Agave Requiem

The blue bonnets have begun to bloom. In a couple of weeks the entire countryside will be dressed in shades of periwinkle. Friends and family who’d like to visit us, three weeks from right now is when you want to come. 

Last year about this time one of the two huge agaves out front bit the dust. Now the other one is in the first stage of its demise, which was inevitable. I don’t know the names of plant parts so I’ll just say that when it’s time for one of these agaves to die it shoots up an impressive phallic stalk. When the first one stopped growing, its stalk had risen through the branches and above the canopy of a good-sized oak tree, a height of about thirty-five feet. People stopped by to comment.

“You know when it does that, it’s fixing to die, right?” This from the fourth neighbor who wanted to educate us.

Sadly, we did know. When the obelisk lost its upward momentum, and all the elegantly curved leaves at the base had turned to brown mush, the problem became how to get the rotting thing out of there. It had once been a grand and dominating fixture, drawing admiration from everyone. But when it was fully expired the whole area was soggy and smelly from the decaying leaves.

Ordinarily a dead agave is simply left to dry out because the root ball is densely fibrous and staggeringly heavy. But our house is the first one people see when they enter the cul-de-sac; and as such, our front area is appropriately kempt. Leaving the stalk to turn brownish gray and list slowly sideways until it collapsed was out of the question. It would take years.

So David climbed a ladder and sawed across the stalk, creating vulnerably between top and bottom. As strategic advisor, it was my responsibility to repeatedly remind him to Be careful up on that ladder! He tied a rope around the top part, tied the other end of the rope to his truck, climbed in, and pressed the accelerator. And as the truck rolled forward the top of the stalk rattled and shook, then snapped off with a mighty crack! It fell through the branches, landing hard and pointing straight up; then falling over and almost hitting me because I was stupid enough to be standing right there. 

David hacked off the putrid leaves and sawed at the bottom portion of the stalk until all that remained was the base, which weighed a couple of hundred pounds. He fastened a chain around it and, hooking the chain to the truck, pulled the mass out of the ground and on to the driveway, where, to my house-proud horror, it stayed for two weeks, which is how long it took to find someone willing to haul it off.  

The whole process, from the time the stalk first appeared, to disposing of it, took about four months. And now we’re going to have to go through the same thing again. At least we know what we’re getting into.

Did the majestic agaves influence our decision to buy this house? It’s a possibility. They were certainly a magnificent element of the big picture. And I fear no plants will ever be worthy of replacing them.

Here’s an unusual snippet:  A couple of years ago David was clearing the area around the agaves of the babies, several of which sprouted on a weekly basis. One of the needles pierced the back of his leather glove and pricked his hand. He immediately pulled the glove off and studied the painful area; but he couldn’t see a needle, though the swelling was immediate.

A few days later the hand was still swollen. He went to the doctor who looked at it and poked at it, and then said she was pretty sure there was no foreign object in there. She put David on antibiotics, but the hand continued to bother him—hurting and swelling until the skin of the whole hand was purple and strained.

This went on for several weeks, until suddenly it settled down. Fast forward eight months or so, when the palm of David’s hand became tender and inflamed—and then one day the tip of the needle popped out of his palm. This is all kind of gross, but it’s kind of cool, too, to ponder the inherent tenacity of the needle in remaining imbedded for that length of time, and maintaining its original integrity and purpose in what, to it, was an alien environment.

Good-bye, agave. We’re glad we got to enjoy you for a while.   

 Another one bites the dust. Day one.

Another one bites the dust. Day one.

 Day two. That's about a foot of growth in a single day. 

Day two. That's about a foot of growth in a single day. 

 Of course he kept it. It's part of him now.

Of course he kept it. It's part of him now.

 This little lime sizzler will never live up to the agave. 

This little lime sizzler will never live up to the agave. 


David’s gone to Port Aransas for a few days to help with hurricane cleanup. Originally I thought that maybe, while he was gone, I’d go to Houston to help my sister move. But when she pointed out that, as she’s between homes, she would be unable to offer comfortable accommodation, I chose comfort over being helpful. I’m not like David, who beats me hands down when it comes to helping others.

So, because I was dithering about the Houston trip, I ended up with no plans at all, which isn’t always a bad thing.

I spend the afternoon getting my sewing room in order. The scraps that’re too small to use outnumber usable fabric. While sorting, I watch a movie called Glory Road, about the NCAA championship game between Texas Western University in El Paso and the University of Kentucky, arguably the best game in the history of all games since the beginning of time; and it changed, literally, the future face of basketball. I’m not fond of sports but I love sports movies. One of my many endearing paradoxical quirks.

Ever since a month ago, when David decided to go on this trip, I’ve been looking forward to a period of solitude. When he’s not around I sing loudly, trailing cheerful tunes as I move through the house. It’s not because his presence is oppressive, it’s because my voice is too horrible to inflict on another person. Another thing I tend to do when he's not home is stay up later and drink more. It's good that he's not gone often. 

Also, we’re too much in each other’s business. We comment on one another’s activities to an absurd extent.

“Washing light clothes?” he’ll ask as I carry the laundry basket full of light clothes to the laundry room.

“Going to the gym?” I ask as he stuffs his workout clothes into his gym bag.

After organizing my fabrics I feel the need to get out of the house for a while. Though I recently vowed to stop buying stuff I don’t need, I’m in the mood to walk up and down the colorful aisles of either Dress for Less or Tuesday Morning. Both are jumble stores, with good deals to be had if you’re willing to dig through tons of ugly useless items in order to find treasure. For my purposes, Dress for Less is more about clothes, though they also have household items, perfume, and luggage; while Tuesday Morning is more geared toward kitchen paraphernalia and festive paper plates; although, come to think of it, I found one of my favorite articles of clothing at Tuesday Morning—a white undershirt that’s so soft and cozy that I wear it all winter. I’m wearing it now.

I choose Dress for Less. I’m offended when I take a top to the try-on area and the clerk takes it from me, hangs it on her rack, and tests the anti-theft device to make sure it’s secure. The clothes in this store are so cheap that they practically pay the customers to buy them, and yet they must have had a rash of shoplifting; why else would some higher-up instigate such a petty policy? In the end, Dress for Less renders nothing I want or need. I leave having relearned what I already know, which is that if you want to be treated with respect you should shop at a respectable store. Oh well, it was a place to go.

Later, as I’m walking through the house to fetch a glass of wine, I glance into the backyard. There are six deer out there. I like to see which plants the deer are devouring, so I stop at the window to enjoy their presence for a while. Every evening at this time a fox meanders through, so I’m not surprised when he appears stage left, strolling along comfortably, head held high like he owns the place (it belongs to humans, silly fox). He comes to an abrupt stop when he realizes that he’s surrounded by deer. The deer have halted their munching and are watching him with snooty disdain.

Now I comprehend where the phrase “high-tail it out of there” comes from, because the fox does exactly that. In addition, I’ve learned that foxes prefer not to be surrounded by deer. I decide to include this wildlife incident in a blog so my friends will be equally informed.

Tomorrow I’ll go to the new HEB, which opened its doors for the first time this morning. This store has been the main topic of conversation amongst Marble Fallians for at least a year. It apparently has curbside service and ready-to-prepare meal kits. Over the last month, as the old store emptied out, anticipation has grown to a preposterous level. Some of the women in yoga were there when the door opened at six a.m. They spent the first few minutes of our time praising the layout, the bright lights, the cooking demonstrations at every juncture, and the thoughtful provision of maps.  

Get a grip, people. It’s a grocery store.

 An excellent winter shirt to be worn under sweaters for soft warmth. 

An excellent winter shirt to be worn under sweaters for soft warmth. 

 You can't tell it from this picture, but this shopping cart is twenty feet tall. Things are CRAZY at the new HEB.

You can't tell it from this picture, but this shopping cart is twenty feet tall. Things are CRAZY at the new HEB.

 I got a nice email from a reader in New Zealand today. She picked up  Old Buildings  at the library and loved it so much that she ordered  Why Stuff Matters  online. It feels weird that my work is in the library in Christchurch, but it's not available here; a situation which will be remedied in April. 

I got a nice email from a reader in New Zealand today. She picked up Old Buildings at the library and loved it so much that she ordered Why Stuff Matters online. It feels weird that my work is in the library in Christchurch, but it's not available here; a situation which will be remedied in April. 






I haven’t been to a dentist in close to ten years. This is because lounging back while someone pokes at my perfect teeth is a waste of time and money. I brush and floss every time I put food in my mouth. Every dentist I’ve ever seen has been in awe.

For the last couple of years I’ve been telling myself that I should probably make an appointment to get them cleaned by a professional, but if there’s one thing I do well, it’s procrastinate. Eventually I became annoyed with my habit of considering action rather than taking action; so I called the dentist David goes to and made an appointment for this afternoon.

The dentist’s office calls.

“We need to reschedule,” a woman informs me.

“Why?” I ask, irked because it took genuine volition to make the appointment in the first place; also, I’ve arranged my schedule around it. We went to Houston last week instead of this week because of it. When a friend invited me to run to Bee Cave with her today, I said no. Because of THE APPOINTMENT, which is now CANCELLED.

“Because of the COLD,” she tells me. “We don’t want to put our patients or our staff in danger.” She’s taken on a prissy tone.

Danger from cold? You put on a coat and go. What’s dangerous?

Yesterday, when I stopped by the grocery store for wine and dinner, the parking lot was packed. People were cruising around and around, trying to find a space. I lucked into one. A friend of mine stood at the entry to the store. Fretful and disheveled, she waved me over.

“What’s going on?” I asked. “Why all the people?”

“Don’t go in there!” She gives a wild-eyed grimace toward the interior. “It’s a zoo. There’s nothing on the shelves, the people are crazy; and look, there are no carts.” I look: no carts.

“But why?”

“Because of the COLD!”

Is there a store rule against using shopping carts when the temperature drops below freezing?

The COLD has caused the Y to close; so no spin class for David.

The yoga studio is also closed. No warriors for me.

Is it cold outside? Yes. Currently twenty-seven degrees. I reckon a person’d die if they wore no winter gear and stayed out in it for a while. But that’s not the plan. The plan is to get into the heated car, drive somewhere, and enter another heated place.

This closing of businesses and schools is a collective wimp-out.

A contagious fear of the temperature.

A mutual indulgence.

A weak excuse for a day off.

“What are you going to do today?” David asks, woeful because he loves his schedule.

“I don’t know. The general population seems to feel that the outdoors is dangerous.”

 “How can that be? There are places way colder than this, and they haven’t closed down.”

“It’s a puzzle.”

My friend, Mary, calls.

“What are you doing today?” she asks, adding, “I’m going to spend the day reading in bed.”

“You should read Why Stuff Matters. It’s exceptional.” A shameless plug.

“It’s so cold outside, I can’t even make myself go near a window. It’s depressing.”

“You’ve seen colder.”

We both grew up in Amarillo, where blizzards blow through every couple of winters. We’ve seen our share of snow-covered cars and roof-high drifts. The only weather event taking place here in Marble Falls is a measly dip on the thermometer. A few plants might freeze. And because of this, people mobbed the grocery store and fear leaving their homes.

David pops his head in while I’m on the phone.

“They’ve cancelled mail delivery on account of the COLD!” he says.

“We live in a ridiculous town,” I tell him.

He turns and goes away.

“I’m going to feel bored and useless all day,” Mary tells me before ending the call.

I’m not bored. Because I’m a writer I always have something entertaining to do. 

 The COLD backyard. This is as far as either of us went from our door today. 

The COLD backyard. This is as far as either of us went from our door today. 

 My teeth. 

My teeth. 

2017 Waldo's Holiday Newsletter

Hi friends and family!

We kicked off the holidays with our annual Open House, which went very well. Over fifty people dropped in to sample David’s delicious eggnog. It’s fun to watch the different groups that we’re involved in interact. A friend from my Mahjong group will know someone who works on the Habitat house; or a friend from church will know someone who’s in Master Gardeners with David. It’s a small community.

Our firstborn, Curtis, is still lawyering in Houston. This year brought big changes for him. He bought a house (inside the Loop of course) and married Anna, a lawyer for Shell. The two are perfect for each other and David and I are happy that they’re happy. The spring wedding took place in Napa, a welcoming town composed of the things I love most—antique shopping, restaurants, winetasting, and historical neighborhoods to explore. We enjoyed the trip.

Here’s what we hear from Sam these days: his business, Mantra, is no longer a fledgling enterprise, as he currently employs five people, and has taken the company international, which means his glasses are now available for order in the US. He’s been living in China for several years and sometimes goes weeks at a time without speaking English. This year he was interviewed by NPR, China; and he has done a Ted Talk, which will be released soon. The glasses and website are classy and innovative. Here’s the website so you can see what he’s been up to:

He and his girlfriend, Julia, live in the Hu tong district of Beijing, a tightly packed maze of interconnected dwellings, a trendy area for the millennial ex-pat up-and-comings, and a place the locals want to escape. Julia, a Brit, works for the British Embassy. She’s spunky, smart, beautiful, and she was very helpful when we visited Beijing. We’d like to see more of Sam, which makes me wonder how my parents felt when David and I stayed overseas for years at a time. I never felt like they missed us at all, not the way we miss Sam. On the other hand, what did we expect? We dragged him from country to country: that he decided to follow the same lifestyle is a testament to how much he enjoyed his childhood.

It’s hardly new news, as I’ve been all over Facebook about it, that my second novel, Why Stuff Matters, was published by Arcadia in October. It’s out only in the UK because I met my agent, Helen Mangham of Jacaranda, in Singapore and, as she’s British, her contacts in the industry are also British. Plans are in place, however, to distribute my first book, Old Buildings in North Texas, in the US, which means that, as of April, it will be available here. So, that’s been a milestone. As to how I spend my time when I’m not writing—I abandoned yoga and tried spin class for a couple of years, which I never enjoyed. Now I’ve returned to yoga and am much happier. And I just finished pinning a quilt, which involves crawling around on the floor and using the recently resumed yoga stretches.

Those of you who know David know that he’s a joiner. Two golf groups, Habitat for Humanity, and Master Gardeners keep him busy, plus he enjoys his workouts and spin class at the Y. He works at the Helping Center, a local food bank, on Fridays, the Habitat house on Saturdays, plays golf on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and has been asked to be a mentor for Master Gardeners, which means organizing a lesson once a week. Busy, busy. He gets irritated with me when, every morning, I ask him where he’s off to, as though I should have his schedule memorized. But he’s all over the place. I can hardly be expected to keep up.

That’s us in a nutshell.

Ya’ll have a happy Christmas and a great year to come!


 Every one of these gift bags holds a bottle of red wine, given to us by people who came to the open house. I guess I've made my preferences known. Thanks, friends. 

Every one of these gift bags holds a bottle of red wine, given to us by people who came to the open house. I guess I've made my preferences known. Thanks, friends. 

 Curtis and Anna at their wedding in Napa. They're fun to hang out with. 

Curtis and Anna at their wedding in Napa. They're fun to hang out with. 

The Lost Slap

When I was little I loved romantic comedies, which gave me false ideas about what a relationship should be. Not to worry, growing out of it was painless. But what’s applicable today is that in the movies there was most often a conflict between the main characters; and while they were battling it out, the woman regularly grew indignant with the man over his insensitivity, or because he grabbed her by the arm or tried to kiss her. And that’s when he’d get THE SLAP.

The lift of an open hand. The pullback and swing. The satisfying slap! as palm meets cheek. Perfectly delivered, a lesson taught. The slap. Why did we lose it and where did it go?

When I was around fourteen the quarterback of the school football team approached me in the hallway and, surrounded by his all-boy entourage, put his hand on my breast and squeezed. Right there, with other students swarming by.

“Soft,” he said, turning and shuffling away, followed by his laughing pals, leaving me stunned, open-mouthed, and humiliated.

Back then I wondered what it was about me that invited it.

But now I wonder why the hell I didn't slap him.

The Women’s Lib movement began as a push for freedom to explore, expand, and to no longer be bound by inhibitions and outdated restrictions; altogether, a worthwhile goal. Oh, and equal pay for equal work. But in the end, the crusade left women thinking that if they wanted to be equal to men they had to act like men. Women became louder and more palpably sexual, which was disconcerting for those of us who were reserved and lacked confidence; but great for men who were no long required to defer to our sensibilities. There would be no more holding doors open or refraining from telling dirty jokes when women were present. What started as a push for autonomy and equal pay ended in a loss of respect for women on all fronts; and there’s still no such thing as equal pay. So it seems we lost it all.

As to the young man who groped me at school, he wasn’t a monster. He was immature, had cohorts to impress, and was probably as confused as everybody else about interactions between the genders. Nevertheless, the act shaped me.

When I got out of college, moved back to Amarillo, and got a job, many of us, men and women, would go for drinks after work. Sometimes I went and sometimes I didn’t. Here’s a joke told to the group by one of the more esteemed supervisors (male; there were no female supervisors) on one of these drink nights:

A sack boy was carrying a middle-aged woman’s groceries to her car.

“I have an itchy pussy,” she told him as they walked along.

“Ma’am," the kid responded, "you’re going to have to point it out. All these Japanese cars look alike to me.”

Isn’t that offensive? It was so disgusting that I still remember it. Everyone laughed uproariously, the women included, though not me; I was always outside, more of an observer. Did all men think that kind of joke was funny? I feared so. Was the women's laughter sincere? I couldn't tell.

Also, at work, there were affairs between married guy bosses and younger female subordinates. Everybody knew. The couples went on double dates. And that’s probably the reason why I chose to stay as far away from a nine-to-five job as I could. I’m timid. I have no idea how to stand up for myself.

But all worked out well for me. I married a nice man whom I’ve never seen disrespect a woman, and, because we lived in so many foreign locations, I never worked outside our home, and therefore wasn’t subjected to the indignities I was certain were a part of my peers’ working world back in America.

And now, as happens with trends, the mess that was left for my generation and our younger sisters is righting itself—or rather, a clutch of defiant women is righting it. The men who have been called out for their crude behavior have received a much-deserved slap.

Careers have been ruined and there’s no doubt that behavior will change. But this groping and advancement in return for sex started long ago. It went on for so long that the creeps thought it was acceptable, that it was their right. Why did we (I stand with all women here) let them get away with it? Why weren’t these accusations trumpeted years ago? Why wasn’t Women’s Lib about that instead of burning bras?

Things would never have come to this if we’d held on to our slap. Perfectly delivered, a lesson taught. When we reclaim our slap, which we're now in the process of doing, let's keep it.

 I have no picture appropriate for this posting, so all you get is a picture of me peeking out from behind a big plant.

I have no picture appropriate for this posting, so all you get is a picture of me peeking out from behind a big plant.

Stopping by Amarillo

I was born and grew up in Amarillo, Texas. Other than my deceased father’s wife, Linda, I don’t know anyone who still lives there. And technically, she doesn’t live in Amarillo; she lives half an hour east, in Washburn, a flat grid composed of dirt roads and small houses in weedy lots.

As the drive from Colorado to Marble Falls will take us through the panhandle, David and I decide that we’ll stop in Amarillo and revisit our old hangouts. Also, Linda is in possession of my father’s photo albums, which hold his favorite memories—pictures from his childhood, report cards from his school days, and the article in the paper announcing his US citizenship. Daddy led an interesting life and I’d like to ask for copies of a few of these things, which I’ll gladly pay for.

I put a signed copy of my latest novel in the back seat, thinking that I’ll be seeing Linda and that she might appreciate it.

“I can’t get hold of her,” I tell David the night before we leave Steamboat Springs. “The number I have for her has been disconnected. I messaged her through Facebook, but she never got back to me. And I don’t have her email.”

“We’ll figure something out when we get there,” he says.

“My cousin said her daughters have been asking for thoughts and prayers on Facebook. Maybe something’s wrong.” How will I ever know if I have no way to reach her? We pack up that night and leave early the next morning.

As we’re getting closer to Amarillo we see things that take us back—Boys’ Ranch, Vega, Cadillac Ranch. The wind farms stretch from the highway to every horizon. Because of the wind that never ceases, the stench from the cattle yard outside of Bushland pushes us eastward.

I haven’t spoken to Linda since Daddy’s funeral. Bad of me, I suppose, but we moved to Kuwait, came back to Houston, moved to Singapore, then came back to Houston. Then we moved to Marble Falls. Being an ex-pat was a self-involved lifestyle and I tended to think only of the person or situation in front of me.  

“I want to drive by Charles Street,” David says. He always refers to his childhood home by the street name, as though he had the run of the whole block instead of just the one house—though I guess this is understandable because, from what he’s told me, he and his neighborhood pals were in and out of each other’s houses constantly.

“And we’ll drive by the house on Fannin, too.” And just saying the street name brings the recollection of a game my sister and I, and all the neighborhood kids played in our front yard on summer evenings. When headlights turned on to the street there was a complex list of tasks to perform and bases to touch before the car reached us; and if we didn’t get it all done in time, we were DEAD.

We spend the night in a hotel on I-40, with a plan to get up and take a nostalgic tour before heading back to Marble Falls. I still haven’t been able to get hold of Linda. I call the hospice care place where her profile says she works, but it no longer exists.

“You want to go out there?” David’s talking about Washburn.

“Getting home is a long drive,” I tell him. “And we don’t know if she’ll even be there. She might have moved.”

So we settle on the plan of going by his house, then my house, then hitting the Canyon Expressway and heading south.

Charles Street has aged elegantly. The trees cast a pleasant shade and every house has flowers in the window boxes and green grass, which is a phenomenon in this part of the world.

“It looks a lot better than when we lived here.” David gets out to take pictures to show his sister and brother.

The route to the house where I grew up becomes rougher and more derelict the closer we get, until, when we turn on to Fannin, I’m appalled.

“It’s like the Third Ward.” It never was the richest part of town, but it’s become a slum. Every house has a lopsided couch in the front yard, or a couple of rusty cars in the driveway, or a refrigerator on the porch. Old broken stuff is everywhere. Hoarders occupy every house on the block, which is profoundly disturbing. I have zero tolerance for clutter.

Our house. My father who, by himself, bricked it in and added a three-story addition, would be horrified to see a truck parked across the front yard, weeds in the raised beds, and foil on the windows. The trim is in awful shape. The garage door doesn’t fully close. There’s a tilting refrigerator over by the fence.

David stops across the street and gets out to take some pictures.

“What kind of people just let things go like this?” I ask him when he gets back in.

“Poor people.”

“People who have meth labs in the basement.” So I’ve taken two hits today. The house I grew up in has become a slum. And I don’t have, and apparently never will have, a single picture of my father.

David sighs. He doesn’t like it when I’m unhappy and he can’t fix it.

“Let’s get back to a civilized land,” I tell him. “Where the HOA doesn’t allow people to throw their ugly old junk in their front yards.”

We head home knowing we’ll probably never see Amarillo again.

 My childhood home. Can you see the refrigerator on the left? The truck is nice. 

My childhood home. Can you see the refrigerator on the left? The truck is nice. 

 My sister, Trina, was once friends with the girl who lived in this house. 

My sister, Trina, was once friends with the girl who lived in this house. 

 David was right. His childhood home looks a lot better now than it did thirty-five years ago. 

David was right. His childhood home looks a lot better now than it did thirty-five years ago. 

 A plea. Please, if you've ordered and read Why Stuff Matters, would you post a review on It'll only take a few minutes and it'll support my book. Thanks. 

A plea. Please, if you've ordered and read Why Stuff Matters, would you post a review on It'll only take a few minutes and it'll support my book. Thanks. 


After I type the last sentence of a manuscript, I have no idea what to do next. So I return to the beginning of the project I just completed and toy with it. I run a spell and grammar check. I fiddle with the chapter titles. And, in fussy mode, I review my characters to make sure I haven’t inadvertently used too many names that start with the same letter. Though this seems superficial, having a cast consisting of Donald, Daisy, Dick, and Drew can be a distraction.

But eventually, though I will long for the familiarity of the finished book and the friends I made there, I must say good-bye and move on.

I tuck the finished work into a file and pull up a white screen. I stare at it for a while, then play a few games of solitaire. For the next few writing sessions, I allow myself to mourn the loss. Solitaire, blank page, solitaire, blank page.

After a few days of this wasteful floundering, I apply a rule, a game of sorts, in which I’m not allowed to push away from the computer until I’ve written something. If I produce no more than a single sentence, at least I’ll have something to get me started the next morning.

Here is an opening that started that way—no story, simply a description of a room that came clearly to mind. I wrote it up and left the computer. Then I spent the day looking forward to returning to it because it wasn’t only about the setting; it was also about the main character, Karen:

Saturday morning, ten o’clock. The strategy room on the DA’s floor of the Caprock Tri-County Courthouse, a corner chamber made inharmonious by the sort of imperfections that make me squirm—a landscape hanging crookedly, a bank of cabinets with two drawers not quite closed, a set of blinds with an uneven slat.

The fact that a few wrongly situated items caused Karen to squirm told me that this was a character I could work with. I imagined a woman with OCD, under constant assault as she navigated her way through a day. To what degree did her OCD affect her relationships and her work? How did she react when she came upon a filthy counter or a misplaced item at the super market? Also, there was the inevitable question—why is Karen at the DA’s office on a Saturday morning? I had to continue writing to find out. 

A time or two, while fretting over getting a new project off the ground, a character has leapt, fully formed, onto the blank screen. A rare gift, this occurrence renders a plot in which the character calls the shots. From the opening of Old Buildings in North Texas, meet Olivia:

Before they’d let me out of rehab someone had to agree to act as my legal custodian. There it is, the snappy truth about why, at the age of thirty-two, I live with my mother. She now has control over every aspect of my life, from my finances to my laundry. One little cocaine-induced heart attack and it’s back to my childhood to start over.

From the moment of her arrival, Olivia pleased me. I knew the color of her hair, her build, and her background. She was furious with herself over her mistakes, and she was admirably devious. She was resourceful and witty. She was arrogant, bitter, and empathetic. She lived with me for a year, and I miss her.

When a starter idea simply isn’t there, I often rely on the most universal topic there is—the weather. This first paragraph is set in Sugar Land, southwest of Houston:

It’s so humid outside that the air molecules are sweating. The sky is churning and burdened, filled with smudged shades of gray. I didn’t realize it was so stormy. I’ll be racing the rain throughout my entire run.   

Is a stormy day interesting enough to pull a reader in? I’m not sure. But an interesting facet of the narrator’s character is found in the last sentence: she is such a slave to her exercise routine that she’s willing to go for a run in a storm. In fact, this discipline eventually reveals a well-meaning martinet, a woman so obsessed with propriety and procedures that she’s unable to communicate with people who aren’t as exacting as she is.

Here’s another kickoff containing weather:

Eddie steps outside the store when the rain begins. There isn’t a cloud in sight, hasn’t been all day. In fact, the sky is so bright and clear that just looking at it causes his eyes to water. The downfall stops as suddenly as it started and, to his delight, the eastern sky presents a double rainbow. You don’t see that every day and he takes it as a sign that something good is about to happen.

But the next thing that happens is the opposite of good—Eddie’s ex-wife shows up.

In Why Stuff Matters, I opened using both factors—the capricious weather and a strong, fully defined personality, Jessica, a grieving widow in charge of the elderly concessionaires in an antique mall. Here’s her voice:

My antique mall is the only building in this part of town that has a basement, so as soon as our county is included in the tornado warning that streams across the bottom of the television screen, I tromp down to the main floor from my third floor living quarters, unlock the front door, and prepare to be overrun for the fourth time this month.

The first chapter ends with Jessica, the main character, standing just inside her glass storefront as she watches a tornado destroy the apartment complex across the street. It’s a dramatic opening that morphs elegantly, unexpectedly, and humorously into a microcosmic revelation concerning humankind’s grasping nature.

It was a pleasure to write about and come to know Jessica. Why Stuff Matters is an unusual and entertaining read, which I think you’ll enjoy.

 A sunny day in Albuquerque.

A sunny day in Albuquerque.

 I've been looking at this book cover a lot this week. It's very attractive. 

I've been looking at this book cover a lot this week. It's very attractive. 

 Taken in Vega, TX. This stuff is of no use whatsoever, but somebody loves it.

Taken in Vega, TX. This stuff is of no use whatsoever, but somebody loves it.

 This is where I went to elementary school. Look at the flags. The only reason for this picture is to show that the wind blows all the time in Amarillo, Texas. 

This is where I went to elementary school. Look at the flags. The only reason for this picture is to show that the wind blows all the time in Amarillo, Texas. 

 I know this blog tour is supposed to be about WHY STUFF MATTERS, but this old house speaks to anyone who's read  OLD BUILDINGS IN NORTH TEXAS. 

I know this blog tour is supposed to be about WHY STUFF MATTERS, but this old house speaks to anyone who's read  OLD BUILDINGS IN NORTH TEXAS. 

Wonderful News!

My new novel, Why Stuff Matters, will be released in the UK on October nineteenth. I’m currently involved in a blog tour, where I write essays and do Q&A’s for different British blogs. I’ve noticed that a few of these blogs have won awards for being stars in literary critique circles, so I have high hopes for good reviews and good sales.

Why Stuff Matters is about a grieving widow, Jessica, who inherits an antique mall from her mother. The elderly people who have booths in the mall are eccentric, cynical, and so acquisitive that they undercut one another, scheme over the possessions of the dead, and, in one case, kill in order to hang on to their stuff. When Lizzie, Jessica’s precocious and larcenous twelve-year-old stepdaughter, is dumped on Jessica’s doorstep, the dynamic between old and young is hilarious. I had so much fun writing it!

And more good news is that my publisher, Arcadia, has such faith in my novels that they’re getting a foot in the door of the American publishing industry by distributing Old Buildings in North Texas in the US starting in April. It’s a bit overwhelming, but also an honor, to be their flagship.

So, as you can see, I’m quite excited by how things are going.

Though I’m busy writing, I’m also traveling.

We are in Albuquerque for the International Balloon Fiesta, which attracts “hundreds of thousands” (quoted from their website) from all over the world, and provides the lion’s share of the annual income for the town and its tourist industry. The weather is gorgeous, the people are nice, and the restaurants, shops, and galleries are interesting. The main event is the Mass Ascension, a designation that holds cultish undertones and rings oddly to the ear. The Mass Ascension takes place on opening morning, when over six hundred balloons float upward from a grassy field at sunrise. It sounds like a magnificent sight.

But Albuquerque messed up.

We get on the hotel shuttle at five-thirty in the morning, which takes us to a park-and-ride in a mall parking lot, where buses will pick us up to take us to the balloon park. When we arrive at the mall our driver is shocked to see a line of two thousand people, three quarters of a mile long.

“This doesn’t look good,” she says, concerned. “I’ve been driving this shuttle for six years and I’ve never seen a crowd like this.”

It’s dark outside, and very cold. Getting to the end of the line is a hike, but spirits are high. Kids still in their pajamas scamper around. Old women huddle beneath blankets. As usual, I haven’t dressed appropriately. Freezing, I tuck myself between David and a man I’ve just met, hoping for vicarious warmth. All around us, strangers talk and laugh with one another. In our conversations with the neighbors in front and back, it’s evident that many have paid for airline tickets and expensive hotels rooms in order to see this one event.

The line is so long and circuitous that the buses we are supposed to board aren’t in sight. The sky grows lighter. We shuffle forward at a pace of twenty yards every five minutes.

At sunrise, seven o'clock, the event that we traveled so far to behold, and got up so early for, takes place twenty minutes away. Twelve hundred people still wait for rides in the mall parking lot. Fury flies through the air.

There is no apology, no acknowledgement that a mistake was made, no explanation, no refund. Speculation abounds among the frustrated and enraged people.

“How did this happen?” Freezing feet stomp hard into the tarmac.

“My ticket’s right here.” Waves the ticket so all can see.

“What do we do now?” A disbelieving whine. This question is applicable. We have been dropped here and have no transportation back to the hotel until nine-thirty.

A common speculation makes its way through the line. This massive error is being blamed on “the computer”. The weak-ass excuse is that “the computer” sent everyone who bought their ticket online to this particular parking lot instead of evenly dividing them between the five other pick-up points. 

I pull out my phone and search for the nearest breakfast place. There’s an Egg and I just up the street. David and I leave the line and head toward the restaurant.

Anyway, the whole situation is rotten, rotten, rotten. It’s left me feeling sour and vindictive toward Albuquerque. Twelve hundred people. Fifteen dollars per prepaid ticket. Eighteen thousand dollars. I hope Albuquerque chokes on it.

This morning we’re on our way to Steamboat Springs in Colorado. 

 Isn't it beautiful? I have a few advance copies and, as the supply lasts, I'll send a signed copy to any friend who promises to post a review on

Isn't it beautiful? I have a few advance copies and, as the supply lasts, I'll send a signed copy to any friend who promises to post a review on

 As you can see from the similar cover design,  Why Stuff Matters  is a partner book to  Old Buildings in North Texas . They both take place in the same town--Caprock, which is the setting of many of my novels, and is based on my hometown, Amarillo, Texas.  

As you can see from the similar cover design, Why Stuff Matters is a partner book to Old Buildings in North Texas. They both take place in the same town--Caprock, which is the setting of many of my novels, and is based on my hometown, Amarillo, Texas.  

 I was happy on the day before the fiasco.  

I was happy on the day before the fiasco.  

The Glacier Experience

David wants to go to Glacier National Park, so that’s what we do.

On our first morning in Glacier we take a Red Bus Tour, thinking it’ll be a good way to learn about the park and get a feel for the various hikes. Hiking is basically all there is to do here. Having done no research, I packed cold weather clothes. To my dismay, the temperature is in the eighties; but honestly, the word glacier is in the name of the place, so cold weather is a given. Yet I smolder in my sweaters, jeans, thick socks, and hiking boots while everyone else runs around sleeveless and in shorts and sandals. It’s not the first time I've been inappropriately clothed and it won’t be the last.

The air smells of smoke. And the sky, which should be a blinding blue is, instead, a hazy gray. Our bus driver/guide tells about the Sprague Fire, which has closed a portion of the park. The fire started a couple of months ago when a tree was struck by lightning. So far it’s taken out thirteen thousand acres. 

“It’s what nature does,” our guide merrily informs. “The fire renews the forest.” He sounds like he’s in love with fire.

The tour takes us up the Going to the Sun Highway, a motorway made up of switchbacks overlooking steep cliffs, filling me with the horrifying knowledge that we’re going to fall over the edge and die. But instead of dying we arrive at Logan’s Lodge, which marks the Continental Divide. Above us, smoke. Below us, smoke. There’s much talk of bears, moose, and mountain-climbing goats, but a goat could cross a hundred feet in front of us and we’d be unable to see it. 

“No one seems concerned about this fire at all,” I tell David.

“Part of the experience,” he says.

The first day the smoke is bearable. The second day it’s less so. By the third day the sun isn’t visible and our fellow hikers wear filter masks. Our rental car is covered in ash. People doggedly go about the business of enjoying their vacations. There are mountains all around us, but we can’t see them.

As advised by friends, we spend four nights in West Glacier in Apgar village, and three nights in East Glacier, at St. Mary’s Lodge. Both cost as much as a four star hotel room, but they definitely aren’t that.

In Apgar the cabin we stay in has a ceiling so low that we can touch it—and we are not tall people. The shower is so tight that I bump my elbows every time I turn. The toilet paper is like wax paper. The sheets are clean, but the fabric is pilled. There is a one-person-at-a-time kitchen. Taped to one of the cabinets is a note asking us to please wash the dishes. I don’t give this much thought until it’s time to go and I run tepid water over the cups and silverware and stick them in the drainer.

“I hope the last tenant did a better job washing the dishes than I did,” I say.

“I don’t think expecting the paying customers to be responsible for cleaning the dishes for the next people is a wise policy,” is David’s response.

When it’s time to move from Apgar to St. Mary’s we stop for a hike at Two Medicine. As I’m standing in the restroom line, the woman in front of me mentions that she’s been staying at St. Mary’s and is now on her way to Apgar.

“How was St. Mary’s?” I ask. “We’re going to be there tonight.”

“They charge way too much for what it is,” she says.

I like the room at St. Mary’s Lodge better than the cabin in Apgar. It has a television and a comfortable shower and the sheets are softer. With no kitchen, though, and only a couple of restaurants in the area . . . oh well, we didn’t come here for the cuisine. This part of the park, too, is full of smoke. I’ve begun to cough, my nose is bleeding, and my eyes are red and burning.

When David asks at the front desk where the nearest liquor store is, the man tells us that the Canadian border is only twenty minutes away.

“Let’s go to the duty free and get some Grey Goose for the room,” David suggests. So that’s what we do.

“Why are you coming to Canada?” the border guard asks as she examines our passports.

“We’re going to the Duty Free,” David tells her, pointing across the street to the white square building with signage that declares Beer! Souvenirs! Cigarettes! Duty Free!

The woman grunts acknowledgement and returns the passports.

We drive across the street, park, go in and find our Grey Goose. The clerk, a woman in her early twenties, is the only other person in the shop. After David pays, he grabs the bottle to carry it out, but the clerk stops him.

“I have to deliver it to you,” she explains as she takes a choking grasp of the neck of  our Grey Goose. “Just drive over there and wait beneath those trees.” She points to a cluster of thin trees thirty yards away, just beyond the border station. Though we’re familiar with the procedures involved in buying duty free, this seems unnecessarily clandestine.

We get in our car. She follows us out and, clutching our bottle, clambers into a van. We drive across the street with the van following close behind. She has left the shop unattended, which goes against every known retail directive; but, as nobody but the border guard is in sight, I guess the shop is safe from marauders. But still, what would she have done if there had been other customers in the store? We circle behind the Canadian border office and come to a stop beside the three scrawny trees. There’s a sign posted on one of the trees that says DUTY FREE PICKUP AREA. The clerk gets out, approaches David’s window, hands him the Grey Goose, and tells us to have a nice evening. She gets in her van and drives back across the street.

Sometimes rules force people to act in absurd ways. Bewildered, we chuckle all the way back to our room in St. Mary’s, where we sip Grey Goose from plastic cups and watch the coverage of Hurricane Irma.



 This cute little bar was forty miles from anything. We ate a really nice lunch here. 

This cute little bar was forty miles from anything. We ate a really nice lunch here. 

 In taking this picture, David slipped on the rocks and scraped his arm pretty badly. 

In taking this picture, David slipped on the rocks and scraped his arm pretty badly. 

 Every once in a while the air would clear for a few minutes. 

Every once in a while the air would clear for a few minutes. 

 Everybody on the hiking trail was offering to take pictures of everybody else on the trail. 

Everybody on the hiking trail was offering to take pictures of everybody else on the trail. 

Action on the Hogs

“Are you going to the meeting with the hog trapper?” Curtis asks me.

He and Anna are staying with us because of Hurricane Harvey. Their neighbors have informed them that their Houston home isn’t under water, so they’re relieved about that. Now they’re anxious to get back to their own space, but heading in that direction at this point would be unthinkable.

On the other hand, the weather in Houston has resulted in a gentle rain for Marble Falls, a benign soaking at the end of a two-month drought. But just because we’re happy to have the rain doesn’t mean that if I walk up the street to talk about hogs, I won’t end up getting wet.

“I’m considering it,” I respond. “A person who traps hogs for a living is bound to be interesting. But what should I wear?” It’s not my appearance that concerns me; it’s the question of rain gear. Will an umbrella be enough, or should I don my quick-dry pants, hiking boots, and a poncho? It depends on so many things—the angle of the rain, the length of the meeting, the temperature.

“It’s wet out there,” he says. “I, too, am curious about catching hogs.”

"If you get wet you can always get dry again,” is David’s reasonable contribution.

Though the hog damage in our yard has been minimal, David has been concerned about the nighttime prowling of the hogs, especially after the destructive swine completely wiped out a neighbor’s lawn. Sad, too, because her grass was the greenest and most weed-free in the cul-de-sac.

Anna is reading and wants to stay dry, so she chooses not to meet the hog catcher, though she assures us that she's with us in spirit. At one o’clock David, Curtis, and I walk up the street and hang out in front of our neighbor’s savaged lawn. I decided that an umbrella is enough in the way of rain protection, though the lower portion of my jeans is already damp.

Always happy to help, David takes some pictures of the destruction. The homeowner and her boyfriend come out to greet us.

“I’m sorry about your lovely grass,” I tell her.

“I saw the hogs last night around ten. They’re big, like over two hundred pounds.” Using hand and arm gestures, she shows how tall they are, and how big around. “And then they were out here again this morning around five.”

She and her friend introduce themselves to Curtis. And I’m shallow enough to feel pride because he’s tall and broad-shouldered and is wearing a Columbia Law t-shirt.

The man who lives across the street meanders over.

“I want to meet this hog trapper,” he says.

Apparently we aren’t the only ones who are bored with playing backgammon and discussing the rain.

A big red truck drives by.

“I bet that’s him,” I say. He slows and looks at us but doesn’t stop. He's sporting a home-cut mullet. See? Intriguing from the get-go.

A friendly couple from further up the street arrives.

“I want to get a look at this hog trapper,” the wife says. “I have questions.”

“They’re hitting our grass every night,” the husband says. “But our damage isn’t as bad as this.” He looks at the pitiful state of the woman’s yard and shakes his head, which causes the rest of us to do the same. She’s going to have to redo her entire lawn.

The red truck pulls up again, this time from the opposite direction. Our hog trapper emerges, approaches, and introduces himself. We circle around him like he’s a celebrity. In addition to the disastrous hair, he wears a t-shirt with the sleeves cut out, making room for his fleshy biceps. The shirt says Port Aransas across the front, an indication that he stands in sympathy with the victims of Hurricane Harvey. Also, several of his front teeth are missing, a clue that he’s been in a bar fight or two.

“Oh yeah,” he says, shaking his head sadly as he views the plowed-up grass. “You got hogs alright.”

“How’s this going to work?” asks a neighbor.

“I’ll put out a couple of cages. I’ll give you my number and when you get one, give me a call and I’ll come get it. I have to come all the way from Burnet, so I won’t just stop by every day to check.” Burnet’s twenty minutes up the highway.

“What about other animals getting in the cages?” someone else asks.

“Oh, I’ve caught a deer or two, and you don’t want that. There’s a quick release. Just unhook the door and the deer’ll run on out.”

“How long will the cages be here?”

“A month should do it, just to make sure we got ’em all. I’ll just go get the traps now.”

He heads back to his truck, gets in, and drives away. The group disperses.

“I’m confused,” I say as the three of us head home. “If he was called here to set traps, why didn’t he bring the traps?”

“I guess he’s got his own way of doing things,” David says.

“Showing up to trap without the traps is inefficient.” Inefficiency disturbs me in all its forms.

“Maybe he came from somewhere else.” This from Curtis, who seems satisfied with the meeting. “He seems to know all about catching hogs.”

But I’m not satisfied. There are questions that weren’t asked and answered.

“How does he get a heavy hog out of the cage and to the meat processing plant?” I ask. “It’s not like he can just ask it nicely to please get in his truck. Also, what do they do with the meat? Do they call it local pork and ship it to the grocery stores? Or do they put it in dog food? And what drew the hogs here in the first place?”

“All will be made clear in time,” David philosophizes.

Huh. In order for this to be made clear I’ll have to observe this procedure from front to finish. Don’t lose sleep over this; when I find out how he gets the beasts from the cages to the slaughterhouse, and what they do with the meat, I’ll let you know.

 Everything you're looking for in a real live hog trapper!

Everything you're looking for in a real live hog trapper!

 Look at the damage! You can tell by the grass that hasn't been ruined that this was a really nice lawn. 

Look at the damage! You can tell by the grass that hasn't been ruined that this was a really nice lawn. 

 The cage. I'll post a picture on Facebook if they ever catch a hog.

The cage. I'll post a picture on Facebook if they ever catch a hog.





Courageous or Rude?

The woman sitting next to me at the Mahjong table tells me that I get on her nerves. I’m not surprised that she finds me annoying, but I am surprised that she would say so. We have a regular group of about twenty women, and if we all start sharing what we truly think about one another the outcome will be disastrous.

“What about me gets on your nerves?” I ask impassively, with no intention of altering my persona to suit her sensibilities.

“You say things most people wouldn’t say,” she tells me, pressing her lips together as though she’s eaten something sour.

Well, there’s no arguing with that. I know myself; and I am outspoken. I could point out to her that I have a delightful sense of the absurd, and that while she finds me audacious, there are some who think I’m fun. Although, as she doesn’t comprehend humor, this would be a waste of words. I decide that I will avoid her when I can; but as we have a rotation, playing with her every once in a while is ineluctable.

And so, a couple of months after she tells me that I get on her nerves, I’m once again sitting next to her over a set of tiles. I’m coming from another table where I had an impressive Mahjong, having had a pure concealed hand (no jokers, can’t pick up tiles from the discards), which means that the original thirty-cent win is doubled. And, as East, I rolled doubles at the beginning of play, so it doubles again. Also, the person who gave me the winning tile must double that. I made enough off that one hand to buy a couple of tacos!

So it’s understandable that I’m in a merry mood when I arrive at the table where the repressive woman sits. Soon, without realizing it, I allow her dour attitude to effect my mood. I become serious, sinking into a thoughtful mien. We all play quietly and quickly, only speaking to name our tiles as we put them out.

But the woman who told me I make her nervous is the one who’s getting on my nerves today. Every time she discards a tile, her hand returns to her mouth and she picks at the space between two of her lower teeth. She makes little sucking noises as she digs.

I look around the table to see if anyone else has noticed.

My eyes meet those of the woman across from me. She grins, raises a brow, and gives an upward chin jerk, a silent communication meaning “I dare you.” She knows me well. I look to the woman on the other side of me. She looks like she’s about to throw up.

Sip! Sip! Sip! goes the woman who apparently needs to floss.

I can’t concentrate on the game. The only thing for her to be excavating like that is old food. The longer it goes on the more grossed out I become.  

Every one of us has her spit on our fingers.

Realizing that I’m close to an outburst, I take a few calming breaths and contemplate the state of our politically correct society. We are so afraid of speaking out when someone is acting offensively, that we’d rather put up with it than say anything.

Sip! Sip! Sip!

Okay, I’m done.

“Stop it,” I tell the cavewoman abruptly, but without rancor.

“What?” She straightens as though she’s been poked.

“Think about what you’re doing.” People should be mindful. Does she not know where she is? Does she not pay attention to herself?

“What?” she asks. “What am I doing?” I guess not.

“You’re picking at your teeth and touching the tiles. It’s revolting.”

“Oh. Well, I have something caught in my teeth.”

I give her a look.

“I’m sorry,” she says, humbled.

I shouldn’t have said anything. Why, oh why, do I always speak up? Now the other women will think I’m intolerant, overly critical, and tactless. They’ll be reluctant to sit with me, for fear I’ll point out some mortifying flaw.

Furthermore, the inherent consequence of all this civil sensitivity is a her-or-me conundrum. Do I say something that will embarrass someone and hurt her feelings; or do I refrain, to my own detriment? Most, I think, would choose to sacrifice their own wellbeing rather than take a stand. But not me, which is why I got on her nerves in the first place.

Play resumes. She doesn’t do it again. A few minutes later, when she leaves our table to go to the next one, I hear her tell her new opponents that she needs a few minutes before she can play because she’s got to go clean her teeth.

“You’re ballsier than I am,” the woman across from me says.

“I feel sick,” from the woman sitting next to me.

“She’s moved on and we’re left playing with spitty tiles,” I say in a tone fraught with indignation.

The three of us pull hand sanitizer from our purses. A new player joins us and we offer her some hand sanitizer, too.

The tiles don’t speak to me for the rest of the afternoon.

 I have no pictures to represent the blog, so this is how I look these days. 

I have no pictures to represent the blog, so this is how I look these days. 

 I found this guy on my floor when I got home from the grocery store. I feel the same sort of revulsion when I look at him as I did when Cavewoman picked her teeth. 

I found this guy on my floor when I got home from the grocery store. I feel the same sort of revulsion when I look at him as I did when Cavewoman picked her teeth. 

Austin, TX

I have a hankering for lamb vindaloo, and Marble Falls has no Indian restaurant, so David and I decide to spend the weekend in Austin. Our hotel, the downtown Sheraton, has been taken over by a grief recovery convention. The participants wear matching t-shirts and their motto, hanging on a banner in the lobby, is “Good Grief,” which I think is a clever play on words. Considering that it’s a grief group, there’s a lot of laughter and echoing good cheer.

“They don’t sound like they’re grieving to me,” I say with a judgmental snort.

“What does grief sound like?” is David’s response.

We get settled into the room. I’m still wearing my yoga clothes from this morning, and my hair is flat and stringy, so there is much work to be done. Though I’m aware that every restaurant in Austin is casual, I prefer not to go out looking like a wilted slob. David watches golf on television while I improve my appearance.

He has made a reservation for Saturday night at The Clay Pit. Parking is always a problem in Austin and this restaurant that holds a hundred people provides only ten parking places. We park two blocks away and it’s raining outside; but it’s a light rain, we have umbrellas, and walking is good for the soul. If we’d driven around more we would have seen the parking garage right across the street.

We’re led to our table, which is in the cellar.

“The ceilings are low,” our host warns as he leads us down. “And the stairs are rough and crooked, so be careful.” I follow just behind and above his head, which is a bald dome with puny Rasta strands hanging limply from his nape. The effect is so disastrous that it’s difficult to look away.

The beam at the base of the stairs is indeed low, but David and I aren’t overly tall, so it’s no problem. And I have the joy of being placed in the perfect spot to watch people descend and bump their heads, which many do. I chuckle every time. David asks for a martini and I ask for a glass of Malbec. After our drinks arrive, we peruse the menu. David orders Chicken Mughlia and I, as anticipated, order the Lamb Vindaloo. This turns out to be the best Indian food we’ve ever had, including actual Indian food in India. Thanks to our friend, Tere, for the recommendation. 

The place is lively, full of glowing energetic young people. This is something we miss. The majority of the citizenry of Marble Falls is old and rendered dull and slow moving by arthritic pain. But in a town populated by college students, the enthusiasm never dies.

The next morning we take a sweaty walk up Eleventh, through the grounds of the capitol, which contains monuments to represent every historical event and the three ethnic groups that influenced Texas history (Latino, Caucasian, African American; sorry, Asians, you weren’t here yet). I take a picture of the statue of the longhorns because I’m currently writing a novel about a longhorn stampede, a happy coincidence.

From there it’s down South Congress, along Lake Austin, returning to Eleventh on Trinity, and back to the hotel where we get ready for brunch at Geraldine’s, located on the fourth floor of the Hotel Van Zandt. Right away we learn something unexpected, which is that we cannot be served bloody marys before noon unless there is food on the table.

“What?” I ask the waitress. “I’ve had brunch in Austin many times and I recall always getting my bloody mary before the food came.”

She shrugs, saying, “It’s the law. But I can bring you a couple of biscuits so there’ll be food on your table and then you can have your drinks.”

We accept this solution and she walks off.

“That’s crazy,” David says, truly appalled by this astonishing rule.

“What a weird arbitrary law.” I am flummoxed. When did this law get passed? What is the thought behind it? Who told lawmakers to pass such a law?

The couple at the next table sympathizes with our confusion. Apparently they encountered the same situation and had the same reaction.

“Our tax dollars at work,” the husband says with a disapproving click of his tongue.

“But what prompted this law?” I ask.

“Maybe they don’t want people getting boozy when they should be in church.” The man smirks.

“But that’s not for them to say. And how does the order of the arrival of food and drink at the table pertain to anything?” I’m getting worked up. It’s absurd to think that people up the street in the capitol building believe they have a say in when I can drink a bloody mary—well, they obviously do have a say. I force myself to take a breath in and let it out. The biscuits arrive, along with the bloody marys. The couple at the next table wishes us a good day and departs. 

Later, on the way home on I-35, traffic slows way down.

“There’s a wreck up there,” I tell David. “This is about rubbernecking.”

Ambulances whiz by on the other side of the highway. Four frighteningly smashed-up cars block the opposite lanes. Looking at the crushed cars, I’m sure people are dead or dying from this accident. Up ahead police vehicles block trucks and cars, keeping them from entering this portion of the highway, directing them to a two-lane flyover. Unmoving traffic is backed up for miles and miles.

“Those people are going to be trapped in their cars for hours,” David says.  

The highway system in Austin is notoriously confusing.

“This was a nice little break,” I say. "Although spending an overnight in pursuit of food seems indulgent."

“First thing I’m going to do when I get home is water the plants.”

 Our state capital is lovely.

Our state capital is lovely.

 Longhorns on the capitol grounds!

Longhorns on the capitol grounds!

 Best Indian food in the world!

Best Indian food in the world!

 Don't expect a bloody mary if there's no food on the table.

Don't expect a bloody mary if there's no food on the table.

 Geraldine's is so pretentious that they delivered our bill in an antique book. The food was excellent, as was the bloody mary.

Geraldine's is so pretentious that they delivered our bill in an antique book. The food was excellent, as was the bloody mary.

Now Available

My novel, Old Buildings in North Texas, is now available on Audible—or should that be in Audible? This doesn’t mean a lot to me, as I tend to read books rather than listen to them, but my husband, David, assures me that this is a good thing.

“The more avenues for selling, the better the exposure,” he tells me.

Well, there’s no arguing with that. He sits at his computer and explores the Audible website as I hover behind, impatient that I’ve been summoned from another part of the house to watch him slide his mouse around. 

Audible, it turns out, is an entity you have to join, which right away gets me ruffled because, as a general rule, I’m not a joiner.

“You pay a monthly fee,” David explains, “and you download the audio versions of whatever books are available in this format.”

He decides it’s great, pays up, and becomes an Audible member.

We only recently joined the Boat Club, and now he’s joined something else, which I think borders on making too many commitments. Is it wise to go around impulsively joining things? Must we now join a club for books being read to us instead of reading them for ourselves? What’s he going to join next?

“Will you have to swear an oath to be a member of this club?” Sometimes clubs make you recite promises you’ll never keep. I fear that it’ll be the Mother Candle initiation all over again. 

“It’s a book club. No oaths, no promises.”

“And with this monthly fee can you download as many books as you want?”

“Of course not. Then people would join for a single month and unload years’ worth of reading.”

“But it’s not really reading is it?”

“Let’s just see what happens.” He’s much better at “wait and see” than I am.

He calls up the sample of Old Buildings and we listen as a woman I don’t know reads the first few paragraphs. Her voice is of a similar pitch to mine, so it’s not jarring. Her pace is relaxed and even, though she lacks my Texas accent which, as some who’ve listened to the podcast available on my website know, either lends authenticity or, as others might say, is relentlessly distracting.

“Do you know anybody who listens to these Audible books?” I ask.

“I imagine lots of people, like commuters or painters.”

“Painters? What kind of painter—artistic or someone who paints your house?”

“Either one.”

And now I’m wondering about this person who narrates my book. I’ve been informed of her name, Sally Vahle, so I return to my own computer and look her up online. She was born in Minnesota, grew up in Wisconsin, has had small parts in a few movies I’ve seen, and is active in the theatre community in Dallas. I think she was a good choice. I hope she enjoyed my novel.

One advantage that’s clear is that, though Old Buildings in North Texas was published in the UK, on Audible it’s readily available in the US. Also, Audible has generously given me ten promo codes to use for publicity. As I did when Old Buildings was first published, I will happily give these promo codes to anyone who’s a member of Audible, or intends to join, in exchange for reviews on the Audible website.  

 Here they come again! It's a pretty book, isn't it? If you haven't read it yet, here's an opportunity to get it from Audible Books. 

Here they come again! It's a pretty book, isn't it? If you haven't read it yet, here's an opportunity to get it from Audible Books. 

Minor Mysteries

We go to the grocery store. David is grilling steaks for dinner so, in addition to the steaks, we get a potato, mushrooms, and two artichokes. Also, we gather our regular supplies like milk, eggs, and a pack of sliced almonds. Though inefficient, one dinner at a time is the way I’ve always shopped. I have a freshness fetish. Sometimes, when I know I won’t have time to stop by the grocery store the next day, I’ll get two meals. Guests are always surprised when they see how empty our refrigerator is.

We pay, go to the car, and transfer our supplies to the trunk.

But when we get home, the steaks aren’t there.

“Did you throw them away?” David asks.

This is his standard response when something goes missing. Obsessive, I tend to be brutal when it comes to clutter. In Singapore, when David was setting up cable for the TV, I followed right behind him, gathering up the Styrofoam and the boxes, pushing them into the garbage chute as he emptied them. It ended up being a faulty cable box, which meant returning it. Already frustrated that he’d gone to all that trouble setting it up only to find that it didn’t work, David was none too pleased to discover that I’d thrown the packaging away.  

And clutter isn’t the only thing I’m compulsive about. I recently bought some socks that are labeled left and right, a distinction that carries no merit; yet if I put the left sock on the right foot, I take it off and switch it.

Back to the steaks.

“No, I didn’t throw them away.” But him asking makes me doubt myself. It’s true that I often do things I don’t see myself do. Maybe I tossed them in the garbage when I wasn’t looking. I dig through the kitchen trash, but the steaks aren’t there.

“Check the car,” I advise as I continue to put away the groceries.

He doesn’t come back for ten minutes; and when he does, he’s empty-handed and exasperated. Disbelieving that they’re not in the car, I go and check for myself. Yep, they’re not there.

“We must’ve left them at the checkout counter,” I tell him. “You’re going to have to return to the store.”

“Why do I have to go? You go.”

“Okay, we’ll both go.” As neither of us wants to go, this is the only fair solution.

So we drive back to the HEB. I drop David off at the front, planning to idle at a strategic point so that as soon as he comes out I can zip to the door and pick him up. After several minutes, I pull into a parking place, turn the car off, and get out to go see why it’s taking so long. Carrying a grocery bag, he exits as I reach the door.

“That took forever,” I say.

“They said there weren’t any steaks left at the checkout counter. I think the sacker took them.”

“She wouldn’t do that.”

“As she was bagging them she said they looked good. She was practically drooling.”

“You didn’t have to buy new steaks, did you?”

“No, but the people at the front didn’t know what to do and they didn't seem to believe me, so we had to wait for the store manager.” He releases a weary sigh before adding, “She told me to go get two more steaks.”

What happened to the first steaks? Did we leave them in the basket? Did we drop them in the parking lot when we were loading groceries into the car? We have no clue.

This isn’t the only baffling thing that’s happened lately. A couple of weeks ago I washed my glasses cleaning cloth. It went into the washing machine, but it never came out. I shook out all the clothing laundered with it, and I looked in the washer and the dryer, but it had disappeared. I know Wal-Mart has net bags for storing smaller items during the wash, but I never bothered to buy one. At this point, I anticipated that my washer would soon develop draining issues because of that little blue cloth.

Two weeks later, David brings it into the bedroom and places it on the dresser.

“You found my glasses cloth,” I say. “Where was it?”

“Out on the driveway,” he tells me.

“How did it get there?” This is bizarre. 

“I don’t know, but that’s where it was.”

Several years ago, during our neighborhood progressive Christmas dinner, some sneaky person tucked a wrapped gift for me under our tree. I opened it on Christmas morning to find that it was a set of my own keys, which I hadn’t seen in weeks. I never found out which neighbor held on to them for this specific purpose, though they must have found them hanging from my mailbox. And that’s what I suspect is going on with my cleaning cloth: someone in the cul-de-sac is messing with my mind. But that’s ridiculous. A neighbor didn’t come into my house, pluck an item from my washer, and two weeks later place it in my driveway.

“Oh,” I tell David. “It just hit me what must’ve happened to those steaks. They went home with the people who checked out after us.”

“The sacker took them.”

It bugs me that we’ll never know for sure. And it also bugs me that I had to relearn something, which is that I should take a quick scan of the counter to make sure I have every bag and item before leaving the store. 

 It disappeared and reappeared.

It disappeared and reappeared.

 A sock for my right foot only.  

A sock for my right foot only.  

 The house looks pretty this time of year. David is a great gardener.  

The house looks pretty this time of year. David is a great gardener.  

Mother's Day

From the time they were babies I spoke to them as though they were adults. Weirdly, this led to them calling David and me by our first names, which drew odd looks from people who didn’t know us, and questions from people who did.

“We didn’t correct them when they didn’t call us Mom and Dad,” I’d explain, puzzled that it seemed to matter to others when it didn’t matter to us. “Curtis was born thinking he was an adult. He believes he has an equal voice in our family and we never gave him reason to believe otherwise. Then Sam came along and copied Curtis.”

Telling them about things like danger and manners on an adult level led them to have an ease with adult concepts at a young age and to approach social and scholastic situations from a mature perspective. Both of them could read, add, and subtract before they were in kindergarten. At ages seven and five, they sat still during church and understood doctrines and liturgies that I didn’t grasp until I was much older. And because I didn’t talk down to them, and I read good literature to them on a daily basis, their reading ability was more advanced than that of their classmates. Also, because we traveled to so many interesting locations and came in contact with different cultures, they approached new places and people with a confidence I never had as a child.

My behavior modification tools were bribery and distraction. I punished Curtis only once during his childhood; well, actually he was only three and I was having a bad day. Christmas was coming soon, which in itself causes tension, and Curtis was being annoying—I can’t remember in what way—and I wrote a note to Santa saying that Curtis was being bad and didn’t deserve any Christmas presents, and I stuck it on the refrigerator with a magnet. Oh, the look on Curtis’s face. Eyes filled with tears. Heartbroken. I was immediately filled with shame, took the note down, and apologized. All these years later I still feel awful about it.

Sam got punished twice—once when he was holding my hand and stepped into the street from between cars, which led to a slap on the bottom and a brief but passionate lecture about why I was holding his hand in the first place. And he was punished again when he was four and colored on a patch of wall in the upstairs hallway of our house outside London. Granted, I hadn’t ever told him not to, but he should have known better. I gave him a bucket of soapy water and a washcloth and told him to clean it up. Thirty minutes later when I returned to check on him, he was in tears because the crayon wasn’t coming off. I gave him a hug and called a painter.

That’s it. That’s as difficult as my two sons ever got.

Once the boys and I were having a playground adventure when we witnessed a mother going off on her kid, who was probably right between Curtis and Sam’s ages. So, let’s say five years old.

“Stupid boy!” she shouted. “You stupid, stupid child! Look what you’ve done!”

The three of us looked on. The boy hung his head while his mother grabbed him by the shoulder and shook him again and again, hollering into his face the whole time about how bad he was. Apparently he’d gotten a grass stain on his trousers.

I never, never would’ve spoken to one of my children that way. I never told them that they were anything but wonderful, and I never touched them with any feeling other than affection. When they witnessed this screeching woman, did they grasp how lucky they were to have me? I don’t know if they did, but I sure did.   

Though Curtis and Sam had different personalities, there was very little conflict. They seemed to like each other, though it would be naïve to think they got along all the time; in fact, Sam, as an adult, told me that during his childhood he occasionally felt bullied by Curtis. Honey, I thought when he told me this, you don’t know what being bullied is. My older sister and I fought constantly, roughly, violently. She once delivered a karate chop to my throat, which made me realize that she seriously wanted me dead. Hair-pulling, kicking, scratching, mostly hitting. Our parents didn’t have a clue. (Let me add, just in case I’ve ruffled feelings, that we were children and we grew out of it. We even like each other now.)

David and I enjoyed every minute with our kids. Being parents has been our most profound accomplishment. Things that I miss from when the boys were young:

Every day when Curtis got home from school, he would flop on the couch and tell me literally every detail about what happened from the first bell to the last. He did this from first grade all the way through high school, making time even after he got his driver’s license and joined the tennis team.

Sam was too busy to be as communicative as Curtis. He was social and every one of his days was packed with friends and projects. From a young age he possessed impressive insight; and as early as when he was in first grade, he was the one I turned to when I had a problem understanding someone else’s point of view, or when I needed advice about how to handle a tricky situation.

We’re proud of the men our boys have become.

Curtis, a lawyer, recently married another lawyer, a complex woman with a sense of humor that perfectly complements his. We see them often and are happy to have them near so we can enjoy boating on the lake with them or sharing the occasional meal.  Curtis does a good job of keeping in touch, and though we’re in Marble Falls and he’s in Houston, we know what's going on with him most days.

Sam is in Beijing, building his own company, Mantra. Ambitious, dedicated, and still using his gift of perception as he navigates his way through the business world, he was recently featured in China’s GQ magazine and was interviewed in Mandarin on the Chinese Voice of America. So that’s cool.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 They were always happy!

They were always happy!

 At the Robin Hood Statue in Nottingham

At the Robin Hood Statue in Nottingham

 They loved Thundercats.

They loved Thundercats.

 In their school uniforms in the UK.

In their school uniforms in the UK.

 David worked hard at being a dad. He was a baseball coach, a basketball coach, a scout leader, and he led a youth Bible study. 

David worked hard at being a dad. He was a baseball coach, a basketball coach, a scout leader, and he led a youth Bible study. 

 This was taken at a celebration at a castle in Holland. 

This was taken at a celebration at a castle in Holland. 

 On our way to church. 

On our way to church. 

Busy Saturday

On David’s birthday I awaken with a mild cold. Also disappointing, there’s no dead mouse in the mousetrap on the counter of my bathroom. I’ve set a trap for three nights straight and somehow the mouse nabs the bait without triggering the spring. And then he taunts me by leaving his tiny turds next to the place where I brush my teeth. My present to David is a piece of coconut cream pie from The Bluebonnet Café.

About having a cold: I got it at Mahjong. For some reason my fellow Mahjongers don’t clean their tiles. Teresa and I are the only ones who do. In close quarters around the table, women stuff food into their mouths and lick their fingers. Then they touch the tiles. Or they release a wet sneeze into their hands, apologize for it, and then touch the tiles. I’m going to start carrying hand sterilizer, which I should have done years ago. Any thoughts as to how I can tactfully change the way these women do things?

Today’s not just David’s birthday; it’s the annual HOA meeting. This event takes place outdoors, in the pavilion at Capstone Ranch’s private park. It’s been lovely and warm this week, but today it’s chilly, not even sixty degrees, with a stiff wind pushing at us from the north. After only a few minutes, we are all freezing with our teeth-chattering, unable to think of anything except our warm homes on the other side of County Road 401.

We’re called to order by Bryan Teeple, the owner/developer of Capstone. To my amusement, this meeting proceeds along the same lines as the last two. One of our neighbors brings up the rumor that an apartment complex is going in on the other side of the creek, and how intrusive this’ll be so near our little cul-de-sac; and pretty soon everybody’s grumbling fearfully about something that probably won’t ever happen. Then someone else brings up the matter of the deed restrictions and the fact that there are no punitive measures in place for people who break the rules; never mind that at this time all restrictions are being adhered to.  

“Is it fair that I follow the rules and someone else doesn’t?” a man asks.

“There are supposed to be fines,” another person reminds Bryan. “But you don’t enforce them.”

“Why do we have restrictions if it doesn’t matter if they’re followed or not?”

Bryan reminds us of God’s grace and how we should show others the same tolerance God shows us. This doesn’t have the palliative effect he desires, but seems to further incite the few people who’ve raised the issue; though, and I’ll say it again, there are no current infractions. I’m with Bryan on the tolerance issue; sometimes people need a little extra time to get things done. Though I think it was a mistake to bring God into it. This is an HOA meeting, not a church.  

A new topic has been introduced. It seems that at our last meeting the yearly dues were raised by a hundred dollars in order to pay for repaving, with the promise that the dues would go back down this year. But Bryan proposes that we keep the dues at the higher rate. He doesn’t meet our eyes as he makes the suggestion; and when asked why he wants to keep them elevated, he rambles about how something bad might happen and we might need money quickly.

“He’s come with an agenda,” I whisper to David.

David nods in agreement. 

“Can you give us an example of why we would need this quick money?” This from a woman sitting toward the front. It’s a relevant question. All possible needs are covered in the budget.

Bryan tries to think of an answer, but can produce nothing satisfactory.

“I, for one, would prefer to have my hundred dollars,” a man across the pavilion says.         

We all agree that we want to stick to the original plan, sending Bryan into panicked incoherence as he scrambles to find himself more votes. He counts the proxies that have been given to him by people who could not attend. And he counts the number of lots his company owns; but many lots have sold recently, which has taken his power away. No longer in the majority, he cannot override. 

Next he shares a weird metaphor about how easy it is to break one toothpick (demonstrates by breaking) and how hard it is to break many toothpicks (demonstrates by not being able to break).

Meanwhile, confused eyes meet. It’s beginning to look like Bryan’s going to keep us here until he gets his way. For a property developer, a hundred dollars is a puny amount, so why does this matter? Then he attempts to explain the toothpick metaphor.

“What I’m saying is, if we stick together as a community, we’re stronger than if we try to go it alone.”

“Then you got what you wanted,” David says, losing patience in his frozen state. “We’re strong, we’re united, and we want don’t want to pay that extra hundred dollars.” He doesn’t say what we’re all thinking—that Bryan is the lone toothpick. 

At this point the meeting has dragged on for almost two hours. My cold that was no more than a sore throat this morning has, in the cold wind, become a nasty entity, making my sinuses and eyes swell, filling the back of my throat with clumpy foul-tasting mucus.

Saying our good-byes, we are the first to leave. We stop by the house to exchange our inadequate jackets for heavy coats, and head to a country wedding at our friends’ Ranchita.

Getting married are Tom and Gitta (Pronounced Geeta, hard g).  Involved in Habitat for Humanity, regular patrons of the local microbrewery, the Double Horn, and having been involved in fun runs and community events for years, this couple is well known and well liked in Marble Falls. Several hundred people have shown up on their hilltop to celebrate.

This, too, is an outdoor venue, windy and cold, which does not bode well for my health.

Slated to start at two, the wedding is pushed back to three. The alcohol is flowing, so no one minds the delay. And this isn’t the kind of event where people are shy or standoffish. Everybody’s happy to see everybody, even people they don’t know. Various societal groups are represented—teens, gays, artists and musicians, businessmen—but the largest population is made up of old hippies, gray men with ponytails and hairy faces, and their brass-haired wives in colorful polyester.

When Tom and Gitte center themselves beneath the arch, everyone bumps and pushes to get close enough to hear. At the back of the crowd people clamber on to the picnic tables. Phones are aimed. It is a lovely ceremony, presided over by one of their friends. After they both say “I do”, everybody cheers.  Tom and Gitte are giddy. This is a day they’ve been looking forward to for a long time. The onlookers slowly disperse as we all make our way to the side porch of the barn, where barbeque has been dished up in massive amounts. David and I eat, hang around, have wedding cake, talk and mill for a couple of more hours. Around five, I admit to David that I’m wiped out.

We say our good-byes and I realize, as I hug Gitte and tell her how much we enjoyed ourselves and how happy we are for them, that here I am, hugging this woman, this friend, who was probably healthy until I came along. I’ve done the same thing to her that I was griping about my Mahjong friends doing.

I’m sorry! Forgive me, Gitte! I got caught up in the moment.

By the time we get home I’ve got chills and I’m completely stopped up. My ears, too, are plugged with mucus. And I want to cry out every time I swallow. Sudafed keeps me awake, so my choice is between breathing and sleeping. I choose to breath, and it’s the worst night I’ve had in years.



 The neighbors have been going on about someone building an apartment complex on the other side of this little creek for years. Let's hope it doesn't happen

The neighbors have been going on about someone building an apartment complex on the other side of this little creek for years. Let's hope it doesn't happen

 The pavilion. Colder than it looks. 

The pavilion. Colder than it looks. 

 They look so happy. 

They look so happy. 

Happening in Marble Falls

A new Chic Filet will be opening soon, just across the way from where we take our recycling. There’s a sign out front that says they’re now accepting applications. Speaking of recycling, what would be helpful is if one of the benefits of our thriving economy was recycling pick-up, rather than us having to load the truck, drive there, and stuff our paper, plastic, and aluminum in overflowing dumpsters. Emphatic signage posted beside the dumpsters says that they don’t accept glass; illegal dumping isn’t allowed; and that the place is under surveillance.  So don’t dump your bedbug-infested mattress here because you’ll get caught for sure. 

The no glass policy irks. I understand that the inevitability of scattered shards makes glass collection imprudent, but it’s not complete recycling if glass is excluded.  Having grown accustomed to recycling glass in Houston, this parochial policy so disturbs David that he’s unable to drop his bottles in the kitchen trash container, but leaves them on the counter for me to take care of, the presumption being that I’m made of tougher stuff.

The new Bealls (pronounced bells) has recently opened. For those who don’t know, Bealls is a department store along the lines of a Target (or, for my British friends, a Marks & Spencer), but with narrower aisles; and it’s more humble in size and stock. It does have a couple of cosmetic counters, so I can purchase my Clinique without going all the way to Bee Cave. The old Bealls across the street is going to be torn down to make room for the new and much grander HEB (the dominating grocery chain in Texas), the notion of which has everyone in the area thrilled. By the way, does anyone know what the initials stand for? I sure don’t.

Also, a new coffee place will open soon; though with several buildings standing empty, the question as to why the owner decided to buy land and pay for construction is a puzzler. Why not occupy the empty restaurant by the Home Depot, or the one just beyond the Bluebonnet that’s been for sale ever since we moved here two years ago? But this new business, too, has the citizens of Marble Falls buzzing. It doesn’t take a lot to get a town full of retirees excited, and it’s always nice to have a new place to go.

Changes on Main Street tell us that some people are making money. The Italian restaurant, Fornos, moved to a marina on Lake LBJ, a lovely location overlooking a cove across from the Wirtz Dam; but sadly, since the move, the food seems to have gone down in quality, though the service is as good as ever and the view from the outdoor patio is pleasant. In the space it vacated on Main, months of renovations fascinated us all. The building went from being a drab corner to being a charming one, with awnings and good-sized windows displaying clothes for women and children that are lovely, but pricey. I find the name, Smarty Pantz, off-putting, though perhaps there’s an interesting story behind it. The two times I’ve been in there I’ve been the only customer.

On the other hand, one of our favorite local businesses has recently closed—Enjoy Massage.  Apparently a couple of teenaged boys enjoyed their massages a little too much. You’d think masseuses in this straight-laced part of the world would know better. I’m going to miss my weekly reflexology. 

 I bet not.

I bet not.

 The owner of this shop spent a massive fortune on renovations that took several months.  

The owner of this shop spent a massive fortune on renovations that took several months.  

 The new coffee place, not quite finished. 

The new coffee place, not quite finished. 

 The German butcher has been trying to sell his shop for years. Anybody interested?

The German butcher has been trying to sell his shop for years. Anybody interested?

Boat Club

While we were at the chili cook-off a couple of weeks ago, one of the chefs was advertising his business as well as his chili.  He owns a boat club franchise, an unknown concept to David and me. 

When we first moved to Marble Falls we assumed we’d buy a boat.  There are four big lakes half an hour’s drive from our house.  But then we learned that we are not allowed to store a boat on our property; it’s against HOA rules, which is understandable because only hillbillies have trailers and recreational equipment scattered around their yards. 

So that would mean not only the price of the boat, but the price of its storage; then the hassle of driving a distance to hook it up and haul it out, and the added required time of bringing it home to be cleaned and stocked for an outing.  And, as we had a family boat when I was a child, I’m aware that half the time the boat’s out of commission for one reason or another.  A lot of things go wrong with a boat.  Having fun on the water every once in a while simply wasn’t enough to overcome the bother and cost.  

But we do like to bump around on the waves.  We’ve rented a time or two, which costs four hundred for a half-day.  And we’re curious how this boat club works.  So David makes an appointment with the chili/boat club guy and we set off to a marina on Lake Travis. 

“I hope this guy doesn’t do the hard sell,” I say.  Once, in Bali, an obsequious Indonesian approached David and me on the street and told us that he got paid thirty dollars for every potential customer he was able to bring in for a timeshare presentation, adding that he was trying to support a family and he badly needed the money.  My compassion, which is usually comfortably dormant, kicked in; and we accepted the bribe of a free stay in one of their resorts in return for ninety minutes of our time, which ended up being an agonizing three hours of being intensely badgered by a salesman who told us that if he couldn’t convince us to buy a timeshare he was going to get fired; and if that happened his wife was going to leave him.  When finally we were allowed our freedom we were drained and angry. 

“He seemed okay,” David tells me.  “He made good chili.”

We’re to meet him at a private yacht club, which turns out to be a grand edifice on a cliff overlooking Lake Travis.  Valet service is complimentary.  It’s a clear day, hot for March, and the view over the water is spectacular.  In order to get to the marina below, we must descend in a metal box, which squeaks, rattles, and looks rickety.

“Those are awfully small cables,” David says.  I assess the cables.  He’s right.  They’re much too puny to be trusted with our combined weight.  We watch as a few people get on down below and are slowly carried upward.  

“This is making me anxious,” I say.  The car arrives, the passengers disembark, and I bravely step on, closing my eyes so I won’t have to watch as we die. 

Bill meets us as we step from the lift.  He’s forty-ish, light brown hair, blue eyes.  I can tell by his relaxed posture that he’s not going to try to guilt us into buying what he’s selling.  A boat transfers the three of us to one of the docks.  It’s a large marina—eight extended docks, each accommodating at least forty boats.  The surface beneath our feet is unsteady as Bill leads us through the bobbing maze, pointing out the boats that belong to his fleet.  He stops at one of the pontoon boats and invites us aboard.  No office then, just a man on a boat with an iPad.

He explains the three packages: 

Most expensive—one-time joiner fee of four thousand, four hundred a month, unlimited use locally and at the other hundred and twenty locations nationwide.    

Mid-range—three thousand to join, three hundred a month, access to other locations, unlimited number of times a month, but weekdays only.   

Least expensive—he calls this one “Toe in the Water.”  Two thousand down, two hundred a month, not accepted at other locations, use limited to twice a month, and one of those times can be a weekend. 

We ask questions—what are we responsible for?  Gas.  How about insurance?  He carries the insurance.  Availability?  Always, but book two weeks ahead during holidays.  How long is the contract?  Renewable in a year.  The appeal is that we show up, we know the boat works, we get on it, and we go.  No maintenance, no storage fee, no trouble at all. 

We tell him we’ll think about it and he doesn’t apply any manipulative sales techniques like trying to hold us here, or throwing out better deals, or telling us that his wife’s going to leave him if we don’t buy into his club.  He accompanies us back to the central dock and says good-bye.  On our way to the lift, David and I take a detour through the little floating shop.  I glance at the flip-flops on display in the main aisle. 

“Those flip-flops cost a hundred and ten dollars,” I tell David. 

“Nobody wants to go on the water in the winter months.  So that’s four or five months a year we’d be paying for it when we wouldn’t be using it.”

“An ordinary pair of flip-flops, nothing special about them.” 

“But surely we could find two days a month.”

“And look.  These beach towels are seventy-five dollars a piece.”  They’re nice towels, but not seventy-five dollars worth of nice.

“When you need a towel, you need a towel.”

“We could take a boat out in the winter.  We could bundle up and we'd be the only ones on the lake.”

“This is so much cheaper than buying or renting.  And so much more convenient.”

We end up going with Toe in the Water.  Anyone want to tool around on Lake Travis with us?

 The marina from the yacht club.

The marina from the yacht club.

 A tiny car carries people down from the yacht club and up from the marina.  The lower building  houses a small and ridiculously expensive shop.  

A tiny car carries people down from the yacht club and up from the marina.  The lower building  houses a small and ridiculously expensive shop.  

 This is me, terrified with eyes closed as we descend.  The sweater makes me look fatter than I am--won't be wearing that again!  

This is me, terrified with eyes closed as we descend.  The sweater makes me look fatter than I am--won't be wearing that again!  

 Boats, boats, boats!

Boats, boats, boats!

Chili Cook Off

“I loved your book.”  This is from the woman who sits across from me at the chili cook-off.  I will never get used to people I don’t know knowing who I am.  I’m surprised every time someone I didn’t have to bully into it tells me they read Old Buildings in North Texas, which, by the way, is not about dilapidated structures in the panhandle, but a humorous novel combining drug rehab and urbexing.  If you haven’t read it yet, you’ll love it!

“I’m thrilled you read it,” I tell her.  “Thank you.”  I have decided this is the way I will answer compliments about my work; and I’m pleased to say I’m giving this response more and more often.  I recently did a reading for a book group of eighteen women, and all of them had read it and were enthusiastic.  Thanks, Janice, for inviting me. 

The chili competition is taking place at Spicewood Vineyards, a winery near us.  It’s an annual event drawing a huge crowd, many of which, considering the number of sleek millennials, drove out from Austin.  Our friends, Bill and Carolyn from up the street (the neighbors who still talk to David and me) came early and saved places for us at their table.  Thanks Carolyn.  And thanks, too, for reading OBiNT and recommending it to your friend. 

The area where the cook-off is being held is no more than two acres of lawn and patio.  Leaving our table, David, Diana, and I wend our way through the crowd, crossing to a square composed of awnings and tables where chili is offered in small cups.  Each cook explains what makes his or her particular chili unique and wonderful.

“Made from venison, buffalo, and bloody Mary mix,” one of them says.  I take a small bite; it’s okay.

“Made with pork, brisket, chipotle, and chocolate,” says the woman at the next table.

Some of the more outlandish ingredients are raisins, pumpkins, oysters, Triscuits.  Can such nontraditional concoctions actually be categorized as chili?  Each attendee is to vote for their favorite.  These chili chefs with their slow-cookers take the voting process much more seriously than those of us who are sampling.

“My mouth is on fire,” I tell Diana.  We’ve tasted a dozen out of twenty-two. 

“Yeah, I’ve had enough,” she says.  “I’m going to vote for that young couple in the corner.  They seem nice and their chili is normal.” 

We return to the table, where Carolyn and her friends have set out a generous spread of cheeses, grapes, crackers, and dips.  There are six bottles of wine on the table.  Several hundred chili buffs mingle in front of us, a gift for people-watchers.  The wine goes around the table.  Glasses fill up and are emptied.  David goes off and returns with more. 

“It’s unusual that, in a group this size, I don’t see one obese person,” I tell David.

He scans the crowd, anxious to find an overweight person to contradict my observation.  He can be contrary.  But everyone circulating before us is trim, lustrous, and inexplicably taller than average.  We are surrounded by stunning people.  They’re decked out in fringes, feathers, man buns, high-heeled boots, broad-brimmed hats, unexpected zipper placements.  More like costumes than clothes. 

The band is high quality, and when we hear the opening notes of the Star-Spangled Banner, we all stand.  The vocalist does an excellent job—the national anthem can be tricky; and just as the last note is dying away, three WWII fighter planes buzz overhead.  Impressive timing. 

“That gave me chills,” the woman behind me says. 

It’s at this point I notice that in this group of over five hundred people, not only is everyone exaggeratedly fit and gorgeous, they’re also exaggeratedly white.  Have we inadvertently stumbled into a Klan party?  Much has been said lately about the partitions between cultures and I wonder how a partition was erected here, today.  The publicity regarding this event reached everyone in all the nearby towns; also, obviously, Austin.  Was there some sort of coded message telling brown people to stay away?

This lack of diversity makes me grumpy.  If this massive party had taken place in Houston, every race, religion, and orientation would’ve been represented. 

“Ready to go?” David asks.  Diana and I gather our purses and wraps. 

We make it home around five, my favorite time to pour Zin and watch TV. 


 Carolyn and me.  Diana, on my other side, has been talking for a long time to a woman she just met.  She gets along well with everyone.  My sunglasses were given to me by my son, Sam, whose company, Mantra, manufactures and sells them in Beijing.  For each pair sold, a portion goes to help a poor rural Chinese child get eye exams and eye care.  

Carolyn and me.  Diana, on my other side, has been talking for a long time to a woman she just met.  She gets along well with everyone.  My sunglasses were given to me by my son, Sam, whose company, Mantra, manufactures and sells them in Beijing.  For each pair sold, a portion goes to help a poor rural Chinese child get eye exams and eye care.  

 Me, with two people who liked  Old Buildings in North Texas.   I have two fans!  Yay!

Me, with two people who liked Old Buildings in North Texas.  I have two fans!  Yay!

 Diana and me.  We've been friends since high school.  

Diana and me.  We've been friends since high school.