Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014: A Year of Firsts

I'm always surprised at the in-depth conversations Nathanial and I manage to have while he's getting ready for work.  Especially given that he usually leaves for work by 6:30 and my lack of morning chipperness.   A few mornings ago he asked me a question that I've been pondering ever since. What would I label 2014 the year of?

I finally decided that for me 2014 has been the year of firsts.

It was the first time I was ever called Mrs.

It was the first time I got a stamp in my passport.

It was the first time I moved away from the great state of Texas. 

It was the first birthday where I couldn't say I was in my early 20's anymore.

I was a first time homebuyer.

And first time home improver.

It was the first time I appreciated a heavy jacket (and a husband returning safely from the North Slope.)

It was the first time I hosted overnight guests.

It was the first time I saw a moose in the wild. (Yep that obsession is still alive and well!)

And it was the first time I spent Christmas away from family.

This year brought so many surprises and challenges but also so much happiness and adventure.  I'm excited to see what God has in store for us in 2015. 

Thanks for following along!  Life is so much sweeter with the love and support of our family and friends.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Celebrating the Season

Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.  Is there anything better than celebrating the birth of a savior?  

I love all that it represents and also all that it embodies.  I love how this time of year is tied to traditions, joy, cheer and family.  I love the songs and the music and the food.  I love it all!

We managed to pack in so many different ways to celebrate this year.  I think it helped that we started right after Thanksgiving.

We ran a 5K on Black Friday that ushered out Thanksgiving and ushered in Christmas.

We checked out a fundraiser called Festival of Trees where local businesses create and decorate trees which are auctioned off to charity.

We saw some impressive light displays!

Including some very Alaskan themes like moose and flying fish.

We attended Nathanial's company Christmas party complete with live band, photo booth and a Christmas Story theme.

We won the costume contest at our Sunday School Christmas party.  A tutu and Charlie Brown for the win (literally!)

I hosted a Ladies' Night Out where we learned to make floral centerpieces and had an ornament exchange.

We watched tons of cheesy holiday movies.

But mostly we just enjoyed spending the season with each other.  Alaska at Christmas is really something magical.

Merry Christmas, Y'all.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sounds of the Season

This past weekend our church did something fun in the evening service.  The crowd got to shout out favorite Christmas songs for the worship team to lead. I was really impressed with Nathanial who had to transcribe the music as he site read. His trumpet really made some of the songs stand out. I requested We Three Kings so he could really shine but was ignored. They were going by age and as I was one of the youngest in the room I didn't really stand a chance.

The evening got me thinking about Christmas songs and what music represented the season for me.  

There are the traditional hymns like Silent Night and Joy to the World that remind me of a candlelit Christmas Eve service and even the caroling I did as a child. 

There's the Nutcracker score which reminds me of being in dance and the many times I've seen the Nutcracker ballet.

There's the actual Christmas song that reminds me of the Yule long burning video my Dad would play each year as we decorated the tree as a family. 

Even the Jingle Bell Rock, which I can't stand, reminds me of the holiday 
season. Now you might be wondering what's wrong with the Jingle Bell Rock as most people consider it a decent song. It was a decent song to me too maybe even one of my favorites until I spent my childhood on a jump rope team (it's a real thing - we were called The 
Palpitations) performing in Huntsville's annual Christmas parade. Jump roping for 4+ miles to the same song on repeat year after year did me in. I still remember the routine and have to change the station or the leave the room any time the song comes on. 

What songs remind you of Christmas? What's your favorite song and memory?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

This weekend we finished decorating our tree and put up some lights on the house.

You know you're dedicated to being in the Christmas spirit when you have to shovel snow and melt ice just to be able to put the ladder down.

Despite my one slip on the ice, the lights went up without incident.  I love the way it turned out.   Nathanial gets all the credit for that! After a few drives around the neighborhood, we're confident our house looks the best.  

Here is some of the other decor we have up:

That's a mercury glass tree in the middle; not a menorah
Our tree. Thanks family for the gifts!

Even our fridge is in the Christmas spirit.
Window clings are an easy way to decorate the kitchen. Thanks Jannette for that tip!

Some glitz in our formal living room.
It's not Christmas without an advent calendar from my Dad.
This Charlie Brown tree in our entry has OSU and Baylor ornaments. :)

And a funny story as a reward for looking at all those pics:

Whenever Nathanial is on a business trip I try to sneak something in his suitcase so he knows I'm thinking of him.   This time I counted out a Hersey Kiss for each night he would be gone with one for good measure and put them in a Ziploc bag with a note written in Sharpie on the outside.  

As cheesy as you are thinking this is I'm sure it's nothing close to what the construction guys that found the bag were thinking.  Nathanial is rolling out a new Arctic hardhat and took a ton of materials to site.  I guess he handed off the materials without going through them and the bag of kisses had fallen inside.   The guys found them and had eaten all but one by the time they saw the note.  They brought him the last one and apologized.  Good thing I packed that one for good measure :)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Winter Wonderland

The song Walking in a Winter Wonderland has a whole new meaning to me now that we live in Alaska.  I think the verse "We'll frolic and play, the Eskimo way" is a nice way of phrasing what it looks like when you're trying not to fall when walking on icy surfaces.  Let's just say I bust lots of moves trying not to bust my behind. It's definitely not as fun as frolicking sounds.  All though it's helped my flexibility quite a bit as I practice the splits a lot more frequently.

Driving in winter here is a different story.  It's my kind of driving - no rules and no lines.  There's always ice, snow or mush on the roads so you can't see the lines.  I like being able to forge my own path.  Parking is great too because there is no worrying about parking inside the lines. Not that it's ever a problem for me ;)

We've been really busy since returning from our Thanksgiving trip to the lower 48 so tonight was the first chance we had to get a tree.

Selfies with a Christmas tree in the back of the SUV are totally a thing
I attempted to put up an artificial one but it just didn't feel right.  So tonight we went in search of the perfect real tree to bring home.  The first place we went had a 30 foot inflatable Santa outside the lot.  We were surprised to find that the prices were almost as tall as Santa and the service less than jovial.  Most of the trees had frozen needles too.  Nathanial did his best to negotiate a better price but the owner wasn't willing so we headed down the road to another lot.

The second lot was so much better.  The trees were housed inside greenhouses. There were no frozen branches and we were warm as we looked though the huge selection. The trees were hanging by the tops on metal railings which was really helpful in picking the perfect one.

It's funny how the smallest things make the biggest difference. The moment Nathanial carried in the tree our house started to have the warmth and joy the Christmas season should. 

Putting the stand on

Growing up my family would always eat at Pizza Hut after decorating the Christmas tree. I'm not sure why that was the restaurant of choice but it was a fun tradition to keep.

Tonight I decided to start a new tradition with Nathanial and have a fun meal before getting the tree. Our holiday fiesta with homemade salsa and Chuy's inspired jalapeno sauce was a great start to the evening.

We capped off the evening with a cheesy Hallmark Christmas movie and a double instrument serenade.  Not too many people have husbands that play both the trumpet and the harmonica.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Are You Ready For Some Football

I'm back! Both to the state of Alaska and to updating this little space on the internet. I've missed blogging!

First things first- SIC 'EM BEARS! I'm a proud alumna tonight as my Bears just clinched the Big 12 Championship for the second year in a row.  At this point I could easily branch off into the hypocritical policies of the Big 12 and their "One True Champion" brand campaign but since we all know that Baylor is indeed the true champion I'll go ahead and skip that diatribe.

Nathanial and I enjoyed watching tonight's game with some other BU fans at a local sports hangout called The Peanut Farm, but I have to admit my favorite games of the seasons were the two we experienced in person at the beautiful new McLane stadium on the Brazos.

The kick-off to our Thanksgiving trip was the annual Wells family showdown of Baylor vs. Oklahoma State. My brother and his family graciously allowed us to hitch a ride with them to the game.  It was 4 hours well spent as we (Sarah, my sister-in-law, Kate, my niece and I as the boys opted not to participate) practiced some sweet dance moves and Nathanial and I regaled (or bored) everyone with tales of Alaska.

Once in Waco, Nathanial and I got to have dinner with my college bestie, Jessica, and her husband, Kevin, before heading to the game. It was a great visit but was even more special as she is 8 months pregnant and made the hour long trip just to see us. The Mexican food we had at Ninfa's was pretty spectacular too. Hooray for queso!

The weather was horrendous that day but we were blessed with great seats.  Our seats under normal circumstances would have been pretty awful (think end zone at the very top of the stadium) but during this game were perfect as our section was one of the few covered sections.  The game was set to be a black out theme but that proved difficult with the various rain get ups the crowd was wearing. Nathanial had a great one liner and said Baylor fans were wearing black to OSU's funeral. The weather was so bad that fairly early into the game the cameramen abandoned their posts and the network opted to use only overhead shots.

The game ended up being much more competitive than anticipated. Despite the score and the stormy weather, a fun time was had by all.

BU vs OSU: The one time a year we aren't on the same team.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bloom Where You're Planted

It was such a nice surprise to be able to head back to Texas for a few days.I absolutely loved being around familiar people and places, but I'd be remiss to not mention that I missed Alaska while we were there. Alaska has some special characteristics that couldn't be found in Texas like clean and crisp air, picturesque mountain views at every turn and even the Alaskan moose.

What I'm learning with this move and even our visit back South is to appreciate wherever you are.  Every place has beauty and uniqueness to be celebrated.  Seek out opportunities to do something new and make some memories. Bloom where you are planted.

Here are some of the ways I've made memories in each of the places I've been lucky enough to call home.

  • Some of my favorite memories in Houston have come from sporting events.  I loved watching the Astros and even the now defunct Aeros.
  • The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is definitely an event to be celebrated. It earns the title of holiday in my book.
  • Pick your own farm. My family still laughs about the time we got soaked in the rain picking strawberries.  

  • Baylor Homecoming.  More about that here.
  • Tortilla tossing is a favorite Waco past time.  You fling tortillas from an old suspension bridge and try to land them on a post in the middle of the Brazos river.  Flour tortillas work the best. And you can never have enough tortillas.
  • Floating the river doesn't really happen in Waco but it's a short enough drive to make the list.  Schlitterbahn is an absolute must too.

  •  Taking a glacier cruise was a phenomenal experience.  Glaciers calving and tons of sea otters. It doesn't get much better than that.
  • Hiking through the snow to take Christmas card photos made for an afternoon of laughs. 

Taking stealthy pictures of a photographer and not slipping in the snow takes some real talent.
 What is your favorite activity or place in your town? What's your favorite memory from where you live?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Rattlesnake Sausage & Chips and Salsa

A few weeks ago Nathanial was excited to try some Alaskan delicacies at a Wild Game dinner at church.  Unfortunately because of a time mix-up all of the food was gone when he arrived.  Luckily our trip to Texas saved the day.  Our church in Houston has a Turkey Bowl for missions each November complete with flag football game and cook out.  We headed back to Houston after the Homecoming festivities and made it just in time to attend the Turkey Bowl.  The first person we saw was a deacon from Nathanial's small group who happened to be in charge of grilling. He gave us a sample of sausage and then said "Do you want to know what's in it now?" Turns out we had sausage made from rattlesnake, antelope and pork.  That's a combo I wouldn't have paired.  It was delicious though!

Turkey Bowl 2014

The rest of our time in the Lone Star state flew by.  Nathanial spent his days in training while I got to spend some time with family.  I went shopping with my parents, visited all afternoon with my grandma and enjoyed a fun meal with my entire family.  We tried to make the most of our evenings together and definitely fit in as much as possible.  Our trip was the first time I've stayed in downtown Houston. It was a fun place to be. One night on the way to dinner we even saw a Mariachi band walk by.

A room with a view

If the saying "You are what you eat" is true, then we're chips and salsa after our trip.  We certainly had our fill of Mexican food.  Hooray for queso.  And good friends who order queso for you at dinner because they've read your blog.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Surprise Homecoming

Sorry ladies. My husband wins.  Nathanial has secured husband of the year for the foreseeable future. 

Wednesday afternoon he sent several urgent texts followed by several subsequent calls.  I was slightly worried when he opened the conversation with "Are you sitting down?" I braced for news that he was being sent back to Angola or for a few week stint to the North Slope so imagine my surprise when he told me there was an opportunity for a last minute trip to Texas.  A trip that just happened to fall over one of the best weekends of the year - Baylor Homecoming.

The time between that phone call and our flight out was insane.  By the time N found out he needed to make the trip, his organization's travel services group was closed for the day.  He called early the next morning and booked flights, made hotel reservation and secured a rental car. Meanwhile I did some Facebook networking to get football game tickets and find a hotel in a town where rooms had been booked for weeks. Between making traveling arrangements and packing for a last minute trip, we managed to make it to City Hall to vote.  There were some unique propositions on the ballot.  Even the sticker they gave, made me feel Alaskan.

Amazingly everything came together. We left Anchorage at midnight that day. 

The drawback to booking a flight on the same day it departed was limited seat availability. We got the last 2 available seats on the plane and as such had to endure a very long flight in middle seats not near each other. Nathanial had the misfortune of being seated in front of the only baby on the plane - a baby which screamed for most of the flight.  He saw a stunning display of the Northern Lights which made his suffering a little more tolerable.

We landed in Houston around lunchtime on Friday.  Nathanial was scheduled to lead a conference call at 5 p.m. local time so we didn't have much time to get to Waco and get him ready to go.  We drove through Whataburger for a quick lunch on the way. 

We made it to Waco with little time to spare. Nathanial headed to our room before I even finished the check in process to start his call.  Once work was done for the day, we met up with Jason (my brother) and crew to start the Homecoming festivities

Baylor University boasts the oldest Homecoming in the nation along with the largest collegiate parade. It is tied with the Houston Rodeo and beat only by Christmas as my favorite holiday/time of the year.  During my freshman year of college my love of Homecoming weekend earned me the nickname "Baylor Michelle."

For Baylor students, Homecoming starts with Freshman Mass Meeting on Thursday night.  The freshman class gathers in Waco Hall to learn the story of the Immortal Ten and the heritage behind the many activities of the weekend. The Immortal Ten refers to a group of students who died in a tragic bus accident in 1927.  Their legacy has become a hallowed tradition, collectively symbolizing the "Baylor spirit" that is made visible in the torch which lights the bonfire on Friday evening.

After the bonfire, we attended Pigskin Revue, where the top 8 winning Sing acts performed.  Sing is a fun tradition where student organizations perform 7-minute, Broadway style productions in competition with one another.

Saturday morning we parked under a bridge near campus to take in the Homecoming Parade. My niece and nephew as well as the other five kids with our group ensured optimum candy selection. Seriously so much candy was thrown our way!

Saturday afternoon we ate some awesome Mexican food (hooray for real queso and delicious salsa) and headed to the stadium for the game.  I've heard great things about Baylor's new stadium and seeing it in person did not disappoint.  Being able to walk from campus with some many other proud Baylor fans was a really neat experience.

Fans were told to wear green or gold depending on the section of their seats to "Stripe McLane."  I had my doubts about its effectiveness, but it turned out great. 

My Facebook networking paid off because our seats were phenomenal.  We were fifteen rows up near the end zone.  It was such a great experience.  The sold out stadium had more of a NFL feel than the Baylor games of my college days. It was SO fun to be part of such an energetic crowd.  I thought our proximity to the field would help with my bucket list goal of making it on the Kiss Cam.  We weren't picked for that but I did embarrass my niece and anyone else who knew me with some less than stellar dancing on the big screen.  Several college friends texted me about my few minutes of fame.  We're all in agreement that my dancing is not improving with age.

I am so thankful we had a chance to attend the inaugural Homecoming in McLane Stadium.  Huge thanks to my husband for pulling it all off.

Please ignore that I look like a pre-teen girl. I was so excited to see my friend Amanda!

Baylor cookies are the best cookies.

He looks good in green.

This is the response I got from my request for Homecoming pictures from my brother and sister-in-law.  To be fair, the horse mask did make it to Waco for the event.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Winter Wardrobe

Winter preparedness.  I think Nathanial has probably written a manual on the topic at work.  But it also happens to be the biggest stressor for me while we live in Alaska.  I get asked if I'm ready for winter pretty often.  My answer - um no?  How will I ever be ready for winter IN ALASKA?  I'm from Texas.  Texas - where we get ice once or twice a season and work is closed for the day. (Except for hospitals in the Med Center but that's a different subject.)  Last Thanksgiving, I wore shorts. Snow? I've seen snow less than 10 times in my life and most of those times I wasn't in Texas. Oh hey Oklahoma. Thanks for the memories.  

I thought I'd be able to ease into winter here but that didn't happen.  One day the weather was crisp and there were beautiful red leaves and the next Jack Frost arrived along with several inches of snow that hasn't melted. I've had to get adjusted quickly and figure out how to dress here.  That meant investing in a new wardrobe as pretty much nothing from my Texas life prepared me. I hate wearing dress pants and closed toe shoes so I'm starting basically at square one.

The first thing I knew I would need is new shoes.  My cowboy boots have been my go-to shoes since we moved but they are hard to get off which is problematic because of Alaskan customs.

I got a pair of Ugg boots which are great when I'm running out the door and want some extra warmth.  I wear them with jeans which is a departure from my Nike short wearing college days.

I also got a pair of brown riding boots.  They are perfect for when I want a complete and cute outfit. 

Both boots have decent traction and I'm able to wear them without problems. When the snow really sets in though, I'm told I'll need some actual snow boots.

I'm going to order these but haven't been able to pull the trigger on them yet.  I'm still trying to come to terms with the fact that winter clothes aren't supposed to be cute.

I'm told that layering is the best way to keep warm. I've been picking up sweaters and long sleeved shirts. I also have a new found affinity for vests and scarves.

Chambray and a burlap like scarf. Who am I?

This is my most Alaskan outfit. A plaid shirt, tweed puffer vest and a knit headband.  Don't let the picture fool you, I felt ridiculous wearing that headband. I haven't worn it since even though it kept my head really warm.

I also purchased a white down jacket. It keeps me toasty but I can't get over the faux fur hood and feeling like a snowman (woman).

When my mother-in-law was in town we went to REI to buy the snow boots shown above. They didn't have the color I wanted in stock (because black is really unique ;) ) so we decided to walk around a bit.  It was at this point that I realized despite my recent shopping trips, I was in no way prepared for winter.

The first thing we noticed in the clothing section was a sleeping bag skirt.  Not kidding.

What is that? And why would I wear it?  Luckily my MIL is braver than I and grabbed a sales associate to answer that very question.  It's a Skhoop; an insulated down skirt. Made in both long and short versions and assorted colors.  This my friends, is apparently how you wear a cute outfit but still stay warm.  The Skhoop goes over your clothes and then zips off when you arrive at your destination.  Whoa.  

I also got an education on the best way to layer - wool under layer, fleece with windbreak middle layer and down outer layer.  I learned that mittens are better than gloves and that to enjoy Alaska, I have to be active in the Winter.

REI has about a billion choices for achieving all of these purposes so I walked away without buying anything. I decided future Michelle could deal with the cold (that's a How I Met Your Mother reference). Too bad that was a few weeks ago and the somewhat cold has made way for the really cold temperatures so the future is now. Donations for the winter wardrobe fund are now being accepted.