Birdaphobia

There are a lot of things that I like in this world, but birds are not one of them. I actively dislike the winged monsters. They are terrible, and there’s a reason Alfred Hitchcock made an entire horror movie about them.

birds-r

My disdain probably began in middle or high school. A family of mockingbirds made a nest in the tree outside my bedroom window – adorable, right? WRONG. The jerks made a daily habit of pointlessly pecking the wall outside, which created a loud tapping noise in my bedroom at the crack of dawn.

Who knows why they were doing this. Why, birds why?! What were you trying to accomplish? They have tiny brains, so even they probably didn’t know why. I was even less happy when the mockingbirds apparently either procreated, or invited their long-lost cousins to live with them, because the tapping grew even louder and more persistent.

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At first, I attempted to solve the problem on my own. As soon as the birds woke me from my blissful sleep, I’d lunge across my bed in a fit of rage and bang my fist against the wall. Thankfully, the birds were perplexed and terrified by this noise, and scattered out of the tree. Mission accomplished!

…Until the fools eventually realized that their home was not spontaneously exploding. They appeared to start thinking of the bang as a sort of greeting; as soon as they heard it, they’d momentarily pause their tapping, only to resume it at an even louder volume.

My parents eventually got involved in the problem-solving, most likely just to make sure that I didn’t leave a fury-filled dent in the wall. On advice from my grandmother, they purchased cheap rubber snakes at the dollar store and planted them inside the bushes and trees outside my room. I was doubtful – I figured even the tiniest of bird brains would realize pretty quickly that their enemies never moved or blinked. (Technically, snakes never blink, but birds are stupid and probably don’t know that.)

It turns out, I was wrong. Bothered by the presence of the snakes, the mockingbird family packed up their things and moved on to another tree, never to disturb my sleep again.

No, that wasn’t some sort of happy ending to this story, because I have other reasons for hating the feathery bastards.

In elementary school, a couple of my teachers kept class pets – one of them, an African Grey Parrot named Murphy. I can’t speak for all Greys, but Murphy was basically the devil. He acted innocent and loving around my teacher, but anytime she stepped out of the room, Murphy would screech noisily and pace in his cage, glaring at us through the bars as though he were plotting our deaths.

Once, he managed to escape from his cage and chase us around the room. We all screamed and climbed on top of our desks, trying to avoid getting chunks of our flesh ripped out by Murphy’s big beak. The power-hungry dictator seemed pleased by his authority over us, and returned to his cage before our teacher ever knew he was gone.

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He’s pretending that cucumber is human flesh.

Another time, I was driving on an access road and noticed a giant bird perched on a speed limit sign up ahead of me. When I tell this story to people, I sometimes identify the bird as a balding eagle or a pterodactyl, which it probably wasn’t. Don’t really know for sure. But it was definitely some sort of bird of prey, like a falcon or a hawk. As soon as my car got close to the sign, the bird chose that moment to swoop down from its perch. I screamed and closed my eyes (which is a great thing to do when operating a motor vehicle), and slammed on my breaks. I heard a light “thunk” as the bird’s wing hit my windshield, but the beast continued on its path, seemingly undeterred.

Clearly, the feeling of hatred is mutual.

The only person (or animal) who has ever come close to understanding how I feel is my parents’ neighbors’ cat, Garfield, who is now sadly deceased. Admittedly, Garfield was the one who instigated HIS troubles with the mockingbirds in the first place, since he seemed to make it his life’s goal to attack and kill a lot of them. (Which is pretty bad ass, considering that’s illegal in Texas.)

Eventually, word of the bird murders got out, and the remaining mockingbirds joined together to form a Bird Mafia and avenge their friends’ deaths. After that, every single time Garfield set foot outside, they’d swoop down from the trees and peck at the poor cat’s head.

I don’t necessarily hate all species of bird. Every once in awhile, I can admire a pretty blue jay or cardinal in the yard. I also find ducks to be quite cute and charming, and I once fed potato chips to a stray chicken at a gas station in Corpus Christi. (It was fun until he tried to get in the car with me. I wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment.) I also squeal and clap my hands in excitement when I see peacocks out in the real world – which has happened exactly three times.

Proof of my positive interactions with birds:

peacock        gas station chicken 3

But my favorite bird of all, who is totally exempt from all my bird-related disdain, was my childhood pet, Bogie. Bogie was a sweet little Quaker parrot, with beautiful green and blue feathers. He could say certain phrases (like “good boy” and “thank you”), and he’d step onto your finger if you held it out for him. He was pretty amazing.

Like Murphy, Bogie had a talent for escaping his cage; unlike Murphy, however, Bogie used his skills for good instead of evil. His cage was kept in the living room, and if the rest of the family was gone from the room for too long, he’d come search for us – like a tiny little stalker. He probably just wanted to make sure we were still alive. Or to beg for treats. Either way, it was adorable.

The great irony of all my bird hatred is that the décor in my office at work includes birds. I want to like birds. For most people, they’re beautiful symbols of freedom and hope. But for me, they’ll always be screeching, wall-pecking, car-diving little demons.

And with that – Happy Halloween 🙂

photo credit (top, black & white): high contrast power lines via photopin (license)

Queso Critique: Barriba Cantina

Barriba Cantina (San Antonio)

In the middle of July, Amanda and I decided that a mini-vacation was in order. San Antonio was the perfect location – far enough to feel like we were truly “getting away,” but not so far that we’d have to take time off work. We met Amanda’s sister, Katrina, in downtown San Antonio for a weekend of sun and fun.

On our last night there, the three of us got dressed up and took a scenic stroll along the riverwalk, in search of delicious foodstuffs. Eventually (and with the help of the internet), we stumbled upon Barriba Cantina. The outdoor patio had a beautiful view of the river, but we elected to sit inside and enjoy the live band.

The music was loud and the atmosphere energetic. We were ready for cheese.

The menu offered two different types of queso – a choice that has been challenging and emotional every time. I mean, it’s like choosing between your children. We cheerfully opted for the Queso Deluxe, mainly because it came with all the major food groups piled into one bowl – 1. cheese, 2. chorizo and 3. vegetables (guacamole and pico de gallo). The only missing food group was bacon.

(That’s how the food pyramid works, right?)

This queso was about as delicious as it gets. Even Katrina, who maybe doesn’t obsess over queso quite as much as Amanda and I do, loved it. The flavors of the chorizo and spices were amazing, yet somehow didn’t diminish the sheer cheesiness of the dish. With all those ingredients squished into one container, we all expected the consistency to eventually get too thick, but it was pretty much perfect; even after cooling, we could still scoop it up without breaking any chips. We happily and enthusiastically gave the Queso Deluxe a 9 (Revised: 4).

Barriba Cantina’s website

queso criteria

Totally Legitimate Scientific Theory

In college, I took a course in neuropsychology and loved learning about different parts of the brain and their various functions. I learned neat phrases like, “dorsolateral prefrontal cortex” and “anterior cingulate gyrus.” I have only a thin grasp of what either of those things mean, but my ability to insert them in conversation makes me really fun at parties.

One thing I learned is that our good friend The Frontal Lobe, which I like to call “Fro Lo” (okay, this is the first time I’ve ever used that phrase) is responsible for planning, decision-making, memory, and behavior.

Fro Lo helps you put together plans for a Saturday picnic, remember where your house is located, and inhibit your impulse to laugh during funerals. When your friend suggests getting drunk and dancing topless on the roof of your own house, if you respond with, “Nah that’s okay, I’ll just stay in and watch Netflix,” you can thank Fro Lo for doing its job.

Here is my crude interpretation of what the frontal lobe and his lobe-y friends are up to in the brain:

 

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Whenever I see diagrams of the brain, I can’t help but think that my brain seems to be divided up in a very different manner. For example, I like to think that I’m pretty well-behaved, and my mind never seems to stop thinking/obsessing, so it seems like my frontal lobe should be slightly larger than normal. To compensate for this change in size, my cerebellum is probably somewhat smaller; this theory checks out because I have little to no balance or coordination (and anyone who has seen me dance or  play sports would agree).

My brainstem is likely the correct size, though, because I feel about averagely talented at things like breathing and blinking.

This theory is totally scientific and completely accurate.

I think my brain would be more truthfully depicted in a pie chart. Let’s go back to my Fro Lo, for example. Ideally, it would contain a neat, organized arrangement of intelligent information, well-planned ideas, and pleasant memories.

Instead, my frontal lobe probably looks something like this:

brainpie

  •  Useless facts = Information that is in no way needed in my daily life, but once struck me as interesting, so it’s in my memory to stay – maybe forever. These facts might be useful for someone, but the point is, they serve no purpose in MY life. I can tell you that women blink more than men, that triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number thirteen, and that only 5% of babies are born on their actual due date. Want to know the clinical term for Mad Cow Disease? It’s Spongiform Encephalopathy.     These useless facts do come in handy during games like Trivial Pursuit, though. I’ve also used the facts as some sort of bartering mechanism; when people help me do menial tasks that I should be able to handle on my own, I like to “thank” them by informing them that the capital of Uruguay is Montevideo.
  • Song Lyrics = The words to any song that I’ve ever memorized in my entire life. This includes everything from classical music learned throughout seven years of choir to the most excellent of 90s songs (I’m looking at you, Backstreet Boys). If you’re ever in a situation where you urgently need to know the words to Destiny’s Child “Say My Name” or Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” I’m your girl.
  • Quotes from Friends = Let’s just say, I’m a big fan, and leave it at that. Just kidding, I have plenty more to say about it! I own all ten seasons on DVD, and have seen each episode more than I can count, and probably more than is healthy. No matter what topic is being discussed, I can find a relevant quote or plot to rattle off. Remember the “fun fact” about triskaidekaphobia? Straight from Friends. I have never failed a single internet quiz about the show, and I’m fairly certain that’s something to brag about. And if you complain about your overbearing mother, I might just say, “Hahaha, yeah that reminds me of a Friends episode where Monica’s mom is super condescending to her and it makes Monica insane.” (Side note: that’s a scenario that happens in multiple episodes.)
  • Information relevant to my career = This is where knowledge about life span development, dynamics of domestic violence, and mental health diagnoses all reside. You may have noticed that all of the unimportant facts, memorized songs, and sitcom quotes are taking up much more room in my brain than information that is actually helpful and necessary.
  •  Phone numbers to elementary school friends = This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Back in elementary, cell phones barely existed and certainly weren’t given to 10-year-olds, but actual real-life address books weren’t exactly cool either, so everyone just memorized their friends’ numbers. And apparently, my brain has decided that these numbers are more important than other things. Things like conjugating irregular Spanish verbs, or knowing how to do stuff on Excel.

Fortunately, I don’t think I’m the only one whose Fro Lo is arranged a bit differently…

brainpiejt

Now it’s time to ask yourself one of life’s great philosophical questions: what would a pie chart of your frontal lobe look like?

Queso Critique: River City Grille

River City Grille (Marble Falls)

For our third queso destination, Amanda and I decided to branch out of Austin a bit, and headed to the River City Grille in Marble Falls. The restaurant has an outdoor deck overlooking the Colorado River/Lake LBJ/Lake Marble Falls (not entirely sure what body of water it is – everybody seems to call it something else). You can relax outside and enjoy the view whilst sipping a lemon drop martini. It’s very pleasant.

Also, eating or drinking outdoors is pretty much the only “nature” time either of us gets.

When the waiter asked if we wanted the “small or the large queso,” we made loud, unladylike chuckles and suggested he bring the largest vessel he could find.  We liked the idea of coming to this restaurant so often, that the moment we walk inside, the host quickly staggers over carrying a veritable bucket of melted cheese. It seemed like a worthwhile goal.

Our Green Chile Queso arrived, and we were pleased to notice that when we merrily dunked our chips in, the queso clung on to them for dear life. Once again, we tried several bites before handing down a rating. There was a bit of deliberation, but we settled on a respectable score of 7 (Revised: 2.7).

The queso was cheesy, it was creamy, and the green chilies gave it a really nice flavor. But we didn’t have the same WOW reaction we’d had at Kerbey Lane, and the consistency was just a tad too thick, which kept us from giving this one a higher score. However, a 7 was totally enough to convince us to devour the whole bowl.

riverqueso

Queso Critiques: Kerbey Lane Cafe & Maudie’s

Kerbey Lane Café (Austin)

Finally, it was time to make the pilgrimage to our first queso establishment. Kerbey Lane Café has several locations throughout Austin, and is known for its classic diner food, fluffy pancakes, and yes – bowls of melty cheese. I’d had a chaotic, stressful day at work (as a mental health professional, that just kind of comes with the territory), and I was looking forward to a cheesy tranquilizer. Amanda’s children and sister Katrina joined us for the experience.

The menu offered two different queso options, which filled us with inexplicable affection for the restaurant. We chose the Kerbey Queso, which came with dollops of guacamole and pico de gallo swimming right in the center. Neither the adults nor the kids wasted any time grabbing chips and dunking them right in.

Although Amanda and I were the only ones giving ratings (we’re judgmental like that), we were certainly open to suggestions and comments from the others. Everyone agreed right away that this queso deserved a good score – the consistency was creamy without being too thick, and the flavor was wonderfully cheesy and seasoning-y. With a bonus half-point added on for the guacamole, we gave Kerbey a solid 8.5 rating (Revised: 3.5).

Our quest was off to an excellent start!

By the way, I wish I could say that we later ordered healthy salads to balance out the meal, but we accidentally ordered a dish that involved eggs and bacon being topped with more queso. I have no regrets.

Kerbey’s website

Maudie’s (Bee Cave)

Our second destination was to Maudie’s, a laid-back but lively Tex-Mex restaurant with numerous locations in Austin and surrounding cities. I had eaten at Maudie’s before and knew their enchiladas were pretty good, so I was eager to try the Chile Con Queso. We got a table on the outside patio and immediately demanded (and by demanded, I mean politely requested) margaritas. It was Amanda’s birthday, so we were in a bit of a celebratory mood, but to be truthful, we didn’t really need a reason to order them. We’re margarita people.

In appearance, Maudie’s queso looked very much like the standard queso you expect to see – yellow cheese blended with chilies. Amanda and I chewed our chips thoughtfully, making happy humming noises. The cheese level was on point, but we agreed that there was very little other flavor in there, despite the presence of chilies. We concluded that the queso tasted decent enough for us to keep eating it, but was not something to get really excited about.

Frankly, the ideal queso should taste so delicious that you become irrationally angry with the other people at your table – because they’re eating the queso too, and that means you get less of it. Maudie’s queso did not give me any ill feelings toward Amanda. We did notice that adding some salsa kicked it up a notch, but that seemed like cheating. Also, as the queso cooled, the previous liquidy consistency became quite thick and difficult to stab with a tortilla chip. A definite no-no.

After much deliberation, we gave Maudie’s Chile Con Queso a 5 (Revised: 1). For this and future ratings, we determined that a 5 would be a fair score for anyone whose queso is tasty “enough”, but is nothing really special. Probably no one will score below a 5, unless there are major problems. (I’m not sure what major problems could arise from a bowl of cheese, but you never know. Never challenge the cheese gods.)

Maudie’s website

Queso Criteria

Mommy Dearest

Given that my mother is at least partly responsible for the lovely yet disastrous adult I’ve become, it seemed fitting that my first real post be about her.

To me, it seems like there are two different types of moms. There are the Florence Henderson moms who prepare healthy snacks, limit the amount of television their kids watch, and participate in the PTA.

Then, there are the moms who seem to come straight out of gloomy Lifetime movies – moms who do hard drugs, or murder teenage girls so their own daughters can be on the cheerleading team. My mom is an interesting and confusing combination of both of these types.

Don’t argue with me, Mom. You know it’s true.

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When I was a child, my mom had all the makings of a good sitcom mom. She read to me every night, was involved in my school, and prohibited my brother and I from eating junk food as an after-school snack (much to our friends’ dismay). She attended every awards ceremony, sports game, and choir concert, and actually seemed to ENJOY those things – or was just really good at pretending, which counts for something.

But there’s also a slightly sketchier side to my mom. As relevant background information, you should know that we both share a fascination of big, lovely homes in wealthy neighborhoods. We like to drive past them and daydream about what our lives would be like if we lived in them. We pick out the ones we’d want to live in, sarcastically passing judgment on the slightly-less-grand places.

After having foot surgery a few years ago, I was bored out of my mind from sitting around all day, but was still not quite well enough to be out and about on my feet. My mother’s solution was to pack me up in the back seat of her car, shove a pillow under my bum foot, and set out driving down our street. I assumed we were going for a leisurely little drive, until she whipped out a neatly folded piece of paper with her perfect handwriting all over it. I asked her what it was.

“Just a few addresses,” she replied, casually waving her hand in the air. I found her play at nonchalance unsettling.

“Addresses…to what?”

Mom hesitated briefly, and then gave in. “To some of your doctors’ homes. We’re going to see what kinds of houses they live in! I bet your dermatologist lives in a really nice place.”

“Oh, my God!” I shouted, feeling both horrified and enthralled. I knew with certainty that this was a massive invasion of my physicians’ privacy, and I was virtuously creeped out on their behalf. And yet – I kind of wanted to see what type of mansion my dermatologist lived in.

I considered lecturing my Mom on what was wrong about this situation, but I am my sketchy mother’s daughter, and I wanted to see some damn houses.

And that’s what we did on a hot summer afternoon: we drove around the city and looked at my doctors’ homes, expressing awe over some of them, and disappointment over others. To be honest, it seemed like we were paying some of them quite a bit of money to be living in such dull, average-sized homes. We happily and ironically judged them a bit for that. It was a gloriously weird afternoon.

If you don’t think that story was particularly questionable, I was just easing you in. When my mom was a teen, she experimented with things that many teens experiment with, especially in the 1970s. Nothing she did was really that crazy, but she was seen as super rebellious in her family because her parents were pretty conservative. Therefore, Mom resolved to be way more understanding about that kind of stuff once her own kids entered adolescence.

I think my family was a bit baffled by adolescent me. I wasn’t perfectly innocent – I certainly did some things they didn’t know about (and still don’t, for the sake of their sanity and mine) – but most of my mischief was more dumb than outright rebellious or dangerous.

My friends and I were very close, and enjoyed doing different things together – going to the movies, playing mini-golf, or just chatting on AIM. (Aw, remember AIM?) We also loved driving out to the lake and sitting around a fire, where we’d roast marshmallows and talk about our futures. I know it sounds like a cheesy Disney movie, but I swear it’s true.

My parents, however, were convinced that something more sinister was going on during these lake trips, and that’s fair, because there usually is when you combine teenagers with bodies of water. One afternoon, as I prepared for another lake outing, my parents called me to the living room for a frank discussion about the dangers of alcohol. I listened solemnly and respectfully, and then informed them that my friends and I weren’t drinking. They exchanged doubtful glances and assured me that they wouldn’t be angry or disappointed – they just wanted me to admit to it so they could help me stay safe. I stuck with my original story.

My parents still didn’t buy it, but they could see that I wasn’t going to “fess up,” so they made me promise to call them if we drank too much to drive home. My friends heard that story and were jealous of the leniency I was experiencing, and I could agree that it was pretty progressive of them as parents.

But I found it hilarious that they just couldn’t fathom the idea that any teen (much less one raised by two formerly rebellious people) wouldn’t be out doing crazy stuff. It was like I was rebelling against them by not rebelling.

Not long after that conversation, I was with my mom in the car. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but somehow the subject of alcohol crept its way into the discussion. My mother again asked me if my friends and I were drinking, again assuring me that she wouldn’t be upset, and again reminding me that she had done the same things as a kid. I began to wonder if I had some sort of communication disorder that made it difficult for people to understand me. Nevertheless, I once again insisted that my weekend activities were (mostly) innocent.

Here’s where the sketchier, Lifetime-movie-version of my mom kicked in. She turned to me and reported, “Well, I just find it strange that y’all aren’t experimenting at all. That’s what your adolescence is for.”

There you have it, ladies and gentleman of the jury. My mother, the same woman who raised me to be a smart, responsible, considerate person, was judging me for NOT breaking the law. My mother. JUDGING me. It’s pretty bad when your own mother thinks you’re strange and uncool. In fact, it’s a wonder she didn’t put tequila in my baby bottles. Kidding, she would never do that. Or would she…

In all seriousness, my mother’s loyalty to me is fierce. She was my biggest cheerleader when I decided to attend graduate school, and even took on a second job to pay for my rent while I completed my program. If I call her to complain about a tense discussion with a coworker, or an argument with a friend, Mom makes all the appropriate noises of outrage on my behalf. She even likes to suggest witty (and somewhat hostile) remarks that I could make if the situation arises again. Even if I admit to being partly to blame for the argument, she chooses to focus on the other person’s mistakes. She is forever on Team Amanda, no matter what. In fact, I’m half convinced that if I called her and confessed to murder, she’d come up with a few reasons why the guy probably had it coming.