Pandemic Road: Week 17

Last I wrote, I was on the cusp of beginning a 10‐day writing intensive retreat. I had planned on doing this in Boulder, Colorado and sharing the glories of a road trip with my faithful readers. However, thanks to Covid‐19, the road trip turned into a zoom fest. I imagined the flat irons every time I logged on for a meeting.

While it wasn’t as scenic as actually being there, I did get a lot of writing done. So much so I wore out my printer. No problem, you might think. I thought I could get a printer today via curb side pickup. Silly, silly me. My dear friend and I looked up both Office Depot, Microcenter and Best Buy.

Apparently too many people are working from home and ink jet printers are nowhere to be found within the city limits of Houston. We even checked with Amazon and could not get the printer delivered in under 10 days. Great big expensive laser printers.….no problem. Practical, compact, inexpensive ink jet printers.…..no luck. So I ordered one that should arrive before the middle of July. I will keep my fingers crossed that my old and cheap printer will last.

This wouldn’t be a problem, except that I’ve just been invited to join a new critique group. It meets via zoom once a week and I need to be able to print out submissions so I can give feedback. I will figure out a way. I am honored to be included in this group and many thanks to Fern Brady, author and publisher for inviting me.

All this reminded me of how things have changed during the global pandemic. Tuesdays used to be the day that DF and I would enjoy culture from any of the local museums followed by a quiet and relaxing dinner at one of our many favorite restaurants. Bollo Woodfired Pizza was one of those establishments that we would visit.

Today we dined again at Bollo’s…virtually. We ordered the pizza by phone, picked it up and took it home. It’s amazing how easy it was! Have credit card, will charge!

Printer ink will be delivered tomorrow, critique group begins later this week, and the printer will show up soon.….I hope.

Please send positive thoughts to my old printer so it won’t die in the next 7 working days. If it does, I will come up with “Pandemic Printer Plan B”.

Until next week.……

Pandemic Road: Week 16

Has it really been two years? Just over two years ago in May of 2018 I retired from my long long time career as a Social Worker and set off to become a full‐time writer and artist. One of the first things I did was to take a road trip with Melanie to Boulder, Colorado to attend Max Regan’s Writing Intensive. It was magical. Pearl street mall, Boulder Bookstore, the Flat Irons. I attended classes with Max at the Boulder Bookstore and then we met at the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House for one‐on‐one meetings. No matter where I was in Boulder, I could look out and see the Flat Irons. I was happy. I was writing. My future and my next career were in front of me.

This is how our blog, RoadBroads was born.

Two years later I wanted to go back to Boulder. I wanted to revisit the Boulder Bookstore and the Pearl Street Mall. I had made reservations for living arrangements and paid a deposit for my space at the Max Regan June Writing Intensive. Then Covid‐19 happened. Travel cancelled. The Writing Intensive moved to an on‐line class. There are still approximately 20 of us who want to engage in this writing exercise. Those of us who want to develop our writing craft skills are willing to meet online and share our collective wisdom. Share our stories, exchange ideas, and listen to one another. But it won’t take place in Boulder. Instead of looking out at the Flat Irons, I will look out at my living room. I will see all of the wonderful writing companions via Zoom. Little boxes with heads inside of them.

Online is not as good as being there; however, it’s what I can do for now. I love my writing community. I value their input. I will enjoy spending time with them for the next 10 days even if I’m not in Boulder. This promises to be a new adventure in my writing life.

Until next week.….

Pandemic Road: Week 15

What have you been doing during this pandemic? Have you cleaned house? Have you finished your novel? Have you returned to work or are you still working from home? With over three months of time on our hands, I initially thought that I would give my home a thorough cleaning. I have started several times. Other than wiping down everything with bleach and rubbing alcohol, I have not done much in the way of cleaning out closets or organizing art supplies.

Yes, I have been writing.….some. I have also been walking a lot. You may remember in previous blogs I have written about walks in the Houston Arboretum and Hermann Park. Unfortunately, the hotter it gets this time of year, the more I look for inside venues for exercise. The YMCA has an indoor walking track. This may be my best bet. I can go there and not have to touch anything but two elevator buttons to get in and out. It amazed me that during this time of pandemic I could think through on such a detailed level going into a building to walk. And of course I will wear a mask the whole time I’m there.

What I have done a great deal of the time is divide myself between binge reading and binge television watching. That explains why I have to walk so much. The pictures show just a few of the books that have taken up my time. Sometimes books and movies are connected. I have both binge read and binge watched The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The next book I will begin tonight is The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes also by Suzanne Collins. I read If It Bleeds by Stephen King and found it very relaxing in light of all of the craziness and uncertainty going on around the world these days. A couple of books of poetry always sit on my coffee table to peruse when the mood hits me.

What have I been watching on television? My goal is to find something comical to put a dent in the stress of the day. Men In Black, Ghostbusters are both fun movies series. I have also binge watched the television series Cosmos and What We Do In The Dark. Lately I have started watching movies from the 1930s and 1940s. These include all of The Thin Man movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. I have watched Arsenic and Old Lace with Cary Grant twice and have it saved for Halloween. Next I am going to watch the original Sherlock Holmes  movies starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.

If this keeps up for much longer either things could get really strange or I may find myself writing and cleaning house.

What are you doing with your time?

Until next week.…..

When FART = New CAR

Can six characters determine a car and its future?

His guffaw offered the first clue. My second glance confirmed the news.

This new car of mine is, shall we say, special! 

I’d called the insurance agent to report I needed to update our auto policy, thanks to new wheels.

He asked for the car’s VIN, short for Vehicle Identification Number. You know it as that windy string of numbers and letters tucked deep into the driver’s side of a car windshield.

The line of figures lies so low and tiny along the dashboard even children can’t read it. Thus, when I read the figures out loud, I concentrated on reading each letter and number. Each meant nothing.

But when the agent laughed, I scrunched my eyes, leaned in with my magnifying glass then echoed his guffaw. What slipped out was, “And I thought I bought a hybrid.”

After the phone call, I resorted to my old reporter days. I dug in for information. Thank you, Internet. Early popped up this VIN translation:

Image copyright. www.drivingtests.org.

The above graphic reveals the meaning behind the 17 characters that comprise a VIN. Imagine an automotive Social Security number. The VIN teases out the vehicle’s manufacturer, type, brand, model, series, engine size/type, year made, assembly plant, and vehicle production.

The first three digits comprise what’s called the WMI, short for World Manufacturer Identifier. In my new car, that = “7FA.”

The only problem? Those characters don’t fit WMI’s own rule. Said guideline states these identifiers refer to the car manufacturer’s country plus the vehicle’s maker and type.

Translation (and apologizing in advance for all these automotive acronyms): in WMI language, “7FA” indicates I now own a “multi‐purpose vehicle” manufactured by an unidentified car maker in Oceania. The latter includes only Australia and New Zealand.

True fact is I bought a Honda CR‐V, manufactured in Indiana by a Japanese‐owned car company. The window sticker verifies that, as does the rest of the VIN. Either I don’t know how to read long sets of characters. That’s somewhat probable. Or maybe there’s a secret system to protect against vehicle hijinks (aha! global conspiracy!).

Interesting that only the first three digits are wrong in this VIN. But it’s so simply corrected.

Change “7FA” to 1HA” and there’s my car: an American‐manufactured Honda “multi‐purpose vehicle.” (It’s actually a sport utility vehicle, but who wants to quibble?) Add that 1HA” to the existing “RT” and you get “1HART” — a car I’d drive with just that.

Alas, I’m stuck with the VIN I have. So I’ve named the car.

She’s Gassy.  For grins.

Pandemic Road: Weeks 13 &14

My, my! It’s been a busy two weeks! Here is a picture of my cat, Hannah, giving me her editorial opinion of humans. No, she is not upset about the global pandemic. Nor is she upset about all of the national protests. So what is my most adorable feline upset about? Leaf Blowers. Yes, dear reader, you read that correctly. Leaf Blowers. They are noisy and obnoxious and everywhere. I have to agree with Hannah that I notice more and more of them every year. When was the last time you saw anyone using a rake? Do they even sell them in Houston anymore?

I can remember the time a few years ago when I thought I was at a retreat center in Montgomery County in the middle of nowhere. I was sitting outside admiring the trees and even saw some deer walking and frolicking around. Then I heard it. The leaf blower. Apparently the wilderness had eluded me once again. Even the deer had grown accustomed to the sound.

Now they surround me. When I walk around my neighborhood, when I visit a grocery store. They are always there:

What will I make of all this? When they disturb me in my home, my opinion is much like Hannah’s. However, I appreciate the sentiment that one is taking care to make the landscape look nice. I am a city‐dweller at heart. I usually only walk on leaves when I am at the park or the arboretum. Of course when it is October and I am reminded that Halloween is close and the yearly hurricane season is over, that is a special joy.

When I google “leaf blowers” I find out that they are useful because they are speedy and versatile. In some parts of the country they are even used to blow away snow. I have never seen them used to blow away snow here in Houston.

At the end of the day, I have dinner out on my balcony. It is shady and usually there is a breeze. All of the leaf blowers have retired for the day. It is quiet enough that even the lizards come out for a visit. He stays long enough to discuss the state of things in the world. He wishes all of us humans peace and understanding.

Until next week.….

Pandemic Road, Week 12: Art Deco Road Trip

Week 12. Sitting here I stare at my computer screen and let that sink in. I have been writing about the effects of the pandemic on my life for 12 weeks. I don’t think I realized when I went down this road that I would be doing it for this long.…..and with no end in sight.

Even though the pandemic continues, many places are opening back up again. I don’t think I am ready for that yet. However, while resting at home, I have come up with a couple of short story ideas. One involves an art deco building, a theatre company and a bunch of ghosts. Bahwahaha! Obviously in order to do this right, I need to look at some art deco buildings around the Houston area. The first one that comes to mind is Houston City Hall. If walls could talk!

Yesterday my Dear Friend and I drove around downtown, the Heights, and Montrose for 3 hours looking for these buildings. This included more driving than I have done since March 13th. It was also the longest time I spent outside of my home since this all began. It was all very exciting. Some of the buildings are kept up and some have changed. Some have been either completely altered or torn down. But we did find some gems.

One was Trader Joe’s, which used to be a book store and before that was the Alabama Theater. It was built in 1939. I am old enough to tell you that the first time I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show was in the Alabama Theater.

Another famous art deco landmark is the River Oaks Theatre. This picture is especially poignant, because the marque shows that it is still closed due to the pandemic. I look forward to the day I feel comfortable enough to go back to a movie theater. Inside much of the interior has been preserved in its original style.

There are a couple of small strip centers that were originally built as art deco buildings. The businesses have changed, but the style has been preserved.

The crane above the Soma Sushi restaurant is foreboding. It tells of the next high rise going up in the Heights. New shiny buildings to overshadow the rich history of art deco. I don’t know what the new building will be. The future keeps coming whether we are ready or not.

Then there are these two bars in downtown Houston. I have never been to either of them. I think they cater to the sports crowd that visits the Astros or Rockets. However, I like the way they have kept up the outside design of their buildings. I have no idea what they look like on the inside.

Finally there is Hugo’s. A unique upscale Mexican restaurant that is typically on my short go‐to list for special occasion dining. It was built in 1925 and designed by Joseph Finger. This same gentleman designed the Houston City Hall that is shown in the first two pictures in this post. Mr. Finger is quite well known in Houston for designing many of the buildings in the first half of the 1900s. I can’t wait until I feel comfortable and safe enough to go out to dinner in one of my favorite Houston restaurants.

Until next week.….

Pandemic Road: Week 11

Beginning a blog post with a picture of beautiful Texas wild flowers might give you the impression that I’m going to write about another visit to the Houston Arboretum. That is in fact where all the pictures here were taken. However, that is not my topic of choice for today. I just have these really nice photographs of flowers and wanted to share them with you. With all of the walking I have been doing since this pandemic began, I have taken the time to really look at all of the flowers blooming all around me.

What I have also noticed during the past few weeks is how different it is now to eat dinner. While many of my friends talk about how much cooking and baking they’ve been doing, I have been ordering take out. I used to say that the best thing I ever made for dinner was reservations. My take out skills have developed significantly. My Dear Friend and I eat food from our favorite local restaurants approximately three times a week. We set an intention early on to support locally owned restaurants. Initially, we could walk into a restaurant and look at a menu. We would place a take out order and wait while it was prepared. Then restaurants turned more and more to pickup or curbside business where you have to order your food and pay for it online.

I have lost count of how many restaurant “accounts” I have now. Each of them have their own passwords. It is quite the challenge for this aging boomer to keep track of all this, but I am making a good and valiant effort. Also, I went into a restaurant yesterday and saw signs announcing that they no longer accept cash. Credit cards only accepted. Anywhere there is an opportunity to reduce human contact keeps both staff and customers that much safer.

Whenever I walk into any type of establishment now I make quick mental notes about their safety measures. Who is wearing masks and who is wearing gloves. How many times is the food handled by different people before it is handed to me. DF and I have a rule about only ordering food that has to be cooked. Then when we get it home, we transfer the food to my own plates and bowls. The final step is to microwave all food for 20 seconds just for good measure.

Add to this process the washing of hands at least twice and cleaning off the counter where the take out containers were placed. Whew! This is almost enough work to give me the incentive to learn how to cook. But I’m trying to not go too crazy during this strange time.

Now that restaurants are beginning to reopen, I know I will return to dine in service at some point. Just not yet. I will wait another month or two before venturing out into public too much. In the meantime, I am becoming very accustomed to online restaurant accounts and keeping up with all the passwords.

What new skills have you developed during the past couple of months?

Until next week.….….

Pandemic Road: Week 10

Hello Friends! Does this picture make you feel better or worse?

I saw this artistic gem earlier today when I walked into the local restaurant known as 100% Taquito. I laughed out loud. The decision to visit this establishment today revolves around the idea that Tuesday was Cinco de Mayo. (May 5th for you gringos who don’t speak Spanish.) Otherwise known as my birthday. I won’t tell you which birthday, but I am getting closer to Medicare than I care to admit.

Having a birthday on May 5th was never a big deal growing up in Memphis, Tennessee. I think I heard about Cinco de Mayo while studying Spanish in high school, but it was not considered a significant holiday. Then I moved to Houston. I learned that Cinco de Mayo rivaled St. Patrick’s Day as a major party and celebrate day. I even heard one bartender in Austin refer to it as “Cinco de Drinko”.

When my new Houston friends discovered this was my birthday, I was taken out to many Mexican restaurants over the years. We would all gather in the bar for a couple of hours drinking margaritas while waiting until our table was ready. Mexican restaurants are really crowded on this date. Unless you’re in the middle of a global pandemic with face masks and social distancing.

Originally way back in the wayward youth of my 20s, I was told that Cinco de Mayo was the Independence Day for Mexico. Wrong. That is still a common misconception that many have today. Please stop thinking that. Cinco de Mayo represents the Mexican victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. If you need more information than that, then I would suggest you goggle it for yourself. Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th. Who says you can’t learn something by reading random blogs? You’re welcome.

I now go to other restaurants on my birthday. However, again we are in the middle of a global pandemic. So this year my Dear Friend delivered a delicious dinner from Giacomo’s to my home and we ate on a cool and breezy balcony. I enjoyed a vodka martini. It was the quietest birthday I have celebrated in a while, but I am still lucky to be safe and healthy.

I took one other picture while I was at 100% Taquito. I saw this quote by Abigail Smith Adams hanging on the wall just to the right of the counters. Just in case you don’t know who Abigail Smith Adams is, I will give you a second history lesson for the day. (Are you feeling smarter yet?) Abigail Smith Adams is considered to have been the strongest female voice during the American Revolution. She is also sometimes considered to be one of the Founders of the United States. Oh, and yeah, she was also the wife and closest advisor of the second President of this country, John Adams.

Abigail Smith Adams really doesn’t have anything to do with Cinco de Mayo. However, just like 100% Taquito, I am adopting this quote as my motto for the rest of the pandemic.

What’s your motto?

Until next week.….

Pandemic Road: Week 9

Ah! Springtime in Houston. According to the meteorologists we are enjoying our last few days of low humidity and cool morning temperatures. As long as it is this perfect outside, I am walking in the park. This time my dear friend and I chose Hermann Park.

There were a few minor changes to the landscape due to our new friend, Covid‐19.

For starters there were many signs telling everyone to maintain social distancing. Then the hill at the Miller Outdoor Theater was blocked off with yellow tape. It is a popular spot for folks to gather in small groups, talk, picnic and such. I was glad to see that everyone was following all of the new rules in attempts to keep everyone safe. 

I took some more pictures of turtles. I notice that I take a lot of turtle pictures. They just look so relaxed sitting on rocks in the middle of ponds. This particular pair live in the Japanese Gardens section of Hermann Park.

I also tried to take some pictures of these two rabbits, but they were a bit camera shy and insisted on hopping away. I am guessing that many of the animals had quickly become used the lack of crowds in their habitat. So many have quarantined themselves during this pandemic. Yet, this was a beautiful day and many folks were out walking, jogging, cycling and enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. Except for a few crowded spots on the jogging trail, there were lots of places to walk and maintain distance.

Then there were some very interesting birds.

Are they herons or egrets? I’m not sure. Let me know if you know. All I can say is that the one on the right is glaring at me. Again, the animals are not all excited by nature paparazzi enthusiasts.

What was the best picture of all? Check out this duck with all of her baby ducklings. The little ones are adorable and the mom is making sure that I am only taking pictures and mean no harm to her waddling brood.

I’m going to miss these days when July gets here and we start experiencing triple digit temps. Actually, we may start seeing some of that next week. It was nice while it lasted.

Until next week.….

Pandemic Road: Week 8

Last week we experienced some terrific weather here in Houston. What one would typically call, “Chamber of Commerce Weather”. Temperatures were cool. The sun was shining. Where else to go, but to the Houston Arboretum. There has been a lot of nature development at the Arboretum. There are new trails and many of trails that I have walked for years have been resurfaced and improved. I love it there when it is cool and sunny. Imagine my surprise when I found this while walking on the Ravine trail. A pair of Owl eyes daring me to get too close. I can only imagine that someone affiliated with Rice University painted this beautiful scenery.

I was out in nature. I was calm and relaxed. What a great day. And then I found this on the Outer Loop trail:

Now, I have been a devoted visitor to this arboretum for many years. This is the first time I have seen a sign warning folks about coyotes! During this pandemic I have seen pictures of lions in South Africa and kangaroos in Australia taking over the streets of towns that have been shut down to prevent the spread of Covid‐19. However, I did not realize that coyotes were taking over Houston. Fortunately, the morning I was there, a variety of home‐schooling parents had brought their children out to visit with nature. I trusted that the sounds of children running and laughing sent all wild life into hiding. At least that was my hope. Since I did not see any coyotes, I am guessing it worked.

I am used to seeing a variety of wild life here. I have been known to journal about all of the different animals I saw during any of my visits to the arboretum. I am very used to butterflies and caterpillars. They are nice friendly animals that seem to enjoy having their picture taken.

 I am also used to seeing lots and lots of turtles. That was what I was expecting to see when I made my way to the pond and I was not disappointed. However, there were other signs as well.

I personally had never tried to feed the turtles. I don’t even know what turtles want for their daily fare.

What I didn’t expect were signs about gators.…..yes, you read that correctly.……gators!

Who knew I would actually see an alligator? No, I did not need to be told not to swim with them or try to feed them. Good grief. Suddenly my relaxing visit with nature was getting more dangerous by the second.

With all of this danger lurking around every bend in the trails, it’s no wonder the slopes are on the verge of a nervous breakdown! Believe me, I had learned my lesson. I stayed on the trail. I took nothing but pictures and left nothing but footprints. By the time this little visit was over, I was trying to remind myself what exactly was so relaxing about the Houston Arboretum. Then I looked at this picture:

It is green and it is alive. There are many spring flowers blooming. Yes, it is worth the danger of giant owl eyes, coyotes and gators. I can’t wait to go back.

Until next week.….