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Apartment Hunting: A Wisconsin Tale

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IMG_1319Yes, I did it again. I accompanied my eldest daughter on her search for an apartment in a totally unfamiliar city in an unfamiliar state where we know no one. And, this time we did it in a blizzard, technically an Alberta Clipper. One week ago, we left our respective Southern homes, where it has felt like spring for weeks now, for the bitterly cold Midwestern plains just in time to experience a weather event for which the area is famous. My eldest had been invited to leave the warm confines of Auburn, Alabama, where she is working on a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, for a one-year internship at the University of Wisconsin. Hence, Madison was our destination, via the Milwaukee airport. You might have heard of Winter Storm Stella which pounded the Northeast early last week. Well, Stella was born crossing the Great Lakes, specifically Lake Michigan upon which Milwaukee sits. We breathed a sigh of relief upon landing and seeing nary a speck of snow. The lake looked beautiful and placid upon approach to the airport. But, we had been warned. Dashing to the rental car counter, we joked that being from Texas, we weren’t sure what to expect with this winter storm. The agent smiled sweetly and said, “Oh, you may need an upgrade.” How about an armored tank, is what I wanted to say. Instead, we jumped into our all-wheel drive vehicle and took off for an 80-mile trip. Chatting all the way, time passed quickly and we soon arrived in downtown Madison. Still no snow, no ice, nothing! We had the audacity to walk a couple of blocks to dinner at Dotty’s Dumpling Dowry – it’s a well-regarded establishment, apparently. We enjoyed such local fare as cheese curds with ranch dressing and an abysmal Old Fashioned cocktail, which I should have declined as soon as the waitress asked “sour or sweet?” I tried to explain what I wanted but somehow was served a drink with muddled cherries on the bottom and olives on top. Due to our exhaustion and anticipation of a busy day ahead, we left after only an hour. Stepping outside we were blasted by a biting wind. We pulled our coats tighter and began walking. Softly falling snowflakes already covered the sidewalks and made everything look prettier. My daughter thought it was lovely. I prayed it wouldn’t get much worse.

Monday dawned and our busy day of apartment searching began. I threw back the curtains of our hotel room and faced the day. And reality. Snow covered everything.  And it seemed to be blowing all around and still falling. Let’s go downstairs for breakfast and re-assess the situation, I suggested. Based upon my Texas experience with snow, I expected the restaurant and streets to be empty, an accidental holiday declared by Mother Nature. Instead, it was jammed with businessmen, students with backpacks, groups of young women in yoga gear, all chatting and carrying on as if there wasn’t half a foot of slippery white stuff on the ground. We took a table by the window and watched in awe as university students hurried along the sidewalks to class, seemingly oblivious to the wintry weather. Cars, buses and trucks passed by without a tire chain in sight. And every few minutes a truck with a plow attached to its front end raked the street free of its snowy cover. This town was impressive! Fortified by hot coffee and warm donuts, we headed toward our car.

I took the wheel and slowly turned out of the hotel garage onto a busy street near the University of 43,000 students, all of whom appeared to be crossing at the first traffic light we encountered. I pulled to a slow stop. Please don’t let me slide, was my constant prayer. I recalled the words of my first ski instructor as I struggled over an icy patch, “Quietly go.” That became my mantra for the day. Amazingly, and to our complete surprise, we went all day without incident. To clarify, without a traffic incident. Our first stop was an apartment complex called The Normandy, perhaps because it appeared to have been built shortly after the D-Day invasion of 1944. Our search proceeded. On to The Carolina just about a block down the street, next door to The Monticello. I was getting an Old South vibe. I won’t go into much detail here, except to say that after our viewing, the agent who showed us the apartment apologized, adding that it was the worst apartment she’d ever seen…or smelled. But she assured Claire that it would be really nice by the time she needed it because the abysmally stained carpet would undoubtedly be replaced and the oily walls would receive a fresh coat of paint. We were slightly deflated but undaunted as we continued to quietly go down the streets of Madison for two and a half days. We saw other units with cozier names, like The Lodge and Yorktown Estates, which described itself as “A Place of Comfort and Refuge from the Demands of Your Lifestyle.” That might be true if you considered a bathtub overflowing in the unit above your kitchen, necessitating replacement of the ceiling, to be a comforting haven. The painter was making the necessary repairs as we gingerly stepped around his ladder to admire the “updated kitchen” and “large pantry.” I should mention that these places are not cheap. Picture Austin but on an isthmus, as Madison is situated, with less land mass and nearly as many students. All agents delightedly touted their gas grills, available year round, for tenants’ use. Seeing them covered with 6 inches of snow, I tried to imagine friends gathered outside roasting wieners and marshmallows while covered head to toe in parkas and snow boots. I nearly shouted to the fourth or fifth such agent, “SHE DOESN’T GRILL, OK?” That’s when my daughter sweetly said, “We must get going to our next appointment. Bye-bye.”

That night we consoled ourselves at one of the city’s many farm-to-table restaurants, where we enjoyed a veggie platter (like charcuterie, but with carrots and fennel instead of meat), finished with a dusting of chocolate dirt.  “I feel hopeful,” I said to my daughter. “Tomorrow we’ll find your home away from home.” And, you know what? We did. A cozy little 525 square foot nook with nary a courtyard or gas grill in sight. And, no cooking odors, no stained carpet, no repairman busily working on the ceiling. In the words of Goldilocks, “I think it will be just right.” I sure hope that’s not a fairy tale.

(For another similar adventure, see my previous post, “Apartment Hunting,” published approximately four years ago when I helped same daughter find her dream home in Alabama.)


Celebrity Spotting

img_4291There are two kinds of people: those who enjoy spotting celebrities, and those who could care less. I happen to fall in the first category, and, lucky for me I have a true knack for it. It’s a gift, what can I say? I don’t know why it appeals to me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a small South Texas town where there was just one movie theatre and not much other entertainment besides Friday night football. My father was a huge movie buff all of his life, spending many weekend afternoons at the movies. On Saturday mornings, he’d drop my siblings and me at the “Coke show,” sponsored by the local Coca-Cola bottling company, where the price of admission was an empty coke bottle. My mother’s father was a movie critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Dispatch for many years. His autographed black and white photos of movie stars hung in the hallway of our home for as long as I can remember. I always loved the movies for taking me to places I’d never been and introducing me to characters I’d never dreamed of.  So, imagine my great thrill when, on my first trip to New York City in the ’80’s, I had a close encounter with Darryl Hannah, star of “Splash,”  when she was John-John’s girlfriend and a hot movie star. My husband and I spotted her walking around a flea market down in the Village and couldn’t believe it.  Shortly afterwards, we walked past a pet shop and I could swear I saw Kevin Kline, then the star of “The Big Chill,” shopping with his daughter. Years later, when my eldest daughter turned 16, my father and I took her to New York City and splurged on a carriage ride through Central Park. She and my dad were busy looking at the skyline, the park and the monuments, but I kept a close eye on everyone on the trails. Good thing, or we would have missed seeing John Stossel jogging. This was a BIG deal; he was a co-anchor of ABC’s 20/20! A day or two later, while walking back to our mid-town hotel after an afternoon of sight seeing, we saw a big crowd in front of The Waldorf. We walked into the hotel and learned we had stumbled upon the arrival of celebrities for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. JACKPOT! We stood by and saw Tom Petty, Tom Wolfe in his signature all-white suit and hat, ZZ Top, and many, many others. My daughter excitedly chatted with the nice man standing next to her, who happened to be Chubby Checker, although she didn’t know that.

Ever since, I’ve been like a kid in a candy shop when I go to New York City.  I simply keep my eyes and ears open. It’s amazing to look around and realize that no one else seems to be paying attention. Once I was with my husband for a medical meeting on the Upper East side. We stumbled into Eli Zabar’s deli, E.A.T., just north of 80th and squeezed into a table for two. After ordering, I glanced to my left and noticed a familiar face just a few small tables away. STEVEN SPIELBERG. Yes. It was him with his cute mother, Leah Adler, with her short, stylish silver bob. His movie “War of the Worlds” was premiering that weekend. (That would be the infamous day that Tom Cruise got into a tiff with Matt Lauer over prescription drugs and Brooke Shields, followed closely by his jumping on Oprah’s couch proclaiming his love for Katie Holmes.) Now that was a sighting! Even my husband was impressed.

Since then, I’ve made several trips to New York with a close friend who shares my enthusiasm for seeing celebrities in person (otherwise known as stalking). We’ve tried hard to sniff out celebrities where we think we’ll find them, but we usually have our best luck when we’re not trying. We have tripped over Eva Longoria who was talking on her cell phone and wouldn’t move past the rotating door at a department store near the High Line, and followed Angie Harmon around the home and gifts department at Barney’s. In November of 2015, we were strolling through Washington Square Park where a memorial had sprung up overnight for the victims of the Paris terror attacks. I bent down to read a sign left by a mourner and when I popped up, I was face to face with a beautiful woman in a stylish hat and boots. It was Rachel from “Friends,”  Jennifer Aniston. And accompanying her was her movie star husband, Justin Theroux. We followed them, from a respectful distance, of course, all over Greenwich Village.

My friend and I just returned from another trip to our favorite city. As always, we started our celebrity hunt by stopping by the Today Show for an up-close glimpse of Matt Lauer and Al Roker and whoever happens to be the guest that day. We spoke to Willy Geist and Jenna Bush Hager, shook hands with Dr. Oz, and made meaningful eye contact with Matt. Later that day, we had reservations at the new Polo Bar by Ralph Lauren, excited with the prospect of seeing celebs, and bolstered by the menu which read, “Please keep your photographs limited to your table,” implying that we could not turn our cell phone cameras toward Beyonce and Jay Z even if they were dining under the same roof. Seeing no one that evening, we felt defeated. But, we had also made reservations at Bar Centrale later in the week, an unmarked locale near the theatre district where, we heard, the stars hang out after their shows. After seeing a great new musical, “Dear Evan Hansen,” we raced a couple of blocks to the unmarked bar on 46th Street, climbed up the steps of what seemed to be a brownstone apartment, pushed open the door and found ourselves behind two couples trying to get in. Both were turned away for their failure to make reservations in advance. Due to our foresight, we were shown to a table around the corner from the front room near the bar. Shortly after ordering drinks I saw the hostess coming around the corner with a guest. It was one of the the lead actors of The Great Comet of 1812, a play we’d seen the day prior. We were encouraged. About fifteen minutes later, a small entourage came toward us. A smiling woman in a large overcoat approached our side of the room. It was Glenn Close, current star of “Sunset Boulevard.” We were trying to be cool, but couldn’t help giggling. Next, came a couple of men we didn’t recognize, followed closely by a beautiful, tall blonde. In my excitement I couldn’t think of her name, but my friend recognized her immediately as Cate Blanchett, who also is starring in a Broadway show, “The Present.” We ordered another cocktail and some potato skins, pleased with our ability to mingle with the stars. Just when we were preparing to ask for the check, in walked Mark Ruffalo with his wife. He is starring in “The Price,” an Arthur Miller show that was visited the following night by former President Obama. (I won’t even speculate about what I’d have done had I seen him. It would have surely embarrassed my friend.)

I can’t explain my silly fascination with these beautiful people. It’s not important in the grand scheme of things. But, I enjoy watching them on screen and it makes me happy to see them up close. Like tourists who pay lots of money to see exotic animals in Africa, I think it’s fascinating to spot exotic people who live in a totally different world from me, and to observe them from afar for a few minutes.

I’d been back to reality for a few days before receiving a text from my friend. “Did you watch the Oscars? They let a bus full of tourists into the Dolby Theatre!” I know, I replied. “Next year we’re going to L.A.”

Mom Winked, part II

img_1043Tomorrow marks the fourth anniversary of my mother’s death. In her memory, I’m re-publishing this blog post which I wrote a few months after she died. She still winks at me every now and then; when I’m looking for a healthy weeknight dinner and her recipe for “Gourmet Goulash” practically jumps out at me, urging me to whip up a dish of sour-creamy comfort, or when I’m walking through my neighborhood trying to work out a worry and I notice a cardinal flying low and slow over my shoulder. I found this forgotten photo of her recently. I like to think she’s waving at me, sharing a private joke, or whispering, “Don’t worry, be happy!” 

For Rosemary Steele Sheppard, 5/22/20-1/28/13.

An old friend hugged me at Mom’s rosary in January and said, “She’ll wink at you every now and then.” I immediately thought that was a cute idea, but doubted it would ever happen. A few weeks went by, then a few months, and I forgot about her prophecy. Then, my dad got sick. In April, three months, almost to the day, after Mom died I found myself at my father’s bedside at Methodist Hospital in San Antonio. He’d apparently fallen, although he couldn’t recall, and had suffered a subdural hematoma, or bleed in the brain. It would need to be drained, and at his age, 90, that was no easy feat, but the neurosurgeon was optimistic. Sure enough, it wasn’t easy; in fact, it was extremely difficult, and Dad endured nearly every setback that anyone could have imagined over five weeks in the hospital. Shortly after surgery he lost the ability to swallow food, water, medicine, secretions, anything. As a result, he aspirated and acquired double pneumonia, which necessitated that his lungs be suctioned every few hours. This was a horrible experience for him and for anyone who happened to be near him at the time. When he breathed or spoke, all you could hear was a terrible drowning gurgling. He became so weak, he couldn’t even turn over in his hospital bed without assistance. Eventually, he was able to be fed through a tube placed directly into his small bowel, and slowly, ever so slowly, he began to regain strength. Dad was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital where he worked with therapists for three or more hours everyday for four weeks. Initially, he did well; then, his hallucinations and anxieties overwhelmed him to the point that we, his offspring, decided he should just go home. Nothing could be worse than his daily terrors that he was being held captive, that his children and grandchildren were in grave danger, and his abject disappointment that there was nothing he could do about it. So, in late June, we hired an ambulance to carry him 80 miles to the home in which he’d lived for 60 years with my mother.

Upon arriving, he asked where he was. We all assured him, “You’re HOME, 302 E. Sarah Street,” then tucked him into his bed for a nap, saying that he’d feel better after a good rest. Visitors began arriving, all joyously asking, “Isn’t it great to be home?” To which he’d respond by looking around the room and saying, bluntly, “Am I really home?” or “Is that where I am?” We suddenly realized how naive we’d been to think that upon his arrival home a shift would instantly occur and all would be well again with our father.

Eventually, Dad grew a bit stronger and we grew used to the aides who came every 12 hours to look after him. But I, ever the control freak, had stayed for several days to “oversee” the help. I made lists and posted them on the kitchen cabinets, organized pantries and pillboxes, bought supplies, interviewed the Home Health nurses, and spent hours at a time at Wal-Mart shopping for items to make Dad’s transition home easier. One afternoon in early July, when Dad had gone to bed for his nap, I, completely exhausted, melted into the swimming pool in the backyard. I swam lap after lap in the warm bathwater-like pool, finding comfort in the physical exertion. Suddenly, I saw a fluttering disturbance in one of the overgrown bushes surrounding the pool. I stared for a few seconds and a beautiful bright crimson red bird lighted on a parched branch of one of the remaining shrubberies, and seemed to stare at me while I treaded water in the middle of the pool. I smiled; cardinals were one of Mom’s favorite birds to watch from her perch on the patio. Then, the Polaris pool vacuum swept up that side of the pool and sprayed an arc of water into the air, scaring the red bird into the air. I laughed as I recalled an afternoon late in Mom’s life when I persuaded her to leave the comfort of her bed and come outside for some fresh air. With much difficulty we got her on her walker, outside the back door, down the ramp and settled into a deck chair when the Polaris spit its stream of water right at her. Squealing, and wiping drops of chlorinated water off her hair and face, Mom muttered, “A lot of good this did me,” then stood up, grabbed her walker and went right back into the house. I found myself smiling at the memory and suddenly took in a small gasp of surprise, “Did Mom just wink at me?” I think she did. I smiled to myself and turned around for another lap. Before going under I saw the cardinal’s mate on a fence opposite the shrub looking towards us. “Don’t worry, Mom,” I whispered; “We’re taking good care of him.”

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

tree-onlyAs an empty-nester, I tend to romanticize the holidays. I anticipate the reunion of our family of five through a filter that’s been blurred by months apart from my children, one shaded by snow, frosty windows, hot toddies and hugs all around; hurried trips to the airport to pick up loved ones, jovial conversation around the dining room table, late night games by the fireplace. Then, we’re all together again and reality slaps me in the face. WAIT A MINUTE! It’s 75 degrees outside, there’s no snow, no fire in the fireplace, no hot toddies. Just margaritas and beer like in July. No board games…just kids on their phones texting, snap chatting, tweeting, and looking up occasionally to express their opinions on where to send for take-out. Ok, that may be an exaggeration but still. It’s hard to come together as a family after months of everyone living in different states, living lives separate from one another. At first we all talk at once, louder and louder trying to be heard. Then, someone gives up and goes to bed. The next day we start again, laughing, sharing details of our lives, enjoying each other’s company. Then someone (usually me) asks one too many questions and the room goes silent. Everyone scatters like ants whose anthill has been disturbed and it may be hours before we find ourselves in the same room again. Food and a good football game on t.v. help. Slowly we come together, one daughter snuggled under a cozy throw, her feet in her sister’s lap. Another one quietly colors in one of those new color books for adults, designed to be “calming.” Eventually, someone asks if we remember going to see the Harry Potter films on Thanksgiving weekend, and another searches for it on t.v. Before I know it, we’re all huddled together watching “Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone” and all seems right with the world.Then I make a teeny, well-intentioned suggestion that maybe it would be fun if we put our phones away. Even just for half an hour. Before I know it there is yelling, eye-rolling, a phone sails through the air towards me and someone leaves the room, slamming the door behind her. And I feel silly for even suggesting such a thing.

I started writing this just after Thanksgiving. It’s now January 13th, Christmas was 19 days ago, and two of my adult daughters (who happen to be university students) are still home. The sensible one with a job returned to her life in Dallas immediately after Christmas. What are college administrators thinking? Whatever are these young people supposed to do with four to six weeks off? They can’t work, there’s nothing to study, and their friends are scattered. They have no money so they can’t travel. So, what am I left to conclude, except that it’s up to me to entertain them?  Oh it all starts out swell, with the Christmas tree lights twinkling, carols playing softly in the background, delectable food and treats spilling out of the fridge onto every table in sight, that ole anticipation of Santa Claus keeping everyone on their best behavior while feeling warm and fuzzy. (Or is it the eggnog?) Anyway, let’s face it. By January 2 we are all cranky. We’ve started our new year’s resolutions which, typically, involve decreasing our intake of delicious food and drink which made the time before Christmas jolly. We would like to return to work, school, normal life. But, because both Sewanee and Auburn are so rigid about academic calendars, we all sit here staring at each other and asking, “Now what?” As a stay-at-home mom I feel responsible, not only for their wellbeing, but for their entertainment. After all, what if they don’t enjoy being in San Antonio and never want to come back again? The thought motivates me to act in ways I typically don’t. I invite my daughters out to restaurants for lunch – on Mondays and Tuesdays! And to movies in the middle of the afternoon. I celebrate happy hour everyday, making sure everyone’s favorite beverages are available, along with three kinds of cheeses and crackers. I search for new recipes that will delight all at dinner nearly every night. Other nights I order pizza. Just when I’m feeling tired and  missing my usual routine of exercising and trying to eat healthily, watching whatever I want to watch on T.V. rather than the new season of The Bachelor, and getting in my car and not being blasted by alternative music, a friend will call who hasn’t heard from me in six weeks. She’ll inevitably say, “Oh, the girls are still here?  You’re so lucky! How wonderful!” Afterwards, I sit alone for a minute and quietly appreciate the fact that yes, they’re still here. And, yes, it’s pretty wonderful. Then I make another grocery list and head to H.E.B., remembering to turn down the volume before I turn on the radio.

p.s. They’ll be gone on Monday. Give me a call!

Natural Disasters

In this age of constant news and weather reports, I don’t understand why no one seems able to predict 1) earthquakes, and 2) massively heavy rain events unrelated to hurricanes. Lately, I’ve experienced both and I must say, each is rather unnerving. I’m beginning to wonder if the gods are trying to tell me something and I’m just not getting the message?

I. An Earthquake

A few weeks ago my husband and I traveled to Italy for the first time. In August, while planning our trip, we heard about a massive earthquake in central Italy that killed nearly 300 people. It got our attention, but we plotted on. Then, just three days before our departure, another couple of earthquakes rattled the same region. No one was injured, mainly because the area had been evacuated since the initial quake activity. A friend called and jokingly gave me packing tips that included a hard hat, a pickax and a flashlight. Haha, I laughed nervously. We carried on and happily arrived in Florence on Saturday, October 29th, as planned. Following a beautiful Tuscan meal of ravioli, a crisp fall salad and a bottle of Chianti, we strolled past the Duomo to our hotel and collapsed into our comfy bed. 20+ hours of travel had caught up with us. We set our alarm for 7:30 and fell into a sound sleep. All too soon the alarm was ringing. I quickly stifled it, letting my husband get a few more minutes of shut-eye as I mentally planned our day of sightseeing. First, we’d head downstairs for a buffet breakfast, then we’d walk a few blocks to the Uffizi Gallery for a couple of Michelangelos and a DaVinci or two. Then…I felt an odd sensation. The bed seemed to be swaying back and forth. I looked over at my husband to see if he’d suddenly developed a serious case of restless leg syndrome. Nope, he was lightly snoring. Next, I heard glasses in the bathroom clinking in rhythm with the bed. I’d never experienced this before but I knew what was happening. “Bill,” I uttered, “We’re in the middle of an earthquake.” He sat up. “I think you’re right.” I jumped out of bed and looked out the window to see what was happening and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Tourists were walking and pulling luggage, cabs and buses were proceeding down the street. The day was bright and beautiful, not a cloud in the sky. I suddenly realized there wouldn’t be lightning and dark thunderclouds; this wasn’t a weather event. We had experienced an earthquake. Later that evening we watched the news and learned that a 6.5 magnitude quake had struck Norcia, a town in the center of the country, approximately 150 miles away, at 7:41 a.m. It was the strongest earthquake to hit Italy since 1980. Luckily, Florence and Rome were spared and we continued our vacation unimpeded by the shaking of the earth. 31italy-web5-master768

II. Flash Floods

Saturday, my husband and I headed down I-10 for a much shorter journey. We planned to drive to Texas City to pack up his mother’s house. We’d arranged for movers who’d be meeting us on Sunday.  Just before leaving, I thought to check the weather app on my phone. “Honey, rain is predicted both today and tomorrow,” I helpfully called out. “But not too cold, thankfully.” We tossed our overnight bags into the car, grabbed our cups of coffee and a couple of folding umbrellas. Over the next three and a half hours we drove through drizzle, fog and an occasional hard, but brief rain. We arrived safely on the outskirts of Texas City and stopped at the Budget rental office to pick up a 12′ truck, which we’d reserved to help transport our newly inherited furniture back to San Antonio. After getting the truck, we decided to meet at the local Whataburger for lunch. (This is how we treat ourselves in the midst of difficult tasks.) As I approached the city, I realized the sky had suddenly turned very dark – nighttime dark. The rain picked up to a steady downpour. I stopped at a stoplight and as it turned green the cars in front of me proceeded at a snail’s pace.  In an instant, I saw why. The streets had turned into raging rivers, water lapping over the curbs, and rushing in every direction. Cars were stalling right in front of and beside me. It literally happened instantly; so this is why they call it a “flash” flood. One minute I was stopped at an intersection, the next I feared for my safety. I immediately called my husband, who was a mile or so behind me, and tried to explain the situation. “The streets are flooded, they’re like rivers,” I said breathlessly. “I’m going to try to get over into a Shell station across the street.” Driving across those few feet seemed like crossing the mighty Mississippi. I made it. I looked up and saw the Budget truck plowing through the water, across lanes of traffic and pulling safely behind me into the gas station parking lot. We sat there, stunned, watching cars, large and small, try to navigate through the intersection. Amazingly, all patiently waited for the green light before proceeding, then it was a crap shoot to see who’d make it through without stalling out or floating or getting stuck as they pulled toward the “safe” green median. Realizing we’d be here awhile, we left our vehicles and made a dash for a McDonald’s next door. The place was full of stranded, bewildered motorists, all sharing stories of the weather and how they’d ended up here. Then, talk changed to planning how we’d all get out. Luckily, there were plenty of hot fries and burgers to keep us fueled. One poor lady had been headed to the vet with three puppies in her car and she’d been here for three hours! Another young woman approached us and asked if she could follow us home – she was my mother-in-law’s neighbor, and she had some ideas about which roads might be less treacherous. A man helpfully advised us not to slow down or stop in the water, “Keep it at around 28 mph,” he advised, “and try to steer clear of big trucks.” After a couple of hours we bravely soldiered forth. My husband went first, figuring the big truck would create a wake for the two of us to follow. The neighbor went next, her SUV clinging to the Budget’s bumper. I followed, fists clinched on the steering wheel, wipers whipping. We took off through the river/street and back-tracked to higher ground. Eventually, we made it to my mother-in-law’s house. We jumped out of our vehicles and high-fived each other as if we’d just completed a marathon. The rain continued to fall throughout the day. That night, we heard on the news that Texas City was flooded by 11 inches of rainfall – the most rain in that county in two decades. And more was on the way. Thankfully, we made it safely home on Sunday afternoon despite the bad weather.

I’m not sure what message the gods are sending us. Surely not, “You two should stay home for awhile.” I feel like a spoiled child with her fingers in her ears crying, “Lalalala, I can’t hear you!”unknown


Mamas Miss Their Daughters

In this difficult divisive time… in response to a dear friend’s request, I re-post this Thanksgiving message:

Mamas Miss Their Daughters
Posted on December 2, 2014 by Constance
A recent Saturday Night Live video, “Back Home Ballers,” about a group of girls going home for Thanksgiving, made the rounds last week on Facebook and Twitter. My niece, who is also my Facebook friend, posted it and I laughed out loud. (Apparently, my college daughter “tweeted” it, also, but we’re not friend-tweeters, or whatever the social media term is, so I missed her post.) I think I laughed so hard just to keep from crying, because those girls were talking about ME! I’ll break it down for you, in case you missed it.

The clip begins with a group of inappropriately-dressed girls driving up to their parents’ house, and rapping, “Your girls are back. We’re home for Thanksgiving, y’all, and our parents are real glad to see us, so they’re going to treat us like queens.” Next, one of the girls hands her bag to the “valet,” which is really her daddy, then she notices an over-stuffed fridge and exults that her mom went to Costco. Another girl states she’s going to “tear it up, get a plate real dirty and not clean it up,” followed by her desire to do an entire load of laundry “for just one sock.” They all join in to sing the chorus: “I’m a back home baller; if I want something I just holler. I do what I want and I get what I want cause my parents miss their daughter.” And, finally, “They wait on me like I’m sickly, that’s the life of a back home baller.”

Funny, yet sad and pathetic. It’s me they’re talking about/making fun of. It’s true. I booked my daughter’s flight home months ago, and, when the afternoon of her arrival is finally here, I repeatedly check the flight status. I’m waiting in the cell lot when she texts, “Here! Going to get bags.” Then, I drive around and around until I see her standing outside the terminal. I jump out and lift her bag into the back and race home as fast as possible, so that she can have her favorite meal, which I’ve spent all day preparing, starting with a crock pot full of queso. Then, she falls asleep on the couch and my husband and I tiptoe around her, and retreat to our bedroom, even though there’s no high-def in there. The next day, I’m up early, making pigs in a blanket, Kerbey Lane pancakes and reading the paper, waiting to serve breakfast. At noon, I give up and, having missed my usual exercise class, I decide to go on a walk. After a couple of blocks, I return home and open the door to find that she’s still asleep. Ok, time to get on with my day. The minute I jump in the shower, the water pressure decreases and the water turns lukewarm. She’s up!

The video continues to point out truths and there’s a bit about how the returning college student wants queso and chips more than drugs. Uh-oh. And how the neighbors swarm around her like paparazzi when she ventures outside. Also true. Finally, we’re nearing the end when a new character pops up to state that her mom puts out “so many bowls” for her; chips, mints and seashell bowls, potpourri, nuts and M&M’s. “She puts out these bowls for me and any bowl I like I get for free.” Hmmm. I put fall fruit in a bowl on the dining room table and a bowl of red and green Hershey’s kisses on the console in the den. And, sadly, I recently placed a bowl of sea shells from our last vacation on my daughter’s dresser. Who writes for SNL and when were they in my house?

Finally, the skit draws to a close with the girls blowing kisses to their mothers and saying, “See you in a month for Christmas. We’re doing this ALL again.” Oh no; no we’re not. I have seen the error of my ways and it stops here. There will be no queso and no bowls at Christmastime. Join me, fellow moms of collegians. Let’s stop the insanity.

Here’s the link, if you dare:


Who Knows?

I’m 57 years old and have lived through many election cycles. Sometimes my side wins and sometimes it loses and I deal with it, usually taking it all in stride.  But yesterday I was truly shocked. Stunned. Slapped upside the head silly. Sad. Scared. The person I voted for, yet wasn’t totally excited about, lost. I hadn’t campaigned for her or even contributed to her cause in any way other than to cast my vote. So, why did I feel so gobsmacked? Why was I taking it so personally? I’ve been analyzing myself nonstop for the last 24 hours and I think I’ve got the answer: Because the man who won the presidency is like no candidate we’ve ever seen before. He’s crude, crass, has no filter between his brain and his mouth, tweets like a high-schooler at all hours of the night, engages in silly wars of words with nearly everyone who criticizes him or causes him discomfort, is a reality t.v. star, a former co-owner of Miss Universe contests, was unprepared for three presidential debates and whispered under his breath like an 8th grade debate team loser, and generally never conducted himself in a way that seemed even remotely presidential. For heaven’s sake, an entertainer/correspondent from NBC was fired for chuckling while Trump engaged in “locker room talk.” The person doing the talking is now the president-elect. And, because of all of the aforesaid, it never ever, not even for a minute occurred to me that this man could or would be elected. My naivete despite my mature years is astounding in retrospect.

Today, though,  I feel a wee bit better. I’ve heard Hillary’s concession speech which was warm, gracious and sincere, urging all of us to give the president-elect a chance to succeed. I saw President Obama sitting in the oval office with the president-elect, acting civil, practically congenial. I heard Trump say he would look to Obama for counsel and that he looked forward to meeting with him many, many more times. I saw a post on Facebook saying maybe this is what our country needs. When I read that yesterday, I was horrified. Today, not so much. Why? Because who really knows? No one – and I’m sure not listening to the talking heads on cable news for insight anymore. How did this unconventional candidate become our next president? No one truly knows.  I don’t know and neither do you. Maybe Trump will become someone none of us recognized during the campaign. Honestly, I don’t think the man ever truly believed he’d be sitting in the oval office. Maybe we’ll see a smart businessman who will choose to surround himself with knowledgeable, experienced advisors. Who knows? None of us really knows the man the nation has elected to serve as OUR president. His own party doesn’t know him. Maybe he really will make America great again. (Question: when exactly did the greatness stop?) As we wait and see, let’s discontinue the protesting, the hate-talk, the judging, the self-congratulating, the social media shaming. The democratic process has processed, the voters have spoken. Let’s sit back, watch, wait and see. Because none of us truly knows what we’re in for.