"I have seen personally what is the only beneficial and appropriate course of action for people: to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in all their hard work on earth during the few days of their life which God has given them, for this is their reward." (Ecclesiastes 5:18, NET)

August 23, 2016

Splendid isolation

According to the National Park Service, Big Bend offers "splendid isolation." Indeed it does.

I went camping with my brother Rex at the park, which encompasses 800,000 acres and the Chisos Mountains. For 3 full days and 4 nights, we were completely off the grid. No electronics. No internet. No clocks. We heard no news. And the only music we heard was what the birds and crickets were making.

It was lovely ... peaceful ... still. Just what I needed.

Even the 13-hour road trip from Houston was pleasant. We drove the back way through little towns so we could stop by if we saw something interesting. In Castroville, it was Haby's Alsatian Bakery, where we each got a ham and cheese croissant, a hearty sausage wrapped in a freshly made tortilla, and their best-selling apple fritter. Because how could we possibly choose just one thing at a place like that?

Then it was an antiques store in Uvalde, where I bought a few books, mostly for decor. My favorite content is a 1942 volume of "The New Human Interest Library," subtitled "Gems of Literature." It contains the US Constitution, Declaration of Independence, famous speeches, fairy tales, and poems. How cool is that? And Rex bought two wine goblets because that's what he does.

Another stop was Langtry to visit Judge Roy Bean's historic saloon, the Jersey Lilly.

Rex bellying up to the bar

Let it rain

As we were entering Big Bend territory, the windshield wipers were working overtime. Several campers passed us going in the opposite direction. Yay! Fewer people at the campground.

I love rain, and it's a good thing because it rained every night we were there. The best rain was on Wednesday. After a day of fun meandering and for at least an hour before the rain began, we were relaxing in our camp chairs, sipping red wine, and enjoying the magnificent thunder roll across the mountains as the cool breeze swirled around us. It was a glorious time for a thunder lover like me.

When the rainstorm hit, it came fast and hard. Rex looked up to see it right on the edge of camp, so he grabbed the food containers and ran for the tent, hollering, "Get in here now! Leave the wine if you have to!"

Whut? I don't think so.

Under my arms I tucked my paper and pen, hat, shirt, and water bottle. I grabbed the wine bottle, then realized I couldn't carry two goblets in the other hand without spilling them. (Rex has metal wine goblets for camping. We like to rough it, but we're not animals.) Since mine had less vino, I chugged it down so I could hold it at an angle. Then I ran to the tent and dove in, spilling nary a drop.

Camping necessities:
Screw-cap wine, water, shop towels
I had teased Rex about having a fold-out nightstand for his tent. But now, it made perfect sense. Where else would there have been a level surface for setting the bottle and goblets?

While the rain and thunder continued, we foraged in the food supplies for dinner. What pairs well with sweet red wine? Vienna sausage, of course, served with mustard and saltines. It was quite delightful. And it was a nice follow-up to our tasty meal the first night of beef jerky, hard lemonade, and the apple fritters from Haby's.

What is it about camping that makes any food taste fabulous!

Our prime spot in the Chisos Basin Campground

Rex's trusty tent kept us dry all week. And although we had a little mud, we never had a puddle since we were camped on a hill. The desert air would dry our canvas chairs in no time at all, and it wasn't even humid after the rain would stop. So no complaints from me about the rain. Well, except for one ...

Star light, star bright

The cloudy night skies were pitch-black, shrouding the stars from sight. And stargazing topped the list of things I wanted to do! I hardly ever see a star in the city, so I was really looking forward to that. There was also an unseen meteor shower the last two nights we were there, and the opportunity to see it was one of the reasons I was okay with going in the August heat.

Every night I prayed that the sky would clear long enough for me to see the stars at least once. As I retired on Thursday after another dark, rainy evening, I was beginning to lose hope.

It must have been well after midnight when my eyes suddenly popped open. I was wide awake. My first thought was how I had been sleeping much deeper than the previous nights. Then I looked out the tent window, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but ... stars!

Rushing outside before my legs were steady, I threw my head back to survey the wondrous sight and almost fell down. So I leaned back against the car and slowly rolled my head from side to side, marveling at the illuminated expanse above.

A little while later, I made my usual predawn trek up to the restroom—sans my umbrella, flashlight, and staring down at the path in front of me. Instead, I fox-trotted up the hill and kept my eyes on the sky. There wasn't a single sound nor a single light in the entire campground. It was just me and the stars.

Then I sat in my chair for a bit, reveling in the splendor of God's light show. (No, I wasn't being selfish by not waking Rex. Unlike me, he camps often and sees plenty of stars.)

Although I was wide awake, when I lay down again I instantly fell back into a deep sleep. The next morning, I reflected on what a beautiful, unexpected way God answered my prayer. It was as if the Almighty had tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, "Come and see."

Praise Him, sun and moon; praise Him, all stars of light! (Ps. 148:3)


I've been to Mexico border towns before, but nothing like Boquillas. Even getting there was different. After passing through customs on the US side, Pedro took us across the Rio Grande in his rowboat, gallantly helping me in and out of it.

Then we had the choice of getting to the village by walking or by truck, horse, or burrow. If not for the triple-digit heat, we would have preferred the slow burrow experience, but opted for Felipe's truck instead.

After the sweltering trailer where we went through customs on the Mexico side, we strolled through the poor little village, first passing the two restaurants, then a house where a man sells his wares from the porch. He called out to us, but we wanted to see what else was there first, so we waved and said we'd be back.

Just one little girl approached us selling bracelets, and the only other people we saw were huddled under canopies at the end of a road. It looked like a personal gathering, so we turned and went back to the vendor we saw earlier.

Ranger Mark and Pablo
Pablo seemed to understand what we were saying, even though he spoke no English. As I selected a couple of walking sticks, an amiable park ranger, Mark, came up and introduced himself. He told us about the village and why it was so quiet that day. Victor the Singing Mexican, their premier resident, died the day before of a sudden heart attack at the age of 65.

So instead of the street being lined with canopies under which vendors sold their wares, the village was in mourning. As Pablo talked about it, the only words I understood were "Victor" and "corazón," but his sadness translated clearly. I told him how sorry I was for his loss.

We then went to the Boquillas Restaurant for an authentic Mexican meal, made from scratch by Mena in her clean little kitchen. Every bite was truly delectable.

The owner and waiter, Ventura, told us more about Boquillas and Victor's funeral procession that would go through the village to the little cemetery on the lower level. They were just waiting for Victor's son to return from helping fight a wildfire in Colorado. I really wish we could have stayed for it.

Ranger Mark stopped by the restaurant for a cold cervesas and sat with a couple from the Czech Republic, whom we also met. And all the visitors met Joaquin, an 86-year-old resident. He spoke of living on a ranch for over 70 years, and proudly showed off a rock with his face drawn on it, which sat on the table near him. Later, Joaquin carefully wrapped his rock in a cloth, tucked it away, and ambled down the street using a rickety old wheelchair for a walker.

That was a special day.

Pine Canyon

Our one big hike was the Pine Canyon trail. Off the beaten path, it isn't even in the park brochures. The "road" to the trail is so rough and rocky that we could barely drive 5 mph, so it took 50 minutes to go about 4 miles.

The first part of the trail was a slight incline on a mountain in 103° heat, with only an occasional tree to duck under for quick relief. Rex assured me that there was plenty of shade in the canyon.

Now to me, a canyon trail would be on somewhat level ground. But oh no. Even after we got in that shady, breeze-less canyon, it was uphill most of the way with the trail winding along the mountainside.

The last part of the trail was much steeper and rockier than this,
but I was too weak by then to take a picture.

So how long do you think it took me to walk 2 miles uphill on a rocky, uneven path in stifling heat? ... No, longer than that ... longer ... try a whopping 3 hours! I thought about quitting a few times, but I'm so glad I didn't.

At the end of the trail, we stepped into a waterfall oasis—a beautiful, refreshing place to rest, cool off, enjoy our surroundings, and have a little picnic lunch. I knew then I would live.

Turn your sound up to hear the gentle waterfall (01:08)

Two good things about me taking numerous and lengthy rest stops to get there were: 1) The only other hikers, who arrived shortly before us, were able to enjoy the waterfall by themselves as we did later; 2) Rex didn't have to hoist my limp, unresponsive body across his shoulders and carry me back to the car.

You're welcome, folks.

Actually, Rex said he would not have carried me—deeming it more prudent to make sure he was able to get himself back safely so he could tell my story.

What played a big part in helping me soldier on was knowing that the 2 miles back would be mostly downhill, which I covered in a mere hour and 15 minutes. Then after another 50 minutes of 5 mph driving, we were back on the paved road. When we passed the crowded parking at one of the touristy trails, I was feeling even better about the experience.

It left us with a hefty appetite, so on our last night we actually cooked dinner (that is, we heated canned chili) and feasted on Frito pie.

Oh, I would be remiss not to mention the exquisite pleasure of pour-over coffee every morning. Utterly sublime.

Homeward bound

Dividing the drive home over two days, we stopped at brother Mike and sister-in-law Toni's charming little ranch in the hill country of Camp Verde, where there were long showers, soft beds, good food, and sweet fellowship. What a lovely way to assimilate back into society.

I limited this post to just a few highlights of the trip for your sake. But if you're not tired yet, take a gander at more pictures below.

And until next time ... via con Dios, mi amigos!

One of the two Boquillas shopping outlets we visited on the US side
(Money goes under the rock that's inside the can)
Rio Grande view from the shopping outlet above
Our ferry captain (and the glow of Rex's finger)
Scene in downtown Boquillas
Our muy bien lunch and Joaquin's rock (circled in the background)
View from our camping chairs
View slightly to the left
View from the early stage of Pine Canyon trail
View from a drive
Entrance sign (taken on the way out since it was raining on the way in)

July 25, 2016

An unexpectedly good birthday

The third annual "Treat Yo Self Day" didn't happen. Instead of the birthday extravaganza where I lavish myself with treats from morning to night, I just went to work.

The last time I worked on my birthday? I honestly can't remember. It just never seemed like the right thing to do.

But I took most of this year's vacation days to take care of Mom before she passed—an infinitely better use of my time off. So now I'm carefully meting out the few days I have left. Ergo, the extravaganza was forgone.

Nevertheless, I always love my birthday, and today was no exception. It started out a little shaky, though. I cried most of the way to work, thinking about Mom. I wonder when I'll quit thinking, This is my first [fill in the blank] without her.

My friends and colleagues certainly turned things around. They gave me treats ...

... decorated (trashed) my cubicle while I was at lunch ...

... and as I walked back in, lunged out of their cubicles on cue and blew horns. Yes, they tried to give me a heart attack for my birthday. Thankfully, there's no picture of my reaction.

I liked the message on my whiteboard. Jasmine ran out of room to finish writing "birthday" and had to improvise. I also appreciated her omission of the obligatory exclamation point. It reminded me of something Dwight from "The Office" would write.

The cake Melissa got me was delightfully unique as well. It was supposed to be cupcakes with white icing and cupcakes with red icing arranged to look like a target—commemorating the acquisition of my License to Carry. Apparently, there was a slight misunderstanding at the bakery. Don't you just love it, though?

Not a lot of work got done, so it was practically like having the day off anyway. And in honor of the special occasion, some of my colleagues took it easy as well, spending generous amounts of time visiting with me. Now that's true team support.

Of all the birthday wishes on Facebook, my favorite ones were from Sara and Christian, my little brunette darlins'. And of the birthday wishes via phone, my favorite ones were from Evyn and Ezra, my little blonde darlins'.

The blondes & brunettes when we were at Sub Zero Ice Cream on Saturday

So when I don't treat myself, God does it for me, in His usual fashion of pouring out showers of blessings through others.

Even so, a little online shopping before bed might be nice ...

April 27, 2016

Sara Jane

My first post of the year is never this late, but 2016 has been very different so far. My life, in fact, will never again be the same.

Mummy & me quite a few years ago
The woman I've known longer than anyone—who loved me more than any person could—is gone. 

I was privileged to be with Mom on the ride to the end of her life on earth. One day she sighed, "I've been dying for 3 months." "I know, Mom," I replied. "But since you know Jesus, you're really just getting ready to live forever."

She's with Him now—He who is sovereign over all and whose timing is perfect.

Mom was ready to go weeks before Jesus took her. She told us she wasn't afraid, and she pleaded with God to take her on home. But He said, "Wait."

While we waited, I got to spend more precious time with Mom as well as write her eulogy and, with the help of my sweet and talented daughter, Angy, create a video of her life in pictures. 

I was staying at Mom's house. Angy came every day to help me take care of her. For weeks, we thought she could go at any minute. But when the day came that God ordained in eternity past for Mom's death, He let us know that it was imminent.

After Angy got home that evening, the Lord wouldn't let her sit still, stirring her heart and prompting her to go back to Mom's. About an hour and a half after she returned, Angy, Rex, and I were caressing Mom, loving her, softly weeping over her, and watching her take her final breaths in peace. God arranged it perfectly.

He brings about all things at the proper time—
"He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15).

December 31, 2015

The most wonderful time of the year

Pajamas. Pillows. Laptop. Wine. I've got all the makings of the perfect New Year's Eve celebration. As the sound of fireworks punctuate the night outside my window, I sit propped up in bed, reflecting on my lovely 24.5-day Christmas vacation.

After many days of joy and good cheer, I've been experiencing some of the emotional downside of the final days. Sadness over the last piece of fudge. Bewilderment over what to have for breakfast since the leftover sausage balls and deviled eggs are gone. Dread over the thought of having to set my alarm again.

But there's plenty of good things to reflect on. Aside from all the wonderful holiday festivities, it's been so nice to just have time. Time to do things like:
  • Sleep late, one of the many benefits of which was watching movies and football games at night without crashing before the end
  • Meet my son for a delicious breakfast followed by firearm shopping
  • Finish reading one book and resume editing another book, both of which I started months ago
  • Search 9 stores for little "Mashems" because one of my grandsons wanted them
  • Be cool in holiday traffic and just enjoy singing along to Christmas carols on the radio
  • Take 5 days to wrap 35 gifts for grandkids (It's enjoyable for the first few; then it's just work.)
  • Complete my gift spreadsheet to ensure that each kid had the same number of gifts to unwrap and that I would pass them out in the correct order, aided by my new method of including numbers on the name tags (How did I not think of that before!)
The wee ones
I also spent an entire day revamping the story of "The Three Trees" and coming up with illustrations for the kids to color as a Christmas Eve activity. They took turns holding up their artwork while I read the story, fighting back my tears during the parts about the tree that became a makeshift cradle for the newborn Christ and the tree that became His cross. It was a fitting prelude to talking about the reason for the season before gifts were opened.

The big one with his new robe and keyboard
Throughout the evening and all day on Christmas, it's like I told my friend Monica—for a solid day and a half, my mouth never stopped moving because I was either eating or talking. She made some "as usual" comment that I could only agree with. Her honesty is appreciated.

Most of my Facebook friends posted pictures of Christmas celebrations with their families. I don't know what this says about me and mine, but our main post was just a lot of trash talk about the annual Scrabble tournament on Christmas night. I was humbled again this year, but I'm still doubling down on my accusation of ... well, I don't want to say cheating, so I'll go with "unfair advantages."

The song "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" has been playing in my head, so I took a moment to personalize the chorus. All I had to do was replace "mistletoeing." We didn't do that, and it's not a word anyway.
It's the most wonderful time of the year
There'll be much mistletoeing Scrabble crowing
And hearts will be glowing
When loved ones are near
It's the most wonderful time of the year!
The sock snowmen makers
For a day of post-Christmas fun, Sara and Christian came over. I love that they showed up wearing their new robes and pajamas. We made sock snowmen and a Happy New Year card for their mommy and daddy. We played Spoons and rolled dice. We talked a lot and laughed a lot. We ate candy. When Angy asked Sara if she had a good day, she replied, "I loved it so much." Yeah, me too, little girl.

Well, it's getting late, and all that's left to complete my New Year's Eve celebration is venture outside at midnight to see what's popping. Or not. At least my new year's resolution is made—get a concealed carry permit in January to go with the late Christmas present I'm getting myself.

Here's to an armed and safe 2016!

November 18, 2015

The big move

News of the big move broke over a year ago. It was a major life event I wasn't ready to accept, mostly because it made no sense.

The reason given for the forced migration of employees from their home offices to the corporate "offices"—a misnomer since there are only cubicles—was better collaboration. But my manager was on the east coast, the vice president I did communications for was on the west coast, and the rest of the team were scattered in between. I was the only one of us in Houston, so who was I supposed to collaborate with?

Plus, I had a lengthy list of valid reasons why teleworking was good for myself and good for the company. My manager knew me as an employee who was always at work rather than always at home. And she knew the long, uninterrupted hours I put in were needed to keep up with the demands of my job. So she asked that I be put at the back of the line for a cubicle on the Houston campus.

Thanks, Bonnie, and thank you, Lord, for giving me plenty of time to get accustomed to the idea. You've been bringing me along at the pace I needed. And how far I've come since the "old gang" dinner in January when, on my second margarita, I ranted to former colleagues about how stupid the move was. How a capital-E-extrovert like me who likes to have a good time couldn't be around people all day, or nobody would get anything done. I warned that I'd be chatting people up. And I vowed to bring back hallway bowling, Nerf ping-pong, and other such workday activities of old.

A couple of months later, I learned where I was landing in the new organization because of the company split. My new manager would be Melissa, and our VP would be Tracie. Fantastic! I adore them both. Oh, but guess who was sitting across from me during my margarita-fueled rant about how little work I would do after I got back on campus ... yep, my new manager. It's a good thing Melissa realizes that 90% of what I say in that type of situation is just to get a rise or a laugh.

The boss ladies were looking for space to get our new team together on campus, and I would be expected to come in. They gently broke the news to me over a lovely lunch with gifts and cake to celebrate my birthday as well as my 25th work anniversary. No rant this time. I had already accepted the inevitable, and it made sense for me to be physically with the people I'd be working closely with on a daily basis. 

That's all I ask before I fall in line—just make it make sense.

My first day back was September 28. As I headed out the door with my backpack and my new lunch kit, it felt like the first day of school, like a fresh new beginning. But by the time my 18-minute drive along the back roads had taken 35 minutes and I narrowly escaped a wreck, I was over it. Where did all those people come from! I'd been blissfully sheltered from rush-hour traffic for so long that it was a culture shock. (Spoiled. I know.)

One of the boss ladies suggested that I leave the house either early or late to avoid traffic, whichever worked better for me. Leaving early was the most appealing option, so I just had to decide what I could do at the office instead of at home. The two choices were put on my makeup or read my Bible. Charitably deciding not to subject the nice guy at the coffee drive-thru with my zombie face, I opted for reading at the office.

It's working out great! Not only do I beat the traffic, but reading Scripture in my quiet little cubicle before the others arrive is the best start to my workday. And since I'm no longer reading in bed with a groggy brain first thing in the morning, my reading pleasure and retention have improved.

I was relieved that the cubicles weren't as bad as I had envisioned. Ages ago when I started teleworking, I left a giant cubicle farm in the bowels of the building where there were no windows. But I returned to a single aisle of cubicles on the 7th floor with windows all the way down one side. Not too shabby.

The boss ladies wanted to give me a cubicle with a window, but the only one not occupied by a team member had been claimed by a squatter. He refused to move even though his team was in another city and he rarely came to the office. (In 6 weeks, I saw him exactly 3 times. And yes, I was nice to him even though he was in "my" spot.)

I had to take the cubicle right across the aisle from Squatter Guy, sharing a wall with a huge server room that emits a loud, constant hum. It's like sitting in the back of a plane all day.

To alleviate the sting, Tracie gave me a fake window to a fake beach for my wall. That was really nice. When I'd get claustrophobic, though, I'd have to stand up and look out Squatter Guy's big window to the real world.

But you know what? If I hadn't spent two months in the hole before Squatter Guy quit, I wouldn't be enjoying my big window so much now. That's right, it's finally mine!

I'm also now facing the other direction and I'm a bit farther from the hum of the server room, so it's like I moved from the back of the plane to the front. I tell y'all what ... God's timing on every little thing is absolutely perfect.

Naturally, I'm enjoying the social aspect of working on campus. Can you guess what I dressed up as for Halloween? Hint: My slogan was "business on the top, party on the bottom."

If you guessed that I was a teleworker, you're partially correct. Specifically, I was a teleworker at a video conference. The only times I dressed up in my home office were on the rare occasions I had to be on the webcam. So I'd dress on top, but stay comfy and casual on the bottom. 

I first considered going as a nonspecific teleworker. But I was concerned that my colleagues would never look at me the same had I shown up in full-blown teleworker mode. "Party on the top" would have meant bed hair, no makeup, wife-beater undershirt, and no bra.

Yep, I made the right decision.

Although the list of positives about teleworking is way longer than the list of positives about working on-site, I'm staying focused on the latter. And some of those positives carry a lot of weight, especially these two: 1) It's invigorating to be out among the living again; and 2) My back is hurting less since I'm not super-glued to my chair for a ridiculous number of hours each week.

I won't lie, though. It's been a difficult period of adjustment. Here are just a few little examples: 1) I'm still unable to keep my shoes on all day; 2) I still talk out loud to myself while working; and 3) I tend to get pouty in the evenings when I have to get up from watching TV in my recliner to pack my breakfast and lunch for the next day.

But when all is considered, what else can I say but this ... How blessed I was to be where I was. How blessed I am to be where I am.
How blessed are the people whose God is Yahweh! (Psalm 144:15)

July 28, 2015

A birthday not according to plan

It's my birthday and it's going to be fabulous, just like last year. That was my first conscious thought. It made me smile even before my eyes were open. But then I looked at the clock.

"Crap!" That was my first word of the day.

It was after 8:00. The plan was for Angy, Mom, Rex and I to meet in the HomeGoods parking lot at 8:30, then take my car to La Madeleine. I called Angy to see if she would pick up the others and wait for me at the restaurant. My phone call woke her up.
Like mother, like daughter (Ezekiel 16:44).
With plan B shot down, I considered just throwing on my clothes and taking off. But when I called Rex, still mumbling in a disoriented panic, he calmly said, "Take your shower. You'll feel better." Then I heard Mom in the background: "Tell her to put her eyes on too." So I said I'd be there by 9:15.

It was almost 9:30 when I whipped out of my driveway. Speeding and weaving around traffic, I yelled to unsuspecting motorists, "Don't you know I'm late for my birthday breakfast!" (Confession: sometimes I enjoy being horrible as long as other people don't know about it.)

Finally, we were seated at La Madeleine, having coffee and a good time. My plan was to eat a light breakfast so that after a little shopping I would be ready for brunch at Down House. But the others talked me into ordering a hearty breakfast, which turned out to be a good thing, as you'll see later.

The gracious stranger taking our picture said to make a crazy smile.

We had such a nice time, and I received some lovely gifts. So although my birthday had a rocky start, it was now going more like I had envisioned.

We returned to the strip center where the other cars were parked. It's one of my favorite shopping spots, and I planned to hit HomeGoods, then Barnes & Noble, then Office Depot. My plan was soon thwarted. There was a power outage in the strip center and all the stores were closed. Huh.

Angy and Mom decided to go on home. I told them I enjoyed our breakfast so much that even if I didn't do anything else, it was already a great birthday. (Later, I would wonder if God tested me because of that statement.)

Rex and I soldiered on. We were determined to replicate the full day of delicious eating and fruitful shopping we did last year (see The birthday, part 1).

As we were getting in my car, I realized I had grabbed Robert's keys instead of mine, and the automatic door opener for my car was missing from his key ring. Uh-oh. It must have come off somehow at La Madeleine. We went back to search, but it was nowhere to be found.

I learned later what a waste of time that was because it came off of Robert's key ring years ago. I must have neglected to lock the car at the restaurant, then just thought I unlocked it when I was actually using the door opener for Robert's truck. I tell you this boring incident only because it's indicative of how the rest of the day went.

We browsed at a couple of stores along Highway 6, but didn't find anything to buy. As we drove in the direction of the Heights where we planned to have brunch, Rex and I talked about how there's never a reason to get upset when things don't go our way because God is sovereign and His plans always trump ours. As my pastor's wife, Cheryl, has said, "If you want to make God laugh, just tell Him your plans."

Because of freeway closures and stalled traffic, we stayed on the back roads all day. And goodness gracious, we traversed an awful lot of them. I don't know what it was, but if we should have turned right, we turned left. If we should have gone straight, we went in a big circle. If we should have made a U-turn, we didn't. Much of my birthday was spent driving around, lost and confused.

We finally located a shopping center with a HomeGoods and an Office Depot way, way out on Eldridge, which we discovered is a world apart from North Eldridge. We also discovered that not all stores of the same name are created equal. These were quite awful, and we left them empty-handed. So even though it was afternoon by then, my trunk was still bereft of packages.

Badly needing the solace of food and drink, we headed for Down House (via an indirect route). I was glad to get out of the car, but it wasn't easy. I was wearing shorts and had been driving so long that my legs were stuck firmly to the leather seat.

We walked in at 3:30. Brunch ends at 3:00. So I had to cross off the chicken and waffles part of my plan. Instead, Rex and I had a Bloody Mary and split a burger, which was exactly what we had last year, except last year it was at a different restaurant and tasted a whole lot better.

Afterward, we drove to Montrose and found yet another shopping center with a HomeGoods and an Office Depot, but left empty-handed again. Hope, however, was still alive. As planned, we were going to finish our shopping at a place that sells custom silver jewelry. Each of us would surely be walking out of there with a little drawstring bag of goodies.

We pulled up 20 minutes after the shop had closed.

My spot-on gifts
Apparently, I wasn't supposed to buy myself a birthday present. Nor did I need to. People gave me the type of things I would have picked out for myself. (Good job, people!)

Not shown in the gift photo is my "FootMate System," and not clearly visible is my electronic callous remover and my foot cream. Just me mentioning recently that my feet were getting past the point of repair was enough for Mom to circle the wagons and rally the troops. I can just imagine her announcing, "We've got to get Paula Kay some foot care products!"

The last item on my birthday plan was eating Mexican food at Cadillac Bar. We weren't all that hungry after our late non-brunch, so we just had appetizers and a margarita. I was so full afterward, it annoyed me to see other people eating. How can they stuff themselves like that when I'm so full? Do they not care that it's making me sick to watch them?

For a full 12 hours, my brother and I tried to replicate a great day we had before, but nothing much went according to plan. Even so, we enjoyed our adventure and appreciated it for what it was—time spent together and somehow always finding things to laugh about.

We managed to stay in a good mood throughout what could have been a frustrating day. It's all about knowing the One who's in control.
This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

June 30, 2015

Hall of Friends

Something's always wrong to some degree, right? And sometimes, all you need to make things better is a little time with friends.

After being uplifted recently by a couple of my long-time BFs, Jennifer and Betsy, I began reflecting on all the lovely friends I've been blessed with throughout my life. This inspired my Hall of Friends. So the first ones in are Betsy and Jennifer.

Betsy, me, and Jennifer
at Drew's Pastry Place last week
See how they're tucked in behind me with their bodies at an angle? Maybe they were just trying to fit in the shot. Or maybe they were positioning themselves so they wouldn't look as wide as me. Never mind that they're not as wide. The point is that best friends can do stuff like that and you're totally cool with it. (But either way, girls, one of you have to be in the middle next time, okay?)

The three of us met when we were in the same group at work, and even though that connection ended years ago, our friendship continues and our bond keeps getting tighter. We meet every few months for lunch and make an afternoon of it for our year-end celebration in December. These ladies just fit the bill of what friends should be.

Now for the other inductees to my Hall of Friends.

Keeping this to a blog post instead of a book required that I establish some hard-to-meet criteria. So lest any of my many wonderful friends be disappointed not to see their names here, please note that an inductee must:
  • Be a female without familial connection
  • Think my flaws are endearing
  • Appreciate my sarcasm (realizing it's not a flaw)
  • Share her secrets and keep mine
  • Laugh every time I say something funny
  • Pretend not to hear when my attempts at humor fail
  • Instantly forgive me for the asinine things I say
  • Make me feel better by just being around her
  • Have considered me a best friend for at least 7 years
  • Be totally honest while having my best interests at heart

Examples of the last bullet point include: telling me when I've got food on my face, or better yet, nonchalantly wiping it off (thanks, Betsy); not allowing me to refuse a breath mint if I need one; and telling me right away if a new haircut is unflattering instead of waiting til it grows out.

I could list many more criteria and examples, but don't want to scare off potential BFs, because you're never too old to have new ones.

And before revealing the other honorees, my apologies to best friends from elementary school. For the sake of time and space, I'm starting from junior high, which was 7th–9th grade back in my day.

Something clicked between me and Shelly when we met the first day of school (in spite of her dorky outfit). We were instantly best friends and spent as much time together as possible, even walking several miles to each other's homes, meeting midway along the railroad tracks. It might have been only 2 or 3 miles, but it felt really long, especially during the sweltering summer breaks.

From grades 8–11, Shelly and I had every class together, sat together at lunch, never went to the restroom alone, hung out before and after school, had sleepovers on weekends, went to parties and rock concerts together, and double-dated. Our first job was at the Metropolitan movie theater downtown, and our second job was at the Burger King by Shelly's house.

Our names were always spoken together at school. Paula and Shelly. Shelly and Paula. Never one without the other. Then came the 11th grade when my 16-year-old BF did the unthinkable.

Shelly got married. Moved. Changed schools. And she didn't have to get married—she chose to. I felt demoted, cast aside even. And our dream of riding horseback from Texas to California after graduation? Squashed.

As much as I adored her boyfriend-fiance-husband, I wasn't exactly thrilled. Looking back, I must admit being terribly petulant and selfish about it all. Case in point—when shopping for bridesmaid dresses, I chose a tiara to go with mine.
Shelly (10th grade?), me in the 11th
(the real tiara wasn't nearly this big)

Nobody puts Baby in a corner.

If anyone wears a tiara at a wedding, it's the bride, of course. But this maid of honor wore one. And Shelly was okay with it. That's the kind of crazy, selfless friend she was.

I hung out with Shelly, her husband, and his friends on occasion, our most memorable adventure being spring break of '71 on Padre Island. But I didn't have a BF at school anymore. Just hung out with my guy friends and other girlfriends until I began dating an older man with hair halfway down his back and a Harley. He became my world then, and his friends were my friends.

Dennis Kay
I didn't have a BF again until I was 19 or 20 and my boyfriend's BF started dating Dennis Kay. I couldn't have hand-picked a better friend. Dennis and I laughed like Shelly and I did. We just had the best time together. I absolutely adored her and loved hanging out with her.

Dennis and I went through a lot of changes together. From being the freewheeling hippie-chick girlfriends of older men, to being married ladies, to being young mothers. Through it all, whenever we were together, we had a blast.

Dennis, me, and Shelly (ca. 1980ish)
This photo of me with both Dennis and Shelly is one of a kind. I think the only time the 3 of us hung out together was at my toddlers' birthday parties.

Suddenly it seemed, Dennis divorced her husband and started a new life. I was dumped again. The first time through a marriage. The second time through a divorce.

Marilyn Gay
What kept me from being a tiara-wearing martyr this time was my growing friendship with Marilyn Gay. Having been washed in the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb just a few years prior, I was discovering the incredible joy of a having a BF who is also a sister-in-Christ.

Gay had been a Christian for a long time, so she was a mentor to me as well as a friend. And, like my BFs before her, we had the best time together. It was just different. Deeper.

We not only socialized together, we served together. I was with Gay at least 3 or 4 times every week for church and ministry activities. We also wrote Christian songs together that Gay performed at church. Somewhere between all of that, we would talk for hours. And a better prayer partner I've never had.

Gay in 1997
When I got cancer (lymphoma) in 1986, Gay was there every step of the way. She did whatever she could for me. And during an entire year of body-crushing chemo, not a single day passed that she didn't call to check on me, never hanging up without saying, "I love you."

Life took some twists and turns that resulted in Gay moving, me getting divorced, and both of us joining new churches.

Sherry with James
(who was too close to crop
out of my girls-only post!)
Gay and I had become close friends with Sherry, who became a true and lasting BF to me. She filled the void beautifully after Gay moved.

Sherry and I encouraged each other, but she helped me a lot more than I helped her. The kindness of Sherry and her family, especially during my divorce, is something I'll always be grateful for.

Even though we've been separated by distance and circumstance for a long time now, if I ever need Sherry, I trust that she'll be there for me in whatever way she can. BFs always have your back.

My job brought my next BF forever, Clai, who's like Shelly and Dennis rolled into one. Talk about clicking. We're all about honesty, unwavering trust, and cracking each other up so much it's ridiculous.

A friendship can survive anything if it can survive traveling together. The business trips Clai and I took were some of the best times of my life and only solidified our relationship.

In San Francisco, San Diego, and Washington D.C.
Note the "blind" selfie with a nondigital camera 
(and check out my giant spectacles!)

Even though we gradually drifted apart after I remarried, we're now back to spending time together. It was like rediscovering your favorite robe in a corner of the closet, slipping back into its extraordinary comfort, its perfect fit, and wondering why you ever stopped wearing it. (Yes, Clai, you remind me of an old robe.)

We're again enjoying our time together so much that if other people are around, we have to try really hard not to ignore them. Even through text messages, we can make each other laugh to the point of pain.

Back to Marilyn Gay
It was during the early years of my second marriage that Gay was diagnosed with breast cancer. I'm sorry to say that I wasn't there for her like she had been for me. Sure, things were different. We lived farther apart, weren't involved in each other's lives like before, and I was busy focusing on making marriage work this time.

But that's no excuse. Although I was with Gay at the hospital for her mastectomy, I visited only a few times during the months that she fought tenaciously to get well. And I didn't call nearly often enough.

I was supposed to go see her one Saturday, but something happened and I couldn't make it. When I called to postpone our visit by a week, I heard the disappointment in Gay's voice. What she knew, and I didn't, was that the end was near. She did say that the treatments weren't working anymore, but gave no indication of just how dire the situation was. She still sounded the same, and the last time I had seen her, she still looked great.

We had a good, long conversation, talking of things like timeless eternity and how we'd get to spend it together.

The following Saturday as planned, I went to visit Gay. She had declined so rapidly in that short time that she could barely speak. And I was so shocked by the drastic change in her appearance that I could barely speak, either. But at least we got to say "I love you" one last time.

At her memorial service, the pastor read a letter Gay had written to "leave some 'bouquets' of thanks to some special people," two of whom were Sherry and me. "To Paula Kay," Gay wrote, "my buddy, who is always my friend."

Her last words to me were a testament to what a true friend she was. Gay understood why I wasn't there for her in the same way she had been for me, and there was no blame, no judgment, only gratitude for what we shared. "To Paula Kay ... who is always my friend." Present tense. Without end.

Gay concluded her message by saying, "Each time you see a flower that you enjoy, close your eyes and hear me say, 'Thank you for giving to the Lord.' Because of you, I truly am a life that was changed. I love you all. See you in Paradise."

Back at ya, sweetheart. I miss you so much.

Ladies, let's celebrate our friends. Cherish the old ones. Make new ones. Enjoy them all.