Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Space Center Houston

My parents are here to visit - first time in a year & a half for my stepdad! I took them directly from the airport to Chinatown: Alpha Bakery for bbq báhn mì lunch & then to Triple Tree for reflexology & body massages - $30 for 60 min!!! Ahhhhh...

Tuesday, we finally ventured over to Space Center Houston, "the Official Visitors Center of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. It’s a place where people can experience space — from its dramatic past and exciting present to its compelling future. It’s one of the only places on Earth where visitors can see astronauts train for missions, touch a real moon rock and take a behind-the-scenes tour of NASA. The world class exhibits, attractions and hands-on activities tell the story of America’s manned space flight program, giving guests an out-of-this-world experience like no other."

We are total science & museum junkies, so we loved it! And we lucked into the most amazing free tour guide in the rocket park: an engineer on the Gemini & Apollo missions just retired 3 years ago from NASA, & now gives tours, since he knows so much history first hand.

We topped off our southeast-of-the-city day with Moody Gardens (since we are members & hadn't yet seen the Festival of Lights) and Nonno Tony's dinner. Mmmmmm...

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas Day 2014

Our sweet Annelise sewed & stuffed a pillow for each of us for Christmas! She did them all completely on her own with her fabric & sewing machine and hid them all from us until Christmas morning ♥ ♥ ♥

Will is crazy into Pokémon:

BEHOLD: the elusive, discontinued Mr. Sketch 18 Pack of scented markers! DREAM COME TRUE!!!

Will was also thrilled for Beats Solo headphones (not wireless), an r/c Nerf drone, an r/c Lamborghini, Ocean for Men (his 1st signature scent! growing up...), the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, a Nike shirt, etc. Annelise was surprised by the pink chevron rug she had wanted since August (I ended up getting it on clearance at Aldi for $12 & hid it in my closet! ;-) It looks AMAZING in her room!), a *real* mannequin "like they use on Project Runway", an Elsa dress for her American Girl dolls, the Vera Bradley Attaché she fell in love with in November (No! Not $88! 75% off at the Vera outlet!), etc.

What were your kids' favorite gifts? I don't mean to focus on the materialism, but I do think it's interesting to remember what they were into at this particular age. :-)

For me, it was the year of sports bras! :-D JB bought me a TON of them - which is hysterical, b/c I do truly need them...but I just never would have guessed that *this* would become my life: fitness instructor who actually ASKS for workout wear! :-P For JB, it was the year of peppers: a food processor 100% dedicated to chopping his crazy hot Serrano & habanero peppers, as well as a Ghost Chilies Grinder, (think fresh peppercorn grinder, but it grinds ghost chilies! EEEEK!)

We got another *HUUUGE* surprise from Grandma & Grandpa Blake...but we'll just have to keep you hanging re: details on that one! ;-)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Eves 2014

Notes on our Eves:

Tuesday (Christmas Eve Eve ;-)) Annelise came with me to my yin yoga class:
My heart was so full!

Wednesday (Christmas Eve) I still taught my 9:45 AM Zumba class (perfect way to get going before several days of FEASTING!!! :-D)

I dislike the tween fashion store, Justice. It is just not my style preference for Annelise *at all* (there may be a few OK things, but I just can't get into neon peace signs & mesh crop tops for 8 year olds; we are much more Southern boutique style, AnnLoren, & polo dresses.) ...But when she just asked if we could pop in & look, I agreed, b/c she knows I won't buy anything on Christmas Eve... Except they had the FROZEN SOUNDTRACK CD for $4.99!!! I'm sure everyone already bought it last year on iTunes, but we never did, and it was the *ONE* gift for her that I considered but never got, so super score Christmas surprise!!!

Wednesday night, I was so thankful we were here to attend our church's candlelight service:
How can you not get misty in a room full of love & light, singing "Silent Night"?

When we got home, Will & Annelise were concerned with balancing Santa's sugar intake, so they left him a big scoop of whey protein + my blender bottle along with our famous chocolate-covered cherry cookies & a slice of Annelise's fresh apple tart she made that afternoon. Ho ho ho! :-D

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Card 2014

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 21, 2014

Memory Ornament Tree

My friend, Tracey, posted a link to a "Memory Ornament Tree" tradition...and I thought, "That's us!" I've always admired & enjoyed looking at different themed trees, but I could never hang a single ornament on my tree that didn't have some personal meaning or somehow reflect our family. This is such a huge part of our family that it was one of the first things I ever blogged about, :-) but that was also five years ago, so I have a little more to share. ;-)

It's still mostly all blown glass ornaments...but our 7.5 foot tree is almost too full! :-D Whenever it becomes the right time to buy our next home, I'm hoping we can get a 9 footer! Our biggest change this year is lights: I've only ever had colored lights...but every light on our current pre-lit officially burned out. The tree is still gorgeous, though, so we just bought a few new strings to light it back up! ...And we went clear! It's crazy how different the tree looks!!!

Our new ornaments, so far, for this year:
Because you know how much we love Texas - and the Longhorn is even standing in bluebonnets = ♥♥♥!!! The gingerbread house is for our decorating tradition, and the hermit crab is for our amazing eco tour this summer in Charleston.

You know, photos just *never* do the real thing justice! The sparkles, the glitter, the shimmer & shine... ♥

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Mail

Are you doing Christmas cards this year? Why or why not? I just can't seem to give up this tradition, even though most of our connections are on social media, and we could reach almost as many people with no investment by simply posting a card design. :-P Why can't I stop? *shrug* We did stick with the postcard format this year (details re: format & our 1st nine Christmas cards since Will's birth here! :-))

And for the 2nd year, Will & Annelise also received personalized letters from Santa with North Pole, AK postmarks:

Both kids take this seriously. ♥ Super bonus: Annelise immediately went to clean her room, b/c Santa wrote, "I know you've been doing a good job keeping your room clean and organized." #thankyou

Friday, December 19, 2014

Junior Achievement - 3rd Grade

When I volunteered to teach Junior Achievement this year for Annelise's class, I wasn't sure what I was getting into! Turns out, I teach five different sessions of JA Our City. I did the first last week and the second this Thursday.

In our first session, I taught them about the different zones in a city (multipurpose, residential, agricultural, business, & industrial) and then we became city planners: each student created a different pop-up building (homes, bakery, movie theatre, city hall, library, apartment complex, post office, airport, factory, barn, etc.) and we organized each into its proper zone on our city floor map.

Sweet & crazy class:

This week, I taught my session (the importance of money to a city, paying taxes, and how people use different methods to pay for goods and services) while their regular teacher attended the annual Teacher Appreciation breakfast...and she had left me *my* fave Sbux order on her desk to enjoy that morning! ♥ The sweetest surprise EVER!!! #Sbuxmylovelanguage

I'll do the next three sessions in January after Christmas break. :-)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Annelise's Simple Apple Tart

We watch a TON of food shows on TV. I mean, a *TON*!!! Master Chef, Master Chef Junior, Cutthroat Kitchen, Chopped, Unique Sweets, Buddy's Bakery Rescue, Man vs Food, Next Food Network Star, Unwrapped, Good Eats reruns, etc. I also watch Top Chef & The Taste. It's no surprise that Holiday Baking Championship got Annelise's creative juices flowing. :-D She got a bee in her bonnet that she needed to make an apple tart after gymnastics. So we did!

Annelise's Simple Apple Tart:
6 granny smith apples
1/4 cup sugar
cinnamon to taste
crescent roll dough of choice

She uses our handy dandy peeler/corer/slicer to make quick work of the apples:

Adding 1/4 cup Turbinado sugar (Sugar In The Raw - we like the large crystals) to the sliced apples:

Tossing with cinnamon to taste:

After making a solid circle of dough with the crescent rolls on a pan or pizza stone, dump the whole apple mixture in the center, and fold up the edges:

Bake at 425°F for 30 minutes and voilà!

Round Off Back Handspring

Annelise would like me to share her current running round off back handspring. :-) She hit it before in less than a month with this coach when she moved to his class in May, but she's getting better & better. #proud

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Journey to Bethlehem

Our family made it to "Journey to Bethlehem" for the first time this year. (Will & Annelise actually went 2 years ago with friends while we were at JB's company Christmas party, but this was our first full family time! :-))

"Journey to Bethlehem [is] an interactive, outdoor experience for the whole family. A winding trail of experienced guides will lead you through a series of live-action scenes tracing the journey of Mary and Joseph as they were expecting the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Journey is complete with over 150 cast and crew, 10 scenes, live animals, and wares. On your guided, walking journey you will encounter Roman soldiers, wise men, shepherds, angels, and market vendors. You will be counted in the census and turned away at the inn. Ultimately, you will arrive at the manger to find Mary and Joseph holding the newborn King.
This event is free, no tickets or reservations required."

We did have to wait in line, since we went on the busiest night at the busiest time, (right after our local high school won their final playoff football game to send them back to the STATE championship this next weekend. Couldn't miss that! ;-))

Annelise weaving baskets in the Village of Nazareth

The Magi tent (with real camel :-))

The angels appearing to the shepherds (powerful!)

Posing at the end with a donkey ;-) (Will didn't want to be in the pic. #tween)

This is definitely going to become a regular tradition!!!

Sunday, December 14, 2014


This happened. Annelise "finally" got her ears pierced on Saturday. "Finally" b/c she had been waiting for two years, since 1st grade. When she initially asked, I told her exactly what it entailed: "They use the earring like a bullet, load it in a special ear-piercing gun, and then shoot it through your ear. It's like getting a giant shot in both of your ears, and it hurts. Not for long, but it does hurt. I got mine done when I was in 3rd grade, so maybe we should think about it then." She did not forget that last part. Who knew 3rd grade would come so fast?!?! *gulp*

JB made the *BEST* video documentary EVER!!! You can't miss clicking this:

It was crazy, b/c I so vividly remember getting mine done - the nerves, the adrenaline, the happy-but-shaky feeling afterwards. All of it. They even used the same purple marker to make the target dot on her earlobe!

Clean, dot, shoot, done:

She's extremely responsible about cleaning them three times a day, and she's counting down until February, when she can wear different styles. #watchoutClaires

Friday, December 12, 2014

Singing + Gingerbread Houses

More Advent/Christmas festivities this week!

The kids had their school-wide sing along. They sing the best variety: "Children Go Where I Send Thee" (hysterical when they all scream "5 for the Gospel *PREACHERS*!!!!!!",) "O Hanukkah", "Silent Night", "Jingle Bells" (with almost all the same add-ons I grew up saying: "like Monopoly"), "Feliz Navidad", the Chipmunks Christmas song (with chipmunk voices...which aren't too much higher than their normal voices ;-)) "We Wish You a Merry Christmas", etc. JOYFUL!!! I love that my kids attend an excellent public school where they can say "Merry Christmas", sing about baby Jesus "wrapped in swaddling clothing, lying in a manger, born, born, born in Bethlehem", learn Hanukkah songs, sing in Hebrew, Spanish, & Latin, and have fun with Santa, too. Innocence preserved, traditions cherished, and no one bent out of shape over anything. :-)

Thursday afternoon, we had our annual gingerbread house decorating day with friends:
The humidity was so high, my walls & roofs that I baked couldn't withstand the weight of the candy! :-P
Icing faces = best tradition!

Friday night, we had our church Praise Team Christmas party...but I didn't realize it was going to turn into a Christmas album recording session!!! After we ate (& ate & ate! ;-)) they had mic's and a sound mixer all set up in the living room for us to record five carols. They're hoping to edit the tracks, burn them, and hand them out to everyone on Christmas Eve! How sweet is that?!?! I was excited to sing the lead on "We Three Kings", and JB actually took a little video of us during "Angels We Have Heard on High":

I loooooove singing!!!!! Still ahead: Christmas cards (I have everything here, I just need to assemble #maybetomorrow ;-)), Santa letters, two more Christmas programs, feasting with friends... oh, and I need to WRAP at some point! ( #nottomorrow ;-))

Monday, December 8, 2014

First Week of Christmas Festivities 2014

We've had a sweet week with a few festivities!

Speaking of sweet, random holiday flavor bubble tea news: taro with added ginger tastes like gingerbread cookies! I've always thought taro tasted like baked goods (you can't put your finger on it, but it's almost like liquid cookie flavor?) and with the ginger = mmmmm!

We're doing Advent calendars from Trader Joe's, again, this year. They're the kids' fave:

Last Thursday, we went to a local tree lighting event and actually ran into one of my cheerleaders & her fam. The girls were excited to get their faces painted together & have some photo booth fun! Will didn't want to play with the girls, but he still found a way to enjoy himself. :-D
I was less than amused when it started to drizzle with 20 minutes to go until the tree lighting, so we hid inside with hot, fresh nutella crêpes... ♥
And ran out for the last 30 seconds of the countdown to:

Saturday morning, I took Annelise with me to the Brookwood Community Christmas Pageant & Open House. Brookwood is a God-centered educational, residential, and entrepreneurial community for special needs adults with functional disabilities, and every year, their citizens put on the most precious, heartfelt Christmas show. It is IMPOSSIBLE not to be touched by God there! ♥ This year's show was "Star of Wonder" and as my friend, Laura, summed it up: "We all are stars, shining bright, who must find our purpose."

We got the kids' annual Santa pic Saturday afternoon, (no line! & such a cute set up!)
Annelise asked for the just-discontinued now-elusive 18 pack of Mr. Sketch markers. Will wants mega ex x Pokémon cards. Ummmm...we need some Santa magic over here!!! :-P

Sunday afternoon we baked our requisite, it's-not-Christmas-without-them, family tradition Chocolate-Covered Cherry Cookies and then all the roofs & walls for the kids' gingerbread house decorating later this week. (I have to fill & bake the mold six times to get enough, so since the oven was already preheated after the cookies... ;-))

Christmas festivities still on tap: kids' school sing-along, gingerbread houses, Praise Team Christmas party, Christmas cards, Journey to Bethlehem outdoor walk-through drama, etc.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Ice Skating

Saturday was the kids' first time skating on real ice! [They skated once before with ice skates on this really neat plastic surface (not cold = awesome ;-)) in NC four years ago.] Ice skating is one of those bizarre things I should hate, (b/c I'm the most drastically cold-averse Southerner alive!) but I actually enjoy the rare outing, and I'm a fairly decent skater! (We had not one but two ice rinks close by where I grew up outside Charlotte - weird for the 20th century South, but true!) Just like her also-unassuming mama, Annelise was a (bundled up!!!) natural - she has great balance! ‪#‎southernbellescanskate