Sunday in DC

The search for the perfect DC hotel continues. When I booked this trip a few weeks ago I picked a place to stay based on its access to covered parking and a fitness center with ample treadmills. These two attributes are seemingly unrelated, but both are conducive to avoiding the pitfalls of winter weather. Underground parking means no ice or snow accumulation on my car overnight, and a fitness center with plenty of treadmills will help me maintain my running regimen without relying on the sidewalks and trails being satisfactorily cleared. Sounds perfect, right? However, when I checked in today I discovered that this hotel does not have free internet access in the guest rooms. Seriously? I’ve tried quite a few different hotels in this area over the last nine years and I have yet to find one that has the ideal combination of comfortable rooms, a well appropriated fitness center, decent parking, and a few other desirable amenities. It’s like looking for the Holy Grail of accommodations! The good news is that my room at my current hotel is a lovely suite and the fitness center looks great (I haven’t tried it yet), but the lack of convenient internet access is really annoying. Hopefully I can just go downstairs to the lobby when I’m ready to publish this post, because otherwise I’ll have to find a Starbucks that’s still open this late on a Sunday. I might be eating exclusively at restaurants that have free wifi for the next five days. I know this is pretty much the ultimate first world problem, but I have a lot of work that I want to do online during my downtime while I’m out of town. Like book a hotel room in San Diego for a race next month. But that’s a story for another post. And hopefully that place has free wifi!

Traveling to DC

I made a mistake this morning. Considering all of the difficulty on the East Coast due to the blizzard last weekend I should have checked my flight status before I left for the airport, but I didn’t. As soon as I parked my car and caught the shuttle to the airport I found an email in my inbox informing me that my flight to DC was delayed – by two and a half hours! I thought I was running late while getting ready to go to the airport this morning, and I was actually a little worried about not being able to grab anything for breakfast before getting on the plane. Little did I know I could have stopped for a leisurely morning meal on the way! As it was, I got to sit down and have a nice egg sandwich after going through security, and then I had enough time leftover to wander around the United terminals for over an hour. It was boring, but luckily I had no reason to get to DC by a certain time today. Before takeoff the pilot explained the delay – the plane that was originally assigned to our flight was coming from Hawaii this morning, but it had to divert for some reason and obviously didn’t make it to Los Angeles on schedule. Weird. Funny enough, after everything the region had to deal with this week, the delay had nothing to do with the weather!

I didn’t get as much sleep as I should have last night because I had too many things to check off my to do list before going on my trip. I left work early yesterday so I’d have more time to prepare. My first order of business when I got home was baking the three batches of cookies that I promised my East and West Coast co-workers. I didn’t want to make them earlier in the week because I was afraid they’d dry out and get stale before anyone got to eat them. The cookies I ended up making were slightly different from what I described in my previous post. The “classic” chocolate chip cookies ended up including browned butter, bacon fat, and molasses. And they were amazing! (I sampled quite a few while slicing up the cookies. This is why I limit my baking these days!) I will share that recipe later this week. Of the other two batches of chocolate chip cookies, one had a full pound of cooked and crumbled bacon mixed into the batter, and the second had some reconstituted dried cherries (but no liquor as I originally planned). After the cookies were done I seriously considered skipping my planned 5-mile run because I still needed to finish packing my suitcase and attempt to get to bed at a decent hour. I figured I could hit the treadmill after arriving in DC instead. But then I remembered how much I hate running on the treadmill so I threw on my shoes and went for a run on the sidewalks of Seal Beach instead. There’s a possibility that it will be warm enough for me to run outside while I’m in DC, but more than likely I’ll be stuck on the treadmill in the hotel fitness center instead. It’s not ideal, but there’s no way I’m going to miss any of my training runs this week. The Surf City Half Marathon is next Sunday and I need to be ready! But I digress. I stayed up too late last night getting ready for my trip, but it was worth it. I will sleep well tonight!

Getting back to my roots

It’s been months since I baked any chocolate chip cookies. (And even then, the results weren’t quite up to my standards. I need to revisit that molasses chocolate chip cookie recipe one of these days.) On one hand, this is a good thing because it keeps me from eating unhealthy baked goods and wrecking whatever decent dietary habits I’ve established this year. But on the other hand, I don’t have any delicious recipes to post on Fridays! Also, no cookies makes my co-workers grumpy. Granted, we eat our weight in Oreos every time we have an event, but it’s just not the same as homemade treats. So this week I’m going to do some baking. I’m going to DC next week so I promised to make some chocolate chip cookies to share with my East Coast co-workers. They need a little pick-me-up after digging themselves out after their recent snowstorm! (Speaking of that, I am so thankful that I’m flying out there this weekend rather than last weekend. This Florida/California girl does not have the right clothes, shoes, or attitude to handle large amounts of snow.) I am planning to whip up three batches of cookies before my flight on Saturday – 1) brown butter and bacon chocolate chip cookies, 2) classic chocolate chip cookies with a little bacon fat (procured from cooking the bacon for batch #1), and 3) rum soaked cherry chocolate chip cookies (similar to a batch I made with bourbon last year). Don’t those sound great? And making double batches of each means I can leave some cookies behind for my West Coast co-workers as well. Everyone wins! Except maybe my waistline. It’s worth it, though!

X-Files is back!

“Pretty much anything in the X-Files universe is fine by me. And besides just crossing all of my fingers and toes to help this effort, I wrote a tweet with the #XFiles2015 hashtag tonight. New X-Files must happen!”
1/25/15 webpage post

One year ago today I posted the following on Twitter – “#XFiles2015 must happen!!!” It was such an exciting prospect that one of my all-time favorite television shows might be back on the air and I wanted to do everything I could to help make it happen. (Granted, I didn’t quite go to the extreme of contribute to a Kickstarter like I did for Mystery Science Theater 3000, but at the time tweeting was all I really could do.) And somehow, with an enormous wave of popular support that started from a single podcast, Fox decided to make all of our nerdiest dreams come true. Mulder and Scully were coming back to the small screen! Rejoice! It’s just for six episodes, more like a mini-series, but I’ll take what I can get. Finally, after waiting for what seemed like an eternity, the premiere of this monumental event aired last night. Due to my own craziness, I DVRed it while I was out running and didn’t get to watch it before I went to bed. Much to my despair, I had read some unfavorable reviews of the first episode, and some of my co-workers weren’t all that fond of it either. But I watched it when I got home from work tonight and I thought it was awesome! I’m not sure what all the complaining was about. I’m a big fan already and I can’t wait to see more!

Christmas 2015

Christmas in Tallahassee this year included a lot of food, a lot of fun, and a bit of running in the record-breaking Florida heat. The first full day I spent in Tallahassee (December 23rd) we bought all of the groceries we needed for the holidays, had a delicious lunch at Smashburger, made some homemade lasagna for dinner (and many, many leftovers!), and took a walk in the neighborhood to see the Christmas lights. I even got all of my Christmas presents wrapped rather than leave them until the last minute, like I usually do. Not that wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve isn’t festive, but it’s pretty much the pinnacle of procrastination. On Christmas Eve my mom whipped up some homemade egg sandwiches for breakfast (my favorite), I bought stocking stuffers at Target, and went on a long walk at Maclay Gardens with both of my parents. It was unseasonably warm that week so it wasn’t the best weather for outdoor exercise, but I love to see the gardens anytime I can. We walked 4.5 miles today, which helped us work up an appetite for leftover lasagna for dinner. My mom and I also took a short walk in the neighborhood that night to see the Christmas lights on a different street. It’s a Christmas Eve tradition! Christmas Day was also full of traditions. A breakfast of my dad’s pancakes, my mom’s scrambled eggs, plus some bacon and fruit. It’s always one of the best meals I eat all year. The three of us opened Christmas presents while watching the Disney Christmas parade. Due to the hot and humid weather I didn’t think I’d get any running done while I was in Florida, but my dad and I braved the heat for a jog anyway. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be, but I was sure glad I’d packed running shorts in my suitcase! Christmas dinner was another tradition – smoked turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, herbed corn bake (I need to post this recipe sometime), and green beans. Delicious. Dessert was my mom’s incomparable pecan pie (another recipe I need to post) and an experimental pumpkin and sweet potato pie from a magazine recipe that I doctored up a bit. The pecan pie was marvelous, as usual, but the other pie was only a marginal success. Some recipes are winners and others aren’t! Our last activity for Christmas Day was going to see “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens.” I had been looking forward to that movie for months and I wasn’t disappointed. It was so good! The perfect end to the day. On December 26th we braved the mall in search of some post-Christmas deals. We had minimal luck, but it was still a good trip, with the added benefit of Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets for lunch. My dad and I went for another run that afternoon to burn off some holiday calories. And it’s a good thing too because we had leftovers from the previous day for dinner. That night we watched the extended edition of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (which I thought was far superior to the theatrical version) while I baked an eggnog cake for the next day. My last full day in Tallahassee was a mixed bag. First of all, I learned that broiling a pan of brownies doesn’t work as well as baking them. I should pay more attention when using ovens that aren’t my own! My dad and I had to go to the grocery store after that disaster to buy ingredients for another batch. We discovered that finding toffee chips after Christmas is not an easy task. No luck at either Publix or Target so we resorted to buying some mini Heath bars and chopping them in the food processor. Fortunately I got the second pan of brownies, including the improvised toffee chips, just right. I had some old friends from high school coming over for a little party that night so I made a big pot of chili for everyone. Seeing my friends was so much fun. We always talk, laugh, and eat a lot when we get together. We took care of that entire batch of chili! I was so glad we could all get together while I was in town. December 28th was the day I flew back to Los Angeles, but my dad and I still made time to go to a jog that morning. Without him my workout clothes wouldn’t have gotten any use on that trip! My parents and I had lunch at Burgerfi on the way to the airport. (This was the second gourmet hamburger place we went to since I don’t have the opportunity to visit them in California. Not the healthiest meal option, but very tasty!) My flight back to LA was uneventful and I got back to my house without any trouble. It was a great Christmas trip and I loved every minute of it.

Feeling famous

I missed the birthday party of my friend’s adorable daughter last Sunday because I was dead tired after the Star Wars half marathon. I felt pretty guilty about that, but my legs were like jelly after running 19.3 miles in two days. Luckily I brought home more than just my three race medals from Anaheim. The previous Friday my friend asked me to find a particular birthday present for her daughter – a BB-8 sippy cup from Disneyland. This was perfect since I was going to be spending the whole weekend there. So on Saturday I ate a big breakfast at Carnation Café after the Star Wars 10K, and then I walked over to Tomorrowland and bought a BB-8 sippy cup from Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port. Isn’t he just too cute? As I was toting him around Disneyland that day, sipping Cherry Coke out of the top of his head, I realized that all of the folks around me were looking at, pointing at, and talking about BB-8. It was crazy! I couldn’t believe how much attention he was getting from absolutely everyone. It was a $12 drink container, and unless Mickey Mouse himself appeared, easily the most popular thing in the parks. After a while I started carrying BB-8 with pride and enjoying all of the attention I was garnering on his behalf. I figured this experience was a little like being a celebrity. I felt famous! I don’t always leave Disneyland with such a memorable story so I wanted to share this one because it was so funny. Now I want my own BB-8 sippy cup!

Star Wars race weekend #1

I’ll bet you’re wondering why I’m calling this post “Star Wars race weekend #1,” right? Well, whether you are or not, I’m going to explain it. This past weekend at Disneyland was the “Light Side” version of the Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend. And when did I ever say no to a Disney race? I’ve already admitted that I have a problem. Due to this obsession I completed the Rebel Challenge, which included a 10K on Saturday a half marathon on Sunday. This combination constituted the first part of the Kessel Run Challenge. What’s the second part, you ask? Why, the “Dark Side” Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend at Disney World in April, of course! But I’ll have to wait a few months before I can tell you how that goes. For now I’ll stick to recapping the Rebel Challenge from last weekend.

On Saturday I rolled out of bed around 4 AM (I love staying at a hotel near the parks so I can maximize my sleep) and got ready for the Star Wars 10K. I had a brand new awesome R2-D2 tank top to wear. In a departure from my usual pre-race routine I didn’t apply a thick layer of sunscreen to every inch of exposed skin. I felt like such a rebel! But since I knew I’d be finishing the 10K right around sunrise I figured the added annoyance of sunscreen was unnecessary. I planned to be huddled under a mylar blanket while walking back to my hotel afterwards anyway! I left at 4:45 AM and walked to the start line in plenty of time. I really enjoyed the Star Wars 10K. Last year I was injured and miserable the entire time, but this year couldn’t have been more different. The weather was perfect and I felt great for the entire 6.2 miles. Later I realized that this wasn’t due to my incredible fitness, but because I was running really slowly! I was in corral C for the 10K and the course was pretty crowded in a lot of places, including some crazy bottlenecks. That doesn’t facilitate a fast pace. My finish time was nothing to be proud of (1:17:41), but I had a blast anyway. After crossing the finish line and collecting my medal (and a space blanket to throw over my shoulders), I walked back to my hotel for a shower. The rest of my day pretty much consisted of eating and sleeping. I had brunch at Carnation Café in Disneyland at 10:30 AM, napped in the afternoon, ate a big pasta dinner at Wine Country Trattoria in California Adventure at 7 PM, and went to bed as early as I could manage. These were all necessary steps in preparation for the half marathon the next day.

On Sunday I woke up at 4 AM and repeated the previous morning’s activities. This time I included sunscreen application in my routine, though. I’m not fast enough to be done with a half marathon before sunrise! As you can see in the above photo, I had a new shirt for this race too. My wardrobe for the weekend was impeccable. This was my first time in corral B for a Disney half marathon and I was really excited. Starting races earlier is always good. My only goal for the Star Wars half marathon was to enjoy it and that’s exactly what I did. I used my GPS watch to pace myself and used the real-time feedback to slow down if I was running faster than my planned speed. And I felt great until about mile 10. (I need to work on improving my stamina during the last 5K of a half marathon. Something to think about this spring!) And the course was really runner friendly by avoiding all of the freeway overpasses. Gotta love that! In the end I crossed the finish line in 2:46:39, which wasn’t too bad for me! I was happy with that time, and I collected my Star Wars half marathon and Rebel Challenge medals with pride. My legs were less happy, though. Running two half marathons eight days apart (with two training runs and a 10K in between) wasn’t something I was quite prepared for at this stage of my running career. On Sunday afternoon standing up for long periods of time sounded awful so I spent the rest of the day on my couch catching up on the winter premieres of my favorite TV shows. It was a great weekend. I can’t wait to complete the Kessel Run Challenge at Disney World in April!

2016 Resolution #2

New Year’s Resolution #2: No more McDonald’s

In the last few years I’ve done my best to make my New Year’s resolutions simple enough and reasonable enough to be achievable. There’s no use setting myself up for failure right from the start. For example, for this particular resolution I could have set a goal to avoid all fast food in 2016, but I don’t think that’s really feasible. Sometimes I’m just too busy or too tired to make a homemade meal. (Or I’m not in the mood for whatever I cooked over the weekend and portioned out for myself to eat during the week.) So for now I’m starting smaller. It’s time to reign in my McDonald’s habit. I don’t have any trouble staying away from their hamburgers and fries, which I find mediocre at best, but breakfast is another story. Over the last year I’ve gotten accustomed to having an Egg McMuffin and a Coke for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Delicious, quick, and inexpensive, but not exactly healthy. My soda addiction is already well known (although I’ve been successfully cutting back since the beginning of the month) and eating at McDonald’s twice a week isn’t exactly helping. So my objective for 2016 is to find an alternative weekend morning meal, whether I make it myself or get it at a restaurant. On weekdays I make fruit smoothies, which are pretty much perfect, but I’m pretty tired of them after five days in a row. This is going to take some work. I’ll let you know how it goes!

P.S. I must admit that I had breakfast at McDonald’s this morning on my way home from the Star Wars Half Marathon. I was so hungry after running 13.1 miles and I needed food in a hurry. Also, I had an Egg McMuffin and Coke on my birthday after the Southern California Half Marathon. I may have to make an exception to this resolution following major races since I’m always so famished afterwards. It’s a work in progress!

Thirty-seven

On Saturday I turned thirty-seven, and if my birthday was any indication, the next year is going to be amazing. I really had a wonderful day. Since I had one of those coveted weekend birthdays this year I figured it would be only fitting for me to run a race. As you know, I just can’t say no to medal opportunities! So after searching for local races on January 9th I registered for the Southern California Half Marathon in Irvine. Due to the fact that I’d be running two Star Wars races at Disneyland one week later I would have preferred to find a 10K on my birthday because it would be less of a time commitment and much less difficult for my out-of-shape body, but I figured the half marathon would be OK. (I’ve never actually run two half marathons a week apart before, even when I planned to. Last year I skipped the OC half the weekend before the Tinkerbell half, and then the Wine & Dine half at Disney World was shortened to 6.7 miles the weekend before the Avengers half at Disneyland. Ask me again on Sunday if so little recovery time was a good idea or not!) However, the morning started with me not wanting to get out of bed to go to the race. It was my birthday and all I wanted was to sleep in! Fortunately I was able to drag myself to the race in just enough time to pick up my bib and get to the start line by 8 AM. And I’m so glad I made it because I ended up running my second fastest half marathon! For most people a time of 2:41:10 wouldn’t be impressive, but it’s less than two minutes behind my personal record (at the Avengers half in November). The course was flat, the weather was perfect, and I felt great (except for the last mile or so which was miserable for some reason). I must admit that the finisher’s medal for the Southern California Half Marathon wasn’t too exciting, but running that race was the best way I could have spent the first part of my birthday.

I had a celebratory breakfast at McDonald’s on my way home from Irvine. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to give up my McDonald’s Egg McMuffin habit (more on that in a future post), but I made an exception for my birthday. Actually, all of the diet improvements I planned to make in 2016 were postponed until after my birthday. There are some things more important than healthy foods! I was tired after my race and parking myself on the couch for the rest of the day was the most appealing option, but I was meeting some friends at Disneyland that evening to celebrate my birthday. Beforehand I had a dinner reservation at Carthay Circle restaurant in California Adventure. It’s my favorite restaurant in either park. I’ve never had a bad meal there. This time I got a cauliflower salad appetizer, a crispy duck with chestnut gnocchi main course, and a sticky toffee pudding with pineapple sorbet for dessert. It was so delicious! All three of the dishes were amazing. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a better meal at Disneyland. When I finished dinner I met my friends and their adorable kids for some Disneyland rides. Birthday hugs from the three little girls was about the best gift I could have gotten. Even though I didn’t stay for the fireworks that night, I still I stayed up way past my bedtime. But it was worth it. I had an incredible birthday and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings.

Fantasmic! 1/7/16

There are going to be a lot of changes at Disneyland soon. Next week quite a few things will be closing down for over a year to facilitate the creation of the new Star Wars Land, which is set to open in the spring of 2017. One of the temporary casualties from this construction is the Fantasmic! nighttime show. I haven’t seen it in years so I wanted to catch one of the last presentations before the extended hiatus starts. Due to the near term closure date Fantasmic has been experiencing quite the surge in popularity. This means that the latest dinner package reservation I could get was at 4:40 PM at Blue Bayou. So I left work at 3 PM to make sure I had enough time to drive to Disneyland, park, and get to the restaurant by then. Luckily it was an easy trip and I even had enough time to grab a Star Tours Fast Pass before dinner. I had another delicious Disneyland meal last night – salad, filet mignon and potatoes, and hazelnut chocolate cake. Blue Bayou is definitely one of the best places to eat at the parks. You can’t beat the atmosphere and the food has been amazing the last few times I’ve been lucky enough to eat there. And as part of the Fantasmic dining package they give you a seat cushion for the show. I had some time to kill after dinner so I went on Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion Holiday, Small World Holiday, and Star Tours before I had to head back to the Fantasmic viewing area. (I even had time to buy a couple of Star Wars shirts that just might work for one or both of the races at Disneyland next weekend. There are tons of new Star Wars shirts out there these days, but finding ones that are made of something other than cotton is essential for running.) I almost got a front row seat for Fantasmic, but then a family with small children showed up and I moved so that the kids could have an unobstructed view. Unfortunately I managed to sit right behind a group of quite large folks so it wasn’t ideal, but I could still see reasonably well. Fantasmic is almost exactly the same as I remember it from 7 or 8 years ago. Entertaining, but not as good as the Paint the Night parade or the Disneyland Forever fireworks, both of which were new for the 60th anniversary this year. I’m still glad I made the effort to see Fantasmic before it closes for a year, though. It was worth it.