Monday, November 28, 2011

A Blessed Thanksgiving Weekend

This past weekend was wonderful! It was also a good reminder of just how truly blessed I am and how I need to remember each day, not just Thanksgiving and my birthday, to sing His praises and not take anything for granted.

We spent this Thanksgiving with Jason's aunt and uncle in Austin. We started the day's festivities with a traditional turkey trot (Jason and I have done one the past three years and plan to do one every year if possible).

Afterwards we helped get ready for the big meal! Jason and I made a carrot souffle from the recipe in the cooking class I took two weeks ago. It was amazing!! There was a full house with lots of little ones running around and we enjoyed getting to know new family.

Then there was the traditional Black Friday shopping - the ladies spent time looking through all the ads and mapping out the plan of attack. Jason and I made a list of our top picks and practiced our motto - "Buy now, return later, elbows out!" ;-)

All in all it was a successful night! We visited Walmart, Kohls, and Best Buy. Our top finds were a sewing machine travel case that wil be perfect for the sewing class I'm taking next spring, a bluetooth keyboard for the ipad, and five seasons of Criminal Minds for just $15 each. It wasn't without effort though! Here are a couple pictures from the night - the Best Buy line is stil at least two stores down from the Ross you can just barely see in the distance.

At Kohl's the line wrapped around the side of the store and along the back. It was ridiculous.

Friday morning we headed back to Houston, but not before stopping at Shipley's to get a birthday donut!

On the way back we stopped in Brenham to see if the Blue Bell creamery was open for tours. Unfortunately it wasn't, but the gift shop and ice cream store were! We got a scoop of a new seasonal flavor called Christmas sugar cookie and sat outside enjoying the nice weather. (Hey, calories don't count on your birthday right?? Hmmm, well, good thing I ran 19 miles on Sunday...hopefully that helped!)

Friday night we had a birthday dinner with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law at our favorite Houston restaurant, Ruggles Grill. It was delcious and I was thankful to be able to spend my birthday with family!

Afterwards we went to drinks at Anvil. The only person missing was my sweet niece who was at home in bed with her grandma and grandpa. Hopefully I get to see her again soon!

Jason got me Adobe Creative Suite (woohoo student discounts!) and a birthday cupcake from my favorite store, Ooh La La.

My sister-in-law knows me so well. She made me a icing cupcakes - JUST ICING! Amazing! :-)

Saturday was spent doing odds and ends around the house. I made homemade turkey noodle soup with the leftover bones and turkey from Thursday.

I used my laminator (yes, I own a laminator. But amazingly enough, not a label maker...) to make garden labels for the different plants. The beans are still growing like crazy and we are on our way to having a second cucumber soon! We've started harvesting basil and freezing for future use because there is so much!

It was an absolutely amazing Thanksgiving and birthday weekend. I have so much to be grateful for and so many blessings in my life. Here is just a small list of some of the things I cherish and am blessed to have in my life:
- A personal and ever-growing relationship with Jesus Christ
- An AMAZING husband that works incredibly hard at school and work to provide for our us
- Family - as widespread, unique, and complicated as they are (we have four families in four different states)
- Lots of friends that are incredibly supportive and uplifting
- Jobs that we enjoy and that more than adequately provide for us
- A house that has room for us to grow someday (in five years ;-) )

I hope your Thanksgiving weekend was just as blessed and memorable as mine was! :-)


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Advent Wreath!

I realize it's not even Thanksgiving yet, but it seems Christmas is on everyone's mind already! Including me! :-)

Everywhere I turn I see Christmas decorations up and I am anxiously waiting for this weekend so I can put my up. One of the things that I am lacking though is an advent wreath. I have nativity scenes galore, stockings, reindeer, and santas, but no advent wreath. And lighting the advent candles on the Sundays leading up to Christmas is a tradition I love and want to incorporate in our home each week as a family.

It seems however, that no one else is in agreement with me. At least the higher ups that decide what Christmas decorations to market and sell each year. I have seen very few advent wreaths in years past and none that I was crazy about. So I decided I should try making one.

Some would argue that engineers are inherently creative, but it's a different kind in my opinion. We are creative in solving problems (my decision to make a wreath when I couldn't find one!). However, my creativity fails in that I am a very visual person. Show me a picture of something and I can probably take a good stab at re-creating it. Ask me to artistically create something on my own and I laugh at you. So I started this project on Google images - trying to find a picture of something I could create. I looked and looked at various advent wreaths, searched for blog tutorials on DIY designs, etc. and came up with nothing tangible. Enter creative mode.

On Saturday I took a trip to Hobby Lobby hoping for inspiration and having a few scattered ideas in my mind of what I wanted. I saw plenty of circular hanging wreaths things that could easily be converted to a table advent wreath once decorations were added or even used as-is as an advent wreath since they were decorated (and a bit $$ for the decorated ones). However, either of these would require using separate candle holders sitting around the wreath and be completely independent pieces. I wanted one cohesive piece that's sole purpose was an advent wreath - not 4 votives and a wreath all sitting together on a table in the pattern of an advent wreath. Call me picky, but it's not the same to me.

So I wandered around and was able to start putting together the makings of a wreath - a circular green foam from the floral department, a long piece of garland, little pine cone thingys (that's the technical term), and a random assortment of other Christmas-themed florals used for wreath-making. I bought everything I thought I might use knowing I would keep the receipt and probably return a few things.

Here's what I ended up purchasing for this DIY advent wreath:

I fully intended to take progress pictures along the way...and then the next thing I knew I had put all of the garland on. And I definitely wasn't taking it off for a photo op!

First, I measured and marked where the candles would go (yes, the engineer in me required a ruler for this project.) Then I cut small lengths of the garland, stripped away a small part of the branches, and bent the metal to push into the foam core. I did this along the side and the top. I used the extra small branches I cut off to help fill in open spots and bent and fluffed the garland around the foam core.

Here's the result:

I liked the simplistic look so much at this point that I debated just leaving the wreath be as-is, "undecorated", to really emphasize the candles. That or I was tired of craft time - one or the other. All joking aside though, I do like a more simplistic look over one of extravagance. I played around with some of the decorations and decided to use just the gold accents. I plan on purchasing one or two more "strings" of the gold balls that you see in the photo and add them, but then I think I will be done. And I will have accomplished my goal - to create an advent wreath. Not too bad for an engineer if I do say so myself! ;-)

Here's the final product!

(PS. Overall this wreath cost ~$13. I feel accomplished! :-) )


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

We Have A Cucumber!!

It's become a semi-daily habit to check the garden and see how everything is doing. We move the bean stalks to force them to grow up the chicken wire laying along the fence. We frown at the place where the bell pepper plants have disappeared. We take notes (yes, even Jason!) in our garden diary on what's doing well and what's not.

This weekend we found our first cucumber!!!

The beans have all sprouted and are climbing up the wire. Some are doing better than others and this weekend we had to research which ones we pick fresh and which we let dry on the plant. We ended up picking 12 beans, 6 of which we ate straight from the plant and 6 of which we used in our stiry-fry dinner tonight! We picked cherokee wax, bush snap, blue lake, and tiger's eye.

The basil is also going crazy!

As is the cilantro!

And soon we will have a carrot!!! :-)


Monday, November 14, 2011

Texas Metric Marathon - 26.2K

The half-marathon fiasco (read about it here) came at a crucial and inconvinent time since I was about to go on vacation and then travel for work missing two full weeks of Katy Fit (the running group that I coach and use for encouragement and support) AND my arrival back would be just a few days before my next race - the Texas Metric Marathon. I knew it would be all too easy to just slip into not working I was determined not to let that happen.

I made sure to get in my 12 mile run the morning we left for vacation. Despite waking up and running alone in Terry Hershey Park while it's still dark (I do not suggest it...) and having my iPod die on mile 4, I was able to finished the run and in a nice breeze for a change.

On vacation, I made sure to bring my running stuff and was able to get a couple short runs in plus our hiking and walking helped. I intended to do a 14 mile run on Saturday, our last day of vacation. However, the thought of spending our last night of vacation with me going to bed at 8:30 pm to get up and run seemed unbearable...and unfortunately our flight was arriving late Saturday night and I knew a run Sunday on a lack of sleep and travel would be inevitably bad making me even more instead I ended up skipping it.

I did all of my workouts this week and was able to hydrate and carb loading properly and felt good despite having missed one long run. I was amazed and encouraged by all the kind words that you all left me after my last race post. There are a lot of people out there cheering me on and encouraging me - AND IT HELPS SO MUCH!!! I feel so incredibly blessed by the support I have in my life while I strive to train for another marathon.

Okay, back to the race today. So again the weather was horrible. HOW IN THE HECK IS IT 70 DEGREES WITH 90% HUMIDITY AT 5:00 AM?!?!?! When I checked the weather Plan A went out the into and Plan B went into effect. What's Plan B? (It's not the type you are thinking...) Plan B was to finish - and not walk.

Jason offered to take me and stay with me again (I have the BEST husband in the world!). I ran the 26.2K (~16.28 mile) 3-loop course and was greeted and encouraged by Jason each time around. He was armed with the camera so I made a real conscious effort to look good in the pictures since I am doomed to take horrific running pictures...I did not succeed (and am sparing you by not showing the REALLY good ones...

I am having some pain in my left knee (non-surgery knee) as well as some ankle pain. I had a painful, but necessary massage tonight with Keith - my personal torture masseuse. After he worked on both and felt around I think they are my IT band and calf - so ice, stretch, and endure. :-)

It's just 62 days until the Houston Marathon!!


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Guy's Night, Girl's Night

This week while I was out of town Jason took advantage of his cancelled classes and free time to have a couple guy's night. He and his good friend Huy went to Track 21 - an indoor go-karting place near our house. Then on Wednesday he played pool with a couple of good friends from church.

I got a chance for my own girl's nights on Thursday and Friday. Thursday I went with my Pi Phi sisters to Well Done Cooking Class - a fabulous place to take cooking lessons and make delicious food! Jason and I have been there a couple times before and when we were planning our Pi Phi calendar for the year I knew it would be a great event for our group!

We chose a menu of Thanksgiving sides to help with the upcoming holidays and all of the recipes we made were delicious!! There was cranberry sauce, cajun sausage stuffing, carrot souffle (my favorite!), sweet potatoes, and broccoli & rice cassserole. (If you want to know more about Well Done Cooking Class and see their fabulous class offerings click here.)

On Friday night my friend Emily and I visited the Nutcracker Market. It's an annual fundraiser for the Houston Ballet. It's a massive four-day event with tons of Christmas and specialty items. Emily and I went three hours before close when it's half price tickets - and about all the shopping we can handle!

And here's some of the goodies that I purchased! Not a whole lot and not bad financially either!

Until next year...!

Today we got a chance to spend some time with our friend Huy. In just a few weeks Huy is moving to Saudi Arabia for the next 2-3 years. It's nice getting to spend some time with him before he leaves us. Huy is a fraternity brother of Jason's and has been a good friend for many years. He was a groomsman in our wedding and we have loved having him in Houston! Huy wanted to get a round of golf in with us before the move and the weather couldn't have been more perfect!

Now the boys are playing Wii Mario Kart while we wait for pizza to arrive. Then carb loading and an early bedtime for me since the 26.2K Metric Marathon (~16.28 miles) race is tomorrow!


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Glamorous Business Travel...

Warning: post title and content contains extreme sarcasm.

The past year I have worked fields in South Texas... they are some really glamorous locations to visit. I mean, who doesn't want a view of Falcon Lake from their hotel room when they go to stay in Zapata, Texas?

And even better than that, who wouldn't want to visit Laredo, Texas? A place so fabulous they even made a tv show about it on A&E called Bordertown: Laredo. Ten fabulous episodes documenting local police protecting the US border from Mexican drug cartel threats...

[Mind you, Jason and I saw the preview of this brand new show the night before my flight out to Laredo... I promised not to go anywhere alone (including my morning runs...) as Jason looked at me wide-eyed. (Side-note: just a couple months earlier ConocoPhillips suspended travel to South Texas because of an incident where a field operator was confronted by illegals...yep, they lifted suspension just in time for Lease Reviews and my business trip. Nice.)]

Today I am flying out to Del Rio, Texas.

Again, a hop, skip, and a jump to Mexico. I won't be going anywhere alone.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Weddings, Wells, and Warren (Part 1 of our latest East coast vacation)

Last year around this same time, Jason and I had a wedding to attend in Boston. We took advantage of the trip and made it a vacation by taking a week to travel around the area (you can read about the trip here).

This past week we had a wedding in Erie, PA and decided to do the same thing - take a week of vacation after the wedding and tour around the area. We started by heading out last Friday and flying to Buffalo, a two hour drive from Erie. The wedding in Erie was amazing! The groom was a great friend of mine from college - Justin. He and I have been friends since our freshmen year at Mines and he was an usher in our wedding. His gorgeous fiancé (now wife!) Rachael was a spectacular bride and we are so glad we got to be a part of their wedding!

After the wedding, Jason and I headed south to Titusville, PA. What's is in this small, seemingly insignificant small town you say? Only the most important historical landmark ever... the first oil well!!! As soon as I knew Justin and Rachael were getting married in PA I called and inquired about the hours at the Drake Oil Museum. It was like February. The person thought I was crazy! BUT - we visited the museum on the LAST day it was open before winter hours began. And I literally planned when we were taking our week of vacation (before or after the wedding) based on this visit to the museum. I am that big of a dork. :-)

Here is Jason and I arriving in Titusville. Please note the matching "I heart pumpjack" shirts that I made us wear. Yep, I am climbing the nerd-dom scale as we speak.

I was literally sprinting around the museum and the grounds. The workers there thought I was nuts. They were absolutely correct... nuts about OIL!

Jason sprinted too...

This is the site of the first well!! They have it setup to simulate what the original well would have looked like and even have a barrel of oil circulating through for effect. It was glorious! The well was drilled in 1859 by Colonel Drake and Uncle Billy to a depth of 69'. (We were tested on this in school... I promise.)

Outside were pumpjacks! I am pretty sure we weren't supposed to be climbing them, but oh well. I like to live dangerously (sidenote- these were obviously not operational. It is still a dream of mine to ride a real pumpjack someday...even though it's dangerous and against every company policy out there...)

This was an old drilling technique that Jason and I didn't know about until we visited the museum. In the old days, the original wells were "drilled" by two men slamming down a metal pipe. On a good 12-hour shift, two large men could "drill" around 3 feet...yikes! Good thing we've improved that in the modern oil industry!

Look more matching shirts!! ;-)

After Titusville, we headed to Warren, PA just north of the Allegheny National Forest, to stay the night. We went hiking the next day all around the forest and enjoyed the amazing colors of the leaves and the perfect fall weather!

There is lots more to share from our trip, but unfortunately it's WAY past my 9:00 pm bedtime so the rest is to be continued...


Ovid and Ithaca - good friends, wine, and hiking (Part 2 of our latest East coast vacation)

Welcome to Part 2 of our recent vacation. You can catch up on the first part here.

After spending the day hiking in Warren we made our way east and slightly north to the small town of Ovid, NY. It's sandwiched between Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake, two of the five Finger Lakes. When I was very little (ages 1-4) I used to live in Ovid while my dad was minister at the Ovid Federated Church. Jason and I thought it would be neat to see where I used to live (and if it looked like I remembered it to look). This area also has a lot of wineries and B&Bs so it was a neat place to just relax (don't worry, there is proof below of me actually doing that since the capability of me relaxing is in question...).

My mom has stayed in light communication with some of the people we used to know when we lived there and we were able to connect with them while we were in town. We spent Monday at Priscilla's house and on Tuesday she took us to some of the places I used to know. We even got to tour my old house!

Here is the Ovid Federated Church:

Ovid is a completely different world from Houston. Priscilla didn't even know where her house key was located and she leaves her car keys in the ignition in the driveway. Ah, small town life! The first thing we did when we moved into our home was to install an alarm system and even THAT didn't prevent it from being broken into! I cannot imagine leaving my house unlocked much less leave the keys in my car! Jason and I could see ourselves retiring in some place like that though - it was so peaceful and quiet and beautiful!!

Side story - Jason and I planned to go to Niagara Falls on this trip and realized when we landed in NY that we left one crucial thing that we needed in order to visit the Canadian side (which is SIGNIFICANTLY better than the American side)... our passports. Fortunately, some good friends of ours were watching the house while we were gone and were able to mail our passports to us in Ovid. We weren't sure if they needed to be signed for when they were to arrive on Wednesday and Priscilla and Phil were both going to be at work. Priscilla said the UPS guy usually comes around 11:00 am and that if they weren't home to get it, then he would take it to Phil at the auto parts store. Man, you have to love small town life! Sure enough, Wednesday around 11:15 Phil called us and told us the passports made it! Hooray for our friends Robert and Kristin!)

Tuesday afternoon we met some other friends, Carol and Peter, from long ago for lunch and got a chance to hear all about their mission work in Haiti. It was so neat to see how this retired couple has dedicated so much time and energy into a great cause and it was neat to just visit with them!

After our lunch we headed to our quaint B&B right on Cayuga Lake and sipped a bottle of wine on a bench overlooking the water. It was probably my favorite part of the trip! We just sat there enjoying the quiet atmosphere, beautiful surroundings, and each other's company (and here is the documented proof that I do indeed know how to relax!!)

Wednesday we drove along the Caygua Lake visiting winery after winery and slowly making our way south to Ithaca.

We stopped and spent time hiking around the Taughannock Falls, 33' taller than Niagara Falls making it one of the largest single-drop waterfalls east of the Rocky Mountains.

We walked around Ithaca's common area and had a AMAZING dinner at a tapas restaurant called Just a Taste. The next morning we got up and went hiking at Buttermilk Falls. It was gorgeous weather and beautiful scenery!

Afterwards we headed to Lucifer Falls and hiked there. It was also gorgeous!

Then we headed north back through Ovid up to Rochester, NY and stopped quickly at the George Eastman (Kodak Museum) house. Fortunately Thursday was their late night so they were open until 8:00 pm and we got a personal tour of the house since the museum was empty! Then we continued north and made our way to Niagara Falls!

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