Friday, June 29, 2012

Weekly Wrap-Up (6.29.12)

Boy Bands, Round Two
Last week I wrote a little my love for and posted the music video of One Direction's smash hit, "What Makes You Beautiful". A week and several mocking text messages, Facebook messages, and emails later, I still love the song, no matter how dorky and childish that makes me seem. And I still love the song after watching/listening to this hysterical parody. (This video is only appropriate for adults - send your One Direction-crazed tweens out of the room before watching.)

Duct Tape
This is a picture of my brother-in-law. Duct taped to a wall. You see, he's a principal of an elementary school and when his students accomplished some kind of goal having to do with a food drive, he let them tape him to a wall and pull the stool on which he was standing out from under him. I think it's also important to note that he's 6 ft. 3 in. tall; it takes A LOT of duct tape to make sure a man of that size sticks to a wall.

Say What?
I realize this video was posted to YouTube years ago, and that many of you have already watched it (or chosen not to watch it, if you're the kind of person who doesn't appreciate talking cats), but I'm going to post it here anyway. When I'm having a bad day, a quick viewing of this video cheers me right's been viewed more than 6 million times, and I estimate that my sister and I are responsible for only like 140,000 of them.

Red Cross: Summer Shortage
Unfortunately the 4th of July and a shortage of blood on hospital shelves go hand-in-hand, nearly every single year. Find out more about how you can help by clicking here!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Homeward Bound

Tomorrow my kids and I will board an airplane, bound for my homeland. The word "homeland" makes it sound like I'm from a continent halfway around the world instead of from a state halfway across the country, but I'm going to use it anyway because I like the way it sounds. And because there are times when life in Texas feels so different from life in Wisconsin that I wonder if the two states shouldn't be part of different countries anyway.

I'm headed north to Madison, Wisconsin to spend nearly all of July at my parents' house. I'm going for an entire month for a lot of reasons (not the least of which is that summer in Wisconsin is considerably more bearable than summer in Texas), with the primary reason being that I can. School's out, which means both the kids and I have fewer obligations than we do between August and May, and I can write from anywhere there's an internet connection.

Lest you think I just told the internet that my house will be abandoned for the next 30 days, I'll also share with the internet that Tom isn't coming with us. He will instead be defending his new recliner from would-be thieves - day in and day out - while sitting in it and writing grant proposals.

We have big plans for our month up north. The kids and I will spend the first four days of our trip in Minocqua, Wisconsin at the Lincoln Lodge, and will return to Madison on the 4th of July for the kids' very first true fireworks experience. We have plans to host our bi-annual garage sale (my mom, my sister, and me) and lemonade stand (Will and Hallie), visit the Madison Children's Museum, teach Will to water ski, visit the Henry Vilas Zoo, attend my dad's work picnic at a water park in Wisconsin Dells, and visit the Dane County Fair. I also hope to see a couple of friends who still live in/near Madison, arrange a playdate or two for the kids, catch up with two of my cousins-in-law and their families, and visit my godson on his eighth birthday. Oh, and I'm going to eat Rocky Rococo's pizza and Greenbush donuts at least once a week. We'll miss Tom, but we're going to have a great time.

That is if I survive flying to Madison as the sole adult with two kids in tow...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Green Texas: Vocal Trash

"Garbage" is one of the biggest bands to ever come out of Madison, Wisconsin. My club soccer team traveled quite a bit during my high school years, and when we'd arrive in a new state and meet other players, the topic of where everyone was from would inevitably come up. Because Garbage's song "Stupid Girl" was a hit around that time, we heard jokes pointing out that "the best thing to come out of your hometown is Garbage" and "stupid girl - I wonder how they came up with that title" all the time. They got pretty old.

I flashed back to those days when I heard that the group "Vocal Trash", which is based out of the Dallas/Fort Worth area in Texas, was coming to town. Cue the jokes now...

Vocal Trash performed a free concert in College Station as part of the Brazos Valley Earth Day celebration. According to the Vocal Trash website, they "make music in harmony with the environment by fusing world class singing, industrial-styel drumming, award-winning break-dancing and comedy antics into a unique and uplifting experience".

Though the Vocal Trash concert wasn't the best I've ever seen (both Tom and I were a little turned off by the fact that they clearly played filler music behind what they sang and played live), we were all entertained by their lively and engaging versions of popular covers. The kids enjoyed the group's made-from-garbage instruments, and Will LOVED the break-dancing.
Water jug drums
Made-from-trash guitar #1
Made-from-trash guitar #2
Washboard abs
Tom's always dreamed of playing a keytar
Breakdancing, round #1
Breakdancing, round #2
Beyond the music, Tom and I appreciated the group's message of "going green" for the continued health of our planet.  In between songs and cheesy skits (and I call their skits cheesy with all due respect - my Newman Singer peeps know how fans eat up those cheesy skits) the group talked about the importance of recycling, upcycling, and conservation of energy.  There was a little something for everyone, music-wise, instrument-wise, and message-wise.

Throughout the remainder of the year Vocal Trash will travel through and perform in Kansas, Iowa, Texas, Indiana, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Dakota, Georgia, Connecticut, and Minnesota; click here to find out if the group will be near you!

I did not receive compensation for writing this post and have no formal ties to or connections with Vocal Trash.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Farm Boy

A trip to my in-laws house in Lincoln, Nebraska feels to me much the same as going home to Madison, Wisconsin does. There are quite a few differences between the cities of course, but I've known my in-laws and have visited them in their home for the last 13 years, and both they and the house are a comfort to me in the same way my parents and their house are a comfort to me.

Now, after 18 or so years in their current home, my in-laws are moving. A couple of weeks ago we drove to Lincoln for both a wedding and one last hurrah in the old house with Tom's younger brothers and sister.

My in-laws bought a house in Lincoln and have plans to renovate, but after learning how much work and money it would take to turn the house into exactly what they wanted, they decided to tear it down and build a new house - in a style and size appropriate to the neighborhood - in its place. Their rebuild won't be finished until early next year, however, so in the interim, they're living on a friend's farm just outside of Lincoln. While we were in town, we visited the farm, mostly to transport a load of my in-laws belongings but also so that Hallie could feed Venus the horse.

I'm not a big-city girl or a small-town girl, and I'm definitely not a farm girl (I'm more of a moderately-sized-college-town girl), but I really enjoyed myself that afternoon on the farm. Perhaps because I didn't have to tend to the crops or shovel manure.

The kids had a great time as well; after feeding the horse they tried out the swing set and rode on the riding lawn mower with Grandpa Mike.

On our way home, we drove up to the top of a hill at the edge of the property to check out the view. When we arrived at the peak, Hallie requested a "pretty flower" and Grandpa hopped out of the truck to pick one for her. Grandpa moved out of Will's field of view while searching for just the right flower, and for some reason that made Will freak out - he's started whimpering that we were lost and would never be able to find our way back home and would have to live in the country forever. I assured him we weren't at all lost, and that he wouldn't have to live in the country forever...seeing as, you know, I could see Super Target out my window.

I guess Will's not much of a farm boy either.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Weekly Wrap-Up (6.22.12)

Last September I began writing weekly posts for the National American Red Cross blog, and last March I entered into a contract with MomsEveryday to allow them access to my Midwestern Girl blog posts and to write monthly posts for their parenting/family website. I have greatly enjoyed writing for these two popular and well-respected sites, and I love sharing my work with you by way of links posted on this blog.

I want and plan to continue sharing links to these posts on Midwestern Girl, but starting today I'm going to do so in a slightly different way than I've done in the past (one blog post for each new link).

My Friday posts will now be called Weekly Wrap-Ups, and will include blurbs about and links to my Red Cross and MomsEveryday work. I also plan to include fun quotations, links to interesting blog posts and articles, links to entertaining YouTube videos, and photos that don't necessarily come with enough of a story around which to build a blog post.

So, without further adieu, welcome to my first Weekly Wrap-Up!

Only in Texas will you find benches covered in cowhide decorating the interior of a university's Memorial Student Center. Will stroked this bench like it was his pet cat for close to five minutes, at which point he asked and I told him what he was running his hands across.  When he realized he was petting a cow that wasn't a cow anymore, the petting ceased and he asked for a wet wipe.
Boy Bands Are Back
Unlike the cool kids, I was never a fan of the boy bands that dominated 80's and 90's pop music. I learned the lyrics to a few New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, and 98 Degrees songs, but only because they were played once an hour on the radio station preferred by nearly all of my friends. (I secretly listened to country and oldies radio stations.)

But now, 15+ years later, I've found my boy band. I love you, One Direction.

Duck Dynasty
Have you watched Duck Dynasty on A&E yet?
"Ask anyone in Louisiana and they'll tell you that the bayou state's favorite first family doesn't live in the governor's mansion but in the backwoods, where the Robertsons' rags-to-riches story is still unfolding. A homegrown mom-and-pop operation, Duck Commander has become a sporting empire by fabricating top-of-the-line duck calls and decoys out of salvaged swamp wood."

I promise that you'll never regret giving this wildly entertaining, completely ridiculous, and oddly heart-warming show a chance - it is without a doubt the best reality show on television.

Click here to read (or reread, if you read it here first) Water, Water Everywhere, which has much more to do with how our family is staying cool in this spring/spring heat that it does with Hallie flooding our bathroom.

Red Cross
Click here to read about one of the most valuable gifts my parents ever gave me...a gift that when I tried to give it to my kids myself they refused to accept (at least from me)...a gift that I am now indirectly giving to my kids by paying someone else to give it to them. Guesses?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hats Off, Please

Most college campuses are home to some kind of student union where students, faculty, staff, and even community members gather to study; attend meetings, seminars, and educational programs; and drink copious amounts of coffee. Additionally, student unions at larger universities often host art galleries, book stores, movie theaters, bowling alleys, and hotels.

At the University of Wisconsin, the University of Iowa, and the University of Michigan (all schools I've attended or at which I've spent many hours of my time), this building is simply called "The Union". Now that I think about it, quite a few major events in my life have taken place in The Unions at these universities; for example, my prom was held at the UW Union, and Tom and I held our wedding reception at the UI Union. Good times...

The student union at Texas A&M University is slightly different from those at other universities. The TAMU Memorial Student Center (abbreviated to MSC, NOT "The Union"), commonly referred to as "The Living Room of Texas A&M", has been considered a living memorial since it's dedication on Muster Day in 1951. Originally the MSC was dedicated to the Aggies who gave their lives during the first two World Wars, but later the building was rededicated to all "Aggies who have given or will give their lives in wartime". Because the building and surrounding grounds are considered a memorial, those entering the MSC are asked to remove their hats and not walk on the grass.

In 2009 the MSC closed for renovations. I remember being disappointed when I learned we wouldn't be able to walk through the building when we visited College Station and TAMU for the first time.  In my experience, the pulse of a university can most easily taken by 1) wandering through campus, 2) visiting the football stadium, and 3) meandering through the student union; without the student union as a reference point (and with our walk through campus soured by the sweltering heat and the fire ants in which I sat), I didn't feel like I really understood TAMU the way I'd wanted to before we had to make a decision about whether or not we wanted to move here.

Less than two months ago - on Muster Day - the renovated MSC opened once again.  We didn't attend the grand rededication (though I was tempted, as I really wanted to see the building and am quite curious about Muster) but visited the MSC on Mothers Day.  You know, on the one day of the year when everyone in the family agrees to go where I want to go and do what I want to do.

The building is beautifully built and decorated, in a way that peacefully marries TAMU tradition and history with modern conveniences that will support forward progress and the needs of students in the years to come. We wandered the nearly empty halls for close to an hour, popping into art galleries, reading dedications, and pausing to pay our respects to those this living memorial honors.

At the end of every day, usually over dinner, I ask Will and Hallie about the best and worst parts of their days.  During dinner after we toured the MSC, the kids agreed that the fountain in the MSC courtyard was the highlight of their day.

After they share their "bests" and "worsts" with me, Will and Hallie usually ask me about my day.  On that day - Mothers Day - my highlight wasn't my gifts, or breakfast at the Hullabaloo Diner (which was amazing, however), or taking the afternoon "off" to write in a coffee shop.  My highlight was a brief but powerful discussion we had upon entering the MSC.

We were lucky that Will was wearing a hat that day.

As we entered the MSC we saw these words engraved on the glass entrance.

Had Will's little blond head been bare, we'd have cruised right through the automatic doors without giving the words so much as a second glance. But because of his hat, we paused, read the request, and then discussed it's meaning and the reason behind it with a little boy who, if being a University of Iowa Hawkeye doesn't work out, wants to "stay in Texas for the rest of his life and be an Aggie".

Hats off to you, Aggies.  You never fail to show your class.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Destructo Preschooler

It's no secret that the three-year-old version of my Hallie Claire is a teeny, tiny terror. Oh, she may come across as sweet and kind and gentle. And she's often overflowing with hugs and kisses for her family, friends, teachers, and the puppies at the mall's Puppy Store. But Hallie does absolutely everything - listening, obeying, sleeping, eating - on her own terms and in her own time, and is only sweet, kind, gentle, and overflowing with love when she wants to be. The rest of the time, Spicy McSpicy is deliberately and strategically chipping away at my sanity.
"You think you're in charge, Mom.
Shows how much you know."
When Will was a baby, a mom of slightly older children told me that "any mother who calls the twos terrible never had a child live to be three". I laughed politely, and assumed that her son or daughter must have entered their "terrible twos" later than most kids.

But oh, how right she turned out to be.

Here's the problem. Two-year-olds are stubborn, lack both physical and emotional self-control, and insist on doing everything themselves, regardless of whether or not they're actually capable of accomplishing the task. On the worst days, we tell ourselves that life with our little one will be better once they're three; they'll be better communicators and will understand us on a more abstract level, therefore we'll be able to provide them with acceptable (to them) explanations and rationalize with them when they're unhappy about the circumstances in which they find themselves.

But we'd be wrong.

Three-year-olds are just as stubborn as two-year-olds, and are still pretty lacking in both the physical and emotional self-control departments. The kicker, however, is that three-year-olds are smarter than two-year-olds. They've learned to deliberately disobey, as well as how to use their behavior to manipulate the world around them. They are collectively - at least in my experience - the most difficult group of people on the planet. And Hallie...Hallie is their leader.
She's been a leader since the beginning; this
poor baby didn't stand a chance once Hallie
decided to topple and crawl all over him.
I bring all this up because the other day I realized I'd never gotten around to posting pictures of the rest of our new house. (I'm not sure I can call the house new anymore though, since we've owned it for more than a year and have lived here for about 11 months.) As I started making notes, I was reminded of all of the things around the house on which Hallie has already "left her mark". And I don't mean that in a good way (or with regard to tearing pages out of library books or destroying toys or household items).
The paper ripping started early.
The last picture ever taken on our first "nice" camera.  In the
seconds that followed, Hallie grabbed the camera out of the
photographer's hands and threw it to the ground with a
princess-y flourish.
Here's the list, as it stands as of this afternoon:

1. Hallie peed on bathroom floor at least five times, and on our new living room floors twice. These were not accidents.

2. Hallie peed in the shed. I couldn't care less about pee in the shed, but the fact that she did it to protest the fact that I wouldn't let her run around outside completely naked (I was legitimately worried about her sitting in ants) makes it worth mentioning.

3. Hallie clogged the toilet five times, twice so severely that she flooded the entire bathroom with more than an inch of toilet water.

4. Hallie broke two door knobs, the television stand/cabinet door, and the pantry door by hanging on them. You wouldn't guess this would be possible, seeing as she weighs a measly 24 pounds, but I assure you, it is.

5. Hallie chipped the paint off the woodwork in bedroom with a My Little Pony's unicorn horn. For no other reason than she could. After this little project she came out of her room and informed me that she "broke her room".

6. Hallie colored the stroller/bike trailer windows, the back seat of the car, and the playroom toy box, table and chairs, and couch. And then she taught her 15-month-old cousin to follow her lead.

7. Hallie stuck her bubble gum to the bottom of her shoe - I assume just to see what would happen - and then walked through the master bedroom and bathroom. I think she fast forwarded the timeline on us replacing that carpet by a year or so.

At least she's cute, right?

That's all I've got - this week. Once I take care of these around-the-house fixes I'll be sure to finish writing about and posting pictures of the new house!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day

I used to think a wedding was a simple affair...boy and girl meet, they fall in love, he buys a ring, she buys a dress, they say I do. I was wrong. That's getting married. A wedding is an entirely different proposition. I know. I've just been through one. Not my own, my daughter's. Annie Banks-MacKenzie. That's her married name...MacKenzie. I'll be honest with you, when I bought this house 17 years ago it cost less than this blessed event in which Annie Banks became Annie Banks-MacKenzie. I'm told that one day I'll look back on all this with great affection. I hope so. You fathers will understand. You have a little girl, an adorable little girl who looks up to you and adores you in a way you could never have imagined. I remember how her little hand used to fit inside mine, how she used to love to sit on my lap and lean her head against my chest. She said I was her hero. Then the day comes when she wants to get her ears pierced and wants you to drop her off a block before the movie theater. Next thing you know she's wearing eye shadow and high heels. From that moment on you're in a constant state of panic. You worry about her going out with the wrong kind of guys, the kind of guys who only want one thing, and you know exactly what that one thing is because it's the same thing you wanted when you were their age. Then she gets a little older, and you quit worrying about her meeting the wrong guy, and you worry about her meeting the right guy. And that's the biggest fear of all because then you lose her.

Though the daughter may leave her father's home, he will never truly lose her. Their love will connect them - across miles, through differences, beyond this mortal life - for infinity times a thousand plus one.

Happy Fathers Day!

A Texas treat for the first father to correctly identify the movie from which this quote comes!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Flashback Friday: Wiggly Willie and the Halligator

This is it, the last installment in the Flashback Friday series. I'd been meaning to sort, select, scan, and write about these pictures for years, so I feel pretty good about crossing that project - and by golly, it was a PROJECT - off my list. But I also feel pretty good about my walk down memory lane, which while of course enjoyable, also proved to be borderline therapeutic in that it gently reminded me about where I've come from, some of the challenges I've overcome, and how truly lucky I am today.

So without further adieu, here is my boy Will, from birth until five-and-a-half years young.
Yes, that's Will.

And not to be forgotten, my gal Hal, from birth through three-years-princess.

Yes, very, very lucky.