St. Patrick’s Day 2018

St. Patrick’s Day on the weekend for a change is a rare chance to do something exciting for the holiday without the constraints of a workday. So can you guess what I did today? I ran a race, of course! Big surprise, I know. The Big LA 5K at Dodger Stadium this morning was delightfully St. Patrick’s Day themed with green shirts, green race bibs, and a medal with a shamrock on one side. It was fantastically festive. And I got to wear one of my holiday-specific running shirts for the occasion. It proclaimed my heritage as “Irish Every Day.” Very accurate. Even the weather cooperated (winter finally arrived in Southern California this month and it’s been gorgeous). Everything was great, except for the course. There are some serious hills around Dodger Stadium and they make for less than pleasant running. I’m still getting back in shape after a few months of inactivity so it wasn’t an easy 3.1 miles for my weak body, but I’m so glad that I went out and did it. The LA Big 5K is also the last race in the Triple 5K Tour of LA Challenge (Santa Monica, Pasadena, and Los Angeles) so I got an extra medal at the finish line. That’s always good motivation to get up before the crack of dawn, drive an hour, and hit the course even when I don’t want to! Let’s hope this marks my return to regular running again. 2018 has been rocky so far, but I think it’s looking up. Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!

Sunscreen experiment #18

I know that basically no one cares about these reviews except me, but I am going to continue writing them anyway. I just wanted to add this note here because I realize that I expounded on the pros and cons of this sunscreen product quite a lot more than I expected!

Buzzfeed strikes again! Surprisingly, this particular purchase wasn’t motivated by a need for retail therapy, but by my seemingly neverending search for the perfect sunscreen. I’ve been documenting my sunscreen experiments for nearly four years, but I’ve been trying out different products for about two decades. These days I’ve found a lot of products that I love and am loyal to, but when I see new, potentially superior products I jump at the chance to give them a try. For example, my daily facial moisturizer from Olay is fantastic for many reasons, but it’s only SPF 15. I’ve been looking for one with better sun protection that meets all of my specifications, but I have not been successful yet. I admit that I am incredibly demanding when it comes to sunscreen, and I’m lucky that I have so many options to test, but it’s still frustrating. The SPF 30 version of my favorite Olay face lotion is pretty good, but it’s just too sticky to be used under makeup. Still good for the weekends when I spend more time outside, though. In the last couple of years I’ve tried several higher SPF primers from Bare Minerals and Coola, but they aren’t moisturizing enough for my dry skin (thanks, Los Angeles).

So when I saw IPKN Big Apple Sun Cream (SPF 50) on a list of recommended beauty products I was intrigued. I hadn’t ventured into the world of Korean skin care products before this, but I had heard that they are beneficial for pale women such as myself. And fortunately the Big Apple Sun Cream wasn’t too expensive so I didn’t feel guilty impulsively some from Amazon. You can definitely drop a lot of money on beauty products if you’re so inclined. Without going into a massive amount of detail about all of the times I’ve used this sunscreen over the last week, let’s just say that I still haven’t found the perfect product for me. On the plus side, the Big Apple Sun Cream feels moisturizing without being sticky, practically a miracle, but just doesn’t work as a primer. My makeup settled into the lines on my face very quickly. I even tried two different concealers to make sure that wasn’t the culprit. Unfortunately it was terrible both times. Dang. I will definitely be using this sunscreen on the weekends when makeup is so this sunscreen won’t go to waste. Unlike so many others, I do not regret this purchase!

Throwing money at a problem

One of my favorite ways to resolve a problem is to throw money at it. Remember last year when my only available option to fix my malfunctioning iPhone 6 before leaving on vacation was buying an iPhone 7? All I really needed was a new battery, but the Apple Store couldn’t do that in an acceptable amount of time. It was ridiculous. So purchasing a brand new phone was indeed a viable solution to my problem, but certainly not the most economical. To be clear, I feel very fortunate that throwing money at a problem is a choice that is available to me. I don’t think of myself as an extravagant person (in spite of all these retail therapy posts I’ve been writing lately) so purchasing a very expensive smart phone was a big deal, even if I wasn’t worried about having enough money in the bank to pay for it. I realize that not everyone has this luxury.

A few weeks ago one of my running buddies confessed that she was feeling overwhelmed and depressed, and that she really needed to start exercising again to regain her work/life balance. After performing practically zero physical activity in 2018 I realized that she was speaking my language, so I told her we would go back to the gym together. A combination of companionship and guilt would motivate us to get moving again! This is the woman who initially got me started at boot camp classes almost two years ago, which was extremely beneficial, but things have gotten complicated since then. Last summer we got Groupons for a 4-week trial at another gym so that we could try out their classes. To make a long story short, I didn’t continue after the four weeks (I went back to my old gym instead), but my friend did. Fast forward to now and I decided to join her gym so that we can work out together even though it wasn’t my favorite. Hence, throwing money at the problem! Yes, this means that I currently have two gym memberships. But it’s been working really well so you can’t argue with results. The price of fitness (with a side of stress-relief and friendship) is high in 2018, but I’m hoping that the pay off will be worth it.

Not retail therapy for a change!

“Yesterday was my favorite day of the year – holiday potluck day! It was a great day. I arrived to work early to get the hot chocolate started. I can’t believe anything that simple could be so popular, but I had several people ask me for the recipe again this year. The biggest lesson I learned is that I need to get an extra large Crockpot so that I can make a double batch next year!”
12/17/16 webpage post

I was half kidding when I wrote about buying an extra large Crockpot specifically for hot chocolate back in 2016. But a year later when I was once again preparing for the holiday potluck I did some research on Amazon and discovered that a humongous 8-quart Crockpot would only set me back about $30. It was practically a no-brainer to go ahead and order one. It seemed a bit silly to have a slow cooker for the single purpose of making hot chocolate once a year, especially with my limited kitchen cabinet space, but it ended up being a great decision. I was able to make a double batch of my much-loved holiday beverage (including a full gallon of milk as well as a quart of cream) with no extra effort, and it was still absolutely inhaled by my co-workers in record time. Due to planning difficulties this year the potluck had a much smaller guest list (I was grandfathered in after about a decade of participation), but it seems that an 8-qt Crockpot full of hot chocolate was still not enough. I couldn’t believe how quickly it was drained. I swear everyone just grabbed a straw and sucked it dry. Crazy! It wasn’t easy to find a spot to store this new addition to my kitchen arsenal, but even if I only pull it out once a year it will still be worth the investment. Only nine more months before I start planning holiday food for 2018!

Retail therapy #4

Item: Tsum Tsum Marvel Countdown to Christmas Advent Calendar
Purchased: January 1, 2018

As I’ve previously described, on New Year’s Day I was sick with the flu. It was miserable. After my official diagnosis I spent most of the day on the computer, cancelling my highly anticipated Disney World vacation and feeling sorry for myself. An overabundance of time on the internet combined with my despair over the state of my health was arguably the catalyst for my glut of retail therapy. (Admittedly, some of it did happen in December, but I blame those particular purchases on the holidays.) At least it’s given me plenty to write about recently!

Speaking of the holidays, when we were growing up my brother and I had Advent calendars that had a piece of chocolate for December 1st through 24th. It was magical, given the fact that we were rarely allowed such treats. Now that I’m an adult and can buy chocolate whenever I want (much to the despair of my bathroom scale), a calendar full of sweets has lost its charm. But then last fall I was delighted to discover that Disney makes Tsum Tsum Advent calendars so I immediately bought one for myself! This is what adults do, right? The above photo includes all the characters I unboxed in December 2017. It was fantastic. On January 1st as I was browsing Amazon, feeling like crap and mourning the end of the holiday season, I saw something extraordinary – a MARVEL Tsum Tsum Advent calendar! My mind was blown. Of course I ordered one for 2018. Presents for yourself are the best kind. And let’s face it, most of these retail therapy purchases I’ve made lately are presents to myself. Granted, some of them are practical or utilitarian, like dress pants for work or household supplies, but a majority of them have been purely for amusement. Unlike all of the other items, this particular acquisition will have delayed gratification. The Advent calendar is something I’ll have to look forward to as end of the year approaches. Maybe I’ll even trim my Christmas tree this year. A girl can dream!

Retail therapy #3

Item #1: bareMinerals Prime Time Eyelid Primer
Item #2: Benefit Cosmetics Boi-ing Industrial Strength Concealer
Purchased: January 10, 2018

While I was home sick in January I spent a lot of time languishing on my couch listening to podcasts (usually as a break from all the terrible television I was watching). One of my favorites during that time was Forever35, a new podcast about self-care for women who are no longer in their 20s. As a woman who is barely holding on to her 30s I definitely need guidance in this area! The two women hosting the podcast discuss their daily habits, beauty routines, and a number of products, both reliable favorites and new acquisitions. A lot of it seems excessive and kind of ridiculous to me (the sheer number of products they use on their faces and bodies is staggering), but when I was stuck at home so long after having the flu I was susceptible to their glowing reviews of luxury items that no one really needs. So the day after my birthday, when my need for retail therapy overrode my common sense, I placed an order on the Sephora website. I’m very picky about my makeup and I tend to stay loyal to my favorite brands and products, but I thought the things I purchased in my state of cabin fever were practical enough to be worth the price and would fit in well with the rest of my beauty supplies.

Turns out, both the bareMinerals Prime Time Eyelid Primer and Benefit Cosmetics Boi-ing Industrial Strength Concealer are great products and I didn’t waste my money! I wear Olay SPF moisturizer under my makeup every day because my skin is very dry in the Los Angeles weather so I’ve had trouble with my eye shadow settling into the creases of my eyelids. Even with high-quality eye shadow (I am partial to Clinique and Urban Decay) it’s still a problem. Luckily the bareMinerals eyelid primer is the perfect remedy. It’s an extra step I’ve had to add to my morning routine, but a worthwhile one. Also, I’ve had a similar issue with concealer settling into the lines around my eyes (yes, I know I’m getting older), and the Benefit concealer not only covers imperfections very well, but stays put all day too. I am very fortunately that both of these makeup items have been very worthwhile purchases and I’m glad that I semi-impulsively bought both of them last month. I know it’s such a minor thing, but I’ll take any victory I can this year, no matter how small!

I’ve got no strings

For Christmas I asked for a pair of wireless earbuds for running. I’d been wanting a pair for years to make my running experience more enjoyable, but the technology hadn’t quite evolved enough to meet my expectations. The battery life was too short (only a few hours) and the connectivity issues that I read about were plentiful. In 2017 I made the switch from traditional in-ear running headphones to bone conduction ones instead, specifically Aftershokz Sportz Titanium. They sit in front of your ears and conduct the sound through your cheekbones so that ambient noise isn’t blocked at all. I was skeptical, but after my first wearing I was in love. They allowed me to better hear my running buddies conversations, traffic noise, or whatever, and they didn’t make my ears ache after wearing them for a long time. Marathons are tough on your ears if your earbuds aren’t comfortable! This was a hefty upgrade for me. So when I saw that Aftershockz had a new and improved wireless model, Trekz Air, I put them on my Christmas list. So far they have exceeded all of my expectations. Not only are they wireless, which removes one major annoyance from my running experience, but they are also light and incredibly comfortable. In addition, they have easily accessible volume and music control which my wired pair is lacking. I absolutely love them and I’ve worn them for all of my races in 2018. (The photo above is from the Pasadena 5K last month.) I think this is the beginning of a beautiful fitness relationship. Definitely one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received.

Retail therapy #2

Item: Mrs. Meyer’s Apple Cider Clean Day Liquid Hand Soap
Purchased: December 5, 2017

In November 2016 I complained that my stockpile of my favorite hand soap, Softsoap’s holiday edition cinnamon & clove, had finally run out. Obviously this is the epitome of First World problems, but I loved that soap and using it everyday was one way that I kept the holiday spirit alive throughout the year. Since then I’ve been searching for a suitable replacement. In December when the options were plentiful I was determined to purchase enough festive hand soap to carry me through 2018. Mostly I filled my shopping cart with an unreasonable amount of Method Frosted Fir Gel Hand Wash because it was inexpensive and smelled amazing, but I wanted to have some variety in my cupboard. When I saw that Mrs. Meyer’s had a limited edition apple cider hand soap I just had to have some. Unfortunately I was late to the game because it was more of a fall scent, and therefore not readily accessible in stores. So I turned to Amazon, my usual tried-and-true source for everything under the Sun. Of course it was available from one seller, but it wasn’t cheap, as far as standard amounts of hand soap go. As you can imagine, in my holiday-fueled hysteria I wasn’t thinking clearly and purchased a bottle. It was silly, but it made me happy. The first few times I used the coveted apple cider hand soap I loved the scent, but it reminded me of something else that I couldn’t quite place. I racked my brain to figure out where I had smelled something similar in the past. It took a while, but I finally figured it out. This semi-expensive, limited-edition hand soap that I was so obsessed with getting smells exactly like Suave Kids 3-in-1 Apple Shampoo! If you’re not familiar, it’s one of the cheapest items in the shampoo aisle at just about every store. Next time remind me to look for more practical substitutes before spending way too much money on ridiculous frivolities!

Retail therapy #1

Item: Philips Sonicare 2 electric toothbrush
Purchased: January 26, 2018

Brushing my teeth has always been an activity that I didn’t particularly enjoy. It was something I was obligated to do when I was groggy first thing in the morning, and then again at night when all I wanted to do was crawl into bed. Fortunately, my dentist has always told me that my teeth look great, but I’ve never really taken my daily dental care very seriously until recently. While I was feeling so terrible back in January I spent a lot of time reading inane Buzzfeed articles, and one of them was titled something like, “Amazon Products People Swear By.” One of the items on that list was the Philips Sonicare 2 electric toothbrush. I’ve been debating an electric toothbrush for many years now, but never did much research, much less pull the trigger on actually purchasing one. But in my somewhat compromised and easily influenced state last month the toothbrush caught my attention. So I did some comparisons on Amazon and ended up ordering the Philips Sonicare 2. The good news was that it cost less than $40 so I wasn’t making a huge commitment if I ended up hating it. I figured it was going to be one of those impulse buys that you kinda regret, but use anyway because you spent money on it. Much to my surprise, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I love this thing. For the first time brushing my teeth is fun! That sounds silly, but it’s true. There’s been a bit of a learning curve since I’ve never used an electric toothbrush before, but my teeth have never felt so clean. Hopefully my dentist agrees when I see him in May. So if you’re still waffling about purchasing an electric toothbrush, I can’t recommend this one highly enough. You’ll thank me later!

Holiday recipes – Roasted butternut squash

In an effort to give my healthy, homemade lunches more variety I’ve been looking for different carbs/starches to substitute for my usual roasted potatoes. I’ve never been much of a potato enthusiast, but I love simple diced and roasted white potatoes and sweet potatoes. I ate a lot of them when I was doing my Whole30-ish diet in October. But as much as I enjoy them, I need other options for my weekday lunches so that I don’t get completely burned out on potatoes. While I was in Tallahassee for Christmas I tried out a recipe for mashed butternut squash and it was only semi-successful, mostly due to the fact that I was too lazy to use a food processor. (Note: Mashing roasted butternut squash with a fork doesn’t really work, nor does blitzing it with an electric mixer.) But in spite of its weird texture, the flavor of the partially mashed butternut squash was outstanding, so I saw some potential for a tasty and less complicated version. I basically just used the same ingredients, olive oils and minimal seasonings, but didn’t do anything else after the roasting step. What could be simpler? I make this every couple of weeks and it’s the perfect side dish for just about any meal.

INGREDIENTS:
12 oz diced butternut squash
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp black pepper

DIRECTIONS:
Put the diced butternut squash in a large bowl. (I buy pre-diced butternut squash for convenience. My time is valuable-ish and this helps make my healthy lunches more achievable.) Add the olive oil, salt, Italian seasoning, and pepper and stir to combine. Bake at 375 deg F for about 30 minutes, stirring once about halfway through, or until tender and slightly browned. The duration required will depend on how large the pieces of squash are. The Green Giant variety that I usually buy is a small dice, less than 1 inch per piece, so it took less time than the recipes I researched. Enjoy!

Based on Momtastic’s Roasted Butternut Squash.