"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 27, 2016

Sara Jane

My first post of the year is never this late, but 2016 has been very different so far. My life, in fact, will never again be the same.

Mummy & me quite a few years ago
The woman I've known longer than anyone—who loved me more than any person could—is gone. 

I was privileged to be with Mom on the ride to the end of her life on earth. One day she sighed, "I've been dying for 3 months." "I know, Mom," I replied. "But since you know Jesus, you're really just getting ready to live forever."

She's with Him now—He who is sovereign over all and whose timing is perfect.

Mom was ready to go weeks before Jesus took her. She told us she wasn't afraid, and she pleaded with God to take her on home. But He said, "Wait."

While we waited, I got to spend more precious time with Mom as well as write her eulogy and, with the help of my sweet and talented daughter, Angy, create a video of her life in pictures. 

I was staying at my mom's house. Angy came every day to help me take care of her. For weeks, we thought she could go at any minute. But when the day came that God ordained in eternity past for Mom's death, He let us know that it was imminent.

After Angy got home that evening, the Lord wouldn't let her sit still, stirring her heart and prompting her to go back to Mom's. About an hour and a half after she returned, Angy, Rex, and I were caressing Mom, loving her, softly weeping over her, and watching her take her final breaths in peace. God arranged it perfectly.

He brings about all things at the proper time—
"He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15).

December 31, 2015

The most wonderful time of the year

Pajamas. Pillows. Laptop. Wine. I've got all the makings of the perfect New Year's Eve celebration. As the sound of fireworks punctuate the night outside my window, I sit propped up in bed, reflecting on my lovely 24.5-day Christmas vacation.

After many days of joy and good cheer, I've been experiencing some of the emotional downside of the final days. Sadness over the last piece of fudge. Bewilderment over what to have for breakfast since the leftover sausage balls and deviled eggs are gone. Dread over the thought of having to set my alarm again.

But there's plenty of good things to reflect on. Aside from all the wonderful holiday festivities, it's been so nice to just have time. Time to do things like:
  • Sleep late, one of the many benefits of which was watching movies and football games at night without crashing before the end
  • Meet my son for a delicious breakfast followed by firearm shopping
  • Finish reading one book and resume editing another book, both of which I started months ago
  • Search 9 stores for little "Mashems" because one of my grandsons wanted them
  • Be cool in holiday traffic and just enjoy singing along to Christmas carols on the radio
  • Take 5 days to wrap 35 gifts for grandkids (It's enjoyable for the first few; then it's just work.)
  • Complete my gift spreadsheet to ensure that each kid had the same number of gifts to unwrap and that I would pass them out in the correct order, aided by my new method of including numbers on the name tags (How did I not think of that before!)
The wee ones
I also spent an entire day revamping the story of "The Three Trees" and coming up with illustrations for the kids to color as a Christmas Eve activity. They took turns holding up their artwork while I read the story, fighting back my tears during the parts about the tree that became a makeshift cradle for the newborn Christ and the tree that became His cross. It was a fitting prelude to talking about the reason for the season before gifts were opened.

The big one with his new robe and keyboard
Throughout the evening and all day on Christmas, it's like I told my friend Monica—for a solid day and a half, my mouth never stopped moving because I was either eating or talking. She made some "as usual" comment that I could only agree with. Her honesty is appreciated.

Most of my Facebook friends posted pictures of Christmas celebrations with their families. I don't know what this says about me and mine, but our main post was just a lot of trash talk about the annual Scrabble tournament on Christmas night. I was humbled again this year, but I'm still doubling down on my accusation of ... well, I don't want to say cheating, so I'll go with "unfair advantages."

The song "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" has been playing in my head, so I took a moment to personalize the chorus. All I had to do was replace "mistletoeing." We didn't do that, and it's not a word anyway.
It's the most wonderful time of the year
There'll be much mistletoeing Scrabble crowing
And hearts will be glowing
When loved ones are near
It's the most wonderful time of the year!
The sock snowmen makers
For a day of post-Christmas fun, Sara and Christian came over. I love that they showed up wearing their new robes and pajamas. We made sock snowmen and a Happy New Year card for their mommy and daddy. We played Spoons and rolled dice. We talked a lot and laughed a lot. We ate candy. When Angy asked Sara if she had a good day, she replied, "I loved it so much." Yeah, me too, little girl.

Well, it's getting late, and all that's left to complete my New Year's Eve celebration is venture outside at midnight to see what's popping. Or not. At least my new year's resolution is made—get a concealed carry permit in January to go with the late Christmas present I'm getting myself.

Here's to an armed and safe 2016!

November 18, 2015

The big move

News of the big move broke over a year ago. It was a major life event I wasn't ready to accept, mostly because it made no sense.

The reason given for the forced migration of employees from their home offices to the corporate "offices"—a misnomer since there are only cubicles—was better collaboration. But my manager was on the east coast, the vice president I did communications for was on the west coast, and the rest of the team were scattered in between. I was the only one of us in Houston, so who was I supposed to collaborate with?

Plus, I had a lengthy list of valid reasons why teleworking was good for myself and good for the company. My manager knew me as an employee who was always at work rather than always at home. And she knew the long, uninterrupted hours I put in were needed to keep up with the demands of my job. So she asked that I be put at the back of the line for a cubicle on the Houston campus.

Thanks, Bonnie, and thank you, Lord, for giving me plenty of time to get accustomed to the idea. You've been bringing me along at the pace I needed. And how far I've come since the "old gang" dinner in January when, on my second margarita, I ranted to former colleagues about how stupid the move was. How a capital-E-extrovert like me who likes to have a good time couldn't be around people all day, or nobody would get anything done. I warned that I'd be chatting people up. And I vowed to bring back hallway bowling, Nerf ping-pong, and other such workday activities of old.

A couple of months later, I learned where I was landing in the new organization because of the company split. My new manager would be Melissa, and our VP would be Tracie. Fantastic! I adore them both. Oh, but guess who was sitting across from me during my margarita-fueled rant about how little work I would do after I got back on campus ... yep, my new manager. It's a good thing Melissa realizes that 90% of what I say in that type of situation is just to get a rise or a laugh.

The boss ladies were looking for space to get our new team together on campus, and I would be expected to come in. They gently broke the news to me over a lovely lunch with gifts and cake to celebrate my birthday as well as my 25th work anniversary. No rant this time. I had already accepted the inevitable, and it made sense for me to be physically with the people I'd be working closely with on a daily basis. 

That's all I ask before I fall in line—just make it make sense.

My first day back was September 28. As I headed out the door with my backpack and my new lunch kit, it felt like the first day of school, like a fresh new beginning. But by the time my 18-minute drive along the back roads had taken 35 minutes and I narrowly escaped a wreck, I was over it. Where did all those people come from! I'd been blissfully sheltered from rush-hour traffic for so long that it was a culture shock. (Spoiled. I know.)

One of the boss ladies suggested that I leave the house either early or late to avoid traffic, whichever worked better for me. Leaving early was the most appealing option, so I just had to decide what I could do at the office instead of at home. The two choices were put on my makeup or read my Bible. Charitably deciding not to subject the nice guy at the coffee drive-thru with my zombie face, I opted for reading at the office.

It's working out great! Not only do I beat the traffic, but reading Scripture in my quiet little cubicle before the others arrive is the best start to my workday. And since I'm no longer reading in bed with a groggy brain first thing in the morning, my reading pleasure and retention have improved.

I was relieved that the cubicles weren't as bad as I had envisioned. Ages ago when I started teleworking, I left a giant cubicle farm in the bowels of the building where there were no windows. But I returned to a single aisle of cubicles on the 7th floor with windows all the way down one side. Not too shabby.

The boss ladies wanted to give me a cubicle with a window, but the only one not occupied by a team member had been claimed by a squatter. He refused to move even though his team was in another city and he rarely came to the office. (In 6 weeks, I saw him exactly 3 times. And yes, I was nice to him even though he was in "my" spot.)

I had to take the cubicle right across the aisle from Squatter Guy, sharing a wall with a huge server room that emits a loud, constant hum. It's like sitting in the back of a plane all day.

To alleviate the sting, Tracie gave me a fake window to a fake beach for my wall. That was really nice. When I'd get claustrophobic, though, I'd have to stand up and look out Squatter Guy's big window to the real world.

But you know what? If I hadn't spent two months in the hole before Squatter Guy quit, I wouldn't be enjoying my big window so much now. That's right, it's finally mine!

I'm also now facing the other direction and I'm a bit farther from the hum of the server room, so it's like I moved from the back of the plane to the front. I tell y'all what ... God's timing on every little thing is absolutely perfect.

Naturally, I'm enjoying the social aspect of working on campus. Can you guess what I dressed up as for Halloween? Hint: My slogan was "business on the top, party on the bottom."

If you guessed that I was a teleworker, you're partially correct. Specifically, I was a teleworker at a video conference. The only times I dressed up in my home office were on the rare occasions I had to be on the webcam. So I'd dress on top, but stay comfy and casual on the bottom. 

I first considered going as a nonspecific teleworker. But I was concerned that my colleagues would never look at me the same had I shown up in full-blown teleworker mode. "Party on the top" would have meant bed hair, no makeup, wife-beater undershirt, and no bra.

Yep, I made the right decision.

Although the list of positives about teleworking is way longer than the list of positives about working on-site, I'm staying focused on the latter. And some of those positives carry a lot of weight, especially these two: 1) It's invigorating to be out among the living again; and 2) My back is hurting less since I'm not super-glued to my chair for a ridiculous number of hours each week.

I won't lie, though. It's been a difficult period of adjustment. Here are just a few little examples: 1) I'm still unable to keep my shoes on all day; 2) I still talk out loud to myself while working; and 3) I tend to get pouty in the evenings when I have to get up from watching TV in my recliner to pack my breakfast and lunch for the next day.

But when all is considered, what else can I say but this ... How blessed I was to be where I was. How blessed I am to be where I am.
How blessed are the people whose God is Yahweh! (Psalm 144:15)

July 28, 2015

A birthday not according to plan

It's my birthday and it's going to be fabulous, just like last year. That was my first conscious thought. It made me smile even before my eyes were open. But then I looked at the clock.

"Crap!" That was my first word of the day.

It was after 8:00. The plan was for Angy, Mom, Rex and I to meet in the HomeGoods parking lot at 8:30, then take my car to La Madeleine. I called Angy to see if she would pick up the others and wait for me at the restaurant. My phone call woke her up.
Like mother, like daughter (Ezekiel 16:44).
With plan B shot down, I considered just throwing on my clothes and taking off. But when I called Rex, still mumbling in a disoriented panic, he calmly said, "Take your shower. You'll feel better." Then I heard Mom in the background: "Tell her to put her eyes on too." So I said I'd be there by 9:15.

It was almost 9:30 when I whipped out of my driveway. Speeding and weaving around traffic, I yelled to unsuspecting motorists, "Don't you know I'm late for my birthday breakfast!" (Confession: sometimes I enjoy being horrible as long as other people don't know about it.)

Finally, we were seated at La Madeleine, having coffee and a good time. My plan was to eat a light breakfast so that after a little shopping I would be ready for brunch at Down House. But the others talked me into ordering a hearty breakfast, which turned out to be a good thing, as you'll see later.

The gracious stranger taking our picture said to make a crazy smile.

We had such a nice time, and I received some lovely gifts. So although my birthday had a rocky start, it was now going more like I had envisioned.

We returned to the strip center where the other cars were parked. It's one of my favorite shopping spots, and I planned to hit HomeGoods, then Barnes & Noble, then Office Depot. My plan was soon thwarted. There was a power outage in the strip center and all the stores were closed. Huh.

Angy and Mom decided to go on home. I told them I enjoyed our breakfast so much that even if I didn't do anything else, it was already a great birthday. (Later, I would wonder if God tested me because of that statement.)

Rex and I soldiered on. We were determined to replicate the full day of delicious eating and fruitful shopping we did last year (see The birthday, part 1).

As we were getting in my car, I realized I had grabbed Robert's keys instead of mine, and the automatic door opener for my car was missing from his key ring. Uh-oh. It must have come off somehow at La Madeleine. We went back to search, but it was nowhere to be found.

I learned later what a waste of time that was because it came off of Robert's key ring years ago. I must have neglected to lock the car at the restaurant, then just thought I unlocked it when I was actually using the door opener for Robert's truck. I tell you this boring incident only because it's indicative of how the rest of the day went.

We browsed at a couple of stores along Highway 6, but didn't find anything to buy. As we drove in the direction of the Heights where we planned to have brunch, Rex and I talked about how there's never a reason to get upset when things don't go our way because God is sovereign and His plans always trump ours. As my pastor's wife, Cheryl, has said, "If you want to make God laugh, just tell Him your plans."

Because of freeway closures and stalled traffic, we stayed on the back roads all day. And goodness gracious, we traversed an awful lot of them. I don't know what it was, but if we should have turned right, we turned left. If we should have gone straight, we went in a big circle. If we should have made a U-turn, we didn't. Much of my birthday was spent driving around, lost and confused.

We finally located a shopping center with a HomeGoods and an Office Depot way, way out on Eldridge, which we discovered is a world apart from North Eldridge. We also discovered that not all stores of the same name are created equal. These were quite awful, and we left them empty-handed. So even though it was afternoon by then, my trunk was still bereft of packages.

Badly needing the solace of food and drink, we headed for Down House (via an indirect route). I was glad to get out of the car, but it wasn't easy. I was wearing shorts and had been driving so long that my legs were stuck firmly to the leather seat.

We walked in at 3:30. Brunch ends at 3:00. So I had to cross off the chicken and waffles part of my plan. Instead, Rex and I had a Bloody Mary and split a burger, which was exactly what we had last year, except last year it was at a different restaurant and tasted a whole lot better.

Afterward, we drove to Montrose and found yet another shopping center with a HomeGoods and an Office Depot, but left empty-handed again. Hope, however, was still alive. As planned, we were going to finish our shopping at a place that sells custom silver jewelry. Each of us would surely be walking out of there with a little drawstring bag of goodies.

We pulled up 20 minutes after the shop had closed.

My spot-on gifts
Apparently, I wasn't supposed to buy myself a birthday present. Nor did I need to. People gave me the type of things I would have picked out for myself. (Good job, people!)

Not shown in the gift photo is my "FootMate System," and not clearly visible is my electronic callous remover and my foot cream. Just me mentioning recently that my feet were getting past the point of repair was enough for Mom to circle the wagons and rally the troops. I can just imagine her announcing, "We've got to get Paula Kay some foot care products!"

The last item on my birthday plan was eating Mexican food at Cadillac Bar. We weren't all that hungry after our late non-brunch, so we just had appetizers and a margarita. I was so full afterward, it annoyed me to see other people eating. How can they stuff themselves like that when I'm so full? Do they not care that it's making me sick to watch them?

For a full 12 hours, my brother and I tried to replicate a great day we had before, but nothing much went according to plan. Even so, we enjoyed our adventure and appreciated it for what it was—time spent together and somehow always finding things to laugh about.

We managed to stay in a good mood throughout what could have been a frustrating day. It's all about knowing the One who's in control.
This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

June 30, 2015

Hall of Friends

Something's always wrong to some degree, right? And sometimes, all you need to make things better is a little time with friends.

After being uplifted recently by a couple of my long-time BFs, Jennifer and Betsy, I began reflecting on all the lovely friends I've been blessed with throughout my life. This inspired my Hall of Friends. So the first ones in are Betsy and Jennifer.

Betsy, me, and Jennifer
at Drew's Pastry Place last week
See how they're tucked in behind me with their bodies at an angle? Maybe they were just trying to fit in the shot. Or maybe they were positioning themselves so they wouldn't look as wide as me. Never mind that they're not as wide. The point is that best friends can do stuff like that and you're totally cool with it. (But either way, girls, one of you have to be in the middle next time, okay?)

The three of us met when we were in the same group at work, and even though that connection ended years ago, our friendship continues and our bond keeps getting tighter. We meet every few months for lunch and make an afternoon of it for our year-end celebration in December. These ladies just fit the bill of what friends should be.

Now for the other inductees to my Hall of Friends.

Keeping this to a blog post instead of a book required that I establish some hard-to-meet criteria. So lest any of my many wonderful friends be disappointed not to see their names here, please note that an inductee must:
  • Be a female without familial connection
  • Think my flaws are endearing
  • Appreciate my sarcasm (realizing it's not a flaw)
  • Share her secrets and keep mine
  • Laugh every time I say something funny
  • Pretend not to hear when my attempts at humor fail
  • Instantly forgive me for the asinine things I say
  • Make me feel better by just being around her
  • Have considered me a best friend for at least 7 years
  • Be totally honest while having my best interests at heart

Examples of the last bullet point include: telling me when I've got food on my face, or better yet, nonchalantly wiping it off (thanks, Betsy); not allowing me to refuse a breath mint if I need one; and telling me right away if a new haircut is unflattering instead of waiting til it grows out.

I could list many more criteria and examples, but don't want to scare off potential BFs, because you're never too old to have new ones.

And before revealing the other honorees, my apologies to best friends from elementary school. For the sake of time and space, I'm starting from junior high, which was 7th–9th grade back in my day.

Something clicked between me and Shelly when we met the first day of school (in spite of her dorky outfit). We were instantly best friends and spent as much time together as possible, even walking several miles to each other's homes, meeting midway along the railroad tracks. It might have been only 2 or 3 miles, but it felt really long, especially during the sweltering summer breaks.

From grades 8–11, Shelly and I had every class together, sat together at lunch, never went to the restroom alone, hung out before and after school, had sleepovers on weekends, went to parties and rock concerts together, and double-dated. Our first job was at the Metropolitan movie theater downtown, and our second job was at the Burger King by Shelly's house.

Our names were always spoken together at school. Paula and Shelly. Shelly and Paula. Never one without the other. Then came the 11th grade when my 16-year-old BF did the unthinkable.

Shelly got married. Moved. Changed schools. And she didn't have to get married—she chose to. I felt demoted, cast aside even. And our dream of riding horseback from Texas to California after graduation? Squashed.

As much as I adored her boyfriend-fiance-husband, I wasn't exactly thrilled. Looking back, I must admit being terribly petulant and selfish about it all. Case in point—when shopping for bridesmaid dresses, I chose a tiara to go with mine.
Shelly (10th grade?), me in the 11th
(the real tiara wasn't nearly this big)

Nobody puts Baby in a corner.

If anyone wears a tiara at a wedding, it's the bride, of course. But this maid of honor wore one. And Shelly was okay with it. That's the kind of crazy, selfless friend she was.

I hung out with Shelly, her husband, and his friends on occasion, our most memorable adventure being spring break of '71 on Padre Island. But I didn't have a BF at school anymore. Just hung out with my guy friends and other girlfriends until I began dating an older man with hair halfway down his back and a Harley. He became my world then, and his friends were my friends.

Dennis Kay
I didn't have a BF again until I was 19 or 20 and my boyfriend's BF started dating Dennis Kay. I couldn't have hand-picked a better friend. Dennis and I laughed like Shelly and I did. We just had the best time together. I absolutely adored her and loved hanging out with her.

Dennis and I went through a lot of changes together. From being the freewheeling hippie-chick girlfriends of older men, to being married ladies, to being young mothers. Through it all, whenever we were together, we had a blast.

Dennis, me, and Shelly (ca. 1980ish)
This photo of me with both Dennis and Shelly is one of a kind. I think the only time the 3 of us hung out together was at my toddlers' birthday parties.

Suddenly it seemed, Dennis divorced her husband and started a new life. I was dumped again. The first time through a marriage. The second time through a divorce.

Marilyn Gay
What kept me from being a tiara-wearing martyr this time was my growing friendship with Marilyn Gay. Having been washed in the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb just a few years prior, I was discovering the incredible joy of a having a BF who is also a sister-in-Christ.

Gay had been a Christian for a long time, so she was a mentor to me as well as a friend. And, like my BFs before her, we had the best time together. It was just different. Deeper.

We not only socialized together, we served together. I was with Gay at least 3 or 4 times every week for church and ministry activities. We also wrote Christian songs together that Gay performed at church. Somewhere between all of that, we would talk for hours. And a better prayer partner I've never had.

Gay in 1997
When I got cancer (lymphoma) in 1986, Gay was there every step of the way. She did whatever she could for me. And during an entire year of body-crushing chemo, not a single day passed that she didn't call to check on me, never hanging up without saying, "I love you."

Life took some twists and turns that resulted in Gay moving, me getting divorced, and both of us joining new churches.

Sherry with James
(who was too close to crop
out of my girls-only post!)
Gay and I had become close friends with Sherry, who became a true and lasting BF to me. She filled the void beautifully after Gay moved.

Sherry and I encouraged each other, but she helped me a lot more than I helped her. The kindness of Sherry and her family, especially during my divorce, is something I'll always be grateful for.

Even though we've been separated by distance and circumstance for a long time now, if I ever need Sherry, I trust that she'll be there for me in whatever way she can. BFs always have your back.

My job brought my next BF forever, Clai, who's like Shelly and Dennis rolled into one. Talk about clicking. We're all about honesty, unwavering trust, and cracking each other up so much it's ridiculous.

A friendship can survive anything if it can survive traveling together. The business trips Clai and I took were some of the best times of my life and only solidified our relationship.

In San Francisco, San Diego, and Washington D.C.
Note the "blind" selfie with a nondigital camera 
(and check out my giant spectacles!)

Even though we gradually drifted apart after I remarried, we're now back to spending time together. It was like rediscovering your favorite robe in a corner of the closet, slipping back into its extraordinary comfort, its perfect fit, and wondering why you ever stopped wearing it. (Yes, Clai, you remind me of an old robe.)

We're again enjoying our time together so much that if other people are around, we have to try really hard not to ignore them. Even through text messages, we can make each other laugh to the point of pain.

Back to Marilyn Gay
It was during the early years of my second marriage that Gay was diagnosed with breast cancer. I'm sorry to say that I wasn't there for her like she had been for me. Sure, things were different. We lived farther apart, weren't involved in each other's lives like before, and I was busy focusing on making marriage work this time.

But that's no excuse. Although I was with Gay at the hospital for her mastectomy, I visited only a few times during the months that she fought tenaciously to get well. And I didn't call nearly often enough.

I was supposed to go see her one Saturday, but something happened and I couldn't make it. When I called to postpone our visit by a week, I heard the disappointment in Gay's voice. What she knew, and I didn't, was that the end was near. She did say that the treatments weren't working anymore, but gave no indication of just how dire the situation was. She still sounded the same, and the last time I had seen her, she still looked great.

We had a good, long conversation, talking of things like timeless eternity and how we'd get to spend it together.

The following Saturday as planned, I went to visit Gay. She had declined so rapidly in that short time that she could barely speak. And I was so shocked by the drastic change in her appearance that I could barely speak, either. But at least we got to say "I love you" one last time.

At her memorial service, the pastor read a letter Gay had written to "leave some 'bouquets' of thanks to some special people," two of whom were Sherry and me. "To Paula Kay," Gay wrote, "my buddy, who is always my friend."

Her last words to me were a testament to what a true friend she was. Gay understood why I wasn't there for her in the same way she had been for me, and there was no blame, no judgment, only gratitude for what we shared. "To Paula Kay ... who is always my friend." Present tense. Without end.

Gay concluded her message by saying, "Each time you see a flower that you enjoy, close your eyes and hear me say, 'Thank you for giving to the Lord.' Because of you, I truly am a life that was changed. I love you all. See you in Paradise."

Back at ya, sweetheart. I miss you so much.

Ladies, let's celebrate our friends. Cherish the old ones. Make new ones. Enjoy them all.

April 28, 2015

Austin III

The blankets of Texas bluebonnets had already been put away for the year. Even so, the drive to Austin for little brother's birthday celebration was lovely.

I was especially relaxed since the food itinerary was locked and loaded. Applying knowledge gained from past mistakes, I had carefully considered when and where we should eat, then presented my proposal to Rex and Dale the previous weekend.

My easygoing brothers were amenable to the itinerary, to wit:
  • Lunch at Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken. One year of regret about not doing it last time is all I can take. 
  • Dinner at Gloria's. It's a tad pricey, perhaps because they call it Latin cuisine instead of Mexican food, but it's good. This will at least ensure avoidance of a mistake like the Uncle-Julio's-Fine-Mexican-Food debacle of Austin II. 
  • Breakfast at the Driskill's 1886 Cafe & Bakery. This time, I would not leave before having one of their cinnamon rolls, the delights of which was a memorable discovery during Austin I.

At some point during the drive—after much talk of how we wanted the ashes of our bodily remains disposed of—I realized we'd be arriving later than the itinerary supported. So after several miles of contemplation, I presented a modified version.

Lunch, no change. Gus's Fried Chicken was going to happen. But since we'd be having a late lunch, we could have only light appetizers at Gloria's, and then at the end of what was sure to be a long night, get something from the food truck fleet at 7th and Congress.

Again, the plan was approved, and I was at ease. (My brothers are excellent traveling companions.)

Gus didn't let us down. The juices of the tender chicken are trapped inside extra crispy skin with surprisingly thin batter. And it's cooked to order, so it arrives piping hot and fresh.

Out-of-focus chicken is all there is to show you
(a 3rd trip is like a 3rd child when it comes to picture taking)
After my first bite, I realized the rich, ruddy color is likely from cayenne pepper. We didn't see mild and spicy options on the menu, and the waitress didn't ask. It makes sense, though. Spicy is just how fried chicken should be. And while it wasn't hot enough to give us swollen lips, we were definitely "lip aware" by the end of the meal.

We made a grievous error, however, by substituting potato salad for one of the sides. It was truly the worst I've ever attempted to eat. Just couldn't do it. The other sides weren't great, either. So before leaving, plans were made to order only the chicken next time, along with fried pickles for an appetizer since they were better than the fried green tomatoes.

Now that's a solid plan.

We walked around for a while, then went back to the hotel. Aside from wanting to relax, we felt obligated to spend time in a room that breaks down per hour to about ... well, a whole lot.

What we liked best about the Hilton were the beds. They're super comfy and minus the standard germ-infested bedspread. Why can't all hotels nestle a soft white comforter between clean white sheets?

Stretching out on the top sheets, we watched 4 straight episodes of "House Hunters." (Did I tell you what excellent traveling companions my brothers are?) We even managed to find something to laugh about in every episode.

The sky had been cloudy all day, and by the time we turned off the TV, it was already getting dark. So we trekked over to Gloria's, where we sat outside, enjoying the mild weather, margaritas, and muy bueno tortilla chips with salsa.

Adhering to the food itinerary, we ordered appetizers—one of steak fajita quesadillas and one of steak fajita nachos. Now, I'm accustomed to being served a pile of nachos on a platter, not 6 chips neatly arranged on a child's plate. My mathematical mind (sarcastic smiley) instantly calculated 2 chips each. Really, Gloria?

At least the chips had a generous serving of meat, unlike the sparse sprinkling on nacho platters, so that was a plus. It was all quite tasty and actually turned out to be just the right amount of food. (Stupid, greedy stomach.)

We had barely begun our stroll to figure out where to go first for live music. Then WHOOSH! We were bum-rushed by an outburst of wind, halting our forward motion. As debris swirled around us, Rex pointed across the street and yelled, "Dizzy Rooster!" We made it inside just seconds before the floodgates of the sky opened up.

The muted TVs on the wall showed what looked to be a spirited description of the storm by a local weather girl (come on now, that's so much easier to type than meteorologist). A warning flashed across the screen: "Stay indoors." You betcha.

As the rain crashed down, the band played on. They were decent enough, interspersing songs we'd never heard with sing-along classics from the likes of The Beatles, Ritchie Valens, and Steve Miller Band. One of the current songs I knew and enjoyed, "Chicken Fried" by Zac Brown Band, but I doubt that Dale and Rex did. Bros need to learn that country fans have more fun.

The fun stopped when the DJ took over, pandering to the college crowd with the kind of thumping hip-hop that drives me up the wall. We were sitting right next to a giant speaker, and the music was so loud, I could feel my heart vibrating and my rib cage rattling. I jumped up, screamed, "I can't take this!" and bolted for the door.

Thankfully, only light drops of residual rain were dripping down by that time. But even if the storm had been raging, I might still have been out on the sidewalk.

The bros made their way outside, and we soon heard something we liked coming from Darwin's. Now that's more our kind of place. Room to move around, comfortable seating, professional bartenders who never let your napkin get too wet or your water too low, and patrons wrapped up in the music.

We love blues rock and got a heavy dose of it from Trent Turner and the Moontowers. The father-son dynamic gives the band a special touch. And what a masterful touch Trent has on lead guitar, reminiscent of the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan. Trent's respectable cover of "Voodoo Child" was in honor of Stevie Ray and Double Trouble being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that same day.

Trent, who we found out later is an ER physician, plays every song as he says "like my life depends on it." He played the guitar behind his back and even with his tongue. Dale and I left with CDs, not just because they were "free" for a $10 tip, but we wanted to hear more.

It was time for the third item on our eating itinerary, so we headed for the food trucks. Maybe because it was 2 a.m. and we were running out of gas, but we chose the truck that had the shortest line. Make that no line at all. In retrospect, it wasn't a good basis for choosing.

We ordered 3 pork egg rolls for the bargain price of $21. While waiting for them to cook, a group of young Indian men came up behind us. They were in a jubilant mood and had apparently been celebrating. We were soon engaged in conversation.

The guy with the biggest grin told me that he was getting married. "Congratulations!" I said, returning his smile. Then I grew serious, locked my eyes with his, and began a barrage of questions without allowing him time to respond.

"Are you absolutely sure she's the right one? Is she the woman you want to grow old with? Can you not even imagine life without her? Are you really ready to commit yourself to this woman forever?"

The poor guy blinked a few times, then said, "I am Indian, so it is an arranged marriage."

"Oh well, good luck with that."

Our food was ready and packed, so we took it back to the hotel. Stretched out on the beds again, we found a free movie on TV, but we didn't find any pork in those egg rolls. At least I had breakfast to look forward to.

Coffee at the Driskill was exquisite as always. I wanted an egg breakfast, as the bros did, but I extracted a promise that no matter how full they got, they'd still split a cinnamon roll with me afterward.

I had a hard time deciding what I wanted and put off placing my order as long as possible. When time ran out, I panicked and ordered the Croque Madame. It was an epic disappointment.

I ate most of it anyway, and darn if we didn't all get too full to share the coveted cinnamon roll. I pouted, then planned next year's meal so I won't mess up again.

No signature breakfast plate for me, just a cinnamon roll and an order of bacon. That's going to be perfect. And our late night snack will be from the food truck with the longest line.

I'm feeling pretty good about Austin IV.

March 23, 2015

Ups, downs, and what-have-yous

Maybe someday I'll start writing shorter, more frequent posts instead of saving up my thoughts. Or not. At any rate, here are some ups, downs, and what-have-yous from the last couple of months.

Easter season

It has begun! The Easter season is such a glorious time—the beginning of spring and the special celebration of Christ's victory over death. It's all about newness of life and confident expectation.

God created the seasons, and we can count on spring arriving every year after winter. Yeshua, the Passover Lamb, rose from the dead, and believers can count on Him raising us up on the last day. At the moment God gives us spiritual birth, He makes us new creatures and seals us with His Spirit (2 Cor 5:17; Eph 4:30). Yahoo-hallelujah to that!

Some reasons why 150 eggs weren't nearly enough
And then there's the big Easter egg hunt. I began my own hunt weeks ago for tiny treasures. Many shopping hours later, it was finally time for the fun task of filling the eggs. As it turned out, I was short on a few colors, and all of Jackson's yellow eggs had gone missing. (Each grandkid has an assigned color so there's an even distribution of treasure.)

I bought a few more packs of multicolor eggs, but couldn't find all yellow—the bulk option of 2000 for $140 notwithstanding. I ended up settling for assorted colors with designs on them, so Jackson's getting a new assignment this year. Crisis averted.

Sweet sorrow

On Valentine's Day, my kids' dad passed away. They had been taking care of Clyde for 8 months while he suffered from cancer. Thankfully, they got to share a lot of precious moments with him, but probably none more so than being at his bedside when God took him.

Zach was the only speaker at his dad's memorial service. With my son's gift for writing and plenty of prayers to get through it, he delivered the most beautiful, fitting eulogy I've ever heard. All of my kids—Angy and Darrell, Zach and Kelly—made the service one that even Clyde would have liked.

They held it on serene, rustic property, in a building called the Alamo. It was set with intimate table rounds and soft lighting. The dress code was jeans and boots. "The Pilgrim" was the featured song, and the playlist after the service was outlaw country music and classic rock. And the obituary cards were printed with Clyde's favorite picture of himself—in his 30s wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt.

For the slide show, Angy and Kelly located almost 200 photos, most of which they had to scan. Zach selected the background music that would have personal meaning to his dad. And Darrell set up and tested the AV equipment for a seamless presentation.

Everything fit together to create a special service. And although Clyde had told the kids he expected only 5 people to show up—3 of them just to make sure he was dead—over 80 people came to pay their respects and share their memories.

I savored the extra time, the meaningful time, spent with my kids and grands that week. What sweet sorrow it was to comfort a grieving granddaughter who's ready to go to heaven so she can be with her grandpa ... to hold a weeping grandson who longs to see his grandpa "just one more time."

Sending farewell messages to their grandpa via balloon

Being with Mom

I stayed at Mom and Rex's house while Rex was cruising around the Caribbean. Mom had been really sick the week before and didn't want to be alone. I didn't want her to be alone, either. An awesome mom with as many kids and grandkids as she's got should never have to be alone anyway.

Rex left on a Friday, and Dale spent the night with Mom. I arrived on Saturday and stayed through Thursday morning, when I met Angy in a parking lot and handed off Mom to her. Then Angy drove Mom to the next drop-off, where Romaine picked her up to take her gambling in Mississippi. We had Mom covered, and she was well aware of the plan.

However, when Dale returned Saturday afternoon, which I thought was just to have some of the chicken chili and cornbread I made, he brought an overnight bag. I told Dale that I'd already grabbed the guest room, so he'd have to sleep on the couch. He was surprised that I was staying because Mom had asked him to spend the night again. Apparently, she was hedging her bet in case I didn't sleep over.

Speaking of the guest room, I was so settled in after a few days that I did a complete overhaul of the room. Compelled to make better use of the space, I rearranged the furniture. Then I got rid of the clutter and gave the room a thorough cleaning, all to make it more to my liking. At least I stopped short of drilling holes in the wall to rehang the mirror, on the off chance that Rex wouldn't like the new arrangement. I'm not that obtrusive.

I set up my temporary office in the dining room. Work was atypically slow that week, so I was able to enjoy a daily lunch break with Mom and quit working at 5:00. We got into a little routine of having a cocktail, then watching "Wheel of Fortune." Mom's really good at the game, but when I make it a contest, she chokes.

As I started work on Monday, it was eerily quiet in the house. I got up to investigate and found Mom in her bedroom, watching TV with the sound so low she couldn't possibly have heard it well. I asked what she was doing in there. "Just trying to stay out of your way," she replied. I assured her that she wasn't in my way and urged her to go about her business as usual.

Mom emerged from her room, but she was still keeping quiet. I told her more than once that a little noise wasn't going to disturb me. Even so, when I was on a call with a colleague, I noticed Mom tiptoeing toward the garage with a bag of trash like a burglar trying to sneak off with a bag of loot.

My colleague is well acquainted with my brand of humor, so I knew I could get away with giving Mom a hard time. "Woman," I called out, "stop making so much racket! I can't work like this!" With a sheepish look, she mouthed "Sorry." Mom is so cute.

During the day, she would alternate reading a little, watching a little TV, gazing out the window, taking the occasional phone call, and just ambling about the first floor of the house. "Mom, don't change anything because I'm here," I said. "Just do what you normally do." She replied, "This is what I normally do."

Mom during a Sunday visit
I can't tell you how many times Mom hugged me that week, longer and tighter than usual, or how many times she expressed her appreciation for me just being there.

Although I visit her nearly every Sunday, I saw for the first time what life is like for Mom nowadays during the week. It made me ashamed that I rarely call her between visits. The weeks fly by from one Sunday to the next for me, but how they must drag on for her. So yes, I've been trying to do better about calling.

But enough about me. Have you called your mom lately? Whether her days are quiet or busy, you know she'd love to hear from you. And you never know when it's going to be the last time.