Monthly Archives: April 2017

What the?!? Oh, Thailand…

You know how you can do something all the time, but not really pay attention? I’ve ridden in my fair share of Thai taxis, especially to and from the hospital this past month, but most of the time I’m riding alone, so I break out my iPad and read my current book, not really paying much attention to my surroundings or the taxi itself. Well, this taxi ride was different.

Linner just came to visit me, and we took a taxi downtown for a staycation in a swanky hotel in the center of Bangkok. On the ride down, we were busy chatting and catching up on life. While I was listening to Linner, something on the window of the taxi caught my eye and I couldn’t help but stare. What I saw was a series of images on the window, only they were backwards since I was seeing them from inside the taxi. My eyes squinted as I tried to make sense of the string of DO NOT DO THIS images. Linner realized my eyes were no longer making eye contact, and she, too, turned to look at these images.

OK, so the no smoking one makes sense. Most taxis don’t allow that. The next one may be confusing for those of you who don’t live in Southeast Asia, but that image of a spiky fruit is actually durian, an ultra-smelly fruit that smells like rotting flesh. So, yeah…no durian completely makes sense. Who would want that in their taxicab? No alcohol…okay. No dogs, fair enough. Wait…what’s the next picture?!? No sex in the taxi?? Really? We go from no smoking, durian, alcohol, and dogs to no sex. Well that escalated quickly! Next, no rifles or long knives (or swords?). I don’t know that we need that sign…probably self-explanatory, but yeah, I agree those are not okay in a taxi. The last one stumped us…no horned animals?? Is that a goat? Who prompted this to have to be made into an image of something not to bring into the taxi? Like, is this an issue? Surely it happened, but how many times? Once? Or is this a recurring issue with the locals? I’m so confused…

After our rousing conversation about the list of what not to do stickers, Linner realized I had a set behind me, which prompted even more inquiries.

I’m all for the protection of women, so I appreciate that you cannot grab a women’s breast or bottom in the taxi, but did we need such graphic images to depict that one? Okay the next one is so confusing. Is it trying to say women can’t fart music? And why is this something strictly prohibited for women? I say if women can’t do it, men shouldn’t be allowed to fart music either. And again…do we really need to see her nipple to get that it’s a woman? And who farts music? I’d like to meet these talented ass people (pun intended)! Alright, so in addition to no rifles…no handguns either. In case you were unsure before, apparently no guns are allowed. No hand grenades either. Wait…what? Who has brought a hand grenade into a taxi before?!? I love the image of the next one. I get it…no stealing, but the image of a burglar with a bag of loot over his shoulder is a bit over the top, don’tcha think? Alright, stop. Just stop it. Really? No women with men on leashes?? Why is this a thing? And is it only women who put men on leashes and bring them into public and go for a ride around the city in a taxi? No men do it to women? I have never once in my life seen anyone put another adult on a leash. Kids, yeah…in IKEA especially…but adults?? Again, why is there a need for this warning? Is this a rampant problem in Thailand? The last one I’m assuming means no bare feet in the taxi, which makes sense. We should keep our shoes on. But…why the heck are the feet positioned that way? That’s totally not the way their feet would be, that is unless two people were in the taxi and one was sitting down with their feet spread out while their friend was standing, with their feet pointed toward the seat.

Oh, Thailand…you amuse and confuse me sometimes…thanks for the laughs!

Letter H #AtoZChallenge

Post 8 in the A to Z Challenge. Here are the Letter H entries in my memoir encyclopedia.

Hair

I have a strange relationship with my hair. I like it sometimes, and other times it frustrates me. The best description is that it’s naturally wavy, but in reality, there are pieces that, when allowed to air dry, dry straight, while others dry curly or wavy. This results in a mess of hair with an identity crisis. Somedays, I can tell my hair just wants to be curly. On those days, I add a bit of product (usually sea salt spray) and let it be its curly self. Other days it wants to be more straight, so I blow dry it. I end up with straight hair in the front and wavy in the back, which drives me crazy, but I just try not to think about the back.

I have naturally blonde hair, and I’ve yet to color it. I’ve definitely considered it as I’ve gotten older and it’s gotten darker, but I can’t bring myself to do it (also, I have yet to find a hair dresser who will do it…they all say the won’t touch it). Despite never coloring it, almost everyone assumes I do because the sun gives it natural highlights akin to something you’d get at the salon. For the most part, I like my hair color, but I do wish it was lighter. If it ever turns brown, I’m pretty sure I’ll color it. I identify as a blondie, and can’t imagine being a brunette.

I like my hair best when I get a blow out at the salon. My hair ends up being straight, but with a bit of body, and it looks blonder and feels silky smooth. I always want my hair to look this good, but I can’t be bothered to mess with it everyday, so I settle for the occasional really good hair day and try to be okay with it the rest of the time.

Henry

My most vivid memory with my Uncle Henry was when I was about 8 or 9 and Andrew was 4 or 5. At the time, I think Uncle Henry was living with my grandparents, but he could have just been visiting. Anyhow, we were all in the living room, Mamaw in her rocking chair, Granddaddy in his recliner, and Uncle Henry, Andrew, and I on the floor. The TV was on, presumably tuned to Wheel of Fortune, and we had just finished our supper. Henry, being the goofball uncle that he is, was on the floor on all fours. I was on top of him, riding him like a horse, and my brother was on top of me. Uncle Henry bucked us around the room, trying to knock us off while we held on for dear life. We couldn’t stop laughing and never wanted this game to end. Mamaw and Granddaddy were also splitting at the sides.

Somewhere in one of my photo albums back home is this picture. Every time I see it, I’m taken back to that place and time, where all that mattered was that moment. There were no worries. Life was good. Nothing mattered except the love we had for one another and the fun we had together. I have many good memories like this of Uncle Henry from my youth. I wish he hadn’t moved away for so long. I’m sure I missed out on lots more fun times.

Heritage Park

Our neighborhood park, about two blocks from my house, was Heritage Park, but we just called it ‘The Sidewalk Park’ on account of the maze of sidewalks throughout it. Heritage Park had a beautiful gazebo in the center, and occasionally you’d see a small wedding there. The park was filled with loads of trees that gave off plenty of shade, and there were a smattering of benches underneath some of the trees. A spiderweb of sidewalks coming off the gazebo in all directions zigzagged across the park and ran along the perimeter. There wasn’t any green space to run about, although you’d find grassy patches in between the sidewalks that were just perfect for stretching out on for a quick snooze or to gaze up at the clouds.

Andrew, Nicole and her siblings, and I would ride our bikes and rollerblades around the park for hours, twisting and turning, racing one another. When I went through my running phase in middle school, I’d run on the sidewalks while listening to my portable CD player. The crappy thing is that if I ran too fast, my CDs would skip, so I had to slow down in order to listen to Mmm Bop and Bone Thugs and Harmony’s Crossroads (I had diverse tastes even then.). Since it was serene and quiet most of the time, I’d sit on a bench to read or write in my notebook. I loved that park.

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

Letter G #AtoZChallenge

Continuing my theme of a memoir encyclopedia, I present my Letter G entries.

Games

When I say I’m a game player, what comes to mind? Maybe you think I’m a gamer, a video game junkie sitting in front of my TV screen for hours, battling imaginary foes and collecting points. Or perhaps you think I play games with the heart, you know, those people who play the dating game so well that they have swarms of people falling for them. You might even think I relish in the thrill of a competitive athletic game, a sporting match where I’m a member of a team seeking the next goal to win the game.

Well…hate to burst your bubble, but I’m none of these. I’m a board game player, and I enjoy a good game night more than your average person. My go-to board game is Settlers of Catan, and unless I’m playing against someone who’s really good, I usually win. I’m not trying to brag, but it’s true. I also enjoy a raucous game of Cranium or Quelf, but for those, you need a large group of people who want to play it. Half-assed Cranium is worse than no Cranium. Dice games are great, too, and don’t require a lot of prep work. At the moment, Quixx and Liar’s Dice are my faves- Quixx is better for small groups and Liar’s Dice for large ones.

The ultimate party game is Cards Against Humanity, and it’s a definite crowd pleaser. Someone’s bound to ask to play it at one of my parties, and then the fun really begins. Other than the sixth expansion that recently came out, I have the original Black Box and all the expansion sets, plus some hand-written doozies that I’ve gathered over the years…mostly inside jokes, but when you’re on the inside, they’re pretty side-splitting. If you’re not okay with being offended, Cards probably isn’t for you. You’re better off playing it’s milder cousin Apples to Apples, which is fun, too, but definitely doesn’t get the people going like Cards does. A relatively new game that I absolutely love is Codenames, which I love so much that I’ve bought three versions of the game. Codenames is a game in which two opposing teams are trying to guess words based on one-word clues given by the clue giver. I love this game because it requires you to be creative with your word choices and because every game is a new challenge. However, I find it’s better when you play with people you know, because they just get you and are more likely to guess based on your clues. Playing with new people can be fun, too, but it’s more tricky.

I’m always on the lookout for new games to try…any suggestions?

Good Grades

I was the kid who always got good grades. For me, a B on a report card might as well have been an F, because earning one was like I had failed at life. I’m pretty sure my obsession with getting good grades came from my parents’ high expectations of me. They knew I was capable and wouldn’t accept anything less than the best. Their pressure was sometimes overt, but mostly it was this unspoken expectation that I needed to always do my best, and my best was an A.

School was my thing, and more than anything else, it was how I identified myself. Other people identify as soccer players or piano players, but My identity was rooted in the fact that I was good in school. I enjoy learning for learning’s sake, but in school, it was more about getting the A. I knew how to play the game. I knew how to do just enough to earn the A. I have a photographic memory, so I would cram the night before and ace the test the next day, relying on my memory and deduction skills to get me through. A couple of weeks or months down the road, I didn’t really retain the information, unless it was something in which I was actually interested. In a way, I wish school hadn’t come as easily for me, because had I had to work at it more, I would be smarter and more knowledgeable now.

I carried this pressure to earn top marks with me into university, and while no longer pressured by my parents to earn good grades, I found myself stressed as I put more and more pressure on myself. I struggled a little bit, something that was brand new to me. High school was a cake walk, so when thrown into university classes where I was 1 in 100, where the professor didn’t know my name and couldn’t care less whether I came to class and succeeded, and where I actually had to study, I was out of my depth. Never having to struggle in high school meant that I was ill-equipped for the steep change in content and expectations. I faltered at first, earning my first D in a government class, which nearly killed me. Luckily, I was able to adapt to my new environment, and this early setback was just that, a setback. This bad grade made me work harder, and I ended up graduating Magna Cum Laude. Believe it or not, I am glad the D happened when it did. It put me in check knocked me down a peg or two, and was the lesson I needed in order to change.

Grad School

I began grad school more out of boredom than anything else. I had been teaching for four years in the same grade, and I needed a challenge. I’m not one of those people who is content doing the same thing forever. I like change, and I thrive on challenge. It seemed like a logical step that I’d go back to school. At first, I enrolled in the Curriculum & Instruction Master’s program, with the intention of becoming a Curriculum Coordinator in my school district. Shortly into my program, I had a conversation with Ann Smith, a trusted colleague and friend, who had recently been promoted to the Science Curriculum Coordinator position. Her recommendation was that I change my major to Educational Leadership, since it was a higher degree, and most likely one I’d need to have anyway for that position. But, I don’t want to be a principal. She assured me that I could still be a curriculum coordinator with that degree. Based on her recommendation, I enrolled in the Educational Leadership program.

Going back to school was enjoyable. I approached grad school with a more learning for learning’s sake perspective, and while it was tough, I excelled. Most classes were relatively easy for me, especially because I was actually interested in the content. I earned good grades, and which only fueled my desire for more A’s. One semester, near the end, I was under a lot of stress. I was working full time and taking a full course load. One of my classes was School Budgets, and it was kicking my ass. It was, by far, the hardest course yet. I can remember spiraling out with anxiety over an assignment one night. I was stressed to the max and I wanted to quit. I called my mom, and while pacing in the driveway with tears streaming down my face, I told her I was going to just drop out of grad school. This class was too hard, and there was no way I was going to get an A, and not getting an A would mess up my perfect 4.0 I had so far. She told me that it was okay if I didn’t get an A. She told me she was proud of me. And she told me that there’s no way I was going to quit; I was nearly done, and it cost way too much money. I finally calmed down, my mom having put things into perspective for me. I ended up finishing the assignment, and I actually did well. I made the A, and kept my 4.0.

Granddaddy

Granddaddy

Granddaddy and I had a special relationship. I was his baby girl, and he would have done anything for me. He and I were as much alike as we were different. Neither one of us ever met a stranger, and were known to strike up a conversation with literally anyone who’d listen. He was a country man at heart, and while I enjoyed it as a child, I’m more of a city girl.

I can remember riding in Granddaddy’s beat up old pick-up truck, sitting in the middle seat next to him. His favorite thing to do was to grab my knee, and using his thumb and pinky fingers (the only fingers he had left on that hand), he’d push as hard as he could, tickling me to no end. I’d laugh and squirm and beg him to stop. And he would. Until he did it again when I least expected it.

Grandaddy had a major sweet tooth and the table next to his recliner was always stocked with Tootsie Rolls, a box of Nilla Wafers, square caramels, M&M’s, and fun-size Snickers, 3 Musketeers, and Baby Ruth candy bars. Mamaw would get on his case constantly about it, but he’d just laugh and pop another Tootsie Roll in his mouth. Andrew and I only had to ask and he’d share with us in a heartbeat.

Growing up in the Great Depression, he was thrifty. He would reuse anything he could out on the farm in order for him not to have to buy it new. He’d wear his clothes until they were threadbare. It didn’t matter that my mom was always buying him new clothes- he wouldn’t wear them until the old ones were wore out. I remember being embarrassed of this quality as a pre-teen and teenager, when brand names and newness were so important to me. One day, my Granddaddy saw a pair of shoes that had been thrown out, and deeming them good enough to wear, he picked them up out of the trash heap and wore them. It didn’t matter that they were two sizes too big.

There wasn’t anything my Granddaddy couldn’t do. He was a great carpenter, and could build or fix anything. After their house burned down after an ex-employee set it on fire (in the middle of the night with me in it), he built their next house almost all by himself. My most favorite gift he ever gave me was a playhouse he’d built for me, complete with a door, siding, a window, and a real roof. It was very special, and I have many sweet memories in that place.

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

Letter F #AtoZChallenge

Letter F memoir encyclopedia entries on deck…

Family

Family is important to me. And I don’t just mean my immediate family, but my extended family and friends who become your family, too. I love our family reunions every year, where all the brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, grandmas, and grandpas come together to catch up on life, share some good food (I have some really amazing cooks in my family), and spend a weekend playing and laughing together. They’re something I look forward to each and every summer.

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Farm

Nowadays I’m a city girl, but growing up, I was a country girl at heart. My grandparents’ farm, where I spent countless days, was one of my favorite places. Their huge garden yielded enough corn, peas, watermelons, cantaloupes, strawberries, dewberries, okra, cucumbers, tomatoes, and more to last the year. We would help Granddaddy and Mamaw harvest the crops, and although we probably just got in their way, they humored us and let us be their helpers. One of my strongest memories on the farm was sitting on the front porch swing at dusk, swapping stories while we shelled peas and watched the sunset. We would work at it for hours and only make a dent in the pile.

My mamaw would can vegetables and fruit, make pickles and jam, and freeze corn so that they could have food year-round. I can still remember the Ball jelly jars lined up all along the kitchen counters, waiting for the hot, fresh-made jelly to be poured in. My favorite jam that she made was dewberry, but I loved strawberry, too.

One of mine and Andrew’s jobs was to fetch the eggs in the chicken coop out back. We loved to gather the eggs, counting them to see if there were more today than yesterday. The smells in the chicken coop bothered me much more than they bothered him.

Grandaddy had cows, too, and they wandered around the 300-acre property in search of grass and hay to munch. I don’t really remember feeding them with him (maybe that was Andrew’s domain), but I do remember piling into that old beat up blue Ford pick-up to go search the back half for a lost calf or cow who hadn’t come back in a while. We’d bump along the uneven dirt track, stopping only to run out and open and shut the gates. We’d wind past the fishing pond, the trash hole (a huge gaping hole in the earth where Grandaddy would throw out any trash that couldn’t be composted or burned), and the camp house. I knew every twist and turn in that road back then. Now, I’m sad to say, it’s a bit foggy.

Fishing

My dad was a fishing kinda guy and would frequently enter (and even win) bass fishing tournaments across the state. I never went with him on his tournaments, but he would take us out in his bass boat to fish on Lake Somerville or Gibbon’s Creek. Fishing was something we really enjoyed as a family.

I remember all the things we’d have to do to get ready. We’d pack a cooler full of food…turkey and cheese sandwiches, chips and dip, Nutter Butter peanut patties, cold drinks, and fresh fruit. The boat was always washed and sparkly before we went out, something I never understood because it’s just gonna get wet. We’d load up the tackle boxes, get the rods and reels ready with fresh taut line, and make sure the life vests and towels were packed.

Once we were out on the lake, my favorite thing wasn’t the fishing (I usually got bored after an hour of sitting and waiting on a fish to bite my line). The thing I loved the most was when my dad would cruise around the lake in his lightning-fast boat, going so fast the nose would shoot up in the air, the skin on our faces would flap, and we would fear for our lives. When he knew he’d scared us properly, typically when my mom would yell, “Shit!” (and she didn’t curse), he’d slow down and crack up as my mom told her how he shouldn’t drive that fast and my brother and I begged him to do it again.

As we got older, our family fishing trips petered out, but every so often, I can persuade my dad to dust off the boat and take me out again. I always love packing our snacks for the trip, and I never, ever forget the Nutter Butter peanut patties. That would just be sacrilegious.

Foodie

I identify as a foodie. This wasn’t always the case though. Growing up in small town America, I wasn’t exposed to many different types of cuisine. Other than Tex-Mex, Italian, and Chinese, I had only really ever had American food until I moved abroad. At first, I was timid about trying anything that didn’t resemble something I had seen or tasted before, but as time went on and I became more adventurous, I found the fun and excitement in trying new foods. Now some of my favorite foods were things I never thought I’d even try.

I like experimenting with new flavors when I’m cooking, and I relish in introducing my friends to new flavor combinations. With a more sophisticated pallet, I can sometimes decipher various flavors in the food I’m eating. A drawback of a more sophisticated pallet means I’m no longer satisfied with mediocre food. I want every meal to be deliciously pleasing. As a foodie, I’ve become that girl who photographs her food and puts it on Instagram. I know, I know, you’re rolling your eyes, but I’m not ashamed. Beautiful, delicious food should be shared.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

In fourth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Decell, read aloud what would become one of my favorite books of all time, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s the tale of Claudia and Jamie, siblings from Connecticut who, due to the injustices of their world, run away to NYC and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Throughout the story, you find out how the survived (and where they slept, ate, and showered) without getting caught. Along the way, they work to solve a mystery that takes them on an epic adventure.

I remember wishing I was Claudia, on this grand adventure. I didn’t want to run away, but the idea of living in a museum sounded like a lot of fun! I also enjoyed their resourcefulness; without much money, they managed to figure out how to stretch it to the fullest.

I read this book aloud each year to my classes (grades 3 and 4), and shared the magic with them. Some of my students loved it as much as I did, others didn’t, but they could see how special this book is to me. When my mom and I took a trip to NYC in 2014, I took her to the Met, and I was transported back to that fourth grade class and the excitement of that first reading as I took my mom to all of the places Claudia and Jamie visited, slept, ate, and showered in the book. It was perfect.

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

Letter E #AtoZChallenge

Letter E memoir encyclopedia entries…go!

Eggs

I like my eggs scrambled. Basic, I know, but that’s just how I like ’em. My scrambled eggs are tasty, but my mom’s are way better! Hers are always fluffy, while mine can be a little tough. She says I over-mix them. What can I say? I’m impatient.

My granddaddy taught me the way to eat scrambled eggs, and to this day, it’s still my favorite. Two pieces of wheat bread, toasted til they’re toasty brown, but definitely not burnt. Spread on a thin layer of butter, followed by a layer of jam. I prefer strawberry or blueberry. Next put scrambled eggs on top of the toast and enjoy. Mmm, mmm, good!

Ennis St.

I lived my first 22 years at 606 S. Ennis St. in a one-story red brick house. I knew every inch of our stretch of Ennis St. and the surrounding neighborhood streets. I whizzed my bike around, flying up and down sidewalks and driveways, without a care in the world.

I played in the front yard beneath the shade of our ancient pecan tree, whose branches stretched out halfway across the yard and taller than the house. It was a perfect tree for climbing. It had a “v” shape low enough to act as a foothold, and a long branch overhead low and strong enough to grab onto when you were swinging up into the tree. Andrew and I spent hours up there. Every year, we’d collect what fallen pecans we could find, but the squirrels always beat us to them.

Growing up on Ennis St. is something I wouldn’t want to change about my childhood. I was two blocks from both my elementary and middle schools, so we biked or walked to school. For a while, my Meme and Papa lived two doors down, in the house my dad grew up in, and later my Aunt Kathy lived there, too. My best friend, Nicole, lived a couple blocks away and we could be at each others’ houses in a moment’s notice. We had a killer park perfectly built for bike riding. Goldie Ruth, our neighbor whose backyard we shared a fence with, was the nicest, funniest, old lady with some really amazing stories. Every Easter, our family, along with about 10 other families, gathered at Goldie Ruth’s house for the largest Easter feast known to man. Our Easter egg hunts were pretty epic, too!

I still sometimes drive down Ennis St., past my old house, just to see if it’s changed. There have been slight alterations, but for the most part, it’s as I remember it.

Entertaining

Entertaining is my jam. I know how to throw a mean party, and everyone has a good time. The trick is to have the right mix of good food (I’m sorta known for this bit), drinks, music, and party games (Cards Against Humanity is a crowd favorite).

I’m not sure what it is that draws me to entertaining, but it’s this pull that just comes naturally. It’s a helluva lot of work to do, I always get stressed out the day of as I try to get everything ready before guests arrive, and there’s a crapload of clean-up after the fact. But the energy, the smiles, and the fun with my friends makes it all worth it.

Typical soirees I tend to throw each year are back-to-school parties, Friendsgiving, Ugly Sweater Party around Christmas time, birthday party (last year’s was an epic Prom Pub Crawl), and end-of-year parties. I’ll also throw in the occasional cheese tasting or just-for-the-heck-of-it-since-everyone’s-stressed-out party.

You should totally come to my next party…you’re sure to like it!

Expat

Becoming an expat was the single-most life-changing decision I have ever made. Following my heart and taking the leap of faith to move to China and begin a life as an international educator is something that, at the time, seemed like a short-term decision, but now is a lifestyle I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I’m finishing up my seventh year as an expat, and during that time I have lived in Shanghai, China; Tirana, Albania; and Bangkok, Thailand. Soon I’ll begin a new adventure in Indonesia, and I’m really thrilled about this new chapter in my life!

Being an expat has opened my eyes to the world and shown me that there’s so much more out there than I could have ever imagined. This experience has made me a more open-minded, tolerant, patient, and understanding person. I am much more of a risk-taker, and I’ve done more and tried more than I ever thought possible. I’ve also met some truly amazing people during my time abroad that I would not have met otherwise. I couldn’t imagine doing this thing called life without them in it.

I have come to realize that I prefer living in places where it isn’t as easy. What I mean is that I would much rather live in a culturally diverse place that isn’t similar to the US. I like the challenge of it. It’s a real struggle sometimes, and I have been known to cry, but those moments only make me stronger. Experiencing new cultures has opened my eyes to the fact that there is more than one right way to do things.

A big perk to expat life is all of the travel opportunities you’re afforded. As an international educator, our school schedule is pretty sweet, and there are many weeks of holiday sprinkled throughout the year. Being in Asia or Europe, where the countries are all relatively close to one another and flights are inexpensive, means that you can frequently travel to new and exciting places. So far, I’ve been to 35 countries, and I’m not stopping anytime soon!

As with everything, there are drawbacks to expat life. The most obvious is that you are far away from your family and friends back home. You miss the everyday moments, the birthdays, the weddings, etc. You can also get homesick and miss the comforts of home, be it food, modern conveniences, or being able to speak the same language. Life is more difficult living abroad. The biggest difference is usually the language, but beyond that, things like paying bills, running errands, finding items you need, and going to the bank become huge ordeals that require much patience and an open mind.

Despite the drawbacks, I am in love with this life I’ve created, and the thought of moving back to the US, at least at this point in my life, seems so far outside of my realm of understanding that I can’t picture it. I tell anyone who’s considering moving abroad to go for it. It’s definitely not for everyone, and you may miss home and decide to come back, but you will be a better human for doing it. More likely a scenario is that you will fall in love with it, too, and decide to stay a while.

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

Letter D #AtoZChallenge

For day 4 of the challenge, I dive into the Letter D as I explore more memoir encyclopedia topics.

Dad

My dad and I have the same sense of humor. We regularly crack ourselves up, even when no one else is laughing. He told some corny jokes when I was a kid, and like every dad everywhere, he told the same ones over and over. One that was guaranteed to get a laugh from all my friends, and a cringe from me and Andrew, was the one where we’d be riding around town in our Suburban (I’m pretty sure we had at least four), when my dad would point out a road sign, the one with the capital P and the red circle with the slash through it, and ask my friend, “Do you know what that sign means?” They’d correctly reply, “No parking.” To which my dad would reply, “Nope, it means no peeing on the side of the road,” followed by fits of giggles by both him and said friend. I’ll admit, I laughed too, the first half dozen times he told it, but after that, it just wasn’t funny anymore.

Something my dad used to do that irritated the heck outta me was honk at me every time I walked in front of the car. I would jump, let out a yell, and give him the meanest glare I could muster. He, in turn, would lose it, doubled-over with uncontrollable laughter. Still, to this day, I flinch when I walk in front of his car when he’s in the driver’s seat. If I remember, I always walk behind the car.

When we were kids, my dad used to get our attention by whistling. He’s a really good whistler, and he is able to project his whistles for really long distances. Whereas most parents, my mom included, would yell out your name when they wanted your attention or needed you to come to another part of the house, my dad just whistled, and you had better come. I’d get so frustrated when he’d whistle and whistle, so I’d yell back, “I’m busy!” but he wouldn’t relent. Ugh! I’d stop whatever I was doing, go to see what he wanted, only to find him on the couch grinning up at me saying, “Do you wanna get me a cup of water?” Really!?!? You called me in here to get you a cup of water when I was busy and you have two perfectly good legs with which to do it, and the kitchen is 5 steps away from you?! He’d just smile and say, “So will you do it?”

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Pretty sure I get my ridiculous fashion sense from my dad 😉

Death

My first experience with death that I can remember was when my Papa died when I was seven. The memory that sticks out the most was when mom and dad called us into their room one Saturday morning and told us our cousins were coming to visit. I can remember bouncing on the bed yelling, “Katy’s coming!!”, so excited I couldn’t stand it. That’s when my dad got choked up and told us Papa (his dad) had died and they were coming to the funeral. I’m pretty sure my mom had to finish telling us. Seven-year-old me was a mix of emotions- happy that my cousin and best friend was coming to visit and sad that Papa had died and that it had made my daddy so sad.

My Papa was a big man, tall and stocky, with a full head of white hair. To a little kid like me, he was exceptionally big! Despite his stature, he was gentle and loving. He had a great laugh. He never met a stranger, and he was so caring that no one had a single bad thing to say about him. Papa loved the Lord and would freely share his faith with others. He was madly in love with Meme, and she was devastated when he died. I’m not sure she ever fully recovered.

I’m glad I got to know him, even for a short time. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of him in my dad’s and Uncle David’s face.

papa and dad

Papa and my daddy

Dinner

Growing up, we almost always ate dinner together, and I’m glad we did. Although most of my dinner memories were at restaurants since we ate most of our meals out during our 8-year home remodel (more on that one later).

When we did eat at home, we did so in the kitchen at the oval oak table with the wicker-backed chairs upholstered in a brown, yellow, and orange pattern from the late 70’s/early 80’s. Most of our meals at home consisted of a meat dish (steak, chicken, never pork), a starch (usually potatoes), a vegetable (most likely from a can), some sort of bread (usually rolls with butter), and iced tea. My parents eat much differently now, but back in the 80’s, this was pretty typical.

My friends loved sleeping over at my house or having dinner with us because their parents hardly ever took them out to eat. I liked eating at friends’ houses because their moms would cook. You always want what you don’t have, right?

We almost always ate dinner late and took forever to finish because my parents loved to sit and talk after they had eaten. We wouldn’t get home til close to 9pm some nights. Because I hated just sitting around waiting after I’d eaten, and my incessant whining that I wanted to leave didn’t work, I always had a book with me. My parents sometimes had to make me put it down so I’d talk with them about my day. My obsession with always having a book still prevails to this day.

Diving

I love diving, from the air and into the ocean. My first experience doing both was on my first trip to Australia in 2004. I had just finished up a stint as a nanny in Sydney, and decided to travel the country for a couple months. I flew to Cairns, on the Great Barrier Reef, and stayed on a live aboard boat for four days. During this time I went on a couple discovery dives, which is scuba diving, but you are non-certified and with a guide every step of the way. I wasn’t ready to commit the time or money it would take to get certified, and I wasn’t sure I’d like it. Turns out I didn’t like it…I loved it! I was pretty spoiled though with my first dive in the Great Barrier Reef. There isn’t much out there better than that. I only wish I had pictures of it, but at the time, the underwater cameras weren’t yet cost-effective. All I have are my memories.

After leaving Cairns by bus, I traveled south along the eastern coast of Oz. At one stop, Mooloolaba (I just love the sound of it!), I decided to stay a few days and ended up sky diving. It was a pretty big decision because I didn’t have much money and it was 800 Aussie dollars, but more importantly, it was the one thing I promised my dad I wouldn’t do on my trip.

Seriously, he sat me down and said, “Promise me you won’t go sky diving while you’re there. I don’t want you coming home in a box.”

“OK, dad.”

“No, promise me.”

Rolling my eyes, I said, “OK, dad, I promise I won’t sky dive.”

I take my promises seriously and I hated disappointing him, but it was sky diving!! I was not nervous about the actual jumping out of a plane part, but having to tell my dad was terrifying. I finally decided it was worth it.

I paid for the most expensive package where you get another skydiver to jump out right before you do and film your jump. I mean, if I was going to do it, I wanted proof to show my parents when I got home.

My tandem diver was a spunky, older man who’d been on some 900 odd jumps. I felt pretty good about that. If you’ve never done it before, let me fill you in. You and your tandem diver, strapped together, pile into a tiny plane with about 4 or 5 other pairs of sky divers. You sit on the floor of the plane, lined up in order of jumpers. On the ground, my guy said, “Wanna go first?” Without thinking too much about it, I replied, “Sure, why not?”, surprising even myself.

Once you’re inside the plane, you’ll probably be shocked to know there’s no door. Being first meant I was sitting nearest the opening where the door should have been. It was an amazing view going up, but boy was it windy and noisy! It’s a wonder we didn’t get sucked out!

I jumped from 14,000 feet, and once we were at the correct altitude, my guy tapped my shoulder, my signal to scoot on my booty toward the ‘door.’ At the opening, staring down at the ocean below, I was mesmerized, taken aback by the beauty of it all, but I wasn’t once scared. I was eerily calm. The videographer jumped out first, and then it was our turn. Expecting to scream and be scared, I was surprised that I didn’t and wasn’t. We were free-falling for about 45 seconds. That was the most exhilarating 45 seconds ever…pure joy. It’s like time slowed down.

After he pulled the parachute, and we shot backwards into the air with a quick jolt, we drifted slowly back down to earth. For those few minutes of floating, I took it all in. The cerulean blue of the ocean below, the surfers catching white waves, the tiny dots of people sunbathing on the beach, the way the sand slowly turned into ocean, the city just beyond the beach, with it’s tall trees and buildings. It was magic.

We landed on the beach, lifting our knees so our butts skidded across the sand. Once I stood up, the videographer asked, “How was it!?!”

“It was cool…I loved it,” I beamed into the camera.

Once I was safely back in Texas a month later, my family was asking me all about my trip. “I have something to show you,” I said, as I pulled out the VHS. Popping it into the VCR, my dad asked me if I went sky diving, to which I sheepishly replied, “Let me show you.”

He was tickled pink! He couldn’t stop smiling, the pride written across his face. For months afterward, he’d tell anyone who’d listen that his daughter had lived in Australia and went sky diving, even when he’d told her not to. I guess I was worried for nothing.

Dolls

I was definitely a baby doll kinda girl. Barbies didn’t do it for me. I had more dolls than I could count, but most of them were of the Cabbage Patch variety. I loved the way their heads smelled like baby powder. I’m not sure how they did it, because years and years later, they still had the smell.

I loved to play house, and would wrangle my brother or any of my friends to play with me. Even if I didn’t have anyone to play with, I was content to play house by myself. My favorite places to play house were in the playhouse my grandaddy built me that sat behind our house or the make-shift playhouse in the country behind Mamaw and Grandaddy’s house that was essentially a big stack of cinder blocks with some smaller bricks on top that I would arrange to become a baby bed, a stove, a kitchen table, etc. I could spend hours upon hours playing with my dolls, dressing them up, feeding them, tending to their every need, just like they were real babies.

When my baby brother was born, I was a few months shy of four years old, and I was suddenly no longer the baby and center of attention. In an effort to avoid me feeling left out, my Mamaw bought me my own baby boy doll that I was given as a gift the day my brother was born. It looked like a real baby, and was about the same size. I don’t remember what I named him, but I do remember taking care of him when my mom was taking care of Andrew. From what I’ve been told, I didn’t do so well with the transition, but I do think the baby doll helped.

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Mamaw and me, holding my new baby doll, the day Andrew was born.

My Mamaw started giving my China dolls when I was young, and I began to amass a collection. The thing was, I wasn’t allowed to play with them. They were for show only. I remember wanting to touch their beautiful hair, set in ringlets on their head, or touch their ornate and beautiful clothing, but they were too delicate, I was told. Most of those China dolls are still on display at my mom and dad’s house in the bedroom with all of my niece and nephew’s toys.

I finally grew out of playing with dolls toward the end of elementary school, when I was beginning to be too cool for such childish things, but once I’m around little girls or boys who are holding a baby doll and ask me to play, I’m right back there in that playhouse.

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

McThai

Today as I was checking my mail, this flyer from McDonald’s caught my attention. It was an ad for their McDelivery service.


I’m always intrigued by what is offered at McDonald’s around the world. I’m not a fan of the fast food chain, but I’ve been to a few in various countries and it always surprises me that their menu differs from country to country. It’s their way of appealing to the local culture and their tastes. While there’s always the typical fare like Big Macs, cheeseburgers, and fries, they have some other interesting things as well.

The dishes on the Thai McDonald’s menu that strike me as unique are the:

  • McPork or McChicken Porridge, both breakfast dishes
  • Namtok Rice, a chicken stir fry served with rice. For an additional price, you can add a fried egg or a cup of soup.
  • Fried pies in a variety of flavors (Apple isn’t one of them)…there’s Chicken Ham Pie, Taro Ginkgo Pie, Corn Pie, and Pineapple Pie
  • Ovaltine or Milky Tea Floats

Have you ever found something unusual on a McDonald’s menu while traveling?

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Letter C #AtoZChallenge

Continuing my A to Z theme of a memoir encyclopedia, here are my Letter C entries.

Carebears

When I was a kid, I never had Barbies. I was much too tomboyish for that. But I did have a vast collection of Carebears. Once word spread that I was into the colorful plush bears with designs on their bellies, everyone gave me one for birthdays and Christmases. I had at least one of every Carebear, and even a few repeats. I had three of the pink ones with the rainbow on their belly…like anyone needs three of the same Carebear! What’s weird is that I don’t remember actually playing with them. I think I may have slept with them, but they mostly lived on my wooden shelf, lined up and on display. When I got too old to have stuffed animals all over my room, my mom put them all in a large trashbag and stored them in the garage. Somehow, in the process of cleaning out the garage, they were thrown out. I remember being so sad when I found that out. I wish I still had them so I could show my niece and nephew.

Central Baptist Church

I attended Central Baptist from birth through college. Since it used to be only a block away, we walked to church. I spent loads of time there, and not just on Sundays. I went to Wednesday night church, Vacation Bible School (VBS), Disciple Now, and many other church functions. I made some really close friends there, too. My favorite memories are when we got to come down to the front during the Sunday morning message, or “big church” as my parents called it) for children’s church. I also really loved the youth group. Our youth paster, Tim Skaggs, was a really cool guy who had a knack for engaging pre-teens and teens, his messages a perfect mix of humor and driving home the message. I attended many years of church summer camp, where I learned to spread my wings. Later, as a college student, I worked part time in the Mother’s Day Out program, which I really enjoyed. Central really meant a lot to me.

China (and Change)

China will always hold a special place in my heart. When I began my international teaching career in Shanghai in 2010, I thought I would be there for two years, fulfill my contract, and go back home with a few more stamps in my passport and some interesting stories to tell my friends. Little did I know that I would stay there for five years and become hooked on the international teacher expat life.

When I first moved to China, everything was a culture shock. Nothing felt familiar and I was forever comparing it to life back in Texas. I swear I must have been a broken record. “In my old school…” “This doesn’t taste/look/smell like it does in Texas.” Well, of course it doesn’t. I was in China. I was inundated with newness in everything. New foods. New ways of shopping (How do you bargain?). New smells (There’s nothing that compares to China smell.) New ways of getting around. New language (Now that part was tricky!). New ways of doing things.

That first year was rough. Unbeknownst to me, I was thought to be the one teacher who might pull ‘a runner.’ Lots of tears were shed, some from homesickness, but most from frustration. I learned a lot that year about China, but also about myself. I grew and began to morph into a slightly different version of myself, one that had a thicker skin, could laugh when I found myself in precarious situations, and one that was more of a risk-taker. My food repertoire exploded in China. Being in Shanghai, a international city with cuisine varieties from all over the world, I tried many different types of food for the first time. I’ve since become more adventurous with food and love to try new things.

Christmas

Christmas is my second favorite holiday. I love the traditions, family time, decorations, and food. Growing up, Andrew and I couldn’t wait to wake up and rush out to the living room to discover what Santa had left for us. Santa always left our presents unwrapped, a pile for each of us on either side of the tree. Our stockings were always filled with oranges and chocolates, and sometimes some socks. I secretly wished our stockings had been filled with all kinds of different small trinkets like Santa left my best friend Nicole. That’s probably why I now fill the stockings with things like that.

After seeing our loot from Santa, we’d bound into mom and dad’s room, jumping on their bed and waking them up, practically pulling them out of bed to come and see what Santa brought us. They were always as surprised as we were. The rest of the morning consisted of playing with our Santa gifts, mom starting on Christmas lunch, and me calling Nicole to ask what she got. We’d then make plans to hang out later that day. Smells of lunch made my tummy grumble, and just when I couldn’t take it anymore, mom would put breakfast on the table.

Mamaw and Grandaddy always came over around noon for Christmas lunch, and the rule was that no one could open presents until we’d had lunch, which was absolute torture for us. We’d beg to no avail. The answer was always the same, “No, we open presents after lunch.” I’m not sure who started this tradition, but I sure didn’t like it as a kid. We still have the same tradition now, only waiting to open presents until after lunch doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m almost always the last to open gifts nowadays. I prefer to watch my niece and nephew open their gifts, their eyes lighting up with excitement. Christmas through a child’s eyes is magic.

Cookie Cake

My guilty pleasure is cookie cake. Great American Cookie Co. cookie cake to be exact. I detest the ones with the colored icing. My favorite is the chocolate chip cookie cake with chocolate icing, and maybe a little bit of white icing, but not too much. Whenever I’m home for the summer, I hint, not so subtlety, for my mom to get me a cookie cake for my birthday, which they missed celebrating with me since it’s in May. My mom doesn’t believe in belated birthday celebrations, so I don’t get the cookie cake. My contribution for the past few years at our Kesler family reunion has been a large cookie cake. I pretend it’s because the kids love cookie cake, which they do, but in reality, I get it for me. I feel guilty if I buy myself a birthday cake, but a reunion cake for everyone is no problem.

Cooking

One of my favorite pastimes is cooking. I love cooking for other people, but I cook for myself, too. I think what intrigues me is that I can put a lot of different ingredients together and end up with a new creation. Cooking brings people together. Nothing says love than getting a group of people together and sharing a meal. I am really looking forward to cooking this summer with my family and to my new place having a good kitchen. My current kitchen situation is pathetic. I have a tiny refrigerator, a sink, about 2 feet of counter space, and a hot plate, which makes it really difficult to do anything. I’m pretty tired of going out or ordering in at this point!

Cousins

It’s true what they say. Your cousins are your first friends, and for me, that was most true with my cousin Katy, who is three days older than me. Growing up the same age meant that we had loads in common, and while we didn’t live in the same town, our parents got together often enough and we spent time together at holidays, that we were each other’s best friends when we were younger. I wasn’t as close to Katy’s older siblings, Kevin and Kenna, growing up, the age gap a little too big (10 and 7 years older), but as we’ve become adults, I have really enjoyed getting to know them, and have spent time with them and their families.

My cousin Candice, seven years my junior, and I became really close when she was in high school and I was in college/out in the real world. I remember taking a trip with her to Chicago over Spring Break during my first year of teaching. It was both our first times to visit, and coming from Texas, we were not prepared for the snowy weather. I remember traipsing all over the city visiting museums and other sites with her. One of the memories from that trip that sticks out most was when we got lost in search of a comedy club where we were going to see an improv show. Even though I was the older (and presumably wiser) one, I was naive and would go up to shady strangers to ask for assistance. Candice scolded me on more than one occasion after I talked to unsavory men on the street. One of my tips eventually paid off and we made it to the club, where we laughed our heads off. I vaguely remember that one of us was called up on stage to be a part of the show, but for the life of me, I can’t remember if it was Candice or me.

Candice’s younger brother, Nathan, and I weren’t very close growing up, mainly due to the fact that I am 11 years older than him, but I have started to get to know him as an adult, and he’s a really cool guy. I love how goal-oriented and hard-working he is.

I have two younger cousins from my mom’s side, Laura and Matthew. Laura is a freshman at A&M and Matthew is still in high school. For most of their lives, they lived in Tennessee, so we didn’t see each other often. I’ve visited them a few times since they moved back to Texas, and I am proud of them. They are both very smart and talented. I’d love to spend more time getting to know them.

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

Letter B #AtoZChallenge

Continuing my memoir encyclopedia theme, here are my Letter B entries.

Babysitting

I’ve always loved kids, so it made sense that some of my first jobs were babysitting for family friends and neighbors. I began babysitting at age eleven, which I now find absurd. What does an 11-year-old know about babysitting? How can you leave someone that young alone with your kids? I guess the early 90’s were different times, but still. I wouldn’t trust an 11-year-old to babysit.

I babysat for many years, off and on, sometimes on a random night, and sometimes on the regular. I think I gained a lot of responsibility by looking after other kids. Most of the time I loved it, but there was that one time I caught two of the five siblings I was babysitting smoking up in the tree in their backyard. They were 10 and 12 years old. I quit that day.

Banana Pudding

My Mamaw was the best cook that ever lived. Because she grew up very poor during the Great Depression, she made everything from scratch. I spent a lot of time out in the country at her house, and much of that time was spent in the kitchen. My brother, Andrew, and I loved her banana pudding. Mamaw’s banana pudding was served hot, fresh from the oven. First, she’d make the pudding from scratch on the stovetop. As her official taste testers, she gave us each a spoon and waited for our approval, which we always gave because, like I said earlier, she was the best cook ever.

Andrew and I were always Mamaw’s special helpers, and she’d pull tall stools up to the counter top where we’d assist her. Our job was to cut the bananas into slices and help her layer the pudding. A layer of Nilla Wafers lined the bottom of the 13×9 glass baking dish, followed by a layer of bananas, and then a layer of pudding, which Mamaw poured because it was too hot for us. More Nilla Wafers, bananas, and pudding. The final piece was meringue, which she’d whip up in her mixer, stiff white peaks indicating it was ready. She always did that part. Then it went into the oven for what seemed like an eternity. Fresh out of the oven, she’d dish out four helpings, one each for Andrew and me and one each for her and Grandaddy. Each time we had it was better than the last. The taste of warm banana pudding will always bring me back to that kitchen and my Mamaw.

Bean Burrito

Kids are funny, and their idea of insults is even funnier. My first year as a camp director at iD Tech camps, we had an 11-year-old camper named Mitchell who came a few weeks in a row. He was a spitfire with a temper much bigger than him. His go-to insult whenever he was upset at a fellow camper or an instructor was, “Gawd! You’re a bean burrito!” Hurling that insult was always met with laughter or a smile, which only fueled his anger. But, how can you not smile when someone calls you a bean burrito? Is that supposed to hurt? 😉

Bees

I’m not afraid of a lot of things, but I’m deathly afraid of bees. Like, I completely freak out whenever one is flying anywhere near me. I have no idea how other people aren’t bothered by them. They have stingers, and it hurts like hell when they sting you! When I see a bee, I completely come out of my skin, running away, screaming, and sometimes crying.

I think my fear stems back to two major incidents from my childhood. Once, when I was about four or five, I was playing at my cousin Katy’s house. We were in her front yard, and for some reason, we were playing under a bush. That’s when it happened. We had inadvertently messed with a wasp’s or hornet’s nest, and they were angry! I ended up getting stung four times in the head. I remember crying like crazy, and my parents running out to get me. Another time, I was around eight years old, and I was playing in my playhouse that my Grandaddy built for me. I was rearranging the furniture, as you do, and when I moved my pretend Kenmore refrigerator, I unknowingly disturbed the bee hive that had formed on the back of it, causing an angry crowd of bees to attack. The fact that I was in a confined space of about 12 square feet, with the door and windows closed, did not work to my advantage. I managed to escape and run around to the back of the house, where my parents’ room was, but not before I’d been stung a bunch of times, mainly in my knee. Ever since then, bees terrify the crap outta me!

About 6 months ago, a couple of friends and I took a trip to Morocco, and we were on a road trip from Chefchaoen to Casablanca, me riding shotgun. The weather was sunny and slightly cool, so I cracked the window, turned up the tunes, and settled in for a relaxing ride. Suddenly, I felt a leaf fly through the window and land in my hair, along my hairline. Reaching up to get it out, I felt a red hot pain shoot through my finger. Bringing my hand down to inspect it, I see a bee attached, which falls down beneath the seat. I begin screaming bloody murder, a combination of the pain and the fear of the bee, Celeste and Jen unaware of what is wrong with me. Celeste wants to help me, but she’s driving about 100km/hr down the highway. Jen, in the backseat, offers assistance. I shove my finger back to her, crying and shaking, begging her to remove the stinger. Miraculously, she has a pair of tweezers in her bag, and she’s able to remove it; I manage to calm down. I am so glad I wasn’t driving, or we would have certainly crashed. Also, what kind of luck is that where a bee is able to fly through a cracked window of no more than 2 inches wide, while we drive at a high speed down the highway, and land in my hair? Freaky things like this happen to me a lot.

Bikes

I’m a bike rider, although I don’t consider myself a cyclist. I’m more of a casual bike rider. In elementary school, my main thing was riding around the neighborhood on my yellow Huffy with white tires, speeding through the streets like I owned the place. When I needed a break, I’d throw it against the front porch steps, run in and get some water, only to get right back out there. I’m not certain when I stopped riding, but by high school, I was more concerned with driving than riding my bike.

I didn’t own a bike again until I moved to Shanghai, and faced with not having a car and not wanting to rely on taxis all the time, I braved the hectic, busy streets and got a bike. That first bike was sahweeet! It was a red and white Giant with a basket on the front. I loved that bike. About 8 months after I bought it, I stupidly left it overnight at the Metro station, and the next day it was gone. Sadness.

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My next bike was so nice…vintage colors that made me smile. I had that bike a total of 6 days before it was stolen from inside my apartment building, locked up to the stairwell in the middle of the day, on my birthday no less! Lots of tears were shed for that one.

bike1

After another few bikes were bought and stolen, I decided to get a custom-made fixie. I got to choose the colors and being the neon lover I am, it was bright! I only stored it in my apartment, and I’m happy to say, I still have it. When I left China, I broke it down, packed it in pieces in a box, and brought it as checked luggage. It’s currently sitting in my parents’ garage.

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Bonfire

Aggie (see entry for Aggies under Letter A) bonfires were an annual tradition for as long as I can remember. Our biggest football rivalry was the University of Texas Longhorns, and they were always the last game of the regular season, right around Thanksgiving. In Aggie tradition, a huge bonfire made of whole tree trunks was constructed by a host of volunteers over a number of weeks leading up to the big game. The night before the big game, thousands upon thousands of people would gather as the bonfire went up in flames, whoops and gig’ems galore. As a kid growing up in Aggieland, I attended many bonfires, and looked forward to the days of attending them as an actual Aggie. But that never happened.

In 1999, during my freshman year in college, the bonfire fell in the early morning hours of November 18, killing twelve people. I remember being woken up for class by my radio alarm around 7:00 am and hearing news reports of the collapse. I thought, This can’t be happening. This isn’t real. But it was real. Much of the A&M campus was shut down that day and the town was in chaos. I heard the call for blood donations for the wounded, and I dutifully waited hours to donate blood at the local blood bank. A couple days later, my family and I flew to England for a week-long vacation to visit my aunt and uncle. I remember watching news footage of the Aggie bonfire collapse in London, surprised that it had made international headlines. There hasn’t been another official Aggie bonfire since.

Books

I love books, like, really love them. I have amassed huge collections of books over the years. My favorite books to collect are children’s picture books, young adult novels, and professional development and self-help/psychology books. At present, I probably own upwards of 800 books, but I’ve had so many more. I’ve ended up donated many books when I’ve moved around the world, thus leaving a trail of books in my wake. Leaving books behind is very hard for me, as I become quite attached to them and have come to love the fact that I can pull out just the right book that someone may need, but books are heavy and lugging them around gets very expensive. I wish I was super rich and could take my books with me everywhere I went, and I wish that I could buy even more!

My most favorite books, in no particular order, are 1984, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Dot, The Great Gatsby, Angela’s Ashes, Fishing Sunday, Brown Girl Dreaming, Wonder, Out of My Mind, 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know, The Book Whisperer, The Watsons Go to Birmingham- 1964, The Fault in Our Stars, Walk Two Moons, Tuesdays with Morrie, The Giving Tree, Bridge to Terabithia, Start with Why, and Okay for Now.

Bows

Growing up in the land of big hair when you have fine, wispy hair means you need to create your own height. Enter hair bows. And I’m not talking little barrettes with dainty little bows made of thin ribbon. I’m talking gravity-defying bows that stick off the top of your head at least 3-4 inches. I went through a phase in late elementary school where I made bows. I would buy wide ribbon with wire built in to help it stand up, wire for wrapping, and plain silver barrettes. I’d use the wire to make bows with 4-6 big humps (imagine ‘mmm’) on top of the barrettes. I’d wear my hair in a half ponytail with the bow at the top of my head. I’d like to say I was fashionable, but that would be a lie. (See Exhibit A below.)

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Brother

Andrew, my younger, but certainly not little, brother and I had a typical brother/sister relationship growing up. We were thick as thieves one day and at each others’ throats the next. He’s nearly four years younger than me, which means that we weren’t really in the same place in our lives very often, if at all. The only time we went to the same school was in elementary, when he was in first grade and I was in fifth. He was entering middle school when I was in high school, and he was a freshman in high school when I was a freshman in college. I think that the four-year age gap is an awkward length, and we struggled to relate to one another’s experiences.

But growing up, there were definitely times when we banded together for the common good. One of my favorite memories of us working together was one Halloween when we were in elementary school. For some reason, our family didn’t go trick-or-treating, which really stank, especially since Andrew and I loved free candy! As the older sibling and brains of the operation, I hatched a plan. I had Andrew dress up in his tee-ball uniform, the closest thing either of us had to a costume, and I snagged a plastic grocery sack from under the sink, and we “went out to play.” As we were on our way out the door, my mom reminding us to be home for dinner, she asked, “Why are you wearing that, Andrew?” We pretended we didn’t hear her, as the door slammed behind us.

Running to the backyard, we schemed. I taught Andrew the basics in trick-or-treating etiquette, and instructed him to go to the neighbor’s house across the street, ring the doorbell, hold out his bag, and say “Trick or Treat!” when they opened the door. Then, when he had the candy, he was to bring it back to me. We would split the candy 50/50. The fact that it was 4:30 pm and still light out didn’t deter our mission. Hiding out in the backyard, watching him as he ran up to the door, my heart was beating a mile a minute. I didn’t want to get caught and have to explain what we were doing to my parents. After sending him to a few houses close to home, we dug into our candy, gladly ruining our dinner.

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

Letter A #AtoZChallenge

As I explain here, my theme for this A to Z Challenge is memoir, with an encyclopedia-esque twist, a la AKR.

Aggies

The Aggies, Texas A&M University’s mascot, my alma mater, hold so much meaning to me. Growing up in Bryan/College Station, I was always an Aggie. You couldn’t help but get swept up in the excitement of the games and the bonfires and the yells. “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. And from the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.” This quote perfectly sums up the Aggie spirit. It’s something you feel from the moment you step onto the campus, particularly on a game day, as you walk through a sea of maroon and white, the energy palpable. “We are the Aggies. The Aggies are we.”

Airports and Airplanes

I spend a lot of time in airports and airplanes. As an expat and frequent traveler, it comes with the territory. I have my favorite airports- HKG, CDG, ORD and my least favorites- PVG, FCO, DMK. I know how late I can push it until I really have to arrive at the airport. I know how to sweet talk the clerks at check-in so they’ll overlook my slightly overweight bags. I love the buzz of airports, the busyness of people bustling around and the excitement and anticipation of new places yet to be seen. I know how to pack a perfect carry-on bag that has everything I could need within my reach.

I’m a window seat person. I have to have the window because I hate having to get up fifteen times when someone has to pee. And I’m a plane sleeper, so the window means I can lean up against it with my pillow, put in my earbuds, pull on my eye mask, and get cozy under my blanket for a long uninterrupted snooze. Not getting the window makes me sooooo grumpy. It’s almost ruined flights before. The only thing better than the window is an empty row of seats on a non-full flight. Ahhhh…stretching out and sleeping is gold!

I hate airplane food. Unless I’m in business or first class, which almost never happens. I always bring snacks and meals for long-haul flights.

Apartments

I’ve lived in 8 apartments over the course of my adult life. My first apartment, a dark, small one-bedroom chosen because it offered no deposit and first month’s rent free, which worked well with my no money situation, was a bit seedy. I lived next-door to a stripper who moonlighted as a prostitute, which I realized one night when I was awoken at 3AM by a naked man banging on my neighbor’s bedroom window, screaming at her to “Let me in! Give me back my clothes!” That apartment was also broken into, the last straw which prompted me to move.

My next apartment cost considerably more, but was in a much better part of town and in a gated complex. I loved the natural light that streamed into the living room from the floor to ceiling windows. I made it my home, and lived there two years, after which time I bought my first, and only, home.

I moved into my third apartment after moving to Shanghai in 2010. That first apartment was not my favorite. It was too small for one, and part of the bathroom was in the kitchen. Nothing says Come over and hang out at my place than your guests seeing all your bathroom stuff out in the open. That was also the apartment where I locked myself out twice- once when the stove was on (yikes!) and another time after I hadn’t yet learned about the strange Chinese lock system.

My second year in Shangers, I moved into a swanky apartment in the French Concession, a bachelorette pad clad in modern furnishings and on the 18th floor of a high rise. I loved that apartment, despite the fact that it was way over my housing allowance. But I didn’t care. It suited me well, and I lived there for two years, until the landlords sold it and I had to move.

Still in Shanghai, I moved yet again, but this time back to my roots, choosing to live on Hong Mei Lu, near the Laowi Jie. This apartment was by far the biggest, a 2-bedroom, with a huge kitchen and living room. I loved the wallpaper (I can’t believe I’m actually saying that), the bay window in my room where I could sit and read, and the huge bathroom with the luxurious tub, where I’d spend many nights reading and soaking the day away. Shady landlord shit made me move out of that place.

My last year in Shanghai, I found a place in Xujiahui, near Lines 1 and 11 and Grand Gateway mall, where my go-to restaurants, Pizza Express and Din Tai Fung, lived. Another 2-bedroom, this one was  smaller, but definitely gave off a cozy, home-y vibe. I made it my own, and I loved it. I still miss that apartment.

When I moved to Albania, I rented a sprawling, 3-bedroom apartment in the city centre. It was great for hosting parties, and I have so many memories of fun times with friends wrapped up in that place. It was also my first and only apartment abroad to have a dryer, a luxury those in America take for granted.

My current apartment in Bangkok is by far the tiniest place I’ve ever lived, but for some reason, I love it, too. It’s a studio apartment in the Pak Soi, a short 8 minute ride to school. I love its simplicity and cuteness. It’s all I need for this short season in my life.

Aunts

Aunts are special people. They’re like your mom, but the cooler, you-can-talk-to-them-about-anything version. Aunts are cheerleaders, shoulders to cry on, advice givers, secret keepers, and date goers. One of my favorite things about aunts is that they don’t have to be blood-related to earn the title. Honorary aunts are just as significant in our lives. I have a special relationship with my aunts, and I treasure them all in their own way.

Aunt Kathy, my dad’s younger sister, and I are very close. She just gets me. I can be authentically me around her, and she loves me unconditionally. I like that about her. We don’t talk all the time, but I know if I’m in trouble or need anything, I can count on her. Every time I go back home, I make a special trip to Austin to see her. We have a standing date night at The Melting Pot, where we always have the same thing– Yin and Yang chocolate martinis, cheese fondue, salad, and chocolate fondue. Each time, we consider ordering something different, but we never do. Aunt Kathy squeals when she sees me for the first time after I’ve been gone too long, and she gives the best hugs. She’s also a thoughtful gift giver, giving me what I never knew I always wanted.

Aunt Alva, my dad’s brother’s wife, is the sweetest, most gentle person ever. Everything she does is done effortlessly, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out how she does it. How is her house always perfect? How is she always so put together? How is she always happy? I don’t know, but I love her for it. I love that Aunt Alva listens to my stories. Like really listens. She is so interested in my life and my stories and makes time to hear them. Not everyone is like that, and I love her all the more for it. I love Aunt Alva’s cooking, especially her pancakes, panny-cakes as she calls them. They are my favorite breakfast– fluffy, buttery, Texas-sized pancakes that take up the entire plate. The best part is she doesn’t wait til they’re all done for us to sit down to eat together. She calls us over, one by one, to get our pancake fresh off the griddle, so we can enjoy it nice and hot. My stomach is growling as I write this, and I know that three months is too long to wait to taste her pancakes.

My other Aunt Kathy, Uncle Mike’s wife, is my honorary aunt. Uncle Mike is my dad’s best friend from high school, a man I’ve known all my life. I’m pretty sure he changed my diapers. Anyway, he married Aunt Kathy when I was in high school, and I got to dance at their wedding. She’s his perfect match, and one of my close friends. As a teacher, too, we have a lot in common, and can gab all day about school stuff. When I chose to do my student teaching in Houston, away from home, she offered up their spare room and I lived with them for a semester. I’ll always remember that time, as it was my first time living away from home. She’ll always remember that time, too, as I never could keep my room cleaned. Aunt Kathy has the best laugh, one that starts deep in her belly, and is contagious to all who hear it.

Nearly five years ago, I joined the club and became an aunt. My niece, Randi Ann, an adorable, spunky, clever, silly, sweet soon-to-be-five-year-old, rocked my world and introduced me to a love I hadn’t yet known. All I wanted to do when I was around her, was cuddle her and make her laugh. As she’s grown up, she has developed a personality all her own, and I love it! When she turned three, I began a new tradition. Every time I go home, she and I spend a day together, doing whatever she wants to do. On our dates, the attention is all on her, and we laugh, tell stories, and wonder. Our usual day includes a trip to Shipley’s donuts, a mani/pedi, catching the latest movie (I took her to her first movie in the theater!), playing at the park, lunch, and a trip to the bookstore to pick out a new favorite book. I love that she looks like me, too. When I show her an old picture of me and my younger brother, her daddy, she thinks it’s her and her brother, Logan.

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Speaking of Logan, he’s the little bundle of energy that made me an aunt twice over, and I simply adore him! He is equal parts rough and tumble, loud, tazmanian devil and sweet, gentle, loving, caring, climb-up-in-your-lap-and-give-you-a-hug boy. The juxtaposition of him is why I love him. We can wrestle on the floor, me tickling him and sending him into fits of laughter (and he has the best laugh!) or we can crawl up in bed and read a book, snuggling up close together. Logan Cole is also hilarious, his crazy antics making it nearly impossible to scold him because, while he shouldn’t have done what he did, damned if it wasn’t the funniest thing ever.

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Australia

From the age of 7, I have been obsessed with Australia. When I say obsessed, I mean obsessed. I’m pretty sure that obsession was born from a school project where my childhood crush researched and presented a report on Australia. From then on, I can recall telling anyone who would listen that “When I grow up, I’m going to be a teacher. And I’m going to live in Australia.” You know what? I have accomplished both those goals. After graduating from A&M with my teaching degree, I packed up and moved to Sydney in early 2004, where I was a nanny for a family of three children. I then solo-traveled along the east coast of Oz, from Cairns back down to Sydney. My return trip in 2011 allowed me to visit my love, Sydney, but a few new places, too. Australia is life, color, vibrancy, deliciousness, culture, accents, nature, city and beach, sun, and joy. I still want to live in Australia someday. Maybe when I’m done gallivanting around the world, I’ll settle into Oz. Maybe.

 A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]