Thursday, December 18, 2014

2nd Annual Holiday Cookie Swap!

The Sunday before last, I hosted a holiday cookie swap after taking a year hiatus. The holiday season always puts me in a baking mood and it's nice to have a true purpose to baking---versus just baking because I feel like it and then not knowing what to do with so many leftovers. You know?

The invite list was 15-18 people long this year, with an expectation that about 1/3rd wouldn't be able to come due to prior holiday commitments and travel. The guess wasn't too far off; we ended up having a total of 10 guests will 10 delicious cookie creations! It was the perfect size for our apartment. And any more cookies to sample, I probably would have POPPED!

Cold mimosas, sweet treats, Christmas music and catching up with friends (a handful I hadn't seen since this happened!)...what more could you ask for?

I decided to go the traditional route this year and send out actual paper invitation, instead of an email invite or a Facebook event. That being said, I was lucky in that I was able to hand-delivery a lot of them myself. I took advantage of the situation by including a cookie, or two, to get the attendees in the mood. (Spritz cookies are such a low-maintenance classic. They're like the Ritz crackers of cookies!) The invitations I chose (via Tiny Prints) came with the ability to create a custom RSVP website to include on the card. I know I'm not the only one that hates having to call (and to remember to call!) to confirm my attendance. The custom web page went a step above simple email RSVPs in that the attendees could leave a message---say, what cookie they planned to bring? It was a perfect feature. If only it was easier to make the decision on what to bring!

For decor, I kept it fairly simple because: I was short on time, don't own a lot of Christmas decorations and didn't have a lot of money to spend (snacks > decorations after all!). So I lit some sugary scented candles, hung ornament-adorn deco mesh garlands over windows (blue and red), set out some poinsettias, decorated our mini christmas tree and a bling-ed out the dining room chandelier with sparkly ornaments.

In addition to the invites, I ordered two batches of matching stickers and used them in two different ways to tie in the theme. For one batch, I ordered blank so we could use them as cookie labels on our buffet of sugar! I simply stuck the labels onto a sheet of scrapbook paper, made a crease and cut them out.

I customized the other batch of stickers with a "thank you" message for use on the takeaway bags (something for everyone to tote their cookies away in!). I hung the bags on the window garlands like I did my first year to get them out of the way and add some more color---I hung them with some extra ornament hangers I had on-hand.

For something as sweet as a cookie party, there needs to be some salty snacks for balance. The party was also at 1PM, so I was guessing most people skipped lunch in anticipation of all the sugary calories. I decided to make SkinnyTaste's hot spinach & artichoke dip (a huge hit! assembled the night before and baked 15 minutes before people arrived), mini turkey & swiss croissants and a small fruit and cheese platter (2 cheeses, crackers, apples, grapes).

For drinks, I had my co-host bring supplies for a mimosa and poinsettia bar---everyone flocked to it! There was also ice water, coffee, milk and hot tea for those that wanted something tamer.

The moment you've been waiting for! Our cookie lineup included:

Red velvet peppermint crinkles
Cinnamon roll cookies
Saltine toffee
Flour-less rocky road cookies
Lemon sugar cookies
PB cup peanut butter cookies
Hot chocolate cookies
Oreo truffles
Caramel-stuffed salted chocolate cookies
Chocolate-dipped homemade marshmallows & red velvet graham crackers!

I made the final two, after wasting Lord knows how long trying to decided something crazier to make. There's still a list a mile long of cookies I want to make, but didn't want there to be too many chocolate / red & green / sugar / mint / spicy / etc. cookies at the party. My top three favorite of the day were the red velvet crinkles, lemon and caramel stuffed cookies! Garland loved the Oreo truffles the best, which was good news since we were gifted TONS of leftovers :)

Next year, I'm considering making the switch to instructing everyone to bring one large platter of cookies for mixing-and-matching. This year, I stuck with the practice of everyone packaging small batches of cookies for attendees to swap. It's a lot of cookies...although, they easily disappeared from my apartment ;) 

Is it bad that I already can't wait until next year's?

Monday, December 15, 2014

How I Became Garland's Fiancé

After being computer-less for 1 1/2 weeks---it wouldn't charge, but now it does!---I'm finally back in action. At least for a little while, I am! Next Saturday, I'll be on a plane to the British Virgin Islands for our annual tropical holiday. What I really want to share before I go is: MY ENGAGEMENT STORY and my 2014 cookie swap details. I can guess which you'd probably like to hear about first...

I mentioned it in my marathon recap, but I'll go ahead and exclaim it again: Yes, I'm finally an engaged lady to my favorite person in the entire world!

It happened exactly a week after the marathon. We'd planned to go to Lexington, VA to visit VMI for their Ring Figure weekend football game against The Citadel. Our "first date" was his Ring Figure in 2008 (six years ago!); and ever since, we've gone back almost every single year to celebrate our "anniversary".

I didn't think much about this year, except that it was the week after the marathon. I was looking forward to staying in a very nice new inn in town, having a few drinks and not having to wake up at a crazy hour on Saturday for the first time in months. A few weeks prior, Garland said in passing that he'd had changed our reservation to include Friday night. He said it'd be nice not to have to rush there on Saturday, and that way we could maybe go for a hike Saturday morning. I shrugged it off, instead focusing on the last-minute marathon details.

Fast forward to Saturday morning and we're walking up House Mountain at 8AM(!) after a nice homemade breakfast at The Georges' Inn. That's right: He didn't let me sleep in AND promised me a nap after the football game, which was destined to never happen. Almost halfway up, we saw a hunter walking the trail ahead of us so we very quickly turned around. I was disappointed because we still had a lot of time to kill before lunch and the game. We very briefly discussed trying to find another hike or just going for a scenic ride. Instead, Garland "decided" we should just take our time back down and take in the view.

We paused at a clearing on the path where you could see the valley through the naked winter trees... He started saying really nice things about me and us... And before I realized it, he went down on one knee and a ring appeared in his hand like a magician and a coin.

My first words of a response were echoed into nature. Sheer shock. Something along the lines of: "REALLY?!?! ARE YOU SERIOUS?! WHO ELSE KNOWS?!" (How did no one tell me or make me suspicious, did my dad know, etc...).

I eventually said yes; and we skipped down the mountain, hand-in-hand. He'd convinced me not to call or text anyone until after lunch so we could just enjoy "being engaged by ourselves". We drove back into Lexington, changed and walked to lunch around 11:30AM. Just before entering the restaurant, he stopped me and said "There's one more surprise...your family and my parents are inside."

My parents, two of my sisters and one brother were all there to surprise me! It was something I never would have dreamed of and was so incredibly special. We all had lunch and went to the football game together---it was so incredible to be able to share the engagement with them in-person and so soon after it happened!

The rest of the weekend was a blur of sports games, drinks, phone calls and more family visits.

Three weeks later and I still can't believe it's happened sometimes. It's funny to look back at the little not-so-obvious clues leading up to the weekend---my sister Cherie tricking me into telling her what I wanted in a ring, Garland not wanting me to clean "his stuff" in fear of me finding the ring, his frustration when his friends couldn't hang out for guys' night the Thursday before. There's a big list. But I thought for sure he wouldn't propose until next fall, when law school and the bar were over.

Lo and behold, he got me good! He got me perfectly. And now he's got me forever. <3

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Richmond Marathon 2014 - Recap

This past weekend...I GOT ENGAGED!

But I still haven't posted about the marathon, so I feel like I need to talk about that first before talking about that other thing. Needless to say, it's been a big few weeks---well technically one, since I ran a marathon last Saturday and got engaged(!!!) this Saturday. AHHHHHHHH.

This year's marathon (my second) was almost nothing like last years. It was cold and difficult and a bit lonely at times. This marathon might actually have been the hardest thing I've ever mentally and physically chosen to live through; absolutely not a repeat of last year's jolly jaunt through Richmond!

5:30AM - My alarm went off. I was already half-awake (had been from probably the entire night), so I bolted up immediately. Thanks to prepping the night before, there was zero thought that goes into getting ready. Coffee, dress, braid, Body Glide...

6:15AM - Kristen arrives (one of my friends I'm driving). I finish foam-rolling, inhale my cereal + half a banana, and take the rest with me for 30 minutes out. We pick up Carter (another carpooler) along the way and we're off!

Friday, November 14, 2014

The "Stress-Free Race Day" Prep List - Marathon Training 2014

With my second marathon happening in less than 1 day(!), naturally all of my current time is spent obsessing over the race. Earlier I took a minute to reread my 3-days-out blogpost from my first marathon last year. A lot of it remains true this time around---yes, I'm still nervous and paranoid---but I think overall, I'm a lot more relaxed. I have a way better idea of what the day will look like and how my body will (hopefully) react.

For the most part, I have my running/race routine down pat. Being prepared = less stress. There's already enough uncontrollable variables to worry about on race day (i.e. THE WEATHER). There's no reason that the things we can control can't be in (almost) perfect order! I thrive off of lists, and chances are some of you do too, so here's what I have today: A list of everything you can get together Race Day Eve to ensure things go smoothly from when your alarm goes off to when you finally settle down for your post-race nap. It's also a great way to channel your jitters into something productive! 

I've separated my list out below into three categories---Pre-Race, Race and Post-Race Necessities---but everything should be laid out and/or packed the night before (if not earlier!) for a low-stress race day. For the Richmond Marathon, the forecast is a high of 46 and it'll be about 30 degrees at the start line, so there is definitely an emphasis on layers and warm clothing. I'm trying my hardest to balance being comfortable and not over-dressing for the weather. Also, I have the luxury of parking right at the finish line (my office building happens to be next door) so I can pack as much as I want for post-race supplies. If you are doing a bag-check for your race, make sure you consolidate accordingly and are careful with valuables!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Marathon Training Monday - Week 16 (Last one!)

On my way to church yesterday, I noticed they'd already put up street closure signs. The final countdown is hereeeee! This time next week, I'll be in full recovery mode. I've very ready, mentally and physically, for the race to be over and done. I don't feel as nervous as I was last year---granted, it's MONDAY. I think I'll be singing a different tune come Thursday, definitely Friday. At this point, I'm just dying of curiosity about how the race will go. I feel really optimistic. But so much can happen (go wrong) between now and the start line, and between the start line and the finish line. No matter what, it'll be a feat. I just hope it's not one that takes me more than 5 hours or leaves me in a boot for weeks again. You know?

Last week's workouts looked like this ---

Monday: 1 hour vinyasa class
Tuesday: 75 minute run (8 miles)
Wednesday: 1 hour vinyasa class
Thursday: 1 hour cross-training (cardio + core), 1 hour sports massage
Friday: 45 minute gym cardio + stretching
Saturday: 2 hour run (12.25 miles)
Sunday: OFF

TOTAL MILEAGE: 20.25 miles

I started my week with an invigorating morning vinyasa class. Most of my yoga has been gentle lately, so it was fun to mix it up with some intenser core work and quicker flow. I chose to run 75 minutes instead of the full 90 minutes on Tuesday morning---woohoo for sleeping in 15 minutes! This week was all about barely pushing it. My body was tired and my paranoia was on overdrive: "Does this feel normal? What's this pain? Am I broken or just sore?!"