The Russians Aren’t Coming — They’re Here

At risk of prompting a NSA wiretap, I’ll admit the big news of my week.

I visited Russia. Its music, that is.

Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra program

Courtesy of the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra, DH and I heard the best of three composers in what was billed as “Russian Fireworks.” Also on display was a full range of art, collectibles, and life goods from the Russian Cultural Center of Houston, Our Texas (sic).

At the Stafford Center? Near Houston?

Blog post deadline looming, I headed inside the concert hall, recognizing only one composer—Tchaikovsky.

But at “Symphony No. 2 – Little Russian,” my ears poked up, Spock‐like. They pointed even higher when conductor Dr. Dominque Royem offered, Little Russian references the Ukraine.” 

FBSO on Stafford Center stage

How often our desperate escapes lead us back to the Real World!

How could I not  think of present‐day political realities? As the orchestra thundered through the composition, my mind launched.

It imagined world domination by multiple autocrats. Armageddon beckoned in the brass and strings. Amid cymbal bursts and trumpet blasts, my body slunk deep into the red velvet seat.

Wild imaginings soared. Long pause. Self‐talk roared back.

Strings crescendoed. Gongs clanged.

You came here to escape mental meanderings! This is what art can do for you. Step away into this world, not that one. Just for this afternoon. Hand over heart, my breath began to slow.

Post‐concert and heart calm, we sauntered through a lobby with cruising babushkas hawking samovars. So much color!

An interesting discovery about the lavish metal pots. Samovar is basically a fancy tea pot. For this daily tea drinker, it took discipline to not buy this samovar. I consoled with practicality: too big for a single user, too ornate for expanding Zen tastes.

Through both music and merchandise, gratitude surged from deep inside me.

I rediscovered why I attend cultural events. Each one expands my horizons and eliminates ancient biases. Only one‐on‐one connection can minimize, eliminate outdated propaganda.  

Hug‐a‐Bear with Royem and Ormand?

Sometimes those links get really close, as when the hug‐generous conductor walks by.

Besides samovars, babushkas, and bears, I discovered a new appreciation for grand and battle‐worthy music.

All my life, I’ve been a lover, not a fighter.

What prompts this rush to big, bold, and brash?

The Road Around Art Class

I have had so much fun these past few weeks taking The Art of Collage at the Glasscock School at Rice University. We had our final critique this past Tuesday and it was great seeing all of the creativity of my classmates. Again, many thanks to Ellen Orseck who taught the class. I learned so much.

Since you couldn’t be there, I have chosen a few pictures of all of the collage work for you to see. Here they are in no particular order:

It is interesting to note that some of the students in this class had taken any number of art classes before. However, some of the students were taking an art class for the first time. So, if your creativity is looking for an outlet, then check out the class offerings at the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies!

I look forward to seeing you there!

Until next week.…..

Book Fairs Change Lives and Calendars

A single paragraph makes a reader’s weekend.

When DH handed me the blue blurb, I read three magic words before deafening him with my screaming “YES!”

The words? Bargain book sale.

The newpaper article elaborated: “…paperbacks, hardbacks, DVDs, CDs, children’s and youth books, nonfiction at bargain prices. Donations accepted…”

Buy? Donate? Both at the same time?

That’s a party my Inner Bibliophile can enjoy.

We entered the first conference room. I gasped.

Grateful I’d packed several empty book bags, I rush‐scanned the tables. After a quick breath, I went back to consider the gotta‐haves.

I found a second surprise — tables crammed with CD’s and DVD’s. Music and movies ranged from classical and funk to kindergarten flicks and horror shows.

Amazing what people donate. And buy.

In an outside hallway sat chairs crammed with boxes of Spanish, Arabic, and unrecognizable language books plus software manuals. I perused more rows of romance novels than I’ve ever seen in a traditional bookshop.

A distant room held non‐fiction, including instruction notebooks, travel guides, and student textbooks from god‐knows‐what‐university.

I don’t know what amazed me more—the volume of material available or the size of the crowd. All ages showed up. Even the youngest children scanned book titles. As their own entertainment, I’m sure but I watched, crossing my fingers in hopes that the littlest readers believe as I do — a good story can cure almost anything.

Nothing like proclaiming your best command.

It’s why I paraded my favorite t‐shirt around the trio of book‐filled rooms. I packed in with 11 must‐have books, four sexy jazz CD’s, and a pair of never‐seen movies.

Our haul only cost us a baker’s dozen in bucks. In a brick‐and‐mortar, that stash would’ve beat $200 easy.

On the way home, we stopped for tea and read for an hour, each of us diving deep into our newest Best Book. Scanning our new Book Fair bookmark, we both discovered the best news.

Our little town offers these Bargain Book Fairs every other month.

Where have we been for 27 years?

Can’t answer that, but I know where we’ll be on December 7th.

Our book bags are empty, ready, and grateful that even passionate readers can miss the best headline. 

There’s Always Another Art Road

This past Tuesday, I walked into the Anderson‐Clarke Center on the Rice University campus pulling a cart filled with collage supplies. This building is home to the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies where I am enjoying taking a course on collage art. I am learning quite a bit from instructor and artist Ellen Orseck. I got on the elevator and thought about the day’s assignment on the way up to the second floor. However, as soon as the elevator doors opened, I saw a group of people working on an art installation. Actually there were two different works of art being installed. I quickly learned that this was part of The Sol LeWitt Project. This particular piece is called “Wall Drawing #869A.” I found out that the people working on this line drawing include both Rice University students and faculty, as well as Glasscock students and faculty. Also contributors to this piece on the second floor will include Susanne Glasscock among other patrons. I heard that this is the first time this particular work has been installed anywhere in the world.

After leaving my supplies in the classroom, I returned to the ground floor, where I observed draftspeople working on another Sol LeWitt piece, “Wall Drawing #1115: Circle within a square, each with broken bands of color”. While the line drawing is scheduled to be completed this week: the larger circle mural will be completed by the middle of November. The artists who are reproducing both of these conceptual creations are following detailed instructions left posthumously by Sol LeWitt so that others can continue to enjoy his work. Except for the fact that both of these works are going up on white walls, the process involved in each is quite different.

Returning to the second floor, I looked down at the work space being shared by the the draftspeople. Very organized and very well laid out.

Observing from this vantage point, one could almost reach out and touch the draftspeople; however, there are signs asking you not to do that. Take pictures and observe all you want, but don’t interrupt creativity in process.

As my collage class began, Ellen Orseck explained the project to us and told us about the conceptual artist, Sol LeWitt. We even walked down to look at the processes involved. Ellen explained that later that evening she would take her turn working on the line drawing.

She also has a painting in the lobby of the second floor. It is included in a collection of art works by instructors for the Glasscock School.

It is a real treat to take an art class in this building. I get inspired just walking through to get to my classroom.

The Wall Drawings Installation Opening Reception is scheduled for November 18th, 5:30 — 7:30. I can’t wait to see it. To learn more about the Sol LeWitt Project you can go to glasscock.rice.edu/lewitt. Or you can visit the Anderson‐Clarke Center and see it for yourself. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Until next week.…..

Embrace the Journey, Anyway

NOTEI drafted this post on October 22nd, precisely 24 hours before learning of my beloved sister’s sudden death. Days later, the Houston Astros would lose the World Series. As I re‐read the post, a salty gulp of poignant synchronicity rose up in my throat. While a life is not a sport, my memory will never disconnect these two events. Still, I embrace the journey ahead. My sister would demand that, and more books, of course.  — Melanie 

Booked and Barefoot at Minute Maid Park

Six weeks ago, I endured a night of Houston Astros baseball. You may remember my preferred view:

That was September. This is October. We’re now living in a sea of World Series hype for our Houston Astros.

(Notice that super‐friendly reference there? Yes, she’s drinking the [orange] juice.) it’s officially Baseball Madness in the Bayou City and the hype carries a contagious virus.

Mention World Series and the verbal bets begin. Will we go full seven?

Eager to join the tribe, I’ve begun retelling my most recent Astros memory:  I saw these boys play when the park’s field stands were more empty than full! I watched 15 runs batted in! I saw Air Yordan-what’s-his-name now hit a triple!

Marshall McLuhan got it wrong. The MESSAGE drives the medium.

In these exciting times, why not buy a World Series shirt? Even if you’re a Never‐Sports person.

I like the possibilities behind this tee.

It confirms our play in the Big Boy Game but offers no promises beyond that. We may not end up The Champs after seven rounds but we’ll be on the field. We’ll try.

That double play reminded me of another picture from last month’s free‐ticket night.

“Embrace the Journey,” indeed!

I’m standing outside Minute Maid Park with my favorite bag, chosen for three reasons: the pair of books inside and its simple message. Only later did I realize the magic of “Embrace the Journey:”

  • Every day offers a journey, to or from somewhere.
  • Discover something.
  • Embrace what you find.

That magic first appeared as DH and I cruised the lobby of Minute Maid Park.

Can you find the “H”?

This swatch of faded Astro turf hangs in the lobby of the ball field. Look closely to find the raised team logo. It’s a five‐pointed star centered behind a capital letter “H.”

Even up close, the search demands a determined visual search. My eyes failed. DH whooped when he spied the logo. I, instead, reached out with silent hands to feel what I couldn’t see.

When my fingers grazed the grass, I smiled and remembered again: Discover something — embrace your journey. 

I walked into the stadium, looked around, built a pretzel diamond then picked up my book to read.

Now I’m walking into the next game, watching and embracing whatever’s next on this journey.

In baseball or books.

The Road To The Moon And Beyond

I traveled into space twice this week! Okay, so they were virtual reality trips, but they felt and looked real. Good news! You can too! All one has to do is visit the Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University. From now through December 21st they have several exhibits that have to do with traveling to the Moon. One part is actually called  Moon Shot. There is one multi‐media exhibit that I will not even try to describe, but trust me you will be fascinated. Then there is one large gallery with works from several artists including Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg. There are also several newspaper articles from July of 1969 and one even touted that we would be colonizing the Moon with the decade.

The entire exhibit shows not only the historical significance of the time and Rice University’s part in that history, but also the lasting effects on art, culture and society.

And, of course, I mentioned Virtual Reality trips into outer space. One of the VR trips is located in the big gallery. The other is in a gallery all by itself. Look for a door that looks like this:

Both VR experiences are great fun and each lasts about 15 minutes. I was somewhat hesitant considering that I have a serious fear of heights, but easily tolerated both adventures. Oh yes, there were times when I was floating in space. Yet I could feel the floor beneath my feet even if I couldn’t see it. I also walked on the moon and even landed on the sun.….without getting burned!

All of the exhibits in the Moody Center are free, however, there is a nominal fee for parking in the lot directly across the street. Well worth the time and money to be sure.

Also, today is Halloween and I would be remiss if I did not mention my new annual Halloween tradition. It involves both me and my Dear Friend going to lunch at 100% Taquito which is located at 3245 Southwest Freeway here in Houston. The food is really good even for a vegetarian and they really know how to decorate for the season. I’ll just post my pics below and you will see what I mean:

Until next week.….

Mourning a Sister — and Fellow RoadBroad

I still reel from the news: my eldest sister is dead.

Late Wednesday, a sheriff’s detective knocked on my front door, asked me to sit down, and told me that Mimi had been found deceased in her home.

I remain in shock. So does my other sister, Merrilynn.

We three sisters were/are textbook Baby Boomers. Born 3–1/2 years apart in the ‘50s, we specialized in one thing: loving each other deeply while living independent lives with very different personalities.

We called ourselves, “Sisters United!”

We met on the road many times, including in Austin 40 years ago last May.

Our mother took this photo of us after my graduation from the University of Texas at Austin.

Mimi, Merrilynn, and Melanie = Sisters United!

Have you ever seen three sisters who looked so different from each other?

Our college experiences mirrored and contrasted in interesting ways.

Mimi also graduated from UT‐Austin, three years before me. Merrilynn’s graduation came in 1977 at nearby Southwestern University, where I attended my freshman year of college.

My university graduation was a miracle (said the older sisters; in retrospect, I agree). Their degrees came in multiple, both of them earning diplomas at the post‐graduate level. Me? I stopped at bachelor.

We shared degrees but not careers: pharmacy, education, and journalism. Link these, anyone?

By 2006, the three of us ended up together again, this time living separately in the Houston area. We moved our aging mother to the area, watching over her as only devoted daughters can.

We managed several road trips with Mother before she could no longer travel. New York (twice). California. New Mexico. Around Texas.

Sisters Birthday Dinner, 2012

2012 was a tumultous year in our family.

We had to move Mother into memory care. Merrilynn’s husband died of pancreatic cancer. My brain exploded from a ruptured aneurysm.

That fall, we sisters came together again. We joined Merrilynn’s tribe to celebrate her birthday that September.

Sometimes a family needs that kind of fundamental happy, if only for a single evening. I forever remember the tears that lined my eyes that night. They felt permanent.

Here we are now, seven years later — almost to the day.

Two sisters remain. 2019 is now another soul‐breaking year.  

I wonder how these cycles of life repeat. Death and life, hearts shattered and minds overwhelmed. Again. 

But, always, Sisters United!

As a final note, let me editorialize:

Mimi did not leave a will. She also did not plan to die unexpectedly.

Reality always beats naivete, creating a different journey for surviving family.

I beg you: love your family enough to leave a will. No one’s grief should become overburdened by unnecessary complications required by the probate experience we now face.

To each of you, thank you for sharing this life and road trip with me.

I love you.

Further Down That October Road

Sometimes things just happen that catch my attention. That’s what happened to me Sunday night when my Dear Friend and I went to the Alley Theatre to see the play Vietgone. The playwright is Qui Nguyen. As soon as I walked into the Neuhaus Theatre, I knew I was in the right place. I took one look at the stage and knew this was a play for a RoadBroad!

If you have not seen this yet, I highly recommend it. The story takes you back to 1975 and is told from the viewpoint of some of the Vietnamese refugees that came to this country at that time. It is both humorous and dramatic. You will laugh and you will cry. What more recommendation do you need to go see this play? Go!

When I wasn’t visiting the theatre this past week, I was walking again around Rice University. There are so many works of art and while we are actually experiencing fall‐like weather, I want to get out as much as possible. I don’t remember what the name of the building it was that I was walking past, but I just happened to catch a glimpse at these door knobs.

I have heard of using gargoyles to scare off evil spirits, but what exactly is the purpose of these doorknobs? And just what exactly are these creatures? Are they snakes? Dragons? Mythical sea creatures? Are they supposed to ward off students with nefarious intent? I did not go in this building. I was afraid of what I might find. Maybe a mad scientist brewing up potions for Halloween. It really makes me wonder about the founders of Rice University and the architect they hired for their buildings.

In another part of campus I found this wonderful fountain. It was very peaceful here. I wasn’t worried about my immortal soul in this part of campus. This was a spot where I could stay for a while and listen to the soothing sounds of the rippling water cascading gently over the rocks and down the sides. I am calm just thinking about it. I may have to go back there.

But there is one more question I must ask before I sign off for today.….…Why does the Energizer Bunny wear blue flip flops? You will only know what I am talking about if you watch television. The Energizer Bunny shows up in commercials for batteries. He is a bunny. He doesn’t even wear pants! Why does a bunny need flip flops? I wonder about these things. If you have any answers, please let me know.

Until next week.….

October Road Into Fall

Remember that really nice Saturday we had a while back? It felt like fall. The temperatures were cool…which in Houston meant that it was anything below 90 degrees. I couldn’t wait to get outside to get some fresh air and sunshine. Well, maybe big city air isn’t the freshest and I always use sunscreen so the sun won’t inadvertently kill me. But I was ready for the day.

I just had one errand to run first. It was a trip to Ikea to buy a floor lamp. Now a trip to Ikea is a treat all unto itself. Just walking through the store gets you whatever number of steps is considered healthy these days. My Dear Friend went with me and he saw several variations on new and modern chemistry labs which were disguised as kitchens.

We finally found the lamps and had several to choose from. I chose a nice white number which would fit nicely in my living room. It passed all possible “cat safety” protocols. It had two settings so I could either see to read or put on the low lights when I want to rest and chillax. It sends light up which I understand to be very good feng shui. What more could I want? Sold!

Then I went out to the parking lot. I turned to the right and saw this combination of signs. Where was I supposed to go? Would I ever be able to find my way home again? It certainly could be construed as a philosophical question for life. The road is clearly marked as “one way”, but the exit goes the other way. Which way would you choose?

So after escaping the parking lot conundrum, the day was ours and we took it to Rice University. Beautiful campus, beautiful trees, beautiful works of art. A great place for a walk. We started out walking and then noticed that this campus if full of interesting critters. Of course at Rice there are always many examples of owls. This one is a favorite of mine. I love the smooth lines. And look at those talons! I am only grateful that this is a statue and not a real owl. Of course I have never heard of this owl attacking anyone. Both students and faculty members remain safe as they navigate their ways between buildings and classes. I am sure they sleep better at night once they figure this out.

Next we went to see the Cohen House Sundial. It is one of the fanciest and most complex sundials I have ever seen. Befitting the Rice standards of intellectual excellence, I think it requires a PhD. in either science or engineering to figure it out. However, I just thought it was pretty. Then I noticed a lizard either napping and sunning himself or he has his PhD and was noticing the time. I’m not sure which. I’m willing to bet that even the lizards on the Rice Campus are smarter than most of us mere mortals.

The next sculpture really caught my attention. It shows two people sitting down and facing each other. It looks as if they are talking among themselves.  I wondered about this for a while. Then I noticed that a fair number of students were walking around campus and the vast majority of them looked at their phones as they walked. I finally decided that this sculpture was a tutorial for the students to show them what face‐to‐face communication can look like. Oh, I’m sorry. Does that last statement make me seem old? Probably, but only because compared to the college youth of today, I am.

Until next week.….

To the Birds, I Go

I may have found my next home. 

It’s in this massive mound of sticks, twigs, and grass, resting in aerial perfection two miles from where I presently live.

It’s been here who‐knows‐how‐long.

I discovered this utopia on Friday when cold weather (relative to Houston!) sent me to the gym, not the sidewalk, for my daily exercise.

On the road, I spied these five dark blobs. Each sat in its own corner atop a single high‐voltage electrical transmission tower, aka Power Tower.

Nearby stood more poles, all bare of any dark spots.

Is that because Deadsville hosts a mile‐long strip of power towers parked in a sea of brown grass? Is that why I walk so fast through here, never looking up to notice anything resting in any tower?

I crane my neck. More questions rush in.

How did I miss seeing these nests in seven years of daily walks? This question begs another: if I missed this, what else do I not see? 

I stop the car, taking photos, including some artsy iPhone flips. Up close, the blobs reveal as bird’s nests. More questions download :

Why did the birds build their houses here?

Lofty height? Warm currents along the wires? Baby bird protection? Access along Power Tower Lane?

My eyes look again, noticing another first: cell phone trifecta up top of the pole.

Is this a double‐duty tower: power and phones in one?

So much looking up and my neck cricks. I glance at the ground, spotting a second first.

This fall’s first batch of hay bales lay, already bound for farmers, at my feet. That’s a seasonal thing around here but it’s earlier than normal.

My imagination launches.

I envision an unfurled hay bundle, sliced to pallet size, sliding up the pole. And me? I’m beyond ready to join the birds. 

Smile meets reality. I’d be looking down, not up.

On second thought, I’ll stay grounded awhile longer.

So much still to be seen down here on terra firma.

More stories to write, too.