Baking Cookies Recipes

No-Bake Paleo Cookies

January 31, 2016

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After posting a picture of my No-Bake Paleo Cookies on Instagram last week, I received a slew of messages asking for the recipe. Whether you eat Paleo or not, it’s a great, easy and healthier dessert option. After all, isn’t it rather exciting to come across super yummy dessert recipes that DON’T involve any sugar?? My family and friends LOVE them, and I’m sure you will too! Here you go:

No-Bake Paleo Cookies

Ingredients

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup coconut oil

1 tsp. vanilla

1  1/2 tbsp. cocoa powder

1/3 cup almond butter

2 cups unsweetened, shredded coconut

Pour honey, coconut oil, and cocoa powder in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil for 1 minute and immediately remove from heat. Stir in the vanilla and almond butter until blended well. Stir in shredded coconut. Scoop by spoonfuls onto parchment paper (or wax paper) and refrigerate until hardened. You can store at room temperature, but I always prefer to keep them in the fridge! Enjoy!!

 

Baby Products Toddler Products

Favorite 2015 Baby & Toddler Products

December 17, 2015

Earlier this month, we had the great pleasure of attending the 2015 Secret Santa’s Workshop here in Los Angeles. It was a fun family day of photos with Santa, great activities for the kiddos, delicious food, learning about amazing new products, and supporting a great charity–the L.A. Family Housing. Bill Horn and Scout Masterson of Marque Communications did a phenomenal job putting on such an enjoyable and entertaining event! We’ve had some time to try out some of the amazing products we brought home that day. (It was an early Christmas for the Ribeiro family!) I wanted to share some of my favorites with you…

  1.  Ju-Ju-Be Monarch Diaper Bag. Prior to my new Ju-Ju-Be “The Monarch” Diaper Bag, my previous bags were never quite large enough for everything I needed, especially for two little ones. With my Ju-Ju-Be bag, I can fit everything I need with ease. Additionally, the special features truly make this the ultimate diaper bag. To name a few, it contains a memory foam changing pad, picture pocket to keep photos handy (or in my case, I’ve been currently putting the hard copies of Santa photos in there or polaroids from birthday parties), exterior insulated bottle packets, color-coded tabs to designate a pocket to each child, crumb drains, quiet magnets (no loud velcro!), a super-organized mommy pocket that is big enough to fit all of my needs, and it’s machine washable. Best. Diaper. Bag. Ever. Period.

Ju-Ju-Be The Monarch - Be Prepared

  1. Chatbooks. My son AJ is constantly trying to take my phone to look at photos of him and his siblings. Now he is perfectly happy taking one of our Chatbooks and flipping through it to see all of Daddy and Mommy’s Instagram photos in the past year. Essentially, Chatbooks is an easy and affordable way to keep your Instagram, Facebook or any phone photos in a book. Aside from that, they are great little entertainment books to add to the coffee table! Best yet, they’re only $8/per book!

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  1. 4moms Origami Stroller & High Chair. Even though my favorite strollers have long been the Uppababy Vista and the Orbit (both for different reasons), there’s a new one that I am in absolutely in LOVE with! The Origami from 4moms opens and closes at the touch of a button. Yes, you read it right…you simply push a button! How much better could it get than that!? (My husband’s jaw literally dropped to the floor when he saw it work). But the impressive features don’t end there! The Origami includes a LCD dashboard (with thermometer, speedometer and trip odometers), four-wheel suspension, self-charging generators in the wheels, and pathway lights. It’s like a stroller straight out of an episode of The Jetson’s. Their highchair is just as revolutionary. The 4moms High Chair alleviates all of the challenges of most highchairs –or at least the ones that I’ve ever used. It has a seat insert (making it incredibly easy to clean), adjustable height with three different settings, magnetic tray top (making it easy to slide on and helps keep bowls in place minimizing a mess), and a removable tray liner that is dishwasher safe. Can you say “dream highchair?”

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  1. Mini2Go Micro Scooter. The Mini2Go is a rido-on that converts to a stand-up three-wheel scooter with a T-bar. It’s an indoor/outdoor ride as it has non-marking wheels. (Hallelujah!) In addition, while it’s in the ride-on phase, there is a drawer that slides in so that your toddler can put toys inside to bring along on a ride. AJ is on this day in and day out right now.

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  1. Joovy Boob Baby Bottle. My 7-month old has been a bit of a stinker when it comes to taking a bottle. Whether it’s water or breastmilk in a bottle, it doesn’t matter to him. He ALWAYS prefers being nursed and will hold off for the ‘good stuff,’ even if it leaves him hungry. (It’s never fun when you’re on date night with the hubs or at an event and you get a text from the sitter saying “Anders won’t take his bottle…again.”) Since using the Boob Baby Bottle, Anders has been drinking from the bottle with no issues or fussing. AMAZING! I realize all babies are different with different preferences for bottles, but this has been a godsend for us! The nipple is designed to simulate natural breastfeeding. In addition, it keeps liquids at the desired temperature for longer periods of time with an insulator in the bottle. Very cool!

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Some of my other favorites from the event: Orbit Baby Stroller (we’ve had ours for over a year now and love, love, LOVE it! The ease of this stroller with the carseat for Anders, and the protective covering on the handle bar for an ipad is awesome!), Ergobaby Four Position 360 Baby Carrier, Modern Burlap (these swaddles/blankets have the BEST designs…my favorite is the world map design), Build-A-Bear (the holiday season reindeers they have are utterly adorable), Joovy’s Spoon Walker (Anders personal favorite), and Weangreen’s Modern Glass Storage (these are amazing recyclable material-glass baby food/whole family containers with the best lids ever)! Please let me know if there are any new products from this year that you love. I’m always intrigued with new baby products!

 

 

Family

Moving: Toddler Transitionings & Unpacking a New Home

December 1, 2015

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“Moving was a great idea until I started packing.” I love this quote as it couldn’t ring more true to our recent moving experience. Don’t get me wrong, I was INCREDIBLY excited to move. However, the actual process of packing? Pure and utter torture!

It’s only when you move do you discover just how much “stuff” you’ve accumulated through the years. I made a handful of trips to the dumpster and another six to the Goodwill with my car stuffed to the brim. Do we really need 100 copies of Alfonso’s headshots from 1990? Or a neon green bowling ball bag? Or a collection of hats and shirts from the University of New Mexico? (We have zero connection to the school, as I haven’t the faintest idea how we acquired them!?) All I can say is the local Goodwill has quite the assortment of ‘interesting’ items from the Ribeiro house!

Although we are officially moved in, we are nowhere near being fully unpacked. I have the most important rooms settled (i.e. kitchen, living room, nurseries). The kitchen was my first priority as that enabled me to properly host our first Thanksgiving in the new pad. It was certainly an ambitious undertaking on my part since we had moved in just two weeks prior and agreed to have a Thanksgiving feast for twenty people. (Yes, TWENTY!) Fortunately, it turned out absolutely perfect. We had family and friends, most of which were our DWTS family. It was a wonderful afternoon of watching football, hanging out, playing Guesstures (my team, “Team Emma,” won!), eating lots of amazing food (my hubby cooked three delicious turkeys), and watching AJ dance with his favorite DWTS dancers.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, I’m trying to focus on finishing the unpacking process and helping my son, AJ, better transition to our new home. One of the main reasons why I don’t have more unpacked is the fact that I’ve been focusing more on AJ and less on the boxes. It’s so much for a two-year old to process and comprehend. Prior to the moving process, I did my own research on ways to help a toddler deal with this new change. I knew there would be no ‘one size fits all’ method, as moving impacts every child differently. I had hoped since we travel quite extensively for my husband’s work, it wouldn’t be as bad for AJ. (Clearly, I’m not as concerned for Anders transition as he is only seven-months old.) I found tons of great tips on the internet, some of which worked better than others. For starters, I read AJ numerous books about moving and brought him to the new house several times before moving day so he could get acquainted with the place beforehand. (I made sure to bring some of his favorite toys to play with each time so he could always have a positive experience.) We had daily discussions with him about moving, and even though I’m sure he didn’t understand everything, I feel this helped. We also tried to maintain his normal routine as best we could throughout the experience, which was VERY challenging given the stresses and craziness associated with moving. Though he is getting better, he is still a bit confused and has become more clingy since being in the new house –which based on my readings, seems to be rather normal.

In an attempt to create a sense of closure, we made a family trip to our old house over the weekend to say “good-bye” thinking it would help AJ (and all of us). He seemed to understand the gesture more than what we anticipated. It was more emotional for me as it’s always difficult leaving a place where you made so many wonderful memories. And I admit, it saddens me knowing AJ (and Anders) probably won’t have a single memory of our old home. Luckily enough, I only have about 10,000 photos to show them when they’re older.;)

We continue to help AJ the best we can with this change. We have certainly rocked his world and know it’s only a matter of time before he adjusts to his new surroundings. I would love to hear about your moving experiences with little ones and how they handled the transition.

Birthdays Family

Birthday Party Recap

October 28, 2015

Bring on the Two’s! We celebrated AJ’s second birthday over the weekend and had an amazing time! His actual birthday was yesterday. Hopefully turning two on “twosday” has some hidden meaning? Like being indicative of the “Terrific Two’s” rather than the “Terrible Two’s?” A mom can hope, right?!

Normally, I would spend the two weeks leading up to a birthday party going Pinterest-crazy. I typically gather around 20 ideas and complete about five of them. (My two staples are always a fun photo collage and a yearly stats board — like the printable stat boards on Etsy, but I always make my own.) However, after being in full-out moving mode and having to pack my house up with every spare minute, it left little time and energy to tackle any of my craft ideas. (Also the reason why I haven’t posted in a month!) Thus, I kept the party small, simple, and fun. We only invited five toddler friends of AJ’s, (i.e. our nearest and dearest friends with kids AJ’s age who he sees often). Since a few brought their younger infant siblings, we also had a designated area for the babies. We were very happy we kept it small as it enabled us to catch up and chat with everyone while still keeping a watchful eye on the kiddos.

Here are some of the highlights and activities from the big day:

Toddler Town 3-In-1 Bouncer: I rented a combo bouncer for toddlers which included a bouncer, two slides, and a little obstacle course. Understandably, this was a huge hit. Since there were only about three toddlers playing inside at once, it made it nice and easy to monitor. I think AJ went down the slide at least 100 times!

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Barney Character: My son is OBSESSED with Barney! Absolutely addicted! So the fact that the biggest celebrity in the world (to him) came to his party was basically the highlight of his life! He was almost in disbelief when he saw his favorite purple dinosaur prancing down the lawn towards the party with the Barney music playing. I’ve never seen him so excited. Barney danced and sang with the kids, followed by a grand goodbye ceremony – during which AJ was quite devastated to see him leave.

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Animal Balloons & Face Painting: After Barney’s exit, the Barney character changed and came back out to make animal balloons and face paint — or in AJ’s case, arm paint. Since, apparently, two is the age where kids enjoy popping balloons more than playing with them, the face painting seemed to be the most encouraged option by the parents.:)

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Pool of Balls: For the infants – including my five-month old – I bought a $7 wading pool and filled it with 200 non-toxic crush-proof balls. All four infants LOVED it! Anders kept refusing to be taken out.

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Music: We brought our music system to play for the Barney hour. However, it turned out to be more useful simply by providing music for AJ to dance. AJ, who is a dancing machine thanks to DWTS and our DWTS friends, danced the afternoon away. The other toddlers would join in frequently which offered many giggles and smiles for the camera. (AJ’s current favorite song is “Bye Bye Bye” from N’Sync thanks to his super cool babysitter who loves all things 90’s. AJ even has his own signature choreography for the song.)

Overall, it was a wonderful party filled with great entertainment, good eats, and some incredibly happy toddlers. Sometimes small and simple can be a great thing! Let the “Terrific Two’s” begin! (Fingers crossed!)

 

 

 

Images by Ashley Burns and myself.

Family Travel

The Joys Of Traveling Alone With Little Ones

September 29, 2015

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By no surprise, we found ourselves away from home for yet another family occasion this past week… my husband’s birthday. When my husband realized that he was booked to be in Chicago over his birthday, he made sure to make it work so that he could still spend his special day with his family. Besides, who wants to spend their birthday alone away from home? Since Alfonso was in Houston for an appearance and was flying to Chicago from there, I had the wonderful undertaking of flying by myself with our toddler and infant. Lucky me! (Can you say “ANXIETY?!”)

I have flown by myself with my two little ones before, but no matter how often you do it, it never prepares you to do it again. Most of the time, we fly as a family –a routine I have down pat. However, when I don’t have my husband for the man-to-man coverage, the experience never seems to go quite as planned. I prepped for the flight the same as I always do, with the most important items being my secret weapon: a ziplock of new toys from the 99 Cent Store. (I’ve learned it never matters how basic the toys are, as long as AJ has never seen them, they serve as a pleasant distraction/detour from oncoming tantrums or whining episodes on the plane.)

Fortunately, we made it to Chicago without too many hiccups. The silly putty and superhero sticker book were the biggest hits of the flight. All three of us were covered with Batman and Superman stickers by the time we landed. (A nice lady across the aisle even had them on her pant leg as she was nice enough to allow AJ to deck her out.) Overall, it was a successful flight, but not without constantly being on my “A” game. It’s one of those things I feel like I can never fully prepare for as there are so many unknown factors that can impact flying with young children. (Particularly when you are doing it without your spouse.) As moms, we simply just make it work. I never truly feel more like Superwoman until once the wheels touch ground and I know I survived. Thus, I didn’t even mind when I was walking to the O’Hare baggage claim covered in superhero stickers as I certainly felt like it was fitting. (Single moms… *kneels down to you*).

We ended up having a wonderful time in Chicago. Alfonso was very excited to be able to have us there with him to celebrate his birthday. His special day consisted of his favorite things: family (minus Sienna as she had school), golf (he was invited to play in a Northwestern University golf outing), and great food (we enjoyed a fabulous dinner with our dear friends in Glenview). One of my personal highlights was visiting my alma mater, Northwestern, with my boys while Alfonso was playing golf. I hadn’t visited the campus in 12 years so it was great to see all of the new buildings, supply my boys with some Northwestern gear, and show my sons my favorite view on campus overlooking downtown Chicago. I must say, it’s quite surreal to be in a place where you once created so many hopes and dreams… where you vividly remember all of the excitement yet uncertainty you felt about your future… where you had so many options laid out before you and hoped the path you chose was the best for realizing those hopes and dreams. To revisit this place with my children and share it with them was a very special experience for me.

Overall, despite the anxiety of flying solo with little ones, it was an amazing trip. (Fortunately, the flight back was a breeze since Daddy was able to fly back with us.) I’m happy my husband got the birthday he wanted and that we were able to help him celebrate it all together. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. Nothing beats being able to be together as a family on special occasions. And every now and then, it may require us moms to drop our disguises and show the world our superhero powers. After all, isn’t every mom a superwoman?

Baking Recipes Uncategorized

The Best Non-Brown Brownie

September 9, 2015

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By no surprise, my favorite recipes are derived straight from my grandmother Lou’s kitchen. I previously posted her amazing Ranger Cookie recipe. (It’s utterly the BEST. COOKIE. RECIPE. EVER.) The next recipe that I would like to share of hers is one for a brownie. However, it’s no ordinary brownie. It’s called a Swedish Brownie, and I can guarantee it will be the best “non-brown” brownie you’ll ever sink your teeth into! It’s great for dinner parties if you want something a little unusual yet delicious. Better yet, it’s incredibly easy to make and requires very little prep time. (It typically takes me 35 minutes from start to finish.)

Here is the recipe to the best “non-brown” brownies on the market:

Swedish Brownies

½ Tsp. of Salt

4 Eggs

2 Cups of Flour

2 Cups of Sugar

1 Cup Butter (partly melted)

½ Tsp. of Baking Powder

2 Tsp. of Almond Extract

Mix all ingredients in large bowl. Spread in well-greased jelly roll 10×15 pan. (For thicker brownies, use a regular 9×13 brownie pan.) Batter will be thick. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until top is lightly browned and middle is cooked. (If you’re using a 9×13 pan, bake for 25-30 minutes.) Once cooled, sprinkle powdered sugar on top and enjoy!

Aulani Family Travel

Vacation Review: Disney’s Aulani Resort

August 8, 2015

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Looking back on my childhood, some of my most cherished memories consisted of our family summer vacations. We would typically drive to each vacation destination and stop at any and every tourist attraction along the way. I remember one of my favorite trips was our drive to Seattle when I was ten. We hit up several tourist attractions on the drive ranging from Mt. Rushmore to Yellowstone to a mining museum in Montana to exploring some cool towns in Idaho. I loved traveling with my family, and I was obsessed with wanting to visit every state. (I’ve almost accomplished this goal… I only have Vermont, Delaware, and New Hampshire to go!) Now being a parent myself, my husband and I hope to offer the same to our children – the opportunity to show our children new places while creating fun, long-lasting family memories. (And hopefully one of our future trips will enable me to check off my final three states!)

When debating where we wanted to take our vacation this year, Alfonso and I wanted a place that both Sienna and AJ could enjoy. We had an amazing experience last summer at Beaches Resort in Turks & Caicos – even though AJ was too young to really enjoy it. After many suggestions from friends and conducting my own research online, we concluded that Disney’s Aulani Resort in Hawaii seemed like the best fit for everyone.

I had read hundreds of reviews about the resort before heading to Hawaii. I found some to be very helpful, (i.e. not using the resort to rent a car for a day, reserving a two-bedroom villa, attending a luau at nearby Paradise Cove, etc.) To offer my own review, here’s what I loved about Disney’s Aulani Resort:

  1. The resort is absolutely, positively beautiful! Aesthetically, it looks like a Disney resort in a Hawaiian paradise. It was the perfect mix of enjoying the Disney characters along with the Hawaiian beaches, food, and ambiance.
  2. The two-bedroom villa was wonderful. It was the ideal space for our family. (We brought all three kids, Sienna’s friend, and our baby-sitter.) The full kitchen was great for cooking the kids’ breakfast and dinners. (My toddler is one of the pickiest eaters ever. He is currently in the will-only-eat-oatmeal-for-breakfast phase.) Additionally, it was great to have the ability and space to clean bottles and breast pump parts -two activities that I find myself doing constantly.
  3. The beach was, in the words of my stepdaughter, “absolutely awesome!” The Aulani beach is on a man-made lagoon, which made it easier/safer to take AJ out for a dip and for the girls to snorkel without battling the waves and strong currents.
  4. The cabanas were a wonderful break from the continuous -and often unsuccessful- search of finding available chairs by the pool. We rented a cabana for two days by the pool and loved every second. There was a Pack ‘n Play set up for my 3-month old, a fan, curtains for privacy, TV, awesome waiters, and simply, it made the pool/beach experience much easier with kids. They were expensive, but well worth the splurge for two days out of the week.
  5. The Laniwai Spa was a favorite for Alfonso and me. We both had a deep tissue massage that served as the most relaxing and rejuvenating 90 minutes of our vacation. We also enjoyed utilizing the beautiful spa gardens consisting of a charming area of mineral hydrotherapy pools and showers at various temperatures. They offered a great array of massages at typical resort pricing. (Next time, I will definitely be trying the traditional Hawaiian Lomilomi Massage.)
  6. Ama Ama was hands down the best restaurant. My Korubuta Pork Chop with Coconut Rice and Thai Peanut Sauce was DELISH! Alfonso and I enjoyed a romantic date night here (sans kids) on one of the nights. The breakfasts here were also divine. Their Buttermilk Pancakes with Macadamia Nut Vanilla Sauce is a must! Your life will never be the same after letting your taste buds enjoy this delectableness.
  7. The buffet breakfast (Makahiki), where the Disney characters make their rounds, was sheer excitement for my toddler. Even though I always fed AJ in the room prior to heading down for breakfast, he used this time to stalk Goofy and Minnie and partake in the fun activities led by the Disney characters.
  8. The luau at Paradise Cove was fabulous! It’s a ten-minute walk from the hotel and totally worth venturing out to enjoy. The activities beforehand are great for all ages – the spear throwing was a big hit for our clan. (Not to brag, but I was the only person in our group to stick my spear in the target. Apparently, I have some mad spear skills.:)) The show itself was incredibly entertaining! The kids loved the experience of getting up on stage and partaking in the hula lesson. And the fire performers produced some major cringe-worthy moments with many “oooo’s” and “ahhhh’s.”
  9. The friendly Aulani staff –or “Cast Members” -were incredibly helpful. Everyone we dealt with was warm, welcoming, and always cheerful –just like at Disneyland. They certainly receive a 10-rating for hospitality!
  10. There was never a shortage of things to do! The girls enjoyed Aunty’s Beach House (where they offered activities for kids ages 3-12), snorkeling, paddle boarding, and the water slides. AJ had an absolute ball at the Starlit Hui show (featuring some hula and traditional Hawaiian dancing, as well as appearances by the Disney characters). He also enjoyed the Splash Zone, making sand castles on the beach, the Lazy River, and the Ka Maka Grotto pool. And, of course, Anders enjoyed observing all of the sights, sounds, and checking out the pool scene from his deluxe Pack ‘n Play in the cabana.:)

Overall, our family vacation was everything we hoped it would be. It was fun. It was relaxing. It gave us the opportunity to enjoy numerous activities together as a family. And most of all, we created some wonderful, long-lasting family memories. Aulani was the perfect place for our family vacation. I would highly recommend it if you’re a Disney-lover, Hawaii-lover, or love both. And if you have a range of ages, it caters to all!

Now all Alfonso and I need after the flight back with two under two is another vacation. Any suggestions?:)

 

 

Family Golf Travel

LAKE TAHOE TRAVEL TALES

July 28, 2015

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We have returned from yet another amazing family trip from Lake Tahoe. It is perhaps one of our all-time favorite places to visit. Not only does it have stunning views of one of the largest and most beautiful lakes in the world with its breathtaking mountain backdrop, but it is also the place where Alfonso asked me to marry him. Thus, it is a special place that we will always hold near and dear to our hearts. (Fun facts for you geography lovers like myself: Lake Tahoe is one of the clearest bodies of water in the world. It is the second deepest lake in North America, and if the lake were tipped, its contents would cover the entire state of California in 14.5 inches of water!)

The reason we make the trek to Tahoe each year is for the prestigious American Century Celebrity Golf Championship. It’s widely known as the ‘superbowl’ of celebrity golf. It involves PGA rules, competitive scoring format, prize money, head-to-head competition, no carts, and five days of golf (three of which count towards their overall score). There are also countless tournament dinners, parties, and concerts. Needless to say, it’s an exhausting yet incredibly fun week!

Considering golf is one of my husband’s greatest passions, I enjoy supporting it. For four of the five days, I packed up my BOB jogger stroller (Revolution Flex – the BEST stroller for hilly terrain) with my diaper bag and 2-month old, Anders. We set out for the 6-mile a day course to support and cheer on Daddy and his buddies. (24 miles total for the week… not bad for some good post-baby work outs!) In case any of you caught the coverage on NBC, you may have seen that my husband was not high up on the leader board. Unfortunately, he had a couple of rough rounds, but he still had fun and made his wife proud with some amazing shots, nonetheless. In addition, he was able to play all three days with one of his golf buddies, Justin Timberlake. They had a great time amusing the crowd and beach-goers on the 17th hole, which lines one of the beaches of Lake Tahoe – always the most entertaining hole on the course. To provide some highlights, here’s a video of Alfonso, Justin, and Jerry Rice dancing on the tee during the final day: Alfonso & Justin Doing The Carlton

The kids also had a great time, per usual. Anders enjoyed his daily naps in the stroller on the golf course, which offered some fresh, clean Lake Tahoe breathing air. (A far cry from the smoggy and contaminated LA air.) AJ had a blast with my parents, who came to help baby-sit. (My brother also came, as he caddies for Alfonso in the tournament every year.) My parents and AJ did plenty of the activities offered in downtown Lake Tahoe, ranging from the miniature golf course, Marriott pool, kids center, gondola, beach, etc. Sienna enjoyed hanging with her friends – fellow children of other players in the tournament – who she looks forward to seeing annually on this occasion. They partook in their typical ‘tween’ activities… jet-skiing, going to the movie theater, winning candy at the arcade, and staying up way too late during multiple sleepovers. As you can see, it’s impossible to be bored in Tahoe… there’s never a shortage of things to do, no matter the age!

Traveling this time was relatively easy. For starters, it’s a quick flight (about an hour). We were also fortunate enough to ride with a friend on their chartered private jet, which made the experience ten times easier with AJ and Anders. To be able to bypass the stress and strains of LAX and of flying with an infant and toddler on the airlines is such a hallelujah moment (let alone just riding on a private jet!). After working as a private jet flight attendant for nine years, I made sure to apologize profusely for the constant call-button pushing by my son. (That noise can drive a flight attendant mad in the galley. I remember going home from trips when I had kids constantly pressing the call-button. I would hear the ding sound in my head for days!)

Despite the golf not being as good as my husband would have hoped, overall, it was a wonderful trip. We were able to see some great friends, spend quality time together in one of our favorite places, and create some unforgettable family memories. What’s better than that? As one of my favorite quotes goes: “The best things in life are the people you love, the places you’ve been, and the memories you’ve made along the way.” Amen to that.

Family

CALLING ALL DWTS FANS!

July 12, 2015

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I remember hearing the news like it was yesterday. I was feeding AJ dinner in his high chair when my husband walked in the front door after a Dancing With The Stars Season 19 rehearsal. (Technically, he ‘hobbled’ through the front door, a common sight late in the season.)

“Well, it’s confirmed,” he said. “We’re going on tour. We’ll be on a tour bus for two months.”

Alfonso had previously hinted that going on tour was a possibility. However, for whatever reason, I thought of the DWTS Tour as a 10-15 city tour involving flying as the mode of transportation. I had no idea it was upwards of 40 cities on a tour bus! (Or if my husband mentioned this, my pregnancy brain must have kicked in at the time because I had no recollection.) Needless to say, I was overcome with a mix of emotions. I felt happy for Alfonso that he would be able to continue his newfound love of dancing with his partner Witney. I felt excited for our family as it would allow for us to spend a great deal of quality time together while traveling the country. Predominantly, however, I felt complete and utter terror. How would I manage being six months pregnant with an active toddler in the tight quarters of a tour bus for two months? How does one prepare for that?

As it would turn out, the tour was an absolute blast! Though it was often challenging to keep a toddler contained/entertained on a tour bus, it proved to be manageable and fun. (It helped to have a second bus of ten dancers always willing – and begging – to babysit AJ.) The best part was the bond we formed with the other dancers. It truly felt like one big family. (In fact, among AJ’s first words – after “mom,” “dad,” and “dog,” – were “Emma” and “Keo.” He probably spent the most time with and shared the strongest bond with Witney, but her name is probably more linguistically-challenging for a toddler.)

Thus, when Alfonso was asked to join the current summer tour for a couple of stops while Peta, Rumer, and Val would be away, we were super excited to have a DWTS Tour ‘reunion’ of sorts. It was great seeing everyone, as it truly felt like ‘old times’ again. Naturally, AJ loved the attention he received in the ladies dressing room, his favorite place to hang during the last tour. (This was also the location where AJ mysteriously learned how to apply blush. The likely culprits: Witney Carson and Brittany Cherry.)

The show itself was absolutely fantastic! The pro dancers never cease to amaze me. Not only are they some of the most lovely people ever, but they are truly some of the best dancers in the world. I don’t want to give too much away, but some of the show highlights include:

  • An entertaining Broadway musical salute with dances to songs from Grease, Hairspray and Flashdance – (where Jenna starts with an awesome solo rendition to “Maniac” in her 80’s style leg warmers and workout leotard).
  • A fun Country Western routine. (It was great to see my hubby in a cowboy hat for the very first time. This, of course, warranted a couple of snapshots.)
  • Witney and Artem’s Rumba to “Hold On We’re Going Home.” Simply beautiful!
  • Sasha and Emma’s “Jump, Jive an’ Wail” Jive. Their Jives are always a big crowd-pleaser. (I personally love Sasha’s flips and Emma’s speedy turns. She spins on the floor as fast as ice skaters can spin on ice… truly remarkable.)
  • Melissa did an amazing job as hostess. Her fun and endearing personality shines in the show format. Despite suffering a knee injury, she has some wonderful dancing throughout the show as well.
  • Brittany and Alan’s Contemporary dance is STUNNING! I wouldn’t expect anything less from Ed Sheeran’s dance partner in his “Thinking Out Loud” music video. (Which, I must add, has received over 600 million views on YouTube! Go Britt!)
  • The show finale to “Clap Your Hands” was immensely entertaining… AJ and Sienna’s personal favorite.

Even though my husband only did the two shows, it was great to see him back on stage performing with Witney again. They seemed to easily pick up where they left off from the last tour. Their “It’s Not Unusual” routine appeared to be the crowd favorite between the three they performed together. I was bummed not to see Peta, Rumer, or “Shirtless Val,” but I’ve only heard amazing things about their tour performances.

Overall, it was wonderful to see our tour family again. If you are lucky enough to have the tour come to a city near you, I would HIGHLY recommend seeing it. I know I’m biased because I love these people, but I swear it’s an amazing show. You can check out the remainder dates and cities at dwtstour.com. You will not be disappointed! If you’ve already been to one of their shows, please share your thoughts and reviews!

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Family

THE TRANSFORMATION OF DATE NIGHT

June 29, 2015



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I still remember my first date with my now-husband, Alfonso, as if it were yesterday. I wasn’t particularly excited about it, as I knew from our first encounter with mutual friends, that we didn’t have much in common – or so I thought. (After all, how much could a girl from a pig farm in Iowa have in common with a boy from the Bronx?) I agreed to the date mostly because I thought it would put an end to the dinner requests from “Mr. Persistent.” In addition, I hadn’t realized I agreed to go out on the night of Grey’s Anatomy. Thus, I called Alfonso last-minute to adjust the time to 6:00 pm, thinking that was early enough to allow me to make it back in time. (Priorities, right?)

We met at the restaurant of his choice, Mr. Chow, a high-end Chinese-influenced spot in Beverly Hills. After being seated, Alfonso proceeded to order not only for himself, but for me as well. “Who does this guy think he is ordering for me?” I thought. “What guy orders for a girl on the first date? And why did he order himself four pieces of the chicken satay and only two for me?” Needless to say, I was a bit peeved. I expressed my displeasure by simply saying, “I like to order for myself.” He responded, “Trust me. You’re gonna love it.” (He later informed me that this was the only restaurant at which he orders for everyone. He had been going there for years and knew all of the must-taste items on the menu.)

Turns out, he was right. I loved everything he ordered. More than the food, however, I loved our conversation. We discussed everything from our childhoods, politics, religion, travel, and sports. (He explained how a Bronx-native is a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan. Apparently, it was a decision he made as a 10-year old and it was heavily influenced by the fact that the team had cheerleaders… as well as Tony Dorsett.) We quickly discovered that we had many similarities, with the exception of our favorite NFL teams. (I am a Bears and Giants fan.) Even more so, our chemistry was undeniably perfect. It was as if we had known each other for years and were old friends catching up.

Unsurprisingly, I never made it back in time for Grey’s Anatomy. In fact, we shut the place down. We were talking and laughing for so long that we didn’t realize the restaurant was closed and we were the only patrons still there. It was by far the most fun I had ever had over dinner and was oozing with anticipation for the next date, which we had conveniently set for the following evening.

Fast-forward to a wedding ring and two kids later, my husband and I still love our date nights. After we got married, we both made it a priority to maintain date nights at least once a week. We continued this tradition after the birth of our first son. Even when we were on the Dancing With The Stars Tour for two months, we made sure to fit in lunch dates since every evening consisted of a show. (This was actually easier than it seemed considering all 12 of the DWTS dancers jumped at any opportunity to babysit AJ.)

Now after two babies, date night has taken on a bit of a transformation. We skipped date nights for the month of May while Anders was still a newborn, but I’m proud to say we reinstated our ritual for June. Our first stab at date night, as members of the ‘two under two’ club, was more of a learning curve. It involved a date night at home with a sitter to watch the boys. We had planned to watch a movie in the living room while dining on a nice, homemade meal of filet mignons, mashed cauliflower, and baked zucchini sticks – my personal favorite. However, after my toddler decided to skip his nap that day and my infant uncharacteristically didn’t sleep during the same time frame, my cooking plans quickly became nonexistent. To add to the change of plans, our toddler kicked us out of the living room as he and the sitter were in the middle of a serious game of kickball with his beloved Barney on in the background. Deciding to go with the flow, our date night soon turned into Alfonso and I working out, picking up some In-N-Out burgers (protein-style, of course), enjoying the burgers in our sweaty workout attire in the comfort of our bedroom while watching SportsCenter, and ending the evening with a dance party in the kitchen with both sons. Though it wasn’t what we had planned, we still managed to get out of it what we wanted… some alone time to recharge and reconnect without child interruptions.

Since then, we’ve actually ventured out for date night at a few local restaurants, from which we’ve had great success. We have found it’s easiest to bring Anders along with us. Not only is he super easy, as he is a very chill and quiet baby, but I also prefer breastfeeding during dinner rather than having to bring my breast pump and excuse myself to the restroom for ten minutes. (I always wondered if it was a little inappropriate to breastfeed at a restaurant with my first baby, but now with Anders, I don’t even give it a second thought. It’s fast, easy, and very discrete with a cover.)

It doesn’t matter if we have date night in our sweats at the house with a pair of In-N-Out burgers, or out at a nice restaurant with our chill 8-week old, we benefit all the same. It enables us to recharge, stay connected, and simply have a moment to enjoy ourselves without a toddler climbing all over us or the whistling theme song of Barney & Friends chiming in the background. Sometimes it’s challenging finding the time (and a sitter) with our busy schedules, but since we make it a priority, we always seem to make it work. And by no surprise, we still make it a point to schedule our date night at Mr. Chow at least every other month. I still let Alfonso do the ordering. The only difference? He now orders four pieces of the chicken satay for both of us.:)