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?

Play Time to Heal a Broad

Flying on a netted saucer?

The week demanded frivolity. Then I remembered last month’s promise.

Six weeks ago, our neighborhood park overflowed with youngsters on Independence Day. No room for free spirits eager to swing, crawl, spin, and leap. (Who cares if she’s 62 going on 8?)

I pledged in my July 7th blog post to return to Commonwealth Park. With youngsters back in school, the neighborhood park returned to me. 

Hmm, helping hands to lift an old broad?

Yikes, this tube was a hard squeeze. And low to the ground.

Creaking bones sent reminders as voice echoed, “you’re living a sixth decade, sweet girl.”

Somehow, I slithered out. With help.

Onward, I continued. The seesaw delighted, especially with its complete recycled construction.

Yabbadabbado!

Old log. Old tire. Old seat.

The latter crept up high. In, shall we say, very uncomfortable places.

Perhaps I can find the builder and suggest a rubber pad for old buns?

The seesaw was the only playground equipment familiar from my childhood. Cough, cough.

You may remember last month’s primo playground piece: this green sponge‐y thing. From a distance, it looks like a larger version of those PacMan creatures that zip out of reach, beyond your joystick’s fastest response. Note: no blame to user’s slowpoke moves.

What IS this thing?

This pole topper was as frustrating as that ancient video game, if only because I have yet to figure out its purpose.

Too high to hold, too big to clasp, even adult hands are forced to hold low.

As for the black stick, you swing around on it. Whoopee. No wonder it was barren on the 4th.

A tight squeeze (in two ways!)

After the pole dance, I climbed Mount Everest like a geriatric monkey.

Scaling ever higher, my limbs became entangled so deep in the ropes, the photographer forced a back‐side emergency rescue.

From all this play emerged several major life learnings:

  1. Body play animates in ways both mind and soul crave.
  2. Joints can bend only so far. In either direction.
  3. Forcing new moves on an old(er) body is not animating.
  4. New meds work; no hyper heartbeat from exuberant playtime.
  5. (Actually #1 discovery): Play like this more often.
Whee!!!

Nothing heals like soaring, flying, and laughing.

Giving thanks for the ability to do all three, especially only one week out of an unexpected hospital stay.

For those reasons, I’ll soon return for more playtime.

Meet me there?

When your Heart Screams: “IT’S E‐R TIME!”

Thunder started when we left the movie theater. Clear skies outside but inside the car, my heart threatened to blow itself out from beneath my ribcage.

I feared an Alien replay.

Remember the movie monster that bursts out of the victim’s chest? I envisioned me the victim this go‐round. Inside DH’s brand new car.

Be calm, I whispered between breaths, now shortening into wispy gasps. Gather info. Focus on facts.

I googled “women over 60 symptoms heart attack.” 

No mention of racing heartbeat. Or shortness of breath I had earlier blamed on a recent cold. I wasn’t dizzy, tired, vomiting, or sweaty. Neither neck, jaw, shoulder, or back ached.

Relax, you aren’t about to die.

Car grew hot. Sweat bathed my face.

Can you raise the air conditioning, please?” I asked. My chest began to hurt. I imagined Michelangelo placing a block of marble square atop my breastbone. Chill. You don’t hurt anywhere. Don’t over‐react. Gather data first. Worry later.

DH neared the last traffic light. Fairness dictated honesty.

Hmm, I think maybe there’s something going on with my heart,” I force‐wrapped calm around every syllable. “It’s racing, like thunder. A bit of shortness of breath. When we get home, I’ll take my blood pressure. We’ll go from there.”

Minutes later, the numbers screamed, HELP ME!

My heart joined the chorus. My god!

FYI: Normal blood pressure is 130/80; pulse under 90.

I tore the paper from the pad and race‐walked into the den.

We’re going to the emergency room,” I forced an even voice. Don’t scare the driver. “My pulse is 188. Too fast. I need help.”

Thirty five years of me, and DH knows my sound. He whirled around, said nothing but grabbed his keys, wallet, and my hand.

Urgent care or ER?” He knows I like choices.

I barked back, “ER. And turn up that AC. I’m sweating bullets.”

Less than a day later, the diagnosis followed innumerable tests.

SVT with Left BBB. That’s Supraventricular Tachycardia with Left Atria Bundle Branch Block. 

Translation: my heart beats too fast and it’s got a short in it.

Good news? Both involve easy fixes. White pill every morning and baby aspirin every other day.

The remaining ‘scrip is tougher: absolutely no caffeine (as in no chocolate ever again); 100% Mediterranean diet; keep exercising and meditating; minimize stress. 

I’ve had my share of health woes, which I’ve tried to keep off this blog. But, I learned on Friday that women over 60 are at HIGH risk for heart disease.

Even teetotalling, speed‐walking, pescatarians ( that’s fish‐eating vegetarians) who neither smoke nor take drugs can get blinded by what they believe “protects” them.

Truth is, sometimes the body needs extra tender loving care, especially as it ages. Here’s TLC for yours:

  • Exercise: 30 minutes/day, five days/week, non‐negotiable.
  • Diet: Mediterranean or DASH diets are most heart‐healthy.
  • Weight: Pounds appropriate to your height.
  • Smoking: Don’t. If you do, quit. Now.
  • Alcohol: Don’t. If you do, minimize how much.
  • Stress: Avoid as you can; counteract its toxicity with meditation.
  • Blood Pressure: Check yours regularly; ideal = 130/80, pulse under 90.

Four crisis response tips you can learn from my recent health (mis)adventure:

  • Trust your gut: When your body speaks, listen to what information it offers.
  • Stay calm: Information empowers; gather and sort it, then respond.
  • Pain or Blood: Ignore #2; seek medical attention.
  • Mind your mind: Your body depends on your brain to guide you; let it help.

Please: learn from my experience.

Start taking heart‐care of yourself.

You really don’t want to ride in a pink wheelchair.

Or stay on the maternity ward in an overcrowded hospital.

Screaming babies aren’t fun when your heart hurts.

Celebrating Traffic Tickets

Diamonds are not a girl’s best friend. And third time’s not the charm.

Pardon the cliches and my negativity.

Truth is, this particular Monday, it’s hard to be positive about much in the world. But I’ve got a blog post due so let’s distract ourselves for the next 300 words or so.

It happened like it has twice before: the cop sprang out of nowhere. Flashing red lights in my rearview mirror and it’s, well, I can’t repeat what I shrieked. I told Ellen no profanity.

His badge read Youngblood. No Officer Krupke here. You’re in Sugar Land, Melanie, not West Side Story.

I felt ganged up on.

He interrogated me as if I’d endangered lives: “Are you the only person in the car? Are you confirming that, ma’am? Are you? Repeat?”

I winked. It had worked in the last century. He repeated his queries as if wrinkles equal poor hearing. I wanted to ask him if he talked to his mother using this tone of voice.

Then I heard my father’s voice whisper in my ear, “the police are always right — when they hold the ticket. And it’s ‘sir, officer.’ ”

The young man said I was in the HOV lane, not the HOT lane. I replied, “Excuse me, Officer, I mean, sir, Officer? HOT lane?”

My mind raced with the unsaid: I’m not hot? Wait, what is this officer saying? Is it the weather? Did I just teleport to Mars? 

Later, in Defensive Driving, I learned that if you see a diamond on the road, you’re in the high occupancy lane. Meaning there must be more than one RoadBroad in the car. Toll tags don’t save a single in the double lane.

The six‐hour course taught me, too, how little I know about lane markings. As in the meaning of solid lines, double solids, and single dashes.

I missed one question in the exams. This picture illustrates what I still don’t understand: traffic can move left or right through dashes but never through any solid line? What about the far lanes? 

For nearly three years, I’ve driven the HOV every Wednesday for writer’s group. It’s a worthy $2.25 toll charge to drive single and save time in a still‐rush‐hour morning.

This time, busted, cost me $146: ticket fee, court costs, defensive driving course, plus a ridiculous $12 for my driving record.

The latter burned.

I remain a convict in Wyoming, courtesy of DH (see RB post, dated 3/3/19). The brutal black on white offers no hint of truth. Where’s that vital line: sleeping while unbuckled?

I’d say third time IS the charm for defensive driving. Except all I’ve learned is how little I know about diamonds.

But now — courtesy of me — you do. You’re welcome!