Friday, July 1, 2011

A little place called "Serenity."

For the past few summers, one of the highlights for us is to spend a long weekend right outside of Tarpley, Texas, at a ranch owned by Suzanne's aunt and uncle. It's been a while, but you remember Suzanne, my beautiful trophy wife don't you? So this past weekend, we loaded up the family and headed on down.

After a long, five hour car ride with Suzanne and the three children in the back, we finally reached our destination. Although, we enjoyed the hours of "how much longer," "I'm hungry" and of course my favorite, "I need to go potty," we were happy to arrive.

This place is so nice, it even has a name, "Serenity." Now I've owned several homes in my lifetime, visited many others, but not many of them have had an actual name, so you know this is quite a place. I don't know how big it is, and I would never ask, but I imagine that if I started out one on side of it and walked to the other side, I'd probably have to stop halfway, set up camp, spend the night, and start again in the morning.

As we got out of the car and started to unload, we were greeted by "Uncle Tommy." The easiest way to describe Tommy, is to imagine the late Dave Thomas, from the old Wendy's hamburger commercials. He could have easily been a stand in. Next, "Aunt Doodle" came out. Her real name is Ann, but her friends call her "Doodle." She has told me, though, that I can call her Ann. Aunt Doodle, though, is great to be around. She's the type of person that if you find at a party, get close to her because you know that you are going to hear some great stories, as she is a great story teller. She is also quite the Spurs fan as well. I've been told that if you talk bad about the Spurs, you will find that your visit may be shortened.

One of the joys for us and the kids is to settle in and then ride in the Ranger. What is a Ranger you ask? Imagine a cross between a golf cart on steroids, and the old car from "The Beverly Hillbillies." It is a souped up four wheel drive golf cart with an elevated seat in the back. The first night we always get a guided tour from Uncle Tommy. What I didn't tell you before is that Tommy and Doodle have exotic animals from Africa and surrounding parts on their property. They have elans, orecks, and several types of African deer. Of course, they have cattle as well. On these tours we seem to see most of the animals, and since a trip to Disney World is out of the question, this is a great fit for our kids. By the way, of all of our friends who have been to Disney World, they never had Walt Disney personally take them on the tour, just sayin...

It's kind of ironic that they have the African animals on the ranch, because summers there can be, well "Africa hot." Garrison, the heir to the Millender fortune, and I rode one of the days on the Ranger, and we got close to several of the Elans. I felt sorry for them, and then I realized, this was much cooler than their homeland.

Garrison and I rode around for a while pretending to be cowboys on the ranch, he started complaining that it was hot, and so and then we went back and did what every authentic cowboy would do, we jumped in the pool and had several beers. Well I did, Garrison had root beer, or sasparilla, as the old guys used to say. Then we turned on the tv, and took a nap. Yep, that's ranch "livin."

I guess we can mark off our ranch trip for the summer of 2011. We greatly appreciate the invitation and the good old southern hospitality that Uncle Tommy and Aunt Doodle extend to us. Hopefully, as long as nothing is spilled, broken, ripped, stained, or turned over, we will be returning next summer.

Oh, and Lindy would like a hippopatamus for the creek. Tommy....can you make that happen?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Joe's Aggies

In January of 1995, I was still very much new to Houston. After a divorce, I was looking to move to a new city and start over. And typical of moving to a new town or city, I was looking to make a few friends and get rid of the loneliness that had been with me the past few months. Little did I know, I was about to meet people who would my best and closest friends. But I'm starting to get a little ahead of myself.

One of the things I figured that I would do was attend the weekly luncheons of the Houston A&M Club. I figured that getting to know a few Aggies in the area would surely help me to get to know people. When I went to those luncheons, however, what I found was mostly a bunch of "grumpy old men." Now, please don't get me wrong because I love those old guys, but if you are a recent grad., that connection is not always there. I did keep going though, and I was accepted "by the tribe" sort of speak. Ironically, with every passing year, I am slowly becoming one of those guys. In fact, now I've moved up to the front table. The joke is that once you have made it there, there is only one way that you can ever leave. That is to join the great A&M club in the sky.

The real fun, however, began when I started volunteering for Aggie functions outside of the luncheons. There is where I met my closest and dearest friends. One by one, I started to "hang out" with my "gang." And then, little by little, we started to grow in numbers. Within our group we had people like me who had recently gone through their own battles. Just like me, one of the group had just gone through a divorce, another whose fiance had passed away a few months earlier, another person whose fiance had broken up with him, etc. It seemed that everyone had a story to tell.

The great part of the story is that we all found each other at just the right times in our lives. We could all lean on each other and together with love and laughter, we found that we could get through life.

For the next five years we were inseparable. Every event that came along we were part of. Whether it was the A&M Club that needed us, or some event that needed help with volunteers around town, we were there. I don't think so much that it was the fact that we liked volunteer, it was just that we always had so much fun together. Our late friend Joe Mattei '53 once called us some of his favorite Aggies. A title that we have just recently adopted as our namesake.

Every Friday and Saturday night, it was just assumed that we would all do things together. Most of us spent the week planning out what our group was going to do for the next weekend. We even took a very memorable trip to New Orleans together for a birthday party. It was the greatest weekend that I still don't remember.

We were a great team, but as often happens, life moves on. One by one we got married and lost touch. You see, although we were close, we knew that someday the day would come when the group would break up. Hey, if it happened to the Beatles, it could happen to anyone.

The other night several of us got together for a "reunion" of sorts. We try to get together at least once a year.
It's strange to look across the room and see wives, husbands, and kids. It is fun though as I survey the room, to think back to those days when we all single and spent almost all of our time together, mostly laughing. The memories just start "flooding" back.

Yes, life moves on and I guess we all had to grow up sometime. But I want to thank all of the other members of "Joe's Aggies" for helping me become the person that I am today.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Birthday time......again?

Do you remember when you were little and you spent most of the year planning your birthday? For me, it began about the second week of January. Right about the same time my Christmas toys had lost their magic. That same toy that you had waited for since September, all of a sudden seemed to blend into the wall.

You remember how it was. You went to school everyday with a list of people who you were going to invite in your head. The list was revised over and over again, based on who had thrown you the ball, told a good joke, or sat next to you in class. The kid who didn't trade me his oreos for my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.....well, you know he didn't make it.

As the big day drew closer and closer, you laid out the game plan with your parents. I want to have it here... I want to invite these kids...I want this kind of cake....., etc. You could hardly stand the wait until it was your special day! It was hard to sleep the night before the party, you were so excited.

I sometimes wonder whatever happened to those days. For example, Monday night, was my beautiful trophy wife Suzanne's birthday. For some reason, I guess because it is only three weeks after Christmas, it seems to sneak up on us.
I asked Suzanne a couple of weeks ago what she wanted to do for her birthday, her answer was "nothing." Now I've been married for a few years and I'm smart enough to know that "nothing" always means "something."

She did give me a few rules however. The first was no cake. No cake?? Do you know what you call a birthday without cake? A day! I only have cake on somene's birthday, and now I'm going to have to wait for my sister-in law's birthday in February for the next cake eating occasion. This one hurts.
Second rule was that she didn't want to cook. OK, I can handle that one. we come!
The third rule was that she wanted to take the kids with us. What? Did you just say take the kids with us? Normally, when we take the children with us, we end up at one of those places where they have a special playroom for the kids. You know, like Chuck E. Cheese. Please, don't get me started on Chuck E. Cheese, Mickey Mouse's white trash cousin. But I digress..

However, on this night, we ended up at one of those restaurants where when you walk in with two year old twins and a five year old, they stare at you and pray at the same time that you don't end up sitting near them.
As we walked to our table, or booth, in this case, my wife had that survival look on her face. As in, let's just get through this, or survive..if you will. Never, we have learned, have the look of fear on your face, the children can smell it.

After we trapped our children in the booth, we sat down, looked at the menu, decided what we wanted, and ordered along with our food, an expensive item off of the children's menu that they would never touch. Someday when I'm old, I'm going to insist that my children take me out to eat. When they do, I'm going to order a 50 pound lobster, and the biggest steak they have. When it comes, I'm just going to look at it and tell them that I'm not hungry.

During the time between our ordering and when our food was ready, Suzanne started whipping out the toys like crazy. She had books, cars, crayons, markers, etc. If the television in the bar would have been working, I'm sure that she would have brought along the Wii.

We did in fact survive her birthday dinner and all of us lived to tell about it. I just can't help but wonder what ever happened to the greatness of birthdays. We go from all of the hype, the planning, the dreaming to a night with young children spilling milk on themselves.

Now, if you'll excuse me Suzanne is making me something with her new EZ bake oven....

Monday, November 23, 2009

Time for Christmas TV

Within the next couple of weeks, we will all get tuned up for Christmas(yes, I said it). Along with the normal festivities of this time of year, come the annual Christmas specials on television. You know the ones that I am talking about. The classic stop animation series from the 1960's such as: Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and of course Frosty the Snowman and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

I will probably try to gather the kids up and put them in front of the tv and re-create the excitement that I had as a kid. But with most events in our house, they will usually start fighting, and someone will end up crying. They just don't "get it" like I do because even though I am 42 years old, when those shows come on, I travel back in time to when I was 6 years old all over again.

That year would have been 1973. It was back in the day, as a youngster, when you spent 11 months out of the year dreaming about Christmas, and one month thinking that time was just standing still. Christmas would just never, ever get here.

I think about our old house on Cedar Creek, and how my mother would have called me in from playing in the front yard with friends on the street. I would have eaten dinner, taken a bath, and then sat down in front of the television in anticipation of the big event. In just a few mere moments, Santa and Rudolph were going to be right in front of me. This was excitement!

Our old tv was sitting on four wooden legs, and was probably I would imagine about 19" or less in screen size. Also, if you wanted color on the set, you would have to turn it on let it warm up for about twenty minutes. The programs would be in black and white until the "tube" warmed up, and then pop, there goes your color.
For the next twenty minutes, I would be wrapped up in all of the goings on at the North Pole.

The next day at school, the "buzz" that would have filled the classroom was about how Rudolph got away from the Abomimable Snowman or how Charlie Brown saved the Christmas pageant. I also remember that Charlie Brown was "sponsored in part by your friends at Dolly Madison."
I didn't even know what Dolly Madison was back then, but it must have worked since I remember it to this day.

These were the days before VCR's, video tapes, DVD's, etc.
There was no way to save a program. If you missed it, then you had to wait a whole year for the show to come back on. These programs were set in the calender way ahead of time. Once they advertised it on the network, plans were set in stone to work around the special show.

I remember once, that my mother and I were shopping the Galleria, and I was going to have to miss one of the Christmas specials. While we were in Joske's, we passed by the tv department. She let me sit in front of one of the sets, and watch Frosty. She even asked the salesman if that was alright. She then continued on across the store to finish up.
At that time, no one thought twice about leaving me in the store alone. I could not imagine letting one of my kids do that today, but it was ok. back then.

It's funny that these same shows that we used to watch when we were kids, are now the ones that our kids are watching. New Christmas shows come on every year, but they don't seem to have the staying power that the old classics do. I'm sorry, but I don't recall seeing shows like "The New Kids on the Block save Santa," or the "Duran Duran Holiday spectacular" showing up in my tv guide.

What is it, about these shows that keeps them on the air? I think that they are timeless. For most of us, we have very fond memories of Christmas when we were kids. Unique traditions, friends and family, cold weather, etc.
Somehow these shows, at least when I watch them, transport me back to a magical time when I was just a little boy siting Indian style on the floor, with my loyal dog Jet by my side, thinking about what that fat man in the red suit was going to bring down the chimney.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Why do I watch these shows??

The temptation starts around 8:00 on Tuesday nights. I know in the back of my mind I should avoid it, but still that little voice in the back of my head tells me that it is no big deal. Nothing will happen. After all, it's just a tv show. Do I dare watch? Will my wife find out?
What do I do? So many questions.

What show would it be, you might be asking yourself. An adult movie perhaps? No, not quite. It's a little show that comes on Tuesday nights on Discovery channel called "Ghost Lab."

Ghost Lab follows two brothers from San Antonio, across the country in their pursuit of "paranormal activity." That's just a fancy word for things that go bump in the night. We're not talking about those cute little ghosts that you would draw in the first grade around this time of year, or the Halloween costume that required you to cut out holes in your mother's good sheets either. No, we're talking the ones that suffered through big time trauma in this life, and they keep repeating it in the hereafter. You know, lighthearted things like murder, suicide, torture, etc.

After the first five minutes of the show, I know that I should be reaching for the remote, but something keeps drawing me in. Maybe it's the promo. that basically says, "When we come back, we're really going to show you something scary!" It's at that moment that the little voice inside of me says, "Ok, if you don't turn it off now, you're on your own, I'm done."
But there I sit, waiting for the show to come back from commercials.

Sure enough, after the commercials, the investigative team goes into the house or building and sets up all of their cameras, monitors, recorders, etc., and then the fun begins.
They wait for darkness, and then go into the rooms where "activity" has been known to exist and break, what I think, is the number one rule of dealing with ghosts. They start to provoke the entity. They say things like "You're not so tough! Why don't you do something to let us know that you are here. Touch me. Is that all you got?"

Now, I watched a lot of Scooby Doo when I was a kid, so I learned a few things from that show. Number one: Always run from ghosts, and number two: It's always some old man behind a curtain scaring it all up.
But in this show, it all seems real.

For example, last week they traveled to New Orleans to visit a funeral home that was closed some years ago, but has a haunted history, and also was a refuge for some during hurricane Katrina. Allegedly, a young woman named Sara, had found shelter there during the storm, and had overdosed on heroin. And, wouldn't you know, her spirit is still in that room.
The ghost seekers then went in late that night and talked to Sara until they got a reaction from her. They were not very nice to her, and if I were there at the time, I would have been able to run all of the way from New Orleans to Houston in under twenty minutes.

The next part of the show is back in the lab and they put all of the evidence together. It can sometimes be a hazy picture of the spirit, or what is even scarier, are voices on tape. I don't know what it is about those voices, but at that point, I'm paralyzed with fear. A few moments later, the show ends, and oh yea, now it is time to go to bed.

Now to answer the question from the top of why I don't want my wife to find out that I am watching this show. That's an easy answer. Because she knows that I won't be able to sleep. That night, I will hear every creak, and every sound in the house. I never knew that the sound of the ice maker dropping ice could make me sit up straight in bed. And if one of the kids cries in the middle of the night, every light in our house will be turned on. In fact, at the end of the month, my electric company sends me a note reminding me that Ghost Lab is all new this week.

Once I was so scared, that my five year old daughter Lindy, had to come downstairs and convince me that there wasn't a monster under our bed. She then kissed me on the forehead and told me that everything was alright, and that if I needed her, she would be right upstairs.

However, at times like these I think about something that a preacher said to me long ago. He said that he doesn't think that Heaven is some far off place above the clouds. He believes that Heaven is all around us, and that those who have gone before us are by our side helping us and cheering us on. That's a beautiful thought and also very reassuring.
But I have to say, that if you are one of my friends or relatives that have passed away, please don't make an appearance, you'll scare me to death!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Thanksgiving Needs Better Marketing

Most kids like to go to Disney World, Six Flags, Water world, or possibly Sea World for entertainment. Our kids, however, are a little different. They like to visit the local neighborhood Lowe's.
Last Saturday as it became apparent that I was not going to be able to continue to sit in front of the television and watch endless hours of Whatever U. vs Whatever U. football game was on, we had to do something. The kids were playing their favorite game of "Let's throw random things down the stairs," and it was just time to go.....somewhere.

We had already decided to take the family out to dinner, but since it was only 3:30, Suzanne my beautiful wife, and I knew that sitting in a restaurant that long with three kids is just not a good idea.

Here's a random question: Parents, have you ever just put your kids in the car, backed out of the driveway, and then decided where you were going to go? Well, we did just that.
I knew that I needed a couple of things from Lowe's for the yard, so guess what? Off to Lowe's we went.

Once inside, we discovered a magical, virtual winter wonderland. The entire front section of the store were made of Snowmen, elves, and reindeer. They even had Santa floating in an inflatable helicopter. Apparently, times are good enough at the North Pole that he could upgrade his mode of transportation.
Why, they have even captured the site of our saviors birth, in an inflatable. Somehow, I never before imagined Jesus with an air inlet attached to his big toe, but hey, this is marketing.

That however, was not the show stopper for the Millender family. The best of all, were the giant inflatable M&M's that were next to it. And then I remembered the Bible verse of "from out of the West came the three wise men, bearing gifts of Gold, Frankensense, and peanut M&M's."

In the midst of this Christmas extravaganza and off to the side, were the two left over Halloween decorations. One life size scary witch, and one giant ghost. As I looked closer, I could swear the old witch had a tear in her eye. Although it was only the first week in October, it was apparent that her 15 minutes of fame were up, but she just kept hanging on. Much like Kate Gosselin, but with a better hair style.

Where were the Thanksgiving decorations you ask? Do you really have to ask? Somehow, inflatable snowglobes with Pilgrims inside just never really took off. I've never heard any Thankgiving carols, or have seen a movie where Jimmy Stewart is running down the street thanking the world for his turkey. There are no cute little girls or boys sitting in a giant turkey's lap. Is just doesn't happen.
Do you want to know how far that it has fallen? Thanksgiving is stuck with the perennial powerhouse Detroit Lions playing on "turkey" day. On a side note, I once had a friend tell me that if he only had an hour to live he would watch a Detroit Lions game. When I asked him why, he said because an hour of watching them seems like a lifetime.

Halloween and Thanksgiving have become victims of the new, sexy marketing woman down the hall that pledges to "shake things up. " They don't stand a chance.

However, I think that I'm going to get with Mattress Mack and see if we can come up with something.
Don't be surprised next summer when you see a "Halloween in July" waterbed sale. I'm just sayin.......

Friday, September 25, 2009

Panic on the trail....

I've noticed in life that there are a few things that will make you stop dead in your tracks and cause you to panic. Things such as, "Did I remember to turn off the iron? Is that gas I smell?" or the panic of the walk to your mailbox in August when you know that your electric bill just arrived. It's much like I imagine the walk of a condemned inmate would stroll to the death chamber.

On Tuesday night however, I started down the street for what has become my nightly walk. I've decided over the past few days to exercise and get into shape. However, I do consider myself in shape, but somehow a triangle is not acceptable.

Anyway, I turned and started on the walking trail behind our street. As I walked, a lady jogger passed me on the left. I nodded a hello to her and she returned the favor and she continued on. I never really imagined that our paths would cross again.
Up ahead of her a lady was about 100 yards from me coming in our direction. Attached to a leash on her side was a little dog. So small, that I can only assume it ran on batteries. Not a big dog. As the two closed in on each other, they both stopped in a scream.
I thought to myself, "is this woman so afraid of dogs that she actually screamed at that dog??

As I got closer, I looked down and noticed just what it was, that had stopped all time as we know it. There it was, all four feet of the most evil creature that I had ever laid my eyes on.......a snake.

A snake? In our neighborhood? It states right here in our deed restrictions "No snakes!" It's like I told Suzanne(my beautiful trophy wife) when we moved in. "I know that our homeowners fees are expensive, but snakes!"

Both ladies looked at me. I guess they thought that I had some kind of answer. All of those days back in cub scouts, I never actually thought that I would see a snake. I don't remember a merit badge that had anything to do with wrestling a snake. In fact, if there was a badge called "Run like a little girl from a snake" badge I'm sure that I would of had several.

So there I was. I could either run home screaming(as I wanted to do), or I could show my bravery and shield these helpless women folk from this monster.
Then, all of a sudden, the five year old inside of me took over and said, "let's just mess with it."
I thought that maybe if I picked up a rock and threw it at it, it would slither away into the woods, and I'm sure, that they would award me some type of bravery medal.

So I picked a rock, took careful aim, and launched it. I managed to bounce the rock about a half a foot to the left of the snake. It raised its head and looked right at me as if to say, "Hey man, what is your problem? Did you just throw a rock at me?

Now, I've seen many episodes of the Crocodile Hunter. I know that if I was Steve Irwin, I would run up to the snake's tail, grab it, fling it into the air, and then kick it right off into the woods.
But guess what? I'm not Steve Irwin.

I picked up another rock, and managed to hit it right on the tail. Once again, it looked at me. But this time, it slithered off into the grass slowly. Almost as if it was saying "OK, I get it, I get it......"

Yes, that's right, I saved the day. What did I get for my heroic action, you ask? Accolades, an citation from the Mayor? A tearful thank you from those affected? No, everyone just turned and went on about their business.
I, on the otherhand, went home and put on a fresh pair of undies.

Now I don't exactly know my types of snakes, and I don't really care to, either. But, when I recall this story later on to my children, I actually think that it may have been a King Cobra.