The Holiday Season, Magic Kingdom Edition

Can you believe that Christmas is only a month away?  It’s by far my favorite holiday, just the joy, the season, the songs and the décor all make my heart overflow with holiday happiness.  I have already started listening to “Holiday Traditions” on SiriusXM radio in the car, and I am fairly certain I sing along to every song!  I haven’t put up my tree yet, but that’s only because I am hosting Thanksgiving this year with some of my dear friends, and I want it to look like Thanksgiving.  The day after – well there are no guarantees!

Reminiscing from my first Disney Christmas experience!

Reminiscing from my first Disney Christmas experience!

However, for one of the most magical Christmas experiences you’ll ever have, Disney is the place to be.  I was blessed to be able to spend a wonderful weekend in Disney World with our friends Mr. and Mrs. BakeNBurn, and part of the Disney magic included Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party!  I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Disney World just before and directly after Halloween, but it’s a phenomenal transformation!  One day it’s Halloween, the next it’s a winter wonderland – MAGIC!

So I am finally getting around to talking about our wonderful holiday-filled extravaganza in the Magic Kingdom… I know, for shame.  But it’s never too late to reminisce about the holidays.  Friday morning, after the chaos of the Disney Wine and Dine Expo, we made our way merrily to the Magic Kingdom.  This day was all about fitting it ALL in, and boy did we.

Ears in tow and ready to go!

Ears in tow and ready to go!

Given that Samantha and I are no strangers to Disney World, we made our way quickly through the gates just around 1:20pm, and worked our way back towards New Fantasy Land.  If you haven’t been to Disney since the addition of New Fantasy Land, it’s worth a revisit.  They’ve extended the park to include the Be Our Guest dining experience at the Beast’s castle, the Under the Seas journey of Ariel, the Little Mermaid (along with Ariel’s grotto of course), the Seven Dwarves Mine Ride, and a plethora of other experiences.  One of my favorite additions is Rapunzel’s tower!  It’s all so charming and a constant reminder of Disney’s attention to detail.

Once in New Fantasy Land, we headed straight to Be Our Guest!  I am a die-hard Belle fan, possibly the brunette English

Belle fanatic? Yes indeed.

Belle fanatic? Yes indeed.

major in me, and since last February when I was there for the Disney Princess Half Marathon, I have been dying to dine at Be Our Guest.  We were so lucky to snag reservations, and made our way through the line, flanked by talking (and snoring) empty armor.  Once you confirm the meal you would like (in advance) and approve payment, you make your way into the most spectacular ballroom turned eatery ever seen.  It’s quite truly like walking directly into the movie, complete with the West Wing (on the west side of the building) with enchanted rose and torn painting, and snow falling gently on the evening balcony scene beyond the main room.  Unbelievably incredible.

It is completely like the movie - who is ready to be the Belle of the ball?

It is completely like the movie – who is ready to be the Belle of the ball?

Talk about Disney magic... the enchanted rose!

Talk about Disney magic… the enchanted rose!

Dancing Belle and Beast, tres magnifique!

Dancing Belle and Beast, tres magnifique!

The cupcakes!!  SO good.

The cupcakes!! SO good.

We found some seats and awaited our meals.  Cast members pushed elaborate carts around the room with meals in tow.  Like magic, our meals appeared, complete with delectable desserts (the men both got the Master’s cupcake, with gray icing [“Try the gray stuff, it’s delicious!”]), while Samantha had a lemon merengue and I had a delicious strawberry cream cheese cupcake.  I had ordered the hubs a croquet monsieur and I annihilated the braised pork.  It was a fantastic meal, and all I could think was that doing Disney as an adult may be even more fun than as a child… there, I said it.

After we gorged ourselves on lunch, it was time for fast passes!  Being the Type

The winning score, by Mr. RockyMtnPearls!

The winning score, by Mr. RockyMtnPearls!

A personalities we are, Samantha and I had set up everything in advance, coordinating as much as possible.  We dashed over to Tomorrow Land for our first ride of the day, the fantastic Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.  Imagine sitting in a rotating bench with a toy gun shooting lasers at Emporer Zurg and his army, with the added effect of “Pew Pew Pew” noises for each shot.  Ah-mazing.  You get points based on the number of “Z’s” you shoot, and my hubby was the group’s victor.  It was epic.

We may have had too much fun playing Space Rangers...

We may have had too much fun playing Space Rangers…

*Pew* *PewPew*

*Pew* *PewPew*

Our adorable group and the obligatory castle shot!

Our adorable group and the obligatory castle shot!

Following our Space Ranger expedition, we found the necessary photo stop and got some great photos with the castle.  One of the many parades were about to start, so we jetted across the circle in front of the castle and made our way to Jungle Cruise.  Now this ride is hit or miss and it’s all about the skipper and their ability to deliver a good joke.  Ours was a little wanting but had some excellent morose one-liners that made up for it.  And this time of year, it transforms into the Jingle Cruise, so who doesn’t love a good Christmas themed joke?

Afterwards we headed to separate fast passes, so the hubs and I went to Space

Can you tell how much I LOVE Space Mountain??

Can you tell how much I LOVE Space Mountain?? The couple behind me was less than enthused…

Mountain (amazing!) and Samantha and her hubby went to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid.  We met back up for Lefou’s Brew in Gaston’s Tavern, followed by Pirates of the Caribbean for us and It’s a Small World for them.  We met up again at the end, and managed to fit in The Haunted Mansion and Thunder Mountain before heading to a delicious dinner at Liberty Tree Tavern.  If you haven’t been there, I highly recommend it.  This restaurant basically boasts Thanksgiving dinner all year long!  It definitely makes ordering easy, and the spread is delicious.

Once we finished dinner we emerged into what had become Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party!  This event required tickets, which we had purchased far in advance, and allowed us to stay in the park beyond the normal hours, surrounded by Christmas music, magical parades, and one of the best fireworks shows I have ever seen!  It also meant that rides were much easier to get on, and the one ride we had in mind was the brand new Seven Dwarves Mine Train ride – so fun!

Fireworks were about to start, so we made our way around the front of the castle to get a good view.  Disney has daily fireworks shows, so if anyone puts on a good display, it’s them.  Their Magic Kingdom Christmas fireworks show is no exception.  The coordination of music, lighting, fireworks, and of course, Tinkerbell, make the entire spectacle beautifully memorable.  See this fabulous video courtesy of Ms. BakeNBurn!

A Frozen castle in time for the season.

A Frozen castle in time for the season.

The phenomenal final about to begin!

The phenomenal final about to begin!

One of the perks of staying for the Christmas party was the stations throughout the park with free hot cocoa and sugar cookies.  In case we hadn’t had enough food that day, we headed to the Crystal Palace for our holiday snack, munched away, and then found an ideal viewing spot along Main Street USA for the Christmas Parade.  Basically the parade turned into the Frozen and holiday parade, but I was all about it.  This being my second time in Disney around Christmas, I was pleased to see they had altered the parade slightly.  The best part?  It was snowing on Main Street!  After the parade concluded, we headed back to the resort (and thankfully made it on the first bus there) and crashed for the night.  We ended the evening very excited knowing the next day was race day!

Ta-da! Christmas in Disney!

Ta-da! Christmas in Disney!

A float of princesses!

A float of princesses!

Cinderella in her carriage!

Cinderella in her carriage!

The tin soldiers were my favorite! An actual marching band playing their trumpets through the hole in the mask!

The tin soldiers were my favorite! An actual marching band playing their trumpets through the hole in the mask!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Have you ever experienced a Disney Christmas? What are your favorite attractions in the Magic Kingdom?  Can you ever be too old to wear Mickey Mouse ears and spend a day playing in Disney?

How To Succeed at the Expo Without Really Trying

It’s sad thinking this time last week I was leaving Disney World.  Thankfully Disney’s Wine and Dine Half Marathon was a

Behold: The Wide World of Sports!

Behold: The Wide World of Sports!

blast! Soggy, but definitely enjoyable!  Last Friday the hubs and I met up with Ms. BakeNBurn and her hubby to begin a whirlwind weekend in Disney World.  Our first stop on this wondrous weekend was the Wine and Dine Half Marathon Expo at the ESPN Wide World of Sports facility within Disney World.  We were staying at the Caribbean Beach resort, so after a most delicious breakfast of a Mickey Mouse waffle, sausage and fruit, we boarded the bus to the Expo.  We were very close to the ESPN complex, so after a short ride we hopped off the bus into the craziness that was about to ensue.  Step 1: take a photo with the giant cardboard champagne bottles.  I am a Champagne fiend, thus my hubby’s Easter egg hunt for me over the past two years was actually a hunt for mini bottles of champagne.  Brilliant!

I wish this were real... don't you love my tropical pants?

I wish this were real… don’t you love my tropical pants?

Step 2: enter the disorganization that is packet pick-up.  All four of us were in different number groupings, so we each headed to different lines to pick up our bibs and packets.  Samantha’s hubby was in Corral B, so he was in one of the first few lines.  My hubs and I were both in G, but separated between the 4,000’s and 5,000’s.  My line, which I could have sworn was a mistake, was three people long.  The hubs and Samantha, however, were in lines that extended into eternity.  Something seemed quite awry.  I waited for about 5 minutes and acquired my bib, race brochure, $10 Disney gift card (which would be a life saver later…), and adorable cork coaster.  Step 3: be prepared to wait, but don’t like it.  I departed the pick-up stands and went to find the hubs, still quite a ways back in line.  I waited with his for about 15 minutes until I looked back and saw that Samantha had not moved an inch since joining her endless line.  I wandered over and we devised a brilliant plan.  Step 4: find ways to avoid standing in lines.  The lines for our hubbies moved much faster than hers, so once they had their packets in hand, they held the line so we could multi-task and look at the merchandise section.

Step 5: wait in more lines for merchandise.  Ms. BakeNBurn and I are very decisive when it comes to the items we know

Lines, lines and more lines!

Lines, lines and more lines!

we want.  We do our research up front and waste no time in deciding on the products we want for purchase.  I found the adorable lavender colored hoodie and a Wine and Dine 13.1 car magnet (of course in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head), and Samantha picked up 2 different Wine and Dine running headbands, the same magnet, and a black half zip with “Eat, Drink, Run” in yellow text on the back – tres adorable.

Step 6: don’t forget to pick up your shirts, and when pressed for time,  grab the essentials.  Once we finally made it to the next building to pick up our shirts, we had very little time given our fast passes and lunch reservations in the Magic Kingdom.  We hurriedly picked up our shirts, grabbed some last minute IT band

Run Disney puts on an Expo unlike anything I have ever seen!

Run Disney puts on an Expo unlike anything I have ever seen!

and knee brace items for the hubs, and Samantha and I purchased some very cute SparkleAthletic visors.  The forecast was rather foreboding for race time… and rain was definitely in our futures.  This way our race “makeup” (I had big plans in mind) wouldn’t smear off our faces while we ran.  And no one wants rain in the eyes when you have 13.1 miles to go!  The Expo was one of my favorite parts of the Disney Princess Half Marathon, so Samantha and I were bummed we couldn’t spend as much time (or money) as we had intended, but I am sure our wallets were happier for it… as were our hubbies.

We made it out alive and managed to get the items we wanted and needed.  All in all, it was a successful, and mildly hectic morning.  We got back to the hotel, dropped off our loot, and rushed back to the bus stop to make our way to the Magic Kingdom!

What a great looking group! Mr. & Mrs. BakeNBurn are on the left and the hubs and I are on the right.

What a great looking group! Mr. & Mrs. BakeNBurn are on the left and the hubs and I are on the right.

Have you participated in any Run Disney races – what do you think about the enormity of the Expo?  Does anyone else pick out the merchandise they want before the Expo?  Don’t you just love our fabulous mouse ears?

Waiting for Wine and Dine and Chewy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Happy Wednesday world!  It’s post-election day, which means I am a happy camper because now the campaign ads are finally over.  Unless you’re Louisiana… which stinks.  But not here in Colorado, at least.  Hooray!  Otherwise, I am also excited that it’s Wednesday because that means I leave TOMORROW for Disney World with the hubs to meet up with our friends Mr. and Mrs. BakeNBurn for the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon and the renowned Food and Wine Festival in Epcot!

We all will arrive in Orlando late Thursday evening, but with enough time to rest up for a full day on Friday!  Friday morning we will be heading out to the Expo at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, where we will pick up our bibs, tech shirts and other goodies.  After that we’ll head out to the Magic Kingdom for a full day of fun and festivities.  On the docket are riding Buzz Lighyear’s Space Ranger Spin, tackling Space Mountain, and making our way through Pirates of the Caribbean.  One of the elements I am most excited for that day is finally dining at Be Our Guest inside the Beast’s castle!!  Ever since my last visit in February I have been longing to dine there, and we finally got the chance!  That night is the first night of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, which should be a blast given all the rides, treats and shows that will occur throughout the night.  It should be a phenomenally incredible first day in Disney.

There will be too much fun to be had!

There will be too much fun to be had!

Saturday is race day, so we plan to rest as much as possible during the day, and fuel up as needed.  I envision lounging by

So excited to run another race with this crew!

So excited to run another race with this crew!

the pool and an afternoon doze session.  That evening we’ll head out to the race area at around 6:15pm.  The race actually begins at 10:00pm, and we’re all starting in corral H, so we will have a bit of time to wait, but this way we’re there and won’t be in a rush.  This race will differ from the Princess Half Marathon as it goes through three parks, including Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and ends in Epcot.  Because it’s all at night, the parks will be lit up (especially the Osborne Family Lights in Hollywood Studios!), and Christmas decorations will adorn the entire facility.  Disney does an incredible job keeping the runners entertained en route, even between the parks, with characters, music, and the ChEAR squad, so I doubt there will be a dull moment along the way.  After the race, there’s a huge finish line party, with food, drinks and lots of fun to be had.  Although it’ll be around 1:00am in the morning, I think we’ll make the most of it before heading back to the resort.

On Sunday we will make our way to Epcot to indulge in the Epcot International Food and Wine festival around the showcase of nations.  This part I am particularly excited for given my foodie nature.  Dozens of countries (beyond those typically represented) will have booths set up with local flavors and national delicacies.  I am SO excited to taste my way around the world, and I am sure the boys are excited to drink around the world too!

Sadly on Monday we depart, but not until later in the day to allow for a lazy morning.  We’ll probably get a bit breakfast, lounge by the pool a bit more, pack up, and head to the airport.  All in all, I am so excited for this little getaway and racecation with the hubs and our dearest friends!

But before I head out on my magical adventure, I still have work and a fun fall-themed potluck with another advising office on campus to look forward to.  In the spirit of the season, our two offices decided to have a chili cook-off!  A few of my coworker made variations of chili, others brought in sides and fixings, and I, of course, brought dessert!  I didn’t want to make my go-to pumpkin bread as I brought that to our last potluck, but knew I still wanted to bake with pumpkin.  So I hopped on the internet and searched for chewy pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.  Thankfully it brought me to one of my favorite baking bloggers, Sally’s Baking Addiction.  I previously made her birthday cake blondies, which were a HUGE hit with the hubs and my office, so I thought I would give her cookies a try.  I am a big fan of chewy cookies as well, as chocolate chip cookies should be, so I wanted something similar that wouldn’t end up cakey or crunchy.

As Sally explained, pumpkins are primarily water, and typically watery cookie batters produce cakey cookies.  To avoid this, the recipe calls for melted butter, which helps to glue the ingredients together (rather than make the batter fluffy), and remove the eggs as the pumpkin will act as an adhesive and moistening agent.  So without further ado, Sally’s Chewy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Chewy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients2014-11-04 19.11.10

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

¼ cup light or dark brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 Tablespoons pumpkin puree (I used the rest in another of Sally’s amazing recipes!)

1 and ½ cups all-purpose flour (I used Hungarian High Altitude Flour)

¼ teaspoon salt

My other Sally's creation of the night!  Lightened-up Pumpkin Bars!

My other Sally’s creation of the night! Lightened-up Pumpkin Bars!

¼ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 and ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon allspice

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (plus some extra to add to the cookies after removing them from the oven)

Directions

Melt the butter over the stove or in a microwave safe bowl.  In a medium bowl, whisk the melted butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together until no brown sugar lumps remain. Add the vanilla and pumpkin until smooth. Set the wet ingredients aside.

2014-11-04 19.30.11In a larger bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and, if you’d like, a ¼ teaspoon of cloves (I typically do not use cloves, due to family preference). Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix together with a rubber spatula. The dough will form into a ball and be fairly soft.  Fold in ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips. It may be difficult to incorporate them evenly, but work them through as best you can. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes, or up to 3 days. Chilling is mandatory.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator, and preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.  Roll the dough into balls, about 1 ½ Tablespoons of dough each. Press down on the dough balls and flatten them because the cookies will only slightly spread in the oven. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes. The cookies will look very soft and underbaked, but trust me, this is how you want them so they’ll remain nice and chewy. Any extra time in the oven will cause them to dry out and become hard.  Remove from the oven and press a few more chocolate chips onto the tops, if desired.  If you find that your cookies didn’t spread much at all, flatten them out when you take them out of the oven.

Make sure to press down the dough as they will not spread much in the oven.

Make sure to press down the dough as they will not spread much in the oven.

Look at those beautiful golden chewy cookies!

Look at those beautiful golden chewy cookies!

Allow the cookies to cool for at least 10 minutes on the cookie sheets before transferring to a wire rack.  The more cooling time they have, they chewier they are!   Store the cookies in an airtight container and they should last up to a week.  Enjoy!

2014-11-04 20.50.25

Too good for words.

Have you ever been to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival?  What did you think?  What was your favorite dish or nation?  Are you as obsessed as I am with all things pumpkin?

Kooky Spooky Half Fanatic Qualifier

I am doing my happy dance today, for many reasons.  First, because it is Halloween.  Now, I didn’t always love Halloween

I am part of Team Zissou, obviously.

I am part of Team Zissou, obviously.

but enjoy it significantly more now that I am older.  I don’t like it for the candy, and not necessarily the costumes, although I am digging our office’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou theme today (let’s be honest, I love nautical so it totally works).  I now love Halloween because I love decorating, baking everything pumpkin, and the fact that it’s the gateway to the true holiday season!  Also, the hubs and I like to pass out giant bars of candy and make creative Halloween-inspired cocktails, so it’s great that it’s the start of the weekend.  The second reason for my outburst of enthusiasm is simply that it’s Friday.  And finally, my third reason for exuberance is that the hubs and I are officially Half Fanatics!

What is a Half Fanatic, you might ask.  Well it’s a cult-like community (a nice cult that is) of ridiculously rambunctious runners who tend to be a little overzealous in their running of numerous races.  In my previous post I reviewed the Denver Rock ‘N’ Roll half marathon, but this past weekend, the hubs and I ran yet another half marathon, this time in Golden, Colorado (really it was northwest Arvada, but close enough).  This race featured a half marathon, 10K, 5K, and kids’ fun run.  Given that the hubs and I wanted to stay in running shape for the upcoming Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon (NEXT WEEKEND!!!), we figured why not do one more?  So Sunday morning we drove out toward Golden for the Kooky Spooky Half Marathon!

Wouldn't be race day without this shot!

Wouldn’t be race day without this shot!

This race was a bit kooky and spooky, for both good and bad reasons.  What I was not expecting was the nearly 500 foot elevation difference from about mile 8 to mile 11.  That was rough, and near the end of a race, it makes for a less than triumphant finish.  All the runners met at the North Area Athletic Complex (NAAC) in northwest Arvada, which thankfully had real bathrooms (a big pre-race bonus), and a staggered start time for each race distance.  The half marathoners left first, which was beneficial given the race started at 9:00am.  We arrived at the complex 15 minutes prior, having already picked up our bibs and race packets on Friday evening, and knowing it was a small race.  We weren’t terribly concerned with time, but more just maintaining mileage.

Promptly at 9:00am, the race started, after a few instructions and

Can you find us? Points if you can!

Can you find us? Points if you can!

reminders from one of the race officials.  We made our way out of the NAAC parking lot and down towards a sidewalk path, which unfortunately forced many runners onto the road, heading to the Ralston Creek Trail.  The paved trail takes you first through a scenic and quiet neighborhood, with lovely houses and wildlife refuge areas all around.  Then you snake past a golf course, which on our way out was still fairly unused, and then into a lush open space with trees on one side and stunning mountain vistas on the other.  This first portion of the course was delightfully downhill, and I was loving it.  We made our way about five and half miles before we crossed a road and quickly turned to run in the other direction.  At this point there had already been three water stations and a smattering of helpful volunteers and cheering on-lookers.

Why don't races have difficulty ratings?

Why don’t races have difficulty ratings?

As we made our way to mile 7 I was feeling fine pace-wise (we kept a 10:07 pace through this time), but I was getting hungry.  I grabbed my Vanilla GU and slurped it down quickly.  It took a little while before its intended effect kicked-in.  Come mile 8, however, I was slowing.  The day was warming to an unseasonal 75 degrees, and because the race was later, we were going to be running during much of the heat of the day (this is me complaining, *whine, whine, whine*).  Once we made it back out of the Ralston Creek Trail, we made a right at Virgil Way onto the Blunn Reservoir loop, taking us away from the stadium toward an incredibly daunting continuous incline.  This is where I panicked.  The final portion of the race was completely open to the elements, and forced us up into the undulating hills preceding the foothills of Jefferson County.  I let the hubs go on ahead because I could tell I was losing steam and didn’t want to disrupt his rhythm.  I managed to run-walk my way through the next three miles until I reached the summit of the entire course at 5,967 feet. Yup, that’s practically 6,000 feet.  Not what you’d expect in the second half of half marathon.

Once we crested the “hill,” I gained a lot of speed snaking my way back downhill, descending about 200 feet in elevation.  I could see my hubby chugging along a few minutes ahead of me, and was happy I hadn’t lost too much time.  During this section of the race I met a fun girl dressed as bat girl (including batman printed tutu and socks), who was running her first half marathon that day.  She drove out Friday from Grand Junction, Colorado, which is remarkably flat, so she and I commiserated about this unexpected last portion of the race.  Once we made it to the bottom of this hill, the path snaked through a ravine and worked its way upward back to the stadium.  That “one mile left” sign is really what kept me going, that and the race photographer.  Just before reaching the parking lot to run through the finish line, I was so tempted to give up, but another runner, whom I had been pacing for the last 2 miles cheered me up tremendously, saying, “Just a quarter mile left – we gotta make sure they see us running!  Let’s do it!”  That was the jolt of energy I needed.

The hubs was a superstar and kept on chugging along!

The hubs was a superstar and kept on chugging along!

You have to admit, the background is amazing.

You have to admit, the background is amazing.

I finally crossed the finish line with a 2:27:06, just a few minutes after the hubs with a 2:25:12 finish.  He had just gotten his medal and water before looping back to the finish line to cheer me on.  I was so happy to see him there smiling me through my final steps.  It was definitely an achievement, but I was so ready for a shower and a day with nothing to do.

Now that to me looks like a sigh of relief!

Now that to me looks like a sigh of relief!

This finish line couldn't come soon enough!

This finish line couldn’t come soon enough!

So here we are, Half Fanatics boasting two half marathons a week apart, and soon to be three in four weeks!  It’s a great start to race season, and I can’t wait to feel that rush next weekend in Disney World (with Ms. BakeNBurn and her hubby too!).

Half Fanatic bound!  Victorious!

Half Fanatic bound! Victorious!

Are you also a half fanatic – or have you thought about becoming one?  Am I crazy?  Any other fun Halloween themed races out there?  Anyone else running Wine and Dine?

758095-1103-0047s

Denver Rock ‘N’ Roll Race Recap!

Um, hello Monday, where did you come from?  Ever have one of those weeks (or series of weeks) that in every way flies by?  I have just experienced this the past three weeks.  I am actually not entirely certain where October has gone and how Halloween is THIS WEEK.  But here we are, regardless.  Oh, and my office is dressing up as the crew from The Life Acquatic with Steve ZissouHow amazing is that?  And if you haven’t seen the movie, you definitely should – Wes Anderson is a genius.

A little over a week ago my life was occupied by first a promotion (hooray!  Have I mentioned how much I love my job?), and an incredible training opportunity for our office.  Our entire staff was able to attend certification training for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality assessment.  It was life changing!  If you haven’t taken the assessment and received a personal interpretation of the report, please invest in yourself and do it!  It is so enlightening about individual self, communication and interaction with others, and provides a deep understanding about the people with whom we surround ourselves.  I learned so much and just want to share it with everyone!

Two weekends ago was a big one for the hubs and me.  We participated in my hubby’s first half marathon, and my first half at altitude!  Ms. BakeNBurn gave me the idea to register for the Denver Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon after reading her post on the RNR USA.  After traveling for two weeks abroad, coming down with a serious and lengthy cold, and making major transitions at work, I didn’t entirely feel prepared for this race, and was just praying for a 2:30 finish.  Thankfully two weeks prior I ran the Denver Hot Chocolate 15K, and appreciated those 9.3 miles as practice.  The next weekend the hubs and I went for an 11 mile run in some horrendous weather conditions, and felt pretty good afterwards.  But still, there’s something about hitting those full 13.1 miles that feels different.

Saturday we went to the expo downtown at the Colorado Convention Center, not knowing it was also the Denver Zombie Crawl that day.  The city was nuts, and the expo closed at 5pm.  We arrived at 4:25pm… Thankfully we easily got our bibs, shirts, and VIP passes (definitely worth the investment, even just for the porta potties!).  We meandered a bit around the expo, but knowing everything was going to close, we wanted to beat the rush out and left at 4:45pm.  Besides, we had to wake the same time the next morning, so an early dinner and bedtime were calling our names.

We woke early, readied ourselves and were out the door by 5:30am.  As per parking instructions for our VIP passes, we had to be in the garage by 6am before they began closing the roads around it.  We made it just in time, given the traffic right around the garage.  We took our time putting on our bibs and readying our outfits and paraphernalia, and made our way to Civic Center park for the VIP area.  Unlike at RNR USA, participants were able to pay a $65 fee for VIP area access, rather than spend a certain amount in Brooks gear at the expo.  This was a huge bonus, with pre-race snacks, heat lamps and chairs and tables, and private VIP porta potties.  Race day facilities leave much to be desired, so the fewer individuals utilizing these porta potties, the better.  And boy, was it worth it.

Ready to run this race!

Ready to run this race! Gotta love the cozy VIP tent…

I grabbed a yogurt with granola and bananas, knowing I get the munchies when I run, and hung out in the warmth of the

45 minutes after the "start" I was raring to go!

45 minutes after the “start” I was raring to go!

tent until 10 minutes before 7:15am, the supposed starting time of the race.  We made our way through the crowded, congested throng of people, not finding our way to corral 14 until 7:20am.  The race still hadn’t started at this point.  Finally we heard the gun go off and the wheel chair starters were off.  Then the national anthem was performed and FINALLY the first corral left.  We didn’t move up for quite some time, and didn’t cross the starting line until 20 minutes later.

Thank you Marathon Photo for this awesome shot!

Thank you Marathon Photo for this awesome shot!

Aaaand we're off!

Aaaand we’re off!

The course first took us through the city along 14th street, and then veered off towards Auraria Parkway, at which point we cut back across to the Speer bridge, crossing over I-25 into the Denver Highlands.  If you’re familiar with the Highlands, you’ll know it’s got a fair amount of hills.  The course took us up towards Sloan’s lake, which was absolutely stunning early in the morning with the sun rising over the Denver skyline, reflected in the calmness of the lake.  I would share a picture, but as I was running for time, I didn’t stop for pictures.  Apparently I passed my coworker cheering along Sheridan Boulevard, and didn’t even know it!

Thankfully a beautiful course with lots of good sights and plenty of water/aid stations.

Thankfully a beautiful course with lots of good sights and plenty of water/aid stations.

Totally unaware of the photographer, go me!

Totally unaware of the photographer, go me!

Finally we looped around the lake and took Tennyson Street, and down 29th, before coming by Federal Boulevard and back into the city.  Between the 10K mark and mile 7, the run along 29th was amazing, as the entire street was lined with incredible signs and cheering folks emerging from their homes to rally the runners.  Some of my favorite signs included one held by a 7 or 8 year old boy, which read, “Run faster! I just farted!” and another later in the race another sign read, “You paid for this?”  My absolute favorite was a sign that read my mind: “Keep running, people are watching!”  I am definitely a bit of a self-conscious runner, so I want to be seen actually running when there are spectators.  Silly, but effective!

Once we made it back into downtown we had just hit mile nine.  We ran down 15th and turned left towards Coors Field.  The

Sprinting together towards the finish line!  I love it!

Sprinting together towards the finish line! I love it!

band here was performing “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson, so obviously I broke into a dance as we crested the hill.  It was awesome.  We wrapped around the stadium and took Walnut north and then ran back down Larimer, before cutting across 20th to Lincoln.  Here the marathoners veered off for the second half of their race which took them through City Park and Wash Park, some of my favorite areas to run in Denver.  We, however, were well on our way to the finish line, which was good because I couldn’t imagine doing another one of these!  With about three tenths of a mile to go, passing right by the capitol building, the hubs and I grabbed hands and sprinted with all our might to the finish line.  It was an epic rush of adrenaline and speed, topped with a heaping pile of victory.  We were so thrilled to have finished strong and together.  We weren’t as fast as we wanted, but better than projected: 2:20:28.  That’s a time I can definitely live with!

Weee! I love running!

Weee! I love running!

Now that's a money shot - capitol in the background!

Now that’s a money shot – capitol in the background!

We flit, we float, we fleetly flee, we fly!

We flit, we float, we fleetly flee, we fly!

Victory!!

Victory!!

New shiny medal hooray!

New shiny medal hooray!

These medals are amazing!

These medals are amazing!

After the race we collected our awesome medals (complete with bottle opener on the back – awesome!), chocolate milk (my post-race tradition), Gatorade, water and Lara bars and found our way through the crowd back towards the VIP tent.  Although we weren’t terribly hungry, I wanted my mimosa like whoa.  I may have had that mimosa on my mind since we arrived in the tent.  I munched on a yummy biscuit, drank my mimosa, and recharged my phone at their charging station.  Yet another genius element of the VIP tent.  The hubs and I then took our leave of the chaos of downtown and made it back to the garage.  It took about 30 minutes to exit the garage, which is irritating when all you want to do is go home, shower, and relax, but we made the most of it.  All in all, it was a fun race and a victorious start to our shared half marathon career.

Will run for mimosas!

Will run for mimosas!

Have you ever run a Rock ‘N’ Roll race – what did you think?  Do you prefer to run through cities or run races in remote areas?  How cool is a medal that doubles as a bottle opener?

Tastes Like Autumn: Apple Cinnamon Oat Scones

Yesterday was one of those rare Colorado fall days that actually makes you think of fall.  Typically autumn lasts for a week, and then winter rears its snowy head.  This fall has been temperamental, but seemingly more fall-esque.  With a rainy day that never reached a high of 60 degrees, and an office autumn potluck to prepare for, I went searching for a delicious seasonal treat that was worth the time of year.  Given my recent trip to the UK, I have been on a tea and scone kick, so I decided to make scones.  Other than pumpkin, which is my automatic autumn go-to, apples are another perfect taste of fall.

In my hunt for the perfect apple cinnamon scone, I stumbled upon one of my favorite baking resources, King Arthur Flour.  They always have great recipes, ideas, and really wonderful products.  I discovered an apple cinnamon scone recipe that I thought would be easy to edit to my tastes.  I didn’t want to add the butterscotch chips, and had some oats and almonds lying around.  After testing it out on my boss and coworker this morning, it has passed the taste-test.  So here it is, my own Apple Cinnamon Oat Scones!

Amy’s Apple Cinnamon Oat Scones

Ingredients2014-10-09 20.06.50

2 ¾ cup unbleached Hungarian High Altitude Flour

1/3  cup granulated/baker’s sugar

¾ teaspoon Kosher salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

½ cup (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter

¾ cup chopped fresh apple, in ½” (or smaller) pieces (about half a medium apple)

½ cup steel cut oats (reserve some for sprinkling on top of scones)

½ cup almond slivers2014-10-09 20.20.48

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup applesauce, unsweetened preferred (I used organic unsweetened cinnamon applesauce)

Topping

Cinnamon Sugar (Penzeys)

Extra oats

¼ cup milk

Tips for Baking

Freeze the unbaked scones for 30 minutes before baking.  30 minutes in the freezer relaxes the gluten in the flour, which makes the scones more tender and allows them to rise higher. It also chills the fat, which will make the scones a bit flakier.

Scones are best served warm. They’re delicious as is, but add butter and/or jam (or apple butter), if you like. To reheat room-temperature scones, place on a baking sheet, tent lightly with foil, and warm in a preheated 350°F oven for about 10 minutes.

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and spices.  Work in the butter with a pastry cutter just until the mixture is unevenly crumbly and the butter is about the size of peas.  Stir in the chopped apple, oats, and almonds.

Incorporate the filling (apples, oats and almonds) with the dry ingredients.

Incorporate the filling (apples, oats and almonds) with the dry ingredients.

Make a well and pour in the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Make a well and pour in the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and applesauce.  Create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until all is moistened and holds together.

2014-10-09 20.48.54Line a baking sheet with parchment; if you don’t have parchment, just use it without greasing it. Sprinkle a bit of flour atop the parchment or pan.  Scrape the dough onto the floured parchment or pan, and form the dough in a round about 3/4″ thick. Using a small biscuit cutter, cut out the scones. Brush each circle with milk, and sprinkle with the oats and Cinnamon Sugar.  Place evenly on the prepared pan, leaving an inch between each scone.  For best texture and highest rise, place the pan of scones in the freezer for 30 minutes, uncovered. While the scones are chilling, preheat the oven to 425°F.  Bake the scones for 18 to 20 minutes, or until they’re golden brown.

Remove the scones from the oven, and cool briefly on the pan. Serve warm. When they’re completely cool, wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to several days.

Yield: 12-15 scones.

Enjoy!

I may have also made pumpkin bread... I got fall baking happy!

I may have also made pumpkin bread… I got fall baking happy!

What are your favorite fall flavors and recipes?  What’s your favorite thing to do on a crisp autumn day?  What are you up to this weekend?

Chocolate Made Me Do It: Denver Hot Chocolate 15K

Given that it is the fall semester on a college campus, I should not be surprised that I am finally recovered from an epic early cold season amalgamation of viruses.  After returning from the UK I came down with a nasty cold, but the following week assumed I was on the mend… until Sunday rolled around.  Last week I finally went to the doctor and was prescribed some terribly effective medication, but it all definitely threw a wrench in my fall training plan.  However, months ago I had signed up for the Denver Hot Chocolate 15K, and knowing how great this race was last year, I couldn’t pass it up.

Saturday I decided to try a medium run, so I headed out on Saturday afternoon for a solid 5 miles.  Having not partook in any physical activity for a week, I knew it’d be tough.  Unlike how I usually feel (body is great, lungs would appreciate more air in this mile high city), my legs were a bit shaky, but I could thankfully breath.  I kept a 10:25 pace, and was satisfied at the end of my five miles.  I did a few extra lunges, squats and leg lifts for good measure, and prayed that the 9.3 miles the next day wouldn’t kick my butt too badly.  Thankfully I had already visited the pre-race expo at the National Western Complex Center earlier in the day, getting my bib, AWESOME goodie bag, and some other paraphernalia from the vendors on site, like Skirt Sports, Lara Bars, and Sweaty Bands.

The Hot Chocolate race series hosts races in cities throughout the country, and I was so excited that Denver was one of those cities.  I woke early Sunday morning so as to make it to Civic Center Park (the park by the capitol building in downtown Denver) by 6:40am.  I parked at 6:30 at the Colorado History Museum and walked the two blocks to the event area.  Tents lined the parks, housing merchandise, hot chocolate (courtesy of Ronald McDonald House), bag drop-off, and the post-race chocolate bar.  A number of people arrived early, as the 5K started at 7:00am.  The 5K and 15K had separate starting times, but I found it odd that the 15K did not go first.  My only assumption was that this was designed so as not to disperse the 15K medals to 5K finishers if the two groups converged at the finish line.

Although the 15K didn’t begin until 7:50am, I arrived early so as to meet up with my local sorority sisters participating in the race.  Our sorority, Alpha Delta Pi, works closely with the Ronald McDonald House charities given it is our national philanthropy.  Knowing this race supports Ronald McDonald House charities, our group decided to make this a local alumnae event, garnering more attention and attendance.  In order to get the obligatory photo-op (let’s be honest, it’s what sororities love to do), we had to meet before the 5K race started.

We sorority girls can't resist a photo-op! Throwing diamonds! <>

We sorority girls can’t resist a photo-op! Throwing diamonds! <>

Gotta love the marshmallow man!

Gotta love the marshmallow man!

After our photo, my fellow sisters, Christie and Carrie and I waited for our start time by huddling in the merchandise tent.  It was cool, but thankfully not cold that morning, and absolutely ideal running weather.  We finally made our way to the starting line.  Christie was in corral H, Carrie in I, and I was in J.  Carrie and Christie decided to start together, but I took my place back in J, waiting for the race to start.

The race was much bigger than I expected, about 8,000 people total registered for either of the races.  Thankfully, after we crossed the starting line, I didn’t have to weave through people as much like I would for most of the larger races.  Very few people stopped to walk, and nearly everyone was considerate about their spacing and not blocking people.

Beautiful morning to run a 15K!

Beautiful morning to run a 15K!

Game faces people!

Game faces people!

We snaked our way through a good portion of the city, first heading out on 15th Street, past the CU Denver Business School (which made me happy, go Lynx!), then made our way northeast for about two miles on Walnut Street.  At this point we’d already had a chocolate (not necessarily a good idea this early in the race), water and sports drink station with amazing, friendly and enthusiastic volunteers.  Around this time I caught up with Christie and Carrie and we ran together for a bit.  After we passed the 5K mark, we were heading in the opposite direction on Larimer Street.  Another water station was available shortly afterwards, and one of my colleagues was volunteering!  At this point I separated from Christie and Carrie and kept running.  The course eventually took us left onto 20th Street, which veered into 20th Avenue.  Then I realized where we were… the dreaded hilly section.

The course took us through some fun parts of the city, and was never boring.

The course took us through some fun parts of the city, and was never boring.

Christie and Carrie ran this race last year together, and warned me in advance that the second half of the race was significantly hillier.  Thankfully the first half of the race was practically flat and primarily snaked through both business and industry sectors of the city.  The second half on the race made its way through residential areas of the city, with lovely quiet tree-lined streets, that also happened to incorporate a lot of hills.  The run from just before mile 5 to mile 6 was probably the toughest part, given it was one of those hills that never seemed to end.  Once we made it to the 10K mark, however, the course leveled a bit and the hills afterwards we more manageable.  The course dipped downward first as we headed towards mile 8 and again towards mile 9, which provided great opportunities to gain time and regain oxygen.

Along the course volunteers not only passed out water, Gatorade and chocolate, but also marshmallows (both regular and strawberry flavored), tootsie rolls, and random other themed snacks.  I didn’t partake simply because chewing a sticky marshmallow or tootsie roll while running did not seem at all appealing, and I was desperately looking forward to my hot chocolate and chocolate fondue at the end.

As we finally made it to mile 9, the next .3 miles seemed to stretch on forever along the fairly flat and wide Broadway.  Thankfully kids with incredibly clever signs (“Is your butt hurting?  It’s because you’re kicking ass!” “Keep running so the zombies don’t get you!” “Are you really doing this just for chocolate?”), and a local high-five giving priest (who also added in a “God bless you” as you ran past) were there to motivate the runners to the end.  When we finally reached the finish line, I realized again why I love races so much.  That accomplishment as you pass through is such an incredible feat, regardless of time.  More volunteers were ready with water bottles and the adorable 15K finisher medals, congratulating us on a great race.  I finished in 1:37:31, not my best time, but better than I had expected post-plague.

Victorious ending to a great race!

The fantastic chocolate bar medal - LOVE!

The fantastic chocolate bar medal – LOVE!

While I was en route, I passed an adorable couple who were running the race together.  It sounded like it was the wife’s first race and she kept looking ahead at all the runners around her, worried they weren’t going fast enough.  The husband grabbed her hand and said simply, “Don’t look ahead at those other people, don’t even think about them.  This race is about you, about accomplishing it for yourself, about beating your own time and proving it to yourself.”  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I run: for me.

After the race, I met up with Karen (from the Esprit de She race) and waited for Christie and Carrie to finish.  We went to the

Christie and Carrie couldn't decide which was better: medals or chocolate mug?

Christie and Carrie couldn’t decide which was better: medals or chocolate mug?

post-race party area and collected our finisher mugs complete with chocolate fondue, marshmallow, pretzels, graham crackers, rice krispie treat, banana and hot chocolate.  AH-MAZING.  Best post-race treat ever.  I may have kept the mugs to replicate this idea later…

Chocolate makes me giddy!

Chocolate makes me giddy!

Totally worth the wait.

Totally worth the wait.

Given we had run 9.3 miles that morning we were well on our way to hungry, so we tried to meet up with some of the 5K ADPi runners at Snooze on Larimer, but they weren’t able to seat us, so instead we made our way to Sam’s Number 3 on 15th street.  We waited about 35-40 minutes, but it was worth it.  Where else can you get a burrito the size of your face, a side of bacon, coffee, and chocolate milk for $14?  And it was delicious to boot.

Burrito the size of my face. I could only eat half, but so worth it.

Burrito the size of my face. I could only eat half, but so worth it.

This is a race I would do every year, not just for the amazing swag (check out the incredible zip-up we got!  I may have also

The zip up is awesome, much better than most race gear!

The zip up is awesome, much better than most race gear!

purchased a neon yellow zip-up and purple ear warmer because all the merchandise was just too cute!) and post-race goodies, but for its contribution towards Ronald McDonald House charities.  The race takes place in 15 cities across the nation – I recommend it if you can find one close!

Would you run for chocolate?  Have you ever participated in a Hot Chocolate Run?  Know of any other sweet-incentive races out there?