Chain, chain, chain…

I have a dirty little secret. I love chain restaurants. Looooove them.

I’m embarrassed to admit this because I’m actually a major food connoisseur. Besides those little round green peas, there is no food I dislike, no food ethnicity I don’t adore, and no show on the Food Network I don’t watch regularly. Thanks to a few former jobs with expense accounts and deep-pocketed parents/mother-in-law, I’ve eaten at nearly every foofy restaurant in Manhattan and can wax poetic about each and every one (my waistline, perhaps not so much).

I appreciate foods that much of the general public finds disgusting – caviar, octopus and even sweetbreads (yep, cow’s brains), and I am always trying to get my husband to branch out a bit more, as his idea of food adventurousness usually amounts to grabbing Chinese or Italian. I love the décor of great restaurants, and who can’t love the butt-smooching service? There’s really nothing I enjoy more than a five-star restaurant.

However, since moving to the ‘burbs and becoming a mom, I have found that despite my food snobbery, I have come to adore chain restaurants. I understand that this declaration may very well cause my food connoisseur card to be revoked, but if that means being able to continue eating copious quantities of The Cheesecake Factory’s White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake, then take it, baby. Take it all the way to the South Pole and feed it to a polar bear.

While I recognize chain restaurants’ downsides – crowds, menus so excessively large they actually feature advertisements, calorie/fat laden menu options and mall locales (not that there’s anything wrong with the mall, mind you, but heading to the mall to dine doesn’t exactly ooze sophistication), I can’t keep myself away from them. Perhaps it’s the “you always know what you’re going to get” aspect; there’s comfort in consistency, you know? If you order the spinach-artichoke dip at Houston’s, regardless of whether you’re in Atlanta or New York City, it’s gonna taste the same: damn freakin’ good.

I also love that despite the sometimes obnoxiously large menus, there are generally a vast array of choices to suit whatever food mood you’re in. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, considering where I am in life, how can I not love a place that always has high chairs, and hardly ever minds that my kid leaves the contents of half a box of Cheerios on the floor after I leave?

My chain restaurant “scientific research” (read: repetitive dining) has resulted in a classification system. At the top of the “food chain” (pun intended), you’ve got your Upscale chain, where the atmosphere is inviting and the food is truly good (my beloved Houston’s falls into this category, as does, say, Morton’s Steakhouse). Next, you’ve got the Still Good, Yet Not Exactly “Upscale” chain, where the atmosphere is slightly corny and the food, despite having an assembly-line quality, is still quite tasty (we’re talking my equally exalted Cheesecake Factory, Bertucci’s Brick Oven Pizza and P.F. Chang’s). Finally, there’s the Really Not That Good, But In A Completely Disgusting Way, Actually Kinda chain, where you know their TV.

Jingle just as well as you know that their interiors are gonna be as cheese-tastically theme-y as their extensive appetizer list consisting of wings and loaded potato skins (Applebee’s, TGI Friday’s and Chili’s). My favorites are the first two categories, but, admittedly, I have been known to even find something at the latter that I really enjoyed (come on, who doesn’t like loaded potato skins, or anything topped with cheese, bacon and sour cream, for that matter? OK, kosher Jews, but you know what I mean….).

When I was pregnant, I went through a time when I HAD to have the Santa Fe Salad at The Cheesecake Factory at least 3 times a week, and their Oreo Cheesecake, nearly daily, the evidence of which I still carry around my midsection (this whole “nine months on nine months off” thing is crap, by the way). As much as I’d love to blame it on pregnancy cravings, it had nothing to do with my being knocked up.

Similarly, I can account for my continued patronage of The Factory by my need to go somewhere kid-friendly that won’t shoo me and the momtourage away when we arrive like the stroller brigade, requesting extra napkins by the truckload, but it would be a lie. Like a crack addict, I needed my fix then, and I still do now. The food is just that good. I’m Chelsea, and I don’t think I have any sort of problem; If lovin’ chain restaurants is wrong, then I don’t wanna be right.

While my regular visits to chain restaurants undoubtedly horrify my Manhattanite pals nearly as much as they do my food aficionado family members, I say they don’t know what they’re missing. Sure, chain restaurants are completely ‘burby and designed to appeal to the mass market, but so is Target, and how much does it totally rule? Seriously, the next time you’re at the mall, pop into P.F. Chang’s and hook yourself up with some Chang’s Spicy Chicken. I dare you not to love it, much less become addicted.

6 Miles & Delicious Honey Apple Vinegar Salad Dressing

You know that list of summer goals you created way back in May? Well, this week I got to check off one goal from that list. I ran 6 miles!

Even though it took me around 1 hour and 20 minutes, I can’t believe I did it! This is the farthest I have ever run in one segment of time. So, in celebration, I am going to share with you one of my favorite salad dressings. I must warn you though that this is the new ranch – you can eat an entire bowl of salad with this dressing poured on it.

Honey Apple Vinegar Salad Dressing
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
1/2 c raw honey
1/2 c + 2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sesame seeds

Combine all of the ingredients and stir. Store in a glass jar in the fridge.

The reason I like this dressing (besides the fact that it tastes amazing) is because every ingredient is healthy. I especially like it because of the apple cider vinegar content.

Last year it finally clicked that instead of throwing away all of the sour apples from one of our apple trees, we could make apple cider vinegar. I still have over a gallon of vinegar, but at the rate, this salad dressing is disappearing, I might be running out of ACV soon 🙂 The best thing about making your own ACV is that it contains the “mother”, the dark clump of strand-like enzymes of protein molecules. Many people believe that the “mother” contains great health benefits. I am a big fan of ACV and here are a few reasons why.

ACV is a product of fermentation. As a result, it contains friendly bacteria and enzymes. Some say it helps with weight loss, others have seen it get rid of their acne problems. ACV also helps lower high blood sugar and improves insulin sensitivity.

I’ve used ACV internally and externally and have seen benefits both times. Anyways, this salad dressing has been a great success in my home and I can now say that salad is a favorite on the dinner table.

What is your favorite salad dressing? Are you a fan of apple cider vinegar?

3 Great Tips for Flying with a Baby and Toddler

PLUS avoid these mistakes when travelling with kids!

When Kiel was still playing hockey professionally, we traveled a ton (two full 22+ hour days of flying twice a year, plus several fun trips we were able to take throughout the hockey season). I like to think I’ve collected some tips and tricks for making those long travel days enjoyable/bearable lol. I’ve traveled a bit with M when he was a baby, but I’m a newbie doing this with both kiddos.

So at the end of April, we flew to San Diego to spend a week there with Kiel’s side of the family. I was a little nervous about the long travel day with our kids, but figured we had some experience under our belt, how bad could it be? hint: it was pretty bad

You guys, I’m sharing what I learned on the trip there + back, so you don’t have to be like me and make the mistakes that we did.

Mistake #1 // Packing all the wrong snacks…

Sigh, I know that a hungry toddler is a hangry toddler. I know this. So I packed all the snacks in the world, except I didn’t bring a good variation and I tried to keep things too healthy. I packed raisins, granola bars, coconut clusters, nuts, beef jerky, etc. All things that are delicious and healthy, but not super filling per se, nor are they things that will substitute a meal and stop a growling tummy. Our first flight was at 5 am and we ended up stuck on the tarmac for 90 minutes just sitting there. M was hungry and our plan to get breakfast during our layover was squashed. All the beef jerky and crackers + cheese in the world doesn’t sound appetizing at 5 am.

I would instead pack a few PB + j’s because they are super portable, I know M will always eat them, and they clear airport security. Also, bring other snacks to munch on, but definitely include something more substantial.

Mistake #2 // Not loading up the Ipad with kid-friendly shows…

Honestly, I hummed and hawed about spending $10 on Itunes for ONE Bob the Builder episode. I’m not cheap, but I am frugal (there’s a difference hah) and it seemed like a total rip-off. But had we purchased the one episode, M would have watched it 30 times happily during the flight. We don’t do a lot of screen time, but you better believe I will give him electronics for a full flight if it keeps him happy. (I will never make this mistake again haha.)

Mistake #3 // Overthinking the flight home…

I don’t even know what to call this mistake…

Booking the flight home, it was either a full travel day, where we would get in at 10 pm that night, or a half-day with a 13-hour layover in Vancouver and then an early morning flight home the next morning. We chose the layover flight.

We reasoned that staying in the Fairmont (that’s connected to the Vancouver airport) for the night, getting some sleep, and starting fresh in the morning would be the best thing for our kiddos. Well, we didn’t factor in that it would be a super long day already, and that we would have to clear customs in Vancouver, meaning our flight arrived at 6:30 pm BUT we wouldn’t check in to our hotel until 8 pm and still need to eat dinner (hey Tim Hortons!) and get everything ready for our early flight the next morning. The worst decision ever, you guys. We were barely in the hotel room and it was barely asleep.

M was so impossibly lacking in sleep from a disrupted schedule during our trip, plus he didn’t nap on the flight, so when we finally got him to sleep in the hotel, it was like 10 pm! Then we had to get everyone up at 4:15 am to catch the 5:30 am flight. It seemed like such a good idea when we booked and turned out to be the worst. My poor sweet boy was crying when we woke him up in the morning and saying ‘why’, it broke my heart and I felt so bad for him. He was sooo tired. So don’t do this, don’t extend a travel day, just get home and get the munchkins to bed lol.
Okay, now a few travel tips that worked!

Hit Up The Dollar Store For Travel Toys

I don’t want to buy all new toys or spend a lot of money on things that may be left behind in an airplane seat lol. I bought a few mini construction trucks (he’s obsessed), some paint with water books (which are awesome), and a pack of little farm animals that he loved playing with. Keep them hidden until traveling and they will be so excited to play with their brand new toys.

Include The Littles In The Packing

We bought M this little backpack and aside from the incredibly cute factor, M has been so excited to carry it around and loves that he has his special backpack.

Pack Water Bottles

This is a great general flying tip. I packed a big water bottle for Kiel and me to share, plus M’s little one that he has. We would have the flight attendants refill them for us and hit up the water fountains in the airport.

You want to be prepared for things to happen. Our travel day to San Diego would have been a breeze, except before we even flew anywhere, we sat on the tarmac for 90 minutes. So our toddler was getting antsy and hungry (all I had was crap snacks at 6 am) and he was getting bored. By the time we landed at our connecting airport, we were so late to catch our next flight, we didn’t have time to fill up water bottles or grab a breakfast sandwich. We ran through the airport and were the last people on our waiting flight. Stressful!

The flight home was poorly planned too (hindsight is 20/20 haha). As I said, our kiddo was way overtired. He needs a nap a day and structured bedtimes, and it was all over the place during our trip, so we really were due for the mother of all tantrums. Happy that this took place on an airplane :-/ Omg, I was horrified and felt so bad for my boy. He was so upset and worked up and completely inconsolable. His tantrum was so bad, that I can guarantee people who were on that flight talked about it that night. (We finally were able to console him and calm him down).

Anyways, there are lots that I will do differently next time but I hope that we can all learn from my mistakes, haha and if you have any travel tips please share them in the comments below!

Book Review: Ligon Duncan’s – Fear Not!

Ligon Duncan’s Fear Not! was one of the book giveaways at last year’s Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, KY. I got around to reading this after my curiosity finally got the best of me. For whatever reason, I had it in my mind that this was going to be (at least in part) a book on grief counseling or maybe one of those “don’t be sad, he’s with the Lord” kinds of pamphlets. I guess I got that idea from the cover because it’s a bit on the sentimental side.

Anyway, that was my bad because that’s not what this book is. Amazingly, it’s about what it says it’s about: death and the afterlife from a Christian perspective.

First, this is a small book (93 pages including the foreword and introduction) so don’t expect a completely fleshed-out study on every aspect of death. This is more a “raw facts” book. It presents bare naked biblical facts, without worrying about opposing views, counter-arguments, historical contexts, etc. It’s a primer kind of book and, on that level, it’s a pretty good read. Dr. Duncan could have gone in-depth because he’s a very intelligent man but he saw a need for a clean, tidy book on this topic, and he filled that hole.

Of course, Dr. Duncan keeps the gospel front and center. So the first couple of chapters is a brief survey of what the Bible says death is — physical and spiritual separation as a result of sin — and what happens when you die. He talks about the paradox of dying, and how it is both an enemy and comfort to those who are in Christ. In this way, Dr. Duncan is sensitive to the issue of dying throughout his book, without compromising the biblical data. That is a tough line to toe, and he does it well. He also mentions in this chapter how we ought now to hide death from children — an approach I agree with — because death is a fact of life.

Chapter 2 (What Happens After Death?) ends like this, in speaking of the unbeliever’s fate:

If you want unfairness, if you want discrimination, I can give you that.  That is called heaven by grace.  Heaven by grace is the most unfair doctrine imaginable.  Sinners deserving condemnation get heaven forever because the One who was without sin became sin for their reconciliation.  That is unfair, but hell is the fairest doctrine in the world.  In hell, you not only get what you want, but you also get what you deserve.  In hell, you are paid your wages.  In hell, you reap what you have sown.  It is the fairest doctrine in the world.  Heaven, that is unfair.  A sinner enjoying Christ for all eternity is unfair.

Give me unfairly!  I will take heaven by grace.
(pp. 39-40)

This is necessary for discussing death and one’s eternal fate. It places God’s sovereignty at a premium and identifies him as right and merciful, regardless of one’s fate.

The rest of the book is essentially about the events and facts surrounding death — Christ’s return, the judgment, Heaven. For the most part, Dr. Duncan leaves it to the reader to kind of “apply” these facts to his own life, to let them permeate his mind. In that regard, this is a “grief counseling” book because it lays the foundation for the hope and glory believers find in death.

This is a nice little book to have on hand in both those moments where death seems to be at the forefront of your life, and if you might be trying to understand death from a Christian perspective.

Homemade Sour Cream

My homemade sour cream was ready this morning. Yum…I had a spoonful straight from the jar. I can’t wait to use it to top…well EVERYTHING. Yogurt is not the only cultured milk product teaming with probiotics. (Although homemade yogurt is great too) Sour cream also has all the good little critters that help support digestion, the immune system, and keep us on track. I love love love sour cream.

Ingredients:
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons yogurt or buttermilk

Make sure when picking your cream you read the ingredient list. I grabbed an organic carton only to find out later it also contained Carrageenan. Back to the store I went. Here I am trying to introduce good bacteria into my gut and carrageenan was trying to step in there and irritate the situation.
Yes, this natural, although unnecessary, ingredient wreaks havoc on the digestive system.

“Carrageenan predictably causes inflammation, which can lead to ulcerations and bleeding,” explains veteran carrageenan researcher Joanne Tobacman, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois School of Medicine at Chicago. It irritates by activating an immune response that dials up inflammation. No thank you.

Carrageenan is used as a thickener and what I didn’t realize is I grabbed an ultra-pasteurized version. I went back and found the same brand without the added carrageenan.

Anyway back to Sour Cream making!!! It is so simple, it is ridiculous. Why did I not do this sooner? Pour the cream into a bowl and whisk in the yogurt until it is blended, pour into a jar, cover with a lid, and leave it on the counter to culture for 18-24 hours until thickened to your liking.

When it’s ready, transfer it to the refrigerator and it should last about 6 weeks. I know, right? Ridiculously simple. You can use buttermilk instead of yogurt if you like, but I always have my homemade yogurt in the house so I used that. Enjoy.

I got this recipe from the RV Cooking section of The Road Tripster blog by Andrew Schmidt. I can’t say enough about what a fabulous site this is. My total favorite at the moment.

My Life Through a Baseball Player’s Eyes

“But until a person can say deeply and honestly, “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday,” that person cannot say, “I choose otherwise.” – Stephen Covey

I’ve played on a ton of sports teams over the years, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the following remarks.
“Coach hates me, that’s why I’m not playing.”
“I’m better than Jordan, but the coach likes him better.”
“That ball was three feet outside, umpire is freaking blind.”
“I shouldn’t have washed my underwear yesterday, I was in the middle of a hitting streak.”
The list goes on and on, but the consensus is always the same. When you play baseball, it is never your fault when you strike out or sit on the bench. The problem with this thought process, is you spend your life being reactive instead of proactive.

Being reactive looks something like this. A young guy walks on to play baseball at a four-year university. He is automatically put at a disadvantage against scholarship players. This is true. It is true because scholarship players are highly recruited, and the coaches already know who they are. The young man complains because he is constantly at a disadvantage. Instead of working that much harder to prove his worth, he sticks with blaming the coaches for his lack of playing time. He eventually gives up and quits, ultimately saying it was because he never had a chance.

Then there is being proactive. The same young man walks onto the baseball team. He realizes he is at a disadvantage but chooses to use it to only motivate him further. He knows it is not enough to just be better than the scholarship players, but he has to outshine all of them. He puts it upon himself to make the change. Ultimately, he puts the ball in his court to either win or lose. If he gets to play, it is because he earned it. If he doesn’t, it was because he didn’t work hard enough.

Being proactive in life is saying, “It’s up to me.”
Being reactive says, “It’s his or her fault.”
Proactive people get ahead in every part of life. There is nothing where they don’t excel. In business, the proactive employee doesn’t bring organizational problems to light; but offers up solutions to ongoing problems. How easy is it to say something is broken? Anyone can do that. It is the person who offers up a solution, who gets ahead.

There are so many different avenues where we can be proactive. We can be proactive in relationships. It might look something like a husband who keeps loving a wife long after she has reflected that love. He pursues her constantly, regardless of how she treats him.

Being proactive isn’t always easy. It’s difficult because it goes against our “sitting around watching Netflix all day mentality”. But it leads to a more fulfilling life. A life where we can ultimately say, it was up to us. We accomplished this, or we failed at that, not because of anyone else other than the person in the mirror.

Is there a time when being reactive has caused you pain or regret? Is there a time when being proactive has helped you move along in a relationship or life?

It’s More Than Just “I Love You”

I don’t typically do posts about relationships, but in the 15+ years that I’ve been in one (the same one, I might add) I’ve learned a few things. I’ve seen my friends go through harsh breakups and I’ve also seen a few of them find love and happiness. And since I’m on a “finding happiness” kick currently, I figured I’d start here.

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5 Things We Are Giving Up (temporarily) To Reach Our Goals

That may seem like a bizarre concept, but when we get to the root of our troubles, we may think we are doing everything to fix the situation when in reality we are just stalling the situation. If we don’t set out a plan that has intentional behaviors, we are doomed to fail. Case in point: “I want to lose weight.” Ok, great. That sounds like an awesome goal, but what are you going to DO to lose weight. “Well, I am going to eat better.” Ok, awesome. What the hell does that mean? That is not being intentional. That is letting life live you when you should be the one in control. A more intentional approach would be to say that you are going to invest in a meal planning service like Emeals and grocery shop every Saturday and then do all meal prep on Sunday. You are now in control so that when 3 pm on Wednesday rolls around and you are starved you know that your dinner has already been planned and you won’t cave into eating out that night wasting both money and precious calories. Intentional living isn’t just saying what you want. It is dreaming, planning, and then doing.

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The Kid’s Table

Growing up, my siblings and I had the coolest kid’s table ever. The table itself was nothing fancy, but the memories are unforgettable. There were 4 stools, and the stools and table had a white hard-plastic surface that nothing would stick to. At that table, we ate, we played, we laughed, but most of all we created. My mom was an art teacher, and her creativity was unmatched. Somehow she managed to come up with projects that all three of us at different ages could accomplish. We colored, painted, glued, and constructed masterpieces. Sadly, we all grew up and eventually didn’t fit anymore, but the table lived on. It eventually made its way into my mom’s art studio where it continued fostering the creativity of her littlest students for 10 years. Now, this table, a little worse for wear, is at the center of a very busy basement where my 2 beautiful nieces and newest nephew spend their cold or rainy days…being kids.

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Thanksgiving Traditions

I love Autumn! Crisp weather, crisp leaves, fuzzy sweaters, and red cheeks, LOVE IT! Halloween sort of ushers in the holiday season and, if you’re anything like me, you’ve noticed that most stores tend to jump straight from ghouls and goblins to holly and ‘Ho, Ho, Ho!’. What happened to Thanksgiving? Rather than lament the ways of the world and decry commercialism, I’ve decided to focus on my holiday traditions and go at my own pace.

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