Friday, July 31, 2015

High Five for Friday (7.31.15)

1. We're home! After a month-long trip to Wisconsin we finally pulled into our garage (after driving the nine minutes from the airport) on Tuesday night at 11:30pm. We truly enjoyed our time away - we visited with lots of family members on both sides and made loads of magnificent memories - but it feels good to have unpacked our suitcases, taken care of the laundry, sorted through the mail, restocked the refrigerator, slept in our own beds, and hugged and kissed Tux until he couldn't take anymore lovin'.

So now it's time to settle back into our summer routine (or lack there of), get together with all of our friends, catch up on work, and start preparing for the new school year. Where, oh where, has the summer gone?!

2. Last weekend my boy impressed us all with his water skiing skills. He made it up once last year but only for a second or two, so when he popped right out of the water and stayed upright for 10 seconds we couldn't have felt happier for him. And he couldn't have felt prouder of himself.

His little girl shadows wanted to ski, but both melted down once donning the heavy and cumbersome skis. They tubed instead, insisting on riding in the tube together but never once agreeing on a speed. If you look carefully you can see the simultaneous "faster" and "slower" visual commands in the second picture…

I love spending time on the water, and while we take the boat out less frequently now because getting everyone organized takes hours and a level of patience I can't always reach, I'm always happy when we make it happen.

3. Madison has gone a little overboard with regard to the rights of human pedestrians…and now Wisconsin has gone a little overboard with regard to the rights of animal pedestrians. Watch out for livestock when you're driving through my home state, friends!
I may not love the law, but I got a kick out of
how the information was shared on our grocery bags.
4. Will and I struggle to find him books he considers appropriately difficult and I deem appropriate for his age (his reading level has outpaced his maturity level), so when I came across a compilation of "books for your tween boy" on Pinterest I took a few minutes to click through the selections. The list included Gregor the Overlander and the next four books in the Gregor series. Though I hadn't heard of the books before, I had heard of the author - Suzanne Collins of The Hunger Games fame - and knew immediately the series was worth a look.

After reading online reviews and summaries of what to expect in the first book, I decided Will and I would read it together. I read a few chapters, and then Will read the same few chapters afterwards; staying a little ahead of him allowed me to keep him from reading anything I considered too mature. (And reading the same book meant we could talk about it together - kind of like our own book club.)

After a slow start - both Will and I had a little trouble getting into Suzanne's "world" (kind of like how many readers struggled to understanding the society Suzanne built in The Hunger Games) - we picked up speed and never looked back. These books may have been written with tweens in mind, but I LOVED them, cruising through all five in less than a month. And Will? Well, Will left me in his dust. After the first book I decided to let him go ahead at his own pace, and he finished the series a week ahead of me after blazing through the 425-page finale in less than 24 hours.

Looking for something good to read this summer? Check out Gregor the Overlander!

5. Happiness Highlights:
Will and (trying to be brave and holding back tears) Hallie,
getting ready to ride the kids roller coaster at Mt. Olympus.
After once around the track she discovered she loved the
roller coaster…and then road it 10 or so additional times.
Cuties on the iconic University of Wisconsin Union chair.
Dinner music courtesy of Sara on guitar and Grandpa on ukelele. 
Sailing toy boats (popsicle sticks) in the street streams.
Ready to rock. Or swim. 
Will's first go-kart experience.
Dress up in adult-sized Halloween costumes.
Under duck!
I kind of wish they didn't insist on standing
up immediately after the under ducks though...
Beer can chicken on the grill - yum! I love summertime
grilling, especially when it isn't 100+ degrees outside.  
Riding the zoo merry-go-round.
Happy Friday, friends!

Linking up with High Five for Friday!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Accidentally Airborne

Five-year-old Will spent all spring building up the nerve to jump off a moving swing. He finally felt ready one summer afternoon in Wisconsin, so he asked me to set up on a nearby park bench and capture his first attempt on video.

My dad had been playing with Hallie elsewhere on the playground, so he had no knowledge of Will's plan to jump off the swing in mid-air. When he saw Will swinging from afar, my dad decided to sneak up on Will and surprise him with an under duck.

Can you tell where this is going?

The two plans - Will's to jump off the swing and my dad's to give Will a surprise under duck - combined to create a terrifying moment for all three of us. At the exact moment my dad administered his under duck, Will released himself from the swing and soared into the air thanks to the force of the unexpected push.

You can see my dad running up behind Will, as well as the moment Will begins to fly through the air…and then I scream and drop the my phone, only picking it up again after Will has landed and as my dad is picking him up off the ground.

Thankfully, no one was seriously injured in the making of this video. We have a rule about announcing under ducks now though...

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Few Words Wednesday: How Does Your Garden Grow

Many flowers that grow splendidly in the northern half of the country don't grow well - or at all - in the southern half of the country, and of course the reverse holds true as well. I find myself drawn to flowers in Texas because they look and smell so different than those my parents grew in our yard when I was young, and I find myself drawn to flowers in Wisconsin because they feel familiar.

I usually take pictures of flowers using my DSLR camera and edit the images on my computer. On this trip, however, I had to leave that camera behind so I could use its case to carry on Will's nebulizer. I took and edited all of these pictures on my phone, and while they look decent, I found myself missing the composition and focus capabilities (at least those I know how to use) my fancy schmancy camera offers.

These beauties make me wish my thumb weren't quite so brown...

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Name Has Been Changed to Protect the Innocent

Shortly after she purchased a new cell phone as a University of Wisconsin sophomore, my sister Sara began receiving calls and voicemail messages from panicked tree lovers.

"Why aren't my pine trees here yet?!"

"You planted the wrong kind of oak trees!"

"All of my trees are dying!"

"Someone stole one of my trees!"

Sara told the first few callers, all of whom seemed intent on reaching a local tree service called Trees to Go*, they had the wrong number. She then called Trees to Go herself, hoping to explain and take care of the mix-up. After four rings and no answer at the number listed on the website, an answering machine picked up…and Sara heard her cell phone number listed on the outgoing message as the Trees to Go emergency contact number. She left a message explaining the error and assumed the company would immediately remedy the situation.

They didn't.

The calls continued - at all hours of the day and night, by the way - so Sara called Trees to Go again. She left a second message giving them fair warning, so to speak, that if they didn't remove her cell phone number, she had every intention of telling callers whatever came to her in the moment. Sara felt sure the company would change their message rather than risk a college student "going rogue" on their customers.

They didn't.

So Sara started telling the panicked customers whatever came to mind when they called.

"Why aren't my pine trees here yet?!"
- They're on their way.
- They've been delivered to Milwaukee.

"You planted the wrong kind of oak trees!"
- Yes, but aren't they pretty?
- Deal with it.

"All of my trees are dying!"
- Bummer. I bet the aphids/locusts/cicadas got 'em.
- Have you been singing to them? You were supposed to sing to them each night.
- Quick, pour honey on them! Do it now!

"Someone stole one of my trees!"
- It was me. You don't deserve a tree.
- Each time you call I die a little inside.

Yes, every one of those is an actual response of Sara's. 

The answers, suggestions, and instructions Sara provided depended on the time of day (she received quite a few calls in the late evening hours, or what I would now call the middle of the night), her mood, and a variety of other completely irrelevant factors. Sara's responses may have also depended on whether or not she'd had a drink or two…she was a college student back then, after all.

So what happened, you ask?

THREE YEARS LATER Sara graduated from college and got a new phone number.

That's right, Trees to Go never changed the message and Sara continued to receive their emergency calls for three l…o…n…g years.

I used this pic two months back,
but I couldn't help use it again.
Little tree lovers...
Thinking a company with such poor customer service couldn't possibility be in business 10+ years later, last week - on a Wednesday at 9pm and after a drink or two - Sara and I called the phone number listed on the Trees to Go website. When someone unexpectedly answered, we hung up faster than if we'd been 7th graders prank calling our boyfriends and then immediately wrote this post so we'd always remember the story of Sara's short-lived career as one of Madison, Wisconsin's most popular and creative tree resources.

* The name of the tree company has of course been changed. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

High Five for Friday (7.24.15)

1. Earlier this week my sister and niece introduced me and my kids to this One Direction song. We immediately declared it next on the "Mueller Family Band" playlist, which means Sara and I are learning the words and vocal parts while my dad, Tom, and Will study the guitar, piano, and drum parts respectively. (Though Tom would really prefer to play the song on his brand new keytar…) We think it would make a fantastic wedding postlude song - don't you agree? Anyone getting married soon?

Yes, I realize One Direction is a youthful boy band and I am almost old enough to have mothered its members. Sara told me I can like them anyway though, if for no other reason than one of them is wearing a University of Wisconsin t-shirt on the cover of their Midnight Memories album. Good enough for me!

2. Hallie and Carter may have developed a bond during Carter's sister Lily's absence, but Will and Carter remain as tight as ever. Though separated by more than six years, they are a delightfully fun-loving pair of typical boys.

Will taught Lily to sword fight three summers back. Watching Will teach Carter to sword fight "yike a ninj" (like a ninja) brought back all sorts of sweet memories.

3. Please don't hate me Texas friends, but Blue Bell ice cream just can't compete with Wisconsin's Babcock and Chocolate Shoppe ice creams. Wisconsin dairy cows make the best cream, and the best cream makes the best ice cream. And really, what other brand of ice cream can compete when the Chocolate Shoppe offers flavors like this one?

In case you can't clearly read the bottom flavor and its description…"Exhausted Parent: Bourbon-spiked espresso ice cream swirled with bittersweet chocolate chunks".

Yes, I needed it. Yes, I ate it. Yes, it was delicious. I'm on my way back for round two this afternoon.

4. Only 16 weeks and six days!

5. Happiness Highlights:
Lily, Hallie, and Grandma waiting for their Little
Amerricka (yes, that's how it's spelled) train ride. 
Sisters on the train.
Matching cuties on the merry-go-round.
Though he greatly prefers "real" roller coasters, Will passed
the time waiting for the girls by riding the "baby" roller coaster.
Thank you, Grandma, for riding with the girls. I can go up and down
on roller coasters all day long but can no longer handle spinning rides. 
After watching Will build a tower out of half and half
cups, Carter copied him and built this all by himself! 
Monster cookies for our little monsters.
She convinced Grandma to buy her a Tux lookalike.
Happy Friday, friends!

Linking up with High Five for Friday!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Few Words Wednesday: Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

This is what true, unbridled happiness - joy - looks like:

There's nothing like a summer evening campfire in Wisconsin's Northwoods to remind you of what's most important in life.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Shoot Straight, Young Will

A few months ago I confessed, here on Chasing Roots, my greatest fear about moving to Texas: guns. I went on to explain my personal history with weapons, as well as what role weapons play in my and my family's lives now, and finally I wrote about our decision to begin slowly exposing Will (and eventually Hallie, should she express an interest) to bows, guns, and the like both at home in Texas and this summer in Wisconsin.

The time we set aside for this exposure - "summer in Wisconsin" - arrived two weeks ago, so one quiet afternoon at the Lodge, Tom and Grandpa Mike took Will outside to review what he'd learned during his first weapons lesson earlier this year. Will recalled the safety information as well as how to actually shoot a bow, so he easily picked up where he'd left off.

I, on the other hand, didn't do quite so well. After my safety lesson I stepped up to the line, loaded the bow, and shot my first arrow wide left, above the target, and into the woods. And the bow string hurt my arm so badly that I didn't actually shoot a second arrow. You should probably stop calling me "Katniss"...

The following day Will stepped it up a notch, firing a Red Rider BB gun (just like the one Ralphie asked Santa for in A Christmas Story) for the first time. I didn't feel nearly as nervous as I expected to feel, watching Will shoot at Grandpa's targets with the bb gun; perhaps the sight of him confidently operating the bow prepared me.

After the BB gun, Will tried out a BB pistol. This weapon, unlike the BB gun, made me anxious and uncomfortable. When I looked at the gun I could categorize it as purposeful - as a tool used for hunting - but when I looked at the pistol I could only see a dangerous killing machine that didn't belong in my innocent eight-year-old's hands. I breathed a sigh of relief when Will decided he preferred the BB gun to the BB pistol.

Finally they moved on to the pellet rifle, which ended up Will's favorite because of its scope. He had no trouble closing one eye and lining up his shot; I, on the other hand, can't wink and therefore couldn't even look through the scope to see the target. Shooting will never be my sport.

With each of the three guns, Will started by balancing them between the slats of a lawn chair to help him steady his hand and practice aiming. Eventually he was able to shoot the BB weapons without the chair, but the pellet rifle weighed far too much for him to hold, let alone aim and shoot, on his own.

As it turns out, Will is a pretty good shot for an eight-year-old. Grandpa had set up a "shooting range" in the yard, and Will could consistently hit both the hanging targets, some of which were as small as two inches by four inches, and the soda cans balanced on the top of the wooden frame from distances ranging between 50 and 100 feet.

I still don't understand the fascination with and enjoyment in shooting things, but I've learned that just because I don't understand those feelings doesn't mean they aren't authentic for others…like Will…and like Tom. I have struggled - and continue to struggle - to accept how different "my boys" and I are from one another and to foster interests and passions that differ so dramatically from my own. So while I may have let Will "go out back and shoot stuff" (knowing he was in the best of hands with his Grandpa), after a few minutes I had to walk away. Right now that's the best I can do.