Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween (or Cakes, Cakes, and More Cakes)

My mom is a very good cake decorator (while cake decorating is just a hobby for her - she's a nurse by profession - she's placed cakes and gingerbread houses in Madison competitions), so starting with our very first gingerbread houses and her famous Halloween cupcakes she began teaching my sister and I how to turn decorator frosting into art.

Despite my mom's hard work showing me the ropes, I'm not very good at cake decorating. I don't have a very steady hand, and while I can follow a pattern (organized control-freak that I am), I'm not particularly creative or artistic. Additionally, I don't really enjoy the cake decorating process. I'm not very patient (cake decorating takes quite a while as there are usually a lot of steps), there are far too many opportunities for catastrophic error, and the clean-up is insane.

All that being said, I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes with a completely decorated cake (that other people can correctly identify/recognize), and I love creating things that members of my family will appreciate and enjoy.

So while I won't be entering any cake decorating Food Network Challenges any time soon, I will continue to create these mediocre but well-loved cakes and cupcakes for my kids (and maybe my husband, if we can discover a kind of cake he actually likes) until they ask me not to.

In honor of Halloween, here's a pic of my Halloween cupcakes (of which I made six dozen this year) and a trip down my kids' birthday cake memory lane.

Will's 1st Birthday (we hadn't discovered a dairy-free frosting that Will could eat yet, nor could Will eat any candy decorations, so the cake was just train shaped)

Will's 2nd Birthday (Will wanted a train cake again, so we went with the same cake shape and added candy for decoration)

Will's 3rd Birthday (by this point we'd finally figured out which frostings Will could eat and therefore could finally use it on his cakes)

Hallie's 1st Birthday (we chose a cupcake cake for her, but she was afraid of the cake and wouldn't pose with it - enter Will-the-photo-bomber)

Will's 4th Birthday (I nearly had a meltdown during the decorating of this cake, but my mom helped me through)

Hallie's 2nd Birthday (she LOVED this Minnie Mouse cake, which I was particularly proud of because I used a Mickey Mouse cake pan and turned the cake into Minnie on my own)

Will's 5th Birthday (my most recent - and well-received, likely due to the fact that Will's getting older - project)

I'm glad I have a few months until Hallie's 3rd birthday - after Batman and six dozen Halloween cupcakes my Carpel Tunnel Syndrome needs time to recover.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Southern Living

Now that I'm a Southerner - well, a Midwesterner living in the South, so not quite a Southerner - I've started reading Southern Living Magazine. (To clarify, I've not subscribed to the magazine - I just check out back issues from the library.) Last night, while skimming through the September 2011 issue looking for the recipe for the apple-cream cheese bundt cake showcased on the cover, I came across a number of articles about tailgating at southern universities.

There were features to which I could completely relate (the 10 Commandments of College Football Fandom, for example), and others that, perhaps because I'm not a true Southerner or because they were a bit unexpected, I didn't quite "get".

For instance, the segment on "showing your school pride while looking chic" was a bit of a stretch for me. The piece suggested I wear a light-weight pencil skirt, ruffle blouse, blazer, strappy heels, and bangles - all in school colors, of course - for game day tailgates. As a back-up ensemble, the piece suggested I dress up my khaki, navy, or black tailgating dress with a patent leather belt, rouched touch gloves, or a clutch in my school's colors. Really?! Though I usually tailgate wearing a school t-shirt or sweatshirt, jeans, and flip flops (this ensemble is ideal for mustard bowling, beer pong, and overindulging on hamburgers, chicken wings, and beer), I love a cute tailgating sun dress as much as the next fan and may even someday purchase and wear one. But if you ever see me tailgating in a pencil skirt, blazer, and strappy heels I'd like you forcably remove me from the premises for embarrassing myself and my husband.

I got a kick out the magazine's interview with ESPN College GameDay reporter Erin Andrews. When asked, "What is the biggest misconception about the South?", Erin answered, "That every guy here has a Justin Bieber haircut." I've never heard of this Southern misconception, but I suppose it's possible I'm just out of the loop and all you Midwesterners are up there thinking that life in the South is like living in a Justin Bieber hall of mirrors. Let me set the record straight, people - I can't recall seeing even a single Justin Bieber haircut on a boy/man of any age since we've lived here. In fact, I wish there was a little more Bieber goin' on up in here.

Yeah, my kids like the Biebs.

College Station was selected by the magazine as one of the "South's Best College Towns" and was described by the author as a "Wild West outpost with a country and western soul". If that's true, I'm not sure I'll ever fit in here... The author also highlighted a few Bryan/College Station restaurants and accommodations, and it was in this paragraph that I learned of a caged rattlesnake living in one of my favorite restaurants, The Dixie Chicken. Under no circumstances will I share my eating space with snakes, so I guess it's time to start shopping for a few favorite burger joint.

I won't, however, be shopping for a new tailgating ensemble - jeans and a t-shirt suit this Midwesterner just fine.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


College football stadiums host "white outs" and "black outs" and "red outs" all the time, and college football programs often distribute colored cards that create a shape/word/design (when raised into the air at the same time) to fans in assigned seats. So while I'm sure you've seen displays like this before, I'm going to post this one anyway, because 1) it's patriotic and I like patriotic, and 2) it takes place at the University of Iowa, my Midwestern Alma Mater.

Impressive, right?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Red Cross Post: An American Red Cross Halloween

Looking for a way to tie together Halloween and the American Red Cross? Look no further than today's Red Cross blog post!

Monday, October 24, 2011

2nd House Update, Part 1

Quite a few people asked me to post pics of our new house now that we're actually living in it and have settled in somewhat. So, while there's still quite a bit we'd like to do down the road, here's (half of) our Texas abode!

Will's Room

The cityscape painting on Will's wall is one of my top three favorite features in this house.  The picture in center of the photo is of a little boy in a cape above the words "Someday I'll be a super hero".  

The picture on the right side of the photo says "Kapow!" and is one of Will's favorite features.

Guest Room

I absolutely love the furniture, the duvet cover and shams, and the picture above the bed in this room.  There's a bit more "decorating" to be done in here (the size of that lamp is really bugging me, 
and the walls need either a different color or a little more artwork), 
but at least we now have a place for our guests to sleep!

Hallie's Room

I love her tree, but we'll (and by "we'll" I mean Aunt Sara) be adding a second tree to the 
right of the first and a few grasses along the baseboard to the left.

Her room will so much nicer once that damn Diaper Genie is gone...

I love the window seat.

A close up of what I call "three faces of Hallie".  Melt.

Guest/Kids Bathroom

Eventually this room will get a new mirror and light fixtures - the lights are hidden in a huge enclosure (which you can see in the upper right-hand corner of the photo) that I can't stand.


We replaced the teal carpet and maroon window treatments (really, past owners?  Teal carpet and maroon window treatments together?) in this room, which made a world of difference.  I may paint the walls in this room, but can't figure out what color would be best.  Suggestions?  

A shout-out to my mom, who made the valances and a curtain for the playroom door.

The view as you walk into the playroom.

The wall hangings are pics of the kids and art they've created.

We have plans to replace the flooring in our living room, office, and hallway before Christmas and I'm hoping to paint the laundry room and half bathroom in November, so once those projects are done I'll post "2nd House Update: Part 2".


Friday, October 21, 2011

Skate Park Grand Opening

A couple of week's ago my friend Leslie posted on her blog about taking her three kids to the skate park in Davenport, IA. Seeing her post reminded me that I had intended to write and post pictures about our recent trip to the brand new skate park here in College Station, so here's that post, a few weeks late!

When we were in our tween years, my sister and I expressed to our parents an interest in skateboarding. Within a week or so of us starting to talk about the sport, two skateboards appeared in our garage. These weren't your run-of-the-mill Target skateboards; these were rickity, unsanded wooden skateboards on wheels that had already been rolling for AT LEAST 40 years. (I bet you thought I was going to say my parents bought us top of the line, professional skateboards. Fooled you!)

We quickly discovered that skateboarding regularly (standing up) wasn't an option on these boards because their elderly wheels would catch and launch us forward forward onto the pavement. Next we tried sitting on the boards and rolling down the hills in our neighborhood, but after a splinter or two in the rear we abandoned the boards all together and never went back to skateboarding.

I'm willing to bet this was my clever mom's plan all along, and I may someday borrow a page from her playbook because the idea of watching my kids take on this seemingly dangerous sport is anything but comforting.

That being said, and because my son is moderately interested in skate boarding and we've been watching the new skate park being built all summer, we thought it might be interesting to just check out the grand opening of the park.

Here's a glimpse into the action:

Crazy jumps (he landed this one)

Painful wipeouts (he's on his way down and there's no skateboard in sight)

Will was especially impressed with the bikers

I was especially impressed with this fellow, who, with a prosthetic leg, skated as well as anyone else

I couldn't quite figure out how all of the bikers and boarders knew how to to take turns in such a way that there was ALWAYS at least one person in the basins and they never ran into one another

The crowd (you can see the tops of the cement basins)

I've never seen so many pairs of skinny jeans or Vans in one place in all my life, people.

But in all seriousness, the skate park grand opening delivered.  The park itself is impressive.  The skateboarders and bicyclists showing off their skills on the ramps and jumps were incredible.  And there were hundreds of people of all ages - families with young children, tweens and teens, college students, young professionals - at the grand opening to show support for this new addition to our city.

While I don't think I'll ever become a skateboarder (I actually have terrible balance, so even if I'd had a run-of-the-mill Target skateboard back in the day I don't think I'd have stuck with the sport for more than a week), I applaud the city for building something for which there was obviously a need and that encourages kids to stay active and away from the scary temptations of adolescence.

The one negative is that not a lot of skateboarders and bike riders were wearing helmets.  Not to worry though, because Will, otherwise known as the "helmet police", shouldered the burden of making sure these people knew the error of their ways.  He reprimanded at least three or four helmet-less boarders/riders with a stern, "Hey YOU!  You're not wearing a helmet!  You should be wearing a helmet!"  He of course made a good point, but it was tough to take him seriously in his Burger King crown.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The 11th Commandment

Texas A&M University has been a member of the Big 12 Athletic Conference since the Conference was created in 1996. In August, TAMU announced its plans to leave the Big 12. In September, the SEC Athletic Conference voted to accept TAMU as its 13th member, with one condition...the remaining Big 12 schools would be required to affirm for the SEC that they would not pursue legal action to block the move. Though many Big 12 schools agreed, Baylor threatened lawsuits. (I liken this behavior to that of a four-year-old who, angry that his friends won't play what he wants to play, takes his toys and goes home.)

A TAMU alumni, frustrated by this Baylor-instigated hold-up, reached out to other Aggies via the internet and quickly raised the $2,750 needed to put up this billboard.

TAMU Aggies love it; Baylor Bulldogs are up in arms. Does the fact that I love it officially make me an Aggie?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Red Cross Post: Going Up?

Check out this week's Red Cross post here!

Thanks, everyone, for visiting and reading Midwestern Girl!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tradition: Let's Get Our Yell On!

Unlike nearly every other University in the United States, Texas A&M does not have a cheerleading squad. Why, you might ask? Because Aggies don’t cheer. Aggies yell, and are led in their efforts by Yell Leaders.

The original yell leaders (dating back to the very early 1900’s) were freshman who, having been instructed by upperclassmen to entertain fans during a football game, donned white janitor uniforms, led the crowd in yells, and told jokes from the track in front of the stands. These charismatic freshmen became so popular with the student body and their female guests (TAMU was still an all-male military school at the time) that the upperclassmen decided to take the privilege of energizing fans for themselves.

Today’s team of five Yell Leaders includes three seniors and two juniors, all elected annually by popular vote of the student body. (TAMU is one of very few schools in the country that elect its spirit leaders, and it’s not uncommon for twice as many students to vote in the Yell Leader election than vote in the Student Body President election.) More often than not, Yell Leaders are Cadets, though membership in the Corps is not required. And while women have campaigned for Yell Leader positions, none have ever been elected.

Fun fact: Texas Governor and presidential hopeful Rick Perry was a TAMU Yell Leader!  
That's him on the right.

Yell Leaders, along with Juniors and Seniors in the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band and Seniors in the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Singing Cadets, are the only TAMU students who receive varsity letters without playing a sport. (I suppose I’m alright with this, because these students train and compete and perform like athletes, but it brings up a topic I’ll likely discuss down the road…when did varsity letters for high school students become the equivalent to participation trophies for five-year-old soccer players?! Why should a student who was loosely affiliated with the French club earn the same prestigious award as a student who spent four years training and competing as a member of the varsity basketball team? They shouldn’t. But I digress.)

Yell Leaders participate in all home and away football games, all home basketball games, many away basketball games, and selected home and away games for other sports. To direct the crowd, Yell Leaders use a variety of hand signals, called “pass-backs”.

A pass-back signal made by the Yell Leaders is “passed back” through the crowd until word has spread and everyone knows which yell will be performed.

Pass-back Cheat Sheet

Once the signal is made and passed back, Yell Leaders signal for the crowd to “hump it” and begin the yell.

Humpin' it, or leaning forward with hands resting above the knees, aligns the back, neck, and throat in a position that maximizes noise.

After Aggie defeats, fans remain in the stands for a short yell practice. I liken this practice to athletes running wind sprints after losing a game – the coach doesn’t think the players worked as hard as they could have on the field, so he/she makes them pay for it after the final whistle. Perhaps a short yell practice after a losing game is the coach’s (the Yell Leaders) way of letting the players (the Aggie fans) know they'd better step it up for the next game…

After Aggie victories, Corps of Cadet members chase and catch the Yell Leaders and then throw them in a fountain of very cold water called Fish Pond. (Seeing as I spend most of my days wishing someone would throw me into a fountain of very cold water, I think being a Yell Leader on game day sounds like a pretty good gig.) Aggie fans follow the band out of the stadium and to the YMCA, where they’re joined by the soaking wet Yell Leaders, for a short rally.

I'd love to see my kids, 14-16 years from now and if sports don't work out for them, skip cheerleading (I don't think this will be problem for Will, but you never know about Little Miss Bossy Pants) and campaign to become TAMU Yell Leaders. Heaven knows that if voice volume is even 50% of what the student body considers when electing their Yell Leaders, Will and Hallie are shoe-ins.

Friday, October 14, 2011

He's From Minnesooooooota.

Remember my post about the TAMU teaching assistant with a Minnesota accent? My sister and brother-in-law - who live in Illinois and have their own Midwestern accents - found that post to be one of my funniest. Figures, seeing as all I did was retell a story recounted to me by someone else. Thanks guys.

Anyway, after reading that post a couple of times and having a good laugh, they turned on the television to watch Wheel of Fortune. (Their evenings are about as exciting as mine.) This guy, who may or may or not be the TAMU teaching assistant I spoke of, nearly put them over the edge.

It's not exactly the Minnesota accent I remember...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dead Coon in the Middle of the Road

This is how they do it in Illinois. (Thanks to my brother-in-law, who actually saw this scene firsthand and sent me the link. He's super proud of his Midwestern home state.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Red Cross Post: Fire Drill!

This week's Red Cross blog post is up - head on over to read about our family fire drill and then make plans for your own!

Monday, October 10, 2011


(Edited to add a few photos that will certainly make you laugh. I went through a few awkward years...)

At 10, I went to a sleepover at my friend Amanda’s house. I cried so late into the night that her parents called my parents to come and pick me up.

I remember thinking I looked REALLY cute in that shirt.

At 13, I went to sleep-away camp. I was a basket case for the entire five day/four night session, and though I begged my parents – via phone calls and letters (which they didn’t received until I’d already returned home) – to retrieve me, they “made” me stick it out.

Yes, those are the largest glasses on the planet.

At 18, I moved away for college. I cried for WEEKS, and made plans to transfer back to the University of Wisconsin in Madison the following semester. Luckily I eventually overcame – thanks to my very patient mother and incredible roommate, Melanie – my homesickness, and decided to stay at the University of Iowa.

No one looks good when they're wearing overalls and crying, right?

At 23, I moved to Cedar Rapids, IA to begin working for the American Red Cross. I only cried for a week or two before I bounced back and started appreciating my new job, new city, and new fiancé.

At 25, I moved with my husband and two cats to Ann Arbor, MI so he could begin graduate school. I DIDN’T CRY AT ALL, PEOPLE. I couldn’t believe it, and quite frankly, neither could my mother. I was still homesick though – Tom was meeting lots of new friends at school, and since I didn’t start working for the Red Cross in Ann Arbor until we’d be there for a couple of months, I was very lonely (thank goodness for our cats and the Taste of Home cookbook that kept me company) for quite a while.

At 32 (and 10 months ago), I moved with my husband and two kids to College Station, TX so my husband could begin a new job at TAMU. Once again, NO TEARS. And this time, though I missed my family and friends, I wasn’t lonely.

Until now.

I’ve been hit, somewhat unexpectedly and rather brutally, over the head with a bout of homesickness. It has to do, at least in part, with the arrival of fall (well, the arrival of fall according to the calendar – here in Texas we’re still a couple of months away from fall-like weather), which is my favorite season and during which nearly all of my favorite holidays take place, sports are played, and activities are available. It also has to do with our recent trip north for the wedding of our friends Mitch and Jess. The trip was amazing, flawed only in that it served as a reminder of what we’re missing – more frequent get-togethers with our families, as well as with our friends and their families; actual seasons (there are two seasons here: summer, and slightly-less-hot-than-summer); greater diversity of people and ideas; pedestrian- and bike-friendly cities; and University of Iowa tailgating – now that we’ve landed in Texas.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not unhappy here. While still a bit foreign, College Station has quickly become home thanks to our persistent efforts to put down roots, Tom’s great job, the kids’ wonderful school, and new-but-already-surprisingly-good friends for all of us. I have no doubt that in six or so years, when we’re moving on to Tom’s next position (if in fact we decide to move on from College Station – I suppose it’s always possible that I could learn to love this weather), I’ll be writing about how terribly sad we are to be leaving our life in Texas.

I’m just frustrated because I thought I was out of the woods, that I’d finally outgrown my bouts with homesickness that have – at their worst – paralyzed me into seclusion and caused me to miss out on the excitement that accompanies new experiences.

The good news this time around is that I’m older and wiser. I know that this too shall pass, and that seclusion only prolongs the homesickness and isolation. I know which daily activities make these feelings worse, as well as which daily activities lift me up and improve my mood. And if all else fails, I know I can call my mom.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Where Has All the Writing Time Gone?

I struggle to find time to sit down at my computer and write. It's gotten a little easier now that both Will and Hallie are in school on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, but those hours of "freedom" are for more crucial and time sensitive errands and projects before they're for writing. And though we still honor nap time in our house, only one child actually naps - the other child sees it as his rest time "job" to keep me from sitting down at my computer.

So where does my time go, you ask? Let me show you:

This pie chart breaks down how I spend my time on an average day. If you were to look at a pie chart breaking down how I spent my time today, you'd see an additional 18% wedge labeled "figuring out how to create and post a pie chart". I guess tonight's meal preparation percentage will suffer.

If you're anything like me, you can easily understand how so much time goes to meal planning, shopping, preparation, and clean-up but have a hard time grasping how a person can spend 29% of her day repairing books. Talk to Hallie.

You might also have a hard time understanding how a person can spend 13% of her time flushing toilets (FOR OTHER PEOPLE) and 11% of her time picking up and putting away (OTHER PEOPLE'S) shoes when every member of her family is completely capable of doing these things for themselves. I guess I've not done a very good job of training them.

So, once Hallie stops destroying books, Will and Hallie start flushing the toilet, and all three members of my family start putting away their shoes I'll have time to write. In the meantime, I'll continue to write like I'm writing right now - typing with one finger on my iPhone while taping a book back together and pumping out a couple of miles on the treadmill.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

How 'Bout Them Apples

I've already read quite a few tributes to Steve Jobs, but thus far I think President Obama said it best.

"Steve was among the greatest of American innovators - brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it.

By building one of the planet's most successful companies from his garage, he exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity. By making computers personal and putting the internet in our pockets, he made the information revolution not only accessible, but intuitive and fun. And by turning his talents to storytelling, he has brought joy to millions of children and grownups alike. Steve was fond of saying that he lived every day like it was his last. Because he did, he transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: he changed the way each of us sees the world.

The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve's success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented."

While we as individuals are much more than our technology, we undoubtedly take our technology into account when defining ourselves. ("I'm a Mac. I'm a PC.") I am a woman, wife, and mother, but I'm also a Mac and an aspiring writer who's finding her new endeavors possible because of Steve's visions and creations. As I sit here blogging on my Mac, I'm grateful.

Thank you, Steve, and rest in peace.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Whole Hand

Today my boy turns five. I can hardly believe it.

Read all about it over at Wiggles.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Red Cross Post: One of These Things is Not Like the Others

My next Red Cross blog post is up - you can find it here.

(For those of you who read Midwestern Girl regularly, you'll find the story I tell in this Red Cross blog post to match the one I tell in Traitor. I knew that Red Crossers across the country would appreciate the predicament in which I found myself!)


I'm changing things up a little here at Midwestern Girl. Because of my new writing opportunity and a few other less important and interesting reasons, I'm going to transition from writing here on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays to writing here on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

In case you want to keep up with my other projects, I'll be writing at Wiggles (my family/kids blog) on Tuesdays and Thursdays and at the Red Cross blog early in the week. (I can't give you an exact day of the week for that one, because regardless of when I submit my posts for review it's up to the social media team at National when they're actually posted.) I hope you'll join me, and spread the word!