Friday, September 20, 2019

High Five for Friday (9.20.19)

It takes a village, y'all...  I could not have survived - or at least gotten everyone where they needed to be, when they needed to be there - this last week without my people. Tom traveled to Canada to spend time with his brother, sister-in-law, nephew, and new niece, so I needed a few extra hands to supervise, feed, and/or shuttle Will and/or Hallie while I supervised, fed and/or shuttled the other one in a different direction. Thank you, friends!

While sitting in a PTO meeting last week, a friend looked at my planner, shook her heard, and asked, "How do you do it all?" With a laugh, I replied, "I don't!" and pointed out to her the spots on that day's page where I'd written "Hallie w/ Mandi" and "Hallie to Jenn's". None of us can do it alone, friends. 

The silver lining to Tom's travels - whether for pleasure, like this most recent trip, or for work, which he will do quite a bit throughout the remainder of this semester - is the opportunity they afford me to connect in different ways with Will and Hallie. I enjoyed a weekday evening with each kiddo on their own, and the three of us spent Saturday night eating takeout and watching America's Got Talent, Sunday morning lounging in bed watching cartoons, and Sunday evening making spaghetti together.

This post wouldn't be complete without a high five for the time Tom spent with his brother and family in Canada. I don't know how helpful he was post-baby, but I think they all had a good time together!
When I look at this picture I feel jealous of their weather...
I dream of cool, rainy days and comfortably wearing a sweatshirt.

On Tuesday night, Will and I took each other out on a date. We had dinner at Olive Garden (his choice), and then headed to the theatre for Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy. Seventh grade has come with early morning school sports practices; after school and evening sporting events; an increase in homework, studying, and practicing; and an increase in time spent with friends. We see Will even less this year than we saw him last year, therefore both Tom and I are working hard to carve out pockets of time to connect with, talk to, eat with, play with, and even just sit in silence with him. This date night was the perfect opportunity for Will and I to touch base, and then make a memory just the two of us.
We're actually closer in height than we look in
this picture - my 2+ inch heels gave me a boost.

Happiness Highlights
XC meet #2!
(Does it look dry and dusty and sweltering?
Because it was. These kids are so hardcore.)
His goal for this meet was to place in the top 15 (out
of 75) and he worked SO hard to accomplish that goal.
On Saturday we celebrated sweet "baby"
Calvin's 4th birthday. Where does the time go?
Despite the age differences between them and
Calvin, both Will and Hallie consider him their
buddy and wanted to be there for his party.  
On school mornings, Will leaves before Hallie gets up
and Tom doesn't get up until right before Hallie leaves.
This means she and I have the house to ourselves, and
because we're pretty productive on our own, we have time
almost every morning to play Uno. We have fun no matter
who wins, and we both get a kick out of our Uno stalker...
He looks sweet and cuddly, but he's actually really
riled up - something about Uno makes him crazy!
Ready to rock our first year as a polichinelle in the Nutcracker!

Happy Friday, friends!

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Love That Texas Drawl

I’ve written previously about adjusting to both the vernacular and the accent here in Texas, and while we haven’t exactly mastered either, we have improved dramatically over the last eight years. (My voice, however, still gives me away...I assume because of my Midwestern twang. Last month I was talking to an office receptionist when an acquaintance I know from the kids’ school - who happens to work nearby - popped her head out to see if she had correctly identified me by ear. “I knew I recognized that accent!”)

Thank goodness, because according to a new survey by Big 7 Travel, Texas comes in at number one on the list of "Top 50 Sexiest Accent in the USA". Apparently their (our?) “Southern accent with a twist” – with its friendly greeting (“Howdy!”) and strong emphasis on the ‘r’ sound – swayed a significant number of the survey’s 1.5 million participants.

Boston and New York accents ranked second and third, respectively, and at the opposite end of the spectrum, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Long Island came in at 48th, 49th, and 50th. A Wisconsin accent didn’t make the list at all (probably because it falls somewhere between Minnesotan and Midwestern and didn’t warrant its own voting category), so I guess our best course of action is to continue trying to sound as much as possible like our fellow Texans…

Friday, September 13, 2019

High Five for Friday (9.13.19)

Remember last Friday, when I talked about me watching and Will playing soccer on the SURFACE OF THE SUN? (I have to capitalize all of the letters in that phrase - it's the law.) This Friday, I'm talking about me watching and Will running cross country on the SURFACE OF THE SUN.

Last Friday afternoon Will ran in his first cross country meet. At the moment his race started, there was hardly a cloud in the sky (although there was both smoke and ash in the sky, thanks to a nearby fire - talk about great conditions for running) and the temperature outside had climbed to a cool 100 degrees. Ouch. I have an occasional complaint about dance, but the fact that 95% of the time Hallie dances indoors isn't one of them.

But this is a High Five for Friday post, so let's focus on the high five, shall we?

Having never attended a cross country meet before, I had little idea what to expect aside from the oppressive heat. I discovered that while there were a few slow stretches (waiting for races to start, waiting for stragglers to finish, waiting for runners to circle back around to visible sections of the course), they were broken up by an exciting beginning, middle, and end.

The field of seventh grade boys, Will included, came to RUN. And despite the less-than-ideal conditions, most of the 70 or so runners gave impressive performances for their first meet of the season. Will finished in the top fourth, and while I know he was aiming for a slightly higher place overall, he was pleased with his second place finish on his team. Watching him take off from the starting line and working hard midway through the race made me SO proud, and I admit to tearing up a little when I saw him round the final corner and then sprint across the finish line.

I suspect cross country will always come in second place to soccer in Will's world of sports, but after this first meet, I am truly looking forward to watching him grow as a runner throughout the next two years.
Holding strong just after the halfway mark.
This is the best shot of what a
soccer player's leg tan looks like. 😂
Here he comes!
Leaning across the finish line.
Celebrating with friends/teammates.
A great first meet!

After using my new washer and dryer (a 40th birthday present from my parents) for about nine months, I made the decision - with help from my mom - to sell the set and replace them. It's a long story, but they needed to go. A local appliance repair company bought and picked them up from me last week, and then on Sunday (after a few delivery-related problems) my new set arrived. Tom installed them* and they're running beautifully...and I have returned to (kind of) enjoying laundry.

In the last month Tom correctly and impressively installed an under-mount microwave, an oven, a washer, and a dryer. He deserves a medal.

Nutcracker rehearsals have begun! I forgot to take pictures before rehearsal started, after rehearsal ended, and while we were out for ice cream to celebrate the first week of Nutcracker rehearsals, but I did take pictures during the afternoon playdate that allowed them to spend basically the entire day together. (Nutcracker rehearsal ⇨ ice cream shop ⇨ playdate ⇨ Welcome Back to Dance pajama party. Not too shabby for a Saturday!)
Yes, they're wearing matching pajamas and eating stalks of celery.

Sweet baby River is 10 days old today, a milestone which of course warrants additional pictures.

Happiness Highlights
A thank you gift from a friend, in honor of our
mutual favorite Friends' 25th anniversary.  
Found this little drawing on the back side of a school project.
Just because...
Who says Halloween and
Nutcrackers seasons can't overlap?
It's hard to put your laundry away when
there's a cat sleeping in your underwear drawer. 
Apparently age 12 is when boys will start
smiling - on command - for the camera.
I tried to capture one from far away - this is the best I could do.
Mamas are good at smiling for the camera though!

Happy Friday, friends!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019


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.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Who Wore It Better?

In honor of Will's first middle school cross country season, I proudly present: "Who Wore It Better?", the Father/Son Edition.

I'd say there's an obvious winner in this contest.

My boys are not wearing the same outfit. The picture of Tom was taken almost 10 years ago at one of our garage sales - I believe my brother-in-law was selling that ensemble, which he had worn long ago on the high school basketball court. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

High Five for Friday (9.6.19)

She may have moved hundreds of miles away, but she came back to celebrate her birthday! Happy, happy day (a little early) to you, Nuria!

Will's second soccer tournament of the season ended with a second second-place finish. Coming in second is tough - unlike first or third place, second place means ending the tournament with a loss. Thankfully, our boys held their heads high and felt good about the progress they made throughout the weekend.
My boys, enjoying sports at Buffalo Wild Wings, in between games.
Silver medalists: Cavalry 06 Black!

I love watching Will play...but after two full weekends of watching and playing on the SURFACE OF THE SUN, I'm ready to do both in weather that feels a little more fall-ish. Did you hear me, Mother Nature? I'm DONE with summer. 🔥

Thank goodness for three-day weekends, AMIRIGHT?! After having to get up early on both Saturday and Sunday morning for Nutcracker fittings and Will's soccer tournament, it felt incredibly refreshing to not set an alarm for Monday morning. We had a relatively relaxing day - I went to the gym, the kids played with friends, and I caught up on work, laundry, and cleaning/tidying up around the house - which was exactly what everyone needed.

Last week I had the opportunity to meet Will's teachers and walk the halls at his new middle school, and with this week came Hallie's turn. I actually already know Hallie's school quite well (it's the same school Will attended for fifth and sixth grade) and I met with her teachers prior to the start of the school year, but it was still informative and comforting to walk her schedule. I hope this year goes well for her academically, but also socially and emotionally, and being present in the school for events like this one helps me feel more at ease about the year ahead.

Last but certainly not least, on Tuesday our (extended) family grew by one! Tom's brother, his wife, and their son, Forest, welcomed a precious little girl - River Nicholson - into this world. Welcome, sweet River! We can't wait to meet you!
Beautiful, smart, brave, strong, and kind
River, with her equally gifted mama.
And Forest, her awesome big brother. 😍 

Happy Friday, friends!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Monthly Medley: August 2019

As I mentioned in last month's medley, I didn't have any writing goals for August. I wanted to spend all of my free time with the kids before they headed back to school, and that I did. I cranked out a short, quick article and a couple of pitches last week, but that was about it. Now that September has begun, I plan to brainstorm pitches, draft and submit a few of these pitches, plan out the next couple of months on Chasing Roots, and research new opportunities.

Rather than finish one book in August, I started - and made it about halfway through - three books. Two of these books are fiction novels that I don't feel qualified to review until I've read through to the final page, but the other book is a collection of nonfiction short stories that I can confidently recommend despite not yet finishing every last word. Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater by Kathryn J. Atwood includes 15 stories of "resistance, rescue, sabotage, and survival", each of which is more captivating that the last.

In the world of youth fiction, Hallie has fallen for the original Babysitter's Club books. They're almost impossible to get (at least in order) from the library, so I have been purchasing them a couple at a time from Amazon; doing so is a pricey way to build her Babysitter's Club library, but she likes them enough that I don't mind the extra cost. If you ever want to borrow these "classics" for a young reader in your life, let me know!

I had high hopes of seeing Toy Story 4, Yesterday, and Dora and the Lost City of Gold in the theater before the kids headed back to school, but in the end, just Will and I made it to Spiderman: Far From Home. We both really enjoyed the movie though, me much more so than I expected.

We didn't watch much on the small screen this month (though next month will be a different story - I can't wait for all of the season and series premieres that air in September), but I did introduce Hallie to Miss Congeniality, which she loved. She and I - and every single one of her friends - also enjoyed Descendants 3 on the Disney Channel.

Listening To
I just finished Season two of Breakdown, the podcast I first mentioned last month. While the podcast deals with dark topics and difficult outcomes - it is appropriately called Breakdown, as it addresses often frustrating breakdowns in our courts - I like learning about how our justice system works, outside of watching Law & Order episodes.

For those of you wondering about the weight of the podcasts I usually recommend, know that I balance all of my true crime listening with lighter podcasts like Young House Love Has a Podcast and This is Love, both of which I highly recommend!

I know summer has nearly come to an end for most of the country (LUCKY) so this post might be a day late and a dollar short, but I discovered a tankini top from Athleta that I absolutely love. The style is flattering, the pattern is pretty, and the suit itself keeps everything tucked in and where it's supposed to stay, which makes it a great option for actually playing in the water with your kids. It's called a high neck tankini, and while the "midnight palm" pattern I chose is nearly sold out, Athleta still has quite a few sizes in a variety of solid colors. (And I expect they'll go on sale within a few weeks.)

We gave Will a basic smart phone - locked down as best we could while still granting access to calling and texting - when he started fifth grade. He walked almost a mile to and from school, so I wanted him to be able to contact me if he had problems on the walk (which happened, more than once), as well as when he arrived at school. Throughout both fifth and sixth grade, Will used the phone to communicate with us, take photos, listen to music, and occasionally watch YouTube chess and soccer videos, and handled the responsibility of a phone as well as I would have expected: for the most part he took good care of it and used it for what we had approved, but every once in a while he broke our rules by taking it into his room or watching videos when we weren't home to approve them.

Hallie started fifth grade this year, and is also walking to school. She didn't want a phone at all, so I started looking into other options for her...and nothing I found checked all of the boxes on my list. I did (well, my mom did), however, eventually find what I think is the best phone out there for kids: the jitterbug flip. The phone is actually designed for the older generation, with simplicity, ease of use, and safety in mind. It has big buttons, a bright screen, and a strong speaker, both on regular mode and speaker mode. It has a navigate-able menu (neither kid needed a tutorial), camera, phone book, preprogrammed library of commonly-used texts, and a few "brain games". It also comes with a 5Star urgent response button/feature, which allows users to immediately connect with a trained agent who can confirm location with GPS, evaluate the situation, and send help immediately. Perhaps most importantly, it does not have access to the internet - the kids can call and text us and THAT'S IT.

Hallie now loves her phone, and Will likes his just fine. That's right, we took away Will's smart phone and replaced it with a jitterbug flip, and all of our lives are better for it. Will wishes that texting complex messages went a little more quickly, but other than that, NO COMPLAINTS. He can get in touch with me and I can get in touch with him, and he cannot use this device to access the internet or social media. It's a Will knows we will reevaluate phone type, phone use, social media, etc. every summer, but for the time being we're sticking with the current plan because it works for us.

I wish we would have started with the jitterbug flip for Will, but we didn't know about it back then. But now that we do know about it, and I HIGHLY recommend the jitterbug flip if you're looking for a way to keep in touch with your kiddos but would like to steer clear of smart phones and social media for a little while longer. This is a great way to keep the little in our little boys and girls. (Let me know if you have any questions, friends!)

On a completely different note, I bought new rugs to put in front of our front, back, and garage doors. I tried at least five different rugs before I found a style and color I liked and that worked in our house, so I was particularly pleased that these, in addition to coordinating with our home decor and laying flat enough for our doors to swing over them, are holding up so well. And they're reasonably priced!

I would like to once again cook dinner and bake breads, muffins, cakes, cupcakes, and brownies, but IT'S SO HOT outside that I have a hard time justifying turning on my oven. (Speaking of, we replaced both our microwave and oven this month, and I can't wait to learn how to cook with convection heat.) I do have two recipes to share, however, and one cooks in the crockpot, making it perfect for this time of year.
  • This Slow Cooker Burrito Bowl went over well with the entire family, including picky pickerson. I used pre-cooked rice (the kind in the bag, that just takes 90 seconds to soften), so I used half as much liquid as the recipe called for and added the rice to the crockpot about 15 minutes before serving. I also left the chicken in the crockpot the entire time, just shredding it with two forks while stirring all of the other ingredients.
  • This Sheet Pan Pecan-Crusted Salmon with Brussels Sprouts was devoured. Hallie stood innocently next to the pan after it came out of the oven and snitched Brussels sprouts and pecans until I finally banished her from the kitchen. I don't think I made any adaptations to this recipe, and based on how much everyone loved every aspect of it, I wouldn't change a thing the next time around!

Feeling Good About

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

Friday, August 30, 2019

High Five for Friday (8.30.19)

Well, we didn't win anything at our orthodontist's annual Splash Bash pool party (they give away thousands of dollars worth of incredible prizes and gift cards), but we had a great time swimming after dark. Last summer the pool offered weekly evening family swims, and we took advantage of quite a few. This summer, however, the pool did away with this particular special event, so last Friday night was the first time we swam under the lights, an absolute favorite summer activity for both kids.

The following night was the last time we swam under the lights for the summer, but we had great fun celebrating our friends Kaylee and Lexi at their combined 12th birthday party.

On Monday night I attended the beginning-of-the-school-year Open House at Will's middle school, and I didn't get lost a single time! More importantly, I met all of Will's teachers and feel even better about the "big kid" school I send him off to every morning.

Tom and I upgraded our phones this week, and while I only transitioned from the iPhone 6 to the iPhone 7 (I prefer to stay at least a few years behind the times 😂), I am truly excited about my new and improved camera. Stay tuned for better - though just slightly better, as the photographer's skills haven't improved - pictures!

Happiness Highlights
Celebrating their Nutcracker roles. 
Borrowing my blue-light glasses and using my computer to work on
his history assignment. He looks so much like me at 12 years old...if
I'd had cuter glasses and a much shorter haircut. 
Sweet friends kicking off their first week of the dance year.
Just a little something Hallie drew on a paper lunch bag...
Tux proved how just how patient he can be when the little
girls dressed him up in his Battle Mouse hat and made him
pretend to nurse all of the stuffed baby kittens.
Those of you who know about Tom's bed candy - and the infamous
cake and strawberry ice cream incident - can appreciate how happy
I was when he didn't spill his bed strawberry shortcake. 😂
This kid carries three backpacks, a binder, breakfast, and
a water bottle to school - at 6:35am - every day. (He also
changes his clothes four times - well, three changes between four
outfits - during the school day.) I would complain. He doesn't. 😍

Happy weekend, friends!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

New Year, New Me

In years past I have written about 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 (not to mention new schools this year), 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 four 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 two years ago, I kicked off my resolutions in September and made one additional 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.

I admit to bombing a handful of my 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 structure my resolutions in this way for the third year in a row.

And so, with our further ado, let's get this year off to a great start!

Toward the end of the summer I recognized that I was spending too much time on my phone. My bad habit developed in part because my kids are getting older and spending more time on their own; when they're not with me (and especially when they're home alone or Will is at the park with his friends) I want and need to keep my phone nearby in case they text or call. However, when my phone is nearby, I pick it up, check my email, and scroll through social media far more often. I have also gotten into the (equally bad) habit of perusing my phone while watching television. I allow myself to have my computer open and the television on at the same time because I like background noise while I work, but there is not need for me to watch my phone and the television simultaneously. If the program or movie isn't interesting enough for me to watch it without phone "enhancement", it's not interesting enough for me to watch at all.

To be clear, I am not abandoning social media all together. I need it for work and my volunteer positions, and I like that it helps me stay on top of academic and extracurricular events, activities, rehearsals, practices, games, and performances. I also really enjoy seeing pictures of my friends' kiddos and watching cute kitten and puppy videos... I am, however, planning to pop on fewer times a day - probably once in the morning after the kids leave, once around lunch time when I'm taking a break from work, and then once again in the evening before I climb into bed and start reading. In between those brief visits I will (try to) only pick up my phone to respond to texts and answer calls.

Wish me luck!

What's on your resolutions list this month/year? Whatever lies ahead of you, good luck!