Ball of Beauty…or Beast?

The sight at the top of the hill caught my eye.

How many bird’s nests in that tree?

Walking closer, I notice it’s not bird nests I see.

Those are amalgams of twigs, needles, sticks, and gray grassy things clumped together in round balls, all nestled atop bare tree branches.

I walk this path every day, and have for seven years.

How did I never see this?

A second question springs forth: what is this T.h.i.n.g.? 

My writer mind imagines an alien deposit left every Tuesday after midnight.

Ah, Story begins. I smile.

Four miles and five Siri e‐mails later, I arrive home.

Google informs the mass is ball moss, or tillandsia recurvata. Botanists call it an epiphyte—fancy way of saying it’s a non‐parasitic plant that lives on other plants. More bromeliad than moss; a percher, not a sapper. Translation: ball moss sits on tree branches but never sucks away its host.

Some people disagree, claiming ball moss kills every tree it nests.

I don’t care. I see beauty lurking in these branches. This tree carried 45 ball moss clumps. At least where I stopped counting. 

Some nests looked massive, others teeny as embryos. To my virgin‐noticing‐nature‐eyes, each pom‐pom appeared glorious.

I looked down and cheered. An orphaned wad lay on the ground. The sticks felt spiky and sharp but strong. The natural world excels. Again.

At home, I placed the ball moss in a vase. Within weeks, it b‐l‐o‐o‐m‐e‐d. To my endless surprise and utter delight. Melanie and home‐grown flowers = a first.

Our most recent Yule featured ball moss as the table centerpiece. It lasted from Christmas and well past New Year’s Day.

The petals eventually devolved into white wispy things. Carrying them outside one windy afternoon was not a good idea.

I waved them away then realized three things ball moss taught me:

My thumb’s not black.

Growth offers pleasant possibility and an expanded life, especially for a strong ego.

Noticing nature changes a life.

Poet Mary Oliver nailed it with this: “there are moments when the veil seems almost to lift and we understand what the earth is meant to mean to us.”

I’ve held onto this story for three months, awaiting Spring’s arrival. Now, she’s waking up, winking green in our oak trees.

She’s also birthing yellow tree pollen. Which delivers allergy agony.

That’s next week’s blog post. Today, I sniffle, dab my eyes and walk on, watching as beautiful ball moss disappears into nature’s arms. 

Reasons to Celebrate!

This blog post is all about celebration! There are two reasons for my joyful attitude.

The first reason pertains to this blog in particular. I have recently learned that this blog is now read in 5 different countries! That’s three more countries than I have ever visited.

Yes, as a RoadBroad, I have to admit that I do not fly in airplanes. That is why I travel everywhere by road. Get it? RoadBroad? A Broad who travels by Road?

Back to the point I was making. RoadBroads is now read by folks in the USA, Canada, Bolivia, the United Kingdom and Denmark. Wow. I’m so excited that I think this is worth a glass of really nice champagne!

Well, yes, the champagne that is pictured is French. No, we are not read in France.…yet. But Dom Perignon is still a dandy champagne for celebrating. If you have a better selection, please let me know.

The second reason I have for celebrating is that yesterday was one of the most important days of the year for me. It all started out with a trip to the Galleria Mall.

Initially my reason for going to the Galleria was two‐fold. It is August in Houston and that means it is really really hot outside and the Galleria is a good place to walk for healthy exercise. And walk I did. I strolled around without stopping as I passed by all of the clothing stores, the art stores, the restaurants, the ice skating rink, etc. I noticed there are several Starbucks in the Galleria. I can remember back in the old days when there was only one.

I also wanted to go on a journey for some sipping chocolate and I know there is a Godiva store inside the Galleria.

I walked and walked and finally found the nice little shop full of chocolate confectionaries. I walked inside admiring all of the delicious wares that were on display. I very politely waited my turn after the other customers had been assisted. However, when I spoke with the nice ladies about some sipping chocolate.…..There was none! AGHAST! No sipping chocolate. I became dizzy and grabbed onto the counter. Oh woe was me. My happy journey was at risk of turning into a disaster! What was I to do? I told the nice Godiva ladies that I might come back in December.

Then I stumbled out of the door. Thank goodness I had a friend with me to make sure I did not fall over third floor railing to a certain death. I walked and I walked some more. Then as I wandered my eyes spotted a store that had the one and only thing that could raise my spirits. That one thing was a Halloween Display.

I always celebrate the first time I see Halloween decorations out in stores. Even though it is the middle of August, I now know that summer is on its way out. It is my first sign that I will survive yet another hurricane season. Cool temperatures are just around the corner.

Also Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love dressing up. I love decorating. I love reading scary stories. I love all of it. I think of everything I am scared of and make a point of laughing at it.

No, I’m not this way about any other holiday. Keep your Christmas wreaths and lights. I save my heart for Halloween.

My thanks to the White Barn for making my day!

Now I am off to write scary short stories!

Boo!

Imagination, Inspiration and Originality

Wednesdays are fun here in retirement land. It is one of the few days when I look forward to waking up and getting over to my friend’s house by 10:00 a.m. Why yes, I set an alarm clock to get somewhere by 10:00 a.m. That’s how I roll now. I can’t remember the last time I got anywhere by 8:00 a.m. Morning rush hour is a memory.

Now I get to my friend’s house and meet up with a group of women writers where we all practice and improve our craft. The size of the group fluctuates, but there is a dedicated core group of us. You can see a sampling of the group below:

Some of the group is a bit camera shy, so I am just showing a sampling of what we look like while we are reading our work and receiving feedback from each other.

After being inspired such talented friends, I went by the Glassell School of Art. The new building and campus is really nice and finally open for classes again.

I have heard this artwork just outside the main building referred to as the “Glassell Bean”. I am fascinated by this sculpture. It sees everything and it reflects everything around it.

The class I have signed up for is called “Women in Art”. We will study women artists from the 19th century through to the present. Some of my favorite artists will be included, such as; Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, Judy Chicago and Camille Claudel. This is also the best kind of class to take, because there are no tests. Just a gathering of people who have a strong desire to learn and discuss.

The lobby of the Glassell is a wide open room with lots of light coming in from all directions.

There are stairs and hallways that go off in all directions. It makes me feel as if there is no limit to one’s creativity. In the past I have taken many classes at the Glassell in the areas of ceramics, photography, and design. I have loved them all. Now I am looking forward to this next phase of my art education.

I personally find that art and writing go together. If I am feeling creative in one area, it helps me feel creative in other endeavors. Sometimes when writing about a particular historical topic, I will develop some collage work to help me to visualize particular events, styles, etc. I have also used collage to help me develop characters for short stories.

Now it is time to get back to writing and creating.

Until next time…

Another Month, Another Repair

Thirty days ago, I left this blog to resume life off the road.

I’m back to announce we’re rebirthing RoadBroads in its new form. We’re on the lookout for guest bloggers. But first…

After last month’s 2700‐mile road trip, this morning brought my delayed post‐roadtrip car check. I mentioned an oil change as a good idea for starters. Oh, and don’t forget that gas problem in Boulder.

One receipt & two more to come…

From the sound of his voice (when you hear pregnant pauses from a man, you know he’s talking bad baby news), I sensed trouble. Either me or the bank account.

Oops! Brakes are wearing down.

Ditto those tire treads.

And if you need new tires, you need new struts and shocks.

Ditto that shock news.

Holy moly, RoadBroads! What’s a girl to do?

Yes, I’m considering a new car. This little Subaru is 7 years old with 63,000 miles. Not much as such autos go but we’re looking at $3613, max, in repairs (the mechanic swears). And this follows $1778 for a new air conditioning compressor before we left Houston for Colorado six weeks ago.

Yes, a plug for Consumer Reports. They’re a shopper’s best friend.

What RoadBroads don’t talk about with car trips is the vehicle itself. Silly little things like maintenance. Wear and tear. Cost. Ugh.

Now, DH and I are debating whether to replace my car. Much as I hate to saddle up with a monthly car payment. That’s another loud fat Ugh!

But it IS fun reading about these new cars. Can you believe some wheels run over $100,000? Who would pay that for something that depreciates rapidly during your very first ride?

I digress. Majorly.

It’s been a busy month in Lake Sugar Land with eye problems, honorable mentions, and the never‐ending litany of daily life distractions. The novel is now fully outlined, plus all 28 chapter openings and endings are written out. 50 pages, folks! Equivalent to a Novel PhD.

Oh, I owe you blog post guidelines. We’ll keep it simple. We’re looking for weekly guest posts from women RoadBroads. We require:

  1. 300–600 word posts on a road trip you’ve taken, planning to take, or want to take. The unique is most encouraged!
  2. Brief bio of yourself (2–3 sentences).
  3. Headshot (full color preferred).
  4. Pictures to accompany your blog post (pictures you’ve taken or photos with copyright approvals).
  5. Posts will be edited to maintain RoadBroad blog criteria.

Ellen and I will co‐review guest blog submissions for possible posting.

Also, we each will resume our own posts with a Slow Blog approach. For me, that’s once a week.

I have a novel to finish. December 16 is my deadline to complete the full first draft. Please hold me to that.

It’s good to be back.

A Journey Ends…

…as a new one begins.

Details on all that later. For tonight — after 21 hours of driving across three states in two days — I’m home, ready to sleep in my own bed after 17 days and 2703 miles.

A lot of numbers to absorb, eh?

Maybe that’s why I’m e‐x‐h‐a‐u‐s‐t‐e‐d. But, overall, it’s good tired.

Rummaging through Larry McMurtry’s bookstore in Archer City may be key.

To the right here is one corner of one room of one of his treasure‐packed stores. All are used books and/or literary classics and collectibles. Imagine looking at row after row of 14‐foot high bookcases; pile after pile of reading treasures. Overwhelm rises in your bones. The smell of old books wafts up to your nose and you remember when you first discovered the joy of the written, printed word. Intensity grows, the feelings of overwhelm magnified by more books than you’ve ever seen in one place. Magnify the overwhelm by a factor of ten.

I’m proud of myself — I left Larry’s place with only four books.

That’s because this was my fourth bookstore in four days. My car already has two bulging sacks of books awaiting my reading delight. Such joy, however, can only be indulged after unpacking, laundry, groceries, errands, phone calls and everything else I walked away from last month.

Why does May seem like two years ago now? Why does my recently‐finished writing retreat feel like an alternate universe?

Alas, tough questions and mixed‐up senses for a late night. Meanwhile, my bed beckons. I anticipate a wonderful night of sleep on the one mattress that knows all my body’s nooks and crannies.

Tomorrow, one last look at my recent past with a preview of my blogging future.

Tonight marks my shortest RoadBroad post. You understand why?

Adieu, Boulder

Tomorrow, Ellen and I awake before sunrise and say “adieu” to Boulder, exchanging our temporary abode for Home.

Despite two enchanting weeks here, I miss the comfort, familiarity, and routines of my Sugar Land home. Most especially life with my kind and generous DH! Still, there’s a magic that only Boulder can generate. That’s a major admission for this Taos passion‐ista.

That heart‐thumping magic manifested itself again today, this time in hyper‐productive form. Ellen and I wrote like storytelling fiends all day. I took a short break to lunch with special family members from Ft. Collins (shout‐out to ML, D & E) and returned to complete significant progress on my WIP (‘work in progress’).

Surrendering to the Boulder siren call of words, words, words…

Perhaps we’re both desperate for a few more hours of clear, clean storytelling. Remnants of a tropical wave await our Sunday return to Houston. But first, any worries surrounding rainfall yet to arrive comes after what lies immediately ahead: 20 hours of weekend driving across three states. How do you hold onto the magic of a writing retreat amid the potential train of contained chaos coming toward us?

It begins with remembering. And here are mine — to remember tonight, across the next two days, and onto the life yet to come — the most powerful learnings of a ten‐day writing retreat. 

  1. While it’s trite, it’s that because it’s true: persistence pays off. Evidence: seven years of periodic work on a single essay yields finalist status. This pumps the ego to keep working hard on this novel that’s talked to me for 11 long, busy years.
  2. The craft of writing requires a lifetime of learning and devotion, a commitment I renewed in these Colorado mountains. Those who claim mastery follows 10,000 hours of practice are naive. If you’re good at storytelling, mastery never comes because you refuse to stop learning.
  3. Community enriches a writer’s life and all her projects. To wit:
Houston’s Wednesday Writers reunited again!

Members of the Wednesday Houston group celebrate crafting stories together since January, 2017. The Boulder retreat marked the first time we five have bonded in such an extended, intensive writing experience. Our writing Wednesdays will never be the same!

It’s one thing to have a writing community in the town where you live. I’m beyond blessed to be involved with three such special groups.

The Boulder Fiction writing group enjoys corner porch dining at Chatauqua DIning Hall. How did all my tribes land here for such a special dinner?

To come to a writing retreat in another state and discover six storytelling soulmates is beyond a blessing. It’s grace in action, a concept our beloved Max Regan talks about. It’s a grace that comes not because you seek it. Instead, this kind of special grace finds you and touches you gently — and silently — on your shoulder when you’re not looking. Sweet.

4. Living a life as a full‐time writer is worth the energy it demands. I return to Houston changed and committed. There’s a project awaiting my completion with an audience awaiting my story and a supportive crowd cheering every mile marker I pass. In eleven years of working on my debut novel, I’ve never felt so energized. It’s that Boulder air.

For the light‐hearted learnings, it’s:

  1. Friends can remain friends even after sharing house for ten days.
  2. Colorado trees and my nose are not friends. Not going to happen. Ever.
  3. Never buy unbranded gasoline. Unless you want a coach rescue.
  4. Whatever you do, don’t kill the dog. Oops, that’s a big sorrysorry to my ex.

One of these blog posts, I’ll figure out how to do bulleted numbers that look right on your screen. That’s a big sorrysorry to you, dear reader.

For now, it’s dinnertime followed by packing all those things I had to haul to the mountains. All those vitals I never touched.

Bedtime will be late tonight, like another evening two weeks ago. Alas, I never learn. When sleep comes, it will no doubt offer another “journey proud” evening. Allie smiles from her perch.

Two days of driving is enough to put anyone on edge a little, eh? Begging forgiveness in advance from Ellen, fellow RoadBroad and car mate. Next I suggest: let’s go home, renewed.

Our stories await.

Privilege Writing for Ten Days

NOTE: This is the second in a series of guest blog posts. Today’s guest blogger is Diana Galindo, who we lovingly dubbed our newest RoadBroad. She shared our Boulder house after riding with us from Denver. Together, we three journeyed all over Boulder, traveling by car, bus, or foot depending on the road crisis du jour (and yes, there were several). 

RoadBroads @ Ozo’s: (from left to right) Melanie Ormand, Ellen Seaton, and Diana Galindo.

Diana Galindo was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia. She divides her time between her beloved Cochabamba and the home she shares in Houston with her daughter and husband. Diana is writing a historical fiction novel inspired by her Bolivian family. She also blogs about food and health, sharing recipes and menus as a path to wellness at www.colormyfood.com. 

Thank you, Diana, for joining our RoadBroads blog today!

- Melanie and Ellen


Privilege Writing for Ten Days

Effusive red, pink, yellow and white roses led up to the Dushanbe Teahouse. The beautiful ceramic tile exterior and hand‐carved columns, the workmanship of more than 40 Tajik artists, make it a perfect setting for creative energy. Presented to Boulder’s by its sister city Dushanbe (capital of Tajikistan), it upholds the ancient tradition of Central Asian teahouses as gathering places. Just as travelers of the Silk Road met in teahouses across Tajikistan, to our table this summer evening arrived travelers from the east and west coasts, from Texas and Colorado. The exotic cuisine with flavorprints from around the globe was a sensory feast and invited our imagination. The stage was set. For the next ten days this Writer’s Retreat put our identity as writers in the center of our lives.

2nd floor area of the Boulder Bookstore

The next morning I arrived at the Boulder Bookstore. Where Dushanbe Teahouse had delighted my senses and teased my imagination, the Boulder Bookstore gave me a sense of homecoming. My soul stirred as I entered the old building lined with bookshelves, Books beckoned; I couldn’t resist stepping closer to the shelves and noticed that dozens of books had “Staff Recommends” notes. Fascinated I quickly skimmed a few, but conscious that the first writing session was beginning, I headed upstairs scanning bookshelves that surrounded me every step of the way to the far end of the second floor. In an enclave to the right was a long table. Max Regan, our writing coach, greeted each of us with his characteristic enthusiasm.

Max invited us to practice active deep listening, to put presence before productivity, to consider mastery as a curved line of constant pursuit and continuation as accomplishment. He had us list things we’ve accomplished as writers thus fueling the positive from the onset.

Capturing writing wisdom from the one‐and‐only Max Regan.

Oh the joy and gratitude for the next 10 days! We explored cartography, mapping out our writing projects, from utopian maps where “here be dragons”, to navigational maps with intentional waypoints for a readers’ journey. “Sometimes we need to explore vast territories before we can draw our map. The exploration is what changes us as writers. The journey is what changes the reader,“ said Max.

Our days had a rhythm – Small Group sessions, extensive chunks of personal writing time, one‐on‐one coaching with Max.

In Small Group we worked on dialogue, character and setting.

What is the moment that matters in each chapter?

What experience do we want our reader to have?

How do we use dialogue in this scene?

How is the protagonist transformed?

We practiced experiential techniques and tapped into the braintrust of the group to strengthen a story, solve a problem, flush out a character.

Evenings we shared dinner and participated in a time‐honored salon. Beginning in the Enlightenment, salons were artistic and intellectual gatherings. The sense of community and trust made our current salons a highlight of the retreat. Writers would read from their text, ask an author question and receive feedback to help shape and strengthen their work.

As our Writer’s Retreat came to an end, Max asked us to reflect on how we spent the week. “ What did you learn about yourself as a writer? What works? What doesn’t?”

He invited us to integrate the next steps of our project with a calendar and reminds us, “Breathe into the idea that not everything is a book.” In closing, Max said, “Do not lose what you found here in Boulder. If you lose it, it’s a choice,” then left us with a quote from Mark Nepo: Effort only readies us for grace as grace can never be planned or willed only entered.

I entered grace these past ten days and I stay focused on continuation as accomplishment, profoundly grateful for the benefit of Max’s teaching.

If this amazing opportunity sounds tempting, registration for the 2019 Boulder Writer’s Retreat opens July 1st. Please find details here:

http://www.hollowdeckpress.com/writing-classes/writing-retreats/

Self‐Care Matters

My assignment at 7 p.m. last night was to sleep for a few hours then awake and post here.

It’s 4:30 a.m.

Ahem.…that’s a little later than planned. Yet, the last 9.5 hours marked my best sleep of the past two weeks. And I’m still groggy. As in my body’s not done with its 40 winks tonight/this morning. 

There’s a message here: my body needs a major rest. Two stimulating weeks involving a 1300‐mile road trip and an hyper‐invigorating writing retreat will cry out for good sleep at some point. That point came last night. 

But…it’s my turn to post on RoadBroads. I promised Ellen.

I arise out of commitment, devotion, and frustration. Continued sleep will elude until the third necessary is answered.

Thus, dear reader, I offer preliminary pictures from yesterday’s Denver excursion. They provide partial explanation for the good‐tired.

Tattered Cover in Denver: more stacks than any reader can count.
Take a guess: how many new books are stuffed in this one sack?
Done lingering, aunt and niece head to the ice cream stand, walking toward Denver’s handsome skyline.
Olinger mortuary become Linger restaurant when new owners blacked out the “O.”

Linger Restaurant was a must‐stop for a pair of ladies with a Memphis funeral business in the family heritage. We refilled our water from brown bottles once used for organ storage and ordered drinks from an old metal patient chart. Toe tags used to mark the drinks but they were gone yesterday. Too macabre a memory for some? I missed that part of the adventure.

It’s back to bed I go, the call of duty answered, potential guilt assuaged.

The CPAP lets a snore machine sleep well.

Tomorrow — oops, make that today’s — post will focus on my learnings from a writing retreat. First is how to manage this ongoing body‐mind hum.

What a time for my writing life!

Late & Lovely

It’s after 11 p.m. TX time & we’re only now in our Taos B&B.

So much to see and eat as we cruised across two states. Already Amarillo feels like a week ago.

That’s because, for both of us, today was lovely. For different reasons.

For Ellen, Santa Fe buzzed with memory and possibility.

For Melanie, Taos reconfirmed where home is.

More details manana after we reach our third state in three days. Of course, who knows what state we’ll really be in…

Our writing retreat — led by the magnificent and incomparable Max Regan — begins tomorrow night. And that’s the real reason we RoadBroads hit the highway in the first place!

Since I’m writing this post on my cell phone (& I’m cranky & tired), only one trip pic tonight:

Can you identify what this photo is? Hint: it’s deep, it’s wet, and it flows.

Tick Tick Tick Tick…

I’m in trouble now. Serious time trouble. 

Can all this fit into that luggage?

In 8 hours and 15 minutes — yes, I’m counting — I must leave my house. Ellen expects me at her doorstep at 6:15 a‐m. Wake‐up for me comes one hour before.

At least it’s a makeup free drive. We agreed.

I digress.

A nine‐hour‐plus drive to Amarillo dictates our early departure. Land after 6:30 a‐m on any Bayou City roadway, especially US 59 heading to I‐45, and the asphalt clogs up. RoadBroads don’t do slow.

I digress again. My apologies. Look up there at the trashy picture. Can you figure out what’s not yet done?

But wait. Turn around, leave this room, look to your right. You’ll spot three piles of dirty laundry. Head down the hall, you’ll find an unfinished stack of June‐due bill payments. In the kitchen rests a week of RoadBroad blog papers to sort and file. Intensifying the growing overwhelm is the June family calendar: two birthdays followed by Father’s Day times four.

All awaiting these diminishing overnight hours, and this blog post.

At least, Mother Nature cooperates. Boulder weather shows 88 degree highs and 56 degree lows. Amarillo temps for tomorrow mirror Houston, less the coastal humidity. From my childhood I remember the dry heat of the Texas Panhandle. Translation? Manana, even in an air‐conditioned car, demands less. Tank top and shorts. Less equals cooler. For this post‐menopausal chauffeur and her human cargo, cool matters. As in non‐negotiable.

This begs what may be my salvation tonight. Hot weather means fewer clothes equals less to pack. Or should I pack more outfits because wet and sweaty demands dry and cool?

When did I get too old for this kind of silliness? Mind mania has set in, my god.

My brain hurts. I’m tired. And I’ve got miles of things to finish before I sleep. I can’t pull a Scarlett, either. Tonight and Ellen dictate action and completion. So off I go to take care of all the silly busywork a 19‐day RoadBroads adventure demands. Who knows when it’s lights out for me tonight. Besides, I’ll probably go all “journey proud,” as my grandmother used to say, and not sleep a wink.

We’ll see. Instead, I’ll leave you with what I saw on my morning walk.

The trio of deer lolled in the Full Moon morning, the sun insisting this day belonged to the animals.

Can you find the three deer?

I hope to observe similar vistas in the road days ahead. Amarillo or Santa Fe or Taos or Denver or Boulder.

Crossing fingers.

And off to pack.