Thursday, May 18, 2023

Where I’m going… and where I’ve been.

We’re short on subs lately, so frequently we’re asked to cover absences during our conference periods. Today I covered a junior English class in P-1, which happened to be my very first classroom at Bell in 1991. The students’ assignment: Read the mentor text, consider their goals (education, career, family, health), and write their own “Where I’m Going” poem. 

After I took roll, I read the sample poem aloud, but as I neared the end, I had to pause to keep from losing my composure (and all my “I-got-this” sub cred). Reading those last two stanzas in the very space where I began this journey—YOWZA! 

"I will be happy and grateful."

It was in this very room that my overhead blew up on my first day. It was here that my parents sat in the corner to watch me teach before buying me lunch one special afternoon. It was here that I held a penny to a makeshift antenna so we could watch the OJ verdict on a big ol' tube TV. Here I announced to my newspaper staff that I was engaged, and here I told them I was pregnant. Here my students and I laughed and learned and struggled and learned some more. (Pretty sure I did most of the learning.) 

Since those days in P-1, I have taught in P-5, B-9, N-22, and N-24, the current room I’m actively trying to empty. All these spaces hold indelible memories, but what a gift to have one last special moment in the place where it all began. 

Sunday, February 19, 2023

The One Where I Get Sentimental About a Sitcom That's Not 'The Brady Bunch.'

We were just a few months into our marriage when Friends premiered, and I distinctly remember sitting in our first apartment, watching our old TV, and coming across the second episode. Watching "The One With the Sonogram at the End," I could tell the characters were relatable and the writing was sharp, so I started recording the episodes each week.

One of our early-marriage cheap dates was to go to Kinko's and make covers for our homemade VHS tapes. (Doesn't that just scream "hip" and "cool"?) We would copy photos from magazine and newspaper clippings to create custom case liners, and we had fun giving our favorite shows and movies boxes that looked a little nicer than the striped Panasonic or Memorex cardboard covers. Long before the series was on DVD, I had my own set of analog-quality, commercial-filled recordings of most of the episodes.

Around the same time Friends premiered, we bought our first home computer--a Macintosh Performa purchased at the late, great Incredible Universe--and took advantage of the free download to join America Online, join the crowd, join the revolution. Now this early AOL was all about pages and keywords. There were no websites and dedicated fan sites. What we did have, though, were groups. Somehow I found my way to the group, and through that listserv, starting "conversing" with other Friends fans from all over the world.

And thus, my first case of obsessive internet fandom was born. It was fun to go on and on (and on and on) about each episode, repeating favorite lines, critiquing plot points that fell flat, and taking sides (but weren't we all Team Rachel?). Every day (until I finally broke down and switched to Digest mode), my inbox would fill with messages about my favorite show. I remember fans sharing when and where they first heard the extended Friends theme hit their local radio airwaves. I also remember going to our newsgroup to share shock and sadness the afternoon of the OKC bombing.

As the show took off, our numbers and discussion threads grew. Season 1 ended, but our speculation and anticipation did not. When "Phoebe" opened season 2 with a recap and a "So, how've you been?" it felt like she was winking at us, offering us a spot on the couch, giving a little acknowledgement that we were all part of this new community, this cultural phenomenon.

Now that we're marking the 25th anniversary of the premiere, plenty of folks have been revisiting the show, complaining that it's overrated, that it's far inferior to sitcoms that had better acting or were more groundbreaking. Others have pointed out punchlines and plots that would never fly today. I can see their point: some episodes can be cringe-y or downright offensive in 2019, and popularity does not equal quality. In spite of its faults, however, Friends will always be one of my favorites. Seeing one of those old episodes takes me back--not just to those early days of our marriage, but to the days of my young adulthood, when I was trying to find my own way in the world away from my family and wound up finding my way to a family of friends.

When the series ended in 2005, we had seen the Friends marry, divorce, have kids, change jobs, and move. In that 10-year span, Brett and I had bought a house, had two children, faced financial, marital, and health challenges, and discovered unimaginable joys. By the time the six left their keys on that counter, we, too, were far past that young adulthood the series celebrated. But for a quick hit of nostalgia, that show "will be there for me, too"!

Friday, February 17, 2023

Aunt Berniece.

My mentors: Aunt Berniece, Aunt Lois, Mom, and Granny.
Strong, capable, devoted, loving.

Last week we celebrated the life of Aunt Berniece, my dad’s sister. And what a life it was! Throughout the funeral we heard about her service to others, her strength and strong will, her love for her family. Of course, none of that was a surprise. We were blessed to witness those qualities firsthand.  

Uncle Gerald, Aunt Berniece, cousin Annette, my dad, cousin Susan

Aunt Berniece (center) with my grandparents, Aunt Lois, and Daddy.

With Annette and Susan at my grandparents' 50th anniversary party

Widowed at 47, she faced multiple challenges, but her faith never wavered. In those years after my Uncle Gerald died, she took some vacations with my parents and me. I remember lots of singing and laughing on those road trips. 

We got into some trouble in Colonial Williamsburg.

And then there was the time we did a little shopping in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Daddy made some comment about limiting their shopping to what Mom and Berniece could fit in our car. Challenge accepted! They spent the drive home with their purchases on their laps, but they managed! 

When my dad died, Aunt Berniece was a steadfast source of strength and support for my mom, who was just 49 when Daddy passed away. When Brett and I got married the next year, she was quick to jump in and help with the planning and prep work. I don’t know how many birdseed roses she made, but I know it was a lot!

The roses were a family wedding tradition.

Aunt Berniece and our friend Lydia did a great job with rose assembly!

With Granny, Aunt Lois, and Uncle Don at my wedding

Helping my cousin Linda with my cake

Ryan and Katie loved going to Aunt Berniece’s house in Houston, just like I did when I was a little girl. We enjoyed so many meals, so much laughter, so much love there! Then that house—where she had lived for decades—flooded twice in two years. During one of those floods, as her refrigerator floated in the rising waters, she spent the night on her kitchen island until help could arrive. 

During Hurricane Ike, Aunt Berniece came to visit
my mom (and us!) for a few days.

At the funeral service, we heard all about the canasta and Mexican Train games Berniece organized, her much-loved senior camp retreats at Bandera, her volunteer work with her church's prison ministry, the way she would drive friends to church, how she was there every time the doors were open.

Playing Mexican Train at Susan's house

Those stories came as no surprise. We already knew how seriously Aunt Berniece took her games, and we had seen how she served others and shared Jesus. But a few years ago, I learned something new about Aunt Berniece. Her sister, my Aunt Lois, gave me the most precious steno pad. In it, my grandmother had written "A Sketch of Jim (Partial)," an account of my father's childhood with hemophilia. 

Granny wrote about how much Berniece and Lois doted on their little brother, trying to protect him from bleeds and bruises. Granny recounts the time that the sisters sulked because Granny had spanked Daddy! 

Check out Granny's response: "I realized he must be punished
or he would become a child that no one would love." Whoa.

A few pages later, Granny explains that because of Daddy's frequent hospitalizations and crazy medical bills, the family struggled financially. That's where Berniece came in.

In those pages I learned that Aunt Berniece, fresh out of high school, had taken a job as a bookkeeper. She "went beyond her responsibility" to help her parents pay the bills. Even though this was news to me, it shouldn't have been a surprise that she would do this, considering how much she loved her family.

With her daughter/my cousin Susan during one of our more recent visits to Houston 

In the last few years, anytime I talked to Aunt Berniece, she would provide an assessment of her current challenges, from health issues to moving into a senior living apartment. Regardless of the struggle, she could never complain without adding the same statement: "I'm blessed." Even as she outlived her siblings, in-laws, and friends, she never stopped counting her blessings.

As Aunt Berniece would say, "Well..." Well, my dear aunt, YOU were a blessing to all who knew you. We love you and we miss you, and we will never forget your strength, your spirit, and your inspiring life.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

2022 in review.

How 'bout we dust off the ol' blog and write a holiday letter? It's been a while!

Brett is still writing, employing his expertise in classic video games. 2022 brought the publication of his 12th and 13th books and took him across the country for video game conventions. I'm in my 32nd year of teaching, still at the same school, still teaching English with the best group of educators I can imagine. I'm still the self-proclaimed "AV Diva" in our church soundbooth, too, projecting lyrics for in-person worship and managing the switcher for streaming services. (I also watch a little football now and then.) Ryan, now in his fifth year, continues to teach Texas history and coach cross country at a middle school in DFW. Katie has begun her Ph.D. program at Texas Tech, teaching freshman English while taking her grad classes. We still love spending time together as a family, playing games (especially those of the video and pinball variety), and finding new places to explore.

In this year that kinda-sorta resembled life before COVID, Brett, Ryan, and I all had the blasted virus (and Katie had a miserable flu). But in spite of those setbacks, we made the most of this new normal, navigating tests like champs to get back to our much-loved traveling, football games, and conventions.

Below are some of our many highlights from 2022. (Since this blog sometimes acts as my personal scrapbook, please indulge the extra helping of photos from this year's travels!)


Friends Experience in Plano

Masks were required, but that was a small price to pay to pose and play on the recreated sets from the TV show.


2/2/22 "Tutu" Day

This was one of several fun dress-up days we had at school. Turns out it was also our last day at school before snow and ice closed everybody down for a while!

Snow Days

We had power and heat, so the 2022 edition of winter weather was a vast improvement over 2021's. Yay! After dripping our faucets for hours on end, we discovered a leaky shower upstairs, so thanks to these snow days, my Texas room got a new ceiling. Boo! But hey, Daisy had fun in the snow! 

Waco Convention

2022 brought gaming conventions back in full force. Ryan and I tagged along as Brett had a table at the ATG Expo in Waco. It's always fun to see Brett in his element among other classic gamers.

NES Omnibus Volume 2

Brett put in countless hours to autograph, pack, and ship orders from his Kickstarter campaign. It's incredible to think that this, the second volume of his exhaustive description of Nintendo Entertainment System games, was his 12th published book!


Hitting the Trails

Our Daisy dog loves her walks, and we love exploring our neighborhood trails! We walk year-round, but March gave us the best weather for it.

March Madness

DFW hosted opening rounds of the men's tournament while UT's own Erwin Center hosted the women's. Dede and I made the trip to cheer for our Horns AND to be there for one last game in the FEC before Texas basketball moved to the new Moody Center nearby.

Daisy's Birthday

Can you believe our little "hint of a whisp of a puff" has grown into a 9-year-old little lady? She is quite the diva, and we take full responsibility for spoiling her. No shame.


First Monday Trade Days

Considering I grew up in East Texas, I haven't been to the famous Canton flea market all that often. Brett and I both love it, so we made time for it this spring. 

Downtown Fort Worth Walking Tour

Here's another "meaning to" that we finally got around to doing: taking one of the free walking tours offered by a couple of downtown real estate agents. This one was about "stuff on the bluff." We learned all about the settlements, communities, and evolution of Fort Worth along the Trinity River. This particular tour happened to be during the Main Street Arts Festival, so after we got on learnin' on, we perused the artists' creations.

Lyle's Return

After watching a bunch of Lyle Lovett's livestreams, I was thrilled to see him back on stage with his acoustic group. We have been to more Lyle concerts than any other musician's, so we for sure weren't missing this one! Brett and I enjoyed seeing him and the Old 97s as we took in the magnificent surrounds of Dallas's Majestic Theatre, which was celebrating its 100th anniversary.


Yeah, yeah, yeah. So our "kids" are grown. That's not going to stop me from dyeing Easter eggs! I'm thankful to have an indulgent family who will play along.

On Easter Sunday, Kelly, Cara, and Davis joined us at Heritage for worship. It was special to have them with us!

Spring Game

The Longhorns' spring football game gave us just the excuse we needed to visit Austin. Brett, Ryan, and I made the trip to enjoy the pregame hoopla (Bevo Blvd. and Longhorn City Limits), and then the guys explored campus and the city while I went to the "game." Crazy how many people showed up for a scrimmage, especially considering how underachieving our 2021 team was. Can't call us fair weather fans! Hook 'em! 

The next morning, we met our dear friend Anne for breakfast at a new fave, the Austin Diner.

Then we stopped by our old favorite, Pinballz Arcade. That Pacman air hockey is crazy!


Texas Fight Tour

Guess it's not a surprise that I absolutely LOVE these events put together by Texas Exes and UT Athletics. It's so much fun to hang out with other Longhorns and hear from our coaches. I was pumped to get pics with Hook 'Em, volleyball coach Jerritt Elliott, and football coach Steve Sarkisian.

Katie's Graduation 

This spring semester, Katie earned her master's degree in applied linguistics at Texas Tech. Because her undergrad commencement ceremony was socially distanced and masked, we were excited to celebrate Katie's achievement with a full-fledged graduation this time around.

There she is! It was an intense game of "Where's Waldo" to try to spot Katie among all the grad school grads.

We were also tickled to spot some of Katie's friends on the big screen, too! We're thankful for the friends that have supported her throughout her time in Lubbock.

We celebrated Katie's achievement at Chuy's with a big group of her friends. 

Truly, the whole family was excited to see Katie earn her master's degree!


Hooray for HollyVegas

For this summer's big family trip, we went to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It was beyond wonderful to stay with our LA friends, Dana and Kelley, and benefit from their unparalleled hospitality. We revisited a couple of our favorite places like Universal Studios and went for the first time to the new Academy Museum. We also returned to Malibu for an afternoon at Point Dume.

One huge highlight of our time in Hollywood was attending a taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live. We were thrilled that the stars of Only Murders in the Building were his guests that night. Steve Martin was COVID positive so he appeared via Zoom, but Martin Short and Selena Gomez were there in person and were STELLAR. We felt like we won the lottery to (1) get tickets for all four of us and (2) be there for those particular guests.

And of course, I couldn't be in Los Angeles without visiting the Brady residence! It was our first time back there since the big HGTV remodel that made the interiors look like the Brady Bunch set. Visitors can only get as far as the cone on the sidewalk, but it was great to see the exterior look just as it does in all those old episodes—with the big window and without the stone fence that was there for our previous visits

After several glorious days in Southern California, we bid goodbye to our gracious hosts and drove our rental car across the desert to Las Vegas. One of our first stops was the KISS mini-golf at the Rio. After a round of glow-in-the-dark golf, we were privileged to see a portion of Gene Simmons's extensive collection. Of all of the items he had on display, the coolest was a certain encyclopedia written by a familiar fellow.

Because we were in Vegas on our anniversary, Brett and I had a special date night—just the two of us—to see Cirque du Soleil's jaw-dropping Beatles Love show. What a spectacle! We loved it.

Before heading back home, we drove through the amazing Red Rock Canyon and then spent some time (and quarters) at the massive Pinball Hall of Fame on the Strip.


Fourth of July

Nothing like a horseshoes tournament to kick off the Fourth of July festivities! After playing in our backyard, we went to Roanoke to catch the fireworks show there.

Southern Fried Gaming Expo

Brett traveled practically coast to coast for gaming conventions this year! From Portland to Long Island and several states in between, he sold books and talked classic gaming as a guest and panelist at a wide range of shows. I was lucky enough to join him for the Southern Fried Gaming Expo in Atlanta. We had a great drive (with a stop at the Leeds, Alabama, Buc-ee's), a great show (with TONS of attendees), and for me, a great sampling of Atlanta's tourist attractions (with visits to the King Center, the Carter Presidential Library, the World of Coca-Cola, and the College Football Hall of Fame).

While in the Atlanta area, we also checked out some filming locations from Stranger Things, the 1980s nostalgia-filled sci-fi/horror Netflix show that we enjoy together.

On our way home we spent a night in Montgomery, Alabama. The next morning was a Monday so the main places we wanted to visit (specifically the Legacy Museum and lynching memorial) were closed, but we still paid tribute to Rosa Parks and Hank Williams. 

From there we drove to Selma. The National Park Service Civil Rights exhibits were closed (again, thanks to it being a Monday), but we still stopped by the Edmund Pettus Bridge and saw the memorial park at its base. A local historian also made sure we noticed the footprints nearby to mark Dr. King's presence in Selma.

July Birthdays

It's great to have family living in the Metroplex! As July drew to a close, we celebrated some of our July birthdays, including Ryan's. 


Back to School

It seems like Ryan JUST started teaching, but here he is, already in his fifth year! He is such a rock star, teaching Texas history and coaching cross country. Of course, we're beyond proud!

As Ryan and I marked the beginnings of our school years, Katie officially began her first semester as a Ph.D. student in the English Department at Texas Tech. Along with her own studies, she also taught a freshman English class this fall semester. Can't even describe how proud I am of the teachers we've raised!

Back to school meant back to Hab's for me and Brett. Habanero's, a local Tex-Mex restaurant, is our favorite Friday Happy Hour spot, and many a Friday evening has been spent there, putting a crazy work week to bed while kicking off the weekend. (And check out that FIT! Brett's sock game is strong.)

100 Greatest 2

August also brought the debut of Brett's latest book, The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1988-1998. We were thrilled when his publisher sent him the first copy along with a celebratory bottle of wine for this, the sequel to his first 100 Greatest Book, which covered 1977-1987. 


Longhorn Football

Thanks to a lackluster 2021 season (and no bowl for the post-season), I had to wait until 2022 to attend my 300th Longhorn football game. It was great to finally log that number alongside my steadfast football buddies.

In the middle of a glorious streak of attending seven games in a row, I got to visit Katie in Lubbock. The game did NOT go as I wanted, but it was a fun time on the South Plains anyway.


The Red River Shutout

49-0 win over our biggest rivals? Pretty good day!

Bueno-versary #29

As is our custom, we celebrated the anniversary of our engagement at the fine dining establishment where we ate that night 29 years ago: Taco Bueno! This time, Nana, Ryan, Mike, and Kelly joined us for the celebration.

Autumn Weekend in New York

It was the rare weekend without a gaming convention for Brett, AND it was between trimesters and the Horns' bye week for me: pretty much the perfect time for a fall get-away to New York City! While waiting for Ryan's arrival, we took the subway to the 9/11 memorial as well as Trinity Church, where Alexander Hamilton is buried. Before leaving that area, we found the lighthouse memorial for the Titanic's victims. We also made our way to Joe's Pizza, one of our favorite NYC spots for a slice.

Then Brett and I checked off my biggest remaining NYC bucket-list item: walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. Brett had been-there/done-that a couple of times, but I hadn't! I hope to get the chance to cross it again—what a view! After traversing the bridge, we wandered around Brooklyn, exploring DUMBO before finding our way to the Polonsky Shakespeare Center. That's where I'd spent two career-enriching weeks in 2018 studying Shakespeare. It was a thrill to be back in that neighborhood.

Back in Manhattan, we headed to the much-loved Washington Square Park for people-watching and listening to music. Then we walked around the Village to find a couple of familiar filming locations: Carrie Bradshaw's apartment from Sex and the City and the apartment from Friends.

After that, it was time to head back to Midtown to meet up with Ryan for the main purpose of this trip: seeing The Music Man on Broadway. When Ryan and I were in New York in January 2020, we had seen the billboards advertising the revival starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster. We were hopeful we could get back to NYC to see it. Then COVID happened and the world changed, so we didn't know if the show would go on. Thank goodness it did! I'm also thankful that because my friend Cindy, the sweepstakes queen, convinced me to enter a contest, our tickets were free! The two leads and the entire cast were crazy good. It was the theatre experience of a lifetime. Afterwards, we went to Junior's for the required post-show cheesecake.

The next morning we got up early to be among the first in line at Ellen's Stardust Diner, the home of the singing waitstaff. What a fun way to start our day!

Before Brett and I headed home on Sunday, we strolled through Central Park, delighted to see all the lovely fall colors, and then walked around Rockefeller Center and checked out the Nintendo Store.

Brett and I flew home that Sunday, but Ryan, thanks to a Monday holiday, stayed an extra day. He had his own adventures that afternoon, but a highlight had to be this selfie with a certain Mr. Jackman.


We were exhausted after our whirlwind NYC trip (and the first day of my winter trimester), but we set up our usual table in the frontyard. A decent number of "trickers" came by for candy and comic books!


Football Season, We Hardly Knew Ye

And just like that, another Longhorn football season came to an end. With all the tailgating, texting, and time in the stands, we had a blast! As soon as time ran out at the Alamo Bowl, the countdown for the 2023 season began. Can't wait!


This holiday was a blur, a full week of food, family, and football. We didn't even manage to take a family photo until Katie was on her way out of town, so we settled for a selfie in the middle of the Daiso store. #classy


Hometown Tourists

For the second time, we enjoyed the Downtown Fort Worth Walking Tour, this time exploring some historic churches. It was a real treat to see this side of Panther City.

Christmastime Is Here

And that brings us all the way to this holiday season. Katie came home for her break, so we have made the most of all the family time, including a long-delayed trip to Grapevine, the "Christmas capital of Texas," to see the lights and shops. 

Winter Break Fun

Since Katie was home for the full break for the first time in years, we had a blast celebrating with family, hanging out at home, and going to fun places like Six Flags, the Stranger Things store, and San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl.

So there you have it! 

We are ever mindful of our blessings and grateful that we are privileged to spend time with our adult children. Of course, our year had plenty of struggles that aren't pictured—physical, emotional, and professional challenges—but we're thankful for the friends and family who continue to support us through the good times and bad. 

We wish you and yours the happiest of holiday seasons and joy and peace in the year ahead!