Does Climbing Ladders Equal a Road Trip?

I didn’t plan these 48 hours: climbing ladders and cleaning attics.

Blame two insurance companies and Covid‐19.

The latter led to what I call a Double D.C. with DH.

Translation:  DeCluttering & Deep Cleaning Project with Dear Husband.

OMG! We have to clean this? 

With time on our hands and remembering last fall’s house‐clearing experiences, we began The Project.

This weekend, it was the garage; today, the front closet and our attic. Of all the ancient goods we rediscovered, only two of each now remain: boxes of books and nearly‐new suitcases.

There’s an ancient stuffed reindeer bagged up there, too. A post for next year’s holiday blog?

I’m grateful for an unused bedroom. It’s now two feet high with donate‐ables, all Goodwill‐bound when ‘Rona bails and frees us to venture wide again.

When an attic ladder meets sisterly memories…

Post‐attic, I scaled a second ladder, this one at my sister’s house.

Standing at its highest rung, I looked down. Gulped. Hard. The ladder’s lowest step peeks right into her empty bedroom. 

Sniff, sniff. I’m still not used to her absence, six months ago last Thursday. 

A broken heart does what it must.

I climbed the ladder because we’re checking Mimi’s roof. Big Leaks, we fear. Total repairs are guess‐timated $26K+, funds none of us has. Hearing that number, I ouched louder than I’ve cried since this nightmare began.

But as I stood atop this ladder, my inner fight grew.

Get roof repairs fully funded, somehow! Either by the crotchety manager who just cancelled the existing homeowner’s policy because we don’t insure vacant houses or the new company which insists we’ve got to see the roof! 

Me climbing ladders, much less two within an hour, marked a first. In these days, it’s particularly curious as Uncle Sam considers me ‘high‐risk.’ I stepped up anyway, scaling rungs and standing higher than nine feet, nearly twice my height.

Boys will be Brave & Adventurous?

Before the afternoon ended, I rejected a third climbing opportunity. No go! to the roof, I nearly shouted. Instead, two young hunks, shod in Super Soles, shimmied up to play their high‐in‐the‐sky games. 

I played mine. I stood on terra firma and I spun around. My eyes spotted him.

A headless man, climbing a tree. Desperate to escape. Is that a stand‐in for me, today?

Play “name this scene!”

Take a peek: what do you see?

Your answer echoes the moral of my post: climb two ladders, save half your things, then go play.

Your life will be richer.

For each and every experience you name.

What’s your Essential Business?

Standard response to a pandemic health appointment?

First came the email from my doctor’s office. Then came a phone call, instructing me: “Wait in the parking lot with the security guard until the nurse calls you.”

The next day came a second request: “Enter through the side door, off Sweetwater Boulevard.”

Then the third call, command: “You must come alone.”

Rather high maintenance for a little female problem, I thought.

When the nurse called the fourth and final time, she said, “Come up to the 3rd floor and walk straight back in to Room 5.”

She didn’t warn me about what came before the doctor’s hands.

I call it the Full Corona Treatment.

Outside the hospital stood a lone sentry. He eyeballed me head to toe then keyed the sliding glass door.

Inside, a six‐person team stood, sat, and stared. Waiting. For. Me.

Amazed by this focus; my hands shook as I snapped the photo!

Hard to see here (I became too intimidated [yes, me] to snap a closer photo), but each person wore full coverage, a head‐to‐toe white hospital suit.

Faces stayed impassive, shielded behind masks, glasses, AND plastic sheeting that extended past their shoulders. Hands raised skyward, both gloved to the elbow.

Before I could step forward, the tallest responder barked, “Temperature, ma’am!”

He poked my forehead with a steel‐spiked thermometer gizmo. No assent/dissent allowed.

The woman sitting to my right—like a queen behind her table throne—fired away: “Are you having any breathing problems? Are your lungs clear? Have you had any fever in the past two weeks? Have you traveled overseas since March 1st? Have you been around anyone with confirmed coronavirus?”

A second woman, standing near the plate glass window, shook her head “yes” to my every “no.” Questions completed, she stepped forward and banded my wrist with a yellow bracelet.

My body responded “no” to every query. Why did I merit a coward’s color? Don’t ask here! 

Orange barricades block entry/exit for all.

Moments later, I turned the corner and saw massive orange barricades extending across the hospital’s main entrance.

I froze.

My mind raced back to 9/11, ruminating, assembling, connecting.

Full racks of weighted barriers. Six‐person checker teams.

A nasty bug we cannot see.

Coronavirus as terrorist? War? 

What else will I experience in my lifetime?

The doctor did what my body needed and I’m healing nicely.

What did I learn during my CoronaWorld Medical Adventure?

  1. Most people will rise up to your expectations if they understand your ‘why’, — and -
  2. Essential business” applies as much to individuals every day as it does nowadays to grocery stores and gas stations. 

Both involve a choice. 

What better time than a pandemic lockdown to identify what’s essential in your life?

As for me, I’m focusing on my health first, and writing a close second.

How about you?

When a Census Counts…and Doesn’t

Thank the U.S. Census for repeating itself last week.

Such are my days:

  • I received a pair of 2020 census forms: one at our house, another at my sister’s house;
  • Two flashbacks followed: one to 1980, my year as a census enumerator, another to five months ago

I wish my parents had snapped a photo of me as a census girl. We didn’t take many photos 40 years ago. Each print! It costs money! If I had a picture from those days, you’d see a Melanie‐circa‐1980‐Census photo:

**right here**

I prized the homemade outfit I assembled. Over‐coordinated in perfect reds, whites, and blues, I reminded myself, “I’m working for the U.S. government!” 

I also proudly toted the government‐issued shoulder bag, a cheap black vinyl thing that swamped my small frame. It arrived with a massive U.S. CENSUS! sticker slapped on the diagonal across the bag’s front.

If I had a photo — again — you’d see that bag:

*right here**

But I grew to hate the bag’s wide black straps. They bit into my shoulder, the gouges deepening each day I criss‐crossed the streets of my Pampa hometown.

Many of its roads I’d never driven, much less walked. At 23, I was frighteningly young, long sheltered from another side of life in a small Texas town.

When Derek opened his door, I recognized him as a high school classmate and former football star. He now lived alone with his mother in a unpainted shack south of the tracks.

He grimaced, remembering me. I smiled. It was my job.

A day later, I stood on Mrs. Wilson’s porch. Her youngest daughter had been my best friend in first grade. Mrs. Wilson complimented my outfit, validating my sense of style.

But her face remained blank. I didn’t know whether to feel hurt or gratitude.

Fast forward four decades:

My family received two census forms in, yes, two different mailboxes: my house, plus the same form at my recently deceased sister’s home.

I opened Mimi’s first. It read “To Resident at….”

I entered her census ID, expecting questions about her status.

Instead, a plethora of questions gushed forth like a wave, all focused on the structure at her address. I answered that no one was living in the house. The computer responded:

Swallowing the lump bulging in my throat, I asked the screen, “Empty doesn’t matter?”

On our census form, DH confirmed we still occupied the building as “residents of the address.” Up popped a question about our names. Answering led to gratitude from Uncle Sam: I know, I know. The census exists to count people for many reasons.

But we only matter if we’re living? 

Yes, I’m still grieving my sister’s sudden death. Last week marked five months.

Time does ease the loss. It won’t go away when reminders keep coming.

And 40 years later, I remain sad about those porch moments with Derek and Mrs. Wilson. 

Interesting, isn’t it, remembering what we’d like to forget.

Cold Days & Corona Hands

When I lost my voice last week, I knew I was Bad sick.

Ten days after Round One. This demanded Doctor Time.

There were shots — steroids in the backside — bedrest orders and a trio of prescriptions, plus specific eating and drinking menus, too.

Sick counter loaded for healing. Face mask for good measure!

As I recovered, I read good and bad novels. Slept (ten hours one night — long time since that’s happened!). Took meds. Ate chicken noodle soup (yes, this vegetarian). Guzzled orange juice. Sucked on cough drops.

Repeated the cycle. Over and over and three days later playtime beckoned.

What else is a bored mind to do? Especially when it can’t leave the house?

I’d heard a coronavirus advisory about hand protection. I searched for rubber gloves. Found only an old pair of cotton gloves, used at bedtime for lotion‐slathered reptile hands (i.e., really cracked palms and fingers—like I once experienced). This time, I saw something new.

Overmedicated minds and too much nap time = Corona Hands!

Opportunity!

Not jazz hands! Too passé!

Then, let’s make…

Corona Hands!  

Those hipster sunglasses protect sensitive eyes. Like the face mask, they both protect nothing.

And the hand sanitizer? It’s making up for what cotton gloves don’t offer in a viral pandemic.

Zany humor only goes so far?

One vital element that matters in these times is the Truth, and it’s too hard to find.

In a previous life, I worked as a crisis communications consultant for companies all around the globe. We taught our clients to always tell the truth, even if—especially if—it’s bad.

In 2020, telling the truth @ #6 overrules #1 (show empathy) from 1991.

Our wallet card listed truth‐telling as Rule #6. This was the 1991 world when DH and I still carried a pager.

Eons before social media took over, outing everyone at nanospeed.

Interesting, isn’t it: the do’s and don’t’s of crisis communications haven’t changed in 31 years.

Same as humans getting sick and infecting each other. Think 102 years ago and the 1918 flu pandemic.

We can learn from this crisis road, can’t we?

The wise words from Clarissa Pinkola Estes offer us all a how:  “One of the most important steps you can take to help calm the storm is to not allow yourself to be taken in a flurry of overwrought emotion or despair – thereby accidentally contributing to the swale and the swirl. Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”

Coronavirus is an opportunity, folks.

Let’s use it.

Be kind. Be well.

NOTE: With this post, I am moving to an every‐other‐week publishing schedule. My abundant writing projects demand it! Thank you for understanding — xo

Springing Forward into a Wild Week

I’m baaaaack!

My blog sabbatical**  extended an extra week, thanks to a seasonal cold that kicked me flat and left me off the road.

Interesting, isn’t it, that every member of Team Mimi got sick?!

Is that Life’s commentary on the impact of stress and grief? But, if we all had to get sick, I can give thanks for the timing.

Look at this week: a return to Daylight Saving Time and International Women’s Day, Monday’s a Full Worm Supermoon, and a Friday the 13th. These four events lead to the biggie: next week’s Spring Equinox.

My garden celebrates a lonely rose and an early spring.

So much activity compressed into 12 short days? Normally, I don’t wig out on calendars. Curious, I found connections and learned new trivia:

  • It’s Daylight Saving Time, not Daylight Savings Time.

The worst part of this spring forward/fall back shenanigan? More car accidents and road deaths occur on the Monday after the spring time shift.

A Stanford University study analyzed 20+ years of highway accident figures and reported a 5.3% hike in the “spring forward” Monday accident rate. Blame sleep disruption.

Drive carefully tomorrow, friends!

  • It’s International Women’s Day this Sunday. For 43 years, we’ve been celebrated. Why don’t I feel better about this event?

First, it took until 1977 for such a day to be declared? Why not sometime in the previous 1,977 years?

When’s real change going to occur? This isn’t a political statement. It’s more like a truth‐check for Women.

We’re half the population. Why can’t a woman be America’s president? If not our generation, when? 

  • It’s a Full Worm Supermoon on Monday at precisely 12:48p Houston time. Thank Native Americans for the naming. It’s how they tracked the year’s seasons. Every March, the tribes noted that earthworms returned to the topsoil, encouraging birds to feed again.
Full Moon as shot through what looks like a forest: it’s only my backyard!

Supermoon” merely means the lunar orb appears bigger and brighter because its orbit that month involves “perigee” that swings it closer to earth.

Get ready: we’ve got full supermoons each month through May.

  • Friday the 13th looms large for those with paraskevidekatriaphobia. Yes, that’s fear of Friday the 13th. I’m looking forward to it. If you add up the numbers — as in 1+3 — it equals 4, my luckiest number. Bring it on, baby!

A week later, Spring arrives on March 20th. Then the calendar slides back into routine, day‐to‐day. Breathe… 

I’m so ready. It’s been a tough four months but I’ve turned a corner.

Self‐care matters. So does forward movement.

Let this week pass, then let spring begin!

** NOTE: A special shout‐out to Ellen: thank you for understanding and carrying forward with RoadBroads. I am grateful for you!

Bumps In The Road

Last week I wrote about how exciting it is to live in a big city like Houston. We have theaters, operas, movies, ballet and other types of dance performances, plays, and Broadway musicals.

This week I am going to talk about one of the more irritating aspects of city life. The speed bump. They are everywhere. I live in the heart of the city and must travel over at least 5 or 6 a day. You would think that since we are civilized people, we know.….just by common sense.….not to drive too fast while trying to be nice to others on the road. Oh well, that was a nice thought. Apparently we need to be told many times to slow down. What’s the rush?

But really, whose bright idea was this? Why are there so many?

Are they called “speed bumps” or “speed humps”? After querying several of my friends, I decided to ask the professionals. I did a Google search.

Oh my!

Speed humps are sections of raised pavement across a roadway. Speed bumps have a more abrupt design. According to sources on Google, these various creations are “traffic calming devices”. Let me repeat this,.….traffic calming devices. Now, my dear reader, stop and think. When was the last time you went over either a speed bump or speed hump and felt.….wait for it.….calm. Me neither.

This family of traffic calming devices use something known as vertical deflection to slow vehicle traffic and improve safety conditions. I tried to get you a definition of vertical deflection, but it was so scientific that my eyes rolled back in my head and I passed out. Who knew there was so much science regarding speed bumps.

And, dear reader, if you don’t like the name speed bump, speed hump or road hump, then you can try these variations:

There are “speed cushions”, but that conjures up images of having a pillow fight with either asphalt or concrete. This sounds painful.

There are “speed tables”, but that sounds too much like something I had to memorize in school and promptly forgot as soon as the test was over.

I also saw a reference to “woo woo boards”. Seriously. This brought up visions of witches standing around the street with a cauldron casting spells to create humps in the road to cause innocent drivers distress.

Those who construct these traffic calming devices swear they will not hurt your automobile as long as they are used properly. That means you are supposed to drive over them going no faster than 20 miles per hour. Now when was the last time you felt “calm” driving 20 miles an hour in Houston traffic? Again, me neither.

I don’t remember speed bumps playing a major part of my childhood. (Okay, yes, I am a Boomer.) Maybe that was because they weren’t invented until 1953. A lovely gentleman by the name of Arthur Compton is credited with this invention. This is the same Arthur Compton who was a Physicist and won a Nobel Prize in 1927. He also worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II. Physics, nuclear reactors, and speed bumps. Who knew they’re all connected.

Now don’t you feel smarter? You’re welcome.

Until next week.….

Taking a Rest on the Tree of Life

Tree of Life, copyright Oisin Kelly.

Years ago, renowned Irish sculptor Oisin Kelly hand‐cast his interpretation of the Tree of Life.

His artwork hung in my mother’s den for years.

Its recent re‐discovery offers new meaning in a life battered by Big Change.

Creation’s trunk?

In Kelly’s detail work, I spy more than a simplistic image of the Garden of Eden story. 

I see a strong center, rising in bands up from the ground, each aiming skyward in search of new air.

I count the threads of strength — four — and find my favorite number. Is there a message here?

I find a solid base, anchored deep in the earth but not buried there. Holding there for a strong foundation from which to rise.

Branching out to expand Life.

In these branches, I see possibility. Make that possibilities.

I discover multiple limbs stretching out and up, seeking further growth.

I count bud after bud of either leaves or acorns, I do not know. Maybe some scarabs (of the mystical Egyptian kind?

I spot finger‐like growths stretching past boundaries, hungry for something new.

Curious about the sculptor’s artistic life, I discover (thank you, Wikipedia) where he’s cited in “Glanmore Sonnet” by Seamus Heaney:

These things are not secrets but mysteries

Oisin Kelly told me years ago

In Belfast, hankering after stone

That connived with the chisel, as if the grain

Remembered what the mallet tapped to know.”

I read these words and know instantly why I was drawn to this Tree of Life.

The message comes as clear as Kelly chiseling the stone that became his creation above: take a six‐week sabbatical from RoadBroads.

After weeks of intense, unending work, it’s time to chisel out the final mysteries of my sister’s life and estate. These revelations promise critical conclusions, both of which demand my focused time and energy.

Thus, I return to this blog in late February.

Call it a different kind of birthday present.

What better blog return than the day your life finishes its annual solar return?

In six Sundays, I’ll write here again.

Promise.

That’s the day after Leap Day.

Perfect!

Where Caves Tell Stories

What” beats “when” in every tale.

That truth rings even more true in the world of cave art.

Amid the ongoing agony of bushfires, Australian archeologists celebrate their discovery of what is, to date, the oldest rock painting on Earth. In the 14‐foot high cave painting, wild pigs and a buffalo stand surrounded by spear‐bearing humans.

Indonesia: where the buffalo roam? Copyright, Ratno Sardi, Nature.

The image was found on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and dates back at least 44,000 years.

It’s old. It also ranks as the world’s first figurative artwork. Translation?

Our first Storytelling‐by‐Picture!

At the news, my mind flashed back five weeks ago to a sunrise beacon and I thought, Australia! We’re coming full circle! 

From north‐central Australia, Uluru offers an Oz‐ian close encounter — with cave art.

Drawings incorporating red paint, white circles and ancient charcoal dot the upper cave space.

At Uluru, DH and I came face‐to‐face with rock cave paintings. Our guide explained these illustrations as tales of aboriginal movement and migration.

Round mythological figures on the right look leftward toward small concentric circles. Anangu travelers nearing their first watering hole? 

The Anangu look for concentric circles which symbolize waterholes or other significant way stations. For a roundtrip journey, the key appears in multiple concentric circles linked via straight lines.

Uluru, ancestral home to the Anangu, includes hidden waterholes (some dry by drought these days). Tribe members travel between waterholes and other way stations then relate their experiences with each other.

Each experience lived becomes a story shared then passed from generation to generation.

What concentric circles tell the Stories of your Life?In discovering Indonesian rock paintings after seeing the same in Australia, I fascinate on the tales of each. The age and location of either mean nothing.

I ask instead—what does it mean? What are we supposed to do with these newly discovered paintings? 

Some people see only line drawings and chuckle.

They glance once then mutter about Stone Age Neanderthals facing off against big, mean animals. In a single reaction, they revert to what comforts: light and breezy with a touch of standoff pose, ready for battle.

Others stand up and study the lines marking the rock.

They scrutinize the concentric circles. They find deliberate postures or speculate about hidden meanings: underlying glances, line direction, or distances between figures.

They’re all correct.

Sometimes, an image is what is says. Two figures squaring off in what is universal to every story: conflict rearing its inevitably ugly head.

Other times, an image stands in for meanings four layers deep.

Both matter.

And both are part of a story waiting, sometimes thousands of years, to be understood.

Some things never change.

Is that good news?

Three Goes to Two: How about You?

Mimi, Merrilynn & Melanie — Houston, TX, 1980

Forty years ago, we were three.

The first of the Miller girls married one July afternoon in 1980. We used the occasion to pose for the first formal picture of Sisters United!

Melanie & Merrilynn atop Breckenridge Mountain, CO — 2014

As of last October, we’re down to two.

The sudden death of our sister Mimi is a loss that reverberates too much.

Daily, we sort through her life and what she left behind. We face more weeks, if not months, of emotional intensity.

It means a life that mattered. Matters. 

I struggle with the idea of joy this New Year. After these past nine weeks, life echoes with an odd familiarity: New Normal.

A few days ago, while on the road (again) at Mimi’s house, I found this:

A word which will live in my life’s infamy?

Merriam-Webster’s definition:

ENDURE means to put up with something trying or painful.” 

Something was missing. Synchronicity delivered this Maya Angelou poem:

CONTINUE 

My wish for you
Is that you continue

Continue

To be who and how you are
To astonish a mean world
With your acts of kindness

Continue

To allow humor to lighten the burden
Of your tender heart

Continue

In a society dark with cruelty
To let the people hear the grandeur
Of God in the peals of your laughter

Continue

To let your eloquence
Elevate the people to heights
They had only imagined

Continue

To remind the people that
Each is as good as the other
And that no one is beneath
Nor above you

Continue

To remember your own young years
And look with favor upon the lost
And the least and the lonely

Continue

To put the mantle of your protection
Around the bodies of
The young and defenseless

Continue

To take the hand of the despised
And diseased and walk proudly with them
In the high street
Some might see you and
Be encouraged to do likewise

Continue

To plant a public kiss of concern
On the cheek of the sick
And the aged and infirm
And count that as a
Natural action to be expected

Continue

To let gratitude be the pillow
Upon which you kneel to
Say your nightly prayer
And let faith be the bridge
You build to overcome evil
And welcome good

Continue

To ignore no vision
Which comes to enlarge your range
And increase your spirit

Continue

To dare to love deeply
And risk everything
For the good thing

Continue

To float
Happily in the sea of infinite substance
Which set aside riches for you
Before you had a name

Continue

And by doing so
You and your work
Will be able to continue
Eternally

Back to the dictionary I went. Out leaped a deeper definition of endure:

to CONTINUE: to exist over a period of time or indefinitely.

Aha! I merged the two definitions into my own ENDURE: to continue to exist over a period of time while surviving something painful.

This isn’t the first time I’ve hurt (and it won’t be the last)—but there’s a unique pain in the death of a sibling. It’s more than your oldest secrets they take.

Treasure the gifts they bring to your life.

My command to you rings in my own ears.

For 2020, I seek new hope and special intentions. I travel forward, hoping and intending for continued endurance to clear two homes, complete a novel, and create an I‐develop‐my‐full‐potential kind of life this year.

What are your special hopes and intentions this year?