Sunday, December 30, 2007

Getting a jump on the new year... a few days early

I have a favorite fitness instructor at my gym that has been out on maternity leave since October and I've missed her humor and friendship as well as her ability to kick my ass in class (even when she was 8 months pregnant!) Friday was her 2nd day back to work and I drug myself to class even though I haven't worked out in a couple of weeks and I was beyond tired. It was great to see her again and she looks fantastic. I figured it was a good way to jump back on the gym-going horse before the full onslaught of new years resolutioners start up next week.

In Februrary 2007, the 10 lbs I had put on since my September 2005 wedding finally became so upsetting to me that I really commited to trying to take off at least some of that weight. I joined Spark People and by summer had taken off about 10lbs through eating healthier, counting calories and working out consistently. I kept track of how many workouts I had each week and looking back, I actually averaged working out 3 times a week the entire year! That is such a huge feat for me and it's something that I'd like to do even better with in 2008. No, it's not a resolution as much as a goal that I'd like to reach. I've put a few of those lost lbs back over the holidays, but I know that over the next month or so, I can get it off again. I'm feeling just as motivated as I did when I started this journey almost a year ago.

From past experience, I've found I'm more consistent in my workouts and healthy eating when I am working towards a short-term goal. And conviently enough, I have one of those in reach right now. At the end of March, hubs and I are going with our good friends M & T to Peru! And no, this is not going to be a civilized luxurious trip. We're spending 5 days in the middle of the Peruvian Amazon in a lodge that is a 4 hour speedboat ride from the nearest road and 3 days in Cusco and Macchu Picchu. This is sure to be an experience of a lifetime, but one that is filled with a lot of physical exertion and in the case of Macchu Picchu, a shortage of oxygen due to the altitude. I just want to make sure I'm in good enough shape that I'm not struggling physically so that I can fully appreciate everything we're sure to see there.

My trainer has already been made aware of this little trip and his workout plan for me is brutal. No really, my co-worker (who is training for a half-marathon, btw) was at the gym with me a couple weeks ago and she said that she looked over at what I was doing and was suddenly quite thankful to just be on the treadmill running. :| It's gonna be a rough few months, but I'm sort of curious to see what he is going to put me through and then be able to prove to myself that yes, I can do it and I'm stronger than I might think I am.

I'm back full-force this week with hitting the gym and not eating crap all day and I know it's gonna suck, but I also know that my body is ready to be healthy again and March will be here before I know it!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fellow Blogger + Movie + Sushi = Fun Times

Knowing that I was going to be crazy-tired after all the Christmas festivities, I planned on taking the rest of this week off. Yesterday we spent at Disneyland, but today Jim was back to the office and I was on my own. After a recent blog post about wanting to see P.S. I Love You, Alyssa commented that she too, wanted to see the movie and we made plans to see it together this week. I met her at her place and then we were off to the theater to catch the first showing this afternoon, with a stop at CBTL first for a little pre-movie caffeine.

The reviews have been horrible for this film, but I'm glad we decided not to listen to silly reviewers and saw it anyways. I loved the book, even though I cried my way through the entire thing and the movie was no exception. Thankfully we grabbed a handful of napkins before going into the theater because we spent the next couple of hours wiping our eyes and sniffling. The movie did have some strategically placed comic relief, which was a welcome change from the book. I think we were both pleased with the movie version and I'm glad I saw it with someone who liked the book as much as I did.

After the movie, Alyssa brought me to her favorite sushi joint in her neck of the woods. The outside is not much to look at, but the interior had a fun vibe and the sushi was amazing!! The fish was fresh, the roll combinations eccentric and everything was well-prepared. I can see why she is such a fan of the place. As we filled up on oodles of raw fish and edamame, we chatted about everything from family to work to real estate. It was so much fun getting to know her better and basically confirming my initial impressions of her --- she is a fun gal that I get along with quite well.

Thanks so much for a really fun afternoon movie and sushi date! Can't wait to do it again soon :D

It was a Very Merry Christmas!

It's been a few days since the last post and needless to say, it's been busy around here. It's gonna be a long post b/c there is a lot to catch up on. :)

Saturday
Hubs and I spent most of the day recovering from our party the night before. We both had some lovely hangovers, hence the yummy peruvian food for lunch and then takeout pizza for dinner. We watched the Bruins in the Las Vegas bowl at night and that was just sad. Missed a last minute field goal attempt and that was the ballgame. :( Let's hope our season is better next year.

Sunday
Time to gear up for the holidays again! After a relaxing brunch outside at the Farm, Jim and I headed back to the apartment for him to get some work done and for me to get started on my day of baking. Over the next few hours I made another batch of snickerdoodles, rum cake and salty chocolate-pecan candy.
My mom came over that night and we had garlic chicken from Versailles restaurant for dinner and chatted while we watched some TV.

Monday
We decided to do Christmas Eve at our apartment this year and to change it up even more, instead of our usual cold cut meal, I decided to make a ham dinner. Hubs thought I was crazy, but I figure that one day it's going to be us in charge of all the holiday stuff and I might as well start getting some practice doing the big dinner early. I was so busy cooking and prepping that I totally forgot to take pictures, but the dinner went over quite well. The menu consisted of the following:
Baked Ham with Bourbon Glaze
Lemon-and-Herb Roasted New Potatoes
Glazed Butternut Squash
Green Bean Casserole
Rolls
Rum Cake and Salty Chocolate-Pecan candy for dessert

The only thing that really missed the mark was the squash. It was overcooked (ew to mushy vegetables) and I think the sage really didn't add anything to the dish. I'd like to try it again, but Jim informed me that he isn't even a big butternut squash fan in the first place, so I may just leave it alone. We'll see. My brother got sent home with leftover ham, much to his delight and we still have enough leftovers to eat on for several days.

After dinner, we opened presents with my family. Santa was very good to everyone this year, bringing a slew of gift cards to all of us. My family hung out with us for a little while after dessert and we watched the end of the Chargers game. After everyone left, we straightened up the kitchen a bit and then Jim and I opened our presents to one another. We were again overly generous with each other and we both had a very merry christmas eve. One of my favorite gifts was a new necklace from that great little store with the blue boxes and Jim loves his new flying monkey toy! [Obviously he got more exciting gifts than that, but the monkey has been a huge hit]

Tuesday
We woke up early, got ready and then headed to Jim's family home to spend Christmas morning with them. We shared a huge breakfast of pancakes, eggs, bacon, hashbrown casserole and muffins washed down with lots of coffee and juice. So good! Then, it was time to move to the livingroom for more gift-opening. Again, Santa was good to everyone and by the time we were done, the room was a mess of fun presents, torn wrapping paper and empty boxes. The big gifts were a 2 week trip the east coast from my FIL to my MIL, a really nice watch from my MIL to my FIL, a Wii for my BIL, headphones and new luggage for my other BIL, a cricut for me and a bluetooth device for his car for Jim. See, I told you Santa was good to us!

Around 2pm, it was time to pack up and head to his aunt's house who was hosting the big Christmas dinner for everyone. My family was meeting us there, bringing the total guest count to somewhere around 35ish people. so. much. fun. There was lots of eating and drinking before the main meal was ever served, putting the entire group in a merry mood right from the get-go. 2 families even shared a limo up from OC just so no one would have to drive --- such a great idea and it looked like they were already filled with holiday cheer before they ever stepped foot in the door!

Dinner was delicious as always and I ate too much, as always. After dinner it was time for dessert and to start the grab bag gift exchanges. The women's exchange is much more tame and laid back with very little stealing and mayhem. The men's exchange, on the other hand, is complete chaos, with different families trying to work together to get the more popular items (i.e. booze) and steal it from each other so that it becomes "dead" and thus stays within the family. This led to my dad, who doesn't drink at all, actually stealing the Patron from my husband so that it would secure it's position with our family unit. Hilarious, I tell you!

Because the gift exchange is really for the adults, several of us also bring small gifts for the little kids that are at Christmas (this year there were only 3). The youngest boy (at 2 1/2 years old) passed out before dessert was ever served but his little sisters (8 and 5 years old) were still up and ready for presents. I bought books for all of them and while the 8 year old was speechless in a good way over her present (she let me know she is collecting the whole set and that she didn't have these particular titles yet), the 5 year old looked like I had just given her coal. Her mom apologized profusely, but really, it was hilarious. I guess to her, I was a real scrooge this year. ha!

Wednesday
After much pleading on my part, I was able to convince Jim to take the day off and we headed to Disneyland. Granted, since it was still a work day, a lot of the time he looked like this:

Um, the park was freaking crowded!! Nevertheless, we still had a great time running around both parks and managed to still get on almost all of the big ticket rides without too much of a wait (thank you fastpass). We also realized that yesterday was the official day for the Rose Bowl teams -- USC and Illinois -- to visit the park. We saw several groups of very large guys wandering around in the park in their team warm-ups stopping to take pictures with people and sign autographs. We were really impressed at how patient the guys seemed to be with everyone. We also got a kick out of the little kids looking up at these guys with a real look of awe and amazement on their face. While waiting in line for the Tower of Terror ride, one group of Illinois players were seated on the ride and then a small group of little boys were seated with them. They looked like they had just won the lottery. Too funny!

At one shop in California Adventure I found this little gem. Of course, it reminded me of my favorite tater!

In the evening it got COLD! Poor Jim had only worn a sweatshirt and hadn't brought a jacket and he was freezing most of the night. We didn't stay too late though, but I still felt bad for him at how cold he was. Poor guy! :(

All in all, it was a great day and we had a lot of fun! It was a great way to wrap up the Christmas break!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

hangover food, peruvian style

saltado de camarones


I can't even tell you how good this tastes!

Food, Friends and Fun

Disclaimer: I am blogging completely hungover. So, if some things don't make sense, sorry, but the water and advil haven't really done their job yet.

Last night we had a group of our close friends over for a Christmas party to kick off the crazy holiday weekend. I've wanted to throw a full cocktail party for a while now and finally got my chance. I prepped all week (hence the complete lack of sleep and blog entries) and had about 3 hours after work to get the last minute stuff together. Since I know a lot of you are just as obsessed with food as I am, let's just get right to the menu and the accompanying pics, shall we?


The food and drink set-up before the party got started


Cheese Platter: (from left to right) Agour Ossau-Iraty, Brillat-Savarin and Morbier


Crudite with Lemon-Herb dip


Panko-crusted Crab Cake Bites with Roasted Pepper-Chive Aioli


Stuffed Mushrooms


Seared Beef Tenderloin Mini Sandwiches with Mustard-Horseradish Sauce


Mini Mocha-Toffee Crunch Cheesecakes and Snickerdoodles (recipe from Martha Stewart's Holiday 2005 cookie magazine)


Not pictured: Garlic Fries. Sadly, these just did not cooperate and never made it out of the kitchen. Kinda sad, but at least it was just one boo-boo and not several.

As for drinks, my husband went slightly crazy-go-nuts at BevMo, so the booze were plentiful and varied; champagne, pinot noir, bourbon, and a plethora of belgian beer (stella, chimay, etc).

The food turned out really well! I forgot to take pictures of the table after we had finished eating, but there was pretty much nothing left. Everyone seemed to have their favorite dish; personally I thought the lemon-herb dip was killer and the stuffed mushrooms had a great flavor. I feel like next time (oh yes, this was so much fun that there will most definitely be a next time!) I'd add one more cold and one more hot appetizer. I think everyone had enough to eat, but it's usually better to err on the side of too much food than just barely enough.

Aside from eating and drinking, there was much talking, playing Wii golf and watching several episodes of Three Sheets [If you haven't had a chance to see this show, you're missing out. This guy's job is to go to different countries, explore their drinking customs, get hammered and then try out the local hangover cure the next morning to see if it works. I kid you not. As my husband says best.job.ever.]



We also did a gift exchange that resulted in some fun gifts, most of which were *surprise, surprise* alcohol related. One gift in particular sparked a laughing fit from all of us that made my stomach hurt. My husband was literally on the floor laughing, several folks wound up crying... it was hilarious. I really can't share details as it wouldn't make sense, but trust me that this was easily the highlight of the evening. Mark, you rule dude! My friend J works in PR for beauty companies and the samples she gets are amazing. For her contribution to the gift exchange, she put a bunch of those (rather large) samples in a stocking and called it a day. Huge hit!


Our last guest left a little before 2am and then Jim and I collapsed into bed. This party so put me in the holiday spirit! I'm still feeling slightly ill this morning, but it was so worth it. Thank you everyone for coming over and sharing the evening with us. We had a great time and can't wait to do it again next year!! :D

These were taken before folks started heading out. My eyes tend to disappear in pictures anyways, but obviously alcohol makes that worse. Oops! ;)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cookie Exchange and Holiday Lunch

Well, I survived the party planning hell that I've been in for the past few days. I slept for 9 hours last night and while I still have the remnants of a headache, I'm feeling much less stressed out.

I was officially in charge of the office holiday lunch/party and then also assisted my co-worker with the cookie exchange that she organizes every year. By some awful scheduling, these two events wound up on back-to-back days. In hindsight, this was a horrible idea. Never, ever again. It's the same core group of worker bees/organizers that make sure both events get off the ground so to say that we were exhausted by yesterday afternoon is the most gigantic understatement ever.

But, we did have a great guy who went around and took pics of everything so I have a few to share with ya'll. yay me!

Cookie Exchange:
We had around 35 participants this year, more than we usually have. The room smelled like sugar and butter and all things fatty and yummy, which was awesome!


We had a lot of cookies. The little nametags were made by yours truly.

Highlights included Gingerbread Girls, Holiday in the Tropics balls (rice crispie balls w/ pineapple and coconut oil, rolled in shredded coconut), Jam Thumbprints and Chocadamia Coconut cookies.

Office Holiday Party:
Let's start off with the stuff that completely pissed me off and then we'll move onto happier things from there.

1. If you don't volunteer to help with the party, you don't get to complain about the decisions that are made. So, if you'd like to only do a White Elephant exchange at the lunch, then you need to make sure you're on the planning committee. If not, then shut it.

2. Even if you are the head of the program, please do not come up to me and tell me about how great other program's holiday parties are. And then proceed to tell me, in detail, how it was run, what they did and how you wish ours was like that. If you want a kickass party like that, then give me the green light to plan it. And then do not bitch and moan when I use work hours to accomplish this task. 'Cuz see, as much as I like where I work, I'm not spending hours and hours of my free time to plan the annual holiday event. Ugh. I could go on and on about this, but I'm trying to build a bridge and get over it. Obviously, that is not working out too well, eh.

Aside from those little (um, big) annoyances, the party went off really well!! I heard from several staff members that it was the best office party they've been to and can't wait for next year. After all the time and effort my team and I put into it, I'm so glad folks had a good time.

We only had 45 minutes to transform a basic conference room into a holiday lunch space, but my team of 8 superstars took care of it all in fine form.


Covering the cabinets; Hanging up decorations


Table centerpiece; Gift Table w/ Secret Santa gifts, agendas and ice breaker games


Overview of the entire room

We had a local Italian deli cater the event and there was more food than we knew what to do with! A lot of people had seconds yesterday and we still had enough leftovers for at least 25 or so people to eat on today at lunch. And the food was good -- always a plus.

Green Salad w/ Italian dressing; Italian rolls

Pasta w/ marinara and cheese; Lasagne


Sausage and peppers; Meatballs

Dessert came from good 'ol Costco. My co-worker and I hadn't had lunch before we went to purchase the goodies so I think we might have gone a little over-board. Oops!


Chocolate cups; Apple-crumb bread, Pound Cake and Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread


Side View: Apple and Pumpkin Pies (2 of each), Chocolate Mint Fudge Cookies; Top view
Not pictured - Tub of vanilla ice cream


For entertainment, we had several ice-breaker games that were played while everyone was filing in and getting settled. We usually do a White Elephant exchange, but in order to shake things up, this year we did a Secret Santa exchange. This annoyed at least one person (see above), but I think most people appreciated the change. I participated and I scored an awesome gift -- stemless wine glasses! :D


Gift table; Posing with my uber-cool present

All in all I'd say it was a great afternoon for everyone. I'm slightly afraid that I may be tasked with planning this again next year. Right now, I'm feeling like I never want to do this ever again, but who knows how I'll feel next year. For now, I'm just happy that it's done and it was a success!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Swamped

Weekend was awesome, so much to tell. And pictures to boot!

However, I'm absolutely swamped with planning our office holiday party and assisting my co-worker with planning the annual cookie exchange (which was yesterday) -- as in, the stuff is bleeding over into my evenings and I'm doing well to get 6ish hours of sleep a night. Blah.

It's all over with this afternoon. Tonight I'm having dinner (and a glass of wine I could swim in) with the hubs and tomorrow night is the laker game. And then, on Friday, I have day off and am catching up on my posts.

And now, back to holiday party planning madness....

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Thursday Thoughts

So many things to write about, but I've been too busy to actually get to a computer to write them. blah!

* I've been the biggest gym slacker these past few weeks. Sure, I've made it once a week for weights, but besides that, it's been dismal. This week I recommited to actually getting my bum there at least 3 times a week. I'm proud to say that I went after work on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and have plans to go again on Friday! Amazingly enough, I feel really good and I'm sleeping better.

* I'm not usually one to shower at the gym after working out because I literally live 2 blocks away and it's just easier to drive home right quick and shower in my own cozy bathroom. However, I had dinner plans Monday and Tuesday nights after I was at the gym, so it was easier to just get ready there and not have to go home first. And I have rediscovered that jumping into a hot shower immediately after working out is one of life's little pleasures. I practically melted into a puddle both nights as my entire body seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. Since I can't afford a massage every week, this seriously might be the next best thing.


*Have you guys seen this? It's a curling iron cover bag - you pop your still hot curling iron in it and the bag insulates it so the curling iron can be packed and not burn whatever it is touching. I'm not usually one for buying a new bag that only has one purpose, but this little gal is genius! I tried her out twice this week and I have no idea how I've lived without it. Oh, and it works for flat-irons too. :)

* I was killing some time before meeting a friend for dinner on Tuesday night and I felt like something hot to drink. I wandered over the Coffee Bean (yes, I'm usually a Starbucks girl, but I was trying to branch out a bit) with the intention of trying the Gingerbread Latte (the monkey swears it's better than Starbucks version). When I got there, I just wasn't in the mood for coffee, so I opted instead for a Double Vanilla Tea Latte. Oh. My. God. How have I never tried one of these before? It was unbelievably delicious and much lighter than a coffee latte - perfect for a pre-dinner drink. I'm not trying to figure out how I can get another one of these this weekend....

* I met one of my BMs for dinner around 7:30pm. We finally had a break in the conversation and looked down and it was almost 10:30pm! On a work night! Granted, we've been known to close restaurants before, but still. We wrapped it up shortly thereafter, but it was great to catch up with her and just talk about everything.

* Last night Jim and I went to get our tree. The original plan was to get it Friday night, but since weather report has been claiming lots of rain this weekend starting late Thursday evening, I thought it best to get the tree early so we wouldn't be dragging home a soggy mess on Friday. Our original stop, Home Depot, had no 4-5' trees to speak of, so we headed down to a nursery down the street. There they had an abundance of smaller trees and after 5 minutes of looking around, we found The One. It's more expensive than Home Depot (obviously), but this is by far the nicest tree we've ever had and it's in fantastic shape (hardly any pine needles came out in the car during transport). It's at home all naked right now, but by tomorrow night, the apartment, including the tree, should be fully dressed for the holidays.

And I've been a total slacker about pictures recently, but lots are coming this weekend. Promise!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I like my books to come on paper, TYVM


Have you guys seen this latest product from Amazon, Kindle: New Wireless Reading Device? I stumbled upon it last week while doing some online shopping and am not very excited about it. I know that we're living in a very techie age right now, but the thought of paper and ink books being moved to the electronic world makes me sad.

One of my greatest treats is to wander around and get lost in a bookstore, finding new books to add to my ever-growing "must read" list. There is something so soothing about browsing through books, taking in the jacket design, reading the inside or back cover synopsis, thumbing through the pages... it is something that for me, cannot be replaced by an electronic reading device.

I'm sure the device will be a godsend for travelers. Already airport bookstores understand that travelers don't want to be stuck lugging heavy books around after they've read them and so "Read and Return" programs are becoming commonplace. The next logical step, I guess, is to move books into the electronic sector allowing a traveler to simply purchase and download a book to a device that can store many books at once, much in the way the ipod and mp3 players revolutionized the way music can be stored and carried. But for general reading, nothing in my mind, can replace holding a real book in your hands.

Monday, December 3, 2007

I almost forgot...

I had to take my car for an oil change on Friday. I had a coupon for a free one at the dealership, but was sure they'd find something else that needed to be fixed on the car during the complimentary diagnostic. [I actually really like this particular dealership service center and find them to be quite honest. It's just that my car is not very new and it's never a surprise if something needs to be tweaked or fixed]. 45 minutes later my oil was changed, my brakes looked great and the tread on my tires still has a lot of life left! Total cost = $0. By far the best present of the weekend!

Almost done!

After just killing myself this weekend running here and there from store to store, I am thisclose to being done with Christmas shopping!!! Hallelujah! Not only that, but most of the gifts are already wrapped and waiting to be put under the tree (that we don't yet own, but soon.) :) I really wanted to be able to enjoy the season, but I felt like I needed to get the shopping out of the way first. Now that I'm about done, I'm looking forward to baking and decorating this weekend and then just sitting back and enjoying it all. YAY!

Some of the notable purchases from the weekend:
* Burke-Williams spa gift certificate for my mom - The perfect gift for someone who is trying to purge their house of "stuff".
* Logo pint glasses for my brother - found them at BevMo for $2.50 a piece. Such a steal!
* Non-logo belgian beer goblets for Jim - Thank you pubglasses.com!! He has been looking for these for months and I finally found them online. He's going to be thrilled.
* Bread mixes from Williams-Sonoma - um, they had the pumpkin pecan and vanilla spice bags marked down to $1.99 a piece! Considering they retail for $10.50, I'd say it was quite the bargain!
* Humorous garden picks - for my secret santa person at the office who is a gardener. They say fun things like "Grow Dammit!" and "Bugs need not apply." It's really hard to get a good garden-themed gift for under $15, but I found one.

There are quite a few other fun gifts I picked up, but the recipients read this blog so I don't want to spoil the surprise.

It was a crazy weekend and I was frustrated during parts of it because it was taking longer than it should to get the shopping done. But this morning I woke up feeling so good about it all. Definitely worth it!