Road Trip 2020-Corona Style

“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.

It’s so hot!

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.

Tuesday, July 19, 2021

The Summer of Who Knows What

Years ago I started naming my summers as a declaration of my goals. I didn’t write them out in a fancy planner and vision boards weren’t a thing back then. Or maybe they were, but I didn’t know about them. Too busy with a toddler at the time.

The first one I remember was The Summer of Learning. I bought a guitar with the determination to continue plucking away at it throughout the summer. I hung out with kids at an after school enrichment class for students wanting to learn guitar. The choir teacher led it and welcomed me. Instead of signing up to teach an enrichment class, I joined one. I like to think I was modeling the love of learning something new. And hard. Summer break started and the guitar moved into my closet. It’s still there, awaiting new strings that haven’t been replaced. In years. I think it wants to play.

In the mornings, I sponsored kids who wanted to learn to knit and crochet. I knew how to make a basic chain, single, and double crochet stitches from my childhood. My mom taught me how to make these swirly worm bookmarks, complete with googly eyes. I made a few and abandoned the fiber arts, or rather, crafts. Knitting intrigued me. I found an old book from our library that had not made it to the weeding cart. I checked it out and taught myself the basics. Other kids were interested, so the group was born. I took it into summer break and learned to make cute little baby hats. Those were my projects that summer. Along with scarves I gifted people. Some wore them, some didn’t, but I made them and people gladly accepted them.

I read eight books that summer, too. This was back in the day when my kid was still young enough to nap once or twice a week. Yes, once or twice a week. My kids didn’t nap much. Ever. But I’d get my down time in the evenings and I’d stay up late only to groggily wake up early the next morning. I picked my books up in between toddler TV shows or play sessions over a makeshift cardboard box kitchen and Play-Doh. It was worth the mess.

One summer I named The Summer of Getting Stuff Done. The stuff to get done was fresh coats of interior wall paint, trying-unsuccessfully-to tend a bountiful garden, decluttering (always decluttering), freezer meal prep, exercising every morning at 5:30 a.m. Seriously? The early morning exercise sessions didn’t make it to the next summer. How did I do that though? And the freezer meal prep to toss into the Crock-Pot? They all hated the meals.

I don’t remember what I named other summers. I might have written them in a journal somewhere. Eventually I stopped because they flat out stopped working. Or I got tired. Or they stopped working and I got tired. I know one was The Summer of Baby #2 (who will soon be 12). I lost track after that. However, I started marking them with vacations.

My 40th Birthday BBF Bash to Las Vegas was one of my favorite summers. And the one to Mexico sans kids. And the one to Mexico with kids and Grandma the following summer. The less expensive one to New Mexico for Alien Fest on Fourth of July Weekend right before grad school. And the horrid one to Colorado after I finished grad school. Colorado was fine. The kids, not so much. They were at the age where their bickering was next level annoying. At least some of the pictures were good. And that’s been it.

I suppose last summer would be The Summer of…I’m over it. We all know how that summer went. Here we are…here I am, trying to figure it out. Maybe this time I’ll name my summer after I experience it. Find a name to fit after I get to know it. Let it play out and follow it where it wants to go. Our family has experienced many milestones this year. One kid composing a piece of music and graduating high school. Another starting middle school and experiencing all that comes with it. My husband’s semi-retirement. My move back to middle school in August. Planning a road trip; nothing fancy, but at least something.

Rather than take control, I’ll let this one take the lead. I’ll putter around my summer and do what I can without fretting. Get that guitar restrung and either learn to play it or give it to someone who will love it. Climb out of my comfort zone and join a writing group. Learn to play pickle ball because sports are not my thing. You know, push myself to do something hard. And read. Always reading. Hang out with my kids who no longer want to hang out. Maybe I’ll nap. Once or twice a week.

Shh…Listen Already!

I’m not a great listener. I’m worse at it with family than with strangers. Worse still, listening to my Self. This weekend, I tried a technique Julia Cameron suggests in her newest book, The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Attention. Similar to The Artist’s Way, Cameron includes exercises to practice the skill as a way to tap into creativity. Being silent. Listening to everything, rather than hearing.

One way to listen to that inner voice is to write to one’s Self, or inner child. I did that on Saturday, asking some big questions I’ve been trying to figure out. I wrote in script form and gave my Self the name of Little Cat, using pink ink with responses in purple.

What am I doing? This is wonky. But, it’s my notebook, I can do whatever I want. I wound up with five pages of questions and answers, dialogue. Some I thought I knew and others I didn’t realize were options. Skeptical during my writing, I had to tell Little Cat to shut up already. Let it flow. Stop and listen. Respectfully. Attentively. Fully.

Sounds easy.

Today, I continued thinking about my questions. I haven’t returned (yet) to my notebook to re-read answers, but I have the gist. After a conversation, in the silence of my being, they shouted at me. They were whispers on Saturday, but I wouldn’t listen.

Okay, Self, I get it. I’m listening now. Forgive me for dismissing you.

Artist’s Date

SOLSC Day 18

I took myself on a date today. With ideal places still iffy, I took her to a local coffeehouse. She likes coffee. I invited her to bring her journal and she ordered a raspberry mocha. Indoor seating is closed, but the proprietor offered the patio. We accept, walk around to the back, and find a table. We have the place to ourselves. He delivers the raspberry mocha.

I open up to chapter five of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and peruse the exercises at the end. I pick up my pen and start answering the questions, reminding myself to dig deep and be honest. This is our second round with the book. The twelve weeks we started in October 2019 came and went. We worked on morning pages, three days of writing every morning for twelve weeks. It’s become a good habit. I’m still wondering what three pages means if we start with an 8.5 x 11 journal then switch to an A5. But three pages is three pages, sometimes more, sometimes less, but every morning. Mostly. And ideally before we pop into social media, work, email, busy-ness, but that’s tricky with work. Weekends and breaks are best, but we’ve stayed the course.

Besides the morning pages, Cameron also makes us go on an artist’s walk. Once a week, but more is okay. No one else is allowed. No spouse. No kids. No pets. Reeses hates it when we leave without him. No music filled earbuds. Those walks have become our lifeline. We have to listen. Pay close attention to our surroundings. Our inner voices.

The reason for this intervention is to unblock Creativity. I have great ideas. She’s not so good at following through. No time. Self-doubt. Stuck. Getting too old. Needing to tend to the kids first. Working on alone time with the hubster. Alone time with each kiddo. Family time. Cooking. De-cluttering. Work. Self-soothing with too much social media. Lots of self-sabotage.

We’ve made lists of possible dates: museums, an empty church, hiking, a relaxing bath, perusing bookstores, a massage, star gazing, tickets to a musical, day trips, lunch at a new to us restaurant, an art class, hand lettering, hanging out at a library. Artist’s dates are the hardest to schedule. Once a week. Every week. We’re working on that. We need variety, but we’ll take what we can get. It’s usually a walk, hike, short drive, a visit to a coffeehouse, or massage. Our last pre-pandemic artist’s date, just when we were making progress on this new routine, was to the Lone Star ‘Zine Fest.

Today we went to a new coffeehouse that opened about a week before the pandemic shutdowns began. I’m glad they’re still around. Artists’s date for the week is done. I’m glad we spent time together. We need it.

Cowboy Boots

Part I, The Left Boot

SOLSC Day 13

The budget. That infamous budget forced Mom to buy me what I wanted, but didn’t want. If I needed a small bottle of glue for school, she bought the huge bottle to last the rest of the year. When I requested a cigar box to use for my school supplies, she bought a plastic one so it wouldn’t wear out. When I told her I needed a large green eraser, she bought one that was half pink for pencil erasures, and half gray for ink erasures. Who erases ink? I never used that eraser.

Sixth grade me in the pink western shirt with hot pink satin piping.

This time I was determined I wouldn’t let the budget get in my way. Western Day approached at school. It was the biggest day of the year, bigger than Halloween. Everyone participated in Western Day. I hated it because I only had last year’s pink western shirt with hot pink satin piping around the sleeves and collar. Mom had to hack a foot off the bottom of my jeans for them to fit.

I wanted to look like the other girls. Every year they wore their western hats and Wranglers, plaid western shirts pearl-buttoned up to the collar, and leather belts with their names stamped on them, complete with shiny heart shaped buckles that clasped in front. To complete their outfits, they wore boots. They got new boots every year. I had to settle for my sneakers.

I made up my mind. This year would be different. I owned a western shirt and jeans. I learned not ask about a hat. But boots, oh how I wanted a pair of boots. I imagined my boots, nice and smooth, black or brown—a nice neutral color, waiting for me on Western Day morning. I’d own the good kind, leather boots that creased around the widest part of my foot to fit, molding themselves to fit only me. They wouldn’t sound like high heels—those were too clickety—but commanding, a strong thud that let people know when I walked down the hall. Just the right sound, unlike how sneakers sounded when I stomped around in them or how they squeaked when I dragged my feet.

I needed con Mom into buying me these boots. “Just be patient,” she’d say. That meant no; it always meant no.

Determined to get my boots, I approached her cautiously like a cat approached a foreign object. I purred, “Western Day is coming up and I need a pair of boots. I can wear last year’s shirt, I have jeans, I don’t need a belt, but I need boots. Besides, the weather is getting colder and they’ll keep me warm when I walk to school in the mornings.” Whew! I let it out and she didn’t interrupt me. “I’ve been patient,” I added, letting her know I wasn’t taking no for an answer.

“I’ll think about it,” she replied.

It was better than ‘be patient.’ Progress in the making. It wasn’t a yes or a no, but a maybe. Maybes worked out to my advantage. I pestered her about the boots until she gave in. I felt like two-stepping her to the car, but I didn’t want to make my enthusiasm too obvious. She might change her mind.

We drove to Carmen’s Western Wear. We rarely bought anything here; it was too expensive. They had lots of nice things to look at and dream about. Usually full of customers, there were no parking spaces. Mom parked a little way off, in front of old and grungy J.C. Jones, which sat next to the drugstore. I asked if they were even still in business. I jumped out of the car and made my way to Carmen’s. Mom cut me off.

“No, we’re going this way.”

I looked around. What did she mean?

“The drugstore?” I gulped.

“No,” she replied, pushing the door into J.C. Jones, “they have boots here too.”

Well, I thought, maybe we’ll go to Carmen’s after we’re done here.

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.

‘Zineology and Snail Mail

SOLSC Day 9

Years ago I found a book (or maybe the book found me) called Whatcha Mean What’s a ‘Zine? I don’t remember where I found it, but it looked interesting so I bought it. Well, hello, this was the best purchase I had made to inspire kids to write in my classroom. I shared it with my teaching bestie and we came up with a plan. After we both read it and started using them in the classroom, we presented a professional development session for secondary teachers in our district. I was hooked and the kids loved them. This was back in the day when foldables were all the rage.

If you aren’t familiar with ‘zines, they are small, self-published mini-books, or tiny magazines, on any topic. They’ve been compared to flyers or pamphlets that were used way before printing and buying magazines was the norm. Think Ben Franklin’s pamphlets. We liked using these and the students responded well because they’re small and less intimidating than writing on full sized sheets of paper. We had students use them for note-taking, free writing, mini-graphic novels for those who wanted to give it a try, publishing their personal narratives, and even for a variety of responses to reading. In our PD session, our handouts were two separate ‘zines that participants folded with us. They were a hit.

As COVID made its entrance, I became restless. Connecting with my friends on social media was great, but I wanted something different. I wanted connection with snail mail. I posted an invitation for friends to DM their snail mail addresses so I could send them a little something. Unexpected snail mail from a real person is a treat, at least it is for me. Close friends and family whose addresses I already had were default recipients. However, I wanted to reach out to those farther out of my everyday circle: new colleagues, old high school friends, new friends.

I planned to mail a quick note to say hello and sticker bomb the outside of the envelopes because as a true child of the ’80s, I’m a sucker for fun stickers. Then I got an idea. I’d make a ‘zine. I knew everyone was going through tough times adjusting. I’m not a naturally optimistic person, so I decided to make a Little ‘Zine of Happiness and send some happy mail. I created my first (and so far, only) ‘zine that isn’t classroom related.

After I made the original ‘zine, I unfolded it, scanned it, and printed copies. Assembling them was therapeutic. I bought stationery, collected addresses and sent them out. I used all the Christmas stamps I had since I didn’t get around to sending cards, a delayed little gift. I didn’t send them all at once. I’d send out two or three, wait a few days and then send a few more. I made sure to tuck in the little ‘zine.

I received delightful messages from recipients, some of whom snail mailed me back. Many told me it arrived at the perfect time and put smiles on their faces. I left a blank on the cover for personalization. My ‘zinester teacher colleague, now an instructional coach, passed them out to her teachers earlier this year to lift their spirits. That was my intention, to spread joy during a tough time.

More topics roll around in my head for new ‘zines. I even created an Instagram account for people to share there, but it’s quiet right now. I plan to make more, but following through has waned. I’m sure inspiration will visit soon. Feel free to get your copy here and share some happiness.

*This is sometimes referred to as a “smoosh book” or an 8-page book. No fancy tools required. Not even scissors, unless you want a clean line. Video directions for folding are here.