Sunday, August 30, 2009

Feeling like fall

There is a crispness in the air. Football is on TV. There is no question that fall is here (or at least it is extremely close to being here).

I did a 17 mile run on Saturday morning. It was gloriously cool, and temperatures got no warmer than the mid 50's. Love running in this stuff! The run was very productive. In fact, I covered the 17 miles in roughly the same time it took me to cover the miserable, humid 15 miler from a couple weekends ago. On the run I saw a couple of ospreys, and I also noticed the blue jays were starting to flock together (sign of fall).

This morning I hiked up at Elm Creek. It was all of 47 degrees when I arrived, but it still warm enough for a light jacket and shorts. An absolutely magnificent day for birds. I saw my first Wilson's warbler of the year (I missed seeing him in the spring), so that was exciting. If he is in my area, that definitely means the fall migration is on!

I also saw ovenbirds, American redstarts, common yellowthroats, field sparrows, least flycatchers, a belted kingfisher, American goldfinches, the red-breasted and white breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, mourning doves, gray catbirds, robins, red-eyed vireos, yellow-throated vireos, cedar waxwings, many ducks and gulls, great blue herons, and of course, my friends, the chickadees. Like I said, a magnificent day for birds.

A few images from my weekend hike:

There are fields of goldenrod in full bloom. Yellow colors abound!



This is not a volleyball in the woods; it is a giant puffball mushroom (larger than a volleyball, actually!).



The little tiny flowers on the swamp smartweed have really opened up in the past week



I have been noticing these giant sunflowers along many of my trails. Some of the plants are taller than me!



Obviously not from my hike, but another sign that fall is here; it isn't too hot to fire up the oven for homemade pizza! This was Saturday night's dinner; Italian sausage with "the works."



Until next time,

Jean

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Snippets

I don't have any material that is very cohesive today, so here are some unrelated snippets describing the goings on in my world:

-Running has been very nice this week. Temperatures have been in the upper 70's, but the humidity is fairly low. Great running weather, and fun times outside. Yesterday I heroically rescued a painted turtle from certain doom on the trail (he was a little slow, and I didn't want him to get run over by a biker), and today I ran with a ring-necked pheasant (instead of flying, this goofy rooster sprinted down the trail in front of me for quite some distance before finding a nice turnoff into the tall grasses of the meadow!).

-A few signs of fall are slowly starting to emerge. Sumac leaves are changing colors, and you can even see a hint of change in some of the trees (although some of that might be related to a drier summer). A lady was out on her cross-country "roller skis" today. And, the deer that I stopped to chat with on the trail today is starting to lose the bright red coat in favor of her grayish winter coat!

-I am fortunate to have some lakes and ponds near my office. For the last several weeks now, I have enjoyed seeing an osprey making numerous daily passes by my office window. Occasionally the bird has flown within 15 feet of my window, and a couple of times it has been transporting a freshly caught fish. Fun to watch! I am hoping I get to see this dude make a full dive into the lake in pursuit of its prey before it is time to head south.

-I heard a disturbing fact on the TV news this morning; the local meteorologist announced that sunset in my area is now at 8 PM. Of course, I have been noticing that the hours of daylight are diminishing, but it is always somewhat jarring to hear that!

-My office's fantasy football draft is tomorrow after work. I already know I have the 8th pick overall, so I am already going into this season expecting that my team will suck. There are 12 teams in the league as well, so I think that virtually assures me of only one decent player and increases the likelihood of ending up with an old fart QB like Favre (wait a minute - he is less than a year older than me. Does that make me an old fart?!?). In any case, football season is back, baby! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Gorgeous weekend

It was nothing short of a spectacular summer weekend here in Minnesota. Comfortable temperatures, low dew point, and sunny skies. A far cry from most of the week, which was something of a dreary washout.

Saturday morning started with a 16 mile run. Temperatures remained in the mid 50's the whole time, so running was absolutely delightful. Winds were calm as well. I took this shot from the trail during my Saturday run.

Saturday morning. Not a ripple on the lake. And do I detect a bit of fall color in the leaves? :)



I saw a few different things on the run. Cedar waxwings seemed to be everywhere. I suspect these nomadic birds are snacking on the abundant assortment of berries along the trail. I also saw numerous egrets and herons in flight (they seemed to be headed in a southerly direction...hmmmm). And for furry creatures, I spotted a mouse an a mink!

Because it was too nice to be inside, I took a hike around the neighborhood on Saturday afternoon. I ended up being gone for two hours. Butterflies and grasshoppers are all over the place, and the goldenrod have added a pretty yellow tint to the meadow. I discovered the intricate little swamp smartweeds have started to bloom. And again, the lake looked awfully pretty this day.

A swamp smartweed blooming along the edge of the trail



Another shot of a lake on a glorious summer day. Not a cloud in the sky!



Sunday was much of the same, except shorter distances; 5 mile run in the morning, and an hour and a half walk in the afternoon. Equally as beautiful of a day, and slightly warmer in the upper 70's. Extremely pleasant!

Yesterday I did not cook; so I got Chinese take out for dinner. But tonight, I cooked! I made Tyler Florence's baked rigatoni with Italian sausage and eggplant. I followed the recipe closely in terms of the amounts. Differences include that I used ground Italian sausage (homemade, at that) instead of links, baked the eggplant chunks instead of sauteing, topped the dish with sliced cherry tomatoes, and I jazzed up the tomato sauce with white wine, fresh oregano, and lots of crushed red pepper.

Baked Rigatoni with Italian Sausage and Eggplant



These baked dishes with short pasta never seem to look all that attractive once dished up on the plate; but take my word for it that this was really tasty! Nice way to cap off a good weekend of running, hiking, and eating!

Until next time,

Jean

Friday, August 21, 2009

Summer spaghetti

I've got nothing terribly exciting to say about running today. So I will share a really great dish I just made for dinner!

With a bounty of wonderful produce right now, I made a spaghetti dish out of fresh corn, green beans, cherry tomatoes, garlic, fresh oregano and parsley, a leftover chicken thigh (chopped up), bacon, a splash of cream, grated Pecorino Romano cheese, a splash of pasta cooking water to thin it out, and a lot of cracked black pepper.

The pasta of summer



Yum. Fresh produce during the peak of summer is the best. It is hard to screw up a dish like this!!

Best wishes to those of you racing this weekend!

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Here endeth the lesson

Update: Awhile back, I told about a friend at work who was going to try and run a half marathon by training on no more than 3 miles a day just to prove he could do it. I told him he was nuts and insisted he should train more. He actually followed through on his plan and recently ran a half marathon.

The experience sounded painful. He told me that after 5 miles, he had severe cramping in his quads. Also, he developed some huge blisters on his feet. I guess the last half of the race was excruciating and he felt like he wanted to die. He said he thinks he could have prevented the cramping by doing squats or lunges. Or, I told him he could have just run a little more. :) In any case, the poor guy has been hobbling around the office!

Of course, I should point out that this guy is something of a natural athlete, so even on that limited training, he still almost bested my half marathon PR. So now I officially hate him. ;-) But I think I proved my point, and I think he understands there is a difference between finishing a race vs. finishing a race and actually feeling good!

A couple of notes:

1. Running this past weekend was awful. But running today was delightful. Back to the upper 70's and low dew points. Wonderful!

2. I am relatively certain my sedge wrens have left in search of greener meadows. I have not seen or heard them in almost a couple of weeks. They were fun, and I already miss them. I am hopeful that these strange, nomadic birds will return next spring.

3. This week, I have notice a huge increase in the number of grasshoppers, and I rescued my first woolly bear caterpillar from the trail. These are sure signs that fall is nearly upon us!

Until next time,

Jean

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Running, sweating, and roasting chicken

I got up at 5 AM to go running on Saturday in order to beat the heat. Turns out there was really no good way to beat it! Temperatures were already in the low 70's with a dew point in very close proximity. Steamy and hot, even before sunrise. Not good. I still managed 15 miles, although the last few were not easy. By the time I finished, I was positively drenched. Summer running at its finest. :)

The highlight of the run can be seen below. Not a good photo; the sun had not come up yet, so lighting was poor and I had to adjust the exposure big time. But you can sort of make out the spots on the little one. I stopped to chat with them, as they were in no hurry. Mama slowly led the little guy to the woods and let him enter first, and she stayed between me and the fawn. Then she sauntered into the woods herself once she realized there was no danger. Very cool! I also got to see a Cooper's hawk at very close range (he was being pestered by a flock of angry songbirds), but I did not get a picture. :(

Mama deer with her fawn seen during a hot August run



Saturday's dinner was a good one. I made Giada's balsamic roasted chicken, but I added my own twist. I followed the amounts listed in the recipe for the marinade (adding some fresh oregano), but otherwise I winged it and did my own thing. In the same roasting pan, I added new potatoes and cherry tomatoes that had been tossed in a simple vinaigrette of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, fresh oregano, crushed red pepper, minced garlic, salt, and pepper. Roast in a 350 degree oven for about an hour until the chicken is cooked through and the juices run clear, and voilà!

Balsamic roasted chicken with roasted new potatoes and cherry tomatoes, fresh green beans, and sweet corn



The skin on the chicken gets this beautiful, dark lacquered color, and the meat stays incredibly moist when cooked (leftovers make for excellent chicken salad, by the way). I served this up with some Minnesota grown green beans and sweet corn. Summer on a plate, baby! :)

Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The things kids say

Over the weekend, I got to spend time with my nephew, who is now four months old. Since his birth, this has prompted Mom and Dad to dig out old photo albums and baby books, which has been a real hoot. Here is one of the photos Mom and Dad sent me:

My little brother Brett and me in 1973. Believe it or not, I still have my bunny!



My nephew's birth has also prompted many great kid stories, including one from my childhood.

Dad was reminiscing about the time they were building the garage back at the house on the lake. I was really young (too young to remember this, anyhow), just starting to learn how to talk and formulate sentences. Standing in the garage with Dad, I picked up a hammer. I held the hammer high in the air and loudly exclaimed:

"Son of a bitch!"

Clearly, I must have associated the hammer with some "construction lingo." :)

Incidentally, I was saying the same thing over the last two days; only it was related to running! Summer has finally arrived, and we have had temperatures around 90 with dew points in the mid to upper 60's. So not only is it hot, but it is also steamy, so it feels kind of like you are running in a sauna. I was sucking air! Needless to say, quite a shock to the system after spending the weekend running in the low 60's. Ugh! Good times.

Anyhow, here is hoping for some cooler temperatures on the horizon. Were it not for all the delicious summer produce we are enjoying at the moment, I am almost prepared to say I am ready for fall! ;-)

Until next time,

Jean

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A visit to the Shore, in pictures

I had a fantastic weekend with my family up in northern Minnesota. I got to run three times (12 miles, and a couple of 5 milers). We ate very well, hiked quite a bit, saw some cool birds (Merlins, Northern waterthrush, many warblers, and of course the chickadees and nuthatches), had a good time bonding with my nephew, and enjoyed hanging out with the family. In lieu of a wordy post, I thought I would just share a bunch of pictures. As you will see, the woods is quite lovely this time of year.

I got to act like a tourist. Here I am hiking on the shore of Lake Superior.



I got to see my nephew, and he is cool. Here he is hanging out with Grandma!



The wild raspberries were ripe, so I got to pick and eat many of these tasty morsels.



This time of year is outstanding in terms of flowers and vegetation. Here are some beautiful yellow tansies, which are all over the place.



The beaked hazelnuts were being harvested by many happy chipmunks and squirrels



The Pearly everlasting flowers are gorgeous this summer



Great spangled fritillary on an aster



Fireweed - these flowers bloom from the bottom up. There is an old saying that when the top finally blooms, fall is here!



Bumble bee on a thistle



While these look like blueberries, they are definitely not; they are called "blue beads," or Clintonia borealis



Most of the lupine were done blooming, but a few were hanging on



Don't try this at home with any old chipmunk! :) My parents have strange chipmunks that enjoy a back rub while eating sunflower seeds.



As you can see, it was a really nice weekend.

Until next time,

Jean

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Weather notes, and heading north

Unrelated to anything, here are some fascinating tidbits of information about the weather in Embarrass, MN, which is consistently the coldest place in Minnesota. Just think, winter isn't that far away... :)

I am excited because I am heading out of town for a long weekend. Time to go up to the Shore to spend some time with Mom, Dad, and the rest of the family! I have not been up there since May, so I am really looking forward to it. Should be a great time. We will no doubt eat well, I can't wait to go running, take some hikes in the woods, and of course I will get to see my cool nephew who is growing like a weed. Full report to come next week.

Good luck to those of your racing, especially to Rick at the Headlands Hundred!

A couple of food photos to tide you over until I get back... :)

Sloppy Joes with chipotle sauce, topped with sharp cheddar cheese and homemade refrigerator sweet pickles!



Mexican "Lasagna"; beef and pinto beans layered between tortillas, with homemade salsa, sour cream, sharp cheddar and Monterrey Jack cheese. The green sauce was a wild but tasty roasted serrano pepper salsa I whipped up. Spicy!



Have a great weekend, and I will speak to you next week!

Until next time,

Jean

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sunday hike with the birds

No run on Sunday since I put in 15 miles on Saturday. Instead I went for another Sunday morning hike up at Elm Creek. And it was a gorgeous morning with many birds.

One of the best lessons I have ever learned about birdwatching is to find a good spot, hang out, and just observe. If you are constantly moving, you are covering ground; but you are probably missing a lot of things, too. Birds are usually on the move in search of food, so chances are if you stay put, they will drift in and out of your area.

I saw black-capped chicakdees, American robins, gray catbirds, an American redstart, cedar waxwings, yellow warblers, common yellowthroats, red-eyed vireos, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers (one was a juvenile following mom around!), a rather loquacious mourning dove who sat near me and cooed constantly, American goldfinches, house finches, a least flycatcher, a great-crested flycatcher, chipping sparrows, a house wren, eastern phoebes, tree swallows, and cardinals. These 20 birds were the result of standing in a single location on the trail over the course of an hour.

Elsewhere in the park, I also encountered a pileated woodpecker, ring-billed gulls, Canada geese, crows, song sparrows, and an eastern kingbird. It was a good Sunday in the woods.

Blue sky and wispy clouds on Sunday morning



Bineweed flower in a swampy area along the trail



A rather social downy woodpecker hanging out near me



Another shot of downy



Until next time,

Jean

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Slacking, and ads of yesteryear

Slacking with posting, that is!

Last week was really busy, and I just didn't have a heck of a lot to say, so the blog posts were kind of lacking for the past several days. The weather had been really quite mild this week, which has made for nice running, though.

I did several 5 milers over the course of the week, and a good 15 miler this morning. Today felt almost fall-ish. Crisp, breezy, and cool temps in the upper 50's to start. All the was missing was the smell of dried leaves.

Not as many bunnies today. I deviated from my normal route, and this route is less conducive to bunny encounters (only 11 long-eared critters today for a paltry .73 BPM).

I did scare up a mama deer, however. That was actually pretty funny because she was walking on a dirt road ahead of me. The wind was roaring from behind but she couldn't hear me coming. As I got closer, I could see her head turning and ears moving, obviously picking up the sound of my footsteps. Eventually she turned and looked, which resulted in a full-blown sprint into the woods (the deer, that is; not me!).

Anyhow, it was a nice run. Minnesota runners have been loving the cooler temperatures (the third coolest on record according to the local news, and there were zero days of 90 or above!).

Absolutely unrelated to anything, I stumbled upon this gem earlier in the week. I am actually old enough that I remember seeing Hamm's bear commercials on TV. The Hamm's Brewery was based in St. Paul, so these were on all the time when I was little. Of course, this is before the lawyers stepped in and ruined all the fun of having a beloved beer-selling cartoon character. :) Enjoy!

"From the land of sky blue waters..."



And speaking of questionable advertising using cartoon characters - I had never seen this before, but it seems positively unbelievable given today's cultural climate. :)

Light up with...Fred and Barney?!?



Until next time,

Jean

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