Monday, December 17, 2018

Wish Me Anything You Want

Portions of the content below appeared on Chasing Roots last December, and the December before, and the December before that. I believe that this post - with a few updates - and its overarching message deserve a share every time the season for "wishing" arrives. 

I grew up in an ethnically and religiously diverse community. Because of the plethora of religions supported, holidays celebrated, and traditions followed (and not supported, celebrated, and followed, for that matter - the Freedom From Religion Foundation began and is still based there), and because my hometown has earned a reputation as "the land of the perpetually offended", very little related to religious holidays could be found in public buildings and schools throughout my childhood years. We never sang Christmas carols or wore Santa hats in school, and in 1987, the Christmas tree that had stood proudly in the State Capitol rotunda every December since 1918 was renamed a Holiday tree in an attempt to make the building feel more inclusive and avoid irritating those who didn't celebrate Christmas.

To be clear, I understand why the tree was renamed. A Christmas tree in the State Capitol building is hardly a separation of church and state. It's not the point of my post though, so I'm moving on.

In 2011, Governor Walker re-renamed the tree, this time back to a Christmas tree. "It's a diverse state", Walker explained. "I think it's a reflection of the many wonderful traditions in the State of Wisconsin." Now, during the month of December, the Capitol rotunda also hosts a Menorah, Festivus trees, and a nativity scene mocking Christmas, so it seems more people are "represented" in their State Capitol building.

Again to clarify, I understand why the tree was re-renamed. Just changing the name of an object long associated with a religious holiday doesn't necessarily lessen the association between the two. It's not the point of my post either though, so I'm moving on again.

Growing up, I learned to wish people "Happy Holidays" during the month of December. I used this phrase, and this phrase exclusively, until a few years ago, not because it's lovely and inclusive (and it IS lovely and inclusive - there's absolutely nothing wrong with wishing someone happy holidays), but because I honestly worried about offending someone.

I now live in a completely different kind of community from the one in which I grew up, so out of curiosity, a few years ago I ran little (uncontrolled) experiment. While shopping and running errands during the two weeks leading up to Christmas, I recorded what people "wished" me. I didn't track what they said when I spoke first (because people often respond by repeating whatever phrase they hear), only what they said when they spoke first. I expected to find that in my current community, I would hear "Merry Christmas" more than 90% of the time. On the flip side, I expected to find that once I arrived in my hometown, I would hear "Happy Holidays" - or a wide variety of holiday wishes - more than 75% of the time.

Imagine my surprise when here in Texas I heard "Merry Christmas" six times and "Happy Holidays" six times. I was even more surprised when in Wisconsin I heard "Merry Christmas" seven times and "Happy Holidays" five times.

Tom would have me review my methods, analyze my data using formulas and equations, and submit my results to you in the form of a journal article, formal paper, and presentation, but there's a reason he's a professor and I'm not. I don't care to do any of that; I don't really even want to think about my incorrect predictions.

I do, however, want to focus on how wonderful it felt to be wished anything at all. I celebrate Christmas, but would never take offense if someone wished me Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanza or even just Happy Winter. I would never complain about someone wishing me happiness, in any way, shape, or form.

I love that my current community now embraces "Happy Holidays" along with "Merry Christmas". And I love that my hometown community seems to be moving toward the same place of acceptance.

The beauty is in the wishing, folks. So with a kind heart, wish people a happy whatever-you-want - Christmas, Hanukkah, Full Moon, Tuesday, winter - and with a graceful heart, accept whatever they feel moved to wish you.

Friday, December 14, 2018

High Five for...The Nutcracker

After months of preparation and a crazy week leading up to the two shows, we survived our fourth production of Ballet Brazos' The Nutcracker. (The arrival of the late GHWB and his family in College Station, while monumental and extraordinary, threw more than one wrench into the tech and dress rehearsal schedules. Oh, and so did the 24-hour torrential downpour we had to slog through multiple times during the rescheduled tech and dress rehearsals.)

Ballet Brazos began in 2012 with the mission to "instruct, educate, and enrich young people and their audiences through the art of dance and provide quality classical ballet performances for the community". These performances "showcase local talent, cultivate an appreciation for the arts, and inspire the next generation of dancers". Collaborative efforts since Ballet Brazos' inception have contributed to the nonprofit organization's significant growth both in size and prestige.

In this year's seventh annual production of The Nutcracker, Ballet Brazos welcomed professional dancers from the New York City Ballet, guest artists from across the country, and pre-professional ballerinas ranging in age from six to 18 from across the Brazos Valley. The professional dancers and guest artists turned in stunning performances as I expected they would, and the pre-professional dancers demonstrated their natural talent as well just how hard they have worked throughout the last four months in preparation for taking the stage. Combine the exceptional dancing with beautiful sets, stunning costumes, and a world-class stage and you have a spectacular show, one of which Ballet Brazos, the dancers, and the community can be proud.

I don't rave about Ballet Brazos' The Nutcracker because Hallie just danced for the fourth time, or because Tom crushed it in his first role as "master of sleigh lights", or because I have a vested interest in the success of the show. I rave about Ballet Brazos' The Nutcracker as someone who, as of five years ago, couldn't stand to watch ballet (true story) but who has come around because the production is just that good. I feel incredibly lucky to live in a community that can support a ballet-focused nonprofit organization as well as two nearly sold-out shows in a 2,500-seat auditorium.

We don't have any professional pictures of the shows yet, but here's a glimpse into the fun we had...and why we'll do it all again next year.
Their annual pre-show buddy pic.
Hallie Claire - ready for tech rehearsal!
Nutcracker Moms - ready for dress rehearsal!
She can now do her own mascara and I just have
to "touch her up" - what a world of difference this
development makes in our getting ready process!
So. Much. Red. Lipstick.
We love a good cinnamon roll! Er, bun.
Here we go! (I didn't know we were making funny faces.)
Hallie, Kara, and Kaylee on show day.
Hallie and some of her fellow angels.
Hallie and Caris
Avery and Hallie
Tom and Mandi, after they finished lighting the sleigh.
So proud of his creation! (And he deserves
should be - it looked amazing on stage!)
See you in 2019, Uncle Drosselmeyer!

For those of you who've followed Chasing Roots for a while and are therefore probably wondering, yes, the tradition of Will bringing flowers to his sweet girl continued. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Godspeed, Mr. President

The George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum is located in College Station. It opened to the public in 1997, but underwent a near-complete renovation 10 years later and reopened during a ceremony at which President Bush arrived via parachute jump.

I have visited the museum more than once since moving to College Station. Its core exhibits focus on President Bush's upbringing and the path his life took as he became a military man, college student, husband, father, businessman, Congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Vice President, and eventually President. The museum also offers insight into the efforts made by the Bush Administration to stop Saddam Hussein and liberate Kuwait, and showcases artifacts and memorabilia of importance to President Bush, such as a WWII Avenger Torpedo Bomber, a 1947 Studebaker, and his beloved speedboat, Fidelity.
41 and me, having a chat.
Will, solving the world's problems in the Situation Room.
Hallie, reading stories in Barbara's children's library. 
I was nine years old when our country elected President Bush. I paid absolutely no attention to politics back then, and still today only somewhat understand his contributions to our country's political landscape. I can't say if I would have voted for him. I can't say if I would have agreed with him. But I can say that I believe him to have been a good person. Each time I walked the museum's exhibits I found myself acknowledging not what an accomplished politician he was, but what an accomplished human being he was. A kind and generous man with a heart for family and a commitment to service.

Last Thursday, College Station all but shut down - Texas A&M University closed and the public schools let out early - in honor of President Bush. And just as we did seven months ago when Barbara passed away, we stood in the rain on a little patch of grass to the side of the road (or in this case, the railroad tracks) and paid our respects as President Bush made one final journey across his home state of Texas.

President Bush was laid to rest, alongside his wife and daughter, on the grounds of the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Texas A&M University. After a lifetime of service, President Bush deserves that rest...and we must take on the work where he left off.

"America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the Nation and gentler the face of the world. My friends, we have work to do."

Godspeed, Mr. President.

Friday, December 7, 2018

High Five for Friday (12.7.18)

Our elf, Chris, has returned! We had a particularly rough night on November 29th (just the usual "parenting 12- and nine-year-old kids" stuff, but the evening took an emotional and mental toll on all of us), so I decided Chris should arrive the following morning - one day earlier than usual - to lift our spirits. Chris always brings new Christmas pajamas, and this year he brought simple chocolate advent calendars (a first for Will due to his allergies) as well; both kids were excited about his gifts, and Tom and I are excited to start forgetting to move him around our house every night!

On Friday night, Hallie and I - along with many of our close mom and daughter friends (and quite a few acquaintances through her ballet academy) - drove to Houston to see the Houston Ballet's Jubilee of Dance. I had never attended a Houston Ballet production before, and while the night went on a little longer than we were prepared for (close to three-and-a-half hours when including the TWO intermissions), we had a great time.

Over the weekend and to wrap up their regular season, Will's soccer team took home a victory in the Southhampton a shootout. Having lived through quite a few shootouts on the field, I know firsthand the anxiety the boys experienced and understand what it feels like to come out on the other end of such a stressful game ending: both the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat. I was extremely proud of how well our boys played, the determination and composure they showed at various points throughout the weekend, and how they handled themselves with class when, at the end of the final game, they felt joy but saw their opponents in pain. After a dog pile celebration, Will's team noticed the final shooter for the other team - whose shot went off the post - crying facedown in the grass. They rallied around him, pulled him up off the ground, and shook his hand. There are so many things wrong with youth athletics, but the lessons they learned this weekend weren't one of them.

You guys. My power washer is unbelievable.

Happiness Highlights
My mom made this bear costume for my
nephew, Carter, and when Carter outgrew it
we wanted it to find a new home. It did, and
I love seeing it in action again! 
Will, performing his original poem, Our
Flag, in his school's annual Poetry Slam. 
When motivated by a lovely and fun gift from
a friend, we make awesome after school snacks. 
The best pic I could get of Will at
last weekend's holiday orchestra concert. 
Orchestra concerts are a social event for the moms, dads, and siblings!
Sometimes he still sits on my lap.
She watched the shootout, but for the rest of four complete
soccer games, she faced the parking lot or the woods. 😂

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots! 

Linking up with High Five for Friday here:

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Monthly Medley: November 2018

If you read Texas Living magazine, check out this month's issue as well as the next few months' issues for articles I worked on throughout the last year. These may not be my first articles for the magazine, but they're some of the ones I'm most excited to see in print!

Pretty much every other aspect of where my writing - at least with regard to Chasing Roots - can be summed up in this post, which I shared midway through the month. I hope I can find the time in December to map out where to go from here...

I finished and highly recommend Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist. It would be a perfect holiday break read - fun, funny, uplifting, and inspiring (not to mention it includes a number of delicious recipes) - so if you would like to borrow it, let me know.

Thanks to my birthday and a Thanksgiving Break visit to our other community library, I have a replenished book supply for December and January!

After a months-long hiatus, we visited the movie theater twice in November. Hallie and I saw The Nutcracker and the Four Realms with friends, and then I took the kids to see The Grinch the day before Thanksgiving. I would recommend both, but especially The Grinch. I honestly wanted and had planned to fall asleep in the theater that day, but the movie somehow kept me from doing so. Oh, and I cried steadily throughout the last 10 minutes - probably because the story ended so sweetly, but perhaps because I was so tired and didn't get my nap.

While we're on the subject of Christmas movies...Hallie and I adored The Princess Switch and the kids and I all loved The Christmas Chronicles, both on Netflix. The Princess Switch - spoiler alert - could be described as The Princess Diaries meets The Parent Trap, so while I could easily predict every plot "twist", I still enjoyed the storyline's ups and down. The Christmas Chronicles stars Kurt Russell as Santa Claus, and while Herb Brooks in Miracle will always be my favorite of his roles, this one comes in a close second.

Listening To
All the Christmas music. I didn't buy any new holiday CDs or download any new holiday songs this year, but I have enough of both from years past to keep me and the kids perfectly happy.

On a less uplifting note, last week I finished Season Three of Serial. The goal of this season was to "tackle the whole criminal justice system" by investigating ordinary court cases in Cleveland, OH. (Producers chose Cleveland because the city agreed to let the podcast record just about everything/where.) I've heard it called "ambitious", "addictive", and "completely different" compared to seasons one and two, and while I would agree with each of those adjectives, I would also add "depressing", "frustrating", and even "heartbreaking" to the list. That said, this season of Serial is important, because it shines the brightest of lights on the complexities, limitations, and biases of a system that seems designed to favor some and place others at an immediate disadvantage. Mentally prepare yourself, and then listen.

I've become such a fan of Four the Love of Wood earrings - they're pretty, well made, and affordable, and the shop is local, something I consider another plus. (They would make great Christmas gifts or stocking stuffers!) I've purchased a few pair throughout the last year, and I adore my newest pair from last month's Jingle Bell Market.

Update: the first time I wore these earrings one fell out and I lost it. 😢

Speaking of jewelry...Tom bought me this necklace - from our my favorite jewelry store in Minocqua, Wisconsin. I admired it last summer and then it miraculously appeared under the birthday tree.

Ok, I haven't technically used my new power washer yet, but Tom has (apparently he and Will used it before wrapping the box back up for me to open on my birthday) and he declared it miraculous...bring on cleaning all the things with a forceful stream of water!

I mentioned Casey Duke Photography last month but didn't yet have any photos to post. Now that I do, I thought I'd share a couple (not the ones on our Christmas cards, but a few others I loved) so you can see her work. Let me know if you're in the market for a photographer in the BCS area!
We have arrived at the "golden age" for photos. No one complains
about having to participate, and everyone knows how to flash a
"real smile" on command.
Tom and I haven't had pictures taken of just the two of us
since...our engagement and wedding photos 15 years ago.
My people.
Hallie's bestie's family had the slot following
ours, and Casey graciously allowed us to overlap
our two sessions with photos of our darling girls.
They have loved one another
since they were three years old.

Mine weren't quite as pretty as those
made by the blogger...

  • These Two-Ingredient Bagels were a sticky, messy, fun adventure. They didn't taste like (the greatest ever) Bagels Forever bagels, but were surprisingly tasty - Tom and I enjoyed ours with cream cheese and Will opted for butter on his.
  • I also made this Slow Cooker Taco Soup, and it went over well with everyone, even Hallie!

Feeling Good About

What's new in your world this month?