Roots Down

IMG_7861

zinnias from the garden that I pluck by the handful and stick in random jars

I live on a stretch of land between country and town, a tiny little Ranch, Jr. that allows me to carry out my farm-like fantasies but still be close to a Whole Foods and organic strawberries. Without having to grow the strawberries.

And on this tiny patch of earth there is wildness, which I crave. I sit on the front porch and read my books and wish my coffee stayed hot longer. There is a bunny that we call Charlie that lives under the blue plumbago and there are now little tiny bunnies that hop around underfoot. We call them all Charlie, the little ones Charlie’s babies. This Fall we will have chickens.

When I come up the walk I often spook a deer or a lizard or another one of Charlie’s babies, and they all go scattering off like I am some monster that might hurt them. I want to say to them that I’m safe, that I am not going to step on their heads, that I come in peace. Unless they are cockroaches and then they should fear me.

And it made me think of humans, how fragile we are, how we scatter. It made me see humanity as one long sinewy collection of muscles, drawn taught with the impulse to run at the sound of footsteps, spooked by the haunting of guns and the constant fear of something.

Drugs make people jumpy. The body is dependent on something that their brain is telling them they need. People who are in love or desperate make irrational decisions. Even rather harmless things like sugar or the happy rush of being on stage or the feeling of lightness when we are winning at something can cause that feeling of loneliness when it retreats. Jumpiness when that something is not around. The good and the bad are all jumbled up together and we just want to run and hide, covering ourselves with blankets or bullets to the temple or pills. We almost crave hollowed-out lives so we don’t feel anymore and can quit running.

I went walking down the street where I live, where few cars drive. I watched all the wild around me, flying and hiding, soaring and slinking. A deer ran into the bushes. A gecko slid by. Birds fought each other like knights in the trees, oblivious to me.

I say I like the wild. And yet I walk through spider’s webs, their sticky lace atop my face, in my mouth, attaching to my arms. I prick my fingers when I pluck the agarita berries from the bushes. I’m always avoiding bugs on the tomato plants. When one flies at my face or there’s a red wasp I let out a little shriek because it surprises me and I am scared. Imagine, scared of a little wasp.

We are all like this, wanting the wild but running away. So afraid of things. Running out of money. Being mediocre. Not being loved enough. Losing at something. Failing at our marriage. Letting down our kids. Worried of what people might think of us. Feeling trapped in the mainstream. Wanting to be different.

And I am reminded that Jesus is the great calmer of the waters.

So many people think I’m crazy with my Jesus stories, this God of mine who lets bad things happen. This religion of mine who casts judgment and hurts people. And I am sorry that the world has offered this screwed up opinion of some rage-filled maniac. That is not the God I know. Like anything, religion is cooked up from a batter of jumpy anxious people and can be just as toxic if eaten.

It’s God that I love. The God that loves all, comes down to Earth for all, weeps for all, simply does not care what you look like or how dark your skin is or who you love or even what awful sin you’ve done that you are trying to escape from. We run from God because of our own inner shame, but it’s futile. It’s all seen, there’s no need to run. We will grow weary soon enough. True love is what holds us when we are searching for something we cannot find. We don’t have to use fancy words. We don’t have to be eating scoops upon scoops of religion. We simply recognize love where we find it, and in God there is love. And then we can stop and breathe deeply for the first time and quit hiding behind bushes.

At my wedding I handed out little brown packets of zinnia seeds, years and years ago, because of how hearty they are in the Texas heat and how I wanted to represent how strong marriage was. How fruitful we’d be, how beautiful when planted. Like I could guarantee security in a party favor. That was before Pinterest even, so go ahead and vomit at how nerdy that was. The marriage crumbled. I still plant zinnias. Go figure.

We are always wired to run. But don’t. Stand somewhere and listen to the wind around you, feel the sun on your face, the voice of truth in your heart. Stop being afraid. It’s just the drugs of earth and media and confused religious people telling you that you are not enough, when you are. You are God’s beloved, a wild and wonderful poem woven inside of a soul. A beautiful unique person with stories only you can tell. Don’t let this world make you hide who you are.

I live on Ranch Jr. and dodge the red wasps and wave to Charlie’s babies. I get in my car toward Whole Foods to buy strawberries. I still want to hide sometimes, from blended families and future teenagers and the thought of debt or moving or some other thing, but I’m working on it. Every day is another chance to breathe deeper, go slower, plant my roots down.  I’m learning to be grateful for the awareness of love.

A Texas Childhood

IMG_7171

Texas highways are bursting with the signs of Spring. There are fields awash with bluebonnets, poking their brilliant blue heads among the leaves as if a grand welcome to a big a country fair. There are daisies and Indian Paintbrush and other wildflowers that only old people know the names of. And I’m okay with that. I like to say instead “why look at those pretty yellow flowers” even though I know they are only dandelions.

I’m proud to be raised here, in this land of freedom and independence. We carry both handguns and chewing gum in our purses, and use a lot of hairspray and double negatives. I was in particular thinking about how my family would all head to the Kerrville Arts and Crafts Fair when I was young, to listen to bluegrass music and look at all the handmade rolling pins and water pitchers painted with sunflowers. We’d gnaw on ears of buttered corn and wander around the booths, saying “what a pretty gemstone necklace” or “well isn’t this a cool picture of a cow.”

I had a great childhood, apparently filled with lots of rolling pins.

I wonder sometimes what my children will look back upon and remember. Am I the only one who wonders what legacy is set forth? Why just yesterday, we went to the garden to pick out some carrots and potatoes for our dinner, which we lovingly picked and cleaned and chopped and added to the pan. However, since I planted too late in the year, the carrots are only about the size of a pencil, the potatoes big enough for a large family of field mice. But I pretended we had enough and supplemented with vegetables I purchased at Whole Foods, hoping no one noticed. Will they remember nights of roasted chicken and vegetables, fresh from our garden? Dear God I hope so. Why else do I go to the trouble?

I think as parents we work so hard to create a world for our children that’s safe and happy, filled with trips to theme parks and birthday parties and nature walks through the woods. But what they want most of all are not memories of their mother listening to Lyle Lovett or singing loud or cooking sweet potato biscuits, but a place where they can be fully themselves. A place where they don’t have to look nice, be someone special, or meet some high threshold the digital world places upon them.

Kids want a warm place to rest their soul when it’s weary, so they can actually grow. That can be in the city, or in the mountains, here on our little stretch of Texas soil. And whether you plant your vegetables or buy them, kids don’t care. As long as they can curl up in your arms, and you tell them about how they were born and loved, about how wonderful they are to you, and how you’ll never ever leave, even when it’s hard. That’s home, regardless of what flowers are blooming in the fields or how large the vegetables. Because these kind of seeds are internal, rooted deep.  This kind of childhood provides a strong future for our children, evidenced by branches of love for others, gratitude for the earth, and thanks to God.

This is the childhood I want mine to remember. One where they eat loads of roasted carrots from Whole Foods and think I grew them.

Biting the Big Apple

6504440557_4c4fcff136

I have a wonderful life.  My two children are smart and loving, beautiful and inquisitive.  My home is a rock fortress atop acres of cedar and oak and native grasses, with a garden and pathways and a porch with large rocking chairs. I sit alone so many nights and marvel at the screeching of cicadas and how they interplay from tree to tree, rubbing their wings together.  I drink strong coffee with cream on Saturday mornings while watching the cardinals hop and flit and turn their little red pointed heads towards the west.  And when the sun peaks I set out the tea pitcher steeped with handfuls of mint to warm.

And yet in the midst of this very good life I grow weary.  There is so much to shoulder.  So many burdens.  I desire the freedom of my youth, when I grabbed the last cherry popsicle from the box and jumped through sprinklers.  I laughed at jokes and washed my hair for dates and celebrated a new year with cheese dip and sparkling apple juice with my parents.  Life is more complicated now.  More heartbreaks and bills.   More decisions that matter. More life behind you than ahead. And the stifling Texas heat? It can flat-out drain you.

When you live in a place that fuels your soul but your heart is empty, where do you turn? Only one place works to recalibrate my nerves and it beats like a drum like a chorus like a lover like a friend like a sweet bite of cake and a jeweled ring. Don’t look back.  Don’t stop to think about it.  Fly to the place where you can breathe.

New York City.

So I planted myself on an airplane seat and lifted through the air to a different kind of freedom.  Through tunnels and between steel that rises and when I cobbled along the streets I inhaled urine mixed with exhaust and rotten garbage and the whiff of 5th avenue perfume and Wall Street hair grease and overdrunk hydrangeas in Battery Park.   And when I unpacked and unloaded, I laced up my practical shoes and I walked.  I walked and walked and walked until my calves ached.  And slowly the burdens lightened, and the emptiness filled in, and a smile of a different sort flowed inside the empty spaces.

There is a magnificent heart to this city.  It’s full of promise and buzzing with life where you eat at 10 pm and meet beautiful strangers and walk alone in bars and wander into antique bookstores and land in French bistros at 9 am on Fridays.  People are struggling to find their voice, and yet there is so much talent pouring over the various facets of this town that it mixes like chocolate into milk, swirling.

I went a few days early for a legal conference with no plans except to eat puff pastry at Balthazar and sip on espresso.  I sat on the second row at the Ambassador theatre, watching beautiful people sing and kick their legs and do remarkable things with their bodies.  I clapped loud and got all teary at the energy they spent on practice and everyone was probably laughing at this poor sap from out of town wearing heels.  In intermission I stood at the back alone and smiled a crooked smile, for this is a place I have lived and loved before in another life.

I returned home strangely full.  Full of life and tall handsome dinner dates.  Of strangers and dancing.  Of crispy pork and snap peas and current scones with raspberry jam. And back in the land of reality I faced four-year-old tantrums and a daughter who rolled her eyes and loads of laundry and dishes with cemented oatmeal residing in bowls.  And yet it wasn’t burdensome. I took in waves of breaths and dug in.  I sat on my front porch sipping my coffee with cream, thinking about sun tea steeped with mint.  I think I’ll have a cherry popsicle and dance in sprinklers and toast a new year with my parents eating cheese dip. Maybe I’ll wash my hair for dates and start again.

Oh the city, how I love you. And my home, how I treasure you.  The juice runs down my cheeks, cool and sweet.  I pluck you fresh from the tree, your red skin shining, and put you in a basket.  And in my sundress I carry you back lovingly toward home.

 

photo:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/willvision/6504440557/sizes/m/in/photolist-aULXyR-nzKKkx-nJ7qCY-dB98wX-ckrBp-nzKbDy-nV4JvG-5LyyN1-5RQG8F-4ZdeN6-djS26t-doShWN-eywR12-6AWCSu-7ckF1L-9sxhSe-nJgp1o-9fU77p-9gbdd9-dBSGdb-5JKjBT-nU1WrD-d66EfY-ffVQii-9sW8dA-9hwYCv-fi5can-nqeNjn-8dJXQX-dnFkgb-9QU2Es-dsprTX-9SmDmV-gxcw1i-7euQD4-dq9zTY-keg6ky-fBGYjA-9hrSuF-83Lwi-6HCVKX-doHLZT-3XxpkD-dDhJD7-6FEsHS-4TQZoA-5YZPdJ-9hv14o-4YPfti-9hA4Ku-816P1/

A Guide to Storm Preparedness

9448689046_5fd019a566

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/

The Day I Tried Out for the College Tennis Team

7817107614_e2b711db4e

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:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/skelastic/7817107614/sizes/m/in/photolist-cULHKu-cR6eqN-cULMNC-cULMnC-cR6eKb-cULRUL-cULV9Y-cR82Lm-cULK1A-cR6cTY-cULTib-cULVFq-cULP7E-cR83Kf-cULJQw-cULTBY-cULUuj-cR6ecm-cULQFh-cULS5J-cR834q-cULK9U-cULLT1-cULNDG-cULQfb-cULRdw-cULMZ5-cULU5j-cULQ8C-cULT8y-cR81Qm-cULLLY-cULKPo-cULLsC-cULM47-cULRGs-cULSpf-cULRxq-cULVkd-cULNYm-cULVSC-cULMCu-cULKYC-cULLAC-cULSg5-cULUHh-cR7Xe7-cR7Wz9-cULNtq-cULQYq-cULJBw/

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.

New makeover, Fiji style

I’m trying to be sensible these days.  We operate on a budget, we try to not dine out, and I quit buying Fiji water.  Even though it tastes like rain from heaven.  Even though I, alone, was probably supporting the entire island’s economy with my water slogging.  And it made me feel all rich and fancy carrying around those square bottles.

But now, all that’s changed.  I darkened my hair.  I need to lose ten pounds.  I drive a messy mom car and always forget to pluck my eyebrows. My appearance is becoming slowly mundane and dreary. I went to Target to find myself some new clothes, and thought to myself that those little shirts they sell up in there are pretty darn cute.  Tiny little flowers actually affixed to the knit?  Capri pants with drawstring waists?  Brilliant!

It’s Target, people.  I need an intervention.

I used to wear flashy jeans and maintain dark tans.  My hair was blond against my long back and I’d cackle with overly-white teeth. Now, I’m lucky to get a pedicure when my mother-in-law comes to town.  I’m convinced those Vietnamese ladies are not talking about soap operas but instead laughing about my calloused, dark heels. Maybe I was just being paranoid and they were complimenting my new shirt.   You know, the one with the tiny flowers.

I think it’s time for a makeover.  And some exercise.  Today, I found myself eating a hot dog for lunch.  It was organic, but still.  No adult needs to be eating a hot dog unless this person is at the ball park drinking a beer wearing a large oversized nerf hand.

Strike that.  Under no circumstances should anyone really be eating a hot dog.

I’m sick of feeling self-conscious in tight-fitting t-shirts and feeling like I have frumpy hair.  I have great hair.  So today, it ends.  I washed my car even though a rainstorm is coming.  I cleaned out the clutter and went through my house wiping and dusting.  I’m going to figure out how to start working out, even if I’m down on the floor doing push-ups to a Jane Fonda video.  I don’t think I’ll ease back into the cackling, no matter the condition of my teeth. That just sounds weird and witch-like.

So from this day forward, I’m going to steal back the woman I know is inside of me, aching and yearning to escape.  I want to feel strong and powerful again, not lumpy and soft with mouse-brown hair drinking tap water in my kitchen.  Where is the glory in that?  I might have to take on a part-time job to afford all that fancy water and highlights, but it will be worth it.  I’m cleansing.

My two-year-old probably won’t notice the impending change.  My husband might.  But Fiji certainly will.   It’s really all about the island people, after all.  I’m doing this for you.

xoxo,

Amanda

P.S.  I have no idea where Fiji is.  I should know this, since they inspired my new resolve.

P.P.S.  The more I think about it, they don’t give two rips if I’m blond.  As long as I buy their water, I could be bald with bad teeth for all they care.   That’s disappointing to think about.  I thought we had something.

P.P.P.S.  I looked it up.  Fiji is northwest of New Zealand.  As it turns out, they are looking for a tall blond woman with an occasional southern twang to lead their nation into a new and bright economic era.  Floral shirts are a plus, but not required. Who knew?  Who freaking knew?!

P. . . S.  I’m moving to Fiji. Don’t bother to call.  I’ll be working out.  Or eating a hot dog.  One of the two.

Texas Forever

I’ve been around a few places.

I’ve traveled enough in the Pacific Northwest to know that ferns grow rich and heavy underneath huge pines, and wild elderberries won’t kill you if you can stand the sour taste.  I’ve ridden many a ferry from Seattle to Whidbey Island, feeling the salty air on my neck and sipping strong, rich coffee.   Kiwi grows on the island like big fat grapes and the ground is always soggy.

I’ve dug my toes into the beaches of Aruba and the Florida Keys and Jamaica and San Diego, the faint smell of coconut lotion lingering in my nose.  I like pina coladas and sushi and Red Stripe if it’s very cold.  I like sitting on beaches – any beaches, really – and allowing myself to become hypnotized by the waves.  My hair is bleached by sun and sand, and a bronze always hits the top of my forehead and colors my cheeks.

There’s nothing like the richness of Maine, dipping hunks of fresh lobster into clarified butter and sipping on champagne, or sailing in the cold waters off Camden.  Folks vacationing there seem richer and older, with pink polo shirts, collars turned upward, and light blue deck shoes that can slide off for the boat shows.  There are jewelers and carpenters and blanket companies that ship in their wool from faraway places.

I love being nestled in the Rocky Mountains, with a fire and a book and hot tea and anything containing green chilis.  The smell in the air is striking and thin and when you go for a walk, you temporarily forget there’s a place back home.  Our family survived a blizzard once, afraid our children would die and we’d run out of chips and beer.  My husband stayed up all night feeding logs into the one fireplace and taping up windows.  Ah, memories.

But despite everywhere I might travel, I’m a Texas girl.

It’s not that Texas is better than these other places.  I think Upstate New York in early summer is about the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.  I just want to crawl under the patchwork soil that stretches out for miles atop rolling hills and take a nap, drawing the sweet alfalfa around my shoulders and breathing in all that fresh-cut hay.

And give me New York City any day, my friend.  I think everyone should live in the city long enough to absorb the sound of honking cabs as just background noise, like the evening news or a commercial break between Law & Order.  I like to hear the sound of my high-heeled boots clicking along the pavement and I turn up the collar of my wool coat to ward off the chill.  I love Christmas windows and those silly dancing Rocketts.  I am amazed that in the center of so much commerce, tulips burst into bloom in Central Park in the Springtime.   And Dean & Deluca?  Bury me in that store, people.  Just dig up a patch of concrete close to the truffle oil and stick me under.

But then there’s Texas.  Home sweet home. I like to offer people pie and sweet tea and think everything can be reduced to a jelly or preserve or be covered in a flaky crust.   I have yet to bake an okra pie, but I ain’t afraid of tryin.  It’s different than just saying you’re from the South. The south reminds me of big ‘ol cotton plantations and lush greenery.  I’m talking about Texas.  Cotton fields here are long rows of dust in the drought years, especially the dry-land variety, and after the harvest it looks like a brown graveyard, with a few strands of stray cotton clinging to the stalks like surrender flags.

Texas is raw and gritty.  Texas has dirt and longhorns and people really do pick themselves up by their bootstraps.  Hard-working Hispanics infiltrated Texas with good, greasy Mexican food, and folks down here like their barbeque hot and sometimes spicy.  Men are kind.  They open doors and stand when a lady walks into the room and remove their hats in church.  The only fancy shoes you’ll see around here are Luccheses and there are more family potato salad recipes than you can possibly imagine (I have my four personal favorites).  Women don’t think it’s degrading to stay home rearing children and puff their chests with pride over things like blue-ribbon tomatoes and peach cobbler. They aren’t second-class citizens; they work too dang hard to help keep the family unit well-oiled to sit around worrying about their status.

I love being a Texan.  I’m a “ya’ll come back” kind of girl and my dreams come dressed with fluffy biscuits and fried bacon.  Us Texas girls aren’t easily dissuaded, which makes us good at things like law and politics and firing weapons. I think most people are just generally scared of a state that was once its own republic.  We own guns.  We own bibles. We ain’t afraid to use em.

But all hee-haw’n aside, Texas has a certain kindness, like fields of bluebonnets swaying in the breeze.  Folks are always willing to lend a hand, and when you get right down to it, the people really aren’t as closed-minded as the rest of the country thinks.  The morals are to be respectful of other people’s land.  To preserve the goodness of nature the way God intended.  To lift a hand to those underprivileged, and to give of our bounty to those in need.  Texans have heart and raw emotions.  They bleed and they sweat and they pry their dry, dusty boots off with a hard-earned sigh at the end of the day.

I suppose you can’t take the Texas out of this girl.  I love visiting the city.  I’m all over that Maine vacation.  But most of the year, I’ll just settle here in our limestone place with a big porch, listening to the rain pelt down on the metal roof or the cicadas hissing in the summertime, and thank the Lord Jesus he set my feet here so many years ago to start sprouting roots.  I’m now firmly entrenched to this patch of America, sipping sun tea in my rocking chair, complaining about the heat.  If you want to find me, come to the place where people live their dreams big and smile even bigger.

Ya’ll come to see me anytime.  I’ve got a jelly with your name on it.