Friday, August 31, 2012

Weekly Wrap-Up (8.31.12)

I assumed that once Will began kindergarten the stress of these last couple weeks of summer (oppressive heat and swarms of mosquitoes kept us primarily indoors, Will and Hallie were sick and tired of each other and our regular summer activities, I was/still am anxious to get back to writing on a more regular basis, and my to-do list was nearly a mile long) would wash away. I conveniently forgot that, during this first week, I would spend the majority of the hours Will was in kindergarten at Hallie's school (where I substitute teach a few times a month) for state-mandated training. And then I committed to spend nearly every hour that Hallie is in school next week working at school. I think I'm going to need a pan of brownies, followed by back-to-back classes at the gym, to get me through.

Long Horns
I stumbled upon these beauties (it may be hard to tell from this camera-phone picture, but the horns are really gorgeous up close) at a garage sale in Wisconsin and couldn't pass them up, especially when I found out the seller had priced them at only $5. Now the question is, where will they look best in our house?

Some days we all need a little pick-me-up, and in case that's you today, here are "21 pictures that will restore your faith in humanity".

Red Cross: West Nile Virus 101
This week's Red Cross post is especially relevant for those of you who live in Texas, where the number of cases of West Nile Virus have more than tripled what they would be in a "normal" year and new deaths are being reported every day. Take steps to protect yourself and your family!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Garden Man Can

To be clear, neither Tom nor I should be called the "Garden Man". If you had to label us, you might call Tom the "Garden Captain" and me the "Garden First Mate", titles that provide information about our roles in the process but don't necessarily convey success. "Garden Man" - confident, successful, and humble - is my dad.

During the month we spent at my parents' house in Wisconsin I observed firsthand the success of my dad's flower and vegetable gardens. Despite the drought (one of the worst on record in Wisconsin), the majority of his flowers bloomed as brightly as they do every summer and his tomato plants produced a plentiful crop of the most amazing plump, juicy tomatoes. And that compliment comes from someone who doesn't really even like tomatoes.

I paid close attention to my dad's gardening methods and style (I've come to believe that gardening is as much an art as it is a scientific process, which is unfortunate for Tom and me because we're both considerably more scientific in our approach to most things in life) and learned a few helpful hints that I think will help us succeed fail less miserably when we give gardening a second shot next year.

I was of course happy for my dad and his beautiful flowers and delicious tomatoes, but the comments that came from the kids ruined my mood just a little - I heard, "why don't your flowers look like Grandpa Paul's, Mama?" and "Grandpa Paul has SO many more tomatoes than you do, Mama!" more times than I cared to count.

At one point Will suggested I take a few photos of Grandpa's flowers so that when we returned home I could remember what a garden was supposed to look like. So I did. And here's what a garden is supposed to look like.
Orange has been the color of my summer, and I'm
fairly certain it's going to follow me into fall.
Just a simple sweetie.  (I have no idea what this flower is really called.)
Hallie LOVED to make these snapdragons talk.  Grandpa lost an
average of three flowers a day to Hallie's need to converse with them.
I can't stand bees, but for some reason
I really like taking pictures of them.
These flowers create a lovely ground covering.  I'm not sure if they'd grow here
in Texas,  but if they will, I might actually try to grow them next summer.
There's that bee again...
Next to the snapdragons, these were Hallie's favorites.  They're pink.
Grandpa showed Hallie how to take the seeds
from the flowers and replant them.  Maybe next
year we'll just turn the garden over to the kids.
I'm not sure how it's possible, seeing as at least two large (I'm not sure which kind) and 25 small (cherry or grape) tomatoes were picked every evening, but I neglected to take a picture of my dad's tomatoes or tomato garden.  I'll always regret this, primarily because the tomato garden became a special place for Hallie and her Grandpa while we were there.

Each evening, immediately after he returned home from work, my dad and Hallie would pick up a tupperware in the kitchen and head out to the tomato garden together.  Since Hallie is teeny tiny, her job was to carefully weave her way through the six-foot-tall tomato plants, pick the ripe tomatoes, and hand them out to her grandpa.  This job couldn't have been done by anyone except Hallie - adults and even Will would have damaged the plants because of their size, and Lily, who's small like Hallie, wouldn't have been careful enough - which is why tomato harvesting became their something special.

Too bad she never ate a single one.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


After the sob fest that was yesterday's garden update, I feel like I should focus on the positive today.

For reasons unbeknownst to us, our peppers did fairly well. While we gave up on our dream of making a batch of salsa using all/only homegrown ingredients (tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and jalapeño peppers), we were able to make whip up a batch using our fresh-from-the-garden peppers.

After picking and washing the peppers, Tom fire-roasted them on the grill. And then he tried to kill me by adding 17 times more jalapeño peppers than were needed to his tomato/onion/green pepper salsa blend.

I used to be a wimp when it came to spicy foods, but since I've been married to Tom my palate has toughened up considerably. I can handle bites of the REALLY spicy foods he eats, and can almost always stick with him on salsa. Not this time. After one smallish bite my nose started to run and beads of sweat broke out on my upper lip. It took my body 30 minutes and two full glasses of milk to return to a normal 98.6 degrees. Poor Will followed up his one bite with two glasses of juice, two glasses of water, and a few unintentional tears. I hope we haven't forever turned him off to homemade salsa...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Green Texas: Green Thumb

It's a good thing we weren't counting on home-grown vegetables from our garden for survival; if we had, we'd all be six feet underground by now.

When we last checked in on the garden (as in, when I last wrote about the garden) it seemed our vegetables were off to a good start. After starting the seeds in small pots and letting them sprout near a sunny window in our playroom, we'd transplanted the perky little plants into our homemade vegetable bed. We watered regularly and rejoiced when nearly all of them survived the move.
Fast forward a couple of months...

The tomato plants looked like rockstars: belligerent, superior and a little out of control. While there were no actual tomatoes yet, the plants were thriving and we felt confident we were well on our way to whipping up a batch of garden-fresh salsa.

The onion plants, perhaps like a personal assistant would on behalf of their rockstar employer, sacrificed themselves for the future success of the tomatoes. (The growing tomatoes monopolized the bed and essentially created an umbrella of darkness over the onion plants.) We filed their unfortunate demise in a folder labeled "learning experience".

The pepper plants were producing flowers, which Tom assured me meant they would eventually also produce peppers. As the opening act (I have no idea why I started and am continuing with this strange, rockstar theme), the pepper plants were a nice bonus but weren't why I bought my ticket in the first place.

The lettuce (roadies?) was eaten by bunnies, but our spinach...oh, our spinach. Talk about a backstage pass. There wasn't much of it and it didn't last very long, but the three salads Tom and I made with those beautiful green leaves were amazing. We were so proud of ourselves and our seemingly green thumbs.
- End Rockstar Theme -

The day we picked our first pepper and tomato off the vines was a special one.

Tom, Will, Hallie and I had worked together to design and build our vegetable bed, and then we'd together planted hundreds of vegetable seeds and nurtured them into budding vegetable plants. I was proud of our hard work, inspired by our progress, and full of hope for the future of the plants.

"To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow."  I can honestly say that watching our garden grow made every day's "tomorrow" look a little bit brighter.

But from that point on, our plants starting sliding down the slippery slope toward failure at a good clip. For some reason our tomato plants grew and grew and grew, to the point that they started snuffing each other out, weighing each other down, and blocking each other's sunlight.  The green tomatoes never turned red, and eventually the tomato vines took on the look of tomato weeds and animals started dining on the green tomatoes.

My mood took a dive as well; like our tomato plants, I felt a little like something was blocking my sun (and it's tough to feel like you're not getting enough sun when you live in Texas).

So out the five vegetables we planted back in April (tomatoes, onions, peppers, lettuce, and spinach), we really only succeeded in growing two of them. That's a 40% success rate, which I consider pretty pathetic. Thank goodness we only live a mile and a half from Kroger.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Baby No More

Today is Will's first day of kindergarten.

I have no doubt kindergarten will be a positive experience for Will. He craves a regular schedule and the structure an official school day will provide. He is desperately eager to learn more, and more, and more, preferably from "smart" people (smart = not his parents). He will benefit from classroom and playground interactions with kids with the emotional maturity he doesn't have yet.

That's not true. I have my doubts. Plenty of them.

What if another kid picks on or makes fun of him? What if he picks on or makes fun of another kid?

What if he is disrespectful to his teacher or bites a classmate and gets sent to the principal's office?

What if he has to eat lunch by himself or doesn't have anyone to play with on the playground?

What if he's picked last in gym? What if someone makes fun of his singing voice in music? What if he eats paste in art?

What if he's exposed to peanuts?

What if?

Tears are literally streaming down my cheeks.

I'm shaken from this sob-fest and redirected toward reality by the sound of doors slamming, Will roaring (which he does solely because Hallie hates it), and Hallie screaming (which she does solely because Will hates it). Their argument turns into wrestling match and then a knock-down, drag-out slap fight. I step in, separate the warriors, remind them that hitting of any kind is prohibited, and settle them in for five and three-minute timeouts.

It's not a pretty picture but it serves a lovely purpose, which is to bring me back around to where I firmly stood when I began writing this post.

I once again have no doubt that kindergarten will be a positive experience for Will. I am incredibly excited for him to begin this new stage of life, and to become an elementary school parent myself. (Don't tell the PTO, but I really like carnivals and book fairs and bake sales and choir concerts.) I just need to figure out how to quiet the "what if?" questions playing on repeat in my head.

Today's your day, my boy. Seize it. Work hard, be kind, and make your mama proud.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Weekly Wrap-Up (8.24.12)

Life Lessons
Will starts kindergarten in three days. Despite the fact that I've spent years teaching (or at least trying to teach) him about right and wrong and the importance of being kind to others, standing up for those in need, telling the truth, and working hard to achieve his goals, I suddenly feel like we need to discuss every single one of these concepts in great detail before I send him off on Monday morning. I might even administer a pop quiz, just to give Will an opportunity to prove to me the depth of his understanding.

Not really, people. Despite the fact that Will would absolutely LOVE it if I wrote and gave him a test - he's just that kind of kid - I think that may be taking these life lessons a little bit far.

Jenna Christine: YouTubesdays
Last week I shared with you a little "Jenna Christine" teaser - I hope you enjoyed it!

This week I wanted to introduce you to you Jenna's YouTube channel and her YouTubesday music videos. Every week Jenna covers, from the casual comfort of her living room, tunes by a wide variety of artists, from Rascal Flatts and Bonnie Raitt to Justin Bieber and Adele. Her three most recent videos have included the accompaniment of her brother (my BIL), Grant Ferris, a professional guitarist and a six-time International Male Modeling Champion. Below are links to two of my favorite YouTubesday videos, along with a link to perhaps my all-time favorite Hallie video that Jenna edited and posted on her site. Enjoy!

You by Chris Young, covered by Jenna Christine and Grant Ferris

Little Miss by Sugarland, covered by Jenna Christine

Baby Baby by Justin Bieber, covered by Hallie Claire

MomsEveryday: Back to School Survival
I realize that some of you, especially those whose kids returned to school last week or will head back in just three days, feel like summer has already drawn to a close; my apologies to you, as this post may be feel like too little, too late.

This week MomsEveryday ran Back to School Survival, a new post of mine about how to savor the last few weeks/days/hours of summer vacation and not drive yourself crazy trying to "do it all" before the first day of school. Enjoy!

Red Cross: World Humanitarian Day
Last Sunday, August 18th was World Humanitarian Day. Yes, the day itself has passed. But the mission of World Humanitarian Day...

To honor and pay tribute to those who have helped and those who continue to help people around the world, regardless of who and where they are, and to recognize and appreciate the acts of kindness, no matter how small, that define our humanitarian spirit.

...lives on throughout the year. I encourage you to visit the National American Red Cross blog to read a little more about how can join in this "global celebration of people helping people.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Are you an Instagram user? I am, but only in small doses. I love altering the occasional photo to make it appear as though it was taken 30 years ago or just this morning as the sun was cresting the horizon, and I've enjoyed playing around with the feature that creates a haze surrounding the picture's focal point. I don't, however, find the application particularly user-friendly - I always have trouble getting back to the main menu, and it took me far longer than it should have to figure out how to pull pictures from my phone's camera roll to Instagram.

I've managed to take a few decent pictures with my phone and edit them using Instagram - here's a small sample:

I certainly wouldn't trade taking pictures with my "nice" camera for taking pictures with my phone, but I'd like to improve my phone camera skills - using Instagram as well as the phone's regular camera application - so that when it isn't feasible to carry along my big camera, lenses, and case, I can throw my phone in my pocket and not worry about missing something photo-worthy because the phone camera is my only option.

Those of you who use your phone as your primary camera... Do you prefer taking pictures using Instagram or do you take pictures with your phone's camera application and then transfer them to Instagram for editing? Any tips for taking good pictures with your camera phone?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Yumons

I've been visiting the Union for as long as I can remember - for Babcock ice cream cones, my senior prom, more weddings that I can count, live music on the Terrace, and cold beer and warm popcorn (or is it warm beer and cold popcorn? You never really know what you're going to get) in the Rathskellar - and made it a point to visit the Union as many times as possible during my three-and-a-half weeks in Madison this summer.
The Union waterfront, docks, beach, and terrace.
The outdoor stage, and a band mid-show.
The cozy and rustic Rathskellar.
Enjoying the iconic Union chairs.
We (the kids and I, my parents, my Camping Family aunts and uncles, my sister and her family when they were in town, and Tom when he was in town) were actually at the Union every Friday evening for happy hour - otherwise known as the 19th hole - after the Camping Family men finished the 18 holes of disc golf they play every Friday afternoon.

Both kids thought the Union was the bee's knees. Every Friday afternoon, as Will left for the disc golf game (in which he was beyond thrilled to be included), he'd yell, "see you at the 19th hole!" out the window of the car. And every Friday afternoon, after Hallie awoke from her nap, the first thing out of her mouth was, "are we going to the 19th hole at the Yumons?"

Yes, she pronounced it "yumons". It didn't matter how many times we corrected her and made her practice - she always said "yumons". So even though 19-month-old Lily could pronounce the word correctly, we started calling our beloved Friday night hangout "the Yumons". I wonder if it'll stick...

I must admit, however, that one of the reasons the kids loved the Yumons so much is that after a certain length of time spent socializing with the adults, my mom and I let them play games on our phones. Lemonade, popcorn, and Angry Birds Space = Will's perfect afternoon.
Huddled around the iPhone.
I guess Will did periodically break from the games,
but the breaks were usually only long enough for a
quick straw sword fight with Uncle John.
Hallie's interests are a bit broader than Will's, so for her, the perfect afternoon = lemonade, popcorn, feeding the birds, and dancing with Grandpa.
Discussing the birds with Aunt Marsha.
Hallie was seriously like the bird whisperer.
Rockin' out.
Showing off her moves.
I know that Will and Hallie made great memories of all kinds on this trip. I also know that someday they too will be able to say - just as I can - that they've been having fun at the Yumons for as long as they can remember.
Will and Grandma
"The Yumons"...I think it stuck!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sorry, Twihards

I'm sorry, Twihards, but I think it'd be a great competition.
  Predictions on a victor, anyone?
I'm going to go with Dakota Fanning (she's in a Twilight
movie, right?) - she seems kind of "scrappy" to me.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Katniss Kind of Weekend

On Friday night I imagined myself in line outside the New York City FAO Schwartz, waiting to purchase a copy of The Hunger Games DVD at 12:00 a.m. sharp, even though it would have meant spending my evening with hundreds (thousands?) of screaming, crying teenage girls in costume. Instead I watched a cheesy romantic comedy at home and spent my evening with two screaming, crying children in costume, counting down the hours until morning.

On Saturday morning I rose earlier than I EVER do on the weekend and dragged Will and Hallie with me to Target to pick up my own three-disc Deluxe Edition. As we approached the DVD display, Will yelled, "Look Mom, it's Katniss!" A few funny looks from parents within earshot led me to believe they were assuming I'd taken my five-year-old to see the PG-13 movie in the theater and were silently judging me. No, Will hasn't seen the movie. Yes, he'd LOVE to see it. To hear him tell it, I'm the meanest mom in the world for not allowing him watch this super cool movie in which Katniss, who wears a braid in her hair and is hungry for a nectarine and a handful of pretzels, shoots her bow and arrow and wins the gold medal in archery at the London Olympics. To be honest, I'm proud that Will's chosen to pay attention to and learn about (to the extent that I'll allow him to do so) something that interests me, and that he's become a fan of and developed an appreciation for a strong, female heroine with a unique skill set. So judge away, Target shoppers.

The trip to Target ended up a disappointment for Will. Not only did I stick with my previously established "we'll TALK about you reading and watching The Hunger Games when you're 10" stance, he also couldn't find a bow and arrow toy to take home with him. My excitement over finally getting my hands on the DVD translated into generosity, and I told Will that if Target had a bow and arrow for sale I'd buy it for him. Sadly, Target only sold cross bows that shot water, which wasn't at all what we were looking for. Boo.

Midday Saturday I used two polishes from my new China Glaze Official Hunger Games Collection to spruce up my fingernails and toenails.
The Capitol Collection - Fast Track
The Capitol Collection - Riveting
On Saturday afternoon, while the kids were supposed to be resting/napping and then were finally actually resting/napping, I watched the movie (again). It felt like such a luxury to rewind and replay my favorite scenes, scenes that when I first watched them in the theater passed by too quickly for me to fully appreciate them. Like a 14-year-old, I watched the cave scenes three or four times.  I'll probably watch them a few more times this week.

On Saturday night, after the kids went to bed (I thought seriously about putting them to bed at 6:30pm - not just because I wanted to get back to my DVDs, but because Tom's out of town and they were out of control and I wasn't sure I could survive another hour and a half with them), I started working my way through the special features. Also on Saturday night, Tom tried valiantly to hunt down Josh Hutcherson in downtown Cincinnati, where Tom was visiting for a wedding and Josh was passing through for a fundraiser. Unfortunately their paths did not cross.

On Sunday afternoon, Will asked me if I wanted to play with him. Of course I said yes, and asked him if he'd prefer Chutes and Ladders or Connect Four Launchers (our go-to games when Hallie's asleep). He replied that he didn't really want to play a board game, and that he'd rather play "characters" (superheroes, wild animals, etc.). I'm not very good at this kind of playing, which I admitted to him. He wouldn't let me off the hook, however, and came up with the perfect solution. "Mama, if you'll play characters with me, I'll let you be Katniss."

I was both looking forward to and dreading Sunday night - looking forward to the evening because I'd planned to watch more special features, and dreading the evening because I knew I'd FINISH the special features and then my Katniss Kind of Weekend would be over.

I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to do next weekend.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Weekly Wrap-Up (8.17.12)

Jenna Christine
You may recall reading about "Up-and-Coming Country Superstar" Jenna Christine here on my blog about a year ago.

To refresh your memory..."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."

This last year has been a incredible one for Jenna Christine - networking, songwriting (she's currently in negotiations to write multiple songs for an extraordinarily famous singer), recording - and I have a feeling this coming year will be even better. I honestly believe there will come a day, in the not-too-distant future, when you'll read about Jenna Christine on websites and blogs much bigger than mine and hear her music on the radio. When that day arrives, I want all of you to be able to say you first learned of her here, that you knew she was going to make it big before the rest of the world did.

I'll post more music and news from Jenna Christine in the coming weeks, but until then, here's a little teaser!

Best Friends
Every day she patiently waits for him, and they walk together.

MomsEveryday: MomsEveryday ran my post, Bird Watching, on their blog this week. In case you missed it here the first time around, click here to read all about how difficult it is to work surrounding by 36 different birds and their calls, especially when you're not much of a bird fan to begin with.

Red Cross: I'd planned to write about something else for the Red Cross this week, but after the tragic shooting that took place on Monday near the Texas A&M campus here in College Station, I redirected my energy toward a post about campus safety.