Morning routine

finds us dodging each other
bumping almost shoulder to shoulder
stepping over a wet towel 
or bunched up pajamas
if it's a bad morning,
we'll argue
if it's a good morning,
we'll argue a little less
"clean up the toothpaste worms from the sink"
I remind her 
for the hundredth time
"I KNOW!"
she snatches the brush 
before I can get to it
so I plug in the hair dryer instead
I decide to let the exasperation 
and tone roll off
not. worth. it.
I wear my thick-skinned fur coat
24/7
grit my teeth, 
breathe in, 
breathe out
and carry on 
with my morning
"this eye looks good
 but why is this eye 
just NOT working?!"
a white washcloth smudges off
a crooked layer of eyeliner
along with a few tears
she doesn't want me to see
I lean in, mascara wand
trying to make some magic
happen for my own eyes
I don't have time 
to smudge it off
"how? how can you 
put on mascara
without opening your mouth?"
I continue applying my face
she continues applying hers,
sneaking a glance at my 
expertise
with a mascara wand
"I've been doing this longer 
than you've been alive"
she leans in with her own wand
mouth wide open
satisfied,
she steps back 
I look at our reflection
and try not to think
about the days
I braided her hair
in front of this mirror
and she'd want to help
with my makeup
Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Navigating the Kitchen

Sunday, March 27, 2022

When you get there, go to the right. It’s in the back on the right. Second shelf. Behind the French onion dip, stacked on top of the leftover rice. Blank stare. Right, left, turn around? Top? Bottom? Confusion ensues. It’s in there, it won’t jump out at you. You have to search for it. Even more confusion. If it isn’t in front, why is there such apprehension to move something out of the way? I clean out the fridge every Sunday, so there’s nothing that has grown fuzzy enough to grow teeth and bite.

Okay, let’s try this: Find the milk. Go south. Stop. Too far. Go north a shelf. Now go east. Move that container, bingo! You found the queso!

Is it me or do other people have to help someone navigate the fridge or pantry? Google Fridge Maps should be a thing.

Thunderstorm

Monday, March 21, 2022

Spring’s second day brings a storm. Just like that, didn’t even have time to completely let it in. I rush out the door, vowing to squeeze in a quick walk before the rain comes down. If it decides not to stand us up. The air is heavy and thick with humidity, the scent of rain wafts around me. I remember when I’d run away from storms, and now I’m walking out the door to possibly meet one.

I’m listening to my audiobook, but thunder rumbles and growls, distracting me from the story. No point in trying to listen. Large storm filled raindrops plop ahead of me. I quicken my pace. I can probably make it home without getting drenched. My husband, always a storm tracker, but not never a storm chaser sends me a message. “I’m near the Little Free Library, not too far,” I reply. “There’s lightning, I’m coming to get you.”

So much for my walk, I’ll do some yoga later. My husband paces from one room to another, phone in hand, like an expectant father waiting for the sky to deliver. Sure enough, sheets of heavy rain start coming down, the wind picking up and slamming the windows wet. I sit down to write, I’m feeling a poem today. About the weather.

The rain has stopped, and the sun stands tall, saluting as the rain exits. I notice, but work with words stirring up in my head, until…

“At around 6:01 pm the national weather service reported a tornado on the ground near Jarrell…” my husband reads from his phone.

I keep writing.

He continues, “A confirmed tornado was reported over the I-35 flyover…” Not far from where my son works.

“He probably didn’t even notice,” I mumble.

“Call him to see if he’s okay.”

“I’m writing, you have your phone in your hand, you call him.”

He didn’t say it, but he was planning to go back to the radar that lives on his phone. He calls to check. “Are you okay?”

Nope, he didn’t, notice. Just a gust of wind and loss of power. Going home early.

We watch the news replay. It was right there. Close call, too close. It went right over his building.

“Are we going to die? We should totally go coffin shopping. I want my coffin to be long, the taller the coffin, the taller people think you are,” ‘tween interjects.

And, as quickly as those sheets of rain came down, the sun came out, and the storm went by, my words disappeared with them.

Two Minutes Ago

The 'tween is helping with dinner
burgers
Hubster is cooking
I'm playing with a craft project
Clean-up is mine for tonight
A chunk of lettuce flies from
'tween's  hands
and the discussion quickly goes to
the three second rule
"I didn't see that"
I say,
"It's okay," 'tween says
"the wet pieces may or may not 
have been on the floor,
it's not like someone's feet were there
and we don't talk about Bruno..."
Noooo! not that song again!
I've had some bubbly today,
I don't care
dinner is cooked
it's spring break
I had friend time this afternoon
I'll skip the lettuce 
It's still spring break
and I'm trying not to care
too much
Life goes on
with or without lettuce
on a burger
Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Off Kilter

The time change.

Two day getaway.

Spring break.

Breakfast turned brunch, in captions.

A favorite breakfast spot in San Antonio, Tx, but get there early. We didn’t.
We waited.
And waited.
And waited. A bored ‘tween is an inventive ‘tween. We stopped playing after I was the first to win. Of course.

Then we ate brunch and all is good in the world.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Twosday Slice

Tuesday, 2/22/2022

I know, everyone is “celebrating” this once in a lifetime palindrome of a day. And I like palindromes, so much so I was fascinated with one of the characters in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, who spoke in palindromes. The character, one of the daughters in the story (her name escapes me-it’s been years since I’ve read it), renames Emily Dickinson no snikcidy lime, one of my favorite poets.

I found myself trying to make sense of today’s oddity. I like oddities. We tend to find each other frequently and sometimes, people find me, odd. Never mind them. It doesn’t bother me. Usually.

I had to walk back into the house twice this morning for forgotten items. My watch, oh grand teller of time. And my H20.

At work, we started day one of a two day testing session, the bane of my existence. No matter how far removed you are from the classroom, you still manage to get suckered in for testing.

During lunch, I messaged my husband and suggested we do something to celebrate. Maybe a dessert. Maybe something out of the ordinary for a weekday with the kids, but what, I wasn’t sure.

Later, I got a message. My husband and my nineteen year old suggested we go out for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Dos Salsas, where two different salsas accompany your chips before your meal. To top it off, it’s also National Margarita Day. Margarita is my signature color and if I were to choose a middle name (my parents didn’t give me one), it would be Margarita. Why the heck not, I’ll have a margarita today, three days before the weekend officially starts.

No one complained about the choice of restaurant. We didn’t argue about the possibility of sharing oversized meals and this time I ordered what I wanted without thinking twice about adding a margarita. I didn’t balk at a shared dessert of fried ice cream-we rarely order dessert. The kids didn’t fight over the last bite of it either. We all got along and genuinely enjoyed our meal together.

And that’s the point. Being together. This felt like the first normal restaurant meal we’ve had in two years. We’ve been back, but someone always stayed home, and usually for pandemic reasons. I know we’re not “back to normal” yet, if that’s even a possibility, but it felt like we were all back today. 2/22/22. Two years (mostly) later. Two long, hard, bitter years.

Do we always do this? No. Have our dinners always turned out this way B.C.-Before Covid? No. But it sure did feel good to have my family back for a few hours. It’s giving me hope that we’re at a place where we can move forward and take all the things that got thrown at all of us and actually process them. For us adults, we had to put on our business as usual attire for the sake of our kids. But I think it’s important for them to know that it was far from business as usual.

I think today is a perfect day to use as a turning point. We can fully come out of where we have been and reflect on everything we’ve learned. We can share our gratitude about how it wasn’t worse even though it got rough. We can show how much we’ve changed and how much we’ve stayed the same.

Dos Salsas is still there. Mom still likes a good margarita. It’s okay not to split a meal, but totally okay to order dessert. Celebrate odd days such as these because they only come around once in a lifetime.

We only come around once in a lifetime.

I Got the Mystery Ticket!

No, I don’t have one, but I sure did hear Charlie Bucket singing about his golden ticket as soon as my son surprised me with a chocolate bar when I came home. A chocolate bar is always good, but one with a mystery ticket…

a popular social media influencer by the name of MrBeast launched chocolate bar products recently. Four of the said bars were procured by a young man-child, Mr. Garza, in a world-wide mission to win a non-Willy Wonka mystery ticket, but certainly inspired by Mr. Wonka’s Golden Ticket (original concept by Roald Dahl). 21st century mystery tickets are not wrapped around a chocolate bar and tucked inside of a wrapper, but accessed via QR code. Enter the special code and “spin to win” a chance for one of these fabulous prizes: Visit Feastables.com for more details

I’ll take chocolate any time. My son fills me in on possibilities, “1,000,000 in prizes and offers,” one being to compete in a video to win the chocolate factory. A Tesla, earbuds, a Beast Burger. I tap into my inner twelve year old and think of the possibilities. If I won the chocolate factory, I’d manufacture book shaped chocolate, educators get it free any time. And it wouldn’t be one of those BOGO deals we get during teacher appreciation week either. If I win the Tesla…heck, I’d be happy with a free burger.

I turn the chocolate bar and look at the little corner that instructs me to peel the label concealing the code, which will be entered onto a website with algorithmic robots controling my million dollar destiny. Or that with the value of a burger. Most likely the value of the chocolate bar. I still haven’t “played” the game. I’m wondering if the code is a distraction and there really is a golden ticket wrapped around the bar inside of the wrapper. It certainly isn’t too late for dessert.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Sport & Shave Ken and Hot Dogs

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Christmas morning dropped a fresh male onto the Barbie dating scene when one sister scored endless Barbie dates with Ken. And not any Ken. Sport and Shave Ken was handsome and he required grooming. He arrived from Santa, complete with a marker for a DIY beard, a razor, and a small container to hold water for the tiny razor. We scribbled a beard all over Ken’s face, even where real facial hair wouldn’t grow and hey, why not try his chest while we’re at it? Sis, the gift recipient of honor got first dibs on shaving him. Sure enough, the water was all that was needed to shave that facial and chest hair off his body. We slapped him with imaginary Aqua Velva and set him aside for a nap.

All of the Barbies we renamed Barbie Linda, Barbie Susan, and Barbie Cindy scrambled to get ready for their dates. Kissing Barbie Linda wore her best chiffon gown, complete with lip prints. Peaches and Cream Barbie Susan wore her flouncy pale peach colored gown, and Loving You Barbie Cindy chose a gown with red velvet hearts. Ken would arrive soon and choose his favorite. This was way before The Bachelor, but boy, were we onto something.

We fussed over getting the girls ready. Which would be the lucky one? The plan was for Ken to arrive to a non-existent Barbie house in a non-existent convertible to go to dinner at a non-existent fancy restaurant. We decided Kissing Barbie would be the selected One since she already owned a stampable lipstick made just for her, complete with a puckering kissing sound at the press of a handy-dandy button built into her back, right between her shoulder blades. Such a perfect power couple, shaveable Ken and Kissing Barbie Linda that already knows how to kiss. What could go wrong?

A little brother, that’s what.

While we chose outfits and planned conversations to go with a handsome date, somehow, Ken disappeared. So engrossed in the details of a glamorous evening, we didn’t think anything of Ken taking a nap that lasted a little…too…long.

Mom, doing Mom things, walked into the kitchen and started yelling. “What are you doing?” We weren’t doing anything other than getting the girls ready for a date, why all the commotion? Until we realized she wasn’t speaking to us. Cold winters meant the burners on the gas stove blared on high in the kitchen and the table was our favorite play space. This Christmas was a cold one, not surprisingly.

She ran to the stove, turned off the burner, grabbed something from my brother, the flames rising high, threw it in the sink, and turned the water on full blast. “Didn’t you smell that?”

Umm…”No.”

“What were you thinking?”

Umm…Ken and Kissing Barbie are going on a date. We stared, speechless. Was it really Ken or was it a hot dog?

“Why weren’t you watching him?”

Umm… “We were watching him. We shaved his face and chest. He took a nap to get ready for his date.”

Not THAT, HIM!” Mom pointed to where my brother was right before he ran away. “He could’ve set the house on fire!

What in the world did she speak of? We only planned to get the girls ready for a date with Ken. He was clean shaven and ready to go. Kissing Barbie Linda was the lucky one, why would the house catch on fire?

Sis looked around. We all looked around. Then we smelled it. Melted plastic. Ken, not a hot dog. In the sink. Doused with water. We retrieved him, his slacks dripping with water. His hair, singed and stuck to his scalp. A shiny blackened face tried to greet us as we attempted to wipe off sticky charred marks off his cheeks. Let’s try the razor. We can shave it off. Nope, didn’t work. We washed and scrubbed and rinsed poor Ken to no avail. Barbie Linda, Barbie Susan, and Barbie Cindy, were stood up through no fault of their own. Not because they weren’t pretty or dressed up or lacked confidence, but because poor Ken was burnt to a crisp.

Sigh. After some tears, the date continued with a non-existent Ken, driving up in a non-existent convertible, to a non-existent Barbie house, to have dinner at a non-existent restaurant. Except there was room for Barbie Linda, Barbie Susan, and Barbie Cindy. Plus plenty of air kisses sent to whomever would take them with multiple presses of Kissing Barbie Linda’s shoulder blades. Love hurts.

Merry Peeksmas!

I’m a first born. Responsible. But sneaky. My brain likes things that are precise, exact, perfect. Or close to it.

Being in charge of younger siblings while my parents worked, we had a lot of free time on our hands without someone constantly watching us. By the time I was in high school, I met the qualifications-whatever those were-to make sure everyone was looked after for a few hours after school and chunks of time on weekends while one parent made their way home and the other left for work.

One December, I decided to rearrange gifts so they looked like what my sister and I liked to call “commercial” worthy-what you’d see on TV. Our packages didn’t have large puffy fabric bows, but foil bows you got in a bag of twenty for a dollar. Our imaginations filled the void. It was important for us count them. How dare anyone have more than me. Size mattered too. If one of us had a larger gift, what could it be?

At my age though, I figured out the size of the gift didn’t equate the amount of money spent on it. I also had not quite learned that gifts weren’t the real reason for the season. Gifts were THE reason for the season and I wanted to know what I had coming. Periodically, we’d all choose a gift, give it a shake, and take turns guessing what was tucked inside.

This year, I had gifts that didn’t make much sound. Too old for boxes with a heaviness that slid from one end to the other-some sort of toy. I knew who had Barbies, skinny boxes with skinny perfectly-figured blonds on tiptoes inside. I outgrew those, but still helped French braiding their hair when no one was looking. And narrating their dates with Ken because the younger ones just didn’t understand how it really worked. I started watching Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless during school breaks, so I knew a thing or two. Those soundless packages only meant what every teen girl wanted: clothes.

But which clothes? Jordache jeans? A Guess? shirt or sweater? What had I drooled over at the mall recently? It could be anything. But I need to know which one in particular. While the younger ones played, I nonchalantly took a package after having made a picture-perfect TV commercial worthy set-up. No adults were home. I was the next “adult” in line. Fourteen wasn’t too far from eighteen. The younger ones played or watched TV. With three other siblings in a small house, the bathroom was the only place for privacy.

I took a beautifully wrapped package, from my grandma, and headed off to do my business. I turned the fan on so everyone would know it would be while before I was done. I took the package and turned it over and over wondering where it was from. The wrapping was fancy, not the K-Mart paper that wrapped the other gifts. My uncle was behind this one. They asked for wrapping from the store that sold it or he spent a little too much on wrapping paper without my grandma knowing it. Either way, this was the one that intrigued me most.

I turned the box over and found the tape at the bottom. I started picking at it with my fingernail, carefully, like picking at a Band-Aid that’s stuck on too tight. Surprisingly, the tape easily peeled away from the paper without leaving a mark. I sucked in my breath. No on had banged on the door yet. Breathe…I flipped it to the other end to try the other side. The tape easily peeled off again.

Stuck, I had to decide what to do next. If I kept unwrapping the box, would I be able to put it back without anyone suspecting it had been opened? What if I couldn’t get it back the way I found it? You know how you open a box and the contents just don’t fit the way they were packaged? What would happen then? Do I stop here and wait a few days like I’m supposed to?

Supposed to. I was tired of that. I usually do what I’m supposed to do. I’m in theater, I can act like I’m surprised even if I know what’s in the box. No one will ever know.

I kept going.

I completely unwrapped the box, being careful to leave the tape attached. I found a plain white shirt box. We usually used old boxes from around the house to wrap gifts. This one came from not Wal-Mart or K-Mart. As I lifted the top, I discovered more tape. I needed to hurry because someone would need to use the bathroom soon. My heart pounded when I accidentally ripped part of the box. Dang! The tape stuck to the box more than it did to the paper. I’m the only one who would see the box during the unwrapping chaos of Christmas morning, so I continued.

After removing the lid, I discovered neat, white tissue paper gently enclosing the gift, adhered with a round gold seal. Whoa! Super fancy. I knew that would tear, so I lifted everything out and slipped out the gift from one end. I drew in a breath. A pink collarless, button down shirt with mid-length sleeves and a pocket on the left side seemed to smile at me. It even smelled fancy. I could wear it with…everything! I loved it! I silently shouted, jumped for joy, and imagined myself squishing my grandma in thanksgiving. No one was around to relish my joy, but a party of one was enough for me.

With the fan still going, I didn’t have much time. I now faced the task of reversing my actions: folding the shirt where it creased, slipping it back into the tissue, placing it in the box, re-taping the lid, and re-wrapping the gift. It went much more quickly this time, I didn’t have a choice. I calmed myself down, flushed the toilet and washed my hands, all the while grinning as I glanced at the box. I got a sneak peek at my gift. With a little more time, I could open them all, but not today.

I walked back to the living room with the gift behind my back. I side-stepped toward the tree and dropped it back into the pile. No one noticed. I went back to rearranging them again. I picked up one of the skinny boxes, my youngest sister’s name on it. I called her over. “Want to know what you got for Christmas?”

Family Recipe

People who have recipes passed down from generations have always fascinated me.

“I have my grandma’s tomato pie recipe.”

“This strawberry cake is from my great-great grandmother.”

“I baked this bread with my great aunt and she got the recipe from her aunt’s grandma’s cousin’s sister-in-law…”

I don’t have recipes like those.

Nana in the center, her niece, Ruth, on the left, and my great-grandmother, Welita, on the right.

Nana’s tortillas were measured with her hands: several scoops of flour, shortening-tantito así –just this much, a few sprinkles of salt and pinches of baking powder. Heating water on the stove, she’d dunk a finger to test the temperature, who needs a cooking thermometer for accuracy? It’s either too hot or too cold. Agua tibia, she’d instruct, even though it looked much hotter than warm, judging from the steam rising and the bubbles just starting to form along the inside of the pot. Pouring a stream of hot water into a small well in the mound of flour, her other hand worked it quickly into a dough. A little more, the dough started coming together. The final stream, just a tad, and the dough was smooth and ready.

She pulled apart small portions of dough and rolled them into balls, covered the green Tupperware mixing bowl with a dishcloth and continued with the rest of the meal. Carne guisada. Rice. Frijoles. No recipes for those, either. She just cooked and her tastebuds guided her.

There was no Martha Stewart or Pampered Chef tortilla rolling guide for her to roll out the balls of dough. She rolled them out, perfectly, with a smooth and well worn rolling pin Papá made from some repurposed tool. Probably the handle of a broken garden hoe. Each tortilla hung over the edge of the bowl awaiting its fate on the comal.

This was the best part. As she stacked warm tortillas and wrapped them in another dishcloth, we’d snag one and smear it with butter. Folding it in half or rolling it up, we’d take a careful bite, they’re hot! These were our appetizers. No fancy snack trays or crudités.

My mom tried to translate hand measured scoops and portions into measuring cups and spoons for us to use. Since she learned from Nana at a young age, she doesn’t use conventional measuring tools either. I’ve tried to make them as well with the guidance of other people’s recipes or the assistance of “just add water” mixes. They aren’t the same. We buy them from the grocery store bakery.

Some day I’ll stop long enough to give my patience a rest and pick up the art of homemade tortilla making. I just have to pull up my sleeves, heat up some water, and scoop out handfuls of flour into a bowl.

December 7, 2021