9.29.2009

Fall Decorating, Groundhog Day Style {and a giveaway}

Over the weekend I decided it was time for our house to at least look like it was fall in south Texas, even if it doesn't feel like it. If I build it, maybe it will come, right? A girl can hope.

After the last gourd was positioned just so, I realized I had decorated basically the same way last year. So, just to keep things interesting, let's play a little game (Am I the only one hearing "Shall we play a game?). Don't worry, this won't be Global Thermonuclear War, it's just fall decorating. All you have to do is take a peek back in time to see what see what differences you can spot compared to this year. You know, like the game in Highlights magazine. Leave a comment with at least one difference and I'll draw a winner on Friday, October 2. The lucky winner will receive some fall-ish good mail.

C'mon in and look around...

Foyer (I plan to buy some small real gourds soon, but until then, fake will have to do):

Dining Room:

Top of Family Room Armoire:

Mantel (Family Room):

One thing I love to change seasonally (or just when the mood strikes) is my write-on-me plate. I bought it years ago from Southern Living and L-O-V-E it. I usually write scriptures, sayings or holiday countdowns on it and change the ribbons for different holidays. Seeing it instantly makes me happy.

Of course, fall decorating goes much more smoothly with the the A/C & ceiling fans whirring, a cider candle burning and plenty of breaks to enjoy Lacie's Famous Fall Mix. Yumola!

Have you started decorating for fall yet? Is it truly fall where you live? Are you like me and decorate pretty much the same way each year or do you drastically shake things up?

What differences did YOU spot?

9.27.2009

If This Post Was A Color It Would Be Beige

You know, blah builder beige. Brace yourself for mediocrity.

1. We've been in the full swing of Kindergarten for about a month now. Can you tell by the look on her face whether or not she still likes it?

I'm very thankful that she does. In fact, she loves everything about it, which is good. Her teacher is loving, but firm and structured, which is also good. She has homework a few days a week, usually handwriting practice, an activity to do for a certain letter or a reader (I use that term loosely since there are very few words, mainly pictures).

2. After the first few weeks of walking her inside, with Annelise starting to say goodbye to me 30 feet from her door, she decided she was ready for the car drop off. At first I wasn't, but then, once I realized I could take her to school still wearing my PJ pants,

I decided I liked it too.

3. Friday night we did something I haven't done in over 20 years. We went to a football game. My old high school football game to be exact.

When we told Annelise we were going that night, she decided a sign was in order to encourage the team. All in all it turned out to be a fun evening and we plan to go to at least one more game this season. I was a little shocked by the general teenage attire and hearing casual F-bombs being dropped as we walked to the stadium in front of some teen girls. Sigh.

We left after halftime, but checked the scores later and my alma mater won 42 to 35. WooHoo Clear Creek!!

4. Annelise is having round two with The Semi-Plague, except this time there's no fever (thank goodness), just congestion/cough. I don't know if it's the weather changes we've had or just another perk of Kindergarten or both.

5. So it turns out that the cooler temps earlier were just a scam. Heat and humidity came back with a vengeance over the weekend, much to my dismay. Scott still brought the fall boxes down, I cranked up the air conditioning and ceiling fans and I pretended I lived somewhere with actual seasons while I decorated (will post pics soon).

Yawn! Could this post be any more boring? I don't think so. I'm putting myself to sleep just typing this drivel, so I think I must put it (and you) out of its (and your) misery.

The end.

You're welcome.

9.24.2009

Fall Into Reading 2009 {The Challenge}

Fall officially began earlier this week, the calendar told me so. Here in Texas we have to take the calendar at it's word and call it fall even if the temperatures are only in the low 70s. I've asked my sweet husband to venture into the depths of our attic and bring down the jumble of boxes so I can soon spread a little fall cheer around our home even though our air conditioner is still whirring. With the semblance of cozier weather, fall seems like the perfect time to light a mulled cider candle, grab a mug of coffee (or your favorite mug beverage) and curl up with a good book.
I recently stumbled upon the Fall Into Reading Challenge hosted by Callapidder Days and decided to give it a whirl. I like the idea of having a little structure to help me work my way through the stack of books cluttering up my nightstand. And my floor.
Without further ado, here is my list:
Edited 9/28/09: A strikethough indicates I have finished that book. I may also post reviews from time to time to help me better remember each book.
Fiction
The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters
Falls the Shadow by Sharon Kay Penman (highly recommend Here be Dragons, the first in a historical fiction trilogy)
North and South by John Jakes
The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas
The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan
Non-Fiction
John Adams by David McCullough
My Life in France by Julia Child
Appetite for Life by Noel Riley Fitch
Whoa Nellie! Looking back over my list I realize I must have put on my rose-colored reading glasses. And have gone suddenly mad. Do I really think I can read 21 books in 3 months? Seriously? And keep up with Dancing with the Stars, NCIS, So You Think You Can Dance and Mad Men? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not. We shall see.
I'll keep you posted.
What are you reading these days? Wanna try the challenge with me? C'mon, it'll be fun!!

9.23.2009

Singing a Little Nina

You know that song by Nina Simone? It's a new dawn, it's a new day...I'm feeling good. Love that song, which is good since I can't stop singing it inside my head. This may have something to do with my mood as well...

I don't know why going to the grocery store seems like such an overwhelming chore to me, but it does. What on earth do I have to complain about? It's not like I have to wait in a line for bread or can only buy from a limited selection. This is after all, America. I'm spoiled by the varieties and quantities of food available, at all hours of the day. I know I take it for granted, and often whine about grocery shopping. Somebody slap me.

Anyway.

I bribed myself into going this morning with the reward being a pumpkin spice latte when I was finished. I also told myself it was okay to take my unshowered self right after dropping Annelise at school, wearing the t-shirt I slept in and my schleppy black knit pants. My apologies to fellow TarJay shoppers. But you know what? There were other people there that were just as schleppy, so I must be part of a trend. Who knew?

There was no traffic, the store wasn't crowded, I was able to get my groceries AND pick up Dan Brown's new book, The Lost Symbol. I know, I know, I fell for the hype. I resisted reading his other books, but gave in to this one because the story is set in Washington D.C. What can I say, I'm weak. It was conveniently stacked right beside the checkout line, those TarJay people are so clever. I grabbed one from the very back. Do you do that too? I never, ever take one from the front because the ones in front have been touched, opened and perused. The horror.

I also picked up my favorite lipstick from 1989 (you may have noticed I've been a little stuck in the past lately). It's by L'oreal and I'm worth it. The color is Mica, somewhere in between pink and mauve with some sparkle. I needed a little sparkle in my schleppy pants.

On the way out I picked up my Pumpkin Spice latte reward and enjoyed the slight breeze on the way to my car. The temps are hovering in the low 70s, so I guess it's finally fall.

Happy Wednesday everyone! Let's let Nina sing us on out...

9.22.2009

Waxing Nostalgic in the Kitchen {but not waxing the kitchen floor}

Thanks to a slight obsessive period of reading over the last day or so, I finished reading Julie & Julia. The book was enjoyable, but harsher than the movie. The author, Julie, came across as angry and foul-mouthed. Plus she took potshots at Republicans every chance she got. That grew old. Quickly. I forgave her just a little since she was a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (What? Did I forget to reveal that about myself? I hope we're still friends.) The character in the movie, played by Amy Adams, came across as much more sensitive and pleasant. If you remember my recent post, I expressed my adoration of the movie and my instant infatuation with Julia Child. I remember her show on PBS years ago, but I never really knew much about her life. The fact that she didn't find her passion, her calling, if you will, until later in life and then jumped in feet first is quite inspiring. It reminds me not to give up, my thing, my calling might just be around the corner. Now I want to read Julia's memoir, My Life in France and the biography Appetite for Life.

I still don't think I want to learn French cooking, although several of Julia's recipes sound tempting. We'll see. Reading about Julia's recipes along with Julie's experiences cooking them, made me think about the connection between food and memories, my childhood memories to be precise. My thoughts went instantly to my grandmother, Sue.

Sitting by my grandmother one holiday meal, circa late 70s. Believe it or not, she was a happy person, but she rarely ever smiled in pictures. Apparently looking away from the lens or looking solemn was a popular in the 20s and 30s and she never forgot.

My grandmother was the cook in our family, whether for holidays or weekly family dinners. She loved to cook and bake, and did so selflessly. My memories of her involve flour, whether it was for frying a chicken for dinner or for pie crust for dessert. She seemed to be in the kitchen most of the day, taking a break to watch her shows in the afternoon (As The World Turns and Guiding Light). She made most things from scratch, and I wish I had paid more attention. When I think of her I see lemon meringue pies, cherry pies and lemon cake. My sweet tooth may have been formed at her feet. Or her mixing bowl.

My mom was a decent cook, but I don't think she found joy in cooking. Our meals were usually basic dishes, nourishing, but nothing extravagant. Spaghetti on Tuesday, pork chops on Wednesday, that kind of thing. There was also the regular rotation of Spam Hash. Yes. What can I say, it was the 70s. I remember loving my mom's roast because she'd hide garlic inside and I'd enjoy the tasty challenge of discovering it. One of my absolute favorite meals she made was something we called Dorito Casserole (I know, haute cuisine) with ground beef, green chiles, cheese and don't forget the Doritos. I loved it madly. She quit making it, despite my desperate pleas, because my dad found out it had sour cream in it and he refused to eat sour cream. To my detriment and severe disappointment, the Dorito Casserole was retired sometime in the late 70s. Can you tell I'm still bitter?

My mom and I, sometime in the mid 70s. Notice my attempt to smile without showing my front teeth, which were unfortunately named Buck. Braces were just around the corner.

One thing my mom loved to make was gumbo. That was her comfort food, I guess. She usually made shrimp or crawfish gumbo, which seemed to take hours. Sometimes she made etouffee, which I preferred because it didn't have slimy okra.

My mom wasn't much of a baker, she left that to my grandmother and everyone seemed pleased with that arrangement. The only sweet things I can remember my mom baking were pinwheel cookies. The kind with pecans and cinnamon (I think) that you kept in the fridge and baked on demand. They were simple, but quite dee-lish.

I remember one afternoon, probably not too long before she passed away, my mom got a craving for cucumber tea sandwiches. She couldn't really explain why, I remember being somewhat curious, but she explained she simply had to make them. I remember standing in the kitchen watching her peel and chop cucumbers into minuscule pieces, mix them into cream cheese, throw in some spices and then start spreading this mixture on white bread. She then proceeded to cut the crusts off and arrange them on a platter, although she and I were the only ones at home. We feasted until we were almost sick on cucumber sandwiches and Tea Tang (her concoction of instant tea, Tang, sugar, and spices). My dad wouldn't eat any leftover sandwiches as he is not only offended by sour cream, but also cream cheese. He misses out on so many delights because of this. Pity.

That was my first time to eat a cucumber tea sandwich. I must have been 12 or 13. Now, whenever given the opportunity to eat them, I always remember that afternoon with my mom.

I'm sure I have tons of other memories related to food, but I'll share just one more for now. I remember a few days after my mom had died, my great aunt Margaret stopped by to visit one morning. I told her I was going to make scrambled eggs and I prepared to break the egg over the skillet. I can still see the sweet, yet shocked expression on her face as she stilled my hand.

It was clear, at age 14, I had no idea how to scramble an egg. Thanks to Auntie Margaret, now I do.

What are some of your favorite food memories? I'd love to hear...

9.20.2009

Mocking the Melancholy Right Out of Me

I found myself in a surprising state of melancholy bordering on a binge of weepy off and on today. I am blaming it on cramps, nostalgia and Thirtysomething, in that order. I was overcome with sadness as I sorted through old family photos this afternoon looking for pictures for another post. I picked my way through piles of pictures in no particular order, with few labels and no stories growing more upset with each new pile. I felt this overwhelming pressure to do something with them, tell their story (as much as I can) before it's too late. I don't know what exactly to do, but since many of them are from my parents and grandparents, I am the last link. If I don't attempt to document something, who will? Who will even care is the other question, but I hope Annelise will someday.

Thirtysomething takes some of the emotional blame as well because Disk 1 of Season 1 came from Netflix and I watched it last night. I was immediately thrust back to 1987 and all it's fashion faux paus. I was a faithful viewer of the show in college (being firmly convinced my life would be just like that when I was thirtysomething). I'm not sure why watching it again makes me sad, but it does. Certainly not because I am venturing into fortysomething, I'm sure.

So I decided to try and shove the melancholy aside for a while by doing something fun. Let's make fun of Holly's hair, shall we?

Freshman year, high school: 1982-83

The wings that could withstand all gusts of wind thanks to gallons of Aqua Net hairspray. Not only were hot rollers and curling irons needed in the wee hours of the morning to achieve this look, I carried a butane curling iron in my purse so I could touch up between classes, definitely after PE.

Senior Photo 1986:

I don't know what to call this phase other than poofy. Hot rollers and hairspray were still my best friends. Tweezing (much less waxing) was not.

College circa 1987ish:

My hair grew throughout my freshman year. By the time I was a sophomore I found a new best friend, the spiral perm. Because the regular perms just didn't make my hair wide enough.

It was pretty bad. I looked like a shrub with tall bangs. In case you can't tell, they are touching the top of my car.

Somewhere between 1988 and 1989, in a bold move, I went short, super short. Except for my bangs, which somehow remained tall.

Then I let that grow again during 1989, so I could perm it again. Of course.

Oh, and almost shave the right side of it and grow out the left to hang over my eye. Because I was just cool like that in my big floral print romper.

And even cooler with ripped jeans and shoulder pads.

Sometime in 1990 I thought I could pull off the Demi look from Ghost. You tell me...

did I do it? I know you are jealous of my turtleneck and chunky purple floral sweater, aren't ya?

So the dark brown (black?) wasn't really working for me, so I went blond in 1991. Oh, yeah, I'm wearing another flower romper/jumper thing. It had legs, cuffs, empire waist and a zipper up the front. My love for it was clearly misplaced.

Hair after college:

Circa 1995. What can I say? I thought perms were my friend.

Until I discovered a new obsession: The Rachel.

Or at least my version of it.

I'm proud to say I have not had a perm since 1995. An era has ended, thank goodness. And I said goodbye to The Rachel sometime in the late 90s. Surprisingly, poking fun at my hairstyles and clothes has proved to be quite refreshing. Maybe I should pop in another episode of Thirtysomething and continue the mocking...

9.17.2009

One for Julie & Julia, please. Thank you.

Except I actually used the automatic ticket thingie, so I really only said that to myself, in my head. After several weeks of longing to see Julie & Julia, eventually worrying that it would be yanked from theaters to make room for some silly sci-fi blockbuster (no offense), I decided today was the day. Before I left for the early bird special I sorted laundry into piles to show intent and then hit the road.

Y'all. It was delightful. Perfectly charming in every way. My highly sensitive cheese-o-meter never went off, which says a lot. I loved Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, was of course, flawless (she lost a wee bit of credibility with me after Mama Mia, but earned it back because after all, she's Meryl). I have a whole new appreciation for Julia Child. I never knew much about her life, now I want to read a biography of this classy lady, who was also quite a hoot. I don't believe I'll ever master French cooking, or ever really attempt it, but I certainly appreciate her efforts. Her attitude, determination, zest for life and general spunky-ness were inspiring. I was also touched by the way they portrayed Julia's longing for a child, so honest and tender. And real.

I also enjoyed the movie because of its link to blogging. The character (Julie) starts a blog to document her attempt to cook her way through Julia Child's cookbook in a year. Along the way she discovers more about herself and her relationships through blogging. I know my blog is just a small blip out there in the blogosphere, but it's my blip. I don't have a clear brand or specific purpose, like they tell you to have in order to find your niche and grow your readership. That's okay. My blog reflects me, my life, whatever that life happens to be at the moment, whether it's running (or not running), crafts, decorating, books, food, family or whatever. I want you to know how much it means to have you read my posts and share your thoughts with me. Whether you comment every single time, only when the mood strikes or not at all, I do appreciate you for visiting with me from time to time. So...thanks.

I still had a little time before picking Annelise up at school, so I treated myself to a late lunch at Panera. Creamy tomato soup and half a chicken salad sandwich. Do you think Julia would say Bon Appetit? Well, I sure did. In the last precious few minutes I dashed into Barnes & Noble to buy the book Julie & Julia. I know, I'm a woman obsessed. I almost didn't buy it because the only copies they had were the irritating movie cover ones. I usually boycott those in a holier-than-thou-books-are-better-than-movies-snobby way. Today, due to a time crunch and a surge of instant gratification-ness, I swallowed my principles and bought it anyway.

Bon Appetit!

By the way, could my sunglasses be any larger?

9.14.2009

So a Jedi Knight You Wish to Be...Hmmm?

Annelise decided she would like to celebrate her 6th birthday with her friends in a galaxy far, far away. A couple of weeks ago we sent out these invitations to her friends at school and church inviting them to a Jedi Training Academy.

After much planning, preparation and a small dose of fear, the morning arrived. Prayers for no rain were lifted up (and answered!), supplies were set out, Star Wars music was playing in the background and several deep breaths were taken before the doorbell rang.
Her friends started to arrive bit by bit, soon out numbering the adults. The final count turned out to be 18 children ages 3-10! Being fueled by coffee and adrenaline, I pulled up my big girl panties and jumped right into the crazy.

As her friends arrived, she asked them to sign her Jedi story book (sorry, no picture) as a keepsake. Then we put on their Jedi training robes and rope belts. Most of the kids wore them, but I was surprised that some wouldn't put it on at all. What? I went to THREE different Hobby Lobby stores to make sure we had enough brown fabric and you don't want to wear it?!?!? I held myself together and said, "Oh, that's all right sweetie."

Next, they decorated favor bags with Star Wars stickers (once we rounded them up from playing in Annelise's room and going up and down the stairs).

Soon it was time for them to meet their Jedi Master, Obi TWO Kanobi, otherwise known as Scott, and be told their first mission.
They had to face their fears and enter the Dagobah Cave (a refrigerator box painted black and draped with black crepe streamers and a black plastic tablecloth) to collect Dagobah rocks (candy wrapped in foil). They each had a small glow stick to help guide their way.
They all got to go through at least twice, and LOVED it.

After conquering their fears, it was time for their second mission, the Jedi Agility Course outside. They all lined up on the porch,
and waited patiently for their turn,

chatting and watching everyone else take a turn along the course.

First they walked across the Dagobah Swamp.

Carried Yoda on a wooden spoon to safety.

Jumped across Dagobah Swamp rocks.

And then swung across burning hot lava.

The last thing was to help free Han Solo who was frozen in carbonite,

by pouring water over him. Some of the boys were fascinated by this and monitored the progress very closely.

The Birthday Girl herself managed to free Han to big cheers all around.
Then we herded them inside to cool down and meet Yoda. They watched a small segment from Episode V when Luke trained with Yoda on Dagobah.
While viewing they enjoyed yummy Yoda Sodas (lime sherbet and Sprite).
Then it was time to play Pin the Light Saber on Yoda. They each had a small foam light saber and took a turn sticking it on a homemade Yoda poster. By the end the poster looked like it was covered in green spaghetti!

After all of that it was time for the grand finale. We passed out light sabers (made from pool noodles cut in half, the end wrapped in duct tape and a small square of electrical tape for the power switch). They. were. excited. They practiced a few moves, then...
it was time to destroy the Dark Side (black balloons). Needless to say, the crowd went wild! There was much swatting, stomping and popping (no one was hurt and nothing was broken, except for the balloons).
The Force prevailed and evil was destroyed!

The last event was the Medal Ceremony. In my mind I thought it would be an orderly presentation followed by a group picture in front of the Star Wars backdrop. Ahem.
I just passed out the medals to each child as best I could. They were all now official Jedi Knights!
We ended the festivities with cupcakes and ice cream. I searched for cupcake decorating ideas, you know that I could actually copy, to no avail. I ended up making toothpick toppers with Star Wars stickers and my paper punches.

After singing Happy Birthday and passing out cupcakes, Capri Sun pouches and ice cream to all the little Jedis, it got very quiet. Those Jedi Knights had worked up quite an appetite and were focused on their rewards.
After all that sugar, we gathered around to watch Annelise open her presents.
Soon it was time for all the newly knighted Jedis to go back to their home galaxies as the party drew to a close (only 10 minutes over schedule, not bad!).
It was quite the whirlwind, but I know Annelise and her friends had a great time! I felt bad that I didn't get to chit chat much with the other parents, but I guess that's the nature of a party like this.
Scott and I were so pleased so many of Annelise's friends were able to come along with her Aunt Karen (and Uncle Bill, not pictured) and Uncle Ron.
and I was thankful to have the help and support of my girlfriends. Thanks for jumping right in and passing out plates, cupcakes, Yoda Sodas, taking pictures, gathering up trash, etc.!!
After a Tex Mex lunch and visiting with family, Scott and I eventually managed to get our home back together (ahhhh...peace restored) while Annelise played with her presents.
Annelise declared it was the best party ever. Thank you sweetheart, you are worth it!
FYI: We planned this party in about 3.5 weeks, working on the bigger things as early as possible. I found a ton of ideas online, the most helpful were from Marie at Makes and Takes, Laurie the Tip Junkie and this party site. We tried to keep costs down by making a lot of things ourselves, serving only cupcakes and ice cream and using the party props as favors (robes, light sabers (pool noodles were on sale this time of year), Dagobah rocks, and medals(spray painted paper plates & 50% off ribbon). Even though it seems like a lot of work, I love the feeling of a birthday party at home, the personal touches, the hospitality. It saddens me that parents are moving away from home parties and to the party places. I was a bit intimidated, but I'm truly thankful we did it.
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