November 2014 Desktop Calendar - Free Download - Fountains at the Bellagio

November is upon us, the weather has definitively turned cooler and Daylight Savings Time ends this weekend.

It's a time to visit warm Vegas!

If you can't get there in person, you can visit virtually - and enjoy the Fountains at the Bellagio.

To Download this month's free desktop calendar, click on this link at
November 2014 Calendar - Fountains at the Bellagio

We did visit Vegas in November, about four years ago, an adults only trip to celebrate the 40th birthday of my good friend, Jill. It is a great time to visit - not too hot but still warm.

Some of our trip's highlights:

The Hoover Dam - a great half day or full day trip.
Vegas at Night.
Scenes along the Vegas Strip
Some Chihuly and an Oldenburg - Art in Vegas

Enjoy your extra hour this weekend!


Curried Squash - Sweet Potato Soup

I really didn't fall off the face of the earth - I just wasn't in the mood to post anything last week. Maybe my lethargy is a remnant of the post-marathon slump, coupled with the shortened daylight hours.

I've also been busy most evenings traversing town, taking my son to and from Driver's Ed class. Oh, wait, I'm not doing the driving - I'm being driven around town by my newly minted, driver's permitted Boy. So maybe I'm just too stressed to do anything but sit on the couch afterwards.

OK, he's not that bad a driver, I'm just super high strung when I think he's going to hit another car (that's not happened)....or spin out the back end of the car when taking a turn too fast (yes, that has happened).

Deep cleansing breath....

Enough of my random blabbering - the real purpose of this post is a recipe for this luscious soup I conjured up.

Rustic Lunch - Curried Winter Squash Soup, Crusty Sourdough #foodie #yum

Butternut squash and Sweet potatoes - two of my favorite foods - melded together.

(I got in the habit of consuming one entire butternut squash and one-two sweet potatoes each week last winter while in marathon training mode - they are great sources of carbohydrates, fiber and of course, that orange beta carotene)

This recipe is my own, but I was inspired by Panera Bread's current menu offering of Autumn Squash Soup and a recipe for Curried Sweet Potato Soup in Runner's World Magazine.

One Butternut Squash, peeled, seeds removed and cut into 1" pieces
One medium Sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
One medium onion, roughly diced
Two cloves of garlic, smashed
One half apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1" pieces (I used a Honeycrisp because we love them)
3 - 4 C chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 C White wine (optional)
1 T Curry powder
1/2 C half and half

Add the squash, potato, onion, garlic, apple, 3 C of broth, white wine and curry powder to a large stock pot. Bring to a boil then simmer, covered for about 40-50 minutes, or until the veggies are soft and mushy. Blend the soup in batches if using a blender (I use an immersion blender - right in the pot) until nice and smooth.

Stir in the Half and Half and simmer until heated through, adding more broth / water if needed. (I like my soup on the thick side, so add more liquid to suit your taste)

I serve the soup topped with crumbled goat cheese and pumpkin seeds, and a side of crusty bread. I bet if you sprinkled on dried cranberries, that would be super pretty and tasty, too!

Since I'm the only one in the house that remotely likes butternut squash, sweet potatoes or any orange colored vegetable, I had plenty of leftovers. The soup keeps wonderfully, the flavors developing more fully after sitting overnight. I'm guessing it will freeze well, too, so make a big double batch and freeze the remaining portion for a quick and easy future meal.


Black and White Days - Sun Salutation

Sunday morning's mixture of sun and fog made for an ethereal drive across town.

Disclosure - I was driving to the grocery store, but even the mundane tasks of life can be filled with beauty.

Sun Salutation #enjoyillinois #blackandwhite #fog

Taken with my iPhone 4s camera and converted to black and white via Instagram.

[I plan to upgrade my 3 year old iPhone next week - I am mostly excited about the new phone's camera!]

Happy Monday!


While I Was in Chicago - Homecoming Happened

I'm interrupting the Black and White Days to post a couple photos of my kids and their high school's Homecoming. The Homecoming Dance happened to fall the night before the Chicago Marathon, so I got to witness things from afar. Thankfully, I have really great friends who serve as second parents to my kids - I don't worry when I have to be away.

And as a bonus, I get real time scoop via text:

Can you spot the big trend amongst boys right now? It's the bow tie! My son was very specific when we shopped for his Homecoming outfit - there had to be a bow tie. Now he owns two of them and even managed to tie it himself (YouTube saves the day again).

Then there is the sibling selfie, taken after I incessantly texted both the girl and the boy, requesting photos.
Matching Siblings

I hadn't seen my daughter's dress prior to this photo and without even trying, sister and brother are perfectly matched! How serendipitous! And their expressions are, well, just classic.

They had a great time at the dance and didn't burn the house down. We might survive this school year, yet.


Black and White Days - The Diner

I like repetition. Repetition is just so darn orderly. Seemingly in control.

...start of Random Interlude - I admit to having control issues. Constantly working on it (let go, that is). end of Random Interlude...

So I snapped this because I liked the light fixtures above the booths. Yeah, that's probably not too apparent - I did the best I could given my short stature.
At Merry Ann's

Photo taken at a local downtown diner. Every college town requires a 24 hour diner - where else can you get chili cheese fries at 2am after the bars close?

Not that I would know!



Black and White Days

I was challenged by my friend (who happens to be a runner / photographer / creative soul like me), Kyla to a five day Black and White Challenge. So we're going black and white for the next five days.

Here's a classic horse shot, from my daughter's last show of the season:
Classic Profile

The great thing about black and white conversions - it takes away all those distracting colored items in the background (in this case, the porta potty is less obvious). Good to know, right?

I still find it hard to determine which shots look good in black and white. I think this one works because it's a simple photo to begin with. Caesar is a great horse to convert to black and white due to his variegated coloring.

More black and white to come!


My Chicago Marathon Experience

Confession time - I never intended to run the Chicago Marathon.

I had an impression of this race – running in a sea of people where you really have to pay attention to the people around you to prevent getting stomped on (or stomping on someone), and it felt stressful. Reading the course description (run along the lake, through Lincoln Park, through the ethnic communities, ending in Grant Park), sounded wonderful, but would I be able to enjoy it, or would I be fixated on the back of the person in front of me?

I was totally wrong.

With the exception of miles 19 - 23, where cramps in my right calf forced me to alternate between walking and running, I had a great run. I never felt crowded in, even at the start, and the course wound beautifully through Chicago, showcasing its eclectic architecture, waterways, parks, neighborhoods and most importantly, the infectious spirit of the people who make up the city.

The crowds exuded energy that resulted in an inexplicable electric in the air. That energy has the power to carry you through the depths of nothingness - perfect for those hard miles towards the end of a marathon.

Scott and I arrived Saturday afternoon and navigated the labyrinth of the race Expo before heading to our hotel. Of course the traffic was terrible - with 45,000 runners and their families / friend descending upon the already crowded city, we needed to be patient and plan for numerous delays.

I opted to book the Chicago Hilton on Michigan Ave, right across from Grant Park and the Start / Finish Line. Because the last thing I wanted was additional stress on race day. I made the right decision and will stay there again the next time I run this race (yes, I will come back).

As a bonus, our room overlooked Michigan Ave and the park! We could see the Chicago skyscrapers to the north and Field Museum / Soldier Field to the south.

Chi Town View #shirleyruns #chimarathon
Outside Our Window - Grant Park and Chicago Skyline

After dinner (room service, because I wanted to keep off my feet), we walked north along Michigan Avenue to find Starting Gate 2, my assigned gate. I timed how long it would take so I could better plan for the next morning. I planned to leave the hotel as late as possible to minimize "standing around" time and to avoid having to use a porta potty at the start (super long lines).

We watched the lights of the city turn on
Flip on the Lights #chicago #enjoyillinois #shirleyruns
North on Michigan Ave

The marathon gates open up at 5:30 on race day. As I watched the sun come up, the streets below buzzed with people streaming towards the start line. I was able to stay in the room until 7:20 before heading out to my start corral. The weather couldn't be more perfect - 52degF at the start, clear, with a slight wind from the south.
This is the Day You Have Made. I will Rejoice and Be Glad in It #chimarathon #shirleyruns
A Perfect Day for Running
The start corrals were well organized and spacious. I never felt crowded in and found a spot on the curb where I could sit before we started moving towards the start line. Our corral was scheduled to start at 8:00 and I crossed the start line at 8:03. Again, I never felt crushed in, even at the start - I could run unfettered immediately at a comfortable pace. I have participated in several races where this was not the case, so I was pleasantly surprised.
It's a Perfect Day to #Run #chimarathon #shirleyruns
Waiting to Start
Highlights of the race course - running under the big skyscrapers of Chicago's "Loop", traversing the numerous Loop Bridges, running through Lincoln Park and the tree lined streets of the Historic Old Town. I was hurting when I ran through the tail end of the ethnic neighborhoods and the people there really buoyed my spirits.

Between miles 19 and 20, I started to experience cramps that required me to alternate between running and walking. I walked / ran miles 19-23, and connected with another runner, Jeff, who was experiencing the same plight. He implored me not to stop and stretch - doing so might tear the muscles (I was starting to cramp in my thigh, too). By walking it out and taking extra gatorade at two aid stations, I was able to start running again before mile 24.

My official time - 4:28:42. I was hoping for a PR - my left foot's plantar fasciitis was not a factor during the run - but I think my lack of activity these last two weeks set me back a little. I also underestimated the amount of sports drink / electrolytes I needed - the weather was perfect and I never outwardly got sweaty, wasn't really thirsty and didn't take gatorade at each aid station. Lessons learned for next time.

Race Splits

When Scott and I arrived back home, we were greeted by several congratulatory banners hung around the house:
Banner Love
Banner Love

This was such a great experience, all made possible by my friends and family.


My Chicago Marathon Decision

Despite a [waning] case of plantar fasciitis, I have decided to run in Sunday's Chicago Marathon! I made the "good to go" decision after Wednesday's pain-free run.

My foot feels better, thanks to all the advice/good thoughts/prayers people have bestowed upon me - from internet / blog friends to Facebook friends, from the knowledgeable runners at the local sports / running store, from my local running friends to my PT friend who scraped me down and taped me up. I am humbled and blessed by my support system - you all keep me going in a positive way.

I am, however, mentally prepared to stop mid race if the red flags of pain flare up. I've set aside my pride and am willing to take a DNF (did not finish) next to my name, because the last thing I want to do is injure myself for the long term.

So let the pre-race excitement begin! Gotta get my bag packed and ready to go!

For those of you interested, I've been assigned to Start Corral "F" which is estimated to start at 8am. There is live participant tracking available at this link: Chicago Marathon Runner Tracking.

I'll leave you with a photo of my run-26.2 necklace. I wear it to remind myself that every run is a gift.



Along My Run | 8 - September Transition

September runs vacillate between hot and cold, as remnants of summer fold away to crisp, cool days of autumn. I even broke out my pair of transition tights when we experienced a cold snap, mid month. I watched several amazing sunrises, ran through some eerie fog that left its sparkling mark on all thing wispy as it burned away, and watched as the combines started their ritual of reaping a well earned harvest.

September Runs - Transition
1. Slice of Americana , 2. Magical Morning , 3. The Clock Struck One, I got my 20 miles in, Hickory Dickory Dock., 4. That's My Post 20 Mile Smile , 5. Perfect Morning for a Run, Feels Like Fall!, 6. Transition, 7. Take a Seat, Bask in the Sun. Had to break out the cold running gear this morning! 42 degF with a wind chill of 36! But I loved it!, 8. View From the Top. Ran several parking decks around town this morning. , 9. Layer Cake, 10. Golden Waves, 11. Harvest Time , 12. I Wasn't Planning to Run Today, but the perfect fall weather beckoned. And the run was great. , 13. Profile.. So dark now, but on the bright side, saw a shooting star this morning., 14. Once Again, I'm Chasing the Sun, 15. What Happened Ten Minutes Later , 16. Headed Through the Country

September was another great running month. I completed two - 20+ mile runs, capping off my marathon training program. I broke the 1000 mile mark for total miles in 2014. I was on track to match or surpass my max monthly mileage total of 136, falling shy at 126 miles. My average pace was 9:14 minutes / mile, consistent with August.

This month's collection of quotes - throughout the month, I earmark running quotes that "speak to me".

That's the beauty of starting lines: Until you begin a new venture, you never know what awaits you.
– Amby Burfoot

The battles that count aren't the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself-the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us-that's where it's at.

– Jesse Owens

I have cried once or twice when I crossed the finish line, out of a fullness of feeling that can't be expressed in words.
– Larry Smith

Hmm, they are all race related. I guess it comes as no surprise, I've been fixated on this upcoming race. As I write this, I'm still sidelined by the Plantar Facsiitis in my left foot and I'm still not sure what I should do about the Chicago Marathon (a mere five days away). The foot is better - I ran two miles Saturday morning with no pain, but there is a dull ache in my arch, constantly speaking to me in hushed tones, saying "I'm not happy with you right now". I just wish I had some clarity to it all.


October 2014 Desktop Calendar - Free Download - Holland, Michigan

Holland, Michigan - along the banks of Lake Michigan, an idyllic summertime getaway where cool, lake breezes make you forget about the hot city (only 2.5 hours from Chicago), and the corn filled prairie (because outside Chicago-land, it's just that - corn and bean fields).

The images for this month's Free desktop calendar were taken in Holland, yes, in October. Even in October, Holland is a great weekend getaway. My friend, Anne, was so gracious to host a group of us at her family's lakeside property. We had to visit Holland State Park on our last evening to watch the sunset along the beach.

There's something about being at the beach during off season - it's still beautiful, but melancholy at the same time, longing for warmer climes.

To download this image, click on this link at The Beach at Holland State Park, Holland, MI

The Big Red Lighthouse, one of Michigan's most photogenic structures, anchors the pier at the park.

To download the Lighthouse Calendar, click on this link at
Big Red Lighthouse - Holland State Park, Holland, MI

Some posts from that weekend getaway in Holland, MI:
The Weekend Retreat
The Gurgle Fish
My Solitary Photo Walk Weekend

Holland, MI photos on my flickr stream: Lake Michigan Retreat



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The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code. and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) prohibits the use of digital property to be used without the consent of its owner.

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