Thursday, February 28, 2008

Welcome Spring: A Zoo Party with Friends

Spring has sprung in Central California - or so we thought last week. We enjoyed sunny days with temperatures in the 60s and 70s. Thursday we took our first excursion of the season to Fresno's Zoo with our friends the McGowens and the Schultzes. We couldn't have picked a better day. The sun was shining and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

First stop: the reptile house. (Well, after all the kids took turns in the bathroom and playing we headed to the reptile house.) We peeked inside the aquariums filled with slimy snakes, terrific turtles, leapin' lizards and even some icky insects. Addy flashed a smile for the camera near the cool turtle statues.

Peyton, or as Meilani fondly calls, PeyPey, tried out his "turtle power" on this cool turtle shell jungle jim. He's quite the athlete and climber, which makes Meilani swoon. She idolizes everything the quiet PeyPey does.

After ducking inside the reptile house and checking out the ostriches, our crew followed the path to an outdoor exhibit where the kids could touch animal fur, bones and horns. This was like an outdoor museum for little ones to touch and explore more about the animals. A docent was there to answer their questions with a smile.

Meilani checked out the different kinds of animal hair. She was very curious about the camel hair because the live camel was in sight and she was wondering why his hair was in this little box. Kind of funny. She enjoyed the chance to touch things and not get in trouble. Curious toddlers need to touch.

After our picnic lunch of pizza with pita chips and spinach dip at the pavilion, we strolled over the giraffes and elephants. Of course, you can't take a trip to the zoo without seeing the elephants. One of Meilani's favorite children's books is about Nosy the Elephant at our zoo. She was very eager to find Nosy.

With naptime looming (Can you tell by this killer face?), we snapped a quick photo with the kissing elephants and then continued on our way to the exit before all the kids had their afternoon meltdown. We made it out to the car just in time...

Here's the crew: three mamas, six kids, two strollers and a day full of fun with our friends a the zoo.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cooking Club adds a little spice for Red Hot Lovers

February is a lovers' month and this month's Cooking Club theme was Food for Red Hot Lovers. Can you say spicy? The king in the kitchen was our friend, Antonio Andrade (Mary's dashing hubby) who taught us to make authentic chile rellenos. Antonio went straight to work charring the chiles and cutting the cheese (Ha! Ha! No pun intended.) He even whipped the batter by hand - his mother's secret touch.

While Antonio and Mary worked on the chile rellenos, I worked on some fresh honey-lemonade to add a little pucker to our evening. Since citrus is in season we had to make use of our colorful findings. In 2008, our Cooking Club is making an effort to find healthy recipes and cook with in-season produce.

We decided to make these chile rellenos stuffed with cheese our appetizer since they looked so fabulous and everyone wanted to try one early. We served them with a spicy tomato sauce that topped off the flavors. (I think there was a throwdown to see who would get to eat the extras.)

Chris and Christine got a "lover's night out" without their little Caleb and we benefitted from their extra help in the kitchen. They brought the sirloin and sliced veggies for our Kung Pao beef. We definitely had an Asian-Latin Fusion menu. We served the Kung Pao Beef over brown rice and the dried red chilies added quite the punch.

Paula Beery hunted down the recipe for the main dish. We were both big fans of the spicy fare. And we finished out the meal with chipotle brownies created by Cori and Angela. The brownies were a fascinating meld of flavors - at first rich, dark chocolate and then a little heat that lingered at the back of the throat. A scoop of vanilla ice cream made this dessert a surprising balance. (Yes, I did have seconds!)

We ladies decided to be nice to our "red hot lovers" and use paper plates for the appetizers, entrees and desserts, but these hotties still helped out in the kitchen with the silverware and remaining pots and pans. We rounded out the evening with a never-ending game of Ticket to Ride that left us all groaning and Susan (with Niana in tow) as the winner!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Family Time: Gilmores and Lazos indulge in a long weekend

This President's Weekend my brother Paul, and his wife, Michelle, drove up from L.A. to hang out with us. You can't tell but Michelle is 7 months pregnant in this pic. (Nice hiding behind the sweatshirt, Auntie Shel!) We enjoyed a much-needed vacation weekend at home with the family. We drank in the lovely spring weather in Fresno with a trip to Woodward Park on Saturday and a long walk up the trail.

After our long walk, we took Meilani over to the large play area. She changed into Miss Energy as soon as she saw all the things to climb. Daddy helped her experience the bars and winding slide. She still has that "No Fear" attitude she's had since she was a baby. Only now she introduces herself and talks to kids along the way.

She even ran over to the climbing wall where most of the "big kids" were hanging out and insisted on trying it. Yes, our little monkey is quite the climber. She tried scaling the wall without using the handles. Crazy. But the real games began after our munchkin was sleeping - later that night. (The park helped her to crash early!) In usual fashion, we played Ticket to Ride with Paul and Michelle until the wee hours of the night/morn.

On Sunday, we all went to church together to participate in the 3rd Sunday of our church's Missions Festival Month. Then we headed home for a lovely Sunday siesta and an Italian meal and Mom and Dad's house. Meilani thoroughly enjoyed her spaghetti and Nana's meat sauce. (Let's just call it a whole body experience.)

And the grand finale were Valentine Chocolate Lava cakes garnished with raspberries and chocolate sauce. Believe it or not we added a healthy twist to this recipe with whole wheat pastry flour and dark chocolate. Rich and delicious.

Monday was a day for shopping with the girls. The boys found their fix-it projects. And Miss Meilani got in some personal time with Auntie Michelle while Mama and Daddy headed off to track practice in the afternoon. Here she's climbing a tree while Michelle picks fresh oranges in Nana and Papa's yard. What a perfect February (?) weekend in Fresno.

Bye-Bye Basketball; Hello Track & Field

Friday night was the final home game for the Fresno Christian Varsity boys' team. Ericlee has coached this long season with his friend, Chris Schultz. Meilani and Mama have been along for the ride - a tourney in the Bay Area, home games and the occasional away games. Meilani has learned to chant "Eagle Eagle" with the best of the fans. And now we say "ByeBye" to the "boys" and hello to the track season.

The highlight of basketball season for Ericlee was definitely hanging out with Chris on a regular basis. The two strategized, coached, talked nutrition and even worked out together a few (early) mornings a week. They won a few games, and lost a few more. As a family, we struggled together as Daddy worked long hours and back-to-back sports seasons. The benefit, of course, is the opportunity to be a positive influence in the lives of high school young men.

While the daddies coached, the mamas and kids scheduled regular play dates and formed an unofficial "wives club" behind the bench at the games. I've enjoyed spending time with Jen Schultz as we supported each other through this time. If we get anywhere near a basketball court, Meilani starts asking for Addy, Tessa and Kamryn Schultz - her b-ball sistas.

After Friday's games, the littlest girls had fun tumbling in the gym. Daddy brought out the mats and Meilani showed off her somersault skills. Not bad for a 20-month-old. Can you say energy?

Meilani cleaned up the gym (wink wink) while Mama collected bottles for recycling. Then both the Gilmores and the Schultzes headed out for a late-night snack and celebration of the season ending and a new one beginning.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Gilmores celebrate "A Lover's Day"

Valentine's Day is always a favorite at our house. Over the years our time has evolved from dress-up dates to fancy restaurants to focusing more on family, love and quality time. This week our track season just started, basketball season is just ending and our church's missions month (which we are very involved with) is well underway. Needless to say, our lives are busy and full. Ericlee and I decided the best way to spend our Valentine's night was a family night at home with fancy food and a movie. And we had our little love, Meilani, to make the evening fun.

As many of you know, my favorite way to express my love for people is through food. I planned a special meal for my family, including whole wheat bread, baby greens salad with pomegranate seeds and candied walnuts, filet mignon with goat cheese sauce, Italian mushroom risotto and Orange Cauliflower puree.

We also received a surprise package which added to our evening's festivities. At Ericlee's school each year families choose a teacher to "bless" throughout the year. The teacher does not know which family is sending the gifts. Each teacher fills out a little questionnaire with ideas of their favorite things. For Valentine's day, our P.E.S.T. made us a dinner-date-at-home care package. How appropriate! The package included a fondu pot for two with strawberries, chocolate and pound cake. They also included a Valentine shirt for Meilani, a copy of the movie HITCH, and plastic champagne glasses with sparkling cider. We added these to our feast.

Meilani was a big fan of the fancy glasses and the cauliflower puree. (Yeah, another veggie she digs!) I checked out a bunch of movies from the library to choose from and we decided on BEE SEASON starringRichard Gere. It turned out to be a mysterious and mystical movie about a girl who excelled in spelling bees. Kinda weird and not what we expected. The evening was "a lover's dream" as we indulged in the most important gift: quality time together.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Can you say Pajamarama?

Friday night our friends, the McGowens, invited us to the Pajamarama at Barnes & Noble bookstore. This was a great diversion since we spent all last week inside with our little cold and daddy was gone Friday night to his *last* away basketball game. I dressed Meilani in her cutest pajamas and turquoise slippers (compliments of Grandma Chris) and we packed up the car.

Upon arriving we met up with our friends and discovered we had already missed the story time but we were just in time for the crafts. And, you guessed it, the craft time was making Valentines. The Barnes & Noble employee got out the Poloroid camera and took pics of the kids to paste on their Valentine drawings. The kids' section of the bookstore was quite the explosion of glitter, puffy stickers, markers, crayons, candy hearts, drinks, stuffed animals and kids! Meilani's favorite activity was chasing her friends Milani and Peyton around the bookstore and through the aisles. We even caught them trying to climb shelves. Yikes!

We also noticed the B&N has turned into more of a toy store than a bookstore. There are gadgets and gizmos, stuffed animals and books with prizes at every turn. The kids loved it. I enjoyed sneaking a peek at some of the new children's books on the shelves. There was a plethora of valentines books and I even saw one on the life of Barack Obama - I guess we start them young on the political scene. Meliz found a great buy with three E. B. White books in one.

Milani poses here with a little ballerina bear she found on one of her rounds through the bookstore.

By the end of the night, we were definitely ready for bed. Meilani got rid of her cabin fever and enjoyed some time with friends. And the good news is, she was exhausted for mama by the time we made it home.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Meilani makes her first Valentines with friends

On Wednesday, we went to a Valentine Story Time at Petunia's Place bookstore in Fresno. Then we had our friends over for lunch and a Valentine-making party. We shared a meal of tortilla soup, tamales and chips and salsa with the Schultzes and the McGowens. After lunch, we spread out the newspaper, got out the art supplies and started the par-tay!

Our friend Addy tied on an apron and went to work on a Valentine card for her uncle. She had fun with the puffy heart stickers we bought at Michael's and the markers. Meilani enjoyed the glitter (Something she has never used before!)

Our little friend Milani went for the Heart Extravaganza look with her card. She made a cute one for her daddy. She also helped direct Meilani on the best way to make Valentines. (So cute. She's 3 and knows how it's done!)

Kamryn and Tessa had fun creating their own heartthrob valentines. Kamryn is writing now and she wrote a sweet note to her uncle. We were touched to see how thoughtful all the girls were in making these cards. I reminisced about when I was a kid and we used to make valentines every year with our family. This was an annual event at the Lazo house and something I really looked forward to sharing with my parents and brother.

After the Valentine party, the kids played for a while in the other room and even prepared a little "show" for the mamas. (One of the great parts about having a 9-year-old like Meliz McGowen around is that she always rallies our little ones.) They performed their show with Meilani as the baby, Peyton as a pet monkey, Kamryn as the trainer and Tessa as a kid laying on the tables. The mamas all laughed our heads off at their creativity.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Super Bowl Fiesta at Nana and Papa's pad

This year Papa Doug put together a little Super Bowl gathering at Nana and Papa's new house a mile up the road from us. We were happy to be guests and not hosts. Grandma Chris and Larry joined us and so did Papa's brother, Uncle Winston. After Daddy and Meilani took a 2-hour afternoon nap, we hopped in the car and headed for the party. Meilani's still a little sleepy in this photo but she thoroughly enjoyed the Superbowl appetizers like Papa's famous Fruit Salad. (He's always got a container of fruit salad in the fridge - must be the Hawaiian in him.)

Even though Papa kind of sprung this "party" on Nana as a surprise, she was still in the kitchen serving up food and beverages. She made my recipe of Tackle 'em Teriyaki Burgers on Whole Wheat Buns. The grill is always a crazy adventure at Nana and Papa's house. Let's just say, "Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Fire!" But we all survived and we think Papa was even out there doing the Super Bowl Shuffle as a little nod to our Chicago Bears. Dawn, Winston's wife, even sent some scrumptious Superbowl Sesame Chicken Wings.

Grandpa Larry made a beeline for the best seat in the house and rooted on the Giants. Actually, all the boys were rootin' for the Giants and were very surprised when then pulled off the win in the end. Us girls were not really rootin' for a team this year. We are all football fans, of course, but most of our attention was put on the Gilmore Quarterback, Meilani Cora, and all those wacky commercials. Meilani enjoyed rootin' for the "boys" with Grandpa Larry. He also did some karaoke singing for us at half time while Tom Petty was rockin' out. Grandpa knew all the words to "Free Fallin'" (or whatever the name of that number is).

And Meilani feasted on her Yo Baby! yogurt, a tradition at Nana and Papa's house, while the rest of got a little Touchdown Tres Leches Cake (a favorite Costa Rican dessert I dug out of a cookbook.) And what a surprise ending to the game!

Here's the Line-up from Super Bowl Sunday's Menu at the Lazos' House:

Super Bowl Sesame Chicken Wings
First Down Fruit Salad
Go Get 'em Guacamole on Favorite Nachos
Tackle 'em Teriyaki Burgers on Whole Wheat Buns
Rootin' for the Underdogs Chicken Sausage on Ciabatta Rolls
Touchdown Tres Leches Cake

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Party your Heart out

On Saturday, Meilani and Mama got to dress up for an all-hearts birthday party. We helped our little friend Milani (Yes, her name is just one letter different) celebrate her 3rd birthday. Milani's dad, Bill McGowen, teaches at Fresno Christian with Ericlee and we've recently become good friends with their family. We were the first to arrive at the party and Meilani joined Milani in the "twirling game." Milani had a ball in her swishy birthday dress and Meilani dived right in the adventure. The girls were also entertained by the helium balloons for quite a while. Who needs games? It's the simplest things that please these little ones.

The McGowens' oldest daughter Meliz is always a good friend to our Meilani. She chased balloons with Meilani and even helped cook up a few things in their kid kitchen. All the girls were dressed in pink and red for this "Heart Party." We loved the way this party was simple, kid-focused and didn't involve too much sugar.

Mama Jessica made an extra effort to seek out healthy snacks for the kids. She made a heart-shaped pizza with dough from Trader Joe's and pepperoni and olives. She also cut out heart-shaped slices of cheese and served nuts and dried cranberries. The kids sipped from Trader Joe's lemonade boxes while the adults chowed down on the chips and organic salsa. (Thanks, Jess, for spending the extra 50 cents!) The cake was, of course, heart-shaped as well - a chocolate Whole Foods wonder with pink frosting. We appreciated the extra effort, especially since Jessica's pregnant with her 4th right now.

Of course, the highlight of the afternoon was opening the presents. Milani opened ours first - a hand-knitted hat and a copy of my children's book, CHILDREN OF THE SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY. (This was on special request.) Here Milani's older brother, Peyton, helps out with one of the favorite gifts, a baby doll in a baby bath. Milani sports her new hat.

Meilani was quite taken with Milani's new baby. When the birthday girl was tired of playing with it, Meilani took good care to bathe and dry the baby. She's quite the mothering type these days. We ended up leaving the party in tears because Meilani wanted to bring the baby home. It was a bit hard for this toddler to understand the beebee wasn't hers.

Happy Birthday, Milani! We Heart you!