Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Christmas Decor Update

I hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! It was so nice having everyone at our new house for the holiday.

We had 19 people, so we decided to do two turkeys. Michael smoked one of them in his green egg, and I cooked the other in our oven. I have been using the same recipe since we hosted our first Thanksgiving 12 years ago - Kidd Kraddick's Brown Bag Turkey. It's so easy and the turkey turns out perfect every time! The only thing we change is brining the turkey the night before. The only other thing we make for dinner is the mashed potatoes (we used truffle oil in them this year - so good!) because everyone else brings the rest! I actually planned on making some appetizers, but my mom and sister-in-law brought some, so I saved my apps for another day. It was a day filled with family, food, and football - it doesn't get much better than that (well, maybe if Texas had won the game it would have been a little better...I didn't say it was good football!).

The rest of the week flew by! We visited with Santa, saw The Peanuts Movie (cute!) and Love the Coopers (much better than the critics gave it credit for), celebrated two birthdays, played trivia at a local wing bar/restaurant, and put up our Christmas decorations. Whew!

I don't know about you, but for me putting up our Christmas decorations is always fun, but stressful! We usually pull out all of the containers at once and I feel like Christmas threw up all over my house! It's just overwhelming. This year I was smart and only took out one container at a time. It went so much quicker that way - I think we were finished in just a few hours! I haven't gotten a chance to hang our initial wreath yet, but everything else is up and it's so pretty! Now we get to blast the Christmas music throughout the house (so happy I talked Michael into whole home audio) and gaze at the beautiful lights. Love!

Similar stockings and tree skirt (ours has our last name, but no Santa):

Solid Red Quilted Stocking
Quilted Tree Skirt

We got the Willow Tree Nativity several years ago right after Christmas on MAJOR sale. I actually wasn't even looking for a nativity when I came across this one, but as soon as I saw it I knew that I needed it. If you can be patient (I usually can't) you can find the best deals after Christmas! 

Talk to you soon!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Advent Calendar

Growing up, Michael's mom always made a paper advent calendar - it was very simple, each day had a Hershey's Kiss on it and he and his sister got to eat one piece of candy each day leading up to Christmas. They always enjoyed it, so we started the tradition with Sophia and Carter, but I decided to change it up a little. Each day they get to eat a Hershey's Kiss, but when they pull the candy off of the calendar it reveals the day's activity.

Some days they get to open a present (ornament, Christmas book, puzzle), but most days involve doing something as a family. Our local movie theater is showing old Christmas movies, so we will go see a few of those, and then we will also go to a Christmas play. This year we will be making Christmas Story Bracelets, and we will do a Christmas Light Scavenger Hunt (so fun!). We believe that it's important to teach Sophia and Carter that Christmas is about giving, not receiving, so two of the days are dedicated to doing good unto others - they will each select an angel from the Angel Tree to shop for, and they will bring a goodie bag to a neighbor for the Feast of Saint Nicholas.

I have attached the calendar here if you would like to use it with your family. If you do, please comment below if you come up with any different ideas! I'm always looking for ways to change it up!


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Holiday Decor Haul

This will be our first Christmas in our new house and I am so excited to decorate! I haven't purchased any new decorations in a few years, so I am doing a little updating this year.

A few years ago a blogger I follow posted a picture of her tree and it had Peace, Faith, and Love paper garland from Pottery Barn. By the time I got online to order them they were sold out, so I have been searching for something similar ever since. I was so excited when I opened my PB catalog last month and saw this garland! I'll post a picture when we put our tree up (I may have started listening to Christmas music on November 1, but the tree won't go up until after Thanksgiving).

Glitter Script Paper Garland

I have always been a sucker for things with my name/monogram/initial (probably because growing up Heidi was never on anything!), so I was super excited when I discovered that Ballard Designs has alphabet wreaths! I actually considered ordering the letters to spell out "JOY" or "NOEL," but I think the initial is more unique. It's not prelit, so I'm debating about whether or not to add lights to it before hanging it.

Spruce Alphabet Wreath

I found a Luke 2:11 sign on Pinterest a few years ago, but they are incredibly popular and I was never able to order one from her Etsy shop (AmandaGdesigns) before they sold out. I thought that they were sold out again (I couldn't find one when I went directly to her shop site), but when I searched "Luke 2:11" on Etsy one somehow appeared! It's in transit right now - I can't wait for it to arrive!

Luke 2:11

I also picked up a few cute things at the Hallmark Holiday Open House. I received a really cute snowman cookie jar, ornament, pot holder, and recipe cards just for showing up!

 I also received a light up wooden JOY sign for spending over a certain amount. I love snowmen, so I of course had to buy three cards to get a deal (half price!) on this year's animated version.

Time for Cookies

Every year buy some new ornaments for Sophia and Carter to open up as a part of their advent calendar of activities (more on that in another post). Here are the ornaments I picked up this year:

Gingerbread House Personalized Ornament

God's Love

Fancy Nancy Merry Fancy Christmas

Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice Mickey Mouse

Right now we only have one tree, but I'm thinking this year I may add a second tree for Sophia and Carter's ornaments. We'll see.

I'll share pictures after Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Europe Trip

Michael was promoted to partner this year, and because of that we had the opportunity to travel to Amsterdam for the Global New Partners Conference. This would be my first trip to Europe, and Michael's first trip where he wasn't working the entire time, so we decided to spend three days in London, three days in Amsterdam, and three days in Paris.

We started our trip in London. We knew that there was a lot we wanted to see in a short amount of time, so we purchased a three day London Pass, which also includes a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. With the pass, we were able to visit Westminster Abbey, Kensington Palace, the Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London. We also visited Buckingham Palace, though it's closed to tours, and took a turn on the London Eye at night. We got fast track tickets for the eye and were able to bypass the lines and get on right away, a little more expensive but definitely worth it to not have to wait in line.

Big Ben
Westminster Abbey

Kensington Palace Gates

Buckingham Palace

Tower Bridge
One of our days in London was spent at Whitehart Lane for the Tottenham-Liverpool match. Michael is a big Spurs fan, so it was great to be able to attend a match in person. The game ended in a draw, but the atmosphere was amazing!

Go Spurs!
The food in London was great! The first day we stopped at a pub for a snack and had fish & chips and a pork pie. That night we met my aunt and uncle, who happened to be in town, for dinner at Novikov, an Italian restaurant. The next day we had afternoon tea at Perken Reveller after spending the morning touring Kensington Palace, the Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London. That night we ate at Devonshire Arms. Michael had bangers & mash and I had a chicken pie with mashed potatoes and vegetables on the side. So good! The last night we were there we went shopping at Piccadilly Circus and had dinner at the Leicester Arms. We ordered fish & chips and a steak & ale pie - again, so good!

We went from London to Amsterdam. One thing I now know to check on when traveling is when the city hosts it's marathon! We met our driver at the airport and what should have been a 20 minute ride to the hotel turned into a three hour tour! Our driver didn't realize why the roads were closed at first, so he kept trying to go around the closures, which took us further and further from the hotel. We finally realized the reason for the road closures and decided to have the driver let us out about two blocks from the hotel. Unfortunately, at this point the half marathon had just started, so we ended up waiting about 30 minutes on the side of the street for a break in the runners that was large enough for us to run across with luggage! Unfortunately we ended up missing our scheduled tour, so we unloaded our luggage and walked to a restaurant called Volt for lunch. I had an open faced hummus and beet sandwich and we split some french fries and mayo. 

Amsterdam Marathon
That night we went to a welcome reception at the Het Scheepvaart Museum. That was the first time I tried Stroopwafels, waffle cookies with caramel in the middle - heavenly! 

The next day we had meetings in the morning, and that afternoon we split into teams of about ten people and went on a scavenger hunt through the city. After two hours of walking all over the city, we boarded a canal boat and continued our scavenger hunt by boat. In the US we would have had to sign waivers, been given life jackets, and had a driver...not in Amsterdam. We hopped in the boat, were given a five minute tutorial on how to pilot the boat, and set off on our own. Luckily we made it back to the hotel safely, and that night we went to the gala at Concert Gebouw. 

Scavenger Hunt on the Canal
The next day I had the opportunity to travel to Purmerend, which is a city about 20 minutes north of Amsterdam, and visit a library with the KFFL. We listened to an author perform children's songs from throughout the world in Dutch and then broke off into groups to work with children who were attending the event. I played book dominoes with the kids - they loved it! I felt bad for the person that had to reshelve all of the books, but the kids had fun and that was why we were there. 

That night we had dinner at Stork. After dinner we made our way to a bar, and ended up getting back to the room at around 2 am, which didn't bode well for a 5 am wake up to go to the airport to catch our flight to Paris. 

We arrived in Paris mid-morning and took a cab to our hotel. We spent the next two and a half days walking the city, and also took advantage of the hop-on, hop-off bus tour both days and one night to see the city lit up. Paris was definitely my favorite. Everything there is beautiful! Because there was so much to see we didn't tour many places, but we did visit Notre Dame, the Pantheon, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and Luxembourg Gardens. The concierge at the hotel recommended we not visit the Louvre on this trip, which I had read in several different articles prior to arriving - there is too much to see, and when you don't have days to spend in the museum it's not worth it. Again, I'd definitely recommend the bus tour as a way to see most of the city in a short amount of time. Paris is the most beautiful city - my heart hurts over what happened there this past week. 

Bus Tour

Eiffel Tower
Arc de Triomphe

Notre Dame
Arc de Triomphe at night.

Here is a video I took of the Eiffel Tower light show on our night bus tour.

There were so many places that I would love to have visited that we missed on this trip. Just another reason to go back!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Fall Fashion Haul

I'm sorry I've been MIA for the past few months. I'd love to say I was doing something incredibly exciting, but I wasn't (though I did actually go to London, Amsterdam, and Paris in mid-October, so I guess that's pretty exciting - I'll do a post on the trip later this week!). I've just been in a funk lately. I haven't been motivated in the slightest to work out, and I haven't been eating all that well, so I've just been living in my comfy jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes - to be fair, they are pretty cute shoes, but still, I wasn't feeling very me. I'm hoping to start cooking and eating healthier foods soon (because the holidays are the PERFECT time for that, right? ;), and start working out again. 
Nike Flyknit (similar to mine)

We are getting our family picture taken on Saturday, so I was in search of a pretty blouse. I haven't had much luck with Banana Republic lately, but yesterday I found not only a blouse, but some cute/fun tops for the fall/winter.

Ruffle-Front Blouse (mine is cocoon)

Stripe "Le Tee" Shirt (mine is cocoon)

"All Dressed Up" Graphic Tee

Lace-Hem Linen Henley (mine is, you guessed it, cocoon)

"Fancy" Baseball Tee
Heritage Linen Cargo-Pocket Shirt (mine is Tiger's Eye Green)
Ruffle-Trim Sweatshirt

Pieced Jacquard Fit-and-Flare Skirt (mine is the pink multi/black)

I also ordered some perfume during the Sephora VIB Rouge sale. Both perfumes smell great on their own, but I love mixing the two for just the right mix of feminine and masculine scents. I am planning on wrapping it up and putting it under the tree - I'm so thoughtful starting Michael's Christmas shopping for him. ;)

Elizabeth and James Nirvana White

Elizabeth and James Nirvana Black

Talk to you all soon!

Monday, August 17, 2015

A New Normal

Today is the day that all of my friends officially went back to work. Normally I'd be right there with them, but for the first time since 2002 I'm not. I thought I was fine with it, and I probably am, but right now I'm having a hard time being so disconnected. I am a teacher. No, I'm not. But if I'm not a teacher then what am I? I'm a wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend. Shouldn't those titles be enough? When people ask what I do I still say, "well, I used to be a teacher, but this year...." Why can't I just say I'm a stay-at-home mom? This is probably one of the hardest jobs around, but I've somehow gotten it in my head that being a stay-at-home mom makes me less important or interesting than I was when I was working. I have always had the utmost respect for parents who stay at home. I'd even go so far as to say that I was jealous that they were able to stay home and I wasn't, so why should it be any different for me? I think I'm just having a bit of an identity crisis. This is my new normal and I need some time to adjust (this is truly the first day my life has been any different from my teacher friends, so I guess it makes sense that today is the day that I'm struggling the most).

I am thrilled to have the chance to explore other interests while spending more time with Sophia and Carter. The thought of volunteering, not only in their classrooms but in the library with my sister, and in my friends' classrooms sounds wonderful! Having time to plan and cook real meals again, spending time with Michael when he's not traveling, exercising, decorating, trying out my new Cricut....all of that sounds great! I am ready for a new chapter in my life. I am a stay-at-home mom and I'm awesome! :)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Fitbit Charge HR

I have a confession to make. I haven't really worked out since my post in May about working out. I did really well for about a week and then with all of the craziness of packing up my room and summer vacations I got out of the habit (not really sure I can call it a habit since it was only a week of working out, but you know what I mean).

Michael decided that he wanted a fitness type watch for running, etc, so after doing some research he decided on an Apple Watch Sport. I thought I wanted something too, but didn't necessarily want to replace my watch, so I considered getting a Fitbit then, but in the end I decided that I didn't need to spend the money on it. And then June and July came and went and I never got back on the elliptical. Our trip to Travaasa in early July was probably the closest I've gotten to physical activity, and as soon as we got home the walks/hikes stopped. 

A friend of mine, who also happens to be a Figure competitor, posted on Facebook that she was in a Fitbit challenge with her brother and some friends, and that got me interested. I like to win (who doesn't?), and if getting a Fitbit meant that I could participate in challenges with my friends, maybe that would also mean that I'd start exercising to increase my steps!

I decided to get the Fitbit Charge HR since Michael is a little concerned about my heart rate (still need to make an appointment to see a cardiologist). It's been interesting to see how even the littlest movement can increase my heart rate.

I've only had it three days, but in those three days I've worked out on the elliptical each day, and yesterday when I got a phone notification that one of my friends had just pulled ahead of me I got off the couch and started moving again so I could WIN! I pulled ahead of her and earned two more "badges" - 10,000 steps in a day and 10 floors! 

There are other feature like sleep tracking (I don't sleep well...must mean I need a new bed), a food log (haven't used this yet), and a water log. Incidentally, it's also a watch (for some reason I though the Surge was the only one that's a watch), but I still stack it with my Fossil watch when going out. The water log is really easy to use, and I've hit my water goal every day, so that's good.

So far I'm really happy with my purchase. It has some great features, but honestly the biggest thing for me is the accountability to both myself and my friends that are participating, or will be participating, in the challenge. I'm hoping that the novelty doesn't wear off and I will soon fit back into all of my favorite jeans comfortably! ;)

Monday, July 20, 2015

Shrimp with Zucchini Noodles, Asparagus and Burst Tomatoes

I decided to try out my new spiralizer again tonight to try to recreate the meal I had at Travaasa.

*asparagus not pictured

I started with two zucchini and used the medium blade to create spaghetti like noodles. After I finished, I rinsed the noodles with salt water and let them drain in a colander for about 10 minutes before drying with some paper towels.

Once I finished with the zucchini, I minced four cloves of garlic and chopped my asparagus while I heated some olive oil over medium heat. I added the garlic to the pan and sautéed it for about a minute before adding the asparagus. After a few minutes I added the tomatoes. I seasoned everything with some salt and pepper, added the juice of one lemon, covered it, and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. 

To cook the shrimp, I added it to boiling water along with some salt, pepper, and a little Old Bay Seasoning. I cooked it for three minutes and then drained it and added it to the zucchini mixture. Right before it was finished I added about 1/4 cup of pitted Kalamata olives.

To serve, I topped it with some Parmesan cheese. Delicious!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort

Michael has a conference this week in Austin, so we decided to head down to the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country a few days early for a family vacation. 

We arrived late-afternoon on Thursday and checked in. We had a great room with a walk out patio that opened up to a large "yard." There was a smell in our room that just wouldn't go away, so the next morning we were upgraded to a large suite with an even bigger patio.

Sophia and Carter were thrilled to have their own beds, and Michael and I were happy to be back in a king (the rooms with two beds have doubles, so it was a little cozier). Our new room also had a large table, so we had room to play games when we weren't at the pool. Who doesn't love a little Skip Bo, Uno, and Slap Jack? 

While it was great to have a bigger room, most of our time was spent at the pool. I preferred  the activity pool because I could go from the pool to a lounge chair and still keep an eye on both kids, but there is also a lazy river (I couldn't ever get comfortable in the tube!), slides, and a kiddie pool. We all went down the slides a few times the first day, but then Carter decided he wasn't a fan so I was off the hook for the rest of the trip.

We've done the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, and we've now done the JW Marriott twice, and I have to say hands down the JW Marriott is the better hotel for a summer vacation at the pool. We LOVE the Gaylord over the holidays, but the water park is much bigger and better at the JW Marriott. There also seems to be more organized activities that are included with your stay, but maybe we somehow just missed that at the Gaylord. There are scavenger hunts, games (Michael and I both won at BINGO), s'mores, dive-in movies on the weekend, crafts (this does cost extra), a Zoomagination animal show on Saturdays, and a duck race on Sundays.

Make Your Own Ice Cream
The Zoomagination show started out with some creepy crawlies (a tarantula and a scorpion), but there was also a hedgehog, a macaw, a sloth, a porcupine, and a python (Sophia got called up to help hold the python). At the end of the show everyone got to go up and touch the snake. Both kids informed me that the snake feels rubbery (I took their word for it and chose not to join the line to feel for myself ;).

Sophia and Carter were so excited to participate in the duck race again this year! When we came in 2012 Carter's duck placed so he won a prize. No such luck this time, but they got to bring home their ducks so they were still happy! 

All in all, we had a fantastic time at the resort. If you are looking for a good spot to take a family vacation, I'd definitely recommend the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort!