Monday, October 29, 2007

Kickin' it at the Coast: Fall, Friends, Football

Since we are such a busy family, Ericlee and I made a goal this year to plan one weekend a month to "get a way" - even if it's only for a day - for some family time. We've been planning our October getaway to California's Central Coast with our friends, the Schultzes, for a while now. We started our weekend on Thursday. Jen and I piled the four girls in the Schultz family van and headed for Arroyo Grande. Ericlee and Chris followed on Thursday evening after their duties at Fresno Christian were complete.

Meilani is an only child (so far) and she LOVES being with her Schultz sisters. Of course there were moments when four girls in a beach house was a little overwhelming. We had a few time outs here and there. But overall the girls enjoyed each other's company. On Thursday night we piled them all in the master bedroom luxury bath tub for a play fest. Kamryn and Addy were up for posing but Meilani girl would have none of it.

We spent all day Friday at the house (owned by Ericlee's grandparents, Leo & Karla Karlyn). The kids played games, helped me bake and explored the loft. The daddies got to relax and lounge. Unfortunately, Jen came down with the flu so she had to stay in bed - but what better place to relax than at the Coast? Friday night we headed to Cambria to watch Fresno Christian's football team play against Coast Union High.

We actually had to get out the beanies and winter coats for the brisk coastal weather. Jen and Tessa sport homemade beanies here. Meilani had on so many layers she was like a marshmallow man. Of course, that didn't stop her from running down on the field on multiple occasions. She was a big fan, yelling "Go, go, GO!" at the boys in their gear.

The JV team won; the Varsity team lost. Win or lose - it was still a great time under the Friday night lights at the Coast. We munched on savory tri-tip sandwiches and warm pumpkin-banana muffins we made earlier in the day. We also indulged Daddy's company. Usually he has to be a chaperone for this all-school trip but this year he got to be with the family.
Saturday we let Jen rest at home and Ericlee, Chris and I took the girls to the beach. We headed to Grover beach for some fun in the sand and surf. The weather was cool enough for jackets and pants but we had blue skies and no wind. We love watching the personalities of the four girls. Kamryn and Meilani are high-energy chicas while Addison (pictured here with me) likes to stay close to the home base. Tessa stayed by her daddy's side for our beach excursion.

While Kamryn jumped the waves, Meilani girl tried out her sand-throwing skills. She even took a few licks of sand just to try it out. Yucky! We do value that she's a kids who loves trying new foods. She had to suffer through the mouth full of sand though. Daddy distracted her with a little wrestling and throwing her up into the air - both favorite pasttimes.


UP and away!

Then back down to safety of Daddy's arms.

"Again, Daddy!"

Saturday afternoon the Schultzes had to return to Fresno, but this gave us some time to ourselves Saturday evening and Sunday. We headed out on Saturday for our planned 12-mile training run (as we continue to get ready for the Half Marathon in two weeks) but then the rain started to fall. We took a detour and stopped at the Avila Barn, a wonderful fruit stand, toy and kitchen store and pumpkin patch - complete with corn maze and farm animals to view.

Inside the Avila Barn we found fresh fruits and veggies for our dinner, a room full of interesting learning toys and puzzles and another room full of samples. The samples included everything from homemade taffy to kettle popcorn, from peach salsa to dried papayas. Yummy!

The Avila Barn turned out to be a great diversion from the rain. Daddy played with Meilani in the toy section for a while. Meilani loved all the stuffed farm animals and sparkly gadgets. She also went back for several samples of the peach salsa with organic blue corn tortilla chips. "More, more."

Meilani's favorite part was the corn maze. They had a small one for toddlers but we decided to take her in the adult maze and see what she could do. We let her run down the tunnels and we followed. Meilani was in the lead and - believe it or not - the kid found her way out of the maze. Then we headed back to the beach house to warm our toes and to make a pasta dinner with our fresh veggies from the market stand.

Sunday was a much warmer and brighter morning so we headed to the Bob Jones Trail in Avila for that 12-mile training run. I was admittedly nervous about the long run and the then the 3-hour drive home but the beauty of our surroundings made it worth it. We went on a tour of the senses as the trail took us through the woods and out to the ocean. We smelled maple and fresh herbs in the forest. We feasted on the colors - fiery orange, burnt sienna and ruby red leaves. We heard birds chirping and dogs barking. We tasted the salty sea air as we came out on the trail to Avila Beach. We listened to the waves crashing on the shore. We weaved our way through the dreamy fog and out into the sun, which warmed our backs and cast sparkles on a glassy inlet where ducks swam. We ran our 12 miles but it was much more than a run. Sunday morning we found calm in God's natural sanctuary.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Smart Snacks for the Whole Family

For the last couple of weeks, we've been on a treasure hunt for healthy snacks. Our goal was to find some good eats - homemade and ready-made - that kids can enjoy for lunches or anytime. We discovered some good treats for the whole family.

Of course, finding "healthy" snacks means we had to read lots of labels and peruse lots of recipes. In our culture, a snack is so often equated with junk like cookies, chips, candy and pop (Ok, soda) - full of empty calories, chemical-laden white sugars and flours. But life with a toddler has taught us that snacks need to be nutritious and delicious because really they are mini-meals. Meilani partakes in many mini-meals a day.

We wanted to share our Top 10 list and we encourage you to share these recipes or add to our list some of the smart snacks you've discovered on your own. Why should moms have to do all the research individually? Why not share the wealth of our treasure hunt with others? Pass it on.


*Dorina's Peanut Butter Coconut Granola (Bars or Crumbled) - Find the recipe at the right. This granola is a big hit at the Gilmores. Daddy eats it for breakfast with milk as cereal. Mama & Meilani eat it as a snack. We even use it thrown on top of fruit and baked in the oven like a "crisp" dessert.
*Apple slices with Almond Butter - They sell fresh-pressed Almond Butter at our local Winco grocery store and lots of other stores are carrying almond butter on their shelves. Just slice up the apple of your choice and give your kids a small bowl of almond butter for dipping.
*Pear slices with Organic Peanut Butter - Choose firm pears like bosc or other varieties, slice them up and spread them with peanut butter. Look for peanut butters that use real peanuts and no added sugar. (Jiffy doesn't count! - more sugar than peanuts.)
*Organic Whole Milk Yogurt sprinkled with Cinnamon - We like Yo Baby! brand because they come in individual containers but you can save money buying a tub of organic yogurt and dishing it our yourself. Instead of adding sugar, try honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Add your own fresh fruit or let kids dip fresh fruit cut into sticks in the yogurt.
*Banana-Oatmeal Power Cookies - These are a new favorite snack recipe from the Complete Outdoor Living William Sonoma cookbook. Let us know if you want the recipe. The Cross Country team already digs these power-packed treats.
*Maple Glazed Walnuts - We snagged this one from Food Network's Ellie Krieger who hosts the show, Healthy Appetite on Saturdays. She's a great resource for yummy tasting, healthy eats. And this recipe is a snap to make.
*Carrot Sticks or Celery Sticks with Hummus dip - We make our own homemade hummus (recipe at right), which is a mix of garbanzo beans, garlic, tahini, lemon juice and salt. It's simple and cheap to make from scratch. Meilani is a "dipper" and here's another chance to get those healthy beans in her system along with fresh vegetables. Ericlee eats hummus instead of mayo on a sandwich. Dorina prefers hummus with pita bread and a spoonful of salsa.
*Whole Fruit Smoothies with Flaxseed - We have one of those VitaMix blenders (like the ones they use at Jamba Juice) and you can pretty much throw any whole fruit into it with a little soy milk or juice and a tablespoon of flaxseed and you have instant breakfast. Meilani is a big fan. I buy a package of colored straws and she drinks smoothies for breakfast and treats.
*Banana Oat Muffins - This is a new recipe from a book called HEALTHY KIDS by Marilu Henner. She gives lots of ideas on healthy food for kids minus the excessive sugar and white flours. The book is a great resource on healthy living and includes recipes at the back.
*Trail Mix - You can buy trail mix in individual packages now at places like Costco. We like to make our own with nuts, dried fruit and dark chocolate chips available in bulk at places like Winco. Let your kids create their own mix and get excited about sharing it.
*Whole Wheat Quesadillas with Organic Sour Cream - Trader Joe's is our favorite local grocery store and they sell fabulous whole wheat quesadillas. They are thick and chewy - great for quesadillas with a dab of TJ's sour cream (with no hormones).


*Organic Fruitabu - These are available in bulk at Costco or in small packages at your regular grocery store. Fruitabu are 100% fruit with no added sugar. Move over Fruit Roll-ups.
*Kashi crackers (5-grain or cheese) - Kashi is a great brand for snack crackers and many local grocery stores carry Kashi now.
*Trader Joe's Fig bars - As mentioned before, Trader Joe's is a favorite for us and they make yummy cereal bars with Figs. Meilani digs them and they can double as a quick breakfast or lunch accompaniment. Great for picnics.
*Whole Wheat Organic Os - Skip the Cheerios or sugar-coated cereals and seek out a 100% whole wheat Os. These can be found at Vons, Safeway, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods - pretty much any grocery if you look carefully.
*Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips - We love these with salsa and the blue corn adds a visual twist. We crumble these chips into tortilla soup and other soups as well for garnish.
*Organic Tortilla Chips with Flaxseed - These are also available in bulk at Winco or places like Trader Joe's. Help your kids get their share of flaxseed - that amazing brain food. No joke; Studies show they'll be smarter.
*Larabars - These are an awesome all-fruit and nut bar with no added sugar. Then ingredients list is literally 2-3 items. You don't find that very often in snacks. Ericlee's favorite flavor is Apple Pie. Mmmm, good.
*Clif's ZBar - This is a new bar designed especially for kids by the Clif Bar company. They come in yummy flavors like Chocolate Brownie and Chocolate Chip with no high fructose corn syrup like those other bars...
*Annie's Whole Wheat Bunnies - For toddlers who are into bunnies and ducks, substitute these whole grain treats instead of the traditional animal crackers that have very little nutritional value. These cute bunnies taste great and don't have added sugar.
*Earth's Best Organic Whole Grain Bars - These are ready-made granola bars if you don't want to make your own and they incorporate blueberries or other dried fruit to please your kids' palates.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Cross Country team sprints for the finish

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Last Thursday, Meilani and I went to our first Cross Country meet to cheer on Daddy and his Cross Country team. Contrary to popular belief, cross country is fairly different from track & field. They are similar because they both involve running but cross country is running on terrain, sometimes through the forest and not always on a path. We trekked to Reedley College for Thursday's meet and followed the athletes on their 3.1-mile course near the college football field. We discovered cross country is a bit harder on spectators since you can't just sit in the stands and cheer. You actually have to strategize good spots to watch the runners. We were especially proud of some of the track athletes we know who are doing cross country now too - like Janae Ford, Ellie Wilhelm, Doug Daniel, Nathan Hinojosa and Whitney Chessum.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Picking Pumpkins at the Patch with the Girls

For our now weekly Wednesday field trips with the Schultz girls, we hightailed it over to the Pumpkin Patch for some harvest fun. There's something about the warm colors of autumn that make for perfect photo opportunities.

Tessa has warmed up to Meilani and actually called her by name today. She and Meilani chased through the rows of pumpkins and into the hay maze.

This maze was perfect for little ones because it was small enough for Mamas to supervise but still included lots of fun dead-ends, tunnels to crawl through and peep holes.

Meilani and Addison bounced on the big pumpkins and went on a quest to find the perfect small pumpkins. Addison was the best "older" friend to have at the Pumpkin Patch. She led the little ones around by the hand and helped pose them for photos.
Meilani shows her "warrior woman" skills, hefting pumpkins of all sizes. She thought it was a pumpkin-lifting competition.
We loved our Harvest Outing with girlfriends. Mama even got a butternut squash and a pumpkin for baking. Try out some of our recipes like Butternut Squash Soup and Banana-Pumpkin Bread at the right, using these colorful harvest veggies.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Cooking Club does Vanishing Vegetarian Eats

Saturday evening we hosted our monthly Cooking Club at our house. This is a gathering of friends who like to cook, learn new techniques and share recipes. Forest and Stacie Benedict have been trying out vegetarian and vegan recipes so we made that our theme for October. I have always been a self-proclaimed carnivore. (Heck, I'm Italian and Filipino/Chinese; Meat is hard to avoid.) But I have to say that this all vegetarian meal was fabulous. Meilani helped in the kitchen by trying ingredients - like this whole zucchini, which we still have not found.

For appetizers we made "Zucchini Cakes," which are similar to crab cakes but minus the crab. These cakes were inexpensive to create and we coupled them with a cilantro salad dressing from Trader Joe's for a dipping sauce. The result was a wonderful starter for our meal. (I think most of us could have made this our meal - the zucchini cakes were a favorite.)

Our menu included this fabulous "Beans in Lemon & Herb Sauce," which Paula Beery took charge of putting together. The beans were crunchy and the sauce added a rich, lemony flavor. (We also made way too much - probably enough beans to feed an army but we live and learn.)

We also made this "Gnocchi and Peppers in Balsamic Sauce." This filling dish incorporated gnocchi (Italian potato dumpling pasta available and most grocery stores) and fresh vegetables sauteed and mixed with a balsamic-based sauce.

Stacie and Forest were big fans of the gnocchi with balsamic sauce. These gnocchi are very filling and we didn't miss the usual meat main dish. Gnocchi are often served with a cheese sauce like alfredo or gorgonzola so this was a new twist for me.

We rounded out our evening with a Fall Apple Crisp (made with honey instead of sugar) and a game of Ticket to Ride - our favorite board game. Cori and Darrel brought over the German version, which has some added strategy involved. You build railroads and then you can ride them for extra points. Not to brag or anything - since it was a very close game - but the Gilmores kicked butt in the end!

Meilani enjoyed the "train game" too, which involved lots of train songs sung by the adults. She investigated all the trains and set one package of them up on the floor for her own little railroad tracks. (She was the only little one in the mix so she entertained herself - and the rest of us!) The fun part about Cooking Club is it's always a different mix of people. This time it was a smaller group, including the Beerys, the Schmidts and the Benedicts. What it all comes down to is good food and good fun.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Family Enjoys Big Fun at the Big Fresno Fair

Saturday we piled in the car with Nana and Papa for a family fun day at the Big Fresno Fair. Grandma Christene met us there with our Haitian friends, Walquis and Gerby. This is Meilani's second year to the fair, continuing a long family tradition. Ericlee and his mom made it a tradition to go to the fair together each year since he was in grade school.
Right away she was enthralled by all the colors and sights. A stand with blow-up dolls and balloons caught Meilani's eye. She yelled, "Whoa, Whoa, WHOA!" just to let us know how cool everything looked. Grandma Christene was on a mission to show Meilani some of her favorite exhibits first.
Here Meilani poses with Nana and Grandma Christene near the bears - a giant wooden sculpture we *had* to touch on the way to the Farm Animal area. We almost got deterred by all the fair food booths but Grandma was on a mission and we were all wise to follow.
First stop: Lamb-A-Rama to check out the just-born baby lambs and the larger-than-life cows. Last year, when Meilani was only 5 months, she was a little frightened by the animals. Now that she knows the animal sounds all that Baa-baa, Moo-moo and cock-a-doodle-doo noise was music to her ears. She pointed and squealed.

We got to see a prize-winning turkey, the biggest show duck you've ever seen, bunnies with cute sniffling noses and even some piglets. Meilani enjoyed watching the newborn lambs nursing from their mothers. Wonder why...

Dorina's highlight of the day was her favorite "fair food": the Indian taco, which is made with Indian Fry Bread and topped with beef, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream. Mmmm, baby! She and Ericlee shared. Ericlee chose the hot-off-the-grill roasted corn dipped in butter.

Nana and Papa made themselves *messy* with ribs from Big Bubba's BBQ. You can't keep Papa away from good ribs and the fair has them cookin' out there for everyone to see them. Nana and Papa also enjoyed the exhibits with all the gadgets where they found a few things for their new house.

Meilani was not too interested in the food. But she definitely was interested in a new feature of our fair - the pirate's ship playground. The area was full of draw bridges, tunnel slides and all kinds of places to climb. She and Daddy had a good ole time chasing through the tunnels while the rest of us were eating. Shiver me timbers, I think Meilani girl would be quite the Lady Pirate!
We checked out the Home Arts building where a baking contest was being judged. We visited the photo and art exhibits where we oohed and ahhed over artwork and even some photos by our friends, Troy and Allison. And, of course, the best used quarter of the day was spent on the Footsie Wootsies - the foot massage seats - a fair fave.

By the end of the day, our little pirate was tuckered out and she fell asleep just as we were leaving the fair. Perfect timing for the rest of us. All in all, it was a day of big fun at the Big Fresno Fair.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Encouraging our Little Athlete

For anyone who has spent even five minutes with our Meilani, you know that she is full of joy and very active. People make sure to tell me this often. Sometimes I take it as a compliment. Sometimes I wonder if it's an insult. My husband astutely reminded me the other day that we need to take pride in the fact that our daughter is active (not hyper from sugar highs) because she has parents who role model an active lifestyle. What a great perspective!
From an early age we knew Meilani was going to be strong. At three to four months, she could support her own weight standing. At five months, she could do a perfect squat. Daddy says, "Many of my high school athletes can't even do that!" At six months, Meilani was crawling and climbing out of her crib. She would pull herself up with her arms, put her leg over the bar and fall down into the crawl position. Starting in the early weeks, we took her on plenty of runs in our jogging stroller, which is paying off now. On Sunday, we bundled her up and Meilani accompanied us on an 8-mile run. We are training for the Trail of 2 Cities Half Marathon in November. She smiled and shouted, "Go! Go! Go!" to Mama with glee as I ran alongside her.
Now Meilani is into running around the house and through the grass. At 16 months, she's definitely fast, especially with her new Nikes from Nana and Papa. She's like our little Dash from the Incredibles. Sometimes she likes trying on Mama's running shoes, but they're still a little big. (We can't share shoes quite yet.) Meilani's newest athletic feat is doing pullups on our pull-out cutting boards in the kitchen. I have to be careful not to put anything dangerous on top because she runs up and swings and does a perfect pullup to check things out. Yikes!

On Sunday, we hung out with some of our other "athletic girl friends." Chris Schultz, Ericlee's best man and fellow basketball coach, is pictured here with his oldest daughter, Kamryn. It's hard to believe Kamryn was the little blond baby at our wedding. Now she's a tall, athletic 6-year-old. Chris and Jen Schultz hosted Kamryn's birthday party Sunday afternoon at the Fresno Christian School gym. The theme was sports and they led the kids in all kinds of games and creative activities.
Meilani loved being active with the older kids. She chased the kids playing soccer and ran with the basketballs. The party was mostly 6-year-olds but there were a few younger ones like Ty and Tessa. The three little ones loved the Dancing Game. They didn't really stop when the music was over but they sure enjoyed shaking their stuff.

And, of course, a birthday party would not be complete without pizza. Addison and Emma show off their pizza-eating skills in this picture. Meilani enjoyed her cheese pizza for a special treat. And our little athlete was definitely tuckered out by the end of such an active day.