Easing into fall Hill country sunset and wine Summer's kiss goodbye
I’m working on decluttering my personal inbox. I gave up on my work email. I try not to look at the number of unread or unopened emails. I unsubscribe, but for some reason, it doesn’t work. There are tips and tricks to manage the beast, but that takes more time than I have. I sign up for different kinds of groups (mostly writing), hoping to get inspired. And I do…when I read an entire email. Last week I read through one newsletter and I decided to only choose one of the embedded links. It was about journaling, something I’ve been doing most of my life. There was good information. I saved it. It’s hard not to dig through my digital trash looking for other valuable bits of knowledge I tossed haphazardly. But my brain can only take so much. If that information needs to find me, it will come around. Probably into my inbox.
This afternoon I officially passed on my elementary library Twitter account and set up a new one for my middle school library. It took most of the day to compose my farewell tweet-it’s book fair week and we’ve been busy. I wanted to end my post with “adios amigos” and wound up with “Adoos ambiguities!” I had to save my draft and that’s what welcomed me when I returned. It prompted me to compose short Spanish phrases and let autocorrect fix everything for me.
Here are a few samples:
|I enjoy going to the movies.||Me gusta ir al cine.||Me enchants it’s al cone.|
|You are my friend.||Tu eres mi amiga.||Ruthie weeks mi amiga.|
|I need a cup of coffee||Necesito una taza de cafe.||Necessity una Taz a de cafe.|
|Hello, how are you?||¿Hola, como estas?||Hola, ComicCon estos?|
|I’m very hungry.||Tengo mucha hambre.||Tengo muncha ham Bre.|
|I have a headache.||Tengo un dolor de cabeza.||Tengo un dolor de caveman.|
|When will we eat dinner?||¿Cuándo cenamos?||Chandigarh cenamos?|
|Happy birthday.||Feliz cumpleaños.||Felix cumpleaños.|
|I like to eat pizza.||Me gusta comer pizza.||Me gusts comer pizza.|
The things I do to entertain myself. ¡Adoos, ambiguities!
Of all the tiny stories that make up a day a week, a month? Do I tell the one about being unable to make it to my cousin's funeral, the one who was like a sister when we were kids but somehow we grew up and drifted our separate ways like a dandelion seed puffed out of someone's wish? Do I tell the one about how I missed first day of school pictures? The one my husband took that wasn't full of smiles and eager tween bubbles giddy to meet friends in person once again? The one with one less in the picture because that one is enrolled in the University of Life? Of all the tiny stories, which one do I tell? Do I tell the one about the caterpillar in its terrarium? The one I caught wriggling and undulating, pumping its whole body, hard, to shake itself loose of its old skin for good, embracing its metamorphosis instead of fighting it? Do I tell the one of all the ordinary things that add up to a melting pot of emotions and reflection and trudging along, embracing changes but dreading them at the same time? Of all the tiny stories, which one gets to fly?
Just like that,
Father’s Day, 2019. My husband’s “gift” was a weekend trip to Kerrville, Tx. Nostalgic for the hot summers in the Texas Hill Country where he spent some of his summers as a camp counselor, he wanted to share some his favorite places with us.
As our trips tend to go, there was bickering on the way there. I wanted to stop in Fredericksburg to stroll into the shops on the way there. I packed sandwiches and drinks so we’d have a nice picnic lunch at a park. We get there, the kids are hangry, we unpack our lunches, the flies start annoying us and everyone is grumpy. I mange to snap a few selfies because no one wants pictures.
However, we popped into Dooley’s, a legit five and dime store. I swear I stepped back into my childhood. This is a place where you can still buy polyester day robes, the kind my grandma used to wore way before yoga pants and stretchy bands were a thing. Even the store fixtures time warped to their original tasks. I’m not sure if they were there in the 70s or earlier. My kids found souvenir keychains. And candy cigarettes. The kind I used to “smoke” when I was a kid that didn’t ever turn me into a real smoker. They each got a pack, the grumpy lunch experience soon forgotten. Word of advice if you go: Take cash or write a check. They don’t accept cards.
While on the road, we realized we departed for our weekend adventure on June 21st, the Summer Solstice. We also had no idea Ingram, near Kerrville, housed an art installation perfect for the occasion–Stonehenge II, along with Easter Island statue replicas.
Finding quirky roadside attractions is my favorite part of a road trip. I don’t remember how I found it. I think we were discussing the solstice. I must have searched it on my phone to read about its history and found information about all the people who travel to Stonehenge each year. It popped up on my search results and we added it to our itinerary. We were the only people there that late afternoon and ran into Chet of The Daytripper, who happened to be filming an episode for his PBS show. My son was more interested in the show and the video equipment than the replica of Stonehenge during the Summer Solstice. Sigh…
A volunteer community theater performs along the Guadalupe River. That summer they performed Madagascar-A Musical Adventure. The kids enjoyed it more than we expected. Buy the kids popcorn and soft drinks and it elevates their experience. Buy Mamma a mini bottle of wine and everyone’s happy. Like the ups and downs of the hills we travel, such is the way of a road trip. We find gems along the way, forget the grumpy parts, and take the good memories with us.
“Best friends don’t necessarily have to talk every day. They don’t even need to talk for weeks. But when they do, it’s like they never stopped talking.”Unknown
Last summer, less than a week after visiting family in the Texas Panhandle, my former college roommate called for a chat. We have the sort of friendship where we go long stretches of time without calling each other only to wind up on hours long phone calls to catch up. With social media, we keep up here and there, but it isn’t the same as an actual conversation with periodic interruptions from spouses, kids, or barking dogs.
“What are you doing?” she asks.
“Michele!” my giddy self shouts.
Laughter follows and we catch up. This is how we always start. On a whim, she needs a break and wants to visit her sister who happens to live in the same town as my parents. With my husband working from home and the kids old enough to need supervision, but independent enough to keep themselves busy, I accept. A birthday gift from me to me, myself, and I. I’d hang out with my parents again, get more time with my sisters, and have much needed bff time.
It’s a good seven to eight hour drive for me. Coming in from the Houston area, it’s a longer drive for her. We agreed she’d make a pit stop here, we’d have a sleepover, and we’d be on our way in the morning. And off we went, in the 111 degree Texas summer heat, perfect for road tripping. Queen blasting on the radio, we reverted back to our college selves.
We were finally taking a proper road trip. We had money, actual real money! Our summers in college meant we went back home and worked a fast food stint so our families wouldn’t drive us crazy. Plus, you know, tuition and books. The summer after our freshman year, we both got jobs on campus working the summer camps for the high school kids. We didn’t have a proper summer vacation because we were broke. We didn’t even own cars. So this is how it feels to go on a summer road trip with a bestie.
We only stopped for bathroom breaks and poked around in a Wal-Mart stocking up on hand sanitizer and snacks. No one ever outgrows road trip snacks. We talked non-stop all the way to our destination. Non. Stop. We laughed so hard we cried and re-lived hilarious memories and stopped cold when we understood things we thought we knew but didn’t know at the time, especially the part about understanding how broke we really were. And here we are.
My sisters have adopted her as a sister as well. We learned more about each other on that trip, things we thought we already knew. Deeper insights, but with more maturity. On our way back home, we stopped by our campus. I only spent two years there before transferring to The University of Texas. It looked the same, but different. We pulled into a parking spot in front of Stafford Hall, minus the Stafford Hall. It’s gone now, and in its place is a parking lot. The fine arts building grew. The cafeteria still stands and we reminisced about all those Belgian waffles we ate for dinner, long Saturdays of sleeping in, but setting the alarm so we wouldn’t miss lunch that day.
Life was easier then, but it wasn’t. It’s easier now, but it isn’t. We could’ve gone anywhere, but our time in the car was what counted most. What we needed most. What we still need.
This is the first of my summer road trip musings, in reverse order to my childhood.
I grew up in the Texas panhandle, New Mexico nearby, but we never went there when I was a kid. No snow skiing or summer hikes for us. Our summer vacations, if we had one, were usually to south Texas to visit my dad’s side of the family. If we were lucky, we’d get to visit the beach, but we mostly stayed at my grandma’s and visited family.
The past two years, summer vacation plans fell through. We always go back home to visit our family, but now we travel north. Last week we spent the first half of our vacation with family and then invited my mom to tag along with us for a few days in New Mexico. Six years before, almost to the day, we attended the U.F.O. Festival in Roswell, spent a day at Carlsbad Caverns, slid down the dunes in White Sands, and did a tiny bit of hiking in Ruidoso.
Albuquerque and Santa Fe were our destinations this year and I wanted to stop at as many roadside attractions as possible. In reality, we didn’t stop as often as I anticipated. I had a grand plan to map out everything, but the beginning of summer break had us busy with day long projects for two weeks straight. Not much time for planning. As I got lost in the depths of Pinterest and the web, I decided we’d play it by ear. I started my sightseeing list, asked the kids to do their own research and give me suggestions (they didn’t), and quickly realized we’d need more than three days to do everything. Plan B: do what we can with the time we have.
We stayed at a beautiful home in Albuquerque via Vrbo. We bought enough groceries to prepare breakfast and dinner. When we arrived, I almost didn’t want to leave the house. I spent the mornings on the front porch of the courtyard sipping my coffee while watching hummingbirds and other birds I couldn’t identify stop by the fountain for their morning sips of water. My mom joined me and we took our time catching up. It had been almost a year since I’d seen her.
In Santa Fe, we went to Meow Wolf, the immersive art exhibit in a remodeled bowling alley. The kids ditched us. We went on our own and had a great time anyway. Parents with younger kids wrangled and steered them in the direction they needed to go. Some hollered at them to figure out where they had wandered off–there are lots of nooks, crannies, and secret passages. I don’t miss those days. But here I am, without my own kids. I didn’t experience their wonder or joy, but they did show me their pictures. Sigh…
We headed out for lunch then for some shopping. Even if they’re older, they still get tired. I didn’t get to pop in to as many shops as I would’ve liked. They aren’t much into shopping unless it’s for candy or ice cream. Kids have a way of telling you things without telling you things. It was hot and they were done with the walking even though they’d been fed. It doesn’t stop at toddlerhood.
We spent the following day in Albuquerque. The oldest didn’t want to join us and I didn’t prod. This is probably our last full-family road trip. Heading back to Texas, we stopped at a large souvenir shop I remember from my own last full-family road trip to Las Vegas before my senior year of high school. It’s funny, no matter how old the kids get, there’s still the allure of filling up a little bag of polished rocks. Although they had their own spending money, I bought them both said little bags full of rocks, the youngest correcting me, “They’re crystals, Mom, not rocks.”
As we got back onto the highway, my mom announced she bought me a little something. I turned around and she handed me a small plastic rectangle. I flipped it over and discovered my name printed on it. I squealed like a twelve year old on a road trip. There’s still the allure of getting a little license plate souvenir keychain with your name on it, no matter how old you get.
When I was in high school I frequently baked. I grew up in a tiny town. There wasn’t much to do or anywhere to go, so I baked. Plus, my grandfather’s sweet tooth needed sustenance. My husband takes over in the kitchen, usually. By the time I get around to baking something, he’s already beat me to it. Last week, my daughter turned 12. I asked if she wanted me to bake a cake for her and she declined. There’s a strawberry cake from our grocery store’s bakery she enjoys and that’s what she requested. I didn’t try to convince her otherwise. We celebrated her day with an HEB strawberry cake topped with strawberries and white chocolate curls.
Three days after her birthday, we get to celebrate Father’s Day. I have a track record for important events catching up to me and I’m scrambling to get everything ready on time. Why break tradition? I spent most of Friday with said twelve year old watching too many shows on Disney, but hey, summer break.
Saturday morning, I realize I have nothing for Father’s Day. Sure, the kids need to do their part, but I’m the one who has been organizing the celebration since I birthed them.
This year will be different and I’ll be ready. Nope. It hit me head-on.
I planned to have a gift ready and to bake a cake my husband would flip over. I’m searching for the recipe on my phone in the cookware section of the grocery store. Thank goodness for phones. I found the ingredients and continued with my shopping. I didn’t buy a gift. There were a few tech items I planned to gift him, but he beat me to it. He broke the rule about buying something before a big holiday. Oh well. That’s how it goes. Always.
At around 9:00 that night, I start baking the cake. There’s some game he’s watching on TV. I pop in my earbuds and listen to my audiobook while I do my best to whip it up. I don’t mind baking, but cleaning up is the worst. I took a deep breath and got lost in my book while I beat the batter, put the pans in the oven, toasted coconut, and mixed up the frosting. The cakes didn’t stick to the pan-win! I had plenty of frosting-win! It fit perfectly on the cake stand I bought earlier this year-win!
I set it on the table, almost a full twelve hours before we’d cut into it. As time consuming as it was, for some reason it didn’t feel like such a chore. Maybe it was my lack of preparation that helped me power through rather than giving up and buying another strawberry cake. Maybe I felt I was secretly competing with him to make an over the top cake I knew he had never tasted. (This recipe is from my high school days and it’s only the second time I’ve made it.) Maybe I came to terms with rolling with the ebbs and flows of life to do the best I can.
Sunday afternoon, we cut thick slices of a coconut cake with cream cheese frosting. Sure enough, it wins the hubster over. We had a virtual tasting with my dad via Face Time. I missed my grandfather and imagined him sitting with us, me dishing out a double sized slice for him served with a piping hot cup of coffee. It’s been a while since I’ve baked cakes. I think they want to visit us more often.
*Get the recipe here.
The closest thing to summer camp I ever experienced was in the backyard, curled up-fetal position-in an aluminum arm chair screaming my head off when those horrid June bugs whirred around me and crashed into my arm or leg or forehead. It’s always the forehead because everything in the universe has a special attraction to it. My uncle bought sparklers a week before 4th of July and he’d light them for us. I was afraid of those too. I’m no dummy, I didn’t want to catch myself on fire. Lights, bugs, and fire weren’t my favorite things.
I did want to go to summer camp, though. It looked fun from the comfort of our couch on a hot summer day, flickering on the other side of the TV screen. Pile up in a bus with friends, lug around a ton of luggage (don’t forget the swimsuit), and wave the parents goodbye for a week or two of bunkmates in a rustic cabin with plenty of outdoor activities. Of course, they never show the mosquitos, and you can’t smell the bug spray. It looked fun though.
My sister and I had healthy imaginations and a knack for re-creating and staging things we missed out on. Especially during summer breaks. Long summer days at Nana and Papa’s were the norm while my parents worked. Occasionally, my dad “watched” us while Mom worked twelve hour shifts sewing the pockets onto Levi’s jeans or inspecting the denim to make them. I don’t recall where Mom worked that summer, but we did experience our own little camp. Once. Under the bed.
I took my first-born role seriously and coordinated a real camp-out complete with a campfire. One of my cousins was with us that day, so the three of us grabbed a flashlight, matches, and my mom’s votive candles. Mom’s bed was high off the floor so we easily fit underneath. The bedspread hung down low enough to conceal us. We had the perfect tent. On our tummies, we prepared our camp to tell ghost stories.
I arranged the candles in the middle and lit them. We sang goofy songs and started telling ghost stories, made up on the fly. The candles flickered and went out. Strike, no light. Strike, no light. Strike, no light. We used all the matches to no avail. Without a campfire, we can’t tell good ghost stories. I remembered watching my mom when she cooked and a burner didn’t cooperate. She’d rip up a brown paper grocery bag, twist a strip, and light it with another burner. Then she’d turn the faulty burner back on, the gas flow would pick it up and voilà, it’s on.
Aha, I can do that! We wriggled out from underneath the bed and I retrieved a paper bag. Mimicking the procedure, I handed my sister hold the lit up “match stick” and bring it into the bedroom while I scrambled for a candle. The flame quickly made its way down and before we could light the candle, it found her finger instead. “Oww!” She didn’t quite know what to do as the flame grew and there was no time for the candle. I grabbed her arm and led her to the kitchen sink. “Throw it in!” I ran the cold water, doused the flame and put her finger under it. I went to the fridge and took out the tub of margarine and doctored the burn slathering some onto her finger, another kitchen observation.
I returned to the sink to make sure the flame was completely out. There wasn’t much left of the singed paper bag strip. I was relieved the flame didn’t get worse. It didn’t occur to me that we shouldn’t light candles under the bed either, but hey, we wanted to go camping. We crawled under the bed to try again, but it wasn’t the same. Camping mood extinguished, we didn’t continue with the ghost stories either. Putting the candles back, we left no evidence of our outdoor adventure. Dad didn’t suspect a thing.