Posted in Life

“We Want Fireworks!”

I posted this memory on my previous blog five years ago and wanted to share it here again. I’m missing being with my family this 4th of July, but looking forward to seeing fireworks with the hubby.

fireworks1When I was a kid, there was a street in Plano, Texas, where my family and I used to go watch fireworks on the 4th of July.  It was a deserted road next to a big empty field, which is now probably the site of a trendy housing development or maybe a strip mall.  But back then it was empty except for weeds and wildflowers, giving us a perfect view of the stadium a couple hundred yards away where the show took place.  Every year, we caravanned over in two or three cars (Dad’s 1980 Checker Cab of course and maybe my aunt’s Toyota), arriving well before the sun went down in order to get a good spot.  The street was somewhat out-of-the-way but was not unknown—others used it as well and by nightfall it was always full of cars, people, and kids running around.

The years were so much the same that they blend together in my mind as one jumbled memory. We hung around on car bumpers and blankets listening to the radio, fighting off mosquitoes, playing frisbee, and drinking Dr. Peppers in our red, white, and blue garb.  (I remember one particularly gaudy year when I was wearing a red tank top, blue jean shorts, a white belt, red socks, and white Keds.  At the time, I was quite proud of my patriotic fashion statement, but looking back at the pictures makes me cringe.) There was even an ice cream truck whose driver wised up to the idea of serving the crowded little street, so every year he appeared and we enjoyed rocket pops and fudge bars while staring in the direction of the stadium.

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4th of July with my family – 1986

The people inside obviously had some sort of pre-firework entertainment.  Music and cheering could be heard, and one year sky-divers parachuted into the stadium—an unexpected treat for us.  Whatever went on inside that arena always was, and still is, a mystery to me.  I remember wondering what those people were seeing and coming up with my own versions of their entertainment, but never once do I remember feeling envious of them.  The 4th of July in the Kinder family meant parking on the side of a road and enjoying the colorful display from our lawn chairs and tail gates.  This wasn’t something you bought a ticket for.

There were no cell phones, no Kindles, no portable DVD players, not even a Game Boy to distract us from the snail-like pace of time.  The only way we even knew how slowly it ticked by was from our parents’ watches, and they got tired of us asking.  Sometimes we had sparklers to keep us busy for a few minutes, but for the most part we had to just wait it out, every excruciating second.

Waiting for the show to begin seemed to take forever.  The sky grew darker and darker, and with every star that came out, we kids grew more and more restless.  My brother Pat, five years older than me, remained a bit more composed than our cousin Kelley, three years my junior, and me.  He sat with the adults and attempted to restrain any anxious tendencies. Kelley and I, however, were shamelessly impatient, often inventing creative chants such as, “WE WANT FIREWORKS!” which we repeated over and over, much to the annoyance of everyone else.

firework2And then… just when our impatient cries had reached their whiniest levels, just when the adults were probably ready to throttle us, the first bright explosion lit up the sky.  You could sense the excitement of the moment—people standing up, turning their heads, leaning forward, the collective intake of breath as the first firecracker faded into a smoky outline and drifted off with the wind, carrying the smell of sulfur with it.  From that moment on, there was no bickering, no whining, just a symphony of Oo’s and Ah’s and interjections of “Wow!  That was cool!” and “That one was huge!”

The Kinders do not watch fireworks in reverent silence.  We comment.  Do we remember that one from last year?  Was that a new color?  I’ve never seen one like that.  Ooo, that looked like a flower. No, it looked like a balloon.  No, I saw a spider.  Did you see that one?  Of course I saw it, I’m right here.  That one was sparkly.  I like the ones you can see on the way up.  I like the ones that make the whistly noise.  I like the purple ones.  I like them all.  Forty minutes of non-stop descriptive chatter about something that we are all watching at the same time.  And afterwards… we rehash it all again in the past tense.  It is our way.

In addition to the color commentary of the explosions, my brother and I also had a game we liked to play.  Several airplanes circled the area repeatedly during the show.  (It was not until later that I realized they were there to watch as well; as a kid, I just thought that was a busy flight path for small planes.)  The game was simple—count how many planes got “killed” by the fireworks. Although of course they were completely safe and nowhere near the actual explosions, every time it appeared that one was blown up by a pink burst of sparks or a strobe-like flash of light, we cheered uproariously for its death.  All in good fun.

grandfinaleEvery firework display ends with, what is known in Texas as, the “grand finale”.  This finale consists of setting off dozens and dozens of rockets at the same time so that the eye is blinded by two or three minutes of simultaneous flashes of color, and yes, it is quite grand.  Therefore, toward the end of the show, it is traditional for the Kinder commentary to shift from the general Oo’s and Ah’s to the impulsive predictions. Oh my!  I think this is the grand finale!  Ooo, no THIS must be the grand finale!  Wow!  Look at all that!  Do you think it’s the grand finale?  This time I’m SURE, it MUST be the grand finale!  Eventually, inevitably, someone was right; it was the grand finale.  We whooped and cheered and said “Happy 4th of July!” We smiled and laughed and stared at the giant smoke cloud slowly drifting away from the stadium, knowing it was over, but secretly hoping for one last blue or green ball of flame to appear.  Once in awhile, we got our wish.

The ride home was always subdued.  We recapped the events of the evening, voted on our favorite parts, and finally drifted into a satisfied quiet.  Sometimes, out the car window, we caught glimpses of other firework shows finishing up in the distance and smiled at this unexpected bonus.  Often I was asleep, or at least pretending to be, by the time we pulled into the gravel driveway of home.

This is still my favorite way to enjoy the 4th of July.  Tonight, the hubby and I will grab some chairs and a cooler and drive out to some roadside or parking lot, where I will fidget and whine and chant, “WE WANT FIREWORKS!” until the the sky lights up with color.

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Posted in Life, Teaching

There’s a New Version of Me in the House, and She’s a Little Wacko

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My hubby refers to the person he’s living with right now as “Summer Carie.” Summer Carie is a little crazy. She stays up late but also, somehow, gets up early. She reads for hours on end, only stopping to skip over to her husband, kiss him on the cheek, and tell him her latest idea for a creepy short story. Summer Carie decides on a whim to turn an old skull candle into a bird feeder or clean out the medicine cabinet or reorganize all of the books in her house. She takes walks and naps and texts her husband far too often while he’s at work. Summer Carie can be a bit exhausting, but she’s happy and relaxed and carefree and creative.

I love her.

I love being a teacher, but I also love my summers. I NEED my summers. Without them, I would not love my job. I haven’t once checked work email since the last day of school (I probably should, I will eventually) and I haven’t planned any lessons. Right this moment, I can’t even tell you what day we go back to work (and I don’t want to know). But every day, while I rearrange books and work puzzles and make bird feeders and take pictures of raccoons, somewhere in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “Could I use this in my classroom? Could this tie in to a lesson? How could I share this experience with my students?” I’m always a teacher, even when I’m Summer Carie, and I think I’m a better teacher upon returning to work because I allow myself this time.

Please don’t hate on teachers because we get the summers off. It’s not why we do the job. It’s why we CAN do the job.

Ok, I’m off to hide something that belongs to the hubby and leave him a trail of sticky note clues to find it. Summer Carie strikes again!

Posted in Life

Surviving My Morning Walk: A Brush With Nature

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The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is an “internationally recognized botanic garden dedicated to inspiring the conservation of native plants in natural and designed landscapes” located in Austin, Texas.* In other words, it’s a pretty, outdoor-y, nature-y place where you can take walks, learn about flowers, swing in swings, watch turtles and owls, look at art, climb a tower, listen to giant wind chimes, eat a snack, and generally enjoy the outdoorsiness and leafiness and buzziness of life with your friends, your family, or yourself.** And I am incredibly lucky to live within walking distance of it. I love visiting the center and have always wished they were open longer hours, especially in these warm summer months.*** Well, I must have wished loud enough because they now stay open until 8PM on Tuesdays and open at 7:30AM on Thursdays and Saturdays. Hooray! Thank you, whoever made that decision!

* From the Wildflower Center’s website
** For some reason, the Wildflower Center did not ask me to write the text for their website. ???
*** It’s only June and already our nightly low is 77 degrees. Did you get that, northerners? Our LOW temperatures are almost 80. Yeah.

So last Thursday morning, in an effort to adhere to my summer goal of making exercise a habit, I got up at 7:30 and walked to the Wildflower Center. I was looking forward to seeing the place at a new time of day, to see what was awake at this early hour and maybe catch a glimpse of a new bird or cute critter. As soon as I got there, I hit the trails. I’d passed a couple of employees on the way in, but I didn’t see or hear any other guests. It was just me and the blue sky and the bugs. I’m alone, I thought. I have the entire place to myself. No distractions. I didn’t even bring my cell phone. I smiled.

Then I came around a bend in the path and saw a giant snake skin hanging from a tree. It was at least four feet long, and it hung from a branch at least ten feet above the ground.

Now, let’s get something straight. I am not afraid of snakes. I respect snakes and am appropriately cautious of them, especially the dangerous ones, but I like snakes and enjoy seeing them in nature from a safe distance. However, there is one thing that I just do not agree with about snakes, and that is their ability to climb trees. No. No, no, no, no, no. Just no. Snakes should stay on the ground, as the universe intended.

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This is not at the Wildflower Center. This is a photo from the day a six-foot-long coachwhip decided to come to my backyard to eat its lunch, which happened to be a two-foot-long garden snake.

Also, I had just read an article the day before about a man in Corpus Christi who cut the head off a four foot rattlesnake and then got BIT BY THE SEVERED HEAD. The man survived but was in really bad shape. So, I’d just come up with a new rule that dead snakes should stay dead and not bite people.

Furthermore, I was not actually looking at a snake in its natural habitat. I was looking at a large snake SKIN. In a TREE. Which meant there was a EXTRA-large (too large to fit in that skin), fresh, tree-climbing snake somewhere nearby.

I’m alone, I thought. I have the entire place to myself. I DIDN’T EVEN BRING MY CELL PHONE!

Despite coming down with a severe case of the willies, I did not turn back. No, not this determined trail-walker. I forged ahead, staying on the path and keeping an eye out for fresh snakes above, below, beside, and all around me. Once, when I got too close to the edge of the path and a piece of spear grass brushed my ankle, I let out a high-pitched squeak that a person sitting on their porch in my neighborhood probably mistook for a coyote bark. But all was well. I made it out of the Wildflower Center alive.

My Good Deed for the Day

When I left, more morning guests were arriving, which made me happy because I want them to keep these new hours. In the busy parking lot, I saw one of my favorite critters: a large, brown, Texas tarantula. She was on the move, scurrying quickly, obviously with places to go. Unfortunately, the places she needed to go were on the other side of the driveway, and a car was coming. I couldn’t bear to see her get squished, so I stepped in front of the car, pointed at my little friend, and mimed for them to please wait until she had safely crossed. They did.

I recently learned that while male tarantulas often don’t live more than a few months, females can live up to 40 years. I don’t actually know the gender of the one I met, but I like to think that I helped a little old lady cross the street.

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This is a Texas tarantula next to my hubby’s hand. Both of them were very good sports for this photo.

I survived my morning walk. I got some exercise. I saw some sights. I plan to go back this week. I think maybe this time I’ll take my cell phone with me.