Anniversary Shenanigans

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TEN YEARS!!  Holy cow.  Sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday that all of our friends were dancing their butts off at our wedding.  But apparently….it’s been a decade!

A couple years after Jake was born, and most importantly: after we started making enough money to be able to splurge a little bit, Jeff and I decided to make our anniversary weekend a priority for the two of us.  I feel like it was a really smart decision for ourselves and our marriage.  We don’t have regular date nights or a ton of opportunities to travel or go off on our own, so setting this one weekend a year where we really just focus on each other has been really great.  Every year we end the weekend realizing we still love spending time with each other, which is pretty huge after being with someone for so long.

I’m also feeling pretty good about us reaching ten years (thirteen together!)…apparently the average first marriage that ends in divorce lasts eight years...so we’ve made it past that point.  Side note: a kinda funny statistic from that same website: the five professions with the highest divorce rates are bartenders, dancers, massage therapists, gaming cage workers, and gaming service workers – I’m sensing a pattern, haha. 

We’ve also passed the “high risk” years of years 5-8 – woohoo!  Now we just have to get through the “low risk” of divorce through years 15, and then apparently a spike to “average” risk in years 15-20.

So – with all of those positive statistics on marriage, I’m glad we make it a priority to focus on our relationship and our marriage, at least once a year.

Here’s a recap of our past anniversary escapades:

Solvang 2015

2015 in Solvang

San Diego - 2016

Heading to San Diego in 2016

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Palm Springs 2017

Palm Springs in 2017

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Laguna Beach 2018-3

Laguna Beach in 2018

Laguna Beach 2018-4

Laguna Beach 2018-1

Laguna Beach 2018-2

This year we decided to cut the weekend back to a day, unfortunately.  We couldn’t decide WHERE we wanted to go, and the cost of hotels in the areas we were considering was a little much considering we now have preschool payments for Josh AND childcare payments for Jake.  So instead we decided to have a local day date – and it was great.

We started with breakfast at Le Peep (Jeff indulges me on our anniversary weekends with breakfast…it’s not his favorite meal…but I LOVE breakfast).

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Then we had planned to do some shopping for US.  We went to the Irvine Spectrum first just because it was such a beautiful day, and an outdoor walking mall sounded better than an indoor one, but all we found was stuff for the boys, haha.  We did have a delicious and refreshing lunch at the Cheesecake Factory though, so I’m glad we started there (we both had salads, and although we were hungry later, it was the perfect warm day meal).  We headed to the Shops at Mission Viejo after to continue our quest to find something for US, and we both lucked out with new shoes!  Jeff found some great shirts as well.  I can’t really shop for clothes at this point, so I was really happy to find some shoes that were comfortable and to get me ready for Fall.

At this point we were starving…so what’s better than an ice cream break?  We headed down the street to Handels Homemade Ice Cream, and were not disappointed.  The only disappointing part of this visit is that they only have a couple tables outside, and it was HOT.  So we ate our ice cream in the car, haha.

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Jeff is a purist when it comes to ice cream…I’m a rabid animal.

After this treat, we headed to Laguna Beach to walk the shops and check out some of the artsy places that are too risky to enter with the boys, haha.

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At this point, Jeff knew it was time to feed me, so we walked around a bit and lucked out finding Brussels Bistro.  And we REALLY lucked out, because apparently for most places in Laguna Beach on Saturday night, you should really have a reservation.  The food was delicious, and the ambiance was really great too.

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We headed home after this.  The boys were staying with grandma, so it was nice to head to a quiet home and watch a move that isn’t Hotel Transylvania or Woody Woodpecker.  We actually watched a great movie called Long Shot (the romantic comedy one with Seth Rogan and Charlize Theron, not the true crime one on Netflix, haha).  I was surprised with how much we enjoyed a movie we’d never heard of before!  It was REALLY funny, and equally endearing.  Plus, I’ve always been a Charlize fan

We also got a quiet, mellow morning on Sunday!  No kids needing to pee, or needing to be fed…just lounging in bed, catching up on Facebook and all those lame things we like to do when we’re not tending to children.  Although by 8am we were ready to see our boys again, haha.  We decided to get them donuts before we picked them up at grandma’s…just in case they had too much fun without us!

What’s your secret to a happy marriage?  What’s your favorite romantic destination?

Letting Go of Expectations

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I was maybe eight or nine when my grandma told me I could be an ambassador when I grew up.  I was living with her in Guatemala at the time, and it seemed like a perfect crossover for a U.S. citizen, passionate about Guatemala or other countries.  Good grades came easily to me – I almost always got A’s and some B’s, and in Guatemala was always in the “cuadro de honor” for my class (top 4 of my classroom).  I embraced leadership positions at an early age, and loved being involved in activities (just not the sports ones, ha!).

The combination of all of this, I think, set me up for the idea that I would become someone extraordinary as an adult: a leader, a presenter, a change maker, and I’ll admit that at eight or nine, sure, I thought I could save the world.  I recently talked to a friend of mine who is absolutely KILLING IT in her career.  She said: “Alex, I know this sounds cheesy, but I know this is what I was born to do.”  Who doesn’t want to have the feeling?

Fast forward a few decades (gah!), and I work as an administrative secretary in my local school district.  It’s a great job by many standards: we’re finally experiencing some sort of financial stability, benefits are great, I have a pension plan and accidental death insurance (those are big adult things!), paid vacation, it’s down the street from home, and most importantly: it’s flexible and understanding with our family schedule (SO huge).

Up until a year or so ago, I kept having this feeling that I was underperforming in my professional life, not reaching my full potential.  I still get jealous when I see acquaintances on Facebook attending big important conferences, or being presenters in their field.  I want to be doing a TEDx presentation!  Although when I stop and think about it, I have NO IDEA what I would talk about.  I sometimes think: I want to be the person in the meeting making the decisions, not the person taking the minutes for the meeting.  But five minutes later I’ve booked that person’s calendar for five meetings and see that they have a gazillion “important” unread emails in their inbox, and realize, eh, I prefer being able to clock out on time every day!

What I’ve been trying to come to terms with lately is that it’s ok not to be the over achiever.  So many more people around me (not in the Facebook universe) live completely “normal” lives, doing the standard Life thing of working and raising children.  And why isn’t that enough?  Maybe if it’s not enough, it should be enough for now while our kiddos are small and I should embrace what’s right in front of me.  I’ve seen moms re-join the workforce after being stay at home moms for ten plus years….this isn’t all of it, but it’s a stage of our lives that I want to embrace and live fully.

I dread looking back at these years and realizing that I was always looking for something else, wanting to be doing something different, be somewhere else.  And in the meantime, our boys grew up with a mom that was never fully present.

So for now…I’m trying to shift my perspective and make my family and our home my priority.  I’ve let go of several leadership positions and extracurricular involvements in the past two years, and I will admit it’s been great to be able to focus on our home, and be around more for the boys (although I do miss being involved in those activities and the difference I was able to make in them).  I love not being torn in five directions constantly.

And I do think I can still be a change maker where I am, just in smaller ways.  I do think I make a difference at work with those around me, whether it’s by doing my job well and making theirs easier, or by asking how their weekend was and giving them an opportunity to share something non-work related, or by re-doing our bulletin board and giving everyone something pretty to look at while they make copies.

I recently received an email from a co-worker that said: “Thank you for all you do for me!…I so appreciate your support and tolerance.  I really enjoy working with you!  Your sense of humor keeps me going.  Thanks for being you!”

It honestly made my day.  Maybe I don’t have the conviction that my friend has that what I’m “working”on is what I was born to do, but I do think I was born to help those around me, and I have to remind myself that sometimes that can come in the smallest, every day actions.

What about you?  Is where you are today different then where you’d thought you’d be?

Finding the Right Planner

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Although I use my Google calendar for most of my scheduling and reminders, I’ve always liked having a physical, tangible planner to keep me company.  The last couple of years I’ve used a Happy yearly planner, and I loved the fantastic graphics, motivational quotes, fancy tabs, and beautiful covers.  Before that I really enjoyed the coolness of the Moleskin planner as well.  But I realized last year that I just don’t use it often enough to justify the cost, and the weight of carrying it around in my bag.  I don’t use it consistently every week, so I end up with a bunch of empty pre-dated pages at the end of the year, and then end up buying one for the next year, only to end up with a bunch of empty pages as well.

I’m not sure how or when it hit me, but when it did, it was like a giant light bulb went off: AN UNDATED PLANNER!  Brilliant!  I needed a planner that I could fill in whenever I needed it.  And so my search began for the perfect undated planner.  I can’t remember how many I looked into, but suffice it to say that planner ads are still coming up on my social media feeds (and yes, I clicked on almost every one at first to see if it was “the one”).  Although I guess all it takes to get ads on your social media is one Google search, so that’s not saying much.  Let’s just say, I looked at A LOT of different planners.

And not a single one was quite hitting the spot.  I wanted something I could customize and add my own templates to, something small-ish, in a format that I could switch pages in and out of.  I kept hearing Jeff telling me “don’t buy something just to buy something,” which I often do just to not have to keep shopping for stuff, haha.  And so another light bulb lit up: I’M GOING TO DESIGN MY OWN PLANNER.  And maybe become a millionaire.  This is it.  This is my idea that makes me a self-made millionaire.

While I was trying to figure out what the first step is in designing and producing something on your own, I went back to going through my Bloglovin feed (I’ve kind of just switched out two social medias for another one), and I randomly stumbled across this blog post.  My internal reaction was a combination of internal hysterical laughter and ugly crying.  Of course someone created basically the thing I was thinking about.  And of course, it’s free.

So, aside from crushing my dreams of being a self-made millionaire (because I definitely would have pursued this idea and gotten it into production somehow…I would never just let this project slide down on my priority list and be forgotten for all eternity…) I was pretty excited to discover all the free planner printables from The Handmade Home.

I downloaded some of their designs (I went with the A5 size to keep it compact), then had to find how I was going to put them all together, along with my own templates that I wanted to use.

I ended up finding this Martha Stewart Discbound Journal at Staples, but the tan version:

I also purchased tabs like these (I got the 8-tab one because I love tabs)…

And these bookmark checklists…because I love bookmarks and checklists…(these come in such a high quantity that I’m happy to share some with you if you send me your address, haha):

I was pretty excited once I found a notebook style that would work for what I had in mind.  The size was right, and the discbound format meant that I could move pages around easily.  My next hiccup though was getting the right hole punch so I could print out the free printables and my templates, and put them into this journal.  After some Google searches and watching a few YouTube videos, I decided on this one:

I know…I know…at this point, you and my husband are probably saying “isn’t it cheaper to just buy the dated planner and throw away the left over sheets?!”  THAT’S NOT THE POINT, GUYS!  The point is: I want something that’s more functional for me.  Plus…you know…I can reuse this stuff all the time…I’ll basically never have to buy anything again!  Except for…paper.

I didn’t want to use regular 20 lb white paper, because…well… for one, boring, and for two, you can see through it, and for threes, it just doesn’t feel like a planner.  But 60 lb card stock felt like over kill…by the time I added in all my pages I would still be carrying around a five pound planner.

I found the perfect compromise with the Staples Premium Ivory 32 lb Laser Paper.  I couldn’t find a link, but if you love planners…odds are you also love an excuse to walk through an office supply store…(lucky for you: the paper stash is all the way in the back!).

After that, I just had to print and hole punch!  Which…always easier said than done.  To fit the size I needed, I had to use the “two pages per sheet” setting on my printer, and flip the page around and back and forth to get what I wanted on each side.  Not the end of the world, but not as simple as hitting “print” and being done.

To make the most of the sheets, I tried to combine different templates together so I wasn’t leaving too many “blank” pages.  So I combined my to do list template (which is a combination of my own preferences and a to-do book I found at Michaels) with a grid page template on one side, and an upcoming schedule template on the other.  So when you’re flipping through the pages you’ll see: grid page on the right, flip and have centerfold with my two page to-do template, flip and have an upcoming weekly schedule where I can break down some of my to-do’s by day.

I left the outsides of my meal planner template blank, since I plan on pinning those to my fridge every week and therefore won’t be seeing the back side of those anyway.  But I like the convenience of having these in my planner where I can brainstorm future meals whenever I want to.  I’ve previously used this meal planner (just hot glued a giant magnet to the back of it) and have loved it (and it’s so pretty!), but I also love the idea of having a grocery list that already includes the stuff that I know I buy every week – and broken up by sections (if anyone wants an editable version, just let me know).

Finally, I really wanted to include some blank versions of my event planning template, so I modified it a bit to fit the format and size of my planner.  I like that I’ll have these in one place instead of loose leaf sheets in my bag.

Disclaimer on my templates: they’re not pretty, and they’re not perfect (I couldn’t get them to print without giant margins, which made the font a bit smaller that I would have liked).  But I’ll slowly improve them and make them nice with colors and fonts and borders.  Someday they will wow me!  But for now: they are functional!

Now…to find the right pen…I did find these, but if I had it in me to exchange them again I would go with a .5mm retractable pen, so I don’t have to deal with the hassle of taking the cap off.

Do you use a planner?  What features do you look for?

 

 

amazon - vday

2019: what’s it gonna be?

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This blog suddenly combined about five separate blog ideas that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while – so…get comfy!

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I’m a lover of the holidays and the excitement of a new year.  This year, however, I was feeling a little lost and overwhelmed.

Recently I’ve been debating whether I should even have any goals: aside from better financial stability, our life is pretty darn great.   Sometimes, however, I look at other people’s lives as they are jet-setting around the world with their children, or buying things I could only dream of affording,

The social media induced jealousy kicks in, and I have to remind myself that their life is not my life.  Maybe they’ve worked their asses off more than I’ve ever been willing to work my ass off.  Maybe they’re dealing with some really difficult situations that I hope I never have to deal with.  Maybe they come from affluent families so their lifestyle is just their normal.  This is where my super jealousy kicks in: why wasn’t I born into a family with inside connections at Yale or Harvard to land me in a six figure job?  Or with a summer cottage on Cape Cod?  Or hey, maybe just a trust fund from grandpa?!  But then I bring myself back to what I WAS born into: a family with no lack of love/compassion/affection, a roof over my head and food on the table at all times, no trauma, I grew up in a country of freedoms and possibilities, etc., etc.

So how much more can I ask for?  I have an incredibly amazing husband, two healthy, smart, and beautiful boys, a cozy home that I’m in love with, and amazing and supportive family.  Is it fair to ask more of life?  Should I really be trying to get MORE out of life?  Or should I just be happy and content with where I am, instead of always looking for something else to achieve or accomplish?

In talking to Jeff about these thoughts, I’ve come to the conclusion that I should still strive for success.  People didn’t become successful in life by being complacent with what they had, right?  I recently read Girl, Wash Your Face, and  Handcrafted  Both books have the overarching theme of setting a big life goal/dream, and how they achieved it.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out what my big goal in life is.  WHAT DO I WANT?  One of my biggest fears right now is to think I’ll look back on my life when I’m 60/70/80, and realize I lived my life passively – never going for the big ticket items, staying in my comfort zone, never taking risks, never doing the things I really wanted to do.  But…WHAT DO I WANT?

I can’t decide if I want to be self-employed so I can spend more time at home with the boys (but how will those student loans get paid off?  What could I possibly do to make enough money on my own?  What about our benefits? What about that pension plan?), find a job that pays more so we’re not stressing every month (but what kind of stress and hours will that come with?  Will I hate what I’m doing?  I’ll surely have to commute!  How can anything that I love/enjoy doing possibly pay me more than I’m making now?), think long term and stick with the security of my benefits and that pension plan (am I settling?  Was I made to do more?  Am I making a difference?), or move somewhere where we can buy property and live like Chip and Jo (how could we possibly move away from our family?  We love our neighbors! How will I learn to milk a cow?!).

On the other end of the big life goals, are the little (but really, the big ones) life goals: our kids are growing up so fast: how do I make the most of this time?  How can I be a more patient mother that doesn’t lose it after asking (and being asked) the same question five times? (Mom.  Mommy.  Mommy.  MOMMY. MOOOOOOOMMYYYYYYY).

Let’s rewind a little to the holidays and the lead up to Christmas.  I love Christmas.  I look forward to nights on our couch with the Christmas lights on and all our decorations, garlands, and nacimientos, basically from the moment we clean them up from the year before.  But this year it seemed like a lot of WORK.  Getting all the decorations down from our rafters in the garage.  Sorting through them and figuring out what to put where.  Storing all the year-round decor.  And finally trying to put some of those boxes back up in the rafters so I’m not cursing them each time I go do our laundry in the garage for the whole month of December.

But, once it was done, I loved it.  We had amazing nights cuddling on the couch with our lights on, fireplace going, watching Christmas classics (Home Alone, A Christmas Story, and a new one we’ve watched about five times: Christmas Chronicles).  My heart was so full and happy!

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Watching A Christmas Story on Christmas Eve

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Both boys joining me at 6am on the couch

I also had a little more anxiety about gifts for everyone this year.  We’re usually broke enough that it’s not a concern (ha!), but the last couple of years Jeff’s holiday photo shoots has given us the luxury of a well gifted Christmas.  We really wanted to spoil our parents this year, so we tried to buy them several things each.  And the boys?  Well, it’s hard as a parent to not want to buy them EVERYTHING.  Even knowing that it will end up in a pile in the toy room.  And the living room.  And our bedroom.  And the dinning room table.

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But all of those gifts require thought and time.

So this Christmas was my first big exercise in letting go.  Letting go of all the Christmas events I wanted us to go to but just couldn’t make it work.  Letting go of not being able to do all of the things.  Letting go of the DIY gift idea for our parents that on Christmas eve I just didn’t have the energy to pull off (but hey, maybe next year!).  And as hard as it was for me to make those decisions and move on, once each of those decisions was made, so much weight was lifted off my shoulders.  I didn’t have to stress about the million little logistics to make that event or thing happen.

And you know what?  Christmas didn’t suck because I let all of those things go.  We had a wonderful Christmas eve with our parents, a great Christmas morning at home with the boys, and then we headed off to Arizona to see family.

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My in-laws rented us hotel rooms, and it was a great experience with the boys: it was like the four of us having a sleepover in one big room!  Our first morning waking up in the hotel, Jake asked if we would hide his bajillion dinosaurs so he could go on a dino hunt.  I found myself starting my usual response of “right after I do the dishes/laundry/pick up/fix breakfast/feed Gogo Dojo (our awesome beta)/etc.” and realized: I’m not home, I have nothing to do.  And it was the greatest feeling in the world to say “sure!” to him with no reservations, no feelings of “I should be doing this instead.”  I did have a stark realization that my constant “I have to do this first” is not going unnoticed when I used one of those responses with Jake before, and he replied, not happily, “you ALWAYS have to do [x, y, z].”  How much mommy guilt can a mommy take?!

All of this to say that I’m trying to figure out what I want to focus on this year, and what I want my goals to be, and I feel like letting go of things and focusing on quality family time are big ones this year.

I also think I’ve been overthinking things: I’ve been trying to nail down these very specific goals – but maybe setting generic goals is my first step.  I’ve been trying to take advice I keep hearing: give yourself grace.  So in giving myself grace, I’ll settle for some big picture goals that I’ll have to break down further:

  • Be present: let things go so I can focus on the moment with my family, and give myself grace in moments of exasperation (I need to be better about admitting that I can’t do all things at one time).  I also decided to limit my social media time, so I deleted Instagram and Facebook apps off my phone – it was actually a huge relief to not “have” to check them every time I picked up my phone.  This has also helped with my social media lifestyle jealousy.
  • Financial stability and comfort: something to strive for, but honestly no idea how to get there.  I did recently come across this book, so maybe I’ll give that a read.
  • Figure out what makes me happy and feeling fulfilled at work: I think this will take a while, and I’ve decided not to make it a priority for now.  I think with the kids being so young and this season of our life being so fleeting, I want to focus on my first goal, and maybe figure this one out along the way.

So, my word for the year? Passionate.  I want to be passionate about my family, my work, my home.  I want to be excited about what I’m doing.

What are your goals?  Do you like setting goals, or do you think they’re a waste of effort?  Any advice on how to achieve my goals? :-P

He’s an Armchair Expert!

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Have you guys heard of Dax Shephard’s podcast, Armchair Expert?  Well, in case you haven’t, I’m here to tell you how awesome it is.  Dax Shephard is half of the amazing combo with Kristen Bell (this Kristen Bell).  And they’re just so stinkin’ cute.   I just played that video for the boys (Jake LOVES giraffes and elephants, so I thought they’d get a kick out of it – also, it helped pull Jake out of a grumpy mood, haha), and I just fell in love with them all over again.  I also realized that Jake needs to go to Africa someday to chase giraffes.

Since I started listening to AE, I like them even more.  And now there’s also Monica Padman to love.  Although Dax and Monica chat with mostly fellow artists of various mediums (actors, producers, writers, etc.), they also have “expert on expert” podcasts where they talk to someone that has expertise in any given area.

I love that the premise of the podcast is just to have open and frank conversations with people.  It’s to increase communication and dialogue, and it really allows you to get to know people you’ve seen on screen for years in a different way.  They become almost like you and me: I realize that Mila Kunis has some of the same challenges in motherhood that I have, so by extension, Mila and I could easily be BFF’s.

The last part of the podcast is the “fact check” with Monica – and it’s one of my favorite parts of the podcast.  This part is done in post-production, and Monica and Dax go through and fact-check some of the stuff that came up in the interview portion of the podcast.  It’s really great to hear Monica and Dax work through disagreements – it’s always a very civilized conversation and they both try really hard to understand where the other person is coming from.  I think this is also one of their ultimate goals in doing this podcast: showing by example how to work through differences of opinion but with love and understanding.  I also have found myself laughing out loud more than once during the fact check.

Speaking of laughing out loud: the commercials.  I’ve never laughed so much at commercials (and probably never at audio only ones).  Although  most of the stuff they advertise is way out of my price range (I’ve checked almost everything, they sell it all pretty well!).

Just a heads up that these are definitely not kid friendly – so don’t go listening to them in the car with children present.

I haven’t caught up on all of them, but here are some of my favorites so far and why:

  • Ted Danson (“TD”): TD talked about his parents a little, and I loved hearing about how exceptional his parents where and how that made his childhood that much more interesting.  I’ve seen that with a couple guests who speak so admiringly of their parents, and it really makes me want to do something extraordinary with my life, just so my kids can say “my mom was amazing..she was/did blah blah blah and accomplished x/y/z.”  Also, Ted Danson just sounds like an amazing human being.
  • Rob McElhenney: the actor and show runner for Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  They have some pretty hilarious conversations about the male physique (watch this video from the finale of Always Sunny if you want to see what Rob’s physique can do), but I love where Rob says that his favorite thing ever is when his son says “hey dad, I have a question.”  I find this to be so true.  Jake, at 5 years old, is so inquisitive about the way things work and why things are the way they are, and I absolutely love his curiosity.  And I love when Jeff or I get to explain something to him.  Or when we get to do an experiment to figure something out.  Rob follows that up by saying how kids ruin your life, haha.  The point he makes, and I would agree, is that they ruin the life you had before them.  Life after children is so completely different than the life you had before.  To balance things out, Dax spends a lot of time in other episodes talking about why having kids is so great.
  • Mike Schur (“MS”):  There were a couple things that really spoke to me on this episode.  One, MS talks about how his dad became an attorney because there was no money in the field he has then studying (linguistics).  His dad was never happy being an attorney but practiced it his whole life anyway.  The one thing his dad told him not to become was an attorney.  It makes me think a lot about where I am in life and the situation I find myself in because I did go to law school.  This will be a separate blog because Jeff and I recently had a really good conversation about this topic and how we don’t want to be sixty looking back and regretting the things we didn’t do because of the things we did do.  The other thing MS talks about is people that have won the “genetic lottery” by being born as a white male in a middle/upper class home, with two parents (or whatever the case is).  When I was working at Starbucks after college (right before going to law school), I worked with someone who I would say was a tad racist.  When he found out I was half-Guatemalan, he told me I won the genetic lottery because I look white and not Hispanic.  At the time, my friends and I were outraged that he would say such a thing.  As years have gone by, however, that phrase has popped up in my mind more than once and I’ve realized that in a lot of ways, he was right.  Although I don’t view it in the positive light that he probably did,  I do often wonder how my life might be different if my name was Alejandra instead of Alexandra (as my mom had intended), or if my skin resembled my mom’s olive tone rather than my dad’s.  I feel, sadly, that my job opportunities would have been different, and that my social circles would have been different as well.  And I would probably be a totally different person.
  • Jason Bateman: Maybe the funniest one for me so far.  Plus, Jason mentions Arrested Development a lot – which I LOVE!  And generally…I might have fallen a little in love with him.  Is that too weird of a note to end on?

Just in case it is, here’s something random to end on.  A couple years ago we started planning meals for the week – and it was such a game changer for our week nights.  If I can plan meals on the weekend, and buy all my groceries by Sunday, we’re guaranteed to eat better and to not spend as much eating out.  But, you know me…I need something to keep me organized…and to make lists upon lists.  I found this great meal planner on Rifle Paper Co. (I’m also really into all things floral lately, so that helps).  I used my handy hot glue gun to attach a giant magnet to the back of it, and keep it on my fridge.  The left side lists my meals for the week, and on the right side I can add things throughout the week that I need to get on my following run.

I hope you’ll start listening to AE – then I won’t be the only one I know singing “He’s an armchair expert….” to myself all the time…

Happy listening!

Gift Guide for Boys!

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Back in the day, before children, and for only two years, I put together a Charity Gift Guide for the holidays.

As much as my heart is still very passionate about giving and volunteering, my available time and energy to dedicate to those causes has decreased significantly.  So this year I’m sharing a gift guide about a new area of expertise of mine: gifts for boys!

For those that aren’t intimately familiar with our family, our boys are 2.5 (Josh) and 5 (Jake), so my selections are tailored around those ages.

While attempting to potty train Josh, we read My Very First Space Book a lot, and Josh kept pointing to the telescopes and saying “me want.”  And how cool would it be for us to go in the backyard with the boys and learn about constellations?!  I found this starter one on Amazon that I’m hoping Santa will bring the boys (links are on the images!).

Kidcia Telescope for Kids 

Josh has already been really into Play-dough lately.  We had to get rid of it for a while because he would just eat it.  Now, he mostly plays with it, and just occasionally eats it, so it’s still a semi-supervised activity, but it’s the most I’ve seen him entertained by anything.  Thanks to random and creepy YouTube videos, these are the top contenders:Another YouTube find: instant ice cream!  The one featured in the video that the boys watch (over and over and over again) has terrible reviews on Amazon.  I found the one below that has better views, but also costs a lot more.  Not sure if this will actually make it under the tree this year, but if it did, I think it would make for good entertainment…for a few minutes.

Chef’n Sweet Spot Ice Cream Maker I remember bath times with Jake when it was all about him, and we would play and practice letters with his bathtub letters.  Bath time now is this thing to check off the list and get to bed.  We have some toys in the tub but it’s mostly stuff that the boys play with on their own.  I came across these cool bath toys that are STEM related and I think both boys would enjoy playing with:

Jake and Josh are also really into their play kitchen set lately.  I’m so glad because that was their big gift from Santa last year, and at first I thought it was going to be a waste of money (not that Santa cares about those kinds of things..).  Now I think I want to eliminate some of the other toys in the toy room and build up their kitchen ware:

Speaking of pretend play, I love this firefighter costume and that it comes with a hose!

I also should probably just stock up on hundreds of Nerf bullets for Josh, haha.

Jake is definitely going through a dinosaur phase (we listen to a dinosaur podcast every morning on our way to school – Dinosaur FUN FACT OF THE DAY! and Age of the Dinosaurs, on repeat – he carries his dinosaur fact cards everywhere he goes, and loves his dino action figures), so I thought we’d feed into that a bit.

This fossil dig looks pretty awesome:

These dino eggs also looked pretty cool.  We recently got one from Michael’s and the anticipation on Jake’s face was just priceless…for over 24 hours, haha. Jake also loves to read, so I thought these Bernstein books would be a good cross over:

Speaking of reading, Grandma Linda got Jake some e-readers a while back, and he loves them.  They come with different books that he can select on the e-reader and then click on the color that matches the color coded page.  We have the Paw Patrol one, and the Marvel Super Hero one, but I think this one would be a good addition:Another gift giving idea that Grandma Linda started with Jeff and I is a Barnes & Noble gift card in our stocking.  I’m starting to do this with the boys also, and let them pick a book.  I love the idea of the boys enjoying books as much as we do.  Maybe going to Barnes & Noble after Christmas to pick out our new books will become part of our Christmas traditions!

Once we’re done shopping for the boys, we’ll have just enough for a bottle of wine for mom (hopefully top shelf!), and socks and underwear for dad, ha!

What are your kids into these days?  What are your favorite holiday traditions?

Summer Roundup 2018

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Well, this could possibly be my last Summer Roundup since I won’t have Summer’s off anymore, so brace yourselves for a long (and very delayed) recount of our Summer.

We started off strong washing the car and using our imaginations with a cardboard box.  The boys loved using their tools to make holes everywhere.  Jake kept telling me he was making a window, which I thought he was playing pretend, only to turn around and realize that he had actually used his toy saw to LITERALLY cut through the cardboard and make a window, ha!

On week 2 of my vacation, we went on a nice little trail walk with some friends.  I had found these awesome trail/hike checklists in the dollar section at Target, so I used some rubber bands to attach them to books, stuck a crayon through the rubber band, and each kid got to have one to check things off they saw along the way.  It was also during this walk that I got the call from the District about interviewing for my current position, so my mind was already freaking out about my time with the boys.

Another adventure we went on that I’ve been wanting to check off the list for a while was the Newport Beach Back Bay.

I didn’t really have a clue where we were going, so I started at what I’m sure is a random point of the trail, at the foot of a canyon road.  The view was great and we got to look for pretty cool stuff.  There were also a couple people working in the wetlands, and Jake asked me what they were doing.  I told him he should ask them to find out, which he did, in the most adorable way possible, and found out they were doing research on some snails, which wouldn’t you know, was one of the items on our checklist!

We walked more than was comfortable in the heat to a building that ended up being a closed science facility, and after some phone research realized the exciting building was all the way around the trail, so….we walked all the way to the car and drove around to the other side of the loop ;)  The Muth Interpretive Center was pretty cool, and provided a nice little break from the sun.  It also had a whole room of children’s activities, which was great until mommy started getting hangry and neither boy wanted to leave.

Towards the beginning of my break we also went on an excursion with Gran Gran to San Juan Capistrano.  I always forget how nice it is to just walk around over there – even if you have nothing planned.  The kids loved the playground, and grandma and I loved lunch at Sundried Tomato – yum!  We ate on their outside patio and it was just a perfect day for it!  We ended the day by walking around Mission San Juan Capistrano– the boys loved looking for the koi fish.

Another thing I got to check off my list was going to Balboa Island.  I’ve always wanted to go and just walk around.  It was a little harder going solo with two kids, but it was a nice morning out.  The kids enjoyed a nice donut from one of the local shops, and absolutely LOVED the ferry ride to Newport.  I’m so glad it was worth it, because the line to cross was LONG.

You see that first picture?  That’s Jake not being impressed by anything that we’re doing.  Which…when I’m exhausted from packing up the car, piling them in, taking them out, and trying to find something cool for them to do, just rubs me raw.  Thankfully the attitude didn’t last too long….After the ferry crossing, we went to the beach and the boys got to play in some sand dunes, and I have no idea why Josh decided to start walking his bike that day instead of riding it, haha.

We also hit up the Discovery Cube – I’ve been wanting to go for a while since that cube is so iconic on the 5 freeway, and…they had a dinosaur exhibit!  Jake just started getting into dinosaurs, so I really wanted to take him before the exhibit was over.

I will say…I think our visit was a little premature.  For what it cost to get in (plus parking and a mediocre lunch in their cafeteria since I didn’t time things right and was STARVING and didn’t think I had the patience to walk to the car, load ’em up, and go somewhere else), it wasn’t worth taking them at these ages, or at least taking them by myself.  Josh was Josh, so he was all over the place and not Mr. Safety about staying near me.  This meant I couldn’t really spend time showing Jake all the stuff they had or explaining what the cool stuff did, or reading to him what everything meant.  I was just constantly trying to make sure I didn’t lose either kid, haha.

I’m not saying they didn’t have cool things for the kids to do and see – but I think the money will be more worth it once Josh gets a little older and we can actually do some of the stuff they have, rather than walking around like crazy people.

We did our annual trip to Adventure Playground in Irvine, and the boys had a blast.  I really wish I/we took them here more often – they have so much fun!

Jake never left the Legos – he made some friends and helped build a giant house that quickly became a safety hazard, haha.  Josh went straight for the mud and had a blast! I did plan ahead on this one and we had a nice picnic on the lawn outside of the playground.

We also enjoyed a trip to the library, our annual visit to see Nina and have lunch at The Proud Bird while we watched the plans land and take off, visits from AZ family, and some pool time at Joy’s house.

We also enjoyed just being home.  We hung out in the backyard and front yard when it wasn’t too hot.  Painted rocks for our garden, and enjoyed our little pool.

The first picture above is Jake holding Josh while they watch a lizard.  Because, you know…lizards are scary!  The picture with the tricycle…they’re both using their tools to fix it – love it!  The boys also got to look for June bugs at night with daddy – one of my favorite Summer moments but not pictured because there was too much naked butt from Josh.  Speaking of Josh’s naked butt…

He spent a lot of time in just a shirt this Summer.  I have some pretty great pictures but realized it’s not appropriate to publish pictures of my son’s naked butt.  But trust me: they’re adorable!  We tried unsuccessfully to potty train him this Summer…I think we were a little premature but I’m gonna give it another shot when I’m home for Thanksgiving.  It was a lot of laundry and pee everywhere and sitting with him in the bathroom a lot reading A Potty for Me...and it’s frustrating that it was for naught, but I also didn’t want to push it too much and make him hate the bathroom.  Jeff and I are so sick of changing those big boy poopy diapers…not to mention still having to buy diapers all the time.

Finally – I think I had a big breakthrough this Summer on letting things go.  As much as we did in our shortened Summer, I had a lot more on our calendar, haha.  From day one I told myself that just because something was on the calendar, it didn’t mean we had to do it, and I had to realize that not doing something didn’t count as a failure and that I should feel disappointed in myself for not doing it.  It just meant I enjoyed doing other things with the boys that I didn’t need to plan or stress for.  I think Jeff is the only one that might realize how huge that was for me to let go of, haha.

I was crazy enough to take on painting the toy room with the boys on my own.  It was as stressful as I imagined it would be, but Jeff helped me finish it off and the boys enjoyed being a part of it.  I sorted and organized more LEGO’s this Summer than I probably every will again, haha.  Not sure if I already blogged about our toy room upgrades, but we bought this toy organizer for our LEGO’s and it worked out really great.  Not that you could tell now, haha.

My goal now that I won’t have Summer’s off with the boys anymore is to incorporate the things we did then, during our weekends.  Which is such a huge challenge.  Weekends are already packed with laundry, groceries, home projects, now soccer for Josh on Saturday’s, and of course all the other things I commit ourselves to.  But I really need to start making time to just DO stuff with the boys on a regular basis – rather than waiting until I have time off.

How do you make quality family time a reality on your weekends?  What are you favorite Summer adventures?

 

Dinner!

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I’ve never been a lover of cooking, I’ll start there.  My grandma cooked some great meals when I was little, but I never helped enough in the kitchen to actually learn what she was doing.  My mom is a cook of specialty dishes: she makes amazing tamales, potato salad for EVERY family function (the family is not usually happy if there’s no Achi potato salad at any given event, ha!), and amazing traditional Guatemalan dishes, like pepian.  But being just the two of us when I was little, I also wasn’t in the kitchen much for the day to day cooking.

When Jeff and I first moved in together to our little apartment in Irvine, I’d venture to say he was the main cook.  Or he’d make the main dish and I’d make the sides.

I’m not exactly sure when the shift happened, but I’d say it was after we had Jake – when going out to dinner became less and less of an option, haha.  And having to buckle down on finances.  When we moved into our Lake Forest apartment, we’d been living with Jeff’s parents for a couple years, and I got to observe my mother-in-law cooking some really great meals – when I wasn’t busy sleeping on the couch…

I think all of those things combined forced me to start cooking more at home.  I’m by no means a natural chef…I’m a cook-by-the-recipe “chef” (not sure you can call someone that follows a recipe a chef…but I’ll give myself that title for now).  I think I’m just recently getting comfortable enough to improvise here and there – but only in small ways.  Jeff and I joke around about me messing with recipes – my experiments rarely work for the best, haha.  But I’ve come up with some good recipes for veggies and such small plates.

Anywho, a little over a year ago I was at Costco waiting on a cake order, and I gravitated to the book section to kill some time (everyone gravitates to the book section, right?!), and found this cook book:

I’ll admit, I’ve become quite a skeptic of cook books because I end up buying them and then realizing I don’t like any of the recipes in them (we’re not adventurous eaters…).  [How am I a recipe chef without cookbooks?  Most of my tried and true recipes come from allrecipes.com, but I digress again.]  But I kept skimming this one and finding several recipes that caught my eye, and after a good five-minute hesitation I decided to buy it.

I’m not exaggerating: this book has changed our life, haha.  The harissa chicken recipe is seriously our favorite dinner, and it’s my go-to when I want to impress family/friends.  It’s also easy to double and make for larger crowds.  A couple things I’ve learned from making it several times:

  • I use skinless chicken thighs rather than skin on
  • I add lemon rind to the yogurt sauce (I did it by accident the first time, as the lemon rind is also used for something else, but now we love it)
  • I cut the harissa in half since it can be pretty spicy.  Trader Joe’s used to carry an amazing harissa sauce but has discontinued it (we were heartbroken).  We’ve found a different version at a local Persian store – it’s not the same but it will do.
  • Harissa sauce spoils quickly, so it was a bummer to buy a jar and have it mold in my refrigerator before I had a chance to make it again.  A coworker who I shared the recipe with came up with a brilliant idea that has worked great for me: freeze a couple tablespoons in snack-size ziplock bags and freeze!  I can take it out just before using and unfreeze pretty quickly.

I also love the pizza chicken recipe.  This one I’ve paired up with angel hair spaghetti and it goes great.  I also freeze extra sauce and use it for a second spaghetti night – it’s a perfect spaghetti sauce!

The other recipe I make regularly is the chicken salad – with crispy skin!  It’s such a light and refreshing meal, but I do cut the sauce out (I made it the first time and realized it’s just not our taste).

What are your favorite recipes or cook books?

Life Updates

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Well, I know you’ve all been on the edge of your seats waiting for a life update from us.  WAIT NO LONGER! Ha!

Between the boys getting older and being more and more independent, and me stepping down from a couple volunteer positions, I see more and more pockets of time opening up for me to get back to some of the things I really enjoyed doing in the past.  Blogging being one of them.  I do feel a certain lack of inspiration on WHAT to write about – maybe because it’s been so long since I blogged regularly, or maybe because the topics that do come to mind are ones that I should be sharing with a therapist instead of the whole world – HA!

So, I thought I would just start with a little recap of our year so far.  As I predicted, 2018 has been good.  Nay, GREAT.  We rented a cabin in Arrowhead in January with my cousins, and had a wonderful family weekend.  We even got some surprise snow – it was the perfect amount too: enough for a snowball fight and a mini-snowman, not enough to trap us in or hinder us in any way.  Jake still talks about that cabin and the snow, and his nina.

arrowhead group picture

We haven’t made a lot of progress on our family goals, but we did go apple picking, and damn have we worked on some home projects.  We FINALLY finished painting most of the interior of our house, which had been on a hiatus for a good 1.5+ years.  It felt SO GOOD to finally get that done, and I think it’s motivated us to work on other projects around the house.  Every little section of our house that we add an element to, I feel like it instantly makes that section of our house our home.  We’ve added frames to our hallway, a border to our planter box, many many indoor plants, a couple new pieces of furniture to our little living area, homework baskets and backpack hooks, and just this weekend we added a new plant to our bedroom.

 

 

It’s also been a pretty big year on getting to know my dad and his family a little more.  My dad flew me out to Arizona in May so I could be at my sister’s graduation party, and I got to meet the extended family during that party.  All the aunts and uncles and cousins.  I also went without the kids, so it was nice to have some “alone” time with everyone.

sisters

I went shopping with my three sisters and I just kept thinking of how many times my mom has mentioned going shopping with her sisters.  I’m usually a solo-shopper, and I don’t go shopping just to shop.  I need something, I go out and buy it.  But I have to say, it was nice.  It was nice to just walk around with the three of them, look and compare, and buy shit you don’t need (although in this case, the two pairs of shorts I bought got me through the Summer, and the dinosaur jammies I got the boys are their favorite ones – because the dinosaurs on their knees end up biting daddy every time he puts them to sleep in those jammies).  It made me a little jealous of how often my sisters get to do those things together, of how often my mom has had those moments with her sisters, and of how often my cousins have those moments with their siblings.  Looks like I’m blogging anyway instead of talking to a therapist, ha!

For mothers day we finally made it to Carlsbad to see the flower fields.  I’ve been wanting to go for a while now, and Mother’s Day was the perfect reason to make it happen!  We went with both of our mom’s and papa, and had a great day.

 

 

This summer we also spent a long weekend with my dad and his family at a lake house in Show Low.  Jake and Josh got to go fishing for the first time – and Jake was a pro!  It was also great to not have to DO anything – just hang out!

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The last couple of weeks I’ve been waking up extra early and going on walks around the neighborhood.  I gained most of my pregnancy wait after Josh stopped nursing, and I’m finally feeling like I really need to do something about it.  Work also has a health incentive all year and if you walk 50,000 steps a week you get entered into a raffle for one of the grand prizes – so now I have a defined goal and I’m shooting for it this week!

After all that…I thought I would start doing what all bloggers seem to do: just share links of stuff that I want, haha.

  • I’m ready to jump on the booties bandwagon with these beauties.
  • I finally found the style of handbag I like, and bought one at Target that is already falling apart.  This one would be just a liiiiiiiiiittle step up.
  • I’ve had this Obama photo book on my Amazon list for a while.  Not sure why I never pull the trigger and just get it!
  • Reese Witherspoon also recently came out with a book/cookbook.  I’m a sucker for cookbooks and all things southern.  I’m afraid that if I buy and read this book though, I’ll just be depressed that Reese isn’t my BFF.  That’s kind of how I felt after getting The Magnolia Table – why doesn’t Joanna love me?!?

Does anyone have a number for a good therapist?  :)

 

All the great photos are thanks to Jeff Armstrong.  The non-great ones…are most likely thanks to me.

Literate Lushes (August 2017 to July 2018)

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This seems to be an annual post…here we go.

August: The Song of Achilles, A Novel, by Madeline Miller.  As I mentioned in my last Literate Lushes post, I couldn’t put this book down.  I started reading it was I waited to board the plane to Florida for one of my best friend’s weddings, and finished it in the uber on the way to the hotel (in between getting pulled over and telling the office my name so he didn’t think I was the female that had a restraining order against my uber driver).  It is a heartbreaking rendition of a Greek classic.

September: The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead.  This past year has been the year of some pretty heavy books.  This book was recommended by a dear friend of mine, and I’m so glad I chose it as my book club pick.  The title is self-describing, but it goes into heartbreaking detail on the tragedies suffered by people in slavery.  I still can’t wrap my head around how cruel people can be to one another.  I feel like we all learned a lot from this historical fiction book, and our discussion was great.

October: Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King.  A nice and easy vampire read for the Halloween month!  Slavery followed by vampires wasn’t exactly what the doctor called for, but it was a nice change of pace and a good read.

December: The Girl With All The Gifts, by M. R. Carey.  So slavery followed by vampires followed by zombies!  Another book that I would have never picked to read on my own, but once I started it I couldn’t put it down.  An interesting spin on the zombie story line, with an ending that I couldn’t stop thinking about for days.  I heard that’s a second book to this series that I have yet to get back to.

January: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.  A non-fiction story on the first immortal strand of cultured DNA (I’m not a science person, so possibly the worst science lack of terminology there, but…maybe 80% correct), and how it was obtained without consent from an African American woman in 1951.  A truly amazing story, and the conflict between morality, medicine, and racism (and so many other things).  The science-y parts bogged me down a bit, but an enthralling story nonetheless.

February: Turtles All The Way Down, by John Green.  This one really took me a while to get into.  It’s a young adult novel written in the first person, so sometimes the thought dialogue was a bit hard for me to keep reading/listening to.  I did up the speed on my audible on this one which made it more bearable.  But once I got a third of the way in or so, it made me realize how hard it must be to have some form of OCD or depression or anxiety.  It was good to be in someone else’s shoes to try to understand the difficulties that face others-we just never know how hard something can be for someone else.

March: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern.  After all the intense books we’d read in the months prior, this was such a pleasant and nice read.  Just a love story full of magic and time travel (story lines, not actual time travel).  This book totally had me hooked and I loved the ending.

April: The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom.  Another emotionally difficult book, this one about the holocaust and work/extermination camps.  This book started a little slow, but the storyline picked up a little bit, and then it was just astounding, once again, to read about how horrible people can be to each other.

May: Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman.  This book was a collection of short stories, which is not my most favorite, but it was cool to read some new and some familiar about Norse mythology.  Jake is starting to get into the Avengers, so reading stories about Thor and Loki were pretty cool.  The audible version is narrated by Neil Gaiman, and he did a great job.

July, White Chrysanthemum, by Mary Lynn Bracht. Have I mentioned heart breaking?  I almost didn’t continue reading this book-it starts with a pretty heavy amount of rape and sexual abuse, and it’s the first book I’ve considered not finishing because it was just hard to listen to.  This book is about the Japanese occupation of Korea, and the only reason I continued reading it was because I thought it was important for me to read about what happened.  I’ve never studied anything about this chapter of history, and my goodness, how awful.  How a human being can endure so much pain is just beyond me.  But, a great read and a wonderfully told story.

Bonus reads:

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, by ZZ Packer.  This was a pretty quick read.  I saw it highly recommended somewhere online and thought I would give it a try.  Like I mentioned above, I’m not a fan of short stories, so this book was a little disappointing in that respect.  Each individual story had a little heart break, but kind of like Small Great Things, helps to put me in someone else’s shoes, shoes that I’m thankful I haven’t had to walk in.

Capital Gaines, by Chip Gaines.  A fun, quick read.  We’re obsessed with Chip and Joanna over here, so it was nice to learn a little more about them and gain some insight on how they’ve become so successful.

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrik Backman.  Another great read from Fredrik Backman.  I really do love his style of writing, and the characters in his stories.  Britt Marie comes back in this one, and she’s hilarious and heartbreaking yet again.  And again, I laughed, and I cried.

The Keeper of Lost Things, by Ruth Hogan.  This was a great light read, that got me through some of the heavier books listed above.  Just a light hearted story that follows two different story lines, that end up intertwining at the end (in a way that I think was very obvious if I had read more carefully, but thankfully caught me by surprise).

What have you been reading lately?  Or in the last year? :-P