Odd and Curious Thoughts [about Thanksgiving]

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(1) It occurred to me that Thanksgiving is an apt description of this important holiday, which is refreshing.  So I’m going to rename the holidays Christaninfantborn and Greenbeerdrinking and CandyHeartsTasteLikePeptoBismolI’lltakechocolate.

(2)  My children took the booster seats out of the car to make “chairs in their boat” which translated to “Hey mom we’re just going to take this wagon and ruin these booster seats real quick by dumping it all into this large puddle after the storm whereby everything will be muddy and ruined, K?” but they were so cute with their little shovels being used like paddles and laughing that I could say nothing.  I watched them ruin things and said nothing.  I’d do it again. So cute with the paddles.

(3) My daughter is making little sticky notes that read “1989” and putting them all over her room, because naturally it’s Taylor Swift’s new album and when the pop singer was born so my daughter thinks that’s super cool.  It makes me realize someday around the Thanksgiving table she’ll remember these days and will someday say 2006 with the same vintage ring to it and I catch myself eating bran cereal.  #lordhelpmeiamgettingold

(4) Speaking of this pop album, it has some objectionable lyrics for 8-year-olds so instead of “handsome as hell” (which makes no sense anyway) we sing “handsome as zell,” a made-up  and very handsome creature, and I make them all say oh-my-gosh and being clean and sober is “that fresh wonderful feeling when you get out of the shower.” 

(5) We were playing the Game of Life and my daughter instructs my son that you will get farther if you skip the fork in the road that reads “college” and there’s a mandatory stop to get married and have kids without a choice involved and “the goal is to win with the most money.” Exactly the lessons we are trying to teach in real life.  What the hell/zell.

(6) I am painting pumpkins a natural cream color to go with my natural décor theme for Thanksgiving.  I don’t want any color aside from natural tones so I’m putting burlap covers over the chairs and hanging a tree limb from the ceiling and using my brown-and-white antique plates. I’m starting to get a little cray-cray with the decorating and when I asked my neighbor for fishing line, wire, and a stud finder he asked me if I needed a drink.

(7) Fall weather is so lovely.  For example, today in Texas we all wore flip flops.  Take that, Wisconsin.

(8) Our Netflix wasn’t working this morning so I found the kids watching “This Old House” and I decided if that’s what they will watch without Netflix we are DONE WITH NETFLIX FOREVER. Let’s go, Norm.  Tear down that wall. These New England homes are handsome as zell.

(9) Regarding said booster seats they are so totally going back in the car.  #thatswhatthehoseisfor #mommahastobuymoreburlapandboostersareexpensive #priorities

(10)               I was talking about my boyfriend the other day and our Fall Foliage Tour of New England and thought the word “boyfriend” sounds so juvenile but “lover” sounds risqué and “friend” sounds like someone I go drink beer with and burp and “main squeeze” sounds like an orange and “significant other” sounds like a person who does my taxes.  I’m remiss for a title. Who is this person that drove me to Lenox, Massachusetts?

(11)                  I told the lover/main squeeze/boyfriend about wanting to hang the tree limb from the ceiling for Thanksgiving and perhaps in a few weeks we could wire it later to the kitchen ceiling covered in lights? I mean I cut it down with an ax and how hard could it be to wire it to the ceiling?? I wondered if I would ever hear from him again or if he might get in his car and move to Miami. But at least he knows what he’s getting into.

(12)               I’m so grateful for my life.  This year more than ever, I am just so thankful for all I have been given without earning it or deserving it. If today was my very last on earth, I would die happy. So we shall toast with wine and make fun of my neurotic decorating and I’ll cry and say long prayers and hug everyone and we’ll listen to Taylor Swift and dance.  This, my friends, is my amazing life, during a holiday worth celebrating, and if leaves fall from the dead tree limb I cut down and into someone’s pie they shall just pluck it out.  Because that’s how we roll round here, flip flops and all.   Happy Turkey Day to everyone. I hope you’re all clean and sober.

A Southern State of Mind

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It’s easy to glorify our heritage.  For us southerners, it’s a right of passage.

I get it. Texas flows through my blood and I am damn proud of it.  I was raised in a small town, buried deep in the Hill Country, close enough to eat Mexican food in San Antonio but far away from those city slickers in Dallas.  And yeah, we skipped rocks and jumped into the Guadalupe and climbed atop the Cypress.  But it all wasn’t sundresses and barbeque either.  Well that’s a lie.  It was always about barbeque.

But nobody had fancy stitched boots back then, and we only listened to George Strait because it was the only thing on the radio. There were long days in the summer when the cicadas wouldn’t freaking die and they never shut up.  The droughts went long and the days wore on like an old piece of leather.  You could sit and change the dial in your car while driving down country roads but all you heard coming out of the speakers was steel guitar, whether you liked it or not.

But there was a dark side to all this rug cutting and beer drinking.  It made some people feel inside the circle and others out.  Cast aside like God didn’t have room for them, mostly because they wore black or held up a different color flag or happened to have serious doubts about the holy triune of their father’s father.  There was a leaning in my upbringing for everyone to blend together in perfect harmony. Trucks could either be black or red or have a lift kit or no, but let’s not get started about them Volkswagens.  You could ask anyone in church on Sunday hard questions about why they believed in God or how all the details worked and they’d just shrug, because it’s a box that gets checked, is all.  After church is fried chicken and football, so let’s not get all dramatic.  If you really want to be different and weird you just might as well pack your things and move to Austin where the hippies live.

Being from the south could be suffocating.   Women were often unfairly marginalized.  People who didn’t fit in were avoided. If you didn’t want to raise two kids and join the Rotary Club, it might be uncomfortable for you here in this place, where the world revolved. There were times you sat on the front porch and wondered if you’d ever break free and fly.  Out of this town where sin happened just the same as any other, but folks were too busy buying deer corn and cheap beer to notice.

And yet there are some people growing up that opened their doors like Jesus did.  To the rich and the poor.  The hungry and the full.  The sinners and believers alike, all hunkered down eating macaroni salad.  My grandfather was one.  He owned a sand-and-gravel business, and whenever one of his workers couldn’t make it until payday, he’d hand them a loan without asking for repayment.  My friend Lynda Ables would just cluck her way around singing and gathered up anyone who walked into her path without judgment.  Kids would gather around Macky Pitt’s dining table drinking tea and talking about things that scared them.  These are the memories that bind to my heart.  These are the things I hold most dear.

It is my prayer that my own home will also become a haven for the doubters.  A place of rest for the weary. Where all are welcome to put their boots or flags or labels by the door and simply come-on-in.  For a warm hug and a firm handshake.  A good hearty meal and real, true, forever-type love.

Please, Lord, don’t insulate me behind picket fences.  Allow me to welcome all, and appreciate Different Things.  Use me as a spokesperson for the skeptics, who see this religion thing as a country club for the few instead of a hitching post for all. For the sun, it is rising.  It’s climbing out of its resting place and poking its head above the oaks, spraying the world with God and light and tipping the clouds with gold.  The coffee is brewing. The birds and singing.

The time to love our neighbor has come.

Ya’ll grab a plate, now.  Grab a sweet potato biscuit with honey, a piece of that brown sugar bacon, and some of those cheese grits. Don’t be shy: eat your fill. Sit a spell and let’s talk about life. I want to look into your eyes, and I want to know you.  I’ll tell you about the beautiful love of Jesus if you wanna.  If not, that’s okay too.  We’ll just sit here, looking at the sun in that big ol Texas sky, rocking on the porch drinking coffee.  Because that’s what we do here in the south.

Come on over and visit.  The front door’s open.

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sonjalovas/4038233322/sizes/m/in/photostream/

A Guide to Storm Preparedness

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When it rains, it pours. Literally. Into my freaking living room.

I had fallen asleep in my daughter’s bed the other night, and when I awoke, it took me a moment to get my bearings.  People had been calling to check in.  Texts were flying. There was strong language like Doppler and Warnings and Get Off The Roadways blaring through my television. Wind was screeching through the small crevices of our home and rain had begun to pellet the metal roof like it had some sort of vendetta. So I gave in to the hysteria of “tornado warnings” and statements to “take cover” by emptying out everything in the closet underneath the stairs and replacing it with pillows, bottled water, and rice krispie treats.  In case of a real (and not just perceived) emergency.

Normally, weathermen just drag themselves across the news station set at the 6 pm hour to point at maps we all know are backward with little annoying arrows as they pretend to care about another hot summer day in Texas.  Hundred Degrees.  Molds are high. But this – THIS!? Winds are parallel to the earth.  Trucks are overturning and trees are cast aside like after-dinner toothpicks at Golden Corral and THERE ARE REPORTS OF HAIL. It’s ninety miles per hour and funnels a-touchin and well, ya’ll better be hunkerin down and stocking them flashlights with batteries. They get so excited I wonder if the crash after this storm mania blows over might set them into suicide watch.

So out goes the vacuum cleaner.  The crock pot’s history.  Armloads of Costco toilet paper gets tossed aside like trash.  In go the blankets. Also the water bottles. And lastly, candles.  I’m not sure what I thought would happen in case of an actual tornado – would me and the kids be noshing on organic brown-rice treats and slurping bottled water while holding hands around candles as our house is crumbling down and landing upon our very heads?  I’m a firm believer in healthy treats and reverse osmosis, so we’d totally be set.

The electricity finally goes out and I’m all “oh crap I can’t see the Doppler” when my dog begins his Total Freakout Mode as the rain and wind bore down upon our metal roof like perhaps the earth was opening and we were the first travelers to the depths of hell.  That’s probably due to the trees slapping against the house and the screaming in my own mind but the dog was slobbering and panting and trying to haul his 14-year-old self into my lap.

I’m sitting there telling the dog it’s all gonna be okay, man, quit it with the slobbering when I feel real water dripping on my head. I look up and rain is coming out of the sheetrock above the coffee table in neat little rows, which means I sat for quite a long time staring because I can’t believe we are suddenly the Clampetts and I rush to get a pan and towels. And of course with my remaining 17% battery life I proceed to call my insurance company in the middle of a life-threatening storm at 11:30 pm with thrashing winds to report a claim.

Look at me.  Water is dripping.  I’ve got a puny little flashlight and an armload of matches. The closet is stocked with treats and pillows.  I’m all “can an appraiser come out this evening, maybe?” The lady responded with “Are you dying? Are you stranded with a child who is in need of medical attention or needs milk and has a diaper full of poo and there’s a log sticking into the front of your minivan so that you can’t operate the vehicle? No? You’re inside your comfortable home in your fuzzy slippers whereby water is slowly dripping into a pan? CHILL THE FREAK OUT, lady.” That might not have been her actual words but whatever.

Later that night both children crawled in bed with me, naturally, and at 4 am I woke with full-blown lights ablazing in my house because the electricity is – Ahem – back on.  So for three days I’ve have industrial fans and dehumidiers and workers traipsing about my attic tearing out wet insulation and my insurance rep finally appears to say it’s not covered and nothing’s reimbursable and I get a quote to remove downed trees in my yard which translates to “you’ll never ever buy another pair of boots in your ever-lovin days, woman.”

So that’s how awesome weekends are made, folks.  But on the bright side, I now realize I have enough toilet paper hidden away under the stairs to wipe the bottoms of all the children in Travis county, and in case of an emergency I can find the number to my insurance company in the pitch black dripping mess of my living room while whispering comforting and reassuring words to an aging retriever.

The kids woke up the next morning totally oblivious with fresh smiling faces.  “A new summer day! What’s for breakfast? Why is all this stuff in the kitchen? What’s with the toilet paper?”

Rice Krispies, kids. Look under the stairs.  And don’t ask so many questions. Momma’s tired.

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ikewinski/9448689046/sizes/m/in/photolist-foX14Q-85wRwv-foX3AN-8cppEj-a4tVMa-nAH2Jv-abCN9f-abzjJX-5guZs7-a4tUZv-8ruJf8-nSqHHK-abDmSA-4Zp5TE-4Zp671-4ZjSPD-4Zp6zq-4Zp6Qo-8F2Z2N-4ZjS7t-8hpJge-4ohYtR-abC4Lu-abAbTB-abAv1Z-abDaNS-abCRnJ-abzmG2-abzJzv-abzRCx-abyYcz-abCgwN-abA8pF-abDc3w-abzDsZ-abBUbm-abzsyr-abBLVu-abA2XF-abAcxZ-abzLne-abzEwZ-abA6tH-abD7dN-abzUXe-abD8Kf-abCxsC-abCjtG-abC6jm-abD8sf-abyZRZ/

A REVOLUTION [of kindness]

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I’m a Texas girl.  I grew up swimming in bluebonnets and sipping sun tea and trying to whistle a tune on a piece of Saint Augustine grass.  I’d sit on the porch and watch the ants race in neat little lines, and life was a string of hot summer days and sweltering nights. We’d go tubing down the Guadalupe and listen to the cicadas screech and rise each morning with the thought that life was good and holy.  Now that I’m all grown up I eat buttered biscuits with blueberry jam and I dig beef that’s charred around the edges. I somehow know words to George Strait songs.  And I still arise every morning with a renewed hope that life is beautiful. And yet I live in a strange world, where people can’t take people anymore.

It is becoming clear to me that this natural optimism is the result of my own rose-colored brain and not really how the world works.  After all – I don’t have cable and I generally avoid all that nasty division.  But there’s an undercurrent sweeping across our great nation like a flood that’s too great to ignore, and it’s making me uncomfortable.  And scared for the generations below us and for the world we live in.  And downright fed up.  We let ourselves get to this point.  We let ourselves be so ugly to each other.  Simply put, we have lost the ability to be kind.

I say we need a REVOLUTION.  

We don’t need a preacher or talk-show host yelling.  We need a true reforming of our human consciousness so that we can actually communicate with each other about gun deaths or homelessness.  Community health, foreign policy, war, and sexual violence. We need to be able to say “I dislike the President because of his position on certain issues” or “I really do like the President because I believe in his position on certain issues” and then we all meet for coffee at Jo’s and think it’s okay that you wear red / I wear blue because we are not all robots for crying out loud.  Jesus said that of all things giddy and awesome, mostly it was about faith and hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.

And love, my friends, is wrapped up in kindness.  But how are we to be kind to each other if it’s not taught? If it is not a value that is held in high regard in our society? How can we expect our children to know how to do it, for crying out loud, when we all act like raging idiots? Because it’s simply not natural to reach out when it’s hard, and love when it’s not easy, and show consideration in all things.  It throws our instincts upon their head. And yet it’s the charge Jesus laid down.  Hence, a revolution.

A sample facebook post, for illustrative purposes only:

We need to arm teachers and get our damn kids out of these broken homes run by ragged moms and gay couples and it’s only by reforming our society and getting Hitler out of office that we can truly see a change in our schools and I say every teacher in America needs a concealed weapon.

Now you have several choices, depending on your beliefs.  You can: (1) Say “Bravo! You should run for Congress!”; (2) unfriend this person immediately; (2) comment on their post with hateful words you’d not say around your own grandmother; (3) or respond with love.  “But why?” you ask.  “Why would I dignify their comment with something loving and kind when I felt it was offensive and hateful?” This is what I’m talking about.  It’s not just saying you’re going to be kind.  It’s not just about reading this blog and moving on about your merry life. It’s actually doing it that matters.  And to join a revolution means taking drastic measures.  That never mean agreeing or capitulating regarding what you believe is wrong.  It just means being warmhearted and considerate and humane.  Always.  Regardless.  Period.

It’s a revolutionary concept to look into the eyes of someone and say simply, “I don’t agree with you.  But I love you. And I respect you as a human being on this earth.” You can’t change people’s minds.  You can’t carry on an intelligent debate with good solid points because most people have grown too divisive to look at both sides.  But you can say to this person, some random bloke from high school that lives in your hometown, that he’s clearly passionate (as we all should be) about protecting our beautiful, troubled, and innocent children.  And as a country we’ve got to figure this thing out.  That’s what we are all after, isn’t it?  And you don’t agree with his position at all, and think his comments about single mothers and a couple’s sexual orientation and the president were confusing to the issue at hand, and you also don’t believe arming teachers is the answer.  But you know what? Despite the vast differences in opinion, you appreciate him sharing his thoughts, and challenge him to think just a little outside his own box to try and find a solution.  We are going to disagree, but maybe we can all find common ground.  We are Americans.  We all want to keep our children safe.

That’s hard. Because it’s not often met with open arms. It’s often met with some snide response or more of the same.  Or you’re labeled something and called something and all that kindness for nothing. And you want to say “what a putz, man.  I was being so nice.”

Do it anyway. Keep doing it when your face is slapped. Keep doing it when it’s not met with welcomed smiles.  Because it’s not about getting positive feedback. It’s about challenging the established norms that we should yell at each other.  And hide behind an internet screen so we can be nasty.  It’s about putting kindness front and center, as in “I will not respond with hate because I love you as a brother or sister and I will be here, regardless.  I’m not going to unfriend you. You are worthy of respect and although we have vast differences I’ll continue to treat you as I would want to be treated.”

Are you with me? Can we just make small changes in our immediate world, and try to react to hate with love? We cannot put combination locks on every gun in this country.  We cannot ban television or transform people’s minds overnight. But we can be KIND.  It starts here.  Now.  With you, and me, and your Aunt Gracie in Wisconsin.

Soon it will catch on like wildfire, and we will all learn to be respectful, and we’ll try and teach our kids to do the same, and maybe – just maybe – there will be hope for our future generations. And they won’t kill each other in schools anymore but will go back to playing in the sandbox.  There will be less bullying and more kindness shown to the aching. And our beautiful children will sit around on boring summer days watching ants crawl in straight little lines and hum country songs. This is our goal – that we go back to a simpler and more loving place.

We simply don’t have the luxury to ignore Jesus anymore.   

 

Photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gypsydawg/14082144970/sizes/m/in/photolist-nsoF5W-gkyY8-4RaUZX-9XPWfA-7ygm9J-7ycGh4-fArKBp-88bb2r-bZaxNu-arQSus-6UjmQ9-anYDcU-5CVmoy-bA4X6s-bZCcuE-ehof5d-NRTYA-dtZi75-9NZDG3-7yguLs-7ycyEF-7ygzEh-7ygpJy-7ycAxt-7ycB8a-7yfCpS-6U4eRj-cuXBJm-6TTD46-cr25YW-6ERGDD-angBQP-5UBGQi-csPMmm-cv1kby-4xeJep-n3ngdM-jjsQ3c-7ycw1t-7ycvgx-cKDCs1-nwAmY8-euu8DT-5udFwy-5PD5Qz-axh3Mu-9NdC3y-76f3b4-dpNqBQ-asEkJJ-aFQYBX/

heartbroken mondays

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I should be in bed by ten.  I should be at the gym.  I should be more optimistic and use more restraint and quit drinking full-calorie beer.  I have got to cut out the word “I” and perhaps not sit on the floor crying when my three-year-old tells me I’m the worst person ever while sitting in time-out attempting to slam the door closed with his feet. And when I walk out of church because my two kids can’t keep their seats and I glance over to see my daughter humming whilst making a stack of hymnals and my pants don’t fit and I can’t seem to find the energy to even grin and I read about how all these other people are cheerful and in love and snuggling up with hot chocolate and even the television dramas seem saccharine and I’m telling you I want to throw something hard out the window in order to see it shatter.

And then anger bubbles up and the devil whispers in my heart that self-pity’s a salve that will heal, but he’s a damn fool because all he causes is regret in the morning.  So I fire up the stove and stir beef stew because at least meat falls apart with enough pressure. The other day I even burned the cornbread, which is the south’s equivalent to cussing out your mother, because no Texan over the age of twelve burns cornbread, but I just muttered to myself, like well that’s just about right.

But friends, a lot can be done with time and distance.  I know this because a friend once told me that when we have set-backs, we don’t fall as hard and we don’t fall as deep and the coming back is faster.  It’s like our bodies somehow remember before the fall, and are ever striving to return to a peaceful state.

On Thanksgiving, my kids weren’t home.  I lay flat in bed for two hours staring at trees out my bedroom window, letting tears fall.  I begged God to forgive my lack of faith, and my inability to trust in bigger plans.  I regretted my undisciplined, self-centered life.  And yet I rose just the same, and with Nordstrom’s holiday bronzer I made my depression look all sparkly, and I shoved myself into skinny jeans and looped my blond hair around a curling iron and lip glossed my way to brunch with friends.  And it got better.  Mostly because of mimosas and pumpkin pancakes, but let’s not focus on details.

Time and distance.  Self-forgiveness and thankfulness, even when your feelings haven’t caught up.  These things work. So if you find yourself dragging toward Christmas, unsure why you can’t get motivated, feel something lacking in your life, or better yet you’re just flat-out angry, I feel you. Just forgive yourself for today and free up some space to breathe.

This morning, as I was driving my kids to school, I saw the most amazing sunrise.  Clouds swept across the sky like popcorn kernels and the sun spread over them like melted butter.  I pulled over on the side of the road and took my children’s hands.  Poor things – they’re used to this by now.  My daughter just tilts her head to the side, like “Oh how sweet.  Mom’s having a moment.” I told them how much I loved them, and how blessed I was to have them for a short while, and I thanked God for the new dawn.  And then this Presbyterian put her hand up high in the Chevy Tahoe and veered back on the road repeating the name El Shaddai out loud until we reached the carpool line.  My daughter asked if I had some sort of arm-itch issue or whether something was wrong with the rear-view mirror and am I speaking German?  I didn’t even know what the words meant except that I sang it in a childhood song, but the name just exploded from my mouth and was just as obvious as incense in a tomb.  And then my son asked me if God actually speaks, and I told him not in the same language as we do, but he sure can paint, and he nodded.  I watched my kid’s tussled-hair going up and down, up and down, nodding in the car seat and admiring the sky.

So you might need to run.  You might need to sleep more, and eat less.  But I’ll tell you one thing – you really need to quit listening to the lies that your life is stagnant and all hope is gone.  Keep on thanking God, even when you don’t always feel it, because out of nowhere on a Monday on the way to your kid’s school you’ll feel time and distance start to set in, and you’ll crawl slowly back out of the setback hole, stronger than before, and you’ll grin.  Because of the absurdity of non-stop Christmas music (we barely escaped November and I’m only halfway through coffee and nobody cares what Mariah Carey wants for Christmas because she has seventeen pairs of red bedazzled stilettos FOR THE LOVE WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED, WOMAN) and the fact that your daughter thought you were speaking German, and the fact that you bought bronzer with the word “holiday” in the title.  And because we love an amazing, glorious God who never leaves us abandoned.  He throws his might across the sky like a billboard as if to remind us that hope is alive.  Our lives are so worthy.  No worries, girl, if you burn that cornbread again you can always move to Wisconsin, and surely folks there could stand a bit of pep in the winter.

El Shaddai, the sustainer and the destroyer, the One Almighty. Raise your hands and embrace it. Even if it might embarrass your children.  Even if tears run down your face at a sunrise.   Because life’s glorious, my dear friends, even on heartbroken Mondays.

 

Photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/flashcurd/10539675985/sizes/m/in/photolist-h4mAtt-D3QyG-ekqPYs-fLzpRa-7BPWwd-6xiTkG-gBjBqE-gBk64n-cjBY33-gmqbRp-amkT6D-bFjRV-iPhgB-amhDzW-amhLKU-51Pasa-9bQYkg-e8F2vC-8wxFaP-9AE34G-dami2q-73bP1g-7F4vcm-6xeHBv-bngHeu-gW5hDA-c65ws1-d6hYtN-ersgeh-avaoBn-6UH4bS-8uEPsp-8uHSxj-ameTup-amhsQh-ameHuc-amhz9y-amhBQQ-amg7kr-amhHzJ-amhwA1-amhJom-amhH2Q-aQ5dHF-e8VtCm-c5vdbb-wKn4k-a2ZfDg-cKFnM-6LYsq-6pu4h/

 

 

 

 

My Gardening Adventures

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So one day I woke up and decided I’d garden.  As in “how hard could it be / I know the location of the nursery / plants need water and fertilizer and I totally got this” type of thing.  Maybe I should have read a book on the subject first.  But seriously. Who has time for all that.

 

So I gleefully planted rows of peas, cantaloupe, watermelon, and tomatoes.  I planted zinnas and sunflowers, peppers and herbs.  If I was going to get on my hands and knees yanking out Johnson grass all summer, I might as well get some produce in the mix.  I have neighbors to impress, ya’ll.

 

I heard you should mark your plants, or lay out some form of grid, but in my typical impromptu fashion I just planted the melons and yellow squash and zucchini and cucumbers in the same general vicinity, because I’ll totally know from the leaves what they are.  But wait – I’ve never planted them before.  But wait – all the leaves look the freaking same.

 

I bought all my plants from a natural organic nursery here in Austin – a good healthy mix of heirloom varieties, so when the cucumbers turned out looking fat and round I was pissed that I got some goofy variety that nobody in their right mind likes to eat.  I ended up picking one, diced it up, and ate it with oil and balsamic, but it was terrible.  I declared my first batch of cucumbers inedible and totally blamed the plant store for selling me total junk.  I was seething I just didn’t go get veggies at Home Depot, where things turn out as they should.

 

So the other day, I went to pick more peas and noticed that all the ends were growing black.  I rushed off to my organic guru, despite the cucumber disaster, and asked what the heck was happening.  I told him how I’d tended to them so lovingly, provided climbing apparatuses for them to attach to, fertilized the crap out of them, and now they were paying me back with black tips.  “You fertilized your peas?” He looked at me like I was telling a new mother to put Sprite in a baby’s bottle.  I felt stuck in a vortex where other avid gardeners were pointing and staring, like this is a party for legitimates and you’re just a smarmy school girl with braces.

 

Oh crap.  You don’t fertilize peas? Is this common knowledge? He told me I’d created a nitrogen crack habit for aphids, and how I’m now getting a fungus, and I needed to spray and pray and for the love of all that’s worthy read a book on gardening.  Fine already, plant nerd.

 

So when I went to spray the peas, one of my strange heirloom cucumbers had grown larger because I wanted to see how big it would grow, and as I looked closer I was quite amazed.  As it turns out they weren’t cucumbers after all.  They were cantaloupes. I’m not admitting that to anyone.

 

So the lesson to this story is to plant zinnas from seed, because these suckers are totally foolproof, and grow into lovely big-headed flowers in the heat of the summer, so when friends come over you can hand them bouquets, and say you garden, even if you overwater the tomatoes and pick all your melons before they ripen and over-nitrate.

 

Next year, watch out.  I’m reading a book on the subject.

The Day I Tried Out for the College Tennis Team

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My parents were ecstatic to have a tall girl like me on their hands.  There were so many possibilities involving a girl, some form of ball, and a college scholarship.

But reality came crashing down when I dribbled the ball down the court the wrong way and broke both my wrists at the same time in a very polished backward fall. My parents drug me to all kinds of training and practices just to hear coaches say things like “we’ll put her in next time” and “we are winning by twenty, so what the hell.” Soccer required all that running, volleyball required all that depth perception, and they pretty much gave up on me until tennis came along.

Now tennis, I actually liked.  I was terrible, mind you, but I didn’t have people yelling at me or telling me I sucked when it was just me and a wallboard, blissfully mastering the art of backhands with a bucket of balls.   Seeing a glimmer of hope that I might lead a normal life and not become a colossal choir nerd, my parents enrolled me in private lessons.  They drug me across town to the country club with the rich kids so I could attend tennis camp and bought me little tennis skirts with blue and yellow stripes. In the summer, in my tennis skirt, with a private coach, with sweat running down my forehead, I felt special.  I felt athletic.  I finally felt as if I was part of something.

Fast forward to the school year, where I was known as the girl-who-fell-down-a-lot-and-wheezed, and the tennis coach apparently didn’t glom onto my enthusiasm.  I never won a game, I couldn’t keep up with the drills, and my shots looked sort-of like this:

  • Miss (that was weird)
  • Miss (the sun, it was in my eyes)
  • Ball over the fence (looking down at racket, which is clearly strung improperly)
  • Amazing backhand that whizzed over the net cross-court and no one could touch

Forever an optimist, I saw this twenty-five percent ratio as total success. For some reason, even though the tennis coach told me once that “you either have it or you don’t, so as far as you go, please keep singing in choir,” he let me on the team.  Probably because I was a senior, and it was my life goal to get an athletic letter jacket (how else would I display all those music patches?), and because I was a funny girl that made the team laugh.  So I became like the “official team encourager” that went along to all the tennis meets and looked the part.  But no one even asked if I won a game – after a while they were sort-of shocked that I was even in the tournament to begin with.  But golly I tried, and I always kicked the dirt when I lost, and believed I’d do better next time. High school finally ended, the yearbook had a picture of me looking very athletic, and looking back I should have just rested in this glory forever.

And yet.

One day in college, bored and wanting for a date,  I rolled up my sleeves one afternoon and hit the court with a bucket of balls and my old tennis racket.  It was a good stress reliever, the weather was nice and hot, and I was suddenly filled with the sensation that I could actually play.  Maybe I did have talent hidden underneath my goofy exterior that just needed some time to germinate before it finally blossomed like a beautiful flower.

That wasn’t true, of course.  I think it might have been heatstroke.

But my parents always told me I could do anything I set my mind to, so I contacted the athletic department.  I was going to try out for the Texas Tech University Tennis Team.  A school of thirty-thousand students, with athletes who fly across the world to compete? No problemo. Yes, I was available to meet with the coach for an information interview.  Yes, I was more than happy to work out with the team.  And yes, why of course I could play tennis at a very professional level.  State championship?  Well, no.  But I have many, many participation ribbons and a really awesome set of jokes.  That should count for something.

For a month, I got to eat at the athletic dining hall, and made many friends with people from Sweden and Missouri.  I was fascinated by the whole experience and soaked it up with vigor.  I ran laps and said “hell yeah suckahs!” and wore the perfect grimace.  But eventually, I had to hit the ball.  And thus began the comedic efforts of One Who Cannot Actually Play Tennis at the college level, bumbling and missing and having a terrific ‘ol time.  The girl from Sweden just looked at me like I just recently landed on Planet Earth.

The coach was so incredibly sweet, and pulled me aside after a few days to give me the tragic news.  “You didn’t make the team,” she said.  She offered some great advice, like perhaps years and years of lessons.  Or an arm transplant.  Perhaps a racket that hits the balls for you.  Or sticking with choir. I thanked her so much, and hugged the Swedish girl.  I smiled my big Texas smile.  “It’s just such an honor,” I said as I held my hand to my heart and dabbed tears.  But by this time they had turned their heads, back to practice. I was totally that kid on American idol who sounds like metal parts rubbing together that everyone laughs at. Get the crazy girl off the court.

I went on to do fulfilling and wonderful things in college, like being a Resident Assistant in the dorms (is that pot I smell?), singing baroque music (oh beauty, oh harmony), or meeting my friends in the dining hall for chicken strips (the gravy/ it’s divine).  I had a very dorky useless boring amazing college life, and I don’t regret for one day my near-brush with athletic fame and fortune.

I think the lesson to be learned here is to never give up. One day, you may actually realize what you’re good at and quit making a fool of yourself. But what’s the fun in that?

Keep on playing, suckahs. . .

 

photo:

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Goliad

A second novel popped into my head today.  We were driving back from the beach, a hair north of Goliad and a million miles away from our vacation.  My husband was tired, sipping on Whataburger coffee and rubbing his eyes.  I was thinking of the week ahead.  Of laundry and swim lessons.  Of sunscreen and fruit salad. My husband was no doubt thinking of work.  Meetings and time entry and upcoming cases and such.  But there it was, a grand oak tree standing alone in the middle of a field of hay grazer.  A beautiful plot, springing up from nothing.

Sometimes stories are buried, like hidden treasure.  They surface when the wind changes and they start to bore a hole inside of you until they get out.  A story was buried there, outside of Goliad, Texas, where the Texas Revolution first began. Maybe ghosts of fallen soldiers whispered it to me, their words trapped inside twisted mesquite trees, floating around grain silos and rusted barns.  Theirs is a story of a deeply tangled family and what really matters. It all starts with a dying man, and goes from there.

I will write that story.  Amidst the diapers and the “stop throwing a fit right now or there will be no television” lectures and the defensive driving classes and the leftover macaroni-and-cheese.  Somehow I’ll find a way to run upstairs like a quiet attic mouse and start tapping it out. Character by character, chapter by chapter.  Novels aren’t born in a day.  They unfold slowly.  After all, the author has to fill in the color to characters they have only sketched in their mind in charcoal.

I told my husband about it.

“Sounds great,” he muttered.  Sort-of like if I asked him whether my shoes matched my dress or whether he wanted to eat tacos food for dinner.

But this story is beautiful.  I wish others could see it, intricately stamped and burned into my soul like a tooled leather belt.  They will.  Years and years from now, they will.

big apple of ambition

Recently, I friended an old high school acquaintance on facebook who turns out to be a creative director in an amazing ad agency in New York City.  Like Don Draper status with Emmy-winning commercials and fancy ties.  I looked down at myself, sloppy and tired, brushing the cookie crumbs off my pants.

Is this really where I wanted to end up?  Is this the woman I thought I’d be?

My mind was consumed with thoughts of the past as I unloaded the dishwasher.  Memories of television and fake eyelashes and In Touch magazine photo shoots.  People doing my make-up and eating at fancy places I could never afford. I thought of poor Martha Stewart, who didn’t like us much, but had such fabulous collections of things and a bubbly, youthful laugh.  I thought of the endless cabs and the fleeting second of fame and what it was like to feel special in this world.

I yearned to live there, then.  The Big. Ol. City. where the lights were always burning and air thickened in the summer – a mixture of urine and exhaust and pure, uncut talent. “What’s a working girl to do?” I’d say to myself as I rounded 24th Ave, my future yet untold.  Maybe I’d meet my husband for drinks, or coffee, or try that new vegan place uptown. My hair would be blond and my legs lean.  It’s not like everyone can run off to the Hamptons when the temperature rises.  I’d gut it out.  Because I’m a southern girl, and I can handle it.  I’d find my place in that rat race, settling down in a nice hole somewhere, munching on crumbs.

I remember being on an interview, sitting down with a bunch of marketing executives on 6th Avenue, my first child belly-flipping around in my abdomen and making me nauseous.  She was just the size of a bean then.  I think she was trying to tell me something.

My son suddenly awoke from his nap crying, ruining my perfectly good daydream about Dean & Deluca chocolates.  His pacifier had fallen to the floor and tears were streaming from his red, tired face.  The moment I picked him up, his arms curled around my neck like I might leave him forever and this was our one last embrace.  His head of thick, blond hair buried into my chest, and he let out the most peaceful coo.  I stopped what I was doing, carried him to my bedroom, and let him lay on my chest for a solid hour and a half.  He turned his head and sighed and flipped a few times.  I think he was as happy as he ever was in his whole two years of life.  As I lay there, rubbing his back, I let my mind rest on what might have been.  Or what I might have missed.

I chose this life.  You can hear the katydids screeching their evening refrain in the oaks and wonder if the tomatoes are getting enough water.  I eat farm eggs and bake bread on Mondays and hang clothes on the line.  Instead of going to court or summarizing deposition transcripts, I ask my husband about his day.  I make sure the toilet bowls are clean.  I find time to write. It’s the life I wanted, and one I fiercely fought to have.  But it’s not cosmopolitan.  No one cares if you wear designer jeans or have red underbellies to your high-heeled shoes.  No one in Austin even wears high-heeled shoes.  Why would you, when flip flops are much more comfortable, and you’re just headed out for Migas anyway?

My son woke up and we played the tickle game.  I did laundry.  I made macaroni and cheese with a breadcrumb topping.  My son wore one of my old hats and tried to dig ice from a Whataburger cup, which made me laugh.  My daughter and I stayed up late eating warm banana pudding.  My husband was out of town, so I let my daughter cuddle up in our down comforter with me, turning over sometimes in the middle of the night just to touch her arm.  Just to make sure she was still there.

Somehow I don’t think I’d get these memories living in the land of great hopes and expectations.  I’m not sure my soul would be rested enough.  I’m not sure my children would find their way.   It’s not home.  It’s not warm and inviting with room to breathe.

This is the place I want to live.   This is the life I choose.   Thank you, God, for leading me here.  For letting me float inside this quiet peace, amidst the wildflowers and artists and fields of expired ambition, gently blowing away with the wind.  Past the inland sea oats, whispering by the Indian blankets.  Far off into the hot, Texas sky.

Victory or Death

There is a subdivision near my daughter’s school called ”Travis Country.”  We pass by the limestone sign every day, surrounded by verbenas and turk’s caps, shining brightly in the sun.

“Who’s Travis?” she asked one morning. “And why did they name this place after him?”  Despite my various inadequacies, I felt relatively comfortable explaining who this person was that so important to our state’s history.  After all – I was born and raised in Texas.  I grew up forty-five minutes from the Alamo. If anyone could tell her who Travis was, I could.  Here was my very helpful answer:

 

 I think he was a Colonel in the Republic who fought at the Alamo.  Did he wear a coonskin cap?  No, wait.  That was Davy Crocket.  Anywho, it was either he or some other dude that met with a Mexican leader under a tree regarding surrender.  No wait, that can’t be right.  Well I don’t know his first name, honey. But I think his middle name started with a B.

Yes, folks.  That’s it.  Colonel Travis wore a coonskin cap while not dying at one of the biggest battles in Texas history because he apparently morphed his ghost-like dead self into Sam Houston and was busy negotiating a surrender.  Most importantly, however, his middle name started with a B.  Of that, I’m certain.  Well thanks a lot, small-town history teacher.  Thanks a lot.

That night, I asked my husband to better explain it.  His first response was “please tell me you didn’t try.”  What?  Why would he jump to such accusatory conclusions?  I lied and said no, even though I’m very well-versed on the subject and all.  He snickered at that.  So at bedtime,  my husband allowed my daughter to stay up late in order to re-tell the story of William Barret Travis dying in a hard-fought battle against Mexican soldiers, leading a team of outnumbered and starving misfit settlers.  He dramatically drew his hand across the bedcovers to imitate how Lt. Col. Travis drew a line in the sand, urging those who wouldn’t fight-to-the-death to walk away.  No one walked.  They all crossed that line. My daughter sat up with rapt attention.  Please don’t mention the coonskin cap, I thought as I tried to beam it directly into my daughter’s head.  I’ll never live that one down.     

The way my husband wove the tale you’d think it was a work of fiction, with William Travis walking away from a sordid past in Tennessee to find his home in this rugged new place, leading a pack of dirty men, all huddled behind a Catholic mission’s dirt-and-mortar walls.  They all died bloody deaths in the battle of the Alamo, but the Mexican soldiers finally prevailed.  “A woman named Susana Dickenson survived to tell the tale,” my husband said with raised eyebrows.  My daughter breathed in fast. What did she do? Where did she run? Why did they let her go?  The stinging smell of independence hung like fog in the air around her pink covers.  The Battle of San Jacinto.   Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.  The capture and surrender.  Gunsmoke.

I passed the sign again today and it had new significance.  It reminded me of why I live in the great state of Texas, tucked away in the hill country amidst bluebonnets and wild Indian blankets,  the soil fertilized with the blood of those who died for our right to stake a home onto this great land.  The tall, blowing grasses are moistened by their tears, and their yet untold lives whisper to me in the afternoon winds.  This state is special not just because of the stories told today, but of stories long since past.

On February 24, 1836, mere days before the end, Travis wrote to the people of Texas and all Americans in the world, saying “I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna. I have sustained continual bombardment and for twenty-four hours and have not lost a man. . . I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor and that of his country. Victory or death.”

Thank you, William Barret Travis.  For the fight.  For the intensity for which you loved this place.   For drawing that line in the sand.  I thank God for you, for what you did for us so many years ago, and for your unyielding urge to never give up even as solders were climbing the wall and closing in. I salute you, my dear patriot.  Even if it makes people look at me funny while I drive by that sign, in my sweats, possibly talking on my cell phone, on a Tuesday afternoon.

Others might have chosen to walk away – but you?  In that dark day in March, 1836, as you breathed your last breath, you thought not of these things. You thought of victory.