Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Not For the Faint of Heart

Yesterday the kids and I began our second six weeks - or our second grading period - of virtual school. Back in July we opted in to virtual school for the first six weeks, and then a couple of weeks ago we had to make the call about what we wanted for the kids for the second six weeks. While our school district has actually done a fairly good job of keeping the number of cases low, there have still been cases in the schools and the overall number of active cases in our area continues to rise...primarily because TAMU hasn't had the same level of success. As college students make up a significant percentage of the Bryan College Station population and share fully this community with us, we decided to wait another "round" before returning to in-person school in hopes that the number of cases among 18-24 year olds will soon begin to decrease.

When I brought up our decision with Will and Hallie, neither complained; in fact, both agreed that we'd made the right choice. 

That's not to say, however, that I haven't - at least a handful of times throughout the last six weeks - thought to myself, "THEY'RE GOING BACK TO SCHOOL TOMORROW". Virtual school is HARD, harder than I anticipated, for all three of us.

Those are actual tears.

BUT...I don't want to dwell on the challenges and problems. We're learning and growing in ways we didn't expect, figuring out new and innovative ways to work together and solve problems, and doing our absolute best to maintain a positive attitude, keep the lines of communication open, and offer only productive, constructive feedback to our school administrators and teachers. 

AND...there are a few silver linings Besides the obvious in that I feel like they're safer and we're collectively safer as a family, here are a few positives:

Will can eat a healthy breakfast. When he went straight from cross country practice to the locker room to school, Will ate a Lara bar and drank a box of dark chocolate soy milk for breakfast almost every day. We tried a few other options, but anything that tasted better warm, tasted better cold, or could get squished in a backpack proved less than desirable. Now he goes to cross country practices, attends his on-site athletics period, and comes home, where he can shower and eat a healthier, more well-rounded breakfast before starting the lengthy academic portion of his day. 

Though Will's days are LONG (he studies from 9:30am until at least 5:30/6pm, working through lunch and stopping only for in-person orchestra and eventually dinner and soccer practice), but he's - for the most part - happy. He likes breaking up the computer work with the in-person classes and being able to work independently, peacefully, and quietly in his own room when not at school.

Hallie can sleep in until 7:30am. (Not Will though. Maybe when cross country season wraps.)

Hallie almost always finishes her schoolwork before what would be the end of her in-person school day, and she uses this extra time in her day to craft, bake, and read. She also likes to ride with me when I pick up groceries, shuttle Will to and from school for orchestra, and knock out other errands. She doesn't like to work on her typing. (Too bad, kid - it's the greatest skill you'll ever learn and someday you'll thank me for making you practice.)

Hallie almost always goes into dance happy. Because we have more flexibility in our day, when I drop her off at 4:15pm for her first class, she's hydrated, she's fed, and she doesn't have homework hanging over her head because we had plenty of time to prepare for the afternoon/evening of classes.

She's smiling under there.

Hallie LOVES having all the time in the world to work on the artistic component of academic projects, a detail that sometimes feels rushed or takes a backseat to the actual "work" (as it should, but not in Hallie's opinion) if/when projects are completed at school.

Last but of course not least...Tux and kitten snuggles.

Virtual school is not for the faint of heart, and anyone who says otherwise hasn't actually tried it (or fully committed to it). But a few special moments and appreciated experiences have come out of this time, and for that, I'm grateful. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

High Five for Friday (9.25.20)

Weather-related field issues led to the cancellation of Will's first regular season soccer game two weeks ago, but last weekend and after a half-year, the boys were finally able to officially kick off fall league play. 

It felt strange to be back on the sidelines; for the last few months and with the exception of the tournament a couple of weeks ago, I and my fellow soccer parents have just been dropping our boys off at practice and coming back to pick them up an hour and 45 minutes later. No parking lot chit chat, no conversations on the bleachers, no carpooling. But now that league play has started back up (let me throw in mini high fives for a great field location this fall), and even though we're wearing masks and social distancing* on the sidelines, it was nice to see and catch up with my soccer parent friends again.

And for your amusement, this is what I looked like at Will's game. WARNING: it's not a pretty picture.

It began to rain about 30 minutes prior to kick off, and the weather only ramped up (thank you, Tropical Storm Beta) throughout the first half. By the second half, I was under both a tree and my chair "roof", using an umbrella to block my upper body from the sideways-blowing wind wind and rain, and covered in a blanket to keep my legs and feet dryish. By the end of the game, the only part of me that wasn't cold and wet was my face mask-covered mouth and nose. 😂

The same story - both parts - holds true for Will's school sports. His first cross county meet was cancelled because of a storm, so last Wednesday Will and his teammates ran their inaugural race of the semester. More than six months have passed since Will's first and last track meet, so while it felt strange to be dressed in my royal blue cross country mom ensemble once again, it also felt great to join my fellow school sport parents to watch our kids compete at an activity they love. Masks and social distancing* can't put a damper on the energy and enthusiasm associated with school sports!

If you zoom in, you can see that he's smiling at his mama who's
waving and yelling and filming from the front row of the bleachers.

Oh yeah, he won. It was amazing.

* To be clear, I 100% support wearing masks and social distancing. They make everything feel a little different than it has in the past, but if this teeny, tiny inconvenience saves lives (spoiler alert: it does) and makes it possible for (parts of) life to return to (a version of) normal, count me in.

This high five needs no explanation...

August 2018

September 2020

Congratulations, Will!

Also, TIME, SLOW DOWN. Who is this man child and what has he done with my baby?!

After about five weeks and three weeks respectively, last Friday morning we said goodbye to Mahalo and Scrumpy Scrumperson. 

I knew that bringing kittens into our home would be physically challenging. Kittens, after all, make messes, destroy things, terrorize other animals, stay up all night, and don't understand that they're not welcome on every work and school Zoom call. I also knew that bringing kittens into our home would be emotionally challenging. The kids worried about how to make sure Tux knew they still loved and hadn't replaced him, and Hallie, who has A LOT of love to give, sometimes struggles when animals don't return her love quite as deeply and in as affectionate a way. What I didn't know, however, was how challenging it would be to fall in love with them and let them go.  

We can't keep them all, of course...I'm too young to become a crazy cat lady. (Maybe someday, when we're nearing the end of our foster days and we find a cat or kitten who gets along well with Tux, we'll keep one of these little rascals.) But the goal was never to adopt them - it was to love and socialize them so that when leave our home, they're ready for their forever families. And I feel peace knowing we accomplished that goal.

We're taking a couple of weeks off from fostering to remind Tux that we still love and haven't replaced him, and then we'll open our home to the next round of kittens!

Happiness Highlights
Let's be honest - I'm probably going to buy
her for myself for Christmas. (Also, when did
being born in 1986 make someone "historical"?!)

Not too shabby a view while working at soccer practice.

Hallie and I are missing Nutcracker, so we've been playing
Gin (which I just taught her) with our Nutcracker cards.

Repping our Brenda Mueller originals at the orthodontist...

...and at dance. Hallie LOVES that my mom
has started adding embellishments to her masks.

Celebrating finishing all six of the kids' MAP tests!

Happy weekend, friends!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Porch That Quarantine Built

Despite my incessant complaining about the weather, I really do enjoy spending time outside. I'm just a little more particular than most, in that I strongly dislike temperatures above 80 degrees and I HATE all bugs. There are ways to remedy or improve these conditions, however: beaches, swimming pools, and sprinklers make the heat more tolerable, and staying on the opposite side of screens from mosquitoes makes them less annoying.

When it became apparent we'd be spending A LOT of time at home this summer, we set up an above-ground pool on part of our patio. And when it became apparent we'd be spending A LOT of time at home this fall, we started looking into turning another part of our patio into a three-season screened porch.

Funny side note: while giving me a quote, the owner of the company we chose - more on them in a moment - mentioned to me how much people in Texas enjoy their three-season porches. I laughed, and then explained to him that while yes, I planned to use the porch three seasons out of the year, it wouldn't be the same three seasons as other Texans use their porches. Summer? NO WAY. Winter? HALLELUJAH. 

We opted to use Solar X of Texas, a locally-owned and -operated small business here in Bryan-College Station. The owner did all of the work himself (with a little help from his wife), and we were incredibly happy with their price, their professionalism, the amount of time the project took, the quality of their work, and the overall finished product. 

I took on furnishing and decorating the space, and while I'm not great at furnishing or decorating, I love how the space turned out. I know we will spend a considerable amount of time outside on the porch each of us on our own, as a family, and with friends...and I'm excited to actually sleep out there (with an air mattress, of course) once the nighttime temperatures start dropping into the 50s!

I think the space looks the most fun at night, with the lights on, so that's why the majority of the pictures were taken around dusk. During the day, you can barely see the screens looking from the inside out, and from the outside in, they look dark to block some of the sun and heat.

Only one detail has yet to completed...Tom needs a television on that far wall. 😉 

Linking to a few of the items in the photos below.

Friday, September 18, 2020

High Five for Friday (9.18.20)


Last Thursday I woke up to discover an outside temperature of 63 degrees. SIXTY THREE DEGREES. Y'all, the nighttime low temperatures haven't dipped below 75 in weeks (months?), and when I walked outside at 6:30am and didn't immediately break into a sweat, I nearly cried. I also nearly went back into my house for a jacket, but because I'm a tough Wisconsinite I decided against it...and I'm glad I did, because I was quickly reminded that when exercising, 63 degrees isn't actually all that cool. But I was sweating within five minutes instead of five seconds, which is a win in my book.

That day could best be described as fake fall, in that it made us believe fall had arrived (it hadn't - summer returned a short 30 hours later), but OH, was it heavenly while it lasted.

Most of my collegiate teams opted not to play football this season and the Aggies don't kick off their season until September 26th, so while none of the games on television this weekend included teams I root for, THERE WERE FOOTBALL GAMES ON TELEVISION THIS WEEKEND! 

Prior to moving to Texas, I lived almost exclusively in Big 10 college towns - Madison, Wisconsin; Iowa City, Iowa; and Ann Arbor, Michigan - so "my" teams are the Wisconsin Badgers and the Iowa Hawkeyes. I also root for the Michigan Wolverines and the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and I root against the Ohio State Buckeyes nearly as hard. Since the Big 10 essentially shut down their football programs for the fall, I have no one except the Aggies to root for or against.

Tom and I watched portions of a few games, while he ate his usual "super Saturday sandwich", and it felt delightfully "normal".

We've been in school for weeks here in Texas, but my sister, niece, and nephews are just getting into the swing of things after starting last week. Aren't they cute?!

You want to see pictures of kittens, right? 

Last week Scrump helped Hallie make her scientist poster...

...and present it, via video, to her teacher.

Playing some tunes during Tom's class.

This is my desk chair. It was a gift from my parents, it's
really nice, and I love it. I won't let Tux sleep here, but M
and S two have decided it's their favorite places to nap and
I can't seem to make them move. (It's also their favorite piece
of furniture to climb, so if they were staying with us forever
I'd have to police the chair a little more strictly.) 

Another day, another nap.

Happiness Highlights
No caption needed.


Only in Wisconsin.

True story!

Happy weekend, friends!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Kids Say the Darnedest Things

Inspired by @LiveFromSnackTime on Instagram, and in need of a good belly laugh, I went in search of one particular funny story about something Will said as a nearly four-year-old a decade ago. On my quest, I found quite a few Will-isms - and Hallie-isms - that made me laugh out loud, so I decided to make today a flashback post and share my favorites.

Ewww, Gross
One morning Hallie came into my closet while I was getting dressed. She does this frequently, and likes to comment on what I've chosen to wear and my appearance in general, so I didn't consider it out of the ordinary when she ran her hands up and down the arms of my soft sweater, stroked my hair, and held my face between her hands to inspect my chosen color of lipstick. She complimented my choices for the day, and then wrapped up our encounter with a quick but sincere, "oh Mommy, I love you so much".

And then, as she pranced out of the closet, I heard her comment to Tom, "I really should go wash the poop off my hands now."

I got back in the shower.

Put Down the Scissors and Step Away From My Head
On Friday mornings when she doesn't attend preschool, Hallie watches and talks incessantly at me while I dry and style my hair, apply my make-up, and get ready for the day. On occasion I curl her hair, or allow her to put a little blush or lipgloss. Then one day I was feeling really generous, and I let Hallie put make-up on me (flashback to the kindergarten Mother's Day Makeover Will gave me a year ago). She took her time applying blush, powder, lipgloss, and lipstick, and then she brushed my hair as gently as you'd expect a four-year-old with Hallie's zest for life to brush. (Not gently at all, in case that wasn't clear.) Then she took a deep breath and exhaled a quiet, "well…" I asked her to repeat what she'd said, to which she replied "well…" once again. As I turned around I saw her - twinkle in her eye and scissors (where did she get scissors?!) in her hand - standing at the ready. "Well…" she continued, "I guess the only thing left is to go ahead and cut off your hair."

Super Powers
Will: Do you want to know what my super power is?
Erin: Sure!
Will: I can be invisible.
Erin: Cool!
Will: What’s your super power?
Erin: I can fly.
Will: No, that’s not it. Your super power is singing while you’re eating. And Dad’s super power is driving with his eyes closed.

Happy Birthday
Will: Mama, I know it’s not your birthday today, but I have a present for you anyway.
Erin: Really? What is it?
Will: It’s a sticker with a number four on it. Because I’m four.
Erin: That’s very nice of you, Will. Thank you.
Will: Whew. Now I don’t have to get you anything for your birthday.

There were two donuts left, and I offered the one with chocolate frosting to Hallie (you never know if chocolate has dairy in it, so lucky Hallie always gets the one of anything that has chocolate on or in it) and the blueberry one to Will.

Will: How come I get the blueberry one?
Erin: Because it has your name written all over it.

30 seconds later I realized Will still hadn’t taken a bite and was turning the donut around and around in his hands.

Erin: What are you doing? Don’t you want to eat your donut?
Will: Not yet – I want to find my name first!

Safety Manual
Last month we traveled – via four-hour airplane ride – to Washington for a wedding. Once on the airplane Will required very little of his parents’ time and energy; thanks to his Leapster and a few snacks, we heard from him only when he had to go to the bathroom. Hallie was a different story, needing an endless supply of books, art projects, cartoons, and snacks to distract her from kicking the seat in front of her and screaming at the top of her lungs.

Toward the end of our flight, a restless Hallie desperately wanted Tom to read to her but was less-than-thrilled about the books in her backpack. At that moment she discovered the seatback pocket in front of her, pulled out the safety manual, and handed it to Tom.

Hallie: You read dis.
Tom: (Reads Hallie the entire safety manual while Hallie listens intently.)
Hallie: Now seen (sing) it.
Tom: What?
Hallie: You seen (sing) it to me.

For the remainder of the flight, Tom sang the safety manual – cover to cover – to Hallie. Now if you ever hear her singing about lifeboats or oxygen masks you’ll know why.

Will's fairly obsessed with winning these days, to the point that he somehow trained Hallie - who has no idea what losing actually means - to think that losing is cool so that he can always be the winner. We've recently heard all of these exchanges between the kids:

Will: I’m the winner!
Hallie: I da loo-ser!

Tom wore a nice pair of plaid dress shorts and a polo shirt to church. While the choir was singing, Will tugged on my arm and motioned for me to lean down so he could ask me something.

Will: (in a whisper) Mama, why did you let Daddy wear his jammies to church?
Erin: Those aren’t his jammies, Will. Those are his shorts.
Will: Hmm. They look like jammies to me.

Not VERY Pretty
Will, Hallie, and I were sitting in the car, waiting in line to gain entry to a parking garage. A young women - likely a college student at TAMU - was collecting money at the gate. As we crept closer and Will could see her out his window, he commented to me that he thought she was pretty. I knew that if I was that young woman I would appreciate knowing that a sweet little boy thought I was pretty, so when I finally reached the entrance to the parking garage I told her what Will had said.

Erin: I have to tell you, as we were pulling up my son (gesturing to Will in the back seat) told me he thought you were very pretty.
Young Woman: Really?!
Erin: Yes. I just thought you'd like to know.
Young Woman: Thank you!

Then, as we were pulling away but while my window was still down and the young woman was still within earshot, Will yelled at me from the back seat.

Will: MOM?!
Erin: What?
Will: I said she was pretty, not VERY pretty!

A commercial for Neutrogena’s new Anti-Wrinkle Cream popped up on the television.
Will: Mom! You gotta get that!
Erin: Why?
Will: It’ll make all your wrinkles go away!
Erin: (near tears) Do you think I have a lot of wrinkles?
Will: I don’t know – what are wrinkles?

Driving License
Will: Mama, when will I get a driving license?
Erin: When you’re 16.
Will: (defiantly) Ha! I’m going to get a driving license when I’m 15!
Erin: Actually you can get a learner’s permit when you’re 15. You can’t get an actual driver’s license until you’re 16.
Will: How do you get a driving license?
Erin: You have to take two tests – first a written test, and then a driving test with an instructor.
Will: What’s a constructor?
Erin: An instructor is a teacher.
Will: Will you come with me with the constructor?
Erin: No, you have to take the test with just the instructor.
Will: (with tears beginning to well in his eyes) I don’t want to go with the constructor by myself!
Erin: Then you don’t have to. We won’t make you take the test to get a driver’s license. But you can’t get a driver’s license without taking the test. It's the law.
Will: (with tears streaming down his face) But I want a driving license!
Erin: Will, this isn’t something you need to worry about right now.
Tom: Will, how old are you?
Will: (bawling, holds up four fingers)
Tom: So you don’t have to worry about getting your driver’s license for at least 11 years.
Will: (still bawling) Mama, how do you get your kid back after the test?
Erin: Well, I’ll take you to the DMV –
Will: (through sobs) What’s the DMV?
Erin: The Department of Motor Vehicles. (At this point I couldn’t hold it in any longer and I started laughing because the conversation was just so ridiculous, and I had to take a moment to compose myself.) I’ll take you to the DMV, you’ll take your tests, and then we’ll leave together.
Will: Did you have to take the tests?
Erin: Yes. Grandma Brenda took me to the DMV and waited while I took my tests; then we drove home together.
Will: How do you find your kid after the tests?
Erin: Moms wait in the lobby for their kids.
Will: What’s a lobby?
Erin: A room where people wait for other people or to be called for appointments.
Will: Are there chairs?
Erin: Yes, there are chairs.
Will: (having calmed down and gotten undressed for his bath) Look Mama! I’m buck naked!

Happy Tuesday, friends. I hope these brought about a laugh or two!

Friday, September 11, 2020

High Five for Friday (9.11.20)

"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.

And now, our regularly scheduled programming...

Since he grew out of "youth" soccer, Will has wanted to coach youth soccer. He loves kids, and coaching is both a dream of his and one of his strengths as a player, as he sees and understands (and attempts to manipulate) the entire field like he would his pieces on a giant chess board. 

Two weeks ago Will was finally given the stamp of approval to help with Cavalry Soccer Club's Junior and Youth Academies. Rain cancelled practice his first night on the job, but last Wednesday he was able to start helping. I snuck out to the fields to watch for a little while, and though I couldn't get a read on how Will felt about his new volunteer role from my seat in the air conditioned car, when he got home that night he asked if he could help at two practices a week instead of one. I love that he's enjoying this new endeavor, and that I get to drive to the soccer fields four nights a week instead of three. 😉

The kiddo whose face I didn't blur out is our friend Cullen, who is SO thrilled to have Will as one of his coaches and would definitely want me to keep him in these pictures.

Hallie received an Amish Friendship Bread starter from a friend (yes, we've reached the bread-making stage of quarantine), and after 10 days of nurturing, last Thursday afternoon she turned that starter into starters for three of her friends, one starter for us to keep, and two loaves of bread. We kept one of the loaves for ourselves, and shared the other with a friend of mine. The starter ended up being such a fun gift to receive, project to complete, and gift to share!

What an incredibly welcome holiday Labor Day turned out to be this year. (Well, for the three of us whose schools observed Labor Day...TAMU never does, so Tom still had to work.) We always enjoy a three-day weekend, but after the last three weeks of virtual school we desperately needed a day without an early morning wake-up call, multiple athletic practices, and 718 different attendance check-ins, discussion boards, Loom videos, Zoom meetings, Nearpod lessons, virtual worksheets, and online tests. Tuesday dawned brighter and felt considerably less laborious thanks to Labor Day!

This little buddy had some eye issues at the end of last week and through the weekend (his eyes were fine when he laid down for a nap one afternoon, and by the time he woke up they were A MESS), but he seems to be on the mend and for that, we're grateful.

In other news, the kittens still love school!

All three cats are on the bed at the same time! (Not for long...)

Last but certainly not least, these sweet girl - our niece, River (who we haven't seen in forever because she lives in Vancouver and because COVID-19 kept us all from gathering at the Lodge this summer) - just turned ONE. Happy birthday, baby big girl!

Happy weekend, friends!