30 December 2014

Insanely Rich & Delicious Hot Cocoa

A couple of days before Christmas, The Man brought me a recipe he'd found for slow cooker hot chocolate. Based on the ingredients it sounded like there was no way it would not be delicious...heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, whole milk...I mean seriously had to be good, right?

Then the two days before Christmas were so warm there was no one anyone felt like hot cocoa. Christmas Eve it was so warm in the house while we were cooking that we had the air conditioner on, all the windows open and fans going. So despite the fact I'd purchased all the ingredients, it didn't look like we'd be wanting any hot chocolate.

Thankfully, at about two Christmas morning, a strong cold front blew in. That cooled things off quite quickly and by eight the next morning we were ready for cocoa while we opened gifts. It was beyond delicious and I think it even gave our coffee loving uncle a bit of relief from staying in a coffee-less house for the holidays. (Never fear, he found the bagel shop around the corner.)

There's lots of winter left to go in the northern hemisphere, so I wanted to share it with you. There's no going back to powdered cocoa mix after this. This recipe came in a flyer from Ralph's grocery stores.

I did not make this in a slow cooker. I just cooked it up in a few minutes in a stock pot on the stove. I'll give you all my tips and tricks in that regard at the end of the recipe.

Slow Cooker Hot Chocolate

Prep: 5 min
Cook: 2 hours
Serves: 12 - 1 cup servings

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
6 cups milk (we used whole milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (1 full bag Ghiradelli chips)

In slow cooker, stir together heavy cream, milk, vanilla and chocolate chips. Cover and cook on low heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until mixture is hot and chocolate chips are melted.

Stir again before serving. Top with your favorite fixings and enjoy. Refrigerate any leftovers.

I just dumped everything in a stock pot on the stove, kept the heat very low and stirred occasionally. It was ready in just a few minutes. I used a wire whisk to whip it up a bit before serving. The chocolate needs a little encouragement to fully combine with all the dairy ingredients and giving it a whip was just the trick. The chocolate also tends to separate a bit if it's just sitting a while so I kept my whisk close and continued to stir it occasionally.

Everyone at my house went gaga for this cocoa. We ended up postponing our brunch because the cocoa was so delicious, rich and filling. And the second cup was as good as the first. We went simple and just topped it with a whipped cream which was perfect. This would be a wonderful treat for guests over the holidays or on any cold night. I know I am going to get requests for this again. Enjoy!

29 December 2014

Now Is My Time #57: Saying Goodbye To 2014

It's the official end of Now Is My Time 2014. Hard to imagine it's been an entire year already. That went by fast. If I am really going to honor the goals and progress I've made this year, it's critical that I take some time this week to look back and to evaluate how it all went.

Sharing this all with you here on the blog has really helped me to stay focused. I knew that each Monday I needed to evaluate where I was, where I needed to grow and make plans to accomplish those things.

I've had some great support along the way and I have been most grateful for that. The greatest lesson of this year has been that better self care means better life in every way - and it does not have to take time or attention away from other big priorities. When you take good care of yourself you are able to do things more efficiently and be happier and more energetic throughout the day.

I don't think Now Is My Time truly ever ends because it is my lifelong responsibility to keep myself healthy and strong of body, spirit and mind throughout my life. But I will always remember this year and it will inspire me going forward as I continue to grow and learn.

Being the best I can be is the foundation for my new theme for 2015 which I can't wait to introduce to you next Monday. In the past ten days some pretty amazing new opportunities have shaken things up around here and we are looking forward to some big, new adventures in the next few weeks and the coming year. I will look forward to telling you about those in the new year as well.

Hope you've had a wonderful holiday season and that the year to come will be a great one for you and yours!

22 December 2014

Now Is My Time #56: Final Christmas Preparations

Hi Friends. Hope this finds you well. I have been away for a week, which was not expected. There have been a few other unexpected things jammed into the past ten days along with a few big things that were already on the schedule. Today is my regrouping day. I have a lot of Christmas preparations that have been put on the back burner the past two weeks. So it's time to scramble and make sure all is happy and bright with our family Christmas celebrations this year -- and it's time to focus on how I spend my time with my family.

Even though I was sick, I had a great weekend with The Man, just the two of us here at home. It was quiet, easy and restful. I am enjoying a slow morning in a hoody and sweatpants, home alone for the day and night. This is indeed a very rare occurrence. The weather here is absolutely gorgeous today, full sunshine with windows and screen doors wide open.

Our first holiday family guest arrived at the airport about an hour ago. The Man is hosting a couple of days away so they won't appear here until Wednesday. That gives me today and tomorrow to get the house ready for guests and do at least a little baking.

It does feel like one must do a little baking over the holidays. My mom and grandmother both always had a table full of goodies to give to neighbors and friends and to snack on during the week of Christmas. I need to carry on that tradition in at least a small way.

When I think of doing things that enrich my life and make me happy, taking time to establish and carry on family holiday traditions that I enjoy is important. This is also fulfilling my Now Is My Time goals to be conscientious about how I spend my time and to do things that make me happy, relaxed and grateful for my life.

The Man was feeling very motivated this weekend and spent the entire weekend doing organization and deep cleaning projects around the house. He was unstoppable. While I would've like to see him rest a little more, I am so grateful for all the work he did. He has to be tired today. Thankfully Christmas week is generally not too demanding in the workplace. So that leaves me bathrooms and general light cleaning and straightening to do in the next couple of days.

Next week my family will be here and I believe there will be some Disneyland days sprinkled in there somewhere. So I will take some time off from here, perhaps with a visit or two sprinkled in. I send you wishes for a very happy holiday season wherever you may be.

15 December 2014

Now Is My Time #55: Let Go & Let God

In the fall of last year, I determined that 2014 would be the year of "Now Is My Time" after several years of being quite overdrawn in family commitments, deployment and health issues. It was time to make my number one priority my own health and well-being.

It has been quite a journey, filled to highs and lows, new realizations and old habits and mindsets to escape from and destroy. This is nothing new, it is life, but taking a more focused approach to living my best life has been a fantastic experience.

As I was thinking about how I wanted to wrap up this year, I began thinking about all the things that had changed for the better this year. Then I wondered what I do with the things that I can't force to change. There are things in life we have little control over, such as the actions of others, events that are forced upon us and things that just aren't bound to change just because we want them too.

We can let these things keep eating at us or we can find a way to distance ourselves from the stress, anxiety, frustration and sadness these things can bring at us. Once we have done whatever good we can do, we have to find a way to stop our suffering and live in peace with the things we cannot change.

I have always thought of these things as rocks we pick up by our own choice or experiences that come to us and they get put in our "life backpacks" and we carry them around with us every day. They weigh us down, tire our backs, discourage us and often we just keep carrying and carrying them with no relief.

So I decided that at the end of this year I needed to come up with a way to let go of things I could not changed that continue to create pain and suffering in my life. I am ready to yank these rocks out of my life backpack and leave them on the side of the road for God to take care of.

These were things I could not just "goal set" away. As I take a look back, and account for what I tried to accomplish, what successes I had and what I've learned that I can carry forward with me, there is still a list of things I can't change.

The idea of Let Go and Let God came to me and I decided to create a small jar with a picture of Jesus on it...and perhaps even decorate it a bit with some gold "miraculous" glitter for good measure. Then in this jar on small strips of paper I will write each one of the rocks in my life backpack that I want to remove and then symbolically remove them and place it in the jar.

No more will it burden me, and I will have to have the faith to let God take that for me and heal me from the tiredness and frustration of carrying that rock around and suffering under weight I no longer need to suffer from.

I've been keeping a few notes and am looking forward to taking some time for myself during the holidays (yes, it's still my time and I still need to make time for me, haha) to end the year by giving to God what I don't need to carry anymore. I think this will give me a nice clean slate to work from going into the new year. I'm excited to start a new year and raise the banner on my new mantra for 2015.

Do you have a few rocks you'd like to remove from your life backpack as this year comes to a close? What would that look like for you? How would that change how you feel about your life?

12 December 2014

Perfectly Baked Infant & Toddler Apparel

Hi Friends, it's been a super busy week with some very unexpected surprises. December is usually a month where things slow down, but no, not here. I have been looking forward to a chance to tell you all about my friend Adeline's new project with her business partner Mikki, Perfectly Baked Apparel for infants and toddlers.

I thought I'd let them tell their story. Here it is.

Mikki Hanna and Adeline Bretoneche started their journey back in 2003 when they met at Miami International University of Art and Design, while studying fashion merchandising. They immediately connected and their talents complimented each other on their favorite projects, which included styling for photo shoots and producing fashion shows.

After graduating, both embarked on their own fashion/retail careers. Unbeknownst to each other, they had both moved to Los Angeles for their careers and began raising their families. It wasn’t until years later they reunited again and the idea of working together came naturally. Mikki and Adeline have over 30 years of retail experience combined and they realized it was time to branch out on their own while juggling motherhood.

And so the idea of Perfectly Baked was born. The name of their clothing business was inspired by an afternoon chat where they both agreed all “buns in the oven” were baked to perfection, hence the name. They quickly began to build an empire in their minds and worked hard to see it come to life.

Their inspirations for colors, materials, and designs are bright and fun due to their multicultural backgrounds, Mikki being Jamaican-Middle Eastern and raised in Miami while Adeline being Swedish-Peruvian and raised in Spain. With their own kids in mind, they aimed for patterns that would make kids smile as well as feel comfortable while doing what they do best: being kids. 

You can see Adeline and Mikki's entire line at their Perfectly Baked Apparel shop. It so fun to look at their catalog and see the sweet faces of quite a few little friends modeling. Here are a few more favorites from their line.

There are all sorts of fun robots, warm colors and the quality of the cotton is of the highest order. This is a line that is designed by moms to last rugged wear and tear and lots of washings, so they are a great investment too.

Love this little cutie. Seriously can't get enough of him. I love the care for quality in each design, you can almost feel it in the photos. The little details in contrasting seams and snaps are so clearly well thought out.

Please do check out their line for your little kiddos and for gifts for all your mom-to-be friends and all the babies and toddlers you know. I think you'll be very pleased. I have seen the heart and soul that has gone into this line and I am so excited to introduce it and Adeline and Mikki to you. Have some fun shopping.

I'm looking forward to what comes in 2015 from these talented gals. You can connect with Perfectly Baked Apparel on all the social media networks. Here are easy links for you.


09 December 2014

The Gift Of Writing Your Personal History

A few weeks ago I was inspired to pull out my paternal grandmother's life history and began to read it with great interest. I have read it several times before but this time I can relate to it in a whole new way. I understand more clearly the reality of adulthood and can relate so much more to her life, work, joys and challenges.

I am so grateful that she wrote down her life story for us. I miss her a lot. She was one of the great examples and counselors of my life. How many times over the past 19 years have I wished I could have another talk with her. I have so many questions I would ask her at this age that I think she would have great wisdom in answering. When I think of the much deeper levels of conversation I could have with her now, I wish I'd been a bit of a deeper thinker when she was alive.

I appreciate so much more who she was, her talents, her courage, her fortitude and grit. She was a farmer's daughter and a farmer's wife. That had to be a challenging and busy life along with working outside the home often and caring for family and friends and serving in our church.

I am so happy to be able to go back and remember who she was and use her as a measuring stick to how I am doing. Could I be more grateful for all my blessings? Do I complain too much? Am I serving others enough? Am I taking care of myself as I should? Am I doing creative things that I enjoy. I see answers to all these questions in her example.

It was my grandmother that gave me my first journal at age eight and I have been a pretty faithful journal keeper since that age. I have many volumes of filled journals, particularly from the past ten to fifteen years. I have been thinking frequently over the past year that it is time for me to start working on writing my life story.

As I remember stories that I share with my husband or daughter that are meaningful to me, I am reminded that these things that come to mind should be written down in my history. For example earlier this week I was telling The Bug about when I played Red Riding Hood in a kindergarten play.

She asked who played the Big Bad Wolf. I have no idea, but I do know that the beautiful red wool hooded cape my mother so kindly sewed me is still at her house somewhere. I need to get that and preserve it. I need to write those things down. I wish I remembered who played the Big Bad Wolf.

I am getting excited to start that project. Maybe it will be part of my new year goals. I am also going back reading the history of my paternal grandfather's family since coming to America in the 1600s. Although I've read much of it, I had forgotten many details and some just weren't as meaningful to me in the past as they are now such as my ancestors who fought in the revolutionary war and left their extended families and migrated west.

It's amazing to see traits I have and that are important to me reflected in our family generations ago. It gives me a sense of connection and really tells me that there are virtues my family has long embraced that are just as important to me today as they were to my great-grandfather who was an Old West sheriff and my long-ago ancestor who fought with George Washington in the Revolutionary War.

As you think about gifts you can pass on to your family and generations to follow, consider writing your personal history. It is a priceless gift that no one can give but you. I could not be more grateful to have the treasure of my grandmother's personal history which she gave me as a young girl.

05 December 2014

Update: A Look At My 25 Days of Christ Ornaments

I mentioned on Facebook a couple of weeks ago that I was working on making the ornaments for my 25 Days Of Christ kit. I wrote that I had decided to go with something I wasn't sure about, using weathered wood stain on all the ornaments instead of painting them.

Here's is a long shot of my little tree. We have it on the bar counter between our kitchen and dining space. It's quite a perfect place for it because we walk by it many times each day on our way in and out of the kitchen. It's twinkling beckons us to  stop and look, a regular reminder throughout the day of the real meaning of Christmas.

My wonderful friend Katie came up with the fantastic idea for 25 Days Of Christ and then sourced all the supplies and resources needed. I have been so excited to be able to enjoy with my family now, all the work she has put into creating such an inspired kit. Being a creative sort myself, I marvel at her creativity and the amount of work it must take to create each individual kit.

I really had some reservations about my decision just after I'd stained everything. Looking at all the little pieces looking boring blue-ish gray, just sitting there in a lifeless pile, I wasn't very encouraged and in fact thought perhaps that I had made a rather fatal craft project mistake.

So I packed them all up in the box they came in and put them aside for a few days, unsure of what to do. Eventually I decided to open the box up and just see if I could make them work. Several of them needed additional work, gluing small pieces together, drawing faces on heads, etc.

In the end I was pretty happy with how they all turned out and I felt that they in fact had the look and feel I had hoped for when I got the idea to keep them simple and neutral. This look might not be for everyone but I knew it was a look that would fit in with my holiday design aesthetic.

With lots of color on our regular tree and many decorations this year everywhere in the house, I liked that this tree looks a bit more simple and understated.

I promised I would share photos after I got a few requests on FB for a peek at how they turned out. Hope you enjoy these. It has been really lovely to gather each evening to open an ornament and talk for a few minutes about the real meaning of Christmas. Our kiddo is the first to remind us that "we need to do 25 Days" every evening.

I realized on Day Two that my challenge is going to be making sure I get the right ornament in the bag each day. When we opened Day Two: Shepherds, I realized that I had put Wise Men in the bag and not the Shepherd. Oops....

You can still get your own 25 Days of Christ and enjoy it throughout December right here. They are a great gift for family and friends too. Buy one now and save it for next year if you don't have time to whip your ornaments up this month.

Hope your holiday season is enjoyable so far. Did you notice it's a short season this year because Thanksgiving was so late in November? As fast as the days are passing I fear it will all be over far too soon. But we have visits from both sides of our family to look forward over this holiday so that is lots to look forward to.

It is probably also a once in a lifetime occurrence so I want to enjoy it to the max and have lots of time and energy to love them up, make them feel very at home and show them a very good SoCal time. Hopefully that will encourage them all to come back more often.

Tonight we are headed to our first scheduled holiday concert, the annual bell choir concert and community gathering. Should be a lot of fun. Looking forward to it. Sending you happy and warm holiday wishes.

04 December 2014

Rainy Winter Forecast For Fashionable Rainboots

The rain continues in Los Angeles and since late summer I've been begging the weather gods for a real winter because my brain is fried from the heat of the 2014 heatwave that seemed never ending, I'm drinking in every bit of the "wintery" weather we're having. I also bit the bullet and finally bought myself a pair of real rainboots.
image via Zappos

After doing a good bit of research Tuesday, I woke up yesterday morning wanting to look once more at the black version of these boots just in case I wanted to change my mind and go with those instead.  These are the Gabriella Rocha Mariene Rain Boots available at Zappos. I love the adjustable calf buckle, contrasting red zipper, the olive color and harness detailing.

To my horror (slight, but only slight exaggeration) I could not find the black version online anymore. Sold out?! Oh no. So I ran to get my Visa card and quickly purchased these in fear that they too would no longer be available in my hard-to-find size.

Purchase has been made and they should arrive, shipped for free in the next 24 hours. After several days of wet shoes, I am looking forward to trying these out. According to the long-range weather reports I will have lots of opportunities to wear these. 

The decision making process was really complicated by the frustrating act of reading online reviews. It seemed that for every pair on the internet, at least one person's boots had leaked, fallen apart or something like a buckle had broken not long after purchase. Not encouraging when you're making a purchase to wear in the rain.

Most of the positive reviews were more about how the boots fit or whether or not the buyer liked the color. So it was really hard to get a feel for the quality and waterproof reliability of each pair. Even the well known name brands had complaints about leaking and falling apart.

So in the end it was a bit of a risky proposition but I decided to just go with these because I really like the look and a designer will get me every time with a contrasting zipper. Olive and green, is definitely a favorite color combination plus they were available in my hard-to-find size. So I jumped at them after what seems like years of contemplating this decision. Last year I had absolutely no need for rain boots - or even closed toed shoes for that matter. But this winter I think I will get my fair share of wear. Let's just hope they work.

Since I purchased them at Zappos, I can easily return them if they don't work. But I really hope they will. Much to my surprised, when I went to check out at Zappos the most recent shipping address was the house I lived in in 2006-2007. Bizarre. I cannot fathom that I have not ordered anything from Zappos in nearly a decade.

image via Amazon

I also searched out a pair for The Bug. Again had a very frustrating time with the reviews and finding the right pair was compounded by a suddenly very picky little kiddo. She decided to go with all black which just feels completely boring to me for a rain boot -- a place where you have all sorts of options to really show off your personality and do something colorful and quirky. But these will go with everything, so there's that...and reviews were good and the price was right, just $29. These are the Kamik Raindrop Rain Boots available at Amazon.

Now we are ready for our silly little version of winter. I'll take it! Despite how very much we love and appreciate our generally fantastic weather we are loving the chance to experience a good SoCal winter with what we hope is lots of drought-busting rain. (Not too much at one time, please, dear weather gods. We do not want one of those nasty SoCal winters filled with flooding and mudslides. Yikes.)

So how do you feel about reading online reviews? Are they as frustrating to you as they are to me? While I do appreciate helpful reviews, the negative reviews generally just discourage me from ever purchasing anything. I never quite feel good about a purchase after reading negative reviews.

The reviews that drive me most crazy are the ones that say, "I've haven't actually used/worn these yet..." So why would a person write a review when they haven't done anything they can yet review. I just don't get that. Sometimes all the benefits of the internet, like online product reviews, just start to become a negative instead of a help.

Anyway, looking forward to putting these rain boots to use. Keep warm and dry folks!

03 December 2014

Family Holiday Gift Ideas

Well we are fully into the holiday season, aren't we. Hooray for that. It's amazing how much cheerier everything seems with a few decorations and a little more neighborly holiday spirit around. Today I thought I'd share some gift ideas for the family.

I think the best gifts my little family can get are gifts that involve activities we can all do together. So in that spirit, here are some family gift ideas that may or may not be on our list this year. (Have to keep a little suspense until Dec. 25!)

(image via WestMarine)

Bodyboards : The kiddo is a total fish at the beach. She is fearless and this is a great way to get her out in the water with us. Now if I could just keep up with her. With boards in sizes for the entire family this is a great investment towards family time if you live near the ocean. I think as a mom it's easy to get stuck at the one on the shore with the little kids or taking care of all the belongings. I'm trying to break out of that and be right there with them in the water.

image via Xootr

Scooters: Another fun and active activity the whole family can participate in. They make some really cool scooters for grown ups these days. Here's a post I wrote on a favorite, Xootr.

image via REI

Bikes: Leave no family member behind, there is a bike seat, trailer or cycle for every member of the family. If you want some inspiration on biking as a family read about this mom of six who gave up her car to cycle Portland with her kids in tow. I imagine she has amazing calves! On a one-speed cruiser bike I have pedaled with (and completely for) our kiddo all over our busy urban city. It's doable, saves gas, and again builds muscle.

image via REI

Kayaks: This is getting into the more expensive, lifetime investment category but kids of any age would love to float on lakes and gentle rivers and oceans with their parents. So much to see and what kid doesn't love water. Backpacks, tents and hydration packs would also make great gifts for the family that encourage family time together outside.

 It has been pouring rain here in Los Angeles. I always say it either comes as mist or buckets full and it's been both in the past couple of days. But how festive it was to go out and see everyone bundled in rain gear and umbrellas. It made singing Christmas carols in the car feel a little more authentic than when it's sunny and 80 degrees.

I'm finally buying myself a pair of real rainboots this week. I've talked about it too much and not done it. After reading the winter weather report for Los Angeles it looks like it's going to be a rainy one and I don't want to ruin any more shoes. More details to come. They deserve a post of their own...I'm not buying any of the pairs I've talked about here before, but I'm hoping this pair I did find will do the trick.

Of course it's still warm enough to have all the windows open but hey, we'll take any variation in the weather we can get after the scorcher of a year we've had here...and heavens knows we need to moisture.

One of the reasons we do love it here is because we have year-round opportunities to be outside in gorgeous weather. I'm excited that we've put a really fun family gift on our Santa's list this year. Can't wait to see what appears in our stockings on Christmas morning.

01 December 2014

Now Is My Time #44: Cultivating Grit

Good morning friends. I hope those of you who celebrated Thanksgiving last week had a wonderful celebration with family and friends. We had a lovely weekend with some much needed downtime and even a couple of good naps. We hadn't planned on it, but we made a good dent on our holiday shopping too - of course nothing we bought was on sale...sigh.

Today I want to talk about Grit - unyielding courage. I absolutely love that word. It reminds me of my grandparents. They had it, they lived it, they were the perfect example of it. I imagine based on the lives their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents lived it was a requirement for survival in those days.

Although it's not talked about much and doesn't exist quite in the John Wayne sense of the Old West it is often connected with, grit is just as much a survival need today as it has ever been. Our challenges are just different.

I decided to do a study about grit this weekend, what it really means, how it helps us survive and how to cultivate it. In my study I first found several definitions and many fantastically descriptive synonyms for grit. Some of my favorites are pluck, mettle, hardiness and fortitude.

Something I found very interesting is a lack of grit is a big concern for educators right now. There is a big push to break students out of a Fixed Mindset into a Growth Mindset. In a nutshell, a Fixed Mindset is a "I can't do it, this is too hard" attitude and a Growth Mindset is a "If I use my skills and some perseverance, I can learn how to do this" attitude. I like this article by Andrew Miller about finding joy in grit in the classroom.

I have been thinking that grit might make a great family theme for 2015. While we are pretty good at fortitude overall, I think we might be missing some of the celebration and joy associated with grit. Maybe we are not appreciating the meaning, value and benefits of grit.

I feel like we should recognize the need and use of it more and celebrate the existence of it in our lives. I think there is a little bit of a "kick butt" attitude to grit and we're lacking that confident enthusiasm for our ability to kick whatever stands in our way. Our grit needs a little more sass to it. Sass, there's another great "old school" word I love.

I found four articles from Forbes about Grit from just the past couple of years. Each talks about how important grit is to success in life and business. Here are links if you are interested.

Got Grit? The Secret Sauce For Success
True Grit: What It Takes To Succeed As An Entrepreneur
625,000 Reasons To See Grit As Key To Success
Five Characteristics Of Grit: How Many Do You Have?

Now is my time to really value the grit I was blessed with and more importantly appreciate it's application in my life. Grit to me means "kicking butt with a smile." I've done a lot of grit over the past few years but I want to incorporate back into it, more powerfully, that confident "I can do this" smile. I think sometimes I have had more of a "I hate this, just put your head down and get through it" attitude.

As I look at wrapping up my year of Now Is My Time: 2014, the idea of putting more swagger back in my step seems like a perfect way to encapsulate what I've learned about life and about myself. And it plays perfectly into my plans for 2015. I can't wait to share with you my theme for 2015.

I've been working on it for a couple of months now, just gathering thoughts and sketching out plans. It's going to be a really fun one to kick off come January. Can't wait to start writing more about it in a few short weeks.

So what do you think about grit? How do you cultivate it in your life? How has it changed your life and who you are?
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