Friday, June 29, 2007

Buyer's Remorse

I suppose I shouldn’t be buying branches when I just spent what felt like half of my entire life savings on two bleacher tickets for this Sunday’s Cubs (vs. Brewers) game at Wrigley Field. One of which does not exactly have a confirmed buyer. Yet. And you don't even want to know about the half-day of hell I went through to get them on Ebay. Excitingly, however, it will be my very first Cubs game at Wrigley. My Chicago friends seem shocked and appalled by this, but hey, I’m a Wisco girl at heart. I’ve been to plenty of Brewers games, and my biggest claim to fame is that as a small lad, I was in the audience at the old Milwaukee County Stadium for the filming of Major League (1989). The Milwaukee County Stadium doubles as the Cleveland Municipal Stadium in the film, both of which have since been demolished. I remember singing my little heart out to “Wild Thing,” as my parents patiently tried to explain to me what was going on.

The impetus behind the trip to Chicago is that my high school friend Erin is coming in for a week-long visit from Montana, so a bunch of us are meeting in Chicago for good times and good ‘ol American baseball. I’m excited to catch up with friends and to finally take in a game at Wrigley. Luckily, I’ll be armed with my new camera and will hopefully have lots of good shots to share on Monday. Should be a good game, too, not that I claim to know anything about baseball. Go Brewers!

Lunch Break Diversions

Over my lunch break today, I took a stroll down State Street to do a little window shopping. It’s a pleasant day in Madison—sunny skies, slightly cooler temps, and a whole lot of activity on State Street, which is actually pretty common for a Friday afternoon. The street was overtaken by professionals from the capitol and university enjoying lunch at one of the many sidewalk cafes, as well as several groups of kids in matching t-shirts who seemed to be on campus attending Badger athletic camps.

Anyways, I eventually wandered into Urban Outfitters, which happens to be my brother’s favorite clothing store. I don’t usually buy a whole lot from Urban Outfitters, I actually much prefer the company’s sister store—the more sophisticated Anthropologie. Alas, it’s a whole hell of a lot more expensive than Urban, so I can usually only justify about one item per year. But those few items are probably among the best in my closet. There’s a great Anthro in Nevada close to where my parents live, so that’s usually where I find my annual item of choice.

Today, however, I had a little luck at Urban. I found a very cool Branch Jewelry Stand ($26) for my bedroom. I’ve been on a bit of a necklace kick lately, and figured it would be the perfect way to display my new strands. It's a coated alumninum branch on a velvet-lined base. I think it’s a bit funky and retro, but still sweet and feminine, so it should fit in perfectly.

Out With the Old, In With the New

On Tuesday afternoon, I finally sucked it up and purchased a new pair of running shoes. The Brooks Adrenaline GTS 7. Doesn’t that sound fast? It’s a shoe for mild to moderate overpronators with long-lasting cushioning and a glove-like fit. I’ve been running in this model since my old favorites were discontinued by Nike about a year ago. I always put off buying new running shoes as long as possible. I dread dropping $100 on a new pair. But there comes a point when you’re on the verge of an injury and you know the only thing standing between you and an injury-free season is your damn shoes.

I conducted my shopping spree at Berkely Running Company, Madison’s newest local running store in Shorewood Shopping Center on University Avenue. My good friend Brodie is the manager there, and he’s doing a great job of running the place and seems to be finally happy at his third job of the year. To the great relief of Lauren (his wife, my good friend), I'm sure. The store is really nice, centrally located, and very well-organized and clean. They’ve also got some great apparel from some of my favorite brands like Pearl Izumi, Craft, Brooks, and New Balance. I did wonder why it was called Berekely Running Company, because it’s locally owned and not a chain. Apparently the owner believes that the Bay Area town and Madison have a similar passion for the outdoors and fitness, and that they’re kind of like sister cities. I’m not sure this was the best name for the store, because I definitely didn’t think “locally owned” when I heard the name. And I think that’ s a major selling point for the store.

Wednesday morning was the first run for my new little shoes. Most experts recommend that you slowly break in your new running shoes by alternating between your new and old pairs for a few weeks. I see no logic in this reasoning. My old pair are dead and if you’ve got new ones, why not use them? Immediately and exclusively. So, I went out in the new pair to do intervals and they felt wonderful. I love it when you buy new running shoes and even concrete feels springy. Boing.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sangria: The Nectar of Gods

Sangria Roja Mix (Williams-Sonoma)

Sangria at Dominick's in Ann Arbor

I very much enjoyed last night’s first Concert on the Square. It ended up being just Abby and me, and we had such a great time eating, drinking, and catching up with each other. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture to share, but luckily that will all change tonight when I hopefully buy myself a digital camera to finally replace the one that was stolen from me when I was somewhat mugged while eating dinner with friends at an outdoor café in Ann Arbor (yes, Ann Arbor!) two-and-a-half years ago. Over the last month, I’ve succeeded in convincing myself that I need a replacement for blogging purposes, and simply documentation of life!

Anyhow, the concert was wonderful. We enjoyed a plethora of fine foods—strawberries, brie cheese, crackers, carrots, honey mustard pretzels, sweet potato chips, my homemade bagels, edamame, and the most amazing sangria ever. I found a mix at Williams-Sonoma, and the simple recipe required only two cups of the liquid mixture, a bottle of dry, fruity, red wine, and slices of oranges and limes. Delicious. I usually make much more involved Sangria recipes that require so many ingredients, and this one was so easy and much more tasty. So I’m a convert. I also love to make my sangria in a huge mason jar, and then serve it in smaller jars. It’s so cute. I got the idea from this little bar across from the law quad in Ann Arbor called Dominick’s that I used to frequent after class. Needless to say, Abby and I were feeling good at the end of the concert, and from what I remember, the music was very good, too. Oh, how I love thee, Concerts on the Square!

Lost Love and the Soundtrack of Life

If there is one album right now that I could listen to on repeat all day long, it would be Beck’s The Information. Beck Hansen, whose music completely defies categorization, is often described as an “artistic chameleon.” The Information, a fifteen-song disc that was released in October 2006, quickly became my favorite Beck offering. My most-played songs are “Think I’m in Love,” “Cellphone’s Dead,” “Strange Apparition,” “The Information,” and “Movie Theme.” Many of the songs seem to critique society’s heavy reliance on technological gadgets and an utter lack of appreciation for traditional forms of entertainment and human contact. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet located the album on vinyl, so for now my CD copy must suffice. Beck, I might add, would be proud of my search and appreciation for a more traditional audio format.

I first started listening to the album when my brother gave me a copy to listen to when I visited him in Utah this past January. My brother lives in a downtown neighborhood of SLC called the Avenues, which is built up onto the slower slopes of the Wasatch Mountains and was interestingly the first neighborhood in the city. The neighborhood is generally considered younger, more progressive, less-Mormon, and somewhat "artsy" and thus, a perfect fit for my brother. So each day, I would drive from his place through Cottonwood Canyon of the Wasatch Mountains to the legendary ski haven, Alta, while jamming to the brilliant beats of Beck’s latest masterpiece. The snowy covered peaks and winding mountain-road curves were utterly breathtaking, and the views will be forever etched in my mind. It was as if I was a new-born baby opening my eyes for the very first time. So I guess that’s a long way of telling you that I will always harbor fond memories of my scenic Utah mountain drives whenever I listen to The Information—and that’s definitely a good connotation.

Speaking of Alta, I’m quite certain I met my would-be husband while skiing Alta one day that week. After a dismal morning of shitty snow and being hit on repeatedly by 40-year-old ski bums and ex-Mormon freaks, I surprisingly hit it off with a guy on the chairlift. So cliché, I know. When we got to the top of the mountain, we (or at least I) reluctantly parted ways and skied off. He, with much greater speed and form than I. Miraculously, we skied down different paths but met up at the same chair lift at the same time, and rode up the mountain together again and again and again. He was from Chicago, a Northwestern MBA grad, very outdoorsy and sporty, and was visiting his sister in Utah for a month in between jobs. Sadly, I skied down the hill after what was our sixth ride up together, and when I got to the bottom and he wasn’t there, I thought perhaps he had moved on to a different part of the mountain. Thus, feeling somewhat dejected, I started to ski down to the lodge to get some hot chocolate to warm my hands and tender heart. Tear. As I was heading down, I heard him calling after me. But it was too late. There was no turning back. I spent the rest of the day hoping to run into him again, but alas, it was not to be. He was lost to me forever. Now, I don't even remember his name. Sigh. So I suppose not all of the Beck associations are as entirely heart-warming as pretty mountain views, but tis the soundtrack of life.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Concerts on the Square

Tonight I’m heading to the first of this year's Concerts on the Square with my friend Abby and her roommate, Chatti. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s Concerts on the Square series is the ultimate Madison summer tradition. The concerts are held on the state capitol lawn at 7 p.m. on six consecutive Wednesdays during the summer. Over the course of the season, more than 120,000 people pack the lawn, covering the square in a sea of colorful blankets, to gather with friends and enjoy some of the most lavish picnic feasts I've ever seen. It’s true bliss listening to beautiful symphony music while enjoying cheese, bread, fruit and wine with your closest friends on a warm summer evening. The 24th annual season promises a diverse lineup packed with talented musicians.

Week 1: (3/27) Midsummer Rhapsody, featuring cellist Stephanie Smith
Week 2: (4/4) Stars and Stripes Forever, featuring vocal ensemble Stars and Stripes Forever
Week 3: (4/11) Russian Folktales, featuring Sergei Belkin on the accordion
Week 4: (4/18) Caribbean Beat, featuring Lana Wordel on the steel drum and Nora Frisk on her viola
Week 5: (4/25) Eye of the Storm, featuring oboist Naomi Bensdorf
Week 6: (8/1) Streets of Paris, featuring violinist Yulia Ziskel

Homemade Bagels

Last night I decided to try my luck at baking homemade bagels. I came across a recipe online and thought they looked tasty. And there were only six ingredients listed, so I figured it couldn’t be all that difficult. My roommate tends to measure the level of difficulty involved in a recipe by counting the number of ingredients, and I’ve since fallen for this fallacious logic at times. The recipe wasn’t tough, just terribly time consuming. I think I started at 8 p.m. and finally pulled them out of the oven after 11 p.m. (waaay past my bedtime). There were many steps—mixing, kneading, rising, shaping, resting, holing, boiling, and finally, baking. And I certainly didn’t pick the best day of the year to be standing over a hot oven and vats of boiling water, but oftentimes I don’t work through these types of details ahead of time.

The finished project turned out pretty good. The bagels have gotten good reviews from my guinea pig taste tasters at work. One wrote, "I was very impressed. Not only did it taste highly superior, but it even LOOKED good. Let me know when you open your restaurant and I'll be there..." Well, personally I don't think they're quite as picture perfect as the ones above, but a close resemblance and an encouraging first attempt. I was telling a co-worker about my bagels in a meeting this morning, and another co-worker overheard and was like, “what possessed you to make your own bagels? Why not just buy them at Einstein’s or something?” Ha. Good question.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Slightly Bogus?

It seems a little offensive to me that at Grandma’s Marathon the other weekend, all of the women were given pink race numbers that displayed a Target logo, while the men were given white race numbers featuring logos from Wells Fargo and Toyota. Because as a female, I’m of course the household buyer of toilet paper and similar household products. Pretty pink is also my favorite color. And men typically deal with the household financial affairs and big ticket purchases anyways. Makes total sense. I’m wondering if anyone else finds this offensive…

Gummy Goodness

My most recent sweet tooth addiction has been the Swedish Fish brand Aqua Life candies. After swimming laps over my lunch break last Friday afternoon, I was very much needing a quick sugar fix and stopped at Walgreens on State Street to satiate my craving before heading back to the office. While casually strolling down the candy aisle, I was immediately attracted to the gummy candies, which is somewhat unusual for me since I'm more of a chocoholic. After seriously considering the Haribo Gold-Bears, I instead opted for the soft and chewy Aqua Life assortment from Sweedish Fish. The 7.2 ounce bag is complete with orange sea horses, blue raspberry dolphins, grape blowfish, lemon starfish, and red Swedish fish. The flavors are mouth-watering, and the mix is much more fun and colorful than traditional Swedish fish. What I really like about Swedish fish is that they aren’t too gummy and don’t stick in your teeth like Dots and some other gummy candies. Instead, they are smooth and have just the perfect balance of soft chewiness.

In my mind, gummies will always be associated with my friend Katy from high school who was, and still very much is, obsessed with gummies. For some odd reason, our high school swim coaches would use bags of Jewel JuJu’s as incentives to make us swim faster. It seemed so normal to me at the time to be awarded with bags of JuJu’s for swimming a best time, a state meet qualifying effort, or for breaking a pool record. I swam for JuJu’s. This incentive system seems just a little weird to me now. But apparently, even today, I swim for JuJu’s. Fascinating.

Terrace Pic

My dad and I soaking up the rays at the Memorial Union terrace on Sunday afternooon.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Xenia Taler Tiles

I am thinking that I will need to purchase a few tiles from Xenia Taler very soon. Xenia and her partner Steven Koblinsky have been designing and crafting beautiful ceramic tiles out of their Toronto studio since 1996. Each tile is pressed in a wooden mold, glazed, and then decorated by hand. Product offerings include hanging and installation tiles, as well as boxes. Their first official Web site was just recently launched, and their products are also featured in several US stores, with four in Wisconsin, including Madison’s Pop Deluxe! (310 State St.). My favorites are the bird and owl tiles, which are sold for around $28 each. I would love to hang a few on my walls or prop them up on a shelf in my bedroom. I love the colors and the cracked glaze.


I oftentimes find myself craving Beef-a-Roo like a compulsive drug addict craves his next high. Beef-a-What? Don't let the name scare you. Beef-a-Roo is my all-time favorite fast food joint. No pun intended. Luckily, I had the opportunity to stop at the most recently built South Beloit location for dinner during a road trip this past Friday night. I ordered the usual: Deluxe Junior Cheeseburger, Cheddar Fries, Big Cookie, and a Cherry Coke. Tasty.

Beef-a-Roo began in Rockford in 1967. Since then, the local operation has expanded to nine northern Illinois locations, all of which feature a theme that is carried out in the restaurant’s design and décor. Themes include Rock N’Roll, Firehouse, and North Woods Lodge Beef-a-Roo.

Over the course of my adolescent years, I dined at Beef-a-Roo hundreds of times. Usually, I frequented the Rock N’Roll themed diner on Riverside Boulevard. The menu features many fast food staples like burgers, sandwiches, shakes, and fries, but also lots of healthy alternatives such as wraps, salads, Boca burgers, and fruit plates. My mom and I were always obsessed with the Junior Cheeseburger and Cheddar Fries. I also very much enjoyed the California Club when I was feeling like something a bit healthier. Beef-a-Roo also has the most amazing bled of season salt that I generously sprinkle all over my fries. I think there’s crack cocaine in the “special salt,” and I’m a total junkie. Luckily, you can purchase your very own stash in a small paper bag to bring home and sprinkle on everything. I think they started offering this opportunity for buying in bulk once they noticed that all of the salt shakers were rapidly disappearing from tables. Another very unique and loved aspect of Beef-a-Roo is that they employ a “mint fairy” who goes from table to table to offer a smile and a mint— your choice of peppermint or chocolate.

When I was in high school, we had open campus for all except my senior year. For three years over the lunch hour, all of my friends and I would pile into one of our cars and speed off in search of cheap and greasy grub. That is if our recently acquired and somewhat questionably licensed driving skills could get us there, which wasn't always the case. When we weren’t dining at one of our other favorites, like Little Caesars or “Deek” (Dairy Queen), you could usually find our caravan at Beef-a-Roo, which we affectionately referred to as “Beef.”

When I finally went away to college, leaving my life in Rockford for good, I was luckily never too far away and could return to my cherished Beef-a-Roo at least a few times per year. Since I conveniently passed through Rockford on many road trips during college, many of my college friends came to know and love Beef-a-Roo. At first I had to force them to stop since they were utterly appalled by the name, but they quickly changed their tune and learned the true meaning of “you can’t knock it ‘till you’ve tried it”. And whenever my high school friends and I are back in town, like for weddings or Buffett, one of our first stops is always “Beef.” Last November, when we were all back in town for my friend Beth’s wedding, a few of us met there to catch up over milk shakes and cheddar fries. Beef will have a special place in my heart forever.

Friday, June 22, 2007

So Not Hardcore

Last night was Aquathon #2 of that swim/run race series I do at Warner Park beach throughout the summer. Usually I look forward to these, but yesterday was different—it was just dark and stormy-looking all day and I just simply wasn’t feeling it. Shortly before noon, the race director sent out an e-mail stating that, “Tonight's Aquathon #2 WILL be held unless lightning or dangerous conditions are present. We will delay the race up to 1 hour if necessary. If conditions are still not acceptable to race, the race will be postponed to a future date or cancelled.”

Well like I said, I wasn’t really feeling it. And lucky for me, neither was my roommate. We’re so not hardcore. At least I’m not when I don’t want to be. I’m very much a fair weather athlete. As we drove to the race, it began to turn dark and we were like, “Storm, baby, storm!” By the time we got to Warner Park, it was pouring and I had effectively convinced my roommate that we should really go get Chinese takeout instead of doing the Aquathon, regardless of whether it was cancelled or not. I’m always looking out for our safety and best interest. We quickly surveyed all of the other racers in their wetsuits huddled under tents waiting for the race call and then we drove away. Really, I’m not one to wait around like that.

But we’re not total bums. We did do about forty minutes of running around the track at the Shell (Camp Randall Memorial Sports Center) on campus before picking up dinner at Jade Garden. My Chinese takeout was quite delicious. I ordered Shrimp Chop Suey and Karen opted for Chicken Fried Rice, which is the same thing she orders at every Asian restaurant. And I thought I was sometimes a creature of habit.

I’m still not sure if the race was called or not. There was certainly a lot of lightening last night, so I’m going to guess that it was, but I haven’t heard anything official yet. I'm glad I didn't wait around to find out. Then I might have never enjoyed my fine Chinese cuisine.

Another One Bites the Dust

I am so sick of crashing on my bike. I am also really sick of being caught in the middle of fervent downpours on my bicycle commute home from work. Twice this week. Both times, I leave work and all is clear. Then suddenly, on the lakeshore path and only minutes away from the office, the downpour begins and I am immediately dripping and pissed, having just begun my journey home. By the time I actually do make it home, I am a sopping, muddy mess. Yuck.

I suppose this is what I get for commuting to work on a bike nearly 260 days per year. Which is no easy feat when you never know what you’re going to get in the morning, and you do always have to pull together that whole professional facade in the office. Days like this week’s force me to consider why I don’t just suck it up and pay for a prohibitively expensive university staff parking pass. I consider, but still, I pass. Although I was hit by a car last summer, fell on train tracks only a few weeks ago, and crashed into a curb last night, I think I will continue to bike to work. Most of the days it’s lovely, and I can think of a million things I would rather have than a parking spot.

Yesterday afternoon, it was really just a stupid mistake. Totally distracted—which is oftentimes the culprit of my crashes. It was pouring hard and I was only a few minutes from home. Too busy glaring at a motorist who failed to yield to me despite the fact that I was getting soaked and he was dry and safe inside his car, I took a corner too wide and crashed into a curb. Down. Owww. Asshole. Thus, I have reopened my wounds from the last crash that were almost completely healed. I would greatly appreciate if I could get home safe and dry this afternoon. Thank you.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

WREN Handmade

Ok, I’m now slightly obsessed with Sufjan Steven’s Michigan album cover artist Laura Normandin’s side business, WREN Handmade. You should really check out her stuff. My favorites are her new hand stitched giraffes ($60) and crochet bracelets ($24). Really, I must learn to knit, and now crochet, too. Anybody care to teach me?

In My Room

When I moved into my new house in April, it was the perfect opportunity to move on from my apartment’s loud orange bedroom walls, which I had so confidently painted but grown to question, and instead choose tones that were a bit more subdued and peaceful for my new room. Much more feng shui. But choosing a new color proved to be no easy task, and I swear it turned into a more difficult decision than picking a college, or a name for my firstborn child. Although I knew I wanted blue, I contemplated for weeks and carried swatches with me everywhere I went. I must have changed my mind twenty times, much to the chagrin of my roommate. I eventually settled on rainwater blue, but still worried that it wasn’t the one. When I came home one afternoon after the painters had completed their work in my room, I ran upstairs excitedly to check it out. My jaw dropped as I looked around the room in horror. Baby blue. My worst nightmare. I took a deep breath, and told myself that I would just have to get used to it.

Since then, I’ve grown to love the color. And it’s totally not baby blue. Or at least not ugly baby blue. Above, I've posted a few pictures of my newly decorated, but not quite finished, room (but only a few pics—a girl’s gotta leave a little to the imagination). It was mostly inspired by a few vintage pieces I’ve collected, as well as one of my favorite album covers and an illustration that my brother designed in college. And of course the beautiful custom quilt with vintage reproducation fabrics that my mom made for me a few years ago, which took home a fourth place ribbon at last year's Wisconsin State Fair!

The album cover is indie artist Sufjan Steven’s Michigan (above), designed by Laura Normandin. The illustration that my brother did can be viewed at his online portfolio. It's a picture of a father holding his young child above his head. The young child is releasing a shiny, red balloon, which symbolizes innocence and naivety. Or at least that’s what I see. Recently, I’ve also gotten really into collecting vintage prints from La Mode Illustrée, a weekly fashion magazine that was one of the most important French magazines of the late 19th century. I also adore the intricate glass door knobs in my room, and have carried the look to my bedside table lamp and also to the glass balls that adorn my iron bed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Post-Marathon Recovery: Ice Cream Seems to do the Trick

Fortunately, and quite unusually I might add, Grandma’s Marathon was held on Saturday morning, which gave us plenty of time to rest and recuperate throughout the remaining weekend. And what could be more relaxing than a visit to Green Lake? Absolutely nothing. Green Lake is my favorite place in the world. I hope to be married on its shores, and someday scattered over its waters. Centrally located, it’s Wisconsin’s deepest lake, and also one of it’s largest. Green Lake reminds me of Lake Geneva, but without the wall-to-wall boat traffic and pretentions.

Immediately following quick showers at the dorms, Karen and I got on the road back to Wisconsin. Karen’s legs were still quite stiff from the marathon, so she had a little trouble pushing down the gas petal, but luckily we made it uneventfully through the six hour road trip to the lake. Our first stop there was my favorite fish-fry restaurant, the Mecan River Lodge, where I feasted on a succulent dinner of fried shrimp, walleye, scallops, and French fries. Truly an artery clogging fried feast. But why stop there? From the Lodge, we stopped for double-decker ice cream waffle cones at our favorite ice cream shop, All in Good Taste, which features sixteen flavors of Cedar Crest ice cream. After all, we did run a marathon that morning.

The ice cream was followed by a great long slumber, and the next day was spent eating blueberry pancakes, relaxing on the pier, shopping the boutiques of Princeton, boating, grilling out, and more ice cream—this time at Bayview Landing Ice Cream Parlor, which definitely deserves a posting of its own that will surely come later this summer. In short, it’s a fun boat ride across the lake to Bayview, but they’re much stingier with the ice cream there, which obviously irks me, and they always seem pissed to have customers. Huh? Luckily Mr. and Mrs. Smiley were suprisingly quite pleasant on Sunday night. This because there weren’t too many customers. So I enjoyed service with the faintest hint of a smile and a loosely packed cone of Moosetracks. I love how you can run a marathon and then easily justify crappy eating for a week. Make that a month. I mean, geez, I just ran a marathon. Luckily, this afternoon I'll be heading back to Green Lake for a mid-week vacation day of more sun and relaxation (and, cream).

A Scenic Drive to Betty's Pies

One of my favorite parts of the marathon weekend in Duluth was driving along Scenic Route 61, from Duluth to the small lakeside town of Two Harbors on Friday afternoon. The drive featured stunning views of Lake Superior, an endless expanse of crystal clear water that stretches as far as the eye can see. Along the way, large pines, small motels, and quirky antique shops dotted the roadside. Karen and I pulled off the road for a few minutes to sit on the rocky shore and take it all in. The water was calm, but the skies were quickly turning dark, a silent warning of impeding showers. We quickly snapped a few pictures, and then headed back to the car as raindrops began to fall.

After our stop, we drove a little past Two Harbors to a small diner called Betty’s Pies, which has been a popular north shore destination for over fifty years. Karen had heard about Betty’s through a friend, and thought I might like to check it out. The experience seriously made my weekend. Betty’s Pies is a very busy, classic diner with retro vinyl booths and big glass cases stocked with dozens of cream and baked fruit pies ready to order. After much debate, I chose a slice of the toffee cream pie, which was magnificent—definitely the best pie I have ever tasted. I savored every bite and quickly polished off the entire piece. Karen thinks my choice in pre-race foods may have contributed to my stomach explosion at mile 15 of the marathon the next day. I think not. That pie was nothing but goodness.

Wanting to make the same amazing pies myself at home, and also wanting to learn more about the history of Betty’s Pies, I purchased Betty’s Pies Favorite Recipes at the diner. Complete with an inscription from 82-year old Lake Superior icon Betty Lessard herself, the book features forty-five of her favorite pie recipes, and dozens of other bread, cheesecake, and pie crust recipes. Over the last few days, I’ve been devouring the text and accompanying pictures, with a keen fascination for Betty’s interesting and whimsical tales of pie making experiences and her long life on the north shore. It’s the best cookbook I've ever bought; I will certainly treasure it forever. I can’t wait to start trying to recreate the many delicious recipes. If you ever find yourself passing through Duluth, you must visit Betty’s Pies. You can also order full pies online at For $20 plus shipping, one of Betty’s pies will arrive at your doorstep the very next day. Or you can stop at my house for a slice once I get these recipes down!

Post Marathon Pic

Here's a pic of Karen and me in front of the College of St. Scholastica
after our bus ride back from the finish line.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Grandma’s was a good time, except the whole marathon thing. I was very impressed with Duluth, which is a beautiful port city on the scenic shores of Lake Superior—much different than the small, industrial ghost town I was expecting. Duluth was surprisingly vibrant, cultural, unpretentious, historical, and an outdoor enthusiast’s Mecca. I was particularly impressed with the downtown area surrounding Canal Park, as well as the lakeside Scenic Route 61. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to eat lunch on Friday at Grandma’s, the marathon’s namesake and first major sponsor. While I am glad to have had the experience, it really was just like Applebee’s. Thus, I will cross it off my list and be done with that.

The race was incredibly well-run. You can certainly tell they’ve been organizing a world-class event for 30+ years. All of the details were expertly executed—pre-race bussing, water stations, t-shirt options, and the post-race party, just to name a few. Let me elaborate. The race starts in Two Harbors, and ends in downtown Duluth. Which means it’s a one-way shot straight down highway 61 for 26.2 miles. Because of this, apparently there’s a need to bus all of the participants from their various accommodations in Duluth to the starting line in Two Harbors. A big, jolly yellow school bus picked up dozens of us from the College of St. Scholastica at 5:30 a.m. and then transported us to the starting line. There were over eighteen other pick-up points in Duluth, and it seemed like hundreds of school buses were arriving at the starting line between 6 and 6:30 a.m. This method of transportation turned out to be easy and totally reliable. Same on the way back after the race.

The water stations were also phenomenal. There were hundreds of volunteers at each who were handing out water, ice, sports drink, cold sponges, and at times, oranges and Cliff Shots. Best of all, the stations were long and on both sides of the road, which made for less of a traffic jam and gave me much time to get lots of fluid down. My only complaint is that they served Optima sports drink, which made me want to hurl. Seriously, all we want is Gatorade. We’ve tried it, we like it, we know that it works. I also loved the fact that there were both men’s and women’s-fit finisher t-shirts. Because we all know that the race shirt is immensely important. And the post-race party featured, among many other more appropriate post-race foods, vanilla and mint chocolate chip ice cream. Well, I don’t run a marathon to eat appropriate foods. I’m proud to say that I devoured two, two-scoop servings of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Although it made me sick soon after, I think it was worth it.

As far as my race, it was a PW, not a PR. Personal worst, that is. But that’s fine. I was actually thrilled to cross the line in under four hours. I ended up finishing in 3:46. Despite the hot temps, I ran what was probably my fastest half-marathon split within a marathon (1:44), but then my stomach suddenly and irreversibly blew up at mile 15. From there, I found myself on a Tour de Porta-Potty. I’ll spare you the details. But, I did make it to the end, and completing a marathon is always a good thing. My favorite part of the race was definitely when I got to mile twenty-two where a DJ was blasting “Mr. Roboto” by Styz. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto. At that point, I was able to put my pain aside and smile. I desperately wanted to stop and dance. Despite the temptation, I forged on.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Tribute to My Dad

My dad has taught me many things. One of the things he taught me was my great love for running, a love that he instilled in me at a very young age. As children, my brother and I would constantly bike alongside my dad during his jogs through the neighborhood. Eventually, we built up to being able to run short distances with him, and throughout the years did several small races together. Now my dad and I run together every chance we get, which is something we both very much look forward to. It’s our special time together and I wouldn’t trade my favorite running partner for the world. I’ve learned so much from my dad, and nobody believes in me more than him. Thank you for everything you’ve taught me and everything you are. Happy Father’s Day. I love you, Dad.

Nope, Not a Grandma Yet

College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN

Grandma's Marathon Finish

This weekend, I’m running Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota. It’s a point-to-point course along the north shore of Lake Superior that begins outside the town of Two Harbors on Scenic Route 61 and finishes at Duluth’s Canal Park. Grandma’s was first started in 1977 with 150 participants. This year’s race is the 31st annual and nearly 10,000 runners will compete. You might be wondering why it’s called Grandma’s—a few people, mainly co-workers, have actually asked me why I am running a race called Grandma’s when I’m not yet a grandma. Right. In case you were also wondering, Grandma’s Restaurant in Duluth was the race’s first major sponsor and became its namesake.

Karen and I are road tripping to Duluth later today after work. Should be about a five or six hour drive from Madison. A while back, we secured accommodations at the College of St. Scholastica, a lovely, small Benedictine college overlooking Lake Superior. Should be very interesting. Karen stayed there last year with her friend Suz who was running the race. Apparently the rooms were tiny, concrete, nunnery-like boxes, so much so that Karen said she couldn’t imagine how a parent could drop a kid off there for college. But, we did get a great deal on room rates, and there really aren’t too many options for lodging in Duluth. Thus the bad college dorm room will suffice. But must remember the shower flip flops.

I don’t really have any big goals going into this race. I’m mostly excited for the road trip fun and hopefully a carbo-loading trip to Grandma’s Restaurant. Last year’s race was incredibly hot and humid, but luckily Saturday’s temps are predicted to be in the mid-70’s, although isolated storms are also forecasted. I might start off with the 3:30 pace group and just see how long I can hang. That’s about what I ran at Detroit last October, but I am well aware that every race and course is different, and you just never know how you’re going to feel. Well, according to the official race site, there’s only 1 day, 20 hours, 42 minutes, and 17 second until race time. And time is ticking.

Waffle Morning

Bellegem Waffle Mix, Williams-Sonoma
My roommate just made the most wonderful waffle breakfast this morning! We enjoyed the warm summer morning in our cozy backyard while feasting on fluffy Belgian waffles drowned in warm maple syrup, freshly-sliced strawberries, crunchy gronola over milk, French pressed coffee, and refreshigly sweet orange juice. Yummm. We also had our boom box set up ouside, so I was tuned into my favorite local oldies station and singing happily with Joni Mitchell.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Jackie's Wine Pairings

Last Wednesday evening, only a few days before my peaceful weekend in the north woods, my parents attended a wine tasting event at a local venue near their home outside Milwaukee. Apparently, they were very pleased with many of the selections, because they returned home that night with an entire case of various wines—which is somewhat surprising since my dad most often prefers the always reliably watered-down Miller Highlife. Luckily my parents brought several of their newly-purchased wines with them to our cabin for me to sample. My mom thought it would be fun to have a three-course meal on Saturday night, each course paired with a fitting bottle of wine (details below). It was a wonderful dinner with stunning lake views, fascinating conversation, and delectable food and drink. My favorite pairing was the whisky cake with the Moscato d’Asti dessert wine. Heavenly.

First Course: Cheese Selection, Crab Dip, and Crackers
Wine Accompaniment: Zardetto Prosecco (Italy)

Main Course: Marinated Chicken and Asian Coleslaw
Wine Accompaniment: Tres Ojos Grenache (Spain)

Dessert Course: Whisky Cake and Vanilla Ice Cream
Wine Accompaniment: Umberto Fiore Moscato d’Asti (Italy)

Speaking of the Bearskin Trail...

Check out the pictures of this beast! My parents ran into this bear less than a half-mile from our cabin on their way up last Friday night. Luckily, the bear didn’t attack my mom, the brave photographer, and frolicked back into the woods before I arrived.

Running the Bearskin Trail

When I’m up at my family’s cabin in northern Wisconsin, I love to run on the Bearskin Trail, which is a scenic, eighteen-mile recreational path that travels from Highway K (near Highway 51) into Minocqua. Once the path of railroad tracks, the trail is now surfaced in granite and travels through the small towns of Harshaw, Goodnow, Hazlehurst, and Minocqua. The southern half of the trail follows the winding Bearskin Creek, and the northern half runs through lands dense with both forests and lakes. Apparently, the original purpose of the railroad was to export white pine logs from the small lumber towns of northern Wisconsin to cities of the Midwest. Today the trail is used throughout the year by runners, walkers, bikers, and snowmobiles.

Over the weekend, I did a 6-mile run on the trail with my dad, who is by the way amazingly fast and quite challenging to keep up with. The path is relatively flat and features natural scenery and immaculate views from the heart of the north woods. A variety of wildlife, including bears, deer, eagles, and loons, are a familiar sight. My favorite part of the trail is running over the many wooden bridges like the one pictured above. Not exactly sure why, but the bridges sort of remind me of the old railroad rock tunnels that serve as the highlight of the well-known Elroy-Sparta State Bike Trail in western Wisconsin. I guess both serve as remnants of another time, and exciting trail markers to look forward to along the paths. Another reason I like the Bearskin trail is because I don’t usually run into too many other people, which makes me feel like one with nature. The only thing I can hear is the buzzing of insects, the chirping of birds, and the faint and familiar rhythm of my breathing, heartbeat, and foot steps.

Last year I ran a significant portion of the trail with my friend Karen, and we decided then that this summer our goal would be to run the entire 18-mile stretch, which we figured would be much more exciting and momentous. Our plan is to ditch our bikes ahead of time at one trailhead, and then start from the other side, eventually finishing at our bikes. It seems like a nice adventure for a day in the north woods. If you're game, let me know.

Adoption Announcement

I just received the following e-mail from my parents this morning:

We are just bubbling with excitement to let you know we have adopted three more gnomies. They hitched a ride on a mail truck and we anticipate their arrival in a couple of days. We just told the cottage gnomes that their relatives will be here soon. Naturally they were both excited. Enclosed please find a picture of the three brothers (above).

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

My Parents Call Them "Gnomies"

Most people call them gnomes. Either my parents have always thought themselves very funny, or my hunch is they began mispronouncing the names of these little elf-like creatures long ago and only recently realized their mistake and now purposefully call them “gnomies” to pretend like they always knew. Only I know their little secret. Ha.

My parents collect the garden variety of “gnomies”. So far they have two in the yard at the lake. Soon to be a family, I hope. They started with one that was forlornly abandoned by its previous owners. Worn and weathered, my mother doctored it back to life with a shiny coat of paint. My mom tells me that their particular "tribe" is difficult to acquire. For that reason, she only recently found a partner for the original gnomie at an estate sale. They look good together, a dynamite pair if you ask me, although my mom insists that the new gnomie’s complexion makes the other look anemic. See for yourself. Obviously, something will need to be done about that. But there’s nothing a little paint job can’t fix.

Much like I needed to know the history of the Hodag, I just had to find out a little bit more about the origins of these garden dwellers. The first garden gnomes were apparently created by a porcelain maker named Phillip Griebel in the mid-1800’s in Gräfenroda, which is a small town in Thuringia, Germany. Originating in Germanic fairy tales and myths, gnomes often resemble an old man who lives underground and guards buried treasure. The traditional figurines are between eight and twenty-four inches tall and made from a terracotta clay mixture, which is easily distinguishable from today’s more common plastic imposter. Their disposition is always jovial, or at the very least mellow. They are often depicted with beards and red hats and are one of three types: worker gnomes, leisure gnomes, or culture gnomes. My parents have a worker and a leisure gnome. Procreation will hopefully secure a culture gnome, the youngest of the gnome family, whom is known to partake in cultural activities like reading and playing musical instruments.