Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mosquitoes and Poison Ivy and Fire Ants, Oh My!

Bad: mosquitoes. They venture out at 7:30pm, on the dot, and fly immediately in my direction. Mosquitoes rarely bite Tom, and when they do, he barely feels it. Mosquitoes bite me and the kids like it’s their job (oh wait, it is), and when they do, the bite site turns red, swells to at least the size of a quarter, and itches like crazy. This week a bite on Hallie’s ankle swelled to the point that she couldn’t put on her sandal and a bite on her jaw made her look like she’d been punched in a fight. And yes, she had been wearing bug repellent.

Worse: poison ivy. We spent Saturday morning working in the yard – pulling vines, killing weeds, mowing, edging, etc. On Sunday morning I woke up with poison ivy on the underneath side of my arm and into my armpit. Between family and Girl Scout camping trips, I’ve been camping in the actual wilderness close to 30 times and have never gotten poison ivy. I pull weeds for an hour in my backyard in Texas and I’m covered. And if poison ivy isn’t bad enough on its own, the rash covered an area that had recently been attacked by mosquitoes.

Worst: fire ants. They’re everywhere here, and they’re awful. Every day, when we come home from swimming lessons, Will hangs our swimsuits and towels outside on the patio chairs to dry. On Friday morning I grabbed my suit off the chair, brought it inside, and tossed it in the swim bag. As I did, I felt a sharp sting on my hand. I couldn’t immediately determine what caused the sting, so I went to the sink to wash my hands. Meanwhile, Tom glanced at the floor and noticed a couple of ants. Then a couple more. I took a guess, unzipped the swim bag, and discovered that a swarm of fire ants had come in on my swimsuit and had now taken up residence in the folds of our beach towels. (Just typing that makes me cringe.) Tom and I sprang into action while the kids stood on their chairs at the breakfast table and cried into their Oatmeal Squares. When the swarm had been taken care of, I glanced down and noticed that my right hand was swollen, thanks to the bite that started it all.

The next day, while watering the lawn (I’d been standing in the grass, wearing shoes, for less than one minute), three more fire ants bit/stung me between my toes on my left foot. For those of you who’ve never been bit by fire ants before, the initial sting feels like a lighted match is being pressed into your skin. Though the pain lessens quickly, what follows is an intensely uncomfortable itching that Never. Ever. Stops.

Thank you, mosquitoes, poison ivy, and fire ants, for making my week miserable and costing me a small fortune in hydrocortisone cream and antihistamines.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Photography: Landscape vs. Close-Up

Back before we hit the crazy swimming lessons/traveling/moving season we’re currently struggling through, I started experimenting with the modes on my new camera. I’m not ready for the advanced settings, so the modes seemed like a good place to start; I’m particularly interested in how switching between landscape mode (everything in focus from near to far) and close-up mode (flowers or small things in focus) can change the feeling of a photo.

(Please don’t think that my “Photography” posts are in any way designed to be tutorials. I simply like to take pictures and to talk about why I find certain photos interesting.)

These two pictures were taken at a park here in College Station, back when temperatures were such that we actually went outside for longer than 12 seconds.



And these two pictures were taken in the Lincoln Lodge wild flower garden in Northern Wisconsin. Thanks to my sis-in-law Chandi, who works as a florist in Vancouver, I now know that these flowers are called “Sweet Williams”. Hallie calls them “Will Sweeties”.



To me, the close-up photos feel true to life. The present (the in-focus subject) is clear and well-defined, but the future (the out-of-focus background) is mysterious. I don't know about you, but that sounds a lot like my day-to-day life.

In opposition, the landscape photos feel dreamy and distorted. The present is peacefully rejected in favor of a more defined future; what lies in the distance is clear, but is particularly intriguing and tempting because it seems to lie just out of reach.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Animals, Up Close & Personal

I’ve mentioned the lizards. A couple of times. But living among the lizards are plenty of slightly-less-creepy animals, many of which I’ve been able to photograph up close, thanks to both my camera lens and these animals’ apparent indifference toward humans invading their natural habitats.

These ducks sauntered confidently up to both my husband and my car, expecting, I assume, that he had “people food” to share with them.

This rabbit sat quietly in the middle of my backyard – on Easter, coincidentally – while my kids played with their Easter-bunny-delivered bubble wands nearby. Since that day I’ve seen rabbits in our yard AT LEAST 20 times; I’m a bit worried about how we’ll protect our yet-to-be-planted vegetable garden from them.

These turtles (and nearly 30 of their closest turtle friends) lazily sunned themselves on the rocks at the edge of the pond as my husband and son played disc golf over/around them.

This frog or toad (I don’t now, nor will I ever, know the difference between the two), poor thing, was on his way to the water – about 10 feet beyond the edge of the sidewalk – before the brutal Texas sun torched him. He was literally petrified mid-hop.

Of course I’d crossed paths with plenty of ducks and rabbits, as well as the occasional turtle and frog/toad, in the Midwest, but I’d never seen them so bold and seemingly unafraid of humans until I moved to Texas.

Now that I think about it, most of the animals here in Texas are bold and unafraid. (Or perhaps they just seem bold and unafraid to me, because I’m so timid and fearful when it comes to all animals besides your run-of-the-mill cats and dogs.) Though I’ve not taken pictures, I’ve also seen plum-sized cockroaches, red wasps (“red equals dead”, our pest inspector warned us), and fire ants in our house and yard, and two dead snakes in the street. There’s also a chance we have an “armadilla” digging a trench/living behind our shed, and because we’d rather not adopt an armadillo as a pet, we’re going to have to figure out a way to rid our yard of this wild animal. Suggestions?

Whatever the case, the encounter will undoubtedly be terrifying and should make for an interesting blog post down the road…

Thursday, July 21, 2011

No Bully Tour

Bullying isn’t what it used to be.

Even though I was a certifiable dork in middle school (HUGE glasses, braces, headgear, poor fashion sense, and bangs that went far enough back on my head to qualify my hairstyle as mullet-ish) and less-than-cool in high school, mild teasing was the worst bullying ever directed my way. I imagine there were kids who had it worse than I did, but at it’s most severe and from my perspective, bullying in my middle and high schools stemmed from typical tween insecurities and decreased dramatically as we grew into older teenagers.

I feel sick to my stomach when I see television news reports or read newspaper articles about the bullying epidemic in our country (and in other countries as well). The Internet provides a wall for bullies to hide behind, making the act of bullying easier, more frequent, and meaner. Bullies no longer attack just the external characteristics of children (characteristics that can and will change, like braces, glasses, etc.). Instead, bullies attack the internal characteristics of children (characteristics that cannot and will not change, like sexuality, race, etc.) and who they “are” as people. My heart breaks for children who suffer at the hands of bullies, and for families of children who are tormented to the point they feel their only way out is to take their own lives.

I’m not afraid of being bullied myself, though I’ll admit to being kind of a push-over when the subject is anything except my children. I AM, however, afraid of my children being bullied or becoming bullies themselves. Will and Hallie are still very young, but Tom and I have already starting talking to them about treating others as they would like to be treated, appreciating and respecting differences, and standing up to those who they see behaving in unkind ways.

I worry though, about what Tom and I will do when the kids are older, when they’ve decided that Tom and I are idiots and have no idea what we’re talking about and choose to no longer listen to anything we have to say. I can only hope that when that time comes, the No Bully Tour will still be around.

Have you heard about the No Bully Tour? I have, through the lovely Jenna Christine, who I wrote about on Tuesday.

From the No Bully Tour Facebook Page
“The No Bully Tour is a music/PSA tour canvassing the entire United States and spreading the word that bullying will not be tolerated anywhere by anyone. Emerging music artists, teen actors, and celebrity bands lend their support for this global initiative by giving live concerts and filming ani-bullying PSAs with the local fans…

…The No Bully Tour is sponsored by Trans World Entertainment’s FYE Retail Division, and public relations is handled by the Just Not Famous Enough (JNFE) PR firm, which holds such national properties as the JNFE Awards, JNFE’s Boarding School, Camp JNFE, and the new indie comic book festival “The Allegiance Tour”. JNFE will concentrate on media awareness for this tour as America has shown its disdain for the bullying epidemic. Bullying used to invoke self-esteem issues; now it has gone so far as to claim the innocent lives of children who are susceptible to peer-pressure. This tour will speak to teens, showcases teens, and is for teens.”

Last week Jenna Christine toured the Northeast and Southeast regions of the country with the No Bully Tour Pop, serving as the tour booking agent and tour manager. Later this summer she’ll be touring again, as the host of the No Bully Tour Country and as the booking agent and tour manager of the No Bully Tour Pop West. I know the No Bully Tour Country (right up my alley!) will stop in Austin, Texas, and you can bet we’ll (perhaps all four of us, but maybe just the adults in the family) be making the two-hour drive to Austin to see Jenna Christine perform.

Once I know the No Bully Tour Country and No Bully Tour Pop West schedules I’ll be certain to post them here in case you’re interested in checking out this fantastic showcase of musical talent and incredibly important anti-bullying rally.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Heat Wave

Last weekend my mom sent me a photo of the front page of their Wisconsin State Journal.

Here in College Station we're going on approximately 1,347 consecutive days of 100+ degree highs and lows that barely dip to 80 degrees.

Our air conditioner runs nonstop during the day (thermostat set between 76 and 78 degrees), and clicks on at least a couple of times an hour throughout the night (thermostat set at 72 degrees).

Our laundry load has doubled, because if we go outside for more than .7 seconds our clothes are drenched with sweat and we have to change.

And if you can believe it, I actually sweat throughout the kids' swimming lessons, even though I'm not doing anything physical and I'm IN THE POOL with Hallie.

What I wouldn't give for a high temperature of 92 degrees...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

An Up-and-Coming Country Superstar

When I turn on my car radio in Texas I’m presented with two musical choices: Spanish stations and country stations. My knowledge of the Spanish language is limited to what Elmo, Big Bird, and Cookie Monster teach children on Sesame Street – I know the numbers one through 10, the word “agua” (water) and the phrase “vamos a la playa” (we go to the beach) – so I’m lucky I like country music.

When I was growing up my mom listened to the country station and my dad listened to the oldies station, therefore my little sister and I also listened to country and oldies. After a few years of exposure to both genres, I developed a preference for country and my sister for oldies. So despite what I might have said during my teenage years (I clearly remember publicly insulting country music at a Girl Scout troop meeting after my mom said she liked it – gee, teenagers are fun), I’m a country fan.

My favorite artists are The Rascal Flatts, The Dixie Chicks, Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Sara Evans, Sugarland, and now…Jenna Christine.

From Jenna Christine's Facebook Page
"Jenna Christine is an independent artist who is about to explode into the country music scene. She is utilizing her many gifts, Icon One Music, H2Label Group, and Team Tenacious to move full speed ahead into the industry. A singer-songwriter, Jenna Christine has worked in a multitude of different entertainment fields, but always knew that the only way to truly be successful is to follow your dreams and to pursue what makes one happiest in life…and for her, that’s singing and performing."

And Jenna Christine is my sister-in-law.

I’m no music critic, and I’m not at all impartial, seeing as I’ve known Jenna for 12 years and she’s a member of my family, but in my opinion…she’s fantastic. And she doesn’t just have a beautiful and powerful voice. She’s charismatic, engaging, and determined, as well as a natural performer.

Don’t just take my word for it – check Jenna Christine out for yourself!


Thursday, July 14, 2011

On Blogging in a Bar

As I mentioned earlier this week, I spent last week vacationing at the Lincoln Lodge. The internet at the Lodge is only available via smart phone, and while I have a smart phone, blogging on it isn’t easy. Probably because my smart phone is considerably smarter than me.

The internet is available “in town” though, so in years past, when an opportunity presented itself (as in someone else is willing to stay back at the Lodge and watch my kids) I tagged along on a trip for groceries or beer or fireworks and popped into the public library or a coffee shop to borrow their free wireless.

The only television channel we have at the Lodge is PBS, so our trip into town last week was to watch the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team play Sweden in the World Cup. I figured I might have to miss the first few minutes of the game so that I could quickly upload a few pictures and a previously-prepared blog post from the library, but as it turns out, the Belle Isle Sports Bar & Grille in Minocqua has free wireless internet.

So that’s how I ended up writing – both of last week’s blog posts – in a bar, which as it turns out, is pretty awesome. The company (my husband, my two brothers-in-law, and my two sisters-in-law), the entertainment (the Women’s World Cup), and the food (fried Wisconsin cheese curds) were great, and the beer was, well, beer. Lukewarm, generic, light beer in a flimsy plastic cup, but beer none-the-less. Now that’s an afternoon to write home about.

While my sis-in-law Jenna and I "worked", our other sis-in-law Chandi distracted us with the bar tricks she's perfected over the years.

The Belle Isle Sports Bar is a pretty typical Northern Wisconsin bar. Local brews flow from the taps. Wisconsin Badger, Green Bay Packer, NASCAR, and American flags hang from the ceiling. Stuffed fish, deer heads, retired water skis, and fish fry advertisements adorn the walls. Artificial flowers fill the window boxes and fake trees gather dust in the corners. Rickety wooden tables hold platters of fried foods and sticky, ripped, faux leather bar stools hold patrons enjoying fried foods.

Oh, and inside the bathroom stalls are fireworks advertisements. See the second box from the right in the first row? Apparently fireworks make any “special occasion” – including divorce (??) – that much more wild and crazy.

I’ve been to quite a few bars like the Belle Isle. In Wisconsin, children are allowed in bars, and are allowed to drink if their parents buy the alcohol and give permission. I’m certainly not saying my parents took me to bars and bought me alcohol and gave me permission to drink when I was a child. If anything my parents were stricter than my friends’ parents when it came to underage drinking. But I did, on occasion, tag along with my parents when they met friends for dinner and drinks around Madison and when we traveled throughout the state. I drank Shirley Temples and lemonade, consumed basketfuls of stale popcorn, learned how to play darts (which totally came in handy once I was in college) and pinball, and watched baseball on television. People were friendly (perhaps the beer had something to do with this), the atmosphere was comfortable, and though I was carefully supervised, I always had fun.

Even today I prefer sports/neighborhood/townie bars to fancy restaurants. Friends and acquaintances, during casual conversation, often ask us if we ever leave our kids with a babysitter so that we can go out to “someplace nice”. Our usual answer is that yes, we leave our kids with babysitters, but no, we don’t go somewhere nice. We spend our kid-free evenings trying out new beer gardens and sports bars, enjoying cold brews, eating basketfuls of stale popcorn, playing darts, and watching sports on television. The people are friendly, the atmosphere is comfortable, and we always have fun.

So the next time I’m in Minocqua, Wisconsin, look for me at the Belle Isle Sports Bar & Grille. I’ll be sitting at the high table across from the bar and with a good view of the television, sharing an electrical outlet with a flashing neon sign advertising the wet t-shirt contest coming up on Saturday night, drinking a Blue Moon, and typing away on my laptop.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Fellow Midwesterner-Turned-Texan Blogger

I learned recently that a woman with whom I went to high school also made the move to Texas from the Midwest, and also blogs about her experiences/adventures in this new and different place. When I came across this post I knew I had to provide a link to it on my blog – there is no more perfect description of swimming pools in Texas. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Lincoln Lodge

My husband’s parents own a beautifully rustic summer home on Booth Lake in Northern Wisconsin, about 10 miles West of Minocqua. “The Lincoln Lodge” (or “The Lodge” for short), as the home was lovingly christened nearly five years ago, has become exactly what I believe my in-laws dreamed it could be when they took a leap of faith and purchased the (run-down and dirty at the time) lakefront property – a little slice of heaven. A place where all four of their children, their children’s spouses, their grandchildren, their extended families, and their friends would gather to reconnect with each other, with nature, and with themselves.

We spent last week vacationing at The Lodge. Sunny, 80-degree days turned into cool, 55-degree nights. We stayed up late, slept late, and took leisurely afternoon naps in the hammock. We fished, swam, and lounged in the lake; played disc golf, Blongo Ball, Uno, and checkers; watched girly movies and Man vs. Wild episodes; read books and trashy gossip magazines; sang “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and Justin Bieber’s “Baby”; danced to keyboard demo songs; and shopped “in town” at antique and touristy shops. We ate too much fried fish, too many brownies, and too many Harry Potter Bertie Bott’s beans (there’s a story here, but this isn’t the post for it), and drank a few too many Blue Moon beers and Amaretto Sours. We laughed and cried and talked and sat in comfortable silence and made this vacation, as vacations at The Lodge always are, perfectly relaxing and rejuvenating.

On Tuesday night, for a fleeting moment and unexpectedly during a particularly rowdy game of Uno with my husband, brothers-in-law, and sisters-in-law, a feeling of peace and understanding washed over me. The world around me calmed and quieted and slowed, and I was alone with a feeling of complete peace and the knowledge that – at least for that brief moment – all was right in my world. I was exactly where I was supposed to be and with exactly who I was supposed to be with.

I don’t often have these quiet moments of clarity in my day-to-day life, probably because 1) quiet moments are few and far between, and 2) my mind’s clarity is clouded by the chaos of family and work and school and moving and bills and 100+ degree temperatures (I can’t think clearly when the temperature rises above 85 degrees – no joke). But at the Lodge, more so than anywhere else I’ve ever spent time, they come often. And they give me strength to go back to my not so quiet and not so clear day-to-day life (when I question my – and mine and Tom’s – choices) and somehow still know that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and with exactly who I’m supposed to be with.

Monday, July 11, 2011

It's True What They Say...

Everything is bigger in Texas!

Hallie didn't weigh as much as this infant did at birth until she was 13 months old. That poor mother...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I'm Back! And I'm Moving This Week.

Hey strangers!

As you may have guessed, Tom, Will, Hallie, and I were out of town last week. We were visiting family in a remote area of Northern Wisconsin (stay tuned for a post or two about our vacation adventures) with VERY limited internet access, which meant I wasn't able to blog as often as I would have liked.

We're home again though (we finally crawled into our own beds at 3:45 AM this morning), and I plan to jump right back in to my regular blogging schedule starting tomorrow. I should mention, however, that our family is moving this week - and Tom's entire department at TAMU is moving this week - so there's a chance my home internet may cut out for a day or two as our cable/internet company transfers our service from our old house to our new house. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a smooth transition, but am asking for your forgiveness in advance should there be bumps in the road.

Here's to a busy but exciting week!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Piston Cup, Or Not

A few weeks ago my son, Will, and I attended a local mother/son event called the Speedway Spectacular. I purchased tickets for the event planning on a fun “date night” with my son, but also because a night at the racetrack sounded like a Texas experience I should have.

The Speedway Spectacular was held at the Texas World Speedway, which I envisioned looking exactly like the Piston Cup racetrack in the movie Cars – gleaming racecars speeding across smooth cement, photography flashes exploding from packed stands, obnoxiously bright neon signs announcing race winners.


“Gleaming racecars speeding across smooth cement.”

“Photography flashes exploding from packed stands.”

“Obnoxiously bright neon signs announcing race winners.”

The Texas World Speedway belonged in Radiator Springs (the Radiator Springs at the beginning of the movie, not the Radiator Springs after Lightening McQueen revitalization) not in California as the location for the Piston Cup.

I did, however, spot one of the Lightening McQueen’s competitors,

One of his good friends, Mater,

And a place to pick up Fresh, Hot Photos. (??)

Throw in a pretty cute date, and I suppose you could say the Texas World Speedway had everything a girl could want for her first night at the racetrack.

Happy Belated 4th of July!

"The winds that blow through the wide sky in these mounts, the winds that sweep from Canada to Mexico, from the Pacific to the Atlantic - have always blown on free men."

~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

Happy belated 4th of July!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Change of Plans

Next week, because of internet access challenges, my blog posts won't follow the usual Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday schedule. While I still plan write and post pictures for all you fabulous followers, my posts will be up whenever I find myself with access to my computer, an electrical outlet (my computer battery is toast, and only lasts for about 10 minutes if not plugged in), and the internet all at the same time. I hope to talk to you (write/post pictures for you) soon!