Giftology 101

On Friday, my husband “retired” from his full-time job. The plan was to decorate the dining room, bake a coconut cake, and set up a golf outing with his friends. That was the plan. Plans don’t work well for me. Somehow, the day slipped away.

I reminded him to let me know when he would leave the office. 3:00. With traffic, that meant I’d have plenty of time to have everything ready by 4:00, even with a scheduled kid pick up from school. If he left the office at 3:00, I figured he’d be home by 4:00 at the earliest, 5:30 at the latest. I went about my day. Noon came and went and by 1:00, I get a message: “I’m on my way! They took me to lunch and said for me to go home afterward.”

Screech! Change of plans. No homemade coconut cake. Rush to the grocery store. Order balloons. Choose a cake from there. Pick out a card. No time for getting a tee time arranged with so many different possible dates and schedules. We’ll order take-out for dinner. Forget the decorated dining table. The house was still a mess.

I arrived from the grocery store, a small boxed cake in one hand, a six pack of Coronas and strands of balloons trailing behind me in the other, relieved the card sitting on top of the box didn’t blow away. I tapped the front door with my foot, asking to be let in. His parting gifts and greeting cards from work welcomed me instead.

“Congratulations!”

I set everything on the table, trying not to let my tardiness bother me. “You got me balloons. And beer. Thank you.” It didn’t seem to bother him. He showed me the goods, pulling out one of the cards. The same exact card I selected. Out of 500 cards, I chose the same one his office staff did. And how is it I can’t match winning lottery ticket numbers?

I revealed the golf outing gift, but let him know he’s in charge of finalizing arrangements. Tee times weren’t available as far out as I had planned to schedule one. We’d have takeout for dinner with a grocery store bakery cake for dessert. It turned out well. Not how I planned, but a celebration was had.

No matter how hard I try, somehow celebrations creep up on me. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Baby showers. Retirements. Mother’s Day. Oh, Mother’s Day. That’s on Sunday. This Sunday. I’ll add that to a pile of gifts yet to be purchased. The harder I try, the worse it gets. I eventually send gifts, no matter how late they may be. No one has yet to decline one.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Senior Skip Day

April 20, 2021

My sister’s impromptu and welcome visit this weekend prompted a backyard hangout around the fire pit. Defaulting to high school memories, we discussed skipping school. Rule follower here, mostly. Classic first-born people pleaser characteristics. I wore my responsibility with honor, like a Hogwarts prefect. Except that I grew up in a small town where everyone can easily find out your business.

The first time I ever skipped school was the spring semester of my senior year. I think it was the first time I was absent since my bout with chicken pox when I was in kindergarten. Starting with first grade, I was in the running for the Lifetime (Sort of) Achievement Award for perfect attendance, the most embarrassing award I received at the end of every year. After that first absence, I went to school sick. No one sent me home because I learned to deal with discomfort. Boxes of Luden’s cherry cough drops were staples in my backpack. Halls eventually took over and Chloraspetic throat spray tamed my raw sore throats during winter months.

When most cool kids planned to skip school, they took off out of town. There wasn’t anything to do, so unless there was a plan to hide out in someone’s home and run the risk of being seen driving around during the school day, most kids drove an hour to the nearest big “city.” We heard about mall adventures, proved with matching Guess t-shirts or sunglasses or earrings. First, it must have been nice to have a car to leave town. Followed by knowing how to get to the mall without an adult. And having money to shop for matching Guess shirts.

One day, when my mom asked if I wanted to go shopping, I wasn’t sure what she meant. We usually ran errands on weekends. It’s mid-week. She said we’d go shopping. I didn’t think much of it until she added the part about missing school. Being a responsible mini-adult, I asked about missing class, making up class work, and returning to school. She assured me she’d write a note to excuse the absence.

We took off on our excursion with Uncle Danny tagging along. Uncle Danny was the best shopping partner. He still is. I wasn’t with friends, but we wound up at the mall. We hit the mega-clearance aisles and I wound up with two prom dresses. A bit guilty about getting two, my mom mentioned the other one could be saved for my sister the following year. They were such a good deal, she didn’t want to miss the opportunity to save major cash on another prom dress.

We ate out at a real restaurant. Took our time. Ran a few errands and headed back home by late afternoon.

The following morning, Mom wrote a note. I opened it and re-read it several times before I made my way to the office. There it was, her note, explaining that I was absent from school because I had a cold. I was nervous turning it in because I clearly had no signs of a cold. I mean, when I did have a cold, I reeked of cherry cough drops. I gave it to the secretary. My stomach churned. They took my note and I lingered as if waiting to be reprimanded. Surely they could see my lie. Or rather, my mom’s little made up story of a cold-less cold.

“Okay, get to class.”

That was it? I went back to class. It was so, easy. And I only had a few months left to do it again. Only I didn’t do it again.

I don’t remember having my classwork pile up on me. I don’t remember anyone making a big deal out my absence. I picked up where I left off. I couldn’t even skip school, the right way, but I did it. And it was one of my favorite days. My induction into adulthood.

The Beginning of the End

Of Another Year

I sent S. back to school in January
the same day I ordered E's cap and gown
for high school graduation
The beginning of the end 
to the first year of middle school
the beginning of the end 
to the last year of high school

E's spring orchestra concert
that was cancelled twice
once for COVID
once for an ice storm
Is that the last time we'll watch him perform?

End of the year contemplation starts in April
not December
Calendars don't go in order around here
The beginning of the end of another school year
Did I do everything that needed to be done?
Is there anything I'm still missing?

Releasing E into the world, even though
he'll still be home for a while
the distance he's created to hang out
with friends one last time brings
the beginning of the end to his dependence
on us

S. turns 12 in June
The beginning of the end of 'tweenhood
We baked a cake on Sunday
at her request for us to spend time together
She cut the last slice in half for us to share
The beginning of endings continue


SOLSC Day 30

A My Name is…

SOLSC Day 29

not Alice in Wonderland. I wasn’t anywhere near Wonderland. I lived in a rural dusty Texas panhandle town where the surrounding towns were named for the (plain) landscape. Where I’d walk home from school on a windy spring day, rushing to rinse the grit out of my mouth and rubbing the stinging dirt out of my eyes.

not Alicia. My dad explained years later why he and my mom decided on Alice, not Alicia. “We live in the United States, so you’ll have an English name,” he once told me. Funny, though, he refers to me as Alicia. My grandparents, who only spoke Spanish, called me Al-ees, the best they could do to pronounce my name in English. Go figure.

not Ali, or Ally, or Allison, or Alicia. Just Alice. No middle name. I hated not having a middle name. Among my friends I was a freak of nature. I wanted my parents to holler at me with a first, middle, and last name. I wanted to “go by” a middle name. None of us got one. One sister gave herself a middle initial, J. She put it everywhere, including the little bubble on standardized test forms.

“But what’s it stand for?” I once asked.

“I don’t know, I just like it.” It did look cool. I envied her bravery for writing it in. No one ever questioned her.

I always considered my name sounded too old for me. I didn’t have to share my name with anyone in class. Ever. I still don’t.

My last name caused confusion for everyone. I never had a teacher who was able to pronounce it even though I’d tutor them on it multiple times. I eventually gave up. It’s not hard, every letter corresponds to the sound it makes. I mean, you’re a teacher, shouldn’t you be able to pronounce it? A-l-m-a-r-a-z, Almaraz, ahhhl-ma-rah-z (roll the r)…not Alamaraz. Or Alvarez. Or Almraz. Or Almendariz. Or Almarez, although that’s the best anyone could ever do. I still don’t understand why it’s so hard.

I have many names now. My husband calls me SP, short for Sweetie Poo from The Little Rascals movie we watched years ago. Alfalfa declares his love for Darla claiming “There’s no one else like you, Sweetie Poo!’ I look nothing like Darla and my husband looks nothing like Alfalfa, but somehow it stuck.

My sisters started calling me Ally because I became obsessed with the TV show Ally McBeal. They added Cat, so I’ve become Ally Cat, and now, mostly Cat. I’m a dog person. My nieces and nephews call me Kit Cat or Kitty Cat. They sound adorable so that’s who I am. At this point in my life it doesn’t bother me.

My names change with the setting, sometimes like the Texas weather. SP or Mom at home. Garza with my best friends and co-workers. Ally, Cat, or Kit-Cat with my siblings and their kids. Alice or Alicia with aunts, uncles, and cousins. Mom and Mother! with my kids. Mrs. Garza with students. I’ve adjusted to them and wear them all.

If I were to rename myself though, it would be Alicia Margarita Almaraz-Garza, because margarita is my signature color. And beverage.

Truth or Dare Family Style

SOLSC Day 27

“Let’s play Truth or Dare!”

“We’re about to eat dinner.”

“So?” Of course, it’s so because she’s eleven and we’re constantly cat-fighting like good mothers and daughters do when they’re both raging with hormones.

“Okay, I’ll play.”

“Truth or dare?”

“Truth.”

“Tell the truth. Would you ever choose a dare?”

With an eye roll she couldn’t see, “Well, maybe. I’m not the adventurous type. But I’m also here at home, playing with you so it depends on who’s playing. And I’m not in middle school either so it’s not going to feel the same.”

“Truth or dare?”

“Dare.”

“I dare you to give Dad a hug.”

“A hug? That’s the dare? You want me to give Dad a hug?”

“You chose the dare so now you have to do it!”

I walk over to my husband who is assembling his chalupa and give him a side hug. One of those we’ve been married for years let’s not drop our dinner plates hugs.

“There, done. Why did you choose that? It’s not a very daring dare.”

“I don’t see you hug each other. I just want to make sure.”

Left Behind

SOLSC Day 21

TASTES LIKE HEAVEN, BURNS LIKE HELL

Fireball Whisky

My parents visited for spring break. They left this morning and what remains is Sunday. An I-will-not-get-the-Sunday-blues type of Sunday. We cleaned up last week. The yard is in good shape. The house is free of piled up messes typically saved for weekends because we’ve been home, work free, school free, worry free. We finish off homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast courtesy of my husband. We check rooms, the pantry, the fridge, wall outlets, my car, the back porch, closets and bathrooms to make sure everything is packed. We stand in a prayer circle, holding hands, reflecting on time well spent and petitions for a safe trip home. They pull out of the driveway. Standing on the porch in our pajamas, the still cold March morning chills our bare feet. We wave our last goodbyes.

Back in the house, I set out to get myself dressed for church. On the counter, next to my sink, I find a small plastic bottle topped with a red cap, the front label peeled off. Hmm… Dad probably left this, whatever it is. Mouthwash? Aftershave? Definitely not Mom’s because whatever she owns lives in pastel bottles with shimmery letters. I rotate the bottle and read the label:

I chuckle. I process five thoughts: 1) Dad found it on a run. He hates throwing anything away. He brought it back and meant to give it to me in case I’d drink it later. Except I don’t drink whisky. And I certainly wouldn’t drink that one. 2) For whatever reason, Dad slaps it on as aftershave. I mean, do people do that? 3) It’s Dad’s mouthwash. And he takes a tiny swig. But he doesn’t drink, so that’s odd. 4) Maybe he does drink a little swig with his morning shave. 5) He’s reusing a bottle he found somewhere and put mouthwash in it because he didn’t want to buy a travel sized bottle of mouthwash. Plausible.

Knowing it’s not something worth turning around to retrieve, I message Mom, just to see which of my thoughts is close.

Is this Dad’s?

Throw it a way. I think it’s alcohol.

It is. Fireball Whisky.

Does he take a swig every morning?

Or does he use it as aftershave?

He couldn’t have found it on a run,

it would’ve been empty. 😂

No he uses it after he shaves.

LOL! That’s what I thought.

Confirmed. I burst out laughing. He scratched the devil off the front. But why would he go out of his way to get a small bottle of Fireball instead of regular aftershave? Maybe he does take a little swig.

Takeout Mishaps

SOLSC Day 10

I’m nervous. We have one of those busy-ish evenings. Prescription glasses are ready to be picked up before the office closes for the day, but they need to be picked up today for tonight’s orchestra concert. The concert doesn’t begin until 8:00 tonight. Between the glasses, dinner, travel time, getting ready, and arriving on time, it’s takeout night.

Usually it’s a treat. Lately, it’s been a disaster. It happens when I’m hangry. There are days when I skip breakfast, pack a sad little lunch, stay late for a staff meeting, and I’m ravenous when I get home. Takeout sounds like a great idea. I place my order. Everyone else makes their requests and off they go to retrieve the goods. I’m guzzling water to fill me up because if I start snacking to hold me over, I’ll eat too much.

Staying home to get started on household duties that pile up during my day’s absence, my husband volunteers to pick up our order. One night, I order a fancy salad and add a chicken breast for a more filling, yet light dinner. We unpack our food. The chicken is missing. I check the receipt. Sure enough, not ordered. I calm myself down using the strategies we use with kindergartners because I’m about to flat out wail. I find a chunk of chicken in the fridge, add it to my fancy salad, and devour my meal.

On another occasion, I order a burger from one of our favorite burger joint. We have ingredients for burgers, but we have to thaw meat. We’re not feeling the cooking tonight. The restaurant is less than ten minutes from our home. Picky eaters beget odd orders, especially for burgers. I order mine with mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, no onions, add cheese and go ahead and add fries. I’m splurging today. We order with time to get it home in less than half an hour. No need for extra water or snacks.

However, it’s already 6:30. We ordered at 6:00. We should be eating by now. 7:00. Nothing. Hmmm…I message my husband. No response. 7:30. No food, voicemail kicks on. I could’ve already defrosted the meat, made the patties, cooked them, peeled the potatoes and made home-fries. I start snacking, just a little. He’ll be here any minute. 8:00. Another call, still no answer. I’m getting a little worried. 8:20. The delivery arrives, finally. There was a wreck. Okay, I get it, but it was that bad? I didn’t even hear sirens.

We unpack our food. Order number one: burger, plain, with fries. Check. Order number two: chicken sandwich, no pickles, no mayo, fries on the side. Check. Order number three: burger, everything on it, add jalapeños and an order of chilli cheese fries. Check. I’m salivating by now. My stomach rumbles. I can eat through the wrappers. Order number four: burger, dry, lettuce. Fries are missing. That’s it. Forget calming strategies, I implode.

Here I am an adult mom modeling behavior about how to handle not getting her way. “You will go back and get the right order, I’m so tired of this!” I put the brakes on though. Positive energy in (inhale), negative energy out (exhale). Check the receipt. All of the orders were correct. Of course. I went to the fridge, retrieved a block of cheese, found the mustard, and reassembled my burger after I reheating it. My kids share their fries. Two fries from each of them. After I chomped down my dinner, I asked why it took so long.

The burgers were ordered at the location 30 miles away. The wreck was in that direction, nowhere close to where we live. During rush hour.

Let’s order a family pack of tacos and add on the flautas. It’s Chuy’s night this week. Last time we had plenty of food plus extra for decent leftovers. Six taco shells, meat, rice, beans, queso, chips, plenty of jalapeño ranch, salsa, a dozen flautas…I’ll make my own margaritas. This is a great deal and we don’t have to special order anything other than adding the flautas.

Once again, hangry. We order. We unpack our food. Five taco shells instead of six. No flautas. Check the receipt. It’s correct, but we didn’t get our flautas. My husband calls, sorts out the order and goes back for them. I’m on my second margarita. I start with the chips and jalapeño ranch. I stuff myself until the flautas arrive. We serve ourselves cold tacos and warm flautas.

It’s takeout tonight. Again. Check everything before you leave. Unpack all of the food in the car. Check the receipt.

I’m waiting. We had a staff meeting today. Two more hours until the concert starts. I had a sad little lunch. My stomach rumbles.

I’ll get some water.

What Are We Watching Tonight?

Image by Szabolcs Molnar from Pixabay

I think we’re spending too many movie nights together. Over the years, I stopped watching TV in favor of trying to finish reading social media posts. That’s how I read them, as if I’ll get to the end. When I get tired of that, I read books, magazines, junk mail. A few years ago, after my oldest started watching Stranger Things, I started watching it with him. I promised the youngest could start watching it after turning eleven this past June.

Enter Disney Plus. We got a free trial, the Mandalorian sucked us in, and we’ve had it ever since. And then quarantine started. The kids suggested we have family movie nights every Friday night. Usually, I fall asleep halfway through any movie, so they wouldn’t invite me often. The kids wanted me to watch The Mandalorian with them from the beginning, but the way it was done “a long time ago” with one episode per week. I think they expected me to binge-watch. I reminded them I’m a product of the 80s, not only with the stamina to wait an entire week before the next show, but with the ability to watch commercials in between. So we got started, one show per week.

We finished the series. S. suggested we watch all of the Harry Potter movies since she was reading the books. The next eight weeks we lived and breathed Harry Potter. During the day, S. read aloud to me using her best British accent. Friday nights, they got junk food from the QT mart (without me rolling my eyes) and we watched the next movie in the queue.

The eleventh birthday arrived. That evening, even though it wasn’t a Friday, we started Stranger Things. We watched all three seasons and I enjoyed our weekly evening family flick dates. School started soon after so we chose a different movie every Friday after dinner. Without our “assigned” watching schedule, there was mutiny. Some movies we couldn’t watch because S. is eleven. I had to explain to the hubster, several times, why it wasn’t okay for her to watch Forrest Gump. “But it’s a great movie!” he exclaimed.

He started watched it on his own and realized it wasn’t appropriate. Eventually we argued about who should choose the movie. We argued about the bore factor, fun factor, lame factor, and sometimes the rating factor. By the time we settled on something, all the snacks were gone, everyone was exhausted, and yes, I fell asleep halfway through. Old times.

We agreed to each choose five family friendly movies and write them on slips of paper. One slip comes out every Friday night and no one can complain about it. The slips went into a jar. S cheated. All of her movie choices were folded in half. The others were not. The first movie selected was hers. Busted!

I dumped out all the slips, turned my computer on, and pulled up the handy dandy Wheel of Names. I entered all of the movies and took it for a spin. Done and done. No complaining. No cheating. The wheel chooses for us. I should’ve done my homework on my list. The Social Network isn’t appropriate for an eleven year old. And then we had to figure out what to do in case of a dud.

Sigh…it would be nice to argue over a family friendly movie to watch at a real movie theater.

Air Fried Marshmallows

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.

We Eat Here, Too

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.