Friday, November 29, 2013

Washington Strong

They have no idea what "Washington Strong" means, but they sure look cute supporting the cause.

(Disclosure: I had to bribe both Hallie and Lily with chocolate chip cookies to get this picture. Neither wanted to even try on their "Washington Strong" shirt because the shirts are orange and orange is NOT pink.)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

One Last Thanksgiving Request

Thank you so much to all of you who have already contributed financially to the Ekena Family Relief and Recovery Effort. If you have not yet made a contribution and would like to do so, click here. I will likely keep the link active until we have reached the fundraising goal I set when the site launched on the evening the tornado struck Washington, Illinois.

All monies collected will be used toward rebuilding the Ekena family home and replacing the items lost in or destroyed by the tornado. While Sara and Jeff's home and both vehicles were insured, it is often the case in situations such as these that insurance doesn't cover everything…and that's where our fundraising comes in. If you have any questions about your donation or the donation process, please do not hesitate to email me at

As we sit down to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner as a family, we will give thanks for so much more than the food in front of us. We will give thanks that lives were spared, for the strength and courage to see through the darkness and into the light, and for the generosity of family members and friends like you. Blessings, and Happy Thanksgiving.


Read Sara and Jeff's story by clicking on the links below.

Ekena Family Updates
The Third Day
The Most Thankful of Thursdays
As the Week Comes to a Close…
The Odds are in Johnny Football's Favor
Find the Silver Lining
What are the Odds?!
One Step Closer

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

One Step Closer

Over the weekend, Sara's best friend from - well, from forever (I honestly can't remember a time when Chelse wasn't in our lives) - drove from Chicago down to Washington to deliver a carload of donations collected in the Chicagoland area and to do what she could to ease the burden resting on Sara's shoulders. Chelse is a fifth grade teacher, and her students, as well as the rest of the 5th grade students at Chelse's school, made cards for Sara and her family. Hundreds of cards. Hundreds of hysterical, random "I hate tornadoes, don't you?" and "You should really think about building a new house" and "last week I went to a funeral in Carbondale, Iowa" cards.

The gesture was so appreciated, both because it showed these children cared, but also because they made Sara and Jeff laugh. Sometimes a little laughter really is the best medicine.

Yesterday I began, and today I finish, my trek north, wedged into the driver's seat of my SUV and surrounded by boxes and boxes of donations from members of my community. My original plan was to drive 20 hours to Illinois, but when Sara and Jeff decided that the best move for their mental health would be to leave Washington for a few days, we opted to meet at my Grandma's house in Arkansas instead. (This change of plans cuts 10 hours off my drive, which I greatly appreciate.)

I look forward to sharing Thanksgiving dinner with Sara, Jeff, Lily, and Carter, with my parents and grandparents, with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I look forward to showing Sara and Jeff the generous donations, watching Lily and Carter open their birthday and Christmas gifts, and taking my sister to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (which I'll be doing courtesy of one very special babysitter, who wouldn't let me pay her for watching Will and Hallie while Tom and I went to the movie, but instead asked that I use the money to do something nice for my sister). But more than anything, I look forward to wrapping my arms around my family and telling each and every one of them how much I love them and what they mean to me.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What are the Odds?!

Earlier this week and out of the blue, Sara and Jeff received a call from an acquaintance - a woman named Joy, who once taught 4th grade at the same elementary school as Jeff and now works in the same school district as Sara - who asked them a peculiar question.

A few days ago, while Joy and her husband helped friends of theirs search for salvageable belongings under what was left of the friends' home, her husband came across a padlock with a few keys and a class ring locked on it. The class ring, which read "Elmwood High School" on one side and "Class of 1996" on the other, didn't belong to either homeowner so Joy suggested her husband post a picture of the ring on the Washington Illinois Tornado Recovery Facebook page in hopes that word of the ring's discovery would travel back to the owner.

That evening, before her husband posted a picture to Facebook, Joy took one more look at the ring and noticed the name "Jeff" inscribed on one side. At the time she didn't think much of that detail, and went to bed.

That's Jeff, 2nd from the right, Elmwood HS Class of 1996.
During the night, "Jeff Ekena, Elmwood High School Class of 1996" came to Joy in a dream. She woke the following morning knowing exactly who the ring belonged to.

Joy called Jeff and asked that peculiar question: "I know this sounds strange, but did you have an Elmwood High School class of 1996 ring locked onto a padlock?", to which Jeff replied that he did.

Next week the ring - and the padlock - will be returned to its owner. Just one more small discovery for which to be thankful.

And yes, I agree with you - it's weird to store your class ring on a padlock. Apparently that's where Jeff put it for "safe-keeping". I'd mock him if his strategy hadn't worked as well as it did...

Monday, November 25, 2013

Find the Silver Lining

Today I'd like to share just a few of the photos and stories - beyond those belonging to Sara, Jeff, Lily, and Carter - that have come out of Washington, Illinois throughout the last seven days.

Your heart will swell when you read about this man, who found his beloved family dog - previously presumed dead - buried alive beneath the rubble.

And here's a second heart-warming story about a man who found his fiancé's engagement ring buried in the wreckage of their home and then re-proposed to her surrounded by the family members and friends who had been helping them search for their belongings.

On Sunday morning The Today Show ran a touching piece about the Washington High School Panther football team…a team that turned what was expected to be a rebuilding year into a season of victories and earned its first trip to the Illinois State Tournament in 28 years. The tornado struck just days before the Panthers' semi-final game, and as soon as the dust had settled, coaches and players stepped away from football to focus on supporting their community (including Sara and Jeff), even though eight of the team's players lost their own homes. On Saturday, the community said thank you by showing their support for this team of first-class young men.

Operation BBQ Relief began in the wake of the May 2011 tornadoes in Joplin, MO and has grown into a national nonprofit organization that "provides compassion and offers hope and friendship to those whose lives have been affected by natural disasters…through our expertise in cooking and catering barbecue meals and our ability to quickly mobilize our teams into any area where nature disrupts and tears apart the lives of Americans". So far Operation BBQ Relief has served nearly 4,000 well-balanced, delicious, and hot meals to the people of Washington, Illinois.

Those whose homes lay in the path of the tornado lost nearly everything, but now, thanks to social media and the "six degrees of Facebook friends" phenomenon, some of what was lost is finding its way back home. The map below shows how far documents like checks, bank statements, marriage licenses, birth certificates, and even photos traveled on the winds of the tornado before they landed in the hands of strangers. Strangers who then took the time to track down the rightful owners, and return these small but significant pieces of lives lived.

The Chicago Cubs organization collected non-perishable food items and supplies on Thursday and Friday, and then delivered the donations to Peoria, Illinois for local distribution on Friday evening.

The Chicago Bears on Saturday and Sunday wore Washington Panther (the local high school football team) tee-shirts during their pre-game and post-game press conferences. I'm from Wisconsin and bleed Packer green and gold, so although I spend most Sundays rooting against the Bears, just this once I allowed myself to celebrate their organization. (The St. Louis Rams also deserve a shout-out, as they donated one of their full-service, 16-person suites to the Bears so that the Bears could auction it off as a fundraiser for the American Red Cross.)

Speaking of the Red Cross...As many of you know, I am and always will be a Red Crosser. I may no longer work in a Red Cross office, but I volunteer for my local chapter, write for the National American Red Cross blog, and stay connected with the two chapters for which I once worked. I want to take a moment to highlight and thank this incredible organization for the work they've done - and the work they will continue to do - in Washington, Illinois and throughout the Midwest to support those affected by last weekend's storms. (And a special thank you goes out to "my volunteers" - those with whom I once worked - who are already on the ground in Illinois or are on their way to Illinois as you read this.)

Click here to learn more about how to support the American Red Cross.

There are so many more incredible stories of hope and resilience out of Washington, Illinois - and the other areas of the country affected by this storm - but I simply can't get to all of them here today. I hope these few were enough to brighten your Monday and remind you to, as best you're able, find the silver lining.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Odds are in Johnny Football's Favor

I've written about and posted pictures of Lily and Carter's Johnny Football shirts, made for them by a staff member at the elementary school where my sister works, here before. (Check out the post about Lily here, and the post about Carter here.) Today I'm going to write about and post pictures of them once again.

Just a few minutes ago, as the four of us were dressing in our Aggie gear in preparation for this afternoon's battle between Texas A&M and LSU, I received a text message that included this picture:

If you look closely and underneath Lily's hair, you can just barely make out the name "Johnny" on her shirt.

I'm so thrilled to report that, while searching through the rubble left behind after the tornado, Sara and Jeff found both Lily and Carter's Johnny Football shirts. I have a feeling Johnny's going to bring home a victory for Lily and Carter this afternoon.

Friday, November 22, 2013

As the Week Comes to a Close...

At the risk of sounding all "woe is me", I'm going to go ahead and admit to being absolutely beat. Mentally, emotionally, and physically (I have tendonitis in my right foot and carpel tunnel flair-ups in both wrists) beat. Because of that, and because it's already after midnight, I'm keeping it short and simple on the blog today.

The good news is that Sara, Jeff, Lily, and Carter have settled into their new home, where if all goes well, they will stay until they build a new home in the spring.

The less-than-good news is that Sara and Jeff's insurance company has not yet been able to even assess the damage to their house or cars because the police are still limiting access to the worst-hit neighborhoods. Our hope is that the claims adjustor assigned to Sara and Jeff's case will be allowed into the neighborhood sooner rather than later so that he/she can begin to iron out all of the insurance-related details associated with this disaster.

In terms of in-kind donations, Sara and Jeff are still in need of a hair dryer and an iron. If you have either of these items and would be willing to donate them, please email me at

We are still accepting financial donations here, and gift cards to stores like Lowe's, Target, Walmart, Kohl's, and Kroger can be sent to:

Sara Ekena
PO Box 472
Metamora, IL 61548

Many thanks and blessings to all of you,


Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Most Thankful of Thursdays

First, the obvious. I'm thankful for the lives of my sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew. I'm thankful for the donations, of all kinds, that have lifted spirits and helped begin the rebuilding process. And I'm thankful for the prayers, kind words, and unwavering support from family members, friends, and strangers.  

Second, the slightly less obvious. I'm thankful for my Red Cross training and experience, without which I could not have coordinated this relief and recovery effort. I'm thankful for my husband, who picked up the slack at home so that I could spend nearly every waking minute sending emails, making phone calls, and responding to text messages. And I'm thankful for my kiddos, who only complained a little about losing their mama to her computer, and for Hallie, who showed true generosity by boxing up and sending Lily at least a quarter of her toys and stuffed animals.

And third, the significantly less obvious. I'm thankful for my parents, who offered to help me pay for what will be the largest cell phone bill ever accumulated come December 1st. I'm thankful for my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer, which made it possible for me to bake for Hallie's Thanksgiving Feast and Tom's Thanksgiving Luncheon while simultaneously tracking donations. And I'm thankful I already own both right and left wrist braces to help heal my double carpal tunnel flair-up (too much typing, y'all).

Bottom line, today is Thanksgiving. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I won't ever stop giving thanks for the lives that were spared and the good that I've witnessed. 

In other news…

Sara and Jeff are in need of a diaper genie, hair dryer, iron, and a baby monitor. If you have either of these items and would be willing to donate them, please email me at

Financial donations can be made here.

Gift cards to stores like Lowe's, Target, Walmart, Kohl's, and Kroger can be sent to:

Sara Ekena
PO Box 472
Metamora, IL 61548

As I sign off for the evening, I'll leave you first with a sweet photo of Little Miss Lily settling into her new home, in her new home. I think she likes it.

And second, with a photo that stopped my heart for just a moment. Do you believe in Miracles? 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Third Day

Yesterday Sara and Jeff sorted through and cleaned the small items - mostly clothing, but also a few pots and pans - they pulled from the wreckage and picked up the first round of in-kind donations generously contributed by members of their community. Additional in-kind donations, from family members, friends, and even strangers across the country, are scheduled to arrive throughout the remainder of the week.

Tomorrow Sara, Jeff, Lily, and Carter will move from Jeff's cousin's home, where they've slept for the last three nights, to a more long-term living space. Their new home is as well suited to their needs as we could possibly hope for, and thanks to their friends in the Washington community, it's completely stocked and ready for the four of them to move and settle in.

I can't help but give thanks that Lily is too young to fully grasp the gravity of the situation, and I hope that as she grows older she won't remember what it was like to huddle with her parents and baby brother in the basement while a vicious tornado destroyed her home. Even now, her understanding of what's going on around her is limited; when my parents arrived from Madison to help Sara and Jeff, Lily asked, "Why are you here? Oh, is it because my house got broken by a potato?" 

Baby Carter is as happy and laid back as he's always been, which I believe is a true blessing. It's difficult to feel anything but joy when you look at that sweet boy's smiling face.

Though Sara and Jeff's situation is less precarious than it was two days ago, they are still far from standing on solid ground. The road ahead is dauntingly long, the future uncertain. We will continue to raise funds, and to collect gift cards to stores like Lowe's, Target, Walmart, Kohl's, and Kroger so that Sara and Jeff can purchase what they need most, when they need it. Donations can be made here. Gift cards can be mailed to:

Sara Ekena
PO Box 472
Metamora, IL 61548

A few more words of thanks…Thank you to the friend of mine who donated her time and expertise (and who wishes to remain anonymous) to set up the donation website for me. Thank you to my "point people" on the ground in Washington, and to those helping me coordinate efforts in Madison, Chicago, and Ann Arbor. Thank you to all those who've shared Sara and Jeff's story. Thank you to the friend of mine working to track down digital copies of Sara and Jeff's wedding photos and recreate their wedding photo album, and to the friend who offered her professional photography services to help Sara and Jeff begin a new collection of family photos. Thank you to the friend of mine helping me figure out how to move Sara and Jeff from rental cars to permanent vehicles. And thank you to every single person working behind the scenes on a piece of this complicated but absolutely vital relief and recovery effort. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ekena Family Updates

Updated at 11:30am on Tuesday, November 19th, 2013.

Let me begin by extending my deepest and most sincere thanks to all of you for your support. The generosity I've witnessed and the love I've felt on Sara and Jeff's behalf has brought me to my knees on more than one occasion.

This morning Sara, Jeff, and my parents ventured back into Sara and Jeff's neighborhood to survey the damage and salvage what they could from the wreckage. While nearly everything was lost, they were able to save their washer and dryer, Sara's piano, and a mattress set, all of which had been tucked away in a corner of the basement. Before calling it a night, they tarped the open areas so that the basement will remain dry (rain is predicted for Wednesday) until the floors can be bulldozed and the area cleared.

While Sara, Jeff, and my parents were working, the Washington Panther High School football team stopped by to lend a hand. At the same time, an NBC Nightly News crew arrived on the scene and interviewed the football team's coach and my brother-in-law, Jeff. The footage aired yesterday evening on the NBC Nightly News and the clip is below if you'd like to take a look. (Jeff is wearing the orange winter hat.)
Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

If you can't see the video, click here.

Because of the outpouring of support we received yesterday, we have stopped collecting in-kind donations for the time being. However, if you and I have already communicated about a donation, please go ahead with whatever we discussed. Once Sara and Jeff have the opportunity to go through everything they've already received I will post an updated in-kind donation list here on the blog.

We are still accepting financial donations through our donation page.

We are also accepting gift cards from stores like Lowe's, Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl's, and Kroger so that Sara and Jeff can purchase what they need most, when they need it, and can begin to fill the gaps we can't cover with in-kind donations. You can mail gift cards to:

Sara Ekena
PO Box 472
Metamora, IL 61548

You are still welcome to email me at with any questions. I'm receiving hundreds of emails a day though, so please forgive me if it takes me a few hours to get back to you.

I'd like to close with a round of slightly more specific words of thanks… Thank you to everyone who donated clothing, baby supplies, toys, and books. Thank you to everyone who contributed financially through our donation website. Thank you to everyone who purchased gift cards. Thank you to those who brought bottled water, snacks, and lunch to Sara, Jeff, and my parents yesterday afternoon. Thank you to all those who helped salvage yesterday, including the members of the football team who spent their afternoon clearing rubble instead of practicing for the semi-finals of the State Tournament. Thank you for your phone calls, texts, emails, and Facebook messages. Thank you for your kind words, and for offering to help in any way possible. Thank you for being there for Sara, Jeff, Lily, and Carter.

On a personal note, I'd also like to thank every single person I've ever worked with at the American Red Cross. You have all, in one way or another, helped me develop the skills, gain the experience, and develop the mental toughness I've needed to help my little sister.

Monday, November 18, 2013


Donation list updated as of 7:00pm on Monday, November 18th, 2013.

Yesterday morning a line of horrific storms, accompanied by a number of tornadoes, terrorized the Midwest. One of these tornadoes passed through Washington, Illinois, where my little sister, Sara, lives with her husband, Jeff, and their two children; unfortunately for them, their home fell directly in the path of the tornado. Thankfully, Sara, Jeff, Lily, and Carter survived…not everyone in their city did. But when they climbed the stairs from their basement into their living room, they discovered that when the storm blew out of town, it took with it their entire house, their cars, and all of their belongings.
The tornado as it approached their neighborhood.
(They didn't take this photo - they were
safely tucked away in their basement.)
Their first car, which came to rest in their backyard.
Their neighborhood.
Their second car, which came to rest in a neighbor's backyard.
Their house, or what's left of it.
I have never been more grateful for my Red Cross training than I was yesterday morning. Thanks to years of experience responding to disasters of all shapes and sizes, I know how to transition from zero to sixty in a very short period of time and can separate "Erin, the devastated big sister" from "Erin, the Red Cross disaster responder" to allow myself to get done what needs to be done.

And here's what needs to be done.

First, if you're able to do so, please consider making a financial contribution to support Sara, Jeff, Lily, and Carter as they attempt to rebuild their lives. I would also greatly appreciate it if you would share this link with people who might be interested in donating but do not have access to the link ( via this blog or Facebook.

In the name of transparency, you should know that the donations will come to me first through my PayPal account. Once a week I will transfer the money collected - every single penny of every single donation - to Sara and Jeff.

Second, I will be collecting in-kind (physical) donations for Sara, Jeff, Lily, and Carter as well. The list below is where I'm starting today, but this list will certainly evolve in the coming days and weeks - both as items are donated and as Sara and Jeff get a better feel for what they need - and I will post updates frequently. (Please do not feel as though you need to go out and purchase these items new; instead, pass along gently-used items that members of your family have outgrown or no longer use.)
  • Size 3 diapers
  • Baby wipes
  • Powder soy (dairy-free) baby formula
  • Bottles
  • Baby bowls, plates, and spoons 
  • Baby blankets
  • Size 12-18 month little boy clothes, pajamas, and socks
  • Size 12-18 month little boy winter coat, hat, and mittens
  • Size 2T/3T little girl clothes, pajamas, underwear, and socks
  • Size 2T/3T little girl winter coat, snow pants, hat, and mittens
  • Size 7 little girl toddler shoes, indoor boots, and outdoor boots 
  • Children's books
  • Small portable DVD player (I thought this might help keep Lily entertained while her baby brother is napping and her parents are on the phone with insurance companies, banks, etc.)
  • Children's DVDs
  • Adult and child toiletries 
If you would like to donate any of the items on this list, please email me at I will return your email as soon as possible to coordinate a time for me to pick them up (if you live near me), share with you a drop-off location (if you live near my parents), or work something else out (if you don't live near me or my parents).

A third option is to donate gift cards to stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger, etc. so that Sara and Jeff can purchase what they need, when they need it most. If you would like to donate a gift card, please email me at so that we can coordinate how to best get these resources to Sara and Jeff.

THANK YOU. For the monetary and in-kind donations, the phone calls, the texts, the email and Facebook messages, the sincere offers to help in any way. I am so tremendously humbled by the outpouring of support we have received on Sara and Jeff's behalf.


I plan to provide daily updates here on the blog, so please check back tomorrow for more information on the Ekena family. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

High Five for Friday (11.15.13)

1. For me, what happens on Monday morning often sets the tone for the remainder of the week. Wake up late? Car won't start? Grab the reigns…the week will be a wild one. But wake up before the alarm goes off? Kids dress and eat and leave for school ahead of schedule? The week will be one to high-five about.

My Monday morning began with a hilarious incident - a friend of mine taught the entire first song of our (rather large) Group Power fitness class with a panty liner wrapped around her shoe - and then stayed the course toward happiness and humor and "I can't believe that just happened but since it did I'll just laugh about it"-ness.

And since it seems my Monday morning mood/attitude follows me throughout the next five days, I'm going to request that the folks at my gym keep up the antics in that first Group Power class of the week…toilet paper on the shoe, pants on backwards, completely backwards choreography, you get the picture. Speaking of, I really wish I'd taken a picture of Mary's* shoe to show you. Maybe next week!

* Names have been changed to protect the embarrassed.

2. My Christmas card photo has been taken and edited, my Christmas cards have been ordered and delivered, and by the end of the weekend my Christmas letter will be finished. If I play my (figurative, not Christmas) cards right, I'll have these babies in the mail before Thanksgiving!

3. Will takes his football to school every day so that he can play "two-hand-touch" with his friends at recess. He often carries the ball - instead of putting it in his backpack - when he leaves for the day, and he loves to chuck it at me as soon as he walks out the school door and sees me waiting for him. Sometimes I catch it, sometimes it hits me in the gut, and always I remind him that we can't play football while surrounded by tons of parents and little kids waiting for their elementary school students to emerge from the building.

On Wednesday the public schools released students early (as they do once every six weeks), which meant I picked Will up before and without Hallie. As Will and I walked home together, we played football the entire way. He ran ahead of me, and I threw him the ball over and over again - first down, second down, etc. - until he caught it and ran to the next mailbox to score a touchdown and earn a new set of downs. It was the most fun I've had playing with my boy in ages, and I can't wait to do it again, hopefully sooner than six weeks from now.

4. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, online mapmakers are helping Red Cross volunteers respond more quickly and efficiently to the devastation caused to the Philippines by Super Typhoon Haiyan. According to the article, between November 9th and 11th (the three days leading up to publication), approximately 400 volunteers made nearly 750,000 additions to a free, online map of the areas affected by the typhoon in what the author calls a worldwide crowd-sourced humanitarian effort. Though this is not the first time the Open Street Map has made an impact on relief and recovery efforts during humanitarian crises, this is the first time the Red Cross has been able to use the tool to better coordinate volunteers and provide assistance. This is a fascinating story - check it out here!

5. Parents, you must watch this video. I promise you won't regret it. So funny, and SO, SO true.

Linking up with High Five for Friday!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thankful Thursday, Week 2

November 7th
I'm thankful that my sister, my mom, and I all arrived safely in the Midwest for our girls' weekend, and that both of my flights left on time and arrived ahead of schedule…that certainly doesn't happen every day!

November 8th
I'm thankful for my mom, who is so unbelievably generous, for my sister, who always makes me laugh,  and for the time to linger over good wine and even better conversation with these lovely ladies.

November 9th
I'm thankful my husband took the kids "camping" in the backyard - they roasted marshmallows over the grill and then spent the night cuddled up in sleeping bags in our tent - so that I wouldn't have to. (I'm kind of afraid to camp here in Texas because I'm worried the critters might attack me in the night…)
My apologies for the quality of this photo - Tom's
phone is older than Hallie and takes terrible photos.
November 10th
I'm thankful for safe travels home from a wonderful vacation, and for a husband who kept my children healthy and happy while I was away.

November 11th
On Veterans Day, I'm thankful for the men and women who have served or are currently serving our country as members of the United States Armed Forces.

"Let future generations understand the burden and the blessings of freedom. Let them say we stood where duty required us to stand."     ~ George H. W. Bush

November 12th
I'm thankful for the cooler weather (though I wish I would have dressed Hallie a little more warmly when I sent her off to school this morning), primarily because it provided me with the perfect opportunity to rock my new leather jacket!

November 13th
I'm thankful for the end of baseball season, not because I didn't enjoy it, but because my Tuesdays and Thursdays/Fridays just opened up. Bring on the family dinners, evening holiday traditions, and early bedtimes!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Falling for Fall

Preparing to go out of town takes weeks, whether we're traveling as a family or I'm traveling alone. When we go out of town as a family, the to-do list - pack everyone's suitcases, pack snacks/drinks/toys/games for the car, load the car, and on the way out the door, turn off the furnace and lock the doors - takes a while to work through but comes together pretty easily. But when I travel on my own, the pre-trip to-do list is much more complicated. I still pack my suitcase, pack snacks/drinks/books/magazines for the car or plane, and load the car, but that's where the similarities end.

When I go out of town without my family, I spend at least a couple of days prior putting together for my husband a detailed-barely-even-begins-to-describe-it list of where and when the kids need to be dropped off, what they need to take with them to school and to each specific extra-curricular activity, where and when they need to be picked up, and details about homework and meals and bedtime and chores and, and, and… I line up friends to handle the drop-offs and pick-ups that conflict with Tom's work schedule, and to be "on call" to watch one or both kids should Tom get called in to the office unexpectedly. I lay out clothes for school and clothes for baseball and dance and label them. I make lunches and snacks and dinners and fill the cookie jar. I pay the bills and do the laundry and clean the house. Preparing to travel on my own is A LOT of work.

Because going out of town on my own is at least twice as complicated and time-consuming as going out of town as a family, I only do so once a year. It's worth it though, all that extra planning and preparation, because it means spending three days with my mom and sister at home in the Midwest during the most beautiful season of the year.

Now would be a great time to post pictures of fall in the Midwest, right? Well that's exactly what I'd do...if I'd taken any pictures of fall in the Midwest. Oops.

Midway through our second day together, my sister and I realized that over the course of our 10+ years of girls' weekends, we've taken exactly zero pictures. No pictures of the city lights at night, no pictures of the brightly colored leaves falling from the trees, no pictures of each other or ourselves as a trio. No pictures at all. How is that possible, especially considering the fact that we've all owned smart phones for at least the last three years?! (And those smart phones are usually glued to our hands so that we don't miss "emergency" calls from husbands asking about little girl dresses or teachers requesting new pants for little boys who lose their pants snaps in the bathroom. Yes, I received both of those calls this year. Those calls are better, however, than calls to tell me that the entire family has the Norovirus, which I've also received while traveling.) So right then we took a picture of the three of us in front of the closet organization systems in The Container Store, and it remains the only picture we've ever taken on one of our trips.

It's no secret that I love fall. The chill in the air, waking up with the sun, watching the leaves change and twirl to the ground, football, tailgating, pumpkins, apples, new television shows, Halloween, Thanksgiving, my birthday, and Christmas festivities all warm my heart and lift my spirit. And now that I think about it, I take fewer pictures in the fall than I do during any other season…maybe because there's so much to love and appreciate that I can't be bothered to pull myself away from the beauty of fall long enough to find my camera and duck behind the lens.

So I'll leave you with this, the one and only picture I've ever taken on this annual trip. Perhaps one of the reasons I love fall so much is that for me, it looks like this.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Back to Life, Back to Reality

After spending Thursday, Friday, and Saturday on vacation in the Midwest, I arrived home on Sunday afternoon to a tired husband, two energized kiddos, a slightly disheveled and dirty house (Tom makes a valiant effort to tidy and clean prior to my return home, but there are plenty of details he just doesn't know need to be taken care of), a mountain of laundry, and a lengthy to-do list. I took the kids to the park as soon as I arrived home to give Tom a break, but an hour after our walk I'd transitioned from "relaxed and refreshed daughter and sister" to "overwhelmed mother running a mile a minute". I finally slowed down - long enough for my people to surround me with hugs and smother me with kisses - later in the evening though, at then all seemed right with the world.
Me and my boy on our way home from the park.

And me and my girl. Well, mostly my girl. You can
just barely see me in the background of her selfie.
I had high hopes of cranking out a thoughtful, in-depth post about my adventures on the road, as well as my love for "real" fall, but this morning I find myself unable to fit that kind of writing into my "catch-up" day. I promise such a post on Wednesday, and in the meantime, here are links to a few of my posts - some new and some that you may or may not have read here previously - that have recently gone up on the Red Cross blog or MomsEveryday.

Red Cross: Working Toward 100%, a glimpse into yet another failed fire drill in the Ferris household, along with tips on how to prevent such a circumstance from happening at your house.

MomsEveryday: It's Time, the background behind my decision to stop - or at least attempt to stop - overextending myself and what it meant for Chasing Roots.

MomsEveryday: The Burning House, an exercise in balancing practicality against sentiment when faced with a catastrophic event.

MomsEveryday: I Can't Take Them Anywhere, just one more story about how my children embarrass me in public.

See you on Wednesday!

Friday, November 8, 2013

High Five for Friday (11.8.13)

1. I'm on vacation! Many years ago, back when I was a junior in college, my mom, sister, and I began an annual girls weekend tradition. Every late October or early November, we leave the boys and the babies behind and spend two-and-a-half days shopping, sight-seeing, theater-going, eating, drinking, and just catching up. It's mahhhhvelous. (If you know my husband or my sister's husband, perhaps you could check in on them this weekend? You know, to make sure the kids haven't taken over or driven their daddies mad? Thanks!)
The four little rugrats we left behind. They couldn't possibly drive anyone crazy, right?
(For the record, I have absolutely no idea how I created this photo montage.)
2. My husband, who holds down the fort and keeps the children alive, makes it possible for me to go on vacation every year. And my friends, who pick up my kids from school, take them to their dance lessons and baseball games, invite them over for playmates, and agree to be "on call" should Tom need help or have to go into the office unexpectedly, make me feel considerably less guilty about leaving my family for three-and-a-half days. Y'all rock, and I'm so very grateful for your love and support.

3. I think I may be in the minority here, but the departure of Daylight Savings Time excites me. I wake feeling more rested, thanks to the lightening sky on weekdays and the sunlight streaming through my windows on the weekends. The kids go to bed earlier and without complaining have fewer complaints because it's actually dark outside at bedtime, and when the kids go to bed earlier, I go to bed earlier. And we spend more evenings at home, together as a family, preparing for the holidays. I love it.

Oh, and there's something special about evening baseball games under the lights. Last week Will caught a fly-ball to tally the third out of the inning and end the game, and thanks to the spotlight that happened to illuminate him in that moment, I could see the look of amazement and then joy - pure joy - that spread across his face in the seconds after he made the play. Best night ever.

4. Middle school students and the adjectives "inclusive", "selfless", and "kind" don't always find their way into the same sentences. But these middle schoolers, all members of their school's football team, deserve every positive word being said and written about them. I hope my kids show such tremendous heart and humility when they reach the middle school battlefield.

5. I know I talked about Catching Fire last week, but I'll probably talk about it every week until the movie opens on November 21st. And I'll probably talk about it for a couple of weeks after the movie opens on November 21st as well. Then you'll get a break, until November 2014, when we start counting down to the release of Mockingjay Part 1.

So today, I'll leave you with the newest Catching Fire television spot featuring Christina Aguilera's "We Remain". All of the television and movie promos I've seen thus far have been fantastic, but this one is even better - we're talking chills, goosebumps, and tears, all in the span of one minute - thanks to the incredible musical accompaniment. 13 days!

Linking up with High Five for Friday!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thankful Thursday, Week 1

I enjoy writing my own and reading others' messages of thanks throughout the month of November; for me, taking a moment out of each day to reflect on and preserve in writing a special moment, person, or experience is a simple but meaningful way to prepare for Thanksgiving.

I tend to focus on the little things though, so lest you think I'm not thankful for the big things, let's begin by saying that above all, I'm thankful for my loving husband and healthy, spirited children. I'm thankful for my supportive parents, the best little sister a girl could ask for, and my niece, nephew, in-laws, SILs, and BILs. My family rocks.

November 1st
I'm thankful for an unexpected opportunity to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee and an hour of nearly-uninterupted conversation with a sweet friend.

November 2nd
I'm thankful for the beautiful fall weather, and the advent of a new Ferris family fall tradition.

November 3rd
I'm thankful that time changes no longer mess with my children's sleep schedules, and that as a result, I enjoyed an extra hour of sleep this morning.

November 4th
I'm thankful that neither child complained about a single thing placed on their plates at dinner this evening.

November 5th
I'm thankful for the rain, as its presence lifts my spirits the way sun improves most people's moods, and that, at least for the time being, my little one feels the same way.

November 6th
I'm thankful for the opportunity to spend time with my children, but just as thankful for the opportunity to spend time away from them. Knowing that I won't see them again until Sunday afternoon made this evening's cuddles on the couch that much sweeter.