Friday, January 29, 2016

High Five for Friday (1.29.16)

1. After misplacing his Fitbit more than seven months ago, Will finally found it in the pocket of our swim bag - thank goodness for winter swimming lessons! An hour later, either while climbing around the McDonald's playground or changing into his Tae Kwon Do uniform in the car, Will lost his Fitbit again. Talk about highs and lows… After searching the car and inquiring at McDonald's, we declared the Fitbit gone for good. Until a week later, that is, when Will found it tucked inside the lining of his car booster seat. Hallelujah! It's been attached to the waistband of his pants (including his pajama pants) ever since.

2. In other Fitbit news, finding Will's Fitbit prompted me to sync mine up with my computer for the first time in…weeks? Months? When I did so I was pleasantly surprised to discover I'd earned the Sahara Badge, recognizing my 2,983 miles of travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. What a way to live vicariously...

3. I spent last Friday night painting with friends (our goal for the year is to paint a canvas for each major holiday), and on Sunday I found my newest creation a home among my Valentine's Day decorations.

4. After a great college football season, we moved on to college basketball. Our Hawkeyes jumped to an impressive #3 in the latest AP Poll (sure would be nice to get to watch them on television - how about it, Suddenlink?) and the Aggies - coming in at #5, look solid as well. Thanks to the reading programs at the kids' elementary school, we had the opportunity to cheer for them in person at their game last Saturday afternoon.

5. Happiness Highlights:
Just hanging with my buddy.
So, so true.
Oh, these two.
The costumes for Hallie's spring dance recital
have arrived! I love both these two cuties and
this year's ballet ensemble.
The kids and I have recently become quite interested in the
Food Network's Kids Baking Challenge - watching it together
has become a great way to spend our Monday evenings!
After weeks of working but not working (it still
sucked, but pushing and pulling took all of my
strength), my vacuum is fixed. It may seem like
a small thing, but boy, did it make my day!
Happy Friday, friends!

Linking up with High Five for Friday!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Green Texas: It's About Time!

I took note of how our city and its major university handled recycling shortly after we moved here. In short, while recycling programs existed, participating in them required such significant amounts of time and energy that few people participated in them. I'm not suggesting that no one here recycled. I am, however, saying that because of the flawed recycling programs, I regularly came across garbage cans overflowing with recyclables, both on my street and every time I set foot in a campus building.*
Saw this a few summers back here in
College Station. This isn't a recycling bin.
Having grown up in cities with progressive recycling programs, Tom and I couldn't not recycle. I bought four mid-size trash cans in which to separate our aluminum, #1 and #2 plastics, brown glass, and clear class and set them up - lined with the city's mandatory recycling bags - in the garage. In front of the cans I placed a large cardboard box where we collected our recyclable paper and above the cans I hung a large plastic bag where we could store smaller plastic bags until my next trip to the grocery store. (Despite my commitment to reusable bags**, one or two rogue plastic bags make it into our house each week. And while the city didn't - and still doesn't - recycle plastic bags, Kroger does. High five, Kroger!)

I admit to grumbling a bit about the time and expense associated with setting up our recycling station, and when the garage became a sauna in the summer or an icebox in the winter, I definitely complained about spending my Tuesday nights and/or Wednesday mornings tying up bags, flatting cardboard, and making multiple trips to the curb. But as time went on I began to forget how easy recycling had been back in Ann Arbor, where absolutely every single recyclable item - with the exception of #5 plastics - went into one large bin.

And then the exciting news… After a successful single-stream recycling trial last summer, College Station would implement single-stream recycling - a system similar to what we had in Ann Arbor and what my hometown has had for more than a decade - in January. As in this month. As in this week. On Monday morning a brand new, shiny blue bin full of recyclables sat at our curb, next to our half-full garbage bin, waiting for its big moment. **

A friend of mine once asked me about recycling, about why we participated when it took so much more effort than simply tossing the recyclables into the trash can. I asked her, politely but sincerely, about why she didn't participate. Yes, recycling costs money and takes time. But it conserves resources, saves energy, helps protect the environment, reduces the amount of garbage sent to landfills, and saves money in the end because 1) selling recycled materials can offset the cost of recycling, and 2) the environmental benefits listed above have economic value. Simply put, if we don't take care of our planet, it won't be here for our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.

My hope is that this new system will lead to both an increase in and a shift in attitude toward recycling in our community. A greener Texas awaits!

* TAMU has done an amazing job overhauling their recycling program since I wrote the post linked to above. Such an amazing job, in fact, that Tom says that finding a trash can now is as difficult as finding a recycling bin was five years ago.

** When I wrote this post on Sunday night I had high hopes for Monday's recycling pick-up. As I edited the post to include this note on Tuesday morning, I felt more than a little defeated. Though the recycling truck made its way through our neighborhood, it SKIPPED MY HOUSE. The truck picked up at other houses on my street, but left my bin - and a couple of others - completely untouched. (And I followed all of the rules about where to put the bin, when to have it out, etc.) Argh.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Tiptoeing in My Footsteps

Since Will's last year of preschool when his teachers first introduced the concept, writing has been Will's second least favorite favorite…behind coloring, of course. He complained about the Handwriting Without Tears curriculum used in both preschool and kindergarten, and actually shed a few tears in first grade when his homework assignments started to involve writing more than his name.

Will turned a corner - well, more like he followed a slight bend in the road - in second grade, when his ELA teacher allowed him to write about whatever inspired him. Every Monday he brought home in his folder the five play-by-play soccer stories he'd written the week before; by the end of the school year I counted more than 75 writing assignments for which his chosen topic was a soccer practice or game. His poor teacher…

Last semester and as a third grader Will still complained about writing, regularly ranking it below math, science, reading, PE, social studies, and music. The only subject with a lower ranking was - you guessed it - art. So imagine my surprise when Will asked if he could try out for UIL at his elementary school…in hopes of making the 3rd grade Ready Writing team.

I tried to hide my excitement as I signed the permission slip, and did my best not to mention the tryout at all in the days prior. I didn't bring the tryout or the competition up at all, actually, until a few days after it had taken place and only to ask when we might know the results. "Oh, didn't I tell you? I made it!" Will replied casually as he dropped his backpack on the floor and ran outside.

So last week, after two months of practicing, Will and his "team" - three 3rd grade students from his elementary school - attended the city-wide UIL meet to compete against 3rd grade students from the other eight elementary schools in our district. The night of the meet the district held an awards ceremony, which the four of us attended. When Will's event was called, the speaker invited all 27 participants to join her on stage so she could announce the top six finishers. I knew Will wanted to do well but I also knew he didn't expect to do well, so when third place came up and the speaker called his name, Will's mouth fell open (to the point that people around us chuckled at how adorably surprised he appeared) and the biggest smile spread across his face. Then he found me in the audience and we locked eyes - a 3rd grade writer and his proud writer mom.

When I worked for the Red Cross I had an office, in an office building with a sign out front that told people what we did, and where I spent at least 28 hours a week. Three-year-old Will pointed to that building and call it "Mama's office". Four-year-old Will told strangers how I helped people whose houses caught on fire or blew away in tornados.

After we moved to Texas, five-year-old Will wondered out loud why I never went to my office anymore and if maybe my new work involved playing Angry Birds on my computer. He couldn't understand writing as a job - nor could he see the value in writing - the same way he understood and saw value in the Red Cross as a job. And it hurt.

I misplaced a little bit of myself when I left the Red Cross, and throughout the last five years I have worked hard to find that part of me again. The process has been s…l…o…w, but I expected as much and remind myself frequently that my destination is not some kind of blog post or copywriting finish line but to become better at my craft and pay a bill or two along the way.

The day Hallie acknowledged my new-ish career choice* was a beautiful one for me. Last Thursday night Will did the same, and it was just as glorious.

* The conversation between Hallie and our babysitter, Peyton, back in 2013.
Peyton: Hallie, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Hallie: I'm already grown up.
Peyton: Ok, well what kind of job do you want to have when you get older?
Hallie: I don't know...maybe I'll be a writer like my mom.

Friday, January 22, 2016

High Five for Friday (1.22.16)

1. When he sits down next to me on the couch, leans his head against my shoulder, and takes my hand I am reminded of what it felt like to hold his chubby baby hand as he learned to walk. Of what it felt like to hold his shaking kindergarten hand as he approached his kindergarten classroom on the first day of school. Of what it felt like to hold his sweaty 3rd grade hand as he hobbled to the doctor after spraining his ankle. Of how fast it goes. I could live in this moment forever.

2. Will sprained his ankle back in December, so for the last six weeks he has worn an ankle brace to shore up his weakened ligaments. While the brace helped his ankle heal, it also did a number on his skin; he woke up on Monday morning with painful, itchy, patchy scales encircling his ankle. I applied my trusted Ava Anderson Diaper Cream, and within an hour of treatment Will's skin showed marked improvement...24 hours later Will's skin had nearly returned to normal. Ava Anderson for the win once again!

3. I mentioned last week that Will has been teaching me to play chess. We began the process as a way for Will to develop his instructional methods - next week he's going to start teaching a younger friend how to play and while he's good at the game himself, skill a teacher does not make - and in just three lessons and two official games, Will as a teacher and I as a player have come a long way. So long, in fact, that with just three "I don't think you want to do that, Mom" reminders, I played him to a draw. I had no idea how happy hearing the words "Mom, I'm so proud of you!" could make me!

4. Approximately 40% of the reason I wanted a daughter was so that eventually, someone in my house would play with my hair. That time has finally arrived.

The finally result was…questionable…but her little hands gently brushing and pinning and clipping my hair felt amazing.

And yes, those are my cheese earrings. I just realized, thanks to these pictures, that my hair might have looked like this when I answered the door for and had an odd conversation with a young food delivery boy last weekend. I suspect the 19 colorful barrettes could have contributed to his concern for my well-being...

5. Happiness Highlights
Why yes I AM part-human…why do you ask?
The swimming parties continue...
Tom and Will were taking turns whipping and nae-nae-ing (?)
and didn't see me taking photos and videos until it was too late.
I don't think I've ever felt as accomplished as I did when
these two cuties finally fell asleep. Unfortunately they only
slept for six hours and 14 minutes…thank goodness for coffee!
Happy Friday, friends!

Linking up with High Five for Friday!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Cheese Heads

I wear my Packer fandom proudly. And while I prefer college over professional football, when the Packers take the field, I turn on the television. Well, I turn on the television when the networks and our cable provider decide to actually show the Packers taking the field…

A couple weeks ago Tom flew to Green Bay for a meeting and came home with Packer accessories for all of us: plastic cheese necklaces for the kids and for me, large foam cheese wedge earrings.

I laughed when I opened the bag and pulled out the earrings; I knew Tom meant them as a joke, rather than an actual addition to my jewelry collection, and I had no intention of wearing them. But when the Packers got off to a rough start in their Wild Card game (watching the game from the hot tub and then donning our Packers shirts when we climbed out weren't having the impact we'd hoped they would) I decided to give the earrings a try. I put them in, cringing a little as I slid the questionably colored metal through my ears, and at that very moment the Packers starting to turn things around.

I continued cheering with cheese in my ears until the end of the game, and as the final whistle blew the four of us agreed that my earrings had obviously been the difference-maker.

The game ended early enough in the evening that the the boys went off to play Wii, Hallie cuddled up in bed with the iPad to watch My Little Ponies, and I sat down at my desk to get a little work done.

An hour or later the doorbell rang, and I answered the door looking a little rough around the edges: air-dried hair, completely mismatched pajamas (I'd covered up my Packers shirt with a 35+ year-old reindeer sweatshirt that once belonged to my grandpa), and - though I'd forgotten all about them - my cheese earrings. Here's the conversation the delivery boy and I had at the front door:

As I opened the door, a box that had been delivered earlier that afternoon fell into the house. I instinctually jumped back - as a normal person would do - and the box just barely missed my feet.

Erin: Whoops! That was a close one!
Delivery Boy: Um, OK.

I attempted to pick up the box and accidentally dropped it.

Erin: Whoops! Sorry about that!
Delivery Boy: Um, I have your food.
Erin: Yes, thank you.
Delivery Boy: Are you a Packers fan?
Erin: Yes, I am! Are you?
Delivery Boy: No.

Confused about how Delivery Boy could know about my Packer fandom and why he'd ask me about the Packers if he didn't like them himself, I looked down to see if my Packer shirt was showing…nope, still wearing my reindeer sweatshirt. I stepped backwards and looked back inside the house to see if perhaps a game recap could be seen on the living room television…nope, America's Funniest Home Videos blared loudly. I turned around and recognized that my front door could be interpreted as "Packer gold" and decided that that must be it.

Erin: Hmm. (I honestly don't know if I said this in my head or out loud.)
Delivery Boy: Ma'am…are you...alright?
Erin: Yes, I'm fine. Thanks for asking!
Delivery Boy: Yeah…I should go.

Delivery Boy hurried down the front sidewalk and jumped into his car far more quickly than I thought seemed necessary. I couldn't quite figure out what had just happened, so I found Tom and replayed the encounter for him.

Tom: You know you have HUGE cheese wedges hanging off your ears, right?
Erin: I do now…

Unfortunately my earrings could only carry the Packers so far…the Pack lost (in overtime after an unbelievable Hail Mary touchdown tied the game with exactly zero seconds left on the clock) a heart-breaker late last Sunday night. It's alright though - my earrings will make an appearance much earlier in the season next fall. I just won't wear them when I answer the door.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Out and About

On the interwebs, that is…

In honor of today - Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a school holiday, a Monday - I'm taking a day off from writing original content and instead linking up to a few blog posts and articles that have spoken to me in one way or another throughout the last couple of months. Check 'em out!

1. The Story of Martin Luther King Jr. by Kid President. "Not everybody was treated like they were somebody. I believe that you should treat everybody like it's their birthday…He decided that instead of spreading the hate, he'd spread the love." Enough said.

2. Crossing Guards, Crosswalk Angels. On a local note, the kids' school district put together a fantastic video piece about the many crossing guards who keep College Station's kids safe as they walk to and from school. Our lovely Ms. Rosa, who has protected Will and Hallie for nearly four years and at least once actually saved them from getting hit by a speeding car, is featured in the video. (If you look closely, you can also see the kids and I during Ms. Rosa's segment - Will is hopping across the street on one foot, which makes him hard to miss.) Click here to see the video.

3. A Cappella Rocks. A cappella music has long intrigued me, and while this genre isn't my specialty as a singer, I love listening to it. I listened to A LOT of Pentatonix over the holidays, and as a result, Will became fascinated as well; as a new drummer, he's completely baffled and enthralled by the fact that in a cappella music, a human makes all of the percussion noises. We stumbled upon this video last week, and while this group is no Pentatonix, they give a pretty impressive performance of Amazing Grace. Click here to see the video.

4. Washing My Son's Hair for the Last Time. Oh, all the feels. You better bet I washed Will's hair the night I read this article…and I'll probably wash his hair again tonight. And maybe tomorrow night too.

5. Ellen DeGeneres Accepts the People's Choice Humanitarian Award. "…it's a little strange to actually get an award for being nice and generous and kind, which is what we're all supposed to do with one another. That's the point of being a human." I couldn't agree more. Watch Ellen's perfectly "Ellen" acceptance speech here.

6. The White Man in that Photo. Today is a day on which we not only continue fighting for human rights and equality, but also recognize those - like Martin Luther King Jr. and Peter Norman - who along the way have sacrificed nearly everything to make our world a better place.

7. Bringing Body Love into Dance Class: A New Way of Teaching. This article outlines how little girls and boys can learn ballet technique without hearing "suck your tummy in", "tuck your butt under", and a host of other phrases that inevitably make them question and perhaps lead to them feeling negatively about their bodies.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, happy school holiday, happy work holiday (if you're lucky enough to get school holidays off) and happy Monday, friends!

Friday, January 15, 2016

High Five for Friday (1.15.16)

1. Last year Tom missed our anniversary while attending a conference. We had plans to celebrate when he returned to home, but because I felt it important to recognize the actual day (and I had a craving for something sweet), I bought a cake at Kroger, invited Will and Hallie to a birthday party for our family, and accidentally began a tradition.

Tom and I celebrated our 12th anniversary last Sunday, so on Saturday night the four of us held our second annual family birthday party complete with cake and candles and singing.

2. Have you heard the news?! "Friends" fans rejoice!

3. My 3rd and 1st grade children are teaching me to play chess. We began our lessons - and games, once they decided I understood enough to actually move the pieces around the board by myself - this week, and the experience has been accompanied by a host of unexpected emotions. I didn't know I could feel so overwhelmingly proud of them and so personally humbled at the same time…
Tux kept trying to distract Will by taking his chess pieces...this
mischief is the only reason I lasted as long as I did against Will.
4. I was feeling a little down on football after my Hawkeyes lost the Rose Bowl on January 1st, but the Packers' wild card win last Sunday brought me back to the field. Tom, the kids, and I are looking forward to cheering the Pack on to victory tomorrow night…from the warmth of the hot tub.

5. Happiness Highlights
I love the first few minutes after Will and Hallie come home from
school, even if their arrival means my kitchen counters - spotlessly
clean moments before -  suddenly become cluttered with homework,
books, pretzel crumbs, strawberry stems, and hot chocolate drips.
He enjoys keeping me company, slowing my productivity, and
changing the settings on my computer while the kids are at school. 
Sometimes my hubby leaves little "love notes" tucked
under my car door handle while I'm working out at the gym. 
While their little sisters danced, Will and Kaylee, along with
Kaylee's hip hop teacher, had a baby freeze contest. Kaylee won. :)
Our short session of winter swimming lessons (in an actual
pool and NOT the hot tub, as Hallie requested) started this week.
They make progress when they're the only two kids in the class! 
I think we know which of these two cuties - my niece and nephew,
who live in Illinois where the temps are in the mid-30s - would love
visiting their aunt, uncle, and cousins in sunny, warm(er) Texas!
Happy Friday, friends!

Linking up with High Five for Friday!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Anyone Up for a Winter "Swim"?

Tom and I grew up in the Midwest, surviving most of those years* without hot tubs or spas to lessen the pain of Nebraska and Wisconsin's snowy, frigid winters. After five years in the Lone Star State, however, Tom decided we couldn't possibly survive another "brutal" Texas winter without one.

So now we have a gigantic bathtub - or minuscule swimming pool, depending on who you ask - stationed on our back patio. Tom, Will, Hallie, Tux (who sleeps on the warm cover when I refuse to light a fire in the fireplace for him), and the kids' friends LOOOOOOVE everything about the hot tub.
Who says you can't snorkel in a hot tub?
First "pool party" with friends!
Yes, Tom moved a television outside so we could watch the
Packer game from the comfort of the hot tub. Will is in heaven!
I, on the other hand, have yet to jump on board the bandwagon. Perhaps the Wisconsinite in me can't believe how weather wimpy we've become...I might need to make a second swimsuit snow angel to redeem myself!  

*My parents put in a hot tub after I moved away from home for college (nice, right?), so while I never lived with a hot tub growing up, I did occasionally have the opportunity to use one - primarily before and after making swimsuit snow angels - in the winter during my late teens and early 20s.

Monday, January 11, 2016

"Good Morning Lincoln!"

My sis-in-law, Jenna, works as a radio personality for Froggy98 in Lincoln, Nebraska. As a member of the morning show team, Jenna's relatable voice and infectious laugh hit the airwaves live every weekday from 6am until 9am, and she also hosts her own program on Sunday afternoons. Portions of Jenna's Sunday show can be prerecorded, and when she decided to go that route for the show that would air during our visit, she invited me, Hallie, and our friend Kelsey to join her in the studio.

When Jenna suggested to Hallie ahead of time that she might enjoy hearing her own voice on the radio, Hallie agreed. I worried, however, that when face-to-face with an actual microphone, Hallie might either use the muffled, babyish voice she tends toward when put on the spot, or worse, refuse to speak at all. I needn't have worried.

Yes, she seemed nervous at first, but when the recording light went on, Hallie blew us away with her perfectly-crafted radio voice. It rang out crystal clear, beautifully highlighting both her confidence and the fact that she was/is still just a little girl, and made me wonder if she'd secretly been practicing for weeks.

Hallie had to read song titles and artist names off of cue cards because she wasn't familiar with the majority of the music, but she eventually nailed absolutely everything Jenna asked her to say…and sing.

The girl who once told me, "I like to dance, Mama, but I LOVE the stage" might have found herself a new stage on which to shine.

Thank you to everyone who tuned in when the show aired on December 27th! Jenna and Hallie gave a little shout-out to our Texas "roots" while on the air, so I hope our Texas listeners caught that moment!

Friday, January 8, 2016

High Five for Friday (1.8.16)

1. We had a bit of car trouble recently, and while the car problems themselves frustrated me, the situation led to us finding a fantastic mechanic and Will learning quite a bit about engines and how to jump start a car.

2. We made it back from our holiday travels in time to celebrate New Year's Eve with friends. (Well, Will, Hallie, and I celebrated New Year's Eve with friends…unfortunately Tom had to work.) Our hosts put on an impressive party, complete with games for both the kids and the adults and lots of delicious food and drink.

Highlights included a photo booth, piƱata, dance party, silly string battle, toast with cookies and apple juice, as well as glow-in-the-dark trampoline jumping and giant Jenga.
The younger crowd.
The ladies.
The men, minus Tom. They did, however leave a spot for
him and give him a mustache and bow tie. So thoughtful.

Happy New Year!

3. 10 or so movies made up my "must watch in the theater over winter break" list, and while I came no where near crossing all of them off, the three I made it to impressed me.

First, I saw "Mockingjay, Part 2" (for the third time - don't judge) with my mom-in-law, sis-in-law, and two friends in Nebraska. I *think* I've now seen the movie enough times to tide me over until it comes out on DVD.

Second, once back in College Station I saw "Joy" with a good friend of mine who graciously changed her plans so she and I could get our JLaw fix together. We enjoyed both the movie and our wine-a-ritas.

And third, Tom and I took Will to see "Star Wars". I have to admit that like Hallie, who spent the afternoon at a friend's house instead of going with us, I had very little interest in the movie when we walked into the theater. While I long ago enjoyed - liked, not loved - the first three (#4, #5, #6) films, I strongly disliked the next three (#1, #2, #3); I found them confusing, poorly cast, and chock full of unlikeable and unrelatable characters. #7, however, surprised me in the best possible way. I've become a Star Wars fan, 30+ years after the saga began. As always, I am a little late to the party.

4. This kiddo graduated to a red black belt (otherwise known as Black Belt Recommended and the second belt from the top in the picture below) and has begun preparing to test for his black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He's feeling a little a lot burned out right now, but because he desperately wants to reach his goal he's searching for the inner strength to continue training for the next six months.

5. Happiness Highlights
I finally had time to download the professional pics from
The Nutcracker! In this pic Hallie is second from the left.
The kids received small weather radios from their great
grandparents for Christmas. They love rockin' out to
their radios and I love how similar they look to us (my
generation) rockin' out to Walkmans 25+ years ago.
Will carries his radio in his pants pocket…which
is funny, because it's about the size of a brick. 
After an hour-long instructional session, Will's
friend Kaylee taught him how to do the (hip
hop dance move known as the) baby freeze.
He can now hold it for more than two minutes. I can
hold it for approximately zero seconds. #2016goals
They took naps on January 1st! It was so beautifully quiet...
…so wonderfully, peacefully, beautifully quiet. For 45 minutes.
Happy Friday, friends!

Linking up with High Five for Friday!