My Christmas Loot

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hello friends!!! How have you all been? I hope the holidays have treated you well. Based on those of you who I am connected to virtually (and know in real life) they have been quite wonderful. (Except for my one friend who had the flu, along with her family. I hope y’all are recovering nicely!)

I am incredibly blessed to have shared multiple holiday gatherings with many of our friends and family. If you are like me, you are curious about what someone may have received. I always wonder, especially when people make their holiday gift guides public or their wish lists public…how much of that stuff do they actually get? And what are some of the other things they get that might have been a surprise? Well, I will share with you those things here.

Soiree #1 was spent with my side of the family. We were so excited that my grandmother and aunt were able to celebrate with us, along with my siblings, parents, and my new brother-in-law, and nephew and niece. Whoa! Here is our tiny tree decorated with all of the lovely holiday cards from friends all over (and a few of the leftover ornaments we used in our holiday photo shoots for our photography business). It’s a 4.5 foot pre-lit artificial tree (because I’m allergic to the real stuff) bought 2 years ago for like $15 at the after Christmas sale. Look at all of those fun packages!

We read the story of the birth of Jesus out of the Bible and then the kiddos hand out the presents. If you find the pickle in the tree, then you get to open the first gift. Technically, our Sugarbug found the pickle, but it is because she helped me hang it. ha ha ha…so we let my niece go first. Then the rest of us just tore into everything. This was all of my stack before I opened my gifts.

For those of you who don’t frequent Hallmark, that gift box is from there. It’s so fun and a festive way to wrap a gift. My sister gives me one each year and each year, I open it the “wrong” way just so I can use it again later on. On this day, I received:

  • The Help dvd
  • Socks
  • A wall plaque about the different seasons, with emphasis on football (thanks Brother)
  • A check towards the purchase of the new television we bought (yaaay…we are no longer living in the last century! After 6 years of research, we finally agreed on one)
  • A monogrammed shirt (yeah, I totally love monogrammed things and that’s a now-not-so-secret secret. I really want a pair of eggplant satin pajamas with a white monogram on them. such a dork)
  • Nail polish
  • A necklace that is also a scarf
  • A nifty cloth tape measure that actually looks like a yard stick when rolled out…initially I confused it as a belt
  • Gladiator dvd on Blu Ray (I’m totally geeking out over that one)

From friends before this celebration and after, I received:

  • lots of hugs and time spent together (most important and the best ever!!)…whoooo, December 21 was epic see pic below
  • baked goods
  • lip gloss
  • assortment of travel Bailey’s (what do you drink Bailey’s with? I’ve only ever had it in a Buttery Nipple or a Car Bomb. Straight up, maybe?)
  • money towards a Rent the Runway rental
  • gift card to Amazing Jake’s to go with the family (yaaay…an experience for all of us)
  • Vino
  • nail polish
  • votive holders (which have inspired me to really redo our bathroom)

Then, it was time for us to head North to visit my Beloved’s side of the family. His family has many celebrations, and so we geared up for our celebration marathon!

First up, we went out to the farm where he grew up and shared a lovely meal. While there, the girls opened a few gifts, we shared quite a bit of laughs and stories, and Mari had her first ever EME (earth to moon to earth) communication, also known as a moon bounce. It was so awesome. Her grandpa is really into radio communication and all sorts of electronic gadgetry!

Then, the next day we headed out to her Gigi Skip’s home. I didn’t get an image of the tree or gifts there, but I did get a picture of them with their Gigi (great-grandmother…the gg comes from that).

This celebration was my first foray into drawing names. So I’m new to all of this and was completely unaware of how it worked. I did like it, though! It was nice to get a large gift for one person instead of stressing out, worrying about gifts for everyone. Next year, I know about the $5 gift we can give to everyone else, too! I like that idea a whole lot. While here, I received:

  • Cash (which will either go towards new shoes or a blow-out)
  • a gift card to Athleta (huzzah…hello new running tights!)
  • A lovely picture frame
  • another frame with a photo of the women from that side of the family (so nice!)
  • a mobile for hanging photos (so excited to hang this in my craft space!)
  • a Hallmark text band
  • a mix for fancy dip

I forgot to mention that we took our annual trip to the mall for the girls to visit Santa. The Sugarbaby was not at all a fan of Santa. The Sugarbean proudly walked up to him, sat on his lap and listed out her requests and those of her sister’s. Then waved for her sister to join so they could snap a pic together. This is the best of what we got.

The next celebration, we went to Don’s recently departed grandmother, the girl’s other Gigi. There, we were able to spend lots more time with even more extended family. There I received the gift of time from family. We also received an amazing meal!! Even though it had been less than a month since we’d last seen everyone and the mood was still a bit somber, it was still very nice to see everyone’s smiling faces and witnessing the great grand children…cousins…playing with one another.  Reminded me of when we were growing up and we got to see our cousins. It made me gleefully excited at the thought of the girls’ Quinceanera celebrations in 10+ years. (Yes, I know I’m already thinking ahead. whatever, I like to plan.)

Finally, it was Christmas morning and we celebrated our last Christmas with my mother-in-law. Here is what our tree looked like (the pink gifts up front are from Santa, along with the baby stroller):

Here is a pic of my opened loot:

Going clockwise from the bottom left:

  • Aprons that I have inherited from my recently deceased Grandmother-in-law. The top one actually belonging to her mother. I was MORE THAN honored to have received these as a gift! So humbling, especially after I was told that she didn’t hardly have aprons since she didn’t wear them much and they are now mine. Wow!
  • Solmate socks (from my Beloved a surprise gift b/c we weren’t supposed to exchange anything! stinker!)
  • Starbucks gift card
  • Fleur de Sol coffee from PT coffee roasters and jam
  • The Help dvd on Blu-Ray (the trouble with adding it to a global list that you share with everyone, is that you run the risk of getting multiples of the same thing)
  • Handmade candles, soaps (enough for 2 years!), and baskets from my sister-in-law (I LOOOVE that soap!)
  • A sock loom to make my own socks!
  • Cookie stampers
  • TTU pasta…I can’t tell you how utterly happy I am about this. My birthday party this next year will be Texas Tech themed and I can’t wait to enjoy these.
  • Sticky notes set (yes! I go through one of these a year)
  • Rolling stamps
  • Hour-long massage for two! (another of the surprise gifts from my Beloved. so excited about our couples massage date)
  • Cozy toe socks
  • And a baking cookbook to enjoy with my girls

There you have it. We still have our stockings to look through, but we don’t “open” them until Epiphany or 3 Kings Day. Whew, no wonder I’m tired! Goodness gracious, such good times!

Now it is your turn…feel free to brag away and let me know some of the surprises you received. (notice I didn’t at all mention any of the things I bought myself, ha ha ha)

Brown Girls Do Ballet

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

When I first received notification about the Brown Girls Do Ballet project, I was immediately intrigued and knew I wanted to be involved. You see, I ADORED dance when I was growing up. I was so fortunate to have had the one session devoted to ballet when I was 4. As with most things, both my sister and I were enrolled at the time. Sam wasn't an enthusiast and would rather be out on a field, a gym floor, or whatever, than prancing around in a tutu. So went my career in dance, until I became a cheerleader in middle school. Even then, it wasn't ballet, but rather hip-hop/modern type routines (think Paula Abdul moves, not the professional cheerleaders of today).

Last year, my Sugarbean was old enough to participate in ballet, so I enrolled her. She was in an hour long class that divided its time between ballet and tap. She LOATHED tap. Ballet, on the other hand, really struck something within her. Immediately, I scoured the Internets and pinned many ballet items to a board solely devoted to dancing. Luckily for us, her recital was focused on ballet, rather than tap, so she was able to prance around in her costume and perform for us. I loved it and by the look on her face, so did she. This year, we switched to an all ballet class at a different conservatory. This change led to a different approach to her ballet education in that it appeared more serious and concentrated, but still every bit as much fun. Even more so, considering we didn't have to worry about some of the other obstacles we'd encountered before. My only complaint was that there wasn't as much ethnic diversity in this class as we'd had in the other school. I brushed it aside, until about a month ago she came back to me from class asking specifics about her differences in skin color and hair compared to the other girls.

I considered it quite fortuitous and not hardly a coincidence that this project, Brown Girls Do Ballet, presented itself. The project is:
A photo project by TaKiyah Wallace highlighting under represented populations of girls in the genre of ballet ages 3-18.
While my girls are half Hispanic and half white, I very much embrace their "brownness" and try to teach them all about our culture. They must know where they come from to get to where they are going. This isn't to say we exclude them from other cultures by any means. Our friends are like the UN, a melting pot of varying cultures and ethnicity, with every shade of skin imaginable and every hair type imaginable. We do our best to try to instill in them the value of the person that is found from within and to not only focus on what we see. Celebrating differences is a a great thing!

As I searched online for examples of brown/ethnic dancers, it occurred to me that traditional ballet dancers bodies are long, lithe, and strong. Great strong bodies. All have the hair tightly pulled back. I submitted a headshot of my gal to the photographer hoping she would be considered. I was thrilled when she told me she had been accepted. TaKiyah requested that the girls come to the shoot with their hair down. The rest, she let happen naturally. Since my little gal has been in front of a camera since before she was born, she totally hammed it up for the camera. I'm over the moon by the outtakes she posted on her Instagram (I hope she posts a couple of snaps she caught of the Sugarbaby, too!):

If you are in Texas, I highly encourage you to check it out to see if you can be part of this neat project. Here is the information:

Regardless, I encourage you to follow along this journey. Check out the Facebook page and follow on along on Instagram and Twitter as well! Thank you for the opportunity, TaKiyah and good luck!

Gluten Free Cooking: Trader Joe's Corn Pasta

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's no secret that we have shifted our eating adventures to be more Gluten Free and not just for my Beloved.  Instead of just inhaling salad all every few hours, we had to come up with something with a bit more substance. Seriously, the boy has lost about 30 pounds with all of this. He was ok to lose maybe 15, but yeah. And since the part-time job has required more physical activity of him, he is looking shredded and strong! I would guess he is nearing the low body fat % and weight he was when I met him. Lean and mean, that one and I'm not really complaining. I'm enjoying it, plus, it is motivating me to get it in gear. daydreaming....ahhhh...wait, what? Oh right...

C'mon, I'll admit that I've been a slacker in the researching different foods department. My don't want gluten, cool, lettuce. Lettuce doesn't have it. And eggs! Eggs don't have it! and wine! Yeah, wine. Basically, that's been the go-to meal for the past, hmmm...oh, several weeks. If you follow me on instagram, then you knew I'd been blowing it up with food images for a long while. And then, our food images came to a stall because well, there's only so much lettuce (and eggs or Chipotle) I can post. (Except for coffee. Oh man, coffee is like the supermodel of instagram. I can't get enough of the coffee pics! Now I want some coffee.)

Anyway, I sat myself down and said, "Hello Bianca! Duh, go to Trader Joes's because they are bound to have some thing that will give you a jump start. Take the reins and make it happen." And I did just that. (By the way, ol' Wal-mart has even stepped up and has a 4x4 foot space of Gluten free goodies!) I found this awesome Corn Pasta where the ingredients were corn flour (clour??) and water. That's pretty basic right there, so why not.

I prepared it as normal, cooking it only slightly longer than regular pasta. No, that had nothing to do with the fact that I had to go and separate my girls from one another because they were in the background wreaking havoc in the living room and the baby was some how naked from the waist down yelling she had to use the potty and I was praying I didn't find a surprise! Not at all. When did she learn to take off her diaper??

As I poured the pasta into the colander, I thought, hmmm...smells like corn. Obviously, right? But then it looked quite tasty! It felt like pasta. It had every single property of it, except semolina flour, there was corn flour. Amazing!

I topped it with some of our homemade marinara. Don actually makes it! He starts with the San Marzano tomatoes we canned from this summer. Adds some carrots, herbs, and what not. Then, will add some yummy sauteed mushrooms and Kosher salt. It's delish! If you want the recipe for that, I could post it, too...if he shares it. (he he he)

Anyway, this was a win! Great flavor and texture. Decently priced at $1.29 a bag. It comes in spaghetti and penne shapes. We all enjoyed it. Best of all, it is gluten free and he wasn't starving an hour after eating it!!

Over dinner, he and I were discussing how we can spin it into a Mexican themed dish. Enchilada flavored lasagna (mind blown!!) or taco spaghetti. We also thought, maybe we could make our own corn pasta, too! If you have a Trader Joe's nearby and you need some gluten free pasta, and want to try something other than what you have been doing, check this stuff out. While there, get yourself some 3-buck Chuck red table wine, too. You can never have too much wine, right?

Hello Bianca's 2012 Holiday Gift Guide

Friday, December 7, 2012

After reading some tweets and talking with friends, I decided I'd come up with my own gift guide for things I'm interested in gifting or would like to receive. The following items don't even begin to encompass the things I've thought about, but anyway, without further ado...

I have a lot of friends that love coffee. I'm not talking regular coffee, although, there's nothing wrong with some Dunkin' Donuts amiright? These friends of mine are all about the chemical reactions when it comes to the beans, the water...I swear they are practicing high levels of alchemy in their unknown basements. Anyway, I've fallen into the coffee lovin' spell. I'm so entranced when I see baristas use the Chemex carafe drip coffee maker. It's a thing of beauty, I tell ya! $35+

Obviously, if you are gonna give a drip coffee maker, you should give coffee. Well, some of our loved ones will be receiving coffee. Me personally, I like Cuvee Mezzanotte (starting at $13), Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters (starting at $16), Dunkin Donuts...don't judge ($7), and Cafe Britt (starting at 10).
Last year, one of my friends introduced me to Fracture. I'd been wanting to try them out for a while and well, I took the plunge and I am not disappointed. High quality and a really unique gift! 

Very few people aren't a fan of wine or champagne. If they aren't, a craft beer or a specialty spirit may be on their list. Some of the best moments began with glassware clinking to sincere words that were spoken. $15+

Land's End Medium Totes. I received a bag like this when I started my job 5 years ago and let me tell you, this bag is phenomenal and so versatile. I use it for any trip whatsoever. Sturdy, spacious, open, and perfect for me. I'm definitely going to share the love this year and gift it to some of my most special people, filled with their favorite things. $25.50

Make a memory with a loved one. After all, we aren't guaranteed tomorrow. I don't know if you have those friends that you hardly get to spend time with, but they are so very close to you. You know what i'm talking about, right? Well, most of my closest friends are this way. For this reason, concert tickets/movie tickets are guaranteed a date night to spend time with that precious loved one. Focus less time on the actual gift and more time on the gift of your presence! $100+ for concert tickets for two, $20+ for movie tickets

Since my girls don't get online, I feel it is ok for me to share a couple of the things we will give them this year. 

To foster imagination, we bought CitiBlocs for the girls. Already, they like to build things, so I can only imagine all of the wonderful structures they will come up with! $100+
Both of my girls are girly girls. They adore dresses and getting dressed up. Party dresses are essential in our home and not just around this time. $27.99+

Additionally, the Sugarbean will receive a certificate for a family date night out of her choosing. $50+ cost for the whole family.

And now, here is the point where my husband has really made a request for ideas. Yeah, I've added items to my Pinterest board, but when I look at it, some of the things I already have, some of them are things that I only want to dream of having and not really have, and other things...well, I just don't know, they are there just because I think they are pretty. 

Also, I was talking with my buddy and gave him advice that I will share with you: Give a gal you like something comfortable and something that makes her feel sexy. Something comfortable so she can cuddle up on days where she isn't feeling it. A thing that is cozy and like a hug. Something that makes her feel sexy because well, having that extra pep in our step goes a long way. Doesn't have to be extravagant, either. Just little happies that let her know you've thought of her. 

First up, shoes! Imelda Marcos, eat your heart out! ha ha can change a day in a matter of seconds. The best part about shoes, it does not matter your size above the ankle, more often than not, they will fit your feet. When I was crazy pregnant, knocking on 230 lbs, I would go into my closet, pull out a pair of pretty shoes, lay on my bed and wrangle them on my feet. I didn't dare walk on them much, but boy did they make me feel great (albeit a much tighter squeeze, but still). DSW gift card so I can shop and browse and find a nice pair of clicker/clacker shoes. $25+
Again with the Land's End, I know, but whatevs. Last year, my Beloved bought me a pair of these lounge pants and holy wow, do I love them!! The only problem...they are too big. Doesn't matter, I'll still wear 'em saggy. They are so comfortable and immediately when I get home from work, I put a pair of these on and feel great! $50
Solmate socks! Yes, maybe I have a foot obsession. I love socks. Like almost more than I love shoes, even. These socks by Solmate are divine. I don't own a pair, yet. My Instagram friend turned me on to them in a photo she snapped and posted. Immediately, I was in love. These are amazing!! $20 a pair
Back to shoes, I know, I know. Who doesn't love a product with a social cause? I love their basic shoes, even though I don't wear them all-the-time like some people I know. When I saw these wool wedges, I thought, wow, what a wonderful shoe for the winter. Not necessarily the boots that I need (because, yeah, I don't own one pair of boots!! Ok, that's a small lie. I own a pair of white vinyl go-go boots, but that's more of a costume and not for everyday wear. What? You don't have your own pair of vinyl shoes in your closet for costume parties? Well you should! Point taken, I need a pair of real boots. Noted.) Anyway, I love these! $89

Finally, a gift coaster to The Drybar. Nothing makes me feel sexier than a good blow-out! When my hair is fabulous, watch out world, because this girl is on fi--yah!! (Alicia Keys reference. By the way, if you've not checked out her new album, Girl on Fire you totally need to because it's awesome!) $35+ per blowout
To quench my inner geek with gadgetry, I could totally go for one of these stylus pens. Sometimes I want to write with a pen instead of my finger and this would be fantastic! Especially when I write my lists on the go in Evernote! $3+

Voluspa candles are amazing. Not only that, but their subtle and pleasant fragrances make a room feel better, less congested. They are more expensive than some other candles, but they are worth the splurge! $9 for a votive that has 25 hours of burn

There you have it! What other ideas do y'all have or what is on your wishlist? Happy Shopping! Oh, and if you need superb ideas for wrapping, check out my friend Rebecca's "Pimp Yo' Presents Inspiration Week" over at Older and Wisor.

Running and Holiday Lights

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

It's been unseasonably warm here, like, I'm so glad I'm lazy because I still have my Summer clothes out, type of warm. It has been incredibly difficult to get into the "spirit" of things in the absence of the cooler winds. And instead of wallowing in the absence of what I expect, we decided to enjoy least for the limited remaining days it is here.

Every year, unplanned, we will take a detour on our way home and snake our way through the neighborhood to oooh and aaaah at all of the pretty lights. A couple of years, we were lucky enough to have some hot chocolate with us to sip on while we looked at the lights.

This year, however, we strapped the girls in the jogging stroller and took advantage of the early dark hours. We aimed for a 5K, but would be happy with 2 miles. Off we ran, snaking the neighborhood and looking at all of the pretty lights.

During this run, I discovered that one of my favorite pairs of running shorts were falling off of me. Like, holy moly, I'm about to have a serious wardrobe malfunction up in here. Why? Well, those of you who are runners already know this. For the rest of you, most running shorts are made with built-in underwear. Therefore, you don't need to wear another pair. In fact, if you are a runner, you are probably logging several miles regularly and the added underwear will more likely cause chafing in unmentionable places. It's a runner thing. Same as with body glide, peeing on yourself, pooping in the bushes...runners are dirty folks, but it doesn't mean they are all nasty. Some of us carry biodegradable toilet paper and are never far from a cleaning towel, antibacterial sanitizer, and a change of shorts. Wow, that was a tangent! Anyway, like I said, shorts falling off.

I was so pre-occupied with my shorts, that I was unable to find my rhythm. My little running playlist was putting its best food forward to motivate me, but I was so paranoid with my clothes. And then there were the pretty, pretty lights!

Probably my favorite one of the run was this one:

After all, He is the reason for this season. It warmed my heart to see that. 

Then, it was time to get the show on the road and get our workout really on. I'd finally finagled my shorts so they would stay put. We were about to kick it up a notch, when we had to cross a kinda busy residential street to get to the really busy street. The sidewalks down this street only exist on one side. They just abruptly end 2 blocks before getting to the busier street. While crossing the street (which isn't the normal concrete in most residential neighborhoods, but rather a tough asphalt), I lost my footing on the ground and did a wonderful rendition of a skip ball chain, hop, hop, hop, twist, to forward dive. I gently tossed my phone on the ground and caught myself with my palms and the top of my chest. I tripped and ate it pretty good. 

I took a deep breath, pushed off, tucked my ear buds back in (music still playing), shook the rocks off of my hands and began to run again. My Beloved concerned for me, but not making it a big deal and continued to run. I felt the familiar burn coming with the pain. I was reminded, again of my mortality. As my legs moved, I was invigorated that I had the ability to run. I felt the burn in my palms, the blood slowly escaping my body. I also felt the burn in my chest from breathing. I felt the burn in my legs from the running. In that moment, I was deeply grateful to not only be alive, but healthy enough to run...and yes, pick myself back up to keep running.

When I got home, I cleaned off my hands and here is what my right palm looked like before I added the peroxide and bandage.

And now, with my favorite waterproof bandages, Nexcare Star Wars bandages! I'd posted on my Instagram "yoda heal me!"

The only thing about this particular bandage is that the "tattoo" portion or graphic image wears off rather quickly and then you are left with just a regular ol' waterproof bandage. It's still fun while you have it and it protects your wounds. No, they didn't pay me to say that? I wasn't even offered anything to plug these bandages, I just think they are nifty and next time you are buying bandages and you think, "I'm an adult and I shouldn't get fun stuff"well, I'm here to tell you that if you want a fun image on your owie-boo-boo then by golly, get what you want and splurge! Put it on there and watch how much faster you will heal! (Growing up the decorated bandages cost more money, so Mom would suggest we draw on the plain bandages if we were so bent on decoration.)

What are some of your holiday traditions?
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