Taking Flight for Tea

Last week I celebrated an anniversary.

This week I celebrate a find: the best green tea on the planet.

After my stroke in 2012, much changed.

Coffee sickened me. I switched to green tea. In low doses, its natural properties protect the brain and fight premature aging. Emphasis on former, not the latter.

Now, roadtrips demand daily green tea. Non‐debatable.

In Vienna, Austria, a tiny cafe offered a wall of overstuffed couches but no green tea (“gruner Tee”). DH knew enough Austrian German to translate chai tea latte and order two drinks.

He also picked up a single slice of Vienna’s national treasure. At first taste of the oh‐my‐god Sacher Torte, all tea cravings vanished.

Five years later, that single bite of dark chocolate remains a heart‐stopping memory. Yes, that good. I’ve sought to replicate the experience stateside. Failed. Every. Taste.

A summer later, iced green tea called my name at Denver’s Tattered Cover bookstore.

A brief moment in time, it flooded with crisp Rocky Mountain air and mild June temperatures. An odd perfection ensued, the world dissolving between the first sting of ice‐cold green tea and the opening words of a brand‐new book. 

Last Labor Day, Steven Smith Teamaker of Portland, Oregon delivered a first‐ever Tea Flight.

Each large porcelain bowl delivered nirvana in a two‐handed grip. Four varieties of green tea ranged from bitter to sweet and heavy to light. A different galaxy came to life in each bowl. 

So unexpected was the experience, DH and I sipped and giggled amid our overwhelm—a tea flight, and every one is excellent! Who‐da‐thunk‐it?!

The experience laid shame to all previous tasting flights involving beer, wine or mini‐desserts.

For this West Coast adventure, think entirely new universe of life experience. As in the best green tea on two continents.

It changed our day, this intimate, circle‐around‐the‐sun journey unfolding in a tiny, quiet shop, hidden deep in Portland’s warehouse district. To think we only navigated it because of an insistent bus driver.

Last week, we returned to Portland while never leaving.

At the old Waldo’s teahouse, we discovered a revamped cottage. Inside EQ in the Heights, we found new paint, new interiors, and a new menu.

On a side shelf sat our old friend: Steven Smith Teamaker.

I ordered a teapot of Jasmine Silver Tip and enjoyed, once again in a special teahouse, the world’s best green tea.

Memories returned. I smiled, giggled, then sipped some more.

Ah, the joy of unexpected delights. 

NOTE: I’ve never met Mr. Steven Smith. He’s not paying for this over‐the‐top product endorsement. I pay fully for any of the tea I buy regularly from his company. Just sayin’, friends.

Death Becomes Me.……and Her!

I’m currently reading a very interesting book. It’s called Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. Morbid? Maybe. But interesting. So interesting that I also plan on reading another book by the same author called, From Here To Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death.

Many people who know me are aware that I have a bit of a history with the funeral industry. To begin with, back in Memphis, Tennessee, my maternal relatives owned a complicated array of businesses including a funeral home. My mother worked at this funeral home until she met and married my father who was a funeral director. Over the years I knew the people at this funeral home well enough that they gave me a part‐time job when I was working on my undergraduate degree at the University of Memphis where I majored in Social Work.

No, I was not allowed anywhere near the dearly departed. I answered a PBX machine and directed phone calls wherever they needed to go. Yes, there were a few odd phone calls along the way. No, I told the nice lady who called and asked, we don’t sell used dentures.

Did I mention this was Memphis Funeral Home. You think you have never heard of it, but you have. This was the funeral home that buried Elvis Presley. My one celebrity claim to fame. No, I never met Elvis and I did not work there while his funeral service took place. Elvis died in 1977 and I worked the PBX machine in 1978.

It was an interesting place to work. The people who work in funeral services have very unique talents. They work with the dead and grieving all day long. They counsel and they listen. It takes a special person to do this.

After graduation I moved to Houston and worked for a funeral corporation. Since I had a Social Work degree and the job placed me in the Accounting Department, I only stayed there about four months.

When I was getting my Masters degree in Social Work from the University of Houston, I had an internship for two semesters with a local hospice. Part of my qualifications included the fact that I had experience with the funeral industry and would be comfortable around death.

Later as an employee for local government, I documented the history of County Poor Farms and Cemeteries. This document can still be found within the Harris County Archives and there is a historical marker in the County Cemetery.

As a Social Worker I often worked in areas that many people find uncomfortable, but I found most comfortable. Today I find all this to be very valuable experience in my new career as a Writer.

Last June when Melanie and I made the road trip to Colorado, we visited my niece who works at a Denver Bookstore. We ate lunch at a restaurant called “Linger”. This restaurant is housed in a historical building that used to be a mortuary.

We both share an affinity for Halloween. She is her own unique and interesting person and it has been wonderful to get to know her as a 20‐something adult.

Imagine my surprise when Becca texted me to let me know that this fall she was going back to school to study Mortuary Science. I asked her if I had been a bad role model for her, but if I was then I was a darn proud bad role model!

Becca has two years of studies ahead of her, but she is very bright and very smart. I can’t wait to see how this next chapter in her life turns out. I will remain “a proud bad role model” and support her any way I can.

Until next week.….

Losing Faith in Shining Moments

Inspiration arrives in odd places.

Its opposite does, too.

For years, the writings of Stephen King have enchanted, even as they terrified. The Stand. Carrie. The Shining.

DH and I planned our summer playtime around two creative locales: Boulder, CO and Portland, OR. From Boulder, he insisted on a quick jaunt to his old childhood haunt — Estes Park, CO. I replied, Stanley Hotel.

Copyright G. Wigler 2017

My mind raced to memorable scenes from the film made from King’s novel, The Shining.

”Redrum” scrawled in blood across a bathroom mirror.

Jack Nicholson taunting, “Here’s Johnny!” through a cracked‐open door.

A hundred sheets of paper filled with a single sentence, repeated over and over — “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Memory reminded me the movie was filmed at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. What could be more fun than seeing the mirror, the door, the paper.

Then we did. Saw the paper.

What you can’t see in the typewriter photo is what’s beneath the space bar. A red cautionary note warns the tempted: CAUTION! Old! Do Not Touch! 

This third sign confirmed our suspicions. Nothing was as it seemed with either the hotel or the movie.

The first was the entry fee.

To enter the hotel parking lot — guest, visitor, whomever — you discover a $10 entry fee that “you only pay one time but you receive this $5 gold coin which you can use in our gift shop or restaurant.”

You mean the Stanley keeps $5 to stave off the unwanted, the cheap, and the wise.

We discussed leaving. As we did, a line of cars grew to the street. The parking gate behind the guard was down. He glared at us as DH and I strategized. My writerly curiousity won, we paid the ten and drove in, both of us irritated to a slow burn.

Seventy minutes later into our tour (another $20 per person, the reduced senior rate) and I seethed.

The movie was filmed in Oregon, not Colorado.

Because a different hotel was used, there’s no basement bar. No maze either. Except…

…for this: what the Stanley built itself. Three years ago. How many years is that post‐movie?

Room 217 is where Stephen King slept the night he conceived The Shining. Hotel officials asked the movie’s director to change the room number to 237. Here’s why: 

Room 217 never has a posted number. Novel readers are smart people. They figure things out. Eventually.

Kimg hated the movie so much, he helped to fund a later mini‐series of his novel. Filmed at the Stanley.

It is a beautiful, old hotel. With a rich heritage. And a clever marketing staff.

But now, when I think The Shining, bile fills my throat. I remember what the marriage of marketing and money‐making can create.

I hope Stephen King gets a cut of the Stanley dough.

I got mine. It’s a $5 gold coin. Forgot to use it when I bought that #217 room marker.

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.

Good News, Good Friends, Good Food

Late yesterday, I learned an essay I wrote is a finalist in a national Creative NonFiction Essay contest. From more than 200 submissions, 37 entries were chosen finalists. Oh yeah, friend, it’s major buzz time.

Finalist notification letter about Boulder‐based essay

It gets better. Call it the woo‐woo factor.

The essay in question involves an incident that occurred in Boulder, at a Max Regan writing retreat, seven years ago this week.

Add that I learned the news while in Boulder, at a Max Regan writing retreat, only one day after visiting the location where the essay unfolded. I shiver.

Imagine a traumatized golden retriever in this picture.

Do you remember the blog mention two days ago of my search at the Trident Cafe? My search centered around an abused dog, an old lady, and a coward.

Seven years ago, cobalt blue draped everything in an eerie blanket of communal color: bands, straps, leashes, and booties engulfing Dylan the golden retriever. 

Only two days ago did I notice the cobalt blue of the awning, the Trident logo, and, in a softer blue — always, the sky. 

Besides weird timing, I’ve relearned several other things about the writing life in the past 24 hours.

One is, foremost, persistence.

I’ve worked on this essay for seven long years. It’s been through more drafts and readings than I will admit publicly. It’s been rejected by magazines (both on‐ and off‐line) multiple times.

But I kept polishing this essay because it felt important, universal. Such bigness demands a big audience, I believed. What writers’ essays demand, I learned, is persistent effort. And patience.

Secondly, I’ve learned that what I experienced in my broadcast news days also applies to the writing life. You’ve got to start small, gain your chops, and work your way up the publishing ladder. That’s rarely the truth any writer — young, old, or in‐between — wants to hear, especially in our get‐it‐now‐or‐get‐lost culture. Slow down, writers, and learn your craft. And, always — be easy on yourself. Max preaches the same. Now, I’m listening. In a new way.

If nothing more develops of this particular essay — as in I end up #37 on the finalist list for this contest — I carry away the call for continued persistence and slow‐small‐steady progress. The simplicity of the message is sweet. And easy to pursue.

I celebrated today’s news with a dear friend, a tasty lunch, and a shopping trip to the Tennyson neighborhood of Denver. For the first time, RoadBroad’s chauffeur became a passenger — nice! 

Today became mix‐it‐up day. We had no retreat classes, by design. Why not try a different city, different restaurants, different bookstores — an altogether different approach? BookBar whispered, thanks to a writer friend’s recommendation. Its theme says buy a book, drink a vino.

I did neither. Instead I bought a clever set of writer notecards plus a pair of map earrings. Do you hear the RoadBroads clapping? After my purchase, I turned around and left. Leaving the writer notecards on the counter.

BookBar bookstore: for books and wine, in that order (for some of us).
Little maps of tiny towns cover quirky earrings. Perfect for a RoadBroad!

Oh, no! Guess who now must return to the BookBar? Who knows what else she can buy? Books maybe?

Of course, she’ll be wearing her new pair of RoadBroads earrings.

Boulder Bound: What Am I Doing?

I am now a full‐time writer. I have waited a long time to say that and it feels good. Right now, I am getting ready to head out on a long road trip to Boulder, Colorado with one friend, books, journals, lap top, and hopefully at least a little good sense. My friend, Melanie, is traveling with me. I am packing the books and journals. We will have to wait and see about the good sense. 

Hannah preps for her own road trip.
Hannah readies for the road trip…

The cat in the picture will try to go with me, but she will stay at home. Many thanks to Jim and my great team of house‐sitters and cat‐sitters who will look out for everything while I am gone.

Two months ago, I was a full‐time Social Services administrator for a local governmental organization. I was your “tax dollars at work”. During these last two months, I have had surgery (which restricted movement for six weeks), then I had to speak in front of a crowd at a cemetery for the placement of a historical marker, then I had a major water leak in my home thanks to my upstairs neighbor, then I retired from the governmental bureaucracy.

I had planned to spend my first week of retired life in my night gown, sleeping a great deal, reading and watching junky television. Instead, I was visited daily by contractors and maintenance personnel who repaired walls, ceilings and floors damaged by the water leak. Fortunately, within 2 weeks all home repairs were complete…all except for the dust. Thanks to a great team of professional housekeepers for helping me to clean up.

Needless to say, I still haven’t had my week of sleeping, reading and couch potatoing and now I don’t have time. I am Boulder Bound! Melanie and I are attending a writing retreat in Boulder. Enroute, we will stop and visit a few sites. It’s my first trip to Colorado and I want to see as much as possible.

What does it mean to be Boulder Bound? It means I no longer work in an office. I am a writer. I can write at home, at a coffee shop, or while gazing at whatever mountains I keep hearing everyone talk about in Boulder. Hopefully by the time I return home, I will know the names of the mountains.

Being Boulder Bound means I am hitting the road to see what there is to see. On the road. I almost feel like Jack Kerouac using the “essentials of spontaneous prose” to outline my journey. Before, during and after the retreat I will share my existence and experiences with a couple of talented writers exploring the depths of our visions and talents. Unlike Kerouac, I will probably skip the substance abuse and sexual experimentation.

Okay, for anyone who does not know about Jack Kerouac and his book On the Road which was published the year I was born, please Google now. I will wait.

I have several writing projects, but while in Colorado, I will be working on one in particular. This project involves my writing about growing up in Memphis, Tennessee during the 60’s and 70’s. Like now, it was a time of great change in both me as a person and in the society and culture that surrounds me.

Wish me luck with my journey! I will keep you posted on everything (or almost everything) that happens.

About this Blog

This blog came to life, courtesy Ellen, who prefers road travel to soaring skyward. She suggested driving to a Colorado‐based writing retreat in June, 2018.

Melanie answered with two words, one of which can be repeated in mixed company. Young children, however, would probably be confused. C’est le vie — it wouldn’t be the first time either of us has been misunderstood.

Post‐writing retreat, we contemplated life sans RoadBroads. Should we continue this blog? We both proclaimed a loud two‐word answer, identical to Melanie’s reply to Ellen’s initial query. Amazing what happens when two women writers get to know each other on the road.

We’ve dialed back the blogging to one post each per week. Periodically, we’ll post a guest blogger — another woman writer, on the road — reporting some kind of trip and what she’s learned.

We can all learn from each other.

Looking forward to the lessons offered via observations, discoveries, and experiences. The good. The bad. The ugly. Adventure is all this, most especially the ugly. 

It’s only roadtrips. With two broads and some special guests.

Join us?