Friday, October 28, 2016

The Friday Five!

I am getting this week's Friday Five in just under the wire. It's been an insanely busy week, but I am really looking forward to some fam time this weekend. Here's the sweet and short lowdown on everything we've been up to in between the doctor's visits, playdates, homework, parent teacher conferences, dentist checkups, and freelance work.

Making -- DIY Halloween decorating has continued, but Cam also busted out some of the Little Loving Hands kits we'd been trying to get to. Art and giving back = happiness!

Reading -- this week we spent a lot of our "reading time" listening to stories. Last weekend I spent 2, 6-hour stints solo driving to upstate New York and back. And that meant I got to listen to 12 hours of This American Life and cycle through all kinds of emotions by my lonesome. I continued my binge this week and finally introduced the kids to podcasts as well -- they LOVED them. Their favorite this week was the science-centric Brains On! I think we'll loop them into our normal car audiobook routine and continue sharing our good finds here.

Cooking -- I have a tendency to be on the constant search for new amazing recipes and forget about meals we were all gaga over. I dug out the Shawarma-Spiced Chicken Pita with Tahini-Yogurt Sauce this week and we all fell in love all over again.

Wanting -- this sweatshirt just seems to appropriate for this week, but something tells me that my face read similarly, so this might be overkill.

Playing -- a few years ago we did a review and giveaway of local toymaker Thinkfun's Rush Hour, Jr. The kids have continued to love it and we recently invested in the next level of Rush Hour -- a great logic game!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Dia de los Muertos Party Inspiration!

I have been trying for year, YEARS, to get my kids to have a Dia de los Muertos party (remember our mono prints?!). Or at least dress as a sugar skull for Halloween. I never get any takers. But I keep rounding ideas up in hopes they'll bite one year, so I figured I'd share them!

1. I'd leave papel de picado up all year long and this set of skulls is perfect for Dia de los Muertos.

2. I came across this table runner a few years ago and haven't been able to get it out of my head. Now who wants to make one for me?!

3. I usually like to make my own arts and craft projects, but OTC is a great place to find projects for a large group of kids and I love this little tissue paper craft.

4. Sugar skulls AND edible confetti!?

5. The kids love horchata and bubble tea, so I have to think this combo would be a winner!

6. A honeycombed wall is such an easy way to brighten up the party.

7. I tend to second-guess photo booths, but the kids always seem to LOVE them. Set one up fast with these great props!

8. I don't think it's a party without striped straws and I think Cam would love to make some tissue paper flowers to add!

9. I think it would be super fun to make some of these cinnamon cookies and let the kiddos decorate them with edible decorating pens.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sheet Pan Sticky Pomegranate Chicken and Honey Roasted Squash + 30 Days of Dinner!!

I feel like we're slowly putting back together our clean eating habits. It's meant a few more throw together dinners, brinners, and better dining out discipline than normal, but it's been working. My goal is to really keep it as steady as I can through the holidays and then do another Whole30 in the new year. We'll see how it goes! As for this last 30 days, I ended up making a serious number of successful dinners for the family. I didn't cook every night, but it felt like every night I did, they liked better than the night before. Not a bad place to be. The one I decided the share, though, was one of my own favorites. Sometimes I find that I get in a rut with chicken recipes that are clean -- they all kind of end up tasting the same. But this was a new one for me, full of seasonal flavors. And the kids loved it too.

Sheet Pan Sticky Pomegranate Chicken and Honey Roasted Squash
(modified slightly from Half Baked Harvest

- 1/2 cup sweet Thai chili sauce (if you're Paleo and can't find a prepared version that works, try whipping this up)
- 1/4 cup pomegranate juice
- 1/4 cup Tamari (or other gluten free soy sauce)
- 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled + grated
- 1 clove garlic, minced or grated
- 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 acorn or kabocha squash, seeded + sliced into half rounds
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp honey
- salt + pepper
- aerils from 1 pomegranate

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Make the pomegranate sticky glaze. In a medium bowl, combine the sweet Thai chili sauce, pomegranate juice, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic.

Toss the chicken with 1/2 of the pomegranate sticky sauce (reserve the rest for serving) and place on one end of a parchment lined baking sheet. Toss the squash with olive oil, honey, salt, and pepper and place on the other end of the baking sheet.

Transfer to the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the squash is tender (mine took more like 35 minutes). Halfway through cooking, rotate the pan and spoon any sauce that has settled on the bottom of the pan over the chicken. Turn on the broiler and crispy up the tops just a bit -- about 5 minutes.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle the pomegranate arils over the chicken. Serve the chicken and squash over rice or cauliflower rice drizzled with the remaining reserved pomegranate sticky sauce. Garnish with pomegranate aerils.

*          *          *

30 Days of Dinner

Day 1 (W) -- Omelettes, Perfect Fluffy Crispy Potatoes (I skipped the nutritional yeast), and Grilled Romaine with Bacon and Blue Cheese
Day 2 (Th) -- Slow-Cooked Bolognese over spaghetti squash, green salad
Day 3 (F) -- dinner out
Day 4 (Sat) -- dinner out
Day 5 (Sun) -- Lamb Meatballs with Feta, Olives, and Lemon and Cauliflower Tabbouleh 

Day 6 (M) -- leftovers 
Day 7 (T) -- grilled steak fajitas 
Day 8 (W) -- brinner
Day 9 (Th) -- One Pan Pesto Chicken + Veggies, kids also had pasta
Day 10 (F) -- dinner out
Day 11 (Sat) -- dinner out in Chicago
Day 12 (Sun) -- dinner out in Chicago 

Day 13 (M) -- brinner
Day 14 (T) -- Chicken Breast Sautéed in Sweet Red Onion + Lemon (sans sugar), roasted potatoes, salad 
Day 15 (W) -- Massaged Kale Salad with Cherries, Pistachios, and Grilled Steak (cherries are out of season, so I subbed in cherry tomatoes and it was still delish).
Day 16 (Th) -- leftovers
Day 17 (F) -- Slow Cooker Carnitas with regular salsa 
Day 18 (Sat) -- dinner out
Day 19 (Sun) -- dinner out 

Day 20 (M) -- Grilled Chicken, Burst Tomato, and Artichoke Skewers with Goat Cheese Dip (skip dip if you're dairy free) 
Day 21 (T) -- Slow Cooker Cholulua Shredded Beef Tacos -- everyone LOVED these -- hardly any leftovers! 
Day 22 (W) -- Cabernet Braised Short Rib Stew -- another HUGE family fave. Such a good comfort food din. 
Day 23 (Th) -- dinner out 
Day 24 (F) -- Sheet Pan Sticky Pomegranate Chicken + Honey Roasted Squash 
Day 25 (Sat) -- dinner out 
Day 26 (Sun) -- dinner out 

Day 27 (M) -- Stifatho (Greek Stew)  
Day 29 (W) -- brinner
Day 30 (Th) -- Slow Cooker Cholulua Shredded Beef Tacos -- told you everyone loved them. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Friday Five!

Between the presidential election ridiculousness, a sudden need for a new family car (and a corresponding need to locate all documents to our old family car), a trip to the dentist (I HATE the dentist), and a few more non-glorious things that I won't complain about, I'm freaking glad it's Friday.  Here's the good news from us this week, though .... 

Making -- you might have seen on Instagram that our Halloween decorations are underway. We've done two waves of store bought and now the kids are filling in with DIY. Additional gravestones have been a priority for both kiddos, and they've been loving these Chalk-O-Rama Dustless Chalk Crayons -- the colors are so rich and they go on smoothly on pretty much any surface, including our spray-painted cardboard gravestones. 

Playing -- the kids both really got into Kane's math game this week: Set. His was a slightly different version they handed out at school, but this SET game is basically the same. It was challenging, but in a fun way and the kids both loved when they found a set faster than me. 

Reading -- I just started Love May Fail this week and the kids and I started another series from one of our favorite authors, Jon Scieszka: Frank Einstein.

Cooking -- these Slow Cooker Cholula Shredded Beef Tacos went over like gangbusters in our house. Kane had three adult servings and there were basically no leftovers after just one dinner with our family. 

Wanting -- we don't really need new bedding, but in my ongoing quest to marbleize everything, I think I should probably pick these up

Thursday, October 20, 2016

National Gallery of Art: Renovated East Building Galleries

We have been anxiously awaiting the re-opening of the National Gallery of Art's East Building Galleries. The East Building has been closed for the past three years while over 12,000 square feet of space were added to feature modern and contemporary art. I took the kiddos this week to check it all out and it didn't disappoint. The renovation itself is beautiful and adds so much gorgeous natural light space, including a fabulous rooftop sculpture area.

We raced down one day after school and spent the last two hours that the museum was open exploring the top two floors of the building, starting at the rooftop. With the exception of our trip to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, it's actually been a while since the kids and I spent a good bit of time at an art museum. And I was so completely astonished with how much they've grown up. To start, Kane can completely read all of the placards and exhibit descriptions, which made a huge difference in his interest. He loved exploring and reporting back, explaining what he'd learned.

They were also able to recognize favorite artists and discuss in so much more detail their thoughts about particular pieces of art. We've certainly come along way since I first took Cami to the National Gallery more than five years ago and all she really wanted to do in front of the modern art was play with her new set of blocks (which she still has!).

Needless to say, we are all totally smitten with the new digs and can't wait to go back to see the other floors!

p.s. one more of the giant blue rooster, which is so gorgeously rich in color and texture and Cam squealed when she spotted it overlooking DC when we were down on the street after.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Scotland + Ireland: Belfast Day 10

Ohmagaaaah. It's taken me forever to get to sharing our last day in Ireland. Partly because fall has been crazy, somewhat because I took a gazillion photos that day, and mostly because I still haven't completely processed that day or figured out exactly how I wanted to share it. But at the risk of forgetting many important details, I figured I'd forge ahead.

We spent our last day of the entire trip taking a road trip up to Northern Ireland. I had mixed feelings about taking the kids. I was a little worried that by the end of our trip they'd be OVER road tripping. And I was worried about how to appropriately share with them the inevitable subject matter we'd encounter on our trip north. But I was incredibly glad that we took them. Once we decided to go, I also wanted to tack on an additional jaunt up to see The Giant's Causeway, which looks insanely cool and right up their alley. But we ended up spending so much time in Belfast that another stop just wasn't possible. Another thing to add on our return list to do, but I actually think we were all emotionally spent from Belfast anyway, so if we did The Giant's Causeway we would have needed a night in between to regroup.

We hired a guide through a Black Cab Tour company and ended up getting a really thought provoking, insightful (while still humorous) tour of the city. We started out stopping at the neutral city hall, and getting a peek at the outside of the new Titanic Belfast Museum (the site where the Titanic was built) and the Game of Thrones sound stage (many of the show's scenes are filmed there).

Then our guide drove us to the Protestant side of the city first, stopping at various points along the way to show us particular sites of interest, including the actual wall that still divides the city (and is locked at nights and over weekends). He provided a great overview of "The Troubles" as well as giving us his own thoughts about how the country is working to heal. It was pretty insane to see it all in person and we all struggled to understand how this kind of divide exists today. I know full well that divisive hatred exists in the U.S. as well, but no one in our family is used to seeing such overt physical representations of that on a daily basis (and the kids might not recognize it as such anyway). The kids had a tough time comprehending it at the beginning, but I actually think visiting the murals, walls, and memorials was a good way of bringing the concept home for all of us.

We stopped at one point along the Freedom Wall to contribute our own thoughts, and then moved on to the Catholic side of the city. We made a brief stop at a church to light a candle for my very Irish grandmother who passed last summer, and then continued looking at more murals about the conflict.

Our tour guide finished up by dropping us at the wonderful St. George's Market where we wanted to grab a quick lunch. The market was starting to close up when we arrived, but we were still able to snag some delicious lunch from various vendors, listen to some local music, and do a bit of shopping. We could have spent much more time there if we'd had it!

After lunch, we walked our way over to The Crown Liquor Saloon, one of Belfast's oldest pubs that sports pretty incredible Victorian gin palace design and decor. Kids aren't allowed in the pub, so they did a little roaming about with their grandparents while the rest of us grabbed a last pint. We all sadly piled back in the van to return to Dublin for our last night. Everyone was taking off at different times the next day and we very sadly said our final goodbyes before packing up and hitting the sack!

It was such an absolutely fantastic vacation and both Ireland and Scotland will remain on our wanderlust lists for return trips!

That does it for our Scotland + Ireland posts!

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Friday Five!

Oh hey, Friday. You showed up awfully quickly this week! I guess that's what happens after a three-day-weekend. I feel like we're starting to settle into our school year routine finally. Homework is getting done, after school activities planned out, everyone is going to sleep at a great time. Don't get me wrong, it still takes all of us 23 minutes to get socks and shoes on in the morning. But, overall, we're in the groove. Here's how we spent our short week!

Reading -- I read Hurt People on our trip to Chicago last weekend. It's upsetting in that "something bad is definitely going to happen to these kids" kind of way, but that's also why I couldn't put it down.   We started a great book about a girl detective this week too. The Great Shelby Holmes is smart, funny and a clever modernization of the classic characters. Both kiddos are loving it.

Playing -- Kane has several math games as part of his homework and Cam has been feeling a little left out. She often joins in, but has been asking me to play games just with her too. Enchanted Forest was one of my most favorite games when I was young so I love that she loves it too -- and she has a killer memory!

Making --  did you miss our Mindfulness Jars yesterday? We're big fans of the project and result!

Cooking -- this Massaged Kale Salad is a family fave, but I had to adjust a bit for the season this week. I traded in cherry tomatoes for the cherries and added goat cheese too. It was still tasty (although the cherries make it SO nice).

Wanting -- my feet are always cold and now that the weather has started to turn, I find myself in serious need of a new pair of slippers. These are not at all practical, and they are obnoxiously expensive, but they would make me so happy.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

DIY Mindfulness Jar

I'm sure you've seen these sparkly jars all over the internet by now, called a range of things from "Calm Down Jars" to "Meditation Jars." We decided to make them as mindfulness jars for the kiddos. We've been spending a lot of time talking to the kids, in conjunction with things they learn at school, about being mindful -- focusing on the present, while trying to calmly acknowledge your thoughts and feelings.

It's helped all of us work through daily problems, learning frustrations, and school social interactions. But that abstract concept can be hard to translate into action for all of us, so I thought these mindfulness jars might help illustrate how things can become more clear when we're still (especially when someone needs to calm down). Plus, they are just plain pretty to look at AND finally knock an item off our Fall Bucket List. Cami liked making them so much she actually decided to make one for Kane as a birthday present -- I'll read nothing into that!

Here's what you need to make ours (per jar):
- Large mason jar
- 2 ounces of at least two colors of fine glitter
- 4 ounces glitter glue in a complimentary (we used some from a local craft store, but also like this brand)
- super glue
- water

Start by letting your kiddo add the glitter glue to the jar -- a great fine motor skill! Then have them add the glitter one color at a time. Cami loved how they made different layers of color. Then fill up the jar with water and stir everything together carefully until it is well mixed. Super glue the top on and swirl, swirl, swirl the water once dried! Help your kids practice sitting calmly and watching the glitter swirl and settle. Repeat as necessary!

Tip: personally, I think the jars we made using lighter colors worked better -- give it a try!