Monthly Archives: November 2013

45th Birthday Party in Spain

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My birthday was the day after the excursion al campo.  It is our tradition to always go on a birthday run or hike, so we went on a beautiful hike with Mom and Dave to Lake Bermejales where I never tire of the beautiful scenery.

Me and My Mom and Dave

Me and My Mom and Dave

Dave and Sandi

Dave and Sandi

After our hike we enjoyed a cafe con leche at the local cafe/bar.
We made it back by 2 to pick the girls up from school.  Sky had gymnastics at 4 and we couldn’t miss a chance to show off her new skills to Grammy.

Sky - in the middle with her foot on her head!

Sky – in the middle with her foot on her head!

For my birthday dinner I wanted to do something special. I had been hoping to take a trip to Morocco but it would have meant that the girls would miss too much school.  The next best thing that I could think of was a Moroccan dinner! I arranged a party catered by Kritzlynn Al Taib. Kritz is an English woman living near Alhama. She speaks fluent Arabic and runs guided tours to Morocco.

Kritzlynn, my birthday chef!

Kritzlynn, my birthday chef!

Her website is very interesting with beautiful photographs.
http://www.hiddenmorocco-andaluciatours.com
Kritzlynn is also an experienced chef. She lived in Saudi Arabia for many years running restaurants, so cooking for a small group is fun for her. She advised me that she needs a minimum of 8 guests if she is to cater a party. Our family only made 6 so I needed more guests. I didn’t really know many people here but that didn’t stop me!  Since my Mom and Dave were here I decided to keep it an English speaking crowd.  Paul is our closest friend here so of course I invited him.  I found Paul and his current running client, James from Vancouver, eating at Al Dente, the local pizza place.   They happened to be having dinner with another friend who I hadn’t met, John (from England), so I invited all of them.  I called Michelle, her mother Barbara, and Eric of the Ultima Frontera Race and invited them as well. They already knew Kritzlynn and said they wouldn’t miss one of her Moroccan dinners so they were in.   We also included our American friend Spencer. I knew he would say yes (he has a rule about that).

THE GUESTS:

Paul (photographed by Savannah)

Paul (photographed by Savannah)

Sky, such a grownup at the party!

Sky, such a grown-up at the party!

Barbara and Sandi

Barbara and Sandi, the 2 moms

Spencer and Savannah reading the wonderful card that Sky and Savvy made for me.

Spencer and Savannah reading the wonderful card that Sky and Savvy made for me.

Mike and John from England

Mike and John from England

Leslie, Eric and Michelle

Leslie, Eric and Michelle

Michelle, Leslie and Mom

Michelle, Leslie and Mom

James, originally from Singapore but now from Vancouver, Canada with Dave

James, originally from Singapore but now from Vancouver, Canada with Dave

Once the party had grown to 13 I needed a new location as our dining room table is only big enough for 6.  Our friend Orla who currently lives in Washington D.C. owns an amazing guest house/vacation rental around the corner from us.  He calls it the Casa Chocolate since it was once a chocolate factory in the 1920’s.  It is a renovated old Alhaman residence complete with a beautiful modern kitchen.  Luckily it was available and he let us borrow it for the evening with the promise to donate some sort of decoration for the house from our travels this year. What a deal! ( Thanks Orla! Come visit us in California! )

Kritzlynn made an amazing dinner.  We started with appetizers that could easily have been a meal alone.

Kriyzlynn explaining the appetizers

Kritzlynn explaining the appetizers

Charmoula (a coriander, tomato and chile salsa)

Roasted red pepper hummus

Cooked Moroccan salad with aubergine, red peppers, olives and carmelized onions

Fresh tomato, orange and garlic salad

Baba Ghanouj

Served with Pita Bread and Crusty rolls.

Kritz in the kitchen

Kritz in the kitchen

THE MAIN COURSE:

Bistiya (my favorite)…”A festive pie”. Wow, a wonderful vegetarian pie filled with roasted squash, sweet potato, cranberries, pistachio nuts, almonds, chickpeas and spinach.  The pie is in a filo pastry which amazingly Kritz makes herself!

Thanks to Savannah for getting a picture of the Bistiya before it was completely gone!

Thanks to Savannah for getting a picture of the Bistiya before it was completely gone!

Chicken kabobs: for the meat-eaters

Chicken Kabobs

Chicken Kabobs

Roasted Veggies, almost gone!

Roasted Veggies, almost gone!

Roasted Moroccan Veggies

Cous cous

Basmati rice with moroccan spices.

Moroccan cous cous

Moroccan cous cous

We ate and ate! ( and drank ) The food was delicious, the conversation was outstanding, and the company was warm and friendly. Of course, Sky and Savannah were the life of the party!

Party party

Party party!

Great conversation

Great conversation in the lovely Chocolate House!

Kritzlynn finished the dinner with a delicious mixed berry dessert served with meringue and 2 candles : 4 5

I had my 20'th birthday in Spain, glad to be back 25 years later!

I had my 20’th birthday in Spain, glad to be back 25 years later!

Team Kezmoh goes on a school picnic with Grammy and Grampy

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Beautiful October Morning

Beautiful October Morning

Last week we had our first brave visitors to Alhama de Granada.  My mom and stepdad, Dave came to visit for my birthday.  Team Kezmoh drove our Seat Leon to Malaga to pick them up.  We returned the little car and exchanged it for a minivan for the week.   A minivan is a rarity in Spain because large vehicles are not meant for Spain. The roads are narrow and parking spaces are very tiny.

At the airport Mike took care of the details of switching cars while Sky, Savvy and I planted ourselves outside of customs.  We were overjoyed when we spotted Grammy Sandi and Grampy Dave!  We gave them huge hugs and led them to the minivan.

So glad to see Grammy and Grampy!

So glad to see Grammy and Grampy!

The girls chattered all the way to Alhama about their new lives here.  While our special visitors settled into the apartment downstairs (Apartamentos Salmerones), Savannah made a list of the important sites she wanted to share in Alhama.  We hardly gave Mom and Dave time to put their suitcases away before they were pulled out the door for a tour.  Savvy had her list so she was our guide.  We visited all of the important parks, the library, the grocery store, the Churrero, the coffee shop and the school.  Looking back I had to smile because Alhama has many tourists who pass through every day.  I always see them disappearing on hikes into the gorge,  touring the old quarter, and posing for photos in front of the old church but I bet none of them knows where the grocery store is!

On Sunday morning we hiked down to the Churrero for churros and chocolate, a must for visitors to Spain.  The churros are made fresh when ordered and “churros for 6” is enough for an army.  The chocolate is a thick molten pudding rather than a drink and it is served with a spoon.

Grammy and Savannah Churros and chocolate

Grammy and Savannah
Churros and chocolate

Churros and Chocolate Sky and Dave

Churros and chocolate
Sky and Dave

Luckily for Mom and Dave we had an all-school, all-day excursion on Monday!   It was an “Excursion al Campo”, a trip to the countryside.

Grammy Sandi and Savannah ready to hike to the campo

Grammy Sandi and Savannah ready to hike to the campo

Sky, ready for the outing!

Sky, ready for the outing!

Checking the schedule for the day

Checking the schedule for the day

The week before Mike and I had been recruited to help brainstorm activities for the day.  It was Halloween week so they wanted us to help with ideas from our Halloween/Harvest festivals at home.  We were delighted to be included and agreed to run a station and bring a typical American snack.  We googled Halloween cookies and although we had never had them before we thought “witches’ fingers” would be a good Halloween snack.  Grammy took charge of making the cookies. Sky and Savannah were in charge of forming the fingers and adding the “fingernails”. We also made Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches.  Javier, the school director, enjoyed hearing us say peanut-butter-and-jelly more than the sandwiches themselves.  “Say it again!” he laughed calling a friend over to listen to our funny accents.

Making Witch's Fingers!

Making Witches’ Fingers!

Sky, Savvy and Leslie with our PB&J and cookies

Sky, Savvy and Leslie with our PB&J and cookies

The Fingers

The Fingers

We hiked in a long line of children, parents and teachers down into the gorge across one road and onto a trail into the forest.

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Embalse de los Bermejales

Embalse de los Bermejales

We set up the festival under the shade of tall trees at a picnic ground by the local lake, Embalse de los Bermejales (this is different from the Lake Bermejales that we run around).  Mom, Dave, Mike, Spencer and I manned Estacion #3.  Spencer is a young man from Tennessee who is teaching English at the school this year.  Since he is the other American he was assigned to our group.  We really like Spencer so we were glad for his company. Our station was called “Coma manzanas sin los manos” (eat apples without your hands). We sliced apples and dangled them from a string hanging between two trees.

Savannah and Spencer (pronounced ES-spencer by the Spanish children)

Savannah and Spencer (pronounced ES-spencer by the Spanish children)

Mom, Sandi cutting apples

Mom, Sandi cutting apples

We gave the instructions in Spanish and had the kids repeat them after us in English.  We were supposed to be teaching some English so we quizzed them on the words for fruits and vegetables.  The children were pretty hungry and were motivated to get the apples without using their hands.  It was fun to watch.  In every group there was always one kid, usually a big boy, who would demand that his string be reloaded several times.

Grampy Dave helping with the apples

Grampy Dave helping with the apples

Toma manzanas sin manos

Toma manzanas sin manos

Delicious apples!

Delicious apples!

Sky's friend Ava

Sky’s friend Eva

Sky and Savannah stayed with their classes. They had sack races, a mask-making station and other games.

Beautiful Sky winning the sack race

Beautiful Sky winning the sack race

Savvy with her cool autumn mask

Savvy with her cool autumn mask

Once every class had rotated through all the activity stations, it was time for lunch and most of the parents began arriving.  One mother roasted chestnuts and passed them out wrapped in newspaper.

Passing out roasted chestnuts

Passing out roasted chestnuts

Tables were set up and the food was laid out.  There were Tortilla Espanolas (thick egg and potato omelettes), Empanadas, fried fish, and an entire table devoted to what else,  jamon. We visited with the other parents and tasted all of the foods. I had to explain at least 6 times that I was certain that the jamon was delicious but that I was a vegetarian. Mike just kept some on his plate to prove that he was enjoying it.

So much JAMON!

So much JAMON!

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Mike, Dave and Sandi after lunch

After everyone had eaten, Javier jumped around and announced that it was time for some games.  I volunteered for the sack race.  Spencer joined me.  Spencer has a rule that he must never say no if he is invited to try something as long as it is not unhealthy or illegal. I knew when Javier approached him that he would be lining up for the race!  Spencer won and was awarded a bag of candy which seemed to come with about 40 children. They surrounded him and left him with an empty bag. He was smiling, what a prize!

Full of fried calamari, tortilla Espanola, witches’ fingers, and jamon we all hiked back to the school.  It was a long line of tired children who hiked the mile back to school.  I was impressed that even the tiny kids hiked without complaint.  Javier took up the rear making sure no one got lost.

DSC_9705It was evening and we were all tired.  It felt good to have had a station of our own to run.  We felt welcomed and part of the community which was lovely.  Team Kezmoh and Grammy and Grampy went home and watched Despicable Me and went to bed.

Team Kezmoh

Team Kezmoh

Stay tuned for more adventures of Team Kezmoh and visitors.

Ultima Frontera, Race report. Loja, Spain

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Ultima Frontera 55km/83km/166km: Race Report
Loja, Espana October 20, 2013

Hey! Do those butts look familiar? Mike and I are the poster children for the race!

Hey! Do those butts look familiar? Mike and I are the poster children for the race!

Ultima Frontera is organized by Michelle Culter and Eric Maroldo. Michelle is a screen writer living here in Spain.  Eric is a musician who has a band here with some Spanish musicians.  They live near us so we are looking forward to getting to know them better.  The race course is from the imagination of our friend, Paul Bateson.  The race flyer was created by Paul and is a picture of Mike and me from 2 years ago.
Ultima Frontera was my first ultra in Spain.  How could I not run the race if I was on the poster!? It is always funny showing up for a race where 55k is the shortest distance.   I felt a bit lame but I am certainly in no shape to run 50 or 100 miles!

The race started in Loja, 32 km from our little village of Alhama de Granada.  Mike and the girls were recruited to run the first aid station/check point so we got up early together. I put on the clothes that I had laid out: my bright orange compression socks, a pink running skirt, a black t-shirt, my favorite cap and my Nathan hydration pack.  We drove to Loja under a full moon that peeked in and out of the clouds above the olive groves. The morning was cool and a bit foggy.  We arrived with plenty of time to pick up my race packet but I still had that nervous pre-race anxiety that is always there.  I made the usual 2-3 trips to the bathroom, worried that I’d be too cold in my outfit and ate 1/2 a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  The prerace information warned that there would not be much aid on the course so I filled my hydration pack with 1.5 liters of water, 6 gels, toilet paper (you never know!) and my phone.  I pinned my “dorsal” (race number) to my skirt and I was ready to go.

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Just a little pre-race jitters!

The starting group was small enough to pose for a group photo.  Although there were only 99 runners registered for the 3 distances, 22 countries were represented!  IMG_4712

We started running from La Medina Cauxa Municipal Stadium under a blow up arch that read LOJA across the top.  I placed myself near the front knowing that most of the runners would be doing twice my distance and would probably be starting slowly.  We ran out a paved road but within 1/4 mile we were happily climbing a dirt path following the Rio Genil.  I ran along saying Hello or Hola to anyone I passed.  I eventually fell instep with a woman and her partner from Malta.  I was listening so carefully to her that we missed one of the first turn offs!  Luckily some of the people behind us shouted and whistled at us until we realized our mistake.  We doubled back and got on the right trail.  We only went 1-2 minutes out of the way but it always feels bad to run a single extra step in such a long race.  We wound around the hillsides with beautiful views of rolling hills and olive groves.  It was a cloudy morning and by the time we reached the top of the first climb we could see clouds hovering over the countryside level to where we were running.  At mile nine we came to a crazy house straight out of Alice in Wonderland!  The driveway was lined with poles each with a little decoration on top. There were colorful teapots, snails, girls with baskets, birds, bunnies and more.  I slowed to snap a photo. I’d love to return to get a better look!

My photo of the crazy house

My photo of the crazy house

From Paul's collection of photos, a sunnier day
From Paul’s collection of photos, a sunnier day

I wondered if the course went past their drive intentionally for the entertainment of the runners.  From the Alice in Wonderland House we descended into a little town called Zagra at 17 km.

Zagra. Photo is a bit crooked because I was trying not to stop running!

Zagra. Photo is a bit crooked because I was trying not to stop running!

We ran past curious Zagrans peering off balconies and standing in doorways.  Most people just stared, some shouted “animo”.  We were through the town in minutes and headed up an impressive road climb to the town of Ventoros de San Jose.  I was excited to arrive in Ventoros because I knew my family would be there.  Mike, Sky and Savannah were manning the 20km check point.  I spotted Sky first in her CATS t-shirt, jumping up and down as she ran out to greet me.  Mike filled my water pack, Savannah gave me a banana and  another volunteer was recording our numbers.  My beautiful family hugged me, wished me luck and sent me off down the road.  Finally some downhill!  I ran and visited with my new friend from Malta, Karen, until the road started to climb again.  Karen reminds me of my friend Megan who runs the ups the same pace as the downs.  I watched her disappear up the hill but reeled her in on the downhill which is my specialty.  At one point on a particularly long downhill I ran along alone.  I followed the red and white ribbons and the green arrow off the road onto a dirt path.

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I passed a familiar “Coto de Cazo” sign.  I see these signs all the time on my runs. They mean that the area is a hunting preserve but I had yet to see any hunters until that day.  I heard shots and some men talking loudly.  One hunter disappeared up a row of olive trees.  The other, shot gun slung over his shoulder and dog at his side ambled up the trail ahead of me.  I was grateful for my road cone orange compression socks and my bright clothes.  I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be mistaken for an animal of some kind but I definitely quickened my stride until I was well out of range. I know it is probably silly to worry about men with guns in olive fields but it made me nervous just the same.  I entertained myself with making a plan for what I would do if I was shot at, if I was shot or if I came across a bleeding runner.  By the time I stopped worrying about the guys with the guns several kilometers had passed.  The course continued between the olive groves and down deserted country roads lined with fig and pomegranate trees.  Karen and her partner eventually caught me and I had company until we reached the 35 km check point where they would journey on to the Montefrio climb to continue the 83 km race and I would turn back towards Loja.

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Nice dirt

Lonely roads

Lonely roads

I was alone for the rest of the race.  There were no other competitors that I could ever spot either in front or behind me.  At this point I was really careful to watch for ribbons and arrows for fear of making a wrong turn and being completely alone in the middle of nowhere.  I ran into Huetor-Tajar and the last check point at 42 km.   I still had plenty of water so I just stopped to say hello to Barbara, Michelle the race director’s mother.  She wished me luck and recorded my number.  I ran off eating a banana feeling really good considering I had already run a marathon.  I only had 13 km (about 7 miles) to go but anyone who has run more than 20 miles knows that no matter how good you may feel with 6- 7 miles to go, it is possible to completely blow up in the last couple of miles.  I knew I had one last climb before the end.  I actually welcomed the hill when I started to ascend, knowing that once over it I could just coast the downhill to the finish.  I made it to the top of the last climb at about 50 km (31 miles) and was excited to start down.  I sped up and about 20 steps into the downhill both of my quads cramped!  I jolted to a stop.  I tried to stretch but that just made my left hamstring cramp.  I imagine that I looked pretty silly jumping around all alone on the road.  I plopped down on a rock to try to relax my legs and think about what to do.  I realized that I was due for a gel a few miles back but I was out of gels.  I had no salt with me, a bad mistake.  I looked down at my shirt and body.  I was covered with salt.  I started licking my arms and sucking on my shirt.  That probably looked stranger than the cramping dance but I was desperate!  I pushed myself to my feet and delicately tried to run.  Amazingly my quadriceps cooperated and didn’t cramp again.  I’m not sure if it was the arm licking or the rest that helped but I was able to finish the race without having to stop again.  Sky and Savannah ran out to meet me at the finish and I happily ran under the LOJA arch and accepted my finisher metal!

Finishing the race!

Finishing the race!

Resting the tired legs

Resting the tired legs

Leslie, Paul, Savannah and Sky celebrating post race

Leslie, Paul, Savannah and Sky celebrating post race

Made the Podium, 3rd place!

Made the Podium, 3rd place!

After the race we hung out at the finish. There was a restaurant next door so we joined the other finishers and ate pizza and hamburgers.   We drove home to Alhama and we all collapsed on the couch to watch a movie.   It was a great day for me.   Even with the cramping break I was really happy with my time.  Thanks so much to Mike, Sky and Savannah for their support!

For more information about the race or to sign up for next year go to http://www.ultimafronteratrail.com  Click on the little British flag in the right-hand corner to see the page in English.