"I have seen personally what is the only beneficial and appropriate course of action for people: to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in all their hard work on earth during the few days of their life which God has given them, for this is their reward." (Ecclesiastes 5:18, NET)

November 18, 2014

My fugue state

That had to be it. I have no reasonable explanation for losing the past three months other than being in a fugue state. (Thank you, Vince Gilligan. If you hadn't written that in the script for Walter White, I'd have no earthly idea what happened to me.) Lest you doubt that I could have been in a dissociative state for this long, the authoritative Wikipedia says that although a fugue state is usually short-lived, ranging from hours to days, it can last months or longer. So there.

While recovering from the shock of learning that it's already November, I've been trying to piece together what happened since August 3, the date of my last post. My paper trail and online footprint left a lot to sort through—emails, text messages, Facebook posts, credit card statements, folders of documents and photos, etc. To fill in some of the details, I stealthily questioned the people I likely engaged with. So here's at least some of what I did during my extended fugue episode.

Fugue working
At Compaq in 1999
Work photo from 1999 (before HP
bought Compaq and stole my youth)
Yowser. I really let HP take advantage of me. Looking at the amount of work I did, it became clear why I'm so worn out. Noticing the quality of my work, however, I couldn't help but be pleased. Evidently, I continued my morning ritual of asking God to help me do a good job, knowing that everything good I do is through Him. So glory to God! He even had the big guy give me an employee recognition award, which I redeemed for a stack of Kohl's gift cards (more on that below).

When I wasn't giving excessive off-hours to HP, I was editing my pastor's book on Ecclesiastes. Oh man, that must have been a blast. I enjoy editing, and I love Ecclesiastes. As a matter of fact, Lance's sermon series on it a couple of years ago is what inspired me to base this blog on enjoying the simple pleasures of life. As Ecclesiastes teaches, the enjoyment of eating, drinking, and working—within God's parameters—is a gift from Him. Maybe if there was shopping back then, Solomon would have included that too.

Fugue shopping
According to my daughter, she and I met at Kohl's early one Saturday morning and had a good time modeling clothes, giving honest opinions, and helping each other narrow down our selection of tops and earrings to those we'd actually end up wearing.

I never go "Kohling" without coupons, and as I discovered at the register, I could use the 30% off coupon instead of the 20% if we exceeded the total amount of the gift cards and I charged a certain amount on my Kohl's card. We had to spend more! So I told Angy, "What about that blue blouse you tried on? It looked good on you. Go!" She trotted off to grab it. (A benefit of shopping early was that no one was waiting behind us.) After ringing up the on-sale blouse and taking off 30%, we were still short. "Weren't there any other earrings you wanted? Go!"

Even if I had left empty handed and didn't have some cute new things in my closet, it still would have been fun. I always enjoy just being with my girl.

Pita crackers
My current obsession
Fugue eating and drinking
I sure hope the food was good because I'm paying for it now. All those pants that fit me three months ago? Not anymore. It could have been the Sunday dinners at Mom's, the Wednesday dinners at church, or specifically favorites like guacamole and chips or brownies and ice cream. But it was probably a combination thereof. And I seemed to have developed an obsession with Town House pita crackers with sea salt. Robert has the cabinet stocked with several boxes, and he doesn't eat them.

Also, the regrettably high calories from alcohol might have played a part. I must have increased my consumption because I now seem to have a higher tolerance. After emerging from my fugue state, I celebrated with two glasses of red wine. Barely felt it.

Other fugue happenings
Mom frequently asks how my bike ride was on Saturday morning, so I've apparently made it a weekly activity since receiving my bike, the best birthday present ever, in July. It's amazing how you can lead a conversation to find out stuff. What I gleaned from Mom is that my shiny pink bicycle is a hit around the neighborhood. From little girls to old ladies, it gets admirable stares and compliments. I also learned from Rex that some guy yelled "Nice bike!" as he drove past. Presumably, he was being sincere instead of sarcastic.

I was extremely pleased to discover that Zach, my brawny 35-year-old son, returned to college to get a degree so he can switch careers—from pipefitter to high school English lit teacher. I admire him for being brave enough to follow his passion rather than a paycheck. Zachary knows I love to read his writing, so he's been sending me essays as well notifying me of his grades, all 100s and high 90s. I'm so proud of my boy, and I undoubtedly have been enjoying some good reads.

I also found evidence of:
  • Surprising Mom on her birthday with cupcakes and balloons at her league bowling, then taking her out to lunch for her first-ever Reuben sandwich (Rectifying that ridiculous situation was a must.)
  • Being with Jackson for his surgery and appreciating every moment spent with that precious boy
  • Enjoying Grant Harrison's performance at Main Street Crossing with Angy and Zachary
  • Having a delicious spaghetti lunch at Zach and Kelly's with all of my kids and grandkids, followed by a pleasant afternoon just sitting outside and talking
  • Going to Brian Pounds' CD release party with my friend Gillian and enjoying his music as always, along with that of Gary Nicholson 
  • Seeing "Gone Girl" at the movies with Angy and her friend Monica Heckner (BFFs since the 2nd grade!)
  • Meeting Rex's friend from Michigan (Shockingly, it was at least an hour before John announced, "I just decided that I like you.")
Those were a few of the highlights anyway. I can only hope that my fugue self didn't do anything that will embarrass me later.

Post-fugue fun
I got a last-minute invitation on Thursday to accompany Mom and my brother Randy to see Gene Watson, somewhat of a country music legend, at Dosey Doe. Randy was treating Mom for her perpetual 85th birthday celebration, which started back in August. Although Gene Watson isn't someone I would have necessarily chosen to go see, I'm not one to let a $158 ticket go to waste. And I always love hanging out with mi familia, especially when it includes good food and good music.

Randy and Mom
My sweet brother and my hot mom (Great job on her makeup, Kimberlie!)

Although Gene is 71, he's still got a beautiful voice, as his die-hard fans will attest. Looking at the cloud of gray heads in the audience from my vantage point at stage left, I noticed in particular the ladies on the front row staring up with adoring googly eyes. It confirmed what I feel—that no matter how old you get, you only change on the outside.

The following night, I met my friends Gillian and Monica for margaritas, crab and bacon quesadillas, and great conversation. It's a special joy to be in the early stages of forming friendships, ones that have the potential to be true and lasting. A lovely fact of life is that you're never too old to make new friends.

It sure is good to be back.

August 3, 2014

The birthday, part 2

As I leaned across Jackson to buckle Christian in the backseat, Jackson said, "Happy birthday!" He had wished me one over the phone on the actual occasion two days prior, and I thought it was so sweet of him to do it again. But Jackson knew something I didn't—that the celebration wasn't over yet. After my fabulous "daycation" (see part 1), I really thought it was.

Arriving at Mom's for the usual Sunday afternoon visit, I noticed extra vehicles parked out front. It still didn't register. But soon after we went in, I realized that some of my precious family members were there to celebrate my 60th.

Mom and her 4 youngest "kids" (not shown, the other 10 partygoers)
The gifts

For me, you can never go wrong with a gift of wine. Unless it's white, that is. After I gratefully received two bottles of red, the grown-up gifts ended. The rest were related to some of my childhood experiences, and they weren't all good.

Still love the outfit
The first of these was a baton to conjure up my glory days as a twirler. Considering that over 50 years have passed, I think I handled that baton pretty well. At least I could still do three basic moves. What I couldn't do was toss the baton high up in the air from under my raised leg and catch it. Maybe I should have tried it with both feet on the ground.

Although, I might have caught it if I could throw it correctly. And I might have thrown it correctly had it been a regulation baton instead of a toy one. (Hmm ... more fodder for giving Mom a hard time perhaps?) As I tossed that lightweight thing around, it was flying like a Frisbee. Everyone wisely chose to stay inside out of harm's way.

One of my favorite pastimes has always been giving my good-natured mother a hard time. She's just the most fun person in the world to tease. But she apparently thought it was time for a little payback, because the next two gifts would open old wounds from my 8th and 10th birthdays.

The 8th birthday backstory

How I saw Cadet Donin black & white
My favorite children's show to watch in the mornings was "Cadet Don." Parents could write in and have him wish their kids a happy birthday on the air. Sometimes he would also tell the kids where their parents had hidden their birthday present. I asked Mom to do this for me and, of course, she did.

Mom got me up early to watch the first show, but I wasn't included in that round of birthdays. When the second show started, I knew I'd be in that one and was beside myself with anticipation.

Finally, the big moment came. Cadet Don said, "Happy birthday, Paula Ray!" What? Could he be talking to me, Paula Kay? Why didn't Mom make sure she wrote plain enough so he would pronounce my name correctly? Give the cadet a break, woman.

Then he said, "Your present is hidden in the washing machine!" Now, a child's mind is beyond understanding. I have no idea why, but Mom's choice of hiding place embarrassed me. I guess the usual "under the bed" would have been more preferable to me than in a household appliance.

Wrong name. Embarrassing hiding place. It sure didn't turn out the way I'd envisioned it. Even though the Barbie doll I wanted was in the washing machine, I've never let Mom forget how upset and disappointed I was over the whole affair.

The related 60th birthday "gift"

Rex suddenly exclaimed, "Happy birthday, Paula Ray! Can you guess where your present is hidden?"

Having recovered from my childhood trauma, I ran excitedly to the laundry room. Uh-oh. A bunch of junk was piled on top of the washing machine. Maybe he meant the dryer. Nope, just a load of forgotten sheets in there. I was about to go complain when Rex walked in and removed the junk Mom had put there. I couldn't help but wonder if she did it on purpose just to get in an extra dig.

Never a good gift
I grabbed my gift and returned where the others were to open it. Well played, Mom. You did a twofer by incorporating an old wound from a school Christmas party and giving me a Life Savers Sweet Storybook. (The image is exactly like it but not the actual one I received, which was somewhat old and damaged looking. Don't even want to know where it came from.)

I was so disappointed when I got the same gift back in grade school because I had all the candy I wanted at home. Where was my cool little toy like the one I had brought for the gift exchange?

The 10th birthday backstory

My request was for a pink bicycle. The one I got was pink alright, but far from the sleek, shiny new bike I was expecting. It was big and clunky and clearly secondhand. Aside from the dull hand-brushed paint, what really gave it away was the masking tape holding the seat together.

When I complained (you know I had to), Mom said, "Now, Paula Kay honey, we just don't have a lot of money to spend on birthdays." I wasn't so much of a princess that I couldn't live with this cold, hard truth. So during the next 28 days, I happily rode my "new" bicycle around the neighborhood.

Then came Dale's birthday.

Imagine my shock when I saw my brother's shiny red spider bike with streamers on the handlebars and a banana seat that nary a butt had sat on, fresh from the Montgomery Ward warehouse. When I complained (you know I had to), Mom said, "Now, Paula Kay honey, you're a girl, and the boys ride their bikes more than you do." Granted, my brothers stayed on their bikes practically all day and I only went for the occasional joy ride. Even so, that excuse did not fly.

But how I've loved to tell the story, over and over again, year after year, ad nauseam.

The related 60th birthday gift

I was told to sit down, close my eyes, and hold out my hands. I had no idea what to expect, and when I felt something brush against my palm, I shuddered. No telling what these sadists were going to do to me next. Here's what happened.

July 25, 1964Wanted it   |   July 25, 2014Got it

I've never been so thrilled with a birthday gift in my life! After all these years, Mom finally made amends. And I absolutely love my brand spanking new bicycle. Suh-weet!

There is a downside though. Dale said that I was never ever allowed to tell the bike story again. But I had to tell it one last time just in case someone there hadn't heard it yet. What I found curious and suspicious is that after 50 years of me telling the story, Dale offered up an excuse as to why the bike he got was new—that Mom had extra money from receiving some kind of deposit back from her summer bowling league. Yeah, right. That was a tad too long coming, bro. Besides, I don't think she started bowling until later.

No matter. All is forgiven. I took my bicycle out for a quick spin and was quickly reminded of how much fun it is to ride one. Gliding past Rex and Dale, I shouted, "Woo-hoo! I've got the wind in my hair!" to which Dale replied, "And the sun on your face!" It was positively exhilarating.

The food

My sweet nephew Deke bought two boxes full of panini and a box of cookies from Panera Bread, one of my favorite places. Half of the panini were chicken, half were tomato and mozzarella, and they were so delicious that I had three over the course of the afternoon. Mom and Kimberlie provided an array of sides, including chips and dip, cheese and crackers, stuffed celery, and deviled eggs. Now that's a good lunch.

12 cupcakes, not 1 stinkin' candle
Kimberlie also brought cupcakes made by her friend who's starting a business. Be on the lookout for the 350° Bakery. I've never tasted cupcakes that good. And the icing was sublime—super light yet rich in flavor and not too sweet. I had a lemon cupcake first, which was supposed to have a candle on it but didn't, then a chocolate cupcake a while later. If nobody had been looking, I probably would've had a third.

During the singing of the birthday song, Angy held a plate with my lemon cupcake on it and Rex held a butane candle lighter in front of my face. I'm not sure if I actually blew out the flame or his finger slipped off of the button. If my wish doesn't come true, I'll know.

It's not much to complain about, but I'll go with it. Now that my childhood birthday offenses have been righted, it's all I've got.

Epilogue

I took my new pink beauty out for a proper spin on Saturday morning. The weather was unusually cool for August and the streets were still fairly quiet—a lovely time to be out pedaling. An advantage that biking has over walking is the ability to cover a lot more ground in the same amount of time, and I discovered a great trail I didn't know existed.

Because of the many years that have passed since my last ride, I was a cautious cyclist. There's also that nasty business about bones getting brittle with age, and I didn't want to end up a casualty my first time out.

By the time I was headed back to my subdivision, however, my confidence was up. I was riding at a brisk clip on the sidewalk next to a busy street. Approaching a turn, I knew it was a super sharp curve, but I threw caution to the wind. Thank God I fell on the grass and the ground was soft from a recent rain.
What Sara said about my bike

A nice young man driving two lanes and a median over stopped and called out to see if I was okay. I assured him that I was and thanked him, then walked my bike past all the curves before getting back in the saddle. Instead of being upset about my wipeout, I felt really good. The kindness of strangers, no matter how small, always touches me.

Thank you, nice young man, for caring enough to check on me. Thank you, God, for being with me always and for giving me such a cool family and a blessed life. Thank you, family, for everything you did to make my birthday the best.

No complaints. Really. Not even about the birthday candle.

July 28, 2014

The birthday, part 1

Leaving a decade behind has never bothered me. Turning 30, 40, 50—it was all good. And then came 60.

As the big day loomed closer, I contemplated how life generally consists of three acts. Act 1 is from birth to 30, Act 2 from 30 to 60, and Act 3 from 60 to ... whatever. My final act was about to begin, and although it could last until I'm 90, that's not the norm.
Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:10)
Yikes. While I find a lot of Scripture comforting, this verse not so much. Sure, it ends on a high note. The "fly away" part thrills my soul because I'll be winging my way to eternal glory in the presence of the Lord. By the amazing grace of God, immortality is mine!

The rest of the verse, however, is downright sobering. And I can relate to the "quickly pass" part more and more. Time certainly has the perception of speeding up as you get older. Back when I was in grade school, the lazy days of summer lasted forever. Now, those three months just seem like a prolonged hot flash, whizzing by so fast that I've practically quit bemoaning the heat.

After being mopey for weeks about Act 2 coming to an end, I was ready to get over that nonsense and start looking forward to the start of Act 3. So to make turning 60 more palatable, I began planning a birthday of simple pleasures and self-indulgence. While plotting the details at Mom's kitchen table, Rex decided he wanted in on the fun.

My "baby" brother and I took a vacation day from our jobs on Friday, which was a great day for my birthday to fall on. The plan was simple—eat, drink, shop, repeat. And for 12 straight hours, that's just what we did.

La Madeleine

I did share my potato galette.
We began the celebration at La Madeleine. To get fortified for shopping, I had the big country breakfast plus lots of dark French roast coffee. It was lovely to linger over cups and conversation, relaxing in the knowledge that we could just go with the flow all day.

The only thing I wanted to schedule was an observance of my birth minute. Many Sundays ago (3,130 to be exact), I was born at 10:43 a.m. But that was in the olden days before Texas adopted daylight saving time, so I asked Rex to set a reminder for 11:43.

My daughter, Angy, had planned to meet us for breakfast. Darrell even went to work at 5:00 that morning so he could take off a couple of hours to stay with the kids while she was gone. But some crazy stuff was happening at work and he couldn't leave. The effort, though, shows what a nice son-in-law he is.

HomeGoods

I drive by HomeGoods nearly every Sunday, but it's with a car full of grandkids, so Angy and I haven't been able to stop and browse. At last, I was getting to check out the selection of discount household items. Rex is an optimistic shopper, so he grabbed a basket, and we were barely 6 feet in the door when he found something to put in it.

We strolled down every aisle, and when we had made it to the other side of the store, he mentioned my birth minute because he wasn't sure if he set the reminder correctly. (He didn't and probably got woke up at 11:43 that night.) We both checked our phones and saw that it was 11:42. So we walked slowly while staring at the time to watch the minute change. When it did, we were near two chairs on display and took a seat.

The one with our eyes open
Originally, I had said that the moment of silence would be for the passing of my youth. But Rex pointed out that it was actually the passing of my middle age. I didn't like it, but I couldn't argue with it.

We bowed our heads and sat in silence for a bit. Then I prayed aloud, albeit softly, to thank God for my birth and rebirth, the years He has given me thus far, and His gift of eternal life.

Looking up, I noticed a few shoppers close by. We might have made a bit of a spectacle, but undeterred, we remained seated and took a selfie to commemorate the event. Well, we took several before we got something acceptable.

Need to update my will now
As we continued browsing, I came across a unique item with a strange allure. I put it in the basket and decided that if I still felt the allure when we were ready to check out, I'd buy it.

As I placed it on the counter, the cashier asked the standard question, "Did you find what you were looking for?" "Why yes," I replied. "I came in looking for a red cast-iron pig and there it was."

Famous Footwear

The selection of shoes for me at Famous Footwear has dwindled to a couple of rows because my fashion choices have become based on comfort. And I've got sciatica on both sides now, which makes wearing shoes with even a low heel uncomfortable. So it's flats from here on out.

Besides, I decided to embrace my shrinkage. How fitting that at my annual checkup a week before my 60th birthday, I found out that I'm now 5'3¾". And I've been 5'4" since I was, like, 15 years old!

The good news is that I found two pairs of super comfy yet stylish sandals and they were on sale. As we drove away with my new shoes and red pig in the trunk, I was ready to celebrate with some liquid refreshment.

Hankering satisfied
Brick and Spoon

It's been years since I had a really good Bloody Mary, and I'd been having a hankering for one. So we headed over to a restaurant in Montrose I found online that has a separate menu for their Big Spoon Bloody Mary.

Since it was our first time there, we also wanted to try the food but weren't very hungry yet, so we split a burger. Oh my. It turned out to be probably the best one I've ever eaten, and it clearly wasn't a case of being so hungry that anything would taste good.

Between a toasted brioche bun was a thick, juicy handmade beef patty seasoned and cooked to perfection, melted pepper jack cheese, crispy pecan-smoked bacon (that's right, bacon two meals in a row!), avocado, romaine lettuce, red onion, tomato, and house aioli.

On the side were homemade potato chips with a savory/sweet seasoning that was just right. Next time, I'm going hungry and getting my own.

Silverlust

Our final shopping destination was a place where Rex buys custom silver jewelry. He's a longtime patron as evidenced by the personal greeting he received from the owner, a delightful man named Herschel. We enjoyed talking to him (including about how God will keep His promises to Israel) while admiring Herschel's unique pieces of jewelry.

I selected a cross, a butterfly, and a long chain. Rex picked out a cross and an arrowhead pendant. Everything was supposed to be dutch treat, but my generous brother insisted on paying for mine. How great is it when you get to pick out exactly what you want and then have it gifted to you?

It was also fun driving around Montrose, my old neighborhood from the hippie days, and reminiscing. Although it was disappointing to see that the house I lived in on Dunlavy has been replaced with condos.

On the long, slow drive back, we finished listening to Rex's playlist of golden oldies (don't know why he picked that one). Then he switched to the classic rock playlist. Regardless of how long I live, I don't think I'll ever get tired of "Layla" or "Freebird."

Merche
When you can't decide: Italian or Asian?

After a quick stop by Mom's, we arrived at Merche, the last leg of our journey. It's a restaurant close to my house that I've been wanting to try, especially after seeing it in a top 10 list for tapas. Rather than a big meal in the evening, I like having a little of this and a little of that.

The best part about it was having my sweet son meet us there. His company would have been enough of a gift, but Zach also gave me a gift card for two 60-minute pedicures that include a warm shoulder wrap, massage, hot rocks, and paraffin wax wrap. Now that's the way to get your toes painted!

The three of us shared a personal pizza, sesame chicken skewers, and wasabi spring rolls. When it came to dessert, though, we each had our own. And we were there for quite a while. Aside from enjoying the delicious food and beverages, I was thoroughly entertained by the conversation. It was a lovely experience and a great way to end a near-perfect day.

Epilogue

I think that was the first time I've eaten out for every meal unless I was out of town. And having a day where all of my activities were driven by "I wanna" instead of "I've gotta" was a mini vacation in itself. I pondered not waiting until my next decade turns over to do it again.

Rex remarked later that we should do it once a year just for fun. Angy said that reminded her of a "Parks and Recreation" episode where two characters have a Treat Yo Self day. It was pretty much like that, except less extravagant.

Act 3 started with a bang, and my birthday lived up to my high expectations. I considered the event to be over, but my family had other ideas. Up next: "The birthday, part 2."

April 25, 2014

Egg hunt palooza

Easter is hands down my favorite holiday. I love everything about it ... the special celebration and remembrance of Christ's passion and resurrection, the Lord's Supper on Good Friday, the new springy clothes, the Easter service on Sunday morning, the family gathering afterward, and the hunt. (Click if you want to read about last Easter and my thoughts on Christians having egg hunts. FYI, I think it's A-OK.)

"To the victor go the spoils" is fair for a school or neighborhood egg hunt, but not for mine. I was thinking about how to make the playing field level this year so my little darlins' could equally share the spoils, and I came across the perfect solution on Facebook (see, it's not a total waste of time). You assign each child a color and have them hunt only for that color of egg. Pure genius.

I separated all the plastic eggs by color and bought color-coordinated gift bags for the kids to collect their eggs in. After spending many hours and dollars shopping for little toys and other treats, I spent an entire afternoon filling 120 eggs, carefully choosing what to put in each egg so everyone would get the same amount and get the things they would like. For example, hair ties went in the pink and purple eggs for the girls, and tiny military vehicles went in the blue and green eggs for the boys. I overbought as usual, so instead of having just one item per egg, I had to really pack stuff in.

Another good thing about a color-coded egg hunt is that for the older, more savvy hunters, we could hide the eggs in harder-to-find and harder-to-reach places, and for my little Sara, in more obvious places.

But best of all, the kids didn't have to be in a frantic frenzy to find eggs before someone else did. I gave them their bags, clearly explained the rules, asked if they understood the rules as I had explained them, and then calmly led them outside where they took their time enjoying the hunt, secure in the knowledge that their eggs would be waiting for them.

Exclamations of "Pink!" "Purple!" "Blue!" and "Teal!" could be heard across the yard. Christian had taken note of Zach's observation that the green eggs were closer to teal. I still maintain they were pastel green, but I must admit that next to the bag, which was a lime green, they did have the appearance of teal by comparison. I wonder ... from whence could my son have possibly inherited such persnickety-ness ... or perhaps it's the admirable quality of keen observational powers. Yep, I'm going with that last one.

Afterward, the kids sat on the patio to open their eggs and discover their treasure. The mood necklaces were a popular item. The boys seemed particularly interested in checking the color for changes, several times reporting the current status of their mood based on the chart that came with the necklace. At one point, Ezra said in his quiet, sweet voice, "Look, Nana ... I'm happy and romantic." Then Christian blasted into the room, screeching, "Nana! I'm happy! And calm! And relaxed!" I agreed with the mood stone only in that the boys were happy. Obviously, it's not an exact science.

I had given my big darlin' the choice of hunting eggs outside or inside, and Jackson chose inside. So I hid his yellow eggs in my bedroom, bathroom, and closet. The little bottles of scented hand sanitizer (one of his obsessions) didn't fit inside the eggs, so I hid them as is. After he would find a couple of eggs and a couple of hand sanitizers, he would start to leave the room, so I had to keep telling him there were more. I guess he was just in a hurry to inspect his treasure.

Then the little darlins' got to hunt in the living room for one big egg each with their name on it that held special prizes. And finally, I had my big girls (my daughter and my daughter-by-another-mother) hunt for little envelopes. I told them that two were in the living room, two in the dining room, and two in the kitchen. Kelly's three were marked with a foam letter K and Angy's three with an X since I had no more A's in my stash of foam letters.

Each envelope held a Kohl's $25 gift card. (Girls, don't expect this to be a new tradition.) I made them work for it, though. The hunt took quite a while, and I had the best time giving hints and frustrating the heck out of them, but in a good way.

How did I manage to get this far without talking about the food! I'll tell you this ... it's hard to beat a good sandwich. And who wants to cook on Easter anyway? The day before, I bought choice deli meats, cheeses, and potato chips. Then I made some good ole ranch dip—the kind that's been around for over 50 years and still reigns as the best—a big bowl of fruit salad, and a Holy Cow cake made with yellow cake instead of chocolate, which I will now call Toffee Caramel cake. It's the kind you eat no matter how full you are. And knowing that you'll be sorry isn't enough to stop you.

The most important ingredient for a good sandwich is, of course, the bread. I learned last year that going to Panera Bread after church limits the selection because of the morning rush of customers, so I left early for church and stopped on the way there. I got exactly what I wanted—a large loaf of freshly baked Three Cheese Bread and one of Sesame Semolina. I think I'll add a loaf of Ciabatta next year. That way, everyone will have more leftovers to make toast for breakfast.

And that's the only change I'll make to the menu. We enjoyed it so much that I plan to start a new tradition and serve the same thing every Easter. So maybe, just maybe, you won't have to hear about the food again.

Toward the end of the day, Evyn and Sara each came to me separately and said, "This is the best Easter ever!" I couldn't agree more.

But you know what ... I bet next year will be too.

April 11, 2014

Austin redux

Last weekend was the second annual road trip to Austin for my brother Rex's birthday. Here's a quick rundown of how this one compared to the inaugural trip:
  • The company: Even better since our brother Dale went too
  • Bluebonnets along the highway: Even more abundant and enchanting
  • Food: Less abundant and not as tasty
  • Hotel room: 400 times better (the dollar amount Rex paid for it)
  • Music: Even better since we got to hear the fantastic John Evans Band
So the food was the only thing that didn't measure up, and even though food is very important to me, this trip was the clear winner.

Our first meal was a late lunch in the lobby of the grand historic Driskill Hotel. The ambiance is late 19th century, but the hotel guests are a stark reminder of the present. I'm pretty sure those genteel ladies of the past never schlepped through the lobby in leggings and tight, low-cut tops, nor any of the fellas in a cash-patterned sport coat with a rhinestone collar. Isn't people-watching fun?

Lunch at the DriskillWe had sandwiches made of turkey, bacon, avocado, green tomatoes, and chipotle mayonnaise on freshly baked croissants with some delicious pickles that clearly weren't store bought. Nice.

The best part of lunch, though, was reminiscing about growing up in our little three-bedroom home. I shared a room with Randy and Dale when we were little, but after our three older brothers moved out, I got my own room since I was the only girl. Dale always had to share a room with Randy, and when Randy finally moved out, Rex moved out of the dining room into Dale's room. I asked Dale if he ever resented me because I had my own room. He wadded up his big cloth napkin and hurled it in my face. It was one of the many times I burst out laughing that weekend.

We strolled around after lunch, then dragged Dale to the Capitol since he couldn't remember whether he'd ever been. After our pathetic attempts of a selfie in front of the Capitol, I was thankful when a nice young lady offered to take our photo if we'd return the favor. Thanks to her, everyone is visible in this year's selfie. (I called it a self-portrait last year because I apparently wasn't cool then.)

Rex, Paula, Dale

Returning to the hotel, we were still full from lunch, so we had to kill time while waiting for our appetites to return. I suggested playing a little game of "How many [blank] can you name?" Sometimes when my mind is idle, I challenge myself to name as many of a certain thing as I can just in case I'm ever in such a contest. Lately, I've been practicing naming country singers, so it was the first category I suggested. Crushed my brothers in that round.

Next was "How many rock bands from the '60s and '70s can you name?" (The weekend was about music after all.) We later expanded it to include bands from the '80s, then the '90s, and finally bands from any decade and any genre. By the time we were mentally tapped out, we were ready for dinner. Throughout the rest of the trip, one of us would occasionally blurt out a name that we couldn't believe we forgot, like "Josh Turner!" or "Fleetwood Mac!"

I had gotten recommendations from friends for good restaurants in downtown Austin. None of them included Mexican food, though, and I decided that I'd be in the mood for it Saturday night, so I did an exhaustive search on the web and read tons of reviews. At the top of my list was Michelada’s Cafe y Cantina. Rave reviews, tableside guacamole, patio seating—it seemingly had it all.

Do not go there. It was huge, deserted, and downright spooky. Through the window, we saw only a couple of people at one table, probably relatives of the owners or the owners themselves. So much for my research.

We came across a place called Uncle Julio's Fine Mexican Food. It was packed, which is usually a good sign, but the name was suspect. I vaguely remembered an Uncle Julio's in my online search, and there had to be a good reason it didn't make the cut. But it was getting late, so we decided to check it out. If they didn't have good chips and salsa, we were out of there.

Uncle Julio's has the worst salsa ever. It was watery, flavorless, and tasted like it came from a can. So after having dry chips and a drink, we told the waiter that we just weren't feeling it and asked for the check. He was nice enough to give us directions to another Mexican restaurant where he said the food was actually good. By the time we got outside, however, Rex said the chips were enough for him and suggested we just go listen to music. Since it was his birthday celebration, that's what we did.

Our first stop was a crowded place called Friends. The band was playing some good music, but they sure weren't big on lyrics. I can tell you one thing, though. The lead singer really loves his baby. He really loves his baby. Oh yeah, he really loves his baby.

The next stop was the Dizzy Rooster. We liked that band a lot better, especially when they covered Steve Miller's "The Joker." Over the years, I've sang along about the "pompatus of love" without a clue as to what it means. But I still enjoy singing it.

What I continue to find disconcerting is that many of the young'uns at these places seem oblivious to the music—almost as if it's background noise for them to just drink and get silly. I remember being young and silly myself, but I also remember being really into the music.

Our final stop was Shotgun. Surprisingly, as crowded as 6th Street and the other clubs were, only a few people were there, either sitting at the bar or at tables away from the band. Although nobody seemed engaged with the performance, the rockabilly music immediately caught our ears. We sat at the table in front of the stage and within minutes were fully engaged. Then at the first few bars of "Ring of Fire," we instantly became enthusiastic fans.

Through two stellar sets of the John Evans Band, we heard some excellent original songs and many classic covers. In addition to Johnny Cash, there were standouts like Elvis Presley's "That's All Right (Mama)" and Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman." I don't know if they were pandering to the old folks at the front table, but it worked. We sang along (loudly), drummed the table, hollered, clapped until it hurt, and tossed cash in the tip jar.

John Evans Band
John Evans Band
John took a quick break while the band kept going. He stopped by our table and thanked us for "getting it started." I must have looked puzzled because he added, "Look around." I turned and saw that the club had become packed with people enjoying the music, so I guess our enthusiasm was contagious. Even though I was aware that the applause had been growing louder with each song, I hadn't given it much thought. Later, the guitarist who sang while John was away (fantastic job as well) thanked us too. Nice guys. Great musicians. The total package.

Toward the end of the show, a few people were country-western dancing in front of the stage. One couple was doing professional moves like lifts and flips. They were very entertaining to watch, and it was nice to see people giving the band the attention they deserved. Now, here's a simple to-do list for the young'uns who tend to ignore the musicians: 1) Listen; 2) Applaud; 3) Cheer; 4) Sing if you know the words; 5) Dance if you can; 6) Tip!

When we finally stepped back out onto the street, which had been barricaded to prevent vehicles from entering, I was amazed at the endless sea of people. It was the most notable difference from our Sunday night visit last year. Rex announced that it was 2:30 a.m., and my stomach, which had been lying dormant, woke up with a vengeance. But after deciding it was too much trouble to find food at that point, we made our way back to the hotel and ordered room service from the limited late-night menu.

It took a long time for the food to arrive, and the late-night chef is definitely the second string, so we had some mediocre food before going to sleep at 3:30. The only thing that got us up at 8:30 was knowing we had breakfast reservations and had to get downstairs before they gave away our coveted corner booth by the window. I was sure I'd at least get a really good breakfast again this year. But maybe the late-night chef was still on duty because it just wasn't all that great. At least the coffee, I'm happy to report, was every bit as good as I remembered.

On the rainy ride home, the bluebonnets looked even more lush, the entertaining conversation continued, and the music kept playing in my head. I'm so blessed to have brothers who are such great friends and to live in Texas where there's so much great live music.

March 21, 2014

Encore

For the second time in recent months, I went to see Brian Pounds perform. The show, at Dosey Doe in The Woodlands, was part of his BroMance Tour in Texas with Austin Jenckes. These singer/songwriter/musicians became good buddies after competing against each other on Season 5 of The Voice.

It was a girls' night out for Angy and me. Zach wanted to go, had planned to go, and then changed his mind, opting to spend the evening with his lovely wife instead of his mom and sister. It was, after all, their wedding anniversary. (Good call, son.)

To show you the view from where Angy and I sat, here are two uncropped photos taken during the show. I took the first one from my side of the table and Angy took the second one from her side.

Brian Pounds, son of Stephanie and Captain America

Austin Jenckes and Brian doing their bromance thing

Notice the absence of the backs of people's heads. This is what the view looks like from the front row at Dosey Doe. Front and center, I might add. That's what you get when you care enough to order your tickets the minute you hear about the show.

With seats like that, though, there's no slipping in if you arrive late, which we did by a few minutes. (Since when did musicians start being on time?) It wasn't cool of us. But in our defense, the needs of two starving women must be met above all else, and we had been holding back on our food consumption in anticipation of the meal we'd have out that evening. On the long drive to The Woodlands, we talked about little other than food and decided that since the cuisine at Dosey Doe was unfamiliar, we'd go for a sure thing.

By the time we got there, we were so hungry that Angy said we should find a place where bread or tortilla chips are put on the table immediately. We did a big loop around the freeway trying to decide where to eat. I'd start slowing down as we approached a restaurant, but neither of us would make the call, so we just kept driving, keeping watch for the next one.

We were leaning toward Italian, and I slowed down when I saw a sign that said Bertini's, but it turned out to be an automotive repair shop. So we finally committed to Carrabba's on our second drive-by, then scarfed down a satisfying plate of Italian food. And bread. Lots of hot bread dredged in seasoned olive oil.

But I digress—the evening was really about the music ...

Those boys complement each other's styles so well and I think raise each other's games. (Dare I say it, guys? You make each other better.) They took turns singing their original songs and occasionally sang together. The stage banter added plenty of entertainment value as well. Brian's a natural at it and keeps getting better. Every time he said something funny, the man sitting behind Angy, with whom she had not spoken nor even made eye contact, poked her with his elbow. Guess that bespeaks of the party atmosphere the guys created.

At the end of the show, Brian and Austin got a standing ovation that wouldn't stop until they returned to the stage. And good golly, what an encore! They did some fantastic covers, starting with Brian singing "Wagon Wheel," then Austin singing "Simple Man" (always love me some Skynyrd), Brian doing "Steamroller Blues," Austin with "Twist and Shout," and then the two of them reprising their battle round on The Voice with "To Love Somebody."

The crowd was singing along, whooping, hollering, foot tapping, knee slapping, and just having a ball. And although Blake Shelton chose Austin over Brian after the battle round (Austin went on to become a top 10 finalist on The Voice), if Blake had heard them at Dosey Doe, there's no way he could have picked a winner. Both of those guys killed it.

During the second standing ovation, they shared a quick hug before leaving the stage. My only regret is that I that I didn't get a picture of it. For the BroMance Tour, that was the money shot. And I was in the perfect spot to get it. Maybe next time.

February 25, 2014

Ice cream and salsa

Let me first quell any anxiety you might be having over the thought of ice cream topped with salsa. I just thought it was a catchier title than "ice cream and tortilla chips with salsa." Independently, they are two of my favorite things to eat.

They've been on my mind a lot lately because I completed a Sunday School assignment to write my "testimony of suffering," and while recalling harsh memories of chemotherapy, I kept thinking about how extra delicious and helpful those treats were during that time. And we're talking 27 years ago, people!

For an entire year, I had a strong chemical taste in my mouth that never, ever left. So I often used chips and hot salsa to burn out the taste or ice cream to freeze it out. Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla and Welch's Grape Popsicles in particular were heavenly. Just typing that made my mouth water.

Simple pleasures are always there for the taking. Even when I'm "suffering" in some way (quotes needed since I have such a blessed life), I can still enjoy things like these, to name just a few:
  • Drinking a hot cup of coffee in the morning
  • Watching the sky change at sunset
  • Sitting around my mom's kitchen table on a Sunday afternoon
  • Thinking about the latest adorable thing one of the grandkids said
  • Listening to a song that makes me feel like I'm 19 again
  • Trying to guess if those homeowners on TV are going to "love it or list it" 

The possibilities are endless.

As I wrote my testimony about having cancer and thought about all the wretched vomiting, that old familiar feeling of nausea would start rising in the pit of my stomach. But then that would lead to fond memories of ice cream and chips with salsa, of gorging on doughnuts or Twinkies before a round of chemo because none of it was going to stick anyway. I had a license to binge, and I used it.

I couldn't include the fun food facts in my testimony, though. That really wasn't the point, and at six pages (edited down from eight), I'm sure it was much longer anyway than what my Sunday School teacher wanted.

I know, by now you're thinking, A dissertation on suffering and vomit? Where is this thing? That's something I've gotta read!

But seriously, if you have a hankering to read about the upside of suffering, go grab a beverage, get comfy, and peruse my testimony of suffering. Then praise the Lord and pass the chips!