2016 Resolution #4 revisited

“I’ve already put all of the September through December training runs on my wall calendar at work so I have some idea of what I’m facing. Even though I don’t even have to start for more than four months, I’m still scared. Am I completely crazy for signing up for a marathon? Time will tell, I guess. If I’m lucky I’ll be a marathoner on my 38th birthday!”
4/22/16 webpage post

Remember how I resolved to train for a marathon in 2016? Well, as of this weekend I have completed nine weeks of the Hal Higdon Novice 1 Program! That means I’m officially halfway through my training. How crazy is that? That also means that there are less than nine weeks until my marathon in January. Yikes! I’m hanging in there so far, though. Surprisingly, I haven’t missed any of those runs that I diligently wrote on my calendar back in April. I may have flexed the schedule a bit to accommodate a couple of races (like the Avengers 5K this Friday morning) and other activities (like gym classes and movie nights), but my total mileage since Labor Day is actually higher than the training plan calls for. Not bad! That’s why I was so happy about being able to complete my 10 mile run yesterday while I was in Arkansas. I was a little worried about getting off track while I was out of town, but thanks to my understanding family I’m exactly where I need to be halfway through my marathon training. Not that I haven’t had a few struggles so far, but I’ll write more about that in another post. This weekend is going to be a little crazy with the Avengers race weekend at Disneyland, especially since I couldn’t stop myself for registering for all three races (5K, 10K, and half marathon). It’s a good thing I caught up on sleep while I was in Arkansas!

Fall television

“I’ve been under a lot of pressure at work lately and watching TV when I get home each evening helps me unwind. Unfortunately it also keeps me from getting an optimal number of chores done around the house, but it’s a small price to pay for stress relief.”
11/17/15 webpage post

It’s no secret that I love television. (Over just the past year I’ve written posts about X-Files, MST:3K, Doctor Who, and Once Upon A Time. It’s enough to make me think I need to pick up another hobby.) But after the spring finales of my favorite shows earlier this year I didn’t have much to watch. That turned out to be a good thing. I was running several times a week and going to the gym just as often so there wasn’t a lot of time left over for zoning out in front of the TV. In the evenings I often turned on episodes of the Simpsons on FXX, but even then I was busy doing other things around the house at the same time. There was very little parking myself on the couch and focusing all of my attention on some show or another. And it was a great summer because of that. I just didn’t know what was going to happen when the fall premieres rolled around. At first I was determined to reduce the number of shows that I record and watch every week. Without a new season of Doctor Who until next spring (except the Christmas special which I am anxiously awaiting), I have very few must-watch programs. In fact, Once Upon A Time is just about the only one. Weeknights always seem so short so it’s nice to not feel like I don’t have any more demands on my time and energy. So my first thought as the fall season started was to stop recording all of the CW DC Comics shows – all four of them! It’s not like I’m all that invested in any of the story lines, and freeing up four hours per week was a nice bonus. Too bad I never followed through. So far I’ve been saving the new episodes of Flash, Arrow, Supergirl (I’m still catching up on season 1 on Netflix), and Legends of Tomorrow for weekend viewing. They are the perfect entertainment while I’m recuperating from a long run, like the Long Beach half marathon last weekend or Surf City 10 this morning. I was fooling myself if I thought I could easily abandon anything superhero-related. I’d like to respectfully request that none of the networks launch any new shows in that genre any time soon. I know it’s wishful thinking given the popularity these days, but I don’t need to watch any more TV than I already do!

Slowly improving

“There have definitely been a lot of obstacles so far! What’s next? Hopefully nothing serious! I’ve registered for way too many races already this year and I don’t want to miss any of them!”
3/27/15 webpage post

One year later and I’m in almost exactly the same situation. Not only am I recovering from another injury, but I’ve also signed up for far too many races again. I’ll never learn, huh? Luckily things are starting to look up. Last night I ran four miles with no pain! It’s a miracle! I was so nervous when I started running, but when I finished the first full mile without hurting I celebrated a little. I was on the Seal Beach Pier at the time so I probably looked pretty silly to everyone who was taking a leisurely walk at the time, but I was too happy to care. My leg was really stiff while I was running, but I made it four miles without feeling that sharp pain that stopped me in my tracks during the Princess 10K in Orlando. Not that I broke any speed records. Besides protecting my leg from potential aggravation, let’s remember that I hadn’t run in almost a month so I was seriously out of shape. But the huffing and puffing and the slow pace didn’t bother me one bit since I wasn’t in any pain. I am experiencing a good deal of soreness today, in the area of my leg injury and other spots too, but that’s to be expected after my hiatus. Despite the improvement, I still went to the orthopedist today to make sure I don’t have a more serious problem than a pulled muscle or whatever. The physician’s assistant agreed that I just have some inflamed tendons in my hip, so that was good news. But when she called the doctor in for a second opinion he warned me that it might be a stress fracture in my pelvic region. It’s unlikely, but he wants me to get back into running slowly just to make sure. This means no San Diego Half Marathon this weekend. Oh well. I’m not all that disappointed because I can simply do the 5K instead. It’s a long way to go for a 5K, but there’s No way am I going to push myself too hard and risk being too injured to participate in some races later this spring. The doctor said that if my leg doesn’t continue to improve or if it starts hurting again I’ll have go back for an x-ray. I’m confident that I’ll be fine, but the only way to find out is to run some more. I’m on it!

Surf City half marathon 2016

“I felt like such a fraud collecting my medal after crossing the finish line because it took me significantly over 3 hours to complete that half marathon. Pathetic!”
2/2/15 webpage post

I was so excited to run the Surf City half marathon again, but this time without an injury. This race last year was by far my slowest half marathon and the least enjoyable one I’ve ever run. Luckily after a month of rest things started to improve. My IT band still bugs me occasionally, but not enough to prevent me from running. Thank goodness! So the 2016 Surf City half marathon was my chance for redemption. Despite two great half marathons in January, today didn’t go quite the way I hoped. It started out well, though. Last year I discovered that parking for this race can be a fiasco so I tried a different strategy this time around. I arrived earlier and parked in a more remote lot, right next to a shuttle stop. Stress free parking! The problems started when I walked over to catch the shuttle. At some point between my car and the bus I dropped my timing chip that was supposed to be attached to my shoe. I was going to put it in its proper place after I adjusted my laces at the start line, but the timing chip made a bid for freedom before then. This was problematic for a number of reasons. Not only would I not get an official finish time, but I wouldn’t get credit for completing the race at all. This wouldn’t be a big deal if not for the Beach Cities Challenge (Surf City + Orange County + Long Beach). I haven’t decided whether I want to run all three of the races this year, but my initial thought is that I want to try. (The OC half is the only one that’s really up in the air right now because I already have two other half marathons in May. I’m still considering whether I’m crazy enough to add a third.) But if I want a chance to earn the new sand dollar Beach Cities Challenge medal I need to get credit for the Surf City half marathon. But that was a situation I would address after crossing the finish line.

The next problem of the day was the weather. We’re having a little heat wave in Los Angeles right now. It’s not nearly as bad as the scorching summer that was had last year, but warm and sunny are not the ideal conditions for long distance running. And the fact that the half marathon didn’t start until almost 8 AM didn’t help. Despite a little bit of a cool breeze off the Pacific, the whole race was really uncomfortable. After the first two miles I was rethinking my wardrobe. Shorts and a tank top would have been a better choice than the capris and short-sleeve shirt that I chose. I’m not sure if these unfavorable circumstances themselves caused my poor performance today or whether it was a combination of factors, but I was exhausted by the second mile. My body just didn’t cooperate today so there was a lot of walking involved in this “run.” I was so glad to make it to the finish line! It wasn’t my slowest half marathon, but it was close. Luckily my only goal for the race was to finish it, so in that sense I was completely successful. (The focus of 2016 is going to be distance rather than speed. This will become apparent when I start marathon training in the fall.) After collecting my medal (which is gigantic this year for the 20th anniversary) I headed over to the expo tents to figure out what to do about my errant timing chip. I ended up telling my admittedly ridiculous story to a race administrator who then took down all of my information for further review. Hopefully she will be able to verify that I did indeed complete the race today so I can get credit for it. That would make all of the discomfort worthwhile. Beach Cities Challenge 2016, here I come! Hopefully.

X-Files is back!

“Pretty much anything in the X-Files universe is fine by me. And besides just crossing all of my fingers and toes to help this effort, I wrote a tweet with the #XFiles2015 hashtag tonight. New X-Files must happen!”
1/25/15 webpage post

One year ago today I posted the following on Twitter – “#XFiles2015 must happen!!!” It was such an exciting prospect that one of my all-time favorite television shows might be back on the air and I wanted to do everything I could to help make it happen. (Granted, I didn’t quite go to the extreme of contribute to a Kickstarter like I did for Mystery Science Theater 3000, but at the time tweeting was all I really could do.) And somehow, with an enormous wave of popular support that started from a single podcast, Fox decided to make all of our nerdiest dreams come true. Mulder and Scully were coming back to the small screen! Rejoice! It’s just for six episodes, more like a mini-series, but I’ll take what I can get. Finally, after waiting for what seemed like an eternity, the premiere of this monumental event aired last night. Due to my own craziness, I DVRed it while I was out running and didn’t get to watch it before I went to bed. Much to my despair, I had read some unfavorable reviews of the first episode, and some of my co-workers weren’t all that fond of it either. But I watched it when I got home from work tonight and I thought it was awesome! I’m not sure what all the complaining was about. I’m a big fan already and I can’t wait to see more!

Beach Cities Challenge 2015

“So I missed out on getting a Long Beach race medal this year, but I’m not really all that upset about it. I’m already planning to do the Beach Cities Challenge next year, which means three half marathons in 2015 – Huntington Beach in February, Orange County in May, and Long Beach in October. It might take a bit longer, but I’ll get that medal eventually!
10/17/14 webpage post

So I got my Beach Cities Challenge medal in October, but I must admit that I didn’t really earn it. In February I was injured for the Surf City half marathon so it was a miserable experience. I did complete the race, but I was slow and in a lot of pain. I walked the last 5 miles due to my knee problems, which was really frustrating. Luckily after a couple of months of recuperation I was able to get back to running regularly again. However, when the OC half marathon rolled around in May I just wasn’t ready for it (and I didn’t want to overdo it before the Tinkerbell half marathon a week later – priorities!), so one of my co-workers ran it with my bib. He finished it a full hour faster than I would have! I felt a little guilty taking credit for a race that I didn’t run, but the registration would have gone to waste otherwise. I swear that I’ll cross the finish line legitimately one of these years (2016 is still up in the air), but for the sake of the Beach Cities Challenge I checked the box for 2015.

The Long Beach half marathon is the only one of the three races that I really ran this year. I was finally healthy and back in some semblance of shape, but that weekend in October was so hot that it wasn’t pleasant. The half marathon was scheduled to start at 7:30 AM, but the weather forecast was so bleak that the participants were given the option of starting at 6 AM with the full marathoners. That was really helpful because we were able to get quite a few miles behind us before the sun really started beating down. Actually, I felt pretty good until about the halfway point. But about three miles in the middle of the course are on a beach path with absolutely no shade, so that’s where the heat really started taking its toll. Before then I was maintaining a decent pace, but I slowed down significantly after mile 7. Believe it or not, I finished the race with a respectable time (for me), so I can only imagine how much better it would have been in cooler weather. If I can fit next year’s race into my marathon training plan (yikes!) I might try it again to see if I can improve on my performance. After the half marathon was complete I collected my Beach Cities Challenge medal. It’s hanging in my cubical at work, along with all my other 2015 race medals, partially for bragging rights, and partially as a reminder that I want 2016 to be different. I probably won’t complete the Beach Cities Challenge in 2016 (skipping the OC half marathon seems likely), but some other year I’ll earn it without cutting any corners.

Love Actually

It’s no secret that I love Christmas movies. While putting up my Christmas tree (and all of the rest of my holiday decorations – more on that another time) after Thanksgiving I watched “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Meet Me in St. Louis” (a movie for all seasons, but works for Christmas), and “White Christmas.” All excellent choices. Along with all of the old classics, there’s a slightly more contemporary movie that everyone seems to love this time of year – “Love Actually.” It shows up on my list of recommended movies every time I open up Netflix to binge watch old episodes of “Once Upon A Time,” “X-Files,” or “Call the Midwife.” (Eclectic, right? I’m nothing if not multi-faceted!) “Love Actually” used to be one of my favorites too, but due to certain parallels with my own life I just can’t watch it any more. Back in 2010 my ex-husband had an affair. Back then I alluded to difficult times in my webpage posts, but I never said anything concrete about it to avoid completely publicizing my personal struggles. Even now I won’t go into details because it wouldn’t be constructive, but it was an event that changed me forever. More than five years have passed since then, but I still can’t handle the cheating storyline in “Love Actually.” Watching Emma Thompson cry silently to the tune of “Both Sides Now” makes my heart ache like it did back in 2010 when I was hurting more than I ever though possible. Even as the memories are getting dimmer with time, I still don’t like reliving those miserable days. So for the sake of my own sanity I stick to happier holiday fare like “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Muppet’s Christmas Carol,” and “A Christmas Story.” Revisiting the past usually isn’t beneficial, but sometimes it helps to look back and see how far I’ve come since that dark time. These days life is good, and this year Christmas is going to be amazing!

“I have to consider how to best make myself happy and also give myself the best chance of a positive outcome in the future. So bear with me because one way or another my life is going to completely change in 2010. It’s hard to imagine now, but the thought of laughing and smiling sincerely is what’s keeping me going. I have to believe that something better is waiting for me out there. What it is I have no idea, but just knowing about it existence is comforting. I know I’ll get there eventually and that’s a good thought.”
05/01/10 webpage post

Cincinnati style chili (2015 chili cook-off recipe)

“Between the chili cook-off and doing some actual work, I was exhausted when I left in the afternoon! But it was worth it to see all of my co-workers so happy. Sometimes it feels like we don’t get enough recognition for all of the amazing things we do, so something as simple as a chili cook-off really lifts our spirits.”
11/01/14 webpage post

On Friday we had our annual chili cook-off at work. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. Good food, happy co-workers, and Halloween decorations. What could be better? It’s always so much fun. I think I said it best last year when I mentioned that we don’t feel like we get a lot of credit for all of our accomplishments. We really need morale events like the yearly chili cook-off to keep from burning out. It doesn’t cost our program anything and everyone loves it. The participants are always so grateful that we have it, and it’s a fantastic way to celebrate Halloween at work. This year I did something a little bit different with my cook-off entry and made it inspired by of Cincinnati chili. Usually Cincinnati chili is served over spaghetti, but I skipped that part because it didn’t really make sense for a buffet-style meal (or for folks cutting carbs). Instead I simply threw in some of the typical Cincinnati chili spices – cinnamon, allspice, and cocoa powder. It was delicious! I had to make a couple of batches to get the amounts of all the spices just right, but I think this recipe is a winner. I didn’t win the chili cook-off (that honor always goes to one of the spicier chilis), but I still loved the unique flavor. It’s just different enough from my traditional chili for me to call this a new recipe!

INGREDIENTS:
1 1/2 lb lean ground beef (preferably grass-fed)
1 medium sweet onion, diced
1 medium bell pepper, 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
1 can (15 oz) reduced sodium black beans, drained and rinsed (optional)
1 can (15 oz) reduced sodium red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (optional)

DIRECTIONS:
In a small bowl, combine the spices (chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, allspice, cinnamon, salt, garlic powder, and black pepper) and cocoa powder and set aside. This will save you time and trouble later. In a large pot (I use my aptly-named 5 qt chili pot that I love) cook the ground beef, onion, and bell pepper until the meat is no longer pink. 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, and tomato sauce and stir to combine. If you are adding beans you can throw them in now too. (I left the beans out of my chili cook-off batch so you can skip them if you want.) 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 at least an hour, stirring about every 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Based on Half Baked Harvest’s Healthier One Pot Cincinnati Chicken Chili.

July 4th 2015

“After the races (yes there were several) were over Sarah and I stayed for the parade. Boeing had a float in the procession and we just wanted to see it before we left. The parade started at 10 AM. The sun came out. Two and half hours later the Boeing float lumbered towards us. By that time our rear ends were screaming at us, the sun had burned our exposed skin (even after we applied sunscreen that one woman was kind enough to give us), and at least half of the parade viewers had left. The float was pretty impressive but it was unfortunate for both us and them considering that it was the 315th entry.”
7/4/00 webpage post

Fifteen years ago I participated in the Huntington Beach July 4th 5K for the first time. I was years away from becoming a runner, but my roommate talked me into it. I walked it while she ran, and then we stayed for the parade where we got sunburned. Oops! Luckily by 2015 I was slightly more prepared for the event. There are actually two 5Ks in Huntington Beach every July 4th – one for HB residents and one that’s open to anyone an hour later. I was registered for the open 5K that started at 8 AM. However, in order to increase my weekend mileage I decided to run both races. I realize this is frowned upon in the running community, but I didn’t feel too guilty because the July 4th 5Ks don’t give out finisher medals so the only thing I really got for free was an extra bottle of water. Funny enough, the whole thing was actually free because Boeing was a sponsor so I didn’t have to pay an entry fee at all. Bonus! It was warmer than I would have liked that morning, but at least it was cloudy. Summer hadn’t quite set in yet, but it was close. (And as of mid-October the end date is still to be determined. Ugh.) I enjoyed both of the 5Ks even though I wasn’t exactly speedy in either one. It felt good to get 6.2 miles of running done before 9 AM! On my way home I grabbed a late breakfast at McDonald’s to celebrate as part of my usual post-race ritual. I was invited to a Fourth of July party at a friend’s house that evening and I had promised to bring food. Luckily I had taken advantage of having July 3rd off from work and did all of the cooking and baking then. I was tired after the 5Ks so I actually took a nap! Gotta love holidays. The party was a lot of fun that evening. I took a Crockpot full of chili and two kinds of pound cake with me to share. I spent a lot of time chasing kids around and also being chased around by them as well. At one point I was a Wicked Queen and got locked in a dungeon as punishment. It was a blast. Before the night was over we set off a bunch of fireworks in the driveway, much to the delight of the kids. It was classic ending to a lovely Fourth of July celebration.

Foodie Friday – Chocolate chip cookies #37 revisited

When we were in Alaska in August my family and I stayed at Tonglen Lake Lodge. It’s a beautiful spot that’s fairly close to the entrance to Denali National Park. Since there is no place to get food inside the park we got a lot of our lunches to go from the lodge’s café. This is when I discovered their absolutely amazing chocolate chip cookies. They were rich and flavorful with crispy edges and chewy middles. I couldn’t believe how delicious they were. Of course I was a bit jealous because I’ve been working on my chocolate chip cookie recipe for several years now and I haven’t made anything quite that good yet. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made some great cookies, but after tasting those chocolate chip cookies in Alaska I realized there was still progress to be made. One morning I asked the baker what her secret was. I didn’t know how much she would want to divulge, but I figured I had to ask. Luckily she was very forthcoming. I didn’t get an exact recipe, but she gave me a lot of tips. In my defense, I’ve already tried a lot of things that she told me. Lots of butter, of course (although I’ve made really tasty cookies with olive oil or coconut oil instead), a mix of white and brown sugar, and a combination of chocolate chips. On top of that I garnered two additional important tips – 1) omit the vanilla extract, and 2) add molasses. The funny thing is, I actually made molasses chocolate chip cookies back in 2013 (recipe #37), but the result wasn’t anything special.

“The original recipe called for white sugar in the cookie dough, but I figured the molasses flavor would be much more pronounced if I used brown sugar instead. Just call me a chocolate chip cookie rebel! But I was right. The molasses flavor was definitely pronounced with this substitution. That’s probably why the original recipe used white sugar. Don’t get me wrong, I liked these cookies, but the molasses was just a tiny bit too strong for me.”
11/29/13 webpage post

A few weeks ago while watching a Florida football game I decided to revisit molasses chocolate chip cookies to see if I could replicate the cookies I loved so much in Alaska. I started with the same base recipe – Framed Cooks’ Molasses Chocolate Chunk Cookies – but made a few changes. First of all, I used white sugar instead of brown. This made the cookies a little lighter and dialed down the molasses flavor a bit. Second, I left out the vanilla extract. As much as I love vanilla, it might not work in this recipe. And last, I used just 2 Tbsp of molasses in a small batch of cookies (an 8×8″ pan). The goal was to have the molasses enhance the cookies without overwhelming them. And I think it worked. These cookies definitely tasted a lot like the ones I had Alaska (and my co-workers gobbled them us, as usual), but there was something missing. I think it’s the texture. I am planning to try this recipe again, maybe which watching football this weekend, but make drop cookies instead of bars. The crispy edges of the cookies might be the key to their deliciousness. It means more work for me, but hopefully the payoff will be worth it!