Sunday, September 24, 2017

Moving Day

Moving Day is happening everywhere in my life.

First of all, Savana and Guerin bought their first house and they have been in the process of moving in. They bought an older home so they are also doing some fixing up projects in the midst of it all. They have stripped the “popcorn” off the ceilings, repainted most of their new home, and totally renovated the kitchen. It. Is. Adorable. These kids. They are some talented cookies.

As we are quite a distance from Fort Lauderdale, we are cheering them on from afar as Savana sends photos of box-laden vehicles and selfies that demonstrate the moving life.

Then there’s the Lewis fam. Their house is almost completed so they should be moving in at the end of this next week. Ah - I seriously can’t wait. But of course…it also means that, since their home isn’t quite a distance away, we have to help. 

Doggone it.

So far I have done an amazing job of avoidance. In my defense, our evenings are filled with our own agendas that include yard work and homework and housework and such, so by the time 9:00 rolls around and we head for bed, we look back and realize we haven’t had much time for extra-curricular.

But it’s a good life. I’m not complaining.

I am just saying — my good intentions haven’t made their way over to the Lewis home quite yet to help with the packing. But I am sure my day is coming because once they start the actual moving process, it will be all hands on deck.

Next? Roy’s sister Gina and family are moving out of their home that they just sold and, ultimately, to Burleson — a stone’s throw away. This family? They are flippers. Eric, Gina’s husband, is a master builder, and Gina is a designer. So between the two of them, they create a masterpiece that is stunning to behold. I am sad to see this home go to another family as it’s one of my favorite places to visit (not just because of the home — I happen to adore the peeps that live inside it as well…) — but I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. As they have to be out in a little over a week, Roy and I spent yesterday helping them pack. Roy climbed up in the attic and hauled down boxes while I gingerly wrapped fine china and carefully stowed it away for safe keeping in sturdy brown boxes.

And then? My sister Lori. As she and Tami run a business together and it is growing by leaps and bounds, Lori made the decision to move here to Keene a few months ago. However, the housing market is hot right now. Nice homes that come up for sale are like hot potatoes — once it goes online, it says “pending” before you have time to call the real estate agent about it. About a month ago or so, Roy and I were driving around a charming neighborhood just outside of Keene, just looking things over, when I saw this gorgeous home with a “For Sale” sign on it.

“Wait — back up!” I told Roy as I hadn’t seen this home listed online. I quickly FaceTimed Lori, showed her the home, and she in turn called the real estate agent who confirmed that the house was actually for sale but wasn’t online yet — it was headed there the next day. And so Tami and I looked at the house with the real estate agent and did a video tour with Lori who made an offer and within 24 hours of discovering this gem on the outskirts of Keene, Lori was a proud home owner.

So in two weeks, Roy and I will be heading to Oklahoma to load up a U-Haul, wipe down some countertops for the very last time, and move Lori to Keene.

Does life get any better? I don’t think so. I never dreamed that my sisters (and that includes you, Gina…) — my very best friends in this world — would be my neighbors. And so, though Moving Day isn’t normally a day we would relish…(One year ago, we were in the process of getting settled into this home where we currently reside. Boxes stacked to the ceiling, questions of…Wait. Where is that???…and pizza delivery on speed-dial are all-too familiar yet)…

In this scenario? Well, Moving Day isn’t so bad after all. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


When Roy and I first got married, we headed off into the sunsets of the Colorado Rockies. We adored our time there. On Friday evenings after I was done with a week of school and Roy checked off a week of teaching, we stopped by a gas station and grabbed a couple of sodas on our way out the door for an evening ride in the mountains. I remember gazing in awe as the sun dipped below the mountains, setting the sky ablaze in wonder. 

On weekends, we often headed to Estes Park, a tiny town nestled up in the mountains near a lake. A brook winds its way through the town, its icy waters bubbling over rocks scattered randomly on the path. Roy rode his bicycle up the mountain while I trailed behind. Usually a picnic was packed in the trunk and we met at a picnic table by the lake where we dined on sandwiches and potato salad — the very same recipe I still make today. (Thanks, Aunt Lois.)

Afterwards, we meandered the little shops along the road — homemade fudge, t-shirts, and those old-time photos proved some of our favorites. In fact, we have several of those photos that used to line the walls of our home and commemorated monumental moments of our first few years of married life: our one year anniversary, when Savana was 18 months old and I had just found out I was pregnant with Darian, etc…Since moving to Texas, however, they’ve not made it back up to their long-held spots on the walls.

Estes Park is, undoubtedly, one of our very favorite spots in the world. 

This past weekend, I flew to Denver to host an alumni event. Tami Condon and I flew out together, rented a car, and hung out before the event on Sunday evening. “Let’s see some sites,” Tami said while we were on the plane headed to Denver. “I love Colorado Springs or Boulder…”

“How about Estes Park?” I ventured.

“Yes!” She quickly agreed.

And so, on Sunday morning after a motel breakfast, we found ourselves in the car and winding our way up the mountain towards Estes Park. As I rented the car, I was the designated driver, while Tami oohed and aahed the entire way, pointing and exclaiming over various wondrous sites. Her phone was in constant motion as she clicked photo after photo thats finishing product paled in comparison to being there in person.

As we rounded the corner and entered the Estes Park city limits, a sign there to welcome us, the lake rose up before us and I immediately saw “our picnic table.” I quickly pulled into a nearby parking lot and Tami and I got out to gaze in wonder.

It was like going back in time thirty years — absolutely nothing had changed about that view. The same sparkling white motel jutted up near a mountain ledge; the same concrete picnic tables still dotted the park; the mountains still rose around us in grandeur and majesty.

After awhile, we continued on into town, parked our car, and meandered the stores along the street. This part of Estes Park had greatly changed. It still had the same charm; the crisp mountain air still felt energizing; the babbling brook still weaved its way through the town. But more shops lined the streets than before and crowds of people filled the sidewalks. 

Quaint little Estes Park isn’t so little anymore.

But Tami and I had an amazing adventure up there in the mountains, and when we headed back towards Denver, the backseat was filled with bags stuffed with t-shirts and other mementos gathered from the day, and my mind was packed full with nostalgia.

I will be heading back to Denver next year around this time. I am hoping that Roy and Jace can go with me. I know that Jace will decide that he’s going to move there as soon as he reaches adulthood, as if it involves winter and mountains, Jace is in love. Chances are, Roy won’t be riding his bicycle up the mountain as I trail behind since life has a way of slowing us down in a few areas…but that’s okay. Maybe we’ll pack a picnic, toss it in the trunk, and as we wind our way up the mountain, oohing and aahing over jutted rocks and babbling streams, we can find ourselves aglow, remembering.

Friday, September 15, 2017

An Honest Review of Monat

I don’t have great hair. Never have. My hair is fine and blonde and thin. I have to work hard to make my hair look decent or else it sticks to my head and I look bald.

No, really. I just don’t have good hair.

I wash my hair every other day, and on the second day, I wet it down, add product (again) and then blow dry, curl…the works. And if I go to bed with wet hair? Oh my word. When I wake up, I wet it down and start all over because my hair is CRAZY.

I usually use 2 products to style my hair — a volumizer and mousse. Every day.

For the past year, I’ve become concerned that my hair is thinning. Now this is a serious problem — for obvious reasons. And so this past May, when I got my hair cut, I complained to London (this absolutely adorable girl who cuts my hair), and she said, “You need to look into buying Monat. I recently started using it and I have really thin hair and it has totally turned my hair around.” But when she told me the price ($84), I was deterred.

No thanks. I’ll just live with my thinning, fine hair.

When I went to London again in July, she washed my hair with Monat as she had become a big believer in the product and now sells it. 

And my hair felt amazing. Not only that, but I didn’t wash it for the following two days. And it still felt amazing.

Previously, I noticed that Mary Jean Rogge, one of my students from Wisconsin and a FB friend, was selling Monat. And so, as Roy was concerned about a receding hairline and Monat boasts to help with that, I reached out. About a week later, I received a bottle of Monat in the mail. 

And folks, I am a believer. I will use Monat for the rest of my life. And here’s why:
  1. My hair feels amazing. I only use one product from Monat now and I only have to use it on the first day. 
  2. I only wash my hair every three days. I know that sounds like….whattt????….but my hair feels clean and fresh every one of those three days. I’m not kidding. It’s amazing.
  3. I actually have new hair growing in. I can see baby hairs in the places where before it seemed my hair was thinning. And Roy? Same story. His receding hairline is filling in.
  4. And here’s the best part: If I wash my hair at night, add some Monat hair cream and tie my hair up in a bun on top of my head (sounds a little whack, I know), when I wake up in the morning, take out the tie and shake my head….I can virtually walk away and my hair looks like I styled it. The photo below is proof: I added about 4 curls in the front with my hot iron. Otherwise? I didn’t blow dry it. I didn’t add any product — that’s how I woke up. And folks, THAT IS SLEEPING WITH WET HAIR! Day 2 and Day 3? Nothing. I just run my fingers through my hair and go.

My hair will never be great hair — but my hair is the best it has ever been in my life. 

Now let me say, if you decide to purchase it, your hair may go through a detox period. This isn’t fun. I lost hair in handfuls. But just be persistent…it takes a few weeks and then one day you will wake up…and you will love your hair.

As for the cost? Roy and I are both using one bottle of Monat. We started using it on August 5 and today is September 15. We have at least half a bottle left. That means one person could use it for almost 4 months, according to my calculations. So even though the initial cost is high, overall it’s not bad at all.

And just an FYI: I don’t sell it. This is an honest review. And if you want to give it a go, Mary Jean Rogge is your girl.

(Photo #1 - This is me before Monat with 2 types of hair product and a different hairstyle...but it's what I got.)

(Photo #2 - This is a recent photo when I washed my hair at night with Monat, slept on it wet, and barely touched up my hair with a hot iron -- no product, no blow dryer.)

(Photo #3 - On my third day! I just simply got up, threw on some make-up, and here I am. And BTW, I clearly stink at selfies...)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Game of Life

In quiet moments when I am just hanging out, or taking a break, I resort to social media. I can mindlessly scroll for hours.

It annoys me. And yet…I continue to participate. I rarely post. Once in awhile, I’ll share a photo or two — but that’s mainly because I just want to have it “on record” for myself more than anything. But other than that, I spend my time looking at others’ photos, or watching videos on animal rescues…It’s an absolute time stealer and I admire those who refuse to engage.

Last night, just before I turned the lights off, I scrolled through social media. And there, at the forefront, was a photo that triggered me. I’ll spare the details as it isn’t something I care to share with the world…but suffice it to say, this photo that was shared in total innocence sent me over the edge. I tossed and turned and mentally fumed for quite some time, begging my mind to just “stop going there.”

It was a great reminder as to why I need to refrain from social media. My life here in Texas is neatly packaged and tied up with a bow. I have no need to know what goes on in other places, especially regarding matters that I cannot control. Especially when well-meaning photos cause me to crash and burn. And especially when I could be doing other things with my time that would be far more profitable.

I read once that life is a game and we have to learn how to play it in order to maintain happiness and peace of mind. I found that statement intriguing, namely because I am a game-lover. I could play for hours. And so, I have adopted “tricks” in my life (so to speak) that help me maintain balance and happiness and joy.

I have learned that when I start my morning with gratitude my day is propelled forward in a positive manner. Before I get out of bed, I consider five things I am grateful for: thank you for a brand new slate, a brand new day, that it’s hump day today, for these brand new sheets from Sam’s Club that we’ve needed for literally years, for the promise of fall…

I have learned to collect “joy points” throughout my day. Joy points are something I learned about when I worked through the Emotional Brain Training program with my wonderful friend, Jacque. Joy points don’t cost money and don’t involve food or drink. They are simple ways to bring a quick burst of joy: playing ball with Piper on the back porch, watching the sun set, smelling a flower, breathing in deeply and smiling, taking a hot bath, saying something nice to myself, reading an inspirational quote… I have a list of over 50 ways to collect quick joy points that I made years ago. You should try it - it works!

I have learned to talk kindly to myself when I mess up. And folks, I mess up a lot. I give myself plenty of reason to berate myself. But my thoughts have changed over the years and I’ve learned that when I like me, and when I’m kind to me, the world is a much kinder place to live.

I have learned that when pain comes my way, feel it. I get through it much faster if I allow the pain to wash over me, engulf me, encapsulate me. 

And last of all, I have learned to end my day with gratitude — the same way I began it. Many years ago — when we lived in Missouri, I was in a church service and the speaker challenged us to write down five things we were grateful for at the end of each day. And so I began that practice and I have kept it now for years. Even on bad days when nothing seems to go right we can find room for gratefulness: thank you that I didn’t kill Jace today, that my pantry is stocked, that I had the money to fill up gas tank, that my kitty Sadie snuggled up on my lap, that the sky lit up with brilliant hues of pinks and gold this evening while I soaked in the sunset from my porch…

And now I shall add a #6 to this list of strategies for playing the game of life: eliminate social media. 

I feel happier already.

Friday, September 1, 2017

What I Wish I'd Said

This morning, our Advancement team met at Olivia’s to celebrate Lindsay’s last day in the office. Lindsay joined our team this summer as an intern but now she is heading to Walla Walla University in Washington to get her master’s degree. She is riding off into the sunset this next week to pursue her dreams. I’ll miss my summer office buddy as she was directly next door to me for the entire summer. It was a fun gig.

When I walked into Olivia’s with Tami, my boss, we immediately saw Dean — who used to work with us as the Development Director in our office. And so, as Dean likes to shoot the breeze with all of us — and we love to harass him as well — he immediately joined us at our table. Shortly thereafter, Missy came in, completing our group.

Now let me just say, Missy, Dean and Tami have only lived in Texas for about a year. Prior to their cross-country moves, Tami heralded from Michigan (where she lived for the past 27 years) and Missy and Dean both came from Virginia. As one can imagine, Texas is a monumental change for the three of them: the terrain, the seasons, the culture, the restaurants, the people — everything.

So it has been a rough ride. I understand. When we moved to Texas 12 years ago, I experienced that culture shock. It’s one of the main reasons we only lasted a year. We moved here from Wisconsin at that point in time — and we’d spent ten years in Wisconsin. I loved the freshly manicured lawns, the deep green grass, the waving cornfields, and the pristine dairy farms that dotted the plains. Texas seemed desolate in comparison.

And I struggled.

But this time around…well, I knew what I was signing up for. And so, Roy and I made the conscious decision to embrace it. Come what may, Texas is going to be our home. As a result, I haven’t been affected by the big and the bold that seems to characterize Texans. The heat of summer doesn’t make me recoil. Twelve years ago I rolled my eyes in disgust. Today I don’t even notice. And if I do, I shrug.

Perspective makes all the difference.

So as we all sat around the table for breakfast this morning, Dean, Tami and Missy discussed what a difficult transition this has been—and still is. After a bit of time, Dean looked at me and asked, “So what about you, Vonda? You’ve moved here recently as well. How are you handling it?”

And I stammered. It took me by surprise. Since I am not quick on my feet, I just said what immediately came to mind: I love Texas actually. I am happy here. 

My statement stuck out like a sore thumb—like a slap, really.

And though that’s true — 100% true — I wish I hadn’t said it quite like that. I wish I had been more sensitive to their pain. Because I deeply get their pain. I’ve been there. 

I know.

But I also know the difference one’s mindset makes. And so, what do I wish I said? Well…I wish I said this:

I love hanging out on my back porch in the evenings when the sun is just beginning to settle below the horizon and it paints the sky with fire.

I love driving down the road and seeing endless fields and blue sky as far as the eye can see.

I love stepping every weekday morning into our Advancement office that has become my home away from home and where my co-workers have become some of my best friends.

I love that my son is in a small public school where he is treated with kindness and where standards are upheld.

I love that Texans are proud to be Texan; that my home too will someday reflect the glory of Texas: a Texas flag on our shed door, a windmill lazily spinning in our front yard, cactus in the front yard flowerbeds.

Those are just a few things I should have said. I could go on…

But here’s the thing: I have learned that life is too short for misery. Life flows better when we embrace rather than push against. And if we can’t embrace, we should find a new home so that we can. 

I have learned to pursue my own happiness with a dogged determination — that my life is my responsibility, nobody else’s.

And I have learned to be grateful. That small word packs a powerful punch and when we begin and end our days with it…well, we are filled up.

All the way to the brim.

The Best Year Yet

Today is September 1. And so begins my favorite season. I don’t know what the official date of fall is — I suppose I could google it. But regardless, I love the coziness that this season brings: hotdogs roasted on a fire, hot chocolate and sweatshirts, leaves circling lazily to the ground. 

It’s unusually cool here in Keene actually. Yesterday when I drove to work, it was 69 degrees out. That’s unheard of. It inspired me to take a look at the Farmer’s Almanac later in the day and my hopeful suspicions were confirmed: we are slated to have a colder than normal winter.


Of course, this is Keene, Texas. “Colder than normal” doesn’t really rank in the “Wisconsin cold” category; but that’s okay. I’ll take it.

The other day I was talking with a student, and I asked him what his favorite season is. And then he, of course, asked for mine…and I really couldn’t answer. Because the truth of it is, I just love every season. I eagerly anticipate it as each one has its own bounty. Maybe that’s an age thing — this gradual appreciation for everything life has to offer. Or, maybe it’s just me unable to make a decision. I tend to have issues with that as well.

I bought this journal awhile back that has 365 short entries. The purpose is to write in it over the course of a year: an entry per day. But of course, that’s not how I roll. That’s way too rigid for my style. And so, as it goes, I tend to answer several entries each time I pick it up; but then I’ll go a few days without writing in it. It’s okay. Most likely it will still take me a year to work through it. Anyway, one of the questions posed is, what was the best year of your life.

And that got me thinking. I scanned my life quickly, starting at my childhood: growing up in Seiling, my parents’ divorce, high school with all of its emotional turbulence, heading to college and meeting Roy, whisking away to Colorado and our first year of marriage, beginning our family and the loss of Ciara, boarding schools and friendships and church and camping and activities that blur together over a 30 year marriage spread…and then now: 50 years old with two grown children and one in high school.

Where did the years go? And how does one choose the best one in the mix?

And so I left that question blank. Because I didn’t know which one to pluck from the “bowl of years” as the very best one. So many of those years were great; and some were struggle — as life seems to go. But none rose to the top as singularly the best one yet.

Recently, my very adorable nephew Caleb and I were talking. I love it when this boy happens by and strikes up a conversation. He’s such a cutie — handsome and funny and quite intelligent. And he said, “You know, what makes a great life is relationships and experiences.”

And that, of course, got me thinking. I am so blessed with relationships. I have the best of husbands, the best of sisters, the best of kids, the best of family, the best of friends — the best for me, anyway. But when it comes to experiences? Well, I tend to be a hair bit lazy. I can easily fall into the grind of going to work every day and coming home in the evening to hang out on my back porch and watch the sun go down. I love home and my days can seamlessly blend together as one if I’m not purposeful about getting out and creating experiences in my world.

And so…between the beginning of a new season, my cute nephew’s wise statement, and the question in my journal, I am committed to living my best year yet. I am going to fill it up with relationships and experiences that take my breath away. 

And then the next time the question is posed: what was your very best year? I can easily pluck this one from the mix:

My very best year? Oh, without question — when I was 50. That year can’t be beat.

And so on…until this life is over and I am looking forward to the next piece of the journey, and looking back with no regrets.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Mourning Time

I am mourning my summer morning routine.

I like my morning time. It keeps me stable and kind to others.

Awhile ago, I heard the definition of introverts and extroverts: if you're an extrovert, you get your energy from people. If you're an introvert, you get your energy by being alone.

I am definitely on the introvert spectrum.

Now that's not to say I don't like people; I definitely do. But I need my morning time to stay balanced and confident and happy.

It's my favorite time of the day.

Now Roy? He definitely does not operate like me. Roy's mode of living is to get up, eat breakfast, and WORK. When his feet hit the ground every morning, that's his sign to make the most of daylight hours. And so, by the time he arrives in the living room for the first day, his arms are filled with a filled trashcan (filled from the other trashcans in the house), and stray glasses that he spied meandering around the house (usually in Jace's room). 

It is polar opposite of me. I prefer a cup of steaming coffee, my iPad, a few inspiring videos, my journal, and a personal growth book of some sort. Mm.

It makes me happy just thinking about it.

But lately my family has been disrupting my peaceful routine. First of all, let's talk about Roy.

Getting Roy out the door is an Act of Congress. Armed with his NotePad, notebooks, a pen, his iPhone, a lunchbox packed to the gills, three drink cups (no, I'm not kidding), his wallet, and probably a couple of things I'm missing, it takes more than one trip to get this  boy settled in his pickup for the morning drive. It might be amusing to have a video of us working side by side for about fifteen minute before he exits the house. 

Then again...I haven't showered at this point and sometimes I'm edgy so....maybe not.

And then there's Jace. Since joining athletics, Jace has to be at school a little before 7:00 am. That, folks, means a whole litany of duties:

Unfortunately, I have always believed that my kids should have a hot breakfast before they start their school day. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF MY KIDS HAS CAPITALIZED ON THIS! By the time they hit high school? I. AM. OVER. IT.

Clearly they are not. It's expected. They are entitled.


But cook breakfast I do: scrambled eggs, some form of bacon, a piece of fruit, and two pieces of buttered toast. 

Every morning.

And then I gather all of the foods for Jace's packed lunch (prepared the night before). 

Thankfully Jace is a hair-bit more responsible this year than last so his backpack is ready to go without rehearsing all of the things that need to be in there. I'm grateful for that.

(Gotta give thanks for the little things around here, people.)

But by the time we're in the car and racing down the road towards Keene ISD, I'm sighing.

One of those "oh my word I can't believe it's only 6:45 and my day has hardly started and here I am in the car and I only had 30 minutes to myself this morning..." sighs.

It's not pretty. And it's definitely not pretty for others.

The good thing is, I typically keep my thoughts to myself, so people don't see all the snarling and eye rolling going on behind the pasted smile. 

The bad thing is, I'm not so generous with my family. They get to see the real me.

June and July? I miss you. 

I bet my family does too.