Monday, January 27, 2014

Love, Sugar Pot

Lift my sweet family up in prayer: Aunt Frances (my Grandmommy's 99-year-old "baby" sister; she was the last sibling left of 9) peacefully passed away Saturday.


She was the happiest person I've EVER known!!! *Never* cross, upset, or even in a bad mood. Whom can you say that about? I can't think of another soul on earth. She loved me & the kids like we were HER grandchildren, (which we pretty much were. :-)) She was such a bright light & true kindred spirit. She's even the one whose skin breaks out in the cold, so when that first happened to Annelise, we actually had a genetically-related example. We *always* went to see her whenever we were in town, and that part feels really good: no regrets, no missed opportunities. Until the last year, we always went out to lunch together, either for pizza or R&R Barbeque. I loveloveloved that she liked to eat as much as I do!!! :-D Her short term memory was not good at the end, but she still knew - without a reminder (better than some of my friends! Ha! ;-)) - that we were now in Texas...and she was SO HAPPY for us! That meant the world... She never made me feel guilty that we weren't closer.

My mom told me the sweetest story: she & her husband were so in love that when he couldn't sleep, he'd wake her up, and they'd sing hymns together until they both fell back asleep. I mean, have you ever heard anything more beautiful in your life? ♥ ♥ ♥

I'm so thrilled that she's finally met Jesus and reunited with Uncle Max - the love of her life - her parents, & all eight of her siblings... I'm just sad that I won't hear her greet me, "Hey, Sugar Pot!!!" again in this life...

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ice Ice Baby + Cake Boss Cupcakes

The kids were out of school for ice on Friday (crazy!!! I can't believe we got an ice day down here before ever experiencing a hurricane day!) but no worries - it all melted by noon, and we even hit 70° today! (God bless Texas! :-)) I was actually thrilled to have the kids home to help me take down the Christmas tree. Yes, you read that right! :-P We had to leave it up for late Christmas with JB's parents this past Monday, (& I truly didn't mind. :-)) I was so thankful not to have to do that chore all by my lonesome! And they didn't break a single ornament. ;-) There's apparently a chance we could get more ice & wintry mix on Tuesday, (but 76°, again, Fri!) so if they're out then, maybe we'll try to have more fun. Hanging up laundry is fun, right? :-D

On Saturday, we took a little drive northwest of the city to check out a bakery. Buddy Valastro, the "Cake Boss" has a new TV show called "Bakery Boss", where he comes to help revive struggling bakeries, a la "Kitchen Nightmares". The episode he filmed in Houston aired this past Monday, so of course I looked up the location to see if it would be worthwhile. Yes, it was. ;-) Here's a quick clip from the show.

The revamp of Drew's Pastry Place was a success! And we have ingested the calories to prove it. ;-)

The "newly famous" cannoli cupcake totally lived up to the hype! I like it better than regular cannoli, b/c the shell is my least fave part, but I love the cream & chocolate chips:

Drew (you can see him over my shoulder back in the kitchen in my pic above ;-)) & his wife were just lovely. Will & Annelise thought it was super cool to be not only sitting in a place they had just seen on TV, but also eating Buddy's actual cupcake recipe!!! (Without us having to go to New Jersey :-P)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Chocolate Tasting

Am I the only one who stands in front of this display at the store, wanting to try every single one?

Even more so than "just chocolate", I love chocolate combinations. (I still want to try chocolate-dipped candied bacon!!!) So when I saw this chocolate tasting box at Trader Joe's, I pounced:
"Trader Joe's Takes Flight: A Dark Chocolate Tasting Odyssey" - 7 bars of 70% cacao dark chocolate, each studded with different flavor notes. The 2 oz. bars each break into 3 sections, so I really got 21 gourmet tastings (each ~100 calories) for less than $10! I wondered how intense &/or plentiful the add-ins would be...and I was not disappointed. :-)

Reviews to set your cravings into overdrive:

Black sea salt caramel - the caramel was fabulously light & thinner than I imagined (more liquidy, not stick-in-your-teeth) and the Hawaiian sea salt flakes were large & thin (no grains, great distribution)
Orange hibiscus - while I enjoy citrus when it's given to me, I would never pick it first. (I would choose anything else - berry, mint, nut flavor, etc.) But this was a delight! The orange wasn't overpowering, and the hibiscus was so bright & vibrant! I love floral notes!
Coconut caramel - this was the same liquid caramel paired with tropical coconut. I love coconut flavor but not texture, and I still gobbled this up. 
Chili & cinnamon - I'm a baby when it comes to spicy stuff, and this heat level (slight tingle) was perfect. It is the definition of *warm* - the most "melt in your mouth" bar.
Almond ginger - the crunch of the crushed almond pieces was nice, and the small chunks of crystallized ginger were the super star!
Salt & pepper potato chip - I was most intrigued by this one (salty/sweet is my favorite flavor profile!!!) and it did NOT disappoint! The small bits of chip throughout were still crunchy - amazing! Maybe my fave...if I had to choose one. ;-)
Coffee & cocoa nib - the crunch of the cocoa nibs was fantastic, and while I don't drink coffee (ever), it's an undeniable food fact that coffee elevates the flavor of chocolate to rich heights, which it did here.
 
You're welcome & I apologize at the same time for putting this in your brain now. ;-)
 
What are your favorite chocolate flavor combinations?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

San Antonio & The Alamo

JB's parents came down to visit this weekend and to celebrate "late Christmas". It's nice to have another celebration on tap after New Year's to combat any potential post-holiday blahs. :-) In addition to Christmas (which we celebrated on Monday/MLK Day), we also took a one-night side trip down to San Antonio! It was our very first time going, and we were stunned to discover it's truly less than 2.5 hours away. (I thought probably 3.5?) We would totally take day trips there!!! [My college roommate lives there, too! I can't wait for us to get together. :-)]

Fueled by Sbux, we set out Saturday morning. The kids played lots of Uno with Grandma and then Rainbow Loomed in the back of the van. :-)

We had to stop at Buc-ee's to show JB's parents the best rest stop/convenience store/gas station/deli/bakery/gift shop on earth. :-D Leave it to Texas to even have huge, famous, fabulous pit stops!!! Their bathrooms really are "the cleanest in America", and devotees have elevated Buc-ee's to cult status. It's a Texan must-see:

Upon arriving in San Antonio, we checked into the gorgeous Hotel Contessa before setting out to explore.
In front of the Bexar County Courthouse:
The San Fernando Cathedral was founded in 1731 and is the oldest, continuously functioning religious community in the State of Texas.
The remains of Travis, Bowie, Crockett and other Alamo Defenders in the cathedral:
Entering the Historic Market Square:
Lunching at Mi Tierra - a "visually dizzying place, hung with thousands of Christmas lights...one of the oldest, biggest, and best Tex-Mex restaurants in San Antonio" - LOVED their enchiladas verdes!
Beyoncé and a peacock Beyoncé!!!
Bull ridin'!!!
Rooftop pool back at the hotel:
Exploring & cruising the River Walk:
Girls with the Contessa :-D
IT'S THE ALAMO!!!!!!
Travis' "Victory or Death" letter monument:
Alamo relief map:
Crossing Travis' line in the sand:
Entering the church:
The well:
Cannon play!
Will ran into his (current this year!) classmate Zach in the Alamo gift shop!!! :-D
Thanks, Alamo. You are fascinating, (even if you don't really have a basement. ;-)) [Tell me *someone* gets that reference!]
More River Walk!
Lunching along the River Walk at Boudro's Texas Bistro (Texas tapas! Duck spring rolls!) with my best girl and a prickly pear margarita:
Boudro's boys:

Mobile Blogging?

I am embarrassingly late to the party: I just discovered that Blogger has a mobile app. :-O (To be fair, I did search for one the first couple years I had my iPhone. I guess I just didn't look in the last year or so!) So here's my personal mobile beta test. ;-) Maybe I'll blog even more often now (& shorter? :-D) since I can do it on my phone? The only thing I can't figure out is how to add links within the text on here. (Help?)

Here's my random picture test:

Do any of y'all blog on your mobile devices now instead of or more often than on your laptops? Any tips or hints to share? (I'm excited to see if this formatting looks the same when published. If not, you know this was a test! :-P)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Off My Wall: TV, Food, Fun


Random shareworthies for the week on my mind and off my FB wall:

* I got 4" cut off my hair last Sunday...and no one noticed. :-P Also, I had chlorine green blonde for the 1st time in my life in winter!!! I didn't even think about my ponytail hanging in the hot tub after Zumba! :-O Happy to report that a home remedy of baking soda/water paste removed all the green, no problem. :-)

* PSA: Blue Bell Red Velvet ice cream is DELICIOUS!!! I wouldn't have chosen it (most red velvet-flavored things fall disgustingly short, esp. if you've ever had my mom's REAL cake!) but Will got it for me as a surprise...& surprise, it did! The white ice cream even has a hint of red velvet, and the big chunks of red velvet cake are quality. I asked my mom if she sold her recipe! :-D

* I stumbled upon the cutest new reality show: Kim of Queens. I don't get into all the Real Housewives or any of that...but I am a such a sucker for the ones about dance and like Cheer Perfection. :-P Just like Double Divas, it's a potentially unappealing topic (that's bras, this is pageants :-D) but the super sweet genuine people with crazy Southern flair just make it awesome!!! This lady is honest, funny, & has a heart of gold. And even better??? She's right where we used to live outside Atlanta!!! Literally 15 minutes from our old house. I'm sure we've been at the Mall of Georgia together at the same time before. :-D

* The kids took a kids' yoga class at the gym on Wednesday after school. It was a little more playtime than serious flow (Annelise was prepped for Yin!) but they had silly fun while still learning some poses. I did it with them, and the biggest shocker: Will says he can't wait to go back! "Sushi roll" kids:

* My mom shared this recipe she found for flourless blender muffins. I haven't tried them, yet, but I figure posting them here will help me remember. ;-) I'll cut down (maybe omit?) the sugar, based on the comments & the fact that my bananas are crazily overripe.

* The Polar Vortex slid down here last Monday & Tuesday and even made it cold enough to freeze a fountain here on Tuesday morning, but PRAISE THE LORD we're getting back to acceptable winter temps:

* I took my 1st Barbell Strength class on Friday...and it was HARD! (They switched this with my old fave Strictly Strength, so now SS is at the same time I teach Zumba on Wednesdays = I can't go. :-/) Barbell uses actual barbells with different plates to add weight; we even do the "clean & press" a la the Olympics. :-P Strictly uses a dumbbell in each hand along with some resistance bands. I'll learn this one, but it definitely was a challenge - esp. getting all the right equipment to start!

* Friday night the kids discovered The Dukes of Hazzard reruns on CMT. Oh, my childhood! My brother & I loved that show!!! :-P

* We ate a lot of freekeh this weekend - another "superfood" grain and a really tasty alternative to brown rice, bulgar wheat, or quinoa. Costco has huge bags for ~$6. Thumbs up!!!

* On Saturday, we drove into the city for Will's dream event: "The World's Greatest Hobby on Tour" train show. He saw this once before with Grandma & Grandpa when he was little, and when he caught the commercial earlier this week, it was all he could talk about. He has been saving his allowance for over a year (just like Annelise did for Isabelle) and made an amazing choice at the show:
A genuine keepsake he can pass down to his own children but that he's also responsible enough to play with and enjoy now: the "large scale" Bachmann model train set of our beloved Tweetsie Railroad - truly the purchase of a lifetime for him.

* We ate lunch Saturday at Ninfa's Original on Navigation - delicioso Mexican with a fantastic atmosphere!!!

* We also took advantage of the GORGEOUS weather to have fun with art - Monument Au Fantome at Discovery Green:

* My boots & hair were on national TV (on ESPN) this morning for a few seconds! :-D (ESPN came to film our youth football league Turf Bowl for a youth football story they were working on. :-)) Cool!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Shoemageddon

I am not a "shoe girl" (nor a purse girl, but that's another post.) I get stuck on one or two pairs of shoes & wear those suckers out. It's gotten worse as I've gotten older...started falling apart...had my feet become more sensitive. Growing up, I wouldn't be caught dead in flats; I wasn't into stilettos, but the higher the platform wedge, the happier I was! :-) ...And the happier I still would be...if my daggum feet didn't hurt now! :-P I wish I could just blame Zumba (& honestly, I'm sure that plays a role, b/c I never moved as intensely for such a sustained amount of time as consistently as I do now) but I think I've just reached "sensible shoe age". :-D [I may be an "early onset" victim ;-) I'm genetically predisposed for bunion surgery in 15-20 years, too - inevitable!]

So I'm never truly on the hunt for "cute shoes". The cutest ones hurt, and I'm too cheap to invest in something I'm not really going to be able to wear. It's a rare thing when I find a shoe I adore. I can't stand flip flops with the big toe separator, so that knocks out a ginormous portion of the cute/trendy/Southern options.

Every lasting shoe I love, I've just found by accident! The *best* ever? The "Patricia II" by Crocs. Before you roll your eyes, they aren't clunky clogs! :-D They're actually strappy wedge sandals that look very sleek and can easily dress up or down! I got the white (green sole) pair pictured below two years ago...and they are STILL my go-to pair! I wear them to church, with jeans, in the shower at the gym, & even to dressy events. The 2" heel & straps add style, and the Crocs material means I can't destroy them. Literally the best shoes EVER.

And when I found out they were on sale for $19 a pair before Christmas, I jumped!!! I got a gold leopard pair (fun!!!) and a solid black pair. (For two years, I've made the oyster white go with virtually EVERYTHING, but I'm glad to have the black option now, too. ;-)) Navy is "my neutral", so I also got a navy pair that's a slightly different style, also on the same super sale!

Now sometimes it *does* get cold enough here to need closed toe shoes, and the black slip-ons were also under $20 (& just like the $50 Skechers walking shoes people have been raving over) so I took those, too!

I know, right?! Who am I?!?! :-P Welcome to my sudden shoemageddon!


The pink & green plaid boat shoes were a rare impulse buy with my mom at Off Broadway AGES ago, but it just recently got cold enough that I needed to cover my toes, so those are technically brand new, too. (& they look crazy cute with my Lilly monogrammed sweatshirt!!!)

The last pair are gold Bob's "Shivers" from the Skechers outlet. Of course, there's a backstory. ;-) When we lived up north in the freezing awfulness, I got an Ugg-style pair of boots: fluffy, warm, stylish, fabulous. But here's the weird part: I've gone down a shoe size in the last 3 years! I used to be 8/8.5, now 7/7.5 = craziness. So those boots are not only huge, but now they're so clunky, I literally trudge forth in them! And truly, how often do I need massive fluff boots in Houston? (Although that fluff is so comfy!) Fast-forward to Christmas Eve at the mall, when gold glitter (gold is my other neutral; I'm not kidding!) caught my eye! They've got the fluff, thick soles, & they even slip on!!! (I am burdened by tying shoes. #firstworldproblems) I am so proud to report they keep my toes as toasty as the big boots did, they were on big sale, too, & the gold sequins make me smile...b/c if it's cold enough (like today!) to keep me from wearing my sandals, I need all the extra smiles I can get!!! ;-)

And now I can't imagine buying any more shoes (except Zumba/dance fitness!) for the next five years... :- D

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Yoga With Me

I've been asked about yoga several times since mentioning it being such a huge part of my 2013. :-) I lovelovelove going to class and practicing with a teacher who can guide me, encourage different adjustments based on what they see, what's going on today, etc.; but I also know that's not feasible for some, and for others, it's a potentially scary investment at first, if you aren't sure what the deal is. ;-) Here's my (not a yoga teacher! only practiced a year! newbie) take:

First off & most importantly, please know that yoga is NOT ABOUT "what you can do" - not how flexible you are, not how long you can hold some crazy pose, nor how good your form is. That stuff just doesn't really matter. Honest. Yoga is about learning to love & appreciate who you are & where you are right now in the present moment, letting go of outside stuff, breathing deeply, acknowledging how God has put your body together, and finding balance. ♥ Don't think, "I can't do yoga. I can't even touch my toes." I promise you it doesn't matter; that's so not the point. There are also MANY different types of yoga. It's not all handstands, backbends, and dramatic balancing poses. If you want that, you can do it; in yoga, you can work up to anything! (Ashtanga!) :-) But I've developed a passion for Yin/restorative. These classes are almost all lying down on the floor the whole time, stretching, softening joints, slowly letting gravity extend your flexibility, staying in one pose for several minutes, and learning to relax. Not only do I feel like these classes put my body back right after Zumba, ;-) but I personally feel balanced & blessed afterwards. There really *is* something to be said for actively pursuing "mind/body bliss". I feel like it's a form of praise & worship that truly honors God & his creation.

When I can't go to my usual classes, (on vacay or esp. when I have volunteering at the kids' school,) I feel comfortable now searching YouTube for practice videos that speak to me. I'll share some of my favorites. :-)

This first lady was the first YouTube yogi I "clicked" with: Esther Ekhart. Maybe it's her calm, sweet, intelligent European accent? :-P I don't know, but her video "60 minutes Yin Yoga for the Spine" was the first one I really enjoyed. It's very stripped down - no background music, no fancy mood enhancing :-D - but she's quality:


Esther has become a major YouTube yoga guru with additional subscriptions, etc. I'm not into the extras, but all of her stuff is wonderful. Here's her main page, (scroll down to Yoga Beginners, or search her almost *500* videos for whatever you want to explore: neck pain, yoga for runners, depression & anxiety, TMJ, digestion, morning flow, etc.) or if that page is too overwhelming, check out her old page that just has 12 videos.

I didn't want to just do that one video over & over with no variety, so I looked for more in the same vein. This one [note: the verbal cues are hard to hear under the music] stands alone (there's no free Lesson 2, 3, etc. ;-)) by Peaceflow Yoga: "Yin Yoga - Lesson 1"


DoYogaWithMe is a great channel with clear, sleek videos. I've only done two, but they were both lovely:

"A Deep Release for the Hips, Hamstrings and Lower Back" is a fantastic stretching practice!


"Oceanside Restorative Yoga" is pure relaxation. This one has actually helped me to fall asleep a few times:


Two I haven't tried, yet, that are on my list: "Yin Yoga Presentation" (more active stretching) and "Mindful Yin Yoga" (more relaxation).

Do any of you have video recommendations you enjoy when you can't be in class in person? And if anyone tries yoga for the first time, let me know what you think! Actively be full of God's light and love! ♥

Thursday, January 2, 2014

American Girl of the Year 2014

What better way* to welcome in the New Year...than by getting the just-released-yesterday American Girl Doll of the Year, Isabelle?!?! (*if you're 7 years old ;-))

Annelise has been saving the bulk of her allowance for over a year, and last fall, when JB told her she had enough to possibly buy another American Girl doll on her own, her wheels started spinning. She looooves her Caroline. (It was super important to me for her to have a historical doll *first*.) The historical dolls are the most amazing!!! But she is still a bit young for the books (she has the whole Caroline series, so we have tried; she's just not quite there, yet.) And that's where I think the Girls of the Year fill the gap so nicely. Their stories are much fluffier. :-D
Historical Caroline: "As the War of 1812 begins, so does the story of Caroline Abbott's bravery. She loves sailing with her father, but when he's captured, Caroline must help keep the family's shipyard running. When she sees a chance to rescue her father, Caroline discovers that she must use her mind and heart to guide her decisions."
Girl of the Year Isabelle: "Isabelle Palmer is excited to start the dance program at Anna Hart School of the Arts. Then she realizes how talented her classmates are. Keeping up is a challenge—until Isabelle discovers a unique talent to truly call her own."
I mean, please - war, her father a POW, & Caroline sailing to rescue him?! In a couple years = AMAZING! But right now, it's a little easier for a 2nd grader to relate to a girl who takes dance and learns a new skill...b/c it's what she does right now, too. (FWIW, Annelise still adores her Caroline, but she *does* play with her as a present-day girlfriend; not as an 1812 girl, yet.)

A ridiculous number of her friends (literally 3 of her 5 BFFs!) got 2013's girl, Saige - a redheaded artist. Annelise liked her, (loved her movie! Yes, they release a Girl of the Year movie each year now,) but she didn't beg to buy her, so I never suggested. As soon as we found out about this year's, though, that was *IT*. Isabelle dances (even though Annelise gave up dance for gymnastics, it makes me so happy that she still considers herself a dancer w/ cheer dances, etc. :-D) and then Isabelle learns how to sew & starts designing costumes! Annelise has been obsessed with the idea of getting a sewing machine and learning how to sew, herself! It doesn't hurt that this girl looks *JUST LIKE* Annelise, too. She honestly just couldn't be more perfect for someone Annelise's age, who feels too old for the babies, but doesn't really grasp the drama of the historical dolls, yet. (Brilliant marketing, AG! ;-))

So this morning, (after yoga for me! YAY!) we made Annelise's first purchasing pilgrimage to our Houston American Girl store. *cue the magical harp music* ;-) She had saved her money, she walked in proudly, and she picked her Isabelle. Proud mama. This was all her! Since this was the big Girl of the Year release week, they also had a special free craft she got to do: coloring mix-and-match paper pieces to create different outfit combinations for an Isabelle paper doll.

Other fun-for-us Isabelle bonuses: her clothes are actually SUPER CUTE!!! Nicely detailed, embellished, and a color palette we love. (I personally couldn't dig on Saige's southwestern vibe. ;-)) Also, Isabelle has a PINK WEAVE! I am not kidding. And WE LOVE IT. [I mean, my mom bought Annelise a rainbow weave at Disney! :-D] Seriously: she has trendy magenta clip-in extensions, and with our history of red spirit hair for cheer & hair chalk after the last day of school, it just fits in this household. ;-)