November random thoughts

***Dan and I went to see “The Muppets” on Saturday and we really liked it. There were some aspects of it that were a little…off (like the absence of Frank Oz who has been the voice of Fozzie and Miss Piggy, among others, since the beginning of time), but we still laughed through pretty much the entire movie. I especially liked Camilla and her chicken friends’ rendition of Cee Lo Green’s song “Forget You.” And the Swedish Chef is always my favorite. Of course now I want to watch all of the other Muppet movies we own! Marathon this weekend, maybe?

***My poor Gators. Not only did they lose to the Seminoles on Saturday on their home turf, but John Brantley, their senior quarterback, got a concussion and had to leave the game. It was like adding insult to injury. Or maybe adding injury to insult? Anyway, Florida was already behind to Florida State at the time and when Brantley went down I knew there was no hope for a win. I was glad Dan and I had to leave to go see “The Muppets” before the game was over because watching it was just depressing. Maybe that makes me disloyal, but this year as been tough for the Gator faithful. I’m not the only fan who thought this season couldn’t end fast enough, but it ended even worse than I imagined. Maybe Florida will have a better showing in whatever bowl game they end up in. I’ll definitely be watching. Go Gators!

***In addition to the pick-me-up of my holiday music collection (which is working like a charm, by the way), I pulled our Christmas wreath out of the closet yesterday and hung it on the front door. Last year Dan and I bought a battery-operated lighted wreath to add to our Christmas decorations and I absolutely love it. It has white lights as well as clusters of red lights that look like berries. I love flipping the switches and turning on the lights each day when I get home. It kind of lights up something inside of me as well. This is definitely my favorite time of year. Hopefully we can get a Christmas tree this weekend.

***I’ve done quite a bit of cooking since I got home from work today. Not only did I whip up a batch of M&M sugar cookies at the request of one of my co-workers who’s here on a business trip from DC, but I’ve got a pot of tomato soup simmering on the stove right now. It smells fantastic. After a few more steps it’s going to be tomato bisque which I’m really looking forward to. I also bought the necessary ingredients for grilled cheese sandwiches because what else are we going to eat with tomato bisque? It’s funny that I only had time for all this cooking because I skipped going to the gym this afternoon, but I’m trying not to think about that too much. I’m going to bed early tonight so I can go to spinning early tomorrow. That makes up for it, right?

My Christmas CDs

I was feeling a little depressed about the Thanksgiving holiday ending so yesterday I went through my library of CDs to find all of my holiday albums. What better way to lift my spirits than listening to Christmas music during my morning and afternoon commutes? So after I had compiled all of my holiday CDs I realized something very important about this little collection. Let me know if you spot a trend.

Radio Disney Holiday Jams (2000)
Radio Disney Holiday Jams 2 (2002)
Santa Claus 2 soundtrack (2002)
Hilary Duff, Santa Claus Lane (2003)
Radio Disney Jingle Jams (2004)
Muppets: A Green and Red Christmas (2006)
Disney Channel Holidays (2007)
All Wrapped Up (2008)
All Wrapped Up 2 (2009)

Yep, these are all Disney albums (All Wrapped Up 1 & 2 are not obviously Disney, but Disney all the same). Nine of them. Yikes. When someone broke into my car a few years ago they didn’t take a single CD, and maybe this list explains why. I know I have bad taste in music, but Radio Disney makes me happy and I don’t care what anyone else thinks. So I’ll be listening to Disney stars from the past decade singing Christmas songs for the next month. I love it!

After Thanksgiving

I haven’t done much shopping on Black Friday since I moved to California because I hate crowds, but Dan and I actually ventured out yesterday and it wasn’t that bad. It probably helped that we didn’t leave the house until about 1 PM, though. We didn’t spend very much money – Dan bought some hair products at a beauty supply store and I bought lunch at Cafe Rio. I was afraid the parking lot was going to be packed because Cafe Rio is in the same shopping center as REI and Old Navy, but finding a parking space actually wasn’t that hard. That was a relief. After we got home I spent the rest of the day doing unpacking my suitcase (it took me less than a week!) and doing chores, as well as trying to watch episodes of my favorite TV shows online. Dan was putting together a presentation on his work laptop so I had to be quiet (which really sucked), but I had a really difficult time trying to watch “Once Upon a Time” and “House on the ABC and Fox websites, respectively. I don’t know if it’s a problem with my laptop or internet or if the network websites are just crappy, but I would get a few minutes into a show and then the viedo feed would start buffering and never start running again. It was really frustrating. After an hour and a half passed I was so annoyed that I took a walk over to the grocery store to just to blow off some steam. (And to get ready for all of the cookie baking I had planned for today.) When I got back I decided to try Hulu. What a difference! I was actually able to watch three hour-long episodes (one of “Once Upon a Time” and two of “House”) with minimal buffering and minimal commercials. I love it! Plus Dan and I watched two episodes of “Mythbusters” when he was taking a break from his work, so we definitely made a dent in the programming that’s been filling up our DVR. So Black Friday 2011 was relatively uneventful, unlike last year when I flew to DC for a business trip. It didn’t help that I was working the night shift on that trip either. I am so glad to be home this year.

Today I took advantage of some free time in the morning to bake cookies. Dan stayed up really late working last night so I tried to make as little noise as possible in the kitchen as I was baking. I’m not sure I was very successful, though. The first thing I made was two giant peanut butter cookies using this recipe from Picky Palate. Humongous cookies with peanut butter, Reece’s Pieces, and chocolate covered peanuts – what’s not to like? They were seriously the size of a salad plate, rim to rim. I was not prepared for the sheer size, but they tasted delicious and my co-workers are going to be happy to have leftovers on Monday. As the giant peanut butter cookies were cooling I started making my first batch of maple cookies using this recipe from Sugarcrafter. I’ve had about half a bottle of maple syrup in the fridge for a while and I figured making the two different kinds of maple cookies I bookmarked was the best way to use it. Sugarcrafter’s cookies tasted good, but they were too crispy when they cooled off. I made the second batch of maple cookies using this recipe from Cakespy while watching the Florida vs. Florida State football game. As usual I needed something to keep me from stressing out about the game. I’ll write more about that later, but this second batch of cookies turned out much better than the first one. They are the perfect fall cookies – soft, delicious, and maple-flavored! I’ll post each of these recipes separately before the end of the year.

Thankful Thursday – Thanksgiving edition

Here’s what I’m thankful for on Thanksgiving 2011…

1) Girls night out. Last night I went to see “Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 1” with three of my female co-workers and it was a lot of fun. Well, most of it. One of the ladies is pregnant and unfortunately she started feeling badly during dinner so her husband picked her up before the movie. I felt so awful that there was nothing I could do to help! And I’m disappointed she couldn’t go to the movie with us, but I hope she’s feeling better today. The three of us that did see “Breaking Dawn, Part 1” thought it was…cheesy. At best. Actually, I thought it was a pretty lousy movie, but then I remembered that Breaking Dawn was my least favorite of the four books. Maybe that explains it. Anyway, I’m glad we went because it was still fun to hang out with some girls for a change.

2) A long weekend. Not only have I not gotten caught up after our trip to Hawaii, but as of this morning Dan and I still hadn’t put away our Halloween decorations. We were out of town all of the weekends in November so far so today was our first chance to clean up the house and yard. It only took us a couple of hours to gather all of the tombstones, lights, and other Halloween items and put them away. It felt really good to get that done. Now our house is starting to look the way it does most of the year – just in time to decorate for Christmas! In fact, I intentionally didn’t put away two strands of green lights with the Halloween stuff so that we can use them to illuminate the outside of the house for Christmas. My favorite holiday season is upon us!

3) Christmas shopping done. I placed an online Amazon order this morning and that concluded my Christmas shopping for 2011. It helps that Dan and I are having a minimal Christmas this year. I’ve actually had his presents bought for a while which is a relief. What I ordered today is for my dad. Fortunately I will be able to hand deliver my parents’ Christmas gifts this year since I’m taking a short trip to Tallahassee in early December (12/8-12/12 for anyone who’s interested). I’m really looking forward to seeing my parents, my cat Bob, and as many of my hometown friends as possible when I’m there. Getting back to shopping for a minute, I don’t want to brave the Black Friday crowds, but I really need to go to the grocery store. If I want to cook anything this weekend (cookies, pie, etc. – you know, the basics) I’m going to need a few items. Hopefully there won’t be a lot of people looking for deals on groceries tomorrow.

4) Dinner at Melisse. Dan and I first went to Melisse in Santa Monica for our anniversary last year and it was one of the best meals we’ve ever had. So when I saw their Thanksgiving menu online I knew we had to have our holiday meal there. Last year I didn’t feel guilty going to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner because I was leaving on a business trip the next morning, but this year I didn’t have the same convenient excuse. That didn’t keep me from making reservations, though! I decided that Dan and I could start a tradition of eating out on Thanksgiving which has the advantage of no cooking, no clean up, and no leftovers. Brilliant! Plus, the food at Melisse is so much better than anything I could even dream of making. Here’s what my Thanksgiving dinner consisted of (it was all delicious):

Pumpkin soup
Herb roasted turkey with stuffing and pomegranate gravy
Fresh cranberry sauce
Braised white mushrooms
Roasted root vegetables
Roasted brussel sprouts
Pumpkin pie with vanilla ice cream

5) My family. I saved the best for last. Spending Thanksgiving with my husband in our house is wonderful, especially since November has been really hectic so far. Today we got to sleep in for the first time in several weeks, have a delicious dinner together at a great restaurant, and watch “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” after we got home. These are all great things on this holiday of giving thanks. I didn’t get a chance to talk to my family today, but I hope they had a good Thanksgiving as well. I will call them tomorrow. I am really excited to see them and my friends in two weeks when I fly to Tallahassee! Dan and I haven’t spent traditional holidays with our families in a few years because it’s so expensive to fly anywhere, but at least we have our immediate family – each other!

I am fully aware that I’m a very lucky person. Today’s gratitude list seems pretty trivial compared to all of the things I’m thankful for every day (my job, my health, etc.), but I like these lists to be specific. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

In-flight ramblings on the way back from Maui

Here we are on our flight back from Maui. These last nine days have really flown by. I can’t believe we’re already on our way home. I spent the last half hour trying to compile a list of the things we did on the second half of our trip (to complete the one I posted about the first half of our trip last Monday), but was I wasn’t very successful. For example, we saw so many different sights on the Road to Hana that I can’t remember half of them. I vividly recall the hikes where we ended up covered in mud to see some gorgeous waterfall, but there were plenty of other places that didn’t provide much lasting memories. Dan is asleep right now or we’d probably be poring over the tour books trying to make the list more detailed. I’m in a similar situation with the second half of the list of the delicious food I ate on Maui. I’m going to need to look at some of the online menus for the restaurants we visited to recall exactly what I ordered. And there were way too many items on the buffet at the Old Lahaina Luau for me to remember everything, even after looking at the picture I took of my dinner plate! On the flip side, with the exception of today Dan and I either hiked, swam, snorkeled, or some combination of those activities every day of this trip. We never spend much time sitting around on our trips, which is probably why I always lose weight on vacation. No matter how much we eat, we get plenty of exercise to balance it out. In the past nine days I’ve more time in a bathing suit, covered in sunscreen (and sometimes bug spray too) than I have since my summer camp days. It’s been great! (And speaking of bug spray, I tried just about everything to keep from getting bitten, but I still got a bunch of nasty bites all over my legs in Hana. I used spray, dryer sheets in my pockets (recommended by a local in Hilo last year), and one of those clip on devices. Nothing really worked.) Who cares if I didn’t look as good in my bikini as I did a year ago? Let’s just hope I don’t start crying when I see the pictures. The snorkeling we did this year was so much better than last year. It’s amazing what a difference it makes to have a mask that doesn’t leak! And not being seasick really improved the experience too. It’s impossible to have fun when you’re vomiting off the side of a boat. Trust me, I know. I don’t think I have the energy to write about our entire trip (even though I have a five-hour flight to kill), but Dan and I really had a great trip. The day we flex home from the Big Island last year I was so ready to get home because I was tired of being hot (most of our hotels didn’t have AC), eaten by mosquitoes (Hilo was awful), and covered with sunscreen. My skin was dry, but never quite clean. Getting on that air conditioned plane to go back to Los Angeles was wonderful – especially since the entire Kona airport is outside with no place to escape the heat. Yuck. This year things are very different. When our plane took off from Kahului I wasn’t ready to go home! Luckily there are only three workdays this week before Thanksgiving, but I know they’ll be busy. Well, here’s to getting back to our normal lives. Aloha!

Bargain bin bathing suits

Last year when October rolled around I realized that I had missed the optimal time to buy bathing suits for our first trip to Hawaii. I only had two old bikinis from Target tucked away in my dresser and the elastic in one of them had died since I’d last worn it. That left me with exactly one wearable bathing suit which wasn’t enough. My weight was so variable in 2010 that I probably wanted to lose a few more pounds before I went shopping, but that didn’t happen during the summer months. So when I was finally prepared to try on bikinis without crying it was way too late in the year for me to have a lot of options. But any suits that were left in the store should be like 50% off, right? My first stop was a store at South Coast Plaza called Everything But Water which I discovered sold their bathing suits at the same inflated prices all year ‘round. It was ridiculous, but I was desperate so I tried on anything that I didn’t hate. I ended up buying two tops (one black and the other black and white) and two bottoms (both black), even though only one of each really fit correctly, and the cost was astronomical. I really needed them for our trip, though, so I handed the unhelpful sales girl my credit card. I was feeling very unsatisfied as I drove home from the mall which led to a last minute decision to go to a little clothing shop on Main Street in Seal Beach called Endless Summer where I used to shop when I was an intern. I knew they had a wall full of suits every summer so I was hoping they’d still have a decent selection in October. I was in luck! While their stock was definitely depleted that late in the year I was able to get tops and bottoms for $15 apiece. That was music to my ears. I must have tried on a bikinis – everything in my size that I thought was even a remote possibility (no string tops, thank you very much). While nothing was perfect I ended up buying two matching sets and one extra bottom that I could wear with the black top from Everything But Water. So I took four bikinis with me to Hawaii last year, but I only ended up wearing two of them because the Big Island doesn’t have that many beaches. Oh well. When we got home I stuffed them into a drawer and pretty much forgot about them. Fast forward to summer 2011. Another trip to Hawaii was quickly approaching and once again I was trying to lose a few pounds before going bathing suit shopping. Ladies, this is never a good idea. From my personal experience, no matter how you think you look there are going to be women on the beach who look better than you and a whole lot more that look worse than you. So suck it up (and suck it in) and go buy those bikinis when the stores are practically bursting with them! But anyway, I never was brave enough to go on that shopping trip this year so when it came time to pack my suitcase for Maui I was just hoping that the elastic hadn’t died in any of last year’s purchases. Luckily it hadn’t so I threw the three bikinis I liked the most (and took the ones I hated to Goodwill) and headed to Hawaii. Turns out those bargain bin bathing suits worked great! I wore my old Target bikini on our first snorkeling trip last Saturday, but I realized how out of date it was when I saw what the other women were wearing. Side ties on the bikini bottom used to be popular, but now they are so 2007! One of my other bikinis was the black top from Everything But Water and a cheap black and white polka dot string bottom from Endless Summer which turned out to be a really good combination. As much as I’d like to cover up my less than stellar physique when I’m on the beach, I’ve discovered that smaller bikini bottoms look best on my body type. The polka dotted bottom is very small, but actually more flattering that something like boy shorts. So don’t be afraid to show a little extra skin, ladies! Sometimes it just looks better. My last bikini was a matching Billabong set from Endless Summer. The top and bottom of the suit are the same size, but my body’s top and bottom are not – only the bikini bottom really fits and the top is too small. It’s not vulgar or anything so I still wear it, but I would have liked to find the matching top in a larger size. And this would have been possible if I’d shopped for bathing suits in the summer, but I have to live with the results of my procrastination. (On a side note, isn’t it great how they sell bikini tops and bottoms separately these days? I think it’s of the best innovations in retail. I can’t be the only person who needs a larger top and a smaller bottom.) Overall I’m very happy with the results of my bargain bin bathing suits. They did the job and didn’t break the bank, but I wouldn’t recommend anyone else waiting until the last minute like I did! I vowed to Dan that I was going to shop for new bikinis (ones that fit properly) during the appropriate season in 2012. Not that we have any more tropical vacations planned, but it can’t hurt to be prepared. We’ll see if I can keep my promise.

P.S. I just realized that I already told half of this story in a post on 10/27/10. Oh well!