The sun came out to see what it missed Plunking water from a detached rain gutter Plunk, plunk-plunk, plunk, plunk-plunk Kids back at the park laugh and carry on as if the freeze was only a dream A Mini Cooper Car club member back at work on a rebuild in the garage, a can of Bud Light sits on its primed hood it too, awaits a coat of paint Two chihuahuas yip against me from across the street their owner grumbles at them to quiet down Normalcy hums, whatever that means, zipping through neighborhood streets. No rush hour zoom, but slow casual zips scope out damage you can't see on neighborhood streets except for tree limbs piled curbside. Damage runs deep in burst pipes empty grocery store shelves people boiling water to drink. Shovels scrape, scrape, scraaape against concrete driveways saws groan at broken tree limbs trying to hang on. The last of the slush sloshes underneath my stride evidence of snow and ice evaporates One side of the sidewalk looks more like a post springtime rain shower, the opposite proves otherwise. Back outside after a week, grateful it wasn't worse when it was for so many others. A dry leaf gently cartwheels in front of me as if saying "I've come back out to play!" Along with the rest of us, picking up where we left off.
It’s so cold…
I moved here to get away from the cold. I grew up in the Texas Panhandle. Plain. Windy, oh so windy. Tornado season turned my stomach in knots. A clear, spring morning turned into a dusty gale by noon where I’d spit dirt out of my teeth on the walk home from school. It wasn’t a two mile walk, but it could’ve been in that wind. Summers were hot and dry and winters were so cold. It never failed that I’d slip on the ice as I stepped out of Papa’s pickup holding onto the handle for dear life while my feet slipped out from under me. I’d gingerly step to the curb, get to the cleared off, salted sidewalk, and make it in to school, finding that one last patch of ice that curled its mean fingers under my heel to tease me.
Decades later, I’m praying our power doesn’t go out, thankful for the heat and legitimate snow days. Central Texas doesn’t get much snow. We had a snow day last month, one of those dustings of snow that resemble a poweered sugar coating. We can’t drive in icy weather around here, so I relished the day off. None of this virtual stuff either. The kids went out and played. I went out for a bit, but I’m so over the snow. I’m glad I didn’t have to go anywhere. My family laughs at our snow days. They keep on with business as usual, unlike those of us down here. But hey, a snow day is a snow day.
We get a few days of cold weather where we have to wear a heavy coat in the morning and at the end of the day. Last Thursday was one of those days. Except that the rain started turning into ice late that afternoon. Broken tree limbs blocked some lanes in the neighborhoods I drove through to get home. Two chunks from two different trees came down in the backyard with two coming down from trees in the front. Along our street, tree limbs hung over the curb as if someone had gone on a tree pruning spree, icicles still coating the leaves. I had a massage scheduled for Saturday and thankfully, it was only cold and the roads were clear. Until Sunday. Temperatures were down, the lowest I’ve experienced them here. Yesterday, there was snow. And power has been out all over the state.
Snow is nice to look at, but I never liked the cold weather. Didn’t ever like sliding on the ice underfoot. Snow sneaking into my gloves or coat sleeves annoyed me. Stepping on melted snow in my socks still makes me cringe. It’s pretty, but not fun. I have no desire to try snow skiing. Maybe it’s because I was born in summer. Maybe it’s because I don’t like messing with layers of clothes. Maybe it’s just uncomfortable. Snow is not my favorite thing. But a snow day or two? That’s a whole different story.
It’s so easy to click a button, enter my email address and sign up for another challenge. Then they pile up on me. Something sabotages any progress I make (ahem, me!) and then my plans get derailed and it’s hard to jump back in. Because I have too many train tracks in front of me. I don’t know which one is the right track, off track, on or off a beaten path, or flat out hitting a dead end.
Planner challenge. Yoga challenge. Scripture reading. Prayer pledge. Drink half your weight in ounces-of water-per day. Run the year in miles. Exercise every day. No spending for a week. Read a (picture) book a day. Read a book a week. Sugar. No sugar. Fasting-but did I sign up for the 12, 14, or 16 hours? What the heck, put some cream in that coffee and just give me a cinnamon roll already! Oh, but didn’t I sign up for the no-carbs challenge or was that last month because it’s already February and I might have put that one on my list, but I messed up two days in when El Panadero, pulled out a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies and the kids insisted on homemade pizza for dinner. On the same day. And I didn’t eat a salad.
Walk every day challenge. Then we get the random once every 12 years legit snow day and I’m a cold weather wimp, so I don’t think I walked farther than the length of the couch that day. Dry January. But there was that snow day and I added a little brandy to my Mexican hot chocolate. And the one day I bought the cute little “single” serve bottles of Prosecco.
Well, at least I’m doing well with my planner. Until the third week of the month when I had a wacky week that was busier than the whole month put together and I just left a bunch of blank calendar squares. Do I go back and fill them in? But WHY? Seriously!
Okay, well, there’s the Morning Pages. And those were going really well until, surprisingly, AFTER we had to start working on campus again. My usual commute became my time to get some writing in before logging in to work from home. I have, for the most part, kept those up. Three pages of random nonsense to help me make sense of things first thing in the morning. I’m on year 2, week 17. Sure, I’ve skipped some days here and there, but out of all of the challenges so far, this one I’ve managed to tame.
What else did I sign up for? Something on Shut Up and Write! I missed, already, the prompt for the day and the first day isn’t quite over yet. But it’s also day 1 of the February Yoga with Adriene calendar. I completed up to day 22 or so of the January “challenge” until, once again, life just caught up to me. Which is a good thing. I’m getting better about letting things go and a teensy bit better about thinking twice before I sign up for something else. That’s the easy part. Showing up is the hardest. Unless you count the mindless trigger fingers entering my email address. Anyone want to join a “No Challenge Challenge?”
That’s what I call our kindergarten teachers because not only do they keep the Kindergarten Kingdom, they do a phenomenal job teaching the little subjects. I have no idea how they do it. It’s a gift. I don’t have such a gift. I didn’t even have it with my own kids. They’re older now, in the sweet spot of childhood, one who started middle school and a high school senior prepping for his exit exactly four months from now.
With the pandemic, my role at work has me popping in to K-5 classes every third week on a specials rotation. Other weeks, I’m conducting my read alouds and library lessons via Google Meet from my library office. Not ideal, but I get to see once class of students per grade level every day for a week. I’m more comfortable with older kids. I taught 4th grade for 4 years, made it through one year of teaching second grade, and spent a full dozen years teaching sixth graders.
I went into the kinder class today. The door to the girl’s bathroom was locked with two littles needing it asap. It isn’t my classroom, so I had no idea how to jiggle it open. I called the office for assistance. All of the adorable kiddles are coming up to me to tell me their good things of the day; a new student, an upcoming birthday-in summer, a birthday back in September, getting to sit at a friend’s table, a new Among Us face mask, new shoes, two boxes of school supplies, and puppies. Always puppies.
I began the class with one little online and the rest in the classroom. It takes me a few minutes to set up when I arrive, so we chat. I sensed the excitement, which I knew would be the case without sensing it. We started out with movement and my go-to, their favorite, Go Noodle. Until they all start complaining about how they don’t like the video I selected. Sure, there are better ways to involve them in choosing the video, but I didn’t want to get close to a Kindergarten Cop level of teaching and they were getting restless. I wore latex gloves, but the touchscreen doesn’t like them. Before I could start the first video, they all swarmed to the screen to help me. We went through about 10 minutes of movement and transitioned to a read aloud.
We read “The Cool Bean,” an adorable book about a garbanzo feeling awkward in front of old bean friends who were now the “cool” beans of the school. We discussed kindness, feelings, how it can be hard to be kind, the setting, and different kinds of beans. I printed an activity for them with the main character front and center. I popped a link to a Pear Deck of a similar activity for the student learning from home. Most were excited about getting to design new clothes and a setting for the garbanzo. Before I finished distributing the handouts, one little comes up to me, proudly showing me the work.
“I’m finished!” Red marker encircled the bean. 15 more minutes to go. “Well,” I suggested, “where is the bean? Can you tell me where the bean is and draw the setting?” Those were the instructions I gave before they began. When some asked if they could cut out their characters, I encouraged them. Some started retelling the story and others started drawing other bean friends.
I started packing up my cart to transition to the next class. The teacher returned and her littles eagerly shared their activity and story. I did it. I don’t know how, but it worked. I managed the Kindergarten Kingdom for less than an hour and there was no evidence of a Kindergarten Cop in sight.
Around Thanksgiving, my husband found a deal on an air fryer. Nothing fancy, or name-brand, just functional. I’m not a fan of extra countertop appliances besides a toaster and a coffee maker. We’re short on space in our kitchen. To avoid arguing, I gave in. He brought it home, like it was a Major Award and frrra-gee-lee. He opened the thing with the enthusiasm of The Old Man opening his leg lamp in “A Christmas Story.”
I rolled my eyes. He prepped chicken strips. We ate them, but they tasted, well, baked. My husband has a knack for chicken strips. The deep fried kind he dunks in egg wash and a seasoned flour mixture he’s concocted over the years. My kids critique restaurants on their chicken strips, the only thing they order off the menu. If they’re as good as or better than Dad’s, we add it to the list of favorites. This time, they were dry and nowhere close to what we’re accustomed to eating.
Then I opened my mouth. Not to say they tasted bad, we all knew they did, but to discuss the air fryer. I suggested he return it. You would’ve thought I took a lollipop away from a kid. Or a bone from a dog. Or Twitter from…never mind. Anyhow, I asked “What’s the difference between this and using the oven?” I should’ve kept my mouth shut. I surrendered, he found space in the pantry to store it, and we compromised. A few days later, he made chicken wings. Those were delicious.
One evening, he came home with a bag of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers, and chocolate bars. It was a nice evening for hanging out in the backyard around the fire pit. The kids prefer to stay inside glued to their devices. Unless there are s’mores. We enjoyed the evening and I didn’t balk at the kids eating more than their share or toasting extra marshmallows. We’re still in a pandemic and I might as well let them enjoy it.
I put away the extra s’mores ingredients for another evening. But where would I put them so the kids wouldn’t smell them and devour them before the next perfect night for s’mores? I found a spot for the chocolate and graham crackers, but I needed to find a different place for the marshmallows. I’ve run out of good hiding places; my kids are that good. I mean, I thought I was smart when I hid my pint of double chocolate ice cream in the bag of frozen broccoli. Until they found it.
In a rush, I put the bag of marshmallows in the cooking drawer to the air fryer. They’ll never look there. The new appliance was perfect. It was only temporary anyway. I planned to move them later.
One Saturday, my husband busted out his handy dandy air fryer to make his new favorite recipe for chicken wings. My youngest passed through the kitchen to the backyard to jump on the trampoline. My husband seasoned and prepped, whistled a jolly tune, and pre-heated his faithful companion. When my kiddo, who has a bionic nose, skipped into the house, her eyes searched the kitchen. “Ooooh, marshmallows. It smells like marshmallows. What are you making, Dad?”
I brushed her off. “Marshmallows? What do you mean it smells like marshmallows? You’re imagining things.”
“It totally smells like marshmallows,” she commented as she ran up to her room. I kept sipping my coffee, scrolling away on Instagram.
A few minutes later, I heard a few choice words from The Most Patient Man in the World, who hardly ever uses choice words. He started grumbling and slamming things, shouting “Who put marshmallows in the air fryer?”
At that moment, I remembered my clever trick. I countered, “Who the heck doesn’t open an oven–air fryer–before they turn it on?” I laughed as I explained it was a new hiding place and I forgot I put the bag there.
He held the cooking drawer with the bag of perfectly toasted marshmallows nestled inside, the plastic warped and baked into them. “It’s nonstick, it should be fine. Dump it in the trash.”
“Wait, I wanna see!” S came down to inspect the marshmallows. She wanted to eat them. We said no. The trash got them. And the chicken wings came out fine, without a trace of sticky marshmallows on them. So much for a new hiding place.
This road ended just beyond the sidewalk. A dead end. Not anymore. I don’t even know when it was extended to connect to the road that winds up at a county park. It just showed up. Years ago, we rode our bikes from home and turned around here. Once, we went beyond the barrier, complete with a shouty sign declaring a Dead End, and discovered a trail. Exploring it, we found ourselves at the park that’s more accessible using this road. When was it completed? Did I ignore coming this direction because there wasn’t anywhere else to go or did I dismiss the trail after that first time thinking it was too cumbersome to navigate, especially on those hundred degree feeling mornings during summer? Or was I ill-equipped to trudge along at dusk without a flashlight, alone?
I knew this road was under construction, so I avoided coming this way because of the noise. I like a bit of silence. But when was it finished? Had it been that long since I’ve been here? Yes. I began my morning walks this direction again last spring, bored with my regular route. When I saw the results, I sucked in my breath. This was the dead end, gone now. What was dead is now, alive. With loud sounds. Noise. Traffic. Mowers. More homes. People in a hurry.
It’s better on rainy weekend mornings or late evenings, but forget rush hour. Everyone shortcuts through here to get home. What once was a nice nature walk has become, like everything else, suffocating. Poor wildlife. Poor wildflowers in the spring that have to listen to the buzz not of bees, but of cars. I’ve seen it change since spring. Full of wildflowers, the deer running away from any slight movement or sound, the summer heat scorching what’s left of all the moisture deep in the ground, and now the cooler temperatures soothing its weariness. But the traffic still flows. I liked it better when there was a dead end. It felt more private, secluded, special. Now it’s another road, well traveled.
We got a good deal for our table from a guy right down the street. He even delivered it for us. It's solid and if you bang your knee against the inside frame just under the table top you'll swear you hate the thing. The top needs refinishing, but kids, so we'll leave it. And we have left it that way, scratched and stained, losing a little color each day. They protest when we discuss a new finish I protest at the work it will take only to have it scuffed and smeared with, life. I fuss at everyone who doesn't use a coaster, but why bother? The kids say it adds character. And it does. There's space for 6 or 8 or 12 or more, we've stopped counting. We manage to squeeze ourselves in when friends and family visit. Taking turns sitting at the table, much like we did at Nana's. It's held up well. Sophia's first birthday, the first big event It's hosted countless others Visits from Mom and Dad along with Dad's pile of newspapers, notes, pens, reading glasses, mugs of his piping hot coffee and a small mountain of Mom's tamales. Halloween parties Tortilla making lessons A birthday candle lined with Tacky Glue, sprinkled with gold glitter and sequins. My best friend's graduation party. Homemade pizzas-- so many homemade pizzas. Writing sticks of all shapes and colors Spilled bowls of Cheerios 5 layer Play-Doh cakes Mixology experiments: Mexican martinis, wine-usually red, blackberry margaritas, strawberry mojitos, and the good anniversary crystal bubbling with cheap champagne. An almost empty wine glass, a red ornament, and a red pear gnawed with a little kid’s bite protesting “Mommy I didn’t like it!” adorns the end of a "fancy" Christmas dinner. That night we used a tablecloth. Snow days with pancake breakfasts. Piles of papers that needed grading. Homework-- the kids' and mine. Hours of graduate school assignments Science fair and craft projects LEGO builds and chatter Family game nights A thick smear of blue paint from a Halloween costume making session and nail polish drips I couldn't remove. Gingerbread house building parties that stopped because we outgrew the table and got so darned busy taking kids to holiday related school activities. GNO get togethers where we all sit around and color, jars of colored pencils, pens, and markers snaking down the center of the table. Pandemic teaching Online Sunday night meetings with family across the miles. Writing every morning, at least three pages, with a coffee mug by my side. Asking for and giving grace. They say home is where the heart is. Ours gather around this table where we live and breathe, hope and dream. And sometimes, we eat here, too.
I didn’t take my kids for a 10 year re-enactment photo shoot in the bluebonnets like I planned. They’re only interested in photo bombing and they hate being outside. They hate road trips even more. Pair that with nature and getting in the middle of a wildflower field, I didn’t even bother. And then the quarantine happened.
I figured we could go anyway and give other wildflowers a little attention. I let that slide, too. Now even the Indian paintbrush, Mexican hat, Texas thistle, and black-eyed Susan are saying goodbye.
This morning, as I walked by a field I pass every morning, I stopped to snap some shots. I wanted to take them when they were in full bloom. Sometimes procrastinating pays off. It moves us into things we didn’t intend, but gives us more than we expected.
We get to see depth. Fitting for Mother’s Day, no? We give our mammas the prettiest flowers because they deserve as much tangible beauty as we can muster. A bouquet created by nature–God–is one of the best ways to express that.
It’s hard to see the intricacies of the core of a flower in full bloom. We see the vibrant beauty created to notice from a distance. When we do get close, we see a limited part of the essence of the flower, the little parts that hold the petals, the rough edges, the thorns that protect it, the powerhouse that holds it together and creates more beauty for another season.
We tend to dismiss the full cycle in a field of flowers. Why focus on them when they’re in full bloom when there’s more to see? The end is the beginning of something stronger.
Motherhood also has cycles. Vibrant young moms. Moms with teens. Empty nest moms who have more time on their hands, maybe. Grandmothers and great-grandmothers who wear wisdom like a crown.
Like wildflowers, moms stand tall, they’re beautiful, they’re tough, but there are days when times are hard and they get worn out. They don’t stop. They keep giving the best of themselves. It’s hard to see the depth of such a complex role because we walk past it like we walk past a field of wildflowers that already bloomed.
And that’s the beauty of motherhood. We give the goodness that blooms within us.
Happy Mother’s Day.
In honor of seniors everywhere, here’s a yearbook style collection of personalities we encounter in the larger sphere of online video conferencing along with their popularity features. Which one(s) are you?
May or may not have worked out or gone for a run. Shows up in active wear. Might still be sweaty.
Popularity feature: Fitness tracker
Shows up in front of a blank wall. Where are you? Bedroom? Office? Closet? Bathroom?
Popularity feature: Minimalism
Sips from a coffee mug. You can see the steam rising. Under normal circumstances, meets from a hipster coffeehouse.
Popularity feature: Chemex coffee pot
This one is chill. Shows up without worrying about the camera. Kicks back on a couch or overstuffed chair. You can tell their feet are propped.
Popularity feature: Leather couch
There is nowhere to go. Uses a kid’s room due to lack of space. Would meet in the bathroom if not for interruptions. Wall color varies from bubble gum pink, lime green, or other primary color. A gold glittered version of the word “Princess” or piles of LEGO make a strong statement.
Popularity feature: Cool toys
Dons high quality noise blocking headphones. Some have separate microphones. Tech savvy. Makes you wonder if they have a side gig. Maybe a podcast or spinning tunes at a nightclub.
Popularity feature: Bose equipment
Shows up in the garage. Probably working on a bunker project prior to the meeting. Make it quick, they’ve got stuff to do.
Popularity feature: Power tools
Thumbnail icon is the only indication of this co-worker’s physical presence. There is an aura. Talks and chats, but you never see them.
Popularity feature: Invisibility
Others see a work space, typically a dining room or kitchen. No one ever sees or hears this person. Briefly floats into the meeting, but are they really there? Not there? Hello? Bueller?
Popularity feature: Skipping meetings
Characteristics of Ghost. Microphone is muted throughout the meeting. Skilled at using the chat room.
Popularity feature: Fast typing skills
Littles climb onto their lap and pop into the meeting. These are good parents who cuddle their adorable kids, leave the camera on, let them say hi and then give them something to color. And the child complies. Older kids tend to photobomb the meeting then quickly run to do homework.
Popularity feature: Candidate for sainthood
Identifies with Comfy Co-Worker. Occasionally sips from a book themed mug. Bookcases overstuffed with books and book themed ephemera line walls and are organized by Dewey order or genre. Dim lighting gives off cozy vibe. May wear a cardigan or shawl. Current read is within reach to share with group.
Popularity feature: High IQ and Books
Strategically placed in front of a highly stylized bookcase. Dips into Librarian and Perfectionist buckets. Wait, are those books organized by color? Please, no!
Popularity feature: Interior decorating
Lost in Space
Enters every meeting with microphone on. Has difficulty finding the microphone muting option despite everyone in the meeting speaking at once offering assistance. Uses remainder of meeting to turn off the microphone and accidentally leaves the meeting.
Popularity feature: Presence
Woke up 10 minutes ago. Thrives at night shift work. Attends in pajamas and bed-head. Work space ambience is irrelevant. Is that champagne or sparkling water? Whoopsies!
Popularity feature: Champagne flutes
Volunteers to take notes. Eyes dart back and forth, up and down, to and from multiple devices. Head posture bows to reply to text messages. Pops in to ask questions. Answers all questions in chat. Eyes zip back and forth from multiple open tabs on screen. Sends relevant link or email as participants discuss said link or email.
Popularity feature: Highest score on Whack-a-Mole
Hangs out in the back yard or a park. Natural light is pleasant. Is that a pool? Are those flowers real? Might swat at an insect.
Popularity feature: Multiple Yard-of-the-Month awards
Has THE perfect home office, Pinterest style. Shows up with everything in place. Could be a Super-Model, but doesn’t apply makeup in front of the camera. Everything is ready to go. A week early. Body position points to a pen in hand and Erin Condren planner for note taking. You can’t stop looking at the home office. Can you give us a tour? You want that office.
Popularity feature: Attends JoAnna Gaines’ parties
RZF-Resting Zoom Face, a.k.a. Jan Brady
Camera shy. Doesn’t know whether to look at the camera, the boss, or the screen. Nervous about turning camera off in case boss thinks they’re skipping the meeting. Does not slouch. Rule follower. Only speaks when addressed.
Popularity feature: Impeccable manners
Attends meeting with full make-up and fashionable wardrobe. Uses camera to make sure every hair is in place. Refreshes lip color before speaking. Looks different in person.
Popularity feature: Beta tester for companies offering camera filter apps
TV News Anchor
Wears a smile throughout the meeting. Dressed in regular work clothes. Posture demonstrates desk sitting. Can lean toward the Blank Slate, but has a well placed piece of wall art or uses a green screen to go “on location” based on the meeting’s topic.
Popularity feature: Wardrobe
I don’t dance. I don’t dance because Nana said I’d go to hell. I’m afraid of going to hell. I’m afraid of how hot hell is and of the devil poking and prodding me with its pitchfork and its snake-like tail whipping around me. Why is it when I hear music, it bubbles inside me and I’m giddy? It makes me feel like there’s another person inside that wants to come out and laugh and have fun and move and sway. I like the idea of being that fun person who doesn’t care that people watch her move in response to the rhythm and makes up her own swirls and twirls and is just flat out happy. Nana’s voice always stops me.
I didn’t want to dabble with the devil and dancing. When you’re a rule-following first-born (mostly) and spent most of your formative years with your Pentecostal grandma, that’s what you do. No questions allowed because you respect your elders.
“¡Los bailes son del diablo! Dios no quiere que estemos en los bailes. Debemos estar glorificando al Señor.”
No matter how fun and harmless it seemed, dancing never worked for me. I’m stiff and have robotic dance moves. I imagined myself having a good time and maybe even having a boy pull me in close to move in sync with the music. I stared wistfully at other kids while I stood around, the poster child for a wallflower.
I didn’t understand the harm. If people have fun how can dancing be the devil’s work? Why is it so evil? Most kids didn’t even touch each other while they danced unless it was a slow song. Even then, why was that worthy of getting to hell when there were other people around?
I didn’t ask Nana why, she just said to stay away from it. I found that confusing, coming from someone who bought deviled ham on sale from Piggly Wiggly. She fed it to me on days she took care of me while my parents worked. She spread the pink mush on slices of white bread when she packed lunches for all of us as we piled into Papá’s pick-up truck early summer mornings to work the cotton fields. She bought tons of little pull-tab cans, neatly wrapped in white paper stamped with a red devil holding a pitchfork, its pointy arrow tail snaking around, mocking me. You can’t dance because it’s the devil’s work, but here, eat the devil’s meat.
I hated the stuff but ate it anyway because that’s what she packed: sandwiches with salty slimy pink sludge that tasted nothing like ham, smeared on bread. I envisioned a bunch of mashed up devils’ tails packed into those tin cans, with the red faces daring me to eat, winning my soul through hunger.
When I see anything with fiendish depictions, I think about how Nana would respond. I’d take her to Torchy’s and probably get an ear full of Bible verses for taking her to a taco joint emblazoned with cute devilish cherubs tempting you into gluttony. I might order her the Democrat and a margarita, especially since she wasn’t a drinker. She’d denounce the place because she could make better tacos at home, for less, and feed twice as many people. And she’d be right.
She might even top them with a possible nemesis, maybe the devil’s brother, Diablo Verde sauce I found at HEB. The hot one is too damn hot for me, but if you mix it with sour cream, the heat is worth it. The devil is always among us, even in our food. Every time I see a feisty little sprite or hear soul-stirring music, Nana’s voice pops into my head with advice for staying out of hell and I’m reminded about how much I miss her. Except now, I eat at Torchy’s and I might even dance a little.