Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Promises, Promises

The promise given was a necessity of the past:  the word broken is a necessity of the present.  
Niccolo Machiavelli

I will never have a fake Christmas tree. 

Here it is. Fake in all its glory. Opened the box, took it out in two pieces, plugged it in. Nobody complaining because we had to drive 50 miles and walk acres and acres to find the perfect tree. Nobody swearing while trying to get it straight in the tree stand. Nobody GDing while stringing all the lights. No needles to pick up by hand because the vacuum won't suck them up.

Instant Christmas tree.

I have always, going back as far of my 55 years as I recall, promised I would never have a fake tree. A Promise. A word of honor - an oath, pledge, guarantee, commitment. All those fancy words for 'You can count on me.'

Well, hell. Doesn't seem to bother anyone else around this household, so why should it bother me? I think it's kind of pretty. LED lights and all. So pretty, that the ornament boxes haven't even come out of the garage yet. And they might not. The only thing on there is a pretty crown I picked up years ago and the angel oldest son, Jacob, made 24 years ago.

Bob has an ornament, of course.
And there are 9 candy canes on there. I ate one.

I'm thinking that is all I can muster this year. With the passing of my mother this past fall, I've pacified myself by substitute teaching and making lists of things to do for Christmas. Gifts, bread making, wrapping, contributions, food for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Cards and letters written and sent. (Some long overdue thank yous.)

But for some reason getting the ornaments on the tree just seems too tedious. All those little things seem just too much for me. Even Ian came home from university and said, "We don't have to put all the ornaments on it, do we?"

No, we don't. Worked for me. I didn't even put up many of the other Christmas decorations. It does look festive around here, but in a milder manner.

I did, however, order a new dove for my tree. Rather ironic as I think about it. Bear with me as I tell this story.

My mother never left much in regard to instructions for her funeral. I don't think she much cared what happened to her body after death. My older brother, Jon, handled the arrangements at the funeral home while I - well, I don't quite remember what I was doing. Getting everyone gathered. Going through paperwork. Funding it. Anyway, I was grateful for his handling of that aspect. The only thing my mom ever told me was that she wanted white doves released at her graveside.

A few years ago she called to tell me she had talked to a woman for hours all about it. And when we discussed my dad's funeral arrangements last year, she told my brothers that she had told me she wanted that at hers. I promised to do it. Promised.

When my brother went off to the funeral home with a myriad of details to fulfill, I reminded him of the doves. I couldn't find the name of the lady my mom had spoken to but the funeral home had a guy. They said the dove guy would meet us at the graveyard.

As things go, you know, we did the nice service at the church (my mom would have complained that it was much too long), proceeded to the graveyard where my older brother and I were met by a guy under dressed for a funeral with a squat cage of birds. He handed us a well worn laminated sheet with three poems on it. "Which one you want me to read?" he said. My fast reading eyes decided then and there that I should have had a little more hands on for this part. I couldn't get past that they all sounded rather cheesy. I chose the least tawdry just as my brother pointed to the most trite.

Whatever, was my thought. But when the time came, the man said he didn't usually get requests for two birds - either one or an entire flock. I guess I was thinking my mom and dad when I requested two. For some reason, that revved the old guy up. He said the most lovely words repeating the unusual request and that this was a love story. Bill and Bernie flying off together.  As my oldest and youngest brothers passed in front of my husband and me, birds in hands, I closed my eyes to what I saw - and decided to lift that sight from my mind and just imagine two lovely doves. My husband, however, does not have the creative imagination I do - nor the ability to always keep his mouth closed.

"They're GD pigeons, " he blurted out.

Thank you, Bob.  Of course they weren't beautiful doves. Of course they were ratty old white carrier pigeons. Just pretend, Bob. I promised.

As I stood there gulping down  the promise I'd made,  I couldn't help recall how much my mother detested pigeons. When I was a little girl living on 18th Street, the mothers  used to sit out on the front stoops while the kids played outside. Pretty soon I'd hear a few screams, look over to see Joey Costa's big brother's pigeon swooping at the women's heads as they sat on their steps. Joey's brother no where in sight.

The poor bird only wanted to sit on the light above their front doors and if left alone, probably would only have done that, but imaginations run and I think Hitchcock's The Birds was out at the time and women and their tall, teased hairdos and well, you know...

My mom would scream, "Joey Costa. Go get your GD brother and tell him to get his GD pigeon back in its cage right now or we'll have that GD bird killed."

I don't know whatever happened to Joey Costa, or his brother's bird, but for years after, my mom loved to watch cardinals, carolina wrens, finches and robins while they ate at her feeders. She called to those freebirds she discovered in the wild. But if one dared swoop at her, they were the devil incarnate.

So there's the irony in that. My mother was scared enough of pigeons to GD the poor little neighbor kid's older brother and his bird. Good thing she was dead when the pigeons were released to symbolize love at her funeral.

The birds were very eager and pretty when they flew off toward their home. Everyone oohed and ahhed. But I guess I didn't handle that promise very well. I did, however, put a really pretty fake dove on my fake tree that I also promised I would never have. Does that help?

Believe it or not, I have many other stories to tell from my mother's graveside ceremony - like fireworks wars, champagne toasts, and that tombstone that sort of got knocked askew. Perhaps another day.

Merry Christmas everybody. I promise.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What to Do, What to Do...

The best thing one can do when it's raining is to let it rain.  
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As many of you know, we've had a drought in Texas this year. Lately - a few intermittent days of rain. This past weekend, cold and rain dominated the forecast. I relished its arrival.

How does one spend a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon during Christmas season? Hmmmm.

Stay in bed. Surround yourself with hundreds of catalogs (that have your postman hating your guts), a laptop, and a credit card. Start and complete all Christmas shopping while tucked in the warmth of a comforter.
Get the bread machine going while getting out of bed to make a new cup of tea.
Keep it going, all day long. The scent of a sweet bread filling the house. Oh, yeah. Switch from tea to wine and get your journal out.
Relish the beauty of the loaves before wrapping them to give to your friends. 
Set up the tree.

Go downstairs and watch the Green Bay Packers.
 Prrrrfect day.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Roll Tide

I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am.
Sylvia Plath 

Roll Tide. Rolling tide. Rolling. Been a while since I've posted, but I am still rolling. Not certain it is a clean roll. Lots of undertow in the tide.

As many have experienced, a death in the family often produces a fog that blocks the roads ahead. Thought processes muddle or become stagnant. For me, both true. Varied thoughts all the time and  gathering them into a cohesive plan for life action has taken time. Not to say I'm all organized now, for that sure as hell ain't true (nor never possibly has been.) But I do have a new list of action items - things that must get done. It is a start.

"Write a new post" on my list. Here we go.

This is what $230 will get you for a seat at an Alabama game - one that also includes the #1 and #2 team.

Last summer, when we chose to attend the Alabama/LSU football game, we had no idea that by the time the game rolled around, these two would be the top two teams in the nation (or that our tickets had tripled in price.) Oh, what fun. We drove the 11 hour drive to Tuscaloosa and invaded our youngest son's spotless apartment. (I mean - that boy DID learn how to clean a bathroom when he lived at home.)  His three roommates were thrilled to have us spend a couple of days there. Such nice boys.

 The night before the game, we began tailgating on campus. Never had I seen such a set up - not at a Michigan State, Texas, Colorado, Michigan, Texas A&M, etc. game. Thousands of tents. Countless RV's set up everywhere from fields on campus to the shopping malls. 175,000 people milling about.

The fun began - early morning. A rare open space here.
 There we were, a couple of former Yankees in the deep South.

Even the ESPN guys were there.

Throngs of people.

The streets jam packed all day long.

One of the many, many RV parking lots.

According to some, watching the game on TV was the equivalent of the Boring Bowl. For those present, Alabama's loss in this defensive struggle, 9-6, was most intense to sit through. 
Best thing? Good chance  these two teams will meet again for the National Championship.

Other than being with youngest son, best thing about the trip?

Stopped in New Orleans on the way home. Husband finally got to garner the experience. Made him stand here for the traditional photo.

I won't have to listen to him whine about never being there, anymore.


I've pretty much felt like this big block of ice for the past couple of months. Losing your mom is an odd thing to process.
I believe I've broken off from the big pile and find floating has unstuck me some. Hoping for a bigger melt real soon. The fog has lifted and offers a path.

To all of you who have written me and to all who left such lovely comments on my mom's last blog post at Old? Who Me?, please accept my heartfelt thanks.

Roll Tide!

Monday, October 17, 2011


a support placed at the end  of a row of books  to hold them upright, usually used in pairs.

Twenty-four years ago I moved to Texas -- seven months pregnant and the mother of a two year old. Pregnant, I wasn't exactly an ideal job candidate. Home with the first child and then a new baby was unfamiliar territory for me, the working girl. Each day I listened to the lady across the street drive away to work and was extremely jealous. I began another day of uncertainty, trapped in a house in a new town with two babies and no friends.

My mom and dad arrived in town shortly after the birth of the second child to help me for a couple of weeks. My husband, very serious about his career, worked long days and I appreciated the help my folks gave me.

However, mothers can be mothers. One afternoon she walked with my two year old to the neighborhood park. At home, the baby napped and I took one, too. Next thing I awoke to was my mother standing beside me.

"Come outside," she said. "I want you to meet someone."

My heart collapsed. I felt like I was five again. I recalled this scene from my childhood to the detail. My mother had found a friend for me. For me, the shy, little girl who couldn't find her own friends. My mother waltzing on air to introduce me to my new friend -- and me, wanting to hide in the bathroom.

I trudged out to the driveway where a young woman my age stood beside a minivan. "This is Rebekah," my mom said. "She gave us a ride home from the park."

I stood in the yard, shuffling my feet back and forth, blushing I'm certain, saying my hellos. My mother's new friend had two children -- a beautiful little blonde girl about two with a mad look on her face and a boy of three, who whipped out the pistols in his gun belt and shot me.

Suffice to say, 24 years later, that little boy with the guns is now getting a Masters in Creative Writing at a London university and "Mad Maddy" is madly in love in Vancouver. Rebekah and I are still friends and from that union a grand group formed -- the Bunco Bitches.

I have my mom to thank for that.

Rebekah and I met the rest of our motley crew while pushing our kids in the swings at the park. We weren't always bitches, but we are now. We don't necessarily remember anyone's birthday with any consistency. We all have different professions, friends, and activities that keep us apart except for once a month on the second Tuesday when we gather to eat and drink and yack. We haven't played bunco in over 12 years. But we are who we are and when we get together, there is no pretense. We put up with each other just because.

Being together for so long, it is kind of like home. We take each other in no matter what. Very often, it is the safest place I know to go.

In September, I hosted Bunco Bitch LakeFest. I knew at that time my mom was having great difficulty and that her life would change very soon. I didn't know she was to die, but I knew we were headed on a new journey. I'm uncertain exactly what my mother's journey may now be, but I know mine is rather emotionally-wracked at the moment. Most fortunate for me LakeFest served as the left bookend to the beginning of the past month and Bunco Bitch BeachFest bookended the right.

This weekend, Rebekah hosted the BeachFest at the Gulf Coast. I must say, Friday afternoon after our arrival, I sat up on the Bird's Nest deck of her beach house and with the sea before me and a slew of ships and sailboats coming in and out of the harbor, I took the first breath I'd taken in quite a few weeks. Glass of spirits in my hand, sunshine overhead, a clear view before me, I couldn't think of any place more comforting at that moment.

So, must share. Lake first, then the beach.
Remember the Recreation Station? It had blown down the lake so this crew swam down and retrieved it. Notice the supervisor on the right.

Not quite as comfortable as we'd hoped.

Naps allowed.
Reading garbage
Eat, Float, Drink
Graceful Rope Swing Entrance


View from the Bird's Nest - the path to the Gulf of Mexico
Bitches at Work
Chair Yoga

See us way out there?
Show Off

Now, onto the next bookshelf.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Soaking for A While

"And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter and sharing of pleasure. For in the dew of little things the heart finds it morning and is refreshed. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Downside to Writing - Life

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.

Ray Bradbury

I'm writing my second novel. For about six years now. Back in July, I isolated myself - Butt in Chair - for an entire week in an effort to recover and organize the work I had only touched a few times in the past few years. I had success. I whittled down 50,000 words to 36,000, organized my notes, made new ones, adjusted my characters' needs, wants, thoughts, and paths. Silenced my writing friend's swinging whip and sent off a new chapter by week's end.

With brief interludes caused by real life, I now have 46,000 (goal 80,000 - 90,000) words and a main character long past stuck in a wheat field in South Dakota. She's now in Montana, further entrenched. More important, I've figured out my antagonist's secret. Knew she had one, just wasn't sure exactly what it was.

I love it when my mind is in the scenes on my pages and the day sweeps by like only a few minutes. It takes so long to get into that mind frame, yet only a moment for it to go away and a complete disconnection to occur while my two worlds attempt to rejoin.

Stepping back from the lives I've created in my writing and running smack dab into the people I live and socialize with catches me off guard. Like I'm caught floating from cloud to cloud, dilly dallying the day away. In my world of fiction writing, my characters are bigger than life, where they do and say things I never would have the guts to do or say. When I live in their world, I am someone else.

The shift to Earth is not easy as words - in verbal format - fail me. Most often, they come out damn wrong. My real world becomes one I don't fit into - like getting a large octagon through a small oval. Makes me want to stay in my written world. Much easier when I'm controlling everything - if that makes any sense.

Ever feel that way? And not just in regard to writing?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Stations of Recreation

Pleasure is the bait of sin.

Around the second week of August, before Ian, aka Bama Boy, went back to school, we had some wind out at the lake accompanied by a faux rainstorm. My husband, Bama Boy, and I all sat in the living room looking out the window, thinking if it weren't so hot, 104 degrees, we might go swimming. Ian then noticed something large, that wasn't a boat, floating across the lake. We traded the binoculars to see that coming our direction was a renegade party barge. A Recreation Station.

Perfect. We were pumped. It was my birthday weekend. Oldest son Jacob and wife, Chelsea, were headed out to the lake for a special dinner. What could add to the weekend more than a place to sit, chat, slip off and swim, and float while celebrating?

The barge was due to land a few houses down at the point, so being the neighborly folks we are, Ian drove his truck down there and pulled it from the water as it hit shore.

Bob and Ian pondered their find.

Certainly they could stick it in the garage, clean it up, and next year put it out in front of our place like it was ours.

Or, we could anchor it out by our dock so that its true owners could find it while they swept the lake in search of their detached property.

Decided that was the more neighborly of the two choices. But we figured as long as it was anchored at our place, we could use it. Right? Make sure it stayed in working order?

Just as Bob and Ian hauled it out to the end of the dock and put together an anchor to secure it, a jet ski came up along the shore. The three of us swore, to ourselves, for surely these were the owners. Of course they were.

They pointed out where they lived down and across the lake and said we could come use the float anytime we wanted. We wondered if drinks and dinner were included, but we only nodded and retreated to the house, watching our Recreation Station bob along the waves back to its home. Our eyes teared up.

This past Sunday, the wind arrived at the lake. Big wind from Tropical Storm Lee. We had guests for the weekend and that night we spent our time on the dock, enjoying the cooler temperatures (92) offering relief from over 80 days of 100+ temperatures. White-capped waves crashed at the shore and the wind blew with wild abandon. One friend played the guitar and the rest of us sang along or drank our wine and talked. Over the wind, I heard my husband call out.

"Julie, look at this."

Lo and behold, guess what floated across the waves, directly to our dock. Recreation Station. You betcha - karma. We captured the beast and anchored it to the end of the dock, the wind tearing at the ropes. Secured. We glanced across the lake to the house where it lived. No lights. No one home. Cool.

Had to text Bama Boy to let him know our past effort wasn't in vain. That the party barge had returned to those who appreciated it. Fate now tied to our very own dock.

Through the night and all the next day the station rolled with the waves from the strong winds. When I woke up Tuesday morning, I found this scene. The winds gone and the Recreation Station still awaiting its owners to retrieve it.

Bunco Bitches are due here next weekend. Cross your fingers.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Our prayers for others flow more easily than those for ourselves. This shows we are made to live by charity.

With 80+ days of 100 degree + heat in drought-stricken Central Texas this summer, we welcome a breeze, although remain quite leery -- for good reason. Our area has become most vulnerable with our lack of moisture.

This past Sunday, Tropical Storm Lee brewed and dropped heavy rains in areas that may not have needed it, and also in places where rain was welcome. But not here. Central Texas received a ten degree drop in temperature, low humidity, and massive winds which created havoc. Quick fire.

Fueled by months of drought laden timber and countryside, fire spread throughout several populated areas. The wind continued just as strong on Monday as fires swept away hundreds of homes and forests. This video by Texas Parks and Wildlife shows how quickly the fire spread in Bastrop County. Can give you an idea of how little time people had to evacuate.

Very scary.

Our winds have died down. The firefighters have made gains on containment although danger remains and many acres in several different places remain ablaze. Over 38000 acres have burned. Over 650 homes destroyed.

Several of the smaller yet home destroying fires have been within ten miles of my home, but nothing right near us as we watch the sky and the local news. Many at my husband's work have lost their homes. One woman in my Book Club had fire come within 100 yards of her home. Many of her neighbors now homeless.

Those displaced have entered our hearts and minds as many still remain shut off from their homes and word has come that lives have been lost. Now, the community gathers to help put lives back together.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Return to Tornado Alley

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.
Frederick Buechner

AP Photo

Last April 27 a massive tornado struck Tuscaloosa, Alabama. My youngest son, Ian, a then freshman at the University of Alabama, took the following picture just moments after the tornado left on its path to further destruction.

A few days ago, I drove the 11 hour and 38 minute drive with Ian back to Tuscaloosa for his sophomore year. (On the road again. Seems to have become my mantra.) Our arrival rekindled many memories for him - not such great memories of his hasty departure from a city without power or water. Of the newly homeless wandering aimlessly. The agonizing search for loved ones.

We returned to the location where he had taken that picture and he took another.

The sky is blue and no longer menacing. The destruction, albeit somewhat more organized, remains.

This small lake, still filled with debris. A dumpster. Pieces of wood. Pieces of homes. The wrecking crew slowly plows through the once upon a time neighborhood, hauling away the pieces of once upon a time lives. Many demolished homes await the crew that makes its way methodically through the mess that once held such life.
All this land, once filled with homes and businesses. Trees.

Life does go on. This path through the university quad this day bustles with new and returning students. The first day of the new semester, teachers and students, take on the new year in spite of the anxieties many retain from the frantic aftermath.

My boy included.
New room, new classes, new adventures awaiting.
Of course, this meant I had one of those goodbyes that stab my heart.

"Be good, Ian. Do well. I'll see you sometime - soon."

Awful quiet around here.


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