Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On Holiday... See You Next Year!!!

There aren't many bentos to be packed when we are on holiday! So we'll see you next year, when school is back in session.

Delightfully Over The Top Christmas Lights, It's Our Tradition



Every year, we load up in the car and hit our favorite neighborhood to view Christmas lights displays. This one house in particular always has the most over the top displays, which I tried to capture. Moving window displays, a choo-choo train, Santa sitting at the formally set dining room table, reindeers on the roof and in the yard! Enjoy.

Sorry for the audio, I put the music track over to distract from my chatting. Yes, I do say Baby Chuckie up in the window, in case you are wondering.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Gift For You, Organic and Delightful Steaz Iced Teaz

Let's not beat around the bush, I am a TEA FANATIC. Hot, cold, iced, spiced, sweet, unsweetened, plain, organic, black, white, green, chai, on and on... Tea, I love tea. Only problem with many ready to serve tea products on the market is that they are full of the stuff I loathe, high fructose corn syrup.

But a product I've been enjoying from Whole Foods Market, Steaz Iced Teaz is now available at Target! Can I get a hallelujah! We all know how often I'm at the big red store, so when I found out I could buy Steaz there I was beyond thrilled.
Steaz sent me a box of their canned iced teas for free, containing Green Tea with Peach, Green Tea with Blueberry Pomegranate Acai, and White Tea with Lime and Pomegranate.

Why do I love Steaz?

Before the tea arrived, I was already a Steaz fan. I'm a person that chooses to lightly sweeten my tea, when I make it at home. Typically I find that I have to brew my own tea to make iced tea because believe it or not, I like the flavor of tea and many times that gets lost in commercial brands. Steaz really sets itself apart in the flavor level. They understand the delicate balance that needs to compliment a tea leaf. Their tea is made from Fair Trade Certified tea leaves, which means the farmers are paid at fair living wages so they can compete in the global marketplace.

Ingredients make the difference. When the beverage you drink contains natural antioxidants, sweeteners that balance out the flavors not overpower it, and gentle aromas from fruits it just tastes better. For me, I feel better.

Even better, one winner will receive a free box of tea from Steaz! If you don't win, you can also print out a buy one get one free coupon for target here. Really everyone is a winner!

How to enter:
Share with me your favorite kind of tea in a comment below!

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Contest Rules:
1. Contest open from 12/22-12/29! Comments will close when the contest has ended.
2. 12/29 I will send out an email to the winner, you will have 48 hours to respond to my email.
3. I will need your name and address, to provide to Steaz, who will directly ship to you!
4. Comments that don't meet the criteria (response to my question) will be deleted.
5. You may enter as many times as you like!
6. If you don't have a blogger/open id account, please leave a valid email address in your comment for me to contact you .
7. One winner will be chosen at random, by random.org from the total number of eligible entries.
8. Good luck!

photo from Steaz flickr group

My Gift For You, Escape The Holiday Music Doldrums With Some Help From Dan Zanes!!!

One day about five years ago I found myself driving in my car, all alone. About ten minutes into my drive, it hit me, I was listening to my daughter's music. In my car alone. In that moment I felt silly, but it was a glimpse into how important it is to like the music you play for your children!

Right about now, I'm assuming we've all had it up to our ears with holiday music. Holiday music in the car, in the house, on the iPod, in the stores, at the doctor's office, in the bathroom of the grocery store. Holiday music, holiday music. Well, I've met my holiday music threshold. I know a couple of you haven't met your holiday music threshold, but soon enough you'll be looking for new music to fill the void.

A couple of weeks ago, a package arrived on my doorstep. It contained NEW MUSIC! We all know Dan Zanes, he's the bridge between music we love and our children love even more. The new 76 Trombones cd features songs from Broadway. There are certain parts of our day, that I find myself reaching for Dan Zanes' music to give my day a pick me up. 4 pm, we've had snack, the house is a total mess out of no where, I need to start dinner. The girls want to be zombies in front of the television, but I tell them no such luck. I pop in 76 Trombones and before I know it, the girls and I are dancing on our tip toes, spinning and twirling as we pick up wooden blocks and toss them with the beat into a basket. Dan Zanes, saves the day once again.

In the package with the cd, was a new dvd (with a bonus cd) called Dan Zanes and friends, The Fine Friends Are Here! It's a live show from Brooklyn, NY! YouTube teaser here! I love having the option to pop in a dvd of a live performance for the girls. About once or twice a year, we seek out hard to find kids concerts to bring the girls to. Now we can bring the experience into our home, which I adore. After popping the dvd in, my living room seems to be instantly transformed into a dance hall.

Great news, along with my copies of Dan Zanes new cd and dvd, Festival Five Records have offered up 2 sets for my readers!

So leave a comment below and tell me what you already love about Dan Zanes music or why you would love to win a cd/dvd combo of your own!
Two winners will be chosen at random.

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Contest Details:
1. Contest open from 12/22-12/29! Comments will close when the contest has ended.
2. 12/29 I will send out an email to the 2 winners, you will have 48 hours to respond to my email.
3. I will need your name and address, to provide to FFR, who will directly ship to the winners!
4. Comments that don't meet the criteria (response to my question) will be deleted.
5. You may enter as many times as you like!
6. If you don't have a blogger/open id account, please leave a valid email address for me to contact you.
7. Two winners will be chosen at random, by random.org from the total number of eligible entries.
8. Good luck!

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Fine print:
Festival Five Records, sent me the advance copy of the cd/dvd combo for us to enjoy. They also graciously offered up two sets as a giveaway to you!

Friday, December 18, 2009

I'm Not Burning My Bra, But Mesmerize Me With Women's Wisdom

Over the past year, one of the most tender subjects I've touched upon here is my friendships. I wrote a post back in April called, Having The Courage To Say What's Missing. Really I was throwing myself a little pity party, but those feelings needed to be expressed. Today, when I sit here and think about my friends, I feel grateful. I feel content that they have all come into my life at various stages, but have amazingly stuck by me.

A few weeks ago I was asked to join a women's group. Quite simply put it's a gathering of 10 women (9 of which were strangers to me), kind of like book club with out the pressure to read a book. Heck, I've been in book clubs and the majority of the time we just wanted to talk about everything BUT the book. For me the women's group was an opportunity to experience something new, take a bit of a leap of faith and put myself out there to see what the group would be and feel like. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect.

I'm happy I did.

I believe now, after just two meetings, that women have a beautiful sense of wisdom when we allow ourselves the opportunity to share from an authentic place. It's a wisdom that feels like a warm hug, even with women you hardly even know. Then of course having deep conversations poses the question, how much do my friends know about me? We all have friends in our life that can handle our shit (like the true shit), some that can handle a version of our shit, and some that really only want your put together game face. Those words I say from a purely non-judgmental place. Now that I've gathered some perspective on my ability to be open with my friends, I recognize I need them in those ways that they have developed in friendship with me.

Creating space.

Many people may say, gosh I wouldn't go near a room with ten women working through their issues, whether it be something happening in the now that is more than likely fleeting or an ongoing problem we've grappled with our entire lives. That feeling never really crossed my mind. Truly, I have to tap back into the wisdom I spoke of. Sitting, listening, feeling other's emotions, offering our perspective with thoughts from our own experience is pure wisdom.

How words influence me.

The conversations that have transpired, whether it be prompted by me or not, have impacted my everyday reality. I feel more nourished. I don't feel so much longing for what I don't have. I know beating myself up about the house being unkept or the perfect long and lean body I want, is not the right space for me to bring about change. I realize that a little bit of self nurturing can bring about a wave of renewal, I never quite anticipated.

Wow.

Now, those moments in a phone conversation with girlfriends, emails, or a simple text have more longevity in my heart. I feel gratitude they are on this journey with me. I feel gratitude that I can embrace the wisdom from other women with not having to judge. Best of all, I feel gratitude for letting go of what my mind created a perfect friend should be, because all of my girlfriends have given a piece to me that helps make my life more complete.

I hope you all know, you mean the world to me. That is gratitude in wisdom.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

You Bento, But What About All This Stuff?

There comes that day for everyone who loves to pack bentos, where am I going to put all this stuff? Yes, the upside to packing bentos far surpasses the downsides, but organization is the key to successful bentoing.

See this drawer to the left? I have three very oversized utensil/silverware drawers in my kitchen. They allow me the luxury of storing items out of sight, that would typically be displayed on counter tops. I like that, it keeps my kitchen feeling harmonious. Only problem is, the bento accessories have taken over. This particular drawer is the one I use most often, the left side divider once contained our every day go to utensils. Slowly over time (since August) the bento items started to creep in. Cookie cutters, silicone cups, and picks are the main culprits. They are bento items I use every single day, I like to have them at my finger tips. But stealing my coveted utensil spot, not so much. This drawer is on my to-do list. Will update when I get to it.

I keep up above my kitchen cabinets, the actual bento boxes in a white tub. I have a surplus of Hello Kitty boxes that I picked up at a dollar store a few years ago, they were a real find! They aren't my first choice when packing a lunch, but sometimes their shape makes them the best choice. I know we'll out grow this tub soon, but I love the ease of being able to pull it out and have all the bentos in open view. It's funny how some meals work perfectly for a particular shape and sometimes the bento I want to use just isn't the best choice.

The blue bento is labeled, "access". That's the box I keep very small and easily lost bento accessories. See in the photo to the left. These are my highly coveted items that my husband has brought back from Japan. Living in Colorado it's very hard to find all these special little bottles, picks, dividers, and sauce holders. I have to make sure I keep them under wraps and organized.

To me, it's what sets my lunch packing apart. The little touches make it feel more special.

Wordless Wednesday: Pure Gratitude

100% of the credit for capturing this moment goes to the gracious, Gwen Bell

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

When The Universe Is Your Cheerleader, You Can't Ignore It...

There are pros and cons to celebrating your birthday just two short weeks before one of the biggest gift giving holidays of the season. Con, at some point gifts evolve from birthday presents to Merry Christmas/Happy Birthday presents. Friends and family no longer decide to dig out cute polka dot paper for your gift, they use left over Santa paper. But with age, I've come to accept a December birthday as a blessing.

Why? The blessing of reflection.

I personally recognize birthdays as milestones. With milestones, one has the ability to take a moment to reflect upon the year that has passed. For me, I wondered if I accomplished meaningful things this past year, have I been kind and lived a conscious life? Then on the flip side, when blowing out the candles, hopes and wishes for the year ahead come rushing into my mind. Having a few weeks jump start on the New Year, I can begin working through my goals early, honing in on where to focus my energy come January 1st.

On Saturday, I was given the opportunity to blow out the candles on a beautiful cake. That day, leading up to the blowing out of the candles, I felt so much gratitude. I was in a beautiful art gallery, surrounded by girlfriends that I've met through various stages of my life. One of my oldest and dearest friends growing up was in the room, the girlfriends that arrived moments after giving birth to my hospital room, the girlfriends that have seen me with unwashed hair and a milk stained t-shirt over the course of my entry into motherhood, not once but twice. There were also girlfriends there that have only seen me with my best game face on. But the bottom line is, they all showed up that day for me. Just saying that, leaves me feeling so grateful.
I was asked to become a brand enthusiast for Nintendo. Part of the opportunity as a brand enthusiast is to have a Wii Fit Plus Party with a group of girlfriends. I kind of chuckle thinking how my life has come full circle. I loved Super Mario Brothers when I was growing up, even though ironically enough my family didn't own a Super Nintendo gaming system. My neighbors put up with me and my love for SMB morning, noon, and well into the night. Last October, I wrote about the girl that could save the princess. My husband and I have never owned a gaming system that quite spoke to me like the Super Nintendo of my childhood. After looking at my brand new Wii Fit in the box for a week, then being in the right place at the right time, we finally purchased a Wii for the family.

Recently Nintendo released the Wii Fit Plus. I personally think they should have called it the Wii Fit PLUS! in bold lettering with an exclamation point. The updates to the Wii Fit software are fabulous. Want to fit in a quick workout after overindulging, just simply click the routine that is programmed right into the software for you. Have family members that like to play together (even my 3 year old loves to try), simply click into multi-user mode and voile, no more clicking through the menus endless times. The four of us play after dinner and boy does time fly when your having fun! It all happens so seamlessly with the Wii Fit Plus.

Which brings me back to the universe. When I recognize the gratitude in my life, there's no denying the universe is my cheerleader. I've been struggling with about 15-20 pounds since giving birth 3 years ago. Sometimes the weight melts off when I least expect it and other times, I wonder who shrunk my jeans. Being 5'11" gives me the advantage of my weight fluctuating about 5-10 pounds really unnoticed, but I notice. I want to be slimmer. I want to feel healthy and have the glow of a woman that takes time to care for her body (as much as I care for my family). Becoming active has been a priority for me, that waxes and wanes. You can read more in my attempting to move posts. I feel like the Wii Fit Plus and the opportunity to become a brand enthusiast, is the gentle nudge I needed to focus on my goals. The beauty of the Wii Fit Plus for me, is that it's right here in my home, which is where I spend my days with my 3 year old. No need for babysitters, my husband to get home early to take care of the girls, nice weather, or money from my family budget. It also means no more excuses Denise, it's time to be the best you can be.

I can feel the motivation that exists from with in. Taking that motivation to the next step with fitness tools, is what will make 2010 (I'll be saying Twenty Ten) a year to remember. The year 15 or 20 pounds to lose becomes a thing of the past.

Fit and toned body, watch out I am coming to get you!!!

Look at that post-party glow...
On a side note, I have a very exciting opportunity to share with you within the next week or so. The details are being worked out, so please make sure to subscribe in reader, via email, or come by every few days. I promise it's the best opportunity from Eat Play Love yet!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

It's My Birthday & I Request A Do-Over...

Saturday I hosted a party, unlike any other party I've ever hosted. Details will be coming soon on my little gathering, trust met it deserves it's own post. I had a wonderful time. I laughed, smiled, and felt overjoyed to be able to hang out with my girlfriends, that have never gathered in one location together. This gathering made me grateful to have so many caring and generous women in my life.

There was even a surprise birthday cake for me, it tasted even better than it looked:
After my gathering and the girls went to sleep, I plopped on the couch and watched a little television. I kept my eye on the clock. It was getting later and later, but I had to make it to the toy store before closing. After some mental coaxing, I made myself presentable and headed out to the toy store. Truly it was the last place I wanted to be, but I needed to get in on the last day of sales they were offering. The toy store was worse than I anticipated, dirty, crushed toys in their boxes, some out of boxes, trash everywhere, abandoned full carts, crying children, and zombified parents. I kept telling myself in and out, easy peasy.

Good news is, I acquired the items I set out for. Bad news is, I started to feel a bit gassy while shopping. By the time I got home, I had a full blown stomach ache. I got over my disdain for antacid tabs and took two. I drank water. I moaned like a big baby. The gas, pressure, and uneasy feeling was getting worse. Sparing you the details, by 1am I was getting physically sick. I probably didn't get comfortable enough to get to sleep until 2:30am.

Morning arrived faster than I expected. Sigh. J let me sleep in, I think I finally opened my eyes at 9:15! Woo hoo... My stomach ache was gone, but I felt like I had been through the ringer. The big plans for the day, which included a trip to Denver to a restaurant I've been wanting to eat at for years, was postponed. I couldn't bring myself to leave the house, no less go out to eat. Eww, eww, eww.

But it's my Birthday!

So instead, I spent the day being a sloth. I was either on the couch lounging or in bed. My husband was absolutely caring and met my requests. I wanted the laptop in my bedroom, so he gathered up the modem and made it happen. I was able to get through my reader, yeah! I even had some uninterrupted time to read Nie Nie's feature called Climbing Back. Her story made me feel hope and grateful, especially on my birthday which is a wonderful time to reflect on life.

J was disappointed he didn't get to make the lavish breakfast he had shopped in advance for. Instead, I had a glass of water on our bamboo food tray, served appropriately enough in bed. Although I am happy to report, he did get to cook me risotto, which is one of the meals I love for him to prepare. By the time dinner rolled around, risotto was a perfect meal. I gobbled up dinner, having eaten just a few slices of bread all day.

No cake for me.

But it's my Birthday!

Now, I'm laying here thinking, I can request a do-over, it's my Birthday! I want the breakfast in bed, the cake made by J and the girls. I want to do our traditional drive around town to see the houses decorated in Christmas lights, sipping a cup of hot chai. I definitely want the rain check for lunch in Denver. Next Sunday has do-over written all over it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Date, Some Toy Shopping, and Disappointment...

My husband and I had a babysitter last weekend, Woohoo! So we decided to go Christmas shopping, BooHoo! Just kidding. Although things didn't quite turn out as I planned.

I'm over at Rocky Mountain Moms Blog sharing what happened...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: My Anthropologie Boots One Year Later, oh how I love thee...

*This post was not sponsored by Anthropologie, but I would be open to any freebies they would like to throw at me. I'll write all day and night for Anthro.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Frozen Windshield Washer Fluid, Really Is a Dilemma...

Have you ever been overly consumed with something so menial that you actually wrote a blog post about it? I'm sure I have explored menial topics over the past couple of years. But the last few days have been rough because of a little problem I'm having. Okay maybe it's not little, for you see I can't let it go.

Consumed to the next level...

In case you live in a lovely part of the country where it's not freezing out, hello it's
currently below ZERO. Unlike typical Colorado weather where it's snowy and cold for a couple of days, maybe three tops, the cold just doesn't seem to be going away. Cold and snow for well over a week now. No warm Colorado sunshine melting the snow, warming the house, warming my spirit. It's fine, I'm not really here to complain about the temperature, I'm here to complain about something much more urgent.

Windshield Washer Fluid

That blue stuff you pick up for a buck at the gas station, it helps keep your windows clean. Windshield washer fluid helps keep your vehicle safely on the road by maintaining a level of cleanliness that's essential to driving. Clean windshields are especially important during crucial moments on snowy ice packed roads, icy splashback from the car in front of you, or light precipitation mixed with the previous two conditions. Only problem is, when it freezes like a big ol' hunk of ice in your windshield washer fluid tank, it does you absolutely no good.

Well, it does drive you bonkers. But that's not good right?

Like any intelligent woman, I googled "how to unfreeze windshield washer fluid". Oh trust me there are a plethora of suggestions, but none of which allowed me to solve my problem. Thanks google. I can put my car in the garage, but I will be the first to admit it's not much warmer in there and that would also mean juggling all sorts of random stuff around to actually fit my car in there. Which doesn't seem appealing when the end result (melted w/w fluid) may not be attainable. I may have used a hair dryer on the blue hunka-hunka frozen fluid, until I felt like a total ass and ran inside hoping no neighbors saw me.

Instead, I just think about solving the problem morning, noon, and night. I ask my friends on twitter. No luck. Although I did entertain some interesting suggestions.

For the meantime, until the temperatures rise to melt my blue w/w fluid ice block, I'm avoiding the highway. My school commute to pick up Sj has been lengthened and well, we've decided to enjoy the view. The cows sure are pretty in one big clump, trying to stay warm from each other's body heat. That's why they are snuggling right?

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The Update:
Due to the overwhelming search driven response to this post I'd like to share how my dilemma was solved. The car dealership. My Highlander was overdue for an oil change. Just from my vehicle sitting in the work bay all morning, it unthawed miraculously on it's own. Of course within 24 hours, it warmed up above freezing.

Now it's only full of the high test pink stuff. So if you are desperate, go get an oil change. Some place that takes way too long for a simple task. It might just do the trick.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Returning Home, Fingers Crossed...

Finally, it's happening. My husband and I are taking our girls back to upstate New York to visit our families. Our youngest who is about to celebrate her third birthday has never made the trip back. The last time I was upstate she was in my belly. Incredible how the time flies.

Quite honestly during the winter is not my ideal time to visit New York. Summer is my ideal time, but this summer the airplane tickets were astronomical. Like so expensive that I could fly to Europe for cheaper. Random airlines, downturn in economy, jack up prices? We kept our search up, trying to work school schedules and my husband's work schedule, the stars aligned and we found decently priced tickets. Hooray!

We're already planning what we are going to do. We've got catching up to do. Three years is a long time and to think my daughter hasn't met the majority of our family, that's the hard part of living 1,800 miles away. I feel grateful that my parents come to visit about three times a year, so we won't be starting anew with everyone. It gets complicated like most families, but I just want it to be for them. I told J, this trip is for our girls. For them to see and know our childhood homes, have sleepovers with their cousins, make pizza in Nana's kitchen, get an ice cream sundae at Friendly's, and allow their grandparents to just enjoy the time of being with them. I envision book reading, game nights, movie time, lots of hugs, bouncing on laps, and tons of giggles. There will be big meals, running around, and a trip to Bella Napoli (Italian Bakery). J and I will even slip away for a night to New York City. We need it more than you can imagine. I know the time will fly by.

Fingers crossed we have mild weather for flying. Fingers crossed we have huge embraces and the time that has passed with our family will just seem like months ago, rather than years. Fingers crossed we can all remember that even though we are far apart for the majority of the year, we all love one another and can celebrate the precious time we have together. Fingers crossed it won't be another three years until we make it back. Fingers crossed our daughters will just melt their hearts and they'll decide they want to come spend more time with us in Colorado.

Fingers crossed...

Hot Bento: Mac N Cheese, Carrot Flowers, Pirate's Booty, & Red Peppers

This week started slowly. An entire week of break is a transition to bounce back from. Lucky for me, my husband has been packing Sj's lunch each morning. Which means, I don't have photos for posts. I think I need to get him on board, so we can have the "Dad Bento" perspective. He does a great job making a typical lunch and I am grateful for the help when I'm not back into the swing of things.

When I was cutting out the carrot flowers this morning, my daughter mentioned how she loves the creativity I put into her lunches (aka dad's been on duty all week). Really to cut out some flowers isn't very difficult. I will admit using the Japanese cutters I found made a huge difference. The flower cutters went right through the carrots like butter! As always, I put the carrot remains on the girls' plates with their breakfast. The gobbled them up first. Funny to think most people would discard them.
To accompany her carrot flowers, I cut up some red peppers. I added a small cup of Pirate's Booty, which I buy at Costco in the industrial size two packs. For a special treat I added some panda cookies, that are filled with chocolate from our local Asian Supply Store. The bento I used today is one typically reserved for my husband, but our daughter forgot her hot insulated bento yesterday! This was a first for her. So I am hoping to get a report that the stainless steel bento in an insulated lunch bag did keep somewhat warm.
As I write this, I realize I forgot a spoon. Oops...I'm sure I'll definitely hear about that today.

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Disclosure: As I have shared in the past, I have not been paid or sent free products, which were mentioned in this post. I simply like to share the choices I make for my family, as we try to eat healthy and as organic as possible.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bento Less Breaks, Whimsical Muffin Tin Meals At Home!

During school breaks, like last week, I didn't pack any bentos. Although I do occasionally make lunch or dinner in cupcake/muffin tins for my daughters. It's a refreshing change to see everything in little cups. They are a big fan of it and it makes dinner/lunch just a bit more whimsical for them. In the past I've also used ice cube trays as an alternative, it provides many small options which is perfect for a picky eater. Give muffin tin meals a try at home, surprise your kids. In turn they may just surprise you with their eating!

Wordless Wednesday: Man's Best Friend's Best Friends...