Sunday, December 4, 2016

Magical and Special and Sparkly

The holiday season continues apace. We closed out last week with James's swim school holiday dinner on Friday night. He always treats all his instructors and staff to lunches throughout the year, with a big dinner at the end. This year was tough with the pool cancellation and uncertainty and then last minute find. The new location is awesome, but the gap meant some loss of clients (hopefully temporary!), which is stressful, but he'll keep putting out a great product and we're all looking forward to a big spring and summer. In the meantime, there's always Bricks and Bags!

On Saturday morning, it was time for Cora's ballet recital! Or, as she referred to it, "time to wear my Cind-Rella dress!!!".

She's been doing ballet through a local Stretch-n-Grow program. They come to her school once a week, we pay $40 a month, she gets to wear ballet shoes and dance with her friends, and I don't have to drive her anywhere during our free time - everyone is winning! Claire did the same thing, but turns out, she does not like ballet and refused to dance in two recitals and then stopped going to class without telling me so I paid for months of her non-attendance.

Cora, on the other hand, LOVES it. And her recital involves costumes! She was SO excited about the costume.

We weren't sure what would happen when we arrived, but she calmly joined her teachers in the ready room while we found a seat. She marched out with her class, allowed the microphone introduction (though refused to say her name), and then the music began and she...

...sat down and judged everyone else for being there.

For song two, she stood up! At the end of song three, she got a new spot - front row this time - and a look on her face that says, "Oh, you want me to dance? I'll show you dance."




Once she decided she wanted to dance, she wanted to DANCE.

At the end, she announced triumphantly, "I do my dance again TOMORROW!"

NYC ballet, here she comes.

Later in the day, after a big brunch and nap for our ballerina (still in her ballet shoes and tights), and creating a big kid assembly line to stamp, address, and seal up our 130 Christmas cards (if your labels are cockeyed, it's the elves' fault), we packed up to head to one of our favorite holiday traditions - the Casa Manana Children's Play! We subscribe to their Children's Series every year and the Christmas play is always a favorite. And this year, for the first time ever- Cora got to come!

And she LOVED it. She had to sit in our laps because we didn't get her a seat at the start of the series, but clapped at the end of every song and was utterly enraptured for every minute of the hour and a half show. She also rocked a giant head bow.

It was a super fun evening, finished off with the best pizza (Mellow Mushroom; the densest and chewiest of pizza doughs) picnic-style on the floor while watching Home Alone. We watch almost no TV all year until December when my beloved Christmas movies fill the screen guilt-free at every opportunity. I love a good Christmas movie. And the bad ones. I love them all.

Today dawned chilly and cloudy and after a little more Christmas movie watching, we embarked on the exciting task of taking apart and returning our new Christmas tree. Because after buying it last weekend, tetris-ing it into our car, assembling it, and fluffing it, we discovered a single strand of lights was out. And so back we all went, with the giant tree, to At Home- the worst name ever for a store I continue to call Garden Ridge because saying "I'm going to at home" sounds ridiculous, to exchange it.

The day ensued with more movies, a long nap for Cora (obviously still exhausted from all the dancing), lots of fighting with the big kids (WTF with the two of them all of a sudden; for the first time ever I'm tempted to use Santa as an incentive for good behavior except Landon's friend at school told him Santa isn't real and on Friday I got a text from Landon's teacher that he- Landon- was telling other kids Santa wasn't real and at the time I didn't even KNOW Landon knew that so we had to have a long, sad talk about adult secrets and keeping the magic alive for others; I was not ready; he was fine), and a bunch of errands for me.

I also had the most vicious headache I've had in months, to the point the pain was so bad I was nauseous, but after James took everyone to Kroger and I rubbed Aveda's blue oil on my temples, it finally started to ebb. I don't know if it was the quiet house, the oil, or the pretty powerful drugs I'd taken an hour before, but I finally didn't feel like my skull was trying to crack open -- and stopped hoping it would do it because surely then it would feel better.

So, now cured, I marched James around the house to hang up all the beautiful stuff I bought last weekend at Homegoods (there is never more romance in the air than when someone is holding a leveler and barking out questions re: anchor placement) and we ate a delicious batch of jambalaya and Red Lobster Cheddar Biscuits-from-a-Box (omg they're so good I don't even feel bad they're from a box; or that I once accidentally read the nutrition information). And THEN, after the kitchen was clean and the big kids had been grounded to their rooms to read because jesus, we got the gang back together, fired up the Raffi Holiday pandora station, put on some new Christmas jammies and decorated the tree!

The new, big tree is decked out in the finest $2.99 sets of gold and silver Christmas ornaments that At Home/Garden Ridge has to offer. As with all these new holiday traditions she's discovering, Cora took her duties VERY seriously.

The big kids helped covertly rearrange her intense groupings of similar ornaments. They may have turned on each other, but they are still firmly pro-Cora.

And because Cora was the only family member no one wanted to kill at any point during the day, she got to put the star on top of the tree. Third baby victories!

We then moved on to tree #2. It's the colorful family tree we bought on clearance at Target a few years ago and keep in the TV room. I love it. And I love having it in the room we retire to each night. So out came the mismatched and wonderful family ornaments- the kids' handiwork, the 15 "first Christmas" ornaments we have for Landon and the 0 we have for the girls. The six new princess ornaments I bought this year and the sparkly high heeled shoes that are Claire and my favorite. I love each and every one.

Again, Cora was the most dedicated, toiling away to arrange things just so. She kept climbing off her ladder to turn back on the dancing (and singing!) Santa that haunts my Christmas dreams. It was a fun night.

I'm headed to OTF in the morning, a bit of work, and then San Antonio for a 24 hour business trip. You can tell my life really changed when I joined the SEC because the big kids are flabbergasted I would be traveling "alone." "But you'll be all by yourself on the plane!" Claire cried out. "Well, no, I'll have the other passengers, honey." "Yeah, but you won't have US," a deeply concerned Claire replied. I love that they have no idea I ever used to travel. When Claire was about one I took 5 trips in a month and spent more nights in hotel rooms than my own bed. They have absolutely no idea and they are seriously worried about how I'm going to travel without them to help me and felt much better when I told them (1) I've done this before; and (2) I'm going to see all my grandparents the night before my meeting, so I'll have responsible adults around. They feel a lot better about my leaving now, but have each noted several times how weird it will be to not have me home. I'm so glad.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Happenings at Home

So we're back! We're in school and work and the pool and we've got our groove on and we're whittling down the days until Christmas break. And they are going to be some crazy days: science fair (Landon), the spelling bee (Landon), the talent show (Claire), a ballet recital (Cora), battle of the books (Landon), and a bunch of parties (everyone!). Luckily my Christmas shopping is done, my cards are on their way, and I'm genuinely looking forward to all of the above.

Except maybe the science fair project. It was due on Monday. The Monday after Thanksgiving/Mexico and that was a terrible thing, but Landon worked hard and did great and we didn't help (though I did suggest some color pairings for the board; his taste runs to the clashing) and no one cried.

And, we found out today, he got a 2nd place ribbon! Very exciting. And not just because it's the highest place you can get without having to do more work to then go on to Regionals.

Also over the weekend, Cora graduated to a new big girl bed!

Well, newish. It's an altered version of her crib and the first time we've ever stopped at a toddler bed, but I love the open space in the middle of their room and you can't fit two twins along the walls. So toddler bed it is! For as long as Cora's body fits inside, which is going to be forever because I'm renewing my pagan sacrifices to get her to stop aging.

She has freedom! It's going really well. She has yet to get out at night, but does get out each morning to go pee pee "IN THE POTTY" and not her bed, as we have struggled with for the last month because while she was totally potty trained, she was not able to climb out of her crib, and her big sister was too exhausted from being the world's most excited 1st Grader to wake up to help her. So goodbye to cribs and setting alarms to help Cora pee, and hello to dry sheets and occasionally not knowing where Cora is.

And as happens at every milestone I feel like I should be excited about, I'm really just sad I don't have any babies left to put in a crib. But I'm glad Cora's so excited.

(used to be a baby in a crib)

She's also really excited about the new lunchbox she got to debut on Monday. It's been a big few days for her.

Claire got to go to the TCU tree lighting ceremony on Tuesday night with a friend and then met up with another friend.

Friend #1 took her from Science Night and then Landon went home with another friend so a tired Cora and I got to go home early. This small town city life thing is just the best.

Also this weekend, I decorated the house for Christmas!

And then went to At Home, Michaels, and Homegods and bought a bunch of new decorations to add to the festive look of the house for Christmas! I just love it.

I've promised myself that next year I won't need to buy a single thing.

And that might even be right because I FINALLY found something to put over the mantle. We don't have many shelves or surfaces to decorate, something I normally love, but I like a little oomph at the holidays and switching out our art makes an impact. Plus there's a hole in the wall over the mantle because the last owners had a TV mounted there, so I need something solid to cover it.

I accidentally found a few other things at Homegoods too, like the perfect print for the girls' bathroom wall and a small picture frame with a gold mirrored sunburst patttern just begging to sit on our mantle. This is why I only go every 6 months. There's always so many things that promise to make my home so beautiful.

While I was buying beautiful thing, James spent a million hours on a ladder hanging a million lights in our tree. He is justifiably proud of his work.

"Someday," he says... "Someday I'll cover the whole tree." We're only another million lights short.

Food!! After eating out every meal for 6 days, all I wanted was cozy, homey things. We had some great food on the trip- amazing ceviches, sushi, avocado on everything, and lots of french fries at the swim-up bar. So now I wanted soups and things you're never going to be able to order from roomservice. Like the best soups and our family friend's jambalaya. It's a cozy kind of week.

Saturday: Italian Sausage and Tortellini Soup, crusty bread. Delicious.
Sunday: Chicken and Wild Rice Soup. This was SO good and so much easier than the recipe I used to use.
Monday: Turkey tenderloins, mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing, sauteed green beans, rolls (with the help of Trader Joe's, we're recreating the Thanksgiving meal we missed and it was delicious, particularly the turkey. You should all go make that.)
Tuesday: Spaghetti with tomato basil sauce, wolfed down before/after Science Night at school
Wednesday: Creamy Chicken Enchilada Chili. This is SO good. Served with cilantro, lime, chips, and cheese on top. I also frequently add rice to the bottom of each bowl before ladeling the soup, mostly because James needs to consume 10,000 calories a day to avoid wasting away and there isn't enough chili for that.
Thursday: Pasta bake: homemade sauce with chicken sausage, ground beef, spinach, shredded carrot, lots of herbs and cans of diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste, simmered forever and mixed with a pound of penne, a container of ricotta cheese, and baked for 30 mins with some mozzarella on top. Basically lasagna, but you don't have to layer it.
Friday: Debbie's Jambalaya. Best recipe ever.

Also food related, these little bites of dark chocolate covered magic are BACK! When I spied them in Trader Joe's and then engaged in a FIERCE inner battle over whether to buy them, knowing I would be the only one who eats them because James is broken inside and doesn't like the combination of mint and chocolate (or mint and peanut butter; I know), Landon saw me and exclaimed, "Mom! Remember when you ate all of those in 2 days last year?"

Oh I do. This year it took me 3. With age comes wisdom and great control.

And semi-related, I'm jumping back into the workout world this week! On our trip to Mexico, inspired by the advertising of their gym and yoga classes, I packed workout clothes. I never unpacked them, but still, that I even thought about it is a significant step for me. I taught barre the day after we got back and it was as painful and wonderful as I expected it would be. As was my OTF workout the next day. It continues to shock me how much I enjoy the running. I feel so much stronger every time I get on the treadmill, it's a powerful thing.

Monday: Orangetheory
Tuesday: C2 Yoga
Wednesday: Orangetheory
Thursday: Cyclebar spin class
Friday: Teaching barre; C2 Yoga
Saturday: attending Cora's ballet recital and possibly chasing her around the stage
Sunday: C2 Yoga

And now it's 5 minutes to midnight and I need to get in bed. Work is super busy. November me made promises December me finds unreasonable. But it's good. My house is sparkly. I've eaten a tube of dark chocolate covered peppermint Oreos. And I ran 3 miles today faster than I ever have. Bring on the new month!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Maxi Dresses and Margaritas to Red Wine and Christmas Music

We got home last night. I'd typed a whole post from the hotel room yesterday morning but it got lost somewhere in the ether between Playa del Carmen and Fort Worth. So instead of typing with my feet up and mimosa in hand on the pool patio while the kids all take one last swim and James returns from a sunrise swim in the ocean with a group of Mexican masters swimmers (he always finds his tribe), I'm typing it at my kitchen table wearing all my fleece and drinking my favorite hot tea. It's not a terrible trade- I can't wait to start decorating the house for Christmas later today, but living the all-inclusive life in paradise was certainly lovely while it lasted.

When we last left off, we were in bed early (well, four of us were; I'm a night owl in all locations) to catch a 7:40 a.m. bus for our offsite excursion to Xcaret. Every Paradisus resort employee we spoke to about excursions all said "Oh go to Xcaret. You'll love it." And they were exactly right.

A 200 acre "eco-theme park," it has miles of underground rivers and caves, stunningly beautiful landscapes, Mayan ruins, tons animal sanctuaries and exhibits, aquariums, a thriving sea turtle farm, a bunch of restaurants, and also, just for something extra, a gorgeous expanse of beach with natural ocean pools and great snorkeling. It's insane. It's absolute touristy, but it gets its tourism naturally- the underground rivers, the beach, the pools, the ruins- they were all there. Xcaret just made a bunch of well manicured paths to connect everything, added a slightly incomprehensible map, and several successful animal breeding programs.

And, like the best of tourism, what they've added is actually helpful. Like, when you go to swim the underground rivers, you lock your belongings in a locker and then take your towels and shoes (and a change of clothes, if you knew what you were doing as we did not) and place them in a waterproof bag that they lock up, and then they give you the key and transport the bag to the end of the river, so when you exit at the other end of the park you can dry off and warm up! You also get fins and a life jacket and before you know if, you've walked to the beautiful pool with a river through a ravine and you know this is going to be amazing.

Unfortunately the day we arrived was chilly- in the 60's in the morning, and then it started pouring rain when we arrived. I put on a good face, but honestly, I was thinking of how lovely it would be to be sitting on my dry pool patio with a pot of tea. I hate cold water and all I could think was how cold the river was going to be and how miserable it was going to be to get in - and then how miserable it would be to get out. But since it was already pouring, we figured we might as well get wet on purpose and off to the rivers we went.

And so we did. And it was amazing.

Truly so. And because it was so chilly outside, the water felt almost warm.

It was like being in the Ozarks of Mexico, but all the caves are full of water and you swim through them instead of hike. Long stretches are almost completely pitch black and then you pop out to another lush, green, waterfall-filled oasis before swimming through another cave again.

There are openings in the roofs of the caves and warm natural springs that feed the rivers in surprising and very welcome hot spots throughout.

The kids loved it. It's so easy to forget Cora just turned 3- she's so brave and up for anything. She cheerfully held on to James's back like a little baby turtle and seemed to genuinely love every minute.

Later in the day when we asked the kids if they wanted to do another river, they jumped at the chance, and we got take another stunning tour through the underwater limestone caves and lush rivers banks. It's an extraordinary place, even without anything else.

But there is more. We swam in ocean pools, enjoyed a delicious Mexican buffet, and held a bright red macaw, among so much more.

The sea turtle farm tanks were a favorite - huge and elegant giant sea turtles swam through rivers that ran along the paths. The green sea turtles are in tanks by age, including 40-day old hatchlings and teenagers (in turtle years anyway) soon to be returned to the sea.

There were stingrays, a wonderful aquarium, and even a jellyfish tank- which, though I've been stung a number of times, I find so beautiful in their otherworldliness.

After our second swim, when we'd changed back into our still-damp clothes, it really started pouring. We were across the park and figured we might as well keep going since the first bus didn't come until 4:30 and it was only 2. We were quickly soaked to the bone, but despite it all, when we climbed onto the bus at 4:30 p.m., 8 hours after arriving at the park, after swimming more than a mile of river and walking many miles more without a stroller, umbrella, or nearly enough clothes, Cora announced "I do this again TOMORROW." The kids are such troopers and so very fun to travel with. We take them totally for granted, but we also take them on pretty fantastic trips because of it, so I think we're even.

We spent the last day of our trip frolicking in the beach, the pool, and then the beach again. Despite the awesome activities we never ended up using the kids' camp. The kids were too good and James too willing to freeze his arse off playing with them in the water.


warming back up

I helped by drinking mojitos and taking pictures from the dry patio or beach chair. Unless you're taking me through an extraordinary underground river, I've fully retired from swimming in cold water.

This was the deepest I went in and it was freezing.

The kids never seemed to mind one bit.

After our date night we picked up the kids early because we wanted to get dessert with them. When I got my little party animal, she rested her cheek on my shoulder and sighed. "Do you want to get dessert?" I asked. "No, I got night night now," she replied. So I got my gelato in a cone to go and back to the room we went. No one vacations harder than Cora.

On our last night, we took one more walk on the beach. I can't believe I'd never been to Mexico, having lived so close to it for so long. Playa del Carmen was just gorgeous and very chill and family friendly. The downtown was vibrant, but small, and we couldn't even see another resort from our own.

Our travels home went as smoothly as 10 hours of traveling can go. Our private shuttle was on time and efficient, both planes left on time, customs was pretty quick, and all our baggage made it to our final destination, but it was still a long day. As we pulled into our driveway about 7:30 p.m., Cora saw our house and cried out, "But where is my NEW house?!"

Poor thing, Fort Worth was a bit of a comedown after all the time on "her" beach and "her" pool. Other than occasionally asking about her big girl bike, she had fully adopted our hotel room as her own, stubbornly insisting all the way through packing the night before "but THIS is my house." And for a few days, it was a lovely one! But after sleeping in until 10:15 this morning and waking up surrounded by Christmas lights and Christmas books she forgot we had, her old house doesn't seem too bad.