Thursday, May 30, 2013

Off the Wagon

Even after all this time, it's still so easy to fall back into old habits.  I totally fell off the wagon on Tuesday, and I have no excuse.  Everything was totally normal when I woke up, except that Abby had a slight fever and I opted to keep her home from school.  I ate my typical breakfast, and was checking Facebook when I read some things posted by other moms where I live about an incident that happened at Abby's school last Thursday.  I had received an automated email from the school on Friday morning stating that "a male stranger" had been witnessed watching the children on the playground during outdoor recess.  As soon as I got the email, I asked Abby if she had noticed anything out of the ordinary the day before, and she said no--so I just assumed that it happened during a different recess period.  The school email said that recess would be held indoors on Friday as a precaution, and honestly, I kind of forgot all about the incident over the holiday weekend.  So I'm just checking Facebook yesterday morning when I read that not only was there "a male stranger" watching kids on the playground, but he was also videotaping them.  This information was coming from the mother of the boy who reported seeing the man to his teacher, so I trusted it--and it totally creeped me out.  The man was not caught, and the school appeared to be back to business as usual yesterday...despite a possible ongoing situation with a creeper.  The discussion on Facebook was about how we could help ensure the safety of our kids at school, and what we as parents should and could be doing after this scary occurrence.  I jumped in the fray, and as I read the thoughts of other moms, I mindlessly reached into the open box of Frosted Flakes from the kids' breakfast (usually I don't let them have Frosted Flakes, but since no one is quite feeling well, I figured they could have a little treat to perk them up) and ate handful after handful.  At first, I didn't realize what I was doing--but then I started to feel full...and I kept eating anyway.  I was stressed about the school situation, and totally stress eating!  It was the sort of thing I used to do at the breakfast table all the time before this Challenge--munch, munch, munch all the way until lunch.  The problem is, once it's lunchtime, I'm not hungry...and that's exactly what happened yesterday.  I didn't end up eating any lunch, because I was stuffed from at least two servings of dry Frosted Flakes.  (No resolution on what to do about the school thing, either--I spent hours discussing it with Dan and my mom and sister, as well as following that Facebook conversation, but I still don't know what can/should be done??)

dangerously addictive

The kids ate lunch, and at the end, they wanted a chocolate-covered pretzel for dessert.  I usually snitch a pretzel or two as I dole them out for the kiddos, and Tuesday was no exception--the only problem was that I discovered that all the pretzels inside the bag had melted together.  I hit the big clump of pretzels against the counter to try to break some loose to give the kids, and of course, I ate some of the too-large chunks.  This is dangerous territory--normally I account for my calories based on the serving size (8 pretzels in a serving of this brand), but I started ingesting chunks that did not resemble pretzels at all, and therefore were extremely difficult to quantify in pretzel terms for calorie purposes.  I was just going to eat a few chunks.  I broke off pretzels for the kids, and kept at the challenge of breaking them apart--you know, for when the kids wanted more after dinner.  The bits that came off not like a whole pretzel, I ate.  I just kept eating those odd chunks--it couldn't have been that many pretzels, right?  Until I looked and the bag was almost gone...  I checked the calories per serving (and to see how many servings are in the bag), and it said 5 servings per bag at 130 calories per serving.  I actually thought to myself, "Huh--that's not so bad," which makes me think I totally need to redo a math class or something...650 calories on pretzel IS that bad.  Granted, the kids had eaten some, and I didn't actually eat the whole bag--but I probably ate close to 500 calories.  Keep in mind that this was after eating a ton of Frosted Flakes and deciding that I wasn't even hungry enough to eat lunch...  This is the ridiculous stuff I used to do before Challenge #2--I was off the rails, totally unplanned and unexpectedly.

mantra of the day on Tuesday

I made pancakes for dinner and called it a day of bad eating.  Since I missed my Monday step class due to the holiday, I really wanted to make it to the pool Tuesday evening...especially since I had gorged myself on obnoxiously unhealthy stuff all day.  Dan got home late from work, but we rushed and got the kids in bed by 7:20pm so that I could get over to the pool and get in 30 minutes of laps before they closed at 8pm.  I drove over to the pool and ran inside, determined to make up for my bad decisions...only to be told that the pool was closed because of lightning.  Um, it's an indoor pool--I had no idea they would close for bad weather?  They weren't planning to reopen before their regular 8pm closing time, so I was out of luck and totally bummed.  So Tuesday was a total wash on the Challenge front, and it just shows me that no matter how far I've gotten on this journey, I'm still going to have days where things don't work out and I slip up.  In my old life, I would have used one bad day as an excuse to wave goodbye to the wagon entirely and embark on a month-long (or more) binge of bad decisions.  Not this time--I climbed back on to the wagon on yesterday, was on my very best behavior food-wise, and had an awesome Zumba class last night.  My favorite Wednesday night instructor is moving, and this was her last class, so it was extra fun (and a bit sad!).  The instructor pulled me up to the front to help her teach for one song, and that was a blast--I'm really going to miss her!  She has whipped me into shape and gotten me excited about exercise--two things I wasn't sure would ever happen.  Yesterday was a good day, and I'm really proud of myself for not letting one rather large bump in the road detour me entirely from my goals.  Everyone needs a pig out day once in a while, right?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memorial Weekend

I think it was just last week when I said that my weight loss hasn't really slowed down...  I may have to eat my words (I wonder how many calories those have??)!  I weighed in at 135.8 on Sunday, for a loss of 0.4 pounds.  At least I'm consistent--0.4 pounds two weeks in a row.  That's not even a pound in two weeks--so yeah, I'd say that I'm slowing down a bit.  I don't really know what to attribute this deceleration to, since I stuck to my regular healthy eating plan last week and got in all my exercise classes.  I even had a rough, rough night on Friday night with a terrible migraine that caused me to lose my dinner (and maybe some lunch, too)...I thought surely that would have resulted in a few pounds of loss, but no such luck.  It was one of the worst migraines I've ever had--I started getting migraines about 10 years ago, but over the last year, they have gotten worse than ever before...and each one seems worst than the last.  Thankfully, I only get 3 or 4 migraines in a year, but those 3 or 4 are miserable.  Urgh--let me just put out there how unpleasant that whole experience was.  Anyway, at least I'm out of the 136 number--hopefully for good!

This Memorial Day weekend, when our neighbors were out having a blast camping, cooking out, and enjoying themselves, I was here at the house holding two long yard sales on Saturday and Sunday morning.  I'm not a morning person generally, so yard sales require a lot of commitment from me--getting up early and setting up to be ready by 8am is not really my idea of fun.  I managed to sell a lot of things that have been cluttering up our garage, so that was good--although I still have a lot more work to do in the garage, and even more to sell.  I'm still happy with the progress, so even though it wasn't the most-fun long weekend we've ever had, at least it was productive.

Sunday's sale

The last few Memorial Days have been a struggle for my emotions.  I remember being a kid and enjoying the extra day off school, the neighborhood pools opening for the summer, and having water balloon fights in the front yard--and my dad having a big cookout on the back deck.  Even though I grew up in a military family, I don't think I fully understood what Memorial Day was--the blessing of not having been exposed to the kind of losses honored on Memorial Day.  My dad deployed often and fought in the first Desert Storm, but that was a thankfully short-lived conflict and the 6-month deployments were not to places of much danger.  I was fortunate to have been sheltered from the pain of losing someone to war, but now as a military spouse in a time where war is the norm (and so weirdly, my children have never been alive when the US was not at war), being sheltered is not an option.  The meaning of Memorial Day hit home for me the moment I learned that Dan would be deploying to Iraq for the first time in 2003--when the possibility of losing someone I loved so much became a daily reality.  I waited weeks for letters, months for a phone call--never knowing if one day those letters and phone calls would stop.  I planned our wedding while Dan was still in Iraq, with the fear of having to call vendors and explain that there would no longer be a wedding because my fiance was not coming home.  Dan's company commander was killed during that tour, in a mortar attack that hit the base where Dan was living--while Dan was running to seek shelter amid exploding mortar rounds, he dropped his helmet, which rolled away from him...he backtracked to pick it up when a mortar hit just a few feet in front of him--exactly where Dan would have been had his helmet not fallen from his grasp.  We often talk about the guardian angels who must have been looking out for both of us that day--and my heart breaks when I think of the phone call Dan's company commander's fiancee received, and the cancelling of wedding vendors (not to mention all the hopes and dreams she had for their life together) that she had to endure.  Dan had gotten internet access just a few weeks prior to that attack, and when I didn't hear from him for a few days (once he got internet, I was spoiled with almost daily emails), I googled everything I could about the region where he was--and learned of the attack via small blurb buried deep in a news article late one night.  I came down the stairs at my parents' house, feeling absolutely stricken--I just had a feeling that something had gone terribly wrong.  I told my mom that I thought Dan was dead, that I feared the worst, and we cried.  I've never been so relieved to receive an email in my life when I finally heard from him two days later.

one of my very most favorite pictures of Dan and me--we were 16 years old, and he came to support me at a track meet.  The look on my face is so classic, and Dan wearing his hat backwards is so ridiculously improbable!  I just can't help smiling whenever I see this picture.  :)

Memorial Day does mark the unofficial beginning of summer, and it is a fun long weekend with family and friends.  It's also a day that reminds me of how fortunate I've been as I've lived this military life, and reminds me that so many other families are not fortunate.  They don't get the emails from their loved ones to alleviate their fears--they don't get the joyful, tearful homecomings at the end of a long, lonely deployment.  Memorial Day is about honoring the sacrifices of those who give their lives and their families (who give their lives in a different way), and feeling so grateful for everything I still have--my husband, the father of my children, and my best friend right here next to me.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Body Image

I've had the makings of this post rattling around in my head for a few first, it seemed harping and narcissistic, so I wasn't going to write it, but then I read some things in the last few days that made it impossible for me to ignore the urge to write it down.  For a few weeks, as I've been inching slowly closer to my goal weight of 128 (and I'd say 8 pounds is pretty darn close), I've had a nagging annoying voice in the back of my head telling me that although I've lost a good amount of weight, I haven't (and likely won't) accomplish my goal appearance.  When I started Challenge #2 back in January and set the ridiculous goal of losing 35 pounds, I had one target area on my body that I hoped the weight loss would address:  my baby-belly stomach (like a kangaroo pouch, but not nearly as cute).  I thought surely that 35 pounds would eliminate the paunchy overhang around my waist--where else would I lose that much weight?

Well, I'll tell you.  The first thing people started telling me after I started this process was that my face was getting thinner.  I didn't realize that my face had so much weight it could lose, but the difference must be striking--just last week, I was talking to Abby's dance teacher about recital costumes when she stopped, mid-sentence, and said, "My goodness--your face got skinny!"  Then she made a whistle noise and a shrinking motion with her hands, stammered a little trying to get back to our original conversation, and then said, "I'm sorry--I guess I just haven't seen you in a while!"  So, apparently I've lost some weight in my face...not a target area, but I'll take it.  Then, not to get too personal, but where I was once overflowing my shirts and undergarments, I'm now not overflowing...and may need a trip to Victoria's Secret to pick up the correct, smaller size when this is all over.  That wasn't a target area, either, although I've always wished to be smaller--so this weight loss was kind of a surprise bonus that I'm very happy about!  Then, when out to dinner with friends a few weeks ago, I was told that my hands look freakishly large now because my arms have gotten thinner--I hadn't noticed this at all, and in fact have spent a bit of time looking at my arms in the mirror since then, trying to figure out if they have gotten small enough to make my hands look like giant hands...a little disturbing since I've always thought I have small hands, but maybe I just had large arms all this time??  So, interesting--three areas of my body that have benefited from weight loss, but that I hadn't even considered when I thought about how my body would look at the end of this Challenge.

I won't lie--the stomach pouch has gotten smaller.  It's just still there, in all it's glory--very noticeably still there, and hard to hide under shirts, sticking out over the top of my pants the way it does.  I'm glad it's gotten smaller, but I'm coming to the realization that 8 more pounds aren't going to make it disappear as I had desperately hoped--in all likelihood, it will still be there, screaming at me when this Challenge is over.  I don't know if my post-baby belly is worse than other moms' bellies (because it's not really something we all go around sharing, but whatever--I have no pride left anymore!), but at every doctor appointment I've had since Alex was born, the doctor has asked about my c-section scar.  Yeah, I've never had a c-section--that "scar" is just the huge red horizontal line across my lower abdomen where my skin folds onto itself and the pouch hangs.  When I tell the doctor that I haven't ever had a c-section, I get a lot of surprise and backpedaling...which leads me to think that my pouch must be worse than yours.  Mine causes weird body markings, like when you've slept on a bunched-up pillow and end up with sleepy creases on your face that won't go away for a few hours--except this is worse because it never goes away, and when I lay down on the exam table and all my belly fat settles, I have a huge red line across my lower stomach.  Great.  I picked 128 pounds because the last time I weighed 128 pounds, I was in high school and in really good shape--so that's kind of what I had in mind for the end of this Challenge.  I totally neglected the fact that three children have been born of this body since then, and nothing will ever go back to the way it was when I was 15--no matter how much I weigh.

I happened to read about Zoe Saldana's weight being blasted all over the cover of a magazine last week--here's the cover in case you missed it:

I'm not even a big fan of Zoe Saldana (although she was really great in Crossroads with Brittney Spears...ha ha!!), but I found it interesting to learn that she weighs 115 pounds.  This is a girl who has never had a baby, though...and she's a famous actress, so her body is part of her craft and the scrutiny she must feel for her appearance would totally overwhelm me.  Plus, she probably has a chef and a trainer and tons of time to focus on herself!  When I saw that magazine cover, I wasn't annoyed by it--I was more just intrigued by it, considering that 115 pounds isn't all that far from my 128-pound goal...and yet, I'm so far from looking like her lithe little frame!

Then I saw this picture on Wednesday, and it is what has driven me to write this post:

Yep, that's Tori Spelling on the cover of US Weekly, randomly wearing a bikini and heels while two of her fully-clothed children hang out with her.  Tori Spelling, who has had four babies in rapid succession (one who is clearly still very young!) and a couple post-baby surgeries within the last few months that prevent her from doing any sort of stomach exercises for the next year, according to the accompanying article.  The article also mentions that Tori Spelling weighs 115 pounds--that must be the going celebrity female weight these days.  I don't know how tall Zoe and Tori are, but I can almost 100% guarantee that they are a few inches taller than me at 5'3".  115 seems awfully small for taller people--it seems like a low number even for me!  I know in my head that most celebrity pictures are air-brushed, but I also want to always believe the best in people--especially other moms.  I looked at this picture and my first thought was, "Wow!  You go, Tori Spelling--although it's totally odd that you're in a bikini in a field while your son is in long sleeves!"  And then, like a typical jealous girl, I studied the picture closer and thought, "Wait a minute...she can't do any ab work for a year, just had TWO babies back to back, and her ab muscles just look like that on their own?  I smell Photoshop..."  Granted, I think she still looks great without the painted-on 6-pack and all the other stuff they did to the photo before they printed it, but I also think that images like this set the bar way too high for most moms.  Some women are blessed with an ability to bounce back from their pregnancy body--others of us will be rocking the remnants of those babies until we stop rocking altogether.  I'm wrapping my head around the fact that I'm in that 2nd group, and even when I hit my goal weight, there will still be some things about my body that I don't love--but I'm healthy (and that is the ultimate goal!) and I love my babies who gave me this body (and would never trade those amazing pregnancies for washboard abs), and those are the things that matter...not some extra stomach pouch.

Yesterday morning on the way home from the bus stop, the boys and I stopped to chat with a sweet neighbor.  I hadn't seen her in a while (she just had a baby a few months ago), and while we were talking, she said, "You look great--like you've lost weight?"  I said yes, that I have been working on it, and she said, "You look like you shouldn't lose any more--your face is so skinny!"  I've been bothered by my baby belly and wishing it away, but since you won't ever see me out in a bikini, I'll take the thinner face any day.  :)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Crock Pot Brown Sugar Chicken Recipe!

I decided to try Brown Sugar Chicken in my crock pot again for dinner last night--I hadn't made it since the first time a few months ago when Dan and I really enjoyed it, but it turned into a screamfest with Jake (and Alex didn't eat it, either).  I made a few tweaks to the recipe based on some of my feelings about the meal first time I made it, and was really hoping to get the kids' approval this time.  Here's my recipe, since I modified it a bit from the original!

Good Housewife Crock Pot Brown Sugar Chicken

Prepared in a manual 3-quart round Crock-Pot. 
Prep Time:  10 minutes
Cook Time:  3 hours
Makes 4 servings.

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into halves
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar
  • 1 clove chopped garlic (I used 1/4 tsp minced garlic seasoning to save time!)
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup lemon-lime soda
  • black pepper to taste (I put in 4 small shakes from my pepper shaker)
  • 1.5 Tbsp cornstarch
  • Veggies (your preference--I used baby carrots, 1 bell pepper, and some green beans)
  • Rice, prepared per directions (I use white Minute Rice)

  • Place chicken halves into the bottom of the crock pot.
  • Cover chicken with brown sugar, vinegar, garlic, and soy sauce.
  • Pour in the lemon-lime soda, and shake pepper in to taste.
  • Cover and cook the chicken on low for 2 hours.
  • After two hours, open the crock pot, turn your chicken pieces if they weren't fully submerged in the broth, and add cornstarch to the broth--make sure you stir it up really well!  If you prefer a thicker, less watery broth, add more cornstarch (in small increments!)--it will thicken more as it is heated.
  • Add veggies to your pot--I put the carrots in first, down into the broth around the chicken (because carrots take longer to soften, and because the brown sugar flavor really complements the carrots), and then added the peppers and green beans on top.
  • Cover and cook on low for 1 more hour, or until chicken is done.
  • Serve chicken and veggies over rice, with as much broth as preferred.

Nutritional Information:  Between 260-300 calories without rice and veggies, depending on how much chicken you eat.  I ate half of a chicken breast (267 calories for chicken and broth) with 1/2 cup of white rice (200 calories) and some carrots, green beans, and peppers (70 calories).  I also had 1/4 of a dinner roll for an extra 25 calories.  My whole meal came to 562 calories.

Good Housewife Crock Pot Brown Sugar Chicken

I love the changes I made to the recipe--cutting down on the pepper was a fantastic call for my family.  Adding a little more brown sugar this time around also improved the taste--it felt a lot more balanced.  And I may have finally figured my kids out...which is a pretty bold (yet sure to be short-lived) statement, considering that what I have figured out for today almost certainly won't hold true for tomorrow.  When Abby asked what I was making for dinner (in front of both boys), I just said, "Chicken and rice," as nonchalantly as I could.  I pulled Abby aside later and told her I was actually making Brown Sugar Chicken, but that I didn't want the boys to freak out.  Everyone asked to see the chicken in the pot, but I conveniently covered it with veggies before lifting them up to see...sneaky mom!  Then when I plated it, I cut the kids' chicken into small pieces--Jake freaked out that the outer part of the chicken was brown last time, so I attempted to make it look not so brown on his plate.  The only meat Alex has ever eaten (other than bacon!) is turkey, so I set his plate in front of him and said, "Eat your turkey, Alex!"  Dan totally wasn't following along with my tricks--he kept asking me what the meal was called, and kept calling it chicken...grrr.  Jake started to fuss about the chicken (without trying it, of course), but I just told him that it was delicious, that I wanted a quiet meal after cooking it for him, and that he wasn't getting anything else.  I tried to be firm yet pleasant...and wouldn't you know?  It worked!  He ate all his chicken, and he did not cry--he even said it was good!  He also ate rice and carrots--success!  Abby ate all her meal and thought it was great, so then I just had to work on Alex.  He ate all his carrots first, and then dug into the rice...but of course, left the turkey/chicken untouched.  I kept calling it turkey for him, but he finally corrected me:  "Mommy, it's not turkey--it's chicken!"  I conceded and asked him to try it--I told him that it tasted like candy.  :)  He tried it, and LOVED it!  He ate all the chicken on his plate--I couldn't believe it!  We may get a carnivore out of that kid yet.  It was such a nice meal--it tasted delicious, and at one point, I looked around the table at everyone quietly and happily eating and thought, "So this is what a good family home-cooked dinner should look like."  Hooray for a few recipe modifications, and for being persistent in trying new meals with the kids!

Monday, May 20, 2013

20 Weeks

This is the beginning of Week 20 of Challenge #2...and it sure feels like it.  I weighed in Sunday morning at 136.2, for a loss of 0.6 pounds.  I must be slightly dyslexic, because the 136 is really bugging me--I just keep thinking about 163 when I see it.  I started at 163, and when I see 136, for some reason it just feels like I haven't gotten very far because the numbers flip flop around in my head...  Obviously, that's not true--through 19 weeks, I've lost 26.8 pounds for an average of 1.4 pounds per week.  That's a pretty healthy pace, but at this point, it just feels like a slow pace...and it feels like things are getting slower.  I just want to get away from any number with a 3 or a 6 in it!  These last 8.2 pounds are going to be really hard to lose (doesn't everyone always say the last 10 pounds are the hardest?), and I'm trying to keep my spirits up for these last painful weeks.  If I keep up the 1.4-pounds-per-week pace, it's going to take me another 6 weeks to lose that weight...and right now, that feels like an eternity!  Plus, I've got some pretty large stumbling blocks ahead of me in the next 6 weeks, which will make weight loss more difficult--both Alex's and Abby's birthdays fall within those 6 weeks, and you know I'm going to be making some cakes for my kiddos!  That also means I'm going to be eating some birthday cake...  Things tend to get pretty stressful this time of the year as well, with the last few weeks of school for Abby and the activities that entails, Abby's dance recital, her end-of-year gymnastics show, and then the two June birthdays.  My grandmother is also going to be visiting the week after school gets out, so that will mean a few big family meals (lots of delicious, irresistible stuff!).  I looked at the calendar this past week, and figured out that we don't have a free Saturday from now until mid-July!  That's pretty crazy.

I get it...but a little faster, please?

Another stumbling block, besides our busy schedule filled with opportunities to overindulge in less-than-healthy stuff, is that I may not be continuing my aerobics classes after the first week of June after all.  Originally my plan was to go ahead and pay for the next 10-week session and just attend what I could until Dan's new job starts in July--and then switch to the morning spin class for the rest of the session.  That plan is less certain now--I haven't officially chickened out of the spin class, but maybe I've unofficially chickened out...I'm just not sure it's my thing at all, and it's very early in the morning.  We also just scheduled 2 vacations for the summer, so I would miss 2 weeks out of those 10 weeks altogether just by virtue of being out of town.  Dan is taking 3 weeks off work before he starts his new job, so I know I will just want to be doing fun family stuff, and not worrying about trying to get to the aerobics classes...  Summertime just makes everything more difficult--it's harder to stay focused, harder to stay motivated, and really hard to stay on a schedule with a ton of stuff going on.  Another reason I'm considering not signing up for the aerobics classes is that I'm really enjoying swimming laps--I've gone to the pool on the weekends 4 or 5 times now, and it really feels comfortable for me.  I've been thinking that I will try to swing going to the pool in the mornings at least 3 days a week after Dan starts his new job--and there's no reason I can't start as soon as this current aerobics session ends.  I swam a whole mile yesterday during the kids' naptime in about 65 minutes (that's 72 lengths of the 25-yard pool), and it felt awesome!  I won't be able to swim for that long on work days (I'll probably be able to get 30 minutes in the water), but even shorter swims are a great workout.

My name is Jill, and I'm a Zumba addict

The only thing that makes me sad about losing these aerobics classes is the idea of not doing Zumba anymore--I really do feel like I found my exercise niche with those classes!  I'm so surprised at how much I love Zumba--I never anticipated enjoying it so much when I first started these classes, but it's just tons of fun and it doesn't feel like I'm working out even though I'm sweating like crazy.  I happened to run into my favorite Wednesday-evening Zumba instructor at the playground last week, and she told me that she thinks I should become a Zumba instructor because I keep right up with her--she had said something to that effect to Abby when Abby sat in on her class a few weeks ago, but I thought she was just being nice then.  I don't think she would have said it again if she didn't mean it, though, so I thought that was sweet of her--and I think that it must really show that I love the class.  Obviously it's not the right time in my life to be teaching an exercise class--I can't even figure out how to work in my own exercise to my schedule, much less how to fit in teaching classes!  Maybe it's something to consider for the future, though, and that makes me even more sad about the idea of no longer taking Zumba classes--I will get really rusty!  So I've been on the hunt again, desperately trying to figure out how I can keep up with Zumba--because it makes me happy, and it's helping me be healthy.  I discovered a possible class somewhat nearby that I am going to try out at the beginning of June--if I like it and it seems like their Kids Zone will work for my kids (it's free, and in the same room as the class...I definitely need to see it to see how that works!), I'm going to start doing that in lieu of signing up for the classes here again.  I'll be able to do it during the day while Dan is at work, and the kids can come with me--so that's a huge perk.  The classes aren't that much more expensive than the classes I've been taking, and from what I have seen of their routines on YouTube, it looks like a ton of fun!  I'm going to try out the first class without bringing the kids with me, just to get a feel for everything, so I'm just crossing my fingers that it will work for me.

So I'm still slogging along, trying to stay focused on my goals even though life is ready to distract me.  128 is such an arbitrary number--I picked it at the start of this Challenge mostly to give myself something crazy for which to strive, and now it's within reach.  I just need to keep my head down and keep working hard...I'm impatient, but the results will be worth the long haul!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Gateway Drug

No, I haven't become a drug addict...unless you count food as a type of drug.  I never really considered myself a food addict, but I do have massive issues with binging--when I have something in front of me that I like, I lack the self-control to stop myself from devouring it.  It doesn't matter if it's a 1-pound bag of peanut butter M&Ms, a package of twelve Peeps, a whole bag of chocolate-covered pretzels, or a loaf of day-old bread from Jimmy John's--I shovel it all in equally.  I don't buy a lot of things anymore, because when I have them in the house, I eat them--like an addict.  I eat until my stomach hurts and the package is empty.  Sometimes my stomach hurts before the package is empty, but I keep eating anyway, because there are only X number left, so I may as well just finish the whole thing.  I know this is my issue, which is why I walk right by that tempting aisle of candy in the grocery store--somehow, I can control myself enough to keep from buying them, but once they are bought, it's like I've already lost the portion-control battle.

When I started Challenge #2 back in January, I knew I had to go cold-turkey on the stuff that trips me the chocolate-covered pretzels, for instance.  I held firm the first few weeks, if not the first month, without eating any junk like that.  Then I was doing so well, I figured a chocolate-covered pretzel couldn't hurt me--so I started indulging in one delicious chocolate-covered pretzel at lunchtime.  It was sublime.  Even though it was only one pretzel, I really made an effort to enjoy every tiny bite I took, instead of inhaling a whole bag of them and not really realizing that I ate them at all.  The one-pretzel rule worked for probably another month, until I realized that I could afford at least 2 pretzels in my calorie count.  I stuck to two pretzels for a while, too.  But like an addict, the high eventually wore off, and I would eat 3 or 4 just to really feel like I was treating myself.  On a very rare day in the last few weeks (specifically, yesterday...), I've eaten a full serving of chocolate-covered pretzels in one day (that's 8 pretzels of the brand I buy)--4 at lunch, and 4 at dinnertime.  This usually coincides with when the kids have dessert--after their lunch and dinners, they each get one chocolate-covered pretzel as a treat.  While I was doling them out, I would help myself to whatever I figured I could afford that day calorie-wise.  It's such a slippery slope for me--sometimes it feels like all or nothing.  Once I broke my early cold-turkey will-power, I've slid down the slope of giving in to my less-than-healthy cravings.  Some days, that's okay--but I need to keep my eye on it so that it doesn't get out of control.

this cracks me up!

I'll come clean and put it out there that I've gotten out of control with the M&M's.  When I started potty training Alex, I picked M&M's as his reward for success, because they are quick and easy to hand out, and also because they aren't really a draw for me.  I love M&M's, but not usually the plain ones--the peanut ones and especially the peanut butter ones are my downfall!  I already had a bag of plain M&M snack-size packets in the cabinet leftover from Easter, so I was happy to use them up with the potty training.  Boy, did I underestimate the power of any chocolate for a deprived chocoholic like me.  At first, I had 2 M&M's with Alex when he was successful.  Then I would have a handful.  Then I would finish off the M&M snack packet.  Then I had to buy the 1-pound bag of M&M's because I ran out of snack packets.  Then I went through a 1-pound bag of M&M's in two days...and even though Alex has been doing really well with the potty training, it's not humanly possible to be that successful!  In other words, little Alex wasn't eating all those M&M's--I was.  It was bad.  I was at least being good about including the M&M's in my food log every day, so it's not like I was eating them and hiding that fact from my log (I haven't sunk that low yet).  They were really screwing up my calories and my saturated fat, though--I was blissfully unaware of how many calories each M&M has (almost 4 calories per tiny little M&M, in case you were wondering).  I remembered a story my mom told me a few years ago about how she used to count out 10 M&M's, put them in a bowl, and eat them slowly throughout the day.  At the time when she told me that story, I thought she was kind of nuts--who limits themselves to 10 M&M's?  I get it now, though--10 M&M's is almost 50 calories, and when you're counting calories and sticking to a pretty strict caloric budget, those 50 calories can hurt big time.  Needless to say, I was eating more than 1 serving (about 55 M&M's, FYI) in a day the last few weeks--for a whopping 210 calories per serving.  Ouch.  Again, I don't even really love plain M&M's, but I couldn't control myself with that open bag sitting on the counter.

yep, I needed a sign

I was feeling powerless over that bag, and I got frustrated about the whole thing last week--I would always start the day with best intentions to avoid throwing M&M's in my mouth, and then lose it completely and binge.  I decided I needed something more than a friendly reminder in my head--so I grabbed a scrap piece of paper, a Sharpie, and scribbled the above note to myself.  As I taped it to the counter above the bag, I felt really silly...but now, 10 days later, it's not silly--it works.  Will-power and discipline are such mind games, and it baffles me that this type of stuff works on me, but it does--I haven't eaten any M&M's since I put the sign up.  No difference in anything, except the sign.  There is something to this whole public accountability thing--I would never have gotten this far in my health journey were it not for this blog, and people encouraging me along the way.  I would be snarfing that bag of M&M's were it not for that note calling me out.  For now, I've won this little battle...but there will be another temptation to replace it, and I'm going to have to figure out creative ways to stay on track.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Crock Pot Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

I haven't had my crock pot out in a while (or done much cooking the last few weeks--for some reason, it feels like things have been crazy!), so I flipped through my recipes Monday night to find something good to make for Tuesday's dinner.  I asked Dan if he wanted me to make a repeat recipe--like the Brown Sugar Chicken he really liked, or maybe the Lemon Chicken that I thought was fantastic.  He picked Brown Sugar Chicken, but then a recipe for Pulled Chicken Sandwiches caught my eye--I hadn't tried it yet, because I never think ahead to buy sandwich buns.  I happen to have some awesome bakery buns on hand right now because we picked some up at the farmer's market on Sunday, so this is the perfect week to try the recipe!  I asked Dan if he thought Pulled Chicken sounded good, and he said, "That sounds great--but can you do that?"  My skeptical husband still isn't used to a cooking, trying-new-things kind of wife.  :)  I said, "Duh--I can do anything!" and it was settled.

This was the first recipe I've made that is NOT from the woman who used her crock pot every day for a year, so I was a little nervous about it.  I found the recipe here, and it had good reviews, so I decided to go for it.  I wanted to modify the recipe a little bit because I didn't have a can of Diet Pepsi on hand--and I have read that using diet sodas while cooking can be dangerous because aspertame is unstable when heated up.  I'm not sure if that's true, but I don't really want to blow up my kitchen, so I asked Dan if he could grab some regular Pepsi while he was on his coffee run on Tuesday, and he dropped it by the house.  As soon as I got the boys down for their naps, I started--I put two breasts of chicken in the bottom of the crock pot (too much for our little family, especially considering that I had no idea if the kids would eat any of it??  but I thawed two breasts, so in they went!), put in about 2.5 tablespoons of chopped onions (the recipe called for one large onion chopped, but I used dry chopped onion flakes and just eyeballed the amount...not sure if I'm a good eyeballer when it comes to cooking, but I went with it!), put in 3 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1/2 cup of regular Heinz ketchup.  I poured a whole can of Pepsi over the other ingredients and the chicken in the pot, and stirred everything up pretty well before turning the pot on.

Pepsi...who would have thought?

I wasn't getting started on dinner until 2pm, so instead of putting my pot on low for 6 hours, I put it on high for an hour, and then moved it down to low for the next 2 hours.  It was 5pm at that point, so I took the chicken out and shredded it on a plate:

shredded chicken--very moist!

I spooned out some of the onion chunks before I put the shredded chicken back in...while it was cooking, I had second thoughts about putting that much onion in the pot!  I probably scooped out about 1/2 tablespoon's worth, so I think I ended up with about 2 tablespoons of onions in the final product.  I thought the sauce looked really runny, so I added 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and stirred the sauce up really well--and then I put the shredded chicken back in and cooked it for another 50 minutes while Dan sauteed some veggies to go with the sandwiches.

just finished cooking--looks good!

Here's my plate before I closed up my sandwich and dug in!

looks good!

Dan and I both enjoyed the sandwiches--Dan actually went back for a second sandwich.  :)  Abby enjoyed her sandwich as well, and I didn't even try with Alex--I made him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!  We just got him to eat a turkey sandwich this past Sunday (yes, you read that correctly--Alex ate meat!), so I didn't want to risk putting him off sandwiches again...  Jake was super excited about the sandwich because he wanted to eat the bread that we got at the farmer's market--he happily picked up his sandwich and took a big bite...and promptly started screaming.  I thought it must have been too hot, so I told him to let it cool down and try again.  By the time it was cool enough to try again, he informed me that he wouldn't eat the sandwich because it was "disgusting."  He had only had one hot bite--I wasn't buying his excuse, and I had endless patience for some reason...I let the kid scream throughout the entire dinner, took some video and pictures of him crying (because I'm a mean, mean mommy...and because I am going to show him when he's 20 years old how miserable he used to make our meals), and prodded him politely but incessantly to take more bites.  He ended up eating 2/3rds of his sandwich, under much duress, but the screaming did eventually calm down to a whimper near the end.  We had a good talk (after everyone else had left the table to start baths) about how Mommy is going to cook lots of different things, and it's important that he always tries what I make, and that even if it's not really his favorite, he needs to eat it anyway because it's good for him and it's dinner...I'm not making him anything else.  He seemed to understand, but we'll have to wait until I make something else out of his comfort zone to test how much sunk in!  Cooking is hard to get excited about when you know dinner will be a screamfest...  I've finally figured out that it's not my cooking--it's totally this stubborn 4-year-old:

why do you make me eat delicious food, Mommy??

Overall, these sandwiches were super easy to make, the meat was moist, and the meal was good--it wasn't the most amazing thing I've ever eaten, but it'll probably be something I throw together again in the future because it was tasty and easy.  I may try it with an actual barbeque sauce next time, because this sauce was definitely not barbeque--it was more mild, for sure.  The meal was actually fairly healthy, which is a big bonus--with all the veggies on my plate and the snowflake roll, it was around 390 calories.  I have lots of leftover shredded chicken, too, so that will be great for lunch the next few days!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Changing Things Up

I almost started writing this entry on Saturday evening...even though the topic is my weigh-in that happened Sunday morning.  That's how sure I was that my week last week was not a good effort, and I was going to write about all my pitfalls and where I could have done much better...and then just add the scale information in on Sunday after my thoughts were confirmed.  Well, I didn't have time to write on Saturday, and the scale surprised me yesterday morning!  After what felt like a totally crazy week last week, I weighed in on Sunday at 136.8 pounds--a loss of 1.4 pounds, bringing my total weight loss since January 14th to 26.6 pounds!  I love surprises like that--it was a great way to start off my Mother's Day!

so lucky to be their mommy!  :)

I felt like I couldn't catch up last week--after my totally crazy weekend with the Thomas outing and Kings Dominion, I was exhausted on Monday, but I couldn't slow down.  I was supposed to get up early on Monday morning and try out that spin class I've been dreading--yeah, that didn't happen...  I just couldn't will myself to get up when I was so rundown already, and it doesn't help that I'm really nervous about trying the class out.  Monday did not feel like the day to step way out of my comfort zone, but I was kicking myself later in the day--the whole reason I was supposed to get up and go to spin was because I needed to skip my regular step class on Monday evening.  I needed to get my exercise in somewhere...and once the morning was gone, I was scrambling to figure out where.  This is the first week since I started these aerobics classes that I've intentionally missed a class--I've had perfect attendance for 15 weeks!  It felt a little like playing hookey--I felt guilty but also free.  I planned to miss the step class because a local restaurant was hosting a mother-son date night, and I signed up for Jake and me to have a night out together--I hardly ever get one-on-one time with the boys, so I wanted to take advantage of a great opportunity.  The only seating times were mid-step I chose to spend time with my boy and skip my class.  Thankfully, Dan was able to come home a little earlier than he usually does, so I zipped over to the indoor pool here and frantically swam laps for 25 minutes prior to my date!  I did 32 laps--not quite half a mile, but I was pretty pleased with my effort in such a short amount of time.  Jake and I had a fantastic time on our night out--it was really special and sweet.  I love that crazy monkey!

Date Night with my Knight!  :)

Tuesday was a regular day--I was trying to catch up on laundry and really not feeling well (again/still--not sure if this is allergies?).  It was pouring down rain and Jake had gymnastics that morning, and then it was just the kids and me for dinner that night since Dan was out with his dad for the night.  I was in a funk on Wednesday--not feeling great and not in a good mood (I told Dan I was grouchy...but I couldn't really figure out why, other than being so congested).  Zumba was great that evening, and did it's best to wrench me out of my funk...but I couldn't get out completely.  The water to our house was turned off for half of Thursday because the water company was working on the fire hydrants in our neighborhood, and that really threw me off--I know I use water all day long, but I didn't realize how often I'm turning on the faucet!  Even the little things took way longer, like fixing Abby's lunch that morning and brushing her teeth, because I was using bottled water to wash fruit and rinse her toothbrush.  That got old really fast, but thankfully, the water was back on after lunchtime.

I woke up feeling terrible Friday morning--my throat just can't catch a break with all the drainage all night long...mornings are the worst.  I sadly cancelled my plans to attend a girls' night that night (no need to spread my germs and stay out way past my bedtime!).  I was still planning to go to my regular Zumba class Friday night, but then a friend texted to invite us to dinner--her daughter was dying to see Abby.  I quickly worked out with Dan that if he could come home a little early again, I could get some laps in at the pool, skip my Zumba class, and we could make dinner with friends.  I was really nervous to skip another class, and it's not like me to be so delinquent--skipping step didn't bug me since it's not my favorite thing, but skipping Zumba felt sacrilegious!  I am a little concerned that intentionally skipping one class, even if it was for a good cause, has opened the flood gates for more skipping...hopefully that won't be the case, and last week was just a special circumstance.  I got 40 minutes in the pool on Friday--I was off my game for some reason (probably because they were proctoring a massive lifeguard test to 30 high schoolers in the lane right next to mine), but I swam 44 laps.  Dinner out was a lot of fun--the kids get along really well, and the adults had good conversation as well.  (Funny aside--the couple is actually one of my high school ex-boyfriends and his wife...never in a million years did I imagine Dan and I would be on double-dates with any of my ex-boyfriends, but we love getting together with this couple!  My ex-boyfriend clearly has good taste in women--his wife is awesome!)  I surprised Dan with a date to go see The Great Gatsby on Saturday--it's one of our favorite books, so we've been excited for a new movie ever since we saw the first preview last year!  Dan thought we were just going to spend the day at my parents' house, but I had bought tickets to a matinee showing, and my parents were watching the kids for us.  It was really nice to have a date with my husband AND see a movie on opening weekend!  I can't remember the last time we saw a movie on opening weekend.  I splurged and ate a small popcorn during the movie (we didn't have time to grab lunch beforehand, so I was hungry...)--I should have known that movie theater popcorn (even a small without butter!) has a ridiculous number of calories (480, to be exact).

it was delicious...but so bad for me!

The week--skipping two classes, not feeling well, eating some not-so-healthy things--all stacked up to make me think my Sunday weigh-in would be unsuccessful.  I'm not sure why the scale was so kind to me, although maybe my body appreciated the change that swimming laps offered--I won't be doing that every week (until I'm forced to by Dan's new schedule), but at least I can feel somewhat confident that changing things up won't set me back in my goals.  I was able to have a great Mother's Day with Dan and the kids, without the bummer of a bad weigh-in hanging over me--so that was a good gift!  :)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

My dear friend Brynne and I have been friends since we were 4 years old, living on the same military base in California.  Her dad got a job in Maryland after a few years in California, and after a number of moves, my family ended up in Virginia for my dad's final job in the Navy when I was 12 years old.  Brynne and I were so excited to be "near" each other again--a few hours' drive is nothing when you're part of a military family and your friends are flung all over the world!  Brynne's family brought her to my parents' house for week-long sleepovers in the summertime, I danced to country music at her parents' house (Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw were big!)--I even drove to Maryland to see Brynne perform in her high school's staging of Li'l Abner.  We met in Baltimore to see the national tour of Les Miserables (kicking off my love of Les Mis and musical theater in general).  We went on a double date sophomore year of high school to Kings Dominion amusement park in Richmond, VA.  Although we did see each other often in those early years of being in neighboring states, we had our own lives and went through long periods where we weren't in touch.  Imagine my surprise my junior year of high school when I checked in for my event at a track meet (the 200m--ugh...) only to see Brynne competing against me in the same event--we had no idea each other would be there, nor that we both ran sprints!  Ha ha.  She beat me handily (the 100 was about as long as I ever wanted to run), and we spent the rest of the meet on my school's bus, away from the noise, catching up on our lives.  She went to college in North Carolina, I stayed in Virginia--we weren't really in touch for those years, although we reconnected when Dan and I got engaged and I knew she had to be in my wedding--that's the kind of friendship we have.  Two years later, I was honored to be in her wedding.  She came all the way to Ohio for my baby shower when I was pregnant with Abby, and she was one of the first visitors we had at the hospital when Jake was born.  She was a lifeline for me when Dan was deployed in 2010 and I lived at my parents' house--she drove an hour each way with her own two kids to hang out with me when Alex was a newborn and I was a mess.  I feel so fortunate for her lifelong friendship, and for the fact that we only live about an hour away from each other at this time in our lives.  It's pretty amazing to see our kids playing together--it's like Jill and Brynne, Part II when Abby and Brynne's daughter get together.  :)  Brynne is a strong, amazing, beautiful, fun girl with the best laugh on the planet--I'm so glad she lived across the street from me 28 years ago so that we could be in each other's lives.

Brynne and me in kindergarten--gymnastics in the talent show!

With her daughter and Abby in school now, our days are not as flexible as they once were--Brynne and I don't get too see each other too much during the school year, other than to celebrate the kids' birthdays.  We have been making an effort to get out every few months, just the two of us--we met for dinner and a movie last fall, we went out for lunch a few months ago, and then Brynne made an awesome suggestion:  Why not take a whole day away from our husbands and kids and go to Kings Dominion like when we were 15 years old?  We coordinated our calendars and came up with a day that worked for both our families--this past Sunday!  I am a huge amusement park fan, but I was a bit nervous--I hadn't been on adult roller coasters since Dan and I went to one for my 24th birthday in Denver...  I was also nervous about leaving Dan to handle a whole day by himself with the kids--I know that sounds kind of silly, because why would that be an issue?  Well, believe it or not, Dan has not had an entire day (wake up to bedtime) by himself with our kids since we started having kids seven years ago.  Not kidding.  That seems crazy to me, but the only other time I've been gone for a day or more was when I went to Boston to visit Kerry in 2011, and Dan took the kids to his parents' house for that trip--so he had a lot of help in my absence!  I've been gone from the kids a few times, but Dan is usually with this was going to be the first time he would be on his own.  I left him with a pep talk, a few scrawled notes for the day, a refrigerator filled with leftovers to heat up for dinner, and hoped for the best!

I got up early and headed out to meet Brynne as the kids were having their breakfast Sunday morning--I purposefully didn't do anything to help with the morning craziness, other than lift Alex out of his crib when I said goodbye, because I wanted Dan to experience the whole day on his own.  :)  It was my day off!  I had a great drive down to where we were meeting, and then I hopped in Brynne's car for the rest of the drive down to Kings Dominion.  We got to the park around 10:30am, and it was cool and overcast--much better than a hot day, but we were both glad we had worn layers.  Here we are looking fresh and excited upon arrival at the park:

Brynne's smile is contagious!

I was looking forward to the coasters, but mostly, I was just giddy about spending the day with my friend, getting to talk about anything and everything...and not having to deal with any kids all day!  I think we were both a little shocked by our lack of stuff--Brynne carried a small backpack for our few things (keys, phones, glasses, tissues for me and my crazy allergies), but I didn't have anything at all...and it was weird!  I'm so used to having a bag with kid-stuff in it, and at least one kid holding my hand at all times--it felt surreal to have that kind of freedom for an entire day.  It was pretty great, I'm not gonna lie.  :)  We spent a lot of time talking about our kiddos, of course, and we missed them terribly, but I firmly believe that getting away for a day makes us better mothers--just because we have kids doesn't mean we shouldn't carve out some time for ourselves to refresh...even though that is hard!

It was the perfect day at the park--it didn't rain at all, the weather was pleasant (I kept my light jacket on all day), and most importantly, there were NO LINES for any of the rides!  We rode every roller coaster in the park before 1pm--some of them more than once!  It was a trip down memory lane for me--I had season tickets to Kings Dominion every summer I was in high school, and I had been there so many times...including one important time with Dan shortly before he moved to New York prior to our senior year of high school (we bought cotton candy and shaved ice and I sang "Seasons of Love" from Rent to him as we sat on one of the stone walls--it was a memorable moment as we prepared for our 525,600 minutes apart...oh, the drama of high school love!).  It was also a reminder of how old I am--a lot of the rides have changed theme or disappeared completely since I was last there.  The Days of Thunder car race ride no longer exists, because that movie probably wasn't worthy of a ride devoted to it in the first place!  The Hurler wooden coaster used to be themed around Wayne's World, with a Stan Nikita's Diner replica right next to it, and Bohemian Rhapsody blasted over the speakers while you waited in line--I still remember Garth telling me that the ride was designed "to test the integrity of straps and snaps" on the pre-ride TV reel (and that right there tells you how many times I've been to KD!).  Now The Hurler has a 50's doo-wop theme--no trace of Wayne's World anywhere, and Brynne and I were too chicken to ask the high schoolers working the ride when it had changed theme...we were worried they would not even know what Wayne's World was!  I also didn't tolerate the coasters as well as I used to--I definitely felt queasy after each one, and it took my stomach some time to settle back down.  That part was rough--I love coasters, and I didn't love feeling like I was going to puke!  I think my congestion was making it worse, but still...I'm getting old.  It also put something else in perspective for me--all the times when my brother, sister, and I dragged my parents to amusement parks and forced either my mom or dad to ride a ride with the odd man out of our 3-kid poor parents!  That thought gave me flashes of my future, riding with one of our kids 10 years from now--when the rides do more than make me queasy...ugh.  I appreciated my parents more than ever after those thoughts occurred to me!

getting ready to ride The Intimidator 305--yes, that's the drop!

After our whirlwind of all the coasters, we stopped for lunch--I was shocked to see that Kings Dominion now offers real food, not just standard park crap food (although that's still there, too, if you're nostalgic for greasy hot dogs).  We were able to get lunch at Subway right there in the park--some of my concerns about my calorie intake for the day were alleviated once we saw the Subway!  Brynne did get a bag of Doritos, though, and those things are totally my weakness--I ate a few, and even though we both agreed that they didn't taste as great as we remembered, we polished off that bag together!  We opted to see a show after lunch (so that we didn't lose our lunches on more coasters!), and there was a country song show ending nearby.  We sat down, watched the end of that show, and then watched the karaoke show that came afterward.  Now, you need to know that Brynne and I have a long history of singing together--we used to sit next to each other on the bus to kindergarten and first grade, and our bus driver would hand us the mic for the whole bus, and we would entertain all the other passengers with our vocal stylings (not sure how we didn't have more enemies!).  We also sang together in the school talent show in first grade--although I use the word "sang" loosely, not because we weren't good singers, but because Brynne got the giggles and laughed through our entire a capella rendition of "Tomorrow" from Annie.  Her famous, contagious giggle...the entire audience was in stitches, I was totally mortified, and we almost knocked each other off the stage trying to elbow each other back to seriousness.  I think we were probably the highlight of the whole talent show, although not for the reasons we wanted to be!  When we went to Kings Dominion in high school together, we recorded ourselves singing "That's What Friends are For" in the singing booth there--and we fully intended to record an updated version on Sunday.  Unfortunately, we couldn't find a singing booth--maybe those things are gone now that youtube and webcams are ready to record every embarrassing thing you do?  But there was that karaoke show...hmmm.

Brynne tried to convince me to get up and do a song myself, but I told her there was no way I was singing on stage without her!  She thought it would be terribly embarrassing, but I pointed out that we didn't know anyone at the park, would never see them again, and we could even go by fake names if she felt more comfortable doing that!  Ha ha.  We walked over to the song board after the show and were trying to see if there was a song we could do together when the guy with the sign-up clipboard came by.  I asked if we could do a duet, and he said Sarah and Jenny signed up for the 6pm show!  For the record, I was Jenny.  :)  It was 3pm at that point, so we walked around the park, got some Rita's Frozen Custard (yum!! and so much for my calorie count!), rode a few coasters again, and then headed back over to the stage.  We got cotton candy to amp us up on sugar before our big debut, and then it was time to go on.  We sang first out of 3 other singers for that show--we did "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" (duh).  Sadly, we got no audio or video of the performance, and I honestly couldn't even hear us singing because the music was so loud and the speakers were facing out to the audience...but we had a great time singing, dancing, and acting like total dorks.  :)  I even told the audience about our 1st grade talent show debacle, and how this was a much-needed chance to redeem ourselves.  Brynne didn't laugh this time--although I almost did when we introduced ourselves as Sarah and Jenny!  It was really stupid fun, and I think it's the only time in my life when I haven't had stage fright.  Seriously, no one knew us--who cares if we made fools of ourselves!

driving the antique cars on the wooded path

We ended our day with a final ride on a few of our favorite coasters (The Grizzly is our old school wooden favorite, and the Intimidator 305 rocked our socks off--wow, that thing was fast!), and then we got dinner and sat at an outside table, talking until the park closed at 8pm.  Yep, we closed down the park!  The whole day flew by so fast--we talked the whole drive back to my car, and then sat in her car talking for at least another hour...we probably could have done two days at the park and still had more to discuss!

Brynne has always been an inspiration for me--she has such a positive outlook on life and just a great attitude, and her friendship makes me a better person.  I'm so thankful that we were able to take this day out together--it was a blast, it went by way too fast, and we're already scheming our next escape!  :)  Thanks for such a fantastic idea, a fabulous day, and a priceless friendship, Brynne!  :)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Day Out With Thomas

The boys are totally obsessed with trains--Jake in particular, but Alex is following right in his footsteps.  We have a massive collection of trains, train movies, train table and related accoutrement, and Jake is like a walking train encyclopedia.  So when I learned a few months ago about an event called "Day Out with Thomas," featuring everyone's favorite #1 Blue Tank Engine, I jumped at the tickets!  We invited Dan's parents to join us for the excitement, and I have been so looking forward to the event and the family fun ever since.  In our family, we don't usually tell our kids what we are doing with any advance warning--I've learned my lesson after having to calm distraught children when plans fall through or when the weather cancels the fun, and also after having to listen to, "Mommy, how many more days until ______?  I wanna go there NOW!!" eight hundred million times a day leading up to the planned event.  So the kids didn't know we were going to meet Sir Topham Hatt and ride on Thomas until we told them after Dan's parents arrived at our house this past Saturday morning.  To say they were excited is an understatement!  I was a little concerned about Abby's enthusiasm, given that trains are not typically a girly thing, but she was jumping up and down alongside her brothers--it was adorable.  We all piled into the van and began the few-hour trek to the Baltimore, MD, B&O Railroad Museum where the event was being held.  The weather was gorgeous, we made great time on the trip, and we tailgated a quick lunch before heading into the event.

I had read a few reviews of Day Out with Thomas, so I had a little idea of what to expect once we arrived--but I will say that I was totally unprepared for how enormous and awesome the old trains on display at the Railroad Museum were.  The museum itself is there year-round (the Thomas event only comes once a year), and right now, they have an interesting display about trains in the Civil War.  First, we walked through a large warehouse annex with old trains parked side-by-side--some of those trains were open, so we got to walk through them.  The kids got to see where the coal was kept and how it was shoveled into the fire box, and they could touch all the controls inside one of the engines--it was amazing!  Jake was in awe--he could have spent all day just in that warehouse.  We exited that warehouse and were directed toward a large building next door--which turned out to be a beautiful train roundhouse!  It used to be a real working roundhouse, but now, it houses display engines and the Civil War exhibit, as well as the museum gift shop (which has some great stuff in it--I would like to shop without the kids sometime!).

Jake and Alex with a train engine

It was really cool to see a roundhouse in person--the kids have one on their train table, but the size of it in person was incredible.  The engines parked inside year-round are beautiful--in really good shape, with viewing areas inside to see what passenger trains used to look like, an old mail train with a sorting station, and even old train bathrooms!  We all had fun walking through the displays.  A lot of Thomas things were set up inside the roundhouse--the kids enjoyed the "imagination station" with coloring pages, stamps, and a few train tables.  There was also a coin-operated train that I believe is in the museum year-round:

it moved like a bucking bronco!

The kids (and Dan) got their picture taken with Sir Topham Hatt:

Sir Topham Hatt is so dapper!

There was also a Thomas movie viewing area inside the roundhouse, with a Thomas story read on the hour by one of the staffers:

all lined up for story time--so cute!

Alex getting into the story--pointing out Cranky the Crane

They also had large screens hanging from some of the display engines, featuring pictures of the Thomas trains--the kids loved them!

with Percy, Thomas, and Rosie

Jake and Alex love the Diesel Engines!

Once we finished the activities inside the roundhouse (although honestly, we could have spent all day in there--but I knew there was fun stuff outside, too!), we headed outside to take in all the fun there before our scheduled train ride on Thomas.  There was a very large track set up right outside the roundhouse, with lots of trains running around the track--they had Thomas trains running for this event, but I imagine they run other model trains throughout the year.  The kids got a kick out of watching the different engines chug by!

here goes Percy, delivering the mail!

here comes Thomas!

One of my favorite parts of the day was this really fun train ride--it didn't look like much, but it went up and around in circles...first slow, then fast!  The kids were screaming and cheering, and Jake threw his arms up in the air like a roller coaster veteran.  :)  It was so cute--and the ride was totally free!  I don't know if they normally have this ride on site at the museum--I hope so, because if we go back, I'm sure the kids will want to ride it again.

all three kids having fun on the ride

Jake with his arms up, Alex sitting like a king on a throne

There was also a train carousel on site--I'm pretty sure that it is a permanent part of the museum.  Each ride was $2 per person, so Dan rode with the kids while I stayed off to take pictures.  The trains go up and down just like horses on a carousel, and the trains were in high demand--there are only 4 of them on the carousel!  Jake snagged one, and fortunately, the other two kids wanted horses.  :)

getting ready for the carousel to start

As a special part of the Day Out with Thomas festivities, a local farm had set up a petting zoo and pony rides!  I was totally shocked to find out that the pony rides were free--awesome!  Abby had her heart set on riding, so we all got into line--I hadn't asked the boys if they wanted to ride, but they had all ridden a pony at the pumpkin patch last fall, so I thought it might be something they all wanted to do.  While we were waiting, Alex looked at me and said in his best defiant, stubborn voice, "I don't wanna ride a pony!"  I said that he didn't have to ride if he didn't want to, and he just kept repeating that he didn't want to ride a pony.  I was about to hop out of line with him when he said, "I want to ride a horse!" in that same little stubborn voice of his.  I cracked up, as did the woman in front of us in line--she turned around and said, "Well, at least he knows what he wants!"  There were two ponies giving rides--one was a smaller white one, and one was a larger brown one.  Alex apparently chose the brown one because it was a horse, not a pony.  Check out how happy the kid was getting on the horse!
Alex's horse ride!

Jake got to ride the horse, too

Abby rode the pony!

The people from the local farm came up to me after Alex's ride and said he just made their day--the boy was absolutely thrilled with the whole thing, and you could just see it all over his face!  The two-year-old girl in front of us in line freaked out when it was her turn to ride, so Alex was one of the braver little ones.  :)

We took a break at this point to get a snack--they had concessions there, and we opted for a soft pretzel and cotton candy to share.  While we were snacking, the B&O Railroad Museum mascot came out to see the kids--his name is ChooChoo Blue, and Jake loved him!  He ran right up to him and they were dancing and jumping up and down together.

Jake with ChooChoo Blue

After our snack, it was time for our ride on Thomas!  We had tickets for the 4pm train, so we got in line about 3:45pm, and the loading was really easy.  We were in the front car, right behind Thomas, and the kids were really excited...and also really tired.  Abby laid down on the seat for a while!  Alex was being ornery while we waited for the train to depart (just a quick jaunt out of the station and then back--maybe 20 minutes?), and Jake was staring out the window at all the trains in the yard around us.

Jake and Dan, waiting to depart on the Thomas ride

Jake was so happy!

the "conductor" punched everyone's tickets

Alex getting his ticket punched

The kids also received "Jr. Train Engineer" certificates, which was a really nice touch--they were all excited about that.  After the train ride, we waited in a quick line to get a picture with the Thomas engine--I took this picture, but the professional one they took was even better because their photographer had the best angle.  I bought the professional one, too.

After our train ride, we went into the Thomas gift shop, on site only for this event.  Any Thomas item you might want was in there--it was a little overwhelming!  We got each kid a souvenir, and we got Jake a Thomas backpack and lunch box for possible preschool next year.  We also got a really awesome hardbound book of original Thomas stories--the kids have been enjoying that every day since we got home!

We had a wonderful family day at the Day Out with Thomas event--if your kid loves trains, I highly recommend it!  There was so much to do, and we probably could have spent even longer than the 5+ hours we spent there.  I want to go back to the B&O Railroad Museum again sometime, because I feel like there was a lot more we could have seen just in the roundhouse--and seeing the big trains and cars was one of the parts of the day the kids are still talking about.  Dan's parents had a great time watching the kids enjoy the festivities, and I had so much fun seeing the kids' excitement over everything.  Jake blew us all away at one point when we were walking by one of the museum exhibits and he casually said, "That's the Shay engine."  The placard in front confirmed the train name, but he doesn't know how to read...the child knows his trains like an encyclopedia, I'm telling you!  I'm so glad we decided to go and make a whole day of it--you know it was a good experience when Dan looks at me halfway through and says, "This was a really good idea!"  :)

our family and some trains  :)