School Daze – Milhizer 2015

This year’s annual Christmas reckoning comes to you yearbook style. It was a year where Gus entered boldly into teenhood and Nate demonstrated some latent talents. My year of teaching high school English flew by, and Eric job-hopped to a great new position he’ll start right after the first of the year.

Looking back there were many accomplishments: I survived my first year of teaching and went back for a second. It’s pretty cool to spend my days talking about poetry and have someone say, “I never liked to read before” or “I love poetry!” I was honored to have been a small part of 150 kids’ lives. This year I’ve added an AP class, and I’m enjoying the challenge. I’m not sure they are, but they can address that in their own holiday letter.

Eric started a new job last August, and it served as a great learning experience leading to his new job as head of marketing for a web hosting company. He’s thrilled to be in a new industry and in a turnaround situation that is poised to do very well with a little marketing help. Eric is teaching himself Swift programming for an educational app he is developing. At the rate he’s going, it’s sure to be a hot holiday must-have come Christmas 2019.

Gus (8th grade) played his first public piano concert and wedding, spent another summer at Interlochen Arts Camp, and blew away the ACT as a 7th grader. He is still in the hip hop company and will test for his 2nd degree black belt after the holidays. He continues to be a respectful, happy-go-lucky kid, and we’re just waiting for the surly teenager to emerge.

Nate (3rd grade) started out the year with a broken big toe. Monopoly accident. Long story. Last spring, he decided to try baseball, and 2 seasons in is the lead pitcher and has several hits and runs to his credit. In his last game of the season, he pitched a no hitter. He traded in the piano for the guitar, and his only complaint is that playing the guitar makes him too popular and thus gives him “some issues with the ladies.”

As always, a major feature of our year was travel. We spent spring break in Costa Rica and took a summer trip to the northeast, hitting Boston, Maine, and Montreal. While Gus was at Interlochen, Nate and I spent a month in Northern Michigan, where we enjoyed all things cherry-enhanced.

The upcoming year promises to be as eventful. Spring break will take us to Colombia. It will be our first time back since adopting Nate. We’ll be in Northern Michigan again for a month this summer, and who knows where else in June. This year will bring Nate braces and Gus to high school. It will provide both Eric and myself career challenges and rewards (hopefully Eric’s will be more economically advantageous than mine, but mine make for awfully entertaining stories).

We wish you a happy, healthy 2016. Roll film…

-The Milhizers

Report Card: Milhizer 2014

This year’s assessment reflects our performance normalized against state success standards and improvement over 2013 benchmarks.

Business: A

Eric left T-Mobile in August to become head of marketing for Sage Telecom. In 4 months, he has already filed for a patent, created a new brand, and launched a new marketing strategy. Being in charge has its advantages, namely getting all of your ideas past the head of marketing.

English: A

On the same day Eric started his new job, I began teaching Junior English at Carroll Senior High School. I am combining my love of books with my creativity and bossiness. I love it, and it’s all worth it to hear a football player tell me he “loves poetry.” I even had a student paint my portrait as a project. He gave me eyebrows, so it was an automatic A.

Economics:  B-

While Eric’s job was a significant increase in responsibility and pay, suffice it to say, I went the other way. My job is enriching in other ways, none of which is salary, benefits, grading, administration, failure conferences, armed combatant training, or lesson planning. But it’s all worth it when the lightbulb goes on and students shout, “Wait, that’s irony,” and they’re mostly right.

Math: D

Last year I bought a new Christmas tree. The 8′ tree we had was overwhelmed by the 20′ ceilings. We finally hauled the new one out of its 3 boxes last weekend, and while a 12′ tree is appropriate in a 20′ room, it is not appropriate when your tallest family member is 5’9″.

Physical Education: B

Nate and Gus are bringing up the average here. Gus continues to compete in Tae Kwon Do tournaments, and he has joined a performance hip hop company in addition to his regular dance company schedule. Nate enjoys golf lessons, and spent 3 weeks in sailing camp on Crystal Lake in Michigan. He’ll be trying spring baseball this year.

I still teach yoga, but I’ve had to drop down to 1 class/week with my new schedule.

We also took a family ski trip to Breckenridge for spring break. Let’s just say I’m killing the family average here, though contributing significantly to the ongoing success of Advil.

Music: A+

Gus spent 3 weeks at a piano camp at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan this summer, and has already signed up for next year. The difference in his playing is remarkable. He plays piano for the middle school Jazz Band and percussion in the top concert band.

Nate continues his piano and guitar lessons, and has an impressive ability to play by ear. He was in 2 musical theater productions this year. His big frustration was having to prompt others with their lines. Amateurs.

Study Abroad: A+

This summer we were able to take a fantastic trip to Ireland, Scotland, and England with the boys and my mom. Everyone kept up with my punishing itinerary, and we were able to see quite a bit of countryside on both islands. The highlight was a visit to Castle Lachlan for the MacLachlan Clan Gathering near Inveraray.

Health: A

We’ve enjoyed another year of health and happiness. We’ve got no complaints, other than I have a hard time staying up past 9 pm.

Overall Score: Exceeds Expectations

We wish you all A+ holidays and a generous curve on 2015. Now for the filmstrip:


The Milhizers

Back to the Land: Catching Fire

photo 1-3I flew too close to the sun. I tried to run before I could walk. After consulting The Art of Manliness blog, I found I should be making foil packet meals. My mom used to make these foil meals for us even when we weren’t camping. My brother called them foul meals. Gourmet or not, I was not going to be defeated by hamburger.

Armed with several recipes, Nate and I headed off to the local family-run market. On the menu was lemon pepper chicken and hamburger patties with cream of mushroom soup, onions, potatoes, and carrots. Why 2 meals? I figured if I could get a fire going enough to cook one, I’d better strike while the iron was hot, quite literally. Also, it doubled my chances that at least one would be edible.

I decided the curious metal cylinder that I’d put aside yesterday as a grill accoutrement too advanced for my skill level could actually help me. I stacked wood in it vertically, and put kerosene soaked newspaper trails through the holes leading to its center. Like lighting the olympic fire, I placed the torch in the lighter fluid haze, and poof! Instant fire. I dumped the flaming wood out into the bowl of the grill and removed the cylinder.

As I let my fire mellow and settle in, I went to pre-soften my potatoes and carrots by boiling them.

I read that I should let the fire die down and put my packets directly on the glowing coals. Since again, I’m operating with wood, not charcoal, I curiously never got glowing coals. I got really hot ash, which I decided was just fine. Well, turns out that’s messy when you try to flip. Luckily I had triple-wrapped my packets, so we were safe from straight-lining carcinogens.

I decided to re-stoke the fire and put the packets on the grill instead, manliness be damned. I gave the hamburgers 30 minutes and the chicken an hour.

I checked them, and realized I never flipped the chicken. But both were cooked through, with one side exhibiting faint notes of char. I’m not sure if the foil pot roast burgers were good or not, but there is immense satisfaction in eating something you cooked over an open flame in the middle of nowhere with no help. Nate ate most of his, but he’ll eat anything and in large quantities.

I was giddy with success, and I still had both eyebrows. Nate grabbed the supplies, and I reinserted the cylinder to get my fire going again for s’mores. I still had a few small flames, but I thought I needed more. Well, I guess the cylinder works best as a starter, not a re-starter. I managed to set the wooden handle on fire. Why would the handle be wooden? Well, it’s not anymore.

Anyhow. Next we’ll try foil fish with dill and lemon. That whole adventure took about 3 hours from start to finish, not including the shopping. And I didn’t have to hunt or field dress any of it.

I’ll leave you with a couple of observations about living in a 750 square foot house

1. You can live in a lot less space than you think you can provided you have a lot of hooks.

2. You cannot lose your cell phone in 750 sq. feet because everything is literally within your field of vision at all times.

3. Temperature control is accomplished with either one small space heater on, or alternatively one window open.


Back to the Land Part 1: Barbara Make Fire

I know the title implies that I have, in fact, ever been to the land. I guess I have, if only technically. My parents used to take us “camping,” which involved our pop-up Volkswagen camper van with the stove and sink and green and yellow plaid upholstery futons. From those experiences, I have taken the following lessons:

1. Make and eat your ham and cheese sandwich before selecting and eating your bag of Cheetos to keep your white bread pristine.

2. Get up early for first pickings from the mini cereal variety pack; last one gets the Special K.

So, I saw these 3 weeks in the north woods of Michigan with my 8 year-old as an opportunity to test my inner grit and commune with nature. Or, at least as blog fodder.

Day 1 was hectic dropping Gus off at camp, getting supplies, and settling in. We had frozen pizza. It wasn’t coal-fired, so I consider that roughing it.

Day 2 was lovely, so we spent most of it at sailing camp and at the beach. We had spaghetti. But, because my son wanted corn on the cob, and I only have 1 large pot, I boiled the corn and the pasta at the same time. If that’s not enterprising pioneer spirit, I don’t know what is.

Today I felt emboldened. It was rainy this morning and with a high of about 55. It was a good day for a fire. I have a grill, matches, and lighter fluid, but my hippie landlady frowns on charcoal. She lived out here for years in a yurt. I can manage hamburgers and s’mores, over a wood-burning fire, surely.

After consulting a few YouTube videos, (yes, I have wifi – don’t judge, otherwise you wouldn’t be getting a blog) I was ready. The kindling outside had been soaked by last night’s rain, but there was a crate inside the door of 2×4 ends, twigs and wood bricks, as well as old newspaper.

I removed the grill, stacked the wood in a careful pyramid-ish shape, put the gloves on, doused the wood with lighter fluid and created a torch out of twisted up newspaper. Instant roaring goodness! Red hot success. I put the cover on to let my fire set and went in to make my patties.

When I came out, the fire was all but out. I repeated steps 1-5. Again, the fire died. I decided it wasn’t getting enough oxygen through the cover vents and left it off completely. I put the grate on and placed the patties lovingly atop. Everything seemed to be going ok until I went to flip them. Half of the patty stuck to the grill. It looked like my burger had been skinned alive. I was using 95% lean, after all. I tried the next. It was cooking too fast on the outside, but was completely raw inside. I had too much direct heat and was ending up with scorched nuggets of raw meat. I had char-tare bitlets – half jerky/half tartare. I had too much flame, but I couldn’t put the cover on for fear of losing the fire altogether.

In an effort to save the mission, I tried to picture the Burger King commercials. Isn’t this how they show it? A perfect patty gently tickled by fiery fingers? Mine were more like sun-scorched pieces of raccoon entrails after the vultures have moved on.

I moved to destroy-the-evidence mode lest anyone try to diagnose my failing and doubt my survivalist credibility. Though the Hybrid SUV in the driveway and the wetsuit on the clothesline might yet give me away.

I consulted Eric via phone, and he pointed out there are air vents in the bottom of the grill, which should also be open. I do know enough not to go out there and touch hot metal to open them now.  I also got impatient and probably didn’t let the fire die down to embers enough to create indirect heat. Got it.

Tomorrow, more hamburger meat and s’mores material and a bag of Cheetos just in case.

Required Reading: Holiday 2013

Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Welcome to the Milhizer Holiday Letter 2013 – the literary version. Why the literary version? Because it has often been said that life imitates art, and for what I’m about to reveal in a serious plot twist…

She’s Come Undone

Some might say I fell down the well and bumped my head this year. I did slip on the ice and fall into the pool during an ice storm, but as far as I remember I did not hit my head. I am down one appendix, however. To make up for it I decided to take on several new projects, including starting a Fine Arts Coalition, advocating for arts programming in the Carroll School District, becoming a featured writer in Southlake Arts Magazine, coordinating Youth Programming for Apex Arts League, and um… going back to school to get my post-grad certificate to teach High School English.

As for that last part, I blame Ms. Pete, my junior English teacher. Like an oracle in some Greek tragedy, she prophesied this would be my fate. So I accept it. I have fallen down the well, realized I’m 41, and look forward to what’s next. I’ve never been one to stay still for long, so I start classes in January at UNT. I’ve already passed my literature content exam and am knee-deep in high school reading lists, hence the literary version of this letter.

I still enjoy HR consulting at PeopleResults (which I plan to continue during my studies and over my summers), teaching yoga, practicing piano, planning vacations and photographing them. 

A Man for All Seasons

Eric may be the only constant around here. He’s the eye to our hurricane. He has the adaptability skills of phytoplankton. MetroPCS was bought by T-Mobile last spring, and Eric has transitioned well into the new organization. He was named a “Luminary” by Nielsen and invited to present at their annual leadership conference as a client who continually challenges them. I’ve yet to see what tangible benefits “Luminary” status confers, but if you look closely you can detect a faint glow about him.

Eric remains checker of math homework, expert Beignet-maker, ski coach, audio book hound, and indulger of my wild ideas. He keeps the boys in the latest technology and me from blowing myself up.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

What 2 years ago we might have thought of as passing fancy has become full-fledged obsession. Gus continues to pursue piano doggedly and has progressed to some very complicated pieces. He was invited to play at Thanksgiving mass this year on a Lang Lang signed Steinway. Trust me, it was a big deal. He’s decided to apply to Interlochen this year, a 3-week intensive camp in Northern Michigan. He’s my inspiration for continuing piano lessons and expanding Fine Arts opportunities in Southlake schools.

This year, he’s also playing percussion in the band at school, dancing in the Hip Hop Company, working on his 2nd degree black belt, and generally tearing up 6th grade. I can guess where he gets his intensity, but not his stamina.

He turns 12 this year, and like any pre-teen is experimenting with being alternately maddening and sweet. I knew it was coming. I just didn’t know our confrontations would mostly be over metronomes and sixteenth notes.

The Storyteller

Nate inhabits a world of wonder of his own making. If there is one area of 1st grade where he is laser-focused, that is story-writing/telling. His creations this year have included a tale of a lizard that lives on Eric’s head and the riveting “The Time Papaw Bumped the Curb.” He will also school you on the genetic peculiarities that make Colombians the master scissors-wielders that they are.

Nate plays the piano with a natural ear for it, unlike the rest of us who require sheet music. He began gymnastics this year, and is progressing to pre-competitive levels. He is resident comedian and entrepreneur. At my dad’s 75th birthday party, Nate saw an opportunity when asked to play the piano. He ran upstairs and emerged with a hat seeded with his own quarter. He collected quite a few dollars busking with “Joy to the World.”

He also hit the jackpot this year when two new neighbors moved in with a total of 4 boys between the ages of 6-9. We are all excited that Colombia will be in the World Cup this summer, in which they are sure to prevail if scissors-skills play any part.

On the Road

No Milhizer family letter is complete without an accounting of our travels. I can often be found on vacation planning the next one. This year we were in Michigan over the New Year where we watched Northwestern win its first bowl game in the post-war era. Needless to say, hopes of bowl-watching travel have been dashed handily this year.

We skied again in Steamboat for spring break with Gus passing my ability and everyone passing me in general. Slow skiers get no rest. But my thighs are the most taut given that I turn 300% more often than anyone else. So, I’ve got that going for me.

Our big trip this year took us overseas to relive my college days on a much improved budget. We visited Munich, Salzburg, and Prague and had a fantastic time. The boys went everywhere, tried every food, learned a little German and Czech, and generally impressed us with their adventurous spirit. We spent time at museums, castles, Mozart concerts, and a chapel decorated entirely with human skeletons. Something for everyone.

We rounded out the summer with our annual trip to Lake Charlevoix, where we discovered the joys of the stand-up paddleboard and the wisdom of wetsuits. Almost everyone came, and we enjoyed the rare instance in which all of Eric’s siblings and most of their kids were in one place.

We also finalized the plans for our vacation house up there and picked a builder. The bank was less enthusiastic about the size of the house than we were, so it will likely be another year before we start construction.

The Call of the Wild

Santa, ever the jokester, brought our dog, Sheba a friend last year. Otto, the Dalmatian joined our family and has tormented poor Sheba ever since. Santa’s return policy is unclear.

Having two dogs keeps things interesting, but scratches and bruises on children are way down. Torn-out clumps of fur and swollen paws (thanks to a Copperhead snake bite), however, are up.

Now that you’ve read the novel, here’s the movie

Twenty fourteen promises to bring more homework, piano practice, pre-teen angst, fabulous trips, laughs and a precious few moments of stillness. Stay tuned for the sequel, due out December 2014.

That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended.

Crime and Punishment

Happy Holidays and a Joyous New Year,

Barbara, et al.