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Race recap: PNC Milwaukee Marathon

27 Oct

This year, things were better. Much better. This year, this race had to be better.

I approached the starting line relaxed — as relaxed as one could be after battling some hamstring tendinitis the few weeks before the race and in the face of 25 mph winds and dropping temperatures. I lined up with the 4:30 pace group and planned to stay just ahead of them as long as possible.

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The race started at 6:30 a.m., so the sun wasn’t even up yet! It also started in a new location (in the Fifth Ward, in an area known as the Reed Street Yards, just southeast of the Harley Davidson Museum campus), so we had about 3 miles under our belts before we headed north and uphill on Lincoln Memorial Drive, along the lake.

I felt surprisingly good, considering my hamstring, back-of-the-knee, and calf pain kicked in almost immediately upon running. I focused on shortening my stride and increasing my cadence as much as possible, and I think that helped not only keep the pain manageable, but also distracted me a bit, since it forced me to think about something other than the pain.

The early portion of the course is my favorite, as it takes us through familiar haunts from the lakefront over to Brady Street and down Old World Third Street.

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I continued to keep the 4:30 pace group just behind me until about 14.5 miles, somewhere along Sherman Boulevard. I also saw Christopher on this out-and-back stretch.

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The first two-thirds of the race remarkably “flew” by, considering the wind (a 25 mph headwind all the way out Wisconsin Avenue), the challenging course, and the aches and pains in my right leg.

I kept on running, feeling fairly relaxed and in control — which is paramount amidst the gritty miles (Miles 16-22).

This portion of the race takes us through the lonely Miller Valley and then onto the quiet, albeit scenic Hank Aaron Trail and through Mitchell Park, before heading back to the Reed Street Yards.

I jogged (it was a much slower run by this point) and jogged and jogged, only walking into and out of the water stops. I continued to marvel at the fact that I had made it this far, and I was still running! I kept repeating to myself, “Be brave.” I continued to remind myself that I was doing much better, physically and mentally, at this point than last year.

It was around this point — Mile 21 to 22 — that my RunKeeper went from being about a quarter of a mile ahead (measuring long, which is typical) to being about a third of a mile or more behind (measuring short). I couldn’t quite process what that meant at the time, so I relied on the mileage signs on the course, and I pressed on through Miles 24 and 25, then down the 6th Street viaduct through Mile 26.

The last two-tenths of a mile — that was it! The crowd thickened. The finish line was in sight. My body had carried me this far.

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I hustled across the finish line, exhausted, relieved, and proud. I hobbled through the muddy finish area to find Christopher, who was with my dad, and we swapped stories (Christopher finished in an incredible 3:51!) over our free beers under the cover of a pop-up coffee trailer.

We hardly stuck around, through; it was too muddy, too windy, too cold.

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Marathon No. 5 done, albeit with a couple of asterisks next to it.

The marathon course came in short for many, many runners. We all received official word Tuesday, Oct. 18, that the course was, in fact, more than three-quarters of a mile short! (The turnaround on the Hank Aaron Trail was set incorrectly.)

Even though the course was short, you can only run the course that’s given to you, so I will proudly share my 4:35 finish — it was that tough of a course on the whole, and my aches and pains were that bothersome throughout the race. I still cannot believe I powered through all that. (And even if I had to run the regulation eight-tenths of a mile more, I would have come in ahead of 4:45, and I consider that a huge victory.)

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Distance: 25.4 miles
Duration: 4:35:07
Average pace: 10:31 per mile
Through 20 miles: 3:34:14

I served as a race ambassador for the Milwaukee Marathon, so I really tried hard to support and promote the race from the day we received our marching orders. I talked about it as much as possible within the context of my social media, and I volunteered to promote it at the Rock ‘n’ Sole Half Marathon expo in June, and I staffed the information booth at the expo Saturday. I had good intentions to do more, like visit the Quad Cities running stores, speak to the Corn Belt and Rock River Road Runners, but we got majorly caught up in searching for, buying, and moving into a new house.

If we’re being honest, though, I expected more out of my role. I know ambassadors were “expected” to recruit a certain number of people to the race to receive perks, and perhaps none of us met those benchmarks…but I haven’t heard a word about my “success”. If none of us, or very few of us ambassadors met these expectations, perhaps the race organizers could have scaled them down? I would have loved an additional thank you for at least making the attempt to get behind this race…which two years in a row now has run into its own problems, and is, as a result, not making a good case as to why runners should support it as the city’s only marathon and why it could be world-class, big-city race.

I want to continue to support the Milwaukee Marathon. I want it to succeed, for my city and for this sport. I hope the new organizers take our feedback seriously, and I hope runners who felt burned give them one more chance next year.

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I am a Milwaukee Marathon race ambassador!

3 Apr

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I am thrilled to be an ambassador for the Milwaukee Marathon this year!

The running festival, which features races at all distances for all abilities and paces, is sure to be the event of the year in the City of Festivals — my beloved hometown of Milwaukee.

Register at www.runmilwaukeemarathon.com and use the promo code “KaylaRunsMKE” for a discount off the marathon, half marathon, 10K, or 5K.

It’s more than a new name, new date, and new finish line. The @mke_marathon weekend Oct. 14-15 is an opportunity to challenge yourself and run the streets of Milwaukee’s distinctive and diverse neighborhoods.

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(Milwaukee Running Festival Marathon 2016)

Join me for one of the races. I promise you’ll have an incredible experience! And I promise, I’ll be one of your biggest cheerleaders, whatever challenge you take on.

The deets:

Milwaukee Marathon (or half marathon, 10K, 5K or even 1-mile)
Oct. 14-15, 2017
www.runmilwaukeemarathon.com
Next price increase is July 1.

Race recap: Milwaukee Running Festival Marathon

16 Dec

It has been more than a month since Christopher and I ran the Milwaukee Running Festival marathon…

I thought I might just skip this recap. But I know I would be remiss if this recap wasn’t here in the archives.

So, here it is, abbreviated and completely from memory!

First, some notes:

My training went pretty well until about the final month.

I started getting sick Oct. 1 and cut a scheduled long run of 18 miles down to 12 miles. I felt well enough to tackle 20 miles a week later, but I experienced aches and pains through most of the run, especially from Mile 13.5 and on. I slogged through a step-back run of 13 miles Oct. 15, again with aches and pains, mostly in my left IT band. I tackled another 20 miles a week later, tired and ready to be done with training.

I started feeling really sore and fatigued the next day. I thought it was related to the long run, but I soon developed a nasty, productive cough, along with other symptoms that persisted for two weeks. I went into the doctor the Tuesday of race week to see if she could give me anything to knock it out in time for the marathon. She diagnosed me with near-pneumonia and prescribed a Z-pack of antibiotics.

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And now, the recap:

I toed the starting line feeling decent, but extremely nervous. I had not run in 2 weeks, and I had barely worked out other than my regular yoga classes and one BodyPump class. I went into it knowing it likely would be difficult, but hoping it would be wonderful after a couple of weeks of true rest for my legs.

I lined up with the 4:30 pace group and planned to stick with them as long as it felt comfortable to maintain that pace.

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Through the first several miles, I felt remarkably good. We were clocking a bit faster than our prescribed pace, but we were chatting and laughing, and I remained comfortable, so I just ignored it.

We headed north up Lincoln Memorial Drive, then back south 0n Lake Drive toward Brady Street. We ran across what is (unbeknownst to me) called the Marsupial Bridge past Lakefront Brewery and then down the brick Old World Third Street.

But around this point, I started to feel some tweaks in my knees and IT bands that, truthfully, never went away.

We ran West down Wisconsin Avenue, through the Marquette University campus, then north toward the Sherman Park neighborhood. The half marathoners turned around at the 9.5-mile mark, while the marathoners pressed on; the marathoners cross paths with each other from about Mile 11.5 to Mile 14.5 on an out-and-back stretch of Sherman Boulevard.

At about the halfway point, I started to incorporate more walking breaks. I tried to make it from aid station to aid station and just walk a bit longer leading up to and coming out of the stations.

We wound through Washington Park, then down Hawley Road toward the Miller Valley.

I saw my dad at the corner of Hawley and State, and I was sore and tired and I just threw my arms around him and lamented my pain and struggle. He told me to keep going, so I did.

The crowd of marathoners was really sparse by this point. It was very quiet and lonely, which is just terrible when you are struggling to keep your head above water.

We jogged past Miller Park and then joined the Hank Aaron State Trail for about a mile. We even did a lap around a football field just before Mile 21.

Around this point, a pair of girls sidled up along either side of me and asked if I wanted to walk and talk — and maybe run a little — with them. The three of us would go on to finish the race together, mostly walking the last 5 miles, complaining that the hills were brutal, that the course was long, that none of us was having a good race.

I saw my dad again at Mile 23 in the Third Ward.

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We pressed on past the Summerfest grounds, across Lakeshore State Park, then past Discovery World and the Milwaukee Art Museum before we finished in Veterans Park.

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Another marathon finish in the books. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t my fastest. It wasn’t my slowest, either. (That title is reserved for my first one back in 2012.) But it was another marathon. And every single mile of the race and the training for it tells a story.

This just wasn’t my race. Maybe next year?

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It’s worth noting that the course was, in fact, almost a half-mile long. There were two errors, according to organizers, the first in the 17th mile and the second in the 20th mile. The exact amount of extra distance was 0.489583 miles. The organizers updated our times to reflect the added distance.

Distance: 26.7 miles
Duration: 5:27:03 (5:20:56 for 26.2)
Average pace: 12:14 per mile
Through 10K: 1:04:37
Through half: 2:20:59
Through 20 miles: 3:53:31

Race recap: Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon

13 Oct

The Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon was the race of a lifetime! It marks my third full marathon–my second this year–and my first race in my home city. And it marks a new personal record of 4:29:29.

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This marathon was so different from the Bayshore Marathon in that I was kind of a lone wolf, both in training and during the race.

Part of me cursed the loneliness: I sometimes struggled to push through those early-morning long runs because I knew no one else was up before the sun running, too. I worried about racing without a partner–someone to keep me on pace, at least for half of the marathon, and someone to talk to, to help the miles pass.

But as it got closer to race day, another part of me embraced the loneliness: I had trained to my abilities and mostly alone (save for the standard last 6 miles of my long runs with Christopher and the girls ). I was prepared to run my race.

As such, I was very calm about the marathon. I knew I would hit my goal of 5 hours. I thought I might hit a more lofty goal of 4 hours and 45 minutes. But, I wondered if I could hit a pie-in-the-sky goal of 4 hours and 30 minutes.

IMG_20151003_134912The day before, Christopher and I met Mindy and Andi in Milwaukee to grab lunch and beers at the Milwaukee Ale House, then pick up our packets at the Italian Community Center. We had dinner back at home, then put the girls to bed. We shuffled off to our respective rooms about 9:30 p.m. and finally went to bed about 10 p.m.

I slept well, all things considered.

Mindy and Andi and I were up at 5:45 a.m., at which point, we promptly ate breakfast, then changed into our running gear. We headed out the door about 6:30 a.m.

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My mom drove us to Grafton High School, where we pinned on our bibs, put on our other gear, and then headed outside to the porta-potties. We met up with my friend, Jillian, who waited in line with us; we were in line for about 20 minutes, then headed to the start line.

I dashed back to my mom to give her a hug and a kiss and tell her, “I love you.” She said, “I love you, too.” and reminded me that Oma was with me and she would give me light feet.

(My mom had given me a guardian angel–a white angel encased in a clear stone, about the size of a large marble–to keep with me during the race. It belonged to my Oma. She had it in her pocket the day her aorta ruptured and she later died. I found it–it fell out of her pocket into the washer–a few days later. My mom has kept it with her, in her purse, in the car, ever since. I tucked it in my sports bra, on my left side, close to my heart and frequently touched it throughout the race.)

I lined up in front of the 5:00 pace group, but behind the 4:30 pace group, about where the 4:45 pace group had gathered. The race director counted down, and we were off.

Somewhere between Mile 1 and 2, as the course ventured into its only truly “rural” setting, the breeze blew in the scent of cow manure and wet hay. I laughed. “Good morning from Wisconsin!” I said. A few people around me snickered at the smell wafting in the air. “Smell our dairy air!” one guy said.

Just after Mile 7, we turned onto the Concordia University campus and straight into the wind. Luckily, within a few more turns, we headed south and out of the wind.

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Around Mile 8, I saw my dad, and then, steps away, Christopher and the girls! The line of spectators was crowded, as was the general pack of runners, so I opted to wave to them, rather than stop.

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About Mile 10, I saw my blog friend, Jamie, who I saw again a few more times, including just before the finish chute. Basically I would see my family, then I would see Jamie, then I would see my family again, and then I would see Jamie again. It was a nice boost to see someone familiar every few miles.

Just before the halfway point, I stopped to use the porta-pottie. By this time, I had caught up to the 4:30 pace group and decided to hang with it for as long as it felt comfortable and maintainable. But, in stopping to pee, I lost them and lost maybe 2 minutes.

But then, at the halfway point, I saw Christopher and the girls again; the girls were out of the jogging stroller and so, ran into the street. I pulled off to the left, hoisted Anna in the air, then bent down to hug her and Elise together. I grabbed hands with my dad, then headed off again.

At Mile 15, I saw my mom again, then at Mile 18, I saw my mom and dad, and Christopher and the girls. And then about Mile 22, I saw my dad, Christopher and the girls for the last time.

At that point, the course had neared ultra-familiar territory–the UW-Milwaukee campus, Lake Park, and Lincoln Memorial Drive. It was an incredible sight to head toward downtown, toward Veterans Park, past Bradford Beach, Villa Terrace, Alterra (ahem, Collectivo) on the lake–all with the Milwaukee Art Museum in the background.

The finish area neared. The cheers of the crowd gathered on both sides of the path and then, at the end, the finish chute grew louder. The clock came into focus.

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I saw 4:31 on the clock, and I grinned like the cat who ate the canary. I was so happy with my time: I had come in ahead of my goal of 5 hours, and I was merely a minute off my pie-in-the-sky goal of 4 hours and 30 minutes. And I felt good–strong, even.

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After I had my medal around my neck, I headed into the milieu. I grabbed some snacks, including a giant soft pretzel, and I put on my newly-purchased Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon long-sleeve technical jacket.

In the runner-spectator meeting area, I finally found Christopher, the girls, and my dad, and at that moment, I found out my time was actually sub-4:30.

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This was such an incredible race. I was so.freaking.steady. throughout: My average paces were 10:09, 10:27 (bathroom break), 10:19, and 10:16. My first half was 2:14:37, and my second half was 2:14:52–a difference of a mere 15 seconds!

I stopped at every aid station, but truly walked through only two or three of them. I took fuel every 4 to 4.5 miles. I just felt plain ol’ good, save for the typical aches and pains that come with running a marathon.

The Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon gets major points, not only for being the race where I set a PR, but also for being well organized, having wonderful spectator support, and having one sweet medal.

The spectators really made the race one for the books. There were tons of people at the designated viewing areas and major mile markers, where you would expect a lot of people, but there still were plenty of people at other places, even in the quieter residential areas. Everyone was cheering loudly and holding clever signs, and most everyone was calling out your name (It was printed on our bibs!). It was so unique to have complete and total strangers cheering for you by name. One woman even looked me dead in the eye and told me she was proud of me. I still have no idea if she is someone I should know or remember or not.

So…another marathon is in the books. I am so grateful to all who supported me–on race day and every day before it–especially my family; my best girls, Mindy and Andi; and of course, my amazing husband, Christopher, and sweet daughters, Anna and Elise. I am truly amazed at what my body, my mind, and my heart are capable of.

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Distance: 26.2 miles
Duration: 4:29:29
Average pace: 10:17 per mile
Miles 1-7: 1:10:57
Miles 7-13.1: 1:03:40
Miles 13.1-20: 1:11:03
Miles 20-26.2: 1:03:49

Race recap: Famous Racing Sausages 5K

31 Jul

What do you get when you mix baseball, running and sausages?

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The Famous Racing Sausages 5K, presented by the Milwaukee Brewers and the Klement’s Racing Sausages, a race that takes participants around and through Miller Park.

Sausage Race map

We arrived about 7:30 a.m. with just enough time to meet up with our friends, John and Becky, pin on our bibs and snap a few pre-race pictures.

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We made our way to the starting line and sidled up alongside the middle of the pack. We listened to the celebrity starter, Brewers third-base coach Ed Sedar, and were off on his count of “on your mark, get set, go!”

The course wound around the tailgating parking lots, down the first-base line, across home plate, down the third-base line and over the bridge from the parking lots to the stadium. It was a really flat, fast course, but it offered little cover from the beating sun.

I felt great through the whole race! I missed the first water stop just past the 1-mile mark but stopped at the second stop just after the 2-mile mark. I even high-fived Brett Wurst, the bratwurst, somewhere between 1 and 2 miles. I hit 1 mile at less than 9 minutes and 2 miles at less than 18 minutes; I was flying, and I had a hunch a PR could be within my grasp.

I approached the 3-mile mark and the bridge that goes from the parking lots to the stadium. I knew I was close to the finish. More and more spectators lined the course and cheered. Volunteers directed runners. I floored it, passing Christopher, passing the Miller Lite Diamond Dancers  and crossing at a little more than 29 minutes.

Whew. I actually beat two of the sausages, which legend has it is very hard to do.

Christopher and I met up and watched Becky cross the finish line, and all three of us watched John finish his first race ever! We made our way to the post-race tailgate party, which included complimentary water, Miller Lite and hot dogs. Only in Milwaukee…

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We hung around for a while, basking in our post-race glow, downing some grub and some suds and catching up with each other.

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We moved our get-together to Café Hollander to celebrate.

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(The Beer Mosa, fresh-squeezed orange juice and the house High-Speed Wit beer.)

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(The Green Torpedo Omelet, three eggs with fresh spinach and basil and feta and goat cheeses with Hollander potatoes and toast.)

We loved this race! Christopher and I had a great time and would absolutely do it again. The organizers did a great job. (Participants get not only a well-run race but a sweet T-shirt and a voucher for a ticket to a select game.) It’s no wonder the race draws 4,000 runners and walkers and sells out year after year.

Last but not least, the goods:

Distance: 3.1 miles
Duration: 29:01 chip time (29:12 Nike+ time)
Average pace: 9:21 per mile

Celebration (part 2)

13 Jun

Christopher and I kicked off the second day of our little getaway with brunch at Café Benelux in the historic Third Ward; we wanted to sit on the rooftop, but we opted for an immediately-available seat at the bar and lucked out because we had a great bartender/server.

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We started with cocktails appropriate for drinking before noon—Christopher got the Muddy Larry, Hirsch Kentucky corn whiskey, house-made bloody mary mix with a pimento-stuffed olive; and I got the Beer Mosa, High Speed Wit (brewed exclusively for the restaurant) beer and fresh-squeezed orange juice.

We then chowed down on our main dishes:

BRUSSELS PANNENKOEKEN
a Dutch pancake topped with asparagus, fried eggs, pancetta, parmesan and Belgian beer-cheese sauce

MRS. HOLLANDER
two fried eggs, smoked ham and Belgian beer-cheese sauce on a croissant with hashbrowns

Cafe Benelux collage

Café Benelux, which opened within the last year or so, is one of several restaurants in a local restaurant group that is known for their incredible European beer selection, delicious food and fun atmosphere. The restaurant offers a fabulous brunch menu, complete with unique cocktails, in a casual, European-inspired environment. We both devoured our dishes and especially loved the beer-cheese sauce. We enjoyed chatting with our bartender, too; he even offered to snap a picture of us to commemorate our anniversary.

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We then headed to Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. Our beloved Brew Crew was playing the San Diego Padres and looking to take the series and come out on top of a nine-game homestand.

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We cracked a beer—an extra-large Hoppin’ Frog Turbo Shandy summer ale—and shared it on the walk from the car to the stadium. We waited in a snaking line, got our Nyjer Morgan bobblehead and made it to our section just in time for opening pitch.

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We took our seats—14 rows behind freakin’ home plate—and settled in for the first four and a half innings. We then took a walk to get margaritas and BBQ brisket baked potatoes; we even met a few friends who were at the game, including my best friend, Valerie, and her husband, who were sitting just one row behind us.

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We watched our new, young catcher, Martin Maldonado, blast a three-run home run to center to give the Brewers a 4-2, a shot in the arm they so desperately needed in the sixth inning. We saw Ryan Braun crank a two-run homer to left if the seventh inning, runs they ended up needing by the ninth.

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We watched set-up man Francisco Rodriguez pitch a mediocre inning then watched closer John Axford give up a run-scoring single and walk in another run before striking out a guy with the bases loaded and securing the win, 6-5. We cheered so loud for our boys in blue white and felt so happy to witness a win, complete with a couple home runs and a heart-stopping final three outs.

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We walked back to the parking lot and cracked open a couple more beers—a Central Waters Belgian-style Blonde ale and a Lakefront Brewery Wisconsinite weiss beer—to celebrate the victory and wait for traffic to clear.

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We made the two-plus-hour drive home, then curled up on the couch to catch our Sunday-night shows and dig into the cupcakes from our wedding, which made the trek to Milwaukee, melted in the hot car and made the trip back to Dixon. (Thankfully, they still tasted good, even if they didn’t look pretty.)

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Christopher and I had such a wonderful weekend just being together and being out and about in our city, eating, drinking and doing things we truly enjoy together.

It’s been a really special year for us: We’ve weathered the storms to find the rainbows. We’ve learned a lot about one another and about our marriage. And we’re as in love, if not more in love than we were on our wedding day.

What’s on the horizon for us? We’re not sure, but we can’t wait to find out!

Celebration (part 1)

11 Jun

Christopher and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary Sunday.

First, let me tell you that it has been an incredible year. We’ve  had our ups and downs. We’ve shared lots of laughs and some tears. We’ve fallen deeper in love.

And now, let me show you how we celebrated one year of wedded bliss.

We spent the weekend in Milwaukee!

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(Source)

We started at the Milwaukee Art Museum—just in time to watch the daily closing and opening of the the Burke Brise Soleil, a moveable sunscreen with a 217-foot wingspan that is both art and a city icon.

Art museum collage

We perused the special exhibition, “Posters of Paris,” which features dozens of the ubiquitous posters of the late 19th century that advertised everything from theatre productions to bicycles. We really enjoyed learning the origins of these famous posters and dissecting the distinct styles of each poster artist. We wandered through the expressionist, impressionist and modern art exhibitions, too.

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We got lunch at Apollo Café on Brady Street and ate outside to soak in the sunshine and people watch in the ultra-hip, über-eclectic neighborhood.

Christopher ordered the pastitsio, or Greek lasagna, which came with a side of spinach-tomato rice, and I ordered the falafel, which came with a Greek salad and pita bread.

Apollo Cafe collage

Apollo Café is a local favorite for its authentic Greek food and chic location. The restaurant offers big portions for reasonable prices. We both devoured our dishes; everything tasted homemade and cooked with love and care.

We then got frozen yogurt—our first-ever foray into the super trendy world of self-serve dairy delights—at the brand new Yo Factory on Farwell Avenue, near the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus. The shop was having its grand opening, and people who claimed an offer on Facebook got buy-one-get-one free froyo.

I got Dutch chocolate and cake batter froyo and topped it with dark chocolate sauce, peanuts, Heath bar pieces and mochi. Christopher got Dutch chocolate and mint froyo and topped it with dark chocolate sauce, chocolate-covered chocolate (Seriously…we think…) and Oreo pieces.

Froyo collage

Yo Factory was packed, in part because of the grand opening and in part because a local radio station was there for the festivities. The line was long and the shop was congested, but the staff were really friendly. The cashier weighed our yogurt and told us, because we had the Facebook offer, we could take either one off; I took the heavier one off, naturally. We both really enjoyed our dishes, although we also were really full after the last bite; the yogurt was tasty and refreshing, and the toppings were plentiful.

We headed out to our hotel, the Crowne Plaza, in Wauwatosa to check in, cool off in the pool and get ready for the night.

We then went to dinner at Balzac on Brady Street, right around the corner from where we had lunch.

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We started with a couple cocktails—Christopher got the Arlington, Few whiskey and Sauci dessert wine served on the rocks with ginger beer and an orange twist, and I got the Zen Sangria, Wollersheim Winery Prairie Fume, Stirrings pomegranate liqueur, green tea vodka, pear purée and apricot nectar.

We decided to get the most out of our experience and share four small plates:

TOMATO TARTE TATIN
a twist on a classic; savory-sweet caramelized tomatoes and onions on a shortbread crust; served with fresh ricotta cheese and mixed greens

FRITES
a French-fried blend of traditional white potatoes and sweet potatoes; served with chipotle aioli and jalapeno ketchup

COQ AU VIN CHICKEN WINGS
eight plump chicken wings cooked in this classic French style with bacon and crisped on the grill

DUCK NACHOS
white tortilla chips topped with roasted duck, bacon, gruyere cheese blend, scallion crème fraîche and pico de gallo

Balzac collage

Balzac is another local gem known for its extensive wine list and one-of-a-kind small plates served in a casual, yet elegant atmosphere. The restaurant offers unique takes on typical bar food, and the small-plate concept allows diners to try a variety of items. We cleaned our plates! We especially loved the chicken wings—the meat literally fell off the bone—and the duck nachos; we also liked the jalapeno ketchup and chipotle aioli that came with the fries.

We were all dressed up (and sadly forgot to get a picture of the two of us) and went to Hot Water, a dance club in the Fifth Ward, just south of downtown. It was salsa night, so an instructor offered a brief salsa lesson and then the DJ spun Latin music. We arrived in time for most of the lesson and danced a few songs; we didn’t stay too long, though, because neither of us is very confident in our salsa skills, and we felt out of place.

We opted to go to At Random in Bay View—the place we celebrated our first dating anniversary three and a half years ago—for nightcaps.

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At Random is a special place; it’s unlike any other bar. Dim lights, crooner music and cozy booths create a romantic atmosphere. Specialty drinks and ice-cream drinks are the only libations on the menu.

Christopher ordered an ice-cream drink with blue Curacao and crème de cacao, and I ordered one with amaretto and crème de cacao. We toasted to one year of marriage, stared lovingly into one another’s eyes and slurped down our dessert drinks.

We called it a night and headed back to the hotel; we were stuffed and exhausted and needed to rest up for another day of fun in the city.