Friday, March 6, 2009

Fun with Family and Friends

I love laughing, and life often gives us much to laugh about. In addition, life at work is stressful right now, so I turn to laughter as an important coping mechanism. Here are some things that have made me laugh and/or brought me joy recently:

--As I looked through pictures of my grandmother’s funeral with my mom, we ran across a picture of three men I did not recognize. I asked my mom whether she knew the three men, and she responded dramatically, “I have never, ever seen those three men in my life!” IN MY LIFE. I scrolled over to reveal the rest of the picture, and I found my mom talking to the three men. IN MY LIFE. Uh-huh. It turns out that they were her co-workers from 2007. How quickly she forgot!

--After work, my mom picked up my brother’s four kids and took them for ice cream. They happened upon me at a four-way stop and rolled down the window to talk to me. I actually turned, not knowing that they wanted to talk to me. My mom later told me that she said, “ay, chamaco” (translation: “oh, that boy”), and all the kids repeated the same phrase. My niece also added, “Oh, I love J.J., but ay, chamaco.” Yes, my two-year-old niece called me a little boy, and I found it both funny and very cute. Many members of my family call me J.J. As a boy, the nickname infuriated me, and many of my family members would come to my Little League games and yell out my nickname. They thought it would make me mad enough to take it out on the ball and hit a homerun. It usually just made me mad. Grrr…

--I turn everything into a competition. My nieces and nephew came over the other night and asked me to color with them. My niece asked me to help her color a picture for her teacher, and I told her to color the cat and that I would color the dog. When we were done with the picture, I commented on how beautiful her dog was, but I then informed her that my dog was much better looking than her cat. My nieces and nephew then destroyed my dog for my excessive show of pride by scribbling all over it. Jealousy…

--I love how worked up my family and friends get over the novelas. Everybody is now talking about the 8:00 novela, “Amor es para siempre.” My mom sits there and allows the novela to evoke every emotion imaginable (I’ve heard sighs, shrieks, gasps, laughter, cries—a real rollercoaster), and as I was sitting in my room at my desk, she ran back to my bedroom during the commercial break to ask if I just watched an episode of the novela. “No, you need to watch. This one is the best one ever.” She said that about the last. They’re trying to suck me into another one, and I refuse to budge! The women at work then come into the Courthouse and discuss the show, saying, “Can you believe how evil that woman is? Ay, que mala!” My cousin, who works in my office, told me about her 60-something year-old aunt from Guadalajara and her reaction to the show. She said, “Oh, I just want to have such a heart attack when I see that woman. I just want to grab her by the neck and strangle her! It’s already over in Mexico, and I can say that this is the BEST novela ever.” I will not cave, I will NOT cave!

--I am playing tennis everyday again and loving it. A longtime friend and I are equally passionate about the game, and we have been going out to the courts for 1½-2 hours every night. We have been challenging all the members of the varsity team because we want to work with the players and see the program do well, but we have earned the nickname of “The Bullies” for relentlessly pounding the ball down their throats. Oops. We decided to go for a different approach by splitting up the teams and working with them individually. My first lesson: talking trash.

Fun times, fun times!

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Again, I fall victim to life and return to my blog after a long hiatus. I thought about inventing a word for a “blog slacker,” but when all I could come up with was “blocker” or “blacker,” I decided that I should leave the word inventions up to Brian.

Life is good out here in West Texas. I am still working for county government, and I am trying to get a couple of service projects up and running. In addition, I spend lots of time with my family. As hard as I fought it, my family now has me addicted to a novela, but luckily, it’s just one and not the typical block of three that goes from 6:00-9:00 on Univision. My brother, my sister, and their families often come over to enjoy a meal cooked by my mom and to watch the novela together. These are the kinds of shows I tend to stay away from because I often cannot deal with the suspense. LOST would certainly give me a heart attack, I am sure. I grow impatient about what will happen next, and this is why I usually stick to comedies. Even then, I often find the suspense in the storylines to be very taxing on my nerves. Let’s hope that the novela causes only minimal damage.

I am reading again for fun and loving it. The plan is to continue reading something on an academic interest and then to supplement it with pleasure reading. My academic read is about human resource management. Exciting. Well, it’s exciting to me anyway. My current pleasure read is another Vonnegut book, Hocus Pocus, and it does not disappoint. He tells a story in a simple, funny way, but through it all, a powerful, important message emerges. My next project will be a nonfiction book about the Civil War.

I am also planning to explore my backyard a little further. Out in West Texas, we have beautiful Big Bend National Park and numerous state parks, and I look forward to camping soon.

Yes, life’s pace is much slower out here, but I have every intention of making life just as exciting.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Adventures in Rural Michigan

Yesterday, I set out on a research trip. For my final paper in one of my classes, I have to research the economic development strategies of a town in Michigan. I chose Adrian, a small town of 22,000 about an hour away from Ann Arbor. The city sits away from all major highways, but after looking at Mapquest, I just knew that I would have no problem getting there. Well, I was wrong. I drove down 23 and connected to 12 with no problems, and I knew that my next turn down 52 would be around Saline. I drove through Saline and then past it, and I never ran into 52. I turned around thinking that I must have passed it already. I drove back into Saline and turned down Milan Road. In my experience, Michigan does a poor job at marking roads, so I proceeded down this road thinking that Michigan’s poor marking of roads would not fool me. Fool me it did! I ended up driving through the boonies of the counties of Washtenaw and Lenawee. I just kept driving and driving and driving. I figured that I would find my way and was bound on all sides by things I knew, like 23 on one side, I-94 on the other, and the Gulf of Mexico in the direction I was heading! Yes, eventually, I would find my way out. I faced many forks in the road, and I just made it a point not to take the dirt road option. The barns kept fooling me because I would see an elaborate set of them and think that there was Adrian. There was not a single gas station where I could stop and ask for directions (Yes, no gas would have prevented me from hitting the Gulf, in which case I expected all of you to be helping out in the manhunt for my car and me in the middle of nowhere), so after a good 30-45 minutes and many wrong turns, I called for help. Elizabeth graciously guided me out of my predicament. It turns out that I was far from where I needed to be, running parallel to the appropriate road the entire time, but one of the roads I passed linked me up with the road into Adrian.

Luckily, my inclination for punctuality put me on the road, oh, four hours before my scheduled meeting, so my country ride hurt me in no way and even ate into the ridiculous amount of free time I had. While I intended to get there early so that I could explore the city, I had plenty of time to do that and so many other things. I made my way into the community college and the historical museum for tours. I still had free time, so I had lunch, put in gas, and killed some time in Walgreens. What did I learn in Walgreens, you ask? Did you know that they are now selling birthday cards from your favorite sitcoms, and when you open them up, they play the theme song? Wow. They also have an eleven-game set for only $9.99; the games include chess, checkers, and the like. For such a competitive spirit, who knew such happiness could be found in one box? Not me. I almost bought it.

Anyway, the little town is actually quite beautiful, and while the town has obviously been hit by the movement away from manufacturing, they have some amazing assets with which to work on economic development. They have a nice courthouse; a beautiful downtown; historic housing districts; three colleges; many parks funded by their own endowment; an opera house; and a symphony orchestra. Few small towns can boast of such great quality-of-life indicators. Here are some pictures of this hidden gem, which I hope to take friends to soon (in the infinite amount of time I have before I leave):

Well, this post gives me an opportunity to announce the newest segment to my blog…drumroll, please: FRIEND OF THE WEEK! This week’s winner is clearly Elizabeth. Thank you very much for saving my life. I could have been stampeded by a herd of cattle out there, but instead, I live to tell the tale in my blog. Make sure to put it on your resume under your “Major Awards” section, and feel free to use me as a reference.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


It is 9:30, and Jessica, the most trusted name in politics and a great friend, just called the election before all the major networks.  I'm going to bed assured that my candidate just won the election.  

Yes, that's the expert...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Work, Fun, and Love

Wow, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks, with lots of work and lots of fun!

First, the work… As many of you know, I am leaving my Ph.D. program and taking the Master’s in December. In some respects, this is not an easy decision. I love what I study. I really get excited about reading political science and public policy literature, thinking critically about it, and taking classes where we then have engaging discussions about it. I look forward to contributing to the field by teaching, researching, and writing. Yes, I am a big nerd. However, for a variety of reasons, this is not the time for the Ph.D. I had a great first year and am having fun now in my program, but there are so many other priorities that I must take care of now. So, instead, I have busily been finishing up all my coursework this semester, preparing for my graduation and subsequent move to Texas, and applying to jobs. The combination of activities keeps me extremely busy, but I have managed to enjoy life, too.

Now, for the fun! I love Michigan in the fall. A bunch of friends and I visited a cider mill and a corn maze, which is quintessential fall in the Midwest. It was a lot of fun. I never would have been exposed to such colorful foliage (I saw color in New England, but I spent most of my time in the city, never exposed to the full extent) and outdoor fun in Texas. In my part of Texas, the most abundant foliage is the mesquite tree, which grows about five feet tall, is mostly brown with minimal green, and has thin limbs and thorns as its main appendages. Doesn’t it sound beautiful? Nope. Well, this is why when I went to college and bought a beautiful plant at a non-profit fundraiser, I insisted that it was a tree. It had green leaves and stood about four feet tall. If we call the mesquite a tree, I reasoned, this plant certainly qualifies. Yes, I mostly said these things to irk my roommates in the obstinate, dramatic way I defend all of my claims, but there was a part of me that really believed my plant was a tree. Of course, I killed poor Alfred, my tree, after never learning how to nurture greenery during my childhood. Sure, we watered our dirt at home in hopes of sprouting up grass, but it rarely came to life.

I took a road trip to Columbus, OH, last weekend to visit a good friend who just moved there to work on his MBA. We had such a great time visiting Jason. Amy, Jake, and I also had a memorable road trip, taking part in great conversation and belting out all kinds of songs. The biggest hits seemed to be Michael Jackson and, wait for it, wait for it, Boyz II Men!!! Who knew Jake kept such music on his iPod?!! Yes, most people would probably expect it from me (and, yes, I do have a whole CD of their greatest hits), but it was Jake who provided us with the classics. Amy sat in the back amused as Jake and I sang our hearts out to “Bended Knee.” Of course, some of the lines are ridiculous, and we paused to laugh hysterically at one particular line: “I’ll never walk again, until you come back to me, I’m down on bended knee.” I hope that my wife is OK with dancing to a Boyz II Men song for our first dance. I will passionately sing every word into your ear. Please, ladies, you know that’s romantic and H-O-T-T…and totally me (in that half-joking, half-serious, half-attractive, half-dorky sort of way)!

Yeah, there’s a bunch of other fun stories, but I will spare you for now. Ladies, if you think you wanna listen to my Boyz II Men collection, give me a call. Just be prepared to fall in love with me, for nobody sings about love quite like B2M ‘n’ I!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Efficient vs. Anal

I shared a story with a few friends yesterday and today, and I thought that I would share it with others in order to elicit opinions. I was walking to class Wednesday morning, and I happened to bump into one of my classmates on my way there. This was my first conversation with the girl, and as I look back on it, I am a little frightened to think about her opinion of me. Here's how it went down:

I crossed the street and encountered the girl. We exchanged pleasantries, and she then asked for the time. I told her that it is 8:20. Our class starts at 8:30, but the professors really don't begin lecturing until 8:40, as is customary in most schools. She said that she was proud of herself for being ten minutes earlier than she usually is. I told her that I was ten minutes later than usual, and she must have noticed that I was speedwalking (I guess she was about five feet behind me as she said this) because she said that she would speedwalk with me. Honestly, I was really upset at myself for leaving later than my usual time, and I really was on a race to the classroom before I encountered her. That morning, I became so wrapped up in reading political commentary, and I left later than usual. Anyway, I told her not to worry about speedwalking because I really was attempting to not be as punctual as I usually am. I told her about how much time I waste showing up early to everything. She said, "Wow, you're really trying to rein in your anal side." I agreed. What?!! Why did I agree? By trying to control my anal side, I perhaps come across as even more anal. I really do think about efficiency quite a bit, and thinking about efficiency as much as I do makes me a little anal. I do not think I am out of control, though.

There is another component to this time-wasting, and it is the answer I should have given. I show up early to every class, and I often get frustrated not because I waste so much time, but because I am really bored during this time. I usually have all my reading done, so I sit there. And wait. And wait. That answer would have made me seem less anal and much cooler, which I think (or hope) I am. Instead, this girl thinks I am a freak. lol.

So, am I as laid back, cool, and collected as I think I am, or did I give this girl the right impression of me? Chances are that I will listen to your words, argue against them, and end up at my desired conclusion. Delusional, that's another one of my issues, but we should probably tackle one at a time! Still, let me know.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Yes, friends, I finally won, and revenge never tasted so good. I emerged victorious, and all it took was a burned finger, singed taste buds, lots of tears, several destroyed pots, and, worse, a damaged ego. Today, I made good rice!

I don’t know what possessed me, but I felt particularly brave this morning. As I sat down to do my reading for next week, I felt the urge to make beans and rice. I finally had some time to sit around while they cooked, so I quickly set out to work before I could remember my previous failures and the pain they caused. As my Michigan friends can attest, making rice and even beans has been a harrowing experience over the course of the past year. First, I bought a crock-pot last year, thinking that I could let things cook as I ventured to class or the library for hours at a time. I put some beans in there one weekend, and I ended up cooking the beans for forty-eight (yes, 4-8) hours. I wish I were exaggerating. At the end of two days, the beans were still not done, and I went hungry during this forced fast. I wish I could say that I emerged spiritually renewed after the fast, but I only had horrible thoughts about what I would do to the crock-pot. Needless to say, the crock-pot was relegated to the back of the cabinet with all my third-rate appliances.

Second, a couple of friends and I developed a lunch club on Sundays after church last year, and we took turns hosting it. On my Sunday, I made enchiladas, a salad, and rice, a pretty typical Sunday meal at home in Texas. The enchiladas were tasty; the rice was not. I somehow scorched the rice after receiving repeated warnings from my mom and sister to keep plenty of water in the pot. Defiantly, I decided to serve the rice, claiming that the rice was still edible and, underneath the scorched smell, actually flavorful. They did not agree, but I ate the rice over the course of the next week to prove them wrong. I showed them…and my grand nemesis, rice.

Finally, I had a friend come over for dinner one day, and I decided to make a similar meal, including rice. Never to be defeated by rice again, I vowed to keep plenty of water in the pot. I succeeded. I managed to undercook the rice but not scorch it. We sat down for dinner. Crunch, crunch, crunch. “I know I undercooked it this time, but trust me, it’s better than scorched rice and still has a great flavor.” She did not think so. I ate my crunchy rice for the rest of the week in my next act of defiance against rice.

See, this is why this day is so momentous. Rejoice with me. I promise not to get cocky, though, for rice is a formidable, scrappy foe and has tested people around the world for so many generations. I have won this battle, but I have a lifetime to win this war. Rice 2, me 1. Now, I guess I need some witnesses for my victory. Who wants to eat?