Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How 2013 Changed Me

For the better. Immeasurably. :-) It was one of the best (perhaps *THE* best?) years of my life.

Stability-wise, it was literally the first year we didn't move since 2008(!!!), and the first year we weren't being threatened with a move or trying to since 2005. Almost a solid decade of not feeling safe to settle in a "home" area took a serious toll on my heart, but one that I couldn't allow myself (self-preservation) to realize the magnitude of until 2013 - the first whole year we had no fear of transfer and no desire for it! We are so happy here, and we really *can* stay - I can't explain how full this makes my heart.

Physically, I became dedicated to Yin/restorative yoga twice a week; it fixes everything I tweak out of kilter in Zumba! ;-) I also began taking a strength class using dumbbells for the first time in my life in March this year. I told the instructor (a friend :-)) that I needed her help to get rid of my "T-rex arms." (I have powerful legs and a booming personality...but I had these tiny, weak T-rex arms! :-D) It completely transformed my body. I've been Zumba-ing for over 3 years, but *THIS* was the kick my body needed to get fit. I would have never worn leggings to work out before; if I had bike shorts on, I'd have another baggy pair of shorts over top. I never was personally ok with myself for that...until the 2nd half of this year. I feel so confident and am really happy with the way I look. [I've actually been happy with myself for the last +20 lbs., to tell you the honest truth. I think it's an epidemic of awfulness that women don't love the way they look!!! But I've just been more & more surprised and happier with results I never banked on!]

Me teaching Zumba this Monday:

Speaking of Zumba, professionally I also grew by leaps & bounds. God carried me through a horrifically-handled management situation with poise & grace (even when I wanted to scream! ;-)) and I definitely came out stronger for it. I am excelling in a location that makes me SO HAPPY! Every single class leaves me uplifted and spiritually fed. What a blessing that I get paid to change lives while they enrich mine so!?!

Friendships were...interesting this year. We fell victim to the craziness of someone we had been drawing close to, so getting over that hurt was painful for a bit. And a powerful growth experience ...but yeah. Still not fun. I was also suddenly & completely cut off by an old friend with no explanation whatsoever this spring, which was extremely...bizarre. I prayed about it A TON, whether I should reach out & ask what happened or just give her time to work through whatever she needed. It's...odd. But I kept praying, and I know if God wants full restoration, He'll prompt it. This was a big point of growth/change for me, too: I really felt like God was trying to teach me to wait on Him, trust Him, & not jump in ASAP on my own to get her approval back. I am an approval addict. (Not a "can't say no" person, but definitely a "can't let anyone be mad at me!" girl.) On a much happier note, we finally have multiple "whole family friends" - where husbands, wives, & kids all actually enjoy hanging out together! I'm not kidding when I tell you we haven't had that most places we've lived. This is *such* a blessing!!!

Football on a united team gave us the gift of quality family time off the couch the end of March - May and July - the first of December. Singing in church filled my heart. Disney was a long-awaited dream come true!!!

2013 was spectacular! I am so very thankful!!!

Excited to see what 2014 has in store: hopefully solid steps toward permanent home ownership, again, in 2015; perhaps the provision of more reliable vehicles (requesting prayer that God makes it clear when the right time is & that they won't negatively interfere with buying a home!) Already excited for next football season ;-) and really hoping for a lot of BEACH opportunities!!!

What are you excited for in 2014? How did 2013 change you?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Rainbow Loom Tutorials

Annelise has been obsessed with Rainbow Loom YouTube tutorials for the past 3 months...and she has wanted to start her *OWN* channel now for almost as long. ;-) She got serious about organizing her loom bands this week after getting two band boxes with divided sections for Christmas, ($1.19 w/ 40% off coupon @ Hobby Lobby!) so I told her if she really wanted to do this, I'd set up a channel for her (that I control - I do the videoing, I upload, & I monitor & approve all comments before they're made public.) :-D Sooo, if you're ever bored online, you can check it out & give her a few views and/or likes! (Feel free to scroll to the ends to just get the viewcount...although the last 20 seconds of her fishtail tutorial are *THE* BEST! :-D)

RainbowLoomAnnelise: https://www.youtube.com/user/RainbowLoomAnnelise/videos

You can actually see all the work she (and esp. JB & I!!!) did separating those bands, if you watch her videos. Here's what she was working with before the new boxes...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Downtown Aquarium - Houston

We have had the most fantastic staycation, so far! JB has been home all week (minus Monday the 23rd - but I had to teach Zumba, anyway, so no big deal; so thankful I didn't have to find a sub! Holiday subs = nightmare to secure!) We've seen Disney's Frozen ("I'm Olaf, and I like warm hugs!" ♥), explored a new restaurant (fantastic chips & such good soup! also stellar surprise: Mexican lasagna!), snuggled on the couch catching up on DVRed movies while separating THOUSANDS of Rainbow Loom bands with the kids into their new band boxes with divided sections, and scored deals on a few after-Christmas sales (holiday scent Ulta 3-in-1 shower smoothies = the kids' fave; macaroon smells like lavender! & I had to buy jeans, b/c all of mine are *TOO BIG*!!! Yay for Old Navy super sale and a size of jeans I have *NEVER* owned in my adult life!!!)

On Saturday, we wanted to do something special - something Houstonian - in the city: the Downtown Aquarium - Houston. We went in with low expectations - the online reviews are awful; but if you don't go expecting a huge research aquarium like Chicago's Shedd Aquarium (we were members in 2009! :-)) or the Georgia Aquarium, and you go knowing it's a Landry's restaurant (a la Rainforest Café) with an aquarium & several rides attached, it's amazing!!! We had a ball! They have the best stingray-touch tank (most active & friendly) we've ever done, we had a big lunch discount with JB's Landry's Select birthday credit, the tiger experience was so much better (closer & more active) here than the zoo, and it's perfect for a 2 or 3 hour visit instead of taking all day.

Stingray Reef:

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas Day 2013

Our Christmas Day was spectacular!!!

*Every* wish was granted, (including JB's! :-D)

Revealing "the big one"...

We hosted friends here for a fantastic lunch at noon. They brought almost ALL the delicious food - ham, spinach strata, rosemary potatoes, cranberry coffee cake, etc. - while I made a HUGE fruit salad with blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, mango, pineapple, grapes, & honeydew. The family was Will's BFF's from school, and his younger brother got a rainbow loom for Christmas, so Annelise had an eager pupil to tutor, while we parents got to relax around the table and chat. Having them over made this place really feel like home!

Later in the afternoon, we watched JB's fave holiday film "Christmas Vacation" while I Gelished my & Annelise's nails with new colors I got that morning, (Brights Have More Fun - a dark neon pink - on Sis; Radiance is My Middle Name - a bright teal - on me.) She was a rainbow loom machine, Will learned Madden on the new Xbox, and the kids ended the night cracking each other up at the table as they polished off the rest of the fruit salad. I am so thankful...

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Eve 2013

For the first time ever, we got to share Christmas Eve with our current home church family. It was such a blessing!!!

Earlier in the day, we went to the mall - not b/c we needed anything, but precisely b/c we *DIDN'T* and we could enjoy the bustling spirit w/o the stress of needing to accomplish anything! :-D Annelise was pulled to be a hair model as we walked around! This curling iron was great - the curls set in literally 3 seconds and lasted overnight! ...But no, I did not succumb & buy it. :-P (& yes, they did her whole head! Thankful for a special FREE Christmas Eve hair do!)

I sang for both of our candlelight services at 6 & 7:30 PM. JB & the kids dropped me off at church before, and they came to the 7:30, so we could all ride home together. :-) Each service was 45 minutes (perfect length for entire families being together ;-)) with 3 songs ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "O Come O Come Emmanuel", & "Joy to the World"),

[I *love* that I can hear Annelise singing with the congregation on this! :-D]
a short video about our Advent charity that the offering went to (Mercy House Kenya), "O Holy Night", and a 5-minute message from the pastor before we closed singing "Silent Night" while the entire congregation lit candles by sharing each other's flame. It was breathtaking. I honestly got misty up onstage singing, "Round yon virgin, mother and child" while looking out and seeing sweet moms helping their wide-eyed kids, and then seeing my own children... ♥

After church, the kids set out chocolate-covered cherry cookies, hung their stockings, and went to bed fairly easily!

Excited for the morning...

Edited to add: Annelise's Santa letter was *THE* BEST!!!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Card 2013

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 22, 2013

Home Church Christmas & Homemade Cheer Bucket

This is the first year we'll be at our own house that we actually live in for Christmas. (First time EVER in the kids' OR JB's lives! I grew up with Christmas at my house, and then we'd go over to Grandmommy's for lunch; JB grew up always traveling to his two sets of grandparents in two different states, which is also all our kids have ever known.) Us staying here is no big moral stand for our household - neither of us feel like we *MUST* have a Christmas inside these four walls - or any certain walls in particular; it's purely financial. Everyone keeps asking why my mom doesn't come here for Christmas; it would be cheaper for them to come here than the four of us to fly there, and there are so many amazing new things we could do & explore here since the kids are off school & the summer heat is gone, but she wants to have Christmas in her home. Maybe next year? :-)

I am sooo excited to actually get to be a part of the Christmas festivities at the church we belong to for the very first time!!! Singing on the Praise Team is a big part of my life, and I've never been able to participate in any Christmas services, b/c we're always gone. This year, I got to sing this Sunday of Christmas week, ("O Come, All Ye Faithful"! "What Child Is This?"!) and I get to sing for our two Christmas Eve Candlelight services ("O Come, O Come Emmanuel"! "Joy to the World"!, "O Holy Night"! "Silent Night"!), as well!!! A few people asked to see "Breath of Heaven" from two weeks ago. The quality is *AWFUL* (loud sounds are distorted when recorded, & this phone was right by an amp; there was also a reverb effect on my mic - you can really hear it at 1:20; start there to skip the blah beginning; also, forgive the tragic 3-sizes-too-big pants (although yay that they are! :-D) :-P) but...

Also, since we're not traveling, we've gotten the kids some bulky Christmas presents we wouldn't have, otherwise. The standout for Annelise: a cheer bucket. What's a cheer bucket? A white 5 gallon paint bucket that's been decorated with your team's colors and whose lid has been turned into a padded foam seat. The girls carry their megaphones, poms, water, etc. in them and use them as sideline seats at break after halftime shows. I actually think they are kind of a waste, (they're heavier & clunkier than just carrying your stuff,) ...but they sure are cute!!! :-D Annelise has asked & asked for one, so we're giving in & making it ourselves. Our local athletic store here will personalize the buckets for $36(!!!), but you still have to do the lid yourself = no deal. I got a bucket & lid for a few bucks at ACE Hardware and used my Silhouette for the decoration; JB cut the wood & foam circles, and we stapled the spirit-color fabric I bought over the top, before he screwed it tight to the lid:
I still have to add ribbons on the handle and maybe some decoration where the lid & top of the bucket meet, but I think we'll wait and ask her what else she wants on Christmas. :-) Ok, for now, back into the recesses of my closet... ;-)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Different Style Christmas Card

I was waffling on whether or not to do Christmas cards this year; our list is whittled down to 90 (!!!) - we only send to people who send to us, along with a few choice relations who aren't on FB - so it's an investment... But as soon as those holiday greetings started rolling into our mailbox, I just couldn't skip! :-P I wanted to do something different, though, so I piggy-backed on my sweet friend Shelley's idea from last year. When her card arrived, it really stood out - not b/c it was over the top, but b/c it was so straight to the point: a postcard with their pic on the front, a little note in the postcard writing area, and the cheaper postcard-rate stamp. BRILLIANT!!! (& I can't believe I actually remembered in time to do it this year! :-D) No stuffing or licking envelopes = joy to our world! :-D

A picture is the most important keepsake of Christmas cards for us, and this way, the family news doesn't get separated, lost, & forgotten, either! :-D (Nor is any extra waste generated. ;-))

I designed our annual card with Photoshop Elements (just like I do my digital scrapbook pages) and had them printed at Costco. I did have to glue our little updates on all the backs, but I included our return address at the very top of the update, so no extra return address label! It went quickly. :-) I was so pleased!

Mailing on Wednesday the 18th:

What does the card look like? You'll see closer to Christmas! I don't want to ruin the mailbox reveals... ;-)

Here are our last *NINE* (whoa...) YEARS:

Friday, December 20, 2013

Gingerbread Houses: Our Annual Tradition Play-By-Play

This was our 7th year making gingerbread houses, and every year I have friends ask me, "How???" Here's my comprehensive play-by-play! (Forgive some repetition, if you've been a faithful reader for years. ;-))

I have the now-discontinued & "collectible" Pampered Chef Stoneware Gingerbread House Mold:

My cousin gave it to us even before we had kids, and it's now become an annual tradition. :-)

2013 (Will, 9 - Annelise, 7½)

I baked six molds-worth of roofs & walls - enough to create our three houses - the day before, so they'd be cooled & ready. I use store-bought dough, b/c hey - I'm already baking this thing instead of using a pre-made kit. ;-) I can take *one* shortcut! :-D I've found Pillsbury Gingerbread Cookie Dough is the best value & consistency:
Each cookie mold takes 20-22 minutes to bake at 350°.

I also went ahead and glued the pieces together with royal icing (4 cups powdered sugar, 3 tbsp. meringue powder, 6 tbsp. warm water - beat into peaks) several hours before decorating time, so no one would have to wait for it to set up. Kids just want to get right on to the fun decorating part! :-) I sorted through all the candy we had in our pantry for the décor. (Where does all this candy come from?!?! Never *buy* candy for a project when your kids are overloaded with enough for FREE! :-D) I set it out ahead of time - not to look fancy, but so that I could go ahead and empty a lot of the wrappers & trash them, instead of the kids ripping open the packs & having the mess go all over. :-P

It's not a real "homemade gingerbread house day" w/o making mustaches with the extra icing! Now, I am the anti-food-mess mom; but royal icing is my *singular* vice in this area - it doesn't stain anything & it washes off so easily! ...And it makes them all laugh SO HARD! :-D

Check out years past:

2007 (Will, 3 - Annelise, 1½)

2008 (Will, 4 - Annelise, 2½)

2009 (Will, 5 - Annelise, 3½)
[This wasn't using our mold - it was at our Australian friend's house when we lived outside Chicago; they inspired us to make it a play date with neighbors!]

2010 (Will, 6 - Annelise, 4½)

2011 (Will, 7 - Annelise, 5½)

(2011 was the year I used a different dough from Immaculate Baking. It tastes AMAZING:
But it bakes up so soft, the houses fall apart easily. If it would have baked up crispier, I wouldn't have been so excited to deconstruct... ;-))

2012 (Will, 8 - Annelise, 6½)