Thursday, March 21, 2013

1/2 Marathon for charity in Mali!

All 7 followers of this blog have probably already read about and contributed to this cause but I'm mentioning it here just in case your email server has been down, you've been locked out of your Facebook account and generally denied access to any of my other pleas for your help.

So, there's this race. It sounded like a really great idea 4 months ago to run with a friend over the Golden Gate bridge, 13.1 miles along the waterfront in San Francisco. Sure, there are some massive hills, namely that dang bridge, twice.  And so what if the friend I signed up to do this with has since dropped out and decided not to run? I can still do it right?

Well, this is exactly why racing for charity is such a smart idea if you want to actually have the motivation to finish a race! I committed to running for an organization that helps fund programs in Mali for adult literacy--a super cool, I-wouldn't-be-asking-you-for-your-hard-earned-money-if-I-hadn't-totally-vetted-it-myself kind of charity. Look, 100% of the donations go directly to the program in Mali...not to my training.  I told them I could raise $1,000. I made a video. I sent emails. And four people responded. FOUR of you. So, I know there are 3 of you left ... just lurking, waiting to press send on that credit card payment button on their website. But please, put me out of my agony already and just click already!

I ran 10 miles last Monday and it really hurt and I couldn't help worrying about how my knees will handle those punishing last three miles that I haven't prepared them for but on top of that I'm worried I won't reach my goal for this charity. And that will be like a little black cloud over any kind of race day finish I may have. Please help me avoid that buzz kill. I'm training my butt off over here and I really want to be able to say I did it all for something bigger than just crossing another finish line, albeit a beautiful San Francisco postcard perfect one. I know we can do this together. I just need a little help from you! And I know you really want to help so here's just the extra kick in the pants to help you do it too. :)

Oh! And you don't want to miss watching the video I made. It's the product of four agonizing weeks where I did three different versions in running gear and non, with children and without and finally the version I end up using is a newscaster like single shot of me. Just me. Typical right? Well, here it is! Have a look-see: http://www.groundworkopportunities.org/champions/monique/profile/

And truly, thank you. This is going to be a unique and memorable race experience for me. And I am so happy to do it with your help.

Friday, January 18, 2013

2013

( Yes, I'm ringing in the new year on this blog a little late.  I'm trying to stay true to form and procrastinating as much as you all know I do all the other days of the year.  )

So far the new year brings:
  1. A re-dedication to running. I will be doing the San Francisco 1/2 marathon on April 7th!  

  2. A commitment to good causes. The aforementioned 1/2 marathon will be run as part of a charity team, Groundwork Opportunities. Check them out or wait for my video and email asking for your support. Either way it's a great cause and worthy of your attention.

  3. An almost crazy, psycho search for the right school for Gi. Kindergarten applications begin in just a couple months and there are 6, that's right, 6! schools from which we may choose. That's a lot of choice and a lot of pressure. 

  4.  VACATION! Our first family vacation has been set and we'll be saying Aloha to the beautiful island of Kauai this spring with extended family in tow. We are already super excited! 
And no resolutions to speak of. We found it incredibly relieving and well, FUN, to declare 2012 the "Year of Fun" but 2013 seems like we'll be seeing a lot more changes. Gi is starting school, our girls are growing up. Change is a huge part of that and putting ironclad resolutions or even themed names to the whole year seems so permanent and inflexible. At the end of the day I like the idea of making lists and checking them off for big and small goals alike, something I do every day as a mom whether it's the beginning of a new year or not. 

Here's wishing you all a very happy 2013!


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gi and Noa Take Ballet!

Our schedules changed a couple weeks ago to allow us to introduce something different into the girls' routine and we decided a dance class where the ages allowed meant Gi and Noa could be in the same class would be perfect. So tonight we made it to our first class and I was stunned by what happened.

At first, Noa sat in the circle with the other girls warming up with the teacher but once the teacher started asking her questions, "Where would you like to fly, Noa, on your butterfly wings?" Noa zipped into my lap and said she didn't want to do the exercises. Okay. So I asked her if she wanted to sit just in front of my legs and do them there. She did. Great! I knew it would only be a matter of a few more minutes before she would want to join in again. And, sure enough, in true Noa fashion she began inching herself on her belly, sprawled on the ground, pulling herself toward Gi and the other girls in the middle of the room. When she got there, she sat right up and began to do what the teacher was doing. I was so proud! Then she started doing pull-ups on the bar and shouting to me, "I did it!" and other blow-by-blow accounts of what she was doing. It was magic to my eyes and ears. This child is only 2 years old. The fact that she can take the teacher's directions, translate it into any semblance of balance or coordination and have a huge smile on her face the whole time is so utterly genius. Of course her mother would think so. But, seriously, maybe we should have her tested for mensa or the circus/ballet equivalent some time soon.

And speaking genius, Gi was a-mazing tonight! She jumped right in, (it helped she had a friend there) and didn't look back at me for confirmation even once. When it was her turn to leap over mats in front of us all she did it with zeal and confidence! I continue to be impressed by how much she has changed and grown in strength and self-assurance this year. We're going to be celebrating her 5th birthday in just a couple months and tonight I saw glimpses of the determined and driven young girl she is becoming. She makes me so proud to be her mom! I can tell from what I saw tonight and her days in preschool that she is going to make a sweet teacher's pet when she gets to school. This child has a serious need to excel at whatever she attempts to do. I guess I can breathe a sigh of relief she didn't inherit my slacker genes. When I was in ballet I was too busy mugging for the parents outside the room to hear anything my teacher was saying.

Okay, thanks for tuning in for this rambling bit of parenting gush and brag. Now here's your chance to watch these cuties perform! For reference, Noa is in a black top with blue skirt and Gi is in pink with white skirt.



This video is from the beginning of class just a few minutes after Noa decided to join in:




This video is of the girls practicing their routine for the Christmas show (Yes! They are going to be in their first recital in just two weeks!):













Monday, November 12, 2012

Almost to winter now

I am so glad we got out and went letterboxing last week in Bridgeport. It was completely deserted even though in the summer it is the most popular swimming hole around and it was probably the last day of sunshine and temps in the high 70s that we'll see now until May. Last weekend already brought us our first dusting of snow!

We've been up to lots of new crafts and keeping busy with preschool for Gi, mommy and me school for Noa and music class for them both. I have been working on fundraising for the preschool, selling bulbs and getting ready to pour my energy into an olive oil fundraiser next. At every corner, just when I think we will have a free weekend to do nothing but laze around I realize we've booked ourselves solid with another adventure or two or twelve. It's not at all a chore but I know how quickly this time passes, these days with toddlers and preschoolers, when I still have my kids all to myself not lost for 8 hours to the school system each and every day. And I want to be sure to cherish these moments so I can lean on my memories when the inevitable day arrives (next fall!) when Gi goes off to school. It's shocking to think we'll be applying for kindergarten in just a few short months.

I'm leaving you with photos of our last day of warm fall weather and a couple of photos of us this weekend playing in our new cold fall weather too. Don't miss the one of Gi on skis for the first time ever! What a difference a couple days in early November can make.









Sunday, October 28, 2012

Insomnia

Have you ever tried the "next blog" feature on blogger? That's the link in the top left corner of your screen, right after the search bar and share options.

I always wondered if there was some massive blogger list somehow ordered by creation date or background theme and that by clicking on this link some equally massive google algorithm would whisk me away to another cyber location and another completely unrelated blog next in line on the list. Tonight I finally had the chance to try it out. I clicked. It transported me as promised to another blog. It was a gardening blog, the last entry of which was two years ago. So I clicked again. It sent me to the homepage of a garden store in Miami. Weird and totally uninteresting as I have no need for seeds from a sub-tropical gardening zone as I live here in the California foothills, a decidedly temperate zone. I clicked one more time and came across a random family blog which displayed the last post about a trip to Yosemite. Hmmm...maybe this feature is not so random and not so smart either. Vinesinthemountains is definitely a family blog and many of my posts mention garden-related or outdoors themes and we did take a trip to Yosemite recently but that's where the similarity ends. Just in case you were wondering. That particular feature of this blog page is useless. I know. It was driving you insane with curiosity too. 

And now that I have set the record straight on that one and I am convinced no one other than gardener's from Miami with an interest in someday visiting Yosemite may ever reach my blog through this little portal, I can now rest my insomniac eyes and be at peace that this little corner of the cyber world is safe and warm and tucked into a cozy bed of anonymity even if at 1:30 this morning I am not. I really. must. stop drinking those grande extra dry cappuccinos after 3pm.



Sunday, September 2, 2012

Letterboxing

I don't think I've mentioned yet how much Gi, Noa and I are enjoying this new hobby of ours called letterboxing but boy it's fun! I think it's safe to say we are addicted. A few of our friends have gotten hooked on it and planted their own letterboxes in the area and after finding them it became an obsession to figure out a cool place to plant a box of our own too.

If you haven't got a clue what I'm talking about, letterboxing is an old British hobby much like the more recent game of geocaching--using a gps to locate a secret treasure box. Only with letterboxing the person who plants the box does little more than carve a unique stamp and place it in a weather proof container along with a note pad and possibly an ink stamp pad too. Then the clues to find the box are written up (some very poetically and purposely difficult to piece together) and posted online on one of two internet sites dedicated to the sport--www.atlasquest.com and www.letterboxing.org

So, today after our jaunt in the woods to find a new box, I decided to take a stab at creating a stamp of my own to plant in our first letterbox. This is how it turned out! Not bad I think for a first timer. And I intend to include a history of the indigenous peoples of our county and their acorn hunting and grinding techniques and then plant it in a box near a local indian grinding stone. See, I'm all about the fun AND the learning opportunity combined.

If you've been letterboxing before I'd love to hear how you like it! Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Treats for the county fair!

**Updated with the results below!**

My friends here have long been county fair competitors whether through photography or baked goods and this year I decided to join their ranks and enter a couple of baked items and one black and white photo in the fair competitions. I have talked about making my dad's recipe for banana nut bread for the fair for the last three years. I've just always thought it simply the best recipe out there and of course it's extra special to me because of him and all the memories I have of coming home from school and opening the door to that delicious smell of baking banana bread. That smell is home to me, home with my Papa. So, this one's for you Papa! I hope we win!

I'm also submitting my new favorite cupcake recipe, peach cobbler cupcakes with spiced whipped cream frosting. They are a great summer dessert, not too sweet and perfectly light and fruity. They hit the spot! Check out the recipes below if you want to try them for yourself.


First, here's the photo I entered of Gi:



Peach Cobbler Cupcakes 
Yield: 18-20 Cupcakes



















  • 1 1/2 C flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 C unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 C brown sugar
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 C plain whole milk yogurt (I use Pavel's organic)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 C peaches, smallish-ly chopped (about 3 medium-sized peaches)
  1. With a fork, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and nutmeg in a bowl.
  2. Beat butter and sugars in a large bowl until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in eggs, yogurt, and vanilla extract until blended.
  4. Mix in flour mixture.
  5. Fold in peaches.
  6. Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full.
  7. Bake at 350 F for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out of the cupcake clean.
  8. Frost with the spiced whipped cream frosting recipe below or a scoop of vanilla ice cream would be spectacular too!

Spiced Whipped Cream Frosting:
  • 2 C heavy whipping cream
  • 5 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
 Chill a metal bowl in the freezer for 5 minutes then pour in the heavy cream and beat on high until it thickens. Add sugar and cinnamon. Beat until soft peaks form, then add vanilla. Beat again until stiff peaks form and you have reached the desired consistency. Use a large open star tip to frost and enjoy!

And last but not least, my Papa's renowned banana nut bread recipe!

Banana Nut Bread



















Yield: 1 large loaf

  • 2 C flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 C brown sugar
  • 1/2 C melted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 C buttermilk
  • 1 C mashed super ripe banana (about 2 large bananas)
  • 1/2 C chopped pecans

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 and put 1/2 c. pecans on a baking sheet to toast (about 5 minutes). 
  2. Grease and flour your loaf pan. 
  3. Chop the nuts and reserve. 
  4. Mix all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl with a fork. 
  5. Cream the butter and sugar then add the eggs, buttermilk and mashed banana. 
  6. Mix in the dry ingredients a little at a time and then fold in the nuts.  
  7. Pour batter into your loaf pan and be sure you have ample space in the oven for the bread to rise over the top of the pan. Many times I have had to remove the upper rack in my oven because this loaf rises so high. 

Variations are endless. Try adding some cinnamon or using different nuts or even adding dates to the mix. Yum!

**My cupcakes took 1st place in their division!! The banana nut bread won second place and my black and white photo also won a pretty red second place ribbon! This fair competition stuff could get addicting.





Friday, July 13, 2012

Butterflies everywhere!

Since the littlest of the family has learned the word "butterfly" we have been finding that there are butterflies everywhere. That could be because she calls every kind of bug a butterfly now but I like to chalk it up to something else, namely our inspired creativity.

We got busy making another butterfly craft yesterday and it turned out super cute. Basically, you just give the kids a piece of craft paper, tell them to draw on it then you fold it in half and cut out a butterfly. Cut the outline of the butterfly out from that and put the outline on a piece of contact paper. Then I cut up some ribbons from spools that only had a little length left anyway and let them go hog wild designing their butterfly's wings (but you could use any fabric, tissue paper or other scraps on hand too).

I love how their little personalities shine through their art and the art making experience. Gi's is the top one in this picture and she was very concerned about getting straight lines and filling in as much space as possible even adding to her artwork long after she said she was done just because we were waiting for Noa to finish and it was giving her time to revisit her design. If that's not the hallmark of an high achiever, type A I don't know what is! But that's not a bad a thing either. I love her pensive perfectionist ways. She's going to go far in life applying herself with such dedication. Noa, on the other hand, didn't strictly adhere to the idea of putting the ribbons inside the butterfly design but that's the beauty of this age. I love that there is only one ribbon "off the canvas" too, quite the little thumb in the face of rules. She loves to test the boundaries right now. If I say don't touch something she goes right up next to it and puts her chubby little hand as close as she can to it without actually touching it. Stinker! I like to think she's going to be a great teacher for Gi about how to be a little wild and free-spirited, bending the rules every once in awhile.
 Noa pointing out which one is hers.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Art on canvas, bags that is!

Gi and Noa and I had a blast painting hands and feet to do these grocery bags for some special family members last month. I have to admit, my original intention was to do the butterflies pictured at the top but when I got busy corraling the kids and trying to save the deck and furniture from acrylic paint I ended up with regular footprints (the second picture) but I think they all look adorable anyway. And it turns out three bags in one afternoon is all the girls could handle. I'm just a little sad I have to give these away! Maybe if I plead and beg and offer lots of chocolate they'll let me do at least one more for a keepsake of my own. I could definitely see how these bags would make great Christmas presents too. If you're on Santa's nice list you may see one in your mailbox this December!



Tuesday, July 3, 2012

June Garden

I keep thinking the summer has just begun because 1. We are so busy time is flying by. 2. The summer heat has only hit us a few days so far and we've remained unseasonably cool, and 3. The strawberries are caput, done, sending out their runners. But after a week of solid temps over 85 the garden has really shot up elsewhere and I am now the proud owner of six corn stalks that are "as high as an elephant's eye". Seriously, they are too tall. The one on the lower deck is only 8 inches from the top railing on the upper deck. And after being told corn has to be planted in tight rows set specifically so many inches apart I can now officially refute such testimony. Our corn was planted in two round containers much the same size as we use for our tomatoes (which are also giant and turning that perfect shade of cherry red) and the corn is obviously doing fine. What it takes is a ton of water though! Corn, as it turns out, is the perfect thing to plant in the garden where toddlers and preschoolers will be watering the plants. You simply cannot give too much water to corn. My kids do their darndest and I still come up behind them and top those containers off every day and every morning they are dry again. I love how easy it is and I can't wait for those silky strands I see peeking out already to grow just a little more and be ready to pick. So far we have 6 ears growing and I'm sure we'll see more. I have to say, growing your own grain is mighty prideful even if you're only growing enough for one BBQ.


A view from above, looking down to the tomatoes, zucchini, corn and fire pit.




Here are the rest of the photos of our garden and a shot of me and the girls going blueberry picking.  We've been to this blueberry farm twice already and collected 6lbs of berries, not to mention all the ones that end up in our bellies each time we go. See! I told you we've been busy! I hope to be on here more often with even more updates as the summer progresses. We have a trip to the old Sea World, a romantic night away to celebrate our anniversary in South Lake Tahoe, swim lessons for the girls and a camping trip to the redwoods plus a visit to my favorite uncle's house up in the far north of the state coming up this month. Lots to get ready for!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sewing project redux


I'm not sure if I blogged about it here but just before the holidays I was given a brand new sewing machine which I've wanted for just about as long as I can remember. Having never taken a sewing class or been taught to do much more than replace a button on a shirt, this sewing machine does more than I can imagine I'll ever be competent enough to understand let alone try.

For my first project, I decided to make matching pajama pants for the girls. I figured they couldn't be that hard and if they were a terrible mess only we would see them at bedtime anyway. I thought I'd have them done in a day, tops. Let's just say one pair were finished in a day and it took all day but they were such a hideous mess with not a straight line in sight nor room enough for Noa's diaper. I put the sewing machine upstairs where I rarely go and called my mother-in-law.


Chantal is my fairy godmother when it comes to sewing things. She just seems to flick her little wrist in the direction of the sewing machine and "voila!" a marvelous princess dress complete with adjustable ties, sequin top and organza overlay just magically appears in her hands. So when I called, she laughed and told me to get back to it and that surely it was my pattern-making (I had attempted to draw and cut out the pattern myself--the very first flaw which meant nothing could go right after) not my sewing skills that needed help. And she did what fairy godmothers tend to do. She swooped in and saved the day, and my morale, sending me a pattern she found, traced onto pattern paper and cut out, complete with instructions, labels and, a MINI SEWN PAPER PAIR OF PANTS!! If they weren't so cute and obviously thoughtful of her to make, I might have felt a tad embarrassed at what she was implying about my need for this level of hand-holding through the process. I'm going to cherish those paper pants for the rest of my life for finally lighting the fire under me to bring down my sewing machine and try again.



Tonight, I can finally say I successfully finished my first pair of pajama pants. And it only took me 2 hours and a little help from Ben--he was the mastermind behind the ribbon holes on the front waistband. Not exactly a flick of my wrist but they're done, there are at least two straight seams out of four and they are the right size for next winter. I'll get a picture of Noa modeling them tomorrow morning but I couldn't wait to tell the world that 6 months after my first sewing disaster, I finally finished a pair of pants one of my girls can actually wear! A big thank you to my sewing mentor in France. Merci!

And here's our little bedhead, grumpy model this morning, showing off mommy's awesome job. She's so skinny around the waist that I probably could have taken the pattern in about 2 inches with enough give left for comfort but live and learn. Next time I'll know and adjust for her. I think this pattern will work great for Gi though. Yay!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Back in the land of the living

A certain favorite uncle of mine recently remarked that he and another fellow reader had noticed my unexplained absence here. Well, the only excuse I have is family illness. This spring cold season hit our household with a bang and just never let up. In fact, we have been under the weather for 4.5 weeks straight as of today. And before that, we were still struggling to keep the ear infections and high fevers to a minimum. Gi and I seem to have suffered the brunt of it but little Noa has been down and out a bit too. Ben, with his amazing French antibodies, seems to have caught the first cold and then managed to run a hacking cough all through April and May. Poor guy.

But, this is not my catch-up post.  Instead, I've just decided to jump into the present and leave the catching up for along the way.  Let's say a little prayer the nasty cold bugs are on their way out as summer's warming trend is starting to take hold in our neck of the woods. Our garden is planted, sure to yield us yummy treats of tomatoes, zucchini, strawberries, snap peas, green beans, shallots and maybe an ear of corn and a juicy melon or two this year too!

Since it's Friday and I've waited all week to not have to cook I thought I'd also share with you a favorite recipe of mine for a cold dinner that's a snap to prepare on a warm day (I usually poach the chicken earlier in the week and stick it in the fridge until I need a low-prep dinner idea):


Coconut-Curry Chicken Salad

2 large chicken breast halves, poached in chicken broth
3 ribs of celery, chopped
1/2 small yellow onion or better yet, 5-6 green onions, diced
1 unpeeled Pink Lady apple, chopped (or your favorite sweet-tart variety)
1/2c. raisins

Poach the chicken in chicken broth. Bring the poaching liquid to a light boil, put the chicken in then simmer for 10 minutes uncovered. Then, take it off the burner, cover the pot and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. Remove the chicken and when cool, cube into bite-size pieces. 

Dressing:

In a food processor combine:

1 6oz. Liberte or other greek-style Coconut flavored yogurt
2 Tbsp. chutney (Trader Joe's Tomato Chutney works well)
4 Tbsp. curry powder
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
1/4c. Sauvignon Blanc or other dry white wine
Salt to taste

*For more coconut flavor, omit wine and add 1/4c. coconut milk and do not refrigerate. Serve immediately. 

Pour the dressing over all the chopped ingredients and refrigerate for an hour or more if you have the time. Serve over a bed of lettuce and a glass of that fine Sauvignon Blanc. My favorite is from our local Nevada City Winery called Sonata, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Cheers from my table to yours!


Tuesday, March 13, 2012