Disney and Harry Potter – Sans Race

Well that was a nice little reprieve from the blogosphere – but now I am back!  The month of March was an insanely busy one, and while I am glad it passed quickly, I am having a hard time keeping up.  This past October I was promoted within my office, but during the transition of the past six months, I have continued to do both my old and new jobs.  This has made balancing work and life rather more challenging when your work practically doubles.  Thankfully this week should mark the end of the search process for a candidate to fill my former position *finger crossed* at which point I will be able to gladly pass this torch of mine.  With that in mind, it’s relieved some of the stress of the piling work, but only marginally.  It’s not real until the newest employee of our office signs the paperwork and shows up!

It's been seriously gorgeous the end of March... when is the snow going to come in?
It’s been seriously gorgeous the end of March… when is the snow going to come in?

So beyond the incredible work load of the past months, March was incredibly fun and full of great memories.  The month started with my first half marathon of the season in chilling temperatures and snow covered trails, and is ending with beautiful, sunny 70 degree days!  Of course, living in Colorado, you know there could still easily be snow through May, but for the most part, the weather has made a delightful 180 turnaround for the awesome.

March is the month of Spring Break, and although I work at a university, the employees do not actually have off for the week.  My sister and sister-in-law work at the University of Maryland (GO TERPS!), and they both had a week off to enjoy the springtime, so my family decided to plan a trip to Disney World.  Needless to say, it is one of my favorite places to escape to, so I was on board all the way.  The hubs sat this one out, and I couldn’t stay the whole week with my family, but I did get to spend four amazing days in sunny, hot Orlando (yeah, it’s cheesy but I love it).

This was the first time I had been to Disney with most of my family since 2011,

The grounds are awesome, with golf courses all around.
The grounds are awesome, with golf courses all around.

so it was a fun time.  I left for Orlando on Friday, March 13th (I know, I was brave enough to fly on Friday the 13th! EEK!), and met up with my parents and sister at the airport.  Thankfully my dad’s 26 years of military service gets him access to the Disney military resort, Shades of Green.  We set off, made a few wrong turns on our way from the airport, but finally arrived at the resort in time for a little R ‘n’ R.  My folks relaxed in their room while I forced my sister to explore the grounds with me.  I knew I would want to get a few runs in while there, so I had to scope it out.  Afterwards, we gathered back up and made our way to Downtown Disney for dinner at the Wolfgang Puck Grand Café, shopping, and an impromptu viewing of the new “Cinderella” movie.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s truly phenomenal!

While I want that shoe, how in the world do you walk in it?
While I want that shoe, how in the world do you walk in it?
Mi hermana and I were SO EXCITED!
Mi hermana and I were SO EXCITED!

The next day, my dad and I went for a run around the Polynesian Resort, which was conveniently located across the street from our resort.  The trails and sidewalks weren’t all connected due to some major renovations, but it was otherwise a fun and easy run with my dad.  Afterwards, we got a delicious buffet breakfast and headed out to Universal Studios for, what else, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!  So, lesson learned, apparently they have broken up the Wizarding World (Hogsmeade and Hogwarts) from Diagon Alley, which means you need a park hopper ticket to enter both.  We weren’t aware of this difference, and only realized it when I was trying to find my sorority sister (from Maryland) who also happened to be there the same day.  In order to go back and forth, you take the Hogwarts Express, but only with this ticket.

Otherwise, the Hogsmeade and Hogwarts section was awesome.  It looked like

Hogsmeade was so cute, I could have moved in.
Hogsmeade was so cute, I could have moved in.

it came out of the movie – snow covered, slighly leaning buidlings, wonky little shops, and the castle rising above it all.  Universal Studios does make me appreciate Disney World so much more, however, for the organization and attention to detail.  Although the park was fun, it was easily crowded and not very well laid out.  Once we made our way to Islands of Adventure, we headed through the world of Dr. Seuss (Seuss Landing) and the Lost Continent, until we passed through the gates of Hogsmeade!  First on the agenda?  Butterbeer, obviously!  And it did not disappoint.  This caramel, butterscotch concoction was so delicious, refreshing and sweet… I could have had several but limited myself to one.

Butterbeer with the fam!
Butterbeer with the fam!
How can you stop with just one??
How can you stop with just one??
It's the entrance to Dumbledore's office!
It’s the entrance to Dumbledore’s office!

Afterwards, we decided to check out the Hogwarts castle ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  The line was about 45 minutes, although it didn’t take that long.  Once we got a locker for our purses (which was kind of a hassle), we meandered through the greenhouses, past potted Mandrakes, and into the castle, complete with interactive paintings, disappearing stairwells, and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom.  When you arrive in Dumbledore’s office, he is there to greet you with his Pensieve and Fawkes the phoenix.  The castle was very well designed, and made the waiting all the more worthwhile.  Harry, Ron and Hermione are waiting for you in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and attempt to explain that you will be enchanted so you can fly on a broomstick like witches and wizards.  The ultimate goal was a little unclear, but then you make your way into the final passage, past the Singing Lady, and onto the ride.

The ride itself is INCREDIBLE.  I don’t say this lightly.  It’s a meaningful length and completely transformative.  The seats are the kind that strap you in over your head, allowing your feet to dangle.  There are 4 people in a row, and then you are off on your flying adventure.  The ride takes you through all of the scary, creepy, adventuresome moments in the books/movie.  You find yourself amidst a Quidditch game, launched into the forbidden forest surrounded by Aragog and his eight legged friends, being chased by Dementors and dragons, and so much more.  You truly feel transported into this magical world – I literally screeched a few times in surprise!

The castle, and the ride, are so on point!
The castle, and the ride, are so on point!

After the ride, we wandered into Honeydukes and purchased some goodies (Fizzing Wizzbees!  They exist!), and then took

Hagrid's hut was on point!
Hagrid’s hut was on point!

a gander at the wands available in Hogsmeade.  Finally we decided to hop on the Flight of the Hippogriff ride, which was easy and fun.  The life-size Buckbeak was really cool, nestled in his nest, occasionally peaking up to see what was going on.  All-in-all, it was so much fun.

It was a pretty toasty day, so we decided not to wait for the Dueling Dragons ride, and instead, in honor of my mama’s birthday, took her to Margaritaville for a few margs in the air conditioning.  I am admittedly not a huge Jimmy Buffet fan, but the margaritas at this place are awesome.  They don’t skimp, and they’re delicious.  Ironically, one of my sorority sisters and darling dear friends was also on a family vacay and happened to be at Universal that day!  They had spent much of the earlier part of the day in Diagon Alley so I couldn’t get over to see them, but after sipping our margaritas, she had popped over to the Islands of Adventure side of the park.  I went back in the park long enough to give her a big hug, snap a few photos (she was adorably adorned in HP gear), and quickly catch up.  Afterwards, we headed back to the resort to meet up with my brother and his wife, who had just arrived, and get a yummy birthday dinner for my mama.

Love you, Juliet!  So glad we found each other!
Love you, Juliet! So glad we found each other!
Um, how cute is she?
Um, how cute is she?
Happy birthday mamasita!
Happy birthday mamasita!

Be honest, how much am I missing from Diagon Alley?  Anyone else just love Harry Potter World?  It’s okay to still act like I am 8 years old as an adult, right?

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?

Yoga on the Rocks and a Beautiful Saturday Hike

I have never experienced anything quite like Yoga on the Rocks.  That one hour of my life was so serene, so peaceful, and

Watching the sunrise over Red Rocks - so surreal!
Watching the sunrise over Red Rocks – so surreal!

yet incredibly fulfilling all at once.  I had initially heard about Yoga on the Rocks from the instructor of LacyFit, Amy Lacy.  The program is put on by Core Power Yoga and co-sponsored by Whole Foods (excellent combination).  Amy had participated with a group of friends at the end of July.  The pictures she posted were incredible!  Thousands of people from all over Colorado, and beyond, participating in a massive outdoor group yoga session, while the sun bathes you in light on the steps of Red Rocks… yes please!  Personally I am not a huge yogi, but I have done a few videos at home and sessions with friends.  This type of experience, however, was completely up my alley.

After learning there were three classes left for the summer, I checked

So grateful for my yogi friends!
So grateful for my yogi friends!  Tessa is on my left and Ade on my right.

my calendar and called my two main yogi friends, Ade and Tessa.  Ade and I bonded over joblessness and hiking after moving to Boulder, Colorado post-completion of our respective graduate programs.  Tessa is my longtime friend from high school who initially moved to Colorado shortly after I did, then spent two years in Istanbul, Turkey, and just moved back to Denver this July!  It was meant to be, we were all free on August 16th!

Knowing I would have to awaken prior to the sun, I figured this would be a good opportunity to seize the day, and asked if the ladies would also like to join me for a hike around Red Rocks after yoga.  Thankfully they were on board, so we had a whole morning of stunning scenery and physical fitness ahead of us.

Red Rocks is about 25 minutes southwest of Denver proper, nestled in the foothills of Morrison.  These naturally occurring jagged red rocks quite literally set the stage for an outdoor amphitheater.  There’s really nothing quite like it!  I remember visiting Red Rocks on my very first trip to Colorado in 2007.  Little did I know then that I would live a short drive away someday.

I picked up Tessa early that morning and Ade drove down from Boulder and met

Prepping for our morning yoga session!
Prepping for our morning yoga session!

us at the amphitheater.  The sun was just peeking above the stage and thousands of yogis were laying out mats, stretching, and taking pictures of our surreal surroundings.  The early goers got free Core Power Yoga mats and awesome bright orange sunglasses.  Obviously we all put those on immediately.  People-watching was awesome, mostly for the incredible yoga pants all over the place.  The program started just after 7:00am, and it was truly a perfect morning: barely a cloud in the bright blue sky, light breeze, and sunny.  It was the best Saturday morning I have had in a long time.

There's definitely nothing quite like it!
There’s definitely nothing quite like it!
The one artsy shot we had to get - stretching it out after a great class!
The one artsy shot we had to get – stretching it out after a great class!

Although not the most challenging yoga class, it was designed for yogis of all strengths and skill levels (good for a novice like me!).  The poses focused all areas of the body, and the instructor was very cognizant of the wide array of experience throughout the amphitheater.  She had us repeating throughout the class, “Where are you?  Red Rocks!  What are you?  Alive!”  At first it seemed like a silly chant, but looking around, it meant so much more.  Very few people in the world get the chance to do this, and what a perfect day and way to celebrate just being alive.

At the end of the class, Whole Foods stations were located at the top of the

This was the perfect post-yoga hiking trail - not too tough with awesome views!
This was the perfect post-yoga hiking trail – not too tough with awesome views!

amphitheater with fabulous giveaways and snacks.  We grabbed some vitamins, protein milk, granola and yogurt, Justin’s nut butters, and some snack bars from Cascadian Farms and Lara Bar.  We knew we needed some sustenance before heading off on our hike.  After a bit of wait getting out of the parking lot, we made the 3 minute drive over to the parking lot for the entrance to Matthews Winters Park.

Hiking up the Red Rocks trail.
Hiking up the Red Rocks trail.
Picture perfect day!
Picture perfect day!
All I could say was, "Wow!" View from the top of Morrison Slide trail.
All I could say was, “Wow!” View from the top of Morrison Slide trail.
A successful day all around.
A successful day all around.
I still can't get over these views!
I still can’t get over these views!

We started on the trail which takes you up and over some rolling hills, very un-Colorado like, towards the Red Rocks trail.  This eventually connects with the Morrison Slide trail, which boasts incredible views of Red Rocks and the valley beyond.  The sky was so clear we could see nearly all the way to Pikes Peak.  We connected back to the Red Rocks trail and took that back to the parking lot.  We were done with our morning activities by 11:15am, and at that point, it was time for tacos!  Much like Pirate Bobcat, I live for tacos, so Tessa and I ventured in the Highlands for fajita tacos at Patzcuaro’s.  So good.  Needless to say, it was an all-around perfect day!

Yup, pretty much amazing.
Yup, pretty much amazing.

Although I don’t have anything quite as exciting planned this weekend, I will be packing for my trip to London and Edinburgh.  I leave in TEN days and absolutely cannot wait.  As much as I love Colorado, I adore the UK!

Have you tried a sunrise yoga – what did you think?  Do you love to rise early on weekends and seize the day?  Any fun post-summer travel plans?

Waffle Doughnuts and August Adventures

I was not really aware, not being an expert in the field of doughnut creation, that such a thing could exist: waffle doughnuts.

Seriously - first cronuts, now wonuts?  Brilliant!
Seriously – first cronuts, now wonuts? Brilliant!

Mind blown. Tomorrow is my boss’ birthday so we celebrated today, and thankfully my cleanse is coming to an end. I may have partaken in the deliciousness. If you haven’t tried them, you should, preferably with chocolate icing. What can I say? I have a sweet tooth!

Other than the delightful world of doughnuts, August is shaping up to be a pretty fantastic and adventurous month! Last weekend the hubs and I had the pleasure of hosting some of our dearest friends from Washington D.C., Alex and Colleen. They flew out for a whirlwind of a weekend trip and we were up to the challenge. They arrived late last Friday evening, so we decided to have a relaxing evening in so we could rise early on Saturday and head into the mountains for a quick day trip. If you live along the Front Range and have attempted the journey up I-70 this summer, you know what a bear it’s been to get past Idaho Springs. Given the long winter months in the mountains, all road construction takes place in a short window, and a lot needs to be completed in a limited amount of time. In other words, it was slow going, but we finally arrived in Vail just before 11:30am. We wandered around the town a bit, basking in the mountain air and watching the Keen Kids Adventure Race (it was a pretty epic ordeal). The race was a series of obstacles, starting with a climbing wall, followed by a bike race, and ending with an inner tube race along Gore Creek. I cannot deny that it looked like so much fun. And because it’s Colorado, these kids were fiercely fit and very competitive.

Beautiful views from the Mountain Standard patio!
Beautiful views from the Mountain Standard patio!  The race is in full swing.

We had lunch along the creek, with full view of the festivities, at a fantastic restaurant called Mountain Standard. By 12:15pm the place was packed – a good sign in my book! We had a light lunch, mine consisting of a fantastic caprese salad with homemade ricotta and fried polenta “breadcrumbs”. It was delish! If you find your way to Vail, it’s a definite must, especially in the summertime.

After lunch we stopped by my all-time favorite Christmas shop (let’s be honest, Vail looks like an eternal Christmas card), The Gilded Spruce. They provide some incredible ornaments made in Colorado, as well as European treasures. I was born in Germany, so I grew up with traditional German Christmas ornaments, including handmade wooden German pyramids/windmills and smokers. This shop definitely takes me back to my childhood, and I love being transported to a Christmassy winter wonderland! Better still, I love visiting the shop to see my friend Peter’s mother, Betsy. Although I wasn’t sure if she’d be working that day, I had to stop in. Luckily she was there and the shop was quiet, so we were able to catch up and introduce our friends. The hubs and I will be returning to Vail in months’ time with our friends Peter and Ade, and Betsy is kind enough to put us up!

Great day with friends and the hubby in my favorite mountain village!
Great day with friends and the hubby in my favorite mountain village!
Picture perfect day in the mountains!
Picture perfect day in the mountains!
This view needs no filter.
This view needs no filter.

After the Gilded Spruce, we wandered the town a bit more, checked out some shops, and walked by the gondola and the finish line of the kids’ race. The day was beautiful, and the mountains are utterly peaceful. We left around 3:00pm so we could get back with enough time to relax before dinner. The hubs made some signature cocktails before we got an easy dinner nearby. The next day the boys played golf, while Colleen and I got in some serious pool time.

The hubs got the Fort's Game Plate, complete with bison, elk and quail!
The hubs got the Fort’s Game Plate, complete with bison, elk and quail! 

That evening we went to dinner at the Fort. I have been hearing about this place since moving to Colorado, and although the hubs had been before, it had been many years. The Fort is a Colorado staple: it serves dishes more common to the region, including bison, elk, quail, and the occasional rattlesnake. The structure itself it a replica of Bent’s Fort, an old fur trading fort built in 1833, constructed by a family seeking the true western experience nestled in the foothills outside of Denver. Now it is a culinary collaboration of Native American and southwestern flavors, and boy is it good! The service is spectacular, the food awesome, and the portions are insane. We left with tons of leftovers and full stomachs. If you visit Denver anytime soon, you simply must go to the Fort.

Monday morning we dropped off our friends at the airport bright and early, and the rest of this week has been a blur. I can’t believe it’s Friday already! Last night after an awesome Zumba class I went to the Matador in the Highlands. I had recently read about the incredible Jalapeno Cucumber Margaritas from Chocolate Covered Race Medals, and thankfully some of my local sorority sisters had planned a happy hour there for Thursday. They did not disappoint whatsoever. I could have had way more than two, but thankfully I did not so I could get home safe and sound. I can’t wait to take the hubs and get some grub (we just munched on an awesome plate of nachos). Everything there looked awesome.

Tonight the hubs and I are hosting some of our friends for a couples date night at our house. They are thrilled as they have

I cannot wait for Yoga on the Rocks - watching the sun rise over Red Rocks while doing yoga, yes please!
I cannot wait for Yoga on the Rocks – watching the sun rise over Red Rocks while doing yoga, yes please!

two adorable little daughters, ages 3 months and 2 years. My hubby has some awesome brined grilled chicken, corn on the cob, sweet potato fries and arugula salad planned, and I will work on a sweet treat for dessert. Tomorrow morning I am rising before 6:00am so I can meet up with two of my gal pals for Yoga on the Rocks. Red Rocks is a stunning outdoor amphitheater carved into the red rock face of the foothills by Morrison. Starting at 7:00am during most Saturdays in the summer, they host a giant yoga class with people and their mats lining the many rows of seating all the way down to the stage. I cannot wait! Afterwards we plan on doing a short 4 mile hike nearby.

The most exciting part of this month is my countdown to London and Edinburgh!! The hubs and I leave in two weeks’ time for an incredible adventure, and it’s all I can do to make it through the day without wanting to drive to the airport and leave right now! Have a great weekend everyone – make it an adventurous one!

Any amazing weekend plans in your future?  Have you ever done a mass yoga class – what was it like?  Where is your favorite day trip?

Giveaway Wednesday’s Hawaiian Adventure

It really is this stunning all the time!  View from Wailea on Maui.
It really is this stunning all the time! View from Wailea on Maui.
Yup, I painted that with Ms. BakeNBurn! Aren't I talented? It's easy when someone tells you exactly how to do it...
Yup, I painted that with Ms. BakeNBurn! Aren’t I talented? It’s easy when someone tells you exactly how to do it…

Anyone who knows me knows my deep, undying love for all things Hawai’i. Sometimes at work when I am in need of a pick-me-up, I listen to “The Descendants” soundtrack (which I may or may not be doing this very moment…) and stare at my painting of Diamond Head. There’s only one other place I would want to live even more than Colorado (although it comes with its own set of constraints), and that is Hawai’i. Preferably Maui, although I could handle Oahu too, if I must! The hubs and I got married in June 2011, and 2 weeks later we moved to Boulder, Colorado. Because of the move and the hubby starting his MBA at CU Boulder, we weren’t able to take our honeymoon until one year later. For our 1st anniversary, we hopped on a direct flight from Denver to Maui (you can fly direct from here – how amazing!) and spent an amazing week in Paradise. If I had the option and hadn’t started a brand new job 2 weeks prior, I would have stayed.

Any time I see a chance to win a trip to Hawai’i, I immediately sign up. When it’s combined with World Market, I jump at the chance! After moving into our

Sunset at Mama's Fish House in Paia, Maui.
Sunset at Mama’s Fish House in Paia, Maui.

home south of Denver almost a year ago, I had a lot more space to work with, which meant a TON more decorating to do. #bighouseproblems With that in mind, I knew I wanted a few cute pieces that wouldn’t break the bank, and if I fell out of love with them, could be easily and shamelessly replaced. I felt like I went to World Market 2 times a month and left with far more than I ever anticipated. Although I mostly gravitated towards their decorative items, I did purchase a side table which is incredibly adorable.  It gets an A+ in my book for cute, stylish, and reasonably priced!

World Market has a new sweepstakes out for a 6 day trip for two to Hawai’i. Although geared towards moms, I figure I am a puppy mom, so that should count. I am totally celebrating mother’s day this year, so there. After all, I do call my dog Ali’i Kihuahua (aka “King Chihuahua” in Hawaiian… although I totally made up the word for chihuahua, but linguistically it does fit their language patterns!), so this prize really is meant for me.  The Hilton Waikoloa Village resides on the big island, properly named Hawai’i, but is an easy plane ride to any of the surrounding islands. I have visited the big island once, and toured the amazing lava fields. There really is nothing quite like it. If you’ve never been to Hawai’i and have always wanted to go, or even if you have been a hundred times, I think it is truly one of the US’ greatest treasures. Given its rich Polynesian history and laid-back lifestyle, it’s impossible not to relax when you’re there. Just send me a fresh lei if you win! Pomaika`i!

Nike Women’s Half Marathon – A Weekend of Firsts

Our first race all together!  Thank goodness for these ladies!
Our first race all together! Thank goodness for these ladies!

What a whirlwind of a weekend! It’s bizarre thinking I left last Friday to go to DC and I am already back in Denver. Returning to Colorado yesterday was bittersweet, to be sure, and I felt a heaviness after departing. It is amazing the incredible high you can feel in reuniting with your best friends for the first time in over a year. Obviously I know how important these ladies are to me, but I didn’t realize just how much I missed them until we were all back together again.

The Nike Women’s Half Marathon was spectacular! I had such a great time during the race and partaking in pre-race activities. I would definitely do this race again in the future, and if I ever work myself up to the *M* word, I could possibly see myself running the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco. The men in tuxedos handing out beautiful robin’s-egg-blue boxes of Tiffany perfection did indeed add icing to the top of this rather large cake.

Totally worth the miles.
Totally worth the miles.

But let’s start in order. This is not a race recap, it’s a weekend recap. I arrived Friday evening and was picked up by my dear friends Justine and Samantha. We all spent the weekend at Justine’s apartment in Clarendon, conveniently located to multiple metro stops, Georgetown’s waterfront (the site for the Expotique), and a plethora of amenities. My friend Christine (who I ran the Disney Princess Half Marathon with in February) joined us shortly afterwards, and we dashed off to dinner at Lyon Hall. We made a stop by Trader Joe’s (which just recently made its way to Colorado!) on the way home for some additional libations, and spent the night catching up, watching movies, and just basking in our reunion.

The Expotique was small, but adorable!
The Expotique was small, but adorable!

The next morning we walked to the Georgetown waterfront to check out the Expotique (Samantha described it perfectly, it isn’t an Expo, but it had its own charm). We wandered around for a bit, sampled some NUUN flavors, created personalized signs for race day, wrote on a giant sharpie wall, and found our names on the participants’ wall. We shopped in the Georgetown Nike store for race day paraphernalia, which was a bit crazy and picked over, but definitely worth it. I managed to find an amazing pair of running tights, 2 NWHM running tanks, and a phenomenal purple NWHM pullover. I know that I love Nike running tops and half-zip pullovers, so I was absolutely a kid in a candy store.

After we finished our race prep, we headed off to Alexandria for Lilly and lunch. And boy did I Lilly. I found a must-have maxi dress, a breezy blouse and a scarf on sale. Happiness achieved. We grabbed a filling, protein-packed lunch at Vermilion across the street (excellent brunch!). Afterwards, we meandered through the Tanger Outlets at National Harbor, particularly for Under Armour and J. Crew. Once we shopped ‘til we dropped, we headed back to Arlington for a delicious dinner prepared by Justine (fettuccini with marinara and homemade turkey meatballs – YUM!) and a sweet treat of cake batter blondies.

The next morning we rose at about 4:30am, readied ourselves in our amazing ensembles, and jogged to the metro station. The trains weren’t packed at all, and we got off at Federal Triangle, which spit out into the middle of race-day festivities. While Christine and Samantha jetted off for a Half-Fanatic photo op, Justine and I wandered through the crowds, took photos, and figured out where to go for our corral. Once everyone was ready, we pushed through to the third corral, and waited for the race to begin.

The crowd was visibly excited. Although chilly, once surrounded by a sea of ladies ready to run, the thrill of the race sunk in. The first group set out at

The shirts were pretty genius.  And completely us!
The shirts were pretty genius. And completely us!

7:00am, but our corral didn’t take off until about 7:13am. Needless to say it was the perfect time for selfies and silliness. Our goal was to run together in colorful formation, so for the occasion we all wore different colored bottoms (I made a last minute switch to pink Under Armour capris so Justine could wear her favorite yellow shorts) and matching tanks from Race Junkie. The front simply said “… And she ran happily ever after” while the back displayed “Proof that a pair of shoes can change your life 4.27.14”. We were stopped all along the course by people commenting on our tops, taking pictures for themselves, or asking to take pictures for us. I have a feeling there’s a few pics of us floating around Cyberspace, of which I am grateful. For us, that shirt was symbolic. This race brought us all back together for something we had never done before as a group. It’s now a combined passion, and I am so utterly grateful to have been able to make and share these memories with my best friends.

The beginning of the race is pretty iconic. You start on Pennsylvania Avenue, just a few blocks from the capitol building. Within a half mile you are in perfect range for a photo op (in which we obviously partook). You wrap around the front and head back down the streets flanking the mall, passing by the Botanical Gardens and number of other museums. You quickly approach the National Monument on your right, and continue on to the Arlington Memorial Bridge, passing over the Potomac River, and hooking around the circle to come back to the D.C. side. From there the course veers to the left in which you pass by the Kennedy Center and loop back. Then the course heads out to Haines Point, which occupies 3 miles of the course. Finally, you swing back by the National Monument, and head back towards the capitol.

Who knew Peeps mid-race would be so phenomenal?
Who knew Peeps mid-race would be so phenomenal?

It was a great course, with marching and pep bands (including my Alma Mater’s band from George Mason University) scattered throughout pumping up the runners, and plenty of spectators cheering us on. Given that the race benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, a number of Team in Training groups and their trainers were part of the race that day. It was amazing to see the obstacles some had overcome to be there, and the absolute determination to run this race for an incredible cause. Our group was surprised twice along the course by Samantha’s husband, Michael, who brought water, snacks, and a mental pick-me-up for all of us.

My favorite part of the race was coming up to the finish. My parents and sister found a great spot just steps from the finish line and were there cheering us on as we completed the race. I only recently began running, and only after moving to Colorado, so this was the first time they’ve seen me in a race. It was so inspiring having them there, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Sharing this moment with my family was truly wonderful.  It made the finish line that much sweeter!
Sharing this moment with my family was truly wonderful. It made the finish line that much sweeter!

After crossing the finish, sub-3 hours, collecting our Whole Foods Goodie bags, and collecting our blue Tiffany’s boxes, we met up with my family for a bit before heading to brunch at Masa 14 (um, hello bottomless brunch menu, what a fabulous concept!). I spent the rest of the day with my family, only after an emotional goodbye with the ladies, and headed home early Monday morning. What a wild, exhausting, thrilling, and perfect weekend.

 

Just a few of my favorite race moments!
Just a few of my favorite race moments!
What a great, rewarding, and memorable accomplishment.  Great race, but what's more, the best people to share it with!
What a great, rewarding, and memorable accomplishment. Great race, but what’s more, the best people to share it with!

 

How was your weekend?  Any amazing race memories shared with your besties?  What’s been your favorite race experience?  Do you run for bling, for camaraderie, the thrill of the run, or all of the above?

Friday Favorites and Family

It’s almost the weekend! Hooray! And it’s looking to be yet another glorious weekend here in Colorado. Shocking, I know. It’ll be an even better weekend because my parents are flying in today! I haven’t seen my folks since October, and not properly since last May. I can’t wait for them to see our new home in Denver and meet their fur-grandchild, Rocco!

Because I am in such a delightful mood, I wanted to list some of my favorite things this week. I know this is a big blogger must-do, so I am jumping on that bandwagon for all it’s worth. Fridays seem to have that effect on people – we bask in what makes us most happy! So, here I go!

  1.  Patriotic New Balance 3190s
Sooooo pretty.  They arrived yesterday!
Sooooo pretty. They arrived yesterday!

I have been obsessing over these shoes for the past few weeks ever since I received their e-mail. With a race on Memorial Day, I thought it’d be fun to work the patriotic angle. And now that I know NB 3190s are my all-time favorite race running shoe (i.e. Disney Princess Half Marathon, Lucky Laces, and soon to include the Nike Women’s Half Marathon), another pair is definitely in order.

  1. To piggy-back on Samantha’s choice from last Friday, SPARKLE SKIRTS! I love sparkles. I love skirts. I love running in skirts. I love being sparkly all the time. Therefore, I love running sparkle skirts.
Samantha and I will be donning our sparkle skirts for the BolderBoulder next month!
Samantha and I will be donning our sparkle skirts for the BolderBOULDER next month!

I knew I wanted to give sparkle skirts a try, but wasn’t sure when to test them out. I haven’t yet been brave enough to don them solo, but when running with a friend, it seems the perfect excuse. The Bake N’ Burn Bombshell and I will be sparkling our way through the BolderBOULDER. Oh yeah.

  1. Spring in Colorado – duh! It’s amazing this time of year, and I love how much folks in this state enjoy where they live. It’s adventure season, as my coworker, Kaitlin said to me. And that is the plain and honest truth.

So what’s on the docket? Exploring Colorado Springs (don’t you like my play on words?). This weekend the parental unit will be joining the hubs and I on a little southern outing. We plan on taking the Pikes Peak Cog Railway up to the tippy top (oxygen bar thankfully included), meandering through the Garden of the Gods, and new on my list, Cave of the Winds. Having been able to enjoy Denver and Boulder, it’s time to go south!

  1. Planning for England and Scotland! The hubs and I finally got down to planning business for our trip this September to the British Isles. We’ll be staying in London for eight days and Edinburgh for four, with a bunch of day trips scattered throughout. We finally booked our hotels and are looking into options for day trips and other reservations. I cannot wait!! This will be the hubs’ first time across the pond. He loves golf, gin and Scotch, so he’ll fit right in!
I can't wait to return to London after 6 years away.  It's one of my favorite cities in the world.
I can’t wait to return to London after 6 years away. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world.

We hope to do a trip to Bath, Avebury and Stonehenge (Avebury is definitely better for viewing, but Stonehenge is pretty iconic, I guess…), Oxford, and maybe Canterbury. In Scotland, we’re planning to get in some golf (I have some serious practicing to do…) and a Scotch tasting/tour. All I know is that I absolutely cannot wait!

  1. More races! In the spirit of race season, I signed up for more races!
I live to run!  Particularly in adorable costumes!
I live to run! Particularly in adorable costumes!

Last year I attended a wedding back in Maryland while a number of my Colorado sorority sisters ran the Denver Hot Chocolate Run. It gives you the option for a 5K or 15K, and looks like an absolute blast. It’s one race series that has always piqued my interest. I signed up for the 2014 15K this upcoming October, and I know it’ll be so much fun! After reading about the Bake N’ Burn Bombshell’s Rock ‘N’ Roll USA experience, I knew I wanted to try an RNR of my own. Luckily RNR Denver Marathon/Half Marathon takes place October 19th, and I am all over the half marathon. It’ll be my first half in Colorado (at altitude – ah!) and I think this will race will be the one to do it! My ultimate goal is to run 10 races this year, and I am currently set to complete 6. There’s a bunch of great local races I am looking into in June, July and November, so hopefully I can get 4 more on the books.

Here’s to Friday and favorite things, and a great weekend ahead with family!

 

What are some of your favorite things of the moment?  Any upcoming adventures in your future?  What are you most looking forward to this weekend?  Have you ever run a Rock ‘N’ Roll or Hot Chocolate run – what did you think?