Wednesday, December 12, 2018

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things... (also, Stitch Fix!)

(We had our Champagne & Whiskey Ugly Sweater Party this past weekend and it was everything I hoped it would be. I forgot to upload the pictures until today though so we're skipping ahead in this post and will go backwards in the next one. Then we'll go backwards even further to finish out Costa Rica and then maybe we'll live in the present? I have to admit I'm enjoying playing with the timeline...)

party preview

And so, jumping forward three days to a party on this past Tuesday night! Every year my friend Steffany hosts a Favorite Things party and it is truly one of my favorite things!

Wait first, because now the song is in my head- do you follow Randy Rainbow? I adore him and this parody on Julie Andrew's Favorite Things from The Sound of Music is GLORIOUS. (Trigger warning: if you think Donald Trump has any morals, intelligence, or integrity whatsoever and/or you think he's doing great things for the country, you... will not like this song.)

Anyway, back to the party- you bring two identical gifts, worth about $20-25 each, of something you just adore. Maybe it's a few small things, maybe it's one bigger item, but it's one of those things in the back of my mind all year- what will be my favorite thing this year? Once at the party, you draw two names. These are the people getting your gift, and you get to explain what they're getting and why. It's always a lovely combination of sweet and meaningful and practical and indulgent. And there's delicious food and beverages and a large gathering of my favorite people.

We're all moms. We're all the shoppers for all the people in our lives and generally the ones giving lists to others of what to give us. Which is fine - I LOVE buying gifts for other people and I'm happy to tell you things I want! But there's something especially special about getting two total surprise gifts, lovingly picked out by your favorite people.

This year my favorite things (the gifts I gave to others) were three:

(1) Anker 6-item charger. I LOVE this thing. We couldn't travel as a family of five without losing plugs or devices without one. One plug, 6 items, one thing to grab when you leave a hotel room or airport chair. When we're home, it lives in my room and it's where I keep Landon's's iPod touch, all the kids' kindles, and my own phone and kindle. That way I know where the kids' electronics are when they shouldn't be touching them anyway (the kindles are only allowed on vacations and road trips; we're still genuinely trying to be a very low electronic use family), and it's all neatly stacked in one spot.

(2) Super fuzzy furry socks that magically don't shed onto my feet or make them sweat. (I'm wearing a pair right now)

(3) Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe's. Forever the greatest of store-bought treats.

And I got a magical new Woodwick Fireside candle that smells amazing and snaps and crackles while it burns like a real fire (I love it), the greatest cracker seasoning mix of all time (and the special 2 gallon Ziploc bag you need to make the recipe), and Burt's Bees chapstick from one friend (love it all!), and awesome Blenders sunglasses (her fave!) from another friend. It's so fun.

Other random favorite things I've bought recently:

This necklace. My grandparents always send money for Christmas, which is so sweet and generous, and I treated myself to this beautiful necklace with my piece of it. I've been eyeing it for months; it sold out once and I was devastated, so when it popped back up I knew I had to grab it.

And then I opened it up and wore it immediately. It reminds me a bit of RBG's dissent collar.

Next up, the lipstick I discovered at my Women's Global Summit Conference. It's Beauty by Pop Sugar and I LOVE IT. I met the marketing director at the conference and told her I had a blog so she sent me a few free samples.

Little did she know, I'd already bought the Be Racy Liquid Velvet lipstick I'm wearing in "Adult-ish" in this picture because I just loved it that much, but now I have two! Color! I'm embracing it!

It's not sticky and it lasts as long as any lipstick I've found. The tinted lip balm is also awesome (I love Daydreamer, a sheer plum) that is silky and moisturizing and you can layer it to deepen the color (or not). I really really like it.

Next, Ugly Sweater Wine Bottle Covers! These are just adorable. I had prizes for the winners of our Ugly Sweater contest at the party and the female best dressed winner got a bottle of my favorite wine with one of these sweaters (the one not pictured, but you'll see it in the future party post).

Are they not the cutest?! And 3 for $10 on Amazon! Perfect for the wine gift you know you want to give this year.

And finally, not a gift I bought, but definitely one of my favorite things I've received so far this year.

This super sweet note from a student in my TCU barre class I teach every Tuesday and Thursday evening on my way home from work while the kids are at swimming. I have loved it so much this year. The classes have been so full and high-energy and it makes me work out at a time of day when I have the time and ability (all 3 kids at swimming!) but not necessarily the motivation (couch/wine/empty house waiting for me!). Plus we got huge discounts for the TCU summer camps for the kids and James gets a spouse membership to the rec center for only $10/month. It's been the best side hustle ever.

But back to the note- it was my first ever teacher's gift and her kind words and thoughtful gesture completely made my day. It reminded me how incredibly important teaching barre is to me. Those 3 hours a week I spend laughing, sweating, and yelling out the count to my students are MINE. My joy, my outlet, my selfish thing I do that has nothing to do with my family. It is something I never imagined I'd do, much less teach, but I love the high I get from each class and the relationships and friendships I've formed with my students along the way. Barre was the first thing that made my new town feel small and it continues to impact my life in so many wonderful ways.

Mostly though, in this post about buying and giving things, her note was a reminder that the best gift can sometimes just be your words. I know she felt a little awkward at the moment of handing it over to me, but it meant so much and it will be in my memory box forever as a reminder of the importance of recognizing those who bring us joy, how something small can have such an impact (I cried), and that I want to raise children who will one day write a note just like that.

I also love these leggings and my 25% instructor discount at Lululemon

And finally- on to my latest Stitch Fix box, which actually arrived the day we got back from Costa Rica but which I totally skipped blogging about. Here we go!

Stitch Fix, Round 2, Fix 2

Overall, I have to admit I was disappointed. I noted specifically in my profile that I'd bought a bunch of solid color tops and bottoms and was looking forward to getting some seasonal patterned shirts and skirts, vests, and other fun things to mix it up at work and on weekends. And then I got this. Pretty much all solid colors and fairly boring at that.

Item 1: Superfoxx Anaise Button Detail Ponte Knit Dress (Navy, Size Small) $54.

Boring, too tight, looked cheap, and the metal buttons were cold. Plus navy is one of my favorite colors and I own at least three dresses with navy, not that Stitch Fix knew that.


Item 2: Liverpool- Jacqueline Skinny Pant (Dark Purple, Size 2) $78

I didn't really need these, but they fit perfectly, are actually long enough, and are so comfortable that I couldn't help it. I feel like I'm encouraging more solid color selections in the future, but I've worn these pants 2-3x/week since I got them.


Item 3: Stella & Ruby Shai Stone Collar Necklace $38

This was pretty. I forgot to take a picture of it, but I did like it, just not enough to keep.


Item 4: Eight 18 Francie Back Detail Pullover (Black, Size Small) $44

Too tight, too short, too not able to wear it to work. (Also I own three other striped tops because stripes are my favorite.)


Item 5: 41 Hawthorn - Corinth Wool Elbow Patch Blazer (Black, Size Small) $78

This is where Stitch Fix gets to me. I never ever buy wardrobe staples like this nice black blazer- I just don't think of it, the inexpensive stores I usually shop at don't have great ones, and I'm drawn like a magpie to patterns and dresses. But I love this blazer. It's beautiful, it's breathable but substantial, and it hangs and fit perfectly. It has little grey patches on the elbows. I love it.


So, even though I was generally disappointed with my lack of flannel and fun patterns, AND I sent back 3/5 of the items, I LOVE the two items I kept and have worn them more than anything else I've bought this season. So here I am, totally going to do this again. I'll keep you posted.

(Note: the Stitch Fix links have referral codes; if you sign up, you get a credit and so do I!)

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Costa Rica Days 5 & 6: Snorkeling at Cano Island and a Lazy Day

Back to Central America we go! On the 5th day of our trip (See Days 1 & 2: Travel; Day 3: Nauyaca Falls; Day 4: Osa Canopy Tour/Catarata Uvita, for the recaps so far), we woke up early with the Howler monkeys and left the house by 6:30 to be in Uvita by 7 for our all-day snorkel adventure!

6:30 sounds early on a holiday, but the sun rises at like 4:30 and sets by 5 so we were pushing it staying awake until 8 (not even kidding; I could barely recognize myself as I was snuggled with James under our covers at 7:45, laptop closed, book half-heartedly open). And when you're asleep by 8:15, being somewhere by 7 a.m. is really no problem at all! I made tea, the kids and James had toast with peanut butter, we packed snacks and reef-safe sunscreen, a change of clothes, hats, sunglasses, and whatever else seemed necessary and off we went to Uvita!

That is Uvita Beach, also known as the Whale's Tail. It's a protected National Marine Park and we were all delighted to get a picture in front of another national park sign on our trip. (Then the kids were so disappointed that we couldn't add a push pin to our national park map at home; it literally took 5 minutes to wrap their heads the idea that it was a national park of a different nation. The solution, obviously, is to add a world map to our wall art collection.)

We checked in with Bahia Adventures, the company with which I'd booked our tour. It was by far our priciest excursion (and our worst weather; this happens on literally every vacation, from pouring rain during our waterfall adventure in Jamaica to also pouring rain during our all-day offsite excursion to Xcaret in Mexico; it's a Lag Liv family tradition), but we really wanted to SEE the Pacific and I knew I was never getting in the ocean without a reason and the rest of the trip was so much less expensive than I'd originally budgeted for (all in, 8 days for 5 people doing ALL THE THINGS in Costa Rica, cost exactly 50% of Disney; not that I regret a penny we spent at Disney, I'm just saying, literally anything else you do costs far fewer pennies) that we decided to go for it. I'm so glad we did, but you could absolutely enjoy the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica without the add-on.

After sitting down to listen to our guides (3 of them for our group of about 18), getting fitted for our fins, taking advantage of our last bit of bathroom access, and enjoying a light breakfast spread (fresh fruit everywhere!), we drove behind our guides in our car to park closer to the beach. I had everyone in our suits and rashguards (including swim tights for me because fair skin/skin cancer), and then packed our fold-up microfiber towels (SO grateful for those), sunscreen, extra snacks (always), sunglasses, and left an extra set of clothes in the car to change into when we were done. (Space was at a premium on the boat, but our one bag was perfect.) The tour group provided water (you could use one of their plastic cups or fill a water bottle; we were glad each day of the trip that we'd each brought a nice insulated water bottle from home), snacks (more fruit!!), and lunch later on one of the islands.

We walked out on the beach with our group to the boat, after passing the ranger station and watching the guide pay our fees, and passing a few signs warning us not to feed the crocodiles. It's unfortunate that Claire can now read things like that. After assuring her the crocodiles were not around often and were quite absent this morning, we flip flopped across the beach to board the boat. The sea wasn't too choppy, though the skies were grey, and it was a solid 90 minute ride out to Cano Island.

The kids were amazing. It was a long, bouncy ride, adults were puking off both sides of the boats, and each of our kids was just chilling in their little chair for the hour and a half, watching the ocean and keeping a lookout for whales and dolphins. All our group-mates were very impressed (I doubt they were originally very excited about spending an all-day snorkel excursion with three kids!), especially as our boat motor died and our trip got longer as we bobbed up and down in the sea waiting on another boat.

But eventually we made it to Cano Island and hopped in the Pacific to snorkel! We saw a reef shark, some stingrays, lots of fish, including angel fish, parrot fish, and so many other colorful varieties. The guides were great about keeping us generally together and pointing out exciting things to see. Unfortunately the sun wasn't out, so the water- though CRYSTAL clear (I was shocked to hear the coral we were seeing was actually 30 feet below us!)- was not quite as bright a scene as you often get. It was still a great experience and the kids loved seeing all sea life.

Bringing sexy back

Cora got cold and bailed early, but our captain was happy to hang out with her on the boat and Cora was thrilled to have an adult's undivided attention. After two snorkel drop-offs from the boat in different areas around the island we docked on the sand and got to explore the protected island that allows for very limited boat traffic.

It was beautiful and also covered in hermit crabs. This delighted Landon.

The girls played in the waves on the smooth sand for an hour (we were waiting on the new boat) and giggled and laughed every single time a wave crashed at their feet, while Landon built an island for his hermit crabs in the middle of a fresh water stream that flowed out to the sea from the middle of the island. Once our new boat pulled up, we piled in to head to Isla Violín, about an hour away, and even more restricted and remote than Cano. One boat is allowed per day and our tour company had the day's ticket.

Isla Violín was incredibly beautiful and incredibly remote.

We felt like we were the only people in the world while the kids played in the soft sand.

Our guides set up lunch- arroz on pollo, deli meat, a white chewy local cheese we could never get a name for ("it's cheese... from a cow.") lots of vegetables (we found every meal to be so healthy and fresh, we loved it), fruit, and fresh juice. We ate, scrubbed our plates (we never saw a disposable anything on our whole trip; again, loved it), and then played a little more. The big kids found dozens of sand dollars (everything has to stay on the island, but each discovery was exciting just the same) and I walked around with my beach baby.

Eventually we piled back in the boat around 3:00 to take the hour-long boat ride home. And the skies opened up. It poured rain. It was pretty cold. It was a long, very wet ride. The kids were SUCH troopers with nary a word of boredom or complaint and Cora took the opportunity to grab a 60-minute nap.

We were so glad to come to shore, get in our cars, change out of our wet and cold and sandy clothes (there is no better thing, except maybe taking off ski boots), and then take the short drive home to rest and stay dry.

Except lol, these are our children, so obviously they jumped right back in the pool. James did a swim workout. I didn't even put on a suit, because no way was I getting wet again, but I did make a margarita and watch everyone play while reading. After James finished his workout (his big meet is next weekend and he takes his training seriously; I take my vacations seriously and did not do anything physical unless it was connected to seeing a beautiful fish or jumping off a waterfall; we make room for each other to do what we need to do), we headed out for dinner. We'd been eating lunch out and dinner at home, but it was fun to mix it up after a long excursion day. We headed to PorQueNo?, located about 5 minutes away, with a spectacular sunset view. And pork and fried plaintain pizza (and literally everything else we ordered). So good.

I don't remember anything about that night, so I'm pretty sure we all fell asleep within 10 minutes of coming home from dinner. It was probably 7:30.

(the Jurassic Park gates to our house)

Wednesday, day 6, was our lazy day. We slept in as late as the monkeys would allow, lounged about, let the kids watch a movie with all the doors open in the main room, I made tea and actually had time to drink it, Cora searched for monkeys on the property... it was lovely.

I'd planned our last full day to be empty just in case we got rained out of any other plans, and I'm so glad they all proceeded as planned and we were able to luxuriate a bit in our beautiful house at the end. We just explored and enjoyed, including finally opening the gate to the walk the gardens in the lower half of the property.

There were winding paths through some beautiful flowers and greenery. The kids thought it was quite an adventure.

There was more swimming while I lounged.

And then we headed to town for lunch at our favorite local place near the beach, Cafe Mono Congo.

After lunch we went to Dominicalito Beach, which was right across from the road to our house and the beach we looked at from our pool deck every day. It was lovely but a bit rocky for us, so we headed up the road just a little ways to Playa Hermosa (different from the Playa Hermosa we stopped at on the drive down from San Jose on Day 2) and it was perfect.

Smooth, empty, gorgeous.

The kids dug holes as if they had a reason for doing so and then splashed in the water forever.

We got home in time for our private chef to make dinner for us on our last night in the house. He was super friendly and full of stories, having moved down to Dominical after visiting for his wife's 50th birthday years earlier. And it was so great to just be home, with someone else in the kitchen doing the prep, cooking, and clean-up, sitting by the pool and watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean in front of us.

We'd requested a local meal and we got patacones (fried mashed green plantains; Landon's new favorite thing) with homemade pico and bean dip, grilled mahi and chicken with a tomatillo salsa, grilled local squash I can't remember the name of, mashed sweet and regular potatoes, and a dessert of plantain bananas foster with ice cream. It was great. Honestly it was not our very best meal (we really loved all the local places we found!), but it was a wonderful way to close out our last night in the house and we got a great recommendation for where we ate our last meal in Dominical the next day (Tiki Bar!).

While it was only Wednesday, we pretended it was Thanksgiving and just enjoyed the evening, the breeze, and the spectacular view. And each other. I love traveling the week of Thanksgiving. Right now we alternate between a traditional extended family Thanksgiving on the years when my parents don't go up to see my sister and an international trip (because no one else is leaving the country that week and the kids and James have the whole week off school/coaching). It's perfect, especially if you're me and could totally do without the Thanksgiving meal (scandalous I know, but the actual food does nothing for me). I love the back and forth between traditional, busy extended family meal and exotic yet cozy small family trip. We're already planning where to go next.

But back to Day 6- it was so hard to believe we'd already blown through our days in the house, but they were amazing and unforgettable and everything I never even dared hope the trip would be. The last day was also great (we visited a wildlife sanctuary!) and on day 8 we explored a bit of Mexico City, but on day 6 we closed out with thankful hearts, beach views, and very happy memories of our beach babies splashing in the surf.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Sparkly Real Life Updates

Taking a break from Costa Rica blogging (it's so hard to believe we've only been back a week; real life takes off fast!) to capture the last week in our "real life" (as Cora calls it; she was quite insistent that Costa Rica was NOT real life and really, she was right). But this is my view right now and it's pretty great too.

(Yes that is the Great British Baking Show Holiday special. Recently available on Netflix. It's everything you want it to be, especially when everyone in your house is fast asleep.)

Annnd that is all I managed to write this morning. The kids woke up at 8. We finished Home Alone 2, which started the night before after Christmas tree decorating, and went on a very long walk (Cora can now go VERY far and VERY fast on her two-wheel big girl bike and we realized a few streets in we'd neglected to explain to her how far ahead she was allowed to get... it had never been an issue before).

I ran some errands with Claire; James took Landon and a friend climbing (with Cora along for the ride). I taught bare. We went to see The Grinch. We ate dinner and decorated our adorable and colorful family tree. It was an excellent Sunday, relaxed (or as relaxed as we ever have these days) and easy.

But back to the last week. The weekend was about fridge and pantry stocking, home-cooked meals, Christmas decorating, and Christmas music playing. If we were sad to no longer be in Costa Rica, we were still happy to be home in our "Christmas house." The kids have about 85,000 things going on with school (spelling bee! talent show! student council! news crew! choir! they're such joiners), I'm still teaching barre 3x a week, Landon has climbing 2x a week, the girls have gymnastics on Wednesdays, Claire also has volleyball on Wednesdays, and all three kids have swimming on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So obviously we added in the Christmas tree lighting at TCU on Tuesday night.

It worked. I taught barre on my way home from work as usual and our nanny took the kids to swimming. I walked over to the tree after class and James brought the kids straight over from practice. We hadn't eaten dinner, but there were friends to run around the lawn with and that's even better.

What they looked like all night

The kids were never still, the weather was crisp and perfect, and the music and lights were wonderful.

I love when we take advantage of living right next to a university.

After the tree lighting and fireworks we headed to our fave local taco place and ran into two other families coming from the same thing. And though I adored all the food we ate in Costa Rica, I was THRILLED to be reunited with my frozen margaritas and liquid cheese.

There are no substitutes.

On Wednesday everyone did all their Wednesday things just the way they're supposed to go (that delicate excel sheet schedule trucking along smoothly as it does 92% of the time) and then on Thursday it all went a bit off the rails.

Every single leaf fell off our tree on Thursday; it was a sign

It started with me taking off work at 2:00 (after a delicately balanced call then meeting then lunch then Commission meeting) to take Claire to the doctor for a 2:30 appointment I'd secured 3 months ago with an allergist to start getting her allergies under control and today was the day! I had given our nanny the day off, arranged for Landon to go home with a friend, and then planned to pick up Landon when we were done (surely no later than 3:30- HA), take Claire to the school talent show try-outs that ended at 4:15, pick up Cora, and take everyone to swim practice by 5:00, so I could drive back to go teach my 5:30 barre class at TCU. Perfect.

Except we didn't get called back for her appointment until 4:15. We saw the doctor at 4:30. She had her first panel of allergy testing at 4:40. By the time her results were read it was 5:00, the kids had definitely missed swimming, Cora was still at school, Landon was still at his friend's, and I needed to be home and changing into my barre clothes at that exact second. By 5:01 we had learned that Claire is anergic- a rare but not "unheard of" condition (2% of allergy patients, go Claire!) where you skin doesn't react to scratch testing AT ALL, including not reacting to the very reactive histamine that serves as the control, so she has to go to a lab for blood work and the whole 2.5 hours taught us exactly nothing.

I FLEW out of the doctor's office, calling friends along the way. Picked up Cora from school, picked up Landon from his friend's ("have him ready to go in the yard, thanks!!"), ran into the house, stripped off my clothes in the living room and shoved myself into leggings while talking a mile-a-minute to the kids who had opted to stay home instead of sitting in the corner during my class without the entertainment we didn't have time to gather: "Put on a movie. Don't open the door. Everyone can have a snack. Water only. DON'T OPEN THE DOOR. I'll be back in one hour. Text me every 15 minutes with how everyone is doing. FTLOG don't open the door." And off to barre I drove. I parked, ran to the athletic center (I don't have a parking pass, so I'm in the visitor's lot), and visibly sweaty and heart-rate already pumping, I flew into my multi-purpose room at 5:29 for my 5:30 class for which I have NEVER arrived later than 5:12. I found 21 students all sitting on mats with an assortment of equipment (usually I tell them what we need that day), just patiently waiting. I wanted to hug them all. At 5:31 we got started and at 6:20 we were done, my Apple Watch having buzzed four times with Landon's "um, we're still just watching the movie" updates. I drove my mile home and started dinner. It was a day.

Friday was better. I worked from home. Ran errands at lunch. (At no time this week have I gone to yoga. I can't explain it, I just... haven't wanted to go. I have wanted to check things off my shopping list and drink margaritas, so I'm indulging in that right now.) Picked up the kids from school and attended Claire's make-up talent show try-out the sweet teacher let her do. She and her friend/partner did great and back home we went. That night was supposed to be the swim school Christmas dinner, but someone forgot to make a reservation, so he ended up getting one for 8:30 that night and that is too late for me and dinner. Feeling a strong need to stay close to home and watch cheesy Christmas movies, I backed out of the dinner, giving kisses and apologies to the host (my husband, just in case that wasn't clear) and texted to meet a friend for tacos and margaritas with our kids. Her husband was out too and we needed a girls night. Well, a girls' night plus Landon. Plus another favorite family we ran into as soon as we arrived!

Then Landon ended up spending the night at a friend's house, so it really was just girls (she has three). They went home to put on pj's, Claire, Cora, and I put on our pj's and then we reunited on our couch with A Christmas Prince 2: The Royal Wedding, five girls, two moms, and two glasses of wine. It was the BEST. By the end, we were the only two watching the movie and all the kids (ages 5-10) had somehow migrated to play play-do at the kitchen table while singing the wrong words to Feliz Navidad. It was 9:45 p.m. It was the perfect Friday night.

On Saturday Cora woke up early and I totally forgot that Landon was at a friend's so I had to go turn on the TV and man are big kids great to have around. Claire had an early volleyball game (ouch, said friend and I when we saw each other court-side at 8:50 a.m.) and then Landon came home before going to Bass Concert Hall downtown to see Charlie Brown Christmas with another friend. He put on a "fancy shirt" and suddenly looked like a teenager. What is happening?

The rest of us did Saturday things like thinking about going to yoga and then not doing that, the girls went to our friends' house to play, and James and I wrapped all our gifts (in a house without closets or attic, you wrap as soon as you buy). We walked down the street to collect the girls and then got everyone changed for our Casa Manana children's play that evening! I had absolutely planned to go to yoga and thus had never taken a shower, something that took me by surprise when I went to get dressed 20 minutes before we had to leave. Ye olde "messy bun," we meet again for the 7th time this week.

Landon met us at Casa (so much culture for him on a Saturday!) and said Charlie Brown was great. We LOVED the new Christmas play at Casa- super fun and original with pop songs changed out with holiday lyrics. The first one was a witty take on "Can't Stop This Feeling" and about halfway through the song, Cora yelled out, "Wait! Those are NOT the words!". She couldn't believe no one else was outraged at the fraudulent singing going onstage.

We picked up pizza on the way home and changed into Christmas jammies. Claire felt strongly that Pua needed to be included.

And then it was time for the tree. We turned on Home Alone 2 (Elf having already been watched this holiday season; it's always first) and got to sparklifying our living room.

I will never not take a picture of the baby focusing intently on putting three ornaments in the exact same place.

I was really into buffalo plaid this year?

All done! I bought an outlet plug off Amazon that connects to your phone so I can have the tree turn on and off on a schedule and just whenever I press a button on my phone. This brings me enormous joy.

Much like these socks I bought for our "Champagne & Whiskey & Ugly Sweater Party" we're hosting next weekend. There will be voting and tasting and some fabulous festive wear. I have prizes.

Whew- now that we're done with tonight's episode of Narcos Mexico, I can finish this post (love that show, but having to read the subtitles REALLY makes blogging difficult) - on to this week's menu!

Sunday: Skinny Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup, bread, crackers.

Monday: Cheesy Vegetarian Chili Mac, raw veggies on the side, cornbread.

Tuesday: Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce (James's favorite meal; I'll be at a PTA meeting/holiday party with these meatballs, a bottle of wine, and an ornament to exchange).

Wednesday: Elk Tacos (a friend shot an elk while hunting and we now have several pounds of ground elk meat; it's like buffalo- super lean and grass-fed beef tasting), Mexican Rice, Refried Black Beans

Thursday: Crockpot Creamy Chicken Enchilada Chili, chips, avocado.

Friday: No idea; Landon has a climbing thing, James will be coaching, the girls and I may be forced to get chips and queso and margaritas for dinner again.

Saturday: PARTAY. I'm making French Dip Sliders (SO GOOD), Warm Pesto Goat Cheese Dip with pita chips and crostini, Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake, Balls O' Fire (maraschino cherries soaked for a few days in Fireball), and providing lots of champagne and a big handle of Fireball and mixers (spiced apple cider, cranberry juice). Everyone is bringing something and it is going to be delicious and fun. I've already started prepping.

And that's a wrap! This week is pretty much the same, except it has two talent show rehearsals and a school field trip! Honestly though, it generally just hums along and works out. My Christmas prep is done, my presents are wrapped, our house is sparkly and joyful, and this season of friends and parties and champagne (and homemade chex mix! and cookies!) is my very favorite season of all.