Halloween 2019 (NaBloPoMo day 2)

I had a busy Halloween considering how low my energy levels are these days. The only thing I’ve been able to do consistently while on medical leave from work is exercise. I have managed to attend boot camp classes three to five times a week for the last few months and it really makes me happy. (My runs have been few and far between, however, but I’ll write about that in another post.) I still have a long way to go in my fitness journey, but I definitely feel stronger after three months of weight training, even if my dress size hasn’t gotten any smaller. Although I don’t like the number on the scale right now I am trying to have a positive attitude towards my body in its current form. It’s not easy! Getting back to the story, I was determined to get to the gym on Halloween, but I had to go at 9 AM since my usual evening class was cancelled for the holiday. As you can see in the above photo, my gym buddy and I had matching floral skeleton outfits from INKnBURN. She even brought flower crowns so that we could enhance the effect. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays so celebrating it this way was really fun. The workout itself was pretty difficult, but at least I started the day by doing something healthy.

I had plans to meet my BFF and goddaughter for trick-or-treating at 5 PM. After an egg sandwich for breakfast and a post-gym shower I attempted to take a little nap to replenish my energy stores, but my stupid restless legs had other ideas. I may have dozed for half an hour or so, but my twitchy legs did not allow any more than that. (I know it’s my brain causing the muscle spasms, but sometimes I daydream about a leg transplant that will fix my PLMD.) I knew that the long drive to/from my BFF’s house, as well as several hours of Halloween celebration, were going to be hard on me, so I took half a dose of my stimulant medication to ensure that I wasn’t dead tired before even arriving. (I use the stimulant very sparingly to get me through events that demand a lot of energy, but it’s a band-aid rather than a long-term solution to my constant fatigue.) Trick-or-treating with my goddaughter’s Girl Scout troop was a lot of fun. Safely guiding about ten girls from house to house to gather their candy while trying to avoid anyone getting left behind was quite the balancing act. I’m really glad I got to share the holiday with my goddaughter, though. It was the most human interaction I’ve had in months (unless you count Disneyland), but it was very draining. By the time I got home I was fading fast. My nighttime medication generally requires about two hours to take effect, but I somehow managed to pass out in about half that time. You know I’m exhausted when even leg spasms can’t keep me awake! The next morning my gym buddy and I were planing to go to the 9 AM boot camp class again, but neither of us was up for it when our alarms went off. I ended up sleeping very late to recuperate from all of the Halloween festivities. Still a fantastic holiday!

Happy November!

Ah, good ol’ November 1st. Historically the day I kickoff my contribution to (the now defunct) National Blog Posting Month. November is traditionally National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and the weblog community started their own version in 2006 (NaBloPoMo) where bloggers endeavor to post new content to their sites every day of the month. I accepted the challenge several times during my more prolific blogging days – some years being more successful than others – but extenuating circumstances have kept me from flexing my writing muscle too much recently. Of all my hobbies that have fallen by the wayside since my health began to decline I miss running the most, but writing is a close second. I love the creative outlet blogging provides, but it demands energy that my mind and body don’t always have to spare. Like I’ve said before, fatigue affects every area of my life, and writing is no different. Also, no one has ever said there are too many hours in the day, so finding time to consciously devote to blogging (rather than aimlessly browsing the interwebz) isn’t easy. I have been reading a few books lately that I hope will help me get back in the habit of writing everyday, but I haven’t put any of the ideas into practice yet. No promises, but I’m going to try to use NaBloPoMo to kick-start my blogging habit again. We’ll see if it works.

P.S. November 1st is also the Day of the Dead – better known as the day after Halloween when kids are sleep deprived because they stayed up way past their bedtime trick-or-treating. I figured on this 11/1 post it was appropriate to include a photo of me with my BFF and her daughter from last night. Aren’t we adorable?

What I learned today

This morning my alarm went off at 5:30 AM. This would be ridiculous for most Sundays these days, but today I was trying my darndest to make it to the School Ghoul 5K in Los Alamitos. I have missed so many races in the last couple of years due to my poor health, and every time it happens I feel a little bit worse. My near constant fatigue has gotten in the way of just about everything in my life, no matter how hard I struggle against it, so I try to gain ground whenever and however I can. Fortunately this morning was a win. I successfully got out of bed at 5:30 AM and got ready to leave for the 5K. It helped that this race is small and local (Los Alamitos is not far from my house) so I wasn’t facing a long drive or difficulties with parking or crowds. Also, it was the only Halloween race I had any real chance of participating in this year, and I had a whole outfit planned for the occasion. If at all possible I was not going to miss this 5K.

I arrived at the race start line plenty early, picked up my shirt and bib, and walked back to my car to put on sunscreen. I had 50 minutes to spare. That’s when I realized that I hadn’t brought my GPS watch with me. Or my headphones. In fact, I had forgotten all of my running electronics at home. Is it obvious that I haven’t run a race in almost two months? At first I remembered that I have a spare set of earbuds in my glove compartment for just such an emergency, but then it hit me that my phone hasn’t had a headphone jack since 2017. So no help there. Facing the prospect of running 3.1 miles without my usual playlist was so daunting that I decided to rush home and grab the items I needed. If you thought getting home and then back to the race would be the most difficult part of the morning you’d be wrong. That part was pretty smooth! I got back to the race start with a full 25 minutes before I had to run, so I thought I was in great shape. Then I tried to set up all of my electronics.

Fortunately my interval timer is stand-alone so all I had to do was clip it onto my pocket. The watch and headphones proved to be more of a problem. Last month when the iPhone 11s came out I went to the Apple Store and took advantage of the newly lowered prices on older models to buy an iPhone 8. My iPhone 7 was slowly dying and it was time for an upgrade, but I didn’t go crazy and buy anything too fancy. Unfortunately, I haven’t run a race since before my phone swap so my Bluetooth electronics had never been paired with the iPhone 8. After a couple of attempts I gave up trying to get the Garmin app to recognize my watch since that connection wasn’t essential for the race, but I really needed the headphones to cooperate. The best part about wireless earphones is the wireless part, but it is also the most breakable link in the chain. No phone pairing = no music. I tried everything I could think of up until the moment the race started, but it was no use. My iPhone 8 and my Bluetooth headphones were just not going to play nicely together. I was resigned to run the race with no soundtrack, the useless headphones tagging along as ballast.

Plenty of folks have told me how much they enjoy “unplugged” running with only the ambient noise of nature and their inner thoughts to entertain them. Today I learned that I am not one of those people. There are two reasons I absolutely need my favorite playlist in order to make plodding along on the pavement tolerable. 1) Running by itself is boring! Without a the distraction of music I lose interest in this particular form of exercise very quickly. It’s monotonous and every mile seems to drag on forever unless I have songs to listen to or friends to talk to. Ideally both. 2) I have difficulty regulating my breathing without the aid of a tempo. I learned this a long time ago I got my first iPod and it completely changed my workouts. While running the 5K today I had to sing to myself the whole time (silently, of course) in order to keep from breathing erratically. It was rough. I was completely exhausted, mentally and physically, when I crossed the finish line. As happy as I was to run the 5K, it was a miserable experience without my playlist. I will definitely make sure all of my electronics are working before my next race!

September 1st (Retail therapy #2 revisited)

I went to Target today because I was down to my last roll of toilet paper at home. So as a responsible adult I headed out to replenish my stock of bathroom essentials, but I was also hoping to browse the Halloween section of the store. This was a less “responsible adult” inclination, I admit. Unfortunately I was disappointed on that account. The back corner of the store that’s usually dedicated to selling products related to the next holiday on the calendar was sadly still decked out in back-to-school fashion. What a shame. I know some kids don’t start school again until after Labor Day, but it’s finally September, for crying out loud! Time for the holiday festivities to begin! But maybe that’s just my own impatience talking. I’ve been waiting eight whole months for this day! (One of my friends actually started decorating her front yard for Halloween today so I’m clearly not the only one who is excited for this time of year. And if my Halloween door hanging wasn’t tucked away so far in my closet I’d have started decorating today too.) However, I did find one holiday surprise in the bath products section of Target. Remember how last December I was obsessed with getting my hands on a bottle of Mrs. Meyer’s Apple Cider Clean Day Liquid Hand Soap? Here’s an excerpt from my retail therapy #2 blog post to refresh your memory.

“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.”
2/24/18 webpage post

Well, as of today this previously coveted hand soap is available at my local Target at a reasonable price. Makes me feel silly for going to such great lengths last year! Not that I’ll be lining up to buy any this time around because I realized that I can experience the same scent profile from the Suave Kids 3-in-1 apple shampoo that I use at the gym! However, I did find Mrs. Meyer’s pumpkin hand soap, a variety I was previously unaware of, sitting on the same display shelf. I was intrigued. I bought so many bottles of holiday hand soap last December that I won’t even get close to finishing them by the end of 2018. So, thinking practically, there was absolutely no reason I needed to purchase pumpkin-scented soap today. In fact, my pledge to be more frugal for the rest of the year (I have two Disney World vacations coming up, and those aren’t cheap) is a prime reason that I shouldn’t have put any of the pumpkin hand soap in my shopping basket. But I did anyway. What can I say? My resolve weakens when I’m faced with special edition holiday stuff! Luckily hand soap is on the low end of the spectrum, price-wise. Let’s hope I have more willpower when it comes to other, more expensive and more compelling items. Like the gorgeous glass pumpkins at Pottery Barn. I must be strong!

Three Little Piggies Chili (2017 chili cook-off recipe)

I’ve posted a lot of chili recipes over the years and I like every one, but some have greater mass appeal than others. Judging by my successes and failures at the annual chili cook-off at work, the common factor in my most popular chilis is bacon! My co-workers fall all over themselves for a taste of anything with bacon in it. So as easy as it is to whip up a batch of chili that I’ll enjoy, this year I challenged myself to make something that folks would absolutely love. Of course was going to include bacon, but why stop there? I started with the general concept of my bacon chili, but I replaced the ground beef with ground pork. However, there still seemed to be something missing. Two kinds of pork just wasn’t enough! So in order to turn this recipe up to eleven, and also make the texture something different from my usual chili, I decided to add some delicious homemade carnitas. The spices in the carnitas are complimentary to my chili seasoning so it seemed like the perfect fit. So I ultimately ended up creating this triple pork chili, aptly named Three Little Piggies chili by my friend Anjanette, to take to work for the cook-off and the rest is history! Second place in the judge’s favorites was a much better showing that I ever expected. Not bad for a mild chili. I’ll have to come up with something even crazier next year!

INGREDIENTS:
3/4 lb maple-flavored bacon
1 lb ground pork
1 medium bell pepper, diced (I like to use a red one for color uniformity)
1 medium sweet onion, diced
2 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp oregano
1 1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cans (14.5 oz each) diced tomatoes
2 cans (8 oz each) tomato sauce
3/4 lb carnitas

DIRECTIONS:
In a small bowl, combine the spices (chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, allspice, cinnamon, salt, garlic powder, black pepper, and cocoa powder) and set aside. This will save you time and trouble later. Cut the bacon into 1/2 in pieces. In a large pot (I have an aptly named chili pot that I love), cook the bacon over medium heat. Use a splatter guard if you have one because that bacon grease is hot! Once the bacon pieces are crispy (watch carefully because they can burn quickly!), remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside for later. Add the ground pork, diced onion, and diced pepper to the pan with the leftover bacon grease and cook over medium heat until the pork is cooked through. Add the bowl of spice mix from earlier and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and reserved bacon and stir to combine. Finally, add the carnitas and stir to combine. I am not exactly sure how much I added, but I’m guessing about 3/4 lb. Add more or less to your taste. Bring the chili too a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Put the lid on the pot, but leave it propped open a bit so steam can escape. Cook for 90 minutes, stirring about every 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Based on My Amazing Bacon Chili and My Cincinnati-Style Chili.

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (NaBloPoMo day 15)

On November 1st I flew to Orlando for my Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend adventure, but back in August a surprising opportunity presented itself. I was looking at the Disney World website and realized that the very last Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party of the season was being held at the Magic Kingdom the day I arrived. I was willing to move heaven and earth to be able to attend, but would it be enough? The party was starting at 7 PM which was the same time my flight was scheduled to land. However, the celebration lasted until midnight so even if I got there a couple of hours late I would still have plenty of time to enjoy the festivities. There was hope! So I optimistically purchased a Halloween party ticket and prepared myself as much as possible for my busy November 1st schedule. First of all, I tagged my suitcase so that Mickey’s Magical Express bus service would pick it up from baggage claim rather than waiting for it myself. That saved me a little time. Second, I checked in to my hotel online so I could skip the front desk. And third, I slept quite a bit on the plane so I could more easily stay up late and savor every minute of the Halloween party.

I ended up walking through the Magic Kingdom gates a little after 9 PM. As much as I love Disney World, the main reason I wanted to go to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party was to see the seasonal fireworks, parade, and Hocus Pocus live show. Before picking a spot to watch the HalloWishes Fireworks I did a little trick or treating. There were several spots around the park where cast members dole out handfuls of candy so it didn’t take long for my little bag to be completely full. It took me the rest of my trip to finish all of it! I grabbed a salad for dinner to counteract the sugar rush, and then I made my way back to Cinderella’s Castle for the fireworks t 10:15 PM. Disney World sure knows how to put on a show. As a Disneyland native I wasn’t expecting the fireworks to come from so many different locations! It was really amazing. Next everyone crowded around the castle for the Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular at 10:45 PM. This show was worth the (relatively high) price of admission. The actresses were great, there were a lot of laughs, and the music gave me goosebumps, especially “I Put A Spell On You.” It was incredible There were a lot of reasons that going to the Halloween party was impractical for me, but when I saw the Hocus Pocus show I knew I had made the right decision. Take a look at a short video I took of the finale to see what I mean. The last Boo-to-You Halloween Parade of the night took place at 11:15 PM so I hung around the castle for that after Hocus Pocus was over. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to the Halloween season. Before leaving Magic Kingdom I walked around the park some more (and I’ll confess to gathering some more candy) to drink it all in. I finally got on the bus back to my hotel around 12:30 AM very happy with my decision to go to the Halloween party and make my November 1st as insane as possible. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Halloween 2017 (NaBloPoMo day 10)

Halloween is always a busy holiday, but this year it was even crazier than usual. Not only did I have the annual chili cook-off at work, but was I leaving to go on vacation the next morning. I didn’t have a free minute all day. I got to work really early that morning to start warming up my chili which had been in my fridge since I cooked it a couple of days before. In addition to my own I was in charge of heating up a co-worker’s chili as well because he was out of town, but still wanted to be in the competition. I also wanted to be able to get some actual work done before the duties of the chili cook-off coordinator got too overwhelming. My chili this year was called Three Little Piggies chili, as named by my friend Anjanette, because it contained pork in three forms – bacon (maple bacon, even, which made it Whole30 non-compliant), ground pork, and carnitas. I didn’t get a chance to taste it until just before the chili cook-off judges started their deliberations, but I thought it was delicious. And thanks to my Whole30(-ish) experience ending the day before, I took advantage of no food restrictions and ate a lot of chips between breakfast and lunch.

The chili judges I recruited (actually, two of then volunteered for the job a year ago!) made their rounds at 11 AM and used a very systematic, math-based method to choose their favorites. Then at 11:30 AM I opened up the buffet of 15 chili entries and all of the other food that people brought to the general public for lunch. The chili cook-off seems to grow in size every year so I was running around like crazy making sure that everything was going smoothly. I got in line for food pretty late and most of the Crockpots had already been practically licked clean, including mine. I still got to try a couple of chilis that weren’t too spicy and they were both delicious. I also sampled a piece of the pumpkin sheet cake that I made and it was scrumptious. The white glaze on the pumpkin cake worked out really well. I will remember that for next time, but I’ll make sure to get some higher quality sprinkles! After everyone had eaten and voted for their favorite chili I announced the winners of the popular vote as well as the judge’s vote. Surprisingly, my chili managed to bring in 2nd place on the judge’s list! It just goes to show that adding bacon to a dish makes it infinitely more popular. I also tied with two others for 3rd place in the popular vote. Not bad for a mild chili since the top prizes usually go to the spicy entries.

I wanted to go home at 5 PM in order to watch Game 6 of the World Series to see if the Dodgers could win and keep their season alive, but my workload had other ideas. I ended up staying until 7 PM while periodically checking in on the baseball game on ESPN GameCast. By the time I got home and turned on the TV to finish watching the game I knew there was no way I’d have time to go for a run that night. It was already late and I still had a lot to do. First of all, I washed all of the dishes from the chili cook-off as well as everything left over from making the pumpkin sheet cake the night before. That was a lot of work, but I didn’t want to leave them sitting in my sink for a week! And then I had to pack my suitcase for my trip to Orlando. I hadn’t done a very good job preparing for my vacation ahead of time so I had my work cut out for me, but at least all of the clothes I needed to take with me were clean. The Dodgers did manage to win the baseball game and force a World Series Game 7 so that was good, but I didn’t get to bed until bed around midnight. Phew! It was quite a Halloween this year!

Carnitas (NaBloPoMo day 7)

Before I can write about my prize-winning Halloween chili I first have to share this carnitas recipe because I put some if the pork in the chili. I don’t want to diminish the importance of this recipe, though. Not only is it Whole30-compliant due to being sweetened only with fruit juice, but it’s also incredibly simple and delicious. I ate this meat for many lunches during the month of October with roasted sweet potatoes and vegetables on the side, but it would be delicious in tacos if tortillas and cheese are included in your diet. When you don’t have a lot of free time your Crockpot can be your best friend. Slow cook a batch of carnitas either on the weekend or one day while you’re at work and you’ll have protein for days. Now that my Whole30(-ish) experiment is over I might add some BBQ sauce to the leftovers I have in the freezer for a little change of pace. I get tired of eating the same thing more than two days in a row so variety is important. I encourage everyone to customize this recipe any way they see fit.

INGREDIENTS:
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp black pepper
3-4 lb pork shoulder (or pork loin, which I used instead)
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 onions, quartered
3/4 c orange juice
2 limes juiced

DIRECTIONS:
In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, paprika, and pepper. I did this the day before to save time. Once you’re ready to put the pork roast in the slow cooker, rub the spice mixture on all sides. I cut my roast into two pieces to make this easier and to have more surface area for the spices. Put the onions into the bottom of the slow cooker, place the pork roast in next, and evenly distribute the garlic cloves on top. Pour the orange juice and lime juice over everything. Cover and cook on low heat for about 8 hours.

Remove pork shoulder from the slow cooker and shred the meat in a large bowl, removing any large fat deposits that remain. Add some of the cooking juices from the slow cooker if you want. I did this because my batch would be refrigerated and reheated for lunches and I wanted to keep it from getting too dry. Add additional salt and pepper, if desired. I added a tiny bit of salt to my lunch portions and it was divine. Enjoy!

Based on Damn Delicious’s Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas.

NaBloPoMo 2017

November means that it’s National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) once again. Luckily, all of my
Whole30(-ish) blogging in October was the perfect segue into NaBloPoMo 2017. I’m already in the habit of updating my webpage every day which is a plus, but November has traditionally been an extremely busy month for me. Case in point, I’m at Walt Disney World right now for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend which means that my normal routine has been thrown out the window. I’m sitting down to write this post in my hotel room before an early bedtime in order to be ready for the Fall Feast 5K at 5:30 AM tomorrow morning. It’s my first of three pre-dawn race mornings. Not the kind of thing most folks would sign up for on their vacations, but we runners are a little bit crazy! This morning I went to the race expo and picked up my race bibs and shirts for the three races. Actually, I slept in and barely rolled out of bed in time to get to the expo when it started. Last night I went to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom and I stayed until after the park closed at midnight. Very uncharacteristic for me, but the party was amazing and totally worth the effort it took to get there after my flight landed yesterday. I’ll write a separate post about that later. I spent most of the afternoon at Hollywood Studios visiting a few rides that are no longer at Disneyland, like Tower of Terror and Muppet Vision 3D. So much fun. But now it’s time for me prepare for the 5K early tomorrow morning. I have big plans for the rest of this runcation and I need to be well-rested to fully enjoy it!