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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A lot has changed.

So this post was originally scheduled for last Wednesday.  But I never finished it.  A lot has changed these past few days.
WHAT WE'RE EATING THIS WEEK
Well, last week this was easy.  Turkey and dressing.  Actually, I pass on the turkey and go straight to the dressing and cranberry sauce.  Yes, please.  And all the vegetables.  But for the past several days, I've had sandwiches.  Not from leftovers.  Just sandwiches.  Lunch today, lunch and supper yesterday and the day before that and even the day before that.  I actually love me a good sandwich.

But I do have a couple of favorites.  Last week my bestie and I had a girls' day out and ate lunch at the Neiman Marcus Cafe.  All of it was so delicious and so girly.  But my absolute favorite was the ginger peach iced tea.  I mean, I think I drank six glasses and then took one to-go!  I don't think they serve this at all of their locations, just the one at Lenox in the ATL.  Because, you know, Georgia being the peach state and all.  But, seriously, I have to find me a recipe for that.  I love a good glass of sweet tea, but this was just over the top!

I had a little crop of fall tomatoes so I made a batch of salsa with them.  I can just eat all the Mexican food.  But then we went to Georgia.  I have a friend there who is from Nicaragua.  Her husband is from Colombia.  They've been in the states 20 years now.  Let me just tell you.  Elisa makes THE BEST salsa.  Hands down.  She loves to make big ole batches for her friends.  So when we went to church last week, guess what she gave me?!  Y'all.  This picture says it all.
Her salsa is in the big mama jar on the left.  Mine is on the right.  Now look.  I have to admit I was impressed.  I mean, mine looks like hers!  But let me tell you something.  It definitely does not taste like hers!  The only reason there is still salsa in this jar is because once we got home from Georgia, I turned around and went right back.  But this jar of salsa is going down the next few days!

WHAT I'M REMINISCING ABOUT
Like I said, a lot has changed.  Last Monday, all of the Connell girl cousins and our aunts got together for lunch and a playdate.  I usually see Jenn and Denise at least once or twice a year, but I haven't seen Ashley in a couple of years, and even then it was at Brian's wedding so we really didn't get to hang out.

We have 14 children amongst the four of us.  Yes, 14!  The kids had a blast, and I so enjoyed spending time and catching up with my cousins.

And then Monday yesterday, we were all together again.  But this time we were joined by the boy cousins.
I honestly don't remember the last time all eight of us were together, but I think it was perhaps Christmas 2008 or 2009.  Jean said it so well yesterday so I'm just going to steal what she said.  Because I can't say it any better.

It's been years since we were all together.  These are my people.  They were my neighbors, my playmates, my entertainment, my friends.  Growing up in rural Pike County meant all you had was your family.  I'm thankful to have gotten to spend a little time with them the last two days as we laid our common bond, our Grandmother, the Matriarch of our family, to rest.  The memories I have with these people will last a lifetime.

So, yes, there has been lots of reminiscing these past few days, lots of old photographs unearthed, old newspaper clippings combed through, old cards read and re-read.  I pulled out all of Mama's old photo albums and went through each one page by page, some of them twice.  I walked through Grandmother's old, rambling farmhouse for probably the last time.  The memories are thick in that place.  One day soon, I will put pen to those memories.  But not today, not right now.

Besides that, I've been thinking a lot about this little girl.  Recognize her?  She has a birthday coming up this Sunday.  Hannah Kate will be nine years old.

WHAT I'M LOVING
I'm so so very glad it's "that time of year."  It's my favorite time of year, and I love everything about it . . . the lights, the carols, the stockings, the ornaments, the trees, the decorations, the parties, the traditions, the Savior.  This holiday season has been marred a bit by sadness.  But I couldn't help but think today how much Grandmother loved this time of year, too, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  And, so, maybe it's just fitting that it would all happen this way and during this time.  

When I opened the door this afternoon and walked in my house, the smell nearly took my breath away.  We had just enough time to get our Christmas tree before I hopped on a plane back to Georgia.  It's a Frasier fir this year.  And I'd been burning one of my Christmas-y candles before I left, too.  The smell of that tree and the candle made me want to come inside and never walk back out again.  I love it!

I stayed up late Friday night to put lights on my tree.  But that's all I had time for.  Just lights.  I don't remember how many strands I used, but it was either nine or ten.  Seth told me last night on the phone that the top half was out.  It was more like 3/4 of the lights were out!  So that was the first thing I did when I got home.  I fixed all but one strand of lights.  Even though there's a little dark spot, I love what will be my view for the next month.

I'm just loving that it's Christmas time!

WHAT WE'VE BEEN UP TO
Well, there was Thanksgiving in Georgia and lots of time with my family and friends.  We were there for a week and then traveled back on Thanksgiving day.  I flew out Saturday night and just got back today.  The children stayed with their Paw and Maw the past couple of days because Seth is in Wyoming this week.  He walked out to a blanket of snow covering his truck and the parking lot this morning.  It was absolutely gorgeous!  He's not even enjoying it.  And as for me, I'm a little jelly!

The children are busy wrapping up this first semester of school and getting ready for Celebratio in a couple of weeks.

We had parent observation week at dance a couple of weeks ago.


We packed our shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.  We can't wait to find out where our boxes go!  I wish I would've kept up with our previous years a little better.  I can't find anything prior to 2013, but that year our boxes went to Honduras and Peru.  In 2014 they went to Togo.  And last year they went to the Philippines, Democratic Republic of Congo and a "hard to reach area."  








And, of course, we've been decorating for Christmas.

WHAT I'M DREADING
Well, a week sure does change things.  When I was working on my original post, I was dreading "the call."  I knew it wasn't going to be long.  It was only a matter of days.  It could've even been only a matter of minutes.  And no matter how long you've been preparing for this day, no matter that it is for the very good and very best, it still stinks.  It's still sad.  I still grieve.  That call came early Saturday morning.  And then I dreaded getting on that plane because of the reason why.  I dreaded Sunday afternoon.  I dreaded Monday afternoon at 2:00.  And I dreaded getting back on that plane by myself this morning.  

But I sure did love seeing my babies today, and I can't wait until that moment Friday afternoon when Seth finally walks through that door.  Truly I have so much to look forward to!

WHAT I'M WORKING ON
Obviously I still need to fix that last strand of lights.  And we still have to get the decorations on the tree.  We haven't decorated the trees in the kids' rooms either so we'll be doing that over the next couple of days or so.

Hannah Kate had to do a little genealogy project a couple of weeks ago.  I decided then and there to do a little research because we had a time tracing down parts of my dad's family.  It's funny.  Grandmother LOVED this kind of stuff.  She's the one who has all the answers.  But she couldn't give them to us.  Even before this past weekend, I decided to make this my new project.  Last week I visited two of the cemeteries where my family members are buried and took pictures of the headstones and made notes in my notebook.  I have a lot of work to do, but it was a start.  I'm sure it's going to take awhile though.  I have a lot of digging to do.

I'm a little behind on preparations for this year's Christmas musical at church so that's another big project right now.

WHAT I'M EXCITED ABOUT
Christmas!  I'm most excited about celebrating another season of Advent with the children.  Our first day will be Thursday, and I can't wait!  I bought hot chocolate and marshmallows today, and they have new pajamas.  So tomorrow night they are going to open their new Christmas ornaments for this year (Mimi gets each of them a new ornament every year) as we enter this season of expectation.  As we've done the past couple of years, we'll be using Ann Voskamp's book, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.  It doesn't matter that this is our third year.  It gets better and better each time!  I'm telling you, if you don't have this, it's definitely a MUST HAVE for your children and your family!

I'm excited about our other little family Christmas traditions, too.  I mean, I love it all!

WHAT I'M WATCHING / READING
Mason and I finished The Hobbit.  Again, it's another classic I can say I'm glad I read.  He enjoyed it, I think, but probably only because of the movies.  I read Sarah's Key.  This was a very heavy book.  But I've recently been so intrigued by historical fiction, and this was no exception.  I'm almost finished with The Magnolia Story, Chip and Joanna Gaines' (Fixer Upper) book.  And I have to admit.  I'm enjoying every second of it!  I love memoirs, and I'm definitely loving this one.  I'm not sure what's next on my reading list.

And bring on the Christmas movies!  The kids watched Home Alone before bed tonight.  That's one of our favorites.  And I think I need to watch the Hallmark Christmas movies, too.  You know, the totally cheesy ones with the totally predictable endings.  As soon as I'm done with this, I'm going to watch the Fixer Upper episode I DVRed earlier.

WHAT I'M LISTENING TO
I broke out my Christmas music today.  My current favorites are Christ Tomlin's Adore, Lauren Dangle's Behold, Michael Buble's Christmas (I mean, how can you not?!), Josh Groban's Noel and Andrea Bocelli's My Christmas (which I can't listen to while the kids are around because, oh, the howling that goes on!).

WHAT I'M DOING THIS WEEKEND
We have a couple of birthdays to celebrate!  And I'm hoping to sneak in a Christmas musical, too, but we'll see.

WHAT I'M LOOKING FORWARD TO NEXT MONTH
I think we already covered that.  But, if not, CHRISTMAS!

WHAT ELSE IS NEW
I really don't know how much more "new" you can get after just having buried your Grandmother.  It's been a very, very long time since I grieved the loss of a close loved one.  It was 1998 to be exact.  So, yes, there is a lot of "new" right now.     


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Field Trip: LSU CAMD

A couple of weeks ago, I took Mason on a field trip to the LSU Center for Advanced Microstructures and Devices (CAMD).  Yes.  I know.
I didn't do my research prior to this field trip.  I'd never even heard of this place before.  The title alone . . . well, it made me want to run away.  Far away.  I'm not a science kind of girl.  My brain just doesn't think that way at all.  As a matter of fact, science stuff just blows my mind.  To bits and pieces.  

My nephew Beau is all into robotics.  He makes all kinds of fancy gadgets and even programs them with his computer.  He has quite a fancy set-up in his room, including a router (I think that's what it's called).  Not too long ago, I saw him doing some "programming" on his computer.  I asked him to show me what he was doing and was basically all "how in the world did you figure this out?!"  He tried.  He really did.  But I still have no idea!  I gave him a couple of programming books last Christmas.  I opened them to read a few pages.  After the first sentence, I promptly closed the book and wrapped them up.  I just don't get it.  I took chemistry in high school but only because I had to.  That class intimidated me to no end.  I took two years of biology, which was much more manageable   As long as I didn't have to dissect anything.  I refused to take physics.  Refused.  Wouldn't even walk by the door.  When I got to college, I made sure my major required only the very bare minimum in science classes, and I promptly took all my classes and labs during my freshman year so they could be done.  Of course, I took biology.  Not chemistry.  Not physics.

So here we are at CAMD.  I mean, obviously I knew that it was a place for scientific research and such.  Scientists from all over the world come here for their research.  There are only seven of these in the nation.  I knew most of the research deal with energy, the environment and medicine/radiation.   But that's it.  I figured I'd just wing it and learn along with everyone else at the field trip.  But when we walked in for our first presentation, and I saw this, I knew I was in over my head.  WAY OVER MY HEAD.     
So, in CAMD-for-dummies terms, it's basically an electron race track.  Yep.  A race track for electrons.  The track is in the shape of a ring, and there are seven or eight stations (if you will) around the ring where research takes place, all with a different focus.  And that's about the best way I can explain it.

So, anyway, here we are in this room with a physicist who is explaining to us how the electron ring works and why.  Have I mentioned I deliberately did not take a single physics class?!  I was reminded two weeks ago why!  Really though, the guy did a great job.  He basically created a lightening bolt in this tube and then went from there.  But please don't ask me to explain that in light of the electron ring and the color spectrum (including the colors you can't see).  Because I can't.
And then we got to see the electron ring itself.  Here's one side of it.  Again.  Blows my mind!  And, yes.  I wondered more than once if we might just all blow up in there!
We then visited three of the research stations.  One of them had to do with radiation, x-ray technology and CT scans.  This particular scientist was actually employed by LSU and was doing research for one of their classes.  And that's all I can tell you about that.  The second station had to do with vacuums.  But please don't ask me how that relates to electrons.  I don't remember.  I don't remember the point of the third station, but we got to look at our hair and our clothing through this huge, fancy microscope.  It was fascinating.  Truly.  But you know what I'm thinking?  Let's just say one of the scientists addressed the issue of cost.  Their second largest expense (salaries, of course, being number one) is electricity.  The electric bill averages $400,000 annually.  Yes.  Now that is my language.  That would be why I was a business major!

This field trip was great.  It really was.  And I'd love to go back.  But our favorite part was definitely the end.  One of the scientists played with liquid nitrogen.  He explained what it is and what it does and what it can be used for.  He gave each student a bunch of parsley and let them dip it in a bowl of the liquid nitrogen.  It froze, of course, in a matter of seconds.  Mason thought that was super cool. 


And then they made ice cream.  With liquid nitrogen.  They began by mixing a 2-liter bottle of orange crush and a can of condensed milk in a bowl.
And then they added the liquid nitrogen.
And they stirred a whole lot.
And everyone got a cup of orange ice cream!  Mason liked it.  It was interesting.  Yes.  Interesting.  The taste, I mean.

On the way home, Mason asked me if we could buy some liquid nitrogen.  No.  No, we cannot.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Field Trip: Texas Style

When we went to Houston a couple of weekends ago to celebrate Avery, we stopped along the way for a little field trip.  
Mason is studying US History this year.  Earlier that week, we spent some time looking at the Texas Revolution and Mexican-American War.  There was a picture in Mason's textbook of the San Jacinto War Monument.  It immediately caught his attention and piqued his interest.  He thought it looked very similar (with the exception of that 220-ton star on top) to another of his favorite buildings . . .
. . . the Louisiana state capital building (it also reminds me of the Washington Monument).  
So we immediately decided that we wanted to visit the monument during our trip to Houston.  Perfect timing!  When we went up to the top of the monument to look out over Houston and the Houston Ship Channel, Mason and his daddy got into a spirited conversation about which was taller, the state capital or San Jacinto.  I'll not say who was right, but the San Jacinto memorial comes in at 567 feet tall, which is 107 feet taller than the Louisiana state capital building (it's 15 feet taller than the Washington Monument).  It really was quite a sight to behold.  It's the tallest war memorial in the entire world (you know what they say . . . everything is bigger in Texas).
Now, I have to admit, I can talk my way through the event surround the Alamo.  Seth and I visited there during our 10th wedding anniversary trip to San Antonio.  But I knew absolutely nothing about San Jacinto.  Or, if I ever did, I'd forgotten.  Mason and I read about it, talked about it and did some internet research, too.  But this monument and the museum inside really was a fantastic opportunity to "experience" the Texas Revolution.  In addition to riding to the top of the monument, we also watched a movie in the theater detailing the battle at San Jacinto and what led to that moment.
The structure is octagonal, and the monument is inscribed on each of the five sides with a summary explanation of the birth of Texas.
Adjacent to the monument grounds is the USS Texas.  You can see the top of the battleship just behind and to the left of Mason.  
You know, we have hard days sometimes.  We have not-so-fun days sometimes.  But homeschooling is something that has blessed our family, particularly our children, tremendously, and I continue to be so humbled and so thankful that the Lord has given us this opportunity.  There are many things about homeschooling that aren't as I thought they would be.  But there are many things that are so much more than I anticipated!  This would be one of those things.  I love how the Lord ordained that we study the Mexican-American War the very week we were going to Houston, giving us the perfect opportunity to visit the San Jacinto Monument and "bring it to life."  
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Monday, November 14, 2016

Eighteen

This guy.  He's eighteen years old today.  Eighteen.
The Lord blessed me with five awesome nephews and a precious niece.  Avery is the oldest of my nephews.  As long as Seth and I have been married, I have been Aunt Julie.  He was 20 months old when we married.  And now here he is . . . old enough to vote.

A couple of weekends ago we went to Houston for Avery's senior night.  He plays the saxophone in the band, and it was their last home game of the season.  The senior band members were honored during half time, and the band performed their award winning show after the game.  
Avery had his very own little cheering section dressed in red and blue in honor of the Dawson High School Eagles.
I am way too tired right now to remember how to add a little arrow on my picture to show you where Avery is but he's almost in the middle.  Troy is standing to his right in a red shirt so you can't miss that.  The band is 250 kids (or something like that) strong, and there were a lot of seniors recognized during half time.
After the game, the band performed their half time show.  It was very impressive.  The sound was so rich and so full.  The movements were very graceful and fluid (because it wasn't just your typical "marching" band).
Avery is a section leader this year, and he was also chosen for a solo during the show.  He has worked so hard during the past six years and has really honed his craft on the sax.  I am so proud of him!  It was such an honor for him to be chosen, and he was really excited.
The band filled the length of the field.  I couldn't even get them all in the picture.

And here they are, the Bayham cousins.  They had a great time cheering for Avery.  Ellie was so cute.  She was pumped for the game.  She couldn't wait to watch the cheerleaders.  But the day before we went, she came to me and said, "Mama, I really want to be a cheerleader.  But I REALLY want to be a dancer."  So her Aunt April took her for an up close and personal with the Dawson Diamonds (dance team).
Last week I was looking through my pictures for something, and I ran across these.  I'd totally forgotten about them.  This was 2011.  Avery always brings his sax with him when he comes to visit so he can play us a tune or two.  He hadn't been playing too long at this point.
And, of course, everyone else wanted to play, too.  Avery was so sweet and so patient with them.  Let's just say that five years later, Avery is still the only saxophone player in the family.  But they all gave it their best shot.  Seriously.  Look at those cheeks!


And then there's this little gem.  My children are so very blessed to have Avery to look up to.  He has always been the best biggest cousin ever.  I so wish we lived closer so they could spend more time with him.  Hannah Kate was a mere three weeks old here.  I'm not sure that Avery was exactly thrilled to be holding a squirmy newborn, but he was a good sport for our picture.
Well, I'll be honest.  I just don't even know how Troy and April can stand it.  When I was watching Avery out on that football field, I couldn't help but think about how quickly time flies.  I don't even know how he can be a senior in high school, how he can be eighteen years old.  It's so true that the days are long, but the years are short.  I mean, many of my days are VERY long.  But Mason is 11 years old.  I just bought him a pair of tennis shoes in the MEN'S department because the kids' sizes no longer fit him.  He's in middle school.  I have no idea when that happened because he really should still be a little kid.  And, yet, here's Avery.  Eighteen years old.  A senior in high school.  (I know I've said that a million times already.)  In less than a year, Avery will no longer be living at home.  He will be IN COLLEGE.  I'm sure April probably had some LONG days, too.  But those days are long gone.  And, soon, mine will be, too.  Because in the blink of an eye, I'll be watching Mason as a senior in high school, an eighteen year old.  That was all I could think about.  I'm just not ready for that.

It seems like just yesterday that Avery was "the only one."  He is four years older than Beau and Abbie.  So he had us all to himself for a little while.  Every time I think of him, there are several pictures that come to mind.

Is he not the cutest?!  I mean, look at that Peter Pan collar, those knee socks and saddle oxfords.  
My hands-down-absolute-favorite picture of Avery is this one when he was three years old.  We thought he looked so grown.
And here he is as a five year old.  Such a little man.
And now he really is a man!  That's hard for me to say.  I could not be prouder of the young man he's become.  He was chosen as a chaperone last summer for his church's middle school summer camp.  He was also chosen to lead a middle school small group at his church several times this fall.  He has worked so hard in school these past few years, and it has certainly paid off.  He applied at three universities and has been accepted at all three, including his top choice.  Baylor University.
In a few short months, we will go back to Houston and watch Avery walk across the field at Reliant Stadium to receive his high school diploma.  It is quite possible I will bawl like a baby.  This guy is special, and he means the world to us.  So Happy 18 Years Old, Avery!  Happy Birthday!  

And now I'm sure I've sealed my fate as the uncoolest aunt ever!