Change

So, yeah. Change.

Here we are. Most of you know that we are undergoing some major life changes in our little family. Here’s the deal.

After years of the Knight telling me that ‘there is life outside the DC area’ and that ‘the rest of the country doesn’t plan their trips to Trader Joe’s around rush hour,’ I relented.

I grew up in the NY suburbs (Long Island). I have pretty much lived there and here (Northern VA). I don’t really know any different. Honestly, I love it here. We have a great life, wonderful friends, a comfortable home, and good jobs.

However, what is missing is balance. Frankly, I can never get enough time with Max, or Oli for that matter. I am proud of being a working mom. But for the past 2.5 years I have longed for something different.

We had talked about moving to Charleston for several years. We went down a couple of times and we like it but we weren’t wowed enough to make the move.

Along came Greenville. Oli is from what they call Upstate South Carolina. He grew up about 45 minutes to an hour from Greenville. His brother and sister-in-law live there. Coincidentally, back in 1999, I had a work assignment that took me to Greenville for an extended period of time. It was fine, but nothing to write home about.

So each time we visited Oli’s brother we would stick around the house. This past September we stayed longer and explored the area. The area has completely changed. There has been an amazing amount of development thanks to several large corporations moving to the city – BMW, Michelin, etc. Clemson has a satellite campus there. George Hincapie even moved there and opened a training center. 
So our tour went well, dtarting with the amazing four-story Children’s Museum. We were sold. Oli was shocked when I told him I could see us living there. The downtown area is amazing. For my DC friends, imagine a cross between Old Town and Bethesda, and throw in a river with water falls and beautiful parks and trails. The downtown has a wonderful mix of restaurants, shops, artist studios and green space. There are theaters, museums and a very nice library. There is even a minor league baseball park.

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Greenville is located in the northwest part of SC. They area is called the “upstate.” It is near the mountains.


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A view of the downtown from Falls Park. The pedestrian suspension bridge is even more striking in person.


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The heart of downtown

 

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Greenville skyline

Then I started researching home prices. Helllo!?! We can buy a house within walking distance of downtown for what you would buy a one-bedroom condo for here.

 

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Main Street (I don’t know how they got a picture with no cars or people)

 

It took us a while to get to the point of admitting that it was what we wanted to do. It was an extremely difficult decision for many reasons. However, knowing that we could have a fresh start and get out of the DC rat race was just too tempting to resist.

We are optimistic that once we get settled we will wonder why we waited so long. Greenville is a great little city with so much to offer. Our house is still on the market but we decided it is time to leave my job and start enjoying life. I’ve been very surprised by the mixed emotions I have been feeling this week. As much as I didn’t totally love my job, there are parts that I really like. My coworkers are all fantastic and I am really going to miss them. I did well in my 11+ years as a government lawyer but it is time to try something new.

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Liberty Bridge at night

What will that be? I don’t know exactly. And I kind of like that. I can do anything. The idea is to buy a house that we can afford without either of us working (we will live on the Knight’s retirement income). We are hoping to find a nice little home within walking distance of the thriving downtown area. Walkability is our priority, so we will have to resist looking at the houses that are farther out. As you might expect, you can get a lot more for your money when you go just a few miles away from downtown. We will see what we find.
Oli will continue his consulting gigs and when I am ready I will find something new to do. I am only half joking when I sai I want a job at Trader Joe’s. I think that would be great fun. More realistically, I am hoping to pursue my passions for running and healthy eating by helping others get fit and healthy. I recently became a certified running coach and I am going to explore some formal nutrition education to get some certifications in that arena.

On the way in to work I saw a powerball advertisement on the sign of the bus. I realized that every time I fantastize about winning (which isn’t going to happen since I never play) the first thing I think of is quitting my job. Well, here we are. I’m not going to lie. It feels really good to be released from the constant pressure of this job.

There are a million other things to say, but those are the basics. We are super happy to be able to do this.

Max is 2.5!

Holy cow! Max likes to say that a lot these days ever since he heard me say that in response to the price of organic cauliflower ($7.65/head! Are you kidding me?) Anyhow, Max is getting older and I can hardly believe it.

Picture Day (11/14)

Picture Day (11/14)

As you may know, I keep a private blog called Max Memories where I record one cute, sweet, funny or memorable thing per day. It has been a such a fun endeavor and it has been so awesome to be able to look back over the past year and remember everything. It is also amazing to see how far he has come over the past year. Almost exactly one year ago, for the first time Max gave me a hug when I asked him to. He was barely verbal then, and would express himself with sounds (yah, no), motions and signs. Now we are having full conversations. Well, maybe not complete ones, but definitely dialogues.

We LOVE bath time!

We LOVE bath time!

Personality

Yes, I am totally biased, but he is a great kid. He is FUNNY! I don’t know if all 2 year olds are so funny but Max really makes me laugh.

Max continues to love books more than pretty much anything – other than his parents, of course. We have a good collection but we still love going to the library for fresh material. On our most recent trip I was so proud when he picked up a book and correctly said “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” He pretty much always wants to read from the moment he gets up to the moment he goes to sleep. Books trump toys every time. Oh how I hope this love of reading continues forever. IMG_0851IMG_0844

His teachers report that Max is an easy going kid. Apparently he is pretty passive so they are happy when he asserts himself. I’m not sure who they are talking about but I am glad to hear he is well-behaved. At daycare he is very compliant, and is the first one to follow instructions to start nap time. That is not the case at home and I am aware that we are being played. Haha!

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At Clemyjontri – Fall 2014

 

Building on that compliant personality, we recently implemented an award chart. The main motivation was to shorten the bedtime routine and eliminate all of the fussing and crying. It worked like a charm in just a couple of nights. As I have mentioned before, this kid really likes to follow the rules and he is very responsive to positive reinforcement. The snowman pez dispenser he got for a week of good behavior was a huge hit!

Development

Around the end of October Max started speaking more in sentences. I can’t tell you how neat it was to hear him ask “Where’d Daddy go?” Most recently, he told me “This is a good day!” and “I like that plan!” I was looking back and my last post where I mentioned Max had said “Eat, Mama. No house.” Now he says “I want to eat at a restaurant. I no want to eat at home.” He can tell you what he wants to eat (and what he doesn’t) which is good and bad :)

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It is interesting to watch the physical changes in him. In November I took him to the indoor trampoline park and then again in mid-January. The first time around he was much more interested in playing with the balls than in bouncing. The second time we went he was much more interesting in jumping – though the balls and running around really did prove to be the biggest draws. Oh well, he had fun – and so did I.

He has begun to get into his stuffed animals and now makes a big pile of his animals and blankets before going to sleep. His favorite is “Ice Bear” which is a wonderful stuffed Harrod’s bear our dear friend Karen brought back from London. He will sometimes cuddle with them but mostly just has to have the mountain next to him.

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In the past month he has started showing an interest in playing with, not just near, his classmates. This is so cute to see. It started with him pretending to eat his classmate, but okay.

He is also learning at an amazing rate, like all toddlers. We are definitely having some of those moments where we realize we need to be very careful about what we say.

The Knight wants to help Max develop his physical skills so recently we’ve been playing catch and soccer a lot. We are definitely not the “no playing inside the house” kind of family. I am sure I will live to regret this at some point.

An amusing moment from the other day went like this. We’ve been trying to get him to say “yes” instead of “yup” or “yeah.” Usually we do this gently by simply saying “yes” after he says yeah or yup. We were in the car the other day when I answered “yup” to a question he asked me. He said “Say yes Mommy.” He followed up with “Don’t say yup.” Okay, buddy.

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Max loves to cook, especially when it involves tasting, too

Max loves to cook, especially when it involves tasting, too

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Highlights

There were a lot of highlights of the past 6 months. We took a trip to Greenville, SC and then to Augusta, GA for the Knight’s half Ironman. It was a great trip overall and Max discovered a love of hotels. I am not sure what exactly. Perhaps it is the long, open hallways or the elevators. He did really well on the trip and slept in his peapod travel tent without issue (unlike the first time we tried it where he wound up sleeping in our bed after hours of failed efforts).

We did a lot of fun activities over the past six months or so. We had a blast at the pumpkin patch and Cox farms. It was a fabulous day full of animals, slides, a hayride and a LOT of apple cider.

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One of Max’s two Halloween costumes (his other was a monkey)

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Max loves snow and snowmen, though to be honest the only snowman we made was more like a pile of snow than a man. Oh well. He didn’t know any better so he was fine with it.

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We met the Cookie Monster at the Children’s Museum. That was interesting. Max loved the idea until he was actually confronted with the life-sized character. We are so not ready for Disney! :(

Christmas

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As you would expect, Christmas with a toddler is a blast. Seriously! Everything was so full of magic and excitement. I would have to say it may have been my best Christmas ever. From the day we decorated the tree to Christmas morning, it was wonderful. Egg nog might be the best thing Max has ever tasted. He couldn’t get enough. That’s my boy! George the Elf of the Shelf joined our household for the month and we had a great time with him. We didn’t do anything elaborate. We just moved him every night and Max thought this was great fun.

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If we’re friends on Facebook, you know all about the play kitchen that Santa brought (huge thanks to Es, Don and Jared for assisting in the assembly endeavor!). Max was and still is over the moon about his kitchen. He is constantly cooking for us. He is also good about storing the leftovers. He will make us, for example, a lemon. He puts it on a plate and serves it. We pretend to take a few bites and then we give it back and Max tell us he is going “save it for later.” I had no idea until I looked the other day that what he was doing was putting everything in the Tupperware he lifted from our pantry. I looked in his fridge and found a bunch of containers full of plastic food neatly stacked in his refrigerator. It cracked me up!

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Max is a huge fan of Santa – in concept. He talked about Santa non-stop and assured me that he wanted to meet him. When he saw him in person it was a completely different story. Wow. After that he kept telling me “I no like Santa.” Okay, got it.

Yup! Loving Santa!

Yup! Loving Santa!

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Discipline

In my last post about Max I mentioned that he is generally very compliant and eager to please. While this is still true, he is definitely developing more of the toddler independence and testing the limits. Honestly, I think he is still extremely well behaved for his age but he truly has his toddler moments. We follow the basic tenants of the book series Love and Logic, which works very well for us. I recommend it.

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Other

Over the past two months I have noticed a big change in Max’s relationship with the Knight. He still wants Mommy most of the time, but he is much more excitedto get home to Daddy or to play with Daddy. One night the Knight was downstairs fixing something and Max wanted to wait to eat until he came upstairs.IMG_0735

We had a really interesting few months involving Max’s fear of shadows. It started suddenly and took months to work through. Now he is fine with them and tries to catch them, but wow, that was some phase. It is like so many things that come and go with little ones. You know it isn’t going to last forever but it can be hard to manage when you’re in it.

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We started a new tradition of going out for frozen yogurt (Menchie’s- YUM!) on Sundays after dinner. It is so fun and is such a nice way to end the weekend.Honestly, I could write pages and pages more. Being Max’s mom is just awesome.

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Crock Pot Meal Plan Recipe Review: Taco Chicken

Alas, it is the final of the nine recipes I prepped for this freezer meal experiment. Overall the experiment was a huge success. I will post an overview post later. For now, here is my final review.

I give it 3 1/2 stars, but take that as you will since I’ve already admitted I don’t love chicken. What I haven’t mentioned is that I am not a huge fan of tacos. For what it is worth, the Knight really liked this one – and he is a fan of tacos.

3-5-stars

I served it in taco shells (Trader Joe’s has good ones that don’t have any yucky ingredients) with some shredded cheese and guacamole on the side. (I also served roasted broccoli which does not go at all with tacos but I wanted a nice green vegetable.)

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Taco Chicken
•2-3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs/breasts
•2 cans diced tomatoes with green chilies
•1 can green chilies (pick which spicy level you like)
•1 envelope low sodium taco seasoning (I like Penzey’s)

Cook on low for 8-10 hours.

Crock Pot Meal Plan Review: Honey Sesame Chicken

This recipe wasn’t the huge hit I was expecting, but still a good addition to the repertoire. I think it needs some kick. I will try adding more red pepper flakes or some sriracha next time. I’m giving it a solid four stars. This is very kid friendly and versatile.

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HONEY SESAME CHICKEN

  • 2-3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs/breasts
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 cup honey
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • ½ cup low sodium soy sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more if you like it spicy)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Directions:

Toss meat, flour, salt & pepper into bag & toss together.  Add remaining ingredients & seal up bag. Once cooked garnish with scallions and serve over brown rice or quinoa.

Freezer Meals Tip

In the process of doing some research for my next round of freezer meals I came across a great tip. If you put the freezer bag in the refrigerator the night before it will be much easier to put in the crock pot. Check out http://whoneedsacape.com for lots of ideas, recipes and meal plans.

Crock Pot Meal Plan Review: Santa Fe Chicken

Another hit! This one is pretty straight forward.

Crock Pot Santa Fe Chicken

  • 1 1/2 pounds chicken
  • 8 ounces frozen corn
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • t teaspoon pepper
  • 3 scallions chopped

Cook on low for 10 hours or on high for 6 hours. A half hour before serving, remove chicken and shred. Return chicken to slow cooker and stir in. Adjust salt and seasoning. Serve over rice. Garnish with cilantro and sour cream if desired.

***

I’m giving it 4 stars. A good, solid recipe. Really good flavor and sufficiently different from the other chicken recipes. I served it with quinoa and roasted vegetables. It would do well in tortillas.

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I think I cooked this on low for 8 hours and it was fine. It didn’t make as much as the other recipes so we didn’t freeze any. I had actually planned to use the leftovers to make soup but after two dinners there weren’t any. This could easily be doubled.

Crock Pot Meal Plan Review: Crock Pot Chicken Taco Chili

One word: Great!

I could use a lot more words, but that one works.

Five stars!!!
 

 

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Crock Pot Chicken Taco Chili

  • 3-4 chicken breasts/thighs
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 10 oz. frozen corn
  • 1 taco seasoning packet [or 2 heaping tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes with chilies

A half hour before serving, remove chicken and shred. Return chicken to slow cooker and stir in. [The recipe didn’t specify, but I assume you are supposed to cook it a little while longer at this point.] Serve with fresh cilantro, shredded cheese and/or sour cream.

Honestly, I am a little surprised by how much I liked it given my confessed lack of love for chicken. This turned out so well. Tons of flavor, a nice balance of food groups. Everyone in the house loved it.

I diced the chicken instead of shredding it.

So, here is the one thing that needs improvement. This is by far the biggest freezer bag we made. It turned out to be difficult to get in the crock pot in the frozen state. The lid barely closed (after a while it did go down but I worried about the heat loss so I cooked it an extra hour on low). I’m not sure what the solution is. Maybe I should defrost the bag in the sink with cool water for a little while. I am open to suggestions.

As usual, this made a ton and gave us enough for a few meals in addition to a bunch of containers for the freezer. Yum!

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