Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday Tips: Say Goodbye to Non-Stick Coated Pans Forever! Safe Alternatives.

For years we used non-stick frying pans in our home. It was only one frying pan that we'd replace at early signs of flaking or too much wear. For some reason we falsely believed there weren't true alternatives.  I was delighted when the trend turned "Green" a few years ago and a new line of pans was introduced that boasted their PFOA/PTFE (a known carcinogen that must be removed by 2015) free coating. I remember how disappointed I was when that pan stopped being non-stick in less than a month. I thought, that's it we just need to move on from non-stick.

The problem is, we just don't know how safe non-stick cooking surfaces are. Of course our friends at DuPont want us to believe there is no risk to our health. DuPont is also the same company that was fined for hiding data on the toxicity of PFOA and for contaminating the Ohio River and the water drinking supply near it's plant in West Virginia. The Environmental Working Group, a source I heavily trust, has done plenty of research on non-stick cookware. You can find more information here and here. There are many other sources available, you just have to do your own research and decide what's best for your family. I will strongly advise if your non-stick coating doesn't work like it once did or if it is flaking off in parts, please remove it from your home. It's no longer a solid surface and poses a higher risk of exposure to toxins.

We only used our non-stick for eggs and pancakes. I say only lightly, I tried for quite sometime to convince my husband we had to let go. Finally we have agreed on these alternatives and they have been serving my family now for about a year, just perfectly. For us, investing in our kitchen pots and pans has been something we've done over the years. We didn't run out and drop $500 on pans. We've found investing in quality pans is a lifetime investment. There's no running out twice a year to replace a LeCreuset or All Clad pan, their quality is superior.  I purchased the last of our collection, the LeCreuset reversible griddle/grill pan at the outlet we have close by for over 50% off retail. Truly I wish we never wasted money having to replace non-stick pans when they wore out, I wish we just invested in one quality pan that would last a lifetime in our kitchen. I will admit, I have found a few of our LeCreuset pans at a TJMaxx/Marshalls and occasionally you will find All Clad there. I say jump on the deal if you see them.


Le Creuset griddle/grill reversible pan, all you have to do is flip it. I love when one pan has 2 uses! It has become our egg and pancake pan, obviously meats on the griddle as well! It is made of porcelain enameled cast iron. LeCreuset has been producing pans in France since 1925. The pan cooks incredibly evenly and slowly heats over time. We love it!


We have two All Clad stainless steel frying pans, the bottom one is a 14 inch. Nesting in it is our All Clad Omelette pan, it will fry two eggs at once.  I simply use a quick spray of cooking oil and fried eggs come out perfect, proving you don't have to use a ton of oil to successfully cook in stainless pans. Sometimes I run into issues when trying to fry something like breakfast sausage in my stainless pans, it's better served in the oven or on the griddle pan. The best thing about these stainless steel pans is that they always come clean with a little elbow grease.

To the right is one of my favorite pans. It's a LeCreuest 5qt Braiser. This pan is perfect for meals that need a little stove top precooking with a finishing off in the oven. It is also a cast iron enameled pan.

Now, we are a non-stick free home with those 4 pans. I no longer have to worry if we are releasing toxic chemicals into the air or adding unknown carcinogens to our cooked food. I must admit, there is something magical about using pans that have historically been found in the kitchens of so many culinary  inspirations, such as Julia Childs.

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Please note, Tuesday Tips are never sponsored posts. They are just simple tips I like to share from my home to yours. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Join Us In Giving Books To Read Baby C in The NICU



As many of you know, Carmen @GranolaMom went in for a scheduled cesarian on Thursday April 14th, to deliver her baby boy, Camden. After his birth, Camden was in respiratory distress and taken to the NICU. It was also discovered while under care in the NICU that Baby C was born with only one kidney. He has proven to be a very strong baby and his lungs are healing, but he is still in critical condition. Each day many of us are following along, waiting for updates from Carmen on Baby C's progress. The outpouring of prayers and support for the family has been a beautiful thing to witness. Follow along here #prayersforcamden

Carmen asked last night on twitter, What's a good children's book to read to my baby boy while in the NICU?

Suggestions came in and then Carmen mentioned, "can't wait to get to a bookstore". Carmen has been staying at the hospital and has two girls at home to also look after when she is discharged, so I don't think a trip to the bookstore will be high on her priority list. That's when I had the idea, why don't we send Baby C some books instead? I was blessed to have a book shower thrown by friends before Sj was born. We still cherish those books. 

Book Shower for Baby Camden! 

This is going to be very simple. Send your favorite children's book to me, please sign it with your name and twitter handle (as per Carmen's request) and I will send a lovely box of books to Carmen. I don't want to wait to gather all the books at once and I know this will be an ongoing process, receiving books. Instead I am hoping to send out a box weekly. I will happily collect books for the next month or longer if there is still interest. 

All you need to do is email me at:

eatplaylove (at) gmail (dot) com

Please put, Baby C/Book Shower or something to the like in the subject line, so they don't get misfiled. 

I will provide you with my home address.

If you have any questions please feel free to email me! 

Can't wait to show our support to Carmen, her family, and Baby C.

Here's a blog to follow along on Baby Camden's progress, updated by Carmen's brother. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

200 Hikes Day 17: 6 Adults, 2 Kids Hit The Trail...

I've always been quite open about hiking being my happy place. It's rhythmic, it's peaceful, it helps me clear my head. I may escape in the quietness of the trail, indulge my senses and engage my body while I'm at it. It's the one place (other than yoga) where I let go of all the things that ramble through my head. I hike at a walking pace and I'm content with that. I have friends that enjoy running with heart pumping force and losing their breath on the trail, but that's not my style. Occasionally I like to run back down the trail, but that's just a crazy rush to top off my experience.

Today I had some friends in town from California. I wanted to take them hiking and they obliged after I assured them we wouldn't be scaling straight up any mountains. I actually had my girls with me, so that sealed the deal, they thought well if your girls can hike the trail, we sure can. Considering it was Sunday and Boulder has it's well known hiking spots, I decided to take them on a local's trail, a bit off the beaten path. As we set out, I warned everyone that we may not make it to the top and that I'd more than likely be carrying Miss GL back down the mountain once we did reach our turning point. But to my amazement and delight, that never happened.

My girls hiked a little over a mile up the trail, it was close to 3 miles total round trip. We arrived at a spot that was an overlook you can reach by car, but we were all proud we took the singletrack trail up instead. I watched over my girls as we meandered up the mountain, GL making it her mission to remain in front of the group, holding strong the entire way. Sj is a bit more laid back, wanting to stay a part of the group's conversation, noticing small plants on the trail, or even a smoke plume off in the distance somewhere on the flats. Both of them an organic part of the group, not hindering progress and maybe even inspiring carrying on to go just a bit further.  Never once did the girls complain on the way up or down, which made me a proud mama. They are naturals on the trail.

We encountered some rain, heavy wind gusts, and of course moments of full on sunshine. One minute coats were on, the next they were making us sweat. Ah, Colorado always the same very unpredictable weather. You have to plan for everything when you hit the trail.

We ended our hike with dinner on a rooftop patio and a fabulous panoramic view of the trail we hiked. The girls earned their strawberry shortcake dessert. I sat back and cherished the making of memories, rethinking that hiking is my solo activity, for clearly I have a team of girls that can hang on the trail just fine.

Friday, April 15, 2011

200 Hikes Day 15 and Day 16, Same Trail, Different Perspective

I've hiked the same trails over and over many times,
I am a creature of habit,
but my perspective is different each time.
Yet, I don't always have a story to tell from my experience.
But I always have a snapshot.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Being A Proud, Jane Of All Trades

Easing into our new home hasn't quite come with the luxury one would reap with a new or built in the last decade modern home. Our house is newer than our former home, by 3 years, but both were built about 50 years ago. 50 years isn't very old in comparison to many homes, but if I just stop and reflect upon what the demand was on our electrical system 50 years ago vs. today, I fret. 5 decades is plenty old enough for me!

Owning an older home is where being a Jane-Of-All-Trades comes into play.

I was finally doing the taxes last night when I had the stark realization of how much money I save our family. Now, I will be honest, I do enjoy doing our taxes. Not with a computer program, but rather pencil and paper, calculator in hand, re-reading deduction lines over and over out loud to solidify if I am on the right track. I very much like having a grounded sense of how tax code works and where exactly our money goes. This also in turn influences how to spend our money, knowing if it's a tax write off or not.

You see, I don't think twice about doing our own taxes or fixing the dryer that recently broke. I was born the daughter of a carpenter and I don't think I could count on one hand the number of times a stranger was hired to come fix something in my childhood home (where my parents still reside). It was always my father, one of my brothers, a relative, a neighbor, or a friend that came to help us out. I just believed that's how everyone did things.

I've always taken with me through life that ethic which was instilled in me through out childhood, to fix things on our own, within reason of course.

So I find myself on a sunny day, trimming two truckloads of branches and chopping down small trees that have suckered from the root. Planning in my mind our garden bed and possibly building a new one to go with the one that exists already in our yard. Mowing the grass, when it's time. Building a new pavestone patio and walkway in our backyard.

When our dryer recently went on the fritz, I luckily had a friend to call to help me trouble shoot the problem. I replaced a door switch on my own and was proud when the dryer started working again with just a simple $17 fix. That was short lived for a whole three cycles. There turned out to be a few annoying series of failures with our dryer, ultimately I had to call in an electrician as a last resort. Then I was left with regret when I discovered it was a new dryer plug/receptacle that actually was the problem, not our dryer! It was defective and I wished I was the one that had just fixed that problem at hand. Although electrical issues I am happy to hand over to a professional, especially when it's backed with a work guarantee.

I have a strong sense of how plumbing works, having given a hand replacing three toilets and removed the sink trap a number of times for myself and even friends to retrieve jewelry. Do you know people pay a plumber $60 to do that? I don't balk at replacing a light fixture or putting in a new light switch (very minor electrical fixes). I feel comfortable with a hammer in hand, drilling, painting, and love a good demolition. I know how to fix a flat tire and jump start a car. I do all the tinkering around my blog on my own, which may include tweaking code, something I have no background in whatsoever (yes, I know it may be obvious). I repaint and repurpose furniture. I take out the sewing machine when there is mending to do or a small project to liven up our living space. I love to organize closets, build shelves where needed. I bake and construct cakes for my daughters' birthdays, rather than paying a bakery. I handle the connecting of the electronics and computer peripherals in the house. I have no hesitations when it comes to putting a ladder up to the roof to check on a gutter fix. The majority of small fixes around the house, I love to tackle myself. I am grateful I also have my father and brother that come to visit to handle the major projects on our own. See all of my house and garden posts, documenting the work we've completed or at least a percentage of it.

Sometimes I dream of becoming a professional "Handy Woman" because I enjoy the tinkering a little too much, especially when a challenge is paired with success.

I suppose you could just call me cheap. I hate paying someone top dollar for something I could do on my own. But the bottom line is, all those small projects and efforts are life lessons. They enrich my life and also model for my daughter's that all work is woman's work. So just call me, Jane Of All Trades, I share that title with pride.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

We Are Ready For a Revolution, Why I Support A Homemade Lunch Ban At School

I believe the audible gasp from suburban mothers was heard to the moon yesterday when they read this article in the Chicago Tribune about a ban on homemade packed lunches at one school. This story swept through Twitter and even Facebook with outraged comments and the same shared sentiment,  I've heard it all and big brother is out to get us.

But is the government out to get us, does a school have the right to tell us what and how we should feed our kids? Well, as a mother that prides herself on what she feeds her children, we all know I would stand at the head of the pack when facing a homemade lunch ban at our school. I even write a blog about lunch packing, called Colorado Bento. I have no fears that this would become a reality in my community in Colorado because we just don't face the same issues a school does in an impoverished inner city neighborhood. Which also means, all you suburban moms that freaked out by the sensationalized story, can breath a sigh of relief today when you cut the crust off of Jane's organic peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Here's the reality of the situation:

  • The ban is a school based decision, with the principal calling the shots, NOT the government. 
  • The school has a free/reduced lunch rate of 85%. I worked in a school that was 65% free/reduced lunch and I can't quite imagine the pressure on such a school with an 85% demographic, I'm just going to call it the entire school because I am sure the other 15% are not middle class or wealthy. 
  • The ban has been in affect for SIX years, so apparently it's working. If it wasn't there would be change. 
  • Wrap your brain around this, breakfast or lunch at school may be the only real meal a child is fed all day. Which means Monday mornings don't quite come fast enough for children living in poverty. I know this first hand. It's heartbreaking to see. 
  • When living in poverty many factors affect how you can feed your family, including access to fresh and affordable produce, plus lack of education of how to get the most nutrition out of the smallest budget. If my family is living in poverty, do I have a car? Does the market in walking distance offer quality food? Please understand, I'm not pointing fingers here at this particular community, these factors are an American issue in general, we all could use some shopping, cooking, and nutrition education. 
  • Bans are not made on a whim, when you see children bringing a brown bag filled with a bag of chips, some candy, and a soda for lunch, it's easy to feel defeated and outraged. You know they deserve better. In this case, Principal Elsa Carmona feels like she is giving the children what they deserve, a healthier meal than they are being given from home. 
Unfortunately it's hard for so many of us to imagine circumstances of poverty and what that truly looks like. In the case of this one school being used and sensationalized by the media, I completely support a homemade lunch ban. But, do I feel banning homemade lunch is a solution to an American societal ill? No I don't, extreme measures are taken in response to protect the children. Maybe it's time to turn your outrage into something positive, volunteer at an inner city school, they won't turn you down. Leave the comforts of suburbia and see what like is life just a short drive away. I know many of you haven't turned your backs, you do volunteer, you donate, you have lived such realities. I would have to guess that more than the majority of us truly want the best life for all American children, including what food fuels their growing bodies. Is nutrition a right or privilege? I suppose that's a whole other issue.

Grassroots education with programs like community farms make a huge impact on how children are fed, plus they take a wealth of first hand knowledge with them through life. Programs like Farm To School are making it happen. There are thousands of people volunteering their time and donating money to help keep school gardens afloat in America. The trend is on the rise and the benefits will pay off immeasurably.

We certainly have an uphill battle with regards to nutrition, especially with leaps in the rise of obesity rates, and access to heathy affordable food in America. This issue is not going to disappear in our lifetime. I will be the first to say, the health issues Americans face today will not go away until our government stops putting corporations first. The top food producers in the United States are feeding us products that are laden with genetically modified corn and soy, chemicals, and toxic additives. Does a company that produces genetically modified crops (which causes inflammation in our body) and a pharmaceutical drug that reduces inflammation, really have our best interest at the core of their values? Is an $11.9 billion dollar profit forecast going to change their ways? NO. Could such a corporation use their wealth and power to truly change the American food system for the better? Yes.

I can't tell you how often I dream about America being a place that puts the health of the citizens before a corporate profit margin. I will continue to dream and fight. Maybe we should shake hands and join this fight for change together.

On a related note, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution season 2 starts tonight. Tune in to see what he is doing to bring about change, I certainly will.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Review with Video: Petz Bunnyz Bunch for Nintendo DS, A Dream Come True!

My 7 year old daughter's favorite animal in the whole wide world is a bunny. For years I avoided the endless requests for a pet bunny, instead I'd buy her a new bunny stuffed animal or random bunny trinket. But after a while, the stuffed animals are quite boring and the requests would start up again, well until last Spring. Last year we found out my daughter is allergic to rabbits, so her hopes and dreams to finally have a bunny as a pet were dashed. I was a bit relieved because I would have no idea how to care for a bunny, but I was also sad for her. She had to let go of her dream of having her very own bunny.

Then I happened upon an advertisement for Petz Bunnyz Bunch game for the Nintendo DS. Funny enough, a few days later I was asked if I wanted to review the game. I happily agreed. I was sent a copy and from the moment it was received, my daughter has been thrilled!

There are 8 different breeds of bunnyz to adopt, they all have their own personalities. My daughter has decided to just care for one bunny, so she can give it a lot of care and attention. I loved how the bunny responds to the way she pets it, my daughter has a little ritual of petting her, followed by brushing, and then pulling little hairballs out of her fur. I like those little details that show how important it is to take special care of pets, she also feels like she is giving her bunny the best care she can. Of course there are a variety of foods, games, and ways to decorate the bunnyz living space. There's also an option to send your bunnyz to Petz World virtual world, but we haven't tried that feature yet!

From Sj, In her words:
My bunny "Cutie" is so lovable and nice. I only play with her, not the other ones my sister bought. It's my favorite DSi game right now. I love how it feels like I have a real bunny. My favorite mini game is the obstacle course, it has different levels you have to earn up to. My bunny isn't fussy, she likes to eat almost everything I feed her, my favorite is the clover. I always look to see if there's a four leaf clover. I'd have to say the bunny game rocks because it's my favorite animal. 
If you are looking for a great alternative to loads of sugar for an upcoming bunny-centric holiday, I'd have to say two thumbs up for Petz Bunnyz Bunch!



Where to buy online (not affiliate links)
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While Ubisoft provided me with this game to review, the opinions I've expressed here are solely my own and represent my honest viewpoint. UbisoftClever Girls Collective and I promote Blog With Integrity.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Snippet: Collective Accumulation

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the collective accumulation of the smallest things. The tissue that fell on the floor on the way to the trash can that wasn't picked up, the wax from the cheddar cheese used to make a sandwich that also fell to the floor and became waxy glued to the floor, the shoes that can't make it four feet into the closet just strewn about my living room, a sock and washcloth just sitting there in the hallway. It all adds up to one big mess!

Now I realize, all these things I am most annoyed by are on the floor and I'm 5'11" so I suppose it's no coincidence I get sick of bending over.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Hennes aka H&M Is Hiring IN Denver!!!

Now we wait for the official when and where announcement, rumors in the former Lord and Taylor space in Cherry Creek!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tuesday Tips: A Company That Aligns With My Values, Meet Third Street Chai

It all started with a simple update on Twitter. I joked about getting sponsorship from one of my favorite products, Third Street Chai. I was shocked when they actually responded to me, inquiring if I play a sport. Now I don't play sports, but I did tell them they can fuel some of my 200 hikes in 2011 or just fuel my daily life, I start everyday with a Third Street Chai (spicy ginger is my favorite). A light hearted conversation on Twitter turned into an invitation to come tour their facility.


Right around the time when I was invited to visit Third Street Chai, it just happened to be when the FDA deregulated alfalfa. With that deregulation I started looking into some of the my favorite products to see if they truly were small organic companies or just had that facade, but a larger corporate entity owned them (original post, parent company replies). My greatest concern was that some of these companies were using their "natural" label to actual sell products that contain Genetically Modified Ingredients (GMO's or GE).

With all of those thoughts fresh in my mind, I was excited to tour Third Street Chai to see what the company was really like. I was greeted by Megan, the person behind the voice on Twitter and John one of the co-founders and CEO. I was surprised and delighted when I found out it was John that was going to give me the insider's tour.

Within moments it was very easy to recognize that Third Street Chai is a company that feels like an incredibly close knit family. I was taken through all the phases of processing from a room that contains sacks of whole organic spices such as cardamom, ginger, peppercorns, and cloves to the space where bottles are still hand labeled, a room stacked wall to wall with boxes ready to be shipped out, I watched an employee stir a huge vat of spices that was about to be brewed, and I even caught a glimpse mass composting in action. I wish I could have bottled the scent that filled the space from entry to exit, my sweater was even wonderfully aromatic the day after my tour.

As John took me on the tour, numerous times the words organic, Fair Trade, Composting, Wind Power, BPA free plastics, and small sustainable farms came into our conversation. I must note, TSC has never used high fructose corn syrup in their Chai unlike other brands, they use certified organic evaporated cane juice as a sweetener. There wasn't a question that John didn't answer, he's very open and honest, a quality in which I certainly admire in a business owner. I probably over extended my visit by an hour, but John and I were deep in conversation about the future of organics, the success of Third Street Chai from it's start in 1995, and so many relative topics in between. Through my conversation I felt like I had known John for years, a quality you don't often find in CEO's or at least in my experience.

I left Third Street Chai with an overwhelming sense of what a great company it is. I can tell you as someone that consciously chooses how and where to spend my family's food budget dollars, I couldn't be more delighted that I support TSC. I may have even joked that if they are ever hiring, to give me a call. I'd love to work for them!

A huge thank you to Third Street Chai, especially John and Megan for giving me the great honor and pleasure to tour the company.

Products:
Recently Third Street Chai branched out beyond chai offerings, they now make iced tea blends. I keep a bottle of their Organic Mint Iced Tea concentrate on hand to make a glass of iced tea through out the day. Their Organic Chai line includes: sugar free, decaf, green tea, honey vanilla, spicy ginger, and authentic. The Organic Iced Tea line includes: mint green tea, unsweetened, pomegranate green tea, and peach black tea. They also make an Organic Lemonade concentrate that is just sold through restaurants. Third Street Chai is available in Whole Foods Market nationally as well as online for purchase.

If you'd like a peak inside Third Street Chai, take a look at a piece by 9 news called,
Where In The Town....


For more information, check out Third Street Chai

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Disclosure: I was given a case of chai when departing, which I totally did not expect, but I rather graciously accepted.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

200 Hikes Day 14: Bask In The Warmth

It hit me as I walked from my house to the trailhead, that today was the warmest day in our house since we moved in, which was just a few months ago in wintery December. Then, the notion of "walking from my house to the trailhead" resonated in me.

Deep, deep resounding happiness.

While I would never say I questioned the selling of our home, I would comfortably say that I was hesitant to leave the home we created. We loved our space and made it ours over 8 years, but it truly was time to move on. The transition to our new space has been an adjustment and the longer we are here, as pictures appear in their proper place on the wall, as the wall colors transform, as the sectional sofa is delivered, as the bicycles are hung in the garage, as the washing machine is finally leveled, as the cupboards are properly organized, as the walk in cedar closet is balanced with everyday items and items for future use, our new house is turning into our home. I guess I assumed it would be with the unpacking of boxes and the setting up of our beds, but now I realize it's a journey to what we envision and part of that is letting go of what I held onto from our former home.

Which brings me back to today and my walk to a hike. My home sits in the shadows of the most gorgeous and picturesque Rocky Mountains and with the arrival of Spring and beautiful weather the sunshine is radiating from places beyond the sky. My hiking partner, a sister that came to me in a form of a friend instead of birth mother, joined me. I love hiking with friends, sharing the trail, a conversation, and today a nice sweat. Next time, we may just have to reward ourselves with a pint or a chai post-hike, they are both in walking distance as well. Decisions are made and opportunities arise, it's just looking in the right places to find them.

This photo, I captured in a quick moment is untouched, the sky is a backdrop of the most amazing blue color.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Snippets of California Dreaming...

Unfortunately I don't have the card in my possession that holds the photos of our amazing trip to Los Angeles, but soon enough I will be uploading them and sharing! In the meantime I thought I could quickly share some snippets that highlight my trip and the real posts will follow.


I was reminded what excellent travelers my girls are. Fabulous on the airplane and really great about long days and big adventures every day. I was exhausted, so they must've been, but they had such a great spirit about the whole vacation.
DisneyLand was so much fun, one whole day was just enough for me. I don't quite know how people spend a week there. If you do, what in the world do you eat because destination food (as I have started to call it) is really, really indulgent. 
Sj and I rode awesome rollercoasters together for the first time ever! Space Mountain and California Screaming! She's a champ and my new amusement park partner in crime. 
The food, oh my the food in Los Angeles is amazing. Raw food restaurants, vegan restaurants, Japanese, one the of the best burgers I've ever eaten. You may not believe this, but  I didn't have a cupcake when I was there. Not one. I'm fine with it, I felt like I was consuming 5,000 calories a day, I didn't need a cupcake! Sigh. 
Hiking! I hiked in Griffith Park, the backdrop was the Hollywood sign. Hello awesome. 
I discovered Little Osaka on this trip and was able to sneak in some bento shopping and pick up some cute items from Japan for the girls! 
Friends, I was able to visit with an old college bestie of mine. She's such an amazing woman, we had so much fun together which included so much chatting we closed a restaurant with out even knowing what was going on around us! We are dangerous together, the best kind of dangerous there is. 
The beach! The girls collected sea shells, we just hung out and took in the ocean and everything it has to offer. Unfortunately GL did not get the memo that we wouldn't actually be swimming in the ocean, she is still disappointed about that. We even lugged our swimsuits to her dismay. 
Shopping, while I didn't make it to IKEA, I did make it to a bunch of great shops, many that I had only been to in London. Hello Santa Monica, much easier to get to than London! 
Palm trees, flowers, humidity, sunshine...