Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Year in Review: 2009

So many things happen in a year, you're bound to forget things. I know I sometimes can't remember what happened last week, much less 11 months ago! One thing that helps me is to read old blog posts from the year - even though this year's near-screeching-halt in blogging may make things even more difficult to recall.

*We had to cancel our New Year's Day open house because Caleb was running fever on New Year's Eve. He was perfectly fine the next day, so we went out to eat. It ended up being a very low-key day.

*We had to postpone Jacob's and Billy's birthday celebrations because the boys were sick at different times.

*Jacob had to say goodbye to chewy candy because of his orthodontic spacer. They put the wrong spacer in, so we had to get the right one made and put in a week or so later.

*I made a rum pound cake for Billy's birthday - 18 years after the last one I made. My mixer died in the process.

*The van had issues and had to be put in the shop.

*Caleb celebrated his 9th birthday.

*Our homeschool group took a field trip to Mrs. Baird's bakery in Fort Worth. That was a fun free tour, and the boys are eager to go back. Caleb's favorite part was getting to eat a warm, buttered slice of freshly baked bread. Seriously, the boy could live off bread.

*Billy and I went to the Fort Worth Japanese and Botanic Gardens and to Dallas Zoo to take pictures. I was relearning how to use manual settings on my "new to me" digital camera.

*I attended my 4th annual SWIM Spring Retreat, and I taught ladies how to make stretch bracelets.

*Billy and I started thinking about what to do once the lease on the rental house ended.

*We joined a new home group from church. With eight couples, there's a great mix of people in it, and we always have a good time together!

*I worked with my good friend Nino at some group fitness training sessions at church. She taught us some great exercises we can do at home and not have to spend a lot of money on gym memberships.

*The boys went for their annual well check-ups. They're very healthy and growing steadily. Unfortunately their pediatrician was ending his time at the clinic and moving to Rockwall, but we're happy with our new pediatrician, who the boys had seen when theirs was out of the office.

*I took a class on hammered wire earrings at a local bead shop and was asked to teach some classes. The only catch was I had to come up with an idea.

*We became addicted to playing Rock Band. When we visited my family for a weekend, the whole family took turns playing. Not long after we came back home, we had a new Wii, complete with Rock Band and Rock Band 2.

*We took the boys bowling for their first time. It was fun, and I did about as well as they did... :oP

*I got serious about taking more pictures. I'm still working on learning techniques for a more artistic approach.

*We made our first (and last) trip to The Incredible Pizza Company. Pizza, okay; everything else, bad.

*The boys took swimming lessons from a private instructor instead of a local park, and they did remarkably better! Caleb was jumping into the deep end of the pool and swimming across at the end of two weeks. Jacob went from trying to talk his way out of putting his face in the water to swimming across the width of the pool by himself. We're definitely going to use Kathy again next year!

*Our VBS had an outback theme this year. We got to pet a kangaroo on family night.

*The boys made various trips to Camp Mamaw & Papaw and Camp Mimi & Pops during the month. They had a blast and got spoiled. (So did I!) :o)

*I took the boys to the grand opening of the LEGO Store at North Park Center and they participated in building big bricks for the big Yoda the master builder was going to make. They took it down the night they finished it, so we never got to see the end result. The boys now have a favorite store that we have to visit after every dental check up.

*I taught my first bead class at Beads of Splendor on making cage beads. It was a full class and there's interest in me teaching it again. Diana also wants me to teach a class on adjustable wire rings. I just need to get my samples made and the instructions written up.

*The boys and I went with some other homeschool families to a textile design studio to see how the designer works to see her designs from idea to finished product. The kids got to help out with making cording and other things. The boys lost interest after a while, but I would've loved to stay longer and see more of what she does there.

*Caleb got a rapid expander put on his top teeth, so now he has joined Jacob's "No Chewy Candy Club". It's easier now that they both can't have certain things instead of one being able to eat it.

*I took the boys to Six Flags to celebrate their completion of a reading program. It was their first time to an amusement park and they loved riding everything. No queasy stomachs in this bunch!

*We took the boys to the circus for their first time. We all enjoyed it!

*We took our first family vacation! We went to Branson, MO, and had lots of fun. We went to Silver Dollar City (two days), toured a cave (at Silver Dollar City), explored the Titanic Museum, visited a fish hatchery, spent time relaxing at the lake, and played in our resort's Splashatorium. Billy and I hadn't been on an extended vacation since we went to Santa Fe in '97 or '98. I wonder where we'll go next year...

*We found a house we loved and closed on it August 31. We're homeowners again and love it!

*We moved into our new house during the first few weeks of the month. It didn't take long to get settled in, either. We love our new home!

*The boys and I joined some other homeschool friends for a tour of the Trammell Crow Museum of Asian Art in downtown Dallas. (It turned out to be the same day of the failed terrorist attack on one of the landmark buildings nearby...)

*Billy and I took the boys to the Texas State Fair for the second year in a row. Last year was hot; this year was cold and we were under-dressed. Still, we had a great time. Caleb was inspired to make a LEGO model of something to enter in next year's exhibits after seeing that other children had won ribbons for doing that. Billy and I are considering entering some photographs we've taken, and I'd like to enter a few pieces of jewelry. I didn't see much jewelry at all this time.

*The annual Missions Conference at church got me to thinking more seriously about how I could participate in missions more directly.

*We hosted 13 people for our home group's missions dinner. The Spurgeons (India and the Philippines) joined us and shared what their work there is like. They're here on furlough, so they joined our home group for the remainder of their time here.

*I turned 40 and lived to tell about it. Actually, it doesn't bother me at all. It's just a number and you can't do anything about it anyway, so why fret? I feel great and look like I'm in my thirties. :o)

*Jacob learned how to ride his bike without training wheels! He took to it right away, and after several laps with Billy by his side, he was ready to take off on his own.

*Thanksgiving was great, but we received bad news concerning Uncle Mike. His stomach cancer, having spread despite months of chemo and radiation, was winning the battle. He and Aunt Susie made several trips to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Chicago, but pneumonia weakened him severely.

*We celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas with our home group. Steve and Adria taught us about the history and traditions of Hanukkah, and we learned how to play with the dreidel.

*Uncle Mike died in hospice care on Wednesday morning, Dec. 23. We went to his funeral on Sunday, Dec. 27, where Billy was a pallbearer. It's been hard on Aunt Susie and all the family, and now a shadow will be over Christmas from here on.


I haven't posted a slide show in a while, so a look back at 2009 through pictures might be something to work on...

2009 Report Card

Wow! Two blog posts in one day! What's wrong with me? :o)

Last year (2008), I set too many goal for myself and ended up failing on almost all of them. For this year (2009), I set far fewer goals so I'd have a better chance of success. Let's see how I did...

1. Lose 10 pounds by June. Yes, I know this is not as lofty as last year's goal - which I failed miserably at, by the way. I'm working on it, but it's really hard when you love food as much as I do. I wish I didn't like it so much; then it would be much easier.

FAIL! I actually lost about 8 pounds in two months, then I tapered off. Once I started changing my workouts, I lost about 4 more. Then summer happened. We got busy, took a vacation, bought a house and moved, etc. I quit working out and quit watching what I ate. Then the holidays rolled around and I ate even more. I did weigh myself recently, though, and I am 2 pounds less than I was this time last year. That's a good thing, right?

2. Promote to Senior Consultant (Pampered Chef) by May. Not much came in this area last year, either, but I quit trying after a few months. I had a few leads, but they all fizzled. I'm going to work harder at it this time around because the company is restructuring the team-building portion to make it easier and more beneficial. We'll see.

FAIL! I didn't promote, even though they made promoting easier. Really, I just didn't work at it. I'm not a go-getter in this area. I don't want to push people into doing something. I know, that's not going to lead me to be successful in this area, but I just don't like being pushy. In fact, I seriously considered giving up being a consultant. I lost my drive. But I kept getting orders from people and had a few requests for shows. I think that was God's way of telling me to stay in. I lost my increased commission because I didn't turn in enough orders for a certain period of time, but I'm slowly working my way back up.

3. Finish writing my children's book by September. I had a really good start on it, but once I hit a rough spot, I put it aside for a while. Then I forgot to get it back out again. The format I've chosen is harder (rhyming), but it would lose a lot if I changed it.

FAIL! I did get my manuscript out and work on it some, but once things got busy, I put it away and forgot about it. I know right where it is, so I can put my hands on it any time. I just haven't been motivated.

Not so good in these areas last year, but I'm not deterred from setting a few goals for the coming year. Maybe I'll have more success in 2010.

Missions Minded (cont.)

Okay, I'm finally getting to the continued portion of my last blog entry - two months ago! I didn't realize it had been that long!

So, some things have been taking root in my mind about getting more involved with missions. We have friends who are missionaries in different places, but other than catching up on what they're doing when they're in town, that's about all the contact we have. (I'm horrible about keeping in touch by email and even worse by phone. Sadly, if you're not on Facebook and you're not local, there's not a lot of communicating going on.) I want to do more.

We do support one missionary family with a small monthly contribution, as well as being prayer partners with them for one of their children. I would like to work something into the boys' nightly prayer time where they pray for a different missionary family each day of the week: the Finchers on Mondays, the Nolteriekes on Tuesdays, etc. That's the easy part.

I would also like to keep up more frequent communication with the missionary families we know. Scott Way is on Facebook regularly, so I can keep up with his family that way. Some others are on Facebook, but they don't post much or reply much; others aren't on there at all. I need to ask them to include us in their monthly updates, and I need to respond to them. Often missionaries will ask how they can pray for those who support them. I always feel like they're too busy to do that, but they aren't - and they really want to know.

Eventually I'd like to be able to send a small care package every once in a while with things like small toys for the kids, snacks for the parents, etc. I know that can be costly, but maybe if we choose one holiday for each family...

One missionary family we're friends with is stateside, partnering with Cadence. They're based in SC and they host retreats for soldiers every weekend. Recently some friends of ours from church visited them for a weekend to help and they came back with wonderful stories to share of how they were able to minister to soldiers in various ways. They always need people who can help with maintenance on the campgrounds, cook and serve the soldiers' meals, talk with them, play games with them, etc. They are working with the church to plan trips where church members can go for a weekend to help out. Billy and I have decided we'd love to go on one of those trips. He's a great handyman, and I'm good in the kitchen. The boys would love being there, too - and the soldiers love having kids around because they help bridge a gap when they're missing kids in their own families.

I'm not sure when the trips will begin, but we're ready and willing to go!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Missions Minded

When I was a little girl, I heard about missionaries through GAs (Girls in Action) on Wednesday nights at church. Twice a year, we would raise money for missions through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. (Sadly, I don't have a clue who Annie Armstrong or Lottie Moon were...) Other than that, I don't remember having any contact with missionaries.

It wasn't until Billy and I started attending Open Door Bible Church that I started getting an education on missionaries. Our church supported missionary families directly instead of through an organization that was impersonal to me. Those missionaries would communicate directly with the church. Each month, a different missionary family was featured through updates, prayer requests, photos, etc. The missions bulletin board at church highlighted a map of the world with the missionaries' cities marked with pins, strings leading to family photos and mini biographies. People from our church were even going out as missionaries to other places. Some, short term; others, long.

I began to get a real feel for what missionaries were like. They were real people with real struggles just like me and other people I knew. The main difference was they were making a career out of sharing the love of Jesus Christ with unfamiliar people. I began to take more of an interest in missions.

After we moved to the Dallas area, the bigger realm of missions opened my eyes more than I thought possible. Through Dallas Theological Seminary, I came to know several families who were on track to serve as missionaries in various places. Some of them became good friends who are now actively serving in the mission field in Hungary, Germany, and many other places. Some of our good friends are leaving this week to serve in medical missions in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Another family we grew close to during our time together at DTS is hoping to leave for India in February. Another friend of mine is raising support with her husband with hopes of serving in Africa soon.

The boys and I attended the World Evangelization Conference (aka. WEC Week) on campus a few years. The number of missions agencies that set up booths in order to match up with future missionaries was astounding! I attended several sessions on different aspects of missions: reaching Europeans, interacting with Muslims, short-term missions around the world, and missions work at home.

Each year our church also hosts a 10-day-long missions conference. The last three years, our home team (church small group) has hosted a dinner for a missionary family, where we learn what they are doing, what they like/don't like about where they are, the difficulties they face, what their family life is like, etc. It's a great experience to learn first-hand what these people are doing.

All this saturation of information and experience over the years has been taking root and trying to grow into something. I just wasn't sure what until now.

(to be continued...)

Friday, September 18, 2009

More Plants

I had a hard time choosing just one plant photo for this week's Photo Friday assignment. Here are my other favorites.


Ornamental peppers, Dallas Arboretum

For more interpretations of "Plants", visit Photo Friday.

Friday, July 17, 2009

LEGO Store Grand Opening

When Billy and I visited North Park Center last Sunday afternoon, we saw a sign advertising the grand opening of the new LEGO store for this weekend, complete with a Master Builder who, with the help of kids, will build an 8-foot Yoda. The festivities started this morning at 11:00 and will run through Sunday evening at 6:00.

I thought this would be something the boys would really enjoy. They've been excited about the new LEGO store ever since I told them about it and brought them home a catalog a few weeks ago. (The store has been open a few weeks, but this is its "official" grand opening weekend...)

After the boys' dental cleanings, we headed south to the mall for lunch (Panda Express) and LEGO fun. Apparently a few hundred other parents who weren't working today decided to do the same thing. We ate lunch early, thus avoiding crowds. But there was nothing but crowds for the LEGO goings-on.

This is a view from above of the LEGO building area.

After looking things over from above, we decided the line to help with the build wasn't very long. One of the LEGO store employees was attempting to entertain people waiting in line. We heard her telling someone else that the line to build was 30 minutes or less, so we decided that would be okay. We only waited for a short 15 minutes or so before the boys got to the LEGO tables where they were instructed to each build a big block, which helps form Yoda's outer cloak.

Building their blocks.

After they turned in their blocks, they were "rewarded" with a slip of paper to exchange for a signed certificate signifying they had participated with the LEGO Master Builder in a big build. I figured my pictures are certificate enough for us. I don't need any more pieces of paper laying around. They also each got a LEGO catalog, and I got a coupon for $5 off a $35 purchase - good for today only.

We weren't able to get in the store, though, unless we waited in a serpentine line that wound its way back and forth in the center of the mall. Rumor had it that the wait was 2+ hours. No thank you! I should have given the coupon back - or away - because a mere $5 discount is not anywhere close to being enough to entice me to stand in line with two impatient boys for that length of time. If it was for something free, I'd consider it, but I still wouldn't make any promises.

The line to get into the LEGO store had about a 2-hour wait.

The boys were worried that there's always a line to get into the store, but I told them there's not. Billy and I were able to walk right in when we went - on a Sunday afternoon, no less.

Jacob announced he wants to go back tomorrow, but I vetoed that pretty quickly. I explained how there is certain to be an even bigger crowd and a longer wait tomorrow and Sunday because of the number of parents who don't have to work weekends. I can't imagine what the wait will be like tomorrow!

I reassured the boys that we'll go back Tuesday after Caleb's dental work is done so they can actually go into the store and not have to be satisfied with merely looking at a small window display.

Hopefully the giant Yoda will still be on display. I know the boys would love to see it completed.

The Yoda in the center is a 3-foot replica of the big build.

Jacob has been looking through the catalog and counting money from his piggy bank, already planning what he's going to buy.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Jacob Said

The other day we headed out in the heat to run a few quick errands. The guy on the radio was giving a weather update: "Right now, 100; 80 tonight..."

Jacob asked incredulously, "180 degrees tonight?"


Later as we were heading to a gas station, which had the cheapest I'd seen (at $2.28/gal.), he looked on a hill to our right and said, "Look! There's a golf course."

I chuckled and said, "No, that's a cemetery."

He thought for a few seconds and asked, "What do we do there?"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


NHRA Drag Racing at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, September 2008.

For more interpretations of noisy, check out Photo Friday.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The (Not-So) Incredible Pizza Company

The Incredible Pizza Company has been in our city for almost a year now. We've been wanting to go, but never found the right time or opportunity. Since the boys did so well at their swimming lessons this year, we decided a treat was in order - a trip to The Incredible Pizza Company!

We got there shortly after 6 p.m., and it wasn't crowded at all. It looked like a nice place. Then things started going downhill rather quickly.

The Cost
To get in, you have to buy the buffet meal. You can't just go in to play the games. The buffet charge for adults is $8.49; children in the "upper range" are $6.49 each. I don't recall the prices for younger children. It cost us nearly $40 just for the buffet!

The Game Cards
The boys read enough books/hours through the Mesquite public library's reading program to meet the requirements for each of them to get a free $5 game card there. When we got the cards from the library, the expiration dates had been marked through. When I handed them to the cashier, she almost didn't honor them because she couldn't read the date. I told her we had gotten them from the library that day and they were already marked through. She reluctantly gave us the two game cards. She also couldn't tell us how much the games cost, but she did say we could purchase additional game cards later. After that, we decided we'd check things over before adding any more to the ones we already had.

The Buffet
Their claim:"We make over 30 different varieties of pizza each day, with three different crusts – from original to lavosh, to deep pan!" (from their website)

The good news: Their pizza is good.

The reality: Once we found the plates, napkins, and forks, we wandered over to a rather large-looking buffet area - only to be extremely disappointed to find just a handful of pizzas there. There are two round buffet tables for pizzas. Only one was used the 2 hours we were there, even when we were leaving and the line to get in was about 10-15 people long. And this was on a Friday night!

When Caleb and I made our second trip for pizza, there were only 4 on the whole buffet. Billy went up shortly after we got back and said they had just put out one fresh pizza. When I made my third trip (Yes, I know - but I was going to eat my money's worth after paying that much!), there still wasn't much to choose from - maybe 4 different varieties. The 5 or 6 other people in line didn't look happy with the slim selection, either.

The selection of desserts was more varied than the pizza. They had cherry and peach cobblers; cinnamon rolls; and chocolate chip, peanut butter, and oatmeal cookie pizzas. I didn't try any of them, so I'm not sure of the quality, but the boys really enjoyed the cinnamon rolls.

They also have a salad bar (which I didn't spend any time at), pasta, and baked potatoes. Jacob liked the spaghetti.

The Dining Rooms
There were a few different themed dining rooms to choose from. One of the larger ones was reserved for a party, so we ate in the 50's style diner. There were 3 or 4 families eating in there, but nearly all the tables were littered with leftover plates, cups, and trash. Billy counted 26 dirty tables. We managed to find a clean one, though we should've gone to a different room. No one came in to clean the tables off until we were nearly finished eating, and they were really slow about it.

As we walked around to the games area, we saw several smaller private party rooms. Some were reserved; others were dark.

The Games
Their claim: The signs on the outside of the building read: "Golf", "Bowling", "Go-Karts", and "Fairgrounds" (and "Buffet").

The reality: The golf, as expected, is mini-golf. I'm not sure how many holes it had, but it's a glow-in-the-dark theme. It looked okay, but one round for the boys would've taken almost all of their $5 game cards. And if you wanted to play, you had to find the go-kart track worker to get balls and clubs.

The bowling claim is very misleading. What we found were about 4 or 5 mini-bowl lanes that used small wooden balls. I had taken socks for us in case we needed to use bowling shoes, but they aren't required for mini-bowling. The cost was $2.50 for a 5-frame game. We skipped it. (Their website does note that not all locations have the regular bowling lanes. We've got 2 games of "free" bowling every day until Oct. 31, so that wasn't too big a deal for the boys.)

The go-karts were what had the boys' interest, but they don't meet the requirements for driving them. Caleb is tall enough to drive the slower cars, but Jacob isn't. He'd have to ride in a slower car with Billy or me. Also, you can't wear sandals or flip-flops to drive or ride, so we wouldn't have been able to do it anyway. The cost was $4.50, which would've taken nearly all the boys' "money".

They also had some bumper cars, which looked like it would've been fun had they been working. The area was dark and there was no indication that you could even ride on them.

Their "Fairgrounds" is like a smaller version of Chuck E. Cheese's. Most of the games would scan the game cards, but some were token games only. Most of the games spit out tickets to redeem for "prizes". What I found disturbing is the games are not the same price and can vary from $.35 (the least expensive) to $3.00, maybe more. When I first saw the 35-cent games, I knew the boys were going to end up with money left over on their cards (which have a note on the back to keep them because they can be reloaded).

Billy went around with Caleb, who spent most of his game card on driving games, which didn't give tickets. Those cost $1.10 or more. He ended up with $.75 left, so he played a few ticket games. He got to spend his 14 tickets (rounded up to 20) on two finger cuffs.

I went around with Jacob, who spent most of his game card playing 35-cent skee ball. He ventured out and played a few quick-response type games, but he always made his way back to skee ball. He never played anything that cost more than 35 cents. There were a few token-only games he wanted to play, but we didn't have any. It was only after we finished playing our games that I noticed a machine where you could scan your card for tokens. I don't remember how many tokens $1 would get you. Jacob had accumulated 78 tickets, which they rounded to 80. He chose two sets of vampire teeth, a bouncy ball, and a mini frisbee.

The boys had a combined total of 15 cents left on their game cards, which is better than I had expected. I can overlook 15 cents.

The Verdict
We won't be going back. We felt it was a total rip-off, especially when you can get more for less elsewhere. And not once during our entire time there did any employee approach us to see if we were satisfied with things or ask if we were having fun. As we were on our way out, we had to walk around a group of employees who were standing around in the game area, laughing and completely oblivious to everyone around them. No one spoke to us as we left, no "Thank you!" or "Come again!"

If you want a good buffet, I'd recommend Cici's Pizza. They have a large selection of pizza to choose from, and the employees are always friendly and go out of their way to make sure you have a good experience there. They check to see if your favorite pizza is on the buffet. If it's not, they'll immediately request it for you and even bring several slices to your table as soon as it's ready. It's very affordable. The price of an adult buffet is $4.99, not including a soft drink. Kids's prices are $1.99, and it's free for ages 3 and under. They always thank you for coming when you leave. (See my comparison of Cici's Pizza and Pizza Inn here.)

If you want decent pizza and games, I'd recommend Chuck E. Cheese's. Yes, it's loud and kids are running around all over the place, but the all the games use tokens and you don't end up with leftovers you couldn't use. The games give more tickets, so the kids can get more "prizes", but the prizes at both are comparable.

If you want good bowling, go to a bowling alley. Plano Super Bowl is good. I don't know how much games are, but everything is electronic - even the gutter guards. Shoe rentals are $3.75, which seems steep to me. If you're going to bowl often, buy your own shoes at Academy or Dick's Sporting Goods. (I don't recommend that for children whose feet will outgrow them in a season, but it's perfect for adults!)

If you want mini-golf and go-karts, go to Celebration Station. You get more holes of golf and the go-kart track is longer. Some even have bumper boats, batting cages, and arcade games. Yes, it's outdoors, but if you go in the evenings, it's bearable. Or you can just go during the cooler months.

If you've been to The Incredible Pizza Company and had a great experience, I'd love to hear about it. I'd hate to think they're the same all over. And if you know of other fun pizza/game or golf/go-kart places in the DFW area, please share!

Sunday, June 7, 2009


The second photography assignment I gave myself at the Arboretum was benches. There are benches everywhere, and I know I would've gotten several more shots if we had ventured farther than we did. But we were limited on time and Jacob's first stop had to be the Texas Discovery Gardens. No water walls for me...

I took one picture that I thought would be near perfect, but I forgot to check my settings - and check the image right after I took it. It was too dark. I'll play around with Photoshop and see if I can salvage it. Otherwise, I'll have to find it again next time we visit.

Friday, June 5, 2009


My friend Laura is a great photographer and has inspired me to take better photos. While reading her blog one day, I came across a link to a photography site about giving yourself a photography assignment when you go somewhere for the umpteenth time. We go to the zoo and the Arboretum frequently, but how many pictures can you take of the same thing? I was inspired!

Jacob and I went to the Arboretum yesterday and I was excited to take on my assignment of photographing circles, the idea suggested in the blog article I had read. Here are a some of the circles I found.

Hydrangeas are almost circular...

While I was there, I found something else to serve as a photography assignment. Those are coming soon... :o)


seat of an old plow, Dallas Arboretum

This is one of the shots from my Circles photo assignment.

See more "Metal" at Photo Friday.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pizza Inn vs. Cici's Pizza

Jacob and I ate lunch today at Pizza Inn. We were on our way to the Arboretum and Cici's was the other direction, so we stopped in. After I ate my first few bites of pizza, I decided Cici's is the better choice.

1. Cici's has more pizza choices on the buffet. Not only do they have more space for it, they put out a lot of different varieties.

2. You can request special pizzas at Cici's; Pizza Inn has certain varieties they keep putting out. Several times I've been to Cici's, I've requested a veggie pizza. Caleb always wants Alfredo cheese pizza, and if there's not one already on the buffet, they get it right out. Pizza Inn's standards are hamburger; pepperoni; sausage, peppers, and onions (which was pretty good); buffalo chicken; ham (which looked really greasy); pepperoni & jalapeno; and a supreme with pepperoni, sausage or hamburger, onions, bell pepper, mushrooms, and green and black olives.

3. Cici's has better dessert options. They always have the apple pizza and the brownies on the buffet. Pizza Inn had a tasty cinnamon crunch type dessert as a standard, then they varied between a Bavarian cream pizza and one with cherry topping. Neither one looked very appetizing.

4. Cici's is slightly less expensive. The boys and I can eat there for $11 or so; Jacob and I ate at Pizza Inn for nearly $10.

5. Cici's pizza tastes better.

Pizza Inn did have a few things in its favor.

1. The salad bar was better. They have the build-your-own kind, whereas Cici's has two kinds of salad already prepared. Well, three if you count the pasta salad.

2. Pizza Inn's pasta bar gives you a choice between sauce or meatsauce. Cici's only has sauce. I've never gottent the pasta at either place, so I can't vouch for taste.

Jacob said he prefers Pizza Inn, but I think that's just because it was new and he was disappointed with the games the last time he went to Cici's. I definitely prefer Cici's, and since I'm driving and buying, that's where we'll be going from now on.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Two Healthy Boys

I took the boys in today for their annual wellness check-up. They were caught up on their shots and everything looked great!

The only issue seems to be Caleb's vision, so I'll be making him an appointment to see an eye doctor sometime this summer. Based on the pediatrician's analysis, he may need glasses. He said that once before, though, and when I had Caleb checked out, his vision was fine. Still, since my vision isn't so great, it'll be good to have him checked.

When the appointment was over with, the nurse gave me a copy of the boys' shot records and growth charts. It's interesting to see how things have progressed in the 3 years they've been seeing Dr. Sonnen.

Caleb has gained 23 pounds over the last 3 years and has grown a little over 12 inches. He's currently in the 26% for weight (taking into consideration that a lot of kids are overweight and possibly skew the curve) and in the 50% for height.

Jacob has gained 12 pounds over the last 3 years and has grown 10 inches. He's in the 57% for weight, and has consistently dropped in the percentile every year. For height, he's in the 92%!

It's fun to see how they've grown! When you see them every day, you tend not to notice these things so much - just when the seasons change and their jeans don't fit anymore!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Menu Plan Monday #39

Monday: Jacob's choice - ended up being scrambled eggs, sausage, and toast. (Billy took Caleb out to eat at Taco Bell, where they ended up getting pizza from Pizza Hut Express. Then they went out and bought us a Wii so we can all play Rock Band now that we're hooked!)

Tuesday: hamburger steak, potatoes, salad, and Banana Pudding Bites (a Sandra Lee recipe, which I will post on my recipe blog soon)

Wednesday: Asian Noodle Skillet (modified from a Pampered Chef recipe, which I will also post on my recipe blog soon)

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: pancakes & sausage

Saturday: grilled cheese sandwiches (Our small group meets at 7:00, so we'll need something quick.)

Sunday: ???

Monday, April 20, 2009

Menu Plan Monday #38

I found an old list of mine that had favorite main dishes by category (beef, chicken, vegetable, etc.). I used it often for a while, then I misplaced it and forgot about it. Now that I have it again, I want to revamp it, adding new things we like to eat and getting rid of the ones we don't like so much anymore. Something else I'd like to do with it is to separate the foods into fall/winter foods that use the oven and spring/summer foods that don't. I'm not sure when I'll get to it, but it'd be a great help!

Here's the plan for this week.

Monday: omelets
Tuesday: Shrimp Fried Rice
Wednesday: leftovers or grilled cheese sandwiches
Thursday: meatloaf, broccoli, corn-on-the-cob
Friday: leftovers (I have a cooking show that night, so I'll get to eat Pineapple Ham Hoagies!)
Saturday: sandwiches (Our new small group will be meeting for the first time!)
Sunday: sandwiches

For more weekly meal plans, check out I'm an Organizing Junkie".

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Menu Plan Monday #37

I'm having a hard time getting back into the swing of things after a week off from cooking, then a busy - but fun! - weekend retreat. I haven't been to the grocery store in over a week...

Monday: soft tacos - There was quite a bit of taco meat and tortillas left over from the retreat, so Yi Li and I split it.

Tuesday: grilled cheese sandwiches, orange slices - I still haven't made it to the grocery store. I need one more day to recuperate...

Wednesday: homemade pizza

Thursday: Chicken Spaghetti, broccoli

Friday: leftovers

Saturday: Crispy Parmesan Chicken Strips, creamed corn, carrot sticks

Sunday: sandwiches

For nearly 400 other menu plans, check out I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Extreme Closeup

This is definitely an extreme closeup because I never get close to these things if I can help it!

It's been a long time since I've participated in Photo Friday assignment, and it's something I want to get back to doing each week. (Life must be slowing down a bit...) Check out their site for more extreme closeups. People have posted some amazing pictures!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I Love Mrs. Baird's... Bakery

Earlier this month, our homeschool group took a field trip to Mrs. Baird's Bakery in Fort Worth.

After we were ushered into the classroom, our tour guide told us we were in for a real treat. The smaller bakery that offers tours was closed that day for unscheduled maintenance, so instead of rescheduling us, she decided to take us across the parking lot to the larger bakery. Score!

We watched a cartoon video about the history of Mrs. Baird's Bread and how the bread is made, then we put on hair nets and hard hats with earphones and walked next door.

The factory was loud, as was to be expected. We saw not only bread being made, baked, and cooled, but we also got to see icing being spread on top of cinnamon rolls and mini donuts traveling on conveyor belts, on their way to be smothered in powdered sugar or bathed in chocolate. We saw where their delicious honey buns are made, but they were finished with that for the day. We also got to see where the bread is sliced and packaged, but that was also temporarily shut down.

On our way out of the factory area, each of us was given a package of mini chocolate donuts and a honey bun.

Our next stop was a replica of Mrs. Baird's original kitchen, where she baked 4 loaves of bread at a time. For more information on Mrs. Baird's history, check out "Meet Mrs. Baird" on the company's website.

After our tour was over, we went back into the classroom and sampled some fresh, warm bread and butter. Mmmmm...

Down the street, there was a Mrs. Baird's Bakery Outlet where you can buy day old bread at half-price as well as other things made in the bakery. There's also an outlet near our library, so I think we'll go from time to time.

Unfortunately the Mrs. Baird's bread we've bought at local grocery stores gets hard after just a day or two. The boys eat sandwiches for lunch almost daily, so hard bread doesn't go over well. For Billy and the boys, I buy Sunbeam bread, which I've noticed stays soft for about a week. For myself, I do buy Mrs. Baird's Bread - the Honey 7 Grain variety, which has sunflower seeds and other goodies baked into it. One loaf will last me two weeks, though, since I only eat a half a sandwich for lunch almost daily. Yes, the bread gets a little dry after a while, but it doesn't seem to get as hard as the white bread. I'm happy with it.

We enjoyed the bakery tour and the boys have already said they're ready to go back. If you're interested in going, it's a great experience, but you have to request a reservation up to two weeks in advance. Small groups and families can probably get in easier than larger groups like ours. To schedule a tour, visit their website.

A few things we learned...

*The main ingredients in Mrs. Baird's Bread are flour, yeast, water, and milk.

*The factories run 24/7, with two days off each year - Thanksgiving and Christmas.

*Mrs. Baird's Bread can be found in TX and neighboring states, as well as MO.

*Wendy's restaurants are the largest local (DFW) consumer of Mrs. Baird's hamburger buns.

*The factory can bake 2,000 loaves of bread at once. The bread takes 20 minutes to bake and 2 hours to cool (if I remember correctly). We saw 20,000 loaves cooling on a rotating rack when we visited.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Menu Plan Monday #36

I got busy yesterday and forgot to post!

Here's the plan for this week:

Monday: mac & cheese and hot dogs for the kiddoes (keeping 2 others); pot luck for Billy and me.

Tuesday: Italian Sausage Pasta

Wednesday: leftovers or sandwiches

Thursday: Mexican Chicken Casserole, Spanish Rice

Friday: leftovers

Saturday: OUT!

Sunday: OUT!

Next week will be our Spring Break, so I won't be cooking. I'll post another week's menus after that.

I'll be adding some more recipes to my recipe blog (Ashley's Cafe) soon! I've got Rum Pound Cake, Garlic Butter Shrimp, Italian Sausage Pasta, and Jambalaya. Maybe more!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Menu Plan Monday #35

Yes, I know it's been a long time since I've posted a weekly menu plan. The last time was in October...

Here's what's on the menu for this week:

Monday: Chicken & Sausage Jambalaya and steamed broccoli

Tuesday: leftovers

Wednesday: grilled cheese sandwiches and carrot sticks

Thursday: Garlic Butter Shrimp with Cracked Pepper, angel hair pasta, salad, garlic bread

Friday: leftovers

Saturday: Garlic Bread Pizza

Sunday: sandwiches

Friday, February 20, 2009


Since Jacob had his spacer put in, he's no longer allowed to have some of the treats he's always loved:
gummy candy
Mike & Ike
jelly beans

I'm sure as we get more than three days away from when his spacer was put in (this past Tuesday), we'll find more tasty treats he's banned from for the next few years. I wasn't thinking this afternoon when we were eating popcorn. I need to ask if that's also taboo.

His spacer will remain until the permanent tooth underneath breaks through, and since he's only 6, it's looking like he'll not have those treats for maybe the next 6 years. Hopefully he won't have to wait that long, but there's no telling how slowly or quickly that tooth will come in. As an infant, his teeth came in all out of order. He got some of his molars before he cut all his incisors! Maybe he'll be pleasantly surprised in just two or three years.

Hopefully that's not one of the missing permanent teeth my mom's side of the family tends to have. I inherited that missing tooth gene and still have one baby tooth that is holding fast since there's no permanent tooth to push it out. Now that I think about it, it's the same tooth Jacob had pulled - just his is on the right and mine is on the left... I think we need to see some x-rays just to be sure.

A Few Things I've Learned

1. Don't slip a Hershey Kiss (or any other kind of chocolate) into your pocket for just a second. You'll forget about it and end up with a huge melted mess.

2. Don't read a humorous book while you're brushing your teeth. That's just asking to choke or spray your toothpaste all over the place. Thankfully I was close to the sink and didn't have a mess.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

If it's not one thing,...

The last few weeks have been absolutely crazy! I'll begin at the beginning...

Crappy Birthday to You

Jacob turned 6 on February 6. It was supposed to have been his "Golden Birthday", as some call it. Not so much.

The Tuesday before, Caleb was sick, running a fever of 103. By the afternoon he was feeling better, but he was still running fever. Wednesday morning, he was feeling better but still running a low-grade fever, so we stayed home from our normal Wednesday errands. That evening, Jacob started complaining of being cold and not feeling well. I took his temperature and it registered 103, too. He still wasn't feeling well Thursday, and Caleb was still running a low-grade fever. My parents and sisters were supposed to come celebrate all the February birthdays with us, but we weren't sure what the boys had and didn't want to pass anything on to them, so they decided to put off the trip for another weekend.

Friday was Jacob's birthday. He was feeling better, and he was very thirsty from all the fever he'd had. I warned him to sip some water until he had eaten something, but his thirst was too great. He guzzled a few little glasses of water, then promptly threw it up all over the kitchen floor. While I got everything cleaned up, he munched on half a package of Saltines, washed down with a Capri-Sun since he refused to drink anymore water. After he got cleaned up, he stayed on the couch for an hour or so, then was up playing the rest of the day. That night we had tacos for his birthday supper and brownies and ice cream for dessert. It ended up not being such a bad day after all, though it didn't turn out anything like we had planned.

Take Two

Last week, on Wednesday afternoon, after a day of errands and playing in the park and eating free ice cream from Chick-Fil-A, Jacob started complaining of being cold and not feeling well. He felt hot, so I took his temperature. He was running a fever of 103.5! Billy's parents were supposed to be coming in the next day to celebrate Jacob's and Billy's birthdays. Not knowing what Jacob had, we weren't sure what to do. We hated to have two birthday weekends in a row canceled. I took him to the doctor the next morning to see if we could figure out what was going on. He tested negative for both the flu and strep. The next step was to swab his throat for a culture, which would take a few days to grow. (That came back negative as well.)

Billy's parents decided to come on, and Jacob ended up feeling well the rest of the weekend. Thankfully we were able to get some celebrating done. He would've been heartbroken if both weekends had been canceled.

Ruined Surprise

For weeks I had been planning on baking Billy a rum pound cake for his birthday. The last time I had made one for him was for his 22nd birthday. He's mentioned that cake several times in the past, but it's not the easiest cake to make. The three cups of sugar in it have to be mixed in one spoonful at a time, not to mention the slow process of mixing in small amounts of flour and milk, alternating every time. It wears my arms out! But since this was a special birthday, I figured I'd just go ahead and make it. I purchased all the ingredients I would need and hoped Billy wouldn't notice them. I just had to wait for the right moment.

My original plan was to make it on his actual birthday while he was at work. He'd be thrilled to walk in the door and smell it baking. When we found out which weekend his parents were coming, I decided to make it Thursday so we could have it for the whole weekend. Then Jacob was sick and I had to take him to the doctor and we didn't know what the plans were going to be until late that afternoon. I decided I would make it Friday as soon as he and his dad left for their outing to Fry's Electronics and Harbor Freight.

As soon as they left, I got busy getting my ingredients measured and ordered. I recruited Caleb to pour in the ingredients as needed so I could just mix, mix, mix and not have to stop for anything. I thought that would speed up the process, which had taken as long as an hour and a half before. Even with Caleb helping, my arms were getting tired. I stopped a time or two to rest for a minute, then we'd get back to it. I noticed my mixer was getting slower and slower, even as I increased it to its top speed. On my next break, I could smell something strange. I bent over the mixer, which was starting to feel hot, and realized the motor was about to burn up. No problem! I'd just run to the store and buy a new mixer. Easier said than done!

Billy's dad's truck was parked in the driveway right behind my van, and his mom didn't have a key with her. I was stuck. I thought about calling a friend to borrow a mixer, but we thought that would take too long, especially if I couldn't find anyone at home. We ended up having to call them to come home and move the truck so I could leave, and the only way to do that was to ruin the surprise. Billy was still surprised, but not in the way I had hoped.

Now that the hard part was over, all I had to do was run right out, buy a mixer, and finish making the cake. Again, easier said than done. The first place I went didn't have any mixers under $40, which I refuse to pay for something I rarely use. The next store I visited had one for $19, but they were out of stock. They say the third time is the charm, and in the third store, I found a mixer for $22. I bought it and rushed home, hoping the longer-than-anticipated time lapse hadn't hurt the cake.

As soon as I got home, Caleb and I got back to mixing. The new mixer was amazing, beating through the thick batter with ease on the lowest setting! We finished up quickly, and the cake was finally in the oven. A little more than an hour later, Billy and his dad returned. I was just drizzling on the glaze.

The cake turned out great! It was absolutely delicious and we enjoyed every last bite, finishing the last of it Tuesday night. And in the midst of all the drama, Billy's mom recalled having her mother's old stand mixer, which she's going to give me. I'll be making that cake more often now. :o)

Holding my Breath

Saturday morning, Billy's mom and I headed out to The Rock Barrell so she could pick out some beads for me to make her a few jewelry sets. On the way, we saw a nice Hummer H2 almost lose control as it tried to exit the HOV lane illegally. It got caught on the rather large lane divider bumps and started rocking back and forth, straddling two lanes. Then it veered toward the concrete divider separating the oncoming traffic as it crossed back into the HOV lane. I was fully anticipating witnessing a crash, but the driver got it back under control, slowed down momentarily, then sped off again.

As we were exiting the freeway, the man in front of us almost caused an accident by cutting across a few lanes of traffic so he could make a rather abrupt right turn. Horns were blowing (not mine) and tires were screeching (also not mine). Nothing happened other than there being a few more angry drivers on the road. We finally made it to the bead store without any other incidents.

After we left The Rock Barrell, we stopped in at Michael's for a few last things. When I started the van to leave Michael's, which is only a mile or so from the house, I heard a strange grinding noise. Not sure if it was real or imaginary, I turned off the van, then started it again. It sounded normal, so I pulled on out of my space. Then a little grinding started again, this time with some squeaking. I cautiously drove the short distance home, constantly monitoring the temperature gauge on the dash. It wasn't overheating, but when I started pulling into the garage, we could see steam or smoke of some sort rising from the hood. When we got out of the van, we could smell a strange burning smell. Billy checked it after the engine cooled down and said it probably had something to do with the coolant that had been leaking from the engine. It was now dripping steadily, making a large puddle on the garage floor. We didn't dare drive it anywhere for fear we would cause even more damage to the engine.

Monday morning, I called the Mazda dealership and told the someone in the service department what was going on. He referred me to a towing company they use, and I arranged to have my van towed an hour later. That afternoon we found out that a water pump bearing had failed, causing the grinding and squeaking and leaking. They were going to have to order a new water pump, which would be there Wednesday morning. My van would be ready Wednesday evening.

Down in the Mouth

Jacob had a dentist appointment Tuesday morning to get his spacer put in. This appointment had been rescheduled because he was running fever the day before his original appointment (which was the day the mixer died...). Since the van was in the shop, we were going to need to use Billy's vehicle. We all got up early and took him to work, came home and did a little school, then headed to the dentist.

The procedure was quick. When they called me to the back desk, the assistant was showing me an example of the spacer they had put in. It was the wrong one. When I told her it was the wrong one, she responded with, "Hmm. Well, this one is less expensive." I knew I wasn't going to get anywhere with her. We had already paid for the other spacer, but all my paperwork was at home. I wasn't expecting to need it. When we finally got home after running some other errands, I called the office back and left a message for another assistant who had written up the quote for all the work to be done. She checked Jacob's file and realized the tech hadn't seen her note about which spacer to fit him for. We made an appointment for Thursday (today) to get him fitted for the correct spacer.

As I think about this, it may be a blessing in disguise. When Jacob was first fitted for the incorrect spacer, over a month ago, he hadn't lost either of his front bottom baby teeth. Over the course of the next month, they both came out, with one of the permanent teeth coming in crooked. I think the wire would've had to be readjusted or they would've had to take impressions again to make one to fit right since the alignment is different. Or maybe not. I'm no dentist. Anyway, he'll be getting the correct spacer put in two weeks from now.

One Last Thing (I Hope!)

We went yesterday evening to pick up the van. The service representative who had been working with me drove the van up to the door and noticed the "Check Engine" light was on. He asked if it had been on lately, but I told him no, I notice things like that. He checked it and found the intake manifold runner something-or-other was wide open. He lifted the hood and checked and found a cracked plastic casing around a cable. He checked on the part, told us the cost, and said he'd take care of putting it on himself with no labor charge. Thank you! I have an appointment for Monday at 10:00, and there won't be any problem with driving my van before that gets fixed. Hopefully after that's complete, we'll be good to go for a while with no more van problems. (A near-thorough check showed everything else was fine. I say near-thorough because they didn't catch the engine light warning until it was time for me to take my van home.)

Maybe life can get back to normal next week. I miss my regular routine.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Back in late September, Caleb went in to his GI specialist for a check-up. At the end of the appointment, the doctor told us to make an appointment for sometime in January. As we checked out, the receptionist put us down for today, Jan. 22, and handed me a card.

As I was cleaning out my purse a few weeks ago, I ran across that card - and another one for the same doctor from January a year ago. One was dated Jan. 22, 2008; the other, Jan. 23, 2008. I wasn't sure which card was the right one since they both had the same year, so I called the office to check. The receptionist told me it was for Thursday, Jan. 22 at 3:30 p.m. I marked it in my Day Timer and on iCal.

Today, Thursday, Jan. 22, 3:25 p.m. The receptionist didn't have Caleb down for an appointment. She asked which doctor, and when I told her she said this is his procedure day and he wasn't in the office. She checked their calendar and didn't find Caleb at all. The doctor is going to be working out of the Plano office for the next three weeks, so we won't be going back until Monday, Feb. 9 at 3:15 p.m.

Not only did I waste time driving to North Dallas and back for nothing, I wasted my gas and $1 for the parking garage for the 10 minutes we were there. Not that the drive was that far or $1 is much money. It's just the principle of the thing!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Daily Monkisms

I love Monk. He's funny and smart and quirky. While I'm not obsessive compulsive like he is, there are things that have to be done a certain way. I've listed some of my Monkisms before - I just can't find that post to link to.

I've noticed a few other things I do here and there that would make Monk proud. Last Wednesday when the boys and I were finishing up lunch at Wendy's and I dumped our trash into the garbage can, I straightened all the empty trays sitting on top. I'm pretty sure I've done that before. Today (and other days) after I loaded all my groceries into my van, I wheeled the buggy to the "cart corral" and shoved all of them together. It just makes it easier for other people to fit their buggies in, as well as helping the person who gathers up all the buggies to return them to the store.

I wonder what I'll do tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Goals? What Goals?

I haven't thought much about goals for this year. I'm sure I can come up with some, but I've been busy doing other things. Off the top of my head, here's what I'm thinking...

1. Lose 10 pounds by June. Yes, I know this is not as lofty as last year's goal - which I failed miserably at, by the way. I'm working on it, but it's really hard when you love food as much as I do. I wish I didn't like it so much; then it would be much easier.

2. Promote to Senior Consultant (Pampered Chef) by May. Not much came in this area last year, either, but I quit trying after a few months. I had a few leads, but they all fizzled. I'm going to work harder at it this time around because the company is restructuring the team-building portion to make it easier and more beneficial. We'll see.

3. Finish writing my children's book by September. I had a really good start on it, but once I hit a rough spot, I put it aside for a while. Then I forgot to get it back out again. The format I've chosen is harder (rhyming), but it would lose a lot if I changed it.

That's good for now. Nothing too lofty and not so many things that I lose track of everything.