31 December 2011

I couldn't end 2011 with a post about the stupid door-to-door Kirby vacuum cleaner salesman...

It's New Year's Eve.

I'm hitting the hard stuff...

 ...and it's only 8 o'clock.

I rarely drink soda...especially not caffeinated soda, so I really am livin' large tonight. 

My husband just left for the party to sing in the New Year. Everyone is to bring a song that will represent their 2012. I told him to pick "I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred. Instead, he chose "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof...but he changed the title to "When I AM a Rich Man" and rewrote the lyrics to reflect what he wants to have in his life. Clever man, he. 

I do kind of wish I were going, but someone has to hold down the fort. So instead I'm sneakily sucking down Dr. Pepper in a dark corner in the kitchen while watching movies with my older three kids. We are having a slumber party in the family room...they are so excited. 

I know they look glazed over...a screen'll do that to a body...
but they really are excited.

Before he left, my husband made stuffed mushrooms as his potluck contribution to the singing party...and he pulled out a Granny's Gadget for their preparation :) Unfortunately, I was not around for the initial usage, but Baby X and I staged a re-enactment for your viewing pleasure...my camera work is not as professional as my husband's...and it was very challenging to ad-lib the narrative and wield the camera and direct the action all at the same time :P

Nonetheless, I give you...



Forgot...it's been a long while so I'm cutting myself some slack...

Had to tack this on...my Granny's Gadgets video policy is 
so no do-over to get the big thumbs up in there at the end.

And on that note...

I am giving this year...this two thousand eleven...this year of super cool happenings and then some...

two big thumbs up :)

Wishing each and every one of you all the wonderment and joy life has to offer in 2012.

The Door-to-Door Vacuum Salesman

The Kirby Sentria

Have you ever heard of a Kirby vacuum cleaner? Of course you have! Your grandma probably had one...or coveted one. Both my mom and my mother-in-law had Kirbys...my mom still has the same one that we got used when I was about 10 years old. 

They are the BEST vacuum cleaners on the face of the planet. On this, there is virtually unanimous agreement. But... is a new Kirby $2500 better than your current one? Sure it can do windows and detail your car and unclog drains, but so can a roll of paper towels and a bottle of windex, the 16-year old car-nut down the street, and a toilet plunger. 

Last night, my husband and I were invaded by the door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. I was going to write a post about our experience, but I found an excellent telling of the exact same story already online. I really wish I had read it yesterday afternoon before the psycho Kirby-bots from Hell rang my doorbell. The only differences between our experience and the one in the linked story are:
  • our incident occurred on a Friday late afternoon around 5 pm.
  • we were treated to a sort of harmlessly dorky and goofily earnest young man in a suit and tie minus the jacket instead of an attractive blonde.
  • he was accompanied by his squat, slick 'boss' instead of a handsome associate.
  • I was instructed to call a number on the flyer to schedule the appointment...which I didn't do and so was completely baffled when they showed up at my door 10 minutes later.
Otherwise, the experiences are identical almost to the letter.

Well, throw in 4 kids who were wanting dinner and a husband who got home from work at the exact same time as the 'presentation' was about to start and really just wanted a shower and a nap and to go to his buddy's poker game. It sucked. Almost as much as that Kirby can.

When they asked for my social security number to be written on a circular filter paper because they 'had no paperwork,' the red flags were whipping me in the face so hard the metal grommets drew blood (figuratively). No business cards. No product brochures. But sign a contract for a $3000 vacuum cleaner.  My husband did finally get pissed and very politely excused them from the premises.

They didn't get the sale.


They did clean the filthiest part of the lovely pink carpet for free! 

That linked story takes you to a website that has other dirt on Kirby sales techniques and recruiting, in addition to some other interesting stuff. You might like to check it out :)

30 December 2011

Jingle Bell Hell 2011 Results... Finally!

Yay for the virtual version of JBH 2011! Yay for the awesome 19 entrants who all submitted a race recap...linked in my sidebar to the right...under the Grinch :)

The virtual turnout made me so happy... and so I've made EVERYONE A WINNER :)

The Grand Prize winner is Run With Jess. Her cemetery run with 18 friends was the event I had hoped to have in real life and totally made me smile! Jess, the following is yours: Lululemon, iTunes, and PFChang gift cards.

The close runner-up is SuperKate whose 25-mile bike race in a Mrs. Claus outfit with Team Santa undies on over her clothes (and the conversation she had with her child about this) had me in stitches!  And the fact that the race's aid stations featured egg nog and x-rated donuts add to the hilarity of the story. Kate noted that nowhere in the rules of JBH did it it say you had to run the event, effectively earning her the moniker Loophole Lady. She gets some reflective Yanks laces, some reflective stickers, and an assortment of fueling products.

Mike's Triathlon Journey was the only male entry. Not sure where all my guy followers were that weekend...oh, right...Mike's the only one :) His saga outlining 9.6 miles of sweaty hat-changing complete with a photo taken at each mile was prize-worthy, mostly because he was the only guy. He takes home reflective Yanks, a vanilla Hammer gel, and some reflective stickers. And Mike, thanks so much for participating. I know the estrogen level over here gets a little overwhelming sometimes and my hat is off to you for toughing it out ;-)

Laurie wins the crazy pregnant lady prizeThe (Mis)Adventures of a Jogging Stroller Mom ran a 50K trail race while 16+ weeks pregnant! (yes, she had her doctor's approval for this) What I think she really needs is a 'Comfort Pack'... which would, of course, include thigh-high compression hose!

While those four really made me stand up and take notice, all the recaps were a ton of fun to read. And I have a bunch of parting gifts ranging from Gu products, Hammer products, Nuun, warm accessories, safety items, and more to divvy up amongst you JBHers, so if you want some goodies please do let me know...either in a comment or via email :)  

A Taller Order gets a special mention for running with Santa alternately down her pants or in her cleavage :) after a long, hard day dealing with a gaggle of kids.

From Couch to Ironwoman ran her fastest ever 10K during her 8.7 mile run with hills, hills and more hills!

TriMOEngr created a little movie and posted an awesome, leaping high-10 photo :)

The fact that she lives near where I went to college was a plus, and that she swam 1000 yards after her JBH made me sit up and really take notice of The Unexpected Runner. I remember running in December in that region!

MCM Mama ran fueled by red wine and Belgian beer :P

Cows and Lasers and Everything in Between realized in the middle of her Rudolph Run 5K that it was, in fact, HER Jingle Bell He**. She wanted to cry but laughed instead because crying made it harder to breathe. And she made it...finishing not too far off her PR :)

Just Keep Running drove herself and her friends insane with 6 flat loops to equal 5K, even including pics of the incredible monotony.

Jess and Harmony earned my pity. They had to listen to jingle bells on the shoe of a fiend friend for 10 miles!

Just Me and the Ones that I Love was the only participant who ran in the SNOW! For 10 miles + hills! I have a 'something warm' prize for you :)

Stepping Out went out and crushed her 5K.

Jill...fitness health and happiness endured 29ºF with hilly biz.  And was photograped by her as proof :)

Diary of an Average Runner braved muddy trails...which she hates :D

Family Fitness Food incorporated some long, steep stairs repeats into her run along the beach in beautiful SoCal.

My Continuing Quest for Sanity was chased by dogs and freaked out by a horse while obliviously enjoying her Christmas music.

From the write-ups, it sounded like everyone really enjoyed having this little "push" out the door during that weekend. I love how everyone turned a rough situation into something they (kind of) really wanted to do and had fun with to some extent :P 


Or were you all lying?

And if I somehow missed your recap, it was completely inadvertent. Do let me know so I can bestow goodies upon you and lavish you with attention :)

So now that all of you are winners, please let me know by email [xlmic(dot)tio(at)gmail(dot)com] where you want your prize to go.

Happy 2012 to all! Thanks so much for participating in Jingle Bell Hell :)

And if you missed my extremely cool holiday wish pictures, click here and scroll to the end to see Love, Joy, and Peace on Earth.

28 December 2011

Re-Learning How to Run

I've never really paid much attention to how I run. Okay, that's not entirely true. When I was younger (like a teenager...30 years ago), I 'ran like a girl.' Knock-kneed and bow-legged at the same time, feet flying out to the side...really uncomfortable to do and watch. It was slow and painful, and I was the butt of many jokes. I hated running.

Apparently, that is still my 'go-to' style when I am completely and utterly spent.

One day, I decided I didn't want to run like a sissy anymore (not to intimate that you are a sissy if you run like that...remember, I was young and impressionable when I drew this conclusion).

So I completely changed how I ran...all by myself. No coach. No special shoes. No video feedback. It took awhile for it to feel natural and 'easy,' but eventually it did. As running got more comfortable, I was able to run farther with more ease...and run faster. But I still didn't like running.

Initially, running was something we had to do for crew. The running part of training was usually in the winter when we couldn't go out and row on the water because the lake (or river) was frozen, so it was fuh-reeeee-zing. This was in the days before wicking fabrics and water-resistant-yet-breathable workout gear, so I extra didn't enjoy running. I guess maybe even with my new gait I was, in fact, still a bit of a sissy.

Back then, when I was making changes to my gait and running in cotton in sleet and snow, no one was talking about barefoot running or forefoot striking or midfoot striking...we were just running. My 'new' gait served me well for close to two decades, with nearly no running-related injuries and setting all of my still-standing-and-unslouchy PR's. But now things are different.

Primarily, I am coming back from a really long break, and that break was due to a weird injury and 8 years of chronic pain. A few months ago, my physical therapist suggested adjusting things to a midfoot strike as a way to keep my hip healthy and pain-free. Do you know how hard it is to change the way you run? I've already done that! And now you're asking me to do that again? Sheesh.

I was reluctant to do things differently. I was okay doing it same-old-same-old...more or less. And adjusting would take away from training, and I run precious little as it is...kind of the bare minimum to be able to complete a half-marathon in decent shape. But last night I ran for the first time in well over a week...and only the third time since December 4th. And I ran in my new shoes...

Interestingly, the combination of some time off and the new shoes directed me to a new way of running!

Without even thinking about it, I was not heel-striking. I actually tried to make myself run 'normally' and couldn't do it comfortably. Luckily, I remembered that changing one's gait should not be done hurriedly, so even though it felt great, I kept it to a mellow 3 miles. My calves were feeling it. Thorough stretching, rolling and icing followed the run, and today they feel fine. So does my hip :)

I figure that at this point in my training cycle it is okay to make this kind of change...things are just starting out and aren't too hot n' heavy yet. If I find out that I am wrong, I'll just figure something else out :P Minimizing pain and injury is more important to me than speed. For now, anyway.

26 December 2011

The Ubiquitous Year in Review Post

I was going to list 10 things that were memorable about 2011 like almost everyone else in the blogging world, but I needed a serious pick-me-up. One way to yank my sorry butt out of the dumps is to recount as many ways as I possibly can in which my life is awesome... and so this massive ego-trip was born. Instead of 10 separate things, I have 10 categories. Has it helped lift my spirits? Not really. But maybe if I read it over enough times it will. 

1.  In April, I went to Paris with my family. And it was a blast.

2.  I created and then got distracted from the awesome Granny's Gadgets series. I do plan to resurrect this. Contrary to word on the street, I did NOT run out of gadgets.

This was one of my personal favorites...

3.  We experienced an overly generous Tooth Fairy moment...that will be forever remembered. It is not a mistake that will be repeated! 

4.  I won a bunch of contests:  
  • Circle of Moms twice (didn't win but did get Top 5 in one category and 15th in another...and who can forget all that badgering, grubbing and begging for votes?)
  • Hood to Coast Relay Team Nuun spot (remember the Running Nun video?)
  • the dorky celebrity picture contest with Lady Brain (Charo and Darth Vader were gunning for it, but I think the addition of the Berenstain Bears spread the votes out too much for anyone to overtake Fidel Castro and me)
  • BlogHer Voices of the Year 2011 Honoree for the armpit vagina post
  • and most recently, the hundred dollar sweatshirt.

5.  I became a #boobblogger... it all started with running bra report and my new running bra. About a month later, I convinced some of my favorite blogging friends to play Match the Rack on Boobs I Follow. And I displayed my reviewing genius in my  Moving Comfort Juno Bra review and demonstration.

6.  There were some pretty cool races... San Francisco Bay to Breakers, Hood to Coast Relay, RNR Las Vegas Half-Marathon, and while I never ran particularly fast and I certainly didn't WIN, the experiences broadened my view and showed me some new things (and reminded me of some old things) about myself, the world and running.

I know you're thinking,
"Whoa! Did we really need to see that?"

7.  As a part of a couple of these races, I went away from my husband and kids over night for the first time in 12 years. That was weird. But fun :)

8.  I learned how to ride my bike again.

9.  I got inspirational on a couple of occasions...

10.  I survived. And if you're reading this, so did you. Let's celebrate that success of 2011 and look forward to 2012!

I'm a double-dipper...
and I fully plan on fully participating 
equally and doubly :)

Found the Marbles

Joining up with Stasha and gang with all their 2011 biz...
and other stuff :)

24 December 2011

Life in the Bike Lane

Today was my Merry Christmas Eve bike ride. It was not so much fun as I had not worked out in a full week. In fact, it had gotten to the point where I was almost afraid to work out because I knew it would hurt, and I am no longer accustomed to hurting. I have been stretching and icing my hip and back in the hopes that I'll be running this coming week...and it's looking good at the moment.

So back to the bike ride...

I'm really working to embrace the bike. I know that cross-training is critical to staying healthy and strong and on an improving trajectory with regard to running...especially given the fact that I only run three days a week (I am hoping to push that to four in the coming months, though I really must be cautious). But the bike is literally a pain in the ass. And I just can't seem to make the thing go at all fast. My legs are weak :( And I get bored. And it always feels like there is a cross-headwind and like a flat road is uphill. 

And yes, I would like some cheese to go with my whine. I could use a good holiday party.

Alright... shifting the focus to the positive...

It was a glorious day. Except for the wind :P I had a good, solid hour to play with, and my husband was baking cinnamon rolls to be ready upon my return :) My kids were happy. All of my Christmas shopping was done. I have my health. And as I easily threw my leg over the bar to head off, I remembered how hard and painful that simple action had been back in June when I first started riding my bike again. How far I have come! 

The trail I was riding on is pictured here... 
the three super skinny lanes closest to the water and rocks is the multi-use trail.

I saw three rats on my ride. They were dead... and that's better than alive from my point of view. Traffic on the paved multi-use trail was sparse, which makes for easy riding (someday I'll venture out to ride on real roads when I'm braver and faster). There were no mean people accosting me, no dogs running out in front of me, and no cars almost crashing into me... win, win, and win! Most of the fellow riders I encountered shouted out a hearty and friendly, "Merry Christmas!" which I happily returned.

I have to admit that despite my kvetching, the ride did me good. With the exception of when I was seriously sucking wind in the last 15 minutes, I was smiling a lot more than grimacing...which is a very good thing. 

Having a pleasant ride is such a great way to kick off the Christmas weekend :)

Wishing you all love...

...and joy...

...and peace on earth.

23 December 2011

It's a Secret Santa sort of day...

This year I participated in a blogger holiday gift exchange that was hosted by awesome Jill who is Run With Jill. She had about a bazillion participants...well, at least a hundred anyway.

I love giving presents, and I extra love figuring out something the other person will like, so I had a lot of fun collecting an assortment of running "aids" for my recipient... Chicken of Running On Empty fame. Sleuthing about her blog to figure out what she might like made me feel sort of like Nancy Drew, my favorite titian-haired teen detective with a blue convertible roadster (I've read all the books up to #52). It was so great to find out that she enjoyed receiving her goodies even more than I enjoyed gathering and sending them :) One of her adorable dogs decided that she shouldn't have to wait until Christmas to experience the gift and graciously (or perhaps violently based on the condition of the water bottle!) assisted in opening it a few days early. Happy Holidays, Chicken :)

And I received my gift in today's mail...

Cute Humbug t-shirt featuring Oscar the Grouch :)
and a Target gift card...that I'm off to use tonight!

I swear I have a waist.

What I especially like about this picture...in addition to my new tee... is the toddler "playing" with the ornaments in the background (moments later she was hurling her acquisitions across the room with fastball-like intensity) and my socks. You are getting an uncensored glimpse into my life :P

Thanks so much for the great gifts, Danielle! While my minimalist approach to Christmas this year isn't quite humbug, there have been moments when the sentiment is perfect! And who can resist Oscar?

I also joined up with a holiday gift card exchange with Kim at (Just) Trying is for Little Girls. On Team Donner with me were: 
If it hadn't been for these ladies, our mantel would have been very boring!

Many thanks to the events' organizers, Jill and Kim, and to the participants who helped make the holiday season way cheerier for me!

Did you participate in a Secret Santa exchange sort of thing? What did you give and what did you get?

What's the best thing you've ever gotten?

I got these awesome Santa lights one year...

What's the worst?

A packet of grape Kool-Aid. I think it was supposed to be a joke.

22 December 2011

Random Musings of an Semi-Injured Running Mom

This could be titled "Four things before Friday," but it's not.

I'll be honest here... I am climbing the friggin' walls.

Following RNR Las Vegas, instead of jumping right into hardcore marathon training for my late April marathon, I was sick for most of the week. I ran once. I was excited to run up a storm the next week (last week) but only ended up heading out twice due to a migraine and assorted family obligations. After my great run at the memorable Jingle Bell Hell, I was really looking forward to jumping into marathon madness full-bore but did a quad stretch on Monday night that *pinged* something.

So here I am. Climbing walls ... in my mind... and not running.

I know it will all work out. I know things will be fine. I'm not so much worried about the training for the marathon part, it is the sanity factor that I am missing...especially since it's Winter Break and I have four kids underfoot :P

Things in my hip and back are feeling alright, and I was given 'clearance' by my PT to run this weekend, but I've decided to wait until next week. I am playing it safe. There are some advantages to being older and wiser ;-) In the meantime, I'll ride my bike a couple of times starting tomorrow, do my glute strengthening exercises, stretch (but NOT the same quad stretch!), roll on my roller, stick with my Stick and butterknife the heck out of the tight spots. I want to be ready for this.

Staying physically healthy throughout the training cycle will be the challenge. My hip is definitely my weak link. Putting in the mileage without hurting it will be tricky. Cross-training will be key, and for this I'll be pulling out my dusty rowing machine in addition to using my trusty rusty bike. I'll be incorporating some P90X for weight work, plyometrics and core. And I've asked for a pass to the local Bikram yoga studio for Christmas.

What am I missing?

Right! Christmas!

I have kids and we celebrate Christmas, so there's that.

We're going minimalist this year. Even though we went with the mondo tree that screams 'Commercialized Christmas' at the top of its lungs, we are not 'going big' with presents. On Christmas morning, I am certain that someone will cry about how unfair something is and someone will lament how she didn't get anything on her list and that's fine. Join the club, kids :P But then Grandma and Papa will show up in the afternoon laden with overflowing bags of gifts, and all will be right in the world.

Like these kids need any more stuff. And this is just one bedroom. The others are the same.
Not to mention the toy room, the garage and the living room.

What else?

Oh, yeah...

I'm sure many of you are on the edge of your seat regarding this issue... I've decided to keep and wear my fancy sweatshirt even after reading this article that pretty much creeped me out. I think this might make me a hypocrite. Or something bad.

And finally...

This video is a big part of why I don't shop at Whole Paycheck Foods...

Yep, that's our local store.

Not that the store I do go to is really any different. Grocery shopping is not one of my favorite activities. It always seems like either I get in trouble or my kids do.

I'm not even going to end this post gracefully. Except to say...

Happy Holidays :)

21 December 2011

What's the haps?

I'm hurt.

So don't expect much today.

I didn't do anything stupid, in fact I was stretching gently and thoroughly when it happened. My quads and hamstrings had been feeling tight and sore since running Jingle Bell Hell on Saturday. Foam-rolling, Sticking, stretching, and butterknifing with regularity was helping. On Monday night I took my foot in hand to stretch my quad and *ping* ... I knew instantly I had done something unfortunate.

My right leg went dead except for the shooting pain sensation running from my iliac crest to the sole of my foot :( The fact that I had zero strength in the leg and a ton of pain led me to the conclusion that it was an alignment issue and not a muscular one. I tried to rectify the situation on my own, following directions I had at one time gotten from my physical therapist. I could feel it trying to go back to where it needed to be, but it could quite get there.

I tried to get my husband to bungle his way through performing some half-assed, untrained ART (don't try this at home!) which was successful on a micro-scale. Then I was afraid we might hurt me more, so we stopped.

I was on my hands and knees for the rest of the night. Tuesday, I could walk by dragging my leg behind me. I started having serious fears about returning to my life of limping...that less-than-a-life I was living for 8 years. Before I vaulted into full-on freak-out mode, I put the call into my PT at SOLPT, who is always booked seriously months in advance. She crammed me in. I love my PT. Love her. To pieces.

It was alignment. She did a bunch of stuff and then threw her entire body weight into the point of her elbow which was placed into my gluteus medius and surrounding tissues. I screamed. I writhed. I contorted. I almost passed out. But she got it. Everything is still pained and inflamed... but it moves! Ice, heat, rest, rolling, massage... and keep doing my glute strengthening exercises. No running for a few days.

Lesson to take away from this: Don't screw around with injury. For me, that means get seen right away. Be the squeaky wheel. Be dramatic if necessary.

To celebrate my return to semi-mobility, I took the kids to Children's Fairyland to see the Fairy Winterland lights display...

When I was a kid, the Old Lady in the Shoe house was also the box office...
the opening is about 4 feet high and adults had to super duck.
Now it's just a feature at the entrance, and they jacked it up so you don't have to crouch so low.

The big Winter Wonderland deal is that all the fairytale features are covered in Christmas lights.
They have a brown Santa, 
which seems to cause more 'concern' amongst some kids than one would hope :( 
He hangs out in the chapel above where kids queue up to sit in his lap.
He wished my friend's son a "Happy Hanukkah"...which kind of tripped the boy out. 

I wish they'd repaint Snow White's face.
She looks so unhappy surrounded by those dwarves.

The Crooked Man's Crooked House is Miss C's favorite...always.
Interestingly, it was my favorite as a child, too.

Christmas lights everywhere.

I'm thinking 12 is getting a little old to enjoy Fairyland in the manner to which it aspires.
All the kids and adults really had a great time, though. 

XL and family *hearts* Fairyland :)

Lesson to take away from this: Children need to experience more diversity. A brown Santa is super cool and shouldn't be viewed as anything else. Christmas lights all over fairytale things is pretty cool, even to a 12-year old... for a while anyway.

Happy Holidays to all :)

19 December 2011

The Biggest (tree) and the Best (gluten-free chocolate chip cookies)

For the last two years, we've used a dinky fake tree at Christmas. Both times the kids were really bummed. The first time, I used the excuse "We're in the middle of moving!" which was true. Last year, laziness, bad weather and lack of funding conspired to formulate this awesome line of reasoning "You don't really want to go out in the pouring down rain and tromp through the super muddy tree lot to pick out a soaking wet tree in the freezing cold, do you?" The kids did not.

This year, I was in agreement with them. We all wanted a real tree. A nice tree. A big tree.

On Friday, I called my husband on his way home from work.

"Hey, honey... can you meet us at the tree lot?"
"Sure... I'm right near it."
"Excellent! Start looking. If something appeals to you, just get it. I give you free rein."
"Really? Wow."
"Yeah, whatever you want. I promise not to complain. Go for it."

And I hung up.

A mere five minutes later...no exaggeration... he called back.

"I got it!" I could here a semi-smirk in his voice. "Tell G he got his wish!"

I turned to Big G. "Dad says you got your wish."

The boy squealed. Seriously, squealed with delight. "He got a massive tree! He got a massive tree!"

Oh, jeez. I promised not to complain...so I didn't.

Twelve feet tall. 
It's like a mall tree.

I actually kind of love it. And while I did the lights, I have relinquished all decorating control to the kids...with the one instruction that they place breakable items out of Miss C's reach. Letting go... finding the balance :)

So that's the biggest part of the post...now for the best...

Being surrounded by goodies this time of year is a challenge for the non-wheat eater. Cookies and breads and cakes abound, but it's hard to find gluten-free options...and I know why. Often, GF options are cardboardy or taste 'off' or have the 'wrong' texture. Today I'm sharing a recipe that is, according to my kids, better than the regular option. I want to preface this by telling you that until about a year ago, I really thought the only way to make chocolate chip cookies was by following the recipe on the back of the chips bag. I had no idea that you could do it any other way. Really. But my friend Catey set me straight. This recipe below I got from her blog and then substituted gluten-free flours.

My Favorite Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

makes approx. 5 dozen 2-1/2 inch diameter cookies

  • 3 c. gluten-free flour (I use a combo of Gluten Free Pantry All-Purpose Flour and King Arthur Flour's gluten free multi-purpose flour...the flour you choose definitely makes a difference!)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 c. butter (2 sticks)
  • 1/2 c. white granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 c. golden brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 360ºF.

Stir the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together and set aside.

Cream together butter and sugars in another large mixing bowl until thoroughly blended. Some people soften the butter...I don't. I cut the sticks into lengthwise quarters and then slice it all into small chunks. Creaming the sugars with cold butter yields a texture of cookie I prefer. I also cream the sugars one at a time. You can use an electric mixer (easier if butter is softened), but I use a wooden spoon.

Add in slightly beaten eggs (you can just beat them in the same bowl) and then the vanilla. Beat until well blended.

Combine dry ingredients with the creamed mixture (most recipes say to do this gradually. I just dump it all in at once and then "cut" it all together with the side of my wooden spoon...sort of like making pie crust) until it is well mixed. If it seems too dry and crumbly, you might add a splash (between a tsp and tbs) of milk or cream to the mix...it doesn't take much.

Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheets (I recently discovered parchment and swear by it).

Baking time: In my oven, baking for 11 minutes and then allowing to cool on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes yields a perfect chewy cookie. Baking for 13 minutes and cooled for 2 creates a delicately crisp cookie. My husband is a cookie-making master and taught me that keeping an eye on the cookies is VERY important! These gluten-free cookies seem a little more fragile than regular cookies and really benefit from those "2 minutes on the sheets" cooling period. Then transfer with a spatula to racks to finish cooling.


17 December 2011

Jingle Bell Hell 2011 Race Recap

Getting up to run in a race holds a certain excitement...unless you know that you will be the only person showing up. This morning was the return of Jingle Bell Hell. I had told all my local running buddies about it. I had put it on my personal Facebook page in case any friends wanted to just come walk it or whatever. I had no takers.

Either people are intimidated by my competitive spirit, my speed, or my inane sense of humor. Or maybe they heard that I now have a sweatshirt from a scandalous company and are boycotting me. Whatever. I was running this race...even if alone.

I was so bummed as I was getting ready; feeling like a running pariah was, in and of itself, quite hellish. I contemplated sealing the 'hell factor' by wearing a jingle bell on one foot...just one. But I was concerned that the "step-jing-step-jing-step-jing..." over and over again for over an hour might drive me out of my mind. I scrapped the bell idea.

Pulling into the venue parking lot, I noticed several people who were heading out to run or walk, but none were there for Jingle Bell Hell...I could tell. I was so glad I had left my family at home. It was coldish (40º-ish) and windy, and since no one showed up there was no party atmosphere to take your mind off the cold. However, in the morning's defense, it was a lovely one.

I headed to the starting line. There was a beautiful woman looking at the maps...she seemed a little lost. We got to talking and decided to run together (I was so glad I had opted for no bell). She spoke of running a pace that would be a bit faster than I was entirely comfortable with so I figured "awesome... HELL!"

We ran the first 4.2 miles at an average pace of 8:38 minutes per mile, which is super fast for me.

I took no pictures because you've seen this place before. Though in retrospect, I should have taken a picture of the beautiful woman.

As we headed back from the turnaround, I noticed a couple running up a side trail that I used to enjoy running down. I thought, "Whoa...they're hardcore...running up that trail!" When the two trails merged, we tucked in behind the two trail runners. After about a quarter-mile, my new running buddy realized that they were the people she was supposed to have met earlier! We laughed.

The four of us ran together for roughly the next 3 miles, chatting (kind of out of breath because we were running pretty hard and up a long hill). They all belong to some local running clubs and meetup running groups that I never even knew existed...one of the groups even does trail running at night! I am so glad I ran into these people :)

With about a mile to go, Chris the Runner (and the only guy) started pulling away. My hip was sore, and I was pretty wiped from the speedy first half of the run. I was focusing on finishing as well as I could. I came in a close last with a time of 1:14:52 (avg pace 8:57) for the 8.35 miles.

As I had never met these people before, and they knew nothing of Jingle Bell Hell, you can imagine Chris' surprise at learning he had WON!

Congratulations, Chris the Runner!
Your name is now etched in ballpoint pen on masking tape and fastened to the bottom of that awesome trophy...memorializing your victory for as long as the adhesive holds!

Though I began the morning bummed and alone, I ended it laughing and smiling with new friends :) And while I did push myself physically, I need to work on the "Hell" angle for next year... because Jingle Bell Hell will be back!

Happy Holidays and happy running :)

A huge thanks goes out to all who are participating in the virtual version of this race! The collection of virtual JBH race recaps will be posted in my sidebar as I am made aware of them. If you've posted one and don't see it in the list, do shoot me an email (xlmic.tio [at] gmail [dot] com) and I'll be sure to link it. The various winners of the prizes will be announced December 26th so please get your write-up to me by the 25th!

16 December 2011

The Hundred Dollar Sweatshirt... and other stuff

As I sit here in my hundred dollar sweatshirt thinking about Christmas and how little prep work I've done so far, I am not nervous. I am not stressed. It is what it is. I'm letting go and finding balance. And I have a hundred dollar sweatshirt...so I am alllllll set.

It would be funny if I were to tell you that I had gone to Costco today with the sole purpose of picking up a sweatshirt. And walked out with a 30-pack of Northern Quilted toilet paper, a Brita water filter, two dozen Duracell AA batteries, an 8-lb. block of Kraft American Cheese Singles, and one of those double-packs of Honey Nut Cheerios in addition to a Gloria Vanderbilt sweatshirt. Seriously, who hasn't done that?

Or what if I said that I had gone into the local Goodwill to grab a sweatshirt but had gotten waylaid by all the awesome VHS tapes they were selling three for a dollar (who wouldn't love copies of He Said, She SaidAn Officer and a Gentleman, and Field of Dreams?) and the myriad of kitchen tools just begging to become a Granny's Gadgets feature? If I went on to tell you that after finding the sweatshirt, selecting a fine assortment of 80's and 90's entertainment, unearthing THE Ginsu (!) and escaping for under twenty bucks with all that loot, I went outside to find my car with a $78 parking ticket tucked neatly under the windshield wiper...in it's o-so-cheery neon green envelope :)...that would be kind of funny, right?

While both of those scenarios would have resulted in a "hundred dollar" sweatshirt complete with a laugh and some good commiseration, this is not a funny story. And my hundred dollar sweatshirt gets no quotation marks.

I have a hard time fathoming how someone could spend so much on a #@*ing sweatshirt...but people do. They don't even wait for them to go on sale...they plunk down full retail for these suckers. Having worked in retail for years and years, I have a really hard time doing that :P

Now being in possession of a hundred dollar sweatshirt (I am wearing it right at this moment...and if you are reading this pretty much anytime in the next five years, I will probably be wearing it right at the moment you are actually reading this), I must say it is really, really nice. But I probably wouldn't spend real money on one. I won mine...remember that Soyjoy Workout Wardrobe Make-over Contest?

I've gone from this:

To this:

Notice how I look a lot more comfortable in the tattered, 'vintage' outfit?
it might be the clothing... 
but it might be the fact that the fancy sweatshirt picture was taken in the kitchen.

I had a little of my winnings left over. It's been converted to a gift card that will be part of the Jingle Bell Hell 2011 Grand Prize. Click that link to see details of the real and virtual races this weekend.

All runners who submit a race recap linking back to Taking It On will be entered in a drawing for various running-related prizes...Nuun, Gu, reflective stickers, a race-number belt, those sorts of things... and my favorite write-up (can be a blog post, a facebook update, an email to me that I can post on my blog, or a photo representing your hellacious fun) will win a $10 iTunes gift card and a $30 Lululemon gift card (that'll get you a headband or a pair of socks...or roughly 30% off on a pair of running tights...and they do have stuff for guys).

Please understand the write-up winner selection is entirely subjective. Big Hint: I am looking to laugh. 

But honestly, it's not about the prizes...it's about having fun.

Disclaimers: Do I need disclaimers? Some of the stuff in the giveaway I won, some I bought and some was given to me in exchange for nothing. Except the Nuun... some might say I sold my soul for that one.  But Hood to Coast was worth it.

14 December 2011

Balance: is it attainable?

As a mother of four active children who works out, blogs almost daily, is in a functioning relationship with my spouse, and maintains a sense of humor, I am often asked "How do you do it? How do you do it all? How do you find the balance?" And as a person who listens and reads, I frequently come across people lamenting their own inability to 'find the balance' and their struggle to 'do it all.' 

Here's my secret:  I figured out that those two things are in direct conflict with one another. 

And that's Lesson #1 in Finding the Balance. You are not going to find any sort of balance if you are fixated on doing it all... so stop

Perfection ≠ Balance is Lesson #2. Whenever you see someone appearing effortlessly and perfectly balanced, understand that there is a whole world "behind the scenes" to which you are most likely not privy. 

In 1976, Nadia Comaneci displayed what appeared to be the epitome of effortlessly perfect athletic balance...even being awarded a perfect 10 for several of her performances in the Montreal Olympics...but her LIFE had very little balance. By her own account, it was very stressful and troubling. Let go of perfection...unless maybe you're an obsessed, Olympic-bound athlete (Olympic-bound being the key phrase there). Or Martha Stewart.

Dovetailing in with the first two lessons is Lesson #3Achieving balance is often easier with a partner. Buddy up. Relinquish some control. It is really hard to lead a balanced life if you hang on to control-freakisms. Practice a little give and take.

This brings us to an important question... Can you limit your sitting and sleeping to 23 and a half hours per day? (You want to click that link, trust me...Dr. Mike Evans presents a compelling visual lecture). A crucial piece to finding balance and improving your quality of life is getting regular exercise. Move your body! is Lesson #4. The physical, mental and emotional health benefits of simply walking 30 minutes a day...even broken down into shorter snippets of time... are enormous. You could leave the remote across the room and get up from the sofa to change channels, or park at the far end of the parking lot at the mall or grocery store, basically, there are lots of opportunities to add in some walking. You have the time. Priorities, people. I'm telling you, click that link.

In my life, the balance is more of a juggle (love this bit about rubber balls vs. glass balls!)...and quite often is very much an elaborate plate-spinning act. I think sometimes I'm like this guy...

...only with way messier hair and less fancy clothes. My favorite part is in the very beginning when he screws up and just kind of shrugs his shoulders and moves on. Determining when it's important to let go and when it's more prudent to hang on and then going with that decision is, to my mind, the key to finding the balance. 

Wishing everyone a blessed and balanced holiday season :)

12 December 2011

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair

God Save the Queen!
Yes, that is Queen Victoria... and Prince Albert beside her.

The annual Great Dickens Christmas Fair has been around for a long time. I remember going as a little kid and loving it. It's a fun, expensive, entertaining, expensive, bizarre, and expensive gift fair. You can buy handcrafted magic wands, real gold puzzle rings with diamonds in them, full-length red velvet capes, silk pantalettes and a real corset, pewter mugs and figures, a top hat or beribboned bonnet, even firearms...that are just for show... and a whole lot of other stuff. 

The best of British cuisine is also available:  fish and chips, bangers, meat pies (no kidney pie, I don't think...thankfully :P), and a few places where you can enjoy a spot of tea and the accompanying goodies. 

Characters from the Dickens novels and personages from the early- to mid-Victorian era wander around and interact with the visitors. It can be super fun...and also pretty weird. One year, a scullery maid/beggar-girl type followed Baby X around for a little while with a tiny stuffed kitten that looked real (maybe it actually was?). She kept saying (in her awesome cockney accent) that it was such a good little kitten...not much trouble at all, never mewed or even ate ... and very well trained. She even showed us some of its 'tricks.' Like that it could 'stay' on command. 

It's a total trip to see the Ghost of Jacob Marley dragging his chains around and Scrooge in his nightshirt and cap being led around by the Ghost of Christmas Present. Additionally, the Royal Procession (pictured above) is fun to see... Victoria and Albert are not only surrounded by guards but closely followed by their children (they had a lot of kids). These things make up only part of the entertainment. There are also numerous stages and parlors where one can enjoy music, humor, drama or adventure.

This brings us to why I dragged my whole family to this very pricey gift fair...

Baby X has performed at the Dickens Christmas Fair for the past 4 years. This year, she is officially a member of the Bay Area Youth Harp Ensemble :) 

in the front with the purple harp

very focused

She also sang with these two older girls...

...and alone.

We've brought Big G with us the last two years. He is a total sucker for Victorian curiosities. His favorite things about the Fair are the meat pies and La Legion Fantastique, "where children of all ages are enthralled with marvelous inventions and exhibits of strange relics from the incredible exploits of the characters from Jules Verne's novels.

Q-Man cried last year when we went without him. I told him you have to be 6 to get to go. It was a lie :( But this year he is 6... He liked it alright but not as much as his big brother. And he liked it for different reasons...

None of these weapons are operational. Really.

And Miss C amused herself as she usually does...

by running...

yeah, crappy quality... but she's cute...and nonstop.

And no, she's not 6. Q-Man made a point of bringing that to our attention. You know, the fact that she's not 6 and she got to go. And you know, how totally unfair that is. And what else? Oh yeah, he's really mad at me that he didn't get to go last year.

Never you mind how much fun he had this year. 


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