On a Cold Day in Chicago: We Run

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I packed my running clothes for the trip to Chicago. The last time I was here, I had a blast running downtown Michigan Avenue. The forecast was cold, but it’s almost never TOO COLD. I just have to dress for it. Last night I looked at the forecasted temps with wind chills below zero. Hmmmm … perhaps that is too cold, I thought. I decided to wait until this morning to make up my mind.

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I took Ashok out to do her business right before bedtime, and we walked down on the Riverwalk next to the Chicago River. We had not explored it last time I was here, and I was surprised at how long it was. Bundled up, I felt fine. It made me feel a little less worried about a run this morning. And, I could always turn around and come back if I got too cold. It’s not like I’d be doing a 20-miler anyway.

The temperature shot up to a balmy 12 degrees around 9:30 AM, and I decided to go for it. I bundled Ashok up in her new parka, and I put on 4 layers on top and two layers on bottom. I added a headband, a knit hat, a pair of gloves and some technical mittens over them. I was good to go. I told the doorman goodbye as he opened the doors for us, and we took off on our first Riverwalk run. (So, this is my something new for today!)

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The shattered ice in the river sparkled in the sunshine. Glass puzzle pieces bumped up against each other amid the current below. Items like trash, a life preserver ring and even a frozen dead duck were lodged in the frozen soup. Live ducks and geese paddled furiously below the surface keeping some areas liquid. I thought fondly about my days as a birdkeeper in Knoxville when we’d free ducks from the ice when it had frozen around their feet. One of the poor ducks was not so lucky here. He was frozen right as he lay. It made me sad.

We ran out to Navy Pier and then turned back toward the city. Several runners ran past us. It’s Chicago in January. It’s supposed to be cold. I imagine they would have thought it was funny that I even worried about it being too cold this morning. I broke into a sweat beneath my layers, but I didn’t get too overheated. I’d say my layering was just right for the run this morning.

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Ashok and I are perched in the window seat of this lovely suite overlooking the Chicago River. The hotel staff here upgraded my room as a birthday present. I had a fabulous hot shower in a shower big enough for four, ate a little after-run snack, and I’m about to head down for a coffeehouse recommendation. Chicago would be a great place to get another coffeehouse or two on my list. One down – 56 to go! I also think I might check out that new movie “The Post”. I plan to keep today somewhat simple. Walk around, enjoy the city, have a few warm drinks, chat with my new friends here at the hotel and sit by the fireplace. I may even snag a bag of Garrett’s popcorn.

Have a great Sunday, y’all! Bundle up. It’s cold everywhere.

Holiday Mingling at the Monaco

I was supposed to check out today and go home so I could put new tires on my car tomorrow. I should be packing up and making arrangements to get my car and skedaddle back to Michigan.

Yesterday was such a fun day. I walked Ashok before it started snowing and settled in the lobby with her blanket and my coffee mug. A couple joined us from Toledo. They loved Ashok and talked about their dogs and their Christmas plans. I told them about Lou Mitchell’s diner where I ate the day before with my friend Gerry from Memphis. The food was good, but it was the atmosphere and fun that made breakfast a unique experience. After looking up the hours for them, they booked a cab and headed over.

Their chairs were quickly taken by a woman from Nashville and her daughter by love. This year she turned 60 and caught her husband of 31 years in an affair. She is in the midst of a divorce and all of the resulting grief, so she, her daughter and her daughter by love came to Chicago for a change of pace. We had lots in common, and Ashok lavished them with loads of attention. The hotel, in turn, offered us lots of coffee and a soft place to land.

Before my friend Nancy even got up, I had decided to stay another night. I can get tires anytime. What I was experiencing here was so much more fun, and I wasn’t anxious for it to end. The Hotel Monaco is much more than a lodging space. They have a Wine Hour from 5 – 7 PM, a Hot Cocoa Bar from 2 PM – 4 PM and coffee from 6 AM – 10 AM. The lobby is small because the hotel is fairly small, and it’s made for socializing. I like the spot in front of the fireplace, and I just wait for groups of people to join me. ‘Where are you guys from?’ I ask. And the conversation begins.

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Right now I’m talking to a Mom and her two kids. One is dressed as Siberian Tiger, and the other as a Spotted Bunny. I was informed that their animals are extinct or almost extinct. They are visiting family in Chicago and will be returning to Milwaukee today. A couple last night from Carbondale was leaving for Thailand today. And another couple from St. Louis found out that they had mutual friends with the couple from Carbondale. My new friends from Nashville and I are heading to Chinatown today to eat Chinese food with the Jews. I can’t wait.

Stephanie and Gwen at the front desk have been at once helpful and friendly with me and Ashok. Gwen gets to have Christmas with her family today but is exhausted from all the cooking. Stephanie is working today but gets to go home at 2 PM. I won’t see either of them again before I leave. But I know there will be plenty of conversation between now and checkout tomorrow. And I know I will be back.

When I packed up Ashok last night before the end of the Wine Hour, she literally sat down and made me drag her across the lobby floor. The guests were laughing at her insistence that we stay. “Now that’s a party girl,” one of her new friends joked. She took off with my Nashville friends this morning while I had breakfast with Nancy and is asleep in the bed with one of them in their room. She, like me, likes meeting new people, I guess. We have always been a perfect match. I guess this shouldn’t surprise me in the least.

It’s the Degree of Enjoyment That Matters

 

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My sister texted me: It’s snowing!

WTF? In Louisiana? I looked out my window, and we had nothing. Not a flake was stirring. I pulled up the Weather Channel, and, sure enough, it was snowing in Cottonport and Baton Rouge. And I guess the whole south ended up with some degree of the white stuff yesterday.

“Well I guess you are off today then,” I stated the obvious. Louisiana would be officially closed down with even the threat of snow much less actual flakes flying through the air. The temperature was below freezing, so I KNOW the bridges were closed. And since every person in the state lives on the other side of some bridge, there ain’t no way to slip-slide to work. With the exception of my friend Ray who got to work before it started. Since he’s driving a sissy sedan instead of a truck, I hope he got back across the bridge okay.

It was fun to see all Southern snow pics on social media. Even this morning – long after the snow had melted – images of bayous and live oaks covered in snow were still populating on social media. This day will go down in history, and I mean that quite literally. It may not snow again for years if not decades.

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When I let Ashok out early this morning, we had a dusting of snow on the ground, and by the time I left home for my errands we had at least a few inches. I was able to back out of my driveway with no problem, but it kept piling up. I felt a little rusty driving, and I cautioned the car behind me to “Get off my *ss, Yank. I’m a Southerner. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.” By the time I left the Saturday morning Weight Watchers meeting, the roads were really dicey. The snow removal teams better get out of their summer sleep and wake up to winter, because it is snowing sideways out my window. We will need to dig out in the morning.

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By the time I got home, there was so much snow in my driveway that I got stuck. Some good samaritan had cleaned my sidewalk, and I saw him coming toward me down the street. He helped me get my driveway cleaned off, and he helped me extricate my car from the snowbank. We have 10 inches more coming tonight and snow in the forecast every day through at least Friday.

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Whether it’s a touch of Southern snow or a lake effect snow event, my tummy starts calling for hot chocolate. Buying hot chocolate on the town is out of the question because those drinks have upwards of 40g of sugar in them – almost 10 teaspoons. I’ve discovered that I can eat about 7-9 grams of sugar in one serving without any adverse effects, but anything over 10g sends my blood sugar over the cliff. It makes me feel so bad it’s just not worth it anymore. I’ve had to accept lately that eggnog lattes (unless they are really small) are now out of the question.

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So, I’ve been experimenting. I’ve made vegan hot chocolate with almond milk, almond butter and cocoa. I’ve used different cocoas and low-sugar hot chocolate mixes. They’ve all been good. But I think tonight – during the first snowmaggedon of the year – I have discovered the secret recipe to low-sugar hot cocoa that is as good as the high sugar variety. It has cocoa, just a few dark chocolate wafers that will melt into chocolatey goodness, 2% milk and stevia. Of course I topped it with whipped cream. Perfect! 

I hoped to take Ashok for a walk under the Christmas lights on the bluff, but the weather outside is truly frightful. I think I’ll stay hunkered down inside and read a nice book. I’m pretty excited about the snow myself. I’m only a year and a half away from being a southerner. It looks like everybody got snow this week. It truly doesn’t matter the degree of snowfall that you get, what matters is the degree of enjoyment you get from it. And Southerners may just have Michiganders beat on that count.

Go grab some hot chocolate and enjoy a nice winter night. Wouldn’t it be fun if everybody got a white Christmas in 2017?! And, don’t worry, Louisiana friends, you’ll be in shorts by the end of the week, I’m sure.

Detours to Memphis

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When I lived in Memphis, one of my favorite weekend getaways was St. Louis. The old Italian area is called The Hill, and I spent many a weekend grocery shopping at the old-time Italian supermarkets and delis, eating cannoli and drinking dark, smoky coffee at coffee shops and eating plate loads of pasta at some amazing Italian restaurants.

One Halloween I came up to run a Halloween 10K that had to be one of the most beautiful and fun races I’ve ever run. The only one that surpasses it for me is the Mount Baldhead Challenge 15K in Saugatuck MI. Saint Louis neighborhoods feature beautiful brick architecture and tree-lined avenues which provide outstanding fall color. When I ran the 10K, the weather was a perfect 45 degrees at the start which is truly perfect running weather.

Only a four hour drive from Memphis, those road trips were perfect for a weekend. I’d drive up Saturday morning in time to grab lunch on The Hill and then grocery shop at DiGregorio’s Italian Market. They had their own homemade mozzarella and pasta along with bulk beans and grains and all kinds of Italian meats. I would easily spend $200 to load up my ice chest and my car before heading back on Sunday afternoon.

So, I’m driving down I-57 today trying to work out my Sunday plans. I can’t check in to my AirBNB until 4 PM, and it’s too hot to leave Ashok in the car to do anything. I saw the sign for St. Louis, and I thought… hmmmm…. “Why not?” I found an AirBNB in the Tower Grove Park neighborhood and took a right when the time came. After taking Ashok for a stroll on The Hill I had dinner at Mama’s and then found my lodging for the night. Fall colors are just beginning to come out here, and the neighborhood and parks are beautiful.

Memphis Memories…..

I’m settling in for the night here. I have a full slate of activities planned with old friends this week, and I’m really looking forward to it. I rented an AirBNB in my old neighborhood, and I’m just going to move “home” for a week. Ashok will be so happy to be back in her birthplace even if it is a lot hotter than Michigan. I packed summer clothes for the week, and I’m hoping that Nate stays far enough to the east to steer clear of my vacation. But even if it rains, it’ll be nice to be back in Memphis. I’m already dreaming of BBQ, Shelby Farms, Whole Foods and downtown shopping.

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Going Up and Up and Up: The UP

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“Go West, young man,” is the rallying cry that drove many of our forefathers to the Western U.S. to find their fortunes. For some reason, my compass always tells me to “Go North, young lady”. Now that I live north, the only place to go is to the top of the world that ends at Lake Superior – the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

I went from Calumet to Eagle Harbor to Copper Harbor….

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Because I was heading even further north this time to the Keewenaw Peninsula, my GPS sent me around Lake Michigan on the Wisconsin side. I drove up to Green Bay on Sunday. My friend Dan who is visiting in Michigan this week told me to be sure and explore Door County. I thought it might add too much time to the drive, but when I realized it was only about an hour and back out of the way, I jumped at the chance.

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I only had a few hours there, but we stopped at a cherry farm to score lots of cherry yummies and had a cup of coffee and a potato pancake in Sturgeon Bay. Sturgeon Bay is a lovely sort of canal that runs across the peninsula. Big ships were parked at the docks alongside one of the biggest yachts I’d ever seen. I spent a little time watching the water go by and then took off to Cave Point which was recommended in a brochure.

 

I thought I’d go by Cave Point and Whitefish Dunes State Park, and I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that they were right next door to each other. In fact, I walked in and out of the parks as I strolled along the almost-California-like shoreline. This was a stunning rugged place that sounded almost as beautiful as it looked. Water crashed and popped under the cliffs like small explosions. I can’t even imagine the intensity of a winter storm.

Scenes from Door County

 

After dragging myself away from the peaceful place, I set my GPS to north, and up, up, up I went. I ended up in Calumet MI. On my itinerary it was just a place to stay, but Calumet was much more interesting than I imagined. The Keewenaw peninsula was a rich copper mining area in the days when America was installing electricity all over the country. Native Americans first mined copper here for tools. Then immigrants landed in the frozen land to find their fortunes in copper mining.

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Eventually greed, the Great Depression and a big strike dealt a blow. It didn’t kill the industry, but it would never bounce back. I would have loved to have taken some of the tours provided by the National Historical Park, but most of them were not scheduled while I was there. It was fascinating to run downtown through the mostly empty magnificent old buildings. The city’s population was over 60,000 in its heyday, and now it’s only about 1,000. But all of those beautiful buildings and mining operations are still standing. It was like a big, beautiful ghost town.

The Drive to Copper Harbor

 

I continued to drive north. This last stretch is the narrow peninsula that juts out into Lake Superior. Even though the UP is remote, this area is even more remote than the rest. It is also extremely beautiful. Known for its outdoor adventures, the upper Keewenaw is just as crowded in winter as in summer. People are either snowmobiling, skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking, canoeing and kayaking or hiking. And there is always fishing.

And then there is the Jampot…. a monastery of baking monks.

 

I stayed in Copper Harbor which is a tiny little town on Lake Superior. The entire village wasn’t more than a half-mile long. I stopped at an ice cream parlor and talked to the teenage girls that worked there. They said summer is fun, but they get out and snowmobile and ski in the winter. They said there are always kids playing hockey on the lakes, and snowmobiles are constantly flying by. They spent a little time talking about some of the boys they know and which ones were dangerous snowmobile drivers. In the summer they find natural diving boards for diving into the freezing waters.

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The whole trip has been interesting to say the least. It’s been beautiful, too, but I’ve enjoyed learning about this area. I bought myself a pendant with greenstone, the state gem. Apparently, it’s hard to find now. I suppose now that I’m a Michigander, I should have one!

I’ll be in touch later…. 

An Outdoor Playground in Michigan

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If you recall, last weekend I had so much fun backpacking that I wanted to try it again over the Fourth of July holiday. I’d love to do the Manistee River Trail. However, as I researched it, that trail is very popular over the summer and particularly crowded on holiday weekends. No…. that’s not what I had in mind.

As I thought about Plan B, I remembered that I have always bad experiences camping on holiday weekends. Holidays are amateur hour in the woods. More than once I’ve been camped next to a bunch of drunk men who couldn’t keep their voices down after midnight. No, thanks. That’s not what I had in mind either.

The Mackinac Bridge that spans the Straits of Mackinac…..

I’ve been wanting to head to the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan. I’m going to the North Country Trail Conference in late July in Marquette, but my agenda will be set with conference activities. Although I’ll be doing lots of hiking, I won’t have the freedom to explore. So, I started thinking that maybe this would be a good time to tack an extra day onto my four-day holiday and drive as far north as I can go without going into Canada.

The UP reminds me of a mini-Alaska. Winters sock it in for months at a time but that doesn’t stop people from enjoying snow sports. Snowmobiling is huge up here, and snowmobile trails are as plentiful as roads. I really want to come up here to see it in winter, but I’ll have to get my adventure hat on and take the chance on driving in even snowier weather than at home. And the summers here are divine.

Cut River Bridge and Delta

 

 

I got here yesterday, and I’ve been driving around and hiking as much as I can. I’ve been to the UP twice in the past. As I pass the places I stayed with my second husband, I realize that we didn’t do any of the outdoors stuff up here at all. WTF?? I’m not sure what we were thinking. We stayed in McKeever Cabin which is a remote cabin, but all we did was stay in the cabin and skinny-dip in the lake. I passed the road where we rode bikes, and I laughed because we rode our hybrid bikes on a stupid highway. Why didn’t we get in the woods? What a waste of time!

Lake Michigan Recreation Area…

I took the long way up here and stopped in Manistique, the Lake Michigan Recreation Area and hiked around the Cut River Bridge. The lady at the Welcome Center in Mackinaw City told me about a place called Big Spring where the water is so clear you can see huge fish all the way to the bottom. I stopped there, too, but I didn’t take the glass-bottomed boat ride. It was jammed with people and dogs, and I was looking for a more secluded experience. But the spring was lovely just the same.

Big Spring aka …..

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I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Lake Michigan look so raw and beautiful as it was yesterday. And Ashok and I saw and waded in three Great Lakes in one day – Lake Huron,  Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. All were cold. All were sandy. And all were stunningly beautiful. It was a very special drive.

Lake Huron

Most of the businesses here are locally-owned, so I visited with the shopkeepers and asked for recommendations on what to buy. I bought smoked whitefish and Wisconsin cheddar from the man that smoked the fish at the Cut River Store. I had my first pasty from Lehto’s Pasties as soon as I got on the peninsula. Pasties are meat pies that are a UP tradition. I can just imagine eating these hot hand-held pies in the dead of winter. They are so filling! We didn’t eat any of those when we were up here before either!

Ashok and I hiked today, but I’ll tell you all about that in a post of its own. Suffice it to say that I am falling in love with the UP. As I drive down the road surrounded by wildflowers, water and green, my mind’s eye overlays an image of what it might look like in winter … then in fall with the leaves changing. Click, click… those images keep shifting in my head and I wonder what it would be like to live up here. Could I take a snowmobile to work? How about munching on a pasty after a winter run? What might that cold wind feel like off Lake Superior in January? Brrrr …. I’m chilled already. Or maybe it’s the 50-degree July evenings that are raising goosebumps on my arms. No sweating this year!

Michigan Goodies!

 

 

 

Homeward Bound

 

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It’s finally here!! I’m making my first journey home from St. Joe. I booked my flight awhile back. You know I’m not going to Baton Rouge after it gets too hot, and with this warm winter, that’s next week. So I found a cheap flight from O’Hare to New Orleans, and the day has finally arrived.

I could pay about $300 more and fly out of South Bend which is much closer, but that’s a flight that always stops in Atlanta. Every single time I’ve flown from South Bend to Louisiana, it’s been a 12-hour travel day. Delays, weather, the big flood in Louisiana and even a detour through Charlotte have plagued all of those flights. It’s worth it to take more time on the ground and travel to Chicago for a nonstop trip. Besides, they have better snacks here!

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So, I left the other side of the lake this afternoon and boarded a bus in Indiana headed for O’Hare. The driver was so nice, and the bus wasn’t crowded at all. While she fought Chicago Friday afternoon traffic, I texted my sister, ate some nuts from Starbucks and read the New York Times. It was a stellar way to get to the airport, and the parking was free at the bus stop. By the time I would have paid $20 a day to park at O’Hare, the bus ticket was a wash.

It’s been awhile since I’ve flown, and I’ve flown out of small airports the last few years. I checked in for my flight on my phone on the bus and purchased my pass to check a bag. When I got off the bus, I just walked over to a kiosk where I printed my own bag tag, slapped it on my bag and handed it to the counter guy. It all took about 2 minutes. They gave me a pass on the TSA check, and I sauntered right through security without stopping. It was so easy!

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I arrived at the gate and immediately got an email that my flight was delayed but, at this point, I’ll only arrive 30 minutes late. As easy as this trip has been, I’ll not complain. I’m sitting at a Starbucks now trying to decide if I want to grab a healthy snack. I didn’t eat dinner, so I’ve been snacking on fruit and nuts. And I get to spend the night at Michael’s house. Yay!

As far as my sugar journey, I messed up today. It was an accident, but I ate some sugar at lunch. I didn’t realize sloppy joe meat had sugar in the sauce. Of course, I don’t know how much, but I looked up a generic sloppy joe nutrition guide, and it said 32 g. That’s about 2 teaspoons of sugar. I could tell immediately after I ate it. I got a little light-headed, and I did not feel good. After a week of feeling grounded and stable, I was disappointed that I was feeling this way. I learned a lesson. I’ll be more careful next time. It happens, right?

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I’ll give you a breakdown on the last few days:

Energy: My energy has been great and very steady. I haven’t gotten much sleep the last few nights, and, even with that, I have felt good. After 5 hours of sleep night before last, I still had enough energy to workout yesterday.

Sleep: I haven’t gotten good sleep the last couple nights but it’s not because of sugar. I drove to a hiking club meeting an hour and a half away Wednesday, and I was too wired to sleep as I got home at 10:30 PM. Last night I was up packing and running around the house and was again too wired to sleep. I imagine tonight will be a re-run, but tomorrow night I can catch up!

Brain Fogginess: My brain was really messed up after eating sugar at lunch today. Before that, I’ve had good mental days and got a lot done at work.

Mood: I have been a bit on edge, but I think it’s the lack of sleep that’s doing that. We’ll see.

Bodily functions: I’ll add this tonight and won’t mention it again. When I don’t eat sugar, I don’t wake up to pee in the middle of the night. And, on top of everything else, I become much more regular (if you know what I mean). I won’t post any pics on this!

Hunger: Yesterday, I didn’t get hungry at all. I remember the last time I got off sugar, I realized that my hungriness is part of the sugar cycle. Hunger – when my body is clean of sugar – feels different, and it’s not so insistent. I can just say “Hmmmm …. I’m hungry,” and I don’t even feel compelled to eat right away.

At any rate, I’m back on track with no sugar. I may even start my 30-day clock over. I’ve got a busy weekend. I’ll be in touch.

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Ashok even found a boyfriend at the petsitter!

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Night Check-In: Trails, Dogs and Travel

I went in to the weekend with one lunch planned on Saturday with my friend Autumn. The rest of the weekend would just have to unfold as it should. I got home Friday night, and I wanted to unplug from the internet and fall into an alternate reality. I’d been wanting to see A Dog’s Purpose, so I drove over the theatre and checked out for a couple of hours.

The thing I hate about dog movies is the dog always dies at the end. (BTW, I looked up the controversy about the treatment of that German Shepherd in this movie, and they were cleared of all charges. Apparently that organization was just trying to propagate fake news… and they failed.) In this movie, though, the dog dies about 6 times and lives at the end. The movie is about the many incarnations of one dog soul into this world. I felt so in love with my dog when it was over. I couldn’t wait to get home to hug her neck. But I definitely should have brought Kleenex to the theatre.

I took Ashok for an early walk on Saturday and then I met Autumn at Caffe Tosi for some soup. She told me all about her trip to the Rose Bowl Parade. I was fascinated by her trip. It was an educational tour, and they learned all about the history of the parade and how the floats are made. They got to help build some floats, and then, of course, watch the parade. I’ve never been on an educational vacation, but she made it sound like so much fun that I looked up the travel company that she used, Road Scholar.

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My sister and I texted back and forth the rest of the evening about the options that they offered for educational travel. Trips lasting anywhere from 4 days to 2 weeks feature lessons and experiences on topics like art, writing, hiking, geology, history, crafts and just about anything you’d ever want to learn. I am imagining myself learning to sail down the coast of Maine, writing my memoir on the coast of Oregon and viewing the Northern Lights in Alaska. They have trips all over the world, and they are very reasonably priced. I am definitely going to take some of these tours. I may even go on one of the Michigan hiking trips this year!

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I’ve been reading Becoming Odyssa, a book about a 20-something woman who hiked the Appalachian Trail. My sister gave me the book for my birthday, and I’ve been going to bed at night reading about sleeping on the trail and fantasizing about finally doing that thru-hike on my bucket list. Today I had planned to hang out at the house and grocery shop, but all of this hiking thinking got me in the mood for the woods. I looked up some hiking trails, packed up Ashok and headed northwest to the Yankee Springs Recreation Area.

We hiked the Chief Noonday Trail and continued on to the Long Lake Trail, too. It was rainy when we started but cleared up rather quickly. As soon as the rain cleared, the wind picked up. It never did get really cold, but I had to put on my hat and coat by the end of the hike. It was a quiet hike with very few people crossing our path, and it was lovely. The temperature stayed above freezing, and the swamps and woodlands were full of melting snow puddles. It didn’t feature the magnificent views of the dunes, but I was really in the mood for the woods. Toward the end, I was treated to a sighting of several white-tailed deer high-tailing it with their patch of white flashing through the forest. It was a great way to end the hike.

I’ve been chatting with Mick who heads up the Chief Noonday Chapter of the North Country Trail Association. The North Country Trail (NCT) is a 4600-mile trail that starts in North Dakota and runs all the way to New York. I had heard about this trail when I was listening to trail shows while living in Louisiana, and, ironically, now I live within an hour and a half from the NCT. Trail “chapters” all along the trail take care of sections, and they educate people about hiking it. The Chief Noonday Chapter has 135 members. I plan on joining them for a hike on March 4. I’m enjoying going to the North Country Trail website and dreaming about backpacking large portions of that trail. I even signed up for 100-mile challenge for this year.

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After we left the Chief Noonday parking lot, I decided to drive the backroads to Grand Rapids to try a new coffee shop that I’d read about called The Sparrows. I was so thrilled when I saw a sign for the North Country Trail trailhead just a few miles down the road. I turned in, snapped a few pictures and just had to hike a few steps on the trail. “We’ll be back,” I told the trail as I hopped back into the car. And I meant it. I can’t wait for the day when I park there, heave ho my backpack and head to the woods for a several day Michigan adventure. I may not get on the Appalachian Trail for awhile, but there’s an even longer one practically in my backyard! BTW.. The Sparrows was great, and I’ll go back for a longer visit in the future!

So, my mind is spinning with the opportunities for travel with Road Scholar and backpacking on the NCT. On the way to the hike and back I listened to more hiking podcasts about the community on those long hiking trails and how life-changing a thru-hike can be. (Click on those links to hear them!) One thing I’d have to change is needing to work for a living. Tomorrow it’s back to reality. But I’m grateful to have a great job which will help me save money for these trips that I may not get to take and that brought me up here to this state full of great hiking. This was a great weekend – dogs, trails and all.

Y’all have a good week. Dream a little this week. One of them might just come true.

Sunday Night Check-In: Chicago, Lush & La La Land

I spent the weekend in Chicago with my friend Nancy. It’s not a long trip from here, but it does involve tolls and a time change. I got to her place in Des Plaines early Saturday, and we stopped at a place called Tiffany’s for breakfast. We made our plan for the day which included a stop at Lush Cosmetics for some curly hair products.

I’ve been experimenting with some different products for my hair with varying success. I’m not sure why I insist on trying to fix something that’s not broken but I can’t help myself. Lush has all-natural shampoo bars that look like bars of soap so they have minimal packaging. I like that concept, so I wanted to give them a try. We parked out front of the Bucktown location, and I was amazed that in Chicago you can use your mobile phone to pay for parking instead of parking meters. Nancy pulled up the app and paid for a couple of hours, and we went in to the sweet-smelling, trendy Lush boutique.

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I told the sales clerk what I wanted, and she gave me a complete tour of their super-hydrating, unusual hair products which were made with coconut oil, beeswax and a variety of other hydrating and cleansing products. Some were in bars and others looked like cheese wheels. You could cut off as much as you like, and you paid by the pound. I decided to try one called Trichomania, got a sample of a texturing paste and bought some hand cream and lotion. She also showed us some tooth powder which is powdered toothpaste. I liked the idea so I got a sample to take home.

Buzz: Killer Espresso

We decided to get some coffee at a place called Buzz: Killer Espresso. I got a hot chocolate which was this really mildly-flavored “not too sweet” chocolatey drink in a gorgeous mug. We watched the shoppers go by on the street and then visited an art gallery and a small neighborhood specialty supermarket. After our two hours were up, we headed to the Pickwick Theater in Park Ridge to see La La Land.

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Much to our surprise this beautiful old theater was one huge theater. I don’t know how they’d ever fill it up these days. But we grabbed some buttered popcorn and found the perfect seats out of the hundred of seats that were available. The movie – a romantic comedy modern-day musical – was absolutely charming, and we both felt really uplifted after it was over. As a couple of single gals, the plot sparked some great conversation over coffee about the nature of romantic relationships and the inherent difficulty of making one work.

For an early dinner, we stopped at a restaurant that she passes by frequently in her neighborhood called Balkanika. We weren’t sure what kind of food it was, so we checked out the menu before being seated. The gentleman at the bar said it was Balkan cuisine, and since neither of us had ever had Balkan cuisine, we decided to try it. It was simply amazing! We got a sampler of dishes which included cheesy, garlicky potatoes, broccoli cooked with a creamy garlic sauce and and skewers of perfectly grilled chicken beef. It was the best comfort food I’d had in awhile.

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I know it’s too dark,  but it’s the only one we took together.

We went to bed early and read and got up for coffee and chatter this morning. We went to a Fashion Outlet mall in Rosemont, had lunch at Whole Foods and then went back to her place. I had to drive home, and I lost an hour, so I left about 2 PM. I stopped at an Oasis on the way home. On the highways in Chicago, they don’t really have rest areas because it’s so crowded and so difficult to get off on the side streets. So, they build these little centers that are clusters of fast-food restaurants, service stations and restrooms that look over the interstate. They remind me of an airport but instead of boarding a plane, you get back into your car.

The Oasis

It had been a gorgeous sunny weekend, but the minute I arrived in St. Joe, the clouds took over. I had not exercised all weekend, so I threw on some running clothes and went for a run. I followed that up with one of my strength-training workouts from my Virtual Boot Camp. This happened to be the last workout of my 12-week program! I stayed committed through the holidays and for a solid 12 weeks. I was sick one week, and there were a few weeks that I replaced the strength workouts with hiking, but I stayed committed the entire time!! Woohoo!! I am so proud of myself, and I’m ready for tank top season even though it’s freezing outside.

It was great to spend a weekend with a good friend with lots of coffee and good food and fun activities. Ashok didn’t get to come, and I can’t pick her up until tomorrow. My cats seem to be happy to have my full attention, and I’m ready to call it a night. I hope y’all have a great week. I’ll have to figure out my workout plan for this week since my boot camp is over, but I want to stay the course.

Get moving, ya’ll! It’ll make you feel better. Have a great week.

Day 2: A Little Bit Unexpected

 

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So, today I was pleasantly surprised that I felt more connected to people than ever – no Facebook needed. I got emails from several friends, texts from others and have even gained a couple of new blog followers from Instagram. One even sent me an email to tell me her story. It seems that life after Facebook is … well …. pleasantly social!

Tonight I went to dinner with some old friends. I felt the urge a couple of times to take pictures of my food and post, but I realized that it wasn’t necessary without Facebook. I suppose I could have posted to Instagram, but you really can’t tag people so it’s just not the same. I like a feature that Instagram offers that’s called “My Story”. I can post pics and videos all day to “My Story”, and people can view it as a slideshow. In 24 hours, it disappears. I’ll give that a try on one of my adventures. It’s not the same as a Facebook photo album, but I can make photo albums on Google Plus, and, of course I can post them on here.

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It spit snow all day but nothing ever stuck. It’s supposed to snow the next few days but it doesn’t look like much accumulation. It’s really weird. The winter has had a few cold spells, but I always remember there being snow on the ground most of January and February. I guess it’s getting warmer up here, too. It’s just been foggy and dreary with rain for the last two weeks. My friend Laura in Louisiana said the azaleas are already blooming down there. It’s like we had winter for 3 weeks in December, and then it stopped. All I know is I will not have to suffer in July anymore! Yay!!!!!!

 

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A little present from Louisiana arrived on my doorstep today. My friend Michael bakes King Cakes every year, and he sent me one. I was so excited to receive the colorful sweet bundle. King Cakes are served in Louisiana during Carnival season, and they are served in offices, at parties and anywhere people are gathering. My Facebook feed has been full of photos of people at Mardi Gras balls for the last few weeks. It is one of the things I miss. Even though we still have Christmas lights lit up here, there will be no festivities until Memorial Day. But in Louisiana, they are dancing and eating and socializing like there is no tomorrow. The normal holiday season is just a warm-up for Mardi Gras.

My friend Laura’s comment about the azaleas reminded me of one of my favorite days in Louisiana. A friend of mine came into town from Memphis, and we went to Cafe des Amis in Breaux Bridge. It a small bar in a small Cajun town that has a Zydeco breakfast on Saturday mornings. This is no quiet brunch. It’s an all-out dancing party at 8 in the morning. On the way out, we spotted some blooming potted Camelia bushes. It was my first winter in Louisiana after many, many years, and I was so delighted to see flowers in January.

I felt the same delight today when so many people were contacting me. I’d opened up a little space for something new by letting go of Facebook. The Universe gave me a little gift for trying something new – a confirmation that this could be good for me. Maybe it would bring new people into my life that have been living in other social circles. Perhaps those that have just been on the sidelines of my life might now make more effort to stay really connected. And maybe I would work a little harder at staying in touch, too. It was as unexpected and as pleasant as seeing flowers in January.