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?

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:

The Road To Being Amazed

Go past the moon and turn left down the hallway,” were the directions I was given.

I looked into the face of the nice lady who spoke those words to me and replied, “And you are probably the only person on the planet who can give directions like that.”

I was at the Houston Museum of Natural Science for “The Art of the Brick” exhibit by artist Nathan Sawaya. This is the picture that is shown in most advertisements for the exhibit. I wasn’t sure where the exhibit was in the museum so I was told to go past the “Moon” exhibit by Luke Jerram. As you may have guessed there is a giant Moon hanging from the ceiling. I first saw this exhibit several weeks ago, but it was still impressive to walk past just the same.

Then my Dear Friend and I arrived at “The Art of the Brick” which is essentially art work created with Legos. Yes, you read that correctly, Legos. I must admit, my expectations were warm at best. Dear Friend is an engineer and has had a life long excitement for anything that you can use to build and create. I thought I would be amused at all of the bright colors.

Was I ever wrong! Before you get to enter the exhibit you watch a short video with the artist explaining himself. I won’t give you any spoilers, but I found Sawaya’s motivations and inspirations for his work quite interesting. Then we entered the exhibit.

It begins mildly enough with some Lego representations of famous works of art. Of course my favorite is The Scream. Some of the works are 2‐D, some are 3‐D, and some are life size. This is almost the look I had on my face as I began to let the artistry around me sink in, but my look was from amazement rather than from distress.

After touring the first room, then you get to see the pieces that fascinated me the most. What absolutely amazed me was the fact that the artist was able to evoke such emotions. Here are three examples:

These are just a few examples. If you have not taken the time to go see this exhibit, then please stop reading now and go.

At the end of the exhibit is a room where the kiddos can play with the Legos themselves. Be careful walking through this room, because there may be a few Legos pieces on the floor.

Of course what is a visit to the Museum of Natural Science without strolling through Hermann Park? My Dear Friend and I decided to stroll around the duck pond. We were serenaded by this friendly and vocal group of water birds that included several geese and one duck. A variation on the theme of “duck, duck, goose” maybe? If you have never been serenaded by a group of geese, then your life is still missing something. Apparently this group has received much positive attention from the humans strolling through the park and they are not shy about showing off.

If you have not stopped reading by now, I will again strongly suggest that you get yourself to Hermann Park now. Go now while the weather is cool and sunny.

You’re welcome.

Until next week.….

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!

Going Down the Road of Silver Linings

I am now a member of the Women In The Visual and Literary Arts (WIVLA). All this year they have been celebrating their Silver 25th Anniversary. Along with several other writers and poets, I was asked to write either a poem or an essay on the topic of “Silver”. Here is what I wrote and read at the monthly meeting tonight. I apologize in advance that I have no pictures to go with this personal essay. Just read it and imagine the color “silver”.

A silver anniversary means that 25 years have passed. Surely a silver anniversary involves at least one silver lining. While researching this topic, I found out that I am a Silver surfer. I am a senior citizen who surfs the internet. Who knew that had a name?

Twenty‐five years ago, 1994 (the year Wivla began) was the 25th anniversary of Woodstock. No, I wasn’t there. I was only 12 years old at the time. But I watched it on the nightly news. I read about it in the newspaper. I was fascinated. Three days of peace, love and music and so many hippies showing the rest of us how to live in harmony with each other. A lot of cool silver jewelry, which I still like today. I looked forward to the day when I would be old enough to go to such a music happening.

By the time I was actually old enough for Woodstock, the culture had changed. Music made the switch from the Beatles singing that “All you need is Love” to KC and the Sunshine Band singing “Shake your booty”. Morally it was quite the let down, but I put on my best 1970s wardrobe with my platform shoes and danced with my friends. And, yes, our dances were called things like “The Bump” and “The Hustle”. If you don’t remember how goofy some of those dances were, I dare you to look them up on YouTube. By the end of this decade, Saturday Night Fever showed on the silver screens of movie theaters.

During the 1980’s I turned 25 years old while living in Houston and working at a basic office job for your basic oil company. I wore business suits with shoulder pads and pumps on my feet. I walked the streets of downtown Houston and saw men in three piece suits, cowboy boots, and cowboy hats…in the middle of July. I went to the disco with my friends and we all wanted to dance like Jennifer Beals in Flash Dance, (or at least her body double dancer), but we didn’t. Not even close, I’m afraid.

By the 1990s, I had switched careers and become a Social Worker. I worked at a psychiatric hospital and transitional living facility before hiring on with Harris County. Musically, Whitney Houston was singing I Will Always Love You and My Love is Your Love. Pretty music and easy to dance to. On the silver screen she starred in the movie The Body Guard. Beck recorded a song called Loser and Nirvana recorded Smells Like Teen Spirit. Neither was danceable to me. Snoop Dog was a silver‐tongued rapper. It took me a long time to appreciate rap music. I was in my late 30’s…..was I beginning to get old? In 1994, again the year WiVLA began, Michael Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley. Of those 90’s musicians I listed, Whitney Houston, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and Michael Jackson met tragic endings. Lisa Marie still rocks on. I listen to Beck who is still writing songs and performing. The last time I saw Snoop Dog, he was hosting a game show and is BFF’s with Martha Stewart. Go figure.

Now it is 2019. It is the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. During this decade I retired from being a Social Work Administrator for Harris County after 25 years. I was given a gold and silver watch for my troubles. I have my own silver hair. Beyonce showed women how to rule the world. Shakira’s hips didn’t lie and Pink got the party started. I now listen to a lot of classic rock music on Sirius radio. I also listen to the band Imagine Dragons, because they’re RadioActive and that makes me feel “Cool”. However, I think the fact that I am still using the word, “cool” means I’m probably not. I’m now a member of WiVLA. For the next 25 years I look forward to being a full time writer, a part time visual artist and an ongoing member of the WiVLA community. Now that’s what I call a silver lining.

Until next week.….

Mourning a Sister — and Fellow RoadBroad

I still reel from the news: my eldest sister is dead.

Late Wednesday, a sheriff’s detective knocked on my front door, asked me to sit down, and told me that Mimi had been found deceased in her home.

I remain in shock. So does my other sister, Merrilynn.

We three sisters were/are textbook Baby Boomers. Born 3–1/2 years apart in the ‘50s, we specialized in one thing: loving each other deeply while living independent lives with very different personalities.

We called ourselves, “Sisters United!”

We met on the road many times, including in Austin 40 years ago last May.

Our mother took this photo of us after my graduation from the University of Texas at Austin.

Mimi, Merrilynn, and Melanie = Sisters United!

Have you ever seen three sisters who looked so different from each other?

Our college experiences mirrored and contrasted in interesting ways.

Mimi also graduated from UT‐Austin, three years before me. Merrilynn’s graduation came in 1977 at nearby Southwestern University, where I attended my freshman year of college.

My university graduation was a miracle (said the older sisters; in retrospect, I agree). Their degrees came in multiple, both of them earning diplomas at the post‐graduate level. Me? I stopped at bachelor.

We shared degrees but not careers: pharmacy, education, and journalism. Link these, anyone?

By 2006, the three of us ended up together again, this time living separately in the Houston area. We moved our aging mother to the area, watching over her as only devoted daughters can.

We managed several road trips with Mother before she could no longer travel. New York (twice). California. New Mexico. Around Texas.

Sisters Birthday Dinner, 2012

2012 was a tumultous year in our family.

We had to move Mother into memory care. Merrilynn’s husband died of pancreatic cancer. My brain exploded from a ruptured aneurysm.

That fall, we sisters came together again. We joined Merrilynn’s tribe to celebrate her birthday that September.

Sometimes a family needs that kind of fundamental happy, if only for a single evening. I forever remember the tears that lined my eyes that night. They felt permanent.

Here we are now, seven years later — almost to the day.

Two sisters remain. 2019 is now another soul‐breaking year.  

I wonder how these cycles of life repeat. Death and life, hearts shattered and minds overwhelmed. Again. 

But, always, Sisters United!

As a final note, let me editorialize:

Mimi did not leave a will. She also did not plan to die unexpectedly.

Reality always beats naivete, creating a different journey for surviving family.

I beg you: love your family enough to leave a will. No one’s grief should become overburdened by unnecessary complications required by the probate experience we now face.

To each of you, thank you for sharing this life and road trip with me.

I love you.