Celebrating Stella

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On Friday evening Mike, Rylan and I will travel home to California to celebrate the life of Grandma Stella, my dad’s mother. She passed away on Saturday surrounded, most importantly, by her son and four daughters.

Her 92 years were rich. Not with great material wealth, but with family, friends and one forever soulmate. I cannot even begin to imagine the happiness and joy that surrounded them when they were finally reunited in a world beyond ours.

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Grandma, her beloved Joe and all five kids!

Grandma Stella had a smile that shined across a room and stories that could go on for hours. Her ability to exude pure joy was effortless, and came in the form of hugs, pride in everything her family did and food–so many of my memories are wrapped up in her in the kitchen prepping our favorite Italian fare and eventually, her overseeing operations in the kitchen when her son, daughters and grandkids took over the heavy lifting.

Saying goodbye is never easy. I am thankful every day that I have not endured the loss of a parent, so I know our dad and aunts are feeling something completely different–and each grandchild and great grandchild is as well.

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Dad perfecting the secrets of her sauce

I am grateful she did not suffer for weeks after her fall. I feel blessed that my memories of her ravioli are so fresh that I can almost taste the ricotta. I will cherish the way she held Rylan as a baby as she told me how wonderful it is to be a mother and how no one will ever love your children more than you do. I feel lucky that Mike was a part of my life when she was and that he’ll understand why I’ll want to hold onto as many of our Anzalone family traditions that she helped shape while we can. I am grateful to have been one of her grandchildren.

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Meeting Rylan

While a funeral is never a reason anyone wants to travel, I know we will celebrate and honor her memory fully this weekend. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren will come from near and far–a gathering that she would have bragged about for weeks and weeks to anyone who would listen. We’ll look at pictures from black and white memories of her childhood in Massachusetts to just a few months ago during the holidays. There will be many tears but, I’m hopeful, double the laughs, smiles and tight hugs that she was famous for giving.

And the best part? She and Grandpa Joe will be watching it all. Taking it all in, bragging to anyone who will listen about their incredible family–the smartest, most successful and beautiful family there ever was.

Grandma and Rylan

Recipe Link: Sesame Cucumber Noodles

I kind of think I should be selling spiralizers as a side job. I’ve honestly lost count of how many I’ve “sold” by sending Amazon links to friends, family and coworkers based on my personal obsession with this kitchen gadget. And once they have the spiralizer, I sing the praises daily of the Inspiralized blog and iPhone app. It’s a no-brainer companion.

We eat a lot of salads in this house. I love pre-made kale salads for workday lunches in a pinch. At night I typically default to spinach salads with tomatoes, cucumber and sometimes fresh berries. Standard balsamic dressing. Nothing fancy.

After weeks on end, this spinach salad combo gets really old. Which is why I am so excited about Inspiralized’s Sesame Cucumber Noodles–a fresh and ridiculously simple way to have cold, fresh veggies on a quarter or more of your dinner plate in mere seconds.

Credit: Inspiralized.com

Credit: Inspiralized.com

My post-workday hacks include always having minced ginger and garlic on hand from the grocery store and skipping the scallion garnish because there is rarely time to garnish things in our house these days. I also made double the dressing and spaced out using it for a few nights in a row.

If you have a spiralizer, make this ASAP. If you don’t have a spiralizer in your kitchen yet, get one. I can nearly taste how fresh our spring and summer veggie and raw dishes are about to be thanks to this method!

LINK: Easy Sesame Cucumber Noodles

The 5am Workout

Until about four weeks ago, I scoffed at the notion of a 5 a.m. workout. Who in their right mind wakes up in the four o’clock hour to lift weights or run? Crazies.

But it was also about four weeks ago that I decided to follow a few happy-lutions in 2015. What is a happy-lution? Instead falling for the standard New Year’s resolution mumbo jumbo I decided to think about what makes me happy. The things that keep me sane and my light heart. No surprise, working out is a big part of that.

As a full time working mom outside the home, it gets trickier and trickier every day to maintain a fitness routine. Some weeks Mike travels. Other weeks I have morning or evening commitments. Every so often I make a weeknight plan with friends. And mostly, I hate when the gym gets in the way of my quick but precious morning and evening rituals with Rylan.

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Enter the 5 a.m. workout. This time allows me to get out of the house and back with more than enough time to shower and be ready for Rylan’s morning routine. My energy level is high most of the day and I feel great about being present before and after Rylan’s day at daycare. Mike is not impacted by my schedule juggling and is asleep for most of my workout anyway! So far my 5 a.m. classes of choice rotate between Orange Theory Fitness and my regular gym, Qi Flow, which offers fusion-style classes of spin, yoga, barre and kettle bells depending on the day.

It isn’t for everyone, I get that. Before a 5 a.m. workout I aim to be in bed by 8:30 p.m., and the day of the workout I am typically a zombie by about the same time. Therefore, it eats into my evenings with Mike or ability to catch up on things like work, blogging, reading, and so on. I absolutely cannot commit to 5 a.m. classes every day, but one – two days a week feels feasible.

As busy parents we do what we have to do. I wish I could turn on a fitness DVD after Rylan goes down or get out for a quick run before my morning shower, but it doesn’t work. Unless I am signed up for a class that I have to be at in order not to lose money, I come up with every excuse in the book to “go tomorrow.”

I’m three weeks into my 2015 happy-lutions with three 5 a.m. classes under my belt. Soon to be four if I make it to a 5:30 a.m. cycle + kettle bell class on Friday. 5:30 a.m. sure sounds like a treat to me now.

Yes, I’ve joined the crazies. But I am happy and a bit more sane in my continuous quest for a semblance of balance.

Muffin Tin Magic

To be clear, this post is about muffin TINS. Not to be confused with muffin tops.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the bad pun.

I often wonder if I had a day or more at home during the work week if my stress about meals would lessen a bit. I am fairly diligent about maximizing my time (who am I kidding, I can’t sit still) and imagine being able to squeak out a crockpot or two most days, even if Rylan was hanging from my legs begging for attention. But alas, this is not our reality.

When it comes to meal prep I have to be a weekend warrior. Yet now that ski season takes us away from home most weekends, I am even more stressed about how to keep healthier meals stocked in our fridge and freezer for lunches and dinners. Tack on the fact that Rylan and Mike both love meat and I haven’t eaten chicken, beef or pork in 2+  years and things get really complicated. Therefore, I usually have to put Rylan first, myself second and poor Mike has to eat whatever I can scrounge up for him. Sorry babe!

So lets talk about muffin tins. Muffin tins are a frantic mom’s answer to making toddler-size meals that can be frozen individually, defrosted in the fridge all day and then heated up in seconds for a mostly homemade meal moments after racing through the door at 6:15 p.m. with a hungry toddler angrily screaming for “more more.”

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Muffin Tin Recipe Sanity Savers 

Breakfast – Baked Pancake Muffins 

Healthy Snack – “Sneaky” Veggie Muffins

Dinner – Mini Chicken Pot Pies and Muffin Tin Meatloaf (I add mixed frozen veggies to sneak in even more peas and carrots to Ry’s day)

Those are four SUPER basic ones to start with, and I have half a dozen more on my Pinterest board that I want to get to very soon. I mean, how will Rylan be able to resist French Toast Cups, Oatmeal Cupsor Mini Lasagnas?

Please share links to your favorite family meal prep recipes in the comments! I am always on the hunt for new ideas to broaden our plates.

How to Make a Toddler Smile

How to make a toddler smile. My last post focused mainly on the honest, daily challenges of getting the hang of this toddler thing. Whether you know me through the blog only or we’re close in real life, you know I don’t sugar coat things…especially when it comes to stories from the parenting trenches. I do not believe that it helps anyone to lie and say everything is perfect. It’s simply untrue and puts Pinterest-style pressure on the rest of us who are hanging by a proverbial thread many days.

Yet at the same time, being the mama to a vibrant and healthy toddler boy is awesome. I can’t compare it to having a girl but my little man is the coolest. I cannot get enough of how he’ll hold my finger when we walk places or his snuggles when I request, “put your head down on mama” when I am holding him. My heart bursts!

So beyond the tantrums, how do you make a toddler smile? What’s the secret? Even though this post is all about how I make MY toddler smile, I do hope one or two of our secrets work for you as well…

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Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries 

Straw sippy cups with pictures of pirates or space ships 

Copies of Things That Go, Little Blue Truck Leads the Way and The Little Dump Truck stashed everywhere 

Truck books in the backseat for reading while driving (my mom found some awesome mini ones with wheels in the Target dollar bin!) 

Backseat sing alongs 

Kitchen and living room dance parties 

Hiding in the closet to scare mom and dad 

Trying on dad’s work and tennis shoes every night 

Feeding the dog 

Hugging the dog before leaving for daycare 

Holding a battery-less remote control 

Playing with the monitor while mommy lays in bed for a few extra minutes 

Vacuums

Kitchen drawers, especially if they are filled with tupperware, blenders or turkey basters

Facetime with grandma and grandpa

Sledding and snowballs

Chopsticks at a sushi dinner 

“Dip dipping” grilled cheese into tomato soup 

Slides

Cousins  

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Here’s to toddler smiles and belly laughs…and a billion dollars to whoever can figure out a way to bottle up the magical sounds of those unstoppable giggles for the rest of time.

All Aboard the Toddler Express

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It’s heeeeeeere! The era of dramatically emotional “no’s” and emphatic “all done” screams minutes after a meal has been served are here.

Toddlerhood.

Somewhere between Rylan turning one in July, back-to-back travel for Mike and I throughout the fall and the holidays, my easy going baby developed some opinions…about everything.

To be fair, Rylan is still one of the happiest and flexible little guys around. I know I expect a LOT and am tough on him for sure. I’m told, by my mother, that I get my toughness from how she raised me starting at a very early age. His teachers rarely comment on negative behaviors and instead sing praises of his silliness and sweet nature. Every teacher we have offers time and time again to babysit. Perhaps they offer that to everyone but I’m convinced it means he’s a pretty good boy for them. Furthermore, about 99.9% of all reports from family who watch him say the same, with his not-so-shiny moments being pretty predictable (i.e., getting in the carseat, being told ‘no’ or not being able to do something with his older cousins).

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So does he save his outbursts primarily for mom and dad? Why is the breakfast we prepare for him so offensive yet morning snack at daycare so delicious? Why did I get hit this weekend when he didn’t get the answer he wanted from me? Why is everything answered with a no, even when he clearly wants to have or do what I am asking about? Why is the end of bath time like getting a shot at the doctor? WHY??!!

Some days Rylan, a little ball of always-changing emotion with legs, is endlessly amusing in his desire to communicate his frustration with us. But other times, especially with his new hitting for attention move, I have to seriously step aside and take a few breathes so that my reaction is purposeful…not just an outburst. It’s emotionally draining and I catch myself asking the question, am I doing anything right?

When Rylan was first born I was constantly texting a few close friends and coworkers for advice, desperate for a sanity check. These days I am doing a lot of the same. “How are you dealing with hitting” and “do you take away toys when they throw them” and “if they refuse to eat what you’ve cooked, do you just take the plate away” fill my cell phone text log.

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I’ve been around enough toddlers to know that our journey through toddlerhood is truly just beginning. We haven’t even left the crazy town station yet. But now that we’ve boarded the train Mike and I have some non negotiable rules we agree on and will try very hard to stick to consistently:

  • We’re not short order cooks. I’ll never prepare food I know Rylan despises but we’re trying extremely hard to raise a well-rounded eater.
  • We like to go out to eat, in public. Restaurant behavior is critically important.
  • No hitting. No exceptions.
  • Sleep makes the world go around and me, as a mom, an infinitely better human being. We are nearly 18 months into a strict schedule that began with BabyWise and we’re not deviating from it anytime soon.
  • Manners are important – we say please and thank you all the time.
  • We hug, cuddle, kiss and say “I love you” about a billion times per day, no matter how rushed, busy or tough. Also, we are never too busy for a family dance party in the kitchen.

So, all aboard the toddler express I guess! Where is the bar car on this ride?

Blogging Struggles

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I’ve been quiet here on Lex & Learn. Really quiet.

Sure, the holidays give all of us hobby bloggers (that is how I categorize myself) a bit of a reprieve because everyone is running around like chickens with no heads. However, even before that my cadence had dropped significantly. The first huge drop, of course, was when Rylan was born. Then it plummeted again when I went back to work after a 12-week maternity leave. Once Rylan turned one and our monthly pictures and milestone posts stopped I barely squeaked out a post per month.

There are a lot of reasons for this. I am busy from the moment my alarm goes off at 5:45 a.m. until Rylan is zipped into his sleep save at 7:30 p.m.. After that I am borderline brain dead once Rylan is down, dishes are done, nightly laundry is started and work emails are triaged one more time. All I want is to turn off my laptop, turn on Apple TV and veg.

Beyond those totally standard and mundane mommy woes, I blog when I am inspired. I haven’t kept this site up with the hopes of attracting advertisers or free samples. I have kept it up because I am a communicator by nature and I love to share what makes me tick. From recipes and fashion to everything Rylan, I have never lost that giddy, “I hope people like it” feeling before I hit publish on a post.

Yet lately nothing that I start to type has seemed overly interesting…

Rylan is thriving but at the same time we’re somewhat baffled by his new favorite word being “no” and the phase of hitting to get attention. I’ve ordered two books that come highly recommended but they are still sitting unopened. Freezer meals are saving our post-workday lives and you should absolutely make this Slow Cooker Red Lentil curry right now…but is writing a blog post about the curry worth delaying my 30 minutes of Apple TV with Mike before I inevitably fall asleep on the couch? I’m not sure.

All of this said, I do not want to turn off Lex & Learn. I want to keep sharing what is working for our family and also reach out for support when I’m hitting my head against a wall. I vow to keep my computer open for just a few minutes longer a couple nights a week to reconnect with why Lex & Learn has given me a sense of pride for so long. I want to hear from you about why you read my personal blog and what else, if anything, you like to come here to see. Please, your input means a lot!

Thanks for bearing with me as I figure out the next phase of my hobby blogging!

Not Your Perfect Christmas Mom

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I love Christmas. The lights. The music. The times when people take an extra moment to smile or hold a door for you. Putting up the tree and turning on the twinkling house lights after a long day at work. I love it all. And when you have a child who stares at lights and decorations with pure wonder, it’s hard not to get even more swept up in the magic. I feel like I am getting another shot at my childhood as Rylan begins to grasp each holiday with more excitement and curiosity.

Yes, the holidays are also stressful. There is never enough time to accomplish all the things that the crafty Pinterest moms seem to finish. Do not even get me started on Martha Stewart Magazine’s holiday issue. The day I buy twine and create my own Christmas tags from fresh cinnamon sticks is the day you can…well…that will simply never happen. Even more, finding the perfect gift has always been a source of anxiety each year. I obsess over getting it right for each person on my list.

But not this year.

There will be no “12 days of Christmas cookies” from a gourmet food magazine baking in our oven. I will not simmer homemade hot apple cider and as of Dec. 15, not a single Christmas movie has been watched. Rylan, age 16 months, may or may not make it to Santa’s lap this year. In the past few weeks I’ve barely clung to a gym schedule and it isn’t looking any better this week as we juggle late-afternoon meetings, early-morning daycare conferences and outings with friends who we do not see much of anymore. I went from a strict cleanse to York Peppermint Patties and Malbec. A dear friend is bringing a present for me to use in a girls-night-out gift exchange because she knew I’d never make it to the store. Speaking of stores, if a gift wasn’t on Amazon Prime or found during my two hours of shopping two weekends ago, it won’t be under the tree. Rylan made no holiday crafts for his grandparents nor did I get to that personalized 2015 Shutterfly family calendar I swore we’d give as gifts this year.

We simply do not have the time or energy to let the holidays turn into a holi-daze. I refuse to “give in” to the pressure of creating the perfect Hallmark-worthy holiday. Lord knows as parents we are under enough pressure every single day of the year.

Instead, I am determined to start conversations about the many things we’re so lucky to have this season. Health being number one. If I could ask Santa for a healthy family and child every year I would do so without hesitation. Love being just as important as health, or some may argue even more so. I love my family and friends fiercely and this year has shown me first-hand that love isn’t a given. It must be nurtured and worked on every day.

It feels extremely liberating to admit a bit of failure, by Good Housekeeping standards, at the holidays. Will you join me?

Overdue Cleanse Recap and Life Lately

photo[1]I went from mindfully cleansing to the whirlwind of holiday travel and family time, and then just like that, it is December.

The Conscious Cleanse was certainly a bright spot, albeit difficult, in my fall. By the end of the 14 days I had stuck with it completely, aside from the optional transition weekends since weight loss was not my goal. Mike was a huge supporter by giving me time and space on the weekends to grocery shop and prep a significant amount of food. Certain recipes flopped (mushroom gravy) while others are now a forever staple in our kitchen (curried carrot soup). I didn’t get to the bottom of all my questions about food sensitivities but did confirm that I certainly feel much better without dairy, gluten and highly-processed foods. I have reintroduced just about everything given the holiday season but in significant moderation, especially coffee, sweet treats and generally unhealthy processed snacks.

If you need a reset, I urge you to consider the Conscious Cleanse. I won’t lie, it can feel like a lot of work so you need to be mentally prepared to shop and cook 99% of the time for the two weeks. But through this process you learn so much about yourself and the two weeks fly by quickly. You learn what triggers you to eat when you aren’t necessarily hungry, like boredom and stress. You learn that it doesn’t take up your entire weekend to prepare a few meals or pre-portion out salads and green smoothie packs for the week. You learn that a small piece of dried fruit or cup of herbal tea with honey can replace ice cream or a cookie for a sweet treat before bed. You learn that it’s worth the mental shift in how you approach food to feel lighter, more energized, less bloated and truly refreshed.

Cleanse aside, life is crazy but also fantastic. Mike and I are busy with work and I am trying to wrap my head around taking off from Denver most weekends in December and January to go skiing in Breckenridge. When will I cook, clean and do laundry at our house??!! First world problems, I know.

Rylan continues to thrive but also throw us for more loops, courtesy of general toddler craziness. Recent 16 month head-scratchers include:

  • Increased neediness being super clingy overall…especially in the morning and at night. However, his teachers have told us several times in the past month that he has been “very emotional” throughout the day, with little things sending him into a tizzy of tears
  • Crying whenever we set him down if he is not in the mood to play
  • Fake crying when we tell him to stop doing something or “no”
  • Exploring the reaction “no” gets when he says it to us or shakes his head when he doesn’t want to cooperate
  • Early wake time OR crying very hard at bedtime – these are sporadic but can quickly throw the day off track
  • Refusing to eat favorite foods, like yogurt, and a complete refusal to eat leftovers unless we space them out by at least one day in between
  • One month+ of a rash around his mouth that we’ve showed the doctor twice but can’t get to go away on our own

Mike and I spend more and more time looking at each other in disbelief. Thankfully we also chuckle, a lot, but there have been so many days when we’re simply stumped on how to handle these changes. We are on the same page on how we approach certain situations, such as meal time. Neither of us want to be short order cooks and the foods on Rylan’s plate are what stays. That said, I know much bigger battles are around the corner and I am nervous about having to make consistent discipline decisions sooner rather than later. Many friends have recommended reading Parenting With Love & Logic and I hope to find time to order and read it over the holidays.

Toddler tantrums aside, Rylan makes my heart explode with pride and love daily. He gives the sweetest hugs by leaning in his whole body without using his arms. He is so proud of himself when he learns a new word and spent most of Thanksgiving week yelling HHHAAAAMMMM for ham. He loves music and dances on demand. The way he says mama and dada is full of love and admiration. I want to bottle up his little voice forever.

I hope you have all been well and have happy holiday plans ahead!

Conscious Cleanse Check In

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I am writing this as I round out day seven of my Conscious Cleanse experience. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t exhausted. But not from lack of food. Far from it in fact. I am worn out from the immense prep it takes on the weekend since weekdays do not allow much time for anything other than survival. This weekend I shopped on Saturday, prepared a slow cooker meal for Mike and Rylan and roasted beets. I should have done more on Saturday…

Sunday morning brought a rush of prep requiring the Vitamix since our kitchen is so close to Rylan’s room and blending during nap would lead to complete chaos. Homemade almond milk, zucchini hummus, beet hummus, dressing for the roasted beets and sunflower seed dressing for the week. I also snuck in my green smoothie for breakfast. It combined frozen pitted cherries, kale, spinach, banana and pear. Amazing.

Once Rylan was down for nap I quietly carried on with my prep — rainbow chard and white bean soup, salads through Wednesday, wild rice salad, cauliflower mashers (not my favorite), green smoothie packs for the week and pre-portioned veggie snack bags for easy snacking with hummus. Mike also lent a hand by making a batch of meatloaf in muffin tins for Rylan. There are a lot of great recipes on the Conscious Cleanse website if anything sounds appealing! You certainly don’t need to be cleansing to enjoy these.

Prep aside, this is an incredible program. My body is resetting more and more each day and I have never felt more hydrated. I am learning new habits, like grabbing a handful of veggies instead of always reaching for crackers or other carbs. I’ve learned that life is possible without coffee. Forgoing wine for more than a week at this point means I am sleeping sounder than ever.

I know I won’t stay free of coffee, cheese, wheat, wine and sweet treats forever. Life is too short and a hot cup of coffee hits the spot before a long day. Wine will flow through the holidays and I look forward to sharing in a few glasses with family and friends. And if the cleanse ended today, I think I’d opt for a big piece of garlic bread.

But I’ve learned that life doesn’t end when you cut out dairy, wheat, alcohol and processed foods. Reconnecting with salads, veggies and grains is more than possible with pre-planning. At this point of the cleanse I am learning so much still.

Here’s to the home stretch!

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