Saturday, November 24, 2012

Santa's Lap & Christmas Tree 2012

Santa's lap has been officially sat on by the Blake kids! :-D

They also got to play trains and send letters to Santa, as well. (No, they didn't question why they should write him when they had just sat on his lap. :-P Maybe just for extra insurance? ;-))

Here's this year's tree:
(Ooops - I snapped this before I put on our new tree skirt & gold star on top to replace those lost in our last move.)

New blown glass ornaments so far this year: gymnastics girl for Annelise, sushi roll for Will, chai latte for Susie, peanut from when we visited Plains when we still lived in Georgia, Christmas mouse just b/c, and "Coach Blake" whistle for JB:

I've talked before about how important it is for our Christmas tree to be like a scrapbook for our family. :-) What does your tree look like?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

How was your celebration of thankfulness? Mine began in a way it NEVER EVER has before: with exercise! :-O

I team-taught an hour & a half of Zumba to *87 PEOPLE* from 9:30-11 AM!!!
It felt so productive to rev up my metabolism pre-feast!

I got cleaned up & put on my Redskins jersey at home; we loaded the car with side dishes (I cooked mine Wed night ;-)) to go celebrate with our football friends, (a family from Will & JB's team this year.) They're originally from Richmond, so I actually got to celebrate with a houseful of REDSKIN FANS!!!!! *dream day*

Laura & me with the turkey (or 4 turkeys? ;-))

I've said it before, but I am so thankful that God has blessed us with so many quality friends here so quickly.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Zoom Zoom Zumba

This week started at a zooming pace:

I burned 922(!!!) calories teaching my Monday morning Zumba class! :-O

I *finally* remembered to START the stupid calorie counter on my heart rate monitor right before class. :-P (I always wear it, but I never remember to start the calorie count function until halfway through = too late. :-D)
And YES: I followed class with a trip straight down to the café! If you burn calories and don't refuel within 45 minutes, your body thinks you might starve and holds onto the fat even tighter. Not eating after working out makes you fatter! Eat eat eat!!!

For the record, (since I remembered :-P) I also tracked my calories burned in the hour *after* Zumba, when I was just standing around the café chatting and then driving in the car: 453. I think people often forget that they KEEP burning calories at a higher rate after the initial exercise = bonus points!

After teaching, I flew back to school for Annelise's field day:

It was an hour and a half of following her around through her events - precious, and with gorgeous 75°F weather ...but yeah, I was tired. :-P She got out of school early, (Will had to stay; JB went to his Field Day which was in the morning during my Zumba class), so we went home, and then did the mile+ round-trip walk back to pick him up an hour later. Needless to say, I wasn't very active the rest of yesterday. :-D I stretched everything out at yoga this morning, though, followed by my fave: sitting in the steam room. If I ever disappear off the grid, send someone to check & see if I've passed out in the gym steam room... ;-)

So many awesome Zumba things on the horizon: I'm team-teaching a huge bonus class Thanksgiving morning at 9:30 AM to rev up our metabolisms before feasting. I'm also teaching another huge event on the morning of Dec. 8th. (They actually want me at two locations, but I have to choose, b/c they overlap!) SO VERY THANKFUL!!!

The Great Thanksgiving Side Dish Link Up! Roasted Sweet Potato Salad

My friend, Andie, is hosting another link-up, this time to share wonderful Thanksgiving side ideas. I have two signatures I must make every year: Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Warm Chutney Dressing and then Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle for dessert. I didn't go all out with the warm chutney dressing last year on my sweet potato salad, (but yes, I did miss it!) I just did simple roasted sweet potatoes with salt, pepper, & ground ginger, then tossed with dried cranberries & roasted/salted pumpkin seeds. It tickles me to pieces that my kids LOVE this! Sweet potatoes are my *MUST HAVE* side. What's yours?

For my dessert trifle, I use Trader Joe's Deep Dark Gingerbread Cake & Baking Mix - the most flavorful, amazing baking mix I've ever used! Last year, I accidentally grabbed pure pumpkin (what I use in my muffins) instead of pumpkin pie filling, so I had to add all the spices myself. I didn't, however, add any more sugar than the 1/2 cup of brown already called for, and it was still sweet enough; so I think I'll make that a permanent change. JB doesn't like pumpkin pie, but he loves this...and the kids & I like it better, too!

One more side note, with props to my husband: his traditional family Thanksgiving side is egg noodles cooked in chicken broth. I had never heard of Thanksgiving noodles (other than in Italian families) until my first (engaged ♥ :-)) Thanksgiving 11 years ago...and let me tell you, they go GREAT with turkey! He is making his OWN FRESH noodles from scratch this year - test run last night = success! - so be impressed, y'all! :-D

Monday, November 19, 2012

Postseason Ennui

We went to a friend's youth football game [different (inferior) league than ours] Saturday morning ...and Will was dyyyyyying to play! Sitting & watching KILLED him!!!!!!! He was losing his mind, rolling around in agony & wailing, "They neeeeed to put me in!!!!!"

It broke my heart...and made me super excited at the same time. ;-) :-P JB & I both kept telling him to remember this feeling, remember how much you want to play, remember this desire. :-D [I know exactly how he felt: every time I went to see a production of a musical I wasn't in, my heart literally ached, b/c I wanted to be up there onstage so bad.] I love that this passion has developed in him on his own - the beginning of the season, Will *cried* during the first few practices. (He certainly wasn't the only one :-P but still. He cried.) JB & I held our breath to see if he would toughen up enough to make it through the next three months...and he ended up becoming a defensive machine who LOVES charging into the center of the action! Lucky for Will, we live in TEXAS: there *IS* spring tackle football here - the first place we've ever lived with ANY spring football option! We told him to be thankful we're here, b/c otherwise he couldn't play, again, until August. :-P

We Blake girls are officially done now, too, after the TurfBowl Sunday. We did a great halftime dance, I got to announce our girls on the field in the giant stadium, and Annelise got a HUGE trophy, [since the Texans made it to the semis. Top four teams get trophies. They. Are. Gianormous!!! (As if Will needed more motivation to win :-P ;-))] That afternoon, I had Annelise video me doing every.single.cheer (34 of them) we did that I actually like this season and last season in Georgia; I can't believe more coaches don't take the time to do this - it's such a great resource to share, and it saves a ton of time at the start of the next season: no wasting half of practice the first two weeks saying, "Um, how did we do this last year?" #superstarcheercoach #prepared

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bullet Points of Thankfulness

My attempt at concise bullet points of THANKFULNESS for this week... (Have grace, b/c we all know I've never said "long story short" in my life!)

* Thankful my Mon Zumba class grew 50% in one week!!!
* Thankful I tried TWO brand new-to-me yoga classes - Yin/Restorative & Hot Vinyasa - on Tues and found them both relaxing!
* Thankful for the steam room at the gym. (I could probably live in there...)
* Thankful we could afford to book the first half of our holiday travel right now.
* Thankful that we'll get to meet our 2nd niece at Blake Christmas this year and I'll get see my beloved BFF Tina for the 1st time in 2 years for that Sunday brunch.
* Thankful for NO CHEER Mon & Wed nights this last week = no rushed homework or dinner!
* Thankful we live so close to the kids' school and that I got to check in on their progress at Open House Tues night.
* Thankful I got all the laundry done AND separated ;-) Wed.
* Thankful I got to have lunch (at Phở Saigon) with JB on Wed.
* Thankful I could Gelish my nails. (Iron Princess - a metallic gunmetal)
* Thankful I got to volunteer for Will's 3rd Grade EureKa science program on Wed.
* Thankful for Will's extra spelling help.
* Thankful I had more offers for fun stuff with friends than I could even accept on Tues!
* Thankful for my "warmie" (Presto Parabolic Heat Dish) that radiates warmth at me when I am freezing in a cold snap but we can't bear to actually turn on the house heat.
* Thankful for Bonnie Blue beagle actually snuggling on *MY* lap instead of beside JB when the all-powerful warmie is on.
* Thankful for how delicious & easy Trader Joe's Mushroom Fettuccini is and for how much Will & JB also love it.
* Thankful the youth football TurfBowl was at 10:30 AM this Sun morning...instead of during my Redskins game! ;-)
* Thankful my REDSKINS WON!!!
* Thankful the TurfBowl was warm & actually fun! Our dance was great, all the kids got nice shirts, and Annelise's trophy (since our Texans made the semis) is HUUUGE!
* Thankful I have been asked to sing at a special Christmas event at church, in addition to singing Nov. 25th.
* Thankful for how quickly God gave me such a quality quantity of SAHM girlfriends here!!!!!!!!!!
* Thankful that even though the mornings this last week were too cold for us (& esp. Annelise) to walk, it still warmed enough to enjoy walking to school to pick up the kids at 3:30 PM.
* Thankful for bright sunshine (esp. after a couple cloudy days that reminded me how depressing grey cold is!)
* Thankful that my kids have made quality friends here quickly.
* Thankful that I actually run into friends & people I know here when I'm out & about.
* Thankful for bubble tea, for so many awesome bubble tea places here...and the friends I am also turning into sad bubble tea addicts along with me. :-P
* Thankful for the best pulled pork sandwich I've had in Houston (at Haven) that even had a mound of chopped fried green tomatoes as the side.
* Thankful for deals & sales... and esp. ones with friends during festive events on things you've been lusting after for months.
* Thankful for finding so many things in common with new friends.
* Thankful for JB's current job and the ability to actually finally consider emotionally planting roots.
* Thankful I could go to the kids' (& host Annelise's) Thankful Parties at school Fri.
* Thankful for the way my kids react when they see me at their school - about to explode with love & genuine joy! Even Will still grabs my hands or arm & holds on tight. ♥

Thursday, November 15, 2012

My Celebrity Doppelgänger - Julia Stiles

My friend, Andie, is hosting a "My Celebrity Doppelgänger" link-up:

So, who's mine? Julia Stiles: another blonde whose eyes get squinty when she smiles. :-P

I get this ALL THE TIME. When Save the Last Dance came out, people would stop me in restaurants and do double-takes. When the Bourne movies came out, my brother asked if I had snuck off to do them w/o telling anyone.

The thing is, most people react, "Really? I'm not sure I see it?" when people say they look like someone else. Not me. I *KNOW* Julia & I really could be twins. And I'm good with that. :-P

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thankful Weekend: Cheer, Nutcracker, Gym

Well y'all, our cheer squad's football team [finally] lost in the semifinals of the playoffs on Saturday! It was a squeaker: 7-6. Had this been our united family's team with JB also coaching & Will playing, I probably would have cried a bit, (I get emotional over sports! :-P) but you ALL know I was trying my darndest not to smile. ;-) Yes, I am THANKFUL! :-) We do still have to go to the TurfBowl next Sunday, but that's b/c every cheer squad goes out on the field for the opening and to dance at halftime. We've gone to separate practices for that the last two Sundays...but my other cheer coach *actually said* yesterday, "We can work on this dance at our practice this week." ????? Ummmm, NO WAY. We're DONE. We're not cheering the TurfBowl, and we know this easy dance. Let this season go, my dear! When I looked shocked, she said, "You didn't already make other plans, did you?" I guffawed, "I sure did! I took my Mondays & Wednesdays back after we lost yesterday." :-D Y'all, she truly has a great heart for this cheer squad, but I just think she has invested every ounce of her identity into it and can't bear to let it go. I get that - it's how I used to feel when the musicals I performed in were over: I had poured every ounce of myself into those roles & those "families" and it always hurt when each one was over. But since there was only one person who had a real voice on this squad, it doesn't hurt for the rest of us. All of the parents & I have been worn out by this for weeks and are completely relieved it's over. It's no secret that Annelise & the other girls are relieved, too. :-/ PS - my goal for next year's squad, if I head coach, is for us ALL to be bummed it's over! :-P My plan to make that happen? Literally half as much practice time; the practice time we *do* have = no messing around & wasting time (major pet peeve!); repeating several favorite halftime dances the 2nd half of the year = less pressure & the dances will actually look cleaner; and meeting with the parents up front to not only let them know my expectations, but to also ask them how hard core they want to be: burnt out parents = unhappy cheerleaders. I still have my precious squad from last year in Georgia ask about me on FB all the time. Looking back on last year and comparing this year...makes me excited for next year!!! (If Annelise wants to cheer.) I want to bring that joy back! ...To all of us. So yes, I am thankful for this cheer season - it reaffirmed that yes, I have the skills to head coach rec cheer, (even in TX! ;-)) It made me swallow a massive dose of humility; I did learn lots of new things; and I now know a few pitfalls in this organization to avoid when *I* am running the show. Success & growth!

After football Saturday, we were blessed with tickets from one of my new friends here: first off, they had an extra ticket to Disney on Ice and wanted Annelise to go with their daughter, Shelby. Of course! What a sweet thing, and so exciting for our Peach Pie! Secondly, she said: "We also have four tickets we're not going to use to the Nutcracker Market. Want them?" :-O YES, PLEASE!!!
The Nutcracker Market is a HUUUGE deal in Houston!!! My Southern friends, think the Southern Christmas Show - tons of vendors, tastings, gifts, etc. All of the proceeds from this market benefit the academy and scholarship programs for the Houston Ballet Foundation. (Get it: "Nutcracker" = Christmas ballet = benefiting the Houston Ballet Foundation; no, they weren't just selling nutcrackers :-P ;-)) I wasn't sure JB & Will would last very long, (neither were they! :-D) but the tickets were free, it was down beside where the Texans play football = interesting for Will, and our family is all about doing all of the special Houston things; so after we shipped off Annelise dressed as Rapunzel, we hit the Market. It was FUN!!! Even JB & Will had a good time browsing & sampling. It may have helped that the very first booth was...our beloved Savannah Bee Company! Talk about starting this fam off on the right foot! We got a fresh honeycomb and continued through the rest. Leibman's Wine & Fine Foods hit Will & JB right in the heart: queso, salsa, enchilada soup mix, gumbo seasoning, bread pudding, gingerbread dessert sauce... Yeah. :-D It was such a(n unexpectedly?) fun way to get into the spirit! So thankful for the experience and for my sweet friend who gave us the tickets for free!

I'll be honest: I was dreading Sunday afternoon - TurfBowl cheer practice, followed by 3 hours of all-company meetings at my fancy new gym where I teach Zumba. [SOOOO THANKFUL my Redskins were on a bye this week!!! :-D (No, I'm not joking.)] As a new hire, I didn't know what to expect; but it really wasn't bad! It was good to get to learn a little bit more about the other Group Fitness instructors, and it's always good to feel like you're getting a better handle on where you work in a new job, (esp. when it's a corporate behemoth, and you're coming from only tiny, private organizations.) We even got finished early - YAY! - so I was thankful it wasn't a waste of an afternoon... *AND* that when I got home, JB was grilling, and we had a lovely cheese board, fresh salami, baguette, & Savannah Bee Company honeycomb to snack on as we watched football & NASCAR. :-D

Monday, November 12, 2012

20% Off "What's in the Bible?" & Why It Rocks

*I was not asked to write this review. I truly just believe in & love this series so much!*

I want to recommend the What's in the Bible? DVD series by the creator of VeggieTales.

We have the first six volumes, so far, as well as Why Do We Call It Christmas? Not only do the kids LOVELOVELOVE them, but *I* have learned a lot from them, too!!! They are amazing - they have truly made the first 14 (so far) books of the Old Testament *engaging & accessible*! I mean, seriously: how do you make the violent, depressing, complicated, awful situations of the Old Testament both relevant & appropriate for kids?! If you're looking for a unique Christmas or birthday gift, or to invest in some quality entertainment for your kids (these are our STANDARD DVDs when we travel!) I really cannot tout this series enough. It's aimed at K-5th graders, but is easily for the whole family. My children obviously get more & more out of them every year...and the thing that gets me is that I truly do, too. There are so many jokes in there for us adults! It's probably the least mind-numbing kids' programming I've ever been "subjected" to. (I really dislike children's shows, cartoons, & movies. Just being honest.)

For the record - my children just walked over here as I was typing this...and FREAKED OUT! "IS THERE A NEW ONE?!?!?!?!" Will gasped!!! :-D He hit the floor when I said they have three new ones. Better ask Santa! ;-)

I just got a "Friend Link" to share with everyone. If you buy through it, you get 20% off and free shipping over $15: Share the savings with as many friends as you'd like and enjoy the quality you can feel really good (& smarter, yourself! ;-)) about. :-)

Thankful Friday: Happy Birthday, JB!

Friday was an early dismissal day for the kids from school. What did we do special? We went to the grocery store. :-P Yes, H-E-B is a treat! :-D The kids LOOOVE getting free Buddy Bucks & playing the Spin & Win game:
We also just had a new frozen yogurt place, FruuLaLa, open inside our H-E-B, and I had a Groupon, so Buddy Bucks + fro yo = happy. :-) (I got some, too: sea salt caramel + pistachio = DIVINE!)

Another reason I am thankful for Texas: the leaves are just beginning to turn...AND many of the crepe myrtle are *still* blooming at the same time. :-) Perfection. PS - I was wearing a sundress. It's my heaven on earth!

Friday evening, we took the kids to open gym where Annelise takes gymnastics. Let me say how awesome it is that my kids are old enough for this! Not worrying about finding, picking up, feeding, paying for, & dropping off a trustworthy babysitter is a HUGE LOAD OFF for me!!!!! Both kids were completely entertained with gym stuff, games, other kids, a movie, etc. from 7-11 PM for $30 total - the bare minimum we'd be able to find a sitter for. It *was* waaaay past their normal bedtime (which is b/t 7:30 & 8 on non-football/baseball nights) but they're OK with that occasionally. It doesn't ruin them the next day or anything ridiculous like that. :-P

With the kids at open gym, we went out to our first adult dinner in FOREVER for JB's BIRTHDAY!!! We went to Bistro Alex (a Brennan's restaurant, a la Commander's Palace) with my friend Donna & her husband. Our server was...well, let's just say she provided a lot of laughs for us in return for her lack of restaurant knowledge. :-P Donna & I sipped St. Germain (thank you, Jackie! :-)); JB had seared yellow fin tuna with glazed bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, and stir fried Louisiana popcorn rice; I had a grilled, honey-brined Black Hill Ranch pork chop with cracked pepper biscuit bread pudding, citrus braised greens, & house-made worcestershire demi glace.

And b/c it's right next door, Donna & I made the guys take us to Sweet for bubble tea & macaroons before we went to retrieve our children. ;-)

Happiest birthday to my fantastic husband! Thank you for giving me the most wonderful life & making my dreams come true. ♥

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thankful Monday-Thursday: Zumba, Shopping, Election, Classes, & ...Ants?

My first regular Zumba class that's *all mine* at the premiere prestigious gym went so well on Monday! I was a little nervous - this is a big bucks location. [People who are members at other locations (like the also-really-nice one by our house) don't even have reciprocity there, it's so elite.] I know I'm good at what I do, but I was nervous I wouldn't be as hard core as these members were maybe used to... Fears unfounded! It was a relatively small class, but they were all so sweet - no snobbery or looks that insinuated, "You call that a workout?" :-P It felt great, and I can't wait for next week there!

Speaking of the elite location... I was SO thankful when, the next day, after doing outdoor gazebo-over-the-lake yoga with my neighbor friend (that was also completely divine under a stunning blue sky w/ a gentle breeze,) my BFF Donna called & asked if I wanted to lunch over there. Dream afternoon! It was so much fun to explore that incredible outdoor area I now actually teach around. Most dangerously amazing find: Sweet has amazing macaroons & BUBBLE TEA!!! (Dangerous = I'll be there every Monday!) I had *salted caramel milk tea*!!! Holy heaven... Y'all remember my signature perfume quest; well, I found a new ♥ fragrance at Anthropologie: Tocca's Stella. We also browsed Lululemon (eh, I just don't get the hype for the $) and Sur La Table - Ina Garten is coming ♥, but we can't go; and they have a great selection of my beloved blown glass Christmas ornaments, (my ornament style of choice :-)) but none that spoke to me. I *really* need a Texas one...and - I know this will be a rare find, but - a bubble tea one!!! (I know that sounds obscure, but you wouldn't BELIEVE the random blown glass ornaments out there!!! I'm thinking I need to do a dedicated post on this soon... ;-)) I got home in time to walk to school to pick up the kids = CANNOT BEAT 80°F in November!!! Praising God I could wear sundresses this week... So thankful God moved us here! :-)

My election thoughts...are many. But b/c above all, I am about pure positivity, peace, & as much unity as possible for our country, I'd like to share what The Birthday Project said Wednesday morning: Good morning friends. All I've thought about for the past week is how half of America would be feeling (today.) What I want to say, from the bottom of my heart, is don't lose heart. Don't be disillusioned. The sun is still shining. Take your kids to school, work hard at what you do. Focus on what YOU can do to make a difference in your community, this country, our planet. Work to stop hate, fear, and gloom. Do something good, loving, & kind for someone as often as you can. It's a good life and I'm glad to be sharing it with you. ♥

Work to stop hate, fear, and gloom.
So important, I typed it twice. :-D

Warning now of a change in tone...

Late afternoon on Wednesday was horrifically nightmarish: Annelise screamed from upstairs - she was being BITTEN BY ANTS ON HER CLEAN LAUNDRY PILE!!! WHAAAAAAT?!?!?!?! No idea where the wretched creatures came from or why they were swarming the CLEAN laundry pile she was trying to hang up, but I killed those suckers with ant spray like I was wielding a freaking machine gun. I felt like the last soldier standing after the whole platoon has fallen back, firing for their life & the lives of their comrades...with ant spray. I DON'T DO ANTS!!! It was like a horror movie...

I rewashed all the clothes - BTW: shaking dead ants out of clean clothes from the washer before the dryer is JUST as disgusting as it sounds! - and PRAISE GOD that JB got home to help really work through & secure her room. There was no errant candy, no apparent cause...but that place was totally hosed down with pet-safe ant killer. I may need therapy after this... They definitely were NOT fire ants - thank goodness - but they still bit. I *did* use a fragrance in that wash for the first time - maybe that sucked them in? Apparently ants : TX :: gnats : GA :-P and lots of them sense the coming cool (it's still 80° during the day but dipping below 50° at night now) so they want in. NO FREAKING WAY. Not in THIS house! We were told by everyone we've talked to: TX + ants = inevitable. It's the #1 reason why even though we are physically capable of mowing the lawn, we have Jorge. :-P

I'm still completely grossed out that it happened; but now I think it was a freak divine prompting from God to make the kids actually clean up the mounds of clutter from moving in their rooms! ;-) For the first time since moving into this house, we can see the floor in the corners of their rooms! :-P :-D So, yeah, ummm...thank you, God?

(But I am all about hiring quarterly pest control like everyone else here does now...just in case!)

This week I also went back to school online. Well, sort of... I had to take 12 online certification courses for the new gym on everything from harassment, to OSHA safety practices, to stuff at the spa & café. Was it fun? No. I dreaded starting it like the plague. (Imagine the horror of this grade monger/overachiever not getting perfect scores on online corporate gym tests?! *shudder*) But even though it chewed up a ton of time, I breezed through. So thankful to have those done!!! ...For now. They add new ones every month, apparently. My weird apprehension to start those courses highlighted an uncomfortable reality check for myself re: age - I graduated from college over a decade ago before online classes were standard! I may be a photoshop-proficient, FB-addict blogger, but the thought of getting actual grades w/o going to class & listening to a professor with whom I could defend my answers in person stressed me out a bit. :-P I know, I'm officially a dinosaur. :-D But yay for advancing, anyway! THANKFUL!!!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Family Fave: Healthy Southern Mac & Cheese

Our family gets on crazy kicks where we want to eat the same dish (not nightly, but at least once or twice a week) until our craving is satiated and we're "over it" for a while. One these oft-craved kicks (that we're also currently on) is Southern-style homemade *healthy* mac & cheese.

What?! "Healthy" + ("Southern-style" + "cheese") = impossible ...Right??? Au contrair, mon ami!

My cooking style is "Paula Deen light" - I can't help but try to "healthify" everything. I'll be the first to admit, it doesn't always turn out, but this one's a winner!

FYI: "Southern-style" mac & cheese is more like a baked custard casserole; not a liquidy, gooey, free-form pile. [I assume most people know that, but *just in case*...]

Here's my version:

Preheat oven to 350°F

Cook a box of pasta (any shape - elbows are obviously traditional, but we ran out last night, so I used penne; love the high fiber penne from Trader Joe's and Dreamfields & Barilla Plus elbows) in water *that's as salty as the ocean*!!!

[Sidebar: my biggest pasta pet peeve is pasta cooked in water that is not properly salted! It tastes like glue w/o enough salt in the water; and no, you cannot salt the pasta properly AFTER it's cooked. I love the way Mario Batali puts it: "pasta water should be as salty as the sea!" Keep tasting to make sure you have salted enough, and if you salt too much, just add more water.]

Drain the cooked pasta and put it in a casserole dish sprayed with Pam. Sprinkle some shredded cheese - as little (1/2 cup?) or as much (2+ cups?) as you want of your fave variety (we use 2% Mexican blend) - and mix it with the hot pasta.

In a bowl, mix:
1 can evaporated milk (I use fat free)
5 egg whites (or egg substitute; or 3 fresh whole eggs)
several shakes of ground mustard and salt
pinches of cayenne and freshly grated nutmeg
(and whatever other spices & flavorings you'd like.)
Pour this egg/milk/seasoning mixture over the cheesed pasta in the casserole dish. Top with a little more cheese, and bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes. (Check to make sure the egg base has set up solidly.)

This is the ONLY dish my kids will EVER choose over pizza. :-D (My favorite part is the crunchy top layer. ;-)) We tend to go very low on the cheese, so it's almost more of a savory noodle kugel or a pasta quiche. Whatever you call it, it's DELICIOUS and not as bad for you as the traditional. The kids & I actually prefer this version; greasy mac & cheese makes my stomach turn! BLECH! Feel free to also add whatever else you'd like to this base - mixed veggies, chicken, etc. Mmmmmm...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Starting November Thankfuls

It's that purposely, publicly thankful time of year, again. No, we're not doing another Gratitude Tree - not that it wasn't amazing, b/c it was so wonderful that we did it all the way into December last year! But I just feel the need to do something else... Maybe writing thankfuls on the chalkboard...

I have been brimming over with thankfulness this week, though. Last Sunday, I finally got to sing onstage at church, again; I'm so thrilled to be on a new Praise Team. Even when my ear buds went out for the 1st two songs in the 1st service, I trusted God would give me the notes when I couldn't hear ...and felt fabulous! There's nothing that fills my heart & soul like harmonizing in praise like that...

I was thankful earlier last week to try [& actually be decent at!] a yoga class with my BFF here, Donna - thankful to have a friend to yoga with...and to go to lunch with afterwards! :-) We tried the best local Vietnamese place, Phở Saigon - amazing & fresh! I am so thankful that there are so many fantastic restaurants around here [and that Donna likes to try adventurous places (w/o our picky kids :-P) with me!]

On Thursday, November 1st, I was so thankful that I found a delish new bubble tea spot (best taro & milk tea I've had in TX!) that's right close to my next thankful: I learned how to clock in & out at the prestigious new gym where I start teaching Zumba on Monday!!! The location (on the edge of the city in a really ritzy, super high-end area) is dazzling; I can't believe I'm actually employed there. (More on this Zumba start here!) I was also thankful that after bubble tea & my gym tour, I had the loveliest time at Costco (just a mile away) roaming the aisles, texting stream-of-consciousness pics to sweet friends, & having yummy samples. This life is WONDERFUL = so thankful for these simple pleasures, friends to share them with, & +80°F to enjoy them under. :-D

On Friday, November 2nd, I was thankful that I got to teach my FIRST ZUMBA CLASS IN TX! (I subbed at the gym location closer to our house.) You can read all about it here. I was so thankful for the large turnout (45 participants!), for two of my personal friends coming, and for me not being too rusty. ;-) I also was thankful that Donna wanted to celebrate with empanadas & horchata afterwards.

Just as empowering as getting back into actively teaching Zumba, I'm thankful that on Friday...
I voted early! I tried to go before Zumba (thought 10:15 AM would be quieter b/t morning rush & lunch crowds) but the line was too long for me to chance being late. I wasn't the least bit discouraged: I love seeing people not take for granted a right that people die for!!!!!! When I went back at 2:30 PM, the line was *LITERALLY* 15 times longer!!!!!!!!!!!! But it still was less than 45 minutes = so thankful for the right to vote and the relative ease of exercising said right!

On Saturday, November 3rd, I was thankful that I woke up after more sleep than I have gotten in ages (thank you, Zumba-teaching-high-come-down!) even though we had to get up earlier for football than we do on school days. Thankful that we had a decadent brunch (kids = belgian waffle topped with ice cream!!! & I left with bubble tea!) and that we *finally* made it to a high school football game here! To top off our exciting day, we went to see Wreck-It Ralph; JB & the kids have been waiting for this since Brave = so thankful we had the time & opportunity to do so many happy family things!

On Sunday, November 4th, I was thankful for that extra "fall back" hour of sleep. Thankful that I was there when Annelise lost her first big front tooth, and for getting to make smore's after JB grilled steaks. Also thankful JB got the oil changed in our van, and for a great league-wide cheer practice for the TurfBowl that was finally *my* style: appropriate warm-ups, took less than an hour to learn a whole new dance, age-appropriate, no messing around/wasted time, no over-their-heads speeches & esp. ones declaring how much the one in charge knows, and just a ton of pure focus so we could actually get out of there 5 minutes EARLY! :-) [*next year, next year, next year* ;-)]

First Front Tooth Farewell

Annelise lost her first big front tooth this morning at breakfast:

The Tooth Fairy will have to bring $1 instead of 50¢ tonight!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Texan Football - Playoff Time

While JB & Will's Falcons didn't quite make the playoffs, my & Annelise's Texans did...which, if I'm being 100% honest, is bittersweet. Cheer has ended up being reeeeally draining: two hours of practice both Mondays & Wednesdays and learning a new 2-3 minute cheer dance for halftime every single week is a lot to ask from girls ages 5-9, doing this as a low-key rec activity. [Not all of the other squads do this. Actually, none do.] I think the only one who isn't worn out & over this season is the head coach (I signed up to be assistant, b/c I didn't want to step on any toes being new in such an established organization) b/c she isn't backing off one bit, even though the season is winding down. The girls *know* all the cheers; they're also getting more homework as we get deeper into the school year...and more jaded with cheer. :-( I wish we would repeat previous halftime dances from earlier in the season and slash the practice times, (esp. b/c each dance could have looked so much better with some extra cleaning, instead of rushing to teach & then dumping it) but that's not the plan. This season has definitely been a giant lesson in humility for me - biting my tongue with every rebuffed suggestion, not losing it over ultimately unmerited nepotism, swallowing my pride when my greater experience (as an actual dance teacher) disputed the choices, not letting it keep me down every time I was ignored. I'm not used to *not* being the Queen Bee, and while I pray I've never been as flip towards anyone who has assisted me, this has definitely been an exclamation point in the neverending lesson of grace - both giving & receiving. [I chant my steady mantra of "next year, next year, next year" when my insides churn. :-P] Now I don't mean that it's been 100% horrific - truly, I'm just venting three months of built-up argh that seems to have just poured out here all at once. :-D Annelise & I both learned new things, I love the overall football organization, and most of the girls on the squad are so precious. ...But it breaks my heart that this has made Annelise not want to cheer. :-/ We'll see if her tune changes after we get some distance from this season, and if I head coach... (I would never force her; hey - I let her voluntarily give up dance this year for gymnastics! *THAT* was something for me.)

Wow. That was really therapeutic.

Thanks, y'all.

*deep breath*

And now to the happy aspects:
How cute are we? :-P (Yes, that's the sunrise this morning...)

LOVE this stunt at the end of our "Footloose" dance!!!

Our Texans won today (I confess, I rooted for the Jets in my heart - shhhhh! ;-)) so we've got another week of normal practices before next Saturday's 2nd round playoff game. At least we get to be there at 9:30 AM next week instead of 7:30 AM, like today. I think it makes it more disheartening that JB & Will aren't still playing, too, you know? We also have a league-wide practice for an hour tomorrow to prep for halftime for the TurfBowl - the Nov. 18th championship game where every cheer squad dances together at halftime.

On a completely different Texas football note, we finally made it to a local high school football game!!! We haven't been able to go w/ JB & Will having had football practice on Friday nights and with us having our own games all day Saturdays. Now that the boys are done, and since our cheer game was at 8 AM, we made it to the crosstown rival game at 11 AM today. Let me just say, WOW!!!!!!!!
This stadium is actually where we'll also cheer the TurfBowl, and yes - that is a JUMBOTRON!!! FOR HIGH SCHOOL!!!! (Any other Friday Night Lights fans out there? ♥) And they had INSTANT REPLAY! FOR HIGH SCHOOL!!!! God bless Texas. :-D

Texas Zumba: It's On!

So many of y'all have asked for an update on my Zumba journey...and quite honestly, until two weeks ago, I was slightly discouraged and didn't feel like I had much to share. After the looong initial hiring period, I still had to to go through Heart Rate Training and get recertified in CPR/AED; both of those weren't completed until the day after I got home from NC, on Oct. 18th, and only then could I be considered for anything "active" (even just subbing). Even though those two months of limbo b/t being officially hired and finally deemed "fully qualified" weren't ideal for me...they really worked out. Had I been teaching already, it would have been so much harder to stay in NC with my mom after Grandmommy's funeral to help out, and truly, cheer has also been a monumental time succubus this season. (If we cheer next year, I'm head cheer coaching whatever team JB head football coaches...and it will be very, very different.) God knew what He was doing - this is the least stressful time for me to really start this, after those things and the transition into this new school year & new school system.

Soooooo, YES! I'm starting NOW!!! Within days of finishing the prerequisites, I was offered a regular class teaching Monday mornings at 10:30 AM at *the* premiere facility of the whole national gym chain. There's one other location right close to our house; yes, I do hope to get a regular class there, but the premiere place is barely 20 minutes away, and it's in a high-end shopping area I go to about once a week, anyways. [Costco is right there...along with American Girl. :-P (No! I don't shop AG weekly! :-D Just offering perspective. ;-))] The premiere location is swanky beyond words... I had a tour last week, and honestly, it's so luxurious, I can't even believe I am employed there...

This is the locker room:

And this is *my* Zumba studio:


Did I mention every location has a spa/salon and organic cafe?

And the kids can't wait to go swim & use the rock wall:
[It's 3 stories high! My studio is on the 3rd floor.]

So I start there THIS MONDAY, the 5th. Say a prayer for me to rock this regular gig!!!

I'm so blessed, though, b/c I got a GREAT preview yesterday: I was asked to sub at the location close to our house for the Fri. 11 AM class = awesome. [PS - that location looks almost the same, except it's only 2 stories & has a huge outdoor pool complex, too. :-)]

I was worried that I might be a little rusty - it's been almost five months! Plus, I've gone to two other Zumba classes there, and my style is VERY different! Which I know is *why* they hired me, but still: I'm so dance-y, not fitness/aerobic-y like the other two; I wasn't sure if my style would go over as well, just b/c it's new...but they seemed to love it! I had - get this! - FORTY FIVE PARTICIPANTS!!! I've *never* had a class over 30 before!!! I was so excited that my new BFF, Donna, and another friend both came to take my class & support me, as well. :-) Donna snapped a few pics after class, so I give you me in all my red-faced dorkdom:

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Happy Halloween 2012

We had a great first Halloween in Texas! It was GORGEOUS: 80°F, clear, & festive. [Praising God we're not enduring any more freezing northern Halloweens with scarves & turtlenecks under costumes!] This giant neighborhood is built like a huge, twisty maze to pack in as many homes as possible, but still with lots of trees and greenways = a trick-or-treating dream!!! :-D We had dinner (mummy hot dogs & chili) with our new friends and then went trick-or-treating with them:
Annelise was a butterfly princess, (b/c just being a princess is every day. ;-)) Will was his ultimate fave NASCAR driver, Kyle Busch. He wanted to be Kyle last year, too, but the costumes were sold out online by the time he requested, so I talked him into being a red M&M; this year, he asked early to ensure he could emulate his racing idol. I have to say, even though it hurt to spend more than the $4 I spent on his costume last year, that NASCAR firesuit is actually nice quality! Expect Kyle Busch to be trick-or-treating with us for the next two or three years... ;-)
NASCAR Will & buddy shark Liam just starting out on their hour-long candy marathon. They left the littles in the dust!

NASCAR Will, shark Liam, butterfly princess Annelise, & Tinkerbell Priye (in Annelise's class at school)

End of trick-or-treating, back at our house. Yes, we now own a 12' inflatable ghost... ;-)