Monday, November 30, 2015

Guiding the Next Generation of Volunteers

In another life (or so it feels) I worked for the American Red Cross, one of our country’s leading volunteer-led and volunteer-driven non-profit organizations. My positions involved recruiting, orienting, placing, training, retaining, and recognizing our chapter’s hundreds of volunteers, but more importantly, my positions revolved around working with volunteers to carry out the organization's mission of helping people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies. After serving alongside these incredible volunteers, often in the trenches following some of the most catastrophic disasters in our country's history, I have tremendous respect, admiration, and appreciation for all those who give so deeply and completely without asking for anything in return.

Even though they don't ask for or expect it, most volunteers do receive a little something back for their service. Studies have repeatedly shown that people who volunteer are more personally fulfilled and feel better about themselves, and I speak from personal experience when I say that these studies, at least when it comes to my own volunteer work, ring true.

They also ring true when it comes to my kiddos. Children who volunteer reap the same benefits as adults who volunteer, becoming happier, more appreciative, and more compassionate as a result of their service to individuals and their communities.

I recently wrote a two-part piece for MomsEveryday on youth volunteerism. The first post addresses how to help children start and stick with volunteering, and the second post covers specific organization, collection, and special project ideas for kids who are ready to begin giving back. 

This is the perfect time of year to volunteer - adults, kids, and families can make a difference in so many ways - so I thought today would be a perfect day to share links to these posts. I hope you find something that fuels and leads to fulfillment of your own, your children's, and/or your family's volunteer aspirations!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

In Thanksgiving

"They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts."

November 1st: I'm thankful for a Halloween night that played out almost perfectly. Kid friends, grown-up friends, costumes, trick-or-treating, candy, and wine…I couldn't have planned a better evening if I'd tried.

November 2nd: I'm thankful for a husband and children who pitch in, even though they don't really want to do so, when I need a little extra help around the house.

November 3rd: I'm thankful for my right to vote, for all those whose efforts made that right possible, and for those who voted alongside me to further support the public schools in our community.

November 4th: I'm thankful for my dad, who traveled across the country to help Tom take care of Will and Hallie while I traveled with my mom and sister for the weekend.

November 5th: I'm thankful my alarm clock went off when programmed to so do and that, as a result, I made it to the airport in time for my very early 5:45am flight.

November 6th: I'm thankful for the kind of laughter that makes you cry and feel like you need to squeeze your legs together so you don't pee your pants.

November 7th: I'm thankful for quiet evenings spent indulging in wine, pizza, and cheesecake and watching movies in our pajamas with my mom and sister.

November 8th: I'm thankful for EARLY airplane flights, arriving home safely, great big hugs from my babies, and a husband who knows how happy walking into a clean house after a weekend away would make me.

November 9th: I'm thankful for the long-lasting mental and physical energy that follow a great Monday morning workout.

November 10th: I'm thankful that dutifully sitting through Hallie's dance lessons gives me an opportunity to spend 75 minutes peacefully chatting with friends every Tuesday afternoon.

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 (and relieved) that Hallie's hair grew j…u…s…t long enough for a bun j…u…s…t in time for The Nutcracker. Mousse and hairspray and bobby pins and hair nets can only do so much.

November 13th: I'm thankful for the few minutes, at 10:30pm and after we arrived home from a beautiful production of The Nutcracker, spent casually standing around the kitchen eating slightly burned chili and cold cornbread and laughing with my family.

November 14th: I'm thankful that after three weeks of cancelled soccer games, Will was finally able to return to the soccer field - where he scored two goals with his grandparents in attendance - this morning.

November 15th: I'm thankful my Hawkeyes are 10-0 for the first time in school history!

November 16th: I'm thankful for those rare nights when both kids fall asleep quickly and without complaint.

November 17th: Today wasn't a good day, by a long shot. On days like these I focus on the big picture, in which I'm thankful for a roof over my head, food on my table, and clothes on my back.

November 18th: I'm thankful for the opportunity to spend seven hours out with friends this afternoon and evening (to go see the Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2 double feature) and for a husband who can and will come home from work at 3:15pm on a Wednesday to make it possible.

November 19th: I'm thankful my schedule provides me with the flexibility to, every once in a blue moon, bail on a day's responsibilities and take a short road trip adventure while the kids are in school.

November 20th: I'm thankful it's Friday, and that I had the foresight to stock my pantry with brownie mix and my refrigerator with wine earlier this week.

November 21st: Not to sound like a broken record, but for the second Saturday in a row I'm thankful for my Hawkeyes…11-0 for the first time in school history!

November 22nd: I'm thankful for chilly weather outside and a warm fire inside - it finally feels like fall, which makes sense since, according to the calendar, winter is only a month away.

November 23rd: For the first time, I felt relief when my birthday came to an end…I'm not quite ready to figure out these feelings, so for now, I'm just thankful for a calm and quiet day that wasn't in any way about me.

November 24th: I'm thankful for the free XM satellite radio preview that allowed me to listen to four straight hours of the "Holly" channel this afternoon!

November 25th: I'm thankful for my parents, who graciously volunteered to keep all four of their grandchildren - and by "keep", I mean "try to bathe and put to bed four sugar- and holiday-crazed kids in the same hotel room" - while the children's parents went to see Mockingjay Part 2 (again, for some of us).

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Batting 1,000

"Gratitude turns what we have into enough."

This is my 1,000th blog post on Chasing Roots. I can barely wrap my head around that number, let alone around the amount of time I have spent creating content for the site.

This is the photo I used in my very first post. I love it, and not just 
because it conveniently cuts out my gray hairs and I have fewer wrinkles 
than I have now…no, I love this picture because four-year-old Will took it.

At some point I realized that my life makes more sense - at least to me - in written form. Flannery O'Connor once said, "I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say". As confusing as this explanation may seem, it suits me. When I look at my life, swirling around and coming at me from all sides, it's difficult to make sense of it all. But when I take the time to think through my experiences, write them down as if I'm explaining them to others, and then read them back to myself, my life comes into focus. Through the lens of this blog I more clearly recognize where I've come from, where I'm going, and how to get there.

I'd like to extend my thanks to all of you who've been reading since the beginning (I believe that includes a grand total of five people: my husband, mom, sister, mom-in-law, and sis-in-law) and to all of you who've joined me over the last four-and-a-half years. I am extraordinarily grateful, because it is your support - the fact that you visit this blog and read my posts and comment when you feel moved to do so - that allows me to do what I love each and every day.

Happy 1,000th post anniversary, Chasing Roots. Cheers to many, many more.

If you like what you read here, please consider following Chasing Roots by clicking "Join This Site" on the right-hand side of the page under "Followers", liking Chasing Roots on Facebook, and/or sharing your favorite posts in one way or another. Thank you!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Another Marvelous Year Bites the Dust

"It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy."

When I opened my eyes yesterday morning, I said a prayer of thanks for the sweet little voices that roused me from sleep, for the kind and generous man whose best efforts to quiet those little voices came up short, and for every single one of my 37 years on this earth.  

It should be noted that the first thing I heard those sweet little voices say yell was, "I'M TELLING MOM ON YOU!"

Highlights from my birthday, in no particular order, include:

Sleeping in until 7:30am.

Finishing a cup of coffee, even though I had to reheat it six times.

Taking a walk outside on the most glorious morning we've had in months. It's like Mother Nature knew I wanted fall-like weather and to see my breath for my birthday.

Opening presents with Tom and my kiddos. I love seeing their smiles when I gush over their pictures and notes and crafts, and I get such a kick out of listening to them explain in detail why they chose the gifts they did…because let's be honest, sometimes explanations are needed. (Since I'm our family photographer, there were almost no photos taken during this phase of the day.)

Eating lots and lots of Katniss cake. A few years ago, my sis-in-law photoshopped an Entertainment Weekly cover featuring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss so it looked like I had taken over as star of The Hunger Games. For the last four years I've told Tom that all I wanted for my birthday was a Hunger Games cake, and this year, with a little help from our friends, he came through with this delicious and fabulous creation.

Decorating our Christmas tree and putting out the rest of our Christmas decorations. I realize we haven't yet celebrated Thanksgiving, but I love returning from our Thanksgiving festivities to a home decked out in its Christmas finest.

And finally, feeling the love from my family members and friends. From phone calls and texts to Facebook messages and emails to the sweetest, most thoughtful, most personal gifts, each and every one meant something to me. And because I talked them up last week, here are a few of the crazy awesome gifts my friends gave me...they clearly know me quite well!
My Mockingjay t-shirt, which I received in
time to wear to the Mockingjay double feature.
My soccer, Ferris Wheel, and Mockingjay cookies.
My Chasing Roots Yeti mug.
My framed Chicago World's Fair Ferris
Wheel print (#10 out of the only 100 produced).

This year's birthday one of the best, and for that I feel both happy and thankful.

Friday, November 20, 2015

High Five for Friday (11.20.15)

1. On Wednesday my friends and I attended a Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2 double feature at our local movie theater. I loved the movie. I can't wait to see it again. And again. And again.

I will admit, however, to feeling legitimately sad that this phase of my life (can I call it that?) has come to an end. I rarely read for pleasure after becoming a parent, but these books, when my sister introduced me to them three and a half years ago, gave me a reason to once again love reading. And the movies, the last three of which have been released within a day or two of my birthday, have made each November more exciting than the last. I'll miss you, Katniss...

2. Our tickets to the Mockingjay double feature came with all kinds of swag - a free t-shirt, a lanyard and Mockingjay "pass", and two pins - along with discounts on food and beverages. You'd have thought we'd won new cars, what with all the high-fiving going on when we first arrived at the theater.

3. My kind, generous friends surprised me with all sorts of fabulous birthday gifts…gifts so fabulous, in fact, that they deserve their own post. Stay tuned!

4. Yesterday I took a field trip to Waco to visit another stop on my Texas bucket list. I plan to post about it in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime, here's a teaser…

5. Happiness Highlights:
Though I didn't make it out to Veterans Park on Veterans Day, I
walked through the park a few days later during one of Will's
soccer practices. Hundreds of flags still stood proudly.
Hallie proudly showed off her
bravery by touching this snake skin. 
She also practiced her hair-styling
skills on poor Grandpa Mike's head.
Complete with sparkly tiara.
Hallie's first draft letter to Santa. She wants cruchis (crutches).

Happy Friday, friends!

Linking up with High Five for Friday!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A New Tradition: Dancing Through Life

Though I took ballet for a few years as a child, I never enjoyed ballet - as a dancer or an audience member - enough to justify my parents spending money on tickets to dance productions of any kind. I knew quite a few people, however, for whom attending The Nutcracker Ballet took the top spot on their list of favorite holiday traditions.

Given my past indifference toward ballet, as well as Tom and Will's preference for pretty much anything that isn't ballet, I never imagined we'd become a "Nutcracker Family". But after last weekend the possibility of us finding ourselves in those auditorium seats year and after year increased dramatically.

Will, Hallie, and I attended our community's production of The Nutcracker last year and the year before, but only because both kids had friends participating. We enjoyed watching these familiar faces, but in between those scenes Will fell asleep and I had to bribe Hallie with Skittles to stay in her seat. Oh, and we left at intermission. This year, however, my Hallie Claire saw The Nutcracker from a different vantage point: standing on stage and looking out at an audience of 2,500. She had the time of her life, and as a result, changed all of our minds about sitting through this ballet holiday season after holiday season.

As the curtain fell - both literally and figuratively - on this year's show, Hallie realized she would have to live another 365 days before taking the stage as part of The Nutracker again…and she cried. I promised her that as long as she keeps dancing, we'll keep this new tradition alive.
Ready to go!
Playing backstage with her little mice friends.
Passing the time while waiting for the show
to start (15 minutes late) with her besties.
Afterwards and at 10pm, my raccoon-eyed dancer (not even eye make-up
remover and washing her face three times could remove all that mascara,
eyeliner, and eye shadow) devoured two bowls of chili, two servings of
Fritos, a glass of lemonade, a glass of water, and a bag of Skittles while
surrounded by her bouquets of flowers and brand new nutcracker doll.

As an epilogue to this story about our new family tradition, I present to you an update on another - this one slightly older but related - holiday season tradition:
These two melt my heart.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Meditating Like a Preschooler

I have long enjoyed coloring, but like most parents - and adults without kids, for that matter - I'm lucky to find time every day to each lunch, let alone time to sit down with a Strawberry Shortcake coloring book and a box of Crayola markers. (Hallie's Strawberry Shortcake coloring book is my favorite…now if only the pages smelled as heavenly as did the miniature dolls my sister and I played with growing up.) And even if I could find the time, all of our markers, no matter how recently purchased, have dried up anyway. For the love, children - PUT THE CAPS BACK ON THE MARKERS!!!

I digress…

A few months ago I came across an article in which psychologists declared coloring one of the most effective forms of meditation. Apparently the simple, repetitive process helps strengthen focus and can gradually shift attention to a relaxed state, making it a natural stress and anxiety reducer.

Every attempt I've made at traditional (sitting still) meditation has failed miserably - if I actually succeed at "clearing my mind", I fall asleep - so after reading these words of wisdom I decided to try coloring as active meditation. My mom bought me a coloring book full of beautiful flowers and a set of professional-grade colored pencils (they came with a pencil sharpener that actually works!) and I started working on my first picture.

The experts say that coloring is most effective as meditation when one's surroundings are quiet and calm, and while that makes perfect sense, my quiet and calm hours (when the kids are in school) are already claimed by writing, school, errands, and appointments. If I want to color, I have to fit it in when my kids are home, perhaps doing their homework or playing in the backyard with friends, and for just a few minutes at a time.

But here's the thing: it works anyway. I started this picture when the kids were doing their homework one afternoon, worked on it a little more one Saturday morning while patiently waiting for everyone to find their shoes so we could leave for soccer already, and finished it last Saturday afternoon while the football game blared on television and a Bey Blade battle waged just a few feet to my right. And despite all the chaos that surrounded me while I colored, I still felt relaxed and rejuvenated when I closed the book and moved on to the next activity.

Free minutes for relaxation and rejuvenation rarely appear on their own, so whenever possible we need to figure out how to make time for whatever helps each of us - whether it be exercise, reading, or even coloring -  wind down, lessen our stress and anxiety, and regroup for what lies ahead. So if you need me, I'll be sitting in the playroom at Hallie's art table, coloring away.

Friday, November 13, 2015

High Five for Friday (11.13.15)

1. My annual trip to visit my mom and sister - and enjoy a few days of fall in the Midwest - was one of the best we've had. Lots of laughs, plenty of shopping, good food, great wine, and if you can believe it, ALL FOUR of my planes were not only on time, they were EARLY. Hallelujah!
The only picture I took on our trip was
of the sunrise as I flew into Houston.

2. On Sunday morning and in preparation for my return home, Tom, Grandpa Paul, Will, and Hallie cleaned the entire house, bought groceries, changed all of the sheets, and did three loads of laundry. I may have found a box of 56 taquitos in the freezer, nearly all of the leftover Halloween candy mysteriously missing, all of Hallie's socks in my sock drawer, and the bathroom rug lying on top of a bush in the backyard, but for a foursome that doesn't necessarily shine when it comes to domestic tasks, they did a fantastic job.

3. I finished The Hunger Games earlier this week, hope to finish Catching Fire tonight, and plan to crack open Mockingjay tomorrow night. I'll be more than ready when, in just five days, my friends and I settle into our movie theater seats to enjoy the Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2 double feature!

4. November 13th has finally arrived! Tonight my sweet girl will take part in her very first stage production: The Nutcracker Ballet. She can hardly wait to sweep her hair up in a bun, put on her make-up, step into her Magic Mouse costume, and scamper on stage to battle the Rat King in front of a packed house. As she so eloquently explained to me just before last year's dance recital, "I like to dance, Mama, but I LOVE the stage". The stage loves you back, sweet girl, and I can't wait to see you shine on it tonight.

5. Happiness Highlights:
My Christmas cards arrived! This year's photo isn't my best work, but
my subjects and assistant were grouchy and uncooperative so the fact
that I managed one satisfactory photo means the shoot was a success.

He's hanging backwards over my shoulder…and giving
me an excellent back massage with his little kitty feet.

Banners stocked in the Target OneSpot disappear quickly, so my
friends and I have a policy: if one of us spots affordable holiday
banners, we buy them all. On Wednesday night I bought six of
these, and just like that, we're all ready for Christmas. 

We finally got Tux microchipped this week. He did NOT
love the experience, but he thoroughly enjoyed the vet's sink.

Happy Friday, friends!

Linking up with High Five for Friday!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"Their Legacy Stands Firm and Their Memories Burn Bright."

We have regularly visited Veterans Park for nearly five years, however I knew the park only for its athletic fields, pavilion (with stage), and playground. It wasn't until earlier this fall when, after dropping Will off for soccer practice, I decided to further explore and realized the obvious: Veterans Park and the Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial, nestled among the trees and along the Lynn Stuart Pathway, exist to honor and memorialize America's veterans.

I began by walking "The American Mile: 240 Years of History", which begins near the park's pavilion and eventually connects to the Lynn Stuart Pathway. This uniquely walkable history lesson offers visitors a glimpse into the important events that occurred locally, nationally, and internationally every year starting in 1776.

I followed the American Mile Historical Walk to the half-mile trail known as the Lynn Stuart Pathway, named in honor of Brigadier General Louis Lynn Stuart, without whose support and leadership the Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial may not have come to fruition. The pathway leads visitors through the history of the 17 major wars - beginning with the American Revolution, continuing through the Global War on Terror, and including the War for Texas Independence - fought by the United States. Situated along the path are historically correct bronze statues of veterans, interpretive panels providing information about each military conflict, and identifying markers.

I had been jogging along the winding pathway, pausing the take pictures but quickly returning to my brisker pace. It wasn't until I rounded a corner and the woods parted to reveal the Louis L. Adam Memorial Plaza that I stopped in my tracks, immediately struck by the overwhelming reverence filling the space. The plaza centers around a bronze sculpture mounted on a massive, 250-ton Texas granite base, and the Wall of Honor lists the names of more than 4,800 United States veterans, including 24 Presidents and seven TAMU alumni who have received the Medal of Honor.

The Veterans Memorial sculpture was designed by Robert Eccleston, a former Army Ranger and a Captain in the 10th Mountain Division. The Louis L. Adam plaza was named in honor of Louis L. Adam, a US Army veteran and the father of Don Adam, who, as Chairman of The Adam Corporation, gave a major gift in support of the project.

I'm thankful to have discovered the true meaning behind, as well as the history lessons and memorials associated with, this College Station park, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to share them with you today, on Veterans' Day. Today and every day, I extend my sincerest thanks to all the men and women who have served or are currently serving our country as members of the United States Armed Forces.

“The names that mark the Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial showcase the sons and daughters who gave dedicated service to our nation, so that future generations can share the freedoms we enjoy. Their task was great and their sacrifice even greater, but their legacy stands firm and their memories burn bright."

~ Former President George H.W. Bush at the Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial dedication in 2002.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tuesdays With Tux (11.10.15)

Throughout the last two or three weeks (ever since Hallie tried to take Tux to school in her backpack, oddly enough) we have witnessed a significant shift in Hallie and Tux's relationship. It's almost as though Tux realized he had no choice but to accept Hallie as part of the family (as if we would part with her over him) and decided to show her a little bit of love.

One night Hallie carried Tux to bed with her and he stayed - without restraint - for nearly 10 minutes before he wandered over to Will's room.

The following weekend Tux let Hallie take this "selfie" with him.

And last weekend, Tux entered Hallie's room on his own, snuggled in beside her on her bed, and took a nap.

He snoozed for a few minutes, until he heard my camera start clicking. Once I took the picture above, Tux woke up…

…s…l…o…w…l…y lifted his back paw and positioned it on unsuspecting Hallie's hand (you can see the tension building in his eyes and body language)…

…and attacked.

Poor girl never saw that big bite coming.

Maybe Hallie and Tux's relationship hasn't changed quite as much as we thought it had...