More than amazing baby pictures at ABBA Color Photography

When I go to ABBA Color Photography, I get to capture a moment in time… with absolutely no stress.

I just hand over my baby, give as much or as little guidance as I want, and the photos get done (and done well).  Maricela comforts fussy babies, poses them, gets them to smile and is quick with the camera and captures great photos.  And when my baby gets hungry or needs a new diaper, she just takes a break and lets me take my time.

And a year after our first session, I found out just what ABBA Color Photography can do with big kids.  She invited my older kids out and just look!

For babies, she has lots of outfits and costumes.  For girls, she has several options as well.  My daughter thought she was a princess in this gown found in the studio.

Maricela had my 8 year old twirl and pose and took the most magical pictures.  And just look at how she got the 10 year old boy to give us a natural smile…

The rest of my photos are on the way… and I’ll post them when they are ready.  You can be sure that my 6 year old boy has a mischievous photo in the editing room now.

If you are looking for amazing baby or kid photos, I recommend ABBA Color Photography.  Do it now so you are ready for holiday cards!

HISD Magnet & Vanguard Programs for 2018-2019 School Year: Overview of the Programs, What You Need to Know & How and When to Apply!

It’s time to apply for NEXT school year!

I’ve applied for HoustonISD Magnet Schools (and Vanguard Magnet Schools), 3 times in the last 7 years.  The first time around, I found it very confusing and overwhelming… but over the years, I’ve (mostly) figured it out (and decided to worry a lot less!).

In case you are also overwhelmed and confused by the HoustonISD application process, here is a summary of the process, key dates and changes for this year.

For the official information on applying to HoustonISD Magnet Schools, go HERE.  (And be sure to look at this FAQ page.  it is very very informative!)

Key dates for the 2018-2019 School Year:

  • School Choice Fairs (Optional, but very informative)
    • September 30, 2017: 9:00am-12:00pm at Milby High School
    • October 14, 2017: 9:00am-12:00pm at Westbury High School
    • November 4, 2017: 9:00am-12:00pm at Sterling High School
    • December 2, 2017: 9:00am-12:00pm. at Key Middle School
  • School Choice Thursdays (Optional, but very informative)
    • Thursdays from October 5 through December 7.
    • October 5, 12, 19, 26, November 2, 9, 16, 30 and December 7, 2017
    • All Magnet Campuses will offer tours to interested parents.
    • These tours are intended to help parents learn more about Magnet programs to make more informed decisions.
  • September 22, 2017 – Applications are open
  • December 8, 2017 – Deadline for Phase I (first round) Magnet applications.
  • December 9, 2017 –  Start of Phase II application window. (Note that the most popular Magnet Schools will fill in Phase 1.  If you are trying to get into one of these schools, you really need to apply for Phase 1 by December 8.  For an idea of the most popular schools, look at this HISD list.)
  • For Kindergarten Vanguard Magnet Programs (Askew, Carrillo, De Zavala, Herod, Oak Forest, River Oaks, Roosevelt, T.H. Rogers, Travis, Windsor Village), you will need to select a test date when you submit your application:
    • (Dates to be added)
  • March 22, 2018 – Notification Date
    • By 4 PM on March 23, 2017. The official Phase I notification of a students’ lottery outcome will be viewable within the online application dashboard.
  • April 5, 2018 – Deadline for accepting your seat.
    • Documentation (recent proof of residency and a signed Magnet entrance agreement) must be turned in.
    • Students will remain on the waitlist of all programs which parents ranked higher than the highest program to which a seat is offered.


RECENT Changes in the Magnet Application Process & Answers to FAQs:

In case you have not applied in a few years, some things have changed.  We had to start ranking our school choices (and not just apply to 10 schools and pick a favorite after we were accepted).  Also the number of total applications is 5 instead of 10.

  • You can apply online or with paper… but with just one method.  You use the same application for all 5 school choices.
  • It only takes 10 minutes to complete… but deciding on which schools to apply to can take longer.  There are a lot of open houses and school tours that help you decide.
  • Your favorite school is likely the favorite school of hundreds of other families.  To see the popularity of the HISD programs, go HERE.  (This is a very cool resource from last year… and lets you know what to expect.)
  • Parents can ONLY apply to 5 magnet programs.  This is for magnet programs and Vanguard magnet programs.  The G/T test dates are in January and February, so I would not make these all Vanguard schools because if the child does not qualify, they will not be entered into any lotteries.
  • Parents need to rank applications in priority order.  Parents will be able to adjust the order of their choices through the December deadline.
  • In March, when HISD contacts parents of the outcome of the applications, all applications ranked below the top choice will be dropped automatically. Any programs you are wait listed that rank above the highest accepted choice, remain active.
  • Applications for students who live outside the HISD boundaries may be submitted any time after September 22, 2017 but they will not be considered until June 1, 2018.  (See the FAQ for details.)
  • Students must be in attendance on day one of school. Magnet seats are not saved if there are zoned students to fill the spaces.

So, for entering school in August 2018, you will apply to schools from September 22, 2017-December 8, 2017.  It will look something like this:

  • You apply to up to 5 schools for the 2018-2019 school year by December 8.  These include both Vanguard and Magnet Programs.
  • You will rank you favorite schools… for example: #1 River Oaks Vanguard, #2 Wharton Dual Language, #3 Poe Fine Arts, #4 Wilson Montessori…
  • In January/February, IF you applied to Vanguard schools, your child will take the G/T test.
  • In March, you will learn which schools have accepted our application (through the lottery).
  • If you got a spot at #2 Wharton, you would stay on the waitlist for #1 River Oaks, but be dropped from the waitlists from #3 Poe and #4 Wilson…
  • In April, you must accept your spot at Wharton or you will lose it.  If a spot opened up at River Oaks, you could still accept it.


What you need to know about HoustonISD:


The school that you are zoned to is your neighborhood school and the one that your child will be automatically accepted into (as long as it is not too full). If you don’t already know which school you are zoned to, go to THIS website, type in your address, and choose the grade level your child will be in for the school year.

If you are happy with your neighborhood school and want your child to go there, you don’t need to worry about the magnet application process*.  (One note is that a few HoustonISD neighborhood schools are over full.  Call your zoned school to see if there is any issue at all with attending your local neighborhood school.)  Contact the school to find out what you need to do to enroll your child and when to do it.

(*One more note on zoned schools and Vanguard Programs:  If you are going to your zoned school and it’s not a Vanguard Magnet School (like Roberts, Poe, etc), your kids will be tested at school for the Vanguard Neighborhood Program. If you are going to your zoned school and it’s a Vanguard Magnet (like ROE, Travis, etc), the official word from HISD is: “In October, when the online application system opens, go ahead and apply to ROE, even if you are zoned. You will be provided details about testing.” You can also contact your zoned school to get all the details.)



If you would like the opportunity for your child to attend a school you are not zoned to, you will have apply for a magnet transfer. THIS  is the part of HISD’s website about the magnet programs.

Each magnet school has a specialized theme that is incorporated into their classes and curriculum. For example, a fine arts magnet school may offer more exposure to music, dance, art and drama than other schools would.



You can submit up to 5 magnet school applications, of which 5 can be for Vanguard schools.  Know that magnet schools can be very hard to get in to, so apply to several!  Also, children must quality for Vanguard programs.  In case they do not do well on the test, make sure you have selected some non-Vanguard magnet programs when you apply.

Apply online or print an application HERE.



The Vanguard Magnet schools are different than the other Magnet programs. Vanguard is HISD’s term for G/T or gifted and talented. Students must pass a test in order to be accepted as a transfer student at these schools.

You can apply to up to 5 Vanguard schools and must rank your top choices.  When you apply, you will select a test date for your child:

  • Dates to be added.

We did the Vanguard test several years ago and this is what we found… tell me if you have a more recent experience!  On test day, parents and children signed in then were directed to a large waiting area. Then students were called out on their own or in small groups while parents waited for them.

Your child probably won’t be called out immediately, so you may want to bring snacks and something quiet for them to do.

Once the students left the waiting area they met individually in a room with the person administering the test. When they finished they were brought back to the room then the parents and students could leave.

If a student passes the test, then he or she is entered into the lottery at the Vanguard schools already chosen on the application. If the student does not pass the test, he or she will not be considered for transfer to a Vanguard school. Children who pass the test but aren’t accepted into one of the Vanguard schools can still be in the Vanguard program at the school they end up attending (if that school has a program).

I always get asked for resources to help prepare kids and parents for testing.  Here is what has been recommended by other parents over the years… but review each to see what is best for you:

Lollipop Logic
Wiz Kidz
Kindergarten Test Prep Bundle for ITBS

{One more note on zoned schools and Vanguard Programs:  If you are going to your zoned school and it’s not a Vanguard Magnet School (like Roberts, Poe, etc), your kids will be tested at school for the Vanguard Neighborhood Program. If you are going to your zoned school and it’s a Vanguard Magnet (like ROE, Travis, etc), the official word from HISD is: “In October, when the online application system opens, go ahead and apply to ROE, even if you are zoned. You will be provided details about testing.” You can also contact your zoned school to get all the details.}



Once the deadline for turning in applications has passed, the schools hold a lottery where they draw the names of the students they’ll accept. Any students who applied but were not chosen are placed on a waiting list in the order their names were drawn.

Many of the schools that you’ll be applying to will probably have long wait lists and you are not guaranteed to be accepted as a transfer student into any of the schools that you’ve applied to. I was waitlisted at around number 320 for one of them, in the 200s for another and actually got in to 1.

So, if you really don’t want your child to attend your zoned school you should to turn in applications to more schools to increase your chance of acceptance.

Status notifications (whether you’ve been accepted or your number on the waitlist) are online and sent through the mail in late March.

If you are on a waitlist you can monitor the changes online through the parent dashboard.

If you are accepted you have until early April to inform the school of your “intent to attend.”

Your place on any higher ranked waitlists will remain the same though, so if you receive a spot at your second choice school, but are waitlisted at your first, accepting the second choice will not affect your chances of getting into your first choice.



Those of you who have, or who plan to have, additional children may be wondering if you’ll have to go through this whole process again. The answer is yes, but special consideration is currently given to siblings in the lottery.

As of now, up to the 25% of the incoming Kinder (or PreK, if it is a magnet PreK) class is guaranteed to siblings of currently enrolled students. If the number of siblings applying is more than 25% of the entering class, all sibling names are placed in a lottery and those spaces are awarded according to the order the names are drawn.

Any remaining siblings are placed in the general lottery, and if their names still aren’t drawn, they are placed at the beginning of the wait list. So, chances are that if your older child gets a spot at the school you want, your younger one(s) should too… but no guarantee… especially at very popular schools!

For Vanguard schools the younger child(ren) will have to pass the Vanguard test, but as long as they do the above will hold true for them as well.

If two siblings apply for an entry grade‐level program (and do not have another sibling in the program already) they are treated the same as any other applicant. However, if one is offered a place, the other is moved up the wait list, and placed among the other siblings. (Each sibling must have a separate application on file.)

For twins (and all multiples), you can have them treated like all other siblings or opt to have all the children receive one lottery spot.  All will be offered a seat or all placed on
the wait list. If they are on a wait list, they will not be offered seats until there is room for all of them. (Each sibling must have a separate application on file.)



For elementary magnet programs, the “entry” grade is usually Kindergarten.  For Magnet dual language, Magnet language immersion, and Montessori Magnet programs, the “entry” grade is Pre‐K.

In the application, you can see which schools have PreK magnet programs.

Note that some schools have PreK programs that are NOT magnet programs.  Contact the school for details on applying.

What to Expect: Applying to HoustonISD Magnet Schools for the NEXT 2018-2019 Year

HoustonISD will be accepting 2018-2019 Magnet Applications on September 22th, 2017… so if you want to send your kids NEXT year, you need to apply THIS fall!

To get you ready for the process, here are the key points that you need to know.

  • Find the comprehensive “what you need to know” post HERE.
  • The 2018–2019 HISD magnet application will be available online or through a paper application on September 22, 2017.  They are accepted until December 8, 2017… and families hear back by March 22, 2018. (Of course, Harvey could change these dates!)
  • It only takes 10 minutes to complete… but deciding on which schools to apply to can take longer.  There are a lot of open houses and school tours that help you decide: These are October 5, 12, 19, 26, November 2, 9, 16, 30, and December 7.  All Magnet Campuses will offer tours to interested parents.
  • Your favorite school is likely the favorite school of hundreds of other families.  To see the popularity of the HISD programs, go HERE.  (This is a very cool resource from last year… and lets you know what to expect.)
  • Chances are, you will not get into many of the schools you apply to.  THIS is why I said it’s okay (after 5 years of being heartbroken by my favorite school).
  • The process and the programs and generally (mostly) the same each year.  Read THIS for an overview of zoned schools, vanguard schools, magnets schools and the process.
  • Most likely, this is what will happen starting September 22, 2017:
    • You apply to up to 5 schools for the 2018-2019 school year.
    • You will rank you favorite schools… for example: #1 River Oaks Vanguard, #2 Wharton Dual Language, #3 Poe Fine Arts, #4 Wilson Montessori…
    • In March, you will learn which schools have accepted our application (through the lottery).
    • If you got a spot at #2 Wharton, you would stay on the waitlist for #1 River Oaks, but be dropped from the waitlists from #3 Poe and #4 Wilson…
  • The official HoustonISD resources can be found HERE.

For parents that are brand new to HoustonISD, look HERE to learn about zoned schools and your options within the school district.

If you have tips or questions, let us know.  And remember that this is meant to be helpful because I found the process very confusing 7 years ago… and have since been through it 3 times.  This is not the official HoustonISD Magnet resource… that can be found HERE!

I’m not the only mom that recommends Dr. Carlos Ramos at OGA Houston.

This summer I ran into a pregnant mom at the library. She said she saw my post last year and switch to Dr. Ramos at Obstetrical & Gynecological Associates, next to The Woman’s Hospital of Texas, in the Medical Center.

She said she was not sure she’d see the same level of care as a new patient… but guess what? She was equally as pleased.

Just like me…

  • She sees Dr. Ramos every single visit (not another doctor or an assistant).
  • She gets quick ultrasounds every single visit (in the office, not in another lab).
  • She has the direct phone and email access to the doctor. (And gets answers to all her questions!)
  • Her appointments are on time.

And when her baby turns one years old, I bet she will get a Happy Birthday phone call as well.

Read the original post HERE… and if you want my recommendation for a doctor, learn about Dr. Ramos HERE.

Time for a Skin Check at Mosaic Dermatology Houston

I did not use enough sunscreen as a teenager. Instead I used baby oil and lemon juice while I lounged poolside.

This led to three progressively bigger surgeries on my back and a nagging concern about skin cancer. From the research I’ve done since, I know that skin cancers removed early are usually curable, but they can be hard to spot on the back and they rarely hurt.

So while a self examination is great, I need to schedule my annual skin check with the dermatologist… especially after spending the last 3 months under the bright Houston sun.

At our sponsor, Mosaic Dermatology Houston, the physicians are trained at UT-Houston and MD Anderson Cancer Center. They have extensive Dermatology experience that includes preforming detailed skin checks where they examine moles, wrinkles, and all aging skin.

AND you can see a male or female doctor and get next day appointments.  Plus HERE are hundreds of 5 Star Reviews from verified patients!

If you also want to be proactive with your skin care, contact Mosaic Dermatology Houston online or by calling 281-941-5556.

Also, as not to repeat my mistakes from the 90’s, you can order antioxidant sunscreen right from the online store!  Get the sunscreen with an extra splash of anti-oxidant Vitamin C, HERE!

The Best Part of Summer Break: $100 at Costco

We’ve had an awesome Summer Break with day trips, pool days and park visits… but one of the best things we did was to go to Costco. (I’m not joking.)

During the school year, I go during the day so I do not have to take four kids through the giant store and have my cart loaded with reasonable, but way too many, special requests. That said, over the summer I needed to get some items from Costco and I needed to take care of my kids… so off we all went.

A year ago, this really would have been awful, but this summer it was different. Not only did I get the items on my shopping list, but I saw my big kids grasp money-management without eye rolling or obnoxious sighs.

Last January my husband and I took Freedom Financial Peace University with Dave Ramsey. The first step in the course is to put $1,000 into an emergency fund. Our interpretation was that even if you had $1,000, to see how fast you could add an extra $1,000.

After looking at our income streams and ways to make more money, we decided that the best way to add $1,000 was to just stop spending so much of the money we had. So, we set a grocery budget of $100 per week… and only took $100 in cash to the store.

This exercise was slightly painful, but it was a powerful lesson on how we could better tell our money where to go and how to work for us. So, if we did not get the extra box of Goldfish at Costco, our $10 could go to the travel fund or mortgage fund… and after several months of saving, the savings would be significant. (Not to mention that usually it was more than one extra box being added to the cart.)

So this summer, when I took the kids to Costco, I showed them my grocery list and the $100 in my wallet. As we picked up items, they added up the (rounded) totals and kept us on track. Plus, when we got to the cheddar cheese, they could not believe it was nearly $10. (And I could be making this up, but I think they gained some appreciation for why I freak out anytime it’s left unsealed in the fridge.)

When we got to the end of the list, the kids wanted to add a bottled drink to the cart. A year ago, we would have just thrown it in. I mean, what’s $10 more when you are spending hundreds? But since we only had $100 cash with us and since they were in charge of the sum of everything in the cart, they had a decision to make.

They were determined to get the drink, so they returned the Babybel and had money for the tea. And when we checked out, they were very proud to be right at the $100 mark.

Without a doubt, the trips to Costco were the most useful thing we did all summer. I’ve talked to the kids about budgeting (and not letting the food go bad) but it was a summer at the store that actually made them understand what I was trying to say. (Which is probably because with only $100 in cash, I actually had to do what I was telling them to do.)

Financial Peace University really was life changing for our family. We have always been “good” with money, been frugal and saved when we could… but this course really showed us how to take charge of our money and to fund the things that were important to us.

It also showed us exactly what insurance and investments we needed and what was a waste of money.

And most importantly, it got my husband and I onto the same page as far as our goals and how to accomplish them. I honestly wish we had taken it when we were married 15 years ago.

Another course is coming up in September at Second Baptist Church at several locations. It’s $75/family for all the materials and there is free childcare for kids 5 and under. (My big kids came into the class with us.)

If you are interested in this Bible based approach to financial management, learn all about it HERE. It’s NOT a referral link… I just love what the course has done for our family.

If you cannot attend the class but want to see what it is all about, get the book (affiliate) Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money.

Visionworks is teaming up with Little League: Get Your Kids Eyes Examined!

My daughter told me she needed glasses for two full years before I got her to the optometrist.

She had passed all the tests at school and at the pediatrician’s office, so I figured she just wanted glasses like her good friend. She is a very fashionable little girl, so I figured she was trying to get another accessory for her Caboodle.

It was not until last Spring when I went for my own eye exam that I brought along Brooke. Here the doctor examined her eyes and kindly told me she had been squinting so much, for so long, that he had trouble even figuring out her correct prescription. What he did know was that she needed glasses and that she had probably been struggling to see at school and on the ball field.

At our sponsor, Visionworks, the office has a sign that says one in four children has an undiagnosed vision problem. Apparently this was true for my family… and the simple eye chart had not been enough to catch it.

It took me another six months to realize that I should also make an appointment with the optometrist for my boys. Which was silly, because even if they were not complaining, I knew from my childhood that it is hard to know you do not see as clearly as everyone else… until it is corrected.

Here, one boy passed easily and one boy is being monitored. And both boys were encouraged to wear sunglasses in the bright Texas sun.

In 2017, Visionworks is teaming up with Little League® to become the official eyewear and eye care retailer of Little League Baseball and Softball. Together, the organizations are raising awareness about the importance of annual eye exams and protective eyewear for school-aged children, especially those children who play sports.

Additionally with the Little League World Series going on August 17-27, Visionworks wants to remind baseball families all across the country to get their little athlete’s eyes checked.

So, as you visit the doctor and dentist and get ready for the new school year, be sure to also make an appointment for your kids to have their eyes examined.  I can tell you that the simple eye charts may not be enough to diagnose a problem!

Why I Love Houston’s ABBA Color Photography!

Have I told you lately how much I love ABBA Color Photography?  I just bring the baby and the photographer takes care of everything.  Maricela has baby clothes, headbands, backgrounds and lots of ideas.

If I have an outfit or idea, she incorporates it.  And if I’ve been up all night with the baby and lucky to have even made my appointment after dropping the big kids at camp or school… she can just handle everything.

I hand over the baby and am absolutely certain that this mom will take good care of her.

In fact, I like it best when she just handles everything. She puts on clothes and sets up backgrounds that I never would have picked… but that look amazing. Just look at this lace dress… I never would have bought it at the store, but I love the texture and how the picture glows!

And look at this newborn and 3 month photos she took!

If you are looking for amazing baby or kid photos, I whole-heartedly recommend ABBA Color Photography.

Sweaty, Gritty Houston Summers Call for Mosaic Dermatology Houston

We’re wrapping up a long little league season and it’s been three months of sweaty boys in my car.

As they piled out last week, I realized something awful.  They were out of the car, their equipment was with them, the windows were open… and I was the one that stunk.

And not only that, but the same red dirt that stains our white baseball pants had coated my sweaty face.  I was gritty and stinky… and summer had just begun.

I love summer break in Houston, but man, it sure is something special.  Baseball games, beach trips and even running to the car take a toll on my skin and my clothes!

This is where our sponsor Mosaic Dermatology Houston comes in.  Not only do they have cosmetic services from Botox to under arm sweat and odor reduction but the have a new gentle cleanser!

This cleanser is aggressive on acne but gentle on skin.  To learn more, check out this FREE Benzoyl Peroxide guide from Mosaic.  You can also get FREE shipping on Mosaic Cleanser to use as a wash for the face and other affected areas.

Mosaic also has an unique non-invasive underarm treatments that can produce immediate results. A significant reduction to near elimination of armpit sweat and odor is achieved in many patients… which is great for Houston summers!

Dr. Rashid of Mosaic Dermatology Houston has urgent walk-in appointments AND has Saturday hours for those that cannot miss work or school. More than this, he is thorough, caring and gives patients enough time to answer all their questions.

See for yourself… HERE are hundreds of 5 Star Reviews from verified patients!

Check out the Mosaic Clinic Dermatology offices in Upper Kirby and Tanglewood.  Learn more on or by calling 281-941-5556., in association with Children’s Memorial Hermann, offering free after-hours nurse call line

Why does it seem like kids always get sick after hours or on weekends, when the pediatrician’s office is closed?

A fever, an earache, a swollen ankle. Life happens after hours, too.

And if you’re a parent, you know the dilemma: Do I ride it out, hoping my child’s condition will improve, or pack up and head to the nearest urgent care facility, hoping to be seen? Now Houston-area parents have another option…

Call the Free After-Hours Pediatric Nurse Line!

Our sponsor, Children’s Memorial Hermann, in association with, is offering after-hours telephone access to a pediatric nurse practitioner who can answer questions about sick children and provide triage services over the phone. The service is free for children ages 0 to 18 years of age. It’s available after hours and on weekends.

Download the App Today

Simply download the app to your Apple or Android phone and click, “Request a Call.” Within minutes, you’ll get a call from an experienced pediatric nurse practitioner who can help you determine what to do. The on-demand service is offered on weekday evenings, from 6-10 p.m., and on weekends, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Memorial Hermann, in association with Dallas-based, is the first major health system in the United States to offer this revolutionary digital tool aimed at connecting parents of sick children with skilled nurse practitioners when pediatrician offices are typically closed.

Coming Soon: After-Hours House Calls Across Greater Houston

The nurse triage service was first launched last fall by Children’s Memorial Hermann in The Woodlands, along with an urgent care house call service. If the nurse determines a child should be seen by a provider, a nurse practitioner will arrange an immediate consultation at your home through the mobile app.

During the house call, the nurse practitioner can assess, diagnose, treat and, if needed, prescribe medication. The service is affordable to consumers and covered by most major insurance providers, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, UnitedHealth, Aetna, Cigna and the Memorial Hermann Health Plan.

To make your child’s healthcare as seamless as possible, your nurse practitioner will provide all the details about the home visit to your child’s regular pediatrician, to keep him or her in the loop.

While the nurse triage service is now available for families across the Greater Houston area, the house call service is currently available only in The Woodlands and surrounding communities. Children’s Memorial Hermann has plans to expand pediatric house calls to more locations later this year.

Parent Approved

Response to the new services has been overwhelmingly positive.’s Facebook site has nearly 8,000 likes and hundreds of five-star reviews.

To learn more, visit

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