Saturday, December 10, 2016

Paris: Day 1

Bonjour from Paris! A few weeks ago, Andi came across some inexpensive airline tickets to Europe and we wondered, "why not take advantage?" Sometimes traveling with a last-minute itinerary is the way to go.

Andi's mom, Janie, agreed to watch Tory and Aden for the first few days of our trip, so we kissed them good-bye Tuesday afternoon and headed to the airport. We flew direct from Minneapolis to Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport overnight and arrived in Paris around 7:00am local time on December 7. I slept for a bit on the plane (well, as much as one can rest seated upright in an uncomfortable airline seat) but Andi wasn't able to fall asleep at all. We were both jet-lagged and exhausted by the time we arrived in Paris, but the hustle and bustle around us indicated everyone here was starting their day. It's mind-boggling really, how you can hop on an airplane in one place and wake up a few hours later in a place that's completely new and different.



Shortly after departing the airplane, Andi discovered his iPhone had reset at some point. He tried to reboot it, but it wouldn't register in a new network. So, our first order of business in Paris was to activate an international service plan on my cell phone so we'd have access to GPS maps and communication during our trip.

We quickly learned the city of Paris had issued an extreme smog alert given the current atmospheric conditions (basically, the dense cloud cover during the winter forces the smog to hang close to the ground) so all public transportation was free to use. Paris' mayor had also placed a ban on all automobiles with an odd-numbered license plate to limit the number of vehicle pollutants. I didn't find the air particularly difficult to breathe, but I did notice all the "smoke attacks" (aka: what Tory calls cigarettes) everywhere. Everyone in Paris seems to smoke cigarettes and Andi and I both found it hard to miss when walking around the city streets.

In an unrelated event, one of the main trains traveling to/from Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport had broken down the morning of our arrival, so there were reports of many travel delays. Fortunately, we didn't have any trouble in navigating our way to the city center. We rode the RER B train from the airport to the Saint Paul metro station in the Marais neighborhood of Paris, then walked to a neighboring cafe to refuel with coffee and a croissant. I could tell Andi was exhausted when he politely responded "gracias" to the server as he brought us our order - ha! A shower and a quick nap would've done wonders to pull ourselves together, but we couldn't check into the Airbnb apartment we'd rented until 3:00pm. Instead, we walked a few blocks through the neighborhood to Notre Dame.


One of the things I remember most about our trip to Paris five years ago was being wet and cold: two feelings I hate more than anything. We had a lovely time, of course, but I vividly remember laying my only pair of warm socks on a radiator vent to dry and being chilled to the bone the entire visit.

This trip, I was determined to be prepared. I'm sure I stick out like a sore thumb in my warm ski jacket, stocking hat, and waterproof boots but I don't care. I'm warm and ready to explore the city of Paris. 



Our rented apartment was walking distance from Hotel de Ville - such a big and beautiful building!



Andi reached out to our Airbnb host and asked if we'd be able to drop our backpacks at the apartment, and fortunately it was ready for check-in. The apartment we'd rented was conveniently located on Rue des Rosiers, at the center of the Jewish quarter in the Marais district. The neighborhood felt very Parisian as we walked alongside people rushing off to work, or families walking their kids off to school. Our small studio apartment was on the second floor above the street-level restaurants and shops, and offered the perfect amount of space for the two of us. Andi and I collapsed on the bed and were asleep minutes after our heads hit the pillow. Fortunately, Andi set an alarm to wake us because 45 minutes later, we were up and on the move to meet our hired tour guide for the afternoon.




Andi arranged for a tour guide named Raphael to give us a "behind the scenes" view of Parisian neighborhoods. We'd toured Notre Dame, the Lourve, Arc de Thiomphe and the Eiffel Tower during our visit to Paris five years ago, so this time we were interested in seeing more local flavor. I know Paris is famous for its many museums, but honestly that's not our thing. We'd much rather wander through shops and markets, eat great food and people-watch from quaint cafes.

Raphael was unable to meet us, so she enlisted her friend and colleague named Michel who met us at our apartment. Michel was a 64-year-old Parisian with much pride for his city. He briskly walked us through neighboring streets as he filled our ears with information about the history and culture of the area. What an awesomely efficient way to get the lay of the land as we weaved through busy city Paris streets! Scheduling a walking tour on our first afternoon in Paris was the perfect timing, as it forced us to push through the jet lag and get out to explore the city.


Michel took us through many "passages" throughout the city - a covered alley connecting two busy streets with shops and restaurants inside. Some were nicer than others - like this one with beautiful wood exteriors and fancy home and clothing boutiques.
  





Four hours later, we said good-bye to Michel near Champs-Elysees, then ventured off on our own. It was truly a "pinch me I'm in Paris!" moment as the sunlight faded to dark and city lights glowed all around us. Andi and I stopped in the center of it all to send the kids a quick video detailing our day.



We walked a bit further to find a Christmas market along the famous Champs-Elysees. Andi and I strolled through the various shops for a while, then decided we wanted a little snack to tide us over dinner. There were so many wonderful sights and smells to choose from - chocolates, cheese, baguettes, meat, and more. Andi decided he wanted a raclette sandwich, and we watched as the lady stuffed ham into a baguette and then poured heaping piles of hot, melted raclette cheese over the bread. Oh my goodness, how in the world would we eat all that? Surprisingly, it was the perfect amount of deliciousness.


 
We walked through the Christmas Market a bit more, then navigated our way back to our rented apartment via the Metro. Andi and I had each walked 30,000 steps by 8 o'clock that evening, and were absolutely exhausted. We grabbed a quick dinner at Camille's, a typical French cafe, on the walk back to our apartment. Andi ordered steak frites and I had beef tartare with salad. My dinner looked (and tasted) like raw ground beef on a plate which was most definitely not what I'd envisioned when I selected it. No matter, all I really wanted was a glass of red wine and to go to bed.



I think Andi and I were asleep seconds after we arrived to our apartment, and slept like rocks that night. We didn't wake up again until 10:00am the next morning - 13 hours later! We both needed the sleep, and were rested and ready to tackle Day 2 in Paris.    

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Pumpkin Pie Energy Bites

Enjoy the taste of pumpkin pie without the guilt! These pumpkin pie energy bites are sinfully good and a healthy alternative to the real stuff. I keep them in the freezer and pull one out whenever I need a sweet treat. 
 
 

Pumpkin Pie Energy Bites

Ingredients: 
1 cup pitted dates
warm water
1/2 cup raw pecan halves (or pecan pieces)
1/3 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, reserve small amount for garnish
2 tsp. pure maple syrup
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 pinch sea salt

Directions:
1. Place dates in a medium bowl; cover with water. Let soak for 10 minutes. Drain. Set aside. 
2. Place pecans in food processor; pulse until finely ground.
3. Add dates, pumpkin, coconut, maple syrup, pumpkin pie spice and salt; pulse until well mixed. Place in a medium bowl. 
Refrigerate, covered, for 30 minutes. 
4. Using clean hands, roll into Tbsp. size balls; roll in reserved coconut, if desired. 
5. Store, refrigerated, in an airtight container.

1 serving = 2 energy bites
21 Day Fix containers = 1 yellow container treat “swap”
Recipe source: FIXATE Cookbook

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Teaching Kids About Election Day

Yesterday was Election Day 2016 in our town and across the United States. Campaign signs lined the streets, people wore "I Voted" stickers proudly, and news outlets swirled with election coverage.

Tory (at age 5) noted the significance of the day and began to ask questions about it. It seemed like a great opportunity to teach her the basic principles of democracy, so yesterday we spent the afternoon learning about the presidential election.



After a quick Google search, I found some great information on the PBS website with tips for helping kids understand the election. I decided Tory and I would make a ballot box and while we worked side-by-side, we'd talk about it.

"What does it mean to vote?" I asked her. Surprisingly, she knew the answer. "It's when everyone votes for who they want to be something. Whoever has the most votes, wins," she said simply. I suppose in her five-year-old mind an election is comparable to playing a game; the person with the most votes, wins.

"Who gets to vote? Can you become President one day? And, what does the President do anyway?" These questions brought up some great conversation between the two of us as we worked away on our craft project. I admit to not knowing all the answers (thanks, PBS, for the talking points!) so it was a nice way to refresh my own grown-up memory on the rules of the land.


After our ballot box was finished, Tory and I made campaign signs for each candidate and printed election ballots on pieces of paper. We talked about the 2016 candidates for President of the United States and I showed her pictures of each person. We also talked about the historic significance of this particular election -- the first woman was running for President of the United States!


Tory gathered up two Barbie dolls to represent each presidential candidate, and a few more to be "voters" in our pretend election. We each took turns filling out our paper ballots and placed them in the ballot box to be counted. Then, Tory read the results and I tallied them on a piece of paper. We counted the votes and in our living room election, Hillary Clinton was the winner.


Tory and I made our own homemade versions of "I Voted" stickers for she and Aden to wear proudly the rest of the evening. What a fun and educational afternoon learning about the election with my little preschooler.


This morning at breakfast, Tory asked me who won the election. "Donald Trump," I told her. She asked with a somber face, "Why didn't anyone vote for the girl?" (See, at age five, it's all about boys vs. girls...) Then, we had a nice discussion over breakfast about how people voted for both candidates but in the end, the person with the most votes wins. We're fortunate enough to live in a place where we're free to express our opinion through voting and more than anything that's the message I hoped Tory gained from our conversation. It's hard to believe Tory will be NINE the next time a presidential election rolls around; it seems so far away. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

21 Day Fix Meal Plan: Week of November 7-13

It's been a while since I shared one of my 21 Day Fix clean eating meal plans. Click HERE to download a copy of my meal plan for next week (November 7-13).

Note: I'm following the 21 Day Fix Eating Plan and fall into the 1,200-1,499 calorie bracket. Each person should individually determine their own calorie level when following this plan. The colors on my meal plan represents a different color-coded portion control container. If you'd like more information about this Eating Plan, or are interested in joining my free accountability group, email me directly at hcdickson@yahoo.com

Last week, my mother-in-law and I were talking about meal planning ruts. She feels like she's always making the same recipes, and I'm the opposite! I rarely make the same meal twice. I do go back to a few favorites (like the apple cinnamon overnight oats I ate for breakfast the entire month of October), but for me, half the fun of cooking is trying new foods and flavors. It's also one of my favorite parts of being a Beachbody Coach; I love sharing the healthy and delicious recipes I find with others.

On Tuesday, it's my turn to bring snack to the parent's room of Aden's ECFE class and it also happens to be Election Day. I thought create-your-own yogurt parfaits would be a fun, festive treat to take for everyone. Here's the simple recipe:

Healthy Red, White and Blue Yogurt Parfait
Serves: 1

Ingredients:
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 cup mixed strawberries and blueberries, washed and trimmed
1 Tbsp. granola (I like Purely Elizabeth Original Ancient Grains, or make your own)
drizzle of raw honey

Directions:
1. Add half of the yogurt to the bottom of a cup, glass or mason jar.
2. Top with half of the strawberries and blueberries mixture.
3. Repeat with a second layer of yogurt and berries.
4. Sprinkle granola on top and drizzle with honey.

Yields: 1 serving
21 Day Fix: 1 serving = 1 red, 1 purple, 1/2 yellow and 1 tsp.

I made myself the same sweet treat poolside in Palm Springs last week, so I guess I do repeat recipes sometimes!

 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Halloween 2016

Halloween, and the days leading up to it, were pretty fun this year. When the calendar flipped to October, I started playing Curious George: A Halloween Boo-Fest for the kids on Netflx because it's one of my favorite holiday movies. Seriously, it's so cute! I just love Curious George and all the mischief he gets himself into because he reminds a lot of Aden. Ha!

This probably isn't parenting PC to admit, but the kids and I watched Halloween Boo-Fest a few dozen times over the month. Eh- don't worry, kids! TV won't rot your brains! Eventually, Aden started to act out a few scenes in the movie like the "Halloween Boo" song at the beginning of the show. He'd hide behind the sofa, then jumping out and shout "boo!" in an effort to scare us all. It was seriously so adorable.

Over the course of the month, Tory and Aden also changed their minds about Halloween costumes about a dozen times. Tory has a Halloween-themed Disney princess book we'd read together most nights, and the last line says something like "What will you dress up as for Halloween this year? A princess?" to which Tory would flatly respond, "Oh, definitely. I'm just not sure which one!"

Her top choices were Elsa from Frozen, Jasmine from Aladdan or Cinderella ... then one day, out of the blue, she came to me and said she wanted to be a witch for Halloween. I found a pointy witch hat in the Dollar Spot section at Target and some orange and black-striped socks. I wasn't about to invest more money on an outfit given the rate she changed her mind, so I paired the hat and socks with a Trick or Treat t-shirt and skirt she already had in her closet. It came together perfectly in the end.

I thought Aden might like to be a fisherman since he loved fishing at the lake this past summer, so I bought him a toy tackle box and fishing vest to use. I planned to make fishing lures to attach to his vest and find him a fishing hat and boots, but lost steam when we booked tickets to Palm Springs over Halloween. I knew the weather would be warm and I didn't want to travel with a bunch of props in my suitcase, so the few he did have had to be good enough.

Andi had a work event in Glamis, California the week before Halloween, so I decided to take the kids to Palm Springs about 1 1/2 hours away while he worked, and then Andi joined us in Palm Springs when his event wrapped up on October 30.  

On Halloween Day (our only day in Palm Springs with Andi), we decided to take the kids into Palm Springs proper for the day. (The house we stayed in that week was in Indio, CA, about 20 minutes outside of Palm Springs.)

Andi, our expert travel guide, was obviously back in the mix as our day quickly filled with plans. Andi selected a restaurant for brunch in downtown Palm Springs called FARM - an adorable French bistro tucked in an alleyway with lush greenery and climbing vines. Janie and I cooked our own healthy, homemade meals all week so this was the first time we'd ventured onto the Palm Springs restaurant scene. We splurged and ordered several plates to share - a goat cheese and pear salad, strawberry and Nutella crepe, croque madame, a mushroom and goat cheese omelet and a plate of bacon (which was mostly for Aden). The food was indulgently delicious!




Next, we made our way to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The tram begins in the Coachella Valley and glides along Chino Canyon to Mt. San Jacinto State Park. Tory was nervous about the tram ride initially, but then literally jumped with glee when we departed the tram on the top of the mountain. She thought it was the neatest experience EVER!


There are two restaurants, observation decks, a natural history museum, documentary theaters, a gift shop and miles of hiking trails at the top of the mountain. It was as if we'd been transported to a different zip code within our 10 minute tram ride -- the air temperature dropped to 60 degrees and we were surrounded by pine, fir and oak trees (no palm trees in sight)! I immediately regretted not researching the state park before we'd left our rented house in Indio as I was wearing a dress and the kids were dressed in shorts. Andi had warned me the temperature might be cooler at the top of the mountain, but it was hard to believe him when the temperature was in the high 80's on the desert floor. I would've love to hike around all day in the state park, but unfortunately I was cold and wearing flip-flops; not ideal. We did a short loop through the woods and then headed back to tram when the kids said they were tired.





 
After riding the tram back down the mountain, we stopped for frozen yogurt at a place in downtown Palm Springs. It was close to 5:00pm by this point -- time for trick-or-treating!

We stayed at a house within a gated community in Palm Springs, and were fairly certain there wouldn't be many trick-or-treaters around that evening (the area was largely comprised of retirees and few children). To ensure Tory and Aden had a Happy Halloween, Janie purchased some candy earlier in the day and arranged to have a few of the neighbors hand it out to our kids. While I dressed Tory and Aden in their costumes, Janie buzzed around the neighborhood and "planted" the candy. Our plan worked perfectly, and Tory and Aden were SO EXCITED to trick-or-treat at a few houses on the block.




Minutes before we left to go trick-or-treating, Tory asked Andi and I what we planned to dress up as for Halloween. I didn't have a costume planned, so I told her I was going to be a mom. "You're a mom everyday," she responded in a disappointed voice. So, to be a good sport, I found a bathrobe in the closet and used Janie's hair curlers to throw together a last-minute costume. Janie got in the spirit, too, and threw on a sun hat to go as a "vacationer." Tory was quite pleased.


Aden said his favorite part of Halloween was the candy. He ripped into every single piece given to him before it made it into his bucket. To say he was hyped up that evening would be an understatement! One of my favorites memories of Aden and Halloween this year was how he'd walk around yelling, "Oooh!" as he pretended to be a spooky ghost. Too cute!  


It was so different celebrating Halloween in a warm, sunny climate. The evening temperature was a perfect 75 degrees during trick-or-treating -- far different than Minnesota!

Our Palm Springs vacation concluded the following morning, November 1. We had an amazing time during our stay there, and can't wait to go back again one day.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Week in Palm Springs

The kids and I are having an amazing time in Palm Springs, California this week. Sunny days spent by the pool with nothing to do but swim and relax; yes, please!

Meanwhile, Andi is working at an event in nearby Death Valley, California. I feel a little guilty about having fun in the sun while he's working ... but then again, it was his idea for us to come. Andi's cousin owns a vacation home in Palm Springs about 90 minutes away from the event, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity for the kids and I to stay at the house while Andi worked, then have him join us afterward. I invited Andi's mom, Janie, to come along with us this week to keep us company.

Tory, Aden, Janie and I left Minneapolis on Monday, October 24. Our direct flight was an easy one; the plane was practically empty so Aden and Tory were able to move around to stretch their legs a bit during the three hour flight. Janie's been to Palm Springs (and to the vacation property we're staying at) several times before, so it helped having her along as she knew exactly where to go.

Our accommodations are awesome for the week! It's a three-bedroom, two-bathroom California ranch-style house with a big backyard and it's own private pool. Andi's cousin, Laura, has made this place so comfortable for guests. There's plenty of lounge chairs and towels for the pool, and comfortable seating indoors and outside. Aden likes this place so much, he refers to it as his "new house." (Poor kid is sill adjusting from our real move this past April).

We made it to the house on Monday afternoon in time to swim in the pool for a bit before dinner. Laura and her family had just been in Palm Springs, so there was enough leftover food in the refrigerator to piece together a meal. After we ate, the four of us took a little stroll around the neighborhood. It feels so wonderful to have another taste of summer weather, even if only for a week.



We were all exhausted after our walk, so we called it an early night. Fortunately, Janie doesn't mind sleeping with one of the kids, so she and Tory took the master bedroom and Aden and I shared a bed in one of the other rooms.

The next morning, Aden and I woke up early (4:30am // 6:30am Minnesota time). We laid around for  a bit until Grandma Janie and Tory woke up, then headed outside to swim. The weather is absolutely gorgeous here -- low 70's in the early morning, quickly warming to the high 80's by Noon. (Gorgeous for us, by the way; probably not so great for Andi who's camped out in the middle of the desert).

Pool time!



It's like our own private oasis in the backyard. The house is located in a gated country club community, but we've hardly seen any neighbors outside. And, the view is incredible! Palm trees and mountains as far as the eye can see. California livin,' for sure.


Eat. Sleep. Swim. Repeat.

That's essentially been our life in Palm Springs this week. On Tuesday, we stepped away from the pool briefly to hit the grocery store. The house we're staying in has a full kitchen, so it seems silly to haul the kids out to restaurants for meals. Instead, we stocked the fridge with our favorite foods and snacks, and planned to make meals at home this week. Janie likes to eat healthy, too, so mealtimes have been simple and easy.


I brought Tory's hammock from the cabin and fashioned it between two fruit trees. It's the perfect shady spot to relax in the cooler morning hours. By the way, how cool would it be to pick fresh lemons, limes and grapefruits from your own backyard? Palm Springs is coming out of their hottest months of the year, so a lot of the vegetation is beginning its re-growth and not ready for picking right now ... but soon!


More relaxing by the pool ... with Popsicle treats, of course.  



On Thursday morning, Janie and I decided to take the kids to the nearby Living Desert Zoo. Janie and I could've laid by the pool all day again, but we thought the kids might like a change of scenery. Volunteers who greeted us at the beginning of the park were all so friendly and couldn't seem to get enough of Aden's cuteness. One woman suggested we check out a nature show taking place in the amphitheatre, so we grabbed a seat underneath big, spanning sun shades and learned all about animals who make the desert home.


Tory was particularly fascinated by the presentation, as she loves all things nature right now. At one point the commentator asked the audience if anyone knew what a herbivore was, and Tory reached her arm up in the air and answered the question proudly.


The zoo had a huge model train display set up near the entrance of the amphitheatre, which was easily Aden's favorite part of the whole experience. He would've stood there for hours watching the Thomas the Train car roll along the tracks.

The rest of the zoo was fairly lack-luster, unfortunately. For one, it was HOT. I didn't bring a stroller on this trip, so Aden and Tory had to walk (or rather, Janie and I carry them along the paths from exhibit to exhibit). Fortunately, we bought shuttle passes so we were able to hop on and off various golf carts as they cruised along. There weren't many animals at the zoo either, or not the ones you'd expect to see at a zoo. I suppose that's because it's a "desert" zoo and featured those types of animals (birds, warthogs, wild dogs, cheetahs and giraffes). Janie bought us tickets to ride the carousel, which the kids loved, and then we politely suggested heading back to the house to swim for the rest of the afternoon.


Much better!


This year we'll be in Palm Springs for Halloween, so I brought along the kids' costumes and researched a few Halloween events in the area. I'd be fine skipping Halloween all-together as it's not my favorite holiday anyway, but Tory is old enough to realize it's coming up on the calendar. I'm not sure what trick-or-treating will be like in this neighborhood; it is a gated community, but there aren't many children around. I suggested we check out a Halloween event at the nearby community center on Saturday to cover our bases.

After much deliberation, Tory is dressing up as a witch this Halloween (very surprised she decided against being a Disney princess as Elsa, Cinderella and Jasmine were prime contendors) and Aden is going as a fisherman (he also debated being Sheriff Callie or a scary monster). I packed their costumes in my suitcase, so final decisions were locked in when we left Minnesota on Monday.


The Halloween event took place from 1pm - 6pm on Saturday, and I had no idea what to expect. Since we're not from the area, I didn't know if it'd be in an unsafe part of the community or a total bust from an event standpoint ... fortunately, it was just fine. There were bouncy houses for the kids to play in, trick-or-treat stations set up around a grassy area with games and prizes, and live music and entertainment. Tory was fascinated by the magic show and was even asked to help the magician on "stage." Aden said his favorite part was the candy (and it's true, he ate every piece by the time we left that afternoon).




One thing I didn't count on at the event was how HOT it would be. Oh my goodness, we were dripping with sweat by the end. I was worried Tory and Aden would overheat jumping around in all the bouncy houses, but they didn't seem to mind -- they had a blast! I couldn't believe some of the other people at the event wearing masks and heavy costumes. Some kids were wearing fuzzy zip-up costumes you'd wear on a cold Minnesota night out trick-or-treating! How they didn't fall over with heat exhaustion, I don't know. I suppose you'd be use to the heat if you lived here.

Back to the pool we went following the Halloween event - phew!


Two more days left in Palm Springs, and happily Andi will join us on the last day. I didn't realize it, but this trip has been exactly what I needed -- it's been quiet and relaxing and fun to spend a week with the kids and no plans. The only thing that'll make it better is having Andi here with us on Monday.