Saturday, January 27, 2018

Failure and Success

One of my favorite Catholic speakers/talk radio hosts, Jennifer Fulwiler, has talked about how as a society, we need to learn how to embrace failure. She said that we get so wrapped up being afraid of failure that we try avoiding it at all costs. She gave her listeners a goal for 2018 to learn to embrace failure. She also cited the now-viral video from Will Smith about the importance of failure in our daily lives. 

Think about it—what is your connotation of failure? To me, failure equates to a bleak future. It makes me uncomfortable. I hate it. But I’m trying to change my mental perception of it. 

This year, I’m working on being more transparent and breaking down stigmas, so in that spirit, I’m going to share a story of how failure was a good thing for me and my life.

Let’s take a step back to this time last year...that seems like an eternity ago! I was still engaged and in a long-distance relationship with Thomas. I was a heap of anxiety. I was worried about the wedding, moving to Texas right after the wedding, and about aspects of my work (looking at you, state testing!), but most of all, I was worried about finding a new job for after the wedding. 

I applied to many places, but didn’t have a lot of success. It was frustrating, but I moved on with life. I was okay until the day that I received a hard rejection from the school that I really thought would hire me. I made a solid connection with the interview panel, I liked their benefits package, and most of all, it felt right. When I received that email at the end of my planning period that day, telling me that they went with someone who was more qualified, I felt like I had been shot in the gut. I was inconsolable. I knew that I had failed. 

This failure brought me to what I now realize was an awful anxiety attack. I felt hopeless for my job prospects, my ability to actually be a teacher, but most of all for my future marriage and my ability to contribute to our financial success/future. I couldn’t understand—I prayed on it constantly, I painstakingly edited my resume and cover letters for each interview, and nothing seemed to be going right. I was at the end of my rope. 

Everyone in my life did a good job of trying to help me, saying things like, “God’s got a plan” “Things happen for a reason” “It’s not the end of the world” “Something better will come along”. Those sentiments were nice (and very well-intentioned), but were of no help to my anxious, depressed self. One of the more helpful things that happened in this time was that my brother-in-law gave me a book to read. (How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie) While I didn’t ever quite finish the book, it did immediately provide me with some incredible tips on how to effectively manage my anxiety. 

Soon enough, I received my opportunity to work. I was connected to one of the homeschooling families with whom I now work. The pay wasn’t stellar, but it was something to keep my skills up. Better yet, it sounded like a nice break from the chaos that naturally comes with teaching in a classroom setting. 

The job was (and still is) nice. I love working with these girls, and I feel as though I’m a better teacher for it. After being frustrated about wanting more hours and more pay, God gave me more opportunities to expand to 2 more families and the tutoring center. 

As it turns out, the flexibility in my schedule was a blessing for many reasons. First, it allowed me to get settled and establish myself as a Texan with a new last name. Heaven knows that was enough of a task! Second, it allowed me to be present and help Thomas and his family with various things. Most of all, I had the freedom to establish friendships, to learn the city, and to just acclimate to married life in general. 

Life is really good now. I still get anxious, but I’ve learned better coping mechanisms. I’ve learned to be more open with myself and with those around me, although that can still be a struggle. I’ve learned that I’m not the only one who feels this way at times, which is incredibly comforting, believe it or not. Most of all, I’ve learned that God is very good and faithful, and He provides for us in ways better than we can imagine. He also works in mysterious ways...

Imagine my shock when I received a call on Monday from my mother-in-law, telling me that the very school that turned me down last year (where she happens to work in the business office), had an immediate opening for a high school math teacher. The principal emailed her, asking about me and if I’d be interested in talking with them again. Then, I received an email asking if I could come in the next day, Tuesday, for an interview. The interview committee still remembered me and had my old resume with my maiden name and Oklahoma address plastered at the top of it. Once again, we got along smashingly.

Wednesday at 12:30, the principal called, asking if I could be there at 2:30 that day to teach a sample lesson for the interview committee. She gave me the topic which, as it turned out, was one that I already had a lesson plan written on from my last 2 years of teaching. It was all waiting for me in a binder in a closet at my apartment. I grabbed it, and any other relevant lessons, and sped away to my interview. I had no time to talk through it start to finish beforehand, but had a rough outline in my mind. I was terrified of the outcome.

Despite a plethora of distractions once I taught the lesson (including an intercom call for a lady on the interview committee to get to that classroom, another teacher popping in to ask a question, and an alarm going off on my phone), they were blown away by my lesson and how smoothly I responded to every little distraction and how well I had taught my lesson. Truthfully, it was just par for the course, as any teacher would likely agree. The rest was God working in me, because I know I couldn’t have done what I did just by relying on my own strength. 

To top it all off, yesterday I received a call from the principal, telling me that I received the job and that I can come observe a class, which I did today. In great news, it turns out that the algebra class, which will take up 4/5 of my teaching day uses the EXACT textbook I used back at Waukomis. The exact book I assumed would be deemed outdated and obsolete by any other school. The exact book to which I have already planned every lesson, homework assignment, quiz, and test I could ever need to fall back on if I can’t find something in the lesson plans that are being left for me for the remainder of the year. Also, in what I consider to be one of the coolest little “God winks” of all, my new room number will be 501. My old classroom was 105. God’s got my back in all of this, and I know that I’ll have all the support I could possibly need from my new coworkers and administrators! 

The upshot is that I will start teaching full time on Monday, so I could definitely use some extra prayers as I begin this new journey! This new step in my journey will not be without its own set of challenges, but I’m certain that I’ll be okay, even if I still encounter failures. If you’re wanting specific intentions, be praying for my new students that they may be open and receptive to me and transition well. 

Ready or not, here I come!
Now that I have a little bit of hindsight and a newfound appreciation of failure, I realize that what could be called the worst thing that ever happened to me actually just propelled me to the life I live and love now, and to one of the best opportunities I’ve ever received! This failure led me to learn more about myself. It led me to so many great people and places that I never could have imagined. I’m not the same woman I was a year ago, and I’m so incredibly happy for that. Now, excuse me while I go back to teacher mode!!!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Breaking Hearts

{Continued from last time...Write about a time you broke a heart.}

Oh geez. The thought of writing this makes me a little uncomfortable, but at the same time, it doesn't. I think I feel uncomfortable because I'm not a confrontational person, but this was one of the few times in my life I've actually had to confront someone. But really, it's a story I've always wanted to write about, so here we go!

I started dating this guy back in high school. I really shouldn't have dated him at all, now that I think about it. I was never truly happy (although I claimed to be) while dating him. We did not communicate effectively at any given point in the relationship, and we really didn't have that much in common (although I swore we did). I was never a priority in his life (even though he was in mine). I shouldn't have dated him. But I did.

Somehow, our hot mess of a relationship lasted a little over 2 years. I won't go into all the gory details, but I will go into some of them. After high school, we were happy to be attending the same local community college. I lived a few minutes from his house in my dorm. I just knew that we'd finally be able to spend more time together. I was wrong. Sometimes, I'd see him walking to class, but then I didn't. I realized not long after that he often skipped class, and later just quit coming altogether. It was a little annoying/frustrating, but oh well. I'd send texts trying to hang out with him, only to have him respond in some form hours or days later, if ever, with little to no explanation for the lapse in communication. We'd often go multiple days or weeks without talking to each other. When we did see each other, there was practically no conversation among the two of us. I mean, what do you say to your boyfriend who has spent an indefinite amount of time out of your life by his own choice?

A word to anyone in a dating relationship, this is not normal. This is not okay. This is not a key to a healthy dating relationship. I don't know how many times I cried myself to sleep wondering why my boyfriend, of all people in the world, couldn't take a minute out of his day to talk to me, letting me know he was still alive and well. Friends and family would often ask about him, and I'd always have some reason as to why he wasn't with me or what he was doing, when oftentimes, I had no idea myself.

He didn't really respect me or anything I stood for. One thing I often wished was that he would come to church with me, just once. He didn't have to become Catholic, but I wanted him to go so he could understand a little better. He always had some derogatory thing to say about it, usually saying it was boring, and gave me some lame excuse as to why he couldn't go just once. He sometimes made fun of my intelligence, calling me a nerd or a geek, because I studied math and wanted to be a teacher. Now, I realize he was probably threatened by me and my goals for my life, seeing as he didn't really have any at the time. I have no way to rationalize the things he said about my faith, but I can say that it was especially frustrating, considering that I often attended church with him. I didn't expect us to agree on everything, but it was hurtful to not feel heard and affirmed.

He lacked motivation. I won't even go any further on this thought, because I cannot think of a tactful way to say everything I'd like to say about this.

Probably the cherry on top of everything was the fact that he completely forgot about an important date we were supposed to have one day. Had I not called him to see where he was, he never would have showed up to get me, and that hurt a lot. When he did arrive, he didn't seem that fazed by it. He became very despondent, and spent most of his time at work or playing video games with his friends. I had enough.

All of these reasons, plus a few more that I can't bring myself to write at the moment pushed me over the edge. I was about to transfer to OSU in a few months, and he had already made it known to me that he had no intention of going out of his way to visit. Even if he may have been joking, I didn't appreciate it at all. I was unhappy to the point that I resented my single friends who didn't have to deal with this headache. I was unhappy to the point that I was ready to be with almost anyone else except him.

I told my sisters, Scotty, my mom, Tonisha, Liz, my boss, my hair stylist, basically anyone who'd listen about my predicament of wanting to break up with him, but not knowing how to do it. They all told me to pick a date and commit to it. They told me to be direct and quick about it, leaving no gray area. Most of all, they all affirmed me, telling me that they had no idea why I'd kept dating him for so long, because they didn't care for him, and they could tell how unhappy I was with him.

So I did it. I called him and told him I was coming over. I was well-dressed, and I hyped myself up. When I arrived, he met me outside, and I told him, in a few words, that our relationship wasn't working and that we needed to work on aspects of ourselves separately. I think I also tossed in something about me moving to Stillwater. He looked shocked initially, but beyond that, I have no idea how he reacted. He may have been devastated, angry, depressed, furious, I don't know. All I know is that I felt a million pounds lighter after that moment, and I never looked back. I worked very hard to build the life I have built for myself, and I couldn't be happier.

I haven't talked to him since, and I've made a point to avoid seeing him. It's probably all for the best, if we're being completely honest. I have no real desire to talk to him, and I really don't want to know what he could have to say to me. All of this being said, I have forgiven him for all of the pain he caused me. It was the only way I could really move on with any hope of building a good relationship in the future. (aka my marriage to Thomas) I still pray for him that he has a good life and that he will find his purpose and true happiness. It's not that he's a bad person, but it was really more of the fact that we were highly incompatible, especially on a long-term scale. That's what the dating journey is all about, and it sometimes comes with a few bumps and bruises along the way.

Monday, January 1, 2018

A Broken Bone

[Okay, I'm giving my new writing prompt book a shot. It has some off-the-wall prompts, some of which I'm really not how to approach. I won't share everything I write from the prompts, but I'll probably share most of them. My writing style may change a little bit from what I usually produce, but I have no apologies. Also, I won't always use real/full names, to protect the identities of some people. Enjoy!]

{Prompt: Write about a time you broke... a) a bone, b) a heart, c) a law, d) a promise.}

The Time I Broke My Wrist
(or Why 3rd Grade Was the Worst Year of My Life)

At that point in my life, I was a timid, anxious, precocious child, not far from entering puberty. I had friends, although I wasn't terribly popular. I was coming into my own of realizing that I had a high aptitude for academics, much to the chagrin of many of my classmates, who used every chance they could to copy my homework. It was the first year that Emily wasn't attending Pioneer. I was in a tough place, emotionally. My teacher, Mrs. Vandergriff, was in her first year of teaching, and my class was not good to her. She wasn't always the most pleasant person either, if we're being totally honest. Personally, I wasn't happy during third grade at all. 

It was the day of the school Thanksgiving dinner. Most of my friends' parents joined them for lunch, but my parents weren't able to because of their work schedule. I was pretty bummed, but I knew that they were doing what they needed to do at that point. After lunch, we got a long recess, which was nice! One of the privileges of going to third grade was that we were finally allowed to use the monkey bars, so my classmates and I took every chance we could to use them. I was never particularly adventurous on them, as I lacked upper body strength and was a big scaredy-cat, always worrying about what would go wrong or being mocked by my peers for my failed attempts.

That day, the playground dare was to jump from a low bar (that we stood on) to the high bar across from it. It was a span of no more than 3 feet. Nowadays, that'd be nothing. For third graders, that was on par with attempting to pole vault. I forded off the pleas of my friends, telling me that I should do it and that nothing would go wrong. I persisted in not wanting to do it. Eventually, I was sick of them begging me to try, so I went for it. It took lots of nudging, but I finally jumped! As I flew through the air, my stomach jumped, like when going on a rollercoaster. Seconds later, I grasped the bar. I did it! I stuck the landing! I was so proud of myself! My friends cheered in elation!

That is how the story was supposed to end. Here's how it actually ended.

I did stick the landing for a split second, but in my nervousness, my palms were pretty sweaty, and my hands slipped right off the bar. I slid down into the pea gravel that covered the ground, landing in such a way that I felt a huge rush of pain in my right wrist. I screamed in pain, but I (shockingly) didn't cry. My friends didn't know what to say or do, but someone eventually ran to get a teacher. The teacher escorted me to the office, where Mrs. Klassen called my mom. My mom was running the long mail route that day, which meant that she couldn't get to the school in a timely manner. Gina was busy doing something, so she couldn't come take me to the doctor. My dad got off work at 2 and would be able to come get me then, so I waited on the benches by the front door. Shea (one of my good friends)'s mom was there for the dinner, so she stuck around and sat with me while I waited for my dad. She let me lay on her lap and rest. I felt a little sick to my stomach.

My dad finally arrived and took me directly to the hospital to have an x-ray performed. It hurt a lot, and I probably wasn't very cooperative. Afterwards, we went back to my doctor's office, where we'd get the verdict (and probably a cast). I equal parts wanted a cast (so everyone could sign it), and wanted my arm to not be broken. The result was as everyone expected--a hairline fracture in my wrist. The prognosis was a cast that would hopefully be able to be removed by Christmas. It went from my knuckles all the way up to 3 inches above my elbow (to speed up healing and help with immobilization). I was depressed at my new lack of independence. And I was in lots of pain. Did I mention I'm right handed? I got lots of quick lessons in how to do everything (eat, brush my teeth and hair, wipe myself, and bathe) with my rarely used left hand. I wanted to miss school the next day, but no one could stay with me, so off to school I went. I was told that Emily would come by mid-morning with a sling for me, as we weren't able to find one the night before. 

I took a Sharpie with me to school the next day, anticipating everyone wanting to sign my cast, which they did. I was hoping to see Mrs. Vandergriff and tell her everything (and maybe get a little sympathy). Instead, we had a substitute teacher that day. She didn't believe anyone's story that I had just broken my wrist the day before and wouldn't let anyone sign my cast when I walked into the classroom. She also insisted (rather harshly) that I do the worksheet that she passed out for everyone to do--one of our first cursive lessons. I didn't know how to write in cursive right-handed, let alone left-handed, so I was beside myself. My friends offered some support, but they were quickly thwarted by the substitute. At some point in the morning, we were allowed one bathroom break. We would go in groups of 3 or 4 to the bathroom and take turns. During my turn, Emily happened to show up, so she spotted me, and took me to the office with Mrs. Klassen, saving her the time of having to call me out of class. 

I was given a gray sling and some Tylenol. It was my first time taking adult Tylenol (the pills you have to swallow, not chew), and no one told me that. It was terrible, and it didn't really help. I felt really sick to my stomach, so Mrs. Klassen allowed me to sit by the office until my stomach settled. She got me some saltines from the cafeteria in the meantime to help me feel better. The sling was a nice touch that made my new cast not seem quite as heavy. At some point, the substitute marched down to the office and insisted that I return to class at that exact moment, telling me I was in trouble for not letting her know where I was. She did not listen to my story of what happened and did not even talk to Mrs. Klassen about the incident. It was frustrating, and I just wanted to cry. I probably did at some point. I felt hopeless.

The next day my teacher returned to school, and she was about as sympathetic as I'd hoped she'd be. She didn't say anything about the office debacle, and we moved on with life. She was a little more understanding of my cursive writing (and really just my writing in general) looking atrocious. 

I also remember that year was the year my class sang in the annual Christmas program. We happened to sing "Holly Jolly Christmas". During the line that said, "kiss her once for me," we were supposed to move our arms as though we were blowing a kiss. When we sang the song at the program, my mom later informed me that I almost took out the kid behind me with my cast! Oops! 

During the time I had my cast on, my mom fixed my hair in lots of pig tails. I also found out that I was unable to wear a lot of jackets and long-sleeved shirts I usually could wear, due to the cast. I became pretty creative in learning ways to scratch itches under my cast. (Pencils and the metal handles of fly swatters worked well.) By the end of me being in the cast, I also mastered writing (and doing everything else) left-handed. I actually was ambidextrous for a short while afterwards. Had I continued practicing, I could probably still have the same skill level. (I was so happy to be able to do everything right-handed that I quickly left my left-handed skills in the dust.) 

Not long after I was out of the cast, we were in the ice storm that left us with no power for a little over a month. It wasn't a great time in my life, but I can somewhat laugh about it now. 

[Be on the lookout for parts b-d later on! This was fun!]

Saturday, December 30, 2017

December 2017

Okay, back to December now.

Thomas kicked off the month with a trip to central Texas with his dad for a hunting trip. I spent that weekend in a flurry of events. The first big thing I did was join Diana at the Jesuit Womens' Auxiliary Christmas Bazaar. It's a huge deal, and the school is packed with vendors. (In case I never mentioned this, Jesuit is an all-boys high school that Steve, Jay, Ross, and Thomas have all attended. I guess you could say it's a family tradition! The same goes for the accompanying all-girls school, Ursuline. Diana, Jan, Jean, Nicole, Elizabeth, McKenna, and Michaela have attended/currently attend that school. It's a huge deal in their family.) We had a lovely time perusing the countless booths. Diana enjoyed getting to introduce me to various friends of hers who we saw while there. We got a little bit of Christmas shopping done in the process, so that was nice.

Later that evening, I was on to my next adventure--making an advent wreath! I decided I wanted to really embrace that season this year, so I started by making a wreath. But let's be honest, crafting alone isn't quite as fun as crafting with friends, so I extended an invitation to the ladies in my women's group. My friends Eleanor and Charlotte decided to join me in the endeavor, which allowed us to go in together on supplies. That made it a lot easier on everyone's budget, for sure! Charlotte joined me the day before when we bought supplies, but wasn't able to join us for making wreaths. Eleanor wasn't able to go with us to buy supplies, but she was able to come over and craft with me, so I'd say it worked out well! Also, I got to know Eleanor a little better, which was so nice! I was pleased with everyone's end results! See what you think!

Eleanor's wreath
(She hadn't found a charger to place it on yet, but I think it looks great!)

One view of my wreath

Another view of my wreath. Love how well it turned out.
After Christmas, I replaced the advent candles with one big candle.
Versatility is key!

Charlotte's wreath!
She took hers in a different direction, but I love it so much!

By now, you all should know that I have a love affair with the Dallas Arboretum. It is one of my favorite places in town, by a long shot! Every year, they put up a Christmas display that corresponds to the 12 days of Christmas. It's more or less 12 gazebos containing an automated display for each verse of the song. The enticing part is that they do this at nighttime, which adds to the atmosphere. One of the bigger downsides of the arboretum is that admission can be pricey. Luckily, I happened upon a 2-for-1 admission Groupon, so it was a cheap date night for Thomas and me! We had a nice time, although we agreed that it wouldn't be an annual tradition for us. The displays were impressive, but a little anticlimactic. Also, it only took us about an hour to trek through all 12 gazebos. And I realized that almost every verse of the song is about some sort of bird. Oh well! We ended the night by ordering Starbucks hot chocolates and driving through the nice parts of town admiring Christmas light displays. That is a long-standing tradition of the Lieses, that I am happy to continue! It made for an enjoyable evening!

The next evening, we joined Steve, Diana, Ross, and Juliette for a Christmas get-together at Jackie's assisted living facility. They had some carolers, delicious food, and a great atmosphere. I loved watching Jackie clap and tap her toe to the carols. She has degenerative Parkinson's and some dementia, so some days aren't as good for her as others are. It turned out that that day was a good day for her. She is starting to recognize me, which is a great feeling. I love having a grandparent in my life again, after having all of mine gone for so long. Thomas and I have decided that we need to get better about visiting, especially since we live in the same town as her. We are going to try to visit more during 2018.

We had fun preparing for Christmas this year! We started decorating at the beginning of December, and we finished the bulk of our shopping by the middle of the month. I know that'll change in years to come, but it's nice to be able to do that for the time being.

The only picture I managed to get of our decorations.
I love this set-up though. Absolute perfection (and a good repurposing of the red vase and
lantern wax warmer that were already on that table! Versatility is still my best friend!)

We made a quick trip to Oklahoma before Christmas to celebrate our good friends Nick, Maria, and Sierra graduating from OSU! We loved getting to catch up with them, along with a handful of our other good friends (mostly Rebecca!) We spent one evening of that trip celebrating Kyle and Cole's birthdays. No pictures, but lots of fun with the family!

The last week before Christmas was packed with activity. Our apartment complex hosted a small Christmas dinner for all of the residents. They had a fully catered dinner, and they had a drawing for three apartments to win a prize of $100 off of January's rent as long as you came to the dinner. Thomas wasn't able to make it, but I decided to go over for a bit. I was pleasantly surprised to find out, later in the evening, that Thomas and I were one of the raffle winners! It was a welcome surprise after an expense-filled December! We also had a get-together at Ross and Juliette's house with all of the Coulter cousins, where we baked and decorated Christmas cookies. It was a great night full of laughter, fun, and sugar! The remainder of the week was full of preparations for our return to OK for Christmas with the Hladiks.

We were nervous about the weather, but thankfully, the worst part of our trek northward was the torrential rain we came up against in the Dallas area. Our days in OK always go too quickly for our liking. They're also jam-packed with activity, usually in preparation for some upcoming event. Such was the case this time, but it helped having an extra day or two there. This time, we were able to do a little visiting. We had a great time catching up with Uncle Paul and Aunt Pat (along with their two sons and daughter-in-law), Tonisha and her family (including her adorable baby nephew, who is one of the cutest babies I've seen in a long time!), and my Uncle Larry and Aunt Marla (who just moved into their new house). After all of our visiting, it was time to get ready for Christmas Eve Mass.

Thomas wasn't thrilled about this picture, but I think he looks just dashing!

Grandma Hladik and Mimi would be proud of us continuing their traditions!

Among my favorite things about being home is getting to spend time with my sisters. Emily and I bartered talents to help each other get ready for the night. Emily did my makeup, and I used my new curling wand to curl her hair. I think it was a fair trade, as we both looked great!

Aside: Through the years, I have tried (and failed) to curl my own hair. I somewhat tackled that challenge when I learned how to use my straightener to do this, but it wouldn't ever work as well as I wanted it to. After watching lots of tutorial videos and some encouragement from my friends, I sprung for a curling wand. It was one of the best beauty purchases I've made in a LONG time. I can get perfect curls that last for days in half the time it took me using other methods. I can do it on myself (and others) and get almost perfect results every. stinking. time. So there's my shameless plug for that appliance. I have learned to curl my hair so well with the wand that even my mom (who has high standards for curled hair, after having raised all daughters and curling her own hair for her whole life) has dished out countless compliments on my hair! I digress...

Christmas Mass was nice. It wasn't super packed, and it really didn't take as long as I remember it taking. Fr. Ed is good about keeping things moving without making it feel rushed. (He managed the same thing at our wedding!) We had a fun, impromptu photo shoot afterwards among the family!

My sisters :)

Love this man so much!!!

Candid shot of Cody and Cole

They were surprisingly excited to pose for this shot!

The Moody Clan
(Photographing 3 boys is a challenge, as someone is always trying to cross their eyes,
do bunny ears, or look like they're choking someone.
You'd never guess that by seeing this photo, though!)

Love this picture of Scotty and Emily!
There were pictures of the Mattson clan also, but I didn't have them on my phone. I promise they looked equally nice!

The next day was the Hladik Christmas extravaganza! We had a feast of homemade chicken noodle soup (of course), ham, Mimi's chicken casserole (that tastes like dressing), broccoli rice casserole, and salad. Dessert included a white chocolate almond amaretto cheesecake and strawberry pretzel salad (courtesy of yours truly) along with an apple strudel and chocolate pudding dessert (courtesy of Gina). It was amazing, and we didn't have quite as many leftovers as we'd anticipated. (Probably because the nephews are quickly starting to get adolescent-sized appetites!)

Our gift exchange was fun. I received lots of clothing, a bottle of wine, a 2 lb. shareable nut log (courtesy of my dad!), a Bed Bath & Beyond gift card, and some awesome fuzzy PJ pants! Thomas also got lots of clothing! The boys all received their traditional nice western shirt and jeans, along with a small watch and backpacks from my parents. They were excited about those, as usual. It's so fun to see how Christmas changes with them from year to year. We ended the day by watching "Home Alone" with my parents and most of Gina's crew. Everyone (except Thomas) napped sporadically throughout the movie! We were wiped out from our celebrations!

What a fun gift from the Lieses to the Hladiks!

Jakub, with his cousin Jonathon (from the Mattson side)
They could pass off as brothers!

Wait for it...

There it is. Finally quiet and still enough to take a nap!

On the 26th Thomas and I blazed back south to get ready for round #2 of Christmas with the Lieses. That first night back included dinner with Steve, Diana, Elizabeth, Jean, Jay, and Mark. Jay and Mark were about to head back to NYC to prepare for their usual New Year's party at their weekend place in Connecticut. We were happy to catch them for the evening, especially since we weren't able to take part in any of the other celebrations with the family. We had them all over to see our apartment after dinner, since we ate at a restaurant that was close to us. Also, Jay and Mark had never been over, and Jean hadn't seen it since she helped to heft wedding gifts up after the wedding!

The next day was our actual Christmas celebration with Steve, Diana, and Elizabeth at our place. I think most parents would agree that they have made it in life once they get to a point that their children can host holiday celebrations! We had a great meal of pulled pork (from the Instant Pot, of course), green bean casserole, squash casserole, salad, and rolls. Because we were feeling extra fancy, we pulled out the china, nice flatware, crystal glassware, and cloth napkins. (We have it, so we might as well use it!) We also had leftover cheesecake and the traditional Liese chocolate mint pie for dessert. Our gift exchange ended with Thomas and I receiving an Amazon Fire stick for our TV. I also received a Pioneer Woman cookbook (so excited to try her recipes!) and a Fitbit, among other gifts. Thomas and I also gave both sets of our parents personalized photo books, full of pictures from our wedding weekend. Both sets of parents were in love with the gift and having an easy way to showcase the weekend to their friends!

Secret Santa gifts from Elizabeth and McKenna!
Too hilarious!!!

So much deliciousness awaits us!!!

The following day, I decided to treat myself using some gift cards. My first acquisition was a nice wooden case to hold our formal flatware. I also acquired a new pair of flats that don't pinch the joint below my big toe, some jeans, and a skirt. My last gift to myself was a couple of books.

I wasn't looking for this book, but it found me.
Hoping I'll love it. I think I will!

Unexpected find, but looking forward to bringing new content to the blog from this book!

Now, Thomas and I are spending the rest of the year (ha!) out at Quitman with Steve and Diana. Their friends, Chip and Kathy, will be heading out soon. Elizabeth may join us, but she's still on the fence. It's so nice to have a quiet, low-key weekend in the country after the craziness of the last couple of months! We don't have an agenda, and that makes me very happy. I am capitalizing on the quiet time to catch up on writing that I haven't had time to do lately. Writing makes me happy, and it keeps that part of my brain sharp. It is good for my soul, so I intend to do more of that in 2018!

Happy (early) New Year, all! For all of the twists and turns, 2017 has been a good year for me. Hoping it'll be more of the same in 2018!

November 2017 (in a nutshell)

I'm back to pick up right where I left off, as usual. It's been a good, albeit busy time since I've last written.

The last time I wrote, I mentioned that Thomas' cousin Nicole would be coming to town. We ended up having a lovely time catching up with her. She is continuing to enjoy life in Chicago, and she is has now begun her career as a nurse. I'm so happy for her and for all she has accomplished! We had a great dinner with everyone from the family who lives nearby. It was fun to have everyone together for the evening. The next day, Nicole invited Diana and me to join her on a venture to the Dallas Museum of Art. I didn't realize it til that day, but apparently that museum has free admission, besides a few special exhibits, which was a nice surprise. It's been quite some time since I've been to an art museum, but I enjoyed myself. I especially enjoyed looking through many of the American art exhibits, which included some pieces of historical furniture and glassware.

This picture doesn't do this armoir justice!
It was spectacular!

Tamac pottery that I found in the American modern glassware display!
Thinking of you, Debra!

Diana, Nicole, and me in front of a mural outside the museum.
So blessed to call these ladies family!
Shortly (and I mean like an hour after being done at the museum), Thomas and I hit the road to see everyone in Oklahoma! It was great to be back, as we hadn't been there since early September. We loved seeing and talking to everyone. It was absolutely perfect! We celebrated all of the birthdays we had missed/would have missed in that time, including my dad, Scotty, and Jakub's birthdays, which was a great time.

Jakub, showing off his new birthday gift, "Bikey"

Andrew, sipping on his morning coffee.
(aka creamer with a little bit of coffee!)

Kyle is growing before my very eyes!

My dad's new shirt that reads, "Girl Dad: It's Expensive"
I love it so much!
The next weekend, Thomas went on a hunting trip with his friend Matt in eastern Texas. They came up short, but had a good time, I hear. The worst part of the weekend for Thomas was that he incurred (another) injury. Thankfully it didn't require another trip to the ER, but it did involve a gnarly looking scratch on his face. I am happy to report that both of his wounds have healed completely! He has a massive scar on his left hand, as he probably will for some time to come, but so it goes. While he was out and about on his trip, I had a lovely weekend of "me time", which involved watching the entire last season of "Parks and Recreation" on Netflix, making some incredible lemon scones, and FaceTiming my pal Sierra. Not too long after that, I came down with some version of the usual fall crud. I felt absolutely awful, which eventually led to me visiting a minor emergency clinic, as I thought I had a sinus infection. I'm 99% certain that the nurse practitioner referred to me as a hypochondriac in the hallway outside the exam room, but I don't even care. He gave me a prescription for a steroid, and I felt like a brand new woman a couple days later. I was very happy to feel better, because Thomas and I had a great date night that following weekend!

Let's hope 2018 contains fewer injuries for my husband!

I baked some incredible lemon scones while Thomas was off hunting!

Date night ready!
From that point on, it has been a long, swirling whirlwind of activity!

We spent the week of Thanksgiving house/dog sitting for Steve and Diana, who were in NYC/Connecticut celebrating Thanksgiving with Jay and Mark. They were accompanied by Elizabeth and Jean, as well. We wanted to be there, but it wasn't in the cards. Thus, we spent our Thanksgiving with Diana's brother Ross and his family. It was sad for Thomas and me to spend a holiday without either set of our parents, but technology saved the day and allowed us to FaceTime with both sets of parents. Thomas ended up not having to work on black Friday, so we spent a lazy day around his parents' house. I had a lot of pent-up energy, and I was missing my family more than I realized. (I was fairly pitiful, if we're being completely honest.) I tried to fill the void by crafting or doing a number of other small projects, but nothing seemed to satiate me. Late that afternoon, I was in the back of the house when I heard the doorbell ring. Thomas went to the door, assuming that it was one of the boys in the neighborhood, from whom we bought some Boy Scout popcorn a few months prior. I knew something was up when he shouted for me to come to the door. When I walked into the entryway, I was shocked to see Andrew, Jakub, and Wyatt, who shouted, "SURPRISE!!!!"

I was a mess of tears and shrieking when I realized that Gina and her family had driven to Dallas to surprise us for the weekend! It was a welcome surprise that I really needed! We didn't do anything that exciting during their stay, but we were able to show them our apartment, church, and some of our favorite places in town. We loved getting to spend a good deal of time with just them. It did my heart good to see them!

One of my tutoring families gifted me with this decadent pecan pie!

Thanksgiving at the Coulter house

The Mattsons, all smiles after surprising us!

We had a great time at the park in our neighborhood!

Wyatt was too cool to smile, but I love this picture anyway!

If 4-year-old angst could be captured in a picture, this would be it!
(Also the look of not getting a full nap...)

Selfies with Andy are the best!

Me, Andrew, and Thomas, with Andrew's traveling classroom companion, Humphrey the Hamster
Andrew had custody of him during Thanksgiving break,
and got to chronicle their adventures in the accompanying travel log!

(I'm going to pause here, as I have really slacked, and I would rather go into another post instead of prattling on for another 10 paragraphs!)