Monday, July 23, 2007

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

This is going to be a long post. We've got about 10 days' worth of adventure to cover so go ahead & visit that little room before you get started.
Friday, June 13, 2007

6:30 am. The Girl & I were packed up for our 9-day adventure and about to roll out the door when the phone rang. It was one of my band booster friends (one of about 2 that I can actually tolerate for any length of time) calling to tell me she & her husband had bought me a nice bottle of wine and she wanted to bring it to me so that we could have it on my graduation day. Of course we all know how much I hate presents - especially wine - so we hung out a couple of extra minutes to visit with her before safely tucking the wine in my suitcase. Little did I know that was to be the theme of the week.

We got to Mom's and got her stuff loaded but with an oxygen tank in the back seat, we really didn't have room for the cooler. We decided that it was okay though. We could always stop for drinks & munchies if we wanted to. The weather was beautiful, we had toonz and each other and we were not on a schedule. So we stopped at Sonic for breakfast before we even left the county ;o)

Later in the day, The Man called and said something like, "I know The Girl is in the car, so just answer yes or no." Then he proceeded to tell me about how our son in law thought he had found a car for her but he didn't want to get her hopes up in case it didn't pan out. The problem was that he wasn't giving me yes or no questions so I was having to tell him what I needed to tell him without giving it away. We decided that if it did turn out to be a good deal, we'd get it. He was even going to pay for half. (Okay, say AWWWW...) He called later to tell me our son in law, a Ford master technician, had checked it out and would have bought it for the grandtwins, so he was going to go ahead with it. More on that later.

Sooo, we finally made it to my great aunt's house. We attempted to follow her directions and ended up being taken 60 miles out of the way. There are basically 4 exits along the entire Kansas turnpike - the motto of which is "Welcome to Kansas - Just keep moving, then get the fuck out." If you miss your exit, that's just too gawddamn bad - you have to drive at least 30 miles to the next one, pay to exit, collect a new ticket then pay to exit at your real destination if you can find it. I knew better than to listen to the directions of a 75-year-old who rarely leaves her hometown. Thankfully I have a wonderful sense of direction and excellent map reading skills. We got there and had a great time hanging out with my cousin, great aunt and the 13 year old grandson she's raising. The kid is a very talented guitarist but can't play guitar hero to save his life. The Girl had fun with that. Oh yeah...and that wine? Didn't make it through the evening. It's okay though, you'll see that there's plenty more where that came from.

Oh yeah, the picture is from Pome on the Range, a big orchard where we pulled over & bought what else but apple wine!

Saturday, July 14

We traversed to Mom's best friend's place just outside the suburbs of KC. Of course, since I have been described as "a tailgate party waitin' to happen," if I'm around, the tequila must flow, right? They had this big ol' margarita machine that was like an oversized blender. You pour the tequila & margarita goodie over about a 5 pound bag of ice and turn it on then 10 minutes later you have (sort of) restaurant style margaritas. I thought a good blender would have been more efficient but the machine was cute and fun. We went to a Macaroni Grill with her very patient husband and 85-year-old mom and just about took over the place.

The picture is a sculpture we made from straws, a crayon and a stub of their lovely rosemary foccaccia bread that bears a strange resemblance to something that's bound to be obscene. We scared the shit out of the waiter, but then again we live for socially inappropriate behavior.

Sunday, June 15

We left Missouri to head back over the river to the KC, KS suburb where Grandma & Grandpa live. No sooner did we get there than Grandma wanted us to sit down and eat. Nevermind we had just stopped at Sonic for lunch less than an hour before. The aunts & uncles who were there to see us didn't eat so it was kind of weird but we didn't want to hurt Grandma's feelings so shove more down we did. These grandparents are Mom's ex-inlaws but with 40 years of water under the bridge, they all got along and had a lovely visit until my aunt & stressball uncle arrived from St. Jo to pick mom up. Later we drove around the nicer neighborhoods of KC looking at the fountains (BTW, it's legal to play in them in KC - which is reason enough to go there!) all of the old mansions and we went to the hotel where Mom, The Girl & I would be spending the rest of the week so we'd know how to get there and I could show them where to meet us Thursday night for my dissertation defense. I made sure to make up a playlist on my iPod just for Grandpa that included Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra et al. He loved it.

Grandpa had a head injury a couple of years ago and has some dementia as well, so it was interesting for me as a neuronerd to spend time with him. He naps a lot during the day but doesn't realize that's the reason why he can't sleep through the night, despite everyone telling him that's what's going on. Since I'm kind of an expert in the area of old folks, I told him the same thing everyone else has told him and even though he isn't going to change a damn thing because he's a stubborn old Italian, at least he heard what I said and accepted it as having some grain of truth. Maybe it wasn't my expert status but my good bedside manner and gentle handling of him that did the trick. Then again, being the favorite granddaughter doesn't hurt either.

Monday, July 16

Grandpa was damn determined that we were going to have Egg McMuffin from his local McDonald's for breakfast. I didn't bother to tell him I haven't done business with McDonalds or WalMart in years. He's old and he likes it so I graciously sucked it up for one day and pretended that was the loveliest fake cheese I'd ever consumed in my life. Gaaah.

We made up for it at lunch though. After Grandpa's morning nap, we toddled down the road to Quick's Bar-B-Q down on Merriam Lane. Everyone has their favorite KC BBQ, but there's a certain nostalgia there for me because I was raised on the sauce, which we had to import to Texas through various family members when they came to visit. Nothing like a big ol' plate of Quick's ribs and a coldbeer. Aaaaaahhh... I made sure to get a case of sauce while I was there, since I'm down to 3 bottles left from the trip Mom & I made there last summer.

The Girl & I made our way to the hotel and got checked in & settled. The Girl was asking about what to do next and where would we meet up with my friends from school when the seminars let out. She was excited to meet them but had some concern about whether we should try to call them or not and how would they know where to meet us. I told her not to worry - we'd grab a drink (mmmmerlot for me, cherry coke with extra cherries for her), grab a couple of tables in the lobby and relax a minute. I have a tendency to draw a crowd. She didn't believe it until people started drifting downstairs and before long we had about 15 people there gushing at her about how wonderful her mom is. Then MY Mom showed up and the gushing really began. Somebody could have gotten the bighead over all that adulation.

My friend J, who started the program at the same time I did, and who moved to Texas from Indiana because she couldn't get a practicum site anywhere in her state (Imagine! Turning down free help!), had planned to take me to dinner that night so we ate in one of the hotel restaurants. Mom, The Girl, and one of my neuronerd friends tagged along. Again, we kept ourselves amused by exhibiting socially questionable behavior. After dinner we went to the bar, and ran into even more of my friends. Let's just say I couldn't move without someone buying me a drink. Then the VFW Junior Vice Commanders from all 50 states & Puerto Rico showed up. Mom & I are both life members of the Ladies' Auxiliary. Those guys live to carouse, so from what I remember, we were in good company. We closed down the bar and poured ourselves into our Heavenly Beds. The beds at the Westin are out of this world.

Tuesday, July 17

I did nooooot want to get up. While I wasn't sick, I had a bit of a headache and just wanted to sleep. What I needed to do, however, was finish my Keynote Presentation for my dissertation defense, which was to take place in 2 more days. There's a mall attached to the Crown Center complex, so Mom & The Girl explored there while I slept and half-assed worked on my presentation. By the time they got there around 2, it was definitely time for me to eat, so we went to a burger place in the mall called Fritz's that serves the food via an interesting model train and hydraulics system. It was definitely a kid restaurant but fun, the food was pretty good and we enjoyed it. Then I went back to the room and worked on that presentation some more. Oh joy.

Later there was a welcome reception for everyone. More friends - more wine...(see, I told you there was a theme...) and a balloon/Heineken bottle sculpture, as pictured above. By this time, The Girl is starting to figure out that grad school may not be so bad after all. Mom, The Girl, my program advisor, another student & I then went to a lovely Japanese restaurant and proceeded to order one of just about everything. We loved the food, but the company was better.

Wednesday, July 18

First things first, I've been on the committee for a student-led scholarship auction for the last 5 years, so I held my last hurrah. Mom bought me an anatomically-correct caveman with interchangeable "clothing" and a Sigmund Freud action figure. He was hawked as "Therapy so easy a caveman can do it."

I had previously scheduled a lunch with my program advisor, but don't get to see her often so even though we'd had dinner the night before, we took her to Fritz's for the train-delivered burger. Her favorite part was the chocolate shake. Once we got back to the hotel, we ran into my chair and she wanted to go over the edits she wants to see in the next week or so. It's simple stuff, just expanding and explaining some areas a little better. No big deal.

Since The Man was going to join us around 7, around 3 I checked he & me into the adjoining room & so sis could take my bed when she got there.

One of the students I mentored when she entered the program had scheduled a dinner in my honor at Pierpont's restaurant (and ginormous wall o' booze) in the historic Union Station building at 8:30. The Man arrived at the hotel at 8:20 and the restaurant was going to stop serving at 9 so we had to book it across the skywalk to get there in time. There were about 20 people there, all gushing about how I had helped them or inspired them in some way during their time with me in school. By this time Mom & The Girl were getting used to it, but this was The Man's first exposure to people in my program en masse. so I think it was a little overwhelming for him, but he seemed pleased.

The day before we left, The Girl spent 6 & 1/2 hours raking grass which was almost long enough to bale, and hauling it to the back of the hayfield. The Man didn't pay her for it, as he would normally, but she didn't complain. While we were at Mom's best friend's house, I printed off the pictures he had emailed me of the car and stashed the paper in my purse. I gave it to him at the restaurant. He leaned over to her, handed her the paper and said, "Do you think this will do as payment for all that work you've done around the house this summer?" You should have seen her face. Of course everybody had to give him shit, "What? Dr.S is graduating but The Girl gets a new car?"

After the dinner, we waited in the lobby for my sister to arrive around midnight from Walla Walla with - you guessed it - more wine. A case of reallllly good stuff plus 4 more bottles in her suitcase, to be exact. Hate that. Sucks to be me.

Thursday, July 19

I don't know what the hell everybody else did all day, but I finished that fucking presentation, then felt nauseous until it was over. Okay, we had lunch at Milano, which is an excellent Italian place, and I don't usually eat Italian out because people fuck it up so badly. I don't eat most things at Macaroni Grill and won't even darken the door of an Olive Garden. Other than that though, it was all about polishing that Keynote presentation for me.

My other sister and her little boy came to the hotel and a cousin thankfully came to pick him up so he wouldn't have to be bored and get in trouble for trying to entertain himself during my talk. My dad, his new wife and my brother (who left his little boy at an uncle's house) came in from about 15 miles from my home. My father and his scary woman were also there. So there's mom, her ex in-laws and her first 2 husbands and their wives and all but one of my siblings, who had to go fight terrorism somewhere, all getting along like peas and carrots. It was weird. Good, but weird. Five minutes into my talk, I notice two of my very dearest neuronerd friends sitting there wiping tears from their eyes! I hadn't settled into my groove yet so it was necessary for me to stop and tell them to stop immediately or I would have to join them in their bawlfest and then we might never get out of there.

Once I finished the presentation, my associate dean led the questioning by asking me, aside from the results I got on my research, what was the thing I was most pleased about. I told her that I was just happy I didn't projectile vomit on her and the other members of my committee. I think the only thing that saved me was that I had the hotel bring in a long, skirted table under the guise of setting up my computer on it, but in reality I just wanted to be able to take off my shoes since it's murder to stand in heels for over an hour. My chair was pleased with my work and informed me that she had never seen a dissertation talk so well put together. Much beloved second faculty reader was very happy with the way I discussed the many shortcomings of the Folstein Mini Mental Status Exam (unfortunately the most often used "tool" discussed in geriatric research) for diagnosing dementia. He also told me that he had never seen a dissertation presentation so well attended. The room was set up with 40 chairs. They were all full.

Sometime early on in my talk, I noticed that Grandpa left and never came back. My aunt said to me after it was over that before he left he leaned over to her and whispered, "I gotta pee. This is the longest damned wedding I've ever seen." He then waited in the hotel lobby until it was over.

Afterwards, we all adjourned to a friend suite for a lovely wine (duh) and cheese reception. We got around the weird ass KC liquor laws by serving in a suite, where you can serve whatever you want, instead of the room where the defense was held, like the hotel wanted us to do. It was big fun, and after not having the guts to eat dinner, that was the bestest gawddamn cheese I ever ate. The wine though was outstanding. I'm so glad I didn't pay the hotel $45 a bottle for the K-J. My sister & I stayed up until 3:30 talking and solving all the problems of the world.

The picture here is of my last slide...the text and Devo's "Working in a Coal Mine" came in first, and each tool element came up at .1 second intervals in time with the opening strains of the song. It was cool.

Friday, July 20
With the dissertation defense out of the way, I could really relax. The Girl went with my sisters and our father to Worlds of Fun, which The Girl describes as kind of like Six Flags but lamer. Mom & I took The Man to Quick's then went back to the hotel for a nap, then we went to see Harry Potter. Yes, we're all fans - Mom even bought the book the day it came out.

Suz & her new husband and daughter came in right before the movie was over. My sisters went to our aunt's house to spend the night so the remaining 7 of us went to my favorite restaurant, Morton's, for dinner. The Man & I had our first "date" at the one in Nashville many moons ago and try to go to them if we're in a town that has one. We go to the one in Dallas sometimes too, but of all of them it tends to be the noisiest. Of course with the Social Skills family, none of whom had ever been to a restaurant much nicer than an Applebee's, in tow, the one in KC was probably a bit noisier than usual this time. They brought me a little bottle of champagne. It was cute. The best part of the meal though was the chocolate truffle cake and Douwe Egberts coffee. I have wet dreams about that stuff.

My camera takes pretty crappy pictures so I'm waiting for people to email them to me, although I don't think any were taken here.

Saturday, July 21, Graduation Day!
First thing was a champagne brunch for the graduates. The menu was visually appealing, kind of a higher-end version of Grandpa's egg McMuffin, but with a poached egg jiggling about on top of each side of the English muffin. Ewwwww - runny egg goo gives me the huzz, so I just ate the Canadian bacon, grilled asparagus & tomatoes and had an extra glass of champagne. The whole point of the brunch though was for the office of development to hit us up for alumni donations. Fuck that shit. Let me at least pay off my student loans. Jeez.

The Man & I walked around the mall for awhile and I remembered that it was the 7th anniversary of when our neice was killed in a helicopter crash while on vacation in Hawaii. She would have been 22 this December. Maybe I shouldn't have asked him if he had talked to his brother yet that day. We had some frozen custard while we watched the kids play in the fountains outside then went back to the room so he could talk to his brother. It was sad but in a way I think a necessary part of what he needed to do that day. They usually spend the weekends hanging out together doing cow & hay stuff so it was probably harder for them this year since they couldn't be around to distract one another from the gravity of the day. I decided around 4:30 to grab some dinner since it would be the only chance I'd have once the festivities got underway. The Man wasn't hungry because he was busy reliving his grief so I gave him some space and went anyway. Not to worry - I wasn't alone. My sisters & nephew, The Girl, & Suz's family tagged along.

I had to be downstairs at 6 for robing. Although I had the option of spending a mere $25 for the rental gown instead of the nearly grand I did for custom gear, I am so happy I bought my shit. The rental gowns looked as if they had been used for pajamas and they smelled like dirty feet. I looked sharp as hell in my black robe with the PhD blue velvet and matching blue velvet tam. I was the only one who didn't go for the rental robes but gawddammit I earned that PhD blue velvet so I wore it proudly even though I stuck out - no - make that stood out, in my typical grand style. I'll post pictures when I get them.

In the 10 minutes between the group photo and time to line up, the outgoing student body president & I decided we had just enough time to saunter down to the bar to do a shot. In our robes. Hell yeah. The bartender gave us "doctoral size" Lemon Drops that were about twice the amount typically served. My brother happened to be in the bar (big surprise) and even picked up our tab (even bigger surprise) as we slammed our glasses down on the bar to head back upstairs to do our thing. It really hit the spot, but I was wishing for some ice water or something after sitting on that stage for the next 2 hours.

We had an unusually large class of 15 this time but the Awfully Persnickety Association really wants PhDs to be finished in under 10 years, so the school is pushing those with longer tenures to get the hell out. Whether they graduate or quit is up to them. At our graduations, each graduate speaks - theoretically for 2-3 minutes, but these folks maundered ON and ON and ON and they were boring and sad and I kept thinking, "Isn't this supposed to be a celebration? What the fuck is wrong with these people? Stupid shrinks," et cetera. My last name is wayyyyyy down the alphabet so I had the honor of going last - and I felt a pressing responsibility to bring up the mood of the room (over half of which was there just to see me walk). Soooo, again in my usual grand style, I basically performed a 3-minute comedy routine. My antics (which included donning a big, fat sparkly tiara with my tam) had everyone laughing and smiling and ready for the wonderful party in the ballroom next door. If you're interested, I'll post it in a day or two.

The party afterwards was lovely, with a DJ, dancing, open bar, and the most beautiful dessert table you can imagine. We weren't finished celebrating after it was over at midnight, and we still weren't finished celebrating after we closed down the bar at 1am. The Man went upstairs but Mom, the Sisters & I hung out in the lobby with many friends until beyond the wee hours. My friend with the suite brought out a tray of homemade lasagne and more wine and we begged wine glasses from room service and found a corkscrew and someone else got a couple of bottles of champagne from room service.

When Sister #2 was leaving to go to the airport at 4:30, Mom, Sister #3 & I went upstairs (I'm the oldest, so I would be Sister #1). I knew The Man wanted to leave at 7am, so instead of going bed, I just showered and packed so we'd be ready to go when he was. I knew he'd want to drive so I planned to sleep on the way. It was the least I could do since he'd pretty much gone along with whatever I wanted to do since he'd been there.

Sunday, July 22

Once I navigated The Man out of KC, which, BTW, is the single most underrated city in the United States, I went to sleep and didn't wake up until we were in Emporia, about an hour & 1/2 away. Apparently The Man travels differently than we do. He likes to stop at McDonald's. I was already over my 10-year allotment of their food and was a little tired so I didn't have the energy to complain. I navigated him back onto the turnpike and didn't wake up again until it was time to get off of it and back onto I-35. Went back to sleep until Oklahoma City, where we stopped at - you guessed it - McDonald's again, then drifted in & out for the rest of the drive until we picked up his demo at the place where he works.

Honestly, I was a little worried that I might not be able to stay awake long enough to get Mom, The Girl & me back home but we made it just fine. When The Girl & I got here, her car was parked in the garage, all shiny & red. She thought she wanted a black Mustang but after driving this one she thinks she'll like it better because it's higher up where she can see better, and like me she's so incredibly tall.

Our delight was tempered when we got in the house though. Friday night while we were gone, our much beloved 11-year-old Labrador Retriever, Boomer, had been run over and killed by a car. The Man called our son in law to help him retrieve the dog from the ditch & bury him at the back of the hayfield with our other pets who've crossed over the Rainbow Bridge to wait for us. I miss that dog and can barely look at the pool without expecting to see him in it. My little red dog Sam is just whining and grieving over him.

So there you have it sports fans. The full report. I'll post pics as I get them in.


Jesska said...

Congratulations! I can just imagine that you would so be the center of attention everywhere you went. Congrats to the girl on the car, and my condolenceson Boomer. How awful.

BTW, I would have sprung for the robe to. All the cooletst Dr's at my school had one. Price be damned! I wanna see you in a tiara! Get those pics up soon.

River Rat said...

Dear lord girl! Congrats and condolences.

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