Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas List 2014!

Every year I do a list of things I'm loving for the holiday season in hopes it will help inspire your wish list as well. There are always things I think would be nice to haves, but then when I'm asked what I'd like for Christmas, I usually have to rack my brain for ideas. So here are a few things I love, in no particular order!

I could get a few pair of these every year and be happy. I love them for going out of the house in winter to keep my feet warm, or for the days I work from home and am in stocking feet they are perfect for keeping my toes warm under the desk. Plus, I love the designs Smart Wool have on their socks! I am also in real need of new running socks, so those are on my list as well. I love the FitSok brand.

Also looking towards my feet, I need new winter boots. I have cute boots, even warm boots, but nothing to hold up in sleet, ice and snow, and I need them. Last winter was a hard winter for Virginia (so an average Midwest winter) and this winter is looking tough as well. I need these to shovel, play outside with my kids, and feel okay if they get salt and grime on them, because they're not for fashion purposes. That said, I think these boots are cute too--so that helps!

With little time to do quality clothes shopping, most of my clothes are from Target recently. While that's okay, I'd love a few more nice key items, and am not the greatest stylist of myself. I'd love to try Stitch Fix, where you get a monthly package of clothes picked out for you by a stylist based on your tips to them, where you can keep what you like, and return what you don't. The price of the clothes (average piece is $55) holds me back, but I know you really get what you pay for in most clothing pieces, so I'd love a gift card in order to be able to do a few months of Stitch Fix.

I watched too much Food Network on maternity leave and saw these over and over again and thought one would be awesome. I make pasta often, and this would make life so much easier, not to mention, be able to handle big batches for when I'm making doubles of dishes for freezer meals.

The past few years I haven't been a huge fan of Crate and Barrel's Christmas decor, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw what they stocked this year! An Ornament Tree would be great since I can't display my breakable ornaments on our real tree, but could still put this up on a mantle or shelf and enjoy them.

This lotion is on my list every year, and usually Ben comes through with a small bottle in my stocking. I love the way it smells, and it is the only lotion that truly gets my winter dry, overly washed hands, to soften up. If you've never tried it, add it to your list! It comes in a large, and trial size bottle.

So there you have it, things I love for Holiday Season 2014. What's on your list this year??

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Monday, November 3, 2014

My Favorite Mac and Cheese(ish) Recipes and a Fall Update

This fall has flown by, and so has my maternity leave! I am back at work now, and enjoying my co-workers, and my time with the boys as well. It's a good balance.

Austin and Everett had a great Halloween. Austin resisted putting on his costume for my work Halloween party, but he put it on for trick or treating in our neighborhood, and loved it! He trick or treated for an hour and a half, taking a break in the middle so Ben and I could switch who went with him, and who stayed home to hand out candy and be with Everett. 

All the boys on Halloween--Cooper literally jumped in as I got ready to take the picture so he wouldn't be left out!

I've also picked back up in my running this fall, and finally think I found a great group to run with, with people my pace, and run intervals. It's so refreshing, and great to have a community of positive women to exercise with, and motivate me.

Austin also turned two the day I went back to work. I was sad to leave him on his birthday, but his dad was with him that day, and he really didn't understand it until the presents came out (and now he has told me that Santa brings presents, specifically, new trucks).

It's hard to believe this little man that is so full of personality is two years old! 

During maternity leave this summer and fall, I had Austin home with me full time as well. Austin is in a stage of very picky eating. We present him a lot of options, and sometimes he surprises us and tries new things, or takes a bite of fruits and vegetables (this week he ate a small stalk of broccoli, woo hoo!). His favorite foods include: carbs, carbs and MORE carbs--along with scrambled eggs.

That said, I've been trying to find some ways to mix up our Mac and Cheese recipes, because those are always a hit, and sneaky way to get some extra veggies or protein in Austin's diet.

I'm always up for trying new things, and would love to hear your favorite Macaroni and Cheese recipes, and here are a few of my favorites:

Iowa Girl Eats Lighter Buffalo Mac and Cheese
This recipe has a great zing to it, even if you don't add all the called for Franks Red Hot Sauce like I do for Austin's more sensitive pallet (and me not wanting to have too much spice while nursing, as it can affect Everett's belly as well).
Martha Stewart Lighter Macaroni and Cheese
I don't do the tomato part of this recipe, but this recipe was my first attempt at baked mac and cheese, and I love it. It's not an easy recipe, but it tastes great.
The Pioneer Woman Mac and Four Cheeses
The easiest mac and cheese if you shred the cheese a day ahead. I've easily found all these cheeses and Trader Joes for an affordable price. 
Kraft Chicken and Broccoli-Cheddar Skillet
I'm not a mayo fan, so I sub in sour cream here, but I love this recipe, and it's very fast for weeknights.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Everett's Birth Story, Part Two

Check out Everett's Birth Story Part One if you haven't yet before reading on...

Sure enough, at nearly exactly the same time I woke up to my water breaking with Austin, I woke up around 4:00 a.m. to terrible contractions. They were not mild anymore, they were the kind that rip through your hips and abs like a meat grinder, and had me shooting out of bed.

I woke up Ben to tell him how I was feeling as I paced our bedroom deep breathing. At that moment my water started breaking, not a gush, like with Austin, but it was definitely breaking.

I called the on call number for my OB practice and immediately started to freak out when they told me none of the doctors in my practice were on call. What?! How could this happen?? Well, on very rare occasions (and I knew this was the case, my practice kept me well informed on this) if all of the doctors in my practice have the weekend off, there are a group of fill in doctors on call to cover for them. It only happens a handful of times a year, and this was one of them.

Admittingly, I lost my shit at this point. I told Ben that if they wouldn't let me VBAC, I would walk out of the hospital. "I'll do it! I'll just leave!" Yeah, not sure where I was going to go...

Anyway, when the doctor on call called me back, she was very nice, told me of course they'd be okay with a VBAC if that was the birth plan, and to come in to the hospital and get checked out and we'd review things.

Ben woke up my mom to let her know what was happening, and I gobbled down a bowl of Rice Chex and a Snickers I had set aside for when I went into labor (seriously) and we headed out.

The 20 minute or so drive to the hospital was nice on the empty early Sunday morning highway, except for every few minutes when i would have a huge, painful contraction. It made me happy that my body was obviously laboring on it's own, which is a great thing for qualifying for a VBAC, but my goodness, did it hurt.

When we arrived, we quickly got into triage (oh, and the parking garage was closed for cleaning, so Ben had to park nearly a half mile away and hoof it into the hospital with all my stuff after dropping me off), and met the on call doctor. She was nice, told me I was three centimeters after checking me... and then told me she was off at 7:00 and another doctor would be in shortly. WHAT?!?

"I'm sure she's fine with you VBACing," she said.

"She damn well better be," I thought as I scowled in disgust.

The new doctor arrived not twenty minutes later, and it was like God knew what he was doing when he had her on call that day. She was awesome. She told me her criteria for a VBAC (progressing mainly on your own, but could have a small dose of pitocin, went into labor on your own, baby reacting well, and no pressure in my scar area). She was very reassuring and made me feel great about things.

We got into labor and delivery, met our nurses (there were several, and this gave me anxiety that I didn't have just one, and I had a minor breakdown about this until our assigned nurse came back to be with just us), and I received an epidural that went SO much better than my very painful one with Austin. The needle hardly hurt at all, and brought immediate relief.

Ben and I took naps on and off, and I was checked again after a couple hours, where they found I was making no progress, and the baby's heart rate was starting to drop. My doctor told me, "I have a three strikes rule for VBACs, I can't be as liberal with letting baby go through possible trauma in these situations, this is strike one."

The one picture I took during labor, Ben napping
They had me turn to my left side, put me on oxygen, turned off the pitocin, and then the baby came back around with an improved heart rate. With this, the pitocin was gradually started again with a small dose, and all was looking good again.

After a couple hours, I started to get really intense contractions that I could feel, even through the epidural, all over my left side. It was awful. I was on my side, gripping the bed rail, while Ben stood next to me, and I tried to breath. The contractions felt like they were ongoing, with no break.

This went on for over an hour, and from what I know of labor, it was clear I was going through transition. Sure enough, when my doctor came back to check me, she said words that were music to my ears, "you're at ten (centimeters), lets get ready to push!"

I was so relieved to hear this, I had gone from three to ten centimeters in just a couple of hours, and had a chance to deliver my baby vaginally!

Pushing started, and was harder than I thought it would be. I pushed and pushed for nearly an hour, making little progress. The doctor and nurse were determined to help me push this baby out though, and, which I appreciated, so they tried putting a mirror up to motivate me, but it only weirded me out. They also had me do extra pushes during each contraction, still not a lot of progress, after every push, the baby's head would creep back up, and I was getting exhausted from all the work, and had to put back on oxygen between each round of pushes.

In total, I ended up pushing for two and a half hours. The next day my back, shoulders, arms and leg muscles all hurt from the effort of those pushes. I compared pushing, to swimming a bunch of laps, a full body workout!

I was feeling so defeated and very tired at this point in labor. Then, the doctor decided to not have me lay back down between pushes, but keep my legs up in between contractions, and that made all the difference. Progress, finally!

It was at this point my OB came in and sat with me, and told me she would be there through the end of my labor unless something else urgent came up, and told me the second best words I heard all day (besides that I had a healthy child), "you're going to deliver this baby vaginally, it's going to happen."

I burst into happy tears.

From here things are a blur, I remember my doctor saying to know it was getting close when she put on her mask and shoe covers. Since we didn't know the gender, she told us she would lift the baby's leg after she placed it on my chest for Ben to announce the gender.

Minutes later, Ben was telling me, "The baby's coming! It's coming out!" The guy who always said he'd stay "north of the border," was watching his child be born in anticipation. And in a whirlwind, suddenly a baby was on my chest, a screaming, white covered, red little human, and they said, "Tell her what it is Dad!" But he didn't have to tell me, it was plain as day staring back and me, and we both said loudly, "It's a...BOY!!"

Again I was a blubbering mess of happy tears as I helped wipe off my son with a flannel blanket while he laid on my chest. I remarked how he looked like Austin, and my heart felt so full. Two boys, less than two years a part, that I hope will be life long friends.

They weighed, measured and did Everett's apgar tests, and returned him to my chest. It felt so great to get to hold my baby right after birth, instead of waiting to get to the recovery room like with a c-section.

Six weeks into Everett's life, and my heart is still so full. I am more tired than I ever knew possible with a night owl newborn, and a toddler who gets up by 8:00 every day (and I know how lucky we are to have him sleep that late), but I love these boys so much.

Austin and Everett meeting for the first time, and Austin showing us that Everett has a nose (right after he ripped his hat off)
Austin has finally started taking to Everett, talking to him when he cries, checking on him in the stroller during walks, and Cooper is very protective over him as well.

Cooper guarding the door, and his littlest brother
I know that motherhood changed me to the core the moment Austin was born, and I now know that all the cliches are true about your other children, your heart grows and you realize you can love even more than you thought possible before.

 Everett Lance
Six Weeks Old

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Everett's Birth Story, Part One

If the way you come into the world is a pre-courser for the life you will lead, then maybe Everett will be our calm child, who peppers in a little spice here and there. I doubt it with he and his brother around to influence each other, and get into trouble, but his birth was such a wonderful experience, that just may be.

People seem to all be surprised when I say giving birth to him was a "wonderful experience." When asked how delivery went, I usually reply, "awesome!" and most people say, "I've never heard anyone describe giving birth that way!" But it was, it was an amazing experience to VBAC, and hold my baby immediately after he was born, and it all started a few days before...

I went to the doctor for my 38 week appointment on Wednesday, July 30. I was anxious to see how things were going, as I hadn't been checked yet, but again had the feeling of a head about to fall out from between my legs.

During my exam and belly measurement, the doctor told me didn't feel any baby at the top of my belly, meaning the baby could be breech (like Austin was), or had dropped already.

I was anxious as he got prepared to check me, would there be two little feet, or a bum, on my cervix instead of a head? Would another c-section be on the horizon? I knew that if the baby was breech, I would have to have a c-section that coming Friday at 39 weeks.

As he checked me (this is the first of many TMI moments, FYI, don't read on if you are squeamish) he said, "Whoa! You are most certainly not breech. You're 2 cm already and 75% effaced. You're ready to go now."

Then, he took his hand and moved my baby's head just to show me how in position I was, and I yelled, "Are you moving it's head?!"

"Yup, that's how ready you are to go. I'll be shocked if you don't have a baby by the end of this weekend. Get things ready, you could go into labor at any time."

I left the appointment thrilled, but nervous, my mom was not arriving until Saturday night to be there to watch Austin when the baby arrived.

To intensify things, I started getting some pretty strong contractions as a result of getting checked at my appointment earlier that day. Ben and I were on our way to have dinner with friends in DC as a last night out with friends celebration of sorts, and I was having to do deep breathing to control the pain the whole ride there.

With all this going on, during the drive I got my mom, and Delta airlines on the phone, and switched her flight to arrive the next day (thank you to Delta for doing this with no penalty when they heard the situation!)

We have great friends in the area who had already told us they would watch Austin and Cooper should I go into labor before her arrival, but nearly all of them were out of town that Thursday and Friday, and I was nervous to be running around arranging things if I was in active labor.

My labor pains subsided that night, we had a great dinner out. I worked that Thursday and Friday from home, just in case anything happened, but didn't feel a drop of contractions, or any other signs of labor, and my frustration was mounting.  What happened to having a baby by the weekend?!?

Saturday morning I went for a mani/pedi I had scheduled weeks ahead of time, partially to relax and enjoy some me time before baby, and partially in hopes that a good foot massage would set me into labor.

I got home with fresh nails and ready to take on the day.

Baby Ready Fingers and Toes
I felt bad that my mom had arrived early, but was also thankful she was there to bond with Austin before they would be alone together, and get to know his schedule.

And it's a good thing she did, it wasn't a few hours after being home from my nail appointment, that my plug fell out when I used the bathroom, and mild contractions began.

After about an hour, they subsided, and I tried not to get my hopes up. My plug fell out a week before I had Austin, so I knew it could still be awhile.

We wrapped up the day with a long walk, dinner and I went to take a relaxing bath, where my contractions picked up again. They were now coming every five minutes or so, but again, faded away. I went to bed that night wondering if we would make it through the night without heading into the hospital...

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014


I'd like to introduce you all to my beautiful son...

Everett Lance
August 3, 2014 at 6:17 p.m.
7lbs 10 oz
20 inches

My apologies for the absence, I had a whole post ready to publish on being 39 weeks pregnant, and then, well, Everett was born! He was five days early, just like his older brother. Life has been a little understandably crazy since he arrived, thus my late post announcing his arrival.

I'm happy to report I was able to have the successful VBAC birth I wanted, and will fill you all in with a proper birth story post to come in the next couple of weeks. 

Until then, I'll be soaking up time with my boys (when I'm not trying to catch a few extra winks, or keep my house from looking like a tornado went through it).

 Thank you to everyone who has extended their well wishes!

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Best Quick Snacks to Eat After a Workout

Most people know that after a workout, it's vital you re-fuel your body, or you'll end up losing nutrients, or, eating everything in site the minute you can and totally defeating the purpose of your workout.

When I did Team Fitness at Lifetime Fitness they talked about the Optimize in 45 Rule. Basically, it was about getting your body fueled with the correct carb/protein ratio within 45 minutes of your workout ending in order to help your body recover, and avoid, oh, I don't know, housing a half a bag of Tostitos as soon as you get home while your dinner is cooking (not that I know from experience).

I'm no fitness or nutrition expert, I have no training in that field, but I know that the Optimize in 45 rule works for me not ruining my workout by coming home and eating everything in site. The ideal snack the nutritionists always told us at Lifetime to eat after a workout, is a glass of non-fat or low-fat chocolate milk. It was a good carb to protein ratio, and will hold you over for a bit while you get a meal done. I also enjoy cottage cheese with fruit on top after a workout, or making my (not so) green monster smoothie as well (which I now only do a half cup of Trop 50 OJ with pulp in, and add peaches as well--delicious!).

Side Note: Austin loves this smoothie (minus the protein powder), and added in whole milk and a banana. He thinks it's a huge treat, and has no idea he's eating so many fruits and vegetables as he asks for, "mo! mo!"

Anyway, chocolate milk, a smoothie or cottage cheese aren't always easy to do after a workout if I'm not close to home when it's over. So, I wanted to tell you about a couple of my favorite post workout snacks that are delicious, gluten free and easy to transport.

The first is the Perfect Fit Protein cookie. These taste great (albeit, not exactly like a bakery cookie), and have ten grams of protein and 150 calories.

They really are a great snack to eat while driving home after a workout, that won't ruin your dinner if it's a post-work workout, or won't send you to bed feeling super full either if you're a night owl at the gym.

I'm also a big fan of the Think Thin bars. The name is annoying, but a lot of them taste good. Some of them taste like chalk (in my opinion, the peanut butter and brownie flavors), but these two flavors in particular are great for after a workout, and taste great.

Caramel Chocolate Dipped Mixed Nuts

Salted Caramel

I have found all these products at Whole Foods and on Amazon, and the Think Thin bars at Wegmans and Harris Teeter as well.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Life/Pregnancy Update

I figured it was a good time to update you all on the happenings in our world and my pregnancy.

I am feeling pretty good pregnancy wise. In the last month I've packed on more weight in a rapid way that I have in any other part of my pregnancy. Part of it may be that I was very stagnant for about a week when I had a sinus infection from my allergies that made it impossible to workout. With my lungs already crunched, and and then not having a nose to breath out of, it was really hard to do any exercise. We did one walk during that week after dinner for about a mile, and I had to stop half way and sit down on a park bench. I felt like such a slug! Glad to say, I've done a walk for a least 1.25 miles or more every day this week, and feel great again. I did some strength training on Monday that felt wonderful as well.

On the life front, I have been keeping up with my active little boy, who surprises me every day with the new things he's learned to say and do. Just this last week I asked if he wanted some yogurt and he said back, "little bit," for the first time. Also, during his fight of a diaper change one day he yelled out over and over again, "hey don't! hey don't!" which he has never said to me before.

He also hates wearing pants now that it's hotter out. I can't blame him, but you have to wear at least shorts buddy.

I've been working to make ahead food to freeze and eat when the new baby arrives. I have lofty goals on this front, and so far I have made ahead some Baked Ziti and Gluten Free Donuts. I made these Shredded Beef Enchiladas this week with the goal of freezing a batch, but the meat turned out awful, the crock pot completely dried it out. We ate the batch for dinner, but I wasn't going to use the leftover meat to make another set.

The other meals I'm planning to make ahead are:
I'm sure Ben will also grill out a lot the first month or so the new baby is here. That is his cooking specialty, and with it being summer, it will be easy enough for him to do, and something the whole family enjoys.

Recently, during a specific craving I had, Ben made flank steak tacos on the grill for us. They were amazing!

I topped them with cilantro and goat cheese, and I think chipotle mayo or chipotle sour cream would be great on top too. To marinate them, Ben bought the Wegmans Fajita Marinade, and had the meat soak in it for about an hour. If he would have had more time, I think marinading for a few more hours would have made them even better.

So there you have it, life right now. More updates to come as the summer develops!

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

What I'm Loving Right Now

Haribo Gummy Cola Bottles

I don't know why they taste so good right now, but I can't have them in the house, or I eat half a bag in a sitting. They are a good treat though, and have gone from craving, to obsession.

Go Picnic

I tried this out after seeing them many times. I love that they have gluten free options, and are easy to transport. I brought one along two weeks ago when I went to Boston for work, and it was a great filling snack (or meal, it says it's a meal, but it's more of a heavy snack) when there are few other options (this happens a lot in airports).

Jamberry Nails


Did you see my fancy thumb on my Go Picnic meal? My friend Cindy is selling Jamberry nails, and I decided to try them out. They are great for a no smudge, low maintenance manicure that can last for weeks. It was a bit of a learning curve to learn how to do it, but not too much, and I'm glad I have them as an option.

Nugg Face Masks

I saw these on The Grass Skirt's blog awhile back, and picked a few up at Target. They're $2.99 a piece, and one small container gets two uses on my skin. They are great for a mini, affordable facial, and they have several varieties, from moisturizing to exfoliating.

Tates Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

I tried Tate's Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies for the first time when I was in the Boston earlier this month and fell in love. My boss put them in a gift pack for me full of gluten free goodies when I arrived at my room, and they are hard to eat just a couple of. They taste similar to Trader Joes Gluten Free Chocolate Chip cookies, with a buttery kick. I've seen the original flavors at Wegmans, but none of the gluten free variety--I may need to request them! These are one of those gluten free items that you can't tell it's even gluten free, and would love them even if you don't have an allergy.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Eating Our Way Through New York City

This past weekend we ventured up to New York City for a little family "babymoon" before Baby Cush #2 arrives. We have done very few trips (i.e. none) as just the three of us as a family since Austin was born, and I really wanted to do one.

We took the train up to New York, leaving at 8:00 on Friday morning. We took the Acela up, and I wish we would have sprung for the extra bucks to take it back as well. It cuts 45 minutes off the trip compared the regional train, and with a toddler, it's worth it. Also, the service you receive from Amtrak employees, is much better on the Acela, which comes in handy when you have a child.

Austin was fascinated by the train for the first 30 or so minutes of the ride, then he wanted to run and explore. The great part about the train, compared to a plane, is that he can to an extent! Ben took him to the dining car twice and let him just walk around, and it was great for curbing some of his energy. He also had some of his snacks, which helped, and we read to him.

Very important that Monkey can see out the train window
When we arrived in New York, we headed straight for the hotel to drop off our bag. Managing to fit all of our items is one suitcase (albeit, a big one) was a huge victory for this trip. Despite his lack of desire to sleep on the train, all it took was the chaos of Times Square to lull Austin to sleep in his stroller. He was knocked out, and stayed that way through most of our lunch at Carnegie Deli.

Ben had never been to Carnegie Deli, and I had been there a few times during previous trips to New York years ago and told him he he HAD to go. Ben is a sandwich and meat lover, so I knew this would be his heaven. They are known for their huge sandwiches, and amazing cheesecake, and when I saw they had gluten free cheesecake on the menu now, I knew it was a must.

The Woody Allen Sandwich, Pastrami and Corned Beef
The food did not dissappoint. Ben enjoyed his out of this world sandwich (he finished half!), while I had a three cheese omelet and baked potato, followed by a slice of gluten free cheesecake that was so delicious. Ben tried a few bites and loved it as well.

AMAZING Gluten Free Cheesecake
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around. We stopped at Macys to get me some gloves and I ended up buying a headband to go over my ears as well because it was turning out to be a windy weekend. We also went to the top of the Empire State Building, where the wind really showed us who's boss.

That night we went to a delicious little restaurant called Market Cafe near our hotel in Hells Kitchen Neighborhood. They had a ton of gluten free options, and after some gluten free bread with olive oil, I enjoyed the most delicious steak tacos with seasoned fries (I kept calling it "Fancy Del Taco" since it was tacos with fries). I wish I could go back for these tacos today; I keep thinking about them! The mango salsa, cilantro, cabbage, steak and chipotle mayo mixture was perfect.

Austin was obsessed with Market Cafe's flat bread pepperoni pizza, and he inhaled the bread basket as well. This kid loves carbs, and I can't say I blame him.

Mmmmm, pizza
Saturday we did a lot more exploring, including down to Battery Park, where the wind created plenty of white caps on the water as we looked out on the Statue of Liberty.

We then walked over to see One World Trade Center and the 9/11 World Trade Center Memorial. It had been so long since I'd been to New York City, the last time I was there, I was inside the World Trade Center towers. It was sad and sobering to see the memorial, and all the names of so many innocent people. I'm glad we took the time to go see it. It was a pain taking the stroller on the Subway to get there, as most of their elevators did not work, or didn't have any, but worth the trip.

I made sure we got a picture of the Ed Sullivan theater while in town as well since David Letterman announced his retirement last week. May be the last time we see his name on the kiosk!

Saturday night we met up with our friends Lauren and Ryan who live in Brooklyn (you may remember they visited us last summer) for dinner in the East Village at the delicious Mediterranean Cafe Mogador. I had the grilled chicken plate, which was very good, and Austin enjoyed some of my rice, along with hummus and pita. He was thrilled to get to eat his favorite snack for dinner as a vacation treat.

We also had dessert at the delicious Big Gay Ice Cream--yum! They do specialty soft serve cones and dishes and I had the Salty Pimp, chocolate dipped soft serve with sea salt, mmmm. Salty and sweet is a combination I never turn down. They also had gluten free ice cream cones- made my whole night! The cone was delicious, and I would have never known it was gluten free. Ben had the rocky road dipped cone and liked it as well. I was so happy Lauren recommended we go here.

Overall we had a wonderful time in New York City. It was a great weekend away, and as always good to be home as well. I can't wait to take our children there as they grow older and will appreciate all the city has to offer, and tell them how lucky we are to live a short train ride away from so many amazing places!

Heading Home
We are planning one more little adventure as the weather gets nicer--a day trip to Charlottesville! I have a few things on my list to check out there, including the Farmers Market, Pasture and Sweethaus Cupcakes, but please let me know if you have any recommendations for that beautiful little city.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Meal Planning and Shopping on a Budget Part Two

Here's part two of my series on meal planning and shopping on a budget, you can find part one of the series on grocery shopping here, and check out the post below on meal planning.

Our meal planning (and schedule planning) is all based around this board.

In our old place, we had a smaller marker board on the fridge because this one was too massive to put anywhere. Now, this hangs at the entrance of our kitchen.

At the end of each work week I sit down and look through recipes I've favorited, or through my cookbooks, and compare them to what we already have in our pantry to see if I can use up things we already have for recipes and not spend as much that week. I do this on Thursday or Friday so we can hit up any stores we need to on Saturday or Sunday. Also, in true dork fashion, sometimes we make Friday a go out to eat, and then hit up Target family "adventure" night.

When it comes to picking our meals, I keep all of our tastes in mind (Ben does not like seafood, and beyond a few random items, generally neither do I), and my celiac with having to eat gluten free, and my distaste for a few items as well. Ben is not the worlds most adventurous eater either, so there are certain meals I plan for when he is not going to be home (like anything with squash or eggplant).

I feed Austin exactly what we eat every night. Some nights he loves it, some nights he refuses most of his plate (even if he's eaten that same thing a week earlier and loved it!) and has a mainly milk dinner. Austin would love it if we ate macaroni and cheese, black beans, or french fries on rotation every few nights.

Picky eating is something I don't have much tolerance for, but I'm also not going to serve Austin something I know he hates and have a fight, still he is served pretty much exactly what we eat. Also, I keep in mind he can't have particularly spicy items, or things hard for him to chew. Plus, I think it's great for him to try new things all the time. If he's unsure about something we usually say, "touch it to your tongue and see if you like it, and if you don't, you don't have to eat it."

"You want me to eat what?!"

Since Austin cannot express his tastes right now beyond refusal (which is sometimes more graceful than other times), I try to make him a well balanced plate each meal and let him chose what he wants to eat off of it, and my weekly meal planning is done with this in mind. We often throw away a lot of fruits and vegetables uneaten from his plate, but then certain times he surprises us and digs into them, and I know it was worth all the food we had to toss. I'm thankful that his daycare offers him a diverse lunch each day as well with a meat, starch, fruit and vegetable.

Most weeks we make dinner at home four out of the five weeknights, and eat out at an easy place like Chipotle, Pei Wei, Noodles, Jason's Deli, etc. one of the other meals, mainly for sanity reasons to give ourselves a night off.

I also try to do as many crockpot meals as I can so that dinner can be ready earlier, and with less clean up. This does require setting my alarm about ten minutes earlier in the morning though to get the recipe going.

Ben usually cooks one night of the week, doing something on the grill with sides. I love those nights because then I can come home and dedicate all my time to playing with Austin before he goes to bed.

On weekends, we don't plan as rigorously, and usually end up going out for one of our meals. I also make bigger breakfasts (eggs, waffles, pancakes, something like that) on weekend mornings.

To round out this post, I wanted to share with you some of the recipes that are staples right now in our weeknight meal planning, including:
I'd love to hear about your meal planning, and any go to weeknight recipes you have right now! I'm always looking for ways to have smooth meal planning, and a lower grocery bill! Please comment and let me know!

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Meal Planning and Shopping on a Budget: Part One

A lot of bloggers recently have done posts on how they meal plan, and grocery shop for that plan, and I decided to join in. About three years ago I started to be much more strict about our meal planning. When Ben and I first moved in together and were engaged, our grocery shopping consisted of, "that looks good, let's get that," or "that reminds me of a recipe I like, let's make that this week." There was little sitting down to plan, beyond when I would randomly find a recipe I liked on a blog or website, and then put those ingredients into my grocery list that weekend.

All that has changed now, and especially changed now that Austin eats dinner with us each night. We don't have a choice but to have a dinner plan, because Austin needs a good, filling meal, and can't just have a bowl of cereal if we don't feel like cooking like Ben and I can do.

During this two part series, I'll touch on our grocery shopping habits, and then in the next post, how we meal plan. I'll start with where we shop and what we go there for.

There are certain staples for our groceries we get at Costco. We go about once a month for certain items, and then buy other items there as we need them.
 Costco Staples:
  • Ground Beef
  • Chicken Breasts
  • Low Sodium Chicken Stock
  • Apple Sauce
  • Quinoa
  • Milk
  • Chips
We do have to buy milk more often than our trips to Costco, but try to stock up as much as we can there, since it's such a good deal. Austin has started to get really excited when we walk into Costco because he knows he will get to try a few samples (there have been a couple days where he had so many he didn't need lunch after).

For other staple grocery items, we go to Super Target or Target. A recent news story done in our area on grocery price comparisons shows that Target and Wal-Mart (where I hate going and refuse to) are the most affordable for staple grocery items.
Target Staples:
  • 99% Lean Ground Turkey
  • Cereal
  • Canned Goods
  • Frozen Fruits and Veggies
  • Shredded Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Ice Cream
  • Frozen Meals
  • Bread
  • Peanut Butter/Hummus/Condiments
  • Snack Bars for lunches
  • Fruit and Veggie Pouches
  • Other Random Grocery items
  • Toiletries
I prefer to use ground turkey when I can over ground beef, so I buy this at Target, as I haven't been able to find 99% lean at Costco. For saving at Target, it also helps that we use the Target Red Card for an extra 5% off, bring our own bags and I clip coupons for items we normally use to help us out. We usually get other items we need at Target outside of groceries like toiletries (we order diapers through Amazon prime).

For fresh produce and gluten free items, I usually go to Wegmans. I absolutely love this store, it has good prices for the level of service it has, and the store is beautiful and clean with bountiful produce options, delicious cheeses and bakery items. They also have a lot of fresh cut produce ready to use in recipes. I try to avoid these items to save money, but if I know I'll need them for a crazy week, I pick them up here.

Enjoying a Snickerdoodle while Shopping at Wegmans

If you're not familiar with this East Coast grocery chain, and read this in Minnesota, let's just say it's like Byerlys on steroids and not as expensive. Their hot line food bar is also restaurant quality for grabbing a quick meal. I'm digressing, but I love Wegmans. If I ask them to look into a certain gluten free item that I can't find on their shelves, they will try and special order it for me, and call me when it comes in to pick up at their service counter. Their customer service is simply wonderful.
Wegmans Staples:
  • Deli Cheese
  • Specialty Cheeses
  • Gluten Free Bread
  • Gluten Free Convenience Foods like frozen meals, crackers, etc.
  • All Produce
I also like Trader Joes and will randomly go there for certain items, like the ones I wrote about in this post, but like I said then, their produce does go bad quickly, but I like certain convenience items there.

Basically, there are certain items I like from certain stores, and sometimes based on time, I have to bite the bullet and just do all my shopping that week at a certain store (that usually ends up being Wegmans), but meal planning helps us not have to run back to the store during the week for random items.

Next post, I'll talk about specific meal planning and how to do that with food allergies, and toddler and different food preferences on a budget each week.

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Here We Go Again...

As I let the social media world know late last week, we have some news in our house...

We're having a baby! 

Baby number two is due to arrive around the first week in August and I couldn't be more excited and petrified about it. Having two under two for a bit will be a tad crazy, but I think a lot of fun in the long run, and I'm so glad my children will be able to grow up together.

When I told you all I have pregnant with Austin I put a few things out there in this post and I still feel the same on many of those topics. So just like with my last pregnancy, there will be no bump pics, no ultrasound pictures, no details of my bodily functions, etc. But, I will be honest and forthright about what's going on as we prepare to become a family of four (Cooper piped in to say--family of five!).

People ask you the most random (and not so random) questions when you are pregnant, so I will try to answer some of them below.

How are you feeling?
I am feeling good. VERY tired still as I get into the second trimester, which I'm not sure if it's a combination of a full time job along with parenting a walking and running toddler, and trying to stay active, but it's the perfect storm to have me very fatigued by the end of the day. I have had some nausea with this pregnancy, but nothing like my previous pregnancy where I was throwing up often, and only had a few foods I could consume. In fact, this pregnancy has brought on crazy cravings, where my mind is constantly on food. Some of the them good for me, some of them terrible. All of them tasting delicious when they're fulfilled!

How far along are you?
I am fifteen weeks right now, due August 8.

Will you find out the gender ahead of time?
No, we are going to wait until the birth to find out the gender. I know how crazy this may seem, but I love the surprise!

Do you have names picked out?
Yes and no, we have many possibilities, and have decided to not share any of our name selections, or contenders with anyone until the baby is born, and named.

Will you you have a planned C-Section since your last delivery was a C-Section?
No, my birth plan is to VBAC if my body allows that to be possible. If I reach one week overdue, I will have a C-Section at that point. I would really like to avoid another C-Section, but most importantly would like to bring home a healthy child, so I'm not going to obsess over this. I'm not a fan of scheduled C-Sections just because, and am glad my doctors support this decision.

Will you have more than two children?
I think this is always really personal when people ask this, but I know people are curious when others have their second child since it seems to be the norm to have two children. Our plan was always to have at least three children, and I have always (and still do) think two kid families are so boring in the long run (but trust me, it's not boring while you're raising them, I know how crazy it can be, and I pass no judgement on people who only want one or two children, I get it). I like the idea of having multiple siblings to grow up with and come home to as an adult. That said, these first two kids are going to be fairly close in age, so unless something unplanned happens there will be a bit of time before we have more children, and luckily since I'm young enough, age is not an issue to push us to have them sooner. Ben and I agreed before we were married that we wanted to be done having children before I turned 35, and I'm hoping that works out.

Are you running?
No, I am not running. Running and pregnancy just does not work for me, it leaves me feeling way too out of breath, like my heart will beat out of my chest and light headed. I have been taking a spin class once a week, and swimming once a week as well while Austin and Ben do swimming lessons. I also try to make it to the gym at work at least once a week for some sort of cardio (either elliptical or walking) and strength training. I plan to start prenatal yoga in the next few weeks, as I did with Austin. It's right smack in the middle of the day on the weekends, so it may be difficult, but I'd like to go as often as I can.

So there you have it, my pregnancy 411 for Baby Cush Part Two. This blog will remain the same, as it did through Austin's arrival, but I look forward to bringing you all along for the journey. If you have any other questions for me, feel free to ask!

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fantastic New Gluten Free Food Finds

Lately I've stumbled on some really great Gluten Free finds without even looking. Things just jumping out at me when I'm out grocery shopping. So many, that it's warranting it's own blog post!

First, at Trader Joes I recently found these cupcakes and quick make macaroni and cheese.

The cupcakes were delicious! Perfectly moist and the butter cream frosting was amazing. You must eat them within the first two days of opening them though, or they go down hill fast. So, unless you want to ruin your healthy eating, I'd get them when you can share the pack with some friends, because they won't last for several days. They are no where near being good for you, but a nice treat.

The macaroni and cheese was okay. I would eat it again in a pinch, but can't say I loved it. It was a huge portion, so hard to take for lunch at work, as it needs to split in two, and had a bit of a gritty taste to it. I enjoyed it while eating it, but after couldn't stop thinking about the grit. I would recommend you try it for yourself and see if it fits your flavor.

In the snack bar realm, there are a couple new varieties out on shelves, Van's PB&J bars and Annie's granola bars.

I loved the Van's PB&J bars, especially the strawberry. I also prefer strawberry jelly on my PB&J sandwiches, so that's probably the flavor preference there. I haven't been able to find these in stores, and Van's was not very helpful when I tweeted them (they told me to use their product locator on their website, which only tells you which stores carry Van's products in general, not specific ones), so I'm stumped on where to find these. A friend of mine received them in a sample pack with a few other products and gave me them, so I guess I'll just have to keep watching grocery store shelves.

The Annie's Double Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Cookie Chewy Granola Bars were found at Super Target. I really love the Double Chocolate Chip and think the Oatmeal Cookie ones are only okay. The Double Chocolate Chip ones taste great, are 120 calories and a good little snack. The Oatmeal Cookie ones have a sickening cinnamon flavor that's over powering, and take away from the bar. I will not buy that flavor again, but have since purchases more Double Chocolate Chip flavor.

And a final delicious gluten free find, Dole Strawberry Dippers!

Dole assured me these are gluten free when I tweeted them, and they are delicious! They are on limited release right now, and I could only find them at Wal-Mart in Virginia. They are really good though, with four chocolate covered strawberries per pack, and 60 calories a pack. They already have a banana variety of these, but I'm really happy they came out with a strawberry variety, because as most of you know, I am not a banana fan.

Hope you've enjoyed these gluten free finds! Most of them are delicious whether you are gluten free or not.

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Soup Lady

Hello from 2014! Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season. Austin and I spent most of ours sick with awful colds that turned out to be a sinus infection for me, and double ear infection for him. We also had quite an adventure traveling to Idaho before Christmas. We were in four airports in one day, and up for over 20+ hours, but we made it to our destination in one day in one piece!

On Our Last Flight of the Day, about 15 hours into traveling
The silver lining in our journey, was that during our layover in Minneapolis, we got to see Ben's cousin and her family, and enjoy some delicious Pizza Luce. Next to District of Pi, Pizza Luce is the best gluten free pizza (and other gluten free dishes as well) I've ever had.

We had a great time visiting Idaho, and Austin got to spend some quality time with his cousins, which is always fun! I loved having so many adults around, so I was able to go to the gym a few times, and Ben and I were able to go to a movie (American Hustle, it was good, but a little too long).

Since we've returned from vacation, I've been craving, and making a lot of, soup! Soup and chili I should say. Maybe it's the colder weather here (it is supposed to be Minnesota style cold here this week, I thought I had escaped this!).

These are the recipes I've been loving lately. They're great for making huge pots that warrant a bunch of leftovers for easy work lunches that week, or to freeze to mix it up in the future.

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