Steak & Brown Rice Bowl

I began my first online fitness and nutrition boot camp–which, you know, changed my life–on January 4th. Kellen’s surgery was that Friday, January 8th. I was only four days in, but I had already noticed changes in my eating habits. I no longer craved sweets and snacked incessantly. I desired balanced meals full of protein rather than the fruit and processed foods meals I ate before. I needed my morning shake to kick off my day and rev up my metabolism. I feared that these new habits would easily slip away while we spent 3 or 4 days in the hospital. Of course Kellen’s health was my top priority, but I also knew that I needed a sense of normalcy, too, in order to mentally survive this with him. I spent the night before his surgery packing a lunchbox full with one day’s meals. I made my first-ever overnight oats; I packed leftover crockpot salsa chicken and spinach for lunch. That morning, I made my shake and added a protein bar, apples, and baby carrots to the bag. I wasn’t concerned with missing workouts. I’d make up for lost time when and if possible after our long CHOP weekend. I needed to stay on top of my nutrition, however, to stay in as much control of the situation as possible. Control gives me balance. I adore balance.


Then day 2 hit. I had spent the night at Kellen’s bedside in the NICU taking brief cat naps, pumping, and trying to assist the nurses in managing his pain. I woke that morning cramped, exhausted both physically and mentally, and hungry with an empty lunchbox. “Go get yourself some coffee. He’s going for chest X rays soon,” one nurse urged me just before 7 am. I went down to the near-empty cafeteria and bought a tea, but nothing else. The cafe was filled with hash browns and egg sandwiches and flavored yogurts and prepackaged smoothies and mini boxes of sugary cereal. No fresh fruit to be had. I knew that two days of eating like I’d been eating for years wasn’t going to set me back, but I was resolute in my control. I needed to keep my new desire for clean eating and balanced macronutrients going. I immediately text Mike with directions on making my protein shake and requested he bring along some bananas and apples. “Don’t worry.  Lunch is so much better there,” he insisted. He was right.

This is when I–or, more accurately, we–fell in love with brown rice bowls. Our good friend Andrea works at CHOP as a child life specialist (God bless her! Truly!), and she recommended we check out the Asian station for one when we went down for lunch. Oh. Em. Gee. They were so delicious that even my husband, who had only really eaten brown rice for the first time a few days prior in his support of my new nutritional goals, had one for every real CHOP meal from that point forward.

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A few weeks after Kellen’s surgery, my mother and I took him back to the hospital for his follow-up.  The desire for a brown rice bowl hit me like a pregnancy craving would have a few months before.  I played around with some ingredients we had on hand, and made it for dinner that night.  The recipe I am providing here is based on my second, and even more delicious attempt.

This version can easily be made with chicken or shrimp or the protein of your choice.  I decided to make my own ginger soy sauce as well.  I found plenty of recipes for it online, but made my own by eliminating many of the ingredients I either did not have on hand or wanted to avoid, such as sugar or teriyaki sauce.  Play around with the veggies you include as well.  The hospital served these with the option of eggplant and brussels sprouts as well, which I loved, but Mike isn’t a big fan of them so I went a more traditional route.  I selected frozen veggies for this also for two reasons: this is a good recipe to make in a pinch or when fresh ingredients have run out and second, frozen produce still contains many of the nutrients that fresh produce contains without the added chemicals that many cans can add to food.

I’ve made this recipe super easy.  It is quick and delicious!  Enjoy!  Comment below with your own adaptations. #whoneedstakeout 🙂

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Steak & Brown Rice Bowl

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Time: 10min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A clean, flavorful, and simple take on take-out.

FOR RICE BOWL

  • brown rice, and 1/2 cup dry per person
  • lean steak, about a 1/4-1/2 lb per person, cut into thin strips
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup frozen edamame
  • 1/2 can bean sprouts

FOR THE GINGER SOY SAUCE:

  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp ginger (I used powder, you can use fresh if you have it on hand)
  • 1 tsp green onions, diced
  • 1/2 tsp sesame seeds

Directions

  1. Cook rice according to package directions.  I added a tsp of apple cider vinegar and garlic salt to add flavor, but this is optional.  When finished, set aside.
  2. Preheat grill pan to medium. drizzle steak strips in EVOO and grill 2-3 min per side, sprinkling with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Heat corn and edamame in a microwave safe bowl with 3 tbsp water for approx. 2 min, though cooking times vary.
  4. Combine all ingredients for sauce and whisk together.
  5. Spoon a serving of rice, a scoop of corn and edamame, and a spoon-full of bean sprouts in a bowl.  Top with slices of steak.  Drizzle with sauce.

Easy-peasy and nummy-nummy. Please let me know if you give it a try and if you swap out any ingredient.  Shrimp would be delicious!

My Kayden

I am looking forward to watching TV later tonight. A co-worker of mine and her husband are competing on this season of The Biggest Loser. They’ve made it all the way to the finale (we hope anyway–cliff hanger!) and, collectively, have lost almost 200 pounds so far. I have not only enjoyed watching Jacky and her husband find health and wellness through tireless hard work, but I have also been moved by the fact that they left their children behind to embark on this mission. They knew the long term benefits far outweighed the few months of separation. They can now live healthier, happier, more active lives, and their kids will do the same.

I’ve watched each episode via DVR with my two sons the morning after it airs. I’ll nurse Kellen and get cozy on the couch besides Paxton and we will cheer for the contestants during the challenges and talk about their struggles. Pax will often ask me why I’m crying, too, as the emotion of the show hits me. He doesn’t get it, though, nor should he at only 3 years old.11935004_10100723596079699_261252315343460429_n

Kayden is in kindergarten full-day and missed my maternity leave Tuesday mornings catching up on the show. On President’s Day, weirdly enough, she asked about it. “Is your friend still on TV?”, she questioned. “Yes,” I said. “Want to see?” So I put on the previous week’s episode: makeover week. I’d watched already and wanted to take advantage of the boys’ overlapping nap, so I started doing laundry and prepping dinner. Before long, I heard sniffles coming from the family room. There was Kayden, sitting tall against a fluffy sunshine-colored pillow, staring at the screen with tears streaming down her face. When I asked if she was OK, she simply told me to go so she could watch alone. My presence was definitely embarrassing her. I stood for a moment, caught in a conundrum, or a momundrum, as I call it: the motherly dilemma we face that seems to only be between equally bad options. Do I stay and talk her through her emotions? No. She’ll get angry. Do I turn off the TV so she isn’t so impacted? No. Life is full of emotions, but does she really need these emotions right now? Do I leave the room, as she requested, and let her fend for herself emotionally? And that’s what I did, option 3.  I knew she would talk to me about this when she was ready.

I headed up stairs with a basket of laundry and as I overturned it on my bed and began to fold, I, too, began to cry. I also began to pray. I began to thank God for Kayden, something I don’t do enough. She is free spirited, mature yet still a kindergartner, strong willed, emotional. I often allow those traits and the chaos of my day to color our interactions. Just get dressed, Kayden. We’ll have time for that later. Yes, you must eat at least five bites for dinner to even count as dinner. Come on, girlfriend. We don’t have time to play school. We have to go to real school.

But Kayden is exceptional. I must remind myself that. She, at 5 years old, gets things. She watched the makeover episode of The Biggest Loser and cried because families were being reunited, because lives were being changed. She’s exceptional because as we sat to eat breakfast on Christmas morning, she asked to offer a new prayer for Daddy’s grandmom Pat–who passed away over the summer–to enjoy her first Christmas in heaven. She is exceptional because when she learned one polar bear at the Philadelphia Zoo passed away, she wailed for a half hour, asking why the other polar bear had to be alone or why so many kids won’t get a chance to see her now.  And then she remembered GiGi Poppop in heaven may see the polar bear and she perked back up.

When Kayden asks a question, especially one that leads to a momundrum, I often take the approach less desirable: I tell her the truth. Last year, Kayden asked me how babies come out. “I know God puts them in all the mommies,” she stated to my joyous surprise, “but how do they come out?” Well, I told her. I told her about the different types of births and gave examples of women in our lives who had delivered each way. I told her how she and Pax were born and that I hoped to do the same with this baby. When Kellen was born, Kayden asked me two questions immediately upon visiting us at the hospital: 1. Did he come out of your belly or like you wanted him to? 2. Did the doctors fix his lung yet? We never hid any of our Kellen worries from her; she would have intuited them if we had.  She may become emotional watching The Biggest Loser, and when a polar bear passes, but when she deals with death or hardships or health issues within our true family, issues she can see and touch in real life, she just handles them.
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Kayden is exceptional, but she is also 5. She still throws tantrums, but I am really starting to understand from where they brew. She truly thinks and feels like an adult, but she doesn’t always have the words to express that or the authority to deal zoowith what that means on her own. This plagues her. She spends every waking minute pretending to be an adult: being a teacher or being a mom. These are the moments when she is most exceptional. When she has to be a kid, though, when she has to rely on others or take direction, her mind can’t wrap itself around that.

That’s why I also prayed to be patient with her, to better understand how simultaneously easy and complex the world is for her. She is her own toughest antagonist. She is her own conflict. Kayden is exceptionally tough and intuitive and spiritual and smarter than me.  And I must thank God she is mine.

 

Finding Balance

I’m back at work full-time after a 3 month maternity leave. This not only means I can no longer wear leggings and sports bras all day, but it also means I need to find a new form of balance. I have come to value that word: balance.  It doesn’t mean I want it all; I simply want to feel like me needs are in check, along with the needs of my family.  This is something we moms often fault ourselves for craving.  I deeply believe this is non-negotiable.  Happy wife, happy life, they say.  Well, I say “balanced life, let go of strife.”

Balance looks different for everyone and it shifts at different times.  I became accustomed to many routines while I was home with my kids for three months, which made for a relaxed sense of stability. I didn’t have the need to make school lunches the night before. Waking up early to workout simply meant rising at 5:30. I could cook fresh oatmeal or pancakes for my kids while still makeup-free. The baby and I would run errands early, come home and cuddle and nurse, and then I’d workout and/or do laundry and prep dinner while he napped.  This routine provided me time to launch my fitness business, to launch my blog, and to launch my family’s new clean-eating lifestyle.  Above all else, though, this leave provided me with balance.

I began to see myself again.

For 9 years, I’ve been Teacher.  For 7 1/2 years, I’ve been Wife.  For 5 years, I’ve been Mom. I no longer knew Pamela, the person I am at my core, the person who finds great joy in those three other roles.  As a result, I lacked balance and patience and a bit of my voice.  This was my fault alone.  I consumed myself in the tasks of said-titles, in the day-to-day, and only occasionally put me first.  My three new endeavors, coupled with the three I’ve had for years and do love so much, tipped the scale in my favor.  I can be a great teacher and wife and mom and still foster my own personal development.

But I’m back to full-time working mom. I am a high school English teacher, a job that demands early mornings out the door and late nights grading papers. I am determined, however, to continue what I’ve started. My family will continue to eat clean, healthy meals. I will continue to fit in my fitness. I will continue to blog, at least twice a week. These three promises require some effort, planning, and time, but the benefits far outweigh the possible chaos.

My mom keeps telling me I seem complete, more settled, in the last few months. She’s right. I’ve been writing about how Kellen’s health changed me. A more accurate statement is that his birth changed me. I’ve always envisioned our family as it is now: me, Mike, three kids. The outnumbering of little people in our household actually gives me balance. It has completed a desire to grow our family, which has allowed me to really manage my household.  This is what our forever will be. I want to make it vibrant, healthful, loving, and balanced.

Becoming more organized was one step in this process of keeping all I love and still feeling balanced.  While on my leave, I achieved some organizational tasks that I’ve only talked about for years. I reorganized and cleaned out our garage freezer, I restructured our pantry, I cleaned out everyone’s closets and drawers and donated bags of clothes to Goodwill. I even started a collection bin of items for our neighborhood’s annual spring yard sale.  I put together a household management binder. I’ve been creating a meal plan each week and structure my shopping list very specifically and cleanly around it. These are to-do list items many of you probably achieve regularly. I did not. I was an organized mess, usually. Now, I feel actually organized.

This organization and meal plan routine (which I have written about before) gives me such relief. Life is already full of unknowns and happenings that are out of our control. As a bit of a control freak, I’ve found calm having these procedures in place.

But now, it is all shifting. I need to find new balance while remaining true to myself, my family, and the promises I’ve made. This, like me, is a work in progress. I will aspire to prep as many meals as possible–lunches included–on Sundays. I will aspire to have my kids’ lunch boxes stocked and in the fridge every night for easy mornings. I will workout early or late in the day and work on my own writing and fitness business when I spend one-on-one time with my Medela.  These little actions and few half-hours each day will give me peace of mind, and that sanity makes me a better mom and wife, even a better teacher.  As a result, I’ll feel more energized and capable, less guilty and selfish in my choices.  I will more joyfully extend myself for the balance of others because I took time for me first.  I will make as many warm, cozy breakfasts in my crockpot as I can so my three-year old son–the world’s biggest breakfast lover and feeler of all the feels–starts his day with happiness and calm, too.  I will make time to play school with my daughter, even if I am just the office secretary while grading my own students’ work, because this makes her day complete.  I will take my time nursing Kellen, soaking up all the squeezes and all of his smell. And I will indulge in a nightly coffee with my husband, his favorite evening relaxation, while we watch a show or do a jigsaw puzzle or just clean up the kitchen side-by-side. Now that I have found my balance, I can ensure those I love can have their’s.

Reality will strike.  Some days, my “I wills” may be rushed, but I will fit them in.  I’ll schedule them if I have to.  These are vital to my happiness and health, which makes them vital to the health and happiness of my family.  I am not saying I want it all; I just want what my family and I deserve.  It isn’t wrong to have a balanced life, especially as a mom.  I finally feel I have the tools and the voice to make that possible.

Cinnamon Banana French Toast Bake

In middle school, I had an Elmo lunch box.  I wasn’t the only one, though; kiddie characters were all the rage.  Middle schoolers in the 90s were odd like that. We passed notes in friendship notebooks, read YM magazine, wore plastic butterfly hair clips–the glitterier the better–and carried our lunches in children’s fabric lunch boxes.  We were all dressed in clothes from Delia’s and obsessed with BSB or N’Sync.  Above all else, we were all pretty predictable.

And every day that I went to school dressed like Topanga and opened that Elmo case I uncovered the same lunch: peanut butter and banana on cinnamon-swirl bread, an apple, a cookie or two, a drink, and a napkin with a handwritten note from my mom that I tried to hide from my tablemates.  I was a creature of habit; I loved it.  This lunch routine lasted for years–far beyond the coolness faded on my Sesame Street lunch box and Justin Timberlake’s rise to solo stardom took off once he outgrew those blonde tips.  I asked my best friend, Lindsey, just a few weeks ago what I ate for lunch every day growing up.  She recalled it perfectly.  Then, we jammed to “That Boy is Mine” just for old-time’s sake.

When I became pregnant with my second child, Paxton, I seemed to crave all snacks from my childhood: Poptarts, apples with peanut butter, cream cheese on crackers, and, most of all, PB and banana on cinnamon swirl bread.  For the last three years, beyond my pregnancy cravings, I’d continued to indulge on this sandwich and have passed my love for it onto my children.  This combo doesn’t quite fit into my clean-eating goals, though.  I’ve replaced many of the ingredients for healthier alternatives and am just as happy.  I’ll now toast a slice of Ezekiel bread, spread it with all-natural peanut butter or almond butter, and top that with half a banana.  It is a filling and healthful breakfast.

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I woke up this morning, Valentine’s Day, wishing to make a yummy and warm breakfast for my family, but with one problem: I hadn’t planned for this.  I spend Saturday night meal planning and my husband spends Sunday morning at the grocery store, so I woke this morning with only a few fresh ingredients.  That is when the lunch of my youth, my favorite sandwich and now favorite of my kids as well, came to mind.  All week I’ve been researching recipes and ideas for incorporating eggs into my diet–I HATE eggs–and received so many suggestions on my Facebook page that I decided to combine some of these ideas with something I know I love.  Hence, this breakfast was born.

All I had in the freezer was flax seed Ezekiel bread, so that would have to do.  I fit a few whole and a few broken pieces into a heart-shaped pie dish I have had for years and never used, added plenty of banana and cinnamon, and smothered it in scrambled eggs.  The end result was pretty good, but better for the egg lovers in my house than it was for me.  As it sat and settled for a while and the bread became crispier, I discovered that I, too, loved it after I picked off and devoured the entire top layer. Either way–piping hot and out of the oven or after an hour and a little stale–this is one to try on a cold winter morning when you want a taste of home.

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  • 6 slices Ezekiel bread, frozen
  • 2 bananas, sliced into coins
  • 2 tbsp. cinnamon, divided
  • 4 whole eggs, 4 egg whites, scrambled
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup natural almond butter, warmed in the microwave for 30 seconds.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a pie dish with non-stick cooking spray (I used coconut oil).
  2. Line the dish with three slices of Ezekiel bread, breaking up and fitting together as necessary to cover most of the dish.  (Today, I used flax seed bread, but any kind would work.  Cinnamon raisin would probably be divine.)
  3. Layer bread with banana coins and sprinkle with one tbsp. cinnamon.  Repeat with a second layer of bread and the remainder of the banana and cinnamon.
  4. In a mixing bowl, scramble together the eggs, egg whites, almond milk, and extract. Pour evenly over the bread.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes uncovered and then 15 minutes covered with foil.
  6. Plate individual servings and drizzle with warmed almond butter. Enjoy!

Of course, this is just as yummy with syrup or even drizzled with honey instead. Let me know your favorite egg or French toast recipes below, or how you altered this one to your liking.  I am always looking for new ideas! Feel free to also share your middle school memories.  Those are always fun!

Happy Valentine’s Day! XoXo

 

Friday Favorites: Kidisms

While we were on our way to pick up my kindergartner yesterday, my three-year old son started singing along to the song playing on the radio.  He soon asked, “Is this called ‘Chew on my mind?'” “Excuse me,” I remarked, perplexed.  “This song,” he insisted, “I think it has a silly name, ‘Why I go chew on my mind’!”

I laughed for 5 minutes.

He was referring to Ellie Goulding’s “On my Mind” and while Miss Goulding may have a quaint British accent to me, my son interprets the central thesis of her current pop hit as self-inflicted cannibalism.  I spent the rest of the drive half laughing, half reminiscing over the adorable mispronunciations, misunderstandings, and repeat phrases of toddlerhood that we parents secretly wish our little humans will never outgrow.  And since I’ve been in the throws of back-to-school (for me!) prep and running my first challenge group, today’s content calendar was still blank.  Until my car ride with Paxton, that is.  I am dedicating this week’s Friday Favorites post to the beloved utterings of my kids.  Kellen’s only emissions consist of giggles and potty sounds, so this list will focus solely on the cute and confused kidisms of my two biggest minis.

  1. Kayden’s “Bah”

Kayden and Paxton were both pacifier obsessed. The attachment to a paci for Kayden was entirely my doing, though. She seemed to only sleep when nursing and, as a first-time mom, I catered to any behavior that meant sleep.  Unless I planned on spending all of her sleeping moments tethered to her crib, I needed a solution. Enter binky. I could discretely trade Mommy for a pacifier and her slumber would continue.  I know I am not the only mom who fought the Sleepy Monster this way and, as I’ve said before, a win is a win.  A sleeping baby is win in deed.

Kayden loved her paci.  She napped and slept with it and, before we knew it, we caved and allowed her to have it in the car and when playing and when waiting for dinner and…okay, she had it all the time. Again, we are not the only ones. Before we knew it, Kayden was turning one and starting to really talk and was still sucking on her pacifier whenever she could.  That is when “bah” developed.  We are not sure from where this word emerged, but one day Kayden kept saying “bah” whenever she requested her beloved pacifier.  This word caught on quickly.  Grandparents, her aunts and uncle, and close family friends all knew what “bah” meant.

A few months after Paxton was born, when Kayden was just over 2 years old and still using her “bah”, we heard “bah” for the last time.  I was putting Kayden to sleep when I noticed a tear in the nipple of her beloved “bah.” I was horrified.  I thought she’d choke! I quickly threw it away and searched for a replacement.  Mike and I had stopped buying them in hopes of weaning her from the habit, but I was pretty sure I’d find at least one more in her room before she melted down and realized it was missing.  I uncovered one under her crib (we’ve all found them there, am I right?) but soon discovered this one, too, had a tiny hole.  I stood there, speechless, afraid of what to say to my two-year old. “Bah broken?” Kayden asked.  Instead of looking sad, though, she looked quite serious. “Yes,” I said, sheepishly. “Bah broken. Bah go in garbage.” And before I knew it, she had grabbed her last pacifier out of my hand, marched downstairs, and threw it away in the kitchen trash can. No tears. No yelling. No longing for “bah” from that moment on.  Kayden got it.

Kayden is like this. When she is ready, stuff happens. I remind myself of “bah” often–like when we struggled with potty training or when she has gone through phases of climbing into our bed at night.  Before long, she’ll be ready, just like with her “bah”.  And just like that, whatever is supposed to happen just happens because one day she decides it’s so.  “Bah” helps me to not worry about her so much.  She can handle big decisions and life’s many stages.  When she decided one night this summer that gymnastics wasn’t for her, I knew that even at 4, she meant it, so we stopped.  She just gets life somehow.  She understands when a decision has to be made or a move has to be made, you just do it.  I so admire her for that.

2. “Nong nong”

If I gave you one hundred guesses, I don’t think you would figure out that “nong nong” is what we called yogurt for the longest time.  This was another Kaydenism.  No part of the word yogurt even closely resembles nong nong, but that’s what Kayden called all varieties of the dairy product–be it Gogurt or Greek yogurt or frozen yogurt or whatever.

Just before Kayden turned one, Mike and I were in our good friends’ wedding. As chance would have it, the ceremony and reception were going to be at a country club very close to my in-laws’ house, so all of the groomsmen got ready and had their photos taken there.  Aside from one groomsmen forgetting to bring his rental shoes and some delay in their food delivery, the main highlight (well, that the guys were willing to share with us ladies!) was of Kayden walking around her grandparents’ house requesting “nong nong”.  No, this wasn’t some new-fangled Asian fusion food I found at Whole Foods.  No, this wasn’t some Bachelor party-esque nonsense innocently escaping “from the mouths of babes”.  “Nong nong” was Kayden’s favorite snack: yogurt.

3. “Blankey fall down me!”

If you ask Mike what Kayden is good at, he’ll give you a wonderful, Dad-doting list.  She’s quite smart.  She loves her brothers. She’s responsible about wearing and caring for her glasses.  She is a pro at stall ball. Stall ball?  Fellow parents know exactly what this is.  It is the 10-minute routine turned 45-minute marathon more colloquially known as bedtime. Somehow, there is no thirst like the thirst that strikes a child when a parent says “good night” and no story that is satisfying when read only once.  According to my husband, and I can’t really disagree, Kayden has mastered the act of stall ball. She always has to tell us just one more thing–which is usually eight things–or she has suddenly remembered a dream she had three weeks ago that we MUST hear now or she can’t decide if she wants to stay in her top bunk or join Paxton in the bottom bunk and only seventeen rounds of rock-paper-scissors while solve said dilemma.

This stall ball skill developed rather early.  Mike and I may have to take some of the responsibility for her professional status of late because it was so damn cute when she started. One night after we said prayers, read a story, and I sang The Killers’ “Dustland Fairytale” to her, Mike and I were waving to her at the door when she sat upright and said, “Ooh my blankey fall down me!”.  It was the most hysterical and unexpected thing.  We both laughed so hard that soon Kayden was laughing.  We tried getting her back down and adjusting her tiny little blankey over her tiny little body, but she continued to sit up and yell “my blankey fall down me!”.  This went on for months.  Months.  But, like “bah” and “nong nong”, one day Kayden decided she was old enough to do to bed without blanket dramatics.  Don’t get me wrong; she is still stall ball MVP.  We have plenty of bedtime dramatics.  The cute and well-meaning “my blankey fall down me” just isn’t part of it anymore.  Sometimes, though, Mike or I say it out of the blue.  Just because.

4. “Morn!”

Paxton made me cry a few weeks ago.  No, he did nothing wrong.  Instead, he asked if he could have more water at bedtime (he’s learning from his sister for sure!).  I wasn’t sad that he, too, was in on the stall ball game.  I wasn’t annoyed that I had to go downstairs to refill a water cup I swear I filled five minutes before.  I cried because he said “more” and not “morn.”  Paxton is three and since he could talk, he has always said “morn.”  This, like Kayden’s “bah,” became used among our entire family. I would ask Pax if he wanted “morn” grapes or “morn” Legos or “morn” cuddles.  This was the word I hoped he would say forever.  We never corrected him ; we used it right along side of him.  He believed in this word and in its meaning and this belief was so pure and honest.  I wanted that naivity to last forever.  Or, at least until he started kindergarten.

Just last week, Kayden also noticed Paxton suddenly pronounced “more” correctly. “Aww, Bud, you’re getting so big!”, said the 5-year old to the 3-year old.  Yes, he is.  Yes, both of you are.  And sometimes my heart just can’t take it.

5. “Day.”

I have to thank Mike for reminding me about this one.  Paxton was a late talker.  He’s a boy.  He’s the second.  His sister does all his talking for him.  That’s what real grown ups–you know, our parents or doctors or people who’s kids don’t still eat their boogers–would say. We were worried, though.  Kayden seemed to come out talk in full, thoughtful albeit mispronounced sentences; Paxton hardly said Dada or Mama.  But he said “dey” whenever he meant yes.  And, if I do say so myself, it was adorable.  When I was little, I can recall my mom and I joking that my younger brother had a French accent.  He called his blanket his “ooh-vwanky” and napkins were “napcuums,” like vacuums.  Paxton’s “dey” was similar.  It seemed other, almost foreign.  He doesn’t use it anymore, but his dialect remains his own.  He just annunciates in a particular, measured, and occasionally sing-song, ultra-sweet way that only he can deliver.  I swear he is one-part 70-year old retired investment banker sitting on a rocking chair in Georgia drinking sweet tea and one part cartoon character of a full-hearted little boy.  His voice and his observations are somewhere in between.

At the start of the new year, Paxton began attending preschool three days a week. His teachers regularly tell me they forget he’s three. He talks so well!  We have real conversations. We can understand him better than many of the other three-year olds.  I wonder why I worried so much.  He really has come a long way.  But do I miss his little Paxisms?  Dey.

6. “My Bubbos”

Like my brother, Paxton has a special name for his blankets.  Yes, his blankets.  Paxton legitimately sleeps with 12 blankets–mostly receiving blankets–that he’s had since he was a baby.  This collection of cuddlies is better known as “his bubbos.” When he first started really talking, we swore he called them his bubbles or something like that, but “bubbos” it is.  Heaven help us if even one is downstairs at bedtime or, even worse!, in the washing machine.  He will tell you exactly which one is missing.  He has named them after their design.  He has monkey bubbo and elephant bubbo and puppy bubbo and…you get the idea.

He has three Aden + Anais muslin swaddling blankets that are without a doubt his favorite “bubbos”.  These all traveled with us this summer when we took our first real family vacation to Disney World. I kept one bubbo in my bookbag at all times in case Pax needed the security, but for the most part, the excitement of park-hopping and character dining allowed for his bubbo to remain safely tucked away.  On the fifth day of our seven-day vacation, though, giraffe bubbo emerged while we awaited a transfer from Animal Kingdom to Blizzard Beach.  Ten minutes into our water park adventure, a giant Florida sized storm erupted and we were forced to take cover.  For two hours.

This turned out to be awesome: we waited out the storm when hardly anyone else did and had the park to ourselves when it reopened.  This turned out to be terrible: 5 minutes into that 2-hour wait we realized we left giraffe bubbo at the bus stop back at Animal Kingdom. Paxton was devastated.  He wears his heart on his sleeve.  When he is pleased with something, he is beyond overjoyed.  When he is displeased, he is heartbroken.  Every. Time. A lost bubbo and a gigantic thunderstorm created pretty massive heartache in our blonde little guy.  We eventually convinced him that I got a call from our hotel and giraffe bubbo would be there waiting for our return and we refocused his attention on the many water attractions he’d eventually be playing on. Yes, his heartache would–and did–return when we would get to the hotel, but as parents you do what you can to survive.

Our story grew when we returned to NJ from our Florida vacation just in time for September.  We convinced Paxton that another little boy who didn’t have 12 bubbos actually asked our hotel if he could have it and they gave it to him.  He only bought that story until October.  By then, we had to tell him that the characters actually had his bubbo now and when they were finished with it, they would mail it to him.  Christmas morning brought unexpected sadness when, unbeknownst to us, Pax expected to find giraffe bubbo under the tree.

It wasn’t until a week or so later when a package arrived at our front door with a letter from Mickey and the Gang and a brand new (you bet he noticed!) but identical giraffe bubbo.  All is right with Paxton’s world again.  And all will remain right in mine as long as he still calls these his bubbos.

Our kids are only kids for so long.  It is the lapsing of these kidisms that hits me most.  These are memories unique to our very own, most precious little beings.  Our Kayden had her bah and her nong nong and stalled every night with blankey nonsense.  And now she’s in kindergarten and wearing glasses and spends every waking moment playing school and just being sassy.  Our Paxton could only say “morn” and “dey” and and still cuddles his 12 bubbos every night. But now he’s in school, too, and has a new best friend every day and is the proudest big brother there ever can be and just feels all the feels all the time. I’ll hold onto these memories and embrace all that is ours–every sweet habit or gesture or word particular only to our child–among the chaos of everyday life.  As a mom, that’s all I really can do.

Lick-the-spoon Protein Cookies…and a Salad

I’ve missed cookies.  Cookies and ice cream are my two biggest weaknesses.  Since I’ve started drinking Shakeology every day, I no longer miss having a bowl of ice cream.  I have found so many recipe ideas online and just by playing around that I pretty much start each day with a chocolate or coffee milkshake.  This shake, though, is full of super foods and vitamins and the protein my body needs to burn fat, build muscle, and feel properly full.  But I’ve missed cookies. IMG_6953

Thank heavens for Pinterest and Facebook.  Between these two sources, I’ve found various recipes for energy bites and clean cookies that I am starting to satisfy these cravings with healthful, whole snacks.  Yesterday, I stumbled upon my favorite yet while mixing ideas from a few other recipes–and a faulty ingredient leftover from the weekend.

I am calling these Lick-the-Spoon Protein Cookies because you will do just that: lick the spoon clean after you finish portioning them on your cookie sheet.  They are eggless, so the batter is safe to eat raw, and they are gluten free if you use the right kind of old fashioned rolled oats. Plus, these took maybe two or three minutes to prepare.   Combine that with a 15 minute bake time, and I was munching on a few in less than 25 minutes.

What inspired the cookie creating?  I am currently running a Clean Eating Accountability group on Facebook and am on the lookout for some clean snacks to share with the ladies and one gentleman participating.  I found a basic recipe for banana oatmeal cookies that seemed simple and yummy enough alone, but the recipe lacked protein.  I have found protein to be so beneficial to my overall health and fitness that I wanted to make the cookies more worthwhile for me, my goals, and my participants.  Plus, I had just finished eating the most delicious and clean citrus chicken salad that I knew I could afford a cookie or two–the right cookie, anyway.

To up the protein ante, I added two ingredients: raw homemade almond butter and a little bit of chocolate Shakeology.  The almond butter addition came out of my desire to really live a clean lifestyle.  I attempted to grind down a cup of almonds for a Super Bowl Sunday snack, and my first attempt didn’t go well.  Instead of turning into a crumbly topping like I envisioned, the almonds became moist, dense, and chunky in my Nutribullet.  I succeeded on a second cup of almonds by using my blender instead, but the initial serving of almond “buttery” something just sat on my counter unused.  When I was mixing together the ingredients for the cookies and took a jar of almond butter out of my fridge, I remembered the forgotten blend from the day before and used that instead.  This added a crunch to some of the cookies as well, which I am not complaining about.

I added the Shakeology, and just a little bit, to add a chocolate flavor and some more health benefits, but this step can easily be left out or even subbed for cocoa powder if you aren’t interested in additional protein.

I’ll get to the actual recipe in a minute, but first, you have to earn it.  Here is the recipe for my clean citrus chicken salad.  I combined ingredients from various meals from the week to create an unplanned, accidental, delicious lunch that I cannot wait to have again today.

CLEAN CITRUS CHICKEN SALAD INGREDIENTS

I combined all ingredients in a bowl and enjoyed every bite.  This didn’t need any dressing, but if you find it to be dry, squeeze the juice out of one of the orange segments.  Keep it clean and light. 🙂  This salad will make you feel like you are vacationing in California–something my parents are currently doing–which this Jersey girl appreciated on a gray February afternoon.

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Drum roll, please. It’s cookie time.

Lick-the-spoon Protein Cookies

  • Servings: 12-18
  • Time: 20min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Cookies so good, you'll forget they are healthy!

Ingredients

  • 2 overripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup organic old-fashioned rolled oats, certified gluten free if necessary
  • 2 tbsp. almond butter
  • 1 tbsp. chocolate Shakeology
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips (I used dark mini chips)

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Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Coat a cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray  (I used coconut oil spray and the aroma is to-die-for and also vacation-like!).
  2. Combine the bananas (I mashed mine with a fork), oats, and almond butter until smooth.  If you are adding the Shakeology or cocoa powder, combine that now as well.
  3. Fold in the chocolate chips.  Spoon even rounds onto the cookie sheet.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until firm.  Allow to cool for one minute on the cookie sheet and then for 3 minutes on a cooling rack.
  4. Store in an air-tight container in your fridge–if you have any leftovers!

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This is an easy and yummy dessert that even your kids can enjoy.  A cookie without butter and eggs isIMG_6957 my new favorite kind of cookie.  Share your thoughts below or of any changes you made to the recipes.  Cooking and baking should allow for creativity.  Have confidence to play around with recipes and you will find true joy in the kitchen!
If you do not want to make your own almond butter, I have found this brand works very well for baking, for my Shakeology, on apples, and on Ezekiel toast.  It does have a rather nutty flavor, but it spreads well and doesn’t separate.  

If you like this recipe and want more healthy lunch and snack ideas, join my next FREE 5-day clean eating challenge!

 

Friday Favorites: Fiction Books!

Writing has been my first love for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I constantly wrote stories.  I still remember a few gems. I drafted one story when I was 7 or so in this cool orange pen I found while on a play date at my neighbor Jessie’s house.  The first full page of white-lined paper detailed the characters’ names and the names of all of their pets.  What was rising action?  I didn’t know.  The next story I’ll always remember was intriguingly entitled “The Newsroom.”  This grew out of my fascination with news reporters and desire to maybe become a meteorologist. I scribbled this story–along with illustrations–with a black pen and top-spiral mini legal pad I found at my grandparents’ house. There was a a marriage between the meteorologist and the sportscaster, a wannabe news reporter cue-card holder (this was 1992 or so!), and a purse thief mystery the station was able to solve.  How no one has yet to pick up the television rights to this tale is beyond me.  In second grade, we wrote weekly stories in our Squiggle Books based solely on a line or arc or swirl our teacher sketched on the facing page.  A fan of short story series even then, I made sure my book was called All About Billy and that each story was, in turn, all about a fictional boy named Billy.  I penned a “novel” in 8th grade, Sarah Gold Turns 10 Years Old, which is as ridiculous as it sounds, and have played around with countless other stories and poems since.

But reading?  This was a struggle for me.  I am a slow reader, even now.  I used to hide a notebook in the pages of our in-class reading books so I could write instead. Over time, though, I have come to treasure reading.  Certain books, which I will share in my Friday Favorites today, have resonated with me.  Now, as an adult, I always have a book or two I am reading.  My love for reading came later in life–a fact I share quite honestly with my high school English students.  Let me tell you about the books that, at various points in my life, paved the road to reading for me.  I hope you’ll find a book to spark your interest.  Please comment as well with the book that did it for you! 🙂

1. The first book to stay with me: Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner (genre: children’s lit, ages 8-12)

I will forever remember when we began reading Stone Fox as a class.  I was in fourth grade and had Mr. Sabol, my first ever male teacher and a true rock star in the classroom.  He gave us all fun nicknames and made learning both entertaining and impactful. His wife taught across the hall, and they often engaged in playful banter from room to room with louder-than-usual comments like “I KNOW my class will perform better than HER class on this science project!” or “Just be glad HE’S not your teacher!”  They were adorable and real. He remains a role model for me as not only an educator, but as a spouse as well.

But back to Stone Fox. When Mr. Sabol distributed the thin, pale blue books to us one morning, he said, “Trust me, kids, you will see me cry when we get to the ending.”  He was right.  The day we finished reading aloud, we all cried–boys and girls and teacher. When I got off the bus that day, I urged my mom to drive to the book store so we could buy it.  We sat on the couch and read it cover to cover, and we cried, too.  This is a story of triumph and fear and loss and family and second chances and so much more.  This is the first book that got me. The memory alone still pulls at me.

2. The “pass around the cafeteria table and hide from our moms” book: Forever by Judy Blume (genre: young adult)

Scandalous! That is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Forever by Judy Blume.  This book chronicles a shy girl’s first long-term high school relationship with blunt honesty and without a cheesy, forced romantic ending.  This was a nuanced choice for an author at the time.  Young adult books now, such as those by John Green, consistently push the envelope.  Forever did this first. I remember when I happened upon this book in our school library in ninth grade.  I immediately tore through it and encouraged every girl at my lunch table to read it as well.  It was our own secret little book club.  Forever taught us about relationships in a way our moms and health classes didn’t.  It was a contagious read.  I have gone back and read it a handful of times since.  Though it does have many out-of-date references (it was published in 1983) and technology has completely reshaped high school dramatics, it is still a classic that I may not recommend as a teacher, but I recommend as a girl.

I can recall 10 years ago when my yet-to-be mother-in-law asked me if I approved of her middle school-aged daughter reading it.  I quickly told her, “no way!”.  Then, I sent Rachel, who is now my sister-in-law and a wonderful aunt to my three cuties, an AIM message and told her to finish it anyway and talk to me when she was done.  Sorry, Susan!  It is a teen girl’s right of passage.

3. My favorite series for all ages and stages: Harry Potter by JK Rowling (though The Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite one!)

I was late to the HP train, but once I boarded at Platform 9 3/4, I became hooked for life.  There are some die hard HP fans out there–my mom and best friends among them–and while I love each word and every crafty sentence of all 7 novels, I am not going to win a trivia contest or receive my honorary doctorate of wizardry from Hogwarts. But I know excellent writing when I read it, and Rowling delivers. The scope and depth of the story and backstories and character lineage alone truly create a world that exists and not just in a reader’s mind; it is that complete and thought-out. I don’t believe one is ever too old or too young to give these novels a try.

I finally “caved” and read the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, during my sophomore year of college. I was completing an independent study in which I co-ran a book club at a women’s maximum security prison and our goal was to read texts that allowed for mental “escape”.  We selected the first HP book, The Giver, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and a few others, but Harry and his hoard of budding wizards won out over the other muggle-driven texts. This book showed me that literature, or even just the act of reading, can create a solace so vitally needed in a person that it saves her.  This book club, and this series, accomplished that for the 7 women I worked with at Edna Mahan.

4. My favorite “just for girls” series: The Ya-Ya books by Rebecca Wells (genre: realistic fiction, southern lit, short stories)

There was a period of time during and after college that I was decently obsessed with audiobooks. When we weren’t at school, Mike and I lived 2 hours away.  Every other weekend, I spent 4 or so hours in the car to and from his house and fell in love with countless characters and tales.  My favorite of these, though, is Ya-Yas in Bloom by Rebecca Wells.  When I picked up this audiobook, which is a series of short stories, I didn’t realize it was a part of a trilogy and wasn’t even the first book.  I listened, loved, and laughed every minute of my drive.  Not only is the writing honestly humorous and hauntingly sad and femininely silly at the same time, but the voice actress reading the text nailed the southern accents. I have since purchased all of the books in the series and reread them in whole or in part many times.  Each book contains interlocking short stories, so it is a perfect starting point for those who do not feel they have the time to commit to a full novel.

The stories follow the complex and sometimes strained relationships between mothers and daughters as well as the lifelong bonds of female friendships. Like JK Rowling, Wells creates a world for these women that is so vivid and crisp I have a hard time imagining it is all pretend–even the heart breaking moments.

5. The book that reminded me why I want to be a writer: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (genre: metafiction, short stories)

I first read this “novel”–though, truly a collection of short stories–in a creative writing class in college.  Reading this text as a writer rather than as a reader reshaped who I thought I would become as a teacher and reignited my deep love for writing.  This book taught me the value of using the writing of others to inform my own writing.  Tim O’Brien’s use of metafiction is complex and sometimes confusing, but his details are precise and concise in the best way.  I use small excerpts of the stories from this work when I teach craft to my English I students.  Tim O’Brien knows the power of a word much like he knows the power of memory, a theme closely explored throughout TTTC. 

The Things They Carried follows soldiers before, during, and after the Vietnam War.  This makes it a great choice for male readers looking to connect to a text. The short story layout, as I mentioned earlier, speaks to those who can only pick up a story every once in a while.  Some of the details are gruesome, but life can be, too.

6. My greatest reading accomplishment: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (genre: Russian lit, fiction, literary realism)

I read this book during the final semester of college.  Yes–the entire semester.  On top of course work and job interviews it did take months. Plus, the book is really, really long!  That is why Anna Karenina is my greatest reading accomplishment.  This sweeping saga follows a Russian socialite through a personal awakening of sorts that ends her marriage but awakens her soul.  Sappy sounding, I know, but I enjoyed this novel as much for its torrid love story as I did for its look into Russian history and culture.  I fell in love with some characters, like Katia, and despised others.  I embraced the descriptions and coldness of both the people and landscapes.  I just adored the experience.

Reading this book really was an experience.  I remember getting to Dr. Meixner’s seminar class early just so I could sit alone and read a few pages.  I would read while I was on the elliptical machine at the gym. And, oh, I loved the feel of the book.  I had never had that much adoration for the feel of a book in my hands.  I linked the exact version I read so you can understand what I mean.  It was beautiful.  The cover was so soft.  The pages were thin, Bible-like. This book is most likely the reason I have a hard time using an eReader even now. There is nothing quite like having the perfect book in your hands; this one did that for me.

7. My favorite mindless, funny, yet real read: Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella (genre: chick lit)

I have love affairs with authors.  If a book clicks with me, for whatever reason, I will read the author’s entire catalog before moving on to someone new. I am very much like Taylor Swift in a reader kind of way.  Sophie Kinsella’s fun, light-hearted, and self-aware novel Can You Keep a Secret? ignited my love for her and my appreciation for chick lit.  I am a serious English major turned English teacher.  I am supposed to only read classics, right?  No way.  This story and its protagonist, Emma, are as self-deprecating, quirky, klutzy, and anxiety-ridden as can be–much like me.  I find Emma, and all of Kinsella’s other heroines since, so relatable in the most exaggerated of senses.  This was refreshing to me as a reader. I love all of her books, but three other must-tries are Remember Me?, Twenties Girl, and I’ve Got your Number. I actually shed a tear at the end of that last title, and not because the ending was sad.  I was sad to end my reading relationship with the main character.

8. My favorite “everyone should read it or has read it already” novel: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (genre: historic fiction)

This is a must-read.  If you can, though, I suggest the audiobook of The Kite Runner as well as it is narrated by the author.  His authentic accent and bodily connection to the story make for the most perfect experience. This is a story of fathers and sons and friendships in both pre-war and war-torn Afghanistan.  It is eye-opening, heart-breaking, and breath-taking. Hosseini is one of the most gifted writers of exposition I have encountered.  He is so subtle you almost overlook the true depravity of a situation.  But he treats life with a sense of fragility and kindness that makes you feel real emotion, not fictional emotion.

I implore you to read A Thousand Splendid Suns as well.  I actually love this book more than The Kite Runner, but went with Kite for my list because it is more widely recognized.  Suns chronicles a female perspective of life in Afghanistan and how the lives of different women from different circumstances cross paths in unexpected but honest ways. Again, the subtlety and beauty of Hosseini’s descriptions will leave you breathless.

There you have it: my 8 favorite fiction texts.  I cannot wait to read your suggestions as well!

 

In a future post, I will explore the non-fiction and children’s books that I love and my kids enjoy. Happy reading, now that you have 8 books to add to your list!  😉