Day off for a cause

Today was only my second day off since February 5th. Work has just been crazy, and even with wrapping up a major event yesterday, my list of obligations doesn’t seem to be getting shorter anytime soon. So how was I able to manage being out of the office on a Friday when I’m obviously swamped? Well, it was for a very good reason. Today was basically my only chance to complete my necessary 20-mile run in preparation for the LA Marathon as dictated by my training plan. Ideally I would have waited until tomorrow or Sunday for my last long run before the marathon, but being in Las Vegas for the Hot Chocolate 15K this weekend complicated things. So my running buddy and I decided to take some time off from work in order to run this morning. I’ll write more about that in another post. If I’m honest, I should have gone to work for at least a little while this afternoon, but that didn’t happen. Instead I spent my extra free time doing a things around the house and relaxing more than I have in weeks. It was lovely. But right now I’m exhausted and I need to finish getting ready to go out of town tomorrow morning. I’ll try to write something more substantial while I’m in Vegas!

What weekend?

My last day off of work was February 11th, the day I went to Disneyland to see the Main Street Electrical Parade (which I wrote about last week). Starting last Sunday I worked night shifts for five days, and then put in as many hours as possible in the office over the weekend. That kind of schedule doesn’t make for much of a social life, but sometimes it is necessary.

On Friday morning I blearily stumbled out of work at 6 AM. There was a major winter storm bearing down on Los Angeles that day, but it hadn’t arrived yet. I was lucky to get home before the crazy wind and rain hit Orange County. I fell asleep around 9 AM and slept through a lot of it, but I had to get up around 2 PM to get ready for an appointment with my sports chiropractor. It was still storming when I had to leave the house and an umbrella wasn’t the least bit effective in such severe weather. I threw on my raincoat, but still got soaked by the time I got to the chiropractor’s office. The reason I was there was to get some relief from my knee pain before starting my highest mileage week of LA Marathon training. My chiropractor does great work, but it always hurt like crazy during the treatment. He always leaves bruises behind! It’s worth it for the great results, though. After I got home again I knew I needed to get ready and go to work, but I stalled because of the terrible weather that I wasn’t willing to face again quite yet. I even resorted to filing my taxes to have an excuse to stay home a little longer! (The good news is that I got a decent refund.) Eventually I made it to work for a few hours to make sure everything was set for the tests I planned to run over the weekend.

On Saturday I woke up late because my body still hadn’t readjusted to a normal schedule (i.e., being awake during daylight hours) after a week of night shifts. I dragged myself to work for eight hours, and only got home in time to wash a load of laundry before bedtime (workout clothes, of course). Sunday was slightly more interesting because I didn’t go to work first thing due to some computer maintenance that was happening in the morning. It was the perfect time to get together with my running buddies and complete a 14-mile LA Marathon training run. We ran on a path in Brea which was very pretty, but our pace was much slower than usual. We also got rained on for a while in the middle. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience, but luckily, thanks to the slower pace, I still felt good when we were done. The downside is that we weren’t done until a lot later than I expected. I drove home, ate lunch, showered, and rushed to work as fast as I could, but I didn’t get there until 2 PM. After seven hours there I managed to escape. Since it was already 9 PM all I accomplished after that was getting ready for work the next day. And thus a busy, but not very entertaining weekend came to an end. Hopefully I’ll have something more interesting to write about after this coming weekend.

Blog excuses

Try as I might, the regularity of my webpage updates has suffered lately. There are multiple reasons for the reduction in frequency, just like my excuses for not getting back to the gym sooner that I wrote about in my last post. I miss writing every day, but it just hasn’t been possible. The bottom line is that all of my waking hours have been consumed with one of the three activities below for the last week or so. I haven’t really had any free time in nine days, and I don’t really expect that to change until the upcoming weekend when I head to Las Vegas for the Hot Chocolate 15K with my running buddies.

1) Work
Last Sunday night I started my first of five night shifts at work. It was rough. Working from 10 PM to 7 AM takes its toll on you, especially when sleeping soundly during the day is challenging. My body just didn’t want to stay asleep when it was warmer than usual in my bedroom and sunlight was pouring through the cracks in my blinds. I did get paid a little extra for working such odd hours, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the upheaval in my daily routine. Even after my night shifts were over I still had to work both days this weekend. Not the best way to spend my days of rest, but my overwhelming workload demanded it. I can’t wait to have next weekend off!

2) Running
Luckily my crazy work schedule still allowed me to complete my weekday runs and attend my usual boot camp classes in the evenings before I went to work. I got my Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays training runs done without too much trouble. The above photo was taken during my 9-mile run at Bolsa Chica State Beach last Wednesday which I was able to start at 5 PM (something that’s not possible on most regular work days). The picture doesn’t do it justice, but I got to see a beautiful sunset as I was running along the Pacific Ocean. You just can’t beat that. I also ran 14 miles with my running buddies this past Sunday morning. Some computer maintenance at work that morning gave me the perfect excuse to get another marathon training run done. I can’t believe the LA Marathon is in less than four weeks!

3) Sleep (or not)
At the end of each of my night shifts last week I was completely exhausted. It was all I could do to throw on some pajamas and crawl into bed when I got home. Falling asleep wasn’t my problem at all, but staying asleep was another story. Even though I wasn’t able to get enough hours of slumber in between work shifts I still spent a fair amount of time in bed either trying to go back sleep or lying there staring at my iPad when sleep was elusive. It was kinda nice to lounge in my lovely flannel sheets before getting up and facing the day, but I’d have much rather have worked and slept on a normal schedule. And speaking of a normal schedule, I’ve stayed up way too late tonight writing this post. At this rate I won’t get enough sleep to face a day shift (you know, that thing I was longing for last week?) at work tomorrow. Good night!

Gym excuses

Three night shifts done with the fourth starting soon. I’m starting to get into the groove of this schedule – just in time for it to be over after tomorrow night. While I’m waiting to go in to work tonight I’ll start catching up on some of the backlog of blog topics that I’ve been intending to write about for a while.

I didn’t get back to the gym after the Disney World Marathon until last Monday, 2/6. That was a hiatus of more than a month. I intended to go back a lot sooner, but there were some extenuating circumstances. Illness and injury kept me sidelined for a while after I got back from Orlando, and I only seriously considered going to boot camp on Friday, 2/3. However, it didn’t happen on that particular day for a couple of reasons.

1) Cubicle move…again
My work group was slated to move our offices to a different area at the end of the day so all of our belongings, including our computers, had to be boxed up and ready for the movers by 5 PM. Since I started working on my program in 2005 I have moved my cubicle so many times that I’ve lost count of the actual number. It’s somewhere on the order of 6 or 7 – enough to make you wonder whether unpacking is even worth it. So on top of having a lot of work to do that Friday, I also had to pack up all of my personal items and disconnect all of my computers (I have more than one in my cubicle) before leaving for the day. It was a messy and time-consuming endeavor. The office move preparation was complicated by the fact that I had to leave early that day for a doctor’s appointment at 3:30 PM.

2) Doctor’s appointment
If you read my blog then you’re familiar with the foot and knee injuries I sustained during the Disney World Marathon. Luckily the foot problems disappeared shortly after I got back from Orlando and never reappeared, but The knee pain lingered a bit longer. Every time I went running my knee would hurt for about 24 hours afterwards, especially when I was going up or down stairs. This made me wonder if there was something more serious going on. So just in case I made an appointment with the physician’s assistant that I saw the first two times I had running-related afflictions. The last thing I wanted was to continue running through the pain (which was admittedly mild compared to previous ailments) and cause permanent damage. I was late to my appointment due to the cubicle move at work, but that annoyance was forgotten because I got good news from the PA. I was very happy when she told me that my symptoms are simply due to IT band tightness and nothing serious. Phew! Nothing some stretching and visits to the sports chiropractor can’t fix!

After this ordeal last Friday I did make it back to the gym on Monday, 2/3. I’m so happy to be back to my regular workout routine so I hope I can keep it up. No more excuses (or injuries, hopefully)!

A fortune for the ages

I was at work for 11 hours today supporting an important event. Catered meals are one of the only enjoyable aspects about these kinds of activities and today we had a variety of options from Pick Up Stix for lunch. The food was pretty tasty, and we ended our meal with the usual fortune cookies. My co-workers each opened theirs and read the fortunes to the group. Most were encouraging but vague phrases about something like friends or trusting your instincts – exactly what you’d expect from mass-produced products meant to satisfy a wide variety of consumers. I was anticipating something similar from my fortune as I cracked open the cookie and pulled out the tiny slip of paper inside, but when I read what was written on it I was completely taken aback. It said, “Your judgement [sic] is a little off at this time. Rely on friends.” WTF? Did I just get insulted by a fortune cookie? Luckily I was in a positive state of mind so my first reaction was amusement. I found it so hilarious that I could barely compose myself enough to share it with my co-workers. They were all flabbergasted as well! Who in their right mind thought to put such a pessimistic statement into a fortune cookie? At least we all got a good laugh out of it, which was very therapeutic after our trying day at work. So maybe it wasn’t such a bad choice after all!

P.S. I decided to highlight my dubious judgment by photographing the fortune in question surrounded by my still not put away Christmas decorations. As you can see, Santa Yoda doubts my judgment too.

Potluck Day 2016

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

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

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

It was supposed to be a quiet day

Today was supposed to be a quiet day. I had originally planned to get up early and go running before work to get some of my weekly miles out of the way, but it was still raining when my alarm went off this morning. A lovely and much-needed rain storm swept through Los Angeles overnight and it hadn’t quite cleared out by 5 AM. A pre-dawn run in the rain was definitely not going to happen so I went back to sleep for another glorious hour. I had my annual health screening at 7:30 AM, but I didn’t give myself quite enough time to find the right location (a conference room in a different building) after I arrived at work. I was a bit late and slightly sweaty when I got there. It was the wrong day to wear a fleece jacket! Luckily all of the numbers from my blood work turned out really well. Who’d have thought diet and exercise were good for your health? Ha ha! At least I got my screening done for the year. One less thing to worry about in 2016! It was my last day of work before the Thanksgiving holiday and I was expecting light attendance at the office. And it was indeed lighter than usual for a typical Monday, but that didn’t mean things didn’t go awry. On a whim I dialed into a meeting at 11 AM only to discover that our schedule for January and February was being completely reworked and one of my events was being moved up three weeks! No one had even invited me to the conversation (the meeting itinerary didn’t include this topic) and I’m getting three fewer weeks to prepare for an activity that I’m responsible for. What the heck? It doesn’t help that I essentially have four different high-profile events in the first two months of 2017. Doesn’t that sound like fun? It took the rest of the day, but by the time I left work at 5 PM we had settled on a new scope and lower expectations for the revised schedule that would be easier to meet. I’m still not happy about it, but I think it’s at least doable. After all that craziness I drove home and started packing for my trip to Tallahassee for Thanksgiving tomorrow. Nothing like waiting until the last minute! I also ran four miles tonight so that I don’t have to worry about getting no exercise tomorrow due to sitting in airports and on planes all day. Hopefully I’ll have time to write something more substantial that this short little post. Unfortunately I need to finish packing and go to bed right now because I have to drive to LAX way too early tomorrow morning. Happy Monday before Thanksgiving, everyone!

Halloween recipe variations

On Monday we had our 5th annual chili cook-off at work. It’s a Halloween tradition! It’s also one of my favorite days of the year (maybe second to the annual holiday potluck) and I’m happy to say that even though it was a lot of work it turned out really well. Due to being on the Nutrisystem diet since Labor Day I didn’t get a chance to make any test batches of chili before the cook-off. What a shame! So on Sunday night I simply combined a couple of my favorite old recipes, crossed my fingers, and hoped for a decent outcome. I figured mixing and matching successful recipes couldn’t go wrong! In order to please several non-carnivores at work I promised to make something that was vegetarian friendly. I started with my vegetarian chili recipe, but substituted the spices from my Cincinnati style chili that I made for last year’s cook-off. To my surprise it was absolutely delicious, and actually came in fourth place out of 16 chilis in the popular vote. So in the spirit of Halloween, making a Frankenstein’s monster-style unholy mashup using pieces from different chili recipes can result in something better than the sum of its parts!

Speaking of unholy mashups, the pumpkin bread I made for the chili cook-off got a similar treatment. I originally planned to make a sheet cake, and I even bought some new Halloween sprinkles to decorate it, but some of my co-workers requested pumpkin bread instead. On the plus side it’s easier to throw together, and I already had a can of pumpkin puree in my cupboard so that’s one less ingredient I had to purchase! But which of my favorite recipes to use? The one I posted in September was the best pumpkin bread I’ve ever tasted, but when I tried something different a couple of weeks later I got even better feedback from the taste testers. What a conundrum! In the end I used the recipe from September (mostly so I could avoid buying buttermilk which I never managed to use all of before it spoils), but with a couple of key changes. First of all, I substituted half of the white sugar for light brown sugar for a richer flavor. But more importantly I used a different spice combination:

2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt

The result was absolutely incredible! Not only did my co-workers gobble it up, but I loved it too. I’ll have to remember that for next year. The moral of today’s story is that experimental cooking can sometimes turn out even better than you could possibly imagine. So be brave and try something new! I am going to try and keep that in mind with the rest of my holiday baking. ‘Tis the season to be bold!

Emergency M&M’s

In February we had some unseasonably warm days. (After a relatively short and mild winter this really annoyed me. Summer is going to be here soon enough without it arriving in February.) On one of these scorching days we were discussing this phenomenon over our cubicle walls at work when I got an instant message from one of the guys who sits across the aisle from me. It went like something like this:

Him: I just remembered I have a bag of M&Ms in my car!
Me: Ha ha ha ha!
Him: I put it in my center console during the winter for emergencies.

Maybe I’m uninformed on the latest in snack trends, but I’d never heard of emergency M&M’s before! I laughed so hard after this conversation. He was so worried that the peanut M&M’s in his car had melted into a puddle of chocolate, nuts, and pieces of candy shell. He ran to his car shortly after expressing his concern and was happy to discover that the individual M&M’s were still intact. Crisis averted! So when I opened my Sunday paper and I saw an ad for these to-go containers of M&M’s (see above photo) I just had to share it with him. They seemed a timely and well-suited solution to his mobile winter sustenance situation. If you’re going to leave M&M’s in your car “for emergencies,” they might as well be in a decent container!

Traveling to DC

I made a mistake this morning. Considering all of the difficulty on the East Coast due to the blizzard last weekend I should have checked my flight status before I left for the airport, but I didn’t. As soon as I parked my car and caught the shuttle to the airport I found an email in my inbox informing me that my flight to DC was delayed – by two and a half hours! I thought I was running late while getting ready to go to the airport this morning, and I was actually a little worried about not being able to grab anything for breakfast before getting on the plane. Little did I know I could have stopped for a leisurely morning meal on the way! As it was, I got to sit down and have a nice egg sandwich after going through security, and then I had enough time leftover to wander around the United terminals for over an hour. It was boring, but luckily I had no reason to get to DC by a certain time today. Before takeoff the pilot explained the delay – the plane that was originally assigned to our flight was coming from Hawaii this morning, but it had to divert for some reason and obviously didn’t make it to Los Angeles on schedule. Weird. Funny enough, after everything the region had to deal with this week, the delay had nothing to do with the weather!

I didn’t get as much sleep as I should have last night because I had too many things to check off my to do list before going on my trip. I left work early yesterday so I’d have more time to prepare. My first order of business when I got home was baking the three batches of cookies that I promised my East and West Coast co-workers. I didn’t want to make them earlier in the week because I was afraid they’d dry out and get stale before anyone got to eat them. The cookies I ended up making were slightly different from what I described in my previous post. The “classic” chocolate chip cookies ended up including browned butter, bacon fat, and molasses. And they were amazing! (I sampled quite a few while slicing up the cookies. This is why I limit my baking these days!) I will share that recipe later this week. Of the other two batches of chocolate chip cookies, one had a full pound of cooked and crumbled bacon mixed into the batter, and the second had some reconstituted dried cherries (but no liquor as I originally planned). After the cookies were done I seriously considered skipping my planned 5-mile run because I still needed to finish packing my suitcase and attempt to get to bed at a decent hour. I figured I could hit the treadmill after arriving in DC instead. But then I remembered how much I hate running on the treadmill so I threw on my shoes and went for a run on the sidewalks of Seal Beach instead. There’s a possibility that it will be warm enough for me to run outside while I’m in DC, but more than likely I’ll be stuck on the treadmill in the hotel fitness center instead. It’s not ideal, but there’s no way I’m going to miss any of my training runs this week. The Surf City Half Marathon is next Sunday and I need to be ready! But I digress. I stayed up too late last night getting ready for my trip, but it was worth it. I will sleep well tonight!