Thursday, September 18, 2014

D.C. Fly-In, Part Two: The Tourist Experience

For this second installment of D.C. Fly-In re-caps, I'll write about the Tourist Experience.

The Legislative side of the trip was great and super educational, but we did have a bit of time to take in some tourist attractions as well. I'm also lumping restaurant experiences into this post. There are many several photos included throughout.

Because Jeff and I arrived in DC about 24 hours ahead of when our first meeting was, we had about one evening and one long morning to take in a few sights before meeting up with the rest of our group for business. There was one other couple out of our FUE group that also had arrived early, so we spent much of our time with them. It was great to be free to experience the city.

The first night we ate a really delicious upscale seafood restaurant called Oceanaire. Apparently it is a chain restaurant or at least has locations in several large cities in the US, but when you live where we live, even chain restaurants are exotic. Our friends are from Minnesota and had eaten at Oceanaire in the Cities and recommended we try it out. We were not disappointed. They had excellent wine, which was a must for me! The seafood dishes we tried were great. I actually liked the seafood salad we all shared even better than my main entree, even though both were really yummy. The best part of the meal, however, was the OYSTERS!!! I have found in recent years that I absolutely love oysters on the half-shell. What better place for fresh oysters than Washington D.C.? Right on the Chesapeake Bay, near the coast... fresh as can be! Too bad I forgot to take any photos at Oceanaire. The food and company was awesome!

Our hotel was located just a block off the National Mall, convenient to many museums and monuments. The next morning was when I did the Beat the Deadline 5k, which was awesome. I snapped these two photos as I walked across the mall to the start of the race, about a mile and a half away.

The next morning before our meetings we had just a little time to check out a few of the Smithsonian museums, including the Air and Space museum, and the National Gallery. I'll post a few photos from the Gallery in my third DC post on Art and Design in the city. I didn't take a ton of photos in the Air and Space museum, but I did snap one of moon-landing unit I believe from the Apollo space missions. I'm always amazed at how much these things look like they're held together by nothing more than tinfoil, cardboard and tape. I've seen parade floats that look more impressive!  All the same, these are feats of engineering I couldn't even begin to conjure up on my own.
Inside the Air and Space Museum.
After Saturday's meetings, we had a group dinner at Founding Farmers, which is a restaurant owned by North Dakota Farmers Union, featuring an agrarian farm-to-table menu and decor. The restuarant was located right on Pennsylvania Ave and it was PACKED with people. I guess if you want to eat there you have to book your reservation way in advance. I can see why, too. The food was excellent, as was the drink menu. I had a cantaloupe-ginger-cucumber coctail made with local indredients, which was outstanding. For entree, I had braised beef short ribs with some really great sides. Delicious!

Jeff and Bryan tasting some high-class whiskey at Founding Farmers.
Was it worth it? ;)
Sunday-day was spent in meetings most of the day. Then we had another group dinner at yet another restaurant owned by North Dakota Farmes Union, sort of the sister restaurant to Founding Farmers, called Farmers, Fishers, and Bakers. Same story here- farm-to-table menu, local ingredients, but here they had an emphasis more on seafood. I had one of my favorite dishes-- cioppino. It was excellent! Another great restaurant!
Outside Farmers, Fishers, and Bakers. 
Patio seating and Entrance to Farmers, Fishers, Bakers.
Apparently it's hip and trendy to display your canned goods with back-lighting on a shelf in plain view.
Guess I'll have to dig mine out of the back of the cupboard! 
After dinner, we had a private tour of the city's monuments. This vehicle was our mode of transportation--
Pretty fancy van, right?!
(Sorry, Bryan, for the bad photo!)
We stopped at all the major monuments in DC, and even some that were not right on the Mall. The tour began right as the sun set on the National Cathedral. It was so, so beautiful lit up with the red glow of sunset!
Gothic Revival by the glow of sunset!
Who doesn't love flying buttresses?! 
Truly, the way to see D.C.'s monuments is at night. The crowds are somewhat less, it's not as HOT, and they just look even more striking when lit up.
Washington Monument with the Capitol Dome behind it.

Approaching the Lincoln Memorial.

Memorial of Thomas Jefferson, or as I like to call him, TJ. 
Iwo Jima Marine WWII Monument

Airforce Memorial
I really enjoyed the Air Force Memorial. This was the first time I had been to this memorial, actually in Arlington. It's so hard to get a sense of how striking it is in my photos, or of the scale. I thought it was really, really beautiful. Expect to see a few more photos of this in the Art and Design post.

The next day after our meetings for the day got out a little early, some of us trekked back out to Arlington to visit Arlington National Cemetary. We didn't have much time to look around- by the time we got there, they were only open for another hour- and we wanted to be sure to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown. It was really cool to watch the changing of the guard ceremony. I was very impressed by the precision of their movements and the obvious reverence with which they treated their job.
Fresh flowers against a grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
Very impressive to watch these guards. 
They also did a special wreath-laying ceremony that night, which was clearly above and beyond the normal changing of the guard routine. A military officer of some sort who was clearly very highly decorated escorted this woman to the tomb, apparently to pay respects. I really wish there had been some sort of explanation as to what the purpose of this was, but it was still very, very cool to see.
These three walked down toward the tomb together.
Another man placed the wreath. 
Then there was a salute, and another guard played the military funeral song. 
After Arlington, we had our last dinner as an FUE couples group at a place our friends Bryan and Jennifer knew of called Old Ebbit Grill. Apparently it's a pretty popular place and well-known in D.C. It had some great old-time character and charm that was really delightful.

The food at Old Ebbit Grill was also fantastic. Again, I took advantage of being on the coast and enjoyed oysters before our meal. I confirmed that I actually like a briny oyster better than a sweet oyster. I think they're more complex tasting and so delicious.

Mid slurp! YUM!
That night I also had a first for me and ordered lobster. I'm not a picky eater at all and I'm very, very seldom grossed out by food, so I had a little fun with my lobster waving to the camera prior to being eaten! And yes, I wore the totally hokey lobster bib with pride!
The lobster tasted very fresh and delicious! 
On our last morning in D.C., we attended a Montana Coffee wherein the two Senators and one Representative from Montana, and their staff, hold a weekly gathering for anyone who wants to come with coffee and donuts. It's sort of a mix and mingle event and it's a great opportunity for anyone from Montana who is in the city to meet or visit with their elected officials. Jeff and I spoke with all three-- Senators Tester and Walsh, and Representative Daines. We have definite opinions about each, but since this blog is not about politics, I'm not going there.

In addition to visiting with those three gentlemen, we also had the great pleasure of meeting up with a few old friends. One is a longtime friend of Jeff's, named Mark, who is on staff for Senator Walsh...
Me and Jeff with Mark Hybner.
The other people we bumped into happened to be Jeff's family who just so happened to be in Washington D.C. on vacation! So cool to bump into them unexpectedly. They definitely did a double take when they saw us! Not sure if it was out of surprise or because they didn't recognize us all dressed up... maybe both?! 
Me and Jeff with Jan and Gary Holmes! What a crazy coincidence.
The rest of our time in the city was pretty busy with meetings and lobbying, but I do want to point out that as our nation's capitol, I think Washington is really great at "hosting" people from all over the country and the world. Everywhere we went, people asked where we were from and seemed genuinely interested in hearing our response. I thought it was a very friendly city, easy to get around, and had an almost European feel thanks to the architecture, walkability, and relative absence of skyscrapers.

To conclude, I'll leave you with a few example photos of the city embracing people from all over the country. The Newseum (a museum I highly recommend, even though it's not free to attend/not in the Smithsonian complex) posts the front page of a newspaper from every state in the Union, every day. Had to get my picture with that. And later, I got to put a pin in a Montana map on the location of our farm when we were in the office of a certain Senator. Even though it seems like wherever you go in this world, you bump into someone from Montana, or someone who has Montana connections, there were no other pins from 20 miles north of Inverness, MT on the map. Glad we can represent rural Montana, and glad for the city of D.C. being so welcoming and fun!
Next to the posting of the Great Falls Tribune, outside the Newseum.

Placing a pin in the map for our farm! Can you find it? 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

D.C. Fly-In, Part One: The Legislative Experience

I have a lot of photos and a lot to process and write about our Washington D.C. trip. I'm going to have to break it down into several posts. After going through my photos, I think the best way to organize the trip into blog posts is into three segments: Legislative Experience, Tourist Experience, and Art and Design Experience.

I'll start with the Legislative Experience.

But first, let me back up a bit and remind everyone why we came to be in D.C. in the first place!

The D.C. Fly-In was the culmination of our Farmers Union Enterprises (FUE) Leadership Couples training experience that has lasted for about the past 18 months. If you can't remember what FUE or the program we were participating in was all about, check out THIS POST. Basically, we spent the past year or so attending Farmers Union conferences and events and participating in leadership training seminars along with three other couples-- one each from Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.
Walking in front of the Department of Agriculture building with some of our FUE friends.
The Department of Agriculture is a HUGE building.
I liked that they had corn planted out front! 
The Fly-In itself was National Farmers Union's annual lobbying event in Washington D.C. Farmers Union members and representatives from all 28 states where Farmers Union has a presence were in Washington for the Fly-In. Our group arrived a few days early for about a day and a half of more leadership training and informational meetings. Then, the last two and a half days were dedicated to the legislative process and how it pertains to agriculture and Farmers Union issues. The last day and a half specifically were spent actually meeting with representatives of Congress and the Senate (or their staff!) to advocate directly for issues affecting family farms across the country.

On the in-between-day on the Hill, as I'll call it, we as an entire National Farmers Union group, were addressed by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy, and a woman named Ann Alonzo, who is the head of the Agriculture Marketing Service, as well as by National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson.  President Johnson and his staff outlined the four main issues we'd be discussing in our lobbying efforts the next day before we heard from the other three. I found Secretary Vilsack's remarks to be appropriate and well-thought-out, and I enjoyed hearing him speak most of all. He's great. Administrator McCarthy was an engaging speaker as well.
NFU President Roger Johnson
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
Administrator McCarthy of the EPA
Ann Alonzo of the USDA
Moving on to the actual lobbying experience. Everyone with Farmers Union who was present for the Fly-In was divided into teams of 5 or so people, with each team assigned to several Senate/Congressional offices. We were to visit the offices and speak to the government official (or their staff) about our key issues, or drop off an informational hand-out if no one was available to meet with us.
We became very familiar with the Congress and Senate office buildings.
Jeff and I were in a small group with three other people from Montana including the Montana Farmers Union President, another Montana Farmers Union member from Great Falls, and a member of the Montana press (who was not a member of Farmers Union, just there to cover the story of our time in Washington.) We ended up visiting the offices of five different individuals-- a mix of Representatives and Senators. Of those five offices, the only time we met with an actual government official was when we visited the office of Senator Walsh of Montana. The rest of the time we spoke with office staff, usually the staffer responsible for Agriculture issues.
Jeff and I in the rotunda of the Longworth office building.
The issues we spoke about were identified and decided upon by the National Farmers Union board and included:
  • COOL (Country of Origin Labeling)-- NFU is for keeping COOL laws as-is.
  • RFS (Renewable Fuel Standard)-- NFU Is for maintaining status quo with RFS.
  • TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership)-- NFU is skeptical of TPP in its current form.
  • Rail Issues-- NFU is advocating on behalf of farmers for increased rail traffic for grain and for increased oversight from the STB (Surface Transportation Board) on the railroad. 
Throughout the process of meeting with the various offices and staff, and the Senator, it became apparent that Jeff has a real gift for leadership in these types of situations. He was very well-spoken and seemed really comfortable discussing the issues with anyone. As for myself, I was a little out of my comfort level, but with practice got better. I think my future with Farmers Union probably will not involve extensive lobbying in that form. Jeff rocked it though. 
Senate Hart Office Building.
Montana Senators Tester and Walsh both have their offices here.
Since we had a member of the local Montana Ag media in our group, Jeff and I did give a brief interview that was included in a few radio spots. Jeff was also interviewed by another person of the media and that story was released right after we got back. Hopefully everyone is happy with how we both answered our questions! I was a little nervous for the interview I did, even though it was brief! Did anyone catch any of our radio spots or the print interview anywhere?

One of the highlights for the business-side of the trip for me was attending the Golden Triangle Awards Ceremony on Tuesday evening of our trip. The Golden Triangle Awards are given by National Farmers Union to government officials who have done well to serve the Ag community in the past year. Many of the awards were handed out in person at the event. This meant we had a very front row view of many members of Congress and the Senate as they stopped by the party to receive their awards. I was most impressed with Nancy Pelosi (California), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota), and of course, John Tester (Montana), our friend and neighbor. Jeff and I were also impressed with John Walsh (Montana) for the fact that he stayed at the party after giving his short acceptance speech and actually took some time to visit with people in the audience-- no one else had done that. Politics aside, he seemed like a nice and genuine man in-person.
Nancy Pelosi receives her Golden Triangle service award from NFU President Roger Johnson.
Sherrod Brown of Ohio about to receive his award.
Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota addresses the group.
There's so much more detail I could write about this trip and specifically about the legislative experience we had. I truly learned A LOT in-person about how government works. It was cool to be actively participating in democracy, advocating for family farms, and attempting to let our voices be heard. Even if I don't have a future in lobbying in this form, it was definitely worth the experience on many, many levels. I think Jeff and I both realized the potential for leadership that we have within this organization, which is overall, the ultimate goal of the entire experience.

Will either of us have a future in politics?!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Kickin' Assphault 10K

If there are any of you who are just dying to read about the time Jeff and I had in Washington D.C., you'll just have to wait a little longer. I do have those posts in progress in draft form, but I'm still processing the trip in my mind, so I'm not ready to post those yet.

What IS fresh on my mind, however, is the 10K I ran yesterday!! So, you'll get a re-cap of that race instead! I have a lot of thoughts swimming around in my mind for this post, so it could get a little lengthy. If you're not interested in my running "career," you mind find this post less-than-interesting.

First, I should disclose that it technically was not my first 10K. I did run one once before in something like 2007. At that time, I was running a lot, and had thought I might try to train for a triathlon. So, when Midnight Madness came around, which is a very popular summer race event in my hometown, I decided I'd "train" for my triathlon by doing the Midnight Madness bike race, then following it up with a 10K. I did great in the bike race- finishing as the first-place female finisher.

But then there was the 10K.

Let's just say I don't recommend biking a hard bike race, resting minimally, and then attempting one's first 10K. The race was miserable. I walked a ton. I did not respect the distance, which was more than I'd ever run at the time. It was hot. I was tired. I finished with a horrible time, but what's worse is that I felt absolutely awful in body and spirit afterwards. My self-inflicted poor performance in that race caused me to decide on the spot that I'd never attempt anything longer than a 5K again.

Fast forward three moves, one knee surgery, and seven years later to this summer.

Recently, I have been doing many 5Ks and had gotten to the point where I felt like I was ready for the next challenge. I had been dropping tons of time with each race I did, feeling great mentally and physically strong, thanks to lots of effective cross-training. I started looking into upcoming races and thought that it might be time to try a 10K.

The Kickin Assphault 10Kwas appealing for many reasons. It was close to home (Ok, Great Falls is 2.5 hours away, but to me that's close!). I had a feeling the 10K wouldn't be super popular with the Half Marathon distance being the headliner for this event, all the better. Also, I had thought a lot of the Montana running community probably would have done the Bozeman Marathon/Half-Marathon the previous weekend and may not be interested in another big run. I researched the route and it looked great, so there was that. Lastly, an early morning run (7:45 start time) meant less chance of running in the heat.

With a specific race in mind, I decided this time to actually plan out a training schedule for increasing my running distances. If I could start and stick with the first few weeks of the training schedule, I'd go ahead and actually sign up for the race. Needless to say, I did stick with it and ended up increasing my mileage from about 7-10 miles to between 10-14 miles a week, with steadily increasing long runs once a week or so. I took the plunge and finally signed up for the race about three weeks ago.

The afternoon before race day, I drove down to GF and stayed overnight in a hotel, since I wasn't interested in waking up at about 4:00 a.m. and driving down the morning of the race. This worked out well because I had a chance to pick up my race packet the night before, too. Then, I had a great meal at Moonshine Grill (Eggplant Parmesan- yum!) and slept great in the hotel. I woke up Saturday morning feeling fresh, well-rested, and most important- mentally ready.
Race T-shirt and swag from the race, along with my finishers medal.
The shirt is a techincal tee that is HUGE on me. :/ At least the design is cool!
The race was held at the Giant Springs Picnic Area, behind Fish, Wildlife and Parks on Giant Springs Road, and the route followed an asphault (duh!) paved bike/walking path along the Missouri River. Here's a link to a map of the route: Kickin Assphault 10K Route. The weather was cool- in the low 40's at the start of the race. It was also mostly cloudy and, thankfully, not even the slightest bit windy. Truly ideal weather for running.

I spent significant time jogging, dynamic-stretching and overall warming up, since it was cool, and I wanted to be warm and ready for the distance. It was not a big crowd for the race- I'm thinking between 50 and 100 people. At about 7:40 we gathered at the starting area. 7:45 with the sound of a starter's gun, we were off.

For once, I actually paced myself and went out a little slow at the start of the race. Looking back, however, I do wish I had actually gone out faster. I didn't know what kind of hills the course would have in store and the race actually started out with almost a half-mile of downhill. Now I wish I had capitalized on that.

I should have known, having actually done some walking and biking on the trails the race followed before, that there would be some hills, but I didn't think of it. There were about three significant, long, long, never-ending hills to climb throughout the race. I struggled mentally with each one for a while, but willed myself not to walk. My mantra was, "My spirit is stronger than this hill." I also thought a lot about some of the very, very hard situations some of the kids I work with at school endure on a daily basis and reminded myself that running up a few hills is nothing compared to what they deal with. That kept me going, too.
Finish line for the race.
Race was timed with chip timers attached to our shoes that pinged when we crossed the magic carpets at the finish line. Pretty cool. 
When I came to some more level stretches in the race, I alternated some ten-second surges in with some pace running. I know that helped my overall time. I knew my overall average mile pace was slower than I normally run, but I was OK with whatever the results were going to be. I kept thinking throughout the race of my goal-times. I tend to do Good/Better/Best goals for races. For this one, it was Good- 65 minutes or less, Better- 60 minutes or less, and Best- 55 minutes or less.

After climbing and slogging up the last long hill, I knew the finish line was roughly a mile away, and tried to pick up the pace a little bit. The end was near and even though I couldn't see it, I could hear the announcer and I knew I was almost there. The last mile and extra .2 were one of my fastest splits, so motivation to finish definitely worked.

Then, I was there, receiving my finisher's medal, and reeling in the endorphins and pride for having finished the race. It felt so good to be done and to have accomplished finishing the race! I finished in 1:00.04, so pretty much aligned with my "Better" goal. I feel great about the time, especially considering all the hills I hadn't been prepared for. My next 10K, whenever that will be, will be even better! Now I have a time to measure myself against and try to beat.
As usual, representing Team Beef Montana! Felt so good to finish the race.
When's the next 10k??? Sign me up! 
Here are my split times--

Mile 0-1: 8:54.4
Mile 1-2: 8:29.49 / 17:23
Mile 2-3: 10:23 / 27:46
Mile 3-4: 11:16 / 39:02
Mile 4-5: 10:02.07 / 49:04
Mile 5-6: 8:39.25 / 57:43
Mile 6-6.2: 2:20.64 / 1:00:04

I did not stay for the awards or wrap-up ceremony, but as near s I could tell I was the seventh place female finisher overall. I feel good about that. Mostly, I just feel good about doing the race, putting in the time to train, sticking to my plan, and executing on race day.
This was the race tee from the Beat the Deadline 5K, that I had never posted.
It's a cozy, appropriately sized long-sleeve cotton tee. Perfect! 
What's next on my race schedule? The Opera Run in Bozeman on September 27. I'll be doing the 5K distance, and they also offer a 10 mile race. With all the training I've been doing for the 10K, I'm really hoping and going to work for a personal-best time in the 5K over the next few weeks. Wish me luck!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Beat the Deadline 5K

If you were given the chance to run down Pennsylvania Ave in Washington D.C., with no cars, and views of all the major monuments, museums, and state buildings everywhere you looked, wouldn't you do it? Even in extreme heat and humidity? Even if it meant getting up extra early on a Saturday morning? That's what the National Press Club Beat the Deadline 5K last Saturday morning in D.C. entailed. 

Call me crazy, but I did it. 

I wore my Team Beef Montana jersey and represented the great state of Montana, and also because it was the most practical thing to wear in the heat and humidity. I got several comments and curious compliments on the jersey, so as always, it was great advertising for Montana beef producers, and the beef market in general. 
The race was sponsored by the National Press Club in Washington D.C. and proceeds went to fund journalism scholarships for students. To me, it looked like they had excellent turnout. It was nice weather (relatively nice... It is still D.C., one of the hottest, most humid places in our country!) I had gone the night before and picked up my packet and t-shirt, so all I had to do on Saturday was show up and run. 
Getting ready for the start of the race! 
When the race began, I was in the middle of the pack. I went out hard (for me), as I usually do, and got to the first mile marker in 7:45. By this point, I had run from the NPC, which is right by the White House, down some side streets and to Pennsylvania Ave, then behind the National Archives, the National Gallery (my fave!), and by some other great museums. We were headed toward the Capitol building and the Washington Monument was behind us. 
Classic-- taking a photo whilst running.
Can you see the Capitol dome? 
After turning right and running across the mall, right in front of the Capitol, the route went just a little further, toward some government office buildings, then we turned around and followed the same path back to the NPC. The views on this race were pretty awesome. I couldn't get past the fact that I was running up and down Pennsylvania Ave, with traffic blocked off. Loved it! 
NPC volunteer cheering on finishers. Almost there! 
With about a mile left, I started getting really horrible sideaches, so I had to really slow my pace down. I even walked for about a minute. I'm a little bummed that that had to happen, but that's how it goes sometimes. I'm attributing the cramp to dehydration brought on by heat and humidity, which I'm not used to running in. Nevertheless, I finished the race with a time of 26:33, which is actually only one second slower than my personal best this season (which I ran at the Let Freedom Run race on 4th of July in Choteau, MT). Considering that I was hamstringed by cramps and had to slow down and walk, I'm incredibly happy with the time. 

Just checking the official results from the race website, I was still 9th out of 40 women in my age group. In the top 25% of finishers-  I'll take it! I was also the 206th finisher out of 497 overall. Not too bad.  My mile pace was 8:33, significantly faster (like- a minute and a half!) than where I started this running season. Proud of that, too. Hard work pays off. The first place female finisher won in a time of 17:15, at age 40. The first place female finisher won in a time of 17:15, at age 40. So, in ten years I think I can get there. HA! :)
That's the lady who won the race, cooling down (if one can cool down in that heat!) afterwards. 
Overall, it was a great race and I'm really glad I did it. Next up on my race schedule is the Kickin Assphault 10K tomorrow morning in Great Falls! My first 10K... kinda nervous! Wish me luck! 
These shoes have put on a lot of miles this year!
Where will they take me next?