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