"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)

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.

Shelly
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 was 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
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.

Clai
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.

January 5, 2015

Just one lie

I don't leave food on my plate, and I don't leave vacation days unused. These are two things that I feel strongly should never be wasted. If I can't eat something, I save it for later or give it away. And if I don't have time to take many vacation days during the year, I cram them in at the end. Nothing is left on the table!

It's now past midnight on the last day of my extended Christmas vacation. Once I go to sleep, it's over, so I'm writing this post instead.

Looking back over my 30 days of downtime, here are some of the things I enjoyed. One of these, however, is a lie. Can you guess which one it is?

  1. Had 1-on-1 time with my daughter—went shopping and ate fajitas outside on a gloriously beautiful day
  2. Had 1-on-1 time with my son—sat by a fire on a cold, cloudy morning eating breakfast, drinking coffee, and discussing theology
  3. Had sleepovers with the grandkids—played games, did puzzles, made crafts, watched videos, cuddled, and joyfully listened to them rattle on about their thoughts and feelings
  4. Spent a lovely day with my friends Jennifer and Betsy, just talking, eating, and drinking
  5. Except for Sundays, got out of bed at whatever time I felt like it
  6. Took a nice nap nearly every afternoon that I was at home
  7. Ate a ton of holiday food, including old favorites like fudge, spinach and artichoke dip, sausage balls, and deviled eggs, plus new favorites like chocolate muffins and bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with almonds
  8. Read the book "Unbroken"
  9. Read the story of Christ's birth to the grandkids before handing out their gifts on Christmas Eve
  10. Played 3 trash-talking, belly-laughing games of Scrabble on Christmas night with Deke, Rex, and the team of Dale and Didi
  11. Watched a few good movies and countless TV shows about true crimes, home renovations, and competing chefs 
  12. Watched 3 football games in 1 day with Robert
  13. Grew even more enamored with J. J. Watt
  14. Gave all of my votes to help Craig Wayne Boyd win "The Voice"
  15. Celebrated New Year's Eve in my pajamas
So which one do you think is the lie? Is it one with a lot of details to throw you off? Or did I just ask that to steer you away from a simpler one that's more likely a lie? Scroll down to find out, then please let me know how you did.



The lie is ...



#6. I took only 1 nap during my time off! Every day was enjoyable in some way, and I didn't want to miss any part of it. Even so, I'm extremely grateful for the job I get to go back to. And now, it's time to set my alarm clock ...

December 22, 2014

Good stuff from years gone by

Since I'm halfway through my month-long Christmas vacation, you'd think I would have written a post by now. But I've been too busy just chillin' and doing things I don't normally do, like cleaning out my office. While going through a bunch of papers, most of which became trash, I came across a little gem—my journal from 1994 through 1996 titled "Good Stuff Happens."

In keeping with my current mantra of "streamline, simplify, streamline, simplify," for this post I'm leveraging what I wrote around 20 years ago. So here's a selection of staccato journal entries back when I was divorced, living in an apartment, working two jobs, and raising two teenagers. The good stuff that happened revolved around them, music, Mexican food, and baseball, plus two special vacations. What a fabulous time it was.

Good Stuff Happens

1994


Apr 4: Zach had a great game. He walked only one batter, and hit a home run and a triple (four RBIs).

Apr 5: Took Angy, Zach, and Sean to the Pink Floyd concert at Rice Stadium.

Apr 7: Took Angy, Zach, and Monica to see the musical “Tommy” at Jones Hall and then ate at Treebeards in Market Square.

Apr 16: Took Angy, Zach, and Monica to Fitzgeralds to see the band Milkbone. Earlier, Zach hit a home run.

Apr 25: Zach played his last little league game. He made the last out of the game playing third base.

Jun 2: Zach pitched his first game in high school summer ball. We won 14 to 7.

Jun 5–12: Went to Washington, DC, for a Compaq training event. Saw the sights and cruised around in a limo.

Jun 17: Angy’s 17th birthday. Gave her four tickets to Metallica and $100. Took her, Zach, and Monica to Pappasito's for fajitas.

Jun 25–Jul 2: Went to San Diego for a training event. Had a dinner cruise around the bay and pulled into the harbor as an awesome fireworks display began. Met Chuck Norris.

Jul 16–23: Took Angy and Zach to Key West for vacation. Too fine! Coffee on the veranda, wine on the patio, margaritas on the pier, sunsets, shopping, and jet skiing.

My beautiful girl and the Key West sunset
My beautiful boy catching some rays

Jul 25: Turned 40 today. Coworkers trashed my office, took me to lunch, and gave me a Macy’s gift certificate. Clai bought me a bottle of wine and took me to see “Forrest Gump.” The kids gave me Jimmy Buffet CDs so I could reminisce about Key West.

Aug 31: Zach’s 15th birthday. Gave him $100, and took him and his girlfriend to Pappasito’s.

Sep 19: Started working at the Mason Jar (evenings and weekends) so I can buy a new car. It's my first job waiting tables, and my first tip was 20%.

Dec 26: On vacation. Slept late, spent time with the kids, and enjoyed the great weather. The kids gave me Converse tennis shoes for Christmas, and I bought a video camera as a gift for all of us. (We made Mom and Dad a Christmas video for their present.) Went to the Christmas Eve service at church and sang “Silent Night” by candlelight. Then spent a great day with all the fam.

Dec 31: The kids’ friends came over. I made a lot of food. We did fireworks, then had a toast in the parking lot at midnight.

1995


Feb 14: Valentine’s Day. The kids made me the sweetest card I’ve ever gotten in my whole life and gave me some tulips. Then Zach brought me a rose that night at work.

Mar 25: My first Saturday off … no more working weekends! Zach had his first game of the season. He pitched and we won 15 to 2.

Apr 16: Had a nice Easter weekend. Hid eggs with $20 bills inside for the kids on Friday. Gave them Easter baskets Sunday morning and had a nice day at Mom and Dad’s, eating and playing games.

Apr 26: Zach had a great game. He pitched, got a double and an inside-the-park home run. We won 9 to 1.

May 21: Went to see Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Woodlands with Zach, Nick, and Nick's brother, Ryan. Perfect weather for sitting on the hill, and the concert was great.

Jun 13: Zach’s team won the championship. He hit a home run that scored three in the first inning and he scored the tying run in the last inning. Later, the Houston Rockets won their second straight championship. It was a very exciting night for sports.

Jun 17: Angy’s 18th birthday. We ate at Pappasito's and went to see “Batman Forever.”

Whatever happened to my poster?
And why did I ever have those bangs?
Jul 25: My 41st birthday. Took the day off from both jobs. Slept late, and Zach and Nick made me breakfast. Angy and Zach gave me two dozen red roses. Soaked in a bubble bath and then went to meet Clai. We ate at Fuddruckers and saw “Apollo 13.” Clai gave me a bottle of wine, Mom gave me $100, and Rex gave me gold earrings and a “Legends of the Fall” poster.

Aug 31: Zach’s 16th birthday. Last night I took him to Eric Clapton’s concert. Tonight I took him, Angy, and Nick to Chuy’s for dinner. (Mexican food has become a birthday tradition.)

Sep 12: Last night working at the Mason Jar! Just couldn’t do it anymore. Afterward, I threw my shoes in the garbage and had some beer at the bar.

Nov 3: Zach told me that he was happy every day of his life. That made me very, very happy.

Every day: God is so good. I praise Him for His infinite mercy, grace, love, kindness, patience, faithfulness, goodness, power, and glory.

Nov 20: I finally got a promotion at Compaq! As an editor, I now have a job that I’m suited for, enjoy, take pride in, and am challenged by. Thank you, Jesus … this is the best thing that has happened in a long time.

Dec 25: Went to the candlelight service on Christmas Eve and then opened presents. Had a nice, quiet Christmas at Mom and Dad’s and am having a wonderful 10 days off from work.

1996


Mar 20: Life has been so good every single day. I haven’t been writing because every day has been special. Love my job and everything about my life. I’m getting more involved in church, and I’ve got the best kids in the world. I’m at perfect peace, not so much because things are going well, but because God loves me and He’s in control. And today I’m leaving for Europe! Laurie and I are going to London and Paris.

Mar 21: Karen picked us up at the airport in London. We drove (on the left side of the road!) to her house in a quaint little village called Much Hadham. Had afternoon tea, visited an old church and cemetery in drizzling rain, and went to a little country pub for dinner. It was lovely.

Mar 22: Laurie and I took the train into London. We saw the Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Dungeons of London, Tower of London, and the Crown Jewels. That night Karen took us to a mystery dinner theatre at an old hotel in the country.

Mar 23: We visited Leed’s Castle. Had delicious bangers and mash that evening at the Bull’s Inn.

Mar 24: Karen drove us into London. We saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and Trafalgar Square. Laurie and I took the train to Paris and checked into our quaint little hotel. Caught a glimpse of the Eiffel tower all lit up on the way.

Laurie, some guy, and me
Mar 25: Walked and rode the subway all over Paris. Went to the Loueve, strolled along the Seine, shopped, visited the Notre Dame Cathedral, went to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night, and had a fabulous dinner in St. Michel.

Mar 26: Visited the Pere Lachaise cemetery. Went to Montmartre at the top of the hill and had a great lunch. Did more shopping and sight-seeing. Had a bottle of wine at an Australian bar and then another bottle at a Parisian bar. Ordered a “cheese royale” at McDonald’s (in homage to "Pulp Fiction").

Mar 27: Had our last wonderful breakfast of fresh bread and café ole, then flew home. It was a fantastic trip, but it was equally fantastic to get home and see my kids.

May 12: Had a lovely Mother’s Day. The kids gave me some stargazer lilies and a card (they picked up the wrong kind and had to cut “Happy Birthday” off the bottom).

Jun 14: Sat on the hill at the Woodlands Pavillon under a full moon and listened to the Moody Blues in concert with the Houston Symphony Orchestra.

Jun 17: Angy’s 19th birthday. Gave her a camera on Saturday, had cake at Mom’s on Sunday, and dinner at Carrabba’s on Monday.

Jul 25: My 42nd birthday. Woke up to find a large vase filled with a beautiful bouquet of flowers, a precious card, and a watch from Angy and Zach. They took me out for breakfast at IHOP, and afterward drove me by a retirement home where they thought I might like to live some day. (They're so much fun.) Mom and Rex had each given me $100. After spending it on clothes, I had a facial, then met Clai at Macaroni Grill.

Aug 31: Zach’s 17th birthday. Gave him $200 to put toward a car. Took him and Angy to eat at Ninfa’s, then had cake at home.

Sep 20: Found my house!

Oct 21–24: Went to Nashville to audit a training class. Closed on my house when I returned. Walked the property and every room of the house and gave it to God, asking Him to bless it and everyone who comes inside. One of the best days of my life!

Postscript: Just a few words about events can unearth a treasure trove of memories. I'm so glad I wrote them. Except for the few of us who share the memories, however, this probably wasn't a very interesting read. So if you made it all the way to the end, thanks for indulging me. I hope you're at least inspired to record your own good stuff so you can enjoy it somewhere down the road. And no, Facebook is not a substitute. You've probably got a lot of junk on there you won't care about later. Plus, you need to have a printed copy, because there's no way the Internet will survive the zombie apocalypse.

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, the guy 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.