Happy holidays 2018

It’s Thanksgiving week and I am officially overwhelmed. Not only am I still fighting my usual chronic health problems (I need to call two of my doctors tomorrow for some follow-up information), but I also have a lot of other things on my plate right now. I haven’t written about most of them yet (not being secretive, just waiting for the dust to settle), but they have been dominating my time nonetheless. And of course the holidays are front and center right now which doesn’t make anyone’s life any simpler. First of all, there’s Thanksgiving on Thursday. I am running a combination 10K/5K turkey trot in Dana Point that morning, and then heading to dinner at my best friend’s house in Pasadena in the afternoon. In order to make the food preparation a little less stressful I whipped up my homemade cranberry sauce last night. Two batches even – one with diced apple and pear, and one without (to cover everyone’s dietary requirements). I also signed up to make a couple of desserts so those have to get done by Thursday afternoon. ‘Tis the season for time-consuming holiday obligations! And that’s nothing compared to the rest of the year. I swear time speeds up starting on October 1st and the next three months pass in the blink of an eye. As much as I love it, this time of year is very difficult. The shopping, the parties, the decorating, the eating, the travel, etc. Even with most of those activities being thoroughly enjoyable, it all piles up. And I’m already fighting exhaustion 24/7! So in an effort to minimize the drains on my already dwindling energy reserves, I am taking a break from blogging until January. Since I still have quite a few subjects that I want to write about I will continue to craft posts whenever I find the time and inspiration, but I don’t plan to publish anything until 2019. Hopefully this respite will make the last six weeks of 2018 a little bit easier. So here’s wishing all of my readers a lovely Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Let’s make the rest of this year the best it can be!

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!

Baking is my self-care

“I am rediscovering my love of baking today. I used to use it as self-care, and now I remember how soothing it is for me. I’m headed to a friend’s house later to shoot off some fireworks and gorge on delicious food!”
7/4/18 Facebook comment

This past week I’ve been thinking about how in the heck I’m supposed to follow such a heavy post about feminism and rejecting limitations. I’ve recently started several other posts on meaningful topics that I want to expound on, but they need a lot more time before they’ll be ready to publish. So in the meantime, here’s something a bit lighter! (I would have added the word “literally” to that sentence, but one of the things I’m going to talk about is pound cake which is the opposite of light fare!)

With a few exceptions (mostly holidays like Halloween and Christmas), I haven’t done much baking in the last couple of years. Granted, I’ve done quite a bit of other cooking (chili, of course, plus a lot of Whole30 recipes), but it’s just not the same. Looking back at my archives, I’ve been partial to pumpkin bread in the fall, but the last chocolate chip cookie recipe I posted was in February 2016. (I high recommend those brown butter and molasses chocolate chip cookie bars.) Baking used to be a weekly activity that I truly enjoyed and soothed my soul. It was certainly a welcome distraction during Gator games in the college football season! There’s something calming about mixing ingredients in the right proportions and producing a delicious treat that I can share with my friends and co-workers. These days while focusing on my favorite forms of self-care I realized that baking was one of the ways I took care of myself. Not that eating a whole bunch of cookies is particularly healthy, but I relished the process more so than the finished product. So when I got an invite to the annual Fourth of July party I saw it as an opportunity to reinvigorate this pastime and also provide dessert for everyone.

With July 4th falling in the middle of the week I knew I wouldn’t have time to make anything complicated, so I chose two old, previously posted recipes that I knew would be delicious. Also, I figured there was some leeway in both of them for me to experiment a little. I love the creativity that baking allows me – within reason, of course! So in the berry buttermilk pound cake I used a mix of red raspberries, golden raspberries, and blueberries. The grocery store that I visited in a panic the morning of July 4th had only one package of red raspberries left so I improvised with other fruit. I also added more buttermilk than the original recipe called for – probably an extra 2 Tbsp. The end result was an amazing pound cake that I ate way too many slices of. My second cake was a blueberry upside down cake that I’d made for a Memorial Day get-together a number of years ago. This time I used 1/2 c brown sugar, 1/3 c white sugar, an extra 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and an extra 2 Tbsp buttermilk. I am so glad I made those changes because the cake was absolutely incredible! It was rich, flavorful, and tasted like blueberry cobbler. It’s the perfect summer dessert and everyone at the party loved it.

So will I keep up with my baking as a regular form of self-care? Well, as I mentioned, it’s not exactly the most healthy pastime, but I foresee myself mixing up some sweet treats more often during the second half of 2018. Especially in the fall when Gator football returns! I certainly need to remember that it’s a therapeutic activity that I can easily perform at a moments notice in the comfort of my own home. That is very comforting.

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.