Monday, December 31, 2012

¡Panza Llena, Corazón Contento!

Full belly, happy heart.

My favorite restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico is Cafe Pasqual's.  In a rather delightful and spontaneous turn of events, I was able to enjoy one of my last meals of 2012 at Cafe Pasqual's. 
Spending any time in Santa Fe will most certainly guarantee a full belly. 

My happy heart has come from lots of leisurely family time, dedicating time to my home, and a birthday/holiday season full of quality time with the people that mean so much to me.

All the best for a wonderful, happy, healthy, well intended, and accomplished New Year.

Bring it 2013...

(brief, but needed update via the iPad)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fabulously Easy Chocolate Chip Cheesecake (no water bath)

Once upon a time this recipe was one of my favorite standbys for a special dessert occasion. I loved it because it was the only fool proof cheesecake recipe I found, after trying many, that didn't use a water bath. To me a water bath is just another thing for me to mess up. This recipe is so basic, I hope you find yourself turning to it more often than not. Before you know it, your friends and family will be requesting you bring dessert to the next gathering! 

As you will see, this recipe is very basic and simply delightful and a refreshing alternative to a flour based cake. 

2 cups chocolate wafers crumbled finely
6 Tbsp butter, melted

3 pkgs of cream cheese
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
3 Large eggs
1/3 cup whipping cream
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips

Crust Preparation:
Combine cookie crumbs and melted butter. Note, my local grocery store does not carry Oreo crumbs, so I buy chocolate wafer cookies and break them up myself. I have used chocolate graham crackers in a pinch, but I do not prefer them over the wafers. Press into 10" spring form pan and 1" up sides. Freeze crust for 15-30 minutes while preparing filling. 

Turn on oven, 225 oven rack in center. 

Filling Preparation:
1. Blend cream cheese and sugar, 3 minutes medium speed.
2. Reduce to low speed, add eggs, one at a time.
3. Scrape bowl sides.
4. Add whipping cream and vanilla, beat 3 minutes medium speed.
5. Pour 3/4 of the filling into the crust.
6. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top.
7. Add remaining filling.

Bake 1 hour 15 minutes (225 degrees). Turn off oven, leave door closed 1-1.5 hours. 

Refrigerate for 8 hours. 


Thursday, December 6, 2012

At Six, The World Is Her Oyster

This week G turned six. Six years old looks like two missing front teeth, a Judy Moody chapter book under her arm, matching outfits with her new look alike American Girl, all while balancing on her new 2 wheeled scooter that has light up wheels.

I envision six bursting with even more incredible milestones, as she fully comprehends that sure enough, the world is her oyster.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

It's All Good

As I tugged and yanked the slipcover off my favorite white chair, I may have cursed my love hate relationship with it yet one more time. I allowed too much time to pass in between washings and I was appalled with it's current murky condition. As I walked to the laundry room it took a simple fixation on a little blue spot to get a tidal wave of thoughts rolling through my mind.

I'm done settling...

I've settled for a long time with notions such as that's just how things are, it's all too much, that's how he's always been, that's what she's like, and the comfort of there's always tomorrow. I'll start tomorrow or Monday, the inevitable Monday promise that winds up coming and going like there's no tomorrow. Hardy har har. All of those notions? Settling.

As the water rushes from the backside inner lip of the washing machine I snap out of my thoughts. I convince myself the stains will come out, like they always do. I walk out of the laundry room and look directly into the mirror. It takes me a moment to look deep into my eyes and even though I notice every one of my flaws, I embrace that I don't have tolerance for inauthenticity. I accept the wrinkles, the blemishes on my chin, and the worst haircut I've ever had. I turn away oddly enough smiling, knowing in my heart, it's all good.

It's all good.

What Is This Wii U Everyone Is Talking About?

There's no doubt in my mind that we look to Nintendo to give us the next generation in gaming technology, but honestly Wii U is beyond what I ever could have imagined.  You really have to see it to believe it, so here's a glimpse of a video that was shot at the Wii U preview event I attended back in August. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tuesday Tips: GMO News! Vote With Your Dollars!!!

Let's face it, every dollar you spend is like a vote. When you walk into a market, the way you shop is directly correlated to the products that grocery store stocks on it's shelves. Unfortunately in this day and age, companies have become savvy about their packaging and it's hard to know if you are supporting a small mom and pop company or a global food conglomerate.

This just happened to us tonight, my husband was holding a Dagoba Chocolate bar in his hand. It's got the paper wrapper, it's organic, the labeling is top notch, the cacao is Rainforest Alliance certified and my husband was SHOCKED when I told him it was a Hershey product. Is it really that big of a deal, picking up a candy bar that looks full of integrity, but all profits go to Hershey? Up until last month, I may have given you a different answer, but after the Proposition 37 (right to label GMO initiative) failure in California, I have very small wiggle room in my tolerance for the companies I support.

Proposition 37 opposition raised $46,000,000 in support from chemical companies and Big Food. Proposition 37 supporters raised $9,000,000 from small organic companies and organizations.

Here's a list of companies that top my grocery list, every time I shop (GREEN), this chart is not representative of the final tallies in dollars from the Prop 37 fight, the totals above are:

Click to Enlarge! 

In search of more information on the conglomerates that own Organic Companies, read this post

Monday, December 3, 2012

All Roads Point Within

Courage is recognizing one's weakness, but having the confidence to accomplish what you set your mind to. In the past few months I had so many days of facing situations that made me uncomfortable (example, walk in closet) that I finally drew the line. Enough was truly enough. I held onto to a thread of hope, a simple notion of how I wanted my home to feel. Wheels of motion set a plan of action into place and literally within moments I could feel the confidence to keep the momentum going. I'm still working towards creating a space that feels representative of our family, but I am no longer overwhelmed by how much I was disconnected to my space.

Which leads me, to me. 

I took for granted the routines I had set to help keep my body and mind in a good place, a place where I was content. I'm back to a darker place, a place full of negative thoughts, and a place where I am feeling defeated. Which means it is absolutely time to do the work. Time to establish my healthy routines again and start feeling better about putting on a pair of jeans. If I owned a scale, I would latch onto a number that I am sure would anger me. Instead, I'm just going to focus on how I want my jeans to slip over my hips with ease and how a belt instead of a roll of fat would be a great addition to my look. 

Shoes on, pavement your about to get pounded...


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Celebrating 21 Years

Today Josh and I will celebrate 21 years of being together. It's our original anniversary, the anniversary we celebrated for 6 years before getting married. By my calculations it's a celebration of spending 5 years of sleeping together, with an average of 6 hours of sleep per night.  It's a celebration of having the courage to pick up and move across the country, having faith in chasing our dreams, and living that dream in Boulder, Colorado the place we call home. It's a celebration of living together in four apartments, a rental house, and now the second home we own. It's a celebration of two of the best things we created as a part of our commitment to love, our amazing daughters.

It's a celebration of opening a door at a party as a teenager and recognizing something incredibly charming about the young man you just met. It's about friendship first, just the right timing, and resilience, it's about give and take, and picking your battles. It's a celebration of sticking it out and knowing what's on the other side when we power through the hard times. It's about recognizing just how far we've come and that would be a long way baby.

It's about cherishing one of the greatest gift a human being can know, a soul mate.

It's about love.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Books To Inspire Home Organization!

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a post about craving space. Looking back, I consider the place that I was coming from as rock bottom. I felt so incredibly overwhelmed by what I wanted to accomplish in my home, but knew if I just persevered I could indeed create the harmony I was craving.

  • One truck load, even with the cab full of stuff to a local charity.
  • One huge week of trash pickup, imagine 2 cans full, bags, odds and ends propped up next to the cans. Imagine me hiding behind the curtains to see if they would TAKE IT ALL! 
  • One straight week of work.

I've arrived at a place that I feel more at home in. I'm almost there, but need to still take care of some miscellaneous spaces and sell a few high ticket items. We did donate 95% of the stuff we got rid of, but decided it would be worth our time to auction or craigslist items that were in excellent shape and of good value.

My journey was inspired and nurtured by a few books:

It's All Too Much, An Easy Plan For Living A Richer Life With Less Stuff by Peter Walsh 
Happier At Home by Gretchen Rubin
Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley "The Fly Lady"
Sidetracked Home Executives by Pam Young and Peggy Jones

I started with Peter's book, I enjoyed his style of decluttering and helping people work through their stuff on his TLC show years ago called Clean Sweep. I believe he now has a show on Oprah's Network called Enough Already. Peter really has a no nonsense approach to tackling your clutter problem. Once I let go of the excuses and started to do the work, I was amazed at how quickly I began to feel confident and gained momentum.

One of my biggest hurdles was our one and only storage closet. It's a walk in closet off of our guest room, it's 11.5 feet by 7 feet and just last month, I COULD BARELY WALK INTO IT. It was my dumping zone, I would sort out things, throw piles of the girls' stuff into a laundry basket and plop it into the walk in closet. It become a nagging sore spot to me, I started to keep the guest room door closed, trying to forget what was just a closed door away.

Today, my closet looks like this:

I wish I had the courage to take photos before, but honestly I couldn't do it. ALL of our files are down to one bin (right corner, blue lid), the striped boxes behind it are the girls' artwork and school mementos, the top shelf green bins are 2 Christmas, 1 Easter/Halloween. The shelf straight ahead to the left is games, puzzles, some toys, and organized items such as ribbon, stationary, etc.

The best part of the photo above? You can tell it's a CEDAR closet, it's not so jam packed with stuff from floor to ceiling that you can't even see the walls! Open space. I have empty shelves and lots of hanging space for the future! It feels so great to know that closet is no longer bursting at the seams.

I also worked my way through all the other closets in our home, our cabinets, my pantry, the buffet! No space was left untouched. What a feeling.

On a related and random note, during this entire process, I also purged my hair. I'm still warming up to it... I cut about 5 inches off!

Best of luck if you are ready to do the work! Have a little faith and a lot of patience and you can accomplish anything you set your mind to, no matter how overwhelming the task feels.

Monday, November 26, 2012

If You Give Denise a Couch...

If you give Denise a couch,
she may also love a new end table to put her cup of tea on.

When you give her a new end table,
she may realize that her old rug is a bit small for the room.

Before she puts down the gorgeous wool rug,
she imagines how beautiful the hardwood floors would be if they were refinished.

Once the hardwood floors were refinished,
she would need a new fancy steam mop to keep the floors beautiful and shining.

Then she realizes her towels are so old and dirty that she could use them as rags to clean the floor,
after she was done cleaning the floors she would happily put her dirty rags into her new front loading washing machine.

If she uses her towels to make cleaning rags,
she's definitely going to want a set of new matching towels so every shower would feel like a trip to a fancy spa and hotel.

Wanting life to feel like a fancy hotel everyday,
she would love one of those tempurpedic mattresses to lay her head on every night.

In the morning after her wonderful night's rest,
chances are she would ask for breakfast to be served at her anything-but-oak-laminate dining table, something preferably solid wood, and stunning to a keen eye.

After the meal was finished,
she would load her new Bosch dishwasher, wipe down her Viking range, and put away the eggs in her Sub Zero refrigerator.

Simply after running the household,
chances are she'll want a comfy couch to relax on when the day is through.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Craving Space In Our Space! Operation Purge!

Isn't that a coincidence, I was just thinking the same thing.


I don't believe much in coincidence because all too often it's brushed off as a moment of chance. Whereas I firmly believe, there are no coincidences. Our thoughts and ideas attract unto other's and by ways in which we can't quite explain, just by merely opening our eyes to the possibility we recognize less happenstance and more meant to be.

Which leads me directly to a simple moment that has taken me down a path I've avoided for sometime now. A friend and amazing photographer, Tracey, updated on Instagram last week how she was feeling consumed by her clutter, how she felt like she had been there before, but really wanted to escape the cycle. 52 comments later on the photo and it was clear Tracey opened the conversation by saying what so many of us want to say, but all to often refrain from doing. I became a part of the conversation, I wrote down a few book titles, and it was that simple moment that seemed to flip the switch for me.

We are just a few weeks shy of two years in our home. Two years to settle in, two years for all the boxes to be unpacked, and two years for so many new things to come into our home. Two years for my huge walk in storage closet to feel overwhelming packed to the gills. KEEP THE DOOR CLOSED AND FORGET ABOUT WHAT'S REALLY GOING ON runs through my head countless times a day. A day doesn't pass when I need to go in there for something, crafting supplies, a bin of clothing, to put away or take out decorations, a new light bulb, wrapping paper, mending kit, I'm telling you this closet is the keeper of all things. Then when I really think about how stressed out my disorganized, but was once beautifully organized closet is, my brain takes me on a journey. A journey to all the places that make me anxious. The large drawer of the buffet, the cabinet below the silverware drawer, the top bin in my bedroom closet organizer, the hall closet, oh and the linens strewn in all the wrong places. My youngest has outgrown all of her pants and when I easily pull out the next size up bin of clothing from her big sister, I also realize that her dresser is currently a disaster.

There is no end to the vicious circle of how deep the organization has to go to really get my shit in control. NO END...

So I request a few books from the library, but most importantly the first one to arrive on my hold list is Peter Walsh's, It's All Too Much. He's an organizing celebrity, made famous by Oprah's network and quite possibly TLC years ago but my memory is fuzzy on that one. I remember seeing his show, envisioning big blue tarps that become buried in the owner's possessions he pulls out of the home in a weekend. I consume his book in a day. I set my sights, talk to Josh and the girls, and everyone gets on the same page.

It's Operation Purge.

I am freeing the smallest nooks and crannies from the clutter. Everything shall return to it's proper home and many, many things shall be sent off on a donation truck, or in a trash bin because I just can't maintain the chaos. I'm fabulous at keeping mail, bills, and paperwork in their precise location, but laundry? Heck, it's been my downfall for decades. Try the bin on my bed, no the pile on the couch, or wait maybe it's in the dryer. Sorry honey, I was confused, your leotard is not clean, check the mountain of dirty laundry on the laundry room floor. I don't have a hard time letting go of many things we no longer need or use. My problem lies with my motivation to do the work. I've become complacent and accepting, it's just how it is. Oh it's not so bad, just as long as I keep the guest room door closed. Well guess what? I don't want to keep the door closed anymore.

I want every room, closet, shelf, and drawer back. I'm not quite brave enough to post photos, but I may take some tomorrow. A memento of life before, a life that will no longer be. I'm ready to be free and relish in a space that has space.

To be continued...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Four Years Later: Grateful To Be Way Better Off!

Both presidential candidates are frequently throwing out the question to their captive audiences on the campaign trail, asking if we are better off now than we were four years ago? I think it's hard to listen to canned phrases from politicians on the topic, knowing good and well that they are wealthy and aren't really living the typical middle America lifestyle (yes, the President included). Even though I constantly hear about the doom and gloom of our society and economy, I feel so grateful to be able to reflect upon how much better our lives are now than they were just four years ago.

Two years ago, we escaped the suburbs with cash in hand after the sale of our house. I have a couple of friends that are still upside down in the same community on their homes. Granted, we had never taken out second mortgages or home equity lines of credit, so I do think it's fair that we take credit for being so conservative during the time in our first house. One of our neighbors went into foreclosure and sold their house at a tremendous loss, during the exact same time. Even with years passing, I still find myself in reflection of how grateful I am for walking away with a profit on our home. 

With the money we made on the sale of our house we were able to use it to invest in our new home, which has been the greatest investment we've made to date. Once again we had good fortune on our side and were able to purchase in the City of Boulder, below market value. Because we didn't have 20% to put down on our house, we secured a FHA (Federal Housing Administration) mortgage, as we did with our first home. The downside of a FHA Loan is that a chunk of the monthly mortgage payment is paid to a mortgage insurance premium to help protect the mortgage company if we were to default on our loan. This is the moment where I share, in 10 years, we have never missed a mortgage payment or even paid late. Once again, I feel very grateful for that fact. I also feel grateful that loans like the FHA exist, for it allowed us to be homeowners with out having a huge chunk of change, aka 20% cash saved in the bank. 

The even better news? Our home has APPRECIATED so much in the past two years, that we are able to use that appreciation as equity in our home towards a refinance. We are doing a no cash out refinance, meaning we are only taking out a new loan for the amount that we owe on our mortgage. We are now 20% invested in our home, so we are able to move away from our FHA Loan into a fixed rate conventional loan. The interest rates are 1.5% lower on our new loan and our mortgage insurance is gone away, making our monthly payment drop $400 a month. To top it off, our house has appreciated more in two years in Boulder, than our old house did in eight years. 

I haven't forgotten the other ways our lives have improved the last four years. I am working again, hours of my choosing. One of my jobs is teaching related, so I am paying into my retirement account again for the first time in nine years. My husband was given a salary increase, after seeing things like bonuses and pay raises disappear during a couple of lean years in his company. We have paid the lowest taxes to date even though our income level is the highest it's ever been. I've seen changes to our healthcare coverage, like no co-pays at well check ups, even at my Gynecologist. I no longer have to worry that my daughter's mild and very controlled health condition will block her from having access to health insurance later on in her life. 

Have we made sacrifices over the past nine years? Absolutely. We are stronger as a family for them. We are in charge of our future and have set our sights on what is important to us. We live much less in the moment, like we did a decade ago, and that to me is one of the greatest gifts this economic depression has given us. Not a day passes where I am not grateful for the life we are now living just four short years later, something I could hardly dream for myself eight years ago. 

Grateful? Yes. 
Better off? Absolutely! 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Let's Hear It For, Date Morning!

Sometimes life gives us a little nudge to seize the moment and when I do, I feel like patting myself on the back. Just a couple of weeks ago, Josh and I recognized that we could have a few hours to ourselves after dropping the girls off at school. While we have great intentions to have a babysitter for a regular date night, we also recognize how much a date night hurts our wallet. The night out is great, but dropping $50-$75 after getting home is the real stinger. Nowadays we tend to reserve babysitters for events, not so much for a casual night out. Double ouch. 

Shall we agree, staying creative is the key to a happy relationship?

I hike with girlfriends or alone through out the week, simply due to when I have the free time. I rarely get to hit the trails with Josh, until our big revelation. With things slowing down a bit at work for Josh, we are loving an occasional weekday morning escape up the mountain and a nice breakfast to finish off the date. I believe it's time for date morning to gain popularity. Here's a photo of us from the top of Royal Arch, a trail we had never hiked together. Firsts are an amazing thing, when you've spent 22 years with someone. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Just Americans

Last night we were able to attend a speech by President Obama at CU. I've been fortunate enough to see him speak twice, but felt even luckier to be able to attend as family. It's truly an emotionally charged feeling to observe your children as they watch the President of the United States engage a crowd of 10,000 people. Memories of a lifetime, right there. 

 My nine year old and I both agree that our favorite quote of the evening was, 

"There are no Republicans or Democrats in a crisis, just Americans"
- President Obama 

(my iPhone photo on the left, photo on the right by local photographer Teryn)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaBloPoMo: Blogging For Blogging's Sake

Autumn nesting, turning back into oneself. Reexamining. Staying present in the home, in the heart. Returning to the kitchen, something is always baking, soul nourishing soups and stews. Time to recharge.

Maybe even, it's time to blog again.

I dug up a post from 2009, the last time I attempted NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month, and realized I had a very successful 24 posts. I'm impressed with myself, 24 posts in a month, I'm not quite sure if I've written 24 posts in 2012. Alright maybe that's an exaggeration, but truly not much of a stretch. It's time to fight the resistance and embrace this space that I've given so much to.

Long story short, I'm back to try my hand at blogging. I have so much to say, it's time I honor that.

You can find the NaBloPoMo Blogroll hosted over at Blogher now. I guess NaBloPoMo has grown up since I last participated. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Growing Into My Skin

I walk past most slip on bracelets for my hands are too big for them to slip over. About 1 out of every 15 name emblazoned trinket never has the name, Denise. I always scan the perfectly lined up shoes or boots at the store, only stopping for flats. I take in the trends and at 5'11" have to pass on anything over than a short heel.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Glimpse of Pairs

The last few days have spilled into the night and even into the wee morning hours. There's been thermometers and charts of medicine dosages, times, and a well documented ebb and flow of body temperature, nasal sprays, inhalers, meds twice a day, every 4-6 hours, every 6-8 hours, grab a wash cloth for it's sinus rinse time. My girl has finally learned to take pills like an adult instead of drink mass quantities of liquid medicine. It doesn't sound so bad, but it's tiring. The reality is there have been lots of spikes and anxiety and no rest. 

But tonight I had this very simple moment to relax. 

I was walking down the hall when I was drawn to the picture window. I pulled the curtains back to see if my car windows were rolled up, but the silence just drew me in. I saw two still swings highlighted by the gentlest of moonlight, one scooter dumped by the curb and a second properly stowed on the porch, a single hula hoop, two soccer balls, and one soccer goal. My cozy vantage point, a striped chair had been turned upside down in an attempt to build a fort. 

Stopping to savor the stillness and calm in a simple glimpse of pairs, a true reflection of my world. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Well Rounded Snack Bento

Today for snack my Kindie got some red seedless grapes, a pack of roasted seaweed, and some cashews. This size snack seems to be just perfect for her! 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Peanut Butter + Jelly Mix up

When I packed the peanut butter and jelly laptop lunch yesterday, it was on a day when I also pack a lunch for my youngest. I don't create identical lunches. I have many items out for snacks and lunch packing, so I switch things up. This one isn't too different, it has a pear instead of strawberries or raspberries, and no cheddar bunnies! 

Do you pack identical lunches if you are packing more than one?

Blueberries, tomatoes, peanut butter and jelly, italian cookie, pear, and frozen peas (I did heat them up)!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Yes, I Pack Peanut Butter + Jelly

Yes, I know I pride myself on sandwich alternatives, but hey we all have those mornings! I try desperately to balance out a sandwich with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. I think I accomplished that this morning. 

Peanut butter and jelly on multigrain bread, cheddar bunnies, tomato, frozen peas to add some green to the mix, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Italian cookie for a special treat. I don't pack a treat everyday, but on occasion I think it's just fine. When my girls start to expect a treat, I know that's a good time to take a break from it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sandwich Alternatives: Frozen Burrito Bento

I rarely purchase frozen burritos, but a great sale at the market on Evol Burritos (locally produced) caught my eye. I picked up a few as a sandwich alternative and because they are super filling! My 8 year old was so happy with this bento! 

The only downside of the frozen burrito is that we don't own a microwave. It takes a good 30 minutes to heat it up in the oven (and 1 minute in the microwave). One option I am going to try is to pull it out the night before and put it in the refrigerator, so it's not frozen solid in the morning.

This bento is new to us, it's a Zojirushi Stainless Steel Lunch Jar, which is insulated (as well as the bag that came with it) to keep the hot part hot and the cold fruit cold. Win, win, we love it! 

Grapes, yellow watermelon, organic corn chips, bean, cheese, and rice EVOL burrito.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Nut Free Snack Bento

Prepackaged snack foods are the main go to for the majority of us in the morning lunch packing rush. I find it just as easy to pull out a few extra items and just pack a waste free bento instead. I am packing 2 snacks every day and 3 snacks twice a week. 

My girls have great appetites, so packing something like an applesauce pouch or granola bar doesn't quite cut it for them. 34 Degree Crisps (a local Boulder company), cheddar cheese, and a pear sliced made for a sophisticated, but very easy snack for my girl today! 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Panda Bento + Left Over Chicken Tenders!

I'm a huge fan of using leftovers as part of lunch packing, especially if it's something I know the girls will be excited to have. Leftovers equals a sandwich alternative. Of course sandwiches are an obvious go to staple lunch item, but options are a plus to keep things fresh. 

My kindergartner had a leftover hand made chicken tender from her special dinner out the night before her Nana and Papa went home to New York. I heated the chicken in our toaster oven, chopped it up, and placed it in our thermal container. GL did report the chicken was still warm by the time she had lunch. Everything else was cold, so those items were packed in panda. 

This bento came home completely empty:

Chicken tender in a thermal container. Panda Bento had broccoli (also left over), peas, joyful rabbit contained honey mustard, crackers, strawberries, and grapes!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Colorado Bento is Back To School! Nana is in Town, Meatball Sandwich Bento

While school started a few weeks ago in Colorado, lunch making duty has been in Josh's hands. Today he's off on a trip, so it was time to brush off my bento making skills and prepare two lunches this morning. Miss Sj requested a meatball sandwich in her lunch, I happily obliged. As  you will see below I put a piece of cheese in between the bread and meatball to create a barrier to prevent the bread from getting soggy. 

I loaded up her lunch with plenty of other fresh fruits and vegetables. We also are packing individual snacks for the girls this year, so I'm saving their snacks for a separate post. I'm always in search of snack ideas, so I hope to grow the snack label on Colorado Bento!

Meatball sandwich, left over meatball tucked in the same compartment, red peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries on a little pick, cheddar bunnies, Mi-Del graham crackers, and an Italian Cookie (second hint Nana is in town from NY).

Monday, September 3, 2012

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Back to School: Learning How To Be Alone

The feeling is odd. Being alone. I'm learning how to be alone again. I've spent the last nine years with a little one by my side for the majority of my days and now I find myself with longer stretches of alone time. I've already caught myself on the escape with hikes, coffee, and lunch out with friends.

But today I've forced myself to stay home, well after a hike. 

The dishwasher is running and I've created a to do list. I feel anxious to find the balance of this new time to myself without running away from what I have. With nothing but good intentions, I am focusing on being present. I didn't realize this wouldn't come so naturally to me. Time to do the work, embrace this next phase, and understand the emptiness I feel will allow me to be more present when my side kicks are back home.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

My Mother Of The Year Trophy In NEON PINK!

The tears were rolling down her face in the moment she had gotten hurt, which was definitely out of character for my tough girl. A ball bent her pinky back in a game of dodgeball. I got some ice for her and we set off for lunch. There wasn't much swelling when we got home and I didn't even offer her an ibuprofen. I went through a laundry list of questions I thought would help me indicate if there was really something wrong with her finger, which I anticipated was sprained. The pain wasn't bad, she could bend it, but 6 hours later it did look swollen. When she flipped her palm up, I could see bruising on her finger. I decided to call the nurse line and she felt like Sj should be checked out within 24 hours.

I immediately gave her ibuprofen and sent Josh off with Sj to get an Xray at Urgent Care, rather than wait for our Pediatrician in the morning. The text I received shortly there after, fractured pinky. My girl came home cheery as usual with a silver splint on her finger and we made a follow up appointment with an Orthopedic Doctor. That's when the cast appeared.

The cast is a neon pink reminder to me, to not drag my feet. A BRIGHT REMINDER, that my girl has a high threshold for pain, which isn't necessarily a good thing when coupled with me being all casual with my armchair Dr diagnosis. Most importantly the cast is to protect her, so her finger can heal quickly especially with school starting, I'm not as worried about her bumping it into everything. The cast has proved cumbersome only when bathing, I've been wrapping it in a towel with two plastic bags on it. On the up side, she was the cute new girl in fourth grade with a cool pink cast. We'll never forget the start of school this year, especially me with my girl carrying around the neon pink mother of the year trophy. Please tell me people don't save stinky neon casts as mementos...


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Is Switching Schools A Good Thing? A Fourth Grade Story.

Today was a first, something happened I never would've anticipated just a few short years ago. My daughter started at a new school, leaving behind a school we had become very comfortable with the last three years. Sj bounced around to different preschools every year through Kindergarten and when we received a first grade spot in our former school, I always imagined she would stay there through fifth grade. That was it for me, finally we had our spot, and we were happy there!

Now I have to confess, switching schools makes me uncomfortable, it makes me worrisome. I'm a product of never having to switch schools, my parents still live in the house I grew up in. Maybe I credit my success in life to consistency. I truly don't think there's a right way, but one could easily misconstrue being consistent with also being stagnant, which I am really not a fan of. Anyway, I threw all my hesitations into the wind and decided to place the girls into a new school this year. While the decision was fairly easy, ultimately Josh and I took a very thorough look into all the pros and cons of switching or staying put. All four of us sat around the dinner table and had a very open and candid conversation about making a school change, and like that we had consensus, four thumbs up for the school switch!

As we've come to learn, talking about something like switching schools is much easier than actually switching schools. Leaving behind a community of great friends, a building that we knew like the back of our hand, a playground where the girls have spent countless hours, faces of the teachers we once hoped we'd be fortunate enough to educate our girls. All a distant memory. Fast forward to today, the first day of fourth grade for Sj at her new school. She couldn't sleep last night, the anticipation was rising, she was full of energy, and so excited for the big day! As we waited to get into the building we watched kids hug and catch up with friends they hadn't seen all summer. I spent time focusing on Sj, telling her how wonderfully she was going to do, knowing she was feeling the divide and lack of connection. During the course of our wait her enthusiasm was shrinking, at some point she was letting negative thoughts in, and it almost looked as if she was on the verge of tears.

When I walked out of her classroom, the look of devastation on her face was all I could focus on. Regret began to creep in. By the time I hit the front door, I felt as if I had ruined my daughter's life. I questioned why I thought it would be good for her. The school day dragged beyond belief. When we finally reunited that afternoon, I patiently waited to see her face in the crowd coming down the hall. Sj's face reads to me beyond what any of her words will tell. A simple look on her face would be the indicator if the decision was a good one or not.

Sj was all smiles, rambling at 1,000 words per minute about her fabulous day. I hugged her and told her how proud I was of her. All is good in the world, all is good. Finally at the end of my day, I was able to exhale the biggest and happiest sigh of relief.

The world has once again confirmed, change is good.

More shall come about our new school and ultimately why we decided to move on, stay tuned! It's a good story! 

Monday, August 13, 2012

it's been FIVE YEARS and it's better with you here

Over the course of the past five years at Eat Play Love, thousands of words have told my stories, some significant to the bigger context of my life and some rather simple and lighthearted. Sometimes the words just spilled out serendipitously onto the page providing space from my thoughts and other times my intentions were wrought with countless edits. While idyllic notions and noble attempts have waxed and waned over the years, Eat Play Love has remained my constant. My tiny corner of the web, the place where I've allowed myself the approval to be simply who I am. There's never been an act or a show, nor fabrication to create something more than which rings true.

Five years of authenticity and I know myself better. You know me better. Thanks for tagging along on this journey through life, it's better with you here.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Train Ride Along The Hudson River

Steps after entering the train car, I quickly observed a seat that would allow me the most pleasurable ride to my final stop, Penn Station. Heading south along the Hudson River, I knew I had to sit along the right side of the train, intentionally placed in a row between a few business men defaulting to more time for work. I wasn't interested in conversation or even overhearing small talk, I just wanted to take the time to enjoy some peace and quiet I was in search of. I didn't even have my my music playing or my book open on my iPad, when the train started to rhythmically clank and then gently hum over the tracks.

My eyes gazed out over the water, passing through wooded areas, small towns, the occasional stone castle perched upon a hillside starkly contrasting abandoned buildings full of teenage boy's graffiti. I seized the moment many times to take photos to remind me of the journey, little mementos of a feeling that is hard to achieve in the desert of Colorado. The contrast of the Hudson River Valley is apparent, green and lush, the edges of the river bank gently flirting with the appearance of water swelling up too high on the banks. A few times my mind wandered into bizarre thoughts about how I would escape the train if it simply left the tracks and hit the water. I wonder why I need to go to such places when I am just sitting back and relaxing. Peace of mind is not as easy to find, even in the most perfect situation.

Train conductor calls over the speaker, "Next stop Yahn-kas." (that's heavy accent speak for Yonkers)

The view of the river turned into to commuter rail stations, then into buildings, and rows upon rows of railroad tracks which lead my eyes to walls of bricks and endless concrete. In all the times I've ridden this train, I've never missed a surprising soccer court nestled within the concrete jungle, shirtless men happily grabbing a pickup game before dinner time. Within moments of passing them, I knew shortly I'd be arriving in Manhattan.  


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Life Still Has Firsts

Remarkably for one of the first times in my life, I walked away. I can't quite grasp if I was so incredibly exposed, fragile, and vulnerable so I put up walls greater than the Chinese or that I just couldn't handle the emotional state I was experiencing. I've always believed that engaging in conversation that typically escalates to something more than conversation is the best way to go. Get it out, let the words that need to be spoken go, and be done with it. I have a hard time holding things in. I don't stew well. I don't always run with initial emotions, but within a day or two, I typically need resolve.

But not this time, this time I walked. It's good to know I can be grounded in moments that encapsulate for the first time in my life. It seems like I've been craving those more and more these days.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Slice of Americana, YMCA of The Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado

As I see it, Americana represents the fabric of our cultural heritage. Camping in the summer is one of those cherished slices of Americana, just as sweet as a homemade apple pie. I have very distinct memories of a camping trip I went on one summer as a child with my neighbors. There was bingo, camp fires, getting all sorts of dirty, exploring trails, and a tire swing over a lake.

In June I was invited to explore the YMCA of The Rockies in Estes Park for a few days with a fabulous group of local bloggers, which I luckily also consider to be some dear friends. There was no way we would pass up such an opportunity! Typically we camp a couple of times over the summer, but it's usually in camping areas with no amenities, just back country style. My husband has a degree in Wilderness Recreation Leadership so he really enjoys all the work that goes into planning and experiencing a more back country camping experience. 

We agreed it would be a fun and new experience to visit a place like the "Y", as we like to call it, with the girls. We pulled into the Y after a 45 minute easy commute from Boulder, it instantly felt like a great place to relax and getaway, I adored the buildings sharing a log cabin aesthetic. Our reservation was for a room in a lodge, but they also offer cabins for lodging which looked right up our alley. We were given the full experience, meals provided for us in a cafeteria style setting, group activities, a barbeque, campfire songs with the fabulous Cowboy Ron, drop off activities for the girls to participate in like how to be an animal detective or kick ball, live bluegrass, ziplining which was my favorite, the most amazing crafting center we have ever been to, archery, swimming, horseback riding, and there was even a playground for those in between times when the kids were still on the go. Here's a full program bulletin to get a better sense of all the opportunities the Y offers! 

Wow, right? 

All of my expectations were exceeded at the Y. We experienced full days packed with joy, not only through our girls, but with them! Sounds amazing, doesn't it? It was. The YMCA of The Rockies provided us with many special memories all set in one of the most picturesque and relaxing places, right in our backyard. I can't wait until we return, I think we need to check out the cabins on our next visit! 

The best day of my 8 year old's life! 
More posts about the Y experience can be found over at Write Mind Open Heart!
Disclosure: My family was provided this wonderful opportunity (lodging and meals) in partnership with Mile High Mamas. Some of the activities, such as the horseback riding through Rocky Mountain National Park were not included, but way too exciting of an opportunity to pass up. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Adventure: 3 Weeks In New York...

I can clearly remember back to the moment when I was on the final purchase page for our tickets to New York, I pulled up the calendar at the same time and was double checking my days, I sensed a few moments of hesitation. I methodically clicked back and forth, wondering if I was really going to go through with it. Our trip would be three weeks long, with J joining us on the front end for the first 6 days, and I would be solo with the girls for the last two weeks.

I joked with my parents, I am really doing this, say the word if you think it's too long. No, no, of course not too long, we can't wait to have you and the girls! Just do it!

The reality is, we hadn't been back to my home town in two and a half years, and the girls were begging me to go. I started making a list of all the things I wanted to do with them and three weeks didn't seem like a stretch. Granted I knew there would be moments that wouldn't be all happy, happy, joy, joy, but I hit purchase anyway. G in particular didn't have many memories of being in New York and I wanted to change that. I wanted the girls to see all of their family members that never come to Colorado to visit. Boy were we accomplished!

Here's some of the adventures we had, which I am sure will inspire some posts of their own:

  • New York City with the girls, complete with a train ride to Albany
  • Visiting all of their Uncles at their houses (the girls have 5 uncles)
  • Soft serve ice cream tour
  • A trip to coastal New Hampshire, yeah Atlantic Ocean
  • Visiting their cousins
  • Swimming
  • Cruising on a boat 
  • Spending time with their 3 sets of grandparents and even a visit w/great grandma
  • Family dinners
  • Playing at the playground of my childhood elementary school
  • Seeing the NYC Ballet at my favorite outdoor performing arts venue
  • Going to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC as a family
  • Learning about humidity and heat indexes ;)
  • Hanging out having a boisterous good time
  • Trip to the New York State Museum in Albany

As I was packing our luggage to head home, G turned to me and said, "I sure am going to miss visiting with everyone." I feel grateful my girls are so social and travel well. I hope our trip is one they will always remember.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Room You Booked Isn't Available...

Finally after navigating the streets of New York City with 4 rolling suitcases, we arrived at our hotel. I faintly heard the hotel receptionist tell my husband that the room we had booked was no longer available. Then I heard the words, suite and 31st Floor...

This was the view from our room, on the top floor of the hotel, on the same block as the Empire State Building! We were so close, I couldn't even fit the entire building in my camera to get a shot. Wow! What a way to start our stay in New York.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Surreal Moment

When you look at a map being played over and over again on the news and realize, your house is in the middle of a preliminary evacuation zone, that's surreal. Tomorrow shall give some insight as to how the Flagstaff Fire is going to go, grow or containment. My thoughts are focused on containment, as I watch micro fires cresting a ridge just miles from my house.

Quickly I look around and stuff becomes stuff, my energy is focused on my family's safety.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Subjected To Interpretation

Yesterday I spent the morning in the hot sun, digging in the dirt, planting seeds, and putting the final finishing touches on my garden. I was literally covered in a thin layer of dirt from my left cheek bone, to the underside of my forearms, dirt was caked under my fingernails, on my knees, and down to the skin in between my toes. After getting out of the shower I slipped on an army green linen dress I picked up years ago in Venice, Italy. The dress flows and is airy, perfect for a hot afternoon after a morning of garden laboring. 

I sat down on my favorite chair in the living room, iphone in hand, opening Instagram simultaneously. The linen dress I was wearing is very long and I've gotten into the habit over the years of pulling it up before I sit down so it doesn't tug and pull at the delicate linen fibers. The camera was open and snapped a shot of my legs freshly propped up on the coffee table. Normally I delete those unintended photos, but today I liked the way the light hit my leg and arm. The photo had a nice abstract feeling to me, so I posted it. I'm sure it took more than a quick glance to even figure out what the photo was of. I didn't think anything of it until I opened IG later that evening to see 10 comments on my photo. Lots of ?, a NSFW (not safe for work), a meow, easily the sexiest photo of 2012, another friend asking if I lost a foot since he last saw me... Then a text from my husband commenting on my update. 

Oh the interpretations.

I can easily laugh at the trying to be sexy angle because really I've never put myself out there in that way. I'm not joking when I say, I don't think I could post a sexually suggestive photo of myself, EVEN IF I TRIED. For what it's worth, I am right handed and that's my left hand in the photo. Left handed, not my style. 

As for the photo to the left, it was a quick moment, clearly subjected to many interpretations.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Bucking The Food In Pouch Trend! Applesauce In A Bowl? SAY WHAT?

We were casually strolling the aisle of our local warehouse store today, even though we had all we could do to navigate around the other sample obsessed shoppers, when my girls caught glimpse of the organic applesauce on the go pouches. Comparing to retail prices for the same pouches, it is a deal at around .50 cents a pouch, but today I put my foot down. I feel like those pouches are such a waste, as far as I know they can't be recycled. Yet more plastic straight to the landfill.

Now don't get me wrong, I absolutely enjoy the convenience of them for on the go, but I have found my girls eat them mainly at home. I find little yellow caps poking into my bottom when I sit down on the couch. Little flattened pouches find their way into the most precarious spots and by that I do not mean the trash can!

Today, I opted to purchase a 4 pack of jarred organic applesauce instead. Price per ounce doesn't even compare it's so much cheaper, plus there's only 4 jars to recycle, or better yet reuse on our home. If the girls need an on the go snack, they can grab an apple with it's natural packaging, SKIN. I feel rather disheartened that modern conveniences have brainwashed our kids into thinking cool packaging is better than just eating the real deal.

The trend stopped with this mom today, I'll have no more of it!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Unexpected News Of The Best Kind!

A week ago we received a simple email that provided a rush of emotions and some mixed feelings, coupled with excitement. Sj had been offered a spot next year in a school that I tried to get her into for two years with no success . It's not just any school, it's one where I started out my teaching career, and one I've remained connected to for 17 years. This school will afford my girls the opportunity to spend the next 5 years together, that prospect alone is incredibly thrilling to me!

While our decision wasn't just simply made, we had many thorough conversations about what ultimately was best for Sj. She's embracing moving on from her school, not with out lack of hesitation, but feels excited by the new opportunity and change. She's made incredible strides in her emotional maturity in the last year and I really feel like she's ready to take on a change of school.

Since making our decision, with both girls moving to the same school next year, I've had some incredible moments of happenstance which deserve their own posts... I've been left feeling like, is this really happening? Our time is simply our time, the universe has shown that to me in one short week.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Giddy About Motherhood

From the whispers that started between my girls on Saturday afternoon, straight through bedtime on Sunday, the anticipation and excitement my girls felt just naturally energized Mother's Day. As for Sunday itself, there were countless moments through out the day when I just sat back and felt giddy. 

Giddy about motherhood. 

My path to motherhood came unexpectedly on one hand, but with perfect timing on the other. I was ready to be a mom. My decision came with sacrifices such as my teaching career (which I consider to be on hold) and many things that were a habitual part of my life were pushed aside. As you would imagine, many of life's luxuries began to fade into the background when going from two incomes to one, one child to two. I sort of chuckle sitting back thinking about creating a list of "sacrifices", what I traded in for motherhood, but in reality those things are all a drop in the bucket in comparison to the fulfillment that my daughters have brought into my life. 

Giddy about motherhood. 

I have found the deepest sense of joy in the simplest moments since becoming a mother. Watching my husband with our girls, a man I once met as a boy, who has grown into his role as a father as if it was second nature. Just the other night I could hear GL reading her book out loud to J before bedtime instead of vice versa. She's five years old and the words roll off her tongue with ease, I smile when her voice still carries hints of a squeaky toddler tone. As for my Sj, her wisdom comes naturally. She puts words together on a piece of paper in ways I could have never imagined. Sometimes I just sit in the living room, discreetly observing the hum of my life, my family life, a beautiful life. 

Giddy about motherhood. 

On Mother's Day I allowed myself the opportunity to bask in the depths of happiness that my life may have never known, if I had taken a different road. I feel the gratitude that feeds my spirit, all a gift from motherhood. 

Giddy about motherhood. 

Related: sometimes 140 characters can speak in a way that an endless amount of characters could not. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Eat Play Love Has Arrived...

Nothing quite solidifies the fact that one has truly arrived more than encountering a mug in a retail establishment, with their online identity emblazoned on it. Now mind you, this gorgeous hand made in China mug, was found at Home Goods. The words Eat Play Love are emblazoned on not one, but two sides and it serves about 40oz (I'm not kidding). Talk about boutique quality.

I snapped up both available mugs. I sent one off to my inaugural fan club member. I may have also requested that my inaugural fan club member take over as President, due to the sheer and overwhelming response for membership in said fan club. I mean, I am like blogging royalty now aren't I? My own mug, cast off at a unique and affordable Home Goods store?!

Bring it universe, I'm owning you.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tuesday Tips: Budget Bathroom Organization! Find What You Need In A Snap.

Our home was built in 1962, we have one large cabinet for storage in our bathroom that is separated into a top and bottom. On the bottom we store our towels and in the top we store all of our toiletries, medicines, and related products. The cabinet is not deep enough to fit a shoe box size storage container, so for the past year I had a very disorganized cabinet. I had a couple of rubbermaid containers sideways, trying to organize all of our go to products from nail clippers to neosporin and it was a disaster. I was getting so frustrated every time I needed an item and had to spend 5-10 minutes digging around these bins or on the shelf sitting out loose.

I finally had enough! I knew there had to be a better way.

It dawned on me that I could use food storage containers to help me organize the bathroom cabinet. Plus, it helped me break down the supplies into smaller easy to find categories! I made a minor investment at our local $1 Store, I didn't feel like I needed name brand containers for this project, so the money in my opinion was well saved.

I took my cabinet measurements with me to the store and actually measured out the width on the spot, finding the containers that fit the best. I had a guesstimate as to how many bins I was hoping to fit on the shelf for my needs, I actually got 3 extra bins to fit which I was excited about. I had the stickers in my office, so the only out of pocket cost was $12 for the bins. Unfortunately I do not own a label maker or this project would be perfect in my mind. I have turned 3 haphazard shelves into 1 fabulously labeled and organized shelf of bins. I have 2 extra shelves of space now, I keep our go to items like hair ties, hair dryer, brushes, and vitamins on one shelf, which I would like to pick up open bins for.

The best part is how efficient it is to find an item and now my family members know exactly where to put an item back!

Categories I used to label:
Sharps (nail clippers, hair scissors, razors)
Nail Polish
Fever/Allergy (thermometer, ibuprofen, tylenol, allergy meds)
First Aid (band aids, arnica, neosporin)
General Creams (calamine, diaper, anti-itch, ace bandages, rubber gloves)
Sinus/Cold (sinus rinse, saline, vaporub, lozenges, cold calm tabs)
Asthma (inhalers, spacers, flow meter)
Hair Care (shampoo, conditioner, styling products)
Mouth Care (floss, toothbrushes, lipbalm, toothpaste)
Face Care (cleanser, lotions)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Waiting For President Obama

Word broke late Friday afternoon that President Obama would be speaking at CU Boulder and immediately I knew I had to be there. The President of The United States, in my town, at my alma mater? My enthusiasm waxed and waned as rumors of the student ticket lines were deep into the thousands, I assumed there wouldn't be many tickets left for the general public. 

The big question Monday morning was, did I want to wait and try to get tickets? I sent my husband by the ticket line on his bicycle commute to work to see how it looked. At 8:45 in the morning, the line wasn't bad at all, so I decided I'd give it a shot. 

When I arrived around 9:30 am, I was around the 100th person in line with an estimated 1500 tickets available, so I was guaranteed a ticket. Luckily I was waiting in the shade and was sitting around some pretty friendly people. The time passed fast, before I knew it I had these in my hand:

The tickets were handed out in a pretty straight forward fashion, one ticket per person. I scored two tickets because J dropped G off in line with me after she got out of school! It was later decided that I would take Sj with me to see the President speak, just because of logistics. I anticipated there would be lots of waiting around, due to the security to get into the event. I was correct, there was a lot of waiting, but Sj was great company.

This was the second line to get into the building and from what I later learned, the short one! It took us about 45 minutes to get through the security. The screening was by Secret Service Agents, it felt like mock airport security. The Secret Service Agents were very professional, but were sweet to Sj asking her if she was excited to see the President. Of course she was, she was beaming the entire time!

Once we settled into our seats, we had to wait yet again! Sj being a cordial and friendly 8 year old taught a group of CU Law students how to play go fish. We ran into some friends that sat right behind us and once again, the time passed quickly. At one point during our wait, I found out via twitter that President Obama and his motorcade stopped on The Hill to pick up some food. While the waiting was hard, I thought it was awesome he took the time to meet some people on the street. 

Finally the moment we were waiting for! Here's one of the worst photos you'll ever see of the President. Still, I couldn't refrain from the photo op. I only had my iPhone on me, decided to keep my load light due to security warnings. I took a few shots when he first arrived on stage, then put down my phone to focus on his speech. I have a lot to say about his speech on student loan interest. As you can imagine The President was a very charismatic speaker, we felt so lucky to be in his presence!

After his speech ended, Sj and I made a bee line for the closest spot we could grab to the stage. The President took about 10 minutes to stop and chat with the students that were lucky enough to get a spot right on the railing adjacent to the stage. This is by far the best photo I captured and of course, he had his head turned! Shucks.

The Denver Post had a great photo gallery and this photo was my favorite! When I was scrolling through the photos online, I couldn't believe I found one that featured us in the audience! Now, you can barely tell it's me (the circle I used for editing washes us out), but I promise it is.

If wanted to get technical, I could boast that there was a photo of us and the President featured in the Denver Post. I mean come on, don't we look fabulous? Tee Hee!

The reaction to his speech has to come separately, but I promise it's almost finished! What an amazing adventure, I would wait all those hours again to be in the presence of the President any day.

In case you are interested, here's the speech:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

And Then There Were Two... Ballerinas In The Family.

Somewhere in this group of precious ballerinas, is my girl. She was beyond thrilled to finally be performing on stage in front of an audience. Watching her makes me smile.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Kindergarten At 4, A Celebration Story!

Kindergarten can be one of the most stressful decisions a family is thrust into making, typically complete with much internal dialogue, tons of reading, and plenty of advice seeking. Is my daughter or son ready, should I hold them back, she's not emotionally there, will they get picked on, are they mature enough, I don't want them to be the last one driving, he'll be bigger for football, she doesn't quite seem ready. Those are all other's words. Words I've read, words that have come up in countless discussions. There is no formula, age cut off, or magical red shirting to give a child the perfect school experience. We simply have to give a look at the whole child and make a decision and watch how the path leads from there.

Being an elementary school teacher and working right up until giving birth in September, Kindergarten cut off dates were at the forefront of my mind. While I thought a third week of September due date was enough of a cushion to not have to worry about Kindergarten cut offs, I remember telling my Doctor when I was a week late, this baby has to be out before October 1st. My oldest daughter was born, on the cut off day for our school district. On THE day, people. One may assume my mind was made up in utero, but truly it wasn't, I pinky swear promise. I'm also going to throw into the mix right now, I am the product of starting Kindergarten at four, graduating at 17, and escaping unscathed to tell about it. 

While initially I wanted to share an anecdotal account of my 8 year old's Kindergarten experience, I have decided to list out what we considered when we made the decision to send her to school at four. Please note, she is now ending her third grade school year, headed to fourth grade. Gulp. While her overall school success has yet to be determined, being a few years out I know we made the right decision at this point and time.

Saying Yes To Kindergarten at 4:

Sj's oral language developed consistently and on par with the majority of her peers. What I believe set her apart was the linguistic acquisition of her vocabulary and articulation. She could carry on a conversation at two, having a very short window of what I would consider to be "baby language". Her articulation also gave us a deeper understanding of how she was feeling, allowing moments where other children may shut down more easily not being able to verbalize how they were feeling, she could tell us. This was huge for us, it allowed us to feel like emotionally she was ready.

Sj was drawn to fine motor skill activities from a young age as well. By two she was coloring, painting, drawing, cutting, pasting with ease. She was drawn to art. At preschool she was always engaged by craft projects and showed consistent ability to focus at the task on hand.

Her experience at preschool for two years was always an easy transition. She loved school and would've gone five days a week if we sent her. We never saw huge gaps in her ability to "keep up" with her older classmates. She easily worked in groups, with partners, and on her own. She was thriving in preschool, having experiences that she was ready for, that I wouldn't of been able to give her in our home. Our conferences with her experienced teachers instilled in us that she was at the right place in her development.

We felt drawn to seek out a half time Kindergarten experience. With Sj being on the younger end of the spectrum, I felt like full time Kindergarten would've been a difficult transition for her. Plus half time Kindergarten still provided us with time to take art, dance, or gymnastics classes. We could still do afternoon activities like go to the Zoo and Natural History Museum, we still had playdates. While I can't exactly recall when she stopped napping, I can almost guarantee she was comfortably resting with a few naps per week, at the age of four. When she turned five, there were no more naps. I had a vastly different experience with my youngest, that stopped napping at two, but I'll save that for her Kindergarten story.

All signs pointed to go. We had conversations with our pediatrician, with her preschool teachers, and I chatted with my friends that taught Kindergarten. I read many view points and didn't find huge gaps that convinced me to hold back for a year. I also knew if the decision turned out to be a total disaster, we could put her back in a private preschool until the following year. We decided to move forward with our decision to send her to a public, five days a week, part time Kindergarten.

Concerns About Sending My 4 Year Old To Kindergarten:

My biggest overall concern was that she wouldn't be ready to handle school everyday. I didn't know if the experience would take a toll on her. After visiting her new school, I was worried that Kindergarten felt so down to business and that play based Kindergarten was extinct in public schools. Here's a post I wrote about her first day of school, Where Did Sissy Go?

Most of Sj's preschool friends were boys. I distinctly noticed that her gross motor skills were not even close to where her male counterparts were at that age. While she would be off drawing pictures at playgroup, her boy friends were figuring out how to climb on top of the countertop. I didn't think this would be a huge factor in her Kindergarten experience. She was also dancing ballet and taking a gymnastics class and doing just fine keeping up. By no means was she excelling at gymnastics, but it was a positive experience for her.

Three years later:

Sj is off to fourth grade next year. My mind hesitates when I say fourth grade, as fourth grade seems way too grown up to me. How can my first born be headed to Upper Elementary school, just two years away from middle school... Her Lower Elementary school experience has overall been very positive. Sj is reading and writing above grade level. She has a deep appreciation for literature and enjoys writing her own short stories and poetry. Just this year she has received advanced grades in those subject areas. Emotionally she seems to be at par with her girlfriends, I don't think any of her teachers would even know that she was the youngest in her grade. She's a leader in her classroom and often is allowed to give lessons to younger classmates. She is very well organized and takes pride in her schoolwork. Homework is not a battle, she completes a weekly packet days in advance (a trait she does not get from her parents, we are procrastinators through and through). She can hang with the best of them and I have to remind myself she is younger, sometimes almost a year younger than her fellow classmates. We've also had the good fortune for her to attend a school that has multi-age classrooms (1-3 and 4-5), which allows learning to happen at the level that is needed. With someone like Sj and her ability to focus, it has given her the opportunity to work most often above the "middle" where one would anticipate she should be working. We haven't had a completely glowing, stellar elementary school experience. There's been friendship drama and lots of emotional maturity that we've had to really process through. Honestly, I don't think there is any escaping the ups and downs that come with forming friendships. So is life, in my opinion.

Overall I feel confident in our decision to allow our oldest to start school at four. Frankly I find myself biting my tongue when I hear outrageous factors coming into play when a parent is deciding if their child is ready to take on Kindergarten. Remember that, I don't want her to be the last kid in her class to be driving comment? That mom was completely serious and I was completely floored.

My strongest advice is talk to other parents, talk to your pediatrician, talk to family members, read all perspectives, talk to the preschool teachers, talk to teachers your child may have had in extracurricular activities. Recognize your child for their strengths and weaknesses and make a decision. There will always be options if the decision you have come to was not perfect. None of us are perfect and can predict a child's experience. Be kind to yourself and always put your child's needs first.

Related: My youngest will have the exact opposite experience. She missed the Kindergarten cutoff, having a December birthday. She'll be the oldest in her class, 10 months older than Sj is at the same grade. She's already reading and writing in preschool and I wish quite often she could be in Kindergarten now. Her story will be told, soon enough. 


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday Tips: Say Goodbye To Toxic Sugar? [w/ videos]

The studies are in, sugar is toxic to our bodies. Every little sweet nibble sending our taste buds into overdrive and our dopamine levels through the roof, is bad for us. Bad, bad, bad. While I hate to be the bearer of bad news, this can't actually come as a surprise, right? Deep down, we already knew this.

I know how my body feels when I consume higher levels of sugar than normal, it feels like crap. After the sugar rush is over, my body feels depleted and weak, most of the time I want to take a nap post-sugar crash. When I detoxed off of sugar in January, I honestly felt like I was detoxing off of a hard illegal substance. I was irritable. I spent one night from 5 in the afternoon until the morning with a pillow over my head, I was miserable, sensitive to noise, achy, and overwhelmed by a dull malaise. But when that detox phase was over and I was eating a diet free of processed sugars, I felt incredible.

With the new studies confirming what my gut instinct may have already told me, how do we use this information to make informed decisions?

Sugar is not going away from my house, it's simply not. Here's the bigger problem to me, the appearance of sugar in items we don't even think of containing sugar. Ketchup, pasta sauce (that's just all sorts of wrong), crackers, bread, peanut butter, the list goes on. If we are not consciously recognizing all the small doses of sugar we are eating through out the day (snuck into foods we don't think are "sweet") then when we do choose to have a special treat, it's just overload on our bodies. The sugar consumption is taking a toll on American's health.

Our first line of defense, is keeping our EYES WIDE OPEN to what items come into the house already containing sugar. I will not purchase any food products for our home that contain High Fructose Corn Syrup, not one. I also think HFCS is not the only culprit, we need to look at sugar in all forms that sneak into our foods. Organic processed foods are not the solution, they are just made with an organic form of sugar (note: STILL TOXIC). Pay close attention to food labels and make sure when you do recognize sugar as an ingredient it's not in the first 5 ingredients, as the list starts with the item it contains the most of.

Here's a partial list of forms of sugar, there are probably over 50 easily:

1. Sugar
2. Brown Sugar
3. Cane Sugar or Juice
4. Brown Rice or Rice Bran Syrup
5. Beet Sugar
6. Malt Syrup
7. High Fructose Corn Syrup
8. Dextrose
9. Maltodextrin
10. Sucrose
11. Fructose
12. Agave
13. Date Sugar
14. Barley Malt
15. Honey
16. Maple Syrup
17. Caramel
18. Sucanat
19. Lactose
20. Glucose

If I consider my job to be the first line of defense in keeping unhealthy food items away from my family, then I have take the job seriously. I tow the line, no super processed foods, no GMO's, no hydrogenated oils, no crazy artificially colored foods, no HFCS, no junk (we call it what it is). I have conversations about food with my children, ALL THE TIME. We make choices together. We are huge fans of fresh fruit for dessert with a square of dark chocolate. Our love of dark chocolate is not being sidelined anytime soon. I let my girls choose treats all the time and I am always amazed when they ask for a banana with peanut butter and some semi-sweet chocolate chips for dessert over cookies we have in our pantry.

Everyday we chose what to consume, some days are better than others, but the bottom line is to make wise informed choices. Your body will thank you...

Here are the 2 pieces featured on 60 Minutes last Sunday: