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!

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.

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!

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.

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.

New Year’s Day 2018

Happy New Year! First of all, I have a lot of explaining to do regarding why I didn’t blog at all during the month of December, but that will have to wait for another day. There are a multitude of reasons/excuses that I didn’t write a single word since the end of November. In the simplest sense, life has been complicated, which made the end of 2017 less than satisfactory. But now 2018 is here, and with a new year comes a chance for a fresh start. And how did this one begin? With the flu. I could regale you with the entire sequence of New Year’s Eve events that led to my really awful January 1st, but that is not my intended goal for this post. In short, I had what I thought was a bad head cold which quickly morphed into the flu yesterday afternoon. It was miserable. What I want to share on the first day of 2018 is the aftermath of this very untimely illness. By the time I was attempting to go to sleep last night (long before midnight as I was too sick to care about ringing in the new year with any fanfare) I realized that my trip to Orlando on January 2nd was in serious jeopardy. Then when I woke up this morning, after a very fitful and feverish night, I put on some clean clothes (i.e., not the pajamas I had been wearing for over 24 hours) and drove to urgent care to consult with a doctor. I didn’t think had a fever anymore, probably thanks to the Aleve I took at 4 AM to combat a wicked headache, but I still felt horrible. When I arrived at urgent care at 8 AM to discover that it was closed I nearly cried. No where on their website or on their voicemail message did they indicate that the office was closed for the holidays. Don’t they think that’s information that should be readily available for desperate patients such as myself? I was extremely frustrated and I figured I wasn’t going to be able to see a medical professional at all today. Instead I headed to CVS to buy a thermometer because I thought I might still have a fever. In spite of it being 50 deg outside I was sweating like crazy. To my surprise, the pharmacist told me that their Minute Clinic was going to be open at 10 AM so I would be able to see a doctor today after all. About two hours later I walked out of the Minute Clinic with a prescription for Tamiflu. Then came my attempts to fill it. Once again, I’ll refrain from going into extreme detail, but the bottom line is that I drove to three different pharmacies and was unable to get my prescribed medication at any of them. I will have to try again tomorrow. So that brings us to the worst part of January 1st. While standing in line at the third pharmacy I felt so weak that I thought I was going to pass out. That’s when I realized that there was no way I was going to be able to participate in the Dopey Challenge at Walt Disney World this weekend. When I got home and wearily crawled back into bed I made all of the necessary phone calls and mouse clicks (no pun intended, Mickey) to cancel my trip. This was the very outcome I was trying to avoid, but I knew that even if my health improves significantly over the next few days that I still wouldn’t be in any shape to run 48.6 miles between Thursday and Sunday. Heck, I can barely run a marathon on my best days! It would be an understatement to say that I’m disappointed that I won’t be on a plane to Orlando in the morning, but I know staying home was the right choice. I worked so hard to prepare for the race challenge so admitting that I was defeated by a simple virus is making me crazy. I guarantee that over the next week I will feel many moments of anger, sadness, and generally regret. I am going to second guess my decision a million times. It’s going to be awful. Even so, I had to put my health first. As I was reminded by one of my running buddies, there will be other races. It’s hard to see that right now, but she is absolutely right. Not everything in life is going to work out according to plan and you have to figure out how to make the best of unfortunate circumstances. If possible I will attempt the Dopey Challenge next year, but for now I am going to focus on healing and recuperating. I will live to run another day!

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!

Turkey Day 2017 (NaBloPoMo day 25)

Thanksgiving was two days ago and I’m just now sitting down to write about it. Holidays are always busier than I imagine. But today I’m resting in preparation for a 20 mile run (or attempt, at least) tomorrow morning so I finally have time to finish this recap while I’m sitting on the couch watching Star Wars movies.

On Thursday I woke up at 4 AM so that I could get ready for the Oceanside Turkey Trot. Of course I picked one an hour away so I had a bit of a drive to get drive down there, but luckily the traffic was nonexistent that early in the morning. I was even able to use cruise control. I took advantage of that time to listen to my “Hamilton” soundtrack because I want to be adequately prepared for the show at the Pantages next month. The Oceanside 10K started at 6:55 AM. This was the race I ran with a friend two years ago in order to earn a new personal record. It was tough, but she helped me reach that goal. This year I had an idea in the back of my mind that I wanted to try for a new PR, and without too much effort I was actually doing well for a majority of the race. But then my mile 5 was a full minute slower than it needed to be due to a couple of hills and running on the uneven planks of the Oceanside Pier. That pretty much ruined my PR attempt because I didn’t have enough buffer to make up for the slow down. In the end I finished faster than I did in 2015 (1:08:05), but about 1 minute slower than my current 10K PR from the Avengers 10K last year. It was a valiant effort, but I just couldn’t keep up the right pace for the full 6.2 miles. After getting good and tired during the 10K, it was time to walk back to the start line and run the 5K! It was basically my cool-down and I ran much slower than usual to recover. After that race was over I picked up my shirt, walked back to my car, and started driving home. Much to my surprise the traffic going north wasn’t bad at 9 AM, and I had enough time to finish the “Hamilton” soundtrack.

The second half of my day was dedicated to Thanksgiving dinner. Before I left for Oceanside I put a block of cream cheese out on the counter to warm up so that it would be at room temperature a few hours later. The plan worked perfectly and I was able to mix up my pumpkin dip appetizer shortly after I got home. (It’s basically cream cheese frosting with some added pumpkin and spices. Not exactly healthy, but it’s definitely seasonal and everyone loves it. Even the kids. My goddaughter ate a whole bunch of ginger snaps with pumpkin dip before we even sat down to dinner.) I watched some of the Mystery Science Theater annual Turkey Day Marathon online while making my final Thanksgiving preparations (i.e., slicing apples and pears for the pumpkin dip and throwing everything in a bag for transport.) It was a scorching hot day for late November (95 deg at Natalie’s house) so I decided to wear a dress to dinner. Pretty fancy for a work holiday! I had another long drive to get to Pasadena, but I must have made offerings to the right gods that day because I had very little trouble with traffic once again. Folks driving south on the 605 weren’t as lucky, though. Poor souls. Thanksgiving dinner with Natalie and her family was amazing. I ate a whole plate full of the traditional dishes (turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, potatoes, etc.) as well as a lot of delicious extras. Baked brie with cranberries, roasted Brussels sprouts, and even some bread pudding for dinner. I was completely stuffed afterwards. It was a great time, even with the ensuing food coma. Eventually I had to drive home (my fourth and final extended journey of the day) and go to sleep after such a long and eventful day. Thanksgiving 2017 was quite the success. Now it’s time for the Christmas season to officially begin!