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!