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?

On The Road With Scooters

Keep Austin Weird!

No, I am not being rude. Maybe you’ve seen the t‐shirts. Anyway, it’s an official slogan that was adopted by the Austin Independent Business Alliance.

And keeping Austin weird is fun. When I was there a couple of weeks ago for a book launch, I had the grand pleasure of staying at the Driskill Hotel. Yes, I have a weakness for historical and haunted hotels. Unfortunately I did not meet up with any ghosts while I was there, but I did spend a lot of time walking around downtown Austin. If you are familiar with the neighborhood, I walked up and down 6th Street, Congress, etc.

My Dear Friend and I walked carefully. To avoid all the scooters. Downtown was crawling with them. Apparently you only need the right app on your phone to rent one. Both citizens and tourists were riding them around the downtown area seeing what there was to see. Then when folks were done, the scooters were left on the sidewalk. There seemed to be an amazing lack of rules to this. Kinda like bumper cars except that half the folks were going 15 miles an hour on two wheels and the rest of us were walking on two legs.

Do you notice the nice gent in this picture driving his scooter down the street? Well, most scooter riders weren’t like this nice person. Most scooter aficionados traveled in packs. Sometimes they traveled on the streets and sometimes on the sidewalks. Sometimes they stopped for red lights and stop signs and sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes they went the wrong way down one way streets. They were wild boisterous packs of swarming scooter hordes.

In this picture it looks like the red scooters are taking aim with a cannon on a lone green scooter. Of course the statue helped by lighting the cannon. I wonder if the green scooter did some egregious act to rile the ire of the red scooters? I asked, but neither the scooters or statue would talk about it.

Many of the fun loving speedy scooter critters were young. I’m guessing a lot of students and recent alums from the University of Texas cruising the bar scene on 6th Street. But I also saw a lot of grey hair flying in the breeze as a gaggle would soar past. Was this part of a mid‐life crisis ritual? Go to Austin, ride a scooter, drink beer and bemoan a lost youth?

I only got almost hit once. According to the traffic light, I had the right of way to cross the street. I began walking, my Dear Friend tugged on my arm. I stopped just in time to see a woman careening around the corner.

And finally I leave you with this picture. Was this scooter on sale for $5? Was it free as long as it was adopted into a good home? Who can tell. Maybe there were rules to this sport that I just didn’t have time to learn.

Back in Houston we don’t have scooters flying around the streets of downtown. No one wants to keep Houston weird.

Until next week.….

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.

Road Trip to a Book Launch

What a spring time! What a weekend! What a life!

I felt excited about all three of these as I spent the weekend in Austin, Texas. Another road trip for this RoadBroad! Usually it is just fun to travel to Austin and soak in all the “wierdness” that is the State Capitol of the Lone Star State. However, I had a very important reason for this most recent trip.

My dear Friend and I went to Austin to visit the Book‐Woman and enjoy a book launch for an exciting murder mystery called Death Unchartered by Dorothy Van Soest.

I met Dorothy last year when I traveled to Boulder, Colorado for the 10‐day writing intensive with Max Regan. It was just after my retirement from local government and I was beginning to make my way as a full‐time writer.

Dorothy lived in Austin for a while when she served as an associate dean and professor at the University of Texas School of Social Work before she became the Dean of the University of Washington School of Social Work. Turns out we knew some of the same folks in the Social Work field.

Dorothy has already published 10 books and Death Unchartered is the next one in the series of Sylvia Jensen mysteries. This is my first Sylvia Jensen mystery and I can’t wait to read the others. If you like mysteries, you will find this to be a real page turner!

The book launch was a success. The crowd was all but standing room only and Dorothy kept us all captivated as she shared several short readings with us. The story opens with a murder and gets more exciting from there. I won’t say any more, because I don’t want to spoil it for you. Believe me it is good!

Several of us writers traveled from Houston to Austin for this book launch. Melanie was there dressed in her traditional orange. RoadBroads are nothing if not loyal and supportive of each other.

Actually I am delighted to know that I am a part of a really great team of writers. Between Max Regan’s Colorado retreats, classes with the Spectrum Center Writers Guild, and weekly writing get togethers, we are at all stages of our writing careers. Some, like Dorothy, are old hands at the publication game and are willing to help those of us who are just now beginning to send out essays, short stories, and the like.

From Spring 2018 to Spring 2019, I have written a lot (but never enough!), I have submitted pieces for publication and occasionally get accepted, and continue to develop my writing chops. People like Max, Dorothy and Melanie have helped me transition from being a retired Social Worker wanting to write to being a full‐time writer and hanging out with writing friends at book launches.

Thanks to Dorothy Van Soest for coming to Texas for a book launch of Death, Unchartered! You can find it on Amazon, you local bookstore, or wherever you get your books! You can also check out Dorothy’s website at dorothyvansoest.com.

What a great Spring! What a great life!

Until next week.…..

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.

The Floor Show Before The Show

Theater or Theatre? Does it matter? No. I don’t even get confused when I go to the Houston Theater District to enjoy a play at the Alley Theatre. I’m so smart.

All I know is that one of the best reasons for living in Houston is the Houston Theater District. This includes 17 blocks in downtown Houston that houses 9 professional performing arts organizations. My Dear Friend (DF) and I go to as many performances as possible.

However, if you think the only performances worth writing about are found in venues such as The Wortham Center or Jones Hall, then you would be mistaken. Just the other evening DF and I decided to go downtown for dinner before attending a performance by the Houston Ballet.

We decided to eat at The Blue Fish. If you have never been there, it serves a wide variety of Japanese dishes that will delight both the meat‐eater in your crowd as well as the vegetarian. I personally swear by the Agadashi Tofu and the Grilled Veggies. However, this most recent visit had us placed at a table where I could observe the bar area, the reception area and one of the doors that led to the kitchen.

What a floor show! The choreography displayed by the staff could rival anything I have seen created by Stanton Welch (Artistic Director of the Houston Ballet). Movement never stopped and I only saw a waiter hit the kitchen door once during our visit.

Why such a display of ecstatic waitstaff dancing? At night when several venues have scheduled performances, most of them begin at either 7:30 or 8:00. That means that everyone who wants to enjoy dinner before their show gets to the local restaurants at the same time. By 6:15 the tables are filling up fast. There is a line of customers coming in the front door. Everyone wants to get to their theater performances on time. No time for dawdling!!!

Water is delivered to the tables, orders are taken, the bartenders are shaking their martini shakers, sushi chefs are slicing and dicing, and customers are chomping and imbibing. I couldn’t even get a decent picture of the bar staff, because they were moving too fast. Once all the shows begin there might be a lull until later when everyone who didn’t have dinner before the show enjoy a light repast before heading home… or elsewhere.…..it’s not for me to judge.

When our dinner was over, DF and I made it across the street to the Wortham Center in time to enjoy another wonderful performance by the Houston Ballet. After the show, DF and I made our way back to the car as we observed another round of theater‐goers making their way into the Blue Fish. I hope they enjoyed the floor show as much as I did.

Until next week.….

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. 

Rome & Rental Cars: a Sweat to Remember?

Fern Brady — author and rental car ace!

NOTE: What’s your worse rental car nightmare? Fern Brady returns to RoadBroads to share hers. 

Guest blogger Fern Brady is the founder and CEO of Inklings Publishing. She’s worked as a foreign correspondent, schoolteacher, and realtor. Fern’s publishing credits include two children’s picture books, and multiple short stories and poems. Next comes her debut novel, United Vidden (Book One in her Jornian Chronicles Series). Follow Fern’s writing at: www.fernbrady.com. 

Thank you, Fern, for joining our RoadBroads team today! - Melanie & Ellen


Rome & Rental Cars: A Sweat to Remember?

After nearly missing our flight from Germany, we landed in Rome, Italy.

Ten o’clock in the morning and the four of us thrilled to a full afternoon of exploring.

All we needed was a car.

First, we had to find the car rental hub.

Winding our way through the congested airport, we lugged our five pieces of checked luggage and four carry‐ons then crossed a connecting skywalk. Entering the rental offices, we froze.

In horror. We had arrived in Donut Land.

Double doors opened up into a cramped round space. Employee offices centered the donut. Along the outside wall, individual rental car companies staffed counters crowded with passenger‐packed lines that jutted out like spokes on a wheel. I counted fifteen people in one line. They looked like us, tired travelers who craved any place but here.

At the entry, we noticed a floor mat with the room’s layout. Our car company was located, of course, on the opposite side of where we stood. We would need to make our way through every other line to get to ours.

I think it would be better if I stay here with the luggage,” I turned to my brother and father who were still trying to sort out the room’s diagram. “So we don’t have to go through these thick crowds with our stuff.

It’s time for baggage island,” I began to move our stuff to an out‐of‐the‐way corner where I could guard our luggage at my back.

My brother stared at the overcrowded space and sighed, “Good idea.”

Next to him stood his wife, Mariely. She turned to the hub.

Okay, we’ll get this done. Text us if you need something,” she said before squaring off as if ready to lead us into battle. My brother and father flanked her. The trio left. I stood there. On guard, and sweating.

It. Was. Hot. Like no A/C hot. Like dripping‐down‐everywhere sweat hot.

The lines grew. More and more people arrived. Hours ticked by. Other baggage islands began to form as passengers realized what I was doing.

I became an archipelago.

A line formed right next to me. With a child. Random, arbitrary, piercing shrieks issued from The Creature. Her parents ignored her as they tried to coordinate something with others of their party. I threw The Creature my best ‘teacher look.’ It worked for a time but had to be reissued periodically.

Two and a half hours later, we’re told we have a car.

We streamed sweat as we hauled our luggage through the bustling airport to the car pickup area. And, no, the car was not ready.

An hour later, we learned the insurance was incomplete. Runarounds ensued. My brother returned to the original counter attendant. Another told us a different story. We sweated. We steamed. We waited.

At seven p.m.—nine hours after we landed in Rome—we had a car.

A station wagon. Roomy. Cool.

We drove to the hotel then walked to dinner.

Flinging and Swinging into Spring

It is now officially Spring! I hope everyone had a nice Vernal Equinox. Did you run around outside picking flowers and dancing? I didn’t either. Have you planted all of your spring flowers and gardens? Again…me neither.

However, I have been walking. I have walked around my neighborhood, I have walked at Bayou Bend, I have walked around the grounds at Rienzi. I have observed nature and art. Yes, sometimes nature is art and sometimes art is nature. Think about it.……you’ll get it. I may not have planted any spring garden, but the fabulous people who work for the Museum of Fine Arts have put a lot of work into the Gardens at Bayou Bend and the Rienzi. As you can tell I walked among the Goddesses and Muses (great inspiration for writing) and took lots of pictures of flowers and butterflies.

For those of you who are not in the know about Houston culture, Bayou Bend is owned by the MFAH and showcases the home and gardens of the Great Dame of H Town, Miss Ima Hogg. Yes, for anyone who is not knowledgeable about Houston culture, this was a real woman (stop that giggling now!) who had lots of money and spent it on a beautiful home, the Houston Symphony, the Houston Ballet, among other things. I can paraphrase the line from the movie Steel Magnolias and say that Miss Hogg “had more money than God” and I don’t think she wasted a penny. When she died, she left her home full of art works and antiques to the MFAH. The ongoing success of the Houston Symphony and Houston Ballet speak for themselves.

The Rienzi is another such home that is also located in River Oaks. Formerly the home of philanthropists Carroll Sterling Masterson and Harris Masterson III. I don’t know as much about them as I do about Miss Ima Hogg, but they also left a beautiful home full of art and antiques plus acres of beautiful gardens to the MFAH.

The exciting part about all of this walking is that I feel really good! I have successfully survived gastric sleeve surgery, losing weight and can get up and move! I am literally having a Spring Fling! My once upon a time arthritic knee is MUCH better.

I first started going on long walks when I was about 12 years old. You know, that age when just no one understands you and you almost sprain a muscle in your face from your eyes rolling so much at everything everyone tries to tell you? Just gotta love those preteen years. And yes, I was just that kind of preteen. Yes, I have matured much since those days. No…really!

Anyway, I would go for long walks around the neighborhood. There was a shopping center and an 18‐hole golf course. Lots of places to walk around and get lost in the scenery and sort out my pubescent thoughts. Mom and I both had a nice break from each other. My siblings never followed me on these outings. What’s not to love.

Besides, it doesn’t cost anything to walk. Except there is sometimes an admission fee. It is actually good for you. Except for when the refineries in Deer Park are on fire and the air is filled with smoke and benzene. Don’t forget to breathe deep!

So, I hope you have enjoyed all of these pictures of flowers and springtime. Soon enough it will be summer and hurricane season and it will be 100 degrees in the shade.……you get the idea. I am going to walk as much as possible until that time gets here!

Until next week.……

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.