Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Empty Spaces

Tomorrow is my dad's 70th birthday.

He told me several years ago that he wouldn't make it to 70; he didn't believe that he'd live past the age his own father died at.  He did that last year, and he told me that everything past it was just gravy.

I know that there have been moments where he was ready to give up.  I know there have been moments where I was willing to let him give up.  He is a vibrant mind trapped in a failing body, and just that thought is so painful that I cannot think it without falling apart.

Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system.  It's not labeled as a terminal disease, but it damn well ought to be.

It's terminated my father's spirit, his sense of community, and his independence.  It terminated his career.  It forced him from his home, from his wife, from his friends.  My father sometimes can't feed himself.  He needs help to stand up from his wheelchair.  And the 30 to 60 minutes of energy and mobility he might have in a day is fleeting and fraught with the worry of my mom and myself.  Oh, it's terminal, my friends.  It even terminated my family.

We threw my dad a surprise party for his 60th birthday.  He'd never had one before.  We filled up the Country Club restaurant with people.  My whole family was there.  My mother's card club was in attendance.  My father's poker buddies were there.  Their friends from the golf course.  Their co-workers.  People from town, old classmates, and long-lost hell-raisers all sat together.  My best friends -- who adore my parents -- even made the 5 hour trip to celebrate him.

My dad drank beer and cracked jokes and danced with my mom.  He made a speech -- that wasn't new.  He got a little teary -- that was.  He was surrounded by love and buoyed by friends.  It was such a good night.

That was a long, long time ago.  Ten years never seemed so long.  So much has happened since then.  So many things that can't be undone.  So many mistakes; so much hurt.  So many empty spaces at that table now.

And I've got no idea how to fill them.

Hello, Win Column

It's late.  Really late.  So you'll have to pardon the shortness of this post.

I went to the Rangers game tonight.  One of my best friends invited me along with a big group that had scored some tickets from the Angels management.  It didn't matter how they got them; I don't turn down free tickets.

I love baseball.  It brings back a host of wonderful memories, and I am a full-on romantic about it.  I love to play catch in the backyard, go to the batting cages, etc.  I especially love to catch a game in person.
Bird's eye view of Ian Kinsler.  Team #HighSocks

I especially love to go with kids.  Sure, there are times that they demand your attention more than your favorite player, and there are bathroom breaks and snack runs and an extreme amount of sticky faces.  But they also can sometimes get so entranced that you feel yourself slipping back into those moments when you first fell in love with the game.
That smile. Jeez.
My best friend, Heather, has a six year-old named Marcus.  Marcus loves Ian Kins-uh-ler and shouts for him maniacally when he's up to bat.  This makes me very happy; I also shout maniacally for Ian.  He also loves Joe Nathan, and he dubbed him "The Greatest Pitcher in the World".  When Joe hit the mound in the 10th, Marcus had wandered down to some empty seats (half the crowd gave up hope in the 8th when we were 4 runs down).  He had his feet propped up on the empty chair in front of him with his glove on his hand and his hat pulled low over his eyes.  He didn't move for an entire half inning, and I never once saw his attention leave Nathan on the hill.  For that half an inning, I saw Marcus at 16 and not 6, and time both sped ahead and slowed to a crawl all in the same moment.

In the bottom half of the inning, we had to teach him about rally caps, and he kind of gave us the side eye about it until he saw some of the "big dudes" wearing theirs.  I didn't blame him; it does look kind of dumb.
Only a charming 6 year-old can pull off a rally cap.
It worked though -- 2 strike, walk-off 3-run home run for a 14-11 win in the bottom of the 10th.

Hello, Win Column.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Sixteen Years

Sixteen years ago, while in my first year on Ad Staff at Camp El Tesoro, I met the best friends I've ever known.  There were 8 of us at that time, and as the 4th of July approached, our friend and camp director asked us if we'd like to go to her family's ranch for the weekend.  We had a great time, that first time.

Sixteen years later, we still go to that ranch.  At least twice a year, for a few days at a time, we leave all our responsibilities behind and just be.  And it's fabulous.

Lots of things have changed in those sixteen years.  The original 8 is now only 4, but we've picked up extra ranch fans along the way.  (There is no greater fun than introducing a new person to the magic of the English E-Bar.)  Instead of Cheetos and Oreos, it's whole grain crackers and hummus.  Instead of all-night Truth or Dare, we might take a wellness walk.  We are less Boone's Farm for breakfast (hey -- it's "fruit-like") and more mimosas and bloody mary's.  We wake up before noon and have face-timed with someone's kids before lunch.  Yes, things change.

And sometimes there are these:

That's Tyler.  He's 6 months old.  It's already is 2nd trip to the ranch.  Proof that if you're a cute enough dude, you can own Girls' Weekend.

But most things have stayed pretty much the same in those sixteen years.  We are creatures of tradition after all.  
There's still an adorable black lab on the front porch.  It's just that now he arrives and leaves with us.  And you better believe that he's the first one in the car when the packing to leave begins.  Homeboy's seen us drive away without him before; he ain't having that again.  He also smells better than the first one.  
Sorry, Moses, but it's true.

Still the same porch swing.  Needs a new paint job, but we're willing to overlook it.

This is different though.  Heather's not afraid of babies anymore.  Who knew?  

You can still stand in the middle of the road for hours, undisturbed.

Literally.  Hours.

Texas forever. 

And ever.

So much prickly pear everywhere.

Missed the first night's sunset for a walk through the property.

We still try to take a truck ride. 
 It's a new truck for a new generation of truck riders.

Sam still sits in back with us (although it's a little harder for both he and I to get in now).

Sitting on the toolbox is still the absolute best view.
Although you do risk mesquite tree attacks.

Deer blind.

Back tank.

Stand off with the longhorn.  We won, begrudgingly.

The other tank -- it's been a long time since I've seen it this green in July. 
Small blessings.

Saying goodbye to Ms. Longhorn.

Sam, aggressively trying to seem fearsome, and not fearful, to the longhorn.

Still lots of cows.  Still pissed that we'd come out there with no food.  
The nerve.

One of my favorite pics of the weekend. 
So very West Texas.
Spent many an evening sitting on the top of the Beer Blind.  
It's the absolute best place for stargazing.

But it's also pretty damn fine for sunsets, too.

We still like our drinks in plastic cups.
They taste best on the front porch.

And what a front porch it is.

The ranch is over a hundred years old.  It's seen its share of history.  But for the last sixteen years, it's seen mostly our history.  Our little tribe of friends and family.  It's seen arguments and tears.  It's seen spilled drinks and spilled secrets.  It's seen visitors from all over the world.  It's just a ranch, but it's also so much more.

It's card games that last forever.

It's guitar songs and lullabies.

It's laughter.  It's love.

It's friendship.  Through thick and thin.
And it's our favorite place to unwind, reconnect, gossip, drink, and cuss.

Forever.  And ever.

Here's to another sixteen, y'all.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Sounds of Home

The creak of a porch swing. 

The wind blowing through the mesquite trees. 

The squeak of the windmill. 

The clink of ice cubes. 

The howl of the coyotes. 

The shuffle of cards. 

The buzz of cicadas. 

And the laughter of my dearest friends. Always the laughter. 

 These are the sounds of home.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Good Dog

There are a few people who can make you smile just to think of them.  Those are the types of people that everyone should have in their lives.  They make you feel loved and needed.  They are always happy to see you, and they're always down for a snuggle.

And sometimes they're not people at all.

This is Big Sam.  He's not a person, but he doesn't really know that, so don't spoil it for him.

He belongs to one of my best friends, Laurie.  Her extended family rescued him from the pound as a puppy. He went to live on their family ranch to replace the former black lab, Moses.  But when her aunt was moved to a nursing home, there was no one left to care for Sam on a regular basis, and Sam came to camp.

Upon arrival, his presence was felt immediately, and he took to it pretty quickly.  I've never met a dog who was as unfazed by hordes of children running at him, screaming his name.  They would crowd about him, 15 or 20 at a time, petting him, tugging on his ears, and snuggling his stinky snout.  I think his tolerance mostly centered around the fact that little kids tend to be sticky with candy and are known to carry beef jerky in their backpacks.  To travel around camp with Big Sam was something akin to being the roadie for the Beatles; you're necessary to manage the crowd but not much else.  I spent many summers as Sam's human sidekick, even sharing the title of "Assistant Director". He dealt primarily in curing homesickness and snack clean-up while I mostly dabbled in paperwork and scheduling.
Sam is a little weapon-shy.  He's a total failure as a bird dog.


Pretty sure that kid had ketchup behind his ear.

Katie and Sam

He was invaluable on more than one occasion though, most notably with a camper who had erupted and run away.  After a tense 15 minute chase around the lake, I came upon her, poised at the edge, threatening to throw herself in and die.  I managed to grab her in a panicked snatch.  As I squeezed her tight, her tiny fists beat upon my back.  Little did I know that Big Sam was behind me charging to the situation (Big Sam does not run).  He got between us, shimmying and licking her face, drawing her attention out of her furor and back to reality.  I'll never know if he thought he was saving me or her, but, in truth, he probably saved us both. His timing in a crisis is almost as impeccable as his timing for dinnertime and daily snacks.

Sam is always a good sport, letting us dress him up and humiliate him on several occasions just for the benefit of marketing or a good laugh.  We paid well, though.  Milkbones every day at 3 PM.
Sam at the Ranch

Sam with the mowing gear on.

Riflery goggles.  He was not pleased.

Not a squeaky toy that he can't destroy.

Checking cook-outs in the mule.

Snuggling with Jamie

Sneaking into the chicken chair when no one's looking.
When none of us returned to camp this summer, there was a certain sense that maybe it was just time to move on. Admittedly, there probably haven't been very many people missing my paperwork skills, but I feel pretty confident that they could've used a good camp dog a time or two this summer.

Tomorrow, I'll go to the Ranch with my best friends, and when I get in the car, there'll surely be a very fat, very happy, black dog shimmying in the back seat, ready to say hello.  And I'll surely give him a big smile.  

And maybe a Milkbone.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cooperative Learning

I have always been a dog person.  I love dogs, even the little yappy ones.  Dogs are goofy and funny and you can take them on a walk or for a drive in the car.  Dogs go places.

Dogs also require a little attention.  They have to go outside to the bathroom.  They are pack animals, so they need interaction.  And unless you have the little yappy ones, they need a lot of room.

When I started at Nichols JH 13 years ago, I knew that I'd be living in an apartment.  I also knew that I'd be working really long hours as both a teacher and a coach -- sometimes never seeing the sun except for offseason workouts.  So I took home the tiny calico kitten that had resided in our camp office all summer.

I actually have 3 cats now.  They rule my house, and it's a good thing that I have such a kind heart and guilty conscience.  Otherwise, I would have thrown them all out this week.  Ransom spilled a Diet Coke on my computer and then, 5 minutes later, turned over the refill.  Maggie tried, on several attempts, to eat some hair dye.  And Pootie wakes me up every summer morning at 6:00 AM to feed them.  She does not like her strict diet, and her internal clock is very efficiently attuned to 6:00 and 6:00.  Who needs an alarm when you could just have a 19 pound cat stand on your chest?  Also, 95% of the time, they still all hate each other.  On the regular, I hear squalls of terror only to find someone cornered by another.  I'd remove the bully, but they all just sort of take turns being it.

But since I've been home all summer, I've noticed that cooperation seems to be increasing among them -- at least between Poots and Ransom.  Three times this week, I've woken up to a clatter.  It seems that they've figured out how to break into the old popcorn tin that keeps their food.  They use their noses to push on the lid until it's loosened and then Ransom knocks it off with her paw.  I've tried moving the can, placing heavy objects on top, etc. to little avail.  This morning, there was no clatter, but I did sit up in bed just in time to see two waving tails sticking out of the top of the can and the lid on top of the cat bed.  Cooperative learning at its finest. Unsurprisingly, Maggie the Cat is the only one who hasn't caught on yet.  I mean... hair dye, people.

So if your dog's driving you crazy with all the walking and need for frisbee catching, let me know.  I'm willing to make a trade.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Hurting, Healing, and Hundred Character Blessings

In 1996, I ended my summer in a very special place, Camp El Tesoro de la Vida -- The Treasure of Life.

(I know what you're thinking -- "Good grief! ANOTHER camp post?" -- but hear me out.)

De la Vida (DLV) is a one-week camp for children who have experienced a significant death, usually of a parent or sibling or caregiver.  The whole experience is designed to provide a safe place for children to grieve, no matter where in the process they may be.  They are sometimes meeting other children in their situation for the first time.  They are sometimes receiving actual therapy for the first time.  Sometimes they are just acknowledging the death and speaking freely about it for the first time.  And for many of them, it's the first chance they've had to "just be a kid" for a long time.  More than anything, that's what they do at camp -- just be kids and have fun.

I volunteered for DLV for 9 summers, but I can still remember in those opening moments as kids started to gather in my cabin group that I panicked and thought, "I don't know anything about grief. How can I possibly help?"  I had two parents.  I had two brothers, including one who had literally escaped death just 10 years prior.  I'd suffered the loss of a couple of friends, but I didn't feel close enough to them personally to have "the right" to grieve them deeply.  I felt incapable and afraid.

With most things in life, however, I don't believe it was a coincidence that I was there; I was meant to be.  In my time at El Tesoro de la Vida, I've learned a great deal about grief, mostly from the children in the throes of it.  And since then I've had to grieve on far too many occasions -- the deaths of students, friends, extended family, even a former DLV camper. 

What I learned most in my time there, though, was that sometimes grief has nothing to do with death at all or at least not literal death.  I've grieved for broken friendships and relationships and family.  Broken trust.  I've grieved for my school and my students.  I've found myself grieving things that happened to me 3 decades ago, and I've grieved for the time they cost me.  I've been grieving for the last 5 years the ravages of my dad's Parkinson's disorder, and I felt guilty grieving for a parent I still have.  It took a long time to understand that I was grieving for the father I knew -- the hero I knew -- and learning to accept this new man, this changed man, in front of me.  I grieved when he went into a nursing home; I grieve each time I have to take him back after a holiday or a short visit away from it.

Grief is presented in stages, but that seems such an inaccurate way to arrange it.  Grief is fluid, and it swirls around us in so many different patterns that it's sometimes difficult to recognize.  Sometimes it buoys you. Sometimes it tries to drown you.  And it never really goes away.  That's the hard part.  It never really goes away.  Just when I think it's gone for good, it sneaks up on me.  A song, a smell, a photo, a memory.  A plug is pulled, and down I go, circling the drain.

I'm not very good at taking care of myself, and I'm downright terrible at asking for help (although I am a caretaker and do-gooder at my very core).  So sometimes help has to find me, and sometimes it finds me in the unlikeliest of places.

A few months ago, one of my 140 character peeps, Hayes, tweeted an article about his brother-in-law.  I happened to click on the link, and I was moved by his family's story.  After a couple of message exchanges, he sent me to this blog, "The Real Full House", which chronicles his family's life without their mother and wife and sister.  I can remember reading several posts and promising myself that I'd go back to it and read their story from the start.  Of course, like so many promises to myself, I didn't.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, this post came across my Twitter feed at just the moment I found myself in the beginnings of a big spiral.  I did go back that time, for three straight nights, and I read about their family from the beginning.  I was inspired by their strength and their honesty and their laughter and their tears.  That post and blog didn't save me, but it certainly picked me up, reminded me of what I still have, and forced me to make a plan.  Part of that plan was to say thank you and let others know about this wonderful family.  Of course, like so many plans for myself, I wasn't very quick about it.

Then last week, he posted this song.  And I thought "Dang.  I need to write that post."  But I didn't.

And then this morning, I woke up to hear his brother-in-law, Bruce, being interviewed on one of my favorite podcasts.  And I thought, "Dang.  I need to write that post."  And so I am.  The third time's a charm, I suppose.

The older I get, the more I am convinced that there are no coincidences, and we are led to moments or people that we need just when we most need them -- even if they don't know us.  Sometimes the blessings are plentiful, and sometimes they're no more than a hundred and forty spaces.

So thank you, Ham family and Hayes.  Keep on keepin' on.  You never know who's watching.

If you'd like to check out the blog for yourself, please do at .
You can also follow them on Twitter (@realfullhouse).  Bruce is also currently publishing a book about his experiences.  It's titled, "Laughter, Tears, and Braids", and it should be available soon on Amazon.

If you'd like to hear more about the podcast I mentioned, please visit them at or follow them on Twitter (@TwoDadsOneMic).  Especially if you're a dad.  They're really pretty funny dads.

If you'd like more information on Camp El Tesoro de la Vida, please see the video below.  There are beautiful friends connected to this place (some within the video, but most are not) who are still some of my biggest cheerleaders today.  I know, for a fact, that they are no coincidence.  I love you, guys.

If you'd like to find out about how to register a child or make a donation to DLV, please contact them here.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Baby Giggles are the Best Medicine

I woke up this morning, and I felt like a garbage truck used my head as a speed bump.  Then it backed up and poured hot garbage juice on me.

Needless to say, the words are not forming so easily in the brain today.

So, I'm leaving you with one of my go-to videos on my struggle days.  I've watched it about 12 times already today.

Baby giggles make the world go 'round.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Laundry Woes

Laundry Day is my nemesis.

I don't like dishes. I'm not the greatest at cooking. And I think making my bed is sort of ridiculous. I do it, but it's not my favorite thing. There's satisfaction in climbing into a well-made bed at least.

But laundry. Laundry is really what makes my blood boil.

My dear friend, Courtney swears that she has the world's most intense laundry situation, but she also has 3 kids under the age of 5. I think that if you have 3 kids under the age of 5, the government should just issue you an extra person for laundry and mopping alone.

Not me though. I have zero excuse. It's just me making (and ignoring) this mess.

Several things come into play when it comes to Naz vs. Laundry.  Of course, there's the Bermuda Triangle of Socks.  10 socks go in, but only 7 come out.  It's unnerving, but I have the bad habit of leaving my socks everywhere, so I can never be sure if 10 matching socks went in at once.

I'm not down with separating clothes either.  I will be the first to admit that I am firmly against Laundry Segregation.  Whites, colors -- we all mix in this house.  Throw 'em in and put it on cold.  And for all of you screaming about cold water, that's why they make the detergent SPECIFICALLY for cold water washes. God bless you, Tide, for understanding my needs.

Then there are the things that can't go in the dryer.  Sweet buckets of love, I cannot tell you how many things I've ruined with the dryer.  I will separate those out.  Those things are typically pretty expensive.

Along with the sock trauma, I am also the world's worst at checking my pockets before stuffing clothes into the wash.  I had to retire a whole load of t-shirts to a rogue lip gloss explosion in the dryer. Sharpie markers and highlighters and paper clips are constantly sneaking past me.  Pro Tip: Highlighter will come out; Sharpie, not so much.

I also am a stockpiler.  I have enough sheets and towels to last me at least 2 months.  So, when the linen cabinet is bare, it's a whole day's work.  I'm currently remedying this in the Great Closet Clean-out of 2013. Hopefully.  Additionally, my laundry hook-ups are on a screened-in back porch.  Because I live in Texas, there are only about 17 days a year where it's a normal temperature outside to turn on the dryer or not have the washing machine freeze.

Those things are a deterrent for lots of people I know, but in truth, they are only minor obstacles for me. Because I have to have clean clothes, I will force myself to do the wash eventually.

But the real problem is this:  putting it away.  I can fold t-shirts and match socks (sometimes).  But going on the search and rescue mission for empty hangers in the closet is defeating.  Picking it all up and then taking it to its rightful place in the closet or dresser is too much.  It's like I just quit at the finish line of the marathon.

So, the clean laundry sits -- typically folded but not always -- in the basket or on the kitchen table or hangs over the backs of the chairs.  I have been known to live out of my laundry baskets for weeks -- especially in the busiest parts of the school year.  It's so embarrassing.  But obviously not embarrassing enough to make me stop.

For the record, I'm also terrible about putting CD's or DVD's back in the correct cases or taking the clean dishes out of the dish drainer and placing them on their shelves.  I'm a mess.

In one of my favorite movies, "Singles", by Cameron Crowe, one of the characters says this:
Janet: Well, when I first moved out here from Tucson, I wanted a guy with looks, security, caring, someone with their own place, someone who said “bless you” or “gesundheit” when I sneezed, you know. Someone who liked the same things as me but not exactly. Someone who loves me.
Steve: Tall order.
Janet: Yeah, I scaled it down a little.
Steve: Well, what is it now?
Janet: Someone who says “gesundheit” when I sneeze. Although I’d prefer “bless you” – it’s nicer.
I'll just take someone who'll put the laundry away for me.  Matching socks: optional.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Where Does the Time Go?

The last two days, I've been clearing room on my computer, getting rid of pictures I don't need anymore and music I'm still embarrassed to have.

I spent today cleaning out closets and sorting through the build-up of life.  

If you're ever in need of a reality check... sort through some old drawers and shelves.  The Ghost of Youth Past is totally holed up in there.  

I got kind of caught up in looking at some old photo albums -- mainly from when I was in high school.  There were lots of good memories and more than a few regrets.  But I'm glad I found them.  I hadn't looked at them in a few years.

This picture was taken 21 years ago.  It's the first picture I have of my oldest nephew, Hunter.  That baby drinks beer now -- legally.

And then I found this picture.  It's 21 years old too.  It's a classic of me and one of my best childhood friends, Christel.  It seems like forever ago and 10 minutes ago all in the same breath.

After finding this, I think I'm going to go drink a beer, too.  And maybe say a little thank-you prayer for eyebrow shaping and hair straighteners.  Yikes.

Man.  Where does time go? 

My favorite song from that year.  Still one of my top plays.  
Some things never change, I suppose

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Thursday Night Blues

I got the Thursday night blues, I think.

Those nights have been pretty special to me for the last 8 summers.  Our camp's closing campfires were on Thursdays.  We'd have a great camp dance and then head to the point for a huge fire and awards.  No matter how hot it had been that day, there was always a breeze off the lake.  Occasionally, there'd be a fish jump or Big Sam, the camp dog, would bark at absolutely nothing to protect us all.  Each counselor recognized the Broken Arrow winner in his or her cabin.  We recognized the campers and staff of the session.  But mostly it was the sounds of the cicadas buzzing, the fire crackling, and children singing.  That's what I miss most tonight.

I have to admit, I always felt closer to El Tesoro than I did to Camp Carter... except on those nights.

No one could touch a Thursday night at CC.

I miss you guys.

The "not taller than me" fire rule was never obeyed.

Broken Arrow winner
Lighting our candles

Passing the light

One of my favorite campfire moments with Caleb singing.  Still gives me chills.

And the last links are a nod to Jamie Fletcher, King of Begging for More Singing.  These were after our last campfire in 2012, after all the kids had gone back to cabins and we were singing only for the CIT's and ourselves and then later in the office.  None of us had any idea that it would be our very last Thursday night together at Camp Carter.  

Jamie is also known for recording you when you don't realize it -- which is what he was doing that night. Therefore, sometimes things don't sound so great, and you never know what you might have said.  Normally, I'd be mad, but now I'm so glad he did.  It makes me happy to hear our voices together -- even if it's just arguing over keys afterward (like I know anything about singing on key) or the forgetting of words. Big Sam, the camp dog, even makes an appearance in one track.