Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Keeping the Green Things Alive

When my husband was still alive, he fully supported my gardening passion by digging new flower beds, wheeling load after load of soil, sand, and mulch, and dragging watering hoses all around the yard.  When spring arrived, he would call it the "annual killing of the little green things."  Totally in jest, of course.  He knew that I had a green thumb and often bragged to others of my ability to adopt rescued plants and end-of-season nearly dead plants from the nursery or big box store and bring them back from the brink of death.

He'd ask if any shrubs "needed a haircut," always willing to help out if given direction, and cheerfully headed out into the Texas heat with clippers or electric shears and get to work on the hollies, the boxwood, or anything else that needed trimming.

In his last months, even in his diminished health, he made arrangements to have a sprinkler system installed.  In fact, the day the installers arrived was just a few days after my husband died.  It was the last gardening chore he did, even if it was from the grave, and was one of the greatest gifts he ever gave me.

Nearly all of the plants and shrubs we placed in the beds of our then-brand-new house are still there today.  Every spring, when they begin to show off their colors anew, they are a reminder of the work we put in together to help make this new house a home.

Early spring brings the early bloomers: Clematis, Indian Hawthorn, Jasmine, azaleas, ornamental pomegranate, and the first "flush" of roses on Belinda's Dream, Maggie, and Knockout rose bushes.

Clematis next to the deck.  Gets shade from the Althea.
Took a few years to get established, but now a reliable bloomer.


Indian Hawthorn along the edge of the patio. It's a slow grower,
so it's located in the perfect spot.  

Jasmine loaded with buds, just starting to bloom
Jasmine on a trellis in full bloom.  This Jasmine experienced a hard cut-back and
was relocated a few feet over from its original spot, but took it
like a trooper and is now back in all her glory.

Pink var. Indian Hawthorn. Extremely slow grower!

Belinda's Dream, putting on her first "flush" of the season.

Belinda's Dream

Antique rose Maggie. Extremely fragrant but best left on the vine.
Not a vase rose.


Azalea bloom

Ornamental Pomegranate bloom.  If I let her, she'll set
small fruit in the summer.

A couple of years ago a friend who's also an avid gardener gave me three tiny little Yarrow (Achillea) seedlings. From these three seedlings has come a bed full of blooms!

Achillea just starting to bloom

Achillea in full bloom a week later

The same friend who gave me the Yarrow seedlings also brought me two Highway 290 Pink Buttons shrubs from the Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham.  I had three of these bushes years ago in a large bed filled with antique roses of all varieties.  But I had to dig that bed out and sod it with grass.  The neighbor behind me has out-of-control bamboo in her yard and it's all I can do to keep it at bay.  Part of that meant digging out that rose bed and sodding it.  I salvaged what roses I could, but had no place to relocate those Highway 290 Pink Buttons bushes and I regretted it later.  Now my new bushes are in patio pots and doing very nicely three seasons later.

My little Highway 290 Pink Buttons antique roses.  Doing
very well in posts on my patio.

The Bulbine in a few of my back beds seems to never stop blooming - well, okay, maybe for a couple of months in deep dark winter - but it continues its cheery, forgiving ways all through much of the year.  It's looking particularly lush this spring after a wet winter and is in dire need of division.

Bulbine gone nuts!  I lift and divide this every year.  It spreads quickly!

Once the roses put on their first "flush" of the season, it's only a matter of weeks before the daylilies begin their show.
Hemerocallis var. Amber Sunset

Hemerocallis var. Baby Bear

Hemerocallis var. Barbary Corsair (my favorite!)

Hemerocallis var. Chorus Line

Hemerocallis Var. Divine Decadence (partially open)
Hemerocallis var. Divine Decadence

Hemerocallis var. Mary Todd

Hemerocallis var. Red Volunteer

The daylilies will continue to bloom in stages over the next month and then take a rest.  A couple of the varieties I have in my garden will put out another round of blooms in late summer.  The Althea is looking thick and healthy and will bloom in late June and continue to do so until the first cold weather.

Once this spring show is over, it will be the long hot days of summer in Texas.  The next things to bloom will be the Nandinas, my monstrous Althea, and the Crape Myrtles.  The roses and the rose-family-related Althea will keep up the show all through the hot summer.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Go Far in Fargo

As I drove from St. Cloud to Fargo, I had to pinch myself occasionally, make sure that I was really here and that this wasn't a dream, that I really was getting ready to run state #49 half marathon!

I booked my hotel room months and months ago; I think it was booked even before registration opened up for the Fargo race.  The race starts and finishes inside the Fargodome and I wanted to make very sure that I had a hotel room within easy walking distance.  There are only three hotels near to the dome; all the rest are out on I-29, not within walking distance.

So when I received a phone call from the Day's Inn about a week before I departed on this trip, I wasn't surprised.  Was I still coming to Fargo?  Did I still plan to keep my reservation?  I'm pretty sure that call was prompted by an assault of last-minute calls from runners looking for a room.  I assured the caller that, Yes, indeed, I still plan to use my reservation for that room.

I arrived at the hotel very early in the afternoon on Thursday after driving from St. Cloud.  The weather forecast for race day had been changing during the week to cooler temperatures for Saturday, and I did not have a second layer to keep me warm at the start of the race.   I stopped at a Walmart and bought a man's polyester jacket on sale for $7 which should do the trick.

Once checked in, I walked across the street to the Fargodome, where the fitness expo and packet pickup were being held.  During the week leading up to the race, I'd decided to sign up for the 5k race to be held Friday night.  Doing so earns a finisher medal for the 5k and a Go Far Challege medal if I finish the 5k and the half marathon, for a total of 3 medals for the weekend.  Normally, registration for these combo races is done together, usually online. When I registered for the half marathon I didn't think to register for the 5k...I'm a dummy!

I picked up my half marathon race packet but when I found the registration desk for the 5k race, no one could answer my question: How will someone know that I qualified for the Go Far Challenge, since I didn't register for both at the same time?  No one had the answer.  Not the 5k race registration folks, not the Registration Questions desk, and not the Trouble Desk.  Feeling confident that there had to be a solution to this, I went ahead and registered for the race, and then brought my packets back to the hotel before going next door to the Applebee's for dinner.

Large selection of official race logo wear at the race expo

The next morning, I decided to walk back over to the race expo and see if anyone knew the answer to the Go Far Challenge question. It might be a new, more knowledgeable crew of volunteers, or maybe they will have been asked the question enough times that they now knew the answer.  And sure enough, the woman at the Trouble Desk didn't hesitate.  She looked me up in a computer and then pulled a decal out of an envelope and handed it to me, telling me to affix it to my half marathon race bib.  Problem solved!

I bought a foot-long Subway sandwich and ate half for lunch and tucked the other half into the minifridge in my room for dinner after the 5k.  I laid out my things for tomorrow morning's race and then spent the rest of the afternoon reading and surfing the 'net.

At 6:00 PM, I walked back over to the west side of the Fargodome and lined up with the 8,000 or so other folks to get ready for the start of the 5k.  It was a huge blob of people!  This is a fun run/walk, and the staging area was jammed!  They had several inflatable bouncy house type structures for the kids, some mascots from various schools and businesses mingling and posing for photos, and many families with kids and strollers crowding and milling about the start line area.  I was very glad to see this, as I had absolutely no intention of taking this race seriously.  I just planned to walk most of it and enjoy the sights.  In fact, I couldn't have run it if I'd tried!  Too many walkers and families to even attempt it.

5k done; just the half marathon left to do the next morning

It was invigorating to get out and do this walk.  We got to see a bit of the next day's half marathon course and the weather was spectacular!  Afterward, I returned to my room, changed into pajamas, and ate the other half of that Subway sandwich while watching TV.  Tomorrow morning is the main event!

Because of the later race start and the 11 AM check out from the hotel, I packed everything up and stowed it in the car first thing Saturday morning, and then checked out.  This morning was the coldest of my trip, but it was partly sunny and didn't feel as cold as the thermometer was reading. I'd already decided I wouldn't need that Walmart jacket, so had it packed up and in the car.

But as I started to head over to the dome, I began to have last minute second thoughts.  I had a fleece jacket which I wore the night before for the 5k, so I grabbed it. False alarm!  I ended up tying it around my waist, not needing it after all. But in the last couple of miles, when the sun went behind the clouds and we were running into a 15 mph headwind straight out of the north, I got chilled and was grateful to have it.

The full marathon runners started at 7:30 AM, and we half marathon runners started at 8:00 AM.  We lined up inside the dome and then shuffled our way toward the start line, which was just a few yards away from the ramp that led to the outside.  I tried to stay toward the back of the pack of runners, but as more and more runners moved down onto the floor of the stadium and got into the corral, I found myself too far forward.  I tried to sidle my way further back, but as the pack started to move, this became impossible!  So once we were outside and on our way, I stayed off to the side of the road so that the faster runners could get past me.

Within a mile of the start, I spotted a woman just ahead of me wearing a 50 States Half Marathon club shirt.  I picked up my pace to catch up with her, and we stayed together for the next 6 miles, until I needed to slow down to take in some Powergel and wash it down with water.

The route was very nice, winding through the NDSU campus and then heading south to the downtown area, We ran south into a pretty residential area, the mature trees arching over the road, and where lots of folks were out cheering us on along the route.  Then a turnaround at the halfway point, and we continued northbound on a parallel street, back into the downtown area, past the university campus, and then finally back into the dome to the finish line.

the race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

All weekend I kept missing opportunities to meet up with the other 50 States club members in town for the race.  I missed them at the 5k race start, I missed them at the group photo Saturday morning in the dome before the start of the race, but I didn't miss hearing them screaming my name and waving their arms from the bleachers inside the dome as I headed for the finish line.  Of course they're all much younger than I am and therefore much faster, so they finished their race and then waited to cheer me across the finish line.  I was very touched by this!

Entering the dome to cross the finish line.  Photo taken
by a fellow 50 State club member.  

State #49 is done!!  And a nice medal haul for the weekend as well!

The medal haul from two days of events:
half marathon medal, Go Far Challenge medal, 5k medal

Here's what that map looks like now...just one tiny little state in the upper right corner of the country is all that remains.

Next on my calendar:  a quick trip to San Diego to run the Rock 'n' Roll half marathon and to visit family for a few days.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Little Falls MN and Murals

I want to see the murals in Little Falls!

Browsing the sightseeing magazine in my hotel room, I spotted this day trip suggestion out of St. Cloud.  Just a leisurely River Road drive away, it was perfect for a lunch destination day trip.

It's very flat terrain along the Mississippi River between St. Cloud and Little Falls, and the river has a number of ess curves along this stretch, creating interesting peninsulas and oxbows.  I'm not too far away from the head waters of this iconic river, yet it still has a significant presence in this part of the state, wide enough to divide towns in half with good-sized bridges.

Little Falls is tiny but historic and is home to some significantly large outdoor murals.  It's also home to, of all things, a highly rated restaurant called A.T. The Black & White, sitting on 1st Street near the epicenter of the town.

I can't help but notice how reserved the "natives" are in this part of the country.  Interacting with them requires significant warmth to get them to respond with anything other than cool efficiency.  I'm not a native Southerner but do know how to turn on that charm to disarm them a bit.  Ah, that's more like it; there's that smile!

Blackened shrimp, pineapple wrap with fresh spinach, served with kettle chips.  Delicious!

The murals are the works of artist Frank Gosiak.  I found them easily after lunch, walking west on Broadway and across the Mississippi River bridge.  Two of the three murals are on the front and side walls of a large warehouse hard against the railroad tracks and the river.  Some really great trompe d'oleil effects, as the murals drew me right into the scene.

Frank Gosiak mural:  Main Street depiction

Frank Gosiak mural:  Logging industry depiction

I snapped the photos and then walked back across the bridge, first taking a photo of the river where it drops off the edge of the falls, and then continued down a side street to capture the view from the bottom of the short falls.  A dam was constructed here many years ago to capture the power of the river for saw mills but is today part of a hydroelectric plant.

Upstream of the "precipice"  That line is not the river bank, it is
the edge of the falls

The falls, now dammed to concentrate the power for hydroelectricity generation

Downstream of the falls

Along side the river is a very well-done veterans memorial.

Veterans Memorial, Mississippi River in background

The third mural was near the center of town on the side of an historic building at the corner of 2nd St and Broadway.
Frank Gosiak Mural:  "Door Into the Past" depicting evolution of the town into the present day

Pleasant visit to a little historic town, and it was time to head back to St. Cloud.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Lounging Around in St. Cloud MN

When I booked the Dakota races, I needed to also find a place to park myself for the week in between.  I scrounged around on Google maps, looking for someplace interesting to spend a few days.  My criteria were simple.  It needed to be in a walking town, with things to see and with a good coffee shop and several restaurants nearby.

Not too many options jumped out at me.  St. Cloud MN seemed to be the best option, a small town with significant college presence, sitting on the Mississippi River.  I found a wonderful all-suites hotel called GrandStay, right downtown.  Two room suite, full kitchen, free parking and best of all, within walking distance of everything.

So Brookings half marathon done and behind me, I had a nice dinner my last night in town, and then the next morning got into my car and drove through rural east SD and west MN to get to St. Cloud.    I checked in, investigated the amenities in the little kitchen en-suite, and then went back out to a nearby grocery store and bought provisions enough for my 4 day stay.  Fresh fruit, makings for fresh salads, fresh salmon, a nice steak, cereal, bananas, sandwich meat, crackers and snacks.  A nice salad and salmon for dinner and I was ready to call it a day.

My walking route

Unusual granite sculptures on W. St. Germain St in downtown.
St. Cloud is called the Granite City...it grew around the discovery
and subsequent quarrying of granite.

My first day in St. Cloud, I walked into town, stopping first at Peet's Coffee & Tea, and then continued on a more than 3-mile walk through the historic streets of downtown.  I walked a few blocks in the immediate downtown area, checking out the pretty county courthouse.

Stearns County Courthouse

Then I headed toward the paved trail that runs for a little ways along the Mississippi River.

Mississippi River from the west bank in St. Cloud

I walked back in the other direction to check out a really pretty park and lake not too far from the hotel.  

Really pretty flying geese water fountain on Lake George

The weather continued to be absolutely glorious.  Sunny without a cloud in the sky and temps in the mid 70's.  College students were sunning themselves on the soft, green grass in the park, and children were playing in the adjacent playground.   

Neat old house in the southside historic district

I walked back toward the hotel, stopping at the pizza shop across the street and picking up a personal size pizza to take back to the room for a late lunch.

Tomorrow:  Drive up to Little Falls for lunch and some murals.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Brookings SD Half Marathon - State #48!

It's Saturday morning at 5:00 AM and I'm desperate for a few more minutes of sleep.   Not a chance!  I must get up.  I must get ready to run this half marathon!

Fortunately, it's a small race in a very small town and the logistics from the hotel will be simple, even in the car.  I crawled out of bed and started getting dressed, pulling on my running gear and shoes, sipping a glass of water as I moved along, and then taking a few minutes to eat some Cheerios and a banana.

This far north the sun is well up in the sky at 6 AM and I had just a short 5 mile drive to parking at the far end of Pioneer Park just west of the main downtown area.  I lingered in my car, sipping some more water, then walked over to the portapotties - no lines....amazing!

Someone I know back home in TX felt certain that it was going to be very cold for my two races in the Dakotas.  I disagreed.  And I am pleased to say that he was very wrong. The weather was spectacular!!  Sunny, comfortable temperatures of 50 degrees at the start, then warming up to 69 degrees by the time I crossed the finish line.  Forecasts are for the same weather at next week's Fargo race.

As we lined up at the start, I could tell that this was going to be a very small race.  There was a cap of 600 runners on the half and full marathon.  I knew that the half had sold out, but don't think that the full was a sell-out.  It was a small little group of runners lined up to start.

We were sent on our way at 7:00 AM and within the first few blocks I was apparently bringing up the rear of the pack.  And then I heard the chase vehicle slowly idling along behind me.  Drat!  Another mile or so later I realized that the chase vehicle was no longer immediately behind me.  I looked over my shoulder and could see that it had fallen back a couple of blocks and was now behind another runner.  Thank goodness, I wasn't the very last runner - the caboose!

The race route was a revelation.  It dipped into a really pretty park and then continued on toward SD State University campus, running in among the buildings and exiting out on the north side before we continued east.
Pleasant and interesting race route through the streets and parks and neighborhoods of Brookings
Data from my Garmin GPS watch

Flowering trees were everywhere!  Mostly crab apple but many white flowering trees and shrubs as well.  The deciduous trees were just showing that faint blush of light green along their branch tops.

We crossed over the main road through town at about the midway point and then continued through really pretty residential streets until we reached a beautiful grassy park, where we picked up a paved trail that took us up to the top of the only hill in town.  It was a great view!

All I had to do was just keep plugging away and I knew I'd soon be at the finish line.  I have learned from many past races that many runners start out way too fast.  They let the excitement and adrenaline control their pace and then the wheels start to fall off for them in the last few miles.  So as I plugged along through miles 9, 10, 11, I began to overtake the runners in front of me, one by one, until I reached the finish line.   At least I wasn't last!  In fact, I came in third in my age group!!

Very happy to have state #48 done.

Finished at last, and a very nice finisher medal, too!

Very nice finisher medal for such a small race

I climbed into my car and headed back toward the hotel, stopping along the way for a cappuccino at Choco Latte Cafe, a great little coffee shop recommended the evening before by the waitress at Applebee's.

What my 50 States map looks like now:
50 States map.  Just a couple of little white spots to color in

Now to relax for a few days in St. Cloud MN before moving on to Fargo and my 49th state next weekend.