Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Vacation in Alaska - Day 4

Someday, I will finish blogging about our trip to Alaska. Someday, I'll write about Tory's fifth birthday and first day of Pre-K. Someday, I'll jot down the details of my parent's visit to Wisconsin over Labor Day weekend and the rest of the memories we made at the lake this summer. Someday....

I find myself waking up earlier and staying up later these days, but somehow it's never enough time. The baby years were a blur, but at least there were snippits of time throughout the day when the kids napped and I could be alone. Now, I'm finding out there is no quiet time during the Little Kid years. No naps to look forward to. It's constant busyness with playdates, extracurriculars, messes, meals and attention needed. All blessings, of course! The only missing is TIME.

This little space is important to me, so I'll keep hanging on. Life keeps happening and I'll do my best to write about it so I never forget a minute.


Alaska: Day 4

Andi and I began our fourth day in Alaska at a cozy bed and breakfast in Homer. I think it's safe to say, we have a soft spot for this type of vacation accommodation; staying in a bed and breakfast is like having the familiar comforts of home with the opportunity to meet new and interesting locals and/or fellow travelers.

The night before, we enjoyed the most amazing dinner in Halibut Cove across the Kachemak Bay from Homer with our friends Kristina and Alex. Kristina used to work with Andi at his office, and has since moved to Alaska full-time. We loved taking in the wonder of Halibut Cove with Kristina and Alex. It was one of the most magical places we'd ever seen, and our evening filled with laughing and great conversation made it all the better.

Shortly after waking up, Andi and I got dressed and headed over to the main house of the bed and breakfast. I wondered what type of set-up we'd find; the overall vibe of this place led my imagination to a sit-down breakfast in a kitschy dining room with the owner like an old episode of Newhart. And sure enough, that's exactly what it was! Andi and I took our places at the table and exchanged pleasantries with an older man visiting Alaska on a photography trip. A while later I noticed a young teenager sitting on the nearby sofa in her pajamas. I wondered to myself how she fit into the mix of breakfast guests.

Our B+B meal was surprisingly delicious (no photos for documentation, unfortunately, as it would've been rude to whip out our camera is such an intimate setting). The owner thoughtfully prepared a wide spread of local eggs, reindeer sausage, yogurt, homemade granola and peaches picked from a tree in her backyard. We ate breakfast, drank coffee and filled the time with an odd conversation about the teenage grand-daughter's upcoming tattoo appointment.

After breakfast, Andi and I packed our things and met up with Kristina and Alex. They're avid lovers of the outdoors, and spent their evening camped out on the infamous Homer Spit. Then, the four of us drove on to Hope, Alaska.

Just before Noon, we stopped in the town of Girdwood for lunch and some hiking. Girdwood is a resort town near the end of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet and surrounded by the Chugach Mountains and several glaciers. We planned to spend the day here before heading over to Hope.

We parked our cars at a trailhead (unfortunately I can't remember the name; the downside of blogging about our trip a month later!) and set off for a hike together. The weather was rainy again, so we started out with rain jackets pulled tightly around us. Eventually, the rain let off and we began to peel back layers.

The end of our two hour hike eventually led us to a spot where the Kenai River meets the Russian, and salmon can be seen that time of year swimming upstream to their final resting place. What an amazing sight this was! The four of us stood in awe as we witnessed thousands of red, rotting fish fighting against the strong river current.

It's difficult to explain the magnitude of what we saw, but it surely made me stop and appreciate this beautiful world we live in.

We were all pretty hungry by this point, so we took a pit-stop on a rock and snacked on apples and protein bars before making the two-hour trek back to our cars. From there, we ventured into the town of Girdwood for a late lunch.

Girdwood is a small, funky town and home to one of Alaska's biggest resort hotels. Andi referenced Yelp! and suggested the unassuming Girdwood Picnic Club. With little signage on the exterior, we weren't sure to what expect, but were happy to find a bright, open restaurant with excellent food.   

From there, we ventured on to the tiny town of Hope and more specifically, the Porcupine Campground. Kristina and Alex had camped here before, so they knew to book a campsite with a spectacular view of the Turnagain Arm. This waterway is worth noting it's own for its massive tides. Fortunately, the campground was nearly empty as it was Sunday evening. We enjoyed our quiet surroundings and picturesque view of where the ocean meets the mountains. 

Kristina and Alex love to go camping and hiking, so they supplied all the needed gear for our evening underneath the stars. Once we set up camp, Andi cooked dinner over an open campfire -- on the menu, cedar-plank pink and silver salmon we'd caught a few days prior fishing on the Kenai River with broccoli and

I think we were all fairly exhausted from our day exploring, so we settled into our respective tents at sunset and ventured off to dreamland.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Country Heat Wrap Up & Meal Plan for Sept 19-25

It's hard to believe it's been a month since I started Country Heat. Time flies when you're having fun, and seriously, Country Heat has been so much fun! I practically leapt out of bed every morning knowing I got to start my day dancing around my living room for 30 minutes.

Country Heat was the mental break I needed from some of the more high-intensity programs I've completed in the past year. Exercise is a necessary part of my life so it wasn't a question if I'd make time for it in my day, but to be honest I was starting to loose the desire to push myself. Mentally, I needed a program like Country Heat to remind me how much fun workouts can be. Now, I'm refreshed and ready to tackle a more challenging program again. Bonus- I'm in great cardio shape now!

Next up for me is the Focus T25 program. Twenty-five minute workouts, six days a week, which seems completely doable in our crazy back-to-school life right now. Everyone I've talked to who's completed T25 says it shreds your body like no other. I'm looking forward to seeing how it'll transform my body. [By the way, if you're interested in doing T25 alongside me, or you'd like to give Country Heat a try, shoot me an email at hcdickson@yahoo.com. I'd love to have you in my free challenge group starting October 3.]

Officially, I lost 3.3 pounds with Country Heat which I call success. I've been hovering around my goal weight for several months now, so my main objective in working out with Country Heat was to maintain muscle and tone, move my body for 30 minutes a day, and have fun doing it. Mission accomplished; I loved it!

I always find excitement in starting a new program; new moves, new instructor, new possibilities to transform my body and mind. I'm ready to dial in my nutrition to see maximum results with T25.

Click here to view my meal plan for this week (September 19-25). There's several of my favorite recipes featured including the apple cinnamon overnight oats (tastes like autumn in a bowl!) and turkey chili which, in my opinion, goes hand-in-hand with football season. Andi's traveling this week so I fully intend to make myself a big batch of chili and watching football all weekend long.

One recipe you've got to try is the pork medallions. This recipe quickly became one of Andi and I's go-to summer favorites because it's easy to make and tastes fancy enough to serve to guests. Here's the recipe:

Pork Medallions
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin
2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
garlic powder

1. Combine maple syrup and balsamic vinegar in a saucepan. Turn the heat to high and boil for 3 minutes, until the mixture has reduced to 1/3 of a cup. Turn off the heat and whisk in the Dijon mustard.
2. Meanwhile, slice the pork into 8 pieces. Place pieces of pork between two pieces of parchment paper and pound until they are 1/4 inch thick.
3. Heat one tsp. of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Season the pounded-out pork pieces with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Once the oil is hot, add the pork pieces and cook for 90 seconds on each side. Remove and set aside.
4. Add another tsp. of oil to the pan and cook remaining pork pieces until all are cooked through.
5. Return the rest of the cooked pork to the pan. Pour in the maple-balsamic sauce and cook for 1 minute.


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

It's Tradition -- Seventh Anniversary Celebration

One warm summer night a few days before our wedding anniversary, Andi and I packed up the kids and drove them over to Noerenberg Gardens on Lake Minnetonka to stand in the very same spot we said "I do" seven years ago. Andi's mom, Janie, happened to be over at our condo that afternoon so we invited her along with us, too.

Tory, in particular, was very excited to see the place Mom and Dad got married. "I've never been here before," she exclaimed more than once. We kindly reminded her that she's been coming to this spot with us every July since she was a baby. "It's tradition!" I told her. "Um, what's tradition?" she sweetly responded.

Strolling through the beautiful Noerenberg Gardens is one our family's favorite traditions. Wedding anniversaries are a time to celebrate one another, and there's no better place than in the spot where it all began. All these years later, it still sends goosebumps up my arms.

Andi and I have shared a fabulous seven years together, and I can't wait to see what the next seven will bring!

After we'd spent time in the gardens, the five of us (Janie, too) hopped over to downtown Wayzata for frozen yogurt. Marshmallows, cherries, whipped cream and sprinkles; Tory and Aden's favorite treat this summer.

I'm so very thankful for this little family of mine, and especially for my husband who made it all possible.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Country Heat Meal Plan - Week of September 5-11

School starts tomorrow which means the lazy days of summer are officially over. I'm part-excited for the return of the school-year routine and part-dreading the structure it brings. This year, Tory is attending a pre-K program four mornings a week so Tory, Aden and I need to be out the door by 8:00am every morning. That's - gulp! - a big pill to swallow for this stay-at-home-mama who's used to keeping her own time.

For this reason, I drafted a super easy meal plan this week. I want meals to be simple and include as many make-ahead recipes as possible so I don't find myself scrambling. Ain't nobody got time for that nonsense! My focus on nutrition slipped quite a bit in August, and I'm determined to get back on track this month. To do so, I need a plan to succeed and meals prepped and ready to go, I'm 99% more likely to stick to the Eating Plan that way.

Anyhoo - click HERE to download a copy of my meal plan for this week (September 5-11).

Note: I'm following the Country Heat Eating Plan and fall into the 1,200-1,499 calorie bracket. Each person should individually determine their own calorie level when following the 21 Day Fix or the Country Heat Eating Plan. Each color 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

After the kids went to bed tonight, I spent an hour prepping meals for this week. Included are:

Banana Peanut Butter Overnight Oats
Apple Raspberry Overnight Oats
Hard-boiled eggs
Sweet Potato Turkey Burger Bowls
Tuna Salad
Celery sticks, chopped
Grapes, washed
Cauliflower and broccoli, washed

Andi and I will both eat hard-boiled eggs and overnight oats for breakfast this week. It's a super simple breakfast that can be made ahead of time and eaten cold or warmed in the microwave. He likes the banana peanut butter recipe the best; I like the apple raspberry. (I'm borderline obsessed with apples, actually, and secretly chomping at the bit for apple orchard season!)

Here's my recipe: 

Apple Raspberry Overnight Oats
Makes: 1 serving
21 Day Fix / Country Heat Eating Plan containers = 1 purple, 1 yellow, 1 orange, 1 tsp.

1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2 tsp. chia seeds
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. natural peanut butter
1 cup fruit -- mix of diced apples and raspberries (or any other fruit combination)

Add old-fashioned rolled oats to a container of your choice. Add chia seeds, cinnamon, peanut butter. Pour almond milk over the top. Top with diced apples and raspberries. Cover, and place in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. Keeps for up to one week.

To eat:
Warm in the microwave for 30-90 seconds to your preference, or eat cold. I like mine warmed for about a minute or so; the warm apples and cinnamon taste like fall in a bowl! This recipe is easily doubled, tripled or quadrupled to make more than one serving at once. Enjoy!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Country Heat Meal Plan - Week of August 28-September 4

One more week until Labor Day! I am in complete disbelief summer is coming to a close. I mean, how?! Like always, it went so fast.

The one good thing about the end of summer is all the fresh, local produce in abundance. Zucchini, broccoli, green beans, corn on the cob - YUM! I took this into account when planning our family's meals for next week. Sure, I can make these recipes any day but they'll taste even better knowing those ingredients came directly from the farmer's market.

Click HERE to download my meal plan for next week, August 28-September 3.

Note: I'm following the Country Heat Eating Plan and fall into the 1,200-1,499 calorie bracket. Each person should individually determine their own calorie level when following the 21 Day Fix or the Country Heat Eating Plan. Each color on my meal plan represents a different color-coded portion control container.

If you'd like more information about following this Eating Plan, or are interested in joining my free accountability group, email me directly at hcdickson@yahoo.com

I have several favorite recipes on next week's meal plan -- the Pineapple Chicken Skewers, Sweet Potato Sloppy Joes, FIXATE Chicken Salad and the marinated chicken recipes are all some of our family's favorites -- but the one I'm most looking forward to is the Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats. I made this recipe once before for my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law when they visited the kids and I at the lake and I've craved it ever since. It's so good! If you like buffalo chicken dip or chicken wings, you'll love this recipe.

Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats
Makes: 8 zucchini boats
Recipe adapted from Maria Makes

2 2/3 cups cooked, shredded chicken (I used a rotisserie chicken)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup Frank's Red Hot Sauce
1/4 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
1/4 - 1/2 cup almond meal (to make your own, grind whole almonds until powder)
4 small to medium zucchini
cheese cloth (or paper towel)

1) Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
2) Wash zucchini and cut each one in half length-wise. Line baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Arrange zucchini on baking sheet, flesh-side up.
3) Brush zucchini with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. 
4) Put zucchini into heated oven and par-bake for 15 minutes.
5) Remove zucchini from the oven and allow to cool a bit.
6) Using a spoon, scoop out the middle soggy/seedy part of zucchini halves and reserve in a bowl.
7) Working in batches, place zucchini centers in a cheese cloth (or paper towel) and squeeze out all the liquid. Set aside in bowl.
8) In a separate bowl, add Frank's Red Hot, Greek yogurt, shredded chicken and the zucchini centers. Mix to combine.
9) Add in 1/4 to 1/2 cup almond meal (how much you use depends on how wet your chicken/zucchini mixture is)
10) Portion the zucchini mixture evenly into the zucchini boats.
11) Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the zucchini reaches desired tenderness.
12) Switch oven to broil and bake for an additional 5 minutes until the chicken starts to brown on top.
13) Remove from the oven, and serve!

Two zucchini boats = 1 green and 1 red container following the Country Heat Eating Plan

Several steps involved with this recipe, but so worth it. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Nebraska Friends at the Lake

It's become a tradition to have my best friend Ashley and her family visit us at the lake every summer. Ashley and her husband Neal first came to our cabin five years ago when they were in town for my baby shower (I was pregnant with Tory then!), and they've made it back to see us nearly every summer since then.

This year, Ashley and Neal picked the last weekend of July for their annual trek to Wisconsin. We all crossed our fingers and toes for great weather -- which is usually a sure bet that time of year -- and hoped for lots of time in the sunshine and water.

Our mutual friend Val and her family also spent the weekend with us. We've grown into quite the crew in the last five years -- six adults, seven kids (with one more on the way!) and three dogs all together. It was a full house, and so much fun.

Ashley, Neal and their kiddos Easton and Harper arrived to the lake on Friday morning and Val and her kids (Kasen, Linden and Lucy) arrived shortly afterwards. The weather was B-E-A-UTIFUL that day, and we soaked up every single minute outdoors. The kids built sandcastles, took jet-ski rides with Andi, swam in the lake and fished from the dock while the grown-ups lounged on floaties in the water with adult beverages in hand. Summer at its finest!

I love what great friends our kids have become. There's something mind-blowingly awesome about watching your kids play with your childhood best friends' kids. The best! They might not see each other much, but everyone seems to pick up right where they left off last time.

For dinner Friday night, Andi grilled us a fabulously fancy (yet simple!) dinner of caprese chicken with balsamic drizzle, asparagus and salad. Bonus! It almost felt like a kid-free dinner as the kiddos ran wild in the cabin backyard while the adults ate together on the deck. A s'mores party was mandatory for our after-dinner dessert.

A storm rolled in Saturday morning, so we squeezed in some time down by the lake and a quick boat ride before retreating indoors. Aden, Lucy, Harper and Easton napped in the afternoon while the Bigs snuggled up in our master bedroom watching Netflix.

Still wet and cool later that evening, we decided to take the kids bowling in Turtle Lake for something to occupy our time. None of us could remember the last time we bowled - it sounded fun, right?


My goodness! Seven kids under the age of five + a packed bowling alley on a Saturday night = a recipe for disaster. There were kids everywhere - our kids! - it was difficult keeping track of everyone. Aden ended up behind the bar at one point, multiple kids invaded the sacred bowling space of neighboring lanes, Linden made it into the designated smoker's room, and yeah ... the last frame of the game couldn't have come any sooner. The adults were happy to return to the lake where our kids could run wild in the comforts of our own environment.


Fabulous summer weather returned on Sunday, and our crew spent the entire day at the lake. More fishing, more jet-skiing, more hanging out together. It was the perfect end to the perfect weekend with friends.

Until next year!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Vacation in Alaska - Day 3

Andi and I awoke on Day 3 of our Alaskan vacation at Orca Lodge in the town of Soldotna. Tired from a full day of fishing the day before and still adjusting to the three-hour time change, we were slow to get moving for the day. Andi made each of us a simple breakfast of eggs, sauteed spinach and coffee; then, we packed up our things and headed south for the 1 1/2 hour drive to Homer, Alaska.

The route from Anchorage to Homer along the Kenai Peninsula takes about 5-6 hours, but there are plenty of reasons to break up the drive by stopping at scenic spots along the way. That's what Andi and I did anyway, and it proved a great way to get the most from our travels. We ventured from Anchorage to Soldotna, then further on to Homer in the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula.

We stopped to stretch our legs at a wayside rest stop in Old Ninilchik Village, a tiny town with deep Russian heritage. Further down the highway, we stopped once more at a roadside pullout to take in the view of the Cook Inlet overlooking the town of Homer. The view was absolutely breathtaking!

This view may not look like much due to the cloudy gray skies, but believe me -- standing there in that moment, taking in the sweeping view of the town below us, left Andi and I awe-struck. The sheer greatness of Alaska -- it's mountains, lakes, streams and ocean views -- were unlike anything we'd seen before.

The first thing Andi and I did when we arrived in Homer was stop by the local farmer's market. We're suckers for the local flavor of a good farmer's market anyway, and this one looked promising. And, boy, was it! What an awesome representation of what this town had to offer. The market was chocked full of vendors selling fresh produce, meats and other sundries. Andi and I did a quick hot-lap around the market, then he purchased some seafood chowder while I made my way to a stand selling the fanciest homemade soaps I'd ever seen. I thought they'd be the perfect "thank you" to give Janie for watching our kiddos.

Andi and I had lunch at Fresh Sourdough Express, a local sustainable restaurant that specializes in fresh breads and pastries. Andi wasn't too hungry after his bowl of seafood chowder at the farmer's market, so he ordered another cup of soup and I had the pesto salmon fillet burger. The food was delicious and our service - excellent.

After lunch, we met up with our friends Kristina and Alex who'd ventured down to Homer from their home in Eagle River. Kristina and Alex planned to camp on the beach of the infamous Homer Spit, but first we all had dinner reservations at The Saltry restaurant that evening. Before dinner, we strolled along the boardwalk of the Homer Spit and stopped in for a drink at The Salty Dog Saloon. Then, we hopped on board the Danny J ferry and set sail for Halibut Cove.

It's a good thing we brought rain gear on this trip because, once again, we needed it on the ferry ride. The light rain made for a mystical view of Halibut Cove as we approached the small island community.

Halibut Cove was once a small fishing village, and is now home to many artists and businesses throughout the summer months. The only transportation is by boat or on foot (no cars or roadways on the island); community members sort of "figure things out" together to make living on the island feasible.

All four of us were in awe as we approached the small wooden dock in Halibut Cove. This place was exactly as I'd imagined Alaska in my dreams -- a lighthouse welcoming our arrival; quaint colorful residences build into the side of the mountains; the calm waters of the Kachemack Bay before us. We all glanced at each other more than once and said something like, "Is this real life?!" It was amazing!

We had dinner reservations at The Saltry for 6:00pm (pro tip: if you go, be sure to make reservations ahead of time; they book up fast!) so we walked up the steep ramp from the dock to the restaurant. Our server seated us below the edge of the covered awning, so we were able to enjoy the breathtaking views without getting wet from the lightly falling rain.

Andi ordered the combination seafood platter for our table to share. For dinner, Kristina and Alex ordered the Octopus and the Pork dishes and Andi and I split the Halibut. It was all delicious!

The Danny J ferry was scheduled to depart Halibut Cove at 9:00pm, so we had some time after dinner to check out the island. We walked along the inner-connected boardwalk for an hour or so, just taking in the sights.

Halibut Cove is definitely a must-see when visiting the Kenai Peninsula. I can't wait to return one day. Next time, Andi and I have already decided we'll say on the island in one of the few rental properties available there. How cool would that be?!