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.

 

 

Anticipation

I dropped her off two weeks ago yesterday.  She left the next morning with her aunt and uncle and cousins.  They were heading west to meet my parents at the halfway point between their house and ours.  That’s not a quick road trip when you live in Texas.  They all had lunch together and stretched their legs and made their goodbyes.  She and one of her cousins climbed into the backseat of their grandparents’ car and continued their journey west.  My sister and her family turned around for the five hour drive back home.

Two weeks without a teenager in the house sounds like bliss during the Summer when you have four others living with you, too.  It’s not.  I am happy that she got to bond with her grandparents.  I am grateful that they took them to see such awesome and amazing natural sites of New Mexico and Arizona.  I am elated that my niece and daughter have had time together, away from their siblings and parents, to build that strong friendship and trust that cousins should have.  But the hole in my heart while she has been away has been difficult to deal with.

I love all of my nearly grown and grown children.  Each one has their own section in my heart.  I enjoyed spending time with my boys this Summer.  I learned that a lot of our conversations are interrupted by my daughters.  With only one daughter, the one who is usually blamed for these interruptions, I realized that it’s not only she who breaks into these moments with the boys.  I need to work on that.

I realized that my two girls, who fight daily because they share a bedroom, love each other to pieces and actually miss one another.  Randa slept in Samiya’s bed the first five days she was gone, just to feel close to her.  She had nightmares the last few days.  She kept getting out of bed, panicked, shouting, “Get in the car, Mommy!  It’s Samiya, trapped in a cave.  It’s save Samiya. Bring her home NOW!”  (She had seen the photos of Samiya and her cousin in Carlsbad Caverns from the second leg of their trip.)  Anxiety and Autism has a way of altering perspectives sometimes.  It took a lot of consoling and coaxing to convince her that Samiya was safe and back at Granddad’s house and that she would be home in just a few days.

Her brothers have missed her, too, although mostly as it relates to the frequency of their turns to wash dishes.  Ismail mentioned to me that he had been texting her throughout the two weeks.  Aiman had been talking to people they regularly game with online and talked to me excitedly about how Samiya had been promoted to a higher level on their team.  Mohamed talked with her, too, a few times by phone while she was gone.

But the person who has missed her most is her father.  He kept asking during the whole two weeks, “It’s long enough, right?” and when I told him that my sister planned to stay the night out there and come back Sunday, I could see his face fall just a little.  Then he said, “We should celebrate her coming back.  I’ll bring home chickens and you grill them on Sunday.  It will be a welcome home party.”  Daddy’s little girl personified.

Today, Randa will be pacing back and forth to the front door to check for her aunt and uncle’s car.  They drove out through the desert again to pick the girls up from Dad’s house.  And I will be washing and cooking and prepping for her return, trying to keep busy so I don’t jump out of my skin with excitement.  I missed my girl.

 

Summer of Wisdom…err, Teeth

Back in September or October, Randa’s dentist informed me that her wisdom teeth were starting to come in.  She gave us a referral to an oral surgeon and we called.  No joy.  He no longer accepted Randa’s dental insurance.  We tried another.  Same result.  We tried three more.  Finally, in February, we found an oral surgeon in north Dallas.  Or so we thought.  We drove up for the preliminary appointment; no easy feat from our house during peak morning rush hour.  The doctor seemed capable and friendly and gentle with Randa.  We went out front to schedule the surgery.  The receptionist said that it would take about a week to hear back from the insurance company and then she would call me.  She handed me prescriptions to have filled and gave me a folder with some antibiotics in a pouch stapled to the inside.  Long story, short:  It took them until freaking July to get approval from the insurance company and surgery scheduled.  Wow.

So, last week we had it done.  She did fine, all things considered.  She’s still puffy and swollen and eating soft foods.  But we’ve weaned her off the hardcore pain meds and she’s taking ibuprofen and sleeping well.  Only she keeps telling me that “Dr. Brown is a bad, bad man.  Put tooth back on.”  Perhaps she’ll think differently when she’s able to eat fried foods and drink through a straw again.

So, while Randa has been recuperating, I took Ismail and Aiman to the dentist for a regular check up.  Ismail’s wisdom teeth also appeared to be ready to come out.  This dentist sent us to an oral surgeon just 10 minutes up the road from us who actually takes our insurance.  (Had I known back in February….*sigh*)  We went yesterday and had the appointment and yes, he needs them yanked out.  We should be hearing back next week and he should be recuperating in two.

It used to be that Summer vacation time was about road trips, running through sprinklers, and eating popsicles.  Now it’s about not missing school days while you recover.  At least there are still popsicles.

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.

 

In Memoriam

The doctor is not in. He is no longer accepting new patients. He is gone. There will be no referrals. You’re on your own. It’s just as well. No one could fill his shoes anyway. His title was honorary. He wasn’t really a doctor. He was a pipe-fitter, master mechanic, automotive hobbyist. He was known as Dad, Uncle Tracy, Mr. Tracy, and Honey. (His grandkids call him Honey.) To me, he will always be Dr. Tracy – the brain surgeon who earned his title teaching his teenage daughter how to drive a 3-on-the-tree manual transmission pick up truck as I sat between them. “If this truck is in first gear, then I’m a brain surgeon!”

When Dr. Tracy called me back in January to let me know that he was terminal, I was at the high school doing volunteer work. He seemed matter of fact and could just as easily have been telling me that he’d sprained an ankle.  Being the walking Kleenex commercial that I am, I sat down and started to cry.  He got upset that he’d upset me. I guess that’s always the way with any terminal disease, isn’t it? The person who is doing the dying always spends his last days consoling those who aren’t.  He said, “Now see? I shouldn’t have told you. I knew you were at the school, and I’ve gone and upset you. I didn’t call to make you cry or beg sympathy.” Well, then the tears were replaced by anger. (Yeah, I’m an emotional funnel cloud some days.)

“Look here, Old Man!” I told him (without shouting because he is still my elder.) “I love you almost as much as I love my own daddy. So, you’ll allow me the privilege of crying for you.” Aside from my dad, husband, and brother, there is no other man I’ve loved more.

It took a few weeks to arrange things here in Texas before I could get down to see him. While my five children are mostly grown, there are still 4 in high school, one of whom is “special needs.”  My siblings took turns heading from here to Mobile to visit with him. And then it was my turn. And I think for each of us it was similar. We arrived at the house and had something to eat at the kitchen table with him. Then we held down that kitchen chair talking to him, laughing with him, reminiscing with him until it was time for us to head back to Texas. Our cousins from Alabama, Mississippi, and even New York, traveled down to Mobile to sit on that chair and love on him these past few months.

Aunt Ginger and Wendy have both told me how “tickled he was” that we took the time to come visit with him. And I think that I speak for all of us when I say that we wished we could have done more. You see, Uncle Tracy was not our “blood relative.” He married our Aunt Ginger more than 54 years ago and he seemed to think that he was an “in-law” to all of us. He seemed genuinely surprised by the number of his nieces, nephews, and grandnieces and grandnephews whose lives had been touched by him. Most of us had known him as long as we’d been alive and had gotten advice from him about various mechanical issues, or home repair issues, or just chewing the fat. He’s family. However it was that he joined it, by birth or by marital bond: He’d been part of it longer than any of us.

Our family is short by one tall member today. And while we mourn our loss of him, we rejoice that he is no longer suffering the pain that he endured for these last months. The good doctor will always be with us in spirit and in memory. And every time I start to drive after accidentally putting my car in third gear rather than first, I know that there is a brain surgeon smiling down from Heaven at me.

Prom Season is Upon Us

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I’m not going to lie to you. We NEED money. Hosting a prom each year is expensive. But STARRY NIGHT PROM is doing everything in its power to continue keeping this event cost-free for the Arlington ISD high school students with significant disabilities and their chaperone. It truly isn’t easy. But here’s how you can help.

Donate: If you could just provide us with as much as you are comfortable with donating, it could make all the difference in the world. Each and every donation, regardless of amount, is greatly appreciated. To reach our secure fundraising site, please click on this link———————————> RIGHT HERE!

Share:  Please share this post. Circulating this blog post among your friends via your social media outlets can assist us in reaching even more potential donors. This can make all the difference in the world. Please click on the Facebook, Twitter, or email links below to help our cause.

In-Kind Donations:  If you own a business or represent an organization that would like to sponsor STARRY NIGHT PROM by in-kind donations of logo-bearing promotional items (such as pens, pennants, t-shirts, hats, refrigerator magnets, keychains, lanyards, drink koozies, etc,) please email me here———————> starrynightprom@outlook.com.

We are also accepting gift basket items to be raffled off during the event, 29 April 2017. If you have a gift basket that you would like to donate for raffle, please contact me at the email address above.

ALL DONATIONS ARE TAX-DEDUCTIBLE. STARRY NIGHT PROM IS A REGISTERED 501 (C)(3) NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION.

STARRY NIGHT PROM 2017

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This kid right here? He’s having a blast, dancing his heart out at the Starry Night Prom last year.

2017 will mark our TENTH ANNUAL STARRY NIGHT PROM! Can you believe we’ve been doing this for an entire decade? We decided to celebrate that fact by throwing an even better prom this year than we did last year. But in order to do that, we need your help. This prom is run entirely on donations. Yes, that’s right. The invitations, corsages and boutonnieres, decorations, food, DJ, desserts, photography, commemorative t-shirts, swag bags and everything in them: ALL donated or paid for with your donations. Even the people who provide service on this night- all volunteers.

And throwing an event like STARRY NIGHT PROM each year is not cheap. So we’re calling on you to help us out. Please donate to help us reach our $6000 goal and make this magical night a reality for these kids within the Arlington ISD. Just click on the highlighted link below and you’ll be directed to our crowd-sourcing fundraiser site.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO STARRY NIGHT PROM 2017!

If you own a business and would like to donate logo-bearing in-kind donation for swag bags, please contact our Vice-President of Donations by emailing her here: starrynightprom@outlook.com

If you have other in-kind donations that you’d like to donate, such as gently used prom dresses or tuxedoes, or if you’d like to purchase and donate food items or gift cards to local grocery or department stores, swagbag items, etc., also please contact our Vice-President of Donations via email: starrynightprom@outlook.com.

Remember EVERY donation is appreciated and we will provide  you with a tax-deductible receipt.

**STARRY NIGHT PROM is a registered 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization.

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.

 

 

6 Days Left

Starry Night Prom 2015 SWAG BAGS

These are STARRY NIGHT PROM goodie bags from our 2015 prom. These customized backpacks were donated to us by the Elks Lodge #2114 in Arlington, Texas. We stuffed them full of swag for each of our attendees; AISD High School students with significant disabilities. The swag included a customized Starry Night Prom 20-ounce cup, pens, pencils, keychains, compact mirrors, coupons and gift certificates from many local businesses, toys, stickers, magnets, and other cool items. Each backpack also contained a STARRY NIGHT PROM commemorative t-shirt with all of our big sponsors printed on the back.

So all of that stuff inside the goodie bags? FREE for our students who attend. You know what else is free? The meal for each of them (and for one attending chaperone guest per student,) the prom portrait photography, the prom fun photo booth style photography, the boutonnieres and corsages, the beautiful custom made invitations, the dessert fountain, the DJ and big dance floor where they can dance and have a wonderful time. All of this is paid for by the donations of kind and generous people who want to see these kids have a magical Starry Night Prom.

And even though a lot of the swag, backpacks, venue, services including cooking and catering are donated as in-kind donations, we still need money to pay for the photography, DJ, printing of invitations, shirts, cups, decorations, additional swag, and a large portion of the food items that are purchased each year.

Our ongoing FACEBOOK fundraiser event is still active for 5 more days! Facebook has waived all of their usual fees for registered  501 (C) (3) nonprofit organizations with Facebook pages during the #GivingTuesday fundraiser drive. This means that 100% of all donations made via the Starry Night Prom Facebook page will be donated to our noble cause.

Won’t you please consider donating to Starry Night Prom and give these kids their magical night this Spring 2017? All donations are 100% appreciated. Thank you for your support.