Capital Campaign: Run the Monuments

A few weekends ago I found myself in the heart of my old “hometown,” if you can call D.C. a hometown, of course. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Or when in D.C., run around the monuments and pretend you’re in Rome. Whatever works, right? I had been really looking forward to an amazing 18 mile run around Washington D.C.’s scenic National Mall, the tidal basin, and all the monuments along the way.  Of course I am incredibly stereotypical and love the Lincoln monument, with the views across the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and the National Monument standing majestically in the distance.  It really does feel like you’re on the set of “House of Cards” or something, and I can’t get enough of the history (however short our nation’s history is in the grand scheme of things).

Ameri-cuh! Source
Ameri-cuh! Source

While I lived in the D.C. metro area, I really wasn’t in to running. It seemed like a chore rather than therapeutic. What’s the point in running if you aren’t running to or from something? Well, obviously I have matured from that point. Or something… But regardless, I feel like I may have missed an awesome opportunity, minus the humidity, propensity for rain, and incessant bug population. Oh, and lots of tourists.

The main problem with continuing marathon training in another place, however, is you don’t really know where you’re going.  Before travelling to Naples, FL, I meticulously mapped out numerous run options before hand and checked in with my in-laws for recommendations.  With D.C., however, I had built in trainers (thank you, Ms. BakeNBurn and Justine!) with extensive knowledge of the area, terrain, and mileage.  Literally I just had to follow along (which can be dangerous when you resolve to do 10 miles and your friends want to push you to at least 12, it’s because they love me, I know…).

The morning started grey but turned into perfection!
The morning started grey but turned into perfection!

The morning of our run was windy and rainy, and I had worried that thunderstorms or excessive wind would prevent me from venturing out. Thankfully the skies magically cleared up just as we got into D.C. from Northern Virginia. I started my run expecting it to be chilly, rainy and overcast, and instead it was gorgeous! We parked along West Potomac Park, on the edge of the Lincoln Memorial. From this point you can run in so many different directions – towards the National Mall, the other monuments, the Tidal Basin, or everyone’s favorite: Hains Point.

We began by running (and Samantha biking) directly to the Lincoln Memorial. From there, excessive touristy photo-taking inevitably occurred.  We then continued along the outside edge of the Reflecting Pool (no bikes allowed on the main pathway), and made our way along the roadway surrounding the National Monument. What I didn’t account for is that because it was spring break for much of the country, and the cherry blossoms were in bloom that week, there were people absolutely everywhere! Sometimes I forget that D.C. is actually a tourist destination.

It was really the perfect day for a run around D.C.
It was really the perfect day for a run around D.C.

 

As we neared the Washington Monument and crossed over 14th Street, we veered

New grass could do this mall some good.
New grass could do this mall some good.

towards the National Mall. This is possibly my favorite spot in D.C. (stereotypical, I know), nestled between the National Monument and the Capitol Building, sprinkled with some of the world’s best museums (all of which are FREE!).  It’s hard not to fall in love with this city when you are walking through so much history. The mall itself is currently being renovated, with a new type of turf and drainage system – a long overdue repair, in my opinion. The mall was fittingly littered with sight-seers and tourists, as well as plenty of fellow runners and fitness enthusiasts.  I was naturally in my element.

Just cycling through the cherry blossoms. NBD.
Just cycling through the cherry blossoms. NBD.

We ran the perimeter of the mall, crossed back over 14th Street, and turned to the right side of the monument’s encircling pathways.  Finally we found a grotto of nearly perfect cherry blossoms! Most of the trees had shed much of their blooms by the time I had arrived, but this group was perfect. So of course Samantha rode her way through them and I got my photo op. I feel like each time I have returned in the month of April I miss the blossoms, so this pretty much made my day.

It's hard to beat this view (obviously I focused my attention on the monument...).
It’s hard to beat this view (obviously I focused my attention on the monument… Whoopsies!).
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The cherry blossoms in our little hidden grove were so spectacular!

We finally made our way back to the reflecting pool and met up with Justine at that point. I might have guilted/coerced/begged her to come run with me. Whatever the case, she joined along as we finished the run. We got a little side-tracked and ended up along the tidal basin overlooking the Jefferson Monument, but got back on course to begin the final stint of the run. And at this point, we had saved the best for last (do you sense a hint of sarcasm?): Hains Point! YAAAAAY!

Here’s my perception of Hains Point – it isn’t so bad. It’s a long narrow point in the middle of the Potomac and is wrapped with water on both sides. It’s scenic, flat, and a golf course runs through the middle of it. People either hate or love Hains Point. For me it was enjoyable because it was, as I mentioned, extremely flat, and offered gorgeous views with a nice, hefty breeze. Those who are on the loathing camp typically dislike Hains Point because in some circumstances it can seem rather boring. Almost every major race in D.C. uses Hains Point because it is easy for zoning purposes and gets more mileage with little hassle. I personally like that there aren’t that many people, significantly less traffic (almost none), and it really is an easy way to fit in more miles. Samantha, my fearless leader, feels the same way, while Justine could do without it. At Samantha’s suggestion/mandate, I ran down Hains Point and back, Justine begrudgingly yet oh-so-kindly came along for the first half before heading to the car. So what I thought would be about 10 miles turned into 12.31, and I am better for it. I tip my hat to you, Hains Point.

Okay, so I didn’t get in my 18 miles that day, but I did last weekend. Not quite the scenic 18

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I love running along the Highline Canal trail – the mountain vistas are fabulous.

I was hoping for, but my view isn’t all that bad either. With snow clouding this weekend’s forecast, I am not sure I will be able to fit in my longest run (I am hoping for 20-22 miles), so I may have to be flexible and move it to the following weekend. Thankfully I have 4 full weekends left of training, and that should give me a bit of cushion before the marathon on May 15th. EEEEK!  ONE MONTH!

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Classy ladies celebrate in the classiest of ways, with lots of wine!

The weekend itself was a wonderful success celebrating Christine, the beautiful bride-to-be! Saturday we spent much of the day meandering through Virginia wine country, with stops at Sunset Hills Vineyards, Notaviva Vineyards, and Breaux Vineyards. The wines were wonderful, and the company even better. Sunday we hosted the bridal shower, which was a gorgeously themed bridal tea brunch! Anytime you put tea and brunch together, it’s got to be amazing, right? We made lots of scrumptious goodies, had mimosas, and of course, tea. But nothing is better than celebrating an amazing friend as she nears her wedding day!

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The lovely bride-to-be!!

 

Here are the details for my training plan for the past two weeks. After returning from Virginia I listened to my body and took a much needed break. I was pretty tired after a busy weekend of celebrations, so it was nice to have time to focus on me. And getting plenty of rest didn’t hurt either. I think it helped make my 18 miles last Sunday so incredible. I felt pretty amazing throughout, which I am hopeful is a good sign for the road ahead.

Day of the Week Cross Training Miles Run
Monday, 3/28/16 Yoga Sculpt 4.01 mile run
Tuesday, 3/29/16 Yoga Sculpt 4.02 mile run
Wednesday, 3/30/16 N/A 4.03 mile run
Thursday, 3/31/16 TIU Band Workout x 2, 100 jumping jacks N/A
Friday, 4/1/16 N/A 12.31 mile run
Saturday, 4/2/16 Rest Rest
Sunday, 4/3/16 Rest Rest
Monday, 4/4/16 Rest Rest
Tuesday, 4/5/16 Rest Rest
Wednesday 4/6/16 Yoga Sculpt 4.1 mile run
Thursday, 4/7/16 Zumba 4.14 mile run
Friday, 4/8/16 N/A 2.52 mile run
Saturday, 4/9/16 N/A 3.12 mile run
Sunday, 4/10/16 N/A 18 mile run

Where is your favorite place to run? Have you ever been able to run around D.C.? Who else loves running during their travels?

 

 

 

What Goes Around Comes Around

Everyone loves a comeback story.

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What a difference a year makes.  Imagine all the possibilities and all the experiences that can occur within 365 days.  I guess even more considering we just had a leap day.  This past year was a personal challenge for me, and while we all face challenges on a daily (sometimes even hourly) basis, it was a year that really tested my values and my passions.  I spent much of this past calendar year working two positions at work, and although I am not in a position to complain about financial stability, the gift of employment, and colleagues who helped keep me sane, it was a real struggle.  I am a perfectionist, sometimes to a fault, so not being able to give 100% to either job upset my equilibrium, and ultimately forced me to realize that I had to prioritize.  Unfortunately that meant giving up something I love – writing.  My blogosphere wasn’t the only thing to be left by the wayside, but at that time it wasn’t adding to my life.  Rather, it became a burden, an additional obligation, and that’s never what this platform was meant to be for me.  I knew it wouldn’t be a permanent change, yet I had to reach a point where I had the time to dedicate and the satisfaction of writing and sharing my thoughts and experiences.  Long story short, I think I am back.

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The gorgeous estate at Robert Mondavi. My favorites, however, were Quintessa and Schramsberg!

Many things have changed over the last eight months since my abrupt absence.  I am no longer working two jobs (HOORAY!!!), the hubs and I travelled to Napa, Maui, Las Vegas, Vail, and Naples, Florida, we kept on running (my love of running returned full-force this past summer), I completed 16 races in 2015, and this past weekend I completed my 10th half marathon with That Dam Run Half Marathon (and had my best official time of 2:09:18!!).  I am finally sub 10-minute miles on a regular basis, and running has never felt so good.  The summer was a whirlwind of visitors, yoga, sunshine and celebrating engagements and weddings.  Fall settled in

There's nothing better than a Maui sunset. Absolutely nothing.
There’s nothing better than a Maui sunset. Absolutely nothing.

nicely, and the winter so far has been beautiful and mild.  I’ve been baking like crazy (shocker), and have taken up photography (still a lot to learn but I am loving it so far).  The biggest news, I think, is that I officially signed up for my first ever MARATHON! There, I said it, the “M” word.

It’s been three years since I began my running journey, and I don’t know if I ever thought to myself when I started, “Hey there self, let’s start running so we can eventually run a marathon.”  But what motivated runner doesn’t at least once consider the possibility?  After two of my running inspirations (including my best friend Ms. BakeNBurn) ran the Marine Corps Marathon this past October, I knew it was only a matter of time before I succumbed.  During the month of December I simply couldn’t stop thinking about it, and finally, by mid-January, I committed.  I will be running the Colfax Marathon, Denver’s (currently) only marathon, on May 15th!

Get ready Colfax! This year I am coming for you with full force!
Get ready Colfax! This year I am coming for you with full force!

 

So now comes the fun part, the training plan.  My initial plan was a bit, well, ambitious.  After consulting my experienced friends and reading as much as I could find, I am settled halfway into my 18 week training plan.  My typical week consists of three runs during the week (usually between 3 and 4 miles), three yoga sculpt classes for cross training and leg work, one Zumba class for funsies, and a long weekend run.  I have incorporated a number of races throughout this time to keep me on track and in race day mode.  At this point I have run 15 miles, with 16 planned for this upcoming weekend.  Below are my weekly totals for the first eight weeks of my training plan:

Date (Monday) Week Total Miles
1/11/2016 1 22.23
1/18/2016 2 22.61
1/25/2016 3 23.53
2/1/2016 4 19.19
2/8/2016 5 13.27
2/15/2016 6 36.32
2/22/2016 7 24.27
2/29/2016 8 27.91
Two of the amazing women and runners I met through Instagram - also both signed up for Colfax!
Two of the amazing women and runners I met through Instagram – also both signed up for Colfax!

Over the past few years I have connected with some amazing people through the blog, Instagram, Facebook, etc. and have been lucky enough to not only meet them, but also train with them.  I am constantly amazed with the connections you can make and how those connections are made.  Thankfully there are so many people with a world of experiences, suggestions, and incredible stories to help me along this journey.  My biggest supporter, however, has been my husband. He didn’t even hesitate when I told him I wanted to sign up. He simply looked at me and said, “Well then, sign me up too.”

This guy keeps me going. I am so blessed to have the best hubby and training partner!
This guy keeps me going. I am so blessed to have the best hubby and training partner! (The handsome one, not the beaver!)

So here’s my hope, for myself and for this blog: to keep writing, to chronicle these experiences, to take whatever inspiration I can find, and to keep this party going.  Who’s with me?

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?

2015: The Journey Unknown

The end of 2014 came and went, in a bittersweet and far too fast blur.  So many fantastically fun things happened and life got rather too much in the way to report on them!  I finished out my running year with 4 holiday themed races, 2 10K’s and 2 5K’s, and achieved my best 5K time yet: 30:21 at the ColderBolder (it wasn’t a high of 5 degrees this year like it was last year, so I was happy to run it this go around).  I’ll share more about these races later, as I think they’re worth posting about.

One of the most exciting things thus far: I was selected to be an Esprit de She Brand Ambassador!  I cannot wait to share the Esprit de She love and event information.  Although the Denver event won’t be until August, there are Esprit de She events throughout the US, which include running, duathlons and triathlons – something for everyone!  I participated in last year’s Esprit de She 10K in Westminster (there’s also a 5K!), Colorado and loved this race.  It is still my 10K PR, and I had a phenomenal experience throughout the entire process, from warming up with a workout dance instructor, to the cheering squad along the entire route, to the amazing after party at Lifetime Fitness.  It was an all-around awesome experience.  Besides, you end the night with a few glasses of bubbly, so what could be bad about that?  Check out upcoming races throughout the US – if interested, please use code EDS039 when you register!

Esprit de She take two in 2015!  This time as an Ambassador!
Esprit de She take two in 2015! This time as an Ambassador!

Another hugely exciting thing is that my darling friend, Danielle, asked me to be in her wedding.  Having moved from Maryland to Colorado three and half years

This gorgeous lady, and my ColderBolder buddy, will be saying "I do!" in October!
This gorgeous lady, and my ColderBolder buddy, will be saying “I do!” in October!

ago I never knew I could make such phenomenal friends to the point that I would be a part of their big day!  I have already been invited to a wedding in Colorado, which was a stunning and fantastic affair celebrating two of my favorite people, Peter and Ade, in October of 2013.  There is something different, though, about being asked to be a part of the entire experience!  I cannot wait for her and Scott’s wedding day this October in Vail, Colorado.  It’s sure to be a beautiful and memorable wedding.

This year the hubs and I are hoping to take a few more trips, including wine country in June, and a fabulous beach trip in September (this week we’re deciding

I miss Hawai'i!!  Maui is so stunning!
I miss Hawai’i!! Maui is so stunning!

between Hawai’i and Mexico… tough choices).  I realized I haven’t legitimately seen a beach, or really ocean, since Mrs. BakeNBurn’s wedding in March 2013!! That is ridiculous.  It needs to be remedied stat!  We have both been to Maui, and I have also visited Oahu and the Big Island, but know so little about Mexico, particularly the West Coast since it is easier to get to from Colorado.  Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.  Otherwise I will have a bachelorette party at an undisclosed location, a long weekend in Disney World with my family (I can’t stay away!), and potentially a conference in Vegas to look forward to!  I will also be attending my sister’s graduation in May, so I will be back in the DC area before long.

My last beach vacation - I miss large bodies of water!  Isn't Mrs. BakeNBurn beautiful?
My last beach vacation – I miss large bodies of water! Isn’t Mrs. BakeNBurn beautiful?

This past year was really a great year for me and the hubs.  I had a job I loved, we were both settled in our home in Denver, we have a fantastic set of friends

And this is only the beginning of our journey!
And this is only the beginning of our journey!

around us, and we had a ton of visitors throughout the year.  My own personal goal of showcasing my interior design initiative, very novice I admit, to the world was realized. Somehow a few of my Instagramable moments were regrammed by Pottery Barn, which is my home decor Mecca. Beyond that, the hubs and I were able to have 2 amazing vacations together, and worked on ourselves as a unit.  This was so successful that, and I have to brag here, the hubs lost 45 pounds!!  I had no idea he had that much to lose, but he looks and feels great, and I couldn’t be prouder.  Once he had shed somewhere around 35-40, we actually had my awesome friend, and photographer, Laura, take some family shots.  She’s the incredible owner and photographer of Red Mountain Studio, and if you’re in need of great shots around the north Denver area, definitely check her out!  It’s amazing to see the things we have accomplished, but even more so to have watched his transformation and how happy he is.

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Look at my happy, healthy hubby!

I know 2014 boasted so many great things, but 2015 is looking just as promising.  Here’s to the journey ahead and wherever it may lead!

2014: An Imperfect, Though Fabulous, Year in Review

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Looking back over this past year, I have been so blessed to have such incredible experiences, phenomenal friends, a job I love, and family that always supports me.  I had made myself a promise last year to work on goals to improve myself, my relationships, and my day-to-day.  Although I like to think we should always be trying to improve and never settle for just okay, I think 2014 was a pretty great year.

I had no idea when I wrote about my 2014 goals last January that I would have accomplished so much.  I am not a believer in resolutions simply because we are human, and if I am unable to do something I wanted to do, I don’t want to see it as a failure.  We are meant to adapt and change as our environments adapt and change around us.  That’s human nature.  As my dad used to say, “Semper Gumby, Always Flexible.”  But the goals I set out for myself ended up being a driving factor throughout this past year.

I can honestly say I curse less (I like to call it my Disney Princess speach – have you ever heard a Disney Princess curse?

Can I go back... please?
Can I go back… please?

No. Exactly.), don’t drink during the week (except during winter break and vacations, but come on, that’s me time!), worked harder on relationships, became more of a fitness nut than I have ever been, attempted to read more (I had a lull, I will admit), traveled to Disney (twice! I have a problem…), DC, Vegas and the UK, focused on broadening my cooking repertoire, forced myself to change my routine for the better, and ultimately worked on being a better blogger.  Again, life happens and all of these goals had to be assessed or readdressed at one point or another, but I made meaningful progress for myself.  That is really what matters.

When I started all of this, particularly the health and fitness piece, I had never even run a half marathon. I had actually only run a 10K and 5K in all of 2013.  I went to Zumba each week, jogged throughout the week, and worked out fairly regularly, but I wasn’t working towards anything.  I can happily say that I completed 15 races in 2014, including 5 half marathons, 1 15K, 6 10Ks, 1 4 miler, and 2 5Ks.  I didn’t anticipate doing quite so many, and thought folks planning to do 14 in ’14 were positively nuts.  Yet here I am, I have already completed my first race of 2015, and have 10 more planned during this year.

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Just some highlights from some of the races this past year!
I am so lucky to have this guy by my side!
I am so lucky to have this guy by my side!

My hubby and I are, thank goodness, often on the same plane of understanding.  He and I often make goals together.  We recently discussed that we both want to complete a marathon together.  I don’t know when, I don’t know which one, but at the end of my life I want to say I did it.  Will it be a 2015 goal?  Probably not, but I intend to train as though it were.  I also want to participate in a triathlon, partly for the fact that cross training is always a good idea, but also because they just look so gosh darn fun.  Of course I am thinking sprint distance, but after the year I have had, who knows what that will turn in to.

This past year taught me a lot about myself: what I am capable of, how hard I can push myself, and how great it feels being the best version of myself.  Can I be better, absolutely!  Always strive for perfection and allow yourself to realize you may never achieve it all.  That, however, doesn’t mean I will ever stop trying.  Let’s have a great year, no matter what life throws our way!

How was your 2014? Any goals you were most proud of accomplishing? Any new or exciting goals to add to the 2015 queue?

Dining (and Wining) Around the World: The Epcot Food and Wine Festival

I finally got to tell you about the Wine and Dine Half Marathon, but I almost forgot the entire reason that race exists: the Epcot Showcase of Nations Food and Wine Festival!  Each fall, Disney hosts an expansive Food and Wine festival, in which the Showcase of Nations is transformed with additional food stands for numerous other countries.  In total, there are 36 countries/regions represented.  Given it is Friday and a time for favorites, I am going to list off my favorite items from the festival, and some items that were worth a bite, but not quite as memorable.  Thank goodness I took pictures of the menus, because we had so many good nibbles and sips it’d be hard to remember them all! 2014-FW-Festival-Guide-MAP-AND-MARKETPLACES-2014-page-0011.  The Spicy Hand Roll from Japan: Japan did not hold back in creating a delicious and rather large hand roll that took numerous bites to finish.  This roll included both tuna and salmon and a delicious, lick-your-fingers-when-it’s-done-it’s-so-tasty Kazan Volcano sauce.  Both Mrs. BakeNBurn and I ordered this and I could have had another and called it a meal.

2.  Given I am Greek and spent this past weekend making my Nicolau family baklava, I have to go with Greece’s spanakopita! My mother, I think, makes the best

Mmmm cheese, honey, fillo and spinach... I love my roots.
Mmmm cheese, honey, fillo and spinach… I love my roots.

version (she makes a spanakopita crustard, aka pie, which will knock your socks off), but these delicate triangles had just the right balance of cheesey gooeyness and spinach.

3.  Speaking of cheese, I have to follow-up number two with the griddled Greek cheese with pistachios and honey. It was the perfect blend of sweet and savory, and I really wanted to lick the paper tray when I was finished.

4.  Moving on to good ol’ America, and in keeping with my love of cheese, I have to say that the American lobster macaroni and cheese (or pasta alfredo as they attempted to market it) was delectable. The hubs and I savored every last bite of this mac ‘n’ cheese – because what’s better than pasta, cheese, butter and lobster?  I also had their carrot cake, which was tasty, but not overly exceptional.

Canada was pretty darn tasty!
Canada was pretty darn tasty!

5.  Canada did a great job with their “Le Cellier” Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter Sauce. Although the filet was a little overcooked and tough, the sauce was delicious and not overpowering.

6.  Je aime la France! As one should expect, I focused on some bubbly and dessert in France. It’s really what I most enjoy about French dining – Champagne, pastries, and all things dessert.  The sea salt caramel crème brulee was quite a tasty treat, although could have used more sea salt to balance the caramel.  The sparkling pomegranate Kir Royale, however, whet my palate with perfection!

Pomegranate Kir = Great Decision.
Pomegranate Kir = Great Decision.

7.  Having recently visited Scotland, which someday I will share with you, I had been craving a local dessert called Cranachan. This dessert is traditionally served

Where's my Scotch?
Where’s my Scotch?

as whisky (or Scotch to us Americans) soaked raspberries, layered with whipped cream and toasted oats.  It is DELICIOUS.  This version, sad to say, did not live up to my memories from Whiski, a fabulous whisky bar and eatery along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.  The raspberries weren’t soaked in whisky at all, so the hubs and I also ordered a sample of Scotch to pour into it.  Good, but still not quite right.

This about sums up Edinburgh...
This about sums up Edinburgh…
Two military brats and their beloved Deutschland!
Two military brats and their beloved Deutschland!

8.  Danke Deutschland! The Riesling samplers were awesome.  Both Samantha and I spent some time in Germany, being the military brats we are, so of course we had to pop over to Germany.  We were torn between the beer or the Riesling flight, but we went with the wine.  It was delicious.  We both liked number 2 the best, but I had a preference for the third, and Samantha for the first, so we split them perfectly and enjoyed each tasty sip!

It's appropriate to just drink in Germany...
It’s appropriate to just drink in Germany…

9.  The hubs loves himself some duck, so we stopped in China for the Beijing Roasted Duck in Hoisin Sauce, which was almost sticky bun style. I took a nibble and it was awesome, so this one I wish I had saved more room to eat in entirety.

10.  We stopped in Mexico, even though we would later dine at La Hacienda, so the hubs could get his tequila flight and I could try the mango-strawberry 2014-11-09 16.41.40margarita. The tequila flight was decent and the margarita too sweet.  If you go to the San Angel Inn restaurant in Epcot, you pick varying quality levels for your tequila flight, which is a much better option.

11.  Of course an offering of Prosecco in Italy was a delight, and really a tradition whenever in the World Showcase!

12.  And finally, who would I be, the Anglophile I am, if I didn’t get a hard cider from England?  Alas, it was not Bulmer’s, but I do enjoy the occasional Strongbow as well!

Ciders and beers in hand!
Ciders and beers in hand!

Sadly I wasn’t able to get to everything.  Our stomachs just wouldn’t allow it.  The next time I go, I would recommend either a true whole day in Epcot (starting at 11am when the booths open) and break it up with some of the other activities’ Epcot has to offer (maybe not Mission Space, unless you really do want to lose your lunch to fit in more food…).  We were able to see Captain EO (any Michael Jackson fan NEEDS to see this MJ meets Star Wars movie music spectacular – directed by George Lucas and everything!).  It’s one of the hubby’s favs, so of course we had to educate Mr. and Mrs. BakeNBurn.  We also rode Soarin’, Spaceship Earth (LOVE it, always a favorite thanks to the narration of Dame Judy Dench), and Living with the Land.  We, of course, closed the day with one of my favorite firework shows, Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.  I mean, I may have the CD soundtrack and know all the words to the song… You know… Overall, it was the perfect way to end our Disney trip with such incredible friends.

Can't wait to go back!
Can’t wait to go back!

Isn’t the Epcot Food and Wine Festival the best excuse an adult could have to drink around the world?  Which nation looks the best to you?  Aren’t you impressed we stayed awake to eat and drink that long?

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?