Calling Starfish Quinoa

Remember last week’s photo?

Here’s an update:

Welcome to life in the suburbs where a single damaged tree merits the grass treatment. As in mow it down. Its two pesky neighbors must go, too.

While you’re at it, get creative. You know, like a writer. Leave behind a mutant starfish in all three tree places.

Zoom in on the first picture above to see the name on the brick block in the back center of this frame. It reads MATRIX. This word nerd thought immediately of Keanu Reeves and his Neo film trilogy. Taking it a step further (because it’s one of those weird info‐junkie practices of mine), I researched the word on‐line. Dictionary.com cites “matrix” as a biology term: “ground substance.” Chill bumps broke out — the exact new form of this old tree. So ground into the earth, I thought of cooked red quinoa. Can you see it?

Odd metaphors of wood and grains. Actually, there’s nothing odd or weird about my writer eyes. I call them Imagination. In the matrix, who knows what we’re really looking at anyway?

On a lighter note, a photo from a RoadBroad weekend:


No imagination necessary — that truck was pointing at me, but under tow away from me. Odd sensation to drive behind this. And a first in 45 years on the road.

Helpful Signs Along The Way

In Melanie’s latest post, she discussed her walking road trip through nature and her observation of trees. Today my road trip will be somewhat different.

I begin this journey by traveling through a concrete jungle that is under construction. Going around road construction is a full‐time hobby for anyone who lives in the Houston area. This little jaunt just happens to be along I‐10. I am on my way to visit the Swedish jungles of IKEA.

A friend and I made the journey together. He is an Engineer. If you have never traveled through IKEA with an Engineer, then you really don’t know what you are missing. I will explain as I go along.

To begin with, journeying through IKEA is like going through life with all kinds of assistance, hints, and signposts. From the moment you walk in the front door, you are immediately directed to go up. Go up, dear friend, into the spectacle that is Swedish furniture and housewares.

Then as soon as you reach the pinnacle of the escalator, you begin to see arrows directing you as to the path you are to take.

Where Dorothy and Toto followed the yellow brick road, the Engineer and I followed the white arrows painted on the concrete floor. Do I ever wonder on where I am going in life? I just have to take a trip to IKEA and am told what direction to take at all times.

Of course I am with an Engineer who can figure a lot of things out for himself. He can look at a map and tell where we should go next.

Since the Engineer has a Ph.D, he can even find his way between the Showroom and the Marketplace. He is very smart indeed! Then I noticed that if we followed the arrows on the floor, it will take us on the same pathway as shown on the master floor map and I almost feel as smart as an Engineer.

Actually we have decided to spend the morning at IKEA because I am rearranging my home. I have way more books than I have bookcases to hold them. Also, I have two closets that are completely disorganized. I am quite sure that if I just organize my closets, then the rest of my life will follow suit. Doesn’t that make sense? Also, since I have recently retired, I am motivated to purge my home of all the stuff I have retired from and no longer suits me. I hope I wind up with more room for lots more books and art supplies!

For the novice shoppers at IKEA, the store is great about providing the proper tools to find, measure and write down everything you need. When you travel with an Engineer he comes with his own high precision shopping tools as is demonstrated below:

Of course once all is said and done, it is important to keep a view on the big picture of your life. Again, IKEA helps with this.

From this perspective, you can see all of the tools that are there to help you and all the options you have for arranging and decorating your existence.

If any of this does not help you, then you can simply go home. Your cat will tell you to get back to work on your writing and stop goofing off.

Life can be so simple, if we will only let it.

Until next week.……

Why I Walk

Observation.

The word beckons, two months — nearly to the day — after a life‐changing encounter with Sherlock Holmes.

This time, nature delivers on my daily morning walk.

Whoa! How did this happen?

No storms last night.

Not even a teeny gust of wind.

Curiousity moved me forward. 

Inspection reveals this tree half‐died across a lengthy period of time. It consumed itself from the inside out, internal erosion concealed beneath solid exteriors.

Disease consumes perfection, beginning its continuing work on lower limbs.

Yet in this ultra close‐up, Life returns.

A ring of healthy bark embraces a circle of green. Star of hope amid a rotting halo. It’s a wink to onlookers who search for meaning in the world surrounding.

Truth hides what the outside never sees. Does that make a lie?

Parallels to the writing world—stories, projects, relationships, life itself—scream back at me. I smile.

Ah, today will be good.

When nature speaks, she roars.

What happens when we see, then listen.

Ellen offered a single word to these pictures: wabi‐sabi. It was a classic “aha!” moment. Wabi‐sabi centers on (quoting Wikipedia here) the Japanese aesthetic that art marries “asymmetry… austerity…and appreciation of …natural objects and processes.”

At her mention, I remember “duende.” It’s a Spanish term for a passionate experience relating to an experience of art or life.

I proclaim Tener Duende for wabi‐sabi! That’s my Tex‐Mex version of ‘to have duende’ for this entire discovery of one vital broken‐yet‐living tree.

Now I know why I walk. To see what to write.

It begins with Observation. Yes, with a capital “O.”

I end on this offering. Dear Deer marked my final photo from the day I observed the living/dying tree.

Can you spot the tribal trifecta?

Papa stands at first base with Mama guarding on second. Baby, new to the fam and our neighborhood since last winter, remains puzzled at third.

I stand at home plate, awed to silence.

The Road Trip Is Over, But The Journey Is Just Beginning!

I have been home for several weeks. I would say that my life has returned to normal, but it hasn’t. I am now really officially retired. I still have not determined what the new normal is going to be. This is a whole shift of consciousness for me, because I have either gone to school, worked, or both since I was about 15 years old.

The first thing I noticed when I returned from Colorado was that I slept.….a lot. I would sleep well at night. Get up in the morning, drink some coffee, watch some news, and then take a nap. I almost got worried that I was sleeping too much, but then I realized that I was feeling GREAT! Apparently I haven’t been this rested for approximately 50 years! I adopted a very mindful approach to my daily schedule and just observed. When I was hungry I ate, when I was tired I slept. How so very zen of me.

I have structured my daily life so I seldom have to set an alarm clock. At first I swung back and forth between waking up early in the morning and sleeping until 11 a.m. Some evenings I fell asleep early reading a book and other evenings I stayed up late watching whatever movie I found irresistible at the moment.

One day a week I get together with a friend for a day of culture or adventure or a movie or whatever strikes our fancy. The picture above is from the Big Bambu at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. It is a sculpture made out of bamboo that is literally big enough to walk through. It’s another variation of a road trip. If you have a chance to go and see this exhibit, I highly recommend it!

Also I continue to enjoy the local road trips to the Alley Theater in the evenings. Their most recent production of Holmes and Watson was great fun!

I was reminded of the Sherlock Holmes exhibit that Melanie and I both visited at the Museum of Natural Science. We learned to observe our surroundings and pay attention to details. Perfect reminders for a writer. Observe and take notes!

And yes, I am writing. I have been mindfully experimenting with writing schedules and think I have just about found what works best for me. Some days I focus on writing. Other days I focus on culture/adventure/movies. So far retirement into full‐time writer life is working for me.

I hope everyone who reads this is having a great summer! I will write again in about a week.

Stay cool!

Another Month, Another Repair

Thirty days ago, I left this blog to resume life off the road.

I’m back to announce we’re rebirthing RoadBroads in its new form. We’re on the lookout for guest bloggers. But first…

After last month’s 2700‐mile road trip, this morning brought my delayed post‐roadtrip car check. I mentioned an oil change as a good idea for starters. Oh, and don’t forget that gas problem in Boulder.

One receipt & two more to come…

From the sound of his voice (when you hear pregnant pauses from a man, you know he’s talking bad baby news), I sensed trouble. Either me or the bank account.

Oops! Brakes are wearing down.

Ditto those tire treads.

And if you need new tires, you need new struts and shocks.

Ditto that shock news.

Holy moly, RoadBroads! What’s a girl to do?

Yes, I’m considering a new car. This little Subaru is 7 years old with 63,000 miles. Not much as such autos go but we’re looking at $3613, max, in repairs (the mechanic swears). And this follows $1778 for a new air conditioning compressor before we left Houston for Colorado six weeks ago.

Yes, a plug for Consumer Reports. They’re a shopper’s best friend.

What RoadBroads don’t talk about with car trips is the vehicle itself. Silly little things like maintenance. Wear and tear. Cost. Ugh.

Now, DH and I are debating whether to replace my car. Much as I hate to saddle up with a monthly car payment. That’s another loud fat Ugh!

But it IS fun reading about these new cars. Can you believe some wheels run over $100,000? Who would pay that for something that depreciates rapidly during your very first ride?

I digress. Majorly.

It’s been a busy month in Lake Sugar Land with eye problems, honorable mentions, and the never‐ending litany of daily life distractions. The novel is now fully outlined, plus all 28 chapter openings and endings are written out. 50 pages, folks! Equivalent to a Novel PhD.

Oh, I owe you blog post guidelines. We’ll keep it simple. We’re looking for weekly guest posts from women RoadBroads. We require:

  1. 300–600 word posts on a road trip you’ve taken, planning to take, or want to take. The unique is most encouraged!
  2. Brief bio of yourself (2–3 sentences).
  3. Headshot (full color preferred).
  4. Pictures to accompany your blog post (pictures you’ve taken or photos with copyright approvals).
  5. Posts will be edited to maintain RoadBroad blog criteria.

Ellen and I will co‐review guest blog submissions for possible posting.

Also, we each will resume our own posts with a Slow Blog approach. For me, that’s once a week.

I have a novel to finish. December 16 is my deadline to complete the full first draft. Please hold me to that.

It’s good to be back.

Fighting Altitude with Attitude

The Rev. Pat Clark

NOTE: Today’s guest blog post comes from fellow writer, The Rev. Pat Clark. She’s had 10 days to review her 10‐day writing retreat in Boulder. 

A Presbyterian minister and spiritual director, Rev. Clark is currently writing a book about surviving stage 4 cancer through faith and kindergarten art.

We’re particularly grateful for Pat. Every week, she graciously hosts the Wednesday Writers in her home. Her brave struggle with cancer and her creative determination to fight back with art and words inspires us all. Thank you, dear friend! — Melanie & Ellen


Fighting Altitude with Attitude

It was no easy task to get to Boulder for Max’s writing retreat. First off there was a luggage factor – CPAP machine, computer, printer, art supplies, journals, a notebook with source material and another that had been green‐lined. That means decorated with a LOT of things I had to change for the next step in getting it published. Add to that clothes and toiletries. I felt triumphant that I made it on the airplane in one big bag with a backpack.

We were all excited to meet one another at the Dunshanbe Teahouse on opening night. We tried exotic foods, sat outside beside a rushing river and smelled the fragrance of a million roses that lined the path to the entrance. Oh, the anticipation of writing!

The climate was a wonderful gift for the seven of us from Texas, or so I thought. The problem came when I tried to walk very far. In only a few minutes I was huffing and puffing and having to stop on nearby benches sprinkled all over town.

Things worsened when I tried to sleep. I didn’t get much. Altitude! Those beautiful mountains have a downside. Finally I tried a tincture of CBD that helped me relax but not sleep. The retreat became a test of endurance more than a retreat. I can do this! became my mantra.

Ready for another small group session at the Boulder Bookstore.

Nonetheless I finished editing my book, wrote the final chapter, and launched a new endeavor to write about travel. There were amazing moments – insights during a Max Regan lecture, the beauty of peony bushes, the funkiness of Pearl Street with its flame throwers and musicians, the Hotel Boulderado, meals with other writers, solid help with my work, and the amazing writing that was shared in our salons every other night. I loved it!

I decided after the first day or two that I could lie around and whine about my sleep issues, or I could just do what I came to do–learn, write and have a good time. That is exactly what I did!

Things are rarely perfect in life, but I do have a choice in how to respond to them. Now that I am safely home in Houston, I am profoundly grateful for the writers’ retreat and everything I learned and experienced in Boulder.

I am also grateful for a good night’s sleep in my own bed.

What Began Around Memorial Day

I’m home!

Melanie and I drove back to Houston yesterday. We got back a day early, but wanted to get ahead of any potential bad weather. After enjoying the low humidity and temperatures in the mountains, I am now enjoying the rain and humidity of the Gulf Coast. It is just too much fun to have my glasses fog up every time I walk outside.

I did face a bit of a welcoming committee as soon as I walked in the door last night:

Yes, there are two cats in the picture. Vesta, the Siamese, just likes to blend in with the carpet. By now they have almost forgiven me for abandoning them for so long — even if they were left in very capable and loving hands.

Today was a day to rest and begin to settle back in to home life. I only did one load of laundry, but I went through all of the mail that had piled up and I caught up with emails and messages. Even unpacked one of the two suitcases that traveled with me. I don’t want to do too much too fast and risk hurting myself. You know how that goes, don’t you?

Since I started off this blog writing about going to the Alley Theater to see Picasso at the Lapin Agile, it is only fitting that I end this segment of the blog with another trip to the Alley Theater. Tonight I saw a really good play on the downstairs stage at the Alley called, The Cake. Good story with humor, drama, food for thought and a happy ending:

After they play, they literally served small pieces of cake to all audience members. Yum!

Tomorrow I have a list of errands to run, unless it is raining too much. The good part about retirement is that I don’t have to set an alarm clock and if the weather is too bad, then I don’t have to go anywhere! Maybe I will just stay home all day reading and writing. Yes, retirement is good.

I am going to take a few days off from blogging. Both Melanie and I will return in a few days to share more adventures of the RoadBroads. Keep checking back and have a great week.

Good night!

A Journey Ends…

…as a new one begins.

Details on all that later. For tonight — after 21 hours of driving across three states in two days — I’m home, ready to sleep in my own bed after 17 days and 2703 miles.

A lot of numbers to absorb, eh?

Maybe that’s why I’m e‐x‐h‐a‐u‐s‐t‐e‐d. But, overall, it’s good tired.

Rummaging through Larry McMurtry’s bookstore in Archer City may be key.

To the right here is one corner of one room of one of his treasure‐packed stores. All are used books and/or literary classics and collectibles. Imagine looking at row after row of 14‐foot high bookcases; pile after pile of reading treasures. Overwhelm rises in your bones. The smell of old books wafts up to your nose and you remember when you first discovered the joy of the written, printed word. Intensity grows, the feelings of overwhelm magnified by more books than you’ve ever seen in one place. Magnify the overwhelm by a factor of ten.

I’m proud of myself — I left Larry’s place with only four books.

That’s because this was my fourth bookstore in four days. My car already has two bulging sacks of books awaiting my reading delight. Such joy, however, can only be indulged after unpacking, laundry, groceries, errands, phone calls and everything else I walked away from last month.

Why does May seem like two years ago now? Why does my recently‐finished writing retreat feel like an alternate universe?

Alas, tough questions and mixed‐up senses for a late night. Meanwhile, my bed beckons. I anticipate a wonderful night of sleep on the one mattress that knows all my body’s nooks and crannies.

Tomorrow, one last look at my recent past with a preview of my blogging future.

Tonight marks my shortest RoadBroad post. You understand why?

From Mountains to Canyon

Melanie and I started the first leg of our journey home back early on Friday, June 15th. I specify the date, because it is now 1:28 a.m. on June 16th. Blogging during the early morning hours definitely has its advantages. I will sleep when I get home. Now I am still on an adventure.

We said good‐bye to the townhouse that has been our home away for the past two weeks. Our handy AAA Trip Tik held tightly in my hands. We also have phones with GPS. What could possibly go wrong?

Driving away from Boulder, I take one last look at the Flatirons and all of the other mountain ranges. In the distance are mountains shrouded in a blue haze that I am told is from some distant wild fires. I see the warnings about fire bans as we drive down the freeway.

When we find ourselves in Trinidad, Colorado, we decide to stop for caffeine, a chance to stretch our legs and gas up the car. By using my smart phone, I see that there is exactly one Starbucks in Trinidad. What I didn’t realize is that the Starbucks is located in a Safeway Store.

Can you see the Starbucks? Neither could we. We drove past it once and almost twice. Finally Melanie noticed the familiar Starbucks lady in the window. Now can you find it?

It’s there and thanks to Melanie, I got coffee, she got tea. What we also found out is that Trinidad is a very interesting town with tons of history. It might be fun to explore this town during some future road trip. However, we are on our way to Canyon, Texas.

Yes, in one day we left Colorado, drove through New Mexico and finally arrived back in Texas. Now all we have to do is find the town of Canyon and check into our hotel. We are going to Palo Duro Canyon to see a show called “Texas”.

Okay, it was my fault. When we were looking for Canyon, I instructed Melanie to turn left when she should have turned right. Oops. I am such a city chick. The scenery on this journey has been so beautiful, but the Texas Panhandle really is wide open country.

Well, I managed to get us off on a wild goose chase for about 45 minutes. Where we thought we were going to have about an hour at the hotel to rest and freshen up, we had about 15 minutes. Melanie was very gracious about my mistake. Did I mention that we had a AAA Trip Tik and two phone with GPS? There is nothing RoadBroads enjoy more than a good adventure!

Then we got to Palo Duro Canyon. Melanie told me that this show was at the bottom of the Canyon and that this Canyon was the 2nd largest Canyon in the United States. I am such a “city chick”. What I found out was that this show was at the actual bottom of the canyon! Who knew? It was a steep descent with a lot of curvy roads. Yet, we made it, had dinner and saw a really interesting show about the history of the Texas Panhandle. Here is a picture of the stage…at the bottom of the Canyon.….

As exciting as the show was, I also loved just looking up at the stars. It was a beautiful night with a cool breeze and more stars than I ever get to see among the bright lights of Houston. That alone made the whole trip to see this show worthwhile.

Tomorrow we take off on the road again. We are paying attention to the weather that is being predicted for Houston this weekend. Lots of rain. Something I have not seen since taking off on the road.

I better get some sleep!

Adieu, Boulder

Tomorrow, Ellen and I awake before sunrise and say “adieu” to Boulder, exchanging our temporary abode for Home.

Despite two enchanting weeks here, I miss the comfort, familiarity, and routines of my Sugar Land home. Most especially life with my kind and generous DH! Still, there’s a magic that only Boulder can generate. That’s a major admission for this Taos passion‐ista.

That heart‐thumping magic manifested itself again today, this time in hyper‐productive form. Ellen and I wrote like storytelling fiends all day. I took a short break to lunch with special family members from Ft. Collins (shout‐out to ML, D & E) and returned to complete significant progress on my WIP (‘work in progress’).

Surrendering to the Boulder siren call of words, words, words…

Perhaps we’re both desperate for a few more hours of clear, clean storytelling. Remnants of a tropical wave await our Sunday return to Houston. But first, any worries surrounding rainfall yet to arrive comes after what lies immediately ahead: 20 hours of weekend driving across three states. How do you hold onto the magic of a writing retreat amid the potential train of contained chaos coming toward us?

It begins with remembering. And here are mine — to remember tonight, across the next two days, and onto the life yet to come — the most powerful learnings of a ten‐day writing retreat. 

  1. While it’s trite, it’s that because it’s true: persistence pays off. Evidence: seven years of periodic work on a single essay yields finalist status. This pumps the ego to keep working hard on this novel that’s talked to me for 11 long, busy years.
  2. The craft of writing requires a lifetime of learning and devotion, a commitment I renewed in these Colorado mountains. Those who claim mastery follows 10,000 hours of practice are naive. If you’re good at storytelling, mastery never comes because you refuse to stop learning.
  3. Community enriches a writer’s life and all her projects. To wit:
Houston’s Wednesday Writers reunited again!

Members of the Wednesday Houston group celebrate crafting stories together since January, 2017. The Boulder retreat marked the first time we five have bonded in such an extended, intensive writing experience. Our writing Wednesdays will never be the same!

It’s one thing to have a writing community in the town where you live. I’m beyond blessed to be involved with three such special groups.

The Boulder Fiction writing group enjoys corner porch dining at Chatauqua DIning Hall. How did all my tribes land here for such a special dinner?

To come to a writing retreat in another state and discover six storytelling soulmates is beyond a blessing. It’s grace in action, a concept our beloved Max Regan talks about. It’s a grace that comes not because you seek it. Instead, this kind of special grace finds you and touches you gently — and silently — on your shoulder when you’re not looking. Sweet.

4. Living a life as a full‐time writer is worth the energy it demands. I return to Houston changed and committed. There’s a project awaiting my completion with an audience awaiting my story and a supportive crowd cheering every mile marker I pass. In eleven years of working on my debut novel, I’ve never felt so energized. It’s that Boulder air.

For the light‐hearted learnings, it’s:

  1. Friends can remain friends even after sharing house for ten days.
  2. Colorado trees and my nose are not friends. Not going to happen. Ever.
  3. Never buy unbranded gasoline. Unless you want a coach rescue.
  4. Whatever you do, don’t kill the dog. Oops, that’s a big sorrysorry to my ex.

One of these blog posts, I’ll figure out how to do bulleted numbers that look right on your screen. That’s a big sorrysorry to you, dear reader.

For now, it’s dinnertime followed by packing all those things I had to haul to the mountains. All those vitals I never touched.

Bedtime will be late tonight, like another evening two weeks ago. Alas, I never learn. When sleep comes, it will no doubt offer another “journey proud” evening. Allie smiles from her perch.

Two days of driving is enough to put anyone on edge a little, eh? Begging forgiveness in advance from Ellen, fellow RoadBroad and car mate. Next I suggest: let’s go home, renewed.

Our stories await.