Merry Christmas, etc.

Merry Christmas, Happy Boxing Day, etc, etc.

I hope all of you who celebrate Christmas had a wonderful day celebrating; hopefully with friends and family. We had a wonderful day, and a special Christmas Eve the day before.
These photos are two of the projects we made Christmas Eve, more details later.

Boxing Day finds us embarking on a whirlwind trip of Texas. We'll see family, friends, hotels, big cities, and small cities throughout the week. One thing I can be sure of, there will be many Buc-ee's stops! I'll check back during periods of quiet. Until then, enjoy your quiet time.

The Best Gift I Ever Got

The Power of Wonder Woman (Underoos)

My post on the Best Gift I Ever Gave got me thinking about the best gift I ever got. Wonder Woman Underoos, not once but twice. See that picture? That's me circa 1979. My first pair of Wonder Woman Underoos. Y'all, I LOVED those things. I can not adequately convey how much I loved those Underoos. I love Wonder Woman; in part because she stands for feminism-a woman who handles things on her own and saves the day. (This is also one of the major reasons I love the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" tv series so much.) Also, Wonder Woman has cool accessories.

I don't know how often I wore the Underoos, but it was enough that my mom washed them every day and the poor things just feell appart. Poor little 1970s synthetic fabric, I hardly knew ye! Fast forward many years to 2005 and I'm home for Christmas with my unsuspecting husband. I open my gift from my dad and's Adult Wonder Woman Underoos! No kidding. BEST Christmas present ever. You can thank me for not posting the picture of me modeling the Underoos over my clothes. No, seriously, thank me. It was the best gift because my dad thought of it all on his own. He remembered how much I loved the first pair back in the 70s and knew I would love an adult version. I don't collect Wonder Woman memorabilia and had not gotten any Wonder Woman item in decades, which made the gift so much more meaningful. He knew I would love them, and I do.

Now all I need is a golden lasso and Lynda Carter hair and I'm all set!

The Best Gift I Ever Gave

SWAGG is a free mobile app (download here) that lets you shop smarter using your mobile phone. Buy, send or swap SWAGG GIFTS and organize your old school plastic gift cards.

For every download of the app between now and Dec. 31, 2010, SWAGG will donate $1 to Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) , up to $125,000. Stand Up To Cancer, which receives a $1 for every download, up to $125,000, and/or the Sundance Film Festival Sweepstakes, with an AMAZING prize valued at $4,000. Visit the SU2C site for more info There's also a fabulous vacation package at the Ultimate SWAGG Getaway Sweepstakes. Clever Girls Collective and SWAGG are sending a pair of movie fans to the Sundance Film Festival! Download the SWAGG app and then visit the Ultimate SWAGG Getaway Sweepstakes site to enter to win a trip for two to the Sundance Film Festival. Entry deadline is January 3, 2011, 11:59pm, PST.

40th Birthday (Non) Surprise Party

One of my talents (at least I think it is) is finding the perfect gift for the person and occasion. I know that the perfect gift isn't always the most expensive, grandiose, or trendy item (although sometimes, for a certain person, it can be). The perfect gift takes planning and thinking about what the recipient wants. There are a number of gifts I've given whre I think I knocked it out of the park, but this one I know I did. I think big birthdays are a cause for major celebration. My husband turned 40 this summer. He's not a big birthday person AT ALL. He's not a big gift person either. He doesn't really like much of a fuss made over him. However, I think he's outstanding. I LOVE this man. Really, truly, madly, deeply. Still. Every day....OK, enough schmoopy...I started thinking about his birthday about a year in advance. I really wanted to make his birthday special. I initially wanted to try to arrange a hunt at one of the lodges he loves to hunt. But, his birthday is in the summer and it's not great hunting weather (around one million degrees). So, I started operation semi-surprise-40th Birthday Extravaganza/Bonanza!

Since hunting was out, I went to Plan B- Texas country getaway. We love going to our friend's property in the Hill Country. (Just search the archives, I think there are 40 posts about the Texas Hill Country!) So, I knew he'd love spending time at a country getaway with friends. I narrowed down the invite list with a little (unknown) help from the birthday boy himself and began the process of finding a place and a time for everyone to join in the celebration. I was excited about planning a big party, decorations, invitations, putting up photo decorations of my husband, etc. I was ALL OVER IT. Then, I realized the one thing that made this HIS best gift ever- I stopped doing what I wanted to do and started planning the birthday He wanted. In fact, I ended up telling him about the weekend to make sure it was what he wanted. He was very excited about the idea. It turned out to be pretty low key. It was a weekend full of friends, family, beverages, food, fishing, and just being. It lacked the decor, coordinating invites and favors I envisioned. But, it didn't matter; it was perfect for him. The party weekend was about six months ago. I know it was the best gift I gave him because he still talks about how perfect it was. My husband really loved his birthday weekend non surprise party; which makes it the best gift I've given him. I'm sure being married to me is gift enough for him, but this was pretty nice too!

Do you have special gift giving talents? What's the best gift you ever gave?

Learn more about the coolest new app that revolutionizes the whole shopping, gifting, and gift card-organizing experience and Download the SWAGG app to your iPhone or Droid. I was selected for this sponsorship by Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity.

Friday Favorite- Favorite Ornaments

Image-Lisa Leonard

Ornaments are a big deal in my family. The adults stopped exchanging gifts a few years ago instead opting for an ornament exchange and a donation to charity. We get new ones every year to remind us of important events, my parents have given me some of my most favorite ornaments from when I was a child. This year I had a really tough time finding the perfect ornaments for everyone. I think I've finally narrowed it down to a few, or I might decide to make ornaments with the girls...If I buy ornaments, these are my current favorites.

I think the snowflake ornament from Lisa Leonard (pictured above) is delightful. I love everything Lisa makes. In fact, last year's ornament for our tree came from Lisa. I think the snowflake might be really nice for my friend, Amanda who had a baby earlier this year.

Image-Rae Dunn
I love stamped ornaments and these clay ones from etsy seller RaeDunn are no exception. I love their simplicity and I think my brother and his family would too.

Image- Nie Nie
This ornament made me gasp when I saw it profiled on Nie Nie's blog earlier this week. I'm definitely getting one, but I'm sure the seller is inundated now, so I'll wait until after the holiday rush. But, really, I LOVE this.

Do you have any favorite ornaments? Are the best ornaments made or purchased? I love the little macaroni and paper ornaments M made this year; those might be the best of all.

A Glittery Shining Christmas

Christmas through the house

Come on in. You can thank me since this is a short tour-I cut WAY down on what I was going to post! I love Christmas and it's hard for me to stop decorating.
I like to decorate the chandelier in our dining room with ribbons for parties and holidays. For Christmas, I add a few ornaments on varying lengths of ribbon. A little pop of festive color.
Our tree; we have an artificial tree that is PRE-LIT (Amen, cue choirs of angels). We ended up artificial after one year when we found thousands of baby spiders in the tree (GROSS-shudder). I usually drape a bunch of ribbon on the tree and scaled back a bit this year. I've seen trees with tied bows all over and think I might do that next year. The red shows up brown for some reason in this picture (new photo editing tools I haven't quite gotten the hang of)-the ribbons and angel are both a deep red.
I have so many precious ornaments, this year's ornament is from Paloma's Nest. Sweet, handmade, with a Southern drawl. Yes.
I have a ton of garlands up. A couple on the mantel, matching garlands on the staircase...
A ton. One of my favorites is the simple twine and art garland with some of the girls' artwork.
One of my easiest and best ideas- my Christmas card display. It's basically necessity being the mother of invention- I needed a way to display all the photo cards we receive, I had some extra ribbon-tape, staples, voila. There's even a card or two from some of my favorite bloggers & friends!
The last thing you see in our house is this great antique tin sign. I love it.
I'm linking this post to the Nester's Holiday party , Kelly's Show Us Your Life Holiday Home Tour, and Julia's Holiday House Tour (What? I love Christmas decorations, people!) but reserve the right to add and edit as time goes by because I really love my Christmas decor and having to cut it down? Well, I'm feeling all jittery about that!

The Polar Express-Texas

This weekend we got together with my family for my nephew's birthday.

My nephew turns 3 today (Happy Birthday, sweet A) and is OBSESSED with trains. His parents thought that going to ride the Polar Express would be a perfect birthday gift. They were right.
We were all able to join them in Palestine, Texas and ride the train.

There was hot chocolate.
Book reading
Time with cousins (and papa) -M, Em are the two with braids.

And, of course Santa Claus.
A great weekend and a fun family outing. If you live anywhere near palestine and have a little one, I highly recommend the Texas State Railroad and the Polar Express ride. (I have not been compensated or sponsored in any way by the Texas State Railroad. I just thought it was a really neat experience.) Do you have any special family trips you make around Christmas? Any Polar Express fans?

Friday Favorite- Christmas Wish List

I got one of my biggest wishes (been on my list for years) this week when Texas FINALLY got rid of Greg Davis. I could write endlessly about why I think Greg Davis was ineffective as the OC, except for his contribution to recruiting...suffice it to say that I am thrilled to have gotten this Christmas wish already! Kate Spade Charm Shoes- are these not the perfect shoe? Everything about this shoe screams, "I enjoy being a girl." Totally impractical, except for those few special occasions where this pair of shoes would quite literally make the outfit. I am in swoon. Wow, Kate Spade has my number.

Kate Spade Kylie shoes. Ok, I admit it, I already have these. I waited for months and found these on super duper sale and snatched those puppies up. LOVE.


Wonder Woman comic book coffee table book. I have loved Wonder Woman since I was a child; I take feminism and woman power seriously! I think this book would be such a pretty addition to my coffee table. Some of my favorite Christmas gifts from years past have a Wonder Woman theme, this would just add to that list.

Anything on your Christmas List? Share your Friday Favorites with me.

Christmas Decorating

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
I love Christmas and I love decorating for Christmas. Most of my Christmas decor is pretty traditional. I haven't finished it all, but thought I'd show you bits and pieces. First the mantel.
I used two bunches of garland, three types of ribbon (you can never have too much), a couple sparkly reindeers and stars, and little stars from Crate & Barrel (last year on super sale). I basically twisted all the ribbon with the garlands and then began the highly scientific process of sticking the picks in all over the garland until it looked full. Since our mantel isn't too deep (especially after putting two garlands on it), I didn't have room for much, so I added a star for height on either side (Pier One $6!) and some glittery reindeer.

I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out. I'm posting this to Layla's Mantel Party...even thought the party was days ago. Well, it's better to be fashionably late than early, right? Right?!

The Lettered Cottage

Love Thursday- Beauty

It's Love Thursday. Karen is the brain behind Love Thursday; today is the official launch for Karen's book. It feels right to dedicate this Love Thursday to the opening quote from her book, The Beauty of Different.

Beauty is something we experience and feel on a soul level. It's more than being pretty or aesthetically attractive-it's an intangible attribute that stirs something deep inside of us.

Each of us-because of all our differences- possesses the power to touch another's soul.

Look closely.

We are all beautiful.

Final Great Giveaway!

The Beauty of Different Giveaway

This will be my last giveaway this month and it's the one I'm most excited about. I started the giveaways as a celebration and thank you for the past year of blogging. It seems fitting that I give away the book written by my friend Karen, without whom I would have never known about blogging & all of you.

Karen has written the most wonderful book, called The Beauty of Different: Observations of a Confident Misfit. It is substantial (both in subject matter and heft). It is beautiful, it is thoughtful, it is inspiring, it is something you need. I'm not just saying this because I'm in the book...although, that is pretty much one of the coolest things ever. I'm saying it because the book is truly worth it. I bought several copies and want to give one to you. I will also get Karen to sign it for you. There you have it, a GORGEOUS book, autographed just for you.

If this Beautiful book isn't enough, I'm also giving away several of my Favorite items from the past year. Plan on a few accessories, beauty products, maybe a snack or two. Just to thank you for being here and being part of my story.

The contest will remain open for one week, ending December 7 at approximately 11pm CT. Winner will be selected through a random drawing. I'll email the winner and post here once the winner has been notified. You will get an entry for the following:

1) Leave a comment on what you think is most beautiful, where you go to find beauty, how you see beauty, or what makes you different. You must leave your email address if it is not linked through your profile.
2) If you leave a comment AND commented on the Scotch Tape giveaway (now closed), you will get an extra entry.
3) You do NOT need to be a follower. If you are a follower (or become one), you will get an extra entry if you comment.

Thanks again for being here & Good Luck!
*The giveaway is now closed. Sarah is the winner and I couldn't be happier, she's been a great supporter and friend. Thanks again for your beautiful comments.*

Anthropologie Giveaway

*Giveaway is now closed. Thanks for entering*

Friday Favorite Time!

To celebrate my first year of blogging, it's time for another giveaway...

It's Friday and time for me to once again share one of my favorites with you. If you know me, or remember my posts, you know that I LOVE Anthropologie. It's one of the few stores that I prefer to shop in rather than just order online. In fact, the picture above is from a display outside an Anthropologie store in Houston. When I thought about having blog giveaways, I knew I had to give away a gift card to Anthropologie. So, that's what I'm doing. Up for grabs is a $25 gift card to Anthropologie!

The contest will remain open for one week, ending December 3 at approximately 11 CT. Winner will be selected through a random drawing. I'll email the winner and post here once the winner has been notified. You will get an entry for the following:

1) Leave a comment. Any comment. You must leave your email address if it is not linked through your profile.
2) If you leave a comment AND commented on the Scotch Tape giveaway (when it was active), you will get an extra entry.
3) You do NOT need to be a follower. If you are a follower (or become one), you will get an extra entry if you comment.

Thanks. Have fun & good luck.
*Comments are now closed. The winner is Jen, who was commenter #1. I guess it pays to be first in my contests! I can promise you that the drawings have been entirely random. *

The Best Thanksgiving Recipe- Tamale Stuffing

First, do not be dissuaded by the pictures, this stuffing turns out beautiful. Wonderful. Crowd pleasing. Delicious. I originally got the recipe from the San Antonio Express many years ago; I believe it comes from Central Market.
Tamale Stuffing
24 cooked tamales (husks removed)- I've used every kind of tamale and it all tastes super yummy. My favorite is venison tamales.
4 cups shredded cheese (I use the Mexican blend)
28 oz tomatoes with diced green chiles
1/4- 1/2 cup chopped onion (I cut this way down from original 2 cups)
1 tsp granulated garlic
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp dark chile powder
kosher salt to taste
Steam tamales. In a large bowl (not kidding-large), combine all ingredients. Use a slotted spoon or fork to crumble the tamales and really combine everything. Pour into a greased baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes.
I've been making this tamale "stuffing" for years at the holidays. It is really more of a tamale casserole stuffed with goodness. It spices up turkey quite nicely and gives your meal just a kick of spice, not too much, just right. Enjoy!

Hill Country Getaway - Part 2

We had a wonderful extended weekend in the Texas Hill Country. We all got to enjoy nature and relaxing with good friends, "camping" and "hunting" (my husband took my oldest daughter out one morning but they didn't see any deer at that time), we fed the deer, and I ran into a Texas animal trifecta- a deer, armadillo, and Longhorn-just roaming free! We enjoyed beautiful sunsets, and capped off our getaway with margaritas and s'mores last night. Some may wonder why we love going to the Texas Hill Country so much. These shots should give you an idea of the slower pace, the natural beauty and easy life out there. Plus, it's just one big photo op... my camera is still in the shop, these are point and shoot-pretty fantastic subjects!

I'd love to know what your favorite getaway is- is it urban so you can see shows and have fabulous meals & shopping, or more rural, or the beach?

Hill Country Getaway

Who knew what you all wanted was a Target giveaway?! Thanks so much for your response and remember, you have until Thursday to enter. I also have two more giveaways this month, so stay tuned. Since the holiday rush is about to start, we took this weekend to escape to the Texas Hill Country. We're staying at our friend's ranch property and enjoying sunsets like this; proof God Blessed Texas!

Friday Favorite- Target Giveaway!

Image Target

It's no secret that I love Target. To celebrate my first year blogging, I'm holding a giveaway a week this month. This week's giveaway is a $25 gift card to one of my favorite stores, Target. You can get anything and everything at Target, why not get it for free?! It should be helpful for getting a jump start on holiday shopping, or just stocking up on toilet paper.

To enter:
1) Leave a comment with your contact information (if not linked to your profile)
2) If you entered last week's Scotch Tape giveaway, you have an automatic entry in this contest
3) Being a follower is NOT required, but if you comment and are a follower, I'll give you another entry.
The contest will stay open until Thursday November 25th (Thanksgiving), winner will be announced Friday.
That's it. I wanted to share a gift card to one of my Friday (EVERYDAY!) Favorites. Happy weekend everyone!
Comments are now closed. The winner is Shel-who was the first commenter! Congratulations, Shel. Thanks!

Love Thursday-Home

Our girls have been enjoying playing with bath crayons I picked p the other day. They've been quite busy...not sure how clean they are getting, but they are having fun. My four year old, M, drew the heart and then wrote the word "Home" the other day. When I asked her how she thought of those two things, she replied "We have lots of love in our home." Yes, yes we do. What a great reminder for Love Thursday.
*Those drops are colored drops from the crayons, not blood. Forgive the picture quality, my camera is still in the shop so all photos are coming off my phone.*

Houston Aeros Family Fun

My family recently attended a Houston Aeros game with a bunch of other Houston bloggers and their families. It was a fun way to introduce my family to blogging and have a fun family night at the same time. T, me, and Sarah- Photo from T

We spent part of a fun evening with a few good friends, and lots of new ones. I say part of because there was, inevitably, a meltdown. Other than the meltdown, it was really fun to take the girls to a professional sporting event. The Aeros game was our kind of game since it isn't as expensive, loud, or as crowded as other sports venues. We'll definitely take the girls back for an Aeros game, just this time during the afternoon and not after a long day at school. The Aeros were so nice to all of the bloggers and Jamie and Christina really went the extra mile to make the event a success--meltdowns notwithstanding!

I want to thank the Houston Aeros and all the other sponsors who made the night possible. *I was not paid for this post, my words are my own. I received free tickets to attend the Aeros game and a really useful bag full of after-school snacks.*

Love Thursday- Veterans' Day edition

I come from a military family. There are Colonels, Majors, and all sorts of other ranks all over my family tree. I married a veteran, who has military service members stacked throughout his family as well. For my family, Veteran’s Day is a true holiday. I am thankful that my parents brought us up with a deep and abiding love of country. We were taught that service to others and service to your country are duties of the highest order. I grew up watching military families sacrifice. I saw friends lose their fathers, wives lose their husbands, and parents lose precious time with their children. In the last several years, my family members have served this country in Afghanistan, Iraq, and all points in between. Too many Americans forget what our military does. Too many of us forget those who laid down their lives for our safety and freedom. Not just those who paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives, but all the service men and women who stopped living their lives to answer the call of duty on a TDY or combat assignment.

I am fiercely proud of the service of my family members. Believe me when I tell you that I could write and write about the impact the military has had on my life. I say these things so you will understand the meaning behind my Love Thursday. This Love Thursday I celebrate the love of our military families- the deep and abiding sense of duty and service of our men and women who proudly wear the uniform, the love of the families left behind, and the willingness to make sacrifices. Happy Love Thursday and Happy Veterans' Day.

Scotch Tape Prepare and Create Giveaway

Thanks to Scotch(R) Double Sided Tape for sponsoring my writing about crafts. Add your comment below to be entered for a chance to win free sample rolls to help with your upcoming holiday needs.

We all know Scotch tape is useful around the house, especially with a 4 and 6 year old who think a craft project involves an entire roll of tape, markers, and sheet of paper. Rather than share my girls' "art projects," we decided to make something together with a Fall theme.

We used several different kinds of cardstock, Scotch double sided tape, and a very basic tree trunk. I gotz mad drawing skillz, yo!
We've all made hand print turkeys and leaves in school. There's a reason why we keep going to the classic hand print, because it's cute and your kids will only voluntarily participate in the cute for so long. While my kids still think it's fun, we were using their hand prints! Once the hand prints were cut, I used double sided tape to secure to the cardstock, popped it in a frame. And, voila! Instant decor. The final product is pictured above. You can go the extra mile and use paint to add thumbprint leaves on the trees or add things you are thankful for on the branches. We had a busy weekend, so we were lucky to get this done. I really liked using the Scotch double sided tape for a project like this because scrapbook tape is really too lightweight and glue always bunches up the paper. *Scotch should really start marketing to scrapbookers because the Scotch double sided tape is WAY stronger than scrapbook tape. Much better.* We also used the double sided tape to decorate the girls' art center and make a ton of cards.

Here's your chance to win a little tape and be prepared for holiday wrapping, or 6 year old art projects involving an entire roll of tape...whatever you need in your house. The contest will run through Saturday, November 13. I will select 2 winners to receive 5 rolls of tape each. To enter just leave a comment on this blog post. Easy peasy-free tape squeezy. Oh, and every entry in this contest gains an extra entry in the other November giveaways I'm running from some of my favorite places like Anthropologie and Target!

I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.
*Comments are now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered. Pam and Alana won the rolls of tape and will now be ready for the holidays! Check back this month for more giveaways. Thanks Scotch Tape.*

The Best Pumpkin Bread-Welcome Fall

This weekend I welcomed one of my favorite recipes back to our kitchen, Pumpkin Bread. I know some people don't like pumpkin bread (I don't know HOW that is possible). To those who say you don't like pumpkin bread, just try this one. It is so good. My girls clapped their hands when I was making this Sunday afternoon. The picture doesn't do it justice; blame it on the way too early dark and flash. In real life it is just oozy yummy brown and golden and smells like Fall.
Recipe is adapted from Rebecca Rather's "The Pastry Queen" (A great cookbook with Texas flair.) The recipe makes two loaves or 36 muffins
Eddie's Autumn Pumpkin Bread with Pecan Streusel Topping
1 1/2 cups pecan pieces (could also use chocolate chips)
1 cup vegetable oil
3 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 (15oz) can pure pumpkin
1 cup water
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
*1 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
*1 1/2 tsp ground allspice
*1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
*1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
* I use 5-6 tsp of pumpkin pie spice instead
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter melted
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup pecan pieces

Coke and broccoli not part of the ingredient list!

Preheat oven to 350. Grease two loaf pans, or muffin tins. You can chop and toast the nuts if you like. I've found that it gives the bread extra flavor, but isn't necessary. I've also used walnuts in place of pecans and it tastes just fine. Whisk the oil and sugar together. Add the eggs, pumpkin, and water until combined. Stir in flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Divide the batter into the tins or loaf pans.

Make the topping: Melt butter, stir in sugar, cinnamon, and about a 1/2 cup of nuts. Sprinkle over the top of each loaf or muffin.

Bake loaves for one hour, or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes clean. Bake muffins for 30-35 minutes.


Friday Favorite- Vintage Clothing

All images Xtabay

My heart stops when I see the perfect thing-for me, for a gift, the perfect hairstyle, etc. Earlier this week I found and promptly got lost in a wonderful vintage store Xtabay, where I found gorgeous dresses, accessories, even wedding gowns like the ones here:

The problem? Xtabay is in Portland. Oh no. I'll just have to stalk them from afar and keep visiting my local vintage stores looking for a great find. At least until I can find a reason to travel to Portland! Have you found any great vintage shops? I'm always looking for fun vintage finds, lay them on me!
Xtabay vintage my Friday Favorite.