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hands and water- they just go together

hands and water- they just go together

Gold, black, and white subway tiles lined the hallways.  In an attempt to keep the high-school graffiti to a minimum, the tiles went right up the wall, like the tall-legged boots of the Three Musketeers.

In the 2013-14 school year, the last year I worked full time, I had a regular habit of making my way up and down the halls to see what was going on in classrooms.  I called it, “taking the temperature,” of the campus.  If I did this early in the morning, it provided insight about which students (and teachers) were out of sorts, who had a sub, which teen lovers were forming new couples, which were detaching from one another.  It gave me a chance to let folks know, “I’m here if you need me.”  It helped me have a flexible attitude about the course of my own day.

As difficult as that year was, Super Husband’s illness combining with the stresses of a brand new job, I still made the rounds as often as I could.  Although walking up and down the halls took on the proportions of pilgrim’s progress sometimes, I believed in what I was doing.  So up and down I’d go, peeking in doors, shaking hands, asking how everyone was.

I noticed one day that as I walked, my hand trailed behind, across the slick subway tile.  As I became aware of it, I stopped.  But next day, I noticed it again.  As though the wall transmitted goodwill, I’d sought it with my fingertips. The tiles felt cool and secure, and I liked the shushing sound my hand made as it glided across the surface. It must be something about the tile, I told myself. I was a one-off toucher, nothing wrong with that.  I resolved to wash my hands more.

However, new awareness, when it arrives, is often exponential.  Soon, I realized that I wasn’t just touching the tile walls, but every surface I could get my hands on at work. The art installment at the building’s entrance, its tall metal rectangles meeting my right hand each morning as I entered the building, the pull of the seams between panels creating a predictable rhythm.  The bricks lining the entrance to the library, the coarse texture that slowed my pace as I made my way through the building, the uneven bump of them, and how my subconscious steered me to make the pressure light enough to keep from scratching my hands as I moved.  I explained it to myself this way: this is some sort of self-soothing, because you’ve been stressed.  It will pass. 

Love touching brick.

Love touching brick.

Wrong.  We’re walking down Alamo Street in San Antonio with a big group of family, headed for the Blue Star area.  As we pass a bunch of bushes that crowd the sidewalk, I look down.  Guess where my hand is?  Touching!  Yes, there’s that right hand again, flowing in and out of the leaves.  Could have been poison ivy for all I knew. I soon discovered that I was touchy all the time. Everywhere I went.  Everywhere.

When one stops lying to oneself, disappointment often surfaces.  I looked at my right hand, the rogue, and asked, how long has this been going on? It didn’t take long to realize—I’ve been touching walls (and their approximations) for my entire life.  One memory surfaces.

The extended family trooped to Austin’s Palmer Auditorium (I think this is where it happened, but I was only 8 or 9) for an all- night gospel sing.  As we approached the round building, I remember having a sense of wonder at its size. Other buildings were taller, of course, but it had this overhang, and broad, shaded sidewalks.  We arrived before the sun went down, and the place wasn’t open yet.  My brother and my cousins and I started playing on the sidewalk, and quickly discovered we could go all the way around the building and return to the adults in short order. The facade was covered with smooth river rocks and some flat mosaic tiles. There was some kind of swirly pattern of the rocks, like waves in beachy colors. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I vividly remember my hand dipping up and down with the swirls as the adults slowly disappeared, then reappeared as I made the circuit. Other children moved around the structure with me, but in this braille merry-go-round, I was deliciously, wonderfully alone. It was one of those moments in time when every aspect of the world seemed calmly, perfectly, right.

Self-reflection often creates confliction. If I had discovered this benign, but admittedly weird habit in my twenties, I would have worked hard to scrub it out. I probably would have lain awake at night worrying about my mental health the way I did during the elbow kissing scare of 1970. One of the adults said, “If you kiss your elbow, you’ll turn into a boy.” For at least two weeks I lost sleep, lying in bed thinking, could I have accidentally kissed my elbow today? Will I still be a girl when I wake up?

It’s a good thing, then, that I didn’t discover my wall-touching until I was a middle aged lady. Now, I know too many terrible things about myself, and about the world, to let a little quirk interfere with sleep. Maybe I have a touch of OCD, maybe I’m the eccentric, surface- touching lady your grandma warned you about. I can live with that.

Now, when I witness my hands as they pull along the spines of books in the used bookstore like they’re meandering down a lazy river, I just go with it. Sometimes I think of that incandescent moment, the sun setting over Town Lake, my small hand resting on a building made of smooth round stones. Even if I’m not consciously chasing the syncopation of peace, my hands know better.

Books! The older, the better.

Books! The older, the better.

Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going



Where I’ve Been

  • Celebrating the wedding of my son.  It was a week of preparation, followed by three days of hooping and la-ing, followed by two days of sleeping it off.
  • Sitting on the couch blowing my nose.  Hacking up stuff you don’t want to know about.

Where I’m Going

The theme for this month is Quirks.  I’ll write about mine, cause I don’t know anything about yours.  It’s all about self-discovery.  Maybe you all can help my self discover why people are so weird.

The New Guard: The Moment and The Message


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No discussion of the new guard – the new paradigms created by the intersection of technology, commerce, and youth—would be complete without a nod to the changing nature of photography.  I’d like to thank Andrew Reynolds, from Andrew’s View of the Week, and 2 Helpful Guys for spurring some of my thinking about this topic.

My friend asked me to sing at his wedding last summer, and I happily agreed.  Over the years I’ve done quite a bit of public singing, and although I don’t do it much anymore, I still consider singing as a service I can offer, a way to fulfill my responsibility to the community.  My guess is that I’ve sung at close to fifty weddings, so I didn’t think much could surprise me. You stand up and sing at the beginning, or while folks are supposed to be praying, or during the unity candle.  A photographer takes a few photos during the wedding from a discreet distance and may ask for a photo of you and the accompanist afterwards.  You stay for the reception if you know the couple. If they’ve paid you then you take off after the wedding.  Done and dusted.  I had no reason to expect anything unusual from this wedding.

The bride requested Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” You’ve all heard it.  If you look it up on YouTube, you’ll notice approximately six million renditions of the Ave, most of which are by the big dogs of opera. These big opera dogs make money with their voices. I make money by sitting in the floor with a bunch of twelve year olds, talking to them about their work.  I’ve spent more time than I can count cutting out stars, gluing and stapling things to classroom posters. I have not spent a great deal of time learning the complexities of the “Ave Maria.”  It’s the kind of piece that singers work on with their coaches for years before performing in public. But my friend wanted this piece, so I retrieved my years of training and went to work. I vocalized daily and brushed up on my Latin diction, because they requested this language as opposed to Schubert’s German version. I recorded myself, wincing as I listened to each new version and tried to improve on the rough spots.  I worked, I tell you, I worked.

After weeks of practice at home and a few minutes with the accompanist the night before, Super Husband and I slicked up and arrived at the church early.  The Ave demands an early start, at the very least.  As soon as the bridal party attained the altar, the pianist, a nice man who worked at a Catholic school, began lacing Schubert’s opening arpeggios.

As I started to sing, the bride’s whole family got out of their seats to take pictures of me with their phones. I’ve never used the flash on my camera phone, but they knew how to use theirs.  Puffs of light tinged my retinas in an irregular pattern.  An elderly relative had a real camera with one of those Jimmy Olson type flash bulbs.  He rotated around me at tonsil-viewing distance and clicked at least twenty pictures of my face as I venerated the mother of Christ.  My face, that wild demon child who will not obey my brain, fought me every step, and the corners of my mouth headed into smile territory, ooching higher with every flash of the mini-bulbs from camera phones.

I can tell you that Schubert did not have the paparazzi in mind when he wrote the “Ave Maria.” This is a lyrical tour de force with a  high tessitura and a broad range.  “Why Me, Lord,” it ain’t.  I don’t know where this reserve of musical calm came from, but I finished the piece without embarrassing myself too badly and sat down with great relief and a feeling of having been slightly—not violated, exactly, but broached. I had the hot head and emptiness of a recent outpouring, and the discomfort of handing over some of my personal territory without my permission.  Not saying I completely understand what Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie go through at the airport, but a smidge of empathy now resides, ya know?

Since I have personally experienced the thrill of being photo-buzzed by a group of frenzied spectators, I’ve now begun to take more notice of this picture-in-picture phenomenon.  It’s everywhere, and if you don’t believe me, witness the phenomenon of selfies at funerals.  If funeral selfies were a sound, they’d make the whooshing noise you hear as all decorum (and some would say decency) flies out the window.  It’s like we no longer know when to stay in the moment and when to stop and allow ourselves to experience. Where did the art of remembering go?

As I watch a moment like the one below (I’m not judging by the way, I had my camera out, too) it feels like laying salt on the road of your mind by trying to prophylactic-ally take pictures of something you haven’t experienced because you are afraid you’ll forget about the experience before you’ve had it.

 Now, everyone's a photographer !

Now, everyone’s a photographer !

What’s with this new guard practice of  logging insta, nano, and micro moments?  Why is it so important to catalog every sigh? Do we think that if we empty our present by objectifying it to the nth degree, that it will somehow make the future less bleak?

How did we come to the place where the moment is more important than the message? And how can we get the message back? I’m asking.

PauserPrompt: Old Songs


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PUD (Week 2)
Here are the words I pulled from my Personal Universe Deck this week: man, salt, novel, beach,discourse,baby. 

Old Songs

beach and flag

New, the way the shadow closed over her chest, the way she opened her eyes in surprise just before father placed his hand over her mouth and motioned for silence.  New, the moon casting its shadows over the rows of tents as father led her toward the central lane.

“It’s late,” Anjum said as Baba pulled her along.

Baba’s paced only quickened. As they walked, Anjum separated the sounds she heard; the shushing waves of the Mediterranean, the far off cry of a lone gull, her father’s boots scrabbling over the dirt road, her own heartbeat in her ears.  She made a rhythm of all of it.  She’d made music out of the repetitious all of her short life.  Her music, the novel she wrote herself each morning to make sense of the bombs, the shouts, the quickening of her mother’s cries.  Hurriedly packing suitcases.  Cooking rice for strangers in the dead of the night, her mother giving three quick shakes, resting, three quick shakes, resting, as the grains browned in the one pan they brought from the old house.

Old, the life she had before. In school she raised her hand and the teacher called on her to speak.  Anjum knew school answers, answers to give when the question was asked.  Now the only answer was the rhythm.  The questions ran away before Anjum could catch them.  Old, Anjum played in the shadow of her parents’ tent with her little brother.  He should still know how to play, she thought.  I play for him.

Anjum’s Oud lay on the bed she left behind in the room with solid walls.  She prayed that it would be there for her if she ever went home.  One day if she ever went back to her old home.  Once, Anjum asked her mother about going home, but the salt had risen in Mama’s eyes, and Anjum had quit asking. She was never going back to the old home again, never playing her instrument again, never singing the old songs to the old men in her home town again.  She knew this was true.  She knew it by the way the adults cut conversations and slanted their eyes when she came near.

As they hurried along the road, others joined them.  Anjum saw they were walking toward the main relief tent. Daily, Anjum stood in the tent holding a plate of food from the hands of strangers.  She sat at one of the long tables and ate with all the others. Her little brother often remarked on the food, saying, “It’s good today,” or “I liked yesterday’s better.”  She ate what was in front of her. Her taste buds had flown out of her mouth at the same time as the songs.

Baba pulled her into the middle of the tent, and to her surprise the room, now full of grown-ups, quieted.  He looked to Anjum and pointed.  There, in the center of the tent, an old man sat upon a folding chair.  In his lap, he held an Oud.  Baba squatted and made his eyes match Anjum’s.  She knew what he wanted.

“Baba, I can’t,” she said.

“You can, Anjum. You must.”  Baba’s eyes pleaded.

She tightened her mouth.  “No,” she pronounced.  Baba took her shoulders and leaned in to kiss her forehead.  Then he spoke.

“I shield you from this if I can.  But you have a gift.  Anjum. Look. If you cannot look at all these people, look at this one man.  This one here.” He held her chin and turned it toward a man sitting near the center of the circle of people.  He was pale as tenting. His hands shook in his lap. His eyes bled sorrow. “This man, this morning, had a wife. He had a child.”

She looked at Baba. “I don’t know if it will come out anymore.”

Baba smiled.  “You can try, Anjum.”  He didn’t wait for her answer to lift her unto a table.  The old songs opened her chest as the old man started to play.

The New Guard and Uber


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Snapped this while waiting for the Uber driver to pick us up.

Snapped this while waiting for the Uber driver to pick us up.

The other day, a commentator on NPR referred to current Twitter followers as the old guard. As he said this, I thought, What’s the new guard, then? Where does that leave those of us who barely twit? Sitting on a branch, wireless-less, with bird laryngitis, I guess. The truth; it’s impossible to keep up with the hyperactive mutations of social media. The age-old tenet that the young ‘uns will abandon a format as soon as their parents start to appreciate and use it (the aging face of Facebook is a case in point) doesn’t adequately explain how and why technology morphs so rapidly.

I’m only fifty-five, so I don’t think my cadre has lain down in the dust to breathe the last improbable gasps of a dead civilization just yet. However, even in the face of this mind-boggling web of newness, I don’t mind the idea of a new guard.

In searching for my own explanation of the new guard, I thought of this scene from the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes. Astronaut George Taylor, (played by Charleton Heston), has landed on a planet he does not recognize.  While riding a horse down a beach with a scantily clad woman, he rides up on a beheaded Lady Liberty, discarded on the beach.  Tradition became meaningless upon the realization that the world he had known was now gone.  Taylor then decries the loss of his old traditions and boundaries, in a fit of histrionics worthy of the old guard. [Parenthetically, Charleton Heston won an Oscar for his performance in Ben-Hur. Go figure.]

The new generation of media-saavy twenty and thirty-somethings have a different take on our rules, our traditions, what we’ve preserved, what we’ve ruined.  Standing on the beach that is the actual, unvirtual world, boundaries may be viewed not as something to observe, but as something to be manipulated, a matrix of interdimensional possibilities.  I don’t think this is such a bad thing, having this innate belief in the elasticity of the world.

Take Uber, the ride sharing service that’s swept through America’s major cities.  Uber was an idea that grew out of this elasticized worldview. Here’s how it happened: Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick sat around after a conference thinking of new ventures. Kalanick and Camp, neither of whom had reached forty, had each started and sold their first tech companies and were ready for a new challenge  One of their conversations centered on the difficulty getting a taxi in San Francisco.  Uber was born out of this conversation.

Now, when I travel to a big city, I can use an app on my phone to summon a driver  and know exactly where the driver is in his or her journey to pick me up. The Uber app is the hub around which Uber revolves, which seems like a paradigm shift.  Most companies develop a business plan and then throw an app in parenthetically.  Kalanick and Camp speak new guard fluently, and understand that business is embedded into new technology,not the other way around.

Uber and similar services such as Lyft have faced their share of adversity.  Both companies have been sued by drivers over the designation that they are contractors rather than employees. In addition, Uber has been attacked by taxi companies and city regulators who would like to see them out of business. Realistically, the taxi companies and city planners would be better served to find a way to work with ride-sharing services. It’s kind of like putting one of those folding chairs back into the little sack it came in.  Be honest. You know you threw that sack away after the second time you used the chair.  Uber and services like it are not going back into the bag. It would be, like sacking the chair, giving birth backwards.

When you use Uber, a person picks you up in his or her own car, and takes you where you want to go.  Because the financial end is all on an app, no money changes hands unless the rider decides to tip the driver in cash. It feels like riding with a friend. And the friend is usually from the new guard, just finished college, or attending grad school, or driving to make a little money before the baby comes.  It’s quick, easy to use, and it’s cheaper than calling a yellow taxi.  Also, since the driver uses a personally owned vehicle, the cars are much cleaner than a typical taxi.

When we recently used Uber in Oakland, California, we encountered a lovely driver with curls that stood at attention all over her head.  She told us about getting the Holy Spirit in Waco Texas, the slight shame she felt when Baylor University released her for violating the drinking policy (those Baptists are serious, man), how much she loved Hawaii, and how we didn’t owe her a tip.  No, she insisted, the pleasure was all hers.  At one time, we were all as starchless and free as this young Uber driver.  She’s only one example of the lovely human beings we’ve encountered in our Uber travels.

Change, when it comes, always faces opposition. But I believe that each new guard, when it comes along, deserves a chance to create new paradigms, and replace traditions with ideas that work better for the current day. This emergent energy is what makes the world such an interesting place. Those of us in the old guard should sit in the back and enjoy the view.  Relax.  The Statue of Liberty’s still there in the harbor where it’s always been.  But thanks to the new guard, we don’t have to go to New York to visit.  We simply download the app.

PauserPrompt: The Personal Universe Deck


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In my new Friday feature, I'm going to generate writing using types of prompts, and invite you to do the same.  This month, I'm 
using my Personal Universe Deck, or PUD, to prompt some new writing ideas.The Personal Universe Deck first originated with 
poet Michael McClure.  He describes how he created his Personal Universe Deck in this speech at Naropa University.  You'll find good descriptions for generating the PUD on this website, and on this oneThis week, I shuffled my deck and pulled three cards containing the words turmeric, eggplant, sugar, wait, silence, and skip. 

Silence, Turmeric, Wait

Father and Daughter, a special bond

Father and Daughter, a special bond

“Does this have turmeric?” she asked, sniffing the contents of the pita suspiciously. “Cause you know I don’t like that stuff.”

Lilly looked at her.  “You are six years old.  You live in Texas.  You’ve never had turmeric.  How did you even know turmeric existed?”

The girl eyed her mother with precocious disdain.  “I read about turmeric in my book on Asia.  I decided I don’t like it.”

Lilly sighed. Her father and brother, Will, suddenly got busy with their food.  Will stifled a giggle by coughing into his plate.

Lilly spoke. “The pita does not have any turmeric. I guarantee it.  We are at the base of the Grand Canyon.  This is the food the donkey brought down for you.  You won’t get anything else, so I suggest you eat.” She glared at her headstrong second child, willing the conversation to turn in her favor.  She pushed the sweaty veil of blonde hair out of her daughter’s eyes and implored, “Just try it for me, okay?”

The girl, Annie, widened her eyes and stuck her tongue out. Then she slowly moved her tongue toward the offending sandwich. Upon touching the contents, she cried, “Ew!  Definitely turmeric, Mom. Definitely. It’s going to be against my principles to eat it, Mom.”

“Upon what grounds did you base your decision to dislike turmeric?  What has turmeric ever done to you?” Lilly looked at her husband, Bob, and said, “Am I really having this conversation?”

He replied, “Keep your voice down.  People are looking at us.”

“Do you want to handle this, then?” She whispered furiously across the picnic table.

“No, just keep it down, okay?”

Lilly leaned into Annie’s ear. “This pita has chicken.  You like chicken.  It has mayonnaise, your favorite. It has grapes.”

Bob piped into the conversation then. “Yeah, Annie, I don’t like grapes, but I’m eating them, see?”

“Not helping,” Lilly said.

Nonplussed, Annie stated, “It has turmeric, too,”

“What makes you think that?”

“It’s yellow.  Turmeric is yellow.”

Bob spoke again. “That’s not turmeric, sweetheart, it’s called curry.”

Will, who’d been quietly wolfing his pita, picked his head up and said, “Curry?”

He started crying, the loud way, the way a sudden squall hits in the middle of summer, the way a kid cries during a vacation even though he is too old to cry in public any more.   Now, people were really looking.  His eyes were full of accusation.  “You know how much I hate curry! What is wrong with you two?”

Lilly said, “Now you know why I can’t remember our vacations.  My mind erases the trauma.”

By now, Will had reached across the table and pinched Annie on the arm, and both children were crying.  Bob and Lilly looked at one another for a moment, and then he started laughing.  Lilly did not see the humor, and told him so.

“Come on, now,” he said, “look on the bright side. We’re at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We came all the way down here on freaking mules.  We have a six year old who reads books about Asia.  She knows what turmeric is, and she uses words like ‘principles’ in the right way.”

Annie walked around the table and crawled into Bob’s lap.  “I’m smart, aren’t I, Dad?”

“Smart is as smart does, Annie,” he said.  “I think you are going to be very hungry in a little while, and there’s nothing Mom and I can do to help you, so would you say that’s a smart decision?”

She patted his face. “But you’re forgetting about my principles, Dad.  And the candy bar in your pocket.”

I'd love it if you joined me in the Friday prompt.  Create your own PUD and write.  If you post the 
results on your blog, please feel free to post a link in the comments section here.

pauseRReport: Year One


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At home, examining the light.  A description that fits for the last year.

The Pauser marked its one year anniversary just a few days ago, and I feel like celebrating!  Here are the big lessons I’ve learned this year:

  • Digital, schmidgital! People make social media interesting.  I have enjoyed the personal connections I’ve made more than any other aspect of blogging.  While my virtual relationships are not the same as those real-world, on-the-ground ones, the generosity, kindness, and encouragement you all have shown me has helped me grow, and to heal hurts that I hadn’t even been aware of.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.
  • Starting a blog was not that hard. I still don’t have the “bells and whistles,” skills my children have, but I can drive the boat.  Blogging is a testament to life being doable.  In year two, it’s time to learn at least one bell/whistle.
  • Blogging is a measuring tool. When I look back at some of my early writing, I can envision ways to make the writing more effective than it was then.  I also look back at some of the writing I did about my husband’s journey with prostate cancer and I think about the way the writing helped me to achieve some emotional closure.  Because I flung my words out into the universe, they became a kind of commitment to my soul, something I had to go back to when the downs came calling.  Those words, once spooled out, became a permanent record of all I have felt, all I have achieved, all I have hoped.
  • I’ve been fairly consistent with my posting, but I have learned that sometimes I just can’t keep up.  I’ve also learned not to worry about it.  The earth won’t stop spinning on its axis if I go a couple of weeks without a post.


Blog Posts: 86

Blog Views: 3027

Total Comments: 293 (Half of these are mine, because I always reply to comments. I’m Southern.)

Followers: 117

Top Three Posts:

# 3  Daily Discomfort: Frozen

# 2   Daily Discomfort: Love and Time

# 1  Daily Discomfort: Getting A Pedicure

The post with the most comments:

 DD: Mozart and the Beautiful Tears

Up Next:


My editorial calendar for the year: It will probably change, but at least I’ve got a plan.

For year 2, I’ve changed the editorial calendar a bit.

Each week I’ll write a feature article based on a monthly theme.  I’ll also write once a week from a prompt I generate in a new way each month.  Each month, I’ll write an article for the paus(ed) category based on how to use that prompt generation in the classroom.

In September, I’m writing about the New Guard.  You know, my kids and their kids.  I have just learned from NPR that I am of the Old Guard.  I (and apparently many of you) am classified as the Old Guard because I am are still using Twitter.

I’ll also write from a series of prompts generated by my Personal Universal Desk.  It’s a cool tool.  I’ll write about how it works so you can use it too if you want. I’ll also write about how to use the PUD(makes me feel good just to put it into writing) in your classroom.

Summer Talk Part Two: How to Be Pool Cool


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Having Fun at the pool

1. Never wear a nose plug. Stay away from the kids who wear nose plugs.

2. In fact, don’t hold your nose at all. The only exception to this rule is when you have to lay back in the water to straighten your chlorine greened hair out of your eyes.

3. Only babies play in the shallow end.

4. When you learn to dive, you are allowed to do it in the four foot water.  Squatting on the side with penitent hands is permitted when learning how to dive.

5. Go shopping for your swim suit with your Mom’s younger sister.  She will let you get a skimpier suit than your Mom will.

They told me they were too fat.

They told me they were too fat.

6. No peeking when the sunken treasure is thrown in the deep end.

7. Blow bubbles when sunken treasure hunting to keep your ears from popping.

8. Get the treasure the first time you go down for it.  It’s better to bust a lung than come up empty handed.

9. No wimping on the high board.

10. Everyone goes off the high board.

11. Respect those who have earned a higher swim badge than you.  Tadpoles answer to Fish, Fish answer to Whales, and Whales answer to Sharks.

12. Goggles are for sissies.  Bloodshot eyes indicate summer toughness.

13. Flip flops- also for sissies.  The soles of your feet should look like shoe leather by the end of the summer.

14. When your mom says it’s time to go home, keep playing for at least fifteen minutes.

15. Grape popsicle teeth is a look. Own it.

This post is dedicated to my writing buddies in the Writer’s Workshop Institute, which I’m co-facilitating for the next couple of weeks.  I love working on writing skills with my teaching colleagues.  Writing Rules!

Weekend Walk: Big Boats


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We saw many boats on our recent trip to the Corpus Christi area.  I was really impressed with the size of the ships that stood in the shipping channel outside of Whataburger Stadium.  Plans are currently underway to make the bridge in the background of this last photo forty feet taller.  Right now, the larger ships have to download materials onto ships the size of the big white one in order to clear the bridge into port.  It is hard to imagine boats bigger than this behemoth.

I played with my editing software to make the reds stand out on both of the two big ship pictures.  I need to take a photography course and invest in some different editing software. Someday, when my ship comes in.

Barge blocks the waterway and carries hazardous materials

Barge blocks the waterway and carries hazardous materials

When we were on our dolphin watch, long flat barges stretched all the way across the waterway.  The captain remarked that the barges were sometimes a nuisance, but they were a safe and cost efficient way to transport hazardous waste.  It was scary to think we were sitting that close to at least ten of these floating garbage dumps.

Summer Talk, Part 1: Lazy, Soapy, Grandmothery


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Summer Kids!

I will always associate summer with a special sort of ennui.  It’s not the laziness of a teenager, or the decadent half-life of European royalty.  It’s a zone in which, once you enter, laziness feels perfectly right and time suspends itself while you brush flakes of sand off your arm, or lay on your belly on the bed and slowly wiggle your foot.

This magic is easier to capture in childhood, for children are much more likely to expend all of their energy running barefoot through the sand, or playing ball until the sun stands high in the sky.  Children, who ignore their basic needs much longer than adults, tend to play until they are too—dirty, sweaty, thirsty, hungry—and throw themselves on the mercy of whatever adult is willing to feed and water them.  This vast expulsion of energy that leaves you feeling weak and on the verge of collapse seems necessary to induce that sweet dive into limbo.  It’s got something to do with the sun, too.

Grandmama and Pop

Grandmother and Pop– my summer people.

Grandmother was often our designated waterer, especially in the summer.  There were five of us living within two houses of Grandmother’s, my three cousins, my brother and I.  We were stair stepped in size, all within five years of one another from top to bottom.  Maybe because we were such a swarm, the adults shoed us out of the house early and often.  The five of us ran around barefooted until our feet were like shoe leather.  We did everything all out.  Chinaberry fights lasted hours (in our minds) and we strategized for days on end.  We played Bonanza.  I always got stuck playing Hoss, even though I was as skinny as the rest of them.  Our legs were horses, brown and sprouting so quickly that by the end of the summer my littlest cousin had to wear someone else’s shorts and my oldest cousin got to go to the Beall’s department store and buy new ones.

We weren’t smart enough to know when to come in by ourselves, but my Grandmother had some instinct in this.  She’d always call us in to lunch right about when we were starting to fight.  She’d pour each of us a glass in one of those aluminum tumblers with the bronze undertone.  We’d tell her what color we wanted, but she gave us what she gave us, and didn’t put up with kids who were picky about their tumblers.  We’d sit at the table swinging our bare legs, and one of us would start flicking the glasses, which made a, “Ting, Ting,” sound.  When you drank out of them, they had a metallic undertone, like when you nick your finger then pop it into your mouth to relieve the sting.  Nothing ever tasted better.

If we were good, she refilled our tea glasses and let us take them into the den after lunch, where Grandmother let us watch her soaps, As the World Turns, and The Guiding Light.  I loved that den, especially in the summer, because this is where that sweet magic happened.

Watching the soaps with my grandmother felt like sneaking an extra treat from the cookie jar. Our parents didn’t let us watch soaps at home, although I don’t think they had the overtly sexual themes and controversial topics they came to be known for in later years. And I also think our parents knew we watched them at Grandmother’s house.  Maybe they all colluded, deciding to let us do some things at Grandma’s that they’d forbid at home so they’d feel special.  Maybe my grandmother just told them how things were going to play out.

Lisa Miller Hughes Eldridge Shea Colman McColl Mitchell Grimaldi was my favorite character. Lisa was always in the process of divorcing someone and skulking around for a new husband. She had terrible things happen to her, like the two times she lost her mind, and how she faked her own suicide. She did mean things, like give up her child to get a better divorce settlement.  She said exactly what was on her mind, and her mind was as moldering as week old bread.  My grandmother loved her.  She laughed out loud and said things like, “That Lisa is horrible.  Isn’t she horrible?”

We’d sit up from our spots on the carpet and say, “Yes!”

She’d tell us, “Be quiet and lay back down.”  And we would.

Our physical needs were sated, and we’d run ourselves into a stupor during the morning. All that was left was listening to the tragedies and turmoils of soapdom and letting the sap of summer lull us into a state of perfect contentment.

The room was always dark and cool, and the drama played out before us so lush and lulling that we often slept out the whole afternoon on Grandmother’s den floor. Our faces carried evening tattoos of shag carpet marks, and we wore them like badges, wishing they’d last longer than they did as dusk fell and the grown-ups pushed out the door again.

Like my grandmother, I worked to create a space for my children to sit in the lap of that beautiful summer sigh that happens when exhaustion, hunger, thirst, and satiation collide.  And like my grandmother, I hope for the day when I have beautiful brown- armed grandchildren running around my yard hollering at the top of their lungs.  I hope I can feed them a bite of her pea salad and let them lay in my living room napping while the television plays low in the background.

But why wait?  There’s a sprinkler outside with my name on it.