Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Home Sweet Texas

The last few months have been a whirlwind; here are a few highlights:

In December we made the move from Ann Arbor to College Station.

In January Tom started his new job at TAMU.

In March I became an official resident of Texas.

And today, after five months of renting (ugh), we became homeowners for the second time.

This afternoon we signed (and signed, and signed, and signed) our names on the dotted line, wrote the check, and walked away with the keys to our very own house in the Brandon Heights neighborhood of College Station.

The house has been vacant for nearly a year, so it needs a little TLC both inside and out. The lease on our rental runs through the end of July though, so we have a few weeks during which we can work on the new house while still living in the rental. Starting tomorrow we’ll be, among other things, painting walls, ripping up carpet and replacing flooring, lining up folks to service the air conditioner (the most important appliance for a house in Texas) and fix a couple of electrical problems, replacing a leaky shower surround, and landscaping the heck out of the yard. Oh, and shopping for new throw pillows, my favorite home accessory.

I don’t love home projects (I love the finished product, but not the tedious steps required to get there), but I’m looking forward to putting in a little work and turning this house into our next home.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Freedom Is Not Free

"Let future generations understand the burden and the blessings of freedom. Let them say we stood where duty required us to stand."

~ President George Bush, January 1991

To all the men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces, and to all of the military families who have sacrificed, thank you.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ride 'em Cowboy

“When in Texas…”, right?

When Tom and I moved to Michigan we had every intention of taking full advantage of all – parks, campgrounds, historic landmarks, big cities, small towns, the Great Lakes, the coastal beaches and sand dunes – the state has to offer. But Tom was busy working. And I was busy working. And we didn’t have much money. And we were working on our house. And then we had a baby. And then we had another baby. And before we knew it, the time had come for us to leave Michigan, and we did so with only a few trips to Detroit and a drive through the Upper Peninsula under our belts. We’ve decided not to let this happen here in Texas, so while we haven’t seen much outside of Bryan and College Station yet, WE WILL. And we’ll do our very best to take advantage of what our city has to offer as well. And what does our city have to offer, you ask? The rodeo.

Back in March we took Will and Hallie to see the TAMU Rodeo Club compete in a regional competition in Bryan (College Station’s sister city). We met up with friends who have kids the same ages as ours, and set out to enjoy an evening of bull riding, bareback riding, barrel racing, calf roping, goat tying, and steer wrestling.

Our trip to the rodeo coincided nicely with Rodeo Week and Cowboy Day at Will’s preschool, so Will was, thanks to the real-life cowboys who demonstrated their roping skills for the kids, pretty pumped to see more cowboys in action. Hallie was also excited, but mainly because she really likes “ho-sees” and “MOOOOOOOOOO cows” and not because she had any idea what a cowboy or a rodeo actually is. Oh, and Hallie throws her support behind any event to which one should wear boots.

The rodeo announcer – who seemed to be part emcee and part commentator – was extremely knowledgeable about all of the rodeo events and competitors but was only moderately entertaining. I would have given him a C+ for his “performance”, except that he was on horseback the entire time; in my book, doing anything other than clinging tightly to the reins and praying for dear life while atop a horse earns enough extra credit to boost a C+ up to an A-.

The evening began with quite a bit of pomp and circumstance. The Color Guard presented the colors; cowboys and cowgirls on horseback raced around the arena carrying American, Texas, and TAMU flags; the rodeo announcer led the crowd in a prayer; and local musicians performed both the National Anthem and America the Beautiful. The presentation was lovely, but also a bit much. I consider myself a fairly patriotic person, to the point that tears often sting my eyes during the National Anthem, but I believe that too much of a good thing can apply to displays of patriotism just as it can apply to consumption of brownies. In my opinion, less is more – or at least less is more engaging and powerful – when it comes to honoring our great nation.

After the patriotic kick-off, the rodeo officially began with bronc riding. The first two riders were both injured, but that didn’t stop Will from begging, “Mama, can I get a horse?! Can I be a cowboy?!” and led me to answer him with a big, fat resounding “ABSOLUTELY NOT”. As the events – calf roping, break-away roping, barrel racing, goat tying, steer wrestling – went on, my kids grew less and less interested in the cowboys, cowgirls, horses, and goats and more and more interested in the arena’s metal bleachers. Tom and I, however, found ourselves completely and unexpectedly mesmerized. I had no idea the technique, strength, and general athleticism required to compete in this sport.

This series of photographs will give you a brief glimpse into the sport that is calf-roping.

As the horse and cowboy race past the starting line the calf is released (or perhaps shot out of? I'm not sure how they get the calves to run so fast) from the shoot.

The cowboy lassos the calf, and at that exact moment the freakishly-well-trained horse stops on a dime to keep the calf from continuing to run (the end of the lasso rope not connected to the calf is connected to the horse). Before the horse comes to a complete stop the cowboy dismounts.

The cowboy runs down the rope to the calf...

...and whips (for lack of a better word) the calf onto its side with what appears to be super-human strength.

And finally, the cowboy ties up three of the calf's legs and raises his hands into the hair to signal that he's finished.

It’s important to note that the cowboy, from beginning to end, took only about 14 seconds to rope the calf. Holy cow. It’s alright to laugh at that pun – I did.

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the rodeo – going that evening was more about experiencing something “Texas” and helping Will understand what he’d been learning about in school. But let me tell you, it was AWESOME. We are definitely going back, without the kids so that we can really focus on the competition, and hopefully wearing real-deal cowboy boots.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

These Boots are Made for Walkin'

“When in Rome, do as Romans do.” Or in my case, “When in Texas, do as Texans do.”

And do you know what a lot (not all, of course, but a lot) of Texans do? Wear cowboy boots.

My mom, my sister, and I have always wanted cowboy boots. Real cowboy boots are hard to come by in Wisconsin though (most of our boots come from DSW), so actually owning a pair remained something of a pipedream, like winning the lottery or a gold medal or finally getting Hallie to eat foods other than yogurt and chicken nuggets and jelly beans.

I’ve been told that cowboy boots are the most comfortable footwear available, if you’re willing to spend the money on a really good pair. I’ve also been told that they’re very versatile – apparently they go with everything – and from what I’ve witnessed since we moved to Texas, this is true. I’ve seen cowboy boots paired with three-piece suits, business casual attire, jeans and t-shirts, dresses, and shorts, and I even saw someone wearing a pair while walking on the treadmill at the gym. (I hardly think that Lee Hazlewood, who wrote “These Boots are Made for Walkin’”, meant that boots were made for walking on treadmills. Try some Nikes, dude – your feet, and the woman on the EFX next to you, will thank you for it.)

Both Tom and I REALLY want cowboy boots, but neither of us has found the “right” pair yet. Our kids, however, both own – thanks to their generous grandparents – their dream pair of cowboy boots. And they wear them with confidence.

Perhaps a little too much confidence.

Come fall Tom and I will be boot shopping again – perhaps we’ll gift each a pair for Christmas this year – and I’m looking for advice. Those of you who are in the know, tell me, what should we be looking for in a good pair of boots? What should we avoid?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dabbling in Photography

I’m not a photographer, but I love to take pictures. And thanks to my relatively new SLR camera – a birthday gift from my husband – I’m now able to take pictures with something other than our point-and-shoot digital camera which, because of its three-second delay, only captured shots of my kids as they jumped up, ran away, blinked, or burst into tears.

I’d be a better photographer if I would read the book that came with my camera. And if I learned what aperture and ISO mean. And if I learned how to close one eye while keeping the other eye open. (I kid you not – I can’t wink AT ALL, therefore when I take pictures I have to use either my camera or my thumb to hold one eyelid closed.) I plan to do these things at some point, but right now it’s just too hard to sit down with the manual (or to practice winking) when my children are begging me with their cuteness to chase after and photograph them over and over and over again.

Let me be clear, however – my children are begging me to photograph them with their cuteness ONLY. They’re actually quite fed up with my photo sessions, which the picture below captures perfectly. They were sitting on the ledge, grinning and chatting with each other, until I asked them to smile for the camera. I said “smile!” and their reactions said “in your dreams, woman”.

So I decided to give my kids a break, and to start photographing things that couldn’t talk back or run away or throw a tantrum. I’m planning to post some of these pictures, along with short descriptions, from time to time here at Midwestern Girl. If you have them, I’d love to hear your opinions and your suggestions for improvement – I have nowhere to go but up!

Oh, and a bottle of OPI Texas Collection nail polish to the reader who provides me with the Cliff’s Notes version of what aperature and ISO are all about.

Thank you so much to everyone who has left comments for me on Facebook! Might I ask that you leave your comments here instead though? Facebook won't allow me to read your kind words and funny stories after a certain period of time, but comments left on the blog will be available for me to read forever! Thanks!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Leapin' Lizards

It was bound to happen sooner or later, though I’d hoped for later. Much, much later.

Last weekend, just four months after moving to Texas, a lizard found his way into my house.

I’m terrified of more animals than I’d like to admit, but because I’m going for honesty in blogging here, I feel compelled to share with you my embarrassingly long list: snakes, spiders, worms, slugs, centipedes, frogs, toads, lizards, fish, mice, rats, bats, squirrels (ground and flying), birds, ducks, and opossums scare the crap out of me. We’re talking crying, hyperventilating, cowering in the corner. It’s not pretty, and I’m not proud of it.

Last spring Tom and I came down to start looking at houses, and while in town we had dinner with two faculty members who had lived in College Station for a few years but were not native Texans. As we enjoyed the main course, one of our dinner companions informed me that I’d need to learn how to kill. A snake. With a hoe. Just thinking about it made/makes my skin crawl. I politely informed her that I would do no such thing, and then pleaded with Tom – using only my eyes and telepathy super powers – to reconsider taking the TAMU job.

So I knew ahead of time that there were snakes and lizards and fire ants here. And until today, my exposure to them had been minimal – just a couple of fire ant bites on my ankle and a lizard on the outside of the house.

I nearly had a panic attack just taking this picture from many feet away with my zoom lens.

Last Saturday night we were out until a little after the kids’ bedtime, and by the time we arrived home they were both exhausted and on the verge of losing it. The plan was for Tom to run out and grab our take-out food for dinner while I bathed the kids and put them to bed; then we’d “meet up” for dinner and a movie. Unfortunately the kids completely fell apart when I put them in the bath, and both cried for 20 minutes straight while I washed them, dressed them in their pajamas, brushed their teeth, etc. When they were FINALLY in bed I breathed a sigh of relief and staggered out into the living room, ready to drop. I noticed as I walked past the front door that the outside light wasn’t on, and thought turning it on would be helpful for Tom who’d be coming home in the dark. As I reached out to flip the switch I saw him. Right there, on the wall, between the light switch and the door at eye level. The noise that came out of my mouth was something between a scream, a yelp, and a gasp, and was loud enough to lure Will from his bed to the bedroom door. I stumbled backward and fell/jumped into the chair in the living room (because it’s safer to have your feet off the ground in situations like this, just in case the wild animals attack), and called Tom on his cell phone. The conversation sounded something like this:

Erin: “COME HOME NOW! ONE OF THOSE ANIMALS IS INSIDE OUR HOUSE!” (I couldn’t remember that lizards were called lizards in my panicked state.)
Will: (from the door of his bedroom) “What’s going on out there? Who are you talking to?”
Tom: (from the parking lot of the restaurant) “Do you want me to leave the food?”
Hallie: (from her crib) “Sutter! Sutter!” (Translation: Someone bring me my pacifier before I really start screaming.)
Will: (from the door of his bedroom) “Mama! Who are you talking to?!”
Tom: “Ok, I’ll be home in a minute.”

When Tom arrived home an hour (or maybe it was just a couple of minutes – I can’t be sure) later I was curled up in the living room chair with one eye on the lizard. (As much as it made me sick to my stomach to look at him, it was important for me to know his exact whereabouts. Knowing he was in the house but not knowing exactly where would have been WAY worse than knowing he was on the wall.) I hadn’t put Will back to bed or gotten Hallie her sucker so both kids were crying. It was a mess.

That speedy little lizard darted away from Tom on his first attempt at capture, which prompted another scream/yelp/gasp from me. Tom kindly instructed me to leave the room, so I did, and I hid in the shower until the whole ordeal was over with. Oh, and Tom asked me to share that the lizard was not harmed during Operation Catch and Release, and is now back in his natural habitat. (Natural habitat = outside my front door, where he watches, and waits.)

So we survived – just barely – our first up-close-and-personal encounter with a lizard. It pains me to acknowledge, however, that today’s encounter surely won’t be my last – those little critters have my number.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Texas in the Spring, Continued...

(Apparently Blogger has been experiencing technical difficulties since yesterday and during that window of time lost more than 30 hours of posts. I'm reposting Wednesday's and Thursday's blogs today.)

As I mentioned in one of last week’s posts, spring comes “early” in Texas. I’d only just gotten used to seeing my breath, turning the heat on in the car, and wearing my Smart Wool socks again when warmer temperatures arrived and we transitioned suddenly to sunscreen, air conditioning, and tank tops.

So outside we went, in search of all things spring (you have to search quickly, because by weather/temperature standards, spring only lasts for about four days here).

Also mentioned previously was the trouble I had finding Bluebonnets to photograph. To fill the void I started scouring the neighborhood for something – anything – else spring-like to capture through the lens of my camera.

Now that the high temperatures have climbed into the 90’s I think it’s safe to say farewell to spring and hello to summer!

Wordless Wednesday

(Apparently Blogger has been experiencing technical difficulties since yesterday and during that window of time lost more than 30 hours of posts. I'm reposting Wednesday's and Thursday's blogs today.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Houston, We Have a Purple

Have you heard about the new “Texas” nail polish collection by OPI? I hadn’t, and I live in Texas. My mom had, however, and she lives in Wisconsin. She’s much cooler than I am.

My mom came to visit us recently and while she was here she insisted we stop at Ulta to check out the colors. (On a related note, I’d never been to an Ulta before. It was like Sephora, only better. No blaring music, no overpowering perfumes, no seizure-inducing lighting, and no employees wearing crazy eye make-up who provoke questions like “What is WRONG with her eyes, Mama?! Did she get in a fight with a tiger?!” from my four-year-old.)

According to the OPI website, the Texas Collection is “A fresh and refreshing facet to an effortlessly chic, very unique, and colorful original style season.” I’d call the collection fun, vibrant, and unique, especially when it comes to the names of the colors:

Do You Think I’m Tex-y?
Houston We Have a Purple
Too Hot Pink to Hold ‘Em
Y’all Come Back Ya Hear?
Big Hair…Big Nails
Guy Meets Gal-veston
Don’t Mess With OPI
Suzi Loves Cowboys
San Tan-tonio
Austin-tatious Turquoise
It’s Totally Fort Worth It
I Vant to be A-lone Star

SO clever! My mom and I decided we needed San Tan-tonio, Too Hot Pink to Hold ‘Em, and Houston We Have a Purple (my two-year-old wanted Austin-tatious Turquoise, but we’ve already established that I’m not that cool and therefore probably couldn’t pull it off). Here they are in all their glory:

In case you're wondering, that's my mom's foot on the left, my foot on the right, and Hallie's feet in the middle. Poor little girl has her daddy's (as he describes them) monster/ogre toes.

If the color is pretty enough, even a newly-two-year-old can sit quietly while her toenails are painted.

So if you’re a girlfriend of mine, watch your mailbox – there might be a bottle of Suzi Loves Cowboys or It’s Totally Fort Worth It on it’s way to you sometime this year!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Texas in the Spring

While on what seemed to be a very long drive with my mom, my dad, my sister, and my sister’s best friend (Chelse), Chelse introduced my family to the traditional folk song Blue Bonnets.

Bluebonnets, bluebonnets, bonnets oh so blue.
Your bright eyes are shining, through the silvery dew.

I know you’re a dolly, offered for the rain.
I know you’ll return again, to Texas in the spring.

I’d never heard the song (though I knew it VERY well by the end of the car ride), nor had I ever seen or even heard of a bluebonnet before that day, and until we moved to Texas I still had never seen the flower.

I now know that the bluebonnet is the state flower of Texas. The flower is named for its color, but also for the shape of its petals, which resemble a pioneer woman’s sunbonnet. As historian Jack McGuire wrote, “It’s not only the state flower but also a kind of floral trademark almost as well known to outsiders as cowboy boots and the Stetson hat. The bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the rose to England, and the tulip to Holland.” I found a number of Native American legends about the origin of the bluebonnet, the most well-known of which was recently turned into a children’s book called The Legend of the Bluebonnet. Too bad our local library here in Texas doesn’t carry a copy.

As I understand it, the fall/winter rains greatly impact the spring bluebonnet blooms. When rains are plentiful, blooms are as well; bluebonnets announce the arrival of spring by turning grassy fields into seas of blue. I’d hoped for a banner bluebonnet year – I was at the ready with my camera, planning to capture pictures of my kids frolicking through these beautiful wildflowers to frame in our new house – but because of the drought Texas is experiencing, this spring’s bluebonnet crop is moderate at best.

(For the record, the first day of spring was officially March 20th. In Texas, we welcomed spring in late February. In the Midwest, they’re still waiting.)

Though I’d seen a few bluebonnets earlier this month, they’d all been right next to the highways and freeways and I wasn’t too keen to stop to take pictures of my frolicking kids so close to pick-up trucks zooming by at 70 mph. I finally spotted a small patch of bluebonnets at a nearby park (the flowers were still on the side of the road, but the pickup trucks cruising by me were only going 30 mph), and after I photographed them I also took a few pictures of Indian Paintbrushes.

I’ve admired lovely flowers in every region of our country (tulips have always been my favorite), but I can honestly say that as I looked through the lens of my camera at these wildflowers I saw in them a beautiful mystique I hadn’t before seen in the flowers I’ve grown in my yard, wandered through at the arboretum, or been given in a bouquet.

Perhaps it’s their depth, their history, the legends behind them. Perhaps it’s their early (by my Midwestern standards) blooming season or their vibrant colors. Perhaps it’s the sheer number of them blanketing wide open spaces that would otherwise by covered only by clay dust or dry grasses. Whatever it is, these flowers draw you in – like the poppies draw in Dorothy and her friends in the Wizard of Oz – and surround you with their simple glory and stunning beauty. It’s worth a trip to Texas to see their wonder, and I’ll welcome you with open arms if you’d like to return again to Texas in the spring.

(Photo Source)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sports Fans

Tom and I are huge sports fans. We love football most of all - specifically Iowa Hawkeye football, followed by Wisconsin Badger, Nebraska Husker, Michigan Wolverine, and Green Bay Packer football – but we also enjoy Detroit Tiger baseball, college basketball, professional soccer, and the Olympics. We have tried to instill in our kids a love for sports, both as participants and as spectators, and on some days, I think we're doing a pretty good job.

Here’s Will, rockin’ his University of Nebraska gear, on the day he learned how to sit up.

Will’s first Detroit Tigers game ended (at 11pm – he’d never stayed up that late) with a walk-off homerun.

Our hope is that this picture will give Will an edge when he submits it to the University of Wisconsin, along with his admission application, in 14 or so years.

A big fan of eye black, Will sported his Green Bay Packer set the night before they beat the Detroit Lions to make them the first and only NFL team to lose all 16 regular season games.

Will’s Saturday morning soccer games kept us from properly tailgating (we pride ourselves on our tailgating skills) for University of Michigan football games, but Hallie showed off her team spirit nonetheless.

About a year ago, Will and Hallie cheered for the Hawkeyes in their 2010 Hawkeye bowl game.

Our move to Texas took us out of Big 10 country for the first time in many years. We won't be able to watch, because of the television options here, very many of our teams' games (though we were able to see the Packers in the Super Bowl – Go Pack Go!), so in the name of sports fan-dom we've decided to jump on board the Aggie (Texas A&M, or TAMU) fan train. Will and Hallie bought into the craze immediately.

Almost exactly one year after the Hawkeye picture was taken, the kids changed gears and cheered for the Aggies in their 2011 bowl game.

Gig 'em, Aggies!