Monday, July 12, 2010

Next Project

Whew! It’s been far too long since I’ve posted. Good friends and former neighbors, Bill and Carol Metz emailed that they thought I’d left the country! Alas, I could tick off a half dozen reasons for being away so long but I’ll save the reasons to use as subjects for future blogs.

Before I go any further, I need to sincerely thank Susie Trial for “bailing me out” with her insightful message about her search for coping skills. Susie is a wonderful writer who inspires me with her selflessness and humor. I should mention here, too, that the photo of the doe lounging in Wild Verbena above Susie’s post was taken at her Brushy Creek home at Medina Lake.

As I draw myself up this bright Monday morning for an hour or two of writing, I find my mind is open, watchful for a sign, a new direction. I’ve just about completed a long and involved editing job and am thinking ahead, trying to decide on the next “big” project. I may end up re-writing an old fiction piece I finished a couple of years ago. Then, too, my mother had given me a huge storage box of her poetry that I’ve long thought should be compiled into a kind of memoir, a text of messages to future generations of women. Some of Mother's poetry has been published; the rest is neatly bound in folders she put together in the mid 1970s.

For me the decision for a new project usually begins by fishing through, discarding or filing news clippings, notes jotted from various television programs, books or magazine articles that I’ve saved for days like this - - wide open, without deadlines, appointments or to-the-minute schedules. Like the photo above showing a far away horizon and all that empty land to wander through unhurried.

Whatever I end up queuing to work on, I’m glad for this time to scrape out my skull, dust my internal file folder drawers in order to fill it all up again with something new. Something that’ll fire my interest and hopefully that of my readers.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Guest Post - Susie Trial

Heading down a super slab highway would be going nowhere much too fast. I don’t want to do that today. The roads I choose need to be what folks around here call back roads. They are connected by telephone poles or fence posts, not by the stripes down the middle. The ones that are bumpy and hilly, twisty and turny, dotted with wildflowers, grasses, and rocks on the sides. Some are flat and shimmer in the sunshine. Texas has them all. Rolling through her towns, the roads are dotted with her multitudes making a statement of ownership – as if to fulfill a need to be connected to her like a babe to her mother’s bosom.

On the back roads, there are gates strategically hung between miles of fence posts. Gates adorn an entrance to a fella’s property like a shroud, as if protecting a sacred place and telling all who pass by about the kind of Texan he is. Some are mere openings in a fence. I see them as closures to a passage. Watching for the most appealing gate, searching for one with no exit, I imagine going through it when I die to explore the other side, like a child looks for treasures. But there is no time for exploring now on this part of the journey. So I keep driving.

Drive on not caring. Caring was run over by a freight train quite a few miles back on the super slab. On this trip, I don’t have to be concerned with mile markers because back roads don’t have any. Besides, remembering them will hurt and there is no room in my suitcase for pain. It is already plump-full with burdens that found me at mile marker 6 or 7. So I keep driving.

Maybe I should consider walking instead so that I could become more intimate with the road and the places it takes me. So I would notice the gnarly cracks on the surface that look like the spidery veins in my legs, each one bursting open from pressure sources on the surface. Bearing down they give way. The fractures are unsightly, but they hint that many secrets lay below. One must travel slow and deliberate, paying attention, in order to discover each nook and cranny. So it is in life. Moving too fast is the same as not moving at all. Either way, something learned by experience would be missed, like not hearing a sacred reading during a church service, the spirit could not be quickened.

So I drive on, and find that using the car would be a better idea than walking in case the urge to go home over takes me suddenly. Then I could get there much faster. And I prefer the shelter of the car which seems secure from things I might find scary or harmful, like the Texas summer heat and humidity, a deluge of rain, the dark, or barking memories.

Passing a community center I see a sign posted in front telling of a meeting there that gives coping skills to those with hearing loss. I wonder if the same skills apply to those who don’t listen.

Maybe driving a back road could be considered a coping skill.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sabbatical Day Six

The Llano River

After days of cold, rainy, shut-in weather, the sun came up gleaming bright yellow bars through the windows. I scrambled an egg, washed my face and decided not to waste another minute. I locked up the cabin, tossed the kitchen garbage in a bin and headed out for populated environs. In the nearest town (twenty miles away) I browsed a boutique and gift shop on the square. It felt wonderful to chat with ladies wanting to know where I was from, why I was in the area. I asked them about their lives, if they lived in town or down one of the many farm to market roads. Small communities breed the sweetest people.

By noon I’d zeroed in on a Dairy Queen and ordered a Turtle Pecan Cluster Blizzard, my all time favorite. While waiting for my ice cream I spied a sign that read “Llano River RV Park and Picnic Area.” I paid for my Blizzard and drove down a sharp incline to a clean little city park overlooking the Llano River. There I slurped ice cream and watched the lazy water move by me, smooth and sure and simple. The same path it had, no doubt, followed for centuries. It made me think of my own journey which had brought me to that place at that moment. For the hundredth time, I had niggling thoughts of writing a memoir. Still, I’m stymied by worries of appearing self-indulgent.

I finished my ice cream and turned on my laptop and then circled the courthouse square looking for a wifi signal. Sure enough, one block off the square the Public Library wifi icon popped up on my screen. I parked and went into the library and spent the next hour reading through emails and online newsletters. As I was leaving the library – Lo and Behold – a book sale in a room off the main entrance. I was in heaven for yet another hour. Will public libraries ever get their just due? Any time I’ve traveled – as far away as Australia! – public libraries have offered up a clean, warm place for me to connect with the otherwise outside world, with people and news important to me.

On my way out of town, I picked up a pound of barbecue ribs to savor while reading one of the library books I’d bought. Turtle Pecan Ice Cream, Barbecue, A Good Book or two..... Life is so good.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sabbitical Day Five

A reminder to those of you jumping onto my blog posts at this juncture: In early March, I drove to the far north reaches of the Highland Lakes area of Texas for a week of solitude and writing. I’ve been posting some of my journal entries here, on a loosely based schedule, since then. The following entry was written the morning March 2, 2010, Texas Independence Day….the day Texas fought for and won independence from Mexico.

The bad weather the proprietor mentioned yesterday blew in with a vengeance last night. Wind howled and whistled through the bare tree limbs that cup the roof of my lake cabin. The electric heaters were turned up full force and still, I was cold to the bone. When my hands grew stiff, I gave up trying to type and decided to read instead. Misery, pure misery. I couldn’t help but think of the 1846 Donner Party trapped in the Rocky Mountains for months, in blizzard conditions, without food. I’m a sissy. My Texas roots must not go so far back as I thought for surely, those who fought for independence were a brave lot as they faced the Mexican army at Goliad, the Alamo, and finally on the prairie shores of the San Jacinto River a few miles from where I grew up.

My gift for the morning though, came when I sat with my cup of coffee and looked out toward the frosty lake. Perched in the same tree that howled all night, was a strikingly gorgeous blue bird. His chest was dark cinnamon red. He flicked from twig to twig as if trying to show me how the sun glinted and sparkled on his bright and beautiful blue shoulders.

As if that hadn’t been gift enough for starting a clean-slatted morning, a fox trotted by my window pretty as you please. She had a mouse clinched in her teeth. Breakfast for the kiddos, I thought. Across the way wind chimes clanged in a left over breeze from last night’s storm. It was time for me to get back to writing.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sabbitical Day Four

Early this morning two men launched a small boat in a cove to the north. I watched through my binoculars to see if they planned to fish or hunt ducks. A glimpse of their struggles with rods and reels told me they were fishermen. Old Fools, I said to myself. A strong southwest wind had whipped the lake until it looked like meringue on a chocolate pie. I sipped my coffee, looked over at my compass for the hundredth time since I checked into the little cabin by the lake, and then punched my laptop “On” button.

By late afternoon, cabin fever had set in. My hips felt locked into a sitting position and I ached for movement and fresh air. I bundled up for a walk to the water’s edge and along the way bumped into the proprietor. I asked him about a good place to walk fast and vigorous. He pointed to a trail, adding that bad weather was coming. I also asked about the low lake water level and he said it was up sixteen feet but still over eighteen feet below normal level. I was dumbfounded. He looked away and squeezed his eyes when I asked how bad the drought had been on his business. “Two years now,” he said, “we’ve been all but deserted, even in the summer months.”

I watched the ground as I walked and thought - lake bed - unseen, under water, in dark depths for decades. Granite rocks, driftwood and bits of fresh water clams lay about in tufts of bright green clover. In tall reeds along a hidden cove I heard ducks feeding at the shore line. The sound reminded me of mumbling old men. I parted the reeds slowly, quietly for a better look. Several mallards were scattered throughout countless coots and two huge and terribly awkward looking white pelicans, made all the more ugly by the grace of the mallards with their iridescent green heads and beautifully arched necks. A coot took flight, then several more and in a flash they all rose - hundreds of them - from the water, and it was as if a 747 passed over my head.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sabbatical Day Three

Evening. The moon rises above the hills and a bird cries gull-like outside my window. A long hush follows which could be frightening if I let my imagination run free. I glance at my compass on the dresser next to where I sit knitting. I bought the compass years ago after a series of events imploded everything I'd valued. It goes everywhere I go, a reminder to stay true to my course.

Knit a row, purl a row. Do it again. The outside world is slipping away one thin layer at a time, like the peel of onion skin.

The refrigerator cycles on and startles me.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sabbatical Day Two

A frosty northwest wind blew all night. I nearly froze – would have – I’m convinced, had it not been for two small electric space heaters I found in a closet in the bathroom and a heating pad I’d thrown in my suitcase at the last minute. Actually you could say it was the heating pad that saved me, since I was not comfortable leaving the heaters on all night. The coffee pot worked like a charm, praise be! I needed the hot brew in a desperate way. After a couple of cups, I bundled as if for the North Pole and ventured out toward the lake where mist ascended, wispy and white from the water, blurring edges along the shoreline and the folds between the hills. As I made my way through high weeds, a flock of coots and a few mallards flushed from a cove nearby causing me to startle and gasp.

Water levels are pitifully low on all the Highland Lakes in Texas. Not since I was a small girl has there been such a drought. The pier, from which I took this photo, is on dry land a football field’s distance from the water. Recent winter rains are helping but lasting recovery is a long way off.

A dog belonging to the proprietor made morning rounds while I was on my way back to my cabin from the dry-docked pier. I recognized her breed as some sort of working dog, sheep herder maybe, and this made me trust her even as she barked a warning at me. I held my hand out for her to sniff. She indicated I could pass but warned with her eyes and ears that I should be on my best behavior.

Back inside the cabin I discovered I had only two matches to light the stove. The first match fizzled out – too long in the damp, I suppose. The second took and I was able to light the burner for a scrambled egg. However, I knew I’d have to stop by the office for more before the landlords left for wherever it was they were going for a few days. Having a way to cook wasn’t my concern, since I’d brought microwavable food. Mostly I wanted a way to scramble eggs and to heat and dry some of the damp cold in the cabin. The space heaters were maddeningly noisy.

By mid-day the affects of isolation crept up my spine. The television displayed nothing more than flickering snow. No telephone, no internet connection either. But I decided I could post to my blog after returning home just as well as in real time. The solitude suited my purpose perfectly.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sabbatical Day One

My Sabbatical Headquaters for the week

A Bleak and Cold Day

Yesterday I drove here, to the hills northeast of Llano, Texas and the upper reaches of Lake Buchanan. The day was bleak - blowing cold, damp wind, a threat of rain.
When I signed up for a seven day stay at this camp of eight or so cabins, the proprietor told me I’d be the only guest for the whole week. And then, as I stepped off his porch he added, like a post script, that he and his wife would be away for part of the week. The thought of being so isolated thrilled and scared me at the same time. But that evening I remembered how he had given me a questioning look as I walked away, and thought perhaps I’d missed some of his meaning. Maybe I should be frightened.

My cabin, which was probably built in the mid 30s, is about fourteen by twenty feet. At one end is a hammock-shaped bed and next to it, a lady’s dresser that looks as if it is original to the place. A shiny red metal chair with a black and white zebra print cushion is pushed into the knee hole. At the other end of the room is a refrigerator, a sink and a tiny, very old propane stove. A door between the refrigerator and the bed leads to a bathroom as diminutive for its purpose as the stove. I decided it would do.

On the short wall adjacent the sink is a stand with a microwave oven and auto drip coffee pot on top. These two items and a television sitting on a small dresser are the only signs that I haven’t stepped from a time machine into a long gone decade.
Except for the dresser, a small table and chairs, red curtains on the windows and the zebra print cushion, everything is painted snowy white.

Most striking about my Sabbatical Headquarters is the smell. Cashmere Bouquet. My nose-memory put me back four decades to my grandmother’s house. Still, I know I must look ahead to my purpose for being here, which is to empty my head of daily trivia and then fill it back up with publishable work.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Guest Post - Susie Trial

Good friend Susie Trial has agreed to share with us how she spent a recent morning. Enjoy! and let me know what you think.

In The Kitchen

An arctic blast of wintry weather keeps me off the back roads today. Instead, I wander into my kitchen hoping to rally the heart of the home toward some wholesome goodness in order to turn dampened spirits around.

I spy a loaf of French bread, which has been all but forgotten between chips, popcorn, chicharones, and a half eaten loaf of sandwich bread on top of the ice box. Not a good place for bread. The ice box sends heat up there from the compressor just warm enough to turn bread stale and moldy. I need to rescue the French bread pronto. Freezing wind, rain and even snow, a rarity here in San Antone, made this day a special one. I determine that this crusty hunk of yeast and flour needs a special touch. I can think of nothing better than to make a generous batch of Bread Pudding to ward off the icy wet conditions outside.

As the cold weather punches through and begins making news, my phone is warmed with callers, reporting they, too, are making Bread Pudding. Could this be coincidence? I am struck with awe that many other good-hearted Texan women are transforming their cast-off crusts into a delectable delight.

In homes across the hills, prairies and piney woods, the powerful sweet custard aroma works like magic as it seeps under doors and out leaky windows. The finished pudding evokes smiles and watery salivary glands from husbands and children and all who enter there. These homes complete a picture of cozy comfort and warm, full tummies as Texan wives and mothers use innovative skills, a few staples from the larder, and a lonely crust of bread to transform a winter day.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rodeo Cowboys

Last week I attended the San Antonio Rodeo with friends J.R. Huddleston and Audrey Parish. Thanks to their arrangements, we had premium seats close to the action and yet up far enough in the stands to have a bird's eye view.

My favorite part of rodeo is Mutton Busting. For those of you who don’t know: In the Mutton Busting event, rodeo officials help four to six year olds into helmets and padded vests before lifting them to the backs of sheep. The kiddos grab a double fist of wool and blast out of a tiny chute. Most fall off in only a second or two. Some stumble and stammer in the roar of a cheering crowd, wondering what all the fuss is about. A determined five year girl rode her sheep around the entire arena. When officials caught up to her, she threw her arms up in triumph. Precious. The crowd shot to their feet to applaud in thunderous admiration. Last Mutton-Busting Girl Riding, I thought to myself, a history in the making. And, not a bad title for a book.

Truth be told? The grown up part of rodeo makes me nervous. The sight of handsome, triple-starched cowboys riding thousands of pounds of beef and horse flesh, subjecting their strong young bodies to all that jerking, flinging, and stomping makes me wince. They don't bounce from the arena floor and throw their hands up in triumph, even when they have scored big. Instead, they limp away holding onto injured shoulders, elbows or hips. They slump and amble like old men and I wonder what kind of physical pain they'll have to endure ten, twenty years from now. Like the little ones, they seem dazed, but for very different reasons. The line from Willie Nelson’s song, “Moma, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys,” takes on new meaning.

I can’t imagine the kind of ambition that puts those young men on the backs of bucking, aggravated animals. Are they the last true Mavericks? Is it lust for danger? Or, is it ego, the idea of besting a 1500 pound spinning bull and wearing a six-inch belt buckle to prove you did it?

I'm going back to the rodeo grounds this week. I'll watch and listen, glean any bit of insight about why cowboys do what they do.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Time Travel

During the Johnson Space Center’s hey day, I lived in Clear Lake City within shouting distance of NASA’s back gate. I’ve always felt fortunate to have experienced the nuts and bolts of space exploration right in my own neighborhood, though most of it was by osmosis. At the same time I found history fascinating and wondered about its influence on the present. Living so near all that scientific juice gave me pause to think that time, Past-Present-Future, could be thought of as all inclusive.

The idea took on weight when, thirty-plus years after moving from the Clear Lake-NASA area, I was asked to travel there to meet with a group of high-school seniors who were to train for the K-Bird in order to put their science experiments on board a Shuttle flight. My assignment was to follow the students around for a week and write about their experiences.

When I arrived at the extended-stay hotel address, I was stunned to realize it sat smack in the middle of my past, on the vacant lot where my elementary school-aged boy used to practice baseball. Before checking into the hotel, I drove down clean, tree-lined streets trying to find the house where I had lived. Back then there were no trees, just boxy houses lined up along ribbons of paved prairie. In spite of the fact that I had few visual points of reference to find my little house in the maze, memories came flooding back. I passed the elementary school and remembered the deep heartache of kissing my kindergartners good-bye before they bounced out of the car. It was to be the first of many letting-go lessons that all parents have to master sooner or later. Had I really lived those elusive and far away days of diapers and crayons, ballet lessons and baseball practice? Drivers’ Ed and prom dresses?

I finally found the house where I’d lived those long years ago. It was exactly as I’d remembered it except for the enormous trees! They’d been mere twigs when I’d planted them. My boy had dubbed the Arizona Ash third base and the Post Oak home plate. I never thought they would survive, let alone thrive. The sound of my children’s high pitched voices eventually began to echo back to me from the past. I recalled pots of homemade soup on rainy, cold winter days trapped inside with squirming children and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Kool-aid in the simmering heat of summer. And then, there were the puppies, guppies and kittens buried in the back yard after failed attempts at trying to explain death to a four year old.

And so now I wonder: Is life simply an entire existence housed solely within our skulls? After all, a young mother from long ago still lives in me, as does an insecure bride and a sniveling school girl. That’s the Past. The Present is what I continue to add to the Past. My Future, while it keeps getting shortened, is somewhere down the next Back Road.

The seniors I accompanied to NASA that week broadened their horizons enormously. And so did I.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Traveling Student

I read in a newspaper recently about a woman who travels twice a week from a town near the Canadian Border to the city where I live in South Central Texas to attend college classes. That's over 1500 miles and involves a substantial road trip to the airport near where she lives, and then a rented car on the Texas end of her flight. I was dumbfounded. I know people who have to have solid reason - like starvation - to get out of a chair and into a car for a three mile trip to the grocery store.

As it turned out the woman considers her actions a "gift" to herself. At retirement she ended up devoting years to caring for a niece, ill sister, and aging mother. After her sister and mother died she "fought restlessness" and so decided to fulfill a life long dream of getting a doctorate degree.

Since I'm a writer - and other writers will understand this well - the first thought that came to my mind was how in the world could she afford the travel expenses. The article said the woman wasn't wealthy. But after a little more thought, I realized that I sit here day after day pounding out narratives, stories, snippets that I know will never make it to a printed or e-page. Am I foolish for doing it? I think not. Writing connects me in an unexplainable way to life waves out there. Life waves are invisible pulsing arcs of knowledge sort of like sound waves. You hear sound waves. But you feel life waves. It is that feeling, with no particular expectation attached, that spurs me on.

Imagine what it would be like to spend a day with the Traveling Student, someone who invests in herself in order to turn up the volume of her life waves. I hope she knows I'm here at my computer feeling the spirit of her courage and determination..

Monday, January 18, 2010

Finished Product

Today I'm to meet with a few like-minded friends, writers interested in learning the nuts and bolts of setting up a blog. While I'm proud beyond words that I managed to set mine up, it's still incomplete. I ran into snafoos adding photos, formatting my "home page" and finally threw up my hands thinking I could've written a full chapter in the time it'd taken me to pull all my hair out.

But today, through the grace and love of old and new friends, I'll try again to learn all the tech stuff that I find tedious at best. Helen Ginger, by far the most techy among us, has graciously offered to "coach" the rest of this little crew of keyboard maidens through the first stages, bless her charitable heart.

While fishing through my original notes on setting up this blog site - notes - I'd written over a year ago - I realized that, like my blog, I'm not a finished product. I still need work, I can learn to do this and in doing so I'll change in some nano molecular way that no one is likely to notice. But notice is not the point here. The point is - - there's still hope for me.

Wish me luck!