Now you've got the chance
You might as well just dance
Go skies and thrones and wings
And poetry and things.
--Neil Halstead

Monday, July 17, 2017

My Hotel Room is an Edge Lord

So, this week, I'm meeting the Feds in Dallas. Despite the fact that people (okay, just JFK) have gotten shot doing this, despite the fact that I've managed to go almost 18 years without meeting Our Federal Partners*, here I am, a state govvie in a hotel surrounded by federal buildings, a mere seven blocks from The Grassy Knoll (Pro Tip: if you search for 'grassy knoll,' in Google Maps, it pulls up Dealy Plaza. Evidently a lot of people do this, not just slightly nervous state employees with a tendency to panic when surrounded by tall buildings.)

I was already a bit anxious about this trip before even checking in, for several reasons:

  1. The aforementioned anxiety about tall buildings.
  2. An unfailing habit of getting lost in downtown areas (Yes, I got lost this time. That is why it is an unfailing habit and not just a tendency. Diction matters, y'all!)
  3. Anxiety about being in a two-day meeting (I have the attention span of a crack-addled squirrel. Meetings are painful. I have to constantly will myself to concentrate, and it's exhausting. I'm always afraid I'm going to drift off and at the end of the meeting someone will say, "Dammit, Diana, you committed us to a 92% cost reduction and a relocation to Waco!", although if you read two posts ago, you'll know that a U-Haul to Waco is currently only $99.).
  4. Anxiety about the Feds, how fancy and serious they must be and whether, when I go through security, they will stop me and put me in jail for being 'just not quite right.' (Of course they can tell that sort of thing at screening--they're Trained Federal Observers!)
Feds. This is what I imagine
tomorrow's security check
will look like. Which would be
kinda okay because Will Smith
is fine.
Me. I don't think the Feds
would appreciate my shirt,
because Toby is clearly not happy
with his elected officials.

The good thing about the hotel is that one side of it is across from a grassy knoll (no, not that one...evidently, Dallas has a thing for grassy knolls, which is weird, because you'd think they'd want to forget about them), so at least I am not completely surrounded by tall buildings, just 75% surrounded.

The design of the hotel, though, is like a hipster and a business person had several rounds of craft beer culminating in a one night stand in a warehouse the night before the design meeting. (Life Lesson: Excessive amounts of craft beer lead to poor life decisions, millennials!) Without further ado, may I introduce you to Room 319:

The ceiling. It is probably supposed to look artistically stained and raw and concrete-y, but (1) that is a closer look than I ever want to have of my sprinkler pipes because now I'll be worried about fires, and (2) I've lived in enough cheap apartments to wonder what leaked and whether the ceiling will start falling in on me in my sleep.
So we have Urban Brick, plus, Unfinished Building Concrete, plus Ikea Particle Board all next to each other, in some sort of Sad Wallcoverings Ugliness Competition. Clearly, Unfinished Builiding Concrete was the first prize winner. I am really troubled by the two neon orange dots on the bottom. Are they there because that was the real unfinished building concrete and they are being super committed to authenticity, like the Christian Bales of interior design? Or did some decorator carefully go into each room and paint random dots on the concrete to make it look authentic? Did they still have self-respect the next day?
Okay, this. Seriously, WTF, hipster business people, WTF? So there's this weird little area behind the desks, sofa, and TV and in front of the window. There's a little ledge formed by the furniture. Why? Is this a corral for your toddler? Or Pomeranian? Do the housekeeping staff have cockroach races in there during the day? You have to pull back the curtains to see it, so you could hide stuff there. Like, if you committed a murder, you could totally store a body there and close the curtains and it might take several guests before anyone noticed. Although, Dallas is warm in the summer.
The shower has a window with a pull-up shade, just in case you are so extremely supportive of the federal government that you want to provide free entertainment to the federal employees across the parking lot. Also, there is this weird window ledge. It's not under the shower head, so it's not a shower bench. Just a window seat that happens to be located in the shower. I guess if you have too many people in your hotel room and everybody's getting squashed and you've already put the trouble makers behind the curtain with the dead body, you can always tell people to sit in the shower.
Here we have a pleather headboard topped by a print of map colors. Because you shouldn't have to choose between being kinky and coloring in your My Little Pony coloring book. Okay, never mind. You should totally have to choose.
And then there's this. It appears that there may be a slide connecting the fourth floor to the third floor. Either that or housekeeping is kinda lazy about moving trash bags down from the upper stories. Part of me is like, okay, maybe I should go up to the fourth floor and see if it has a sign ("You must be THIS tall to ride.") but part of me is concerned that when I get to the bottom the maids are going to be like, "What are you doing in our trash chute?"
So, here I am, in a hotel that is clearly aware that it is, as my children would say, an Edge Lord (we think they mean 'really cool, edgy' by this, but we could be wrong and they could actually be part of some feudal society based on edginess), waiting to be detained by Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, which would at least stop me from losing focus and committing us to move to Waco. And the meeting hasn't even started yet!

*My last encounter with a Fed was in 2001 at a conference in Kerrville. There was a banquet. Before the banquet, several of us visited the bar (and by 'visited,' I mean more of an 'extended stay' situation), including our Federal lawyer and his wife. Our table found the banquet incredibly hilarious, probably significantly more hilarious than it actually was. The awesome thing was, our boss was furious but she didn't do more than come over and whisper at us to tone it down because we were at a table with a Federal lawyer, which is an instant pardon, everybody knows that. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

51 Minutes Till Sunset

Sometime today our air conditioning went out. Our beautiful, ten-month old air conditioning system. In Austin. In July. On a day when it was 99 degrees outside. Ugh.
This picture of Dewey, an awesome semi-Siamese who ran away long ago,
represents both the relative age and current working ability of our a/c unit.
I still miss that cat. 

The house is so well insulated that it took us until 3:00 to discover the problem. A quick trip to the store for new filters, a quick trip to the fuse box, staring seriously at the a/c unit as though if we looked hard enough, the furnace would pull a Goblet of Fire move and spit out the diagnostics: sadly, none of these tactics worked. It took a few hours for the company to send a representative, but eventually he came and diagnosed the problem as a blower motor and circuit board issue, which was, frankly, a relief, because there was no way we could've been expected to figure that out on our own. Unfortunately, the shop wasn't open, so we are spending a very warm evening, counting the minutes until sunset.

As it happens, I know just how to deal with a broken air conditioner, because, for two of my three years in college I lived in a house with no central air and only these weird wall furnaces that you lit, very carefully, with a match for heat in winter. (Our preferred approaches to using the furnace were, (1) not to, unless it was really, really, really cold, and (2) to barely turn on the gas and hold out a super long match stick while lunging in the opposite direction so that if the wall exploded we could try doing a James Bond roll out the front door.)
Yes, I said three years. When you're a total nerd and love
school, you get so excited every semester when the new
course catalog comes out and wind up going year round,
eventually graduating in three calendar years--at the age of 20--
with about 20 hours more than you needed to graduate,
even after having switched majors and everything. 

So why would any sane person wind up in an un-air conditioned house in central Texas in 1990? Well, for starters, I enrolled at A&M too late to get a dormitory, so my first year was in an apartment. After that, somehow I stumbled across an ad for a two-bedroom house in North Gate for $285 per month. As a true Conces, those tiny, tiny numbers melted my cheap, cheap heart.

Sydney, my cat, looking for bugs in the garden. Kari and I,
neo-hippies that we were, tried valiantly to grow our own
food. Free spirited and absent minded ditzes that we were,
we failed. Miserably. But the cats had a good time.
These were a couple of streets of identical houses with matching gray siding, rented out by a management company to that select group of students who were willing to sacrifice comfort and, frequently, dignity, for really, really cheap rent. I lived there two years, first with Ursula, a rather unfriendly girl who communicated mainly via Angry Post-it Notes, and then with a girl named Kari.

We learned early on that the management company was not particularly interested in making repairs. However, our house was next door to one that was so dilapidated that no one would rent it. The management company didn't bother to keep the house next door locked, possibly because the multiple holes in the exterior walls, interior walls, and floors made that essentially pointless. Or maybe the locks didn't work. Either way, we came to regard that house as sort of a free Home Depot and raided it for oven knobs, outlet covers, towel bars, window screens, and other items we needed in our house. Shortly before I graduated, a group of male architecture majors moved into the house next door, as sort of a cheap-living-arrangement-plus-class-project deal and we had to go to Real Home Depot.
Sydney in the living room. I adopted that cat as a adult from
the Bryan Animal Shelter in 1989 and he lived to be almost
21 years old. His best trick was fetching wadded up pieces
of paper and bring them back to you.

Anyway, summers in Bryan were pretty brutal, but we survived, mainly by:

  • Reminding ourselves about all the money we weren't spending on rent,
  • Fans, lots and lots of fans,
  • Taking frequent cold showers,
  • Wearing nothing but underwear,
  • Putting wet towels on our heads, and, most critically,
  • Being somewhere--anywhere--else whenever possible.
Fortunately, we had boyfriends with air conditioning, and, between their houses and summer school, we survived. We both had long-haired orange tabby cats, who were considerably less happy about it, but we gave them frequent baths and they lounged around on the linoleum most of the time anyway.
Can you feel the love? Can you FEEL it?

What this means is that, unlike most Texans of my generation, I can say that I've lived without air conditioning for a couple of years, which makes tonight's lack of a/c no big deal. I've got fans, ice packs, and pink lemonade. Most important of all, I know you can survive heat, sweat, and humidity with your sense of humor intact, so long as you're with the ones you love.

Sydney Carton (my cat) and Trinity (Kari's cat), sharing a window.
Trinity's best trick involved a dark closet and a stuffed bear and
is not appropriate for general audiences.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Material World, Not-so-Material Girl

Ruthless, aggressive, and cheap with
products manufactured with slave labor and
a fabulously wealthy ruling junta, sort
of like the North Korea of retail.
So, I have spent my whole career in public service, first as a teacher and then as a state employee. I did work at the college bookstore for a couple of weeks once, but that is pretty much the extent of my experience in the private sector. (Fun Fact: my first job was in the Texas A&M Chemistry Department, conducting the same Chemistry 101 experiment over and over to figure out why the answer key was wrong. Good news: despite my sub-par chemistry skills, I solved the mystery. Bad news: because of my sub-par chemistry skills, my sense of smell was permanently damaged. All for minimum wage!) Needless to say, I find things like marketing and advertising a strange sort of foreign country, fascinating to watch on the news and read about, but not really anyplace I'd want to take the family on a vacation.

Oh, you glorious instrument
of distraction!
Anyway, this morning I found myself distracted by the signage at one of the local shopping centers. Our building cafeteria was closed, so I had stopped for a breakfast taco at Taco Cabana. If you've had their chorizo, egg and cheese tacos (the only variety of breakfast taco I get excited about), you know they are (a) delicious and (b) really drippy, particularly after adding salsa. To eat one in the car, you have to maintain absolute focus on creating a little aluminum foil bowl with the wrapper and be prepared to sop up any impending drips with napkins. You definitely cannot look up at the storefronts and wonder what a Foot Navy is. Is it an Old Navy for shoes? Some sort of weird pedicure place? Then, upon realizing that you're looking at a Foot Heaven massage place located entirely too close to a U.S. Navy recruiting center, wonder whether business people think about the words they choose to make extra large on their signs in relation to the shop next door, before wondering whether that Foot Massage place is taking the place of the make-your-own wine place where you bought four-bosses-ago a gift card years ago, before realizing you've just spilled taco drippings all over your shirt and pants and it isn't even 8:00. This, folks, is why concentration is so important, which is unfortunate, because I have the attention span of a crack-addled squirrel. I briefly considered spilling some of my coffee on the taco stains, on the theory that coffee is a more socially acceptable aroma than taco. Because if you walk into an elevator smelling like coffee, people go, ahhhh, and it puts them in their happy place (especially on Monday morning), where as if you smell like a taco, they question your life skills (and hygeine) and back slowly into the opposite corner. But, in the end, I opted for a quick detour to the bathroom to rinse out the taco stains. Mainly because I wasn't sure my weak coconut-milk-coffee would be able to take on the pungent aroma of spilled chorizo juice and salsa.

Anyway, emphasizing the FOOT in Foot Heaven next to a Navy recruiting station that may be making some sort of political statement by not including "U.S." in its sign (or maybe it was budget cuts...punctuation is expensive) is just poor planning, a failure to look at the big picture. A deliberate advertising strategy I just don't get is continually played out by the local U-Haul company. Periodically, they advertise specials on their sign. Today's special was one way, Round Rock to Waco, $99. This got me thinking...

"Great Balls of Bubblewrap, Martha! Round Rock to Waco is
only $99! Sure, we've got houses and jobs and two storage
pods full of crap, but $ just don't find a deal like that!
Pack up the Precious Moments, we're moving to Waco!"
Does that actually work? I mean, my understanding of the point of advertising is to get people to change their behavior. I wasn't feeling particularly hungry, but I saw that Sonic billboard and next thing I know, I've got a strawberry cream slush in my hand. I was feeling okay about my car, but after looking at that ad, I'm in the showroom. That's sort of the idea, right? But moving between cities is usually something that you plan. There's not a whole lot of spontaneity there. And it's not like you're going to decide between places to live based on a special on a 14' truck rental ("Well, I did have that job lined up in Dallas, but...the U-haul is $50 more, so you may go to hell [person who made job offer], I'm going to Waco!"). So, I really don't get their thought process, but maybe other people are more spontaneous about that sort of thing, because there's often some sort of special posted.

Probably the most powerfully effective bit of advertising I've seen recently was the simple, black-and-white sign outside a local bar: "Thursday--Drag Bingo." Now, I don't gamble or wear make up or high heels, I am straight, and my bling quotient is almost tragically low...but the juxtaposition of those two words from two very different worlds was quite intriguing. Who needs a spontaneous move to Waco or even miniature cannons pelting your feet with bath salts at Foot Navy, when there's something as potentially fabulous as drag bingo in the world? I was definitely tempted. At the very least, it gave me much to think about in the rush hour traffic on the way home.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Road Trip Lunch Menu: Schlotzsky's, Death

No! Not another post-awards concert
reception with post-reception awards!
It's been a little bit, hasn't it? It has been a busy little bit. May is when the tsunami that is school finally reaches its crest and crashes into the boardwalk that is a parent's life, causing them to run screaming from their inevitable drowning in concerts, recitals, awards ceremonies, and end-of-year parties, so that, once their lungs are filled with the water of their own overwhelmed tears, their children can then proceed to beat them back to life with sticks, shouting, "I'M BORED!" precisely three days after school lets out. It's tradition.

Unfortunately, it is a tradition I forgot about when I made the decision to plan our annual family vacation for two days after school let out. So we went careening from a busy end-of-year into a 2,900 mile road trip through the four states of the four corners: New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona.

The useless green of lettuce
and the foul juiciness of
tomatoes reminds one of
mortality: snot and blood
on a lightly toasted bun.
As with any time in which loving family members are enclosed in a metal cage for nine days, memories were made. For instance, Bruce may never live down The Great Sweetwater Schlotzsky's Incident of 2017. Eleanor and Betty were enthusiastic about eating at Schlotzsky's; Bruce had never been before. It was a bad sign when he stared at the enormous menu board for five minutes before ordering a dry turkey bacon sandwich with no vegetables. (Bruce has always had a deep loathing of condiments, being possibly the only child to survive toddlerhood without liking ketchup.) Then the food came, followed shortly by levels of drama that would make a telenovela actress blush.

What unfeeling monster
puts mayonnaise on a
sandwich, when white
is the goopiness of non-
being, the nothing to which
all life inevitably wends?
First: the mournful look. Lift the bun--someone left on a bit of tomato, a scattering of lettuce, and, God help us all, mayonnaise. Staring despondently at the monstrosity, contemplate the bleak emptiness of lunch. Sigh a lot. Loudly. When your sisters laugh hysterically at you, poke at the sandwich a bit with a knife as though seeking a meaning that you just know isn't there. Slump your shoulders and shake your head. It is a waste, like the Gobi desert, there is nothing here to savor. More sighs, sighs like the last strains of joy escaping from a particularly despondent ghost. When your mother, between snorts of laughter, tells you you're not getting any snacks and suggests scraping off the mayonnaise and vegetables, pick up the knife and begin slowly, methodically scraping the mayonnaise off of each individual shaving of turkey, each flick of the plastic knife radiating the cruel emptiness of a world in which people expect you to eat sandwiches with condiments.

Finally, after Bruce sighed his way through half a sandwich and a bag of chips, we all gave up and got back in the car. For the rest of the trip, the girls would amuse themselves by randomly pointing out the window and yelling, "OOOOOH! Mom! A Schlotzsky's! Can we go there?" Even in towns way too small to support a Schlotzsky's, Bruce's head would pop up from his Nintendo and he would wail, "NO! Please, Mom! No!" At which, the girls would snort with laughter. They will still be doing this 20 years from now. Someday, he will be in a nursing home, and Betty will bring him a Schlotzsky's sandwich with extra mayo.

The other potentially traumatic memory was the hike we didn't take. I researched thoroughly every day of this trip. My goal was to look for hikes of about a mile in length with gentle elevations, mainly so that Eleanor could get her hiking fix in without Betty getting her whining fix in. The Spud Lake hike between Durango and Silverton seemed to fit the bill. I read review after review, everything I could find on line. The consensus was that the road up was a bit rough but easily passable in an SUV/CUV. The blog that swayed me was written by a man who said that, while his wife found it a little bumpy, they had no trouble managing the road in a CR-V, which is lower to the ground than my Santa Fe. To this gentleman I say: You, sir, are a lying liar.

See? Even the road is a lying liar. It starts out all nice and flat, so you're like, meh, just a dirt road! Then the potholes start, and you're like, meh, I can avoid those. And the next thing you know, you're teetering on the edge of a ravine, dodging basketball-sized rocks balanced inside hula-hoop-sized craters, confronting a steep, gravelly incline, and you're like, NOPE! Eleanor, get out and help Mommy make a 27-point turn without causing us to plummet to our deaths!
Old Lime Creek Road would have been a little bumpy in a small tank, although the tank would have fallen immediately off the edge of the steep ravine because the corkscrew road was, at most, one-and-a-half-cars wide. And by "steep ravine," I mean a sheer drop of a few hundred feet or so. I tried not to look, but given that Eleanor and Bruce seemed to want to lean in to the center of the car, I'm thinking it was quite a drop. Perhaps the fact that I couldn't find any online pictures of the road should have been a clue that, maybe, drivers and passengers were so busy clinging to the steering wheel and/or closing their eyes in terror to take photos.
Really, it's a little surprising he was
willing to sit next to her at mealtimes.

Eleanor, always full of the sunny optimism of adolescence, began telling Bruce and Betty about some of the historical information she learned this year in social studies, specifically, about the Donner party. She pointed out that, really, given that we were the only ones on the road and were in the middle of the forest and didn't have cell signals, it was highly likely that if we drove off the edge of the road, we would eventually have to eat each other, and, based on size, she was pretty sure she and I could overpower the two of them and survive.

Fortunately, we did not actually wind up ever finding out which one of us would win "Survivor: Old Lime Creek Road." We successfully turned around and made our way back down, at which point we stopped at a safe pull out at the bottom of the road and were able to properly admire the picturesque ravine that nearly killed us, before starting up the Donner Party jokes again.
If you look very, very closely, way down there
is the tiniest thread of blue from the river water
Eleanor would have used to cook us all into
a tasty stew, had we gone over the edge.
The important thing is, we survived, uneaten. These two memories, like many of our classic road trip mishaps, definitely look a lot funnier in the rear view mirror!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Brussels Sprouts Are My Spirit Vegetable

Somewhere in there are five very
tiny mushroom pieces and sixteen
fragments of onion. Their unclean
foulness must be rooted out (get it??)
and expelled from the plate!
Well, not according to the Internet. According to four highly authoritative Internet quizzes, my spirit vegetable is the pumpkin, mushroom, cucumber, or broccoli, which proves that either I have multiple spirit vegetable disorder, to the extent that is a thing, or that Internet quizzes may lack validity (!!!!). It is true that I love mushrooms and will attempt to sneak them into any dish. The children, who pretty much universally hate mushrooms, have been trained through years of experience to spot chopped mushrooms and push them to the sides of their plates. Frankly, since it took me five years to get get them to stop flinging the mushrooms onto the table and merely push them to the side, I'm sort of okay with that. Plus, I get extra mushrooms, thoughtfully piled up for easy collection.

They say Jack-o-lantern, or in this case, possibly
Weird Earless Cat-o-lantern. I say Pumpkin Seed Storage Container. Everybody wins.
I also like cucumbers and broccoli, in moderation, but that's as far as it goes. I am not a fan of pumpkin-flavored things, which is unfortunate in the fall, when everything from coffee creamer to salad dressing is pumpkin. I do, however, love pumpkin seeds. In fact, I buy the pumpkin at Halloween mainly to roast its seeds; the carving is just a sort of ritual that entertains the kids while I clean and roast pumpkin seeds.

No, lying Internet quizzes aside, my real spirit vegetable is the Brussels sprout. I never had Brussels sprouts growing up, because it is one of the few vegetables my mother doesn't care for. I didn't try them as an adult until a few years ago because (a) they have a reputation of being that one vegetable that nobody likes, the IRS audit of vegetables, and (b) they look like something a troll hacks up after a bad cold or the pilling on the particularly ugly sweater of a giant.

Betty is not a fan of Brussels sprouts,
which is a little surprising because
she likes most veggies and has even
tried going vegetarian several times
(her downfall is protein...she hates
pretty much all non-meat proteins).
This is an old picture and doesn't
involve vegetables, but is a pretty
fair representation of her NO face.
Then, several years ago, my boss (this was back when I could have the same boss for upwards of a year, as opposed to four in a single year) who told me his cats loved to eat Brussels sprouts. I've had cats since college and Lord knows, they are weird little creatures, but Brussels sprout eating seemed a little far over the cuckoo's nest, even for cats. This intrigued me.

Because I didn't want to commit to cooking something so sketchy from scratch, I bought frozen Brussels sprouts, and they weren't half bad...but not half good, either. Then, one fateful winter, my friend and I started frequenting Red Lobster and they offered roasted Brussels sprouts as a side dish.  On a whim, I tried them, and I was hooked.  When they fell off the seasonal menu, I had to take the plunge and start making them myself. Now, I use the fact that Bruce and I love Brussels sprouts and Eleanor and Mother will not openly complain about them as an excuse to fix them several times a month (silence implies consent, everybody knows that). Eventually, I figure I'll wind up feeding Mother all the Brussels sprouts she never fed me as a child.

Anyway, none of the Internet quizzes probably even had Brussels sprouts as an option for your spirit vegetable, possibly because all the quiz takers would be all like, "I'm no troll booger!" and then rate the quiz one star and the quiz makers would cry. This saddens me, because I think Brussels sprouts have a lot to offer in the fake Internet psychology realm.

Congratulations! Your Spirit Vegetable is the Brussels Sprout
Trees of Deliciousness!
You are complex, layered, and frequently misunderstood. Your outer layers may be drab and slightly wilty, but those who take the time to peel off some layers will discover a freshness and zest that goes well with honey and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Some people may try to drown you in cheese and bacon--avoid them and let your natural beauty shine through. In the wrong environment, you can become bitter and cynical, but simple seasonings, sweetness, and about 45 minutes in a 425 degree oven make you magical!

Anyway, here's how I fix my Brussels sprouts. I found this recipe on Pintrest. I promise it's tasty, even if your spirit vegetable is squash!

ZUMVOLLEY UPDATE: While the Pandas had a very successful season, losing only two games, they lost in the second round of the tournament. Even during the tournament, spontaneous outbreaks of zumba would occur. Their name also evolved, from the Pandas, to the Orange Chicken Pandas, to the Orange Chicken Pandas with Sunburn, to ultimately, the Orange Chicken Pandas with Sunburn and Orange Crush, which made for some awkward team cheers. Betty even got better at serving, after I pointed out to her that the volleyball was the same general shape and size as her brother's head and, therefore, it would be a shame not to hit it harder. The team plans to reunite in the fall. May Zumvolley live FOREVER!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Bingo is a Family Value

My previous experiment, OSTRICH
(Obtusely Still Try to Relentlessly
Ignore and Continue Hobbling)
was, oddly enough, unsuccessful.
This afternoon, I was lying in bed, thinking about what to write while experimenting with RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) for my bruised foot. I got the munchies and reached into the nightstand for some Bingo loot, a giant-sized Hershey bar I had been saving for just such a situation. If you're doing a double take because you don't associate Bingo with chocolate, I can assume you're not family. Those of you now nodding and drooling know exactly what I mean.

Two weeks ago was the annual Dusek-Olsovsky Family Reunion. For more years than I've been alive, the descendants of the Duseks and Olsovskys (my grandmother was an Olsovsky) have congregated in the Guardian Angel Catholic Church Parish Hall in Wallis, TX, on the fourth Sunday in April. I've missed very few of these reunions, and my kids are just as determined to go for two, very important reasons: (1) each family must bring a dessert and we come from a long line of fabulous bakers, and (2) bingo.
The inside of the church. Guardian Angel is one of the beautiful painted churches in Central Texas. Our family is one of the many Czech families that settled there in the late 1880s. I suck at genealogy, but I have learned two important facts:
(1) Great-great (ish) grandpa had to renounce allegiance to Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the much hated
occupier of Moravia and other places and the catalyst of WWI, which is kind of ironic: "Yes, we know you hate the jerk,
but do you pinkie promise not to be his loyal subject?" I imagine Great-great (ish) grandpa rolled his eyes and said whatever the Czech equivalent of "I'll try" or "Whatevs" or "Sure, you moron" is. (2) Great-great (ish) grandpa's dad (who never emigrated) was named Peregrin Dusek. Peregrin: Just. Like. The. Hobbit.
No wonder we all like to eat and run around barefoot!

Eleanor in 2007 with some of her winnings. That is the
expression of unbridled aggression, the savage intensity
of a four-year-old Attila, intent on decimating an army of
letters and numbers so that she can ravage a table of
hapless sugary items and cheap toys. Cross her at your peril.
Her cousin Christian appears somewhat despondent with
his sad little box of juice packets. 
After lunch and the business meeting, someone says, "Bingo!" and children emerge from tables, run in from tossing footballs and shooting hoops on the covered porch, and descend upon the opened treasure chests where thousands of bingo cards, some barely held together and peeling with age and covered with stray marker, others brand new and shiny, lay waiting. When I say 'treasure chest,' you should not think about a pirate's treasure chest, because that is entirely too small. These treasure chests are so massive that is entirely possible some poor bingo player may have once leaned in too far to get a luckier card and fallen in, buried forever in the vast drifts of condensed luck. Kids who are too young to keep up with numbers and letters sit with a mom or granny, who usually plays three or four cards at once. My kids are very serious about bingo, and that is because every one of the 45+ families brings prizes. A row of four or five long tables is piled high with dollar store toys, candy, snacks, sodas (and, for some reason, this year, a fern), and we play bingo until every item is gone. It is like combining Halloween and gambling. After ensuring that all three kids had won several items, Mother and I scored a few treats of our own, including the delicious Hershey bar I savored today while experimenting with Staying Still as a means of healing my foot. (Shockingly, this is working quite well. Does the medical community know about this?)

All of which explains why, when I ask, "Do y'all want to go to the family reunion?" all three children light up, sort of like when you wave bacon at a dog or rattle a jar of Kitty Krack, and even Bruce, who rarely leaves the house by choice, perks up and says, "The one with bingo?" No one complains about the car ride, or interacting with people they don't know very well, because it is so worth it. As I once did--as probably all adults once did--they'll sneak back through the dessert table at least twice while the grownups are distracted, before heading outside to play until that magical moment when someone yells, "Bingo."

I have two very specific childhood memories of the reunion. One was that we had to drive up from Corpus to attend, which seemed forever at that age, and either there weren't a lot of bathrooms on US 59 at that time or my parents chose not to stop at them, so I vividly remember at least one time pulling off to the side of the highway to look for a bush. Those of you from South Texas are laughing right now, because you know there's no such thing, just tall grass, stickerburrs, and snakes. The other was that horrible, horrible time when I got the chicken pox right before the reunion and had to be quarantined in the Winnebago. Imagine: no multiple trips through the dessert buffet, and (really, this could constitute child abuse or possibly some sort of war crime) no bingo. Here's a poem about that tragic day that I read at NeWorld Deli last month.

Solitary Confinement on the Open Road
Wallis, 1974
The open road was closed,
the Winnebago a quarantine.
They took me to the reunion,
an annual tradition, barbeque
and bingo, running on concrete
under shade of metal awning
of the Guardian Angel Catholic
Church social hall, anticipation
squashed like a South Texas
mosquito thanks to a badly timed
outbreak of chicken pox.

I spent the reunion alone,
itching, pock-marked, forbidden
from socializing or scratching,
listening to the fun I wasn’t having,
confined to the Winnebago,
visited occasionally and at distance
by cousins who were known survivors,
fed from a plate curated by my mother.
No thrill of hearing letters and numbers
that could spell a bag of candy or new toy.
Just me alone, failing not to think
about itching, stung by boredom,
completely unable to scratch it.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Cry Me a River, Or Don't

Inside every trainer is a
overachieving perfectionist,
whose anger at herself over
only making 114 on the
Charms final will lead her
to develop an even more
elaborate study system
in time for the next exam,
probably involving color
coding and tabs. Trainers
also love office supplies.
As with most people in the training profession, I can not only tell you my Myers-Briggs personality type, but can pretty accurately assess other people's types without having to pass out the #2 pencils. Trainers love personality assessments. It's part of that whole seeing potential, helping people be their best, rose-tinted let-me-help-you-change nurturer thing that led us to teaching to begin with (and, not infrequently, makes us such fun in relationships).

One way the Myers-Briggs classifies us is on how we make decisions. Thinkers are the logicians, the rationalist, the King Solomons, who use logic and reason to decide. Feelers, on the other hand, are those softies who decide with their hearts, who value relationships and feelings over rules and policies.

Most of my life, I've tried to be a Thinker, and occasionally succeeded. My friends are mostly Thinkers, my family are mostly Thinkers, and because I value harmony and relationships (i.e., because I'm a Feeler), I have often convinced myself I was a Thinker, too. For years, I tested that way on the assessment, because, no matter how much the instructions tell you not to do this, I had convinced myself those were the answers I should pick, that reason and logic were somehow moral because most of the people I loved thought so.

One of those is Eleanor, my eldest daughter, whom I call Queen of the Rational. If she notices that I seem unhappy, we invariably have this conversation:

"So, these...emotions...what do you
do with them? Please explain."
Eleanor: You look sad. What happened?
Me: [abridged version as appropriate for 14 year old]
Eleanor: Huh. That doesn't make sense. I mean, you don't KNOW that's going to happen. So I don't know why you're upset about it.
Me: ....
Eleanor:  <clearly pleased at solving problem, puts in earbuds and plays Linkin Park>

The only other Feeler in the household is Betty. Everyone else in the family is perplexed by Betty; she is an interplanetary tourist from the Land of Emotions visiting their calm, subdued and rational world in her pink Hawaiian print shirt and gold shoes. I've often found myself having to translate Betty to Rational, and doing so has made me realize how much she and I see the world in a similar way.

Eleanor: Why doesn't Betty want me to come to volleyball practice?
Betty: You're mean to me! I don't want you there!
Eleanor: I'm not being mean now. So why don't you want me there?
Me: Betty is still upset with you because you took a picture of her when she accidentally wore her shorts backwards and texted it to your friend Annabelle.
Eleanor: WHAT? That happened a month ago! I forgot all about that until just now. That doesn't make any sense!
Me: Perhaps IF YOU APOLOGIZED, said something like, "Betty, I'm sorry if my actions hurt you..."
Eleanor: Wait, are you the Thought Police now? We say rude things all the time--we're sisters. Then we move on. I moved on. It's over.
Betty: I hate her.
Eleanor: <puts earbuds in and turns on Halsey>

Bob and Daisy make decisions primarily based on food, 
rather than on thinking or feeling, which may explain why 
Daisy's paw looks like it's punching a fur-covered balloon.
Betty has always been overwhelmed by her emotions. She has cried so hard she's thrown up on more than one occasion. When Betty starts crying a river, her siblings come straight to me, because I am the only one who knows what to say to calm her down. They'll say, "Betty's crying about something. IDK what--there doesn't seem to be anything wrong." Then they'll shrug their shoulders and go play Nintendo or watch Netflix because any problem that can't be explained probably doesn't exist. I go find Betty and we hold each other for a while, and then, when she's calmer, we talk about what she's feeling, and what the other person involved might have been feeling, and then, when we figure out all these feelings, she stops crying, cheers up, and goes back to watching anime. Then, because I feel an obligation to attempt to educate the Thinkers in the family, I head over to the person who reported the crying so I can attempt to explain why somebody might be upset about perfectly rational people telling her The Facts and a detailed analysis of said facts. "But, it was true!" they say, and I invariably reply, "Maybe, but it wasn't helpful." And then they wander off, frustrated, because how can facts not be helpful?

I Love You to Proxima Centauri B and Back
The corollary is, whenever I need a bit of emotional support, it is harder to find than tofu in a barbecue joint. Betty is always good for a 10 minute hug, three drawings, and a dozen "I love you" and "Best mom in the universe," but, since she's 9 and has the attention span of a very happy puppy, is not appropriately a source of support. (The hugs are great, though. In fact, even when neither of us is upset, Betty and I sound pretty much like if the person who wrote the "I love you to the moon and back" book had scored a contract to write a thousand sequels.) So, I've become pretty good at being my own support.

At any rate, as I've learned to accept myself, I've gotten more comfortable with feelings: having them, other people having them, talking about them, and <gasp> even factoring them into decisions without feeling guilty about it. And I've found that I've got at least one traveling companion to join me on a fun, irreverent, and, yes, emotional, tour of the Land of the Rational.