Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Clara's First Day of Preschool

Yesterday was Clara's second first day of preschool.  Last year we did a preschool coop that was more like homeschooling with four other moms and kids from church.  This year we are in another coop preschool but it is much larger with 24 kids in her class, 3 full-time teachers and a classroom and everything.  The parents are required to work there two days at a time about once a month, so there are always 3 parents there in addition to the 3 teachers.  It is also super convenient for us because it is just around the corner from our house so we can just walk there every day. 


We visited the school late last spring when we found out we were on the waitlist and Clara has been talking about "her new school" ever since.  A few weeks ago we made a countdown chain together so that she could tear off rings and see how close we were getting to her first day.  She even took the last chain to bed with her the night before school started.  Paul also gave her a father's blessing and she was very reverent while receiving it and as soon as she stood up Rose jumped off my lap and climbed into the place Clara had just vacated and indicated that she was ready for hers too.


Clara's first day went great - no tears or fears or anything.  She went right in and joined the other kids and just had a wonderful time.  If anybody had a hard time, it was Rose, who cried when we left Clara (although it could easily have been because she wanted to play with the preschool toys as much as not wanting to leave big sister behind). 


She reported that they ate Star Wars crackers and she got to pour her own juice, played on swings, tricycles and with dress ups, sang songs, and did an art project.  On the walk home she told me that she thought her teachers were very nice and she played with two little girls named Alanna and Indiana.


She took me to the arts & crafts area where we found her painting still drying.  I'm impressed how Clara knows to look at the name tags to try to identify names start with "C" to see if she can find her own.  She jumps the gun at "Cassidy" or "Christopher" until she is reminded or remembers to look for the next letter in her name, but she has got the idea in her mind about how to identify her project by her name rather than by what the project looked like.  Oh, and incidentally, those white hair clips that Clara is wearing?  She puts them in herself and is so proud that she can do her own hair now.  I straighten it for her to clean up the ends a bit and part it, but then she wants to brush it and changes her clips in and out all day long switching between her favorite colors and trying to match her outfits.


We just can't believe what a beautiful, confident, fun little girl Clara is growing up to be.  She has a great imagination and a sweet heart and is just so willing and eager to be helpful.  We are so proud of her.  I took her measurements this morning for the record and she is just short of 42" tall and weighs 35 1/2 pounds.  I wasn't planning on school shopping for clothes for her, but as we have started to feel just the tiniest shift in temperature I went through her closet and realized that Clara doesn't have much cold weather attire that will fit her anymore.  So when we were at the store the other day I mentioned getting her an outfit for the first day of school and oh man, was she thrilled about that idea.  So she has a few new pair of leggings, shirts, cardigans, and dresses to wear and has been pleased as punch to get to cut the tags off and wear something new each day.  We did a few photos at a park in another one of her school outfits before school began and the poses were all her own.





We are thrilled to watch how she grows this year in preschool!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Whole30 Results and Wrap-up

Welp, we did it!  30 days of no gluten, no dairy, no legumes, and no sugar.  Just meat (lots of it), vegetables (more than normal for us, for sure), and fruit.  It has been a little over a week and we have gone through the transition phase of adding back the foods that we had eliminated and I thought I would do a quick sum-up of my thoughts about the experience.

It wasn't as hard as we thought it would be.  It sounded intimidating and outrageous at first, but when we actually implemented Whole30 it just wasn't that big of a deal.  Yes, I had to meal plan and pack lunches and do more cooking than normal, but it just wasn't all that bad. 

We got to try new things and found that we really enjoy eating cleaner.  We generally felt less sluggish during the day, clothes fit better, sleep improved overall, we felt like we got much better control over our sweet tooths and snack cravings, and we got to try a bunch of new recipes and foods that we otherwise wouldn't have had tried.

And while it has been nice to be able to bake again and eat a cookie, in the week or so since we finished Whole30 we have realized that in many ways we prefer eating that way and will probably do it again or even continue to eat that way fairly regularly.  I have noticed since going back to pancakes or muffins or whatever for breakfast that not only do I get hungrier earlier during the day, but that it affects my snackiness all day long compared to when I start the day out much more protein heavy with bacon or sausages or eggs with vegetables (I love egg scrambles with peppers and onions and mushrooms) or nuts.  We also noticed a big difference in the level of sweetness that we experience after having gone without sugar for 30 days and I can cut the amount of sugar called for in some recipes by as much as half and not even notice a difference because they taste so much sweeter now than before. 

And yes, okay, we both lost weight, which certainly ends things on a positive note, especially since you spend the whole 30 day period NOT counting calories or worrying about stepping on a scale.  We both lost around 8 pounds, and that was with me doing about an hour at the gym 3 times a week and Paul doing no exercise other than normal every day movement and house projects and stuff.  Paul doesn't have his stats on this but for me that also translated into a loss of 2.5% of body fat, which has certainly made a difference in how I feel. 

Anyway, I have a couple more recipes to share on here, even though I don't have pictures to go with them.  And if you are interested I can email you the working copy of the 30 day meal plan with recipes that I came up with, and there are tons of others on Pinterest. 

Stir Fry

Paul declared this his favorite meal that I made over the whole 30 day period.  I wouldn't go that far because I way preferred the arctic char, tri-tip, and garam masala salmon steaks, but this still tasted quite delicious and made a nice change to have something Asian.

1 large ribeye (or other steak or package of precut "stir fry" meat from grocery store - you could easily do this with chicken too)
1/2 head cauliflower
1/2 yellow onion
1 yellow bell pepper
1 bundle large asparagus
1/2 box white mushrooms
1 small can water chestnuts
1/2 small can bamboo shoots
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
1/4 cup coconut aminos (this is just paleo soy sauce - you can get it at whole foods and sprouts or order it online like I did.  It really, honestly does taste just like soy sauce and you won't even notice a difference)
1/2 cup beef stock
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon garlic powder

OPTIONAL:  change out any of the vegetables above for whatever vegetables you want or have on hand which makes this a GREAT meal to use up the veggies in your fridge.  I would also add green beans, broccoli, zucchini, or even carrots)

Season steak with salt and pepper and sear over really hot heat on both sides in a large pan. Remove and set aside. Slice all veg small. Add oil to pan and sauté onions for 1-2 mins. Add rest of veg and sauté adding liquids slowly to keep everything from burning. Add garlic, vinegar and ginger. Stir constantly. Once veg is softened slice steak very thinly and add. Stir for another 1-2 mins until the steak is med rare. Remove and serve!

Cilantro Ranch Dressing

2/3 cup avocado oil
1 room temperature egg
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon dried or a handful of fresh herbs (I used some dried dill and a handful of fresh cilantro that I had on hand)
Juice of half a lemon or lime

Place the egg, vinegar, spices, herbs, and citrus juice in the food processor or blender (I set my Vitamix to 4 - you don't want to go too high on speed if you are doing this in a Blendtec or Vitamix) and pulse a few times.  Slowly pour the avocado oil through the top hole of the food process or blender while it is going at a medium speed to emulsify.  Seriously, go SUPER slow in a thin, steady stream and take your time to get it all in.  Refrigerate for about an hour and then serve.   

Scrambled Eggs with Salmon

This one is straightforward.  You just crack your eggs into a bowl and mix them with a fork and season with a little salt and pepper, then pour into a pan to scramble them.  Add a chunk of leftover salmon from a previous dinner or a piece of compliant smoked salmon (I found some at Whole Foods) and break it apart as you scramble the eggs.  It is so, SO good and one of my very favorite breakfasts. 

Zucchini Noodles with Marinara and Peppers, Onions, and Sausages

So we bought a spiralizer which is a tool that turns vegetables like zucchini, sweet potatoes or squash into noodles and it actually is pretty great.  We have tried spaghetti squash in the past and don't particularly love it but zucchini noodles are excellent.  But some friends mentioned that they had tried making them and their zucchini noodles turned out mushy so I thought I would explain the method I used.  After spiralizing your zucchini, spread your noodles out in a thin layer over a couple of layers of paper towel and sprinkle with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt, then lay a couple additional layers of paper towels on top.  This will help to draw out the water that is in the zucchini.  Wait for about 15 to 30 minutes, then roll the noodles up in the paper towel and squeeze as much water out as you can.  Transfer to a hot pan with a little bit of olive oil and saute for 2-3 minutes, just to soften it a little bit.  Then you can top it with marinara and serve it with a protein of your choice. 

For the marinara, I just used the recipe I use for Chicago Deep Dish Pizza Sauce (with a few modifications) and it is pretty perfect. 

2 tablespoons ghee
1/4 cup grated onion , from 1 medium onion (note, we left this out)
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Table salt
2 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (see note)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Ground black pepper

Heat ghee in medium saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add onion, oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated and onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and baking soda, increase heat to high, and bring to simmer. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until reduced to 2 1/2 cups, 25 to 30 minutes. Off heat, stir in basil and oil, then season with salt and pepper.

For the peppers, onions, and sausages:

3 to 4 medium onions (I think I used 2 really large onions so you just have to use your judgment on how much you like roasted onions)
3 to 4 sweet red, yellow, or orange bell peppers
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
Season with a combination of salt, pepper, & Italian herbs (go as heavy or as light as you like but my estimate is at least 2 teaspoons of Italian herbs - if you don't have a blend from the store you can google how to make it yourself using basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, thyme, and probably marjoram or rosemary or something
4 to 6 links of uncooked Italian link sausages (I found some compliant chicken sun dried tomato and jalapeno sausages that worked perfectly)

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Cut onions and peppers in even-sized chunks. Drizzle with olive oil, add garlic and sprinkle with seasoning. Mix well and spread on a large baking pan lined with a silicone liner or parchment. Place uncooked sausages among the vegetables (if using pre-cooked sausages, add during last 15 minutes of cooking). Roast for 30 minutes or until sausages are completely done and vegetables are browned.

 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Weekend Fun

We discovered a new beach close to home this past week.  It is actually on the bay rather than the ocean so it is really shallow and doesn't get waves, which makes it perfect for the girls.  We went with a large group of moms and kids from a couple different local wards and had a great time.  Such a good time that we ended up going back on Saturday with Paul so that he could enjoy some beach time too. 
 









When we went back with Paul we went in the evening after dinner in downtown Oakland.  It was fun watching the sun go down over the water and such a different experience from the morning we spent at the same beach a few days before. 








Rose's face here just slays me.  Her personality is so big these days and I just love it.

 
We also hit up Tilden Park to take a ride on the steam trains and the antique merry-go-round.  The train is one of my new favorite things about the bay area.  It goes through redwood trees and a tunnel and blows steam and is just such a fun experience.  It is going to be our new go-to activity to do when we have visitors so be warned if you come to see us.  I think it is pretty obvious from these pictures how much the girls adore their daddy.  He works so much during the week that it is always so special to make the most of our weekends together.
 







The merry-go-round at Tilden Park is an antique one and is one of the oldest ones in the country.  The girls LOVED it and went around and around and around.  Paul and I had to trade off because our stomachs couldn't handle more than a ride or two without feeling queasy. 





We got to downtown Oakland a little bit before the restaurant opened where we wanted to eat dinner, so we walked around for a little while and found a little plaza with steps where the girls had fun just running around playing.  Eventually they ended up resting on the steps in front of some big office building.



And the last bit of weekend fun was at the free concert in the park on Friday night again.  We picked up a pizza which we ate on our blankets while we listened to the music and Paul bought the girls a shave ice.  We just love this summer tradition.
 




Mammoth Lakes

Last weekend we took  little trip to Mammoth Lakes, CA to spend some time with the girls in the great outdoors.  We typically try to go camping every summer but nixed that idea this year because of Rose's current sleeping abilities and our general lack of desire to subject other campers in tents listening to her cry during the night if she were to wake up.  At home, she does great in her crib, but in a pack-n-play or snuggling up with me in bed?  Not so much.  Instead we rented cute little cabin at Crystal Crag Resort on Lake Mary.  It definitely wasn't fancy but it was a charming place to stay since it seems like it hasn't been updated since the 1950's (and I mean that in the best way).  There was a tiny front room with fireplace, futon, kitchen (with a teeny-tiny stove and oven and fridge) and breakfast table, and a second room with a double bed with a little bathroom.  The first night was brutal, to be honest.  Both girls went down just fine but they didn't stay that way.  Rose slept out front on the futon with me and crawled around all night long, freaking out about the covers which I finally realized in a brain-addled haze of overtiredness somewhere around 4 a.m. was NOT because she wanted MORE covers (it was chilly and I kept covering her) but that she didn't want any covers at all!  Once we got that figured out, she did much better and the second night was not nearly so rough.
 





We had a little enclosed firepit behind our cabin so the first night we roasted Whole30 compliant hot dogs for dinner (no s'mores this trip - yay us!) and ate on the table on our cabin's little patio. 



Then we went down to the lake to try out a little lake fishing.  Paul bought Clara a fishing pole for her birthday so a big reason for this trip was to give her a chance to try it out.  She has been practicing casting in our backyard (and in the house, grrr....) for a couple of weeks and is getting pretty good at it actually.  Alas, the two of them had nary a nibble the whole weekend.




Lake Mary is popular for boating and there was a beached one that Rose enjoyed playing in while I took her picture.



 
One of the main reasons for this trip was to go see Devil's Postpile National Monument, which we have been wanting to visit for years now.  It is an easy hike in, although you have to pay for bus tickets from a central parking lot and can't drive yourself to the trailhead, which turned out to be problematic for us because we left our good camera in the car and there was no easy way to just go back and grab it.  So all the pictures we have were taken on our iPhones.  Oh well. 
 


The rock are called columnar basalt and they are a pretty rare occurrence were basically a lake of lava cooled over time and cracks formed that would go for about 10 inches between shooting away from each other at 120 degree angles, creating these hexagonal columns of rock.  There was a glacier involved somewhere in the forming process but I forget just how that came into play.  Anyway, it is fascinating from below to look up at the columns, which occasionally break away and create this tumbled pile of basalt.  But it is equally interesting to see it from the top where you stand on the flat hexagonal sort of tiles that are really just columns that haven't sheered away from the rest of the formation.  Another famous example of these is at Giant's Causeway in Ireland and it is on my list of places I want to visit. 







Rose did a good job hiking on the way in, but couldn't make it up the hill to the top of the formation on her own, so we switched her to the carrier and on the way down she fell fast asleep.  We were cracking up over how she would loll her head back in a dead slumber because it must have been so uncomfortable to sleep that way!


We made breakfast in the cabin each morning.  One great thing about Whole30 is how we got to eat these awesome breakfasts of sausages and eggs and bacon and country style fried potatoes with lots of fresh fruit.  I missed muffins and pancakes, but really, who can complain too much about bacon on a regular basis?  And the curtains in this kitchen, right? 


These are the kinds of memories I want the girls to grow up with - having good breakfasts in their pajamas while camping as a family.  So glad we got to go this summer.  Hopefully by next year Rose will be a much more consistent and resilient sleeper so we can do some actual camping and more of it.


There are lots of lakes in the Mammoth area and we tried to visit a few of them.  These pictures are from Convict Lake where back in the late 1800's some men from a Nevada prison hid out trying to evade capture.  They killed a deputy when he found the near here but then were later captured by a posse of men who killed two of them and sent the third convict who was only 19 years old back to prison.



Paul found out about a fish hatchery in the area so we took the girls to feed the fish.  They loved this activity and both of them were fascinated watching the fish eat the little pellets that the girls would throw in to them. 


 
 


Then we drove over to Hot Creek which is a protected fly-fishing area that Paul and his dad like to fish at where it is only catch-and-release and you aren't allowed to use barbed hooks.  We walked around for a little bit but it was getting late in the day and Rose was ready for her nap so we didn't stay long.






When we rented our cabin, we were given a boat rental for free for a day, so we went out on the lake in the afternoon to try fishing some more.  Paul and Clara didn't have any more luck than the previous night, but it was still nice being out on the water.  The girls mostly enjoyed being able to eat the lollipops they had picked out earlier in the day.





After dinner in Mammoth, we dove out to Mono Lake to find the "tufas" which are these cool rock formations that were originally formed underwater.  The level of the lake is rising so eventually many of these will be underwater again, but it won't be for years and years.  It was such an otherworldly, interesting place to explore and I would love to go back again.  But next time when we go in the evening we need to remember to bring warmer things because the wind was chilly even if the air temperature wasn't too bad.












Just two more photos that I snapped on our way out of Mammoth.  We had driven past Twin Lakes each time on the way to and from our cabin and it was just lovely, so I wanted to stop in the parking lot and take a quick picture.



And that was our Mammoth trip!