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!

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?

From Hobbiton to Home

Bronchitis greeted me when DH and I returned from our 30th anniversary trip Down Under.

Tomorrow, a long‐delayed root canal will greet my awakening.

Alas. Such is the life of a weary RoadBroad.

The bronchitis kept me from these pages last week. Thank you, Ellen, for granting me the expanded recovery time.

About that amazing trip: here’s a look back at our last days in New Zealand, the best part of our journey.

New Zealand is a country formed of two connected islands. Temperatures are much colder. No boiling hot days like the red‐hot bake that preceded our swing through Oz. It’s impossible to imagine smoky Sydney busting the mercury at 107 degrees this past week. We whined at highs of 103 degrees during our Uluru sweat three weeks ago?

Of course, I stopped to paint outside the Artist Hobbit Home!

Hobbiton is a vast tourist trap on the North Island of New Zealand. It sits smack amid a still‐active sheep and beef farm, a property so beautiful that when movie director Sir Peter Jackson choppered over the land he knew immediately it was the perfect home to open his adaptation of J.R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. A swamp was dug out and today, 44 Hobbit homes remain nestled in for tourists paying $84 per person to walk, play, and explore.

The best part of Hobbiton: the bucolic view.

More interesting to me were the surrounding gently rolling hills of the North Island.

Look closely and you’ll spot some of New Zealand’s extinct volcanoes on the far horizon.

These hills undulate for miles, returning to mind previous sights of unspoiled English countryside vistas. Only later did I spot the contrail high in the sky. I silently cursed the white vapors for bringing the modern world into this Edenic scene.

Then it was off to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, called the newest geothermal area in the world.

Having arrived in New Zealand the same day its White Island volcano erupted with horrific results, DH and I anticipated a wild history and education in the Waimangu Valley. Its hundreds of bubbling and steaming ponds, craters and rock formations serve as New Zealand’s answer to America’s Yellowstone Park. What stunned us both was the explosion of color that unfolded as we walked:

Of course, I found Rotorua’s only bookstore.

My final stop in New Zealand revealed the perfect words on a simple book sack. Instead of wasting this perfect bag, I incorporated it into my only home holiday decorations this year.

At my house, this is what Santa will find. That little bench in front of the old guy holds the book I will finish writing in 2020. Will you remind me of my intention in twelve months?

Christmas lands soon.

I’m as ready as I plan to be, having reached that age where trees and lights and shiny balls with tinsel hold no curiousity, meet no unfilled need.

This year, with all its memories, brings wisdom to recognize need from want.

Then: accept it all.

And keep moving.

From Oz to NZ

I’d planned a detailed Aussie post on this travel day to New Zealand.

Real Life took care of those best laid plans. All I’ve got for today is this photo from MEL‐bourne:


It only took 62 years to get my nickname posted all over baggage claim! And in a foreign country, to boot!

Still sorting thru a continent’s worth of photos, there’s more to come — an island’s worth in the days ahead. I sign off with a last shot from Cairns:

A Trip by the Numbers

In 72 hours, I board a plane bound for Down Under.

It’s a 30th wedding anniversary trip, conjoined with a belated 70th birthday celebration for DH.

Every Journey Needs a Book, or so DH believes.

So excited was he by this Trip of a Lifetime, DH activated his ancient double EE credentials from his Trinity University days and created this book.

I apologize for the shiny cover: kitchen lights don’t like clear plastic overlaid on white. 

What really matters is the profiled cover stops for our Australia and New Zealand adventure:

  • Sydney Opera House
  • Ayres Rock
  • Hobbiton

Beloved has planned even more stops: sailing around the Great Barrier Reef, visits to glowworms and geothermal vents, concerts and ceremonies with Maori dancers and Aboriginal natives, plus sunrise services and starlight shows amid rocks, mountains, and domes.

After the fall we’ve had, we both crave this escape to the other side of the world. But we’re only taking it because it was a journey earlier paid for. Alas.

Getting to/from and then all around Australia and New Zealand requires body padding and patience. It’s a combined 46 hours and five minutes to gallivant between the two nations.

One‐way flying involves 18.4 hours of travel via routing from Houston to Auckland to Sydney. Then, there’s a 17‐hour time difference between here and there. We’ll be on the road 13 days, visiting five cities/towns in as‐yet uncounted stops between the two countries.

Now, Sydney’s on fire, along with much of New South Wales. I’m dreading more news of koalas burning and scorching temps of 94 degrees and more.

Heat stroke fears vanish if I can hold a joey, snuggle with a ‘roo? Maybe eat to chockers? Can I endure the weather and smoke without whinging or sooking?

Half the fun of a road trip is getting ready with research of local slang and customs. This jaunt offers a unique twist, courtesy a late‐trip airline ticket.

How often does your nickname match an airline ticket?

What fun I’ll have landing as Mel in MEL. A lifetime first! Thank you, Melbourne, Australia for this quirky nugget!

It gets weirder later.

On our last day, we’ll arrive home three hours before we left Sydney.

FYI, I beg your understanding.

If I arrive early to your place in December, remember: I may still be on Aussie time. 

Ah, another RoadBroad adventure beckons!