Monday, July 12, 2010

Waco for a day

DH was asked to teach and judge at a BSA event by an honored colleague of his from a different area. He has been asked to do this for the last few years, and each year he is asked to do more and each year he has more fun with it.  I mention that he had fun only because there are several events in his own area where he is asked to do similar jobs, but he is not treated nearly as well and the venue is far from ideal. He usually comes home from these events physically exhausted and emotionally drained and I hate to see him go at all. The event he went to this weekend, though,  is held at the Baylor University campus in Waco and it is very well organized. DH is treated very well as a guest and he always has a blast. I can't help but be supportive of this sort of thing because when something he loves makes him so obviously happy, it makes me happy, too.

When DH asked me to go along with him last year, I agreed, even though I don't "Do" BSA events. For one, it was our anniversary weekend and being with him was better than missing him. For two, he promised me we could stay in a hotel out there and then we could have all Sunday to ourselves. It was not bad as far as anniversaries, and it was nice to get a chance to see him in his "natural" environment. This year, he asked all of us to come along and since I had already been once, and I knew what to expect, I agreed. The kids could use a day out of the house and I knew all the girls would be the stars of the evening Pow Wow.

To streamline costs (because that is what I do) we decided to drive out in the morning, drive back after the pow wow that night, and pack all the food and snacks we would need. Waco is a little more than 1 1/2 hours from home so the driving part wasn't too big a deal. Well, it wouldn't have been if he didn't need to be at the college before 8:30 to set up for his first class. That meant we all had to be up at 5:00am and be on the road no later than 6:00am, and we would be heading back home sometime around midnight after he finished judging all the competitions (and after he undressed and put away his very complicated outfit.) This also meant we had no where to "call home" for the day since there was no hotel room. I would have to either sit through all his classes with the girls (which might have been cute for the first 15 minutes) or keep them busy around town until the Pow Wow in the evening (which meant finding free things to keep them all busy from 8:30am until around 5:00pm, and then get three little girls dressed in THEIR very complicated outfits.)

I opted to drop DH off  (so I would know which building he was teaching in) and take the girls out for a day on the town. Now that I have been dedicating myself to this for a few weeks, I think I am getting pretty good at it. I have learned what they really need to have at hand, what we don't have to lug around, what they are interested in doing, and how to maintain crowd control. When it came down to it, a day out here keeping busy was no different then a day-long outing at home. I just needed to know what there was to do for three young girls in a college town (that didn't sound right, but you understand....)

We spent a few minutes on an impromptu photo shoot. It still amazes me just how beautiful my girls can be.

After that, the first thing I decided to do was go to the grocery store. The trip the day before was a little bit rushed (there was another huge storm rolling in) so I didn't quite get everything I needed for lunch and dinner. We headed to the HEB a few miles down the road and took our time browsing the aisles (I was hoping to waste as much time as I could.) By the time we came out of there, lunch and dinner were shaping up to be a little more elaborate than I had planned, mostly because I found some really awesome Buy This, Get This Free deals. I normally don't buy potato chips unless DH specifically requests them for a reason (they have no nutritional value) and I buy bottles of juice or lemonade mix instead of individual boxes or bags of drinks (less waste AND less money.) This time, LH was ecstatic because we were having real Pringles with sandwiches lunch (and not just goldfish crackers.) The chips were a good deal and we got a free package of juice boxes for free with each one and that made TD and EG even more happy. It really doesn't take much to please my kids, I tell you.

After the shopping trip, I took the girls to the Waco Travelers Information center. Sure, it sounds cheesy, but the girls got to window shop, run off some energy, and use the water fountain and the bathroom without the fear of something creepy growing on the seat (gas station restrooms are getting nastier each time I travel!) I was able to grab some pamphlets and get some ideas of where to go the rest of the day. I know, I should have already done the research and had the whole day planned out, but I dropped the ball. Besides, it was much more fun to harass the poor fools who were left running the gift shop. And it killed almost an hour.

Now I decided to head back to the college to meet DH for a picnic lunch. I had more than enough time to get back there, which was good because I wasted almost 30 minutes getting lost going the wrong way on the highway. I know it was a dumb mistake. I even have a compass in my car to tell me which direction I am heading. The problem was, I didn't pay attention to it while we were heading out, so I didn't know which way I was supposed to be going on the way back. Once I finally pulled off at a picnic stop, I found a map to guide me back to the college. That was great until I spent another 30 minutes getting lost around the Baylor campus. (I have lots of adventures like this all the time. I call it being Directionally Impaired.) I was completely frazzled once I got to the hall to meet DH. At this point in the day, it was about 85 degrees and the humidity was probably around 95%. We were all hungry, thirsty, the kids were bored and we still head to take DH to a different building before pulling out everything for lunch. Luckily, this was the only building he would be in for the rest of the day and it was also where the Pow Wow would be that night. It also happened to have large common rooms and dens for the students to hang out in so it was much more comfortable than eating at one of the picnic tables outside (and getting burned, and being mosquito food.)

Lunch was kind of rushed because I didn't pre-make anything. I really hate eating soggy sandwiches. I would much rather bring the ingredients and assemble them when it is time to eat. Unfortunately, that meant that DH had help us pull the cooler out of the van and then we had to pull everything out so everyone could make their own lunch. Because of my imaginative route getting back, DH only had about half an hour before he had to get back to teaching, coaching, and judging (that was, after all, why he was here.) The rest of us were able to take a more leisurely pace and I didn't rush them. The more time they spent lingering over lunch, the less time I was required to find something else to keep them busy. It can be very nice to have such a wide open agenda.

While the girls and I packed everything up and put it back in the car, I started making my game plan for the rest of the afternoon. I had four more hours to kill but I had at least a few ideas on how to do it. Within a few miles of the college, there was a zoo, the Texas Ranger museum (the soldiers, not the baseball team), a toy factory museum, an outlet mall (oooo, dangerous!) and a free water splash park. Apparently these things are all the rage these days. Instead of a pool (which must be carefully maintained) cities and even outdoor malls are installing large, open, concrete areas with water fountains splashing all over the place and drains so the area doesn't collect water. Kids are able to run and get wet and splash around, but no life guard is needed.

At first, I thought the splash park was the way to go. We had out swim suits with us (for once!) and it was free, after all. I was headed in that general direction (there were signs with arrows!) then, my brain kicked in. It's now 95 degrees, at least as humid, and the pow wow is going to go from 8:30 (their normal bed time) until 11:00. Wearing them out and potentially letting them get sunburned was not in my best interest. So, what else could I do that would take time, keep them busy, but not leave them so tired they would pass out? I looked to my left and like a sign from above, there was the Dr Pepper bottling company and museum! I know most other (non-Dr Pepper loving) people might not understand how cool this idea was, but you have to know it to love it. I wasn't sure how much it would cost, but I knew there would at least be something yummy to drink during or after the tour. It also was cooler inside than out, and the review said it would take 1 1/2 hours. Perfect!

The kids were actually pretty excited at the idea. Or maybe they were just humoring me because they know what a DP nut I can be. I once spent a whole weekend with my in-laws, on one of their VFW trips because they told me they would stop in Dublin, Tx on the way back. (If you don't understand why that is a big deal to a DP lover, well... I just can't explain it. It is an EXPERIENCE.) In any case, we got to the museum, where I did have to pay admission, but I didn't care, and we were treated to a history lesson, a biography of the founders, and an archeological dig all in one place. Waco, TX is where Dr Pepper was first created (Dublin, TX is where the first franchise was opened, in case you were confused) and the whole plant was built around an old, Artesian water well. The well was later filled in when they switched to piped in water, and then later excavated by some Baylor students (and probably Dr Pepper lovers) and the whole first floor of the museum is dedicated to it. The displays show the history of the plant, the old techniques of bottling, the story of how the Dr Pepper drink evolved, and the old well, itself, including the details of how it was found and dug up again. The third floor was dedicated to the founders of the beverage company, the sales people who peddle the stuff, and (my favorite part) a theater showing a series of old Dr Pepper commercials from the last 50 years. The second floor was a mixture of DP artifacts and an exhibition area that currently, it is taken up with an interactive exhibit about money and the science of making cash (get it? CURRENTLY, CASH? I kill me...)

I didn't get any pictures of the inside of the museum. I was too busy trying to keep an eye on all three girls at once. Usually they are very good at staying together and not wandering off in public, but I guess the long ride in the car made them antsy because I almost lost track of them several times. In fact, I did lose track of TD at one point. She wandered into the next room before we did and became focused on one of the interactive sites so she didn't hear me call her name. There were a lot of people at the museum bustling back and forth through the rooms and it wasn't all that quiet, for a museum. I admit I started to panic thinking someone could have grabbed her and run off before I could even blink. Thankfully, LH spotted her within a few minutes and I pulled her aside to chew her butt (once I found out she was ok.) It apparently made an impression on all three of them because they didn't stray farther than an arms-length away for the rest of the afternoon.

The tour ended in the gift shop (of course) but I didn't feel the need to purchase anything. Because Dr Pepper is also bottled here in Dallas, it isn't that hard to find stuff with a DP logo on it around. Pretty much anything they had there, I could get elsewhere for less. Besides, I have had friends who worked at the factory and they have given me plenty of tote bags, t-shirts, and cup coolers to please any Dr Pepper fan. Strangely, the girls didn't ask for anything like I was afraid they would. I heard lots of "This is cool!" and "Look at that!" but not one single "Momma can I?" At least until we got to the soda shoppe downstairs. I immediately saw that the servers made Dr Pepper the old fashioned way down there  - they pour the syrup and add the carbonated soda by hand - and I had to try it. They also had ice cream and could make floats with Dr Pepper (which is like ambrosia and nectar of the gods combined,) Root Beer, or even 7-Up. For $1.25 a piece I was not going to pass this up. It meant standing in line for an eternity and trying to keep up with the girls in an even more crowded store, but the floats were worth it. I got each of us our own, but I ended up finishing two more after mine. Good thing I only got the "small." for each of us. I probably could have gotten a "Large" and then kept going, but that's just me.

After the excitement (and sugar and caffeine) of the afternoon, I suggested we head back to the college early. The common area we ate lunch in would still be mostly empty and there were enough couches and chairs for everyone to have their own, comfy spot and still be in sight. Much to my surprise, they ALL agreed. I guess I did the job of keeping them busy a little TOO well. We all grabbed our travel pillows and blankets (their idea) as well as little things to do to keep us occupied and camped out for the next two hours. LH had her book on CD (she's finally gotten around to being interested the the Twilight series.) TD and EG had their MP3 players as well as books, pencils, paper and a huge area to run around in. We chose a spot to camp in, everyone grabbed a seat, then I sat back on one of the couches and promptly fell asleep.

I can't believe that with all my worries about keeping them close, keeping an eye on them, and keeping them safe, I end up falling asleep in the public area of a major college for OVER AN HOUR. I wasn't the only one who fell asleep, either. LH was curled up listening to her book and wouldn't have heard a thing if her sisters had been drug out of the building screaming. I woke up and immediately panicked, realizing where I was. Thankfully again, there were no issues. Apparently, once TD and EG got tired of coloring and reading they kept each other company playing around the room. They did cartwheels, played Hide and Seek, fought invisible Ninjas (of course they couldn't see them. They were NINJAS.) And they didn't even see anyone else for the entire time I was out cold. I really shouldn't have worried because if they had seen anyone, it would most likely have been a Boy Scout or one of their Advisers.

Shortly after I woke up, DH came down from his classes and he and LH pulled the cooler back out of the car so we could eat again. Dinner was pretty much the same as lunch, but we traded out white bread for whole wheat bagels and I chopped up fresh veggies to dip in Ranch dressing. The girls weren't all that hungry (I guess they were still full from the floats) but we had two hours until we had to get dressed for the pow wow, so again, I didn't rush them. Instead, we were treated to a well-coordinated show of all the "moves" they had been practicing for the last hour. Then, everyone got their after-dinner cookie and it was finally time to start getting ready.

For the last year or so, I have not been dressing up in my own regalia and dancing during pow wows. First of all, getting dressed means that you will have your picture taken, and I am becoming allergic to lens side of cameras. Second, now that LH is big enough to wear the outfit that I "grew" out of, she has been more willing to dress up and dance. TD and EG would never pass up a chance at dancing, so that means three little girls to help get ready. It starts with the hair, of course - each girl gets a pair of french braids, which we then wrap with colored laces and then attach either fir strips or long, leather tassels. Then come the dresses, leggings, wraps, moccasins, belts, breastplates, chokers, necklaces, earrings, barrettes, bracelets, shawls, bags, and fans. By the time I have outfitted each one, I have barely enough energy (or time) left to put on lipstick, let alone get myself dressed in the same style getup. Wearing plain clothes also means I can dance certain songs while wearing a shawl, but I don't have to dance more than once or twice a night. It is certainly more comfortable and allows me the freedom of movement to help others if needed. For instance, if EG's moccasins come untied or TD drops an earring, the dresses aren't really loose enough to be able to squat down and or crawl around on the floor.

In any case, I helped all the girls get dressed and we squeezed into the smallest elevator I have ever been in (hello, claustrophobia!) and we made it upstairs just in time for the girls to line up with the other dancers. That was when they all suddenly got cold feet. I have never seen them do this before, so it was a bit more than puzzling. LH had a pretty reasonable excuse. She was tired before she ever got dressed and it was no well past 8:00 and she was ready to call it a night. I convinced her to just walk in the Grand Entry since she was already dressed and she could relax after that.

Then, TD started in with not wanting to dance, and she was actually in tears. She has always danced a certain style and there is a particular type of dress that you wear for it. She dances what is called Jingle Dress and it is a fairly athletic style. The dresses are covered with tin cones set in rows close together so when the girls dance by jumping up and down, the cones swish and make a "jingle" sound. Unfortunately, she has grown and danced in her dress so much, that it is now torn and stained and not fit to wear in public. In fact, I knew she would still want to wear it anyway, so I made sure to leave it at home. This wouldn't be a huge problem if we could just go out and buy a new one, but these dresses are only hand made by someone who knows what they are doing and they cost BIG money. DH has made almost all her dresses in the past and he just has not had the time to make her a new one since she out grew the old one. Instead, we brought an outfit that was big enough for her, but did not have jingles. The dress was created for a more stately and dignified style - it's a regal sort of bobbing step that allows the fringe on the shawls to sway without you actually doing much movement yourself. You don't jump up and down in these dresses. For TD, this was a heartbreaking thing to face. If she couldn't dance HER style, she didn't want to dance at all.

Again, I pleaded and bargained with her that if she would just dance once around the arena, she could sit down and not have to dance the rest of the night if she didn't want to. I also convinced her that I needed her to help watch over EG because she was going to dance no matter what and I didn't want her to get lost in the crowd walking in. She finally agreed, but I really hated to make her do it. It really hurts me to make them do something they don't want to do, especially if it is supposed to be something fun. Nothing will ruin a hobby faster than being forced to do it when you don't want to. I surely disn't want to destroy this experience for any of my girls.

It turned out to be ok after all. They all processed in (TD with a few tears but looking brave anyway) and the Grand Entry was done in a very short time. EG jumped right back out there to keep on dancing with her Daddy, but TD and LH headed straight for me outside the dance circle. LH immediately put her head down and started to snooze. EG at first declared that she would not dance and I let her alone about it. Then, she started playing around with LH's digital camera, snapping shots of people making goofy faces, and her bad mood melted away. It wasn't long after that before her feet started itching. She couldn't bear to see her little sister out there having a ball (and getting all the attention) and not have her share of it. She announced she would dance "just one dance." Then she danced another, and another. She didn't dance every one that night, but she did have a very good time and it was her choice to go out and enjoy it. It makes me feel so good to see my girls choosing to make the best of things without my having to council them about it.

The Pow Wow was scheduled to go for about three hours and there were half a dozen or so contest dances thrown in, but the vast majority of the time, the dances were open to anyone. EG and TD danced as long as they could but they didn't quite make it to the end. LH stayed asleep the entire time. You would think that sitting within 10 feet of five singers yelling and beating on a five foot drum would keep her awake, or at least keep her from sleeping soundly. Apparently, not. That girl did not even stir until I found a couch in the foyer of the lobby and told her to go lie down on it then she slept there for the rest of the evening.  EG was the next to go. About 10:00 I saw her falling asleep sitting up and I pulled her onto my lap. Eventually, I sent her to go sleep on the couch with her sister, too. TD managed to stay awake the entire time, but did go to "relax" on the couch shortly after EG did.

DH was on his feet the entire night. When he wasn't dancing, he was judging. He came over and said Hello a few times, but for the most part he was gone and busy for the whole event. Then 11:00 came and the pow wow was over and it was time to get undressed and go home. I was beat, and I hadn't been nearly as active as anyone else had been. I had to keep moving for awhile longer though. the girls were still all dressed up and they couldn't ride home like that. I wake them up just enough to get their accessories and dresses off, and walk them down to the van. They fell asleep as soon as they were buckled in and I didn't hear a thing from them after that.

In a moment of genius, I figured out that having the girls wear tank tops and gym shorts under the dresses allowed them to get dressed and undressed wherever it was most convenient (and not crammed in a stall in a bathroom.) This makes the going home process much easier and faster. I also learned that having them keep all their accessories in one bag that they also use for dancing, means they can start to undress whenever they are tired for the night and nothing gets lost. This is especially important when you calculate just how much the outfit is worth when you add it up piece by piece. Even ignoring the value of the dresses that DH makes for them, the shawls, ribbon work, bead work, leather, and wool can cost hundreds of dollars - and that is just a small girl's outfit!

The value of DH's outfit is potentially 10 times what the girls' are. That means even more care and detail when undressing and packing things away. Once the dancing ends, there is a still full hour of un-preparation for him before we can leave. Each piece of his regalia is carefully, folded, hung, rolled into a special cloth, or packed away in a storage box and set just the right way into his suitcase so that it all fits without moving.  On top of the satin, silver, beads, and leather, his outfit has feathers and lots of them. His bustle alone is a six-foot wide fan of feathers that sticks out on either side like a set of large, beautiful wings. On his head he wears an 18 inch long roach which is lined with porcupine hair and deer tail. It sticks straight up almost 8 inches above his head and he wears leather and feathers on top of that. Of course, he is always the last of us to be able to get undressed, so we are almost always sitting in the car snoozing and waiting for him to finish changing into regular clothes long after the dancing has stopped.

Tonight was no exception, but I wanted to stay awake for his sake. Once he was changed, we still had almost 2 hours left of driving before we got home. I know that having a sleeping passenger can bring on the sleepies, especially when you are already tired. I knew I needed to help keep him awake long enough to get us all home safely. Then we had to unpack the van - at least the most valuable and perishable items BEFORE we could call it a night. We left Waco just before midnight, got home around 1:30 in the morning and didn't make it to bed until after 2:00am.

This morning, miraculously, TD was the first one up. When I got up at 10:30, she was already watching TV. Once I realized that everyone else was still asleep, I only stayed up long enough to eat a little bit, take some medicine and go back to bed. I think we all finally got out of bed around noon.

All day I have been trying to relax and not do too much. I can do house work anytime, for the most part. Wearing myself out with chores when I am already close to exhaustion just isn't sensible (or fun.) We nibbled on the left over travel food for breakfast and lunch (if you could call them that) and everyone has been too tired to do much at all. DH has been catching up on the recorded stages of the Tour de France, LH spent the day finishing up her book, and EG has been playing computer games. The exception to sitting around and being lazy was, of course, TD who was invited over to a friend's house for the afternoon and got to go swimming (which made her sisters extremely jealous.) I even went back to bed for another snooze. I would have probably kept sleeping if LH hadn't decided to make dinner and had to ask me a question about how to cook the frozen shrimp. I can not describe how thankful I am that LH is so willing to step up and make dinner on a night like tonight. Some kids her age would grab themselves a sandwich and slink off to their bedroom, thankful that they were spared the torture of another family dinner. Instead, she figures out what is for dinner, either because of my menu or because she decides on an easier recipe, and then cooks and serves dinner for everyone at the table, just like I do. I don't know how it happened, but something good has sunk into her, and I couldn't be more proud.

Now it is after midnight and I am ready for bed (again) I think. I have another week ahead of me helping the girls fight off cabin fever while not spending any money or hanging at the library for five days straight. I might have to deviate a bit from the plan I created for the summer, but I don't think the girls will mind too much. They are getting used to being flexible because I have to change up plans in relation to my energy level for the day. As long as I can keep them out of the house as much as possible, they will be happy. I think I might be through with day trips out of town. As much fun as we all had, I doubt that I will be able to pull it off again. I am pretty sure the relative success of the day was due as much to luck as anything else. I am very glad I decided to go and bring the kids, though. It was really cool for them to see what it is that DH does when he goes out of town and I know he enjoyed showing them off to all the people that he talks to about them.

Hopefully they will go back to school at the end of the summer and remember the trip as something fun they were able to do.

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