Friday, January 30, 2009

Blah blah bl-

I've organized my blog bookmarks so I can more easily, and maybe even more frequently, visit friends' and other cool blogs. I've already started, and in so doing remembered why I don't read other people's blogs very often - they are either boring (sorry) or so cool they make me feel lame.

BUT some are awesome and I'm glad to be back to those. One thing I've realized is how much I like reading short posts. Some people really have the short-but-sweet thing down, delivering power and punch in 3 paragraphs or less. There is a sign in American Sign Language that means longwinded; rambling; going on and on, and I think it perfectly describes the way I let my posts get. I'm amazed people get to the end and post comments.

This is not a commitment to change anything; I put hard-to-keep promises in the same bin as New Year's resolutions (trash.) It's just an exercise; practice. I've got two kids that haven't napped today and are leaning their heads on anything that holds still. I've been to five stores trying to keep them awake, and have only succeeded in exhausting myself and my debit card. And the only thing I can think to blog about is blogging. At least today I can keep it short.

Core: Roasted Red Pepper and Arugula Salad

I don't have a picture of this one; it's a new find I've only made once but it's a keeper. To roast and peel a red pepper: If you have a gas cooktop or other open flame, you can place the pepper right over the flame. Hold it with tongs or just rest it on the burner grate. If you cook with electricity, put it on a baking sheet under the broiler. Turn the pepper frequently. You want to blacken the skin all over, but you don’t want to char the flesh. Once it is black, put it in a paper bag and close it, or cover it with a kitchen towel for five minutes. I've also done a plastic ziploc and it didn't melt. It steams its own skin loose. Then rub off the blackened skin, and core, cut, and seed the pepper.

1 to 2 red peppers, roasted as described above
1 to 2 bunches arugula, washed & coarsely chopped
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
Thinly shaved Parmesan for garnish (not Core)

Toss the peppers and arugula. Whisk the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper for dressing. Pour over and toss. Garnish with shaved Parmesan (but count the Points.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Core: Grilled Potato Salad

This salad is totally delicious but the grilled potatoes are slightly a pain. Either you have to grill them in batches inside on your grill pan, which smokes up the kitchen pretty good, or outside on your grill where about 1/3 of them will fall through the gaps. Take your pick. Either way, it's worth it.

The Core Plan suggests consuming 2 tsp of olive oil each day, which is how I justify a little olive oil in salad or other recipes. This calls for 5 T and makes 4 servings so that's more than 2 tsp per person, so I just decrease it a little, using only as much as I have to.
Grilled Potato Salad

4 large Yukon gold potatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
5 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 T grill seasoning blend
2 T rosemary leaves, 3 sprigs, stripped and chopped
2 navel oranges, peeled and chopped
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 to 5 cups arugula, chopped, 2 bunches
2 T red wine vinegar

1. Preheat grill. Place potatoes in large bowl and toss with about 3 T olive oil, 2 T grill seasoning and rosemary. Grill potatoes 4 to 5 minutes on each side.

2. While potatoes are cooking, combine oranges and red onion and dress with red wine vinegar and some extra virgin olive oil.

3. Remove potatoes from grill to the dressed oranges and onions. Toss to coat. When you grill potatoes they will be slightly drier than when you use other methods of cooking. By adding the potatoes to the dressing while hot, they really soak it up. When ready to serve, add the arugula to the potatoes and toss to distribute.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Core: Edamame Salad

When I think "salad" I still have my blinders on: lettuce, cucumber, carrot, green pepper, tomatoes. Cold, crunchy and boring. Which is why I'm sooo happy when I come across a different vegetable combination that I actually like. This one's a perfect example. Plus it's hard to get more nutritious than a big helping of edamame.

Edamame Salad

1 (16 oz.) bag edamame
1 1/2 cups corn
1 cup sliced radishes
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 T rice vinegar
1 T olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
Salt and pepper

Cook and shell (if necessary) edamame. Toss with corn, radishes, cilantro and scallions. In a small bowl, make dressing by whisking vinegar, oil and garlic. Pour over vegetables and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Core: Warm Black Bean and Corn Salad

I've been in a bit of a funk lately - a fog the last few days. Feeling behind, unorganized, can't think clearly. Just keeping head above water. That also means lots of blog posts stuck in the conceptual stage, not getting thought out or written properly. So in the meantime at least I can post recipes I promised.

Here's one of my favorite salads - fast, easy, flavorful, and most importantly to me in the winter - warm! It's really tough swallowing cold green salad when the temperature's below freezing. So serve this up with anything - rice, fish, chicken, or eat it plain. Pictured here with Trader Joe's flax seed chips though sadly they're not Core. Everything in the salad is, though, except the olive oil. I decrease it to about 1 T.
Warm Black Bean and Corn Salad

2 T olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

½ to 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (medium heat to extra spicy)
1 tsp ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 (10 oz.) box frozen corn kernels, defrosted (or kernels cut from about 4 ears fresh corn)
½ cup chicken stock or broth
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
Juice of 1 lime
2 to 3 T fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
6 cups baby spinach

1. Preheat a medium skillet over medium heat with 2 T olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, cumin, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes.

2. To the cooked onions, add the bell pepper and corn kernels and cook for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Add the black beans and cook until the beans are just heated through. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the lime juice, cilantro and spinach. Toss to wilt the spinach and then taste to adjust the seasoning.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Happy Birthday, Ginger Sue! (Take Two)

Yesterday the Munchkinator Missy Sue turned 2 years old. Yeah, a year's worth has happened since her last birthday and she has certainly grown and changed but I clearly remember writing her 1st birthday blog post and it just seems more recent than a year ago. But enough sentimentalizing.

The day started off with a very grumpy birthday girl who didn't get enough sleep, unimpressed with well wishes, Happy Birthday singing, even chocolate chip smiley face pancakes.
In the morning we dropped Hazel at preschool and went to the gym, only to find out there had been a water main break and the Kidz Klub was closed until Monday. So we spent a leisurely morning browsing through World Market, which I have carefully avoided for the budget's sake since moving here, and then hit Party Depot for helium balloons, birthday candles, and cupcake sprinkles. Ginger brightened right up in the party store - lots of colorful and exciting things for a 2-year-old to oogle at, so she didn't even mind riding in the cart.

We picked up Hazel from school, and when we got home the weather was so nice - sunny in the high 40's - that I grabbed my camera for a few birthday shots. How she's grown!

After lunch Ginger took a nap and Hazel and I baked cupcakes. Duncan Hines makes a "cupcake mix" that's smaller than a cake mix and only makes 12 cupcakes. Bang-for-buck it's a rip-off but when you'd just as well prefer to have fewer cupcakes around the house, it's perfect for a 2-year-old's birthday. When Ginger woke up I whippped up some serious pink buttercream frosting, and we got out all the decorations - mini chocolate chips, red hots, and sprinkles galore. Not surprisingly, cupcake decorating was my favorite part of the whole day.

In the evening Grandma & Grandpa came over and the girls could hardly contain their excitement for the birthday party. There was lemon spaghetti, shrimp fra diavolo and jello salad for dinner. And of course you know what dessert was.

Here's Ginger holding up two fingers, kinda.
After dessert she opened presents - adorable! There was a flannel Diego pillowcase Nana made, some plastic magic wands, Little People, and more. The toy cupcakes were especially a big hit, and have already increased our opportunities to practice sharing.

In a way I can't believe she's two but mostly I can. Everybody says, "She's already two? Wow, goes fast, doesn't it?" I smile agreeably and say, "Yeah, it sure does." But the honest answer is no, it doesn't. It seems like a half a lifetime since she was born, and frankly I'm glad to be through with the baby stuff for awhile, though she's still in diapers. Having a kid who walks and talks and entertains herself and is full of personality is fabulous, and having two is even better. Happy Birthday, Ginger Sue! We love you!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Congratulations Heidi!

The results are in. Heidi Lott Paige, aka LDSMommy, won the red and orange earrings. We visited my sister Maren & family this weekend in Vermont and my nephew Peter helped in this highly scientific process. It was only fitting he wore red and orange for the occasion.

Luckily we salvaged enough of the paper to make out Heidi's name.

Heidi - email me or message me on Facebook your address so I can send them. Then I want to see pictures of you wearing them!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Core Dinners

A couple of people have asked me what the heck I eat for dinner on the Core plan. Remember, the Weight Watchers Core plan allows you to eat mostly unlimited amounts of pretty limited foods: whole grains (think brown rice & Shredded Wheat), fresh or frozen (un-added-to) fruits and vegetables, lean protein (lean cuts of beef and pork, chicken, turkey, seafood), and fat-free unsweetened dairy (plain yogurt & skim milk.) Those are the basics. Anything you eat in addition to Core foods must be counted in WW Points and you get 35 points a week (which doesn't go far if you want to have goodies!) WW has just come out with a new program, Momentum, which sounds like a combination of Flex Points and Core, but I don't care - since I wasn't going to the meetings anyway I'm just sticking to what I know.

So the above can make you stop and wonder what to make for dinner night after night, especially if you tend, like me, to use cheese in a lot of dishes, and carbs like bread and pasta to round out the meal. In fact, bread and pasta is my kids' dream meal, so there has been a lot of crying at the table and going to bed hungry since I started serving Core dinners. Sometimes I feel sorry for them and make a separate pot of mac n' cheese.

I've got a couple of go-to dinners we eat frequently, but I love to try new recipes at least a few times a week. So I usually browse the Cooking Light recipe database for dishes that are mostly Core, or my Weight Watchers cookbooks. Even my regular cookbooks have hidden gems - a lot of dishes are Core or mostly Core without even trying. While preparing to write this post I also found several online forums where people shared Core recipes. For example:

Weight Watchin' Wiki
Health Discovery Core Recipes
Links to Core Recipes
Beth's Core Recipe Box

Lots to choose from! Usually dinner here consists of a main and two sides. My most basic formula is:

Meat + Vegetable + Fruit

I'll get to actual recipes in a future post, but here are the things I make regularly, that don't require a recipe.

  • Roasted whole chicken with rosemary stems and smashed garlic cloves under the skin; lots of salt & pepper or grill seasoning all over; lemon and/or onion in cavity
  • Roasted or broiled fish fillets like salmon, talapia, trout, etc. drizzled with olive oil and some yummy seasoning blend and lemons to squeeze
  • Grilled (or grill panned) sirloin steak
  • Ham steaks (yummy with fresh pineapple, raw or grilled)
  • Veggie burgers with no bun or just half bun (count the bun Points)
  • Hamburgers (93% lean ground beef or ground turkey, egg, worcestershire, seasonings; count Points for breadcrumbs and/or Parmesan cheese) with no bun or just half bun
  • Pork roast or chops rubbed all over with garlic and rosemary


  • Steamed fresh or frozen vegetables: asparagus, broccoli, corn, peas, carrots, etc.
  • Roasted vegetables (cut into same-sized pieces, toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, any seasonings, maybe a little balsalmic vinegar; roast at about 400 until tender, varies by veggie) - yukon gold or baby potatoes, broccoli, sweet potatoes, peppers, onion, fennel, or any combination
  • Baked potatoes (Core rule: you can have brown rice OR potato OR whole wheat pasta one time a day so plan ahead)
  • Green raw salad - lettuce, cucumber, peppers, carrots, etc. with no or fat-free dressing (I like salad seasonings from Penzey's)
  • Spinach salad - spinach, hard-boiled egg, red onion, crumbled bacon (count Points)
  • Other salads (recipes to come): Roasted red pepper & arugula salad, Grilled potato salad (so good!), Edamame salad, Warm black bean and corn salad


  • Any fresh fruit or combination to make fruit salad: apple slices, clementines/oranges, berries, bananas, peaches, pineapple, grapes, kiwi, etc. (you can also add 1/2 pouch of sugar-free pudding powder, like lemon or vanilla flavor to a fruit salad; it mixes with the fruit juices and makes a thick sauce for a slightly fancier salad)
  • Sugar-free Jello, with or without added fruit (there's usually less crying on Jello nights)
  • Unsweetened applesauce (good with pork roast/chops)
Other sides, depending on the dinner and the day (must follow the rule of only one per day):
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat noodles/pasta
  • Whole wheat couscous

Sample Week of Dinners:

Whole wheat spaghetti, jarred or homemade marinara with extra veggies added (mushrooms, peppers, onions), frozen corn, roasted broccoli

Grilled steak, roasted potatoes, green salad

Roasted chicken, roasted pepper & arugula salad (recipe in future post - I promise!), SF Jello salad (SF raspberry Jello with fresh or frozen blueberries & sliced bananas added when partially set)

Chicken & vegetable stir-fry (using leftover chicken from yesterday), brown rice, orange slices

Broiled salmon, whole wheat couscous with shredded zucchini & carrots, sliced strawberries "sugared" with Splenda

Chili (Bush's Chili Magic chili starter plus canned diced tomatoes, cooked lean ground beef or turkey, and lots of chopped bell peppers and onions), baked potatoes, fat-free sour cream, cucumber/tomato/red onion salad

Fried ham steaks, fresh pineapple, brown rice with chives/salt/pepper

A few other ideas:
  • Taco salad - Grill or pan cook chicken breasts marinated in southwest seasoning; serve with lettuce, tomatoes, corn, black beans, red onion, olives, scallions, salsa, fat-free sour cream
  • Chili verde (one of my very favorites) over brown rice
  • Vegetable frittata - Saute zucchini, onions, broccoli or whatever you like until tender. I like to use leftover roasted potatoes (olive oil, grill seasoning), chopped small, and leftover ham or chicken if I've got it. Whisk 3 or 4 eggs with some seasonings and pour over vegetables. Cook on medium heat, covered, until set, or bake at 350 degrees until set (about 5 to 15 minutes.)

So yeah, there's no lasagna, cheesey garlic bread, or cornbread with honey butter, but it's do-able. That's what I keep telling myself week after week. But I get easily bored, so I use at least some of my 35 weekly Points for an ingredient here or there that isn't Core. I've got a couple great recipes, and I'm always trying more, so stay tuned.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Earring Tutorial and Giveaway

Years ago one of my college roommates, of whom I do not otherwise have any fond memories, gave me a pair of earrings for Christmas...that she had made herself. They were simple, with a couple of brown glass beads on each, but I loved them and was totally impressed. She assured me they were easy to make but I didn't want to spend that much time with her so I never learned.

Fast forward 10 years to living the good life in Boulder, Colorado. I got Kat to take a $15 jewelry class at Michael's with me, and was that ever money-and-an-hour well spent. I bought my tools, loaded up on beads and wire, and for the next few years spent my free time making necklaces, bracelets and earrings for myself, friends and family - gifts, shower favors, or "just because." When we moved to New York the beading supplies got boxed up and I only pulled them out a few times - it was almost impossible to find a childless window in which to get them out, spread them out, make something, clean up and pack up. Just before leaving NY I did a little jewelry workshop with some ladies from church, to help clean out my supplies, and you may remember an earring giveaway my friend Lindsay did with the pairs she made.

Well ever since then I've been meaning to do a little blog tutorial here on how to make a pair of earrings. It's a remarkably useful skill to have. The equipment is cheap and small, and most women have pierced ears so it's handy to whip them up for people anytime. And a pair of handmade earrings is so impressive! So here you go.

How to Make Earrings

Qualifier: It is way easier to just show someone than to explain in writing and pictures. Most steps are two-handed but Ed was at work so I had to take the pictures with one hand. Luckily my entire readership is of above-average intelligence so you can mostly figure it out if you follow along.

Wire cutters, Round-nose pliers, Needle-nose or Chain-nose pliers

2 head pins
2 ear hooks/wires

*Make sure the bead holes are big enough to fit on the pin but not so big they slip off the head. You may need a small bead to go on the pin before a large one. Don’t pick very heavy beads.

1. String the beads on a head pin the way you want them. This is the hardest part! Seriously, you wouldn't think lining up 2 to 5 beads on a pin would be tough but what you think will look good doesn't always, and vice versa. Design matters!

2. Using needle-nose pliers bend the pin at about a 90-degree angle.

3. Wrap the end of the pin around the tip of a round-nose plier, using the needle-nose pliers to help you hold the earring.
4. Watch carefully here. Slip the round-nose pliers out and reinsert the lower nose into the same loop. Twist the wire around to make a complete loop but don't close it because you have to slide on the ear hook.
5. Slip the earwire onto the pin loop before finishing it. Do NOT look at my ugly fingernails. I am a hardworking Mom who doesn't get a lot of manicures. Let's see yours!
6. Hold the earring as shown and, using your other hand and other pair of pliers, take the tail and twist it back around itself once or twice under the pliers you see in the picture so it fills in any extra wire between the top bead and the loop.
7. Cut the extra pin wire off using the wire cutters. 8. Repeat for second earring.
Tip: If you can avoid it, do not make your earrings on the back porch in 30-degree weather without a coat on. I can attest, it's less effective.

9. Try to get at least the little beads cleaned up before Ginger wakes up from her nap and excitedly asks, "Whatcha' dooooin'? Can I help you?"

Now you can wow all your friends and neighbors, hold a jewelry-making party, or at least accessorize your own wardrobe perfectly.

Now about the giveaway. I knew everyone would be so jealous of the pair I made in the demonstration that it would be cruel to not offer you at least the chance to have them for your own. So yes, this is a giveaway. Leave a comment saying "I want them" or something and you will be entered in the random drawing. But listen, not everyone can work red and orange, so make sure you've got the right attitude before leaving your comment. These were meant to be worn, not left in the jewelry box with the wallflowers. Contest closes Monday night 1/19 at 6pm. Sorry if you were hoping to get them in time for the Inaugural Ball.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I'm Ready

The other day at the gym I was watching Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing when an ad came on for the DVD Mirrors, starring Kiefer Sutherland. The following train of thought ensued:

I've never heard of that movie. I like Kiefer Sutherland but I don't like horror films so I'll never see it. But I do like Kiefer Sutherland. What did I just see him in? A Time to Kill was on TV the other night; he played a prejudiced jerk. They gave him red hair but he looks better blonde. He's so good at playing the tough guy. I was really into 24 for a few years but it's too dramatic and intense, I can't take it anymore. But I did watch part of it last night with Ed. He is a perfect Jack Bauer. I knew a Jack Bauer in elementary school; I wonder how he likes having that name now. What else has Kiefer been in lately? There was that wannabe 24 movie, The Sentinel, but he was too Jack Bauer serious guy in that. No soft side! I liked him in Flatliners but that was like 20 years ago. Dang. I'm ready to see Kiefer in a romantic lead. I wonder if I can start a petition and send it to Hollywood. I'm definitely writing a blog post on this. This is important stuff. I saw him on Letterman once and he was such a puppy dog - modest, polite, almost shy. I just wanted to pat his head and kiss his cheek. And he looks so good in jeans.

Wow, Hillary's back already? How long has she been droning on? Mute her, I need to think.

OK, OK, let's see, a romantic lead for Kiefer Sutherland. I'm thinking shy guy gets drawn out of his shell by a strong woman, like a modern Who Am I This Time? or something. Man does that movie need to be remade. It was adorable and perfectly cast and acted but the film and sound quality suck. (If you haven't seen it, do.) Kiefer would be perfect in that part - quiet exterior with passion inside. Love that! Or let's see, maybe hot shot gets brought down to earth by the unlikely perfect girl, or something like yet another twist on Taming of the Shrew. I just want to see him happy and smiling more - waaaay more - than in all these serious roles!

I'll have to think who I want to play opposite him. Not just anyone can have chemistry with Kiefer. And there are a lot of actresses that annoy me so we'll have to choose carefully. But I'm pretty sure I want Greg Kinnear or possibly Jeremy Piven to play the best friend/brother. Or Mark Wahlberg - he looks good in jeans too. OK, on my petition I will commit to go see this romantic comedy at least twice at full price and also rent it on Netflix.

I'm ready for this. Who's with me?

Monday, January 12, 2009 for Money

I will try not to tell the whole lifelong tale of my struggle with weight, and body image, and all that depressing stuff, but one chapter runs into another and it's hard to know where to start.

Last spring I reached an all-time weight high, including pregnancies, and when my biggest clothes ever started to squeeze, and my knees ache, and a dear friend asked me in the nicest way, essentially, "What has happened to you?", and I saw a scary infomercial about belly fat, I got the motivation to try, yet again, to lose weight. Ed wanted to, too, so we hopped on the Weight Watchers Core plan together. The first few days were tough, but it got easier, and when I started to see 2, 3 even 5 pounds a week come off it became just a matter of life, and I was on cloud nine with the success. I lost 17 lbs in 12 weeks, and then we went on vacation and moved to VA and spent the summer trying to get organized and settle into our new life, so there was plenty of upheaval, which is death to the best diet intentions. I only managed to squeeze off another 3 pounds.

In August I joined a gym, and in September I never went. In October I had a physical and my cholesterol was high. Even though I was down one size, and my knees only creaked instead of ached, I knew I was not even close to where I wanted to be, and I had to get back on the horse, especially before the holidays. So I went back to the gym, and that first time back I had some kind of breakthrough. I finally felt those endorphins everyone talks about - my energy shot up, my mood was through the roof; I felt like a million bucks, just from exercising. I was hooked.

The next week I saw a sign up at the gym announcing a new program called S.T.R.I.P. (Spare Tire Removal in Progress.) I read closer. Participants pay $30 and $15 of it goes in "the pot." Your goal is to lose 5% of your current weight, and you have 10 weeks to do it. But not just any 10 weeks. The 10 weeks that cover Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's! If you miss a week of weigh-in, your goal weight decreases by 1 lb. If you gain more than 2 lbs in a week you are out of the contest. Whoever reaches their goal at the end of 10 weeks splits the pot. I did some quick math. Five percent for most people is between 7 and 12 pounds, and I was in the middle somewhere. It could be done in 10 weeks but not with much wiggle room. Half of the participants would have to fail for me to break even on my $30, and I had no idea who I would be up against.

I decided to do it. This would be one lamo blog post if I hadn't. I was just getting back into an exercise routine but I needed some motivation to eat carefully again as well, and this was it. For the first half, I was on track, losing about 1 lb a week, and sailing through Halloween and Thanksgiving without too much derailment. Then it was December. And there were lots of really good cookies. Those chocolate marshmallow meltaways in particular lured me like a siren's song, and a couple of tough days turned into a couple of tough weeks. Then it was Christmas, and I ate the world, and didn't really stop until New Year's. And then there was only one week of S.T.R.I.P. left, and I was hovering between 1 and 2 lbs away from my goal weight, and not particularly motivated or confident I'd reach it.

But three things happened to help me turn it around. First, the week before Christmas I got an email from a trainer at the gym. My name had been drawn from the suggestion box to receive a free 1-hour training session. Personal training was one of those things I was interested in, and kept thinking I should do, and I always watched trainers and clients curiously out of the corner of my eye, but I just hadn't done anything about it. So I jumped on this and scheduled my session with Lindsey two days before Christmas. It was awesome. I showed her what I'd been doing, and she upped my whole ante. She took me off the circuit weight machines I'd been using (and was bored blind with), and gave me an extensive whole body strength training regimen using free weights, physio balls, body bars and bosu balls. It's a little embarrassing to do it all in front of everyone in the general exercise area, but I'm not the only one so I just try to focus on what I'm doing and "own the gym." Having a new routine has helped me with some of the motivation I've been lacking through the holidays.

Second, never underestimate the power of Ed. He has come a long way from our early married years, when he thought it was "helpful" to be my food police (uh-uh), to now. He knows how to help me: unlimited positive feedback and unconditional expressions of love are a good place to start, followed by things like "you look amazing," "look how far you've come" and "what can I do to help you?" I was having a hard time sticking to core healthy foods, so he committed to eat strictly core with me for the last two weeks. Having him experience the same stop-and-think process at meal and snack times helped enormously, and having someone to commiserate with, and eat carrots and plain hot air popcorn with, was the best. What a guy.

Finally, fast Sunday sealed the deal. On the first Sunday of every month members of our Church fast for two meals. We donate the money we would have spent on those meals, and more if possible, to the welfare program that helps people in need. In addition, fasting is a way to strengthen ourselves spiritually, to set aside temporal things (like food) and focus on prayer, worship, repentance, meditation, and so on. It also happens to be a perfect chance to seriously cut caloric intake for a day and reign in some bad habits.

Last Sunday marked the last week of S.T.R.I.P. We had from Sunday to Friday to do our final weigh-in. I just figured I'd weigh each day on the scale at the gym and whenever (if ever) I hit my goal, I'd go find a trainer to officially witness it. If it came down to the wire I was prepared for drastic measures (sauna, anyone?) Luckily no such action was needed. Monday morning I stepped on the scale and scooched that slider down, down, down until I was almost a pound under my goal weight. Grinning ear to ear, nearly bursting with pride, I grabbed a trainer to fill out my card.


Twenty-four people originally joined the program. That's a pot of $360. They put a big chart up on the wall, with people's initials or chosen nickname, start weight, goal weight, and weekly weights for the 10 weeks, so we could all track our competition. Every week 1 or 2 people seemed to drop out - they just stopped weighing in or they missed so many weeks that their goal became unreachable. By last week it looked like somewhere between 4 and 7 people would reach their goal, which meant I was getting my $30 back and then some. Today I got the official "Congratulations" email from the fitness director - 6 people made it, so we get $60. Maybe it's not a lot to show for so much hard work, but it's $30 more than I had before, plus of course I'm down almost 10 lbs since October, which is the whole point.

I took $30 of my prize and put it back into S.T.R.I.P. again - the new session starts today. It seems like the weight is fighting back a bit - I have to fight tooth and nail for each pound these days, not like the way it melted off last spring. But I've got a few more milestones I'm reaching for, and a few more tricks up my sleeve. Ed and I have set up another little competition of our own as well. So wish me luck, and watch the sidebar. Disco Mom's not done yet.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Nursery Rhymes

And speaking of Nursery, I've found a gem. In an a conversation today with my brother Dave, guru of all things I need to know, he explained Blog Search to me and I was fiddling around with it. I searched "LDS Nursery" out of curiosity, and in the list found an article on Mormon Times called "Weaning Sunbeams." Exactly pertinent to what we are going through, both at Nursery and at home with Hazel, so I clicked and read, and silently smiled at the universal experience all Nursery leaders and Sunbeam teachers must have had this last Sunday.

I chuckled thinking of the newfound liberation felt by the younger toddlers, freed from the dangers and opression of the big & burly 3-year-olds. Also the near-half class size, the more prominent role of the battery operated bubble machine, and the one new Sunbeam begging to return to the good life (all of which happened to us.) I got a kick out of the entire thing, and see that the author, Stacie Duce, writes her Nursery Rhymes column a couple times a month. She just got a new reader.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Bean Shakers

Listen up and pay attention, all teachers and parents of toddlers-to-preschoolers. This here's the mother of genius activities. When we began to serve in nursery last fall you may remember my call for craft ideas. I got many responses, typed them up for a reference, and have been working my way through them when it's our turn to do activity. We tried this one a few months ago because it was cheap, easy to prepare, and easy to clean up, and we were BLOWN AWAY at its success. Every single kid, from newly 18 months to almost 4 could do it...and loved it. We did it again last Sunday, same results.

I give complete, total, and gratitude-laden, bordering on worshipful, credit to cousin-in-law Katy for this. She was a nursery leader in Charlottesville last year and threw herself wholeheartedly into it. She even kept a blog for a few months of all her lesson plans and ideas. She gave me a whole list of ideas in response to the October call for crafts (see those comments), and more on the phone. She said she came up with this one at about 11:30 pm one Saturday night out of desperation. Amazing. Here you go:

Take two small dixie cups and tape them together so they are closed. Poke a small hole (I use a mechanical pencil) in the top just large enough for a bean. Give the kids beans that they can shove through the hole. I don't know why but they LOVE doing this. When they are done tape the top closed with a piece of masking tape. Makes a shaker for singing time or just to make noise. (Good for lessons about being grateful for ears or moving because the dancing is more exciting with noise etc.)
Keeps them sitting still, keeps them engaged, excellent fine motor skill work, and the big kids can do more, the little ones less, but everyone ends up with a shaker that looks the same. For a real challenge I gave some of the bigger kids pony beads to pop in. They're about the same size as beans but harder to hold on to.

The first time we made these we kept them all as a class set and use them during music time. Yesterday we put their names on and sent them home. I think we'll be doing this at least once a quarter. These shakers rock my world.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

New Year's Eve at the White House

I have a cousin named Aaron. He is the oldest of 11 children (this always amazes me), he is a recent graduate of UVA law school (last summer), and he is awesome. He also happens to work as a speech writer for the President at the White House. That's right, I've got someone on the inside.One of the things Aaron does is fact-checking for various speeches, so he is on the phone a lot. It's always fun to hear his stories of how people change vocal demeanor after he says, "Hi, this is Aaron Cummings calling from the White House." Except the pizza guys - they never believe it.

One of the perks of working for the President is that Aaron can give tours of the West Wing. This ain't no get-tickets-through-your-Congressman White House tour. These are private, after-hours, small group affairs offered only to those with connections. I knew Aaron takes his own personal time to do these, and with a new baby at home and the current administration's days numbered, I thought we might not be lucky enough to get in on one of these tours. But he called a few weeks ago with an opening on New Year's Eve and we jumped at the chance.

We met Aaron and the other four "tourists" - Aunt Janet, her roommate Pat, Aunt Merrilee and her father - in the frigid wind outside one of the gates by the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. We had our ID's handy for the couple of security points, then made our way into the complex. I badly wished I'd worn a hat - it was FREEZING. Aaron started our tour outside, and then inside, the Executive Office Building, which is right next to the White House. Aaron's office is just inside the EEOB; after all, he says,
"Proximity to power is power."
Aaron in the hall outside his office at the Executive Office Building

It was awesome. Having grown up near DC I developed a general boredom regarding museums, government, and tours with guides. But this was way different, and I'm way more mature now. It was actually fascinating, and while I have a mind like a sieve and cannot remember facts nor figures from one minute to the next, it was amazing to be in a room while Aaron told us the historical meetings, announcements, or events that took place there, decades ago. He pointed out architectural details, symbolic statues and engravings, and told the stories behind things like the brass railing on a staircase that President (was it Cleveland?) had installed because he had slipped on those stairs, and the porch on which President (I can't even remember which one) used to go out to smoke cigars.
Ed viewing pictures of past uses of Room 180

I was so impressed with the level of interesting-ness of the things he was telling us that I asked him what kind of training he'd gotten to give the tour (because other tour guides in DC could use it), and he said none. It was just a bunch of things he had picked up in reading different books.
Well. I just resigned myself to spending the evening in awe.

One example of how this post-Civil-War era building has been updated to support today's technology

The view of the White House from the EEOB

After the EOB we crossed the little driveway between the buildings and entered the West Wing. Saw the Navy Mess, the door to the Situation Room (closed), the Cabinet Room, the Roosevelt Room, the Oval Office (George was in Texas). There are several lobby/sitting areas throughout the wing, all decorated with beautiful art that Aaron knew details about. One of my favorite things were the photographs. Lining most hallways, staircases and some foyers were dozens, possibly 100+, recent photographs of the President in various settings, from a speech to troops to a meeting with the Italian president to wearing dirty jeans and a cowboy hat on his ranch. They were beautiful photos, and Aaron said they are constantly changed and updated to reflect the most recent events. The President also chooses his own art for the various meeting rooms, from an art catalog they have, and chooses his own rug and decor for the Oval Office.

We couldn't take pictures inside the West Wing, but we could in the Rose Garden and other areas outside. Aaron knew which president had added which porch and portico and who had done what where. Amazing.

Ed in the Rose Garden. The tree down off the tip of his nose is by the window to the Oval Office

The Press Room was pretty cool - it used to be an indoor swimming pool but is now a super high tech cozy meeting room. On our way out we saw the spot on the lawn where all the White House based news reports are made - they have to leave their equipment out there covered in tarps all the time. Finally we saw the Blair House across the street, where incoming presidents usually stay, and where the Obamas will be starting January 15. And we saw all the bleachers and scaffolding that are in progress for Inauguration Day.

Thank you again so much, Aaron, and Katy who was home with Baby Reuben, and my parents who were home with our kids. It was a perfect, and memorable, way to spend the last night of 2008!

Monday, January 05, 2009


Today, 4:40 pm. I'm in the kitchen washing dishes. Ginger wanders in.

"What are we dooooin'?"

"Well, I'm washing dishes, and then I'm going to make dinner."

She puts her yucky face on. "I don't like dinner."

Sigh. "I know." Take a moment to think fondly back to when they used to at least ask what we're having for dinner before saying they don't like it...

"I want brownies."

Turn off the water. Dry my hands. Prepare for battle. "It's not time for brownies. If you're hungry you can have a snack. Your choices are carrots or an orange."

"Um...." Wait. "Umm..." Shift weight to other foot. Fold arms. Put smiling expectant face on, hoping for the best.

"Um....I choose....pancakes!"

The Year of the Crockpot

Here we go, folks. It's a new year. It's a fresh start. It's...afternoon church. One to 4 pm every Sunday. Somehow that seems like a longer three hours than 9 to 12. Especially in the winter when it gets dark so early. And especially on fast Sunday. With my free time in the morning now instead of in the afternoon on Sunday I'll be doing whatever prep I can so we can eat dinner on time, or as soon as possible after church. And that means using the slow cooker! Aw, twist my arm.
Yesterday I cleaned a whole roaster chicken, and filled the cavity with chopped onions and a pierced clementine (would've done a lemon but I didn't have one.) Drizzled it with olive oil, slid some smashed garlic cloves under the skin, and rubbed it with lots of grill seasoning and Italian seasoning. Put it in the crockpot on HIGH for 6 hours, though I'm sure 4 would have done it. Then I did all the chopping prep work for a cold edamame & radish salad, and if I wasn't on the Core plan I would have thrown some stuff into my bread machine as well. Good thing I didn't because I would have eaten the entire loaf, slathered with melting butter, the minute I stepped in the door. As it was, we were at the table eating dinner 15 minutes after getting home. Love that!

Slow Cooker Week in October was awesome - one recipe a day for a week. Then in December we had a goody recipe a day for a month. Well I don't dare commit to 365 days of crockpot recipes, or even 52, one each Sunday. Some weeks I'm sure we'll have spaghetti, leftovers or cold cereal after church. I'm also a fan of Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals, though we all know they take longer than that. But it's hard to beat the ease of a slow cooker, and the warm welcome of cooking smells when you come home. So I'm yet again on the hunt for good recipes. I have about 5 or 6 in the lineup to try, and welcoming more. And of course I'll share the love by posting my keepers. Who knows, I'm so addicted to digital bookmaking, maybe we will have another cookbook by the end of the year.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

These is My Words

It has been a long time - probably since Outlander - that I have been so totally and completely sucked into a book. I found it by browsing around reviews on Amazon - it sounded good so I put it on my wishlist. Mom already had it so she gave it to me, along with the sequel, Sarah's Quilt, for Christmas. I had just finished Three Bags Full, and was ready for a new book so I started it the next day when we went out to the cabin. And I finished it last night.

Might not mean much to all you whip-through-'em speed readers but it took me two months to finish my last book, which was shorter. My housekeeping has gone to crap this last week (no real change there) and I have stayed up past midnight most nights, simply unable to put it down.

Quick summary (you can read more on Amazon): A journal-style novel of a frontier woman, Sarah Prine, that follows her from her teens to 30's, and all the hardship, fear, joy and success that a fiesty and complex woman could experience at that time. It's a time and place of extremes, and the perfect setting for a very personal, very exciting and very moving tale. I feel very close to, and at the same time, totally in awe of Sarah. Her story is based on the journal of the author's great-grandmother.

These is My Words has been compared to Lonesome Dove, which Ed read a year or two ago (I watched the miniseries with him), and I remember he was similarly lost in reading it, and similarly affected by it, as if living a double life on the range. In fact, I've felt for the last week that my life is the dream, and the 1890's Arizona Territory is reality. It has made things around here seem ridiculously easy and trivial, and I'm kind of embarrassed to be sitting at the computer instead of whitewashing my house or digging a well.

No one likes long book reviews, so I leave you with a high recommendation and a warning. If you pick up this book, make sure you've got your spurs on and a handkerchief handy. You're in for a wild and wonderful ride.

This book receives 4.5 disco balls:
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