Sweet Potato Banana Protein Bites

So here we go! It’s a new year and I’m back. Not just to writing here, but the healthy, motivated me is back.

The new year is always a time to reset and reassess our goals, and the new year could not have come at a better time for me. December was a little rough…2 biopsies, my first ever case of the stomach flu, and a surgery. I missed a lot of work for medical reasons, and working out and eating right became nonexistent. Add in the holiday treats and it was a recipe for some dark times in my kitchen. And although it’s never about the scale for me, 10ish extra lbs. showed up there too. I just needed to get through the year, and now I’m ready to get back on track!

One of the main things I plan on doing this year is meal planning. I hope to share a lot of how I’m doing that here, but for today I’m just going to share one recipe I put together last night.

I was making sweet potato fries for the first time (so good!), and had some leftover potatoes since I am the only person who will eat those yummy orange spuds in my house. I have always wanted to try baking with them so it seemed like a good time to start! While my fries were in the oven, I wrapped  2 medium sweet potatoes in  foil and baked them at 375 for an hour. After dinner, they were ready to mash and I am so happy with the outcome of the recipe.

Realist Lifestyle had just sent me a sample of their ghost flavor protein powder, and I have been trying to come up with ways to add it into my food/shakes. This seemed like the perfect time to give it a try and I have to say it did not affect the taste or texture of the bites! Perfect option to give these an extra boost of protein.

 


Sweet Potato Banana Protein Bites

For 12 Mini bites:

Ingredients:

1 large (or 2 medium) Sweet Potatoes (baked)

1 Large Banana

1 Egg

2 TBSP Peanut Protein (optional)

2 TBSP Realist Ghost Protein Powder (optional)

1-2 TBSP Coconut Water (or water) to desired texture

handful dark chocolate chips (or whatever seeds, nuts, dried fruit you like)

Method:

Preheat oven to 375

Mash together baked sweet potato and banana with hand masher

Add egg, water, powders, and chocolate chips and stir until combined. img_5297

 

Spray a mini-muffin tin or line with wrappers

 

Drop spoonfuls of mixture into muffin pan

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Bake for 20-ish minutes

Enjoy! (Keep extras in air tight container)


That’s it! I mashed the potato right out of the oven so the batter was warm but it did not affect the outcome. If you try these, let me know what you think! I was hesitant about the texture from the banana but if you really mix it, the batter will be smooth.

(Like I’ve mentioned before I’m not a big measuring person when it comes to cooking. I go by what looks right, so these quantities are approximates and you can change the amount based on your own preference of texture and taste. The sweet potato is more than sweet enough even for me, but you can add sugar, honey or agave)

Happy Baking, and Happy New Year!

xo

Heather

 

Weekend recap: Philly and a half marathon

We spent last weekend in Philly and had an incredible time. The main reason we went this particular time was so I could run the 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut half marathon for the second year in a row, but since we love the city decided to make it into a fun mini vacation  as well…similar to most of our race weekends.

On Friday after work Jeff and I signed Ava out a little early from school and then we picked up Nolan too. Since it was National Doughnut Day, we couldn’t start our trip without a yummy treat first!

 

Once we were all cleaned up we were on our way. Perfect timing for both kids to get a solid nap in before a busy weekend! The ride was easy and we checked into our hotel. I headed out for a quick run, as I have mentioned before I need to get up and move after longer car rides due to the risk of blood clots. A short 2 mile run helps put my mind at ease and stretch out after sitting for a while.

When I got back, Jeff headed out to run and by that time my parents and niece Rowan had made it to the hotel too. We all went out to dinner (pasta for me, of course) and then went back to get a good night’s sleep. My kids are like little hotel pros these days which makes the transition with traveling and sleeping away very easy. In the morning, we took the kids to my parent’s room and Jeff drove me to the start.

This half marathon is by far the most challenging I have ran so far. I had also ran it last year, so I knew what was coming. The strange thing for me this weekend was that I did not know I was 100% running this race until the weekend before. I was waiting on Jeff’s baseball schedule so did not even register until then. It made training slightly interesting, especially having just ran a half marathon only 2 weeks before. But I was excited to get back on that course!

I literally stood in line for the bathroom right up to the start of the race. It’s not a big event, about 600 runners. Since it is a German themed race, many runners were dressed in leiderhosen and other German outfits which sets the tone for a fun race!

I got to the start literally 15 seconds before we were off. The entire race is a trail, some paved, some not and the beginning is quite narrow. Once you get to the first mile, things start to thin out, and once again I somehow found myself spending the first half of the race completely alone. Usually I don’t mind that, but sometimes having other runners around can distract me from all of the huge hills.

One word I would not use to describe this course is flat. You are constantly climbing unless you are at the top of a hill, in which case you are going down a steep hill. There really isn’t a time when you have a break at the top. I find this to be the most challenging part. Not being able to catch my breath or recover a little before running down the hill is difficult for me. I am hoping to remember this and train a little for it next year. Add in the 90% humidity, and breathing was probably my biggest struggle of this race.

Around the halfway point we encountered Mount Cookoo. It is exactly as the name describes, nuts! A narrow, winding, somehow always uphill climb full of giant tree roots, rocks, and slippery mud. But I love it! I had actually forgotten just how long we were in that trail, but it is over a mile of some real tough conditions. There are a lot of horses in the park as well, so I’m sure you can imagine the smell is a little interesting and there quite a few flies!

Back onto the main path after Mount Cookoo you basically just repeat the hilly trail back to the finish, which was also the start. At this point I spent a few miles running with a young guy, which although we never said a word to each other, he kept me going and made me feel a little secure that someone was nearby…I was starting to feel that I was somewhat dehydrated and had goosebumps by mile 9. I ended up taking a good amount of time at the water stops from mile 7 on  trying to replenish with both Gatorade and water but knew I needed to be smart and not push it at this point. My goal became “finish”, and try and get under my time from last year which was a 1:51. At mile 12 I checked my watch and was at 1:40, which is my usual time for a half this year.

I have to be honest, one of the big reasons that I did not just give up and walk the rest of the way was Ava. She can be apprehensive about things, and even though she has seen other kids grab their dad or mom’s hand and cross the finish she has never done it. I know she had wanted to, but new things can be intimidating for her at first  (as they are for most 5 year olds). So I’ve never pushed for it, but secretly hoped one day she would ask. During the week she had told me this would be the race. I was beyond excited about it and we talked about how it would go and that we would hold hands, etc. Knowing she was standing there, most likely talking herself up to actually do it, I had to do the same. Thinking about her got me to that finish, and when I saw her, hand extended, I felt completely better. We crossed the line and high-fived; she looked so happy and I was so proud of her!

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We headed to the after party at the German club and had a great time watching the German dancers and accordian player. The kids danced and the weather was hot but beautiful. The fun after this race is another big reason I like it so much. Everyone has a great time. Soon after they began the award ceremony and I won my age group. The awards at this race are great. The overall winners receive a Cookoo Clock and age group winners receive these cute little German weather houses. Since I had placed in my age group last year as well, Ava claimed this one.

After the race we decided to head to our next hotel over by the airport. We changed into our bathing suits and all went swimming and just hung at the hotel the rest of the night. My sister who had been working that morning met us there and the kids had a blast.

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Sunday morning Jeff and I headed out to the John Heinz National Refuge for a nice run. We had explored there last summer and I was looking forward to getting back again. I was tired from the race the day before, but it’s just too beautiful to pass up.

We got back to the hotel, met the rest of the crew at breakfast, got everyone ready and drove to the Franklin Institute. Right now there is a fantastic Pixar exhibit going on, so we paid the extra to have it included in our admission, and we were not disappointed. I had not been to the Franklin Institute since I was a kid but had always loved it. It was neat to not only see the newer exhibits but also to see that the giant heart and train were still there. The kids really enjoyed it and we spent close to 4 hours there. They were all pretty exhausted by that point so we decided to let them nap on the drive home and then got dinner with my sister once we were back in town before unpacking and resetting for the week.

I know I always say it, but these weekends really are about so much more than my race. I put a lot of time into planning out which races I will do for this reason. I research what’s around that makes it into an adventure, learning experience, or just a fantastic memory for our family. I was very happy that Jeff was able to be there this weekend since he hadn’t made it to any other half marathon yet this year. The added bonus is that my parents and sister join us on almost every weekend. The support I receive from my family is incredible. There is always someone willing to watch my kids while I get out on a long run. Or someone who is willing to bike or run alongside me. My kids are great about joining me in the stroller, and Ava is always up for a quick mile or two. As long as I have their enthusiasm and support, we will continue these weekends and I will continue to race. When you make these weekends about more than just running they become truly special and I hope memories my kids will always treasure. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll be crossing the line with Ava after her first half marathon!

Life is an adventure. Enjoy the journey.

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xoxo,

Heather

 

Why I’m choosing to use BCAAs

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I have always been very interested in the science behind how our body works, and how that applies to nutrition and exercise. In fact, although I almost failed chemistry in high school, I had an incredible understanding once I started taking nutrition  courses in college. Along with that…I have also been very interested in Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) and how they  affect so many great things in our bodies.

BCAAs have so many positive benefits, especially for women who lead active lives. The problem for me has always been finding one that was all natural and that did not make me feel like I was adding chemicals and artificial “stuff” to my body. I’ve done a lot of research about them and made sure I was educated in making a decision of what brand to try. So when I came across Momsanity’s BCAAs I felt that they were a perfect fit for me. . They are completely free of any artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, or preservatives and made by moms with busy moms in mind. I was excited to try it out and have not been disappointed.

 

Here are some of the benefits I have found since starting to use BCAAs for the past few weeks:

Blood Sugar levels

This is a big one for me. I have been dealing with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) my entire life. I cannot tell you how many times I have fainted from my levels dropping, and I feel faint if I do not have something to eat almost every hour. But taking these I have noticed a huge difference in the way I have felt. BCAAs work like a carbohydrate in your body, so they help maintain sugar balance and also reduce sugar cravings. After a hard workout a lot of times I will feel my levels drop and now instead of reaching for a Gatorade for sugar, I add a serving to my water and get the same effect. I really feel a difference taking them post-workout.

Energy

As a working mom of two who leads an active lifestyle this is huge. BCAAs also help regulate cortisol levels which can be raised from stress. I feel like I can think clearer and am more balanced from them. Because as I mentioned they work like a carbohydrate in your body, they also help prevent fatigue. There are times that I am so exhausted at the end of the day that I literally cannot sleep. I have noticed a really big difference in the quality of sleep I am getting since my energy levels are higher during the day.

Muscle mass

As women, the older we get the harder it is for us to maintain muscle mass. The amino acids help to build muscle and help to prevent this from happening. It also helps reduce muscle soreness, so after a hard workout I feel I can recover quicker.

Water consumption

Although this isn’t necessarily something it’s known for, for me personally I have always been one to struggle with drinking enough water. Having some yummy flavor in there helps me tremendously. What I usually do is fill my 32 oz bottle with water, and then once I’m down to the 10 or 12 oz mark I add a scoop and finish it. It dissolves easily and I like the fruit punch taste!

BCAAs are also gained through foods in our diet, but when taken as a supplement they are absorbed immediately into the bloodstream. And let’s be honest, most of us do not eat completely balanced or healthy every single day. I love that I can take 2-3 servings mixed in with my water and know that no matter what I am getting these benefits.

Although I was able to try the Momsanity brand before it was available to everyone, it is now up on Amazon for purchase! You can find it here and use the code: BCAA4YOU for $10 off your order (expires Sunday, May 29th at midnight). You will also get a free cookbook with your order which has some fun recipes to use the BCAAs with, including gummies and smoothies. Do you use BCAAs? I’d love to hear others experiences with them as well!

xoxo

Heather

 

Weekend recap~Wildwood Half

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This past weekend we went down to Wildwood, NJ for not only a half marathon, but a quick fun getaway with some of my family and friends. I did this half marathon last year as well, and it’s a really fun race and Wildwood is a great family beach town, so what’s not to like?

My parents, sister, niece, and my kids headed down Saturday afternoon after swim lessons and gymnastics (tired them out to ensure a good nap on the ride). Also joining us were my friend Beth (the same friend who did her first half with me in Asbury) and her two daughters. Her older daughter, Faith is a former swimmer of mine who signed up for this to be her first half marathon!

The trip was easy, and we got there right in time to check into the hotel. Little did we know when we made the reservation that it was directly across the street from the bib pickup site on the boardwalk, and only a few blocks away from the start! I just love when things work out like that! We headed up to the boardwalk, and easily got our bibs, packets, shirts, and ride wristbands. One of the great thing about this race series is that with your registration you get a free 2-day pass for the rides at Morey’s Piers!

So at that time, Beth, Faith, Ava, and myself split from the group and headed down to the beach. The rest of our crew headed to the rides but we met up with a group of runners for some beach yoga, also a bonus of this race series. The instructor was great and it was perfect after a long morning and ride down.

When we were done, we met back up with everyone and continued to enjoy the rides and fun atmosphere of the boardwalk. The kids had a blast. As far as I’m concerned, this is what these weekends are about. Sure, I put in the time to train for the runs, but making it a whole family event is the most important to me. In fact, it is probably my number one motivator in my training!

As we were deciding to head back to the hotel and get ready for dinner, the dark clouds started rolling in. We made it back to the hotel just in time before the thunder and lightning and as soon as the storm passed we headed to the Boathouse for our pre-race dinner. We went to the same place last year and the food and atmosphere is perfect to bring kids and the view over the water is beautiful. We headed back to the hotel and I got everything organized for the morning.

On the morning of the race, we grabbed a bite to eat, got dressed, and walked up to the start just before the playing of the national anthem. The starting line was super organized and not too crowded the way they space out the pace groups which was a nice change! A few minutes later we were off.

Just to start off…

If I’m going to be totally honest with my race experience, I will have to apologize for sounding slightly negative. I really struggled during this race but hope it does not come off as sounding like I had a bad experience.

So as soon as I started to run my hip, which I never have issues with started to hurt. It scared me a little since there was no warning and I actually thought that maybe I should stop. Instead I decided to just hang  back and run a bit to see if it loosened up. Eventually it did, but I was worried about it.

Within the first mile we were heading north on the boardwalk. The spectators were really great. I remembered from last year how supportive the crowd and race volunteers are for this series and it helped to regain my stride knowing the support I would have throughout the race. The WildHalf series is not just a half marathon, there is also a 5k and 8k option for runners. They do a great job of clearly marking the course for each distance. It was super windy that day, so some of the mile marker signs were blown down, but my Fitbit takes care of that for me anyway.

I still cannot tell you exactly which direction the wind was blowing that day, but I can tell you that no matter which direction we ran, it seemed to be against us. It was a challenge, but growing up running around the beach, this is nothing new to me, and I don’t mind the challenge. When you run into the wind, however, your core and upper body become even more engaged which for me anyway, means more soreness the next day.

Around mile 4.5 is where the challenges of this course that I love really begin. The course is pretty much an “out and in” loop. At this point you cross over a highway overpass with a nice steady incline and down to an old high drawbridge. As I climbed the bridge, I was actually a little scared of being blown over! I had no one around me at that point so nothing to block the wind and it was strong!

I made it out to the turnaround, which I was really looking forward to. This was the first race in a while where I knew a good amount of people running. Once you turn around, you see all of the other runners for about a 3 mile stretch. So I got to see everyone I knew that was also out there! It’s a great distraction and really makes this race fun. The other runners were really enthusiastic and we all gave thumbs ups and words of encouragement, high fives, waves, whatever. I was almost laughing at this point as I headed back over the high bridge because I was being blown into the other side of runners. I won’t soon forget that!

I really did not feel right through this race. If it wasn’t for the volunteers and the high number of water/powerade stations they had I am honestly not sure I would have finished. My blood sugar felt off, my legs felt dehydrated, and the wind was definitely tough. At one point a man at one of the stations ran over to ask if I was ok, I’m thinking I must have been pretty pale at this point.

As I passed the 12 mile mark, I started to realize that I wasn’t doing as poorly as I thought and there was still a chance of going under 1:40, which is a personal goal I have. I just kept pushing through and at this point being up on the boardwalk with lots of crowd support I started to feel a bit better. Before I knew it, I could see the finish and crossed just above my goal, at 140.11. Still a personal best, and I was just so relieved that I pushed through those miles and never gave up on myself.

I found my family and headed over to Fox Park where the food and stage were for the after “party”. Ava joined me and picked out some goodies, the volunteers were awesome and gave her some of her own too…chocolate chip cookies, bananas, apples, bagels, soft pretzels, and more. I sometimes think my kids really only enjoy these races for all the food I get after! We took a quick pic on the step and repeat and then headed back to the finish line to watch everyone else finish.

I always enjoy watching the finish line and seeing the variety of people who run these races. Young, old, some finish holding hands, some sprint past people and keep that competitive spirit going until the end. There were even dogs crossing the line! This race just has a great vibe at the finish and the announcer was great too. So fun. Soon I saw Faith and Beth who both looked amazing and happy and I was so proud of them! Faith had completed her first half marathon with a smile on her face, and Beth had taken close to 20 minutes off her time from her first 13.1 only a month before. So awesome!

I headed back to the park with Beth and we checked out the tents once again. At this time the band was playing at the stage so the kids were having a blast. We sat down to listen for a few minutes and they began to announce the awards. Ava asked if she could come up with me for mine, and I laughed and told her I would not be getting one today. A few minutes later, they were announcing women 35-39 and wouldn’t you know it…they said my name as placing 3rd! I was shocked and Ava was over the moon excited to go up! We took some pics and then quickly headed back to check out of the hotel.

The day of the race just happened to also be my niece Rowan’s second birthday! I was honored that she woke up way before her usual wake up time to come cheer me on, and was looking forward to spending the rest of the day celebrating her. Between the wind and the cooler temps, our best bet was to find an indoor activity. We drove up to Atlantic City to the aquarium, which is really a cute place if you’ve never been. They have some touch tanks, turtles, stingrays, jellyfish, and lots more fish plus an observation deck on the top floor and a pretty garden area out front. It’s right on the water in a very pretty spot away from the hustle and bustle of the casinos.

After the fishies we headed to the Rainforest Cafe for dinner (I was beyond starving at this point!). They sat us in a big booth, which normally is great but poor Rowan was terrified of the ape over the table next to us. Nolan was not a huge fan either, but Ava loved it! We all got burgers or dinosaur nuggets, and much to my husband’s surprise I even caved for some souveneer cups! We had a great family dinner with my sister and parents complete with a huge volcano cake and then headed home to open some presents with the birthday girl. I’m not sure I mentioned that Jeff was not on this trip with us due to baseball, but by then his games were over and he met us at my parents and got to celebrate her big day too.

The weekend was fantastic. Like I have said before, I love how running can bring us to so many fun places and love making these races into mini family vacations and new experiences. The Wild Half series is just so great and they really do take the steps to make it a great weekend for not only the runners but the spectators and families too. I plan on running it again next year.
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A few days after the race we received an email that the course may have been slightly short. They apologized and offered runners a discounted rate for next year which I thought was really impressive. That being said, I’m actually very happy that I did not go under 1:40, and can now do so on a more regulated course. Everything happens for a reason, right?

Live for adventures. Run Happy

xoxo

Heather

 

 

 

Leading by example: strong vs. skinny

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Lately Ava, who is 5, has been very interested in working out as a family. We have started to practice some yoga, she has a tiny 2 pound weight, has really started to love running, and I love it. I’m so proud of her and happy to see that through both mine and Jeff’s example she is beginning to understand the importance of being healthy and making good choices for her well-being.

What I am even more happy about is that she has an understanding that working out is to help make us strong and not skinny. That eating balanced meals and having diets full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein is to fuel our bodies, not lose weight. And as proud of her as I am, I have to say that I am very proud of myself for this as well, because for a long time this was not the case for me.

For as long as I can remember, I was always worried about being fat. I had body-image issues that caused me to have low self confidence and there was not a day that went by that I wasn’t worried about gaining weight or was beating myself up over it. I grew up in a time where this was pretty common, and having a mother with an eating disorder, it was very close to home. As a swimmer and runner I saw many teammates struggle as well. Weight was a huge issue all around me and it was way more important than it should have been. For lack of a better word, it was normal for girls who were thin to complain about being fat.  My mom, family and friends told me I was beautiful all the time. But this came from me; I was always so hard on myself and when you are constantly putting yourself down, you start to believe it.

A horrible cycle of binge eating and excessive exercise was something I dealt with for a long time, all the way up to  college.  I was consumed by it and although I looked like I was in fantastic shape, it was probably the most unhealthy I had ever been. I was eating and exercising to be thin, not strong and was obsessive about it.

Even into my mid to late twenties I struggled. I went to the gym for hours, secretly keeping journals of my workouts, food, everything. I would even take days off from work if I knew it was the only way I could work out that day. Through it all, however, I really had no idea this was a problem.

Fast forward to the year I turned  30. Jeff and I were married, and I was ready to be a mom. When Ava was born, it was like she saved me. None of that mattered as much anymore. I still worked out, usually by running with her in the stroller, but my reasons changed. I wanted her to see her mom making good choices. I wanted to make sure that she would never struggle with any of the things that I had. I never wanted her to see me stay home because all of my clothes made me look fat, which happened many times in my life. I had to consciously step back and understand that she would learn from my actions. It wouldn’t matter how many times I told her she was beautiful, if she saw her mother putting herself down that’s what she would do too.

So we never talk about working out to lose weight or even maintain weight. Even after my son was born, I never alluded to the baby weight or put myself down in front of her, no matter how badly I wanted to get back in shape. Yes, I felt that way, it’s completely natural after a woman has a baby. But she didn’t need to hear that. In her eyes my body was amazing for bringing her baby brother into this world. And you know what? She is right.

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We as moms don’t give ourselves enough credit for that. Our bodies can do incredible things and we put them through so much. We need to be proud of what they are capable of and respect them for that. As a teacher and coach to middle and high school girls it breaks my heart to hear their comments and know some will struggle with these issues.  We need to break this cycle and keep striving to teach our girls (and boys) that being strong is far more important than skinny. That being comfortable in your own skin and believing in yourself are the keys to being successful.

I allow Ava to call the shots when it comes to our workouts. I’m lucky she is still cool with the stroller for runs, so when she wants to head out I bring it along so she can hop in and out when she wants. I never force her to workout, I let her know what I am going to do and if she wants to join, great. If not, great. We live a mostly healthy,  and organic lifestyle when it comes to food, but are always up for the occasional treat. We might explain that something isn’t the most healthy or suggest a healthier alternative, but I make sure I never tell her something she eats will make her fat. Or call something fattening. It’s always “unhealthy”. Fat just doesn’t exist in our vocabulary.

I won’t say that I don’t still struggle with some of the issues I’ve had. And maybe I always will. It may not make sense to anyone else, but I can honestly say that she has taught me so much about being self confident and self accepting. I learn how to just go about my life without concern of judgement or worry about what someone thinks of me or my weight. Funny how much we learn from our children. She doesn’t know that she could worry about these things. I hope to keep it that way.

I wanted to share some of my favorite pictures of Ava and I running and practicing yoga together. These moments are so incredible to me, and I’d like to think to her too.

 

 

Friday favorite: Simple Taco Seasoning

So tacos are pretty simple, and who doesn’t love the traditional beef tacos we all had growing up? Little fact about me: I  did not eat meat (other than seafood) for many years. When I was pregnant with Ava, I craved steak and red meat like crazy, but as silly as it sounds was afraid to eat it in case my body had a strange reaction. So when she was about 4 months old, and the craving was still there (along with issues with iron levels) I bit the bullet…or steak in this case and started eating red meat again. Still no birds, but now we eat meat at least one night a week.

Over the past few months Jeff and I have been making a tradition of “Taco Tuesday” and have some form of tacos, fajitas, or nachos each week. When it comes to the seasoning for taco meat, I am not a huge fan of all of the added preservatives, but they’re just so good! So one night we decided to try and come up with our own. The kids aren’t into tacos so we were able to make it with some spice too. I also use a version of this recipe with my students but we tone it down a bit.

Again, I don’t measure everything so these are all estimates, but you can adjust according to your own preferences. If you don’t care for something, leave it out!

Basically I just mix all of these in a small ramekin:


 

2-3 TBSP Chili Powder (this is the “bulk” of the recipe for us)

Then a dash, pinch, or shake of each of the following:

Paprika

Ground cumin

Garlic powder

Dried Oregano

Crushed red pepper flakes

Cayenne pepper

(Sea salt and black pepper to taste-depends on my mood if I add them)


 

I usually use a very lean, all natural ground beef and just brown it in a large skillet over medium heat.

Drain beef, return to heat

Add seasoning mix, and 1/4-1/2 cups water, depending on amount of meat

Simmer for a few minutes and enjoy!

You may need to adjust the amounts depending on how much beef you use, I usually make 1 or 2 lbs so we have leftovers for taco salads or nachos later in the week or for lunches.

Since Cinco de Mayo is next week, we will be having “Taco Thursday” instead of Tuesday. We love any reason to celebrate and get the family together, and when tacos are involved it’s always great!

Here are some pics from our Cinco fun last year. I also made sombrero cookies and cactus cupcakes, and of course we had a pinata!
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Enjoy!

xoxo,

Heather

 

Weekend recap~Poughkeepsie NY

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This past weekend we were once again on the road for Jeff’s series against Marist College. This was the first time I visited this area, so during the week as I planned out packing and driving, I also looked into what there was to do near the campus. I decided to only take Ava on this trip and make somewhat of a girl’s weekend out of it…sometimes I sense that she needs some “big girl” time, and since her little bro is totally in that “terrible two” buggy little brother stage, she deserved some Mommy and Daddy time. It was only about a 2 hour drive up to the hotel, and we headed up Friday evening picking up the head coach’s wife and daughter, (LA and K) on the way and got in around 9pm.

We were staying in Fishkill, which is about 20 minutes away from the campus. Of course one of the first things I check to see if the hotel has is a gym. For the first time in I don’t know how long they did not! So having done some research I found that in between the hotel and the campus there was the Walkway over the Hudson which was part of the Hudson Valley Rail Trail. It looked really neat, and a great place that I could run with the stroller.

So Saturday morning Ava and I got up, had some breakfast and went to check it out. As we drove down the road, we saw a bridge up ahead. I told Ava I thought that was the bridge we would be running over and she said “no way!”. It looked old, narrow and rickety and I was also a little apprehensive. We drove to a parking lot and found the stairs leading up to the bridge. When we got to the top, we had a pleasant surprise! It was absolutely beautiful. The bridge itself was very clean, wider than it appeared and the view was unbelievable. We had gotten there fairly early and pretty much had the whole bridge to ourselves.

The bridge alone is about 1.3 miles long and crosses over the Hudson River. We stopped a couple times to check out the view and take some pictures, and Ava ran with me for more than half of it. Once we crossed, she climbed into the stroller and we headed down the paved trail for another 4 miles.

Along the way we saw so many beautiful spots, lots of rocky cliffs, trees, old trains and buildings. About 2.5 miles from the bridge there was about a half mile stretch with fitness equipment you could do different exercises on. We saw a few bikers and walkers along the way, and even running tour group, which was pretty cool. For the most part it was empty and very peaceful. And definitely way better than a hotel treadmill! If you are ever out in that area, I highly recommend checking it out.

After our fantastic run (10 miles for me, about 1.5 for her) we headed back to the hotel to get ready for some baseball. Jeff’s team had a double header that day and the weather was great. It’s funny, Ava never seems like she is paying attention to the games but definitely takes an interest in what’s going on. They won the first game but lost the second. After the game, Ava ran over and jumped up on the fence and said to Jeff, “Daddy, you lost! But you won the first one. And you still have the third one tomorrow so it’s ok.” Our little motivational coach in the making!

Saturday night was our usual fun filled dinner out with the coaches, LA, and K.  There was a Charlie Browns right across from the hotel so that was the easiest choice. After dinner, I overheard a sweet conversation between Ava and Jeff as I got ready for bed:

JB: “Ava, do you like these baseball weekends?”

A: “Yes I do!”

JB: “What do you like about them the most?”

A: “I love watching my dad!”

So my heart melted and I probably even teared up a little. Sometimes I worry that we do too much with the kids and being on the road. They stay up later, meals can be a little interesting, and they’re often more tired than usual on Monday mornings. But that right there helped remind me why we do it. I love sharing these great days with not only Jeff but with our kids. They see incredible places. They watch their daddy do what he loves. And they are exposed to so many things along the way.

We slept a little later on Sunday morning and then after a quick breakfast I was able to give Ava some promised pool time. She is such a little fish!

So here’s a confession. I was a competitive swimmer for pretty much my whole childhood. I was even a college swimmer. I have been a varsity swim coach for over ten years and absolutely love the sport. And I also was an ocean lifeguard for 14 years, only stopping when I had kids. I swim laps once in a while still, and wish I did more. BUT I have always hated hanging out in pools. Like recreational swimming. I never wanted to go to someone’s house and go in the pool and really don’t spend much time floating around in the ocean. Unless I’m working out, I am not a huge fan. Being splashed is torture to me.  But for Ava, I do it. She loves it and I love watching her in the pool. So we swam for an hour, and I had a lot of fun with her.

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On Saturday I had pointed out the bridge to LA and K and they had the same reaction Ava and I had about not wanting to go over it. I convinced them it was way better when you were up there and they would not regret trying it out. Sunday morning we packed up and all headed out to run, and planned on just going straight to the game from there. It was pretty much right across the street. We parked and walked up and we all ran separately. Ava stayed in the stroller the whole time, which was good because Sunday is clearly the busy day for the trail. There were so many people, some tours, and they were setting up for a Parkinson’s walk as well. But it was still a great run.

It’s funny, every trip we go on it seems there is some milestone, even a small one that happens and when I think back I remember the trip and the first time Ava did this, or Nolan said that. This past weekend Ava finally mastered chewing gum. Funny, but she has grown up so much through these seasons and I can still picture her learning to walk down hotel hallways and batting cages.

After a great win, we left the field and headed home, getting back just in time to meet my sister for dinner and be reunited with the little man. Then we unpacked and were back to business as usual. After school Monday I asked Ava if she was tired and she said yes. But it is totally worth it, and just meant an earlier bedtime.

“Fill your life with experiences, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show.”

 

Happy Travels!

xoxo

Heather

 

 

Race recap~Runapalooza Half

This past weekend I ran my second half marathon of 2016 in Asbury Park, NJ. Asbury Park has really  done a lot to clean up the town and it has become one of our favorite places to visit that is close to home. The boardwalk has a great vibe with a cool historic feel, and the main street has great restaurants and shops. It’s always a great spot for a run, so I was excited to run a half there.

The run made bib pickup really easy with 3 different options in 3 different towns the week before the race. We were able to pick up our bibs at a nearby Sports Authority, and they gave us a participant coupon to use in the store…so we each bought a new top to complete our race day outfits.

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Beth and I headed up to the race which was about a half hour drive from home. Parking was really easy, and the town had waived parking fees until later that afternoon which I thought was great. We parked in a lot and walked down to the convention center where the race would start. It was her first race so I wanted to make sure she knew exactly where the start was and when she should start her watch as she crossed the line.

Before we knew it, the national anthem was playing. I gave her a big hug and we split up based on pace groups. Then we were off. As soon as I started I didn’t feel right. I convinced myself that I would just run to finish and kept a steady pace, working hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the start while everyone raced by me. I really felt as though I was holding back, but as I passed the first mile marker I was surprised to see my first split was under 7:30.

I had a lot of concerns about this race based on my running style and preferences in races. I am always really nervous when a course is described as “flat and fast”. I’m more of a hilly, turn lots of corners girl, which was how the course at my previous half was. I am not a “racer” and really like to do the races for the experience and challenge but can still get competitive! After the first mile I decided to just try and keep that pace or a little slower and see what happened.

The course itself was beautiful. The sun was shining, and the temperature was pretty much perfect. There was definitely some wind, but I always expect that when running on the coast. We ran  both on the boardwalk and through neighborhoods in Interlaken, Allenhurst, Deal, Ocean Grove, Bradley Beach and Avon by the Sea, which are all very pretty beach towns so there was plenty to see. There was a long stretch where we ran south and with the wind. I tried really hard to be smart during this part knowing that once we turned to head back to the finish we would be running directly into the wind.

As we looped back around to where the start was around mile 8, I saw my mom, sister, kids and my niece. There are a lot of times I don’t get to see them until the finish since they time out getting to the races based on when I will be done,  so I was excited and it gave me a little boost to keep going. The last three miles were tough. The worst part was, I knew I was on pace to PR but my splits were increasing with the wind. There was a point in the race where I thought I would be able to get a sub-140 but I was starting to realize it was not going to be the day for that. But I kept my heart set on a best time either way.

I crossed the line in 140.58, which was almost a full minute faster that DC the month before. Considering how I felt during the race combined with the wind I was really happy with that. As always, the big hugs from Ava and Nolan were my favorite part. As I was holding Nolan and he was still cheering for me, “go mommy, go mommy”. So sweet.

We headed into the expo which was at the convention center and I got my race shirt which I really liked. We walked around a little, and then headed back to the finish to watch Beth finish her first half marathon. When we saw her coming I was so excited for her. I could see how happy and proud she was to get to that point. As I said before, the experiences and challenges are why I run. The best times, medals, and all of that are great, and a welcome reward for all of the hard work, but I really am someone who enjoys the training more than the race. And having been on this journey with her from the beginning it was beyond cool.

We headed back in to get Beth’s shirt, and the results were posted. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had placed second in my age division, which never happens. So we hung around for the awards.

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Since we love the area so much, we had planned on making a day out of it. The weather was beautiful and after a long week of not so nice days, being outside felt amazing. We headed to one of my favorite Asbury spots,  Porta and sat outside for lunch, and it was a perfect end to a great day.

Overall, I thought the race was great. You can’t beat the location and they raised a lot of money for the Special Olympics of NJ. There were 3 other races going on simultaneously with the half marathon: a 5K which started on the boardwalk (parallel to the half start) and then both a full marathon and marathon relay that started in Seaside Heights. All races finished across the same line, and there were about 4000 runners total who participated. Prior to the race, there were free training plans offered to the participants who were new to races or certain distances which were great too. They even offered certain dates for training runs for the runners.

There are a lot of times when friends reach out to me and ask if I would recommend races that they are thinking about running. If I was asked about my experience at this race, I would have to say that the things I found disappointing were the lack of bathrooms and small water stops. It seemed as though they did not have enough volunteers for the size of the race.  I always seemed to be in a spot where I was almost running alone so I did not have any issues getting water or gatorade but thought that some of the bigger packs of runners I saw as we crossed paths may have. There was one water station that was between the course where we crossed, and they were only able to give water to those running south and I could have used some heading north, around mile 11. The volunteers that were on the course however were great and really encouraging!  I think considering there were not any port-a-potties on the course there should have been more available before the start. But overall, I would most likely run this race again, just prepare for my personal spectators to have water for me like I saw a few runners had done. 

Next half is May 15!

Happy Running…

xoxo

Heather

 

Strength does not come from “stuff”

 

Today marks 4 years since one of the most surreal days of my life. It was a day when I learned a lot about not only myself but my husband and daughter.

It started out like any other workday. We got up, I got Ava (who was about 18 months old then) ready for Jeff to take her to his mom’s where she would go while we were at work. I then went through my regular routine of rushing around to get myself ready, thinking I have nothing to wear, packing my lunch and rushing out the door.

I don’t remember exactly why that morning was crazier than usual, but as I went to leave I could not find my car key. I searched everywhere, and made quite a mess in the process I’m sure. Finally I gave up and called Jeff to let him know he would need to come get me. We called work and let them know we would be a little late since it was about a 15 minute drive for him to come back. Since I had to wait, I started the dishwasher did a few other odds and ends, and then stood by the door watching for him to pull up.

I had gotten Jeff a kitten for his birthday 2 years before, whom we named Dodger. He was a good cat, but became very needy after Ava came around. While I was waiting for Jeff he was scratching at my leg, meowing and I was kind of blowing him off. He even tried to leave with me when he got back to pick me up. I scooted him back in and rushed to the car. We got to school and went about our day.

After my first classes, I saw I had a missed call from a number I did not know on my cell phone. No voicemail, but service wasn’t great at school so figured it would come up eventually.On my prep period I went to use a computer in the library when one of my friends I was running a marathon relay with that weekend came in to discuss our plan for the day of the race. While we were chatting, I saw over my shoulder Jeff and the school police officer walking toward us.

Jeff is one of the happiest people I know. Super easy going, and definitely always smiling. But there was a look on his face that I had never seen before and I knew right away something was wrong. I immediately thought something happened to Ava and my head started spinning. They both looked at me and then he said, “We have to go. our house is on fire.” The officer offered to drive us but we took his car home to what would be the beginning of something you can never prepare for.

The car ride was strange, it’s hard to explain what it feels like to be driving to your home, not knowing what to expect, who will be there and having no idea where you go from here. I remember telling Jeff that I didn’t use a curling iron or straightener but I had started the dishwasher but couldn’t think of what would have started a fire. I remember saying that I really hoped no one at school would know and that they wouldn’t waste a jeans day on us. I was also praying that none of our neighbors were affected. I was just in a fog but needed to keep talking.

As we pulled onto our street I could see the fire trucks and lots of people standing around. I felt embarrassed and could feel everyone staring at us as we parked and walked up to the scene. There were no flames, and everyone seemed really calm so I started to think it was just a small fire and everything was fine. An officer came up to us and explained what they thought happened…the dishwasher. It started in the kitchen but was mostly smoldering and had been put out. I remember thinking thank goodness, we can just clean up the mess and get a new dishwasher, completely naive!

Another man came over and said he was from the animal control center and let us know that Dodger did not make it. My heart sank. It was at that moment I realized this was a much bigger situation than I realized. Then they said they would take us in, but to be prepared for heavy smoke.

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Jeff and I as we pulled up to our house talking with the officer.

Still in my mind I was picturing just some damage in the kitchen.  As soon as we walked through the front door I wanted to lay down. Every inch of our home was black. Nothing was recognizable. I had no idea the extent of damage smoke could do. The windows were all black, you could not see out of them. The windows in the back of the house were smashed and pretty much the entire contents of our kitchen were thrown around the backyard. I just kept following the firemen but my head was spinning. I do however remember seeing a pair of my running shoes that had been right by the front door and kicked them outside thinking they weren’t too damaged.

The absolute worst part was walking into Ava’s room. Everything was so new and precious to me and it was all destroyed. Because my car was there, the firemen thought there may be someone home, and when they saw the baby’s room they really searched so things were strewn about. It hit me at that moment that our lives were going to change, but how lucky we were that we were not home when this happened. That my baby had no idea what was going on and did not have to live through something so scary…and that things could have been so much worse.

So basically every single thing we owned was destroyed, and the house would need to be gutted. The hard part was, it was all right in front of us. I don’t know if this made it worse, but I think for me it did. If everything had burned, I wouldn’t have necessarily remembered all of the little things like Ava’s pretty Easter dress she had worn the weekend before or her baptism gown that was still hanging in her closet.

The next few hours were a complete blur. After we left the house, we went to get Ava from my sister in laws house. I remember pulling up and seeing her standing in the door way looking at us through the glass, smiling with her cousin. I needed to see that smile as a reminder that what we still had was all we needed. My sister in law handed me two pairs of my nieces shoes for Ava to have, and I just thought this is all this little girl has in the world right now and she has no idea! I just wanted to hug her forever. She was my reason to stay strong and positive and my constant reminder of what was really important. Everything can be replaced.

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So we took Ava to my parents so we could go out and buy some things we would need. We pulled into the Target parking lot and decided to each take a cart and split up. I headed to the women’s clothing department and Jeff went toward toothpaste and toiletry items. I walked around, and it’s hard to explain my thinking process. I would think, I can get this shirt to go with my black pants. Then I would remember I didn’t have those pants, or any pants for that matter! I thought about the irony of how that very morning I was tossing through my  full closet thinking I had nothing to wear!  I remember realizing I needed to get something to run the race in that weekend. That I would need shoes. Underwear. Socks. EVERYTHING.

It was probably a half hour later when Jeff met back up with me. Our carts should have been filled. But we both had maybe 3 things in them. It was too much. Too overwhelming. You just don’t know where to start. Texts and face book messages were starting to come in. Do you need anything? Are you ok? What can I do? And everything in between. I just kept saying we are fine! But I was starting to wonder if we were. How do you replace everything? It literally makes me dizzy even thinking about it now. We grabbed just a few things including diapers and baby stuff and decided to try again the next day.

Over the next few days we were overwhelmed with the generosity of our friends, coworkers, families, and even complete strangers. People sent cards, checks, gift cards, baby toys, books, clothes, etc. to our school. I had frequented a consignment shop in town and the owner reached out to me to let me know she had a toddler bed for Ava and a customer had bought her beautiful bedding for it. It really was incredible. My parents took us in and my sister transformed a room that had become kind of a storage closet into a room for Ava. Anything we needed seemed to be done and I feel like we can never repay all of the great things people did for us at this time. We were also very lucky that my uncle had a flood and fire business and led us through the process of insurance and other paperwork. I never would have known where to begin.

Ava took it all in stride. She never once questioned why we had moved into my mom’s house or why we never went home. She never asked for her old toys or books or any of it. I was really impressed with her to just go with the flow at such a young age. She also never asked for Dodger, which I was surprised by, but kind of relieved in a way not to have to explain it to her. We made a huge effort to keep life as “normal” as possible for her, making sure her schedule didn’t change much. She still went to dancing school and swim lessons and life went on.

So I ended up still running the marathon relay a few days later. Running has always been something I have used to de-stress, cope and even find it helps clear my head. I was looking forward to having a day to get away from all the paperwork and to-do lists and be around people who had no idea what I had been through, and have some normalcy. I had not run in a few days but it felt great. I got lost in my thoughts and instead of thinking of all the things we still had to do I just thought about how blessed we were. When I got done, I realized that those sneakers I thought escaped the smoke had not, my legs were black from the soot coming up as I ran. In a way it made me feel even stronger and more determined to stay positive. Hard to explain, but it did.

Over the past 4 years a lot has happened. About 6 months after the fire we moved into a rental by the beach. We absolutely loved living there and thought maybe this was where we would end up. It only lasted a month before Hurricane Sandy hit and that house was also damaged. So back to my parents we went, and decided just to stay there for the remainder of the rebuild. We also came to the conclusion that this was a sign that Ava was meant to be an only child. Too much was going on to even think about having another baby, and we were getting to an age where we wouldn’t be able to have any more kids. Glad Nolan had other ideas about that, what a blessing he is!

 

Fast forward Christmas 2013…I was about 8 months pregnant and our home was just about ready for us to move back. We took Ava to the house on Christmas morning and surprised her with a brand new big girl room. It was strange to go back with her, she had no memory of what it was like before when her room was still a nursery (we had just transformed her crib into a toddler bed). We moved back in January 2014…about a week before Nolan was born, 3 weeks early. The day he was born we were still buying diapers and necessities and assembling baby furniture. It was a great way to start our lives in our “new” home.

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Last month, while away in North Carolina for a baseball trip, the kids and I went to a kid fest that was next door to our hotel. The Greenville Fire Department was there and had some fun activities for the kids, like letting them “drive” the fire truck. Inside, they had a booth and Ava participated in some activities. One thing she got to do was use a phone to make a mock 911 call to the fire department. The girl pretended to be a dispatcher and took her through the questions they would ask if there was a fire emergency. It was strange for me to stand there and watch my now 5 year old try and answer, and realize ironically we had never really discussed what to do if there was an emergency at home like a fire. Here are some of the questions she asked her…

How do you call 911?

What is your address?

Where is the safe place your family meets outside if there is a fire?

How do you get out of your house if there’s a fire?

You would think having gone through this we would have a plan. The 911 call was a great reminder to go over all of this with our kids. Truth is, I don’t think we even had a fire extinguisher in the house before (guess what we got for Christmas the year we moved back). We now are better about changing the smoke detector batteries. As a wedding gift we had received a fire proof safe from a coworker. Seemed unimportant at the time but all of our documents were protected and I would highly recommend going out and getting one if you don’t.

If you take nothing else from this post, I hope it encourages you to talk to your kids about emergencies. I was almost embarrassed that my kid could not answer any of the questions the dispatcher asked, especially after what we had been through. You just never know. I also hope you realize that life really is about the moments and not “stuff”. Live in the moment. Writing this post and looking through pictures I was reminded of all the smiles and adventures we had despite what was going on with our home and what we had lost. We had everything we needed. I am beyond grateful for everyone who helped us rebuild and supported us through those years. We truly are blessed.

 

Collect moments. Not things.

xoxo,

Heather

 

 

 

 

Friday favorite: Simple sun-dried tomato Pesto

So back when Jeff and I were first dating, we went out to eat or got take out a lot. I love to cook, but you know how fun it is to be out and about in a new relationship, and our schedules were busy.

I remember one of  the first times I cooked for him I made a pesto, which he liked. He isn’t quite as adventurous with food as I am, but he’s willing to try things. A few weeks later we were out and I mentioned to whoever we were with that  I had made pesto, and he did not believe that I had done so from scratch and hadn’t bought the sauce pre-made! Little does he know just how easy it is to make! But I’m okay with him thinking that…

We now eat pesto quite often. Usually over pasta or risotto, and I love it over salmon. I would imagine it would be great on chicken as well, but if you know me then you know I do not eat birds!

Anyway, here’s a quick easy recipe, with a few variations…I don’t really measure when I cook so everything is an approximation…use more or less depending on your preference to consistency and taste!

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In a small food processor…combine the following:

1-2 cups fresh basil

1/2 cups pine nuts or walnuts (Jeff doesn’t do walnuts!)

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup parmesean cheese

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (I usually cut them into 1/2″ pieces with kitchen shears)

3-5 cloves garlic (or about 1/2 TBSP garlic powder)

Lemon juice to taste (I love it so I squeeze a whole lemon in there!)

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Chop in food processor until all ingredients are combined into to smooth paste. If too thick, add more oil.


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Personally, although I like the taste of sun-dried tomatoes, I like them pureed in. Jeff prefers them to be just small pieces mixed in after everything else is combined. And if you don’t care for them, the pesto is great without them too. 

That’s it!

Sometimes I will make it at the beginning of the week and store it in the fridge to add to dishes like pasta, fish, grilled cheese or even eggs.  However, usually I use it right away. My personal favorite is with Salmon…just lay the filets on a foil covered baking dish and cover with the pesto, pop in the oven for 20 minutes at 350. So good!

Enjoy!

xo, Heather