Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Few Words Wednesday: Breathe

Breathe, my friend. 
You are not old, you are young. 
You are not a mess, you are normal. 
Extraordinary, perhaps. 
In the blink of an eye your life will change. 
And it will continue to change for decades to come. 
Enjoy it, embrace it... 
Be grateful for the ride. 
You are not old, you are young. 
And faith will get you everywhere. 
Just you wait.

~ Abby Larson

Monday, September 17, 2018

Texas Bucket List: Whoop

My Texas Bucket List began taking shape shortly after we arrived in College Station. At first the list consisted of only a few touristy day trips and experiences (think Six Flags, SeaWorld, etc.) I'd thought of or heard about prior to our move. But as we made new friends, especially new friends who grew up in Texas, we learned from them about the lesser-known - at least to Midwesterners - but not-to-miss sights and sounds of the Lone Star State.

Each time I cross something off my Texas Bucket List I document it here, both because Chasing Roots serves as my Texas journal and because looking back on these posts and "watching" our love affair, if you will, with our now-home state unfold is a beautiful thing. 

You can see my full - but ever-growing - Texas Bucket List here. Feel free to let me know what I'm still missing!

The first two experiences added to my Texas Bucket List were "watch a TAMU football game from the stands at Kyle Field" and "watch the Fighting' Texas Aggie Band perform live". It took seven-and-a-half years, but at the end of August we finally put checkmarks next to both.

TAMU gave faculty members an opportunity to purchase affordable tickets for the TAMU vs. Northwestern State University game. We considered buying four tickets and taking the kids, but in the end decided we would take the kids another time and attend the game just the two of us. We cleared our evening, lined up a babysitter for Hallie/companion for Will, pulled out our maroon attire,  and headed to Kyle Field.

Despite the fact that the game kicked off at 7:30pm, it was - we were - HOT. We walked 3/4 of a mile from our car to the stadium, wandered around the grounds, watched the Corps march in, and then walked another (what seemed like) 3/4 of a mile UP to our seats, so by the time we finally sat down in row 31 of section 350, we were drenched. Turns out it was still 96 degrees with a "feels like" temperatures of 102 degrees at 8:30pm.

The steamy weather didn't squelch our fun though. We ate hotdogs and drank soda, sang the National Anthem, took pictures of the flyover, and joined in the yells. I enjoyed watching Reveille lead the team onto the field before kickoff, and I loved the tradition of the Corps firing a canon every time the Aggies scored. The crowd volume, while not the loudest I've heard in a football stadium, impressed me, and the 12th Man student section and 12th Man on the field (a walk-on player wearing the number 12 jersey for the first play of the game) traditions tugged at my emotions. The football game itself was one of the most boring I've ever watched*, but the Aggies came out ahead and we had a great time cheering them on to victory.

* The first half alone took more than two hours because there were SO MANY television timeouts, regular timeouts, reviews, and penalties. At one point Tom turned to me and acknowledged that he had really come to appreciate soccer for how it allows - even requires - players to just PLAY the game. I actually felt bad for the Aggie and NWS players because the television broadcasting "powers that be" and referees kept either team from ever finding any momentum on the field.   

The best part of the night, however, was - by far - watching the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band march at halftime. The TAMU Corps of Cadets is the largest military marching band in the United States, and while many people had told me there was nothing like watching this massive band perform live, I had my doubts; the Aggie Band only performs traditional marches, which I thought sounded somewhat anticlimactic coming in behind 80s medleys and animated marching formations. I could not have been more wrong in my assessment.

According to an article in The Battalion student newspaper, "some of the Aggie band's maneuvers are so complex that drill-charter software says the drills are impossible because they require multiple people to be in the same place at the same time". I could see from the moment the Aggie Band took its first synchronized step that its maneuvers - obliques, flanks, countermarches, crisscrosses, continuous countermarks, and minstrel turns (confession: I had to look every single one of those up) - were some of the most difficult ever attempted by a marching band. The space between band members during some of these maneuvers is six inches or less, even for those who play large instruments, and they were never, and I mean NEVER, out of step or off their lines. I have never seen a band march with such incredible precision.



The verdict? Watching Aggie football at Kyle Field, especially under the lights? Not a bad way to spend a Thursday evening. Watching the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band perform their halftime routine? The BEST way to spend a Thursday evening.

Friday, September 14, 2018

High Five for Friday (9.14.18)

One
If you live in BCS and haven't yet tried The Dine-In Dude, you are missing out. Last Friday we enjoyed his Italian Meatball & Truffle Mac n' Cheese, and OH MY GOODNESS, it hit the spot. The chef uses locally-grown farm-fresh ingredients and charges a reasonable price, and having a new recipe and ready-made meal to try each week has been really fun for (three of the four of) us!

Two
My cousin got married last Saturday, and while we couldn't attend the wedding (the price we pay for living so far away from family), I wanted to publicly congratulate her. Happy Day to you and Jamie, Emily!

Three
A wonderful friend of mine went back to work full-time last month, and after seeing her - as a neighbor, friend, and fellow PTO Board member - almost daily for YEARS, I miss her! Thankfully we had a chance to catch up for a couple of hours last Saturday night.

Four
Go Pack Go!

Five
Happiness Highlights
During this season of divide and conquer I miss about half
of Will's soccer games due to of Nutcracker rehearsals. Tom
sends me play-by-play text messages, but I'm so grateful for
the occasional photo other parents email me after games.
When we woke up to rain on Sunday morning, the four of us went
for a leisurely stroll through the puddles and streams. When the rain
continued into the afternoon, Hallie and I went for another walk to
take pictures of flowers with raindrops on them. I LOVE rain...
On Monday morning I opened the
windows for the first time since April. 😍
Every morning Tux tries his best to keep Will from leaving for school.

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here:


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Few Words Wednesday: Out of the Mouths of Babes

January 19th, 2015

As she sat in the donut shop yesterday, Hallie identified the people around her by one characteristic or another.

"She has long hair, he has short hair. She works at the donut shop, he doesn't. She is tall, he is short. She's wearing earmuffs, he's wearing shorts."

When she got to skin color, Hallie noted that there were no people with "brown" skin in the donut shop at the time.

"It's not like it matters though," she explained. "We all blow our noses the same way anyhow."

I nodded, not sure whether to laugh or cry.

I found a screen capture of this Facebook post last weekend, and I felt compelled to share it here both because I remember how simple and innocent and beautiful that moment felt and because I always want to remember how simple and innocent and beautiful that moment felt. Sometimes the little ones get it more than we give them credit for...

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

9.11

I have trouble letting this day pass without acknowledging it here. New content, however, seems unnecessary as what I felt last year - and two years ago, and 10 years ago - about this day has not changed.  

Flower at September 11 Memorial"The real differences around the world today are not between Jews and Arabs; Protestants and Catholics; Muslims, Croats, and Serbs. The real differences are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it; between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past; between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists."

~William J. Clinton, 1997

I honestly believe that the truest way for us - as individuals and as a country - to remember and honor those who lost their lives on September 11th is to embrace peace, look to the future, and open our arms.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Monthly Medley: August 2018

Writing
Having never heard of the Buffalo Soldiers (at least by name - I knew the United States Armed Forces had at one point created exclusively African American military units), I found writing an article about the Buffalo Soldiers Nation Museum in Houston particularly interesting. I sent the article off midway through the month and can't wait for it to come out in February or March. Now I've moved on to writing about the three Presidential Libraries and Museums - those honoring the legacies of Lyndon B. Johnson, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush - in Texas!

Reading
I'm in a bit of a panic because come November 5th, my public library will close for SEVEN MONTHS. The building has been under construction for months already, and in order to finish what I believe is a massive expansion, the library must shut down completely until next June. It may be time for me to finally figure out the Kindle app on my phone or how to check out e-books.

Speaking of the library, they once again made me return a book I hadn't finished. As much as I wish I could make it though a book a week, most of the time it takes me closer to a month...and the library only lets me keep books for 21 days. I put my name on the request list for the second time, hoping I make it back to the top before November 5th!

Watching
Anyone else LOVING this season of America's Got Talent?! Will, Hallie, and I look forward to Tuesday and Wednesday nights every week and have at least 10 acts we'd like to see win the competition. Oh, and I'm down to crying only two or three times an episode, so I think we can call that progress.

The kids and I only watched one of the many movies we wanted to see in August: Hotel Transylvania 3. I found the film funny and cute, but not as engaging or clever as the first two in the series, both of which I've seen many times.

Now that September has arrived, I have begun counting down to the television season and series premieres at the end of the month. Will and I are both looking forward to the new show Manifest, and I plan to try the new show A Million Little Things.

Listening To
Though somewhat short - the full season runs just seven episodes - Cover Up by PEOPLE Magazine delves deeply into mystery of what happened at Chappaquiddick, when Senator Ted Kennedy's car went off a bridge, plunged into the waters below, and took with it the life of Mary Jo Kopechne. Though nearly every aspect of this story can be considered disheartening, frustrating, or appalling, I enjoyed this true crime investigation. I plan to follow up the podcast by watching the movie Chappaquiddick, and I hope Cover Up comes out with a second season in the near future!

Wearing
August and September are tough months for me clothing-wise. I wear mostly workout clothes and swimsuits/cover-ups throughout the summer, but when the kids head back to class and I spend more time in their schools, at dance classes, at soccer practices, and running errands (basically out in public where people will see me), I try to go back to, you know, showering, styling my hair, and wearing clothes that don't have elastic waistbands. Except by this point in the year, I am OVER my summer wardrobe and don't want to wear anything. Anyone else?

So instead I'm talking about glasses...because about a month ago I starting seeing college students wearing the exact same style of glasses I wore in third, fourth, and fifth grade. The trends always cycle back around...even if they shouldn't.


Trying/Using
A couple of weeks ago the kids and I rode our bikes to Spoons. The route we take is about 3.5 miles one-way and involves crossing a couple of busy streets, but now that the kids are good (Will)/decent (Hallie) bikers and have high quality bikes (thank you, Grandma and Grandpa), the ride is fairly easy. So easy, in fact, that when we headed out I decided to take only a few dollars to buy our frozen yogurt and left my phone at home because I didn't want to carry it and was certain we wouldn't have any problems.

After finishing our frozen yogurt we hit the road for home. About three or four blocks from Spoons, I watched as Will - who was 30 yards ahead of me - suddenly went down off the side of his bike. He hadn't crashed, but also hadn't climbed off his bike gracefully. Hallie and I caught up and discovered that his rear tire had completely exploded. Oh, what a time not to have a phone.

I considered all of my options: walking back to Spoons, walking to a friend's house, stopping a stranger, splitting up to ride home, etc. But because 1) Will's bike wouldn't roll AT ALL, 2) Will's bike weighs a ridiculous amount, 3) there was nothing nearby to which we could lock Will's bike, and 4) there were no other people crazy enough to be out walking or biking on that 100+ degree afternoon, I decided my best option was to send Will home and wait with Hallie and Will's bike for Tom to come pick us up. Will's legs weren't long enough to ride my bike (and you need a tool to adjust the seat height), so he had to ride Hallie's pink and purple bike with the seat at the lowest level (again, you need a tool to adjust the seat height) all the way home and across both busy streets by himself.

Meanwhile, I carried Will's bike to a teeny, tiny patch of shade on top of a sewer grate a block away, and then Hallie and I tried not to think about the heat while we wait for the boys to return.

Thankfully Will made it home AND remembered where Hallie and I were waiting. And on Monday evening Tom came home with a smartphone holder for cycling, which will now go with me whenever I ride my bike.

Speaking of phones, I  swapped out my old phone case for this one:

The new case has a few flaws - the finger hook keeps the phone from fitting well into holders and the pants of my pocket - but I love how easy that same finger hook makes carrying the phone. Definitely a worthwhile purchase!

Eating/Drinking
  • I made these Blackened Fish Tacos with Creamy Avocado Sauce almost exactly as the recipe instructs. (My grocery store didn't have purple cabbage so I used regular shredded cabbage instead, and I used flour tortillas instead of corn tortillas as a personal preference.) Tom, Will, and I enjoyed the dish, though Will had a little trouble taking bites of his tacos thanks to his relatively new braces. Hallie, on the other hand, took only the one teeny tiny bite required of her. 
  • I also made this simple, easy Black Bean Fiesta Chicken and Rice Bake, though I adapted the recipe slightly to use cheese only on top (of one side, since Will and Hallie don't like cheese). Prior to baking, I realized this meal would probably freeze well, so the kids ate what they wanted for dinner that night and I froze the rest in an 8 x 8 dish for another day.

Feeling Good About


What's new in your world this month?

Friday, September 7, 2018

High Five for Friday (9.7.18)

One
Two weeks ago I struggled. It was the kids' first week back at school, and while I took care of what needed to be done work-wise and around the house, I couldn't quite find my rhythm and therefore wasn't as productive as I would have liked. I also struggled last week, the kids' second week back at school. I felt somewhere between slightly under the weather and downright sick (insomnia, back pain, swollen lymph nodes, GI bug, and full-body viral rash, all of which are incredibly rare for me on their own, let alone together) for seven days straight, so while I once again managed what needed to be done, I still couldn't find my rhythm or amp up my productivity. Ah, but this week - week three - it all started to come together. My health still needs a swift kick in the pants, but I feel like I've finally turned a corner toward getting it together for the 2018-2019 school year!

Two
After seven-and-a-half years, I finally crossed a big one off my Texas Bucket List. I have a full post in the works, but thought I should share a teaser...

Three
Oh, three day weekends - I love you so. I don't mind mornings...starting about 10 minutes after I've gotten out of bed...but I really don't like waking up with an alarm and getting up when it's still dark outside. Three days of "sleeping in" until 7:30am did my body and mindset well.

Four
A new creative studio recently set up shop in College Station. Hallie and I visited the open house to check out the space, and last weekend I officially signed up for my first class. Crossing my fingers that I have enough artistic ability to make (and the teacher of the class has enough skill to help me make) one of these wooden masterpieces!

Five
Happiness Highlights:
He NEVER sleeps with her. I think he must have been confused
because she was in Will's bed, but she was thrilled nonetheless.
Once in a blue moon they act like they like each other.
One of the 4th grade teachers at Hallie's elementary school
collected enough donations/sponsors to be able to purchase
one book, per child (every single 4th grader), per month for
the entire school year. What an incredible gift!
A fellow dance mom who is also a vet brought a three-
week-old kitten to dance. It was the best day EVER!
What she chose to wear to a going-away party
for a student of Tom's. She's looking more and
more like a Texan every day...
Tom makes "football lunches" on Saturdays in the fall. They're not
complicated meals; instead, they're usually just fresh foods carefully
cut up into bite sized pieces. (I added the banana.) I love them, partly
because they're healthy but mostly because I don't have to do the work.
Too much fun in the Wal-Mart toy department.
Library days are my absolute favorite.
No fighting, no complaining...just quiet reading.
Somewhere over the rainbow...

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here:


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

A Toast to the New Year

I have shared in years past how I dislike making resolutions on the first day of a new calendar year. Other than how I (fail miserably at trying to correctly) write the date on an occasional check, little changes on January 1st. We return home after celebrating the holidays with family and pick up exactly where we left off the previous year: same grades in school for the kids, same work schedules for Tom and me, same evening activities for all four of us.

In September, however, life changes dramatically. The kids begin new grades with new teachers, join new extracurricular activities, and make new friends. Tom goes back to teaching after spending the summer working outside the classroom. I restructure my days to prioritize work - of the paid, volunteer, and household varieties - while the kids are at school and homework, extracurricular activities, soccer practices, dance lessons, and dinner during the evening hours.

To me, it makes more sense to start the New Year in September, when change comes naturally and causes me considerably less stress. It then follows that I should also implement my New Year’s Resolutions in September.

I gave this plan a try three years ago, and while I did better at keeping my resolutions than I did when I kicked them off in January, I still struggled as the months wore on. As many of you have likely experienced, the more time passes since making the resolutions, the harder it becomes to remember what they were and follow through on them.

So last year, I kicked off my resolutions in September but made one significant change that helped me stay on track and ultimately achieve a higher level of success: I replaced the word "year" with the word "month". That's right - I didn't set yearly resolutions, I set monthly resolutions.

With only 30 days devoted to each resolution, my goals were 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.

In the end I bombed a couple of monthly resolutions, but I also crushed a few and managed reasonably through the rest. All in all, I did well enough and liked this approach enough to once again structure my resolutions in this way.

To refresh your memory, here are the resolutions I attempted to tackle last year:
  • September - turn off the light by 11:30pm on school nights.
  • October - drink more water.
  • November - write in my gratitude journal daily.
  • December - read to my kids every night.
  • January - clean out all of our closets.
  • February - clean out all of my kitchen cabinets and drawers.
  • March - participate in some form of activism every day.
  • April - don't use my phone to wake up in the morning.
  • May - cut down on the grump.

And here are the resolution themes (just for fun I decided to pick monthly themes under which to choose my resolutions) I will attempt to tackle this year:
  • September - mental health
  • October - career
  • November - gratitude
  • December - giving
  • January - finances
  • February - relationships
  • March - physical health
  • April - faith
  • May - organization

Since September is just around the corner, let's get this ball rolling!

September's Resolution: Mental Health
Six habits have been proven to improve mental health: exercise, sleep, play, healthy eating, giving, and stress management. It seems overwhelming to tackle all six habits at once (and some I already have a solid handle on), so this month I plan to focus on three: sleep, play, and stress management.
  • Get at least seven hours of sleep every night. Lights out by 11:30pm on weeknights and 12:30am on weekends. (Yes, I am a night owl.)
  • Play at least once a week with my kids, Tom, and/or my friends. "Play" means different things to different people, so I envision a few versions: chess, card games, soccer, Just Dance, Bey Blades, and American Girl restaurant with Will and Hallie, lunch dates and/or date nights with Tom, and some combination of wine, cheese, and chocolate with my friends.
  • Manage my stress by consciously stepping away from people, situations, websites, and television and online programming that make me feel worse rather than better. This one is harder to nail down, but my tentative plan is to start with a round of Facebook and Instagram purging and then set aside specific times each day to visit these social media sites. 

What would you like to accomplish over the next 30 days? What can you add to or subtract from or change in your daily life to become stronger, healthier, or happier? Choose your resolution, and then let’s toast to the new year!
"Playing" with my friends almost
exactly a year ago. Time to do this again!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Not Enough Labor

Lately I have felt - or perhaps better explained, I have allowed myself to feel - that I am not "doing" enough.

I'm not spending enough one-on-one time with my kids.
I'm not spending enough time with Tom.
I'm not exercising enough.
I'm not eating healthily enough.
I'm not traveling enough.
I'm not sleeping enough.

And, the three that prompted today's post:

I'm not working enough.
I'm not making enough money.
I'm not saving enough for retirement, for college, for weddings.

I understand that I have control over how I react to what others say and do, and that no one can make me feel badly about myself without my consent. Feeling better falls to me, and me alone. Which is why I am today - in honor of Labor Day and encouraged by a Martin Luther King Jr. quote - reclaiming the work I do and my commitment to do it well.

No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence. 

Labor Day honors the creation of and workers' contributions to the American labor movement. (And of course also marks the unofficial end of summer - now if only Mother Nature would read that memo.) But this year I plan to celebrate Labor Day as a reminder that as long as the work I take on - or anyone takes on - serves to improve, inspire, or uplift, it is enough.

Friday, August 31, 2018

High Five for Friday (8.31.18)

One
My Gal Hal was cast as an angel in Ballet Brazos' 2018 production of The Nutcracker Ballet! (Nutcracker casting officially marks the end of our tryout/audition "season". Hallelujah.)

Two
Thanks to our orthodontist, we enjoyed what will likely be our last night out at the swimming pool for the year. (You read that right: "last night out at the swimming pool". Summer in Texas lasts for at least two more months, but our city's public swimming pools close this weekend.) Slowly but surely I'm making back the cost of braces! 😂
I took zero pics of Will. These girlies (none of whom are patients
but instead tagged along with siblings/friends) sure are cute though!

Three
Will plays - at best - two soccer games a season at home in College Station. So grateful for friends who braved a 107° heat index and scorching sun to come watch him play when these games rolled around.
The bigs.
The littles. Not so interested in soccer.
They kept "cool" by dunking their
heads in a cooler full of ice water. 
We survived! Nearly eight hours from start to
finish, including five spent baking in the sun. 

Four
I have no picture to prove it, but on Saturday night Tom and I went out with friends and for the first time ever, NONE OF US HAD TO HIRE A BABYSITTER. That's right, all of our bigs are old enough to stay home alone. Can I get a Hallelujah?! Can I get an Amen?! (All of our littles were at a birthday party.)

Five
Last but not least, look at this:

Five full years separate these two photos: the one on the left was taken shortly after Hallie started pre-k and the one on the right was taken on Tuesday. Adorable, right? And I'd say we got out money's worth out of that dress!

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here: