Saturday, January 29, 2011

Alone time with my boy...

Like I said in my first post, I am planning to make an effort to spend quality alone time with each kid.  The recommendation from Fred Becker, professional parenting coach, was at least 8 hours per month, no distractions, no additional siblings...just you & your kid.  While my daughter was busy in her new art class at Lux Art Institute (a really cool gallery we just found out about in Encinitas, CA), I took my son out to dinner at Panera's and brought along our favorite game - Mancala.

He was tired, a little cranky and totally starving.  Starving?  He'd eaten all of his lunch at school and a large portion of crackers from our favorite admin assistant.  He was howling when we left school about how hungry he was...bless Mrs. B's heart, she always has a stash of snacks at school behind her desk.  What would we do without her?  We've replenished it for her a few times because I'm sure my son has depleted it on more than one occasion.  Just for the record, he has enough lunch for 2 people in his bag and I pack extra granola bars and fruit in my purse.  It's still never enough!  He's as skinny as a rail too.  Can you say JEALOUS?  I wish I could eat like him!

So, our date together.  My son is so dang cute.  He's in a phase of not wanting his picture taken so you'll have to pardon the expressions.  We ordered Panera's chicken noodle and creamy tomato soups with half sandwiches.  I picked the tomato basil on ciabatta (yum! Although, it's a bummer they don't have a veggie protein-based sandwich choice.) and he chose grilled cheese.  Both were delicious!

Mancala and apple
The game we brought with us is called Mancala.  It's a fun game that doesn't plug in.  Imagine that?  The point of the game is to try and get the most beads in your mancala (big cups on both ends of the game).  Each player takes turns picking a smaller cup (not from the mancala) of beads and leaving one bead in each successive cup in a counter-clockwise direction, being sure to leave one in your mancala before leaving the rest in your opponent's cups.  The game ends when someone runs out of beads.  If there are beads left on your opponent's side when you finish, you get those too.  It's a fun game of strategy and luck.  My 5-year-old loves it.  He really loves "capturing".  This is a strategy where, during the course of play, you leave the last bead in an empty cup on your side of the board with beads left on your opponent's equal opposite side.  You get to "capture" all of the beads in your opponent's cup.  I've actually caught my stinker of a son trying to go backwards to try and capture.

So dang cute!
Once we were done with dinner and a couple games of Mancala, we decided to head over to the Apple store.  A family favorite.  He headed over to the kids' computers and I shopped around for new speakers.
All in all a great date and I would say, mission accomplished.  We held hands, skipped along in the parking lot, talked about silly stuff and I snuck in some snuggles here and there.  I sneak those in now because he doesn't volunteer them like he used to.  Did I mention he's only 5?  Oh, the time sure does fly by...  I will say he was a lot less cranky by the end of our date and actually quiet on the way to basketball practice.  Maybe there's something to this?  Who knows?  Up next, my daughter...

Carlsbad Half Marathon - Lucky #13

Carlsbad Half Marathon runners
Well, I did it.  Was it pretty?  No.  Was it my fastest time?  Sadly, no.  I did cross the finish line though.  I felt great and was happy not to lose my lunch in the garbage can on the other side of the finish line.

So what was it?  A half marathon!!  Half marathons are a sexy distance for any level of runner.  It's not as grueling as a full marathon (26.2 miles) but a little heftier than say a 5K.  Both are great races but I'll take my 13.1 miles any day.

The weather was perfect - a sunny, warm 70 degrees in Carlsbad.  There were roughly 10,000 runners and in the half marathon it looks like there were almost twice as many women running as there were men!  A shocking statistic!

I'm very excited because my daughter's 2nd grade teacher approached me the other day and asked if we could start training together for her first half marathon.  I immediately said yes and gave her my top 3 things to do before beginning endurance running.  Here is the list (for those of you toying with the idea):

1.  Get a general physical and have yourself evaluated for really good running shoes at the local running store.  (okay, that's really a two-for but they truly are the top priority!)

2.  Make a workout playlist.  I use my iPod religiously while working out and swear by my playlists.  I've gotten my music so dialed in that I have a warm-up section, a cardio section, and then my absolute favorite songs b/c by about mile 9 or 10, you just need something to get you through to the finish line.

3. Lastly, you need an easy-to-follow training plan.  I've used Marathon Rookie's training calendar in the past.  There's also a good one on Runner's World, although they do the dreaded 800 repeats.  Ugh!  That's where you warm up for 2 miles, then run half mile at a 5K pace, then cool down for a 100 meters and then do it again.  You repeat this, hence the name, up to 8 times and then cool down for 2 miles.  I could only tolerate about 2 when I started doing them.  I hate to admit it but these really do improve your times.  Which, thankfully, is not really a beginning runner's focus.

Other than those 3 things, you need a good sports bra, running shorts, a dri-fit style shirt and socks.  You're good to go and go and go!

We're getting ready for the Surf City Half marathon on Super Bowl sunday.  I have been wanting to do this race for a while.  After 13 half marathons, I'm really just doing it for the awesome medal you get!  The medal for Surf City is AWESOME!!  I'll show you...

Could these be any cooler???
So, while we're sitting, definitely not standing, drinking beer, and eating delicious game day food, I won't feel as guilty.  I've already burned 1300+ calories!  Happy running!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Chunky Veggie Lasagna...yum!

"To celebrate the birth of my neighbor's new baby girl (Congrats Craig & Alina!!) and my 15 year old "Betty Crocker's New Cookbook:  Everything You Need to Know to Cook".  I decided to pull out one of our favorite comfort food recipes.  I admit, it's almost embarrassing to say I use recipes from this cookbook.  I live near people who are, literally, cooking geniuses.  The Betty Crocker cookbook seems so...well, for lack of better word, basic.  However, being a mediocre cook at best, every recipe in this book turns out great!  I love the simplicity of both the instructions and the ingredient list.

We discovered this recipe one night because we were craving homemade lasagna.  My husband is a voracious carnivore and I, on the other hand, am a vegetarian.  Luckily, my husband is willing to eat things that are also vegetarian.  While leafing through Betty Crocker that night, we stumbled on this recipe.  It turned out beautifully.  The flavors are delicious.  The dish tastes good and is somewhat healthy.

While making it again today, I was reminded that lasagna is all in the prep.  "Mise en place" is a french phrase that means "putting in place".  I learned about this concept on one of my favorite Food Network shows, "Challenge".  All of the chefs are required to have all of their ingredients ready to go when the clock starts counting down.  So, I was mise en place with my glass prep dishes all set to hold my measured ingredients.

Once I had all of my ingredients ready, it was actually very easy to execute.  As I write this, the yummy smell wafting through the house is making my kids go nuts!  Here is the recipe with a few of my own tweaks.  Buon appetito!

Yummy fresh ingredients - Mise en place

Chunky Veggie Lasagna
Prep: 35 mins; Bake: 40 mins; Stand: 10; Makes: 8 servings (we usually get more like 12 out of it)

12 uncooked lasagna noodles (the recipe says to use cooked rather than uncooked but we've used uncooked every time and it turns out just fine)
3 c broccoli flowerets (recipe calls for frozen but I blanch my fresh stuff.  I think it tastes better)
3 large carrots, coarsely shredded (~2 cups)
1 - 14.5oz can of diced tomatoes
1 med red and green bell pepper, cut into thinly sliced strips
3/4c pesto (store bought works fine. I just happened to have some a friend brought home from Italy.)
1/4 tsp of salt
1 - 15oz container of ricotta
3/4 c grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4c chopped fresh parsley
1 large egg
3 T butter
1/3 c chopped onion
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 T all-purpose flour
2 c milk
2 c shredded mozzerella

1.  Prep noodles as directed on package, unless they're the no-boil kind.

Chunky veggie mixture

2.  In a large bowl, mix broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, Pesto and salt.

Ricotta mixture

3.  In a medium bowl, mix ricotta cheese, 1/2 c of Parmesan cheese, parsley and egg.

Flour rue with onions and garlic

4.  Melt butter in a 2-quart saucepan over med heat.  Cook garlic and onion until tender, about 2 mins, stirring frequently.  Stir in flour.  Cook over med heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly; remove from heat.  Stir in milk.  Heat to boiling, stirring constantly.  Boil and stir 1 min, until mixture starts to thicken.

5. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Noodles with cheese layer

6. Place 3 noodles in greased rectangular pan, 13x9x2 inches.  Spread half of the cheese mixture over noodles.  Top with 3 noodles; spread with half of the vegetable mixture.  Sprinkle with 1 c of the mozzarella cheese.  Repeat this step.  Pour white sauce evenly over the top.

Veggie layer

7. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and top off with remaining 1/4 cup parmesan.

8.  The next step is my special secret ingredient.  I love Penzey's Spices.  They are the best in the commercial game of spices.  I frequently use their "Pasta Sprinkle" on my italian dishes and people rave.  I tell them it's all in the spices!

Penzeys Spices "Pasta Sprinkle"

Your dish should look like this now...

Lasagna ready to go in oven

9.  Bake this uncovered for 35-40 mins or until hot in the center.  Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.

The finished product!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New blog, new focus!

The author and her wonderful husband

Cupcakelady is back! I've been admiring all of my friends who have recently stormed the internet with their beautiful stories and photos of food, friends, travel, etc.. I thought it'd be a good time to try getting back into it and see if I can contribute to the world in some way.

While jogging the other day, I do some of my best thinking then, I had some ideas. Here is what I think my blog's focus will be about LIFE!  with an emphasis on family, fashion, fitness, food, travel, and last, but definitely not least, entertainment.  Six subjects I'm very passionate about.

Today's entry is going to be about my family. I have a beautiful family. My husband of nine years and I have two children, one 8-year old girl and a 5-year old boy. We live in southern California. I'm a stay-at-home mom who is also an aspiring entrepreneur/philanthropist. My husband is a systems engineer for a wireless company.

My daughter, age 8 & my son, age 5

Parenthood for us has been both an extreme pleasure and challenge. I always knew I wanted children. I think my parents told me I used to say I wanted "tons of children". Well, for us, two is the perfect number. Also, having one of each gender, in my opinion, really is a gift. The challenge is how to raise them right? With so many choices/options in the world these days, it's a constant battle, as a parent, to find the right balance. I hope to use this blog as an occasional forum to learn and discuss the everyday challenges of parenting.

How about I start with an introduction? My daughter is beautiful, smart, funny, and fiercely independent. Her unwillingness to ask for help with anything is both maddening and eerily familiar to me. Budding control freak, for sure! My mom constantly reminds me how much my daughter reminds her of me when I was her age. My daughter enjoys creating art, singing, playing with her friends and is in love with outer space. We recently downloaded the Star Walk app on my iPad and she is constantly asking to see what stars are in the sky. I think her obsession with it is a metaphor for her personality. I have a feeling she will be a star someday. Doesn't every parent feel this way, though?

My son is energetic, curious, playful, and extremely observant. He gives a whole new meaning to energy. He never stops moving. We joke about his three states of being - awake, eating, and sleeping. He just recently acquired a new state - video gaming. We finally relented on fulfilling his wish for a Nintendo DSi. I will go to my grave with a large amount of motherly guilt for "giving in". Luckily, we know his compulsive side and have set strict limits for him. He is, for now, willing to follow those guidelines. However, we've started to see some new manipulative behaviors we've never seen before. It's pretty funny, actually. The smiling, tilting of the head, unsolicited hugs and kisses followed by the request to get access to his game. I can only hope this means he's learning some early negotiation skills that will help him in his future.

We all had a tremendous MLK, Jr. weekend together. We had my husband's sister in town from Colorado. We took everyone to Legoland, the beach (it was unseasonably warm this weekend, high 70's), and Sea World. It really couldn't have been a more perfect weekend.

So I ask, what in the world could our family be fighting about all the time? The list is quite mundane. "Stop taking things from your brother." Or, "don't hit your sister." And, "will you please go pick up your room?" Or my favorite, "Mommy, mommy, he/she won't leave me alone." You get the picture. It goes on and on...OFTEN! I realize these are common spats. I guess growing up without a sibling, until I was twenty, has its disadvantages for parenting siblings. I assume these issues are what everyone has to deal with? Or are they?

So, that's my question for the day, what can we do to combat all of the combat going on in our house? I watch other families with compliant, almost docile kids playing together, having fun and generally getting along. I never hear other parents raising their voices at their kids. I, on the other hand, feel as though I'm a ref on one of those crazy kick-boxing/wrestling shows. I'm told my kids' relationship with each other seems relatively normal. What does that mean? What is normal? I don't know, but I can't help but think we're doing something wrong. They're starting to fight...a lot!

I read an article the other day in the Carlsbad Patch about communicating with our children that made me think. It was a summary of a recent presentation by licensed parenting professional, Fred Becker, of the Becker Institute. He said we should be spending an average of 8 hours a month with our children without siblings, friends, and distractions. I feel like we spend at least that much time with our kids.  Maybe part of the issue is our inability to effectively communicate with our children? Maybe we need to take a step back and have them focus on talking instead of fighting?  Maybe school, work, extracurriculars, etc are getting in the way of teaching our children peaceful conflict resolution? It's exhausting, this whole peacekeeping thing!

With that in mind, I think our goal for the remainder of this month will be to try Mr. Becker's idea out. Eight hours, on the books with each child, separately. No distractions. I'm sure it'll be challenging but at this point, what do we have to lose? Something has to change! I'll be sure to post the outcome next month. Wish us luck!