Dipping My Toes

While the sub-zero wind chill didn’t dampen the beauty of the sunset’s soft glow on Lake Superior, I did not dip my toes in the frigid waters while taking a break mid-run to soak in the scene. But I have resolved to dip my toes back into blogging this year, after extended breaks the last couple years.

As I ran and took in the cold air that cleared my head, pausing as the moon rose above the “Belt of Venus”, it struck me that Mother Earth was sending up a beacon of hope and light. May this year be filled with more of those themes.

Look forward to interacting with you all in the blogosphere on a more regular basis in 2019!

Cheers!

Moonrise during Sunset on Lake Superior

~ Kat

Making the Most of the Minnesota State Fair

It is once again time for the Great Minnesota Get-Together. Twelve days of an almost-overwhelming array of food, art, music, gardens, animals, shopping, and people. What you need are Minnesota State Fair Tips (#MSFTips) to help you create a plan of attack to maximize the fun!

P9010015.JPG

  1. Let Someone Else Do the Driving.

With so many options for transportation to the fairgrounds, why hassle with driving yourself and hoping there is an open parking spot nearby?! Free Park & Ride, Express Bus service, Lyft … there are plenty of options for enjoying the ride and guaranteeing a short walk to one of the entrance gates.

Link to MN State Fair transit options, here.

P9010025.JPG

2. It’s All About the Food

Go hungry.   With 27 new foods for 2018 alone, and a growing list of favorites from prior years, planning to share is a great way to optimize the number of foods you have the chance to sample throughout the day.  The State Fair Food Finder will help you satisfy your craving! I will even give you a sneak preview of our food list to get you started (remember, pacing is important!):

New Foods to Try?

  • Earth Wings (deep-fried cauliflower with sesame BBQ sauce) from French Meadow Bakery
  • Firecracker Stuffed Shrimp Avocado from the Hideaway Speakeasy
  • Mangonada Shave Ice (from Minnesnowii Shave Ice) is on my son’s list, while Honey Cream Soda Float (from Minnesota Honey Producers) is on mine
  • Nordic Waffles (the Slammin’ Salmon-on-a-Stick variety, perhaps?)
  • Smoked Soft Serve Ice Cream (cold press coffee flavor) from Blue Moon Dine-In Theater
  • Wood-Grilled Elote from Tejas Express (my son added this one, while I will stick with the classic Roasted Corn instead — see “Old Favorites” below)

Old Favorites on the “Must Eat” List?

  • Fruit and whipped crème crepe from the French Creperie
  • Roasted Corn from the Corn Roast (because sitting on the curb next to dozens of your Minnesota friends chewing on a cob of corn before tossing it into the communal compost bin is a classic Fair experience)
  • Blue Barn’s Blue Cheese & Corn Fritters with Chimichurri Sauce and their Blueberry Basil Lemonade
  • Pronto Pup – I can’t leave the Fair without having the flour-battered, deep-fried hot dog on a stick, generously brushed with ketchup and mustard.
  • Chocolate-dipped frozen bananas (my boys always make sure to find space for one)
  • Mediterranean Lemonade at Holy Land Deli (in the Int’l  Bazaar) — when you are ready to melt from heat, humidity, and crowds …
  • Wine Slushie – another perfect refreshment for a hot day (at the French Creperie).
  • Cheese Curds from the Mouth Trap (in the Food Building)

While I love Sweet Martha’s cookies, they are best when fresh, so if you buy that overflowing bucket o’ cookies take a tip from the cookie veterans who bring a gallon-sized ziplock bag and put the cookies that don’t fit in the bucket into the bag, so they can put the lid on the bucket for the ride home!

And don’t forget to pick up a Blue Ribbon Bargain Book and help support the Minnesota State Fair Foundation with your $5.00 purchase.

3. See a Show, Watch the Animals, Learn Something New

Grab the daily schedule from one of the information booths after you arrive on the fairgrounds for the day, or scouting out the day’s events ahead of time, either on the website or through the mobile app.

14994499385_0182f88ba4_h

4. Remember: The Agriculture-Horticulture Building is more than Farms and Plants!

One of our favorite stops of the day is the crop art competition and display. Creativity, political themes, cultural icons … it’s all in the Ag-Hort Building!

Check out my Minnesota State Fair posts from prior years for additional photos, tips and links:

~ Kat

Morning Climb to Castelmola

We had arrived in Sicily the day before, traveling from the airport in Catania to our hotel in Taormina on a gloomy, rainy day. The next morning dawned clear, with temperatures already climbing toward 50ºF (which for these Minnesotans was akin to beach weather).

Mt. Etna from the Hotel Bel Soggiorno

We only planned for one night in Taormina, so we would not have time to exhaustively explore the area. But I was determined to make room in the schedule to see the mountaintop village of Castelmola. What better way to battle jet lag than by lacing up the running shoes for a morning run with my son …. winding our way through Taormina to reach the zig-zag path up the mountainside.

Climbing the stairs in Taormina

My much-speedier son bounded up the steps, and on to the path that led to Castelmola via the Madonna della Rocca. At one point, striped tape was tied across the stony steps. When I paused and questioned whether perhaps the path was washed out up ahead, my son cavalierly responded, “Looks like fake news to me.” And away he went … as I huffed and puffed behind him, trying to maintain some semblance of running form.

The Stairs to the Madonna Della Rocca church

Thankfully, there were many reasons to pause and take in the view of Taormina below, with the Ionian Sea beyond. Periodically along the path were sculptures depicting the Stations of the Cross, giving the rigorous morning outing a feeling of a pilgrimage, as well.

Stations of the Cross overlooking the Ionian Sea and TaorminaMadonna della Rocca high above Taormina

Upon reaching a plateau, the street sign reminded us that the climb to Castelmola was not over yet.

Road to Castelmola

The last stretch of the path sent my heart rate through the roof, as the incline seemingly never-ended, with the tease of the village straight above us.

Piazza Sant’ Antonio ~ Castelmola, Sicily

Our climb finally opened to the Piazza Sant’ Antonio with the charming Caffe’ Bar San Giorgio perched on the edge of village square.  The combination of jet lag and a challenging run/hike uphill left us parched, with the downhill journey back to the hotel  still ahead of us.

Caffe Bar San Giorgio in Castelmola

Thankfully, I had stuffed a 10 euro note in my jacket pocket, so we could take advantage of the picturesque cafe seating and a classic cappuccino, with a bottle of water to rehydrate for our downhill trip. We also ordered a freshly squeezed glass of orange juice, which ranks up there with the tastiest and most refreshing beverage ever! What we learned as the week went on, is that everywhere in Sicily the fresh-squeezed orange juice is spectacular  — a benefit of visiting during January, when the oranges are in season.

Mountaintop dining at Caffe Bar San Giorgio, Castelmola
Our eyes scream “jetlag” …. the view says, “no worries” ….

We entered the square in Castelmola and a rustic truck drove by with its loudspeaker calling out to the residents, announcing the arrival of fruits and vegetables for sale.

My son and I took a few minutes to wander the narrow, meandering paths of the village, still quiet as the day began.

Narrow alleys of Castelmola

Mt. Etna provided the postcard-worthy backdrop to Castelmola’s public library.

Castelmola's library with a view

Knowing my husband and younger son were waiting for us to join them for breakfast back in Taormina, we headed down again, refreshed and refueled after our mountaintop stop.

Descending from Castelmola

Completing our run with a circular route, we took the path off of Via Branco to Taormina.

Returning to Taormina from Castelmola on Via Branco

The village of Castelmola quickly receded from view, as we bounded downhill and wound our way along the narrow path leading to the touristed streets of Taormina. I encouraged my son to go on without me, since he had so patiently waited for me to catch up on several occasions on the first half of the trek, but he kindly hung with me as we finished what ended up being an almost 5-mile outing.

Mountaintop Castelmola viewed from Salita Branco

Oftentimes the best vacation memories are not the iconic sights, but instead the times when you soak up your surroundings without the fancy window dressings of a tour or excursion or timetable in hand. Do more than just visit a destination … enjoy the journey.

~ Kat

5 Lessons Congress Could Learn From A Ragnar Trail Race

The polarity and divisiveness in our country has reached extremes never seen in recent times. Our democractic and constitutional norms are straining at the seams. Op-eds and analysts drill down with their best ideas for how to restore civility, how to find our way back to some kind of bipartisanship … but not a single one of them has landed on the obvious solution: Congress needs to run a Ragnar Trail Relay race.

What is a Ragnar Trail Relay race, you ask?!

In our Ragnar Trail Relays, teams of 8 (or 4-member ultra teams) run relay-style on three different single track loops that start and finish at Ragnar Village. Teams run day and night until each member has completed all three trail loops. (www.ragnar.com)

If you’re more a visual learner, maybe this infographic will make more sense (click on image to enlarge):

As my already slow running speed has slowed further with the years, my joy of running has grown … grown with new adventures, new challenges, and new running friends. Rather than the goal, it becomes more about the journey — isn’t that what life is about!?  And one thing that running has made clear to me is that it is a great equalizer: a mile is a mile for everyone, and while some may run it slower than others, that mile is not shorter or longer for anyone because of their job or their education, their religion or their age … or even their politics.

Are you still asking yourself how a Ragnar Trail Relay could possibly bridge any of the divides? Read on.

1. A Ragnar Relay team is rarely comprised of your eight closest friends, but by the end you will have a special bond. 

A Ragnar race is a commitment. It is a 2-day event, often a distance away that requires additional travel time, with months of at least some level of training leading up to it.  It is a feat to find eight people able and willing to commit to running trails day or night, rain or shine, hot or cold, let alone then getting all eight of you who committed months earlier to the starting line uninjured or without some life circumstance interfering.  That means that you often have a friend of a friend who joins the team, or someone you know in passing, or an acquaintance you met while running with the local running group …. and you are now going to camp together for a night or two in a 300-400 square foot space, and rely on each other to each complete 15 miles of trail runs in whatever conditions the weather gods and trails throw at you.

When you have a diverse group working toward the same goals, you always have more in common than not. 

2. When conditions are challenging, the race is still on.

When we ran Ragnar Trail Northwoods in September 2017, we anticipated classic northwoods fall temperatures with lovely red and gold autumn colors embracing us as we traversed the wooded trails.

A028A922-916C-42D3-8BF5-84C5900BA0C6

sat 17-2

Instead Mother Nature played a nasty trick and turned up the thermostat … to about 20 degrees warmer than normal! When the going gets tough, teammates cannot sit and whine and point fingers at each other as to why the race cannot be run. Rather, you tear up game plan #1 and create game plan #2 … because the ultimate goal is still the same, and the miles are still the same, and the terrain is still the same. You pull together, hydrate well, and look out for each other in watching for signs of heat stroke! Because if one of you fall ill, the rest of the team needs to pick up that gap and complete it for you.

A little humor here and there works wonders, as well….

night 4

…. because you are all in this together.

IMG_9890

You cannot work together as a team if you are busy making excuses. 

3. Every relay leg presents its own unique challenges.

 No one said Ragnar Trail was easy.

Those easy-to-navigate rocks during the daylight hours turn into larger-than-life obstacles at night by the light of the headlamp. I do not believe anyone goes home without taking at least one flying faceplant … and it does not always happen at night! When running on a couple hours of sleep (if you are lucky), footing becomes a little more unstable, and picking up those feet to manuever through the technical sections of trail taxes your fatigued body.

With the challenge comes the thrill of the relay race. Sometimes while running at night you feel a return to youth, running carefree through the dark as your feet seem to glide through the forest (until your toe catches that root …).  Through the trees, you can see headlamps bobbing as other runners traverse the switchbacks up or down the wooded inclines.  Some sections open for a time where you can appreciate the brilliant starry sky above. As you pass a runner, or a runner passes you, there are exchanged greetings and words of encouragement … or perhaps a warning shouted from ahead of an upcoming rock or hazard that would catch you by surprise.

That “easy” loop during daylight hours may transform into a beast at night.  Injuries, sleep, heat … even preference for hills versus challenging terrain versus faster/shorter or longer/slower runs … they all affect each runner differently, so that each loop is truly a different experience for each runner, even though every runner runs the same three loops in a Ragnar Trail race.

Even when we are on the same path, we may face different obstacles … or take a different route to the end … embrace differences and empathize with those struggling. 

4. The real joy comes in supporting each other. 

With the unexpected heat and humidity, our team found ourselves sitting sluggishly around the campsite, trying to stay cool and hydrated in between relay legs … or even trying to catch an hour of sleep here or there.  It is easy to let overtired, overheated crabbiness set in. The Ragnar Village has various food and trail equipment vendors with wares to sample. As the sun sets, a bonfire illuminates the finish line area with laser lights dancing in the final stretch of trail before the runner transfer tent. Dinner is served buffet-style with large community tables set up under another tent, and a movie marathon plays on a large screen throughout the night, with bleary-eyed runners watching the computer screens for signs their runner is approaching the end of their loop.

While the buzz of the Ragnar Village and campsites are entertaining and provide welcome distraction at times, that special Ragnar bond is created — both within your team, as well as among and between other teams — through the enthusiastic support for and from fellow runners. Whether it was making sure each runner had another teammate to walk them to and from the relay transfer tent (where runners make the bib handoff, starting and finishing their respective loops), or standing/sitting in the woods along the trail to high-five runners going by, or gathering your team together to welcome your last runner in to the finish chute …. that is where the spirit of Ragnar comes in.

Day or night, as you ran through certain segments of the trail loops, you could always rely on other runners being there with words of encouragement, energizing cheers and, sometimes, empathetic consolation.  Fast or slow, everyone was here for the same ultimate goal — while some may run to place, others run for fun, and everyone is welcome.

Providing opportunity to all does not detract from those who are in it to win it. 

5. You can do things together that you cannot do alone.

One of the race mantras is: “Ragnar is about doing things together that we could never do alone.”

The finisher medals reflect this philosophy. After your team has successfully completed all 24 legs of the trail race, each runner receives a medal which fits together to reveal a larger message.

sat 33

So, what do you think? Congressional teams with 4 Republicans and 4 Democrats on each team, charged with completing a relay race together? Posturing does not make a mile go any faster, declining to acknowledge a mile does not make that mile disappear. Everyone has to run their legs in order for the team to succeed.

sat 34

Together we can do anything. 

~ Kat

 

Holiday Spirit (30 Days of Gratitude: Day 30)

The holiday season can be full of busyness — going through the list and checking it twice, without enjoying the moments along the way. A leisurely evening run with friends, with a detour on some festive paths, was a wonderful reminder of the goodwill generated by the season. Volunteers handing out hot cocoa and cookies … fire pits roaring with marshmallows for toasting … favorite holiday tunes playing as laser lights danced.

Adding to the magic of the evening was the best light of all — the luminous orb overhead, shining on the water next to the reflection of Duluth’s iconic lift bridge.

May the spirit of the season move you to pay it forward — be kind and compassionate to friends and strangers alike.

Be grateful for the reminders of what this season is supposed to be about.

~ Kat