Sunday, November 30, 2014

Decking the Halls: Tree Ornaments

It's late...but Happy Thanksgiving, all!

I am continuously thankful for all 3 of you that continue to read my posts.
But really, I hope that everyone had a very Happy Thanksgiving and that you are blessed with much to be thankful for.

In our house, the turkey-day leftovers are still quite abundant - especially in the potato realm. Why are there SO many potatoes left?! I am actually not a huge potato fan - especially in the mashed form. I am a sucker for a potato chip or a potato french fry... but not so much in mashed form. I have also learned that I am not a fan of the sweet potato (or yam). I just completed my first Whole 30 (I know you're SUPER bummed I didn't blog all about that!) and attempted to work sweet potatoes into my eating habits with no luck. Maybe if I had been allowed to cover them in marshmallows I would have been more inclined, but no dice.

Look at all those leftovers!!

Hmm.. weird potato tangent. Anyway... my point is that we are still working on eating up our leftovers from Thanksgiving as we transition into Christmas season - or Advent.  (And, sadly, we're still finishing up Halloween candy! I think these holidays are too close together!)

Yesterday, as many did, we jumped in our truck to brave the cold Oregon weather to go get our Christmas tree. The spouse and I still have many friends and family in California that had a 70+ degree Thanksgiving... not us. I think it is a brisk 30 degrees out as I am typing & we even had a few flurries yesterday as we were tree-hunting. True winter weather. But we couldn't wait another until another day to get our tree.

As I started to decorate our tree, I started looking through all our ornaments and trying to remember where we had found each ornament, or who had given it to us. Too many times I have skipped over all of the memories & sentiments of our ornament collection - but now my son is starting to understand more about Christmas and the traditions that are such a big part of the meaning of this season, I find myself dwelling over each ornament and its story.

A few to share.

This is the Christmas Pickle. Does your family have a Christmas Pickle? As the history goes, an ornament in the shape of a pickle (so it's not just a clever name) is hidden on the tree and the finder of the pickle is said to be rewarded with a prosperous year. Lucky for me, since I am the one who places the pickle on the tree, I am usually the first to find it... one prosperous year after another.

This little frame was the ornament I bought the first Christmas after we got married. It doesn't need much explanation - it's one of my favorite pictures from our big day. Bonus - the spouse looks like a Beatle.
(Apologies for it being sort of fuzzy...)

The soccer-playing penguin. This ornament is the Spouse's. I decided to include it for 3 reasons: 1. his mom gave it to him when he was in college, 2. it has survived this long and 3. I like this one better than the Ninja Turtle ornament, which was the other option.

I bought this Sparkle Acorn last year for our first Christmas in Portland. Simple and sparkly - just like me.

Finally, this ornament was given to us by my mother-in-law last year. She always gets us these cute personalized ornaments every year.  This one is one of my favorites.

What are your favorite ornaments? And what fun stories do they tell?

I'm excited to keep growing our collection with new ornaments and new memories. I know, I sound like a silly Hallmark commercial, but it's true.

Stay tuned for my next posts: Why Everything Must Sparkle and How Many Lights Can We Possibly Put Up?


Friday, October 3, 2014

Morning Smoothie Rituals That Make Life Easier!

Hello, my people...
Happy Friday!

Last time I blogged about how we've been drinking smoothies for breakfast on the weekdays. Today, I thought I would share a bit out my routine, too.

Since the smoothie recipes I've been using make 2 servings, it makes it super easy for me to just toss everything in the blender & have breakfast for both me & the spouse in mere minutes. Convenient, she says!

A few things that I've adopted into this whole process have made it much easier.

First, for a while before I was making smoothies for me and spouse, I was making a mock-smoothie (read: banana, almond butter, almond milk, blended together) and using a random lidded plastic cup to transport my drink. Well... I broke that cup. I definitely needed something stronger. What is stronger than plastic? Glass! I have a huge affection for mason jars - use them for everything - so I decided to donate a few to the smoothie cause. The 16oz size work perfectly.

I also bought us these very handy things called Cuppow lids. They are amazing. They turn any standard (aka not wide-mouth) mason-type jar into a drinking vessel. Genius!

Another habit that I've adopted is that I have all of my smoothie supplies in one cupboard, all in jars, labeled and easy to access. Obviously, the exceptions are the fruit in the freezer (I do keep this all in one handy container, mind you. Dang! Should have taken a photo... of my freezer... hmm.. nevermind..) and the liquids (almond milk, coconut water, etc) that are in the fridge. Keeping all of these ingredients together and organized has made gathering everything pretty much effortless. It also makes it pretty simple to see if I need replenishment on anything because the jars keep visibility clear. (ha! get it?! clear... glass..ha!)

See - I told you I had a small affinity obsession with jars.

And here we are... in the car. I am enjoying my smoothie.. Drew is eating yogurt. He hasn't embraced the idea of smoothies for breakfast yet. He will taste mine every so often, but he doesn't feel ready to commit to an entire one. Someday. Maybe if I buy him his own Cuppow. Do you think they make a Spiderman version?

Have a happy and healthy weekend, all! The sun is still shining here in Portland and I have every intention of enjoying it while it lasts. 


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How our Vitamix saved Breakfast!

Hello Interwebs Family...

Can you believe that summer is almost officially over? I can't. I am always sad to see it go, but then I am also a bit excited to move into the more "festive" time of year. Plus, I am tired of looking at myself in tank tops and internally complaining about my arms being too fat. Bring on the big, fluffy sweaters!

As promised, I wanted to tell you a bit about our life with our new Vitamix blender. I sort of laughed a bit when people I knew with Vitamixes constantly claimed that "Vitamix changed their lives"... what? How boring was your life before? Sheesh! And after having ours for over 3 months now, I can say our lives have changed but not so much because of the Vitamix, itself,  but more of what the Vitamix has allowed us to change in our eating habits.

In my ever-continuous goal to eat well & feel well, I picked up a book about smoothies. I like smoothies but I was always a bit skeptical because the flavors I favored were either 1) full of stuff I shouldn't put in a smoothie (like frozen yogurt & peanut butter) or 2) a bunch of fruit mixed up with ice... which would keep me full for .01 seconds. After a bit of research, I ordered my own copy of Superfood Smoothies by Julie Morris.

I have to admit, when I first started reading through the ingredient list, I panicked a bit. What the heck are Goji Berries? What does Lacuma Powder do? Why do we need Hemp Seeds? The more I read, the more I became intimidated and started asking myself "What did I just get myself into?!" (followed by, "how much am I going to have to spend at Whole Foods just to make a silly smoothie?!")

I started with baby steps - I picked a few smoothies to try one week & buy the ingredients I needed for those. Since each recipe makes 2 smoothies, I justified buying all these crazy-spendy ingredients based on the fact that I was feeding both me and my test subject, er... husband. 

Admittedly, the ingredients can be pretty expensive when you first start accumulating them. But the good news is, you don't use all the "superfoods" in every smoothie, so it's not like I'm buying $20 worth of hemp seeds every week. I figure, if you commit to spending a few weeks accumulating one or two of the superfood ingredients, you'll be all stocked up in no time & then it's just maintenance. You'll start to see what items you use the most & can check out local stores or even online for good deals. I find that we use Hemp Seeds, Chia Seeds & Goji Berries the most.

So, the million dollar question.
Do I notice a difference since we started our Super Smoothies? Truthfully, it's hard for me to tell. I don't feel worse... so that's good. But I can't confidently say that I feel better or any different than I did before. However, that being said, I really did not expect to start feeling much different. My family and I did not start making these positive changes to our eating habits just for immediate satisfaction - I really saw it as an investment for our future selves. I think that much of the detriment of our life choices won't show up until we're a bit older. So, do I feel better from drinking my super smoothies every morning? No, I am not seeing much of a physical difference. I do feel better, though, knowing that I am investing in my future health and well-being and those of my husband and son, too. And that's worth it, right?!

Now - back to the Vitamix. It is a game-changer, fo-sho. (Yes, I did just say "fo-sho.") This baby blends everything up so well, you'd think you just wandered into Jamba Juice. This is important when you're adding things like spinach and kale to your smoothies. There is nothing that will turn you off of a smoothie faster than a big lump of spinach coming up through your straw. Ick! Vitamix can handle your spinach. 

In closing...

Do I recommend investing in a Vitamix - YES! 
Try looking at their reconditioned machines before buying new. It's a good savings! I did do some fairly extensive reading & research (even watched an infomercial) on the differences between the Ninja and Vitamix and the Vitamix just kept coming out on top. You know what really sealed the deal for me? 2 things - 1) It's made domestically.Now, I have nothing against items made overseas - Lord knows, I spend all day everyday working with factories in every country you can think of & they are good peeps. But, sometimes, it's nice to buy things made here. Cue "America the Beautiful," release the bald eagle....  *sigh*. OK, and 2) it has a 5-year warranty. Yep, 5 years covered. Boom. 

Do I recommend Super Smoothies - YES! 
I definitely recommend Julie's book. It is very informative and clear. She gives the history of each of the superfoods along with their benefits & whether you can swap it out for something else (especially if you don't want to invest in both Maca powder AND Macqui powder.) Plus, every smoothie we've tried has been delish and easy to make. And extra-bonus: each smoothie has like 2 servings of fruit or veggies in it! Whoo hoo! Take THAT food pyramid.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

New City, New Job, New House, New Life(style)

If you can believe it, we have been in Portland for one full year. I can't stand it! Where did the time go?

I checked the last time I put a post on here - and it was last Labor Day - what the what?! Labor Day? That's just crazy.

In June... a bit over a year ago, we packed up, sold our house, quit our jobs & moved to Portland.

In August, I started a new job at Nike.

In September, Drew started preschool.

In October, Mark started a new job at Nemo Design.

In March, we bought a house.

And here we are, July. Busy year, right?

Now that we're a bit more settled in our new home, we've been able to focus our efforts other places & to make some changes to our health and eating habits. About 1 year ago, I began following a blog + Instagram feed where a family of 5, lead by the fearless matriarch, Andrea, have been making some pretty hefty changes to their lifestyle and food choices - choosing "whole" foods in place of anything processed. Changing to whole grains, organic fruits & veggies, dairy & meat alternatives. Paying attention to labels & cutting out food choices that have a list of ingredients you can't pronounce.

Interesting, but not interested.

But then a weird thing happened. I became interested.

Andrea started her IG feed "GwynethMadeMeDoIt" as a slight stab at her adventures in following GP's It's All Good cookbook but through her progress came to see the benefits and positivism that came from these changes in their eating habits. I picked up It's All Good at our library - it's great. A great starting place to get some ideas together.

I've struggled with food for much of my life. Wait - let me rephrase that. I've struggled with food choices for much of my life. I was a Weight Watcher for many years - and successfully, too! I lost all my baby weight using the WW program. What became difficult for me with WW, and almost any weight loss program, is that many of the "low calorie" or "low fat" options that are recommended replace the fat and calories with chemicals. Did I want to eat cookies? Yes! But did I want to eat cookies that were made of fake sugar and full of weird chemicals that may, or may not, make me grow a third arm? Not so much. The good news is, I did manage to find alternative options that still granted me success.

But what about the rest of my family? I am responsible for what they're eating on a daily basis. There were always microwaveable meals in the freezer, tons of crackers and snacks in the pantry, diet soda in the fridge. All highly processed and full of sugar and sugar substitutes. No bueno.

And just around the time I was realizing that our choices, though some healthy, were not always that super, my dear friend (well... maybe "friend" is a bit ambitious) Andrea decided to host a "30-Day Eating Challenge" - woohoo!! This was it! The push I needed to make some very necessary changes!

I spent an entire afternoon (ok, like 2 hours) at the grocery store - wandering up and down aisles, reading labels, looking at ingredients. It was really eye-opening. Do you know how many things have unnecessary added-ingredients?! Sugar is a big one - I never realized how many things have added sugar. Why does lunch meat need sugar? I came home exhausted, but also excited - we're making positive changes, people!

The best part about this (other than the obvious health benefits) is that my husband is completely on-board. I was prepared for some resistance when I tried to throw out the Hidden Valley Ranch and replace it with Annie's Organic Cowgirl Ranch.. but to my pleasant surprise, after reading the labels side-by-side, he was fine with me tossing the HV. Say what?

Drew (who doesn't really have a say) has been mostly fine with these changes, too. The down side was that he had to give up his ever-blessed "chocolate milk" (which was actually Carnation Breakfast Essentials). The upside was that I was now willing to buy him Pirate Booty. You win some, you lose some. He'll manage.
Side note - I tried to replace Drew's chocolate milk with a nice smoothie... yeah.... he poo-pooed that right away. Boo!

Ok - enough typing - Blogs are for pictures, not reading! So... All that to say, we bought a new blender. Ha!
Actually-  our previous blender's untimely passing happened the same weekend we started the clean-out process.. so we took a poll of our friends & we are now the proud parents of a Vitamix blender. Smoothies & home-made nut butters for all (except Drew)!

My friends, I hope that you do not read this as preaching about your food choices. Everyone has to make their own decisions about what to eat, how to eat, when to eat, etc. My family and I have decided that these changes are the best for us. You get to decide what's good for you! Yay! I will still post recipes and fun stuff but they might just use a few different ingredients than they used to. But still delicious!

The sun is shining here in Portland (finally!) so I am headed outside. Have a fantastic day!


Monday, September 9, 2013

Labor Day Camping - Trout Creek

For Labor Day in Portland, we did what a vast number of Pacific North-Westerners do and went camping. Thanks to a friendly post over at Good Stuff NW we decided to try out Trout Creek in the Willamette National Forest. 

We were very pleased with our choice. We had a nice big site with easy creek access, close to the bathrooms & close to the water pumps.

Trout Creek campground is located about 20 miles east of Sweet Home - far enough away from civilization that you feel like you're off the grid (umm.. no cell reception!) but close enough to a town that when you run out of beer and milk you can run to Safeway and back within an hour or so.

Everyone had a great time. Drew enjoyed mucking about in the sand and dirt, Zoey enjoyed jumping around in the creek (also mucking about in the sand and dirt), Mom & Dad enjoyed stolen moments of peace and quiet around the campfire at night. Our good friend, Kaija & her frenchie, Dash, joined in the festivities as well. 

Below are just a spattering of pictures from our weekend. 
We highly recommend Trout Creek for anyone looking for a good family camp ground in the PDX area. However, I am keeping our site number top secret so it doesn't all-of-a-sudden become the most popular. Sorry, guys... have to protect treasures!  

Drew.. dressed by his dad.. checking out the creek.
Zoey - swimming like a champ!
Drew and Zo
Drew in the creek
Drew & Dad 
Not sure if you can see Drew in this picture since he is wearing 2 different camo
prints - he blends in pretty well. 
More cute Drew & Dad. Dad was explaining that Drew needed to
take the rocks slow & carefully since they can be super slippery. Drew did pretty well!

Kaija & Dashy
Someone came before us & put up these cool cairns.
I'm hoping they really weren't using them to mark their path since Drew
immediately knocked them down. 
My camp banner!
Open-Flame Cooking Champ: Dad!
Kaija & Drew posing for Instagram selfies - they turned out really cute
My selfie - just to prove I was there
Drew's version of a silly face
(we have some work to do on this!)
Being silly...
Zo & Dashy had a great time playing


Sunday, September 8, 2013

First Day of Preschool!

Yes, I've been a tad behind in posting any updates since the Leppers landed in Portland. We arrived June 15 and had a nice long & lazy summer of trips to the park, mornings at the library & exploring our new stomping grounds.

But... as all good things do... it has come to an end. 3 weeks ago, I went back to work, full-time and last week Drew started preschool.

I won't bore you with the details about my job... well, maybe I will... but in a separate post.

Drew started preschool 3 mornings a week last Wednesday (after a wonderful Labor Day camping trip... again, details to follow in another post) at Hummingbird Preschool - a neighborhood preschool out of a cute craftsman-style home, about a half-mile away from our house. Mark and Drew can easily ride bikes or walk if the weather permits.. and by most accounts, it will only "permit" for another month or so.

Since Drew was in full-time daycare since he was about 3 months old, he jumped right into preschool like it he was born to be there. He is a fairly social kid (says hi to everyone on the street!) and was starting to get a wee bit bored with just mom & dad as his closest friends. Now he has 9 other kids to hang out with.

I learned that most people start planning for preschool in January or February - we started in August. It evaded my attention that preschool is not the same as daycare & you are on the school-year calendar. Eek! But, God was gracious & the stars all aligned and we found Hummingbird Preschool - with an opening - and very close to home. Perfect!

We were happy with this school because they really focus on letting the kids play and be kids - not pushing a huge academic agenda. The mind of a 3-year old is a sponge & will absorb lots of new things but we really felt strongly that we wanted him to have a play-based, creative school for now & we can worry about his calculus abilities later. Play while you can... you only get to be a kid for a few years and being an adult is boring.

All that said, here are a few pictures from the first day of preschool. Please note that Mark is in charge of getting him ready & I probably would have made a few attempts at getting his hair to lay down a bit more. But not dad.

ps: we are growing his hair out for a real haircut before my cousin's wedding later this month. The shaggy look is not really what we're going for. :)


Monday, June 24, 2013

Portland - We have arrived! Watch out!

Greetings from Northeast Portland!

We finally arrived in our new city last Friday and here I am, over a week later, finally getting some updates! Holy Cats, I'm slow! 

In my defense, it's been a bit hectic. You know.. moving, and all. 
We pulled into town at a bit before 5pm on a Friday night - honestly, not the best time to be trying to navigate through the city for the first time but I did ok. Only 3-4 wrong turns. 

We quickly met with our landlady for our keys and then unpacked our car/truck and let the pets get acclimated. I have to say, the cats & dog did great on our 2-day trek north. I figured Zoey, our golden retriever would do fine since she's been in the car a bunch and she would be with Mark, whom she adores. I was not-so-convinced about our cats - Freddie & Foxy. They don't care for traveling. 
On day one, Freddie did meow and cry from our house in Orange County until we came down off the Grapevine. (For those of you not sure how long that is... roughly 2 hours) Then she mellowed out. The rest of the trip was fine... except once when I slammed on the breaks to avoid the back end of a Subaru. They were not thrilled about that. 

Our POD showed up on Saturday morning & we spent the entire day unloading it. It was a large project but it was great to get it all finished. We felt like champs. 

*side bar comment*
If you ever plan on moving, I highly recommend using a POD. The whole process was great & easy and I can't say enough about the convenience or ease of the whole thing. Kudos, PODS - nice work!

So, 4 billion boxes, 2 huge trips to Target, 1 trip to Ikea and many beers later... here we are. So far, we LOVE Portland. Ironically, the day we unloaded our POD it had to have been in the high-80s if not low-90s. It was hot. And ever since, it's been raining. Still, it's been great. 

Drew and my mom made the trek up from NorCal the middle of last week & Drew has adjusted seamlessly. At one point, he did try to convince me that his tooth brush had fallen down in the drain, but I assured him that happened at our old house. (sorry, new owners... forgot to mention there is a toddler tooth brush in the drain. oops!) But at least Drew is considering this house home now. 

Now, a few pics.

Our front door. We live in a duplex & we have the back unit which is 2-floors (plus a basement - score!)
I love the color scheme of our house - grey & salmon. Purrr.
BTW, those are Drew's blue curtains - not a classy tarp over the windows. His Robot room required blue curtains.
Only now do I see the striking closeness of the color to a tarp. Hmm...

The view from our sidewalk. Little stairway up to our walkway. 

This is the front of our house. That is our garage door on the right (and my car).
The window above belongs to our neighbor, as does the left side of the driveway.
My car fits in pretty well around these parts. 

A happy dog.. and some toes that need a pedicure. 
 Once our house is a bit more put-together, I will post more pictures. I am sure no one wants to look at a bunch of pictures of rooms with boxes in them... so I'll hold off until we are a bit further on our unpacking.