Monday, October 20, 2014

Easy Weeknight Chili (also works in the crockpot!)

Tonight I wanted to make this recipe, and went searching in the blog archives before realizing I've never posted it! Easy, comforting, warm, and delicious, this is the perfect traditional chili recipe that everyone needs in their repertoire. But as simple as it is, I always get asked for the recipe when I make it. Perfect for either the stovetop or the crockpot, this is the meal to add to your regular menu rotation as life starts to get busy heading into the holidays. 

Easy Weeknight Chili
adapted from

2 lbs. ground beef, cooked and drained
2 cans tomato sauce
2 cans kidney beans, undrained
2 cans pinto beans, undrained
1/2 of a medium onion, chopped
1 small can green chilis
1/4 cup diced celery
2 cans diced tomatoes
2 t. cumin
3 T. chili powder
1 1/2 t. pepper
2 t. salt
2 c. water

Combine all ingredients in large pot and simmer for at least an hour, stirring occasionally. This is also delicious in the crockpot - just set on high for a few hours, or low for the whole day.

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Mealtime Simplification: An Update

Five years ago I wrote this post on Mealtime Simplification. In it, I wrote about how we deal with eating and dinners at our home, and I made the comment that I wasn't sure how this strategy would play out down the line with older kids, so I thought it was time for an update.

First, the quick rundown. We plan dinners we love. We serve them to our kids. Our kids can choose whether they want to eat it or not, and also how much they eat. If they are still hungry after dinner, they may have what we have come to call a "survival sandwich," which is a piece of bread with peanut butter on it.

We don't believe in forcing food. We don't believe in cleaning your plate. Our one dinnertime rule regarding food is: "Nothing rude about the food." I talked quite a bit about our reasons behind this in my original post, so today I'm just going to stick with an update.

Five years ago I had a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a newborn. My 2-year-old was the one who vomited the first time he was fed a grain of rice, an omen of what was to come. My kids are now 9, 7, and 5, and I'll be honest, it's been a long road with that middle child. He wants to like foods, he really does. He is a sweet-natured, cooperative child, not given to power struggles or generally making life difficult. But he truly just prefers plain, bland food.

We have still not pushed him to try new foods. He does quite frequently try new things on his own accord, hoping that he will like them, and over the years we have gradually moved from many "thumbs down" foods to more and more "sideways thumbs" and also, surprisingly, more "thumbs up" foods than we would have ever thought.

He still avoids condiments, sauces, and anything spicy. He still gives a side-eye to most vegetables. But every month, every year he finds more things that he enjoys, and it's getting easier.

We talk a lot about different types of food and what's in them. Even my 5-year-old can carry on a conversation about protein and calcium, and all three of them understand the importance of filling your body with healthy foods.

There is no stress at our dinner table. There are no power struggles. We respect our kids' right to dislike certain types of food, and they respect us by keeping their "eeeeewwwww" comments to themselves, and making themselves a Survival Sandwich if they need one. No one goes to bed hungry, no one has their dinner put in the fridge and served to them for breakfast the next day, no one is reduced to tears over a plate of food. Our dinner table is a place for conversation, laughter, and closeness, and it's a happy one.

I'll finish up with a success story from this week. As I was dishing up dinner, I was putting some canned pears on Parker's plate. As I did, my youngest asked, "Why are you still giving him pears? He never eats those." I answered her, "You know, one day Parker is going to decide he wants to try pears again. And when he does, I think he'll find out that he likes them. And today might just be that day." We sat down to dinner - steak sandwiches with a creamy dill sauce. First he tried the steak sandwiches. Minor victory, he usually likes plain meat with bread, and he did. Then he tried pickles, for what I'm pretty sure is the first time ever. Then he tried the creamy dill sauce, loved it, and dipped every bite in it. MAJOR victory - this kid does not so condiments. And then, finally, the pears. I knew he would someday.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Time and Space

So last year, though I never wrote about it here on the blog, I had a minor mental meltdown over the fact that I had literally nowhere in my house that was mine, for my own stuff. I became obsessed with having my own space. Someone hung their jacket on my hook? Dead meat. I couldn't rest until I purchased this apothecary table from Target to finally give me a teeny corner of my home to call my own. (Thank you, more talented design blogger with a cuter house, for a photo of what it looks like.)

This year, I'm obsessing over time. I participated in a fitness challenge and the trainer running it challenged us to meditate between one and sixty minutes per day. I was pumped. I was motivated. I couldn't wait to meditate.

And then I looked at my day. And I didn't have even one minute at home that I don't spend with my family. We wake up, we all get ready at the same time, my kids are with me both on my way to work and on my way home (since I work at their school). Then we're all at home together doing homework, sports, bedtime routine, etc., and then my husband and I hang out in the evenings and go to bed at the same time. There are so many things I'm grateful for in this scenario, don't get me wrong. I'm insanely grateful for my family. I love that my husband is able to be around so frequently. I love that I can work where my kids go to school, and I don't miss any of their important events. I'm glad my husband and I go to bed at the same time.

Buuuuuuut... not even one minute to myself that I could use to meditate? Of course I leave for Girls Nights and a good solo trip to Target now and then, but there was no consistent time each day that was me with my own time. It really started nagging at me. How can I even be me if I'm with my family every minute of every day?

Here's the part where I have a profound solution and a happy ending, but I don't. I never found that minute. One night I tried to meditate in my closet and before one minute was over, my husband came up and knocked on the door. "Uh, what are you doing in the closet?" Sigh. And it still bothers me that I don't have time to myself. So, no profound solution here. Just hoping, I guess, to commiserate.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Race Report - Gold Nugget Triathlon 2014

I know this isn't a fitness blog, but I had a great experience at a race today and wanted to share, in hopes that it might inspire someone else to try something out of their comfort zone!

Alaska has an awesome women's triathlon called the Gold Nugget, and it's well-known to be super friendly toward beginners. I'm used to running, and started kicking around the idea of a triathlon last year, but not until the race was already sold out. This year I was ready for registration and got in (before it sold out in 9 minutes)! I was nervous about the swimming and biking, since I hadn't really been swimming since I took a class in college 15 years ago, and I hadn't biked since I was a kid. But I love having a goal to work toward, so I took on the challenge and started working!

The distances were (in this order): 500 yd. swim, 12.1 mile bike, and a 4.1 mile run. I trained through the winter at the gym and the indoor pool, and got outside as soon as the snow cleared (April). It was hard to estimate what a good goal would be since I'd never done one before, and I originally shot for 2 hours, 30 minutes, knowing that it would be easily doable. As my training went on, and I looked at previous years' results, I started to wonder if I could actually go under two hours. While the biggest thing was just to finish and have a great time, I really started to have my heart set on that 2 hour mark. And, I'm proud to say, I beat it by quite a bit, with a time of 1:50! I almost had to let out a little scream in the race results tent when I saw it.

The Good
*Meeting my goal time, of course!
*I was really happy with my training leading up to the race. Between working full-time, and 3 kids in various sports and activities, it was really challenging to fit in enough workouts. I had to be really creative, getting up early in the morning, swimming laps while my kids had swim lessons, etc. Not to mention that there are NO triathlon training programs that take into account that the ground will be covered in snow until the month before the race. But I used what I knew about running training programs, and wrote myself something that I felt like worked really well for me.
*The race itself. Everything was organized so well, the volunteers and organizers were super friendly, the other racers were supportive - you couldn't ask for better energy in a race. It was amazing. The ages of the racers ranged from 9-76, and women of every size and shape.
*I also had a crazy awesome run. All this cross-training has really helped my run times, and I ran some of my best miles ever.
*Seeing my family there, cheering me on! I also had several friends and family members in the race throughout the day, and it was fun to see them and cheer them on.

The Bad
*Someone posted a picture of a black bear on the bike course the night before the race. Uh, can you say nerves?! And, reading the race reports coming in on the Facebook page, it seems that more than one person SAW black bears on the course today! Ack! Gotta love Alaska!
*I had shin splints in the two weeks leading up to the race, along with some crazy busy weeks at work. I knew I had to lay low and mostly stay off my feet for the shin splints, but it made me really anxious that my body would just forget all the training I had spent months on. It didn't, but it caused me a lot of anxiety in the days before the race.
*Okay, I know this sounds like I have turned into a true Alaskan, but it was actually a *touch* too hot for me out on the course today. We've been uncharacteristically warm here lately (over 70 degrees), and I was super hot on the run. Felt like California! Of course, it's better than the alternative, and I'm sure in future years I'll look back longingly on this 72 degree day!

The Ugly
*I forgot my sunglasses AND my racing belt/bib (my number) at my first transition!!!! The racing instructions said you HAD to have your racing bib for the run, so I spent a LONG hour on my bike having nightmares of what they would do when I got to the run and didn't have it (answer: nothing, but it was a lot of stress).

And that's it! I've had so many people say they could NEVER do a triathlon, but it was really encouraging to see women of all ages and fitness levels out there on the course today! Most people could do most beginner-level races with a few months of training, so start exploring what's in your area and try something new this summer!

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Meet the Mop That Changed My Life

I want to make clear from the beginning that this is NOT a sponsored post - just sharing something I love!

Sometime last year, I put a plea out to my readers to help me find the perfect steam mop. I HATE mopping with the passion of a thousand fiery suns, and I was willing to pay nearly any amount of money to make the job bearable. Here's some key words to start us out. Black dog. Three kids. Linoleum. Rental. Am I painting a lovely mental image here?

So one dear reader suggested the Hoover Floormate. I have the SpinScrub, but there is now a newer model. The Hoover Floormate is not actually a steam mop, but ended up being exactly what I was looking for. My main issues with mopping were:

1. I would spend all this time mopping, and then afterwards, if I would wipe the floor with a baby wipe, it would still come up brownish/gray.

2. The dog hair. Oh, the dog. How I wish.... never mind. Each time I would mop, it would simply push lines of dog hair into the corners of my floor, and I would have to go back through afterwards with baby wipes and clean all that up.

It was getting to the point where I would vacuum, use a Swiffer, then get on my hands and knees to spot-clean what the Swiffer hadn't gotten, and it STILL wasn't clean enough! Something had to change. Once my reader recommended the Floormate, I read the reviews and knew it was just what I needed.

Here's how it works:
*The Floormate has three functions: Vacuum, Wash, and Dry.
*Vacuum: Not intended to replace a regular vacuum, but nice if you're mopping and come across some crumbs or something. You can easily turn the switch to Vacuum, suction them right up, and then move along.
*Wash: You squeeze the trigger, and it sends out washing solution onto the floor, at which point some little rotating scrubbers under the head scrub the yuckyness, making your floors beautifully clean. At this point, the Floormate is also suctioning up the dirty water into a separate compartment.
*Dry: To decrease the drying time, there is also a Dry setting, which further suctions up the water. I don't use this because to me, the floors dry quickly enough without it.

The day it arrived from Amazon, I was giddy...

The first day I used it, I was converted. Here is my floor's side-by-side last two columns on the far right have not been mopped yet.)
Doesn't that look so nice and sparkling clean?

And then... this is unsettling. Here is some of the water the Floormate had sucked up during its first use. Beware... this is gross... See that bottom inch? Eeeeewwwww!
Thinking of buying one? Here are some Pros and Cons...

The Cons:
*Obviously more expensive than a regular mop.
*I always forget when I go into Dry mode, and I think I'm in Wash mode. I feel like it shouldn't squirt out the cleaning solution unless you're in Wash mode.
*About the same weight/size as a vacuum.

The Pros:
*No nasty water getting mixed into the water you are using for cleaning!
*The head is nice and low, so I can easily mop right against the edge of the floor, under the edges of my cabinets.
*You don't need to use their cleaner - you can use anything, even water and vinegar.
*It can clean lots of different surfaces - tile, grout, sealed hardwood, linoleum, etc.
*Cleans my floors so beautifully that if I take a baby wipe to it after I'm done, it comes up clean! I could NEVER make this happen before!

*And the biggest Pro of all.... now I LOVE mopping! I have gone from avoiding it at all costs, to actually being disappointed if my husband uses it without me. And, the more I love using it, the more frequently I use it, and the cleaner my floors are likely to stay! Can't beat that!

So that's that! Check it out! If you have any similarly wonderful products that have changed your mind about a household chore, I'd love to hear about them!

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

When to Get Off the Merry-Go-Round

Does anyone else go through this cycle? This is me, constantly. I was always a chubby kid growing up, and about 4 years ago, I was at an all-time high with my weight. I was unhappy, I lost about 30 pounds, and now... I'm here. I'm not overweight, I'm not thin. I'm just.... average, I guess.

But I am constantly going through the cycle above. I'll gain a little bit of weight, and commit myself to being healthy and fit, eating right. I'll be super super disciplined, and count calories, exercise, etc., and the scale doesn't budge. So then it all seems pointless. Or, I lose a pound or two, and then I reason that my weight is actually fine. I'm a mother, I like my curves, I like my body, I'm just going to maintain. But then maintenance quickly spirals into eating whatever I want, the pounds pack back on, my clothes don't fit, and then we start again.

I think a perfect world, for me, would consist of never weighing myself, and just focusing on reaching fitness goals, trying different classes, events, races, and routines, and just eating more cleanly and having a healthy lifestyle. Wouldn't that just be the ideal? It sounds so easy!

I want to just do one or the other. Decide I'm going to keep going, and be disciplined about getting there, or be honest with myself that this is an acceptable weight for me, and stop beating myself up about it. How do you decide when you're done?

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Easy Weekday Dinner - Fried Rice

Growing up, my mom was a working mom who always managed to get a delicious dinner on the table at the end of the day, something I certainly appreciate more now than I did at the time! One of the go-to meals around our house was fried rice. Now, this isn't meant to be an authentic recipe for fried rice, guys. Certainly you can find that elsewhere on the interwebz. But this is how I was taught to make it, and it turns out pretty tasty, if I do say so myself.

This will be more like a tutorial than a recipe, as I have never measured any of the ingredients and they're all going to be "to taste." But you will need cooked white rice (preferably leftover, or at least refrigerated), an egg, soy sauce, a variety of vegetables, and some meat. Vague, I know, but this is one of those super flexible meals that you can kind of make work with whatever you've got in the fridge.

So first, dice everything into similarly-sized pieces. I usually use what's pictured below: celery, carrots, and ham. We ALWAYS have those on hand, and all my kids like them (in theory).
 Next, take any veggies that need to be cooked, and cook them in a little bit of oil.
Cook your veggies until just tender. Here's where you have two choices. One, just add your rice and ham and move on to the next step. Or, a slightly less healthy, but very delicious option, is to actually fry your rice. First, you add a little more oil to the pan after you cook your veggies. Then pat your rice and meat down into a flat layer and let it fry up a bit on the bottom. I usually let it fry up a bit, then give it a stir, and repeat.
Your rice will start getting a little bit crispy. Don't overdo it though, you just want some crispy bites throughout, not an entire batch of rock-hard rice. Next, make a well in the center of the pan. Crack an egg into a separate bowl and whisk it, then pour it into the well.
Cook the egg in the center gently, as though you're making scrambled eggs.
When your eggs are pretty much cooked through, stir the egg in with the rest of the ingredients.
Add soy sauce to taste (start with a splash or two). If you're going to use green onions, stir them in right at the end here.
We pair this with the potstickers from Costco, for an easy weeknight meal that can be made with whatever you've got! This would be delicious with pork, shrimp, or chicken as well! Fried rice is also a good way for me to get some protein into my picky eater, as he's not much of a fan of meat, but he'll eat some scrambled eggs any day! Give it a try and let me know what your kids think!

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