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.

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.”

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.

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.

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?

Spring Trips: As Simple as A‐B‐C‐D

A random burst of spring decluttering (aka: anything‐but‐writing‐That‐Scene) led to rediscovering this relic.

From a bygone era, it’s an engraved sterling silver baby cup. Look closely and you’ll recognize the name.

When I first opened the box, years of accumulated tarnish hid the baby’s identity. Extended elbow grease reminded me of two things: 1) why I’d stored away this boxed cup, and 2) why I do not use, collect, and will‐never‐in‐any‐way amass pretty, shiny, high‐maintenance metal things.

Even so, the oddest experience unfolded as I admired the newly‐cleaned silver piece. Words dropped in—A Baby’s Cup of Dreams. As simple as A‐B‐C‐D.

Messages from other places. That happens sometimes. It’s a weird writer, woo‐woo thing.

When the voice speaks, I listen. Then launch.

To my writing space, I ran. My fingers grabbed specific tokens, all stand‐ins for my authorial adventure. I moved intuitively. No second‐guessing permitted.

Items included a miniature Christmas ornament, Novelist pin, a Glimmer Train magazine, a TRHOF pin, a tiny silver shell engraved “Touch Hearts,” a gratitude blessing circle, and a “Let’s Go on a Road Trip” sticker.

A few days later, my dear friend Pat Clark (a fellow Road Broad who you read here last summer) gifted me a most groovy Road Bag.

That two‐lane highway is only part of the bag’s glory. Check out those colors! Every character in my novel is represented.

Ahem, and uh, no. Most writers don’t color their characters. I’m not every writer. I am my mother’s daughter, my own person as she was herself. 

Such an attitude matters in this world of color-by-other’s-numbers.

What also matters is recognizing the road signs that arise on the journey.

I see signs daily, each echoing springtime on my four mile walks. When the ancient baby cup resurfaced, I recognized the sign of something old, granted in a new season.

The zipper bag landed as a sign from an old friend, a woman I’ve known since 1984 as journalist and now, fellow writer. I recognized her gift as something new for how I’ve long traveled: on many roads.

Arriving home, I realized the new bag needed old supplies. Not mere symbols of meaning but useful tools to bring dreams to life through renewed storytelling.

Journals.

Pens.

A closet dive reminded me I’m well‐stocked. Embarrassingly so.

There’s nothing I need.

I’m ready.

I’m supplied.

A‐B‐C‐D is going places this spring season, journeying into my field of dreams.

How about you?

When the Road Goes #&$^%!!

Sometimes, the road fails a broad.

A weekend excursion to a Houston‐area arts market beckoned. A knee‐high pile of to-do’s flashed yellow. Is this really what you need to be doing today?

I printed a cursory Google map—home to market—and announced, “we’re set.”

We parked at the recommended parking garage—free parking! I turned us left onto the street, chatting like a bird as I followed my phone’s blue line.

Ten minutes later, DH‐with‐the‐built‐in‐satellite‐dish‐in‐his‐head asked, “We’ve been walking a long way for the short walk you promised.”

I shoved my iPhone in his palm. He coughed.

We were 10 minutes in the wrong direction.

Twenty minutes after we began, we spied the art market.

And spotted a block‐long row of walk‐this‐way cones.

Another half block and more orange soldier‐cones later, navigation time arrives. The electrical cords on the sidewalk offered one challenge.

But the power saw laying on the concrete only ten steps later?

Across the street—where the multi‐colored tents stand—we found one food truck for the multiples promised on the website.

The art was well, bleh!

That’s tough truth coming from a woman who loves to support local artists. None of it—acrylic paintings, drop earrings, and enlarged photographs—was what either of us wanted, needed, or craved.

The best site was this sculpture. What is it? A vertical bike offering a ride to…? And those bonus parts are…?

I smiled.

Sometimes a single piece of art can turn around a moment‐in‐time.

Turning to my right, I spied something to widen that smile.

The wall’s simple, powerful message bettered an entire day. A fierce reminder for each of us, if we choose to see it.

Leaving the art market, we spotted a heretofore hidden parking lot across the street. One left turn and 30 seconds later, we stood before our car. Well, duh!

DH mentioned hunger. 2:30 in the afternoon. He chose a burger bar nearby for linner—as in a lunch/dinner combo. It was millennial‐loud. He ate what they advertised. I chose greens

We reviewed how south the excursion had gone. How do you rescue a Road Trip Gone Bad? We embraced four learnings:

Rescue your Emotions. Slow down.

Revise your Map. Double‐check details.

Reorganize your Agenda. Get flexible.

Return to your Passions. Find new haunts.

To close the day, we relaunched with that last learning. A final round of googling and we discovered a rebranded tea bar. There, we read novels for the rest of the afternoon.

Delicious details on that part of this road trip next Sunday. And it’s a first.

A to‐be‐continued blog post.

When Sex & Allergies Collide

When the Yankees take on your pollen count, you know the joke’s on you.

Houston’s pollen count — 2536 spores for oak trees alone — led the nation last week.

That translates into more sneezers and wheezers in the Bayou City than anywhere else in America.

Nowadays on my daily walks, I see sights like this pile of oak tree pollen on every sidewalk and driveway. Emphasis on every sidewalk, every driveway. For four miles.

These piles congregate to pollinate. In other words, it’s plant sex.

Holy moly, are they promiscuous!

The yellow wormy, stringy things are called catkins, also known as the flowering male of the tree. They morph into pollen then ride the wind, hunting receptors known as stigmas and pistils (the flowering female of the tree).

When male pollen grains meet female flower stigmas, voila! Acorns (as in: nuts!) sometime result.

That Mother Nature recreates this act every spring amazes, in and of itself. But that She, concurrently, creates allergic misery for so many of us humans strikes me as the epitome of irony.

Who’s in charge, you say?

Copyright, Sig McKenna Izbrand

My San Antonio friend Sig McKenna Izbrand dubs this year’s agony “Pollengedden.”

One photo from her backyard illustrates why.

Would you want to swim in those inviting waters after seeing that line of pollen?

The line resembles a crossing‐of‐the‐Rubicon of sorts: what’s in the water, what can I not see?

What’s a RoadBroad to do?

Pack eyedrops, an extra wad of tissues plus sore throat drops then hit the sidewalk.

Sagging senior thighs outrank four miles of sniffles.

Ball of Beauty…or Beast?

The sight at the top of the hill caught my eye.

How many bird’s nests in that tree?

Walking closer, I notice it’s not bird nests I see.

Those are amalgams of twigs, needles, sticks, and gray grassy things clumped together in round balls, all nestled atop bare tree branches.

I walk this path every day, and have for seven years.

How did I never see this?

A second question springs forth: what is this T.h.i.n.g.? 

My writer mind imagines an alien deposit left every Tuesday after midnight.

Ah, Story begins. I smile.

Four miles and five Siri e‐mails later, I arrive home.

Google informs the mass is ball moss, or tillandsia recurvata. Botanists call it an epiphyte—fancy way of saying it’s a non‐parasitic plant that lives on other plants. More bromeliad than moss; a percher, not a sapper. Translation: ball moss sits on tree branches but never sucks away its host.

Some people disagree, claiming ball moss kills every tree it nests.

I don’t care. I see beauty lurking in these branches. This tree carried 45 ball moss clumps. At least where I stopped counting. 

Some nests looked massive, others teeny as embryos. To my virgin‐noticing‐nature‐eyes, each pom‐pom appeared glorious.

I looked down and cheered. An orphaned wad lay on the ground. The sticks felt spiky and sharp but strong. The natural world excels. Again.

At home, I placed the ball moss in a vase. Within weeks, it b‐l‐o‐o‐m‐e‐d. To my endless surprise and utter delight. Melanie and home‐grown flowers = a first.

Our most recent Yule featured ball moss as the table centerpiece. It lasted from Christmas and well past New Year’s Day.

The petals eventually devolved into white wispy things. Carrying them outside one windy afternoon was not a good idea.

I waved them away then realized three things ball moss taught me:

My thumb’s not black.

Growth offers pleasant possibility and an expanded life, especially for a strong ego.

Noticing nature changes a life.

Poet Mary Oliver nailed it with this: “there are moments when the veil seems almost to lift and we understand what the earth is meant to mean to us.”

I’ve held onto this story for three months, awaiting Spring’s arrival. Now, she’s waking up, winking green in our oak trees.

She’s also birthing yellow tree pollen. Which delivers allergy agony.

That’s next week’s blog post. Today, I sniffle, dab my eyes and walk on, watching as beautiful ball moss disappears into nature’s arms. 

Call Me Silver‐Haired Devil?

From the road, Buc-ee’s beckoned.

Rather, my gas tank and bladder issued a joint siren call. One empty, one full, and both talking for 48 long miles.

Why did I wait so long—nearly an hour—to answer?

There’s gas stations and there’s Buc-ee’s. The Madisonville, TX store promises the most‐est in unique memories for any road traveler.

Dozens of gas pumps and restrooms.

Hundreds of drink and food offerings. Few of them good for you.

Thousands of worthless trinkets from clothes, rockers, backpacks, and the unrecognizable.

The line of cars to enter the two parking lots offered first warning.

An unruly crowd paced the parking lot I entered. Women holding children’s hands. Single men holding up their own hands, stopping traffic. TLC and Privilege butting heads with cars, both snaking around and between anything that moved. Which was everything.

What else is Buc-ee’s but a joint that moves, like a Friday night dance floor on the second round of drinks.

Inside the store, agitation spiked. Lines wiggled and squiggled as young, middle‐aged, and old jockeyed for quicker access to the need du jour. The longest lines surrounded stations for drinks, sandwiches, and candy.

Understandable. Road trips extort stomach energy and activate head nerves.

Both sets of bathrooms bore growing lines. Have you ever seen a man forced to wait to do his business? It was the antsiest column in the building. I smiled.

After years of traveling Interstate 45, I’d never seen this degree of traveler mania. Questions flooded in.

What’s wrong? Why this edgy‐nervous‐tense mood? Who lost a football game? 

That last question was valid—Texas A&M isn’t far from Madisonville. Then I remembered: Spring Break. Last weekend.

Alone in my car, I whooped, “Why, of course! How could I forget?”

Then I looked away, upward, to my rearview mirror.

I spied It.

My first gray hair. Actually, gray hairs. Plural.

What color are they? White? Gray? Silver?

Amid the splash of red and brown that threads across my crown, when did bleach join the party?

The longest white strand looks at least six inches long. That’s an easy six to nine months of hair growth. How did I not notice this earlier? Psychic blindness?

To my naked eye, these invaders loom larger than Antarctica. Soon enough, they won’t loom. They’ll rule.

Is this Mother Nature’s belated 62nd birthday present(s)?

I feel rode hard.

Make that road hard.