3 Tips for Easier Holiday Travel

Holiday travel doesn’t have to be a headache

Whether you’re traveling highway, sky, or rails, here are 3 tips for easier holiday travel that will help you navigate smoothly to your destination and allow you to relax with family and friends at the Thanksgiving table.

Things that can fudge your holiday: traffic, airport queues that wrap around the terminal, lost luggage, or worst of all a missed flight. Often with a little planning, these things can be avoided…or at least mitigated.

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5K in Every State – New Hampshire!

Hello, my dears, I’ve missed y’all! The winter season hit me hard this year and I’m guilty of having hibernated, procrastinated, and generally couch-potatoed. That is, until a couple of months ago. I got off my behind and started the Couch to 5K program again and checked New Hampshire off my 5K in Every State list. Ten states done. TEN. Can I get a woot woot!

10 states done! Only 40 more…

I did the 16th Annual Mont Vernon 5K which supports the Neighbor 2 Neighbor program serving Mont Vernon residents who find themselves needing help with necessities like groceries and heat. Don’t you just love when people help each other? That’s community.

While the scenery on this course was breathtaking, the run itself was nothing short of ugly. I did a run/walk interval and still felt like c.r.a.p. the entire time. In my defense, I’m not quite half way through the C25K program, and my time was 47:01. A real runner might scoff at that (it’s a full 20 minutes behind the fastest in my age group), but I’m proud of (and thankful for) finishing without assistance from the medics. Damn proud.

One of the many gorgeous views along the 5K course

As we lined up and awaited the start gun, I asked a couple with a baby in a jogging stroller if the course was fairly flat. They’re pushing a baby in a stroller, so the course can’t be too tough, right? Well, given the state in which this particular 5K was hosted, that was a nitwit question. It’s New Hampshire. No, the course is likely not flat. However, the couple looked at each other quizzically and said “there’s one big hill, but otherwise it’s pretty flat.” I thought to myself, wow, did I ever get lucky!

Pfft.

I wanted to hunt them down after the race, stroller and all, and explain how they needed to educate themselves on the definition of flat vs. G.D. lung-collapsing hilly. But, being the polite traveler I am, I didn’t. And maybe because it would be a half hour before I could breathe well enough to actually speak.

Shin splints and wheezing aside, it was awesome to have participated in this little local race supporting such a great cause. Mont Vernon was beautiful, the folks were friendly (although topographically confused), and they had a lovely Spring Gala happening along with the race. If you’re checking out small towns in New Hampshire, add Mont Vernon to your list.

General Store in Mont Vernon, NH

But, the real reason for my visit to The Granite State, the OG, was to celebrate a friend receiving her law degree. Completing law school is an impressive accomplishment in and of itself, but the Fabulous Miss M did this after having been in the workforce for…a certain number of years. She had a wonderful network of friends and family supporting her, but I know from personal experience the drive, commitment, and forgone sleep it takes to complete a degree as an adult. Congrats, dear friend, you never fail to impress.

With the graduate. I liked it better when we lived in the same state!

Do y’all have that one friend who knows exactly how to make everyone feel welcome? Whose home feels like home. This is that friend, and it was an incredibly lovely weekend spent with she and her husband, and a load of family, friends, babies, kids, and dogs. The food was potluck exquisite, and it went on forever! You know, when every guest brings the most amazing dish? It was that times a hundred. And with beer. And a bonfire. The weekend could not have been better.

Two of the FOUR pork butts slow cooked on the smoker. #drooling

The bonfire came in handy against the dreaded Mayflies. Next time I’ll visit in June!

I came home after this long weekend feeling recharged having reconnected with friends. When I think about the folks in Mont Vernon hosting a race each year to raise funds for their Neighbor 2 Neighbor program, I see that same spirit in the circle of friends around my New Hampshire peeps. The genuine kindness that exuded from this group was palpable. New Hampshire, the 10th state on my list, was host to a great trip. Beautiful vistas, really good food, and awesome people!

Cheers!
Kelly

5K in Every State: South Carolina!

The year nearly got away from me without tending to my 5k in every state quest. Yikes! Most of 2016 was consumed with a crazy load at work, my move into an older home (read: I now exist solely to do home repair and yard work), and helping my Mom transition from independent living to assisted living. It’s been a blur…and I’m not talking about my running, because truth be told, I usually walk anyway.

Now that the chaos has quieted, and realizing I hadn’t had a vacation yet this year, I took off to Myrtle Beach, SC for a long weekend with a couple of good friends and, of course, my sweet Grace. I’ve been living in North Carolina for 16 years and had never been to Myrtle. Crazy. From what I’ve heard, Myrtle Beach is a love-it or hate-it kind of place depending on your level of intro- or extraverted-ness. I wander from one camp to the other, so I went with no expectations.

Seven states done!

Since Miss Grace was traveling with us, I booked early to secure a dog-friendly room. Sidebar: there is a huge opportunity out there for nice, dog-friendly hotels. Seriously, the first entrepreneur who realizes that people traveling with their dogs (over 20 pounds) deserve a clean, well-maintained hotel room just the same as people sans pets is going to become a billionaire. But for now, it appears that the equivalent of a dilapidated EconoLodge is what we have to work with. Sigh.

Even though I booked our room well in advance, Hurricane Matthew said “No, no, no!” Yep. The storm hit a week prior to our arrival, but I received an email from the hotel stating  “the coast is clear!” So to the beach we went. Much to our dismay, the coast was not clear. The hotel was damaged. I stood in line for an hour to check in to a room I did not reserve. A room without an ocean view and without two beds. One of our group was sent to a property six blocks away. The three of us, four counting Grace, spent much of our long weekend playing musical rooms and a new game I call “stump the shuttle driver” before it was all sorted out. But we had lots of laughs–I mean my cheeks and belly hurt kind of laughing–and enjoyed the weekend anyway. Put three ladies at the beach next to a great burger joint with a few beers and voila! You can’t stop the laughter!

Speaking of burgers, if you want a seriously good one, I highly recommend River City Cafe. A hefty menu–more burgers than I knew existed, incredibly reasonable prices, and delish. Don’t get all gussied up because you’ll be walking on peanut shells and craning your neck to read the license plate covered walls. Your server will get your beer and your burger with a smile, but she’s not going to take your jacket. Anything more than a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops is unnecessary.

Burger at River City Cafe

And the weekend begins!

Saturday morning was the run, which was a one-miler that I did with Grace. That’s right, not a 5k at all. This is my bucket list, so I call Lady’s Choice! We were up early and off to The Market Common where we ran the Doggie Dash to benefit the Grand Strand Humane Society. This was Grace’s first run that involved other dogs, many other dogs, and she did great! She trotted her little behind off, sometimes gently pulling me along. We had to stop a few times for me to catch my breath because it’s been a while since I’ve done anything more strenuous than get the mail. The important thing here is that we finished; not record time, but somebody’s got to be at the back of the pack, right?

We finished!

My second recommendation if you’re in Myrtle, especially if you’re traveling with your pooch, is the The Market Common, which is a mixed-use development with shops, movie theater, restaurants and pubs, residential living space, and a beautiful park complete with a pond. No big, you say? These things are everywhere? Well, yes. However, at this particular shopping center, the stores allow dogs! It was travel-with-your-dog-heaven! Charming Charlie, Chico’s, Handpicked, everywhere we went, Little Miss was allowed in the store and browsed right along with us. Awesome. Sauce. Here’s a shot of HRH refusing to play giant chess at The Market Common. Perhaps she thinks she is, quite literally, the Queen.

The Queen

Sunday we headed to Murrells Inlet and checked out the Marsh Walk. Another thing on the “highly recommend” list. The Marsh Walk is a 1/2 mile wooden boardwalk along the waterfront and natural saltwater estuary.

An egret on the Marsh Walk

There are plenty of restaurants along the way. We took a seat at Wicked Tuna, which is at the southern end of the boardwalk. Spectacular view, cold beer, and damn good food. Grace was a trooper and found some shade at our feet beneath the table while we relaxed and enjoyed the afternoon.

Shrimp Tacos at Wicked Tuna

My favorite little gingerbread pup

No beach post is complete without gorgeous sunrise and sunset photos. That is, after all, the reason one goes to the beach. Seeing that giant ball of hydrogen peak over the horizon and come to life, bringing the world with it, exhilarates me.

Sunrise on the beach. I love it!

Then, when it settles in for the evening, seeming to dip into the water and wrap the world in shades of crimson and magenta, it comforts me.

Sunset on the beach is soothing.

Back to my earlier statement that people either love or hate Myrtle, I say no matter what your taste, where there’s a beach, there’s food for the soul. Add a couple of dear friends, and you have the perfect place no matter where you are.

Cheers!
Kelly

5K in Every State: Alabama!

After the run through Panola Mountain State Park in Stockbridge, Ga and a beautiful dinner in Atlanta on Saturday, we hit the road Sunday morning in search of breakfast. As noted in “5K in Every State – Georgia!” we found the best little diner ever. We got off track a bit and didn’t leave there until nearly 12:30. Um, that’s a 2.5 hour delay! But, it was the last day of the tri-state tour, and by this point we were pretty chill about the whole thing. Here is what Sunday’s schedule looked like:

SUNDAY
10:00 On the road to Birmingham (we messed that up)
11:15-4:30 (time change to CDT) Explore Birmingham (turned out to be 3:00-4:30)
5:30 Magic City AIDS Walk & 5K Fun Run
7:00 Dinner

We pulled into town a little behind schedule, but still had time to poke around. We saw the 16th Street Baptist Church (from the outside), and stepped across the street to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. It’s tough to put into words the flood of emotions as I walked through, saw, and read. Anger, sorrow, heartbreak, shame, overwhelming sadness. But it felt right to feel those things. If you are ever in Birmingham, please see this. I cried a lot, as I suspect many people do while visiting this museum. This is a horrific part of our Nation’s history, but it should not be forgotten. In my opinion, we can only move forward by learning from the past, which means we should never forget.

16th Street Baptist Church was Birmingham's first black church to organize in 1871.
16th Street Baptist Church was Birmingham’s first black church to organize in 1871. The current church, however, was built in 1911.

The Bham run was the Magic City AIDS Walk & 5K Fun Run to benefit the Birmingham AIDS Outreach organization. It was held at Railroad Park, which is a beautiful park in an area that is experiencing some development. Lots of apartment/condo/townhouse type buildings going up with a handful of little restaurants and a brewery nearby.

I’m going to be up front about this–there was absolutely no chance I was going to run one step of this race. After two runs in two days, I could barely move. I felt like I needed a six-hour yoga class followed by a couple hour sports massage. Since I was going to walk it, and barely walk it at that, Kathy joined me for this one. I’m glad she did, because we were so slow that the event volunteers and police officers all left the course while we were still out there! I’m sure they had no idea we were that far behind. But there we were, walking through a deserted warehouse district on a Sunday evening in a city to which neither of us had ever been. The sun was just beginning to set as we returned to the park to see volunteers hauling tables and coolers away. No party here, folks. The race was done.

The sun setting on Railroad Park in Birmingham.
The sun setting on Railroad Park in Birmingham.

Surprisingly, we had a tough time finding a restaurant that was open on Sunday evening. I thought that was odd for a city of over 210,000, but we finally happened upon Babalu Tacos & Tapas. It was on the printed list given to us at the hotel, and that alone put me in a skeptical sort of mood. I figure if a restaurant has to depend on a hotel to provide its customers, they’re likely not reeling them in on their own merit. But oh, how pleasantly surprised I was. Babalu had sort of an urban, upscale garage vibe (actual garage doors for walls and lots of flannel and man-buns), and we were accidentally given complimentary queso & chips when we sat down. Already off to a smashing start!

The food was good. I had shrimp and grits, and the grits were different from any I had ever tasted. They were way cheesier–somewhere between a salmon color and baby aspirin orange–and the granules were larger than what I consider normal grits. It was tasty. They also had a great drink menu. I tried the CAT 5 which involved Cathead vodka, mint, agave nectar, soda, lime and bitters. That thing was amazing! It was like a Mojito, but a thousand times less sweet. I seldom drink liquor drinks, but I wasn’t driving, so I drank that one and swiftly ordered another. Our server told us they are planning a store in Charlotte, so heads-up to my Charlotte friends–keep your eyes peeled for Babalu!

Our flight was at 10:30 the next morning, and on our way out of town Monday we drove up to Vulcan Park to see the original iron man. According to the Vulcan Park & Museum, “Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge, watches over all of Birmingham as a symbol of the city’s iron origins–and the ever-present spark of its indomitable spirit.” It’s an impressive iron statue of a muscular, burly man with a bare bottom. He is 56 feet tall, and with the brick pedestal he reaches 173 feet. Vulcan is the largest cast iron statue in the world. We didn’t have time to check out the museum, but I did get to walk around the grounds and take in the view of the city below. That might be just as impressive as the iron guy himself.

Vulcan, a symbol of the nation's iron and steel industry, was cast in 1904 and weighs 50 tons.
Vulcan, a symbol of the nation’s iron and steel industry, was cast in 1904 and weighs 50 tons.

The view from Red Mountain at the feet of Vulcan. Breathtaking!
The view of Birmingham from Red Mountain at the feet of Vulcan. Breathtaking!

Since we’ve never heard of a pilot holding the plane for folks to sight see, Kathy was waiting in the car with the motor running. I hopped in and just like that our tri-state tour had come to a close. It was a whirlwind for sure, and I wish we had more time in each city, but I’m thankful for seeing what I saw, for the good food and drink, and for the wonderful company. This 5K-in-every-state thing may not be so bad…except for the running!

Cheers!
Kelly

Tip: See the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Tip: Visit Railroad Park, 19 acres of downtown green space, and Vulcan Park & Museum. There is so much I did not see at Vulcan Park (the observation deck and the museum), but it’s worth the twisty-windey drive up the hill just for the panoramic view of the city below.
Tip: Eat at Babalu Tacos & Tapas and while you’re there, throw back a CAT 5 liquor drink!

 

 

5K in Every State: Georgia!

The second stop on the great tri-state 5K tour was Georgia. We had lunch in Chattanooga Saturday, and as scheduled, hit the road to Stockbridge, GA (just outside of Atlanta) at 1:30. Hotlanta, ready or not!

Saturday’s schedule looked like this:

SATURDAY
9:00-1:30 Explore Chattanooga & Lunch
1:30 On the road to Stockbridge, GA
5:00 AWARE Panola Mountain State Park Night Owl 5K
6:15 On the road to Atlanta
7:00 Check in at hotel
8:00 Dinner reservation with a friend in Atlanta

We hit traffic again through Atlanta, but got to Panola Mountain State Park in plenty of time for me to check in and pin my bib. This run was put on by AWARE (Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort), and there were a few critters there to welcome us–a barn owl, a hawk, and something in a cage I didn’t get my eyes on. These birds were impressive creatures.

Windy Sue Whoo is a Barn Owl whose right wing was permanently injured by a homeowner who thought she was a threat to the family cat. Windy now lives at the AWARE center.
Windy Sue Whoo is a Barn Owl whose right wing was permanently injured by a homeowner who thought she was a threat to the family cat. Windy now lives at the AWARE center.

It is an understatement to say that Panola Mountain State Park is picturesque. It is a 1,600-acre park with pavilions, picnic shelters, campsites, fishing lakes, bridges, and flat out breathtaking natural beauty. It’s a quick 30 minutes South of Atlanta, and I highly suggest you check it out. There are paved trails, so you don’t need to be a seasoned hiker to enjoy the beauty.

Paved trails at Panola Mountain State Park. I had hoped the entire course would be flat like this, but it was not so!
Paved trails at Panola Mountain State Park. I had hoped the entire course would be flat like this, but it was not so!

There were volunteers stationed along the run with more wildlife. How cute are these two?
There were volunteers stationed along the run with more wildlife. How cute are these two?

Picture-perfect views at every turn.
Picture-perfect views at every turn.

For an experienced runner, this course was probably cake even in the rain. For little old, non-runner me who had fully run only her second 5K the day before, my legs said it was out of the question. So I ran the flats and the downhills, walked the uphills, and stopped to take lots of pictures. My time was 44:59 (6th of 10 in my age group–not too shabby), which is about what my time was the first time I completely ran a 5K (without walking or taking pics). Hmph.

Feeling pretty darn good post-race!
Feeling pretty good post-race!

It was nearly 6:30 by the time we hopped in the car (15 minutes behind schedule–gasp), but we had a dinner reservation and I surely wasn’t going to show up rained on and muddy. We checked into the hotel, I showered myself back to human, and off we went to dinner at Lure, a seafood restaurant to please even the foodiest of foodies. I had the Whole Bramlett Farms Trout which was done to perfection. Trout is a tricky fish to prepare, in my opinion, because when it is filleted in half, it is thin and there is a fine line between fully cooked and over cooked. It’s easy to end up with a slightly dry, but still tasty, piece of fish. The chef at Lure prepared the Trout whole, which allows the fish to be cooked through and retain its moisture. Our server de-boned it table-side, which was a show in and of itself, and the result was a flaky, tender, and tasty fish that wasn’t even in the neighborhood of dry. It was a treat.

It was good to catch up with my Atlanta peep. The three of us ate, drank, talked, and laughed. It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed so much, and it was good for my soul. But after one large fish, a little dessert, and a couple of libations, it was once again time to rest my aching bones–remember, this was my second 5K in as many days. The AWARE Night Owl 5K was by far the coolest run I’ve done so far, and there’s nothing better than spending time with friends. This crazy trip was turning out to be pretty darn good.

My head no sooner hit the pillow and I swear it was daylight and time to find our way to some breakfast. Kathy suggested we do the old fork-and-knife-icon-on-the-phone trick, and we hit the jackpot at an awesome little place off the beaten path. We weren’t too far outside of Atlanta when we happened upon the Thumbs Up Diner. If you lived there, this is the place you’d have breakfast every Sunday. I had the Greek Scramble which checked off both of my breakfast boxes: delicious and big. Bonus: my tab was $7.44. Seriously. This is the kind of place where the servers wear their street clothes and the only thing that distinguishes them from everyone else is how quickly they’re moving.

Thumbs Up Diner. No-nonsense good food!
Thumbs Up Diner. No-nonsense good food!

Our bellies were full, and Atlanta was in our rear view. Next stop, Birmingham!

Cheers!
Kelly

Tip: Take a stroll through Panola Mountain State Park and bring your camera!
Tip: Stay at the Atlanta Marriott Suites Midtown. Modern, spacious, clean, and a full-service lobby bar.
Tip: Breakfast at the Thumbs Up Diner. Great breakfast/cheap eats.
Tip: Dine at Lure. Excellent seafood, and you must sample the pistachio ice cream. Out. Of. This. World!

Cheers!
Kelly

5K in Every State: Tennessee!

I’m on this quest to run a 5K in every state, and I’m not really a runner. For those just tuning in, I was diagnosed with Stage IIB breast cancer, which was a frightening and life-changing event, but I’m now 2 ½ years cancer-free and working on my Life List. Most would call it a bucket list, but that term doesn’t sit right with me, so Life List it is. I needed to inject some exercise into my sedentary life, and I missed traveling something awful, so I decided to throw “5K in every state” on the List. Stay physically fit and see the entire country while I do it. Super!

I knocked out a few states right off the bat: my first 5K was in my home state of North Carolina, next was a nice little trail run in Wisconsin while visiting family, and then I took a long weekend to South Beach with a friend and did a 5K through the Miami Zoo. How cool is that? But that was all a while ago, and if left unchecked, I’ll fuse to the sofa before you can say Netflix. A good friend told me I better get moving, and so I did.

My Wisconsin run near Madison was beautiful!
My Wisconsin run near Madison was beautiful!

I planned a ridiculous “three 5Ks in three states in three days” trip, and I actually convinced a friend to join me. Truthfully, she took pity on me. This junk isn’t even on her list, so she’s crazier than I am, right? I joke. Kathy made it clear she was not running anywhere, but she was coming along to have fun (yay!), and to be sure I didn’t get lost somewhere on my way from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Chattanooga to Atlanta, or Atlanta to Birmingham. Basically, to be an awesome friend.

So I sent her the itinerary and off we went. Kathy confessed at the close of our tour that she thought I had lost my marbles and there was no way that schedule was going to fly, but it did. Mostly. The one fault in my planning was not allowing enough time for the beast that is called Atlanta. The airport. The Disney-long line at Thrifty car rental. The TRAFFIC. So we were behind schedule from the get-go. Here’s what the first day was supposed to look like:

FRIDAY
1:15 PM Land at ATL
1:45 On the road to Chattanooga, TN
4:00-6:45 Check in at hotel and explore Chattanooga
6:45 On the road to Dayton, TN
8:00 YMCA Funky Monkey 5K in Dayton
9:00 On the road to Chattanooga
10:00 Dinner in Chattanooga

Since we were a couple of hours late out of Atlanta, we didn’t get to see Chattanooga at all on Friday. We blew into town and barely had time to drop our bags at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, change into running gear, and hit the road to Dayton 45 minutes North for the YMCA Funky Monkey 5K Glow Run. The Choo Choo was a disappointment, but the only let-down of the entire trip, so success in my book. I had great expectations for the train depot once called Terminal Station turned vacation complex in 1973 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The lobby, which is what used to be the old train station, is gorgeous. Hotel 3—not so much. Once you are welcomed into the grand opulence of the hotel lobby, you are given a map, directed to get in your car and travel to Hotel 1, Hotel 2, or Hotel 3, none of which looked anything like a train station. Hotel 3 brought to mind “Orange is the New Black.” But we weren’t spending much time there anyway, so what the heck.

Hotel 3
Hotel 3. How’s that for warm and inviting?

We drove into Dayton with just enough time to circle around town searching for the race, to ask directions from folks who could not comprehend that we were not from there and had no idea where 3rd Street, the florist, or the funeral home were, and finally made our way to the event. Persistence. I got my glow on (one yellow tube around my neck—the Y kids wrapped themselves head-to-toe), and pop went the start gun! This was an 8pm run on a flat course with a cool temp. I ran the entire 5K (only the 2nd time ever) and came in with my best time ever by 10 minutes with a time of 33:57! I never thought I would do better than 40:00. I struggle that much. But, no time for celebrating–I caught my breath, and we high-tailed it back to Chattanooga to the Terminal Brewhouse for some food and drink. After running 3 miles, inhaling a hefty black bean burger and a glass of red wine, Hotel 3 didn’t seem so bad.

Terminal Brewhouse in Chattanooga
Terminal Brewhouse in Chattanooga

The next morning we finally saw a little bit of the city. Chattanooga is nestled in a valley between the Appalachian Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau with a population of about 175,000. We checked out Coolidge Park which is part of the Tennessee Riverwalk, a 15-mile long public greenway that runs along the Tennessee River. The park is beautiful with a 100-year-old restored carousel and an interactive water feature. The Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge is near the park entrance, and you get a great view from the bridge.

 

A view of Coolidge Park from the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge
A view of Coolidge Park from the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge

Looking across the Tennessee River from Coolidge Park
Looking across the Tennessee River from Coolidge Park

While we were at the park, we happened upon the Skyhoundz Word Championship disc competition, which had me beside myself, and then one of the competitors was a rescue dog! I had to take a moment and pull myself together. Seriously. Those dogs were incredible!

One of the competitors at the Skyhoundz World Championship disc competition
One of the competitors at the Skyhoundz World Championship disc competition

From there we walked to an adorable little art gallery, Tangerinas, and then drove to the Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar. If you remember nothing else, remember this. We dined on the deck overlooking the Tennessee River and the Riverwalk. The menu was vast, with lunch options from a $6 Wedge Salad to a $30 Wood Grilled Rib Eye. The Catfish Poboy dialed my number. It was served with slaw and fries, and I added Wood Fired Okra. You need to pay attention here: if anyone ever offers you wood fired okra, you take it and you never look back! That stuff was plain good food. It had the smokey wood-fired flavor, was slightly charred, and had a pinch of salt and olive oil. It was tender, it was flavorful, it was delicious. I can’t say enough about it. The catfish was excellent, and my meal was around $15 (because I added the okra). The place was fairly busy, yet the owner came over to check on our food and ask if we had been before and where we were from. He then came back a few minutes later to chit-chat, and then the chef came out to see if we were enjoying our meal. For $15! Repeat in your mind over and over “Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar…Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar…”

Catfish Poboy with Wood Fired Okra at the Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar
Catfish Poboy with Wood Fired Okra at the Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar. If you are in Chattanooga, you need to check out the Boathouse!

No sooner did we finish lunch and it was time to make our way back to Atlanta because the itinerary said so. I can’t say enough about Chattanooga and wish we had more time to take it all in. It is gorgeous! I’d love to go back some day, but I’ve got 44 5Ks in 44 other states and just two legs. Next up is Atlanta!

Cheers!
Kelly

Tip: Eat at the Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar and the Terminal Brewhouse, but if you must choose, definitely the Boathouse.
Tip: Check out Coolidge Park along the Tennessee River with a restored historic carousel and interactive water feature. It sits below the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge from which you can enjoy a beautiful view of the park and the city.
Tip: Check out Tangerinas studio across from Coolidge Park. An aunt/niece duo making art from recycled materials. I little piece came home with me!

 

Chicago: A 5K Fail

Things don’t always go as planned, especially when weather is a factor. Two dear friends from back home met me in Chicago to a) catch up, visit, eat, drink, giggle, and generally be silly; and b) walk a 5K together, along with my sister who lives nearby. The three of us girlfriends are cancer survivors and we thought walking the Annual Cancer Survivors’ Walk & 5K at Grant Park together would be grand. What could be better than a weekend in Chicago with old friends and another state checked off my “5K in Every State” list?

From the time we arrived until the time we disbursed, it rained. Sometimes it poured, but it never sprinkled. It was 48 degrees on our way to the walk, which isn’t all that cold, but add to it bone chilling wind and the fact that we were soaked, and it was nothing short of miserable. We were terribly under-dressed in our layered shirts and light jackets. The Chicagoans were wearing North Face winter coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. We had umbrellas.

Rain and fog
It was raining when we arrived

Rain and fog at Grant Park
And it was raining when we left

Since I visit the area often, I suggested we skip the walk and I would hit up the Land of Lincoln for a 5K another time. It took a hot second for everyone to agree. According to the race results, 315 people ran. I applaud them. Loudly. But it wasn’t for me. When I did the Trample the Trails 5K in Wisconsin, it was 36 degrees at race time. No wind, no rain, no problem. Well, I say no problem now; it took me nearly an hour to finish that one. But you get what I mean. It was not miserable.

So we hung out at Navy Pier until a big yellow taxi took my friends away, back to their homes and families and routines. But not before we got some good girl time in: food, shopping, food, wine, food, and lots of laughing.

Ferris wheel at Navy Pier
Navy Pier in the rain

The three survivors, enjoying the great indoors!
The three survivors, enjoying the great indoors!

That’s what the weekend was about anyway–celebrating life, friendship, and family. So really, this was not a 5K fail, it was some special time with my dear friends who just happen to be cancer survivors too. Cheers to us, ladies!

Kelly

5K in Every State: Florida (welcome to Miami!)

My first 5K of 2015 was in Florida–at the Miami Zoo. I was super excited to pull out my Life List and knock out another race in another state! I invited one of my friends to join me, so off to Miami Beach Mel and I went.

Before I get too far into this story, let me come clean about something. I went to Florida to do a 5K, and these are the things I forgot to pack:

Sport bra, arm band, ear buds, mini backpack
Things I forgot to pack. For a race.

No arm band or ear buds for music, no sport bra (a must-have; there was shopping), and no micro pack. Do you know what that means? I carried my purse. I carried my purse while interval running 3.1 miles. What is wrong with me?

Back to the story.

We stayed in the historic Art Deco District of Miami Beach, and the architecture was beautiful. Miami Beach was beautiful. The weather was beautiful! My opinion of Florida has forever changed. I have been to Orlando several times and never saw the draw, but I should know better than to judge an entire state based on one city. Shame on me. Anywho, as soon as we dumped our luggage at the hotel, I started snapping some photos.

The Kent Hotel on Collins Avenue, built in 1939, is one of my favorites. I love the right angles, smooth planes, and softly curved corners. Gorgeous!

The Kent Hotel on Collins Avenue
The Kent Hotel on Collins Avenue

Mural on building on Collins Avenue
Mural on Collins Avenue

Condos at 226 Ocean Place
Condos at 226 Ocean Place

On our second day, we got up long before the crack of dawn, rustled up the valet to fetch the car, and headed to the race at the Miami Zoo. We arrived under the cover of darkness and yawned as the sun came up. I don’t think the animals were even awake yet. It was a small group for the race…maybe 50 runners. We saw gazelle, rhinos, and tortoises. And a couple of zebras in the parking lot.

Mel and Kelly wearing zebra masks pre-race
Zebras in the parking lot!

We did run/walk intervals, me carrying my purse, and my time was right on par with the one instance when I ran the entire 3.1 miles. So, you know running just went out the window. I struggle in humidity more than if I’m back home in dry Wisconsin. Not to be confused with the alcohol situation in Wisconsin–I am not saying it is a “dry state.” It is #3 in the nation for bars per capita, but I’m getting off topic. My point is, the air in Miami was moist and it made for a soupy run. Regardless, I’m just happy to have crossed the finish line!

Once the race was done, we motored back to the beach. I had no idea when I booked the trip that we were hitting South Beach during Gay Pride weekend. What a parade! Literally! We had a front-row seat, complete with fishbowl drinks, to a two-hour rainbow parade. Now that’s a mini-vacay! It was heartwarming to see the many banks, medical facilities, travel agencies, realtors, schools, churches, and so on marching in support and showing a whole lot of respect and kindness.

Shirtless man with life size blow up green alien
I love a parade!

Kelly with a fishbowl margarita glass of beer
My beverage for the parade. You can take the girl out of Wisconsin…

After the parade we hit the Lincoln Road Mall, which is a pedestrian-only shopping area that covers approximately six blocks. Shopping, cafes, and bars. I scored a chicken empanada at the farmer’s market–a scrumptious little treat between boutiques.

Chicken empanada with glossy pastry crust
Look at the glossy pastry crust on that empanada!

We had some good and tasty meals, but the place that won’t leave my mind is the Puerto Sagua restaurant on Collins Avenue. An authentic Cuban diner with food that’ll make you miss home even if you’re already there. Know what I mean? It is comfort food all. the. way. Expect a line stretched out the door, but it is worth the wait. I had the daily special which was baked chicken with rice, beans, and fried plantains. I don’t think I spoke the entire meal. Mel and I split an order of yucca fries, and they were served with garlic sauce that was so good it was startling. I mean SO good! This is not a fancy joint; it’s what I call a greasy spoon. If you’re squeamish about that stuff, get over it because you are missing some good nosh.

Bottle of cervesa hatuey, cuban beer
My first Cuban beer (although it has been brewed in the U.S. since 1995). It was a little heavier than I prefer.

This was a quick weekend trip, mostly for the purpose of checking off another 5K from my list, but also for a little R&R. Miami is a late city–most folks rise late and stay out late. We hit the beach one morning and got to relax in the sun with the ocean sounds lulling us into a sedated-like state of being. We were nearly the only ones out there.

Feet in sand, ocean, sunshine
Post-breakfast relaxing

I have to give a shout out to my friends and family for all of their support already through this crazy Life List of mine. My friend, Kim, ran next to me through my first 5K in North Carolina; my nephew and his family cheered for me at the finish line in Wisconsin; and my friend, Mel, hauled herself to Florida to run with me. I predict I’ll do some races solo, but I see many more friends and family members hitting the pavement with me in the days ahead. If you know me, get your running shoes on, because here I come!

Cheers!
Kelly

 

5K in Every State: WI (and a trip to Door County)

~update at bottom of post~

Long story short, I finished the 5K! Woot woot! And even better, no search & rescue! BUT, before the running there was camping. I know, you’re thinking either I really hit my noggin or had some bad mushrooms on my salad. I’m not a camper; I pretty much have a no-camping rule, but I can be talked into just about anything once. So off I went to Door County to camp with my nephew and his family. In Wisconsin. In October.

Although I don’t see myself doing the camp-out thing again, I had a great time and it was good to see the fam. It was simply too cool for my comfort. The verbiage was different when I stepped out of the shower on day 2, but for the purposes of this blog, it was “too cool for my comfort.” Cell signals don’t exist out there, so I wasn’t able to check the temp, but I took a peek at the forecast before I arrived which said 50 daytime and 30s at night. I’m pretty sure we didn’t hit 50.

Keeping the fire burning
Nephew keeping the fire burning

The campfire was stoked, food grilled, and beer sipped. We even had live music with my niece playing guitar and singing. I brought my ukulele and she had that sounding sweet in no time too. Two more nieces arrived the next day and more catching up, singing, and a sitting-around-the-camp-fire-game I readily put out of my mind. I was already in Auntie heaven when things got really crazy and the holy grail of Auntie-ness was bestowed upon me: I was told I am hip. I’m HIP! That’s like having your selfie get a 100 likes. A HUNDRED!

Campfire music
Campfire music

LOVED the Auntie time
LOVED the Auntie time

Door County was either on the upside or downside of peak Fall colors, but I still got a pretty show on a morning run–which was cut short because I was startled terrified by a deer (another reason I’m not a camper).

People were actually tent camping
People were actually tent camping. Brrr!

On the spur of the moment my niece and I ran through the woods to catch the back side of a sunset. We got there maybe 5 minutes late, but it was worth the sprint!

Tail end of a sunset
Tail end of a sunset

We checked out a couple of towns in the area. Fish Creek is adorable with lots of little shops and places to eat. We had some tasty burgers and of course, cheese curds, at the Bayside Tavern. On my way out of town we stopped at the Wood Orchard Market in Egg Harbor where they put out samples of just about every food item they sell. Apples, jellies, pumpkin butter, salsa, and stuff I didn’t even look at. They got me on the apples, pumpkin butter and cheese curds. Could not resist. Then we hit Egg Harbor’s quaint downtown for their annual Pumpkin Patch fall festival. It was pretty darn cool.

Scored some hot tea at the Chocolate Chicken in Egg Harbor
Scored some hot tea at the Chocolate Chicken in Egg Harbor

But this was a three-pronged trip, and I had to say my farewells and be off. It was so nice to see my nephew and his family and sad to say goodbye. I don’t get to see them near enough.

Stopped in Green Bay to lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in 10 years. We talked about old times, caught up on the present (a whole lot of medical talk at this point in our lives). Lots of laughing and not much eating. We picked up right where we left off when we last saw each other. A sure sign of a true friend.

Then I made my way further south to the Madison area where I have more family (another nephew and his family), and it’s also where I booked the 5K. The Trample the Trails run at Donald Park in Mt. Horeb slapped me in the face with a starting race temp of 36 degrees. Geez! About half of the run was through grass, so the feet got right dewey wet and then the toes went a little frosty. It was a beautiful run through the park though.

Donald Park, Mt Horeb WI
Donald Park, Mt Horeb WI

Donald Park, Mt Horeb WI
Donald Park, Mt Horeb WI

The scenery was gorgeous and I couldn’t help but take some pics. Probably not what the typical runner does, but then again, I lean toward atypical most days. Ha! My two little nieces ran out about 50 yards from the finish line and crossed with me–my all-time favorite running moment! I’d like to bottle that and keep it with me forever. They were too cute for words and later gave me a mani/pedi, and special up-do, and made me bracelets. There is nothing like being pampered by the littles. I finally get Tina Fey’s toddler yogurt facial commercial.

Hair by Nine-Year-Old
Hair by Nine-Year-Old

Madison is a great little capitol city/college town, but the surrounding area is really interesting. Mt. Horeb is a Norwegian settlement, and the Chamber of Commerce has kept true to its heritage with the giant “Velkommen” sign out front. It’s also the troll capital of the world. Who knew? I had no idea the Duluth Trading Company was there. I’ve been all over their site and assumed the store was in Duluth. Makes sense, right? It’s like a Great Outdoor Provision Company, but more focused on clothing than gear. I’m glad my backpack was full when I arrived as I’m still trying to get to that minimalist state of being.

We checked out New Glarus, which is “America’s Little Switzerland.” Authentic Swiss bakery, shops, restaurants, and painted cows. Even on the bank.

You thought I was joking
You thought I was joking

My favorite part of New Glarus was the New Glarus Brewing Co. I’m not a craft beer kind of girl, but these I liked. Maybe it was the post-run high talking, but the Spotted Cow hit the spot. Beautiful place to taste some brews, and they even provided live alpenhorn music. It doesn’t get much better than sitting in the sun, catching up with family, and sipping a beer with the alpenhorns in the background.

New Glarus Brewing Co.
New Glarus Brewing Co.

Alpenhorn players
Alpenhorn players

Staghorn, Raspberry Tart, and Spotted Cow
Staghorn, Raspberry Tart, and Spotted Cow

Our view while sipping beers
Our view while sipping beers

So my first out-of-state run is on the books and only 48 more to go! Was a great trip, especially spending time with family I don’t often get to see. The littles are adorable, and the older nieces are growing up. It’s cool to see them becoming young adults; to hear them talk about their ideals and the decisions they’re making now that will shape the rest of their lives. I kept it together while I was there, but now I get a little teary when I talk about them or replay the videos. I’m so sentimental over these moments now. All part of my much better perspective.

Cheers!
Kelly

UPDATE:
I initially thought my time for the 5K was over an hour, but thank goodness I was wrong! The official time for my first trail run was 53:29. Considering my times have been hanging around the 45 minute mark (and that I stopped to take photos), I am down with the digits, diggin’ the duration, copacetic with the clock…ok I’ll stop!

Dog Friendly Beach Trip (Beaufort, NC)

If you’ve been following, you know that Grace is my adopted, furry, four-legged daughter. I vowed to make every day a disney day for her, and I’m making good on that promise.

With that in mind, I thought the girl might like to play in the ocean. I’m assuming this once-
neglected, possibly abused, stray has never enjoyed a day at the beach. So off we went to
Beaufort, NC and checked out Morehead City and Atlantic Beach too.

We started with a rain delay right from the get-go. Our stay was Thursday to Sunday, and it rained all day Thursday and half of Friday. Friday afternoon was overcast and cool, but at least we got to walk around and check out the Beaufort waterfront boardwalk, which was a lovely stroll.

Grace Beaufort NC
On the boardwalk in Beaufort NC

Grace and I walked by historic homes, galleries, gift shops, and the North Carolina Maritime Museum. None of these allowed dogs, which is both reasonable and expected, but I am throwing it out there for those who are traveling sans dog. Check these places out if you get the opportunity!

For eats, the Dock House was dog friendly, so that was a no-brainer. Actually, the Dock House was beyond dog friendly–they gushed over Little Miss. I sometimes worry that I’ll get sideways looks about Grace being a pit bull type dog, but pretty much everyone I met treated her like any other dog and loved on her. It was pretty awesome. When we popped in for lunch the
second day, we were greeted with “Grace, you’re back!” My dog was Norm from Cheers.

A view of the Dock House from the water
A view of the Dock House from the water

Grace made herself right at home at the Dock House. I was actually worried someone might trip over her.

Stretched out like she owned the place
Stretched out like she owned the place

Saturday morning was beautiful, and we were beyond ready for Atlantic Beach where leashed dogs are welcome. I had no idea how Grace would react, especially since she is not exactly fond of bath time. Then add the waves and who knows what she’ll think?

Oh. My. Gosh. She loved it! First she was silly over the sand. She spun circles, crouched in pounce position, and sprung at me like a jack-in-the-box. Sand was flying everywhere! When we got to the water she pretty much did the same thing, chasing the water as it went out and then splashing in it and running from it as the waves came in. She chased the foam and was basically a big goofball. People walking by were laughing. I was laughing. I think Grace was laughing (see photo below).

Do you think she was having a good time?
One happy pup

Atlantic Beach, NC
Atlantic Beach, NC

Saturday afternoon I crated the pupster (gasp) and headed out on a little Water Bug boat tour. For $15 you get a 45 minute narrated history and wildlife cruise. This is so worth the price of admission. My agenda was to see wild horses–I’ve been wanting to see them since I moved here 14 years ago. Sure enough, I saw wild horses. Success!

 

Horse No. 1
Horse No. 1

Horse No. 2; both eating sea grass
Horse No. 2; both eating sea grass

They were beyond beautiful. Stunning. Nature and wildlife put me in awe of creation. Who cares if we’ve been to the moon, there’s a wild horse. Eating sea grass!

And there were these guys too.

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret

And the occasional human.

She paddled right past the wild horses. I would not have been able to contain myself!
She paddled right past the wild horses. I would not have been able to contain myself.

The folks in Beaufort, Atlantic Beach, and Morehead City are good peeps. There were plenty of places to eat, lots of little shops, and water sports to fill your day if laying on the sand isn’t your thing. Grace got lots of attention everywhere we went–she was fawned over and petted by a two-year-old, a skater, and a woman in a wheelchair who said I ought to train her to be a therapy dog because she was calm, sweet, and not spooked by the chair. We met real people on this trip and got to enjoy the beauty of the Beaufort area. Grace and I were a couple of happy gals.

If you’re heading to the coast and haven’t been to Beaufort yet, it’s well worth the
drive. Grace agrees.

Cheers!
Kelly