Saturday, December 30, 2017

December 2017

Okay, back to December now.

Thomas kicked off the month with a trip to central Texas with his dad for a hunting trip. I spent that weekend in a flurry of events. The first big thing I did was join Diana at the Jesuit Womens' Auxiliary Christmas Bazaar. It's a huge deal, and the school is packed with vendors. (In case I never mentioned this, Jesuit is an all-boys high school that Steve, Jay, Ross, and Thomas have all attended. I guess you could say it's a family tradition! The same goes for the accompanying all-girls school, Ursuline. Diana, Jan, Jean, Nicole, Elizabeth, McKenna, and Michaela have attended/currently attend that school. It's a huge deal in their family.) We had a lovely time perusing the countless booths. Diana enjoyed getting to introduce me to various friends of hers who we saw while there. We got a little bit of Christmas shopping done in the process, so that was nice.

Later that evening, I was on to my next adventure--making an advent wreath! I decided I wanted to really embrace that season this year, so I started by making a wreath. But let's be honest, crafting alone isn't quite as fun as crafting with friends, so I extended an invitation to the ladies in my women's group. My friends Eleanor and Charlotte decided to join me in the endeavor, which allowed us to go in together on supplies. That made it a lot easier on everyone's budget, for sure! Charlotte joined me the day before when we bought supplies, but wasn't able to join us for making wreaths. Eleanor wasn't able to go with us to buy supplies, but she was able to come over and craft with me, so I'd say it worked out well! Also, I got to know Eleanor a little better, which was so nice! I was pleased with everyone's end results! See what you think!

Eleanor's wreath
(She hadn't found a charger to place it on yet, but I think it looks great!)

One view of my wreath

Another view of my wreath. Love how well it turned out.
After Christmas, I replaced the advent candles with one big candle.
Versatility is key!

Charlotte's wreath!
She took hers in a different direction, but I love it so much!

By now, you all should know that I have a love affair with the Dallas Arboretum. It is one of my favorite places in town, by a long shot! Every year, they put up a Christmas display that corresponds to the 12 days of Christmas. It's more or less 12 gazebos containing an automated display for each verse of the song. The enticing part is that they do this at nighttime, which adds to the atmosphere. One of the bigger downsides of the arboretum is that admission can be pricey. Luckily, I happened upon a 2-for-1 admission Groupon, so it was a cheap date night for Thomas and me! We had a nice time, although we agreed that it wouldn't be an annual tradition for us. The displays were impressive, but a little anticlimactic. Also, it only took us about an hour to trek through all 12 gazebos. And I realized that almost every verse of the song is about some sort of bird. Oh well! We ended the night by ordering Starbucks hot chocolates and driving through the nice parts of town admiring Christmas light displays. That is a long-standing tradition of the Lieses, that I am happy to continue! It made for an enjoyable evening!

The next evening, we joined Steve, Diana, Ross, and Juliette for a Christmas get-together at Jackie's assisted living facility. They had some carolers, delicious food, and a great atmosphere. I loved watching Jackie clap and tap her toe to the carols. She has degenerative Parkinson's and some dementia, so some days aren't as good for her as others are. It turned out that that day was a good day for her. She is starting to recognize me, which is a great feeling. I love having a grandparent in my life again, after having all of mine gone for so long. Thomas and I have decided that we need to get better about visiting, especially since we live in the same town as her. We are going to try to visit more during 2018.

We had fun preparing for Christmas this year! We started decorating at the beginning of December, and we finished the bulk of our shopping by the middle of the month. I know that'll change in years to come, but it's nice to be able to do that for the time being.

The only picture I managed to get of our decorations.
I love this set-up though. Absolute perfection (and a good repurposing of the red vase and
lantern wax warmer that were already on that table! Versatility is still my best friend!)

We made a quick trip to Oklahoma before Christmas to celebrate our good friends Nick, Maria, and Sierra graduating from OSU! We loved getting to catch up with them, along with a handful of our other good friends (mostly Rebecca!) We spent one evening of that trip celebrating Kyle and Cole's birthdays. No pictures, but lots of fun with the family!

The last week before Christmas was packed with activity. Our apartment complex hosted a small Christmas dinner for all of the residents. They had a fully catered dinner, and they had a drawing for three apartments to win a prize of $100 off of January's rent as long as you came to the dinner. Thomas wasn't able to make it, but I decided to go over for a bit. I was pleasantly surprised to find out, later in the evening, that Thomas and I were one of the raffle winners! It was a welcome surprise after an expense-filled December! We also had a get-together at Ross and Juliette's house with all of the Coulter cousins, where we baked and decorated Christmas cookies. It was a great night full of laughter, fun, and sugar! The remainder of the week was full of preparations for our return to OK for Christmas with the Hladiks.

We were nervous about the weather, but thankfully, the worst part of our trek northward was the torrential rain we came up against in the Dallas area. Our days in OK always go too quickly for our liking. They're also jam-packed with activity, usually in preparation for some upcoming event. Such was the case this time, but it helped having an extra day or two there. This time, we were able to do a little visiting. We had a great time catching up with Uncle Paul and Aunt Pat (along with their two sons and daughter-in-law), Tonisha and her family (including her adorable baby nephew, who is one of the cutest babies I've seen in a long time!), and my Uncle Larry and Aunt Marla (who just moved into their new house). After all of our visiting, it was time to get ready for Christmas Eve Mass.

Thomas wasn't thrilled about this picture, but I think he looks just dashing!

Grandma Hladik and Mimi would be proud of us continuing their traditions!

Among my favorite things about being home is getting to spend time with my sisters. Emily and I bartered talents to help each other get ready for the night. Emily did my makeup, and I used my new curling wand to curl her hair. I think it was a fair trade, as we both looked great!

Aside: Through the years, I have tried (and failed) to curl my own hair. I somewhat tackled that challenge when I learned how to use my straightener to do this, but it wouldn't ever work as well as I wanted it to. After watching lots of tutorial videos and some encouragement from my friends, I sprung for a curling wand. It was one of the best beauty purchases I've made in a LONG time. I can get perfect curls that last for days in half the time it took me using other methods. I can do it on myself (and others) and get almost perfect results every. stinking. time. So there's my shameless plug for that appliance. I have learned to curl my hair so well with the wand that even my mom (who has high standards for curled hair, after having raised all daughters and curling her own hair for her whole life) has dished out countless compliments on my hair! I digress...

Christmas Mass was nice. It wasn't super packed, and it really didn't take as long as I remember it taking. Fr. Ed is good about keeping things moving without making it feel rushed. (He managed the same thing at our wedding!) We had a fun, impromptu photo shoot afterwards among the family!

My sisters :)

Love this man so much!!!

Candid shot of Cody and Cole

They were surprisingly excited to pose for this shot!

The Moody Clan
(Photographing 3 boys is a challenge, as someone is always trying to cross their eyes,
do bunny ears, or look like they're choking someone.
You'd never guess that by seeing this photo, though!)

Love this picture of Scotty and Emily!
There were pictures of the Mattson clan also, but I didn't have them on my phone. I promise they looked equally nice!

The next day was the Hladik Christmas extravaganza! We had a feast of homemade chicken noodle soup (of course), ham, Mimi's chicken casserole (that tastes like dressing), broccoli rice casserole, and salad. Dessert included a white chocolate almond amaretto cheesecake and strawberry pretzel salad (courtesy of yours truly) along with an apple strudel and chocolate pudding dessert (courtesy of Gina). It was amazing, and we didn't have quite as many leftovers as we'd anticipated. (Probably because the nephews are quickly starting to get adolescent-sized appetites!)

Our gift exchange was fun. I received lots of clothing, a bottle of wine, a 2 lb. shareable nut log (courtesy of my dad!), a Bed Bath & Beyond gift card, and some awesome fuzzy PJ pants! Thomas also got lots of clothing! The boys all received their traditional nice western shirt and jeans, along with a small watch and backpacks from my parents. They were excited about those, as usual. It's so fun to see how Christmas changes with them from year to year. We ended the day by watching "Home Alone" with my parents and most of Gina's crew. Everyone (except Thomas) napped sporadically throughout the movie! We were wiped out from our celebrations!

What a fun gift from the Lieses to the Hladiks!

Jakub, with his cousin Jonathon (from the Mattson side)
They could pass off as brothers!

Wait for it...

There it is. Finally quiet and still enough to take a nap!

On the 26th Thomas and I blazed back south to get ready for round #2 of Christmas with the Lieses. That first night back included dinner with Steve, Diana, Elizabeth, Jean, Jay, and Mark. Jay and Mark were about to head back to NYC to prepare for their usual New Year's party at their weekend place in Connecticut. We were happy to catch them for the evening, especially since we weren't able to take part in any of the other celebrations with the family. We had them all over to see our apartment after dinner, since we ate at a restaurant that was close to us. Also, Jay and Mark had never been over, and Jean hadn't seen it since she helped to heft wedding gifts up after the wedding!

The next day was our actual Christmas celebration with Steve, Diana, and Elizabeth at our place. I think most parents would agree that they have made it in life once they get to a point that their children can host holiday celebrations! We had a great meal of pulled pork (from the Instant Pot, of course), green bean casserole, squash casserole, salad, and rolls. Because we were feeling extra fancy, we pulled out the china, nice flatware, crystal glassware, and cloth napkins. (We have it, so we might as well use it!) We also had leftover cheesecake and the traditional Liese chocolate mint pie for dessert. Our gift exchange ended with Thomas and I receiving an Amazon Fire stick for our TV. I also received a Pioneer Woman cookbook (so excited to try her recipes!) and a Fitbit, among other gifts. Thomas and I also gave both sets of our parents personalized photo books, full of pictures from our wedding weekend. Both sets of parents were in love with the gift and having an easy way to showcase the weekend to their friends!

Secret Santa gifts from Elizabeth and McKenna!
Too hilarious!!!

So much deliciousness awaits us!!!

The following day, I decided to treat myself using some gift cards. My first acquisition was a nice wooden case to hold our formal flatware. I also acquired a new pair of flats that don't pinch the joint below my big toe, some jeans, and a skirt. My last gift to myself was a couple of books.

I wasn't looking for this book, but it found me.
Hoping I'll love it. I think I will!

Unexpected find, but looking forward to bringing new content to the blog from this book!

Now, Thomas and I are spending the rest of the year (ha!) out at Quitman with Steve and Diana. Their friends, Chip and Kathy, will be heading out soon. Elizabeth may join us, but she's still on the fence. It's so nice to have a quiet, low-key weekend in the country after the craziness of the last couple of months! We don't have an agenda, and that makes me very happy. I am capitalizing on the quiet time to catch up on writing that I haven't had time to do lately. Writing makes me happy, and it keeps that part of my brain sharp. It is good for my soul, so I intend to do more of that in 2018!

Happy (early) New Year, all! For all of the twists and turns, 2017 has been a good year for me. Hoping it'll be more of the same in 2018!

November 2017 (in a nutshell)

I'm back to pick up right where I left off, as usual. It's been a good, albeit busy time since I've last written.

The last time I wrote, I mentioned that Thomas' cousin Nicole would be coming to town. We ended up having a lovely time catching up with her. She is continuing to enjoy life in Chicago, and she is has now begun her career as a nurse. I'm so happy for her and for all she has accomplished! We had a great dinner with everyone from the family who lives nearby. It was fun to have everyone together for the evening. The next day, Nicole invited Diana and me to join her on a venture to the Dallas Museum of Art. I didn't realize it til that day, but apparently that museum has free admission, besides a few special exhibits, which was a nice surprise. It's been quite some time since I've been to an art museum, but I enjoyed myself. I especially enjoyed looking through many of the American art exhibits, which included some pieces of historical furniture and glassware.

This picture doesn't do this armoir justice!
It was spectacular!

Tamac pottery that I found in the American modern glassware display!
Thinking of you, Debra!

Diana, Nicole, and me in front of a mural outside the museum.
So blessed to call these ladies family!
Shortly (and I mean like an hour after being done at the museum), Thomas and I hit the road to see everyone in Oklahoma! It was great to be back, as we hadn't been there since early September. We loved seeing and talking to everyone. It was absolutely perfect! We celebrated all of the birthdays we had missed/would have missed in that time, including my dad, Scotty, and Jakub's birthdays, which was a great time.

Jakub, showing off his new birthday gift, "Bikey"

Andrew, sipping on his morning coffee.
(aka creamer with a little bit of coffee!)

Kyle is growing before my very eyes!

My dad's new shirt that reads, "Girl Dad: It's Expensive"
I love it so much!
The next weekend, Thomas went on a hunting trip with his friend Matt in eastern Texas. They came up short, but had a good time, I hear. The worst part of the weekend for Thomas was that he incurred (another) injury. Thankfully it didn't require another trip to the ER, but it did involve a gnarly looking scratch on his face. I am happy to report that both of his wounds have healed completely! He has a massive scar on his left hand, as he probably will for some time to come, but so it goes. While he was out and about on his trip, I had a lovely weekend of "me time", which involved watching the entire last season of "Parks and Recreation" on Netflix, making some incredible lemon scones, and FaceTiming my pal Sierra. Not too long after that, I came down with some version of the usual fall crud. I felt absolutely awful, which eventually led to me visiting a minor emergency clinic, as I thought I had a sinus infection. I'm 99% certain that the nurse practitioner referred to me as a hypochondriac in the hallway outside the exam room, but I don't even care. He gave me a prescription for a steroid, and I felt like a brand new woman a couple days later. I was very happy to feel better, because Thomas and I had a great date night that following weekend!

Let's hope 2018 contains fewer injuries for my husband!

I baked some incredible lemon scones while Thomas was off hunting!

Date night ready!
From that point on, it has been a long, swirling whirlwind of activity!

We spent the week of Thanksgiving house/dog sitting for Steve and Diana, who were in NYC/Connecticut celebrating Thanksgiving with Jay and Mark. They were accompanied by Elizabeth and Jean, as well. We wanted to be there, but it wasn't in the cards. Thus, we spent our Thanksgiving with Diana's brother Ross and his family. It was sad for Thomas and me to spend a holiday without either set of our parents, but technology saved the day and allowed us to FaceTime with both sets of parents. Thomas ended up not having to work on black Friday, so we spent a lazy day around his parents' house. I had a lot of pent-up energy, and I was missing my family more than I realized. (I was fairly pitiful, if we're being completely honest.) I tried to fill the void by crafting or doing a number of other small projects, but nothing seemed to satiate me. Late that afternoon, I was in the back of the house when I heard the doorbell ring. Thomas went to the door, assuming that it was one of the boys in the neighborhood, from whom we bought some Boy Scout popcorn a few months prior. I knew something was up when he shouted for me to come to the door. When I walked into the entryway, I was shocked to see Andrew, Jakub, and Wyatt, who shouted, "SURPRISE!!!!"

I was a mess of tears and shrieking when I realized that Gina and her family had driven to Dallas to surprise us for the weekend! It was a welcome surprise that I really needed! We didn't do anything that exciting during their stay, but we were able to show them our apartment, church, and some of our favorite places in town. We loved getting to spend a good deal of time with just them. It did my heart good to see them!

One of my tutoring families gifted me with this decadent pecan pie!

Thanksgiving at the Coulter house

The Mattsons, all smiles after surprising us!

We had a great time at the park in our neighborhood!

Wyatt was too cool to smile, but I love this picture anyway!

If 4-year-old angst could be captured in a picture, this would be it!
(Also the look of not getting a full nap...)

Selfies with Andy are the best!

Me, Andrew, and Thomas, with Andrew's traveling classroom companion, Humphrey the Hamster
Andrew had custody of him during Thanksgiving break,
and got to chronicle their adventures in the accompanying travel log!

(I'm going to pause here, as I have really slacked, and I would rather go into another post instead of prattling on for another 10 paragraphs!)