Disney World (January 2015) – Part 1

In an effort to catch up with all of the major things that have happened in 2015 (and to try and satisfy my New Year’s resolution #4), I’m going all the way back to the beginning of the year to write about my trip to Orlando in January. I figured I really needed to finally document that trip before I head back there for the Wine and Dine Half Marathon at Walt Disney World next month!

My parents joined me in Orlando for the 2015 Disney World Marathon Weekend (1/7-1/11) when I was running the 10K and half marathon. We stayed at the Coronado Springs Resort which turned out to be pretty nice. The room was basic enough, but all of the buildings are situated around a lake. We had a little bit of a walk to get breakfast at the food court every morning, but at least the lake made for a lovely route. And it was a bit chilly in Orlando that week which was both good and bad. The day before the 10K we went to the race expo at the Wide World of Sports complex and picked up my shirts and bibs for the two events. I was distressed to discover that the race pins I thought I’d ordered (and even had email receipts for) had gone awry during the registration process. Luckily I was able to buy them at the expo, but only after looking in three different places. We spent the afternoon wandering around Downtown Disney (which has been renamed to Disney Springs since then) and had dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Grand Café. A nice pasta dinner before my first race.

The next day was my 36th birthday and we started the celebration by getting up at 2:30 AM to catch the bus to the 10K start line. Doesn’t that sound fun? Believe it or not, I was thrilled to be running a race on my birthday. And despite the fact that it was 45 deg that morning (we hunkered down in one of the event tents to stay warm before the race started), the experience was fantastic. Running through EPCOT was so much fun. My time was nothing to brag about, but I felt great. It was one of those runs that was almost effortless. That doesn’t happen to me very often so I was grateful for such a memorable run on my birthday. After I crossed the finish line my parents and I took the bus back to our hotel, showered and changed, and grabbed a late breakfast. To finish my birthday celebration we went to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park since I’d never been there before. It was cold and there was a lot of construction going on at the park, but we still had a good time. The Expedition Everest ride is so awesome! I’d go back just for that. And we had a surprisingly good dinner at the Yak & Yeti restaurant. That night we were all tired from getting up way before the crack of dawn so we went to bed early – especially since we had to repeat the same process again the next morning for my second race.

To be continued!

PJJ Maui (Part 3)

The last few days I spent in Hawaii were a bit less structured than the beginning of the trip. The morning of June 26th we all woke up to the news that the US Supreme Court had struck down all bans on same-sex marriage. We were all thrilled! It was really funny sitting around the breakfast table with everyone on their phones, reading about the historic decision, adding the rainbow overlay to our Facebook profile photos, and blocking or unfriending anyone who posted anything disparaging about it. It was so nice to be in a group of like-minded people that morning. We spent most of the day relaxing in our amazing beachside mansion. Some of the ladies unfortunately had to fly home that night so we seized the opportunity to take a bunch of group photos before anyone left. As you can see in the above photo, we even had matching PJJ Maui t-shirts! (I guess I should take a moment to explain that “PJJ” stands for “Pajama Jammy Jam.” We just moved our pajama party to Hawaii and extended it into a week!)

On my last full day on Maui a few of us decided to try to catch the sunrise at Haleakala again, hopefully without the truck convoy (or the associated observatory construction protest) getting in our way this time. (See PJJ Maui (Part 2) for more details.) So we got up at 2 AM to drive to the summit for the festivities. Fortunately the trip was uneventful that morning and our quest was successful! It felt a little strange wearing pants and jackets and packing a bunch of blankets for anything in Hawaii, but it was worth it in the 40 deg weather at the top of Haleakala. And the sunrise was indeed beautiful. I didn’t get any good photos myself, but I loved seeing it in person. On our way back to the house we stopped at a French bakery that’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere and had an absolutely delicious breakfast of quiche and pastries. It was amazing. After that we spent the majority of our day swimming in the ocean and the mansion’s swimming pool. Ladies of leisure! Our numbers dwindled even more that afternoon/evening as more folks hopped flights back to their hometowns. In conjunction with a few airport drop-offs that day we indulged in some Hawaiian shave ice, visited a sugar museum, and stopped briefly at McDonald’s to take pictures of their “Aloha” and “Mahalo” signs. We are classy broads.

I reluctantly flew back to Los Angeles on the morning of the 28th, but I had a three-hour layover in Honolulu first. That gave me a chance to wander through all of the airport shops (and eat a terrible Burger King breakfast) and savor Hawaii for just a little bit longer. I was sad to get home that night. PJJ Maui had turned out so much better than I ever imagined. I loved spending time in a tropical paradise with such an amazing group of women. This was the sorority experience I should have had in college. Several of us made similar comments during the week. It’s rare that you find people that you connect with like that and by some miracle we had all met each other through a Craigslist wedding forum almost a decade ago. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I’ll always be grateful.

Foodie Friday – Buttermilk pumpkin bread

Fall officially started over a week ago, but we’re still waiting for it to arrive here in Los Angeles. But luckily according to my self-imposed rules I can bake with pumpkin again since it’s after September 1st! Until it finally cools off (although this week has been slightly more comfortable) at least we can enjoy pumpkin-flavored treats! Like this delicious pumpkin bread. Last year I posted a great recipe for spiced pumpkin bread, but I’ve been wanting to try a slightly different version for a while. This new recipe contains buttermilk which is always a plus. It does amazing things for banana bread so why not pumpkin bread too? I’m really glad I tried this recipe because it is delicious. Everyone at work loved it, and I ate a few too many pieces of it myself. This pumpkin bread was the perfect way to welcome the fall and celebrate the approaching holiday season.

1 c canola oil
3 c sugar
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
4 eggs
2/3 c buttermilk
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice (I mixed a homemade version since I was out)
1/4 tsp cardamom
2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
3 1/2 c flour

In a large bowl, mix together the canola oil, sugar, pumpkin, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. I usually use an electric mixer for this to make sure the batter is smooth. Add the pumpkin pie spice (or homemade mix of spices like I made), cardamom, salt, and baking soda and beat until combined. Add the flour to the bowl and blend until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Divide the batter between a couple of greased loaf pans. The original recipe calls for three small loaf pans, but since I don’t have any of those I used one 9×5″ pan and one 8×4″ pan instead. (There was actually some batter leftover in this configuration so next time I’ll try three 8×4″ pans and make slightly smaller loaves.) Bake at 325 deg F for at least 1 hour (mine took a bit longer to set in the middle), or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Enjoy!

Based on The Mommy Mess’s Buttermilk Pumpkin Bread.

90’s guilty pleasure

“My heart is in my hands
My head is in the clouds
My feet have left the ground
My life is turning around and round
And every voice inside my head is telling me to run like mad
Oh bows and arrows, stars and sunsets
hey hey hey yeah, hey hey hey yeah
Every heartbeat, every kiss just
Makes me wonder what all this is
Suits of armor, hearts and arrows
Hey hey hey ye-eah!”

“Run Like Mad,” Jann Arden

“Ugh, why am I watching ‘Dawson’s Creek’ for the first time in ages? My intellectual level momentarily took a turn for the worst when I stopped channel surfing at the WB network. I think I am just trying to avoid the inevitable astrodynamics project that I should be working on.”
04/05/00 webpage post

I was in college when “Dawson’s Creek” premiered, but I didn’t start watching it then. Mostly because I didn’t have reliable access to a television until my junior year, but I also seem to remember wanting to avoid such a clichéd teenage drama. I was already basically living one myself! But when we got cable in our rooms in my sorority house and my roommate started watching it on her TV I was kind of stuck. And the wildly popular WB show was just as cheesy as I’d always feared. But that didn’t stop it from becoming my guilty pleasure! The relationship storyline was just too compelling! Who would Joey pick? Dawson or Pacey? Everyone had an opinion! It was just the kind of escapist television that I needed after a long day of classes, club meetings, seemingly endless homework, and sorority ridiculousness. One of my roommates even had a poster of Joshua Jackson on the ceiling above her bed!

But what I wanted to write about today is the “Dawson’s Creek” theme song. Earlier this week I was getting ready for work in the morning and I saw that “Dawson’s Creek” was on ABC Family. So of course I had to watch it for old times’ sake. And at the beginning of the episode I noticed something was different – the theme song! Everyone who ever watched even a single episode of the WB juggernaut back in the day knows that it was Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait” that heralded the beginning of an hour of teen angst. The show and the song were practically synonymous. But these days it’s been replaced by Jann Arden’s “Run Like Mad” in syndication (an on Netflix when the show was available for streaming). Apparently this was originally intended to be the opening credits song, but it was replaced at the last minute with something newer and more popular. It’s a shame because I actually love “Run Like Mad,” but it was never a full length song so I can’t buy it and put it on my running playlist. I guess I’ll just have to catch the 45 seconds of it that do exist on ABC Family reruns!

PJJ Maui (Part 2)

So what did I do on my Hawaiian vacation with a bunch of women I’d been conversing with online for nearly a decade but had just met in person? Everything! The day I arrived on Maui was pretty uneventful. We had lunch at Monkeypod Kitchen in Wailea (I highly recommend it) and then bought a whole lot of groceries at Costco. Can you believe that’s the first time I’d ever been inside a Costco? It was quite an eye-opener! We got food for several different meals to cook in the huge kitchen of the enormous beachside mansion where we were staying for the next week. (It was something like 15,000 square feet with 10 bedrooms and a swimming pool! I never wanted to leave!) The next morning eight of us decided to drive the Road to Hana, which is practically required for visitors. After about an hour we stopped at a winery to wait out some rain and some of the folks in our group had a change of heart. The winding road had caused three people to develop motion sickness so one of the two cars on our journey turned back. Luckily I was in the car that kept going. To avoid traffic we went the opposite direction on the Road to Hana than most tourists because we had a sturdy Jeep that could handle the rough, unpaved southern portion of the road (the part that rental car companies highly discourage their patrons from taking). It was a beautiful drive, but it took us nearly 12 hours! And it rained on us just about every time we got stopped, especially at Ohe’o Gulch (aka Seven Sacred Pools). We had a nice lunch there, but we got soaked when we tried to hike to the pools. It was a good time, though. That evening we played Cards Against Humanity with everyone in the house and it was a blast.

The next morning was a bit of a mess. A group of us decided to get up at 2 AM and drive up to the peak of Haleakala to see the sunrise. It’s a very popular activity. About 10 miles from the house as we were all yawning and missing our comfy beds we noticed a group of protestors next to the road. We all wondered what that was about, but none of us thought to look it up on our phones (while we still had cell service) and see what was up. About two hours later when we got to the gate of Haleakala National Park we figured out what was going on. The peak was closed for sunrise viewing that morning due to a truck convoy that was scheduled to deliver equipment to the solar observatory at the top of the mountain. The demonstration on the highway was protesting additional construction on the telescope due to desecration of sacred lands. Apparently there’s a case before the Hawaiian Supreme Court that hasn’t been settled yet. The funny thing is that the protest was actually successful in preventing the convoy from making it’s journey up to Haleakala that day. I’m not sure if we could have seen the sunrise that morning either way because we turned around and drove back to the house before finding out. The rest of my day was spent relaxing (reading by the pool), eating Hawaiian shave ice (passionfruit, mango, and coconut), and driving to Lahaina for a submarine tour with three of other housemates. It was a great day.

To be concluded in Part 3!

Sunscreen experiment #16

I knew the weather wasn’t going to be great for the Disneyland 10K and half marathon two weeks ago. Ever since we had a freak rainstorm in mid-July (thanks to a hurricane off the Mexican coast that wandered north) the weather has been less than ideal here in Southern California. Hot and really humid. I pretty much hate everything about it, especially since I don’t have air conditioning at home, and I’ve had to reluctantly make wardrobe changes accordingly. As much as I prefer to run in capri pants I knew I’d have to wear shorts and tank tops for both of the Disneyland races to keep as cool as possible. The problem with my favorite running tanks is that they have racer backs and I have a hard time properly applying sunscreen to the exposed areas of my back without help. So as an experiment I picked up a can of Bare Republic Kids Mineral Sunscreen Spray SPF 30 at Target to see if that made it any easier. And it did! I was able to get sunscreen in even the most hard to reach areas, although I wasn’t able to rub it in very well. But at least all of my skin was adequately protected. It always seems ridiculous to apply sunscreen at 4 AM for a race that starts when it’s still dark, but it’s definitely necessary after the sun comes up. I actually liked the Bare Republic spray sunscreen so much that I used it on my arms and legs as well. (I stayed loyal to my favorite Bare Republic Mineral Face Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 (the untinted version) for my face and neck, though. That stuff is the best.) The spray version of the Bare Republic sunscreen isn’t greasy and doesn’t make a mess when you start to sweat. It was great! The only downside is that the actual application makes quite a mess. The spray goes everywhere and leaves a white residue wherever it lands. Not only did I end up with an abundance of white streaks on my running clothes, but I felt a little guilty about all of the sunscreen that ended up on the ottoman in my hotel room. I guess spray sunscreen is probably best applied outside where there isn’t anything that can be ruined. Lesson learned. I still plan to use Bare Republic spray sunscreen in the future, but I’ll be more careful when putting it on!

Chocolate chip cookies #54 and #55

Chocolate chip cookies #54: Based on a couple of my own recipes – My Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies and My Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars. Baked on 8/8/15.

I think the most popular form of chocolate chip cookies that I’ve ever made are the ones with toasted coconut. My co-workers absolutely love them, and even folks who usually eschew all sweets will dig in to these absolutely delicious cookies. So last month when I had the inclination to bake something I pulled out a bag of unsweetened coconut that I’d bought at Whole Foods on a whim. Might as well try it in some cookies! My usual recipe calls for toasted sweetened coconut, so using the unsweetened variety was going to be something a little different. In the end I basically just toasted the unsweetened coconut (5-7 minutes at 350 deg F) and then added it to my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe (with semisweet and milk chocolate chips). And they were amazing! The coconut provides a lovely nutty flavor to the cookies and adds a bit of a chewy texture. What more could you ask for?

Chocolate chip cookies #55: Based on Cupcake Project’s Cacao Nib Cookies and My Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars. Baked on 8/8/15.

The unsweetened coconut wasn’t the only out of the ordinary ingredient that I’ve had hanging out in my pantry for a while. Another one was a bag of cacao nibs, also bought on a whim at Whole Foods. (I really need to avoid the baking aisle when I’m there.) So in an effort to actually make use of the cacao nibs, I decided to dump them into a batch of chocolate chip cookies. (With my well documented obsession with chocolate chip cookies, what else did you expect?) I started with a double batch of my favorite recipe, with about half the usual amount of chocolate chips (1/2 cup semisweet chips and 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips) and simply added the cacao nibs. I don’t remember how many ounces the bag contained, but I think it turned out to be something like 1/2 cup of cacao nibs. The combination of the chocolate chips and cacao bibs made these cookies supremely chocolatey. The cacao nibs not only augmented the chocolate flavor, but they added a bit of a crunch to the cookies. They were quite lovely. Not my favorite, but a nice change of pace. And, of course, my co-workers loved them. Free cookies are always popular!

iPhone repairs

This time last year I pre-ordered an iPhone 6 and I was so excited about it. I’d been living with a broken screen on my iPhone 5 after dropping it a few months earlier and I was pretty fed up with pieces of glass falling off all over the place. Instead of paying to fix it I just waited for the new model to be released and replaced it instead. (I’m not sure if this was smart or sad. Maybe a little of both.) And then, of course, just a few months after getting my pristine iPhone 6, I dropped it and cracked the glass. Aargh. I was so annoyed with myself. As a preventive measure I usually keep my phone in a case, but I have to take the case off when I go running so that the phone will fit in my pocket. Of course I was taking the phone out of my pocket at the end of a run when I dropped it on the sidewalk and broke it. And since the phone still worked fine I’d just been using it as-is since then. I figured I’d just wait for the iPhone 6S announcement and pre-order the new model. Easy, right? Well, the announcement happened last Wednesday. But when I logged in and discovered how much is was going to cost me to get an iPhone 6S I couldn’t believe the price. It was way too high for me to even consider. So I decided to finally make an appointment at the Apple Store to get my current phone fixed. I can’t believe I put it off for so long! It only cost me a little over $100 and an hour of my time, and now it’s like I have a brand new phone. Now to find a new case that it is slim enough that I don’t have to remove it when I go running. I found a couple of very low profile cases that I’d like to try. Hopefully one of those does the trick. I know this is a first world problem of the highest order, but I use my phone for everything so I’m much happier having one that’s back in one piece!

PJJ Maui (Part 1)

In June I went to Hawaii on vacation, but the premise of this trip was a little unorthodox. It all started back in early 2006 when Dan and I had just gotten engaged. In the beginning stages of planning our nuptials I discovered a Craigslist forum devoted to weddings. It was full of brides-to-be who were all getting married around the same time I was. A few of us from that group created a smaller forum where we discussed our dresses, rings, flowers, cakes, etc. We helped each other plan our big days. And then after the weddings were over we posted photos to show the group how everything turned out. In short, we bonded over this rite of passage. A few years later this group of ladies reconvened in a private Facebook group where we could share the joys and struggles of our lives after saying “I do.” For one reason or another not all of the brides made it down the aisle with their intended grooms, and others hadn’t stayed in their original marriages (like me). As a group we celebrated the births of children, supported each other through painful divorces, and everything in between. We asked for and gave advice on fashion choices, career paths, medical problems, family conflicts, weight loss, and anything else you could possibly think of. Although most of us had never met in person since we live all over the country (and some abroad) we had still formed a really close relationship through our virtual interactions. So when one of these lovely ladies suggested a trip to Hawaii I was really excited. She works for a wealthy entrepreneur who owns multiple beachfront houses on Maui, and she negotiated a vacation at one of them as part of her annual bonus. And she invited us to join her there! Isn’t that incredible? In the end ten women from our Facebook group (and two boyfriends/fiancées) made the trip to Hawaii and we had an absolutely amazing time. The funny thing is that I hadn’t met any of them before arriving on the island! How do I explain that I flew all the way to Maui to vacation with a bunch of women that I only knew from the internet? I am completely aware of how crazy that sounds, but I can easily say that I couldn’t have made a better decision.