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Julie Bowen: Adventures of a 'Modern Family' mom

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Julie Bowen pulls into a parking lot off California's Pacific Coast Highway driving a less-than-spotless black Prius. Wearing yoga pants, a hoodie, and a fleece vest, the super-fit 42-year-old has arrived from the set of Modern Family's fourth season. 

An avid runner, Julie—mom to Oliver, 5, and 3-year-old twins, Gus and John—has chosen to talk while we do a moonlit hike in the Pacific Palisades.

"As it gets darker, you won't even need a flashlight," she explains. Should we be freaked out? 

"No," she says, loaning me a fleece vest belonging to her husband, software developer Scott Phillips. "If we see a mountain lion, we'll turn and walk away real quick-like. Or do we make ourselves big? I can't remember," she laughs. "But we'll have fun."

As she narrates our trek ("Did you see that spider? Get down low!"), she shares the other ways she lives life to the fullest—all yours to steal.

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Laugh off criticism
"Ty (Burrell, her co-star) and I were talking about this ridiculous [Modern Family contract] renegotiation business. He and I are—how shall I say?—thrifty people who cringe at the world thinking we're, like, fancy people. I said, 'I don't want anybody asking me about my golden toilet.' And he goes, 'Yeah, or your fur sink.' I started laughing uncontrollably. A fur sink is the best visual!"

What makes me body-confident
"I definitely feel really good if I've gone for a run or I've been at the beach all day."

Simple meal that wows
"Chicken Marbella is an easy, old-school recipe. You take a lot of thighs and legs—delicious dark meat—and marinate it all day in a giant Ziploc bag with prunes, brown sugar, vinegar, olives, and bay leaves. Then pop it in the oven for 45 minutes. To a girl from Maryland, it's very sophisticated to have the sour tanginess of olives with the sweetness of prunes. That, to me, is like, 'Well, my, my, my!'"

Give yourself a break
"As I've gotten older, I've discovered the joys of being lazy. I've always been driven, feeling like 1,000 demons got me out of bed at 5 a.m. saying, 'Go run!' But I wake up these days, and I'm a little tired. And I sort of enjoy that. I mean, if this is going to entropy into me never getting out of bed, that would be bad. But I get more genuine enjoyment out of working out [now] as opposed to feeling like I'm exercising something every time I go for a run."

How I hold onto my (pre-kids) dreams
"Right before I started to try and have kids, I panicked. Scott and I had been married for about a year, and I flipped out: 'I've never been to India!' He was like, 'Go to India! But I'm never going to India.' That's what's great about my husband. He's like, 'I support your dream. Good-bye. I'll be here when you get back.'"

Keep a well-edited bucket list
"By 40, I thought I would have run a marathon. I was training for the LA Marathon, and I tore the cartilage in my hip. I was devastated. My younger sister, who's a doctor, said, 'You have to decide: Do you want to run a marathon, or do you want to run forever?' I was like, 'Crap, if you put it like that.' So I changed the goal. My ego still wants to run a marathon, but I want to be active for the rest of my life. Luckily, I was finished having kids by 40—so I knocked that one off. I made people."

My not-glamorous secret to a happy marriage
"Our best date night is going to the movies. We get popcorn, Twizzlers, and Milk Duds—we call it Popcorn Dinner. We eat it like pigs at a trough and watch a movie and it's really nice."

What I will (and won't) do to my skin
"I've had lasers leveled at my face, and I would like to do Fraxel, the deep one where you go undercover for, like, a month because you look horrible afterward. But the results are astounding, as if someone blew time off your face. I do find it odd that people choose to do stuff that makes them look like crazy Hollywood faces, but I've got zero judgment about it...I've worn some ugly shoes."

Show the world the 'you' you like most
"I'm so not stylish by nature, but I've learned to work with what I have. My darling father gave me some decent getaway sticks—my legs are OK. I do not ever work the stomach. That whole crop-top, baby-doll shirt trend was a very long period for me. Those were some tough years. I feel the most pulled together when I'm going for the tomboyish thing. I far prefer the Diane Keaton to the Loni Anderson."

Click here for more on Julie Bowen at Health.com.