27 January 2011

You came and you gave without takin'!

When I was a kid, I was super into learning. Like, to a really weird level. My education reigned supreme in my life.

As a result, I was very concerned with my study environment. My room was next to my sister's, so not a totally quiet area (she was having a "SpiceGirls" phase, I think). So, when I heard that listening to classical music whilst studying helped boost concentration, I was like, "MOM I NEEDZ MOZART."

My mom, though, only really listens to... cool music. Like, '70s groovy tunes, Los Lonely Boys, Michael Jackson, the like. On the intercom radio. Everyday. Really loud.

For her, the prospect of having me listen to some boring old dead guy in the next room was too much to bear. When you homeschool, your children have to make sacrifices.

A few days later, Mom returned from a shopping trip. I was hoping she had found me a classical cd.

She reached teasingly into the Barnes & Noble bag.... "I got you a surprrrrisssseee!:)"

me: "ooh, yay! I am so excited! I have a book on the Italian Renaissance to finish - I need some soothing music! What's this??? Ooh, who is it............?"

mom: "it's.......Barry Manilow!!!!!"

me: "urm, who's Barry Manilow.....?"

Mom: "OMG, Sister, you will love him. He has a huge band, like Mozart, but it is waaay hipper."

me: "mom, when was he alive?"

Mom: "Oh, he was cool when I was a kid! He is still around! Unlike farty old Mozart, he is STILL MAKING GREAT MUSIC!!! He will probably even make a Christmas Album this year!!! For youououououou!"

I went to my room, put on the cd... and drank it in.

So, until I found the classical station on the radio, I listened to Barry. A lot.

And now, whenever Barry Manilow comes on, my reaction is much like this:

I frickin' love Barry Manilow.


14 December 2010

May She Rest in Greece

In the summer of 2009, Boo and I lived in Rome for 6 weeks of study-abroad. When the program was over, my two best friends flew over to meet us for a month-long backpacking extravaganza.

We stayed in Rome for a few days when they arrived, then we boarded a little plane to Greece.

Greece... is a hilarious place.

For starters, we stayed in Athens, where Boo woke us up by springing to his feet and doing the "stanky leg" until we were laughing too hard to go back to sleep. Our hostel's owner was a cute older gentleman who looked like a love-child between my father and the Skipper from Gilligan's Island, and he sang all the time.
After Athens, we went to Ios. Essentially it was Pleasure Island - not one person was over the age of 28, and people drank at the clubs until the sun came up. Totally out of control.
There were a lot of silly things that happened in Greece, but the best story was probably this one I am about to tell you, because it really showed our character as friends. And it really showed the jankiness of all things Grecian.

We boarded our plane back to Rome, from the scariest airport ever. The runway was like 9 feet long, dropping off into the ocean. We were all feeling a bit nervous about the take-off, and expressed this to one another.
But, the plane took off okay, and we survived it.

Once in the air, we knew we had about an hour to kill. I was sitting in the aisle seat, across from Boo. Liz had the window, and Caitlin was between us.
Caitlin swiftly fell asleep. None of us talked. We just waited to be off an airline that served you Baclava on a 45-minute flight - that just doesn't make sense.

About 20 minutes into the flight, things started getting weird. The Greeks in front of us had been jabbering and trying to flirt with us the whole time, so when they went silent along with the rest of the passengers, we got nervous.


SMOKE starts pouring from the air vents. Thick, odorless, white smoke - filling the entire cabin.

I was waiting for the flight attendants to announce a problem... but... Silence.

No one made a sound. I looked over at Caitlin. She was sound asleep. Liz and I made eye contact, and a mutual, wordless agreement was made: We would not wake Caitlin. She deserved to perish in peace.

Also, what were we going to say? "Wake up! Panic! The plane IS FULL OF SMOKE!!"

No. Caitlin was too precious to us. We were going to let her stay unaware.

I grabbed Boo's hand and mouthed, "I love you."

We prepared to die.

And then................

Nothing. Happened.

The smoke, which had filled the cabin and obscured all vision, cleared. Slowly. The flight crew never made any mention of it. All the passengers remained silent until the landing, at which point we realized we were not going to crash into the ocean.

Fuck Grecian Airlines. And their  over-condensing air conditioners. 

30 November 2010

Like pearls before extremely confident swine.

Last summer, I went on a road trip to New England with my dear friend, Laurie. She had to go to Rhode Island and New York for some research, so we decided to make a vacation of it.

We flew into Providence, and from there we went to Boston, Nantucket, Lake Champlain, and a lot of other nifty places. Mostly we stayed in little hotels, but toward the end of the trip, we were going to be staying in upstate New York in something we assumed was "student housing." Because when you are paying $25 a night, you anticipate some kind of skeezy dorm room.

We were surprised, then, when we arrived and the little town was so quaint. You remember all those storybooks we read as children that had farms with black and white cows, big red barns, and tall silos? Remember how you then looked out to the Texas countryside and thought, " LIARS! Farms look like crap!"?  Well, I guess the guys who wrote all these books were from upstate New York, because every 5 minutes there was another red barn, tall silo, and herd of black and white cows. AWESOME.

The little town was so darn cute. It had a town square, like Mayberry or something. And on one of the nights, they had a polka band on the lawn. And all the townspeople came (even the teenagers!).

Our housing was on the square, right in the middle of everything. Now, remember that we were expecting something like this:

What we found instead was this:

Our jaws dropped. It was a victorian mansion, 3 stories high, seemingly painted with gold and onyx. We were stoked. We were greeted by our host, Bob.

Bob was a delightful guy. His eyebrows were the size of Twix bars, and he had a deep, billowing voice - which he used to tell us all about how important he was.

Laurie: "Yes, my advisor is Dr. So-and-So.'
Bob: "Ahh, my dear, I am sure she would tell you that I am 98% responsible for her success! I worked on such-and-such article with her several years back..."
Laurie: "Oh... Great! Um, I also work with Dr. Whatchamacallit on my dissertat-"
Bob: "Ahhh, yes, I got him off the ground! I am sure he would tell you, as he told the New York Times, that I am fully responsible for him getting that job. So nice to have clout, isn't it?"
Laurie: "....."

Don't get me wrong, Bob was great fun. But we heard a great deal about his entrenchment in scandal, his Presidential Medals of Awesomeness, and his involvement in the career of every important person in accademia. We loved Bob.

When Bob showed us into the mansion, we were still in shock. So. Much. Fanciness. There was a suit of armor by the door, a dining area set for 100, and an industrial kitchen. 8,000 square feet. A dungeon. An attic apartment. A fully stocked bar.

As we were taking in all in, Bob made an announcement:
"Oh, and you will be having the place to yourselves this week! Please enjoy the fully stocked bar, and any of the amenities. Just don't set anything on fire. :) and if you need anything, call Kevin - the groundskeeper."

UM, are you kidding me?

Bob was not kidding. He gave us the full tour, then headed on his merry way - leaving us in charge of the mansion.

Laurie and I are both oldest children, prone to bossiness and overconfidence. We wandered around for a while, feeling like we were 12 and our parents had just left us alone for the first time while they went on vacation. We became drunk with power. We decided to use the industrial kitchen.

Thing is, the stove was a huge gas stove. We didn't really know how to work it. And it was covered in awkwardly-written warning signs:

We were feeling pretty confident in our choice... until:

We ran outside, and prayed the house wouldn't explode.
Then, we noticed the fire department was next door to us! Hallelujah! Except - there was no one home. We banged the door for a long time, until it became evident that we were alone.

We sat on the curb for a few minutes, pretty panicked, because we did NOT want to be responsible for an exploded mansion. Then Laurie remembered: Kevin! The groundskeeper!

We felt bad about not being up front with Kevin, about the house maybe being a gas-filled deathtrap and all, but he arrived and walked right into the house with great confidence, so we followed him. If he got exploded, we were going with him.

Kevin traipsed right up to the stove and began to fiddle with the knobs. Laurie and I held hands and kept perfectly still. Then.....


Not an explosion. Just a perfectly normal gas-stove fire. Turns out we were hearing gas whoosh out because there was a pilot light on at all times. We just hadn't tried hard enough.

We felt really smart after all this. So, we took Bob's advice.

....We partook of the fully stocked bar.

14 November 2010

Fake Bacon - How my grandparents tricked me into disobedience

When I was little, my mom's dad - Grandpolly - had a heart attack. He describes the feeling as "if an elephant were to sit on your chest." Not so much fun. Thankfully he survived with minimal damage and a determination to eat better.

Now, Grandpolly has always been fit. Each day for the past 40 years, he has taken a 3-mile power-walk. He looks like the Brawny man, plaid shirt included. He also has a workshop in his garage, and I'm pretty sure he can build anything. He kicks ass.

So, the whole heart attack thing was kind of... unexpected. Until we all remembered that Grandpolly's mom was a German housewife who made bacon, sausage, and biscuits every morning, chicken and brisket and potatoes every lunch, and dinner was always meat with heavily buttered toast. Accidental artery havoc was wreaked.

Grandpolly and Grandmolly, however, have always eaten pretty well: Salads, lean meats, and fresh veggies were always the staples at their house. And given their dedication to healthful foods, they always allowed a few splurges. A small bowl of ice cream, a handful of chips...

And bacon.

When I was little, I was super-into Dr. Seuss. Especially "Green Eggs and Ham." Grandmolly has the best reading voice ever, and would read all about Sam I am, and his disturbing affinity for diseased-looking eggs and fattening ham products. She also has a flair for the little gestures that make people happy. Namely, making green eggs and bacon for breakfast.

Almost every breakfast I had at their house as a child involved scrambled eggs with green food coloring in them, and a piece of crispy, salty bacon (which we never had at my house - we only ate cereal and pop-tarts). It's not that I loved the dish so much as I loved the gesture.

But after the heart attack, some items got replaced by alternatives that were less likely to induce near-death. Bacon was the first to go.

On my first sleepover after the heart attack, Grandmolly made green eggs, as usual. But then she put the bacon........ in the microwave???  I was puzzled, but knew that there had been some alteration in how they prepped food, so I let it go.

I sat at the table, overjoyed to be having my slightly gross, very special breakfast. I took a big bite of the chewy, microwaved bacon, and made a face.

Me: "Hmmm, the microwave made this bacon weird..."

Grandpolly: "Oh, yeah! How do you like that Fake Bacon? :) "
Me: "F-f-f-f-f-faaake baconnn?" 
(my eyes begin to well with tears)
Grandpolly: "Yeah, sweetie! It's fake - soy bacon!"

I broke down. I dropped the "bacon" on my plate, and began to sob. 
Not many people know this about me, but I am a rule follower to an extreme degree. Not so much because I love rules, but because my parents are the sensitive type who would get their feelings hurt if I didn't behave. Tear-stained guilt trips were something I wished to avoid at all costs.

I blubbered for a few seconds.
Grandpolly: "Sweetie, what's the matter?"

Me: "...............I don't know if my parents want me to be eating f-f-f-fake b-b-b-b-bacon!!!! *sob*heave*wheeze*hyperventilation"

Grandmolly and Grandpolly had a HUGE laugh while I called my mother to ask permission to consume falsified meat products...

 .....and they never tried to pull a fast one on me again. 

11 November 2010

Deadly Funny

Darlings, I feel that it is time to share with you the best, worst, most embarrassing experience of our time. It is a time when my pride was boosted, shattered, and then left aside as i thought I might perish. Let me explain:

In January 2008, I left Boo alone for the weekend to attend a friend's wedding in Dallas. I went with my bff and her family. On the car ride back, Boo called and revealed to me that he was taking me on a surprise trip.

Hoorah! Surprise trip with Boo! SO excited! AND I'VE NEVER BEEN SURPRISED BEFORE! cool.


Mom spilled the beans.

Oh well.

When we got back to Austin, Boo promptly packed me into the car and we set off for the "secret" location.

When we arrived, at Big Bend, I pretended to be surprised for a few minutes.

He is the forgive and forget type. Took him like an hour to get over the fact that his "secretive" antics during the 8-hr drive were in vain.

We spent most of the time taking walks and chasing Javelinas. One day, we decided to take a really long hike to some hot springs by the river.

A really long hike. Over a mountain, down a ravine, to the river.

We only had one jug of water. However, I tend to believe that I am fully indestructible.

I know 8 miles doesn't sound like too much - but that was just one way. Mostly uphill. In the dry desert heat. We made it to the springs and wanted to get in -  but it was like bathing in hot spit. And we were tired. So we turned back around.

We hiked in the dry heat for a long time. Eventually, the water ran out. I kept it cool for a little while, mostly by being bossy.

Boo was aware the whole time that our water supply was low, and kept offering to "run back" to the tent (6 miles away) to grab more. Please.

We climbed and climbed. I began to feel claustrophobic in my head... The space was crushing me, and I could feel the reserves of water gushing out of my pores in the form of dirty sweat.
My mind was collapsing in on itself. I could no longer function. I started to panic.

We begin to think we may be running out of options... There is no way I can make it the last 6 miles with my blood sugar so low and my panic level so high, but if Boo decides to run the whole way back, it he will probably end up dying alone on the mountainside.
Boo starts thinking quickly. 

Boo proceeds to annihilate a piece of cactus. And tries to FEED IT TO ME.

Turns out, cactus is not nearly as aqueous as old Westerns lead you to believe.

Realizing that the cactus idea was not going to save us, Boo tried to calm himself down.

Ironic things happen sometimes. Sometimes you go into the desert without water, but you happened to bring candy. What kind of candy?

Boo sweetly fed my about fifteen Lifesavers by hand until my blood sugar had reached a workable level, then ate some himself.

We made it home safely in an hour or two...
.....we haven't been hiking since.

03 November 2010

"She doesn't sound tooooo drunk."

Children have a huge capacity to make you nuts. Especially precocious, extremely verbal ones like myself.
Which is why, when my brother was a few months old and no longer on the boob, mom needed a beer. Big time.

I was about 2.5 years old. I guess we were sitting in the living room, mom probably doing that mom-survival thing, "Uh-huh, dawn-ashley. Of course you know everything there is to know about ponies. Mmhmmm, sure.... Got it. Yes. I'm listening. Yes, you are so smart..." so she could tune me out while simultaneously instilling a level of confidence that would far outgrow my actual abilities. She popped the cap off a Heineken, took a nice, deep sip, and settled in for a few minutes of happiness.

Then, Bud pooped. Gross.
Being an extremely thorough mother, she set her beer on the mantle (up high) and took him immediately to the nursery to get that whole mess sorted out. She was an expert, so it took only a few minutes. But when she returned, this is what she found:

Her child (me) had reached the beer. And finished it. In ten minutes.

Mom: "Sister! DID YOU DRINK THAT?!?!?"


Yes, I had drunk it. All of it. And belched in my poor mother's face.

I stumbled out of the chair and dropped the bottle on the floor. Mom began to panic:

"Honey, Dawn-Ashley drank a whole beer!"

Dad: "Hahaha! Wait, what?"

Mom (tears begin): "I just leftforaminute.... i thougth it was too high for her... I'm going to jail and she is going to become an alcoholic......."

Dad: "Ok, let's call Doc."

Doc, our family doctor, was a close friend. He delivered me, and after I was born, Doc and Dad left me and mom in the hospital to have a manly beer. He had a bald, shiny head, and was the biggest nerd in the world. My parents trusted his every word.

Dad: "Doc, Dawn-Ashley just drank a whole beer. Should we call poison control or take her to the ER?"

Doc: "Absolutely not. She'll be fine. Just let her run around outside in the sprinkler. It'll sober her up."

Did I mention it was nighttime? And the neighbors could see into our yard?

Mom and Dad put me in the yard for a bit, but weren't seeing the sobering results they had hoped for. They called Grandpolly - the ever-wise voice of reason.

"Shara, put me on the phone with her."

Grandpolly and I chattered for a few minutes, and when he got back on the phone with Mom, he said the 5 most soothing words a mother can hear at 10 pm on a drunken Thursday night:

"Well, she doesn't sound too drunk."

And that is the story of how Grandpolly saved the day.

18 October 2010


I love birthdays. I love the parties, the exchange of gifts, the baked goods... I love dressing up and feeling pretty for it. I love the bright colors and choosing a theme for the celebration. However, there is one part I do not love:

The part when people sing to you. 

Now, I'm not just saying I don't like it. I'm saying I HATE IT. And the funny thing is, I always have. I have a genetic predisposition to hate the birthday song. Let me explain - 
     Not a single person in my family knows how to sit graciously while they are the center of attention for any reason.

1. When it is my Grandpolly's birthday, we open the presents in the car, NEVER inside the restaurant. Once in the restaurant, no mention is made of why we are gathering in such a large group. Ever. 
Waitress: "Oooh, what are you guys celebrating?!?"
Unanimous ruckus: "Not a DAMN THANG."

2. When it is time to take family photos, despite the fact that we are a fairly attractive bunch, we end up looking like this:
Disney Cruise, 2008(?)
... What a shame - we had so much potential.....

3. When there is a camera around, my mother has always shoved her hand over the lens and made snarky commentary to the person filming:
Filmer: " Shara, you look lovely for your wedding vow renewal! How do you feel today? :)"
Mom: hands-over-her-face "Up yours."

I have come to realize that these things point to my family's un-diagnosed case of ADD - Attention Denial Disorder.

My personal case history is colorful, to say the least. The first inkling of the severity of my ADD came on my 2nd Birthday. My family had not yet realized that the ADD gene could be passed on, so they expected me to be like any normal, precious baby. They anticipated an adorable moment of singing, followed by some messy cake eating, a la Allie Brosh.

This is what they got instead: 

Family: "Happy birrrrrthday to yououououo - Wait, WHER'D SHE GO?"

I had run away screaming towards my room, and by the time the whole group realized I was missing, I had locked myself in. 
Bitches thinkin' they were gonna make me SIT and get SUNG AT? sorely mistaken, indeed...

Next big ADD moment: Pre-K gymnastics recital. 
For whatever reason, I was enrolled at a local gymnastics studio (my un-athleticism was not yet totally inevitable). At the end of the season, there was to be a grand recital - the kind where each little class has a routine to perform and at the end the whole group presents a song. Kind of like VBS (which I never wanted to go to. Kids were stupid. The songs were stupid. Games were stupid. I could read the Bible at the age of 5, so I never saw the point in learning it from improv and cartoons... But that's a story for another day)... 

The big day came. I was dressed in a crushed velvet leotard - burgundy? - and feeling particularly resentful. Not nervous. Not anxious. Resentful. RESENTFUL!

Waiting with my group for our turn to sing and dance like friggin' Jackson 5, my hatred churned. I was a bubbling cauldron of malice, waiting to be poured onto all of the unsuspecting parents. 
Our turn came. I waltzed out with the rest of the kids, and the moment our music started....

I dropped to all fours and began to growl.

Like a bitter Tasmanian Devil, I growled all the way to my parents on hands and knees. 

That was my mother's last attempt at making something of me. She knew what kind of monster she had on her hands.