Saturday, August 5, 2017

August. College Station, Texas.

August. College Station, Texas.

The students are back.

Those of us non-students who live here often lament the good ol' days of summer when all of the students went home to their moms and dads and summer jobs. We then had full use of restaurants with no wait. Grocery stores never ran completely out of anything. Aisles of stores weren't clogged with moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas and younger siblings all searching together for the perfect breakfast cereal to fuel their college student's mornings. During the glorious summer we had all of the amenities of a city with only a fraction of the people.

Those days are mostly gone, with A&M's enrollment in the neighborhood of 60,000 and more and more people pushing through college by taking summer classes. Nonetheless, the first weekend of August brings with it the newness of little baby adults leaving home for the first time. As a result, traffic is crazy, stores are packed, and those of us who live here full time make an effort to avoid peak student times and locations as much as possible for a few weeks.

The truth is, we love the students. We love their eagerness, the excitement of becoming a part of our town and beloved school. We love their silliness and youth. They keep College Station young and vibrant, I suppose. Because of that, I always make an extra effort to have patience this time of year. If someone drives like they have no idea where they're going, it's probably because they don't. Most service staff - from waiters to cashiers - are new to their jobs. They look twelve years old and nervous, and I feel obliged to smile and be okay with the few extra minutes added to all of my errands. We tip well and give grace. We remember that we used to be them.

But today I made a mistake. A big mistake. I forgot that it is the first weekend of August in College Station, Texas. And I went to Hobby Lobby.

The place had been overtaken by the students and their families attempting to decorate their new apartments. People were swarming, I tell you. I had three things on my list: a metal art piece for the master bathroom, a 12 x 12 frame for the hall bath, and some Wonder Under for my niece's quilt (Sidebar: The quilt is a graduation present. She graduated around three months ago and moves into her apartment next week here at A&M. I probably should have done this already. My tardiness is the real reason I found myself at Hobby Lobby on August 5th.)

I put on my patience and looked for the joy in their adventures.

I giggled at the two young men trying to purchase wall art. They wandered aimlessly from aisle to aisle, finally stopping in front of some decorative wooden arrows. Baby Adult #1 picked up an arrow. Baby Adult #2 shrugged. Baby Adult #1 said, "Let's just get a whole bunch of these," and Baby Adult #2 nodded.

I can't stop picturing their apartment walls covered in stolen hometown street signs, beer posters, an Aggie flag, and a plethora of Kacey Musgrave-esque arrows. Follow your arrow, boys. Follow your arrow.

Dads. Lots of dads. Most of them far, far away from the people they came shopping with. One stood alone checking his teeth in one of the 72 mirrors on the mirror aisle. One popped wheelies with the cart on the only aisle that didn't have hoards of people. I stood nearby as a dad climbed up onto the display platform that held a fully decorated room and planted himself firmly on the wrought iron bench with a sigh. The dads entertained me.

I realized immediately that I would save time and sanity if I ordered a frame online (Praise the Lord for Amazon Prime). I quickly selected a wood and iron piece for the bathroom, telling myself I can return it if it doesn't work. I picked up the Wonder Under and then saw the line to have fabric cut, and decided once again that Prime would be a better choice.

I happily, patiently went to the check out. There I was pleasantly surprised because ALL of the checkouts were open. I don't think this has ever happened in the history of HobLob. I'm not totally convinced the people who run the place know that everyone who buys things has to check out because there is consistently a line of ten to twenty people waiting for one stressed out checker. But not today!  Today I walked up and was second in line!

That's when things went south.

Random College Girl was talking loudly on her phone while the checker held her one item. The register phone rang, the checker got some needed information (presumably the price), and then quickly hung up. The checker looked on while Random College Girl whined into her phone, "Oh my God! I swear I got the only piece of posterboard here without a price thingy on it!" Then it went like this:

Checker (who was probably in her first day on the job): Excuse me. Will that be all?
Random College Girl: Wait. Huh? (to phone) Hold on.
Checker:Will that be all?
Random College Girl (waving Mommy's American Express): Yeah

At this point, I felt my patience seeping away. See, when I first moved out I used checks that connected to a bank account that had money in it because I put it there. I had a ninety-nine cent loaded baked potato from Wendy's for lunch every single day for a whole year. And I was nice to people. 

(Yes, I'm generalizing about Random College Girl and her American Express. For purposes of this blog post, I don't care. Judge me.)

The conversation continued...

Checker: That will be $16.49.
Random College Girl: (snippy) What did you say? How much? (then, to phone) Oh my God! I must have gotten the most expensive piece of posterboard in the store. (back to checker) What is the price again?
Checker: $16.49

I need to add here that the checker was holding something that was not poster board. It was about four feet by four feet and covered in some kind of backing that seemed cardboard-like.  In my head I wondered what planet this chick was from that she thought this was poster board. And then I wondered why on earth she would come to HobLob to purchase one piece of posterboard. Here in College Station, America, we get that at H-E-B for forty-seven cents like civilized people. My patience level reached an all-time low.

The conversation continued...

Random College Girl: (to phone) Look, I'm going to have to rethink my project if poster board is this expensive. Hmmm... (presumably thinking, then to checker) Can I just leave that here with you? I don't think I want it anymore?
Checker: Yes ma'am.

Random College Girl walked away chattering loudly into her phone. I must not have lost all of my patience because I did not at any time yell, "GET OFF THE DAMN PHONE!"

The sweet first-day-on-the-job checker did an excellent job ringing up my purchase and processing my payment. I wish I could have tipped her.

On my way to the car it occurred to me that although Random College Girl had absolutely no manners and clearly did not know what poster board is, she did know not to put $16.49 on her parents' American Express for it. That's a start, I suppose. I bets she grows up a lot here.

And so we welcome the students. We ask that you have some manners, clean up after yourselves, work hard, have fun, and make yourself and your parents proud. We will continue to do our level best to give you patience, tip well, smile, and make you feel at home in this place that will be part of you forever.

Welcome to Aggieland.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Cheers to Best Friends

A colleague passed away suddenly and unexpectedly this week. She has two young children and a husband and co-workers and friends who will miss her terribly. It's such a tragic, sad situation. It's clear that she left an indelible mark on so many lives, both as an educator and a  regular human person.

I can't stop thinking about her inner circle, her best friends. My heart breaks for them.

15 years ago I met my people. Four women who have become the greatest friends I've ever known. To honor the beautiful friendships that were lost this week, I thought I'd write a little list of the ways my people make life better.

1) We give each other grace, always. Sometimes I need to be whiny or feel sorry for myself, and I have friends who will listen and comfort and encourage; then they tell me that it's time to put my big girl britches on and get it together.

2) We call each other on our crap. "Why do you want to do that?" or "Why are you so upset about that?" are always acceptable questions.

3) We encourage each other. There is always someone just a a text away to remind me that I am strong and smart and capable and kind and badass (whether I feel that way or not).

4) We celebrate together. There is no competition or jealousy. We all truly want the best for each other and rejoice in one another's successes. When you have an inner circle, you can always brag to them without bragging.

5) We have a secret language. We've been friends long enough that certain words, phrases, (even emojis!) have their own meaning. Sometimes we don't have to say anything and the other four just know.

6) We laugh. Good grief, do we laugh! At ourselves, at each other, at life, at the world. We giggle and belly laugh. My people are funny. I think I'm going to live an extra ten years because of the laughter.

7) We listen. No matter what is going on, big or small, we share and listen to tiny details or big picture concerns. We hear each other.

8) I'm pretty sure we only  have one rule: If you wouldn't say something to one of us, you can't say it to yourself. No negative self-talk allowed. That's a big, valuable, important rule.

9) Group text. You know that thing you're tempted to tweet or Facebook that's probably not appropriate for social media? Find some friends you can text that to. Nothing is too embarrassing, gross, silly, or neurotic with my people.

10) Time and distance can't keep us apart. Traveling the world (or moving to the other side of it) doesn't make our friendship less. Moving a few cities over or to the backwoods can't stop us. It may not be as often as it used to be, but we make time to see each other in real life when we can.

So, at the risk of sounding fourteen, cheers to best friends. Treasure every moment you have with them.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

That time Trey tried to kill me in Cabo

We love vacation. More recently, Trey and I love vacation, and our boys have flashes of fun in the midst of being grumpy teenagers. This summer we made our second trip to Cabo San Lucas, and it was even better than the first time we went. 

In case you weren't aware, I enjoy eating and drinking and food and drinks probably a little more than a normal person. So naturally we had to go back to The Office, my favorite restaurant from our trip three years ago. I had chilaquiles for the first time there, along with a Bloody Mary to write home about. I've made chilaquiles several times since then, but going back to the original seemed like a great way to perfect my technique. 

(Here's a recipe in case you're interested. FYI - You've got to have verde sauce, chicken, and an over easy egg or you're just not doing it right. Make your own tortilla chips for extra credit.)

Our first trip to The Office three years ago includes one of those vacation stories of misery that we all have. We could see it from our resort. It didn't look that far. We decided to walk. It was hot, and we were hungry. But it was far. I'm pretty sure it ended up being twenty-seven miles. The only saving grace is that we didn't kill each other on the way. That walk was so, so terrible. We may not have spoken to each other again until we got back home. 

This year we knew better, and Praise the Lord for taxis. We had the good sense to let someone drive us. I ordered my favorite dish and we relished the cool Baja morning together. We laughed and smiled and basically lived in the happy ending of a Hallmark movie for the whole meal. I even have pictures to prove it. 

Wait. The only picture we have is of just me. And my food. Isn't that a beautiful plate? It's possible that I ate it all. Don't judge. 

I promise everyone else was happy, too. 

The Office is as on the beach as a restaurant can be. Your feet are in the sand, and on one of our trips they had to move a neighboring table because the waves were rushing under it. So after our idyllic breakfast we walked out a little closer to the water. Trey looked down the beach toward our hotel and said the words that changed our lives forever. Or maybe just for the morning, but whatever. 

"You know, last time we walked it was so hot and we were all hungry. Now there's a nice breeze and we're full and happy. Let's just walk back and enjoy the morning." 

And, like suckers, we agreed. 

Basking in the joy of our full bellies and happy family time, entranced by the waves crashing along the Sea of Cortez, we set out along that brutal journey. 

For a while we were happy. We strolled. The boys walked close to the water where the sand was packed down, and then they ran from the larger waves as they came close. There was laughter and frivolity for a short while. 

And in an instant it was over. My feet began to sink ankle-deep in sand with every step. Keaton started complaining about his knee. (Sidebar: The pediatrician suggested an MRI the week before we left, but we had plane tickets and decided he would probably be fine to wait until after Cabo as long as he took it easy. Because we're parent rock stars.) Tucker kept repeating, "We should have taken a cab...We should have taken a cab."

I thought, "No kidding, genius. But it's too late now and we're screwed." But I didn't say that out loud because parent rock stars

Trey had that look on his face that he gets when he thinks he might be in trouble. When telling my parents this story later he said, "I don't get in trouble very often, but I always know when I am." 


He was trying to be positive. "Look at the progress we're making! It looks so close now!" And I said many, many bad words in my head. 

At one point about halfway there I stopped. I looked around and appreciated the beauty of the beach, the mountains, the ocean. I remembered how much I love this place and how peaceful it makes me feel. Trey noticed that I stopped and asked if I was okay.

"Yep. I just decided to lay down on this beach right here and die. It's a happy place. I'm headed to Jesus. See y'all later."

He didn't think that was a good idea. We pressed on. 

In his defense, we did keep getting closer. I completely tuned out my suffering children (they are old enough - this was an "every man for himself" situation). I felt hope rising in my chest. I could do this! We were almost there! And as we approached our hotel, I stopped again to revel in our victory. 

That's when I looked up and realized it wasn't our hotel. Our hotel was still eleventy billion miles down the beach. More bad words in my head. Many, many more.

At that moment, the largest wave we had seen all morning came crashing to the beach. It was a sight! I was stopped at the back of the pack, Tucker and Keaton were ahead of me a bit higher up the beach, and Trey was a little ahead of all of us, closest to the water. 

And the wave attacked him. 

I saw it all like slow motion. As the wave crashed up the beach, it knocked Trey to his left to his knees. Tucker rushed toward him - it was a hero moment for the kid even though he never could have gotten there in time to help. Keaton yelled something like "Look out!," truly concerned for Trey's safety. 

Being the kind and helpful wife I am, I yelled, "Make sure your phone isn't in your pocket!" I sort of mimed it, too, with hand motions and everything. Because that's just how helpful I am. 

Trey got his bearings quickly and stood back up just in time for the wave to attack him again on its return to the ocean. Down he went once more, this time flat on his butt. He was completely and unequivocally soaked. 

And then we laughed. A lot. Trey said, "I guess I'm not in trouble anymore?" I agreed that the universe had punished him enough for his bad decision. 

So we kept walking. 

The boys decided it was easier to walk in another person's footprints, so Trey went first and we all tried to walk right in his steps. This helped with our misery a tiny bit. 

A man came by on a horse, and I'm pretty sure he offered to give me a ride back to the resort. I'm also pretty sure I declined. It's also possible he was trying to sell me the horse. Or some drugs. I must have looked pretty bad. 

Finally we made it back to the hotel. We all survived, and now we have the vacation story of 2017 that can be shared over Thanksgiving dinner for years to come. 

Where did we go for breakfast the next morning? The Office. We took a taxi both ways. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

On Writing...

I would like to write more. I really would. I've mentioned before that I used to always write about my kids, but they're now at an age where it seems disrespectful to share every detail of their lives. I also take my job really seriously, and I feel some kind of pressure to be Mrs. Hickman even when I'm just Stormy. Sometimes my non-school persona has a bit of a potty mouth and/or enjoys tequila, and I don't ever want that to be an issue in my professional life.

Now seems like a good time to mention that anything and everything on this blog is personal and in no way represents my employer (even though just regular Stormy is really not scandalous at all).

I've been thinking a lot this summer about things that make me want to write. Here's a non-all-inclusive list:

  • gospel music
  • Ray LaMontagne's voice (if it doesn't move you, you might want to check and be sure your soul is still there)
  • clever lyrics (such as "she reflects the world in happiness and echoes all the pain")
  • Tucker's smile (How did Trey and I make that person with that smile? It shines.)
  • sitting on the patio with Trey
  • flowers that open up in the sunlight and close at night
  • Keaton's laugh (It's like the sky opens and the angels laugh along)
  • Jesus (and the way he feels so close even when I feel far away)
  • Rice, Texas
  • thinking about my grandparents
  • steel guitars and waltzes
  • the ocean
  • words in books like Jeffrey Lent's A Slant of Light 

 Obviously, there are a lot more.

It has occurred to me that perhaps I should try my hand at writing some fiction, but it's something I've never done before. Mostly what I've written are hyperbolical accounts of real life events. (Yes, I looked up "hyperbolical" to be sure I was using it correctly.) I'm not even sure how to start writing fiction. So I bought this book.

I open it up and read the prompts almost daily, but haven't written a thing from it. The prompt that came up tonight is this:
"Write a letter to the reader of a novel you haven't written yet."

This could be fun.

Dear Reader, 
Thank you so much for agreeing to read my novel!  I assure you that it's going to be great - nothing less than the best from me! I'm thinking it's probably going to be set in a small town in Texas. The characters will be third or fourth generation in the town, and they will have lots of drama. Only there will be one central character who is female and strong and smart and will have been hurt really big in life but it's made her a better person so she doesn't have time for any small town drama. I know it totally sounds like Hope Floats, but it's not. I promise. 

I'll probably write a beautiful passage about an ordinary object and people will be talking about my words for years. Like hay. Or a pond. Or hay growing near a pond. I'll use lots of big, fancy words, and it will be awesome. 

But I might change my mind, and the main character might be a stoic old man who seems gruff on the outside but takes in a hurting young person. Wait. I might have stolen that from Kent Haruf. Scratch that. 

Speaking of...have you read any of Kent Haruf's novels? You should totally do that before you read mine. Besides, mine's not done yet anyway. Or started. 

There will also be humor. I like to laugh when I read, so it only seems right to make my readers laugh, too. And maybe something very serious. You'll probably cry, so make sure to have tissues handy when you read my beautiful, funny, sad novel.

Anyway, you're going to love it. I promise. When you get a minute, go ahead and let me know your address so I can send you a copy as soon as it's done. Are you planning on moving soon? Or ever? You should probably also include that information.

Thanks a bunch!

Friday, May 26, 2017

When the Principal Can't Quite Get it Together...

Students leave our school after fourth grade and go on to intermediate school. We don't have a graduation, but instead have an end of the year program. Students are recognized for perfect attendance, good grades, the usual school stuff. They sing a couple of songs, and then their principal says something inspirational. After that the fourth graders do a "farewell parade" through the halls with music, dancing, and pom poms. It's great fun.

Unless the principal can't handle the inspirational speech part. Which, in my case, is the case. Two years in a row.

This year I made it through the whole program without the hint of a tear, but then I had to talk. I looked at those faces, those kids I've seen every school day for two years now. High fives. Stories about weekends and spring breaks. School projects. Leaders in assembly. Lunch on Tuesdays. I looked at them, and I realized they were leaving us. And I just couldn't do it. The inspirational speech went something like this:

"Students, *deep breath* you will always *blubber* be a part of our *sob sob* school family *blubber blubber*. Gosh, I'm really not good at this part. *crying and tears* *something mostly inaudible and strongly dumb-sounding* leadership, character, blah blah blah *more tears and crying*"

Y'all. It was bad

So here is what I would like to say to them if I could speak instead of being a mess:

Parents, thank you. Thank you for loving your kids enough to send them to school every day and encourage them in any way you can. Thank you for sharing them with us. It's truly a gift.

Students, we see you. We know you're not perfect, but it doesn't matter to us. We look at you and see what you are and all that you can be. We see people who are capable and smart and kind and unique. When growing up gets hard, and it will, I hope you'll be able to see yourself the way your parents and your school sees you -- full of promise. 

No matter where you go or what you do in life, you will always be a part of this school family. We love each and every one of you just as you are, and we can't wait to see you change the world. Thanks for letting us be a small part of your lives. 

Maybe next year I'll just write something down and have someone else read it. It sounds MUCH better without embarrassing sobs!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Something I want to remember

One of Keaton's teachers and his wife had twins very prematurely last week. One of the babies passed away, and the other must have a long road ahead of her. Tonight some students organized a prayer vigil for this family at the park near our home. Keaton read a scripture in front of the crowd.

Psalm 119:50 "My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserved my life."

He chose it himself.

A local pastor led a beautiful prayer. In it has asked God to light the way, and if not the whole way simply just light the next step on our paths. I want to remember that.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

On Being Methodist

I have not blogged in 2017. I think it's mostly because I'm busy. I'm not super special or anything so I don't think anyone should really care too much about my opinion on most things. That's not self-deprecating. I get tired of other people's (often uninformed) opinions about things, and anything I have to say just seems like more noise. Alas, I find myself back on the ol' blog.

I think about religion a lot lately. I'm sorry to say that often it's because "society" or "social media" or "those people" make Christians out to be crazy, judgmental zealots who think everyone who isn't Christian would like to see them punished. That's just not true.

I think about my Methodism.

I was born and raised a good Baptist girl with strong Bible knowledge, an "of course I believe" attitude about faith, and a (borderline unhealthy) amount of guilt for my sin. I can still recite the books of the Bible in order and plenty of verses that are appropriate for occasions of joy and sadness. I never missed church on Sunday morning, evening, or Wednesday night. Never.

Then I went to college and stopped going to church. I visited one or two, but it was just weird going to a place where I didn't know anyone after being the daughter of the matriarch of First Baptist Church (you know it's true, Mom😊). So I didn't go.

Then I met Trey, who went to church regularly with his family. When we were secretly dating (if you don't know that story I'll fill you in sometime), I started going to church with him. It was the only place we went out in public together without other friends. I had never been to a Methodist church before, but the basics were like my church back home.

I learned that Methodists recite stuff and the preachers wear robes. Baptists don't do that. I learned that John Wesley has a whole bunch to do with being Methodist. Baptists pretty much only give credence to Jesus (and maybe Billy Graham), so adding in another guy was odd to me. The people at Trey's church were kind to me and made me welcome, and they taught the Bible.

On the first Sunday of 2000, I joined. Trey didn't even know I was doing it until he saw me walk forward at the end of the service (not an invitation like my Baptist church, but similar). I wanted it to be about me and God, not about my relationship with Trey.

It's 17 1/2 years later, and sometimes I'm still fascinated that I'm a Methodist. Keaton just went through confirmation, which is like Christian basic training that you do when you're in sixth grade followed by a public profession of faith. A little part of me feels like it's too scripted - learn this, do this, get Jesus; but another part of me is happy that he had this experience of learning the tenets of his church.

I've also thought more than once lately that I might like being Catholic. I'm not converting or anything, but when there are times I'm not sure what to pray I sometimes think "Catholics probably have a prayer for this." When thinking about friends and acquaintances who are struggling, I've thought, "I wish I could light a candle for them." I don't think there are magic candles or anything, but having something to physically do seems comforting when life is dark for a friend.

My reflection on Methodism came to the forefront of my mind this morning during our communion service. We Methodists have communion the first Sunday of every month. Just before we were invited to the table, our pastor, Tommy, said something that especially struck me today. I know we have open communion (all Christians can participate no matter the denomination), and I'm certain that I've heard this before, but today it warmed my soul.

I'll paraphrase part of what he said to explain that all believers could participate. He said that we believe this table belongs to Jesus. So we don't get to invite you - Jesus does. And Jesus invites everyone he loves. And you know what else? Jesus loves everyone. Everyone. He invites us all.

And I remembered at that moment one more reason why this church is my church.

To bring this all full circle, I want to say this: I believe in Jesus. I know and love lots of people who don't, and those people are not less than me. They are not scary. They are kind and have big hearts and love their families. And Jesus loves them, too. We should all do our best to act like it.