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 Only one‐on‐one connection can minimize, eliminate outdated propaganda.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?

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.

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.

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.

Is Lost Ever Found?

Two miles north of home, I spot him: T‐Rex.

Dirty T‐Rex awaits new home: trash bin?

He’s white‐dirty, covered in grass clippings as if tossed, an afterthought, behind Mower Man.

Is little Dino lost, or now Found‐but‐Forgotten?

I snap a quick picture.

My feet return to hustle‐heart speed.

Amid my heels pounding on the sidewalk, my imagination takes off. I envision a little boy scampering from here to the Next Best Thing.

Maybe he imagined treasure awaiting beyond the approaching hill? My feet speed to a near run.

A quarter‐mile down the sidewalk, I crest the rise and jerk to a stop. There lies a brand new, multi‐colored T‐Rex, still skirted in cellophane. A girl?

Which side is up on Red Rex?

Is this Lost‐but‐Found, V.2.0?

Picture time repeats.

This time, I imagine a little girl who simply does.not.like old dead animals.

Why do I envision Red Rex as a girl’s toy but Dirty T‐Rex belongs to a boy?

And so the flood of questions begins.

Familiar queries rise up from ancient muscle memory: who, what, when, where, how and why here? On a quarter mile strip of sidewalk out in Nowheresville?

Ex‐reporter now daily writer conjures a million stories out of 100 answers that follow. Stories emerge from little boys and girls with old toys who become adults with nightmares. Colors pop, fade, burst. Boredom expands to the unmanageable before eventually, all is forgotten and everything dissolves into none of the above.

Minus the questions, all I really know is that here on a narrow sidewalk, Forgotten became Found, squared, and Lost never existed. Maybe.

I learn that discovery is what matters with its offer of hope and meaning. Maybe what’s left behind is a gift that invites us to make stories of every find we make. 

Do I have a journal problem?

On this Monday, such are the weird wonderings of a walking writer who, as soon as she returns home, writes it all down.

Journals await.

What do you do with what you find?

When Films Beat a Flood

Imelda — she of sudden tropical storm fame — sent me this week not for cover, but to the movies.

Residing in a safe zone — unscarred by any water impact (this time) - DH and I felt desperate for respite from weather sirens and incessant rain drops.

Star Cinema Grill’s Onyx, the new‐to‐us movie theater, beckoned from nearby Richmond. It’s the first cinema of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. The big boast centers on its picture screen — a massive 46 feet wide:

Can you spot the tiny rows of seats, all dwarfed by this massive movie screen?

When the screen lit up, my mouth dropped open at the first commercial:

Onyx Dancer prances across a field of fireworks…

The image offered a unique combination of LED picture contrast married to stunning graphics.

Please forgive my obvious commercial plug here. I’ve never had a movie experience like this.

It’s a comfortable space. Ask DH.

He bought us pod tickets. That’s the upper theater section where seats come cordoned off in pairs.

New meaning for two‐peas‐in‐a‐pod?

Blankets, pillows, reclining seats, and extending tables create a viewing environment that spoils.

For the ladies, there’s another first, this one a double: every pod includes a seat light and a purse bench.

Not even airplanes carry such prized additions. Both operate perfectly. White light aims where you point, and bench extends beyond the seat back.

Hmm…if I’d brought a book to the movies, I’d have room to bench it here.

Food abounds as both solid and liquid fare. The latter ranges from basic tap water to high‐octane alcohol.

In another first, menu options reflect gourmet hands. Quinoa and edamame meet buttery popcorn and Junior Mints.

My only complaint?

It’s pricey. A pod costs nearly $40 for two people. Individual ticket price equals $19.75. Cost does not include food or drink — ouch! 

There’s a similar high‐dollar movie place in Houston. $68 per pod pair. With smaller screens. Google tells me its owners filed for bankruptcy mid‐month.

What did we see, you wonder? We viewed a double‐header: Downton Abbey and Ad Astra. The latter smokes the former. Big time, says this amateur film critic.

Spiritual meanderings about the meaning of life beat claustrophobic rantings among an antiquated aristocracy.

The royals didn’t hand out any cool pins.

Rainy days demand more love.

When Old Water Brings New Light

I’m tardy with this post. A first in 16 months of blogging. Here’s why:

This place, which I visited last week, left me gasping.

I’m still trying to catch my breath.

What is it, you ask?

It’s an old home. Not for people. For Houston’s drinking water.

That’s what the promotional materials for the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern read. But I see no water here, only transcendence.

My imagination fills in the blanks my mind creates: could this be the image of crossing over? Yes, to There.

Hardly what I expected during last week’s road trip. The cistern was only one more bullet point on my “Houston‐to‐Visit” list. DH’s trek to his home state offered an excuse. And Thursday tours are free at the cistern.

First, I saw the pipes.

At the bottom of this large intake pipe gurgled a small but steady flow of water. It goes nowhere these days. Historical effect equals raw power. Who knew?

That yellow glow near the stair rail triggers first impressions. The down staircase echoes those step effects seen in the initial photo.

My mind surges with otherworldly imaginings: where are we descending to/climbing from? What is that light and where is it guiding us? This first water — does it offer anything to us today?

The tour guide takes us around the full walkway of the cistern. It’s longer than a football field and humid. But only two inches of water cover its surface now.

221 concrete pillars stretch the length and width of the space. Each pillar rises 25 feet high skyward.

Its last fill‐up? Hurricane Harvey, two years ago. Accidentally. The waters rose 17 feet, reaching halfway up the guardrail that tops the cisterns’ sidewalls.

All the light is artificial, installed a decade ago when an irreparable leak forced decommissioning of this reservoir.

Instead of demolishing the space — as is Houston’s historic custom — someone somewhere offered: let’s save this, make it an art space. Two shows — one offering rain, the other light and video — will be followed in 2020 with a third, not yet chosen.

What the cistern rescuers created, in addition, is a holy place.

Everywhere around lay impressions: light and dark, above and below, stair steps and pathways. Water embracing it all.

Images offer symbols, all for later pondering and translation.

As with our dreams, personal interpretation heals best and deepest.

And that’s where our stories begin.

Reading & Remembering the Home Team

Sports and me don’t mix. Blame my DNA.

For evidence, I enter my most recent road trip.

Free tickets and curiousity lured DH and me to watch the Houston Astros play Tampa Bay.

We saw our last Astros game in 1993. As in back in the previous century. Our Astrodome was still the 8th Wonder of the World. Nolan Ryan came back to the old home field to pitch one last time. He blew out his elbow and we never attended another Astros game.

Playing ‘gotcha!” with the past — as in three times in one night.

Imagine our surprise last week when, upon arriving at the new‐to‐us ballfield — Minute Maid Park — we spied this. Our first Astros jersey of the night. Ryan? Good old #34 — emphasis on old.

What are the odds that my return to sports would involve the same team and the same player on the same night — 26 years later?

Meaning comes where you find it. Especially when you’re not looking.

Playing with food: a ballpark game for adults only.

By the time we f.i.n.a.l.l.y. maneuvered to our seats, total exhaustion overwhelmed me.

So many people. So much color. So much noise.

Struck out by all the incomings, I returned to my standard healing response: gentle play.

What else to do with a cold pretzel on a hot night?

Look around. Make something new.

Voila! Pretzel + Diamond = Ballpark Playtime. Can you spot the two diamonds?

Reading books: the best game in the universe (all of them).

Afterwards, I turned to my first love: reading.

Yes, I brought books to a professional baseball game. Two of them, because options and variety matter. Like playtime.

My mother taught me well: bring a book because it will always feed you. Life won’t.

Her life‐long mantra echoed in my ear the following morning when I spotted my cousin’s words.

Lila had spotted my reading picture on Facebook. In response, she offered the Compliment of the Year: 

Seventy five years later — Austin to Houston — like mother, like daughter — I’ll gladly be the chip off that old block.

Everyone else can take baseball; I’ll take my books.

Anywhere.

30 Years Later: A Proposal to Remember

On the night he proposed, DH sent me on the road.

His phone message lured me out of the radio station and to the freeway: meet me at the Chevron station — corner of Bingle and Old Hempstead Highway — six p.m. tonight.

Thus began a scavenger hunt across northwest Houston. Thirty years ago today and one week after a no‐ring ocean cruise.

At the gas station, I found his car.

Empty, except for a dozen red roses piled atop the hood. A card lay nearby with a single question, plus directions to a nearby movie theater.

When Harry Met Sally.”

Perfect for us, both as a couple and individuals. 

In a parallel universe, I’m Sally Albright. As finicky as she about meals, clothes, and sometimes, conversation, too. What’s wrong with demanding your kale warmed, with two tablespoons of organic EVOO on the side?

I’m eager to re‐enact the Katz’s Deli scene. Meg Ryan overlooked vital details, ones only I can move and moan.

DH channels Harry Burns to near‐perfection. He approaches every situation with an engineer’s logic. Fortunately, he’s never suffered the movie’s perennial question: can friends enjoy lasting fringe benefits?

DH remains world‐class at Pictionary, screaming out his equivalent of “Baby Fish Mouth!” at every opportunity.

After we watched — and laughed — through every moment of the movie, wine and dinner followed.

Mexican food. He knows me, and my order, well:  Christmas enchiladas but only two, please, and lukewarm charro beans in a separate dish.

A second card followed. With a question.

Then we drove to his home and, in the backyard, DH popped out a third card. Yes, a question.

I aced the engagement exam and DH put a ring on it.

(Could you ace this quiz?)

Three months later, we married.

Our fast altar moves followed a wild, five year, friendship/courtship. We had no idea that, all along, we were channeling our inner Harry and Sally.

Now, here we are, three decades and three photographs later:

The only pose we planned was the first one, our formal engagement picture.

The middle black‐and‐white pose followed a need for promotional photos for our business, Media Consultants.

How could we resist a third pose for this post? But hey, it required no road trip.

Only a swing into our den, the one (un‐ironed) white bed sheet we own, and a willing photographer, my good writing friend, Danielle Metcalf‐Chenail.

Now, we’re off to celebrate. No roses, wine, or cards needed this trip.

Remembering Ship Trips and Chapel Dreams

At last, 2019 reveals its magic.

Awaiting luggage at a long‐forgotten Caribbean airport

Earlier this week, I searched through family pictures on an unrelated project. These blog post pictures stopped that work and launched this post.

One glance at the dated t‐shirt awakened old trip memories. Not a road journey, but a trip at sea:

DH and I sailing on our first cruise. 1989, I thought. Hmm, 30 years ago. I flipped over the picture: Baggage Claim. Nassau, Bahamas. 8/25/89. 

Thirty years ago. Today.

Batmon & Batwomon — as islanders would say

Something about all the yellow and black colors offered premonition for shipboard antics.

Mention costume party and we’re first in line. Alas, we thought we were quite the lovebirds, too.

Or is that batbirds?

It gets better.

Egads, what was I thinking?

Naive to cruise games, DH and I felt super‐special when we received the captain’s invitation to meet him.

Then we stepped off the elevator and saw all the other special Ones. It’s good to have your Ego Balloon deflated.

I’d like to write that girl from yesterday a letter. Save yourself future grief and tamp down that Texas hair and leave the hairspray at home. Helmet head and fru‐fru attire doesn’t become you. Save your energy for where it really counts.

Young bar greeters welcome station listeners at sea.

The cruise came courtesy of the radio station where DH worked. The free trip required schmoozing with listeners every night—in the bar du jour. All drinks on the house.

One evening, as we sailed back toward Miami, DH quizzed the women cruisers about what they had packed for the trip. He knew I had overdone the shoes. I cackled when my heel count lost by one pair.

In losing, I learned that RoadBroads must pack less. Or, at least, don’t show‐and‐tell your suitcase goods.

I also lost when it came to what I most craved on that trip: an engagement ring. We’d dated five long years. I fantasized, too, about a shipboard wedding, courtesy of that cute captain we’d met earlier.

Neither happened.

I learned expectations can bite. The years since have taught me a better life strategy. Take a breath. Wait. Good news follows every pause.

Adage illustration—here—next week.

NOTE: In discovering these cruise pictures, I realized an amazing synchronicity. 2019 marks notable life anniversaries: graduation from both high school and college; meeting my husband; getting engaged; and marriage. How did I miss these breath‐stopping connections for nearly nine months?