When the Road Offers Memories & Change

March’s road trip to Austin offered a two‐fer.

Celebrate author‐friend, Dorothy Van Soest, at her latest book reading.

Swing by the University of Texas campus and cruise around on grounds where I once stomped.

I stop mid‐plan.

When, precisely, did I attend UT‐Austin? When did I leave?

My mind races back to graduation, spring of 1979.

I dig out my college diploma. Discovery yields an oh‐my‐god. 

I graduated from college 40 years ago.

Today.

What are the odds?

And…40 years? How did that happen?

The new‐graduate photo at right offers a trio of chuckles: an Instamatic photo enlarged to pixilating — beyond the limits of this ancient technology; Farrah Fawcett wannabe‐hair; and pair of ghastly raccoon eyes.

More questions: what was I thinking? Why, UT‐Austin, was my tassel red and not orange?

DH marveled at my pre‐DW look, worn so proudly a decade before we married. He marveled, too, at the UT campus, amused at how little I recognized.

My sense of loss‐and‐big‐change began at the communications building, my life center for three years.

Dull brown now covered the building known as the Rusty Bucket. Framed in weathered steel, the building’s exterior had morphed during our college years into a distinctive orange‐brown hue. So, we renamed the building. It stuck. What do they call it now?

New also is the building across the street: a stand‐alone home for UT radio with twice as many stations as in my day.

I began my radio career here, at KUT. But our studios sat deep in the bowels of the Rusty Bucket, an afterthought.

My chest puffs up. In today’s era of social media dominance, it’s a new point of pride that my alma mater supports radio like this. Even the pedestrian street‐bridge reeks of extra resources, even special privilege.

If faster access results in better news and information, bring it on, kids!

Down the street, I spot The Co‐Op, where we bought our textbooks. Nowadays, turntables appear to headline the sales.

I laugh. Old becomes new? I ask DH“how quickly will the youngsters figure out we dumped records and record players—for a very practical reason?”

At the Co-Op’s door, the welcome sign brings a laugh. I reach for my phone. In that instant, I remember how picture‐taking has also changed.

Snap a photo and wait a week to hold it in your hand. Take fewer pictures because each print costs a dime, or more.

How much has changed, and how little.

All in only 40 (short) years.

The Road From Spring Into Summer

I don’t care what the calendar says. I know what I know.

This is the last week for Spring weather here in Houston. Except for a few monsoon floods, we’ve had a pretty good run. In between rain storms, there were many days where morning temperatures were in the upper 60’s with low humidity. I walked. I opened windows and enjoyed fresh air.

Yet, the weather forecasters are all telling us that by next week the temperatures will rise and it will definitely feel like summer.

So during these last few days of not only tolerable, but lovely weather, I decided to visit some of my favorite strolling spots. I wound up going back to the Rienzi with some of my writing friends. We received a brief tour inside the house from Ms. Ryan Hernandez. I have to admit this was my second tour of the house and it was just as fascinating, if not more so, than the first time.

After our indoor stroll, we were free to roam around the grounds. Some of us stayed inside to write and others of us went outside to be inspired by the nature that fills the lovely grounds.

Carroll and Harris Masterson lived in this house during the post World War II years through the 1960s and beyond into the 1990s. These two were major philanthropists helping the growing city of Houston develop both culturally and with a social conscience.

Carroll Masterson served on many boards for the fine arts including the Alley Theatre, Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera among others. She also supported charities that supported both the elderly and also women and children.

Learning about this family reminded me of the research I conducted a few years ago on local poor farms and pauper cemeteries. There were many charitable organizations that were supported by local society matrons. Now that I am retired from the rigors of Social Services and local government, I now spend a lot of time at the arts organizations that the Masterson family helped to create. No wonder I felt so comfortable walking around the Rienzi House and Gardens.

There is one last field trip this weekend when I will go to the Houston Symphony to hear Blue Beard’s Castle. Then I will retreat underground and inside with lots of air conditioning. I will even switch from walking outside to enjoying water aerobics at an indoor pool. Even when I do venture out to attend the Summer Chills play at the Alley Theatre, I can get there through a parking garage and a downtown tunnel.

Not to worry. I will continue some road trips and all blogging activities before re‐emerging into polite society sometime in the fall. This will be just in time for Halloween! Since my favorite holiday is just a mere 168 days away, the days will fly by quickly.

Until next week.….

Honoring Mother, the Original RoadBroad

From Austin to Abilene, Salisbury to San Francisco, she taught me how to be a RoadBroad.

Indulge me, please, as I pay tribute on this Mother’s Day to mine: Glenna Lea Couch Miller.

From a childhood spent in an orphanage to a widowhood making up for lost time, my mother lived adventure and attitude.

It began with her 1927 birth in a “teacherage”—that’s government‐provided housing for schoolteachers—in Vernon, Texas. Here, Allie Couch holds up her surprise, born as the “but‐doctor‐I know-I’m-in-menopause” baby

From Vernon, my mother moved into a Corsicana orphanage. There, her father served as superintendent for much of Glenna Lea’s childhood.

Imagine sharing all your birthday and holiday presents with 250 Depression‐era orphans. Glenna Lea became a dedicated bookworm for good reason. Books were easier to share than a bicycle.

Reading, no doubt, honed my mother’s writing skills. Upon discovering her 1938 report card, I shrieked.

Evidence echoed an earlier report card, highlighted in 2/25/2019 post. Delighted, I showed Mrs. Mathis’ remarks to DH and shouted a loud aha! At last, I know who gifted this gene!”  

The teacher’s prescience also identified a family’s later tease point. Cough, cough: yes, math challenges were gene‐shared, too.

Later, Austin and a new bookstore summoned my grandfather. Glenna Lea moved through school in the capital city, landing at the University of Texas as a theater major.

While attending college, my mother joined a women’s singing trio. She spent her weekends during World War II traveling across central Texas to perform for base‐bound soldiers.

Mears Studio hired her to model. In those pre‐ballpoint pen days, UT students received these 3.5 x 5 inch “ink blotters” to use while taking class notes. Also, the studio enlarged this pose and plastered it on the side of their downtown building.

As an award‐winning actress, Glenna Lea dreamed of a Broadway career. Marriage and children interceded. Post‐war expectations ruled women’s lives.

Four children and two decades later, Mexico and deep‐sea fishing beckoned.

I doubt Mother caught this thing. Instead, I imagine her reading as she humored my father’s love of all things fishy. If I had laser vision, I’d bet money on finding books in that bag. Yes, plural.

Fast forward 37 years. Glenna Lea asked to join a daughter’s European honeymoon—“but only for the first week.”

The tallest church spire in the United Kingdom lured us to Salisbury Cathedral, outside London. Mother stopped outside to read the outside plaques., Spot the tiny, huddled figure in the lower left here?

And so her pattern began. Every day for seven days, she read every word she could find in, on or about the place du jour. Across England, Bride and Groom gawked and listened as Mother/Mother‐in‐law read about Salisbury, Stonehenge. Bath. Westminster Abbey. St. Paul’s. Roman Wall. Others sites, too, all now forgotten, lost to middle age.

After my father died in 1994, Mother hit the road. Big trips, somewhere, every year. Santa Fe. Washington, DC. San Francisco. New York City (multiple times). Colorado. Across Texas.

She slowed down when I did, joining me in walks along the Cane Lane at the stroke rehabilitation center.

In this single shot, I see a lifetime of dedication, love, and the full meaning of today.

If my mother could read this post, she’d say—as she always did—“Sweet girl, it’s perfect. And it’s your story to tell.”

I would answer back, “Thank you for your generous spirit. And Happy Mother’s Day, GL.”

Many Roads To Creativity

It’s raining again in Houston. Again. Raining. My heart goes out to the ones who had their homes flooded earlier this week. I am currently high and dry.

Since I am stuck at home waiting for the monsoon season to end, it is a good time to try different art forms. I think about the new Aladdin movie that is coming out soon. I wonder what I would do if I found a lamp that I could use to conjure up a Genie that would grant me wishes.

I would wish that I could draw. I have always wanted to draw and have been at least a little bit envious of those that can. However, I cannot draw. Maybe a straight line if I used a ruler.

Yet it is my desire to draw, combined with my love of art, that keeps encouraging me to find new creative outlets. I have done needlepoint, abstract painting, collage, photography, ceramics and I have dabbled in fiber arts.

This week my creative urges have taken me down the road to Alcohol Inks. As you can see in the various samples in this blog; it does not require drawing talent. I bought an assortment of bottles of Alcohol Inks, then I sprayed some rubbing alcohol on paper. The next step involves dropping the various colors of Alcohol Inks onto the paper and then I use a straw to blow on it and spread the colors around.

What you see here are my very first attempts at using these inks. Please be kind and gentle on your judgement of my artistic attempts. I think I will combine these inks with some collage and see what happens.

Of course when I am not playing with lots of pretty colors, I use my creative talents to write. I write essays, short stories, some poetry and blog. Of course I am working on a book.….aren’t all writers? I am quite sure that given enough time, I will bring forth the Great American Novel. But even if I don’t, I will have fun trying.

What is the connecting thread to all this? Creativity. What I have observed is that once I walk down one creative road, then I am always inspired to walk down others. I surround myself with my favorite artists and writers and include my own art and writing. As you can probably imagine, the walls inside my home are quite eclectic. And I am always open to trying new art forms. Book shelves are full and stacks of books sit on the coffee table and bedside table.

If the weather will cooperate this weekend, I want to spend Saturday afternoon strolling around Sawyer Yards. There are so many artists who have studios over there. It feels creative just to walk around. Unfortunately, the weather forecast indicates that all of Houston may be under water by that time. And I don’t own a boat. Sigh.

As I write this, the rain has really started coming down outside along with a good bit of lighting and thunder. Time to sign off and go hide under the bed with the cats.

Until next week.….

Seeking Books, not Avengers

I returned to my primary, and first, love twice this week.

Credit the over‐rated, over‐hyped, over‐long, and over‐done Avengers: Endgame movie. Its over‐abundant onslaught of k-pow, k‐bang, and k‐boom bored me to sleep.

I attended the film because of an ancient promise made to DH: for every movie I choose for a Mate Date, he selects our next one. I’ve seen every new James Bond movie since 1984. He’s slept through Amélie, Mamma Mía, and others.

The cinematic misadventure sent me to the bookstore. Not one, but two book readings. In less than a week. A first.

Monday delivered Delia Owens reading her When the Crawdads Sing. It’s topped the New York Times bestseller list since January.

I admired Owens’ lyrical writing and her treatise on loneliness and isolation. However, I grimaced at the formulaic and, ultimately, predictable plot.

Yes: both an unpopular and ornery stance.

When I read fiction, I seek some degree of escapism. This novel sent me, instead, to paroxysms of “no‐young‐girl‐could‐manage‐this‐way‐this‐long‐no‐way‐ever.”

By attending Owens’ Houston reading, I hoped to observe and learn what a bestselling author’s reading offers. Surely, there’s elevated air for both readers and authors in the big leagues.

Held at a west Houston church—thanks to an expected large crowd—I snapped a single picture then heard a warning: no recordings of any kind, pictures included.

Why?

While reading from a prepared script, Owens explained her novel’s themes of isolation and loneliness. According to her website (www.deliaowens.com), both have been lifetime challenges. Owens offered that we all land in the swamp sometime in our lives but “we can all do more than we think we can.”

At week’s end, author Jennifer duBois asked at her reading for The Spectators, “what haunts you and why?” In her novel, duBois explores what we look at, and why. She uses the frame of 90’s reality shows (think Jerry Springer) amid fallout from the AIDS epidemic and the gay rights movement.

In a relaxed question & answer session after her reading, duBois referenced what she calls The Big Question, something she said must prompt a novel’s birth. And the Big Answer? duBois admitted that, invariably, multiple viewpoints arise. Perspectives from many voices. 

Now, that, I thought Real Life.

I returned to my studio, pumped.

And, I’ve returned to my novel.

The Big Question seeks The Big Answer as I cross fingers that, soon enough, I’ll stand in my own story shoes. Publicly.

The Road From Form To Matter

Form pre‐exists in matter.

Now that’s a deep philosophical statement to start your day. If it’s too early in the morning then you may roll your eyes and wonder what the wacky blogger is up to now. However, take a moment and a deep cleansing breath.

You remember Michelangelo, don’t you? Renaissance man? Sculpture, Painter, Architect and Poet? The Sistine Chapel dude. Yeah, that’s him.

Well, Michelangelo was a neoplatonist. He put forth a philosophy about sculpture where a work of art was already living within a block of marble. It is the calling of the artist to chip away and free the work of art and bring it to life. Through the artistic process of sculpture, art emerges from marble.

What a concept! What if I look upon myself as a big block of marble? I was born with a work of art inside of me. Then as I grew up and continuing into today, my life experiences chipped away at the block of marble that is me. Slowly over the years I have emerged as the person I am today. Each of us is a block of marble with beauty emerging from within.

Sometimes you may see a sculpture that is intentionally left unfinished. The work of art continues to emerge from the stone. A work of beauty already, but still emerging into form.

As any sculptor can tell you, sometimes the block of stone will resist. This can happen even if the artist carefully works with and goes with the grain.

In sculpture, art is forever emerging. Moving towards freedom from the captivity of the stone. Waiting for insight and clarity to merge with life experiences.

Does this only apply to sculpture? Of course not. Whether you are a painter, writer, photographer, scientist or any other type of creative person, there is a beauty that only you can bring out.

Once again, many thanks to Dr. Anna Tahinci, Professor and Art History Chair at the Glassell School of Art, for teaching wonderful classes in Art History where I got the inspiration for this blog. Also, the pictures of sculptures in this blog were taken while on a recent visit to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

Until next week.….

Taking Flight for Tea

Last week I celebrated an anniversary.

This week I celebrate a find: the best green tea on the planet.

After my stroke in 2012, much changed.

Coffee sickened me. I switched to green tea. In low doses, its natural properties protect the brain and fight premature aging. Emphasis on former, not the latter.

Now, roadtrips demand daily green tea. Non‐debatable.

In Vienna, Austria, a tiny cafe offered a wall of overstuffed couches but no green tea (“gruner Tee”). DH knew enough Austrian German to translate chai tea latte and order two drinks.

He also picked up a single slice of Vienna’s national treasure. At first taste of the oh‐my‐god Sacher Torte, all tea cravings vanished.

Five years later, that single bite of dark chocolate remains a heart‐stopping memory. Yes, that good. I’ve sought to replicate the experience stateside. Failed. Every. Taste.

A summer later, iced green tea called my name at Denver’s Tattered Cover bookstore.

A brief moment in time, it flooded with crisp Rocky Mountain air and mild June temperatures. An odd perfection ensued, the world dissolving between the first sting of ice‐cold green tea and the opening words of a brand‐new book. 

Last Labor Day, Steven Smith Teamaker of Portland, Oregon delivered a first‐ever Tea Flight.

Each large porcelain bowl delivered nirvana in a two‐handed grip. Four varieties of green tea ranged from bitter to sweet and heavy to light. A different galaxy came to life in each bowl. 

So unexpected was the experience, DH and I sipped and giggled amid our overwhelm—a tea flight, and every one is excellent! Who‐da‐thunk‐it?!

The experience laid shame to all previous tasting flights involving beer, wine or mini‐desserts.

For this West Coast adventure, think entirely new universe of life experience. As in the best green tea on two continents.

It changed our day, this intimate, circle‐around‐the‐sun journey unfolding in a tiny, quiet shop, hidden deep in Portland’s warehouse district. To think we only navigated it because of an insistent bus driver.

Last week, we returned to Portland while never leaving.

At the old Waldo’s teahouse, we discovered a revamped cottage. Inside EQ in the Heights, we found new paint, new interiors, and a new menu.

On a side shelf sat our old friend: Steven Smith Teamaker.

I ordered a teapot of Jasmine Silver Tip and enjoyed, once again in a special teahouse, the world’s best green tea.

Memories returned. I smiled, giggled, then sipped some more.

Ah, the joy of unexpected delights. 

NOTE: I’ve never met Mr. Steven Smith. He’s not paying for this over‐the‐top product endorsement. I pay fully for any of the tea I buy regularly from his company. Just sayin’, friends.

The Zoo Road

I can’t stop walking. I walk around the neighborhood. I walk around the park. I walk when I am running errands in the neighborhood.

Thanks to gastric sleeve surgery and physical therapy for my “arthritic knee”, I have lost weight and can walk for a couple of miles at a time without any pain or discomfort. Please get out of my way and don’t slow me down.

The other day my Dear Friend and I went to the Houston Zoo. They open at 9:00 a.m. and we were there walking around by 9:30. It was cool and the sky was overcast. There was a nice breeze. What’s not to love?

Our first stop was the area that housed the elephants. There were no elephants. I am guessing that elephants are not morning critters. Bummer. I love elephants. DF and I kept walking.

We came upon the cougars. I love big cats. Let’s see the cougars! There were no cougars. Apparently they were up late last night partying with the elephants. I wish I had been invited to that party!

Finally we walked into a building that looked out on the gorilla section. Seems as though the gorillas were not invited to the elephant/cougar party either, because there were several gorillas looking wide awake and enjoying a leisurely breakfast. They didn’t seem to mind that we watched them and took pictures.

It was just DF and I and the gorillas. We could dawdle and slowly observe these magnificent creatures. They ate lettuce and drank from coconuts.

As we continued walking through the zoo we saw more and more animals. There were many flamingos. They had just finished their breakfast and were strolling around their area visiting with some ducks and other birds that came by for a visit.

I had never seen so many pink flamingos together in one place. Why yes, I did see a couple that stood on one leg. Did you know their knees fold backwards?

It was about this point when DF and I noticed that we were no longer strolling along without any other zoo visitors. Mothers were also strolling pushing baby strollers. There were parents with toddlers. Then there was one school group…and then another. Quickly the children were greatly outnumbering the adults.

One of our last stops was the giraffe area and these wonderful animals did not disappoint. There were several giraffes of various ages and sizes along with some ostriches and one zebra. I had never noticed before that both giraffes and ostriches have long necks. Who knew? Well, I guess I knew, but had never had cause to stop and think about this before. I had never seen them standing side by side for the comparison. The zoo is so full of all of these educational experiences. Unfortunately there was only one zebra. I wondered if there was another zebra who had partied with the elephants and cougars and was still asleep.

We weren’t able to visit with the sea lions, because several school groups were getting a private showing of the water creatures. Then the closer we got to the front there were groups and gaggles of students everywhere we looked. All ages and all sizes plus teachers and parental escorts. Adults were seriously outnumbered. Time to go.

After walking around for an hour, we had not seen all the animals we had hoped to see. Not a problem. This just meant that we get to go back for another zoo walk to visit the elephants and lions and tigers and bears! Oh My!

Until next week.….

Goodbye to Annie Annys

In the brain aneurysm community, we know her as Annie.

You don’t want to meet her. But I did — seven years ago this weekend.

My Annie was a triplet.

The first aneurysm sat in the back of my brain. Her twin sisters parked themselves above my right ear.

I knew nothing of them until Annie #1 blew up on April 20, 2012.

She exploded when I was on the road. DH and I had flown to his Nebraska hometown to move his parents into assisted living.

I knew there was a problem when, at age 55, I wet my pants in front of my mother‐in‐law. The ER doctor took one look at the MRI and ordered me flown to Omaha for emergency brain surgery.

Later, I read get well messages on the computer. My voice went on vacation, forced mute by an emergency tracheostomy.

I got worse before I got better. Unexpected complications set in.

Doctors put me in a percussion bed. It rotates as it thumps your backside. The neuro team induced a coma.

Later, I landed in rehab back in Houston with only three tubes remaining in my body. I relearned how to walk, talk, shower, dress, and feed myself.

Our dog, Rudi, loved rehab visits. His version of wheelchair healing delivered tears of unabashed joy.

I remember little of that cruelest month‐plus.

Pictures fill the memory blanks. The photos exist for one reason. Early, I suggested to DH: “take lots of pictures. I might need them for a book or something.”

Here we are, seven years later. The book is in the pipeline.

I share my Annie misadventure because this Easter weekend, my head buzzes with a seven‐year‐itch.

It’s time to close the books with this anniversary.

A ruptured brain aneurysm and a single surgery devolved into 15 hospitalizations and four brain surgeries. Amid the health crises, we buried ten family members during those years.

I call them my anni horribiles, or horrible years. Queen Elizabeth’s bad 1992 offers chocolate cake with sprinkles compared to these last seven in my tribe.

The word “seven” bristles with universal meaning.

Seven days of creation. Seven days in a week. Seven seas. Seven continents. Seven colors in a rainbow. Seven chakras. Seven Wonders of the World. Seven deadly sins.

Even my car hit a notable seven yesterday. Ah, the lucky power of timely observation!

Ancient Greeks and Romans believed seven‐year cycles guide every human life. They named it the “hebdomadal system.” Mystic Rudolf Steiner modernized the concept in 1924. Some believe the human body renews all its cells every seven years (a myth, by the way).

The seven‐year theme echoes across religions, economics, politics, even writing. The Roman writer, Censorinus, made a powerful, primal connection. In A.D. 238, he linked these life cycles to Nature: “seven years…a turning point and something new occurs.” This link offers hope, stability, and an ending.

Pema Chodron aces the message with words of her own: “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”

What learnings can I share from these past seven years?

  • Let your team help you survive. Return the favor often.
  • Let your life purpose rise up; it’s waiting to guide you.
  • Let your body tell you what it needs. Listen well.
  • Let your mind and soul offer thanks. Daily.
  • There are no lessons, only learnings. Use and share them. Wisely.

I’m packed and ready for the next cycle.

Bigger, braver roads beckon me forward, onward.

How about you?

When The Road Changes

Things change. It’s inevitable.

I visited the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center again this week. The purpose for this particular road trip involved a photographic expedition. I wanted a location where I could find interesting pictures of light, sunshine, shadow and nature. It was a partly cloudy day where the sun came and went behind the clouds which kept the light changing throughout the morning. I took many pictures of the varieties of light available to me that day.

I also took pictures of several of the critters I found while walking around the various trails. It seemed as though the animals were cooperating with me most of the time. Some of them even seemed to pose while I took a number of photos.

A long time ago I developed a year‐long habit, or meditative practice if you will, of walking in the Houston Arboretum routinely once a week. I started this in the month of January and kept it up all the way through December. I had great fun watching nature go from one season to another. I watched wild flowers bloom in the spring and I watched great numbers of monarch butterflies as they migrated. I got to know the animals around the pond. A couple of turtles and I were on first name basis. One time I saw a poisonous snake swimming across the pond.…..thankfully away from me.

By the time the year was up, I knew the Houston Arboretum forwards and backwards. You could drop me down onto any trail and I could find my way out. Several times I would help guide folks who were walking around looking very lost.

But not anymore. The Arboretum is getting updated, upgraded, made fancier? Whatever you want to call it, my beloved Arboretum is changing. There are now two entrances. A new office building is going up and a new education center. Trails are changing…I think. There are more ponds. There are a couple of spots where I was used to seeing a particular tree leading to that particular trail that I can no longer find. I actually had to use a map to find my way around during this last visit. I found the largest pond that I was looking for, but I could almost swear that a smaller pond disappeared in that one spot that I was used to visiting.

Unless you are a member, there is now a small charge for parking. Of course if I wait just a couple of weeks then I will qualify for a “Senior” membership. I will get free parking and a discount in the gift shop. Who says life doesn’t keep getting more exciting as you get older?

There was one thing that I was very glad to see had not changed. There are still turtles in the large pond. There were at least 10 of them sunning themselves on various logs in the middle of the water. None of them waved at me or asked me where I had been, but I was delighted to see them anyway.

I’ll use a map until I learn the new layout and pay attention to detail so I don’t get lost. The trails are being improved and there are more benches so a writer can sit down and create in the middle of nature. I may not visit weekly like I used to, but I can see myself showing up there maybe monthly.

And I like to hug the trees. Yes, I am a tree hugger. Yes, they hug back. It’s all very nice.

Until next week,.„„