When Sex & Allergies Collide

When the Yankees take on your pollen count, you know the joke’s on you.

Houston’s pollen count — 2536 spores for oak trees alone — led the nation last week.

That translates into more sneezers and wheezers in the Bayou City than anywhere else in America.

Nowadays on my daily walks, I see sights like this pile of oak tree pollen on every sidewalk and driveway. Emphasis on every sidewalk, every driveway. For four miles.

These piles congregate to pollinate. In other words, it’s plant sex.

Holy moly, are they promiscuous!

The yellow wormy, stringy things are called catkins, also known as the flowering male of the tree. They morph into pollen then ride the wind, hunting receptors known as stigmas and pistils (the flowering female of the tree).

When male pollen grains meet female flower stigmas, voila! Acorns (as in: nuts!) sometime result.

That Mother Nature recreates this act every spring amazes, in and of itself. But that She, concurrently, creates allergic misery for so many of us humans strikes me as the epitome of irony.

Who’s in charge, you say?

Copyright, Sig McKenna Izbrand

My San Antonio friend Sig McKenna Izbrand dubs this year’s agony “Pollengedden.”

One photo from her backyard illustrates why.

Would you want to swim in those inviting waters after seeing that line of pollen?

The line resembles a crossing‐of‐the‐Rubicon of sorts: what’s in the water, what can I not see?

What’s a RoadBroad to do?

Pack eyedrops, an extra wad of tissues plus sore throat drops then hit the sidewalk.

Sagging senior thighs outrank four miles of sniffles.

Ball of Beauty…or Beast?

The sight at the top of the hill caught my eye.

How many bird’s nests in that tree?

Walking closer, I notice it’s not bird nests I see.

Those are amalgams of twigs, needles, sticks, and gray grassy things clumped together in round balls, all nestled atop bare tree branches.

I walk this path every day, and have for seven years.

How did I never see this?

A second question springs forth: what is this T.h.i.n.g.? 

My writer mind imagines an alien deposit left every Tuesday after midnight.

Ah, Story begins. I smile.

Four miles and five Siri e‐mails later, I arrive home.

Google informs the mass is ball moss, or tillandsia recurvata. Botanists call it an epiphyte—fancy way of saying it’s a non‐parasitic plant that lives on other plants. More bromeliad than moss; a percher, not a sapper. Translation: ball moss sits on tree branches but never sucks away its host.

Some people disagree, claiming ball moss kills every tree it nests.

I don’t care. I see beauty lurking in these branches. This tree carried 45 ball moss clumps. At least where I stopped counting. 

Some nests looked massive, others teeny as embryos. To my virgin‐noticing‐nature‐eyes, each pom‐pom appeared glorious.

I looked down and cheered. An orphaned wad lay on the ground. The sticks felt spiky and sharp but strong. The natural world excels. Again.

At home, I placed the ball moss in a vase. Within weeks, it b‐l‐o‐o‐m‐e‐d. To my endless surprise and utter delight. Melanie and home‐grown flowers = a first.

Our most recent Yule featured ball moss as the table centerpiece. It lasted from Christmas and well past New Year’s Day.

The petals eventually devolved into white wispy things. Carrying them outside one windy afternoon was not a good idea.

I waved them away then realized three things ball moss taught me:

My thumb’s not black.

Growth offers pleasant possibility and an expanded life, especially for a strong ego.

Noticing nature changes a life.

Poet Mary Oliver nailed it with this: “there are moments when the veil seems almost to lift and we understand what the earth is meant to mean to us.”

I’ve held onto this story for three months, awaiting Spring’s arrival. Now, she’s waking up, winking green in our oak trees.

She’s also birthing yellow tree pollen. Which delivers allergy agony.

That’s next week’s blog post. Today, I sniffle, dab my eyes and walk on, watching as beautiful ball moss disappears into nature’s arms. 

Rocking B’s

At the entryway to Oyster Creek Park, I spotted them.

Grandmother and granddaughter sitting on a park bench, bonding over books.

The thumbnail photo of this bronze sculpture caught my attention when I scanned Sugar Land’s Public Art brochure. Of the ten such sculptures in the city, this is the only one I really cared to see.

Something about young and old, innocence and wisdom, reading and sharing. And the precious grandchildren in my own life.

When I arrived at the park entrance, I found no hints—maps, signage, arrows, etc.—of where this pair sat.

On instinct, my eyes swept to the ten o’clock position.

How did I know to start at ten? Why not eight, or three or…

Intuition? Silly girl, I thought. Be grateful and walk toward them.

Along the way, I spotted alligators and paint‐can art. A dog learning to frisbee. A baby taking its first steps.

Picture taking and future blog posts. Of course.

As I walked, the bright‐shining sun and a clear blue sky sparkled on my shoulders. Seventy degrees, the phone tells me. Mid‐December? Winter begins in four days?

When I finally stood before the Grandmother and Granddaughter sculpture, B’s assaulted my vision: binoculars. book. bear. backpack. birds. bun. bench. braids. boards. buckles. blouse. buttons.

Twelve in a single shot. Why all the B’s? And why did I notice? Is that what real writers do?

I took a second picture of the sculpture.

Clean shot, I thought.

Only at home do I spot the next B. As in sunBeam.

The ray of sunlight was not there when I snapped the picture. I promise. 

When I saw the light, the word followed: Beam.  

My, that sounds like a song. Or a Bible verse. Egad. I digress.

Back to a photograph. We’re up to a baker’s dozen of B’s.

One final B surfaces as I stare at the image. It’s less obvious, but more special.

Bonding.

What happens when grandmothers and granddaughters Be together.

(Offered with heartfelt apologies to my writing teachers).

And now, we’re up to 15 B’s in a single Blog post.

Oops, that’s 16.

What a day for frisky, frivolous fun.

You’re lucky.

No F quiz follows.

To See or Not to See

It only took 34 years. To need a new front windshield for my car.

Blame four rocks smashing into my windshield. A trio in the past month alone. Could that be a record in America’s fourth largest city?

Years? Rocks? Days? All smacking into a single pane of auto glass?

It’s repaired now but I wonder how long this perfection will last. I considered not replacing the windshield at all. With my recent track record, was it worth it?

Consider another factor.

It’s been a spring, summer, and fall for endless car repairs. New tires. New brakes. New shocks. New struts. Restored air conditioning.

Traveling nearly three thousand miles across three states, plus mountain driving in summer heat, would impact anything and anyone. Add to that 60K miles acquired across seven years in Houston’s humidity atop her pothole‐laced freeways.

Besides, every car needs routine maintenance. Even more results from the adventures of a committed RoadBroad who must venture out weekly to gather her blog posts.

But this kind of cash makes for a hard swallow. These repairs exceed 16 months of car payments. What I completed four years ago.

I wanted to leave the windshield as it was. Ugly, yes. But it’s only glass. Ugly, ugly glass.

Look for yourself.

See the jagged crack on the lower left? Swing your eyes to the far right. Spy the dot of pebbled glass? That’s the Hillcroft rock.

Out of range are the remaining pair of cracks. The worst split the windshield’s top quadrant like a boxer’s uppercut.

I felt confident of my do‐nothing approach. Then the heavy rains came.

Caught in a blinding downpour, the freeway’s dotted lines vanished before my eyes. I white‐knuckled the steering wheel and glued my eyes to the roadway, bird‐dogging for other blinded drivers. The windshield began to mock me. Its four cracks widened, expanding, before my terrified eyes.

It’s expensive to be a RoadBroad, I decided. New windshield got fitted two days later.

Meaning‐Me decided to reframe the issue.

Maybe now you’re free. To see clear and clean the road that lies before you.

Then my eyes whispered, reminding me of July’s summer laser surgery. A sudden onslaught racked them, too. It was a bout with spider vision, aka PVD. That’s short for Posterior Vitreous Detachment, a common, surprise malady afflicting the post‐60 crowd. A second whisper chimed.

New glass. New eyes. New view.

When I hear my inner voice(s) whisper like this, I listen. Even if it’s woo‐woo. Or simply mental. Who cares?

Now I can see.

I’m ready for the road.

When Old Becomes New

A delightful discovery this morning: three new trees planted along my daily walk path.

The sight stopped me in a near‐stumble. I jerked my head to the left, staring before snapping this once‐in‐a‐walk image.

Questions pounded my brain walls:

How long have these oak sprouts been here?

What made our tree police suddenly shout “Green!”

Did last week’s U.N. climate change report finally awaken city fathers?

Perhaps you remember the breath‐stopping removal of four trees from this same walkway last summer.

A mid‐July lightning bolt had zapped one oak tree, splitting it in two. It was a beautiful, natural strike. Destructive natural art remained. Tears followed.

Suburbia struck back in a wood frenzy, removing four trees in response to Mother Nature’s single zap. Where I live, we don’t remove damage. We play Whack A Tree. To ensure nothing stands in weather’s way, we haul in the Big Equipment and ground down the leftovers - all the way down to nuttin’, baby. 

In my new man‐made walking ground, I sought, and found, a gift: Starfish Bevo. See it/him? A horizontal figure on the right up there. Oak ground bits resembling quinoa. My new morning breakfast?

For weeks, I checked my little tree star every day. Then New Normal became Sidewalk Path. I forgot Loss.

Imagine my glee this morning as I stumbled onto this New New Normal.

Upon looking closer, my smile broadened.

Starfish Quinoa has a buddy. Shade.

Mornings like this urge me outdoors every dawn. Five mile walk, six a‐m start. 2372 walks since April, 2012. Yes, I counted.

I walk daily to remain healthy.

Today reminded me of a second reason: to see. When I opened my eyes — really opened them — I saw new life and second chances. 

Right around the corner surrounding a trifecta of trees.

How personal, meaningful can a little daily walk become?

Sage Offerings, Post‐Parking Rage

Reader’s Note: No pictures accompany this post. You’ll soon discern why. 

She flew into my orbit from nowhere, like a bumblebee soaring on wings of rage.

Jabbing her rigid index finger toward me, she stabbed the air. Over and over.

I cocked my head, utterly perplexed.

Excuse me? What’s your problem, lady? I do something to you? I just parked my car. 

We stood—two women, strangers, facing off in a strip center parking lot. I had 20 minutes to kill and she appeared ready to oblige.

I stood outside my car, the driver’s door offering partial shield.

She stood perhaps ten feet away but taller, elevated on the sidewalk. I shrunk back.

Her dark eyes dissolved into black bullets. They fired at me rat-a-tat-tat—a hundred thousand bits of metaphorical ammo—aimed on the perfect horizontal. Target: my car, body, and spirit.

Pure instinct made my body dodge right, shoulder and arm tucking into my car’s door frame. My right foot moved into the car as if bracing for future impact. I said nothing.

Calm. What the..? No. Breathe. Let her talk as she can. Calm. Breathe. She’ll explain soon.

The longer I remained silent, the angrier her face became. Eyes tightened to pinpricks. Face squashed, raisin‐like. Lips darkened to brown‐bloody, a passionate underline.

In reaction, my eyes and lips squinted as I looked deeper into her. But, in my chest, wild fear ran amok. My heart thundered. Life‐threatening beat. My brain scrambled to stay ahead of her emotion. Brute willpower forced my lips to soften.

Show no judgment. Only listen. No mirroring anger. Cool. Take quiet charge. Calm.

You took my space,” she yelled, her voice knifing my inner dialogue to silence.

Excuse me?” I answered in my easiest, be‐the‐adult‐here voice.

You pulled in front of me,” she said in a near scream, finger jabbing harder into the space between us. Did she fear my attention had disappeared?

She leaned toward me, jerking full forward at the waist and leaning over the curb. “I was waiting over there,” she pointed to her left, “ready to pull in and park but you swung in and took my place.”

A cacophony of words flooded my brain. Willpower stood up, tall.

Two roads here, kiddo. Challenge. Or back off. Latter. Go.

I walked around my open car door, exposing my unprotected body to her. She glared back, eye bullets still flying. I broke the stare, looked where she had pointed earlier. Her red car sat diagonally parked two spaces away, resting illegally in a handicapped parking space. The car’s hazard lights blinked with manic urgency.

Clarity landed.

I’m sorry, ma’am,” I said, my voice gaining strength. “I didn’t see you. I saw the open space, pulled in, and never saw your red car. I apologize.”

I repeated myself.

As I talked, the woman’s face relaxed, eyes now simmering brown, lips relaxing into the hint of a smile. The air between us thawed. I repeated my apology. Calming mantra, round three.

She dropped her eyes to the sidewalk then raised them, gazing almost soft. Her smile widened, filling her face. One question popped up.

Has this woman awaited an apology her entire life? 

I moved my car and entered the coffee shop. The woman sat in her car—in my old parking space—and texted on her phone.

I wonder what story she told and what she learned.

My learnings?

I can defuse stranger rage.

Plus: choosing peacemaker and sucker‐upper aces throwing temper tantrums and threatening body blows.

It’s been a good week here.

I hope the same for her.

Imagination, Inspiration and Originality

Wednesdays are fun here in retirement land. It is one of the few days when I look forward to waking up and getting over to my friend’s house by 10:00 a.m. Why yes, I set an alarm clock to get somewhere by 10:00 a.m. That’s how I roll now. I can’t remember the last time I got anywhere by 8:00 a.m. Morning rush hour is a memory.

Now I get to my friend’s house and meet up with a group of women writers where we all practice and improve our craft. The size of the group fluctuates, but there is a dedicated core group of us. You can see a sampling of the group below:

Some of the group is a bit camera shy, so I am just showing a sampling of what we look like while we are reading our work and receiving feedback from each other.

After being inspired such talented friends, I went by the Glassell School of Art. The new building and campus is really nice and finally open for classes again.

I have heard this artwork just outside the main building referred to as the “Glassell Bean”. I am fascinated by this sculpture. It sees everything and it reflects everything around it.

The class I have signed up for is called “Women in Art”. We will study women artists from the 19th century through to the present. Some of my favorite artists will be included, such as; Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, Judy Chicago and Camille Claudel. This is also the best kind of class to take, because there are no tests. Just a gathering of people who have a strong desire to learn and discuss.

The lobby of the Glassell is a wide open room with lots of light coming in from all directions.

There are stairs and hallways that go off in all directions. It makes me feel as if there is no limit to one’s creativity. In the past I have taken many classes at the Glassell in the areas of ceramics, photography, and design. I have loved them all. Now I am looking forward to this next phase of my art education.

I personally find that art and writing go together. If I am feeling creative in one area, it helps me feel creative in other endeavors. Sometimes when writing about a particular historical topic, I will develop some collage work to help me to visualize particular events, styles, etc. I have also used collage to help me develop characters for short stories.

Now it is time to get back to writing and creating.

Until next time…

The Road Trip Is Over, But The Journey Is Just Beginning!

I have been home for several weeks. I would say that my life has returned to normal, but it hasn’t. I am now really officially retired. I still have not determined what the new normal is going to be. This is a whole shift of consciousness for me, because I have either gone to school, worked, or both since I was about 15 years old.

The first thing I noticed when I returned from Colorado was that I slept.….a lot. I would sleep well at night. Get up in the morning, drink some coffee, watch some news, and then take a nap. I almost got worried that I was sleeping too much, but then I realized that I was feeling GREAT! Apparently I haven’t been this rested for approximately 50 years! I adopted a very mindful approach to my daily schedule and just observed. When I was hungry I ate, when I was tired I slept. How so very zen of me.

I have structured my daily life so I seldom have to set an alarm clock. At first I swung back and forth between waking up early in the morning and sleeping until 11 a.m. Some evenings I fell asleep early reading a book and other evenings I stayed up late watching whatever movie I found irresistible at the moment.

One day a week I get together with a friend for a day of culture or adventure or a movie or whatever strikes our fancy. The picture above is from the Big Bambu at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. It is a sculpture made out of bamboo that is literally big enough to walk through. It’s another variation of a road trip. If you have a chance to go and see this exhibit, I highly recommend it!

Also I continue to enjoy the local road trips to the Alley Theater in the evenings. Their most recent production of Holmes and Watson was great fun!

I was reminded of the Sherlock Holmes exhibit that Melanie and I both visited at the Museum of Natural Science. We learned to observe our surroundings and pay attention to details. Perfect reminders for a writer. Observe and take notes!

And yes, I am writing. I have been mindfully experimenting with writing schedules and think I have just about found what works best for me. Some days I focus on writing. Other days I focus on culture/adventure/movies. So far retirement into full‐time writer life is working for me.

I hope everyone who reads this is having a great summer! I will write again in about a week.

Stay cool!

Adieu, Boulder

Tomorrow, Ellen and I awake before sunrise and say “adieu” to Boulder, exchanging our temporary abode for Home.

Despite two enchanting weeks here, I miss the comfort, familiarity, and routines of my Sugar Land home. Most especially life with my kind and generous DH! Still, there’s a magic that only Boulder can generate. That’s a major admission for this Taos passion‐ista.

That heart‐thumping magic manifested itself again today, this time in hyper‐productive form. Ellen and I wrote like storytelling fiends all day. I took a short break to lunch with special family members from Ft. Collins (shout‐out to ML, D & E) and returned to complete significant progress on my WIP (‘work in progress’).

Surrendering to the Boulder siren call of words, words, words…

Perhaps we’re both desperate for a few more hours of clear, clean storytelling. Remnants of a tropical wave await our Sunday return to Houston. But first, any worries surrounding rainfall yet to arrive comes after what lies immediately ahead: 20 hours of weekend driving across three states. How do you hold onto the magic of a writing retreat amid the potential train of contained chaos coming toward us?

It begins with remembering. And here are mine — to remember tonight, across the next two days, and onto the life yet to come — the most powerful learnings of a ten‐day writing retreat. 

  1. While it’s trite, it’s that because it’s true: persistence pays off. Evidence: seven years of periodic work on a single essay yields finalist status. This pumps the ego to keep working hard on this novel that’s talked to me for 11 long, busy years.
  2. The craft of writing requires a lifetime of learning and devotion, a commitment I renewed in these Colorado mountains. Those who claim mastery follows 10,000 hours of practice are naive. If you’re good at storytelling, mastery never comes because you refuse to stop learning.
  3. Community enriches a writer’s life and all her projects. To wit:
Houston’s Wednesday Writers reunited again!

Members of the Wednesday Houston group celebrate crafting stories together since January, 2017. The Boulder retreat marked the first time we five have bonded in such an extended, intensive writing experience. Our writing Wednesdays will never be the same!

It’s one thing to have a writing community in the town where you live. I’m beyond blessed to be involved with three such special groups.

The Boulder Fiction writing group enjoys corner porch dining at Chatauqua DIning Hall. How did all my tribes land here for such a special dinner?

To come to a writing retreat in another state and discover six storytelling soulmates is beyond a blessing. It’s grace in action, a concept our beloved Max Regan talks about. It’s a grace that comes not because you seek it. Instead, this kind of special grace finds you and touches you gently — and silently — on your shoulder when you’re not looking. Sweet.

4. Living a life as a full‐time writer is worth the energy it demands. I return to Houston changed and committed. There’s a project awaiting my completion with an audience awaiting my story and a supportive crowd cheering every mile marker I pass. In eleven years of working on my debut novel, I’ve never felt so energized. It’s that Boulder air.

For the light‐hearted learnings, it’s:

  1. Friends can remain friends even after sharing house for ten days.
  2. Colorado trees and my nose are not friends. Not going to happen. Ever.
  3. Never buy unbranded gasoline. Unless you want a coach rescue.
  4. Whatever you do, don’t kill the dog. Oops, that’s a big sorrysorry to my ex.

One of these blog posts, I’ll figure out how to do bulleted numbers that look right on your screen. That’s a big sorrysorry to you, dear reader.

For now, it’s dinnertime followed by packing all those things I had to haul to the mountains. All those vitals I never touched.

Bedtime will be late tonight, like another evening two weeks ago. Alas, I never learn. When sleep comes, it will no doubt offer another “journey proud” evening. Allie smiles from her perch.

Two days of driving is enough to put anyone on edge a little, eh? Begging forgiveness in advance from Ellen, fellow RoadBroad and car mate. Next I suggest: let’s go home, renewed.

Our stories await.

Details and Mindfulness

I just read Melanie’s blog post about her experience at the Sherlock Holmes exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I went to the same exhibition and, even though I went early in the morning before all the school children arrived, I still needed help solving the crime puzzle. Obviously I need to hone my skills at observing the details.

My life has been so hectic in the past few months, I am proud just to say that I am keeping up with everything. Yet, here I am heading for a long road trip where I can slow down and look. We are going through Santa Fe, New Mexico. The home of my favorite artist, Georgia O’Keefe!

Again, for those of you not familiar with the art of Georgia O’Keefe, please Google. Again, I will wait for you. She painted a lot of big flowers and a good deal of the landscape around the Santa Fe area.

One of my favorite quotes of O’Keefe’s is the following:

I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty.”

An artist like Georgia O’Keefe sees the beauty in the detail and gives us a painting to help us see. Doesn’t a writer do the same thing? Take an event, a moment or a thought and give it words so that the reader can read and understand.

Going on this road trip means that I will completely change my surroundings. I am a city chick. I like a big city and the energy it produces. The sounds of the city relax me and I feel a part of the big scheme of things. Now I am going outside the big city to cities that are much smaller and further apart. I want to see everything.

More than 20 years ago I traveled to New Mexico. I drove between Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Abiquiu (toured Georgia O’Keefe’s home). I remember pulling over to the side of the road just to admire the beauty of the mountains all around me. After living so many years along the flat Texas coast, the mountains are a miraculous sight.

I also practice mindfulness meditation which helps me to stop in the middle of all of life’s craziness and just be. Sometimes it is just best to sit down and be quiet.

Looking forward to being mindful in Boulder.