Thursday, September 29, 2011

Are You Ready For Some Tailgating?

Back in the day, Tom and I were pretty serious tailgaters. As undergraduates at the University of Iowa, before rules and regulations designed to take absolutely all of the fun out of tailgating and to seriously cut down on who is actually ALLOWED to tailgate took effect, we partied like it was 1999.

On Saturday mornings we’d rise by 4:30am and kick off the day with a power shower. (Power shower = showering while drinking a beer. The closest I get to a power shower these days is showering while my cup of coffee cools on the vanity.) At 5am we were in line to enter the tailgating lot, and when the parking attendants finally moved the barricades at 6am, we were beyond ready to get the party started. Our tailgates included mustard bowling and drinking games I can’t remember the names of (gee, I wonder why); donut holes for breakfast, chips and salsa as a mid-morning snack, and grilled hamburgers and hotdogs for lunch; and plenty of cheap beer. Tailgating attire included Hawkeye underwear, man-pris (Tom’s pretty sure he invented these home-made Capri pants for men), capes, wigs, overalls, knee socks, jewelry, etc. The crazier the ensemble, the better. Undergraduate tailgating at the UI was authentic, and because we had very little money, it was primarily about spending time with friends and celebrating the Hawkeyes with a little, err, a lot, of beer on the side.

That's my husband, Tom, on the right and his best friend, Mitch, 
on the left.  They're enthusiastic.

Mustard Bowling

Even our pets love the Hawkeyes.

Me and Carrie, at a post-kids (hence the slightly-toned-down attire) 
Hawkeye tailgate at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Kristin, taking her turn drinking out of the challis.  

After our years at the UI we moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of the University of Michigan Wolverines. Our tailgating crew at UM was made up primarily of first-year graduate students, most of whom had tailgated seriously at their undergraduate schools. During that first fall we formed “Team 7am” – we even designed a logo and made t-shirts. We felt a little guilty about starting the tailgating process at 7am (at UI we’d have been tailgating for at least an hour by that time), but because the lots opened at 7am we didn’t really have much of a choice. And the extra hour of sleep was nice.

Tailgating at UM was more “high-society” than at UI. I remember watching a UM tailgater open up the back of his tricked-out Expedition to reveal TWO flat screen television sets and a full bar. Made mustard bowling look a little pedestrian.

To keep up with the Joneses, Team 7am stepped up the pace with more elaborate games (beer pong and bean bag toss), an expanded menu (eggs and bacon for breakfast, brats and chicken wings for lunch), and higher quality beer. When we realized we, as aging tailgaters, needed to coffee get going in the morning, we’d spike the pot with a little Kahlua.

Tom and his buddy, Josh.  One week they wore wigs...

...the next they shaved their heads.

As the years went by and children joined the picture, Team 7am became more like Team 9:30am. We relocated from the tailgating lots to the home of friends who lived a few blocks from the stadium for access to actual bathrooms, bedrooms in which the kids could nap, and indoor space where we could seek refuge from excessively hot, cold, rainy, or snowy weather. Our tailgates were still worth waking up for, but because most of us cared a little less about UM football than football at our undergraduate schools, we didn’t mind not being in the thick of the tailgating craziness. (Side note: we were still spending our Saturday mornings in the tailgating lots when I was pregnant with Will. I’d wait in the port-a-potty line for 30+ minutes, pee, and then immediately get back in line because I knew I’d have to pee again by the time I’d made it to the front of the line. Good times.)

Team 7am also had a few onesies made.

This is one of my favorite pictures of Regan and Will;  
Will looks like he's been tailgating just a little too hard.

Will always felt right at home on Katrina, Arleigh, and Megan's deck.

We started teaching Will how to expertly grill chicken wings early on.

Mama's bottle and Hallie's bottle.

Every week we'd bring the 'Stein to our tailgates.  Afforded us hours of baby-free-hands.

Even today the sounds of televised football lull Hallie to sleep.

Justin, Hallie, and Will, on one of Hallie's not-so-cheerful days.

Perhaps protesting a Hawkeyes' loss?

Tom and I have also tailgated at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where tailgating is a combination of what we experienced at UI and UM. Crazy Hawkeyes + Extravagant Wolverines = Wisconsin Badger tailgaters. I would have loved that kind of excitement as a college student, but now, as a parent who will someday drop her children off at one of these universities, my jury’s still out.

When we moved to College Station we were told by natives and transplants alike that Aggie tailgating is a big deal. We’d nod our heads and smile, knowing that we – experienced tailgaters – would judge for ourselves come football season. On the first game day we headed down to campus, threw Hallie in the stroller, and started walking.

The saying “everything is bigger in Texas” absolutely applies to individual tailgates. Wherein we might have had only the space behind one vehicle to spread out in at UI or UM, the tailgate plots for Aggie fans are huge. This makes sense though, because their grills? Their grills – the ones they transport to tailgates – are bigger than any I’ve ever seen.

These clever Aggies have also come up with a big way to beat the heat on those 100+ degree September Saturdays.


I saw great Aggie attire (Aggie dresses are really popular here), lots of tailgate games (but no mustard bowling), and delicious-looking food.

The crowds were calmer and more respectful than we were used to, which I’m sure we – as adults with children in tow – appreciated more now than we would have 10 years ago.

The next step for us is to actually find out how to score a tailgating lot/spot. Once we’ve done that we'll invite our friends to a very unique tailgate – they should expect Aggie size, with a bit of Hawkeye crazy and Wolverine extravagance thrown in.

In summary, I just wrote an incredibly long post about tailgating at four different schools just so I could post this picture of Aggie tailgaters and share with you that riding in the backs of pick-up trucks is totally legal here.

Happy College Football Season!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A New Opportunity

A few weeks back I wrote the post "Traitor", about my Red Cross background and how it colored an experience I had here in Texas. A couple of Red Cross social media top dogs found my post, and contacted me about contributing regularly to the National American Red Cross blog. I was, and am, honored. And of course I jumped at the opportunity.

I'll provide links to my Red Cross blog posts here, but I encourage you to visit the blog periodically anyway for great information about Red Cross disaster responses, community outreach, and health and safety information.

Click here to read my first post!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Weather Report

I thought you might be interested to see the temperature records broken in Bryan-College Station this summer. (This information comes from the Bryan-College Station Eagle, which pulled their information from the National Weather Service.)

- Four days of record-setting high temperatures, the highest of which was 104 degrees. (In JUNE, people.)
- Three days of minimum temperature record-setting highs, the highest of which was 81 degrees. (That means that even in the middle of the night, I'm still cooling my house 10 degrees.)
- Temperatures reached triple digits 10 days of the month.

- One day of record-setting high temperatures.
- Three days of minimum temperature record-setting highs.
- Temperatures reached triple digits 18 days of the month.
- Average daily maximum temperature was 99.9 degrees.

- Daily high temperature was 101 degrees or above EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. except for on the 25th, when the temperature only rose to a cool 96 degrees. (Information courtesy of the BCS Eagle; all caps, extra punctuation, and adjectives courtesy of me.)
- Monthly record high temperatures were set at 109 degrees on the 27th and 28th.
- Six days of record-setting high temperatures.
- Seven days of minimum temperatures record-setting highs.
- Average daily maximum temperature was 103.8 degrees.

Texas is now the U.S. record-setter for the hottest average temperature for June through August.

If you listen carefully, you can probably hear me (in my best Wicked Witch of the West voice) crying, "I'm melting, I'm melting!"

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Perils of Gatorade

I realized - thanks to midday headaches - that I wasn't going to make it through the hot, summer days without Gatorade. Water just wasn't cutting it when it came to replenishing my electrolytes (whatever that means), so we stocked up on Gatorade at Lowes, of all places.

The kids are now big fans of Gatorade as well, asking for it often after long walks, trips to the park, swimming lessons, etc. Last weekend we ventured out for a family walk and stop at the playground, not realizing just how hot it was outside. (Apparently we've yet to learn that every single late spring, summer, and early fall day is identically and cripplingly hot and humid here in Texas.) When we arrived home everyone was miserably tired, hot, dehydrated. Will asked for Gatorade, and instead of giving him a small amount in a cup, we just gave him the entire bottle to get started on. As he drank more and more Gatorade - without stopping to take a breath - his upper lip was sucked further and further into the bottle. When he went to pull the bottle away from his mouth, it was stuck. I helped him break the suction and ease the bottle off of his face, and all was fine. Or so I thought.

20 minutes later I caught a glimpse of what looked like a red-ish purple mustache on Will's upper lip. Assuming it was Gatorade, I asked Tom to wipe Will's face. Tom readied his wet paper towel and caught Will on his next fly-by though the kitchen, but after a good wiping I heard Tom say, "Um, Erin? It's not coming off." I rolled my eyes, thinking to myself that it couldn't possibly be that hard to wipe a Gatorade mustache off a pre-schooler's face, grabbed my own rag, and readied myself to clean up that boy the way only his mother could.

And then I looked closer. The red-ish purple stain on Will's upper lip wasn't Gatorade - it was blood, sucked to the surface of his skin when he'd gotten his face stuck in the Gatorade bottle. Will had given himself, as best I can describe it, a Gatorade bottle hickey mustache.

The mustache was still in full force the following day (and the day after that and the day after that) when I dropped Will off at school and had to explain to his teachers that I do in fact wash Will's face and apologize for any distractions caused by his appearance.

Gatorade may be delicious, but until these kids of mine can figure out how to drink out of bottles without giving themselves hickey mustaches, we're implementing a boycott. Or at least a boycott on all things bottled.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Just Another Day in the Land of Varmints

I don't like bats.

Side note: I seem to spend a lot of time writing about things (heat, lizards, getting egged, crazy utilities bills) I don't like. My apologies. I promise to soon write a post about things I like.

The house I grew up in was built in the very early 1900's. When we first moved in there were lots of avenues by which animals, primarily bats and flying squirrels, could enter and then terrorize us. I have all too clear memories of bats - different bats on different occasions - swirling through my sister's bedroom, knocking knick knacks off the shelves; chasing my naked mother out of the bathroom after she found it nestled in her bath towel; and challenging my dad, who'd donned a hockey helmet and armed himself with a fishing net, to a duel. I also recall finding dead bats throughout the house, enclosing them in saltine cracker containers with duct tape, and burying them in the backyard with my sister. Great fun.

So you can imagine my excitement when Tom received this email from the TAMU Director of Environmental Health & Safety.

From: John M. Salsman, Director, Environmental Health & Safety []
Sent: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 10:16 AM
To: Thomas K. Ferris
Subject: Safety Tips Regarding Bats on the Texas A&M Campus

Health and safety officials take this opportunity to remind students, faculty and staff of the significant number of bats on the Texas A&M campus. According to those officials, bats are considered a high-rabies risk species and should never be touched. In addition, a few species found in Texas are considered endangered or threatened and thus, should not be disturbed.

If you should come in contact with a bat, or find one dead or alive in a campus building, or a live bat anywhere that cannot fly, please call the Facilities Services Communications Center immediately.

Also, please remember to close all windows and doors, especially in the evening, to help keep bats and other animals from entering buildings.

For more information about bats and rabies, please visit the Texas Department of State Health Services Infectious Disease Control Web site.

John M. Salsman, Director
Environmental Health & Safety

As if I needed another varmint to worry about.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Photography: the Rule of Thirds. And Bobbers.

I've never been a big fan of fishing. Growing up my dad would take my little sister and me fishing at the creek just down the block from our house. It always took what seemed like HOURS to gather all of our fishing gear (including our child-size Snoopy fishing poles), walk to the creek, and bait our hooks. If we also had to drive or bike to the bait shop the preparation might as well have taken DAYS.

So when we finally cast our lines into the water, I thought I deserved to catch a fish right that very minute. But of course I never caught a fish that very minute, and instead I was forced (ok, I wasn't forced, but it felt like it) to sit quietly and wait. And wait. And wait some more. And you know what? I never caught a fish. Not a single fish. Ever. (I eventually caught my first fish - at age 28 - on Booth Lake in Northern Wisconsin. It was a day of mixed emotions: I was excited to have finally reeled one in, but terrified to be so close to a wiggly, slimy, super-pissed-off-and-trying-to-attack-me-for-catching-him fish. Note that I'm standing as far away from my fish as the boat will allow.)

I also don't like worms, which were my dad's bait of choice. And I don't like mosquitoes, which are the state bird of Wisconsin.

So fishing was a real kick for me.

I did, however, really like bobbers. Especially bobbers that have been cut loose from their lines and have drifted far from their original points of entry into the water. When as a child I lost interest in sitting and waiting for fish, I'd sort all of the colorful bobbers in my dad's tackle box. Once the bobbers were organized I'd walk the shoreline of the creek, gathering and setting free bobbers that had lodged between the rocks or become tangled in the weeds and lily pads. And then I'd watch those bobbers drift away, headed toward their next adventure.

As it turns out, I still find bobbers incredibly interesting, especially as subjects in photography.

This bobber was floating peacefully in the man-made pond outside the George H. W. Bush Museum and next to the Barbara Bush rose garden.

This bobber was nearly drowning in a dirty, drought-burdened pond at a park in College Station.

As I uploaded these photos to Picasa, I noticed that in both photos the bobber is not centered. I wasn't sure why I'd photographed the bobbers that way; I only knew that I thought the pictures looked more interesting with the bobbers off to the side.

Last week I took my very first photography class. We learned primarily about our cameras, and how to use them instead of them using us, but at the end of class the instructor touched on photo composition and the Rule of Thirds.

According to Wikipedia, the Rule of Thirds is a compositional, visual arts rule of thumb stating that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or at their intersections. Aligning subjects at these points creates more tension, energy, and interest than simply centering the subject would.

My instructor explained that our eye enters a picture in the upper left-hand corner and exits a picture in the lower right-hand corner, just as our eye reads from upper left to lower right on a page of a book. Because of this learned eye movement, the upper-left compositional point is strongest, followed by the lower-right compositional point and the lower-left compositional point. The weakest compositional point is the one in the upper right.

I immediately envisioned my bobber photos, understanding at that point why I'd positioned the bobbers off-center. I am an analytical, organized thinker, usually excelling in areas that require following directions and rules and always failing miserably in areas that require abstract thinking and creativity. Understanding the Rule of Thirds allows less-than-creative people like me to take artistic photos - a small victory for us left-brainers!

I haven't had time to take any pictures (of bobbers or anything else) since learning about the Rule of Thirds, so I thought I'd leave you with a few I took earlier this summer that seem to demonstrate the Rule's power. The third picture below is one of my all-time favorites - my darling daughter's determined face, as she climbed to the top of the jungle gym all by herself for the very first time, is positioned at the lower-right compositional point of the picture and the deepest, warmest point in my heart.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bucket List, Texas Style

Do you have a bucket list? I don’t, but not for lack of trying.

I’ve started a bucket list at least six or seven times. I always begin the list with “visit the Grand Canyon”, and then I can’t go any further. It’s not that there aren’t places I’d like to visit, adventures I’d like to have, and goals I’d like to accomplish. It’s that in writing them down, I set myself up for failure. What if I acknowledge that I’d like to write a book, and then for one reason or another never do it? Will I always feel like my life was less than it could have been because I wasn’t able to cross that goal off my bucket list? I know it’s silly, but the anxiety surrounding not completing my bucket list paralyzes me.

I’ve decided to give it another go, and this time around I’m tackling my bucket list a little differently. Instead of creating a master bucket list in one sitting, I’m going to add a few goals to the list every now and then. I’m also going to add – and immediately cross off – goals I’ve already accomplished so I don’t feel like I’m starting from square one at age 32. (I’m not embarrassed to admit that I add completed errands, chores, and house projects to my to-do list just so I can cross them off a moment later. Wait – you don’t do that too?) And I’m going to break down my goals into smaller groups to make them seem less overwhelming.

One of those smaller groups of goals will be “things I’d like to do/see and places I’d like to visit while living in Texas”. Here’s what I have so far:

- Attend a professional baseball game. This could be either a Texas Rangers or Houston Astros game, but seeing as how the Astros are pretty much the worst team in baseball, I’m thinking one of their games might be the way to go – cheap tickets!

- Buy myself a pair of cowboy boots. And I’m not talking about a pair of cowboy boots from Target. I want the real deal, even if it takes me six years to save enough money and I finally buy the boots as the moving van heads out of town.

- Visit the (inside of the) new Dallas Cowboys stadium. I should have done this last winter, when my Packers played in – and WON – the Super Bowl in that stadium, but for a number of reasons a trip to the game wasn’t in the cards for us at that point in the year.

- Swim in the Gulf of Mexico. Tom just reminded me that the waters in the Gulf of Mexico were greatly polluted by the oil spill a couple of years ago, so we might wait another year or two before tackling this one. It might also behoove us to wait until Hallie weighs enough to not be washed away by the ocean lapping at her feet.

- Watch a football game at Kyle Field (the TAMU football stadium), widely recognized as one of the most spectacular places in the country to cheer on a football team. We’re actually heading to a game at Kyle Field next month, but the game is between the College Station and Bryan high school football teams. (Every year these two local rivals play at Kyle Field because the number of fans who want to attend the game exceeds the capacity of the high school stadiums.) This game will count, but I’d like to see a TAMU football game at Kyle Field as well.

- Watch the TAMU Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band perform. The TAMU band, whose 400 musicians are all members of the TAMU Corps of Cadets, is the largest military marching band in the country and is nationally known for its precision military marching style, which I’ve heard is just incredible to see live.

- Spend the day playing in the wave pools and riding the water slides at Schlitterbahn Water Park, otherwise known as the “Hottest, Coolest Time in Texas”, in Galveston. Tom and I are pretty sure we’re going to love Schlitterbahn, if for no reason other than their unbelievably addicting theme song/commercial. I know all of the words, and have come to believe them as truth. Click on the Youtube link below to listen for yourself and then try to tell you don’t want to make lots of memories at Schlitterbahn.

- Attend a rodeo. Yes, we took our kids to a rodeo a few months ago. But because we took our kids, Tom and I weren’t able to actually watch many of the rodeo events. We’d like to throw on our cowboy boots and chaps (well maybe not chaps – I don’t have any idea what chaps even are), leave the kids with a babysitter, and head out to the Expo Center for an evening of bull riding and calf roping.

- Learn what chaps are.

- Visit the Riverwalk and the Alamo in San Antonio. Both Tom and I spent time in San Antonio, and visited the Riverwalk and the Alamo, more than 10 years ago, but we’d love to go back. I think the kids would enjoy a boat ride on the Riverwalk waterway and learning about the Alamo, and I know I’d enjoy a date night with my hubby at one of the Riverwalk’s outdoor restaurants.

- Take a frame-able/frame-worthy photo of either Bluebonnets or Indian Paint Brushes.

- Visit a Texas zoo and aquarium. I’ve heard good things about the zoos and aquariums in Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin, and while I don’t figure we’ll be able to visit these attractions in all three cities, I’d like to make it to at least one zoo and one aquarium.

And that’s all I have, at least right now. Those of you who live in Texas, have lived in Texas, or have visited in Texas – what am I forgetting? What else should I add to my list?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I'm Not the Only One

Guess what?!

Even one of my blogging and cowgirl idols, the Pioneer Woman, had trouble finding the perfect pair of cowboy boots! Gives me hope that, even though I haven't found them yet, my boots are still out there, waiting for me.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I took my very first American Red Cross Health & Safety course – Babysitter’s Training – when I was 11 years old. In the years that followed I received numerous additional certifications and recertifications from the Red Cross: CPR for adults, children, and infants; AED for adults and children; Basic First Aid; Blood borne Pathogens; Lifeguarding; Water Safety; and Water Safety Instructor. Eventually I also took the Fundamentals of Instructor Training course and became a certified American Red Cross Health & Safety Instructor.

I started working for the American Red Cross soon after I graduated from college. I spent two years with the Grant Wood Area Chapter (Cedar Rapids, IA) as the Financial Development Associate and six years with the Washtenaw County Chapter (Ann Arbor, MI) as the Blood Services Volunteer Coordinator and then as the Director of Volunteer and Youth Resources.

I’ve been affiliated with the Red Cross for 21 years, and consider myself a Red Cross girl, through and through. Even my kids have been indoctrinated.

This fall both of my kids attend school on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, which means that on Tuesday and Thursday mornings I. AM. FREE. Well, I’ll be free after I exercise; shower (without worrying that “someone” will drop my phone in the toilet or whack her brother over the head with a wooden ukelele); pay bills; grocery shop; and visit the dentist, doctor, and hair salon (I’m LONG overdue with regard to all three). I should fill my free time with a paying job, but as I’m sure you can imagine, it’s tough to find a job that allows one to work only Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Except a job, say, substituting at one’s children’s school. So while I try to figure out what kind of work I want to do in the future (taking into account that 1. the Red Cross in my county is not hiring, 2. the Red Cross in my county will probably not EVER be hiring, and 3. if I can’t work for the Red Cross I’d really just like to write/blog professionally), I’m going to substitute teach at Will and Hallie’s preschool.

To prepare for the upcoming school year, all of the lead and assistant teachers, as well as any substitute teachers who were interested, attended a child CPR/AED and first aid class. My Red Cross certifications in these areas had expired, so recertifying by sitting through the class – even though I’ve taken and taught it countless times – seemed like a good idea.

The instructor rose and walked to the front of the room. She introduced herself, and hit play on the DVD player to introduce the, wait for it, AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION Child CPR/AED and First Aid course.

Though the American Red Cross/American Heart Association rivalry isn’t as well known or vicious as say, the Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees rivalry, it’s a rivalry just the same. The two organizations have the same overarching goal – to train as many people as possible in the lifesaving skills of CPR, AED, and first aid – and are constantly competing with one another to be the most-trusted and most-used heart health and safety organization.

Sitting through the American Heart Association CPR course was brutal for me, a Red Crosser for two thirds of my life. I felt guilty and dirty, and kept looking over my shoulder, expecting to see my Red Cross peeps scowling at me from the dark shadows in the corners.

I’m a traitor. And to make up for it, on my first “free” Tuesday morning, I’m heading to the Red Cross office in my county to find out how I can volunteer.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

Freshman at the University of Iowa were required to take a rhetoric course in order to eventually earn a bachelors degree. I enrolled, perhaps in error, in an advanced rhetoric class during my first semester in college and immediately found myself overwhelmed. Under the direction of a formal, inflexible, and well, odd, professor, readings were abstract, writing assignments were ambiguous, and classroom discussions were ridiculously philosophical. While I was then and continue to be many things, abstract, ambiguous, and/or philosophical are not any of them. I feared I’d fail the class.

One of our assignments was to prepare and deliver a speech. Because my professor emphasized the importance of an attention-grabbing opener with regard to our overall grade, I knew I had to come up with something spectacular in order to save my grade. And so as I stepped up to the podium that fall day, I took a deep breath, wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans, and began to...sing.

Last night I had the strangest dream, I’d ever dreamed before.
I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war.

And the people in the streets below were dancing ‘round and ‘round.
And guns and swords and uniforms were scattered on the ground.

Now, 14 years later, though I can't remember the topic on which I spoke, I can't forget that song. Though I certainly don't sing it every day, "Last Night" remains an occasional but regular song on the soundtrack of my life. I hear it playing quietly in the back of my mind when I see our flag raised, when I see a service member leave or reunite with his/her family, and when I look at my children and dream of their futures.

And I hear it today, the 10th anniversary of September 11th. As we remember those who lost their lives, recognize those whose heroic actions saved the lives of others, and raise up the family members and friends left behind, I also hope for a more peaceful tomorrow and dream about the day our world agrees to put an end to war.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Where Has All the Water Gone?

In case you haven’t heard, a good portion of the United States – including Texas – is suffering from one of the worst droughts, if not THE worst drought, in our country’s history. Combine record-breaking temperatures for record-breaking numbers of days with record-breaking drought and you get, well, trouble. (Right here in River City! With a capital “T” that rhymes with “P”…someone stop me before Broadway show tunes take over this blog.)

The impact of this drought is far-reaching. The environment; the economy; local and regional crop production; human and animal health; and community and individual social behavior have all been, or likely soon will be, negatively affected by this deficiency in our water supply.

Our family is incredibly lucky to have only been moderately inconvenienced by this drought. Though we’ve cut back on our water consumption (we take quick showers and use less water in the kids’ bath, set the dishwasher and washing machine at lower water levels, and have all but stopped watering the lawn), we’ve done so voluntarily and not because we were forced to by circumstances or local government. Compared to the farmers and ranchers who depend on large quantities of water to grow their crops and take care of their animals, we have nothing to complain about.

Until now.

A couple of weeks ago my brother-in-law sent me this article.

In case you breezed right on past that link, thinking that an article about the drought wouldn’t be worth reading, I’ve included below the headline and accompanying text. This is a not-to-be-missed report.

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures: Drought-Stricken Texas Town to Recycle Urine

We all know that recycling is a good thing. But recycling sewage water? According to Discovery News, the drought in Texas has gotten so desperate that the town of Big Spring is considering recycling toilet water for its 27,000 residents. While it sounds unusual (and more than a little gross), it's not that uncommon. NASA, for example, has a system in which it filters urine directly to salvage water.

However, the process in Texas would work a little differently than NASA's system. "We're taking treated effluent (wastewater), normally discharged into a creek, and blending it with (traditionally supplied potable) water," Big Spring's district manager, John Grant, told Discovery. Which might not be enough to reassure the squeamish, but with less than 0.1 inches of rain in the region for months, you do what you have to do.

If it comes to this in Brazos County or College Station, I’m moving.

As a side note, Will prays for rain every day. He does not pray for world peace or to end hunger. He does not pray for his parents, sister, extended family, friends, teachers, or pets. He does not pray to go on vacation or for his birthday to hurry up and get here faster. He does not pray for toys, books, or movies. The ONLY thing he prays for his rain. Now if only his prayers would be answered…

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Only in Wisconsin

I think it's important to note the fact that the hotel, which is advertising cow poo on its marque, has NO vacancies.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


As told to me by Walter Bradley, a faculty member at TAMU…

Over the course of every semester the TAMU faculty members and Department Chairs receive numerous complaints from students about the accents of their teaching assistants. As is the case at most major universities, a significant number of TAMU graduate students (who work as teaching assistants) are from countries other than the United States and speak less-than-perfect English. Most graduate students take improving their English very seriously, but that doesn’t change the fact that English is not their first language. Communication between, say, a Texas-born-and-bred student and a native Chinese-speaking teaching assistant who’s lived in the United States for all of two weeks can be quite difficult.

A few semesters back, a student complained about the accent of his teaching assistant multiple times, both to his professor and to the Department Chair. The student’s claim that the teaching assistant’s extreme accent resulted in the student doing poorly in class led to an investigation. Once the Chair knew which teaching assistant the student was referring to, he looked up where the teaching assistant was from, expecting a foreign country where English is rarely spoken…he found that the teaching assistant was from Minnesota.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Labor Day

Tomorrow our country celebrates Labor Day in honor of the economic and social contributions of workers. Here are a few of the Labor Day-related thoughts swirling around in my head this Labor Day Eve...

First, like Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer, Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. I'm not sure summer can be over - officially or unofficially - if the temperatures outside are still in the upper nineties during the day and the upper seventies at night.

Second, despite the fact that Labor Day is both a Federal Holiday and a State Holiday in all 50 states, Labor Day is not recognized by Texas A&M University. Faculty and staff are expected to report to work and students are expected to attend classes. This is a bummer on many levels. Our Labor Day weekend travels had to be cut short, because even though the kids don't have school on Monday, Tom has to work. I also feel badly for students, who will be out late tonight (Sunday) for TAMU's evening football game but will be expected to rise and shine for 8am classes tomorrow (Monday) morning.

I have a theory as to why TAMU chooses not to recognize Labor Day, but since my theory has to do with politics and I promised myself I'd avoid political topics as much as possible on this blog (let's just say that the city in which I was raised and the city in which I live are about as politically opposite as two cities can be), I won't go into great detail here. I will say, however, that while universities have every right to honor and recognize whatever (societal, economic, military) contributions they deem worthy, in my opinion, choosing to blatantly neglect others has the potential to promote ignorance and intolerance.

Third, I'm giddy with excitement over the return of NCAA football. The Iowa Hawkeyes (where Tom and I went to undergrad), Wisconsin Badgers (where I grew up), Nebraska Huskers (where Tom grew up), and the Michigan Wolverines (where Tom went to grad school and we lived for six years) all won. We're watching the TAMU Aggies play SMU as I type, and if they can pull out a victory our teams will be five for five on the first football weekend of the year. Ah, football - you make my Labor Day weekend complete.

Now if only it were a three-day weekend...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Howdy Y'all!

Though she was born in Michigan and moved 12 times before she turned 18 (10 elementary schools, two junior high schools, and two high schools), my mom considers Arkansas one of her two home states. At one time she had the accent to prove it, but after 30+ years living in Wisconsin – her other home state – she’s all but lost her Southern drawl.

Except when she uses the word “knife”, that is.

My sister and I mercilessly teased (and continue to tease) my mom about her pronunciation of the word, though I expect the teasing will come to an end soon…because I’m picking up a Southern accent myself.

After eight months in Texas, a few characteristics of and words in the Texas vernacular have grown on me:

- “Howdy” is the official Texas A&M greeting, and is what makes TAMU – at least according to students and alumni – the “friendliest campus in the world”. If someone says “howdy” to you, you’re expected to return a “howdy”, whether on campus or not. And though I’ve gotten pretty good at the “howdy” response (I likely offended a few Texans when I responded to friendly “howdy” greetings with formal “hello” responses during our first weeks here), I’ve not yet been able to start a conversation with “howdy”. Kicking off a conversation with a word I learned less than a year ago still feels a bit awkward…

- “Y’all” is a contraction of the words “you” and “all”, the use of which, to me with my limited exposure to Southern accents, is one of the key distinctions between how people here and people in the Midwest speak. Though I was hesitant to use “y’all” at first, I’ve now officially jumped aboard the bandwagon; “y’all” is efficient (I love me some efficiency), and I like the way it rolls smoothly off my tongue.

- The words “pen” and “pin’ are pronounced the same here, which I wouldn’t have thought twice about if it hadn’t been for my son and his crush on a little girl in his preschool class. Kennedy is from Texas, and I believe her parents are as well, so they all have Texas accents. With a Texas accent, “Kennedy” is pronounced “Kinnidy”. I don’t have a Texas accent, so I pronounce Kennedy’s name differently than she and her mother do. One day, while Will and I were having a discussion about Kennedy’s upcoming birthday party, Will stopped me mid-sentence and exclaimed, “Mom, you’re just not saying her name right! It’s Kinnidy!” So even though this difference in pronunciation is a small one, it’s one of my favorites because Will uses it so sweetly.

There are also a couple of characteristics of the Texas vernacular that I really don’t like:

- In a Southern accent, many nouns that would be stressed on the second syllable in other accents – like “inSURance”, “tV”, “poLICE”, and “guiTAR” – are stressed on the first syllable (IN-surance, T-v, PO-lice, GUI-tar). You might not think that accenting a word differently would make it difficult to understand, but I often find myself needing a few extra seconds to process what someone is talking about when their emphasis is different than that with which I’m familiar.

- I CAN’T STAND when people – speaking with any accent – misuse “good” and “well”. (Sally: “How are you doing?” Jim: “I’m doing so good!” Damn you, Jim.) I’ve noticed that this misuse is considerably more common – even accepted and encouraged (I’ve heard parents prompt their children to answer questions with “good” when “well” is correct) – here, and it drives me crazy. It’s challenging enough to teach kids how to use “good” and “well” correctly without the words being used incorrectly around them all the time.

Will had already been talking for years when we moved to Texas. Hallie, on the other hand, had only been talking for a few months, and a lot of what came out of her mouth at the time was nonsense anyway. We expected that while the rest of us might pick up a Southern-accented-word here or there, Hallie could realistically learn to speak with a true Southern accent. The funny thing is, as often as she speaks with a southern accent, Hallie also speaks with an Italian accent and now an unexplained New York accent as well. I guess she’s just more worldly than the rest of us.

I made a promise to a friend of mine in Michigan – who is also from Wisconsin – that I wouldn’t lose my Wisconsin accent when I moved to Texas. And while I have every intention of keeping that promise, I may allow “howdy” and “y’all” and “Kinnidy” a seat at the table. Don’t judge me, Wisconsinites – instead, give “y’all” a try. You’ll love how it rolls off your tongue, and you just might see a dramatic increase in your speaking efficiency.