Once upon a time this grilled-cheese-chic attended a warrior princess school. For you see, I am actually a dragon slayer..and at this school..we had grand adventures..and learned to play ninja, and read paper-bag princess..and I met all sorts of warrior princesses, and other dragon slayers, and queens of enchanted forests and stuff. And this weekend? A few of us had a little rendezvous. (Think Knights of the Round Table)
I can't give you too many details. What I can do is say this weekend involved...knife confiscation at an undisclosed airport, midnight airport runs, Rio's Brazilian Cafe', lots of Theo Chocolate, attitudinal bandannas, hanging out on S.Congress (in Austin), sometimes easy and sometimes down-right frightening obstacle courses, lots of mud..and more mud..and more mud. It also involved an understanding that the force (of so many other women..and men) was with us. We have deep and silly conversations over hot tea, simultaneously. The only other things I can say are Abbot Road, lightning bolts..complete with sound effects, and deep shifts on a cellular level. Also? We find a secret treasure..(apologies Bethlehem..we found it after you flew back to your castle)..Dr. Seuss's secret collection, complete with a prayer for a child. But the best treasure of all?
I had a plan for this weekend. It involved deep cleaning, decluttering and lots of laundry. What can I say? Best laid plans and all of that...
I do, however have a new dog. Her name is Laeyla. Laeyla is my new running/walking/biking companion.She was given to me by one of the Teen Center families..with the instruction to run/walk her 3-5 miles a day. Perfect!I say.This will force me to be accountable and get into shape!
You see, I am a big fat chicken. We live out in the country..sort-of. And I am too scared to run/bike/walk by myself when there are not humans around. No human in my family cares to go on running/walking/biking adventures with me...so now I have Laeyla.
Our first morning was great! I hopped on my new/used bike...and we were off. Then I discovered that..Laeyla could just pull me. Well, I think to myself, this is pretty slick...workout..shmerkout..how cool is this? And then it happened. Laeyla picked up speed..and ran faster and faster...and I discovered my breaks didn't work. Stop.I order..as I start dragging my sneakers in the dirt to slow us down.Laeyla gives me a puzzled look and slows down..but my bike doesn't..Laeyla picks up speed again. Stop.I say through insane laughter..because we are quite a pathetic site! Thankgoodness no humans are around! And then I remember. Laeyla understands Spanish..Oh shizzz... Como se dice..stop? Alto...alto..I say through gaining hysteria. Laeyla stops.
I get off the bike and we walk it back to the house. Then I start to run with her..only I'm really out of shape. So we run/walk another couple miles. This morning Levi decides he wants to go with us..so we walk..through the pecan grove..and to the caves.
Big B promises to fix my bike today. I am starting to suspect my family is on to something when they refuse to walk/bike/run with me. What can I say? Laeyla..is apparently patient and loyal. Thank God.
As for cleaning. I admit defeat and opt to enjoy the chaos of family life. We have lots of pleasant visits from family and friends. A spontaneous fish-fry on Friday night. Brian and Angee visit Saturday a.m. It rains. I have a toddler, a dog and lots of mud. Then Sunday is beautiful. Perfect, for cleaning. Instead, we hang out with family friends and barbecue. Why? Because it is more fun.
Here are Austen and Laeyla getting acquainted in the kitchen.
Levi takes over the dining room table with his trains.
Cody and Ellie fix sandwiches before heading out to kayak.
Levi insists on one more photo. Here you go kiddo!
You know...camping. Big B states incredulously..as in how could I not know? The little man needs to go camping.
I ask Cody if he would like to go with us. Cody informs us he is busy. Yes...absolutely busy that night..whenever it is.
Austen informs us he is going "real" camping with his friends at Mason's ranch.
So Big B, Levi and I make a trial run...in our backyard.
First we check out the R.V.- which is parked in the driveway. In all fairness, we did plan to go to a nearby campground. They were just all full...so we decided camping in the backyard was the way to go.
Once settled, we go for a walk. Little man stampedes threw the pecan grove and shows off his mad running skills. Then we walk along the river..then?We spy on deer. And let's face it. No camp-out is complete without discovering cactus! After cactus exploration?
We head to "the caves".The caves..were dug out of mini-cliffs by the big boys when they were, well, not. so. big.
Here Big B and Levi pose for a pic in Cave 1.
And now Levi is thinking we might just stay here in the cave.
Big B bribes him out with...another cave!
After Cave exploration we head to our back deck.
You got it. Marshmallows. S'mores...what more can we ask for?
And then we head back to the R.V...books are read, lights go out...and the Little Man? He informs us..he's done camping now. It's time go home! What can I say? The shortest camp-out in history!
Yup..that is how this year is starting out. School of Rock and Pot Parties. Oops. My bad. That is Pot Hole Parties!
Big B informed me today that he and one of his neighborhood assoc. partners in crime, have made signs and everything to advertise this pot-hole filling adventure of theirs. They posted a sign for this party on the entrance to the sub-division. It sort-of reminds me of Tom Huck painting a fence. A few neighbors have joined them...base has been poured, spread..and more is on the way.
While Big B plays in the dirt? I have continued to hang at the Teen Center. It has been interesting..lot of strange twists and turns with work politics. And while there were a few times last summer where I felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger in kindergarten cop. There were a few weeks during the holiday season when I felt like I was reliving THIS SCENE. In WAY over my head! Only, you know, the teenage version of this scenario.
I finally, spent an afternoon by a lake near the Center. A little over a year ago, the Center's long-time director passed away at this lake. I spend a lot of time just sitting still looking at the water, praying..and then I whisper to the Lake. I wonder if the old director can hear. I ask for guidance.
And then? I pull myself together and get back to work. I focus a lot of energy with our Odyssey of the Mind teams. It is 5 weeks before the regional tournament, so I really can't tell you much. What I can tell you is that we have 14 teens involved in the creation or demolition of toasters, armored cars, trash monsters, dancing penguins and magnetic marble mazes complete with elevators.
And then we have our School of Rock. A month ago we decided to set aside some time on Saturday afternoons to play some rock..just play. Introduce any teens that wanted, some basic chord theory, learn songs they wanted to learn..and just mess around with music. Then one of our maintenance guys informed me he could play some B.B. King..and some Santana. We practiced together a few times during a lunch break. He invited his son and his son's wife to join us. So today? We had fun! 8 teens in one room working on some vocal recordings..a mix of Christina Aguillar and some rap music. We had guitars and keyboards in another room working on La Bamba..and lots of teens planning to bring more instruments next week. Our school of rock..is taking on a life of it's own..and musicians are jumping on board and mentoring/volunteering our kids.
I stood back at one point during the day and watch the teens..some were playing video games, others were dancing (they are ALWAYS dancing), the Odyssey teams had taken over the art room, a recording session going on in the kitchen and guitars, drums and keyboards in the learning center.
At home, things are returning to "normal". Cody is back from his mini-vacation with his girlfriend's family. As I type, he and Justin are working on a car in the garage. Austen is back at work at the restaurant, Big B is asleep in front of the t.v., and Levi is organizing his toy cars. Brian and Angee are back in Austin.
So that is my year so far..my husband is talking neighbors into filling potholes, I'm whispering to a Lake for guidance, Odyssey madness has begun, I'm surrounded by a whole unexpected slew of amazing musicians..and my family is home...or nearby.
I am lucky.
weekly menu: tomorrow (Sunday): make your own omelets Monday: spaghetti, green beans, bread-sticks Tuesday: Irish stew, grilled cheese with olive and tomato sandwiches Wednesday: make your own quesadillas , pot of beans Thursday: swiss steak mozarella with baked potatoes and salad Friday: left-overs Saturday: dinner atPap's Italian Grill (Big B and I usually order eggplant parmigiana, and grilled veggies..the big boys? raviolis or huge sandwiches Levi- he likes the eggplant and noodles...lots of dinner rolls for the table)
Hope everyone is well. I mean..really..like, not sick, well. It seems a lot of people are starting the year off with the flu..or strep.
Gotta admit. I was no exception. So to the New Year's Eve guests I abandoned in the middle of the evening.
Apologies. I really did feel like I had Freddy Krueger in my throat. I understand you got along fine without me..you know...blowing things up and drinking Hot Damn shots. For what it's worth, I have started out the year with a mini-hibernation.
3 days in bed. It was wonderful! I think this should be a new tradition...only without the throbbing throat and head.
So now I reflect on the year past, and look forward to the one ahead. This past year was an emotional doozie for many reasons..and if I look at what I thought I would be doing last January..and the way life has played out? I wasn't even in the ball park.
So, I am not even trying to guess what this year will hold. I am coming out of hibernation and entering a few months of a self-imposed cocoon of work, prison and family. I hope to stay in this cocoon for at least a few months...and maybe come out of the cocoon to meet some college friends for The Dirty Girls Mud Run in Austin this Spring.
I was the lucky recipient of Rosetta Stone Spanish (the whole set!) for x-mas. Since my Spanish is becoming more and more necessary at work, that is my goal for this year. Starting with volume one and working my way through.
Other than that? My only other goal, wish..don't want to call it a resolution, because, quite frankly..I suck at resolutions. Is to feed this family better!
There was a while when i was like a food nazi..that time has long past.
We have been scrounging or eating junk food for the past several months (sheez..years?!). It is taking it's toll on all of us. But here's the thing..we are a family trying to meet the dietary needs of people affected by Chron's/Colitis, thalesemia-minor, Bickerstaff Syndrome , one vegetarian and a slew of food allergies. It can lead to pure insanity.
So to keep everyone healthy we need to stay away from processed foods...fix occasional vegetarian meals with options for those who can't eat veggies..and occasional carnivorous meals with some vegetarian options. And this? Takes some planning.
When I didn't work, we could stick to the Mediterranean diet..and it fit everyone's needs..and tastebuds! But Mediterranean diet? Takes time. And time..is something we don't seem to have a lot of.
I am not good at planning.
But here we are..and this week? We have a plan! So I thought I would try to post for awhile our menu..you know..just in case there is another family in this universe who are trying to meet the dietary needs of..Chron's/Colitis, thalesemia-minor, Bickerstaff Syndrome, a few vegetarians and a slew of food allergies.
Then you add your actual cooks. You know, a mom who is more a "get the job done" cook..than a good cook. A dad who is a really good cook...but is sporadic in his cooking. And two young men who make lots of breakfast foods. One toddler who just sprinkles ingredients around the house. Yes, the little man decorated our floor with garlic pepper yesterday and used red-hots as marbles for his train set (don't ask) today.
So here it is. What's for dinner? So glad you asked (just humor me here)
Monday (tonight): baked chicken, green beans cooked in veggie broth and sliced potatoes with onions and mushrooms. Tuesday: cheese lasagna, spinach salad, french bread Wednesday: baked fish, wild rice, cooked asparagus and sliced peaches Thursday: Big B's toasted sandwiches with sliced turkey or roast beef (or not), swiss and or pepperjack cheese, cucumber and olives, (tomato and lettuce optional) with tomato soup. Friday: left-overs Saturday: family pasta night..dinner at Pap's Italian restaurant. Sunday: make your own omelets
Okay..back to my cocoon..where i am watching too many lifetime movies while Big B piddles in the garage, Levi lines cars around the living room..and Austen sleeps! Cody? Still at Ellie's for the holidays.
It is the evening of our Christmas Party..as I type there are 35+ teens and 3 staff waiting. We wait as Arnulfo's mom runs home for the rice and cake before the festivities officially begin. The neighbors donated TONS of tamales. Armando's mom brought the beans.Presents have been donated from various sponsors.
I am surrounded by the sound of laughter, pool balls, anxious anticipation and kids relieved to be with family. For we are a family here..as the teens often point out to us.
My first day here a young woman by the name of Lucia looked at me and said Do you have a date with your husband tonight? You should. You need to go out with your husband so then you can come here..to your second family..and you know..raise us. That same evening one of the mom's stopped me, and introduced herself. Then ended with..Welcome to your second family...now you can help raise them. Father Mike from the church that we are housed out of introduces himself..and says..welcome to your new family. I trust you will raise them well.
But here's the thing...we have been surrounded lately by violence..and fear..and threats of more violence. These teens..many...have recently had families deported, or family visits cancelled...or parents losing jobs. Our "milk and cookie kids", as we like to refer to them, are simply dealing with the violence in their schools and neighborhoods. And the heartbreak..the huge heartbreak..of watching their friends miss their first families...and wonder where they will sleep next week..and all that stuff that comes with urban poverty in the 21st century.
This past month our staff has started running some programs at one of the local highschools. We were asked to work with some at-risk youth..to mentor them in small groups. In a district whose drop-out rate is 60% . The counselors and social workers at this particular school are scrambling to help them graduate. So my co-workers and I go and agree to partner with this school and the kids they have identified.
We begin each session with an icebreaker..one of which includes asking members to step forward when something matches their experience. ?'s like...if you have ever thought something critical of yourself "I'm too fat.short, etc..please take a step forward. or If you have a dream, please take a step forward. This inevitably leads into an exercise and a series of sessions on respect. Self-respect, disrespect and personal boundaries.We run similar programs with our regular Teen Center kids..so we think we are prepared.
We started with the same ice-breakers with our first group of young men at this highschool. I state...If you see yourself as a valuable person, please take a step. No one moves. These young men have moved on other questions..but this one simply brings silence.
Our second session is a group of about 8 young women. Once again I state...If you see yourself as a valuable person, please take a step. Once again..we meet dead silence..and one girl asks..Miss Nicole...what does that mean? After a brief summary,something along the lines of.. if you have ever felt important, or if you matter, one girl timidly steps forward. The rest remain in their spots.
The next day we meet our next group of boys.I ask the same question. Again Silence. I ask..can anyone tell me what it means to be valuable. In response..one boy says..miss..I have NO IDEA what you are talking about. Once again, no one moves.
My co-workers and I look at eachother from across the room. We have just met 24 teens. 23 of these teens don't see themselves as a person of value? How do you teach a child he or she has value? How do you awaken a beaten down young teen to their personal value, in one hour a week?
It occurs to me, as I watch the horrors of the shootings in Conneticut, and as I watch our Club teens continually be sent home early due to bomb threats, hit lists and men with guns on their campuses that maybe our 23 teens who remained standing are not the only ones who do not know their value. They are not the only ones who don't understand the concept of human value.
I do the only sensible thing to do.
I cry for the 23 teens who don't' understand the concept of their own personal value. I cry for the one who does understand. I cry for the victims of adults who have no concept of personal value. I cry for a society who has so many people with such deep hurts that they forget how to feel at all.
Then? I look at my families..both of them. Like the teens at the Center tonight. I am relieved to be with family. And I am grateful for the value my families bring to my own life.
So for those of you who don't know? I friggin' love my second family! And yes..I am returning to blogging after dinner has been served and presents opened. Here everyone is gathered as we start to serve dinner. Because..as Carlos says..."that's what families do!"
Now..for the other important and valuable family in my life. Reiterating here. important.valuable.When I'm not with my second family,I have been at home..hanging with (are you ready for it?)
The first family. Yes. It's true. I like to refer to myself and my family as the first family. Just humor me..it's Christmas after all. Sheesh!
Levi and I have been painting a dresser for his room.
Here Levi is sanding...
and painting...and painting..and worrying about the mess on his finger.
...and a job well done, if you ask me!
Then there are the tall children! Everyone came home to celebrate an early Christmas. We ate pasta and chilli, caught up on all sorts of gossip, and played some sort of gender wars board game.
Here is the awesome girls team..consisting of Cody's girlfriend, Ellie..Brian's fiance, Angee..and me. I think we are discussing something important. Like what the heck is some boat part called. Or what are the pictures of various make-up type brushes for...or what the heck is that thing called that covers a tea-pot. (which Cody knew, by the way)
The men's team..consisting of Austen, Brian, Cody and Levi..and Big B..(who participated from a distance) kept us laughing. This group? Definately not doubting their value. Everytime they answered a question correctly..they would burst into a chorus of "Men, Men, Men..Men..Men..Men..Men..Men..Men." (from 2 and a half men)
I am a full time working, homeschooling mom of three young men and aunt to a slew of young men and women...and one very little man.We have always been pretty relaxed in our approach to learning. We live life. We set aside a little (emphasis on little) time for study.Learning happens!