Minnesota Half Marathon – St. Paul, MN (August 6, 2016)

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Me crossing the finish line of the Minnesota Half Marathon – St. Paul, MN

Race: Minnesota Half Marathon

Place: St. Paul, Minnesota

Date: August 6, 2016

Time: 1:41:24

Two weeks ago, I had a plan.  I was to run 12 miles…either around my grandpa’s neighborhood in Minnesota…or with my friend Julie (depending on her schedule) somewhere in the Minneapolis area.  Neither came into fruition, because Southwest had that computer meltdown that literally grounded and cancelled flights that entire weekend.  So, while my family was in Minnesota, celebrating my grandpa’s 95th birthday, I was still in Indiana…and Southwest was willing to reschedule for up to 2 weeks out.  And after checking with my aunt and my grandpa about their schedules…I was rescheduled to visit now at the beginning of August instead.  The rest of my family would be back in Alabama, but I would get a bit more one-on-one time with my grandpa, aunt, and cousins (and their families).  So, there were pros and cons.

It just so happened that in my current marathon training schedule, my long run for that weekend was a 13 mile run.  And, as luck would have it…there was a local half marathon running on Saturday.

Maybe this was meant to be.

There were a lot of things that compelled me to sign up for the Minnesota Half Marathon.  For one thing…if I’m going to put in the time and miles, why not get a medal for it?  Another reason…it benefited the Ronald McDonald House Charities, and a friend of mine is currently in Chicago at the Ronald McDonald House with her niece, who is being treated for cancer…and kicking cancer’s ass if I do say so myself.  Also…there was an inline skating division.  Yes…roller bladers were invited to also do the 13.1 mile course.  I have never been part of a race with an inline skating division.  So cool.  OH…and the course…has you running right along the Mississippi River the entire time.  Sounded perfect to me.  And so…as a rather last minute decision, I registered and packed my racing gear in my luggage.

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Caribou Coffee!!!!!

Upon arriving in Minneapolis, after a much-needed and fantastic stop at Caribou Coffee at the airport, my roommate and I got our rental car and headed out to St. Paul…down to The Running Room to pick up my packet.  We arrived just slightly before they opened (let’s hear it for making good time!), so we went up the street and killed some time in CVS, before heading back down to the store and stepping inside.  There was a small table set up with a laptop, some race bibs, and boxes of t-shirts off to the side.  A young woman was manning the table and she asked my name, typed it into the computer, and grabbed the next race bib on the stack (2490), took a sharpie and marked the half marathon checkbox, and told me to grab my size t-shirt.  That was it.  Super easy.

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French Meadow Bakery’s Gluten Free & Vegan Cornmeal Waffle

From there, we headed over to Minneapolis to hit up the grocery store (I was cooking 2 meals while there AND making dessert), and then get to grandpa’s house.  We let ourselves in…and he was inside and very happy to see me there.  We were, of course, already ready for some lunch.  We invited Grandpa along, but he was tired from his trip earlier in the week that he took.  So, Cathy and I packed up and headed out to one of our favorite places to eat while in Minnesota…French Meadow Bakery.  I was cooking dinner that night for my Grandpa, aunt, my cousin Natalie, and my cousin Molly and her family (hubby and 3 kids)…and I was making BigMAC Potatoes.  I normally do gluten-free pizza before a race, but since I was treating this as a training run, I figured it was fine to change things up.  Who knows…maybe I’d stumble across something that worked better.  Cathy ordered the Mac & Cheese for lunch and I went with the Gluten Free & Vegan Cornmeal Waffle (which is topped off with bananas, toasted walnuts, and a toffee syrup).  Because…we all know how much I love breakfast.  We devoured our food and did a little bit of shopping at the Electric Fetus (that’s a record store, in case you were wondering), a Half Price Books, and then went back to home base, as I needed to bake the Gluten Free Strawberry Streusel Bars that I brought ingredients (yep…I brought the last 2 jars of my strawberry jam to Minnesota for this) to bake specifically for the birthday peeps (my aunt celebrated her birthday a few days after my grandpa did).  The dessert needed to cool for 2 hours, so I got it baking and then settled in to talk and hang out with grandpa for a little while.  Eventually, my aunt came home from work and Molly & Co. arrived.  Molly volunteered to make her famous green beans…and I was excited about eating them because they sounded SO good.  I put Cathy on the task of rinsing, poking, and rubbing the potatoes down with a light bit of olive oil.  We got them in the oven, since it would take about an hour to bake, and then I got to work on the lentils, which would make the “meat” portion of the vegan dish.  Soon, we had everything cooked and we settled down at the table, where I walked everyone through how to assemble their potatoes.  And we devoured them and half of the Strawberry Streusel Bars too.  Vegan cooking FTW!!

The Olympics were starting that evening, so the opening ceremonies were put on the screen and while I foam rolled (and taught my cousins all about foam rolling and the stick!), I watched what Brazil was bringing to the world stage for these 2016 Summer Olympic Games.  I was exhausted, as I had been up since 12:45 am to squeeze in all my stretches, warm up, and manage a short (2 mile) run and shower before my ride to the airport had arrived at 4 am.  But, as the United States were walking in the E’s (Los Estados Unidos!), I was at least able to stay up and see Michael Phelps carry in the flag.  Once that happened, I was in bed and setting 2 alarms for the morning routine for a race.

The first alarm came WAY too soon, but I got up, went through the first part of my race-day routine, and then climbed back into bed for about another hour.  The second alarm was go-time…so I had to get up, get changed, eat something, and get to the race.  I managed to get into my race outfit before checking the weather and discovering that it was currently 57 degrees outside.  So, bra top wasn’t going to work.  I came prepared with 3 different singlets though, so I grabbed my purple Boston one and slipped it on.  That would do.  Cathy was up just as I stuck a bagel in the oven to toast for her and prepped my oatmeal cup I brought with me.

So…basically I was doing EVERYTHING that they advise against in preparation for this half marathon.  I forewent the pizza the night before…I stayed up late…I ate a big bowl of oatmeal pre-race (I usually have a serving of cereal before leaving for the race and then a banana 30 minutes before the race)…I was testing out Skratch as a form of fuel (as my current fuel has been giving me stomach cramps)…and I didn’t give myself any time to stretch, do my PT exercises, my dynamic warmup stuff, or my plyometrics…yep…I was doing it all wrong and just hoping for the best.  HA!  Good thing I wasn’t racing this.

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Pre-race nap in the rental car

After we ate, I quickly brushed my teeth, filled up one water bottle in my fuel belt with water, the other with Skratch, and grabbed my banana.  Then, we were off to the races.  Via a detour.  Where Cathy managed to get where we needed to be without even trying.  Talk about luck!  She got us parked in the parking garage the race site recommended to park in…with time to kill.

So…I took a nap.

No joke.  I took a freakin’ nap.

Ah…my power naps are so…awesome.

After about 2o minutes, we decided to head on down toward the start line so that we wouldn’t feel crushed for time.  One problem…we couldn’t figure out how to efficiently get down to the ground level over by the river.  Hmmm…

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The Minnesota Half Marathon has an inline skating division…HOW COOL!

After a few false starts and a lot of back and forths…and many stair wells and elevators, we figured it out and got down to where we needed to be.  From there, we followed all the runners toward the start area.  And I immediately ducked into the long lines for the port-a-potties.  Apparently potatoes and oatmeal make me have to pee.  I rarely make use of the port-a-potties…and the lines were LONG.  Cathy found me in time to pass of my banana at 6:45 am…as the half marathon was to go off at 7:15 am.  The inline skaters were sent of at 7 am.  The bathroom lines had a TON of inline skaters in them and as the time ticked down and the lines barely moved…they had to move to the front or miss the start.  Banana…bathroom…time to watch the inline skaters go before getting myself ready to run.  There were some seriously incredible skaters who lined up…but the majority were casual racers.  Still…it was pretty awesome to see them take off.  Some were SUPER fast.

After they were out of the starting area, the half marathon runners were asked to line up.  So, I hopped into the start area…just behind the 1:40 pacer.  I had no pace expectations…just to run comfortably.  It was a training run, after all. We were sent off a few minutes early, to be sure.

But I was off.

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Me…heading out at the start of the Minnesota Half Marathon in St. Paul, MN.

This race was beautiful.  The entire run is done along the Mississippi River.  The roads are closed to traffic, so it’s just you, the runners, the river, and…the occasional struggling roller blader.  This course was reversed from the years previous to help make the last 5 miles a bit flatter.  You know what that means?  The hills hit in the first half of the race.  Some of these climbs brought some more of the novice roller bladers to a stop, or to a crawl (while clinging to the cement divider on the road), but I just worked my way up them.  I’m still trying to get my spring and speed back when it comes to hills.  That being said…I just adjusted my stride and pushed on.

We turned around just before Mile 4 to head back toward the start area, so any downhill we had, now was an uphill.  There was a small amount of support out on the side of the road…but mostly I enjoyed listening to the pacers whenever they were around.  OH…and the one guy who was totally flirting with this girl in the 1:40 group.  He literally turned to her and said, “I like your pace!”  Um…right…

Anyway…the run beside the river was quite pleasant…even though most of these miles were put in right in full sun.  Yeah…I was regretting not just doing the bra top at this point.  The singlet was light…but I would have been way more comfortable without the fabric.

At Mile 5, I decided to take a risk and try out some of the Skratch that I picked up samples of to see how it did as a fuel.  By Mile 6, the pacer in front of me was telling the runners that were with him that it would be a good time to gu.  LOL!  One good thing about running so close to a pace group, was I knew when “the last hill” would be hitting.  I let them go soon after Mile 8.  This is also the point of the race where all the runners are sent past the finish line.  Seriously…we had to run up the road for another few miles before turning around again.  This is the second race I’ve done in Minnesota where we are sent past the finish area…like a tease…

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This is me…running past the finish line area just after Mile 8.  What a tease!

Cathy saw me and was screaming and cheering.  And I gave a wave and continued on.  Mile 10…more Skratch…but I was feeling a bit tired.  So, I knew Skratch was not going to be a good fuel for my upcoming marathon.  UGH.  This means that I am back to square one on the whole nutrition/fueling thing.  MEH.  I had a backup Huma gel, but I was only 3 miles from the finish, so I stuck it out.  Just before Mile 11, we make the turn and run back toward the finish area, this time…to finish for real.  This involved a bit of a hill climb…and then it was just over 2 miles to hit that finish line.

With the gentle breeze coming off the river, I relaxed, settled into my pace, and just made my last couple of miles count.  I could see the finish line ahead and started to pick it up as much as I could manage.  And…I even managed to pass up another female runner right at the finish line.  You see that line, you sprint, dammit.  SPRINT.  Even I do that, and I don’t sprint.  I am not a sprinter.  LOL!

Anyway…upon finishing, I was given my Minnesota-shaped finisher’s medal and took some time to walk through the recovery area.  I was introduced to Aspire Sports Drink, which is made with natural ingredients and doesn’t contain any artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners or preservatives.  It was AMAZING.  I tried 4 of the 6 flavors.  Only 35 calories per bottle too.  Gotta love it.  I eased out of my racing shoes and into my flip flops for recovery.  And, after a bit of walking…Cathy and I went to get some coffee at the nearby Caribou Coffee (of course), before heading back to Minneapolis so I could change and then hang out with my friend Heather for some lunch and shopping that afternoon.

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Me with the Mississippi River behind me…after the finish of the Minnesota Half Marathon – St. Paul, MN

So, my official results of the Minnesota Half Marathon is that I finished in 1:41:24, which is only 6 seconds slower than my finish at Derby.  AND…my Garmin had this course at 13.25 miles exactly.  Anyway, I was 86/1164 finishers overall.  I was 16/640 women to cross the finish line.  And I was 3/87 people in the 35-39 female division!  Third in my age division.  HOLLA!!  Imagine if I had been racing this thing (but I know better…and I am SO close to my marathon this year!).

I had a lot of fun at this race.  Not only did it benefit a great cause, but it was a fantastic way to work in a training run.  Afterwards, I went and had delicious Mexican food for lunch and walked the Mall of America with one of my best friends in life…Heather…who brought along her 8 month old niece…and we had a blast.  It was a perfect start to a perfect visit to Minnesota.  Gorgeous course…challenging…and if you aren’t feeling up to the half distance, they also offer an unusual 6K distance as well.

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The Struggle is Real

The mileage is totally going up as my race in early September creeps closer and closer.  And as there weren’t any running plans being tossed around with the normal group I run with…I made plans to run with a couple of speedy guys in Frankfort, Kentucky on Saturday.  We were doing 18 miles.  And for the first 13 miles…we were running the Kentucky History Half Marathon course (which is hilly hell)…and then we were going to run to their neighborhood for the additional 5 miles.

This started off really well, and the first 13 miles went great.  After that…it all came apart and went to hell.  We started off this massive hill and it was just like…my legs didn’t want to move anymore.  They were feeling fantastic up until that point.  And this…this just killed me.  Nothing messes with your head more than having a great run go bad.  I felt bad, slowing down the speediest of the group, as he wanted to do the 18 miles at his MP, and I was running at least a minute slower than he needed to be running.  When I hit the hill…it was even worse.  The struggle…was more than real.  It occurred to me that my September race was going to be way harder than this, and the fact that this course completely shattered my confidence I had been building up.

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Top: Kentucky History Half Marathon Course Elevation      Bottom: My September Marathon race

It was brutal and after I sent one of the runners on, and the other one never got past the 13 mile mark because he stopped to talk… got myself a bit lost and turned around in a city I really know nothing about.  I might have cried a little.  And ugly crying and a bad run make everything worse.  SO…I ended up turning around, heading back toward downtown, and rounding off the mileage on my own.  I got there, but it wasn’t pretty and I felt pretty defeated the rest of the day.  But, on the plus side, I did get the mileage in and I stepped a bit outside of my comfort zone to do it too.

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So, when I went on my little shakeout this morning, I had a little heart-to-heart with myself as I ticked off a couple of easy miles.  And that is…my new focus…and I leave it to The Doctor to share it with you…

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I get so down on myself and hard on myself regarding the paces I can hold, maintain, or even run at different points of the week.  Right now, I need to just focus on the whole…running thing…and less on how much or little time it takes me.  Let’s face it.  A 7 mile hill climb at the start of a marathon is going to SUCK…and right now, I should focus on just prepping myself mentally as well as physically by simply setting the numbers and data aside…and basically…just running.

And with all that being said…the best thing ever happened this past week as plans for my September race started falling into place.  One thing that is going to be entirely necessary is having people around to get me through what will likely be a challenging and…humbling race.  And all the ladies that are traveling with me are on board.  And I feel a LOT better about at least my post-race stuff thanks to that simple fact.

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The gang is getting back together.  It’s been way too long since the four of us have gone on an adventure.  And I promise not to get my purse stolen this time…

Anyone else watching the Tour de France?  I was watching it yesterday and was just blown away by the way these cyclists command that course.  They are amazing and inspiring.  Seriously, it does make me want to get back on my road bike…but ever since taking that spill and having so much trouble unclipping…I just haven’t felt like risking my bones and body in another potential fall.  So, I’m watching all these athletes cycling like mad on the roads of France and they’re just…FLYING!

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And I get on a bike and I feel like…

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True story!  Well, the only way to get better at something is to practice, practice, practice.  I am going to look at getting my clips loosened…or possibly new pedals.  We’ll see what happens after that.  Fact of the matter is…I want to get back on my bike.

My other favorite thing this week…going over to Bryan & Michelle’s house on Friday night, eating Daiya pizza, watching Kung Fu Panda 3, drinking a little wine (Reggae Red Wine), and just having more laughs than I’ve had all week.  Seriously…it was just the unwinding that I needed at the right time.  And I love these two.  Two of the best friends I’ve made since moving to the area.

And…SHE. BOUGHT. PIZZA. I. CAN. EAT!  So much love!  I was eagerly eyeing them in the oven ready to devour.  We all know…pizza is my favorite!

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I made Gluten Free and Vegan S’mores for dessert.  I think Michelle now wants a kitchen torch (which is how I toasted said marshmallows)!

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They were a hit!

Pizza party, Panda, and discussion of what a Chi Biscuit would include.  HA!!  God, I love my friends.

And that was pretty much my weekend!  It was a decent week leading into the weekend.  And when my Saturday night finishes up with dinner at Shalimar (mmm…Indian food!), it’s a good time.

Speaking of movies…last night I watched the movie Chef.  It had been on my list for awhile, and all my friends kept telling me I had to see it.  They were right.  I loved it.  It made me really want to go to culinary school.  Maybe not to run a food truck…or…perhaps…to run a food truck.  HA!  If you haven’t seen it…get on Netflix and watch it.  You will thank me for it.

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So, that was pretty much my week.  Sort of a bumpy ride…but more ups (mentally and physically, HA!) than downs.

How do you overcome challenges?  Ever have a run fall apart on you?  How do you mentally and physically recover?  I want to know!!

Oh…it’s National Ice Cream Day…so…scoop up some goodness today!!

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Have a great week!

A Wild & Wonderful Weekend

In the midst of everyday stresses and stressors, it’s always nice to have a little break from the things that are just…making you feel so BLAH about life and what you are doing with your life.

For me, this week, it was having my beautiful sister, Karla, drive up from Birmingham, Alabama, with her eldest son, my nephew, Landon.  I didn’t know how much I needed her and the distraction of having her and Landon here to really just allow me to relax, smile, and be me again!

Family, especially my sister, is, apparently, the cure to what ails, troubles, and bothers you.  I’ve been having…a not so amazing time these past few weeks…and, unfortunately, it’s something I am not really allowed to discuss.  Censorship sucks, yes?  YES!  But…just trust me…the type of personality I have and the person I am…it’s been bothering me on a fundamental level, which, has added a lot of added stress to my already chaotic life.

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Suckage.

But this weekend…was amazing.  I love spending time with my sister…and it doesn’t happen often enough.  So, her texts and calls that ask what I’m doing on certain weekends means…she’s coming to visit.  And I LOVE when she comes to visit.  She and I are best friends and sisters and just…have always been close.  So, me living this far away for 11 years (YES…11 years as of Friday)…has not been easy on either of us.  But here is some of the mischief that we got into this weekend, helping me to not even think about the bad and sucky things that have made a certain portion of a time of my day…a thing I have resented and even loathed at times over the past couple of weeks.

Here’s to sisters…and nephews…and family…and general FUN!  They make the world right again.

1.  Fish in the Water

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One thing Karla and I had discussed for Landon to do while here was to go to the new water park in New Albany.  Unfortunately, Friday left us with thunderstorm warnings and the threat of pop-up storms.  So, at around 3:30…when she arrived and we left the office…the lifeguards were being sent home and the park was closing.  So, Plan B…go to the YMCA and let him swim.  He was swim tested and given permission to go to the life guard chair in the lap pool and to go down the slide in the kids pool.  So, for a good portion of the afternoon…about an hour and change, that’s what he did.  Cathy, Karla, and I all sweltered to death in the humidity of the pool area of the YMCA while he played and cooled off in the pools.  It was worth it to see the smile on his face!

2.  SUSHI TIME!

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My sister commented a week or so ago about how delicious my vegetarian sushi looked when I Instagram-ed it and posted it to Facebook.  And then…I had a brilliant moment of brilliance.  My nephew, Landon, is a very, very, very picky eater.  BUT…he does love cheese things.  Cheese quesadillas, cheese sandwiches, mac & cheese….ALL THE CHEESE!  With the excitement over sushi on my post, I thought of the perfect place for us all to grab dinner, that even Landon couldn’t turn his nose up and refuse to order anything.  Dragon King’s Daughter to the rescue!  For those of you who are not local, Dragon King’s Daughter is an Asian-fusion restaurant with two locations…one in New Albany, Indiana, and one in Louisville, Kentucky.  The menu includes traditional fare from the Far East, as well as contemporary fare with a unique twist.  They offer classics of Japanese dining such as lemongrass miso, vegetable, and sushi rolls, as well as a multitude of new creations including a mixture of East and West forms and flavors.  On the kids menu…a cheese quesadilla…and for the adults…we all went sushi.  My sister and I figured we could get a roll each and split one…so I got the Vegetable Roll, she got the Buffaroll, and we split the Green Acres Roll.  Cathy went for the fishies…and got the Shrimp Tempura Roll and the Dragon King’s Daughter Roll.  And after that…a trip over to the Comfy Cow for an ice cream dessert.  What a great first few hours.

3.  Playtime at the County Fair

It just so happens that the Floyd County Fair happens across the street from where I life.  Convenient, yes?  After dinner and dessert, we came home and walked over to the fairgrounds to scope out some rides and the barns with Landon.  He went on three rides (he had 4 tickets, but he wanted his mom to ride with him on one he wasn’t sure about).  He loved going to see the animals.  And one of the highlights for me was seeing my sister crack up every time the goats bleating.  Her laugh is so contagious.  We all shared lemon shakeups and just walked around.  After that…it was time for showers and then we were all down on the couch to watch Zootopia and then…they took over my room and went to bed and I crashed out on the couch so I could get up early and head out for my 12 mile run and get it done before too much of the morning was passed.

4.  It Runs in the Family

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One of the best things we decided to do, was to go for a short run together.  After my 12 miler, I got home and Karla and Landon put on their running clothes.  We hiked up to Sam Peden Park and ran a loop.  It was hard for Karla, as she hasn’t run in a long while…and she’s not used to the crappy air quality of the Ohio River Valley, but she was a trooper and pressed on.  I ran right there with her to encourage her…and Landon…he was busy chasing down the Army men who were running there.  He beat quite a few.  It was awesome.  Landon has amazing speed and gorgeous running form.  He’s a natural and I love watching him run.  Needless to say, it was a great way to start the day as a family.

5.  Wild Eggs

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Breakfast was the next most important stop on Saturday.  We stopped off at Highland Coffee for some coffee first…and then took the drive over to Westport Road to go to Wild Eggs.  Landon already knew he wanted pancakes and BACON.  He made sure to tell me that if I got an omlette, he wanted my BLUEBERRY muffin.  Since I can’t eat the muffin, I was totally cool with this.  It had been forever since I went to Wild Eggs for breakfast…but it was a nice return.  They even have gluten-free bread and a gluten-free menu now.  LOVE that.  Yes…it even includes gluten-free pancakes, French toast and the like.  That was exciting.  But after 13 miles of running and a hike to and from the park…I wanted some protein.  So I ordered the Surfer Girl Omlette (fresh spinach, wild mushrooms, tomato, cream cheese and onion and topped with diced fresh avocado, pico de gallo, sour cream and fresh alfalfa sprouts. Served with skillet potatoes).  I got mine without the cream cheese and sour cream.  My sister got the same thing, just without the mushrooms (she hates mushrooms).  And Cathy got the Kalamity Katie’s Border Benedict (green chili cheddar corn cakes,topped with chorizo, two poached eggs and queso fundido, pico de gallo, sour cream, green onions and avocado. Served with skillet potatoes and an Everything Muffin).  And, yes, I got a blueberry muffin for Landon.  He was pretty full after eating the two pancakes that were as big as his face and the bacon he ordered…but he took a few bites.  The rest…came home with us and then went home with them today.

6.  Pierced Ears

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Okay, here is something that I didn’t expect to happen this weekend.  My sister and I got to talking about earrings…and she brought up how her daughter (she’s 16 months) had her earrings work out perfectly…and how my mom (whose holes closed because she stopped wearing earrings) had just gotten her ears pierced a few weeks ago.  I said that I keep saying I need to get it done but just haven’t pulled the trigger.  I think a part of me thinks it will fail again.  As a kid, I gave the pierced ears a try about 5 times, but always and an allergic reaction to them.  My sister was the same way, but it worked for her as an adult.  So, she told Cathy to pull into somewhere that could pierce my ears.  We did.  And now I sit here with beautiful 4mm white gold studs in my ears.  Karla taught me how to clean and turn the earrings every day (3 times a day)…and the rest is history.  So here is hoping that they work out this time around…because I have wanted to have pierced ears for a long, long time.  Leave it to my sister to get me to do something like this on a short weekend visit.  HA!

A shopping trip to a few of our favorite stores followed up that little adventure.

7.  Putt-Putt

Because you can’t just spend the day shopping when you have a 9-year-old boy with you, we took Landon to the Renaissance Fun Park.  We had discussed Go Karts…but opted, instead, for putt-putt.  It had been ages since my sister and I went putt-putting.  It was a lot of fun.  The easy holes on the course they put together there are actually quite challenging.  But we had a blast.  Afterwards, Landon and I took on some air hockey…which he won…and then he played a few more games after that…until the money on his card ran out.  It was worth every moment to see him out there laughing and being a competitive little boy.


8
.  SOCCER!!!

One of the main reasons my sister aimed for this weekend was that the local professional soccer team, Louisville City FC, was playing on Saturday night.  And, since Landon is a HUGE soccer fan, and soccer player himself, we thought it would be fun to take him to a match.  I said I wanted to get him a replica jersey for him to wear during the match and she picked him up a hat and then got a t-shirt for Chace.  I made sure Karla wore the logo t-shirt I owned to the match as well.  They got some pizza for dinner and we settled into our seats at midfield to enjoy.  I have never seen Landon so into an event as that soccer game.  Seriously, he was shouting at the players and the refs…and it was just magical and fun and amazing.  I bought him ice cream at half time because…it’s my job as Auntie…to spoil him and get him hyped up on sugar.  HAHA!  In the end, after a horrible call by a ref, we ended in a draw of 1-1…and Landon had hoped that some of the players would come over to the midfield (they usually do) so he could get pictures and some autographs, but they all returned to the locker room without coming over.  He was bummed, but he still had a fantastic time, and I loved seeing him light up the way he did when Louisville City scored the first goal of the match!

9.  Home-Cooked Breakfast

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I gave my sister and Landon the option of grabbing breakfast out at a restaurant before they hit the road…or having me cook breakfast for them.  Landon really wanted waffles (with powdered sugar, which he now LOVES thanks to Wild Eggs putting it on his pancakes), scrambled eggs…and bacon.  So, my sister and I hit the grocery store for bacon (this vegetarian does not have bacon on hand), eggs, and a gluten-free waffle/pancake mix.  And then, this morning, I got to cooking.  I started the waffles first, knowing that would take the most time.  He wanted the Mickey Mouse shaped waffles…so I made that happen for him.  And, because we adults weren’t too sure we wanted waffles, we had gluten-free avocado toast with our eggs.  I started cooking the bacon before Karla emerged from the bedroom, but she took over that so I could focus on toasting the bread, doing the waffles, and scrambling the eggs.  It all finished up at the right time…everything done when it should be.  Breakfast was served.  And I didn’t take a picture of it, but Karla and I cook epic breakfasts together.  And Cathy now has lots of bacon in the fridge for this coming week.  Which makes her happy.

After that…they had to hit the road and get home…

It was hard to let them go, but I know Karla’s husband and other two kids were missing her and Landon like crazy.  I just was having such a good time and all the time together went by way too fast.

They got home late this afternoon…and she said that they missed me as well.

I hope we do it again soon.

Sisters really do make everything better!

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Quick Thoughts From the Week

It was a long, holiday weekend.  YAY!!  And, as is usual for me over the 4th of July…I was out of town.  At a convention.  In Indianapolis.  Now, normally when I am up in Indy for this convention, my Saturday morning is spent running the Monon Trail.  It’s gorgeous.  Seriously.  I always look forward to it.  The past few years (last year I wasn’t able to run at all at this point), I have managed to get out there for my long run of 10-12 or so miles.

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But, this past weekend, Saturday’s Monon Trail run wasn’t happening…

MEH.

SO…on Saturday morning, I was down in the fitness center at 6 am…and on a treadmill to do 12 miles that morning.  I started easy and worked up a ladder to a comfortable speed and then took it back down.  It was mind numbing, despite the music (and to think, I almost left my iPod in my room).  But, my training run was done.

And if that wasn’t enough punishment, I got up on Sunday morning to do my shakeout run.  I decided to do an easy run for an hour…getting 7.36 miles in during that time.

I was feeling it Saturday and I really felt it Sunday.  I hate running on treadmills.  They seem to do more damage to me than road running does.  I was sore through Wednesday, honestly.  I don’t know how people do long distances on these things on a regular basis.  My body couldn’t handle it!

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My runs have been suffering since those treadmill runs.  The hip was not mad…but not happy either.  MEH.  Not enough foam rolling in the world.  Of course…the epic humidity with air so thick you could cut it with a knife…isn’t helping either.

But, despite the humidity and the fatigue from late nights, I’ve been keeping up with my training runs.  Which…is impressive for me.  It’s not been easy to get out of bed to just go outside and melt…but…

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…I’ve been getting it done.  It hasn’t been pretty…and I’m not always happy with the results on my Garmin, but I’m doing what my body is currently capable of…so, there is that.

OH…and this past week, I got to play around with recipes that I created.  I made 6 different recipes…2 pasta dishes, a fusion pizza, a rice dish, a sandwich, and a dessert.  I was quite proud of the results…all based off of Peter Cincotti’s recently released EP, Exit 105.  Check out these images of the completed dishes…

 

Top (L-R): Island Spell Pizza (song: Palermo) – Jerk seasoned tofu, topped with onion, bell pepper, pineapple, cheddar cheese, and a Jamaican jerk coleslaw; Missing Sara Sammie (song: What’s Sara Doing?) – sammie layered with sweet potato, hummus, avocado (or guacamole), and kale; Unexpected Beat Tagliatelle (song: Long Way From Home) – tagliatelle pasta in a bechemel sauce and topped with shredded beets, goat cheese, parsley, toasted pine nuts, and toasted bread crumbs

Botton (L-R): Roamin’ Skies Pasta (song: Roman Skies) – my take on the traditional Roman dish – Cacio e Pepe – pasta mixed with butter, black pepper, Pecorino and Parmesan cheeses; Exit 105 Rice-A-Roni (Album Title: Exit 105) – my version of the San Francisco Treat (after all, Exit 105 takes you to the Golden Gate Bridge)…and it has been dubbed my “best rice dish in the history of ever”; Sexy on the Beach Ice Cream (song: Sexy) – a vegan ice cream made from coconut cream, pureed raspberries, pureed pineapple, chambord and vodka…just like the drink Sex on the Beach…

I love getting chefy.

So, aside from a little bit of work stress…that’s what’s going on thus far.  Stay tuned as this weekend is going to be amazing.  I can tell.

Take The Heat

Guess what, folks?

It’s SUMMER!!

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And let’s face it…the Olaf/Frozen/In Summer references don’t get old.  Because…it’s Olaf.  And Olaf is awesome.  Anyone who says so has no soul.

Summer is H-O-T.  HOT!  So hot.  And while I prefer to train in the heat…the one thing I do suffer through (like most other people) is the humidity.  And being that I live in the Ohio River Valley…it’s pretty damn humid.  Like…all the time.  One morning, this past week, I got up to run and it was 84 degrees at 4 am.  That’s not normal!  And it’s not even July yet.

With all that being said, how about I highlight some of the things that made this hot and stormy week a little cooler…

1.  Game of Thrones

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So, last Sunday was, possibly, one of the best episodes of Game of Thrones.  The battle scene, shown above, was one of the most intense and best things I have ever seen on television.  Kit Harrington, who plays Jon Snow, was amazing in this episode and totally deserves to win some awards.  I mean, he really had 100 horses charging at him.  That is not CGI!!  Unfortunately, my HBO Now stream was locked up (as was the rest of the world, apparently), so I ended up having to stay up an hour later than usual to actually watch the episode.  I was NOT looking forward to spending an entire day off the Interwebs if I saved it to watch the following day.  It was totally worth it, but damn, it through off the rest of my week for sure.

All that being said, tonight is the season finale!  OMG!!!  I hope HBO Now isn’t bogged down this week and that the finale lives up to this past week…because…DAMN!

2.  Blueberry Picking
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First of all…yes…I picked the blueberries pictured above.  I went to Bryant’s Blueberries with the intention of only picking 5 pounds of berries…but the crop of Blue Crop berries this week were AMAZING!  I mean…big and ripe and awesome.  Oh yes…I was in a good place.  So, as it was bound to happen…I got 10 more pounds.  WORTH IT.  These are the best blueberries I have ever had.  Forget anything you get in the store.  I don’t know if more jam will be in the future, but I think some blueberry bagels and/or waffles and/or pancakes will be happening.  And blueberry muffins are definitely happening.

3.  Louisville City FC…SOCCER BABY!!
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So, on Tuesday (which meant I did my hill repeats in the heat of the day…after 2 spin classes on Monday), and last night, I was at Louisville Slugger Field, not for baseball…but for soccer!!  I am a season ticket holder to Louisville’s very own professional soccer team.  In fact, last night’s match was broadcast on ESPN3.  Which is pretty cool.  We also had our highest attendance record to date, finally breaking that 10,000 mark.  In fact, it was 10, 062 showed up for the match last night.

But, beyond that, after the match on Tuesday night, I got to get my picture with my favorite player this year, Enrique Montano (#20).  I look horrible in the picture, as I still had my hat on (I hate hats), and I had been melting in that heat I had been speaking about…but this picture is…awesome!  I love when the payers come over to the midfield section to meet the fans.  And Montano is very good about that.  Happiness.

If you’re local and haven’t made it to a Louisville City FC match yet…stop delaying.  Our team leads our division…so we’re pretty awesome.  It’s worth it

4.  Fun Hair
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I don’t think it will last for long, but on Wednesday afternoon, I went to my hairdresser and we got a little funky with my hair.  Teal.  Yes…I dyed my hair teal.  Not all of it, but quite a bit of it.  The problem is, I workout and run quite often, so I sweat.  And my hair, just being blonde, doesn’t hold color too well.  So, I’m enjoying it while it lasts, but it’s already, sadly, fading.

5.  Roadside Assistance
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I’m not talking about AAA or the local trucks that stop and help out stranded drivers.  Nope.  I’m talking about a super-amazing project that I am a part of with some great friends of mine.  One of my girls, Indy (aka: Jennifer), had a spark of genius about creating a project that centers around the songs released off of Peter Cincotti’s new album.  Since Exit 105 was released the other day, Indy put together a Tumblr blog and posted a recipe already for a cocktail based off the song “Long Way From Home.” So from now until Peter’s birthday on July 11th, we’ll be developing and sharing recipes inspired by the songs on the EP. These will be shared everywhere we can think to post them, but will also be collected onto a Tumblr blog-http://exit105-roadside-assistance.tumblr.com/ Check it out!!

And if you are unfamiliar with the talent of Peter Cincotti…discover him…NOW!

Did you do anything amazing, fun, and/or exciting this past week?  Ever dye your hair a crazy color?  Got any fun plans for the upcoming 4th of July holiday?

Product Review: Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix

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Gluten Free Sugar Cookies made from Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix (and topped with Dollop Gourmet Hot Chocolate Spread Frosting and sprinkles)

Product: Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix – $3.99+

I blame my neighbor.  I do.  Because she knows how much I like to cook and bake and make tasty treats for myself, my roomie, my friends, my co-workers, and just…people in general.  So, while she was out at one of the discount stores, she snagged me four (4)…yes…FOUR…boxes of the Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix and one (1) box of the Immaculate Baking Company’s Gluten Free Fudge Brownie Cookie Dough.  I love it when she surprises me with gluten free goodies.

All that being said…I was out at Michael’s a couple of weekends ago and spotted a T-Rex cookie cutter.  Don’t judge.  My roommate loves dinosaurs.  Yes…she’s in her mid-30s…but…that’s just who she is.  And then…there was the Unicorn cookie cutter.  UNICORN COOKIE CUTTER.  I used to have a unicorn collection.  I am a Boston Marathon runner.  Unicorns are sort of my spirit animal.

Now, sugar cookies and I don’t have the best relationship.  Every time I have attempted to make them, be it from a mix or from scratch…they have been ultimate fail.  And, while the Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix gives instructions for round cookies, I really wanted to make cut-out cookies.  So, learning from my past in sugar cookie baking, I made up the dough and wrapped it in Saran wrap before sticking it in the back of the fridge and letting it chill while I was out and about running errands that day.

That afternoon, when I returned…and called my dad to wish him a Happy Father’s Day…I set out rolling out the chilled dough between two pieces of plastic wrap, flattening it out.  Then, I took my new cookie cutters and carefully (there were some really tiny parts that were not easy to come out of the cookie cutter (hello unicorn horn)) cut out T-Rex and Unicorn shapes as I chatted with my dad.  The mix set up perfectly for this…and I kept it chilling when I wasn’t using it.  So, onto a baking sheet these cookies went and…BAM…into a preheated 375°F oven.

So, while these are virtually baking in my blog, let me tell you how easy this mix is to make.  All you need is the cookie mix, 1/2 cup of butter (I used Earth Balance Vegan Butter Sticks – room temperature), 1 tablespoon water, and 1 egg.  Simply combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until soft dough is formed.  From here, you can form dough by rounded teaspoons and put onto a baking sheet 2 inches apart…or you can chill it like I did (this was me being stubborn…I wanted cut-out cookies, dammit!) and roll it out after it’s chilled and cut out fun shapes like dinosaurs and unicorns.  Adults can have fun-shaped sugar cookies too, you know?

I lost track on the first batch as my dad was a fun and worthwhile distraction.  These bake for about 8-10 minutes, except in my oven, because it is old and doesn’t get as warm as it says at times.  So, the cookies weren’t ready after 10 minutes, so I figured I’d go for 2 more minutes.  Didn’t set a timer, and as I was rolling out the second batch and chatting with my dad…remembered those were in there and pulled them out.  The edges got a little toasted, but they were still fine.  I noted, much to my dad’s amusement, that the unicorns became fat unicorns.  They did spread slightly…but still resembled the original shape.

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T-Rex and Unicorn Cut-Out Sugar Cookies made from Pillsbury Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix

While out grocery shopping early that weekend, I picked up a jar of Dollop Gourmet Hot Chocolate Spread Frosting.  And some green sparkle sprinkles for the dinosaur cookies.  I had rainbow sprinkles at home already for the unicorn cookies. HA!  So, after the cookies cooled and I was off the phone and not browning the edges of the rest of the cookies, I cooked dinner…and knew these cookies would be dessert.

I snagged one T-Rex and one Unicorn cookie and gave each a schmear of the Dollop Gourmet Hot Chocolate Spread Frosting.  Topped each off with some sprinkles…and dessert was ready.

I have been really impressed with the Pillsbury Gluten Free products, and these were no exception.  This mix was not only easy to make…but tasted great.  I always had a soft spot in my heart for sugar cookies (I used to bake them with all the neighborhood kids at a neighbor’s home every Christmas)…because they are so versatile.  Top them off with frosting, sprinkles, stuff them with ice cream, or more frosting…add nuts or chocolate chips…the possibilities are endless.  Sugar cookies are the ultimate decoration cookie.  And while I’m not big on frosting at all (I really am not a fan), these required delicious frosting (hence…Dollop Gourmet), and sprinkles…because sprinkles are awesome.

Know what else is awesome?  These cookies.  They have that buttery flavor, with a touch of the sweetness from the sugar in the mix.  I asked my roommate what she thought and she said they tasted just like “regular” sugar cookies.  And they should.  The only difference is rice flour and tapioca starch and potato starch replace the all-purpose flour that would go into regular ones.  These cookies have that nice crunch on the outer edge with a soft center.  SO good.  And this made SO many of these.  So, I have sugar cookies for days…and am wondering if I’ll ever run out at this point.  At least they are amazing and yummy.

So, let’s discuss what Pillsbury puts into their Gluten Free Sugar Premium Cookie Mix, shall we?  This mix is a blend of sugar, rice flour, tapioca starch, canola oil, potato startch, contains 2% or less of: salt, baking soda, cellulose, xanthan gum, cellulose gum, natural and artificial flavors.

As for nutrition information…keep in mind…these are sugar cookies.  Mmmm…cookies.  COOKIE MONSTER strikes again.  Anyway, a serving size is 1/18th of the mix (if you make the drop cookies, this box makes 3 dozen; if you make the cut-out cookies, it varies.  I got 22 cookies in mine).  A serving size (for drop) is 2 cookies and for the cut-outs 1 cookie.  This serving (when prepared per package instructions) will provide you with 160 calories, 6 grams fat, 3.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 240 mg sodium, 24 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams sugars, 1 gram protein.

I am very happy with the mix that Pillsbury has created for those of us who, perhaps, missed the amazing cookies that a company like Pillsbury puts out.  I am also intending to use a box of this to make Strawberry Streusel Bars or Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars for the office birthday party that is happening next week.  Just have to decide on which one I want to make.  Trust me, with an office that usually turns its nose up at anything that is gluten-free, I wouldn’t serve this mix to them if I didn’t think it was worth it.

Thank you, Pillsbury, for making gluten-free baking mixes for those of us who love to have an easier and more convenient way to make cookies.  Especially sugar cookies.  Because sugar cookies are evil. But this was so easy and my cut-out cookies were…perfect.

And that always makes this cookie monster happy!!

Recipe: Gluten Free & Dairy Free Lemon Blueberry Scones

So, this past weekend, I did something I have never done before…but, believe it or not…it was on my Summer Bucket List.  I went and picked blueberries.  Yes…I went out…in nature…to a local blueberry farm and spent 2 hours with my roommate, Cathy, picking over 10 pounds of blueberries.

What does one do with 10 pounds of blueberries, you might ask.

Well…I make a killer blueberry jam.  And I did that with 5 pounds of them.  And then…before we even picked them, back when only jam was in the plan, she kept saying that I was going to make Lemon Blueberry Scones.  This was news to me…but I seriously hate to disappoint.  So, after spending an afternoon making gluten-free sugar cookies and then…my famous blueberry jam…I got to work on some scones.

I LOVE scones, but haven’t made them in quite a long time.  But…any excuse for scones, right?  So…I got to work and this is what I baked up…

Recipe: Gluten Free & Dairy Free Lemon Blueberry Scones

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Servings: 8
Time: Prep 15 minutes; Bake 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour, plus more for hands and work surface (I used 1-2-3 Gluten Free All-Purpose)
  • 6 Tablespoons (75g) granulated sugar
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • zest of 1 large lemon
  • 1/2 cup (115g) vegan butter, cold and grated (I used Earth Balance)
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) coconut cream
  • 1 large egg (or egg replacer)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Glaze Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon zest

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Adjust baking rack to the middle-low position.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest.

Grate the cold butter (I use a box grater; a food processor also works).  Toss the grated butter into the flour mixture and combine it with a pastry cutter, a fork, or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk the cream, egg, and vanilla together. Drizzle it over the flour mixture and then toss the mixture together with a rubber spatula until everything appears moistened.

Slowly and gently fold in the blueberries. Try your best to not overwork the dough at any point. Dough will be a little wet.

Work the dough into a ball with floured hands as best you can and transfer to a floured surface.  Press into a neat 8″ disc and cut into 8 equal wedges with a very sharp knife. Place scones at least 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.  Brush top with extra coconut cream and sprinkle with lemon (or plain) turbinado sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden and cooked through.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.

To make the glaze, simply whisk the confectioners’ sugar and 2 Tablespoons lemon juice together until smooth. Add 1 Tablespoon of lemon zest.  Drizzle glaze over scones.

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These scones are best enjoyed right away, although leftover scones will keep at room temperature for 2 days.  These freeze well for up to three months.  Just thaw overnight in the refrigerator and heat up to your liking.

Want an amazing way to start your day…you gotta bake up some of these!!  ENJOY!