Sunday, July 5, 2015

4th of July Celebrations

I hope you had a wonderful Fourth of July! We didn't watch fireworks or attend any parades, but we enjoyed some lovely time with friends over the course of the day.

After Marshall's first nap, we all headed out for lunch with some of our best friends. The kids (four total so far!) are so fun to watch and play with at this age (ranging from 27 months down to 4 months), and we even managed a tiny bit of adult conversation along the way. We chose Mendocino Farms for our meal, which was tasty, but Terry and I agreed that we felt like the sandwiches were a bit small (and heavy on the bread/light on the meat and veggies). Still, we would try it again because one woman had a sandwich that was STUFFED with turkey. Which sandwich was that??

After lunch, we tried our best to get a photo with all the kids and moms and ended up with...some hilarious shots.

Oh well. (Thanks for the photos, dads!)

I did insist on capturing a little family photo:

After lunch and a nap in the car for Marshall, we headed to our Fourth of July party at my friend Amanda's house. Amanda lives in Vegas, but her parents hosted a get-together yesterday, which was so much fun! 

Marshall got to go for a swim, but he was SO excited about being in the water that he seemed to have forgotten all his swimming skills (back float, holding his breath while dunking under water, and jumping off the edge of the pool). Naturally, Terry and I are now scrambling to find a way to get him re-enrolled in swim lessons!

 I made these simple fruit kabobs with a cream cheese dip. Marshall ate about a quarter of them.

We even had some volunteers (Amanda's mom and her friend) who offered to watch Marshall for over an hour so we could really enjoy the party! While we were playing Amanda's ridiculously difficult trivia game, Marshall learned how to make a "moo" ("oooooo") sound! Super cute. And I got to kick back with this guy:

(You'll notice he changed outfits; that's because the party was actually School Spirit themed! The trivia game was crazy difficult because a bunch of the questions required us to figure out the names of fictional high schools from movies and TV shows. Harder than you think, my friends. We did not win.)

But we kind of did win, because we got to enjoy a fun day with friends, and even though I completely forgot to take a picture with Amanda, I did snap a photo of this delicious cookie. (Made by Jessika, who went to pastry school, so yeah, they're pretty good.)

We raced home to try to get Marshall to bed at a reasonable hour (7:40--not terrible, but definitely late), and then we watched Crazy, Stupid, Love for the tenth time. Love that movie. Ryan Gosling, you are a wonder.

We ate a giant cupcake while watching (way too many sweets yesterday!). The cupcake was from Sweet Arleen's a shop that won Cupcake Wars. The cake itself was only okay, but the frosting was incredible.

Marshall woke up early (in baby world, late to bed means early to rise, and Marshall proves it time and time again), so Terry graciously offered to let me sleep a little longer. I finally joined the boys at 6:45 or so, and Marshall already went down for his nap at 8 am(!), so Terry and I enjoyed a quiet breakfast: leftover berry crumble with yogurt and peanut butter. YUM.

And now it's time to enjoy the rest of our Sunday before a long week begins! Here is our meal plan:

And I'm thrilled to say I'm back to some variety in my workouts. On Thursday we did a strength workout (completed each set twice before moving to the next):

Set 1: Dumbbell Plie squat --> Biceps curl --> Overhead press (15 reps--on last rep pulse at bottom of plie squat 15 times) + 15 push ups

Set 2: Alternating dumbbell step ups (or backward lunge) with squat in between (30 reps--on last rep pulse at bottom of squat 15 times) + 15 bench dips

Set 3: Alternating renegade row (10 reps total) + 1 min reverse plank

Set 4: One-leg glute bridges (15 reps per side--on last rep pulse 15 times) + dumbbell chest press (15 reps)

Set 5: 100 crunches of choice + 30 Russian twists with dumbbell + 2 mins rest

And on Friday I put on Bob Harper's Yoga for the Warrior DVD while Marshall napped. Definitely challenging, but yoga felt gooooood on my muscles. This week I'm hoping to get in some long walks (running is taking a bit of a backseat this week after our June challenge), more yoga, and a bit of strength. 

Hope you have a wonderful week!

What did you do to celebrate the Fourth?

Are you a morning person or night owl?

Friday, July 3, 2015

Airplanes and Apartments

Happy 4th of July weekend, all! I hope yours is off to a fabulous start with some fun plans on the horizon. We're visiting some friends tomorrow and then attending a party, for which I am providing this fruit-kabob-and-honey-dip dish. Then on Sunday we're having guests for brunch/lunch and maybe attending a music in the park event. Sounds like a busy but awesome weekend to me!

Today might be tough to beat, though. Terry had the day off, so we planned a little outing with our tiny sidekick: a trip to Santa Monica Airport! If you're unfamiliar, it's a relatively small airport, but they have a park attached with a playground, soccer fields, a dog park, free parking(!), and an observation area where you can sit on bleachers and watch planes land and take off. We hit up the dog park to say hi to the dogs and then played on the swings a bit at the playground before grabbing a picnic table for Marshall to eat lunch.

And then we headed over to the observation deck! 

Someone was a little nervous about the sounds of the planes...

...but he calmed down and enjoyed watching the takeoffs and landings!

The whole experience was very low-key but SO fun. And free! (<--the best part? :-) We loved seeing all the different planes, it wasn't too loud (the first plane we saw was one that started up right in front of us, so that one made Marshall a little nervous, but otherwise the sound was actually way quieter that I expected!), and we got to listen to air traffic control over the loudspeaker. Terry (who works in aerospace engineering) translated for us, and I am sure Marshall will be super excited to have his daddy tell him all about air traffic control in a few years!

We've been trying to get outside more in general lately, to enjoy the weather before summer gets too hot. We almost always go out for a walk and/or to the park, but I'm looking for more creative ideas, too, so we (I) don't get bored. Today's adventure was definitely a must-do-again type of day, so I am especially glad we got to go with daddy first.

Here's a photo from yesterday, when Marshall and I took a slow walk around the block to look at cars, practice standing, talk about flowers, and wait for daddy to come home from work.

Also, I finally have some fun photos of our apartment to share! We moved about six weeks ago, but it always takes a while to settle in. Some things I love about this place (aside from location, which I can't rave about enough):

It's old and charming, complete with built-ins in the dining room, door hinges where a swinging door used to lead to the kitchen, and window ledges big enough for a tiny cat to perch upon.

 The kitchen is BIG! It's a square, too, so there's room for Terry and me to maneuver around. To the right of the stove was this big awkward space, so we bought (and Terry assembled) an island cart with wheels. It blocks the cupboards in the back, but the wheels work nicely to move it out whenever I need stuff in there.

I think the black and white floors are adorable, too! Terry really likes this little corner of the kitchen with my chalkboard and the island. It feels very cozy to me, too. I am so glad to be in a place where I love my kitchen, since I spend so much time there.

Marshall's room was the first we unpacked so he could feel comfortable as quickly as possible. We have some fun new decor here!

The "MH" above was a gift for Marshall's first birthday. Each letter has a collage of superhero/comic book characters. Such an adorable and thoughtful gift!

Here's the opposite wall:

The train canvas was a HomeGoods find that we used at his first birthday party, and the frames below it all seemed to make sense to me as a little gallery wall. I still need two more photos, but it turned out pretty cute!

The big frame above the glider is a print from a Tim Burton exhibit Terry and I went to right after we got married; we saved the print for our future child's room. And the "Pop Alphabet" print was a gift from my mom from an art and wine festival a few years ago.

We really love Marshall's room. It's pretty spacious and comfy and perfect for our little guy to play, read, and sleep (though the sleep is often up for debate).

The rest of the house is pretty typical stuff, so I just showed the highlights, but maybe someday I'll get around to taking photos of the rest. I'm pretty proud of a gallery wall I made for Terry's side of the bedroom, but I have yet to do the same for mine. Our living room doesn't have huge, blank walls like our last several places, so we aren't going to hang our big poster prints, but they were just random photos of Europe. We did, however, hang our big travel collage from a few years ago. It's pretty cozy up in here!

Speaking of cozy, look at these two:

And look at this deeeeeelicious meal:
(Caprese salad plus Kale-Pesto Cream Pasta, from the 100 Days of Real Food Cookbook)

And now I'm off to enjoy some more of this:

and to watch Wet Hot American Summer, which I've never seen. 

Fun questions (why not?):

Have you seen Wet Hot American Summer? Who's your favorite character?

What's been your best meal this week?

What are you doing to celebrate 4th of July?

On an airplane, do you prefer takeoff or landing? I prefer takeoff. Landing terrifies me, because I never think they're going to stop in time (well, I guess that's after the landing, but whatever).

Have a safe and happy Fourth!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ice Cream with a Crisp and Pita Pizzas

Well here we are on a Wednesday and I'm on a roll with blogging this week! It's nice for me to get some time each night to write a bit and enjoy a little down time.

Today was a stay-close-to-home day, for no particular reason except that we really didn't have any plans. I also took a complete rest day from working out. Marshall and I played around the house, read a LOT (he's been pulling out books and bringing them to me lately, which is irresistible), ate some delicious meals, ran some errands, and played at the park. Another mom gave me the idea to bring an inflated ball to the park and pass it to Marshall while he's on the swings. Marshall thinks it's hilarious! He grabs the ball and then either passes it back to me or throws it to the ground.

Marshall's naps have been less predictable (super long or none at all) lately, so I've had some fun in the kitchen! This morning I threw pork in the slow cooker to make carnitas for tacos tonight. Deeeeeelicious! We used Trader Joe's Truly Handmade tortillas (the white flour ones, which are much softer than the whole wheat), then topped the carnitas with avocado, pepper jack cheese, and our favorite 365 Salsa Verde.

Later in the day, I decided I had had enough with scrounging for dessert every night (what are we, animals?), so I assembled a berry crisp to bake later. I used my No-Sugar Apple Crisp recipe and just replaced the apples with berries (one pint blueberries and one and a half cups blackberries). I also didn't have pecans, so walnuts took their place. I had to make ice cream, too, because what good is a berry crisp without vanilla ice cream?

I use the 100 Days of Real Food cookbook to make my ice cream, but I change the quantities just a little:
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 1/4 cup milk
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon vanilla

At the end of the day, Terry came home a little early so I could take a little break. I walked to the coffee shop, read for about 30 minutes, and walked home. It was a perfect getaway, and then I was thrilled to get back to my boys.

Oh! I wanted to share a quick recipe we've made a few times recently. It's super easy, nutritious, and quick, with lots of options for variety.

Pita Pizzas

- Whole wheat pita bread (we like Trader Joe's brand)
- marinara sauce (I like 365 organic)
- frozen chopped spinach
- mozzarella cheese (or mix it up with whatever cheese you like, like goat)
- toppings of choice--more vegetables, pepperoni, sausage, etc.

Slather the marinara on the pita, then sprinkle liberally with spinach (I keep it frozen until about 5-10 minutes before using it, so it thaws juuuuust a little),

 then shredded cheese, then other toppings. Bake at 425 degrees about 10-12 minutes, and enjoy!

Funny story: I bought this pepperoni and laughed because it's a tiny bag (4 ounces) but they have a resealable zipper thing. I told Terry, "Ha! Who would buy this small of a package of pepperoni and not eat it all in one meal?" Fast forward five minutes after I've assembled the pizzas: "Uh, actually, there's quite a bit left over..." (Don't worry, I made sure we ate all the pepperoni!)

Off to snuggle in bed with my book! Hope you're having a wonderful week!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Summer Chicken Salad and the End of the Running Challenge

Are you surviving the week? We've had some interrupted sleep over here (Marshall keeps us on our toes, for sure), but the days have been nice. There's a bit of a heat wave in LA right now (and the rest of California), but actually this apartment is the first we've had in a very long time that allows for a cross-breeze. We're enjoying the cool night/morning air as much as we can before it becomes unbearably hot a little later in the summer.

Today was the day to finish our 30 miles in 30 days running challenge! We completed our last miles just in time with a two mile jog this afternoon. We kept track on our refrigerator white board.

Yesterday's run was one of the toughest because we hit a LOT of uphill in the first two miles, so we did walk some. Other than that, though, we found our average speeds to be around 5.5 most of the time. Slower than we used to be, but better than nothing! Our longest run was four miles, but almost all the rest were two or three at a time. It was a great way to get back into the habit of working out every other day, so now we're ready to mix things up with some strength training, yoga, intervals, and a few HIIT workouts here and there.

Our evenings lately have included a lot of cooking, cleaning, prep for the next day, and plopping on the couch to watch a show or two before reading in bed. I'm about halfway through The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling's pseudonym), and Terry just finished Ready Player One. He's looking for another book to check out at our local library (I've got a huge stack for the summer already); any suggestions? He loves almost any genre!

I've been trying to come up with fun, creative, seasonal meal ideas lately and struggling a bit. (Yes, even with my fun chalkboard and menu planning assistant!) My friend Amanda and I discussed cooking recently and she told me she has been trying out Blue Apron, which I know a lot of bloggers love. Of course Amanda sent me a trial order (because she's Amazing Amanda), so we have that to look forward to in a few weeks! My friends Katie and Corey also gave us a housewarming gift of the same idea to Hello Fresh, so that will be the following week. My friends are way too generous, but I am excited to compare the two services! Of course I'll be sure to share as soon as we try both.

Meanwhile, I've felt motivated to try some new recipes lately. I love it when Terry requests meals, too, but often his tastes vary from mine, so we stick to the same ol' safe stuff. This week he found Ina's gazpacho recipe, which made me hesitate, but I can't exactly complain about not knowing what to make and then ignore his suggestions, right? So gazpacho it was!

I halved the recipe, but, in true Chef Julie style, forgot to halve all of the ingredients. Guess I should follow my own advice: When halving or doubling a recipe, always WRITE DOWN THE NEW MEASUREMENTS. Fail. So I halved everything except the white wine vinegar and olive oil and realized it too late. We sat down to a very acidic--but still tasty--meal last night and ended up turning to Google for help. I knew something sweet would balance the vinegar, but brown sugar in gazpacho? There weren't any other suggestions, so brown sugar it was. It worked okay last night, but today the vinegar had really set in, so we tossed the leftovers. I look forward to trying the recipe again without the vinegar flub. Poor Marshall did not care for his sour soup.

In recipe success news:

I made Julie's Chopped Summer Salad last week for a family picnic, and we loved it. This week, I wanted the same idea but decided to create a chicken salad and stuff it into a pita pocket. DELICIOUS. Here's what I did:

**Note: I recommend doing the first two steps in advance, if possible. They aren't difficult, but they require different temperatures for the oven, which can lead to feeling like you've been in the kitchen all day. It's supposed to be a simple meal!

- Marinate 2-3 chicken breasts in 3/4 cup teriyaki sauce (we used Trader Joe's Soyaki) for at least an hour in the fridge. Then bake in a baking dish lined with foil at 350 degrees for 45 minutes (check that the breasts are fully cooked). Set aside to cool.

- If you want bacon (and who doesn't want bacon?), line a rimmed baking pan with foil and place a cooling rack on top. Lay the bacon strips on the cooling rack (allows the grease to drip down and helps crisp up the bacon, plus less of a mess when cooking!). Cook in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, flipping the bacon strips halfway. Set aside to crisp up.

- Combine the rest of the ingredients:
  • 1/3 cup hummus (we used Trader Joe's Organic Hummus Dip, which was delicious)
  • 1/2 cup green grapes, sliced in half
  • 1 chopped avocado
  • 4 ounces feta, crumbled
  • 1 head of Romaine lettuce, chopped 
  • Previously marinated and cooked chicken (see above), chopped
  • Cooked bacon, chopped
Toss to combine and serve in slightly warm pita pockets (we like the whole wheat pita bread from TJ's or Whole Foods). Enjoy!

An excellent summer meal. Thanks to PB Fingers for the inspiration! I have a feeling this meal will show up several times this summer, because Terry can't stop talking about it. :-)

By the way, I stopped at Costco today and sampled these Aussie Bites, which were delicious, so I bought a box. Yum! (And here's a great example of where "some healthy ingredients" or labels like "organic" and "zero trans fats" shouldn't be mistaken for "healthy food". Plenty of added oils and sugars in here, so while I like the food and will enjoy it, I wouldn't make it a regular purchase.)

Hope you are enjoying your week! I'm looking forward to sharing some photos of our new (semi-decorated) place as well as a fun baby-related food post. Happy Wednesday!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Change in Plans

Lately, in response to moving yet again within Southern California, a place I hadn't intended to inhabit longer than the four years I attended college, I have been reflecting on the path that got me to where I am, as well as where I had hoped to be now. Ultimately, a lesson I've learned over the last eight or nine years, despite trying desperately to ignore it, is: Plans change. Roll with it.

I thought I would move "home"--back to the Bay Area, near my family--after graduating from UCLA. But Terry and I had been dating a year at that point and already knew we were in it for the long haul. He wouldn't graduate for another year and a half, so I stayed in LA to be with him. After he graduated, he accepted an excellent, stable (important, given that it was 2008 and a rough time to be graduating) job that would allow him to earn his Master's degree (completely paid for by the company!). Naturally, those benefits were too wonderful and financially sound to turn down, so again we stayed. Years later, we're still grateful for Terry's job, which has allowed us to start our home (er, multiple homes), travel the world, start a family, and be a single-working-parent household.

Speaking of which, I never imagined I would be a stay-at-home mom, and certainly not for over a year! I always heard that teaching was the ideal profession for having a family, because there's "so much" time off and the hours are aligned with children's school hours, obviously. Alas, for me,  there is no way I could have continued teaching the way I did (at least as a full-time high school English teacher; I cannot speak for other teachers) and balanced having a newborn/infant. So for us, although at first it was not a planned decision, my staying home was the right one. There are a LOT of days when I panic about a future career, about finances, about having an identity outside of my family. But for now, it's working out to have me at home, so we're going to see where it leads us, and if the right job comes along I'll be grateful for the opportunity.

I always envisioned that we would follow a more traditional path as far as our home life: move to a more suburban area, buy a house, adopt a dog, then have a baby. Instead, we still live in the city, we rent and don't see ourselves buying anytime soon (see previous paragraph), we have a cat but no dog (and our place won't allow the latter), and we had a baby before any of that other stuff. Of course, I'd love to own instead of rent, but the rest of the original plans are far less important to us right now. We love the city, we love our new apartment and neighborhood, we love our cat, and we definitely wouldn't change a thing about having Marshall!

For a long time, I let myself feel upset about the fact that we didn't seem to be making any progress on the goals I had set so long ago. But I'm realizing that I need to be flexible in my goals and allow any curve balls life throws at us to become part of the plan, not necessarily an obstacle.

Truthfully, now that we live in a neighborhood we love (walking distance to everything! families playing catch in their front yards! dogs everywhere!), we are really embracing the present. More importantly, I'm trying to be less focused on the future and goals and achieving some arbitrary definition of success. Instead, I want to enjoy our new apartment in our cute neighborhood--who cares when we'll finally own a place? (Well, okay, we still care, but you get the idea.) I want to soak in my son's first years instead of panicking about the fact that I don't have a job. I want to snuggle up with our cat at night and love on our nephew dogs and my parents' new puppy instead of wondering when we'll get our own.

It's been easy to focus on the negative for too long, but I have a wonderful life. For the first time in a very long time, I'm actually appreciating the present instead of worrying about the future.

What plans have changed for the better in your life?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Some Saturday (and Sunday) Stuff

This week really got away from me! Each night, by the time we had finished cooking dinner, putting the baby to bed (there were some long, rough evenings), and cleaning up the kitchen, it was already 9 pm. I chose to spend a little quality time with the ol' husband instead of burying myself in my computer, so BLWB got a little hiatus. But I'm back!

We're super close to the end of June, and we have five miles left to run before July 1. As long as we don't get injured, we'll be able to take the day off tomorrow and then squeeze in those last two runs just in time. I'm glad we challenged ourselves, but I'm also ready for some variety in my workouts again! As I said before, the priority this month was simply getting into the groove of working out regularly again, making it a priority even when we aren't in the mood, and finding time to be active despite very small windows of opportunity. But now we see that it's pretty easy to fit in thirty minutes of exercise after Terry gets home from work, and Marshall happily chats away in his stroller 90% of the time we're jogging. At home, Marshall finds it hilarious to watch us do strength/circuit workouts, so we can fit those in before dinner, too. No excuses, I guess, huh?

We did skip one scheduled run this week because we had an impromptu date! We found ourselves with about 90 minutes and took advantage of our unexpected babysitters to run to the grocery store (romantic, I know) and to grab drinks at happy hour. It was quick but fun and a nice way to recharge in the midst of Marshall's crazy sleep patterns lately. We need more of those, so we're working on finding more babysitters to help us keep the magic alive.

Meanwhile, we have charcuterie boards after baby goes to bed.

Speaking of which, not to jinx ourselves, but Marshall slept from 7 pm (and didn't even fight going down) until 4:40 am last night. Granted, he didn't go back to sleep after that, but we're making some progress! Everything I read and every mom friend I talk to says earlier bedtimes help combat those early wake ups, so we're easing our way toward a full night of sleep over here, which we had given up on for the last few weeks.

More importantly, we're quickly approaching an age when Marshall will be able to earn his keep around here. Yesterday he practiced vacuuming with me. Vacuuming before he can walk? I'll take it.

In other important news, I just tried out this quick Yoga for Runners video, which did a nice job of helping me stretch some neglected tight spots, especially the IT band. The only bummer was the mid-video interruption for an ad, but I can't really complain about free videos, right? (Right?)

Today's lunch plans were canceled, so we're trying to think of something fun to do as a family. If we hang out at home, we generally end up just doing chores all day or feeling the need to "be productive," whereas if we head out we find ourselves relaxing, soaking up Marshall's hilarious personality, chatting with each other. Hopefully we can find a family-friendly neighborhood event or something!

It's funny how little things about our new place have started some positive habits in me. We did a fantastic job of eating at home last week, and I'm motivated to do it again, likely because we have carpet here and I can sit on the floor with my giant chalkboard to write out our weekly menu and meal plan while we watch TV at night. And now that we can do laundry anytime(!!!!), it's done before Terry gets home, so we have extra time in the evenings. This place has really been an incredible decision for us!

The next day...

Yeah, I had excellent intentions of finishing and posting yesterday, but life somehow carried on without a post. So I'll include a few updates through Sunday morning:

We did get out of the house yesterday for a fun family outing. We hit the grocery store, my eye doctor to pick up new contacts, and an ice cream shop. I had coffee ice cream with chocolate sprinkles and Terry chose two flavors: honey goat cheese and brown butter walnut. YUM. I actually think mine was better, which never happens! We let Marshall have a tiny taste of the brown butter (obviously no walnuts), and he seemed less than enthusiastic.

Marshall helped hold the umbrella.

During Marshall's second nap, Terry and I sat on the couch and read our respective books. We never do that kind of thing, but it was a little dreary outside and it felt like a lovely afternoon for some tea and reading. No regrets.

And then I got some snuggles!

Dinner was pita pizzas using whatever we had on hand: frozen spinach, mozzarella, and goat cheese. Delicious and super quick, especially because I forgot to roast up some broccoli. Oh, well.

And then last night we just watched a few episodes of Happy Endings and called it an early night. Good thing, too, because Marshall has us up quite often (see, I knew I had jinxed myself). I know it's all two steps forward and one step back, so I'm trying my best to be patient as he gets closer to sleeping through the night.

Speaking of development, the most exciting news of all: Jenn is pregnant!!! She's six months along, due in September. They're having a little boy! We're so excited for Jenn and Justin's new arrival. :-)

Congratulations, Jenn!

Hope your week starts off great!