Paul Waldo 1958-2018

Husband, father, brother, friend. 

Everyone’s favorite.

Died of a heart attack on Sunday morning. Sixty years old. Unexpected and devastating.  

The first characteristic that comes to mind when I consider Paul is that he was charming; in a good way, not a calculating way. Everyday he told his wife, Betty, that he loved her and that she was beautiful and desirable. It sounds corny, but he made it work. 

Also, he was mannerly towards women. He held doors and watched his language, gestures that might be considered old-fashioned, but I always appreciated them. If he saw me carrying something, even if it was a little thing like a cake or a shopping bag, he’d rush forward with a “Here Jenny, let me get that.”

He had an uncanny knack for discerning and complimenting the one thing that a person valued most or had put the most effort into. Once when he, David, and I were grabbing Chinese in Houston, he gazed thoughtfully at me across the table and told me that he’d never seen teeth as perfect as mine. Another time when I was wearing one of my favorite sweaters, he told me that the color looked great on me. How was he able to so accurately pinpoint the source of my vanities? And he was this insightful with everyone, not just me. He could meet a person for the first time and immediately perceive what she or he held most dear. 

I’m not sure how accurate it would be to call him the last of the wildcatters, but that’s the way I thought of him. I know he loved his work and, as he was materially successful and so very personable, I’m certain he was highly respected and will be missed by his peers.

Once, at one of our many Waldo gatherings, David complained that people came to business meetings with their minds closed, which led to arguments, shouting matches, and hurt feelings; and Paul offered this advice: 

“I have a trick for when a meeting gets noisy. I cross my arms over my chest, lean away from the discord, and keep my mouth shut until someone asks for my opinion. Then all eyes turn to me. The quiet man wins every time.”

“But that’s manipulation,” I said, indignant because a person should be authentic. 

“If crucial information isn’t being heard because people are acting like baboons, the reasonable response is to create a calm environment where communication can take place.”

So in this way Paul taught me that, though handling people and manipulating people carry essentially the same meaning, they’re not the same thing at all. Being able to handle someone is an admirable gift while manipulating someone implies a selfish or even dishonest agenda. He was indeed a wise man. 

He never made an enemy and he never lost a friend. I never heard him insult anyone. He was never cruel or impatient. He didn’t judge harshly and generously took family members into his home when they were down on their luck. 

He and David talked on the phone at least once a week. He was more than a brother; he was a cherished friend. 

He was one of the best of us and we are heartbroken. 

Rest in Peace Brother Paul

Rest in Peace Brother Paul

Waldo's Christmas Letter 2018

“When are you going to get started on the Christmas letter?” David asks. 

It’s a simple and reasonable question, asked for the first time, so it’s not like he’s nagging. So why do I feel like I’m being hounded? I’ve been feeling grumpy for a few days now and I’m not sure why.

“And say what?” I want to know. “We used to have such exciting adventures. But for the last few years there’s been no new news.”

“We took that trip to the northeast in the fall.”

“And I blogged the crap out of it. The people who would read a holiday letter would’ve also read the blog.”

“We got to see Sam while we were in Boston.”

“His situation’s as stagnant as ours is, so why write about it?”

“But now his company’s SamCentric.”

SamCentric is a word I came up with when Sam told us that in an effort to move Mantra forward he’s going to become more visible. Does this SamCentric approach mean that Sam is going to become a celebrity in China? It sounds like he already is. His last video received three million views and pulled in ten thousand comments; and he’s got fifty thousand followers. 

“If Sam moved back to the states,” I say, “that’d be something I’d put in a letter.”

“You can’t be irritated with Sam for living in Beijing when we were out of the country for nearly thirty years.”

“It was different. Our parents didn’t miss us at all.” 

This is true. A divorce reshapes a family and my parents kind of wrote me off when they split up. And David’s mother had children and grandchildren galore. Demands were coming at her from all sides, so she was fine with us being elsewhere.   

“You can write about Curtis and Anna.”

“And say what? That they work a lot and take vacations every once in a while?”

“One of your books was released in the states; that’s a big deal. And you had that blog tour.”

“Big whoop.Old Buildings has twelve reviews on Amazon. Beartown has two thousand, three hundred, and thirty-two.”

Old Buildings is hardly Beartown.”

“That’s true, but Norah Roberts’ last book got over a thousand reviews. She’s been writing bestsellers for so long that at this point her work is no more than hackneyed regurgitation. Yet still she gets the readers and the reviews.”

“Playing the comparison game is never a good idea.”

“The absolute only thing that’s changed this year is we got a new dog.”

“So write about that.”

So, here’s the Christmas letter: 

We’re fine and the boys are fine. The only change has been the arrival of Dilly. So here’s a little about Dilly:

I got her from the local no-kill SPCA shelter. She’s a total mutt, but people seem to find comfort in labeling. 

“She’s half poodle and half shitzu,” one neighbor says. 

“She’s also very skinny,” another says. “I think she’s poodle, shitzu, and whippet.”

It’s true that she has the haughty snout of a poodle and the protruding lower teeth of a shitzu, but she also has the long feet of a rabbit. She’s white with a tinge of cinnamon along her back, and, as with most white dogs, the distinctive copper tearstains. Like I said, a mutt. 

At first she was scared of everything. She would crouch into submissive position every time she heard a loud noise. Once, trembling with fear, she went prone in front of an oncoming car! She flinched when the wind blew strong. Also, she cringed when I held out a hand to stroke her head, a sure indication that her last owner hit her, which upsets my heart. She sounds like a wimp, which isn’t such a bad thing. Her timidity made me believe that she’d never stray and that she would forever rest her faith in my ability to keep her safe. 

That was two months ago, when I naively thought that, because she was so fearful, she wouldn’t go far. But she’s grown more confident by the day and more territorial in the cul-de-sac. Now she takes off after other dogs, wanting them to be her friend; when she hears our neighbor’s voice she runs to his house and jumps into his arms; and she follows our guests to their cars, begging them for a ride to anywhere. 

The shy princess has become an insecure teenager with daddy issues, needing everybody to love her and seeking affection from strangers. 

My belief was that the advantage of having a small dog is that if she doesn’t do what I want her to, I can easily pick her up. But I can’t pick her up if she’s not there. She runs away fast and doesn’t respond when I call. I have no control, which, come to think of it, is probably why I’ve been so grouchy lately. I tend toward discontented introspection when disorder invades. 

I know how to train a dog. I was just being lazy, hoping she’d figure out my expectations and then train herself. How stupid is that? So now Dilly and I are spending two sessions a day with her on the leash as she learns how to heel, sit, and come when I call. She’s catching on quickly, but I don’t fool myself. Once she’s off that leash she’s gone, which is a dangerous way for a little dog to be.  

And here’s the part that makes this a Christmas letter— 

We wish our friends and family, and their friends and family, the most Merry Christmas ever and a safe and serene 2019. 

The Waldos

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Doesn’t she have the sweetest face?

Doesn’t she have the sweetest face?

I trained her to yawn. See the poking-out lower teeth?

I trained her to yawn. See the poking-out lower teeth?

Travertine it is! I thought it was funny that everyone I’ve ever known weighed in on the tile issue, and nobody responded to my sentimental homage to my thesaurus. Practicality conquers whimsy. This picture doesn’t do the travertine justice. But believe me, it looks a lot better than our old kitchen tile, and it’ll look so much better than carpet in the other areas.

Travertine it is! I thought it was funny that everyone I’ve ever known weighed in on the tile issue, and nobody responded to my sentimental homage to my thesaurus. Practicality conquers whimsy. This picture doesn’t do the travertine justice. But believe me, it looks a lot better than our old kitchen tile, and it’ll look so much better than carpet in the other areas.


We’re replacing the carpet in the bedrooms and the back living area with tile. Also, the tile in the kitchen and bathrooms is dated, so it’s going away, too. The floors in the rest of the house are dark hardwood. This project is quite an undertaking but the carpet is years old and stained. It’s time. We’re dreading the mess. 

We go to a tile place in Bee Cave. We’ve come here before and were waited on by a knowledgeable personable salesperson and we’d like to work with her. But sadly, we’re told she’s unavailable because she’s recovering from brain surgery. So we tell the sloppy man behind the counter what our plans are and, though he seems reluctant to leave his chair, he heaves his backside up and circles around, leading us toward a corner where there are several rows of tile racks.  

His nose is red and every inhalation is accompanied by a wet sniff. He wipes his dripping nose with the back of his hand and rubs it down the leg of his pants. 

“Do you have a cold?” I ask with clear disdain.

“Allergies,” the sad sack tells me.

Huh. That’s what they all say. I pull hand sanitizer from my purse, use it, pass it to David. 

We pull out a few pieces of tile that we like and the guy says we can take them home and bring them back when we’ve decided. We load three heavy tiles into the trunk. 

“Brain surgery, hah,” I tell David as I drive from the lot. “I think she went to lunch and he was poaching her clients.”

“If so, he wasn’t very good at it.” David has no respect for salespeople who aren’t energetic, good-natured, and helpful.

On the way from Bee Cave we spot another tile store. We drop in and a lively woman named Mariah says she’ll be happy to come look at the house, bring samples, and guide us through the decision-making process. The next day she brings several tiles based on what we described, none of which we’re crazy about. 

“Well, now that I’ve seen your home I have a better idea of what you’re looking for.”

She comes the next day with more tiles. She explains color variance, which is the flow of different shades through the whole tile lot. A high variance will give the floor a sense of drama and movement. David and I prefer the high, but we can’t discern the authentic range of color from only a single tile. We’re mired in indecision. 

“I’ll leave them with you,” she says merrily. “You can return them when you’ve made up your mind.”

Now we have six tiles laid out across the carpet, bordering the dark wood floor, the wall, and the stone base of the bar so we can see what goes with what. Unfortunately nothing matches anything, nor does anything complement anything. And they all have too much gray, which, I’ve been told, is the new neutral. 

The next day on the way to the Costco on William Cannon in Austin, we see another tile place and decide to check it out. 

“Will we still be going from store to store a year from now?” David wants to know. 

“So far I’m not inspired by any of it.”

“Isn’t inspiration a lot to ask of tile?”

This store is different. It sells only to contractors. We’re supposed to choose our tile and then tell the contractor which one we want. The store gives the contractor a discount, which he or she either will or won’t pass on to us. If we want to take tiles home we must pay eighteen dollars per tile and will be fully refunded when they’re returned. We choose three that we kind of like; but they aren’t inspiring. We’re given a list of store-sanctioned contractors. 

I carry all the samples we’ve collected around the house, looking at them in different light, holding them up to the wall—clash, match, or blend? We take off our socks and walk on them. The no-slip one is sandpaper beneath our feet, so that’s a no-go.

In our possession we have nine tiles. 

“There must be hundreds of tile stores in Austin,” I say. “We could go to them all and do the entire house with the samples.”

“That’d definitely give us a high variance.” 

“Do you know which of these belong to which store?”  

“I’m keeping track.” 

Sure he is. 

One thing we’ve learned is that pictures never show the true color. Our floor is much darker than this and we concluded that the tile is too dark, but that’s not discernible at all in this picture.

One thing we’ve learned is that pictures never show the true color. Our floor is much darker than this and we concluded that the tile is too dark, but that’s not discernible at all in this picture.

High variance, but too dark with way too much gray.

High variance, but too dark with way too much gray.

See, this is what i’m talking about. In this picture the paint has a gold tinge, when in reality, it’s a pale shade of taupe.

See, this is what i’m talking about. In this picture the paint has a gold tinge, when in reality, it’s a pale shade of taupe.

The Death of Roget

I’m fortunate to have an activity that consumes me. Some people don’t require an immersing passion and are content to pass their days tending to interests that float by or difficulties that pop up. But when I write a sentence that makes me laugh or use a word in a particularly clever way, my joy is set for the whole day. And when a plot seems weak or inauthentic I descend into a state of upheaval. 

This morning I’m stumbling over the use of the word “virago.” It scans well and the meaning fits, though I want to make sure it’s not just a good word, but the perfect word. 

Here is the sentence:

“Caught between the two viragoes, I make no attempt to intervene, but instead take a deep breath, focus on my hands in my lap, and go to a serene place in my head.”         

It feels right. But my fear is that use of the archaic vocabulary will distract from the story. Perhaps a more current word would be better. So I turn to my most outstanding helper, Peter Mark Roget, who created a system of ordering words by nuance as well as meaning. There is no greater resource when it comes to synonyms and extended connotations. For instance, in the index there are seven entries for “wobble,” an indication that the word is subject to seven subtle distinctions; and each entry gives at least thirty words that are near in meaning or connected to wobble in some way. The progeny of words doesn’t get much better than that. 

But to my disappointment, there is no virago between viper (two entries) and virgin (twelve entries). For the first time, Roget has let me down. 

Flummoxed, I rush down the hall to discuss it with David, who’s in the bedroom getting dressed for the day’s work on the Habitat house. The house the crew is currently working on will belong to Pastor Perry. It’s going up next door to the last one they built. To further enlighten, the recently completed house caused grumbles and discord within the local chapter of Habitat when the young owner/recipient requested yellow paint and lavender trim. Because of this nontraditional choice, arguments ensued and feelings were hurt. In the end, freedom of expression won and she now lives in a house that looks like an Easter egg, which I find charming while others term it an eyesore.  

“There is no entry for virago in my Thesaurus,” I tell David, waving it about.

“Internet,” he says. 

So to the internet I go. I’m disheartened when I see how many entries there are. I scroll through three pages of thesauruses that include virago without coming across Roget.

Oh Roget, Roget, incomplete and obsolete. Superfluous. A redundant tome. Inferior. Worn and Torn. 

Virago has two opposing meanings. 

The first: a domineering, violent, or bad-tempered woman.

This accurately describes my two characters. 

The second: a woman with exemplary or heroic qualities. 

Well, there’s nothing exemplary or heroic to be found in my bickerers. 

But then I come across a couple of other synonyms: shrew and termagant. Also from a long-ago century. I look ’em up. Shrew: famously and obviously Shakespeare; Termagant: well, it’s all over ancient literature from Song of Roland to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And many others, but these are the only ones I’m familiar with. 

I decide to leave virago where it is for now. And look, I’ve squandered thirty minutes having fun with alternative words for bitch. 

David has gone his way and I have half an hour before I need to leave for yoga; plenty of time to wallow in sentimentality. I take a picture of my old Thesaurus and consider how much it’s helped me over the years. When I moved from country to country I carefully packed it in my luggage rather than putting it in the shipment to follow later. When I required subtext—humorous, snide, imperious, or otherwise, it offered endless choice. It was indispensible and beloved. 

And now look at it. A yellowed corpse. Symbolic of my growth yet with no purpose at all. Rendered pointless by the mighty www. 

I tie on my hiking boots. In the garage I locate a trowel. Hugging the volume to my breast, I trek across the crunchy damp grass to the back of our property, the section that’s easy to dig in because it’s been churned up by feral hogs. With David’s trusty gardening tool I dig a hole. I make it deep so the hogs and armadillos can’t sniff it out. I lay my old friend down, slap cold mud over it, and tamp it. 

Good-bye, Roget. 

Seen better days.

Seen better days.

Peter Mark Roget, 1779-1869

Peter Mark Roget, 1779-1869

Dilly in the house! A bonus for those who stuck it out until the last picture. It’s been a while since Trip died and I was ready for a new dog. So look who I found at the local SPCA. She’s adorable, and even better, she adores me. It breaks my heart that when I reach out to pet her she cringes. She’s been hit in the face at some point. She’ll get over that. She’s a total mutt, I think mostly poodle but she’s got the protruding lower teeth of a shitzu. She’s tiny and frail, only six pounds. Dilly’s going to be very happy with us.

Dilly in the house! A bonus for those who stuck it out until the last picture. It’s been a while since Trip died and I was ready for a new dog. So look who I found at the local SPCA. She’s adorable, and even better, she adores me. It breaks my heart that when I reach out to pet her she cringes. She’s been hit in the face at some point. She’ll get over that. She’s a total mutt, I think mostly poodle but she’s got the protruding lower teeth of a shitzu. She’s tiny and frail, only six pounds. Dilly’s going to be very happy with us.

Texas Book Festival

David suggests that we attend the Texas Book Festival so that I’ll get a feel for who participates and what its goals are. At first I’m reluctant because Old Buildings in North Texas isn’t going to be there and it should be. My novel belongs front and center with the other Texas novels. Stupid people in charge. Stupid unwieldy organization. Stupid other writers who’ve been called in while I’ve been left out. But even in my bitter state, I’m able to recognize the folly of holding a grudge against a festival. 

The festival office sent me an apologetic rejection letter, from which I gathered that the book hadn’t even been read because, for one thing, it was submitted too late, and for the other, there were several thousand entries and not enough reviewers. My book fell through the cracks, as I feared it would. 

Next year’s submission period opens in January. Woefully, Why Stuff Matters will not be released in the US until March. Once again, too late. I will have to figure out a way around it. 

The UK publicist came up with the idea that when I submit Why Stuff Matters I should also arrange and offer a panel discussion. This, she said, would make the organizers look favorably upon me, for I will have filled a slot in their schedule. 

I’m intrigued. A writer can go on about writing forever. There are so many facets to be explored—the publishing experience; grammatical license; editing; writers’ groups and whether or not they’re helpful; the creative process, organic or methodic; innovative vocabulary . . . these are just a few. And within each topic are endless subtopics.  


Moving on. David’s suggestion is a wise one. I need to see what, who, and how. 

It’s a fresh sunny day in Austin and the festival is being held on the capital grounds, which, after the recent rains, are lovely, clean, and lush.

We take seats and observe a panel rendered cohesive by their genre; in this case, fantasy. The three authors are introduced, they each summarize their books for the audience, and then they take questions. I could do this. I’d be great at it! My conclusion, however, is that these authors did not, as the publicist implied, offer themselves as a prearranged panel in order to be included in the festival. This grouping was organized by the Festival planners. Though this doesn’t mean that her counsel missed the mark. There are multiple ways to get things done. 

We wander through the maze of tents. There are tents for book signings and posted schedules telling when the authors will be available. There are tents for purchasing books and tents for purchasing random things, such as T-shirts and gardening boots. There is a tent for publishers of every ilk—vanity, boutique, university affiliated, and highly reputable. 

The theme of the entire event is a noble one—literacy, a cause I will forever feel passionate about. To this end, children’s authors are a dominant presence. In one of the panel discussions a seven-year-old boy sits next to me with his nose buried in a thick book. It brings on a wave of nostalgia. My boys were avid readers from kindergarten on. 

Another theme is diversity. Latino writers are heavily represented and we stop to listen to a discussion of how it feels to be an undocumented resident in the US. Also, in an attempt to make the mostly white audiences comprehend a cultural view other than their own, African Americans, Muslims, Jews, and Asians discuss their issues and hold up their books. 

Sadly, this event seems to have no place for a blond woman who has a strong narrative voice and tells unique and humorous stories. Though there are few solid novelists, most guest authors, fiction and nonfiction, brandish a cause or an agenda. Angst about violence, oppression, or prejudice; the treatment of the addicted and the disenfranchisement of the mentally ill; the difficulties of the middle class; even voter suppression—all are topics of books and subjects of discussion. 

We stop in front of the booth representing the Writers’ League of Texas. 

“What is this organization and why would I want to join it?” I ask the garrulous man who steps forth to greet me. 

“Mainly, we’re all about networking. We meet once a month at By the Book.” By the Book is a popular store in Austin.  

An introvert, my reaction is one of horrified cynicism. Very few times have I met with other authors where there has been no competition, no one-upmanship. A writer’s ego is humongous and fragile. Also, what do writers have to discuss with one another? It’s a solitary occupation and we each have our own opinions, style, and genre. 

“What did you find out about it?” David asks as we walk away. A proponent of joining, he’s wondering why I didn’t sign and pay. 

“Overall, this has been a humbling experience.” I’m despondent. “This book fair is massive, there are too many authors in the world, and I have no socially deep and insightful foundation propping up my writing. How do I get from the outside to the inside?”

Yet I hold to my dream: maybe next year. We stop in Bee Cave for barbecue on the way home. 

Yep, I was there. Also these are the sunglasses Sam manufactures. Mantra Eyewear.

Yep, I was there. Also these are the sunglasses Sam manufactures. Mantra Eyewear.

This is what a panel looks like. I so belong up there!

This is what a panel looks like. I so belong up there!

Rows and rows of tents on the Capital Grounds in Austin.

Rows and rows of tents on the Capital Grounds in Austin.

New Haven, the Pit

Yale is all there is worth seeing in New Haven. Step off the elegant campus and you’re surrounded by worn buildings and derelict homes—in short, a ghetto. Signs are posted on every corner euphemistically identifying the area as The Historic District, but I don’t know why New Haven bothered; these few fusty blocks are nothing to be proud of. The houses loom over the streets with stairs leading from the cracked sidewalk to broad porches with high-reaching columns. I’m certain that at one time these homes were impressive, but these days the wood rot around the roofs, windows, and eaves is clearly visible and the smell of old carpets is so prevalent that the moldy odor drifts heavily out into the narrow street. 

David and I have elected to stay in one of these historic mansions, a yellow edifice built in the 1850’s. We look up and down the street, observing all the other decaying buildings. Dubiously, we approach the porch of the house where we’ll be sleeping for the next two nights. 

“I estimate it would take a half million to restore one of these homes to its past glory,” I tell David.

“That’s probably about right.”

He rings the bell and the door is answered by a petite man, approximate age, eighty. As a host in a house of historic significance, he invites us in and starts giving us a tour as soon as we’re through the door. 

He speaks with an accent, Greek we think. We follow him down a tight hallway and turn left into the common area. Ancient crown molding in the lofty ceiling; dull brass chandelier hanging crookedly; furniture rickety, old but not valuable; watery light, dirty windows. 

“The importance of this house,” he tells us, taking a central position, “is that the man who built it was a co-founder of the Baldwin piano company, very famous. You know of it? And because the factory burned down he invented and installed the first in-home sprinkling system, which you see there.”

And he points behind us. Dutifully, we turn and look. Yes, heavy pipes cross the ceiling. There isn’t a surface in this room that hasn’t been claimed by dolls. And there isn’t an inch of wall free of paintings or framed dried flower arrangements. Also, paintings are stacked ten-deep and lean against walls and in doorways. The paintings are all about duets of color, splotches of green next to blue, or red streaks lined in purple. I’m no artist and I certainly know nothing about painting, but is it art if you do the same thing again and again? 

“What’s with the dolls and paintings?” I ask, not too concerned about whether he catches my disdain. All these old art projects smell bad, as though they haven’t been shifted in twenty years. 

“My wife is an artist. She carves the dolls from wax.”

“She makes the clothes?” The clothes are lovely. 

“Oh yes. Everything. And the paintings are hers, too. And see her three dimensional art?”

Oh. I didn’t see it before, but some of the paintings have faces or body parts emerging from them, as though the colorful canvases are giving birth. 

He leads us to our room. As we make our way back through the cramped hallway to the stairs, I notice a couple of opened Arm and Hammer boxes tucked between dolls and behind stacks of pictures. Pointless. He would have to bury this house in baking soda to make any difference at all.

We chose this place off the internet because we thought it sounded interesting—a house with a past. We stayed in Duke’s Mansion in Charlotte a couple of years ago, and it was a lovely experience. But, as with most of the places on this tour, the description online simply isn’t true. We’re promised a room on the ground floor, a refrigerator, a television with cable, and two queen beds. But what good is a television if you can only get one channel? And we’re on the second floor; there’s no refrigerator; and there’s only one bed and it’s a double. At least there’s a small desk where I can write. 

The landlord acts proud of this tight cell as he points to the undersized bed, tells us of the fresh towels (I should hope!) in the bathroom, and explains how the paintings in here are also the work of his wife. He leaves us and that’s the last we see of him. 

“I think his wife’s dead and he’s got her remains preserved somewhere on the premises,” I say.

“Ordinarily I’d call poppycock, but in this case I fear you you’re right.” (I use a writer’s license; David never says poppycock.)

We settle into the room, then walk around the corner to New Haven’s Little Italy—more dank frontages, Italian flags drooping. Our planned destination is Pepe’s, which has been ranked as the number one pizza place in the country. I’m very strict about what goes in my mouth and in the last dozen years I’ve allowed myself exactly two slices of pizza. Discouragement brought on by finding myself in this pit called New Haven weakens my will, causing me to eat three slices of Pepe’s pizza, which is as delicious as is claimed.  

I come awake at two a.m. with a picture of our creepy host in my mind. Withered and hunched, he’d barely been able to make it up the stairs to show us to our room. I hate to think how long it’s been since this comforter has been laundered. As far as I can tell, the man’s on his own in this fetid mansion; and he’s certainly in no condition to go the extra mile when it comes to changing bedding. I begin to itch. There is no more sleep to be had. I kick back the covers and spend the rest of the night composing this posting. 

Historical dolls.

Historical dolls.

See how many? Dolls are everywhere. She must be obsessed!

See how many? Dolls are everywhere. She must be obsessed!

Ah. The boy doll is proposing to the girl doll.

Ah. The boy doll is proposing to the girl doll.

The mansion. It looks better in this picture than it really is.

The mansion. It looks better in this picture than it really is.

In Newport, a wonderful place to visit. Brahmin. Their flagship is my mothership!

In Newport, a wonderful place to visit. Brahmin. Their flagship is my mothership!

On the last day of our trip we meet up with Sam in Boston. As it’s been two years since we’ve seen him, it’s good to have an opportunity to catch up. He’s in town to give a presentation at Forbes’s Thirty under Thirty conference. Proud of you Sam!

On the last day of our trip we meet up with Sam in Boston. As it’s been two years since we’ve seen him, it’s good to have an opportunity to catch up. He’s in town to give a presentation at Forbes’s Thirty under Thirty conference. Proud of you Sam!

The Trip That's Lasting Forever

Happily saying good-bye to our mouse-infested abode in New Hampshire, we drive through the White Mountains to Burlington, Vermont. We have no idea what to expect from this small city on Lake Champlain, but I like it immediately. The well-maintained buildings are the kind of old that is picturesque and stately, an indication of past wealth and current prosperity. The University of Vermont is here, along with three other colleges, which means the population is young and energetic. 

Our travel information tells us that Burlington has two points of interest to offer tourists—the Church Street Market and the Farmers’ Market. So first, the Church Street Market. Parking isn’t easy. When we finally find a place on a side street, the meter demands a quarter per fifteen minutes. 

The icy wind coming off the lake makes my nose red and my pace brisk. The Church Street Market is three blocks of walking, no cars allowed. The stores aren’t unusual—The Gap, Banana Republic, Black & White—yet every shop I go into is pretentious and overpriced. There seems to be an inexplicable underlying arrogance. The walkway is clean. A couple of violinists huddle in the doorway of a closed pub; their lines of harmony soar briefly, then are carried away by the biting gusts. I enter a store that sells only jeans and the girl who works there asks how she can help. 

“I don’t like skinny jeans or jeans with rips,” I tell her. “And I won’t pay more than a hundred dollars.”

“Oh, well, these are designer jeans,” she says, disappointed that I’m so demanding and opinionated. 

“Jeans are jeans,” I tell her, glancing at a price tag of three hundred dollars. “These look exactly like the jeans they have at Macys for seventy-five dollars.”

“Sorry,” she says. 

Having irritated her, I leave the shop and join David who, when I’m on a mission, entertains himself with his iPad. We only had three quarters, so time’s running out on the parking. Returning to the car, we go in hunt of where we’ll be staying, the Starlight Inn, which is a Hollywood-themed hotel in the tiny town of Colchester. Hollywood themed: what were we thinking? The woman in the phone guides us there.

The establishment looks new. The units open to small well-kept lawns and a parking lot. The man who owns and manages the place is in his forties and eccentric. He rides around the property on what he calls his “Li’l Nellie,” which is like a three-wheeled Segway. And not only does he own the hotel, but he also owns the three-screened drive-in theatre next door and, beyond that, the Starlight Laundromat. I bet he owns more of Colchester than anyone. 

We’re in the Marilyn Monroe Room. The Tom Cruise room is next door. No mice and it’s spacious. We’ll be happy here for a couple of nights. There’s a life-sized cutout of Marilyn on one wall and her most famous photos on the others. Most disconcerting, in the bathroom there’s a poster of Marilyn in off-the-shoulder black lace accompanied by a quote: I don’t mind living in a man’s world as long as I can be a woman in it.This sentiment is so opposed to women’s views today that I can’t help but wonder what to make of it. How would Marilyn fit into our present? Is she no longer relevant? Or is she supremely relevant?

The next morning, after a great night’s sleep, we visit the Farmers’ Market, which turns out to be the best and most extensive I’ve ever seen. The vegetables are inspiring—massive shiny bell peppers, piles of carrots and greens, tomatoes of every size and hue. My sorrow is that I’m traveling and I can’t buy. There are baked goods, too; also pottery, jewelry, and home-brewed ales. We come across a Master Gardeners’ booth and I take David’s picture with his Vermont gardening sisters.  

We leave there and make our way downhill to Lake Champlain, where there’s a nice bike/walking path. After an hour’s walk, we return to the market for lunch. I have falafel and David has a chicken curry wrap. We eat as we walk. 

Burlington is a good place to hang out and absorb the lively atmosphere. If you’re in the vicinity, I highly recommend a couple of days there. But now we’re off to Manchester, Vermont, which turns out to be one of the loveliest small towns I’ve ever seen. Genteel homes, rolling green lawns, colorful flowers, ancient oaks. It’s the home of Orvis so, just as we did with LL Bean in Maine, a trip to the flagship store is a must. I have no interest in either of these brands. Why can’t clothing be both practical and attractive? But muddy colors, bulky cuts, and clunky boots are for lumberjacks, not for me. Also, plaid flannel—yikes!

In Manchester we have reserved a room in a B&B, and we once again find ourselves at the mercy of a retired person who does everything on the cheap—a bread-only breakfast, thin toilet paper, Wal-Mart pillows, no movie channels. The little woman hovers behind the drinks counter at breakfast, counting how many sugars we put in our coffee and tea, huffing discontentedly when David pours himself a second juice. I’m so over B&B’s.

There’s not much to do in Manchester except walk around and ooh and ah over its beauty. The next morning, before we leave the area, we drive to the summit of Mount Equinox, where there is a spectacular view and a spiritual meditation center that’s maintained by the Carthusian monks who are secluded in their nearby monastery. A history of these monks and an explanation of their austere lifestyle is framed and posted at the entry—and it’s quite touching to think that these men who live in almost total silence and have no possessions spend their days praying for all of us who must confront the evil world on a daily basis. Thanks guys, it means a lot. 

Booth after booth of beautiful produce at the Burlington Farmers’ Market

Booth after booth of beautiful produce at the Burlington Farmers’ Market

On the wall of our hotel room. It confuses me to think about Marilyn these days.

On the wall of our hotel room. It confuses me to think about Marilyn these days.

This gives a pretty good idea of the place. The rooms are in the background.

This gives a pretty good idea of the place. The rooms are in the background.

David and his new Master Gardener friends from Vermont.

David and his new Master Gardener friends from Vermont.

Heaven to Hell

In the two and a half days we’re at Acadia National Park we hike eighteen miles. The skies are clear and the temperature is perfect. In Bar Harbor we enjoy our wonderful hotel and the touristy shopping. Every meal we have is delicious and one evening we’re entertained by ancient Celtic tunes played on an acoustic guitar. We’re sad to leave the area. I highly recommend a visit to Acadia and Bar Harbor.

Our next lodging turns out to be more adventurous than I prefer. Following the rather frantic voice in our phone, we drive four hours southwest, to Huttopia, a cluster of canvas covered frames with wooden floors on a serene lake in the White Mountains. When we arrive it’s so hot and humid that my clothes stick to me. The apathetic receptionist tells us that we can’t drink the water and that we’re to recycle. She knows nothing about the area, though she’s heard talk of hikes. Unhelpful as she is, she tells me I have beautiful eyes so she’ll always have a place in my heart.

I try to be a good sport about things, but our new temporary home is a huge disappointment. The information on Huttopia’s website touts space to sleep five, indoor and outdoor dining areas, a stovetop and refrigerator, and a full bathroom. And on the surface, all this is true; except that what they’re calling a stovetop is actually a crappy burner on the porch, and the two and a half beds could only sleep five if they’re talking about four-year-olds. Most dismaying is that there’s no storage room anywhere, which means the suitcases take up the table. And the bathroom is the size of a closet. Not only do we have to put the sheets on the beds, but we’re expected to strip them and deliver them somewhere when we depart. I know I sound spoiled, but this place is costly. 

Also, we’re asked to wash our dishes before we leave, which in my mind means we’ll be eating off dishes that were (or weren’t) cleaned by the previous tenant. I thoroughly scrub the dishes before we eat off of them. As I’ve stated in previous write-ups, this trusting the guests to prepare for the next guests is a stupid and careless concept. 

The next morning it’s so cold that neither of us can get warm. We huddle in three layers beneath blankets, muttering that surely it’ll warm up later in the day. There’s a heater that’s on a thirty-minute timer. It puts out little heat, though the glow creates the illusion. 

Even worse, though, is the hike that claims to be four miles long but is closer to seven. And it’s not a hike, it’s a climb, a steep one. I’m horrible at going both up and down. Five hours in I’m so exhausted that I’m fighting tears. And shamefully, my every stumbling step is accompanied by a bitter expletive. Complaining is probably the best and worst thing I do. 

“Come and look at this view,” David says when we reach the peak. He stands right on the edge of a granite shelf looking down over a beautiful valley. 

“You think I haven’t heard myself for the last two hours? If I were to stand there nobody on the planet would blame you for giving me a push.”

He shrugs and takes a few pictures. It takes us longer to get down than it did to get up, altogether five-and-a-half hours of misery. I’m so bone-weary that I can’t lift my feet and I hurt everywhere. I tell David that if he asks what’s for lunch when we get back I’m hitting him with my walking stick. He chuckles. He’s a much better sport than I am. 

The next morning I’m appalled to see that, though we left it clean the night before, our tiny food prep counter is covered with mouse turds. I fondly recall how, before we moved to our country home outside Marble Falls, I didn’t know what a mouse turd looked like. Shuddering in revulsion, I wipe the mousy surface with the same sponge I used earlier for washing dishes; and will use again when I wash up before we go. It is what it is.

After this episode, we drive an hour to catch the Cog Train to the summit of Mount Washington. If you’re ever in this area you should definitely do this. A particularly arduous segment of the Appalachian Trail, Mount Washington is the tallest peak in New England. When we reach the top it’s twenty-eight degrees and we’re consumed by a cloud. I buy a pair of gloves in the gift shop. 

On the way back to our frigid tent/hut we stop for lunch in Conway, at a nondescript restaurant called The Lobster Trap. And indeed, there is a splintered lobster trap by the entrance. David orders baked halibut and I have clam chowder; and believe me, a person doesn’t lose weight by ordering clam chowder for lunch every day. A couple of hours later David gets sick. Traveling can be hard on the system.

The view from the top of the White Ledge Loop, a hellish climb.

The view from the top of the White Ledge Loop, a hellish climb.

The two of us in front of the cog train at the bottom of Mount Washington. This was a fun and interesting excursion.

The two of us in front of the cog train at the bottom of Mount Washington. This was a fun and interesting excursion.

From the top of Mount Washington. The mountain is in the clouds three hundred days a year. If you catch it on a clear day you can see a hundred miles in every direction.

From the top of Mount Washington. The mountain is in the clouds three hundred days a year. If you catch it on a clear day you can see a hundred miles in every direction.

Our bathroom at Huttopia. I bumped my knees when I sat on the toilet. Also on this entire trip there have been no lids on toilets, which is disgusting, and only the cheapest toilet paper.

Our bathroom at Huttopia. I bumped my knees when I sat on the toilet. Also on this entire trip there have been no lids on toilets, which is disgusting, and only the cheapest toilet paper.

The Northeast

I usually like to go along with things, but this looks like a lot of traveling.

We’re taking JetBlue, which worries me. Not a week goes by without an airplane falling out of the sky. And JetBlue is especially concerning because some years ago one of their planes crashed in Florida, leaving a perfect plane-shaped outline in the swamp. The image stuck with me. But, contrary to expectations, this turns out to be a new aircraft and it’s very nice. The seats are leather so the odor of a million farts won’t be absorbed by upholstery. Also, there’s more legroom and all the technology works. 

Because the flight was delayed for a couple of hours we don’t arrive at Logan until midnight. But don’t worry—we still make last call at the airport Hilton’s bar and a glass of wine is exactly what’s needed. 

The next morning we uber into South Boston and move our luggage into a B&B, Encore, that’s run by a jovial old German whose partner is involved in Boston’s theater scene. Masks and theater posters are on every wall. The partner, whom we don’t meet for the two nights we’re there, is an Edward Albee fan, or maybe even a friend. Several poster ads for his plays hang in our room. And if you look closely you’ll see that they’re signed by the cast, directors, and producers. 

The first day we walk the Freedom Trail, which begins at Boston Commons and ends at Bunker Hill. It takes four and a half hours to cover the entire thing. The path is made clear by red bricks laid in the sidewalk. I highly recommend this adventure that passes by Paul Revere’s house, the site of the Boston Massacre, statues of famous revolutionary leaders, the Old North Church, etc. When we get back to the room we collapse on the bed and take a nap. That evening we go out for Indian food, which, tragically, is unavailable in Marble Falls. Lamb vindaloo! 

The next day our feet are sore from walking across all those cobbled streets and it’s quite chilly, so we take a tour bus that basically follows the same route, only with the driver’s entertaining commentary. We leave the bus at the Barnes and Noble, where we go in and ask at the information counter if they have Old Buildings in North Texas which, unsurprisingly, they do not.

“It’s an unusual book by an excellent new author,” I tell the woman. “Why do you not have it in stock?”

“I’ll order a copy right now,” she says. 

“Not one copy,” I say. “Twenty at least. It’ll fly off your shelves.”

Her smile tells me she thinks I’m demented. David and I thank her and leave. 

“It was my understanding that Old Buildings was to be distributed in the states,” I whine to David. “Arcadia has a distributor that they’re paying to distribute it. Doesn’t that mean it should be in book stores?”

“Call them. Find out.”

David believes in being proactive while I believe in not bothering anybody. 

The next day we pick up our rental car and drive up the coast to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The town is quaint, a cobbled shopping street with a hundred restaurants and two hundred shops full of t-shirts, mugs, and hats. Because we’re post-season, the number of tourists is manageable. We visit an enjoyable ten-acre walking museum, Strawberry Banke, which preserves and presents three hundred years of the history of Puddle Dock, one of the first Portsmouth neighborhoods. I like looking at old stuff and there are costumed artisans to explain and demonstrate everything from boat building to cooking. 

Every restaurant advertises lobster rolls, which seem to be an area specialty. So that evening we each order one. There might be variations, but what we’re given is a huge amount of lobster that’s been marinated in garlic butter and wrapped in a warm heated roll. I get the smallest on offer and David gets the next bigger size. They’re expensive and rich. The advantage seems to be that the lobster is peeled for you. What’s not to love about that? But I’m talking about consuming five thousand calories at the end of the day. That lobster roll will be with me until I die. 

Our Portsmouth hotel is generic, which I confess I prefer—two queen beds, cable, a desk for writing, and no interaction with a maniacally hospitable host. 

The next morning we’re once again on our way, this time to Portland, Maine. Another touristy area, this one bigger and right on the waterfront. More t-shirts and restaurants. Once again we’re on foot. Five miles from the outmost tip of a wharf to the observatory, the highest point in the city, from Longfellow’s home back down to the water where we eat salads, trying to fool ourselves into believing that fresh greens and grated carrots will cancel out last night’s lobster rolls. 

We spend the night at Fleetwood House, a B&B run by a woman well into her seventies who, needing supplemental funds for her retirement, spent a small amount to make her extra rooms habitable. She’s friendly and generous with her recommendations about local restaurants and attractions, but there’s no disguising that she’s not able to keep up. My feet are filthy after walking barefoot across the floor of our room. When I dry my face on a hand towel my cheeks end up coated in dust. And I don’t want to think about what the grainy bits in the sheets mean. The breakfast, toast and fruit, is presented attractively, but no protein. Bye, Portland. You were worth visiting. 

Next up, Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. A couple of my Marble Falls friends recently returned from Acadia and one of them—was it Cathy or Jane?—said that Bar Harbor was so over-the-top packed with tourists that they could only tolerate it for the length of a single meal before moving on. As David and I have reserved a room in the biggest hotel on the busiest street, we have no choice but to disregard their opinion.

The Bar Harbor Grand is exactly what I require at this point. Luxuriously large room with a generous writing surface, accommodating staff, on-site parking (this can be a problem), and a wine shop next door where I found a lovely Australian Malbec.

Tomorrow we will go hiking. 

Acadia’s dramatic coast.

Acadia’s dramatic coast.

David at Otter’s Point. I can’t believe we made it all the way up there!

David at Otter’s Point. I can’t believe we made it all the way up there!

The beginning of the Freedom Trail. Follow the red bricks for miles and miles and . . .

The beginning of the Freedom Trail. Follow the red bricks for miles and miles and . . .

The most photographed lighthouse on the east coast, just outside Portland, Maine.

The most photographed lighthouse on the east coast, just outside Portland, Maine.

Taken on Cadillac Mountain. Acadia is majestic. See the fallen cloud in the background? I’m a little cold.

Taken on Cadillac Mountain. Acadia is majestic. See the fallen cloud in the background? I’m a little cold.

Education: Apologize, Why?

Curtis and Anna often forward interesting articles to us. Today Curtis has sent one concerning a controversial school assignment in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. I don’t know anything about Cuyahoga Falls, but from what I glean, this is a progressive school district, with both teachers and parents wanting the best for their kids. The article in its entirety can be found on Yahoo Lifestyles, titled Controversial School Assignment Asks Who is “Deserving” of Life. Have a look at this description of the project:

The assignment, which was given out by an unidentified teacher at Roberts Middle School in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, instructed students to examine a list of 12 people selected to fly on a spaceship to another planet to avoid the Earth’s destruction. However, due to the ship’s space limitation, students must cut four people, ranking the list into “most deserving” and “least deserving” of life.

The list included people from different ethnicities, educational backgrounds, and sexual orientation; some were famous athletes or actors; some were old, some young; one of them had addiction problems and another was mentally handicapped. 

I gotta say, this is just the sort of project I would have loved as a kid. The discussion would have been lively and self-awareness would have taken an upsurge. And there’s the added personal benefit that, early in the school year it would serve the purpose of separating athletes from musicians, princesses from tomboys, and intellectuals from morons. Useful information indeed—but wait a minute, is the objective to teach tolerance or build partitions? Maybe it’s an attempt to help young people build respect for one another even though their interests and backgrounds are diverse. 

The parents protested, deeming the assignment disturbing and inappropriate for the age group: it was given to seventh and eighth graders. Is thirteen too young to consider disquieting concepts or to explore the leanings of one’s soul? I don’t think so. 

“This paper divides,” said Bernadette Hartman, a mother of one of the students. “It doesn’t pull anybody together.” 

“What did he expect to get out of this?” asked Denise Patron, speaking of the teacher. 

Do these parents fear that contemplating weighty concepts will give their kids brain pain? 

Maybe the teacher thought it would be a good idea to encourage school children to think, surely a righteous goal of all teachers. These mothers’ names sound Caucasian, right? I’d be interested in hearing an Asian homosexual athlete’s opinion about this venture.  

One parent, however, brought up a relevant point—as this was intended as a first of the year ice-breaker, and a teacher might judge a student according to who they want to kick off the ship, might a prejudice be introduced that could influence dealings between teacher and student for the whole year? I suppose this could happen. Teachers aren’t perfect. 

 “One of the District’s goals this year,” reasons Todd Nichols, Cuyahoga’s school superintendent, “is training in the areas of diversity awareness and social justice. In this case, the intent of this assignment aligned with the goals of the District.” 

This sounds sensible and justifiable. But then he abandons his stance by offering this apology:

“The teacher and District offer their most sincere apologies for the offense caused by the content used in this assignment.”

It must suck to apologize when you’ve done nothing wrong. Why did the parents interfere? They seem to sincerely believe that this assignment was going to harm their children in some way. How can teachers teach if every time an innovative idea comes their way they must first run it by every parent of every child in the classroom? 

Common sense dictates that kids are resilient. I doubt lives would have been ruined if the parents had had the patience to wait and see the results of the assignment rather than assuming a traumatic outcome. One of the inherent truths about sending your children to school is that they are away from your watchful eye for several hours a day. If you choose to send your child to school, you’ve got to trust the system instead of tearing it down. The parents who protested in Cuyahoga, Ohio need to choose their battles more wisely. They should have let that teacher do his job. 

No illustrative picture, so just me this time. 

No illustrative picture, so just me this time. 

The Fall

The concrete is damp and the rubber soles of my shoes are thick and dense, like the toe brake on roller skates, which is why the shoes stop moving and my feet continue on. The fall is terrifying and the one-inch gash on my left cheek is embarrassing. The bloody line on my face sends me racing to the first aid section of the drug store to get whatever that stuff is that helps lacerations heal without leaving scars.  

It’s called Mederma and it really works! After a single application the gash looks less red and angry. I wonder what would happen if I put this all over my whole body. Would every blemish and old scar fade away? I’m tempted. My advice to the vain among us: keep Mederma around because you never know when you’ll fall on your face. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work instantly. The gash’ll be the first thing people notice about me for the next week. 

“You tell everyone who asks about it that I’m left-handed,” David says as we’re on our way to church. He knows how this looks and he’s adamant that people know he helped, not harmed. 

“It’s funny that you think anyone is going to ask,” I tell him gloomily. “People will assume the worst.”

“No one assumes the worst at church.”

But, as usual, my understanding of human nature is accurate. As we enter the sanctuary our fellow congregants steal furtive glances then look away. Because they’re determined to be tactful (though there’ll be talk later) I have no opportunity to clear David’s name. Also, I’m compelled to explain that ordinarily under these circumstances I simply would’ve stayed away. But I have altar guild duty and so am bound by my annoying sense of responsibility to attend, a situation that serves to reinforce my father’s emphatic advice which resonates from my childhood: “Jennifer, do never volunteer!”

This same sort of surreptitious conclusion jumping happened years ago when we were living in Cairo. David and I were playing squash and he caught my eye with the side of his racket. I was a beginner and had taken a stance in the wrong place, so it was my mistake. By the time we walked into the Swissair that evening to meet friends for dinner I had quite a shiner. David and I thought it would be entertaining to see if the other couple brought it up. They didn’t; though in retrospect I guess we should have set the record straight. Steve and Molly probably still think of me as a victim and David as a violent man. 

Another result of the fall is a badly bruised knee. I’ve never been a proponent of icing sore joints or injuries, mainly because I’m cold enough already. Right now, in the middle of the summer, I have heavy fuzzy socks on my frozen feet. This particular ice pack, purchased when David had a shoulder issue, is meant for use at joints and it wraps handily over and around my knee. Lore has it that the cold is supposed to lessen swelling, which will ease the pain. I’m dubious. When has cold ever felt good?

To my amazement, when I remove the ice pack, the knee feels better. But only temporarily. Ten steps later it’s sore again. No warriors for me for a while.

As well as coming down hard on my knee, I tried to catch myself with my hand, which is now purple and swollen at the base of my thumb, into my palm, and down my inner wrist. Right handed, I’ve never given much thought to how much I use my left hand; but now I’m aware because it hurts every time I clench it. So, also no downward facing dogs. 

I don’t often feel fragile, but I do now; and this fragility leads to a lack of mindfulness. I pull out from the driveway and can’t remember if I closed the garage door. I go to the grocery store and forget to buy eggplant for the moussaka. I stand in my closet and can’t remember why I’m there. I guess the knowledge to hang on to here is that bodies heal. Also, it could have been so much worse. 

I've tripped over these dangerous toes several times, so it was inevitable that one day I wouldn't be quick enough to save myself. They're are now retired. 

I've tripped over these dangerous toes several times, so it was inevitable that one day I wouldn't be quick enough to save myself. They're are now retired. 

Warm socks are vital any time of year if you're me.

Warm socks are vital any time of year if you're me.

A new addition to my medicine cabinet. 

A new addition to my medicine cabinet. 


There’s a large package propped by the front door. 

“What’s in the package?” I ask David. 

“A surprise!” An obvious tease. 

With a hmmph! I walk on by.

The door is in the middle of the house. As my activities range from one side of the house to the other, it’s no exaggeration to say I pass by the door a hundred times a day.

The package is still there the next time I cross the central area. I’ll spend the day in a befuddled fog if that package remains there much longer. 

“Are you going to tell me what’s in the package?” I ask once more. 

“That’s for me to know and you to find out.” Funny because it’s childish.

“That box can’t live there forever,” I tell him next time I pass it. If it’s still there in five minutes I’ll stow it in the garage.  

He’s doing it to bug me. He knows how I am—obsessive, picky, unwavering in my need for organization. 

For instance, since I was stupid enough to buy socks with designated right and left feet, I’m now compelled to make sure I get each one on the appropriate foot. Every once in a while I’ll forget to check, and when I realize I’ve got them wrong I’ll take the socks off and switch them, though any sensible person knows there’s no such thing as a right or left sock. 

“You’re the last person who should have bought socks meant for specific feet,” David says. 

He’s right. What was I thinking—that I needed yet another thing to obsess over?

My yoga mat must always run parallel with the lines of the floor. And if the mat in front of me doesn’t also line up, it’s a distraction during the whole class. I’ve been known to ask strangers to straighten their mats. 

A picture hanging crookedly is troublesome on a subliminal level. 

And dirty glasses and dishes belong in the sink or dishwasher; never on the counter, which is to remain clean and clutter-free. 

Let it go, people say. It sounds easy, but it never is. 

These days I’m obsessed with whether or not Old Buildings in North Texas and its author will be invited to participate in the Texas Book Festival, which would be a huge honor, a monumental step in my career, a justification for the hours and effort. 

Notices go out until the end of August. I check my inbox first thing every morning. Sometimes, when I wake up in the night, I’m strongly tempted to kick back the covers, traverse the width of the house, and have a quick peek; but I’m not yet that far gone, though throughout the day I don’t go fifteen minutes without checking my computer or phone. 

I remind myself of what I know: I have no control over this. I’ll either be invited or not, and fixating will make no difference. 

The one thing I do have control over is the way I react to the situation, and this is exactly what I’d preach if a friend or family member were behaving as foolishly as I am. 

However, the question mark concerning the book fair has branded itself into the precise area of my brain that regulates my day-to-day thoughts, so that whatever I do and wherever I go, it’s always there, throbbing and demanding attention, until not only have I lost control of where my mind goes, but also every other aspect of my existence—I’m eating too much, drinking too much, unable to step away from my devices, and not even fully present when I drive.  

“I’m going to meet Tom at the Double Horn for a beer,” David says. “You want to come?”

The Double Horn, a local microbrewery, is always a good time. And Tom knows everybody in town, so there’re always interesting things to learn.

I say no. But I don’t tell David it’s because my hopes and expectations are consuming me to the point where I’m almost paralyzed; and that drinking a beer with friends would be impossible for me right now. I’m unable to relax, unable to track other people’s stories, unable to finish household projects. Unable to write.

I miss my dog.

The package by the front door. It turned out to be a bird feeder stand and it looks a lot better than the last one. 

The package by the front door. It turned out to be a bird feeder stand and it looks a lot better than the last one. 

Because it's just above the light switch, this little "Mercado" picture often gets knocked askew. If it's not a right angle it's a wrong angle!   

Because it's just above the light switch, this little "Mercado" picture often gets knocked askew. If it's not a right angle it's a wrong angle!   

Woman All Over the Place

Woman, you have a lot to pack into a relatively few number of years. Between eighteen and thirty never hit pause. 

First, get through college. Going for an advanced degree? Don’t take time off, go straight through, even summers. 

Build your career fast because when the right guy comes along you want to be on an equal footing. Also, your parents told you that you could be anything, do anything. You were taught there are no limits. 

You meet him at work, or a friend plays matchmaker, or he’s a neighbor in the building. He’s attractive and clean and you laugh at the same things, so between your twenty-sixth and twenty-eighth year, marriage happens; or maybe it doesn’t. 

If you get married, you and your husband buy a house, work hard, switch jobs for more pay, spend your free time exercising and socializing. 

Married or not, your new job is going well. You spend the first two years gaining experience and proving yourself. Then you get promoted. And promoted again, until you are in charge of a few people; and then you’re the boss of several people. You assign tasks; you take meetings and address large groups. Your husband is proud. Your parents are proud. 

Or maybe you don’t work in the corporate world. Maybe you’re a sixth grade teacher, then a principal for a few years; and then, you’re so good at what you do, so innovative and dedicated, that you are voted in as the superintendent of the entire school district. 

And then it’s time for a decision. If you don’t start having babies now, when will you ever get to it? 

The first baby comes and you and your husband are joyful. You continue working and the baby fits right into your day. He’s easy. Put him in his carrier and take him everywhere. Or maybe your baby’s a girl. Either way, you raise your child the way you were raised—there are no limits. You can do anything. 

You love to read to your baby. He or she learns to talk—three questions discussed every minute. It’s your chance to pour all your ideas about teaching and nurturing into this one compact pitcher. 

Or maybe children simply weren’t meant to be, and you’re okay with that. If you got married, your couple life is great. Your husband is your best friend. You support each other and tell each other everything about your days. You go out to dinner a lot and you have season tickets to the symphony and the baseball games. You’ve heard that Italy’s a great place to go, but there isn’t time. You’ve got your place in the company, or in the school system. Or maybe, as superintendent of the schools, you got a taste for politics and you decide to run for mayor. 

The middle years are like a pleasant ride along the coast—except for that painful time when your husband fell into deep love with a much younger woman, a woman who was very much like you when you were in your twenties. 

Was he trying to recapture the early years? Maybe you work things out and stay together. Maybe you lose him and find another. Or you might decide to remain single. 

Either way, there comes a time when your child, or children, are grown and gone. Or maybe there were no children. And sadly, your parents are no longer among the living. You miss them every day and spend lengthy segments of time remembering things that happened long ago. 

You stayed with the first husband or turned him in for another one—either way, he’s dead. 

Or he never existed. 

You retired a year ago. The people you worked with loved you. They gave you a dinner and a substantial financial send-off. 

What’s your next step? 

In a small town in Texas there is an old hotel for sale. 

You pull into its driveway and continue through a portico that’s supported by four sturdy brick columns. A gate can be installed across this entry.

A block off the highway, the hotel has only recently closed; but it’s been poorly maintained. Weeds pop through cracks in the tarmac and paint peels along the trim. Green, red, and blue doors are faded. 

A single story, it’s one of those L-shaped structures where every room looks on to a hardly magnificent, but respectable, pool. 

You roll to a stop in one of the slanted spaces facing the rooms. Getting out of your car, you enter the front building, reception, where there’s a counter and, beyond, a dining room and kitchen. The fusty smell of dirty fixtures and fabrics makes you sneeze. That carpet will have to go. 

Pulling out your phone, you call Liz, a friend who’s in the same position as you—no husband, no family nearby. 

“I’ve found it,” you tell her. 

“I’ll let everyone know,” she replies. 

Four months later a dozen women occupy the premises. Walls have been knocked out to make the units larger. Old carpet has been replaced by tile. The trim has been painted and the parking lot resurfaced. The pool is cleaned weekly and there are daily water aerobics classes. In the water old women with flabby arms sway and march. Some giggle and splash and some take this workout seriously as they look doggedly forward, determined that the pain of arthritis and sciatica won’t defeat them. 

The kitchen has been renovated. And out in the dining room women play mahjong and bridge every afternoon. A book group meets every other week. There are movie nights; or someone might want to watch television in her own room. 

You take turns with the shopping and cooking. You all move slowly and you laugh a lot. Your hips are broad and your boobs sag. And you look out for one another, giving rides to doctors or chemo or church. 

This isn’t permanent; it’s just another stop along the way.

This isn't the best quality photo because it's taken by a modern Poloroid. This is me with Curtis, our oldest. He and his wife and her parents were up from Houston for the weekend. We boated and ate a great meal and laughed a lot. 

This isn't the best quality photo because it's taken by a modern Poloroid. This is me with Curtis, our oldest. He and his wife and her parents were up from Houston for the weekend. We boated and ate a great meal and laughed a lot. 

People Love This Book!

Since Old Buildings in North Texas was released in the states, finding reviewers has been difficult. Though copies have been sent out in return for promised reviews, few reviews have actually appeared. I prefer it when people do what they say they're going to do, but as I don't work for the book review enforcement agency I have no control, which makes me crazy. I was happy to see this one, posted on Lone Star Literary Life, a prestigious and popular site for Texas booklovers. Thanks, Michelle Newby, for your kind words about Old Buildings in North Texas.

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Sam's Brand

I could tell from the packaging that this is an elegant product.  


Because our son, Sam's, company is in Beijing, I figured it would take two weeks to get them, but they arrived in four days. When Sam says he has distribution in the states, he means it!


The +1 at the temples signifies Sam's business plan--for every pair of these glasses sold, a destitute child in rural China will be given an eye exam and, if necessary, glasses. I know China is viewed as a monster these days, but this has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with children so far removed from our world that they have no access to eye care. 

The case is classy and plush, but the glasses also came with a flat soft case so, if you're like me and carry a small purse, they can easily fit into it.

The case is classy and plush, but the glasses also came with a flat soft case so, if you're like me and carry a small purse, they can easily fit into it.

I'm colorful today.   Sam's been in China for eight years. Since we moved from Singapore we don't see him often. We miss him but are proud of the work he's doing. I thought nothing new could be done with glasses's styles, but Sam found a way. You can find your Mantra on the website, which is also topnotch. 

I'm colorful today. 

Sam's been in China for eight years. Since we moved from Singapore we don't see him often. We miss him but are proud of the work he's doing. I thought nothing new could be done with glasses's styles, but Sam found a way. You can find your Mantra on the website, which is also topnotch.

Absurd Imposition

Faye, our yoga instructor, has an unusual request. 

“I have a project that needs your help,” she says to the class. “I have bits of paper and pencils up here on the stage and after class, if you would, I need you to write down something about me that makes me unique as an instructor.”

She smiles benevolently over us. It’s an absurd imposition. I look around to see if anybody thinks this is as silly as I do, but the faces around me glow with tolerance and good will. 

“I know,” she continues, “it sounds like I’m asking for compliments, but that’s not the case. I’m working with someone to discover what traits combine to make me who I am, and I really need your input.”

Huh. Working with someone. Translation: she’s seeing a therapist. I’m not surprised. She’s the type who would enjoy having someone focused solely on her for a full hour. 

At the end of class only three out of twenty respond to her request—the two Marys and me. 

This is what I write:

1) I like your class and your explanations of the poses are well-articulated. 

2) On Friday you spent twenty minutes talking about yourself, which means we only got forty minutes instead of the full hour. I came for yoga, not to hear about your flat tire or how you met your husband. 

3) Also, you say, “take a breath,” and right after that you say, “now, on your next inhale straighten your knee.” Take a breath and inhale mean the same thing, which is confusing to those of us who know the meanings of words. As it is, you’re asking us to inhale twice. It would be more accurate to say, “exhale,” or “release your breath” rather than “take a breath.” And it’s upsetting to someone as hypercritical as I am when you use a verb as a noun. 

I return my comments and pencil to the stage, where I meet the Marys, also turning their remarks in. I know them from Mahjong and they’re both sincerely kind.

“I wrote something mean,” I tell them, happy to have offset the praise that I’m sure they slathered on thickly. 

Short Mary rolls her eyes. She knows how I can be.  

“You need to be more tolerant,” Tall Mary says. 

“Oh, I’m way better than I used to be,” I tell her. “I used to be self-righteous and petty. Now I’m just cantankerous.”

(An aside: This is the first experience I’ve had living in a small town. In Marble Falls I run into someone I know everywhere I go. I know people from Mahjong, yoga, and church, along with folks I’ve met through David, who’s involved in Habitat for Humanity and the Helping Center Garden. What this means is that I’ve had to put aside vanity. It’s inevitable that at one time or another every person in town will see me with limp hair and no makeup. 

LJ and I came upon one another in the grocery store yesterday. Going at a fast pace across the back aisle, she stopped abruptly when she saw me. Wearing a full-brimmed hat and large sunglasses, she looked like she was shopping incognito. 

“I almost didn’t recognize you,” I told her as I wondered what her disguise was concealing. 

“Good,” she said. And away she buzzed. Obviously she hasn’t yet come to terms with the vanity issue.) 

Back to point. 

There is a type of woman who views herself as a bottomless well of wisdom, a sage to guide the growth of others. In her life she seeks a position where she can be a teacher, a mentor, a philosopher. She likes to be in front of other women and she enjoys it when they look at her from a lower position. She shares profound reflections about how much the rain nourishes her soul and how the most insignificant decision can change your life. That’s Faye to a T. She loves having us in front of her, looking up at her, mirroring her movements. We’re captive receptacles for her to pour her knowledge into.  

Is she narcissistic? Delusional? Lacking in confidence and overcompensating? 

And what tickles me is that I wrote her before I met her. In my Snoop series, Wendy is the facilitator of a grief support group. She’s always late; she’s condescending; and she believes that her every utterance is life-changing. Here’s an excerpt from a passage I wrote two years ago:

Wendy doesn’t allow anyone to go outside and smoke at break time. She thinks the separation of the group will disrupt the flow in the circle. So the few people who are longing for a cigarette are jittery and a little hostile. As we gather around the coffee pot all eyes are on Wendy who, taking the central position, commands our attention. During the session she dons a sympathetic expression and nods supportively when someone shares. But at the break it’s The Wendy Show all the way. Her gestures are flamboyant; her voice carries; her opinions are emphatic. She’s unable to tolerate a single conversation that doesn’t revolve around her. 

So intimately do I know this character, and so much does the self-absorbed yogi remind me of her, that the other day I called the yogi by the made-up name, Wendy, instead of her real name, Faye. I’m going to have to watch that.

It's a very trendy and clean facility with, as you can see, many services.

It's a very trendy and clean facility with, as you can see, many services.

This is a not very good picture of my friend, Jane. I play Mahjong with her. I do yoga with her. And her husband works on the Habitat houses with David. We see each other all the time. 

This is a not very good picture of my friend, Jane. I play Mahjong with her. I do yoga with her. And her husband works on the Habitat houses with David. We see each other all the time. 

Amarillo Disparaged

We had some brilliant minds in our Amarillo High School graduating class, young men and women who moved to distant places and made prodigious differences in the world. An astronaut, doctors, lawyers, Ivy League professors, artists, authors, entrepreneurs, and gifted musicians--all outstanding in their fields. I often think about the kids I went to high school with, and I'm amazed how so many great and successful people came out of that arid windy town where ideas are aborted immediately after conception. 

I know no one who lives there now. 

Because my novel, Old Buildings in North Texas, has recently been released here in the US, I’m concentrating on publicizing it. This is progressing here in the same way it did when the book was released in the UK, which means a publicist has arranged guest postings on blogs and reviews to go in newspapers and magazines throughout the country. 

As my books are published internationally and set in fictional Caprock, which is based on Amarillo, you’d think people in my hometown would be interested or, at the very least, curious. But I contacted the editor of the Amarillo Globe News two weeks ago, attaching a press release to communicate that this is a legitimate book published by an award-winning literary publisher. I haven’t heard back from him. This excerpt from one of the posts I did for a British blog will explain why I’m not at all surprised:

Having lived in seven countries over a thirty-year period, I’m often asked why I place my novels in a stark dry town in Northwest Texas. It’s because it’s the location I know best. Though the ex-pat life is enlightening, I don’t have other cultures in my bones the way I do Amarillo. I’ll point out that I say bones rather than heart. I hardly love the place. But its vernacular is mine and I comprehend on an intrinsic level the mindset of the people, who are stubborn, religious, big-hearted, abhorrent toward change, and suspicious of success.

In Amarillo, liberals are appreciated in the same way children are; they’re expected to keep their voices down and not touch anything. And, while outwardly the city appreciates the arts, it’s understood that any artist will be out of favor if he or she steps too far outside conventional societal boundaries. Also, if some performer or scientist shows outstanding talent or ability, well, Amarillo as a whole wishes they’d take their genius elsewhere. 

And though the population makes an effort to move forward, when it comes to cultural trends and economic development, they somehow manage to always be several years behind the rest of the country. 

Reading this a year after I wrote it, I realize that it comes off as supercilious, which is not truly the way I feel, though it’s obviously the way I felt at the time. All I can think is that I must have been in a mood. For the most part, Amarillo is composed of good people going about their daily business. Mainly what I remember from my years there is that the hands of the clock never seemed to move and nothing ever changed. 

Here’s another disparaging excerpt, this one in the voice of Olivia from OBiNT:

In Dallas I worked as the regulars’ editor for Dallas Flair, a local fashion magazine. It was my dream career, a grand life in the making.  Here in Caprock, with my background (and I am impressive—BA in English from Rice, MA in Journalism from Columbia, magna cum laudein both) I should’ve been able to get a job on the newspaper, the Caprock Chronicle, which, as far as I can tell, is none too choosy. And there’s a local magazine here, too, that I’m well-suited for. Called Caprock Comfort, it has more to do with home decorating than fashion, but still, it’s work I could do, a theme I could get behind. I like comfort as much as the next person.    

Oddly, the reason I’m not working for one of these publications isn’t because I’m an addict or that I’m unqualified. It’s because I left the area. 

“Tech not good enough for you?” asked Stanley Mason, editor of the Caprock Chronicle.  “Most of our staff went to Tech. Or Pan UT.”  Located two hours to the south, Texas Tech is as far as most people from Caprock go for their higher education. And Pan UT, the panhandle branch of the University of Texas system, is even closer—half an hour to the southwest, in Gorman.  

“Columbia? Isn’t that in New York?” asked Susan Riley, editor of Caprock Comfort.“Why’d you go way up there? That must have been horrible.”

As most ex-pats know, family and friends from home don’t want to hear about experiences from the outside world. They’re happy to see you, but they lack curiosity and are caught up in their own lives. This conversation between Olivia and her therapist offers another reason why someone from Amarillo might not appreciate OBiNT:

“Tell me about living in New York.” Jane dons an interested expression.  

“It’s busy,” I say, happy to comply. “There’s always something to do.  You can take a short subway ride and end up in a completely different neighborhood where they speak Chinese or Russian or Arabic or Portuguese. And the way people dress is fascinating—all the cultures shown in fabrics and designs right there on their backs, and you can see how one style influences another. And everybody walks. People are out and moving, not getting from place to place in their solitary cars.”

Her eyes have glazed over, which makes me stop talking. The prospect of a world beyond Caprock has rendered her catatonic. It takes her a few seconds to realize I’ve gone silent.

My treatment of Amarillo in my novels is hardly kind. I suppose it’s understandable that no one at the Amarillo Globe News would care to read a book that denigrates the town and its people. On the other hand, why wouldn’t they want to read it? If there’s anything folks in Amarillo enjoy, it’s becoming indignant and holding a grudge. 

My novels do offer some positive things about my hometown. At times I grow nostalgic when writing of the flat hard land and the shadows cast by the gnarled mesquite, the fierce wind and the blue, blue sky. Also the dialect has always pleased me—the fixin‘ tos and the ya’lls and the gunnawunnas (as in You’re gunnawunna take care of that). 

And the people also possess two of my favorite qualities: a sense of humor and a lack of pretention; after all, it looks like they named their new baseball team the Sod Poodles.  

This is Amarillo High's mascot. I think it's supposed to be a dust devil, or maybe a tornado. To me it looks like the lovechild of Mr. Peanut and a bowl of butterscotch pudding. 

This is Amarillo High's mascot. I think it's supposed to be a dust devil, or maybe a tornado. To me it looks like the lovechild of Mr. Peanut and a bowl of butterscotch pudding. 

Another good thing that can be said about Amarillo is that it has nice broad streets. 

Another good thing that can be said about Amarillo is that it has nice broad streets. 

David and the Squirrel

David hangs the bird feeders from a couple of tree branches.

About the tree: David, a master gardener who should know, says it’s a Chinese elm; but the tree specialist who trimmed our trees a couple of years ago called it a post oak—either way, it lacks charm. It looks dead most of the year and it’s slow to grow. So, not so enamored with the tree. 

On the other hand, we enjoy the feeders because they attract so many birds—painted buntings, cardinals, goldfinches, the black-crested titmouse, and house finches—just to name a few. A red-winged blackbird flies in at the same time every afternoon, signaling his arrival with a boisterous Caw!

An aside about bird watching: We thought it was an insignificant pastime until we visited the Kinabatangan River in Borneo, where there was an abundance of birds that are found nowhere else in the world. At one point we spotted a rare type of kingfisher hopping from branch to branch along the bank. This kingfisher is a much-desired sighting on birdwatchers’ lists; and later we met a man from Australia who’d been coming to the lodge for twenty years hoping to catch sight of one, and we saw it on our first time out. Amusing, right? 

Back to the squirrel: It climbs out on a branch and slides down the wire to the feeder. In an effort to thwart it, David fastens a slinky at the top so that it bounces and dangles down the length of the wire. This idea comes from Sam’s childhood friend, Jimmy, who, even when he was a kid, had a gift for using items in ways unintended. The slinky puzzles the squirrel for a day or so, but then it starts simply free falling to the feeder, paying no attention to the slinky at all. 

David’s next move is to add a barrier over the feeder, an unattractive plastic hat. It hangs crookedly, but does the job in that the squirrel is deterred—until it realizes that it can jump directly to the feeder from the trunk, coming in under the barrier. This causes the feeder to swing, which means the squirrel is not only getting to the birdseed, but also enjoying a fine ride. 

David’s reasonable response to this is to move the feeders as far out on the branches as possible, a distance of about eight feet from the trunk. Both of us, when we see the squirrel make the jump, go, “Whoa!” 

At this point David goes to The Tractor Store for professional advice. I go along just for fun. 

“Them squirrels is ninjas,” the guy at the store tells us. “There ain’t a thang you can do.”

At this point I suggest to David that he utilize the old umbrella base that has, for no reason I can discern, been out behind the rock line ever since we moved here. (Here’s something you may or may not know: the word “utilize” is not a synonym for “use”; it actually means to make use of something in a manner not originally conceived.) 

“Stick a tall pole in the base,” I say, “and move it away from the tree so the squirrels can’t get to it. Then put a PVC T-junction on top with a couple of pipes acting as arms and hang the feeders from them.”

He gives it thought and likes the idea. 

We go to the specialty plumbing store, a manly hangout for contractors and ranchers. David explains what he wants to do and why to John, the man behind the counter. The other customers chime in. 

“Shoot’em,” one man says in a way that makes me think this is probably his response to every problem.

“Stop feeding the birds,” another says.

Even though it’s for a futile mission, a sale is a sale. John is happy to saw the pipe to David’s specifications.  

We pay for the pipe and as soon as we’re home David constructs his new feeder stand. The pipe we purchased is of a larger diameter than the pole he found in the garage, so duct tape is involved. It ends up being the most unattractive object I’ve ever had in a backyard.

The first night something big knocks the whole shebang over, which makes the squirrels happy because all the seed is on the ground; they don’t have to go to any trouble at all. 

Finding his new contraption in this subjugated position prompts David to hook some rebar through the base and pile rocks on top of it. 

“That squirrel won’t defeat me!” he insists. “And I think it was a hog that knocked it over.” 

But he can’t be sure, so he buys a motion-activated camera that will enable him to see what’s going on out there at night.

Tongue in cheek, Sam cheers David on in this squirrelly combat, advising in an email that this new bird feeding stand could be quite a money-maker because people everywhere want to keep squirrels off the bird feeders. 

“You can come up with all kinds of inventions,” Sam says. “You’ll live like Wallace and Gromit.” 

Curtis wisely points out, “Maybe the issue isn't so much the design but the idea of putting food in the middle of the squirrels' habitat and expecting the squirrels not to eat it.”

To David, I say, “One of my Mahjong friends told me that when she put out a squirrel feeder, the squirrels left the bird feeders alone.”

“I’m not going to feed the squirrels!” is David’s response. 

I don’t know what makes birds more deserving than squirrels, but that seems to be the case.  

“The squirrels never bother the squirrel-proof feeder. Why don’t you just get another one of those?”

“The birds like the brick.” This spoiling is the way birds gain a sense of entitlement. 

A squirrel shimmies up the pole, climbs all the way to the top, crawls out the arm of the bird feeder, and drops to the feeder. 

David attaches the slinky to the pole. 

The squirrel climbs to the bottom of the slinky and makes a giant leap to the feeder. 

David sets the feeders higher. 

The squirrel picks its way over the slinky, making it all the way to the top, where it drops on to the feeder.

David runs outside, waves his arms, and yells, “Get out of here!”

And I gasp, concerned for the startled squirrel as it drops ten feet to the ground. It seems to be limping as it scampers away. 

David adds a new obstacle—a broad cone placed about midway up the pole. So far it seems to be working. This battle has been going on for several months.

So far David’s gone after armadillos, deer, hogs, and squirrels. What will he do when there are no more backyard enemies to fight?  

Not exactly gorgeous, is it?

Not exactly gorgeous, is it?

Chinese elm or post oak? What do you think?

Chinese elm or post oak? What do you think?

More difficult to knock over now.

More difficult to knock over now.

This is what a slinky looks like when you hang it from a pole.

This is what a slinky looks like when you hang it from a pole.

This collar seems to be working. 

This collar seems to be working. 

On the Water

Summer has been slow in coming this year and today is only the third warm day we’ve had. The sky is clear blue and it’s unusually windy, which is the reason we decide to aim the boat up the river as opposed to taking a right out of the marina and heading toward the dam-end of Lake Travis. The river is more sheltered.

This is our last time to use the boat club, which we joined a year ago. The contract is for two days a month, but we’re confined to Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, which means those of our friends and family who are only available on weekends are unable to join us. Also, the contract doesn’t recognize weather, which means that we paid a monthly fee for the winter months. This is called “The Toe in the Water Plan” and is designed for neophytes who don’t know whether or not they like boating. We like it fine, but it irked to pay for those months when we didn’t use it. And, with the obligations David’s taken on, sometimes we had trouble finding the time. 

There’s a difference between the river and the lake coastal topography. For the most part, summits and dramatic cliffs surround the lake. The houses that offer views of the water are massive, elegant, and highly perched. Elevators carry homeowners to their boats. A house on Lake Travis is very expensive, which you’d think would make it cost prohibitive, yet its shores are greatly populated. There are a lot of really rich people in Austin. 

The land along the river is flatter and the homes are less flashy; though, as the lakeshores have become more and more crowded, river properties are being developed. 

Coming out with us today are David’s sister, Leanne, and our friend, Charlie. Charlie owns a house on Lake LBJ, so he’s comfortable in a boat. Leanne recently moved to Sun City, a Del Webb community in Georgetown, which she refers to as adult day camp. She’s gone boating with us quite a few times. Now that we’re no longer going to be in the boat club, our next water experiences will most likely be on Lake LBJ, as it’s much closer to us. 

Leanne is useful to have around because she researches things that I’m too lazy to look into. In this instance, she shares information about the Lower Colorado River Authority, which was created in 1934 and consists of six lakes, formed by six hydroelectric dams along the river. In addition to providing energy, the LCRA oversees forty parks and recreation areas; and it works to conserve the water and keep it clean. You might have heard the names of the lakes and not realized that they’re part of the chain. The lakes in order are Buchanan, Inks, LBJ, Marble Falls, Travis, and Austin. Because they’re basically the managed Colorado River, they’re all elongated in form.

This area is called The Highland Lake District and if you live here, you most likely have a view of the accouterments of electricity—wires, towers and power plants. It’s something I’ve heard people complain about, but if we didn’t have the dams, we wouldn’t have the lakes, so I’m okay with it. To sum up, the LCRA is a major entity in this part of the country. 

David’s in control and we zip across the lake with the wind coming at us so hard that the force pushes me into the seat. He slows a bit and Leanne and I both start slathering on the sunscreen. When we get to the river I take the wheel so David can have a visit with his sister. We were right to head for the Colorado because it’s quite calm. In the back of the boat Charlie has his phone out, following our progress. Every once in a while he’ll call out our location: “Lago Vista!” “Spicewood!”

About fifteen minutes out there’s a huge resort called The Island. Its buildings are spread out overlooking the water. There’s a shiny dome in the center. 

“I wonder about this place,” I say. “I’ve never seen anybody here. I think it’s abandoned.”

“The fountain’s running and the grounds are in good shape,” Leanne responds.

“But the marina’s totally empty.” Three long banks of slips, enough to berth sixty boats. 

“Maybe it’s haunted.”

I cut the motor and break out our snacks—cheese, crackers, pita, hummus, tangerines, wine. We munch and discuss common interests. Charlie and his wife, Diana, just bought an RV, and Leanne and her husband, Doug, have a pull-along, so traveling is the main topic. 

This RV business doesn’t appeal to David and me, though it’s very popular in our area. We’d just as soon fly to our destination. And when we’re on the road we like to move fast. I tend to curse at the bloated slow-movers. 

Charlie surprises us by jumping in the water, which we all know is only seventy-one degrees. He’s crazy! David takes the challenge and he, too, goes over the side. Leanne won’t be outdone by her brother, so she dives. 

I sedately sip wine from a plastic cup and pop another cheese cube into my mouth. This is an adventure I’m happy to miss. 

David only stays in for twenty seconds, and Leanne comes out right after. Charlie stays in a bit longer. The three of them are shivering, but they warm up quickly in the sun. 

As we bob in our boat bliss settles over me. It’s one of those wonderful times when there is absolutely nothing negative in my head, no worry or pressure or angst, just friends talking in a boat on a beautiful day. 

The resort. Haunted? Abandoned? 

The resort. Haunted? Abandoned? 

Signs of the LCRA are everywhere.

Signs of the LCRA are everywhere.

Here we are. 

Here we are. 


Here’s a snippet my father enjoyed telling: When he was around twelve years old his mother invited him to go to a movie with her. 

“It’s one of the greatest movies ever made,” she told him. In fact, she loved it so much that she had already been to see it twice. 

Thinking that a film that earned such high praise and repetitive watching was surely worth seeing, he agreed; and was dismayed when his mother spent the last half of the movie mopping at her tear-soaked face. At this point in the telling he would mop at his face and make sobbing sounds. 

“What was good about it if it made her cry?” he would ask. “And, knowing that it made her cry, why would she choose to see it again and again?”

He gave a snide chuckle, obviously thinking his mother was silly. Apparently he didn’t understand women at all. 

Spoiler alert: Barbara has died.

For those of you who don’t watch BBC’sCall the Midwife,Barbara was the daughter of a vicar, the wife of a vicar, and the encouraging force behind half the births in the East End in the sixties. She was spunky and funny and cute, a charming character who was so sincerely good that I had trouble liking her. 

And yet last night when it became clear that she was a very sick young woman—a diagnosis of meningitis coupled with septicemia—and her handsome husband and all her broken-hearted friends gathered around her hospital bed as she sank into death, I cried like my German grandmother—copiously and with gusto.

I cry through that damn show every week. 

The next day I talk to my friend, Jane, who also follows the show. 

“They killed off Barbara!” I tell her indignantly

“Yes. I think she wanted off the show.”

“Then why didn’t the BBC do what they usually do with these drawn out period dramas—send her to Australia and bring on a new character?”

I often cry over books and movies. I can still remember crying at the end of Bridges of Madison County. Why? It was known to be a soppy novel and I saw the ending coming from the first page. I should have been ready for it, yet it got to me. Those two people so in love, living their lives apart. How tragic.

Having called the book mawkish, I admit to being incapable of writing anything that would make someone cry. I simply couldn’t do it. 

Full disclosure—also, I cried at the end of Toy Story 3. But who wouldn’t? Andy gave Woody away and was going off to college. Just thinking about it makes me feel gooshy and sentimental. 

That I cry over stories, but seldomly over real-life tragedies makes me question my humanity. 

For instance, one of our yoga instructors has recently been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. So now she’s at home, dying. My friends whisper her names in hushed tones. 

At yoga, when it was announced that this woman would no longer be with us, women started crying. A box of tissues was passed around. 

Impatient, I looked at my watch. This carrying-on ate up twenty minutes of our class. 

How is it that I was prepared for it when no one else was? The woman was quite old. She’d been repeating herself, forgetting words and the names of the positions; and often, when she turned around, she was surprised to see us all standing there, awaiting her instruction. 

And here’s my pragmatic assessment: she will be missed. But I’m more worried about the husband she’ll be leaving behind. The two of them have been married for fifty-seven years. How will he cope? He won’t know how to navigate without her by his side. 

Now that’s something to cry about. 

Because I needed a picture to put here. 

Because I needed a picture to put here.