Saturday, December 25, 2010

Holiday Cards: I May Be Late, But I Got a Heck of a Bargain!

For the first time in at least 15 years I did not send out Christmas cards. I tried several times to get a cute picture of the boys together near my tree but never seemed to get the right shot. Finally,  I got too busy and just gave up. As the cards poured in over the last week or so I was starting to feel bad! Not that anyone would think less of me for not sending out cards but I think I felt a bit less of myself. Why was I so focused on the boys together in a "tree shot"? We have so many cute photos of them separately, and they didn't have to be in front of my tree. Some of the cards we got were photos of family vacations taken over the last year, or of their kids doing something they loved. So I felt guilty for not sending anything out, especially since there are so many people I don't see as much as I used to. Sometimes the annual card is our only contact and to not even send that just wouldn't be right!!

One of my many attempts at the Christmas card photo

On Christmas Eve I did a very cute Jib Jab card, but only sent it to close family and friends. Great site, and everyone who came over that day or saw it on my Facebook page said it was hilarious. While I was on my computer I checked my email and got a GREAT offer from Snapfish, where I have been doing my cards for years. 50% off flat holiday cards until 12/31. Half off!! Why not do a New Year's card instead?? I found a cute design that allowed me to upload 12 photos of my family, which means I didn't have to settle on just a few perfect shots. Since I typically order about 80 cards, my cost was only going to be a little over $40 with shipping. Hallelujah. Sure I didn't make it by Christmas, and maybe my card will get less "face time" on the refrigerators of my friends but at least I'll feel better about getting the card out and am thrilled with the price!!!

Crockpot Recipe: Easy Butternut Squash Turkey Chili

Can anyone believe I am even talking about food after the non-stop food fest between Thanksgiving and Christmas? I know, most of us are not done as New Year's Eve is around the corner but...a girl's gotta eat!

I'm sure we're all tired of thinking about food after all the menu planning and grocery shopping, and it will be nice just to "set it and forget it". Especially if you want to catch some of those post-Christmas sales and want to leave food behind for your family to eat. 

1 butternut squash
3/4 lb ground turkey
1 package (10 or 12 oz) of chopped onion, celery and bell pepper or some variation of that
1 15 oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz. can pinto or white beans (use what you have)
2 15.25 oz Mexican style stewed tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 cup water or chicken broth
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder

Thrify mama variation: of course, using dried beans is always the most economical. In my case using cans was more economical because I already had them in my pantry. You can also be more thrifty by not buying the pre-chopped vegetables but honestly the difference in price is negligible if you look at how much time it saves to buy the pre-chopped mix. I'm always a proponent of using what you have, so if you've got onions and celery and bell pepper hanging about by all means use it before it perishes. On that note, if you are pressed for time and don't want to deal with peeling and cubing squash, you can also buy it peeled and cubed already.

Take your squash and pierce it with a sharp knife several times. Place it in the microwave and cook on high for approximately 2 minutes. Peel and cut into cubes. Set aside.

Cook your ground turkey and onion, celery and bell pepper in a large non-stick pan sprayed with Pam or similar spray on med-hi. Dash with salt and black pepper to your liking.

Plug in your crock pot and set to 6 hrs on high or whatever time frame works with when you plan to eat. Put the squash, turkey and vegetable mixture and tomatoes into the crock pot as well as the last 4 ingredients. Set it and forget it. You can eat this in a bowl as a main dish with corn bread and a dollop of sour cream on top, or as a side dish. Makes approximately 8 cups. Enjoy!!!

I Love My Crock pot!

Merry Christmas to All!

This has been a wonderful holiday season for our family. With Monkey and Buddha being 4 and 2 now, they are able to play with each other well (and fight sometimes too) and enjoy more of the same things. In the days leading up to today we made time in our busy schedules to attend the Fantasy of Lights in Los Gatos, CA. You get to stay in your car, which is a big bonus and drive through a sponsored winter wonderland of lights. With your car tuned to a certain radio station, Christmas music fills the air of your warm and toasty vehicle as you fall in line in a parade of cars seeing the lighted sights.

The entrance to Fantasy of Lights

Brontosaurus feasting on a plant

The volcano complete with sound effects

The Buddha in his pj's with his Mickey

The Monkey in his pj's, a 3 yr veteran of Fantasy of Lights

The great thing is the kids can wear there pj's, my hubby was too and I was in sweats and no make up. You can just head out to enjoy this without getting "ready". The kids had snacks and drinks. I had a to-go cup with eggnog. It sort of reminds me of the whole drive-in movie experience and how easy and convenient it is to be self contained!


We also went to a local amusement park which used to be family-owned until the city took it over. Gilroy Gardens is small and has beautiful grounds and great rides mostly for younger kids like mine. All the trees were decorated and lit up. It truly was a winter wonderland!!

Buddha got to meet Snoopy but not so sure he liked him
Walking under a canopy of giant lit candy canes
The great thing is that most of the rides were open, except for the big rollercoaster. At this time of the year, it isn't crowded because its cold and its night time, so lines were minimal. We met up with my cousin and his family, and my parents went (Chip was working) as well as my cousin's parents. The kids all had a blast. There was even a Peanuts show. It was adorable, complete with singing and dancing and they let the kids come down to the stage to meet Snoopy. It was a mob scene, I felt like Justin Bieber was in town. Monkey got right in there and gave Snoopy a big hug. Too bad my photo of them hugging turned out blurry as my camera was slow to focus, but I will never forget how excited he was to hug Snoopy!

Peanuts Christmas Show
At the end of the night there was an amazing fireworks and laser light show set to Christmas music. The kids were out way past their bed time but we wouln't have missed it for anything. I was pretty impressed with the quality of the decorations and the light/fireworks show. We will definitely do this again next year!

Our lives are busy but we have to remind ourselves why we do it all, its for our family. We work hard, and we are often rushing to get the kids to bed, to school, off to the next birthday party or event. Even though we should try to do it more often I am glad that we take the time to stop and enjoy the company of our family during the holidays. I just love it.

What special things did you do with your family this year? Hope you all had fun! It's all about being together!!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Movie Review: Save Your Money on "How Do You Know?"

I was so excited for Mom's Night Out last night. Some moms from my neighborhood decided to go out to dinner at PF Chang's, have an ornament exchange, and see a chick flick. Since I don't get out all that often and love the company of these particular ladies, I knew we were destined for a great night. We had great conversation over a YUMMY dinner, and then went to see the movie we all agreed on, "How Do You Know?" Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd...and even Jack Nicholson...sounds like a great cast doesn't it?? Shockingly, I was really disappointed, and when it comes to romantic comedies I am pretty easy to please.

I'm not going to give it all away in case you are a huge fan of one of these actors and just have to see the movie. What it boils down to for me is that there were too many partial stories/relationships that were not explored deeply enough for me to get really invested in any of the characters. Lisa, played by Reese Witherspoon, is a pro softball player experiencing an identity crisis. I'm not spoiling anything by saying in the end Lisa is left to choose between two men, Matty played by Owen Wilson and George played by Paul Rudd. Frankly, I didn't care which one she picked, the movie had gone on for over 2 hrs and both of the guys were a little irritating in their own ways and I just wanted it to end! The story was just so scattered. There was Reese and the demise of her softball career. George and his financial and legal troubles. There was Matty coming to terms with his arrogant and charming womanizing ways. There was also the side story with Jack Nicholson who played Paul Rudd's father and owner of the family business and his complicated past. This story line also brought his secretary, her baby and fiance into the fold, which was a tangent that went way out of its way just to show Reese Witherspoon's tough-exteriored character that being in love and having babies wasn't so bad after all.  The ending was pretty lame as was expected since the rest of the movie was bad, but I was happy it was over! I was out with 6 girls and not one of us liked the movie. I had such high hopes and was disappointed I wasted $10.50! I wouldn't even rent it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What Not to Do: Eating and Drinking During the Holidays

Right now I am laughing at myself. I know my blog is typically about striving for a healthy lifestyle. This morning my dearies I am the poster child for what not to do during the holidays. I went to a party last night, and I knew I was hungry. I also knew I was dehydrated, as I was busy all day and never filled my aluminum water container which I have with me at all times. I did drink a small glass of water while I was getting ready, and I was definitely thirsty for more but didn't have time to go downstairs for a refill. I ate a couple crackers, but they did nothing for me. Since we were running late, the roads were wet and traffic was bad I knew Chip and I needed to get our buns out the door and had no time for anything unnecessary. My MIL was staying over night at our house with the kids so we just needed to make sure she was all set to feed them dinner and we took off. I will drink water right when I get there, before my first drink, I told myself. I knew there would be a lot of good food and figured I would have some substantial snacks before the alcohol hit my system. Right.

I walked in the door and was happy to see faces of friends I hadn't seen in months. If you follow my blog you know my schedule (mainly my husband's schedule) and we don't get out and socialize nearly as much as we used to, especially after 2 kids. There was a nice big table with lots of yummy food - right next to all the bottles of hard alcohol and mixers. Naturally I forgot all about my plans to start with water. While I did a decent amount of snacking, I was mostly socializing while drinking absentmindedly. Before I knew it, I had 3 cocktails and I was drunk...laughing, catching up with friends. My husband thought I was hilarious. The host was working on an amazing spread for dinner which I believe came out around 9 pm, long after I'd pickled myself with vodka. I didn't have a watch and probably didn't care at all last night what time it was! The dinner was great, I wasn't too wasted to enjoy it. I didn't make an ass out of myself or do anything stupid. I was just honestly having a good, old-fashioned fun night. I did have a couple small glasses of water before we left, but I already knew it was too late to reverse the damage. I am quite out of practice!

This morning I sort of felt like crap. I could have slept forever but my 4 year old Monkey came in to wake me up at 8 (which really is sleeping in for me, but it didn't feel like it after my indulgences last night.) I went downstairs to lay on the couch, wondering what an Egg McMuffin would taste like at that point. Thank goodness I was feeling crappy enough and it was raining so I didn't actually go out. I am grateful my MIL made my kids breakfast and once I decided it was time to function I made myself some scrambled eggs and wheat toast, and a nice big cup of coffee. Since then, I have been cleaning like crazy although somehow my house is still a mess.  I've been pounding water and I'm feeling pretty good.

What I've learned: 1) Don't go to a party hungry. This usually is meant so that you don't over eat "party food" and go crazy with calories. What this meant for me: don't go to a party on an empty stomach so there is nothing to soak up your liquor. 2) Don't go to a party dehydrated/thirsty. Really at all times you should remain hydrated, that's just smart living. What this meant for me: don't go to a party dehydrated and try to "hydrate" yourself with vodka tonics. It just doesn't work like that. Why must I document this? Because year after year, I re-learn these same lessons the hard way. As a matter of fact, I just had my office party last week, and I did the same thing. I am 40 years old, and not sure this is really going to sink in. But I have plenty of opportunities to keep trying!

Hope you are enjoying your holiday season and that it is loaded with good cheer!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Feeling The Christmas Card Heat

Hungrigyrl's Monkey and Buddha - 2009 Holiday Card photo

I usually take a cute picture of my boys in front of the tree when they are wearing nice shirts or sweaters and their cute little faces grace our family card. I'm starting to think this year we are going to change the pattern. My Monkey and Buddha are 4 and 2, and active as ever. I can barely get them to actually be in a picture together (unless their backs are facing me, and they have no idea I am holding a camera) much less look at me at the same time with smiles on their faces.
In front of our tree, 2010

I have received several cards already by some very efficient friends of mine that are unintentionally making me feel like a slacker. Sure, I am at the office 4 days out of the week, which gives me less opportunities to dress the boys in cute clothes and get just the "right shot", but come on - there are 3 days of the week that I am home and should be able to make this happen, right? Well, part of it could be that I also have not had time to get them their Christmas card clothes yet...which I should have done when I was on top of my game and did 90% of my gift buying on Black Friday. I kept thinking I'd have loads of time to get to this, and now look at me.
2nd Attempt at Holiday Photos - No fun for Buddha

Then, I try to make excuses, even going so far as trying to protect the environment. Why shouldn't I be "green" this year and not waste paper? Why don't I just send out a Holiday Email instead? Which would also save money and postage, more money to spend on the kids gifts...but that just isn't me. Sure, I try to be green the rest of the year, and am always looking at ways to cut costs and save, but I am so a "celebrator!" I love parties, and holidays and good times, and also rarely pass up opportunities to plaster my boys faces everywhere at home and on my personal Facebook page. The other excuse I have made is that since we are going to Disneyland the day after Christmas, wouldn't it be nice to get a cute photo of our family there and send out a New Year's card instead?

The faces I get these days in pictures! Cute, though!

I am still on the fence, I may send out a Christmas Email and then send out a New Year's card. Really what I should do, is just relax and not worry so much. I still have time to send out cards, and I have this whole weekend to try to get the boys in a picture. I can always take photos of them separately and put them on the card too.

Besides the whole card issue, I am feeling pretty good about where I stand with my shopping. I'm not stressed and am SUPER excited about going to the Happiest Place on Earth!

Am I stressing out about this too much? Do you send out cards, and is it usually the same thing (just your kids, your whole family, the kids together or separately or both)?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

So Far, So Good

running bulldog Pictures, Images and Photos

You Can Teach a Dog New Tricks
I am midway through my 5th week of my new crazy fitness plan. Crazy for me, that is. I saw my parents the other night at a birthday gathering for my sister, and they had a good laugh over me running outside before dawn on a regular basis. They shared stories - especially with my amused husband - about how I couldn't be woken up if my life depended on it, when I was younger and still living at home. Sometimes I can't believe it, but I have grown to really cherish the "extra" time during the day this new schedule gives me. I used to be a total night owl, but I would my evenings reading magazines or other doing unconstructive things like watching TV and surfing the web. And while my Tivo was cleared on a regular basis, I was tired in the morning and my ass had couch prints.

Staying Focused
Nowadays, I am like a granny, trying to be in bed between 9 and 9:30 on the 3-4x per week I have to get up and run the next day. When I get back, my family is still sleeping. I can drink coffee in peace, eat a little breakfast, wash/fold some laundry, check my email...I have quiet time just for me!  At night when I get home from work I am still in kind of a mad rush to get the kids fed, bathed and put to bed. And after that, rather than stay up too late trying to cram in some laundry or catch up on my shows, I just go to bed. I have a really great book I have been dying to read, but I know it will keep me up too late so I have put off starting it. I really want to stay focused on this plan for as long as I can. And I have realized, I don't even miss half of the shows used to "need" to watch. I have stopped recording most of them and also not replaced series that are off season or cancelled with new shows. I still watch TV, but I keep it to just a few nights a week, and only programs that I really LOVE.

Pushing the Limits
Additionally, I only give myself 1 day off exercise during the week, right in the middle. The days I am not running, I try to mix things up a bit by adding in yoga, pilates or doing an interval training (walking) on my treadmill. It's good practice to keep your muscles guessing by cross-training. This will prevent your body from getting too used to one form of exercise and your muscles will stay challenged by the variety. Already, my morning runs are getting easier, and my time is decreasing for the same route. Soon I'll be adding more distance!

Seeing Is Believing
I love looking in the mirror and seeing a thinner face staring back at me. I look so much better when my thighs are tight and muscular, and my butt is perky. Yoga is really toning my arms. I am working on my middle, which could definitely use some firming up and  that is always the last to go! I have to remember to keep drinking water and flushing out the toxins and things that make me puffy. As my running partner and I always say to each other - "Kick ass!"

Hope you are having a kick ass week!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Healthier Version - Rigatoni Bake - So Tasty You Won't Miss The Fat!

I try to make one meal a week that I can either freeze or parcel out for leftovers so that during the week when I am in a pinch (stuck in horrible traffic, in a bad mood, exhausted and not feeling like making anything) I can just reheat it. This not only saves money since I don't stop and pick something up, but it's healthier than many other last-minute options. I love pasta. I try to do whole wheat, or whole grain when I can. I do hear from my kids that they don't like it if it's "brown" but I am lucky that they don't notice if it has sauce on it. Most of the time they like their pasta plain with cheese anyway, so this lovely dish I made pretty much just for me and my hubby. It made more than one casserole dish, so I will not only save some for us for another dinner during the week, but also offer it as lunch to my children's caregivers who are at my house during the week when I am working. My husband,  who I'll call Chip for this blog, works an opposite schedule, so he eats his "dinner" while working.

Most baked rigatoni recipes call for ground beef. Why do it if you don't have to? Trust me, this is just as good, and you'll feel better about yourself knowing you took the lighter route.  Plus, this recipe has a little twist to it, I've added one of my favorite winter vegetables which can be used beyond just this meal.

Earlier in the week some of my running moms were discussing recipes, and I had mentioned I love roasted spaghetti squash and how easy it is to prepare. Well, I decided to make one and it really yielded a lot of "spaghetti" and I had at least 2 cups left over. I decided to put it to good use! For those unfamiliar with spaghetti squash, all you need to do is pierce it several times, and put it on a pan in the oven preheated to 400 degrees for 1 hr. Cut the bad boy open and use a fork to scrape out any seeds and all of the squash which should come away in spaghetti-like strands. It's easy enough to pour on a bit of marinara and have a good piece of bread and your done! Or if your family has heartier appetites you can use it more as a side along with a piece of chicken if you like.

Finally - getting to the rigatoni bake!

What you need:
1lb ground turkey
1lb whole wheat or multigrain rigatoni noodles
1 jar pasta sauce (I used Classico tomato and basil)
1-1/2 c. part skim grated mozzarella cheese, divided
1/4 c. parmesan cheese
1-1/2 c. cooked and stringed spaghetti squash
a couple dashes salt, garlic salt, pepper and red-pepper flakes which are optional
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a large pot, cook noodles until al dente. Meanwhile, in a large skillet season the ground turkey with salts, pepper and red-pepper flakes if desired. Cook completely on medium to medium high heat. 

When pasta is done, mix with ground turkey, sauce, spaghetti squash, parmesan and 1 cup of the mozzarella in a large bowl. You may add any additional Italian spices if you wish, depending on your taste and the flavor of your sauce.  I wish I had used a larger bowl!

Spoon all ingredients into a large casserole dish sprayed lightly with non-stick spray. Depending on what type of dish you use you may not be able to fit it all into one. I used 1 (9x13) and a smaller one (pyrex loaf pan). Sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella cheese.
Now, you can add more cheese to the top to make it thick and gooey, which sounds fabulous but remember we are trying to be healthier here. Put it in the oven for 10 minutes. And then...voila!
This had plenty of favor, I did not miss the fatty ground beef, and barely even noticed the spaghetti squash which is good if you are trying to disguise it for your kids! There are many variations you can make with this - using different vegetables, for example, or no meat at all. Honestly, I wouldn't have minded if there was less turkey and more spaghetti squash in this case. Mangia mangia!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review: Body By Bethenny - Unleashing My Inner Skinnygirl!

If you are a fan of The  Real Housewives of New York City, you know Bethenny Frankel. She is a straight shooting, no B.S., healthy food chef, reality star and author. Bethenny's enterprise also includes this workout DVD called Body By Bethenny. If you own this DVD or are interested in purchasing it, it is probably because you already know of Bethenny either from the Housewives or her newest show Bethenny Getting Married. She is not well-known for being a fitness expert, although she is well-known for being healthy and in-shape. This isn't like the Jane Fonda Workout, where Jane was the fitness guru who led and directed all of the workouts on her videos back in the day. Bethenny is essentially showing us, as she says on the DVD, what she does to get in shape. And that, my friends,  would be doing yoga with a qualified instructor.

In the introduction, Bethenny stresses that it is important for us to be realistic in our workout goals, and how it is important to just do what we can do and work with what we have. It really makes fitness out to be un-intimidating, which is nice. For 55 minutes, Bethenny works out with Kristin McGee, who is a certified personal trainer, Pilates master and yoga instructor. There are no other students in the room, its just Bethenny and Kristin. Their easy flow of conversation throughout the work out is not strictly teacher-pupil, its almost like two girlfriends working out together or the relationship you might have with your hairdresser where you become really close buds with the expert who makes you pretty. There is some banter back and forth and typical funny Bethenny comments - such as "Ugh, my hideous feet" when we are directed to reach down and grab our toes. And when we are doing  a forward bend she calls it the "boob-to-knee" pose and says "We should write to India and tell them to change the language."  Such a character!

This is definitely a good workout for a beginner yoga student to work up to. It's nice because the yoga portion is only 40 minutes, so its great if you don't have a lot of time, or if you are just starting to try to get in shape the duration of this workout won't kill you. But this is not a super easy work out, there were times when my arms were burning and the poses were hard to hold. I have a lot of work to do on my core strength, which will help me balance better. I noticed I was even better the second time I did the DVD, and the backs of my legs (hamstrings) were pretty sore. As they mention in the DVD, if you sit at a desk all day like I do, your hip flexor muscles get very tight and had a great stretch for that. I really felt that for me, this DVD was an excellent compliment to my running.

There were also 10 minutes of strength and toning, with light arm weights. The last 5 minutes were fun "booty blast" moves which consisted of leg lifts and squats. I felt like the 55 minutes flew by fast and because of that see this DVD and something I will be doing often. It's a realistic workout, just like Bethenny says. Being a busy mom of 2, I need to work out regularly but don't have 2 hours to commit to it every time. With this DVD, I don't even have to drive anywhere, just pop it in while the kids are playing, napping or even better yet before they wake up in the morning. Before you know it, you'll be done and you'll feel much better about yourself. You'll unleash your Skinnygirl in no time!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Wannabe Crafty Mom

Ok, I'm not crafty. I wish I was. I think so many crafts look like they'd be so fun to make. I see entire blogs that are devoted to crafts, and it's apparent I am just missing that gene.

My son who is in preschool needed to do a Turkey project this month. No specific guidelines. Just a turkey that we create as a family. I saw this adorable clay project online and thought it looked like something I would enjoy. Not that this assignment was supposed to be "all about me", but I thought this assignment was a good excuse to explore my crafty side. For about $12, we made this clay turkey that now sits on our fireplace mantle for us to enjoy for as long as we'd like. Better yet, this clay doesn't harden or crack, so when we are tired of it my kids can turn it into anything they want. Pretty good deal.

Here is our finished product:

We put it in a box to transport to school. It wasn't hard to make at all and we had fun. My lil Monkey rolled the clay into two balls for the head and body and stuck on the eyes and inserted the feathers. I was just on hand for some fine tuning and did the toes and gobbler which required a bit more fine motor skills.

I can't take all the credit for coming up with the idea. I found it on this site called Kaboose. I'm pretty proud of me and my boy for pulling it off.  Have you made anything fun and easy with your kids for Thanksgiving? Gobble gobble!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Keep Your Lips Kissable This Winter

Dry, Peeling Lips are NOT Hot
Do you ever find your self biting your lips? Not because you're nervous but because they are dry and peeling? I can't stand it when I apply lipstick and my lips don't look smooth. Sometimes after I apply it,  I mush my lips together to spread the lipstick around and I can feel the skin on my lips peeling off. YUCK-O. In the past I have tried every lip balm you have ever heard of - and some you probably haven't heard of - to help keep my lips smooth and free of cracks. I have even tried things like using an extra toothbrush to "exfoliate" the skin on my lips. It was a tip I read in a magazine, and it did nothing for me at all.

Make Your Lips "Apeeling"
My pretties, the best and the ONLY product that has worked for me is Lip Apeel from Beauticontrol. You apply a white mask to your lips and let it dry (I put it on and let it dry while I am blow-drying my hair). Once it's dry you take a damp wash cloth and wipe off the mask off your lips, along with all the peeling skin! Then, this nifty little container has a separate compartment on the top that contains some lovely conditioning lip balm that has good staying power without being greasy at all. You apply that and you are good to go!  With the harsh elements nearly upon us, and my cold morning runs - I can guarantee I will be leaning on my Lip Apeel quite a bit this season!

Buy It - Don't Wait
If you are interested in purchasing some, let me know and I can hook you up. It's $19.50, and will last forever and is worth every cent! Contact me at hungrigyrl at yahoo dot com.

Smooch smooch!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How To Make A Plan And Stick With It!

Photo courtesy of D. Sharon Pruitt
Eliminate the Obstacles
It has been a week since I decided to embark on the only crazy fitness plan I could commit to, which is dragging my disoriented, sleepy body out of bed while it is still dark out to run before I go to work. I have always liked exercise (which I know isn't for everyone) and working out to be physically fit as opposed to dieting (which I hate). I believe regular exercise,  healthy eating and drinking in moderation is the best thing for me. Anything that you make too difficult, such as a ridiculously hard fitness regimen or a deprivation diet, will be too hard to stick to and only set you up for failure. My only major problem with all this has been finding time to exercise. So as I wrote about last week, I decided enough is enough - I am not going to let my job, my kids, or husband interfere with my workouts anymore. While none of it is intentional, sometimes coordinating with the aforementioned parties just makes getting out for a run difficult! The best plan for me was to get up before everyone else, and get it out of the way before someone needs me for something. So far so good.

Boost in Self-Esteem
In the last 7 days I have run 5 days, and done 1 interval training on my treadmill. I feel fantastic. I can already see a difference in my body. My legs are stronger and more defined, and my core is tightening up. I am totally in a great mood at the start of my day because by the time I get to work I have already accomplished something major (including sitting in traffic, but that's a whole other story). I have a steady stream of energy until the afternoon, but that is a work in progress. I've had a hard time sleeping on the nights before I get up to run before work because I think deep down I am worried my alarm won't wake me. I think that over time, I will get more comfortable and maybe will become so exhausted that I will pass out when I hit the pillow the way I used to.

Crying Babies Won't Stand in My Way
So far I have only had one minor snafu. This morning my 2 year-old woke up at 4 a.m. for some reason and was crying. I let it go for a while and was hoping he would stop, but he didn't. I tried to take him to bed with me, and although he stopped crying he didn't want to sleep. I turned on the TV so I could get a little half-hearted sleep but before I knew it my alarm was going off at 5:30 a.m. I had to change and meet my running buddy. My little Pork Chop (a.k.a. Buddha) cried when I tried to leave him in the bed with my hubby who was getting pretty irritated at this point. I could have turned and walked out but I felt bad for him. So I grabbed a jacket, a hat, and a blanket and plopped him in the jogging stroller and away we went. I wasn't going to look for any excuse to get out of running - I was looking for ways to make sure I went.

My parting words this evening - you can make it happen if really want to. For months I kept telling myself that there was just no good time to exercise. But I just needed to make  a good time. Choose an attainable goal - even if its just to get moving for 30 minutes a day to start off with. Make it one of your priorities like brushing your teeth. You'll be glad you did!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Crazy Get After It Running Plan

I have a good friend that I have known for over 25 years. Yes I am that old, but thank goodness I don't look it! She and I love to get together for our "girl time" which is when we run, and talk. It's great for us to catch up and discuss the economy, finances, political and social issues, wine, food and chick stuff. I have always been motivated by my running buddy. The last year or so our running time has taken a hit as both of us have had some changes in our schedule which makes it difficult to run together as much as we'd like. She works a shift job so her schedule changes every 6 months, and I have a husband with a shift job that impacts my schedule, and I have 2 little ones under 5 that I have to work around also. It's no wonder I am looking and feeling a bit heavier than normal.

In recent blogs I have mentioned that I have never been a morning person, but somehow have been managing recently out of desperation to get up and exercise before work. Well I am even kicking it up a notch. My running buddy and I are pledging to run together in the morning, so early that it doesn't interfere with anyone's schedule. Which means sometimes on my day off I will be getting up to run at 6am, and she will do the same. Then a couple times during the week, we will run before she has to be at work...and since she starts at 6am, we will be running at 4:15. OMG. I can't believe I was even crazy enough to suggest this to her, but I think we are both serious about being fit and making changes in our lives.

I told my husband our plan and he gave me a funny look. I know he doesn't want to say it, but is thinking, "Yeah, right." Well it makes me want to prove to him as well as myself that we can do this! Yes, I will be tired. Yes, I will be freezing. Yes, it will be dark. But what choice do I have? It's so easy to make excuses. And as my buddy said, there will be less flaking at that time of the morning. We won't have anything interfering with our ability to run but ourselves. I can't blame my husband, my kids, a dr. appointment, birthday party, or anything else. Hell, the Giant's just won the World Series. I can, and WILL run before dawn. I will keep you posted on my progress!

Happy Fitness! A great weekend to all!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hearty, Spicy Beef Stew in the Crock Pot!

I wish I had a picture of my stew! It was made, eaten and enjoyed before I could take any photos. Well take my word for it, it looks very tasty, smells amazing and is quite yummy. I had fun shopping for the veggies at my Saturday Farmer's Market, my weekly family tradition. Pefect hearty stew for a cold day, and you can go out and enjoy your Saturday or Sunday and come home to a nice warm meal if you make it in the crock pot.

This recipe should feed 4 hungry people if served over rice or noodles.  If you have leftovers, even better - this stew tastes even better the next day.

1-1/2 tablespoons oil
2 lbs stew meat cut into 1 inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 carrots chopped
2 medium onions chopped
1 small can diced green chiles
1 can Mexican style stewed tomatoes
1/2 can beef broth
1/2 cup sliced green pimento stuffed olives
1 potato cut into 1 inch pieces (more can be added if you desire)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin

In a large pan on medium heat, heat half the oil and brown half the meat with 2 of the garlic cloves. Remove. I like to put the meat in the crockpot to wait for the rest of the ingredients. Brown the rest of the meat with the remaining oil 2 garlic cloves. Remove remaining meat and saute the vegetables in the same pan for about 5 minutes or so until they start to soften.
Put the meat into the crockpot if its not already there, then vegetables. Add the remaining ingredients - chiles, tomatoes, broth, olives and potato. Add your spices and combine with vegetables and meat with a large spoon. Turn your crock pot on high for 6 hours. Happy eating!

Try it, and let me know what you think. I would enjoy this with a nice glass of full bodied red wine. TGIF!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

San Francisco Giants Win the World Series!

I have been MIA since I have been obsessed with the San Francisco Giants. Last night was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G, as they took the World Series from the Texas Rangers. I have had a funny little crush on Tim Lincecum (aka "The Freak") who is this skinny 24-year old pitcher with long hair. There is just something cute about him. Anyway, that is not why I have been watching the play off games and the World Series. I am from the Bay Area and have been going to Giants games for as long as I can remember and am a FAN. They came here from New York in 1958 and for the first time in California have won the championship. I am proud.

I  found myself drinking a beer or two while watching the games. Definitely not good for my fitness plan. I set my alarm early so I could run before work , but I was too tired...not from the game last night as I did manage to crash out early...but a culmination of a number of nights in a row previously that I didn't get enough sleep due to unexplained insomnia. Possibly too much sugar/Halloween candy? I have a weekness for Reese's peanut butter cups, Kit Kat's, and M & M's. We also had a crew over for Halloween so there was a lot of food around. Again, not beneficial to my fitness plan. I am going to try to spend some time on the treadmill tonight and definitely  tomorrow morning. Looking forward to meeting up with my running buddy this weekend. We've both had things going on the last few weeks and have not managed to sync up and run together.  Need to get back on track!

Did you fall off the wagon around Halloween? How are you getting yourself back on track?

Happy Fitness! 22 Days til Turkey Day!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Satisfying Fall Butternut Squash Risotto

I love this time of year when I start seeing butternut squash at the Farmer's Market. I bought one over the weekend without a specific plan for what I was going to do with it. I waffled back and forth between a lasagna and risotto, and finally went with the risotto after 2 of my coworkers and my husband unanimously voted on it. 

**So I must first make a disclaimer which may make this recipe seem to take longer or have an extra step. Before I knew what I was going to do with it, I roasted it. Very simply, I cut it in half, scooped out the seeds, and placed the halves face down on a cookie sheet and cooked at 400 degrees for 55 minutes. My squash weighed about 1.5 lbs. I did not actually make the risotto until the next day. The night I roasted it I let it cool and wrapped it in foil and put in the refrigerator. I did this because I LOVE roasted butternut squash, and it turned out to make the following recipe go a little faster because I did not have to wait for the squash to soften in the pan. Peeling the squash is much easier when it is already roasted, the peel practically falls off. Greatly reduces prep time. The following recipe is how you should proceed if your squash is NOT roasted.**

Here is what you'll need:
1.5 lb butternut squash with the peel and seeds removed and cut into 1 inch chunks
Salt and pepper
1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 14 oz. cans chicken broth
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
a couple dashes each of savory, rosemary and marjoram spice

*Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. While its melting, take a smaller saucepan and put both cans of chicken broth in on low heat and add 1/2 cup of water

*Add the squash and some salt and pepper. Stir often until the squash starts to soften, about 8 minutes.

*Add rice into the saucepan with the squash and butter, and stir to mix it in. Pour in the 1/2 cup of white wine and cook until the wine is absorbed and nearly evaporated.

*Add a ladle of broth mixture into the the squash pan and cook, stirring until the liquid is absorbed. Continue this process, adding liquid and letting it absorb while continuously stirring for about 40 minutes.

*At this point do a consistency taste-test to see if you like it. I myself do not like my risotto firm, so I usually let mine go another 5 minutes before I add in 1/3 cup of the cheese and a bit more salt.

Serve into wide and shallow pasta bowls and sprinkle a bit more cheese when serving.

YUM. It was creamy, delicious and filling. If you make this as a main course with a salad and bread for a simple yet tasty dinner, this recipe should easily serve 4.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ocean of My Soul

It is mid-October and we are having more summer weather now than we had all summer! I'm not complaining, even though I LOVE skiing and all that goes with winter (sweaters, holiday decorations), I am truly a beach person at heart. Actually, I even love the beach in the winter. No lie.

We went on a great trip last week, and I am still on vacation high. We spent several glorious days in Malibu, CA and visited Santa Monica a couple times. It is so beautiful down there, I told my husband that even the traffic is prettier. Going to sleep and waking up to the sound of crashing waves is my idea of paradise. It was in the mid 80's and perfectly sunny. We had leisurely mornings and after breakfast headed to the beach. I love watching my 4 year-old Monkey build sand castles with the serious expression of a scientist. It was such a joyful feeling to watch him run to the small waves breaking on shore and jump over them and run back laughing. My little Buddha, who is only 23 months old, could not get enough of the sand. Literally. He didn't care to walk on it much, he just wanted to scoop it up, fill up a bucket, fling sand in the air and all over himself. The tub was full of sand during his shower. For all I know he ate some, the way he was flinging it everywhere.

What I love about the beach is the relaxed, slow pace...not much to do but sit back and people watch. You sit, you talk, you might doze (if someone else is keeping an eye on your kids), you get hot, you jump in the water, dry off, snack, repeat. The beach can be an active place too. There were plenty of people roller-blading, running, biking, playing volleyball. And when I was younger and lived at the beach I did that too. But now that I'm older (but not too old!), married with kids,  and stretched thin on most days - when I hit the beach I just want to chill.

We also spent some time at the Santa Monica Pier which I highly recommend if you have small kids. They have a few rides such as the Ferris Wheel you see in the beginning of all the TV shows that take place in Southern CA when they do an aerial pan along the coast. Plan to also visit the beach that day, as the pier will only keep you busy for so long and the beach right there is great for kids. Parking was $6, which wasn't bad considering there were lots right next to the pier and right behind the beach. No crazy traffic-filled streets to cross or anything.

The Third Street Promenade  in downtown Santa Monica is awesome. Blocks and blocks of stores and restaurants, and a nice stretch of it is closed to traffic, so you can stroll, shop, eat and hang out. We happened to be there on the day of the Farmer's Market, which was just AMAZING. I live in a small town so for me to see such a huge Farmer's Market that went for several blocks (just 2 blocks from the coast) is heavenly. The selection of items for sale was way beyond your typical fruits and vegetables that we see here where I live. Since we were out of town on the day our market usually occurs, I was having withdrawals since that is something I look forward to every weekend. I was tempted to buy many things but I stopped myself since buying hoards of vegetables, fruit and other food items I really don't need while on vacation wasn't realistic. We had lunch at this great Italian place called Locanda del Lago. We were first drawn to it because of the al fresco dining and we really wanted to eat outside since it was such a nice day and there was plenty of people watching to be had. And we were also suckers for the yummy bread on the tables with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Our service, salads and entrees were fabulous and we would definitely eat there again.

I haven't mentioned yet that our 6th wedding anniversary fell over this weekend. We loved celebrating in our "happy place" and even toyed around with the idea of living there someday. Our last night there we took our kids to the beach at sunset, and stayed long after the sun went down and just ran around. Unexpectedly a school of dolphins started hanging out in the water in front of us, and we watched them jump out of the water by the light of the moon. It was almost unbelievable. We had the BEST time, and I can't wait to visit Malibu again. We hope to have a couple beach days over Thanksgiving weekend - here in CA we can do that - and I very much look forward to it.

Hope you all make time to relax and rejuvinate your mind, body and spirit.

Friday, October 15, 2010

I Won't Be Stopped!

I love my kids wholeheartedly, from the depths of my soul to my fingertips at the end of the arms that I wrap around them so tightly. But twice this week they each innocently tried to interfere with my morning work out! I have to say, it would have been so easy to cave in and blow it off, but I stuck to my guns (no pun intended) and made it happen, even if my fitness time was a little bit limited after negotiating for a bit with the little buggers.

I have mentioned before that I am not really a morning person. Seriously. Before I am able to speak to anyone in the morning I have coffee. I'm one of those people. My biggest challenge with trying to work out in the morning has been to get up early enough so I can be finished before my kids wake up, and ideally even shower before they wake up. I have mostly been successful, but there have been a couple times that I got sidetracked by putting a load of laundry in or something insignificant that interfered with  rolling out of bed, changing and getting to it.

One morning, silly me, I went into my little Buddha's room (he's had this nickname since he was a baby due to a big belly and no hair...which has changed but the name has stuck) to make sure it wasn't too cold since I had left the window open the night before. Big mistake. He should have been sleeping soundly at this hour, but for whatever reason he perked right up. I tried to sneak out but he wasn't having it. So I had to take him out of his crib, and back to my room and snuggle with him for a bit to see if he'd relax. Then I resorted to the "no fail" in my arsenal - the TV. I was only going to work out in my garage so it was ok for him to be in the family room watching his favorite shows. He did come out to look for me, and thank goodness I as just finishing up. Success!

This morning, my little Monkey heard me rustling around with my coffee pot (damn!) and came out of his room in a daze saying "Mama, take me back to bed." Ok, who can say no to that? The child was half asleep and I just couldn't instruct him to go back to his room. So I tried to get him cozy back in his bed, but when I started to leave he wanted to come with me. Again, I turned to the TV. Ok, I don't condone using TV as a babysitter but sometimes it really helps out when you just need to get something done. This time, my husband was home and I was really eating into my work out time here so I needed maximum bang for the buck. So I went out the door and did a short run in my neighborhood. Then I came home and did a few of Gabby's glute and core exercises (yeah, because we are on a first-name basis now) with the stability ball and medicine ball. I'm not going to sweat it, I will just kick it up a few notches this weekend. Whew. I mean business. And, how.

Hoping you find time to get your body moving this weekend! 30 minutes is better than none.

Have you had any exercise or diet challenges this week? How did you overcome them?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Popchips GIVEAWAY!!!

Wouldn't you love to win a case of Popchips?? I have teamed up with the makers of Popchips to give you the opportunity to give you fellow Popchips lovers a chance to win! As I have mentioned in my previous post, Popchips are a delicious, healthier alternative to traditional, greasy potato chips. They are popped, not fried. One of the things I love about them (besides the fact that they don't make my hands greasy so they are easy to eat at my desk at work) is that they even seem to stay fresher longer. My only complaint? That the bags are too small...I go through them like crazy! However, they are now being sold at Costco stores in enormous bags that will keep me and my family poppin' away for days!

To enter: 
1. Go to the Popchips Facebook Page and "like" Popchips


2. Check out Popchips Snacker's Credo and post a comment on my blog with your own personal snacking credo 


Post a comment on my blog with your favorite Popchips dips and pairings. 

3. And don't forget to FOLLOW MY BLOG! 

Additionally you can follow Popchips on Twitter While you’re at it, follow ME on Twitter!

Looking forward to seeing your fun answers! The winner will be announced Friday, October 29!

Keep on Poppin'!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Turning Over a New Leaf

I have been able to get my lazy butt out of bed to work out before work! I didn't think I'd be able to do it, but its really not so hard. I had to tweak a few things to make it possible. First, I am going to try to forgo my nightly beloved glass of wine. Why? Well first of all, I don't need the extra calories. Although it is nice to relax in the evenings when my kids are in bed, having the glass of wine makes me lazier. It fosters my desire to plop my ass on the couch and catch up on my enormous cache of recorded TV shows and screw around on Facebook. It interferes with need to fold the enormous pile of laundry on the couch. I find that without the wine, I can still watch TV if I want but also do sit ups or other toning exercises. I think the wine also makes me sleep more soundly or something and its harder to wake up early.

Now, I don't like to get up too early, so some things have suffered. I have left the house to take my son to school and head off to work without drying my hair! And, I have also arrived at work a few times in a hat and sunglasses and put my make up on at my desk. But so what. I have to remember to keep my priorities in order, and the goal is to get moving in the morning. Also, since I have not had time to put together a lunch in the morning on a few occasions due to working out, I can use the time I am not relaxing on the couch with wine at night to make my lunch!

I am really digging Gabby Reece's website and her workouts that she posts. You should check it out! She even has a quick work out for when you are short on time and can't make it to the gym.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My New Inspiration

Consider me INSPIRED. I stumbled upon Gabby Reece's website recently, because I am a huge fan of her husband, big wave surfer Laird Hamilton. Let's just say he is a hottie. And amazing. I remember Gabby's volleyball days and I remember years ago hearing about how she married Laird and they have a couple of adorable daughters. They are fit,  healthy, and socially responsible people that I respect.  Not fake and phony Hollywood yahoos. In my quest for finding a way to "do it all" I found that Gabby's website is exactly what I am looking for. She blogs about being a Mom, daily frustrations, making fitness goals and eating healthy. Even better, she posts work outs - which are great because they are something different than what I usually do and so far have been things I can squeeze in at home while my kids are playing or sleeping.

I will never be 6 ft. tall, gorgeous and married to Laird Hamilton, but, someone as cool as Gabby making herself so accessible and so real is what I find inspiring. She deals with the same struggles we all do, and being beautiful and in shape and eating right while taking care of her family is just as challenging as it is for any one of us. I am having fun (and working hard) adding her work outs to my routine and look forward to trying her recipes as well.

Wishing you inspiration in your every day life.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

More Time Commitments? What?

MySpace Graphics

Ok, so my 4 year old started t-ball today. I am stoked for my boy to start getting involved in sports! But here it all begins...the time and financial commitments that I hear parents of older children groan about. Fortunately, for his age group the games are only on the weekends and there are no weekday practices. And, through the YMCA the cost is only $55. Believe me, I am not complaining yet, but the thought of what's to come is a little daunting. Next year, he will be in the league that practices once during the week and has a game on the weekends, and my little guy will be in the league that also has a game on the weekends - at a different time. It only goes on and up from there!

Fortunately, my husband is off on Saturdays. The field where my son plays t-ball is on the same block as my gym. Today, my husband, my 4 year old and my nearly 2 year old drove over to the field. I popped my toddler in the stroller and he went to the child care center at the gym - which is awesome by the way - while I went to work out. I may have felt a tad guilty for not being there to watch his first game, but not too much. See, my oldest tends to act differently, maybe  a bit more babyish around me and more needy since I'm his "nurturer". And, with his dad working so much I really felt that they needed this time together. And my baby, who doesn't go to preschool yet and doesn't see many friends beyond  a weekly music class he goes to really enjoys going there to play with new toys and new kids.

So actually, this is all working out to be quite a positive experience for everyone. And I have no excuses to miss my Saturday morning workouts, save the flu, since I can't blame my kids or family commitments. Since he doesn't start until 11, I am pretty sure there will be plenty of mornings that me and the little guy will leave early in our own car so I can work out and then watch t-ball afterwards. I am quite excited for the season!

What sports do your kids play? How do you juggle school, homework, practice, games and meals??

Friday, September 17, 2010

Focus on Fitness, Drop the Excuses

In the beginning of this year I was facing 40 and was determined to be a fabulous 40, not a frumpy 40. I think I've managed to do a decent job in many areas: I have paid more attention to the food I ingest than I ever had in my life. I don't think I have ever put so much attention on eating fruits, vegetables, whole wheat/grains, organic products and cut WAY down on my sugar. I have made a point to try to eliminate the processed food in my family's diet. I have paid way more attention to how we spend our money.  I have become far more concerned with the environment and reducing my carbon footprint, and finding new uses for things and recycling as much as possible. I do my best to eat locally grown products.

The one area that I have not excelled is my fitness regimen. I haven't failed, but not met my goals. It's hard because I have two kids and my husband works most nights. I get home, do dinner quickly, bathe them, read books, put them to bed and I'm lucky if I get to read some of my book, look at a magazine or watch a TV show. Frankly, by the time my kids are in bed, I don't feel like working out. I'm tired and I want to sit down. So the smart thing to do would be to get up early and work out before my kids get up. Naturally, although I have set my alarm several times to attempt this, it just hasn't happened more than a few times. When summer was in full swing we would go for a walk in the neighborhood some nights after dinner, which was great. But that meant to get the kids to bed on time they had to skip their bath. Ok to do occasionally, but not something I would plan to do several times a week!

I have been diligent about working out both days on the weekends. I run with a friend, hit the trail with youngest in the jogging stroller, and hit the gym. The last couple weeks I have managed to fit in one weekday work out. I am going to try to do two next week.

I would love to get up early before work and at least do some cardio. I do not wake up until 7 a.m., some would say that is sleeping in! I haven't had to get up earlier than 7 a.m. EVER, so my body is conditioned...When my oldest starts kindergarten next year he will have to be at school at 7:45, and my that will all change, so I might as well start prepping now. I just have a hard time getting out of bed when it is still dark outside. Stay tuned on my progress.

Run 12 miles per week
Do interval training workout on treadmill if having a rough day
Weight training 2x per week
Yoga 1x per week

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weekends Are SO Good and SO Short!

What is an ideal weekend to you? Some like to travel, go out to dinner, meet up with friends, go shopping, see a movie. Some like to do nothing. I think if it were up to my husband an ideal weekend would be one of no commitments. For me, I like a mix. I like to have non-commital weekends for the most part as well, but it is nice to have special events to look forward to also.  I love getting up at my leisure (or when my kids wake me up, which is what usually happens), enjoying breakfast with my family, working out both days, and going to the Farmer's Market on Saturday. I like to spend some time reading my book of the moment, and perusing my magazines for organizational ideas and recipes. Usually at least once a month there is a playdate in there somewhere, a date night with the hubby, birthday parties for my kid's friends, going out with other couples/friends, and all of that keeps us pretty busy.  My family usually gets together for dinner on parents, Grandpa, Aunt and Uncle and us...and that is how we end our weekend.

I try not to keep all my errands for the weekend. During the week at work I will often run out things here and there, even to get grocery items I need or diapers at Costco. Being a full time working mom is hard, and I cherish my weekends and want to spend them relaxing and doing things I enjoy. During the week, although I have the help of my Mom and MIL to watch my kids in my home, they both have a long drive home from my house, and I have a heinous commute, so that leaves me no time to do anything after work unless I ask them to stay as a special favor beforehand. Fortunately, I have a Target and a Walmart a stone's throw from my house, so its easy to build in stops there on our way to or from somewhere. As I have posted before, when I am pressed for time I fit in my "exercise" by running there with my son. A Mom's gotta do what a Mom's gotta do.

I do enjoy getting outta dodge regularly. It is in my blood. If I don't go out of town I start to feel antsy, and even depressed. Sometimes its not an actual over night trip but a day trip that does the trick. This weekend we had a fun-filled day at the Capitola At & Wine Festival. It was pretty crowded, but it was at the beach. So my family and I could not have had a better time, we took turns going to get the tastes of wine, while the other played on the beach with our sons. We are pretty sure we were not supposed to have our wine glasses on the beach, but no one stopped us and we saw some other folks doing it too. So that made it ok.  ha ha

I exercised both days, fit the Farmer's Market in, and had no errands to run. My husband promised my 4 year old a toy they saw a week ago, and since they were going to get it I had him pick up what I needed. How lucky am I?! I am grateful to have had such a great weekend since my 22 mo. old was supposed to have surgery on Friday and we originally planned to be housebound all weekend but it got postponed. That just left me with nothing to do but take advantage and relish in all the good things my life has to offer.

Did you have a good weekend? How do you usually spend your days off? Are your kids in sports? My 4 yr old is starting T-ball next weekend and I am so excited for him!

Friday, September 10, 2010

My Milk Plan

Crazy - I read in the news today that milk is being recalled in 5 Northeast states for failed pasteurization. If its not one thing its another! I've been thinking a lot about milk lately - organic vs. regular, hormones, and milk alternatives for my family. I stumbled upon this great article in the Huffington Post that was brief and very informative for your average joe (like me). I think I am at peace with my new plan. I will buy organic milk for my kids. Although I hate the price, I feel it's very worth it. And for myself I will buy organic almond milk. I had never thought about the fact that the shelf life of almond, as well as soy and rice milk is much longer than regular milk which is another nice benefit. My hubby will likely just drink what I buy for the kids. It's so hard to decide when there are so many choices, but I am glad I did some research and feel good about my Milk Plan.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Saving the Earth One Baggie at a Time!

When I stop and think about some of the changes I have made over the last 6-9 months, I almost can't believe it myself. If you had told me in the beginning of this year that I would be quitting my favorite non-dairy creamer that I have been addicted to for the last 15 years, I'd say you were crazy. If you had told me 9 months ago and I would be quitting diet soda after 20 years of nearly daily enjoyment of the sweet, syrupy fizz, I'd say you were lying. If you had told me that I would be diligently bringing my healthy lunch to work with me every day after years of spending way too much money on lunches out while on the job in outside sales...I'd laugh. But folks, I have done it. I am getting my act together and grocery shopping specifically for items for my lunch, and giving myself enough time in the morning to put it together. Geesh, I almost sound like a grownup!

I have really been trying to cut down on my use of plastic baggies but had a major lapse when I started bringing my lunch to work all the time. I was typically using a bag for a sandwich, a bag for some carrot sticks and another for chips. Then, maybe another for blueberries, strawberries or grapes, when I didn't bring a solid fruit like an apple or nectarine. I decided that when finished this last box of baggies, that I was going to have to change my habits. I've seen some cute reusable sandwich wrappers and such, but haven't decided yet if that's the way to go.

For now, I have decided to use small reusable, plastic, sealed containers. My lunch today contained NO baggies. The downside is that they take up more room than baggies, and I have to take them home to wash them. I'm sure that when both of my sons are in school full time, I am probably not going to want to deal with it! But at least for now I don't have that post-lunch guilt that I had when I was throwing 3+ baggies in the trash.

What type of containers do you use to bring your lunch to work or pack your kids lunches for school?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pop! Goes The Potato!

Lays, we have had quite a love affair...but sorry to say I have moved on. I see your shiny yellow bag on the shelf and I just keep walking. Over the last few months I have been buying these yummy Pop Chips to bring to work for lunch. They are all natural , with no preservatives and a perfect compliment to my sandwich. One serving is 23 chips, way more than I ever eat at one sitting, and only 120 calories! 4 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein and no sugar. The sodium is 280 mg (12%) and 20 g of carbs. They are not fried or baked...they are popped with heat and pressure. Don't know how they do it but I sure like the results. They taste so good! For me to change after decades of the yellow bag...these must really be something!

Have you tried these yummy chips? I really don't miss the grease. What do you think?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Milk and Hormones Don't Mix!

I'm pretty disturbed about the stuff that I'm reading about milk these days. Dairies are using growth hormones to increase milk production in cows. The FDA says its safe, although several nations have banned the use of these hormones. What's interesting is that the cows that are given these hormones have a 50% higher instance of fetal loss, ovarian cysts, infertility, etc., according to a study by the Center for Food Safety. I just can't imagine none of this would filter down to us.

I don't consume that much milk myself, maybe a 1/2 cup with cereal here and there. But I think about my kids! My 21 mo. old drinks about 24 ounces a day or more. There is a recent news story in Time Magazine about the early onset of puberty of girls in China, with fully developed breasts and vaginal bleeding, even in infants and toddlers. Tainted formula may be to blame, as these children tested for abnormally high hormone levels. While I am sure the standards for food safety are much lower in China, I still can't stop thinking about what the risks are of ingesting even smaller levels of growth hormones here in the US.

I think what really bothers me the most is that I would love to buy organic milk all the time. But at $6.00 a gallon its just not affordable for someone like me who goes through at least 3 gallons a week. Sure, I could buy organic milk at the cost of cutting out something else. But I just think that Americans should be entitled to food and drink that we can trust will be healthy and good for us. I know organic products are more expensive because they are made by smaller operations that aren't subsidized by the government...but it just seems backwards to me!

I finally did bring myself to watch Food, Inc. this past weekend. I was aware of a lot of the issues on a general scale, but not to the extent as described in the movie. I have to say I was profoundly affected by it. Corporate involvement has changed the way we eat, by "engineering" our food in such a way that creates more profit. Feeding chickens hormones that make them grow faster so they can produce more supply, giving them bigger breasts because Americans prefer more white meat. And don't even get me started on the beef. You'll have to watch the movie, or even better yet, read the book if you really want to know the truth. I just want to get back to the basics. My plan will be to grow most of my own vegetables, or support local farmers. The money I save on growing my own can go toward the purchase of organic milk because I just won't buy a cow! I have greatly reduced the meat consumption in our household, partially for financial reasons, partially for health reasons. I would like to find a local farmer that sells beef and poultry. I didn't think there would be so many, but if it interests you, check out this site: Eat Wild to find one near you.

I'm not standing up on a soapbox giving any lectures because I'll be the first to admit I'm not qualified in any way, shape or form. I just think most people don't really realize where the food they eat comes from and how its made. All of us lead very busy lives and probably don't even have time to think about it. Knowledge is power and I just don't think anyone out there would truly prefer NOT to know.

What are your thoughts about chemicals and hormones in our food supply? How do you feel about eating locally grown food?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Black Beans in the Crock Pot

I know, its still summer and I'm talking about the crock pot.  Well, here in Northern CA the weather had been a bit cool for the last week or so. With school about to start soon, and the foggy mornings, I was starting to fear that summer was truly over! Turns out warmer weather is on tap for the rest of this week so I'll get some pool time in with my family.

I do usually associate the crock pot with the fall and winter months. I love to make stews, chili, soups...and have started to branch out and experiment with some other non-typical crock pot fare. But this summer, after going back to work full time in an office, I have really struggled with dinner. My husband works most nights so its usually just me,  my preschool-age son and toddler. Sometimes the kids are really hungry if I end up stuck in traffic and I'm racing to throw something together quickly. I really want to start using my crock pot now that summer is coming to an end and the barbecque will be used a little less. This way, the kids can start eating right when I get home instead of having to wait.

Tonight was the first time I have used my crock pot since last winter. I decided to make a simple side dish of black beans which can accompany more than one meal this week, and my husband can take some to work with him. Black beans are really good for you. They are full of fiber, protein and antioxidants. And they are so easy to make!

If you are on a budget, the smartest thing to do is buy dry beans in a bag. Not only are you saving money by doing this, but saving yourself from all the sodium typically associated with canned food. All you need to do is soak your beans over night in a large bowl with twice the volume of water as beans. The next morning just drain the water and pick out any that have split open, remove any "rocks" or otherwise disfigured looking beans. Now if you are short on supplies, you can honestly make these with nothing but water. Just put the beans in the crock pot, set it on the low/8 hr setting, cover the beans with water up to 2 inches over the bean line, cover and walk away.

Knowing that is all that is required you can pretty much add anything you like to your beans, and unless it is something off the wall you can't mess them up. Here is what I did, based on what I had in my pantry:

1 chopped yellow onion
1 small can of diced green chiles
swap out 2 cups of the water I put over the beans in the crock pot with chicken broth

Set, cover and walk away.

In the past I have also swapped out the 2 cups of water with a Mexican beer such as Negro Modelo or Dos Equis. I have also added cooked bacon or chopped, cooked ham to taste. Another tasty additive - chopped fresh tomatoes. Can also be yummy served with some Monterey Jack cheese, a dollop of fat free sour cream and a few sliced olives sprinkled on top. Enjoy!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Carpe Diem!

Ok, its Friday! I want you to really ENJOY your weekend. Don't wait until tomorrow, start enjoying today. Too often we get fixated on finances, rushing our children from here to there, running errands, planning meals, not to mention succeeding at our jobs outside the home and dealing with stress related to that...we forget to  appreciate our children's laughter, how brightly the sun is shining and how fresh the air smells and the new veggies growing in your garden.

You may be wondering what I put in my Cheerios this morning. I'm just a little affected (ok, a LOT affected) by some recent deaths and illnesses around me. I have been under a lot of stress over the last 2 years because of this horrible economy...and when I've had some moments of clarity I've said, "At least I have my health." But I am realizing more and more health is not something to take for granted.  There are people who seemingly do all the "right" things - work hard all their lives, stay out of trouble, eat right, exercise,  treat their loved ones well - and they seem to get the raw end of the deal. They unfairly get terrible illnesses or have unfortunate accidents and get taken from us too soon.

 When it's your time to go, it's your time and there is nothing you can do to control it. A lot of the time, you don't see it coming. That's why you have to live every day like you could go any time. Not to do anything crazy. Just make sure the people you love know you love them. Make sure you have said all you need to say. Make sure your affairs are in order - stop putting off doing a will!  But mostly, stop obsessing about all the bad stuff. Half of the things I dwell on won't matter when I'm gone. Traffic, being late, did so-and-so like their gift, was dinner cooked too long. Really - wouldn't you rather spend your time relaxing in the sunshine and watching your kids play, or meet a close friend for a drink? Hug a loved one, read a good book, leave the dusting and vacuuming for another day, and have another glass of wine or an extra helping of dessert simply because it tastes good. :)