WOT: Swimming

Monday, October 31, 2016

For today's Working On Things (and partly Do Something...), I'd like to do what I always do: tell the internet I'm going to do something I don't want to do, and because I've done that, I have to do the thing I really don't want to do.

Most people will think what I am terrified of doing is just plain silly.  Here it is: I want to swim.  For exercise.

Background: I used to be a total fish when I was really little.  I was obsessed with The Little Mermaid and would spend all summer long at our little neighborhood pool pretending I was Ariel dragging Eric back to shore.  But I also had really bad ears.  While swimming, I'd always have to wear silly puddy in my ears starting at a very young age.  After a few ear surgeries, I not only had to wear my specially-made ear plugs in the pool, but I also had to wear them in the shower.  Seriously.  And even while swimming, I had to keep my head above water for a good while.  So starting at about 7 years old, I began to dislike swimming more and more.  As a teen, it grew into a 100% "hate."  Like any teenage girl, I really hated swimsuits, and baring my (one-piece-clad) body to the whole world.  (Yep, I had my "issues" pretty early on.)  But I also hated water in general.  I'd swim with friends and family occasionally, but inside I was in agony.  To this day, I don't like being in water--it feels claustrophobic to me--nor do I delight in getting splashed.  Because of this, I am a terrible swimmer. I can basically doggy-paddle, but not much more beyond that.

In college, I thought I would start doing triathlons seeing as I was a decent runner and loved biking too.  Knowing what a terrible swimmer I was, I decided to face my fears and take a beginning swimming course at BYU.  It was four days a week.  And I hated every second of it.  I was by far the worst in the class.  My teacher took pity on me, because I was honestly trying.  Every time I tried to complete the assigned workout, I'd get a cramp in the middle of the water or just freak out, never able to quiet figure out how to breathe correctly.  I was clearly panicking each day.  For the final, we were supposed to swim a certain amount of laps using certain strokes.  Right before, my instructor pulled me aside and said, "Monica, just swim however long you can and use whatever strokes you are able to do.  I'll still give you an A."  Bless him!  So I stuck with freestyle and backstroke, and I had to pause at the end of each side of the pool.  I think I did maybe four laps.... Admittedly, I was in fantastic shape otherwise, so this wasn't an out-of-shape problem.  It was a me problem.

I have largely stayed away from any forms of swimming--exercise or recreation-wise--since then.  So that's 10 years.....

Well, back to present-day: I'm on dr.'s orders to stay away from high intensity workouts.  If you know me, that's about all I do for exercise: runs and intense strength training.  They say I can walk, maybe cycle, and definitely swim.  That's when I cried.

I am trying to get on my big-girl panties here and do what's best for my body.  Swimming is fantastic exercise!  It's something I can do the rest of my life!  Running was already wearing down my body, so who knows how much longer I could have kept that up anyway!  That's what I keep telling myself.

So I went on Amazon, and I bought myself a swimsuit.  And I tried to buy a swimsuit that would make me most-likely actually swim for exercise.  This entailed as little shaving as possible and as much coverage as I could pull off without leading to excessive over-heating.  It's this one, and I don't even care how hideous it is (however, all the 70+ year old reviewers had a lot of positive things to say about it!):

But..... I still haven't swam since my swimsuit arrived a month ago.  I just can't bring myself to do it!  My thought processes: I'd have to change in the locker room bathroom (you will not see me outside of a stall) with all of its grossness; I'd have to shower before going in; then I'd have to jump in a cold pool (ugh!); then I'd actually have to attempt to swim and breathe in said pool WITH PEOPLE ALL AROUND ME WHO KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING; then I'd have to rinse off, peel off the suit, and then shower again at home.  It's too overwhelming for me!  Isn't that silly?

So, here's where you come in to play.  I hereby promise my three internet friends that I will swim this week.  I can only promise one time, and it might only include backstrokes for ten minutes.  But that's my commitment to you.  Can you hold me to it?

Also, any tips on learning how to swim without panicking and drowning as a full-fledged adult?

The ULTIMATE Chocolate Chip Cookies and 3 MUST-DO Tips!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

How about that title, eh?!

Now, I understand that that title alone is really building up expectations to the recipe I'm about to share with you.  I am a self-proclaimed cookie monster and have been baking them by myself since grade school.  I LOVE eating cookies, and I love making them.

Chocolate chip cookies will always be my favorite cookie.  I've made chocolate chip cookies at least once a week the past 10+ years, and often it's more like twice a week.  I know.....  I've gotten to the point where I know when my cookies are done by smell.  How's that for a weird talent?

Before you judge me, giving away cookies is a sign of love for me.  It's an easy service for me to do and I happen to love to bake.  Never mind, judge me!  But judge me for being awesome.

Everyone and their grandma has "the best" chocolate chip cookie recipe in their arsenal.  I think I've tried every single one the internet has to offer, including the New York Times' one, Neiman Marcus, and every revered food blogger and Pinterest-favorite.  I'm made some amazing cookies and some not so amazing cookies.  Some poor friends have had to accept my many "experiments."  But can I tell you a secret?  It's not so much about the exact measurements of what ingredients you use, it's more about these three things: 

1) Quality Chocolate: I honestly think most recipes out there will be amazing if you use top-notch chocolate.  I love dark chocolate, but for my cookies I like milk.  Regardless of your preference--milk, semi-sweet, or dark--do not skimp on the chocolate you use in your cookies.  Otherwise, you really won't ever reach Chocolate Chip Nirvana.  My absolutely favorite is the Guittard brand, housed in a beautiful silver bag.  I usually have five bags on hand at a time, tucked away on my chocolate shelf in my fridge.  (What?  You don't have one of those?!)  Also, I always add more chocolate chips than the recipes call for...

These are ready to go into the freezer.  
2) Chilled Dough: I admit, I'm not always the best at taking my own advice here.  But truly, if you take even an hour to chill the dough, your cookies will be so. much. better.  And my ultimate tip in this regard?  Use frozen dough balls!  When I make a batch of cookies, I usually cook a sheet-full, and then fill up another large pan with dough balls.  (Don't smash them down!) I put that in the freezer and once the balls are frozen, I put them in a ziplock bag and back in the freezer they go until I want to cook off a few, or 20.  Keep in mind, frozen cookie dough will need to be cooked just a touch longer than room-temperature dough.  And you might not have time to freeze your dough--so, just pop them in the fridge for an hour and scoop and cook!  Please take my word for this!  If you have chilled dough, the outside of your cookie will be just the tiniest bit golden and the inside still chewy and doughy, but cooked-doughy.  This leads me to my final, and favorite, tip!

3) "Underbake:" This is in quotation marks because you aren't actually underbaking your cookies so that they are completely raw in the middle.  But what I mean by "underbake" is you take your cookies out when they APPEAR to still be a touch underbaked.  For me, I look for a slightly matte top and bubbles that are starting to pop.  (Look closely!)  So many recipes say to take the cookies out when the edges are golden. In my experience, that is still too long.  You want the bottom of your cookies to be the tiniest bit golden.  This happens best when you take them out a minute or two before you think you should, then leave them on the pan for about five minutes to finish cooking.  Here are some cookies to help illustrate (I recommend clicking on these photos so you can see them better close-up):
This is right when it's out of the oven. See the matte top and bubbles just popping?  Since these were frozen, the inside will be nice and chewy.
Again, right out. They are slightly puffed up still.
Zoomed out: Right out of the oven, going to cook more while resting on the pan.
After resting on the pan for about five minutes.  See the difference?!
Extra Notes: 1) A silpat liner will change your life. (Here some on amazon that are cheap and well-reviewed: 1, 2, 3.)  I got three of them in a package for $20 at Costco and I'm never going back.  2) Know your oven!  Mine tends to cook faster, so change the minutes I advise accordingly, based off of your oven.  3) I prefer dark brown sugar over regular brown sugar.  4) Extra vanilla makes your cookies sing!  5) Always, always, always use unsalted butter.  That way you control the amount of salt in your recipe.  6) If you want to sprinkle a little sea salt over your cookies right when they get out of the oven, be my guest!

OK, drumroll please!  My favorite chocolate chip cookies are buttery, chewy, soft, and a teeny bit salty.  After YEARS of experimenting, this is my go-to recipe.  (For you high-altitude people, I'd recommend adding another tablespoon or two of flour!)

The ULTIMATE Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup of room-temperature unsalted butter (not too hard, not too soft!)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 TB vanilla
2 1/2 cups plus 2 TB of flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2-3 cups chocolate chips

(If cooking immediately, preheat oven to 350. I highly recommend chilling your dough though!)  Cream together butter and the sugars.  Mix until everything is well-whipped.  While mixing, in a separate bowl sift your dry ingredients, minus the chocolate.  Add the egg and egg yolk to the wet ingredients in the mixer, mixing well in between.  Scrape down.  Add vanilla.  Scrape down again.  Add your dry ingredients in three rounds, mixing it only barely enough between rounds.  Before your last round, add the chocolate chips and then the last bit of dry ingredients.  Mix until there's still some flour showing, then hand-fold the dough until the flour barely disappears.  Chill your dough (1 hour - 24 hours) OR freeze your dough into 1 1/2 - 2 TB balls on a cookie sheet (I use a #40 scoop).  When ready to cook, make sure your oven is properly pre-heated to 350 Fahrenheit.  Bake cookies for 7-9 minutes if dough is at room temperature.  Bake cookies for 8-10minutes, if frozen.  Please see notes above about when to know if your cookies are done!


Five Fingers: Our Key to Bedtime

Monday, October 24, 2016

I'm barely squeezing in my Mommy Style Monday post, but it still counts, right?  I blame me accidentally erasing my new iMac on Friday...  But let's not talk about that!

Let's talk about bedtime routines!

When you have your first baby, you are able to luxuriate over this time together.  But I have to hand it to first-time-mom Monica: I knew even then that I didn't want to set myself up for a looooong routine each night that my baby would then demand the rest of its life.  I'm glad for that, because now that we have three kids we really just want them to go the heck to sleep at bedtime, and fast.

Once the kids are in their pajamas and teeth are brushed, we try to keep our time with them short and sweet.  So we say prayers, read scriptures (trying to be better about this, but it's about 3 times a week lately), and then tuck them in and run out of their room and straight into the arms of Netflix.  (Just kidding, we usually have dishes to wash and a house to tidy.)  I read the kids plenty of books, sing lots of songs, etc. during the day, so I am just mentally DONE by bedtime.  Does that make me a bad mom?

When Brad is home, we usually divide and conquer: one takes the baby, the other takes the older two.  Once the baby is down, that person joins the other parent in helping the other two to finish getting ready and into bed.  

(Sidenote: I relish saying goodnight to the baby on his own.  He rarely gets just me and we both seem to mutually enjoy that little bit of time.  I like to turn off the lights and just rock him for a minute (I'm standing up though, because if I sit in the rocker he immediately sits up and wants to read books); then I say my own little prayer with him and set him down, and stroke his face for a little bit and tell him, "It's night-night time!" before sneaking out.  He holds so still when I do that!  I love it!)  

Our older two share a room so we have been through EVERYTHING to get them to sleep in the same room and at the same time.  We are finally there--they go down at the same time, and wake up at the same time.  Or at least, they stay quiet (usually) when they're put down and until they are allowed to wake up.  Who knows when they actually fall asleep and wake up in there!

Do I look like a nice mom here?  You haven't seen me when the kids are talking or fighting when they should be sleeping....

Here are three things that have really helped, regardless of our kids' ages:

1) Repetetive Phrases: For a while, that was, "Night night!  I love you!" or for one kid it HAD to be, "You're my little buddy!" right before we shut the door.  But having a little verbal signal like that has been a nice way for them to know once mom and dad says that, it's sleeping time....  

2) Sleep Rules: When our kids have struggled going to sleep (and they all go through those phases, so this has to be taught and then retaught again later), we've enforced "Sleep Rules" that they can easily understand and follow.  For those kids who are barely speaking, we did some hand motions to these rules: "Stay in your bed.  Stay very quiet.  Close your eyes.  Go to sleep."  Sticker charts and rewards were also used in tandem with them keeping the rules.  

Now that they're older, we are big fans of this clock.  Especially for wake-up time.  We are considering getting a second for the baby's room once daylight savings hits, as he's usually our earliest riser.

3) Five Fingers: The past few months, we've taken a few minutes to connect with the kids individually as they are laying down.  Brad takes one and I take the other, and we do something we call "Five Fingers."  My friend Shelley did something similar with her little kids and we stole her idea!  We take a child's hand, and touch one finger at a time.  For each finger we share, "I love you because..." and a reason we love them.  That usually includes listing positive things they did that day!  It also includes some brainwashing, which is why our three year old often gets, "I love you because you try to be so gentle with your little brother!"  

The smiles on their faces say it all!  They LOVE it.  And they often want to do it in return.  Want to know why a three year old loves his mom?  His usual endings to "I love you because," are: you play with me, you read to me, you give me hugs.

How cute is that?

What do you do for your children's bedtime routines?

If you need ideas, please check out these ladies' posts.  And if you'd like to participate in the next series, please sign up on Madeline and Kiana's blogs, also linked below!

Kiana at Glitter & Donuts // Madeline at CaseyLand // Sue at Sue's News // Juli at Journey of J^3 //Beverly at What a Day // Erica at Good Job Momma

Positive Things on the Internet

Friday, October 21, 2016

Here's another round of Positive Things on the Internet!

1) This interview with Whitney Lundeen is beautiful, raw, and empowering.  She is the designer behind those amazing play-dresses we've all see at Sonnet James.  Whitney escaped an abusive marriage, and if that alone weren't incredible to read about, I was especially inspired by how she spoke about learning to become a mother.  Whitney's parents weren't heavily involved in her life, so when she became a mom she felt ill-equipped to instantly how to have positive, involved relationships with her sons.  A lot of this really spoke to my heart and I admire her strength and her entrepreneurial spirit.

Also, this is the coolest new website I've run across--interview with real "normal" Mormons!

2) My friend, Ashlee, sent me a link to this BEAUTIFUL video of a mom recounting what it was like to give birth and discover that her son had down-syndrome.  Also, her blog is amazing; she's started a movement showing that kids with down syndrome are incredible, that there is nothing "down" about having their syndrome.  Please check these out!

3) My friend, Kim, has a great blog, and she didn't ask me to tell you about it.  I really loved her recent review and thoughts on the book, Present Over Perfect.  I love how she framed the word "perfect," calling it a swear word--that really cracked me up!  Kim is refreshing, and her thoughts on this important topic--being present in our own lives and not perfection-obsessed--really resonated with me.  It's something I'm thinking about a lot lately!

4) We all know that we are obsessed with Chip and Joanna Gaines, of Fixer Upper fame.  I mean, how can we not be?  This video of them makes that obsession only grow.  They talk about their relationship, and how they balance each other out in a beautiful way.  What a wonderful portrait of a marriage!  They also share how this relates to their beliefs on God, which I also found enlightening.

What positive things have you found on the internet lately?

Do Something Round Up

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Hey all!

Remember how I want this blog to focus a little less on me and a lot more on you?  Well, I remember.  And I'm taking it seriously.

I would LOVE to feature as many people as I can in my weekly round-ups of people who are venturing into unchartered territory for them, taking risks however big or small, and being brave.  In short, doing something that scares them!  If you would be so kind to email me about yourself OR to nominate someone you know, I'd really appreciate that. (packerprogress@gmail.com)

Today's round-up will be a little short as it's one spotlight, but it's just as important! Brad's cousin, Becky, messaged me a while back a little about her story.  Three years ago, nine months after giving birth to her third child, she experienced chronic vertigo and extreme nausea.  Medication and holistic efforts both did little to cure either condition.  BUT, she had the impression to start running.  This idea was crazy to her because she never viewed herself as athletic.  To her surprise, running started helping her health issues.  Since then, Becky's nausea has resolved itself and her dizziness is no where as bad as it used to be.  In her words:

"I've never been athletic and this whole running thing had never been a thought, had it not been for my vertigo.  Now, I am able to DO and LIVE because of the running."

Becky has completed three 5Ks this year, two of which were PRs.  Her oldest son--14 years old--joined her in on the last 5K.  Her teenager had to work hard to keep up with her (isn't that cool!), but they finished the race and had a lot of fun!  Becky learned, "there are [so many] possibilities if we can break through and identify the barriers and fears holding us back."

Way to go Becky!  I love stories like this.  I am so impressed by your perseverance.  My mom also suffers from vertigo and it is really something to see someone almost running sideways.  What determination!  

Please email me your story or someone else's at packerprogress@gmail.com.

Healthy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

My college Freshman roommates and I all bonded over the best, easy-to-make muffins.  The ingredients: spice cake mix, one small can of pumpkin puree, and a bag of chocolate chips.  That's it!  To this day, I know we ALL make them year round, but especially in the fall.  

Now that my oldest has started Kindergarten and I need to pack her a snack each day, I'm finding myself making muffins waaaaaaay more than I ever have before.  The school is nut-free, so my normal granola bars are out.  Muffins are easy for little kids to transport, eat, and can be healthier than other easy-to-grab snacks.  I usually grab one from the fridge and add some carrots or baby tomatoes.  She loves them!

As much as I relish those pumpkin muffins from my college days, I don't want my daughter to crash and burn a half hour after eating her snack.  I've made a lot of different muffins the past two months (zucchini, banana, carrot, etc.), but this one has been the surprise favorite.

I altered a few recipes into one here, and this final product uses way less refined sugar than most recipes I've seen and more wheat, too.  They are just sweet enough, but fun enough to make them popular with all of my kids (and me, too!).  This makes a rather big batch.  I freeze most of them into two separate bags and put a bag in the fridge when we're ready to eat.

Get ready to love these!

Healthy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Note: I have been using mini-chocolate chips more than big chips lately, but you can do normal-sized chocolate chips as well.  I always have old-fashioned oats on had, so that's what I use; but I'm sure quick-oats work great, too.  Additionally, I tend to use coconut oil (barely melted in the microwave), but you can also use grape seed or canola oil.  I love white-wheat flour as the flavor is less strong, but regular wheat is fine if that's what you have! Finally, I spray the muffins liners with cooking spray to ensure they don't stick, as chocolate chips tend to be pulled out otherwise.

1 small can pumpkin puree
3/4 cup oil (see notes)
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 cups wheat flour (see notes)
1/2 cup white flour
1/3 cup oats (see notes)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp clove
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 bag chocolate chips (see notes)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix puree, oil, vanilla, honey, sugar, eggs, and milk.  In a separate bowl, sift the remaining ingredients, excluding the chocolate chips. Add almost all of the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix until there are a few remaining streaks of flour.  Pour chocolate chips into the dry bowl with the little bit of flour and toss the chips.  Add the leftover flour and chocolate chips to the big bowl and fold them in until barely mixed, with no streaks remaining.

Divide batter into sprayed liners in muffin tins, filling up to 3/4 of the way full.  Bake for 14-17 minutes.  Makes approximately three dozen muffins.

Positive Things on the Internet

Friday, October 14, 2016

I've been working on improving my relationship with the internet.  Isn't that weird?  It is related to me also trying to be more purposeful about what I personally post on social media.

I do believe there is a lot of goodness out there, things worth investing and spending our time reading and listening to.  However, it's too easy to fall down the useless rabbit hole of things like Facebook and Instagram; I'm still guilty of that.  However, when I do my best to be more selective of WHAT I'm taking in, I have found it easier to also manage the amount of TIME I'm spending doing it.  It's like a naturally get my fill in much faster because then quality is so much better.  I guess it's like food, that way!

In turn, I'd like to turn Friday's into a regular series where I share some positive things I found on the internet.  Turns out, I usually read the same blogs, and listen to the same podcasts, so there might be some repeat sources. You might see things from a while back too, things that I've finally gotten around to reading or listening!

The purpose behind this is to share some things that I saw/read that made me feel encouraged, inspired, connected, and pushed.

1) "Fuel" Series on the Munchies channel, Youtube.  I am fascinated by what athletes eat and how they view food as fuel.  My favorite so far was the ballerina one.

2) I really appreciated the honesty behind Emily Henderson's post on she and her husband's 10 year wedding anniversary, and what they've learned as a couple.  People really shy away from sharing some intimacies of the highs and lows of marriage, and for obvious reasons.  We're approaching our 9 year anniversary, so I think it's valuable what she had to say here and the hopeful view the post carried of a committed marriage.

3) My friend Whitney introduced me to a powerful site and podcast called On Being.  It produces very deep, thought-provoking articles and interviews on what it means to human, in all of its complexities.  There's an undertone of spirituality--in all forms--and its anchor to the majority of humans' lives.  My favorite podcast so far was this one, where a lot of runners share how their hobby--running!--has translated into a spiritual practice.  I must say, I TOTALLY relate to that--and it made me a little sad that I've had to stick to walking (dr.'s orders, blah!).  But, I can also add that walking outside has given me an almost comparable effect of meditation and a escape from the world.  I'm a deep thinker, and if you are too you will love all of this.

4) Also related to running, I've been a fan of Hungry Runner Girl for a few years.  I admit, I couldn't read her when she first started because of her apparent-to-me disordered relationship with food and exercise.  The past few years, though, she has really worked on improving that.  She wrote a recent post where she compares the difference behind running a marathon a few weeks ago to her first marathon, when she was 30 pounds lighter.  I love her refreshing honesty!  Reading that gave me a good boost to keep working on how I view my body.

5) This final one is my "I feel so connected to you!" share. Anne Cropper wrote a post on her struggle with depression, including Ante Partum Depression.  We so often hear about Post Partum depression, but I loved her honesty about the burden of depression while you are pregnant.  I read that and though, "Woah!  That was me, too."  I definitely feel that I struggled with, at very least, a lot of anxiety while pregnant with my last baby, including a lot of unshakeable sadness that just wasn't "me."  We all struggle though, and it's enlightening to see that others are battling similar things.  Connection is good, right?!

What positive things have you found on the internet lately?  I'd love to hear!

Do Something Guest Post: Facing Fears by Taking Our Family Abroad

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Today for our Do Something Series, we get to hear from my good friend from high school, Jennifer Ostler Shields. She and her family recently lived abroad to Europe for six months! Wow. (Check them out!) Here's what she has to say about their experience.

I think most moms know the feeling of excitement, stress, anxiety, and general chaos it takes to get out the door in the morning.  How is it possible that no matter how prepared you think you are there’s always someone missing a shoe that only moms and their “super searching powers” can find? And yet, after all the planning and hustling and herding, it’s always a victory to make it out of the house!  This is the same kind of excitement--and stress--that I was able to enjoy this summer as we were living, working and traveling around Europe with our two young kids, ages 4 and 1. Our adventures out of the house were mostly in foreign countries that didn’t even speak English as a secondary language!  We had an incredible experience and really wanted to make the most of our time there.  To be able to do this, I quickly realized that I would need to face several fears, including my fear of getting around in a completely new place with my kids on my own.

My husband was given an expat assignment for six months where we were based out of Romania.  He would need to travel to different sites and different countries for business and we were incredibly blessed to be able to join him on the adventure.  In our six months in Europe, we visited 20 different countries!  Before we left, we sold our house, our car, and a lot of our belongings so that we could really simplify our life.  It was just a six month assignment and our housing in Romania was taken care of by his company so we didn’t need to sell.  However we felt it would be best so that we wouldn’t have to worry about anything breaking or any damage or anything related to home ownership while we were gone.  It was very liberating to just be able to get everything except our suitcases into a storage unit and fly out!

Overall, I felt like I was doing a good job keeping my fears at bay because my husband was able to be with us on most of our travels and outings during his lunch break.  However, I remember one of the very first moments where I had to put on my big girl pants and face my fear of going out alone with the kids.  My husband had a business trip to Prague in Czech Republic.  I had never been there so I definitely wanted to travel with him.  We arrived in Prague at the beginning of the weekend so we were able to explore some of the city all together which helped me become more familiar with the public transportation and general layout of the city which made the work days easier because it wasn’t too hard for me to go into the city and see a few sights with the kids while my husband was at work.  This worked well for a few days.  However, there was one day where I knew my husband would be gone most of the day in meetings and I felt we had seen most of the sites that I had wanted to see in the city.  The one thing I did want to see was a nearby castle.  It would be an all day tour that we would meet at a designated spot, have a bus drive us out the few hours, then hike up to the medieval castle and drive back.  

Here’s where my “big girl pants” came into play.  My kids don’t do super well on long drives and I was worried about getting to the meeting point on time, what the kids could eat, nap time, could they handle the hike, etc.  But what was my alternative? I could stay in our comfortable hotel room and have a netflix binge type of day.  Those are definitely nice days to have every once in awhile, but I was in Prague.  Did I really want to miss an opportunity because of my fears? Not this time! I booked the tour!
The hike up!
We all got out the door on time, we got to the meeting place on time and we got on the bus on time!  We even made it up the steep hill to get to the castle at the top!  There might have been moments where I had my son in the ergo in the front, my backpack with all our snacks and jackets and diapers on my back and my four year old on my shoulders while I was sweating a bit--but we made it to the top!   I also can’t tell you every single thing that was said on the tour thanks to my two enjoying the sounds of their voices more than the tour guide’s. The pieces I heard were fascinating though.  My daughter also took some great photos on my phone of the things she liked in the castle.  It turned out to be a pretty great day.  

I was also really happy to see another fear of mine be proven wrong on this tour.  I was afraid that the other people in our tour group would have seen two small children and not be too excited to be with them for the whole day.  This was not the case for me.  I was completely humbled by how many people offered to help me or my kids that day.  Their genuine smiles were endearing and their thoughtfulness in tough spots like steep stairs was relieving.  My daughter especially liked her new friend who was a mom of two boys from India.  She and her husband were on their first holiday without kids and yet there she was holding my little girl so I could hold my restless toddler.  What an amazing example and influence for good she was!
At the top!!

It is not easy to think about venturing out on your own with small children in a new city, or a new country with a new language too. And I’m sure I’m not the only mom who sees things that are happening in the world on the news/media and would really just like to lock my sweet, little family safely in our home and stay there! Forever! Thankfully, I had the chance to face some big fears of mine, and face them head on. Instead of hiding my children from the world, we had the opportunity to see and explore the beautiful world and truly be awestruck by the goodness and kindness that abounds.  

Thank you, Jennifer! I admit, that I would have sold my house and my kids... Just kidding! Honestly, that sounds like an incredible, stressful, but empowering time for you and your whole family. Cheers for just jumping right in and putting those fears to bed!

If you'd like to follow more of their adventures, follow Jennifer and her family on Instagram at @theshieldssuitcase.

I would love to hear from more of you, whether it be a simple example of something you are doing to face your fears that I can use in a round-up post, or a whole guest post! Please email me (or nominate someone) at packerprogress@gmail.com. There are more of these posts coming, and I'd love to highlight you!

A Mommy-Friendly Accessory Even I Can Pull Off!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Ann Taylor Loft Shirt (old, so Similar) // Jeans // Flats // Jacket // Bandana // Bag from TJ Maxx

(Do you think my post title is long enough?!)

I have always been somewhat of a minimalist where jewelry is concerned.  Since becoming a mom though, I tend to be even more choosy about what I put on my body, because #time and #littlekidhands. I DO believe accessories make an outfit, but most of the time I just don't have the mental energy to think that through. Many days, I even forget to wear my wedding ring and instead wear the $5 band I got from a street vendor in Berkeley; and I only "remember" that ring because it never leaves my finger.

However, I LOVE earrings so I almost always have a pair on.  Quickly putting on a pair of earrings makes me feel officially dressed. Even then, 99% of the time they are light-weight and simple.  Necklaces and bracelets sometimes make an appearance on Sundays, because that's the day I actually take the time to really get ready.

Lately, I've been so excited about a new accessory trend, one that takes little thought but adds a lot of style, and it also happens to be especially mom-friendly: light scarves.

Ever since my study-abroad to London and the ten Persian scarves I brought home, I've been a scarf-wearer. When I taught middle school, I wore scarves daily through the chillier months.  Since we lived right on the Bay, that was all. the. time.  Something about those soft, beautiful scarves made me feel special without taking a lot of planning.  And they were comfy, too!  However, since we moved farther inland and to a warmer climate, my heavy-scarf-wearing has gone down so much that I ended up giving away a lot of my old ones from Europe.

Recently, I've seen my old study abroad buddy, Merrick, rocking the light-scarf/bandana trend and I am SOLD!  (PS: if you don't follow her already, get on it!  She's the only fashion blogger I follow because she actually teaches you about style AND sewing too.)  Finally, an easy, classy accessory I can rock as a mom.  No kids breaking it.  No worries about stains.  No wasting big money on an accessory.  And it's a chic trend that I think will last longer than the chokers.  Plus, these light scarves keep me a little warmer, but not too warm since I do live in Northern California, after all.

So with the days getting chillier, I've gone back to my scarf-wearing ways and I LOVE it.  I feel like "me!" In the outfit pictured, I was about to spend a morning with some girlfriends in San Francisco.  It's ALWAYS cold in San Francisco, so I got away with both a scarf and a jacket.
OH, and I've been testing some 16-hour lipsticks for you--just trying things out before I splurge on Lipsense. I've never been much of a lipstick wearer, but I'm getting older and learning that a little color helps brighten my whole face.  If I'm going to take the time to put on lipstick, I'd rather it not transfer to all my clothes/kids, AND I want it to last a long time... I've gotten two great lipsticks from Revlon that have been impressive, especially considering <$10 vs. Lipsense $50!  However, this red color shredded up quickly because, well, I ate four pastries in a row after applying chapstick over the lipstick that I don't think you're supposed to.... The lipstick comes with its own gloss, so I'll stick to that and I'm betting it will last a lot longer. (Those links are the only affiliate links in this post, by the way.)

In this outfit, I went all over SF that day, AND played with my kids (minus the jacket), AND took a nap, AND went to the pumpkin patch (with a change of shoes, though).  That little scarf stayed on the whole day and made me feel more chic than I would have otherwise with just my shirt and jeans.  So, if you see me in a scarf everyday the next six months, now you know why!  And I hope you'll join me in trying it out!
I'm participating in a Mommy Style Monday series today! You can sign up to participate in a similar series over at Madeline and Kiana's blogs.  And please see what other moms are sharing about their accessories below!

Kiana at Glitter & Donuts // Madeline at CaseyLand // Juli at Journey of J^3 // Bekah at These Are The Days
 // Chelsea at Tessa Marie // Erica at Good Job Momma

Oven Roasted Potatoes, AKA "Potato Crack"

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Early on in our marriage, I started making homefries/breakfast potatoes/roasted potatoes.  So early in fact, that I have no idea where the original idea came from. They have been a side dish for a whooooole variety of meals over the years: grilled chicken, baked chicken, roast, BBQ salad, steak, breakfasts-for-dinner, hamburgers/veggie burgers, etc.  I've easily made this recipe hundreds of times.

You have to try them--they're easy, adaptable, and addictive!  It's impossible to not pop a about twenty of these little babies while they're cooling down and you're plating your food.  Or while putting the leftovers in containers.  They really are crack in potato form.

For the particular night pictured, we paired the potatoes will grilled chicken and salad.  The next night, we used them in breakfast burritos....  I often reheat leftover potatoes and throw them on a salad for lunch.

If you make these oven roasted potatoes, let me know what you ended up serving alongside them!

This is another one of my loosy-goosy recipes, meaning you adapt it to how many people you are serving (or how many potatoes you have on hand), and then switch up the rest of the recipe accordingly.  I do recommend making these the first step in your dinner preparation though--as they bake, you can throw the rest of your meal together.


Oven Roasted Potatoes
Note: if you're worried about exact measurements here, don't be!  The best thing you can do is use the oil sparingly at first.  Take a look at the opening photo in this post--the potatoes shouldn't be swimming in oil, but they should be well-covered.  You can always start with a scant TB of oil and partway through cooking, if the potatoes are looking extra dry, you can stir in a little more oil.  The herbs and salt, however, are hard to overdo.  The amounts listed here are for one cookie-sheet full of potatoes.  If you're needing to spread yours across two pans, then I'd definitely double up on what is mixed in to the potatoes.

1-3 small red potatoes per person (I've also used sweet potatoes and regular potatoes--it's all good)
~1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 teaspoons of a combination of whatever herbs you have on hand: Basil/Oregano/Parsley/Thyme/Rosemary
1-2 teaspoons of salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, Fahrenheit.  Line cookie sheet(s) with aluminum foil and spray well.  (Or lightly spray the edges of a silmat lined sheet.)
Chop potatoes into bite sized pieces.  (The smaller they're cut, the quicker they'll cook--sometimes that's not a good thing though, based off of what the rest of the meal is you are making.  You don't want them to be mushy!) Place potatoes in a large bowl.  Drizzle in preferred amounts of olive oil, herbs, and salt and pepper based off of how many potatoes you ended up using.  Toss together.  Spread potatoes onto the lined cookie sheet(s).
Cook potatoes for 15-20 minutes, flipping them over halfway through .  Once you can pierce through a potato (and the potatoes are whistling!), turn oven up to broil and cook until potatoes are golden.  Depending on your oven, this can take 1-5 minutes, so watch carefully.  Once potatoes are golden, take out of the oven and allow to sit a few minutes for them to cool off before plating.

W.O.T.: The Old Bucket List

Monday, October 3, 2016

For today's Working On Things, I'd like to bring back something I forgot: my bucket list.

I had a bucket list of 30 things I wanted to do before I turned 30.  I was pretty gung-ho about it up until about a week before my birthday, had a lot of fun and motivation while crossing off my lists, and then I turned 30 and promptly forgot about it!  So, I've since updated then list here for you to see what else I was able to cross off the list. (I know I'm forgetting things though... I'm not sure if I turned 60 or 30.)

Some things to note, just for fun:
1) We finally decided to get a girl committed to babysit for us every other Friday night.  Our dates are going to go up in frequency now, and I am so happy about that!
2) My reading list makes me feel a little sad... I used to be the biggest book worm ever.  But I can't keep my eyes open!  I love audio books too, but podcasts have taken over for me in that department.
3) We had our first trip to Disneyland as a family.  It was just one day, but it was amazing.  We didn't tell the kids until we arrived, and while they gave us an anticlimactic reaction, the whole day was magical.  We were there from opening until closing.  God bless my two boys for somehow napping that afternoon, so that could be possible.  (It probably helped that we only had 5 hours of sleep the night before.)  Having such a great time made up for the stomach flu Bella got the next day, due to her licking every pole in the park.  We had to leave our trip three days early (we were supposed to be in San Diego with old college buddies), but we'd do that all again for another wonderful day at Disney.    

I still have a few things on my list left to cross off!  Before I make a list of 31 things to do before I turn 31, I'd like to finish up what remains.  I'm going to start small and share with you every Monday which item(s) I'm working on for the week.

This week's first goal is to finish one of the two sewing courses I signed up for.  They are online classes through Modern Girl's Guide to Sewing. I started my beginner's course, and it was great so far, but then I once again forgot about finishing it....  Bad track record, but I'm sure other moms can relate!  My goal is to complete the beginner's level this week, and work on my project that goes with it.  So, fabric store here I come!  (This obviously isn't sponsored.)

The second goal is to try a new ice cream place on our date this week.  I'm definitely making this one happen!  (Any suggestions in the East Bay area?)

What are you working on this week?

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