Labor Day Weekend Camping (the End and the Beginning)

As a child, Labor Day weekend gave me the feeling of being pulled between two worlds.  I wanted to soak up the final few hours of summer and freedom, and yet the inevitability of school and backpacks and homework loomed, but with it the hope of a new beginning.  Labor Day weekend meant enjoying the final moments of one season while preparing for the start of the next.  

This Labor Day weekend Andrew and I joined our friends Elliott and Lauren for two days of roughing it in the woods: camping, hiking, peeing behind trees.  We drove into the mountains Friday evening and set up camp in the dark.  Saturday morning, after filling up on oatmeal and French press coffee, we began the first of two hikes planned for the day: Mount Pleasant.  Andrew and I had hiked it on a previous camping weekend, and the views are stunning.  On a clear day, this is what you’ll see:

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However, after hiking 3-ish miles to the top this Saturday, this is was our view:

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Heavy fog everywhere.  Womp womp.  

We finished the hike, ate lunch at our campsite, then started our second hike of the day:  Cold Mountain.  This hike is an approximately six-mile loop with nice overlooks on the way to an open meadow with beautiful mountain views all around.  

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We did encounter some lingering fog, but thankfully we still were able to steal a few glimpses of those beautiful blue mountains that I love.

Back at camp, with achy bodies from 12.5 miles of hiking, we cleaned up as best we could and started cooking dinner.  Just as we put the steaks on the fire, we heard the rain rolling in.  At the threat of not being able to cook the steaks, Andrew sprung into Eagle Scout mode in a way I’ve never seen.  “Tarp!  Someone grab the tarp!  Two tall sticks!  Twine!  Tent stakes!”  Before the rain could touch our fire, Andrew had constructed a shelter for us with a tarp hung over a rope (strung between two tree branches), with two corners held up by large sticks, which were secured to the ground with tent stakes and twine.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture because, well, it was pouring rain and very dark at this point, but suffice it to say we were all thoroughly impressed.  We ate our steaks (which were unbelievably delicious after hiking all day) as the fire roared and water rushed under our feet–because, hey, we were still outside in a torrential downpour– and we laughed at how disgusting we all felt covered in sweat and mud, and life was very good.  

In the morning I woke early and hiked up the Appalachian Trail a bit to catch the sunrise.  


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It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for a good sunrise–the colors, the stillness of the morning, the promise of a new day.

For me this Labor Day weekend evoked that childhood feeling of being torn between two worlds.  On Friday I wrapped up six years working as a youth minister.  It was a time full of joy and challenges and working with people that I love, but like every season, it had to come to an end to make way for something new.  Today is the start of a new season for me as I pursue a career in personal training.  For the next few months I will be a full-time student preparing for the certification exam, and while I am nervous about venturing into the unknown (and yes, giving up a paycheck for a period), I am thrilled to embark on this journey.

The sun is rising on the first day of a new season for me, and I am giddy about the possibilities of what it may hold.  

Anniversary Weekend Part 2: Caverns, Bird Knob Hike, and Wine-Tasting

Day two of our anniversary weekend in the mountains (you can check out the day one recap here) began with coffee-sipping on the porch of our cabin.

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We could hear a stream rushing somewhere in the woods below and a rooster crowing somewhere in the distance, but there were very few sounds beyond that.  This cabin was the epitome of seclusion, and it was awesome.

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After a leisurely breakfast and a quick dip in the hot tub, we drove into Luray to check out Luray Caverns.  They were pretty cool–it is amazing how it all was formed–but after a while it all kind of looks the same to me.  Andrew, on the other hand, my rock-loving mine engineer, was geeking out the whole time, and that was fun to watch.  There’s basically one rule in the caverns:  don’t touch the rocks (the oil from our skin breaks them down).  We saw one guy in our group sneakily reach out and touch a rock with his finger;  Andrew shook his head, and under his breath said, “Exhibit some self-control, buddy.”😀

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After our caverning adventure we stopped for lunch at this wonderful restaurant called Gathering Grounds.  It’s a coffee/sandwich shop with delicious food…and gluten-free options!  In a little mountain town like Luray, we weren’t sure how well-versed the restaurants would be in food allergies, but they were incredibly accommodating.  They even had a few GF pastries available for dessert.  Andrew finished his meal with a giant peanut butter cookie and was a very happy camper.😀  If you find yourself in Luray, check out Gathering Grounds!

We spent a little time exploring Main Street and letting our food digest, then we drove back into the mountains for our second hike of the weekend:  Bird Knob.  Our criteria for choosing this hike were 1. good views (always) and 2. shorter distance… something less strenuous and time consuming than our crazy hike from the day before.  While the Bird Knob hike is 8 miles if you do the entire thing, the overlooks are only 1.5 miles into the hike, so we could make it a 3 miler if needed.

I made certain to pack enough water for this hike, but I didn’t pay much attention to the elevation chart.  My thought process:  “Three miles?  That’s an evening stroll around the neighborhood.”  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  The entirety of the 1.5 miles to the overlook was uphill, and parts of it were annoyingly steep.  It probably wouldn’t have been as difficult if our legs weren’t sore from our hike the previous day.  As we neared the top Andrew said, “Next time I choose the hikes.”😉

As usual, the views made it all worthwhile:

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We hiked about a mile beyond this, then turned around and made our way back down the mountain.

Back at the cabin we grilled some steaks, poured a couple of drinks, and watched the sun set.

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Gender role reversal: Andrew with a fruity mixed drink, Catherine with a dark stout😉

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We concluded our weekend with some wine tasting on Sunday on our drive back to Richmond.  We stopped at Barboursville Vineyards, which is an Italian-owned winery, made to look like an old Tuscan farmhouse.  The wine was pretty good–none of them tasted as much like grape juice as I want wine to taste–but the scenery was beautiful:

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The weekend was simultaneously relaxing and exhausting.  It was so great to get away and be in the mountains, but we (I) picked some tough hikes😀  Regardless, we were very thankful for the opportunity to celebrate two years of marriage!

-Beach or mountains?  Andrew and I discussed this Saturday; he picked the beach, I picked the mountains (but ask me again when I’m at the beach this summer ;-))
-Have you been to any caverns (Luray or other)?  What did you think?  Are you a rock-toucher/rule-breaker?

Anniversary Weekend Part 1: Hiking Strickler Knob

Today marks two years that Andrew and I have been married!  We celebrated this weekend with a getaway to a cute mountain cabin in Luray, Virginia.  The trip was both awesome and exhausting, filled with hiking and exploring the area.

Friday morning we drove straight from Richmond to the base of our first hike–Strickler Knob–with plans to check into the cabin that evening.  I’d like to give this section of the post a special title based on our (my) experience:

Pack More Water Than You Think You Need

Strickler Knob is about a 9.5-mile hike with an incredible 360 degree view at the top of the mountain.  Now, 9.5 miles is a pretty long hike, and the reviews I read rated it 5 out of 6 in terms of difficulty, but for some reason I was not taking that thing seriously before we started.  I only packed one 24-oz water bottle, and that turned out to be a dangerous mistake.

About ten minutes into the hike, the trail turns very steeply downhill–the kind of downhill that isn’t fun at all–so steep that after .6 mile, when the trail finally started going uphill, it felt relaxing.  During that section all I could think was, “This is going to be terrible on the way back…”  And it was…but more on that soon.🙂

The entire hike was beautiful;  there was a stream, rock scrambling, and these views at the top:

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Amazing.

The return trip is where it became painful.  The temperature was hotter than expected, and with no leaves on the trees yet, there was very little shade.  I’d consumed all of my water, and Andrew refilled my bottle with half of his second bottle (so by being under-prepared, I endangered both of us).  In addition to being dehydrated, rationing water meant that I had only eaten a few bites of my sandwich when we stopped for lunch–with a dry mouth it was tough to swallow.  All around, I did not have enough fuel in my system.

For most of the return trip I felt okay.  We even ran a few downhill sections!  And then we reached the bottom of that d**n hill that I knew was going to be terrible from the start.  Friends, I am in good shape.  Cardiovascularly I can go the distance; the muscles in my legs are strong.  After 8.5 miles, however, with not quite enough water or food, this ascent was not pretty.  I had to stop and rest–and not just rest, but sit down–every .05 miles.  That’s roughly every minute, maybe two on that terrain.  I’ve certainly felt tired on hikes before, but this was the first time I’d ever thought, “I cannot make it to the top of this hill.  How am I going to do this?  I’m going to have to camp here.”  Andrew said he was preparing himself to have to carry me.  It was awful.

And then after a grueling .6 mile, we reached flat ground…and I turned around and cursed the mountainside.

With adequate fuel, it would have been a tough hike, but with only 4.5 cups of water over that distance, it was almost more than I could take.  I was thankful to have Andrew there to encourage me and share his water! Anytime you go into the woods, pack more water than you think you need.

After completing the hike, we made our way to the cabin.

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Isn’t it cute??  We refueled with dinner cooked on the grill, then relaxed in the hot tub😀

Despite the dehydration, it was a great day.  I’d like to tackle that hike again with better preparation…the views are worth it!

I will post about the rest of the weekend tomorrow, but for now…

Happy anniversary to the love of my life!😀

April Garden Update

Spring–along with its appropriate weather–has finally arrived.  Right now I am loving watching everything come to life in our yard.

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As part of my birthday present this year, my mom gave me little figurines to make a fairy garden;  at first I was skeptical, but I gleaned some ideas from Pinterest and created this:

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Hah!  Isn’t it cute?   I visited our local greenhouse earlier this week, and they apparently have an entire section dedicated to fairy gardens, complete with mini plants and figurines.  Who knew?  Fairy gardens are a thing.  Andrew thought it was ridiculously frivolous when I showed him, but ultimately conceded that it is kind of cute, then wished the tiny lawn ornaments the best of luck against the squirrel thieves that frequent our yard.🙂

To balance out the frivolousness of the fairy garden, we do have some very practical plants growing: our vegetables!  Lots and lots of vegetables.  We started our seeds at the beginning of March (then started some more a few weeks later), and now we have quite the greenhouse of our own.

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Here’s what we are growing:

~Tomatoes- Brandywine, Black Krim, Yellow Pear, and Sweetie (Cherry)
~Peppers- Red Bell, Yellow, Pimento, and Jalepeno
~Squash- Yellow, Zucchini, Spaghetti, and Butternut
~Tomatillos
~Eggplant
~Watermelon
~Cucumber
~Green Beans (not yet planted)
~Strawberries (already in garden from last year)
~Kale, Spinach, Lettuce, Chard (already planted in garden)

So, it looks like we’ll be able to eat this summer.

In a few weeks, once the outside temperature is more consistently warm and the plants have a little more time to grow, we will plant them in the garden, which is prepped and ready!

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Vegetable gardening season, we welcome you.🙂

-Are you growing any vegetables this summer?
-Have you ever made a fairy garden?  Have you ever heard of a fairy garden?😀

April Challenge: Week 1

Last week Andrew and I began a month-long fitness challenge, with the goal of “spring cleaning” our habits and getting into better shape.  Here’s a recap of our goals:

Start getting ready for bed by 10 PM
-Plan lunches and snacks for the week, and make sure we have all necessary ingredients
-After dinner, only snack if actually hungry
-Complete at least 4 cardiovascular workouts each week
-Complete at least 1 yoga + 2 weight-lifting workouts each week

Over all, we did really well!  Here’s what our week looked like in terms of these goals:

-We’ve been getting ready for bed by 10 PM on week nights, and sometimes earlier!  I can feel a noticeable difference in how I feel in the morning.  Check.

-When possible, we’ve planned lunches and snacks.  I was traveling Wednesday-Saturday of last week, which meant eating out a lot or having meals prepared by someone else.  I did the best I could with what was there (also, I may have ordered a slice of cheesecake after dinner on the company tab…).  Thankfully, many restaurants now have a list of healthy options, so it’s easier to make healthy choices! (Normally I don’t necessarily order off the “healthy” menu–I order what I’m in the mood for–but it’s a different story when we’re going out to eat every night, plus lunches while traveling.)  Andrew continues to pack his lunches most days like a champ.

-Andrew is the after dinner snacker, and he has been doing really well this week.  When he is hungry in the evenings, he’s been snacking on raw veggies and hummus.  Go, Andrew!

-Fitness.  Here’s what we did:
*Andrew: run/walk (1), yoga (2), gardening (3 & 4), body sculpt class (5), walk (6), elliptical (7)
*Catherine: walk (1), weight circuits (2), run/walk (3), weight circuit (4), walk (5), run (6), weight circuit (7), walk (8)

Total cardio workouts: 4 (Andrew), 5 (Catherine)
Total weight lifting/yoga workouts: 3 (Andrew), 3 (Catherine)

Fitness goals…Check.

For Andrew, gardening this week counts as cardio and weights, as he was working up a sweat doing some serious digging, tilling, and carrying heavy bags of dirt around.  You know, just another day at Two Storey Farms.

Also, the “run/walk” that’s listed for both us of has kind of a funny story.  On April 1, day one of this challenge, we finished dinner, and Andrew suggested we go for a walk.  While we were getting ready I said, “What if we walk to get ice cream/Italian ice?” So we started the two mile walk to our favorite dessert place.  A minute into the walk Andrew said, “Let’s run so we can get there faster!”  So we ran for ice cream and ate it on the walk home.  Four miles in the bank.  :-D

The other funny exercise-related incident this week was related to the body sculpt class Andrew attended.  I was still out of town at that point, and he’d told me the night before that he was going, so I texted him Saturday afternoon to see how the class went.  He said, “It was like, ‘Which one of these things is not like the others?’  All women… mostly moms.” He saw a friend from church in the class who assured him that there’s usually at least one other guy!  I’m still so proud of him for sticking it out.😀

For anyone who’s interested, this is the weight-lifting/body weight workout I’ve been doing this week:

April Workout

If you move from one exercise to the next with no break, it takes about 10 minutes per series (30 to do it three times), and it’s a pretty good little workout!  You can always adjust the reps or weight you use as needed.  I plan to change it up next week so my muscles don’t get too used to one workout, but it’s been serving me well.

So far I don’t feel super different (except being more well-rested), but I think part of that is having been out of town for four days and getting off track food-wise.  I am confident that we are making healthy choices most of the time, and I am excited to see how the rest of the month goes!

-Have you ever literally run for ice cream or some other type of food?
Have you ever been the only person of your gender in a group exercise class?

Road Trippin’ in a Van + Travel Snacks

Today my coworkers and I drove up to Ohio for a work conference.  Last week, this is the conversation I had with Andrew regarding the trip:

Catherine: Just a reminder, we leave Wednesday for that conference in Ohio.
Andrew:  Oh, yeah.  Do you need me to take you to the airport?
Catherine: Oh, no!  We are driving the church van.
Andrew:  Your driving to Ohio??

Oh, yes.  We spent 10 hours a 15-passenger van and traveled in three different states today, but we arrived in one piece.😀

We will be away from home for four days (including travel days), and in the spirit of setting myself up to make healthy choices, I packed plenty of snacks for the time away.  We’ll eat breakfasts at the hotel, lunches at the conference, and dinners out at restaurants, and while I’m sure the food will be excellent, you just never know what the produce situation will be.  And four days with insufficient produce sounds like a headache to me.

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I packed:

~Bananas
~Clementines
~GoGo Squeez Fast Fruit
~Trail Mix
~Almond milk
~Energy bars (not pictured)

For traveling I love having “pre-packaged” fruit like bananas and clementines that can be thrown in a bag without any special preparation.  I was excited to find the Fast Fruits too–they’re essentially pureed fruit in a pouch!

Additionally I packed my running shoes and scoped out the hotel fitness center situation (there is a gym!), plus found some “do anywhere” workouts that I can do in the hotel room.  Preparation leads to healthier decisions.

After we arrived this evening we settled into our rooms, went out to dinner (our travel meals were pretty good today–Cracker Barrel and Outback Steakhouse, both of which have quality, healthy options!), then turned in for the night.  I am glad to be out of the van and looking forward to the conference starting tomorrow (Thursday)!

-What food do you pack when traveling?

-What tips do you have for working out on the road?

Spring Cleaning Our Healthy Habits

This weekend Andrew and I cleaned out the closet in our bedroom.  Our closet is wonderfully huge–it could probably fit two queen-sized beds foot-to-foot with some walking room–which I love, but it also means there’s great potential for huge messes.  Generally speaking, Andrew is a lot neater than I am.  His side of the closet had a few articles of clothing scattered on the floor, some drawers open, and some shoes out of place, but nothing that couldn’t be straightened in 15 or 20 minutes.  My side of the closet looked like a suitcase had thrown up its contents after I’d packed for a month-long trip.  Cleaning it involved multiple hours of sorting, folding, trashing, and Goodwill-ing.

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Epic, mostly clean closet.  With my wedding dress hanging on the left.😀

Also this weekend Andrew and I discussed doing some type of wellness challenge during the month of April to get ourselves in better shape.  As we examined our exercise and eating habits, we realized that our current routine is pretty good…when we actually stick to the routine.  Our lifestyle doesn’t need a complete overhaul, like what I had to do on my side of the closet Sunday, but rather a dusting off of our healthy habits, more akin to straightening Andrew’s side of the closet.  <Phew.>

So how do we stick to the routine?  A crucial part of maintaining healthy habits for me is planning ahead.  I know what I need to do, and I have this great idea in my head that I will get up early each morning to workout, pack a healthy lunch, and go to bed early at night.  If I am not intentional about planning ahead, however, this is what ends up happening:

We stay up late one night watching one more episode of whatever on Netflix.  I wake up too tired to workout in the morning, reset my alarm, and tell myself I’ll go for a run when I get home from work (it will be warmer then, anyway.)  I go to work, but run out of time/forget to pack a lunch–I’ll just grab a big salad around noon.  Noon arrives, and I’m in the middle of something, so I delay going out.  Around 2:00 I finally decide I can’t put off lunch any longer, and by this point I am starving, so I end up buying something greasy/fried/cheesy/etc.  (The later in the day it is, the more unhealthy my lunch will be.)  When I arrive home after work, I’m tired and have a stomach ache because I ate such a crappy lunch, so instead of going for a run I park myself on the couch, telling myself that Andrew and I can go to the gym after dinner.  We don’t, but instead watch a few more episodes of whatever on Netflix, once again staying up too late…

Can anyone relate to that?  I consider myself a fairly healthy person;  I know what good eating and exercise habits look like, and I still fall into that trap if I fail to plan ahead.  In light of that, our “spring cleaning” involves committing to some guidelines that will set us up to make healthier decisions, and recommitting to some fitness goals.  By doing it together, we can hold each other accountable and encourage one another to get our butts of the couch more often.🙂

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Here are our goals and guidelines for the month of April:

Spring Cleaning Our Healthy Habits

~Start getting ready for bed by 10 PM. 

~Plan lunches and snacks for the week, and make sure we have all necessary ingredients

~After dinner, only snack if actually hungry 

~Complete at least 4 cardiovascular workouts each week

~Complete at least 1 yoga + 2 weight-lifting workouts each week

What are are NOT doing:  counting calories, restricting what we eat in any way, or trying to lose weight.  Again, we both know how to eat well and have a desire to do so; if we are proactive with lunches, they will be healthy, so we don’t feel the need to dictate what exactly we’ll eat.  Plus, we don’t believe in deprivation.  My weight hangs out in the same 5-lb range no matter what I do, and Andrew’s is pretty steady as well.  Body fat, on the other hand, we’d both like to lower a bit.  We did weigh-in this morning, and while we are not super concerned with the actual numbers, I am curious to see if there will be any changes at the end of the month!

Andrew
Starting weight: X
Starting body fat %: Y

Catherine
Starting weight: A
Starting body fat %: B

(Unsatisfying, I know.😉   All numbers fall in to the “healthy” range.)

I will give progress reports each week on Wednesday or Thursday–and because there are 30 days in April, but only 28 days in 4 weeks, we’ll have two freebie days in there somewhere.🙂

The first major challenge for me will be this week, as I am traveling for a work conference Wednesday-Saturday!  I won’t have to think about packing lunches, but I will have to find time to workout.  (This will also be a major challenge for Andrew, who won’t have me there to drag him to the gym. :-D)

We are looking forward to embarking on our “spring cleaning” , and even more so looking forward to feeling better, stronger, and healthier by the end of the month!

-What are your wellness goals for the spring?
-How do you set yourself up to make healthier decisions throughout the day?