Mind, Motion & Matter

Running, Essentially . . .


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Running up those hills, Seattle

Cal Anderson Park fountain

The week leading up to our getaway was busy with work deadlines, a visitor and preparations for some painting at our home. Thankfully, our son and our roommate Alain took care of moving the furniture from our guest room and bedroom in our absence. We’ve been away for just over a week and spent three days visiting with my husband’s 96 year old dad. His dad is under the watchful eye of his son the rehab med doctor and continues with a weight lifting routine of many decades.

From Edmonton we took the 100 minute flight to Seattle and stayed at the Sorrento Hotel where we were the lucky recipients of a fabulous room upgrade. At check-in, we were offered the chance to upgrade to a suite for a small increase, which we agreed to this but checked to make sure that our room had a bathtub. We’ve discovered in our travels that increasingly, hotels that have undergone renovations oftentimes have only spa-style showers.  And, indeed when we found that our suite only had a shower so we asked for another room. This error was corrected in grand style as we were given a room that was three times the size of the tub-less suite.

We are sorry to have inconvenienced you. Please accept our apologies.

The concierge told my husband that this corner suite was once occupied by Francis Ford Coppola. He also said that it was used as  a  set for “Sleepless in Seattle” to mimic a Manhattan apartment. Thus enjoying great hotel coffee with our laptops perched atop a large round, wood table, set in a very large bay window area, with a tiny bit of waterfront peeking through tall buildings has become a memorable urban holiday moment. The suite included a large bedroom, a large wooden bar, an office area and a living room area. The open style lobby-bar area was extremely inviting but we never did check it out, due to the excessive comfort of our room. The only down-side to this luxury was the worry that our tipping was not as generous as that of Coppola.

Volunteer Park, Seattle

When I asked about running routes at the front desk, the young man who checked us in admitted that the running in downtown Seattle is not great. My vision of a scenic waterfront running path did not materialize. He pointed us towards Volunteer Park as preferable to the waterfront. I’ve heard that the Seattle marathon is hilly, but the reality of hills only sunk in on our first short run of four miles. Not great for my husband’s knees but it did lead me to finally use the googlemaps pedometer elevation function for the first time ever.

Volunteer Park is home to the Asian Art Museum. It is not a large park with a running circumference of about one mile but it is lush and has well-maintained washrooms. The residential areas surrounding the park are very well treed, with beautiful gardens and colourfully staid facades that matched the Seattle of my imaginings. The hills in some of these residential areas seem frankly, improbable. In doing some research on Galer Street, which seemed one of the steepest hills I’d run, I found it listed on a blog which offered advice on training for hiking in Nepal I ran up this hill after exiting Washington Park, home to Seattle’s Japanese garden.

Run for the treats

Three of my Seattle runs ended at Sugar Bakery and Cafe just around the corner from the hotel. And the treats were sweet and a cut above the usual including; salted caramel croissants and blackberry oat scones and supremely moist carrot, walnut muffins. I ended one run in the fitness center to maintain the momentum of my weight training regime. My husband joined me for his workout and took two photos of my routine, one dignified and the other not so dignified and possibly hilarious.

Curls for biceps

In control

Showing the strain

Apart from the hills, a highlight of our Seattle story was very much about our stay at the Sorrento. The crowning moment of the energetic and superb service at this hotel came as I ran up to the main door at the end of one run and wondered what the doorman was doing as he quickly ducked behind a curtain by the lobby door. He emerged with bottled water which he handed off to a grateful me.

One item for the to-do list: Write a positive TripAdvisor review of the Sorrento Hotel.

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To the Bakery and Back

Christmas tree, Distillery style

With no companions for this run and so-so weather, I knew I would have to gear up mentally for my 12 miler, my longest run since the NYC marathon. Yesterday, I did my first treadmill workout due to the slushy, messy road conditions and icy sidewalks that come with precipitation when the temperature hovers around 0C.

I decided to run an unusual route in that normally I run routes with minimal pedestrian traffic but with the threat of slippery sidewalks, sticking to well-trodden routes is a necessity. My route incorporated a run along Church Street, King Street East and the Distillery District, three areas which are off our beaten path.

Art in the City

I ran east on Davenport and then down Bay street, over to Yonge, east on Wellesley and down Church Street. I was able to get a glimpse of the new Loblaws housed in Maple Leaf Gardens. I never did see a Leafs game although went to quite a few Canadiens games while growing up in Montreal. I think I’ve seen three concerts at the Gardens, Neil Young, Rush (free tickets) and Hall & Oates. I think the bulk of my mega-concert days took place in Montreal at the Forum.

Brick Street Bakery

North of Queen and Church was a striking mural and close by a large Metro grocery store. There seems to be big-time inner-city grocery wars happening. I guess that is a sign of a very liveable downtown core. As I got closer to my planned turnaround point at Trinity near Front, it dawned on me that one of my favourite pastry treats was very close-at-hand. At Trinity and Mill street in the Distillery District is the Brick Bakery. WooHoo! While I woke up this morning with the mantra “no more chocolate” reverberating in my head, I said a big YES to an eccles cake pit stop.

Eccles cake

Brick Bakery offerings

Eating eccles cake

Fueled up I began the return leg westward via the lakeshore. The stretch of the lakeshore east of Yonge street is quite dismal but it is usually quiet enough to run on the road and one of the first roads to be plowed after a snowfall. I made another pit stop at Harbourfront Centre where I was able to check out an art show featuring portraits. A portrait by Louie Palu of a 22 year old marine serving in Afghanistan was particularly compelling and I found myself saying a prayer for our troops.

The rest of the run was part of my usual six miler which always makes the time seem to go by faster. I felt comfortable and steady all the way, with energy to spare when I returned home. Energy which will be put to good use this evening as we have as guests our 5, 7 & 9 year old nephews and niece. Muppet Movie, here we come.

I am almost 100% committed to a spring goal of running a fast 5K. I’ve never really trained specifically for 5K but I think I need to do this to get some speed back. This will involve joining  a hard-training track club. Yes, you’ve heard it before, the false starts I’ve made in signing up but I think 2012 is the year that I will finally do it.

What is it that you might finally do in 2012?

Happy New Years all!

p.s. Ever since tasting my first eccles cake a few years ago, I have been meaning to bake them hence another finally-do for 2012. I got the contact info I need from the clerk to get the Brick Bakery recipe.


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Song for a Winter’s Night

December has been a month of catching up with friends, preparing for the holiday season and somehow blogging has fallen by the wayside. I’ve been enjoying gradually increasing my mileage to 40 miles a week over seven days of running.

At a party the other week a friend mentioned that he had found out about my blog through another friend who told him that I blogged very regularly.  He was happy to hear that you can sign up for an email subscription rather than visiting my blog to check for new posts. My posting has slowed to 2-5 times a month lately while earlier in the year I was posting nearly every day.

Photo by Shaylan Spurway

We enjoyed a memorable evening last weekend in Stratford, Ontario at a performance by  iconic singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. While visiting Stratford in early October for the Festival City 10K we were learned that the last two shows of his latest Canadian tour would take place in the cozy setting of the Stratford Festival Theatre. Adding to the appeal of this weekend getaway was that our B & B of choice, The Judges Quarters is a five minute walk from the venue.

The Judges Quarters

Breakfast at The Judges Quarters

Having heard from others that Lightfoot’s voice has been much diminished due to an illness that involved a tracheotomy our expectations were not high but we were still very keen. Press coverage describes Lightfoot as frail but I would choose the word slight and I thought in fact, that his physical movements suggested a regular fitness regime. And indeed, post-concert research uncovered an article where Lightfoot reveals, “I did 81 shows last year. . . none of that would be possible if I didn’t stay on top of things and do the workouts.”  Like a good marathoner, Gordon Lightfoot is very much in tune with what he is capable of physically and portions out his energy over the course of his extensive performance tours very carefully.

Still there were times when his voice faltered but the absence of youthful vigour was replaced by the powerful emotional resonance of his voice and lyrics. Lightfoot prefaced the high point of the evening with a brief, “this is a good one”. And so it was as the dedicated singer-songwriter doing what he must do, imbued Song for a Winter’s Night with both innocence and experience. It was a starry, snow-dusted, teary-eyed and very memorable evening in Stratford. Thank you Gordon Lightfoot.

Song for a Winter’s Night

The lamp is burnin’ low upon my table top
The snow is softly falling
The air is still in the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly calling

If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you

The smoke is rising in the shadows overhead
My glass is almost empty
I read again between the lines upon each page
The words of love you sent me

If I could know within my heart
That you were lonely too
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you

The fire is dying now, my lamp is growing dim
The shades of night are lifting
The morning light steals across my window pane
Where webs of snow are drifting

If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you
And to be once again with you

Balzac's coffee, Stratford

Flagship location of Balzac's coffee, Stratford


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ACE-ing Portland at The NINES

Thanks to a flurry of emails from one of my four brothers, my husband and I decided to make Portland, Oregon the first stop on our Pacific Northwest tour. When I told him we had booked our flight from Toronto to Portland.  He sent me a notice of a hotel special from Hotwire and urged me to book at The NINES.  Which I did.  We were not disappointed.

The Nines Hotel, Portland

The Nines, a place for you and your honey bunny.

The Nines is located within a former mega-department store in the Meier & Frank Building.  There is still a downsized Macy’s within this landmark building but the hotel takes up floors seven and upward to the eighteenth, top floor.  The name, is a reference to the glory days of the building, “dressed to the nines” with various decorative elements reinforcing this theme.

The Nines

Rooms, all dressed up at The Nines

The price of the hotel at $129 was within five dollars of what we paid for a very basic room at one of Juneau’s top hotels shortly after. We were very “down” with that to borrow a youthful expression. The rooms were comfy and chic, the location superbly central, with the light rail transit system footsteps away and just a few blocks away from the ACE Hotel.

Ace Hotel

Coffee & good food flank the Ace Hotel

While in Portland my brother and I exchanged several text messages via Blackberry messenger, including one where he asked if I loved the lobby of the ACE Hotel as much as he did.  Just off the lobby is a Stumptown Coffee Roasters Cafe, so when you get your coffee there, you can then hang out in the ACE Hotel lobby.

ACE Hotel Lobby

Casual Corner at the ACE Hotel

What did I love about the lobby?  Was it the offhand chic, and truly casual atmosphere where you felt perfectly comfortable rearranging the modular sofa to your needs.  Perhaps that comfort level was an offshoot of the duct tape repairs on the immense coffee table with cactii and succulents as the centerpiece.  Lining the passage to the lobby were to-the-ceiling bookshelves and in the lobby itself were bikes for hire and an icon of instant photography, a vintage four shot, photo booth.

Ace Hotel

Duct tape detailing carries the day

I held back on professing love, mainly because I wondered if we, who seemed to always be the oldest pair “in the house” were entitled to “love” the place.  The creative and hip ambience had me wondering if the Drake Hotel and the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto drew inspiration from the ACE.

While the Drake is far more “sheeshy” or “chi chi” and self-consciously arty it is not quite as inviting and cozy.  We stayed at the Drake Hotel one night, even though it is only one mile from our home just a couple of blocks off my running route.  We were the successful bidders on an overnight stay there at a silent auction fundraiser for our local YMCA.  The room by the way, was a lesson in good, functional design and the food at the Drake is always terrific, with fried chicken on buttermilk pancakes a pleasant brunch memory.

Stumptown Coffee at the Ace Hotel

Stumptown coffee at the ACE, yes, I love it!

As for the coffee, Stumptown Coffee Roasters is acknowledged as giving Portland the edge over Seattle as best coffee town in North America. In Canada, Stumptown is only available at two LIT Espresso bars in Toronto. One of the locations is a few blocks from us and our attention was drawn to the Stumptown difference and our good fortune in our proximity to LIT by the same brother who directed us to visit the lobby of the ACE Hotel.

In comparison, the atrium style lobby of  The Nines is of mammoth proportions, with a restaurant, pool room and several seating areas. I never made it to the fitness area but my husband reported that the treadmills had a screen where you could view a visual of a track. We also never made it to the highly recommended Asian inspired, rooftop restaurant.  You know there’s a lot going on in your hotel when you don’t have time to enjoy or even peek at all its amenities. And there is so much to do in this city with Powell’s the world’s largest, independent, used and new bookstore, a fabulous weekend market, fresh and unique take-out food in abundance at the many street vendors and easy access to running routes by the river.

Willamette River Walk, Portland Oregon

Nothing beats a river path for reducing the risk of losing your way while on a run.

p.s.  We don’t normally travel with a stuffed rabbit.  The one pictured in this post was purchased as a gift at the Japanese garden in Washington Park.


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Happy in Haines

Future site of cubic cabin

The weather in Haines, back in early June was superb and we were told, unusually summery.  First order of the day was a run, and a destination run at that.  I’m not the only one in my family to fall in love with Haines as my Whitehorse brother, an architect, recently bought a property in Haines.  Thus  sight number one, was his lot.

Final leg up the hill, breakfast just around the corner

His lot is on the edge of this town, in the uppermost reaches so it was quite a climb to get there and a bit too steep on the downhill to really enjoy an easy stride. But, man oh man, what a view!   Then, down to the water and a run over to the Mountain Cafe, THE place for coffee in Haines. This combo healthy food store and cafe sits at the conjunction of the major roads into the town. Having verified the location of where we would breakfast, I was eager to get on with the eating and shortened my run a bit.

I do cut myself a bit of slack while on vacation particularly since my husband has had to cut back his running as my primary goal is to spend time with HIM.  I’ve also cut back on travel shopping as well, for the very same reason.

Mountain Cafe, Breakfast Burritos

The Mountain Cafe met expectations with very good breakfast burritos and local hustle and bustle.  Then we walked to Fort Seward, so named for William H. Seward who negotiated the purchase of Alaska from the Russians.  The fort was decommissioned in 1947 and is now privately owned.  The original buildings now a combination of private residences, B&B’s, eateries galleries and studios.

Carrying on the Tinglit cultural traditions

Tinglit artist's supply room

Notable was the Alaskan Indian Arts centre with a gallery and studio  where we were able to informally tour the studio where totem poles are made.  To order a totem pole CLICK HERE  It was hard not to compare the quality and pricing of the work found here to the offerings of the ultra-commercialized Juneau.  Any cruise ship passenger happening upon this place would feel that they had connected to the “real” Alaska.

In the afternoon we went on a three-hour guided hike.  This was quite expensive but hikers are cautioned to travel in groups to minimize the risk of a bear attack.  I’ve heard various numbers cited for safety from parties of three to ten.  With eight in our group, including two guides, one armed with bear spray in a holster I felt safe.  Being of small stature, I’ve often thought it would be useful to have a very tall, hiking hat in the shape of some sort of menacing creature.

One of our guides, Lindy was a musician and naturalist.  She and her husband lived for years in a Yurt,  the portable, wood-framed and felt-covered dwelling of nomadic Mongolians.  Funnily enough her band played in Ottawa last year, for the Canada Day celebrations.  Lindy was able to tell when a bear had scratched its back on a tree, or whether a moose had gone by, by virtue of a few hairs left on bark or a bush.  Thankfully, she was also able to tell us that the very loud and scary sound we heard was not a mountain lion or a bear but the sound of humpbacks in the water nearby.

If it had been the two of us, in fear (or at least my fear) we could have set personal best times running back to the trail head.  Thanks to our guides we now cherish the memory of those otherworldly, sonorous and eerily musical sounds.  Sadly, we were not able to see the humpbacks through the thick forest cover but we came upon another group who were starry-eyed having seen the humpbacks play in a cove further on.  Excitedly we trekked on, hoping the whales would linger so we could enjoy the same.

Humpback whales hang out here

The word pristine was invented to describe places such as the destination cove and all those beautiful, mostly unnamed places in the north.  Wow!  The humpbacks were gone however and that was a bit disappointing.   Somewhere along the trail the topic of beer came up and this thread was eagerly pursued by our other guide.  He promised to take us to the Haines Brewing Company located in the state fairground, formerly the set of the movie White Fang.  Happily, time allowed and sampled some Spruce Tip Ale while I enjoyed a freshly brewed and delicious root beer.

Happiness is a bottle of spruce tip beer

From there we returned to the Fireweed Restaurant for dinner where we were greeted like regulars.  I wondered if this was because our two night in a row appearance set us apart from the majority of middle-aged folk who travel Alaska via cruise ship.  One of the couples on our hike were from California and they were amazed to discover that it was possible to travel down the Lynn Canal by state ferry.

The next day was our travel day to Whitehorse.  Sure wish we had more time on our hands but I know we will be back.

Haines, good for the soul


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Pitching Portland

Japanese garden, Washington park

Until recently, I had a vague notion that I might like to visit Eugene, Oregon one day being a famous runner’s city but Portland was just a name.  I asked my brother who lives in the Yukon whether he thought we would enjoy visiting Anchorage, Alaska and I received a flurry of emails detailing the wonders of Portland.  We spoke on the phone and he assured me that I would love it and if I didn’t love it, he would give me my money back.

Early morning hang-out, THE NINES lobby

And that is how we ended up sipping coffee in the lobby of the ultra-hip THE NINES hotel.  My brother sent me a Hotwire alert that was offering rooms at THE NINES for nearly half price.  The same price as what we will pay for a very modest rooms in Juneau and Haines in Alaska and where the internet will probably not be free.  So we arrived mid-afternoon on Thursday and fly to Juneau, late Sunday afternoon through Seattle, touching down in Juneau around the time the sun will set.

In pitching Portland to me, Jack described the city as being very Lynn-esque.  Hmm, my husband and I have been mulling this one over, and he says, “Well, not my Lynn particularly.”  The key elements, I think are a bike, runner friendly place with great coffee and bookstores, extensive public transit and casual outdoorsy feel.  But, the birthplace of grunge and a skateboarders haven, not really.  I’m definitely into low-risk sports and if pressed, would have to name jazz as my favourite music.  On the other hand I was a huge fan of Patti Smith when in art school and her bio was the top seller at Powell Books, which is a far better showing than on the NYT best seller list.

So, so good . . . going back for more.

Highlights so far have been; Powell Books, which far outstrips the Strand in New York City, the Japanese gardens in Washington Park, the amazing light rail transit, Stumptown coffee at the ACE Hotel and the best cheese blintzes ever at Kenny and Zuke’s deli just a door away from the ACE Hotel.

A time to blog and a time to RUN!

So much to do, and so much to report but I have a run to get in so gotta go . . . adios!


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Postcard from Portland

Wish you were here and hope the young men minding the homestead have good weather for barbequing.  Hoping the rain here will let up a bit to allow a dry run tomorrow.  It was raining when we left Toronto, pouring at our stopover in Calgary and then when we arrived in Portland, letting up about an hour ago.

Was up at 4:15 a.m. Toronto time.  Thank goodness that we are in the hometown of Stumptown Coffee . . . ole!

Staying awake in Portland