Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Winter Came Early to Texas

At least every other day for weeks, Hallie asked me, "Mama, do you think it'll snow tonight?"

And at least every other day for weeks, I answered, "No, sweetie, I don't. It doesn't snow in Texas."

I would remind her that even if it did snow, the sleet-like flakes wouldn't stick because the ground in Texas doesn't freeze, and I would remind her that fluffy white flakes awaited us up north. And then she would remind me that while she couldn't wait to make snow angels and build snow forts and have snowball fights once we arrived in Wisconsin, she would in the meantime hope and pray for snow here at home.

"Some of my friends have never even seen snow, Mama! I want them to know what it looks and feels and tastes like!"

"It COULD happen, Mama - I know it could!"

"I'm dreaming of a w...h...i...t...e Texas!" (Can you hear her singing that line?)

And then last Thursday, her hopes became a reality and her prayers were answered.

On campus for Nutcracker technical rehearsal, my mom, a few friends, and I were sitting inside a window-less cafe drinking coffee when another friend joined us and mentioned that light flurries had begun to form outside. I thought she had to be mistaken because while we knew the temperature outside had dropped, it wasn't even close to cold enough - scientifically speaking - for snow to fall.

A short time later we finished our beverages and headed back to the theater to pick up our dancers...and when we walked out of the building into the dusky evening, we saw them: big, soft snowflakes swirling beneath the street lights. Not the hard, sleet-like snowflakes we've experienced twice during our seven years in Texas, but the kind of snowflakes that swoop down from the sky in Wisconsin. Without warning and completely unexpectedly, tears sprung to my eyes. Almost nothing feels as magical as the first snow of the year, expect perhaps the first snow in many years and for some, the first snow ever.
Snow selfie!
As we hurried into the theater to grab the girls - for fear the snow would cease and they would miss this monumental occurrence - college students streamed past us, calling and texting their friends and excitedly sharing the news. Thankfully, not only did the snow not stop while we gathered our girls, it actually became more intense: more flakes, bigger flakes, and flakes we could actually see on the grass. My mom, Hallie, and I, delighting in this sure-to-be-over-in-minutes taste of winter - laughed and sang Christmas carols all the way home.

After dinner we decided we couldn't stay inside any longer. We threw on winter coats and boots and ran out into the yard. Neighbors began coming out to join us, and there on our corner - in the streets and across the lawns - we lost ourselves in a winter wonderland.
The first snowball.
Tux had a little fun chasing snowflakes.
Even Mr. "I need a coat when the temperature drops
below 65" had a blast outside...and he eventually took
out of the kids in an epic snowball fight. 
Looks like Wisconsin, doesn't it?
The aftermath: five measurable inches fully enjoyed.
So many friends of Will and Hallie's had never seen (or felt or tasted, as Hallie pointed out) snow like this. Some adult friends of mine had never seen snow like this. Nearly everyone I know took advantage of Mother Nature's gift that night, going outside - after dark, after bedtime, and on a school night - to experience the overwhelming joy and breathtaking beauty of a simple snowfall.

Many of my best childhood memories revolve around snowy, wintry weather. Sledding, ice skating, ice boating, building snowmen, having snowball fights, making snow ice cream. (I even enjoy shoveling.) Bundling up in snow pants and scarves...and then removing layer after layer as our bodies warmed. Playing outside for hours, even after our mittens dripped wet from melted snow and our socks slouched down into the toes of our boots. F...i...n...a...l...l...y coming inside to thaw our fingers and toes by the fire and warm our insides with hot chocolate. I have done my best to help Will and Hallie create these kinds of memories during our holiday visits to Nebraska, Illinois, and Wisconsin, but I never could have imagined how happy it would make me to see them creating these memories in - or outside of - their own home. And I couldn't help but think how incredible it was that all of these Texas kiddos were finally getting to create these kinds of memories as well.

I will always remember last Thursday night as one of the very best we have experienced as Texans. My fingers were cold, but my heart was warm.

P.S. Somehow school started on time on Friday morning. This is Will's "I'm shocked some of the snow remains, but I'm even more shocked I have to walk to school in it" face. Toughen up, kid - I walked a mile to school in 12 inches of snow more times than I could count. (No really, I did. Ask my mom. 😀)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Crushed It

After such a whirlwind of a weekend, I decided I couldn't write about anything but the event that made the last few days weeks months beautifully chaotic.

Hallie started asking to take dance lessons at three years old, and despite having many reservations, I signed her up for her first class - a combo that included ballet, tap, and jazz - when she turned four. Now here we are, nearly five years later and a full-blown dance family for whom nearly every Saturday between the end August and the beginning of December involves preparations for the production every ballerina dreams about...The Nutcracker.

I didn't grow up going to see The Nutcracker during the holiday season. I assume productions of the show took place in my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin - the moderately-sized city has a thriving arts community - and even if The Nutcracker had not been performed on a stage in Madison, we could have easily driven to a slightly larger city like Milwaukee or Chicago to watch the Sugar Plum Fairy in all her glory.

But we didn't. We had many lovely holiday traditions, but attending The Nutcracker was not among them.

We now live in a relatively small community. College Station and Bryan together have less than 180,000 residents (excluding TAMU students), which means that unlike my hometown, the Brazos Valley can't exactly brag about a thriving arts community. It can, however, brag about Ballet Brazos and it's annual production of The Nutcracker.

Ballet Brazos began in 2012 with the mission to "instruct, educate, and enrich young people and their audiences through the art of dance and provide quality classical ballet performances for the community". These performances "showcase local talent, cultivate an appreciation for the arts, and inspire the next generation of dancers". Collaborative efforts since Ballet Brazos' inception have contributed to the nonprofit organization's significant growth both in size and prestige.

In this year's sixth annual production of The Nutcracker, Ballet Brazos welcomed professional dancers from the New York City Ballet*, guest artists from across Texas, and pre-professional ballerinas ranging in age from six to 18 from across the Brazos Valley. The professional dancers and guest artists turned in stunning performances as I expected they would, and the pre-professional dancers demonstrated their natural talent as well just how hard they have worked throughout the last four months in preparation for taking the stage. Combine the exceptional dancing with beautiful sets, stunning costumes, and a world-class stage and you have a spectacular show, one of which Ballet Brazos, the dancers, and the community can be proud.

I don't rave about Ballet Brazos' The Nutcracker because Hallie just danced for the third time, or because I have a vested interest in the success of the show. I rave about Ballet Brazos' The Nutcracker as someone who, as of five years ago, couldn't stand to watch ballet (true story) but who has come around because the production is just that good. I feel incredibly lucky to live in a community that can support a ballet-focused nonprofit organization as well as two sold-out shows in a 2,500-seat auditorium.

I apologize for not getting this post up last week, when you could have still purchased tickets to this year's production. I promise to share information about tickets with plenty of lead time next year so that you too can kick off the holiday season with this beautiful and beloved Christmas tradition.
"My heart is on that stage."
Battle mice, ready to fight! 
With the Rat King (Dominick Oliver).
With the Sugar Plum Fairy and Her Cavalier (professional
dancers Indiana Woodward and Andrew Veyette).
With Clara and Her Prince (Isabel Medrano and Seth York).
At 10:45pm Saturday night, happy with her new nutcracker
but fresh off a round of tears shed over the amount of time before
she will have the opportunity to dance in The Nutcracker again.
* The professional dancers who joined the production from the NYCB last year actually asked to come back. That should tell you something about the caliber and reputation of the show!

Friday, December 8, 2017

High Five for Friday (12.8.17)

1. Four of my friends have little boys between the ages of two and four years old. Last Friday these friends decided to take their not-yet-old-enough-for-regular-school kiddos to a local trampoline park for "toddler time", and as they knew my plans to have lunch with Tom had fallen through, they invited me to tag along. Some might consider it odd to visit a trampoline park without a child in tow, but I ended up having the best time drinking coffee, chatting with my friends, watching the little boys play, and then, because we were basically the only patrons utilizing the facility, trying out the trapeze.

2. Thanks to a lot of planning and a helping hand from an understanding and generous dance teacher, we managed to make it to both Hallie's Christmas dance performance and Will's first orchestra concert on Friday night. "Oh What a Night", as the evening could have been titled, involved multiple families trading members and using multiple cars to drive back and forth across town multiple times, but we made it happen!

3. On Saturday this little Battle Mouse had her last regular rehearsal and a photo shoot in preparation for the upcoming Ballet Brazos production of The Nutcracker. (They had a technical rehearsal yesterday afternoon/evening/night and their dress rehearsal runs throughout the day today.) We can't wait to see her on stage tomorrow!

A few tickets are still available to both shows. If you live in the Brazos Valley and would like to attend at either 2pm or 7pm, visit the TAMU MSC Box Office website to purchase seats.

4. I wrapped up a crazy Saturday by dropping Hallie off at a dance company Christmas party and grabbing drinks with my fellow dance moms. A lovely way to spend a weekend evening!

5. Happiness Highlights:
No caption needed for this smiling, dancing girl.
Taking a break from our
shopping for a quick photo op.
I've been trying to learn to "curl" my tongue since the 6th grade,
when I first learned I couldn't do it. I'm getting close. #goals 😂
There are no words to describe how much these little girls love this
wonderful woman. She is such a gift to both them and their mamas.
It's finally turning yellow!!! (I am irrationally excited
about this one lemon on our Lucy the Lemon Tree.)
Chris the Elf arrived, bringing Chris-tmas pajamas with him.
This picture is sweet, but it becomes funny once
you notice my husband creeping in the background.

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here:

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Wish Me Anything You Want

Portions of the content below appeared on Chasing Roots last December, and the December before, and the December before that. I believe that this post - with a few updates - and its overarching message deserve a share every time the season for "wishing" arrives. 

I grew up in an ethnically and religiously diverse community. Because of the plethora of religions supported, holidays celebrated, and traditions followed (and not supported, celebrated, and followed, for that matter - the Freedom From Religion Foundation began and is still based there), and because my hometown has earned a reputation as "the land of the perpetually offended", very little related to religious holidays could be found in public buildings and schools throughout my childhood years. We never sang Christmas carols or wore Santa hats in school, and in 1987, the Christmas tree that had stood proudly in the State Capitol rotunda every December since 1918 was renamed a Holiday tree in an attempt to make the building feel more inclusive and avoid irritating those who didn't celebrate Christmas.

To be clear, I understand why the tree was renamed. A Christmas tree in the State Capitol building is hardly a separation of church and state. It's not the point of my post though, so I'm moving on.

In 2011, Governor Walker re-renamed the tree, this time back to a Christmas tree. "It's a diverse state", Walker explained. "I think it's a reflection of the many wonderful traditions in the State of Wisconsin." Now, during the month of December, the Capitol rotunda also hosts a Menorah, Festivus trees, and a nativity scene mocking Christmas, so it seems more people are "represented" in their State Capitol building. (source)

Again to clarify, I understand why the tree was re-renamed. Just changing the name of an object long associated with a religious holiday doesn't necessarily lessen the association between the two. It's not the point of my post either though, so I'm moving on again.

Growing up, I learned to wish people "Happy Holidays" during the month of December. I used this phrase, and this phrase exclusively, until a few years ago, not because it's lovely and inclusive (and it IS lovely and inclusive - there's absolutely nothing wrong with wishing someone happy holidays), but because I honestly worried about offending someone.

I now live in a completely different kind of community from the one in which I grew up, so out of curiosity, a few years ago I ran little (uncontrolled) experiment. While shopping and running errands during the two weeks leading up to Christmas, I recorded what people "wished" me. I didn't track what they said when I spoke first (because people often respond by repeating whatever phrase they hear), only what they said when they spoke first. I expected to find that in my current community, I would hear "Merry Christmas" more than 90% of the time. On the flip side, I expected to find that once I arrived in my hometown, I would hear "Happy Holidays" - or a wide variety of holiday wishes - more than 75% of the time.

Imagine my surprise when here in Texas I heard "Merry Christmas" six times and "Happy Holidays" six times. I was even more surprised when in Wisconsin I heard "Merry Christmas" seven times and "Happy Holidays" five times.

Tom would have me review my methods, analyze my data using formulas and equations, and submit my results to you in the form of a journal article, formal paper, and presentation, but there's a reason he's a professor and I'm not. I don't care to do any of that; I don't really even want to think about my incorrect predictions.

I do, however, want to focus on how wonderful it felt to be wished anything at all. I celebrate Christmas, but would never take offense if someone wished me Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanza or even just Happy Winter. I would never complain about someone wishing me happiness, in any way, shape, or form.

I love that my current community now embraces "Happy Holidays" along with "Merry Christmas". And I love that my hometown community seems to be moving toward the same place of acceptance.

The beauty is in the wishing, folks. So with a kind heart, wish people a happy whatever-you-want - Christmas, Hanukkah, Full Moon, Monday, winter - and with a graceful heart, accept whatever they feel moved to wish you.

Monday, December 4, 2017

A 30(ish) Day Head Start

If you recall, this year I began tackling my New Year's Resolutions in September. I also decided to choose one resolution each month, rather than choosing one or two resolutions to attempt - and at which to most likely fail - over the course of the year. With only 30 days devoted to each resolution, my goals have been and will continue to be small, measureable, and empowering. Smaller goals are more attainable, which increases the chance of success. Measureable goals are more manageable, which once again increases the chance of success. And empowering goals are more inspirational, which…you guessed it…increases the chance of success.

I am three months - or a quarter of the year - in, so the time has come for a quick evaluation and to set December's resolution. I considered "eat more Christmas cookies" but in the end decided that resolution might be counter-productive...

September's Resolution: turn off the light by 11:30pm on school nights and by 12:00am (midnight) on weekends. My goal was to get at least seven hours of sleep a night, and to settle into a peaceful schedule of falling asleep and waking up that would continue through the school year. The result? A complete success! Not one cheat day. On October 1st I stayed up a few minutes after 11:30pm just because I could, but after that day I went back to my 11:30pm and 12:00am bedtimes and now most morning I wake feeling well rested and refreshed.

October's Resolution: drink more water. My goal was to down at least two full water bottles every day. The result? A complete disaster! I probably met my goal only one day a week. I do a great job of drinking water during the summer, but for some reason my school year schedule doesn't have the same triggers as my summer schedule to remind me to drink water. I left water bottles on the counter and somehow walked right by them. I set reminders on my phone but if I wasn't standing right next to the sink when they went off, I would forget all about my water by the time I made it to the kitchen.

November's Resolution: write in my gratitude journal daily. My goal was to document at least one thing for which I was thankful every day between November 1st and November 23rd (Thanksgiving Day). The result? A moderate success! I missed a couple of days but realized fairly quickly I had done so; I remembered the days I had accidentally skipped with enough clarity to go back and update my gratitude journal.

December's Resolution: read to my kids every night. My goal is to sit on the side of their beds - or better yet, snuggle up next to them - and either read to them or let them read to me. Christmas stories, chapter books, magazine articles, poems, even the "birds and the bees" book Will and I are currently cruising through together. We read now, but not as regularly we once did or as often as we should. It's time to bring bedtime stories back.

Oh, and I'm still working on drinking more water...

If you start today, you'll have either one month-long resolution under your belt or a 30-ish day head start on your 2018 resolutions. What are you waiting for?

Friday, December 1, 2017

High Five for Friday (12.1.17)

1. My Hallie girl rocked her third grade poetry jam, and her sweet teacher deserves a special high five as well - she let Hallie and her friend Kara read first and second, therefore fitting them in during the few short minutes between their dance classes.

2. Lots of family members and friends went out of their way to wish me a happy birthday, shower me with lovely gifts, and fill me with cake. A special should out to my sister and brother-in-law who brought me dinner from my favorite Italian restaurant in Illinois...all the way to Arkansas where we were celebrating Thanksgiving.

3. Speaking of Thanksgiving, we had a fun visit to Arkansas to spend the holiday with my grandma and her husband, my parents, my sister and her family, two aunts, two uncles, and a cousin in a pear tree. We celebrated my birthday, watched football, played music, rode bikes, shopped the local antique shops, played disc golf, went for a hike, crafted, and of course, cooked and baked and ate.
One of the many Thanksgiving placemats we colored.
The only two nappers.
My grandma and her matching great-granddaughters.
Will and Hallie received new bikes and helmets from Grandma and
Grandpa for Christmas. They LOVE them (the grandparents and the bikes).
My grandma has a long and flat driveway - perfect for
biking around...and around...and around all day long.
Snuggling with my four little monkeys on Thanksgiving morning.
Grandpa and Will in their
following a rowdy game of soccer with the neighbors.
I love the way pies look fresh out of the oven...
One of our many crafts - easy but adorable button Christmas trees.
Ready to take on the Huckleberry Trail - these
two hiked three miles without complaining AT ALL!
4. My house is decorated for Christmas!

5. Happiness Highlights:
Hallie's dance company director shared a few pics from their Dance
Rev performance back in November. This one - of the girls as they
took in the massive stage and even bigger crowd for which they were
about to perform - and the two below brought smiles to my face.
Little girls, big girls, and director - a wonderful group.
If you look close enough you can see the smile on my girl's face (she's
in the center of the pic, nearest to the camera). At four years old she told
me, "Mama, I like to dance, but I love the stage". It loves her back.
My handsome boy's official soccer pics.
Have you tried charcoal masks yet?! We love them!
I haven't posted much about Tux assured he's doing
fine and still enjoying riding around the house on my shoulders.
She's a better poet than I ever was or ever will be...
5th Grade Pajama Day 😍
I explained to Hallie that Santa would not bring her a
hot tub so she edited the letter to ask for a perplexus ball.
Ready to mail!

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here: