Author Archives: slapdash

Quick and Easy Homemade Cornbread!

I am the type of person that has to weigh the costs with the benefits when it comes to making something from scratch. Sure, I love to cook, but if it’s going to take five times the effort and time, and create basically the same end result as a pre-packaged item….I’m afraid the frontier woman in me caves to convenience. Such is my train of thought when it comes to Pinterest-inspired endeavors like homemade cheez-its or fruit snacks. I’ll pay the $3.50 and take the yellow dye 5, thanks! If I’m going to make it myself, it has to be significantly cheaper, healthier, or yummier than what I could grab at the store.

This *ahem* efficient attitude led me to believe that cornbread from a Jiffy mix was pretty much as good as it gets! What does it cost, like $.79? Just add milk and eggs and there you have it. Well, thankfully I have a best friend named Lizzie who introduced me to the wonders of homemade cornbread. When I first tried hers, I was like, “wait, why is this better than any other cornbread I’ve ever had in my life?” Come to find out….it was made from scratch. Who’d of thought! No offense to the good people at Jiffy, but I was never going back after that.

This particular recipe is one that my sister-in-law Jenny Rebecca submitted to our family cookbook. We make is super frequently and it’s SO easy and foolproof. Honestly, it takes like 2 minutes longer than using a mix would, and the result is exponentially better. Now that it’s getting to be fall and I’m making soups and chili more often, I’m sure we’ll be seeing it even more! And as Lizzie said, “It’s basically just an excuse to eat cake with dinner.” Hey, you won’t hear me complaining.

cornbread-recipe

 

August 2015 Monthly Snapshot

This month started off with a bang for me with NYC (if you haven’t seen my painfully drawn out recaps….here) and then the day after I got home, Ella and I hopped on a plane for a quick weekend in Wyoming for my grandpa’s 90th birthday party! We wish Dave could have come, but he had a test the day after the festivities, so if we had driven we would have made such a long trip to stay such a short time. So Ella and I decided to just make it a quick girl’s trip and fly one last time before we have to pay for her 🙂
                 
Ella got to see Grandma and Grandpa which she (and I) loved. My mom let her have any and all junk food and TV that she wanted. She’s not above buying Ella’s love.
This was the only group pic Ella was in, as she promptly melted down beyond consoling after this wonderful shot. But here are my grandma and grandpa with all of their great grandkids! I told Ella she was crazy to cry because she got the coveted spot on the birthday boy’s lap!

 

Ella got to hang out with her second cousins Kinley and Truman who are her exact same age! PS–I’m realizing that in every picture she has the same stone-faced, non-expression. I promise she is a happy girl! She just doesn’t emote for the camera.
I loved comparing these pics that are pretty much exactly a year apart. I think that high chair was my aunt’s as a baby! Gotta love the treasures you find at Grandma’s house!
I love my Grandma and Grandpa Hopkin. They seriously have so much energy for people of their generation! My grandpa still has a huge beautiful garden and sent me home with some fresh corn. We had a conversation about family history and he had all kinds of names and dates he was throwing out off the top of his head. And my grandma couldn’t be busier. She volunteers to do hair for the ladies at the nursing home, and many of them are younger than her! I hope I can be as spry as they are when I’m their age! It was a really fun weekend, seeing my parents and all of my cousins, some of whom I hadn’t seen in probably like eight or ten years. I’m so glad we could make the quick trip and celebrate my grandpa.
We got together with some friends who just had babies! These guys were all roommates before we all got married and it’s so fun to see everyone’s families growing. I think they were laughing because Evan asked if I have an iPhone 4 (I do) with the most incredulous voice.
Dave had some time off of school between summer term and fall semester so we tried to squeeze in some fun family outings during the day before he went to work in the afternoon. My sister in law Marcy mentioned that she had taken her nephews and little girl to Chuck-e-Cheese and they had all loved the little rides (“rides” is used loosely…like the little cars you put a quarter into….but they are the perfect size for Ella and Marcy’s little girl) so we thought that would be something fun and indoors since it’s so hot right now. Well….Ella freaked out on this one truck that rumbled and it was kind of a lost cause, until the very end when she decided she loved this trolley. I felt pretty classy hitting up Chuck-e-Cheese on a Monday afternoon but man was it a trip down memory lane. I used to LOVE that place.


I already posted this on insta, but we picked raspberries and I tried my hand at freezer jam! I was intimidated by the whole canning process but freezer jam was quick and easy so I’ll totally be making more. And Ella went nuts in the berry patch. We will most definitely be going back! She was literally running from bush to bush, frantically shoving berries in her mouth. Thankfully she didn’t make herself sick, and I thought it was a cool opportunity for her to learn that food grows from the earth (here I’m having this hippy dippy nature moment in my head and I can pretty much guarantee that Ella learned nothing of the sort). And don’t worry, we paid extra at the end since she ate so many berries before we weighed them.

Another day was spent up north, visiting our dear friend Christine and her new baby and then eating our way through Salt Lake. If you live in the area and haven’t already, PLEASE try Oh Mai. Seriously, the best sandwich of my life. And super cheap, too, for the quality. I’m salivating thinking of it right now!

 

We also grabbed donuts, hit up Trader Joes (it was a food-themed day, ok?) and took Ella to Liberty Park. I remember going there as a small child but had heard it was a great place for summer fun and I wish we lived closer because it was awesome! Splash pad, creek, aviary, huge playground, little rides, etc. Ella heartily approved.
And we finished things off with a morning at Bartholomew Park. I’m almost reluctant to mention this place because I am so in love with it and don’t want it to become over run and gross, but who am I kidding, I’m not exactly the informant of the masses on this blog, so what the heck. It’s this awesome man-made lake/pond that a benefactor built and donated to the city and it’s awesome!!! Nice shallow water, groomed sand, nice walkways, bathrooms, parking lot, etc. Ella can just putter around in the sand forever. I think it just opened this summer and I am already excited to go back next year.

And it wouldn’t be a true recap of our month if I didn’t mention that August 2015=naps from h***. Seriously, Ella probably napped like four times this month. Instead of falling asleep, she entertains herself in her crib with such tricks as taking off her diaper, climbing out of her crib (thankfully she hasn’t hurt herself and I think mostly scared herself from doing it again), chucking board books and her water cup, tearing her quilt off the wall, and prying her dresser drawers open from between the slats and putting on all varieties of clothes. It’s impressive, really. Good thing her mom thinks she’s got the face of an angel, or I’d be mad 🙂 I don’t think she’s old enough to give up naps, and she definitely falls asleep in the car/is crabby, etc. which leads me to believe she needs the sleep, so I’m not giving up yet.

#boardbooks #parenting #kids #babies #childrensliterature #readtothem

9 Board Books That Won’t Drive Parents Nuts!

#boardbooks #parenting #kids #babies #childrensliterature #readtothem
 

Before I had Ella, I don’t think I realized how many weird children’s books there are out there. I had images of us happily reading for hours, tickled pink by the wide array of stimulating prose and lovely illustrations we would encounter (ok, that’s a little much). I was mostly thinking about the classics, like “Goodnight Moon,” or “The Runaway Bunny.” While we have had a lot of fun reading together, I’ve realized that a lot of kid’s books are just plain boring or annoying! And of course, those are often the ones they decide to become obsessed with, right? Ella had this book about cupcakes (my fault….I bought it for $.50 at a library sale) which was her favorite for months, and I’m pretty sure it was just because there was glitter on the cover. If I never read the words “You Are My Cupcake” again, I’d be happy.

So….how do you sort through the mindless puppies behind flaps and TV show adaptations and find the stories for your little one that are truly witty, educational, and sweet–books that you, as a parent, can happily stomach night after night and aren’t tempted to hide or “accidentally” drop into the trash? Well, this is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are a few board books that we really love (as you can tell by the wear and tear on the spines in the pic above!) and I feel like have really helped her learn a thing or two. I’ve just stuck to board books, as currently, if you try to read a normal picture book to Ella she will very calmly take it from you and toss it across the room. So board books it is.


1. My Big Animal Book
: So, think isn’t so much a story (though it does have little questions on the bottom of each page which are a little over Ella’s head) but Ella LOVES seeing the huge pages of animal pictures, and I fully attribute the fact that she knows “owl” and “guinea pig” to this book. Because I certainly didn’t think to teach them to her. Cat and Dog is about as complicated as I get.

2. Olivia: This one is a bit of a cheat because the original isn’t in board book form (though the story is simple enough thar it works well), and chances are you’ve already read it because these books are adorable and have won all kinds of awards, but it deserves a mention because Ella and I both love it. Who isn’t charmed by a spunky little pig who loves ballet? And Ella is always very interested in the part where Olivia gets time out. Probably because she can relate.

3. Pride & Prejudice: If you haven’t seen these BabyLit books already, you need to! They are the cutest little “babyfied” versions of classic literature. This one is a counting book (5 sisters, 2 handsome gentleman, 3 country estates, etc.) but as a parent who loves the original story I find it witty and the brightly colored illustrations are perfect for toddlers. I kind of thought this one would be more for me but Ella really loves it!

4. Barnyard Dance! : Sandra Boynton is no newbie on the board book scene but this one is our favorite! The rhyme and the rhythm are really pleasant and the image of barnyard animals having a hootenanny is cute. I probably read this to Ella like 400 times between July and December of last year. Hence, my ability to impress everyone at Christmas with my recitation by memory, complete with actions (they were…not actually that impressed).

5. First 100 Words: I love this book because long before Ella was really into characters and storylines (ok….at 22 months I don’t think she’s really there yet, even now) she really loved books that had actual photos instead of illustrations. While this book might not seem that exciting, I actually think it did great things for her language and recognition skills. It’s still one of her favorites and we go through it and point out things or ask her to point to the ball, the airplane, the boots, etc. Maybe not the most creative book ever, but really worthwhile.

6.Good Dog, Carl: I remember reading this as a kid, and I’m so glad Ella loves it too. It’s mostly word-free, which makes it fun because we can kind of just talk about what’s happening on each page, or now, we’ve started having Ella tell us what’s happening (because she basically knows it by heart). It has pretty illustrations and the idea of a baby and dog getting into mischief while mommy is away is charming (though, one has to wonder what kind of mother thought leaving a black lab in charge was a good idea).

7. Mommy Loves: I think I found this on a book list somewhere (I can’t remember where!) and ordered it on a whim. It’s a really sweet little book about how all mommies love their babies, with a counting element thrown in. And it highlights the names for different kinds of baby animals (mice are “pinkies,” etc.) which is always kind of fun.

8. Baby Faces: Again, like First 100 Words, this isn’t going to win any awards for innovation, but Ella loves books with photos (especially other babies), and this one shows babies feeling different emotions: nervous, happy, scared, etc. You know, I thought talking about feelings might be a good thing. Empathy is nice. Although at this stage, every baby is just “sad”–even the laughing one. We’re working on it.

9. The Mitten:  I thought the story might be a little complicated for a not-quite-two-year-old, but Ella loves it–and the idea of these different woodland creatures squeezing into a mitten is sweet. Plus, the illustrations are killer, as they are in all of Jan Brett’s books, so I can be entertained by the gorgeous Scandanvian vignettes as we read 🙂

 

So there you have some of our current favorite board books! I’d love to hear some of your family’s favorites in the comments! I’m particularly looking for ones that teach letters and colors, as I’m realizing we don’t really have many of those. So suggest away!



I’ve linked to the books I mention on Amazon. These are affiliate links, so if you make a purchase through them I make a  small commission, so feel free to shop around for the best price!

NYC Days 3-4: The Met and 1D!

Before I start this final (I promise!) post about this trip, I feel compelled to mention that, lest anyone worry that Ella was forgotten and lonely at home (unlikely), she was having the time of her life with Dave and the friends she got to play with while Dave was in class. I was so thankful for my great friends that watched her and for Dave for working his schedule so that I could go on this trip! I owe you guys big time. It was really amazing what a few days away did for my psyche. I felt like mostly human again (I kid).
Dave made it through church solo and even did Ella’s hair on his own (his biggest worry before I left, haha). Round of applause emoji! Notice he traded the diaper bag for a manlier backpack. Smart thinking.
I had never Face-timed Ella before–seeing as I’ve never spent a night away from her–and it was so funny! If I pretended to kiss the screen, she would go in for a kiss as well. And literally kiss the screen.
Dave even hiked the Y with her in the backpack, and if you’ve ever done that hike you know it’s not a piece of cake so….I was suitably impressed!
So our last full day in the city started off with a minor tragedy, as we missed our bus in the morning. I got cocky and suggested we try to catch it at a stop closer to our hotel, but since Nyack didn’t have any clearly marked bus stops (is it just a word-of-mouth system there, or what?) and we watched in silent horror as our bus passed us right on by and cruised down the hill and around a corner. So, we got into the city an hour later than planned. We did, however, have a little time to kill at the hotel until the next bus, so we were able to catch the end of One Direction on GMA. It got us nice and pumped for the concert the next day!
The second, larger, tragedy was that our first stop, the Neue Gallery, was closed on Tuesdays–and seeing as it was Tuesday, and our last day in the city, we were out of luck! Super sad because we wanted to see the painting from The Woman in Gold in real life (have you seen the movie? SO good!). So we headed right over to Dean & Deluca to abate our sorrows in upscale groceries.

Another way that we saved money was buying food at grocery stores instead of restaurants (not that we invented this tactic–lots of seasoned travelers do this!). Anyone who’s ever been inside of a Dean & Deluca knows that it’s a food lover’s dream, so you’re not missing out on the New York foodie experience by getting something to go from a grocery store rather than a formal eatery. We probably spent like 40 minutes looking around and trying samples before deciding what to get for our picnic outside of the Met.

Since we were going to be getting burgers later, I went with something a bit healthy–this kale, shrimp, and noodle salad with some kind of delicious sesame dressing. It was SO good, and at like $6, much cheaper than getting a salad in a restaurant would have been. As you can see, we had to try the sea salt and dark chocolate cookie too. We HAD TO.
Grace took to phrasing her texts as lines from Gossip Girl throughout the trip, so chilling outside of the Met was fitting.
If I had to pick my favorite thing that we did in New York, it was probably the Met. It’s mind-blowingly huge and overwhelming, but awesome. Like, you find yourself passing by works of art and just being like, “oh, that’s a Monet? Well, it’s not one of the more famous Monets, so I’ll keep going.” There’s just SO much famous, cool stuff to see. I spent wayyyyy too long in the first gallery we went through and found myself trying to make up time later on, so I’m positive I missed things I would have wanted to see, but oh well.
For the first little bit my sisters and I decided to pick a gallery to see, but go through things at our own pace and meet up at the end and then pick another one to start on. Well, I decided to stick with Tess, since she’s the art expert in our family, so she could tell me what was famous🙂But I was taking my own sweet time, and got separated from her, and so I found myself just wandering doing and seeing who knows what by myself. I ended up in the Egyptian section and a kindly tourist noticed me taking pics and offered to take one of me. By myself. In front of some kind of Egyptian sentinel. Why not?
I was so charmed by this elementary school group just sitting around sketching a Klimt. What a field trip! I’m pretty sure my second grade class went to the post office.
And I’ll ignore the hoards of people crowding around, feverishly taking pictures of a Van Gogh behind glass because we know it just makes me ragey.
I think we spent four hours there and barely scratched the surface. So many iconic paintings and not enough time! I really wonder how long it would take you to visit every gallery and every room in this museum.
After the Met we headed over to Shake Shack and I have to say, it really lived up to the hype! I feel like any time I read a blog or instagram post or whatever about anyone visiting New York there’s a nod to Shake Shack, so I wanted to try it but I was skeptical. These things are rarely as good as expected. But it was! I mean, if you like burgers, fries, and shakes, which I do. I knew that Utah has truly sunk it’s claws into me, though, when I realized that I was having true stress over the fact that this place doesn’t have fry sauce.
We also checked out Bloomingdale’s and Magnolia Bakery after this but somehow I didn’t get any pictures. My thoughts on Magnolia Bakery–yummy cupcakes, but I don’t really think that they are any better than plenty of other ones I’ve had. I don’t know if I’d need to make a pilgrimage there the next time I’m in the city.
The next day was pretty much entirely consumed by getting to the One Direction concert–let me clarify, the concert started at 7pm. Well, the opening act was starting at 7pm. Since I have the compulsive need to self-sabotage and be late to everything in my life I was baffled that we needed to be there super early (I was thinking we could roll in around 7:30 or so…..I’ve never been on time to a concert before), but Anne was in charge that day, and visibly stressed, so I just let her lead the way. So after checking out of our hotel in Nyack, taking an Uber (or is it just “taking Uber?” I’m not cool.) to New Jersey, and getting something to eat, we got to the stadium at 4:30.
We had plenty of time to kill with selfies.
So I had never been to a concert with this crazy level of fandom before. I mean, so many shirts (plenty of “Mrs. Styles” or “Team Payne,” etc.) , homemade signs, crazed screaming–it was so nuts! I was handed both of these signs by little teeny boppers who had printed out thousands on their own dime and just wanted to spread their love to the boys, I guess. We were supposed to fill in the top one with the date that we started “loving the boys” and wave them at a certain time.
Icona Pop opened and they were actually pretty good! I only really knew their hits but they were entertaining and played for about 45 minutes. By that point I was like, “Ok, we’ve been here for four hours, they’ve got to be coming on soon.” No dice. That was my one complaint about this concert–wayyyyy too much time between the opening act and 1D actually coming on! But I guess you can see from this pic that they needed time to fill in the seats and for it to get dark.
When the guys came on, I have to say, it was totally worth it. They were awesome! I love 1D–they helped me realize that I am, in fact, beautiful–but I will admit I wasn’t expecting them to be great live. But they were! Harry, especially–what a rock star. He was running all over that stage like a crazy person. No wonder there are so many videos of him tripping and falling during concerts. I was sort of expecting him to be too cool for school, but he was super funny and worked the crowd like a pro. Can you tell I love Harry? No shame in my game. It really was a once in a lifetime experience to be in a crowd that was THAT crazy for a band. They sang “Drag Me Down,” which had dropped like 48 hours ago, and everyone in the stadium knew every lyric (granted, it’s not exactly complicated. They rhyme “me” with “me.”). And you know what? We didn’t even miss Zayn.
And with that, I hopped on a plane and went back to my little family the next day!

NYC Day 2: MoMA, Chelsea Market, and The Highline

Day two of our NYC trip was supposed to start off with the Museum of Modern Art first thing, but I begged to take a short detour to Rockefeller Plaza to see the NBC studios. This would be the first (well, not actually the first, I think the first day had several too) of many de-railings of our agreed-upon itinerary that I would impose upon our group and my sisters were agreeable, but warned me that this was all I could demand for the day (hey, I was child-free for a few days and ready to go wild! As in, not paying attention to our schedule at all).
I am a huge fan of basically any and all NBC comedies from the past several years, especially 30 Rock, so as cheesy as it was I was super excited to see the actual building! Unfortunately, Liz, Jack, Kenneth, and the rest of the gang were nowhere to be found.
We were there a little after The Today Show would be filming but I couldn’t help but sneak a peek into the studio. We thought about trying to get to the Plaza early in the morning and watch the broadcast but we decided for how early we would have to get up and how much time it would waste, it just wasn’t worth it. Still, a little part of me hoped to see my idols just chillin in there after the fourth hour. But I had to settle for the KLG and Hoda graphics instead.
Please also appreciate that I am wearing running shoes with shorts, thus completing the tourist ensemble.  stupidly only brought Saltwaters for walking and after the first day my shins were dying. Arch support is nothing to mess around with, peeps! Learned that lesson.
Yes, my shirt also came unbuttoned in the back. Killing it on the fashion scene that day!
After our little sidetrack we walked a few blocks to this food cart, King of Falafel and Shawarma. Just writing this reminds me that I need to go on Yelp and give them five stars immediately. SO GOOD! And cheap, too. I think my Falafel was $5 and had super fresh veggies. I couldn’t even finish the whole thing. Food in NYC is expensive but we found that eating at less touristy and formal places saved a ton of money.
Diet Coke was not included but a very necessary side purchase. We all agreed that we drink more pop when we are together because if any one of us gets one we all realized that we need one too.
Our next stop was the MoMA. I had been here the first time I came to New York but it had been over ten years and I’m really glad we went back. So much famous art (coupled with very odd things like a book covered in nails with a knife sticking out of it–which, I’m sure is some kind of brilliant commentary on society that is just over my head) and it’s way more accessible than the Met. We hit up the main galleries and a few of the newer exhibits in a few hours. Whereas in the Met you can spend like five hours there and feel like you’re still skipping a ton of important things (see next post!).
One thing that really drives me bonkers is the fact that, around the super famous pieces of art, you can’t even really just stand there and enjoy the painting because people are going nuts trying to snap pictures. I know that’s hypocritical because I just posted a collage of paintings that I took pictures of….but a quick snapshot is fine. It’s just people standing there forever trying to line up the perfect shot, or sticking their camera in the air and therefore blocking anyone around them from seeing it. I get that it’s fun to have a picture for the memory, but really…..are you going to lovingly study a poorly-lit cell phone picture of a painting after the fact? I’m pretty sure Van Gogh would cut off his other ear in rage over this. I wish galleries would just go back to no photography. You can look the paintings up online, people!
What is it about looking at art that just kills your back? Benches are a must.

After the MoMA we hit up Chelsea Market and that might have been the best surprise for me of this trip! When we were all coming up with ideas for what to do while in NYC, this wasn’t on my list (not that I didn’t want to go, I just hadn’t heard a lot about it beforehand) but I am so glad we checked it out. From what I understand–don’t quote me on this–this used to just be a complex of industrial food production sites that kind of fell into decay as the area became less industrial in the 1990s. It used to be the site of Nabisco, and the Oreo was invented here so….I was immediately impressed. A developer had the idea to connect all of the little brick buildings all with this cool corridor and create an indoor food vendor marketplace. Upstairs is the Food Network offices and I think a few other TV channels too.

We just strolled through and tried things that caught our fancy, and, let’s be honest, that we had googled beforehand. These donuts were amazing (in searching my brain for more creative synonyms for “amazing” all I came up with was “amaze-balls,” “the bomb.com,” and “out of this world,” so my modifiers need some help). Seriously, the food options were endless and everything we tried was super good, and everything we laid eyes on looked fantastic. I could have eaten until I was sick!
We took our sweet time at Chelsea Market and then checked out The High Line on our walk back to the metro station. Anyone who’s been to NYC recently already knows about this….I felt like this was the hot new thing on every list I read before this trip….but it’s an above-ground park built on an old raised train track. Very clean and well-kept, and it was fun to get some up-high views as you strolled along.
I will say that living out west, you just kind of get used to having access to wide-open spaces at your fingertips at all times. With this park, and Bryant Park, I was like “….oh, this park is very small (duh, Claire, it’s on an old railway track). Where do kids play?” I know that probably makes me sound really naive! It’s just so different there, but in an awesome way. And The High Line is a really creative use of space and included a ton of cool plants with little plaques about them too. If you’re in that part of the city I would for sure check it out! I read some reviews that said it was over-hyped but I didn’t think so.
Hopkin girls on the town!

The City So Nice, They Named It Twice: Day 1

I mentioned a few post ago  that I had the amazing opportunity (I feel like that phrase is soooo overused but I can’t think of a more original way to say it) to visit New York City with my sisters during the first week of August! The stars just sort of aligned and Dave was so great to let me leave he and Ella for a few days, and I most definitely owe him, but I had such a blast! I was going to compile all of this into one post and it was getting colossally long so….day-by-day recaps it is. Feel free to come back in a week or so if vacation synopses are not your thing. Totally understandable.
We stayed outside of the city in the little village of Nyack. We did this for a couple of reasons, but number one, it was significantly cheaper than staying in the city would have been. Like, a third of the price! We just took a bus into the city every morning which wasn’t a big deal at all. So if that’s something you were ever considering, I can say I would really recommend staying somewhere that has transportation into the city (basically everywhere around here) and just commuting in, if you’re pretty flexible on timing. Obviously, if it’s a once in a lifetime trip to NYC, though, you may just want the whole city experience including staying in the middle of it all.
                      
Another perk of staying at a good ol’ Best Western was we got free breakfast, which saved us some money too (being on a budget was the only way this trip was going to happen). We were sort of just expecting the typical cereal, bananas, toast, etc. thing that most motels offer but this place was like a full diner complete with surly waitresses and huge portions. Apparently the Nyack Best Western hotel restaurant is famous for their cheesecake….and the advertising was plastered on every corner of the place, including cocoa mugs. Sadly, we were so stuffed when we got home each night that we were never in the mood to try any, so I can’t vouch for Lisa’s Cheesecakes myself. But apparently she won the New Jersey State Fair so…..Lisa’s a pretty big deal in Nyack.

Sorry this is way grainy….stole it off my sister’s Insta

Once we got into the city our first stop was church, since it was Sunday (Anne was with her bf for most of Sunday so they attended church at his ward). We attended one of the wards that meets above the Manhattan temple, which was really cool! I know that every Mormon that visits New York writes about this but….I can’t help it! It was so different and yet the same as attending church in suburbia! And since it was testimony meeting we got to hear from really interesting people from all over the world.
                     
Our next stop was the Staten Island Ferry to get views of the Statue of Liberty and the skyline. All of us have visited New York before and had done the ferry and tour of Liberty Island as we decided we didn’t need to do that again, and we just wanted to try something new. But if I had never been before, I would have definitely done the whole shebang, and visited Ellis Island too, since I remember that being a great experience. For second-timers though, I LOVED riding the Staten Island Ferry! For one thing, it’s totally free! It’s actually set up to be a commuter shuttle but it happens to offer pretty good views of Lady Liberty, so we decided to give it a shot.
It was fun being out on the water and it felt less touristy than a lot of the big sights around Manhattan, even though I know plenty of tourists take the ferry too. Since it was a weekend it was pretty packed but the rush to get on and get a good seat was actually kind of fun. The first pic on this post was about the best shot I got of the Statue of Liberty, though, because right as we were actually passing it, a huge commercial cruise ship–complete with water slides on the roof–passed right in front of it! It was actually pretty funny! Since we were hitching a free ride, I guess we can’t complain. You get off on Staten Island and reboard through the terminal and just enjoy the views from the other side on the ride back. Totally recommended!
We then rode the subway (Train? Metro? What do real New Yorkers say?!) back to Grand Central Station and took a little audio tour that we had downloaded onto our phones beforehand. We didn’t stand out as tourists at all 🙂 Tons of cool history here and the sleekest Apple store I’d ever seen in my life.
Tess trying out the Whispering Gallery on the lower level. It works!
We then walked towards our bus terminal by way of Bryant Park (I must confess we also stopped for Chipotle on the way…..I know, who goes to a chain restaurant in NYC?! We had big plans to try this fancy salad place but ran out of time and I had a coupon on my phone….) Ok, I’ll be honest and say that Bryant Park was pretty and all, but I read so many things that just raved about it, I guess I was a little underwhelmed. The fact that it has so many community services, like the reading room and the art cart for kids, etc, makes it super cool, but if I didn’t know why it was significant, I would have walked through it and just thought it was a nice city park (and I guess it used to be a hotbed of crime and they’ve really cleaned it up recently, so that’s admirable too!). I wouldn’t travel across town just to check it out, but since we were walking that way anyway, it was definitely worth strolling through.

Our bus terminal was like a block away from Time Square, so we walked through there as well. Time Square is at once breathtaking and horrifying. It’s like the perfect representation of all that is commercial and garish in America. I mean, it’s got Madame Tussaud’s and Ripley’s Believe it or Not right next door to each other! You can tell just by glancing around that basically everyone walking through (at a snail’s pace, because it’s packed) is from out of town, or trying to sell you some bus tour or caricature. And who goes to New York and gets Cold Stone (says the woman who ate at a Chipotle half and hour earlier)?! BUT, it’s truly one-of-a-kind, and really entertaining for people watching sake. So it was worth a short visit.

Grace and I had a short panic (Tess said she likes being the youngest because several other people have to fail before she’s expected to step in) when we couldn’t figure out where our bus depot was–for some reason, there were two buildings designated “42nd Street Port Authority”–but thanks to a helpful lady in the wrong terminal we found our way. I wish I had a picture of the three of us freaking out that we were getting on the wrong bus back to Nyack, though, even after we knew we were in the right depot. For some reason the bus departure gates have these tall, skinny escalators up, but not down, and so we thought we were trapped at the wrong gate. You can imagine all of the commuters waiting to get on their bus home after a long day and seeing these three frantic girls running back and forth within the glass waiting area like hamsters. Thankfully, we were in the right place, ha! What’s traveling without a few mishaps?

Hobble Creek Half Marathon

While I love running, I don’t actually race that often. Utah is a fantastic place to live if you like to run, since there are oodles of outdoors enthusiasts here and plenty of races to choose from during good weather months, but races are expensive! So I usually only do one per summer. This summer has been so busy I realized that I was quickly running out of weekends so about a month ago I signed up for the Hobble Canyon Half and figured I would have enough time to train before. I’ve been running regularly and so I just needed to fit in a few long runs.
Welllll as these best of intentions usually transpire, I did not fit in the long runs I had planned on beforehand (I blame a family reunion, Pioneer Day, New York, and Wyoming–I’ll blog about those next week–on the four weekends before this race) and so I was a little nervous going into this race. The longest I had run since signing up was nine miles, but it had been a few weeks. Still, I figured that was probably enough, and the fact that a race fee is non-refundable is usually enough encouragement for me 🙂
The night before the race I did the whole lay out my gear and get everything ready to go thing. I learned my lesson last summer when I depended on the fuel that the race would supposedly provide–I’m never doing that again! I don’t like running with my belt but it’s worth it to not totally crash and burn halfway through. Gu makes me gag big time, and Shot Blocks are so expensive and honestly just taste like glorified fruit snacks, so when I run long distances I usually just take a Clif Bar or a peanut butter sandwich in a baggy in my little pouch and some candy! I figure if I drink Gatorade (which the race provided) than I’m good to go. I’m not that hardcore of a runner so I don’t really need anything that fancy to keep me going!
I wish I had taken a picture of the warm-up clothes I brought vs. what I needed because it was a joke. The buses were loading at 5:15 and the race started up a canyon so I figured I needed to be prepared with really warm stuff! At the St. George marathon a few years ago I had totally frozen my buns off in just a hat and a hoody while waiting for the start, so this time I brought sweatpants, mittens, a sweater, and a beanie but I didn’t need any of it, haha! I guess the desert effect really does come into play down there. Better safe than sorry!

 

This is a smallish race (1,000 runners) and supposedly the fastest half in Utah. I really liked it! It was well-organized and not chaotic at all. One funny thing about it is the buses don’t have a place to turn around at the top, so they drop you off like a mile from the start! So we all had a nice warm-up walking to the starting line in the dark. They also warned us that there were deer hunters out, so don’t go into the woods. Comforting.
If I ran it again I would definitely try to run with someone because I had like two hours to kill before the race and it was a bit boring. I did find random people to chat with, including a lady who was running while pregnant with her fifth baby. She’s planning on running the St. George marathon in 6 weeks….30 weeks pregnant….and was considering trying to qualify for Boston! Ummmm…..and I don’t need to tell you that she left me in the dust at the beginning of the race and I never saw her again!

 

And we were off! The first few miles had a pretty quick descent. Even with that, I was feeling tired and sort of wishing I hadn’t gotten myself into this. I had all kinds of negative thoughts running through my head. It doesn’t help your self-esteem when you’re jockeying for the lead with an elderly woman (but she won her age group–you go, 75-year-old woman!) But then I figured, “hey, I paid the money to do this, and Dave is being sweet enough to take care of Ella and bring her to the finish so I can do something for myself, so I’m just going to dig deep and get it done!” I think that was why the wheels came off in my marathon last summer; I was being super negative! Luckily I had started towards the back of the pack so mentally it really helped that I was able to pass people pretty much the entire race.
I ended up finishing in 2:12–not fast by any means but I was proud of myself for staying pretty consistent throughout most of the race. The last few miles were pretty warm (not sure why they had a later start in August! My one complaint about this race and a lot of people around me were pretty upset about it too),but the course wasn’t too hard in terms of hills–mostly downhill at the start and then rolling hills throughout the last half. I had my favorite cheerleaders at the finish which is the best part!
                            
Ella was being so funny in these pictures. For some reason she was folding her arms like she was praying. Wish she was this reverent when we actually pray at home hah!
And of course, any and all treats at the finish line will be confiscated by the tiny tyrant. What do you bet I even got a taste of my precious little carton of chocolate Tru-Moo?

 

 

Nothing like a see-food “cheese!”
If you’re considering a race next summer, I would really recommend the Hobble Creek Half! Really pretty scenery, a nice downhill course, and a well-organized finish that wasn’t super crowded and was in a nice, big park. Thanks to Davey for making it all possible for me. I love running because, no matter how slow you are (and I’m slow. I don’t think I’ve ever finished in the top 2/3 of any race), you can compete against yourself and it gives me such a sense of accomplishment. I hope Ella and I can run together someday! If she’ll be seen with my hot mess of a self. Doubtful.

#grocerygoals: My Twice-a-Month Shopping Challenge

b79c8-untitled
Since Dave and I have been married we have had a pretty basic system for meal planning and grocery shopping that has, in my opinion, served us pretty well. I usually plan our food for the week and shop on Saturdays, and then we cook every other night, eat leftovers on the off nights and eat out once a week, usually on Friday or Saturday. Obviously, there are things that come up and the occasional Chick-fil-a run, but for the most part we try to eat at home since it’s cheaper and healthier (in theory….I know there are exceptions!).

I’ve sort of just patted myself on the back that we are meal planning and cooking at all, but lately I’ve been feeling like I spend too much money on food. Our monthly grocery budget is $500, but that includes household items like cleaning supplies, diapers and wipes (about $45/month), and toiletries. Still, I usually only spend about $70-80 per weekly grocery run, plus about $20-30 per week eating out once, and every.single.month we are over budget–even though, with those numbers, we should have money left over!

I’ve decided this comes down to the fact that, even though I think “oh, I only shop once a week,” that isn’t actually true! There’s always at least one more quick trip to the grocery store for something or other during the week, and that usually ends up in me buying a few other things that I’ve noticed we are running low on, or that I’m just craving. A few weeks ago I went to the store for milk or eggs or something basic and left with a huge bag of Skittles AND a bag of Starburst–I have a problem! It’s those little spur-of-the-moment choices that are undermining my good intentions, I’m sure of it. Also, I often hit up different stores (like Sprouts, love that place!) thinking that I’ll get a better deal on a specific item but I pretty much never make it out without spending like $20-$30 on various stuff.

So I’ve decided to conduct an experiment. I’ve read a lot of blog posts by people that only grocery shop once or twice a month, period. At first I thought it was a little weird, honestly, and it made me kind of sad because food is basically my and Dave’s favorite thing so the thought of cutting down on variety or access to whatever food I might want at a moment’s notice seemed depressing. But after thinking about it more, I am just curious to see if shopping less frequently will make a difference in our budget.

Once a month seems a bit extreme to me (and I don’t see how fresh produce could last you a whole month, and I am not willing to just use canned and frozen stuff) and so I’m going to start a bit more gradually and start by just grocery shopping every other week, with a monthly shopping trip to Costco for the things we buy there like diapers and frozen chicken. If we are out of something crucial like toilet paper or whatever, I will run and grab that, but I’m going to try really hard to avoid the grocery store outside of my planned shopping trips and plan ahead so we don’t run out of things mid-week.

groceries

Yesterday was my first time shopping for half a month at a time and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t as overwhelming as I had anticipated! The planning took a lot more time and energy than the actual shopping, so I know from now on that I need to set aside some time when Ella is asleep (crucial step!) so I can concentrate and make an organized list.  In total, I planned six dinners (since they last us two nights and we will eat out a few times too) and replenished produce and things we eat for breakfast, lunches, and snacks. I also bought a few toiletries like shampoo and conditioner since we were running low and I didn’t want to run out in the next two weeks.

Shopping actually didn’t really take any more time than a once-a-week trip would have, and the bill was $98–less than I was anticipating for two weeks of supplies! Granted, I had already done a Costco trip this month so we had milk, cereal, a big bag of frozen chicken, and quite a bit of fruit in the house already. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that planning more meals at once helps me to plan a greater variety and some healthier options, since I can notice patterns in what we are eating. For instance, I noticed that I had planned more than one meal containing red meat (pot roast and this gnocchi and bacon dish, AMAZING!!!!), so I tried to balance those out with a few vegetarian dinners (like my very favorite sweet potato burritos, here).

What I am really interested in is seeing if this is really a sustainable habit long-term. I think it’s going to take some self-discipline to avoid running to the store for every little thing, especially if we are out of something I like to eat regularly (or, if we run out of Ella’s beloved string cheese prematurely….heaven help us all). I’ve already decided that if something comes up unexpectedly, like bringing dinner to someone, I might have to break the rules but I’ll try to get creative with what already have. I hope that this system decreases the amount of food we waste too, since we won’t constantly be adding to what’s already in our fridge. We shall see 🙂

What tips do you have for saving money on groceries? Anyone out there tried once-a-month shopping and had success? Let me know in the comments! I’ll keep you posted with more specifics as I see how this system works for our family!

Making Exercise Part of Your Routine (After Having a Baby)

The other night Dave and I were chatting with a group of friends, and one couple, who are expecting their first baby, asked us what the hardest part of adjusting to new parenthood was. It’s a tough question but I said that the most difficult part for me was definitely feeling like my old life was over and there was this vast unknown of what a “normal” day as a mom looked like. Not to mention what a normal week, month, year, etc. would entail…..needless to say it’s a huge life change and can be a little overwhelming.

The happy side of this is, you are still yourself after becoming a mom! Granted, you will have to reshuffle your schedule slightly, and let some less-important things go, but life doesn’t end after having a baby–it’s a whole new wonderful world!

Continue reading

July 2015 Monthly Snapshot

I know it’s probably the most over-used seasonal declaration in all of bloggerdom (except for statements about loving fall and pumpkin products), but this summer has been SO crazy! But so much fun. July was no exception and we had a blast with family and friends and just enjoying a good old Utah summer! Utah summers truly do make up for a freezing winter. I love living somewhere that really has all four seasons (I’m looking at you, Alaska).
We started off the month with a last minute little getaway to a cabin with some great friends. The kids had a blast playing, there was plenty of lounging and good food to be had, and my very talented friend Kait snapped some pics of the kiddos in front of this gorgeous backdrop.
Seriously, if it weren’t for Kait I would have no quality pictures of Ella. She’s taken basically every frame-able photo over the past year and a half.
Don’t be too fooled by the sweetness because second later my child was literally choking me:
After all I’ve done for you, Ella!
These kids are just the sweetest buddies.
“A-done!”
We spent the Fourth of July with the Keslers again–they can’t shake us! Our town is just the best on the Fourth. We are so lucky that we live close enough to just walk over to the parade in the morning, as opposed to people who camp on the street overnight. It also helps to have a pregnant woman in your party, as kind people let you sit in their saved area and have front-row seats.
*Photo cred goes to Kait, again*
Ella loved it but it was HOT (which I seem to forget every year….duh) so we didn’t last the entire time. Another reason I love living within walking distance!

 

 

We got suckered into buying a ride on the Ferris Wheel at the carnival down the street since it was the only ride that Ella was big enough to go on, and when we did the math we realized we paid $12 for all three of us to ride that stupid thing! I couldn’t believe what a rip-off it was but Ella seemed to have fun as evidenced in the above picture–she was quite entranced, haha! But from here on out I’m sticking to the $1 carousel at Provo Beach Resort!
Aaaaannnd I’m realizing that I am wearing these lovely Jorts in every picture in this post. I guess I’m a Mormon mom and it’s summer, so why not dress the part?
Then the girls got to try their first sparklers, and they decided that laying on the concrete was their best bet for fireworks viewing. Haha they don’t look that comfy to me. Silly girlies!

 

We hit up Hee-Haw Farms for their summer activities and it was SOOOO fun! We had been once before, last fall, and I had been dying to take Ella back now that she’s a little older. They have a ton of activities geared towards younger kids, and a lot of stuff that Ella could participate in, which is hard to find sometimes since she’s still so little. I’m not being paid to say any of this stuff–I just love this place and the owners are super nice. When we were there the lady in charge made sure we got to do all of the activities that we were interested in, and even did a hayride just for Ella and one other little girl. Totally worth checking out if you live in Utah Valley!
The day we went was “cow week,” and they had a little class about cows, and then we made our own ice cream, which Ella loved.
She could play in this corn box for the rest of her life. I kept having to warn her, “ok, five more minutes until we have to go,” but she conned me into like half an hour haha.
The only thing I was bummed about was the fact that she freaked out when we tried to get her on a pony ride. She loved it last time, but she was younger and I think less aware of danger 🙂 So we just basically accompanied the pony on a walk around his pen.
I already posted a little about the Yamashita reunion here, but here’s another pic of Ella with some of her cute cousins. She loves and gets attached to older girls!

 

 

It was Cow Appreciation Day and so naturally we had to participate. Three free meals?! Made up for the $12 we spent on that flipping Ferris Wheel.

 

 

We also got to hang out with my sister-in-law Marcy and her cute little Elise when they were in town for a few weeks! Try as we might this was the best shot we got of both girls….ahh, toddlers. But I am so happy these girls have each other. They will be the best buddies growing up since they are so close in age.
And that’s July! Here’s to one more month of summer!