Sunday, December 25, 2011

Guinness Pictures of the Week - 25 December 2011

A couple weeks ago Guinness was so excited to go see Santa (okay maybe he wasn't but I was excited for him!) so he could get his picture taken. He also wanted to let him know what he wanted for Christmas - a squirrel and some filet mignon. However when we got there Guinness was not such a fan of Santa... he looks less than pleased in these pictures!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Fitness Blogger's "take" on S Factor

Here's a blog from a Fitness guru blogger... it gives you the basics of S Factor. I am still working on my long blog of why I love S Factor but after reading this today, I thought this would be a good place for you to start reading about S Factor so you have a better "basis" for my long novel of thoughts on the subject :)

http://staysimplyfit.blogspot.com/2011/12/actress-sheila-kelley-puts-female.html#comment-form

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Guinness Pictures of the Week - 18 December 2011

Guinness just loves to help out when he can... he especially loves to help with laundry....






Saturday, December 17, 2011

Response from the Las Vegas Rock-N-Roll Marathon

So here's the response I received over email from the group that runs that Rock-N-Roll marathon series. (It's in between the asterisks.) I'll give you my thoughts after your read that...

***********************************
Thank you for contacting us regarding the Zappos.com Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon & ½ Marathon, and thank you for your patience in receiving a response from us. With any special event, especially in the first year of trying something new, unforeseen challenges can arise. We know we have huge improvements to make and are truly sorry for the way things turned out race weekend. The race definitely didn't go as we planned, and we are fully committed to righting the wrongs that played out at the race. As event organizers of Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series events around the country, our staff takes great pride in planning successful events. While a significant amount of time was committed to planning for this event, some elements did not go according to plan on race day, and we will be re-evaluating these elements for a better experience next year. Unfortunately we are unable to offer refunds for the race, however, we would like to earn your trust back. If you are interested, we are offering a limited time $50 discount to the P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon and 1/2 Marathon (Register online using the coupon code FIFTYOFFAZ between today and December 20th) as well as a discount into the 2012 Zappos.com Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas event which will be sent to you as soon as registration details are available for next year. Thank you again for taking the time to contact us and for your feedback, which we will definitely take into consideration in our planning for the future
********************************************************


I find this completely unacceptable. I am not going to spends hundreds upon hundreds of dollars to go to Arizona next month. (Not to mention that it's a little late to start planning that even if I wanted to or could.) I did not get what I paid for in Vegas. Any other business is expected and obligated to provide you what you paid for so why isn't this company held to the same? And giving people money off their other races is simply a ploy to get you to come out there and spend your money with them anyway at the expo etc.


I am debating what to do and welcome any opinions. I'll be honest as much as I have enjoyed the Rock-N-Roll series, with the obvious exception of the Las Vegas run, I am inclined to never give them another dime of my money until they resolve this issue in a way that is deemed satisfactory. (Granted I have already paid my money to run DC in March so perhaps I will still do that last one but then again maybe I won't..... tough call.) Thoughts? Opinions?


And this response was to the online feedback I submitted. I also sent them an actual letter to their home office... though I doubt it will get a better response...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Anne's Awesome Breakfast Casserole Recipe - YUMMY!!!

I know I promised I would post this for you guys (with Anne's permission of course!) - sorry it took a little while.

This is the casserole I made in Whistler (though the sausage there was lousy so it's much better usually), Sonoma, for the Landing Party at our house for the last shuttle flight and Winter Park. It is ALWAYS a crown pleaser :)

DAY BEFORE

1 lb. bulk sausage (Bob Evans original, or any good, plain breakfast
sausage)
1/4 cup finely chopped onion

   Brown sausage / add chopped onion toward end (in time for it to become
soft and translucent)
   Drain fat
-------

Basic white bread (20 +/- slices) -- crust removed
1/4 Cup softened butter (best to use real butter)
8-10 slices of pre-sliced cheese (cheddar or American may be used...whatever you prefer)

   Butter one side of bread and line bottom of 9 x 14 (or slightly smaller)
Pyrex casserole pan, butter down
   Cover bread with a (solid) layer of cheese slices
   Cover cheese with an even layer of the browned/drained sausage & onion
   Top with a layer of un-buttered bread slices
------

10-12 beaten eggs (depending on size of eggs and how eggy you want it)
3/4 Cup milk
1/2 teas. dry mustard
1/8 teas. pepper

   Mix well and pour slowly and evenly over casserole
   Cover and refrigerate overnight
_________________

MORNING 

Remove casserole from refrigerator (set it out for 1/2 to 1 hour to warm up
if possible - if not, sometimes I put it in the microwave for a minute or so
in order to take the chill off the center -- just to make it cook a little
more evenly) 

Preheat oven to 350*

3/4 Cup Cornflakes (enough to generously cover the casserole)
1/4 Cup melted butter

   Cover casserole with Cornflakes
   Drizzle melted butter over Cornflakes
   Bake one hour at 350*

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Guinness Pictures of the Week - 11 December 2011

Guinness loves to lounge about and the positions he gets himself into are just so adorable... Yesterday Ken scooped him up because he was jealous that Guinness had been lounging on my lap all day. It made for some adorable pictures!












Thursday, December 8, 2011

Las Vegas Rock & Roll Marathon (and Stiletto Dash) Commentary

Let me start with the most important thing up front -
I would not by any means recommend running this race. That said if you are willing to put up with a lot of disorganization and a race that is way too expensive you may be up for it.

It was fun to run the Strip at Night but quite frankly you can walk the strip at night with drink in hand and it's just as enjoyable if not more so I suggest doing that.

As far as the Stiletto Dash goes it was entertaining and I somewhat enjoyed it (I certainly enjoyed laughing about a lot of things including the people who were way too serious about it!) but it was definitely not worth the price of admission by any means.

When I teach Effective Communication one the techniques I teach is what is called the sandwich strategy where you try and start your feedback with something positive and end with something positive - it generally makes people more receptive to your feedback. The times I say that it isn't acceptable to do that is when something is so incredibly bad that anything good is completely outweighed by the numerous issues... this is one of those times. Below is the letter I have written to the group in charge of the races... this should give you an idea of how bad the issues were. And to be honest as I have been reading the Facebook comments etc. there are many more issues that other people experienced (such as a lack of medical personnel) that I don't talk about in my letter because I didn't see or experience them myself...


Dear Competitor Group,

I am a frequent participant in Rock-N-Roll events over the last 4-5 years. Perhaps not as frequent as your “Rock Stars,” but having run 8 different races, scheduled to run DC in March and having registered for 3 that I was unable to run due to other obligations that came up I feel that you guys have gotten quite a bit of money from me.  In addition to your registration fees (which seem to continually be going up) – I have yet to go to an Expo and not buy something from your merchandize area. I list all of this out for you so you understand how I fit into your “demographic” as I continue with the rest of this letter.

I have just completed the Las Vegas Half Marathon and I have to say I couldn’t be more disappointed. I was excited at the idea of running the strip at night but I now have to say it was without a doubt, hands down the worst race I have ever run (and that’s saying a lot given the number of races I have done both Rock-N-Roll and otherwise).  I did enjoy getting to run the strip at night but that pales in comparison to the issues I experienced. Specifically my issues include:

Expo
1.    The fact that the Zappos area had it’s own cordoned off area was very confusing and made it difficult to navigate. I recognize that they were the major sponsor but it made it difficult to find everything in the Expo.

Pre-Race
2.     Gear Check – where the heck was it? I have heard so many people complain that they couldn’t find it and we were no different
3.     Getting to the Start Line – from inside the Mandalay we tried to follow the signs only to be turned around and told to go a different way and we had to muddle our way through to attempt to find the start line. Finally we gave in and climbed through the hedges in front of the hotel (a fact that I am sure the hotel is less than thrilled with).
4.     Corrals – Clearly you guys weren’t even remotely patrolling who went into what corral

Race
5.     Wave starts were way too close together. Everyone was tripping on one another
6.     WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY (get the picture) too many people. Clearly you guys allowed in more runners than you were prepared to handle. The half was a total zoo. You could hardly move
7.     Clear lack of proper corralling – there were so many walkers in the way of actual runners that it was unsafe. Most of these people had high numbers on (such as 30-40) and I was in the 17 group and was surrounded by these people.
8.     Your designation of half to the right and full to the left by a cone that was less than a foot tall was a joke! Who could see that given the massive numbers of people? I felt really bad for the marathoners who were hoping for a decent time because they clearly couldn’t get it given the number of people they had to navigate when they merged with the halfers.
9.     Water stations – I was doing better than mid-pack for the half and when I got to water stations pretty much all of them were at least half empty and most of them didn’t have any Gatorade (or Cytomax or whatever you call it). This is absolutely unacceptable for any marathon but especially one in such a dry climate.
10. Volunteers – Clearly you guys were incredibly deficient on volunteers throughout the course. Given how much money our entries are at worst case you need to hire some people.
11. There were random cones and such that people were tripping over – again this was exacerbated by the fact that there were WAY to many people allowed into this race
12. Entertainment on the course – why no cheer squads? Far fewer bands than I expected. When I did this in 2007 there were acts like Blue Man Group and Cirque out there but there was none of that this year (or at least none that I saw)
Post-Race
13. I was actually worried for my safety at the finish line due the large number of people and the fact that it was clearly not large enough for everyone. It was a mass of people that could have been very dangerous had anyone fallen or gotten pushed up against a fence.
14.  The space or area and the number of photographer stations seemed to be the same number as any other race which would have less people. Do the math! More people means more space and more photographers.
15. Given the crushing mass of people I wanted to skip the photographers but it was difficult to do so which is unacceptable
16. Food? What food? There were so many people I couldn’t even get to it. My body desperately needed it but I was out of luck.
17. Upon exit of the secure runner area I asked literally a half a dozen people where I could find a shuttle (yes there was 1 sign but I had learned by the start line experience that I couldn’t necessarily trust it and good thing I didn’t) back to the hotel yet not a single one of them had any idea. They all told me to go to the Information booth. (Volunteers in that area should be better prepped by you guys with these types of answers.)
18. Post-Race Parties – The times were too close to the end of the marathon given how long it took to get out of there so we didn’t get a chance to partake.

Stiletto Dash
I also signed up and participated in this… to say I was disappointed is an understatement.
1.     There was such a lack of organization it was appalling. I understand this is your first time doing this but it was only 250 people so really you should have been able to do a much better job
2.     Communication issues – half the time we couldn’t hear what was being communicated to us because the bullhorn wasn’t enough to overcome the noise. Even in the back room it was very difficult to hear. Since we’d had no real instruction prior to arrival we were completely reliant on trying to hear what the heck the people were saying at the event.
3.     Your standards for shoes are questionable and need to be more defined. Some of the girls were running in heels that there was no way in creation that the heel itself was 3 inches. Maybe if you include the upper part of the shoe it was but that’s not how something like this should be measured. You also originally said no boots but then changed that. Pick a standard and stick with it. You can’t expect us to go back and continually check to see if you’ve changed your minds about the standards.
4.     If I recall correctly you said only women could participate but you let men in. That’s fine that you didn’t let them “win” but they got WAY more attention from you guys touting them to the media than us women who the event was intended for.
5.     You cold have done the event in half the time – there was way too much standing around and waiting
6.     The most disappointing part of the whole thing is the necklace. The WHOLE reason I did this was because you said (and I take this directly from your website ”The red carpet will be rolled out for our dashers. Each participant will receive:
                        Swanky, swag bag stuffed with products, exclusive offers and goodies!
                        Sparkling silver finisher’s necklace
This necklace is beyond a joke. It’s like a kids piece of jewelry. It’s cheap and I doubt if it’s even real silver. I expected something like the Nike Women’s Race necklaces (especially given the hefty $100 entry fee).
·      Please do not tell me – “Well it’s for charity” because I really am not concerned with that. That’s great that you guys wants to do something for charity – I wanted to run this event for the great necklace I expected to get.
·      And as far as saying the bag was stuffed you must be kidding…. There were a few items. The word stuffed is a gross overstatement
·      Bottom line is on these points alone I think this was false advertisement and as such I would like a refund for my entry fee.

To combat some retorts to some of these things which I have seen on Facebook
·      You never stated how many people you would allow into the race. Had I known it was 44,000 with the vast majority being Halfers there is no way I would have signed up for this race. But that said there are lots of very large races (see New York & Boston) who do just fine with this many runners
·      This may be your inaugural in Vegas but you do dozens of other runs so you are not new to this
·      I have no issue with walkers overall; however, for the safety of the runners they need to be AT THE BACK! And you need to ensure that they start in the proper corral.

So here’s what I am left with… whether I sign up for another Rock-N-Roll race is certainly dependant upon the type of response I receive from this letter. I cannot in good conscience recommend your Las Vegas events (marathon or Stiletto Dash) to anyone at this point. The question is whether I shout that from the hilltops or not…. I am torn because I have so enjoyed your other races but I feel people deserve to know what they are getting into especially given the steep race fees for all the Vegas events.  I ran this race back in 2007 before you guys took it over and frankly it was a better race then.

I’ve heard you want to expand this race – not only is it a bad idea from a satisfaction perspective but I can’t imagine that is safe. You guys weren’t prepared for a race this size you certainly would be even worse off with more people.


A Very Disappointed Runner,
Michelle

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cirque du Soleil

Okay I admit it... I am a bit of a Cirque du Soleil addict. I love Cirque shows so much that I make a concerted effort to see whatever show I can when it's in town or I am in a city that there is one I haven't seen. In fact when I was in Tokyo at one point even though I had seen Dralion prior in the US I decided to make my way to seeing it in Japan as well.

I love the artistry, the talent, the music of every show and I love that every show is so different. Most shows I watch and think "Holy cow there's so much going on that I could come and see this show a half a dozen times and see something different every time!"

If you have not yet seen a show I encourage you to do so! There are several touring shows where Cirque will bring Le Grand Chapiteau to your city and do shows for several weeks. Every seat in the "tent" is a good one and well worth the trip! If you go to Vegas, Orlando or LA there are "housed" shows there where they have "permanent" theaters so those are always a good option too! Need a recommendation? Let me know. I told you I am an addict... I've seen 15 DIFFERENT shows! (A few of them I have seen twice!)
But honestly bottom line is you can't go wrong with any of them!!!

Shows I have seen
Alegria
Banana Shpeel
Corteo
Delirium
Dralion
Ka
La Nouba
Love
Mystere
O
Ovo
Saltimbanco
Varekai
Zarkana
Zumanity

There is an iPhone App you can download that will give you a list of all the shows and where they are.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Guinness Picture of the Week - 4 December 2011

Guinness absolutely hates being wet... he doesn't like the pool, he's not a fan of the rain so needless to say he doesn't love baths but he has learned to tolerate them. What's funny is usually he runs around like he's on speed for a few minutes after you release him from his bath. Amazingly I got him to sit still for a few wet dog pictures but you can tell he is definitely not happy!


Then there's the "I'm not going to look at you" attitude!!
 Look at those frizzy ears! It's so funny!

And SHAKE!!!!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Winter Park Trip Report

We have found that we absolutely love to be able to travel with good friends and all stay together so when we decided that WInter Park was our destination of choice for Thanksgiving vacation I immediately got on VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner) and Homeaway.com to see what kind of houses were an option. Turns out a lot of places in Winter Park are on these site but managed through Winter Park Lodging so the dialogue about houses continued with them.

Amy at Winter Park Lodging Company was absolutely fantastic and incredibly helpful. I had several houses I wanted more info about so she sent me that as well as a couple that I hadn't noticed (or maybe they weren't on VRBO etc.) She was patient as I had lots of questions about very specific details about the houses and was even more patient as I couldn't commit as I was waiting for the other folks in our group to commit. Eventually we settled on a fabulous house at Base Camp.

I figured out a few years ago that a big house is the way to go on a vacation like this since we LOVE to travel with our friends. A house affords you luxuries that you can't get in a hotel such as a big living room to lounge in and a kitchen to cook in. It's a central meeting place to hangout. Not that you can't go into town and hangout but sometimes it's nice to just hang out and eat and drink in a house that all you have to do is crawl to bed in! And as far as finances go to be honest if you have a few families it is certainly cheaper than several hotel rooms would be. Plus you can save loads of money by cooking at home sometimes and stocking your fridge and such with snacks and drinks (of any variety!!!)

The actual house we got....
Base Camp 456

  • 4 bedrooms
    • Downstairs
      • 1 Room with 2 sets of bunks (so 4 beds total)
        • Full bathroom just across the hall from this room
    • Upstairs
      • 1 Master with King sized bed, fireplace, full bath
      • 1 room with Queen sized bed and twin bed with own bathroom
      • 1 room with Queen sized bed
        • Full bath just outside of the bedroom in the hallway
  • Huge living room on middle floor with fireplace & wet bar
    • Half Bathroom downstairs which is easily accessible from living room
  • Huge Kitchen (overlooking the living room half a floor up) with dining room and fireplace
    • Kitchen is fully stocked (and then some!) with pots, pans, dishes etc.
    • Huge fridge, dishwasher
  • Small deck off the kitchen area 
    • Fireplace is double sided so is outside as well (enclosed in glass)
    • Hot tub
    • gas grill
  • Second smaller living area on ground floor with pull-out couch and wet bar
  • Garage
  • Ground Floor - area to store your jackets boots etc.
  • TVs in every bedroom as well in both living room area
  • Technically ski-in ski-out (I say technically because we were there early enough in the season that half the mountain wasn't open so we could ski-out but couldn't ski back in
  • Bus stop that will take you to Village is right outside the door
This house was absolutely perfect for us (3 families so we took the upstairs rooms and the boys got the bunk room downstairs) and we would go back in a heartbeat! We cooked every night and enjoyed the huge living room to relax in and chill out. 

Winter Park Skiing & Snowboarding
We got lucky and they had gotten a bit of snow - it was a bit early in the season so there was a risk that there would be only a run or 2 open had there not been any snow (the can make some snow provided the weather conditions are right.) So there were more runs open on Winter Park than necessarily expected but still not many in the scheme of how many runs are available at Winter Park/Mary Jane. However it was plenty for us! Ken and I had pre-bought 4-pack passes from Christy sports when we were in town for GABF and that was a great deal. When we got there we found that it was early enough in the season that you cold still get those at the mountain for just a bit more than we paid. What is nice about these passes is that you can ski/board any 4 days during the season as opposed to tickets you buy at the regular ticket window where if you buy a 4 day pass it's 4 out of 5 days meaning you can take 1 day off in the midst of your trip but that's it. 

The staff at the mountain are very friendly and helpful. The village itself is nice with several restaurants and shops and of course bars. For comparison sake it isn't as extensive as the village at Whistler but it was still decent. 


Cheeky Monk
By far our favorite restaurant/bar to hit apres ski was the Cheeky Monk. It's a Belgian themed place that also happens to have some fantastic local craft beers. (And as usual I loved that they had no crap beer on tap!!!) Cheryl and I bellied up to the bar one day to enjoy a few drinks and found the bartender to be very friendly and helpful with suggestions of things to try (and not to try) around the city. We went back another day for lunch and enjoyed some amazing mussels (if you go you've gotta get the bacon gorgonzola mussels) and then back another day to hit the bar again. Each time we had fantastic food (the fries are so addicting), awesome drinks (their tap selection is fantastic) and some of the best service we've seen. HIGHLY recommend this place!


Doc's Roadhouse
Another restaurant/bar in the village. Okay food (nothing spectacular about it but it's certainly good), a so-so tap selection and decent service. My complaint was I asked for a local beer and the gal quickly says "Oh you should have a Mary Jane it's brewed specifically for us." Sold! Well after a few sips I find out that it's actually a Coors product. DAMN! Okay so that's local but it's not craft.... I should have been more specific apparently....

Derailer Bar
This one is right at the bottom of the slopes so it's the most convenient one to get to (though to be fair it takes all of 2 minutes to walk to the others from the bottom of the slope!) and it has the most TVs for football watching so that's what brought us in there. Didn't have a meal but had some chops and queso which were less than fantastic but they were food after a day of boarding so they fit the bill. Beer selection was okay but again they had a Coors product trying to masquerade as a real craft beer. GRRRRRRRRR! The service at the bar itself was fantastic. The gal was very friendly (and yes to me not just to Ken!) and that's no small feat when you are stick at work on Thanksgiving!

Winter Park Winery
We heard about this place so we asked the bartender at Cheeky Monk and he said it was pretty good and worth checking out so we did.  It's a quaint little "shop" that has a handful of tables and a bar area for tastings. The gentleman there was the owner who also happens to be a very accomplished mountain biker who is trying to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. We really enjoyed chatting with him. The wine was decent enough to buy a couple bottles for table wine but certainly not anything I'd be willing to buy a case of.  But if you are in the area it's worth the stop in. The tasting itself is a modest price $5 and it's a nice locally owned and run place (which I always like to try and patronize if I can.)


Tubing
On the last night after we had finished Thanksgiving dinner we somehow managed to drag ourselves out to Fraser (town nearby) to go tubing. I haven't laughed that hard in I don't know how long. When someone says tubing you may be thinking a small hill to hp on a tube and slide down. Forget that! It's a big hill and I will tell you that you are hauling ass by the time you get to the bottom! Add to that the fact that apparently the idea is to link everyone together and go down as a group. We had 8 of us and 5 of the 8 were fairly decent sized guys... It doesn't take a physics major to understand the whole mass velocity relationship! Joan and I squealed and laughed the whole way down every time I think! This is the perfect activity for a group of people to do together!

Tommy Knocker's Brew Pub
This is not in Winter Park, it's in Idaho Springs which is between the Denver airport and Winter Park so we stopped there for some food and drinks on our way back to the airport. As you can tell from the picture they had quote the extensive sampler. And I have to say ALL of it was very good! We ordered up so me food too. I had the buffalo burger which was VERY tasty and the homemade potato chips as a side which could have been totally addictive if I went there often! All in all this is a great stop on your trek between Winter Park & Denver!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

For an S Gal... There's No Place like "Home"

For those of you who are not S Women yet this blog post may make absolutely no sense to you. I am working on a blog posting that tries to explain what S Factor means to me but it's taking me awhile to write it because it's turned into a bit of a novel!! For those of you who are S Women... I think you will understand....

Have you ever just completely had the wind taken out of your sails to the point that you feel beyond deflated? Your soul sinks and your stomach aches and you feel like someone has punched you in the gut.... That's how I feel right now. Let me explain...

I am in Vegas and Ken is doing some work so I thought I would take in a pole class just for the heck of it and why not since I am here. Jen told me about Fawnia Dietrich (who is apparently the first pole fitness instructor - or such is her claim) and that I should absolutely go and take a class from her. So I was game. I had been to another pole studio before while visiting Annapolis so I knew it was nothing like S Factor but thought that's okay it will still be fun. So off I went to class.

To start with we did about 2 minutes of "warm-up" if you can call it that. And then we dove into pole tricks. They were definitely some cool pole tricks but the point that just did me in was when she did a trick combo to the ground and did a half hip circle to a pole bend and said "this transition {meaning the half hip circle} is what will make you stand out from other pole studio gals." ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME? That's a transition? I collected myself and just kept going telling myself that I know their idea of a class like this is totally different than what mine is.... and that's when it hit me like a ton of bricks. (I am pretty sure you could've seen it on my face if you'd been there.)

I am so excited to be moving to Annapolis as most of you know. I am psyched about a new place to live, being in a great town where I can walk to everything, seasons, being so close to DC etc. And I always knew I was going to miss S Factor but for some reason tonight it slammed into me like a Mack truck just how much I am going to miss S Factor. Yes there is a pole studio called Expose in Annapolis but (and for those of you who aren't S Women I know you won't get this but that's what I hope my next S Factor themed blog will explain) but...........
IT'S NOT ABOUT THE POLE! 
Don't get me wrong - I love the pole. Lately my EC has been completely enamored with the reverse jack-knife. But it's so much more than that. I leave my S Factor class, wether it's my usual Monday night with the amazing Krystal and the most awesome group of ladies ever or if it's another class that I've dropped into with a different instructor and different incredible women, and I feel so happy and fulfilled and at peace and well... whole.

Fawnia is amazing and incredibly talented and I enjoy watching her perform. The class itself is good if that's what you are interested in. And I certainly could learn a lot of tricks from her or someone like her... but that's not what brings me back to S Factor week after week....

I managed through the rest of the class, there was still about 30 minutes to go. Did some tricks that were new to me.... at the end did a 3 minute cool down.... gathered my stuff and headed to my car. I got in my car, closed and locked the door and just sat there. (And no I am not being melodramatic here - I am totally serious.) I began to tear up. It hit me just how big a part of my life that S Factor is for me and how incredibly much it means to me. And in just over 150 days I won't have a studio that is even remotely close to me. The closest studio to Annapolis is the New York Studio which is 4 hours away with no traffic. (And for those of you who have ever visited NYC or the DC area you know the idea of no traffic is laughable! There's always traffic!) The DVD workouts are good but they are just not the same...

So now I am a bit melancholy and what I am in desperate need of is some moving meditation I think....
If only I had a teleporter....

Stay tuned... I promise I am working on my short novel that talks more about my love for S Factor....

Sunday, November 27, 2011

This dog is all legs I tell ya....

He is just so darn cute!! And yes he frequently does sleep on the tops of the back of the couch and chair! In fact he's discolored the leather there - it's HIS spot :)


Late Night Reading...

You would think I would have learned by now... I've had this problem since I was a kid but yet I still haven't learned my lesson...

I love to read but for as long as I remember the same thing happens when I try and read in bed before going to sleep - there's no sleep inducing quality for me (which some people claim to experience) - it is actually the exact opposite. Once I start a book it is very hard for me to put it down if I am enjoying it so I end up staying up WAY too late to read more. The last 2 nights are perfect examples.

Two nights ago I went to bed but wasn't tired enough to go to sleep so I went a grabbed a book off the shelf that I have been wanting to read . (Sadly I don't get to read nearly as much as I would like to anymore.) I hopped into bed and Guinness curled up next to me. (He went to sleep right away!)

I'd bought the Book Without You by Anthony Rapp. Rapp was the original co-lead in the Broadway show Rent. You may also remember him as the friend in the movie Adventures in Babysitting from back in the 80's.

I have loved Rent since the first time I saw it about 10 years ago. (I have since seen it about 7 more times... to be honest I am too tired to count and think of the exact number but I think this is close!) I never saw Anthony Rapp but he was also in the movie version of the show and returned to the stage to finish out the show's epic run at the Nederland Theater in New York City.

Rapp's book Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss and the Musical Rent captivated me from the moment I picked up the book. It's not just about the musical, it's about the journey of life - often rough- that he has been on.


I started the book 2 nights ago and stayed up reading til past 3am. I was excited and interested to read about his friendship with Jonathon Larson (the creator of Rent) and touched to read about his relationship with his mother who raised him pretty much on her own.

Last night I knew I shouldn't start to read because I needed to get to sleep but I couldn't help myself. The second half of the book kept me engaged but also brought me to tears. I started off by just getting out of bed (and disturbing Guinness in the process because of course he was curled up next to me fast asleep - he was not pleased to be woken up!) and then after another chapter or so I gave in and just grabbed the whole darn box! I simply had to finish the book because I was so engaged. Once again I didn't get to bed til past 3am.

I highly recommend reading Without You if you are open-minded. It's a highly evocative book that touches on many taboo topics but it is all written in a heartfelt manner with a unique insight into Rapp's thoughts. He talks about the musical, his mother and her illness, his relationships and in the beginning his struggles with living and working in New York City. He is a bit of an underdog who even if you weren't already a fan you would be rooting for him as you read. The book was a New York Times bestseller and is available in paperback. If you're really nice I'll be happy to loan you my copy.

Hopefully now I have learned that I absolutely can not take a book to bed with me if I want to be able to go to sleep at a decent hour.... of course one might have thought I would have learned that AGES ago!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Breakfast Casserole - YUM!

I have decided that my absolute favorite thing for breakfast is a breakfast casserole. Besides being tasty there are some other great advantages to this kind of dish including that you can prep it the night before (I am not a morning person so being able to do the "hard" part of the cooking the night before is key for me) then just pop it in the oven in the morning and it's great for feeding a crowd. My favorite breakfast casserole is one that I got from my friend Anne and I have made many many times and it's always a hit. If I get her permission I'll post that recipe too but she's got to give me the go ahead :)

I found a French Toast Casserole recipe before this trip and decided to bring it along for a second morning of breakfast casserole. We made it last night and had it this morning - the pan was cleaned out entirely so I am inferring that it was a big hit :) In case you're in need of some easy breakfast recipes for a group here ya go!

FRENCH TOAST CASSEROLE
2 tsp butter softened
8 slices of white bread cut into 1-in cubes
7 large eggs
2 cups milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup maple syrup
4 Tbsp sugar (divided into half)
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 cup chopped pecans
maple syrup for serving

Night Before
Grease a 9x13 dish with butter. Fill the dish with the bread cubes - distributing evenly.

Whisk together eggs, milk, cream, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 2 tablespoons sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom. Pour this mixture over the bread cubes and press down over the surface of the casserole with a spatula to help the bread soak up all the liquid. Sprinkle the top with the remaining sugar. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

Morning Of
Preheat oven to 350F. Place casserole covered in foil in oven to bake for 30 minutes. Remove the casserole and remove the foil. Bake for an additional 30-35 minutes until the casserole is puffy and brown. Let cool for 10 minutes before covering with warmed maple syrup and chopped pecans. Cut and serve!

Notes of Note from Me
We didn't have cardamom so we omitted it and it tasted just fine. Also we had a few drinks prior to prepping the casserole so we missed that we were supposed to put half the sugar into the mix and sprinkle the other half on top. Again it tasted just fine that way too :)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Guinness Picture of the Week (A day Late) - 21 November 2011

Guinness loves to lounge and nap and one of his favorite places are these rugs we have throughout the house. Ken's mom made all of them and I am guessing she didn't expect them to be doggie lounge pads! :)


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Breaking Dawn

I will make no apologies for the fact that I love the Twilight series! It's brain and eye candy and I find it entertaining! So of course I had to go catch the latest movie as soon as it came out. Me and some girlfriends (most of whom will remain nameless because they were at "Very Important Meetings" at work during this time) decided that instead of going to the midnight showing (like we have done previously) we would catch the 11am show at Star Cinema so that there would be less screaming teenagers and we could have a drink while we watched the abs I mean movie.

Well I have to say that once again the movie did not disappoint. Being a big fan of the books it's always questionable as to wether the movie can live up to the book and I have to say overall this one did (as have the other ones). Obviously they have had to cut some stuff out due to the length and also because quite frankly if done fully by the book this movie would be impossible to keep PG-13. (I am hoping they will put out a director's cut with the DVD which I am sure would be rated R because allegedly they had to go through and cut out tons of stuff they shot in order to keep it acceptable for the lower rating of PG-13.)

I won't give away any details but I will say the only thing I was disappointed in was that Jacob (Taylor Lautner) didn't take off his shirt nearly enough. I'll be honest I am an equal opportunity fan of Team Jacob and Team Edward!

So for all you Twilight fans out there - go check out the movie. You won't be disappointed in the entertainment! I'm just irritated they are making us wait a whole year til next NOvember for Part 2!!!

Friday, November 18, 2011

2011 Commandant's Marine Corps Ball

2 years ago we were fortunate enough to be invited by our wonderful friends Don & Anne to the Commandant's Marine Corps Ball. We meet them a few years ago on vacation and became fast friends. Don is an Naval Academy grad (a few years ahead of Ken) and retired Marine. We had such an amazing time at the Ball in 2009 that we just knew we had to go again and share the experience with more friends. In 2010 - it's a long story - but the short version is tickets sold out in about an hour which we didn't expect so we did not get tickets. We decided there was no way we could allow that to happen in 2011 so I set 3 alarms and was ready to go 10 minutes before they were supposed to go on sale online. As time got closer I started clicking even though it wasn't time yet til the order finally came up! Score! Tickets purchased!

We had a much larger crowd this time so we ended up at 2 tables - Don & Anne with some of their other friends at one and then us at a table with 8 friends of ours who were newcomers!  We all decided to stay at the Gaylord because it's just too convenient not to! Since the ball is there it just makes sense!

The day of the ball us gals lucked into me finding a gal who would come to the hotel to do our hair and make-up so we got to lounge about and get all dolled up in the comfort of our hotel room.

The pre-party started in our room at 4:45. You all know what a party planner I am so this was no different. We had a bunch of food to snack on and of course a few options for drinks. (Luckily Anne loaned us some serving plates cuz I couldn't exactly pack that kind of stuff in my luggage and I didn't exactly want to buy that stuff there!)

Official cocktail hour for the ball was from 6-7:30 near the ballroom but it's cash bar so we figured what the heck - we've got our own party going on up here! There were some birthday festivities as well as an unofficial pinning for Jared which added to the fun.

We enjoyed getting to know the people who we didn't know before and getting to catch up with the folks who we hadn't seen in ages til about 6:30 and then headed down to the ball to mingle with 2,982 of our closest friends :)

We got in line for pictures even though it was ridiculously long in hopes that we would get to the front of the line before it was time for dinner. Luckily we made it and in addition to the formal couple portraits we also got a group photo that I have the feeling could turn out to be pretty funny!

There are Marine Corps Balls all over the country (and even the world) but this is the Commandant's so you can imagine that it's pretty spectacular! This was the 236th Birthday and boy do the Marines know how to celebrate!

We entered the ballroom just in time for dinner and oh what a beautiful spectacle it is! It's huge and just oozes class and patriotism.

There are 300 tables of 10 so you can imagine how immense the room is. Down the middle is an aisle for the entrance of the band and dignitaries etc. Luckily they have drop down screens that show what is going on in the front of the room or else it would be impossible to see unless you were in the front couple rows.

The tables were elegantly decorated with flowers in the middle and each table got 1 bottle of red wine and 1 bottle of white wine. 

As is customary we also got a memento of the event - this year it was a miniature mameluke (the customary sword of the Marine Corps). Very appropriate I thought.

The ceremony began with a video message that was filmed all over the world from the Commandant of the Marine Corps. The video literally made everyone - men and women alike - tear up if not openly cry. They talked about the sacrifice of the military (obviously especially the Marines) and the 10 year anniversary of the attacks on September 11th. We ladies all struggled to dab our eyes so as not to run our painstakingly applied make-up!! After the video message the Marine Drum & Bugle Corps Concert happened. I get the chills just typing this! It was really neat they marched up the middle aisle and played a few songs.




These guys and gals are absolutely amazing! After this it was time for the National Anthem which was sung by a fantastic baritone.

Then General LeJune's Message was read. This message from the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1921 directed that a reminder of the honorable service of the Corps be published to every command, to all Marines throughout the globe, on the birthday of the Corps. This began this fantastic celebratory tradition that is equalled by no other service.


Next in came the Commandant and the special guest - Defense Secretary Panetta. At first I was unsure how he would be as the speaker but he later proved to be quite fantastic!

One of the traditions is for the Commandant and the Special Guest to cut the birthday cake. The special guest takes a bite of the piece that was cut and then here's where the really cool part comes in. The oldest Marine at the event takes the next bite of that first slice of cake and then he passes it to the youngest Marine at the event to take a bite. As you can tell the cake was in the shape of the Pentagon to keep with the theme of 10 year remembrance of 9/11.


The Commandant spoke a bit and then presented the special guest. Panetta was a great speaker who made everyone laugh, smile and think with his remarks. Truly a good choice for this.

Then it was time for dinner which was quite tasty. The main dish was steak and sea bass. Now is when the fun really ramped up again! We ate, drank and chatted. We enjoyed getting to see all of the people there celebrating. There are so many folks that it is definitely some good people watching! After dinner it was time for some dancing! You gotta love a formal event where the dance floor is packed! There was a band for some time and then it switched to a DJ.

Everyone had a blast! We danced and laughed and then when we'd had all the dancing our feet in heels could take we headed back to our friends' boat to finish off the night.

The Marine Corps Ball is an amazing (and fun!) tradition that we feel so honored to get to be part of!

Monday, November 14, 2011

National Harbor Area Trip Report

I promise a full report on the Marine Corps Ball but wanted to get this one out there separately first since I think I will be able to write this one much more quickly!

National Harbor is very conveniently located to Washington, DC area as well as Old Town in Virginia. Happily for us it's only about half an hour from Annapolis too!

Gaylord Hotel - National Harbor
I am not exaggerating when I say that this hotel is one of my favorite hotels in the world and I think it is hands down my favorite hotel in the US. Pulling up to the hotel it is very striking as it sits on the water and the beautiful enormous glass atrium is impossible to miss. At this time of the year everything is especially beautiful because they are in the midst of decorating for the holidays. Sadly we don't get to see the full festive decor because it's still too early but I look forward to going there after Thanksgiving once we move to the area so I can fully check it out!

The hotel is huge! And it all surrounds a beautiful indoor atrium which has shops, bars, restaurants and places to sit and admire the view.

We got a hotel room with a balcony overlooking the atrium which was a real treat. (I can't imagine ever booking anything different from now on because we enjoyed it so much!) The first 2 nights we were there they were testing the lights and such so we got to see some of the spectacular decorations.



The rooms are very nicely done with great bedding, wonderful shower and clocks with iPod docks. The suites (which we had) also have a living room area with a couch, a second TV (there's one in the bedroom as well) and a table. This made the room absolutely perfect for our pre-party for the Marine Corps Ball. 

Perhaps one of the best things about the hotel though is their attention to customer service. Anything you need they will be sure it is taken care of and any issue that you might have they will ensure it is resolved right away! If you are ever in this area - especially around the holidays - I HIGHLY recommend spending at least 1 evening at the hotel.

Columbia Firehouse
Thursday night Ken, Jared and I headed into Old Town to check out one of Jared's favorite places for dinner - Columbia Firehouse. The ambiance is fantastic - it's an old firehouse as you might have guessed by the name. The wait staff were very attentive and very knowledgable about not only the food menu but the drinks as well. They have an outstanding selection of draft and bottled microbrews and it made me very happy to not see a single crappy beer on the list of beers offered!! We started off with some mussels that had ground mustard as part of the dish and they were delicious! They also have a wine based mussel appetizer that I fully intend to try the next time we go back there! For dinner the Hangar Steak came highly recommended and we were not disappointed! The meat was tender and delicious! I would absolutely go back to this place for dinner again!

Chick & Ruth's - Annapolis
Friday we had to pick up the Van Dykes from the airport so we decided to take a quick trip into Annapolis to show them around. We were in desperate need of lunch so we headed first to Chick & Ruth's Delly which is an absolute institution of Annapolis. (and yes they do spell Delly that way!) It's an old style dinner/delly with an enormous menu of nearly anything you could possibly want. We got a variety of sandwiches and all of them were very tasty! Definitely take them up on their offer of a bowl of pickles. Those are fantastic too!

Harrington's - National Harbor
That evening we had fun Happy Hour-ing on Don & Anne's boat. Afterwards we headed to Harrington's for a bite to eat. It was rather sleepy when we came in. (It's an Irish restaurant and bar.) I can't speak too much to the food cuz I wasn't too hungry but I think everyone enjoyed what they got. After they kicked us out of the dining room we hung out in the bar which picked up tremendously after about 11:30pm. All in all an okay place to hang out.

Rosa Mexicano
We were in desperate need of some brunch Saturday morning (I know this is so shocking to many of you) so we headed to Rosa Mexicano in National Harbor. Great views and they offer brunch options on the weekends. The drinks were definitely not anything to write home about. In fact they offer 3 different types of Bloody Marys and 2 types were tried at our table and neither was any good. They are allegedly well known for their pomegranate margarita which was also short of fabulous. The food was tasty but definitely different than we expected. I think I would be willing to give this place one more try but I am still not entirely sold on it. 

Pienza Italian Market
Sunday morning was a bit of a struggle for most of us so we just hauled ourselves downstairs for a quick breakfast in the hotel itself. Pienza has a great buffet as well as good general menu options. All of us who had the Virginia Ham & Cheddar omelet were quite happy as were those who ordered the American Breakfast. Would definitely recommend this place!

Well that wraps up the general National Harbor and such stuff... next blog will be about the ball itself I promise! :)