Monday, December 26, 2022

Magic City Half Marathon Race Report


The final race of our "southern swing" was the Magic City Half Marathon. This race had a lot going for it -- the 5K option is Birmingham's "Girls on the Run" graduation 5K, so huge thumbs up to them for that. It also starts and ends at a baseball stadium, so there was plenty of bathrooms and we could have gotten undercover if the weather was bad. But the weather, though cold, was lovely!

We got into Birmingham on Saturday afternoon; tired and achy from the morning's race in Meridian, MS. We drove out to funky Avondale to pick up our race packets at a very nice brewpub with a huge outdoor space. Had it been warmer (and we been less tired), we might have lingered. 

Then to our big chain hotel -- Home2Suites by Hilton -- where we had a warm, friendly welcome one might have hoped to have in a fancier hotel. (I'm looking at you, Threefoot Meridian...). 

That night we stretched our legs a bit, seeing the Birmingham Barons stadium lit up, and the groovy "rainbow underpass". The lights on both change colors slowly, and it looked amazing.

Also, look how cute this sign is! I sure hope that her tail wags and her eyes move when they hit a home run. 

The next morning we bundled up (c-c-c-cold again) and headed to the start. This was a bigger race, and one we thought we would really enjoy as the course was simple -- just two loops with long straightaways. 

We lined up -- towards the back, of course... but notice how bundled up people were!

And then we headed out, past the replica "Magic City" sign. No, I didn't know that Birmingham's nickname was the Magic City either. 

The original sign used to stand in front of the train station, but deteriorated and was torn down in 1952, and sold as scrap. 

Postcard from Birmingham Public Library

But when the Rotary Trail was built, a replica was included. Not quite as pretty, but a nice nod to the history!

ANYWAY, there I go again getting distracted. I got distracted a lot during this race because, well... it was a little boring. 

I thought the long straightaways would be nice, relaxing. But in the end it just felt like we weren't moving at all. A loooooong way out along the train lines, an odd little lollipop loop in an industrial area (that we saw a huge number of people miss / skip, BOTH laps), then a cut over to Avondale, and then a looooooooong way back to downtown. Then around the outside of the stadium, and back out again. 

The aid stations were frequent, well staffed, and well stocked. One was staffed by what was probably a track team? Cross-country team? Who were upbeat, dancing, and making "runner tunnels" for people to run through and high five. 

At some point we caught up with the back of the 5K pack, including a pair who were dressed as the tortoise and the hare, which made us smile. 

Towards the end of our second lap we passed a lot of folks who were fading, so we did our best to cheer them up and keep them moving. 

The best part, of course, was running down the steep ramp to get on the field at the stadium, and run around the warning track to home plate and the finish. I think there were shoutouts by an announcer, and some pics on the jumbotron. And then we were done. 

After the race, sitting in the stadium, drinking a beer and snacking on pizza, we met a woman who had finished her 50th state THAT DAY. She told me that "you'll speed up at the end", and that she ran 17 STATES in 2022. I guess with so many races canceled in 2020-2021, she had a lot pent up! 

We headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up and have a nap, but we didn't have to rush out as we were staying one more night. Why? To make sure we had the chance to visit THIS GUY:

We passed through Birmingham in 2016 en route to Tupelo with Wil's folks, but sadly Vulcan was undergoing restoration so we couldn't visit. You can take an elevator up to the base of the statue and there's a nice view (and I don't mean of Vulcan's bare bottom, ahem...):

There's also a museum (we saw an exhibit about soda pop), but let's face it, the big attraction is the big guy!

But this was supposed to be a race report, so let's wrap it up. The medals were handsome and large -- I love the "stained glass" in it:

Magic City Half Marathon
14:49 pace

Most importantly, this was STATE 41!


Tuesday, December 13, 2022

13x13, December 2022 edition

Hi everyone! Here we are at the third installment of my 13x13 project! I always feel like it takes a few times to make a habit, and so I feel good to have completed a second project. 

In November 2022 I decided to make the Moonlight Ghost kit by Mill Hill beads. As I noted then, the kit was set up as a magnet, but I added some ribbon as a hanger. 

I love their detailed little ornament kits. In fact, several of the projects I have lined up for this project will also be from Mill Hill, including this one, Autumn Pumpkin, for December: 

I'll check back in on January 13 to share my finished piece, as well as my next project. 

Monday, December 12, 2022

Magnolia Half Marathon race report

I chose the Magnolia Half Marathon for my Mississippi race based simply on timing. A week after the Summit2Summit Half in Arkansas, the day before the Magic City Half in Alabama. But in the end it was a good choice -- a sweet little small-town race with thoughtful touches that prove the Race Director is herself a runner. 

On the Friday afternoon we dropped in to Threefoot Brewing to pick up our race packets. Swag included a nice shirt, a decent reusable bag, and the offer of a previous year race shirt for free. (We politely declined...never wear a shirt for a race you didn't run!)
On a verrrry cold morning we gathered at the start with the small group of runners. They had an announcer talking about past winners -- plus there were two runners who had participated in all 10 of the races over the years; they were given free entries to the race for life. That's a nice touch. Recognizing your repeat runners is a great way to build a loyal following!

The fire department were there with a great big flag (a small-town classic!). In the background you can see our hotel, the Threefoot Meridian, so you can see how close were were staying to the start!

A little before 7, following the national anthem an a prayer (ahh, the south...), we gathered in the starting chute. 

The course was really, REALLY well marked with these amazing signs. Branded in all 4 corners, they could be turned whatever direction the arrow needed to go. I love a race that doesn't assume you've memorized the course, and shows that sometimes you just go straight at an intersection. 

We started off with a little loop around downtown -- first through a long underpass beneath the railroad tracks, then a few blocks, and then a soaring bridge back across them into downtown. You can see how big the railroads are here!

We then ran out to an area of handsome older homes, past a golf club, and then a loooooooooong straight shot back into downtown. While we were headed back into town we passed a few other runners, including a woman who was running her first ever half. "Everything hurts!" she said as we passed her. We told her she was doing great, and that we were within 5K of the finish. "5K...ok...I can do that."

Though I didn't take a lot of pictures, I did snap this of a new Jimmie Rodgers mural. 

The race finished with one more little loop -- down the underpass, back over the bridge, and then done. 

At the end we got a nice little shout-out -- at packet pick up we were asked to write a little note about why we were running, etc. Of course, by the time we finished there weren't many half marathoners still out on the course! But it was nice to get a "Here's Sunny Delaney from Seattle, Washington, who has just finished her 40th state!" regardless. 

The course itself was varied if not particularly interesting. But when we came to water stops they were staffed with enthusiastic volunteers and well stocked, too. And, again, the course marking was excellent with dozens and dozens of those very clear arrow signs. 

Once across the finish line we were given our handsome, handmade medal:

We spent the last mile or so with a woman who had run the race several times before, who told us all about the medals. They're made from magnolia wood from fallen or cut trees (they even have a note on their website asking locals to contact them if they have a tree fall). The RD's father makes each medal; the shape reflects that year's race. So as this was the 10th running, it was a 10-sided medal. Then each one has the logo burned into it, and it's hung on a handsome custom ribbon. (There's a nice collection of photos on the Magnolia Marathon website.)

Medals around our necks, we grabbed a slice of pizza and then headed back to the hotel -- we only had an hour to get showered and changed and on the road to our next location. Farewell, Meridian!

Magnolia Half Marathon
14:34 pace

And, of course, STATE #40!

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Great Wave Stitch-a-Long, part 31: HAPPY DANCE TIME!!!

Hi everyone! I almost can't believe it. But the Great Wave is complete!!! 

I saved the "signature" section until last -- I don't know if it's legible (any Japanese speakers?), but it translates as "From the brush of Hokusai, who changed his name to Iitsu". Iitsu means "one year old", so his name change was meant to symbolize a creative rebirth. 

I found the 300+ French knots really tedious, and to be honest I don't know how essential they were -- maybe on the blues, but on the pale beige they are almost invisible. 

Looking back, this was the image in my first post about this piece, waaaaaay back on March 21, 2021. 


I haven't quite decided what to do with this piece. It's too delicate (and frankly precious!) to do anything but frame and display. Just not sure where it should go. I don't want to do my usual "roll it up and set it aside", but I also know we're only a few weeks before Christmas so framers are probably overloaded. I'll put it on my project list to clean and frame it in the month of January. (Hold me to this!) But for now, I'm just going to spend some time happy dancing. 

Now... what's next? I don't think I have the energy to dive into another big project. (After all, there's a LOT of happy dancing to do!) I have a small, secret project that is a Christmas present, so I can't really show it here. I also have one of those goofy felt-and-sequin Christmas banners; I love how kitschy and silly they are, so perhaps I'll apply myself there: 

I really only like working on Christmas projects close to Christmas, but the tree is up, the mercury glass trees collection is on the mantlepiece, so NOW IS THE TIME! 

I have just realized that this is our last check-in in 2022 -- and that our next check-in is January 1, 2023. Until then, I hope you have a magical, merry Christmas. Make sure and take time for yourself, too! (May I suggest taking some time and checking out the amazing projects my fellow stitchers are working on? Avis, Claire, Gun, Constanze, Christina, KathyMargaret, Heidi, JackieMegan, Deborah, Sharon, Daisy, AJCathie, LindaHelenConnieCindy, and Mary Margaret.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Meridian, Mississippi

We got off on the wrong foot in Meridian, MS. We had reserved a room at the Meridian Threefoot Hotel, a renovated office building turned swanky hotel. It was right downtown, and only about a block from the start of the Magnolia Half Marathon. It seemed perfect. 

I love when landmark buildings are repurposed -- it's a sign that local government is promoting their town. Meridian had other things going for it, too -- a big splashy museum called the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience; a 150-year old restaurant called Weidmann's; and even a very cool industrial heritage museum housed in an old steam engine factory. 

And, in retrospect all of those things were just fine. 

But we walked up to the front desk of the Meridian Threefoot Hotel and had the most dismissive, cold-bordering-upon-rude treatment I'd ever received. 

The woman at the desk spoke very few words to us, handing us our key with a simple "Here" before turning away. She never gave us any info -- like, where to park, the hours of the restaurant, bar, or anything. She looked at us like she didn't want us staying in her hotel, and I still don't really know why. 

Given that she had fawned over the man ahead of us in line, giving him lots of info on parking (which is how we knew where to park...), we figured we must have somehow rubbed her the wrong way, and that she wasn't just rude to everyone. 

Anyway, we eventually got up to our room and started to settle in. It was when I went to get some ice down the hall that we discovered that our deadbolt didn't retract, so it wasn't possible to close the room door from the outside. Hmmm. We fiddled with it, but then called the front desk to see what we might be doing wrong. 

The woman at the front desk -- a different woman, amusingly -- first spoke to me as if I was an idiot, "Just turn the handle and it will retract." I pointed out that that worked when I was in the room, but not when I was leaving the room. We then progressed to her thinking that I was wrong, lying, or that I had broken the lock on the door. Eventually she said she would sent up someone on the maintenance crew to have a look. Fifteen minutes later, no one had come, so Wil went downstairs to ask. The woman shouted at him, saying "I CALLED SOMEONE. HE'S ON HIS WAY."

Eventually he arrived -- he was pleasant, and said in a friendly voice, "Oh, these locks. All you have to do is tap your card and the deadbolt will retract." To be honest, I hadn't tried that. So I did... and nothing happened. The man said, "Try it again" and then  "okay, try it again". Then he said, "Let me try my key." Nothing. Nada. 

He called down and told he woman at the desk the lock was broken, so would she set us up in a new room? This was frankly the vindication I needed, so I rode down the elevator with him and went to the front desk. Without looking up, or speaking, or apologizing in any way, woman 2 handed me a card. The workman, embarrassed by her behavior, said, "So sorry about that!"

I went back up, we moved to the room next door, and then were entertained for the next half hour by the workman attempting to fix the lock. The next morning, right after 8am, he was back, still working away. 

I will say that on that first night we went up to the Boxcar Lounge, a rooftop bar with lovely sunset views. We were the only guests (it was early), but the staff fussed over us and made us a pair of very good cocktails. 

Later that night we walked over to Weidmann's, and were happy to see it was bustling. 

We had friend portobello mushrooms -- which turned out to be delicious and a massive portion that we ate for dinner the following night. We also had fried green tomatoes, and a bunch of vegetarian sides. I will report that our server was friendly and attentive, too. 

On Friday we started our day with a visit to the former Soule Steam Feed Works. I was sad to see that the visitor's register shows that we were the first visitors in nearly a week. That said, I know that I am an industrial heritage nerd with a special love of steam engines, soooo....

The tour featured a selection of engines produced in the factory, restored to working order. 

I wish I had taken a video of this, slowly chugging away. 

We visited the foundry, where they used to cast the big gears and other parts: 

And the factory office, with some old office equipment next to parts manuals from the 1990s. So amazing! 

this is an "Addressograph", where a plate could be made of a customer's address for future use

can you imagine how revolutionary it would have been to record a message and send it to someone?

We also got to walk through the old machine shop. Though it was no longer steam powered, the belts that ran the equipment were slowly turning. So cool!

Later we visited the splashy Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Experience -- and wondered why it was in Meridian. Lots of investment here! We never really got a sense of the history of Meridian itself, apart from the fact that there were railroad lines and highways that all crossed there. The MAX had fun, interactive exhibits, but not many items in the collection. But the museum serves as a celebration of Mississippi and the artists from there -- like Jim Henson.

After the museum we wandered back to Weidmann's, this time going upstairs to the cafe and having pie, more fried tomatoes, and drinks on the outdoor balcony in the sun. 

We rounded out the day with a little wander -- Meridian is picturesque, but it also feels pretty run down, even though you can see that there's a lot of investment in the town. 

It's not often what we are away and I think, "Well, I'd rather be home." Not that I don't love our home, but it's usually fun to be away and live a different life for a while. But Meridian made me actively want to go home. Which, when I really think about it, is entirely due to the front desk staff at the Threefoot. 

We had an early night and got mostly packed -- because the next morning we would be running the Magnolia Half Marathon, the reason we were in Meridian at all.