Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Month of May Happiness

May is our peak blooming season, a time of year when rains keep foliage lush and green, the blooms are heavy and rich with color, and gardens are at their very best. It's also when the anoles and other critters take over the patio and deck. Some years, baby raccoons and opossums can be seen skittering through my yard.

Yesterday I was sitting at my computer when I heard knocking at my sliding glass door. I looked over and could see my cat crouched and staring intently at something on the other side of the glass. Intrigued, I stood up and walked over and what did I see? This cute red-eared slider bumping along on the sliding glass door threshold, his shell knocking on the glass as he moved along. I grabbed my camera and got a couple of photos. Then he froze, withdrew into his shell, and I left him alone for a few minutes. I hoped I could catch him walking along, but in just those short few minutes, he'd recovered his courage and moved on. He was nowhere to be found.

Good-sized red-eared slider on my patio

When we first built this house in 1998, ours was one of the first houses on our cul-de-sac, and the rest of the lots were scraped down to just dirt in preparation for construction of the rest of the houses. With no grass, no brush, and no cover, the wildlife - specifically frogs, toads, lizards - had moved out of the area. So it was with great joy when, a couple of years later, the lizards began to show up in my backyard gardens and on my patio and deck.  They go into hibernation in the coldest winter months, so their appearance in late February-early March are always sure harbingers of spring.

An anole on my back fence in late February

This cute guy appears to be acting as sentry and lookout on my patio 
The blooming just keeps happening in both my front yard and my back flower beds. When my husband died, I purchased a Magnolia Little Gem and planted it in my front yard in his memory. He loved magnolia, being the true Southerner and Texan that he was. The little magnolia bush found its happy place in its new location and over the years has never failed to produce copious numbers of giant blooms.

It's definitely May when the magnolia is in bloom
The hemerocallis continue to really show off in my back flower beds. Here's Let's Pretend, easily the largest and lushest of all of my hemerocallis blooms. These are easily 7-8" across and float on scapes that are 20-24" tall. It blooms a couple of weeks after the earliest bloomers.

Hemerocallis var. Let's Pretend [back bed, next to crape myrtle]

Giant blooms on hemerocallis var. Let's Pretend
Here's another of the second-wave bloomers: Barbara Mitchell:

Hemerocallis var. Barbara Mitchell [against back wall, next to camellia]
Let's Pretend hemerocallis getting ready to bloom

Let's Pretend giant flower bud...let's see how it looks when it opens...
And here it is! Let's Pretend [back wall next to azalea]
I have a lovely Althea bush next to my deck. It always outperforms itself every year, putting out masses of beautiful double flowers. It is a white Althea and has given me white blooms every year since I planted it almost 16 years ago.

Lovely Althea bush next to the deck.

In the last few years, though, it has put out a few lavender flowers, which seem to always be on the same few branches. It must be a mutation that happened while the bush was growing and maturing. It's kind of unique and the lavender flowers are beautiful, with darker magenta throats and soft fluffy lavender petals.

The original Althea shrub bloom color - white.

The mutation on a couple of the branches, creating lovely lavender blooms.

And finally, in this latest spring wildlife and flower blog entry, I shall include the sad-sack tale of my dieffenbachia rescue plant. When my son and family moved away from Mandeville, headed to San Diego, they had to abandon a few of their larger potted plants on the front porch. When I was there helping them with their move, I didn't have it in my heart to let this dieffenbachia die, unloved and abandoned. So I brought it home and put it on my patio. I repotted it out of its original nursery container, and it survived very nicely for the next year and a half.

This past winter we had a lot of rain - drowning rain - and the poor dieffenbachia got seriously waterlogged. By the time I discovered it, it was too late. The leaves had all turned brown and were falling off, but I noticed that the two trunks were still green. So I left it alone, making sure it didn't get too much rain and had a chance to dry out a bit and recover. Then little green shoots started to appear on the trunks and at the base of the plant. Just like a phoenix rising from the ashes, this dieffenbachia will live again!

My dieffenbachia coming back to life!

In a few days I fly to San Diego to be with family. There may be a half marathon in there somewhere.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

On Being Domestic For A Few Weeks With Kitty

It's nice to be home for a few weeks after "going and doing" non-stop for the last month. It's also nice to be home during peak hemerocallis blooming season. So many times in past years I've been away and missed seeing my hemerocallis in full bloom!

Nyla appropriating the duffel bag I brought home from
the Flying Pig races.

The freezer, fridge, and pantry were really empty when I returned from my last trip. I'd not been grocery shopping in weeks, knowing I would be away for so long, and had pretty much eaten my way through whatever I had in the house. So the very next day after arriving home from Indianapolis, I made a shopping list and headed for the grocery store. Almost $200 later and my shelves are now stocked with what I've been craving while traveling: lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, ingredients for lots of healthy, home-cooked meals, and the joy of cooking for myself again.

It's nice to eat out once in a great while as a treat, but as a serious road warrior from many decades of travel, I can honestly say that I just don't enjoy regularly eating out at restaurants any more. It's so hard to find healthy, wholesome food on the menu, including fresh vegetables that haven't been cooked or steamed to within an inch of their usable lives.

And then there's that whole thing about the giant servings, of which I can only eat about 1/3 to 1/2. The frugal side of me really hates paying good money for all that food and then leaving it behind, but so often I have no way to keep it or heat it up if I bring it back to the hotel. While on the road I often find myself seeking out a Subway sandwich shop or a grocery store with a good, extensive salad bar and deli counter where I can buy a fresh meal and some fresh fruit to have on hand in the hotel room.

So having my kitchen back, having a fridge filled with fresh veggies and fruit, fish and chicken, frozen portions of homemade soup, brings me comfort and pleasure.

Split pea with turkey and wild rice simmering on the stove.

I made a giant batch of split pea soup and had a bowl for lunch that very same day. I love having portions of homemade soup in the freezer, handy to pull out and defrost in the microwave for lunch. I added 5 containers (10 servings) of pea soup to the freezer stash of beef barley soup I made after returning from Italy and the turkey rice soup I'd made before leaving for Italy.

A delicious lunch, and enough to be frozen for ten more lunches.

Lemon cookies!

And then I made a batch of lemon cookies. So good when warm out of the oven, and not too bad either when that sweet tooth starts craving something later.

May is hemerocallis bloom season here in south Texas. This is my favorite flower, next to roses, and they always put on a nice show in springtime. They beckon me to come outside with my camera and take photos of their happy, cheery faces in the morning light.

Amber Sunset

Amber Sunset

Barbary Corsair

Barbary Corsair clump
Chorus Line

Divine Decadence

Let's Pretend

Red Volunteer
The only one that has not yet sent up any flower scapes is my Baby Bear hemerocallis plant. It looks healthy, has new leaves coming up from its crown, but no scapes. Looking at last year's photos, I see that it bloomed at the same time as the others, so there's no telling what's going on with it this year.

My next trip is to San Diego to visit my son and family. But for now, I'm home for a while, just chillin' and enjoying having nothing to do, catching up with friends, doing some baking and some knitting!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Quick Trip to Run the Indy Mini

Thank goodness for having a big pile of frequent flier miles! Not only was I able to cobble together a quick trip to Cincinnati to run my most favorite race, the Flying Pig, I was also able to cobble together a quick trip to Indianapolis to run the Indy Mini half marathon. Another free plane ticket, another free stay at the airport parking lot, The Spot. Hooray! I was able to salvage my plans to run both of these races without being on the road for so many days and saved myself hundreds of dollars in travel expenses.

The travel went smooth as silk! My flight to Indy was at 1 PM, so I was able to leave the house late morning and avoid rush hour traffic. My reserved spot at The Parking Spot airport parking lot was waiting for me, the shuttle was right there waiting for me to unload my bag from the car and hop on, and before I knew it I was being dropped off at Terminal B at Bush Intercontinental Airport. I had just a short wait before the plane was loaded, and we arrived right on time into the beautiful new Indianapolis Airport.

Indiana's pretty capitol building

Checked into my room at the Marriott Courtyard, bag dropped at the room, I headed right back out for the pleasant walk to the convention center for the Expo and packet pickup. My route took me past the very pretty Capitol building in the heart of downtown Indianapolis. It has been years since I was in Indianapolis. Way back then it was for a medical convention and after getting our booth set up at the convention center, my co-worker and I snagged a couple of tickets for the football game that evening. I remember very little else about being in the city or working that particular convention but I do remember going to that football game and having a great time. A few former Texas A&M defensive players were playing for the Colts so it was fun seeing players I'd watched in college now play in the pro's.

Indy Mini Race Expo

Packet pickup

The Expo wasn't too crowded and I was able to quickly get my bib and event shirt, and then browse a little, but nothing caught my eye in the official logo-wear booth, and I was pretty much not interested in anything else, having just attended another big expo the week before in Cincinnati. Besides, this one didn't seem to have as much "hype" and as many vendors or cool free stuff as the Flying Pig expo.

The ubiquitous magnets!!

I walked back to the hotel and stopped in the bistro off the lobby and had dinner - a sandwich and a beer - before calling it a day.

Sleeping in the next morning seemed like a good idea, but by 9:30 AM I was dressed and downstairs having a cappuccino and breakfast sandwich. What to do next? The front desk clerk told me about a really nice up-scale food market just a block away. She suggested I might want to pick up lunch or dinner there. It sounded interesting so I made the short walk and then browsed the store a bit. It reminds me of Trader Joe's or Rice Epicurean with all of the prepared food counters and other selections. I bought myself some prepared chicken with green beans, potato wedges, and a roll for lunch and bought some cupcakes to bring back to the room.

50 States Half Marathon Club dinner meet-up at Hard Rock Cafe

That evening I walked to Hard Rock Cafe, where a group of fellow runners were meeting for dinner. We had a nice turnout, about 14-15 of us in all. I have to say that the Hard Rock burgers are massive! I could only eat about 1/3 of that burger and about 1/2 the fries and was wishing there was a way to bring it back to the room and save/reheat for lunch the next day.

Soldiers & Sailors Monument

Soldiers & Sailors Monument

On my walk back to the hotel I went through monument circle where the Soldiers & Sailors Monument is located. Such an elaborate monument, built in the late 1800's! The bricked plaza creates a roundabout and is rimmed with nice restaurants and shops, bricked road and sidewalks...very pretty. Several horse carriages were parked in the plaza, waiting for passengers.

As I continued walking down the side street toward the Capitol building, a carriage drawn by a very large draft horse - a Belgian or Clydesdale - was keeping pace with me. I admired the beauty and musculature of this giant horse as we walked along. When we got about 2/3 of the way down the block the horse suddenly whinnied - very loudly - and I confess I jumped a little. It was so loud! The horse then snorted, the characteristic "raspberry" sound made me smile inside. Horses are such beautiful yet strange creatures!

I returned to my hotel room and starting laying out the things I'd need for the race tomorrow: clothes, shoes, bib. Our running club members were all in different corrals so making plans to meet up the next morning was difficult. A few planned to meet at 7:30 AM for a group photo, but others of us weren't planning to get there so early.

Race day morning I was up at 6:30 AM, had a banana and some Cheerios for breakfast, then started to get ready. I discovered while checking the Indy Mini race app that I needed to be in my corral (Wave 4) by the 8:00 AM corral closure for an 8:15 start. So I left the hotel at 7:45 for the short walk to the start line area just behind the Capitol building and found the entrance to my corral, which was Corral V in wave four. In total, there were 26 corrals (A-Z) and five waves.

It was a long wait, but suddenly a whole bunch of beach balls appeared in the sky, bouncing off of unsuspecting heads and bodies. The next 15 minutes were spent either ducking or batting! Then, as each wave in front of us was sent across the start line, we moved up. Then....finally...our wave was turned loose to cross the start line.

In the first mile we ran across a bridge over the White River then past the Indianapolis Zoo, and then headed generally west. At about mile 2, Meb Keflezighi and his entourage (click to watch video) passed us to huge cheers and whoops from the runners! He started at the very back of all of the runners and then waved and cheered us on as he passed us all. Very cool! He has made himself so accessible to the running community!

While the first five or so miles were through mundane sections of the city, a little bit of urban blight here and there, the water stations - or Pit Areas as they were called - were large, frequent, and well-stocked and staffed. They'd hired cranes to hold the Pit Area banners up high so that we could see them from a distance. Nice touch!  There was plenty of entertainment along the race route as well. Bands, soloists, high school drum lines, line dancers, polka music players, square dancers, high school cheer squads.

Race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

Just before mile 6 marker, we turned into the tunnel under the stands to get into the Indy Speedway track. That was a really neat experience knowing that this was the tunnel through which all of the race staff and vehicles enter.

Then we were out on the inner pit access road for a few hundred feet before actually being fed onto the track itself. It was huge! When cars are traveling 200 mph around this track, it doesn't seem very long, but when you're running/walking, it seems to go on forever! We were put onto the track on the far side or corner of the south end of the track. Way off in the distance, we could see the spectator stands at the other end, a mile away. It looked way further away than that.

The track is completely flat on the straightaways, but I was surprised to see that it is ever so finely grooved but otherwise smooth and perfect. I finally got to the first corner of the turn and the track began to bank, but there was enough flat surface on the inner edge to avoid it. Some runners did move up the bank just for that experience.

As we came back down the other straightaway, I could see a scaffolding spanning the track, and photographers looking down, so I knew that had to be where the race track finish line was....the iconic bricks of the "brickyard." The photographers were there to snap our photos crossing that strip of red brick, and many runners including myself got down and kissed the bricks, a tradition performed by the winners of the Indy 500. Silly, but I knew I'd regret it if I didn't do that.

Then what seemed like another eternity, we finally exited the speedway and got back onto local streets and started our long four miles to the finish line.

Crossing Indy Mini finish line


There was plenty of food in the finishers' chute which was very impressive. Snacks, cookies, bananas, fruit cups. I grabbed it all! I thought about making my way to the beer tent, but then decided I was done, and that I'd just walk the short block back to the hotel. I grabbed a cappuccino from the coffee bar at the hotel and headed up to my room to snack on my goodies, eat my previously purchased cupcake and rest my feet for a bit.

Finisher medal, very cool replica of Borg-Warner trophy

Indy Mini is done! The medal was almost the sole reason for doing this race. That, and the fact that all of my running friends raved about this race. It is huge...the largest half marathon in the country at about 36,000 entrants. But astonishingly well-done for such a giant race. This was the 40th running of the race, and also happens to be just a couple of weeks before the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. The race finisher medal, a replica of the Borg-Warner Trophy, is a nod to that Indy 500 anniversary.

Now to get cleaned up, packed, and make a late departure from the hotel. Then I'll have a late lunch/early dinner at Panera while waiting for my Go Green shuttle to pick me up and take me to the airport.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Confirmed: Pigs Are Still Flying in Cincinnati

I love it when a plan comes together!

I was agonizing over whether to do this race or do the Indy Mini in Indianapolis, and was pretty certain I couldn't do them both, certainly not in one trip. But the chips all fell into place to at least get me to Cincinnati for the Flying Pig race. I can make a decision about the Indy race later.

Entrance to the expo

I arrived in Cincinnati right on time, at 10:30 AM, caught a cab into town and arrived at my hotel plenty early and planning to leave my bag with the valet for check in later. But, surprise! My room was ready, I was able to check in and put my bag in my room before walking across the street to the convention center and the race expo. Perfect!

No lines, yet, at packet pickup

The expo didn't open until 12:00 noon so I enjoyed a Starbucks at the hotel, sitting in their very pleasant space just off the lobby and checking my email until the expo opened. The lines weren't yet too long and I easily claimed my packets for both the 5K on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday.
Flying Pig cake pops...oh my!

Then it was on to the 3 Sweet Girls Bakery booth, the official bakery of the Flying Pig. Their official flying pig cookies and flying pig cake pops were high on my checklist. Cake pop safely tucked away in my purse, I moved onto the next must-do item on the list: snag some excellent Proctor & Gamble free stuff! The line was starting to snake its way through the roped-off zig-zag in front of the P&G booth. But the line moved quickly. I claimed a full-size package of Puffs (my favorite brand tissue), some Tide laundry pods, and a couple of packets of fabric softener beads. I don't use tampons or sanitary napkins, and Old Spice is not for me, so I passed on those items.

Always these cute balloons at the Flying Pig expo every year

I walked up and down the many aisles, visiting the many vendors. There were a few I wanted to make a point of visiting, one of which was the Running With The Amish Marathon booth. I'm registered for this race in late September and wanted to meet the organizers, check out the really cool finisher medals.
Brilliant idea! Goodwill booth at the expo

As I walked the aisles, I came upon a booth sponsored by Goodwill. Running wear, any item, $3 including tax. What a brilliant idea!! It's a common practice for many runners to go through their closets to find old clothing they can wear at the start line to keep warm and then discard once the race starts. But when they've exhausted their supply of discardable clothing they'll find a Walmart or Goodwill store and buy throwaway clothes. Usually Goodwill picks up all discarded clothing at races, launders all of it, and sells it in their stores. So there's no doubt that some of these items have been recycled more than once. And here is Goodwill, getting proactive and bringing the store to the expo! I browsed the racks just to check it out. It was all running clothes: shorts, shirts, long pants. Not too much in the way of long-sleeve shirts or jackets, which are the typical start-line throwaway items. But still...a very enterprising endeavor!

I went to the back of the hall, claimed my 5K and half marathon race shirts, my very nice Flying Pig gym bag, and then returned to my hotel room to drop off my items and have a late lunch at the hotel restaurant.
It wouldn't be Flying Pig without Abby Girl cupcakes

After lunch, I walked to Abby Sweets Cupcake shop to fulfill my tradition of buying post-race celebratory cupcakes. In past years I've taken them with me to Skyline Chili for a group lunch after the race. This year there will be no group lunch, but I will definitely deserve some post-race rewards.

Saturday morning 5K race went off without a hitch. It started and finished in the vicinity of the Cincinnati Reds Baseball stadium. Lots of runners and a lot of fun. I came in 13th out of 73 in my age group! Very happy with that!

Crossing finish line in 5K race

5K finisher medal; smaller version of the half and full marathon medals

Sunday morning half marathon race also went off without a hitch. I love this race so much! The excitement softens the 5:00 AM wake-up alarm to get out to the start line for a 6:30 AM race start. So much going on along the route that the miles just fly by!

Flying Pig race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

It helps, too, that the course takes lots of turns, goes over a big bridge into KY, across another bridge, and then a third giant bridge back into OH. And tons of spectators the entire route! Elvis, Batman, singers, musicians, snacks, all in addition to the very well-managed fluid stations every mile.

Crossing the finish line

And then there's that long downhill stretch back into the downtown area, to the finish line, er, finish swine. My time wasn't the greatest - it was very warm and humid - but I'm happy with it.

As always, a beautiful, 3D, two-sided medal


I made a beeline back to the hotel, got showered, dressed, packed and grabbed a cab to the airport for my 3:00 PM flight. I was plenty early and had time to eat a Subway sandwich. It was already a long day, and I still had a 2.5 hour flight, a shuttle bus ride to my car, and then a 40 mile drive home.

Even as I traveled back home, my mind began to work on how I could pull off a similar solution for doing the Indy Mini race the next weekend. I think I can do it! I would know better once I got home and could get onto my computer.

Stay tuned!