Monthly Archives: December 2011

Rockin’ the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Vegas

 Hello Readers!  The New Year is right around the corner and what better way to start the New Year than with a little inspiration to set a fitness goal and reach it?  With that in mind, today’s post comes to you from my cousin Katie Simmons about her experience training for and running her first half marathon  – none other than the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Las Vegas in December 2011.  Thanks Katie!

33,279 people finished the 2011 Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon, and I am one of them! My first thought as I crossed the finish line was “Oh my gosh! I did it!!”  Although the training program I used was 9 weeks long, I had been training for this moment much longer!  I decided to sign up for a half-marathon after I completed my second sprint triathlon this fall!

I know that the only way I will consistently exercise is if I have an event to train for, a training plan taped to my bathroom mirror, and a highlighter to mark off completed exercises:

I followed the beginner training plan that I found on Runners World. I used this training program because it was the only free one I found at the time. The program had me run Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.  During the week, the runs focused on interval training in the middle and at the end of the runs.  Saturday was an easy shorter run.  Sunday was a long run.

Training for a half-marathon was challenging mentally and physically.  Before I began the training program, the furthest I had ever run was 6.2 miles and the fastest I had ever done that was in 10 minute miles.  The seasons were changing as I continued my training which meant that it was dark when I left for work and dark when I got home from work. There were days I was too sick to run, and days I was too lazy. 

BUT, I also had a voice inside my head saying “Yes, you can!”  That voice belongs to a trainer at the Rec Center I go to.  She would say that at the 8th repetition of every exercise, and it really stuck!  I found that telling myself “Yes, you can”  over and over during my runs when all I really wanted to do was stop running helped take away the self-doubt and made me more confident for the next run.  Luckily, my boss was willing to give me an extended lunch break so that I could get my 8 and 9 mile runs in during the day light hours outside.  And I always had the looming feeling of accomplishment after highlighting a workout that motivated me to lace up my shoes! :)

The day of the race, I was excited and nervous!  It was a different feeling waiting all day for the race because every race I have ever done started early in the morning.  The race had coordinated a shuttle bus to take us from the hotel to the starting line, but there was so much traffic from the strip and a few surrounding streets being shut down that I made it to the starting line a little late!

The course started at the south end of the strip at Mandalay Bay, headed north to Old Town Las Vegas, made a loop, and then headed south back to Mandalay Bay.  As I approached the starting line, I turned on iMapMyRun and started my play list.

As I crossed the starting line, I was really excited!! There were thousands of people around me, and a band to get us pumped up!  My plan was to start out a little slower than my goal pace for the first five miles, run my goal pace the next five miles, pick up the last three miles (thanks to some advice from a veteran half-marathoner ;) and finish in 2 hours 11 minutes, averaging 10 minute miles. 

The race went by really fast. I started in a slower corral than my race pace because I arrived at the start line late, and so was weaving through people. There were bands about every mile on the course, and there was a lot to look at!  Before I knew it, I had already reached the 10K mark, and I was running barely slower than goal pace at 1:03:22.  I did not have a water bottle, Gatorade, or gels on me because they were provided along the course.  However, there were so many people and the stations were not marked as to whether they were water or Gatorade (this race used Cytomax) so next time I will carry my own!

I took my picture at about the half-way mark near Freemont Street.

At the 10 mile mark, I was at the north end of the strip, and could see Mandalay Bay.  I started to pick up the pace.  By mile 12 my legs were burning with every step, but I was not about to stop.  I kept pushing, sprinting as I approached the finish line giving it everything I had.  I finished in 2:11:30!! I averaged 10:02 miles!!  My iPhone says that I actually ran 13.57 miles because I did not take every turn as tight as possible, and did a considerable amount of weaving!  So I really ran 9:42 miles, shattering my goal!!

Sweet Victory!! A Couple of Finish Line Pics with My Sweet Finisher’s Medal!!

 I finished 9,520 out of 33,279 Competitors (top 28%), 4,253 of 21,134 Women (top 20%), and 233 of 960 Females Aged 18-24 (top 24%)!  I rocked it!! And it rocked me!  I was really sore afterwards!! I did some light stretching before we headed back to our hotel and hobbled for the next couple days, but it was worth it!!  It has been a couple weeks since the race, and I think I might just sign up for another one… :)

Just remember, “Yes, you can!!!!”

***Sway and I are very grateful to you all, our Dear Readers, for following along in our pursuit of good health and happiness in 2011.  We wish you a wonderful New Year with plenty of adventure and wellness all around.  See you all in the New Year!



Refrigerator Case Study – The Registered Dietician

As promised, I’m taking you to my friend Stefanie’s house for a sneak peak into her refrigerator.  It’s the holidays, in other words, time for eggnog, cookies, and buttered vegetables.  However, Stefanie is a registered dietician so I’m guessing her fridge will be stocked with the good, healthy stuff too.  Let’s see if it’s true!

Stefanie keeps tahini (a type of nut butter) on hand to make fresh hummus.  Sweet, colorful peppers are also in stock for dipping into said hummus.  There are plenty of ingredients ready for New Mexican dishes (e.g. chopped green chile, red chile, corn tortillas, broth, and hamburger meat) to satisfy her husband’s penchant for all foods chile related.  Another dinner staple Stefanie relies on is pasta with meat sauce.

Drawer: cooked chicken, cheese, and spelt flour for muffins

The healthy staples are ready to eat too:  yogurt, fruit, and veggies.  Stefanie also keeps cooked chicken breast available for sandwiches and quick meals.

Stefanie keeps her refridgerator at a steady 40 degrees fahrenheit and uses a thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature.

The Door: Stefanie recommends keeping your fish oil supplements in the fridge.

And for a little Christmas cheer?  On the top shelf of the main fridge, you’ll see a bottle of white wine and behind the milk a bottle of Rose’s Lime juice (for vodka gimlets of course).  So, Stefanie’s fridge wasn’t all celery and soy milk.  With the New Mexican foods, cheese, Greek yogurt and fruit supply it’s a fridge I’d raid any day.

Merry Christmas dear readers!  May you have a wonderful weekend and a beautiful Christmas with your family and friends.


P.S.  Stefanie often contributes to articles about food and nutrition in the Albuquerque Journal.  Most recently, she shared her recipe for slimming down your typical holiday egg nog.  Find it here.

A Crafty Christmas With Kids

My son loves art so much that I wanted to make the month of December really special for him.  So, in anticipation of this fun month I purchased a kit from The Land of Nod that includes about a month worth of crafts for my child.  This kit is also great for families that have more than one child.  

The kit includes:  6 Cards, 40 paper chains, 4 felt ornaments, stuffing, 2 picture frames, ribbons, stickers, buttons, glitter glue, sequins, printed papers, floss, cardboard confetti tree, crepe paper, tissue paper, crunch and stick wreath, glue stick, sticky gems, sticky dots, crinkle paper, construction paper, paper cutting stencils, plastic needle and easy illustrated instructions.  (The only item I needed was markers.)

Everything you need is self-contained in a super cute christmas case.  He will have a variety of different crafty activities to choose from and we can display them throughout our home for the holiday season.

I especially love watching his creativity through his artwork and this also helps with his fine motor skills.  What kind of crafty activities do you like to do with your kids over Christmas vacation?


What to do with sad, old tomatoes . . .

Give them a new life!  Many weeks ago we harvested the remaining green tomatoes on our plants before our first freeze of the fall.  To get them to ripen we wrapped them individually in small pieces of newspaper and placed them in a single layer in a cardboard box in our basement.  According to my grandfather-in-law, the ripening process happens at night; hence the strategy of wrapping in newspaper.  This is the second year in a row that we’ve done this and as far as I can tell, it works pretty well.  The only problem is that I forget about them down there and they overripen sometimes.  C’est la vie.  So, I threw out about 9 tomatoes and about 4 pounds of Black Krim and Beefsteak remain.  Now, what to do with them?

These tomatoes ripened nicely, but they did acquire wrinkly skin.

Inspiration can strike at any time.  For instance, I finally got tired of looking at the huge black canning pot staring at me from behind my kitchen sink.  What did we need to do to get rid of it, I asked T.  He reminded me about the tomatoes ripening in the basement and said that once we canned them, we could give the pot back to its rightful owner, my mother-in-law.  Not at all looking forward to canning at this time, I figured if I could use them all in one recipe that would be just as good.

Not up to the task of canning and knowing they’re not worthy of topping a fresh salad, I decided to try a tomato cobbler using a recipe from the Martha Stewart website.  Like almost every recipe I reference, I adapted it a little.  Here goes . . .

Prepping the tomatoes with salt, pepper, and cornstarch.


Ready to go into the oven.


Tomato Cobbler



Well, I’m delighted by how this turned out!  The comments on the MS website about the recipe were not exactly positive, but I really like how mine turned out.  I can see how adding some basil, garlic, or oregano to the tomatoes or drizzling the cooked dish with high quality balsamic would kick it up a bit, but I like to think that my delicious Black Krim and Beefsteak tomatoes were the trick to making this dish so tasty.  (What would life be without homegrown tomatoes?)

What sorts of recipes do you employ to “use up” your garden harvest?


Santa Claus is coming to town!

Now that my little boy is getting older, I have been questioned about the reality of Santa Claus!  Don’t get me wrong, we believe in Santa but some of the children at his school have really got him thinking!  This brings me to my quest of making Santa more real for my son.  Here are a few of the things I have done.

For the past three years my son has received an email message from Santa via Portable North Pole.  This site is super easy to use and very interactive for your child because it is completely customizable and best of all it is free.  This is especially nice to send send to family who live far away from one another.  It is the perfect way to let your kiddo’s know that Santa is watching them and making a note if they are naughty or nice!  For the purpose of showing you exactly what it to expect, I purposely picked ‘naughty’ so you could see what that message looks like.  Please click here and you can watch the video that Santa sent.  It is about 2 minutes long.

Secondly, I had to buy special wrapping paper that I keep hidden and Santa will be wrapping his presents with that special paper.  Santa also had a special stamp made just for my son.  (Santa bought it on Ebay, let me know if you are interested and I can forward you the vendor’s name.)  Santa will be using red ink to personalize his presents this year.

Santa's special Christmas stamp

Whew, this Santa business has been a lot of work this year, but I’m sure that my son will keep on believing in Jolly O’le St. Nick!

What sort of things do you do to make sure your kids still believe in Santa?


O’ Christmas Tree… Alternatives

I have been so busy this year with grad school that my home is lacking in Holiday Cheer.  Usually, I set up all of my Christmas decorations on Thanksgiving weekend and it is complete with a 6 foot tall tree that looks like it would come out of a Crate and Barrel catalog.  Not this year though…  My home is minimalist and if we didn’t have my son I think my husband and I would probably not put anything up this year.  With that being said, I have come up with a few alternatives to our normally decked out Christmas tree.

our small mighty tree

This year we opted to have a live tree.  We went to Osuna Nursery and purchased a tree that we could plant after the season is over.  They cost anywhere from 30.00 and up.  I thought this would be environmentally friendly and something we have not done before.  It has proven to be a great idea on my part!  With it’s 2.5  foot tall giant frame my son and I had it decorated in 20 minutes.  It was a snap, and my son was able to do all of it without getting bored.  It was also nice not to have to get out all of the ornaments and all I had to do was wrap it in a tree skirt to hide the container it came in.

Peace Tree

My next alternative to a tree is the what I call our ‘Peace Tree’.  I used tree branches that my husband was going to compost and added them to my a large vase.  Usually I put these large glitter peace symbols on our tree, but because we have a mini version this year, I  thought this would be a fun alternative.  The best part about this ensemble is that it didn’t cost me a thing!  These were all things that I had in my Christmas box of tricks.  :)

Are you breaking any Holiday traditions this year because you are short on time?


In the Kitchen: Butternut Squash Mash

Homemade Butternut Squash Mash

The following is a guest post from Kyle Simmons. His blog,, is a personal finance blog helping people invest, save, and spend confidently!  In his spare time, he also likes to cook.

Every Thanksgiving, families across the United States sit down to an overflowing meal of turkey, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce, yams, and of course, mashed potatoes. This year, my wife and I are introducing to our family something new, healthy, and delicious: Butternut Squash Mash. This stuff is so good, that you’ll throw the mashed potatoes aside just to make more room for it. We’ve been making it for a few months now, and it goes extremely well with all sorts of dishes, particularly cider-glazed chicken or grilled sausages.

The Ingredients – Serves 8

1 medium Butternut Squash (about 2 pounds)
2 large Jewel Yams (about 1.5 pounds)
2 Granny Smith apples
4 tablespoons butter
4/3 cups sour cream
2 teaspoons salt
Salt to taste

We choose Jewel Yams because they are a good split between Sweet Potatoes and Yams; sweet enough, and not fibrous. Get them at your local market. If you want to be even healthier, you can substitute out the butter and sour cream with 2/3 cups Greek yogurt.

Peel the squash, yams, and apples, and chop them into ½ inch to 1 inch pieces. (No need to get exact here!)

Put them all into a stock pot and make sure they are covered with 2 inches of water to spare. Bring them to a low boil over medium-high heat. Cook until the yams are nice and soft. (They take the longest to cook!) 

Drain vegetables and apples and put them in a food processor along with the butter, sour cream and salt. Run the processor until they are good and mashed; no buddy wants lumpy yams!  Since we have a small processor, we have to run multiple batches.

Always Use Good Ingredients!


Plate in a nice serving dish and voilà! easy, delicious, healthy homemade butternut squash mash! Don’t forget to add more salt to taste, as everyone will probably want a little more salt then it’s prepared with. Enjoy!

North Fourth Street Holiday Stop and Shop

I don’t know if you are familiar with the north valley, but for those of you who are not – now is a good time get acquainted.  The north Fourth Street corridor is full of fun antique and eclectic shops, along with bakeries and restaurants that are fabulous!  Part of the fun of living in the north valley is that most of the shops, bakeries, and restaurants are local.  The north Fourth Street corridor spans Fourth Street north of Alameda to just south of Montano.

Some of my favorite places near my home are A Cake Odyssey -I love their red velvet cupcakes and I order my son’s Birthday cakes there, Casa De Benividez (a great lunch stop), The Antique Co-op – I found a funky retro metal love seat there, Plants of the Southwest, and Steel Garden Art just to name a few.  So, if you want to buy local or if you want to buy something unique stop by any of these friendly places.  I think you will be surprised at how many shops you’ll find.

(P.S.  There are approximately 42+ shops to stop at along the way)

Happy Shopping!