6th Grade Graduation

So this happened. I only ugly cried once.

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My baby girl is headed to middle school. She’s going to do things like French class and daily P.E. Boys might ask her out. (She’ll say no, of course…)
I need the entire summer to wrap my brain around this.
Congrats, sweet Ava, on 7 wonderful years at our neighborhood elementary school. We are so proud of you for not only your hard work, but for shining the beautiful light of your kind spirit in that place. You are a joy!

5 Months

What happens when you don’t post for 5 months on your personal blog?

Not much, apparently.

I still get plenty of spam visits, but the real people in my life may have given up on me.  I’ve always enjoyed using this space to record snapshots of my life- so that those I rarely see can keep up with me and the family, and for myself since I do enjoy going back and reading things I wrote years ago.

At some point earlier this year, writing those things down felt less appealing.  It almost seemed like a burden.  I had so much going on in my mind and life, but little desire to record it here.  Maybe I’ll revisit some of those things and form posts about them.  They might include:

  • the books I’m reading
  • an unusual type of exercise program I’ve been doing
  • my trip to France with a girlfriend
  • taking a new responsibility by becoming the president of the non-profit group Richardson Gifted
  • a trip to Knoxville for my friend’s 40th birthday
  • a new cooking program I started with the kids called My Meal Monday
  • watching my daughter graduate from elementary school (life’s about to change…)
  • Cody’s 40th birthday
  • a review of the Belmont hotel and Smoke restaurant
  • the process of creating the yearbook for the kids’ school

There’s probably more- that’s my quickly brainstormed list.  I’m getting an itch- an itch to blog again.  We will see what happens!

If you’re still out there- leave a comment and let me know!

Parlay Voo Frahnsay?

I just had the craziest experience.  Apparently I mentioned a few times that I would love to learn French and my observant husband dreamed up the perfect Christmas gift for me: French class!

There’s a place not far from here that offers highly rated French language classes.  Who knew?  Today was my first class in the 8 week course.  The classes meet for 2 hours weekly and come with 2 books and CD’s.  My class has only 4 people in it, which means plenty of opportunity for asking questions and getting help from the instructor.

I was nervous before my first class today!  Nervous!  I guess it was because I had no idea what to expect.  I did my best to dress “French” for my class (scarf and ballet flats…a hint of lipstick.)  Somehow I hoped dressing the part might actually help those French phrases to lodge in my memory.  My instructor was decisively more French than I- she wasn’t even wearing a scarf yet looked effortlessly beautiful and sophisticated.  I think part of that comes just by speaking French (which she obviously does quite well.)

My classmates and I (2 ladies, one man) settled into our desks wondering what to expect as my lovely teacher Isabelle launched into a few brief words in English about the course.  I discovered it will take 1 year to progress through my entire beginner’s book.  If I do that and pass a test I’ll get a diploma from the French government certifying my basic level of French language skill.  People, I’m telling you now I’m going to get that diploma and it’s going to hang on my living room wall.  Mark my words.

At this point Isabelle stated that for the remainder of class she would speak only French.  I have to admit my brain freaked out a little. She assured us we could ask questions if we felt confused or lost (questions she would most likely answer with more French I later discovered…)  This is when I discovered the beauty of body language and dry erase boards.  She would say “Page 16″ in French, but write “16″ on the board and point to things in the book as she talked about them.

This blows my mind so I have to say it one more time.  I was just spoken to in almost only French for 2 hours and managed to follow along, learn many new things, and even answer questions back to my instructor in French.  I can say the entire French alphabet!  And it’s way different than the English one!  I can introduce myself and find page 16!

Now I need to listen to the CD to review the things we did in class, and complete a small homework assignment.  She also recommended that we listen to Radio France Internationale in our free time.

When class was over, Isabelle just stopped.  She stood quietly looking at us until we realized class was over.  Is that a French thing?  I’m not sure.  I think we American’s are too “announce-y” like “Class is dismissed” and crap like that when all we really need to do is stop talking and slightly raise our eyebrows.

I had to take a couple of ibuprofen when I got home.  I didn’t realize how hard I was thinking until I walked into the house and finally let my shoulders drop about 4 inches.  It’s not easy listening to comprehend a foreign language for 2 hours.  This is like a college class- and I am so not college age anymore.  I’m already looking forward to next week though!

Here’s my textbook and pretty little note-taking journal.  I love how the textbook is called “Alter Ego.”  Ha!  My alter ego is a wine drinking, baguette eating woman dressed all in black.  Her name is Blanche.  Wait, that’s not very different from my wine drinking, baguette eating real life.

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I also have my new (my old, new) French/English dictionary which my sweet friend found at an antique shop in Abilene.  I’m pulling this baby out in French class soon and bet my classmates will be jealous.  Does your dictionary have words like “milkman” and “quinine” in it?  Mine does.

Ok, really, this is the cutest little dictionary ever and I’m in love with it.

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Stay tuned for more about my French adventures.  And if you are interested in learning French check out Alliance Francaise de Dallas.

Best Books I Read in 2014

Need an idea of what to read?

I looked back over the list of books I read in 2014 and here are all the ones I rated an 8 or above on a scale of 1-10.

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin 8 I enjoyed this book quite a bit.  It seems more non-fiction than fiction, though you know the dialogue is imagined.  I love Anne’s book Gifts from the Sea and liked seeing into her life and what it might have been like.

Seven by Jen Hatmaker 9 Well, crap, I’m going to have to change a few things due to conviction from this book about excess, waste, wealth, and true Christian living.  It has made me uncomfortable and that’s a good thing.

Unspeakable by Reng Ajak Gieu 8 My friend gave me this book.  The author is a gardener at the Arboretum (she also works there.)  He tells of his life as a lost boy of Sudan.  His life story and the story of his country is remarkable.  I appreciated learning more about it all.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker 8 Great book!  Except for one thing that got brought up but never dealt with effectively, the writing was superb!  And a fascinating folk tale/mythology topic set in NY at an interesting historical time- when so many immigrants were arriving at the turn of the century.

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout 8 She was held kidnapped for over a year in Somalia.  Her story is fascinating and heart-breaking.  Also a very good window into human behavior in general- hers, her captors, her fellow prisoner.

Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica 8 A funny read with moments of subtle introspection that touch on the human existence.  Harsh language but it didn’t bother me.  Would like for my friends to read this one- just an unusual read.

The Medea Complex by Rachel Roberts 8 I borrowed this on kindle and it was actually really good.  Raised lots of questions and the reader was never quite sure exactly what was going on until the end.  It’s about a woman who is treated in a lunatic asylum.

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis 8 Wonderful retelling of an old myth…I love Lewis.  He was a master.

Fairy Tales by Oscar Wilde 8 The wit, the sarcasm, the alternating between morals and irreverent.  I was so glad I found this book of works by Wilde that I didn’t know existed!

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein 8 Great sic fi book.  Reminds me of Dune a little bit- just in that a different world exists but is slowly learned by the reader.

Jantsen’s Gift by Pam Cope 8 Very good- what an insight into the grieving process of losing a child AND what an inspiration to live intentionally and make a difference for those who are hurting and poor here and in other countries during this short time we have on earth.

The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon 8 Wow- an EPIC book, seriously it lasted forever…but it held my interest and wove a beautiful story.  I was so glad I read it on our trip to Maine.  Immigrants, New York, the birth of the comic book business, relationships, war, it had everything!!

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr 9 I really liked this book.  So well-written.  Yet ANOTHER take on WWII- I seem to read so many books along that theme.  I recommend this one a lot.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood 8  Taken from a true story in the 1800′s of a teenage girl convicted of killing her employer and his housekeeper/mistress.  Really gripping and well-told/imagined by Atwood.

Peony by Pearl Buck 8 I really appreciated the subtle wisdom and description of Chinese and Western culture- in this case the book is about a small refuge of Jews in China in the 19th century.  The pull the people felt between their Jewish law and the ways they intermixed into the Chinese culture were so beautifully written.  Great historical fiction.

I’ll Drink to That by Betty Halbreich 8 what a great memoir!  this lady has had a unique life and I loved reading about it.  an example of a well-done memoir because it’s interesting, witty, heart-wrenching, inspiring, and makes one think.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio  10 best “kids” book I ever read.  period.  amazing book.

The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles 8 Really enjoyed this book- the writing was excellent, the story kept me involved.

Wow, I read a lot of good books this past year!  And in many different genres.  I figure anyone could find something in the above list that sounds appealing to them.  Happy reading!

 

2015 Books

I was looking at last year’s list and realized I’m getting quite lazy about recording the books I read and my thoughts about them.  I read 53 books in 2014 (which is lower than average for me) and as the year progressed I wrote less and less about each one.  I’m not sure why this is.  I still feel a desire to record the titles I read for future reference, but maybe I am becoming disenchanted with the idea of reviewing them.  I plan to continue listing the titles I read in 2015, along with a basic numerical score, but I can’t promise any reflections or reviews.

Here is the scale I always use to rate the books I read:

1-3 I wish I could burn all copies of this book.
4-6 Had a few things going for it, but definitely not my favorite.
7-8 I enjoyed or got something out of this book, worth reading.
9-10 One of the best, highly recommended.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber 9 This was a good way to start off the year.  Loved.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown 8 Great story on par with Unbroken, a tiny bit too long for me though it would be hard to decide what to cut.

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler Liked, but not as much as Bossypants by Tina Fey.

The entire Belgarion series of 5 books.  Look up the titles.  I got them compiled in 2 large volumes.  I loved this series.  At times it was a little immature, other times it was wise beyond its intended reading level.  I read it steadily until it was all over and I was sad to leave it. 8

A Fall of Marigolds

 

 

 

 

Big Bend: Part 4

Our jeep tour booked through Far Flung Outdoor Center was a trip highlight.  Our guide had lived in the area since the 70′s and was knowledgeable about the terrain, plants, geography, and local customs of the area.  We had an amazing 3.5 hour tour with her.  The jeep went on roads that looked impassable, and the kids were enthralled with the landscape.  They asked many questions and we all learned so much.  Of course the nicest part for me was at the end of the trip when the kids jumped out and ran off and our guide told us we had the most polite, well-behaved, lovely children ever.

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The next morning we took one last hike before driving away from Big Bend.  It was the Balanced Rock Trail.  The trail is about 2 miles round trip.  Most of it is on flat ground between 2 hills, but at the end of the trail there is a steep ascent to see the famous balanced rock.  It was a perfect morning hike that we all enjoyed very much.

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Big Bend: Part 3

One of the coolest things we did on our trip was cross into Boquillas, Mexico from an entry point in Big Bend park.  There was a small government building where a ranger made sure we had our passports and sent us out the side door to a sandy bank a few hundred steps beyond the building.

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We could hear a man singing Mexican songs on the other side of the river and as we approached a young man hopped in a rowboat and headed across the river to pick us up.  For $5 a person we rode across instead of wading/getting muddy/swimming as some elect to do.

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The entire town of Boquillas depends on the dollars of US visitors for their fragile economy to survive.  What’s really sad is this border crossing was closed after 9/11 and just reopened about a year ago.  The town had been crumbling, and now it’s enjoying a period of rejuvenation as more and more US visitors are returning.

We were the first ones across at 8:30 in the morning.  They weren’t quite ready for us on the Mexican side.  Usually visitors ride burros the mile into town, but we loaded into an old pick up truck instead.  Also, visitors are usually pressed into/required to hire a daily guide for their visit into town.  We didn’t because none were there yet to hire.  I was glad we didn’t have a person with us constantly even though that’s one more way to support the economy.

Upon arriving, every US traveler must check in to a small metal trailer where a Mexican official requires some papers to be filled out and stamps the passports.  This actually was a slow process so I am glad we were the first visitors of the day.  We also had to stop there before leaving, and there were many people in line.

We did eat at the main restaurant in town founded in the 70′s.  The menu is limited (and cheap) and the food amazing.  The daughter of the original owner now runs the restaurant and was so friendly.  She talked to me at length and took our family into the kitchen to give us a tour and show us her new solar powered refrigerator and freezer.

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There is one dusty road through the small town (only about a half mile in length).  Houses line the sides and everyone is trying to sell their homemade wares.  I found the perfect tote bag with a turkey on it and the word Mexico.  Is there any better souvenir for our Thanksgiving trip into Mexico?  Well, a couple days shy of Thanksgiving, but still.

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The boys bought walking sticks from the towns oldest resident Pablo Robles.  These sticks are only about $5 each and made from an abundant plant of the area called the sotol.

We stayed a few hours in Mexico and wished we could stay longer.  It was the kids’ first stamps on their brand new passports!

 

 

Big Bend: Part 2

There are several adventure companies in Terlingua, but we booked our river rafting trip through Far Flung Outdoor Center and were extremely pleased.  We booked it in advance for our second afternoon in Big Bend.  They sent us info on what to wear and bring so we felt ready for the adventure.  The biggest items to remember are sunscreen and water bottles.

Our family was in one raft with a guide who did the rowing.  There were about 5 rafts total in our group.  We were on the river for about 1.5 hours before stopping on a sandy area for snacks (provided by the company).  Then we loaded up once more and completed the trip down the river.

The river was fast moving but calm.  There were only a few rough areas, which I wish there had been more because those were the kids’ favorite.  Our guide was a young guy who unfortunately didn’t know much about the area since he had recently moved there.  But he let all the kids take turns rowing and made nice conversation.

The entire time we were on the river it felt surreal to know that Texas was on our left and Mexico on the right.  The river was not very wide.  Sometimes steep cliffs shaded us and we felt cold.  Other times the hot sun made us sweat a little.  The temperature was around 72- a perfect day.

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DSC04501This was one of our favorite activities, so I highly recommend booking a rafting trip while visiting Big Bend.  We also booked a jeep tour through the same company and loved it.  Those details will be in Part 4.

 

Big Bend: Part 1

Note: This trip was taken over Thanksgiving Week, and I am just now getting around to posting about it!

I have to start by saying this was one of the best family trips we have ever taken, and we have taken some really great ones.  I discovered that when you tell people you’re headed to Big Bend almost every one of them replies “I’ve never been there but I’ve always wanted to go.”  I don’t know why we as Texans rarely head to this magnificent area of the state, but we should!  It is unbelievable!  It’s not really that far away, in the grand scheme of things, and there are lots of quirky interesting towns to add to the trip besides Terlingua/Big Bend like Ft. Davis, Alpine, and Marfa.  We were gone for a week and still feel like we didn’t see and do everything.

The drive to Midland was 5 hours.  We spent the night there with my mom.  The next day we drove into Big Bend National Park right after lunch (Guzzi Up’s Pizza in Alpine, TX- awesome!)  It was an easy, leisurely trip.  The scenery there is breath-taking.  It’s just so remote, vast, expansive, beautiful!

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We took an afternoon hike first thing.  It was a steep trail up a mountain with great views (The Lost Mine Trail).  The entire hike roundtrip was 4.8 miles, but we had to turn back a bit early because of approaching dusk.  We drove into Terlingua to our motel room (Big Bend Resort and Adventures).  There are limited places to stay in the Big Bend area which means one must plan a trip well in advance to book accommodations.  There aren’t really any “nice” accommodations either.  But it’s an adventure, so we didn’t mind a small, older room.

Thanksgiving week is the second busiest time of year there after Spring Break, but even though everything is booked full the park never feels crowded.  It just can’t.  It’s too big, and even with every motel full of people we all end up being so spread out that we never felt the crowds.  There was only once the entire trip that we did feel overwhelmed by a crowd but that was later at the McDonald Observatory…another story.

On the morning of our second day in Big Bend we took another hike.  This time we drove into the park to Santa Elena canyon, a very popular trail.  It’s right along the Rio Grande.  It was fun to hike along knowing that just across the river was Mexico.  Even though this was a popular trail, we only saw a handful of other hikers mostly on our return trip.

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That afternoon we went rafting on the Rio Grande- an event that deserves it’s own blog post so stay tuned for Big Bend Part 2.

Make Your Own Adorable Photo Ornaments

I was looking online and spotted these cute square photo ornaments on the Crafting Chicks website.  I set out to duplicate them.

There are a few instructions on the original webpage where I found them, but I am including way more instructions here based on my trial and error to help anyone who tries to make these succeed!

The ingredients:

1.5″ plain wooden square blocks (craft stores), scrapbook paper in Christmas colors/designs, Avery labels size 5164, matte Mod Podge, sponge brush, scissors, small eye hooks with screw ends, ribbon, letter stickers

Assembling all the things that will go on the blocks is the hardest part.  First you have to create square photos- 2 per block (I did this in iPhoto) then drag them into Word and size them at about 1.38″.  I also found a cute square graphic image online and sized it to 1.38″ in Word.  I created a label document specific to the Avery 5164 labels and was able to fit 4 squares on each label then print them in color.  Then I had to cut out all those photos!  Meanwhile, I was tracing a block on scrapbook paper and cutting it slightly smaller than the lines.  I needed 3 of those squares per block!

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Then comes the assembly.  Peel off the photos (printed on labels) and place 2 photos across from each other on the block.  On one side between them place a scrapbook paper using a light layer of mod podge.  Stick the initial sticker of the child’s name on top of that (centered).  On the other empty side between photos place whatever you want (I used a cute Christmas graphic.)  Other ideas are the child’s name and year, or just a plain square of color.  Mine was printed on a label and easy to affix.  On the top and bottom of the square use a layer of mod podge to apply scrapbook squares.  I added a heart-shaped sticker on the bottom on which I wrote the child’s name and year.  So just to clarify, the photos and graphic were printed on labels thus much easier to apply than the scrapbook paper squares which required some mod podge between them and the wooden block.

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After all the sides are covered with something, apply the mod podge all over the entire thing in a even, thin layer.  It will take several different coats allowing for drying in-between in order to get the whole thing covered without it sticking to the table.  I set it on wax paper to help avoid sticking.  It’s scary because the mod podge looks like it will never dry clear but it will!

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When the entire block is covered and dry, find the center of the top of the block and screw an eye hook into it.  I could start it with my hands but had to use pliers at the very end to get it all the way into the block.

Tie ribbon to the hook for hanging and you’re done!

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I probably should have included even more instructions, but really it’s the kind of thing you will figure out as you go along with it.  I made 12 of these ornaments and LOVED how they turned out.  I think they make great gifts!