Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Monthly Medley: November 2017

Does the text for my Christmas card count? Pulling together so few words shouldn't require me to sit in front of my computer screen for such a long time.

Back in the saddle again! I finally finished a book: Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown. The story revolves around the disappearance - and presumed death - of a seemingly popular, outgoing, and happy wife/mother who doesn't return from a hiking trip to a remote region of the Pacific Crest Trail. The premise and writing style are simple, but the plot twists and turns just enough to keep the reader engaged all the way through to the end of the book.

Our Tuesdays filled up quickly - we spent one Tuesday evening watching The Illusionists Present: Adam Trent and one driving to Arkansas for Thanksgiving - so we only fit in one documentary this month. All four of us loved Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey, about the rise of puppeteer Kevin Clash and how he created one of the most iconic Sesame Street characters of all time. The film - and Clash himself - had far more depth and heart than we expected, and Elmo's "creation story" made all of us miss the good old days when Sesame Street aired on PBS and was available for everyone to watch and enjoy.

I made it to the theater for the first time in a few months, this time to see A Bad Moms Christmas with friends. It was the "most rated R" movie I have seen in years (probably since I saw the original Bad Moms), but if you can handle the adult-only components, this second installment is full of laughs and shows off its big heart when the movie comes to an end.

I really hope we can find time to visit the movie theater again in December - the kids and I are looking forward to Wonder, Coco, The Star, Ferdinand, Star WarsJumanji, and The Greatest Showman, and I can't wait to sing my way through Last Call Pitches with my friends.

Listening To:
A few of the podcasts I've listened to in years past have returned with new seasons, so when I caught with up my "regular" podcasts, I popped back over to season two of Someone Knows Something. SKS resembles Serial in many ways - the podcast delves deeply into one unsolved case over the course of a season - but with one small difference: the Canadian accents. I love a good "eh" every now and again...

My Christmas cards, which if you recall I ordered from a new company - Simply to Impress - this year, arrived and they look lovely. I don't tend toward embellished, elaborate cards, but I do want a finished product that looks clean and professional and Simply to Impress came through for me.

As I mentioned last month, I have no affiliation with nor did I receive any compensation from Simply to Impress. I'm just a happy customer! 

At my sister's recommendation, I picked up this Kenra Platinum Blow-Dry Spray at Ulta in Chicago. It claims to protect hair from heat-related damage and breakage; help detangle, smooth, and soften; eliminate frizz and boost resistance to humidity; and decrease blow-dry time by 50%. Based on my experience, the product does not decrease blow-dry time by 50% (for my hair) but it does provide protection from heat, serve as a detangler, increase softness, and decrease frizz. It also smells lovely and feels very light so it doesn't weigh my hair down. Give it a try!

Again, I have no affiliation with nor did I receive any compensation from this company. I'm just a hair novice taking recommendations from my more product-experienced sister. :)  

It's the perfect season for pumpkin spice everything...or so says my new shirt, a gift from a friend for my birthday.

Does anyone else want ALL THE HOLIDAY SHIRTS? Or is that just me? Every fall, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas t-shirt with a clever phrase printed in a unique script calls out to me, but because it's Halloween ($), Thanksgiving ($), Christmas ($$), and the season of travel ($$$) and unexpected expenses ($$$), I can't buy any of them. Maybe next year...

I have stalled on my 50 States of Cookies baking for a few reasons. First, with so little time right now, I generally bake cakes and pies because they're simpler and require less time and attention overall. Second, during the holidays, I tend to bake recipes with which I'm familiar because I don't want to give as a gift something I haven't yet perfected. And third, I've realized that about half of the cookies on the list either don't sound good to me (some of the recipes are kind of quirky) or can't be made in my house because nuts are a key ingredient. I plan to continue powering through, but my progress has slowed...

Regardless, we did try a couple new, worth-noting recipes this month!
  • I made this Southern Caramel Cake with about half of the called-for sugar, a decision that worked out perfectly because this cake's frosting is the sweetest I have ever tasted. It melted in my mouth in the most heavenly way, but it also gave me a gut ache after I ate a little too much the first time around. Make this cake and its frosting ASAP, but keep your pieces small!
  • I made this Honey Beer Bread for Tom's office Thanksgiving luncheon and the entire large loaf disappeared within minutes. Neither Tom or I had the opportunity to try any, so I went home and made a second load...and even Hallie loved it, which means more than just about anything else I could say to encourage you to make this bread immediately. The only adaptation I made was to use two tablespoons of melted butter instead of four on the top of the unbaked bread.

What's new, good, and/or interesting in your life this month? Please share!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Experience Compassion

"Experience another world, without leaving yours."

A couple of months ago I saw an advertisement on Facebook for the Compassion Experience. This immersive exhibit - which allows visitors to experience what poverty looks like in other parts of the world - would be coming to College Station the week before Halloween, so I registered online to take the kids.

This "mission trip on wheels" travels the country, partnering with churches to inspire parishioners and community members to become more "mission-minded". When Will, Hallie, and I arrived, we chose which child's journey we wanted to visit, set up our listening devices, and surrendered to the story. Throughout the next 15 minutes we absorbed as much as we possibly could about Shamim's life, listening with tears in our eyes as her story grew darker and darker. In the last five minutes, however, Shamim's story turn in the direction of hope - thanks to the outreach of Compassion International - and we walked out of her world feeling uplifted. We asked if we could walk through the second child's journey, and they allowed us to learn about and from Carlos' life as well.
This is the only picture I took, but it perfectly captures the emotion
that accompanied walking through these children's stories. You can
see the shock and near-horror on Hallie's face as the narrator
told her Shamim had contracted an illness and gone deaf.
Walking through the Compassion Experience stories was free. I didn't read enough about the organization ahead of time, however, to realize there would be a financial ask to sponsor a child at the end of the journeys. I mention this not because the donation request bothered me (though I wish they would have offered a way to make a one-time financial contribution so that those for whom sponsoring a child was not a possibility could still support the organization's mission), but because if you go - and I think you should - I want you to know what to expect.

Thus far the Compassion Experience has welcomed more than 600,000 visitors in 150 cities, with many more stops on the docket. Should the exhibit visit your city or town - or one near you - take advantage of the opportunity. Especially at this time of year, a walk through the Compassion Experience is not be missed for adults and children alike.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

give thanks for everything thy goodness sends

In place of a High Five for Friday post tomorrow, I'm posting my annual November Gratitude Journal today. Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

give thanks
for each new morning with its light
for rest and shelter of the night
for health and food
for love and friends
for everything thy goodness sends

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

November 1
I'm grateful for this window of time in which children find trick-or-treating on Halloween as exciting and thrilling as opening presents on Christmas morning. And as a lifelong lover of Halloween, I'm grateful my kids are having the same kind of simple fun I had as a child: eating (our traditional) cupcakes for dinner, trick-or-treating with friends, and then staying up too late trading candy on the floor of the living room.

November 2
I'm grateful for a block of time - three full hours and the first I had all week - without anything scheduled so I could finally pack for our weekend away.

November 3
I'm grateful for great conversation between the adults, minimal bickering between the kids, and safe travels for all on our way to the Dance Revolution Convention in Dallas.

November 4
I'm grateful for an incredible Hawkeye victory (even if I couldn't watch it on television because I was instead watching dance class after dance class after dance class) over the ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.

November 5
I'm grateful for my many Pure Haven essential oils - especially the roller ball blends - I brought with me to Dance Rev. I'm not sure we would have made it through day three without "energize"...

November 6
I'm grateful for the end of Daylight Savings Time - what a joy it was to walk Hallie to school in the daylight! Bring on sunshine-y mornings and cooler evenings!

November 7
I'm grateful I was able to spend the day with my gal Hal on a field trip to the Renaissance Festival and the evening with Tom and both kiddos at The Illusionists Present: Adam Trent. And I'm also grateful for the right to vote!

November 8
I'm grateful for today's cooler, rainy weather. Changes in the seasons - especially the shift from swimming pool weather to fireplace weather - make me feel rejuvenated.

November 9
I'm grateful I remembered that today was Picture Day for Will!

November 10
I'm grateful for the great group of "co-workers" - and friends - with whom I have the opportunity to serve on our elementary school PTO board.

November 11
I'm grateful for a weekend evening at home with absolutely nothing to first in four weeks!

November 12
I'm grateful that "last year Erin" thought to put the Christmas CDs away in a place they would be easily found when needed...which was today, a ridiculously warm November day that I made feel more like fall by playing holiday music.

November 13
I'm grateful that when publicly surprised with a joke that hurt her feelings, Hallie somehow managed to put on a brave face. My heart hurt for her in that moment, but as I watched her find and call upon an inner strength I didn't know she had, I also felt tremendous pride in her and peace knowing that she is - at her own pace - learning how to control the many different emotions swirling inside her.

November 14
I'm grateful for the pre-made cookie dough I bought, forgot about, and then found in the spare refrigerator at 9pm this evening.

November 15
I'm grateful for a quiet 15 minutes spent sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee, taken not because I have the time, but because I need the time.

November 16
I'm grateful that after worrying about Will and Hallie all day, both came home from school in much better moods - happier and seemingly less conflicted - than when they left in the morning.

November 17
I'm grateful for the good friends who joined me to see A Bad Moms Christmas in honor of my birthday - it was a perfectly simple way to celebrate.

November 18
I'm grateful for an afternoon spent with Tom, decorating the exterior of the house and front yard with Christmas lights. We had so much fun together, and we ended the day feeling reconnected and ready for the upcoming holiday season.

November 19
I'm grateful for the "cold front" that rolled through late last night/early this morning. The slight chill in the air (emphasis on the word slight) made my morning walk all the more enjoyable. Now if only it would cool off enough that I could justify turning on the fireplace again...

November 20
I'm grateful they - on occasion and when we're not watching - seem to enjoy each other's company.

November 21
I'm grateful for my once weekly Flow class, without which I would be far more stressed and far less flexible.

November 22
I'm grateful for another trip around the sun, and for the opportunity to share my birthday with my little family of four but also with my extended family.

November 23
On this Thanksgiving Day, I'm grateful for my family. I'm grateful for their love, their support, and the purpose they give me. I'm grateful for my health, and for the health of those I love. I'm grateful for the roof over my head and the food on my table. I'm grateful for stability. I'm grateful for the small problems in my life, because they remind me that my problems could be so much more considerable in both size and weight. And I'm grateful for the challenges I face, because they remind me that life doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

My Birth Day Buddy

Today is my birthday. On November 22nd I always wake up feeling grateful for my life, my health, my husband and kids, and my extended family and friends. I also wake up feeling a little nervous, probably because I don't really like the attention birthdays bring.

A perfect birthday for me would include sleeping in, leisurely drinking good coffee and indulging in a donut while watching The Today Show, taking a long walk, watching Will play soccer and Hallie dance, putting up our Christmas tree and decorations, once again indulging in take-out for dinner followed by store-bought white cake with white buttercream icing for dessert, and watching a movie with my family while the fireplace roars. Oh, and fall- or winter-like weather.

Also part of a perfect birthday is taking a walk down memory lane, which is how I stumbled upon pictures - posted on our family blog almost nine years ago - of me a couple of days after I was born next to Hallie a couple of days after she was born.

It would come as a surprise to most who know eight-year-old Hallie that she arrived with dark eyes and a full head of dark hair. Will was born with the light blue eyes and transparently blond hair he still has today, so for a moment we wondered if perhaps the doctor had switched Hallie out on the way from the back of the c-section drape to the front of the c-section drape. (I am OF COURSE kidding - I feel like I should add that in case Hallie someday reads this post.)

It wasn't until a couple of days later, when my mom pulled out a picture of me shortly after birth, that we realized Hallie looked just like one of us after all.

We don't look - or act - much alike now, but I still like to think of her as my birth day buddy.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Seven Years of November

In attempt to brighten up your Monday, I present to you the 7th installment of one of my favorite annual posts. Here is "It's November", courtesy of my Hallie Claire.

November 2011

November 2012

November 2013

November 2014

November 2015

November 2016

November 2017

Slow down, Father Time.

I still can't watch the 2011 version of this video without tearing up. I miss that sweet, spicy, pleasantly precocious two-year-old… 

Friday, November 17, 2017

High Five for Friday (11.17.17)

1. On Friday we - the PTO at Hallie's elementary school - hosted our first ever "Night Under the Stars". At this free event for families we served a simple dinner, put out a variety of space-related crafts, set up a space-themed photo booth, invited the TAMU Astronomy Department to set up their telescopes so guests could view the night sky, and brought in a traveling planetarium that offered frequent and regular shows about stars and planets. We had no idea what to expect in terms of attendance; we thought we would likely welcome 250-300, but we hoped for 350 and planned for 400 as our max. (After all, the Facebook page we created for the event showed 19 people were coming and 73 were interested.) In the end, more than 500 kids and family members showed up. We were exhausted by the end of the evening, but being able to offer this kind free community-building, family-focused, educational event to our school family is really special.
Hallie and the planetarium.
3...2...1...blast off!
Hallie wanted to dress like a star so she wore a $1.99
Christmas tree topper from Wal-Mart in her hair along
with a black and gold glittery shirt and tutu.
2. I'm not sure how I went so many years without ever visiting one, but on Sunday I attended my first holiday/Christmas market. I know a lot of friends in my area like to shop at the Nutcracker Market in Houston, but for me, driving 90 minutes, paying to park, paying to browse, and then driving another 90 minutes home takes a lot of the fun out of holiday shopping. This market took place here in town, didn't cost me a penny to park or browse, and offered quite a few cute gift options. I only purchased from one booth but I grabbed business cards from many other vendors so I can peruse their websites from the comfort of my couch. A fun afternoon activity!

Oh, and it may have been 75+ degrees outside, but I still wore a Christmas shirt and listened to a Christmas CD in the car on the way to and from the market. I'm ready for the holidays!

3. I survived Parent Participation Week at Hallie's dance studio! Last year, despite going in at a decent level of physical fitness (I go to the gym almost every weekday and try to fit in long walks on both Saturdays and Sundays), I suffered the worst muscle pull - my hamstring - of my adult life. Turns out I shouldn't leap as a 30-something adult with the same enthusiasm I had as a 3rd-grade dancer... My goal was to make it through Hallie's five classes without an injury from which I would need to recover - mission accomplished!
I even put my hair in a bun for ballet class! I later
realized - after watching myself dance for hours - that
a bun does not complement my face shape. Oops!
4. Tonight I'm heading out to grab drinks and see A Bad Moms Christmas with friends - I can't wait!

5. Happiness Highlights
Will's selling chocolate to raise money for his school orchestra,
which means there is always chocolate (though each bar costs
me $2) available in my house when I need a little pick-me-up.
Hallie learned how to create a Maypole at school! I remember
learning to do the same thing in Girl Scouts 30-some years ago.
They looked so comfy I almost didn't ask to join them...
Saw this at the Jingle Bell Market - I LOVE it!
"God is in My Jewelry Box". It's sure to be a hit.
Thanks for the memories, Facebook.
We have our first lemon!!!

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Adventures in the Air

I don't fly often enough to have earned the title of - or any of the perks associated with - "Frequent Flyer", but I take to the skies a few times each year and as a result have accumulated a beaten up rolling suitcase's worth of stories about lost luggage, odd passengers, and crazy delays. (You can read about a couple of my "favorites" here and here.) On my recent trip, however, I experienced two in-the-air "firsts". I wrote about one of these firsts on Monday, but I thought the other deserved a little screen time as well.

After an uneventful hop from College Station to Dallas, I boarded my second flight and it took off on time. As we reached our cruising altitude I leaned back in my seat, took a deep breath, and said to myself, "Wow! Two on-time flights in a row!"

Just seconds later, the flight attendant's voice rang out over the loudspeaker.

"If we have a doctor on our plane this morning, could they please press their call button?"

Her tone didn't suggest she felt nervous or tense, so while all of the passengers on the plane - myself included - looked around at one another with quizzical looks on their faces, none made a move toward the buttons above their heads.

Not 15 seconds later, the flight attendant spoke into the loudspeaker again, this time with a greater sense of urgency in her voice.

"If we have a doctor aboard, please come to the back of the plane immediately."

With that, a young man in first class - I'll call him Doogie Howser from this point on because he looked somewhere between 16 and 19 years of age - jumped up and ran past me down the aisle.

For the next few minutes the plane buzzed with activity. The flight attendants gathered the first aid kit, the oxygen tank, and the automated external defibrillator. The patient - a 60ish male traveling alone - had passed out for an unknown reason, and given his age, Doogie Howser and the flight staff likely assumed this had occurred because of a heart issue. (I'm not a doctor or a nurse, but I have taken and taught enough American Red Cross First Aid, CPR, and AED classes to know that when an adult loses consciousness, the cause is almost always cardiac-related.) Doogie Howser applied the AED pads to the patient's chest to monitor heart rate and potentially shock the heart if needed, put the patient on oxygen, and started an IV.

After about 15 minutes of in-air treatment, the pilot came over the loudspeaker and said what we as passengers had been expecting to hear: "Ladies and gentlemen, because of a medical situation, we will be making an emergency landing in Tulsa, Oklahoma." We began our descent, and a few minutes later we landed in Tulsa and were immediately met on the tarmac by a team of at least eight paramedics and fire fighters. These first responders cruised quickly and calmly up and down the aisle for about 10 minutes, at which point they rolled an airplane-compatible wheelchair onto the plane.

The medical team loaded the patient into the chair and slowly wheeled him toward the front door. As he rolled past my row, the patient's glasses began to fall out of his right front pocket. I watched as they became wedged between the patient's leg and the armrest of the seat in front of me, and then without thinking, I gently grabbed the paramedic's arm and loudly exclaimed, "WAIT! You're crushing his glasses!" The paramedic backed the chair up, and the glasses fell out of the patient's pocket and onto the floor in front of me. I picked them up, handed them to the paramedic, and then sat back in my chair feeling far more accomplished than made sense given my minuscule role in the response efforts. As Hallie put it when I told her this story at the end of the weekend, "Mama, you really saved the day!"

Career-wise I ended up working for the Red Cross and eventually becoming a writer, but a part of me dreamed of a career in medicine. As I mentioned in Monday's post, I have always been a medical gawker. (I grew up near a hospital, and the arrival of the med flight helicopter triggered in me the same response most children have when they hear the ice cream truck rolling down the street.) I felt awful for the patient on the plane, but that flight was one of the most exciting of my life. And while the flight attendants wouldn't let me watch Doogie Howser up close and didn't need my Red Cross skills, I was thrilled to have joined in the rescue...of the glasses.

Note #1: though I can't be certain, the patient seemed to be stable and out of immediate danger by the time he was removed from the plane. 

Note #2: Doogie Howser turned out to be a fully-trained anesthesiologist who just happened to look young. 

Note #3: If you need a good laugh, watch this clip of comedian Jack Whitehall talking about a recent experience on an airplane - it brought tears to my eyes, in a good way.

Monday, November 13, 2017


As per usual, I experienced a few strange situations and delays on my flights to and from the Midwest last month.

My second flight home was delayed a number of times, so I found myself with more than a little extra time at the Dallas airport. I decided on an Auntie Anne's pretzel for lunch, both because I love these pretzels, but also because the only Auntie Anne's restaurant in the terminal was a 10-minute walk from my gate - a perfect opportunity to knock out a few of my 10,000 steps for the day.

Halfway to Anne's, I came upon a large crowd pressing toward the window and looking out onto the tarmac. I could see flashing lights through the glass, so I assumed criminal behavior had resulted in the culprit's forced removal from a plane. Wanting to know for sure (I'm a bit of a medical and criminal gawker), I gently pushed my way through the hoards of people to the window. When I finally achieved a better vantage point, I saw not just a police car, but a firetruck, an ambulance...and a hearse. I stood quietly with my hand on my heart and watched as a member of the United States Military - one who had sacrificed his life for our country - was loaded into the belly of a plane for his final journey home.

I wasn't thrilled about my delayed flight, but in that moment I was grateful for the change in plans. I could handle another hour away from my husband and kids because at the end of the day, I was going home to my husband and kids. I felt - and still feel - honored for the opportunity to say a silent thank you to this service member and bear witness to his last flight.

Veterans Day fell on Saturday, but as Hallie's elementary school will celebrate and thank our Veterans today, it felt appropriate to put this post up today.

"Their task was great and their sacrifice even greater...their legacy stands firm and their memories burn bright."

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

High Five for Friday (11.10.17)

1. Hallie and I survived one of our most physically and mentally taxing weekends of the year...the Dance Revolution Convention in Dallas. Beautiful moments come out of this three day dance and worship extravaganza, but for a few weeks post, all I can focus on is the fact that we made it through in one piece.
We have arrived!
A lovely welcome courtesy of the hotel.
Friday night glow party!
I kind of think this should be an Oshkosh B'Gosh ad...
Do you hydrate while in the splits too?
Ready to get to work!
Mamas in matching nutcracker jammies with
daughters in matching "dance all night" jammies.
As I expected, some classes went smoothly and some
didn't. Hallie's ballet and musical theatre classes blew
me away though - fabulous teachers and instruction!
2. While the girls are away, the boys will play! They will also fix my dryer (sort of - turns out the dryer needed an additional repair), fix my coffee pot (sort of - it works about 50% of the time), clean my oven, and change my sheets. And put the sheets back on the bed wrong side out, but beggars can't be choosers.

3. I think I may "fall" in the minority here, but I LOVE turning the clocks back an hour. I like sunlight in the morning and darkness in the evening, and my kids have reached ages at which this time change doesn't affect them - or Tom and me as parents - at all. Glorious!

4. After a four-year hiatus, Hallie and I returned to the Renaissance Festival on a school field trip. This time around we attended during the day on a weekday designated for students, so I didn't have to periodically cover her eyes as I did when the four Ferri visited previously and on the Barbarian Invasion weekend. Hallie has spent the last few weeks learning all about the period and creating Renaissance-themed accessories to wear, and she couldn't have been more excited to see all she had learned come to life!

5. Happiness Highlights
Loving my new Noonday earrings!
Did you vote? I did, and I took Hallie with me. She thought the
entire (3-minute) experience was the best thing since sliced bread. 
Doesn't he look handsome? And somehow 20 years old?!
Ready for The Illusionists Present: Adam Trent.
A great show!
Future Aggie #1
Future Aggie #2

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here: