Blue Skies Are On The Way

The true meaning of snow birding really hit home for me last week during a trip to Tucson, Arizona. While temperatures were snowy and cold back home with most of the East coast experiencing temperatures in the teens or below freezing, I was basking in the 80 degree record-high days. That extra dose of Vitamin D and seeing a blue sky each day did me a lot of good!

There’s not much one can complain about when you are getting great quality family time in a beautiful setting with perfect weather! As my readers can tell from reading my blog, staying active is an important part of my life and trips like these make me question (at times) why I would choose to live anywhere that gets winter. Don’t get me wrong I love to do outdoor winter activities like skiing and ice skating but after a while putting on all those layers just gets really old! And it’s not like Washington, DC experiences extremely bitter temperatures. But getting away (especially in the dead of winter) makes me more appreciative when I visit beautiful places and go on new adventures.

Durng this trip I experienced some great hiking–one half day at Catalina State Park Canyon (about a 10 mile hike to the Romero Pools with my brother and sister-in-law) and a shorter late afternoon stroll through Coronado National Forest National Park’s Sabino Canyon (about a 3 mile hike with my aunt and uncle). Along with my dad we also did a two-hour horseback ride through the desert one morning

Here are some highlights:

Saturday hike at Catalina State Park
Before we began our hike we checked out an Arizona wildlife display that was set up by park volunteers. There were animal hides you could touch–from rabbits and javelinas to deer, mountain lions, bears and coyotes–and individual cages of live animals and reptiles that one may come across in the state–everything from mice and rats to the lethal rattlesnake and Gila monster (he was kind of cute though).

Now that we knew what to look out for on the trail it was time to begin our trek! We would hike part of the Romero Canyon Trail to the Romero Falls, about five miles each direction. We were prepared with a backpack full of water, snacks, sandwiches for lunch, as well as hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. It was hot and the further along we got the more layers came off.

Arizona hiking is so much different than hiking through an East coast trail. For one there is little shade because trees back home are replaced by cactus here. It’s a unique kind of beauty to see as you gaze at the mountain side speckled with cacti instead of pine trees. And it’s very rocky and dusty–it is the desert after all.

The trail meandered slowly along the mountain. We scrambled around rocks and said hello to folks as they passed us coming down. The higher we hiked the more peaceful it became. There were a few moments of “are we there yet?” but most of the climb we just enjoyed unending beauty before us. After a while we found a shaded spot for noshing on our sandwiches and to take a little breather. Then we continued just a little further scaling down some large boulders until we made it to the pools which looked like heavenly bliss with real gold specks sparkling within the water. We questioned for a moment whether we should go in the water and oh yes you bet that we jumped in! My brother and I went in first and on the count of three under we went. My sister-in-law was next and to her pleasure I’m sure I filmed a cheesy video as if she were training for the 2016 Olympic Games polar bear plunge event. That water was so icy cold so lying on the warm rocks after was amazing. We hung out there for about an hour. Taking in God’s glory at this little slice of heaven is one that I won’t ever forget.

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Walking back down was much faster with the highlight being the late afternoon views and some folks passing us on the trail telling us they saw a Mojave rattler–one of those deadly reptiles we learned about earlier. Yikes!! Luckily we didn’t spot him.

imageOverall this hike gets 5 stars in my book and I’d recommend anyone to try it who has an adventurous spirit. It’s not an easy hike, but one that most semi-active people could handle. There are also shorter (and longer) hikes available in the park.

Monday morning horseback ride

Monday was reserved for horseback riding. Our group took a meandering ride through the Catalina desert. My horse was a Buckskin named Haus and the oldest horse in the group, about 18 years of age if I recall.

After they saddled us off we went one by one staying in line in the order they put us. Along the way in the distance was an old ranch with a church on the property. And then just beauty all around. A few spots we climbed a bit and at times the horses got distracted and wanted to stop to chew on grass. Of course anytime mine did that, the horses that my dad and uncle were riding also decided to stop. The guide (aka “trail boss” as we called him) must have been getting annoyed with me for slowing down the ride and swung his horse from the front of the line over to me to give me a quick lesson on the reins to keep my horse from being tempted. I had to chuckle a bit because the others were doing the same thing. But he must have thought I was the most inexperienced of the group (which I may have been when it comes to horse riding). I really wanted to go a little faster so for a brief few seconds I got my horse trotting. My uncle said he was purposefully letting his horse eat to allow himself to hang back from the group and go faster from time to time. My aunt was in her element as she grew up riding a horse named Susie. Dad and Joe fit the part of Cowboys with their hats. Flowers were in bloom and it felt like spring had truly arrived.

Monday afternoon hike at Coronado National Forest, Sabino Canyon After some lunch and relaxing at the pool I joined my aunt and uncle for a shorter hike at Sabino Canyon. This trail was a bit more tame and flat. In fact there were a lot of runners so if I lived in Tucson this would be a place you’d find me after work. We hiked to a waterfall that was very pretty. Wildlife spotting–a tiny lizard (no Gila monster) and a roadrunner. The mountains were beautiful this time of day and I really just wanted to take it all in forever. Next time I’m back I will spend some more time exploring this park as well as many others.

All in all Arizona has a lot to offer this time of year. If you can time it right and get great weather you are in for a treat. In addition to hiking you can’t beat the Mexican cuisine and you’ll do yourself good by visiting little towns like Tubac where we attended an arts street festival. A lot of talent in the region–be it art or jewelry making. And the Tucson gem and mineral show too is a neat thing to check out as well. I’m going to make February snow birding a tradition now. I’m ready to take on these last few weeks of winter but spring time can’t get here soon enough! Happy trails!!






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Stretch Out and Spin Yourself Fit

Mixing up your workouts is always a good thing. Our muscles, unlike our brains, work better when they are confused and Del Ray (a cute neighborhood in Alexandria, VA) has two great options that local Northern Virginians should check out. Owned by the same folks but set in two different buildings near each other are a spin studio and barre studio. A friend and I used coupon codes to try a few classes to see if we like the instructors, the classes, times offered and the physical space. Thumbs up to all of the above in my book.


The spin studio–Swēt Ride–is a great little cycling studio. I attended three classes and was pumped that the classes provided clip shoes. I was very excited given that it was my first time using clips. Yep, haven’t quite graduated yet.  It did take me some time to get one to clip in and one of the assistants had to help me, but the next few times were easy (and what a difference it made with the biking). imageAt your first session you get fitted for your seat and handlebars and the studio sends you a postcard with the information written down (not sure why they don’t just give it to you on the spot, but mail can be special so there may be some marketing rationale to that practice). imagePost-workout you get an ice-cold towel infused with peppermint oil–it’s amazing! For the barre class it also doubles as an antibacterial so you can use the opposite side to wipe down your mat. And the last cool feature about this place is that you get your ride stats emailed to you post-workout (I posted one below). I was getting competitive with myself in just the three classes I attended trying to outdo the session before. Genius idea!

imageimage imageThe barre studio–Barre Tech–I really loved. I had only taken one barre class prior at another studio but felt that it was too easy. My sister-in-law raves about the one she attends in Los Angeles, so I knew I had to give it another shot. Well, I was impressed. As a runner I often overlook smaller muscle groups and these classes find ways to work those little muscles we forget exist. It also focuses on stretching and balance.  My core feels stronger after taking these classes and I’ve found that incorporating routines from both the mat and the barre provide greater variety to keep me engaged throughout the workout. I also love the incorporation of ballet moves–even though I’ve never been a dancer–as it makes me feel beautiful and strong all at once.

So all in all, success with these two gems and I will be returning to them both.

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An Unstoppable Southern Half Marathon

It’s been three days since Sunday’s Quintiles Bull City Race Fest half marathon in Durham, NC and what a great day it was. For me, just being down South for the weekend made me really happy. I have three homes–where I live now (northern Virginia), where I grew up (south Jersey), and where I went to college and spent my first two adult working years (Durham, North Carolina). NC is one of my happy places and getting away from the hustle and bustle of DC does the soul good. People are friendlier and more laid back, traffic is less, and honestly the food there is better too!


So last year I was down for Duke’s homecoming and while having brunch with my mom at Foster’s Market we saw all these people with race medals. I told myself then and there that I would do that race the following year! And race weekend was finally here.image

The day before the race,  my friends and I went to the race expo, lunch and the NC state fair. I was pretty good and did not partake in much of the fried plethora of offerings, but was on my feet for awhile. Fortunately that did not hold me back from completing an excellent race. imageimageimage


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The next morning was cold (37 degrees…brrrr!) and none of us were quite ready for that cold burst of winter-like weather. With that said, I made my way to the start line ready to take on the race.  The race began near the Durham Bulls stadium by all the new restaurants. Durham has really gone through a revitalization over the last few years and I was excited to see things taking off.

imageWe looped our way through the downtown area and past the old Durham Bulls ballpark (where I attended  many a beer fest), through lots of neighborhoods, down to 9th Street (yay Elmo’s Diner), around the perimeter of Duke’s East campus and then into the campus where we ran straight down the quad and past Baldwin  imageAuditorium. image

I thought that was the coolest thing ever–a race that took me right through my beautiful college campus. We took a right to head under the famous painted bridge and down most of Campus Drive.

Then it was back up through some other neighborhoods on the edge of campus.  Lots of hills–nothing super steep but the minute we made it down one hill, it was time to crest back up another. People had written inspiring messages on the hilly streets and that helped keep up my motivation. Around mile 6 or so I passed the 8:30/mile pace group so I knew I was at least ahead of them, but the 8:00 pace group was nowhere to be found. By mile 11 I was pretty much done but knew I was keeping a good pace.  The fans intermingled throughout the course were great! One girl especially was so into her cheering (I must have seen her in five different spots and kept wondering if she was a triplet).

Finally I knew the finish was in sight–we were heading back downtown and the hills had subsided! It was a straight shot to victory and I gave it all I had (only three minutes shy of a personal best).  My friends were at the finish line cheering me on which was so nice–two ran the 5-mile race and one braved the cold weather to support us. image imageAfter a post post-race stretch and massage it was off to brunch, a nap and some R&R. While I’m still a little sore, one thing is certain– I can’t wait to do it again next year!imageimageimage

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I Am Spartan!

What do thousands of people who wake up on a Saturday morning to run through the woods, crawl through mud under barbed wire and jump over burning logs have in common? They all have a little crazy inside of them. Clearly I am one of those people!  Yes, some people’s worst nightmare is our idea of a good time!

On August 1, five of my friends (including one who was 7-months pregnant) from boot camp and I took part in the Spartan Sprint DC race. These obstacle-course races have become a pretty big thing over the last few years and I was excited to try this one in particular.  I signed up for it back in December and now it was here! image image imageimage image image

image   image image Luckily our group was in the early wave of athletes when the temperatures were a bit more bearable. We trudged through the woods for a bit before nearing the first set of walls to climb over which to my relief weren’t too bad! But things would get harder (and muddier) as we got further along.

The 24 obstacles ranged from walls to climb over, mud pits to slide into, and quick sand-like trails to traverse. The toughest? It varied by person and working together as a team you quickly learned each person’s strengths and weaknesses. For me I found that even though I completed it, carrying a bucket of rocks around a trail was one of the toughest. The rope climb in the muddy water was all but impossible, despite the fact that I have climbed one before but doing so from waist deep water with wet shoes and clothes adds a whole other challenge. Another tough one–rings that you had to get across monkey-bar style. My arms were so shot by that point that I just gave up and opted for burpees. And that’s another thing, whenever you couldn’t complete an obstacle you had to knock out 30 burpees.  We did many of them as a team counting out loud when we reached 10 as we do in our morning workouts. By the end if we never had to do a burpee again I think we’d be content!!

image image image image image image image image image image image image image imageFavorite obstacles–muddy hills that we climbed up and slid into muddy water, and the last one of mud crawls under barbed wire. Hmm, wonder what that says about me?

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Overall, it was a fun race that taught us all about teamwork, humility and strength. Who’s ready to join me for the next one?

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Chicago In A Day By Boat, Foot and Bike

A few weeks ago I visited the great city of Chicago for the first time! I paired a work trip with a day off and had the opportunity to visit my good friend (and old roomie) and her family. If you haven’t been to Chicago I highly recommend you go in July. Weather was perfect and everyone was out and about to celebrate the temps after a long cold winter.

I was in the middle of my IDLife 28-day Challenge and I will be the first to admit that the challenge took a bit of a hiatus while there. It’s really hard to go to a city and not want to try the foods which are more often than not the foods that aren’t so healthy for you. On Sunday I explored the West End where my friends live. It’s the former meat packing district that has been transformed into cool restaurants where the outdoor seating is in the alleyways. Very clever. We had delicious bbq at Green Street Smoked Meats, and my pulled pork sandwich seriously rivaled NC and TX BBQ. Who knew the Midwest had it in them! For dinner my friends grilled shrimp and orzo, and we made panzanella salad and homemade chocolate shaved mint ice cream topped with chocolate gelato. Mmm mmm good.

image image image  The following day was exploration for me. Here’s a snapshot of my day off exploring the Windy City:

10 am: Wendella architecture river and lake boat tour
This is a must way to explore and get your bearings straight (especially for first time visitors). I was amazed at not only how old some of the buildings were, but also the thought and care taken in designing the city. I especially loved all the old bridges we passed under.

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11:30 am-1 pm: Magnificent Mile and lunch at Lou Malanati’s
I made my way down Michigan Avenue where a bunch of the upscale shops are located. Although I didn’t shop I don’t think I even made it all the way to the really swanky shops (so perhaps I did the Magnificent 1/2 Mile?!). My hunger was getting the best of me so it was time for deep-dish Chicago-style pizza–another must. I ordered the $9 lunch special of a side salad, personal pizza and soda (root beer). The pizza was just the perfect size with a crisp buttery crust that melted in my mouth. Wisconsin cheese was the first layer, then the sauce (could taste the tomatoes), and sausage (which I learned has the kind of status that pepperoni has on pizza back East, it was one big piece across the pizza, not diced as you would find on East coast which I found interesting and slightly disturbing at the same time). I added some hot peppers and a little salt, pepper and Parmesan for some extra zing. Overall, pleased at my first deep dish experience (at least straight from Chicago), but next time I’ll go for mushrooms over sausage. I am, however, partial to New York style.

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1-2 pm: Walk along the Riverfront
Walked over one of the old bridges and meandered along the riverfront. So many people were out and about enjoying their afternoon and eating lunch with colleagues. There are a number of little restaurants and places to rent kayaks along the way.

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2-3:30: Navy Pier
I continued my trek to the Navy Pier which honestly felt like a bit of a tourist trap. There is a small amusement park there, a mini-indoor mall, and an indoor garden. It was hot out there! I treated myself to some Garret’s popcorn (another Chicago favorite) before heading to the next adventure.

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3:30-5 pm: Bike along Lake Michigan
The only other Great Lake I’ve ever seen is Lake Superior and you can read about the running adventure here. The Great Lakes fascinate me probably because I grew up going to the ocean and to me a lake is much much smaller. I felt drawn to finding one of the beaches along Lake Michigan and knew the fastest way to see a lot along the trail would be by bike. Luckily there is a bike share service called Divvy (cost me all of $9). Once I was able to figure out the system and popped a bike out of its holder I was off to the races. After a few miles I found two different beaches which reminded me of a lake park beach that we went to as kids back in NJ called the Sportsman’s Club. After a good trek in the bike it was time to make my way back. I had one more stop to go.

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5-6 pm: Millennium Park
At last I made my way to another Chicago destination and boy was it crowded! I took a bunch of photos of the surrounding area and the park itself. Most famous being the Bean, a silver bean shaped structure that provides an amazing reflection of the city scape. Little did I know, but before the park was built in 1997, the area sat as an industrial wasteland. Certainly nothing like that anymore!

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It was a full and very rewarding day to explore a city by boat, foot and bike! And my Fitbit set a new record logging in at 27K steps (over 10 miles). Fun times!

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In October I’m making my way down to my old stomping grounds of Durham, NC to visit a friend and run the Quintiles Bull City Race Fest Half Marathon. It’s been over a year since I’ve run a half marathon and I’m looking forward to training for a longer distance race. There is nothing like a good fall race!

And pretty neat but I thought I’d share that I was selected to be part of the UnStoppaBULLS Team to help promote the race! Sixty runners were chosen for their “[familiarity] with Durham, the race and [having] an active social media life.” The race administrators also noted the following which was so encouraging to hear, “This means we consider you a thought leader and inspiration in the running community and we are very excited to have you on our team.”

Excited to get started and get back to dear old Durham very soon!!

#UnstoppaBULLS #RunBullCity

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Summer Salads

In addition to the Greek salad I made the other day, I also prepped a Cucumber and Israeli Cous Cous Salad that will last me through most of the week. There were a few ingredients that I was missing like the parsley (I used fresh basil), scallions/chives (I added garlic), romaine lettuce (I used spinach).  And I do think having those ingredients would have made this much better!  You can add other ingredients to your heart’s content–beans like garbanzo or kidney, veggies like corn or peppers.  It is healthy and light–eat it cool or warm it up, both ways taste great!  Trader Joe’s sells Israel Cous Cous in the grains aisle and you save a lot compared to other things like quinoa.  So it’s a really affordable and easy to make meal!

Israeli Cous Cous Salad with a side 1/2 cup of blueberries and a slice of toasted whole wheat bread with organic honey.

Israeli Cous Cous Salad with a side 1/2 cup of blueberries and a slice of toasted whole wheat bread with organic honey.

Cucumber and Israeli Couscous Salad

Courtesy of NYT Cooking

Nutritional Info per serving

231 calories; 10 grams total fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 1 gram polyunsaturated fat; 7 grams monounsaturated fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 31 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams dietary fiber; 32 milligrams sodium; 6 grams protein


  • cup extra virgin olive oil
  • cup Israeli couscous
  • 6 to 8tablespoons fresh lemon juice, to taste
  • 3cups chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (from 3 large bunches)
  • ¼cup chopped fresh mint
  • ½ pound ripe tomatoes, very finely chopped
  • ¾ pound cucumbers (1 European or 4 Persian), seeded if using regular cucumbers, cut in fine dice
  • bunch scallions, finely chopped, or 1/4 cup chopped chives
  • Salt to taste
  • romaine lettuce heart, leaves separated, washed and dried


1. Heat one tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium saucepan and add the couscous. Stir until the couscous begins to color and smell  toasty, 4 to 5 minutes. Add 2 cups water and salt to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes, or until the couscous is tender. Drain if any liquid remains in the pan.

2. Transfer the couscous to a large bowl and toss with the lemon juice, parsley, mint, tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions or chives and salt to taste. Add the olive oil, toss together, taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with lettuce leaves.

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