Thursday, September 29, 2011

To Do: Make Your Heart Smile

Sometimes life is such that writing is just another thing to do. It's on the list, but I've been avoiding the list, which in turn means I've been avoiding writing. My list of ideas is growing, but instead I've taken to trails with a few friends in the past week, had some lunch playdates, and enjoyed the face to face company with those that I care about.

There's lots of buzzing going on in our house, some pinata making, a birthday cake to bake, and a house full of girls on the horizon to celebrate. So I'm in it, up to my chin, enjoying the full swing of life these days.

Happy Weekend, enjoy whatever it is that makes your heart smile.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hardy Chili For A Growing Girl

Last night I put some spaghetti sauce in a pot, added some corn, some chili spices, and a can of organic chili beans. I served the chili over pasta and dinner was ready in a flash. My oldest ate 2 bowls of the chili and requested it for lunch as well today.

This morning, I packed a hardy lunch for her, my growing girl.


Tri-colored vege pasta with vege chili
Plain greek yogurt, topped with honey
Strawberry hearts (my new favorite way to serve them)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday Tips: Grass Fed Organic Beef, The Way Mother Nature Intended

Consumers today naively believe that we are being protected by our Government when it comes to food safety and how our food is produced. Unfortunately I feel much differently as a consumer. I know it's my job to learn where the food I purchase comes from, which sometimes means directly contacting a company or doing a little research on brands I want to support. When I walk into the grocery store, I'm very conscious of the fact that where my money is spent helps shape the future purchasing decisions of that retail establishment. To me, every dollar counts.

While this post could easily take a turn for the worse, showcasing the major injustices of our meat industry and CAFOS (centralized/confined animal feeding operations), I'm going to focus on the positive. My husband and I were vegetarians for over a decade. At this point an omnivore diet serves our bodies better. I believe with a vegetarian driven past, we have consciously decided to only consume humanely raised meat.

Which leads me to Rod Morrison, rancher, President and CEO of Rocky Mountain Organic Meats. Yes, I know the name, phone number, and address of the rancher that produced the beef that is currently in my freezer. I believe Rod is doing the right thing and so does he. On his ranch the cows are 100% grass fed and grass fed finished. They spend their lives grazing on whatever grasses are currently growing, which also has a direct affect on the taste of the meat (think the way nature intended). On Rod's ranch, you'll never find cows penned up and bloated with a pile of grain and by-products in front of them, what you'll find is happy cows. The way Rod runs his ranch leaves me rest assured the certified organic beef I am feeding my family is the highest quality I can possibly find.

Beyond the obvious benefits to the environment of running an Certified Organic Ranch (think of the tons of pesticides and chemicals, antibiotics, and byproducts that are spared to the ecosystem in Wyoming), there are other health benefits.

  • Total fat content of pasture raised cattle is about 25% lower than cows that are fed a diet of grain, which is primarily corn. If I could be my bottom dollar, I would sure as heck assume that corn cattle were fed was Genetically Modified. We all know I hate GMO's, so buying Organic Beef, I am rest assured I am not supporting Monsanto. 
  • Grass fed cattle are higher in Omega 3 Fatty Acids, which are polyunsaturated fats that are essential to our bodies, we don't produce Omega 3's so we need to take them in from our food. Let's face it, on Rod's Ranch the cattle aren't being pushed to maturity at an unnatural rate. They graze and gain weight the way they were intended, producing far superior and healthier meat. 
  • Grass fed, grass finished. Cattle are not finished off with a grain diet, which diminishes the health benefits of the meat. It's important to pay attention to this little detail. Some producers believe in fattening up cattle during the last months of their lives, but that's not necessary. 

I'd like to urge everyone to be conscious that every dollar we spend counts, make informed choices. You no longer have to be concerned that you don't have access to quality meat, Rocky Mountain Organic Meats has a very user friendly online store. The meat is shipped directly from their USDA Certified processing facility to your home. It doesn't get much fresher or easier than that. 



While I'd love to share the recipe for these meatballs, I don't really have one. I've grown up watching my mother make meatballs every Sunday during my entire childhood, now I carefully observe her when she comes to visit and makes a batch. Recipes weren't written down in my family, they were experienced.


Related:
Michael Pollan's Q & A on Animal Welfare
Rod's Twitter Feed!

I had to share this video, see for yourself!



---------------
Disclaimer, I was provided with a free shipment of 100% Organic Beef from Rod's ranch. This post was not asked of me by Rod, but I couldn't help but share the wonderful work he is doing to help change the way America eats. I will certainly be supporting them in the future, especially for some gifts for my father's birthday. My father absolutely raved over the meat we received. All thoughts are my own. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Top 10 Reasons For Loving Bloggy Boot Camp Denver

BBCDenverpartyblogfrog
(Sits Girls Flickr Set)
I find it funny, but rather fitting to my personality, that after four years of blogging I finally attended my first Blogging Conference. This weekend Denver hosted a one day conference called Bloggy Boot Camp. I didn't actually purchase a ticket for the conference when they went on sale in the Spring because I kind of wrote myself off as one of those "don't attend conferences" bloggers. In a random turn of events, one of my dearest blogging turned in real life friends texted me and offered me her ticket. I graciously accepted. Now I may go as far to say, I may be forever indebted to her for giving me this opportunity.

My Top Ten Reasons For LOVING Bloggy Boot Camp:

1. Not having to travel, regional blog conferences are awesome. It's a one day commitment and a team of fabulous women come to you. I felt like blogging royalty not having to travel across the country to see what this blogging conference thing was all about. I did make a full day of it, but happily hopped into my car and went home to my family that evening.

2. With a local blog conference, I was able to recognize many familiar faces in the room at any given moment, which made me feel at ease. With that said, I was also able to connect with many women I have never met that live in Colorado. Plus (I'm going to let you in on a little insider's secret) they pick tables for you to sit at during the sessions. You never show up at a table where the seat is already taken, then stare at every table in the room hoping to find a seat next to someone that is nice. I'm so glad the seating was arranged that way, I was able to meet women from Texas, Nevada, Washington, Arkansas, and California.

3. The incredibly brilliant women behind Bloggy Boot Camp (Tiffany and Francesca) are very present and accessible during the entire conference. From the start of the day Tiffany and Francesca set the tone that helped me feel at ease. I love their passion for helping women succeed, it's truly amazing to see women lifting other women up.

4. This conference really focused on the art and depth of blogging. It may sound like I'm trying to be cheeky, but I'm not. Sometimes I feel like blog conferences are about the corporate sponsors or what party you are invited to, with the education part being lost in the shuffle. At Bloggy Boot Camp, I took away a little nugget of wisdom from every session, which feels awesome and very inspiring. Plus, the conference presenters were a fabulous mix of great local talent, coupled with strong blog voices from around the country.

5. Authenticity. When a group of women gather in a place and talk about their life's passions, it hits home in a deep way.

6. Cheeks are hurting laughter. During sessions, during the cocktail hour, post conference dinner, over a cookie in the hallway, there was laughter. Joy spilled through the day.

7. A great group of sponsors. The brand sponsors of the conference were there because they recognize the value in working with bloggers. It's not every day you get to hear the story of a family that has been running a winery like Mirassou for six generations. The way the conference was run, it didn't feel as if the brands were running the show, they were just a great accompaniment to the day. Plus who doesn't love 80 samples of Tide To Go Mini Stain Removers. We actually had an opportunity to use them right after the conference (see video below).

8. Meeting and cornering in front of the cookie table, Danielle Liss. Danielle is a lawyer and a blogger, which to me is a harmonious colliding of worlds. I have to share, Danielle gave me some much needed advice about a few posts I have brewing, but have been hesitant to publish. I feel assured in how I can move forward writing about a huge corporation that is a big thorn in my side.

9. Confidence. Now that I put myself out there for a one day conference, I am more open to possibilities of attending another blog conference in the future (which may or may not be multi-day and involve out of state travel). I also feel confident on a much more personal level when talking about my blog, where it's come from, and where I want to take this space in the future. Being able to talk about blogging with peers is such a great feeling.

10. Sometimes magic moments happen in a hotel room and I just happened to be present for this one.  Kudos to Aimee aka Greeblemonkey for capturing this... Please let me introduce the incredibly hilarious Mama Kat from Mama's Losin It!



See you at Bloggy Boot Camp in Las Vegas next year? You have to agree, a conference less than a 2 hour plane ride away is definitely local.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How To Hug A Mountain, If You Believe Tree Hugging Is Overrated... [VIDEO]

It's been a fabulous weekend, to top it off J and I went on an awesome hiking date this morning. One part of the trail dead ends right into a huge slab rock face of the Rocky Mountains. It's beautiful and I felt compelled to just give it a hug.

The idea for this vlog was born out of that simple moment.


(Direct You Tube Link)

I feel like some things need to be said about this vlog. I was wearing a hat (but had to take it off because of the shadows on my face), I was sweaty, I didn't exactly anticipate shooting a video to share publicly. But you know what? All those excuses didn't matter, I just wanted to enjoy the moment. I am who I am and I am embracing it, that feels damn good.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I Can't Pass Up Mini Bananas...

Oh those darling mini bananas, they seem to call out my name as I pass by the banana section of the produce department. By the way, look at how cute it is in the bento. Bento aesthetics 101, buy the cute bananas.

Organic WW bread, Applegate Farms Ham, and vintage cheddar sandie,
Cute chocolate mushrooms/cookies from Japan,
Fresh peach, Pirate's Booty, Mini banana, carrot flowers. 

My husband purchased these bags for the girls, I've taken them over as lunch bags, depending on the bento I packed that day. This one features Quatchi, he was a Vancouver Winter Olympics Mascot. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Same Foods, Different Day...

Yes, same foods, different day!?! You'll definitely see overlap here, although I can't complain that I am giving more nori, berries, or broccoli to my daughter. She loves them, so I just go with it! Today I packed our LunchBots, I love the size, I go wet foods with one and dry with the other, that way there is no chance for foods to get soggy.

Nectarine, raspberries, broccoli
PB&J on WW bread, bbq pop chips, and Nori snacks. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Panda, Panda, Panda, Panda...

This week ends my husband's two week business trip. I miss him and his help in the morning. I desperately wanted my daughter to get hot lunch this morning, but she asked for a bento. I obliged. It was a quickie.

We received a package of goodies from Japan that my husband picked up in Los Angeles. Inside were the panda picks, so my daughter requested her panda bento as well today. Panda x 4.

Nectarine, raspberries, from our garden tomatoes,
Organic WW tortilla and sharp cheddar quesadilla, veggie Pirate's Booty. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My 1962 Kitchen Update: Countertop, Faucet, Sink, Backsplash

As of Saturday afternoon, the kitchen project has been completed!

Our home was built in 1962, the people we purchased the home from lived in the house for 19 years. Let's just say, they were comfortable in the home. There were a handful of updates in the house, but the kitchen was seriously in need of some freshening up. Our last home was built in 1959, but had a completely redone kitchen. I can tell you, I've missed my old kitchen a lot.

Our goal is to do a major tear out of the kitchen within two years, which also means some walls coming down. The kitchen will have to be totally gutted. In the mean time, we've decided to make a small investment in updating what we saw as crucial needs in the kitchen. For now, we've torn out the old backsplash, countertop, and sink.

Here we go!

My old sink. Four tiles in the backsplash were hand painted by the former owner's children. This one, the most lovely and evil fairy/elf/troll was placed right over the sink. It haunted me when I did the dishes. As for the faucet, it was a thorn in my side. I had to empty any dishes that were in the sink to simply fill a pot for cooking or to wash fruits and vegetables. It brought me back to my childhood circa 1970's.

Here's a better photo of the sink, lovely isn't it? Where the brown countertop met the grey/brown tiled wall there was a huge gap that loved to suck up water. The previous owners covered it with a gorgeous yellowed plastic strip. I ripped it off months ago and was irritated every time it caught my attention, which was pretty much daily.

This was not the original formica countertop, the previous owners covered the white with sparkly gold fleck formica with this brown and black gem. I have to admit, we didn't buy the house because I fell in love with the kitchen.

Full perspective, with some of the tile removed. We went tile off, countertop up, then proceeded.

Tile demolition is FUN! There's even video footage.

That's my dad, leveling the cabinets that were stamped Aug 16, 1962. Believe it or not, the cabinets are still in decent shape, although I am toying with the idea of painting them.

Countertop and sink in. Walls where the tiled backsplash was removed was quickly coated with taping compound to even it out.

I would've loved to have tiled the entire wall from the countertop backsplash to bottom of the cabinets, but it was too expensive (remember complete gut in 2 years). We were able to get 3 linear feet out of one sheet of tile, making it more affordable. The mosaic tile of glass and natural stone is a great accent. We capped it with a natural stone which compliments the formica countertop.

I decided I wanted to do some paint that was unpredictable for me. I am very conservative when it comes to paint color. I do enjoy color, but typically in a very muted range. The color I chose is called Lily Pad by Martha Stewart, it's super happy and refreshing. I love it.

HERE IT IS!!! The tile grouted, paint done, appliances back. I love it. 

Just a detail shot. 

Now this is what I see when I do the dishes. No more elf/troll/fairy staring at me. No more water running into the wall or under the faucet. The faucet has a built in sprayer and my new sink is an inch deeper than the old one.

A huge thanks to my father for helping me with this project and nana for keeping the girls busy, when we were in the thick of it. I also had help from a family friend that put in new pipes under the sink. I learned a lot with this project and feel even more confident when it comes to tiling.

Overall, it feels like a huge success. I am loving it!

America

America,
all eyes on America, 
strong, brave, dreamers, 
we became one, all scarred by a deep crack that was unwarranted. 

America, 
the world's beacon of freedom, 
which affords me uncensored opportunity to share whatever it is I need to say, 
every year we move forward, we may look deeper into our neighbor's eyes or more suspiciously. 

America, 
the place where I always teeter in the reality of before and after, 
but a place where my girls know no differently, 
I can't quite comprehend a global win vs. lose, but I do know loss. 

America, 
I'll always be a Yankee, no matter how many years I call Colorado my home,
Oceans, mountains, prairies, cities, farms, desert, south, north, west, east,
The best place on earth, I'm proud to be an American. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Un-Hot Dog Bento

Our kitchen project is completed, you can see the photos at Eat Play Love.

My daughter loves when she gets something unexpected in her lunch. Today it was a Organic Whole Wheat hot dog bun for the bread of her sandwich and lunch meat rolled up, instead of a hot dog. I'm not quite sure how the mustard looked when she opened it. Another surprise, Nori Snacks! I can't keep them in the house, the girls love them.

Applegate Turkey and Ham, Sharp Cheddar, Rudi's Organic Bun,
Annie Chung's nori snacks,
Strawberries, broccoli skewers, Colorado peach,
Left over salad, greens, carrots, cukes, and tomatoes. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Kitchen Construction Phase 1, The Demo!

My parents are in town visiting and we always seem to have some house project to do when my dad is here. I like to take advantage of his 50 years of carpentry experience. So together we are in the throws of replacing a countertop, adding a new backsplash, and installing a new sink with faucet.

The photo is what my kitchen looked like this morning. I am happy to report, I do have a new countertop in and I am just waiting on a few pipes to be connected under the sink.

Next up backsplash, tomorrow. Photos and details of the completed kitchen to follow, I am hoping by Friday....

Kitchen Under Construction!

This is what my kitchen currently looks like, so I didn't pack lunch today. I won't be packing it tomorrow either. Thank goodness our school district has an incredible lunch program.

I guess I'm using the temporary construction as an excuse, as I don't need to actually cook lunch to pack it. I'm helping with the remodel, so it's just one more thing to do. Breakfast has been enough of a challenge without water in the kitchen!

I shall resume packing lunch on Thursday. Please keep your fingers crossed for me...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Almost As Good As Baby's First Steps

While it's bittersweet that this moment happened when J was out of town, THIS MOMENT HAPPENED. It was exhilarating and such a proud moment for me. It definitely rivaled the feelings I felt when she took her first steps. My GL spent the entire day practicing on the sidewalk, all by herself. I'd help occasionally, but she'd send me off so she could keep going at it.

I took her to the baseball diamond and this is the first moment when she just took off.

video

Friday, September 2, 2011

The New Coors Classic aka USA Pro Cycling Challenge Locals Experience

Let's face it, Colorado is the perfect place to host an annual stage race. It's been 23 years since Colorado hosted the Coors Classic, a race that once put our state on the map in the cycling world. No one could argue, thanks to Lance Armstrong and the impact he's had on the boom of cycling in the States, Colorado is once again home to an awesome bicycle race. The name on the other hand, could use some fine tuning. I suppose it's better than the Quizno's Pro Challenge, but still USA Pro Cycling Challenge is too wordy for a bike race. One of the downfalls with a name that's willy nilly is the impact on social media, there wasn't one fine tuned hashtag aka # on Twitter, people used #USAPCC, #USPCC, #USAP, #PCC, and #USAProCyclingChallenge (I always love a 20 plus character hashtag).  Boo! I had to use multiple hashtags or click through various ones to see what was being adopted.

Tour de France. Simple, EPIC, easy. #TdF

There were six stages, eleven host cities from Colorado Springs to Salida to Steamboat Springs to Golden, about 500 miles, and the highest altitude reached was 12,126 feet above sea level. There was no shortage of big names in the race, Cadel Evans the winner of this year's Tour de France, Levi Leipheimer and George Hincapie two of America's favorite racers, Andy and Frank Schleck the charmingly handsome brother duo from Luxembourg, and even the fabulous announcers Bob, Frank, and Phil!

Onto the experience...

We weren't able to attend any of the week day stages due to school, work, and the distance from our home. We had lengthy discussions about where we wanted to go and then even broke down the two stages we were going to attend. I really wanted to see a mountain climb, but the day we wanted to observe from Lookout Mountain in Golden, turned out to be a logistical nightmare. The road was shut down the day before and to get to the top you had to either hike or cycle. Lookout Mountain is no brisk walk in the park, it's a serious and steep mountain road, without a vehicle we had no way to transport our girls up there. On Saturday we headed to Breckenridge to see the finish of the race and on Sunday we ultimately decided to head to Golden super early to catch the start of the race.

We learned Saturday after waiting for hours for the peloton to arrive, they come by in a ball of fury. Within about 10 seconds they come into your line of sight and are gone just as fast. Boom! Hours of waiting and there they go. I can't say I was disappointed the first day, but I was certainly longing for a better experience.

Lucky for us, we found the ultimate fan experience at Stage 6 in Golden.

Don't let my enthusiasm fool you, we still had to wait for hours. The sun was blazing hot already by 9am and we found ourselves perched on the rail of a place where the cyclists had to walk by to sign in for the race. Technically speaking every rider that was participating in Stage 6 had to walk by us. All nine of us, 5 kids and 4 adults, amazingly enough waited on the side of a railing for two hours. We had moments of distraction with trinkets being handed out by sponsors, we made lots of small talk with our railing mates, but we were forever bonded by the moment when we felt the exhilarating rush from the first rider to show up on our little part of the railing.

Then they just kept on coming...

George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck, Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zaibriskie, Laurens ten Dam.


Really in that moment, I wished it was appropriate to scream like a school girl at her first Beatles' concert because I was incredibly overwhelmed with school girl emotion. At times it was hard for my brain to comprehend cyclists I've been watching for well over a decade, were simply standing in front of me, engaging my daughter in conversation. Andy Schleck walked away with GL's sharpie pen and she's told the story about him stealing her pen a good 20 times this past week. The first thing Sj did was come home and hang her autographed poster on her wall above her bed.

This race was more than a show case of how incredibly beautiful Colorado is or how well our host towns could provide a world class experience for these amazing athletes and the fans that were following from town to town. This race was life changing for our children. To go from the rather disconnected experience of watching all of these amazing cyclists during the month of July race in the Tour de France to shaking hands with them the morning before they race in our backyard, is beyond incredible. It's cycling magic. I feel so incredibly lucky my girls were able to be a part of the first USA Pro Cycling Challenge and I look forward to making it our annual tradition.

Well done Colorado, well done Levi. This is the stuff dreams are made of.

Fabulous photo coverage of the entire race, click here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

200 Hikes Day Unknown: How About Those Hikes?

The questions began about a month ago. So Denise, how are those hikes coming along, are you going to hit your goal? In January I set a goal to hike 200 times this year, I figured 3.846 times a week was possible. I probably over guesstimated my hiking ability versus my free time to hit the trail. I should've been a little more conservative with my first year goals, more like 100, on average twice a week. Now that number is digestible.

Don't misinterpret what I am trying to say here. I am still out there hiking a few times a week, although some weeks it was more like twice a week. If I was to really over analyze my hiking goals and lack of attainability, I'd have to take into consideration what has sidelined my progress. First on the list, letterboxing. During summer break, my girls and I found 100 letterboxes (that's a post in and of itself), in a vast array of locations from trails to downtown Denver to mountain tops (such as Gregory Canyon in the photo). I must admit, my times on the trail letterboxing, I absolutely consider to be a tally in my goal to 200 hikes.

There were a few weeks, which all seem to blur together where I was overtaken by an extreme reaction to poison ivy. I still haven't worked up the courage to write about that experience, but it definitely left me weary about what trails I would take to. So instead, hikes simply became walks on paved surfaces where plant oils didn't have the ability to invade my skin.

The other huge distraction I fell for this summer was cycling. I started riding after dinner because a few friends gently reminded me about the risks of hiking closer to dusk alone on trails, insert mentions of large carnivores that hunt at dusk. So instead I've been taking to my two wheels. One of my favorite spots to ride is a windy hill climb just a short distance from my house. One night I did the ride with my family, but since then, I've gone to it solo. I have an incredibly discouraging mind when I run or push my self on big hills cycling and I've worked through many thoughts getting to the top of the hill, all by myself. It's an amazing feeling to push through and arrive at the top, with an added bonus of an exhilarating descent, so in the saddle is where I head post-dinner.


Back to my goal...

200 Hikes? I don't think this will be my year. Rather, hiking as often as I can, a huge check in that column. I don't feel disappointed, but engaged in focusing on getting out in the fresh air, whether it be a trail, a walk after dinner to the park, or a ride on my bicycle. It's all good.