Monday, January 28, 2008

Cooking Club hosts a Pizza Par-tay

Saturday was Cooking Club night and this month we hosted a pizza party. Think pizza parlor in the midst of the Gilmores' kitchen complete with flying flour, melty cheese, vats of veggies and, of course, a gourmet twist. We started off the fiesta with this homemade all-natural caramel corn (the picture hardly does it justice). The recipe came from Cori's SuperNatural cookbook and was a blend of sweet, salty and spicy. Definitely a winner.

Mary (with baby in tow) and Angela (Jeremy and Marcy's new foster daughter) went to work on pizza crusts. They rolled out the dough for Dorina's own Honey-Whole Wheat crust for our Thai Chicken Pizza (ala Rachael Ray) and our more traditional Meat and Veggie Extravaganza Pizza. The flour was flyin' but there were no pizza tossers in the house. Too bad.

Jana added the toppings to the Meat and Veggie Combo. Uh...she got a little carried away. Who ever heard of cauliflower on pizza? Well, Cooking Club is all about trying new things in the kitchen so we let her be creative and the results were gone in no time. We also made Giada De Laurentiis' Acorn Squash and Arugula Pizza minus the arugula. This was definitely creative and surprisingly spicy, but still a hit.

The winner pizza recipe of the night was no contest: Giada's Chocolate Pizza using Cori's whole wheat shortbread crust. Marcy and Cori pressed our creative crust into tart pans and then we all added the toppings. Cori brought bananas and dark chocolate chips. I added coconut and walnuts to the choices. We popped the chocolate pizza tarts into the oven for a few minutes to melt the toppings and presto! we had a deluxe dessert pizza-style. They were so yummy we even forgot to get the vanilla ice cream out of the freezer to go with them.

After indulging on our chocolate pizza tarts we busted out a game of Ticket to Ride. What better way to spend a cold, winter's eve than to munch pizzas on paper plates (no dishes!) and play our favorite games with friends. Very casual. Very memorable.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jumpin' for Jamba: Gilmores head out for a late-night field trip

Our sweet Meilani has been feeling under the weather this week. We think Daddy brought home some of those lovely "sickness germs" from his students. Mama was feeling some cabin fever after having to cancel all her appointments to hang out with friends and being quarantined at home. We decided it was high time to go on an little field trip out of our "cabin." Yes, you guessed it - we were off to Jamba Juice.

We grabbed a Coldbuster smoothie for the girl and even found this cool children's book on the shelf about staying active and the body. The Gilmores are pretty against fast food-type places - in case you didn't know that - but we're big advocates for Jamba Juice. (We pretty much live there during track season.) Our only question is: When are they gonna get a drive thru?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Let it Snow: Meilani revels in her first Snow Play Day

For the Martin Luther King holiday on Monday we decided to take a family excursion to the snow. We had planned to go with our friends, the Schultzes, but one of their girls was sick so we set out on our own. This was Meilani's first snow romp. We bundled her up in lots of layers, including the hat and scarf Mama made and even an extra layer for her "baby." Meilani (thankfully) slept in the car and Mama and Daddy got some good quality connecting time.

We arrived at Shaver Lake (about an hour's drive from our place) just as the snow started coming down. Perfect timing! Meilani was definitely intrigued. We rolled down the windows and dined on our picnic lunch in the car. "SnowSnowSNOW!" Meilani squacked. "SNOW Down," she announced, making sure we noticed that the snow was indeed falling down. She was eager.

Meilani was especially proud of her new "boots" that we found at a Swap & Shop party last week at my friend Jessica's place. We got these black boots for $3 - such a deal compared to the $15 ones we scoped out at the store. (In Fresno, there's not really a need for boots except for these occasional snow days. That would be another story if we were in Chicago...)

After we bundled her all up and successfully got on a pair of mittens we headed out. There was no mystery as to where the coolest spots were near Shaver Lake. Dozens of families lined the hills equipped with sleds, tubes, and other makeshift sliding devices. The whole area echoed with peels of laughter and joy.

We fashioned a sled for Meilani out of a cardboard box since we didn't think the adult-sized sled would really work. Surprisingly, she was timid about sledding at first and kept saying "MamaMamaHold" so Mama would hold her tight. But by the end of the day, she was the fearless creature we know her to be.

We also took a little hike up into the woods and paused to make snow angels in the newly-fallen snow. Again, this was a first for Meilani so she was curious and concerned about what Mama was doing laying in the snow, flapping her arms. Then she joined in the fun.

Daddy put Meilani in the hiking backpack to give her a little break and a better view of our woods walk. At this point, we realized she was either too bundled or too cold because she just stared for about 20 minutes - almost lethargic. But we warmed her up with the new sights to see.

Daddy even got in on some sledding action. We found a lid to a plastic container (someone else's makeshift sled). He took this state-of-the-art snow flyer for a few rides. Fun! "More!" squealed Meilani as she looked on.

After a few hours or reveling in the snow we eagerly packed back in the car, changed into dry clothes and gulped some hot peppermint tea and oatmeal cookies. The day was a great escape with Daddy from our usual Monday routine.

Girls Night on the Town: Celebrating Danna's birthday

I'm learning as a stay-at-home mama that sanity depends on the occasional night out on my own or with the girls. I love my husband and my daughter but once in a while it's nice to abandon my mama and wife obligations and just relax. Saturday night Danna's birthday was just the excuse I needed to get away. Actually, I think all of us girls needed a little getaway. We rendezvoused at New Stars Vegetarian restaurant - a chic new Fresno restaurant for vegetarians and otherwise adventurous souls. Eleven of us girls convened on this little place in the name of "Girls' Night Out."

Danna has resolved to go vegetarian in 2008 (except for fish) so her choice of restaurant was appropriate. Our meal started with a delectable Coconut Chicken Lemon soup. I sat next to another dining adventurer, my friend Cori, and we decided to share two very different entrees - Eggplant Marinara served over a bed of pasta & Vegetable Coconut Curry served over a bed of brown rice. Both were unique. My rule is: never order something at a restaurant that you could make at home. The Vegetable Curry was definitely my fave. The meal was even sweeter with the coupons Stacie found online, which gave us $45 off our final bill. What a score!

The real fun of the night was not the food but the fellowship. We laughed, reminisced about the past, swapped parenting (& dating!) stories, laughed, teased the bus boy, and did I mention laughing? Yes, we had our fill. After dinner, Danna (who is quite the beautiful bachelorette in this photo) picked dessert at Ben & Jerry's around the corner. I was too stuffed for ice cream (gasp!) but it was great fun to be with friends. And Ericlee survived his stay-at-home Daddy night as well. Par-ty!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Mamas survive winter nights with wee ones

We've been missing our Daddy (Ericlee) who has been very busy lately with early morning practices and late night basketball games. We try to get out to at least one game a week to cheer on Daddy and his team but the away games are tough. One way we cope is by having friends over on nights when Daddy is gone. A few weeks ago we discovered our friends Beverly, Josiah and baby Bethany Ford are also home every other Friday night while their Daddy (Matt) is doing youth ministry. We decided to band together and make it a fun night for the kids. Our celebrations began by making homemade pizza.

I made the dough ahead of time (recipe at right) and Meilani put on her Christmas apron and showed off her cooking skills to her friend "Siah" (or Josiah). Jo was excited to experience the kitchen for the first time (according to Bev) and help put the toppings on our pizza. He dumped on his pile of pepperoni to go with our veggies and cheese. This past Friday we made beef burritos for the kids with guacamole for dipping chips and a Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookie recipe (at right) sans sugar.

The cookies were a hit and Meilani and "Siah" even cooked up their own concoctions in our kid kitchen. They made "soooup" and something wild in the blender while the mamas got in a little chatting time. I appreciate talking about parenting, marriage, cooking, faith and life in general with my friend Beverly. She encourages me so much.

Josiah and Meilani also entertained Baby Bethany, who can definitely hold her own. She loved watching the "older kids" dance, play, scream, jump, pillow fight, pretend grocery shop and eat in our kitchen/playroom. And the mamas were able to survive another winter night with wee ones.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Wedding makes a winner date night for Gilmores

Saturday night we had our "date night" at a wedding. We watched one of our former track stars, Michelle Nachtigall, marry Kyle Warkentin at River Park church. The wedding was a beautiful black and white formal with pink rose accents. Michelle was a beauty queen with her signature winner smile. We had fun reflecting on her time in high school with us.

Michelle was our first four-year track athlete who won a varsity letter all four years. She will graduate from Fresno Pacific University this spring after competing in her final track season. Michelle's younger sister, Melanie, is a senior at Fresno Christian. She's a volleyball/basketball star, but Ericlee taught her for Leadership class.

This event was also significant for us because it was our first night out with a babysitter watching Meilani. (Well, a babysitter besides grandparents, of course.) Our friends, Forest and Stacie, helped out on the home front while we dined in style. Meilani actually did quite well with Uncle Forest and Auntie Stacie. She was happily coloring at her table when we returned home.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Meilani's Milestones: Taking Cues from the Nativity

This week we fished out the boxes from the garage and packed away the Christmas ornaments, the wreaths and nutcrackers. We hefted our brittle tree out to the curb and swept the trail of pine needles throughout the house. And last, but not least, I packed up the nativity set. Of course, our now 19-month-old Meilani is not ready to part with her personal nativity - an early-December gift from Grandma.

Let me tell you something about this nativity set designed just for kids. It's made out of that action-figure rubber, painted with bright (somewhat unrealistic colors) and this set has gone everywhere with us for almost a month now.

I mean everywhere.

These wise men have been launched across the living room. These shepherds have trotted after their sheep in the family hybrid, the laundry basket and the stroller. Mary and Joseph have traveled not only to Bethlehem but to Tahoe Joe's restaurant in Fresno, the Tech Museum in San Jose and even to several friends' houses across the Central Valley.

And let's not forget the baby Jesus, whom my daughter fondly calls "BeeBee." He's not more than the size of my fingernail wrapped in swaddling cloths but he's also traveled the world of my eager toddler, frequenting pockets, backpacks and once even landing in the toilet. (I'll spare you the details.)

Meilani does not discriminate with her nativity scenes. She loves her own personal set but she's also constantly on the lookout for other varieties. She would climb onto her changing table just so she can peer out the window at the BeeBee in our neighbor's window across the street. Nana Maria has a nativity collection and Meilani loves getting her sweet face in close and examining the carved faces of wise men carved in Rwanda, cows carefully painted in Mexico or angels molded in Costa Rica. But she's always most concerned about the BeeBee.

Is the BeeBee sleeping? Is the BeeBee eating? Who wrapped the BeeBee? Can she hold the BeeBee? Is the BeeBee safely in the Mama's arms? Meilani will gingerly place the BeeBee Jesus in Mary's arms and hold him there for long stretches with her pointer finger and thumb as if it's her duty to help him find his mama.

I don't know what it is about this scene that brings me to tears. I've learned a lot this month from my daughter and her child-like faith. I have a new understanding of that verse in Luke that says we must become like children to enter the Kingdom of God.

She gets it. I know she does in her simple way. A new milestone at our house is that Meilani leads the prayers. We never prompted her. For weeks she kept saying "PIE!PIe!" and we had no idea what she was trying to communicate until this past Sunday when I was with her in her little Sunday School class and the teacher said it was time to pray. Meilani leaped up to the front of the class, folded her hands and said, "Pie!" She bowed her head and mumbled a few jumbled syllables. Speaking in tongues? Teacher and I exchanged one mutual look of awe. She wanted to pray to Jesus.

Sometimes we make faith so complicated. We pile layers of theology and materialism on top of the truth and the BeeBee is so wrapped up in our "swaddling cloths" we don't even notice him anymore. At least I don't - until I hear my daughter trotting through the house yelling "BeeBee! BeeBee" at the top of her joy-filled lungs.

And now the Christmas lights are no longer winking at our house. The bows and rolls of extra wrapping paper are packed away. The Christmas tablecloths and serving platters are returned to the closet until next year. But we're still keeping one particular nativity set out. Meilani has the BeeBee and his friends tucked in a small felt bag underneath her arm tonight. She's resting with Jesus.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Gilmores go high-Tech in San Jose

On Thursday and Friday we took a family road trip up to San Jose to meet Dorina's niece and nephew, Giovanni and Sophia, who were in the city for a few days from Seattle. Nana and Papa drove with us. Gio is almost 12 now and Sophia is 9. (Don't we feel old?) We met them at a really cool museum in San Jose called The Tech.

Gio is really into building things and fooling around with anything to do with electrical wires and remote controls. He LOVED The Tech and it was tough to pull him away. Meilani even got in on the action with her *older* cuz. We spent a while in this interactive section called "Green by Design."

Leave it to Meilani to find the only "doggy" in the place and go in close for a hug. Her cousin, Sophia, followed her around like an expert babysitter much to Meilani's happiness. After a few short minutes, she wanted Sophia with her all the time!

I couldn't believe how much my niece has matured and grown into a beautiful young woman in the year and a half since I've seen her. We pose together at The Tech, wearing our homemade scarves. This soft turquoise blue one I made for her for Christmas since the family now lives in Seattle (Brrr!).

After The Tech, we went to the nursing home where my Grandpa Frank stays, picked him up and all went out for Chinese dinner. I am glad we got to spend some time with Grandpa although he interacts very little now. He occasionally gives us a glimpse of his winner smile but didn't talk much at dinner and apparently he can barely see. One thing remains: his appetite for Chinese food.

Meilani and Sophia had a grand old time at the table drinking their wonton soup (Meilani's favorite), peering at the fish tank, reading books and playing with our (rubber) nativity set, which has gone everywhere with us this season. Mama and Daddy enjoyed having more hands to keep our squirmy 19-month-old busy.

Ericlee and Gio took some time together to talk about "boy things" and quiz each other on math problems. Gio is quite the math whiz, but he's also great with music too and plays the viola now.

After dinner, we all piled in the cars once more and headed over to my cousin Kimberly and her husband, Barry's house to see their newborn Kalina. I got to hold her for a long time and remember the feeling of those miniature hands and see the newborn yawns again. Kalina is only 2 weeks old in this picture.

We stayed in a hotel on Thursday night with Nana and Papa - an adventure reminicent of my childhood when we would travel and stay with my Grandpa Frank and Grandma Cora. Then we went to see my mom's dear friend and old roommate, Mae Montoya, and her granddaughter Isabella. This was the only traveling we did over the vacation and it was a great escape with little stress.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Gilmores bring in the New Year with friends, family and good eats

This New Year's Eve we were actually in Fresno. Usually we are traveling and visiting with family but because of Ericlee's basketball schedule we opted for staying close to home. We still made it special with a night out to a new Ethiopian restaurant, Lucy's Lair, with our friends Forest and Stacie. Grandma Chris had her own party with Meilani girl.

The food was fabulous - such a treat to have it here in Fresno since we often drive to Berkeley (3-hour drive) for good Ethiopian. After dinner, we headed to Forest and Stacie's apartment for some good, clean fun: board games and goodies. We played our ever-favorite, Ticket to Ride. Actually, Forest loved our Game Tourney idea from Christmas and he decided to host is own with prizes for everyone. Two other couples joined us, including our friends Cori and Darrel, who are also serious Ticket to Ride players. (Watch out!)

The Benedicts' dog, Sadie, was part of the evening's entertainment. She had all kinds of funny (and inappropriate) antics to add humor to the night. We also felt the aftermath of the next door neighbor's party - bumping bass and all. We rang in the new year, watching the ball drop and kissing our mates. The evening was relaxing and a much-needed break from the bustle of Christmas. Meanwhile, Meilani girl stayed up until midnight (!) with Grandma Chris and had a good old time.

On New Year's Day, we had Nana and Papa Lazo and Grandma and Grandpa Karlyn over for barbequing and football. We decided to continue the relaxed tone and try something new in the food department. We have never really done ribs before but we found a great deal on racks of beef ribs and I made this Mango-Red Pepper Barbeque Sauce.

The ribs, alongwith pilaf made by Grandma Chris and salad and crab dip appetizers made by Nana Maria were a huge hit - and a different menu from our fancy food throughout Christmas. I appreciated the extra help with the cooking after such a festive Christmas week menu. After our satisfying meal, Grandpa, Papa and Daddy watched football and cheered on Hawaii in a Bowl game.

Grandma Chris used her spiritual gifts in the kitchen and helped clean up. (What a gift!) She does dishes with gusto. Meilani flipped between playing with new Christmas toys and sitting like a big girl on the couch to watch football with the boys.

Our grand finale was the Mint Cookies 'n' Cream Holiday trifle, which is always fun to make and even more exciting to eat. What a wonderful way to ring in the new year.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Gilmores reflect on 2007 blessings, usher in 2008

Our Gilmore Gazette has evolved from paper to this more interactive, tree-saving blog. We thought it only appropriate that we take a few minutes today to reflect on some of the blessings of 2007 and share with you some of the adventures of our year. We'll give you the highlights and feel free to click on the links for more in-depth coverage and photos. (And feel free to leave us a comment so we know who is reading!)

We kicked off January 2007 with a bang at the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena. The second week of January we were blessed to host three precious Ugandan girls and the choir director from the African Children's Choir in our home. That Sunday, we celebrated Meilani's Dedication to God at The Bridge church. We were excited to have family and close friends supporting us on our journey as new parents.

Every February our church focuses on one country in the world and spends time learning about that culture and raising money for a dynamic missions project. We volunteered many hours as Missions Committee members to help communicate about the needs in Rwanda and raise funds for The Wellspring Academy. Dorina edited a magazine and helped with drama and other communication for this project while Ericlee helped with speaker panels.

Dorina's second children's picture book, A STONE IN THE SOUP: A HMONG GIRL'S JOURNEY TO THE UNITED STATES was released in March. She signed books at several Central Valley locations throughout the spring. She continues to send out picture book manuscripts in hopes of finding new publishers and perhaps an agent in 2008.

At the sound of the gun, the Track & Field season at Fresno Christian High School started in March. Ericlee served for his 7th season as Head Coach; Dorina was the women's head coach. Meilani helped out at practices and learned to walk (at 8 months!) while hanging out with the athletes. The season was a winner with several school records broken. The girls' team just missed first place in the championships and we were proud of them.

We celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary together on April 13. Later that month, Ericlee threw a huge Birthday dinner party for Dorina's 30th on our deck. She was blessed to be surrounded by so many friends and family from different seasons of her life.

In April/May, we celebrated with many of our friends through baby and wedding showers at our home. We threw a big birthday luau in our yard for Meilani's first birthday! Of course, the party was more for the adults but she loved having so many kids in the pool. Uncle Paul even set up a snazzy waterfall.

In June, Meilani experienced her first camping trip as we met up with our friends Doug and Brenda Round and their little one, Liana. Meilani also got to strut her stuff in her first wedding as she walked down the aisle with Mama and Daddy for Mary Bybee and Antonio Andrade's wedding. She continued her round of "firsts" as we boarded an airplane right after the wedding for our seven weeks in Roanoke, Virginia, where Dorina is working on her master's degree in writing children's books at Hollins University.

Daddy tried on his skills at home while Mama strapped on her backpack and headed to class. We moved three times in seven weeks, which was a bit of a challenge, but we're raising Meilani to be flexible. Daddy and Meilani checked out the wildlife, visited parks, played in the rain and spent lots of hours in the Hollins U. pool.

We spent Fourth of July in Roanoke with our grad school friends. We even took a study break to see the Jazz in July festival and explore the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains for a true Appalachian experience. We perfected our use of the phrase "y'all" and relished the lush, green compared to our Fresno dry heat. What a great adventure to live in the South (and still be able to return to our California paradise at the end of the summer.)

When Dorina finished up her final papers and classes, we headed to Baltimore to visit with our friend, Shawn Young, and tour Washington, D.C. From there, we drove to North Carolina to hang out with Ericlee's cousins, Sean and Amy Bennett and their son, Whitaker. After seven weeks on the road and living out of suitcases, we were relieved to return home to the grandparents who eagerly greeted us at the airport.

Ericlee returned to teaching at Fresno Christian for his eighth year. He was excited to continue as an elementary P.E. teacher, but he was sad to give up his high school leadership class since it didn't fit into his schedule this year. In September, Ericlee started the first high school cross country team in 20 years and his athletes (boys and girls) won second place in the league with one girl qualifying for the state championships. We did a little running of our own with Meilani cheering "GoGoGo!" from the jogging stroller. We participated in the annual Cross City Race in September and later in the Trail of Two Cities Half Marathon in November.

Another significant new adventure for our family has been the start of a "healthy living journey" this fall. (You can read more details about it by clicking on our healthy living tags at the right.) You might say we’re on a “food journey.” But it’s more than a road trip down the latest fad diet lane or culinary trend. We are changing our lifestyle to embrace healthy living - in all areas. Of course that includes a diversity of topics, including how we care for our bodies, what we eat, how we exercise, how we raise our children, what we believe about medicine, how we recycle and give back to the earth, how we invest our resources, how we live in community and even how we live out our faith. In short, we read a book called, WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT HEALTHY LIVING by Dr. Rex Russell, and made some drastic changes. Ericlee has used his influence at Fresno Christian to help the school consider healthy options, distribute a Nutrition Newsletter, take soda out of vending machines and form a Wellness Council. We'd love to dialogue with you more about this journey if you're interested.

This fall, Dorina taught one journalism class at Fresno Pacific University. Most of her time was spent with Meilani as the two took field trips with friends to places like the library and pumpkin patch, cooked up new healthy recipes together in the kitchen and delivered food to friends with newborn babies and cheered for Daddy's basketball team in San Francisco. Dorina attends a women's bible study on Tuesday mornings and hosts a monthly Cooking Club for 10 friends (and food for the hubbies & kids). She enjoys a new pace at home and once in a while squeezes in time to work on her creative thesis - a young adult novel about a girl from a multicultural heritage growing up in a Chicago pizzeria.

This December, our greatest gift was quality time together with family and friends. As Meilani grows, we treasure the moments we can read, walk, pray, giggle and dance together. We hope you have fun viewing our slide show of family photos here in on the blog. We anticipate hearing more about your life adventures and visit with you in 2008. We do feel truly blessed.

Happy New Year to each of you!