Saturday, September 29, 2012

the best thing about california

Is all of the songs about California. Stats from wikipedia:
  • There are 395 songs about California (including covers by different artists).
  • Of those, 80 are titled simply "California".
  • There are 213 songs about San Francisco, in addition to the 395 California songs.
  • Wikipedia did not have a page for songs about Michigan (Elizabeth Downie, I formally challenge you to write this page)
Based on this musical enamoration, we have decided to move to California at the end of the year. Also, Abe got a job in San Francisco.

We're pretty excited about this next phase of life, when we're not feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of the cross-country journey. I just have two questions.

1. Does anyone know of a modest home in a good neighborhood somewhere in the Bay Area that costs less than approximately a gazillion dollars?
2. Does anyone have a recommendation for a company to move our car across the country?

I really do need help on Question #2. We'll need the car to live out of (see Question #1).

Friday, September 21, 2012

friday photos

It's been over a month since our family reunion with Abe's family in California. Just getting around to posting some photos. Turns out, I didn't end up taking many...

Genghis takes on the Pacific.

With some help from Dad.

Learning to fly a kite. Or, Genghis lets go of a string and Chris chases it down the beach.

Family hike on the coastline.


Goofy faces with Grandma.

And food.

Baby Xena was here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

the law of conservation of calories

In the middle of the summer, I started getting tired of excess post-baby flab around my middle. I pondered about why this flab wouldn't go away, and finally decided it may have been because I was doing absolutely no regular exercise.

I embarked on Jillian Michael's "30 Day Shred". My friend talked about how there were these 3 levels to the workout, and you were supposed to do each level for 10 days. The workouts are supposed to be pretty intense and only last 25 minutes.

It went pretty well at the beginning. After Level 1 I actually slimmed down enough to fit into some shorts that had been too tight on me. But since that initial loss, I haven't seen the flattening and washboarding of my abs that I imagined in my head when I started.

Today I started the 3rd level (if you're trying to do the math, don't worry. i'm sure that from the middle of summer to September 19th is exactly 20 days). During the workout, Jillian mentioned that if we'd come this far in the series and had been following the diet, we should have amazingly honed figures by now.


What diet? I didn't know anything about a diet. This must be something that is mentioned with all the materials that come with actually buying the DVD and not just watching copies on YouTube.


It's probably a good thing I didn't know about the diet, though. Because this is how "regular exercise" plays out in my life:

Monday, September 17, 2012

Meal Planning Solution

For the last 8 years I have been trying to figure out an efficient way to get good food on on the table for dinner. When you think about it, this is a complicated process.

Step 1: Get ideas for meals.
Step 2: Put the ideas somewhere where you can find them later.
Step 3: Plan some meals to eat for a given week.
Step 4: Figure out what ingredients you need.
Step 5: Buy the ingredients at the store.
Step 6: Find time to cook everything before the entire household goes into meltdown.

Add to that preferences for variety, changing food tastes, health and nutrition, seasoning cooking... Like I said, complicated.

About 2 years ago I decided I really wanted to get organized. I create an Excel file and then Access database that combined recipes with meal planning with automatically-generated shopping lists. It worked pretty well, but there were a few kinks in the system. Also, it took some effort to add new recipes to the database, so after a few months, the database felt stale.

At this point, my friend Kristin and I actually played around with starting up an online business meant to solve the meal planning problem. We did some opposition research and were feeling pretty good about the superiority of our idea. And then we found Plan To Eat.

Warning: for the next few paragraphs, you may think that Plan to Eat is paying me to write this. They aren't. I just really, really, really like what I've found.

Plan To Eat is an online meal planning tool. You create an account, add your recipes, drag and drop recipes from your cookbook into your calendar, and then get a one-click grocery list based on your meal plan - sorted by section in the grocery store.

Some things I like:

  • The interface is pretty clean. Not 100% intuitive or efficient, but not bad and getting better. Compared to other similar websites, this one is really simple, which I love.
  • There's a browser widget that lets you save recipes as you are browsing on the web - makes it easy to save new recipes.
  • You can search and sort your recipes as you're looking for things to add to your meal plan. You can also create a "queue" of recipes that you want to plan soon (but not now).
  • It automatically tags ingredients from your recipes so they pop up in the right aisle in the grocery store. But you can easily edit the tags for exceptions or personalizing.
  • You can use the mobile site while you're at the grocery store to see and check off your list. No more forgetting the list at home or in the car.
  • They have a pantry function that is meant to automatically keep track of what you have on-hand so you can "cook from your pantry". I don't use this feature and I've heard it's not perfect. Conceptually, though, I like that the site is trying out these kinds of things. 
  • I've heard that the company is pretty responsive to comments from users on their forums, which is cool.

Since using Plan To Eat, I probably spend about 10 minutes planning out our meals for the week and getting the grocery list ready. I never forget to pick up ingredients for a particular meal at the store. This part of my life has gotten so much more simple.

Thinking about joining? Here's the start-up cost:

  1. $39 a year (I think this is really reasonable.)
  2. About 1 hour to enter in your top 20 recipes, to get you started
If you decide it's worth it, use the link below and I get a referral bonus. ( I suppose they are sort of paying me to write this review...)

Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

Friday, September 14, 2012

friday photos

For Family Home Evening a few weeks ago (for those who aren't members of the LDS Church, Family Home Evening is an evening we set aside each week, usually Mondays, to have a brief gospel lesson and activity as a family), Abe told us the story of Captain Moroni, from the Book of Mormon. He is a captain of the people's army who tears his clothing into a banner proclaiming their commitment to their God, families, and freedom.

Abe introduced Genghis to the concept of flags, flagpoles and banners through some Google images. Then we turned one of Xena's burp clothes into a flag, writing our family values on it with permanent marker, and tied it to a broom as a banner.

Genghis was pretty excited about the whole concept.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

toddler activities: painting

I talked about painting with toddlers several months ago. It's become a regular activity at our place, so much so that it surprised me to compare these photos with the ones from my previous post to see how differently Genghis interacts with painting after just a few months.

That's one of the things I love about an activity like painting - it grows with your kids.

I'll make you look at all of these great photos, and below, some of my thoughts on ways to do painting with a 2 year old.

Some of my thoughts and tips on painting with 2 year olds:

1. Keep a tub of wet wipes handy for quick cleanups along the way.

2. Expect (and plan for) everything around you and your toddler to get painted on.

3. Start with just the primary colors and talk about mixing them to get different colors.

4. Related to #3, buy big bottles of inexpensive paints. At this age, quantity matters a lot more than quality. One of Genghis's favorite parts of painting is requesting (and receiving) more paint.

5. Try to paint using different brushes and sponges, as well as fingers and hands. Finger, thumb, and hand prints are a lot of fun.

6. Use a painter's palette (a paper plate taped to the table) to squirt paints on, and have toddlers transfer paint to a paper. This works well for generating a few "finished" pieces to send to Grandma and Grandpa (and yes, Grandmas and Grandpas out there, we are working on getting some of Genghis's pieces to you!)

7. Use painting as a way to have meaningful conversations.
  • Tell stories about what happened that day (e.g. "Do you want to paint what we did this morning? We went to the park. You could paint trees with green. Or a yellow slide.")
  • Talk about space and movement (e.g. "Let's paint way up high on the paper. Now let's paint way down low. Can you paint fast? Can you paint slow?")
  • Explore emotions ("When I'm mad I feel like painting like this... When I'm happy I feel like painting like this ...")

Friday, September 7, 2012

friday photos

It's Xena time! She's so cute...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

toddler activities: kiddie pools

After owning a kiddie pool for over a year and seeing some of the wonderful and hilarious things that can come from it, I think this makes the cut for fantastic toys to own.

This fall and winter I'm hoping to explore some different ways to use kiddie pools, especially indoors. But it's just barely after Labor Day, I don't even want to think about the weather getting colder. So today I'm going to list some of my ideas on having good ol' water splash and play with toddlers.

#1: Bag up everything you need and bring it outside. I get a big canvas bag and fill it with our pool toys, sunscreen, snacks, lunch, water, and towels. Makes set up and clean up much easier.

#2: Involve the kids from start to finish. Genghis loves helping set up the pool, turn on the water, choose toys to take out to the pool, and dump the water out at the end. I usually don't like activities where I have to do set up and clean up by myself, because then I spend more time managing the activity than enjoying it.

#3: Get in the water, too. I've noticed a huge difference in how Genghis plays with the water and how long he plays in it when I get in with him.

#4: Use bowls and balls. Our pool toys mostly consist of Genghis' colorful plastic bowls, a few large tupperware, and an assortment of balls. We have a few squirting fish and squeaking sharks. Water is a great medium for moving, dumping, swirling, and floating - you don't need a lot of other stuff.

#5: Dish soap bubbles. Squirt some dish soap into the streaming hose to make great bubbles. I suggest holding your thumb over the hose so the water comes out harder, which makes more foaming bubbles.

#6: Invest in a big-ish pool. I have an inflatable pool about 5 feet in diameter. It cost less than $20. I love having the extra room in the pool, and the inflatable sides turn out to be really fun for bouncing plastic sharks or people.