30 November 2011

Spitting Image

My mom showed this picture to Benny a few months ago and asked who it was. He didn't miss a beat and answered, "Lila." I think most people would answer the same way.

It is not Lila. It's me. At six months. Spitting image.

Lila Marie, five months.

Once I saw this picture, I wondered about how Benny compared at six months. After all, we call Lila Mini Benny since she looks so much like him.

Benny Jasper, five months.
Maybe not so much...

29 November 2011

All Sorts of Stuff

It's been awhile since I've updated the blog about Benny and Lila's recent activities. Where to begin...

Lila started walking just before Halloween. Small steps turned into big, confident steps. Now she's walking all over the house. She rarely crawls any more. It was a quick transition that she's pretty proud about. After she turned one, she stopped eating. The change was nearly over night. I can only assume that she's not growing as much any more. Now she has eight teeth - after a lot of drool!

We reached a big milestone with Benny recently too. He's been potty trained for over a year now. However, he has been wearing a pull-up to bed. He's a heavy, heavy sleeper - never waking when Lila cries. We tried to go diaper-less several nights, only to find Benny sleeping in a wet pool. A wet bed didn't even wake him. We decided to wait it out rather than push it. About two weeks ago Nate forgot to put a pull-up on Benny. When Benny woke up dry, we all decided that maybe it was time to try underwear at night. He has been dry every morning since. I'm so proud of him!

Oh, and we attended kindergarten roundup about two weeks ago. Looks like Benny will be starting school next fall. I still have to process that.

And, just for you, photos from Thanksgiving weekend...

The whole Brown/Gregory gang.

28 November 2011

Giving Up Cars

"I live," Eustace said, "in nature, where everything is connected, circular. The seasons are circular. The planet is circular, and so is its passage around the sun. The course of water over the earth is circular, coming down from the sky and circulating through the world to spread life and then evaporating up again. I live in a circular teepee and I build my fire in a circle, and when my loved ones visit me, we sit in a circle and talk. The life cycles of plants and animals are circular. I live outside where I can see this. The ancient people understood that our world is a circle, but we modern people have lost sight of that. I don't live inside buildings, because buildings are dead places where nothing grows, where water doesn't flow, and where life stops. I don't want to live in a dead place. People say that I don't live in the real world, but it's modern Americans who live in a fake world, because they've stepped outside the natural circle of life...

"Do people live in circles today? No. They live in boxes. They wake up every morning in the box of their bedroom because a box next to them started making beeping noises to tell them it was time to get up. They eat their breakfast out of a box and then they throw that box away into another box. Then they leave the box where they live and get into a box with wheels and drive to work, which is just another big box broken up into lots of little cubicle boxes where a bunch of people spend their days sitting and staring at the computer boxes in front of them. When the day is over, everyone gets into the box with wheels again and goes home to their house boxes and spends the evening staring at the television boxes for entertainment. They get their music from a box, they get their food from a box, they keep their clothing in a box, they live their lives in a box! Does that sound like anybody you know?"

 From The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert.
This passage has always spoken to me.

Unfortunately, giving up cars (one box) is not even remotely a possibility for me. I work five miles from home and have to drop kids off at two separate daycares - all a bunch of boxes. Even if I was willing to ride my bike to work, I would have to leave the house at an ungodly hour to get into work at a decent time. And I already push it. So, I have to settle with hoping that someday SOMEDAY I'll be able to find a job closer to the house and only have one drop off point. It's not entirely out of the ordinary.

Nate and I did survive with one car when we lived in Austin. He drove to work and I walked or rode the bus or biked to campus. It was a perfect arrangement. We never lived more than two miles from campus, so I just found jobs on campus or near campus to supplement my income. When I lived in Des Moines I usually biked about three miles to work, so I know I can do it again...

Until then, I try to walk as much as possible or to incorporate errands into my run. Nate and I were very adamant about finding a house in a walkable neighborhood. Luckily we have several eating establishments nearby (Cake Crumbs, Tables, Oblios and The Cherry Tomato, to name a few). There's a small Italian deli/grocery store across the street from a park, which is a block away from a library, and a yoga studio next to a coffee shop and a gymnastic school next to a great liquor store. Benny's daycare is a 10-minute walk away and the elementary school is less than 15 minutes away. Really, if I didn't have to drive to work, I wouldn't leave my bubble.

We can (but rarely do) walk or bike to the Nature and Science Museum and City Park Jazz and the Denver Zoo.

Someday I will bike to work, but today I will start being more conscious about biking or walking to all the great restaurants, stores and venues in my neighborhood.

What do you do to cut down your time in your box with wheels?

25 November 2011

The Perfect Black Friday

I managed to resist Black Friday, which isn't much of a surprise. We spent the day in Ouray, Colorado. We hiked behind a waterfall, we ate dinner at a nice little local restaurant and we capped off the day at the Ouray Hot Springs. It was a perfect family day. The kids had a wonderful time. My favorite memories from today:

1. Watching Benny run down the trail. He wasn't too keen on hiking (even an incredibly short hike), but as soon as he started the decline, he was in heaven! He even go to sit behind a waterfall. What four-year-old gets to do that?

2. Swimming with Lila. She loved the warm water in the hot springs. She doesn't typically like to swim in pools - she mostly just shivers. But she loved floating in this warm bath tub. She did end up pooping in the pool (shhhh, don't tell anyone).

3. Witnessing both kids interact with the extended family. Nate's mom passed away a few years ago and it's been hard knowing that our kids will never know her. A strange, positive spin to the whole situation is that Nate's dad remarried a lovely woman. We spent the holiday with the extended family and I think we can all say that we've had a great time. Both kids bonded with everyone. I just finished watching Benny draw with Nate's stepbrother's wife (there's a bunch of degrees of separation there). It was touching.

Ouray, Colorado - Image source.
There's a reason Thanksgiving is such a perfect holiday - it's the magic of family. And we didn't buy anything but lunch. The perfect Black Friday. We didn't save any money, but the memories are priceless.

21 November 2011

Givinig Up Shopping

Thanks for visiting Green Means Go(od) this week! And Happy Thanksgiving week - my favorite holiday of the year! Don't be misled by the title, I'm not giving up shopping for good. However, I am using the upcoming holiday that has become increasingly consumeristic (eh-hem, Christmas I'm looking at you) to think more about what I consume and how I can decrease that while still showing my family and friends plenty of love and holiday cheer.

Black Friday is upon us. Just as soon as turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes leftovers are stored in the fridge, many people will commence with the Christmas shopping. Personally, I've never been much for the post-Thanksgiving sales. I can't say that I've ever been much of a shopper in general.

So, it won't be difficult for me to participate the in the alternate post-Thanksgiving shopping holiday: Buy Nothing Day. Buy Nothing Day is a protest against consumerism generally and the consumerism associated with Christmas more specifically. The magazine Adbusters is also sponsoring a Buy Nothing Christmas event and as much as I'd like to participate in that non-shopping event, I don't think it's feasible this year.

Nate and I have discussed our options for Christmas gifts this year. We are giving our parents different experience gifts, which I think they will appreciate more than an actual gift anyway. We're following our experience gifting trend with Benny as well. Santa will still visit, but his gift from us will be something he'd really like to do with us. The other day he asked if he could go downtown at night. I think we'll take the bus downtown some night and have dinner with him. Lila will get to come along for the ride.

The blog (Never Home)Maker has some great suggestions on how to avoid giving and getting more stuff this holiday season.

20 November 2011

Savoring a Sunny Sunday

Creamy, Easy Dinner

Doesn't everyone want a creamy, easy dinner recipe every once in awhile. I know I do. So, I made Amanda's Tomato Sausage Risotto the other night. It's easy and fabulous (even if I mistakenly bought Santa Fe chili sausage instead of Italian sausage).

Check out Amanda's food blog. And check out the recipe here:

  • 1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage, mild or sweet (if in casings, remove)
  • 1 small-med. onion, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (optional)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 bunch of spinach, finely chopped
  • 2 TB butter
  • Garnishes: more parmesan cheese or parsley, goat cheese, basil
  1. Drain the tomatoes over a bowl to reserve all the liquid. Set tomatoes chunks aside.
  2. Combine juice from tomatoes with 3 cups of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and keep warm on your back burner.
  3. In a large-medium saucepan, heat oil, add sausage and onion, and season with S & P. Cook sausage, breaking it up with your cooking utensil until sausage is pretty much cooked through and onions are softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Remember this will just keep cooking, so no need to cook everything through and through right now.
  4. Add rice and tomatoes, stirring to combine and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, letting the rice coat and lightly toast.
  5. Add wine. Cook and stir until absorbed, about 1-2 minutes, while stirring.
  6. Add about 2 cups or 3 big ladles full of tomato liquid to the risotto. Cook this over a soft simmer, stirring occasionally to re-distribute the liquid and make sure all the rice is being cooked, about 5 minutes.
  7. Add 1-2 ladles full of liquid at a time, waiting until the prior batch is almost completely absorbed before adding more. Stirring to combine and re-distribute after each addition, until rice is creamy and tender, about 25 minutes (you may or may not use all of the juice, I didn't on this batch). Taste testing is strongly encouraged.
  8. Remove from heat. Stir in spinach, parmesan, butter, season with S & P and add some crushed red pepper if you like some spice! We served with parsley and goat cheese on top.
I skipped the spinach and goat cheese since we didn't have either. It turned out great. The secret to great risotto? Keep the broth hot and keep the stirring consistent. Easy. I could even do it while holding a not-so-happy toddler the WHOLE time. My left arm was sore, but the creamy goodness made up for it!

16 November 2011

So I Married a Rock Star

As I sit here, Nate is rocking out with three friends. He does it every Wednesday night. They've played a few gigs and now he fancies himself a rock star. It's not the first time he's been part of a band. Since we started dating, he's been part of at least three bands. He loves it. I love it, but being the wife of a rock star is never easy.

The boys of Sweet Corn will be entertaining the masses on Friday, December 9 at 9 p.m. at the Mead Street Station in the Highlands. I promised Nate that I'd spread the word. I recruited three co-workers and a couple of friends to come out to support the band. If you're in the Denver area, consider checking the show out. It will be a good time. And you can party with this mama! My parents will be in town to babysit, so I will be prepared to get my rock on.

By the way, I "designed" this flier in about five minutes. Whatcha think? I may have committed to coming up with a logo for the band, but I'm stumped. If you couldn't tell, there's a shout out to Iowa here. Three of the boys in the band grew up in Iowa.

Holiday Picture Preview

This girl. She is so cute. She and her brother light up my life. Thanks to Katy from Golden Paisley Photography for the great, short photo shoot. If you are in the Denver area and need a great photographer, please consider Katy!

I love this picture.

14 November 2011

Book Review: Turn Right at Maccu Picchu

Although session two of book club was sparsely attended last week (everyone was sick!), we had a great discussion about this month's book, Turn Right at Maccu Picchu  by Mark Adams. When I first heard the title, I thought the book was going to be an historical account of Maccu Picchu and the Incas. And it was, sort of. But mostly it was a travel book and it focused more on the man who "discovered" Maccu Picchu than on the history of the Incas and of Peru in general. I'm not a huge fan of the travel nonfiction genre.

Mark retraces Hiram Bingham's steps, a professor at Yale in the early 20th century. There is quite a bit of information about Bingham's life in the book and I don't think it added that much to the story.

It was encouraging to know that a middle-aged man who, admittedly wasn't in the greatest of shape, could undertake such an arduous journey through the Andes of Peru. If money was no issue, I think I would book the next ticket to Peru.

I liked the book better, strangely, after I watched John Stewart interview Mark Adams. Then again, isn't everything better with a little John Stewart mixed in? And the whole story about Maccu Picchu and all things Inca is incredibly interesting. I mean, would you just look at this place???

Giving Up Plastic Bottles

Thanks for visiting Life's a Bear for another installment of Green Means Go(od). This post isn't life altering. But it does consider the small things we can give up fairly easily that can make a big difference.

Think about how many plastic bottles you buy, use, and then throw away or recycle. Plastic water bottles have gotten a pretty bad rap (for good reason). I gave up buying bottled water quite awhile ago. It means that I have to think ahead and fill up a water bottle before leaving for an outing. What about the others? I'm looking at you, plastic bottles that store shampoo, hair products, and hand soap to name a few.

Recently, we gave up liquid hand soap. It was sort of an accident. We brought some handmade soap back from a wedding this summer. I didn't know what to do with it, so we put it on a shelf and forgot about it. We had some friends over for dinner and their daughter found it. She insisted on using it. Light bulb. I pulled out two small ceramic dishes that Nate's mom gave us ages ago and put the bar soap by the sink in the kitchen and bathroom.

I couldn't find stats about how much waste is created by liquid hand soap containers, but it's likely considerable. After thinking about this type of waste, I decided to research eliminating other plastic bottles in the bathroom. I've read several accounts about using vinegar and baking soda instead of shampoo. Many people, including these, swear by it. That's a subject for a future post. I could eliminate plastic AND the chemicals in shampoo. Win/win.

I realize that giving up liquid hand soap doesn't seem like much, but I'm a firm believer that small things can make a big change. Taking small steps to sustainability is sometimes the easiest for people, including me, to handle. So, think about how many plastic bottles you use and what you can do to give some of them up!

09 November 2011

The Kitchen: After

Whoa! After over a year, I'm FINALLY prepared to share the "after" photos of the kitchen. Check out the before pictures here. Overall, we are so thrilled with the kitchen. The house's original kitchen was about the size of the third picture (the "bar" area). It would have been nearly impossible to cook in a galley kitchen that size! In the 1970s, the previous owners added the rest of the kitchen.

What we didn't know when we bought the house was that much of the work was done by the homeowners and they took some significant short cuts, including digging a shallow foundation for the addition. The result of that shallow foundation has been a consistent up and down movement of the structure. When we were designing the remodel, we decided to remove the half-wall that remained from the original kitchen. The contractor decided to stabilize the wall by placing a beam in the ceiling. However, in the process, he discovered just how bad the settling had impacted the addition.

In the end, everything worked out and we were able to insert the beam and repair the enormous crack in the wall where the addition was splitting away from the original house. The kitchen is an amalgamation of old and new. Here's what we did..

CABINETS. We couldn't afford new cabinets, so we decided to paint our old ones white. The cabinets are oak, so there were lots of grooves. Nate sanded and primed the cabinets. After several weekends of prepping and painting, we decided to hire a professional to finish the final coats. It was one of the best decisions we made in the entire process! We did have to buy two new base cabinets to replace the area where the oven was located (see appliance description below). The doors didn't match completely, so someone suggested that we use glass inserts in the "bar" area cabinet doors to distinguish them from the rest of the kitchen. Good suggestion!

APPLIANCES. Keeping the appliances that came with the house was not an option. As you can see in the before pictures the appliances were pretty dated. The fridge was small and old and incredibly inefficient. The dishwasher may have been one of the first dishwashers ever manufactured. And the kicker: The original 1940s oven was located where the bar area is now. We didn't use it for an entire year because we had to light the pilot light in order to start it, Benny could reach the knobs and turn the gas on, and I'm fairly certain it hadn't been cleaned in roughly 50 years.

COUNTER TOP AND BACK SPLASH. To be honest, we didn't really have a design in mind when we embarked on this remodeling adventure. We didn't know what colors we wanted to use, how to lay the kitchen out, how the appliances would match everything else, etc. But, we figured it out along the way. We picked out the granite counter top first. Nate had played recreational league basketball with a granite importer (totally random, I know!). He gave us a smoking hot deal on a slab of granite. We ended up paying just slightly more for the granite than we would have for Formica. No kidding! The slab is a dark, dark green - almost black. We love it, but it presented a few decorating challenges.

For example, when I was shopping for back splash tiles, I felt a little constrained. Not much looked good with the counter top we'd picked. That's when it's important to talk to a professional. I spoke with a woman at a high-end tile store who was able to pick out some beautiful tiles to complement the counter. At eight months pregnant, I planned to tile the back splash myself. However, after attending a training on tiling, I decided that spending the money to hire that out as well was well worth it.

LESSONS LEARNED. 1. Overall, we learned that we are not DIYers. We didn't enjoy committing entire weekends to working on the kitchen and neither of us is very talented in the area of home improvement. Plus, we had a toddler running around and I was pregnant. In the end, we didn't save much money by doing things ourselves. And it took so much longer. Our contractor was finished with his work in a month. It took us nearly eight months to finish the remaining projects - and we still aren't done with a few!

2. Having a design plan is recommended, but not necessary. I'm really happy with how the kitchen turned out. And I'm glad I didn't have too many preconceived ideas that may not have worked out. However, I would recommend agreeing on paint colors before having an argument about them at the paint store.

07 November 2011

Giving Up TV

Thanks for visiting Green Means Go(od) this week! As promised, I'm focusing on Giving Up something this month as a lead up to the biggest shopping day of the year - the Friday after Thanksgiving. Giving Up will address different types of sacrifices that can help make our lives healthier and less consumer-centric: from giving up TV, giving up meat, giving up shopping.

I have never owned a television set. Sure, I have lived with televisions nearly my entire life. My parents had a TV while I was growing up and nearly all of my roommates in college and post-college had TVs as well. I went totally TV-free in grad school when I lived by myself in a small studio apartment in 2001. It wouldn't have mattered much if I'd had a TV. I was never home anyway and if I was home, I was reading reading reading or writing writing writing.

When Nate and I moved to Austin, we decided not to get a TV for ourselves. We did purchase a nice flat screen computer monitor and enjoyed plenty of movies via Netflix. We never specifically discussed not having a TV after moving into our first apartment. People would offer to give us their old TVs. We always politely thanked them and said no. It wasn't about not being able to afford a TV, it was about the time we found ourselves saving. When we had Benny we agreed that he could still watch programs via the computer. However, when we moved into our house, we moved the computer to the basement. That means it takes a little extra effort to get down here and turn on the computer. Luckily we can access lots of great PBS children's programming by subscribing to Netflix.

Watching TV has become a privilege for helping out or doing something nice or just generally being good. Benny can't turn it on whenever he wants and we can largely choose what he watches. Plus, he isn't exposed to lots of advertisements and is generally unaware of ads targeting kids. 

I still watch plenty of programs via Hulu and Netflix. Sometimes too many. However, I find myself grabbing a book or doing housework instead of heading downstairs for some time in front of the computer. After over seven years of not having a TV, Nate and I both resolved that we'll probably never buy one. And we certainly won't get cable. Just think of all of the money we have saved by not subscribing to cable - the number is probably staggering.

So, during the month of giving thanks, I'm happy that we have given up TV. In the end, I think it's made us more active and engaged in a life beyond the tube.

I don't have many pictures illustrating us watching TV.
This is clearly an old one - Benny potty training in front of a movie.
And me pretty pregnant with Lila!

06 November 2011

Lovely Day at the Gardens

We had a lovely outing to the Botanic Center this afternoon. Everyone is wiped out. We spent quite a bit of time in the rainforest area where the kids could put their hands in the stream. My kids are obsessed with water!
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05 November 2011

Save a Pig, Eat a Chicken

Over the summer, Nate and I spent way too much money on meat. We get so excited about grilling, we tend to overdo it a little for roughly five months. And anyone who knows me well, knows how much I love all things pork. Pork chops to be specific. Recently, we've realized that chicken is much more affordable. Typically I detest chicken. However, my good friend Jen opened our eyes to the magic of a roaster chicken (i.e. a whole chicken). My brother then sent me the most amazing chicken recipe that we'll be making tonight for some friends. My brother, Luke, is one of the best cooks I know. He makes a lot of stuff from scratch, so we try to exchange recipes whenever we think of it.

While pork will probably always be my number one love (I'm pretty passionate about it), chicken is starting to make some inroads. So tonight, we'll save a pig and eat a chicken.

Senegalese Lemon Chicken


1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces (leave the skin on) (or 8 pieces of chicken of the type you prefer, i.e. legs and thighs)
2 tablespoons olive oil (or any other vegetable oil)
4 medium-sized onions, sliced crosswise
8 tablespoons lemon juice (about 3 large lemons)
8 tablespoons vinegar (cider vinegar is best)
1 bay leaf
8 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons regular or Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons black pepper

Optional Spices:

1 hot chile pepper, cleaned and finely chopped -OR-
cayenne pepper powder

Optional Vegetables:

1 small cabbage, cut into chunks
2 carrots, cut into chunks
1 bell pepper, cut into chunks


Poke holes in the chicken pieces with a fork to allow the marinade into the meat.

Mix all the ingredients (except the optional vegetables) and allow the chicken to marinate in a covered glass dish in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours. Remove chicken from the marinade and SAVE the marinade. Cook according to one of the following methods:

Cooking method 1: Grill chicken on a gas or charcoal grill until skin is crispy and meat is cooked through.
Cooking method 2: Broil the chicken on high in an oven using a wire rack or a broiler tray (About 40-45 minutes. Turn over at 20 minutes.)

While chicken is browning, Remove onions from marinade and sauté them in a large saucepan for a few minutes. Add remaining marinade and the optional vegetables and bring to a slow boil and cook at a boil for ten minutes. Cook the marinade into a sauce. Reduce heat.

Serve with boiled white rice. Garnish with sliced vegetables or a green salad.

04 November 2011

Identity Crisis

If you're a regular visitor here, you may notice that I've been making a few changes. I'm having a serious identity crisis with this blog. I'm still not happy with the look, but I think I'm done with the changes for awhile. I've been checking out other blogs and some people have really great designs. In trying to emulate, I find myself going back and forth on font and size and color and design.

If you have a favorite blog design, please feel free to share it! If you design your blog, what motivates you?

02 November 2011

Final Report: Homemade and Re-Used Halloween Costumes

Thanks for sitting through my homemade costume saga for this month's Green Means Go(od). The real theme for the month should have been: Struggling through the Process of Making a Costume from Scratch by a Mom Who Is Not Creative.

Although the helmet wasn't the greatest, I was really pleased with the rest of the costume. The piece de resistance was definitely the jet pack! And the red tape definitely pulled the whole costume together. Here are the details, in living color:

The front view, complete with a personalized space suit helmet. Toby and Thatcher accompanied Benny on his trick or treating adventures. They were so fun to watch this year!

And, of course, Lila's re-used costume. She looked absolutely adorable - even if she was completely clueless about Halloween.

Thanks again to Maggie for inspiring me to make and re-use costumes. Just about every kid at Benny's school had store-bought costumes. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I just remember having homemade costumes every year. Now Benny and Lila can have the same memories. AND I feel good about not contributing to more waste - for at least one holiday.

Up for November's Green Means Go(od): Giving Up. I'll focus on giving things up as a way to become a more conscious consumer and eater.

01 November 2011

Fall Recap

Since we're supposed to get another snowstorm this week, I fear fall is quickly disappearing. We've had a good season - complete with a spectacular Halloween!