Monday, September 30, 2013

Currently: September 2013

I inadvertently skipped August, so this installment of "Currently: A Month in the Life" may turn into more of an August/September combination rather than a play-by-play of September's happenings...these last two months - though vastly different from one another - have become inseparable in my jumbled mess of a brain.

First, "Could It Be" by Charlie Worsham. One of my most-watched television stations regularly broadcasts - in advertisement form - this song's refrain, and those few bars intrigued me enough to purchase the entire song on iTunes. Now I know why the television station only plays the refrain.

Second, "Wake Me Up" by Avicii. My Zumba instructor uses this catchy tune as one of her regular cool-down songs, and it grew on me with each passing week. Last week I added it to my writing playlist (songs that I can listen to while I write), and thus far it's served me well.

And third, songs from the album "Some Nights" by Fun. Tom and I have tickets to see Fun. in concert next Sunday night, so I've been familiarizing myself with the songs not regularly played on the radio. So far my favorites are Why Am I the One? and Out on the Town, but I expect that to change once I've seen the songs and the band live.

Side note: I attended quite a few concerts during my college years and in my early 20's, but at least 10 years have passed since the last time I set foot in a large-scale concert venue. I'm kind of worried that once we arrive Tom and I will discover how old we actually are when we start saying things like, "I sure wish they'd turn that darn bass down - it's hurting my ears" and "I can't believe that girl's mother let her out of the house in that outfit". 

Perfectly Simple (by Zone Perfect) Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Nutrition Bars. I can't say for certain where it's gone, but I've somehow completely lost the small window of time I used to have for eating lunch. My solution? These delicious protein bars, which when preceded by carrot sticks and either an apple or a serving of sliced pineapple, fill me up and tide me over until my afternoon snack of Spark and pistachio nuts.

Crystal Light lemonade, raspberry lemonade, and peach tea. Will recently learned how to make these three beverages himself, so most afternoons he whips up a pitcher - and pours me a glass - after we walk home from school. On occasion, we enjoy an actual tea party with cups and saucers and cookies on miniature plastic plates. Outside, of course.

Open-toed shoes. Two weeks ago we ventured up to campus to check out the live, ESPN GameDay television broadcast and experience firsthand the TAMU vs. Alabama pre-game atmosphere. Because of the thousands of extra fans in town, we ended up parking farther from and walking farther to the stadium than anticipated. I wore shoes previously "tested" for up to two miles of walking, but by the time we arrived at tailgate central, I'd already reached the two mile mark in my shoes; after walking around campus and then all the way back to the car (more than four miles total), my toes swelled up around two of the worst blisters I'd ever seen. Today is the first day since September 14th that I've worn closed-toe shoes without bandaids covering my recovering skin.

Overwhelmed. Not so much by my to-do lists - though this week's list intimidates me, thanks to Will's birthday on Friday, an elementary school fundraiser/special event on Friday night, Will's birthday party on Saturday, and the fact that Tom will be out of town all week - but by the need to improve someone else's outlook on life. In all likelihood, I can't solve the problems causing this person's anger and frustration and anxiety, but I have to try...I worry that if I don't, I may start to go down with the ship, so to speak.

Weather wimp.
Too hot for fall, though every few days we catch a glimpse of changes on the horizon. Or at least I think we catch a glimpse of changes on the horizon. I sure hope I'm not reading too much into the recent thunderstorms and the two mornings in the last month when we've woken to temperatures around 70 degrees. Interestingly, on both of these mornings Hallie has asked me for a sweater. On both of these mornings I replied with a resounding no, because 70 degrees and sunny is not sweater weather. That girl is an embarrassment to her Michigan - and my Wisconsin - roots.

On a related note, on one of these mornings a friend of mine stepped outside in preparation for walking her kids to school, agreed with Hallie, and went back inside to get a jacket. I'm calling you out, Stacey.

It may not be cool enough to wear it, but I desperately want a camel-colored leather jacket. I actually found a faux-leather jacket that I love, but I can't decide if I'd rather spend less and buy the knock-off or spend more and buy the real deal. Decisions, decisions...

More sleep. I have no one to blame but myself for the amount of sleep I get. I could go to bed earlier, but if I did, I'd never have a relaxing minute to myself (I spend Hallie's preschool hours working, volunteering at the kids' schools, or running as many errands as possible so that I don't have to run errands with Hallie in tow), nor would I ever be able to catch up on my DVRed television shows, read, knit, or hammer out the occasional craft project. My writing would also suffer in that while I often crank out pages of text at my McOffice during the day, I do my best editing on the couch in the quiet and dark of night.

Also, a new phone. Upgrading my phone would mean upgrading our phone plan though, and because Tom and I are too cheap to upgrade our plan, upgrading my phone will have to wait until my phone or Tom's phone actually dies of natural causes. I'm always thinking ahead though...when the time comes, any phone suggestions? Should I stick with the iPhone or go a different direction? Some days I feel like regressing back to a flip phone might actually be the way to go...

About Will's birthday and Will's birthday party and the cake I'm going to attempt to decorate for him. I usually use a cake pan and associated instructions when decorating cakes (not that the cake pan and instructions guarantee perfection - Ariel looked more like an orangutan than a little mermaid), but this time, I'll work off of only a picture and use fondant for the very first time. When I post pictures of the finished product, please be kind in your comments...

Back-to-school season. Though only a month or so into the school year, I've already fully embraced my role as room mom for kids' classes and integrated back into the new-and-improved PTO at Will's elementary school. I love this kind of work, and am grateful to have a bit more time this year - when compared to last year, when Hallie only attended school three mornings a week (she attends four mornings a week this year) - to volunteer for school events and in the kids' classrooms.

Well that's September for you. October begins my favorite three months of the year, and I can't wait to metaphorically turn the page in my calendar tomorrow morning. Happy end-of-September, beginning-of-October, fall, and Tuesday to you!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Weekly Wrap-Up (9.27.13)

Before and After the Beards
If I didn't tell you ahead of time that these before and after the beards photos are of the strapping young - and old - men from Duck Dynasty, you might not recognize them. Funny how a little facial hair (and a head of insanely long, bushy hair) can change things...

Best Voicemail Ever
At first I thought to myself, "listening to someone else describe a car accident couldn't possibly be funny". But as it turns out, I was wrong.

A man called his boss to tell him he was running a bit late to his next job, and while leaving a message for his boss, he witnessed a car accident. He remained on the phone - with voicemail rolling - and provided his boss with a running commentary of the accident. He described in great detail the driver in the first vehicle (who was clearly at fault) well as what the passengers in the second vehicle did to him when he approached their vehicle, appearing to place blame at their feet.

I can only imagine what the boss must have thought when he turned on his phone, noticed he had a voicemail, and pressed play...

Seeing a Woman
I couldn't possibly write a better introduction to this conversation between a father and his son than the author himself does, so here it is:

Someday I am going to have to have the conversation with my son. No, not the conversation all parents dread and are mortified of having...No, I'm talking about another conversation. The one that happens after I catch his eye doing what male eyes do well - following an object of lust. We will probably be out at the mall, because that's what dads do with their sons, and I'll catch the look. Maybe we'll go to the beach and see it. Doesn't matter where it is, there will come a time when I will see it. And then it will be time for this conversation.

This man's take on how to talk to our sons about women is spot on. I've bookmarked the site, because as much as I hate to admit it, our need for this conversation will arise sooner rather than later.

Just Because
The words that kept me afloat this week:

MomsEveryday: A Drive-By Peanut-ing
In case you missed it the first time around, earlier this week MomsEveryday ran my story about the woman who took a somewhat legitimate concern (she had trouble finding foods, other than peanut butter, that her supposedly picky-eater daughter would eat) and turned it into an excuse to completely lose her mind. For those of you following this story, I'll have chapter two of Crazy Lady's Saga ready for posting next week...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

No One's Ever Really Done That, Right?


Usually my stories about strange, ridiculous, or embarrassing behavior and events focus on Hallie. A couple have centered around Hallie and my niece, Lily, who, as unidentical cousins with identical personalities, have identical missions in life to wreak havoc. But this story? This story is ALLLLLL Lily. (Thank goodness.) And I just had share it with you.

Last weekend my sister, Sara, and her husband, Jeff, took their two kids - Lily, almost three, and Carter, seven months - with them to the home improvement store to shop for a new bathroom vanity. While Sara and Jeff spoke with the salesman, Carter chilled in his carseat/stroller and Lily explored a few of the display bathrooms on the sales floor. Suddenly a little voice rang out above the bustling sounds of a busy store (Saturday mornings are notoriously crowded on Saturday mornings)...

"You guys! Someone get over here and wipe my butt!"

Sara and Jeff looked at each other, and then turned, s...l...o...w...l...y, toward the voice.

There was Lily, naked from the waist down, sitting on the display toilet in which she'd just emptied herself. And as one might expect, she was pleased as punch for keeping her underwear dry and making it to a toilet in time.

Sara, Jeff, and the salesman laughed so hard they nearly needed to use the display toilet themselves, while Lily remained on the toilet and grew angrier and angrier that no one would wipe her butt.

When the adults finally pulled themselves together, Jeff carried Lily to the real bathroom to clean up, while Sara emptied and sanitized the display toilet. (She's like Inspector Gadget - who has the supplies to empty and sanitize a display toilet in their diaper bag?)

If you saw the movie Couples Retreat, I bet you watched this scene and thought, "yep, that's funny, but it never really happens".

Well I can assure you, it does. It did. Way to go, Lily.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Few Words Wednesday: Wishing and Hoping

Summer ended and fall began with the most beautiful weather our region of Texas has seen - and felt - in nearly five months. Blue skies, a light breeze, low humidity, high temperatures near 80 degrees, and low temperatures near 70 degrees combined to create the kind of nearly-perfect days people move to Texas to experience. We spent as much time as possible outside, not just because we'd missed this kind of weather, but because we knew it wouldn't the high temperature should climb back into the 90's.

My homesickness sets in at the beginning of every September. And when fall finally arrives, my developing passion for our current state dwindles and I find myself wishing that clicking my heels together and repeating, "there's no place like home" three times would somehow transport me back to the land of brisk mornings, sweaters and jeans, stunning colors, falling leaves, pumpkin patches, and apple orchards. 

So today's pictures are of fall in the cities I've called home. I can't take credit for the first group, but the second group is all mine. (I probably shouldn't willingly take credit for the quality of the photos in the second group, but I will take credit for the adorableness of the little ones in those photos.)
Autumn in Michigan 

Autumn in Iowa

Autumn in Wisconsin

Playing in the Leaves 

Visiting the Pumpkin Patch

Picking Apples

 And the Donuts...Oh, the Donuts.

I wish there were a way for even just a little bit of fall to make its way down here. You know, before January.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"On a Scale of 1 to 10, How Bad is Your Pain?"

Are you familiar with the pain scale?

Simply put, the pain scale allows patients to describe the severity of their pain to medical professionals by attaching it to a number between 1 and 10.  0 = no pain, 1-3 = minor pain, 4-6 = moderate pain, and 7-10 = severe pain.

If you want to get into the nitty gritty of the pain scale, you can break the numbers down in one of two ways: words or pictures.
  • 0 = no pain
  • 1 = very mild
  • 2 = discomforting
  • 3 = tolerable
  • 4 = distressing
  • 5 = very distressing
  • 6 = intense
  • 7 = very intense
  • 8 = utterly horrible
  • 9 = excruciating/unbearable
  • 10 = unimaginable/unspeakable

This pain scale seems pretty straightforward to me, but perhaps that's because with a nurse for a mom, I know no other way than to describe my pain using numbers.

But if the numbers aren't your thing, I've created a new pain scale specifically for parents:
  • 0 = no pain
  • 1 = losing a game of Memory to a five-year-old
  • 2 = having the back of your car seat kicked...over, and over, and over again
  • 3 = getting your finger stuck in a hungry, hungry hippo's mouth
  • 4 = being unexpectedly sprayed in the face with ice cold water from the hose
  • 5 = having your heel clipped by a shopping cart
  • 6 = having your foot run over by a scooter
  • 7 = having a plastic fire truck driven into your shin
  • 8 = being bitten by a nursing baby
  • 9 = having your toe broken by a toddler
  • 10 = stepping on a Lego

I'm sure you can figure out what inspired me to write this post. And if you can't, come on by my house tomorrow afternoon - I'll sell you our give you our pay you to take our Legos.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My 10th Favorite Day of the Year

Behind Christmas, Halloween, my birthday, my kids' birthdays, Thanksgiving, Easter, Valentine's Day, and the day I leave on my annual trip to Chicago with my mom and sister, today is my favorite day of the year. No, today is not a holiday or the birthday of anyone in my family. We don't have the day off from work or school, nor are we headed on vacation.

Today, the fall television season premieres begin. Whoo whoo!

The invention of the DVR changed television for everyone, and for the better, in my opinion. No commercials showing my kids how empty their lives are because they don't yet own the newest Disney princess doll or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. No commercials tempting me to purchase the AMAZING! INCREDIBLE! WONDER MOP! or the 36th season of Grey's Anatomy on DVD. The ability to "pause" our adult dramas when Hallie creeps out of her room - for the 17th time - to ask, "how's it 'til we go to The Puppy Store again?" The ability to record more than one football game program at the same time, or to watch one program while recording another. The opportunity to throw that crappy, frustrating VCR in the trash and never look back.

As a high schooler, I loved The Young and the Restless, so much so that every evening I set up our VCR to record the following day's episode. When I arrived home from school or soccer practice I'd park myself on the family room couch with my bagel and root beer and catch up on the latest happenings in fictional Genoa City, Wisconsin.

Side note: I miss my high school metabolism. You know, the one that allowed me to eat a bagel with cream cheese and drink a regular root beer every afternoon and never gain a pound. As I type, I'm fresh off a 90-minute workout, eating carrots, and drinking a decaf, zero-calorie iced coffee. I'd much rather be eating a cranberry orange scone and drinking a Caramel Apple Spice. Boo to growing old.

I taped over most episodes, but when those 60 minutes revolved around a wedding, birth, or milestone event, I saved the episode and recorded the next episode later on the tape. When the six-hour tape was full, I wrote "DO NOT TAPE OVER" on the tab and stored it on one of the entertainment center shelves.

But then my dad would decide to tape a leg of the Tour de France or a "friendly" soccer game between Honduras and Jamaica and in his state of flustered confusion (neither of my parents ever really figured out how to work the VCR), he'd grab my tape, throw it in the VCR, and hit record. In an instant I lost Nick and Sharon's wedding, Victor's shooting, and the accident that caused Victoria's memory loss. Oh, the tears (mine). Oh, the yelling (mine again). Oh, the apologies (his).

DVRs provided us with a better method of recording our favorite television programs, but they serve a secondary purpose as well: to maintain the peace, and as a result, create happier families. And if DVRs prevent dads from accidentally deleting their daughters' recorded soap operas - or daughters from accidentally deleting their dads' recorded sporting events, for that matter -  they're fulfilling that purpose.

So today, as the season premieres begin, I become one with my DVR. I record my first-tier favorites of course - How I Met Your Mother, Chicago Fire, Law & Order SVU, Modern Family, Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and The Good Wife - as well as a few secondary favorites, and then I record the pilots of any new shows that sound interesting. Throughout the next week I'll watch the pilots of the new shows to determine which, if any, deserve to move up in the ranks, and which can be forever deleted from the queue. There are always a few of those...

Tom doesn't love this week because my continuous DVR recording makes our primary television unavailable for college football on Tuesday and Thursday nights. To that I say, "college football shouldn't be played on Tuesday and Thursday nights anyway. Deal with it". So he sits in our bedroom in his recliner and grumbles about how tiny the television is and how small the ball looks and how terrible it is to "be forced" to watch football in low-definition. He has a rough life.

Second side note: in Tom's defense, he has reason to be frustrated with our cable. When we lived in Michigan, AT&T provided our internet and cable, and that cable service included the ability to record/watch up to four programs at once. Here in Texas, Suddenlink provides our internet and cable. For many reasons, the most significant of which is that the DVR only allows us to record/watch two shows at once, Suddenlink is significantly inferior to AT&T. 

Anyway...I love today. I love this week. I love fall. I love back-to-school and football and pumpkins and warm beverages and cool weather. And yes, I love it when my "friends" return to entertain me every September.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Weekly Wrap-Up (9.20.13)

You Did NOT Just Say That
These painfully funny quotes - all documented by court reporters, word-for-word, as attorneys and witness said them aloud in court - come from a book called Disorder in the American Courts by way of the Leaky Squid website. If you need a good laugh, click here. If you're thinking about a law career and need examples of what not to ask witnesses on stand, click here. If you need to feel better about our overall intelligence as a country, don't click here.

An unsupervised second-born.
Differences Between First-Time and Experienced Parents
These entertaining differences are so, so true, and from what I can tell, become more pronounced with the addition of each additional child. My mom-in-law talks about dropping her fourth child off for a school-coordinated overnight and watching all of the parents of first-borns walk their students to the bus, check them in, help them stow their bags under and find a seat on the bus, and then check in with the teacher before finally driving away. Meanwhile, she popped the trunk so her son could grab his bag, told him she loved him, and said, "see you Sunday".

I don't know about you, but #5 and #6 really hit home for me...

Right Field
The fall baseball season gets underway this week! For our family, we're talking real baseball now - no more tees, no more coach-pitch - and to be honest, I'm a little worried. Is he big enough? Strong enough? Skilled enough? Focused enough? (To be clear, I'm talking about Will and not Tom here. I'm sure Tom is physically and mentally up to the challenge of machine-pitch baseball.) I suppose that if he's not, he can always gather me a bouquet of dandelions in right field.

Perfect Timing
Check out this compilation of 50 of the most perfectly timed photos ever taken...some funny, some beautiful, some astonishing, all impressive.

Happy weekend, friends!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

"I Love Jesus But I Drink a Little"

Fans of The Ellen DeGeneres Show most certainly remember Gladys Hardy, the sweet but slightly eccentric 88-year-old woman from Austin, Texas who first called Ellen to complain about the spiky plant positioned behind her head on set. Ellen returned Gladys' call to thank her for the suggestion, and one of the most entertaining conversations ever recorded - during which Gladys confessed, "I love Jesus but I drink a little" and I spewed Coke Zero out my nose - ensued.

When the conversation first aired - six years ago and long before we ever considered relocating to Texas - I remember thinking that Gladys must really keep her hometown of Austin laughing. There was something about the uninhibited and unapologetic manner in which she delivered her wise-to-match-her-years, liberally conservative (or conservatively liberal?) views on social issues and politics that made me smile. And I couldn't help but envy her slow, Texas drawl.

And then last week I heard the terrible rumor that Gladys is NOT an 88-year-old woman, but an Austin-based comedian named Scott Hardy. (From what I can tell after a little online research, this rumor emerged more than four years ago; as is often the case, I'm a little behind the times.) Now I don't know whether or not this rumor is true - my Google search resulted in an equal number of "Gladys is real" and "Gladys is pretend" links - but if it is...well, life just isn't quite as funny as it was last week.

So, do you know the scoop on Gladys? Real? Fake?

On second thought, don't tell me. I'd prefer to believe she's still out there, livin' it up here in Texas (and by livin' it up, I mean watching The Ellen Show every afternoon from her quilt-covered recliner, staying close to home for fear TSA officials will bust her for toting too much Listerine in her carry-on bag, and loving Jesus but drinking a little to thin her blood) and making folks laugh all across the world.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Few Words Wednesday

I love Wordless Wednesday blog posts, except for the fact that they don't contain any words. Now there's a head-scratcher for you...

Though I've done a few Wordless Wednesday posts here on Chasing Roots, there wasn't a one of them with which I felt fully satisfied when I hit "publish". I couldn't/can't help but want to write something - even just a sentence or two - to better explain, elaborate on, or even poke fun at my pictures.

I realize that adding text defeats the purpose of these photo-centric posts, but I plan to do so anyway, and to call my next few Wednesday posts, "Few Words Wednesday" posts instead of "Wordless Wednesday" posts. I'll keep the words to a minimum, but they'll still be there to shed just a little bit of light on my photos.

Happy Few Words Wednesday to you!
Despite our attempts to expose them to art, music, literature, and a
wide variety of sports and hobbies, nothing makes them happier than the
expensive - and somewhat lame, in my opinion - carnival rides at the fair. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Johnny's Newest Fan

Last fall, the custodian at the elementary school where my sister teaches second grade made a Johnny Football t-shirt for my niece, Lily. Lily totally rocked her shirt - and demonstrated her knowledge of the traditional TAMU expression, "gig 'em" - despite the fact that she lives more than 1,000 miles from Aggieland. Despite the fact that neither of her parents, none of her relatives, or not even the custodian herself attended TAMU. Even before he brought home the Heisman Trophy, Johnny Football's influence had spread beyond the boundaries of his home state.

Fast forward one year...the same lovely custodian decided that Lily's little brother, Carter, should join Lily on the Illinois-based Johnny Football bandwagon. Here's baby Carter showing off his new Johnny Football t-shirt:

Baby Carter may already be on his way to a career in football: at his four-month doctor's appointment he weighed in a more than his big sister weighed at one year, and though he's only seven months old, he's already wearing 15-month clothes. Perhaps he has a future as an Aggie linebacker 18 years from now...he's already working on his "gig 'em".

Monday, September 16, 2013

Game Day in Aggieland

I had high expectations for game day (last Saturday) here in Aggieland. For starters, the #6 ranked Aggies would take on #1 ranked Alabama in the most highly-anticipated college football game played since our arrival in Texas. Additionally, the ESPN College GameDay crew, which our family loves (most of the time, at least - ESPN's coverage of Johnny Manziel throughout the last few weeks has been, at least in my opinion, questionable at best, and it's tough to rally behind Lee Corso when he dons our opponent's mascot head) - would be in town, broadcasting their Saturday morning college football analysis program live from right next door to Kyle Field.

In some ways, the day delivered. We spent the morning with friends (grown-up friends for me and Tom as well as kid friends for Will and Hallie), smack dab in the middle of the GameDay and tailgating hullabaloo. We arrived just in time to see hear the GameDay crew - including guest Lyle Lovett - make their TAMU vs. Alabama predictions, and caught a glimpse of the band.
Chris Fowler, mediating the crew's picks.
Lee Corso, picking the Crimson Tide.
One of the many Johnny-related signs on display.
But that's where the positives end.

When we've ventured out to Aggie tailgates and games in the past, we've parked on the street in campus neighborhoods, no more than a mile from the stadium. But because so many fans came into town to both attend the game and experience the "spirit of Aggieland", the closest we could get to the stadium by car was around two miles. We brought our small stroller for Hallie (a 1/2 mile is her limit), and allowing her to ride eliminated one whiny voice from the mix, but by the time we walked to the GameDay set-up, to a friend's tailgate, back to the stadium, and then back to the car, we'd covered at least four miles and the kids - especially Will and Logan - were DONE. D.O.N.E. DONE. The kids and I couldn't have made it back to our car at all if it hadn't been for Aaron, who carried both boys for at least half of the trek. (Tom went to the game, so he was no longer with us at that point.)
No need to CrossFit when you spend your day carrying
two first-grade boys up and down hills in 95+ degree weather.
I planned for two miles of walking, and wore shoes in which I knew I could manage that distance. But because we parked in what felt like the next state over, by the time we arrived at the GameDay venue - our first stop of the day - we'd already walked more than two miles and my feet were as done as the boys. I went through all nine bandaids in my bag and still came home with souvenir blisters the size of dimes.

It was more than a 1,000 degrees outside. Sweat ran down every inch of my body. My hair dripped as if I'd just stepped out of the shower. (You're welcome for that image.) We drained our water bottles, filled them up, and drained them again, but the extra water intake did little to cool us off. As a relatively-new Texan, I've yet to figure out how people actually do anything in this weather. I could barely function, let alone grill burgers, drink beer, and play tailgate games like the thousands of fans surrounding me were doing. All I wanted to do was go home, take an ice cold shower, sit on the couch in my air conditioned living room, and write about how hot it was outside. Which, incidentally, is exactly what I just did/am doing right now.

And then, to add insult to injury, the Aggies lost the game.

...two hours, one cold shower, and five major blisters dealt with later...

I take back a statement I wrote earlier - that wasn't where the positives ended.

Every single time I attend an TAMU sporting event I am reminded that this school produces the most welcoming, polite, and respectful fans - including students - in the business. (Though Nebraska Husker fans are a close second.) It's the little things, like the student who read the situation and directed us to the closest, uncrowded bathroom, the woman who offered Will and Hallie her bags of potato chips because they looked hot and tired, and the crowds that parted to let us pass through with our stroller. It's also the big things, like, I don't know, NOT getting hit in the head with a full can of beer, NOT having to plug your kids' ears to prevent them from hearing the obscenities swirling around them, or being called a jerk for lifting your kids up in the air so they can see better.

A day with friends in the best college football town around? Maybe I can overlook the fact that said college football town is ON THE SUN and that I may never wear shoes again.

Hallie's face most accurately describes how all four kids felt. 
The only reason the other three are semi-smiling is because we 
told them we'd go home as soon as they smiled for the picture.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Weekly Wrap-Up (9.13.13)

Friday the 13th
Prior to yesterday, I was inclined to believe that all of the superstitious hoopla associated with Friday the 13th was just that...hoopla. But then I expanded my "research" beyond Pinterest (scrolling through page after page of Friday the 13th movie posters and images qualifies as research, right?), to, Wikipedia, and a 1993 study published in the British Medical Journal titled "Is Friday the 13th Bad for Your Health?".  Did you know that there is a significant increase in traffic-related accidents on Friday the 13th? Supposedly - and according to the above-mentioned scientific study - the risk of hospital admission as a result of a traffic-related accident increases by 52% on Friday the 13th. I may have to rethink my stance on Friday the 13th...or at least stay home today, just to be on the safe side.

How to Make Your Athlete Proud
I've linked to this article before, but now is the time of year - fall sports practices have begun, and games commence in a few short weeks - to talk about what it means to be a good sports parent.

Will has played some form of team sport every spring and fall for the last three years, and in that time I've crossed paths with quite a few parents who, at least on the sidelines, scare me. I'm especially nervous this fall because Will moves up to machine-pitch - rather than tee-ball or coach-pitch - baseball and I've been told that at this point (when our boys are seven years old? Really?) parent "involvement" starts to get ugly. If your children will play individual or team sports this fall, I highly recommend reading the article I linked to above (I try to remember to reread the article every season) so that your sidelines behavior will make you, at least as a fan, someone of whom your child can be proud.

Irish Cups
I find this "Cups" video mesmerizing - I literally couldn't look away once I started watching. Even if you can look away, I encourage you to stay tuned until the end, when the kids celebrate their "accomplishment" (hundreds of students, hundreds of cups,a gigantic snake of a circle to keep the hundreds of cups moving between the hundreds of a students, and no major, visible mistakes? I'd call that an accomplishment).

On a related note, my bro-in-law, who works as an elementary school principal in Illinois, had to ban the Cups song from the cafeteria less than a week into the school year. Wonder why?

Genius, Guiness
Need to smile? Watch this video.
Need to cry? Watch this video.
Need a pick me up? Watch this video.
Need a reminder to see the best in people? Watch this video.
Whatever you do, watch this commercial. It has nothing to do with beer and everything to do with "dedication, friendship, and the choices we make".

MomsEveryday: If you missed them the first time around, MomsEveryday ran When I Grow Up (about Hallie's realization that I don't bake cupcakes and vacuum the carpet for a living) and The Cliche  is True...Painfully So (about sending "babies" off to school) this week. Check 'em out!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Kitchen Challenge: Clearing the Counter for Fall

This fall I plan to challenge myself with new pumpkin, apple, and carrot recipes. I don't know that carrots are necessarily a fall vegetable, but their bright orange color makes me think of fall, so I'll throw them into the mix.

Curiosity got the better of me, so I Googled "fall vegetables". Carrots qualify as a year-round vegetable in temperate climates, but unusual varieties of carrots are harvested in the late summer and fall. More than you wanted or needed to know about carrots today, right? Moving on...

And because I plan to start working my way through the 25+ pumpkin, apple, and carrot recipes I've already bookmarked online or cut out of magazines, I need to share with you my favorite summer recipes in order to free up a little virtual counter space (otherwise know as my "blog recipe queue"). Here we go!

1. Baked Spasanga
Adaptations: I substituted nonfat plain yogurt for half of the sour cream and used low-fat cottage cheese instead of Ricotta cheese. When it came to the sauce, I used ground beef and essentially made a batch of my usual spaghetti sauce (instead of just adding meat to a jar of store-bought sauce).
Comments: Tom and I LOVED this recipe, and Hallie ate three bites without complaining (which translates to a rave review from her). Will still doesn't like cheese, but this recipe lent itself to an easy adaptation for him: I just pulled out a serving of cooked noodles before mixing the rest with the cheese mixture and topped his serving with spaghetti sauce. A win-win-win-win in our household!

Double yum!
2. Strawberry Yogurt Cake
Adaptations: Instead of plain or vanilla Greek yogurt I used nonfat plain yogurt. I also didn't make the lemon juice/powdered sugar glaze because I had a feeling the cake would be sweet enough without it.
Comments: My adaptations in no way negatively affected the finished product; the sweet strawberry and tangy lemon flavors swirled together in perfect harmony, and the cake literally melted in my mouth. Like most baked goods that include strawberries, the cake didn't last very long, even in the refrigerator. Tom and I each ate pieces for three evenings in a row, but after that third night we had to toss the remaining 1/4 of the cake. I highly recommend this recipe, but make it when you're feeding a crowd. Or if you're planning to eat A LOT of cake in one sitting (I won't judge).

3. Toddler Muffins
Adaptations: I've made this recipe multiple times, each time using oats instead of oat bran. I also always replace the teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice with 1/2 teaspoons each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, simply because I don't keep pumpkin pie spice on hand. I've experimented with using Stevia instead of brown sugar, and while the muffins turned out just fine, the kids and I didn't enjoy the flavor as much. I've also experimented with using whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour, and while I could tell the difference, the kids couldn't.
Comments: These delicious muffins seem like a treat - they're a baked good, after all - but will fill your babies' (of all ages) bellies with healthy bananas, squash, carrots, and oats. I found that these muffins disappear especially quickly if they're made in "miniature" form - they're perfect for popping in your mouth on your way out the door to baseball practice or dance lessons.

4. Balsamic Chicken Thighs
Adaptations: The first time I made this recipe I followed it exactly. The second time I made this recipe I used chicken breasts instead of chicken thighs. The third time I made this recipe I slightly increased the amounts of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, tossed all of ingredients together in a plastic bag, and marinated the chicken for a couple of hours before grilling the chicken on a charcoal grill. And the fourth time I made this recipe (yes, I made it four times this summer), I followed the same steps I took the third time around except I added one Blue Moon beer to the marinade.
Comments: First time = a simple yet truly delicious chicken dish. Second time = despite cooking the chicken until just done (as in I didn't overcook it by leaving it in crockpot for an extended period of time), it was dry and tough. I don't recommend using chicken breasts. Third time = oh heavens, it was good. Grilling really does make every meat (and most vegetables) better, doesn't it? Fourth time = everyone who ate this dish - my family of four, but also both of my parents, my sister, and my bro-in-law - declared it one of the best they'd ever tasted. In summary, the original recipe is worth making, especially on a busy fall or winter evening. But for an end-of-summer grilling treat, go with the adaptations I made the fourth time around - you won't regret it!

This picture, which shows a Spotted
Cow beer, motivated me to try this
recipe. Spotted cow is one of my dad's
favorite beers, and it's brewed less
than an hour from my parents' house. 
5. Roasted Garlic, Chicken, and Herb White Pizza
Adaptations: I used a store-bought/pre-baked pizza crust (no matter how hard I try, I cannot make pizza crust - all previous attempts have proven disastrous), so in the end I cooked my pizza for about 12 minutes. Also, it's likely I used more cheese than the recipe called for...I'm from Wisconsin, friends - using/eating too much cheese is in my DNA.
Comments: I felt strangely indifferent toward this pizza as I assembled it, but the end result was heavenly. Perfectly-seasoned crust, cheesy chicken, and crisp red onions, all held together by a warm, gooey white sauce? Mmmm. I may throw a few chopped red peppers on the pizza the next time around - I think they'd be a delicious addition, but on the other hand, why mess with perfection?

You can check out the recipes from my previous Kitchen Challenge blog posts by clicking on the links below:
Soup's On
Tomatoes (which, to clarify, has nothing to do with tomatoes)
Vegetarian Dishes

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Moment of Peace

Late summer sunset over Booth Lake, Minocqua, Wisconsin.
On anniversaries like today, a moment spent in recognition of and 
appreciation for the peaceful beauty and faithful hope that surround 
me does wonders to lift my spirit and rebuild my broken heart.
In Memory of September 11, 2001

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My Last Year Here

I can't believe this brilliant, hard-working, kind, sensitive, and handsome little boy of mine started first grade this year. He dove head-first into the increased workload (he'd rather clean his room than color, so he loves that first grade means working more and coloring less), embraced the added responsibility that came with his "sophomore" status, and emerges from the building every afternoon with a smile on his face and an update on who he sat by at lunch, the score of his recess basketball game with Ben, and exactly how many minutes he spent on the computer. He makes my heart swell with pride.

This little firecracker had trouble understanding what I meant when I told her that this was her last first day of preschool, but that didn't stop her from repeating the phrase throughout the day. I can hardly believe that this year is my last as a parent of "little ones"; when she starts kindergarten next year - a milestone she can't wait to reach - there'll be no more pretending that my children are babies. So no matter how difficult, I will slow down and savor as much of this year as possible. I will look on with joy - and hopefully find peace - as my sweet, spicy, smart, silly, creative, dramatic, and beautiful itty bitty grows and learns and leaves her mark on her corner of the world.

Here's to a wonderful 2013-2014 school year!