Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Monthly Mash-Up: February 2018

Though I didn't take on any new projects over the holidays - or through the middle of February, for that matter, thanks to the January Variety Show and February Sock Hop - I did see a few writing projects in print during those months. I had an article about the historic Stagecoach Inn in Salado in the December issue and an article about the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Artificial Reef Program in the January issues of Texas Living, and I have a new post up over on the Mama Bear Dares blog - check it out here! (Teaser: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”)

I didn't finish any books this month, but in preparation for watching The Handmaid's Tale on television (after I sign up for a free 30-day trial of Hulu), I have been reading the book. It comes across, at least to me and thus far, more like an in-depth description of a complicated society rather than a story being told, but I expect that will change as I make my way through the second half.

I am also reading Wonder with the kids, which we're all enjoying thus far. Will watched the movie at school, and assures us we'll laugh and cry as much during the film as we're laughing and crying throughout the book.

The GREATEST Showman. I took Hallie and a friend, and the movie lived up to every single one of our expectations. The singing and dancing truly blew us away, and the movie was so well cast, from the children to "the Oddities" to the main characters. The girls found grown up Zac Efron kind of funny though (apparently they were expecting Troy from High School Musical), and didn't like it when he kissed his love interest. I, on the other hand, found grown up Zac Efron quite visually pleasing and didn't mind the kissing one bit.

We also watched as many minutes of the Olympics as we possibly could, however the time difference made it difficult and at times frustrating, especially for Will. He missed a lot of action he desperately wanted to see - the women's hockey final, for example - because the events started multiple hours past his bedtime.

Listening To
Besides the soundtrack to The Greatest Showman? Absolutely nothing. Since Valentine's Day, while in the car (including multiple drives to Houston for soccer games) we have listened to ONLY those nine songs and two reprises. Tom can't stand listening to the same music over and over, but the kids are just like me in that when we find music we love, we want to keep listening until we know every word and every note.

I rarely lose my phone or keys for longer than five minutes, but when I'm running out the door in a hurry, those five minutes feel like an eternity. Designed to help remedy this problem, Tile Mate is a bluetooth tracker that attaches to a key ring (or pretty much anything else) and connects to an app on a cell phone. Open the app and activate the search function on the phone to find the keys; press the button on the bluetooth device on the keys to find the phone.

Tom bought me one for my birthday, but we didn't set it up until last month...and it's AWESOME. And yes, the ringer that alerts you to the phone's location STILL WORKS if your phone is on silent.

I have no skin in the Tile Mate game other than as a happy customer who appreciates having the ability to 1) find the phone her son left on his desk and 2) the car keys her daughter put in the wrong kitchen drawer. Hallelujah!

February felt like true winter (rather than Texas winter) here in College Station, so I found plenty of opportunities to wear this cozy trench vest from Talbots. I'll admit, Talbots is not my favorite place to shop. But after my mom showed me a couple of cute pieces she'd picked up on clearance, we decided to visit our local store. Most of their clothing doesn't fit me - both size-wise and style-wise - but on occasion I come out feeling like I won the shopping game!

I mentioned last month that I sent a number of clothing items, pairs of shoes, and accessories to ThreadUp and that I hoped to have enough information by this month to let you know my thoughts on the here we are!
  • Positive #1: ThreadUp made it incredibly easy to request, fill, and return one of their bags.  
  • Positive #2: I was paid a decent price from ThreadUp for the items they bought outright. (By decent, I mean higher than garage sale prices but lower than prices I could charge on a Facebook sale page.)
  • Positive #3: ThreadUp's process to request a full payout was easy. I chose a prepaid VISA gift card rather than PayPal, as the PayPal option had a 2% fee associated with it.
  • Negative #1: As is often the case with resale shops, the criteria ThreadUp used to decide which of my items to buy outright, sell on consignment, and return to me didn't make a lot of sense. Some of the items they mailed back to me were name brand, in excellent condition, and seasonally appropriate. 
  • Negative #2: To have the items they don't buy outright or choose to sell on consignment sent back to you, ThreadUp takes the first $10 of your earnings. I went this route, because this being my first time to use the company, I had no idea what they would take. I also assumed that if they sent me back items, I could sell them at my garage sale and hopefully make back that $10.
  • Negative #3: The amounts I received for the items they sold on consignment were shockingly low. This was honestly the only frustrating part of the process for me, because unlike the items they bought outright and for which I was paid fairly, I felt like ThreadUp took far more than their share for the consignment items. 
So, in a nutshell, would I recommend ThreadUp? Yes. The process is a quick and easy way to clear out clothing, shoes, and accessories that are in good condition but that you no longer wear. The payout system and amounts aren't as solid as I think they should be, but I would still do it again!

Want to give ThreadUp a try? Use this link to get started and you'll get $10 to spend!

I made quite a few duds - from main courses to desserts to a breakfast coffee cake - this month. All were edible, but they just didn't make my mouth water nor did they lead to requests for seconds from the other three Ferri. The exceptions, however, are below - enjoy!
  • I made this Basil Pesto Pasta dish for dinner and while Hallie didn't like it (what's new), Tom LOVED it. I made a few adjustments, as always... I used spirals instead farfalle because that's what I had in my pantry, skipped seeding the grape tomatoes, left out the mozzarella (for Will), and added chopped cooked chicken (for Tom). Additionally, rather than cooking the pasta and the green beans separately, I added the green beans to the pasta when I thought the pasta needed about six more minutes to cook and then drained them together. Lastly, I heated the entire dish back up before serving - because I added the chicken, it seemed like the dish should be served warm.
  • I used this Mounds Layer Cake as a springboard to make Mounds cupcakes for a friend's birthday. I baked the cake (using half as much sugar, of course) as cupcakes, and when the cupcakes had cooled, I scooped out a small amount in the center on the top of each one. I then heaped the recipe's filling into these little holes. Finally, I topped each cupcake with a healthy (in amount only) swirl of my own coconut buttercream and half of a Mounds candy bar.
  • A couple of weeks later I made Almond Joy cupcakes for another friend's birthday. I whipped up my basic milk chocolate cake recipe (you could use a boxed chocolate cake mix) and blended in pure almond extract right before I filled the cupcake tins. This time I topped the cakes with a swirl of coconut cream cheese frosting, a sprinkle of sweetened coconut, and half of an Almond Joy candy bar. (Most of the time I make up my frosting recipes as I go, so I can't really share links. If you're interested in rough measurements for these or any other frostings I ever mention, just send me an email at and I'll jot them down for you!)

Feeling Good About
A few today... One about a dogone about a cat, and then two about comic strips - one about "being a force for good in an often dark world" and one about "finding love in the little moments".

What's new and interesting in your world this month?

Monday, February 26, 2018

Share the Love...A Follow Up

Two weeks ago on Valentine's Day, I shared with you a short message posted to Facebook by a friend of mine who teaches English at a high school outside of Chicago. I also shared how I planned to act - and expand - on her simple request.

You can read the entirety of Beth's message here, but for those of you who need just a quick reminder, here is what she asked of parents:

If you’ve ever considered sending a quick note of gratitude to your child’s teacher, do it during the month of February. Such small gestures go a long way to lift spirits and brighten days—and they mean more than you can ever know.

And here is how I planned - and encouraged others - to expand on Beth's request:

In addition to showing your affection for your spouse, partner, children, family members, and friends, share your love with those outside of your immediate circle who might need a boost. Send a message to your children's teachers. Leave a thank you note in your mailbox for your postal carrier. Post words of encouragement for doctors and nurses or a note of gratitude for city employees on their respective Facebook pages. Send an email to friends and/or acquaintances who struggle when the days are short and the nights are long.

I admit that I felt a little strange as I wrote emails to Will and Hallie's teachers. As I helped Hallie seal her note for our mailman. As I sent a seemingly out-of-the-blue text to a friend who suffers from anxiety and depression, especially at this time of year. I wondered if the recipients of our "share the love" movement would find our behavior curious, or think I was looking for something in return.

I needn't have worried.

Here's what I wrote - simple, short, and sweet - to Hallie and Will's teachers:

And here are some of their responses:

Every teacher emailed me back to say thank you for reaching out.

I cried tears of joy as these responses arrived in my inbox. Not because many of the teachers made lovely remarks about Will and Hallie, but because I could tell I had caught them off guard - in a good way - and that they felt appreciated. And then through my tears I took screen captures and forwarded them to Beth, who I wanted to feel some of the happiness I was experiencing.

Valentine's Day may have come and gone, but February hangs on...dark and cold and germy and now scary. It's not too late to write that email, leave that note, send that text. Sharing the love makes a difference, so let's continue to do so.

Friday, February 23, 2018

High Five for Friday (2.23.18)

1. During the school sock hop, a friend and I bought at the teacher auction the opportunity for our girls to go to the movies...with their third grade teacher. Hallie and Tessa loved getting to spend real world time with her, and we felt great about supporting our school. A win-win, thanks to the generous donation made by Mrs. S.!
It was VERY bright outside.

2. As I mentioned last week, the new hot tub has a hole in it and a new new one is on its way. A slow release of air isn't keeping anyone I know from enjoying the leaking version though - it was 77 degrees last Sunday afternoon and these three played in and out of the water ("swim" for five minutes, dance for five minutes) for more than an hour!

3. Are you still watching the Olympics? We are! Here's our next batch of favorite moments:

4. While generally not a fan of Presidents' Day as a holiday, I needed it this week. One more morning waking up without an alarm clock, one more afternoon spent playing with friends, one more evening without practices or classes or homework. I wish our school district offered year-round school, but since I doubt that will happen during Will and Hallie's tenure here, I will continue to vote and push for longer school years with more breaks, rather than shorter school years with fewer breaks. Occasional three- or four-day weekends or even weeks off rejuvenate us and allow us to go back to school and work feeling better rested and more open to growth and learning!

5. Happiness Highlights:
To raise money for Jump Rope for Heart, a little girl at Will's school
made, decorated, and sold these cookies. I of course bought a dozen
(and promptly messed up that pink one with my weird thumbs), and
guess what...they were as tasty as any cookies I've ever bought
from a professional baker. I ate more than my fair share...
Speaking of Jump Rope for Heart - Will had a
blast, and since I volunteered I could capture a
few pics of him showing off his skillz for me. 
No truer words, AMIRIGHT?!
I laughed out loud when I read this.
I discovered that Facebook has filters. It wasn't a very productive
evening... (Interestingly, I can't for the life of me figure out how to get
back to the filters now. I guess filters and me were a one-night stand.)

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here:

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wise Words Wednesday: Pope Francis

A little something to help you over today's hump.

This life will go by fast.

Don't fight with people, don't criticize your body so much, don't complain so much.

Don't lose sleep over your bills. Look for the person that makes you happy. If you make a mistake, let it go and keep seeking your happiness.

Never stop being a good parent. Don't worry so much about buying luxuries and comforts for your home, and don't kill yourself trying to leave an inheritance for your family. Those benefits should be earned by each person, so don't dedicate yourself to accumulating money.

Enjoy, travel, enjoy your journeys, see new places, give yourself the pleasures you deserve. Allow dogs to get closer. Don't put away the fine glassware. Utilize the new dinnerware; don't save your favorite perfume, use it to go out with yourself; wear out your favorite sport shoes; repeat your favorite clothes.

So what? That's not bad. Why not now? Why not pray now instead of waiting until before you sleep? Why not call now? Why not forgive now? We wait so long for Christmas; for Friday; for Reunions; for another year; for when I have money; for love to come; when everything is perfect...


Everything perfect doesn't exist. Human beings can't accomplish this because it simply was not intended to be completed here. Here is an opportunity to learn.

So take this challenge that is life and do it more, forgive more, embrace more, love more intensely and leave the rest in God's hands. Amen.

~ Pope Francis

Monday, February 19, 2018

Why, Erin?!

When I went back and read the post in which I first introduced you to our hot tub, I realized just how carefully I had tiptoed around my true feelings for this addition to our lives. I didn't mention it back then, but now I it seems relevant to confess that the hot tub caused a few issues in our house, for a couple of reasons.

First, Tom gave me the hot tub as a Christmas gift. Generous and sweet of him, yes...except that I don't like hot tubs. I don't even like bathtubs. I just can't wrap my head around soaking in water that's slowly getting dirtier, and, as you know, I can't stand being hot anywhere, at any time.

Second, the hot tub was ugly. It was big and green and looked like a giant inflatable pool toy that we forgot to put away. I don't need our house and surrounding areas to look perfect all of the time, but I do need them to look nice most of the time. The hot tub just didn't fit into my vision for our back yard.

On the positive side, Tom, the kids, and the kids' friends LOVED the hot tub. With the exception of the hottest summer months, Tom, Will, and Hallie enjoyed the tub at least a few times a week. During the late fall, winter, and early spring, Tom went in almost every night.

The hot tub ran solidly for about a year, at which point it began needing more and more maintenance. (It needed some maintenance anyway, as it required chlorinated water that needed to be regularly tested, frequently adjusted, and occasionally emptied and refilled.) Tom did his best to keep it running, but eventually and at the ripe old age of 18 months, the hot tub died and received a ceremonial burial disposal on the curb.

Good riddance, at least for me, yes? Except that I couldn't stop thinking about how much the other three Ferri loved and missed that jolly green giant...

So for Valentine's Day, I bought my family a new hot tub. I had to let Tom in on my plan because I refused to set it up myself, so he took care of that step a few days before Valentine's Day and then covered it with a tarp. Shockingly, despite the fact that the tarp screamed "I'm covering something the exact same size and shape as the last hot tub!!!" neither Will nor Hallie noticed the new hot tub sitting on the back porch. (Should we be concerned about their lack of observational skills?)

Last Wednesday night, Tom and the kids embarked on our annual Valentine's Day treasure hunt. Per usual, the treasure hunt "ended" with their small gifts, but then inside Tom's (somehow always a surprise) photo book was hidden one more clue...that led to the hot tub.
This is my favorite picture from the surprise - even
though Will is blurry, you can see the jubilation on
his face as he realizes what's happening.
Hallie, not so much - she couldn't figure out my
drawing. (I draw all of the treasure hunt clues
myself and I am clearly NOT an artist.) 
"No way. No.Way. NO WAY. NO.WAY.
(That's an actual quote from Will.)
Time for a quick dip!

I have now earned the title of coolest mom or stupidest mom on the planet. Maybe both.
Tux is also a HUGE fan.

"Fun" twist: the new hot tub has a leak. The company is sending us a new new one, but I feel like the universe might be trying to tell me something...

Friday, February 16, 2018

High Five for Friday (2.16.18)

1. On Friday night we held our first Sock Hop at Hallie's elementary school. I haven't attended a Sock Hop since my own elementary school days (however I have owned and worn quite a few poodle skirts throughout the last three decades), and this one brought back all kinds of fun memories. I didn't actually get to dance, but I loved watching Will, Hallie, and Tom as well as lots of friends cut a rug in their 50s finest.

2. For the last three weeks we have spent our Saturdays - and two of our three Sundays - at the soccer field, braving temperatures in the 30s and 40s, 25 MPH steady winds with 40 MPH wind gusts, rain, and even sleet while watching our boy play the game he loves. Pre-season games ended this past Sunday...with a first place finish in the top bracket of the Texans Aggieland Classic Tournament. Last year was a tough one for Will on the soccer field; despite having a good coach, he didn't improve as much as he wanted to and his team struggled. This year a new club and a new coach with a different style, attitude, and set of expectations has made a big difference for Will personally and for his team.

3. THE OLYMPICS!!! I haven't been thrilled with NBC's coverage of the games and have high hopes for more dramatic moments and finishes during week two, but I still love Olympic competition. Here are a few of my favorite stories thus far:

4. I love Valentine's Day, not because I like grandiose romantic gestures (I don't) but because the small, simple, and accidental tradition that marks this day for our family is one of my favorites. I set up a treasure hunt throughout our house and yard that ends with a small gift each for Will and Hallie and a photo book - highlighting the most memorable moments of the previous year - for Tom. The best part is that Tom never remembers the photo book part of this tradition and is therefore always surprised when he opens his gift at the end of the treasure hunt.
The most coloring I do all year.
This year we added a finale to the treasure hunt...stay tuned to find out how I earned loads of credit with Tom, shocked and delighted both kids, and am now asking myself, "why, Erin?! WHY?!"

5. Happiness Highlights:
Last week Will tried to do something nice for Hallie and she didn't
respond kindly to his efforts. She felt awful about her behavior all
day, to the point that her teacher actually asked why she wasn't her
usually happy self, so when she got home she wrote Will a note
and left it for him to find when he arrived home. 
I didn't see or hear the initial encounter - I only heard about it
after the fact from both kids. I was of course saddened to learn
of their conflict, but watching Hallie try to make amends gave me
confidence that we're not completely messing up these two kiddos. 
Despite its bizarre coloring that I couldn't fix, I love this
photo. I always hang our Christmas cards around the window
in our dining room, and I leave them up through Valentine's Day.
Remember our swimsuit snow angels? My dad
made his last weekend. He's such a cool guy.
Last weekend I lost my title of "World's Okayest
Mom" my mini-me. He really is his mother's son.
Recently a little owl has been visiting our back
yard. He's somehow intriguing, adorable,
and terrifying all rolled into one.

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here:

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Share the Love

Last week a friend of mine, who teaches English at a high school outside of Chicago, posted this on Facebook:

To all my friends with school aged children,

I want you to know something. I love your children. I love the learning and the chaos and the laughter and the mess that make up my classroom. I love teaching children every day to be kind and brave. I don’t mind spending many extra hours at home creating engaging learning experiences for my students. I don’t mind the weekend hours of adding authentic feedback to each writing assignment I collect because I BELIEVE in the strength and the power of the written word.

But, I also want you to know that February is hard. It’s dark and cold and filled with all kinds of yucky germs (and hopefully hand sanitizer!). If you’ve ever considered sending a quick note of gratitude to your child’s teacher, do it during the month of February. Such small gestures go a long way to lift spirits and brighten days—and they mean more than you can ever know.

As I expect you can discern from her words, Beth is the kind of teacher parents hope and pray their children will have during their high school years: engaged and engaging, interested and interesting, and, as she has been since I first met her during our freshman year of college, wise beyond her years.

Beth's assessment of the month seems so simple, yet I had never thought about February in that way until the moment she spelled it out for me. I decided to act on her suggestion and send notes of thanks and encouragement to Will and Hallie's teachers, and then, as I sat at my desk writing these notes, I realized Beth's words could apply to other professions and populations as well.

February is hard. For months, postal carriers have been braving subzero temperatures to deliver our mail. City employees have been plowing, salting, and sanding their way through massive snowfalls and freezing rain to keep our roadways safe. Doctors and nurses have been dealing with the worst flu epidemic in decades while trying to promote health and healing. Those with Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression, and/or anxiety may have been struggling more than usual to survive these dark days.

So today, in honor of Valentine's Day, in addition to showing your affection for your spouse, partner, children, family members, and friends, share your love with those outside of your immediate circle who might need a boost. Send a message to your children's teachers. Leave a thank you note in your mailbox for your postal carrier. Post words of encouragement for doctors and nurses or a note of gratitude for city employees on their respective Facebook pages. Send an email to friends and/or acquaintances who struggle when the days are short and the nights are long.

In short, share the love.

Beth, I have known since the day you started classes to become a teacher that you would one day be one of the best. Thank you for pouring every ounce of yourself into making sure the young people who pass through your classroom become both competent writers and kind, hard-working human beings.

Happy birthday to my sis-in-law, Chandi, and happy anniversary to my parents!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Seven Day Photo Challenge

Always a little late to the game, I finally followed through on the Facebook photo challenge everyone else tackled two months ago.

Seven days, seven black and white photos of your life. 
No people, no explanations*. 

I won't officially nominate anyone, but I would love to see a photo or two from my sister, Sara...

* The "no explanations" part of this challenge was truly that - a challenge - for me. I could write a short paragraph about each of these! 

Friday, February 9, 2018

High Five for Friday (2.9.18)

1. Our men didn't win the 50 Men Who Can Cook grand prize with their delicious bacon-topped spinach artichoke dip and creative costumes, but they had a great time and did their part to help bring in thousands of dollars for our school district.
The chef and the entertainment.
Tom and our principal - we love her! 

2. In years past, Tom and I have attended 50 Men Who Can Cook on the first Friday night in February and Night of Worship on the first Saturday night in February. This year, however, both events fell on the same night and Tom and I had to divide and conquer. He obviously took 50 Men, so I took Night of Worship. My dancing girl did such a lovely job performing, and I plan to share a bit more about this special evening in a separate blog post next week.

Waiting for our girl to take the stage.

3. Hallie and I had tickets to attend one of our local high school's production of High School Musical, but we came down with the flu and missed the show. She was devastated (so was I, to be honest) so I told her I would take her to another local high school's musical instead. Her choices this weekend were Cinderella and Sister Act, and she picked Cinderella.
Waiting for the show to start in a sea of pink.
I attended a high school with spectacular music and theatre programs, and therefore have (probably unreasonably) high standards when it comes to high school musicals. Cinderella, unlike most high school musicals I've seen, lived up to my expectations. As we are currently zoned for this high school, I couldn't help but dream about one day watching Hallie on that same stage.
Cinderella (AMAZING) and Hallie

4. The Olympics start tonight! Well, technically they started last night, but the Opening Ceremonies take place tonight and when they wrap I won't turn my television off for the next 17 days. Will and I love the Olympics - the competition but also the personal stories - and we can't wait to follow all of the drama and excitement.

5a. Happiness Highlights:
I LOVE that Will has no problem being the
only boy at an otherwise all-girl birthday party. 
She saved him a seat. 😍
Sweet friends of mine and Will's made
sure he had his own special post-party treat.
The child who fought me at every turn while learning
to read can now spend hours tucked in a corner at
Barnes and Noble with a good book. In her pajamas. 
Learning about MLK Jr.
Watching the lunar eclipse before school last week.
I finally put up a few of my Valentine's Day decorations!
It's recruitment season at TAMU, so Tom goes out to eat with
prospective faculty candidates at least a few times a week. Last
Friday he went out for breakfast at one of our favorite restaurants,
but since he knew he was also going out for lunch, he saved me
half of his breakfast. Ah.Maze.Ing. 
Just a little Super Bowl halftime dancing.

5b. Speaking of dancing, a bonus Happiness Highlight: this guy ROCKED "dad week" at Hallie's dance studio. He participated in Hallie's jazz, ballet, hip hop, lyrical, and Mini Company classes, even when, in a few classes, he was the only or one of only a few dads.

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here: