Sierra Madre to the Los Angeles Arboretum

In a perfect world I would have planned something a little more “Christmas-sy” for our adventureday with the little mice. The only downside to a Christmas adventure the weekend before the actual Holiday is that EVERYONE is doing it, which means it’s probably going to be crowded.

In other words:
No thank you.

So we instead traveled 45 minutes north of our home to Sierra Madre, a little town at the foot of Mt. Wilson that doesn’t have a single stop light but does have a Starbucks.

I personally LOVE Sierra Madre. Brayden pointed out how some of the residents can look at you a certain way if you appear too “left” (apparently a lady was whispering viciously about George’s Anti-Flag hoodie. Take a breath, honey. It’s a band). The area does have a very quaint and untouched feel about it. Everyone has a dog and you can tell what breed they are (in other words, no mutts) and I have never seen so many salons and nail places on one block (do the women do anything besides primp here?). That’s the only (truth be told) downside. It feels like old town “Stepford”. I was unaffected but Brayden and George seemed to be very conscious of it.

Just felt I should prepare you.

ANYWAY.

The boys really like it and unaffected Kap and I loved it. We stopped at Bean Town http://www.beantowncoffeebar.com (one of our favorite spots for breakfast when we’re in the area). They have a fantastic selection, reasonably priced, a great atmosphere and friendly staff (the gentleman that helped us was wonderful AND was wearing a Ghostbusters shirt that looked like Venkman’s uniform, see, not all “Stepfordian”).
Brayden had a breakfast burrito as big as his forearm, George had oatmeal with almonds (you had a choice of almonds, fruit and/or raisins), Kapples had a blueberry muffin, Co a chocolate croissant and I had “the veggie”. It’s pretty friendly to meat eaters and vegans alike. Win-win.

We then walked up the main streets, looking at the storefronts, admiring the nativity scene and loving the little churches on opposite sides of the street (one simply gorgeous with it’s white steeple, the other an impressive, garland bedecked stone).
This isn’t a town that sticks out as a tourist attraction. It just simply “is” so don’t look for anything fancy to entertain you. They have a Christmas Carol production at the old theater (I heard Tom Hanks filled in for a friend one year, if that stuff impresses you).

We found our interests lie in the Memorial Park and Lizzie’s Trail Inn Museum.

Across from the churches is the Memorial Park. It lives up to its name. It has a cannon at the entrance and a memorial nearby honoring those that have served. The playground is like any other in a well maintained neighborhood but the craftsman style homes surrounding and the gorgeous colors in the trees this time of year made it feel worlds away. We played and laughed and then started the short trek back to our car.

On our way we saw an adorable shop called Belles Nest http://www.bellesnest.com. I stopped in because I have had the most difficult time finding a Christmas present for my Grandmother. The entire shop is wonderful, full of everything from notebooks, to jewelry, to a small clothing section, hand made soaps to tea spoons. We all enjoyed it immensely but fell in love when we found the small garden area.

*happy sigh*

Needless to say, I found something for Grandma.

On to the Lizzie’s Trail Inn Museum!
http://www.smhps.org/museums.htm
We arrived and I immediately thought “wow, this must be a busy place”. There were a lot of cars parked along the street and we parked a little ways away. I figured out that the Mt Wilson trail is nearby. This side of Sierra Madre, only 5 minutes from the Main Street, feels like a whole other town. The vibe is a bit more country and if you pass the museum and go further down the road, the streets narrow to almost one lane. The houses are tilted up hills in a way that reminded me of Big Bear and the back road to the Sequoias.

The Lizzie Trail Inn used to be the only place you could stop and get a bite and something to drink before or after climbing to the peak. There’s also a bit of history that, during the prohibition, they had a moonshine operation.
The museum itself is small and crammed full of original artifacts from when the Inn was in operation (not much about the moonshine gig). Upon arriving we were greeted by, I’m assuming, members of the Historical Society. I don’t recall the man’s name but he had a lot of information about the history of the establishment and the construction of the telescope on Mt. Wilson. Everyone was incredibly friendly and not one had an elitist attitude and were thrilled the kids took an interest in the very old pinball machine (“It doesn’t have paddles so it was really a gambling machine”). It was a lot of fun and they accept donations but don’t tell you to do so (which made me donate more honestly). It was a short stop with only a couple small rooms to read through (there are a lot of panoramas containing detailed written histories of the pictures on them) but a great experience. We would definitely go back when we’re out that way.
Please note: the operating hours are from 10-noon every Saturday.

Our last stop was the Los Angeles Arboretum http://www.arboretum.org/index.php/visit/. We love the outdoors and we love nature so walking into this place was quite the treat. We had been to the Spring Preserve in Las Vegas, the Botanical Garden in Encinitas and the Arboretum in Fullerton several times. This one, located in Arcadia, is pretty incredible. It has free roaming peacocks that are really everywhere (Co counted 20), the Queen Ann House and coach house which are incredible (Kap exclaimed several times how her house “WILL look like this”). Some of the sections were under construction but we still walked through and explored most everywhere, including a stop at the aptly named Peacock Cafe, where the birds must be used to being fed portions of people’s lunches (they watch your every move from 2 feet away). The kids were a little annoyed that I got all hippy on them and wouldn’t allow them to give the birds “people food”. We stopped at the gift shop and I got a reasonably priced succulent arrangement. They have a pretty great variety of gifts and they’re not the garden variety kitsch either. They’re gifts you would be stoked to receive!
We headed to the car and the kids all chattered excitedly about how much fun they had and asking when we could come back.
It was wonderful.

Christmas-sy? No.

Full of peaceful, nostalgic, whimsical family time? Yes!

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All hail the mighty kale!

It’s not a secret that I love kale. Seriously I could consume truckloads of this stuff.
My children have not shared my love of kale (my daughter notoriously eats the completely lacking of anything substantial iceberg variety of greens, not that there’s anything wrong with that).
So my goal, find a recipe that makes them like kale half as much as I do. I got pretty darn close with this one.

You will need
•one half a yellow onion chopped
•2 tablespoons minced garlic
•a splash of olive oil (enough so that the onions have a place to simmer around in, not too much)!
•2 bunches of Lacinto Kale (also known as dinosaur kale, it’s the best) http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lacinato_kale
•1 package of Beyond Meat lightly seasoned chicken strips http://beyondmeat.com (or meat replacement of your choice)
•2 packages of Rising Moon vegan spinach florentine raviolis
•black salt and black pepper to taste
•Go Veg vegan Parmesan to taste

In pot #1 sauté onions with olive oil over medium heat till translucent, add minced garlic, stirring occasionally

In pot #2 set water to boil

In pot #1 tear the kale away from the spine into bite sized pieces and throw spines away (sounds barbaric doesn’t it)? Tear and tear and tear and tear until both bunches are in the pot, stir to coat the kale in the onion, garlic and oil.

•Dump in your Beyond Meat chicken strips, Go Veg parmesan, black salt and black pepper. Stir to mix and coat everything together.
Let cook over medium high stirring occasionally.

Check on pot #2, is it boiling yet? If it is (or when it does) put your Rising Moon raviolis in and set timer for 8 minutes.

Continue occasionally stirring both pots (I get paranoid about things sticking so hence all the stirring. I’ve never tried it NOT stirring so…*shrugs*)

Turn off heat under pot #1
When ravioli is tender (8 minutes) turn off heat under pot #2, drain and add to pot one.

Now mix mix mix and serve!

The verdict?
My mom (a carnivore who joined us for dinner last night) liked it
George (vegan) loved it
Brayden (15 year old carnivore) liked it.
Kaplan (sometimes vegetarian) 10 year old liked everything but the raviolis (too peppery)
Cohan (crazy picky eater, 8 year old carnivore) liked it a lot except the raviolis (due to peppery taste).

In the raviolis defense, Rising Moon makes epic vegan pasta and when we do eat pasta (which is rarely) I reach for their products first. It was completely my fault that I forgot the Spinach Florentine flavor was “peppery”.

Also for those of you “concerned” about the protein intake of a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle (that’s the first question I get asked “where do you get your protein from?!”):
Children ages 4-8 need 19 grams
Ages 9-13 need 34 grams
And 14 and up need 46-52, upward of 65-99 if you’re an athlete.

This one meal contains 29.2 grams of protein per serving. So a little more than half of what an adult needs in a day. Just saying *hops off soapbox* this guy has some great thoughts on it http://www.nomeatathlete.com/5-warning-signs/

All in all I would call this many veggies in one spot (2 bunches of kale equates to about 8 cups) and prepared and ready in 30 minutes! a massive success.

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The easiest DIY ornaments ever

So in my last blog post

I mention trimming our tree with a collection of ornaments we’ve made ourselves (half of them we made ourselves the other half I think I got in a “guaranteed not to shatter” lot on eBay 10 years ago, we tend to break stuff)

Last year I had the bright idea of making ornaments only to discover they don’t fully dry right away see below for those. For this years project skip the paragraph below.

Here are the directions for clay ornaments:
•get air drying modeling clay from Michaels or any craft store.
•cut it out in circles (I used the top of a jar, like making biscuits), use a straw to make a whole in the top and stamp with something Christmas-y
•add hooks (which is another thing I forgot last year)

So we got to add last years project to THIS years tree.

Anyway, our DIY ornament making this year is terrifyingly simple.

•go to your craft store, spend $10-$15 on clear ball ornaments (you can buy glass or plastic, I got plastic because *all together now* “we break stuff”.
•go into your garden, your attic, your junk drawer, your craft box and pull out items or glitter or pictures you would like to see in your ornaments. Take of the top and put above mentioned objects in.
You can even go the extra mile and get spray adhesive, add glitter and shake for sparkly Christmas madness.
•We went the garden way. Kap and I went and chopped some lavender and stuck a long sprig, a short and a medium inside and then popped the top back on.

Boom! Christmas-ed!

Afterword: We had a smidge of condensation on the inside of the ornament the next day but it was dissipated by this morning. I think keeping “living bits” inside it’s a good idea to maybe keep them small and airy.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

It’s not a huge surprise that we love Christmas. Or maybe more accurately my family likes Christmas and I in turn eat, sleep, breathe, hear and feel nothing but the holiday from Thanksgiving night till New Year’s Day.

Background: in the past we have always had a gloriously fake tree. In fact for the last maybe 9 years I had a white tree, white lights, silver tone ornaments and white garland. I was the mom that rearranged the ornaments after the kids “helped” and went to bed.
I know, I know….

this year is different.

This year we decided to change it up and I’m positively smitten.

It started with my friends “nightmare tree” https://pollyannacomplex.wordpress.com/tag/nightmare-before-christmas/ and I have always wanted to go and walk through a forest of pine to choose a Christmas tree.
So this morning we piled into the car and with Christmas carols blaring we headed out to pick and “cut” our own Christmas tree. I say “cut” because actually chopping down your own tree is a liability at most places (which is fine with me. I’m one of those annoying people that think all of the trees have feelings and simultaneously want to take them all home and leave them all to grow 100 feet tall forever and ever). So someone else doing the dirty work while I get to tromp through acres of gorgeous smelling Monterey pine is fine with me.

I decided on Richfield Pines http://richfieldpines.com they seemed far less commercial than other “cut your own” locations (there’s only about three around here), were less expensive ($8 a foot if I recall) and family owned and operated.

Driving up we were immediately greeted with a big smile and given a run down of how everything works. At first glance I was a little disappointed because it didn’t look like the “get lost and find your tree experience”. Then the lovely gal that greeted us said “if you’re up for a little hike there are 6 acres to choose from as well”. Music to my ears! A small hike (it’s more of an uphill stroll for those concerned) and I get to experience that age old accomplishment of picking out my own tree!

Co was IMMEDIATELY enthralled. He must have said “it’s smells SO good!” at least 8 times. Kap kept getting wistfully teary and started picking the sour grass flowers and walking between the branches. Brayden was in charge of the measuring portion, a long pole with the feet marked clearly so you know what you’re getting into. For the hour it took to find our tree we were in heaven.

The trees vary in shape, size, fullness and greenery but they are all the same kind of tree, Monterey Pine. A fact I appreciated considering noble firs don’t exactly grow in California. If you buy a noble fir and it says “fresh cut” be aware it probably isn’t so fresh….

We ended up choosing a tree that we had seen in the VERY beginning but came back to. It has gorgeous shades of green with new and old growth, naturally misshapen and most importantly we all loved it.

Dustin cut it down for us, hauled it and tied it to our car and even helped us pick out some of the boughs they have available for free. He gave us pointers on ways to utilize them and was incredibly helpful and nice (a HUGE plus in my book).

We had the best time and left infinitely more in the holiday spirit and official converts to the cut Christmas tree as well as customers for life at Richfield.

We came home and decorated our tree enjoying the epic scents in our home and hung our DIY ornaments. Instructions for those will be in my next post.

Hope you all are enjoying your holidays as much as we are!

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Humphrey: the old and tired elf

By now everyone has heard of elf on the shelf. A very cute concept to reenforce your children’s need to behave before Christmas.

My children came home this weekend thrilled that they have an elf at their dads. I too am very excited for their elf adventures that they’ll be having.

Then the question came “why doesn’t OUR elf move?”
I replied “he does but our elf was made in 1960 so he’s old and tired and he knows I expect you guys to behave all the time, not just when he’s watching. Besides he’s like the old man of the elf kingdom, do you really want a cranky old man reporting about you?” At this the children laughed and forgave our elf for just loafing about (besides I don’t want to take away from something that could become a special tradition to the kids at their dads house).

Before bed the kids became insistent that our elf be a more active role in our house (again, I’m not ANTI elf but this is a tradition that their dads family is creating, I don’t want to take away from it). So I chuckled and told the kids “he’s probably going to start moving around because he’s getting annoyed with all this talk of the other elf but I really think your elf at your dads is where it’s at.”
The little mice ignored me and became thrilled that our elf, that I named Humphrey years ago and really was made in 1960 might DO something *sighs*.

This morning they found him sprawled out in the manger, and the Christ child? Where was he?
Kap loudly exclaimed “Jesus is ok he’s by the black wise man!”
To which I replied “well thank god, he put baby Jesus at the top of the tree last year.”
I did tell them that he’s never liked the name Humphrey and was most unhappy when I gave it to him. They’re now calling him Steve.

The kids are happy and while I have to carry this thing out till Christmas I believe I’ve kept their expectations low and the spotlight off of Humphrey and on their other elf instead. Besides, I suck the fun out of our elf by reminding the kids I expect them to behave year round regardless of who or what is watching.

There.
Mission accomplished.
Humphrey is a drag.

And between you and me because he’s not an elf on a shelf and instead, just tired ol Humphrey-Steve, he’s my favorite.

The picture below is Humphrey last year, in the bathroom, where he sat the WHOLE holiday season.

In the peace and quiet…

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