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!

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.

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.

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

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.

Christmas 2017 comes to an end

Remember how last year my Christmas decorations didn’t get put away until nearly five months after December 25th? The tree was no longer trimmed that whole time, and all of my holidays trinkets had been consolidated on my kitchen table, but they didn’t get put into their usual storage space until May 19th. (I think I took the wreath off my front door around Valentine’s Day.) It was a very belated end of the season. In the spring I figured if I crossed the six-month mark post-Christmas that I might as well just leave the tree up until the holidays rolled around again. Luckily I didn’t quite reach that threshold. On May 19th I finally put my nativity, figurines, lights, ornaments, and tree back in the closet where they could wait until they were seasonally appropriate again.

Christmas 2017 was a little less festive. I did manage to put my Christmas tree up shortly after Thanksgiving, but December was such a mess that I didn’t really get any farther. As my trip to Florida quickly approached I came to the realization that my tree just wasn’t going to get decorated this year. I still got to enjoy the lights (thanks to a pre-lit tree) in my living room every day, but with a busy schedule and some health problems I didn’t have the time or energy to trim it. The photo above shows the single solitary ornament that make it onto my 2017 Christmas tree. It was a perfect gift from one of my running buddies so I hung it up immediately. It had the benefit of not having to get unpacked first. Except for pulling out my wreath, I only cracked open my holiday storage closet to retrieve the Christmas cards bought on sale last year for future use. I ended up sending out a grand total of 62 cards this year, but that’s another story. After getting the flu on New Year’s Eve I spent a lot of time at home recovering, and during that time I managed to gather enough strength to take down my tree and put it back into storage by January 12th. I certainly didn’t break any speed records, but at least it got done while the weather is still cold (at least by LA standards). I missed out on a lot of traditions this holiday season and I’m very sorry to leave my favorite time of year behind. But all I can do right now is move forward. I know that eventually I will be healthy again, and that the 2018 holidays will probably be here before I know it. It just won’t be quite soon enough for me.

Let the Christmas season begin (NaBloPoMo day 30)

Tomorrow is December 1st. I can’t believe the final month of the year is already here. Why does time seem to accelerate starting in October? It’s infuriating. But my love of the holiday season is all the more reason to try to slow down and enjoy every moment of it while it lasts. Tomorrow night is the Seal Beach Christmas parade and I’m planning to watch with some friends. Luckily I only have to walk one block from my house to the parade route on Main Street so it’s one of my most convenient holiday traditions. While there are folks in the community who think that the parade is being held too early this year (they always find something silly to complain about), I think it’s the perfect way to kick off December. My weekend is going to be filled with Christmas activities and other such entertainment so it might as well start with a parade! Last weekend I put up my Christmas tree, after Thanksgiving of course, but it doesn’t have any ornaments on it yet. I’ll try to squeeze some tree trimming into my unusually busy schedule over the next few days. Tonight I was able to get a dozen Christmas cards ready to mail. Like last year I have a list of recipients a mile long so I’d like to get them done quickly otherwise I’ll be scrambling to get them sent before I leave for Florida on the 22nd. As I was getting the first cards ready to go today I realized that I only have Star Trek stamps in the house. Couple that with the fact that some of my Christmas cards are Star Wars themed and I’m worried that I’ll get arrested by the nerd police for mixing franchises! I’ll have to swing by the post office and get some holiday stamps tomorrow so that I can mail a couple more batches of cards over the weekend.

And thus ends NaBloPoMo 2017. I think I was fairly successful this year except for that one night where WordPress didn’t cooperate. If I can manage it I’ll try to keep posting every day for the rest of the year. This is always a tall order as the demands on my time increase during the holiday season, but I feel like writing about all of my celebrations makes them even more enjoyable. Happy December, everyone!

A Seal Beach Christmas (NaBloPoMo day 20)

I don’t have a lot of time to write today because I just barely got out of work in time to grab a snack, change clothes, and hustle to boot camp. Then on my way home I made one last Thanksgiving grocery shopping trip to get cranberries, apples, and pears. The store was basically empty tonight so assuming I didn’t forget anything I shouldn’t have to deal with the Turkey Day food rush. Too bad I still need to get another pie dish at Target tomorrow. That might not be as pleasant. I just finished scarfing down a bowl of chili for dinner, but now I need to wash a bunch of dishes and get ready for bed as quickly as possible. The next two days before Thanksgiving are going to be really busy and I need to get to work early both days. I’m trying to get as much prep done before Thursday as possible so I can relish the holiday. Isn’t that my goal every year? This time of year always goes by too quickly and I want it to be as enjoyable as possible!

May 19th

“I finally dismantled my Christmas tree on Wednesday. I was stuck at home for a fifth day with this wretched cold/flu and getting quite restless so I started undecking my halls. I still haven’t put anything away properly yet (i.e., in the cabinet with all of my other seasonal decorations), but my house no longer screams, ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year!’ ”
1/21/17 webpage post

“I still haven’t put away my Christmas decorations. The tree currently is lying on the floor in pieces, and all of the ornaments and other decorative items are covering my entire kitchen table. One of my goals for tomorrow afternoon is to finally close the books on Christmas 2016. Otherwise I should just put the tree back up and pronounce my house ready for Christmas 2017 a little early.”
1/28/17 webpage post

One month ago something amazing happened. On May 19th, just about a month shy of the official first day of summer, I finally put away all of my Christmas 2016 decorations. The good news is that my tree wasn’t up and trimmed that entire time, but none of my holiday baubles had moved far from where they had been on display in December. My Christmas tree was first put up on December 18th which means that it was out of storage for a solid 5 months. Like I said, the tree wasn’t out and decorated that long, but it might as well have been. I disassembled it in January, but the pieces were sitting in a box on the floor of my living room until the miracle day of May 19th. And all of the ornaments and other decorations, like my multiple nativities, took up every square inch of real estate on my kitchen table for those 5 months. Holy cow, how did it come to this? With the Los Angeles weather threatening shorts and flip-flop conditions very soon, I was dangerously close to the tipping point between putting my Christmas tree away and just putting it back up in anticipation of Christmas 2017. So on the afternoon of May 19th I found myself standing in front of that mountain of yuletide cheer and vowing to finally put it back in the closet. At least for a few months. After all was said and done I was very happy to have closed the door on the 2016 holidays. It’ll be that much more exciting when, in six months, it’s socially acceptable to start decorating for Christmas again. But for now, ’tis the season to survive another summer without air conditioning!

Saturday random thoughts

***I’m still sick, but I think I’m finally getting better. I got through a full day of work yesterday without feeling like death. I was still exhausted afterwards, though, and it didn’t help that I had to stay until 8 PM running a test. And I probably need to work for at least a few hours tomorrow to get some seriously overdue documents ready for release, but being able to go to work regularly is one step towards being completely healthy again.

***My good friend Natalie and I were planning to celebrate my birthday at Disneyland this afternoon/evening, but after admitting that we are both sick, we decided that it was necessary to reschedule. We had to give up our dinner at Steakhouse 55, but now we have a meal reservation for February 11th that will give us a reserved spot to watch the Main Street Electrical Parade that has recently returned to Disneyland. I have never actually seen the Electrical Parade, either in Anaheim the last time it was here or when it was in Orlando up through last year, so I can’t wait!

***Except for the Star Wars 5K and one other solitary 4-mile run over a week ago I haven’t done any exercise since my marathon on January 8th. Even so, I am going to attempt to run 10 miles at the Great Chocolate Race in Long Beach tomorrow morning. I am incredibly nervous. First of all, I have no idea if my foot is going to be up to the challenge. Luckily I haven’t had any foot pain since I got back from Orlando which is a very good sign, but I only have two successful short runs to convince me that I won’t fracture any bones tomorrow. I didn’t even go back to the chiropractor this week because I was sick. So that’s one unknown. And then my secondary concern is that I am completely out of shape after deviating my training regime for so long. There’s a good chance I have no endurance at all anymore. Tomorrow is going to be interesting, to say the least. One way or another I’ll let you know how it goes!

***This morning my running buddies and I had to pick up our race packets for tomorrow. While figuring out where we needed to go to get the bibs, we discovered that the Hello Kitty Cafe Truck was going to be parked at a mall nearby so of course we decided to check it out. We arrived only 30 minutes after it was scheduled to open, but the line was already around the block! We waited for about an hour in the surprisingly warm late-January sun, only advancing a fairly short distance, before we gave up and left to get our race bibs without acquiring any Hello Kitty merchandise. So we saved money, but wasted a lot of precious weekend time.

***I still haven’t put away my Christmas decorations. The tree currently is lying on the floor in pieces, and all of the ornaments and other decorative items are covering my entire kitchen table. One of my goals for tomorrow afternoon is to finally close the books on Christmas 2016. Otherwise I should just put the tree back up and pronounce my house ready for Christmas 2017 a little early.

Getting back to normal

I finally dismantled my Christmas tree on Wednesday. I was stuck at home for a fifth day with this wretched cold/flu and getting quite restless so I started undecking my halls. I was particularly sad to sad goodbye for a year to the adorable yuletide Mickey and Minnie I purchased at Disneyland last month. I’ve been meaning to get myself a set forever and I finally pulled the trigger this past holiday season. I still haven’t put anything away properly yet (i.e., in the cabinet with all of my other seasonal decorations), but my house no longer screams, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” It’s always a little depressing when the lights and tinsel and garlands disappear in January, but it’s also nice for things to get back to normal. Post-holiday malaise is never fun and I have to constantly remind myself of the lovely things that I have to look forward to in the first few months of the year. Now that my Disney World trip is over it feels like the drudge of everyday life is setting in, but I have to remember that I have so many other exciting events on my calendar in 2017. Granted, being sick, injured, and idle for more than a week hasn’t helped raise my spirits, but I think that will turn around soon. If only my body would get back to normal then life would be less dull and monotonous! I only got out of the house today to pick up my bib for the Pasadena Half Marathon tomorrow morning – a race I’m not even going to run! But I had to pick up the bib in person so that I could pass it off to a friend. At least it won’t go to waste this way. While making the long drive up to Pasadena with my running buddy this afternoon to go to the expo I realized that I am still pretty sick. I wheeze when I laugh and I can’t talk very much without coughing. It’s really frustrating. I was determined to run at least a few miles today, but I am resigned to rest at least until Monday in hopes that this blasted illness vacates my body. As far as I’m concerned it can’t happen soon enough. I’m still unsure about my foot too. After a visit to the sports chiropractor yesterday afternoon I remembered why I don’t like going there. It’s insanely painful! The chiropractor worked on not only my foot, but also some muscles in my right leg in an attempt to loosen things up a bit and improve my gait. I won’t know if going through that ordeal made any difference until I feel well enough to run again, but I sure hope the discomfort produced results. I’m not looking forward to it, but I’m going back to Wednesday for a follow-up. Fingers crossed that I am breathing and running normally again by then, and that I’ve also found the energy to actually pack up the Christmas decorations that are currently covering my entire kitchen table. It’s time to get everything back to normal around here!