Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Monthly Mash-Up: March 2016

March dealt us a few wild cards, but I feel a little more at peace today than I did at the beginning of the month. In like a lion, out like a lamb...right? I hope you and yours had a great month!

I didn't tackle any significant writing projects until the last 10 days of the month, when I finished two projects and took on four more...I may not have any links to share this month, but I should have quite a few to share at the end of April thanks to the full docket I just lined up for myself!

At the beginning of the month I read The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. The reviews I read called The Rosie Project a "romantic comedy", and while I understand this categorization, it wasn't the romantic twists and relationship turns that kept me interested until the final page. I started this book because a friend recommended it to me, but continued reading because I loved how Simsion exposed new elements of the characters' personalities, backgrounds, and motivations at every turn. He made me laugh and even coaxed out a tear or two, but most importantly, he taught me a great deal about how everyone sees and interacts with the world differently.  

This month I saw "Allegiant", "Eddie the Eagle", and "Zootopia" twice (not because I felt the need to see it twice, but because I took Will and Hallie separately, each while the other enjoyed a playdate with a friend). I consider "Zootopia" a must-see for kids and parents alike and "Eddie the Eagle" a well-spent 90+ minutes if you like sports-themed underdog quests for respect and acceptance.

Based on the third book of the same name in the Divergent series, "Allegiant" didn't follow the book storyline very closely. I expected as much so the "plot twists" didn't bother me, but diehard fans of the book might struggle with some of the liberties taken by the screenwriter and director. My plan is to read the book and watch "Allegiant" again before the final movie (the powers that be followed in the footsteps of the Twilight and Hunger Games series and divided the last book into two movies), "Ascendent", comes out next year.

Listening To
After a month of nothing but Pentatonix, followed by a month of nothing but Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, I took most of March off from singing along to the radio and the various mix CDs - don't knock 'em - the kids and I make. I take this kind of musical break once or twice a year, usually when I need a little time alone with my thoughts.

I did, however, turn on a couple of different podcasts this month. I loved the first season of Serial and keep up with Criminal, but in my quest for something a little less depressing, I found two fantastic options. The first - Stuff You Missed in History Class - streams short episodes focused on historical people, events, circumstances, etc. about which we may not know the entire truth. A few of my favorites include "Did someone really escape from Alcatraz?", "How the Titanic Worked", and "Why is there an underground city beneath Beijing?". The second - Mama Bear Dares - shares "the stories of women who love being called 'mom' but have shifted the paradigm that aims to stop there. Artists, entrepreneurs, creative visionaries, social change agents, activists - all women who have tapped their mama bears and dared to live full, joyful, multi-faceted lives". I happen to know the incredible women behind this podcast - lovely Leslie was a bridesmaid in my wedding - and am so proud of the work they have done to get this podcast off the ground and the recognition it's quickly gaining in the podcast world. Give it a listen!

Shortly after moving into our house almost five (?!) years ago, we replaced the carpet in the living room, dining room/office, playroom, and hallway. The cheap, boring beige needed to go, as it was dirty, stinky, stained in some areas, and discolored in others. Yuck. We decided to wait, however, on replacing the carpet in the four bedrooms, partly because it didn't look, smell, or feel as damaged as the carpet in the main living areas of the house, and partly because we didn't want to take on that expense.

Fast forward a few years, and we still haven't replaced the bedroom carpet because other house and yard projects have taken precedent. To buy myself even more time, I decided to have the carpets professionally cleaned...and then, to save myself a little money, I decided to try cleaning them myself. I skipped Resolve, as well as the homemade carpet cleaners I read about on Pinterest, and tried - at the recommendation of a friend - the Ava Anderson Pet Deodorizer. You guys, this stuff is AMAZING. It took out every stain and dramatically lightened the dingy, high-traffic areas in all three regularly-used bedrooms. The fact that the pet deodorizer smells heavenly is just icing on the cake.

Ava Anderson Non-Toxic has recently changed leadership and names - to Pure Haven Essentials - but the pet deodorizer can still be purchased until stock runs out. I just bought two more bottles last week, and if you'd like to try it, please let me know!

My jean-wearing days are numbered (because I can't wear jeans once the daytime high temperatures climb into the 80s), so I have donned one of my two favorite pairs nearly every day this month. I'll see you soon enough, dresses, skirts, and flowy pants...

I also tried, for the first time ever, wearing "beachy waves" in my hair. I had no idea what I was doing, but after watching a couple of tutorials on youtube I felt educated enough to give it a try. The final result looked a little quirky from the front, but holy perfect waves in the back, Batman!

I wish I'd taken a picture of what I looked like that night, after I'd worn these "beachy waves" on my walk to and from school, in the locker room before and next to the indoor pool during the kids' swimming lessons, and at Will's windiest soccer practice EVER. Not so "beachy" anymore...

I tried out five or six new entree recipes this month, and while Tom, Will, and I deemed each one edible (Hallie doesn't get a vote, given her track record of disliking all dishes that include more than two ingredients), none stood out as make-again winners. I did, however, find one fabulous dessert recipe. I knew this fresh strawberry yogurt cake would go over well at my house; so well, in fact, that I immediately sent 1/4 of the cake to our friends'/neighbors' so we wouldn't eat it all. Strawberry season is right around the corner, so now is the perfect time of year to try this delicious treat! (As always, I used less sugar - 1 1/4 cups - than the recipe called for. I also used plain, nonfat yogurt instead of Greek yogurt.)

On a related note, Tom and I strongly encouraged Will to try sugar cookies topped with a combination of frosting and hot sauce. He did NOT enjoy the experience.

I haven't done a particularly good job of increasing my water intake this month, so in April I plan to try infusing my water - at least a glass a day - with fruit for a little added flavor. I have lots of lemons in my refrigerator so I should probably start there, but if you have any tried and true infused water recipes, please share!

On a related note, I have decided to purchase, in preparation for summer at home with the kids, a counter top-suitable water/drink dispenser. I'm thinking about this this one or maybe this one - anyone have a favorite they'd recommend?

Happy March, friends!

These posts need a new title, as "Currently" is incredibly boring. I tried out "Monthly Mash-Up" this time around, but I don't love it - any other ideas?

Monday, March 28, 2016

It is Written in Every Leaf in Springtime

I awoke on Saturday with with the urge to see and capture - through the lens of my camera - the signs of a new season springing up around me. (Spring lasts for a good three days here in Texas, so the window of time during which one can absorb its beauty is short and sweet.) My "good" camera spent the last few months sitting all but forgotten about on the top shelf of our coat closet, but on Saturday morning, before the day's egg hunts, cupcake parties, photo shoots, rounds of disc golf, and basketball games began, I walked slowly through my neighborhood, camera in hand. I returned home an hour later, my camera full of beautiful pictures and my heart full of appreciation for the rebirth we witness - and celebrate - every year around this time.

The Lord has written the promise of the Resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.      ~ Martin Luther

Friday, March 25, 2016

High Five for Friday (3.25.16)

1. Oh, spring break... In many ways you fell short of my expectations, but in other ways you gifted the kids and I exactly what we needed. We slept in, worked out, watched episodes of Fuller House, worked in the yard, and went on dates to the movies. The kids had playdates and sleepovers, played laser tag, and went bowling and swimming. Will practiced his skateboarding tricks, built a tin can robot, and learned how to braid; Hallie painted Easter sun catchers, helped me bake cookies, and created her own friendship necklaces.

I wanted an adventure. I needed an escape. I didn't get either.

I did, however, get the "opportunity" to make the most out of a less-than-ideal situation, and I hope the kids picked up on at least a little of that life lesson.

2. The Halligator yanked out the first of her two front teeth after twisting it around in a circle for an hour or so. She looks a little snaggle-y now though, so at every turn I remind her to "wiggle Hallie, wiggle Hallie, wiggle" (chanted to the tune of "wobble baby, wobble baby, wobble") her second front tooth.

3. On Sunday afternoon, Tom and Will finished assembling my Little Free Library! That evening I posted one of the pictures below on Facebook; I soon realized, based on the comments made below the picture, that not everyone understood my new lawn "ornament". For those of you unfamiliar with Little Free Libraries, these unique and quaint houses for books "promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity, and wisdom across generations". More than 36,000 Little Free Libraries dot the globe, and a new movement is underway - thanks to a generous donation from an El Paso native and in partnership with the Texas Center for the Book - to place 1,000 new Little Free Libraries across Texas!

If you need a new book to read or have a book to donate, stop by and visit my Little Free Library! (If you live in the BCS area and would like to visit the library but don't know where I live, send me an email at If you live elsewhere in the world and want to visit a library, visit

I have no affiliation with this organization other than having registered my Little Free Library. 

4. Every once in a while, a friend of mine sees a Ferris Wheel, takes a picture of it, and sends the picture to me with a note that reads something like, "saw this and thought of you". These pictures brighten my day as beautifully as the lights of a spinning Ferris Wheel brighten the night sky; there is nothing more lovely than knowing someone you love saw something you love and connected it to you.

5. Happiness Highlights
Seeing their principal (on the right in the green) representing Rock
Prairie Elementary (#rocktherock) on the plaza at The Today Show
was definitely a happiness highlight for Will and Hallie!
She's famous!
All the "kids" hanging out in the hot tub.
Mesmerized by Grease: Live. 
For someone who doesn't really enjoy
crafting, I find myself crafting an awful lot...
In the lead thus far... Will!

Happy Friday, friends!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here:

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

And the Survey Says...

My sincerest thanks to those of you who took the time to complete the online survey I posted a few weeks back. Your feedback gave me a great deal to think about as well as a better understanding and clearer picture of the direction Chasing Roots should take in the future.

Survey Monkey presented the results to me anonymously (though on occasion an answer's specifics clued me in to the respondent's identity - I'm looking at you, Mom) and in a way that allowed me to 1) break them down individually to take each response into account and 2) group them together to assess the overarching themes. 

For example...

How did you initially find Chasing Roots?
Almost everyone found Chasing Roots for the first time via Facebook, either because they knew me personally and saw a link on my Facebook page or they were friends/worked with someone who knew me and that person shared a Chasing Roots link. Facebook certainly has its downfalls, but for me it has also had a vast and positive impact on my ability to share what I write!

About how long have you been reading Chasing Roots?
More than 50% of respondents began reading between one and four years ago, while another 40% began reading more than four years ago. Thank you for sticking around!

How do you feel about the frequency of posts on Chasing Roots?
85% of respondents feel the number of posts is just right, while the remaining 15% expressed an interest in more posts. I'm grateful so many of you feel satisfied with the current number of posts, because as much as I wish I could, I don't have time to go back to writing five posts a week.

What kinds of posts do you enjoy reading?
All of the options I gave - posts about 1) adjusting to life in Texas, 2) family and kids, 3) specific projects/endeavors, and 4) Tux - received support from at least 55% of respondents. Quite a few people also wrote in topics about which they enjoy reading, the best one of which was "Hallie's journey". She certainly journeys to the beat of her own drummer, doesn't she?

What kinds of posts would you like to see more frequently?
Sponsorship posts received no support, which didn't surprise me. Most bloggers feel the same way about sponsorship posts as readers do, however these posts - at least for some bloggers - help pay the bills. I have no plans to start including sponsorship posts, especially given the survey responses.

I was surprised to discover that only a couple of respondents wanted more give-away/prize posts - doesn't everyone love a free goodies?! Perhaps you're all too nice to tell me you want to qualify for more give-aways or win more prizes.

Beyond the sponsorship and give-away/prize categories, the responses indicated that balance Chasing Roots has is the balance Chasing Roots should keep.

What can I do to make Chasing Roots better?
A great deal of encouragement and positivity radiated from the comments made in this section of the survey - "whatever you do, keep writing", "stay positive", "follow what inspires you and trust your instincts" - and these kind words buoyed my once-sinking spirits. I received suggestions about seeking out adventure and including more photos in my posts, and have already started making notes on how I can work on both of these areas in the future.

Last but not least, this comment - made in response to the question about what kinds of posts readers would like to see more frequently - touched me deeply: "I'd love to read more about your journey as a mom to two completely different children - not necessarily about them but about you and the evolution of you as a person through their experiences".

This suggestion, made in reference to me as a mom and with regard to my experiences in motherhood, actually applies to my writing as a whole and can be used to explain why I needed to create this survey in the first place. When I write Chasing Roots posts I often get caught up in telling the story. I give the who, what, when, where, and why associated with the activities, experiences, people, but more often than not I forget (or unconsciously choose not) to examine how the story impacted, influenced, and/or changed me. I need to refocus, to dig a little deeper.

Clearly, I have lots of work to do. Thank you for helping me realize it, and for sticking with me as long as you have.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tuesdays With Tux (3.22.16)

Over the first weekend of spring break we filled a number of the beds in our backyard with egg rock. At one point these beds overflowed with wood chips, but because of the backyard's (faulty) drainage system, these wood chips washed away with the rain year after year after year. We grew tired of cleaning up the old wood chips at the "bottom" of their flow path and filling the beds with new wood chips, so we decided to try the more erosion-resistant egg rock.

The beds look great now, but it actually took us a year to pull the trigger. Between last spring when the wood chips washed away and last weekend, when we finally laid the stones, the beds were just exposed dirt...and Tux's Disney World.

He played in the dirt. He rolled in the dirt. He slept in the dirt. He pooped in the dirt.

And now he's so, so angry with us.
He's retaliating the only way he knows how: ignoring me but
also sitting on my papers in an attempt to keep me from working.

Almost as angry as he was when Will and I made him fill out his NCAA basketball tournament bracket.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Madness, I Tell You

(March) Madness has begun...

It began 12 years ago with a simple, friendly competition between newlyweds. 10 years ago our cat, Duke, joined the game. (Yes, Tom and I helped Duke the cat fill out his own bracket using a complicated treat- and toy-based selection system. Try not to judge us too harshly.) Seven years ago Will participated for the first time (click here to watch an adorable video of him making his tournament selections), and six years ago we entered Will's bracket in our online pool for University of Michigan graduate students and he didn't finish in last place. Three years ago Hallie participated for the first time, and though she only cared that every notation on her bracket be made with either a pink ink pen or pink highlighter, she correctly picked more than half of the first round upsets and led the competition for the first two weeks.

To keep things interesting, our 2016 family competition includes a wild card entry: last Tuesday afternoon Will and I forced Tux to helped Tux fill out his own bracket. Unlike his older cat brother, Tux did not enjoy the cat treat- and toy-driven selection process - after all, prior to Tuesday, Tux hadn't made 63 decisions in his entire life, let alone 63 decisions over the span of 45 minutes.
Hiding in the corner and trying with all his might
to avoid having to choose between the Colorado
and Connecticut treats in front of him.
Trying to escape from Will by way of the chair
(note his standoffish body language) and refusing
to choose between the Iowa and Temple toys.
Inviting/encouraging/forcing Tux - and Hallie, for that matter, what with all her drama - to participate should make this year's Ferris Family Bracket Breakdown interesting, entertaining, and possibly maddening…after all, no one wants to lose to a cat or a little girl who makes her selections according to which school names look prettier written in pink permanent marker.

I admit that the competitor in me wants to win. Badly. (And I wonder why both of my kids have such strong competitive streaks.) But the mother in me wants - as I've wanted for the last few years - Will to take home the victory. He deserves it given the madness he puts up with on a daily basis.

Are you participating in March Madness? If so, did this past weekend bust your bracket or are you still going strong?