Friday, June 27, 2014

2014 PAWS Run For Their Lives 8K race recap

Last weekend I ran the PAWS Run For Their Lives 8K.

This was my third consecutive year attending the event and my second year running the 8K. (Last year I did the 4K walk, since I ran a half marathon the day before.) This event is one of my very favorite races and has become a must-do for me every year. (Check out my recaps from 2012 and 2013.)

Proceeds from this event go towards homeless pets and animal welfare in Chicago. As I've said many times, this is a cause that I wholeheartedly support. I am especially reminded of this each year when I arrive at the race site and see the hundreds of happy dogs enjoying the day!

This year, the PAWS organization was attempting to break the Guinness world record for most costumed dogs in one location. As a result, everywhere you looked there were dogs dressed in darling little outfits. Here are a few. (Adam took some of the pictures that I am sharing in this post, but most of the photos are courtesy of Jason):

Dino-dogs, hot dogs, dogs in their pajamas, dogs in ethnic attire, cowboy dogs, Santa dogs, and more!

PAWS hasn't announced yet whether or not the event successfully set the new world record. Regardless, it was fun witnessing the attempt!

I'll talk first about the race itself. Then, I will share more dog costume pictures. =)

We've been getting an onslaught of insanely fog-covered days in Chicago this summer. (Blame it on last winter's polar vortex, apparently.) As timing would have it, Chicago was under a severe-fog advisory on the morning of the race. I woke up to see this view from my balcony:

The temperature was pretty good, at least, for a late-June race. It was forecasted to be in the upper 60s/lower 70s during race time.

Adam and I navigated the fog-cover and drove to the race site at Montrose Harbor, where we met up with Erin and Jason.

On a related note, Erin just adopted a dog named Chewie a couple of weeks ago! I got to meet him earlier in the week and he is adorable. Check out some pictures of him here. Erin had been debating whether or not to bring him to the event. However, Chewie is shy and still trying to get used to his new home and surroundings. Therefore, she opted to let him relax at home. Maybe next year!

Here's a picture of Erin and me before the start:

Erin and I lined up at the start line about midway through the pack of runners. I asked Erin if she had any time goals for the race, and she said no. I didn't really have any major goals for myself, either. Although, I was thinking that it would be nice to beat 44:12, which was my time from when I ran this race two years ago. However, it wasn't an entirely level playing field. In 2012, the race took place in late September when I was at the tail end of my training cycle for the Chicago Marathon. The temperatures were much cooler on race-day in 2012, as well. I wasn't brimming with confidence that anything spectacular would happen this day.

(I have actually been feeling pretty spooked these days about shorter-distance races in general. But, that's a topic for another time.)

The PAWS mascots and New Balance (shoe sponsor) mascot hanging around near the starting line

The starting horn blared and the crowd slowly started moving forward. Here's a picture of Erin and me right after we crossed the starting line:

The path was packed at the beginning and we were all pretty hemmed in. I tried not to waste too much energy bobbing and weaving. Erin had more success working her way through the crowd and within a few minutes she zipped ahead.

It was very humid and the fog was so thick that it felt like we were running through a stream of mist.  I wasn't feeling particularly great, but I was doing okay.

Initially, my left piriformis and hamstring were feeling sore and tight. Both have been persistently troublesome for me for the past several weeks. Clearly I need to spend more time stretching these areas out. Much to my relief, things did start loosening up after a couple of miles.

The race took place on the lakefront path, which was not closed to the public. We were all trying to be cautious of bikers and other folks on the path who were not part of the race. I saw a number of near-misses. (Not surprisingly, some folks got into some heated debates about who had the right-of-way and who should be watching out for the other.)

The course was an out and back which passed by one aid station twice. I opted not to stop either time. As I approached the course turnaround, I looked for Erin but did not see her.

My splits for the first four miles were pretty even. As I approached the Mile 4 marker, I looked down at my Garmin and realized that I still had a chance to break 44:12. It would be close, but it was doable. I tried to speed things up.

Adam, Erin, and Jason were all standing near the finish line and they cheered me on as I approached. Here's a picture of me as I was sprinting towards the end:

Here are my splits:

Mile 1: 9:07
Mile 2: 8:59
Mile 3: 8:56
Mile 4: 9:03
Mile 4.97: 8:11

My official time was 44:16. Just four seconds slower than my time from 2012! In retrospect, I know that I could have pushed just a little harder to meet that goal. Grrrrr. Ah well.

After getting some water, I met back up with Adam, Erin, and Jason. I had made a donation to PAWS along with my race registration, which gave me access to the VIP Life Saver Lounge with post-race refreshments. I made a quick stop to check it out. On top of the usual water and sports drink, they were serving fruit salad, muffins, pizza, pasta, gourmet pretzels, and adult beverages with keepsake mason jars. They were also handing out doggie treat bags which included what appeared to be the canine version of an energy gel. Who knew there was a market for doggie "GU"? Very interesting, to say the least.

Now, time to get back to sharing pictures of dogs in costume!

While Erin and I were on the course, Adam and Jason had walked around the premises taking pictures for us. I am sharing just a handful of their photos here.

I noticed a few costume themes in general. For example, there were lots of dogs in dresses/tutus:

Many dogs adorned Chicago sports-themed attire:

Da Blackhawks, Da Bulls, and Da Bears

Many dogs were out enjoying the ride:

And many dogs looked like they were ready to be heroes for all of dog-kind and human-kind:

I especially love the doggie sunglasses!
Super cute and adorable! Many thanks go out to Jason for sharing his amazing selection of photos.

Here's one last set of photos:

Me at the start line, plus hanging out with the two PAWS mascots

This race was a great time, as always. I am looking forward to participating again next year for the fourth consecutive year. For all pet-owners and animal-lovers out there, this race is for you!

My next race: the Chinatown 5K on July 12

Monday, June 23, 2014

Frames From The Weekend of 6/20/14

It's been a long time since I've participated in one of the Frames From The Weekend linkups hosted by Irina. I am going to get back into the fold today!

I have to work next weekend for quarter-end close, so I really tried to take advantage of my time this past weekend.

First, the health and fitness pursuits of thy weekend:

Upper Left: My third time attending the PAWS Run For Their Lives. This is a picture of Erin and me just after crossing the start line (action shot courtesy of Jason). I will post a full separate recap of the PAWS race and festivities soon.
Upper Right: Since I devote so much time towards running and lower-body PT, I tend to neglect focusing on upper body fitness. I've suddenly gotten very motivated to change this. My new goal is to do upper body strength work at least three times a week. Bring on the fitness bands and dumbbells, baby.
Bottom: Trying out a new style of bikram yoga! Traditional bikram classes are 90 minutes in length. I tried a new "Smart 60" bikram class, which is the same series of bikram poses but condensed into a 60-minute class instead. The verdict? Thumbs up. The 90-minute classes always feel like a big commitment, so the 60-minute version is a lot easier to fit into the calendar.

Left: One of the mascots from the PAWS run. Adam posted this picture on Facebook and jokingly tagged himself in it with the description, "Emily and Adam? I forgot to shave this morning." Hee hee hee.
Upper Right: I met up with Rose to explore the Maxwell Street Market. It was the first time visiting for both of us! Rose tried some of the eats from a Filipino food vendor, which is where we are pictured here. 
Lower Right: I met up with Xaarlin for some potstickers (not pictured here since my photos unfortunately didn't come out well), and also to attend an outdoor showing of the the USA vs Portugal soccer game at Grant Park.

More about the Maxwell Street Market
Upper Left: Vendors sold every range of merchandise you could possibly imagine. We're talking anything from origami kits to cosmetics to power tools to antiques to shoelaces (literally I saw a vendor whose entire booth consisted of shoelaces).
Lower Left: The storefront at Rubi's, where the line of people waiting for tacos went down the street.
Right: A Rubi's worker cranking out handmade tortillas right on site. Tortillas don't get any fresher than that!

More about the USA vs Portugal soccer viewing at Grant Park
Upper Left: Lots of fans showing their patriotic support in every way possible
Upper Right: The entrance to the viewing area, where we had to clear a security area.
(Photo by Xaarlin)
Lower Left: Our view of the screen, along with the reaction from the crowd after the U.S. scored their first [best Mexican soccer announcer imitation] GOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(Photo by Xaarlin)
Lower Right: Jam-packed fans in the viewing area. It was so mobbed that security was turning folks away at the gate 30 minutes before the game even started.

On that note, go read Xaarlin's FANTASTIC recap of our game viewing. She did an absolutely amazing job capturing the spirit of the evening. Her video footage is really incredible!

Some of the weekend's eats!
Upper Left: Earlier in the week, I picked up a raisin challah bread from the bakery. What better way to use it than to make raisin challah French toast with orange zest, mango, and blueberries for brunch?
Upper Right: What I ate at the Maxwell Street Market - a huitlacoche taco! I've wanted to try huitlacoche for the longest time so I was excited to finally do so. It was soft and tasted earthy and kind of nutty. Next time I'd want to try adding some cheese on top.
Bottom Left: Adam and I made a visit to Flat Top Grill (a make-your-own stir-fry joint). On top of having a great selection of ingredients, I love the enormous array of sauces they have on hand for you to mix and match.
Bottom Right: The Potsticker House that Xaarlin and I visited, which was featured on "Chicago's Best." I am all about local places that are off the beaten path. This place did not disappoint.

Upper Left: Visitation to one of my local branches of the Chicago Public Library, where I saw this on display. What a cute play on Carl Sandburg's "city of big shoulders" description for Chicago!
Upper Right: One of the books that I checked out from the library. I'm a big fan of Anthony Bourdain and I've been wanting to read Kitchen Confidential for quite some time. I'm only about 20 pages in so far, but right off the bat I can hear Bourdain's voice in the words that I am reading.
Bottom: Adam and I were thisclose to buying last-minute tickets to see the Cubs vs his hometown Pirates at Wrigley Field on Saturday night. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas. It's been quite an interesting stretch of weather as of late!

I am gearing up for a busy stretch of work over the next few weeks. Outside of the office, my race calendar is pretty quiet for the next two months. The break in racing couldn't come at a better time. I want to get back in the saddle with doing speedwork, taking advantage of all the yummy summer produce offerings, and enjoying all the gloriousness that is summertime in Chicago.

Viva la summer!

Monday, June 16, 2014

LaDainian Tomlinson 5K race recap

Happy Monday! I hope everyone is having a good start to the week. 

I got back last night, albeit reluctantly, from an extended weekend in San Diego. What a beautiful city. This was my third time visiting, and I find more to like about it with each successive visit. San Diego is really my favorite of all the major cities in California.

Some details about the visit: Adam and I used AirBnB for the first time to stay at a great condo in a terrific location downtown, which was walking distance to a ton of entertainment options (thanks again, Seth!) Highlights from the weekend's activities included finally visiting the San Diego Zoo for the first time, hiking Torrey Pines Natural Reserve and Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, and enjoying the nightlife in the Gaslamp District.

L: Torrey Pines Natural Reserve
R (top and bottom): Polar bear snacking and a panda at the San Diego Zoo
R (middle): San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter

I do love living in Chicago, but that gorgeous weather in San Diego is unparalleled. I am envious at the prospect of being able to train outdoors on a consistently year-round basis. It must be nice not to own any balaclavas and to have never heard of things like polar vortexes, whiteouts, or black ice! But, I digress.

Even before the San Diego visit was given a green light, I started looking for a local race to run. I was happy to find one that I was genuinely excited about – the LaDainian Tomlinson 5K.

For those of you not familiar, LaDainian Tomlinson (aka “LT”) is a former running back for the San Diego Chargers. He is very well-respected for his work both on the playing field and in the community. The proceeds from this race were geared towards his charitable Touching Lives Foundation. I am all for running a race that goes towards a good cause!

On Saturday morning, I was awake before sunrise, well before my alarm clock went off. (Ahh, the benefits of operating on Pacific Standard Time when your body is still used to Central Time!) I eventually downed a bowl of cereal and got dressed. Then, Adam and I drove to NTC Park in Point Loma, a scenic waterfront park where the race was taking place. It is also the site of a former naval training center.

NTC Park

Me in front of the starting line

After picking up my race packet, I ran a mile and a quarter to warm up. I tried some acceleration gliders in the end, and felt pretty good.

I had been torn on whether or not to attempt a PR at this race. The organizers were actually giving out finisher medals to all participants! Having previously only ever received medals for races 10 miles or longer, I thought it would be awesome to coincide a new 5K PR with this medal. I decided it might be worth a shot.

LT got on the microphone and addressed the crowd pre-race. After having only ever seen him on TV, it was cool seeing and hearing him up close in person. He is so normal and down-to-earth.

LT at the starting line, getting ready to send off the runners.

In lieu of doing a countdown to the race start, LT sent the runners off with a football call of “Down. Set. HIKE!”

Off we went. The race started on a wide road, so initially the crowds weren’t too much of a factor. Having started so many 5Ks way too quickly in the past, I told myself to keep the initial pace down. I needed to average less than an 8:20 mile to achieve a PR. In the first few minutes, I looked down at my Garmin several times and saw that I was running between an 8:20 and an 8:30. Perfect.

Then, the course narrowed. Considerably. It went from a four-lane asphalt road to a path that could probably only fit three runners in tandem. Much of the path was bordered by bushes and flower beds, too, so it was difficult to pass anyone. I got boxed in big-time and watched my pace drop down to around 9:00.

Mile 1: 9:08

Allright, that was not the start that I wanted.

The course had re-widened and the bottleneck had eased up. Initially, part of me thought that maybe I could still PR. I struggled to do the math in my head while running. Once I realized I’d have to average an 8-minute pace for the remainder of the course, my heart sank. I didn’t have it in me that day to battle back. I started coasting a bit.

I began looking around at my fellow runners, noticing all the Chargers jerseys and paraphernalia being worn. I paid attention to the gorgeous scenery along the course, plus all the military artifacts throughout the park.

We went over the Halsey Road Bridge during the second mile. It was a nice, solid incline. 

This picture does NOT do the incline justice.

My calves began burning. I considered dropping down to a walk but ultimately refused. My body protested with a small knot of abdominal pain. Just in case I had any notions of still trying to PR, the bridge definitely quashed them all.

After cresting the incline, I tried to relax as I ran down the decline. Then I grimaced at the gravitational pressure on my legs. 

No rest for the weary. As soon as we crossed the bridge, the course made a 180-degree hairpin turn and headed right back over the bridge again.

Mile 2: 9:24

Grrrr. OK, let's just keep this a good effort.

The course was filled with turns. We ran past the USS Recruit ship, which is a model of a Navy ship that was used for training purposes:

I was still resigned and trying to ignore the pain in my abdomen. Thankfully it was fading somewhat. 

I didn’t want to run a positive split. Somehow that thought was enough to stoke my motivation. Around Mile 2.25, I started speeding up. I ignored everything else on the course but the course tangents and the people that I was trying to pass. I cut a couple of corners along the course to make passing easier.

Mile 3: 8:06

My Garmin actually calculated my third mile a little short. Those corners added up more than I had anticipated!

Thank God for being able to see the finish line. As I was sprinting to the end, I realized that I actually had more left in the tank than expected (this is both good and bad). Adam took this picture of me shortly before I crossed the finish line:

Mile 3.1: 0:46.

My official time was 27:24. I wasn't ecstatic. I had definitely been hoping to do better than that. But, it was still nice to add to my medal collection:

I'll take it!!!

Time to go check out the post-race party. There was a very extensive array of refreshments. In addition to the usuals like bananas, bagels, muffins, and water, there were Core Power milkshakes, Pop Chips, Honest Tea, Arctic Zero frozen treats, Kind granola bars, Chick Fil-A giveaways, and lots of other food samples. Very cool!

LT and a few other Chargers players had a booth set up to sign autographs. Folks started lining up in droves over an hour before the booth was even scheduled to open.


Since the line was so long, I opted to skip any autographs. Instead, I stood to the side of the booth and peered in at the action between event security personnel. Unfortunately I couldn't get any good pictures. But it was fun to see all the excited Chargers fans, especially all the kids!

All in all, even though I didn't run as well as I wanted to, I enjoyed this race. The location was beautiful and the event was filled with upbeat festivity and energy. Plus, it really was cool getting to see LaDainian Tomlinson in person.

My hat goes off to LT and his event team for putting together a really well-organized race that benefits such a good cause!

My next race: the PAWS Run For Their Lives 8K on June 21

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Michelob Ultra Chicago 13.1 Half Marathon race recap

This past Saturday, I ran the Michelob Ultra Chicago 13.1 Half Marathon. This was my third consecutive year running this race (in the past two years, it had a different sponsor presenting it).

I had no plans going into this race other than to have fun and enjoy the Lou Malnati's pizza at the finish line party. I hadn't done any focused training for the past few weeks, instead choosing to be more consistent with my physical therapy exercises and cross-training. I also had a lot of family events taking place this past weekend. This race was something I was squeezing into the schedule.

On Friday afternoon, Xaarlin told me that Adele (who I had met before at a Nike Training Club event) was running the race as her first half marathon ever. She mentioned that Adele was looking for a running buddy to keep her company, would I be up for it?

But of course!!!

The next morning, I was up bright and early to drive to the South Shore Cultural Center on the city's south side. I found street parking on 72nd Street, wolfed down a peanut butter sandwich and a banana, then walked over to the race site.

I saw Erica on the way in and said hi. After making a quick stop at the portapotties near the beach (no lines!) I met up with Zenaida. Then we found Adele and her friend Amy, who was in town from Minnesota for the weekend. A few minutes later, Pete came by. We all chatted for a bit. (Pete was telling us how his legs were trashed from playing softball earlier in the week, but that he was still ready to run. Wow!)

Here's a picture of us pre-race. (Sorry for the blurriness.)

From L to R: Pete, Zenaida, Adele, Amy, and me

Pete headed off to his corral, and then the rest of us lined up together in Adele's corral. There was a lot of energy in the air and the time went by quickly as we were waiting to start.

Adele had been battling some IT band pain in the weeks leading up to the race, so we all made sure that she was feeling okay. The first few miles flew by as we chatted about our families, training, etc. We all enjoyed the beautiful Jackson Park scenery.

Adele and I maintained a steady pace. Around Mile 3, Amy began speeding up and we told her we'd see her at the finish line. Unfortunately Zenaida wasn't feeling great, so she was taking periodic walk breaks.

There were a number of patches along the course where we saw oncoming runners. I unexpectedly saw Amanda early on and shouted a quick hello to her. Later I looked for Pete and Erica, but unfortunately didn't see either of them.

The temperature was in the upper 60s/low 70s and it was bright and sunny. There were a lot of aid stations with plentiful, enthusiastic volunteers. We walked through each station and got drinks at every one. One aid station handed out Clif Shot gels, which was new this year and very appreciated by me. We enjoyed the course entertainment (bagpipe players, a drill team, taiko drummers, lots of live bands). We also made a quick bathroom stop at the colorfully painted outhouse around Mile 5. It felt so luxurious to wash our hands using cold running water!

An artistically painted bathroom!

We knew that Xaarlin would be spectating near the course turnaround, which we thought was before Mile 7 (it was actually closer to 7.5). We were really looking forward to seeing her and talked about it for several miles in advance. Having friends along the course is the best!

Xaarlin took some pictures of us in action:

Adele looking victorious and me doing an obligatory race photo body spasm with the Chicago skyline behind us.

Xaarlin jumped onto the course and ran with us for a mile or two. She even got this fabulous selfie of the three of us near the Mile 8 aid station. Add this to my collection of best race pictures, ever!

We all got the memo to wear pink!

As much as we wanted Xaarlin to stay with us for the rest of the course, she had left her bike near one of the aid stations and eventually had to go back.

Adele and I kept going. She was staying remarkably consistent and upbeat. She was also talking easily, which was another testament to how well she was doing. (Heaven knows that when I'm dying out on the course, intelligible/audible words are really hard for me to string together.) As the miles ticked by, she mentioned that she couldn't believe that we were really doing this. She was doing so awesome and I kept truthfully telling her how great she looked!!!

Adele told me that she had trained up to 11 miles. As we approached that point, she was starting to feel some fatigue and was working hard to keep going. I knew that going beyond the peak training distance was potentially challenging from a mental standpoint, as well. I tried to distract her by having us count the number of folks that we passed in the final two miles. It was a good motivator.

We didn't want to make it too obvious what we were doing, though, of course. So with each person we passed, we tried to act nonchalant as we whispered the counts to each other. As the number rose, we giggled a few times while joking about getting our count to the legal drinking age, hitting the big 3-0, etc. We lost track of the exact total number in the end, but it was somewhere around 50!

I put forth lots of focus on running the course tangents, especially in the final stretch. We saw Amy and Zenaida as we went through the finishing chute and they cheered us on. Zenaida took this picture:

You'd never guess this was taken at Mile 13, eh?

Then, we crossed the finish line - and Adele put the finishing touches on completing her first half marathon!!! Done and DUSTED.

The medals!!!

HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to Adele! I was so happy for her! And I was seriously blown away by how strong and composed she stayed the entire time - even during those tough final miles and especially while battling knee pain. Way to go, Adele, and way to push through!!!

I think Adele is going to get hooked on half marathons now. =D

As for me? I had a BLAST. It was so much fun running with Adele and everyone, plus getting to see so many friends at the festivities. And did I achieve my goal of finally enjoying the Lou Malnati's pizza at the finish line?

A resounding YES.

You better believe it!

I'll see you (and that pizza) at 13.1 Chicago again!

My next race: The LaDainian Tomlinson 5K on June 14.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


Current plans on the horizon: My nephew is graduating from high school tonight! Plus, my brother-in-law is celebrating a milestone birthday this week. Lots of family is in town this weekend and it's going to be a really fun couple of days.

On top of all the family festivities, I am running the Michelob Ultra 13.1 Half Marathon this Saturday. The plan is to just have fun, and to enjoy the scenery and course entertainment. Although, after two fatigue-induced failures to enjoy the Lou Malnati's pizza that they serve at the finish line party, this year I am determined to make amends. (Yes, everyone has different goals.)

What else? I'm heading to San Diego next weekend. I'll be running the LaDainian Tomlinson 5K (an oceanfront course!) next Saturday! More about that to come. But in the meantime, I really love this commercial that he is featured in, along with perennial favorite Troy Polamalu:

Currently nervous about: My next attempt at breaking my 5K PR, whenever that may be. I am not sure whether or not to go for it during next weekend's race. It'll probably be a race-time decision based on the crowds and how I'm feeling that morning.

Current nutritional discovery: Gummy vitamins! (Don't laugh.) Where have these been all of my life? They taste like candy. I am so full of vitamins now!

Current running fail: In all of my time as a runner, I've never gotten a black toenail. I know they are a very common occurrence, though. I think I read somewhere that upwards of 90% of runners get them. But I somehow managed to defy that statistic for many years.

Well, folks, things have changed. Let's just say that it's good thing that dark nail polish exists. And since I know that I am toeing the line on giving you TMI (no pun intended), we'll just leave it at that.

Current task that I want to shake up: My physical therapy routine. It's gotten to be very cumbersome doing the same stretches and exercises day in and day out. Blugh.

Current green-thumb endeavor: My mom brought me a strawberry plant a few weeks ago. It has already yielded a whole bunch of TINY little strawberries.

They are almost too cute to eat! But eat them I have, and they are delicious. There really is something to be said for eating fruit that is picked when it is completely ripe. I am looking forward to someday being able to have a garden where I can grow my own produce.

Current running shoe experiment: It's been my goal for quite some time to reduce the number of running shoes that I have. I'm down to a rotation of 2.5 pairs right now, with one additional pair waiting to join the rotation. (The 0.5 is attributable to my Brooks Ghost GTX shoes, which I only wear during inclement weather.) I've been really good about not looking at running shoe stores, et al.

However, I'd heard such great things about the Brooks PureFlows. Then I found out that the PureFlow 2 was available online for under $40. For a price like that, yours truly gave in and took the plunge.

A pair of these showed up at my door earlier this week.

The verdict? Super cushy and springy. Unfortunately, they are too narrow for me. My feet are on the wider side, but I have had success with both average-width and wide shoes. The PureFlows don't come in a wide size, though. So sadly, these are going back.

Current fitness experiment: The fitness center in my office recently began offering Zumba Step classes. I went yesterday for the first time. It was fun and invigorating. But, every time I looked in the mirror I was instantly reminded that Latin dancing is most definitely not my forte.

What to do? I let myself pretend to be graceful in my mind's eye by not looking at my reflection anymore. Works like a charm!

(Erica, do you remember when we talked about this tactic a few weeks ago? LOL)

Currently NOT watching: The Stanley Cup Finals. I just can't. (Adam relegated himself to the other room to watch Game 1 last night while I had old Law and Order episodes playing in the living room.)

It was heartbreaking that the Blackhawks came so close to advancing to the finals, only to lose Game 7 on a bad bounce in overtime. But, I am so proud of the team for battling to the finish, for their incredible character, for leaving absolutely everything on the ice. To borrow something that Katie said, the Hawks are always number 1 to me. No matter what.

It isn't all decoration just from me, either. The Hawks have overwhelmingly strong fan support across the board:

Can't wait for next season to start!

Currently cooking endeavors: Any kind of new grilling recipe. I've got a current mini-obsession with grilling any and all kinds of fruit. Recent experiments include grilled plums, pineapple, and banana. Next on the list: watermelon, apple, and strawberries.

It's too bad the Food Network is currently not airing any episodes of "Boy Meets Grill." Otherwise, I'd be loading up the DVR.

Currently wanting to try: A local burger joint that I just heard about named Butcher and the Burger. I caught a show last night called Burger Wars, and the place was featured with high acclaim.

Other local haunts on the dining list: Green Street Smoked Meats, Three Dots and a Dash, the Maxwell Street Market (for food and for shopping), Spacca Napoli Pizzeria, and Pequod's.

In terms of non-dining things, I want to try stand-up-paddleboard yoga and maybe some different types of barre classes.

Speaking of restaurants profiled on TV, I was on a kick for awhile where I wanted to visit all the places that Guy Fieri had featured on his "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives" show. I've been to about five of them now. In my experience, though, the food always looks better on TV than it is in person. Sadness!