"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)

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!

December 30, 2013

My Christmas vacation: A quiz

It's now day 24 of my 26-day hiatus from work. Yes, you read that number correctly. Including weekends, holidays, and all the vacation days I didn't have time to take during the year, I had 26 glorious days to decompress. It was like having my own "summer of George," and if you're a Seinfeld fan, you know what I mean.

Rather than drone on about the myriad of simple pleasures I enjoyed, here's a short quiz to learn about some of them and also to see how well you know me. Write down your answers and check them against the answer key at the bottom.

1.  Of the following party foods I made, what was my favorite leftover to eat for breakfast?
  1. Sausage balls
  2. Spinach and artichoke dip with pita chips
  3. Deviled eggs and bacon-wrapped water chestnuts
  4. Chocolate-dipped, cherry-topped coconut macaroons
2.  What beverage did I not drink?
  1. As much water as I usually do, which is at least 8 to 10 glasses a day because I normally follow a healthy diet
  2. Coffee from my new one-cup coffee maker that appeared on the kitchen counter Christmas morning (presumably from Santa rather than Robert since the sticky note wasn't signed)
  3. A delightful cabernet from Dreaming Tree wines, gifted by my friend Betsy during my turn to host the "tea party" that she, Jennifer, and I have every December
  4. A vodka shot with my 84-year-old mom, which was on my nephew Deke's bucket list for his mema
3.  What TV programs did I not watch?
  1. Previously aired "Duck Dynasty" episodes that I had missed
  2. Every sitcom with a laugh track because canned laughter doesn't make me want to blow a hole in the TV
  3. "The Rolling Stones, Sweet Summer Sun - Return to Hyde Park"
  4. Endless hours of home renovations via "Property Brothers" and "Love It or List It"
4.  How many literary agencies did I query about my manuscript?
  1. One, because preparing submissions is hard work and I'm lazy when it comes to doing things I don't enjoy, plus I like to avoid rejection
  2. Five, because I'm pumped about doing whatever work it takes to increase my minuscule chances of being published
  3. Ten, because a lot of agencies are looking for a first-time novelist whose manuscript isn't geared for commercial success
5.  In my time spent online, which one of the following things did I not do?
  1. Reduce the number of unread messages in my personal email account from triple to double digits
  2. Check my work email account and respond to all messages containing questions or action items
  3. Scroll through my Facebook news feed, clicking "Like" selectively and "Share" pretty much never
  4. Read Izzy St. Clair's journal about God's presence in her valley of cancer and find myself humbled, inspired, and thankful
6.  What white elephant gift did I get at the annual "Old Compaq Gang Christmas Party"?
  1. An ear wax removal system
  2. Slipper Genie microfiber cleaning slippers in vibrant purple
  3. A Charlie Brown Christmas tree and beanie baby
  4. The hideous gold sandals for men that show up every year
7.  Which statement is true concerning gifts I gave to others?
  1. Hid 29 gifts for the grandkids, miscounted the 28 that I set out on Christmas Eve, then had a frantic search for the missing one in the midst of opening gifts
  2. Made wine-glass charms for my brother Rex so that half the conversations at his and Mom's family gatherings will no longer begin, "Is that my glass?"
  3. Took cookies and candy to my neighbor Cathy and her son, Braxton, who was severely injured in a motorcycle accident two years ago, and I learned that he's miraculously overcoming his bleak prognosis by beginning to communicate
  4. All of the above (Praise God for "C" and the note in childlike handwriting on Cathy's fridge that said, "I love you, Mom"!)
8.  During the grandkids' sleepovers, what did I not do?
  1. Give Jackson a mani pedi
  2. Scratch Sara and Christian's backs until they fell asleep
  3. Serve Evyn and Ezra breakfast in bed
  4. Sleep in a separate bed so I couldn't cuddle with my grandkids all night and see their angel faces first thing in the morning
9.  What was unfortunately not among the many highlights of my time off?
  1. Having the Property Brothers renovate my home
  2. Setting my alarm only on Sundays
  3. Having the freedom each day to choose what I wanted to do
  4. Celebrating the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to save sinners like me
###
Correct answers below ...


1. C | 2. A | 3. B | 4. A | 5. B | 6. C | 7. D | 8. D | 9. A
  • 7 to 9 correct answers: We're probably friends or family. 
  • 4 to 6 correct answers: We're probably acquaintances, and I can only hope that now you know more about me, you're not disappointed. 
  • 0 to 3 correct answers: You're definitely a lousy test taker. (I mean, come on now, at least 3 answers were obviously correct and you should have guessed correctly on at least 1 more.)
Thanks for taking the quiz, and please leave a comment below to let me know how you did.

Happy New Year to "all y'all"!

November 9, 2013

Brian Pounds live

Brian Pounds
(Photo by Lance Taylor
Used without permission)
His mama wasn't lying when she said, "He's even better in person." I was already a fan of Brian Pounds, having been introduced to his music through his proud mama/relentless marketer Stephanie Pounds, plus his appearances on The Voice.

But Thursday night was the first time I saw Brian perform in person. I discovered firsthand that he's a mash-up of singing and songwriting talent, charm, and down-home cool. Brian draws you in and just makes you glad to be where you are.

Although all the songs he performed were stellar, here are a few that I can link to for you: Steamroller BluesIn the Morning You'll Be GoneWagon Wheel (that's Stephanie in the peach-colored top screaming after Blake turned his chair for Brian), and Somewhere, Maybe Carolina, a song Brian wrote with Austin Jenckes while they were competing on the show.

Main Street Crossing in Tomball was the venue. It's a great place to enjoy live music and good food in an intimate setting. According to Stephanie, the audience consisted of 120 of her "best friends," which included a few of my HP friends and colleagues, like Lance Taylor, Bill Shields, and Bryan Weldon.

What made the evening even more enjoyable for me was being accompanied by my kids, Angy and Zach. It was the first time the three of us attended a musical performance together since the Pink Floyd concert at Rice Stadium in '94 (along with our good buddy Nick Zogg). Goodness gracious, that was almost 20 years ago!

I've got to give a shout-out here to the best daughter- and son-in-law in the world, who stayed home with the little ones and let me have that all-too-rare time with just my kids. But I think for the next special event, Kelly and Darrell should go with me and let Zach and Angy do the babysitting.

These "kids" are in their thirties, so I need to learn how to transition out of the mother hen role, at least in public. When the waitress came to our table, Angy ordered a drink first, then I ordered one for myself and coffee for Zach, which he planned to have since he was on antibiotics after a root canal. I didn't specify cream and sugar, and the waitress didn't bring any. Zach said that either she wasn't a very good waitress or he just looked too manly to use cream and sugar.

She turned out to be a pretty good waitress, so it was probably the latter, which Zach proved by drinking his coffee black (also a testament to the quality of coffee there). Then he teased me about ordering for him. I was oblivious to my faux pas until he mentioned it. Angy told Zach that he should just be glad I didn't jump up and yell, "Give my son his cream and sugar!" (Think Shirley MacLaine in "Terms of Endearment" screaming at the nurses to give her daughter a shot.) I guess I should let my manly baby boy order his own drink from now on.

Toward the end of the show, Zach got out of his chair and squeezed in beside me and Angy on the cushioned bench seating. Snug between them, I had one hand around my sons's muscular arm and my other hand resting on my beautiful daughter's knee. Together, just the three of us, we were wrapped up in listening to Brian sing with genuine southern soul. It was one of those perfect moments that I like to write about and keep thinking about so the memory doesn't fade away. It was just too good for that to ever happen.

All for one, one for all
I met Brian after the show, bought his CD and got it autographed (good thing I had the foresight to select a fine-point Sharpie from my extensive collection before I left the house), then told Stephanie how cool it was being entertained by one of her kids while I was with mine. Stepping outside into the invigorating November night air, I savored the feeling that I had just experienced something special.

In my previous post, I talked about how things never turn out as good as I imagine they will. But it was different this time. Everything was as good or better than I had even imagined.

I woke up the next morning singing Brian's lyrics, which come to life so beautifully with Austin's music: Your imagination got the better of you / Keep on dreaming like it's gonna come true / Somewhere, maybe Carolina / There's a light that you've been looking for / Somewhere memories can unwind / Oh somewhere, maybe Carolina / Follow it down the east coastline / Find somewhere you can ease your wandering mind.

I never had to leave home to find my Carolina. It's right here in Texas. And if you ever have the chance to see Brian perform here (or anywhere)—take it. He really is even better in person.

October 19, 2013

Fall festival

Another October, another HP fall festival at the Oil Ranch. This year, however, was remarkably different from last year. See if you can guess which festival was a better experience based on how they stack up next to each other.

Last year This year
Weather Clear, warm, and breezy Rainy, hot, and steamy
Time stayed 4 to 5 hours 2 hours (not a minute more)
My participation Highly engaged and energetic Low-key and mostly observational
Food Unpalatable, over-priced frito pie and cheese nachos because the line for the free barbeque was ridiculous Delicious burgers and fries at Five Guys because the free barbeque was late and couldn't have been worth waiting for in that ridiculous heat

I can see where you might pick last year, but if you did, you'd be half wrong. And if you pick this year solely because of the food, knowing how important it is to me, you'd be half right. Actually, it's a tie, because even though the experiences were different, they were both fabulous in their own way. Stay with me now ...

At the time, I wasn't thinking this year's event was so fabulous. The rain started soon after we arrived, but at least we were close to a pavilion where we quickly took cover. And the rain lasted just long enough for the kids to enjoy snow cones, which Angy got wet getting for them.
Sara, Evyn, Christian, Ezra
Thankfully, the clouds remained. Sun after rain on a hot day in southeast Texas means that it's time to go inside. But I imagine a lot of people were waiting to come after the weather cleared up, and I'm glad they did because we didn't have to wait in line for a thing.

We headed for the train as soon as the rain stopped. Last year, we had to wait in a very long line, only to have some people practically climb over us to steal our seats while we were trying to help the kids get on. So it was especially nice to walk right up and get all the seats together we needed without having to sit on top of each other.

The kids loved pointing out the ducks, geese, cows, and other animals as we circled the tracks. A few times, I commented on things I didn't remember seeing before, but Kelly and Angy assured me that nothing had changed. I must have been too busy last year complaining about the rude seat stealers to enjoy the ride.

The kids rode the horses next. Although they were having a good time, by then the adults were on a steady decline because of the heat and humidity. We started complaining about our clothes. I was especially hating my jeans, socks, and bra (i.e., sweat catcher) while longing for my capri pants and flip-flops.

Then we followed the little darlins' into the stifling barn where they climbed, jumped, and rolled around on a giant haystack, oblivious to the pieces of hay sticking to their sweaty little bodies and sweaty hair. I just stood back, trying not to move as if that would stem the tide of water pouring from my body.

After being rejuvenated from their moms splashing them off in the restroom sink, the kids ran around trying to throw Frisbees. Normally, I would have been out there with them to lend a hand instead of just watching from the sidelines. Although, I think once I might have offered something helpful like, "Put some wrist into it."

I lamented that God's answer to my prayer over the past two weeks for beautiful weather that day was a resounding no. Zach said his prayer had been that the festival wouldn't take up the whole day. He then talked of a new "one and done" philosophy about taking Evyn and Ezra to special events. For example, since he and Kelly took them to the circus last year, he expects the next time they go will be when they take their own kids. (Kelly's not going to let that fly.)

Apparently, Zach's prayer trumped mine. There was no way we were going to last much longer, so he was about to get half of his day back. Zach then reminded me that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him" (Rom. 8:28). So I started trusting that even this misery would work out for good. Right after that, my faith was tested. The clouds parted and the sun bared its teeth. The day was already a hot, sticky mess, and now it was a hot, sticky mess set on fire.

When we found out that the barbeque was postponed an hour and that pumpkin painting wasn't for another two hours, the kids were told to pick out their pumpkins because we were leaving. Their first protest was that they wanted to do the pumpkin painting at the festival. The answer was to paint them at home. Their second protest was that they didn't have any paint. The answer was to use markers.

As I bent over, combing through the piles to help find the perfect pumpkin—good shape and color, unblemished skin, slightly curled stem—I visualized myself suffering alongside farmhands as they toiled in cotton fields during the zenith of summer. Yes, I know, that's being pathetically spoiled by air conditioning.

By that time, it wasn't just the adults feeling the burn. The kids weren't too cooperative posing for the requisite picture at the pumpkin patch, and they didn't protest anymore about leaving early. As we started for the car, Evyn said, "I'm toasting ... I'm burnt toast!"

Now, let's compare pumpkin patch photos ...
Last year
This year
You see the difference, right?

It certainly wasn't what I had envisioned for the day. I had foreseen an experience just like last year, only better. And why not? My perpetual optimism tricks me into thinking every event and occasion is going to be exactly as I picture it—the weather is perfect, the food is to die for, everyone is in a great mood, peace and harmony reign, adorable little forest animals befriend me ... no wait, that's Snow White. But still, I always imagine things are going to turn out better than they do. Then again, it's all about perspective.

God saying no to my prayer for great weather had many positive effects. Leaving the festival early, we enjoyed a nice lunch together, with the adults at one table and the kids at another (they're getting big too fast!). With the afternoon suddenly freed up, Zach got to have the time he wanted to rest from a hard work week, and Angy and I had time to visit my mom.

Jackson spends every Saturday at Mom's house, and since he's not a festival goer anyway because of all the walking, we had to go pick him up. So we decided to stay and visit in lieu of our usual Sunday visit after church. Christian and Sara had fun playing outside with their water guns from the tiny air-conditioned souvenir shop at the Oil Ranch (a brief respite from the heat), then taking a bubble bath in Mom's big tub.

With no clean clothes to put on afterward, they wore only underwear and the bandanas they also got from the souvenir shop. Surely, it's a treat at that age to ride in the car in your underwear. On the way home, Angy and I were talking about how the day worked out so well. At one point, Sara had even said, "This is the most awesome day ever!" And what did we see in the sky out of the car window but a beautiful, glorious rainbow. We marveled at the sight and talked about rainbows being a reminder that God always keeps His promises. What a lovely ride home it was.

The next day, I had the afternoon free for a change. It was so pleasant to spend the rainy Sunday relaxing in my recliner and watching football with Robert. So thanks, Lord, for the lousy weather on Saturday. It made for a really great weekend.