Clara’s 12th Birthday

Clara opened her gifts when she got home from school that afternoon. The shirt, scarf and headband were a gift she got to open early before school that day. Among her gifts was this body spray that I picked up in a little perfume shop in Rome.


She wanted to go to Ooh La La which is a cupcake and dessert shop. She got the birthday cupcake that’s topped with candy.





After cupcakes, we headed to the pet store to pick up this little guy. She named him Percy Jackson. This was during her Greek and Roman mythology craze and Percy Jackson was her favorite book series at the time. He was a Chinese dwarf hamster and never got any bigger than this.


Snow Day in Houston!!!

Clara had an extra special day when she woke up to snow on her birthday! In wasn’t much, but we take what we can get in Houston. Everyone was out before sunrise to play in it. Even neighbors without kids were outside building snowmen. I’m pretty sure this was Robert’s first time to play in the snow. Chris was working a race this weekend, so he missed out on all of the fun. :( We weren’t the only ones giddy with excitement. Facebook was filled with pictures of people out playing in the snow at 6:00 a.m.






Clara had to get ready for school, but since Robert started school an hour later, he got to stay out and play for longer. If you look closely in this next picture, you can see the snowman across the street built by the empty-nesters that live there. :)


Robert and I found Chris’ corn cob pipe and a carrot to make this genuine snowman.



This isn’t a sight we see ever day in Houston.


Robert’s 8th Birthday

Because our camper was occupied, we weren’t able to take our Thanksgiving camping trip like we usually do. We went to Temple instead. Robert’s birthday was on Thanksgiving this year. He hates that his birthday falls around Thanksgiving, but being on the actual day is a real bummer. I went easy on myself this year and decided to do cupcakes with store bought tubes of icing. He wanted Ninjago cupcakes and they didn’t turn out half bad if I must say so myself.



We paused the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade long enough for him to open his gifts. He got several Ninjago lego sets and a Beast Quest boxed set of books. He was obsessed with these books for about a year. There are probably 150 in the series and I’m pretty sure he read and re-read over half of them. For months we scoured the library and used book store shelves on our own quest to find every last book. This series is what really sparked a love of reading in him.


We bought this cute little mini pinata for him for a special touch on his birthday. He’d never had a pinata before.



I ended up not feeling well that afternoon, so Chris was a good daddy and took the kids to the arcade while the rest of us took it easy. We played several games of Ticket to Ride that week and just hung out.

Day 6- Robert’s Very Venetian Birthday

We woke Friday and Robert couldn’t wait to open presents. This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve opened gifts in bed with Daddy not feeling well. Both kids got their birthday presents early on the way to the airport. Robert got a Kindle and Clara a camera. So he just had a couple of gifts from grandparents to open. Right now Robert is a pokemon crazy man. Our world has been invaded by pokemon and he has a hard time telling a story or even writing a sentence at school that doesn’t involve pokemon. It’s a little out of hand, but man he loves those things, so I’m resigned to the fact that this will be a birthday and Christmas filled with pokemon and shared gift ideas with grandparents. He’s wanted the t-shirt for awhile. From top to bottom is the trash panda, danger noodle, sea flap flap, formal chicken, boople snoot, tiger pony, murder log, leather bird and death floof. He also got a case to hold his cards and more cards.

The kids and I headed downstairs for a lovely breakfast buffet and Chris joined us a little later. Robert chose a pink sprinkled donut for his birthday breakfast. It was about 9:00 and checkout was at 11:00. I guess I had it in my head that Chris would be feeling better by morning like Robert had, but alas, he had me ask for a late checkout (12:00 was as late as we could get) and sent us on without him. :( Clara was being a little moody as well, so I was feeling pretty bad that Robert’s birthday was looking kinda crumby.


You couldn’t tell by looking at his face here though. He’s had bad luck on a few of his birthdays and yet he always manages to keep smiling. It takes a lot to ruin a birthday I guess.






There’s not just a whole lot for a 9 year old boy to do in Venice, so all along I had kept Venice flexible so we could let Robert help decide. Neither of them really wanted to take a gondola ride, which surprised me. I kept mentioning it and letting them know we needed to be heading to our airport hotel in the afternoon and it was supposed to rain later, but nope, didn’t want to. I also wanted to see the Doge’s Palace which is right next to the basilica. We scratched off a trip to Murano when Chris started feeling bad. The one thing he did want to do was walk to the top of the bell tower. Oh, and chase pigeons.

The line into St. Marks was really short, so I told them we should go ahead and get in line. They weren’t too interested, but it’s free to walk through and it only takes a minute. Turns out it didn’t open for another 15 minutes so we waited on the raised walkway as the acqua alta slowly raised all around us. It was pretty cool to see it rise. You can see in these pictures that the water covers the marble entrance. I think it’s like that a lot of the time now. They were working on a project to protect the basilica. They had terrible storms at the end of October and Venice had the worst flooding it’s had in 50 years. Click here to see pictures of the recent flooding. Pictures aren’t allowed inside. Clara said she liked this one better than St. Peter’s. The mosaics are just incredible. I just can’t wrap my head around all of the amazing art and architecture that’s been around for so long and that people hundreds, if not thousands of years ago saw and experienced the same sights. I think it’s particularly hard for Americans since our country is so new and when something gets old you throw it out and build something new. I’m grateful for all of the hard work these countries do to keep these historical places renovated so that they can be appreciated by people from around the world. So, thanks Italy!

We spent those 15 minutes goofing off and taking some pictures from where we were perched on the walkway.






Here’s another look at the acqua alta. The water comes up on either side of the piazza with a dry strip down the middle. I think it rose until around 10:00 and then was mostly dry again by about noon.





There weren’t a ton of people out and yet the walkways were pretty crazy. Acqua altas mainly hit during the fall and winter months, but it must be nuts to deal with one during the height of tourist season. I felt for the people hauling luggage on them trying to get around people and on and off different walkways. They’re only a couple of feet high, but you just have to jump off when you want off. At one point Clara had gotten a little ahead of me and had just stepped off of the walkway. An older lady put out her hand and asked Clara to help her off. I held my breath hoping Clara would be able to help steady her and she had no problem. A lot of people thought she was older over there. As we were getting our tickets for Pompeii, our guide going back and forth in Italian to the ticket seller and then she asked me to show her Clara’s passport. Under 18 is half price and thought we were lying about Clara’s age. Ugh.

We walked over to the bell tower and gosh darnit, there was a sign that said we couldn’t take the stairs. Robert was bummed, but grudgingly agreed to go up in the elevator. I let him spend 2 euro in a commemorative coin machine as we waited for the elevator and that made up for it a bit. The kids know I’m a pretty big pushover on their birthday, especially when things aren’t going quite as planned. I even put a euro in the binocular machine for him. Not for Clara though. It wasn’t her birthday.


The view from the top was amazing. It might have even been worth taking the stairs. :)




I took the kids to a shop called Ca del Sol. It’s a true Venetian handmade mask and costume shop. There are a lot of fake made in China masks in all of the souvenir shops, but I wanted to make sure we went somewhere to support a local artist. The shop was awesome and we loved looking at all of the masks. There were signs saying don’t touch, but the worker told the kids they could try on anything they liked. She didn’t have to tell Clara twice. She was back and forth to that mirror a dozen times. There were many beautiful, ornate masks that were over 100 euro, but I steered the kids to the little more reasonably priced ones and these were the ones they ended up choosing. Robert found a fox and Clara’s has a pretty shade of blue with some bars of music.


On the way back to the hotel, we came across this restaurant. It would have been a fun place to have his birthday lunch, but when I skimmed the menu posted outside and saw that the appetizers were 18 euro, we just kept on a walkin’ and settled for a picture.


We went back to the hotel to collect Chris since he was about to overstay his welcome. We had to unwrap the mask that the lady had just painstakingly packed for our trip home to show Daddy and then we grabbed our bags and headed downstairs. We left the bags while we headed out for some lunch.


We stopped off in a candy store (for a second time in 24 hours). Google Captain Candy. The shop was filled with huge barrels of over-priced self serve candy sold by weight. We may have spent a bit too much on candy, but it was Robert’s birthday, so I couldn’t say no. And then we stopped in a shop for some gelato. And then lunch. It was just about to start raining and we had to get back to the hotel and get our luggage across the piazza to an airport vaporetto, so we headed back. That’s when Robert said, “But I wanted to ride in a gondola!” Seriously kid?! I was just slightly peeved and had zero sympathy. I had really wanted to ride in one myself and was sure the kids would love it, but I wasn’t going to force him to when it was his birthday. It was only around 2:00, but we needed to get Chris to the hotel and we still had an hour long boat ride to the mainland, not to mention the rain, so I was a bit peeved at the boy for not taking me up on the offer earlier.

Getting to the mainland from the island isn’t cheap. I searched for the cheapest option, and a one-way vaporetto seemed to be the cheapest you could get at 15 euro a person. Yikes. There were a lot of stops between St. Mark’s and the airport, but at least we got to sit. It docks right by the airport and our hotel wasn’t too far. It was something like 6 euro a person to get on the bus, so we decided to walk to the hotel. But then the sidewalk ended and we were on a road with about a 45 mph speed limit and an almost non-existent shoulder with three suitcases, two carry on duffles and kids backpacks for a couple hundred yards. Oopsie! Chris may have been a bit frustrated with my frugalness at this point. But come on, we just spent 60 euro to get across the water! You want me to shell out another 20 to ride a half mile? And then the rain picked up a bit, so 20 euro was sounding like a deal. (But don’t tell Chris I said that.)

We made it to our room at Best Western only mildly soaked. It was a nice enough room, but I was right. It was NOT an ok substitute for staying on the island. If you ever find yourself in Venice, you HAVE to stay on the island at least one night. The front desk pointed us in the direction of a restaurant for dinner, but it didn’t open until 7:00. Some of us napped and the kids and I showered before dinner so we could get straight to bed when we got back.

We walked a block to the restaurant in the rain and it looked to be packed with tourists either just arriving or like us, getting ready to fly out of Venice. Getting out in the cold had aggravated Robert’s cough and I hadn’t given him cough medicine since that morning. He was still having occasional fits if he got worked up laughing or running or got out in the cold. As soon as we sat down, he started coughing like crazy. I moved him between me and the wall and tried to get him to cough into me to hide him away from others, but I was really embarrassed. I know people were wondering why we would bring him out with a cough that bad. After a few minutes it settled down and he was able to enjoy what would hopefully be our last meal of pizza or pasta for awhile. (We had just about had our fill by this point.) Robert chose one more birthday dessert because he hadn’t had enough sweets that day and then we got to bed early in preparation for a really long day on Saturday.


The last week of February, first week of March, was literacy week at school. They borrowed my awesome corgi knee high socks and wore matching, mismatched socks for Fox in Socks Day. For Cat in the Hat Day, Clara donned this dragon hat, proving without a doubt the unwavering self-confidence she possesses. :) They also had their storybook parade, but I didn’t get pictures. Clara wore her Athena costume and I cut up a t-shirt and added some red fabric paint to the edges so he could be a boy from “I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1917”. He pulled his arm inside his shirt for the parade so it looked like it had been bitten off. It may have been a tad inappropriate for school. Ha!




We tried out a hibachi grill nearby for the first time for my birthday. I don’t think Robert had ever been to one. He loved it and said it’s his favorite now.


I was so excited about getting the wallpaper off the powder room walls that I jumped head first into the kitchen. I just love having loads of unfinished projects piling up!



Around this time, our roofer sent someone out a few times to repair a couple of leaks in the ceiling. We then had to wait for a hard rain to make sure the repair worked. And then one of the repairs near the chimney again started leaking, so they came out again. They hadn’t replaced a rotted piece of wood against the chimney, so they did that and then caulked all of the siding around the chimney. Waited for another storm….. Then they sent someone out to make the ceiling repair. While he was here, I got quotes for texturing my walls and painting in the living room/entry since the walls are too high for me.

The painter had another long job already lined up, so it wasn’t until the beginning of May when he was able to come back out. He patched the spots on the ceiling and thankfully the roofer decided to repaint the entire ceiling for us! So they did that as well. They started on the kitchen and powder room walls as well. He had another job lined up after that and was supposed to call back a couple of weeks ago, but I still haven’t heard from him. I wasn’t too worried about it though since I’ve been so busy with end of school stuff. Anyway, that’s why these rooms are still works in progress.

We usually go camping during spring break, but we decided to stay home this year. Chris was leaving for Rio at the end of spring break and since someone always gets sick because of the allergies at that time of year, we thought we shouldn’t risk it. We hung out with the Couringtons at their new house one night, celebrated Chris’s birthday, went and saw the Lego Batman movie and Chris worked half days and worked on extending our fence that whole week. Our neighbor has been asking if we would mind extending it and we were good with that because that would put our pool equipment in the backyard. Plus, a storm in February had left that portion leaning and the gate would hardly close, so we needed to repair it anyway. Robert was a good helper.



I don’t think I took on any projects while he was in Rio. Maybe because he was only gone a few days, but also, I might have been in trouble if I had added another unfinished project to the pile. :) Chris’ trips were pretty short, but he managed to miss math/science night, the glow run and Clara’s last school choir performance, which was at the end of March.


Once Chris got back, we got the pool cleaned up and the kids had their inaugural swim.


That last week was STAAR testing for Clara. Robert ended up getting sick that week. After her first test on Tuesday, they swam after school. Robert was complaining a little and acting a little sick and I wondered if he was coming down with something. He woke Wednesday morning and said he didn’t feel very good, but he was showing no symptoms. He was running around laughing and playing so I thought he just didn’t want to go since it’s pretty miserable during STAAR for the entire school. Felt pretty awful when he got off the bus and looked miserable. Took his temperature and he was running a fever. This boy has been to the nurses office too many times to count but when he’s justifiably sick? Nope. Just suffered through the day without telling anyone. :( I emailed his teacher and she felt bad too. She said he was more quiet than usual but didn’t suspect that he was sick either.

He really didn’t have many symptoms except for the fever. It wasn’t even that high and he wasn’t miserable, so I didn’t even treat it. He eventually developed a cough, so he did get some meds for that at night when he had coughing fits. I finally took him in to the CVS clinic on Friday morning. Mind you, this was less than 48 hours after taking his temp after school on Wednesday. The pa gave me a really hard time and couldn’t believe I didn’t treat the fever that went that long. I told her I only treat them when they’re feeling miserable and can’t rest. Otherwise, I let them do their job. She eased up a bit when I said I had given him cough meds. I guess she thought I was a crunchy mama who refused to medicate? I don’t know. Turns out he had an ear infection in one ear. He hadn’t had any pain, but he winced when she shoved it so deep in his ear and she just kept moving it around, pulling on his ear. I just about stopped her because it was obviously hurting him. I haven’t seen anyone be so rough with an ear check. She said it was ruptured and I’m pretty sure she did it. She asked him if it hurt and he said yes. I asked him later and he said it didn’t start hurting until she shoved the otoscope in his ear. :( I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I’m not entirely convinced that wasn’t done to teach me a parenting lesson.


Well, almost. Officially on Thursday, but Clara had some friends over for her birthday this past weekend. She had an owl party, of course :) I found a cute little pinecone snowy owl craft online for the girls to make, but  I sorely underestimated the amount of time it would take a group of giggly tweens to complete their owls.  Everyone chatted and snacked while they made their owls. Some chatted a bit much. Clara’s looked a lot like a penguin by the time she was through with it.





A couple of friends got there really late, so I had to rush them and the other slow pokes a bit. As they were starting to finish up, they played Beanboozled, the game where you spin and take a Jelly Belly jellybean and you don’t know if you got the good one or the nasty tasting one until you bite into it. Most of the girls had played it before. Robert went first. He thought he had lime at first but then ate it up and said, “nope, it was lawn clippings.” Later that night I noticed all the lime green ones were gone. Turns out Robert likes lawn clipping flavored jelly beans :)

They moved on to the photo booth and STILL there were a couple of girls who weren’t done with their owls. I had Clara take individual pictures with each of her friends and she insisted on switching out props each time.




By this time there was less than 30 minutes left and we hadn’t done cake or presents. Chris had taken Robert to get a late lunch so I was scrambling to clean the glue, pinecone droppings and feathers off the table before I could bring out the cake. I cut myself some slack and decided not to make her cake this year. I love making their cakes and there are some really cute owl ones out there, but I had such a busy week last week that I just couldn’t add it to my to-do list. Instead, I took her to HEB and let her choose her cake. She chose chocolate with cookies and cream icing. And the girls got to build their own sundaes too.












Clara had three church friends and three school friends plus Abby who is a year older at her party. All of the girls are so sweet and polite and are lovely friends. Junior high will be here before we know it, and I pray she continues to surround herself with kind, positive girls that can help each other stand strong rather than tear each other down.

I decided we needed to take a few pictures of us and our owl creations before I took all the decorations down.







Two parties down, which means no party planning for me for another 2-3 years. Woohoo!

Robert’s 7th Birthday

Robert had a race car birthday party here at the house this afternoon to ring in his seventh year. He invited a few of his classmates and one boy who rides his bus, so four of the six boys at his party I met for the first time today. Two of the moms I met a few weeks ago and they stayed for the party, so I was able to get to know them better. Elijah was in Robert’s class last year and is in a different school now and Ethan is in Kinder and rides the bus with the kids.


Lauren and Emily are Ethan’s big sisters, so they brought him over and hung out with Clara and helped out a bit with the party.



The party was very informal and my plan was to just let them race with all of Robert’s different tracks. We pulled the Mario Kart slot car track out of the closet earlier in the week and one of the controllers was broken. Chris worked all week cutting and soldering and was finally able to get it fixed.



Um, yeah, lots of sugared up 6 and 7 year old boys running around my house in a blur.


Looks like the kindergartners didn’t make it into many pictures. Ali was very shy and enjoyed playing upstairs away from these crazies. Thankfully he and Ethan are in the same class, so I think that probably helped. All of the boys were very polite and they all got along very well. Elijah found Chris’ Skipper hat and wore it around for a while.















Ali had to leave a few minutes early, so I didn’t get him in the group shot. And Javier doesn’t like smiling for pictures, it seems :)







I forgot to get a picture of the whole dining room decorated before the party so I snapped a quick one before clean up.


As the party was ending and guests were starting to leave, we got a special delivery at the door. Chris snuck it to the garage and put it together. It’s a little big for him, but I think he likes it.



Some Stuff Happened in March

The first couple of weeks in March were really busy. The Glow Run, which is the fundraiser for Read Deed Run, was on the 1st. The kids in RDR helped set everything up, register participants and clean up; Clara enjoyed every minute of it. I know I took pictures but I can’t find them.

The next day was my birthday and we enjoyed dinner at Salt Grass to mark the occasion.

After that was helping out with Field Days on Thursday and Friday.

The kids received beads for each station they completed. Here Robert is giving me thumbs up after completing all 12 stations.

The choir sang The Star Spangled Banner before each session.

The next week was a full one too. Our anniversary was on Monday and we actually got a sitter and went out to eat at Perry’s Steakhouse. It was my first time there and I got the massive pork chop. And proceeded to eat not even a quarter of it.

Then there was the book fair, Muffins with Mom and picture day. I had planned on volunteering for the first two, the latter I kinda got roped into the day before as I was leaving school. Oh boy, picture day was chaotic! I ran myself ragged that day.

It was the week after Dr. Seuss’ birthday, but the kids still had themed days during book fair week. Thursday was the storybook character parade. Clara was Dorothy but her dress was an epic failure, so I had to convert it to a skirt. I probably could’ve done some alterations, but my last minute volunteering for picture day kinda threw a kink in my last minute sewing project. Oh well, she loved it anyway. Robert was  a Lego Ninjago character.

Here he is proudly sporting his Cat in the Hat hat he made at school.

I was trying to keep the volunteering to a minimum that week (easier said than done) because the next week was Spring Break and we were leaving to go camping on Saturday.

Clara’s Birthday

Clara’s in double digits! Somehow I blinked and ten years have passed. This year Clara chose to have her birthday dinner at Rainforest Cafe again. Grandma and Grandpa arrived while they was at school and we got the show on the road with opening gifts as soon as the kids got home. Chris had to leave on a late flight to Corpus for an overnight trip for work so we had to do our celebrating early.



Clara has gained an affinity for owls as of late, so this huge owl Beanie Boo from G&G was a the tip top of her Christmas/Birthday list. My kids have one combined master wishlist :) The turquoise watch she’s sporting in these pictures was her gift from us. Plus the owl shirt she’s wearing and some owl pjs. It’s the year of the owl around here.



She chose to ride these mechanical ride on animals at the mall for her birthday. Chris gave me a really hard time for not riding one :) I was perfectly happy riding with someone but did not want to ride solo. Chris on the other hand, proudly strutted through the entire mall, caring not what other, rational adults thought. I tried to ride with Robert for a while, but I slowed him down, so he kept reaching back hitting me, instructing me to get off whatever the heck it was he was riding. Koala maybe?











Chris took some flowers and a balloon to the restaurant before we arrived. A long time ago, he bought Clara flowers from the grocery store (which was very much appreciated). Unfortunately, when we went to put them in water, all the stems were completely covered in mold and we had to throw them out. This made for a very sad girl. Chris told her he would get her some more and then just forgot. And kept forgetting. Occasionally I’d hear her reminisce about the moldy flowers that her daddy gave her and that alas, someday he would get her some un-moldy ones. So finally that day came and she received her mold-free flowers.




Clara got these cute corgi pjs from Bia and Pawpaw.




One last surprise for Clara was the shelves I mounted above her window to display her Beanie Boos. The top of her blinds had a seam of ugly, yellowed glue that wouldn’t come off and since I don’t want dusty curtains right by where she’s sleeping, I just added a strip of owl duct tape to the top of her blinds. I’m thinking the shelves need a coat of bright paint to liven them up a bit.


Robert’s Birthday

Sorry I’m late in posting pictures from Robert’s birthday last Monday. It’s been a long week. He got to pick dinner and an activity and decided on Main Event for dinner and video games. I brought cupcakes and the few gifts he had to open and Kelly joined in on the fun. He wore his birthday crown that he got at school all night.



At 6, all the boy still wants is cars. Clara got him a couple of color change ones and we got him the Moscow racers series, so they’re covered in snow.






He had a wonderful time and was really good at a lot of the games. He especially loved beating me at the tank game. He kept his eyes pealed for my tank to destroy and did a pretty good job I must say.











It was late and they had school the next morning, but we let him go spend his Toys R Us gift card he got from Bia and Pawpaw anyway. I figured if we waited we would officially be in holiday season and I didn’t want to pass through those doors come December. He chose a car playmat (that we thought would fit under his bed, but did not), a carbon Lightning McQueen and a Ninjago guy that spins in the air. We told him he had to carry all of his stuff himself :) That was pretty cute. He only almost knocked over a couple of displays as he headed for the checkout.





It was a great, low-key birthday and by the look on his face in these pictures, I’d say he was pleased. I was a little worried when he woke up two days earlier and informed me that he would like a Minecraft birthday party. Thing is, he’s not real social and doesn’t have many friends so he wasn’t at all interested in a party when I asked him a couple of months ago. I reminded him that he and Clara chose to ride the Polar Express instead of having birthday parties this year and he was completely devastated. It took quite a while to convince him that this wasn’t going to be the worst birthday ever. He was also sad because his birthday was “short” this year. Meaning he had school that day :) I kept asking him why he wanted a party so bad and he couldn’t seem to tell me. Eventually I asked if it was because he wanted lots of friends to bring him presents. With the biggest sad face and through tears he just nodded his head ‘yes’.

I’m afraid I have to put the blame on myself for that one. I had no idea what he wanted since he still only likes cars so I took him to Target to look at the toys the night before. I was going to use his giftcard  beforehand to buy what he liked so he would have several gifts to open. I guess that got him thinking about all the toys he would be missing out on by not having a big party. I’ve already told him, “Next year you are having a birthday party, whether you like it or not!”