Falling in Love with Fall

pumpkins

I have long said, “If it could be 80 degrees and sunny year round, I would be a happy camper.”  Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved the summer months and detested the cold, bitter winter.  However, now that I’m older, I’m finally starting to appreciate Fall.  I used to sulk for the first day in September or October where I’d have to grab a jacket before heading outside.  But when the temperature dropped a few weeks ago, quite a bit earlier than it has the past couple years in Atlanta, I was ready.  There are far too many great things that come with the changing of the season…

Leaves changing colors.  Pumpkin everything.  The red cups at Starbucks are back!  Warm cardigans and cable-knit sweaters.  Halloween.  Apple cider.  Thanksgiving.  Deep fried turkey.  The sound leaves make crunching under my shoes during my early morning runs.  Hot chocolate with mini marshmallows.  Carving pumpkins.  Early Christmas shopping.  Holiday office parties.  Fall baking.  Holiday displays in all the stores.  Decorating our home for Fall.  Fuzzy slippers.  Curling up by the fireplace with a good book.  The list goes on.

fallrunning

Fall is my favorite season for running. All the changing leaves are so beautiful!

This past week was Halloween, and I was so excited to finally be able to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters.  It was just something we just didn’t get to do living in an apartment complex.  Also, you know you’re becoming a real adult when you balk at the price of candy.  I literally stood in the aisle at Kroger for a good ten minutes, wondering how in the world I was spending over $20 on two bags of candy that little fairies, ghosts and goblins would gobble up in seconds.  Thankfully we didn’t run out, and I would stand to argue that I actually had more fun than the trick-or-treaters, “oohing” and “aahing” at all the cute costumes and waving at all the families from our front porch rocking chairs.  It’s definitely a tradition I’m excited to continue for years to come.

pumpkin cookies

Iced pumpkin sugar cookies, just one of our many traditions this time of year.

Not a surprise that another one of my favorite things about Fall is baking.  There’s just something incredibly comforting about the flavors of Fall–pumpkin, cranberry, and spices like nutmeg and ginger.  I also have a lot of childhood memories of days spent in the kitchen with my Mom and grandmothers, wearing aprons too big for me and getting more flour in my hair and clothes than in the mixing bowl.  Today, whenever I make something that reminds me of a family recipe, I’ll take a picture and text it to my Mom and it feels like we’re back in the same kitchen, baking and laughing together.

My Mom’s harvest pumpkin loaf is one of my favorite things she bakes.  I always look forward to it this time of year.  Since I won’t be able to have any until we visit over Thanksgiving, I decided to try making my own version.  It’s a bit different than hers–I added cranberries and left out the nuts and glaze topping–but it smells and looks just as good!

bread

Pumpkin Cranberry Chocolate Chip Quick Bread
Makes one 9×5 loaf

Ingredients:
3/4 cup white flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp each cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, ground gloves
1 container vanilla or pumpkin-flavored yogurt
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup honey
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9×5 baking pan.  In a large bowl, beat together pumpkin, yogurt, honey, egg and vanilla extract.  Slowly beat in flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices.  Once even combined, stir in cranberries then chocolate chips.  Spoon batter into pan and bake for 45-55 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Atlanta Beltline Southwest 5K Ver 2.0

race1I can’t believe it’s already been a whole year since Drew and I ran our first race put on by the Atlanta Beltline Running Series. Time flies! We actually procrastinated registering for this year’s race up until just about a week beforehand. Waking up at 6 A.M. on a Saturday is not something I want to do often, but I figured it would be worth it. Plus, no doubt I’d gotten faster than last year and really wanted to see what kind of time I could pull out. No offense to The Color Run, but if you’re trying to get a PR or run competitively, that is not the race to do it.

Race day arrived, and we literally rolled out of bed, laced up our running shoes and drove out to the course.  It was the exact same route as last year, which is both good and bad.  The first part of the race started off-terrain and while Drew, a former cross-country megastar, was excited for it, I’d much prefer all 3.1 miles to be on smooth, flat pavement.  Thankfully that part of the race went by pretty quickly and before I knew it, I was within reach of the finish line.  The race seemed to go by a lot quicker than last year and when I looked up at the clock to see my final time, I understood why.  I beat last year’s time by a whopping 3 minutes!

winnermug

It was great to see and hear Drew rooting me on from the finish line.  After running the race step for step together the year before, we both decided that we would queue up together at the start, but each try to do our personal best.  Drew finished with a 21:00, while I followed shortly behind in 21:56.  Sweaty and happy, we celebrated our great runs and headed toward the post-race party for some water and vendor swag.  As it turns out, I ended up winning my age group and placing 6th overall female.  I even got a huge winner’s mug to show for it.  Drew did great as well, placing 4th in his age group and 23rd overall out of over 300 runners!

After heading back home for some much-needed showers, we walked to Piedmont Park for yet another jaunt at the farmer’s market.  I was determined to get my precious almond iced coffee since I’d missed in the weekend before.  We also headed back to the Nectar food truck for their delicious breakfast paninis.  I ordered the tried and true egg, mozzarella and pesto panini while Drew changed things up a bit with the spicy chipotle chicken.  With another race day in the books, I’ve already set my sights on another 5k in September that several co-workers are running.  Should be fun!

nectarsign

The Color Run, Version 2.0!


photo 1

This past Saturday, Drew and I forwent our usual “sleep-in day” in order to participate in the Atlanta Color Run.  I use ‘Atlanta’ loosely as the race was actually out at the Motor Speedway in Tara, Georgia.  In order to make the 45 minute drive and arrive early enough to queue up with the first waive of runners, we had to leave the apartment shortly after 7 A.M. Now if that isn’t dedication, I don’t know what is.  Lucky for us, since we ran the race last year, we knew how much fun it would be, well worth giving up a few extra hours of zzz’s.  The race definitely didn’t disappoint.

Jhana and I at the starting line. Hence the squeaky clean shirts.

Jhana and I at the starting line. Hence the squeaky clean shirts.

Jhana and Jacob all color-riffic after the race.

Jhana and Jacob all color-riffic after the race.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After seeing the massive crowds of people, I’m not surprised they moved the race location.  I’m also glad we got there early.  There had to have been at least 50,000 people which is probably double the number that ran through Piedmont Park last year.  We’d heard that residents had complained about their cars getting covered with the powder at the various color stations along the course.  Apparently not everyone wants their cars stained hot pink and teal.  I can’t complain too much; minus a short stretch of gravel, the race course at the Speedway was pretty much flat as a pancake.

photo 4

Our friends Jhana and Jacob also ran and as usual, I think the best part was the post-race color-throwing-sweaty-moshpit-dance party. With a thousand of our closest friends.  I was a bit sad to see my relatively new Brooks shoes get dirty, but I’m sure it was only a matter of time.  Plus, every time I lace up my shoes I’ll be reminded of an awesome day.  Another reminder? The streaks of purple that have remained in my hair the past couple days.  Surprisingly, I actually don’t mind them.  I may even be a bit sad when the last of it rinses out.

Running for Me

Two years ago, I never would have identified myself as a runner.  Sure I was on the girls’ track team back in high school, but I wasn’t very good.  During my college years, I would eke out a few miles on the treadmill at the Preston Center, all the while feeling like I was going to die at any moment.  How ironic that the guy I met during my sophomore year, who would ultimately become my husband, ran cross country and track for WKU.  After getting married and moving to Atlanta, it wasn’t long before I tried taking up running again.  In the spring Drew and I, along with several other couples from our house church, participated in The Color Run.  It was my first race since high school, and my first ever 5K.  Even though I would really consider it a “race”—there was a lot of starting and stopping around the color stations and it wasn’t even timed—I had so much fun.  The atmosphere was unlike anything I had experienced before–thousands of people, covered head to toe in every color of the rainbow, having the time of their lives.  I immediately wanted to find another race to enter.

The Color Run 2012.  So much fun!

The Color Run 2012. So much fun!

At the finish line of the Atlanta Beltline 5K. Exhausted but happy.

At the finish line of the Atlanta Beltline 5K. Exhausted but happy.

The Atlanta Beltline Southwest 5K was my next race.  By then I had a regular running routine and had a goal time of less than 27 minutes. As Drew and I crossed the finish line together, the clock read 24:55.  I blew my goal time out of the water!  I ended up finishing 2nd among the women in my age group.  I can’t remember another time I felt both physically exhausted yet emotionally electrified in my entire life.  A few months later I registered for the Beltline’s Eastside 10K on December 1.  It was a pretty big step for me and I felt a mixture of giddiness and nerves as I clicked the registration button.  I would have to increase my training quite a bit but thankfully I had plenty of time to do it.  By September, I was running six miles around our neighborhood easily.  Almost too easily.  I thought if I could run so many miles one day, why not do it the next?  And the day after that?  I barely heard Drew’s warnings that I should have shorter distance days and easy days where I just run a short jaunt through the park for the fun of it, not worrying about mileage or time.  Oh, and the concept of stretching was completely foreign to me (bad Megan).  I went from running 15 miles a week to logging 30, sometimes even more.

Needless to say, it wasn’t long before my right knee started protesting the heavy increase in mileage.  It was the same knee that I experienced problems with during high school.  I vividly remember one track meet in particular where I had to tie pre-wrap around my patella and hobbled miserably through the 400.  Just like that race, I thought I could push through the pain and continue to run.  After all, I had a race to train for and with the registration being nonrefundable, I wasn’t about to give up my bib number.  The first week in October, in the middle of my usual long run, my knee finally put its foot down (well…you know what I mean) and I had to walk/hobble that last mile and a half back to our apartment.  Days later, my knee was still sore and I pretty much had to quit running cold turkey.  As the weeks went by, my hopes that I would be healed in time for the 10K were quickly dwindling.  I couldn’t even complete a mile on the treadmill without feeling that dull ache.  A few days before the race I contacted one of the organizers and asked them to give away my bib number to someone else.  I purposely slept in on the morning of the race so I wouldn’t have to think about where I should have been at that moment.  It was entirely my fault for stubbornly overtraining, not listening to my body, and ignoring the advice of my husband (seriously, it was like I had a live-in running coach…you think I would have listened).

It was late December, almost three months after the knee pain began, before I even entertained the idea of running outside again.  My first few runs back were short and not exactly sweet; the second mile would come and that old familiar ache would start to spread through my knee and along my IT band.  This time I didn’t push myself; I stretched, applied ice, and took things slow.  Patience has never been my strong suit—it’s doubtful whether I possess much at all—so I firmly believe that this temporary setback, while extremely frustrating at times, has been for the best.  I’ve recently gotten several things that have helped make running fun for me again.  Drew gave me a Garmin Forerunner watch for Christmas, which I never leave for a run without.  I also bought myself a pair of Brooks Ghost running shoes after going to a specialty store and having my stride and form evaluated on a treadmill.

My Garmin Forerunner watch...so now I don't have to guesstimate my time or how far I've run.

My Garmin Forerunner watch…so now I don’t have to guesstimate my time or how far I’ve run.

My birthday present to myself--Brooks Ghosts! Of course they had to be pink...

My birthday present to myself–Brooks Ghosts! Of course they had to be pink…

It’s now February and beside this year’s upcoming Color Run—it wasn’t even a question whether or not we would run it—I have no real intentions of signing up for a “real” race anytime soon.  I still love my morning runs; there’s nothing quite like waking up before the rest of Midtown, running in the dark through Piedmont Park, with the only other souls I encounter being fellow runners.  Through our heavy breathing, and the occasional snot bubble in this cold winter weather, we wave or simply nod a silent but understood creed only runners seem to truly understand.  Running is the only time I can completely turn off the thoughts that consume my mind the other 23 hours of the day.  It’s cheaper than therapy, healthier than other vices and oddly spiritual.  While I like having goals, training for that 10K took the fun and joy out of running.  It’s taken me years to actually enjoy the act of running; I’m not about to spoil that with a reoccurring, and completely avoidable, injury.  For now, I’m completely content with running for me.

The Dark Knight, Lots of Pizza and the Anniversary Countdown Begins!

Another week of summer, over and done with. Hard to believe that it’ll be August in less than 2 weeks! Which means…Drew and I have been married for almost one year! Two weeks from today marks our actual anniversary. We’re celebrating a bit early by taking a long weekend trip to Chicago-we fly out this Thursday night and I couldn’t be more excited. It’ll be nice to get away for a while and spend a weekend in the city that Drew lived in during most of our engagement. I haven’t been in almost a year and a half, so it will be nice to go from living in one big city to exploring another for a few days. We have a lot of our meals mapped out (surprised?) but other than that, we’re planning on taking the architecture boat tour and being spontaneous sight seers for the rest of the weekend.

Ticket to see The Dark Knight Rises!

This past weekend was a lot of fun. Instead of spending our usual casual Friday night in, we headed to our friends’ house for a marathon viewing of the first two Batman movies, to prepare for our 11:20 showing of The Dark Knight Rises later that night. Each movie is almost 3 hours long so needless to say, it was a late night! We went on a pizza run halfway through (thanks April and Jim for the Pizza Hut gift card!) The movie was really good-not to give any spoilers away, but the second is still my favorite. We ended up leaving the theater a little after 2 A.M. One of the later nights Drew and I have had in a while. Nice to know that unlike last Saturday, we didn’t have anywhere to be and could enjoy sleeping in.

After sleeping in until almost noon and eating breakfast, brunch, lunch, we embarked on a total overhaul of our closet. We’d been meaning to go through and give away all the old clothes we don’t wear anymore, and this was the perfect opportunity to do so. We ended up piling four huge trash bags full of clothes to drop off at Goodwill. Needless to say, our closet no longer looks like a tornado went through it. After dropping off the clothes and making a much-needed grocery store run, we headed home for a late afternoon nap. Apparently staying out so late the night before had really taken a toll on us. We decided to have date night in, and made margaritas and margherita pizza. I tried to recreate the from-scratch margaritas we had during our Cinco de Derby party, but they just weren’t tasting right. We used our go-to mixer for Round 2 which turned out much better. I’m not giving up on mine just yet though! Our pizza was good as always.

Margaritas and margherita pizza…a match made in heaven.

Sunday morning we awoke early enough to get a nice 4.5 mile run in before church. Even though it was only 8 A.M. the sun was already beating down and we made it through our run, but only barely. It was nice to take Drew on the route that I usually run solo during the weekdays. Sometime soon I think he’s going to take me on one of his routes. It’s a fun way to spend time together, even if we don’t do much talking. Then again, I can’t really talk and run at the same time for very long anyway…

Theo and Drew kicking it on the couch after a long day. It was just too hot at the dog park for Theo.

After church, we headed to a BBQ place for lunch with a big group of our friends. What, might you ask, does a vegetarian order at a BBQ joint? I figured I’d just order several sides but they actually had a smoked tofu sandwich, which I was pretty surprised to see. I kind of felt like a chump ordering it but carnivores, smirk all you want—my sandwich was delicious. I think Drew gave it the stink-eye for a few minutes before continuing to enjoy his pulled pork basket. Eh, to each their own. We tried to take Theo to the dog park for some exercise afterward, but the sun was way too much for him. We ended up leaving after only a short while. Apparently it was too hot for all the other dogs too, the park was practically empty. We decided a nap in the AC was a better choice.

After an uneventful evening and a spaghetti dinner (yes, that’s right, I ate spaghetti for the first time in years. I guess I’m getting better about my aversion to certain food textures), we decided to call it night. Apparently we still needed to catch up on our beauty rest after being out late a couple nights before. We’re definitely going to need our sleep with all the fun things we have planned for our weekend in Chicago!

Atlanta Beltline 5K, Date Night and a Baking Marathon

Is it really Monday already? I feel like this weekend flew by! That being said, Drew and I got to do quite a few fun things and really enjoyed our weekend together.  Saturday morning we awoke bright an early for the Atlanta Beltline Southwest 5K. We’d registered for the race a few weeks back and I was looking forward to my next race since The Color Run back at the end of March.  More importantly, I was excited about being able to get an actual time since The Color Run was more of a “for fun” race than a serious competition.  All this aside, I was seriously second guessing my choice—waking up at 5:30 on a weekend? Let’s not make a habit of this…

Team Engauge before the race. I didn’t get the color memo apparently.

The race started at 7:30 and we spent the half hour beforehand picking up our bib numbers, stretching and mingling with other members of Team Engauge. Once we started queuing up at the start line, I realized this was not going to be your typical 5K.  How’s the best way to put this? The course was a little…off-road.  We spent the first ¾ mile running through mud, gravel, grass and rocks.  Definitely not my idea of fun but it made me even more grateful that the remainder of the race was on flat, smooth road.

Drew and I after the race. The black and white hides our sweat better 😉

Drew and I ended up finishing together, at a much faster time than I thought. I assumed that because of the first leg of the course, I’d have a pretty poor finishing time.  Drew, the veteran runner, knew we were going a much faster pace than I thought and tried to tell me as much.  I on the other hand was acting quite stubborn and didn’t believe him.  As we approached the finish line and our time of 24:54 flashed above us in red lights, I could hardly believe it.  Turns out my time was good enough to score 2nd place overall in my age group, and I now have a cool coaster/medal to show for it.  Considering my goal time of 27 minutes, I was very happy with the outcome. We’re already talking about signing up for the Atlanta Beltline Eastside 10K come December.  I know it was especially important for Drew to be able to spend some quality time with his Engauge friends, as he’s starting a new chapter in his career this week.

My 2nd place age group finisher medal/coaster!

After spending the majority of the afternoon recovering and relaxing—and multiple hour nap may have ensued—we walked over to Publik, the bar right next to the Fox Theatre.  Hard to believe we’ve lived so close, less than a 5 minute walk away, and had never been before.  We ordered beers and a few appetizers before heading next door to the theatre to see The Avengers.  It was a full house and the crowd was incredibly enthusiastic-whooping and cheering for the good guys.  It was a nice change from the typical movie theatre.  After the movie we walked a few blocks to Empire State South for cocktails and dessert.  We didn’t get home until a bit before midnight and despite our afternoon nap, we were more than ready to call it a night.  I guess that’s what happens when you wake up with the birds on a Saturday morning…

Good eats at Publik. Fries and curried sweet potato wontons…and beers, of course.

We spent Sunday morning in church, followed by lunch at a new-to-us Mexican restaurant with some friends.  I pass Perla Taqueria every day on my commute to work, but had never been.  Glad to know there’s yet another place Drew and I can go when a taco craving strikes.  I then spent the majority of the afternoon baking, making several dozen apple cinnamon and bran muffins.  Drew made oreo-stuffed chocolate chip cookies, a delicious cookie invention he made up back at Christmastime when we had a cookie exchange with our house church group. Needless to say, our apartment smelled gooood.

Apple Cinnamon Muffins, makes about 1 1/2 dozen

  • 1 1/2 cups flour (I used half white flour, half whole wheat flour)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 4 Tbs. melted butter or oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 large apple, chopped fine

Preheat oven to 375.  In a large bowl combine the flour, sugars, baking powder and cinnamon. Add in chopped apples.  In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, egg and butter or oil.  Pour in the large bowl and stir until just combined; don’t over-mix.  Spoon batter into muffin tray lined with baking cups.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until tops are slightly brown.

Carrot Raisin Bran Muffins, adapted from this recipe, makes 12

  • 1 1/2 cups white or whole wheat flour (I used a combination of the two)
  • 3/4 cup flaxseed meal
  • 3/4 cup wheat bran
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups finely shredded carrots
  • 2 peeled and shredded apples (I left out so I’d have enough to make the apple cinnamon muffins)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup pecans, chopped
  • 3/4 milk
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350.  In a large bowl combined flour, flaxseed, wheat bran, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.  Add in carrots, apples (if using), raisins and pecans.  In a small bowl, whisk together milk, eggs and vanilla.  Pour into flour mixture and stir enough just to combine; do not over-mix.  Spoon batter onto muffin tray lined with baking cups.  Bake for 13-15 minutes.