Independence

Although I’ve always been a people person and loved being around others almost 100% of the time, I’ve also always been really independent when it comes to my relationship with Steve. I had a lot of friends in high school that I felt would drop all their friendships when they were in a relationship and I never wanted to do that with my friends, so I sometimes hardly saw Steve at the beginning of our relationship, and even when we lived together, I often went out without him, and really kept my independence and being an individual a priority.

Then I went away to school and we spent 2 1/2 years being apart. I hated a lot of things about it, but to this day, I really value the fact that i was able to experience college on my own, grow, discover who I am, and have the experience of living with my best friend. When I would come home to visit, I felt like I had to spend every moment with Steve before we would be apart again, so when I moved back for good in 2009, I fell right back into that, and spent every waking moment with Steve. We began to meld our lives more, and more, and before I knew it, I was definitely more a part of an “us” than a “me”. I didn’t feel like I had lost myself, but I did begin to lose sight of my independence and why it is important to me.

We’ve come a long way. but it’s still a struggle sometimes to find balance. And then, sometimes, life forces balance on you, and I kind of feel like life is a bit of a jerk, but I guess it’s okay and all for the best and all that stuff.

Yesterday, Steve left for a 5 week trip to California. He got a fancy new job that is based there, and he will be able to work from home, and then he will be here all the time and I will probably wish he was back in LA, but he has to go there for training first. Obviously, I was thrilled about him leaving. I even helped him pack. I’m such an awesome wife.

You're welcome!

I also definitely did not unpack the things he’d already packed and hide them. That would not be a fun game. For him. Anyway, the silver lining in all of this (other than, you know, the whole awesome jump for Steve and his career) is that I have the next 5 weeks to refocus on some of my independence, as well as other relationships with family and friends. Although I already miss him a lot and kind of wish the 5 weeks was up, I also know that we have the rest of our lives to spend together, and it’s good for me to focus on myself as well. Not to mention that I already signed up to leave him for 6 weeks this summer to go play at theatre camp, so I guess we’re even. ;)

So for the next 5 weeks, I will be focusing on being comfortable spending time with myself, having awesome workouts, putting quality time into family and friendships, and cleaning my house. Come on Ari, let’s keep this honest.

I know some people really enjoy their alone time…If you were left alone for a month, would you be excited or bummed? What would you do? If you already live alone, do you like it?

Weekly Workouts

Hello friends! Life seems like it has been crazy busy lately. It’s all been good stuff, but it’s nice to take some time to breathe and have some much needed me time today.

Considering how exhausted I was from The Lost Dutchman, I had a surprisingly productive work week of work outs. I took two full, amazing total rest days, then got out for a slow 3.7 mile run, a couple easy-ish bike rides, followed by a super awesome 25 mile ride on Saturday and spin class yesterday. I can’t even tell you how in love I am with my bike! I am not the fastest on it by any means, but I love having a second, less hard on the body form of cardio that I can do outside! And you know what’s awesome? I have ended every ride so far feeling like I could just keep going for miles and miles if I had the time/desire. Plus, I’ve been using it to get to work when I can. I love feeling like I am multi tasking by commuting and exercising at the same time. Yes folks, that is the highlight of my life. Jealous?

A few days ago, I read a post on Sarah OUaL’s blog that got me super excited! Did you know the garmin has interval workouts, so you can do your own speed drills without a track? Check out her post for awesome pictures and step by step instructions! Ever since I read it, I was super excited to try it. I’d been feeling a little bit like the running motivation bandwagon dropped me off for a little pit stop then bolted and was suddenly no where in site, and since I currently don’t have a big race on the calendar (hey self, let’s fix that ASAP!), I needed something new to pump me up.

This morning I planned to run 3 miles with Jason, and I decided to get there early and give this speed interval thing a shot. You know, try to be a real, legit runner or something. I thought I would HATE that I couldn’t see my pace, only the remaining distance and laps, but actually I think it was a blessing in disguise. I set it up for 4 x 0.5 mi intervals with 2 minutes of rest in between. So I just ran as fast as I could for each segment and hoped for the best. Turns out 1/2 a mile is a little longer than one would imagine. I started off booking it, then was like “I must be done by now, right?” Only to look down and discover I’d gone about .15 miles. Basically each rest period, I kind of thought I was going to die if I had to go out again, but I finished and I’m actually pretty proud of myself for how I did!

My goal was to keep each interval at an 8:15 pace and in the back of my mind I was like “Hah–yeah, that’s a nice goal. We’ll see if that happens.” Well I finished the 2 miles (active time, not including rests) in 16:11 which is about an 8:05 average pace! Boo ya stupid negative brain! Look at me! I’ll be doing this sub 8 in no time, bitch. Sorry. I cursed. It happens sometimes.

Okay, so can some smart person pretty please teach me how to upload my splits onto my computer?? I opened the garmin training center and all I see is some graph I don’t understand, and I want to see how I did on each section.¬† Ugghh, technology and I do not get along very well.

So to help keep myself motivated, I scheduled in all of my work outs for the week, and here’s what it looks like:

Monday: 4x800s + 3 easy miles
Tuesday: Spin + strength (omg strength training! ew)
Wednesday:
5 mi tempo (or whatever crazy speeds Ashley decides we will run)
Thursday:
Active rest–easy bike ride
Friday:
Long run…alllllll alone. Wahhh. I’ll prob end up doing 10 miles, but I’m hoping to push myself for a few more.
Saturday:
20 mile bike ride
Sunday:
Spin!!

Anyone want to run with me Friday??? It will be so fun, I promise.

Trigger Point Dry Needling

IMAG0602

If you’ve been reading for a while, you may recall that I have had chronic achilles tendonitis for the past 10 years or so. It kept me from running for a long time, until I decided it wasn’t going to anymore. I tried to be super smart about it–I only run 3 times per week (most weeks), and try to never run consecutive days. My body just doesn’t particularly like it, so I try to thank it for putting up with me and carrying me to a few finish lines. I also try to ice every day that I run, and for a while my body was holding up great, but when I started to feel more significant pain, I started going to physical therapy.

You may remember when I wrote my post about the Astym. Let me tell you, that was fun. Every session I was like “KT, do I get astym today?!?! She would be like “Calm down, Ari. I know you love astym, but sometimes my soft, gentle calf massages are so much better.” Yeah, astym is not fun and it is super painful, and so are KT’s massages, but it really was helping. The last time I got it done, I was whining and crying like a pathetic baby taking it like a champ, and one of the other therapists suggested I get the dry needling. He said it would hurt less than astym. Ummmm, you want to stick needles into my legs and shake them around?!?!?! I politely said no thank you, and have skirted the subject ever since.

I’d actually been considering it a little bit since. They explained that it’s essentially like hitting the “reset” button on a muscle that has been tight for a significant amount of time and hasn’t been cured with massage and foam rolling. My calves have two settings–tight, and ridiculously tight. Finally yesterday as KT was massaging and said “You need a needle in here!” I nervously agreed.

They handed me a special consent form, and I immediately got even more nervous!

One of the risks is lung puncture. I mean, I’m no anatomy expert, but that sounds basically impossible while needling my calf. However, it still scared me! I signed, and tried to prepare myself. I begged KT and Ashley to hold my hand, but KT was on photography duty and Ashley, well, Ashley our friendship is over. Except when I need you to make me run fast. Then we can be friends again ;)

Matt explained that he would be putting the needle in four different spots. He also told all sorts of awesome jokes like saying “Oh I’m so glad I finally get to do this on someone!” Great, Matt. Thanks for that.

The first one actually didn’t hurt at all! I barely felt it. He asked how I was doing and I was like “Great!” Hah. You see, it’s not the actual needle going in that hurts–it’s kind of similar to acupuncture where the needle is really thin, but this one isn’t hollow. The part that hurts is when they shake it around in there. The first spot was on the outside of my calf which is less sensitive. Then they did one in the middle and all of the sudden it felt like a charlie horse! Holy crap. It was not fun. The third one was even worse! I asked for a little break before the 4th one, because it was rough at this point. They basically make your leg muscles spasm, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that to be the most pleasant feeling.

The last one was so weird! It was down closer to my achilles and it made it feel like my foot was asleep! You know the spidery tingling feeling when you stop on your foot when it’s asleep? That happened and it freaked me out! They said it as normal, and before I knew it, I was done. If it works nearly as well as they say it will, it’ll definitely be worth it in the end. The only other part that is less than fun (other than, you know, the 4-5 more weeks I have of this) is how sore I was yesterday! They warned me that I would be, but you know that feeling when you’ve had really bad charlie horses during the night, and the next day your calf is so sore that it’s hard to walk? Is that just me? Anyway, that’s how it felt. You should have seen my trying to teach choreography. Yikes.

Have you ever experienced TDN? Any other crazy physical therapy or other medical things?? I think things like this are so interesting, and I’m always curious to know what other people have experienced!

Change of Plan

Can I just say that I didn’t ever, for one single minute, consider that the idea of finishing my second half marathon 9 minutes faster than my first, only a month later, even possible! The thought never crossed my mind. I knew in the month I had in between that I wanted to get faster. I read a lot of speedy peoples’ blogs, I got some help from the amazing Margot of The Faster Bunny, and I ran with some speedy friends, but pretty much I made up my own plan, just like I had the first time.

Apparently, something worked? I am, of course, no expert on speed, or running at all for that matter, but I figured I would at least share some of what I did that seemed to work out pretty well, and maybe it will help other turtles out there like me! :)

Here is what a typical week looked like:

Mon: 3 mi with sprint intervals
I kept my intervals really short–like the distance between driveways. I didn’t go for any specific times, I just set out points of distance in my neighborhood and kept my jogging and my sprinting distances about even. I kept my jogging pace around a 10 min/mi and just went as fast as humanly possible on the sprints. I don’t know is this is good, bad, or if there is even a technical term, but I did it, and I felt like it kicked my butt and was really helpful.

Tues: Spin
I love spin, and I really think it helps with my running. My favorite teacher Linda is a racing machine and she also believes this. The woman is 50, does several races a year (including tris), and teaches like 20 gym classes per week. If she told me standing on my head would help, you better believe I’d be posting upside down right now.

Wed: 5-6 mi tempo run
Most of these did not end up being tempos because I ran with speedy gonzales AKA Ashley who runs at a 7:30 pace. We would warm up for a mile around a 10 min pace, run the first “tempo” mile around where I thought I should be–like 9:10ish–and then negative split from there, then end up with a cool down mile. These runs killed me, but this girl got me to run a 7:33 mile!!!! Granted I made her stop 3 times because my lungs felt like they were on fire and my whole body was going to burn down with them, but even so, it was the fastest I have ever run. Running with fast people is pretty much the secret to running fast yourself. In my expert opinion.

Thurs: Rest or bike ride
Rest is nice. Bike rides are fun.

Fri: Long run
I only really did 2 long runs, but they were good ones. 15 and 12. I think going beyond the race distance gave me more confidence. I knew that I could, in fact, run longer than 13 miles, so I could actually push it a little during those 13 and not spend all my time worrying about the distance. The last 2 miles of my 15 mi run were ridiculously hard, but it may be my favorite long run I’ve done, and even though I don’t plan on training for a full for a while, I can’t wait to complete some new PDRs just because I want to!

Sat: Rest or bike ride
See Thurs.

Sun: Spin
Even with perfect weather and a bike of my own, I am still inspired to spin twice a week. That’s how good Linda is!

So, how is this different from my first training plan? You know, the other one that I just decided I was smart enough to create on my own even though I had never run before. Well, that one was totally focused on distance for me. I ran 3x a week, with two 3-4 mi runs and one long run. I tried to get faster on the short ones, and worked on having negative splits, but did absolutely no legit speed training. I thought you just got faster by running more, and I did because it was so new to me, but this time around, speed was my main focus. I feel like in my first plan, the miles mid week were more like junk miles because they had no plan, and no real purpose. My very favorite running blog taught me that every run should have a purpose.

So there you have it. I still don’t know if any of this is good, or right, or whatever, but I know that I shocked myself on Sunday, and that I am beyond excited for what I can accomplish in the future. Which brings me to the question….

Now what???

Well, there is a very small tri that I’m planning on doing with Nicole at the end of March. I am planning on the Firefly Run, and Pat’s Run in April, and I am this close to registering for the Disneyland 1/2 in September. But I want something more than that, and I want it sooner. It is kind of killing me that there is no full marathon I can sign up for right now, and I really want to do one more half before the weather turns to burn. I feel like I need a big goal to work towards that will happen soon. Any suggestions? I’m already antsy! This running thing is like crack.

 

 

Gluten Free Almond Joy Cupcakes

coconut-chocolate-cupcakes-011

Happy belated birthday to my super, awesome, lovely, beautiful friend Carolyn! If you haven’t checked out this girl’s blog, you really should. Her work outs are amazing, and she has been a total inspiration to me ever since I met her! She is also super sweet and a truly amazing friend.¬† She eats gluten free, and I always feel bad that when I make desserts for things, she can never eat them. So Nicole and I put our heads together to plan out some awesome surprise birthday cupcakes for her. Well, then poor Nicole got sick, but still gave me all of the fantastic ingredients I needed to carry out our plan!

My friend Christina sent me a recipe for gluten free coconut cupcakes that I used as a base. I’m not sure who it’s originally from, so dear person who created it, if you read this lil ole blog, please tell me so I can be like “Hey readers! All 3 of you! Go look at ______’s awesome recipes”. Thanks in advance. I’m a big fan of your recipe!

I altered the recipe a bit to make it healthy(ish) and put some of my own touches in. Also, Nicole gave me all of these gf flour options, so I ended up getting a little accidentally creative on the flour mix, but I think it was pretty much the happiest accident ever.

Sometimes gluten free things come with weird textures, but not these babies. Friends and family scarfed them down, and my step dad called them the best cupcakes I’ve ever made! Who knew creating recipes around different diets could be so fun? It makes me want to explore more with gf, vegan, paleo and any other fancy diet recipes. I found that I really like creating things for people who eat a certain way and may not always have foods on their plan provided.

Gluten Free Almond Joy Cupcakes

yield 24 cupcakes

For the coconut cupcakes:

  • 1 cup raw cane sugar
  • 1 cup Splenda
  • 1 cup egg substitute
  • 2 1/2 cups brown rice flour mix (see below)
  • dash salt
  • 1 tbs baking powder
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut vanilla almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract

Brown rice flour mix:

  • 1 cup brown rice flour
  • 1 cup sweet white sorghum flour
  • 2/3 cup potato starch (not potato flour)
  • 1/3 cup tapioca flour

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 muffin tins with cupcake liners and lightly spray with nonstick spray.
  2. Beat sugar, Splenda, and egg substitute at medium speed for approx 1 min. Add in all remaining ingredients and beat at medium speed for 1 min.
  3. Evenly divide the batter between your 24 lined cups. Each one should be about 2/3 full.
  4. Bake for 18-20 min, until top springs back when you press lightly on the middle, or toothpick inserted in center comes out mostly clean.
  5. Cool completely on wire rack, then frost with chocolate almond cream cheese frosting.

For the Chocolate Almond Cream Cheese Frosting:

yield enough to frost at least 24 cupcakes

adapted from How Sweet It Is (I love pretty much every single one of her recipes)

  • 3 x 8 oz blocks reduced fat cream cheese (you could also use fat free, I just had red fat on hand)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 oz grain sweetened chocolate chips, melted and cooled
  • 1-2 tsp almond extract

Directions:

  1. Beat cream cheese on medium speed in a stand mixer until smooth. Add almond extract.
  2. On low speed, add in powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, followed by cocoa powder.
  3. Increase to medium speed and add melted chocolate.
  4. Beat until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl often.
  5. Frost and enjoy!

Optional Toppings:

  • raw sugar
  • almonds
  • shredded coconut

 

Lost Dutchman 1/2 Marathon Race Recap

"Where are they?"

Best.Race.Ever.

I could honestly leave it at that. But I won’t. Don’t worry, I will give you a long 2000 word post with all the deets.

You didn’t click the little x yet? Awesome. Thanks for that ;)

Lisa arrived into Phoenix Saturday afternoon and we headed over to the race expo. We received these emails about the “record crowds” they were expecting.

"Where are they?"

The expo was pretty small, so we picked up our bibs, looked around a little bit and I bought a headband.

Definitely different from the Rock N Roll one, but honestly, I don’t know that I need all the bells and whistles. After the expo, we went home for some carb-o loading goodness! I made Sweet Potato Mac & Cheese (YIKES! I need to update that recipe with better pictures. It’s from a long time ago!) and roasted broccoli. Yummmm. Healthy, carb-full, and deliciousness.

After dinner, Lisa and I proceeded to give our husbands a concert of our favorite show tunes every song we both new with really simple chords that we could actually play. We ended with Do You Hear the People Sing, I sang my best loudest high C, and Steve and Sam simultaneously asked us for divorces we went out to get some Gelato before heading to bed early for our 4:40am wake up call.

This morning, we woke up, had some coffee and toast with sunflower butter and banana, and some iced coffee and we were out the door by 5:30. It was still pitch black outside and collllddddd (for Phoenix). We arrived at Prospector Park where race volunteers literally escorted us into the proper parking space and immediately found our way onto a bus to the starting line. This race was incredibly well organized and all of the volunteers were super friendly and helpful! I was impressed!

We hung out for a bit with the boys while we waited for the start, then did a bit of a warm up jog and made our way over to the starting line. I felt pumped and super excited. I was running a race with one of my long time best friends–her first race, and my wedding gift to her. I just felt so happy for the entire experience.

I was also super nervous though. I signed up for this after Diana highly recommended it, without even looking at the elevation. Then, I heard from other runners that it was super tough and HILLY.

Oyyy!!! Then, I read the reviews which claimed it was “A great course for serious runners”. But I’m a comedic runner. Not serious at all. Nope. Not one bit. I was sure that I was going to run this slower than PF Chang’s. In fact, I even added more music to my playlist so I wouldn’t run out! I intentionally did not talk about pace goals on the blog because I was sure I would end up embarrassing myself. But I did have one, and it seemed totally out of reach, but it was there, burning a hole in the back of my mind. 2:09:XX. I figured there was no way I’d make it just a month after finishing in 2:13:58 on a more challenging course, so I only told Lisa and Steve–and only when Lisa asked.

Anyway–back to the race. We got to the starting line and I was surprised because at 7:15 on the dot, there was no announcement, no Star Spangled Banner, just a sudden gun shot and the race had begun! Well, okay, if you say so! About 1/2 a mile in, we saw Steve and Sam and kept it totally cool.

Soon after we turned the corner and were running right towards the sunrise in the mountains. Holy crap, it was gorgeous. I felt so honored to be running into something so beautiful and I realized for a second how awesome my life is. I can run into the sunrise. That is something I never thought I would appreciate, but my views and ideas of happiness have change…a lot.

I had told Lisa we needed to start slowly so we wouldn’t burn out. At PF Chang’s, I got tired at mile 8 and had to walk/run until the end. In fact, in every single race I’ve done, I’ve gotten tired from going beyond my pace and had to take walking breaks. Even all of my 5Ks. So when we ran the first mile in 9:33, I was getting ready to yell at Lisa for not starting out in the 10s like we had discussed. I had all of this fear about not being able to keep it up, and how I would burn out, but then I realized I felt great. The pace felt dare I say easy. And I thought to myself… What if I can keep this up for the whole race?

I made a little goal with myself right there–if I ran every mile below 10 minutes, I really could meet my goal of finishing sub 2:10, so I was going to not be a little bitch and tell my friend her pace was not maintainable. I was going to suck it up, keep running and really go for a PR.

For the next 4.5 miles until the turn around, it was pretty much rolling hills the entire way. Nothing super steep, but pretty much just a lot of running and nature. The crowds were sparse to say the least–it was all about me running because I love to run. For the first few miles I was definitely pushing to keep up with Lisa, which was good–it kept me going. We reached the turn around at mile 6.55, I took my Gu, and I realized I still felt really good. I had already maintained this pace for half the race and I really felt like I could keep it up. A PR began to feel really doable and I felt so motivated and excited!

It was an out and back, so the rolling hills continued, but mile after mile ticked by and I kept feeling good. Lisa and I stayed together, but didn’t really socialize. We were both just focused on the task at hand and enjoying being focused on the same thing together. It was perfect because I felt like I had support, but it wasn’t a lets-chat-about-life type of thing.

Before I knew it, we were at mile 8, which is where I crashed and burned at PF Chang’s. But this time, it felt totally different. I felt like I had the energy to push through until the end. I started to get really excited. And even better–we were still completely on track! Every single mile had been below a 10 min pace! We kept trucking along, and then at mile 9.5, we reached the toughest hill of the race, and it lasted for a good mile! I was tired, and I felt like I was slowing down, but we still kept our pace, and finished our toughest mile in 9:58.

By mile 11, I was tired. Seriously, tired. But Lisa was still going and I hadn’t walked yet (excluding for a couple seconds to take water at stations), so I kept pushing. This is the time I would usually think “Oh, if I’m gonna finish strong, I’d better take a walking break”, but I didn’t, and you know what? It didn’t kill me.

At mile 12.5, we saw Sam waiting on the side lines. He came out and ran with Lisa and I started to get a little teary. This was my first time meeting him, and I realized one of my best friends found a husband that will come out and push her to the end of this race–he gets her, and she is so happy, and we are running fast, and I have this awesome life-long friend who has pushed me to the end of this thing.

I started to think that maybe, just *maybe*, I could even finish in a new goal: sub 2:05. I would really have to push it til the end, and I was beyond tired at this point. I could tell Lisa was feeling slightly better than me, and I encouraged her to go up ahead, and I tried to keep her in sight. I wanted to stop about a million times between mile 12.75 and the finish line. Right about mile 13, I saw Steve and tried to look happy in the pictures.

 

 

 

 

This one's my favorite :)

After this point, I looked down at my watch and gave it absolutely everything I had left. I stopped my Garmin just after the finish line, check it and it said 2:05:02. Not quite my late race goal, but honestly, I was ecstatic!!!!!!! I shaved 9 freaking minutes off my time in ONE MONTH!!!! I ran at a pace that i thought was completely out of my abilities. I set a record in a race I didn’t think it was possible. I could not believe that I had done all of these things. It seemed unreal, and almost more exciting than my first half marathon.

2:05???? That’s almost like the times I read about on other blogs!! That’s a 9:32 average pace!!! 9:32!!!!!!! Single digits!!!! Are you freaking kidding me? And this course was not easy! Holy crap,

Lisa had finished just seconds before me, so I quickly caught up to her, hugged her, and told her how incredible she is–or at least I hope I conveyed that! This girl decided to train for this race a month ago! It was her very first race and she practically carried me to the finish line! She forced me to see that I am better than I give myself credit for. That’s what the friends do. They help you to discover that you are better, faster, stronger, and more capable than you knew. I have so many things to say about what I discovered today, that I am going to save my post race thoughts for an other post.

After we finished, we sat in the grass to stretch for a few minutes before getting back on the shuttle.

Sam & Lisa--aren't they the cutest couple?!

"Look!!!! We have medals!!!!"

"2:05!!! What? That says 5:02? Oh...."

We never claimed to be smart...

"Take more than 1 picture so we're smart twice as often as not smart!"

"Let's lunge to each other"

You wanna know the icing on the cake?

I checked my official chip time. You wanna know what it was?

2:04:59

And now, I’m crying again.

I just can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe the pride I feel in myself since I took up this little “hobby”. I can’t believe how much my life has changed.

Hey Lisa! Thanks for being my inspiration today. I am beyond grateful to you.

Hey everyone! Thanks for reading and making me feel like I have a place to share about my accomplishments. I am a happy girl today. :)

 

 

 

11 Things

I am a bad blog friend. Nicole tagged me to do this thing like weeks ago. Diana tagged me again today and I realized I had this post in my draft and never came back to it. If you read other blogs and are not my mom and dad (Hi mom and dad! You’re awesome!), you’ve probably read like a thousand of these already. Basically, I tell you 11 things about myself, answer 11 of Nicole’s questions, and then you go and do the same thing on your blog. I tag all of you. It’s fun–like in jr high when you would get those mass emails about my favorite color and flavor of ice cream. :)

  1. My favorite foods are cilantro, nut butter, and fro yo. My favorite seasonings are cumin, garlic pepper, lemon pepper and Spike.
  2. I really really really like to be in charge. Let’s pretend to be surprised.
  3. If Steve didn’t keep me in check, I probably would have at least 10 dogs by now. And they would all sleep in the bed.
  4. I get super nervous around people I think are cool. Like my spin teacher. I always want to talk to her and then I chicken out, and the day she asked me about PF Chang’s I totally felt like I was talking to a celebrity!
  5. One of my favorite ways to wake Steve up in the morning is by jumping on him and yelling “Bodddyyyy…SLAM!!!!” It’s okay to ask why the hell he married me, but to be honest, I have no idea.
  6. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the idea of being a famous actor and singer and I would “write” songs with my friends and make everyone in my family listen to them over and over and over. I was also pretty much tone deaf so that really sucked for them until I got into voice lessons.
  7. Before I changed my eating habits, I would eat fast food 1-2 times per day. I would also complain about how I was fat and how it was not my fault, I just had bad genetics.
  8. My favorite TV show of all time will always be Seinfeld. I have seen every episode at least 10 times and I never get tired of it. Back in the day, Jason and I used to sit at his apartment and watch episode after episode, and every time Mac and I visit each other, it is tradition that we watch it before bed.
  9. Sometimes I check out my own leg muscles in the mirror because I am so excited that I have them. If I were you, I would judge that, and that’s okay. Sometimes, I judge myself.
  10. I have an unnatural and very unfortunate hatred for the act of cleaning. A long time ago, I even created my own facebook group titled “I Hate Cleaning!!!!!” However, I also strongly prefer to live in a clean home and have my things organized. This is a problem. I really want to get better at staying clean and organized.
  11. I have the weirdest taste in music. My ipod is filled with super debbie downer emo music (lots of Tori Amos, the kind of music they play on Grey’s Anatomy, etc.), musical theatre, 80’s and 90’s music, and top 40. So in a matter of minutes you could hear Jar of Hearts, Defying Gravity, Dancing with Myself, MmmBop, and Super Bass.

Nicole’s Questions

1. What is your favorite vacation of all time?
I don’t think I could ever choose! My graduation trip with Steve is definitely high on the list, but I went on a ton of awesome ones with my family when I was younger, and I’ve taken lots of road trips with really great friends.

2. What is your favorite way to spend a Sunday?
Spin class, followed by coffee, a trip to the dog park, something fun in the afternoon, then cooking dinner with Steve. Am I lame?

3. What is the coolest thing you did in the month of January?
Ran my first half marathon!!!!! Who saw that one coming? ;)

4. What is the first blog you ever read?
Carrots N Cake–totally inspired me to really start this one! Well, I mean, I also read all my friends’ live journals, does that count?

5. If you could pick a song to be your theme song (that played wherever you go) what would it be?
Gangsta’s Paradise. No question. In case you’ve never met me, I know all the lyrics and can do it without the cd. I will gladly demonstrate at any time. There is also a video of me from my wedding wearing a hat and rapping along to the entire song. With a microphone.

6. Crushed ice or cubed?
Crushed.

7. Which Disney Princess do you identify with the most (if any)?
I always loved Ariel because she has the prettiest hair and the best singing voice.

8. Do you prefer to plan things or be spontaneous?
I used to be a lot better about being spontaneous. I am more of a planner now, but my favorite is probably when things just work out perfectly with no plan.

9. What is your favorite flower?
Sunflowers!!! Always, always, always–no contest.

10. Do you ever listen to songs on repeat? If so, which was your most resent repeat song?
All the time. It was the entire latest Adele cd, until the radio took over and did that for me.

 

Your turn!!! Do it. It’s fun :)

Cookie Butter Brownie Bars

browniecookiebars-005

Please don’t tell me you’re sick of the cookie butter already. You can’t be. This is only recipe #2. In fact, recipe #1 happened because the first time I tried this recipe it absolutely failed. I mean, it was delicious, but the brownies didn’t bake all the way through, and you couldn’t get it out of the pain, so you kind of had to sit there with a fork chowing down on a 9×13 pan of gooey half baked goodness. It kind of became a problem, and I had to give them away–well give it away, since it was kind of like one big bar. Anyway, I knew I was onto something with the taste, so I tried again.

Try #1 went brownie batter on bottom, cookie butter bar layer on top, bake. Try #2 included baking the brownie layer a little bit first, but still somehow came out looking like try #1. Third time’s a charm, I guess ;)

Cookie layer on the bottom because brownies cook more slowly–duhhh, Ari! The result? Gooey, brownie, cookie butter deliciousness that can actually be plated and served. See?

 

Cookie Butter Brownie Bars

yield approx 32 bars

  • 1 box TJ’s reduced guilt brownie mix or No Pudge Brownie Mix
  • 6oz nonfat vanilla yogurt (some other flavors also taste good mixed with brownie like red velvet–yum!)
  • 1 cup cookie butter
  • 1/2 cup apple butter
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons¬†granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • white chocolate and caramel for drizzling (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Spray to 9×9 baking pans with nonstick spray. Set aside.
  2. Combine brownie mix and yogurt. Set aside.
  3. Beat together cookie butter, apple butter, brown sugar, Splenda, vanilla, milk and baking soda. Slowly beat in flour.
  4. Divide cookie butter dough in half and press into the bottom of each 9×9 baking pan. Smooth out the top as much as possible.
  5. Evenly divide the brownie batter between the two pans, using a spatula to smooth on top.
  6. Bake for 18-22 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. Careful not to over bake–you still want a little gooeyness in the middle, but you want everything set enough to come out neatly.
  7. Cool on a wire rack, then slice and drizzle with white chocolate and caramel if desired.

 

Cookie Butter Bars

cookiebutter-cookies-010

Did you hear the news??? Trader Joe’s cookie butter is back! Please don’t ask how many jars I’ve gone through. It’s a little embarrassing. But, honestly, with bars like these, can you blame me? With cookie butter and apple butter, who needs actual butter? These bars have all of the delicious flavor of cookie butter and come as a cross between a cake and a cookie. Like a cookie cake. Cookies + cake + cookie butter. Yes, please.

These were my birthday treat to myself. And everyone (including our waitress) at Barrio Cafe ;) I hope you enjoy them too!

 

Cookie Butter Bars

yield approx 30 bars

  • 1 cup TJ’s cookie butter
  • 1/2 cup apple butter
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbs Splenda
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Spray 9×13 baking dish with nonstick spray. Set aside.
  2. Beat together cookie butter, apple butter, brown sugar, Splenda, vanilla, milk and baking soda.
  3. Slowly, beat in flour.
  4. Press batter evenly into pan. Use a rolling pin to smooth out top.
  5. Bake for 18-22 min until set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. Do not over bake.
  6. Cool completely on wire rack, then top with white chocolate cream cheese frosting and sprinkles if desired.

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

yield enough to cover 9×13 pan of baked goods

  • 14 oz reduced fat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tbs light, whipped butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup Sunspire white chocolate chips, melted
  • dash almond extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar (you may add more–I don’t like my frosting to be too sweet)

Directions:

  1. Beat together butter and cream cheese. Beat in white chocolate and almond extract.
  2. Slowly add and beat in powdered sugar, scraping down sides of bowl when necessary.
  3. Spread evenly on top of desired baked good, and enjoy!

 

Barrio Cafe

This is my super awesome friend Amelia who married us. She makes good faces, :)

When I told people that I was having a birthday dinner with my Starbucks friends, I definitely got some odd looks. I mean, everyone knows I have a coffee problem, but maybe they didn’t know they extent ;) The truth is, I’m just a chatty person and I like to meet new people, so after 3 years of seeing the same baristas almost every day, having one of them officiate my wedding, and running a half marathon with an other, this group has become pretty important in my life.

I gave Kara a list of a few restaurants I’ve been wanting to try, and left the rest up to her. We ended up going to Barrio Cafe. As soon as we arrived, it was like love at first sight! It has a tiny, hole in the wall feel. There was live music, and the whole atmosphere seemed really authentic! There was a pretty significant wait, but we all sat outside and chatted, and the food definitely was worth the wait!

In addition to the Starbucks group, Nicole, Lance and Carolyn were also able to join us. It ended up being the perfect group! When we first sat down, we immediately ordered margaritas and took lots of pictures.

This is my super awesome friend Amelia who married us. She makes good faces, :)

Carolyn

Mona

Kara

Nicole & Lance

Charlie

I was a little surprised when the salsa came out with a bread basket instead of chips, but it was delicious!

The margaritas were also pretty amazing. Nice and tequila-y, and not super sweet. I hate a marg that tastes like sour mix!

We ordered the guacamole–they make it table side, and oh my gosh, it was absolutely incredible!!

I was totally skeptical of the pomegranite seeds because I usually don't like pomegranites, but it was such a perfect flavor combination! I must try putting fruit in my guac!

And look, we did end up getting chips also! But bread and salsa is a surprisingly delicious combination.

Then the food came and everything looked incredible.

Enchiliadas

Tacos--I had a little bit of food envy when these babies came out!

Steve and I split this steak dish that came in a sweet and spicy sauce with bleu cheese on top. It was ridiculously good. The steak was crunchy and slightly charred on the outside, while perfectly tender on the inside! YUM!

Every single item I tasted was absolutely delicious. I must admit, I was a little surprised at the prices when I first opened the menu, but the flavors were all unique and well worth the price.

After our dinner, we had cookie bar cake made by yours truly :)

And we resumed our photo session…

They even have a super awesome graffiti wall that we had fun in front of!

Me + Starbucks group

Oh no! Someone killed Carolyn! And apparently, rolled her over afterwards...

At least she looks happy about it.

Oh good! She came back to life! Hey Steve, I don't appreciate this whole from below angle that makes me look like I'm expecting. Let's work on that.

Okay, you picked me up, we're good again ;)

And then Nicole suggested we practice our jumping pictures….

Clearly, I don't need any practice.

We regularly pose for White Girls Can't Jump Weekly.

This was just one of those nights where everything is pretty much perfect. Perfect company, food and atmosphere. I was also super in love with our waitress who was hilarious and even tried a piece of the cookie bar cake! Ohhhh, and the band even sang me happy birthday! Pretty much, if you live in Phoenix and haven’t been to Barrio Cafe, that needs to change immediately. And if you’re ever visiting from out of town (like if your name is Mac and you will be here in a month), you cannot leave Phoenix without eating at the best Mexican restaurant I have ever been to.

Special thanks to Kara for organizing such an incredible night, and everyone who made the last couple of weeks super special for me :)

 

 

Barrio Cafe on Urbanspoon

Skirt Chaser 5k Race Recap

Cute, and supportive! Yes!

About a week ago, Jason and Nacho mentioned to me that they were going to be running the Skirt Chaser 5k this weekend, and of course, I promptly invited myself to join them :) I’ve been really wanted to do an other 5k since my last one was in November and I really wanted a PR! The problem? Well that course was short! I finished and my garmin said 3.02! That was super awesome at the time, but it makes trying to come in better scary! Also, the Skirt Chaser started at 2pm with a weather forecast of 80 degrees. Yikes! I figured I would go for a PR, and at the very least it would be a fun race with awesome people.

After I discovered that Carolyn was going to be in town for it, I got her to sign up as well. You see, if I’m doing a race, I want every single friend I have to sign up for it too. Some might call that pushy, but I like to think of myself as highly motivating ;)

Before the race, I met up with Jason and Nacho at REI to look for some new shoes. Okay, so perhaps I know buying new shoes right before a race is not super smart, but I had been REALLY needing them, and so did Jason, so it just kind of happened to work out that way. Jason, Nacho and I all ended up picking pairs of Brooks. I got the Brooks Ravenna and so far, I am in so much love!

Cute, and supportive! Yes!

The Nikes I’d been sporting were a neutral shoe, which the people at Road Runner that analyzed my running suggested I needed for my “medium arch”. Well, that was the first time anyone has ever referred to my arch as medium. My feet are almost flat, and because of that I have a lot of problems with pronating. My physical therapist has been on me to get new shoes for a while, so I used some birthday money to finally get it done.

Steve, Jason, Nacho and I arrived at the race really early because I still needed to register (I have a procrastination problem), and found some shade to hang under while we waited for the rest of the group.

Soon after, Carolyn arrived and then a big group of Jason’s work friends arrived as well.

Cool things about this race?

  1. You get a skirt!!! See my cute new purple skirt? Way better than a shirt!
  2. You get 2 beer tickets, and a food ticket! Okay, for $60, honestly you better get some clothes and some beer!
  3. The girls start 3 minutes before the guys and whoever crosses the finish line first is considered the winner.
  4. It was a girl.

When it got close to starting time, Carolyn and I made our way towards the middle/front area of the start. As soon as the race started, I darted around people trying to find my own space, and unfortunately lost Carolyn right away. I had this super awesome race strategy to do run the first mile at around 9:10-9:15, and the rest of the race sub 9. Then the race started down hill, and I turned into stupid racing Ari and ran as fast as I could, and was already breathing heavy a quarter mile in. I looked down at my garmin at one point in that first downhill section and it said my pace was 6 something! Ummm, too fast! Cannot maintain AT ALL!

We had barely gotten to the bottom of the first downhill, when we were going back up again. My pace slowed to about 9:30, but I was still pushing soooo hard. I realized pretty quickly that the entire 3.1 miles was going to be up and down and got even more worried about my ability to PR. Seriously, afternoon race, 80 degrees AND HILLS?! What are you trying to do to me here?!

I finished the first mile in 8:34. Awesome, right? Well, it would be if that was something I could maintain for 3 hilly miles. Mile to was in the 9:20s, then mile 3 was slightly better at 9:11. By the middle of mile 3, I had almost given up on the idea of a PR and just wanted to still finish under 30 minutes, but once I got closer to the finish line, I looked down at my garmin and was surprised to realize this whole PR business was actually still doable. I kicked it into gear, ran the last tenth of a mile at about a 6:20 pace (basically my sprint), and finished with a PR of 27:56!!

Not a huge difference from 28:04 which was my official time for the Undy, but considering the hills, heat, and extra tenth of a mile, it was actually a pretty big difference!

"Look!! I'm running!!!"

Nacho

Carolyn

Jason & Aaron

After the race, we all got our free beers and hung out for a while drinking, and listening to the band.

The weather felt perfect once we weren’t running in it! This was definitely a super fun race. Pretty pricey, and not very good in the cheer leading department, but I still had a really good time!

10 Years Later

avantis-bday-001

10 years ago, I had my first surprise birthday party. Up until that year, I had always been very involved in planning my birthday and making it exactly the way I wanted. A month or two before I turned 17, my friends and family began asking what I wanted to do, and to every one of them, I replied “nothing”.

Sixteen was a very hard year. Maybe the hardest of my entire life. I haven’t really talked about it on here, but shortly after I turned 16, my best friend took her own life. It was not something my 16 year old self was at all prepared to deal with or knew how to handle. Less than a year later, and exactly one month before I turned 17, an other close friend took his life as well. The last thing I was in the mood to do was celebrate. I agreed to a small dinner with my family and my two closest friends (Bethany and Jason–the two that are still my best friends ten years later) at my favorite restaurant–Avanti.

That evening I arrived at dinner, and my jaw almost hit the floor. An entire long table in our own private area filled with friends and family. I had never let the control of my special day go long enough to let anyone surprise me (just pretend to be surprised by that, okay? ;) ), but here when I least expected it and thought I didn’t want it, was everyone I loved in one place here to surprise me–and they did! I had absolutely no idea. I was overwhelmed. I realized in that moment, that even in sorrow and life’s most challenging times, there can be joy, and it is okay to let yourself feel happy, even when your current situation is, well, not.

I looked around the table and saw the effort that my dad had gone to make me feel happy again, and I looked at all of the support and people there who loved me. My friend Charity hadn’t been able to find a ride, so she called a cab to take her 20 miles to be there to celebrate my birthday. Where do friends like that even come from?!

When my dad started to ask about my birthday this year, I was honestly hesitant to go back to Avanti (where I have been every single birthday since then, with the exception of while I was at UI), because to be 100% honest, Italian food kind of stresses me out. Then he said “But it’s the 10 year anniversary of your special surprise party!” And I remembered that incredible night–I couldn’t resist.

This year, in the theme of keeping things small and being able to spend time with more individual, smaller groups, my Avanti dinner consisted of my dad, Hermano, Janie, my grandma, Steve and me. Steve, Hermano and I showed up to a table with balloons on top (including Tigger, and purple and green–my dad definitely remembers details of what people like). We sat down and ordered some drinks while waiting for my dad, grandma and Janie to arrive.

One of my favorite things about Avanti is that they always encourage Hermano to play their piano!

They have a professional that they hire to play on the weekends, but both him and the manager are always asking Hermano to play and making comments about his improvements! Sometimes, I can even be convinced to sing with him. Today, after the rest of the family arrived, we decided to do Coldplay’s Fix You together. By the time we got near the end, all of the memories of my birthday 10 years ago, as well as the friends I was missing flooded back and I started to feel a little emotional–not necessarily in a bad way, I was just caught a little off guard.

I will never forget what my friends and family did for me that year, but it doesn’t always feel quite so fresh, and it was a wonderful reminder of how lucky I am, and how much I have to be thankful for.

This year started out a little bit stressful, but it got better really quickly. Of course, Hermano making fun of our dad helped get me out of the cranky mood I started in.

If you don't know my dad, this will make absolutely no sense. Sorry. If you, do...it's funny, yes?

After hours and hours of waiting pretty soon, my dad, grandma and Janie arrived.

I had no idea what I wanted to order. I wanted pasta, but I figured I needed protein and blah blah blah. I don’t even remember the last time I ordered pasta at a restaurant, but I did. Avanti has the BEST gnocchi. Seriously, they melt in your mouth! I ended up ordering a half order of gnocchi in rosa sauce and a side of roasted veggies in spicy red sauce topped with gorgonzola cheese. Everything was amazing,

I have two plates. I like to have more than one of things :)

I couldn’t finish my pasta because I knew I had to save room for dessert!

For as long as I can remember, my dad has given me the same birthday cake. He asked me years ago what kind of cake I wanted and I replied “Marble cheesecake with an oreo crust.” I am a girl who knows what I like. It is out of this world and it’s been my annual cake ever since.

"I wish...."

You wanna know what’s in that delicious martini glass? White chocolate mint martini. Yes, it is as amazing as it sounds.

After we ate, I opened presents–can you believe I am still getting presents?!

Thanks dad!

YAY!! Compression socks! Thanks Janie!

After presents, we had some fun were completely ridiculous with the balloon clip. We’re really mature in my family.

Yup, that's what I get forever and ever. Excellent choice, self.

Balloon clips are dangerous. They should come with a warning.

Example 2.

My favorite.

It definitely would not have felt right this year without our annual dinner, and I am so grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had this year to spend time with people close to me. Thanks dad for always making me feel super special this time of year! I am a lucky girl!