Sunday afternoon, once my Texas offspring recuperated from the long drive and boundless energy of the eighteen month old grandson, Derek suggested we play a game. He had brought several with him from home, a few with short play times (as little as five or ten minutes) and more complex board games that require more setup and explanation. I’d previously played Camel Up and Parade, neither of which I was in the mood for. 5-minute Dungeon I want to try before he heads back to Texas.
Derek suggested we play Pandemic, which I’ve been wanting to try for several years. While the grandson ran Royna ragged, Derek, Rachelle and I played two games of Pandemic. Kudos to my offspring for suffering through the first game and my steep learning curve.
Yesterday, while Rachelle and I braved shopping at Costco, Lowe’s and Target, my son, daughter-in-law and grandson drove safely but surprisingly quickly up I-35 from North Texas to Northeastern Kansas. They made only one stop, for gasoline at the southernmost KTA (Kansas Turnpike Authority) rest area. This is an amazing fete considering my grandson isn’t yet eighteen months old (that happens on the 9th day of Christmas next year).
The consequence, however, of a baby who sleeps for about nine hours on a family road trip is predictable (see photo above). By early evening, Derek and Royna were dozing on our new sectional while Senna wanted to explore all the strange new environment of our home. Interestingly, he’s not overly interested in the Christmas tree or the presents tucked underneath. Rather, he found one of the Costco boxes to be endlessly entertaining as well as an impromptu piano lesson from Rachelle which introduced him to a new noise maker he could easily reach.
I was a bit shocked last week when I returned to work from a normal weekend to see traditional Christmas decorations in the elevator lobby, including Christmas trees and presents. The relief was palpable. If you read my last post, you’ll understand what nine years of PC purgatory looked like. The vote is still out on the winner of the worst decoration (I’m leaving the poll open until after Thanksgiving).
I’ve been sick the last couple of day, and so has my furnace. It’s having surgery right now in my basement. All of this meant we had to cancel our annual trip to visit my son, daughter-in-law and grandson for Thanksgiving. I don’t want them to get sick with whatever I’ve got and I can’t leave my house unattended with an unreliable furnace. I guess I’ll get caught up on my early winter reading.
I wish all of you a very happy and safe Thanksgiving. Spend quality time with your family and friends. I’ll have to substitute a video call with my far-flung offspring.
I’m thankful for many things this Thanksgiving. Oddly, I’m somewhat thankful even for my cold, dark oven.
I’m thankful that I won’t be on my feet for hours today prepping and baking for a family gathering. For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I will not be basting and roasting a turkey. I won’t be making more stuffing (I already succumbed last week and made a huge batch of stuffing because I couldn’t help myself). I might not escape baking entirely today, though, as I may break down and make Sticky Buns because it’s a TRADITION!
Tomorrow, I celebrate the 27th anniversary of my journey into motherhood. And the little bundle of joy I brought kicking and screaming into the world twenty-seven years ago, arrived safely, after a long drive north from Texas, to visit us just before 3:00 a.m. earlier this morning. In a strange juxtaposition of events, tomorrow also happens to be the last day of the Year of the Dragon. Even stranger, Derek was born on the very first day of the Year of the Tiger in 1986. Sunday begins the Year of the Snake, the second for my daughter, since as she turns twenty-four in June.
My feelings about this past year are mixed and bittersweet. Part of me grieves with the passing of my fourth Dragon year and part of me is disappointed with where I am, what I’ve accomplished (or failed to accomplish), where I’m going and what, if anything, there is to look forward to by the time the next Dragon year rolls around. Right at this very moment, I’m not even sure I can muster any enthusiasm about it’s arrival or whether I’ll make it another twelve years to enjoy it (or not). Gloomy, I know. Perhaps it’s a by-product of two consecutive days of insomnia.
But enough of my maudlin thoughts. I came here today to write a short blog post celebrating my son’s birthday. I haven’t seen him since last November, when all of us (my husband, my son and his wife, my daughter and her boyfriend and myself) traveled to Austin, Texas for the return of Formula 1 to the United States. Derek opted to support Kimi and the Lotus team (see photo at left) in direct contradiction to his father’s preferred team, Ferrari. I was clearly the underdog, since I cheered for Michael Schumacher. Today, though, I am very excited to have both Derek and his wife, Royna, visiting us. All I have to do is survive a gauntlet of meetings at work today followed by the commute home. Then I’ll be able to spend quality time with both of them. I even ordered his favorite type of birthday cake earlier this week. I’ll pick it up from the local Dairy Queen tomorrow morning.
My biggest adjustment to ’empty nest’ life has been a less hectic schedule for the last four years. During the last Year of the Dragon (circa 2000), we traveled all around the country, taking Derek to compete at regional and national judo tournaments. That schedule only increased through high school with the addition of wrestling, soccer and lacrosse. My Saturdays are decidedly quieter, as compared to a school gymnasium crammed to the rafters with screaming parents and ten or twelve wrestling mats. And warmer, compared to all-day tournaments in the early spring for soccer or lacrosse.
I do miss the excitement, though. Watching him compete. Or even listening to him sing at a choir concert. The quiet life sometimes has its drawbacks.
At least I have him, and his wife, for the weekend. I take what I can get when it comes to visits from my kids.
Terry and I left Lansing mid-morning on Thursday, April 5th, heading south via the Kansas Turnpike to spend the next four days with our 20-something kids in North Texas. Since I’m the early riser, I took Apollo to the kennel before the sun broke the horizon. Once back home, I finished packing the car, including a set of old metal (and heavy) car ramps and most of Rachelle’s 2-D art from her high school days (now a half-decade in the past). I took out the protective cover we place on the backseat to protect the leather from Apollo and wiped the seats down with leather cleaner and moisturizer.
Once Terry woke up and got dressed, we hit the road, entering the Turnpike at ten before ten o’clock. Since the speed limit rose to 75 mph, I prefer to pay the extra $10.75 to cross quickly across Kansas, instead of zig-zagging and slowing down for every little town on other routes (like US-69 or US-75). We reached the southern terminus of the Turnpike before one o’clock and stopped in Guthrie to top off the tank.
As we were passing through Oklahoma City, we followed a very low profile sports car (see photo at right) which we finally determined was a Ford, a GT 40. Very, very nice vehicle. Just wish I could have gotten a better photograph of it. Hard to accomplish while also driving.
Before leaving work on Wednesday, I had popped down to the lobby and checked out a couple of audiobooks from the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. The selection available for science fiction and fantasy amounted to less than a dozen titles, some of which were duplicates. I sighed. I selected a couple of Terry Brooks novels set in the Shannara world, knowing that Terry had read Brooks and liked him. I have read (not listened to) nearly all of Brooks’ Shannara novels, so I am very familiar with the setting. I inserted the first disc of Armageddon’s Children into the Bonneville’s seldom used CD player. The novel, which reveals the post-apocalyptic origins to the famous Sword of Shannara, made for grim, but gripping, listening and made the miles fly by as we continued south across Oklahoma.
We crossed into Texas just shy of five o’clock and stopped at our favorite Texas tourist information spot for a brief biobreak. I sent Rachelle a text to let her know we were close (within forty miles). As we passed Sangar, traffic slowed to a crawl (usual for Denton at this time of day thanks to the splitting of I-35, which also narrows and becomes increasingly congested until you get past Lewisville). Worried that an accident was disrupting traffic, I called Rachelle and asked if I should take the first Denton exit. She and Nic conferred and confirmed we should exit at 380 and then asked for directions from that exit to their apartment. I found Hickory Street easily enough, but drove right by their apartment and had to turn around when I reached North North Texas (yes, that’s a street name plus a direction). Even with the traffic delays, we made it to their apartment in record time, arriving just past 5:30 p.m. We unpacked and then graced a local sandwich shop with our presence for a quick supper.
We returned to Rachelle’s apartment and I setup our portable airbed, while Nic and Terry found something to stream via Netflix. I didn’t stay up too late, being exhausted from the long drive. I crashed while the rest of the gang watched the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie, which lampooned the 1955 movie This Island Earth. I don’t think I missed much. Sometimes I’m glad I was born in the 60s.
I woke up early on Friday, thanks to my cell phone’s alarm. I quietly left Terry to his dreams and took my Nook with me to the living room, where I read for a bit while waiting for Rachelle to wake up. I wanted to spend the morning addressing her graduation announcements. Once she woke up, I retrieved my laptop and got connected to her wifi so I could look up addresses. She and I sat at the kitchen table for the next couple of hours. I didn’t quite have enough stamps for all the envelopes though. Once Terry woke up, we went to the grocery store to pick up a few items and to buy stamps. We mailed the announcements after leaving the store.
The rest of the day, Rachelle worked on her thesis paper. Terry napped or watched Netflix and I read. I also attempted a new bread recipe I received in a promotional e-mail from King Arthur Flour. The Italian Easter Cheese bread stuck fast in the pan, despite generous oiling of the pan. We eventually got the bread out of the pan and wrapped it up to keep it fresh for Easter Sunday dinner.
Rachelle and I left for Good Friday worship in the early evening. We had a long drive to cross over from Denton to the east side of Plano. I opted to sit in the very back of the sanctuary, something I rarely do at worship, but because I decided to wear street clothes (jeans and walking shoes), I felt less conspicuous in the back. I listened as the orchestra ran through several of their musical offerings, including a beautiful and poignant arrangement of ‘Were You There?’ The Good Friday service included only two hymns sung by the congregation and many of the Lenten selections by the choir from the past few weeks of Lent. The worship service focused on the first nine stations of the cross, extinguishing a candle on the altar after each station, leaving all of the candles dark as the Good Friday service ended.
While waiting for Rachelle to derobe, I wandered the parking lot and snapped a photo of the quickly fading sunset (see photo to the left). Rachelle and I returned to Denton. For some reason I can’t recall what we did for dinner Friday night. I will have to ask Terry or call Rachelle and ask them to remind me. Once I know, I’ll update this paragraph with the appropriate culinary information.
Rachelle actually woke up before seven o’clock on Saturday and walked with me around her Denton neighborhood. The only photo I took while we were walking was of a yard filled with the Texas state flower, which I forgot to send to Flickr from my phone and subsequently deleted. Grrr.
Upon returning to the apartment, we whipped up a batch of real buttermilk pancakes. Then we took the car to a local farmer’s market so Rachelle could choose her weekly produce from a community-sponsored agriculture (CSA) she recently joined.
Once Terry woke up, we decided drive to Derek and Royna’s apartment for a visit. We learned during the visit that Derek’s truck had developed some alarming drive-train issues. Terry rode with Derek around the Colony and suggested that the truck be taken to a transmission shop for diagnosis. Nearly a week later, the shop still has the truck, but more on that in a separate post. We also decided that Easter dinner after worship would be simple fare of a Tex-Mex flavor. On the way back to Denton, we stopped and bought the fixings to make enchiladas and deviled eggs. After Nic got home from work, he and Rachelle worked like a well-oiled team to create the enchilada filling. Rachelle had less success with boiling eggs, rapidly going through nearly two dozen before Nic stepped in, with a new dozen he retrieved from a second trip to the grocery store.
Since Rachelle had to sing in all three Easter worship services, we had to leave Denton at exactly seven o’clock Sunday morning to drop her off at the First UMC in Plano by 7:45 a.m. As soon as we dropped off Rachelle, we back-tracked to Derek and Royna’s apartment to relax until the last worship service scheduled for eleven o’clock. We stowed the enchilada ingredients in the fridge and settled down to visit with everyone.
I twisted Derek’s arm, insisting that everyone, including him, must attend Easter worship. He grunched and groaned but eventually got ready. As we were about to leave to return to church I realized I had a problem. Since Derek’s truck was undriveable, my vehicle, the Bonneville, was our only transportation to and from church. It only seats five adults. Not a problem getting to church, but returning with one more (Rachelle) meant we had six total adults. I suggested drawing straws, but of course Derek just grinned impishly. Nic actually volunteered but I reluctantly left Derek behind.
We returned to the church just before 10:30 a.m. and find a scarce parking spot. The second service had not ended so we took advantage of coffee and donuts while we waited. Once the sanctuary emptied, I led everyone to the middle section, about five rows back from the altar. By eleven o’clock, there wasn’t an empty seat to be found in the spacious (almost cavernous) sanctuary.
When Rachelle joined the Chancel Choir at First UMC Plano, I immediately went to their website to learn a bit about their ministry and their pastor. Imagine my surprise when I learned that their senior pastor, Gary Mueller, grew up in Kansas and graduated from KU. What are the odds? He even managed to insert KU basketball into his sermon, spending at least ten minutes reminiscing about past national championship games (including the most recent one less than a week old). At one point he even started chanting ‘Rock Chalk …’ and waited for the audience to respond with ‘Jayhawk’ … but a thousand plus Texans just fidgeted in their seats. I almost shouted ‘Jayhawk’ in support of a fellow Kansan, but couldn’t get over my Wildcat leanings. Eventually, he delivered an Easter message somehow managing to connect all the dots in the end.
Worship wrapped up with an ambitious and joyous rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus, including an orchestra, the choir and audience participation from the congregation. By far, the loudest experience I’ve ever participated in at a church.
We gathered up Rachelle and returned to the Colony. Before everyone could change clothes, I insisted we gather in the hallway for some posed group family photos. I had neglected to do a similar session at Thanksgiving, and didn’t want to miss the opportunity again.
After the photo shoot, we returned to the apartment to relax and bake enchiladas. Rachelle set out the deviled eggs, which lasted about five minutes. We ate lunch and visited for a few minutes while our stomachs digested the delicious repast.
As a thunderstorm rolled through the area, Rachelle grabbed the bag of plastic Easter eggs we’d bought and stuffed with goodies. Since the rain prevented us from hiding eggs in a more traditional setting, the kids split the eggs up between the guys and the gals. Rachelle and Royna languished in the bedroom while Nic and Derek started hiding thirty-five eggs around the rest of the apartment. The eggs could go anywhere except in something (like the trash or the tank of a toilet). Once the eggs were hidden, the gals were released to search for them. Rachelle found a few more than Royna, but not many. Next, the guys were sent to the bedroom while Rachelle and Royna hid the rest of the eggs. Once the guys were released to hunt, it quickly became clear who was driven to win the egg hunting championship. Derek took the lead and never let up.
After the egg hunt, we sat around the table, watching the kids tally up their candy and coins. Eventually, several of us took naps. By five o’clock, we decided it was time to return to Denton. We hugged and said goodbye to Derek and Royna. While we will see Derek again in mid-May when Rachelle graduates from UNT, Royna is returning to Nepal to visit her parents until early July.
Monday morning Terry and I woke up early, packing the Bonneville by seven o’clock and saying goodbye to Rachelle. We headed north on I-35 at 7:30 a.m. We made very few stops, opting to get breakfast via drive-through in Ardmore, Oklahoma and catching a quick ten minute lunch at a McDonalds on the Kansas Turnpike. We pulled into our driveway at 4:30 p.m. Monday afternoon. The first thing I noticed was how tall the grass in the side yard had grown.
We unpacked the Bonneville and I pulled out the mower. I spent thirty or forty minutes taming the yard and then relaxed until shortly after five, when Terry and I left the house to retrieve Apollo from the kennel. We had to wait a few minutes while they finished blow drying him after his bath and trimming his nails. He was still a bit damp, but still very excited to see us. I noticed immediately he’d put on weight. Having other dogs near him must have spurred on his competitive juices and inspired him to actually eat his food. Terry and I returned home and ordered a carryout dinner from our local Pizza Hut. Neither of us felt like making yet another trip to the grocery store. Pasta, wings and cinnamon sticks hit the spot perfectly.
Terry and I had a great time with our kids over Easter weekend. Lucky for us, we get to repeat this entire process in just three weeks, when we return to Denton to attend Rachelle’s graduation from the University of North Texas.