Animals in Space Mysteries

Carys's end of the year project for her gifted and talented class. Their topic of study for the 2012-13 school year is Space.


Something to Cheer About

Carys has been cheering since October of last year. The first cheer outfit we signed up with was mediocre at best and quickly went downhill from there. So several enterprising Moms formed our own cheer team and hired a new coach who is AWESOME! The girls have cheered in public three times this Spring, which is very exciting for the girls and parents as well.


Our Christmas Wish

We are trying something new this year--no Christmas cards in the mail! I actually did create several cupcake-themed Christmas card designs for us to send out, but December was just too short and the list of holiday things-to-do was too long. These are the actual cards we planned to print and mail, so please enjoy our digital holiday greetings instead:

Please click on digital card for larger view!

Please click on digital card for larger view!

Please click on digital card for larger view!

Joy to the World and Cupcakes for All!
Dylan, Melissa, Thalia & Carys


Presenting . . . The Thalia Times

Well, the kiddos really like having their own spot on the Internets, and wouldn't you know it, are already fighting over the space! So now we've added a new page to our family blog to debut Thalia's newest creation:
The Thalia Times, an entirely homegrown newspaper created and written by her.

You can read the first issue of The Thalia Times here! Perhaps she'll take after her "Aunt Tyra" and become a writer?! Time will tell.



About five years ago, I created a photo collage of all of our 1st birthday pictures for a cool sliding frame my friend gave me. During my recent redecorating blitz, I retired the frame and decided to do a layout with these four fun photos:

I love the continuity across two generations that these photos represent. Each birthday child celebrating with cake! I think I may be doing several more layouts like this one and the previous Serendipity one. It's cool to see how some things change over time . . . and how some things stay the same.

Digital scrapbooking layouts forthcoming



I decided to get rid of some old photo frames that were perfectly fine but the frames were tired-looking, and we were all tired of looking at them! One of these frames had these two wonderful photos of Dylan and Carys, 34 years apart, at bathtime. Since the pics aren't on display anymore in our home, I decided to digi-scrap them for fun:

Digital scrapbooking layout credits forthcoming


New Rooms Added!

So this family blog is kind of like our family's home, kind of haphazard but filled with good intentions! In order to offer everyone more to chew on, we've added some new PAGES, or as I like to think of them, ROOMS, to the blog for you to enjoy! Click on the links on the menu on the right sidebar to visit them.

is simply a compilation of various recipes that have appeared in previous blog posts, in case you actually wanted to try one and forgot when you had seen it!

Stuff We Like is just exactly that--stuff we like! Or more specifically, our retail loves, because after all, we do live in a Material World.

Man Cave is Dylan's page. It's currently blank. Draw from that what you will.

And last, but not least, there is the Kidlets page! It will have content written by the girls themselves or whatever else they pester me to post.

I'm not promising that we'll be updating these new "Rooms" frequently, but we'll give it a try! Thalia took a web design class over the summer, so who knows, she may even take over the Kidlets page. Stay tuned.


Did You Take Your Vitamins?

Dylan and I are halfway into week 2 of our Clean eating program, and it has more or less become a routine now. I felt hungry constantly for the first 3 days, but now have a hard time finishing my lunch some days. It's a testament to how quickly my stomach "shrunk" or got used to the new eating plan. Dylan, on the other hand, still feels hungry all the time! But he's committed to the program and working through caffeine withdrawal and hunger pangs with good humor.

We've even eaten out with our new plan! That was a challenge. We had plans to go to Rainforest Cafe last weekend with friends, and I almost wanted to cancel last minute, but after carefully perusing the online menu decided we could make it work. And we did! Roast chicken, skin off, and grilled veggies for me and a Salad with grilled chicken for Dylan. (Dylan did cheat by eating the focaccia bread that came with his meal.) Our friends teased us about our ascetic eating while drinking fruity alcohol concoctions and eating everything we couldn't, but resisting temptation is good for us! The next day, we were feeling pretty confident about our eating out skills and went to brunch at a Mexican restaurant with a visiting friend. Chicken salad for me and grilled salmon for Dylan. We made up for our 'wild weekend' by having just smoothies for the rest of Sunday.

After my previous blog post, we added vitamins and nutritional supplements to the mix. There are quite a few pills to take each day! This is a big deal for me because I HATE taking pills of any kind. They make me want to gag. But take them I do, because it's an integral part of the plan. Dylan has no problems with pills of any kind, and can swallow a handful at a time. Ugh.

So in addition to the 2 raw, mostly liquid meals and the 1 cooked meal per day, we're taking, in no particular order:

Rice Protein Powder
Superfood/Greens Powder with Probiotics
Milk Thistle Extract (3X day)
Oil of Oregano
Garlic (2X day)
Calcium (2X day)

The worst one of them is the Greens Powder, which I elected to take instead of the Probiotic pills--big mistake. The powder has a fishy, seaweed kind of taste that can't be totally masked by the addition of fruit, sweetener, cacao powder and cinnamon. Had we not already opened this jumbo container of the powder, I would have gone for the more expensive Probiotic pills

Oil of Oregano pills have a lovely aftertaste but for me, have an unpleasant side effect later. It feels like heartburn. Garlic pills, on the other hand, have a very strong, unpleasant aftertaste! Of course, the other option, chewing and swallowing a couple cloves of garlic, is also not in the cards.

Are we seeing some benefits of this new diet? YES! I was able to put on a pair of favorite old jeans that have been a bit snug of late, only 7 days into the diet. Dylan did the same with some clothes in his closet. So we're both a bit leaner.


Of Cakes and Kale: Dieting for the Almost-40 Set

Ah, I'm back from my "summer vacation" away from blogging! So what if my vacation went almost two months past the end of summer break itself?! At first, I told myself that I should take a break from the blogs (like I really did any serious blogging anyway!) and then I just didn't feel like coming back. But here we are again and with a recipe to share to boot.

First and foremost in our happy little household is the new DIET that Dylan and I started on Friday. Starting at the beginning of a long weekend seemed less daunting than starting on manic Monday, so we officially started on Friday afternoon. We are doing CLEAN by Dr. Junger, which is not so much a diet as it is a lifestyle change. I first found out about it during the summer, from Gwneth Paltrow's website of all places. (Actually, I ended up at her website after first reading an article about various celebrity diets in a fashion magazine.) So I bought the book and really loved the whole philosophy behind the program. But I am very good at starting stuff that never gets finished, so I knew my own weaknesses before I even read the whole book, and I vowed to get over them so I could go on the Clean program.

My reasons for wanting to do any kind of diet: 1) Lose this middle-aged spread that has been creeping up on me, a few pounds a year over the last six years post-partum; 2) Feel less tired; 3) Eat healthier overall because I'm not 19 anymore! Dylan was willing to try it out with me after I excitedly told him all about the program and read him excerpts from the book on a road trip to Houston. Don't I have a great hubby?!

To prepare for the 21-day diet, I had to get off caffeine, get it out of my system and not crave it day and night like I usually do. Specifically, my love affair with Coca-Cola. I've had as many as 3 Cokes a day in my pre-diet days. I love it so. I weaned myself off my favorite elixir by switching to weak homemade iced tea, brewed from organic loose earl gray tea leaves, flavored with mango juice. After about two weeks or so of iced tea, I was off caffeine completely. Not that I didn't have some serious cravings or headaches, but I survived. I also enjoyed seltzer water with a splash of raspberry lemonade as well as the yummy Izze natural sodas, post-caffeine.

Second thing I did to prepare, and which is in the book, was to start eating some of the foods that are allowed on the program and to start eliminating those that aren't from my diet. This was actually harder to do than ditch the caffeine. Bread, dairy, sugar, alcohol and all the other obvious foods to avoid. My kids aren't on the diet, so I had little incentive during this phase to cook two sets of meals. I went out of town three weekends in a row, making it hard to eat healthy and purposefully. And then I started having second thoughts about doing the Clean program at all.

But sometimes you just have to jump in and grab hold with both hands! So I made the snap decision on Thursday that Friday would be Day 1 of the diet. I bought about half of the different foods we would need (there is no eating out on this diet) to get started and researched some necessary supplements at the Vitamin Shoppe. And we were off! I didn't even tell Dylan the diet was on until Friday afternoon!

I have to say, I thought it was going to be much harder to begin Clean than it was. This past weekend was a primer in avoiding temptation! Day 1 began with me doing two custom cake orders. Staring at cake and frosting for seven hours. Then there was a kiddie birthday party on Day 2, where the hostess offered all the Moms and Dads wine and beer and lovely little croissant sandwiches were served. I drank bottled water and ate nothing. Day 3 was partially spent trying to figure out how to leave the house for an outing or errands without missing lunch, which is the primary meal of the day and must be home-cooked only with the assigned ingredients. (We figured it out.) At the end of the day, Dylan and I were are both a few pounds lighter and very proud of ourselves!

There are lots of recipes available for Clean dieters, and many of them use ingredients that weren't in my pantry or fridge before, so eating has actually been really interesting and adventurous! Agave syrup, cacao powder, kale, chia, tamari. Just a few new staples at our house. The recipes themselves are really delicious too, although Dylan pointed out that a dish's yum factor has a direct correlation to how hungry you are! (You can get kind of hungry on this diet.) Of the seven new recipes we tried this weekend, all were keepers except for one: Mango & Kale Smoothie. Yes, dark green, leafy vegetable mixed with mango. While I didn't hate it, it wasn't exactly the best thing I've ever had, and Dylan disliked it more than I did. But we did love kale steamed with garlic!

We'll be blogging more about our diet as the weeks go on, and tomorrow we're introducing the supplements (probiotics, fiber, antimicrobial herbs, etc.) I have no idea how we'll feel after adding the vitamins. Stay tuned.

Ironically, in the midst of buying all this exotic healthy food on Thursday, I concocted a great new cake recipe! I have been testing new cake recipes lately, and this one was the best. It combines a couple of favorite recipes together, which I also did on the other ones, but the others were merely so-so or just not good. I used this recipe for one of my weekend cake orders for a toddler's birthday.

So since I can't eat cake right now, here is a recipe to share with everyone else who can:

My New Strawberry Cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup non-fat dry milk
1 1/2 cup mashed strawberries, with their juice
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup milk
3 tsp. vanilla extract
4 eggs

**Optional-- 1 tbsp. strawberry gelatin mix (If you want your cake to be a pretty pink color. This will add a little more strawberry flavor to the cake too. I really hate using food coloring if I can just use Jello!)

**Note-- I use powdered dry milk and regular milk, but you could also just use water in place of the regular milk. Milk is just a bit richer.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour cake pan(s); can use two 8-inch or 9-inch round pans or a sheet cake pan.
2. Sift all dry ingredients together. Add remaining ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3. Mix at medium speed for 2 minutes longer.
4. Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and bake until cakes spring back when lightly touched (sorry, have no idea how long I baked it!). Cool cake pans on wire cooling rack before inverting cakes onto another rack for further cooling.
5. Frost layers with buttercream frosting or any other frosting that you like.

Serves about 18.

Image from www.cleanprogram.com


FoodieLicious Summer

One cool aspect of raising kids is introducing them to the tastes of your own childhood as well as your own favorite foods that you love. This can be both an exciting and frustrating experience! How can your kid not love what you love?! And how gratifying when your little one becomes your Mini-Me by adoring your favorites.

Also, (some) parents feel obligated to introduce more 'exotic' foods to their children, bit by it, to expand their eating repertoire. Let's face it, only eating out at places like Luby's gets old really quick. It was a grand day in our family when we realized we could finally take our kids to an Italian, Mexican, Greek, any Asian (Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese so far) or all-seafood restaurant and they would eat at least one item from the menu and love it! (Next to try--French and German fare!) I had a friend in Austin who used to pack PB & J sandwiches in her purse for her super-picky kids when they ate out at restaurants, even ones with kid-friendly menus. This was before I had kids myself, and I fervently hoped that I would never have to do the same. And I haven't, because we quickly learned that although it can take some time to acquire new tastes, kids will do so with some encouragement.

Here we present a visual tour of some fun culinary tastes we and our kids have experienced from the past few months:

Dylan's Candy Bar, Houston, Texas, May 2010: Candy Bars sampled included Lemon & Ginger White Belgian Chocolate (Carys), Cookies & Cream Belgian Chocolate (Thalia), Dark Raspberry Belgian Chocolate (Melissa), Caramel Belgian Chocolate (Dylan)

Flaming Saganaki Cheese at Yia-Yia Mary's Greek Kitchen, Houston, Texas, May 2010: This is not my actual pic, although this is indeed what the halloumi looks like; I wasn't fast enough with the camera to capture the dramatic flame tableside! I wish I had also captured the look of shock (and momentary fear) on the girls' faces! However, they each tasted the cheese and liked it.

I just had to post this pic! The most adorable Dog Cupcakes homemade by our friend Monica for her daughter's dog-themed birthday party in June! Guests had their choice of chocolate or vanilla pups.

Sandella's Flatbread Cafe, Round Rock, Texas, June 2010: Aloha Pizza
Flatbread pizza, when grilled, was kind of like the matzoh pizza the girls made in pre-school! Definitely going back to try the flatbread wraps.

We just celebrated the Fourth of July with my godparents' family and an absolute cornucopia of Filipino delicacies. The smells and flavors immediately took me back to similar summer parties at their old house, indelibly stamped among my childhood memories. For only the second time ever, my kids ate Filipino barbecue on a stick and adored it! (Because I'm too lazy to make it at home of course.) Too bad we were too busy eating to take our own glamorous macro pics of the food, which included the BBQ pork, empanadas, suman, embutido, fruit salad, bistek tagalog, siopao and ube cake! Some of these I hadn't tasted in years.

We also enjoyed good, old-fashioned American breakfast-food-for-lunch at Ol' South Pancake House in Ft. Worth during the star-spangled weekend. It's a restaurant that is totally frozen in time, early 80s decor and all, and the menu is all comfort food. (Thalia took some excellent pics, but now she's lost her digital camera so we'll just have to use our imaginations about how large and fluffy the pancakes were.)

Of course, we're only half-way through summer, and our more exotic culinary challenges await during our upcoming vacation! We have quite a bit of beach time coming up, so perhaps some seaweed or fruits de mer in the near future?


Trash to Treasure: Altered CDs

If you hate to throw anything away that could be useful later, like I do, then you might already have a stack of old CDs sitting around waiting to be reborn! Back in the day when AOL used to send me a CD every week, I would toss the whole shrink-wrapped envelope in the trash, never even opening it. But now, I know at least one thing you can do with old CDs--create some art! Altered art, to be exact.

Altered art, for those non-crafty types, is simply art created by altering something else you already have. Some people, those who don't have boxes of old stuff lying around, have to cheat and actually buy stuff to alter. Ha! We've got lots of stuff around the house, thanks in very large part to having kids who like to make stuff and from being a Girl Scout leader since 2000. There's no such thing as trash ! Only future art projects! Altered art is nothing new either, as crafty folks from years past have always done this. Altered art is frequently made using mixed-media techniques.

My project of the day was to use up some of the old CDs (some containing old software or old digital images or music or free ones sent in the mail) and create altered CDs. I took an 11 year old software CD and turned it into a photo collage altered CD to send as a thank you to Thalia's godparents. They recently invited her to spend a week at their home, where she had an awesome time! I used some of the pics I took when I dropped her off at the Purple Cow in Fort Worth for the CD:

I was so tickled by the results that I made another one, also a thank you for our friends who recently treated us to an afternoon of painting pottery and ice cream to celebrate Carys's birthday!

I just need to cover each CD with Mod Podge to protect the collage. I may also add more embellishments, like some old ribbon, buttons, etc. I am on a roll now! So if you've got some old CDs around your house, you might want to give altered art a try. Imagine the possibilities! Add a ribbon hanger and it's a tiny wall-hanging or Christmas ornament! Slap some magnet tape on the back and it's fridge decor! Create a mobile of family pics to hang in your office! You can even decorate both sides of the CD.

But if you're not so inclined, would you mind giving me your old CDs?!


Before and After

The very first digital scrapbook I created was in 2007 as a gift to my parents chronicling our family's Thanksgiving week trip to Disneyland the year before. I used Creative Memories' free software and themes; it was a low-risk way to try out the then increasingly popular method of scrapping.

The free Storybook Creator software uses pre-designed themes and color schemes, and all you do is drag and drop the photos onto the pages and add journaling here and there. It was a good way to get my feet wet, but at the same time, kind of dull compared to traditional scrapbooking.

Here is one of the pages from the book:

I used the Basic Black theme, can you tell?! It's . . . boring.

Here is another I created using a different theme, Traditional Holiday. (I mixed and matched themes in the book to jazz things up. Not sure now if that was a good idea!)

The Holiday template was certainly more interesting to look at, but probably too stuffy and stiff for the pics I chose. A more whimsical "kid-friendly" theme would have worked better. And the font doesn't match the page's theme either.

Flash forward three years, and I have been playing around with Creative Memories' more full-featured Storybook Creator Plus software for a year and a half now. I've had much more practice creating pages, with or without a template, that grab the eye and are visually interesting. I also have much more to choose from in the way of digital content (ie. papers, embellishments, stickers, etc.) and themes!

Here's a page I created last week, using a layout template that I customized with my own Girl Scout-themed content:

And here is a post-card sized page I did a couple of months ago to send as thank you cards to Thalia's friends who attended her cupcake-themed birthday party:

My level of digital scrapbooking confidence is definitely higher than it was when I first got started! Even with seven years of traditional scrapping experience, learning how to 'go digital' had a learning curve that at first didn't seem quite worth it because of the boring, bland pages I turned out. Learning what you can do with the software really is the key. You go from not realizing what your options are to having too many options available for any given page!

Digital layout credits forthcoming


Summertime and the Livin' is Easy

Well, we are almost through Week 2 of Summer Vacation and thus far, no broken bones! The girls transitioned easily to Summer Camp Mode, which is similar to School Year Mode for us anyway. Rise at either 6:30 or 7:30am, depending on which particular camp it is this week, and then get ready, get set, get dropped off!

The major differences between Summer and School Year for me is the amount of laundry and the amount of driving I do in the summer. Swimsuits, towels and other wet clothing and accessories pile up in my laundry room every single day when the girls are in camp. Thalia and Carys opted for different day camps for the first time ever, so I'm doing dual drop-offs and pick-ups at several different locations this summer. How glad am I that I have a new car with air-conditioned seats as I drive all over town under a blazing hot sun?! At least I don't have to also drive to extra-curricular activities this summer, as Thalia chose not to do tennis lessons this time.

Summer means copious amounts of sunscreen applied to each child, more than once a day. Already, one of the kids is sporting a good-sized sunburn, due to "forgetting" about sunscreen one day. There are, too, the mysterious "lost items"-- kids lose things easily, ridiculously so, at day camp, as there are so many opportunities to lose them. "Where do you think you left it at camp?" The answer could be any of the following: the pool, the playground, the bathroom, the locker room, the cabin, etc. So far, we've "found" a brand-new, worn-for-only-5-days bathing suit which we searched for that same evening on a return trip to the camp, but have "lost," possibly for good, a perfectly good cover-up somewhere else.

Carys is happily reunited this summer with her peeps from her pre-school at 'Camp Shalom' at the JCC. She'll be there for five weeks, taking daily swim lessons, and enjoying a traditional day camp (art, nature, games, Spirit Stick, etc.) with a Jewish twist (there's a good amount of Israeli culture thrown in, always very interesting). Thalia decided to branch out this summer and is doing a week each of Tennis camp, Camp Hogwarts & Half-Blood (a Harry Potter/Percy Jackson-themed camp), and Web Design camp before we leave for our annual trip to the Pacific Northwest next month. She is very, very interested in all things food-related right now, so a stint at Cooking Camp is a definite possibility in August to finish out the summer!

We plan to catch several movies this summer, both at the theater and on DVD, which we never seem to have time for during the school year. Thalia and I are hosting a "release party" for The Lightning Thief later this month; it will be very on-theme of course, with Greek Gods-related games, trivia, activities, food and of course, viewing the new video!

Summertime is also a bit of down time for me, so I've set a few goals for myself: Blog more at all my sites. Finish a few digital scrapbooks that I've prepaid. Reorganize the kitchen pantry (again). Wade through 9 months worth of "masterpieces" my kids brought home during the school year. Practice my fondant and gumpaste techniques. Yes, this is an entirely overambitious list, is it not?! My summer is full of blind ambition for an all-too-brief time that is not even 3 full months.

But that's also what's cool about summer--no promises, no expectations, just living in the moment and being thankful for whatever that moment is.

Happy Summer!


Tiny Dancer

Carys's Little Gym gymnastics/dance class had their Spring Show this week. She had a new teacher this semester, who had not taught a full dance class yet. I think the results were a bit mixed. I liked the dance routines from the Winter Show more than I liked the ones from this week. Carys also seemed a little distracted during the show, but it was still cute to watch.

Keep in mind that her "recital" was very low key, as before, without fancy costumes and the teacher "helps" them through the steps!

Tap Dance Routine:

Ballet Routine:


A Family Scrapbook

I created an entire digital scrapbook online using every single photo from our November 2009 family photo shoot at the Japanese Tea Garden! This is quite an accomplishment, as I have only created six finished digital scrapbooks in four years, and none have focused on any formal photo sessions.

I used an online program, Scrapblog, that allows you create digital scrapbook pages using free and for-sale themes, backgrounds and embellishments. I found the program a little bit difficult to use, but loved the results. It's not your typical drag and drop program that has 20 coordinated pages of pre-designed templates for you to use. It's really great though if you like starting from a blank page and designing everything yourself, which I like to do. I also love all the content you can choose from, including some of my favorite digital scrapbook designers like House of Three, Rhonna Farrer and Peppermint Creative.

You can browse through our new family scrapbook by viewing the slide show below or clicking here. I'm so proud of it!

Layout credits:
All pages done on Scrapblog.com using Scrapblog Builder
Backgrounds and embellishments: Little Dreamer Designs, Moo Tree Designs, Disney D23, House of Three, Rhonna Designs, Amy Hutchinson, Scrapblog
Scrapblog Fonts: Shelley LT Andante Script, Mrs Eaves Small Caps, English, Apricot, Fine Hand
, Cenizas-Alt


Structure is So Overrated

At the beginning of the year, I lamented the sorry state of my four (yes, four) blogs. They suffered from benign neglect with a very few posts showing up now and again. I decided that my blogs needed some "structure." Hence, the five-days-a-week schedule of stuff I thought everyone needed to know about me and mine.

Okay, since I haven't blogged in over a month at pretty much all my blogsites, I'm throwing in the towel. Hell, I threw in the towel long, long ago. Structure is SO overrated.

I loved the idea of it. I still do. But with the exception of the couple of weeks spent on my couch while recovering from surgery, our family's lifestyle (that would be code for 'my personal laziness') is too busy to allow for regularly scheduled posts. I admire greatly blogs such as Heather Binkley's Did You Remember Your Pill Today that manage to entertain us each and every day with her very busy family's antics. And countless other Mom-blogs out there do the same, in spite of their collective busy-ness. But as for me and my blogs, it's just not gonna happen.

So the new blog schedule goes like this:
  • Photos when I have time to upload, sort, tag and date them.
  • Funny tidbits about our lives when I remember to tell you about them.
  • Scrapbook pages when I actually get around to doing some.
  • Recipes when we're feeling hungry!
So if you've been a loyal follower of our family blog, thanks for sticking around and don't give up on us yet! Our kids actually love the idea of our family blog too, and they're always telling me to post this or that. Sometimes I do. I'm just sorry I haven't had time to do more!


Watermelon Trumps Pizza, or Surviving Our 1st Pinewood Derby

Our Girl Scout Service Unit hosted its very first Pinewood Derby this weekend. A Powder Puff Pinewood Derby, to be exact. (Yes, because girls are involved, it must be a Powder Puff event!) The event was a fundraiser for the S.H.A.R.E. Family Partnership Campaign, which supports the Girl Scout program in Southwest Texas.

For a mere $10 per girl, we got an official Derby kit--block of wood, axles and wheels. I pitched the event to both of my Girl Scout troops as a "great father-daughter activity"! After all, the Pinewood Derby is the classic Boy Scout event invented by a Boy Scout Dad who wanted another activity he could do with his young son. Furthermore, I had no desire to wield a saw or drill for this project and passed the ball to my loving husband and father of these kids.

For several weeks, the two blocks of wood remained two blocks of wood. I casually mentioned that there were websites chock-full of ideas and design plans (according to my friends who are Moms of Boy Scouts) for Dad and girls to peruse. I reminded Dylan that we would probably need to borrow some equipment (jigsaw anyone?) unless he planned to whittle the wood into a the shape of a car by hand. Two weeks before the Derby, the girls had not brainstormed ideas for their cars with their Dad, there were no designs drawn on paper, no additional materials had been purchased, no tools were borrowed, and the blocks of wood were still blocks of wood.

Dylan, who although was a Boy Scout once upon a time, could not remember ever making a Derby car in his youth. Fortunately, advice from Boy Scout Dad-friends, by phone and in person, got the ball rolling before I blew my top about this project! (I hate doing stuff last minute when it can be avoided.) Thank you, Geoffrey and Steve, for the nudges in the right direction and for slightly freaking Dylan out with the myriad of Derby car possibilities! Dylan, and the girls when appropriate, cut, drilled, stripped and polished over two weekends.

I decided I could speed things along by supervising the "decorating" aspect of the project. Thalia and Carys, by that point, had come up with 'themes' for their cars, so I pulled out the paint and paintbrushes so they could turn their now-wedge-shaped pieces of wood into the cars of their dreams.

Slice of Pizza, anyone? Thalia's Pepperoni Pizza Car!

Carys's Watermelon Racer: From Page to Reality!

We were told that weights were needed to get the car's weight to 5 ounces, the maximum weight allowed. Cars that are far below this weight apparently don't stand a chance of winning. So weights were purchased, adhesives researched and weights attached with epoxy glue.

Now here is where Dylan's relative inexperience with craft projects really stood out-- he attached the weights with gobs and gobs of epoxy glue! As one who is rather familiar with craft supplies, I know that you apply glue of any kind rather sparingly. On the morning of the race, the weights were just swimming in glue, not at all dry or attached to the car. Some fell off when the car was picked up! Yikes! I removed the weights, wiped off a ton of glue, reattached the weights and prayed the glue would dry in time for the race.

Race time! Thalia and Carys were dressed in their Girl Scout uniforms and a bit confused about the whole race thing. So were we! Our "pit crew" consisted of me, Dylan, Lola and Lolo. Lola and Lolo were actually the "veterans" of our crew, having done Pinewood Derby over 25 years ago with my brother when he was a Scout.

The cars were weighed on the "official" race scale and race officials very generously offered us free weights and Krazy Glue if we needed them; we did. The post office scale we used to weigh our cars were not as precise! After registration check-in, the cars were "impounded" until the Daisy-Brownie heats started.

Cars at Check-In

Impound Area

It was really fun to see all the different styles and designs of cars in the race! There were only a handful of Daisies (Carys was one of six), but quite a few Brownies entered the race. You could tell right away which Dads had made these before! (Not ours!) Only one other girl from my two Girl Scout troops entered a car in the race, and hers was very creative and clever-- a Percy Jackson and the Olympians-themed 'Hermes' car!

Mia's Hermes Car!

Each car raced in four heats, in each of four lanes on the track borrowed from the Boy Scouts. Very clever. The times for each heat were averaged together by their sophisticated Pinewood Derby software. The only thing missing was an electronic Leader Board (unfortunately not loaned by the Boy Scouts)!

Before the Race: All Smiles

The Girl Scouts sat on the front row, right next to the track and could see how well their own cars did against the other three in their heats. There were oohs, aahs, squeals, claps and yes, tears.

Waiting, waiting, waiting and the agony of defeat

Carys's Watermelon Racer was the first of ours to race and came in 1st place in Heat #1! We were so tickled and proud! But then Thalia's Piece of Pizza Car entered the race--she would race against her sister in three of her four heats! And then it really got interesting!

Results after both cars' 4 heats:
Carys v. 3 others: Carys placed 1st

Carys v. Thalia and 2 others: Carys placed 1st, Thalia placed 4th

Carys v. Thalia and 2 others: Carys placed 1st, Thalia placed 2nd

Carys v. Thalia and 2 others: Carys placed 1st, Thalia placed 3rd

Thalia v. 3 others: Thalia placed 3rd

It was so exciting to watch their cars speed down the track! The Dad who pulled the lever for each race commented that Carys's Watermelon Racer was one of the fastest cars in it! We kind of wished Carys and Thalia's cars hadn't raced together, but it was a lesson in good sportsmanship between sisters. Thalia was gracious about it all, just as a Girl Scout should be, and grumbled only a tiny bit! Carys, for her part, wondered out loud "Why did I win alot?"

However, winning all of your heats doesn't guarantee that your car will place 1st, 2nd or 3rd. Overall speed determines the winners, and Carys's car came in 8th while Thalia's was 17th. They didn't win any of the medals either for special categories, such as "Pink and Sparkly" or "Best Design." But just being there with a car that didn't fall apart in the middle of the race was quite an accomplishment, Dylan and I thought!

So Proud of My Girl Scouts!

The girls are already looking forward to next year's Powder Puff Pinewood Derby. Carys has been strategizing since Saturday, pointing out that perhaps her next car should focus on one of the special medal categories.

We celebrated the girls' Pinewood Derby success at Mamacita's, which reminds one of the Mexico pavilion at Epcot. The girls loved the animatronics and Mexican village! What a day!


Bluebonnets 2010: A Slide Show

Created with flickr slideshow.

I finally figured out how to fit all 85 of our bluebonnet pics onto a Flickr slide show without exceeding the allowed space! Enjoy!


This Week Last Year: April 17, 2009

Scooby Dooby Doo and the Math Force
This week last year was very busy! It was the week after Easter and the start of Fiesta here in San Antonio. At Thalia's school, it was also their not-to-be-missed Second Grade Town Meeting. Town Meeting is basically each grade's school play, usually one per month until all the grades have performed, and is the subject of much excitement and rehearsal for all the kids. Thalia was giddy with anticipation!

In April, it was the second graders' turn to show off their stuff. The theme was a Scooby Doo mystery, with Scooby Doo played by Thalia's teacher in full costume! The other second grade teachers were Velma, Daphne, Fred and Shaggy respectively and rode around in their cardboard Mystery Bus. Thalia's class performed a Star Wars-inspired number about using their Math Force. Not exactly Scooby related, I know, but it was cute. Each kid wore a Jedi math t-shirt and carried bubble wand 'light sabers' from Wal-mart. Sadly, Thalia's leaked before the show even started, thanks to a very annoying boy who cracked a hole in her saber. Stupid boys.

Carys and I had really bad seats for this show, which was moved from the spacious outdoor ampitheater to the unbelievably crowded, noisy gym at last minute due to unrelenting rain. It was almost impossible to see Thalia, much less take a good video or photos of their routine. But I did manage to capture some of the Scooby-licious action:

Carys, Thalia and second grade friends use the Math Force!

All papers: 'Seventies Free Pea Kit' by Tia Bennett for Two Peas in a Bucket;Embellishments (some recolored): Creative Memories 'Sewing Room', 'Delight' and 'Discover' Digital Embellishments kits, Creative Memories Freebies and 'Cottage Garden' kit, 'Seventies Free Pea Kit' by Tia Bennett for Two Peas in a Bucket;Fonts: Croobie by Font-a-Licious Fonts, LMS Scooby Doo by London Stokes.


Photo of the Week: Bluebonnet Beauties

Well I guess you never do get caught up, do you? I feel like my life has been ever-so-slightly out of control since I bounced back from my surgery and recovery. Too much going on all the time! And no time to blog. So my attempts at "catching up" with our blog will be feeble at best, but here we go!

It's been over a month since my last post here and almost as long on my other blogs. Fortunately, today is 'Photo of the Week' day, and I do have some stunningly lovely pics to share!

These are just a handful of the dozens and dozens of pics we took at San Antonio Ranch in Helotes. I discovered their amazing field of bluebonnets while driving further out on Highway 16 a few weeks ago, and couldn't get it out of my mind. It's probably the largest field we've been to. The girls had a blast jumping and skipping through bluebonnets. (Thalia consciously tried not to trample any, Carys not so much.)

We haven't taken any proper bluebonnet photos since 2007 due to the lack of good wildflowers on the highways and byways recently. But this year did not disappoint! It's been so nice to drink in patches of bluebonnets as we drive around town each day, some large, some small. I also love seeing the random single bluebonnet proudly growing in the oddest of places. It's the solitary ones that seem the bluest of blue.

Bluebonnet season always reminds me of one of my favorite Indigo Girls songs, Southland in the Springtime. I've quoted it before, but here it is again, with the hope that everyone reading it gets to enjoy their own moment among the bluebonnets as well:

Maybe we'll make Texas by the morning
Light the bayou with our tail lights in the night
800 miles to El Paso from the state line
And we never have the money for the flight
I'm in the back seat sleepy from the travel
Played our hearts out all night long in New Orleans
I'm dirty from the diesel fumes, drinking coffee black
When the first breath of Texas comes in clean
And there's something 'bout the Southland in the springtime
Where the waters flow with confidence and reason
Though I miss her when I'm gone it won't ever be too long
Till I'm home again to spend my favorite season
When God made me born a Yankee he was teasin'
There's no place like home and none more pleasin'
Than the Southland in the springtime

Happy Spring, Y'all!

Thalia: Layout: Creative Memories 'Just White Gallery' #7; Background: Bluebonnet photo by Melissa Tarun; Embellishments (some recolored): Creative Memories 'Digital Variety' kit, 'Disney Hannah Montana' kit, 'Beautiful Day' Additions kit; Fonts: Geometric Slabserif 703 Light BT by Bitstream Inc.

Carys: Layout: Creative Memories 'Just White Gallery' #14; Background: Bluebonnet photo by Melissa Tarun; Embellishments (some recolored): Creative Memories 'Earthy Serenity Overlays'' kit, 'Disney Hannah Montana' kit; Fonts: Geometric Slabserif 703 Light BT by Bitstream Inc.


This Week Last Year: March 7, 2009

I started this two nights ago, but was toooooo tired after creating an ice skating cake for a client, so now I'm catching up! In fact, blogging has been kind of scarce this week. Very busy with my regular life now that I'm no longer recuperating from surgery!

I returned to driving this week, since my Mom went back home, and have been running errands all over the place. Buying groceries, post office runs, trips to the bank, hair appointments, Girl Scout meetings, volunteering at school and other things that I didn't get to do as much of in February.

A year ago, Saturday the 7th of March, was the beginning of Spring Break week for us. We were in an even more festive mood due to my birthday being the next day and the Jewish holiday of Purim two days after that, which the girls always celebrated at their pre-school. So we got in the celebratory mood by making Hamantaschen cookies for Purim! I already posted a recipe on Sweetest Whimsy's Sweet Spot blog as well as photos, but wanted to remember the evening once more:

Layout scraplifted from 'Bubbles in the Backyard' by Laurel Lakey on Scrap Girls.
Paper: Scrap Girls 'Sugar Baby' by Brandy Murry.
Embellishments: Scrap Girls 'Sugar Baby' by Brandy Murry, Peppermint Creative 'Hannukah Funnukah'.
Fonts: CK Journaling by Porch Swing Publishing, Inc.


Stuff We Like: Eggs Benedict

Today was a busy, busy, busy day, and therefore, I'm half-asleep and it's only midnight! My Mom went home over the weekend, and I've been back to my 'regularly scheduled program' since Monday. The break was nice while it lasted, although a tad bit boring, and real life is hitting me harder than usual this week.

I've been online shopping since my surgery from the confines of my couch and bed, so believe it or not, I'm kind of 'shopped out' right now. Today is usually my chance to prattle on about retail love, but I'm not feeling it. No love. hahaha

Anyway, Thalia discovered something she loves, loves, loves this past weekend when we were in Dallas. And if you know Thalia, if she's enamored of anything, it probably has something to do with food! (This is the girl who admits that her favorite part of her school day is lunch.) Thalia loves Eggs Benedict!

I can't remember the first time I tasted Eggs Benedict, but I know for sure I was an adult when I did. Thalia ordered off the adult menu the other day at a brunch shower at Breadwinners for my godsister Ruby, hosted by me and her sister. When she asked me what it was, I said, "Well, it has two eggs, sunny side up, bread, ham and a really yummy buttery sauce." Her eyes and her mouth said "Yum! I'll have that."

And have it she did. She devoured it. She even used her home fries to sop up every last bit of the hollandaise sauce left on her plate. Wow.

Eggs Benedict is one of those things that I always try to order if I'm at brunch, because it's just too much trouble to make it at home. I have made a fairly ok hollandaise sauce from a mix at home, and my kids have eaten it, so Thalia was slightly familiar with the taste of it already. But it's a sybaritic pleasure to have Eggs Benedict, in any and all of its many variations, made just for you. (My personal favorite is the Beef Tenderloin Benedict at Chez Zee in Austin.)

I'm really happy that my oldest child has a taste for the good stuff at an early age. The funny thing was, we ate out again the next day for brunch, and guess what she wanted to order?!

Pic from Google Images


FoodieLicious: Lasagna Soup

Today's recipe is what our family ate for dinner tonight! I loved this soup that my friend Amy made for us almost exactly a year ago when we visited her, asked for the recipe and have made it many, many times since then. It's a Paula Deen soup based on the yummy flavors of lasagna, and is just as much a comfort food as it's original counterpart. In the past twelve months, I've "made it my own" by adding my favorite vegetables and additional flavors. Some of the changes to the recipe were made by Amy, so she gets credit for tweaking as well. As is, the recipe is great, and with additions, the recipe is awesome!

Original Recipe: Paula Deen's Tastes Like Lasagna Soup
(from Food Network via my friend Amy)

1 pound ground chuck
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon firmly packed brown sugar
1 (32-ounce) box chicken broth
2 (14.5-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups broken lasagna noodles
1 (5-ounce) package grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

In a large Dutch oven, combine ground chuck, onion, bell pepper and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until beef is browned and crumbles. Drain well.

Stir in thyme, brown sugar, broth, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.

Add noodles, and simmer until noodles are tender.

Stir in Parmesan cheese.

Preheat broiler. Ladle soup into 8 to 10 ovenproof bowls. Evenly sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Broil soups, 6-inches from heat, 3 to 4 minutes, until cheese is browned and bubbly. Serve immediately.

My Notes: I have used ground beef, ground turkey and today, frozen pre-cooked meatballs cut into quarters. I have added yellow squash, mushrooms and spinach, which are all vegetables that have gone into my regular lasagna recipes. I have also used wide egg noodles, about half a package, instead of crumbled lasagna noodles. I think Paula would approve of the changes. Delish!

Pic from Paula Deen's website


Photo of the Week: Princess Day

Monday was 'Princess Day' at Carys's dance/gymnastics class. She went to class dressed as Tinkerbell! We only remembered 15 minutes before it was time to leave for class that it was a dress-up day, so I very, very quickly put her hair up in a Tink bun! She even carried her Tink wand.

The class played games inspired by the Disney movie, Enchanted, in celebration of 'Princess Day.' They also danced like princesses. Several of the girls forgot it was dress-up day, which only made Carys look that much cuter, I thought. But all of the girls enjoyed being princesses for a day.

Layout sketch: Creative Memories 'Decorative Click & Fill' pages;
All papers, embellishments, word art: Creative Memories 'Bright Blooms' Digital Kit, 'Delight Tea Party' Digital Additions Kit, 'Disney Princess' Digital Additions Kit; Font: Creating Keepsakes Journaling by Porch Swing Publishing, Inc.


Our Best Mom Intentions

Last week's 'Mom Moment' was about my guilt about missing Carys's first and only kindergarten field trip. This week's 'Mom Moment' is a shout out to a recent post on our recently-met-distant-relatives' blog post about Mom-guilt and doing the opposite of what you intend to do as a Mom. I could totally relate to it. Your best Mom intentions being dashed in an instant, and the residual guilt that goes along with that.

The Hinkleys live waaaay further northeast of us (where it snows) and have recently started a new family blog, Did You Remember Your Pill Today? It's very "slice of life." Love it.

We met the Hinkley family last summer during our vacation at Dylan's aunt's home in Washington, DC. Dylan and John are second-half-cousins. (I think that's right; we figured out their Moms are half-cousins.) So now Thalia and Carys have three new-to-them third-half-cousins, whose adventures we can follow on their blog!

The Hinkleys and Stogsdills girl bonding over Rock Band!

Ian, the soloist, and his band, Carys and Thalia.

They love the Wii.



Penny Pinching, Party Planning

I usually start planning my kids' spring birthday parties right after New Year; I love planning kids' parties. However, this year, I have been slightly preoccupied with my health concerns and not focused as much attention on the details of each girl's party. And believe me, each girl definitely has a million and one ideas about their party!

We narrowed down each of their parties to a single theme, instead of the multi-themed endless party that went something like this: mini-golf/mall scavenger hunt/gymnastics/pizza/sleepover party. Yeah, sure. Once we've got the theme down, I don't let them change it, because then I start buying stuff!

My general rule is to try to get as much of the party decor and supplies on sale or with a discount, but that isn't always possible. However, we really lucked out last month with Thalia's party theme! She literally made her final decision about what kind of party she wanted to have while we were driving in the car on the way to Michael's for science project supplies. Fifteen minutes later, we found an entire bin of 50% off party supplies with her exact theme! What luck! Even she was excited. We scored some party plates, napkins, cake candles, stickers and coordinating thank you notes. I'm not allowed to divulge the theme yet, but everything matched perfectly. And did I mention that the the party stuff was originally $1 each? I spent very little money. Hooray for Michael's!

I hurried into HEB the other day for juice and ended up walking down the party aisle on my way to the checkout. Here, the party decorations for Carys's chosen party theme were also on sale! They were about 25% off, not as good as Thalia's find, but since I was already there, I went ahead and stocked up on plates, napkins, party game and treat bags. All matchy-matchy, just how she likes it. We didn't get everything we needed for each party, but this is where I'll fill in with more stuff from places like the dollar store that will coordinate nicely.

Each year I set a ridiculously low price goal for certain things like party favors. This forces us to be creative and not just buy expensive plastic junk to fill a party bag. For example, we've burned CDs with music that matches the party theme, such as Big Top Circus, Kiddie Western, Disney Princess (several times over), Candy Classics, Storytime, etc. A really easy party favor for literally pennies! And we've gotten so many rave reviews about the 'party mix' I do for each theme that some friends have even requested extra copies.

Party Mix CDs for pennies each

We've also trawled the $1 aisles at Target and Michael's when they go on sale. Last year for Thalia's 'Hollywood' party, we picked up High School Musical notebook diaries and pen necklaces for 50 and 25 cents each respectively. And they were actually useful too! For her Western Roundup party, I found mini board book sets in the $1 aisle marked down to 80 cents each. Books are always a welcome treat.

The guests made one of their party favors at Carys's 'Little Mermaid Under the Sea' party last year. I bought extra large popsicle sticks, something like 300 of them for $4, and made them into frames (hello, glue gun!) for the guests to decorate with sea-themed stickers and take home. A great party activity and soooo inexpensive!

50 cookie cutters, only 11 cents apiece

Coupons also come in really handy when party planning. I bought a set of 50 animal-shaped cookie cutters for Carys's 'Little Mermaid' party for only $5.40 using a Michael's coupon. We picked out all the sea animals and gave them as favors along with mini Play-Dohs, bought post-Valentine's Day for 50% off. The deals never end!

Since I've been 'resting' for the past two weeks and doing much online shopping, I've ordered several party activities and favors that were deeply discounted and free shipping. We haven't nailed down all the party details yet, but at least we've got some smashing decorations and favors ready to go!


FoodieLicious: Good Gravy!

The gravy boat I wish I had registered for at our wedding

Some things just taste better with gravy. Thalia and Carys have fallen in love with gravy after eating it at school on mashed potatoes and at restaurants with their chicken strips or turkey. So recently I decided to start making it at home. (Note: I did not grow up eating gravy.) I think I have perfected cream gravy in the eyes of my kids! I make a small amount, just enough for the four of us, and they are just so happy. It's such a thrill that they can get so excited about little things like . . . gravy.

Today's dinner was roasted chicken (courtesy of my Mom), salad and mashed potatoes with my good gravy! It takes very little time to make this gravy from scratch, which is a plus. Here is the recipe, which I've been tinkering with for a few weeks:

Good Cream Gravy

2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. powdered chicken stock base (I use a Kosher brand)
garlic salt, about 1/4 tsp.
  1. Melt butter in a saucepan on medium heat. Stir in flour and garlic salt. Cook for about 2 minutes, to avoid that "raw flour" taste, stirring constantly until mixture is smooth.
  2. Whisk in the water and milk. Add stock. Heat to boiling. Boil and stir for 1 minute.
  3. Serve immediately.
Notes: You could also add freshly ground black pepper, but I don't because the girls don't like the "black stuff". You can use whole or skim milk, whatever you have.


This Week Last Year: February 21, 2009

Today my Mom noted that one of our tulip trees in front of our house was already blooming, well ahead of spring. We have two tulip trees, each with distinctly different flowers. The larger tulip tree is named the Thalia Tree, and the smaller is named the Carys Tree (how appropriate). Both were planted by my parents in honor of each of our daughters--Thalia's when we moved to San Antonio, and Carys's when she was born.

Exactly a year ago, both trees were already blooming due to the mild winter and early spring weather. Although we've had a more 'wintry' winter this year, the Thalia Tree is already showing us signs of spring!

Last year we admired the beautiful pink blooms of the Thalia Tree so much that we took many photos, after returning home from a birthday party. Thalia was very proud to pose in front of "her" tree.

LAYOUT CREDIT:Layout scraplifted from 'Princess Party' by Melissa Renfro on Scrap Girls; All papers: Creative Memories 'Blush Blooms' Digital Kit; Embellisments (some recolored): Creative Memories 'Blush Blooms', 'Calendar Cottage Garden' and 'Baby Love' kits; Font: Creative Memories 'Blush Blooms' Alpha Set, Blackadder ITC by International Typeface Corportation


Photo of the Week: Flowers

I've been so blessed in the past weeks with phone calls, messages and cards filled with well wishes from friends and family. But I was completely blown away when flowers started arriving at my door when I got home last week! (Unfortunately, I couldn't actually get up to answer the door myself, so some were left on my porch!)

I love flowers but rarely have fresh arrangements in my home. I was so touched to receive these beautiful blooms, which went a long way in cheering me up:

What a luxury! So many lovely flowers in front of me at once. I arranged them on my living room coffee table so I can drink them in all day while hanging out on my couch.

The other day, I even entertained myself by taking macro pics of some of them:

So thank you from the bottom of my heart to Mom & Dad, Thalia & Carys, Rachel, Jayshree, the Landruses and the Joshis for such a feast for the eyes, and indeed, making me feel so much better!