Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Remembering Greatness

Eleven years ago today was one of the saddest mornings of my life.  This world lost one of the greatest people it has ever known, my great-grandfather, Paul Albert Hand.  We called him Grandpa or just Gramps.  He was born May 25, 1908 and passed on December 14, 1999.  He had wanted to live to the new millennium but didn't make that wish.  He had been married to my great-grandmother for 71 years when he died.  She only lived 3 years without him, passing around 4 a.m. on December 15, 2002.

I always looked up to my great-grandfather, and not just because he was so tall.  He was the most respected man I have ever known.  At his funeral a close friend of his said there was never an unkind word said about him his entire life.  He lived by very high morals, saved as much money as he could, and took care of his family and everyone he knew in any way possible.  He also was fantastic at brushing and braiding little girls' hair whenever we were lucky enough to spend the night.  He taught me how to play cards, play checkers, and tried to teach me how to save money.

Gramps was also quite the joker.  He had a wonderful sense of humor.  He had one of those packages of gum with just one stick left in it, and when you pull it out it snaps your finger.  We got lots of laughs out of that.  I also remember several occasions where he'd ask us if we wanted some pie.  When I'd say "what kind is it?" he'd say something like "I don't have any; I just wanted to know if you wanted some."  And then of course we'd laugh some more.

I interviewed him once for a project I had to do in elementary school.  I kept a green notebook where I wrote down all the stories he had told me.  I don't know what happened to that notebook, but I desperately wish I still had it.  Growing up I always thought I would write a book about him someday.  Even if I was the only person that ever read it, I would read it over and over again.  I can hardly even remember the details of his childhood now, but I will always have the memories and stories of him from mine.

He loved road trips.  We would get in the car and just drive places.  I don't know if he had the destination in mind all along but it just seemed so adventurous to a little girl.  We went all over the state with them, visiting Metamora, Napanee, Shipshewana, Madison, Whitestown, etc.  He always found these great places.  Visiting them in Florida was also always something to look forward too.

Eleven years later I still think of him often.  This time of year it is pretty easy to notice when family members are no longer around.  I will never forget him.  Rest in peace, Gramps.  I love you!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cookie Time - Mamaw's Butter Cookies

I think there is no better time of the year for making cookies than Christmastime.  I remember a Christmas long ago making probably 10 dozen or more cookies with my sister and a friend of our family.  We had every ingredient and decoration imaginable and just spent the whole day making cookies.  It was wonderful!
I hope to start a cookie making tradition with my own family at Christmas.  And in case anyone else is interested in starting their own tradition I'm sharing my family recipe for butter cookies along with a new recipe I found and made last night for hazelnut tea cookies.  I absolutely loved them!

"Mamaw's" butter cookies have been in my family for generations.  Mamaw is the great-great-grandmother I never knew but was named after.  She used to make these cookies at Christmas and gave them to my mother and my aunt.  I can see the wonderful memories on their faces when I make these cookies for family gatherings now.

Butter Cookies

  • 1 cup of butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.  Using a mixer, cream together butter, sugar, and eggs.  Add flour mixture and milk to the creamed mixture.  Combine until it forms a soft dough.  Add the vanilla and stir until fully incorporated.  Drop batter by rounded teaspoon fulls on a greased cookie sheet.  Bake for 12 min.  Makes approximately 6 dozen.

I have a handwritten recipe card that my great-grandmother, Nanny as we called her, wrote this recipe down for me in the most beautiful cursive I have ever seen.  They just don't teach kids to write like they used to (and now they aren't going to teach cursive at all!).  Her recipe calls for "oleo" instead of butter and I have it on good authority that she preferred to use Fleischmann's.  This recipe can easily make 6 dozen cookies (if you don't eat much of the batter before you bake them!) and can also be halved to make less.

I recently saw a post from Food Network featuring popular cookie recipes from Christmas' past.  Many of them looked delicious but the one that stood out the most was a powdered sugar delight known as "hazelnut tea cookies."  Here is the recipe from Food Network's webiste:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/hazelnut-tea-cookies-recipe/index.html.  I started reading the reviews as I often do to see what kinds of things people came across while making this recipe.  A few found these to be too dry and some suggested that their butter wasn't softened long enough.  When I see a recipe for a tea cookie I assume it will be dryer than your average cookie because it's meant to be dunked in or simply eaten with your tea.  I'm ok with that!

The other recommendation that stood out in the reviews was the number of people that substituted walnuts for hazelnuts.  And that's exactly what I did as well.  For one, I have no idea where to buy hazelnuts, and frankly I knew if I did find them they would be more expensive than the walnuts I could buy at the grocery store.  For my first time making this recipe I opted for the easy out.  Walnuts worked great.  It does recommend toasting so I simply put them in a skillet on the stove for a few minutes.  Keep moving them around and turning them however because nuts especially small pieces can burn quite easily!  Remove them from the skillet and let them cool before using.  Also, these cookies are just as good without toasting the nuts.

I didn't take a picture of these because I just put mine in a plastic airtight container instead of the fancy cup they're displayed in on the Food Network website.  However my cookies really do look exactly like that.  I'm looking forward to continuing our Christmastime cookie tradition and trying many new cookie recipes.  Now just to find one with chocolate...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Getting off track and getting back on

I should officially be halfway through week 4 of P90x already, however I feel like I've just fallen way off track.  Life really just has this way of getting in the way!  I didn't make the time over the weekend to do anything, and I have been so busy the past couple days.  It is incredibly easy to make other things priorities over working out!  I somehow left off week 4 on my printout for keeping track of which workout to do each day.  I skipped right over it, and that has made it easier to skip workouts as well.  After all, I have nothing to go check off when I'm done anyway!  Good excuse right?

Well here's the kicker...I've still lost 12 pounds so far!!  That's right boys and girls!  A few bad days is not getting me down.  I picked back up today with Kenpo-x, and I plan on getting Cardio-x in sometime tomorrow morning before the parade starts and before I go chow down on some yummy Thanksgiving fare.  I feel so much better about myself right now.  After several days in a row of not working out at all, I could tell my mood was terrible and I was incredibly tired.  I was taking it out on Gray and the cookies in the pantry.  With just about an hour of dedicated time for myself, I have done a complete 180 from the last few days.  It is amazing!  

I was a little scared to step on the scale earlier because of those cookies, but thankfully my body and the scale knew I needed a pick-me-up!  The number it displayed was definitely what I needed.  I checked it 2 more times just to make sure the scale wasn't trying to fool me!  I have not been my current weight in nearly 4 years!  

Tomorrow is surely going to be a challenge.  I love my family's cooking on any holiday.  But Thanksgiving is definitely a stand out.  With pumpkin pie, candied sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, homemade rolls....I could go on and on. I want it all!  I just need to make sure I try little bits of everything, and not overeat!  Luckily I will have my sister and her mother-in-law there as motivation.  They have both lost weight recently and are major inspiration! 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Middle of Week 3

It's day 3 of P90X (lean) week 3.  I'm glad I've stuck with it (sort of) this far.  I have missed a few days with Gray's parties and just being busy.  How in the world people that work outside of the home everyday find time to workout boggles my mind.  Being here all day (most days) it's still really difficult to make the time.  And when I miss a day, I'm trying to catch up with 2 workouts in one day, but that's just madness.  That's 2 hours I need for other things like cooking and laundry, or taking care of the kids.  Something suffers.  Ah what a juggling act this is!  Leftover cake is definitely not a help to my situation either!

I'm up to 9 pounds lost so far.  Although I don't notice a big difference yet, the compliments from friends and family members who say they do notice is really a huge boost of motivation.  Plus I've only got 21 pounds to go to catch up with my sister!  I feel better, my skin is healthier, and I've been told I'm happier.  I'd say all of these things are well worth the daily effort.

Next week is going to be a real challenge.  Who doesn't want to pig out on mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving?!  My absolute favorites and I am most certainly going to indulge.  But my goal is to be reasonable about what I eat and make sure I keep up with the workouts even on those off days!  And if I venture out on black Friday, I'm sure there will be some calories burned fighting through all those other holiday shoppers!  I can't believe there's only a little over a month until Christmas.  I am truly hoping that my gray cashmere sweater fits by then.  So far, time is flying faster than the fat is burning!

Monday, November 8, 2010

One Week Down

I made my official start of P90X last Monday.  I'm doing the lean version instead of the classic version because I'm hoping to burn more fat instead of build more muscle.  There's a different workout everyday Monday through Saturday.  Sunday is either a day of rest or X-Stretch.  Guess which I chose?  Well in my defense I was preparing for a birthday party and even that extra hour of daylight savings went to getting that ready.  Ab Ripper-X is also thrown in after two of the workouts each week.  It's 16 minutes of torture.  One day I may be able to keep up with that one, but definitely not on week 1!

Mondays are Core Synergistics and probably my least favorite of all the workouts.  I am absolutely terrible at doing push-ups or any kind of exercise remotely resembling a push-up.  Again, hopefully one day I may be able to successfully keep up with the DVD on these but definitely not right out the gate.  Saturdays are Kenpo.  Now that's a fun workout and well worth taking time away from Saturday morning cartoons!  I'd like to think it's even teaching me a little self defense.  It's all about punches, kicks, and blocks.  Everything is incredibly do-able (by a beginner!) and no equipment required.  The best part of it: being called vibrant after I had finished.  I honestly can't remember the last time anyone used that word to describe me!  Now, I'm looking forward to hearing it again! =)

There's a laundry list of equipment you're supposed to have before you start P90X.  I don't have any weights or a pull-up bar, or yoga blocks, or really anything else on the list.  The only thing I do have is a set of cheap resistance bands, which do their job.  Or at least they can do their job as long as my toddler doesn't pick them up and run away with them while I'm in the middle of the workout!  The only piece of equipment that I feel I might need is a yoga mat.  I never really saw the purpose in these until I did the yoga workout and started slipping and sliding all over the carpet.  Although if I was a little better at the Core exercises I might not have that problem as much!

The scale hasn't been as friendly as I would have liked this week.  I was really hoping for some drastic results, but it has only been one week.  It's not like I was doing the Biggest Loser or anything!  I did see a number on the scale that I haven't seen in a long time, and I'm down another 2 pounds. That's even after the birthday cake I had yesterday.  They say it takes 21 days for something to become a habit, so I need to make sure I stick to this like glue for 2 more weeks.  After that things should be easy right?  Well, like I said before....baby steps.  One week at a time.  One week is already behind me.  And right now I'm even tempted to throw in an extra cardio workout today just because of all the party food we had yesterday.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A New Wind

Maybe the third time really is a charm!  Or in my case nine hundred and twenty-third time?  I don't know how many times I've decided I'm going to "get in shape", but one of these days I'm actually going to do it!  Good news is I have lost 5 pounds already.  Bad news is that it has nothing to do with what I've been eating.  If I were eating healthier right now, which I most definitely should be since what I eat does affect what Alia eats, I can only imagine how much more I'd be losing.  I know she'll only be nursing exclusively for another few months before she'll start eating more solid foods, which means less milk production for mommy and therefore less calories my body is burning without my help!  I've got to get on the ball now!  Literally...I think I have one of those inflatable workout balls around here somewhere.

Yesterday, I broke out the p90x DVDs we've had unopened for over a year now.  Without reading any of the information or watching the "Watch this First" DVD, I randomly picked one of the workout DVDs and put it in.  Just so happened I picked plyometrics which apparently is the hardest one to do.  The instructor kindly announced this fact about 8 minutes into the warmup.  I turned it off after 10 minutes.  It became crystal clear that I am definitely not in shape and my legs are officially made out of Jello.  Today I'm going to try the Cardio-x DVD instead.  With just over 8 weeks until Christmas I have my work cut out for me.  I'm not sure I can meet my original goal by then, but I am determined to get as close as I can.  And when I say "determined", that excludes the pizza I'm going to eat tonight for girl's night out!  Baby steps people! Plus it was a pre-planned event!

So pass your motivational tips and tricks my way.  I'm back on a mission!  Little gray cashmere sweater here I come!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Blueberry Muffins: Good and Good for you!

This one is for you Ashley!  After the VitaMix adventure, or should I saw disaster, the other day I was craving a really good blueberry muffin.  Healthy food should still taste good or there's no way people will keep eating it!  At $6.25 a box, the Blue Bran VitaMix muffins are a definite waste of money.  Good old fashioned whole wheat blueberry muffins from scratch are so much better and a whole lot cheaper.

To find a recipe, I just did what I always do.  I opened up Google.  After reading several recipes I was shocked to see why many of them were called "healthy".  Recipes containing more than a 1/4 cup of oil, some containing 1 cup of butter, and large quantities of white or brown sugar were all classified this way.  I'm not sure who they were trying to fool, but it wasn't me!  The recipe I finally stopped on and the one that Gray and I made for breakfast this morning is here.  I was happy to see the nutrition information given with the recipe which made it easy to compare to the VitaMix muffins.

The VitaMix muffins are healthier but that difference to me is not significant enough to justify the difference in taste.  I want a recipe I can keep coming back to that lets me still enjoy breakfast.  While the VitaMix muffins have 100 calories a piece and are labeled as fat free, the whole wheat blueberry muffins I made are only 112 calories each and have a total of 3 grams of fat (less than 1 gram of that is saturated fat).  Both muffins contain 3 grams of protein, although the VitaMix muffins contain more fiber.

Don't be scared off by the long list of ingredients for the whole wheat blueberry muffins.  Although it has 3 times the number of ingredients as the VitaMix muffins, I had everything on hand already.  And the list sounds much more appetizing than the VitaMix that calls for egg whites and water.  Our little man thoroughly enjoyed the large list as well, because he had more opportunities to "help mommy" and dump each ingredient into the bowl.  Once everything was combined it already looked (and tasted) better than the VitaMix.

After about 20 minutes of Gray asking to eat a muffin already, I was finally able to pull them out of the oven, and then after another 5 minutes of him now begging for a muffin I broke down and gave him a still very warm muffin.  I was much happier with the final appearance and delicious smell filling the kitchen, something that was lacking with the VitaMix ones.  Gray asked for seconds and also snuck a bite of a third while I wan't looking.

I made this recipe exactly as listed, however I may try change a few things next time to make it even healthier.  I wonder how it would turn out using 2 eggs whites instead of 1 whole egg and also using 4 tablespoons of unsweetened applesauce instead of 2 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of the applesauce.  I may also try using all whole wheat flour as well.  I don't think it could get as bad as the VitaMix muffins were but I also want to maintain that deliciousness of a nice warm blueberry muffin.

Move over Thai Spice

I am stoked right now and frankly can't wait to heat up tonight's leftovers for lunch (or even breakfast!) tomorrow.  I've done a little experimenting with making my own Thai food at home, but I started off relatively easy.  I'd been ordering a mixed vegetable stir fry when we'd get thai takeout and I've made that at home now a few times.  Although it turned out decent, it was nowhere near as good as the takeout.  Recently I started ordering a more classic Thai takeout dish - pad thai.  And just like everything else, I decided to make my own version at home.

When I discovered that my regular grocery store carried rice noodles I thought I'd be set.  I had the chicken, peanuts to crush up for garnish, and I already knew how to make a thai stir fry sauce.  Oh but wait...stir fry sauce is not pad thai sauce!  So after searching through a dozen recipes, I realized I needed one more secret ingredient that I definitely didn't have lurking in my pantry:  tamarind paste.  I had never even heard of this stuff let alone knew what it looked like.  After stopping at two big name groceries stores, I called my sister to have her find the nearest Asian market.  Turns out, it was pretty close by.  I walked in, asked for this mysterious ingredient, and walked out with a block of weird brown stuff.

Now I was all set for my first adventure into making pad thai.  Well almost anyway, when I got home and started sifting through all the pad thai recipes again I realized I needed green onions too.  Luckily I just called my sister again and voila...she showed up just before dinner with a fresh bunch of green onions.  Her reward for all of the helpfulness today:

I'd say that was worth the effort!  Once I had all the ingredients I needed and after writing down the final version of the recipe I planned to use, preparation began.  The most important part of making any kind of stir fry is to have everything prepared before you begin.  I felt like one of the TV chefs having everything out in little bowls ready to dump into the wok.  I had the rice noodles, marinated chicken, minced garlic, green onion, fresh coriander, and eggs all setup in various size bowls on the counter.  The crushed peanuts and bean sprouts remained in their bags but still ready to go.  

Pad thai sauce turned out to be much easier to make than I expected.   I give credit for this to the many step by step recipes that can easily be found with a Google search for pad thai.  Thai cuisine focuses on flavors that are sweet, sour, spicy, and salty.  The pad thai sauce not surprisingly is 4 ingredients, one from each category.  Brown sugar (or palm sugar) for the sweet, Tamarind paste for the sour, chili paste for the spicy, and fish sauce for the salty.  This wonderful combination is no doubt what creates the cravings I have for some yummy Thai food!

Once the sauce was ready, and my rice noodles were soaked and ready to go, it was time to stir fry.  I heated up my wok, added some oil and.....OH $%&#.  It caught fire!  Hmm well I think that pan was on it's last leg anyway.  I think I had been reading about how important a hot wok is to stir fry and forgot just how hot my burners really do get when they're on High.  So after switching to a different pan, a smaller newer wok, I lowered the temperature a bit and began my stir fry.

First went the garlic, then the marinated chicken.  The marinade was just a combination of soy sauce and corn starch.  It didn't look very appetizing, but once it started cooking it smelled divine!  Once the chicken was nearly done it was time to add the eggs (I guess that answers that question about which came first).  I scrambled them around for a minute and then added the noodles and the sauce.  Finally it's started to look like real pad thai!  There was another minute or so of stir frying and then the addition of fresh bean sprouts.  Another minute or so more and it was ready for a garnish of green onions, fresh coriander, and chopped peanuts.  I'm not sure how they say "Bam" in Thailand, but that would be the moment!

I made it in two batches because I had to switch to a smaller wok.  The first batch was plenty split between three people.  It was a touch on the spicy side for our little guy so he enjoyed some of last night's tostada fixings with tortilla chips instead.  I couldn't wait to dig in, so I made the second batch after we finished eating.  I spent just about an hour on preparation and cook time which is pretty close to the time it takes me to order takeout and drive round trip to get it.  The cost savings from making it at home though is enormous!  This will definitely become a regular recipe in my kitchen.  I know it's not a healthy meal, but I may be able to experiment with ways to make it better.  I could easily omit the peanuts and use less egg or even omit egg altogether as well, add a few more complimentary veggies like bok choy or shredded carrots, and cut back on the oil.  I may even get adventurous and try it with tofu sometime instead of chicken.  Now that I know I can make the dish, the possibilities are endless!  Now I just have to figure out how to make the Thom Yum soup that Link always orders to go with this!

Monday, September 27, 2010

At least it's called a salad...

I went to a baby shower yesterday that had the most delicious salad I have ever eaten.  I know what you're thinking....how is a bunch of lettuce and veggies delicious?  Well this isn't your typical salad.  In fact, this salad doesn't have lettuce or veggies.  It's called a Snickers salad.  It has only three ingredients, and yes...one of them is Snickers!

Snickers Salad

4-6 Granny Smith apples, washed & cored, but not peeled
2-4 Snickers candy bars, chilled
1 tub Cool Whip

Cut apples into small cubes.  Cut Snickers bars into small pieces.  Combine in a bowl and fold in Cool Whip.  Chill for at least 1 hour.

Does it honestly get any simpler than this?  I cannot wait to make this at home.  I think it would be a wonderful Halloween party dessert or really an any-occasion-you-can-think-to-celebrate treat.  I did call it a dessert there but the recipe really does call it a salad.  I can fool myself into thinking its good, right?  It has fruit in it at least!  I mean there are worse things out there!  Ok ok, I know I'm supposed to be finding healthy recipes to try and share on here, but this was just something I had to pass along.  Before yesterday I never even knew a Snickers salad existed, but I can assure you it will not be soon forgotten!

Now I really need to make a trip to the orchard soon.  I'm hoping they have some nice tart apples for this.  I don't know when exactly Granny Smith are in season, but I really can't wait to have this salad again.  Hopefully Gray will get lots of Snickers miniatures while Trick-or-Treating this year, although I imagine this would be good with several other candy bar types as well.  Let the experimenting begin!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Little Corner of Mine: Healthy Baked Donuts

Little Corner of Mine: Healthy Baked Donuts: "here"

Even after I got off the scale this morning and finished cheering for the lower number it displayed, I had a craving for a really good donut. I'm thankful that Long's bakery doesn't have a drive-thru because I would have to go over there every morning and get some fresh donuts. But since it's too much of a hassle to get two kids out of the truck and into a store just to buy a couple of donuts, I don't go. And then I ask this question (not aloud of course, but secretly wanting to scream it): Why do I have to choose between losing weight and eating donuts? Can someone invent a diet where I can eat donuts and lose weight? Now that person would be rich!

So I did what every person does when they have a question they just have to know the answer to right away. I opened up Google. And low and behold, lots of people are trying to reinvent this amazing food into a healthier yet equally yummy treat. I found this recipe and it looks wonderful. I'm already imagining all the different toppings I could try with it, and am definitely wondering how it would fare with whole wheat flour. And I'm really wanting to know where to buy a donut pan! I love to bake, and I didn't even know that such a thing existed! I cannot wait to try this recipe. I'm hoping I can use it as a little reward for many more mornings of lower numbers on the scale.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Just another reason why

*Disclaimer:  The following references a topic that is a highly debatable and sensitive subject for many.  What you are about to read is purely my opinion and is in no way meant to offend anyone!

**Disclaimer:  Longest blog yet..might want to grab a drink and use the bathroom first!

I saw an article last night warning parents about a Similac formula recall.  My immediate reaction was "just another reason why!" It just adds to my growing list of reasons I am so thankful that I am able to breastfeed my children.  I couldn't imagine being a parent and wondering if I had just fed my baby some bad formula.  This recall was prompted due to cans tainted with beetles, but I suppose there could also be cans out there laced with cocaine like that one episode of Law and Order: SVU.  I know that's extreme but when you see how often Law and Order does a show based on true events it really makes you wonder!

The breast vs bottle debate has probably been going on as long as formula itself has been around, but for me it was never even a debate.  There was no question.  I wanted to breastfeed.  And I think at the time I made that decision I didn't even know all the reasons why.  I just knew it's what I wanted to do.  When I was reading that article about the recall I came across a blog post about "reasons why it's so hard to formula feed".  Here's the post for reference.  The entire blog is completely sarcastic and meant to be a funny satire using all the common reasons why women choose not to breastfeed and apply them to formula.  If you read through the comments like I did, you'll find many people took offense and didn't find it funny at all.  That's why I added a disclaimer to this blog (even though the disclaimer on her blog didn't appear to work).  I don't mean to offend anyone by discussing my choices, and I don't want anyone to feel bad about their choices.  But as the author of that blog also replies in the comments, as long as it is your choice that's all that matters.  Well that, and that the choice was an informed one.

Like I said, when I made the decision to breastfeed, I didn't know all the reasons why I should be doing it or why I wanted to do it.  But once I made that decision, I started doing research.  I wanted to be informed.  I bought a book called "The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding" and started reading.  It is amazing what a little knowledge can do.  Suddenly breastfeeding turns into something I'm not just doing for my baby, it's something I'm doing for myself as well.  For instance, did you know that breastfeeding can reduce your risk of getting breast cancer and some other types of cancer as well?  Oh and breastfeeding women are more likely to return to their pre-pregnancy jeans sooner than formula feeding moms.  They say it's because your body uses those fat stores it creates during pregnancy to create your milk, and also that breastfeeding shortly after your baby's birth signals your uterus to contract and return to it's normal size faster (or something like that, I'm not an expert).  However I think another reason may be that breastfeeding women know that what they eat and drink affects their milk, so they are probably more likely to make wiser choices when it comes to their own meals.

After reading that woman's blog about the reasons it's too hard to formula feed I was happy to see someone put into words some of the things I had been feeling, even if she did so in an entirely sarcastic manner.  When people say that "breastfeeding is too hard", I somewhat agree with them.  Lot's of things in life are hard, but that doesn't mean we should shy away from them.  Breastfeeding is not "too hard".  Like anything new you are learning to do it takes practice.  Did you know how to ride a bike the first time you got on one?  Did you stop riding a bike altogether the first time you fell off and skinned your knee?  Once you get the hang of breastfeeding, and honestly I think it took me about 2-3 weeks with my first child, it's not hard at all.  The skinned knee reference is to compare when some people that say "but it's going to hurt" or "what about when the baby starts teething".  There is some pain while you and your baby are learning how to do it properly, but that's only temporary.  The benefits of breastfeeding last you and your baby a lifetime.  As for teething, have you ever tried to drink a milkshake while biting on the straw?  How'd that work for ya?  When your baby is nursing properly, which he or she should definitely have the hang of by the time teething starts, those little teeth won't be in the way.

"Breastfeeding is so inconvenient."  Another common complaint that I have no understanding of whatsoever.  How is making your hungry baby wait while you fix a bottle convenient?  Not to mention making sure all those bottle parts are cleaned and sterilized.  How is getting up in the middle of the night, stumbling down the stairs and into the kitchen to make a bottle at 3 am convenient?    How is making sure you have enough formula, bottles, nipples, and clean water before you leave the house to go anywhere convenient?

When my baby lets me know she's hungry, I pull down or pull up my shirt depending on what kind I'm wearing and there we go.  My milk will never be recalled for beetle infestations, it's always the perfect temperature, and as long as I've had a shower in the last day (or two) I know what she's drinking her milk from is clean.  When my baby wakes up in the middle of the night, I roll over and pick her up out of the cosleeper, lay her down beside me and she nurses snuggled up with me.  When she's done, back in the cosleeper she goes and right back to sleep I go.  All without setting foot out of the bed (unless of course a diaper change is warranted).  Oh and I can't imagine having to add anything else to my already packed diaper bag.  If I were to formula feed, I think I would have to carry an extra bag just for feeding supplies when I left the house!

Ok, just returned from a diaper explosion, cleanup and bath.  Now where were we?  Oh my next comparison.  Breastfeeding in public.  I've read that some women are nervous or even scared to breastfeed in public.  I'm not sure why.  Are these women worried about what people will think?  I cannot count the number of comments, or compliments rather, I get when people see me nursing in public.  I do so discretely using a receiving blanket to cover up anything someone might see.  I never saw the purpose in spending money on all those fancy cover ups when the receiving blankets you get for free at your baby shower do the same job.  Anyway, people always want to tell me "I think it's great what you're doing" or something along those lines.  I'm not asking for compliments when I have to nurse when I'm not at home.  Trust me, I'd much rather be curled up in the same chair I'm in now every time I had to nurse (except of course at night).  I nurse in public because it's a necessity to feed your baby when she's hungry.  The compliments are a complete bonus.  So for moms who are worried about what people might think about you nursing your baby in public, trust me....they think it's great!

Ok I didn't mean to write a book on this, but I knew as soon as I read that other blog last night this was something I had to write about too.  I'm very passionate about this topic.  It's my children's health and well-being at stake.  I am so grateful that I was able to breastfeed Gray for 14 months and I plan on doing the same for our new baby girl.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Try and try again

So I think last week was just a test run for my new goals, and boy did I fail that test!  Just thinking the word "diet" made me crave food more, and I wanted to eat everything in the fridge and pantry.  I made that chocolate cake again one night (on what should have been day 2 of my plan), and I really would love to just eat one of those cakes after every meal!  I'm sure I would have made it a few more times if I hadn't of run out of eggs last week.  I also had pad thai and pizza which I'm pretty sure would blow any diet.  We finished off the week at a pitch-in for a family reunion.  There was so much goodness there to eat and with lots of family eager to hold the baby girl, I had my hands free to dig into all of it!

It's a new week now, and it's time to make some real changes.  I've decided I'm not on a "diet".  The word just makes me hungry!  I can't diet right now anyway.  Cutting out too many calories could be detrimental to my milk supply and I think a certain baby girl might not be too happy about that!  I just need to eat smarter.  I made a pretty successful trip to the grocery store today (taking only the child that can't throw food out of the cart really helps), and I think I stocked up on some things that should help me make some better choices this week:  oatmeal, fat-free milk, unsweetened applesauce, salads, veggies,  lean turkey, etc.  A certain someone was a little disappointed that I didn't make it home with ice cream.  I ran out of time before I even had a chance to go down that isle (ie Alia was getting hungry).  And that's probably for the better.

I found our scale hiding under some paint supplies in the closet so I'll be starting off this week knowing exactly what I weigh now.  I also know exactly where I want to be.  I just hope that's enough motivation for me.

I made chicken tostadas again for dinner last night.  But this time I baked the whole wheat tortillas instead of frying them.  That's a start.  Oatmeal and iced Teeccino (with fat-free milk) for breakfast.  I've been wary about trying those "healthier" milks but with those new commercials enlightening me that a glass of 2% milk has more saturated fat than an order of French fries, I thought it was time try one.  Looking at the price of a carton of Smart Balance vs a gallon of regular milk though it's a wonder how people can afford to drink the stuff.  Luckily for me, I had clipped a $2 off coupon and the store had it on sale for $2.99 yesterday.  At only 99 cents a carton, it is definitely worth trying!

Now to get caught up on housework and work in a trip to the park or a few laps around the neighborhood with the stroller.  Or both.  We'll see!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Happily exhausted!

It has been one busy week.  I'm not sure I've stuck to all my food goals (and by that I mean I definitely haven't), but I have at least left the house for a little bit every day.  Well except for today, but I've still got time.  I need to run to the grocery store which I suppose could count towards my very vague rule of getting out of the house.  Even though the intention of that rule was to go for a walk or to the park everyday.  Like I said before, it's a work in progress!

I have been working on the house and making a lot of progress this week though.  I made a nice dent in the boxes and totes in the front room and just finished clearing out the living room of all non-living room things.  I absolutely love how spacious and wonderful this room feels now.  If only it was actually finished though.  This room has not been painted yet and the rest of the new carpet is waiting patiently in the warehouse at my uncle's store.  But today, I can finally get a sense for what this room will feel like once it's finished and that makes me smile!

Gray is pretty happy too.  He's got a TV in the loft now along with his computer desk.  He's watching a Bob the Builder dvd at the moment, and I couldn't be happier about breaking my no-TV-before-6-p.m. rule.  The peace and quiet down here in the living room watching Alia sleep is well worth it!  And it's a short dvd that doesn't auto repeat so he'll be down here before too long I'm sure.

I'm almost caught up on laundry, another activity that should surely be considered an aerobic workout.  Especially in a two-story house with the laundry room on the first floor. I'm also convinced that somehow the laundry always knows when everything is almost clean and put away at which point it instantly multiplies into a dozen more loads!  I have all the dishes washed as well.  Another never ending task around here since we have not yet bought a dishwasher!

If I don't manage to get another thing done today, I won't mind. It's been a busy yet productive morning and early afternoon.  I think I've been trying to keep my mind off the sadness of Prince Poppycock only coming in fourth place on AGT last night.  He deserved to win!  I really hope he keeps performing, and I know Link and I would definitely buy tickets to one of his shows.  Maybe we'll get lucky and he'll be performing in Las Vegas when we go out there to get married! =)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Day 1

Well it's a start.  If I could find our scale I'd go get an accurate weight for my first day starting towards my new weight loss goal.  However, I have a pretty good idea where I stand.  Eating wise I didn't do too bad today, at least until the French bread came out of the oven with dinner tonight.

I started off the day with some old fashioned Quaker oats, sweetened with cinnamon and raisins.  I actually measured to make sure I made enough for only one serving. I never do that!  For lunch I had a hamburger leftover from the grill yesterday.  I ate it on a whole wheat bun with lettuce, tomato, and red onion only.  No ketchup or mayonnaise!  I was proud that I actually ate raw onion and surprised that I actually didn't want to spit it out!  I had a glass of lemonade and split a banana with Gray for a sweet little dessert.  When we got back from the park, I counted out 16 wheat thins for a quick snack.  Dinner consisted of a  bowl of homemade lentil soup and French bread.

I know I ate way more of the bread than I should have, but it is virtually fat free and I ate it plain.  I did all the work to make it so that has to count for something right?  And there was definitely no need to add butter or anything but a little broth from the soup to that warm crusty bread.  I think I'm going to slice up the rest of the loaf to try a healthier version of French toast for breakfast in the morning.  The recipe is just like any other French toast recipe with just a few minor modifications.  It calls for soaking the bread in a mixture of egg whites and low fat milk along with the typical vanilla and cinnamon and cooking on a griddle sprayed with cooking spray instead of melted butter.  I always use a low calorie sugar free maple syrup so that will round things out quite nicely.

Besides working on eating healthier, I have to work on getting more active.  It's hard to convince myself some days that grocery shopping and laundry are not aerobic activities (even though I've left the grocery store sweating from having to handle 2 kids and a cart full of groceries).  I found this website tonight that is a complete eye opener.  It allows you to list your current weight and the amount of calories you'd like to burn off.  Then it displays a list of common activities and various sports and exercises and tells you how long you would have to do that activity to burn the amount of calories you selected.  It really makes you think twice when you want a snack.  Look at the package and see how many calories it is, and then plug that number into the website.  See if it's really worth all that time running, bicycling or whatever else and decide if you really want to eat it!  Makes it much easier to return that snack to the shelf or the fridge (or better yet, the trash!).

I did stick to my new rule and got out of the house today (something else that should be classified as an aerobic activity around here!)  I thoroughly enjoyed walking along the trails at the park today, but it was more of a leisurely walk pushing Alia the stroller, stopping frequently for Gray to check out rocks or pick up a leaf.  He also enjoyed some time on their playground which is much bigger than the park right beside our house.  I wish I had been able to do a little more "moving" though.  I'd love to go for a jog in the mornings when I get up, but it's just not an option.  I'll figure out something eventually.  It's all a work in progress!

A New Direction

I changed the blog's tagline this morning.  I need a little more motivation, and I'm hoping this venue will be just that.  I didn't gain too much weight while I was pregnant with Alia and had lost pretty much all of it within days of having her.   However I am not content with where I am at now because I had never completely lost the weight I had gained with Gray.  I still have a good ways to go.  I don't want to give an exact starting weight on here though.  You've heard the old saying "never ask a woman her age," well that applies to weight as well.  It's my own "don't ask, don't tell" policy.  I am going to look for some way to visually track my progress on here, perhaps showing the percentage I am towards my goal.

I actually have several new goals.  My first goal is to lose between 20-25 pounds by Christmas.  Normally I would say that isn't possible, but my sister has already proved the possibilities over the last few months.  I chose Christmas because every goal needs a deadline and 14 weeks is a very realistic deadline for that kind of weight loss.  Plus I really want to wear my gray cashmere sweater on Christmas day.  I haven't been able to fit into in a few years and it will be something I can look at every day in my closet and get excited about.  I intend to surround myself with more motivation and less chocolate.  I really wish now that I hadn't played around with that 5-minute chocolate cake recipe.

My next goal is to cook healthier way more often.  I'm going to be scouring the Internet for the best healthy (and edible!) recipes I can find.  My downfall is I love the Food Network and I love to try new recipes, but most of them are absolutely horrendous when you look at the calories and fat per serving!  I was so happy for Aarti to win the Next Food Network Star because of the Indian flare she would bring to the Food Network, however if Herb had won I'd have some very healthy yet flavorful recipes to be making right now instead!  I don't plan on having a super healthy dinner every single night of the week, but I do plan on making every meal healthier in some way and allowing splurges as rewards for maintaining my goals.

Last week I instituted a policy of no television until 6 p.m. during the week.  I decided Gray and I watched too much of it.  I plan on keeping this up not only to cut down on the number of food commercials we watch but to cut down on the number of shows I watch on Food Network.  Luckily for me, Good Eats doesn't come on till 11 p.m. so I can still catch Alton Brown!  He lost a ton of weight last year, and I think we'll be employing some of his strategies around here as well.  One of his rules was no processed or fast foods.  Ever.  While I can't guarantee I'll stick to this, I am going to make a huge effort to do much better with how much fast food we eat and what kind.

Besides eating better, I need to get more active.  Another goal I have is to get out of the house every day, weather permitting.  We have a park that takes only minutes to walk to and I should be there more!  Our neighborhood has dedicated walking trails that follow nicely along some of the retention ponds in the addition.  It makes for some really enjoyable walks and a great opportunity for me to point out some plants and animals to Gray as well.  And if I'm out there, I'm not sitting down in here.

So that's the initial plan.  Be more active and eat better.  And with breastfeeding Alia as well I should have no problem meeting that first goal.  Look for future posts to contain progress reports and any fantastically healthy recipes I come across worth sharing!  Now I'm off to go enjoy a bowl of oatmeal and some Teeccino!  Wish me luck!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hello Fall

Fall, oh how do I love thee.  Let me count the ways.  Fall is and probably always will be my favorite time of the year.  There is just something about these overcast skies and gentle cool breezes that just make me want to melt into my big comfy robe and curl up with a hot mug of coffee (or Teeccino since I can't do the caffeine right now).  I love that we've turned the AC off and have all the windows open from now until it gets too cold to stand it, which hopefully won't be until November!

Growing up, fall meant the beginning of a new school year, marching band, bonfires, and apple butter.  Things I looked forward to all year long.  I loved school, maybe too much.  My sisters teased me for doing homework on a Friday night, although I'm pretty sure that only happened in the beginning of the school year when I was bound and determined to be the perfect student.  That enthusiasm did wear off a few months into the school year though.  I loved competition too.  Marching band contests all day every Saturday.  Surviving on ham sandwiches and Mountain Dew.  Bonfires on Friday nights if there wasn't a home football game.  We were a big family, and for as much time as you spend away from home at practices and contests it had to be!  Luckily for me though, my actual family was a part of my marching band family as well.

What else was there?  Oh yes, my grandma's apple butter!  Wow. My cousin and his wife made some for everyone in the family last Christmas and oh what a treat it was!  I need to get the recipe and try making this for myself sometime.  Maybe it can become a Fall tradition that I pass along to my children.  I love family traditions possibly more than I love apple butter!  I can't wait to take the kids to an orchard this fall.  I think that will be added to the family tradition checklist as well!

I am ecstatic that fall is finally here.  I wore my Danskos and Smart Wool socks for the first time this season yesterday.  A huge thank you to my sister for making sure my feet stay comfortable!  I cleaned out our coat closet to make sure there would be room to hang up fall jackets, both ours and our guests.  Now I just need to work on some of these still packed boxes and find all of our fall clothes.  I'm sure one day, maybe in a couple years, we'll have everything unpacked and be ready for that housewarming party!

Now I'm off to go prepare some hamburgers for the grill.  This may be the best part of fall.  It's not too cold to grill out, and it's not so hot that you don't even want to open the door to go outside!  I hope everyone is enjoying this time of year as much as I am!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

So proud!

I couldn't be more proud and apparently neither could Gray because he used that exact word.  He just "dirtied" in the potty on his own, and we both are ecstatic!

He was playing upstairs and when he realized he needed to use the bathroom he came down the stairs announcing he had to dirty!  I followed him into the bathroom where he sat down on his little potty and did his business.  We both cheered!  I said "I'm so happy!" and he replied, "I'm so proud!"  What am amazing thought from a little boy who's not even three years old yet.

He's been in training pants for a year now and we've had great success with him doing #1 in the potty, but he has been more stubborn than a mule at going #2.  We've tried every bribe in the book: rewards, charts, lots of praise, you name it.  Nothing has worked.  I've read lots of similar stories from other moms online, and most of them said he'll do it when he's ready and just give him time.  This is hard to do especially when you add in another child who makes plenty of dirty diapers of her own!

We celebrated this momentous occasion with an Oreo cookie, and Gray couldn't wait to tell Daddy as soon as he got home.  I hope this is not a one time occurance though, and I hope this can mark the end of potty training and beginning of big boy pants for Gray!  I'm sure he hasn't forgotten about the Curious George underwear that Grammy promised him when he became potty trained!

My Chocolate Fix

The other day I saw a tweet by The Next Food Network Star winner, Aarti Sequeira, about a 5 minute chocolate cake.  The recipe is from Instructables.com and sounded amazing.  I mean who wouldn't want a fantastic warm chocolaty dessert in just 5 minutes.  Unfortunately I didn't have any chocolate chips on hand when I saw the recipe or I would have been making it right away.

After picking up some chocolate chips on one trip to the grocery store and a new set of measuring spoons on a second trip to the grocery store, I finally had everything I needed to make this cake.  I decided to do so as a bedtime snack last night.  I was sorely disappointed with the result.  What came out of the microwave looked and smelled like a wonderful chocolate cake, however once that forkful of deliciousness hit my mouth it was a whole different story.  It was anything but delicious.  I couldn't fathom how something could smell so good and look exactly like a piece of cake (icing excluded) yet taste so horrible!

I couldn't stop thinking about it.  After all there had been a ton of raving comments about the recipe and I couldn't imagine people raving about the nasty stuff I had sitting in a cup on my counter.  So I started reading through them to see where I went wrong.  It seems almost everyone had their own take on this recipe, many people trying gluten free substitutes or just adding an array of other goodies to it.  After a few pages I found what I needed to know.  Experimentation was the key and altering a couple ingredients was all that was needed.

The most important part of getting this cake to turn out right is that everything must be mixed really well.  Although a coffee mug is perfect for "baking" this cake in the microwave, it is not the perfect vessel for mixing it.  And if you think about it, you don't mix a cake batter in the pan that you bake it in the oven in do you?  So I got a small mixing bowl out and started working.

Mix all of the dry ingredients, adding a pinch of baking soda, really well with a whisk in a bowl.  I used all purpose flour and regular granulated sugar but many commenters on the recipes page suggested that other types of flour and sugar worked just as well.  Then I added 1 egg, whisked, to the dry ingredients.  The recipe only calls for 2 Tbsp of the whisked egg, but since that's what I had used in my first attempt and the results were less than pleasing, I decided to see what happened when I used the whole egg.  And why waste part of a perfectly good egg anyway?  Once the egg is mixed in, add the milk and oil and stir well.  Then add your vanilla and chocolate chips.  I want to point out that you only need a little touch of vanilla.  If you add too much vanilla you could flambe your cake into a terrible mess in the microwave.  Vanilla extract contains alcohol and could catch fire!  When everything is all mixed in, pour the batter into a standard size coffee mug.

There was a lot of debate in the reviews on how long to microwave the cake.  In my initial attempt at this cake I let it go for just over 3 minutes.  I was using a larger coffee mug and couldn't see the cake rise (or fall) while it was in the microwave so I couldn't tell when it was actually done.  Using a standard size coffee mug, you will see the cake rise up over the top of the mug while it's cooking.  If it starts to fall, it's gone too long!  My second time making this cake, it was in the microwave a little over 2 minutes.  You can stop the microwave and check your cake at any time, and reviews claimed that it's better to pull it out too soon than let it overcook in the microwave.  After all it will continue to cook a little after you take it out of the microwave and let it cool a bit.

It's up to you whether or not you want to eat it straight out of the mug or turn it out onto a dish.  I had no problems getting it out of the mug, and this allows you to cut the cake and share it.  There's definitely plenty to do so!  I wish I would have taken a picture of it this time to share, but I couldn't wait to dig into it and neither could Gray.  I'm so glad that I was curious enough to try this again!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The joys of repetition

It takes so long to get ready and get 2 kids out of the house to go anywhere these days.  I feel like all I really got done yesterday was make 2 trips to the grocery store (however I did manage to get that shower I put off from the day before!).  On the first trip, after I had already been around the entire store, checked out and was ready to leave, I discovered that Gray had discarded Alia's blanket and bonnet somewhere without my knowledge.  So I had to retrace my steps back around the store until I found them lying on the floor behind a clothes rack I had stopped to look at!

On the way home Gray informed me that he was tired and promptly fell asleep in his carseat.  I hate when this happens because it means he will not be napping at home!  It was also such a short nap because it only lasted until we got back to the house that he felt the need to repeat his nap in his carseat on the way to my second trip to the store a couple hours later.

I did not intend on having a repeat trip to the store yesterday until I went in my kitchen to try this 5-minute chocolate cake-in-a-cup recipe and discovered that all of my measuring spoons were missing!  Now I had just used these a couple days before while making some homemade waffles and after a thorough check and double-check of the sink, dish drainer, and every other drawer in the kitchen, I interviewed the only culprit in the house:  Gray.  He informs me that he doesn't remember what he did with them, and then with a look of utter disbelief says "oh no, we'll never find them!"  I'm guessing that's a very true statement!

So back to the store I went.  I had to have measuring spoons and of course the Wheat Thins and ice cream that I also picked up when I went back!  I did not make the chocolate cake that I was planning on however, I decided to use up some ripe bananas and make a banana cake with chocolate frosting instead.  FYI, sugar-free chocolate frosting is terrible.  Although most of you probably already were aware of this because after all the name "sugar-free" implies this important fact!  I should have done my homemade cream cheese frosting for this banana cake like I did the last time I made it, but I thought a quick and "healthier" icing would be better for me.  I think it may turn out to be better for me though because now I'm not sure I will eat any more of the cake!

The other thing I revisited yesterday was a Tyler Florence recipe for sweet potato matchsticks.  Here is a YouTube video of him fixing them.  I absolutely love them, however I'm not sure they're worth the effort considering how long it takes to cut up a sweet potato into tiny little matchsticks and the fact that I caught my stove on fire again while making them.

So yesterday was a day of repeats.  Here's to hoping I can get more done today with only doing things once...well excluding breast feeding, diaper changes, cooking, and all those other things that have to happen more than once!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

There's a first time for everything

I've been thinking, I need a way to keep everyone up to date on things and more importantly just keep track of everything besides updating my status on Facebook.  I've always loved writing and the ease of sharing information in "written" form.  I'd much rather write a book (or read one) than pick up my cell phone.  I hate my cellphone, but maybe we'll save that for a later blog, since this is supposed to be my introduction to this whole blog venture anyway.

So my plan for this forum is to keep anyone who reads it in the know about my life, my family, my ventures in the kitchen, and anything else I feel like writing about.  As a stay-at-home mom of 2 now, I'll probably end up with lots of short little blogs about randomness as time to sit down and plan one of these things is limited.  Right now it's late and fortunately both are sleeping, therefore I have a few moments to spare!  I should be sneaking in a shower or folding the laundry that's in the dryer, but I'll probably go to bed and plan on getting that shower in tomorrow and just restarting the dryer when I wake up.  I'm busy setting up a blog at the moment anyway!

A little about me for those that aren't aware or just forgot:  I'm 26 years old.  I have an almost 3 year old son named Gray and a 6 week old daughter named Alia ( \All-ee-uh\).  I'm engaged.  I have a twin sister!  I have a bachelor's degree in Computer and Information Technology.  I've recently fulfilled my lifelong dream of having a pickup truck that I actually get to drive!  I love the Food Network and trying out new recipes, especially those by Alton Brown.  If I think of anything else important to share, well you know...that's what this is for!

So here's to my first blog.  I hope anyone who reads this finds it interesting, worthwhile, and meaningful.  After all I am spending those rare free moments to share these future tidbits of wisdom and insights with you!  Look for upcoming topics to include new baby excitements, toddler adventures, and recipe reviews.  Enjoy!