A Christmas present and a tribute to a legend

For Christmas this year my parents gave me a new GPS watch for my running habit/obsession and I love it. It’s a Garmin Forerunner 235 with a color display and an optical heart rate sensor, which is an upgrade from my old GPS watch. I set it up and wore it for the first time on my 5-mile run around Seal Beach last night. The wristband is more flexible than my old watch so it fits well, and it’s incredibly comfortable, unlike a first-generation wrist-based heart rate monitor that I tried some years back. Technology improves at a fantastic rate these days! It was fascinating to see a plot of my heart rate from my run last night. I’ll have to check out trends over the next few months to compare my heart rate during runs where I feel great and compare it to runs where I feel terrible. As an engineer who loves to analyze data this is going to be fun.

I went running again tonight (6 miles) so I got to wear my new GPS watch a second time. Also, I wore my Princess Leia shirt, which I’ve worn for multiple half marathons (including the Star Wars Dark Side half marathon in April), in honor of Carrie Fisher who passed away this morning. I’m a child of the 80’s so I grew up watching the original Star Wars trilogy on a regular basis, and Princess Leia was one of my role models. She was a strong, independent woman who brought down empires. She was not only a princess, but a general who fought alongside the men and often eclipsed them. For a young girl who didn’t want to wait around for a man to come along and define her, Princess Leia was a beacon of hope. RIP Carrie Fisher. May the Force be with you.

White Christmas

It’s Christmas Day and I’ll run if I want to! My marathon training plan had me running 12 miles this weekend, but my running buddy sneakily signed us up for the Operation Jack virtual half marathon so I stretched this morning’s outing into 13.1 miles instead. It was nearly the same distance and the race was for a good cause. Plus, it gave me the perfect chance to wear my Christmas running shirt again and listen to my Christmas playlist before the holiday season is over. I must admit that I slept a bit later than I planned this morning, though. I intended to get up and start running right at sunrise, but I ended up walking out my door about an hour later instead. Good thing it wasn’t a hot day! In fact, it was really chilly in Los Angeles this morning, perfect weather for Christmas Day, so I had to wear my gloves and arm warmers for a few miles before I sufficiently warmed up. The storm that came through LA a couple of days ago covered the local mountains with snow for the first time this winter so it was actually a white Christmas in some parts of Southern California! I had a great view of the mountains during the first half of my run this morning and it was really beautiful. My last double-digit run before my marathon in two weeks (yikes!) went very well so I was happy about that. I was relatively fast and I didn’t get too exhausted. But when I got home I realized that I should have run yesterday when McDonald’s was open. Since they’re closed on Christmas Day I wasn’t able to have my traditional post-run breakfast of an Egg McMuffin and a Diet Coke. A travesty! My Nutrisystem breakfast sandwich just wasn’t the same. Luckily this is the only day of the year that I’ll have this problem. Running this virtual half marathon was a great way to start my Christmas Day. I didn’t accomplish much else afterwards, but I’m getting ready to go see “Star Wars: Rogue One” with friends in a couple of hours. I can’t wait! Merry Christmas, everyone!

P.S. There’s a nice cross-section of my nerdy Christmas tree on display in the above photo. BB-8, Elsa, Cinderella, Cookie Monster, and Mickey Mouse. Too bad you can’t see my Thorin Oakenshield ornament too!

‘Twas the night before Christmas

It’s been a busy Christmas Eve and I’ve barely left the house! I considered going back to Disneyland for a few hours, but I decided to run a couple of errands first thing this morning instead. I was invited to a party tonight and I wanted to make another batch of cranberry BBQ meatballs to take with me, but I needed a few ingredients first. So I rushed over to Target and Ralph’s before 8 AM to get the necessary components before the crowds of folks buying last minute gifts descended. It wasn’t the most relaxing shopping trip, but it could have been much worse, considering it’s Christmas Eve. When I got home I mostly tackled a bunch of dull chores that I won’t bore with here, and then I got started on my biggest job for the day which was wrapping Christmas presents for friends. Luckily they aren’t needed until Monday, but I got them done while I had a chance. It took me much longer than it should have to wrap six boxes, but they look pretty good. I also watched a couple of classic Christmas movies at the same time – “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Christmas in Connecticut.”

It’s getting late now and I need to go to bed soon. I went to the party at my friend’s house this evening and ate a lot of delicious food. More than I should have since I am going for a long run in the morning! Since I didn’t attempt any other form of exercise today I intended to take a walk around Seal Beach tonight to look at the Christmas lights (something I can’t sufficiently admire while running), but I was just too tired when I got home from the party. I’ll make up for it when I run tomorrow morning. It’s Christmas and I’ll run if I want to! Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Today was the first full day of my holiday break (I don’t have to go back to work until January 3rd) and I didn’t waste any time getting in the Christmas spirit. I got up and went to Disneyland first thing this morning and it was lovely. Granted, the sky was cloudy and gray after raining overnight so the crowds in the park were very light. What a wonderful gift! I wasn’t expecting that two days before Christmas, but I really enjoyed it. I went on all of the rides on my holiday to do list (Jingle Cruise, Haunted Mansion Holiday, and Small World Holiday) in a very short amount of time. After that I wandered around and did some shopping, found a pin I’d been looking for, bought one last Christmas present for a friend, and had a holiday turkey sandwich (turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce) at Earl of Sandwich for lunch. When I got home from Disneyland I got started on the task of making Christmas cookies. In an effort to eat healthier I haven’t done a lot of baking this year, but I figured the holiday season deserves a little splurge. Plus, I promised to bring some peanut butter and chocolate treats to a friend’s house on Monday. Usually I like to try new recipes when I get a chance to bake, but this time I fell back on a couple of tried-and-true favorites since I didn’t want to risk serving mediocre cookies to my friends! First I whipped up a huge batch of peanut butter blossoms, as seen in the above photo. I first wrote about these back in 2011. These cookies are a holiday tradition in my family and they never fail to disappoint. They’re incredibly easy to make and absolutely delicious. By the time the peanut butter blossoms were done it was time for my to go to boot camp at 4 PM. The class was particularly grueling today, probably payback for indulging in the turkey sandwich and a few cookies today, but I’m glad I went. Christmas is no excuse for my fitness regime to suffer! When I got home from the gym I used another famous family recipe to make a large batch of peanut butter bars. They’re in the fridge right now, but I’ll slice them up (and take the obligatory photo) tomorrow. I wrote a very unsatisfactory post about these incredibly addictive treats about five years ago, but I will revisit them later this week because the recipe absolutely deserves to be shared again. After today most of my Christmas baking is done. I still have one more batch of cookies I’m planning to make for Monday, but those will probably have to wait until Sunday.

It’s raining right now, a sign of a real winter finally returning to Los Angeles, and I’m perfectly content to be inside, warm and dry, on this December 23rd night. I’m watching an old “Doctor Who” Christmas Special right now (“A Christmas Carol” from 2010), but earlier I put on my DVD of “The Bishop’s Wife” while making the peanut butter bars. I intend to watch a bunch of classic Christmas movies over the next couple of days. There will also be some more “Doctor Who” Christmas episodes, including the new one on Sunday night. It was a lovely first day of my holiday break, and this weekend promises to be busy and delightful as well.

Christmas tree 2016

It’s six days until Christmas and my tree is finally up (done after my 20 mile run yesterday) and fully trimmed (as of tonight). Took me long enough! I got a new pencil-style Christmas tree this year from Treetopia due to the lack of appropriate space for one of a more generous girth in my living room. The new tree is 6′ tall, but only 18″ wide at the base and it’s just perfect. I love it. And one of the best things is that the old angel ornament from Kmart that I’ve been using as a tree topper for the last 14 years still works! Next year I’ll have to prioritize finding a new tree topper (and a tree skirt), but for now my little angel is still doing a great job. I did buy six new ornaments this year (including a Kylo Ren!) which is probably going overboard. That number is not quite balanced by the three ornaments that I got rid of either. One animated Peanuts ornament was leaking battery acid so it definitely had to go. Yikes! And as I was putting on the last few ornaments tonight I came up with this little Christmas countdown based on the demographics of my collection. I can’t believe Christmas is only six days away, but at least I’m finally ready!

6 Hello Kitties
5 Harry Potters
4 Iron Mans (Iron Men?)
3 Elsas
2 Mickey Mouses (Mice?)
1 Weeping Angel

Potluck Day 2016

Yesterday was my favorite day of the year – holiday potluck day! It was a great day. Since it was Casual Friday I got a chance to finally wear the holiday running shirt I ordered last month. I arrived to work early to get the hot chocolate started. It needed two hours in the Crockpot before it would be ready for the breakfast crowd. When I tested it at 6 AM it was the perfect temperature, and so delicious! I can’t believe anything that simple could be so popular, but I had several people ask me for the recipe again this year. I am happy to share it, of course. 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! (Also, I need to get a picture of a finished batch and post the recipe again. A good recipe is worth another share.)

Speaking of breakfast, I’m not sure if you’ll believe it, but I only had two scones yesterday – one caramel apple one and one maple bacon. They were amazing, but I didn’t want to go overboard before 9 AM. However, those two scones were accompanied by half of a waffle, a glass of milk, and a little hot chocolate. Maybe I did go overboard after all, but my scone consumption was still significantly reduced this year. When lunchtime rolled around I was still pretty full from breakfast, but I still loaded my plate with Chinese chicken salad, BBQ lil smokies, stuffing, and sweet potato casserole from the buffet. My contribution to the feast was turkey meatballs with cranberry barbeque sauce which turned out really well – and disappeared fast! I started cooking them in my other Crockpot at 6 AM so they were just right when everyone was ready for lunch. This was just the second time using the recipe, but this time I used a whole cup of barbeque sauce rather than the usual 1/2 cup, and I think the sauce was great. I’ll have to make those more often. I did indulge in a rare can of Coke, as you can see in the above photo, because of the cute polar bears on the can.

After all of the food I consumed at breakfast and lunch I absolutely zero room for dessert. Nothing looked at that exciting to me anyway, but I did take a couple of extra scones back to my desk with me. I thought they’d be great when I got hungry later. But by the end of the day I was still so full that the idea of eating them didn’t appeal to me at all so I shared them to my cubical neighbors. ‘Tis the season for giving! As usual, my favorite day of the year didn’t disappoint. Good food and a lot of laughs with my co-workers. I can’t wait for nest year!

After a busy weekend

I thought I’d have plenty of time to write a couple of webpage posts this weekend while I was in Pomona for the Holiday Half Marathon and 5K races (the combination of which is the Golden Snowflake Challenge), but that didn’t turn out to be the case. When will I learn that December is far too busy to have any free time? I actually had a lot of plans for the weekend, but I only accomplished a few of the items on my to do list. Besides the two races, I did finally complete all of my 2016 Christmas cards, though, which was a huge effort. The grand total this year was 53 cards. Yikes! Unfortunately I didn’t get my Christmas tree put up like I wanted to. I’m disappointed about that. My time management needs to be a bit better this week, especially since I’ll be tackling the highest mileage of my marathon training plan. It’s very daunting, but I think I can do it. It remains to be seen if I can get anything else done this week, though. I guess we’ll find out!

Holiday running apparel

Last week I ordered a Christmas running shirt from my favorite company so that I’d have something to wear for the Holiday Half Marathon this Sunday. It’s a red shirt with a reindeer and Christmas lights on it – perfect, right? I knew I was cutting it a little close for delivery before the race, but I haven’t had any trouble getting apparel from this company in a short period of time. Unfortunately this has been the exception. As of this evening the shirt has yet to ship. There’s about zero chance it will arrive in time for me to wear it on Sunday now and I’m annoyed. I know it’s mostly my own fault for not ordering earlier, but what’s the point of getting a Christmas running shirt after my only holiday race weekend (5K on Saturday, half marathon on Sunday)? I guess I’ll stick it in a drawer for next year. (Yes, my running buddies and I have already started thinking about which races we want to run in December 2017!) The only Christmas-themed running shirt that I have in my possession is from a race last year and it has long sleeves. There is absolutely no reason to have long sleeve running shirts in Los Angeles. They are useless because it doesn’t get nearly cold enough here! Usually I wear arm warmers when I start a run on a cold morning, but I take them off after a mile or two when I’ve sufficiently warmed up. The climate is just too mild here to require full arm coverage for very long. So the big question is, what do I wear for my races this weekend? I’m thinking of wearing a shirt that says “Will Train for Chocolate” for the 5K (appropriate since I consume more chocolate during the winter holidays than any other time of the year), and then my “Frozen” Elsa shirt for the half marathon (snowflakes seem fitting for a December run). I know I’m over thinking this, but these are my last two races of 2016 and I want them to be great!

Christmas cards in progress

Last year I mailed 30 Christmas cards to friends and family and I thought that was a lot. However, so far this year I already have a list of 32 households that I need to send cards to and I haven’t even received my annual card swap list yet! Yikes! Back in November I ordered two boxes of 18 cards (one Star Wars and one Peanuts, as you can see in the above photo – I’m nothing if not classy) so I thought I’d be more than covered for 2016. Then once I started tallying the folks I wanted to send cards to I realized that 36 may not be enough. So I went out and bought another box of 10 cards. If that doesn’t get me through the holidays I don’t know what I’m going to do. I started the Yuletide activity of sending greeting cards to everyone I love on December 1st, and as of this evening I have completed and mailed out 21 Christmas cards. Not bad, really, but there’s still so much work to do. I think next year I’m just going to get my picture taken with Darth Vader at Disneyland and have custom cards printed. That’ll save some time!

Week 13 done

This morning I ran 18 miles to close out week 13 of my marathon training plan. It was my longest run ever. Somehow I completed those 18 miles at an average pace of 11:19 min/mile, which is probably faster than I should have run (surprisingly, only a tiny bit slower than my half marathon PR time from last month). Those last two miles were really rough! I got up later than I originally planned this morning so I didn’t start running until right around sunrise (6:45 AM). This meant that I spent a lot of time out there while the sun was high up in the sky. Thankfully it was a lovely LA winter day with a high only in the 60s, but the sun still warmed me up considerably. I was running along the San Gabriel River so shade was hard to come by a majority the time. But I successfully completed my 18-mile run with minimal problems (thanks to my twice-repaired orthotics that I picked up from my podiatrist on Friday), and now I am much more confident that I’ll be able to cross the Disney World Marathon finish line without passing out. I have the Holiday Half Marathon next weekend with my running buddies, and then my last long run will be 20 miles the weekend after that. I am cautiously optimistic that I will finish this 18-week training plan and be completely prepared for the marathon in January!

P.S. My holiday celebratory activity today was fairly subdued – I watched last year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, “The Husbands of River Song,” while ordering some presents online. The presents were mostly for other people, but I also got some running pants from Lululemon for myself! I intended to put up my Christmas tree this afternoon, but I didn’t have enough energy after my 18-mile run. While lounging on my couch I should have worked on my Christmas cards, but that didn’t happen either. I’d better get my rear in gear soon because time is running out!