Reading & Remembering the Home Team

Sports and me don’t mix. Blame my DNA.

For evidence, I enter my most recent road trip.

Free tickets and curiousity lured DH and me to watch the Houston Astros play Tampa Bay.

We saw our last Astros game in 1993. As in back in the previous century. Our Astrodome was still the 8th Wonder of the World. Nolan Ryan came back to the old home field to pitch one last time. He blew out his elbow and we never attended another Astros game.

Playing ‘gotcha!” with the past — as in three times in one night.

Imagine our surprise last week when, upon arriving at the new‐to‐us ballfield — Minute Maid Park — we spied this. Our first Astros jersey of the night. Ryan? Good old #34 — emphasis on old.

What are the odds that my return to sports would involve the same team and the same player on the same night — 26 years later?

Meaning comes where you find it. Especially when you’re not looking.

Playing with food: a ballpark game for adults only.

By the time we f.i.n.a.l.l.y. maneuvered to our seats, total exhaustion overwhelmed me.

So many people. So much color. So much noise.

Struck out by all the incomings, I returned to my standard healing response: gentle play.

What else to do with a cold pretzel on a hot night?

Look around. Make something new.

Voila! Pretzel + Diamond = Ballpark Playtime. Can you spot the two diamonds?

Reading books: the best game in the universe (all of them).

Afterwards, I turned to my first love: reading.

Yes, I brought books to a professional baseball game. Two of them, because options and variety matter. Like playtime.

My mother taught me well: bring a book because it will always feed you. Life won’t.

Her life‐long mantra echoed in my ear the following morning when I spotted my cousin’s words.

Lila had spotted my reading picture on Facebook. In response, she offered the Compliment of the Year: 

Seventy five years later — Austin to Houston — like mother, like daughter — I’ll gladly be the chip off that old block.

Everyone else can take baseball; I’ll take my books.

Anywhere.

30 Years Later: A Proposal to Remember

On the night he proposed, DH sent me on the road.

His phone message lured me out of the radio station and to the freeway: meet me at the Chevron station — corner of Bingle and Old Hempstead Highway — six p.m. tonight.

Thus began a scavenger hunt across northwest Houston. Thirty years ago today and one week after a no‐ring ocean cruise.

At the gas station, I found his car.

Empty, except for a dozen red roses piled atop the hood. A card lay nearby with a single question, plus directions to a nearby movie theater.

When Harry Met Sally.”

Perfect for us, both as a couple and individuals. 

In a parallel universe, I’m Sally Albright. As finicky as she about meals, clothes, and sometimes, conversation, too. What’s wrong with demanding your kale warmed, with two tablespoons of organic EVOO on the side?

I’m eager to re‐enact the Katz’s Deli scene. Meg Ryan overlooked vital details, ones only I can move and moan.

DH channels Harry Burns to near‐perfection. He approaches every situation with an engineer’s logic. Fortunately, he’s never suffered the movie’s perennial question: can friends enjoy lasting fringe benefits?

DH remains world‐class at Pictionary, screaming out his equivalent of “Baby Fish Mouth!” at every opportunity.

After we watched — and laughed — through every moment of the movie, wine and dinner followed.

Mexican food. He knows me, and my order, well:  Christmas enchiladas but only two, please, and lukewarm charro beans in a separate dish.

A second card followed. With a question.

Then we drove to his home and, in the backyard, DH popped out a third card. Yes, a question.

I aced the engagement exam and DH put a ring on it.

(Could you ace this quiz?)

Three months later, we married.

Our fast altar moves followed a wild, five year, friendship/courtship. We had no idea that, all along, we were channeling our inner Harry and Sally.

Now, here we are, three decades and three photographs later:

The only pose we planned was the first one, our formal engagement picture.

The middle black‐and‐white pose followed a need for promotional photos for our business, Media Consultants.

How could we resist a third pose for this post? But hey, it required no road trip.

Only a swing into our den, the one (un‐ironed) white bed sheet we own, and a willing photographer, my good writing friend, Danielle Metcalf‐Chenail.

Now, we’re off to celebrate. No roses, wine, or cards needed this trip.

Remembering Ship Trips and Chapel Dreams

At last, 2019 reveals its magic.

Awaiting luggage at a long‐forgotten Caribbean airport

Earlier this week, I searched through family pictures on an unrelated project. These blog post pictures stopped that work and launched this post.

One glance at the dated t‐shirt awakened old trip memories. Not a road journey, but a trip at sea:

DH and I sailing on our first cruise. 1989, I thought. Hmm, 30 years ago. I flipped over the picture: Baggage Claim. Nassau, Bahamas. 8/25/89. 

Thirty years ago. Today.

Batmon & Batwomon — as islanders would say

Something about all the yellow and black colors offered premonition for shipboard antics.

Mention costume party and we’re first in line. Alas, we thought we were quite the lovebirds, too.

Or is that batbirds?

It gets better.

Egads, what was I thinking?

Naive to cruise games, DH and I felt super‐special when we received the captain’s invitation to meet him.

Then we stepped off the elevator and saw all the other special Ones. It’s good to have your Ego Balloon deflated.

I’d like to write that girl from yesterday a letter. Save yourself future grief and tamp down that Texas hair and leave the hairspray at home. Helmet head and fru‐fru attire doesn’t become you. Save your energy for where it really counts.

Young bar greeters welcome station listeners at sea.

The cruise came courtesy of the radio station where DH worked. The free trip required schmoozing with listeners every night—in the bar du jour. All drinks on the house.

One evening, as we sailed back toward Miami, DH quizzed the women cruisers about what they had packed for the trip. He knew I had overdone the shoes. I cackled when my heel count lost by one pair.

In losing, I learned that RoadBroads must pack less. Or, at least, don’t show‐and‐tell your suitcase goods.

I also lost when it came to what I most craved on that trip: an engagement ring. We’d dated five long years. I fantasized, too, about a shipboard wedding, courtesy of that cute captain we’d met earlier.

Neither happened.

I learned expectations can bite. The years since have taught me a better life strategy. Take a breath. Wait. Good news follows every pause.

Adage illustration—here—next week.

NOTE: In discovering these cruise pictures, I realized an amazing synchronicity. 2019 marks notable life anniversaries: graduation from both high school and college; meeting my husband; getting engaged; and marriage. How did I miss these breath‐stopping connections for nearly nine months?

Sunrises: Why I Walk Mornings

I walk every morning. Four miles round‐trip. For seven‐plus years.

Through dog days, sprinkling dawns, and all the in‐betweens, I trod the sidewalks that jut east and west from our house.

Shimmering heat cooks sun, pond, and walker, too.
Peek‐a‐boo sun rises to an oddly sweet blinding light.

What began as a long‐ago journey to wellness evolved this past week into a higher calling.

Sunrise walks = healing sights, despite 80+ degree temps.

A trio of sunrises explains.

The last image there shocked, then stopped, me into awe. Absolute silence.

In 2555 days of walks (yes, I counted), I’ve n.e.v.e.r. stopped for Mother Nature. These aren’t pleasure trips I’m taking.

Leaving the house and race‐walking down the driveway, my eyes aim down at concrete and my feet speed to pounding. I’m a woman on a four‐mile mission that continued good health demands.

At least I was. Spying this profoundly beautiful sight, I nearly dropped to my knees. Instead, a verbal wave of thankyouthankyouthankyou rolled off my tongue as I stood in grateful silence, eyes tear‐filled.

In succeeding mornings, other visitors stepped forward.

Double dose of orange delight!

Seeds planted by DH bloomed for the first time. Last week. With my favorite color.

Previous years, we started with flowering plants: easier, faster. Something about retirement encourages new ventures.

Two blooms here, too. Can you find them both?

This second set of blooms burst forth two days later.

The pair of colors grabbed my attention. How did that happen from a single sack of seeds?

Upon seeing the blooms, I ran to our backyard garden. It’s filled with DH’s beloved rose bushes. A dozen of them.

I saw not blooms but this. And gasped.

Can you see why?

The glistening spider’s web spoke of little things making their way in the world, too. Then I asked: when’s the last time I saw such a perfect web? And why today?

The real synchronicity of all this comes after learning that an article I wrote about my walking and writing practice will be published this fall. In a national magazine. Oh my. This news arriving when it did reinforced the near‐holiness of all this timing.

Amid the thrill is the bigger message: sometimes, noticing leads to wonderful surprises.

It starts here: Open your Eyes.

See.

Notice.

A Labyrinth Speaks

Friday’s first e‐mail, the “Message of the Day,” began “Open to the New…”.

It closed with “See things with a beginner’s attitude of wonder.”

Those words buzzed in my head as I drove before sunrise to Rothko Chapel’s Summer Solstice observance.Two key differences this season:

1) Because the chapel is under renovation, the event moved to the Gueymard Meditation Garden at the University of St. Thomas, and

2) Because that garden includes a labyrinth, we—60 strong—walked the Chartres‐based path together.

Joining us before/during the observance were persistent Southwest Airlines jets and a receding full moon.

Sweet and sour — both unexpected company.

But the noise and the vision reminded me: we’re all on a journey of some kind.

Every day. We’re either coming or going but j‐o‐u‐r‐n‐e‐y‐i‐n‐g all the same. Am I too much the Pollyanna, suggesting we must all remember this?

The music of flutist Laura Lucas and guitarist John Edward Ross muted traffic passing by on West Alabama. All the color sang, too.

As only red roses and orange dresses can. 

A trio of water fountains bubbled to life at eight a‐m.

A blanket of comfort fluttered down: water’s best offering when it springs forth in such peaceful solace.

With a crowd this large, we bumped, turned, reversed, and paused our way along the four quadrants of the labyrinth.

Even so, we disappeared into our internal worlds as we traveled. No words spoken anywhere. None needed on this circular path.

Amid steady turns along the single‐lane path, we progressed toward the labyrinth’s center point. There, we each paused, reflected, then headed back out to where we each had started.

Before we began, our walk facilitator, Jay Stailey, had suggested using the words release‐receive‐return as touchstones. One word for each phase of the three‐part labyrinth journey. 

The notion intrigued: that’s how we’ve been programmed to think of our lives. Three parts. Beginning‐middle‐end. I wonder: have I been using using the wrong words for 62 years?

Truth is, there’s no ‘wrong way’ to live — or labyrinth. How can there be when both still confuse so many?

Labyrinths exist globally, crossing cultures and centuries, religions and governments. They’ve survived because these pathways offer a universal place for meaning and healing.

Scholars such as Jean Houston consider the labyrinth a powerful tool for suspending left‐brain activity (logic, analysis, structured thinking) in favor of tapping our right‐brain gifts of intuition, creativity, and imagination.

That concept roared in my ear after I finished my labyrinth walk.

Heading to the car, I walked by the Chapel of St. Basil and a burst of sunlight beamed right onto my face.

With it came the words — “good walk, messages received, new season, better days.” 

That green dot of light?

You tell me. It’s not a laser because no one was aroundThe labyrinth stands on the opposite side of this building. The campus is closed for the summer.

Woo‐woo, indeed. 

A solstice to remember.

Chattanooga: Cemeteries, not Choo-Choo’s

I stand stunned.

The Tennessee River at sunset brings Chattanooga and its hills to unexpected life.

Another surprise awaits on that opposite spit of land.

It’s a peninsula called Moccasin Bend, home to America’s very first Americans.

Twelve. Thousand. Years. Ago.

Can you comprehend that number better than I cannot?

These natives planted maize and corn, fished the river, and hunted small animals. Later came the Cherokee then Spanish explorers. The latter bore disease that decimated the original settlers.

Nowadays, Moccasin Bend holds title as the nation’s first and only National Archaeological District, maintained by the National Park Service.

The site, called “our most unique offering” by park rangers, remains under excavation for both its ancient burial mounds and artifacts from antiquity. Arrowheads are only the tip of this iceberg.

Make that peninsula, and yes, pun intended.

Site excavation work continues today. Neighbors include private homes, a golf course, police firing range, water treatment plant, and the state’s largest mental hospital.

Only in America do homeowners, golf balls, live bullets, stinky water, and the mentally ill romp among ancient arrowheads and old cemeteries.

From here, though, turn east to see another burial ground. It’s what delivered DH and me to Choo‐Choo‐Ville.

At the Chattanooga National Cemetery, we buried DH’s college roommate. Mike joins 50‐thousand other soldiers, and some prisoners of war, buried here.

These graves represent only a fraction of America’s war dead across 150+ years of armed conflict.

Holy ground:  consider that the picture captures only one hill of a rolling 121‐acre site. Even non‐patriots gasp at this view.

This Union cemetery came to life in Confederate territory because, as the site superintendent explained to us, “34,000 bodies after a single fight — the Battle of Chattanooga in 1863 — means you find land where you can. And fast.”

As the Civil War raged, survivors buried soldiers wherever cemetery space could be located.

That’s how Anthony Osterdock landed in Chattanooga National Cemetery.

A native Frenchman who enlisted from Indiana, Osterdock died in Virginia’s Battle of Piedmont.

We say we’re well‐traveled and living globally?

Osterdock’s was one of a long row of graves that carried the same date of death. A pattern repeated across too many rows of this cemetery.

A few rows later, I spotted this one‐name tombstone.

Desperate for a break from the afternoon drumbeat of intense emotions, I whispered to myself: so, girl, who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?

I laughed then remembered where I stood. Hand clapped over my mouth, another voice whispered.

Mike would understand. 

A soft smile filled my lips.

Levity heals on hard days.

Oops! When Gadgets Crash Good Intentions

On the flight home from Nashville, I outlined today’s blog post.

It included somber details from a military funeral in Chattanooga followed by a pescaterian adventure with pulled pork, Moon Pies, and Tennessee kale.

A rowdy swing at the Grand Old Opry collapsed in comparison to the quiet intimacy of The Bluebird Café and a Sealy‐bred guitar player named Jamie Lin Wilson.

Touring a Southern plantation presupposed cotton fields and grim living conditions for African‐Americans. But, now it’s a museum honoring its differences: raising thoroughbred horses (as in Secretariat’s dad) and distilling Tennessee whiskey. Another frame of reference blown apart.

Seventy‐two hours in Tennessee ended with more life learnings. But you’ll have to wait to read them.

My iPhone—the brand new one that I bought a week ago today—crashed into blackest black yesterday. Ergo—no pictures to share.

Who in today’s on‐line world wants to read a blog sans images or sound? Our eyes and brains operate differently now, thanks to successful rewiring from small screens. Thank you, techies.

A black screen also means no texting or calling or news‐surfing. Forced LOMO offers opportunity, always a good reframing for antiquated habits.

The hardest learning centers on my encounters with the phone’s creator. Dealing with Apple feels like stumbling around blindfolded at three in the morning. From deep inside the Rocky Mountains.

Between recent RoadBroad excursions to New York City and Nashville, I’ve met Apple staff six times via telephone, online, and in‐person.

It began as my familiar iPhone 6s began to crap out in Manhattan. Constant battery pack offers its only survival. I called Apple from DH’s device.

During the twelve‐hour, H‐Town spend‐over, I bought the new unit. It’s a fancy Xr: “our latest and greatest! ” the millennial teen vowed.

Now, I’m awaiting Tuesday’s Genius Bar appointment. In the dark.

Meantime, I’m drafting a report for Mr. Tim Cook.

A writer always has a Story.

Writing Around Manhattan

Five full days in New York City offer a multitude.

Of people.

Of experiences.

Of observation.

Each and all, an overload of every sense. In other words, nirvana for a writer.

DH and I traveled to Manhattan to explore our passions at both Book Expo and the Audio Publishers Association Conference.

I’m the author in our tribe, writing both fiction and nonfiction. He’s pursuing audio narration, a perfect sequel to his radio news days.

Standing among the thousands at these conferences, we both remembered our past. Where we met and how we lived, several lifetimes ago.

But what we learned last week is that, because of our pasts, anything is possible in the future, even if we’re both overwhelmed.

Writing every day offered a balm, a centering point. My computer called me back to the page.

It sounded like a voice whispering me to capture what I’d learned, heard, seen, discovered in panel discussions, even casual conversations. During a round‐trip trek of the High Line, I pulled over to take dictation.

Yes, sometimes writing only involves dictation.

Later, breakfast at Cafe Lalo beckoned. This Upper West Side restaurant remains a must‐stop any time New York calls either DH or me.

Its brick walls and glass‐walled front offer a bohemian decor that enriches the creative food it so playfully delivers.

Go at night and you’ll recognize its interior from the movie, You’ve Got Mail, 20+ years ago. Nothing is heaven like Lalo chocolates and hot tea on a cold New York night.

By the way, that orange cup — for green tea, of course — was this year’s unexpected treat. I’d have bought one but they won’t sell their china.

Finally, a first‐time visit to Central Park’s Strawberry Fields demanded one last round of daily writing. But this became a prayer for peace.

It felt so vital following the cacophony of unexpected crowds a hillside away.

I fled the Imagine memorial, diminished. I imagined John Lennon would feel the same. 

Musicians performing despite signs forbidding it. Vendors selling bad reproductions and cheap art. People plopping down for pictures, one pair of butt cheeks slapping in after another.

Yes, it was that crude. I ran away to write it down, get the unpleasantness, the disappointment out of my head.

DH showed me his photo much later. I saw not me, but a writer at work. I imagined an unwitting Monet model, consumed not by the artist at work but by the art itself.

Maybe that’s what Mr. Lennon was after, too.

Bedtime with My Cousin Vinny, Version 2.0

NOTE: Ghost fingers posted a rough draft of this blog post last night. It’s been replaced with this final version. Enjoy! 

Vincent Van Gogh always seemed a nut case.

You don’t chop off an ear if you’re sane.

But I met the artist this week—via his letters, etchings, sketches, and paintings—and realized he’s my long‐lost cousin. What else do you call someone with whom you share three great loves: books, shoes, and colors?

My personal trifecta grants Mr. Van Gogh an irreverent nickname: Vinny.

Isn’t that the gift we give family members?

Coincidence that the moniker matches Joe Pesci’s 1992 movie, My Cousin Vinny.

All this discovery unfolded at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH) and its fantabulous exhibit titled Vincent Van Gogh: His Life in Art. This one‐city show runs through June 27th; attending is beyond worth‐your‐time. From Houston, the exhibit returns to its Amsterdam home.

Since childhood, I’ve visited countless museums and art galleries. All around the globe. This show was different.The day became profound. Art, when married with words, can do that.

My skin actually t‐r‐e‐m‐b‐l‐e‐d when I viewed Vinny’s work. A first.

Around me, I heard tears and sniffles. Another first.

The floor‐to‐nearly‐ceiling sketches stopped me in my shoes.

This image was drawn in the late 1800s. My mind struggled with its how‐to. As in: how do you create something this large—on your hands and knees? Where do you find, in 1888, paper this big? How do you store it?

Questions raced through my mind. Then I saw the clogs.

I gasped. Something about the yellow background and the plain pair of shoes screamed strength, confidence, and power.

How could that be?

Vinny’s strong brushstrokes—around, over, and through the tightly‐shaped shoes—transformed the leather into something more than a simple something you walk in.

Art critics disagree on Vinny’s intent with A Pair of Leather Clogs. They cite specific walks, spiritual wanderings, or life paths.

How much more RoadBroad can you get?

Perhaps Cousin Vinny was a RoadDude. He did live all over Europe.

In these clogs, I saw myself. These weren’t, after all, ordinary shoes. They were clogs, the only type of shoe I paint. See my February 18th post to refresh the hobby details.

No way am I suggesting that I reside in Mr. Van Gogh’s league. Instead, I believe there’s an artistic universality in painting shoes.

Call it magic juju. His painting offers a question, a reflecting point, ahead of any journey. The shoes beg you to ask, in advance: are you ready? 

But how often do we consciously ask? Do we save the preparation for the bigger roads only? How about in the middle of the journey—do we consider our observations? After we leave the road, do we look back to ask: what did I learn? 

Creation resides with the artist. Interpretation belongs to the observer. What freedom, for both!

Shoes, regardless of who paints — or walks in — them, offer preparation, experience, or wisdom. We choose our takeaway(s).

The exhibit ends with a delight‐filled interactive play area.

When I spied Van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles, I had to get between the sheets.

Cousin Vinny called me. Or, maybe, I’m half‐crazy after all.

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.”