Alternators, Emissions, and Rainstorms-OHMY!

carsINrain

This is the view from my front porch today…or it WOULD BE if the Mazda weren’t at the mechanic’s garage right now.  We are currently a one-car family circus. This means that I am adding driving my husband to and from work to my usual chauffeur duties.  That’s not so bad, really.  I get to spend a little alone time with him on the way to work and he’ll hold my hand and sort of grunt in agreement as I chatter all the way.  He’s not a morning person.

The Mazda’s alternator is in need of repair. The van can’t seem to pass inspection due to an emissions issue and, as our regular type of luck runs, we’re still one year short of the emissions waiver. DAMMITMAN!  So, we’re working with what runs for now until the one that doesn’t is repaired and then we’ll switch vehicles for a whole new course of driving around in one vehicle while the other is repaired.

I am all about buying used cars and paying cash so that we don’t end up with car payments.  Some would say that considering the automotive repair issues we are facing now, that I should rethink my philosophy of used cars.  To them I say, “Au contraire, mon frère!”  We bought that Chevy van 3 years ago for $2000.  We’ve put about 30k miles on it and maybe $1000 under the hood.  Truthfully, that’s not bad for a 19 year old vehicle.  The Mazda was a gift from my brother, who heard that my little Metro’s transmission and clutch had bit the proverbial dust.  He drove it up here from Austin, signed the title over to me, took a 3-hour nap on my couch and then had me drop him off at the bus depot so he could make it home to work that night. What an awesome guy!  I’ve driven that thing at least 5k miles since February and this is the first time it’s needed to be repaired.

That’s the thing about vehicles, you know?  They eventually need to be repaired.  And many people would be more secure in driving a new car that is still under warranty, etc. But for us, justifying that car note also comes with justifying full coverage insurance which, with 2 teenage drivers, we just cannot afford.  So we’ll keep our secondhand cars and just ride the automotive repair waves this month.  It is what it is.  At least our second vehicle is not a bicycle.

 

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Texas: The European Tour

Did you know that Texas has a plethora of cities named after European cities?  I have known about Paris, Texas since I was a young girl.  I’ve toured most of Europe since we lived in Germany most of my childhood.  We spent many a holiday visiting the UK, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Italy, and more.  As a young adult, I traveled to Greece.

Now that we’re living in Texas, a lot has changed.  We’ve aged and don’t really feel the urge to travel great distances like we once did.  But on a whim, I took the kids on a road trip to Paris, Texas during Spring break a few years ago.  It was fun.  They have an Eiffel Tower there….but with a gigantic cowboy hat on the top of it.  Next to that, there is a veterans memorial dedicated to all of the veterans from that area as far back as the mid-1800’s.

After that trip, I decided that we’re going to check out every European city within our great state of Texas.  The next place we visited was Dublin, Texas.  It’s hands down our favorite so far.  We got to tour the Ben Hogan Museum there.  It was great.  Ben Hogan was such an amazing contributor to the game of golf.  He deserves his own little museum.  We also toured the Dr. Pepper Museum while we were there.  That place is so cool.  They’ve got DP stuff that goes back over 100 years.  We also had some sandwiches at the little sandwich shop that runs the DP museum and purchased a case of sodas bottled by the Dublin soda factory that still runs today.  I’d like to go back there one day when the antique shops are open.

We had a very sweaty trip to Athens, Texas.  Unfortunately for us, we got a late start on a Sunday, and by the time we arrived almost the whole town was closed.  We did go on a self-guided tour of the Arboretum there and it was extremely pleasant, albeit hotter than a $12 stereo.  The best part was a huge gazebo with a massive fan in the ceiling (it wasn’t on) and a stage.  No one was around, so I stood on that stage and sang my fool head off.  The acoustics were awesome.

This past Spring break, we attempted to see the sites of Rhome.  (No, that’s  not a typo.  It’s just a Texan spelling of Rome, I guess.)  The tiny little veterans memorial there was nice.  But that’s pretty much all it had to offer.  We got a little spooked by the muscle car full of rednecks that kept driving up and down the road while we were at the memorial.  The occupants kept staring at us like we were Martians.  Probably they’d never seen such good-looking people before.  Of course, it may have been the hijabs the girls and I were wearing.  Anyway, we decided 15 minutes was long enough and piled back in the van and went home.

Today, we decided to try a city whose twin used to be behind the Iron Curtain:  WARSAW.  Warsaw’s history is pretty sparse.  It was established back in 1847 and had a post office until 1858.  I think the largest population it had was 65 back in the 1990s, until recently when there was a huge population growth and now the town numbers 300.  They have a community center now.  And. Nothing. Else.  The trip was a 114-mile U-turn in someone’s driveway.  It’s a couple-hundred horse town….but no stop lights.  We didn’t even get out of the car.  We just drove back home and made ice cream sundaes and watched the rain fall for a while.  But that’s okay.  It was one more town checked off our list and family time of sandwiches in the car, one stop at a gas station to pee, and another story of “family togetherness torture” for the kids to complain about to their therapists when they’re older.

 

 

Welcome Home, Hero. Rest in Peace.

This was not the first military funeral I had attended.  It was the first time I’d been to any funeral that took place 76 years after the deceased had died.  This young man, a kid the same age as my third of five children, has finally made it home to be put to rest with his family in a hero’s ceremony.  Seaman First Class George Anderson Coke, Jr. came home to Arlington today for the first time since he left for boot camp back in 1941.

My friend, Leslie Dorn Barton, is George Coke’s second cousin once or twice removed.  I’m still unclear on all that genealogy stuff.  While I’d like to be able to trace back my family tree, I’m quite unorganized and tend to think circularly rather than in clear straight lines.  Besides, I’ve got aunts and cousins on both sides of my tree who really dig that sort of thing and they actually journal it all. Anyway, Leslie is one of the Special Education teachers who taught my daughter at Sam Houston High School. We became friends over the last couple of years. So naturally, when she mentioned that this funeral was happening today, I told her I’d come.

It’s been hotter than ever all week and I was so relieved when the thunderstorms hit our city last night and it rained until the wee hours this morning.  I donned my black abaya and a gray and black scarf and then headed over to the First United Methodist Church and tried to “blend in” with the Arlington locals.  I know.  I didn’t. The sole Muslim in a sea of mostly older, white, Christian faces.

I listened to the history of George Coke, Jr., son of George Coke, Sr., who was the Chief of Police in Arlington back in the 1920s.  I learned that of the 3,500 American casualties that day in Pearl Harbor, that Arlington lost 48 souls.  My mind wandered, as is the norm during funerals.  Everyone in some way or another is reminded of their own immortality at a funeral.  With military funerals, you are also reminded of all of your family members and friends who also served in the armed forces.  I felt a few tears escape today as I remembered friends who were killed in foreign wars.  I felt a few more tears escape as I offered prayers of thanks and gratitude for those family and friends who returned safely home.

I followed the funeral procession to Parkdale Cemetary. We were escorted by members of the United States Navy and a large number of the Arlington Police Department.  I watched as the sailors, now pallbearers, respectfully carried the remains of their comrade who fell in the line of duty more than half a century before any of them were born.  And the firing of the three volleys, though I knew they were coming, still caught me off guard and those tears of relief that most of my loved ones returned to me fell from my eyes as a silent salute to Seaman Coke and all of the thousands who didn’t.

My heart stirred as I watched the slow and deliberate movements of the sailors folding the flag and the hand off of that folded flag followed by the final salute from Seaman to Non-Commissioned Officer to Officer to Rear Admiral and finally to George Coke, Jr.’s family members.  The spent shell casings from the three volleys, symbolizing duty, honor, and country, were then placed into the hand of the young descendant of Seaman Coke.

A cool breeze gently blew across my face, air-drying the silent tears and leaving my cheeks a little bit sticky.  I hugged Leslie and shook hands with her son, aunt, and mother.  I looked back to see the final resting place of Seaman Coke, under the Live Oak and the Crepe Myrtle trees, beside his mother and father.  Welcome home, hero.  Rest in peace.

 

Ramadan 1438 (2017)

Well, in sticking with my usual Ramadan traditions, breakfast was LATE on the first night this year, too. I had big plans, people. BIG plans. We had the dates soaking in milk for about 13 hours. We had freshly made mango juice. We had hummous and baba ghanouj and I even remembered to have my husband bring bread home with him…because I always forget it. We had the coffee pot set up and ready to brew. I had found a recipe for making spiral-cut parmesan baked potatoes and had them ready to go. I had pulled the ribeyes out of the freezer before noon to thaw and since it was 40 billion degrees outside, I decided we’d grill them in the oven instead of any of that charcoal grill nonsense. And I made Brussels sprouts. I should have gone with the charcoal grill.

The stupid meat would not freaking cook. They’re steaks. I’ve made them at least 4000 times in my life time. WHY? What gives? The physics in my oven just decided to go on strike? AUGH! I don’t know what was going on there….but it was terrible. We had all the sides and juices and salads. But no meat until 9:00 when they finally finished cooking. And they were terrible. I was so sad that, of all the traditions, being late with dinner on the first night of Ramadan was the one that I managed to keep. *sigh* Oh, well.

Today I took the meat out of the freezer at 10 a.m. I’m going to start cooking at 3 p.m. And all I’ll have left 40 minutes or so before the sundown is to make a pot of rice and to turn the coffeepot on. Now if I could just remember this lesson on the first night of Ramadan 1439, I’ll be in good shape.

Ramadan Mubarak.

رمضان مبارك

 

The Doctor is In

I’ve known him all my life. And after my dad, he’s the “adult male” that I would turn to for car maintenance advice, a kind word, a belly laugh in the form of some hilarious anecdote that had  happened that week. Uncle Tracy has been a comfortable constant in my life no matter where the Army sent us throughout my childhood.

My cousin, Wendy, was my best friend/pen pal during all that back and forth moving overseas to Texas to Alabama and back overseas, etc. I felt grounded reading her letters and a sense of normalcy writing back to tell her all about my softball season, how much I hated Algebra II, and which boy I had a crush on that week. I always sent love to her parents and she always sent it back to mine. And for us, there was never any awkwardness. Even though she wasn’t a military BRAT like me, we would pick up right where we left off three years before. We’d run out to play on the zip line that Uncle Tracy had built using the tallest trees in the backyard or play basketball or throw pine cones at each other or at night, jump out from behind a fat bush on the side of the road to scare the crap out of teenage drivers who were speeding up the street and then take off running as they slammed on brakes and cussed at us out the open windows.

When I spent a week with them during the Summer Wendy had gotten her learner’s permit, Uncle Tracy earned a new nickname. We were in his pick-up truck. Wendy was driving. We were in the left only turn bay and she was having trouble with the 3-on-the-tree. Uncle Tracy was patiently bellowing directions from the passenger seat. I was the quiet moron in the middle; head turning left then right then left again as the conversation continued across me. After about 4 light changes from red to green and back to red, Wendy was beyond frustrated as the engine choked and died again. Uncle Tracy stated loudly, for the tenth time, “Wendy, you’ve got to put the damn thing in first gear!”

“It IS in first gear!” she shouted back, red-faced.

“Wendy, if this damn truck was in first gear, we’d already be in the driveway by now. Put it in first gear.”

She violently pulled the shift bar from where it was to neutral and then back to where it was. “It IS in first gear, Daddy!” The light turned green again. She let up off the clutch again. The truck jerked forward and died again. The car behind us started honking again as he was too close to go around us like the cars behind him. The light turned red again.

“Wendy, you’re in third gear. Put the truck in first gear!!”

“Daddy, it IS IN FIRST GEAR!” she shouted back.

Uncle Tracy actually yelled this time, “IF THIS TRUCK IS IN FIRST GEAR THEN I’M A GODDAMN BRAIN SURGEON!”

The dumbass in the middle, sensing the tension and trying to show solidarity with her cousin waved and said, “Hiiiiiiiii, Doctor Tracy!”

They were too pissed off at each other to laugh. She finally found first gear and we went home. When we got  back to their house, I figured I should make myself scarce and then I heard my aunt laughing in the kitchen. I went to get a glass of tea and she handed me a tall cup to take to “the good doctor.” She and Wendy howled with laughter.

I handed him his tea and he just looked at me. Then he laughed and said it was in third. I  told him that out of all the pipefitters in the world, he made a fine brain surgeon. He’s been Dr. Tracy ever since.

 

 

Precipitation-Induced Win

After having had such a busy summer where I felt as though I’d achieved only 10% of the tasks I’d given myself due to the unbearable heat, I feel like all of that has changed today. Why today? you ask. It’s been raining for the last 2 days and, as anyone who knows me can tell you, the rain is my jam.

It’s in the high 80’s now and I don’t feel like I’m trudging through hot mud. I have managed to wash 5 loads of laundry (complete with folding and putting away!) I have disinfected the kitchen sinks and counters after washing up all the “midnight snacks” dishes that TWO OF MY ROTTEN TEENAGERS LEFT FOR ME IN THE SINK! I have already started slow-cooking dinner, made my bed, had breakfast and figured out what my afternoon errand list looks like. Thank you, Rain.

I know that the rain of late has not been kind to our neighbors in Louisiana. Last I read, there were 8 or 9 parishes underwater. I do continue to pray for relief, safety, and a very long dry spell for them. But here in North Texas, I am grateful for the cold front that has brought rain our way.

And for those of you kind-hearted souls who would like to help out those people who have lost their homes, vehicles, pretty much all material possessions due to this flooding, please donate to the American Red Cross by CLICKING RIGHT HERE! Thank you for your kind generosity. 20160817_134925

 

Our Summer Vacation to Athens

So, this week has been a major ass-kicker for me…mostly in a good way. Sunday we took advantage of the fact that my son and daughter both quit their summer jobs and that my husband finally replaced the compressor in the van giving us air-conditioning. YAY. So we finally got on the road about 2 pm and headed off to Athens. (That’s Athens, Texas, y’all.)
Of course, due to the late start and having to deal with a major autistic meltdown with a pit stop at Dairy Queen to calm nerves all around, we managed to get to this po-dunk town after everything that we wanted to see had closed. So we headed back to the main drag and pulled into the East Texas Arboretum and did a little hiking in 104 degree heat. It was an impressive patch of woods with lots of lovely gardens and fountains and a one-room school house and a bat house. We spent a whopping hour there before piling back into the van and driving home. I think the highlights for me were the photos of my kids and husband playing “slow-mo Ninja” in the gazebo and the fact that I didn’t have to cook. (We bought pizza that night.) My husband was excited about the fact that I had enough fuel points to only have to pay 86 cents per gallon when we filled up the van.

We’ve traveled quite a bit all over the US, Europe, Middle East and North Africa. But since moving to the US and making our home in Texas, we’ve decided to spend some time seeing all of the major European cities within Texas state lines. We have now gone to Paris, Dublin, and Athens. Not bad for day trips, huh?

Fam in Athens

Supposed To vs Actually

We’re supposed to go on a road trip today. We’re supposed to be stuffing the entire overbooked with practical shit summer into one day of family fun not too far from home. My kids are supposed to be up and packing picnics, getting softball equipment, and bags of ice ready and into the back of the van (the same van that my husband just had repaired so that we could make this trip WITH air conditioning as opposed to the usual sweat-logged journeys of the past.) I’m supposed to be gassing up said van and using up all my “fuel points” to get the cheapest gas around and jumping up and down like an idiot that’s one a $50 scratch ticket. (Thank you, Kroger Plus card.)

What’s actually happening is my husband is in the backyard painting the cement slab he laid for the kids to play basketball on, I’m checking email (and now blogging quickly as my jeans are still in the dryer,) and all 5 teens are still asleep.

I vote we ditch the kids and show them pictures of all the fun we had while they slept once we get back.

 

Overbooking and Aging

I’m not really old. But I’m no Spring chicken, either. And for those of us who have been in the “over achiever” category all our lives, this whole aging thing is just ass-kicking. No, not a little tiring. I mean, beat-down with a baseball bat, friggin’ leaving you taking 3-hour naps in the middle of the day, exhausting.

When I was 18, I lived in an apartment with my sister. We both worked several jobs in order to pay the rent, utilities, phone bill, gas/maintenance on our cars, and our part time college tuition and books. And by several jobs, I mean that we were like that overworked family from the West Indies whose members all had multiple jobs on “In Living Color.”  I remember at the time working 5 days a week for my office day job from 7:30 am – 4pm and then from 5- 9pm bagging groceries on Ft Meade 3 days a week, answering the switchboard at (the now closed) Laurel Toyota and Jaguar in Laurel, Maryland from 4-9pm twice a week and all day Saturday and loading boxes onto trucks for E.I.Kane Office Movers on Sundays and days off with the other jobs. I sometimes worked overtime at my day job watching over contractors to keep them out of the “off-limits” corridors or working for our own internal office movers.

The older I got, the more part-time jobs I held down after my day job. I worked as a cashier
for Rite Aid, Romano’s Restaurant, (the now closed) Rumblefish Nightclub, Damon’s Ribs (closed down within a year of my leaving allegedly due to the owner embezzling), and various babysitting jobs, tutoring jobs, and once as a free-lance maid.

Once I got married and had kids, part-time jobs were a thing of the past. I couldn’t juggle all the schedules of five children and work plus a second job. So I made up for the “not enough to do” feeling by over-achieving at housework and cooking. I learned to sew. I would scrub down the walls and shutters and windows every month. I would scrub area rugs and wipe down cupboards and appliances. I scrubbed floor tiles and hung my laundry out to dry on the line.

I’m in my 40’s now. Screw all that shit. I keep a tidy house…mostly. I still cook amazing foods…because we can’t afford to feed a family of seven at a restaurant frequently. I now over-achieve by volunteering all the time and this Summer, my kids decided to kill me slowly by signing up for Summer School to take accelerated Physics and Geometry. That would be fine ordinarily….except they signed up for different sessions. The two taking accelerated Physics took it in the first session. The one taking accelerated Geometry signed up for the second session. Ugh. Also, the two that took the first session now both have jobs so I feel like I’m constantly behind the wheel of a car. My rotator cuff is threatening to go on strike…permanently, due to all the gear changing and u-turns required in a car that does not have power steering.

I’m currently attempting to set up 3 different fundraisers for a non-profit organization and I’m running into brick walls while trying to meet the deadlines I set for myself thanks to all the driving. Today was supposed to be a “get the house CLEAN clean” while the kids were at work and school. I ended up losing in a battle of wills with my bed that kept taunting me. I took a 3 hour nap.

I think I’m just going to admit that I’m too old to take on all of the things like I used to do. The sooner that my family can just learn to applaud when I’m able to fold and put away a basket of towels AND get the dinner made, the better. And so what if I’m getting all this accomplished while still wearing pajamas? At least I remembered deodorant and I’m remembering to put actual pants on before going grocery shopping. What more do you people want?!

 

My Body is a Traitor

Rotator cuff is screaming at me and has been since January that it is being overused. I tried taking it to the doctor and all she prescribed was NSAIDs and ordered an x-ray which didn’t show any bone issues. I took it back in April and said, “Hey, this thing is worse.” She sent me to physical therapy. I did the prescribed exercises for a week regularly. Then for two weeks irregularly. And then I got busy. And now my rotator cuff is threatening to just go on strike or worse.

The plantar fascia in my left foot has been quiet lately. I’m pretty sure that it and the diminished cartilage in my big toe have been waiting for a surprise attack once ole rotator cuff chills out. Stupid arthritis has been just gnawing on that cartilage all this time without any problems thanks to your brain only being able to recognize one severe pain at a time while drowning out the sounds of the others.

Through all of this, my eyes and skin continue to dry out regardless of the copious amounts of water that I drink daily. And you’d think with all this stinkin’ sweat that is pouring out of me day and night, regardless of clothing, air-conditioning, or temperature outside, that I’d obviously have some sort of moisture in my body. (Aside from the urine that escapes with every step, sneeze, cough, laugh, or wrong move.) Yeah, not so. Menopause is just life’s way of backing that dump truck over a woman following mowing her down the first time during menstruation and childbirth.

I always heard that aging is not for the faint of heart. I can attest to this. But as good as I’ve been to my body over the years, I find this treasonous blitz the last two years to be a huge betrayal. After all of the exercise and good foods and even those cheesecake treats I’ve given it, that it could just turn on me and cause me constant agony makes me sad. But what does one do? Aging is NOT for the faint of heart. And I guess it beats the alternative.