When Roads Flood

Wasn’t it just days ago that Melanie visited the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern? The location that used to hold much of the drinking water for the City of Houston? It is no longer in use.….except to catch flood waters when the rains set in.

I can only imagine that the Cistern is now full of water. Houston, and many surrounding areas have now been dealing with Tropical Storm Imelda for days now. For the longest time, Houston was spared the worst of the rains. However, all of that changed today. Starting overnight and all through today we have been enduring a severe rain storm. It technically started out as a “rain band” from Imelda. Then the the rains started a thing called “training”. A line of storms just keeps raining over and over the same area until everything is flooded.

Much of the talk on the television news reports that have been running all day make many comparisons to Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Allison. Of course this area received 50 to 60 inches of rain during Harvey. So far we have only received 20 to 30 inches of rain with Imelda. There is an ever increasing list of creeks, lakes and bayous that are out of their banks. News reporters are out in the field and have assisted with many rescues of folks who need to evacuate their homes.

The saddest part is that many people who were flooded out by Hurricane Harvey two years ago are once again flooded out by Imelda. Some just moved back into their homes last spring. Other Harvey victims are simply being tested with PTSD today and trying to remember to breathe and relax.

Since the weather wasn’t so bad early this morning, many people made it into work and kids made it to school. Now freeways are both flooded and congested. Schools are letting out, but kids can’t get home and parents can’t get to the schools. Here is a picture of a Metro bus that is close to the Intercontinental Airport. Shortly after this picture made the news Metro suspended all of their routes until “conditions improved”.

Of course there are always those who will get out in the middle of a storm and try to buy one more batch of groceries just in case the lights go out. Here is a glance of the grocery store parking lot near my home. It is not a very good picture, because I was standing out of the rain. I wasn’t going to get any closer. I hope all of these folks made it home safe and sound.

How did I fare? Since I am retired from the local government job I had for many years, I am home safe and sound. My lights flickered a few times earlier while it was lighting and thundering, but the electricity never went out completely. I was supposed to go to hear the Houston Symphony this evening and that has been cancelled. Many streets in the downtown area are flooding or flooded. Much of the downtown Theatre District just got completely up and running after the damage done during Harvey. I have not heard about any damage this time. I am keeping my fingers crossed. Compared to many who have just lost everything for the second time in two years, I am very lucky and thankful.

Until next week.….

Where Were You?

Where were you? I have now lived long enough to be able to answer any number of these questions. For example:

  • Where were you on November 22, 1963, when President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas?

I was in the first grade in a small Lutheran parochial school in Memphis, Tennessee. My classmates and I were on our way back into our classroom after recess. We all noticed that the 8th graders were watching television. Since this was 1963, watching television during the school day was very unusual. When we were all seated and quiet, our teacher told us what had happened.

  • Where were you on January 28, 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded soon after take off?

I was a full grown adult living in Houston, Texas and working for your typical oil company. Since it was the 1980s I was wearing a suit with shoulder pads sewn into the jacket. My heels matched my suit, of course. I was actually traveling to a lunch time meeting when the news broke on the radio station I was listening to in my car. The meeting was with the American Society of Training and Development. I was hoping to develop a career in corporate training. I remember thinking at the start of the meeting, we should take a “moment of silence” in remembrance of the astronauts that were killed. I didn’t mention this to anyone and we didn’t do it. I still regret not speaking up.

  • Where were you on September 11, 2001, when our country was attacked and the twin towers fell?

I was running late for work. In spite of the fact I was trying to hurry, when I looked at the television (I always watch morning news) I saw the first tower on fire with smoke billowing out across the New York landscape. For whatever reason, this image caught my attention and I just sat down and watched. I was trying to figure out what the heck was going on. Then the second plane flew into the second tower. Our country was under attack. I knew I had to leave for the office. I was a Manager with the Social Services Department within Harris County. I called into the office and spoke with one of the Supervisors. I told him to turn on the television in the client waiting room. I thought both staff and clients needed to know what was happening. By the time I made it to work, the radio was announcing that the Pentagon was on fire. Not much work was done that day, except all clients who had appointments to receive assistance with utility bills and rent were seen and processed as normal. Even if the world is falling apart, there are still people living in poverty who need help with their bills. While all staff continued to help clients, we also stayed glued to the television as much as possible.

I can only hope going forward I have many days of to remember where I was when something good happened.

Until next week.….

Strange Week On The Road

What a strange week this has been! So much news about hurricanes which is typical this time of year. However, Dorian really is one for the record books. I am sure we will be hearing about the death and devastation for some time now.

Here in Houston I hear people say that they are thankful the hurricane did not come to us. It is so odd to hear (and feel) grateful at another’s misfortune. Yet, it is a sentiment with some wisdom behind it. Sooner or later Houston will endure another hurricane. Too many people are still recovering from Hurricane Harvey. Every year I have the same wish, “Not this year. Please not this year.” So far, so good.

With all of this going on, I have been engaging in a bit of escapism. To begin with I went to the Stages Theatre and saw, Sister’s Back to School Catechism: The Holy Ghost and Other Terrifying Tales. There is a whole series of “Sister Catechism” plays. At Stages they all star Denise Fennell as Sister and they are all hilarious. This one was especially good, because it dealt with Halloween. Now, I am not Catholic. I was raised Lutheran and converted to Judaism. Still, the humor in these plays really crosses all boundaries. Fennell is masterful at working with a lot of audience participation. This is playing until October 13th. I highly recommend you go.

I also went to see the movie, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? It was so good I had to go out and read the book. Cate Blanchett stars in the movie. Maria Semple wrote the book. Both women are geniuses. Both the book and the movie are funny and interesting. The main question I have to ask myself is, “Am I a menace to society or do I just need more outlets for creativity?” I think this is a good question any aspiring writer or artist should ask. What do you think? What would happen to you if life handed you both success and failure at the same time?

I have also been reading another book about the life and times of artist, Georgia O’Keefe. It is called, How Georgia Became O’Keefe by Karen Karbo. This book chronicles the life of O’Keefe starting during the time she lived in West Texas as an art teacher. Even in her early days, this woman was determined to live life on her own terms. She did this and continued to do so until she died. I have read many books about O’Keefe, but this one really does take a unique approach to such a fascinating person. I will always be inspired by this artist.

Well, that’s been my week. Later this afternoon, I am going to my new favorite spa, GreenHouse Day Spa for a massage. Books, movies, theater and massage. Sometimes a little escapism is good for the soul.

Until next week.….

Women Artists On The Road Together!

On Wednesday of this week, I finished an 8‐week collage course at the Art League Houston. It was taught, lead and inspired by Sasha Dela. Here is my final 3‐D art piece which of course shows Halloween art, because I love Halloween! As much as I love it, it pales in comparison to the works of my classmates. We were a class full of women all interested in expanding our artistic knowledge and experience. They were all wonderful and I learned so much from every one of them. So, in honor to my wonderful classmates and artists, here is the work they showed on the last day of class. All of the pictures were taken by me. They were sometimes taken at weird angles during our class critique. Please forgive my photography and I hope you enjoy the art as much as I have.

What a great group of artists! What a great group of women! I was so fortunate to spend my summer with them.

Until next week.….

Going Down the Road with a Hearse and a Crematorium

It’s been just over a year since I visited with my niece, Becca, in Colorado. It was a pleasant day. Melanie was there as well. We had lunch and then we had ice cream. What a great memory. Doesn’t she look happy?

Then she shared with me that she was considering going back to school to study mortuary science. This means she has an interest in becoming a funeral director! What fun! It does run in the family. My Dad was a funeral director for Memphis Funeral Home. Have I shared this before? I also worked at Memphis Funeral Home when I was working on my bachelor’s degree at Memphis State University. This was the funeral home that buried Elvis Presley which remains my closest brush with greatness to this day.

Well, somewhere on Facebook I saw a link with a Funeral Museum in Vienna, Austria that sold Lego kits that represented various aspects of the funeral business. And, of course, being the self respecting Aunt that I am, I wanted to share this with Becca. Just in case you are wondering and don’t speak German, a Leichenwagen is a Hearse. Now, I haven’t exactly shared it with Becca yet, but as soon as I mail these two packages to her, then I will have officially shared. And if she reads this blog, all of the surprise will be gone. Except for the fact that she will have to assemble it herself. There are many pieces and picture directions and lots of German which neither she nor I speak. More fun!

Ordering these items from the Vienna Funeral Museum was quite the process. Much of their website is in German, because they are located in Austria. The cost for these items was listed in euros. I have many friends who have traveled all around the world, but I have not. I have never paid for anything in euros, but lucky for me, PayPal is good at converting dollars to euros so this American didn’t have to stretch her brain too far. In the process I emailed the Museum a couple of times and communicated with an Erich and a Helga who were most helpful in assisting me with the order. Google helped by providing lots of translations between German and English. The order was placed, dollars converted, the package left Austria and landed in America in about two days.

Then the package sat in customs. Then it sat somewhere in New York. Then the package sat in New Jersey. It only took about a month to get from New York to New Jersey. Was Customs building a file on me? I still don’t know.

Once the package left New Jersey, it made it’s way to Houston within a week and was out for delivery. But Oh No!!! There was a problem with the address. It was not delivered. If I didn’t act soon, it would have been sent back to sender. I went to the Post Office and at last was handed the package that had journeyed for so long to find me.

Now all that is left is sending the package on to Becca. Hopefully I will send it sometime this week and not let it sit here for a month like the Customs office. I hope I haven’t completely ruined the surprise by revealing all in this blog, but as I said before, there is the process of assembly.

It’s not every Aunt that will look forward to sharing hearses and crematoriums with her niece. I am very proud to be just such an Aunt. Happy Birthday, Becca!

Until next week.….

Traveling on a 3D Road

Do you see your life in 2D or 3D?

I see life in both and I am constantly moving what I see and what I experience from one to the other.

I love it when I see parallels between my writing life and my artistic life. They are always there and every so often they pop out at me. This is what happened last Wednesday during my collage class at the Art League of Houston. The challenge for the day was to make a 3D collage piece of art. I had been planning this for weeks. I picked out the perfect box that I wanted to use. I found a music magazine from the early 1930s. I picked out some books by Jane Austen and Mary Shelly. I used these pages to cover all sides of the box. Then I collected found items. A bit of carpet found on the walkway of my apartment. I found some items at Michael’s. My Dear Friend made two grand pianos with a 3D printer. I found some items in my home. I am not finished yet. Here is my “work of art”, but it is still a work in progress.

What I realized was that as I learn more and more about collage art, I want to make more and more of the pieces by myself. I used to rely heavily on magazine pictures. Now I am developing an idea of what is not limited by copyright. My own photos are mine to use as I please. Works of some very famous writers prior to 1923 are not subject to copyright. What can I make of my own to add to a collage? What can I make that is thoroughly my creation? It’s a process and I am well on my way.

It’s the same way in writing. I can write a novel and tell you that a character named Sally is upset. Or I can give you a scene where Sally bursts into her living room, crying. She balls her hands into fists and looks up as if to beg the heavens for an explanation. She yells out to her sister, “I can’t believe this is happening to me!” This gives writing depth. It makes the writing more of a 3D scene and not just an informational narrative.

I guess I am always looking for ways to see my life in 3D. It is so easy to look at the world around me as 2D. Just see what there is to see and don’t look any deeper. It’s like comparing a picture of a flower to the real thing. I have had this painting of flowers up on my wall for years. It’s nice. I used to know the artist when she lived in Houston. I like the colors and the way it is framed. I can only wish that I could paint flowers as good as this artist. I haven’t yet.

Yet when I look at this group of flowers that I found at a restaurant called, Vibrant, I see the life of the flowers. I want to touch them, because they are such an interesting shape and color. I know they are local, but where did they come from? There is a story about these flowers that I may never know, but I can use them as a writing prompt for a new story.

So, how do you see life? In 2D or 3D?

Stay tuned for further developments.

Until next week.….

How Fascinating is Glue?

In days gone by, I never got very excited about glue. I have used it all my life, but there was a time during my long lost youth when I simply used whatever the teacher handed me or what I found at home.

I remember when a plastic bottle with an orange pointed cap and Elmer’s glue inside held everything I needed for any school or craft project. Then someone came out with super glue. You could hurt yourself with that by attaching your hand to a table or your hands to each other. Until everyone got the hang of super glue, one could wind up in the local Hospital Emergency Room. Luckily most of us have gotten a lot smarter over time.

Now my journey through collage and mixed media art work has caused me to discover how many different types of glue are available to me (or at least how many are sold at Texas Art Supply). During my most recent collage class, I actually used four different types of glue. Different materials require different glues. Our focus this week involved textiles. I used different pieces of cloth, paper, yarn, paper, beads, etc.

I was enjoying lunch today with my Dear Friend and I innocently asked him what he thought about glue. Since he is an Engineer, he had many bits of knowledge, factoids, and streams of thought about glue.

There is Elmer’s Glue and then there are glue sticks. Then there is epoxy. Epoxies are exciting because they come in two liquid parts that when combined creates a chemical reaction that makes one hard part. There are pressure sensitive adhesives. Some glues and adhesives need to be flexible; like when you are fixing a tire or fixing the sole of a shoe. Some glues are made of polymers and some are made of monomers. Converting monomers to polymers is polymerization. That’s what happens when super glue hardens. Sometimes you get a chemical reaction when glue is exposed to light. That’s called photo‐polymerization. Then if you want to talk about glue and quantum mechanics you can consider that the shorter the wave length of light the more energy each photon has. A photon, of course, is a quantum of light. And, as everybody knows, light is both a particle and a wave. Thank you, Albert Einstein. AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

At this point of the conversation my eyes rolled in the back of my head and I stopped taking notes. I just want to make pretty, or at least interesting art!

My Dear Friend has a history of buying his glue and adhesives at a hardware store. I have always purchased my glue and adhesives where I find art supplies. I guess this is just the difference in perspective between engineers and artists.

Maybe this is the metaphor for life. Regardless of your approach, there are many ways to keep your self, your act, your art or your life together. Engineers want to make sure they keep things together in scientifically proven ways. I want the world to be artful and interesting.

How do you keep your life together?

Until next week.….

A Road Filled With Collage and Mixed Media

It seems as though any time I find myself on a writing spree, leaving procrastination and writing blocks in the rear view mirror, I also find myself engaging in other creative pursuits as well. Once the creative juices start flowing, they flow in all directions.

This summer I am taking an art class at the Art League of Houston on Collage and Mixed Media. What fun! It is taught by Sasha Dela, who is very good at simultaneously giving us direction and letting us have artistic freedom both at the same time. For three hours every week I can go into the classroom and create to my heart’s content.

One week we focused on color and another week we focused on composition. At some point I will attempt a 3‐D collage. Sasha encourages us to bring in whatever materials we would like to work with. So far I have found old photos in my home, I have shopped 2nd hand stores and Half Priced Books, among other places, to find interesting pictures and articles for my artistic creations. Every week I try to get a bit more creative and experimental with what I make. It is a very comfortable space for experimenting.

Here is a collage showing people who I do not know and am not related to. I just thought they looked interesting. Don’t you? The lotus came from a picture I took while vacationing at a spa in Austin, Texas. I used to visit that spa at least once a year, but then they were bought out by a large hotel chain and I haven’t been back. But I still like looking at this lotus and remembering the peaceful and wonderful times I had. The material came from scraps of paper I had and then I inserted brads on three different levels. Three different pictures, three different pieces of paper and three levels of brads. I think I was working on the rule of thirds that you hear so much about in art classes.

My favorite collage of the week involves a wall from the very same Austin spa. The wall surrounded a delightful and peaceful meditation area where I have spent many hours in mindfulness. This collage involves nine different pictures of the wall (did I mention that I liked this meditation area?). They are pieced together and overlapped hopefully in an artistic manner that leads the observer to introspection and thought. Are you thinking and introspecting?

And finally, when I am not writing or experimenting with collage, I am playing with Alcohol Inks. I don’t really strive towards an absolute realist picture with these inks, but I love the different color combinations. Again, what great fun!

And just recently I have been introduced to Brusho! Stand by for future experiments with this material.

But enough of all of this artistic expression. I have two writing workshops this weekend with Max Regan at the Spectrum Center. And, oh yes, I am in the middle of writing a book. I better get going!

Until next week.….

On the Road to Saying “YES”!

Note: I don’t remember how many years ago I first stepped into the True You Creativity Studio run by Cherie Ray. However, I remember I was taking a workshop on Intuitive Painting. I have taken many of those workshops since and always learn more and more about the creative process. I have spent many hours in Cherie’s studio staring at a blank canvas until I took up a brush and dipped it into paint and started making lines and dots of all different sizes in all different colors.

As an international consultant and coach, Cherie works with individuals, couples, and families to help them thrive in their home and work lives. She can be reached at www.cherieray.com.

Thank you, Cherie, for this powerful blog post!

From “No” to “Yes”!

By Cherie Ray

For the last 10 years, I’ve been consistently surprised by what life offers me and what my mind makes of these offers. When I speak of ‘offers’ I’m referring to invitations and inspirations that reach me through other people or fresh ideas that come into my mind. You know the ones that kind of shake your reality? The ones that you immediately say NO to in your mind but then they don’t leave you alone. Those are the taps on the shoulder from the source of all life saying, wanna play a bigger game?

Recently, I’ve received a few of these intense taps on the shoulder and watched how my mind quickly determined what was possible for me. And just as quickly, I believed what popped into my mind as a GO/can’t GO. As if the TRUTH police or Judge Judy made a determination. More times than not, my mind says NO, nope, nada, it can’t work, not possible, etc.

I can trace this conditioned NO response to an upbringing that embedded in me the answer to every invitation to do something ‘unnecessary’ came back with a NO. I laugh out loud when I think of my dear father’s response to me asking if I could spend the night with my best friend. His response was, “no, you have a bed”. Seeing the cause of this historical NO habit doesn’t help. It still looks and feels true.

It’s at this point of the self‐talk conversation where I would live with the answer NO and move on. Now, after the initial NO response, a whispering curiosity comes on the scene, “Could I do that?”

Recently, I received an invitation to attend an event in the Pacific Northwest. Immediately my mind said NO! My internal monologue continued with a litany of, What? Go all that way for one night? Ridiculous! Get a plane ticket, rent a car, secure a hotel room and what to wear? The idea really did look absurd to some part of me but another part was answering, why not?

This time I said YES! With YES, the ball began to roll and the adventure began to unfold. By saying YES, a rich sense filled me! I was delighted and amused by staring absurdity in the face.

Within moments the entire adventure was planned. It was simple and easy. Who knew this was possible? Not me! I marked my calendar and boarded the plane.

The gifts for me in saying YES to the concept of ABSURD:

  1. While deplaning upon arrival, my phone alerted me to check‐in for my flight to Houston the following day. LOL!
  2. Participating in an event that was filled with joy and celebration.
  3. Connecting with people that I don’t usually get the chance to have lengthy, rich conversations with.
  4. Experiencing the Tulip Festival! A vision that compares to Holland and Belgium in magnificent beauty, I’m told.
  5. Standing solo in the tulip fields at sunrise. The vibrancy and vitality from Mother Nature was palpable.
  6. Seeing I really do love an idea that engages a, ‘why not’ response!
  7. By saying YES, so many concepts of limitation fall away.
  8. Having the opportunity to see that NO is a habit, not life informing me of what’s TRUE.

Looking back with immense gratitude for this learning opportunity, I see how much I would have missed by living in my habitual NO. I see that by following feelings of delight, inspiration follows.

I encourage you to face absurdity head‐on and to partner with delight. Your experience of life will grow as naturally as the tulips!

On The Road To A Writer’s Conference

I was in one of my favorite Texas cities recently (one of my favorites other than Houston, of course). The Writer’s League of Texas held their annual Agents & Editors Conference in Austin. Here is the handy cloth bag everyone was given during registration. Not sure where the idea for the bird came from, but we also received a nice pair of blue sunglasses in our welcome packet. This was my first state‐wide writer’s conference. It was everything I had hoped for and more.

The location for this event was the Hyatt Regency that overlooks Lady Bird Lake. Service was good, food was good, beds were comfy, and everything was in one place. Since this took place in June, you were never required to leave the hotel with the fully functioning air conditioning system. However, there was a hike and bike trail right outside the hotel and we were within a block of the Congress Street Bridge where one could view bats flying on a nightly basis. In between conference sessions I could watch as the kayaks and canoes floated down the river. This particular view was taken from the 17th floor outside of areas where the meetings took place with a large group of agents and editors. More about that later.

One of the many perks of this conference were the keynote speakers who distributed copies of their books. For the Saturday luncheon, we heard an inspiring talk by Naomi Shihab Nye and received her most recent book of poetry, Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners.

There were also break out sections on the craft of writing; such as, Crafting Irresistible Opening Pages. Always a good skill for a writer. Then there were the sessions on what to expect from an agent, what questions to ask an agent, and self‐promotion for the indie writer. There were genre specific sessions on memoir, historical fiction, mystery/thriller, etc. I never knew there were so many writers in the Picture Book/Middle Grade/Young Adult genre. I met many authors who were working towards their first publication and those who have published many books.

During the opening reception I ran into Sean who works with Typewriter Rodeo. This means he sat behind a typewriter and I gave him the subject of a writer writing a book about Memphis and here is the custom poem he wrote:

Let me tell you a bit

About me—

I was raised

On the music‐streaming streets

Of Memphis

I’ve got rhythm and blues

In my blood

I have seen and heard things

That will inspire you

To sing

Will inspire you to get up and dance

And things that will also haunt you

To the drumbeat core

Want to know

All about it?

Well look for the greatest story

Soon to hit the shelves…

This is what my cat, Hannah, looked like when I got home and shared the poem with her. She’s a tough audience!

Finally, I met several agents while I was there and am pleased to report that three are interested in my book. Now I am writing myself silly, working on a book proposal, polishing and workshoping two chapters and finishing the whole first draft. That’s really good news and a heck of a lot of work to do. I better go get busy!

Until next week.….