Thursday, February 28, 2013


This was her first new toy in literally 5 years (she's almost 11) ...and it lasted less than 24 hours. She had a pheasant toy from the AKC that lasted FOREVER, but we lost it in the latest move last summer. PetSmart's selection was no match for Bonnie Blue, the Destroyer! :-P

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Heart-Healthy Pink Israeli Couscous Salad

My new fave meal obsession: pink Israeli couscous salad! Pink = steamed & peeled beets! ♥ See how the color develops w/ stirring?

Beets are not only very nutritious, but they also improve cardiovascular health and reduce high blood pressure. Don't forget about heart health awareness, esp. in women!

I also added grape tomatoes & fresh mozzarella shreds after toasting the couscous in a bit of coconut oil & cooking in chicken stock. Mmmm...

It's really just one of those "throw whatever you want in" recipes; I made it up on Valentine's Day. :-) [Get it = festive color!] But for those of y'all who'd really like some numbers:

*2 tbsp coconut oil (you can use any oil you want: olive, etc. I'm a huge fan of nutritious coconut oil, though!)
*1 box Trader Joe's Israeli Couscous [or 8 oz (~1.5 cups) of any brand]
*1 3/4 cups boiling chicken stock [I use water & Better than Bouillon organic low-sodium chicken base (1 tsp + 8 oz of water = chicken stock; my mom turned me onto this stuff - SO MUCH BETTER than any other store-bought stock I've ever tasted! It's quality & lasts for ages; you can also easily add more base for a more intense flavor. Buy it at Costco: in the grocery, an 8 oz jar is the same price as the 16 oz jar at Costco!)]

Heat the 2 tbsp of oil in a pan over medium high heat. Add couscous and stir until it just begins to turn golden. Add the chicken stock, cover, and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed.

While the couscous simmers, chop up:

*steamed & peeled baby beets (I put these in a glass bowl and snip them into pieces with kitchen shears, so I don't get beet stain all over my hands or cutting board = brilliant! Trader Joe's, Safeway, & Melissa's are all good brands; you can't beat the convenience of having them already steamed, peeled, & vacuum-packed, ready to go!)
*grape tomatoes
*fresh mozzarella

When the couscous is ready, mix it all up! Simple! You can add anything else you'd like - chicken for protein, any other veggies. I added some dried cranberries once (traditional couscous often calls for raisins, so that was my inspiration, staying pink & red :-P) and it was divine!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

RODEOHOUSTON: World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest 2013

Houston is the most non-stereotypical "Texan" city in the state: it's a little more Southern, a lot less western. There aren't big country western line dance saloons all over the place (I'm sure there are some, but I've only heard of one & know no one who's actually been :-P); the landscape is so lush & green (nicknamed the Emerald City, b/c of the year-round green) instead of any brown tumbleweed or cactus; it's a true international melting pot (more people from more different countries than anywhere else we've ever lived!) instead of only having a major Mexican influence; and there's a very hip & sophisticated metro culture here.

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed when we showed up here and not everyone wore cowboy boots every single day...but for about one month every year, that totally changes! Super modern, metro chic Houston goes RODEO!!!

[B/c wiki is more succinct that I:] The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, also called RodeoHouston or abbreviated HLSR, is the world's largest live entertainment and livestock exhibition. The event is 20 days long. It is kicked off by the Downtown Rodeo Roundup held near Houston City Hall, the Downtown Rodeo parade, and the ConocoPhillips Rodeo Run - a 10k and 5k walk & run and the World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest. The show features championship rodeo action, livestock competitions, major big-name concerts, a carnival, pig racing, barbecue and the Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition, shopping, sales and livestock auctions. Traditional trail rides, which start in different areas of Texas and end in Houston, precede the Rodeo events. The City of Houston celebrates this event with Go Texan Day, where residents are encouraged to dress in western wear the Friday before the rodeo begins.

The World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest, also simply known as "The Cookoff," started in 1974 and has consistently drawn massive attendance numbers for the three-day event, drawing a record 264,132 visitors in 2013. It takes place on the southern parking lot of Reliant Stadium, with over 350 teams participating every year, and is generally considered a "Hot Ticket," as most are for members or by invitation only. While the event is open to the general public, those that can get into the tents are generally allowed an unlimited amount of food and beverages.

The actual rodeo events & concerts begin Monday (they do the ropin' & ridin' followed by big-name concerts each night) but this opening weekend, we were lucky enough to be invited to that "Hot Ticket" Cookoff!!! One of JB's assistant football coaches was actually on a barbeque cooking team, so we got the coveted tent invite = SUPER SCORE!!!!! It's kind of like Oktoberfest in Germany: anyone can come to the festival, but if you aren't an exclusive guest, you can't come in the tents where all the beer, food, & music are. And in these tents - once you do get in - everything is FREE! All you can eat: brisket, chicken (so impressed!), pulled pork (always my fave ♥), sausage (venison!), ribs (shhh - I got a full rack sent home with me! WOOHOO!), slaw, potato salad, & banana pudding (resplendent w/ true Nilla® Wafers) and all you can drink. Yep. ALLLLLLL you can drink. :-P I'm not a big drinker anymore, but it really was fun to have an event like this with food, fun, & music!

Football mom posse

In our Texas kicks!

Me & my love ♥

PS - there was a stage w/ a band inside our team's tent; of course y'all know where I landed... ;-)

Since the HLSR lasts three more full weeks, I'm really hoping we can take the kids down one day. (They spent Saturday at their friends' house for a sleepover. :-)) They have a gigantic carnival section that's like a full-on amusement park (I'd rather avoid that :-P), but I'd really be excited to see the cowboy rodeo events. :-) God bless Texas!!!

Surprise Root Canals, Bloody Faces, & Princess Makeovers

I went into the dentist Wednesday morning to begin the slate of dental work I needed. The first of three appointments, all things I expected. I sat in the dentist chair, trying not to shake (all anesthesia, even just novocaine shots, make me shaky; you should see me shiver with an epidural!), mourning the loss of a large portion of our vacay fund which now belongs to said dentist... The 90's station made me smile - Matchbox20 "3 AM", Sugar Ray "Fly", Red Hot Chili Peppers "Scar Tissue", & BSB "Quit Playing Game with My Heart" - until...SURPRISE! I also won part one of a ROOT CANAL! It was legit - he showed me in WAY MORE detail than my queasy stomach cared to see how my old cracked filling had become infected, but I just wanted to bawl over the cost going up almost 3x more!!! :'( On the bright side, at least I didn't have to waste the entire night(week!) before dreading it! :-P

Fast forward to that evening:

Nothing makes you forget your own pain for a bit like seeing your child's face dripping with blood. :'( Annelise was trying to set up a "trophy show" in her room...until one trophy fell out of her hands & took a chunk out of her face! JB assured us no stitches needed *shudder* ...and only after she was in bed soundly asleep did my jaw throb. (NOT that I was asking for any more mother's adrenaline to make me forget, again!!! :-P) Her cut looked WAAAY better after school Thursday afternoon: solidly closed (no more "gaping" hole *shudder*) & it never bled, again, after I held initial pressure on it for so long. WHEW!!! Her teacher did say she was embarrassed about her bandaid over her entire upper lip in the morning, but she got over it pretty fast.

Friday was an early dismissal day at school, so while Will & Daddy did guy stuff (bowling, arcade games), Annelise & I went with our friends to get the girls special hairdos at Sweet & Sassy. (I had Groupons, and we treated for Annelise's friend's birthday.) The glittery glam speaks for itself:

Fashion show:

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cupcake Craziness & Macaron Madness

We scored FREE cupcakes & cake pops this morning at the grand opening of The Sweet Boutique location close to our house!!! Yummm... Texas gets better & better EVERY DAY!

They offered 2 free cupcakes or 4 free cake pops to the first 50 people in the store! My BFF Donna & her daughter were #14 & 15; we were #16-19. :-) The kids got 8 pops; I got a salted caramel & a champagne cupcake. JB got salted caramel & chocolate ganache. This place has the BEST French macarons, though, that I've had outside of France. (I tasted them at their Sugar Land store.) I'm really excited to have such easy access to those now, but I just stuck w/ cupcakes today, b/c they were free & I wanted to enjoy them fresh!

The cake parts were great, and the salted caramel drizzle was heavenly...but you know what? I may be over cupcakes.

Yeah, I said it.

(And I've been thinking it for a while...)

I would rather have macarons above all!!! (Second choice: chewy, gooey salted caramel brownie.)

I'm so glad I got to try these cupcakes for free today; they are absolutely gorgeous, and now my curiosity is satisfied. :-) They are delish, as cupcakes go, but as my preferences have changed over the last year (like me easily giving up my formerly-beloved coke) I no longer deeply enjoy cake and icing. I just don't. Particularly buttercream icing. Now I could eat TONS of fondant (I know lots of people don't like to actually eat it, but for me, it's my fave part of those cakes!) but that's it. Buttercream is going the way of cheesecake for me: so pretty, and I love the idea of it...but my tummy actually rejects it now. I don't think I would even want a standard buttercream birthday cake. I would rather have a birthday stack of macarons...accented with fondant decorations! ;-) Mmmmm...

So excited access to The Sweet Boutique is closer now, so thankful we were blessed with free sweet treats & sweet friends to share the joy with, and anxious with excitement over the prospect of trying chai, rose, peach, caramel, blueberry, pistachio, lavender, orange blossom, nutella, & chocolate strawberry macarons!

What are your favorite bakery treats? [It's OK, if you still love cupcakes best! :-D I'm still intrigued by beautiful ones with unique flavor profiles.] What are your favorite flavors?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Zumba Love

Sending out tons of Zumba love this Valentine's week!

Thank you to everyone who has honored me with the privilege of us doing ZUMBA together! YOU ARE LOVED & VALUED!!! And you have ALL made your hearts STRONGER! ♥ Party HEARTy, y'all!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ulta-mate Beauty Spree: Help!

I love beauty supplies. I don't use many of them, but I love browsing stores like Sephora, Sally, & Ulta. (And y'all hear me talk about them fairly often, b/c every single time I *do* get something, I'm so excited, I share it here! :-D)

A brand new Ulta had it's grand opening here last Friday morning, close to our house. YAY!!! Ulta is Annelise's favorite by far, and I love it, b/c 1) they always have great coupons (like $3.50 off a $10 purchase or 20% off total) and 2) it's a nice middle ground, carrying both drugstore & higher ends brands in one place. They announced that for this grand opening, they would be giving away gift certificates of $5 - $100 to the first 100 people in the store. It opened Friday morning at 9 AM, and I was free, so at about 8:50, I drove over. I swallowed hard when I saw the unexpectedly-long line, but the lady in front of me said she had counted and we were about the 60th. Whew! [I really wanted that $5! Esp. after the bad news of no vacay & JB's car repair, every little bit helps!] :-) I only had to wait about five minutes; they opened promptly at 9 AM. We kept hearing big cheers every once in a while, as we got closer to the door. We assumed it was the $100 gift certificate and then maybe a $50 or the $25's. When we got to the door, the lady behind me asked if anyone had gotten $100, yet, and an employee said, "No! We've just been cheering for fun!"

I reached into the glass bowl full of rectangular slips of paper, fully expecting to pull out the $5 denomination. My fingers worked through a stack of several at the bottom; I wanted the middle slip. I opened the fold to reveal...*THE* $100 gift certificate! I kid you not - my breath left my body for a second. I am SOOO UNLUCKY at this stuff, I couldn't even believe it! (True story: JB won't let me anywhere near him when he's in casino-mode in Vegas, b/c I am the ultimate cooler.) All the Ulta employees squealed! One took my picture! :-D (Dude, it was with a disposable drugstore camera! I didn't even know they still SOLD those! :-P If it would have been on a phone, I would have had him email it to me!) I felt like a queen!!!

...And then I felt extremely overwhelmed. I had $8 of stuff I actually needed. Now I have the luxury of $92 more?! I have to use the gift certificate all at once within the next month; so after browsing for a while, I got my freebies (other grand opening perk: 4 free gifts! no purchase necessary!) and just left with my voucher. I knew I couldn't have this dreamy spree w/o 1) Annelise :-) and 2) devising a detailed plan, so I'm not wracked with buyer's remorse. (Yes, I know that it's virtually free play money; but I am too cheap to just blow it all on whims!)


I don't use any expensive skincare products. My skin is extremely sensitive: the last facial I got was just over seven years ago; it was "sensitive" and my face still burned bright red. The esthetician was HORRIFIED. She told me to throw away every product I had and even *not* to buy what her spa was selling, either. She told me to simply wash my face with the Aveeno Moisturizing Bar (only $3) and get a light, oil-free facial moisturizer like Neutrogena. That's it. I was so thankful to have a professional esthetician be that blunt & honest, not try to upsell me on whatever miracle repair her spa offered, and give me such a basic & inexpensive course of action. PS - it totally worked! My skin has been brighter & clearer in the last seven years than it has been since I was little. I really battled acne breakouts through college and up to my mid-20's; but I can't tell you the last time I had more than just a little pimple here or there. The Aveeno Moisturizing Bar cleanses and exfoliates, and I settled on Jergens Natural Glow FACE Daily Moisturizer w/ sunscreen (~$7) b/c the natural color makes me not want/need to wear any base or foundation makeup.

So, I only *need*:
Aveeno Moisturizing Bar
Jergens Natural Glow FACE Daily Moisturizer

I'm at $10. I'm thinking maybe I should buy a couple of each, though, so I won't have to pay to replenish the supply anytime soon. ;-)

Now what?

The only makeup I use is eyeliner and lip stuff. I like brown and/or purple eyeliners with some sparkle or metallic element. For years, Hard Candy's hyper (brown with gold glitter) was my signature. That's been discontinued, and I've had a bear of a time settling on a replacement. MAC's Eye Kohl in teddy was wonderful, but then I got an Ulta gift card (no MAC) and tried Stila's Sparkle Waterproof Liquid Eye Liner in rock candy. It did not last as advertised. Now I'm sporting Sephora's 12HR Wear Waterproof Liner in a metallic 15 Purple - love the hint of color (purple = perfect w/ my brown eyes!) and that I can blend it into not needing/wanting to wear any eyeshadow. But now that I have this Ulta gift, I'm up for trying something new, again. Do you have any brown/purple/slightly sparkly/metallic/super long-wearing eyeliner suggestions???

Lips: I never remember to reapply. Ever. The only thing that remains on my face longer than 30 minutes is Maybelline's Superstay 24; when I remember to put it on, I wear 080 Infinite Petal. I look best in mauves. What other lip products could y'all recommend that are super long-wearing and offer a mauve-ish color? The only gloss that has ever lasted on me is L'Oreal's Infallible Plumping 8HR Lipgloss in Plumping Mauve. Should I just get more of the (BORING OLD) same, or do y'all have any ideas? Has anyone tried Revlon's ColorStay Just Bitten lipstains? I had super high hopes for Stila's Coconut Crush Lip and Cheek Stain this summer: it looked AMAZING when I initially put it on...but it lasted less than an hour. :'(

[See! I told y'all I love talking about this stuff!!! :-P]

What else?

I like the idea of self-tanning lotions, esp. for my legs. (I am a sun goddess and loooooove being at the pool; but I *AM* trying to be healthier and wear tons of SPF. I want my color, though.) Brand/type suggestions?

I'll get a nice facial sunscreen stick for Annelise, b/c bless her heart, she has super sensitive skin, too, and I can't get the regular stuff on the skin close enough to her eyes w/o them stinging and watering so terribly.

Maybe I should get a new nice pair of precision pointed tweezers.

Y'all know I don't need any hair products (yay, Moroccanoil!) or nail stuff (yay, Gelish!) and do we dare open the Pandora's box of fragrance?

Oooo, the kids LOVE Ulta's 3-in-1 Beauty Smoothies for the shower (chocolate truffle is their current fave :-)) so I might need to grab one of those.

The suggestion box is WIDE OPEN! HIT ME UP!!! [...But do it *NOW*, b/c I am getting super anxious to "free" shop! :-D]

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Henna Happy

This morning's weather looked icky. Gray and misty. No fun for outdoor yoga...although I *knew* she'd still have it. I went to my happy [indoor at the gym] Yin/Restorative yoga class at 8:30, instead. Bliss... My few errands afterwards were accomplished with lightening speed...and I just felt like God was telling me to go on over to the gazebo yoga class for the end.

So glad I did!!! :-) It was just joyous! They were ending with some partner poses and really needed one more person. Here's me & Sangeeta, the teacher:
Yin Yang balance with blonde and black ponytails! :-D

At the end, Sangeeta offered henna tattoos (she's a real artist!) for a small donation towards Expedition Balance - an independent non-profit committed to helping combat veterans who return home with emotional trauma (PTSD) regain their lives. How could I pass that up?!
Henna is a natural paste made out of leaves and colors the skin red if applied and left on the skin for a few hours. I really think it looks cool; and since I don't have any formal cotillions or royal teas to attend in the next seven-to-ten days (before it wears off ;-)) I gave her carte blanche! I also think it will look awesome at Zumba. :-D

Here's after I gently rubbed away the dried paste, after it had soaked into my skin for a few hours:

Annelise wants it done to her now. :-D I love that I get to rock this funky style for a week or so AND that I got to support our combat veterans through Expedition Balance!

Monday, February 11, 2013

I'm Going to Graceland

Not really. :-P Memphis isn't on our current travel schedule. [Actually - no place is on our current travel schedule. :'( We had planned & saved for a super special trip over spring break this year in March, since it's the first time the kids have ever been in the same school & actually had the same break weeks...but JB's car died last week. We were on the edge of deciding if we needed to buy another or pay to fix his; we went with the fix, but that still completely wiped out our vacay fund. There's no extra financial cushion, since I begin my massive-although-expected slate of dental work next week. *sigh* Sayonara, Disney...] So yes, Graceland. No, I'm not a big Elvis fan, either. :-P One of the most influential albums in my life growing up was Paul Simon's Graceland. It was a favorite of my parents; my mom & I would listen to it ad nauseam in the car. I know every word, and I loved the African rhythms. I carried that connection with me when I went to Africa several years later. The harmonies of Ladysmith Black Mambazo (harmony is my thing :-)) are magical.

Luckily last month, I noticed a broadcast of PBS's Great Performances special Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey: Under African Skies. I was so excited to DVR! Being a child, I didn't pay attention to the apartheid controversy around the album at the time - I just knew I loved singing those songs - but now as an adult, I really appreciated hearing the backstory behind the music. It's been ages since I really listened to it; I feel like I've reconnected with an old friend. :-)

What are some of the albums that defined parts of your childhood?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Children's Museum of Houston

Will's 3rd grade field trip back in October was to the Children's Museum of Houston, and he has raved about it ever since! Now with all our moves, we have certainly experienced more than our fair share of children's museums (I think DuPage saved our lives in Chicago winter! :-P) so I really was curious to see how "awesome" it was. We had a Groupon, used it this Saturday, ...and I honestly think it's the best one we've ever been to!

Annelise is our climber! Here she is on the way to the top:

Will went up a little ways:

He was more into using the climbing wall horizontally:

Will working to check Sis out at the Kidtropolis H-E-B faux grocery:

The whole Kidtropolis design is truly impressive! We've been to children's museums with fake town set-ups before; but this incorporates more in-depth role-playing for older children, as well. There's a city hall, where they can read about & vote on Kidtropolis issues. They work jobs (bagger at the store, teller at the bank, waiter at the diner, TV anchor at the news station, vet at the animal clinic, etc.), earn a paycheck, take it to the bank, get paid, put that amount on their museum card which doubles as their ATM/debit card, and then they can "shop" at the grocery, eat at the diner, etc. It's fantastic!

Annelise found her passion in Kidtropolis at the Vet Clinic:

Will manned the Vet Clinic check-out:

Water play at FlowWorks:

Will about to tip the giant water bowl:

Feeling the Charleston love in the Gullah cultural exhibit:

Sweetgrass baskets!

Annelise donned lab glasses & coat to learn about molecules...after painting her face :-P

Back in the Vet Clinic for the 3rd time! We couldn't keep her from "going back to work"!!!!
[I will certainly be saving this pic for when
she graduates from veterinary school! ;-)]

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Give You the World

A friend of mine recently asked if anyone had tips for teaching geography to their kids.

Hello. My name is Susie, and I am the Queen Bee of Geography! :-D

How did I attain this lofty status? ;-) Well, it's always just been an integral part of my life - when watching the news or National Geographic with my family growing up, we always talked about "those places". We also always had a world map shower curtain in our bathroom!
When you...well...sit in there at least a few times a day, the info in front your face really sinks in. :-P And yes, we have a world map shower curtain in our kids' bathroom, too! :-D

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Super Bowl Sunday

So y'all know what a football fanatic I am; but I have to say, we've had a long string of pretty blah Super Bowl celebrations. We haven't watched with friends in years; and before last year, we had three in a row where were we all sick up north. Ick. 2013? Redemption! :-D (Of course! Everything's better, so far, in Texas! ;-)) We went to one of our football families' homes - the adults feasted, laughed, and actually watched the game, (YAY!)

And the kids swam. Yes - swam!
Annelise was in the pool for over 3 HOURS! She forgot her suit, so she swam in her Skins jersey - that's the football spirit!!!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Rugby World Series

JB called me from work Friday: "Hey, do you want to go see some rubgy tomorrow?"

Sure! I love sports, esp. live events, esp. when we get to explore more of our new big city, and esp. when it's free!!! ;-) JB's company has a private suite at Houston's soccer stadium, so when he was offered the tickets for Saturday's International Rugby World Series Finals, we pounced. :-) I mean, who doesn't want to feel like a VIP in a private box?! :-D And PS - rugby rocks! Waaay more fun than soccer!!!

This is awesome:

Team USA's Eagle mascot came into our suite:
(Our friends, the Pixtons, came, too!)

I had sunscreen on my face, but I still tried to get a tiny bit toasty soaking up the vitamin D in b/t matches:

Friday, February 1, 2013

National Wear Red Day: Go Red for Women

Today is the 10th Annual National Wear Red Day®. It's part of the GO RED FOR WOMEN campaign by the American Heart Association to bring awareness to heart disease in women, so I am going red! (Yes, even at bubble tea. ;-))

Heart disease is the #1 killer of women in America. It's given the women in my family some serious scares, (and has taken the lives of the men genetically closest to me.) It's scary business, but we can reduce the risk with exercise and a healthy diet. (Did y'all hear that exercise part??? Come Zumba with me!!! :-))

Share this event and help spread awareness - even beyond today! Get this shocker: "An estimated 43 million women in the U.S. are affected by heart disease, yet only one in five women believe heart disease is her greatest health threat." :-O

Feel free to link up with my friend Andie to share this event, as well:

My Cute Kids & Matching AG Doll/Girl Outfits

William, King of the Neighborhood:
[How many of my hometown friends notice the street sign?! :-D Sundrop is a signature beverage of my hometown, and it always cracks me up to walk by this sign!]

Annelise earned a class "toy pass" so she was allowed to bring one each day this week. Of course, she *had* to take her American Girl, Caroline, and they *had* to match every day!
Now before y'all think we've ridiculously spent thousands of dollars :-P, most of her matching outfits come from "Dollie & Me" on Zulily: very well made matching outfits for girl & doll = ~$17 TOTAL for both. Waaaaay cheaper than AG brand!!!! And waaaaay cuter!!!!! [We love the AG historical stuff, but their normal, everyday girl clothes are kind of blah.] Annelise has at least 10 matching "Dollie & Me"s from Zulily - they're just her standard wardrobe. She got 5 new ones for Christmas = less than $100. We'd probably pay $20 for a complete new outfit, anyway, even w/o the matching doll set, you know? They are truly well made, they have great embellishment details, and Annelise feels like a rockstar in them. These are all "Dollie & Me" except for the top right pink - that's Caroline's real historical dress & then just a pink sweater dress Annelise already had that was kind of close. :-)

And y'all don't worry about Flamingo. She's at home babysitting the other babies, b/c she's the oldest, and she got to go to school before Caroline arrived at Christmas. ;-) Annelise is doing a remarkable job balancing them both - gives me great hope for her future parenting skills! :-D