Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Way Back Wednesday: Take the Stage

After I wrote about the Newman Singers - the choir in which Tom and I met 20 years ago - a few weeks ago, a friend who used to live in Iowa City and had a close connection with the group and the students in it, sent me a few concert photos. I thought they were worth sharing, if for no other reason than to show off Tom's long hair and Tom dressed as Elvis Presley.

Yes, we regularly wore sunglasses and costumes for skits and dances. Good times and good memories.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Gardens at TAMU

Back in December we discovered a new "diamond in the rough" here in College Station: The Gardens at Texas A&M University.

The Gardens is a place where creativity sprouts, knowledge flourishes, and Aggie roots run deep. A place made for discovery – where we take research further and understanding wider. Where inspiration and spirit bloom.

This 27-acre expanse grew out of TAMU's desire to broaden research and outreach related to horticulture and its direct impact on life on earth. Creators of The Gardens envisioned a peaceful sanctuary where students and community members could learn about ever-connected ecosystems, plant growth, food production, and water conservation while also enjoying nature's beauty.

While not yet completely developed - from what I understand there is still work to be done on the children's garden and outdoor classroom, rose garden, savannah, and amphitheater - The Gardens has already begun helping all those who visit better understand conservation, preservation, and how to repair and sustain natural habitats.

We visited at the perfect time of day and year: about 5pm during The Gardens' Festival of Trees. We had 30 minutes of daylight left to take a self-guided tour through The Gardens, and then, as the sun slipped below the horizon, the lights - Christmas and otherwise - came to life.
Hallie, admiring her favorite piggy-themed tree.
Butterfly Garden art
Fruit Orchard
Kitchen Garden
A quiet, peaceful water feature nestled
among the many gardens and walkways.
Mexican Heritage Garden
Plaza in the Mexican Heritage Garden
Working in the Rain Garden
Birdwatching in the Bird Garden
Leach Vineyard
Three different varieties of grape are being grown to
promote the blossoming wine grape industry in Texas.
Pumping water and filling up her watering can.
Watering in the Children's Garden.

We all loved the experience, and wished we could have stayed longer. (Side note: plan ahead, as there was not, at least when we visited, a restroom available.) We plan to return in the spring though - I can only imagine how beautifully in bloom The Gardens' 27 acres will be come March and April.

Friday, February 15, 2019

High Five for Friday (2.15.19)

I've written it once, and I'll write it again: these High Five for Friday posts truly make a difference for me. After I write about something frustrating and anxiety-inducing, I think it's incredibly important to refocus on and write about something positive and uplifting. High Five for Friday posts "require" me to do so, and therefore remind me about all the good. Find the good. Focus on the good. Be the good. Happy Friday, friends.

I didn't get a chance to edit and upload my photos from Daddy Daughter Week at dance before last Friday's High Five post, so I bumped the photos of Tom attending four of Hallie's seven weekly dance classes to this week's High Five post. My favorite (and laugh out loud) moment was hearing a friend of Hallie's - who is also a dancer and was watching through the window - describe Tom as "having a good grasp of the fundamentals of dance". 😂

I wouldn't choose to spend every afternoon preparing for and every evening attending an elementary school disco dance, but last Friday's event went well and we all had fun flashing back to the 1970s.
You only need a few hundred balloons to build a balloon arch!
When you're a PTO kid... get to help build the balloon arch, even if you would
rather be eating snack and playing outside on the playground.
Stayin' Alive at Studio Rock Prairie!
Fun in the photo booth.
The star of the disco.

February turned around, folks. Tom recovered (twice), Will recovered, my car has new tires, my car has a new battery, Will caught up at school, I caught up on work and around the house (at least enough to leave town for a weekend), and my carpal tunnel flare-up is (I hope) on the mend. Bring on our short and sweet Christmas/anniversary/Valentine's Day trip!

My parents arrive from the Great White North this evening! They're staying with the kids for a couple of days while Tom and I go out of town, and then once Tom and I return, they'll help me tackle a few projects around the house in between watching soccer practices and dance lessons.

Happiness Highlights
This one made me laugh.
The first buck ever spotted at the Lincoln Lodge!
My favorite!
This girl made her second Raddish meal - chicken
parmesan, garlicky green beans, and chocolate and caramel
fondue with fruit and pretzels - on Tuesday night. Yum!

Happy Friday, friends!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Year that Was January

30 days has September, April, June, and November. All the rest have 31, except for February, which has 28, and in Leap Year 29...and January, which has 527.

I lost track of how many memes expressing similar sentiments appeared on my Facebook and Instagram feeds in January. Apparently I wasn't the only one who had a tough time making it through the first month of 2019.
This one's for Hallie.

For me, January was challenging for three reasons. First, our schedule seemed fuller than usual (for January), and while I don't mind busy at all, after winter break I had trouble transitioning - at least smoothly - back to busy. Second, I was incredibly worried about everyone getting sick, as January 2019 marked one year since the great Ferris Flu Fiasco. And third, I had an enormous amount of anxiety about pulling off the variety show, to the point that I was having variety show nightmares and developed a stress-related eye twitch.

When the variety show wrapped on the 31st I was SO ready to just let January go. I planned to kick February off with a relaxing and restful weekend, and then take a couple of weekdays to replenish my reserves and catch up on a little work.

Best laid plans...

Long story short, February did not kick off the way I had hoped. Those first 10 days of the month looked and felt like an extension of January - maybe even an uglier version of January - and I didn't handle them well. I lost my temper more than once. I shed quite a few tears. I slept too little, and slept fitfully. I had to cut workouts short. I worked from 6:30am until 10pm every day but when I my head finally hit the pillow each night I felt like I had nothing to show for it. I was grumpy and even a little angry. Oh, and my eye kept twitching.

Part of my problem is that while I can search for - and find - the silver linings, I struggle to embrace those silver linings. For example... I could intellectually grasp that Will's bout with the flu and bronchitis and having to stay home from school for nearly a week meant I could spend extra time with him, but my brain COULD NOT stop reminding me that missing just one day (let alone four days) of advanced math would set him back days, that he had to make up multiple tests when he returned to class, that his cardiovascular health suffers if he doesn't run regularly, that he missed a dose of peanuts, and that he might share this illness with Hallie and me. (Will caught his illness - at least the flu - from Tom, so I wasn't worried about him.) Another example... I could intellectually grasp that my car battery dying in between soccer tournament games on a Sunday, when Tom was available to come jump my car and pick up the soccer players I had been preparing to drive home, was better than it dying on a weekday at 3:30pm when Tom would have been in class and I was trying to take little girls to dance. But my brain COULD NOT stop reminding me that I might not be able to find a place to replace my battery on a Sunday, that I might miss one of Will's soccer games, that I might not make it back to the tournament to cover my required volunteer shift, and that replacing the car battery (just two days after I replaced all four tires on the car, by the way) would be expensive.

I acknowledge that I am a natural worrier. (Tom is not, which is why we work so well together - I worry enough for the both of us.) I also acknowledge that I fear falling behind and losing control, so when forced to slow down or take a detour I can't help but focus on those fears rather than on the benefits that come along with an unhurried pace and meandering path.

Last Monday, while sitting at home worrying about the many ways Will's absence from school could ruin his life, I opened Instagram and came across a post by a friend of mine.

I read somewhere that everything is more dangerous at a high speed. And isn't it so? Falling off a bike while creeping is kinda funny, but while racing is potentially tragic. Spotting a deer while meandering is enchanting, but while driving is potentially catastrophic. 

I teared up while reading her words (I almost always tear up while reading her words - follow her and take advantage of her wisdom here), realizing that I am more dangerous at a high speed. When I push the gas pedal too hard, I miss the silver linings, worry more, say/text/email things I wish I hadn't, and make decisions without thoroughly thinking through my options and the consequences.

In keeping with this car analogy... I need to work on controlling the speed of my life with both the gas pedal and the brake pedal, rather than turning on cruise control, bumping up the speed on MPH at a time, and then sailing down the highway. I know I won't be able to make this change overnight, but it's good to have goals and I'm grateful to my friend for pointing out how a fast pace comes with its own dangers.

Thankfully for us, midway through the month the illnesses subsided, injuries healed, and struggles resolved. I hope that from this point forward I can finally receive from February what I needed: a reprieve from January.

Edited: I wrote this post over the weekend, thinking we had made it through the worst of February. I spoke/wrote too soon...last night Tom was diagnosed with Pneumonia. At least February is a tiny bit shorter than January. 😉

Monday, February 11, 2019

Resolutions Round-Up

For the second year in a row, I started my New Year's Resolutions in September and with the intent to tackle one resolution each month, rather than following the more traditional route of starting January 1st and attempting one or two resolutions over the course of the year. I gave "themed" resolutions a try during the first month, but quickly learned that I need more flexibility than the category system could provide and went back to choosing resolutions as they come to me and according to what I need to work on as each new month rolls around.

February Resolution: take a vacation. Tom and I hope to take a short trip - to celebrate our 15th anniversary - this month, but because we have nothing set in stone (no plane tickets, no hotel reservations, no destination) it would be easy and not terribly out of character for one or both of us to write it off because of time, money, blah, blah, blah. We want to do this, and my parents will be here to take care of the kids, so I'm making a promise and sharing my commitment here so I won't try to come up with any excuses for why we shouldn't go. Now if only we could decide where to go...

I also plan to finish up my January Simplified Challenge - just a few daily challenges left to go!

January Resolution(s): first, write for at least one hour a day. This seemed like a silly resolution, since I consider myself a writer and all, but I needed to give myself permission to focus more on my work and less on other responsibilities. Second, complete Emily Ley's 2019 Simplicity Challenge, which is a series of one-a-day steps that can be accomplished in 15 minutes or less and together add up to achieving a more simplified life. How did they go?

I did reasonably well with my first resolution, though I would have done even better if January hadn't also contained the nearly-all-consuming Variety Show. I missed a few Saturdays and one Sunday and had to devote a couple of days' writing time to volunteer writing responsibilities (which didn't technically fall under the umbrella of work), but all in all my fingers stayed busy. I didn't do quite as well with my second resolution, at least initially. I have every intention of finishing all 31 challenges, but I intentionally postponed a few that for me will take more than the expected 15 minutes. You can find all of the daily challenges on the Simplified Instagram page (they're brightly colored and easy to spot among the other posts), but here are a few of my favorites:
  • Organize your inbox. Search the word "unsubscribe" and remove yourself from non-essential lists. 
  • Clear the clutter on your computer. Delete unused files and organize important ones. Empty the trash.
  • Detox your social media feeds. Follow inspirational accounts. Unfollow anyone draining.
  • Dump out your purse. Throw away trash. Create a little bag of essentials.
  • Create a birthday list of friends you'd like to reach out to on their special day. (You can update this list and use it year after year.)
  • Clean the trash out of your car. Papers. Straws. Receipts.
  • Start the habit of throwing a small load of laundry in every morning.
  • Walk your house with a donate bag. Schedule a pick-up or drop it off as soon as the bag is full.
  • Simplify your phone. Delete old contacts and unused apps. Refresh your lock screen.
  • Put two things - just two - that make you happy on your bedside table. You should also have a lamp and a clock.

December's Resolution: read to my kids every night. I resolved to read to my kids every night last December as well; doing so seems to happen less and less as they get older and I wanted to "make" myself get back into the habit of snuggling up next to them and either reading to them or letting them read to me. I loved the precious moments we spent together - and losing ourselves in all of our Christmas books - so I brought this resolution back for a second round. How did it go? Reasonably well. I would estimate that Hallie and I read together two out of every three nights, and Will chose to join us for about half of those read-aloud sessions. As was my goal last year, I wanted to carry our reading momentum into January this year, and while we had trouble doing so in the evenings, Hallie and I found a new time and place to read together: in the afternoons (on the days she doesn't have dance) and in front of the fireplace. Perfection.

November's Resolution: write in my gratitude journal daily. Doing so has been my November resolution for the last few years, and because I love intentionally documenting one thing for which I am thankful every day between November 1st and Thanksgiving Day, I kept the tradition alive. How did it go? Quite well! I missed a couple of days as usual, but upon realizing I had done so, and because I remembered the days I accidentally skipped with relative clarity, I was able to go back and update my gratitude journal.

October Resolution: use what I have, specifically beauty and skincare products, makeup, cleaning and household products, and food in my pantry and freezer. I had so many freebies, sample-sized "gifts with purchase", and full-sized products purchased at the recommendation of others, and because I wanted to start streamlining what I buy and use in each of these categories, I decided the time had come to "use it or lose it". How did it go? Incredibly well! I used up multiple lotions, shampoos, conditioners, body washes, makeup and perfume samples, and chapsticks. I tossed lots of items that had reached the end of their lives or surpassed their expiration dates. And I donated a bag of unopened samples and set aside a box of assorted products for my next garage sale.

September Resolutions: sleep seven hours every night; play with my kids, husband, and friends; and manage my social media stress. How did it go? I did well at tallying seven hours of sleep a night - I think I only missed the mark three times, and none of these nights were because of simply staying up too late. Second, I did horribly at (officially) playing with my kids, husband, and friends because...I completely forgot about this resolution, which perfectly demonstrates why I can only have one resolution each month. I did play with the kids, go on a date with Tom, and go out for dinner and drinks with friends, but not once did any of these activities remind me that I had pledged to do more. And third, I did moderately well at managing social media stress. I unfollowed quite a few people and sources and sites that regularly made me feel worse rather than better, and I added a few to lift my spirits.

Did you resolve to change anything about yourself or your life this year? Last month? This coming month? How are those resolutions going?

Friday, February 8, 2019

High Five for Friday (2.8.19)

Last week I mentioned the Variety Show in the context of an event to which Hallie and her friends wore their new baker costumes, and this week I mention the Variety Show to send out a gigantic high five that it has wrapped. I have loved and am tremendously grateful for the many opportunities - five, to be exact - I've had to help our elementary school's 4th graders find their talents and bring their acts to life, but with a "graduating" 4th grader myself, the time has come for me step down. The show must go on, but next year it will be with someone else at the helm.

Let's keep the performance theme going, shall we?

On Friday, Hallie and her Mini Company performed at one of my favorite events of the year, Night of Worship. We rushed to Bryan as soon as possible after school so the kids could enjoy an ice cream treat, then turned the girls over to their director so the moms could enjoy a grown-up treat. Finally we settled into our seats (thank goodness for the nicest weather we've ever had for this outdoor event) and enjoyed our dancers.
These two manned the hot chocolate table prior to the show.
That's my girl!

Another weekend, another soccer tournament! We travel for every regular season game, so the opportunity to play two tournaments in a row just 15 minutes from our house felt like such a treat! The weekend didn't end exactly how the boys would have liked, but they played as hard as they could for as long as they could and I'm proud of them!
Will has an awesome coach. I have no idea what he
says to the boys when they sub out, but he always sits
 down next to them and from the sidelines it looks like
he legitimately cares about making sure they understand
his corrections and feel encouraged going forward.  

Tom and I have always told Will that he could play football...until the day the style of play switched from flag to tackle. Because he knew he would never make it as a high school football player (taking into account both his size and our rule about not playing the tackle version of the game), Will focused his energies on different athletic activities. But with middle school sports on the horizon, Will has suddenly developed an interest in taking the football field and a work-around to our no-tackle rule: he wants to become a kicker.

Will bought a football and a tee, and has made multiple trips to the middle school football field to see if his soccer kick might possibly translate to a football kick. He has also assured me that he's "pretty sure" kickers hardly ever get tackled, so I wouldn't need to worry about his brain.

I expect this interest in football will be short-lived and Will will soon go back to his original plan to run cross country, but in the meantime, I'm proud of how hard he's working toward this new goal.

Happiness Highlights
While Will kicked field goals, I walked the track and
marveled at this gorgeous rainbow. It appeared one minute
and was gone the next, making me all the more grateful I
was in the right place at the right time to see it. 
Hallie worked diligently on this tiny Etch-A-Sketch
project (rather than watch her brother play soccer)
for almost an hour. I love it when old school toys
make a comeback!
Will left these "finished" Rubik's Cubes on the
windowsill in Hallie's room. Can you see it?
Sometimes they're AWFUL to each other, but sometimes they
do things like this and all is once again right with the world.
Just because. 
Hallie and I bought matching "Love Rules" shirts
for Valentine's Day in the kids section at Target. 
For Christmas we bought my sister, BIL, niece,
and nephew tickets to see Finding Neverland.
Isn't Carter adorable in his pirate get-up?!
Grand Station birthday party for Paloma!
Paloma was so sweet to include
these three littles in the party fun!

Happy Friday, friends!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here.