Thursday, February 1, 2018

Homemade Valentine's Day

I love showing the special people in my life that I love them.  I'm always looking for the next opportunity to celebrate them! So of course, I love surprising them on Valentine's Day! Every year looks a little different. Making homemade decorations means so much more then buying them at the store. I find that we all truly value them and the love they hold. Last year instead of buying sweets at the store, I made home made treats.

You can't beat a fresh plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies (using your favorite recipe)! Everyone was so excited. I don't bake often, so when I do, it really is special.

I still have all of my homemade crafts from many years ago. (My wax paper hearts, hung on ribbons, pink yard heart wreath) Last year I bought a pom pom maker, and made a new garland that goes with all of my other decorations. I was able to use up some left over yarn with this!

This heart shaped wreath above I made several years ago!  I had some wire that I shapped into a heart, then took red burlap and cut it into short strips. Next I tied them all to the heart shaped wire, and then hung it up with twine.  I love that it is an imperfect heart shape as it is hanging up.

New for this year are these little heart felt holders. I thought I could put their silverware and paper towels in them for our Valentines breakfast, or they would be cute with crayons or pencils in them! So easy, I just used embroidery thread to attach the heart to the felt, and closed the back with the embroidery thread as well. The perfect addition!

May everyone have a wonderful Valentine's season full of love, shown in action and in truth!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Healthy Family Snacks

Finding healthy family snacks, other then fruits and veggies, is a never ending task! Here are a few of my favorites.

 These protein bars are all organic and you can find them all around $2 each at Sprouts and Trader Joes. GoMacro, Perfect Bar and Square Bar. (Square Bar is only at Sprouts). The sugars in these are high ranging from 12 to 18 grams per bar, so only eat half for a snack or a treat. Perfect Bars are located in the refrigerator section.
 Rice cakes with almond butter. Sprouts sells these rice cakes for only $1! Makes a great afternoon snack with a piece of fruit or some carrots.
 The peanut butter tortilla...what would I do without it. I heat up two tortillas on the stove and spread peanut butter between the two of them. The kids love the melted peanut butter and the soft and warm but a little crispy tortilla. This is a great morning snack or any time of day.
 Trader Joes sweet potato chips. If you are going to eat chips, these are a great choice because they have vitamins in them! I don't feel bad giving these to my kiddos. 17 chips is one serving. Vitamin A 50%, Vitamin C 10%, Calcium 2% and Iron 4 %.

And last, but only because it is our favorite....homemade popcorn. Please never buy microwave is a disgrace to popcorn. All you have to do is get a big pot with a lid, put 3 tablespoons of organic olive oil in and turn the heat on high. Let the oil heat up until it is steaming and then add in 1/2 of a cup of organic popcorn kernels. Keeping the pot over the flame, shake continuously until almost all of the kernels pop and the kernels slowly stop popping. Pour into a big bowl. Take about 1-1 1/2 tablespoons of organic unsalted butter and melt it in the same hot pot you just used, without any flame. Pour evenly over popcorn. Top with sea salt....and you are all set!  Once you have this you will never go back. My husband doesn't like popcorn...but he loves this! :) (Please note: I use a nonstick pan with a glass lid. I have tried using a regular pan but it gets too hot and everything burns...)

A Few Blessings of Gestational Diabetes

Making healthy eating habits is a constant battle. First we are battling our taste buds. Next we are battling manufacturers and what they put in foods, or even food recalls because of contamination. Eating out can be difficult because you are never going to eat as healthy as you would at home because restaurants have to turn a profit!  They just aren't going to use organic products because they would have to charge you a small fortune to eat at their restaurant. We are battling busy schedules, budgets, reading name it! Throw children into that mix and it is an overwhelming maze of solutions.  Over the years, I have become more and more picky about what I eat. I had gestational diabetes with my second pregnancy which was challenging, but actually ended up being a huge blessing because it taught me the importance of a balanced diet. I ate so many salads when I was pregnant and breastfeeding, and now my son loves to eat salads! He eats about one a day! It really was a wake up call for me that I needed to make exercise and healthy eating choices a priority in my life.  Not that I was that terrible of an eater, but I definitely had room for improvement.  These are some of the adjustments i made...

#1. Start the day off right! Do not eat boxed cereals...They aren't good for you. Instead I typically have two of the following:

These Two:
Organic Oatmeal (either steel cut or old fashioned oats) with cinnamon, chia seed, shredded unsweetened coconut, coconut sugar (tiny amount to sweeten), berries or apples, and 1/3 of a banana chopped, and almond milk

1 scrambled egg (with pepper, turmeric), topped with avocado and salsa

Or These Two:
Smoothie made with a cup of dark greens, frozen pineapple, frozen mango, 1/3 banana, frozen berries, a little bit of chopped cucumber, chia, hemp seed, almond butter, organic pea protein powder unsweetened from Trader Joes, almond milk.

Avocado Toast--1/2 of an avocado on toasted Ezekiel bread, with a little bit of butter, salt and pepper

#2. Eat 2 healthy snacks a day at least. One in between breakfast and lunch and one between lunch and dinner.

#3. Eat 4 servings of veggies and 3 servings of fruit each day. I usually eat 2 dark green salads a day. One at lunch and one at dinner.

#4. Instead of regular pasta, we use Pow! lentil pasta and mix in a little bit of Trader Joes quinoa pasta.  Everyone in our family likes it! Lentil pasta is very high in fiber and protein which keeps us fuller longer.

#5. Every meal is balanced. I have my veggies, fruit, protein, carbs for all of my meals, instead of being carb heavy which is what I used to do.

#6. Avoid boxed crackers, cookies, chips, etc. And if you are craving one of these things, eat one if they are already in the house.  If not, the self control needs to kick in when you are at the store.... I like making homemade popcorn at home because it is amazingly good and filling! You'll never miss the chips.

#7. Limit sugars. Craving something sweet? Drink tea.  Sometimes I just want something sweet in the afternoon and I've found if I make tea and sit and enjoy it outside I'm refreshed and I have forgotten all about the cookie... (I usually add almond milk and a bit of honey)

#8. Still craving something sweet? Keep a dark chocolate bar on hand. I'll sometimes have a little square or two and that helps with sugar cravings too. Make sure the chocolate is not high in sugar though!

#9. Exercise! When my kids were really little, I had zero time to myself to exercise. So my solution was to wake up and do it right away. I honestly complained all of the time about having to exercise so early, but a little 30 minute video and I was feeling great!  Now I still do videos, but I've also added running in. There is no greater feeling then about an hour after you are done running. You will feel cleansed from the inside out!

#10. Go to the doctor every year for your check up! And if necessary, take your Hemoglobin A1C test every year! You will see the fruit of your labor when your numbers drop from making healthy choices! It is great accountability.

Put simply: exercise, eat wholesome, balanced meals, limit or avoid if possible: sugar, caffeine, alcohol, etc. And most importantly, be thankful to God for every day! We are not entitled to any day of life. Each day is a gift. God deserves our best efforts in all things, especially our hearts and our bodies. "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" 1 Corinthians 3:16

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Best Family Friendly Furniture

I tell my husband all of the time, how thankful I am for certain pieces of furniture in our home. Before having kids, I had no idea how long we would be keeping our furniture, nor did I know the importance of durability! These are a few of my favorites:

The EKTORP sectional from IKEA. I have this beige cover shown, as well as a white cover.  I get comments all the time about how amazing it is that I have a white couch. We have had our couch for 10 years! Such a great decision. I wash and dry my covers in my washer and dryer. It takes several hours to remove, wash and dry the cover and cushion covers, but it is so worth it! I have had my white cover for 8 years and it is still in great shape!  Such a great buy...especially for new parents! Here is a link:
Next, the IKEA Lohals Rug. This rug has outlasted every other rug in our home. We have had our current rug since 2013. Looking at it, you would never know all that it has been through! Very durable and I love the look. Another great purchase! Here is a link:

And my last piece is going to be my entertainment center...aka our vintage buffet. I paid $25 for this beauty in 2011 and it has been such a gift! It is made of solid wood, so it is easy to paint. I love changing things around the house so I love being able to easily change the color. Its great for storage and it is extremely durable.  Great buy! (This pic is when I first painted it black with crystal knobs. It is now an antique white with gold nobs.)

These things have been put to the test day in and day out. Spilled on, jumped on, barfed on (sorry gross but true)...and you would never know it. Kids always help us set our priorities straight, thankfully! In these pieces, style met practicality, otherwise these would have been long gone. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Dinosaur Birthday Party

For the last year, my oldest son has been begging for a dinosaur birthday party. Most dinosaur parties I've seen are for very young children so I really had to get creative for this party.  It was his 8th birthday and he probably won't be having too many more parties so I really wanted him to have fun and make long lasting memories.

We had this party on a Friday afternoon right after school so I wanted to make sure they had filling food to eat.

Party Colors were Black, Green and Natural Brown Paper. I used black tablecloths and I found a great camouflage role of gift wrap at Homegoods that I used to top the cake and food tables, as well as one of the eating tables. I found lots of clip art on the internet for dinosaur decorations and cupcake toppers.

The Menu:

Deceptively Delicious Mac N Cheese (my son's favorite) Link below. 
( I sub the organic brown rice and quinoa noodles from Trader Joes, and if I don't have cream cheese, I use a spoonful of sour cream instead). Parents appreciated that this had veggies in it! ;)

Bean and Cheese Burritos
Organic Green Grapes
Organic Veggie Cups with Carrots, Grape Tomatoes, and Cucumbers
Hummus (from Trader Joes)
Pirates Booty 

Trader Joes Lentil Dip and Tortilla chips  
This is always a hit!! You can pair it with crackers, pita chips, or tortilla chips (which I used for this party).

Ice Water
Sparkling Water
Honest Juice Boxes

 My go to recipe for amazing chocolate cupcakes:
Martha Stewarts One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes (from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook)
(*When I make these, I use all organic ingredients and fair-trade cocoa powder. Also, I sub coconut oil for the vegetable oil, and instead of salt, I use sea salt*)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 large whole eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups warm water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line two standard 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners. Into the bowl of an electric mixer, sift together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Attach bowl to mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; add the eggs and yolk, the milk, oil, vanilla, and warm water. Beat on low speed until smooth and combined, about 3 minutes; scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling each about two-thirds full. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool slightly. Invert cupcakes onto the rack; then reinvent and let them cool completely, top sides up.

Once they are cooled, I frost the cupcakes with Martha's Fluffy Vanilla Frosting:

I used these natural parchment cupcake liners for the cupcakes, purchased from Target. Here is a link: PaperChef Natural Baking Cups

Dinosaur Head made from boxes, duct tape and brown paper. The teeth are made from poster board and I stuffed some black paper in his mouth.

Entertainment consisted of:
(While eating)
Build A Lego Dinosaur--I put some Legos on one table and added some pics of easy lego dinosaurs to make for inspiration

On the other table I put a dinosaur coloring roll and crayons, markers and colored pencils to get creative. The kids loved this!

Next we had a dinosaur egg hunt in the front yard. I bought some dinosaur skeletons and made some eggs following this you tube tutorial. Super easy and they blended in perfectly because they were made from dirt in my yard.

I purchased the dinosaur skeletons from Amazon. Here is a link:

And here is the you tube video I used to make the eggs:

The kids got super dirty digging for dinosaur eggs. They took it to a whole new level so prepare for LOTS of dirt!

And then the last thing we did was a Dinosaur Exploration Tag Game. The kids each dressed up as either dinosaurs, dinosaur explorers, or dinosaur protectors.
The dinosaurs wore these hats (from Dollar Tree):

The dinosaur explorers wore these hats (from Dollar Tree):
And I made some binoculars out of paper towel rolls to go with these. 

And last but not least were the dinosaur protectors. We tied a green thin piece of material around their heads to make them look like ninjas, and they carried dino slings that looked like this:
We had a tent set up in the front yard  and the goal of the game was for the dinosaurs to make it safely in there. The dinosaurs would go and hide, and then the explorers would try to find them and keep them away from the tent, so that they could learn about them. The protectors job was to sling shot these small dinos at the explorers to stop them from taking the dinosaurs.  This game was the highlight of the party. There were some tears over kids not wanting to be explorers, but the kids had so much fun just running around all over the neighborhood!

And for party favors....Each child got to adopt a dinosaur to take home. (Purchased from Dollar Tree)

Again, another low budget party that forced me to be creative, and as a result made lasting memories we will never forget!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Coffee Love

When I was 16, I had my first iced blended mocha from It's A Grind with some high school friends. I'll never forget how much I loved those. And then when I was 18, I started working at a coffee shop called The Daily Grind.  After a couple years of working there I became a store manager which was challenging as a college student trying to juggle both working and school, but seriously, I experienced so many life long gifts working there. One of those gifts, was my love for coffee! It actually made me a really picky coffee drinker which is a good thing. The owners of The Daily Grind were particular about small batch roasting and it paid off.  They served fresh, quality coffee.  As managers, we had the privilege of watching this process, done by our distributer Caffe Calabria, located in San Diego. Back then, working those early mornings, I was an espresso drinker. I remember how much I treasured my drink every morning, running around serving customers and working with such special people.  But once I stopped working there, I began drinking regular coffee, and saved espresso drinks for special occasions. And now, I can't even drink full espresso or  coffee, I always do at least 1/2 decaf because I can't handle the caffeine.  Nevertheless, I still LOVE coffee. There are a couple of coffee shops that have become my favorite coffee date destinations. Not only do they serve delicious coffee, but I was inspired as soon as I walked in!

This one my cousin told me about a couple of years ago. Its become super popular and if you visit, you will see why. Its in downtown SLO, so if your are in the area, check it out! They set the bar high!

Scout Coffee Co.
1130 Garden Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

This is a pic of their Honey Tea Bowl (to go). I have also had their espresso drinks and tried their HoneyCo Coffee Roasters Coffee Beans. Yum!

The next place opened a few months ago and is located in Bixby Knolls in Long Beach.  This is a new favorite!

The Merchant
4121 Long Beach Blvd.
Long Beach, CA 90807

Coffee date at the Merchant LB. Pics of our espresso drinks: Cappuccino and Latte.

And if you are ever in Mammoth Lakes, we really liked this place:
(Unfortunately I don't have a pic because we were on our way out.)

Black Velvet Coffee
3343 Main Street, Set. F
Mammoth Lakes, CA

I'm still looking for more amazing spots and I'll post them as I find them. Cheers!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Cars 3 Birthday Party

This year one of my little guy's asked to have a Cars 3 birthday party. His birthday is in September so we typically have pool parties for him. This was his 5th birthday so we wanted to make all of his dreams come true, which included having a bouncy house, of course! Everything I do is on a tight budget, which forces me to be even more creative. Another special detail of his birthday was making it as healthy as possible. Kids birthday parties can be so tough because of the amount of junk that they consume.  And I honestly think they wouldn't miss the sugar if it wasn't there to begin with. So, for this lunchtime party we served a veggie taco and burrito bar.

I bought all of the food from Trader Joes. We made homemade black beans and 1 full bag of sprouted organic california rice (highly recommend!). The rest of the menu consisted of:
Organic Wheat and Corn Tortillas
Taco Shells
Organic Tortilla Chips
Organic Tomatillo and Roasted Chili Salsa
Organic Sour Cream
Shredded Mexican Cheese
Canned Refried Beans
Organic Romaine, Spinach, Kale, Tomato, Cucumber Salad
Organic Carrots and Hummus
Watermelon and Cantaloupe

Sparkling Water
Ice Water
And a few juices for the kids (They actually didn't drink many of them!)

And Snacks:
Homemade Organic Popcorn (made on the stove in a pan)
Pirates Booty Bags
Goldfish Bags

And for dessert:
Homemade Organic Simple Yellow Cupcakes from Martha Stewart, I made them with all organic ingredients.  (I added red sprinkles in the batter to make them "funfetti" like.)  And then i make her fluffy vanilla frosting with organic butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla (But I don't put in all of the sugar). For guests that wanted ice cream I bought a few small pints of Humbolt Organic Vanilla and Mint N Chip Ice Creams.

And here is the simple frosting I used, adapted to my taste:

I used free printables for a lot of my decorations. Just cut, paste, print and then cut out with scissors.

 Mac was not hard to make and not expensive--No more then $5.
 My son loves to sketch and color. So I decided to make the favors reflect his interests and hopefully the parents appreciated a favor they wouldn't throw in the trash! Just a simple notebook and colored pencils. Colored pencils were $0.50 each. Notebooks were $0.28 each. And I tied on an organic Trader Joes lollipop as a little treat to take home.
 Race Car Flags Made out of scrap materials. I couldn't find checkered material so I used a sharpie and made my own.  I tied the flags to a rope for more of a pool party look.
 I reused a few of my decorations from my previous parties (red and white felt circle garland), and just a couple of other things. We had such a fun time at this party. I couldn't have done it without help from my mom, mother-in-law, and especially my sister helping me in the kitchen, food prepping and cleaning up! And my sister is a Nutritionist and gave me a few ideas for my taco and burrito bar! Check her out and Eat Clean with Sarah!  She is also on Instagram and gives lots of recipe ideas that will inspire you.

A few of my other favorite party details:

I love Paperless Posts for free party invites. Their website is easy to use and I love their invites.

I researched many bouncy house companies, and chose Cindy's Jumpers for our bouncy house. I have used them a few times, and they are a little more then other places but i have always had a great experience.

For simple party supplies, always check your local dollar tree or dollar store first. I can't tell you how many times I have visited party stores and walked away empty handed. You can't beat $1 for party supplies.

For party music I borrowed some Cars 1 and 2 soundtracks from our local library. And for the Cars 3 music I just bought a few from iTunes.

And if you are feeling frustrated because you are on a tight budget, be thankful. Its going to force you to be more creative and your party will have a more personal feel.

All of the kids including my sweet birthday boy had such a fun time at our party!  So many wonderful memories were made! And I felt great from the food we ate as well!