Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Monthly Medley: May 2018

Nothing new to report here... I continue to work on the two pieces I referenced last month (one on The Health Museum in Houston for Texas Living Magazine and one on easy but effective essential oil recipes for Mama Bear Dares) but May's crazy schedule has kept me from tackling anything else.

I was midway through I Promise Not to Tell by Jayne Ann Krentz when the library required me to return it. (The three weeks they allow me to keep books is never quite enough.) I'll report back on the ending when my name rises to the top of the request list and the library lets me check the book out again, but in the meantime, put this book on your summer reading list - the premise is unique and the plot and characters are well developed.

Speaking of summer reading lists, what else should I add to mine? Read any good books lately?

This month we stumbled upon one of the best documentaries we've watched thus far: Chasing Ice. The description below is lengthy for a highlight post like this, but I think it perfectly describes the film and is therefore worth sharing.

"In the spring of 2005, acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog headed to the Arctic on a tricky assignment for National Geographic: to capture images to help tell the story of the Earth’s changing climate. Even with a scientific upbringing, Balog had been a skeptic about climate change. But that first trip north opened his eyes to the biggest story in human history and sparked a challenge within him that would put his career and his very well-being at risk.

Chasing Ice is the story of one man’s mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of our changing planet...With a band of young adventurers in tow, Balog began deploying revolutionary time-lapse cameras across the brutal Arctic to capture a multi-year record of the world’s changing glaciers.

As the debate polarizes America and the intensity of natural disasters ramps up globally, Balog finds himself at the end of his tether. Battling untested technology in subzero conditions, he comes face to face with his own mortality. It takes years for Balog to see the fruits of his labor. His hauntingly beautiful videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate. Chasing Ice depicts a photographer trying to deliver evidence and hope to our carbon-powered planet."

Fascinating, beautiful, heart-breaking...don't miss this powerful - and hopefully impactful - film.

I also watched the NBC dramatic series Rise, starring Rosie Perez and Josh Radner of How I Met Your Mother fame. Season one's nine-episode arc started out strong, and ended with one of the most powerful hours of television I've watched in years. If you like drama, theater, and/or musicals, Rise would make a great "rainy summer day" binge!

In the "movies to skip" category, I would suggest adding Spy Kids to the list. I had high hopes given my kids' enthusiasm when I agreed to watch it with them, but when the credits finally rolled I couldn't help but miss those 90 minutes of my life I'd never get back...

Listening To
A few months back I listened to and enjoyed Deadly Manners. In search of another story-based podcast, I Googled "podcasts to listen to if you liked Deadly Manners", and The Amelia Project came up. Rather than sharing the premise of this interesting and unique podcast, I'm going to share a teaser:

Congratulations. You've reached The Amelia Project. This phone call isn't happening. If you're not serious about this, hang up. Now. If you continue, there's no way back.


Good choice. A new life awaits. You'll hear back from us within the hour. If you don't hear back, please consider the whole thing a hoax. Leave your message after the beep.

Are you intrigued? Check out The Amelia Project!

In 1981, my mother-in-law borrowed two of these mugs from the now-closed Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For 37 years, she - and all those who were lucky enough to visit her warm and welcoming kitchen - enjoyed drinking good hot coffee from them...but on her last visit to College Station she gifted them to me. I don't know what it is, but coffee tastes better out of these decades-old mugs and they make me happy every morning.

After seeing these cat brushing gloves come across my Facebook feed multiple times, I finally decided to give them a try. AH.MAZE.ING. If you have a cat, you need these gloves - Tux LOVES them and they make brushing him so much easier and more effective. I just wish they sold a version for child-sized hands...

I bought my first shirt from Saturday Morning Pancakes last month. I see lots of cute graphic tees every week, and I put many of them into my virtual cart so I can think about whether or not I want to actually click "purchase". But when I saw this design I didn't hesitate - the tee was on its way to my house within about 10 minutes. And because I don't love modeling clothes, my little actress offered to do so:

In case you can't quite read the shirt or hear what she says: "Adventure is out there...but then again, so are bugs". This is my swan song.

While on my way to the soccer row in search of a futsal ball, I meandered through the women's clothing section at Academy. Surprisingly, I found cute women's shorts...for only $12! They fit similarly to Old Navy's (5-inch) shorts, for those who might be interested in stocking up for summer.

During a recent rain shower I couldn't find my rain I borrowed Will's. The sleeves were a bit short and the boy cut didn't leave a lot of room for the girls, but I wore it anyway and found I could actually zip it up. It makes me a little sad that my son is old and big enough for the two of us to share clothes.

I'm on a mission to find the best chicken spaghetti recipe. Thus far I've tried two different recipes, both of which Tom and I have enjoyed. (Neither Will nor Hallie will eat chicken spaghetti because no matter what, the dish contains cheese.) I have two additional recipes to try, at which point I'll weigh in on our favorite! (Do you have a favorite chicken spaghetti recipe? Please share!)
  • Chicken spaghetti #1 comes from The Anthony Kitchen. I followed the recipe almost exactly, but left out the red pepper because I somehow didn't have one. I plan to make this recipe a second time with the red pepper so we can evaluate it fairly.
  • Chicken spaghetti #2 comes from Just a Pinch. Full disclosure: this recipe won't be evaluated fairly because I had to make a couple of adaptations. I just could not use an entire stick of butter and a pound of Velveeta, so I omitted the butter completely and used half of the Velveeta the recipe called for...I didn't miss either AT ALL. 

Feeling Good About

What's new in your world this month?

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Hero

A Hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.

~ Joseph Campbell

Today I remember and honor the brave men and women who made sacrifices - acknowledging that sacrifice comes in all shapes and sizes - in the name of the American Dream. I remember and honor those who courageously and selflessly walked into the trenches, and those who never walked back out. And I remember and honor those who, even when - no, especially when - it was dangerous to do so, preached peace and love and tried to make our country a kinder place.

Thank you.

Happy Memorial Day, friends!

Friday, May 25, 2018

High Five for Friday (5.25.18)

The finish line is coming into view, y'all...just one insanely crazy weekend with company coming from Wisconsin/Illinois and three dance recitals, followed by three days of school. We.Can.Do.This.

After three nights of intense tryouts, my boy earned himself a spot on the Cavalry 06 Black soccer team. The stress I feel as the parent when my kids participate in these evaluations - tryouts and auditions - is so much worse than what I felt decades ago as the middle/high schooler being evaluated, and I'm so grateful we're done until Nutcracker auditions in August!

With the exception of dancing together in the finales of three dance recitals this weekend, Hallie and her Mini Company friends have taken the stage together for the last time this year. 😭 Hallie wouldn't be where she is today - as a dancer or even as a little girl - if it weren't for Ms. Christi and these sweet friends, and I will always be grateful.

Tom traveled for work all week, and in his absence the kids and I did our best to fill the empty space with a few special activities. Our collective favorite was a bike ride that started in blazing sun (I even covered all of us with sunscreen before we left home) and ended stranded at the park in a torrential downpour. At one point the rain, thunder, and lightening became so intense that we took cover under the pavilion, but when the severest of the weather had passed we headed back out into the rain to embrace the wet and ended up having a blast playing basketball and swinging and sliding on the playground equipment. It probably won't rain again here until next February - our forecast reads "hot and sunny" until the end of time - so I'm thrilled we could take advantage of this little gift from Mother Nature.

Did you watch the Royal Wedding? I didn't get up at 4am on Saturday morning, but I did record NBC's 271 hours of coverage so I could watch the highlights at a more reasonable hour. Turns out both kids wanted to see what all the fuss was about too, so we made pink lemonade and drank it out of Grandma Hallie's china while enjoying Bishop Michael Curry's sermon (my favorite part), Sheku Kanneh-Mason's cello performance (Will's favorite part), and the vows (Hallie's favorite part).
You mean you don't drink tea pink lemonade out of china tea
cups while wearing your athletic gear and/or your swimsuit?

Happiness Highlights:
College Station has a new vintage video game arcade!
Will had the opportunity to check it out last weekend
 at a friend's birthday party and he gave it two thumbs up!
I love almost everything about nine years old. A
friend recently said, "I wish I could bottle up this
age." I wish the same thing.
Can you see the baby birds?! 

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here:

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Rags to Riches

This is kind of a silly post, but the story behind it brought back such sweet memories of my childhood that I decided to share it here...

We often want what we don't have, and as a child I was no exception: I desperately wanted curly hair. My hair has always had a few uneven waves and it holds its shape reasonably well when combined with a little product and a heat source, but I didn't receive the gift of natural curls. On occasion my mom would french braid my hair after I showered and before bed, and then I would sleep on the braid, take the braid out in the morning, and go to school with crimp-y waves...but no curls. Knowing my desire for those Shirley Temple ringlets, my mom figured out a way to actually curl my hair overnight: rags. She rolled sections of my damp hair up in strips of soft rags, and then I slept on them so I would wake in the morning with (what I considered) beautiful curls.

Hallie has followed in my footsteps, hair-wise. Her hair is wavy and holds curl with the right products and heat, but she doesn't have the natural curls she desires. A couple of weeks ago, as I sat on the floor in front of the couch while Hallie played with my hair, I suddenly flashed back 30 or so years to sitting in front of the couch while my mom wrapped my hair in rags. The next day I cut a large scrap of soft fabric into strips, and that night I told Hallie I had a surprise for her. I wrapped her damp hair without full explaining the what or why, and when she woke up in the morning I took out the rags and showed her what they'd done to her hair.
Ready for bed.
Fresh out of the rags.
After I separated and lightly sprayed the curls.
She fell in love.

The day prior had been a tough one for Hallie. But when she saw her curls she began to smile...and that smile grew until she was beaming from ear to ear. She stood a bit taller and lifted her chin a bit higher, and for the remainder of the day she flounced - full of confidence - with a spring in her step.

It's silly, really, that we let little things like our hair influence our mood and how we feel about ourselves. But I understand how those curls lifted her spirits...because they used to make me feel like a million bucks too.

My mom is on a mission to find a pic of my rag curls circa 1987. If she finds one I promise to share!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Cruising Down the Monarch Highway

Thanks to the hard work of a passionate PTO member and parent, the butterfly garden at Hallie's elementary school has been designated as a registered Monarch Waystation.

Created specifically to help support and sustain the monarch population, waystations are strategically positioned along the butterflies' migratory route between Mexico and Canada. The Brazos Valley falls along this "monarch highway", making College Station the perfect place for a waystation that offers monarchs access to milkweed plants to produce offspring and nectar flowers for sustenance.

When Will started kindergarten, the butterfly garden at his elementary school was a beautiful and inviting outdoor space. But when the woman who lovingly tended the garden fell ill a few years ago, the flowers died, the weeds took over, and the leaves piled up.

So this year, Jessica - a monarch enthusiast and the PTO member and parent I mentioned above - decided to start a garden club at school. Hallie joined immediately, and throughout the year has benefitted, along with the other club members, from Jessica's knowledge about the monarch lifecycle, monarch migration, conservation, species preservation, and gardening. Under Jessica's supervision the kids have worked hard pulling weeds, raking leaves, planting flowers (including the necessary milkweed and nectar plants), and caring for the garden. And with Jessica as a guide, they learned how to foster caterpillars in order to release the monarch butterflies back into the garden where they were born...which they eagerly did two weeks ago during the official waystation dedication ceremony.

The academic learning taking place at the kids' elementary school has impressed me since the day Will first walked through the doors six year ago. But the arts and extracurricular learning taking place after hours - running, chess, student council, gardening (and those are just the four Hallie participates in) - is nearly as impressive. Thanks to the generous adults who coordinate these programs, Hallie improved her physical endurance and strength, her problem-solving skills and creativity, and her leadership skills. Oh, thanks to Jessica, she proudly had a hand in helping save a species.
A few seconds of one of the monarch releases during the dedication.

I wrote briefly about Hallie's first caterpillar baby and monarch release here.
I wrote about a somewhat frightening experience my mom and I had with a butterfly here.
And to wrap things up, here's my favorite of the butterfly pictures I've taken:

Friday, May 18, 2018

High Five for Friday (5.18.18)

This time of year is a rollercoaster ride. Audition and tryout anxiety. Concert, recital, performance, and tournament excitement. STAAR testing stress. Field trip and field day fun. Summer anticipation. Pride in this year's accomplishments, nostalgic for the year gone by, nervous for the year ahead. Hang in there, friends - we may be upside down in the middle of this ride's last loop-de-loop, but soon our car will slow and pull back into the station and then we can catch our breath...and get ready to ride again.

On Thursday night my boy played the cello in his spring orchestra concert. I couldn't believe how good decent his fifth grade orchestra sounded when they performed together for the first time last December, and I was pleasantly surprised with their improvement after a few more months of practice. It takes an incredible teacher and a talented musician to turn 100 kids - most of whom had never even held a stringed instrument as of last August - into an orchestra in less than nine months. Will's teacher did this, and also taught him to love the cello, so much so that he decided to stay with the cello in sixth grade rather than switch to the drums or another band instrument. Bring on our second year of orchestra!
Will and Kaylee, ready to go!
Mason, Andreas, and Will - school/orchestra and soccer buddies.

Saturday, unsurprisingly, revolved around dance. We spent the day on campus, at the auditorium where Hallie's recital will eventually be held, for her dress rehearsal(s). Prior to Saturday I was dreading the day; after all, dress rehearsals are usually long and stressful and once I even left a dress rehearsal in tears. But this year our dance studio team nailed it: they scheduled finale practice at the beginning so kids could leave after their final dance, and they moved efficiently - weighing the need for blocking and practicing on stage against the desire to respect families' time - and as a result they stayed on time ALL DAY. The rehearsals went smoothly and neither Hallie or I felt stressed about hair or make-up or costumes or her dances. And now she can't wait to do it all again in two weeks for the real thing!
We had to get up early, which no one in our family except
Will likes. To make sure Hallie woke up on the right side of
the bed, I served her breakfast there for the first time. It helped. 
The first finale rehearsal. 
Because of Tom's graduation-related responsibilities, Will had to spend the day with Hallie and me at the theater. But don't worry - he stayed far away from the backstage dressing rooms. (If that doesn't make sense to you, click on the link above.)

For me, Mother's Day is the one day of the year I can ask the kids to help me with extra projects and chores...and expect them not to complain. (I ask the kids to help me all the time, but on days other than Mother's Day I expect a complaint or two.) We tackled our regular Sunday jobs, and then they helped me vacuum out and wash my car. I'd take that kind of "gift" over a wrapped present any day.

Update: I think my "washed" car looks worse than my unwashed car. But it's the thought that counts, right?

"Oh, you love your mom? Name three of her albums." You MUST read this post about how a question on Twitter turned into a hysterical joke about moms. Get tissues before you start reading - I laughed to the point of tears.

Happiness Highlights:
Hallie's birthday present from cousin Lily (and family) was
a rose gold sequined pillow...that becomes a personalized
unicorn pillow. As I'm sure you can imagine, she LOVED it.
There's not much to do while sitting in the allergist testing
booths, so Hallie and I have taken to coloring. This owl took
me three 90-minute appointments and I think he's adorable!
The regular soccer season has wrapped, which means the summer
futsal season has begun! I like the fast pace of this indoor game, and
I LOVE the fact that it's played the air conditioning.
Showing off one of my Mother's Day gifts on their way to crush
the STAAR test. That little light board is going to get a lot of use!
On his way to soccer tryouts.
Tulips from my mom. 😍 (Don't forget to add a penny or two to
your tulips' water, friends - it keeps them standing for weeks!) 
About a year ago, Hallie made Tom a set of perler
bead creations. He keeps them in his car, and every few
months he leaves me one on my car. Makes my day.
Every May a trio of bushes near our house blooms
with beautiful flowers. Hallie and I both look forward
to when we can smell and take pictures with them.
Just for fun (and to make me cry), here's the pic we
took in May - on the way to Hallie's end-of-the-year
kindergarten program - three years ago. 

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Emotions We Feel But Can't Explain

Prior to writing this post I had never heard of these emotions, either the words used to describe or the feelings associated with them. And yet, I have experienced each and every one.

Sonder: the realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own.

Opia: the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable.

Monachopsis: the subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place.

Liberosis: the desire to care less about things.

Ellipsism: a sadness that you'll never be able to know how history will turn out.

Kuebiko: a state of exhaustion inspired by acts of senseless violence.

Rubatosis: the unsettling awareness of your own heartbeat.

Kenopsia: the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that is usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet.

Chrysalism: the amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm.

Nothing like pondering a host of complex emotions to make hump day a little more interesting...

Monday, May 14, 2018

A Costly Comma

In my experience, only a handful of people pay attention to comma placement. Also in my experience, those who do pay attention to comma placement (like me - go ahead and call me a dork) have VERY specific opinions about where commas do and do not belong.

The Oxford comma is the comma used after the second-to-last item in a list of three of more items. For example, in the sentence, "I went to the grocery store and bought milk, bread, and juice", the comma after "bread" is an Oxford comma. The Oxford comma is generally considered stylistic, meaning some guides require it and others do not. I believe the Oxford comma should be mandatory, and when I read any piece of writing that omits this (in my opinion) absolutely necessary punctuation, I can't help but both cringe and make the edit in my head. No list of mine will ever not include an Oxford comma.

Why do I care so much about Oxford commas, you ask? I honestly don't have a good answer for you other than that they help lists make sense and without them confusion often follows. Here's a good example:

Without the Oxford comma: I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.

With the Oxford comma: I love my parents, Lady Gaga, and Humpty Dumpty.

No one's parents are Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty (although that would be fun, wouldn't it?), but it's easy to see how that misinterpretation could occur.

My mom understands my passion for Oxford commas, so she knew I would appreciate this article about how failing to use an Oxford comma came with a this case, to the tune of FIVE MILLION DOLLARS. That's right, failing to use an Oxford comma when describing when workers are exempt from overtime pay ended up costing a Maine dairy company a pretty penny.

So on this Monday morning, learn from their mistake and use your commas...and be grateful that not doing so in the past didn't cost you a few million dollars or Grandpa's life. 😉

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Unique Connection

When creating posts associated with annual holidays I start by searching back through the blog. I like to reference what I wrote in the past, to remind myself of themes or traditions I might like to carry on or to make sure I come up with something new and different. 

This year's Mother's Day search took me back to a post from three years ago, written about an experience I had three years before that. It caught my off guard in the best way, and I decided that rather than write something completely new, I wanted to share a slightly edited version of that post this Mother's Day.

I don't usually tell Tom, Will, or Hallie when I make plans to dramatically change my hair. I send everyone out the door in the morning, head to the salon, and then look forward to surprising them when we reconnect after school and work. It's fun to catch my crew off guard and witness how they really feel about my new color and/or cut.

A few years ago I dyed my blond hair dark brown while three-year-old Hallie spent the morning at preschool. When I arrived to pick her up, she saw my face from across the room, smiled, and yelled, "my mama's here!" But then her eyes drifted beyond my face…and her smile quickly faded.

As Hallie made her way, slowly and timidly, across the classroom to where I stood in the doorway, I knelt down so that when she finally reached me we were face-to-face. She cautiously ran her hands through my hair and then gently rested them on my cheeks, where they remained as she looked deep into my eyes and her brain processed the confusing mash-up of a woman in front of her. After what felt like an eternity, Hallie's smile returned. She breathed an audible sigh of relief and exclaimed, "It IS my mommy! She just has different hair!"

When I saw this video I flashed back to that memorable day when, at first glance, my sweet girl couldn't find her mama with just her eyes. She had to look deeper, using both her hands and her heart, to know with certainty and I - and that the connection we share - was still there.

Many years have passed since I held my mother's face between my hands, which makes me wonder if I could identify her in the same manner these children identified their mothers. I do, however, know that I could identify my mother by the way her upper arm feels against my upper arm. It sounds odd, I know. But picture us sitting together, side-by-side on the couch, as I talk and she listens or she talks and I listen. We occasionally shift positions, crossing and uncrossing our legs and resting our heads on each others' shoulders, but our upper arms never separate. I know what it feels like to have someone right by my side, always. Lucky me.

Happy Mother's Day to all those celebrating (and hugs to those for whom today hurts), especially my mom, grandma, mother-in-law, sister Sara, and sis-in-law Chandi. I love you all, and cherish our unique and special connections.

Friday, May 11, 2018

High Five for Friday (5.11.18)

Both kids dealt were under the weather last week/end, but despite feeling uncomfortable - and even awful at some points - they "powered through" school projects and tests, dance classes and performances, soccer practices, and an art show. They couldn't miss certain activities and events and didn't want to miss others, and they impressed me with their toughness as well as their commitment to dance company members, teammates, and that for which they had worked hard throughout the last year.
Team Leader for Rock(in') Lemonade (they added pop rocks to the
lemonade), part of a larger financial and business literacy project
and fundraiser through the enrichment program at his school.

My girl loves to create, and we loved seeing one of her creations in the district-wide art show on Saturday. Tom and I agreed that while we didn't appreciate art class or art shows much as children and teenagers, we truly enjoy them now. The middle and high school students - and even some elementary school students - who display their work are naturally talented but also incredibly passionate and hard working. I always leave feeling inspired.

Hallie and her bestie Avery have been waiting for their moment - a short but beautiful duet in one of their Mini Company dances - for months. They finally had the opportunity to share their passion and hard work with an audience this weekend, when they performed Rainbow (from the movie Leap) at Relay for Life.
I was helping usher girls on and off the stage, so I left Will
in charge of my phone. He's good at a lot of things, but filming
his sister dancing is not one of them. He took two videos of this
dance - the first starts late and misses the beginning of the duet,
 while the second ends early and misses the end of the duet.
I'm on the hunt for a good video from someone else!

On Sunday afternoon a couple of friends and I - along with our three daughters - joined our local Parade of Homes tour. I have always wanted to attend the Parade of Homes but have never been able to do so because of prior commitments, so this was a fun way to wrap up a weekend. Watching the little girls marvel over the houses' unique...and not so unique ("You guys, look! This house has STAIRS!")...features was particularly entertaining.

Happiness Highlights:
Nine of the 11 Mini Company moms. We spend A LOT of
 time together, so it's a good thing we like each other! 😉
Just three proud Mini Company dads, hanging out with their
pink and purple unicorn, paisley, and flower dance bags.
She could stay in the hot tub (which we don't keep all that
hot) all day. Somehow wrinkly fingers don't bother kids... 
For some reason it makes me really happy when the quizzes
that come across my Facebook feed provide accurate answers.
I love finding a surprise photo (or 12) waiting for me on my
phone, and it happened three times last week. Here's #1...
Here's #2...
And here's #3.
Not exactly sure what she created, but I love how happy
she looks and that her GT teacher captured the moment.

Happy Friday, Chasing Roots!

Linking up with High Five for Friday here: