Operation Eat More Veggies
Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I work in geriatric home health care, and I see a lot of patients who are struggling with diseases brought on (or at the very least exacerbated by) a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet.  It's serving as motivation for me to keep working toward regular exercise (uhhh...let's go with "not where I wanna be but better than where I used to be...") and eating healthy.  

Sharing a few things that are helping me increase my veggie intake:

1. Replace the cracker in "make-your-own-lunchables" with a square of bell pepper.  You still get the crunch, and it's a surprisingly tasty combo (just trust me and try it).

2.  Pre-packed green smoothie bags.  I had seen this floating around pinterest for some time but finally tried it.  A time saver, as well a reminder when you open the freezer to treat yourself to a green smoothie.  (My bags have baby spinach, half a banana, and a handful of varied frozen fruits. Most of the time I just blend with water; occasionally with apple juice or greek yogurt.)

3.  For emergencies when you tire of real vegetables...have a good friend who supplies you with an alternative.  Love that my friend brought me these "peas and carrots"! (aka orange sherbet and green apple jelly beans).   Hey.  Nobody's perfect.

4. Make a big salad and keep in the fridge to serve as a side most nights.  As long as you don't put in cut up tomatoes, it will stay good thru several meals. Our favorite is leafy green lettuce mixed with spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, and slice carrots.  

Here's to more veggies!!!!!  

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Just a little. bit. better.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I happened to be home on Monday morning this week, and I had the Today show on while I was drinking my coffee.  Of course many of the segments that morning revolved around The Academy Awards.  During one such piece, a "style guru" came on, with pictures of starlets at the Oscars on the red carpet.  Except rather than just simply discussing their style - the typical thumbs up or thumbs down - the photos had been photoshopped with slight changes to improve their look.

The dialogue for each picture and it's photoshopped counterpart was some variation of "Of course she looked beautiful, but she would have looked just a little bit better if _____________."  The picture from the red carpet was contrasted with the photoshopped image:  Darker eyebrows for Jennifer Lawrence.  Thinner straps on another actress' dress to accentuate her shoulders. Change the neckline on the dress of another. Little 'tweaks' to improve their looks!

Oh my goodness.

These women spend from sun up to sun down with a team of professionals to perfect their 'look' for the Academy Awards.  And still..someone can produce a 5 minute segment on how they could have done it BETTER?!?  Stop the madness.

It's no wonder some of us struggle to feel pretty.  There is always going to be someone pushing for us to look just. a. little. bit. better.  

My hope is that I will continue to be sensitive to this kind of thing, and see that it has the potential to do real harm to my psyche if I buy into those messages ...to really process the message rather than just sip my coffee, nod my head, and think "Yep. She totally should have gone with a darker eyebrow."

You are enough.  I am enough.  We don't always have to be striving to look just a little bit better. Celebrate your beauty instead of finding the flaw.

I get that fashion segments like this are meant to be fun, and just offer some helpful tips on looking better.  Nine times out of ten I would have found it harmless.  But it just hit me different this time.  I think it's a small example of a larger issue of women feeling a pressure to measure up to a standard that is totally nebulous, and always changing. I'm trying to raise a daughter who feels confident and beautiful and doesn't fight that feeling of never quite getting it just right.

 And don't even get me started on the fact that this fashion editor didn't feel the need to tweak any of the men's looks....

Moments of calm
Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I am grateful for my husband for many (many) reasons, but even more so as the kids grow and our calendar fills. Our lives are loud and full, but Jonathan is really good about championing simple routines in our lives that help bring some calm.

DINNER: We eat dinner together,  around the table, nearly every night. So many studies show this is a significant factor in strong, healthy families. Grateful that from the time Ryan was a wee little one in an infant bouncer,  Jonathan made it a priority to sit him in that bouncer at the table with us. Dinner time around the table feels like a mini-Sabbath each day.

FAMILY READING TIME: I'm just gonna be honest. This is not something I could ever make happen; and sometimes when Jonathan calls us all in to read together I am internally grumbling about all the other things I could be doing. But about 5 minutes into him reading Prince Caspian outloud as all five of us cram onto our bed to listen,  I'm grateful and humbled. It's such a sweet time.

KIDS' BEDTIME: There are secret handshakes,  the setting of the alarms,  the prayers,  the discussing of the day, the hugs and kisses... But never just a "Goodnight and see ya in the morning" as the kids take themselves upstairs and put themselves to bed. They are walked upstairs and put to bed by their Dad and Mom. There are days when this feels hard,  and I really don't wanna haul myself off the couch (someone please tell me I'm not the only one that lazy...),  but Jonathan values the time and knows how quickly it's passing,  and so following his example I get to be a part of that sweet routine each night.  

Here's hoping that the rest of you Mamas in your tired 30's* are finding times of rest and calm as well!

*I heard this season that we're living in called "the tired 30's" in a sermon by Shauna Niequist and was like YEP. My friend Tara recommended I listen to that amazing message, and I'm so glad I did.  You can find it by clicking here and scrolling down to February 16th "Stronger in Marriage".

Then and now.
Thursday, January 16, 2014

Do you ever feel like nothing has changed....while simultaneously feeling like everything has changed?

It's weird. I know. But a sentiment I bet anyone married for a decade or two understands. 

Those couples on the right and left, they're the same people. But also not. 

Looking at those two on the left from 1996. Oh man. I know them so well, but they kinda feel like old friends you haven't seen in a while. Those two were born and bred Oklahomans, never living farther than an hour and a half from home. They had 5 living grandparents, all of whom would attend their wedding in a year and a half or so. They didn't look for friends or influence too far outside a circle of people who looked and thought and dressed and worshipped pretty much just like they did.  They wanted adventure but had a shallow understanding of what adventure really means. 

Those two on the right. They've moved to Georgia. Those jokers on the left might not have been able to find Georgia on a map, and certainly knew nothing of it's beauty and history. The two on the right have suffered the heartache of losing some of those precious grandparents who were there to celebrate the "I do" of the ones on the left. The ones on the right are learning to look beyond an educational and socio-economic homogeneous world; trying to expand their circle to include people who don't look or think or worship exactly like they do. Trying. And they know something of adventure. They know it comes from laying down your pride and loving well when you want to give up. They know it comes from offering your heart and home to kids who are hard to love but to whom it's even harder to say goodbye. They know adventure is trusting their lives and their childrens' lives to the One who numbers their days. Knowing they will live out every one of those days and not a single one more. Adventure is living with the truth that we all get one shot at this life and trying to make it count for something. Those two on the left wouldn't have known to define adventure that way. As a daily offering up of ourselves to the One who made us. But it is. Adventure that is. Oh, it is. 

Those two on the left have learned so much in the last 15 or so years. And those two jokers on the right have so much to learn in the next 15. 

Tortillas from scratch
Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I can generally hold my own in the kitchen (it's taken me 15 years to get there; from comedy routine to slightly more than adequate), but I don't wanna spend my whole day in there. I like meals that are prepped, cooked, and done in under an hour. (Less time is even better.)

But y'all. My kids shower me with love, praise, and affection when I make these homemade tortillas. They're so good; but labor intensive, and so I honestly only make them a couple times a year. It takes way more than an hour. (Measure...mix...separate...let rise...roll out...cook....And it's worth it to just go ahead and double the recipe.)

The magic dough that makes my boys sing my praises.

Ryan and Dylan help by standing over the cast iron skillet and flipping the tortillas as I roll the next one. It's a family affair. 

Try them with these carnitas from My Kitchen Ecapades! We've found the most crucial step in the carnitas recipe is browning them until slightly crisp under the broiler. So, so delicious! 

Don't forget to save a few of your homemade tortillas for breakfast burritos the following morning with eggs, cheese, and a bit of your leftover carnitas. 

Washington D.C. with the kids
Monday, January 13, 2014

Our family took a quick trip to D.C. after Christmas.  We only spent 3 nights, giving us two full days to cram in as much sightseeing as we possibly could! It was a great trip. Here's what we learned on our whirlwind tour:

Lodging: Don't be afraid to stay across the river in Arlington, VA.  You can find better rates on hotel rooms, and take the metro into D.C.  Your hotel will likely provide a free shuttle to a metro stop.  Once you ride the metro into the city, you can walk to all the major highlights, and take the metro back to your hotel in the late afternoon before resting up and driving to dinner.  The metro to and from any outlying location will cost around $7.00 per day, per person.  We stayed at the Sheraton Pentagon City and had a good experience, and our room had an amazing view of D.C.

View from our hotel room: The Pentagon in the foreground and D.C. in the distance

The kids became pros at using their metro card!

Our top three spots:
1. The Lincoln Memorial at night
2. National Museum of American History
3. National Air and Space Museum
(Close runner-ups are the Natural History Museum and a tour of The Capitol.  Contact your congressman to ensure an appointment for a tour.  You can also secure a tour time of the National Archives via their website, and avoid the wait in line!)

We drove directly here. From the steps of our front porch to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Don't miss visiting at night, then make your way over to the equally sobering Korean War Memorial. 

Also fun was taking our van into Georgetown one evening.  The fight to find on-street parking is worth the fun walk around Georgetown.  After a great dinner at Pizzeria Paradiso we had planned to get dessert at the famed Georgetown Cupcakes.  After seeing the line was around the block, we opted for brownies and coffee at Dean and Deluca's across the street instead.

Mistakes we made that you should avoid:
1.  We spent our entire first morning touring The Capitol, making a stop at our state senator's office, and visiting the National Archives.  All of those things are great....but can get a little tedious for the wee ones.  If I had it to do over, I would have spent our mornings being the first ones in line for our favorite museums, to avoid the crowds and to enjoy the experience while we were fresh.  The tours of buildings and the viewing of documents aren't quite the crowd pleasers for the younger set - intersperse those instead of tackling them all at once.

2.  Not prepping the 8 year old better.  One example:  The rest of the family was totally pumped about seeing The Declaration of Independence...and the way we were all acting she must have thought "The Declaration!" was the latest roller coaster at a theme park.  She needed more context, and frankly needed to be prepped that "Yes.  We are indeed standing in line to see an old piece of paper."

3.  Not having a meal plan for lunch time. We knew that none of the museums or government buildings allow food inside, so we knew we couldn't brown bag it or even take along snacks and water bottles. I assumed, however, we would stumble onto some family friendly (aka budget-friendly-fast-food) options, and we didn't on day one.  We ended up overspending on a not-great lunch at a super crowded restaurant.
TIP:  There's a McDonald's inside The National Air and Space Museum.  If you're pinching pennies it's your best option!  Our advice is to make lunch quick and cheap to get back to sightseeing, and spend your money on a relaxing dinner.

4.  Not checking the times things open and close.  We arrived at The National Air and Space Museum a bit before 9:00...only to discover it didn't open until 10:00.   What?!? It left us time to spend exploring statues along the National Mall and doing cartwheels on the lawn...but still frustrating.

5.  Over dressing the first day.  We knew the weather was on the cold side, so on day one we all bundled up with heavy coats, hats, scarves, and gloves.  It was a big pain to keep up with all that stuff once we were inside the buildings. (Many places did offer a coat check, but the lines were long and we opted not to bother with it.)  The second day, we just wore light jackets with hoods.  There were times we were on the chilly side, but it was worth it not to have to keep up with all that paraphernalia!  And there's plenty of walking and exercise to keep you warmed up. On day two...I didn't even carry a purse.  I stuck my license, some cash and a credit card, and my phone in my jean pockets.  It's the only way to go!

Other miscellaneous tips:
1. Check out some kid-friendly books on our Nation's capitol and our Founding Fathers before your visit
2. Remember:  all the museums have free entrance, so with good planning this can be a budget vacation!
3. Take advantage of the free guided tours offered by most of the museums, if your kids are late elementary age or older.  The younger crowd wants to move at a faster pace than the tour group.
4.  Decide what you think will most interest your kid (The dinosaurs at Natural History?  The planes at Air and Space?  The automobiles and trains at American History?) and make that your FIRST stop.  You'll be fresh, and the crowds are thinnest in the mornings.

We had a GREAT time and I would love to visit again.  There are several things I want to see that we had to miss this trip, and several places I would love to devote more time to.  (We all agreed we could have stayed much, much longer at the American History Museum, had we visited earlier in the day before our legs were jello and our patience with each other was thin.  So much cool stuff to see!)

To see more pics of our whirl wind tour and all we managed to cram in, check out our Washington D.C. Flickr set!  

Life lessons from rubber band bracelet making.
Thursday, January 9, 2014

It's better to follow the directions or ask for help. Listen to the people who've done it before.

If you don't read directions and manage to screw everything up, you can start over. 

Some people can make better bracelets than you. It just means they've been doing it longer and have more practice. You'll get there. 

Don't throw fits when things don't work out as planned. It makes things worse and you lose opportunities. (In the case of the Rainbow Loom, the loom sits on a shelf in your mom's closet for a while. In real life...throwing fits might get YOU shelved while someone else gets a shot.)

The better the end result, the longer it takes. 

If you leave rubber bands all over the floor and your mom or dad has to pick them up, they get thrown away. [That one doesn't really have a parallel life lesson. It's just true.]

Smoothie King. And Queen.

The kids have taken on the job of making their own after-school smoothies. 

Applejuice and frozen fruit for Lauryn. Same for Dylan with the addition of a little spinach or kale. Ryan likes his with blueberries.

They're independent making them --- they're still working on cleaning up. 

*sticky counters aren't forever*

Merry Christmas!
Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Reading Up!

We visited the library and got a stack of books to prep us for our upcoming trip to Washinton DC.  We're heading to the Nation's Capitol on December 26th. None of us have ever visited, and it's been on my top 5 "want to visit" list for years. I'm so excited!

I got kid-friendly books that we could all enjoy and understand, and....I love them. I struggle to read non-fiction, but these are great! I think I've found a way to enjoy non-fiction. (I'm only sorta kidding.) (I may be a frequent visitor to the Junior Non-Fiction and Junior Biography section of the library.) 

I am feeling such a surge of patriotism reading about our Nation's beginnings. 


Closing statement of the Declaration of Independence: "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."



I'm Starr Cliff. A domestically-challenged mom, climbing over mountains of laundry to bring you my stray observations and amusing stories about my kids. (more)




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