Making Better School Lunches

Lunch BagWhen I send my kids off to school I want to make sure they have healthy and satisfying lunches, along with them knowing that they are loved. Ideally, there is some thought put into their lunches instead of it becoming another chore to do day after day, which it definitely does become ever so often. To try and stay on track, I like to change it up every once in a while, to keep them and myself fresh and excited about the whole lunch process.

My latest findings have put a zing back into making their school lunch. My kids are pretty picky eaters so it can be a challenge. Trader Joe’s has mini baguettes that you can finish baking in the morning and then pack with their individual brie bites in small packages. Add some organic grapes and tomatoes, and you have a lunch that can transport you to Paris, wishful thinking I know… Trader Joe’s also sells lunch meats that are nitrate-free. We have been trying some of the different sandwich meats with their tasty sourdough sandwich bread. They really enjoy lunches with cheese, crackers, salami slices along with carrot sticks and organic apples. Another favorite are pre-made salads with their favorite lettuce, tomatoes, croutons and parmesan. Keep it cool and store the salad dressing separate so they can toss everything together right before eating.

I have been making them some fun reusable lunch bags with matching napkins. I hope they bring some color into their school days. The bags are available on Etsy. Here is a link to my site if you are interested:

Hope this gives you some new ideas on how to get away from making peanut butter and jelly the whole year, I have done that too…

Vacations Make Kids Smarter – Let’s Go!

Luxembourg Garden in Paris
Luxembourg Garden in Paris
Rodin Museum in Paris
Rodin Museum in Paris

With spring break just around the corner, the news has been reporting about how travel can educate your children in different ways. I found a blog post on the topic from which discusses research from the U.S. Department of Education’s finding on the topic in How vacations make kids smarter. The good news is that you do not have to travel far or spend a lot of money for your kids to benefit. Even experiencing a trip to a museum or a day at the beach, can benefit your child’s overall development. I am just glad it gives me another excuse to plan our next outing!

Roma Roma Roma

It had been a very very long time since I had been to Rome.  I was excited to explore this ancient city and experience the warmth of the friendly Italians.  So much of our human culture began in Rome and it is impossible not be moved by the connection to this history.  There is a lot that was brought from the sophisticated Greek Empire that came 500 years before, which is just mind boggling really!  But the Romans, in true fashion created a vast empire which survived for 1,000 years.  We have seen reminders of this vast empire throughout Europe.  The first half of the empire began with a republic government ruled by elected officials and then in the middle period of the empire, the Caesars took over as dictators, which eventually brought the end of the Roman Empire, something to examine for sure.  It is always better to have a democracy!

To first see the Coliseum from afar and slowly walk up to it is a dramatic experience, for sure.  The Coliseum has such emotion to it.  When it opened in 80 A.D., it had a total of 4 stories, which is only partially seen today.  It is said that the Romans invented concrete and bricks.  There is extensive use of brick which is clearly visible throughout the Coliseum.  At the time the Coliseum was used, it was covered in marble.  For our children, learning about the gladiators really brought that history to life.  Imagine yourself as a gladiator walking into the Coliseum with 50,000 spectators excitedly waiting for your gruesome death, what fun they all had, quite the show!  I guess it was important to make clear the power that Roman Empire had over just about anything, man and beast.  Barbaric, yes, but they had something to prove.

We spent several days in Rome strolling among the ruins.  We were excitedly joined by my husband’s mother who added so much to our experience!  In addition to exploring the Coliseum, we visited the Forum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the incredible Galleria Borghese.  Rome is such a vibrant city but it still is a city and we ended up having one of our tires slashed in a not so safe parking area.  We luckily found a nice man to help us, but we heard it could have been a lot worse.  Anyway, as much as we loved Rome, when it was time to leave, we happily headed off into the sunset, towards Lucca.DSC_0016DSC_0179

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Good Stuff

Sadly, it is our last day in Salzburg. Our lovely host arranged for us to go out into the forest where we were able to watch a deer feeding.  We saw approximately 150 deer.  They are fed everyday once food becomes scarce, usually starting around December 1st.  The hunters set out food as they are required to help take care of the deer during the winter, seems only fair…  We hiked out through the snow to a viewing platform, where you sit quietly, as the deer come down the hillside to feed.  Thankfully, we were given blankets to help keep us warm, since the cold took our breath away, we are not quite use to it.

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Afterwards, we drove through the lake region, which again took our breath away, it was so beautiful.  We then stopped and walked through our last Austrian Christmas Market.  It was magical with lights, carolers and all the festivities.  We are truly going to miss Austria, we have really loved being here!

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The Tower of London

There is something for everyone at the Tower of London. History, drama, trickery, weapons, torture, death, royalty and lots and lots of diamonds. Since we did not arrive until the afternoon we ran out of time to see the “rack” which my husband was tortured by missing (pun intended, sorry…).

We took the walking tour with a Beefeater, who is also known as, the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary (what a name…I would go with Beefeater too!). He showed us around the incredible grounds of the Tower and then we headed inside to see the Crown Jewels. There are over 11 tons of gold and some of the largest diamonds in the world, absolutely stunning! We viewed Queen Elizabeth II’s crown, which she will wear for the State Opening of Parliament in early November.

On our way out, my husband and daughter met the first female Beefeater and then a gentleman who worked at the Tower and he gave my daughters a special pin from a recent opening of an exhibition at the Tower. The same pins had been given to some of the members of the Royal Family when they attended the opening. We felt very lucky! He then brought us up to a private area in the Middle Tower, which is where his office was located. We were able to climb to the top of the Tower and had an amazing view of Tower Bridge. He told us about meeting some of the Royal Family and his experience as an expert on Admiral Lord Nelson, the infamous royal naval hero. It was quite an exciting afternoon! One we will always remember!

The Joy of Eating in France

Our experience of eating in France has been no less than a delectable celebration of food. Every meal we have had here has been incredible. Food is very regional and being in Normandy, we have certainly enjoyed our fair share of Camembert cheese. One of the most delicious meals we enjoyed was a stew with chicken, potatoes, carrots, broccoli and mushrooms all sitting in melted Camembert cheese. I am afraid to know how many calories.

Baguettes have quickly become part of our daily ritual. We watched families buy 5 or more baguettes in the markets and at first we thought they were crazy, and now we completely understand how you must eat a baguette with pretty much everything. Cheese, of course, but with soups and for sandwiches, also. It is a staple for us now!

We have become friends with the waiter at the local Creperie. Since we are eating with kids, we have to make sure there is something for everyone on the menu, and this place has it all. Galettes are savory crepes and you can have them several ways. Ham and cheese being the most common but the choices go way beyond my French translation. Our girls had the most amazing pizza served on a puff pastry instead of pizza dough, it was out of this world. My husband and I shared a puff pastry filled with goat cheese and tomatoes and I about died, yes from my arteries being clogged and also the euphoric sensation of every bite, it was truly that good!

The fun doesn’t stop there though because for dessert it is time for the sweet crepes, which you can have with a multitude of toppings, plain sugar to caramel to Nutella and bananas. From there you can add ice cream or even have it flambéed, quite lovely indeed.
We have been to several of the weekly farmer’s markets. You can find one any day of the week. Fresh cheeses, dairy, meats, produce, pastries, bread and local ciders are just some of the treats you may come across. It is great to watch the locals collect their delicious ingredients to take home. Many of the vendors have beautiful displays showcasing their goods. It is a busy place with so many interesting things to experience. I am really looking forward to checking in on some of the markets in Paris, when we return to France in November. That should be another unforgettable time. I better get in some exercise before then…

Hot, hot, hot!

Well we are done with Palm Springs, thankfully! As much as I love Palm Springs and its environs in the winter, summer is another story.  There is much to appreciate in the Coachella Valley with its desert landscapes, mid-century architecture and wonderful resorts but as much as you try, the heat is just oppressive and there is only so much of being in the pool (which is the only place that makes being outside bearable).  I have had a hard time not being outside, we are very spoiled here in Southern California! 

We have had fun though and have tried to make the most of the heat.  Palm Springs was the best place for us as we try to stay on budget. We do have a pretty big trip planned for the next 6  months so we  needed a place where it was easy on the bank account.

While in Palm Springs we have been lucky to be able to see lots of friends and family, plan a few more stops for our European adventure, get the girls in some French classes and swim classes, watch lots of the Olympics (loved it!) visited the Palm Springs Art Museum and began our online homeschooling.  This was especially good on the really hot days when there was not much else to do anyway…
Don’t tell anyone but both girls learned how to drive a golf cart and a golf ball (you can tell people that part) but not the driving the golf cart part, not sure exactly the “rules” for that one. They enjoyed driving the golf carts much more than the golf balls but still did amazingly well, they get it from their dad! Not an easy sport. Takes a lot to get that little ball all the way to that little hole!

Trying to come up with fun indoor activities, we headed to the bowling alley, they have got to do something about the slimy finger holes in the balls and the shoes! Just saying…yikes!
Now we are in Idyllwild, it is 20 degrees cooler and very nice to see some greenery. Idyllwild is a sweet little town in the mountains with lots of art galleries and great hiking trails. I am excited to be able to be outside without sweating. Next, we head to San Diego to spend our last weeks in the States before heading abroad. Looking forward to seeing family and friends!

Here is my very handsome husband in Idyllwild.  It is so nice and beautiful, such a nice change from the desert!

The girls love it here and are out searching for forest faeries as we speak, so sweet!  It is strange with everyone getting ready for back to school and we are well, not…  So excited for our traveling adventures to begin!

Riding the Range

Want to have an amazing family getaway? Head to a dude ranch, yeehaw! This summer we were lucky enough to have had a long weekend spent with family at the Rankin Ranch located in the heart of the Tehachapi Mountains in central California. The 13,000 acre working cattle ranch has several rustic guest suites where you can relax when you are not riding the trails, fishing, swimming, playing games, learning to square dance, playing horseshoes or eating. I think you get the idea, there is a lot to do or nothing at all. It is old-time family fun and we loved every minute of it. The ranch sits in such a lovely setting it is easy to ponder about leaving the big city and permanently relocating.

There is nothing that I like more than connecting with my family especially with how busy our lives are, this is not always easy. That is why a trip out to a ranch with no phones, no tv, nothing but ourselves and the beautiful land is a perfect family getaway

Still time to build an amazing sand castle! Tips to show you how!

Since moving to Malibu, CA this summer, we ended up at the beach more often than usual. Who could blame us, there are some of the most beautiful beaches in the world here. It was a nice way to get to know our new hometown.  Not knowing  many people, we needed to have a project (since play dates were lacking) so we decided to perfect the art of sand castle building.  I say this sarcastically, of course, since ours really were never going to win any contests but that did not bother us. We just had fun and that really is all that matters.

Here are a few tips for any sand castle novices:

1. Bring a very big shovel

2. Grab whatever buckets you have, smaller shovels plus kitchen tools like spatulas, melon ballers, plastic knives and skewers.

3. Draw out an area in the sand where you will build your foundation.  Make it close enough to the water where you can use wet sand but be careful not to get too close…

4. Start piling up sand in the area you want the castle.  Form it into a volcano shape with a crater on top.  Have the kids take turns standing in the crater as you fill it with water and the kids can stomp it down, forming a strong base.  Pack in the sides by gently hitting the sides with the shovel. Continue this until you get the base to the desired size.

5. Flatten out the top and use this as a starting point for placing different molds with your buckets.  Start carving at the top and work your way down.  Use the spatulas to carve out levels and smooth sides.  Use melon baller and skewers to add details such as windows and doors.

6. And away you go.  Get creative by adding shells, seaweed, moats and bridges to your creation.   And voila!

All the years that I have been going to the beach I never truly knew the basics for sand castle building.  It  makes for a very fun day at the beach! So sad summer is on its way out.  Time to look into how to build a decent snowman next…