Tag Archives: gin

Life with Sister: Tales from the Great Texas Blizzard & Blackout of ’21 – Part 1

The following story recounts the past two weeks of my life. I am a husband and father to two wonderful pre-teen children. I live in a modest house in the Dallas, TX area. I intend no politics, am not assigning blame, nor am I writing to convey anger over the blackouts. I am simply a man who lives a bizarre life and likes to write. With that being said, here now, part 1.

Monday February 8, 2021

Perhaps the first thing you should know, especially if you are new to these pages, is that I homeschool my children. For over 15 years I worked as a high school teacher and later, a school administrator. Last summer, not looking forward to masks and temperature checks for myself or my children, I decided to take a shot at something I had always wanted to do. The moment was never going to be better than it was to treat myself to a year (hopefully more) of being the principal of my own school. Also, I kind of dig walking through my kitchen to get to my classroom. Another thing you should know is that my family and I are cradle Catholics. Some would even label us “traditionalist” Catholics. The Catholic faith and culture are as much a part of our life together as oxygen. True enough, we attend a Latin mass parish but that is what works for us. A final point of which you should be aware is that between my wife and me, we know thousands of people. I come from an enormous family (14th of 16) and my wife is just phenomenal at everything and loved by all. She could legitimately spend her days literally stomping on the knuckles of hangers-on trying to come within her sphere for warmth. She doesn’t. In particular, she has many friends with whom she has remained close since college. All of these facts will play a part in what is to come.

Several weeks ago my wife received a text from one such college friend. We will simply call her “Sister”. That’s because she’s an ex-nun. You’ve probably heard divorcees lament that “I didn’t leave my spouse. My spouse left me.” Well, Sister’s order left her. In fact, it disbanded, or it was suppressed by the Vatican. We’re really not sure. The point is, she’s not an “ex”-nun by choice. It was more of an indifference sort of thing. “My spouse left me” takes on a whole new meaning when one is a bride of Christ. Having spent the past fifteen years in complete silence, using only rudimentary sign language and finger puppets to convey her thoughts, Sister’s family forced advised her to take a vacation. Owing to the fact that every time we’ve seen her in the past few years we’ve invited her to come visit us in Texas, Sister’s first thought was to take said vacation in the Lone Star State. But of course, she would be our most welcome guest! Our preparation consisted of me 1) determining to “shuffle around some school work with the kids” to accommodate her visit and all the fun day trips we would make and 2) calling Alma. Who is Alma? Well, Alma is only the best kept secret in town. That may be because she is in the country undocumentedly. In truth, I do not know. What I do know is that she can clean a house like it’s nobody’s business. The process usually involves several unaswered text messages listing multiple potential days and finally a reply that says simply: “Yes.” I think she uses a burner phone. Having secured her scrubbing skills, I woke up early on this morning – it’s still the 8th if you forgot because of my verbosity – I unlocked the door and welcomed Alma. Alma politely brushed past me while looking over her shoulder. “Close door. I clean now,” she said most politely yet with a tinge of both fear and disgust in her eyes. “Also, don’t tell no one I’m here.” Looking at her earnestly I said, “But Alma, I don’t know anyone who knows you.” To this she replied, “Keep it that way,” and then she commenced vacuuming my drapes.

While Alma dusted and shined I suddenly remembered that one of my nephews – a young man in his early 20’s – had also asked to come stay with us this week. He had time off and wanted to visit one of my nieces – a young lady in her early 20’s who happens to live with us – and particularly to visit her lady friends. Ah, the mind of a young man… Always looking for, um, platonic friendship? Yeah, he wasn’t here to see us, to be sure. Nonetheless, I did have to leave Alma while I drove out to the airport to get the lad. On the drive I used my background in logistics to figure out where he would stay. I dropped him off at home, shoved him and his baggage into my daughter’s room, paid Alma her cash (unmarked bills), and watched her instantly vaporize through the chimney. “Don’t… tell… no one…” she said as she vanished. Boy she’s something else. Also, we don’t have a chimney so it was really magical.

Next up, I rolled a die to determine which of my children would be my favorite this day. Kidding. They’re both my favorite. The girl. Using reverse psychology, I took the boy and left daughter at home while I went shopping for Sister’s impending arrival. We went to a giant warehouse store. There are five of us normally under our roof and the one added guest has lived off of rice and donated donuts for two decades so this was going to be a challenge. I stocked up on cases of soda, mini quiches, and other things to make our exclostrated guest feel at home. Then I headed to my happy place, a liquor store called Total Wine, or as I call it, Wine Totale. I like to class it up sometimes. Sister had enjoyed her cocktails while we were in school. Let’s see if she can still hold her liquor. While roaming the aisles I overheard a customer and a sales associate discussing gin. And the fourth thing you needed to know about me is that I have had a love affair with Dutch Courage since college. I know my gin. And my gin knows me. The information being given the poor shopper by the young clerk was so wrong I absolutely had to interject. I told her about the wonders of gin, its history, and then helped her pick a bottle. “What are you making with it, might I ask?” I said. She told me it was for some “ancient cocktail” her husband had heard about called a bijou. The bijou dates to the 1890’s and contains equal parts gin, chartreuse, and sweet vermouth. I was intrigued enough to stock up on all of that. Looking into my cart at the already full supply of other gin, rum, and an assortment of Texas whiskeys, she asked, “And what are you making with all that?” My son, who is undeniably my son, shot back, “We’re not making anything. Just getting ready to entertain an ex-nun.” And we walked away.

Wine Totalé has a great gin selection. If you look closely, you’ll see this is their rum selection.

I stopped at daily mass, came home, and made some finishing touches to the house. This included assembling our traditional “Texas Welcome Gift Basket” for Sister’s room. My wife and daughter had even made Texas-shaped chocolates for her. Finally the hour approached to return to the airport and collect Sister. I entered the terminal and noticed how empty it was. Air travel has really taken a hit this past year. It was in that emptiness that I was able to hear the little things that make my life more fun.

THUD!

I turned around to see a middle-aged woman lying on the ground on top of a piece of rolling luggage. In her fall she had completely bent the extended handle of her suitcase. She came to rest in front of an elevator that I think she was attempting to board. I looked around, noticed two other people. We all looked at each other and then, out of a sense of human decency, approached the woman to assist her. As I got within a few feet I smelled the familiar waft of alcohol that has traveled through the bloodstream and, finding no room at the inn, decided to exit the body via the pores. This chick was sauced. My first guess was that she had enjoyed the hell out of first class and now could not find her way outside of a paper bag, let alone an airport terminal. We got her situated with some medical assistance and a bottle of water from a vending machine and I turned around just in time to see Sister walking toward the baggage carousel.

Sister is a character of epic proportions. She loves Texas, having spent some of her youth here. She is a bigger fan of pop culture, including the TV series Dallas, than even me. She loves a good meal, perhaps almost as much as I do. We got into my car. I connected my phone and the radio blasted the theme to Dallas. “So much fun!” she said. “Why don’t you go pick up Whataburger while I get my rental car and head to your house?” And that’s just what I did.

To close out day one, I offered Sister a drink. “Sister,” I said, “Let me fix you a bijou.” She looked at me like I had just announced the death of the Roman pontiff on state-run TV. “I’m game,” she replied. Here I set to work making a cocktail I had never made, nor did I know would be potable. I did this with all the swagger of a bartender who’s served up drinks for years at the same establishment. As in, “Trust me, you’ll like it. There is no other option.” I poured two bijous and we toasted Sister’s arrival and visit. Sister took a sip. Sister put her glass on the counter. Sister said the following.

“Tastes like a Yankee Candle. From the 1890’s.”

And that was day one. “Where’s the snowstorm? What happened to the blackout?!” you ask. Patience, friends. All will be revealed.

Nails and Gins

My mom is in town for a visit and to attend the upcoming wedding of my sister-in-law.

So I took her to get her nails done before the wedding. There’s a reason men shouldn’t be in these places. Mom picked out a color and then said “Maybe I’ll get one nail done up in something special,” while pointing to something with glitter. “Like a coke nail?” I asked with some incredulity. The woman has seen her share of Law & Order so I thought maybe it was a thing. “We call that an ‘accent nail’,” said the woman behind the counter.

Lots of colors.

You learn something new every day. Next it’s off to the hair place. Perhaps we’ll find some gin along the way.

Speaking of gin… In late November a big, beautiful, upscale liquor store opened nearby. Since I am a big, beautiful, upscale drunk this was a natural fit and made me very happy. Those of you who’ve ever known me know that I have a penchant for gin. Recently a friend shared an article with me that declared that those who drink gin and tonic are psychopaths. It didn’t say we were “likely to be” psychopaths. No, this hurtful group of words masquerading as a scientific journal said straight up that I’m a psycho. Sure, drinking gin has been likened to drinking a bottle of Chanel No. 5 and the British did attribute the collapse of their country’s middle class to gin a few hundred years ago. Where was I going with this? Oh yes, the liquor store…

Lots of gin.

I’ve made a resolution not to buy the same bottle twice until I’ve tried all the gins I haven’t tried. This place has a whole aisle devoted to my favorite spirit so it might take a while. Then again, I’m a psychopath so maybe not. Recently I tried Aviation which was nice but had notes of something I’m not quite sure of. In other words, it wasn’t great. Last night I picked up a bottle of Oregon Spirit. This made me think of the Oregon Trail. If I get dysentery and die from drinking this I will be quite peeved.

That’s all.

What’s a Little Cough Between Friends?

Cough

My life has been so chock full of the bizarre lately I’m truly grateful to have found ten minutes on a Friday night to write about it. Trust me, it’s that good.

It all started late last week when the local health department notified our school of a confirmed case of pertussis. What’s pertussis, you ask? Whooping cough (pronounced hoop-ing). “But I thought no one got that anymore because… vaccines and stuff.” Well yes and no. It doesn’t spread like wildfire like it used to and it’s usually not as severe as it could have been. But, as I found out this week, even the vaccinated can get it (albeit usually in milder form) and apparently booster shots are recommended and quite often for the inoculated. One learns something new every day.

In a small school such as the one where I am vice principal (I still like saying that) a highly infectious disease can certainly make the rounds rapidly. To make a long story short… We’ve had a few more confirmed cases since the first. I haven’t heard of serious complications. I think we’ve helped maintain a sense of calm. We closed the school early on Thursday. I have personally been in close proximity to every single student and in every single classroom as have numerous faculty. Everything will be OK.

And… we’re taking precautions. My daughter had developed a cough over the past two weeks that is probably NOT pertussis but after all of this one cannot be too cautious. Today I brought her into her doctor along with my son who was also coughing. To make matters murkier there are also strains of strep and influenza going around our larger community. We haven’t seen the actual doctor in a number of years; it’s only ever his physicians assistant. I don’t mind. Although, she is always pushing flu tests on us even absent any symptoms. Today I walked in, told her the whole story, and then said, “The good news is you’ll get to do one of those swabby tests you seem to love so much.” I didn’t think of those words in terms of a “shot fired”. But I should have. The PA stared at me with a wry smile and declared, “Actually, I think the kids are probably fine in terms of whooping cough based on what you’re telling me. It’s you I’m worried about. I mean, you’re standing here obviously tired, haggard, you know. I can tell you’re run down.”

“Haggard?”

This is me staring down the physician’s assistant. (courtesy: Wikimedia)

Before we’d left the office the kids had been tested for every airborne illness known to man. Yours truly? I dragged my “tired and haggard” parts out of there with my head hung low. On my way to the car I passed a raccoon digging through a dumpster. I took a good look to see if the dark circles under his eyes looked better than mine before Googling whether my insurance would cover botox injections.

Consumption

I came home and returned to my lovely and unexpected Friday off. Lately I’ve been watching a few things here and there. There are the Youtube videos about aviation, engineering, and all the many JFK conspiracies. And then there’s Netflix. I decided to do a one-month trial in order to watch the third season of The Crown. I can’t help it. If it’s about the Royals I’ll probably watch. If it’s written well I’ll definitely watch. Maybe it’s my British ancestry coming through and manifesting itself in my TV viewing habits; but I simply cannot turn away from the train wreck that is the House of Hanover Windsor.

In particular I have have been fascinated to learn more about the life of the late Princess Margaret, the only sibling of Queen Elizabeth. Brilliantly portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter, Margaret is a troubled figure. Denied the opportunity to marry her first love, Peter Townsend, she ultimately found solace in photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. For the moment, overlook the fact that Townsend was already married. Oops, forgot that detail while trying to make her a sympathetic character. Never mind the fact that she admits she thought Armstrong-Jones was gay when she first met him. Never mind the fact that she forgot about her own vows when cavorting around the world with a man half her age. I mean, come on you pesky moralist… The point is that HRH Princess Margaret was a chain-smoking gin fiend. And in this I can relate.

The Margo Starter Pack

It is not just Netflix and Youtube that have captured my interest lately, though. Tonight my wife asked if I would accompany her to the movies. I’m not usually big on the big screen (the commercials and previews are cumbersome to me) but I do enjoy spending time with my wife. Tonight our kids rounded out the group. The flick? We saw the new Tom Hanks feature about the life of the legendary Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers is, undoubtedly, an American icon. I must admit that as a kid I didn’t care much for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I found it kind of slow and boring and Rogers’ hyper-gentle personality to be a drag. In fact, the only times I enjoyed watching his show was when he left his studio and went on location. I still remember vividly the time he went to the Crayola factory. Then again, those episodes played out more like a Youtube video on engineering.

But as I grew I came to understand the value in what he was doing, even if it wasn’t quite my speed. As a teacher I can appreciate his work with children. As I came to learn more about his personal life I really came to sense that he was a genuine man who loved what he did and, more importantly, he was a man of prayer. The movie we saw tonight brought into focus the fact that he was a man who worked every day on trying to do what he saw as God’s work, laboring – sometimes with great difficulty – on the virtues of patience, humility, and gentleness. In many ways I can relate. In my own life and career as a teacher and vice principal I try to exemplify these same virtues. It seems odd sometimes. One tends to think of the vice principal of a school as the stern disciplinarian, something I definitely am not. Forgetting the fact that “vice” is right in the title, I see my job as someone called to help young men and women find and then stay on the path of virtue. If that comes in the form of reminding them of our dress code or making sure they are in class then I need to do that without personal animosity. Look, I will be me. I will let God work His discipline through the personality He gave me. I’ve never been an ogre and I’m not going to start now. Learning from Mr. Rogers I will focus more on prayer for specific people every day and continue to help my students in kindness and humility.

Character

Lately I have been contemplating who I am. I don’t mean in the “existential crisis” sort of way. But I’ll be turning older soon. It’s only natural to take stock of one’s life when one reaches 30. Having done that many years ago I decided to take stock once again. God has bestowed many blessings on me. Whether I realize it or not; whether I like it or not, He made me who I am. I am soft-spoken and somehow I command the attention of dozens of teenagers. I get no sleep and yet somehow I’ve remained immune to most diseases. I doubt myself all the time and yet somehow I’ve been able to help my students find confidence in God’s Will for them.

As we came home from the theater my children fought with each other, almost coming to blows over some silly squabble. Calmly and with the gentlest tone I diffused the tension. I saw them off to bed, poured myself a gin and tonic, stepped out onto my porch and lit a Marlboro. I listened to the sounds of my kids coughing themselves to sleep. I yawned. And I thought of how wonderful God is and how wonderfully He made me…

…a cross between Princess Margaret, Fred Rogers, and a raccoon.

Of Flight Delays and Gin and Canadian Politics

Here I am again.

By here I mean a terminal at DFW Airport.

By “I” I mean me, the author of this blog. A husband, a dad.

By again I mean this seems to be a regular occurrence.

You see, it is because of the “husband” and “dad” part of that equation that I write this evening. This weekend is my wife’s 20th reunion from college. Man, we’re getting old. And although I began my college life at the same prestigious school I only lasted one semester before many other things called me elsewhere. My wife still envisions me as a member of her class. “Our reunion is coming up,” she’s said to me. “You remember so-and-so from our class,” she’s asked. In a way I’m touched to know that she was thinking of me at all those many years ago that one semester I was in the same location. And the truth is that I do remember those people – if not from the depths of my brain then at least from the stories she’s regaled me with. But I am nothing if not a man who tries to be a dutiful husband and so I am heading to that reunion.

But I’m also torn. I’m sad because I have to leave the kids for the weekend. We’ve been having so much fun lately – more than usual. My son is rapidly becoming a man before my eyes. My daughter and I get to spend so many precious moments together during the day. That happens when you’re the vice principal of her school. And I love it and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world EVER. But I hate leaving them. I’m jealous. I worry that something will happen even though I know it won’t. They’re with Granny and they’re fine. But I still miss them.

And guess what? I also miss my wife. That goes without saying. You see, she’s already on the East Coast for business so I’m the one who’s joining her. And by joining I mean I’m flying on a flight that is already delayed, has changed gates to a different terminal, won’t land until 2AM (and an hour away from my destination at that)… Do you see my dilemma?

I love the three of them and I’m torn. I want to see my wife even though I’m sure she’ll be quite busy this weekend as one of the organizers of that reunion. I want to be with my children even though they’re totally fine and I spend more time with them than most dads I’ve ever known are blessed to spend with their kids. What on earth to do?!

This is how we fly.

Fortunately I’ve found a happy medium. I’m sitting in an airport bar. This one – the Fridays Express across from my gate – is practically empty tonight. OK, that’s depressing. But, my waiter is super chill. They have gin. And I have a hotspot so I’m reading articles about the Canadian PM election.

My advice to all the widower and single dads out there? Pick a drink and follow Justin Trudeau. Boy is he fascinating… You may just learn about world events.

Or you may just find the thing to distract you from whatever tears you apart.

Oh well… At least the weather where I’m going is supposed to be nice. And it’s only for two days. That ought to be long enough for the kids to miss me sufficiently.

And here’s where I end with a big LOL. I love my life and I know I’ll be fine despite my crazy neuroses and fears.