Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Roller Derby: Missoula, MT

I am not sure why this always happens to me.  I think I am a nice person.  But apparently the people I know generally consider me an aggressive amazon bully.  Last summer, while attending the Logger Days Lumberjack/jill events in Darby, MT, my friend asked me if I was going to sign up to participate next year.  Even though to her knowledge I had never operated a chain saw or swung an ax in my life.  She clearly had no problem imagining I could do those things based on nothing other than her general knowledge of me.  And now, Roller Derby.  I posted a picture on Facebook the day we went and my MOTHER commented, "When will you be on a team" followed by my cousin posting, "I could see you out there". 

I have mixed feelings about all of this and I told David that I am not sure can or should take these comments as a compliment.  He says I totally should.  I can't judge by him though because every woman in his 5 (from the Friends episode) either beat up or violently killed someone in a movie.  He says he wouldn't want me to be a "girly girl".  But having people think you are going to beat them down in the parking lot just for looking in your direction only comes in handy when you are traveling to strange places alone at night.  Which I do a lot so...

I had never been to a roller derby match before and didn't watch it on TV as a kid like both David and our friend Steven said they had done.  So this means I have basically no expectation for the match but as it turns out, I did have some ideas and had stereotyped the players before we even got there.  The ladies were smaller than I expected (there were exceptions but as a group).  And I mean both shorter and lighter.  I would guess that only one woman on the home team and none of the women on the visiting team were as tall as me, though granted, I am tall for a woman at 5'10".  I think every one of  them weighed less than me.  They appear, from the distance I am at, to be generally younger than I thought they would be.  And there were fewer tattoos and wild hair and piercings and outfits than I expected.  And before you do it, David already called me out on my judgy behavior. 

The match hasn't even begun, they are still warming up, when the first injury occurs.
 
It is bad enough to warrant getting out the stretcher.  It isn't bad enough for them to transport her to the hospital in the ambulance parked behind us.  Someone came and picked her up.  I am not sure why the ambulance is from a volunteer fire department of another town rather than one from the City of Missoula or one of the two local hospitals.
 
We were given a program with the ladies derby names and we get a kick out of reading them and talking about the ones we like the best.  Like Knuckle Slambitch.  At one point during the match they called over the intercom for "Fireman Joe" and when he didn't respond after a few minutes they tried again, this time paging "Mr. Slambitch".  David makes it clear he will root for the home team (Hellgate Rollergirls) while Steven decides on the time-honored method of rooting for the team with the best looking girls.  Seems reasonable.
 
I am not sure if his "better looking" method will work.  One of my preconceived notions is completely not true.  This is no T&A show.  The girls all wear yoga or spandex type pants and a basic tank top.  Nothing revealing at all.  The girl with the red arrow (which I added people, it isn't magically following her around) is a "jammer" and she is the only one on the team that can score points (as I understood it).  There is one jammer on each team, you can tell who they are by the star on their helmet.  The "lead jammer" is the only one who can "call it" and end a "jam".
 
After the first several "jams" David and I are still completely confused about the rules.  The score is something like 11-4 and we have no idea how that happened.  The rules are outlined in the program but we didn't find that to be all that helpful.  There are young ladies running around with signs that say "ask a rollergirl" and you can ask them questions about the rules or anything you don't understand.  We eavesdrop when other people near us ask and between that and trying to watch one thing at a time, I start to get the idea. 
 
There is no way to follow all of the action, there is too much going on.  There is so much to watch that there are a LOT of referees (who also have derby names, my favorite was Jeferee).  There is one referee for each jammer and a bunch of others that watch the other players for penalties and things like going out of bounds.  I try, most of the time, to focus on the jammer for Hellgate. 
 
The penalty box - sponsored by Planned Parenthood.  Every time someone is sent there they bring this up..."Pipsqueak is going to the Planned Parenthood penalty box for a forearm foul".  Anyone can go to the penalty box - jammers and blockers alike.  Those people in the gray shirts behind the penalty box are other "officials" though I am not sure what most of them do.
 
This official takes her job very seriously.  She is very precise with her movements and she appears to be the timekeeper.  She starts each jam and notifies everyone when there is a timeout (as she is doing here).  If she ever needs another job, I think she would be an outstanding aircraft marshal.  Not the ones with the guns on the plane, the one with the batons that directs the pilot when he parks the plane at the gate.
 
Each match has 2 halves with a 20 minute halftime.  At halftime we are entertained by a group doing bicycle polo.  The best player out there was a girl wearing shorts and cowboy boots.  All-in-all we found this to be boring and simply proof that if you put a bunch of college kids together, they will find something to do.  This group practices in a parking garage at the University of Montana a couple of times a week.  All are welcome.
 
A little jam action for you.
 
This event takes place in an open-air covered building on the fairgrounds.  The seats, other than the VIP couch to the left there, are wooden bleachers.  By the time the match started, the bleachers are filled and it is standing room only. 
 
The home team won in an exciting down-to-the-last-second move.  After the match the spectators line the rink to congratulate both teams as they skate around and high-five everyone.
 
Despite the uncomfortable seats, David and I will probably go back.  The season is short with only 4 home games, 2 away games and 3 tournaments (none local).  Tickets were $10 at the door and we enjoyed a nice dinner before so, a good date night all around.

Years ago when I worked at a bank one of the gentlemen that worked there was truly afraid of me.  He would return to his cubicle if he saw me approaching.  I never said so much as boo to this man.  When I asked my friend about it he said, "it's probably because your walk is intimidating".  When this man broke his nose at softball practice I was there but I was behind the backstop waiting to bat and he was in center field.  That didn't stop my boss from asking him if it was me that broke his nose.

They say you should embrace who you are but is who you are dictated by what other people see you as?  I spent a lot of time at the skating rink as a kid and always liked it.  Maybe it is time to embrace the inner bruiser everyone else sees in me.  I wonder when Rollergirl tryouts are?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Escape Game: Nashville, TN

Every year the company I work for hosts a conference.  This year, we went to Nashville.  Conference ends at lunch on Friday and the last few years some of my coworkers and I have taken to staying over to do something fun and then heading home on Saturday.  Maybe because of this blog, or maybe because I am a bossy control freak, the task of finding something fun to do usually falls to me.  But the problem is that not everyone in our little group defines "fun" the same way that I do.

While researching options, I knew I didn't really want to do the Grand Ole Opry because I already had tickets for Saturday night as I am staying even longer than the others to spend time with my cousin.  And as usual, some things aren't open at night.  Nashville seemed to be a one-trick pony (and having gone there I still feel that way), it is all about the music and bars. 

On TripAdvisor I found something called The Escape Game that sounded interesting to me and was ranked as the #3 thing to do in Nashville.  The website says you are locked in a room for 60 minutes and use cyphers, codes and clues to find a way to escape.  I am always on the lookout for something different to do and this seemed to fit the bill.  I copied their website link and sent it to my 3 coworker ladies that would be staying over with me.

The first reply I get is "Will it be dark?"  I am not sure whether this person has looked at the website or not but it doesn't appear from anything on there that this will be the case.  You have to solve clues and I am not sure how that will happen in the dark.  Nevertheless I go back to the site and look at the FAQ which has nothing about being in the dark.  I try to call them and get an answering machine.  I reply back that I don't think so and get the response, "I will have a panic attack".  Duly noted.

The next day one of the other ladies responds with "Is it scary?"  Holy cow.  I should have seen this coming.  This isn't the first time that a plan I am trying to hatch up has been met with resistance.  The trapeze class.  Indoor skydiving.  The truth is that only one of the people other than me in our group of 4-6 (depending on everyone's availability) is up for anything.

So I send the group an email.  I want to resign as Cruise Director.  I am not upset about the Escape Game or anything else but I am spending time researching and making suggestions only to run into the same problems over and over.  These other ladies should be making the suggestions I say.  My resignation is not accepted.  While this is going on, I sent my cousin the same original email about The Escape Game and she was immediately on board so I am going either way.  I tell the group this and send them alternative, and more sedate, options.  It isn't easy to get 4 people to make one decision given 5 new choices.

The Escape Game building is in a residential neighborhood and right next to a salon.  Not really what I expected.

So, having made other arrangements with the other ladies, my cousin Dawn and I head over to The Escape Game on Monday morning.  I was halfway expecting it to be just us in the room as it is 9:45 am on a work day.  When you register they tell you that unless you pay for the whole room (which varies depending on the room you do), they may put you with other people.  We have mixed feelings about this.  What if the other people don't work with us?  What if they dominate the game and we are left out?  I am really hoping it is just us but that isn't what happened.  And it is a good thing it didn't.  I think 2 people would be hard pressed to escape unless they had done this before, failed, and were trying again.

For some reason, I thought this place was relatively new.  However, based on the large number of pins on the map, that appears to be a false assumption.  There was another map that had pins for different countries.  Montana was poorly represented so I added my pin.  Dawn is from the Pensacola area and there wasn't room for more pins there.  The room to the right is the entrance to The Heist room.  There are 4 different rooms you can play.


Dawn and I are signed up for the Nashville Room which, according to the website is recommended for 2-7 people.  We are paired up with 3 men - John, John and Bill.  They explain they are brothers and a dad which truthfully didn't need explaining.  After we introduce ourselves, our "guide", Evan, has us watch a video explaining the rules.  You cannot take any photos in the room and you cannot even have your phone out (so no calculator).  A basket is provided for our purses, phones, keys.  It stays in the room but they have cameras watching us so they can see us all of the time.  They say this is to help them when they give us "clues".  The TV monitor will show the clue and a tone will tell us one is coming so we know to look. 

I don't want to give too much away in case anyone ever does this or something like it.  Basically you are in the room and you and your partners have to find clues and work on cyphers to unlock other clues, locks, etc.  For example, in one case one of us had to look at a computer monitor in one room while another person reached their hand in to a tall speaker to unlock a combination lock in the next room.  We didn't have a combination at the time but suddenly while I was wearing the special glasses and looking at the computer watching Dawn mess with the lock, I knew what the combination was and she unlocked it.  That gave us a key that went to something else.  And so on. 

Some others, including one of my coworkers that stayed over, went to do this on the Friday before and she said you need more people and now I understand. There is a LOT to do.  Fortunately, the brothers were content to let us work on things alone and we did the same for them and we made for a good team.  The only time it was a problem was when we had to do a math equation.  I had the marker and was trying to work on it on this big board but the brothers were standing behind me trying to do it in their heads.  But they didn't do it silently and I couldn't focus with them saying numbers standing right behind me.  I missed the calculation by 1, which made a difference.

We didn't escape.  Time was ticking down and we had less than 1 minute and we still needed 2 numbers to open the keypad. 

Dawn, me, Bill or John, John or Bill, John the dad with our "I Almost Escaped" stickers.
 
Dawn and I had so much fun with this we considered going back the next day to try another room.  Ultimately we didn't.  In my mind the experience we had the first time would have been hard to top.  Even if we had successfully escaped I don't think it would have been more fun.  We could have bought the "I Escaped" t-shirt but I have plenty of t-shirts.  We were lucky to get paired with the people we did and we might not get that lucky again.  Or we might not get paired at all and I am not sure we could have made it as far on our own.  All in all I would do this again in another city, maybe with a group of people that I know.  This wasn't scary and we were never in the dark (one of the rooms used black lighting but it wasn't dark and was open to the fully lit room next door).
 
My boss was telling me that they have something like this in Dallas only in that game they put a zombie in the room with you.  Maybe I should try to talk my coworker group into it for our next visit to Dallas.  I might have to leave out the zombie part.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The People Watcher's Public Toilet: Sulphur Springs, TX

I have issues.  Bathroom issues.  I have been married 27 years and I get irritated if David is in the bedroom when I am in the bathroom.  And it doesn't matter what I am doing in there.  I could be curling my hair or brushing my teeth and I would still be annoyed.  I need privacy.  I not only close the door but I also lock it even when no one is home. 

But earlier this year I jumped off of a trapeze platform, something I was sure I would be afraid to do so in the continuing spirit of conquering fears, I decide to check out the unique public bathroom in the town square in Sulphur Springs, Texas.

Sulphur Springs a small town (population about 15k as of the last census) east of Dallas but it is far enough out that I wouldn't call it a suburb.  I started out the day in Plano (north of Dallas) and drove to Whitehouse where I spent the day.  On the way back to the Dallas area, I decide it isn't terribly out of the way to run by Sulphur Springs.

It isn't exactly on the way either.  But this side trip will take me down lots of back roads and I will never be required to drive on 635/LBJ which I am very happy about.  Even when I lived here I hated driving on LBJ.  It is perpetually under construction and people drive like maniacs.  I thought I would have a nervous breakdown on the way out of town this morning.  So, for me, Sulphur Springs is decidedly on the way.
 
There isn't a lot to see driving between Whitehouse and Sulphur Springs.  It is a lot like driving the back roads of Montana near where I live only it is flatter with less snow and more rebel flags.  I did pass through Lindale, the hometown of Miranda Lambert, a fact you will know they are quite proud of when you get there.  I am always on the lookout for a photo op but this route is woefully lacking.
 
I did stop to take a picture of this shining example of country ingenuity.  I bet these mailboxes don't succumb to high winds.  Or teenagers with baseball bats.
 
I am not 100% sure where the bathroom is so I have my GPS take me downtown.  Sulphur Springs is the county seat for Hopkins County.
 
There is a typical town square for this part of Texas (reminds me of Waxahachie or McKinney) with the courthouse in the center surrounded by antique shops and restaurants.  There are veterans monuments placed around the courthouse square and it is very clean and well maintained.
 
There are several places on the square to stop and have lunch or a game of chess.
 
 
Including two large chess boards on the ground.  I am slightly surprised that no one has run off with any of these large chess pieces.  While I am considering the next move, I realize I have found the bathroom.
 
That mirrored box is it.  There are actually two of them, the other one is identical and just across the square.
 
You cannot see inside from out here but I didn't consider whether someone was INSIDE watching me before I started taking pictures.  Luckily, no one was. 
 
This is the same chess set from INSIDE the bathroom.  You can see very clearly in all directions.  All the way to the courthouse steps even.
 
It is clean but industrial inside.
 
There is information on the web that says there are police monitored cameras in the square to make sure no one does anything to deface the restrooms or to do something to see inside like shine lasers or other kinds of penetrating lights.  I assume to document stolen chess pieces too. 
 
I stand around inside trying to decide.  Do I?
 
 
But then I notice this.  That is a seam between the glass door and the panel that holds it.  It has some weather stripping but still.  Someone could see through that.  It makes no difference that from both inside and outside of the bathroom I can see that there is no other person on foot in the entire square.
 
Of course that only occurs to me later - when I am well down the road - that if someone had been trying to sneak a peek I would have seen them coming well before their eyeball was trained on me through this tiny crack. 
 
I go back to my car and text David and send him pictures of the inside and outside.  "I don't think I could go in there" he replies.  I respond, "I went in there but I didn't GO in there."  No fears were conquered in Sulphur Springs.
 
Time to move along as I am due at a play in Richardson - about an hour and half away - and I have just enough time to get there.  About 30 minutes down the road I am wishing I had been a big girl and gone to the bathroom when I had a chance. 
 
Driving the Texas back roads isn't always easy for someone with bathroom issues who has had 3 people use her bladder for a waterbed for 9 months apiece.  How much further is it to Richardson?




Sunday, January 4, 2015

Redneck Life: Near Missoula, MT

My husband is a redneck.  I'm not the only one who has noticed.  At his previous job it came up numerous times.  You can't go around saying things like "butter my butt and call me a biscuit" and not expect people think something is off.  There was an article on ABC News talking about the top 10 most redneck cities and how they decided the winner.  The winner was Atlanta and it had to do with things like riding lawn mower repair shops, taxidermists, gun & ammo stores and number of WalMart locations.  I've been to Atlanta and I'm not sure how they won.  I really don't know how Dallas-Fort Worth missed the top mark.  Or anyplace in Montana.  We have a taxidermist right next to the Subway restaurant in our town.

David has and does a lot of things that qualify him.  He has guns & ammo.  He likes WalMart.  He loves NASCAR (non-athletic sport centered around rednecks).  He hung a flag in the first window you see when you drive up to our house of a motorcycle.  He formerly dipped snuff.  We have a riding mower.  I am pretty sure I didn't see him dressed in anything other than boots, jeans, a western shirt and a cowboy hat until we had been dating for more than a year.  He had a really old beat up green Ford pickup he drove (and loved) when we first met.  He is proud of the story he tells where he broke off the knob on the radio after setting all of the presets to his favorite country station because he didn't want the girls he dated to change it.  Once, we were driving away from my parent's home when the alternator fell out of truck and started dragging the ground.  Bailing wire and duct tape gave out.

So when I was in a Pennsylvania toy store shopping for my granddaughter and saw the game Redneck Life there on the shelf, I knew we had to have it.

I'm not making this up.  It is a real game.  And yes, I am wearing a flannel shirt.
 
We have played this a handful of times over the years and one of our friends here asked if we could get together for round two with them.  They are considering giving it as a gift and wanted to remember how it works.  We arrange a party of 7 players, one more than the game technically allows. 
 
Because the max players the game has pieces for is 6, we had to improvise pieces.  The ladies played with the normal game pieces, the guys used various bullets.
 
The day before the party, I emailed David and asked if there was anything in particular he wanted me to fix for the party.  (That's to make or to cook for all you non-rednecks and non-Texans.)  He requested "something redneck like those bacon wrapped cocktail weenies".  They are baked in brown sugar and were a big hit when I made them once before.  This seals the whole party theme as redneck, not just the game, so for additional ideas I consult Pinterest and my daughter Amanda. 
 
Amanda is a certified party planner and I am assuming they covered themed parties, maybe even this one.  She suggests I make moonshine.  I had no idea people still did that but recipes were easy to locate on Pinterest.  You can also enter "redneck food" on that app and it will come up with lots of pins.  I consult my friend and colleague Marci, who has been to a redneck party before.  I ask what is the most redneck food she can think of and she answers "roadkill".  I am suddenly glad Marci lives in Iowa and isn't coming to my party.  As her second suggestion she says "pork rinds" which David loves so that will go on the grocery list.  I am not sure why I didn't think of that myself other than that I was trying to block out some a unpleasant memories.  First, David really likes the hot & spicy pork rinds and once he ate a whole bag while drinking beer right before bed.  About 6 hours later when I was dreaming peaceful dreams, he burped about an inch from my nose.  I almost vomited in the bed.  Second, after my grandpa died we were clearing out some things in his home when I found his old lunchbox.  It was the old fashioned kind and I decided to keep it.  I opened it to find a bunch of photos my dad identified as a "hog boiling". 
 
This is one of the less awful photos but it is pretty awful.  I don't know who that guy is.  I think he must be one of my dad's step-brothers or someone else related to my grandpa's second wife.  I actually witnessed this scene firsthand once in my grandpa's kitchen sink.  If my younger brother sees this he may need therapy.  I'm not sure he has gotten over the first encounter yet.
 
Grocery list in hand, I head off to - where else - WalMart.  I am standing in the spice aisle trying to locate cinnamon sticks which I cannot see anywhere.  I am standing next to a woman who is having obvious problems finding what she needs too based on the gesture she makes at the spices.  Not that gesture, she shrugs her shoulders in exasperation.  I say, "I know exactly how you feel."  She asks what I am looking for and it turns out she is also trying to find cinnamon sticks.  We finally locate them on the very top shelf and I reach down several containers for us.  She turns to me and says, "You wouldn't happen to know where the apple cider is would you?"  I said, "Are you making moonshine?"  Of course, she is.  She also wants to know where I got my Everclear.
 
I have to confess, the recipe didn't call for Everclear.  It said something like "180 proof grain alcohol".  I am a teetotaler and have no idea what that means.  My friend Tim is an ex-bartender and he tells me it is Everclear.  The lady at the liquor store has to help me find it.  When she asks what I need it for and I tell her - and that I also need vodka - she says to go cheap on the grain alcohol and spend more on the vodka.  Those red areas on the label are all about the high flammability of this product.  I am really glad I don't drink because I am pretty sure I don't want to drink something that has the same label warnings as paint thinner.
 
Back at home I turn on Pandora to the Outlaw Country station and cook moonshine and Spam and dump cake while listening to Waylon and Willie and David Allan Coe and CDB.  If you don't know who CDB is then you probably aren't a redneck (or married to one).
 




The game Redneck Life is pretty similar to the regular game Life with a few twists.  You still get a job and collect paydays and get married and have kids.  But you might have the kids before you get married.  And you will get divorced and remarried (at which point you must decide whether you will sleep with your divorce attorney - a decision which may have negative consequences later but saves you $50 at the time).  You have to ensure that your "rig" (car) or collective rigs have enough space to hold all of your young 'ens.  If at any time your young 'ens exceed the capacity of said rigs, you must buy another immediately. 
 
These are cards from our game of my favorite house (on the left) and my favorite rig.  I like the RV because it holds 15 young 'ens, which is usually (but not always) enough AND, if your house is destroyed in a tornado or explosion as mine was, you can live in it.
 
In this version of the game you roll the dice to see how many years of school you finished and that dictates your occupation.  Unfortunately, I manage to be fairly consistent every time we play with a roll of 5 which makes me the Ciggy Shack Attendant.  The problem with this is that if the Ciggy Shack is destroyed, which has happened to me twice now, you do not collect any more paydays throughout the game.  It doesn't matter if it happens at the beginning or the end, you are just screwed.  I think I missed about 5 paydays this time around.  This is made worse by the fact that you aren't issued any money to begin the game.  When you buy that rig or that home, as you are required to do, you are issued Check 'n Scrams which is sort of like a payday loan.  These come in $100 increments and we have run out so many times that we had to write in $500 on some.
 
The object of the game is to end with the most teeth.  You lose teeth in various ways, opening beer bottles, flossing, having bar brawls, coming home at the "wrong 5 o'clock" and so on.  At the "Day of Reckonin'n" which is the end of the game for you, you can buy back teeth for $100 if you have money or you lose one tooth for each $100 you are in debt.
 
I lost half of my 28 teeth during the game.  The rest, with the line through them, were lost at the end due to debt and I actually needed 10 more to cover all of my debt.  If you are noticing that my young 'ens have the same name a lot of the time, that isn't my doing.  All of your stepkids, which you will absolutely have, are named Daryl.  All other kids are either named when they are issued or you roll the dice for their name.  You lose $10 of your payday for each kid which, after my Daryl's didn't matter since the Ciggy Shack was "blowed up" and I was unemployed.  It is possible to lose your kids in various ways throughout the game (giving them to relatives, other players, leaving them at the Grand Canyon) but this hurts a little at the end when you get $25 per young 'en.  When we played this game with our son, he had so many kids he had to write the rest on the back of the score sheet.
 
Our winner was Kim, who incidentally had a TON of young 'ens, and we had the perfect prize waiting for her:
 
A regifted 70's jumpsuit blinged out Elvis nutcracker.  We have had this forever and I can't even remember now where it came from or who gave it to David.  And don't get me wrong, I love Elvis, even saw him in concert with my parents when I was a little girl.  Kim seemed happy with her prize.  We invited her to bring it back next year to pass along to the next winner.  This may have to be an annual event.  Like a NASCAR race.
 
Our guests are sent home with a large mason jar full of Apple Pie Moonshine and an tin filled with "redneck turtle candy" (pretzels with melted Rolo candy and a pecan half on top).  I think the party was a success.  One of our guests even inquired about the possibility of refills on his moonshine.
 
I like to think that David is the redneck and I am not.  But after the party while cleaning up I had to put away my birthday present he had given me earlier that day, something I had actively lobbied for.
 
My new tomahawk will perfectly balance the hunter's belt I wear when we are hiking.  I have a machete I wear on the other side.
 
And then I went in David's bathroom to get changed for bed.  No Victoria's Secret here.  David is just as happy to see me slopping around in a men's flannel nightshirt.
 
I forgot I hung up the washing earlier. 
 
So maybe I am a little bit redneck. You can't be married to someone for 25+ years and not have something rub off.
 
But I will always be the redneck that served the Slim Jim's in a china gravy boat. 
 
And that, my friends, makes me a redneck in a class all by myself.






Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Outer-Memphis Cheese Club: Frisco, TX

I'm not sure how I survived.  The inaugural meeting of the Outer-Memphis Cheese Club reminds me that I am lucky to have made it out the other side in one piece.

On a previous trip to the Dallas area, my friend and colleague Carla invited me to her house for dinner.  Sitting at the table with her youngest, Tori, the three of us make small talk while Carla works on dinner.  Carla places a bowl of shredded cheese on the table near me and when she isn't looking, I take a pinch and put it in my mouth.  Tori was looking.  So a few minutes later, she does the same thing and - busted - mom catches her.  When Carla tells Tori to stop, I explain it is my fault, I did it first but that I just love cheese so much I couldn't help it.

"I love cheese too", Tori says, "I am in a cheese club."  I ask if I can join.  She says no.  Then she begins to explain the complex reasons beginning with, "You have to go to Memphis".  What?  Why Memphis?  No satisfactory answer is forthcoming.  I continue to plead my case as Carla's oldest, Charlotte, comes in and wants to know what we are talking about.  When I tell her, she says she also wants to be in a cheese club so that seals it, Charlotte and I decide to form our own club right then.  Tori isn't happy with us and now wants to be in our club.  I tell her that I will get with the other members (currently just Charlotte) and we will vote on it and let her know.  When the middle of Carla's three girls, Caroline, comes home, we let her in the club.  Tori is never given a decision  regarding her pending membership on that trip.

But now, I am coming back and Carla and I have decided to surprise the girls with a cheese club meeting and I have the perfect name: The Outer-Memphis Cheese Club.  My customer's office is right next to a specialty grocery store so on the way out of town, I stop and pick up supplies:  7 types of cheese (Smoked Gouda, Edam, Dublinger, Manchego, Kickapoo Blue, Camembert and Lemon Goat); 3 jams (Fig, Pricky Pear and Super Fruit); 2 kinds of crackers; honey; butter cookies; and most important, an assortment of chocolate truffles.  Carla has agreed to supply the venue and the beverages.

When I arrive Carla and I set about making a nice layout.  She has nice dishes and platters out and even champagne glasses for the girls for the sparkling grape juice (which 2 of the girls happily don't like, leaving most of the bottle for me). 

Someone is very interested in testing the truffles and I almost caught them in the act.  Ironically, Carla also picked up chocolates.  Great minds.  It is an impressive spread.  There are also meatballs, two kinds of smoked sausage and Hawaiian rolls.
 
While waiting on Tony, Carla's husband and our only male member, to get home we decide to come up with some club rules.  And because Caroline immediately sits down next to me and starts to write them down, she is voted in as our club secretary.
 
  1. You can refuse to try 2 items per meeting.
  2. There must be chocolate at all cheese club meetings.
  3. All meetings must have a minimum of 4 cheeses.
  4. There will be at least one new cheese at each meeting.
  5. If you are late to the meeting, you forfeit your chocolates.
  6. You are not allowed to cut the cheese during the cheese meeting.
Carla made us some sheets where we could rate each item.  We would also go around the table and read our comments out loud.  The plan was to try each cheese at the same time but some of the members were very impatient and/or invoked their "no try" clauses.  Here is Caroline's rate sheet.
 
As the comments are read by the girls, they read it all.  So for example, when Caroline reads her comments for Kickapoo Blue we hear:  Makes me want to barf exclamation point frowny face broken heart exclamation point frowny face broken heart.  When we get to the next one, Camembert, that practice has to be discontinued.
 
Struggles - like this one over the comments being read - begin to break out.  The girls generally want us to go faster and not worry about telling our comments.  Tony is very detailed in his comments (all of the comment sheets are at the end of this post) and some of the girls grow agitated and impatient...there are chocolates waiting.  They complain, they yell at each other.  One of the girls reveals herself to be something of a "scorekeeper", taking me back to my own days as the mother of 3 young children.  My daughter would count the donuts in the Mrs. Baird's bag of powdered sugar donuts and inform the rest of us how many we were allowed to have.  Never mind that I purchased said donuts.  There are issues with the seating arrangements at one point because two of the girls can't sit by each other.  David and I regularly heard, "Blake's looking at me".  You try not to freak out after the 35th time and scream, "IF YOU WEREN'T LOOKING AT HIM YOU WOULDN'T KNOW HE WAS LOOKING AT YOU". 
 
So when I say I'm not sure how I survived, I don't mean the cheese club meeting.  I mean my own days as a full-time parent.  Being at Carla's always reminds me of how hard it could be at times to have three so close together.  There was an article (click here to see I am not making this up) on Today's website I read that says 3 is the most stressful number of kids to have.  The number both Carla and I have.
 
Me and my kids at Six Flags.  They are roughly the ages in this photo that Carla's kids are today.  The big difference is me.  Carla is two years younger than me and this photo was taken more than 15 years ago.  My kids are 23, 24 & 26 now.  I have three grandkids.  One of those grandkids is only a year younger than Tori, Carla's youngest child.
 
Don't get me wrong, Carla & Tony are great parents and they have great kids.  But being a part of the noise and chaos that inevitably go along with family life reminds me of how hard it can be some days.  And I don't envy them.  I can't help thinking "Thank God my kids are grown".  At my house it is clean, no school books and backpacks laying around.  It is quiet.  When I am at home working during the day, David is at work and the only noise at my house is the dull hum of the electronics or the heating/air conditioning, or if I choose, the radio in my office.  Every now and then, the dog barks. 
 
So I watch Carla and Tony and I know what they are going through and I know where they are headed.  They have some fun and wonderful and hard years ahead.  The teenage years.  Middle School (the worst in our book) and High School.  And I hope that someday, like us, they enjoy their empty nest days.  Some people think I am mean or cold when I say that I don't miss the days of my kids living at home.  I love my kids.  I did it all back then while also working full time:  coached softball, attended PTA (even ran the clothes closet for a while), took them to church and sports practices and games and dance recitals and choir concerts.  Parent-teacher meetings.  Chicken Pox. Head Lice. Birthday Parties, and trick-or-treating, Valentine's boxes, playing Santa.  They have their own lives to lead now and I so do I.  I had my first child when I was barely 19 and all three before I turned 23.  I don't think it is wrong to want this part of my life to be for me.  I think I earned it.
 
After the meeting I had the great idea for us to play Apples to Apples but unfortunately, things continued to deteriorate.  People's feelings get hurt when their answer doesn't win.  Some of us are hyped up on chocolate and sparkling grape juice.  Someone is hungry.  Finally, after the second game (which we played with sped up rules), the girls are sent upstairs to bed.  We are all participating in a 5k in the morning so they need to get some rest, wink, wink.  I go to the guest room and close the door.  Once the noise upstairs dies down, I hear Carla come downstairs and she approaches my door and stops.  Listening for sound I assume.  I don't make any. 
 
If she had heard me up, she might have felt obligated to entertain me further but I need to be alone in the quiet of this room now.  And I consider this a gift to her as well.  While the kids are quiet and she has the opportunity, I hope she goes and enjoys a moment with Tony, or a long, hot bath or a chapter of a book.  Whatever makes her happy.  Because tomorrow, there will be one that doesn't want to go to the run at all, people will have tummy troubles and other assorted ailments, Tori will get her finger smashed in a recycle bin by Caroline - allegedly at least - and there will be crying and accusations. 
 
But there will also be breakfast with warm syrup and laughing after hugs and high-fives at the finish line.
 
I think Carla summed up our first meeting perfectly: "Eating cheese can be a really messy business".  But she and I both know she isn't just talking about cheese.
 
Me and the junior members of the club:  Caroline (bottom left), Charlotte (top left) and Tori (right).
 
Rate sheets for the rest of the club, if you are interested:
 
Carla, the club treasurer
 
Tony was so detailed in his responses that when he wasn't in the room, 3 of the 4 remaining members voted for him to be our club president.  Tori was NOT happy.  She wanted to be president.  We pointed to her rate sheet as the reason she couldn't be...
 
We eventually made her sergeant at arms and I try to convince her it lets her boss people around.
 
Vice President Charlotte
 
Me - Historian, of course


 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Harber Wildlife Museum: Sherman, TX

On a recent business trip, I walked into a bank in Sherman, Texas and was not prepared for what I was about to be confronted by.

An Elk head.  And he isn't hung very high, I am 5'10" and you can see how close he is to me.  And he isn't alone.
 
There are other Elk and some other animal head and a whole animal too.  As I run the gauntlet of dead animals, I make my way to the lobby of the bank, stupidly unprepared for what awaits there.
 
A lion guarding the Christmas Tree.  There are several other full size taxidermy animals in the lobby.
 
That cheetah over on the far wall seems pretty chill about this situation.  I on the other hand am a little freaked out.
 
The male half of the owners of this collection is the President (or CEO? whatever) of this bank.  His and his wife's sizable gun collection are in a case in the lobby.  I suppose that nothing says "I will keep your money safe" like my large collection of guns and the creatures I have taken down with them watching you as you transact your business.
 
I really want to ask if this branch has ever been robbed but I hear David's disapproving voice in my head.  This might be like asking a TSA agent at the airport if they have ever seen a bomb when they are checking out your boarding pass.  Once, when I was sitting next to the door on the over-wing exit row, I asked David (a licensed airplane mechanic) what would happen if I tried to open the door.  He looked at me with a mixture of horror and annoyance.  I think he was regretting his decision to take the aisle seat at that moment.  We were cruising along at like 37,000 feet so maybe that was part of his concern.  Maybe the fact that I had recently asked what he thought this bored policeman who was directing traffic would do if I tried to grab his gun when we walked by made some difference in his reaction.  But really, I am just curious.  But maybe I should keep my curiosity to myself so instead I mention to an employee that I have never seen anything quite like this and they proceed to tell me about the museum down the street that contains the animals that wouldn't fit in these peoples homes (plural) or the bank. 
 
Harber Wildlife Museum is indeed not far down the street.  It was voted the "Best Museum in Texoma" in 2012, 2013 & 2014.  For those of you that don't know, Texoma refers to a general region where Texas and Oklahoma touch. Sherman is about an hour from the border.  None of the Texoma region contains any really big cities so I am not thinking the competition was very stiff.  They are only open for 2 hours on Friday, the day I am here and on weekends.  Admission is a "$5 donation" for anyone over 12 but I assume you can't just walk around if you decide you don't want to donate.
 
They are not overrun with visitors according to the log.  Several people from Oklahoma visited on the 22nd of November, AFTER a couple of Texans on the 29th.  I can hear David now saying something about Oklahomans not being able to tell time or something like that.  One of David's many jokes:  Why doesn't Texas fall into the Gulf of Mexico?  Because Oklahoma sucks. 
 
I am there right at 3 pm when they open and there is one other car in the parking lot I am going to assume belongs to the employee.  When he opens the door for me a few minutes after 3, he seems a little surprised to see me.  "Got anything for me?" he says.  I tell him I have $5 I will give him.  He backs up so I can enter and says, "Okay, but let me turn on the sounds first."
 
As you walk through the museum there are animal sounds coming out of the speakers in the ceiling.  The lady at the bank told me this is an old Furr's Cafeteria.  There are multiple rooms to the museum.
 
The largest, and the one you enter first, is Africa.
 
It is hard not to begin by looking at the giraffe with his tongue out.
 
There are signs asking you not to touch the animals (or the "snow" - their quotes, not mine) but you can walk right up to them (lots of signs that you are being recorded and watched are all around the museum).  This is probably the closest I will ever get to the ass end of a giraffe.  At least I hope that is the case.
 
The room is square and there is an aisle all the way around with displays in the middle and along the walls.  A large variety of animals are in posed in groups.
 
This lion is being attacked.
 
This one is attacking.  All of them are posed in what I assume is supposed to be a realistic looking diorama but I find it a little sad and cheesy personally.  Someone at the bank said the local college painted all of the backgrounds.
 
The realism loses something from that drop ceiling and poorly done fake foliage.
 
The signs along the railing give information about the animal.  A lady at the bank said that the couple donate all of the meat from the animals they kill to local tribes.
 
This is Guenther's Dik-Dik.  He is smaller than my dog.  Not a lot of meat there.  Some of the animals here make me question that whole statement.
 
Now, since I am an American who has never been outside the country, I don't claim to know much about the food habits of other people of the world but do people really eat baboon?  And the "Fun Fact" for this rare white lion was that the local tribes consider them sacred.  Do they eat sacred animals?
 
Okay hunters, get ready because here it comes.  I have a problem with this.  I am actually a little annoyed with myself for what in my mind is donating $5 for these people to continue doing this.  I am sure my $5 is of little significance to these people who obviously have a lot of money to burn but still.  I think that when hunters say they donate the meat to the local tribe in some effort to minimize the criticism they receive it is just a justification for them to do what they would do anyway.  I am not a hunter and would never be one unless there was a catastrophic event such as nuclear winter that required me to hunt to survive.  When I lived in Texas I didn't think much about animals, wild or otherwise.  I had two dogs.  I saw squirrels in my yard.  Once a dead possum.  Some hawks had loud sex in the tree outside my office window.  I saw dead armadillos on the road and raced one at a company event.  I could go to the zoo to see something more exotic.  But after moving to Montana, I see wild animals I never dreamed I would see in person right outside my door.  Owls.  Eagles.  Deer frequently pass through our yard.  I have seen Elk herds.  The time I saw a moose, I yelled so loud and scared David so bad I think he thought he might have a heart attack.  Normally I am rendered incapable of coherent speech when I see something.  I have gotten better and I don't freak out or lose the capacity for speech as much now but I am still in total awe of the wildlife here.  And I never want to see it mounted on my wall, or anyone else's for that matter.  I want to see them where they belong...in the wild.
 
And before you get all judgy and start sending me ugly comments, I realize I can't change anyone's opinion so you should be prepared to find me unwilling to change or be moved by those comments.  Since moving here - to the wild west filled with more cammo and guns and ammo than I have ever been exposed to - I have mostly given up eating meat.  Yes, I occasionally still do and I eat fish occasionally and egg here and there and yes, I know that makes me something of a hypocrite.  It is a process.  You don't realize how meatcentric our society is until you try to stop eating it.  I had to order off the kids menu twice in the same day once because nothing on the adult menu was vegetarian or could be made that way by omitting something.
 
And lets clear something up.  I am not against all hunting.  I am against hunting as a sport.  I am against killing a living creature to put its dead body on display.
 
Enough of that now, back to the museum.  I almost called it The Chamber of Horrors here but really, why beat a dead horse? 
 
Some of the animals are not whole.  This elephant head is coming out of a stone chimney.  There was also a rhino head in a another room and a full zebra skin tacked to the wall next to the theatre.  And I don't know anything about taxidermy but some of the animals seem off to me.
 
Does he look bored?  Uncomfortable with the position of his neck?  Resigned to his position and fate?  Unhappy to be dead?  I'm not sure.
 
And mini-bambi there seems very unconcerned that he is so near to two predators.  I do find it interesting that a few of the informational signs list "humans" in the Predators/Threats section but many do not even though these animals were clearly killed by humans.  Some list "loss of habitat" as a threat - I think that might be code for "humans".
 
I got close up to this lion face and am a little concerned there might be a little "Night at the Museum" action going on because he seems to have eaten something recently and is in need of a napkin.  Time to check out another room.
 
On the way I see the couple responsible for this museum posing with elephant tusks and their bows, which are also on display.  Of course, she is wearing an animal print blouse.
 
There is also an entire hall dedicated to their annual Christmas Card photo which the note says was "loved" so much by their friends and family after that first one that they kept the tradition.  Each framed and enlarged copy shows them and lists the location, some in the US, several in Africa, a few in other places.  Thankfully they are usually just posing in a campsite and not holding up the head of the animal they just killed like the photos on display at our local Cabela's when you enter the building.
 
There is a section devoted to animals I am familiar with from my current home.  The moose I saw in person was a female (with her calf).  I haven't yet seen a bull moose in person but I really want to.  This doesn't count.
 
This bear seems to want to tell me something.  Probably "get out while you can".
 
There is a room dedicated to artifacts that I assume they collected in their travels.  Some of the pieces were interesting but they were poorly marked, unlike the animals.  If they had 15 Dik-Diks, there was a sign every single time.
 
There is also a theatre (playing Planet Earth) and a room with desks where you can look at books about hunting and animals.  There are also a bunch of books with notes from children who have been here on school trips.  I thought this was a good drawing of the giraffe.  He seems adequately unhappy to be here.  Note that the kid left out the drop ceiling and bad plastic foliage and tried to throw the giraffe a bone by drawing him back outside in the sunshine.  Where he belongs.
 
I learn while I am here that the museum "is Dorothy's" according to the man at the front desk.  This is confirmed by a sign I see later that shows she has "realized a dream" and I also learn there are more animals on display at the local mall (no, I'm not going to verify that).  She also notes that "this is just the beginning".  At the end there is a very small note on wildlife conservation and what you can do to help.  Things like not poaching.  This seems a little insincere after walking through the museum and seeing their handiwork (I'm not accusing them of poaching) and in the placement of the sign at the very end along with its small size.  They also sell t-shirts and encourage you to "buy one for the whole family".  They are $15 and I do not buy one.  I have contributed all I plan to on these people and their endeavors.  Except this post.  I guess this is technically a contribution.
 
Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to take my weapon of choice and go see if there are any deer passing through my backyard that need to be dealt with.
 
My weapon of choice in this case was a Canon Rebel xsi.  I "shot" this buck at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge in Stevensville, MT, near my home.  I love going there but these people need a dictionary.  Hunting is allowed at certain times and in certain areas.  That word, REFUGE.
 
As Inigo Montoya said in The Princess Bride:  "You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means."