Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Life is a little hectic right now, but here are some fun pics from Halloween this year.  The kids were crazy excited and have had their costumes picked out for months.  Jeremy was a Shock Trooper from Star Wars (I think these are from the Clone Wars cartoons), and Violet was Hulkerella (she loves superheroes and princesses - however, we had a mishap one night so she was a butterfly as well for one of our events.  They were adorable no matter the costume.

We went to Steve and Elise's house to carve/paint pumpkins and decorate cookies.  They are too sweet!

We hit up Trunk or Treat sponsored by the Housing students at UT - I love how awesome our students are.  I broke my phone case and was too scared to carry around the caseless phone with Halloween insanity, so I don't have photos of the actual event.  But, I did dress up and I totally look like my mom here - I think because i never wear my hair like that.

We saw William and Annie at Trunk or Treat, which is like a 7 year tradition ever since the boys were tiny.

We headed over to William and Annie's house for trick or treating on the actual night, and it was so much fun!  They got TONS of candy, and I just love the neighborhoods that get super excited and decorate to the nines.  If I was rich, I would totally do that.

We had a great time!  Halloween is a favorite for our family, and despite our lack of time to focus on it this year, the kids had an amazing time dressing up and playing with friends.

Friday, October 16, 2015

UT Gardens

The UT Gardens, located on the Agriculture campus at UT Knoxville, is one of my absolute favorite spots to spend some time relaxing, walking, sitting, writing, or playing with the kids.  This past week, my lovely husband showed up at my office, kids in tow, and pulled me out of work to go play in my favorite spot.  So sweet.

Mostly I think Brian was going crazy with both kids at home all day due to Jeremy's Fall Break, but still, I love him and them.  :)

Some of the beauties from our visit:

Monday, October 12, 2015

Smart Kiddos

I wanted to quickly highlight current projects we are working on with the monsters.  I find that things are most effective when I can hyper focus on one project per child, so here are the current ones we tried out.


Little missy is a stubborn gal.  She will never do today what she can put off until never.  She bats her eyes and feigns ignorance and the next thing you know, you have done the task for her and she is lovingly telling you how amazing and wonderful you are.  Stinker.

Our struggle recently has been with writing.  She flat out refuses to write.  She won't color, paint, or write at all.  With any pen, marker, crayon, etc.  She says she will do it when she is Jeremy's age.  If we try to hand-over-hand help her, she goes limp and cries.  I don't understand.

She is almost ready for kindergarten and she is ridiculous, so this past weekend, she and I made a special princess box with glitter and jewels.  Then we made special tickets.  A princess has to write her name on the ticket and place it in the box every day in order to unlock the TV.  If the name is  not in the box, the TV won't work.  It is some sort of crazy witch magic.  Whatever.

Shockingly, this mess worked.  She bought it hook, line, and sinker.

And yesterday morning, this was what she produced (click on the 2nd pic to really see her name):

Amazing.  Less than one week of being willing to try something and she can freaking write her name perfectly.



As I wrote in my last post, Jeremy had his first ever book report due at school.  This was very exciting for me, as I am that nerd that LOVES book reports.  These were like my reason for living back when I was a student.  Jeremy read a biography on George Lucas, and then had to make a paper pumpkin head and attach it to a report.  He is currently learning how to write a proper paragraph in class, so this was an excellent culminating project.  Then, he had to read it to his class.

Here is his final product:

He did such a great job!  We were thrilled when Mrs. Mitchell told us that the kids could type the reports since Jeremy's handwriting is not the best.  Little did we know his typing is slow as molasses, but he loved using the computer.  I taught him how to copy and paste certain words that came up over and over again, and that is his new favorite thing to do in the world.

Isn't his head so good?  He made the glasses out of pipe cleaners and Ziploc bags for the lenses.  He had a little too much fun with the hot glue gun, but hey, my kid was super pumped about a school project and I could not be happier about that.  His paragraph could have been 8 pages longer, he loved the book and had tons of facts he wanted to include, but this was more than enough.

And his final grade:

Perfection!  He was SO proud.  Love that kid.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Weekend Fun

These past few weeks have been very stressful as I have traveled a lot to spend time with my parents in Memphis, leaving my children behind for extended periods.  Luckily, family health issues are improving, so I am back home loving on my babies.  This weekend our goal was simple: focus on the kids and our little family unit while making some memories.

We started the weekend working on Jeremy's school project - which he was a week behind on since he missed school - oops.  He has to read a biography and then write a report and illustrate it with a corresponding paper pumpkin head.  Naturally, Jeremy did not choose to do a US president or famous inventor.

He chose George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars.  Parenting win.
the book Jeremy read - it is for 12 year olds and over 150 pages, and he knocked it out in one day with full comprehension

So, we spent Friday night and Saturday researching George Lucas and his contributions to the world.  Our research uncovered a startling injustice, though.  Apparently, I have hitherto failed to introduce my son to Indiana Jones.  I am ashamed and I hope he will forgive me for depriving him of 7 years of Nazi monkeys, magical fedoras, and bug delicatessens.

Clearly, we rectified the situation immediately (after he read his biography and made a draft of his report, of course).  We had a movie marathon complete with big comfy pallets on the floor, huge bowls of popcorn, and delivery pizza.  Jeremy is officially hooked. Nothing was too gross for him, and every fight scene needed reenacting.  And he proudly yelled out George Lucas's name each time it came up on the credits, so it was totally an educational experience.  :)
ugh, my first real crush as a child

For the record, Violet is not an Indy fan.  She happened to walk in during some face-melting arc-watching and then later some epic ripping-out-of-hearts-with-bare-hands.  Needless to say, Princess Vi was less than impressed with the gore and ran around screaming like a crazy person (which, let's be honest, is not that much different than a normal day).

On Sunday, we headed out for Jeremy's Religious Education classes (not being able to afford Catholic schools means your kids have to suffer through extra school on weekends in order to get their sacraments) at 9am and did not return home until around 3pm.  We totally forgot that it is St. John Neumann Church Homecoming!  Free food and inflatable games galore!
Totally my new favorite photo

The kids LOVED the games, and Jeremy ran into a friend from school who won 2-3 tug of war games against him.  I was worried about Violet taking on the big kid obstacle thing, but turns out, she smoked every kid she was up against (including her older brother) and ran that course like 40 times.
I need to learn to stop underestimating that girl.
he literally stopped to pose in the middle of the obstacle course

dramatic finish

handsome man

tug of war with Ann-Elise

the one time he beat her after she beat him twice

in her skirt and headband killin it

panty shot!

I have a whole file of embarrassing picture of my kids.  it is my favorite thing ever.  

It was a fun weekend and I am thrilled with the quality time spent with my monsters!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Book of Unknown Americans

I sit on a committee at UT to help choose the common read for incoming freshmen students.  It is pretty cool that I get to be a part of this group as a non-faculty member, and I absolutely love reading all of the books as we narrow down our lists from around 75 to a single book.  This year, we chose Cristina Henriquez's The Book of Unknown Americans.  We have a ton of criteria for our selections (live and affordable author to come speak, diversity topic, not too long, appeals to the freshmen life transition, etc), and I am always amazed at how many great books are out there that would be excellent choices for our students.  I led two different discussion groups this year, and these 18 year old kids had some really great thoughts about this particular book and the themes it raised for them.

The novel is about two immigrant families living in Wilmington, Delaware.  The Rivera family has just moved (legally) from Mexico to gain special education and care for their teenage daughter Maribel who suffered a head injury back home.  They make friends with the Toro family, who live in the same apartment complex, and immigrated many years earlier from Panama.  Eventually, a love story develops between Maribel and the younger Toro son, Mayor.  But, as happy endings are rare in contemporary literature, a series of miscommunications occurs, and a grieving Maribel moves back to Mexico leaving a heartbroken Mayor behind.

I very much enjoyed this book.  It was easy to read and I came to really came about the characters involved. I was genuinely saddened by the events that lead to the ending, and I enjoyed reading about a population I did not know much about previously.

As an instructor leading college freshmen through a discussion of the novel, I enjoyed the variety of themes it brought up for conversation.  The book has a dual narrator structure (for the most part), so we were able to compare the narration of Maribel's mother (Alma) with that of Mayor.  Most students felt that they trusted Alma as an unbiased narrator more than Mayor, which was interesting and not my personal opinion. I guess I understand the concerned parental bias more than my students do.

We also talked a lot about "home" and the meaning of the "American Dream" in today's United States.  Most UT students are Tennessee natives, so there was a fun discussion as they admitted/realized their eyes were opened to new perspectives they had hitherto not recognized or valued properly.  This then led us to explore ideas of parent/child relationships and the role of community in assimilation.

Probably the most enthusiastic discussion came, not surprisingly, when I tied the book directly back to them personally.  We talked about life transitions and while for the Rivera family that meant immigrating to a new country, taking on new jobs, learning a new language, and forging a whole new life; for them it meant starting college and living on their own for the first time.  It is really not a fair comparison, but they bought it and told their own stories of excitement, confusion, hesitation, and nerves.  This led to a conversation about the "outsider" and what it means to be the person who is teased or not immediately in the know, exactly like out main characters.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in a realistic and character-driven look at the plight of immigrants in today's America.  It is well-written and provides a frank and honest look at a commonly misunderstood community without being preachy, needlessly sentimental, or condescending.  (And Cristina Henriquez was a great speaker for the students, and she was fun to meet!)