Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Review

2012 was a wonderful year for me and my family! In fact, it was one of the best EVER!!!

Top Three Highlights:

I started teaching Zumba regularly in January 2012 and began with a free Zumba ministry at our old church in Albany, Georgia. By March, I was teaching five classes a week, and not only did it fulfill my dance passion, but it jump-started a new level of fitness for me. I was nervous I wouldn't be able to find anything when we moved to the hypersaturated-with-instructors Houston market, but now I'm teaching at one of the most prestigious gyms in the country! God has blessed me through Zumba - making my body healthier, boosting my confidence by pushing me to audition for a reach position, and allowing me to serve people & make precious connections.

We moved to Houston in June 2012. While we knew it would be coming, this was the very first time I was ever both sad to leave where we were and excited for the new location. We have absolutely fallen love with Texas!!! We are finally in a place where we both agree we could be happy planting some deep roots. :-) (Oh, roots! Do you know how magically comforting that is to someone who has moved 8 times in the last 12 years?!?!) I made more friends in the first month & a half in TX than I had anywhere else we have ever lived. The warm climate is perfection!!! There's a perfect mix of suburban family-focused life with all the ammenities of the big city just twenty minutes away, whenever we want them. There's so much growth and opportunity, it's the least scary place for us to consider finally buying another house, again, (we stopped buying 4 years ago, so we wouldn't get stuck) b/c even if JB goes as far as he wants to with his current company (which he is totally enjoying, BTW) unlike beloved south Georgia, there are actually tons of other opportunities in the Houston area; so he could make a change, if he ever wanted, w/o us having to uproot, again. It's a warm, fun, exciting place to be; we're ready to be Texans forever!

Football ruled our fall in 2012. JB assistant football coached, I assistant cheer coached. There were many aspects of this season that were unpleasant; but overall, the passion it instilled in Will, the family time it happily "forced" us to carve out, and the fulfillment & motivation it gave all of us (esp. to make next season so much better) were priceless! We are SO EXCITED for our next family football opportunities!!!


2013?

I'm not sure what I want to look forward to in 2013. Truly, it's the first year that I can honestly remember in life where I don't have some big unfulfilled longing in my heart - last year, I wanted stability, b/c I knew we weren't going to be able to stay in south GA; for ages, it was purely to be South; before that, it was for kids; before that, to get married; etc. I'm in a happy place now with the family of my dreams doing exactly what I dreamed. I'm good relaxing & reveling in that and waiting to see what God has in store. :-D

Do You Hear the People Sing?



Hail to the Redskins!
Hail, Victory!
Braves on the Warpath!
Fight! For old D.C!

Run or pass and score we want a lot more!
Beat em swamp em touchdown let the points soar!
Fight on, fight on, till you have won
Sons of Wash-ing-ton, RAH! RAH! RAH!

Hail to the Redskins!
Hail, Victory!
Braves on the Warpath!
Fight! For old D.C!

[HAHA!!! Y'all expected a Les Misérables post with this title! :-P ("Do You Hear the People Sing?" is one of the musical's most significant songs.)]

There are not enough words for how happy the Redskins have made me this year. It's been twenty loooooong years of mediocrity, and I have cheered for them unwaveringly...even when they broke my heart and made nasty words come out of my mouth. It just feels SOOO GOOD for this super fan to FINALLY get to cheer for her team in the playoffs, again, and to know we have a respectable & reliable QB! RGIII has given us HOPE!
(Someone designed this before the season even started. Love! :-D)

The kids & I are battling a vicious illness (Will is over it now, although he had two nights of fevers; Annelise & I were coughing & nose-blowing yesterday; today she's having trouble keeping anything down & I have violent chills. Pray for quick healing & health for us!) but the Skins certainly made us feel better last night:
Sissy couldn't make it until the game started, but she was ready in her Clinton Portis jersey. Will was next door in LaLa's Riggins jersey to protect him from the neighbors' cowboy cooties. ;-)

For me, football means so much more than a game. It's our ultimate family tradition.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Gelish: Up In The Blue & Stamping Nail Art

Exciting Gelish news for me: JB's parents gave me THREE colors for Christmas ♥ - Jet Set (a grey plum that looks like Chanel's Paradoxal I had in Oct!), Sweet Chocolate (a stunning metallic brown), & Up In The Blue. I happily had the hardest time deciding which to do first, but I went with Up In The Blue - a solid, opaque periwinkle (blue with a hint of lavender).

As if that weren't enough, when we went to Southpark Mall for a return, we were sucked into the Stamping Nail Art kiosk. Y'all know what a fun hobby doing my nails is for me, and Annelise was so excited that we were the easiest sale that girl had all week. :-P


We got two design plates, two "special" polishes (the only "special" thing is that they are slightly thicker; I will for sure be testing out all my old non-gel polishes at home to see if they'll work, too!) and the scraper & stamp. How does it work? Decide which design on the plate you want to use. [We got the cheerleader motif plate (yay, spirit!) and a plate with a few intricate designs & animal prints.] I did cheer & flowers on all of Annelise's nails, but I went with just the zebra print as an accent nail for my ring finger. (You can see above that I also did a lacy tip on my thumb, just to see what it would look like; even though it's nice, I'm going to remove it & just stick with the singular accent nail, for now. Zebra adds more than enough trend for me at a time. ;-)) Take the "special" polish, paint the design on the plate, use the scraper to scrape off the excess & level it out, immediately stamp the design with the stamper (it completely transfers), and stamp your nail. It is instantly 100% dry. (Yes, THAT was the kicker - ESP. with Annelise!)

I've seen nail techs online talk about stamp art for ages (when I'm searching for Gelish info) but I had never seen it in person until now. It's just such fun, and I can see us getting a lot of use out of it, particularly during cheer season! Also, the different design plates are an easy, cheap thing Annelise can save for, if she wants different designs. The kiosk at the mall charged a pretty penny - I would have never bought an extensive kit from them; but I didn't mind getting a few basics, b/c the sales girl took the time to teach me exactly how to do it, and she did all of our nails for examples. From now on, though, I'll be hitting up Amazon or Sally.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Movie Review: Les Misérables

Les Misérables is my ultimate theatrical passion. I saw it first in 1989. My cousin copied her cassette tape of the entire soundtrack, and I literally wore it out. (My dad fixed it with repair tape three times.) She copied her cassette of the French version for me, as well, and I memorized it phonetically. My family (thank goodness my mom loves it ;-)) was subjected to me singing Les Mis almost every.single.time we got in the car for YEARS. (I am not kidding: about four solid years, interrupted only by interludes of Miss Saigon.) My little brother also knows almost every word, and it's not by his choice. ;-) (Ah, the days before you could ignore your fam with ear buds & iPhone! :-D) I've seen Les Mis twice on Broadway, and I can't quite remember how many touring productions I've seen. "On My Own" was my signature song I performed in almost every talent show I entered & won in middle & high school, including a talent show in my hometown in 10th grade where I went up with now-famous Seth Avett of The Avett Brothers. :-) (Hometown represent! Their talent is undeniable, and their fame is so exciting!) My life's dream before meeting my husband was to play Éponine on Broadway...and yes, I absolutely could have made it. No doubt! :-D Even though God changed my heart and recalibrated my life's dream, [which I am now living, BTW ;-)] my zeal for Éponine and the glorious stage version of Les Misérables still runs so deeply; when I found out the movie was being released on Christmas Day, I knew exactly where my best friend, Wendy, & I would need to be for three hours.

With all that said, take my review with a HYPERCRITICAL grain of salt. :-D Overall: j'adore!!! I *did* enjoy it, and the further I get from my viewing, the more I like it. I was impressed that Russell Crowe could hit Javert's low notes, Amanda Seyfried irritated me less than any other Cosette I've ever seen (Cosette is so wishy washy! :-P), and Helena Bonham Carter & Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thénardiers were perfection beyond words! I especially appreciated the actors with connections to the stage show: Gavroche had played the role in the West End, Colm Wilkinson - the original Jean Valjean on Broadway & the West End - plays the Bishop of Digne, and Frances Ruffelle - the original Éponine in the West End & on Broadway - plays a prostitute. It's just beautiful that they're in there. :-)

My few critiques: the stage show transitions the leaps through time so seamlessly - the scrim falls and a new date & location are displayed. Done. I felt like the movie tried too hard to explain these time skips. Maybe it's just b/c I know the story inside & out, but it seemed like they were just working too hard for those transitions to make "more" sense. Also, since I know every word, I was disappointed that they rearranged & shortened quite a few songs - most notably (for me) "A Little Fall of Rain". [Come on! It's my dying moment! ;-)] I totally get that the movie runs over 2.5 hours, and they needed to cut where they could; but I can't imagine that true fans would have minded to get the complete show. :-D Hugh Jackman was solid, but there were a couple moments ("Bring Him Home") where I felt like he was pushing painfully hard, and then more times I wanted him to push more, (although I respect his artistic choices. I can't imagine how hard it must be to make a role your own that is so renowned!) At the barricade: I *loved* that they found a way to preserve Enjolras' dying pose - it seems like a small thing, but it's so iconic! However, I did not like that Gavroche didn't clearly toss the ammunition up to the revolutionaries before succumbing; it made his death look like it was somewhat in vain. I wish Éponine's ghost would have joined with Fantine's to take Valjean to Heaven, (that is my favorite girl harmony in the entire show!!!) but I get that it might have looked weird in the movie, since Valjean & Éponine had no onscreen connection, and the other fallen revolutionaries weren't behind them onstage. My final critique: they added a new song. *le sigh* It's called "Suddenly". And it's fine...but it's not from the original show, and that bothers me.

I am a fan, though, and what I REALLY can't wait for is a sing-along showing, where I can belt my head off with every scene!!! :-D

Carolina Christmas Day 2012

Santa was so good to us for a SECOND TIME on Tuesday morning! :-D

My mom circumvented my "no tracks or big toys to take up space on the floor" caveat with a Hotwheels Wall Track for Will. :-P (Yes, that monster will have to be shipped back to TX. ;-) And she can come move it to the next TX house in 18 months! :-P)

Annelise's ultimate Christmas dream of the new American Girl, Caroline, came true:
[Sooo excited that a historical doll actually looks just like her! :-D Bonus!]

Will also got a case to hold 100 of his Hotwheels:

Rolling in the paper with cousin Matthew:

And Annelise also got new Dollie & Me outfits for her and Caroline to match! (Yes, Flamingo will be sharing this wardrobe, too ;-))

We are lucky ducks, twice over!!! Oooo! And guess what *I* got Tuesday??? Moroccanoil shampoo, conditioner, & light oil!!! Happy Christmas to my locks! :-D

What were your favorite gifts overall, given & received? I can't wait to get a couple massages after teaching Zumba now at the spa inside my gym! I'm thrilled to smell like Stella right now, that our house will smell like my fave B&BW Fresh Bamboo, that I had a gift card for a Sbux venti 8-pump chai latte with no water this morning, and that I get to choose which Gelish color to do on my nails next: Up in the Air, Jet Set, Sweet Chocolate, or Izzy Wizzy?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Carolina Christmas Eve 2012 (& Overnight Peaches-and-Cream French Toast)

We flew in to Charlotte from MI laaaate Sunday night...

...and awoke to Overnight Peaches-and-Cream French Toast for breakfast! Holy heaven... Here's the printed recipe:

Ingredients:
1 8-oz. loaf French bread, sliced
8 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 15-oz. cans sliced peaches packed in juice, drained
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preparation:
1. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange bread in a tight, flat layer in dish.
2. In a large bowl, whisk eggs with milk, sugar and vanilla until blended; pour over bread. Arrange peaches on top and sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
3. Remove baking dish from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Preheat oven to 350°F. Pour cream into a small pan; bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Drizzle over peaches and bake, uncovered, until casserole is lightly browned on top and just cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

BUT my mom even healthified it, Susie-style!!! :-D She used our fave milk (skim that tastes like rich 2% - Mootopia at H-E-B, Smart Balance, & Deluxe at Harris Teeter are all good ones) instead of whole milk; we didn't think the cream on top added much = easy to omit; she didn't add any sugar to the egg mixture, but did flavor it up with an extra bit of almond extract; and she sprinkled slivered almonds on top with the brown sugar & a lot more cinnamon. You could also use egg substitute or more whites than yolks, if you want less yolk fat, and you could also do whole grain bread, if you want to go all-out-healthy. This is sooo going in my standard repertoire!

After breakfast, it was time to decorate Christmas cookies with the kids' neighbor BFF, Kendall:

My favorite thing about Christmas Eve with my family is what a big role our friends play. I don't know anyone who doesn't love their friends as much as their family, and to have them included makes the celebration feel WHOLE. Anyone who cares about us is welcome!!! Come eat & stay until midnight, or just drop in for a few. My joy is full, the more people I get to share it with!

Here is the crowd who was here at about 7:30 PM ;-)
And then all of us with crazy faces!
My parents' neighbors/our precious friends, my brother, his wife & son, my brother's BFF/my virtual little brother & his brand new fiancée!, my mom's cousin/my virtual aunt, my cousin & her daughter, my brother's BFF's brother & his wife with whom I went to high school & used to sing!, etc. There are just as many friends/virtual family who didn't make these pics (Wendy & Alex, the Simons, the McPhersons, etc.) I just love this!!! A successful holiday for me = how many precious beloveds I can genuinely (re)connect with!

Here's one of my immediate fam (brother, his wife & son, Mom & Hershel, & us)

And add in some cousins ;-)

Our core four :-P

Blessed to share life, food, (and a bit of St. Germain ;-)) with these people!!!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Reunion Zumba & Kids

We were ECSTATIC to see our MI BFFs after almost two whole years Sunday morning before flying South! I gave Tina a private Zumba class in the in-laws' basement while Will & Jason and Annelise & Jocelyn played like not a day had passed! ♥ I LOVE these kids!!!


(Our mutual friend, Julie, pointed out that this shot really does look like a mini version of all four parents! I hadn't seen it until she said that...and it's true!!!)

Christmas Card 2012

Merriest Christmas to all my beloved family & friends who take time out of your lives to connect with and draw closer to us. Thank you for blessing us with your prayers and your presence!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

(Early) Michigan Christmas

We didn't have the easiest time with our flights on Thursday, thanks to Winter Storm Draco hitting the midwest at the exact same time, (& did you know Houston Hobby airport has no Sbux?! :-O) but we DID make it to the in-laws for Christmas this weekend!

(Early) Christmas Eve, writing letters to Santa:

MATCHING GYMNASTICS LEOS!!! Wait - for Daddy & Sis or Sis & her American Girl???

The Blakes got BOOTS for Christmas! We're official Texans now!!! :-D

Blake Art Entrepreneurs: the kids got a few art supplies in their early Christmas haul. Completely on his own, Will began drawing pics...and then holding art auctions, making the family bid on his works! Daddy fell first victim; then Grandma caved for a Christmas tree of Will's. Not to be outdone, Annelise got in on the money grab, selling "Rudolph Kissing Santa" for $2.75, herself:

Blake Cousins:

The Blakes 2012:

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Off My Wall: Sandy Hook, Prayer, Scarves, Kids, Cheer, & Gifts!



Random shareworthies on my mind and off my FB wall:


* "Busier than a beagle after someone spills the Chex Mix..."
Yep, that's been us... :-P


* So, Sandy Hook:

More than one friend of mine reacted to the elementary mass shooting: "How am I supposed to bring up my children when such evil exists in the world?"

In all seriousness, I don't think the world became more evil last Friday than it already was last Thursday. Friday was an awful, horrific reminder of how messed up things are, but b/c of my faith, I know I'm doing what I'm supposed to and that my family is being raised right - correctly & happily. :-) I was not one bit nervous about sending my kids to school on Monday. I still weep when I hear more about the victims, (I'm a news hound, still addicted to coverage,) and maybe it's a subconscious survival mechanism (?) but I can't allow myself to dwell on or entertain more than a fleeting thought about, "What if it were us?" B/c today, it's not. And if one day it is, God will give me grace for that day & carry me through, b/c I won't be able to make it w/o Him. In the meantime, I need to keep being a solid parent and advocate for positive cultural/social changes! :-)

Which brings me to a point that has been KILLING me:
I haven't said much re: Friday's devestation on FB, but I can't keep this inside, anymore: saying, "We kicked God out of our schools, so He allowed this to happen," is BEYOND OFFENSIVE. http://annerobertson.org/sandy-hook [PS - Everyone is responsible for their own prayer life, and I prayed every.single.day in school. You can't tell me that wasn't good enough, b/c it wasn't principal-led. Even within Protestant denominations, people pray differently (debts/debtors; trespasses/those who trespass against us); I don't want other people telling my kids the "right" way to pray. If you are concerned that your kids won't pray in school w/o an adult leading, maybe you need to teach them at home more about their personal right to pray whenever, wherever, for whatever, w/o making a big show (Matthew 6:5) and that it should be constant second nature, not just for when an adult urges them to.] Please stop making Christians look like hateful whackadoos.

As my friend, Liz, said: God is in our schools whether there is prayer there or not (omnipresent). One of my favorite quotes is, "bidden or unbidden, God is present." and Psalm 139 makes this clear as well: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?"

#steppingoffmysoapbox...fornow


* Daddy got us tickets to a Houston Rockets basketball game last week! Such a fun & special stay-up-late-on-a-school-night event!
It was a lesson in fan spirit percussion for Annelise - how to clap along with every pro sports spirit chant :-P


* It's NOT just in my head! My Houston BFF Donna can verify: putting a scarf around my neck instantly adds 20 phantom pounds! Take it off: back to normal. She was stunned! I've always said I can't get scarves to look right on me; now I finally have fashion back-up to validate it's not due to whacked out self-image. :-P (Reason #72378 I love TX: it was 78°F earlier this week. God bless the land where scarves are purely decorative & not required!!!)
I love the look of a good scarf on ANYONE BUT myself, too. It is the weirdest thing. I could tell Donna was trying to be sweet & not look utterly horrified when I told her what happens to my face when I put one on and she saw it for herself. Her being floored totally validated what I've always thought! The only way I've found that scarf fabric can work on my body is as a shoulder wrap. I'm seriously just so excited that someone else saw this craziness & affirmed it's for real. My genes just must've combined to reject them. Like a nut allergy. :-P


* Comments from the kids re: the two minutes of the Miss Universe Pageant they watched in the background while we organized for our holiday travels:
Will - "Was Mommy one of those top prettiest girls?" [Yes indeed, Son!!!]
Annelise - "That girl's name is Turkey!!!" [from reading the country name on her sash :-D]


* We had a very low-key (overdue) end-of-season cheer party Wednesday night. [Don't get me started... Head Coach, who had made a big deal about "scouting locations" for a postseason party, totally dropped the ball, b/c she was depressed the season was over (I know - ???) So another mom & I took it upon ourselves to ask the squad if they just wanted to have dinner one night before everyone splits for the holidays. Head Coach pouted and didn't come. True story. Sooo glad this season is DONE...although Head Coach is still holding the girls' pink poms we each paid for & used during October hostage. *sigh*] Anyway, the families who did come were my absolute faves, and we had a truly happy, tension-free get-together. :-)

Super sweet cheer girls:
(Annelise looks insane! :-P)


* I also feel soooo blessed!!! I have friends who truly, truly know me: Lilly P market bag for Christmas from my BFF here, custom sBs monogrammed cup and Sbux card & cheer ornament from my precious cheer girls for coaching! THANK YOU!!!


* I got to teach First Grade Thursday morning for a few hours! (I was Annelise's teacher while Mrs. Everhard had an appreciation breakfast. :-)) So thankful I got to do this!!! (And yes, I knew the emergency procedures; no, I was not the least bit nervous :-)) The children were precious...and so much easier than the high schoolers I used to teach right after college! :-D


Feel free to copy my "Off my Wall" title picture and link up here at the bottom. :-)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Choreographed Christmas Light Houses

I'm sure you have all seen YouTube videos of the houses with massive holiday light displays choreographed to music. While I wouldn't want to live beside one, I think they are spectacular!!! :-D

Turns out, there are *TWO* not far from us, and both are barely a 10-minute ride. We drove over to the first one Friday night after dinner, thanks to a tip from a local friend...and it did NOT disappoint:
A low-watt radio signal plays the music, and every beat is programmed & coordinated with literally miles of lights. The light show is free of charge, however they would like each viewer to drop off a non-perishable can of food that will be given to Katy Christian Ministries. The show runs Thanksgiving - January 6th and repeats every 15 minutes between 6 PM & 11 PM, 7 days a week.

They use a lot of Trans-Siberian Orchestra music, which was a lot of fun! It was still gorgeously in the 70's after sundown that night, so everyone was getting out of their cars, jumping around & dancing along with the show. :-) The kids were mesmerized!

And we were shocked to discover that the 2nd house is even bigger & better!


Another warm night, more Christmas family joy!

Friday, December 14, 2012

"White Christmas in Houston"

I know I *just* blogged about favorite Christmas carols, but I have to add one more new favorite song. This isn't actually a "carol" per se - it's just precious!!! It's by a local country group, and when I heard it on the radio here, I about burst! :-D

"White Christmas in Houston"



If you dream of horse-drawn carriages
Dashing through the snow;
Before you move to Texas
There's something you should know ...

That they don't have White Christmases in Houston.
I've lived here most my life and I should know.
I've prayed and I've pleaded for way too many years
But they just don't have White Christmases down here.

I've heard of winter carnivals in Aspen.
It looks just like a winter wonderland.
But remember while you're freezin' throughout this Christmas season
We'll be down here with Christmas cheer and flip-flops in the sand.


I've seen all those Christmas shows on TV.
Blankets of white powder; my, how grand!
But while you've got snow and holly, I'm feastin' on tamales;
Sittin' on my back porch with an iced tea in my hand.


That they don't have White Christmases in Houston.
I've lived here most my life and I should know.
I've prayed and I've pleaded for way too many years
But they just don't have White Christmases down here.

It took me forever to find it on iTunes, (why it's so buried, I have no clue) but now I can rock out any old time to my new favorite local song...in sandals, while sipping tea! :-D

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Favorite Christmas Carols?

My friend, Nikki, asked today: "What is Your Favorite Christmas Carol?" As I failed trying to formulate a succinct response, I realized I should blog this, too! :-D

"Joy to the World" is JB's, hands down. But you know me - of course I don't have just one. ;-) "O Holy Night" used to top my list...until it became so crazy popular in the last decade that it turned into a power-ballad-requisite for every booming, famous voice. :-P My two classic faves are "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and "In the Bleak Midwinter".

I love "O Come O Come Emmanuel" b/c it's truly meant for the Advent season. I love the minor tones and that it's a prayer we all need daily. (This is the BarlowGirl version - they are my ULTIMATE favorite contemporary group! Their girl harmonies are *my thing*. I really adore a classic choir version of this, but when BarlowGirl popped up, I wanted to plug them, too. ;-))


We didn't grow up singing "In the Bleak Midwinter" in the car or off the radio :-P, but I performed it in several classical choirs I sang with in high school and college. I still so value formal choir music, and while I definitely have found my personal vocal niche in contemporary harmonies, I wouldn't be able to sing them with the confidence I have, had it not been for my concert choir training. I think this is just stunning...


My two contemporary Christian favorites are "Welcome to Our World" by Chris Rice and "To Be With You" by Sara Groves.

The first time I heard "Welcome to Our World", I bawled my eyes out. (It didn't help that it was Will's first Christmas, but I digress. ;-)) I still think it is one of the most precious things I've ever heard.


"To Be With You" is completely new to me THIS year, although apparently it came out in 2008. I heard it on our radio station here, and it went straight to my heart. I bought it online as soon as I got home. :-)


So those are my old and current Christmas faves. What are yours?

12.12.12

So, yes - I think the date 12.12.12 is super cool, but I wasn't going to post about it specifically (it's not like it's "magic" :-P or means anything to me, personally) until I saw this:


It's from the cultural FB page for Würzburg - the town I lived in in Germany: an old postcard from December 12th, 1912 that says, "If you want to write a card like this, again, you'll have to wait 100 years!" My favorite part is that old Würzburg *still* looks EXACTLY like the design on the front!

Here's a pic from this week, even:

The weird thing is, not that I was alive, but 1912 doesn't seem *that* long ago. (My Grandmommy was born April 18, 1912!)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Parties: Zumba, Work, & Church

This weekend was JAM PACKED!!! I feel like I've just now recovered. It was all great stuff...but I'd be lying if I said each part didn't have me stressed out a little. :-P

On Saturday morning, I taught a Zumba Master Class with three other instructors. (What makes it a Master Class? It's got to be a huge event with special guests and different format than the usual weekly classes.)
Each instructor did six songs for the hour-and-a-half class; I went third. I was a little nervous about not getting up onstage until 45 minutes into it; I wanted to support the other instructors and dance their segments, but I also wanted to be able to tear it up for my turn! :-D When I hit that stage, it was like lightning bolts of adrenaline!!! (I also got the worst side cramp EVER during my third song, but I powered through. ;-)) It felt amazing to 1) teach that many people, 2) completely own the stage, and 3) have people say how much they LOVED my portion!

Saturday afternoon, we dropped off the kids at a friend's house for a sleepover (let me interject how THANKFUL I am that we have friends we feel close enough to and comfortable enough with already here that we could leave them!) while JB & I went into Houston for his company Christmas party. We stayed overnight at the Westin Galleria - ooo and ahh! JB was in charge of the event, so I didn't get to really see him the first two hours :-/ but we did get to dance later on (y'all - I ended up leading his entire corporate entourage in "Gangnam Style"!!! :-D And they loved it so much, they requested it played AGAIN for us to close down the party!!! :-P) We also hit the photo booth:
(They need to know it's dangerous to give us props in a photo booth. ;-))

We made it to our beloved Trader Joe's on Sunday after checkout before coming back to retrieve the children for lunch at Rudy's BBQ before the Redskins game. :-D As soon as my Skins squeaked out our OT win, I threw on my super cute new dress
that I waited months to get on sale ;-) and got to church for our final rehearsal before Christmas Café that evening.

Our new church here does an annual Christmas Café event - a date night filled with desserts and music. My contribution? I was assigned to sing "All I Want For Christmas" as my solo. Yeeeeah... The Mariah Carey super hit with a billion words. I was so honored that they chose *me* to pull this number off...but I absolutely was nervous I'd mess up the words. All. Those. Words. :-P I was also a little nervous, b/c due to some technical mic/speaker difficulties during rehearsal, I had still never heard what I sounded like singing it. (I know instrument players hate wedge amps, but I think we vocalists would trade the ear buds we have to wear to get those old school wedges back ANY DAY! I hate mostly hearing myself in my own head; since I have a theatre background, I want to hear what I sound like echoing in the house!) Anyway, I DID rock my number to open the show, and I didn't mess up the words! :-) I *wishwishwish* I had some video or even a pic from the evening, but alas - nada. If anyone involved posts anything, I'll share it; but I guess in the meantime, you can just imagine me as Mariah...in a lower key, with fewer unnecessary runs, and wearing a much more tasteful dress. ;-)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Seven YEARS Late

I got a huge shock on FB yesterday: my sweet friend, Anna, posted:

"IS THIS REAL LIFE???? Did I seriously get a card in the mail from you SEVEN YEARS LATE??!?!?! I just opened this!!!!"

THIS IS OUT-OF-CONTROL BLOWING MY MIND!!!!!!!!!!! It's from when we lived in Atlanta and were pg with Annelise! I am still freaking out. WHERE was it for Annelise's ENTIRE LIFE??? And for *exactly* 7 years? (It wasn't delivered on some random summer day, but the exact December week I mailed out this year's current card.) And when whomever found it, they just put it back in the flow this week instead of in the trash? Even though it wasn't enough current postage & there's a good chance the addressee could have moved years ago? I have too many questions I want answered!!!

So odd: I totally remember cutting the scalloped edge on that letter, and I remember the day I put them in the mail...SEVEN YEARS AGO. We even moved and lived right close to them in Chicago for a year & a half, 2009-2010! (And look at how short my hair was! I had just done Locks of Love :-D) Seriously, this is the weirdest "surprise" EVER!!!!

Gym Star

Annelise got moved up from Rockets level to Stars at gymnastics this week - yay! They all had two weeks of evaluations before Thanksgiving, and she blew through about 30 criteria with the highest marks (except splits - she only got a 3 out of 4, and she's excited to work on getting them completely flat. ;-))

Her legs fly so fast, they sometimes cannot even be captured... :-D


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hard Water Hair Repair

Ah, the saga of my hair! Actually, that's a bit misleading: my Rapunzel-esque hair is probably the least fussy thing about me. I only have to wash it twice a week, I never blow it dry, and I never use any styling products or irons on it. Ever. I wash, comb through, air dry, and done. The dramatic length is what makes an impact, so I don't need to manipulate it further; and not treating it harshly is what keeps it so long, strong, and healthy with almost rubber band-like elasticity...

...That is, until we moved to Texas this summer. Y'all, I have found ONE thing I hate about it here: the water is AWFUL! Not for drinking - it tastes fine - but the shower is a nightmare. Our shower glass is FOREVER covered in major hard water stains, even one shower after I've cleaned (we're not investing in a water softener while leasing) and oh, my battle with conditioner... The first time I washed my hair here, I used my standard 3 pumps of Bed Head Dumb Blonde conditioner; after it air dried, I ran my fingers through and flipped out: "Omigosh - did I forget to rinse out my conditioner?!" I tried once more. Same thing. :-/ I used way less. Same thing. :-( So I gave up using conditioner altogether, b/c I just couldn't ever get it out. (I always thought soft water made it harder to rinse? Water-softened water feels slimey on my skin, but I've never had this conditioner prob. I just want NORMAL water! :-D)

I got my annual four-inch haircut (I like keeping it to my elbows :-)) last week and had a tête-à-tête with the stylist. [Yes, I know I should have sought advice & remedy for this months ago, but you know life happens, and suddenly the weeks have melted away before your eyes.] Apparently, the cry of hard water hair damage is standard around these parts, esp. with all the new people who have moved in from other states. I need a much lighter conditioner (my beloved-for-a-decade Bed Head Dumb Blonde is actually a thick mask, hence my former superior hair health & elasticity) for the next year and a half in this house. [In my recent googling, I also just found this! A $20 shower head filter from Home Depot! Yes, please!!!] In the meantime, I need some major assistance repairing the massive damage that has been done to my precious locks. They are now dry and brittle, and the breakage terrifies my still-wanting-to-be-Rapunzel-self. (I'm going to rock this long hair for as long as I can pull it off, and since I look like a college kid, I'm not making Locks of Love plans any time soon! :-P)

I have three sweet friends (2 in NC, 1 in IL) who are also stylists, so I asked their advice re: products, b/c I knew they wouldn't try to up-sell me something only stocked in their salons. They all - without talking to each other - independently & emphatically cheered:
Then a ton of my FB friends and even my brother's wife chimed in: MOROCCANOIL!!!!! The *REAL* Moroccanoil is only sold in salons, and luckily, the closest salon to me that carries it had a "stocking stuffer size" special, so I could buy and try it, w/o forking over the $$$$$ for the full-size. I bought the Moroccanoil® Treatment Light, as it's more for fine & light hair = me. Y'all, my girls were NOT KIDDING. This stuff is every bit the elixir of repair it is purported to be; I'm ready for the regular size. I also really want to use the Moisture Repair Shampoo and Conditioner (sulfate-free!!!) and to try one of the masks, although I need to know which would be better for what's going on with me: Restorative or Weightless Hydrating?

Yep. I get the hype. And now I just have to get my healthy hair back! (B/c we are NOT LEAVING TEXAS! :-D)

[No, Moroccanoil did not compensate me in any way for this glowing post...although I will GLADLY accept any ambassadorship they would like to bestow upon me! ;-)]

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Gingerbread Houses 2012

I've mentioned before, I have the now-discontinued & "collectible" Pampered Chef Stoneware Gingerbread House Mold:
My cousin gave it to us before we even had kids, and it's now become an annual tradition for us - and for a couple of the kids' friends these last four years. The kids always cheer that it's the BEST playdate EVER!!! And *I* love that it gives me the BEST excuse EVER to get rid of allllll their leftover Halloween candy! :-D

Gingerbread Houses 2012: pre-décor

Roofs done!

Rabid children with their masterpieces:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Creativity Navitity, Christmas Cards, & Advent

Our Christmas prep and Advent celebration are in full swing!

Annelise set up our "creativity" (she calls our nativity a "creativity" - how can you correct THAT?! :-D)
Apparently, we're all supposed to hush... I get that - I didn't want anyone asking me questions when I was 9 months pg, either. ;-) Enjoy the peace, Mary...

Here's the 2nd night of Advent last night:
using our Advent calendar from Trader Joe's. 1) Trader Joe's is my favorite grocery of all time. 2) This sucker was 99¢. 3) I talked the kids into SHARING THIS ONE!!! :-D Why risk the chance of a brawl over a 1" square of chocolate when another would just be 99¢ more? I'm slightly nuts, and also, they really need practice with sharing and taking turns. This is a low-stakes piece of candy with big meaning; I know they can pull this off. ;-) They've already decided Will gets odd days, Sis gets even. [And yes, the left-out kid gets a piece of their Halloween candy instead. (So. Much. Left. Thank goodness we've got gingerbread houses coming up on Wednesday! That's my FAVE way to get rid of Halloween candy!)]

Finally, as of this morning, our Christmas cards are IN THE MAIL!!! I'm not going to post it here until closer to Christmas, but let me just offer two words: red chevron. (You could also use "dizzyingly busy" but I don't care. ;-)) Every year I stamp our Christmas cards with the Madonna & Child stamp, but this year, I made a change... *GASP!* ;-) Don't worry - I didn't go all cartoon Frosty the Snowman. :-P I went with the new Holy Family stamp:

I'm a week later than I wanted to be; I wanted to be the very first, b/c we have a new address, and I just think it makes it easier on people when you remind them of that early in the card season. We've actually had a new address every year since 2008. If I'm being honest, I hate that the standard joke is "new Christmas card for the Blakes, new address." We will have this same address next year, and then the year after that, hopefully we'll have another address close to this one that will be ours for at least a DECADE - at least through Annelise's high school! I kid you not - just the thought of that gives me uncontrollable butterflies of joy in my tummy. I *cannot wait* to invest in a monogrammed address stamp...in 2014. :-D

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Dream December Temps

The December of my dreams... ♥ Any Texans who were wishing for a blast of cold can blame me: these are my prayers being answered!

I was so thankful I could feel it was warmer yesterday, right when I first got out from under the covers w/o shivering even a little (why is our master always the coldest room in our houses?) and that we could walk comfortably (above 60°F) to school Friday morning. :-) Earlier this week was such a pain to dress the kids: 40's at drop off = freezing & driving to school; 70's at pick up = lovely walking. I hate layering. :-P Poor Annelise even got cold bumps all over her face Tuesday morning: I drove them to school, but we had to wait outside for a couple minutes until 8 AM. I was so crushed that her face broke out that fast, but I used it for good: I marched her right into the school nurses' office and showed them this is what cold urticaria looks like; she's not sick, it's a physical histamine reaction to the cold air. No, warming her up won't make it go away faster; it'll just stop it from getting worse. The measles-like rash will fade in about an hour, so please don't call me to come pick her up, b/c she's not contagious, and I'm going to yoga at the gym. :-D Bless her heart - I know Annelise was self-conscious, and I wished I could make it disappear; but I reassured her it was really fine (thank goodness she didn't see a mirror!) and she went on to class.

For those who have asked, yeah...it's getting worse. The first time we ever saw any symptoms was March 2010: she had a little rash a few times she played outside in the snow at school in IL, but who would EVER guess cold was the cause? It wasn't until that next December (exactly two years ago) that I figured it out. I know it's worse now, b/c we had to live daily in windy weather under 60°F up north, and it took more than just what we felt Tuesday to trigger it. The reaction isn't itchy to her, but it does scare me, b/c while she hasn't had any breathing problems from it before, if it's getting worse...??? I want be to super vigilant monitoring & protecting her.

But anyway, the whole point of this isn't "boo hoo cold bumps", but THANK GOD FOR SENDING US TO WONDERFULLY WARM TEXAS! :-) We'll be living here FOREVER!!! :-)

I Am Coke-Free

Y'all, I just had a stunning revelation: with the exception of one diet vanilla root beer at lunch one mid-September day, I have been coke-free since August! FOUR MONTHS!!! WHAT?!?!?!

I didn't set out to stop drinking coke. [I actually think that would have set me up for complete failure, made me feel deprived, and crave it even more!] I didn't even officially say, "Maybe I'll try to stop drinking it so much." I had stopped buying & keeping it in our home fridge over the last year and only had it when we ate out, (which is often: eating out = my favorite vice!) I did notice, however, after I drank [ahem] several free refills, (you *know* my cheap-self had to get my $$$'s worth!!!) I started to feel not-so-great. I think it's one of those cases where you don't notice when you are being unhealthy in a zillion other ways; but I noticed it started upsetting my stomach about the same time I really shaped up early this year teaching Zumba. I was exercising more than ever, eating healthier than ever, and I think my body just decided to call me out on the coke, while I was at it. (Aren't you impressed with my scientific logic? ;-)) Whatever the case, I noticed that drinking coke was making my stomach hurt, so I thought about backing off a little. At one restaurant meal, I chose water over diet, (but if I'm being honest, it was to save the extra $2, not to be healthy.) And I just never went back...

Oh, yes - except for that one diet vanilla root beer... I fell prey to the allure of a Coca-Cola "Freestyle" - the new coke machines where you can add delish fountain flavor - vanilla, cherry, raspberry, lime, peach, etc. - to any drink they have! (Ohh. Emm. Gee. Where was this machine before this year?!?!) I was told if you add vanilla to the diet root beer, it tastes like a float; so in lieu of dessert, I did. And it did! ...But then it also did give me stomach cramps all evening. So enough of that. :-/

Bittersweet.

I love coke. (BTW: "coke" = all carbonated soda beverages. If I mean one specific brand, I'll call it out by name. Otherwise, it's all coke. As in: "I used to drink a lot of coke. Caffeine-Free Diet Coke was my favorite. JB likes Fanta Zero. I grew up on Sun-Drop.") I loved the bubbles best of all...but I'm proud of myself for actually listening to my body (what a novel idea! :-P) and making a healthy change instead of more excuses. Will I ever put another one to my lips? Probably. Like I started out saying, proclamations of "I will never do this, again!" set me up for mental failure; plus, I didn't make some vow never to touch it. The fact that I don't want to feel stomach cramps is the bottom line. It's the same reason I also don't drink very much alcohol, anymore. My body says, "No, thank you, ma'am. That party barge sailed about a decade ago." :-D

So what *DO* I drink now? No, not just water. I actually hate plain, clear water. Yeah, I said it. I'll get it occasionally and drink it during Zumba, but it's not my bev of choice. My two faves are
*SoBe Lifewater Zero (oh, yumberry pom!) sweetened with PureVia, which is made from stevia
*Kirkland Signature Diet Green Tea from Costco (just like the Lipton, but cheaper = I ♥ Costco! :-))

Is everything I drink calorie-free? :-P I am still a complete Sbux "tall 5-pump or venti 8-pump chai latte with no water, all milk" and bubble tea (almond & taro = faves!) addict. Like multiple-times-a-week addict. But I also try to choose those in lieu of something else. My philosophy is balance & feeling good, when you get to where you want to be. :-) And as much as it floors me to say this, being coke-free feels shockingly good!