Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Disney Planning (Already)

Disclaimer: This blog post was primarily written for my sister-in-law, Jenn, but anyone else is welcome to read on anyway!

In case you haven't heard, we (me, Tony and Ruth) are going to Disney World (!!!) at the end of March 2010 for a family reunion, courtesy of my mother-in-law. We will be joined by Tony's mother, brother, sister and family, and step-grandmother. We are super pumped about this, and as soon as I found out we were going I started doing research about the trip, as did my sister-in-law.

So my sister-in-law went to the library earlier this month and found some books about Disney vacation planning. Inspired by her library research, I went to the library tonight and found this great book: The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2010.

This book is HUGE, and the reason it's called the "unofficial" guide is because none of the contributors works for Disney. This gives it a more unbiased approach. It has opened my eyes to many unknown aspects of our impending Disney World vacation, and I want to buy a copy. If not, I will be making photocopies of many parts of this book for safe keeping! Here are the things I've learned so far:
  • To get the most out of Disney World, you have to get to the parks early in the morning, about 30 minutes before they open. This can be very early, but it will mean much, much less waiting in line.
  • We should plan to walk 5-12 miles per day. (I'm going to have to make sure I'm in shape for that!)
  • Because of the large walking distances and the (hopefully) early-morning arrival at the park, families should plan to return to their room in the afternoon for a nap/break. They can then return to the park in the late afternoon/evening.
  • "Extra Magic Hours" are available to resort guests, but this book recommends avoiding them. Here is how they work: each day, one park (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, etc.) will be open an hour early or remain open an hour late just for resort guests. While this may seem like a good deal in theory, the park will be extra crowded on this day, making for longer lines. Also, not all of the rides are open during these extra hours, meaning there are a lot of people trying to cram on a few rides. It's better to forego the extra hours completely and visit a different park, which is very likely to be much less busy.
  • This particular guidebook offers "touring plans" for each of the parks, designed for different groups (just adults, adults with children, mature adults, etc.). These guides often mean a lot of walking and bouncing around the park, but they have been proven to cut ride wait times by 4 hours per day. This allows WDW visitors to visit more rides and spend much, much less time in line (usually only 15-20 minutes per ride). They also eliminate the time wasted by standing around and looking at a map/arguing over what to see next. Jenn, depending on our attitude toward the trip (if we just want it to be leisurely or if we want to get our money's worth [even though we aren't the ones spending the money]), we may seriously consider using these touring plans. The overwhelming response online and in feedback printed in the book is that they really work.
  • From our resort (Fort Wilderness Cabins) we should expect it to take an average of 45 minutes to get to every theme park via the Disney Transportation System. This does not include the Magic Kingdom, which we can reach in an average of 15 minutes through the water ferry.
  • Meal plans have received mixed reviews, especially children's meal plans, which have very limited menus (think mostly mac-n-cheese and chicken strips). Even though we have a meal plan, I think it will save us a lot of time, money and hassle if we plan on bringing some food with us. We can then eat some breakfasts/lunches in the park. My family did this when we went to Disney World about 12 years ago, and it really worked out for us.
  • Our resort has some really awesome amenities, including a lot of outdoor recreation options!!!
  • FASTPASSES will be very helpful in eliminating time spent standing in line.
  • In reality, we only have three full days at Disney World. (Do you know our departure and arrival times, by chance, Jenn?) Considering that you need two days to see everything at the Magic Kingdom and another two days to see everything at Epcot, we will have to be aware that we absolutely won't be able to see or do everything. This has the potential to be a stressful, exhausting vacation. However, if we plan it well while remaining flexible, we will have an awesome time.
  • If the trip does happen to be exhausting/stressful, we just have to remember: We are in Disney World!!!
Let me know what you think, Jenn. If anyone else has read to the end of this post and has any Disney World tips, let me know!


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Food, fun and frolicking

I have a whole week's worth of stuff to talk about, so I'll start backwards.

Yesterday, I went to the Farmer's Market in downtown Omaha to buy most of our produce for the week. (It's one of the recommendations in In Defense of Food.) I love it down there, and Ruthie was very good for me in her backpack carrier. I went with $12, and we ended up buying a red pepper, a couple of zucchini, green onions, cilantro, some tomatoes, an eggplant, a few white peaches and some free-range eggs for $10.50. I can't wait to go again this Saturday. Here's a sampling:Ruth and I then walked over to the other side of downtown to meet my mom and nieces for the River City Roundup Parade. Ruthie kept trying to run out into the street, but she enjoyed watching the drill teams, marching bands and horses. Yesterday evening I went to our ward's Relief Society retreat for dinner before the General Relief Society Broadcast. They gave me a little kit to hand-make a few cards, and since I've been wanting to take up card making as a hobby, it was very exciting! I just finished them a little while ago:

On Friday evening, my friends Cindy and Roberto got married and baptized.It was very exciting to see them reach their goal, and I wish them the best. During the big event, Ruth had a fun time playing with her friend Clark, who is a month older than Ruth. They tried to wander around the church building alone and had fun hiding under the coffee tables in the foyer. I didn't get pictures of them, but I will next time!

On Thursday, we had a playgroup at the Playdaze, which had a "Mommy and Me Play for Free" promotion. Ruth had a great time on the quarter rides, and I got some more video of her walking:

She also had her first driving experience:

Then, earlier this week, my niece Kora came over for a short visit. She and Ruth had fun playing together, too:

The week was a busy one! Hope yours was good, too. :)


Monday, September 21, 2009

Book Review: In Defense of Food

I finished reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan a couple of days ago, and it was a really great, quick read. If you are reading this book *cough*Jenn*cough*, consider this your spoiler alert.

As I've posted before, Pollan's motto with In Defense of Food is "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." The book itself contains a brief history of the "Western diet" (i.e. what Americans eat); commentary on how the American diet has been influenced by politics; summaries of studies related to nutrition, diet, health and farming; and recommendations on how to "eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

What I found fascinating about this book is how politics have played a role in the American diet. Many food producers have lobbyists, so if studies come out that show that Americans should cut back on their intake of red meat and dairy to reduce heart disease, the government can't change its dietary recommendations without getting flack from the beef and dairy producers. Therefore, the government has fueled the growth of "nutritionism," an idea that a food is as good as the sum of its nutrient parts. The government can say "cut back on saturated fat" without offending an industry group (even though it really should be saying "cut back on meat and dairy").

However, as Pollan goes to show in his book, nutritionists haven't been able to fully understand foods by breaking them down into their nutrient parts. Therefore, it's not enough to tell people to "cut back on saturated fat," or "increase your intake of fiber," as has been proven by our country's increasing problem with heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes. There is a synergy that exists in whole foods, so it's better to eat foods for their overall nutritional value rather than one nutritious part. For example (this is a very simplified example), scientists think carrots are good for us because they contain fiber and beta carotene. However, if you give a person fiber and beta carotene supplements, they will not receive as many health benefits as they would have if they had just eaten the carrot. (Actually, studies have shown beta carotene supplements can have harmful effects.) Therefore, it's better for nutritionists to say "eat more carrots," or "eat more leafy greens," than it is to say "eat more beta carotene," or "get more antioxidants."

Pollan also writes about studies that have shown the importance of eating whole, unprocessed foods. In places where the "Western diet" exists, a whole number of diseases have followed, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Where cultures eat whole foods (i.e. many of the French, Japanese, Greeks, etc.), such diseases are much more rare.

At the end of the book, Pollan gives recommendations on what to eat and how to eat it. Here are a few:
-Avoid food products containing ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, more than five in number, or that include high-fructose corn syrup.
-Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
-Eat well-grown food from healthy soils.
-Do all your eating at a table.
-Pay more. Eat less.

I found it interesting how closely Pollan's findings follow the Word of Wisdom, which isn't just a list of prohibited substances for Latter-day Saints. The Word of Wisdom also includes a list of do's: eat grains, plants and a very small amount of meat; get plenty of rest. Unfortunately, many of us forget that the list of things we should do to be healthy are just as important as the things we shouldn't put into our bodies.

I enjoyed this book very much, and it has encouraged me to take better care of my body. I want to be healthy, and I want to teach my little girl how to take care of her body, too. If you're prepared to look at food differently, I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Food on the mind

Have you ever wondered what exactly is in that can of pop or box of cereal? I mean, what exactly is the sodium alginate and carrageenan they put in my Nutrigrain bars? I never really stopped to think about it until recently. And now that I have thought about it, Tony and I have decided to change our diet.

I've been reading "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan. I have to say this book falls into my "life-changing" category. I highly recommend it. The motto of the book is this: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Pollan discusses the "Western diet" (lots of carbs, sugars, meats, dairy and processed foods), the growth of "nutritionism" (focusing on nutrients, like saturated fat, instead of actual food) and how we Americans can get healthier by eating what our grandparents ate: whole foods. What I've read so far boils down to this: The Western Diet has caused us Americans to shift from whole foods to processed foods, and we need to shift back to get healthy as a population.

And that leads me to my recent trips to the grocery store. On Monday, I was pretty much finished shopping when I began looking at the label on a container of sour cream. I noticed there were some additives on the label I didn't really recognize (according to Pollan, a sign of a processed food), and so I decided to take the short walk over to the organic foods section of the store and do some comparing. The organic sour cream had three simple ingredients, all of which I recognized and could pronounce. The only problem was the organic sour cream was $3, compared to the $.60 (with coupon) I would pay for the non-organic sour cream with additives. I decided to tour the rest of the small organic section, picking up food items and reading the ingredient labels to find that most of the organic foods contained a limited number of ingredients and very few processed additives. The frustrating thing is that organic foods can be so much more expensive!

Since we are serious about cutting processed foods from our diet and wanted to get a good idea of how much going totally organic would cost, Tony and I decided to go to our local Whole Foods store today and price out our grocery list. I bought groceries on Monday and spent $60. The same groceries (only in non- or less-processed organic form) at Whole Foods added up to $101. Unfortunately, that steep of a jump in our grocery budget isn't a possibility, so we will be making more gradual changes. We are going to try to replace processed items with home cookin'. This means I will attempt to make home-made Nutrigrain bars (I found a very promising recipe!), side dishes, etc., but our goal is to introduce one new food a week. We are also working to add more veggies to our diet and are using smaller plates to encourage portion control.

Now, please don't think that we will never again eat processed food because of this. We especially don't want people to think they have to cater to our eating habits. We are just using this blog post to share good information. These changes certainly don't mean we will never eat Doritos, cookies, canned soup or delicious Dr. Pepper again. It just means we want to eat much less of it.

I highly recommend reading "In Defense of Food" if you can get your hands on it. Be prepared to change the way you think about food, for the better. I'll post a more lengthy review after I finish the book!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

My baby has turned into a toddler

Ruth has been developing a lot over the last few weeks. She has two little teeth in the middle of her lower gums (and is in the process of cutting some upper ones). She is becoming much more talkative and is now able to imitate a number of animal sounds (cow, dog, cat, lion, bear) as well as say a few words (read, mom, "dadad," shoes, hi). She is growing out of her 12-month clothes, including this super cute outfit her Grandma Diane and Grandpa Gardner bought her for her birthday:

She loves to dance to music that has a good beat. Here is a video Tony took of Ruth dancing a little to Weird Al's "White & Nerdy":

Her hair is getting really long and is starting to fall into her eyes a lot, so we've begun putting little ponytails into her hair. Tony gave his first shot at giving Ruth a ponytail this morning, and I think he did a good job:Last, but certainly not least, Ruth is walking. Today, she was walking around a TON (albeit very slowly), and I was able to take a video.

I have realized that Ruth's babyhood is slipping through my fingers. I was too nervous and uptight to enjoy her first year as much as I should have. However, I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of person she becomes!

Hungry Girl Recipe Review: Old Time Rocky Road Fudge

So my wonderful sister-in-law, Jenn, and I have decided we are going to review a recipe from every month on our blogs. This month we decided to make Old Time Rocky Road Fudge, a recipe that uses only a handful of ingredients: brownie mix, canned pumpkin, light chocolate syrup, marshmallows and slivered almonds. You can find the full recipe here.

I have to say, I was very excited about making this. I am a real chocolate lover, and I was having such a strong craving for chocolate that I decided to make these a day early. (Sorry, I cheated, Jenn!) So I gathered up the ingredients, along with my helpful husband and assistant:
We started by mixing up the batter. We used regular chocolate syrup instead of light chocolate syrup simply because that's what we had in our fridge (and I didn't feel like buying the light kind just for this recipe). This is what we got:

Tony was the first to taste the batter, which was very smooth and quite thick. He said it tasted like "poo." I tried it, and I didn't think it was great, but not terrible either. I started to worry that I had wasted a perfectly good brownie mix. But we went ahead and baked up the batter, as directed. We then removed it from the oven, put the marshmallows and nuts on top, and baked it a while longer.

I was so excited to try this, but after reading the directions I realized the fudge had to chill for "several hours"!!!! I was craving chocolate right then, and so was Tony (to a lesser degree) so we settled for other snacks until our fudge was chilled. I had a make-shift "banana boat" (which turned out to be entirely too sweet (bad idea, me)) and Tony had hot chocolate.

After several hours had passed and the fudge was thoroughly chilled, I tried a piece:

To my surprise, my attempts to satisfy my chocolate craving were thwarted, once again! My expectations for this recipe were very high, and so I was very disappointed. While the texture of this was fudgy (but a little soft... more like pumpkin pie) the pumpkin flavor totally overwhelmed the chocolate. Actually, to me, it doesn't taste like chocolate at all. I had another couple of pieces today before blogging and decided that this recipe doesn't taste bad, but it doesn't taste like chocolate fudge. Tony had another piece today, too, and agreed that the pumpkin overpowered the recipe. I would much rather eat a small amount of real chocolate fudge and deal with all those calories and fat than eat this substitute. And so, for me, this gets a thumbs down. Out of 5 stars, I would give this 1 1/2 or 2.

I like what Hungry Girl is trying to do with her recipes, so I'm looking forward to next month's review!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Two good ideas and a bad one, not in that order.

What a wonderful Labor Day weekend we had!

Good idea #1:

As many probably know, Meredith and I trained for the Bill Seymour half-marathon that was held on Friday, September 5th in Grand Island. We stayed the previous night with a good friend of our's, Jeanne Williams, and got out and ran our little hearts out!

Delayed by a potty break, a burnout-catch-up run and pained knees, I came in at a whopping 2:12 with Meredith finishing at 2:07. But hey, we finished it! I've never finished a Powerade so quickly. We had been sweating so much that the salt was dried and flaky on our faces.

After lunch at La Mexicana, we headed out to North Platte to enjoy a few days with our good friends the Olbrichts. We love them! Calvin, Alyssa and I acted out 1 Nephi 3 for everyone in a hut we made out of blankets, clothespins, with ties as headbands. We all played some serious Worms Armageddon on Saturday and Monday as well.

Bad idea:

Towards the end of our foray with the Olbrichts, Josh had a great idea to have a competition between the two of us: eat two enormous jalapeƱo peppers whole. It consisted of the following rules:
  1. Facial expressions must be emotionless for five minutes from time of first bite.
  2. Automatic disqualification for drinking anything or eating anything else before five minutes had passed.
Well... I won. But it was a bad idea.

Good idea #2:

The past couple of weeks had been a serious time of reflection for me about my talents and abilities and how I was using them to the benefit of my family, the Kingdom and others. This led me to the amazing realization (sarcasm) that I had a knack for professionalism, Spanish and creative writing. Creative writing aside, I realized I had a very marketable skill that had been right in front of me all along: my abilities with the Spanish language.

With the love and support of my dear wife and friends, I launched my first official business website for my business, Gardner Translations. It's a great feeling.

So there you have it in a nutshell! We were happy to travel and we're happy to be home.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Happy September!

It's September, and I think it's going to be a good one this year. I love it when the weather starts cooling off and the leaves start changing. However, Tony and I have a lot to do before it gets too cold. Here is a short list:

1. Find some cheap lawn tools (a rake or two, some pruning clippers). I'm hoping to have some luck at an estate sale or a garage sale.

2. Go through boxes and tidy up basement storage room.

3. Sweep out and tidy up garage.

4. Wash and vacuum out car. (This might seem like a small task, but we don't do it very often.)

5. Clean living room carpet. (It gets a lot of traffic, and I'd like to get it nice and clean before the winter months.)

That's about one task a week. Now I need to get to it!!! :)

(Thanks, Jenn, for the idea.)