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?

Road Trip Twist

NOTE: Not all road trips are alike. The following story offers a compelling twist on the Journey tale, one that only Kay Cox — our dear writing retreat friend — could tell, and well.

Guest blogger Kay L. Cox writes poetry and stories from her San Antonio home. She’s an experienced blogger (check out her writings on www.picklesandroses.blogspot.com). Earlier, Kay worked as an art and family therapist, teaching graduate‐level art therapy classes in the US and abroad.

Thank you, Kay, for joining our RoadBroads team today! — Melanie & Ellen


Road Trip With a Twist

Kay L. Cox

My lunch plate that Friday held sliced roast beef, slathered with gravy. But the instant mashed potatoes looked like a sauce, thanks to too much liquid on top. I spy broccoli. Fresh broccoli. I can’t wait. I grab my fork. Then the broccoli’s so tough, my fork can’t cut it and even my knife has a hard time. It’s so tough, I can hardly chew it.

I open my mouth to complain. Then I remember.

The previous Sunday. Dinner at my son’s house.

Emotion overwhelms me.

My family is active with local churches in helping documented migrant families as they head through San Antonio enroute to their next destination by bus. We were asked to house two families. One family stayed one night. The other was a young father, Juan, and his 2 ½ year old son, Ricardo.

When I arrived at my son’s house, the pair sat on the sofa watching television. Ricardo snuggled, sleeping, on his father’s chest. I greeted Juan in Spanish. He nodded, giving me a big smile. I noticed an ankle monitor on Juan. What have we come to in this country?

I went to the kitchen to help prepare the dinner. Chicken casserole and steamed broccoli. Soon, Ricardo awoke and Juan sat him in his lap to eat. Ricardo’s big brown eyes and shy smile won our hearts. He was so well behaved, almost too quiet. I surmised that in his long treacherous journey from Guatemala he had been taught to be very quiet. Ricardo looked at the plate in front of him. His eyes grew bigger still as he looked at the plate in front of him.

He picked up a piece of broccoli, looking at it as if he had never seen such a vegetable. He spoke softly to his dad. With my limited Spanish, I think he called the broccoli a tree before plopping it in his mouth. Then he picked up another, looking at each “tree” carefully before putting each piece in his mouth. Over and over, Ricardo did this, eating bite after bite. I think his body was craving fresh, green food. I wondered when he had last had fresh vegetables.

Never have I seen a child that young eat broccoli like that. Any complaints I might ever have about food from now on fall into a different perspective. I have so much to be grateful for.

My daughter in law bought clothes and diapers for Ricardo, along with snacks and books in Spanish, and his long journey with his father riding multiple buses to Washington. She found a children’s backpack and filled it. Ricardo proudly put it on and clung to her leg at the bus station when she turned them over to the woman who guided them to their correct bus.

What a beautiful experience to share what we take for granted. We were able to make a difference in making someone’s life easier.

I will never eat broccoli again – be it steamed‐to‐mush, raw or tough — without thinking of Ricardo and Juan. And I’ll feel grateful.

All we have to do is be kind to each other. It’s that simple to create change.

Writing!

A pocket watch, a turtle, and an elephant walk into a bar.…..wait, that’s not right.

What do a pocket watch, a turtle, and an elephant have in common? I have no idea…yet…but I am using them as writing prompts.

So goes the beginning of our writing retreat which meets in the wonderful Boulder Bookstore.

After our first meeting on Saturday, I spend Sunday morning at the townhouse getting inspired by my three prompts. Finally, the words begin to flow and I am ready for class this afternoon. I also work on story outlines and plot points. I am ready to head out to class.

My roommates already left for their class. Everyone at the retreat is divided into three groups. Melanie and Diana are in the same group (maybe I am a little jealous not to be with them?). Oh well, we will be in some of the same writing groups when we return to Houston.

I enjoyed the few hours I have by myself at the townhouse. I am finally beginning to adjust to both the Boulder altitude and sharing house with two roommates. All three of us have been friends for a while now but have never roomed together before. Three strong, independent, assertive women. We all know what we want and how we want the universe to revolve. It is inspiring to see us adjust to each other. We are dedicated to our writing and to supporting other women writers. The room may be too cold for one or too hot for the other, but we don’t lose focus on why we are here. RoadBroads Unite!

I Uber to the bookstore. Now I’ve Ubered twice in two days. That makes me a pro. I even tipped Howard, the driver.

I walk along the Pearl Street Mall enjoying the shops and all the people. Each block seems to have its own street performer. Guitar players, drum players, even one guy standing on top of a ladder while juggling. The day felt festive.

I stop at one of the many coffee shops to get coffee and water to take with me to class. Then I enter the bookstore, walk up the stairs to the second floor and make my way back to our meeting spot in the middle of the religious/spiritual book section.

Max Regan lectures on different aspects of writing. Several of us read our writing assignments and get good solid feedback. The two hours fly by quickly and class is over.

It is now time to head out for dinner and our first salon. I walk the four blocks to the location of the salon to find a wonderful spread of salad, breads, cheeses, sliced veggies and more. There was fruit for dessert which included some of the best fresh mango I have had in a long time.

We will have several of these salon meetings during the retreat so that every writer shares some of their work with the entire group. Melanie read tonight and did a masterful job. I take a turn at reading next Thursday. I hope I can be as good as Melanie. She has set the bar very high.

Now back at the townhouse, the day is over. I am exhausted but pleased with that I have accomplished today.

Ready to do it all over again tomorrow.

Go Local, not Global

In advance of this weekend’s kickoff of the summer vacation season, Bloomberg published a glorious photo essay of what it called “the‐10‐best‐global‐road‐trips‐to‐try‐this‐summer.”

My reaction came fast and hard: go local, not global.

Think of all the things you can see right where you are. Or within a few miles from where you live. Or after a few days on the road.

This time next week, Ellen and I will have driven across the cityscapes of Houston and Dallas on into the rural grasslands and canyonlands of Texas before driving high into New Mexico’s mountain lands then leveling out over Colorado’s dry grasslands, ending two straight days on the road in the flatirons of Boulder.

That’s 16 hours of a one‐way trip only two days from home.

From the coast lands to the mountains, we’ll see beauty everywhere. Because we’re looking. Really looking. And that’s the point this Memorial Day weekend, the kick‐off of the summer vacation season.

Look where you travel.

Look local.

Of course, this comes from the RoadBroad who wrote in her bio that she’s determined to spend the night on all seven continents.

As an old newsman I adore told me once, “never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

I won’t. Not on this blog post.

Priming, Preparing and Packing

Once upon a time I used to think that I knew how to pack a suitcase and prepare myself for a vacation. I have done it before. I have gone places and returned home quite successfully. Then I began planning a road trip to Boulder with Melanie.

Who can forget anything with a list like this?

One of the first documents that Melanie gave me while discussing our road trip was a simple piece of paper that said, “PACK THIS!” On this simple piece of paper were lists of things to take with you when packing for any conceivable travels. I glanced down at all of the 17 sub‐lists and immediately wondered how I ever made it anywhere by myself.

I can remember when I used to work full time in an office setting, there were days when I surprised both myself and my co‐workers with the ability to dress myself in the morning and have all articles of clothing land in the right places. However, I blamed this little quirk on the fact that I have never been a morning person and really cannot function without at least one cup of coffee.

Now I have a list that I can look at any time of the day or night fully caffeinated and wonder how many more suit cases I am going to need. It is truly daunting.

To begin with, do I really need a list to remind me to pack underwear? The list also specifies to pack a tuxedo. I’ve never owned a tuxedo. Great, now I have to go shopping before I leave town. Guess I’ll pick up some more underwear while I’m at the store.

There is also a line item for anxiety medications. Really? What does this list know about my road trip that I don’t? I am hoping for a couple of relaxing days while driving and seeing parts of the Southwest that I have not seen before. Yet, apparently now I have to worry about anxiety and what to do about it. That makes me feel quite anxious!

The good news is that I only have to prepare and pack for myself. Melanie is in charge of the automobile. Normally when traveling with others, I will ask if the tires have been checked, have all the fluids been topped off, etc. I did not have to do that this time. As you just read, Melanie is the official keeper of all particular detailed lists. I know she has this handled. Then, as if I had asked, she told me about some minor car repairs to make sure the air conditioning was working. Good. Air conditioning is good. Especially since day time temperatures are already reaching into the high 90’s. It’s not like we will be driving through deserts and mountains and such. I am glad Melanie is in charge of the automobile.

We are taking Melanie’s SUV because it is bigger than my Prius. With two of us traveling we need the extra space to pack all of the things on the “PACK THIS!” list. We may pick up a friend at the Denver airport on the way to the writing retreat. Friend may have to lie in the back on top of the luggage. What fun!

Now I am off for more priming, preparing and packing.

Boulder Bound: What Am I Doing?

I am now a full‐time writer. I have waited a long time to say that and it feels good. Right now, I am getting ready to head out on a long road trip to Boulder, Colorado with one friend, books, journals, lap top, and hopefully at least a little good sense. My friend, Melanie, is traveling with me. I am packing the books and journals. We will have to wait and see about the good sense. 

Hannah preps for her own road trip.
Hannah readies for the road trip…

The cat in the picture will try to go with me, but she will stay at home. Many thanks to Jim and my great team of house‐sitters and cat‐sitters who will look out for everything while I am gone.

Two months ago, I was a full‐time Social Services administrator for a local governmental organization. I was your “tax dollars at work”. During these last two months, I have had surgery (which restricted movement for six weeks), then I had to speak in front of a crowd at a cemetery for the placement of a historical marker, then I had a major water leak in my home thanks to my upstairs neighbor, then I retired from the governmental bureaucracy.

I had planned to spend my first week of retired life in my night gown, sleeping a great deal, reading and watching junky television. Instead, I was visited daily by contractors and maintenance personnel who repaired walls, ceilings and floors damaged by the water leak. Fortunately, within 2 weeks all home repairs were complete…all except for the dust. Thanks to a great team of professional housekeepers for helping me to clean up.

Needless to say, I still haven’t had my week of sleeping, reading and couch potatoing and now I don’t have time. I am Boulder Bound! Melanie and I are attending a writing retreat in Boulder. Enroute, we will stop and visit a few sites. It’s my first trip to Colorado and I want to see as much as possible.

What does it mean to be Boulder Bound? It means I no longer work in an office. I am a writer. I can write at home, at a coffee shop, or while gazing at whatever mountains I keep hearing everyone talk about in Boulder. Hopefully by the time I return home, I will know the names of the mountains.

Being Boulder Bound means I am hitting the road to see what there is to see. On the road. I almost feel like Jack Kerouac using the “essentials of spontaneous prose” to outline my journey. Before, during and after the retreat I will share my existence and experiences with a couple of talented writers exploring the depths of our visions and talents. Unlike Kerouac, I will probably skip the substance abuse and sexual experimentation.

Okay, for anyone who does not know about Jack Kerouac and his book On the Road which was published the year I was born, please Google now. I will wait.

I have several writing projects, but while in Colorado, I will be working on one in particular. This project involves my writing about growing up in Memphis, Tennessee during the 60’s and 70’s. Like now, it was a time of great change in both me as a person and in the society and culture that surrounds me.

Wish me luck with my journey! I will keep you posted on everything (or almost everything) that happens.