw the film as a love letter to her baby daughter, Sophie. Her story is so real and relatable to so many women. Not every woman naturally sees herself as a mother. The prospect of motherhood is often scary and seems so utterly life-changing. But in the end, Shelly shows how Jenna finds herself, inspiration, and the greatest love and joy of her life through daughter, Lu Lu.

The film was difficult to watch, knowing the grim details of Shelley’s senseless murder in her New York office, just two month’s prior to the film’s successful debut at the Sundance Film Festival. It was heartbreaking to watch Shelley on screen as Jenna’s mousy and sweet, hilarious co-waitress Dawn. To think of the film as her final legacy, and last love letter to her 3-year old daughter, Sophie, is truly devastating.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hot New Find at Trader Joe's

Late Saturday afternoon, I did a quick run to Trader Joe’s for a few last-minute dinner ingredients. The Madison store, which opened a little over a year ago on Monroe Street, is within walking distance from my Regent neighborhood home. Frustratingly, no matter what time of the day I go, the store is always insanely crowded. Apparently the grand opening never ended. It’s an endless, utter mayhem of elbow throwing, cart crashing, and food grabbing. Sure, Trader Joe’s has some exciting products and low prices, but seriously people, calm down. It’s a grocery store.

So the crowds are a little annoying, but really that wasn’t my point. The real reason for my post is because I am in love with Trader Joe’s new designer-worthy reusable bag that doubles as the perfect summer tote. If you’re a regular at TJ’s, you’ve probably seen their most popular design–a red, 100% Polypropylene Hawaiian-style sack, which sells for only 99 cents. Timeless. The new bag, which sells for a slightly more expensive $1.99, is a hot blue-and-green number with a fruit and nautical themed print. You’ve gotta hand it to TJ’s for making reusable grocery bags that I actually want to use. I always did hate those canvas and cloth bags from other grocery retailers. In addition to the coolness and eco-friendly factors, each time you bring in your bag you are entered into the store's monthly lottery to win $50 worth of groceries. But don’t tell your friends about this hot new find–it’s already much too crowded at my local Trader Joe’s.

Fresh Spring Asparagus

Fresh spring asparagus–my all-time favorite vegetable. Sadly, the asparagus season doesn’t last long. It’s here, and then just as suddenly, it’s gone. Therefore, you must eat as much as possible for two months straight. Don't. Stop. Eating. Here are two of my favorite asparagus recipes that are packed with irresistible springtime flavor. Bon appetit!

Spaghetti with Asparagus, Shiitake Mushrooms, Lemon, and Chives

12 ounces of spaghetti
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup thinly sliced shallots (about 4)
1 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, sliced
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 ¾ cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed, cut crosswise in thirds
¼ cup chopped fresh chives
4 ounces shaved Asiago cheese

Cook spaghetti in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Transfer pasta to large wide bowl.

Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter with oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots; sauté 1 minute. Add shiitake mushrooms; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute shiitake mixture until soft, about 6 minutes. Add lemon juice; cook 1 minute. Add broth and lemon peel. Bring to boil, then reduce to medium and simmer until liquid is reduced by half, about 6 minutes. Add asparagus to mushroom mixture; simmer until asparagus turns bright green, about 2 minutes. Add chives and remaining 2 tablespoons butter and stir until butter melts. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour sauce over pasta; toss to coat. Top with shaved Asisago and serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Bon Appetit
April 2006
Tina Miller

Asparagus Chicken Crepes

2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Dash of ground nutmeg
1 cup chopped cooked chicken
1 cup cut fresh or frozen asparagus, thawed
1 /3 cup chopped fully cooked ham
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped
1 /3 cup mayonnaise

To prepare the crepe batter, beat eggs and milk in a small mixing bowl. Combine flour and sugar; add to egg mixture and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Heat a lightly greased 8-inch nonstick skillet; pour 3 tablespoons batter into the center of skillet. Lift and tilt pan to evenly coat bottom. Cook until top appears dry; turn and cook 15 to 20 seconds longer. Remove to a wire rack. Repeat with remaining batter, greasing skillet as needed. When cool, stack crepes with waxed paper between.

In a small bowl, combine the soup, Worcestershire sauce and nutmeg. Set aside 1/4 cup. Add the chicken, asparagus and ham to remaining soup mixture. Spoon 2 tablespoonfuls over each crepe; roll up tightly. Place seam side down in a greased 9-inch square baking pan. Spoon reserved soup mixture over crepes. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.

Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Gradually fold cream into mayonnaise. Spread over crepes. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Broil 6-inches from the heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.

Makes 4 servings.

Taste of Home

Friday, May 25, 2007

Dinner with Elizabeth Edwards

Last night, I attended the 20th Annual Wisconsin Women in Government banquet at the Alliant Energy Center. You might be wondering why I attended, since I’m certainly not a woman in government. Last night, I found myself wondering the same thing. Really, the only reason I attended was so that my best friend could hear the keynote address from Elizabeth Edwards, an attorney and best-selling author whose husband, Senator John Edwards, is making his second run for presidency. My best friend is a huge fan of Elizabeth’s and very much enjoyed her personal memoir Saving Graces, which describes her strength and courage while struggling with her son’s death and fighting cancer. Knowing that it would make my friend’s little eyes light up, I purchased tickets to the banquet as a birthday present for her.

I did not enjoy the banquet itself–the people were too creepy networky for me, in typical political fashion, but the dinner and keynote address were nice. Elizabeth was much more engaging when she was speaking extemporaneously at the beginning of her speech, than when she was later reading from her speech. She began by telling us that she will always have a special place in her heart for Wisconsin, because when she attended school as a young child in Japan, where her father was stationed in the military, her teacher was from Green Bay, and often referenced the Green Bay Packers, and other Wisconsin favorites. When Elizabeth then started in on her speech, her pace became so fast that I could barely follow. Even though the stage was about the length of a football stadium away from me, I could see her clearly on the jumbo screens, and thought she kind of looked like Katie Couric. Anyways, she talked a lot about how women are still disadvantaged in many aspects of social well-being, particularly in terms of wages and access to quality health care, and then touted her husband’s plan for universal health care and an end to poverty. She only briefly touched upon her and her husband’s decision to stay in the presidential race, despite the recent discovery that her breast cancer has spread to her bones, saying that their devotion to public service made it impossible to abandon all of the people and issues they care about. It was a nice evening, and I liked seeing and hearing from Elizabeth Edwards in person for the first time. And I think I did make my friend’s little eyes light up, which was the most important thing of all!

World's Largest Brat Fest

Today at 11 a.m. marks the beginning of the World’s Largest Brat Fest ( on Williow Island, near the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. The festival lasts throughout the Memorial Day weekend and features a great variety of entertainment, local celebrity cashiers, and more Johnsonville Brats, Oscar Mayer Hotdogs, and Boca Brats than you’ve ever seen before. The goal? To raise funds for local charities and break the event’s self-proclaimed word record of 189,432 brats sold. If stacked end-to-end, that’s almost 19-miles of brats! And since the event is actually only open for 34 hours, that’s almost 100 brats per minute. Over its 22-year history, the festival has sold 1,890,596 brats to raise more than $501,000 for more than 70 nonprofit groups.

One of the biggest changes to this year’s event is a hefty price increase of fifty cents for brats, Boca brats, hotdogs, and soft drinks–so you better be ready to throw down. With a 50% price increase, it’s gonna cost you $1 for a hotdog, and $1.50 for a brat, Boca brat, or soft drink. Also, the event has added “Johnsonville” to its official name, garnering a big brat donation–the first 150,000–from Johnsonville Sausage Co.

I don’t know about you, but I plan to make a stop at the Brat Fest tomorrow afternoon. I’ll be doing my part to contribute to a new world record and charity. Also, the finish line of the half-marathon that I’m running on Sunday conveniently ends at the Brat Fest, so maybe I’ll have a few more then, too.

And please don’t forget your Brat Fest souvenirs! You can buy all your brat gear at the festival, or online at

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Race Preview

Here is a preview of my race schedule for this season, as it currently stands.

5/18/07 Syttende Mai 20-mile run
5/27/07 Madison Half-Marathon
5/31/07 Aquathon #1 (Warner Park, Madison, WI)
6/16/07 Grandma’s Marathon (Duluth, MN)
6/21/07 Aquathon #2
7/14/07 Muncie Endurathon Half-Ironman (Muncie, IN)
7/19/07 Aquathon #3
8/9/07 Aquathon #4
8/30/07 Aquathon #5
9/9/07 Ironman Wisconsin
10/7/07 Chicago Marathon

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Year of the Dog

This past weekend, I saw the movie Year of the Dog at the Westgate Arts Cinemas. A debut directorial for Mike White, who also wrote the scripts for School of Rock, Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl, the film was featured at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is the story of a quirky, happy-go-lucky woman named Peggy (Molly Shannon) and her greatest love and companion, a beagle named Pencil. When Pencil meets his unexpected death in a neighbor’s yard, Peggy is completely shattered and lost. She thus begins a journey and transformation process as she searches for purpose, passion, and a greater meaning in life. In the end, she discovers her true calling in life, and a way to keep Pencil’s spirit alive.

I can’t say that I loved this film. In fact, many times I found it boring and slow, but I do think Molly Shannon gives an excellent performance–certainly very un-SNL Mary Katherine Gallagher. I was generally unhappy with the plot and script, particularly towards the end of the film. I really just wanted her to end up with neighbor Al. Instead, she becomes this scary, almost militant-like, animal rights activist that becomes completely out of touch from reality and isolated from her friends and family. Not that her friends and family were worth the trouble, nor did she have anything else interesting going on in her life, but couldn’t she have just found it in her heart to forgive neighbor Al and taken him for what he was–a kind and gentle soul, hunting knives and all? He didn’t mean to poison Pencil! But seriously, can’t a girl get a little romance and passion?

On the Road Again

Yesterday afternoon I went on my first, and very long overdue, road ride of the season with my roommate, Karen. We did a Paoli loop, which is the most well-known bike route for local riders. It’s about a thirty-mile round-trip from Madison that features rolling hills, open country roads, and luscious fields and scenery. The half-way point is the charming, Sugar River town called Paoli, which is ten-miles southwest of Madison. The small town of Paoli is home to several unique shops and galleries, the Creamery Café, Paoli Cheese Cottage, the historic Paoli Mill, and of course, the Paoli Pub–the town’s finest tavern.

It was so great to be out on the open roads again. I felt free riding with the wind in aero down some of the steeper descents. Yesterday reminded me of one of the big reasons I chose to move back to Madison two years ago–you simply cannot beat the road riding found just a few short miles outside of Madison. Yesterday as I rode, I seriously found myself singing in my head, “The hills are alive with the sound of music…la, la, la, la.” Now don’t get me wrong, I certainly felt out-of-bike-shape and slow on those climbs, but it was just refreshing to be out there. So I guess I’ve officially begun Ironman training, or something like that. Now I just need to find my way to a pool…

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ach Ach Liebling

Ach Ach Liebling ( is a one woman independent jewelry company based in San Francisco that I recently discovered through a fashion blog. Ach Ach Liebling is German for “Oh Oh Darling!” According to the designer Joanna Petrone, “it’s an expression of spontaneous delight and tender feelings evoked by something small and unexpectedly beautiful.” Petrone further describes that, “the name Ach Ach Liebling was inspired by a sweet song by the crazy-good European techno-pop-y band, Stereo Total, who in turn translated the lyrics from a French song from the '60s.” I love the totally unique and affordable vintage inspired pieces, which feature motifs from nature, books, and old postcards and movies. One of my favorite pieces is the pair of earrings above that are named Robot vs. Computer. I also love several of the necklaces, particularly the dog and nautical themed ones, and the Gypsy Owl earrings.

Sundance 608

Sundance Cinemas 608 (, the brainchild of film mogul Robert Redford, recently opened its doors near Hilldale Mall, making Madison host to the very first Sundance Cinema. The theater shows independent, foreign, and documentary films on six screens. It’s an effort to bring the type of independent film that is celebrated at the annual Sundance Film Festival to local communities. According to Redford, “This year we achieved a long standing goal–to offer artists the opportunity to exhibit and patrons the opportunity to watch in their own communities, the finest independent entertainment in first class, state of the art cinemas on a daily basis, not just for ten days in January. The Sundance Cinemas are born.”

Ahhh…yes. I love Robert Redford. And I didn’t even know it until last week! Honestly, he used to annoy me with his Sundance jewelry and apparel line. Ugh…really Robert, I don’t want to dress like a cowgirl and live in the mountains of Utah and herd buffalos with you. But as it turns out, he’s sincere, passionate, reflective, humble, eco-friendly, and a unique visionary. He is truly revolutionizing the film industry, in a day and age of illegal downloading when many think it’s just not possible. His efforts are helping to recreate the movie night experience into one that is real, cultural, lingering and thought-provoking, rather than some hostile big-box, pay-and-get-out quickly experience. Essentially, he’s attempting to return film back to its roots, and the quality film experience he remembers as a child. As Redford reminisces about his childhood, he explains that his family “would walk to the local stand-alone theater for entertainment on a Saturday night. What you got, which I took for granted then, was a broad menu of film. You had two features, you had cafe newsreels showing news of the war from the front, then you had a cartoon or two and then you had a short. And that's what you got for 35 cents. Suddenly, I realized, that's gone. And why can't that be brought back, but more of as a community project?" Isn’t that so refreshing?

So of course, I had to check it out myself. And I had to be one of the first. During the opening weekend, I had the opportunity to see Away from Her, one of the films that I actually saw when I was at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah only a few short months ago. Based on the short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” by one of my favorite authors, Alice Munro, it’s the story of a woman who is institutionalized because of Alzheimer's disease, and her husband’s epiphany when she falls in love with another patient at the nursing home. The story, movie, and acting are beautiful, and director Sarah Polley definitely deserves props for masterfully bringing life to the pages of this ravishing story.

Regarding the theater itself, my experience at Sundance Cinemas 608 was certainly memorable. I knew things were different before the film even began, when a cinema manager stood up before the audience to welcome everyone, introduce the film, and offer his and the ushers’ services. In fact, everything about the place was different from other theaters. First, I think I could live in the cinema for an entire week without ever stepping outside. It’s a multi-level complex with a café, restaurant, two bars (including both a bistro and rooftop bar), free wi-fi internet, and a gallery. There’s plush leather chairs dotting the lobbies, local art covering the walls, and an abundance of conversation and activity. It’s also nice that you can purchase your tickets online beforehand for reserved seating. Middle row center, baby. My only complaints would be the choice in location by Hilldale mall (seems kind of mainstream for such a non-mainstream venue) and also the $2 service charge per ticket for online orders. And one of my friends complained that it sort of reminds her of Starbucks in the sense that it could be recreated virtually anywhere. Other than that, I love it and am so happy that Robert Redford gave us one first. I am confident Madison will embrace its very own Sundance Cinema so that independent film and these types of cinemas can flourish worldwide.

Monday, May 21, 2007

I had a Moment of Silence this Morning for the Woodchuck

As many of you know, my best friend and I recently moved into a new house on the near-west side of Madison. We have a big picture window in the kitchen that overlooks our charming backyard. Oftentimes as I do dishes, I gaze outside at the lovely vegetation, the progress on the construction of our neighbor’s sunroom, or at the big, hairy woodchuck that endlessly feasts upon a buffet of grass and other plants in our yard. The woodchuck is long and repulsive, especially when it stands up on its two back legs–but at the same time, oddly kind of cute. This because it sort of reminds me of a badger–like Bucky, you know. Before the creature was actually identified, I oftentimes wondered what it was. A gopher, a groundhog, an enlarged squirrel, my friends Emily, Jill, and I hypothesized. But no, my mom said, “It is a woodchuck." “Ahhh…yes, a woodchuck,” we agreed. And with that, we thought we could all just live in great harmony. This was until the day we discovered its secret labyrinth. Yes, this awful rodent has dug a large and intricate tunnel system throughout our backyard. Karen came upon it one day when some of the patio bricks seemed to be sinking into the ground. Removing the bricks revealed a whole secret underground world.

Obviously, something needed to be done. For heaven’s sake, this creature of the underground world was tearing up our backyard! After contemplating how to best rid ourselves of this yard-destroying rodent, Karen decided to call Critter Control. Coz of Critter Control explained that he could set a trap for $150, with an additional charge of $50 for each body found in the trap. And by body, I don’t mean dead body. Well, not quite right away anyway. The plan was to catch the woodchuck and then peacefully euthanize it. The trap was placed on Thursday morning. For some reason, this made us giddy with excitement, and we often ran to the window to check the trap for bodies. Alas, the marshmallow and mystery meat product were not tempting enough for the Woodchuck. It was far too smart for our juvenile games. Karen called Coz with an update, or lack there of, on Friday. Coz said, “Ah yes, I suspected that trap wouldn't work.” He then asked, “Do you have any small children or animals,” to which Karen replied, “What?” He then explained the next step–a new trap in which the rodents don’t always make it. Make it out alive, that is. Coz further described how the new trap would be set up on Monday morning, stationed right above the hole. He assured Karen this trap would surely work.

Which bring us to today. The trap was set this morning. Goodbye, little friend. Goodbye, Woody. As Karen so eloquently stated this morning, “I had a moment of silence this morning for the woodchuck, on this, his final day of life...”

Sounds of Growling from the Woods

I finally got in touch with Kelly yesterday after he finished his ultra marathon. Amazingly, he finished in 14th place with a time of 26 hours and 11 minutes. To provide a little perspective, the next closest finisher to Kelly under the age of thirty was eight hours behind him in 68th place. The reality is that athletes in their 30’s and 40’s typically dominate the field at these types of endurance events. The fact that Kelly is doing so well at twenty-four is a great sign of a promising ultra running future!

Besides very bloody feet and the obvious pain and stiffness, it sounds like Kelly is doing well and will somehow make it to the airport on his own this afternoon. He had some interesting stories to share. Apparently the bears turned out in high numbers to cheer the runners through the mountains. Kelly said he wasn’t sure if it was his imagination, but he repeatedly heard the sound of growling. Yikes! Which I guess makes his next story even better… At 4 a.m., with absolutely no one anywhere nearby and in the middle of mountains and darkness, Kelly’s headlight went out. He reached into his pack to grab his spare batteries, and realized with horror that they weren’t there. Kelly said he started shaking and hyperventilating. Incredibly, and out of no where, a mountain biker came barreling up the trail, illuminated by several different lights and reflectors. The biker generously gave Kelly a little light, which wasn’t of much help in seeing the trail, but at least provided some comfort in being able to spot any encroaching bears. Kelly then sat by the trail and waited 45 minutes for the next runner so that he could follow behind and see the trail. I can’t imagine what Kelly would have done if he hadn’t been saved by the mountain biker!

I think my mom deserves an award too–like the “Best Mom Watching the Race from Afar on a Laptop” award. My mom was so worried about Kelly, especially after seeing the race firsthand last year, that she stayed up all night monitoring Kelly’s progress on her laptop. There’s nothing like a poor mother worried about her son lost in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. At 1:30 a.m., when my dad finally shooed her to bed, she brought the laptop right next to her and continued to click and refresh all night. Good work, mom.

As for the Syttende Mai race, it went well enough, I guess. I have no idea what we finished in–maybe somewhere around three hours. Hilly was certainly an understatement. When we got to the ten-mile mark, I couldn’t believe that I was only half-way finished. It was very painful. And I was definitely cursing myself at that point for not having eaten breakfast. I never do that–what was I thinking! But the race certainly served its purpose as a great training run before Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth on June 16th. And I would absolutely run the Syttende Mai again. It was a fun, well-organized race that still has that grass-roots, local vibe that I love. And you can’t beat the $30 late-registration fee–you just don’t see that anymore. So I think the Syttende Mai now joins the ranks of the Point Bock Run as one of my all-time favorite races.

If you're intersted in checking out the finish report, results, and pictures from Kelly’s ultra marathon, go to

Friday, May 18, 2007

Syttende Mai

This weekend marks Stoughton’s annual Syttende Mai Festival, which celebrates the signing of the Norwegian Constitution on May 17th, 1814, and hence Norway’s independence from a 500-year union with Denmark. Stoughton's celebration dates back to 1868, when Norwegian immigration to this part of Wisconsin was at its peak. The weekend festivities include folk dancing performances by the world famous Stoughton Norwegian Dancers, authentic Norse costumes, woodcarving, a smorgasbord of Norwegian foods, a canoe race, Viking encampment, and even an Ugliest Troll Drawing contest! A king and queen, and prince and princess are also chosen to reign over the festivities. And you know they’re not messin’ around when they start naming royalty.

This year, for the first time, I will enjoy the festival as a participant in the 35th Annual Syttende Mai Run, a 20-mile race from Madison to Stoughton. The race starts at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday at the Capitol Square. Word on the street is that there are many hills on the course, and it’s obviously a daunting distance. Nonetheless, I am very excited to run to Stoughton and partake in the traditions of my neighbors there...truly an athletic and cultural experience.

The Sunscreen Graduation Speech

Remember this one? The sunscreen graduation speech…classic. Apparently it was first published as an article in the Chicago Tribune on June 1, 1997, entitled “Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young,” written by columnist Mary Schmich. Later, in the spring of 1999, it was read by Sydney actor Lee Perry and mixed to Quindon Tarver’s “Everybody Free (to Feel Good)” and aired on radio stations nationwide. As we all remember, it enjoyed quite the pop commercial success. I don’t know if it’s Perry’s soothing voice, the accompanying techno beat, Schmich’s infinite wisdom, or maybe just the fact that I graduated from high school in 1999, but for some reason this song always leaves me mesmerized. I’ve heard it on the radio a few times this week, which reminds me that it’s that time of the year again…Graduation. Anyways, I thought you might enjoy a ride in my time machine back to 1999.

“Everybody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen)” by Mary Schmich

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.


Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don't follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

You Will Surely Say, "Massanutten ROCKS!"

Can I just say that my brother is running 100 miles in the trails of the Appalachian Mountains this weekend ( I know–it’s insane, it’s crazy, it’s absolute lunacy. But he loves it. In fact, after barely surviving last year’s race, he’s back this year to fight it out again. According to the event’s Web site, the race is “a well organized event over trails of the Massanutten Mountain in the George Washington National Forest in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.” The race begins at 5 a.m. this Saturday and the field is limited to 150 runners, all of whom were required to complete an ultra marathon prior to registration. The race is demanding and extremely rocky, with rugged mountain climbs that total over 18,000 feet. It will be fun, right? Oh yes. The Web site claims that “we are confident that if you run MMT, you will not be sorry and you will surely say, ‘Massanutten ROCKS!’” I wonder if my brother said that after last year’s race…

I am proud of my brother. Last year’s race was incredibly challenging for him, particularly since his training consisted of absolutely no mountain running. He still managed to finish, albeit completely delusional to the angst of my mother, in 29 hours and 30 minutes. The race, and its inherent challenges, only made my brother stronger and want to fight harder to conquer this year’s race. This past October, he moved to the mountains of Utah and now trains on nothing but trails and mountains. I am proud to say that when I visited in January, I watched him motor up those mountains like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The training has obviously paid off. In his most recent race, the Antelope Island Buffalo 50 Mile Run on March 24th, he scored a second place finish in 7 hours and 59 minutes. Can he conquer this year’s Massanutten, with the added challenge of no crew nor pacer, or will he again be humbled by the harsh terrain, reduced to a blank-eyed state and days of being pushed around in a luggage cart? We will soon see. Whatever happens, I am a very proud sister. According to Kelly, this year’s goal is a lofty top 5–10 finish. After a few moments, he adds, “I just want to rock it.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Eatin' Mo Bettah

Each week I try to sample a Madison restaurant I've never been to. Oftentimes this is difficult, since I tend to be a creature of habit and could easily enjoy the always delicious and comfortable West of the Andes sandwich at the Weary Traveler every night of the week.

This week’s pick was New Orleans Take-Out (1517 Monroe St.). It’s a quaint storefront near the corner of Regent and Monroe, only two doors down from the legendary Mickey’s Dairy Bar. Surprisingly, New Orleans Take-Out has been serving up authentic Creole food in Madison since the mid-1980s. It’s order-at-the-counter, and although most people do opt for take-out as the name suggests, we decided to dine-in and enjoy the early nightfall and bustling intersection perched upon window bar stools. The décor is simple, and not too tacky, made up mostly of a few colorful spray-painted murals and vintage posters. The woman taking our orders was pleasant enough, and the only other employee was a long-haired hippy cook in the back. I was happy to hear Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” playing as I ordered. I love that song. After contemplating between the Gulf Shrimp Po’ Boy and Red Beans and Rice, I opted for the $3.05 half-order of Red Beans and Rice with Smoked Sausage. Cheap and simple. And it was that and so much more. The dish was hearty, perfectly seasoned, and complemented by a substantial piece of sweet cornbread. The sausage was a great touch, and I’m not sure the rice and beans alone would have done it for me. At $3.05, the dish is a great value and I can assure you I will be back for more.