Monday, March 3, 2014

Late Winter Chills


Bramble rings adorn her toes,
Briarroot and sundried rose.
Ashen eyes with shaded grin,
Twisted roots flow from her skin.

This weekend my husband and I visited a 200-acre preserve. It was a bit of a drive with all of the highway construction, but once we got past the congested traffic the roads were open and quiet. When we reached our destination, parking, or a lack thereof, was a challenge so we circled the lot like sale-seekers on Black Friday. A spot eventually opened up and we got out of the car to stretch our legs.

With the air warm for the first time in months and the sun on our shoulders, we hiked the trails around a creek pressing deep into the forest. Well . . . not really. We only went a few feet off-course to take pictures by the stream. Other families were there too with kids and pets, keeping as close to the main trail as possible.

It was a perfect afternoon, beautiful in all its late winter glory. The rustling leaves and eerie stillness gave me a ton of ideas for my new book. I closed my eyes and imagined what it would be like to get lost in the woods—splintered limbs and shadows in every direction.

How long would it take for the mind to become dense with fear? Five minutes into your off-path-detour? Perhaps later, when you became disoriented and a rustling vine next to your leg seemed to slither out from the shade.

I hope to hang on every hyper-vigilant sensation—uneasiness oozing onto the page as I craft my new scenes. It’s been difficult to write about a subject with so much retrospection, but it’s a challenge I hope will change my book’s main character as well as myself.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Breath of Fresh Air



After a long couple of months of life knocking us about via illness and family in the hospital, my husband and I were thankful to spend a beautiful winter day strolling around my favorite gardens. We walked down the path and stopped to watch a squirrel forage for food. When he plucked up an acorn, his tail twitched in celebration. His teeth hummed like a saw as he sheared the shell from the meat. He didn't flinch when we walked away, and I doubt he noticed my shoulders relax at the sound of his soft crunching.

Our walk snaked through wooded trails and curved around a pond where turtles sunned themselves on stones. We hooked a left into the rose garden where a group of volunteers buzzed around the bushes pruning away expired buds and dead branches. Hidden in the butterfly nook, a painter stood at his easel working away at a beautiful watercolor. It seemed everyone was enjoying the stillness. Then a faint note slid across the breeze, a sound unlike trickling water or paws unearthing treasures. It had a higher pitch and was drawn out and down over the vast lawn, skittering about like dried leaves in the wind.

We set ourselves in a new direction toward the music and discovered a lone violinist tucked among the brush. The closer we got my insides unfolded like a flower reaching for the morning sun. The gentle melody flowed through me, pushing out everything else. When he paused between songs, I asked the musician where he was from and learned he’d stumbled on the gardens the same way we had, unexpectedly.

Our conversation was brief, but it was wonderful to meet someone who loved the city’s green space as much as we did. He went back to his violin, and for a moment I watched him, taking slow breaths in and out with the rhythm, fingers gliding over strings, bow cutting through the air around it. His music layered over the falling water, and I drank it in.

If I close my eyes, I can hear the last song he played. Though it wasn’t for me, I thanked him for his music anyway. He’ll never know how it warmed my heart and how grateful I was he chose that day and that hour to share his gift. It was a breath of fresh air that left me thinking about how we all have something beautiful to give.

Monday, November 11, 2013

What Makes a Great Leader?



While thumbing through some of my grandfather’s old military photos, I wondered what it was like for my dad’s father to kiss his family goodbye and board a ship during wartime. Or for my mom’s father to marry the woman of his dreams before he was deployed, his wedding band a reminder of the one waiting for his safe return.

As you can see in the photos, the men my grandfathers served with were so young, so brave—with loved ones of their own. I can only hope they were able to return to their families as my grandfathers did. As I look at those old pictures, I see the confident men they were, and I’m grateful for the men they became.

Paw-Paw and Frank

What I remember of my mom’s dad, Paw-Paw, is sitting on his lap by the fire while he taught me to read. Or the mornings we got bacon and cheese croissants for breakfast before heading to my elementary school where he coached the athletics teams. I remember the last big family trip we went on before he passed away. Paw-Paw drove, yes, I said drove the lot of us: granny, their best friends (Frank and Edith), my best friend and me up the east coast and into Canada.

Why would a man who survived a war wish a month-long car ride on himself, especially one with two first graders in tow? Maybe he wanted us to see what he fought for, to see our history and how far we’d come as a country. Maybe he wanted us to touch the Liberty Bell, to play in the ocean, and to see a harbor-side Tea Party that didn’t involve a rainbow-haired doll, a pup from the pound and friends from the cabbage patch.

Paw-Paw let us get away with everything on that trip. We set the alarms off at the Smithsonian, got into trouble at the World Trade Center for running circles in the building, and made faces at a cabbie in New York who flipped us off. (Not sure if I copied that move on the trip, but I’m sure Paw-Paw wouldn’t have tolerated it if I had.) He passed away a few years after that trip, and though I didn’t get to know him as an adult I did find out what a generous person he was in his community.

After his funeral, someone came forward and shared how Paw-Paw had delivered food and gifts to families in need during the holidays. He did this for years, and he did it in secret. No affirmation or applause for him. He just saw a need and met it. In the years that followed, his best friend, Frank, became a grandfather to me, stuffing me with cream filled cookies and bologna sandwiches. Frank picked up right where Paw-Paw left off.

Frank took care of his own family and basically adopted ours. He was the most active, hardworking man I ever met. Frank was also a war veteran and hero who once navigated a convoy of tanks up a mountainside on foot in a warzone. I didn’t know him in those glory days, but I knew him when he carried me on his other hip, opposite his granddaughter. I knew him when he checked on granny and me every night I was there to make sure we didn’t need anything before he and Edith went to bed. If ever there was a mold to break . . . he broke it and left his own legacy.

Pop

My dad’s father, Pop, was also a huge part of my life. Pop had served in the military, and when I look at his pictures I see a quiet leadership, something he carried with him onto the biggest battlefield of his life: raising his five children and later babysitting his nine grandchildren. The stories I heard about my dad and his three brothers—firecrackers in toilets, accidentally lighting the back steps on fire (Who would do that on purpose?) . . . it’s a wonder Pop had any energy left for his two eldest, hyperactive, ballet dancing granddaughters.

I think my cousin and I gave him that white hair, and yet he took us to the park every weekend we were in town. He took us trick-or-treating on Halloween and decorated the outside of his house for us every Christmas. He even hand-painted our favorite caring bears on plywood cutouts he’d made and stuck them out on the lawn. And Pop was serious about his yard. He spent hours keeping it clean and made sure no animals, ahem, went on his grass. So for him to stick cartoon characters out there where the whole world could see them—we knew we were special.

He endured every visit and let my cousin and me play hide-and-seek in the closets, jump on the beds, and slide down the stairs on our butts. Did I mention our volume was always set to high? Screams, giggles–it’s why Pop napped with a pillow over his head.

Now our visits with him are a little more . . . calm. He talks for a bit then settles into his red cushion and stares at the TV. Why? All he really wants is for us to sit beside him on the sofa while he watches black-and-white westerns in Spanish. Half the time he falls asleep, but hey, he’ll be 91 next week so I think he’s entitled to doze off whenever he wants.

So, what makes a great leader? Sacrifice. Bravery. Letting difficult situations shape your character and make you a better person. Giving what you can, even if you don’t have much yourself. Being there when it’s important. My grandfathers passed down these values, and I’m grateful for their service not only to our country, but also to my family. Happy Veteran’s Day, Pop. And thank you to all of our service men and women.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Joys of Physical Therapy & Expired Chocolate



This week I began physical therapy for my ankle and foot. I was looking forward to my first visit about as much as I would a trip to the dentist or, oh, I don’t know, slamming my hand in a door on purpose. When I arrived for my appointment, the doctor’s office was filled with grunting, red-faced people who were working various injured limbs on machines. It was less like an edgy gym and more like a car repair shop.

The consultation was more or less torture with a smile. Toes were yanked, popped, twisted and bent in every direction. My foot was next. Then I limped from one office to another where I was stretched out on a table while a therapist wired my foot for electricity.

Me: “What does this do again?”

Therapy Lady: “It runs a current through your ankle and foot.”

Me: *gulp*

Therapy Lady: “I’m going to turn it up now. Can you feel it?”

Me: “Is it supposed to feel weird?”

Therapy Lady: “Like tingles?”

Me: *nods*

Therapy Lady: “Let me know when you feel any pain.”

Me: O_O

Therapy Lady: “We want it up as high as we can go. And if it hurts we bring it back down.” *smiles*

Me: “Um . . .” *ants crawling under my skin* “I think we’re good.”

There wasn’t much to do when she left except stare at the ceiling and wonder how long it’d take to cook my foot like a hotdog. Thankfully someone in the office loved rock music because it helped blur out the curse words coming from the gym floor.

Over the next few visits my mobility improved. They fried my foot again and added some strange exercises for my ankle involving a rubber ball and a wooden board. I got lots of high fives and attagirls and a sticker on my way out.

Not really.

But I did get a nice crisp receipt for my insurance. And there was a bowl of Easter candy on the counter for the taking, in July. Seriously though, the doctor and his staff were super awesome, and they made the hard work of rehabilitating a major body part fun.

One week behind me. Five more to go. Need chocolate. Preferably the kind that’s not expired.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Life with a Twist



Top ten things I’ve learned from twisting my ankle:

  1. When the doctor says, “This may hurt a little.” Know that whatever they do next will probably involve re-twisting your ankle and you wanting to pass out, or barf.
  2. Don’t forget to reset the bar on the icemaker so you don’t run out of ice for your cold packs.
  3. I should NOT have skipped those pull-ups during my P90X workouts. (Who knew crutches were such a pain? *sigh*)
  4. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. I must’ve asked my hubs for a thousand little things this week, especially before we picked up my crutches. “Can you hand me my toothbrush? Deodorant? Some shorts? No. Not those shorts. The green ones. Yes, the ones with the squares on them. They’re dirty? Then just hand me whatever.” (How about a hammer to knock myself over the head.)
  5. When carting lightweight items from one place to the next, hang an old grocery sack around your wrist and use it as a carrier. (Think of it as being recycle chic.) If it’s heavy, wave your bag at the closest person and say, “Well, it’s not gonna’ fit in here, and it’s not gonna’ move itself.” (Totally kidding. If you just stand there looking pathetic, hopefully you won’t have to say anything.)
  6. Feeling useless and being in pain may make you grouchy. Try to keep it to yourself. (Note to self: Try to keep it to yourself. Try hard.)
  7. Conserve your energy with lots of reading, and if you have to be on crutches for a long time and your arms give out from sheer exhaustion, you can always crawl to your destination. (Don’t judge.)
  8. Nighttime can be rough if you’ve done too much during the day, i.e. trying to be helpful but actually getting in the way because you can’t get over feeling useless. See 4 and 7.
  9. Enjoy all that extra help around the house, and don’t forget to say thank you, a lot. (Thank you, hubs.)
  10. Every living room should come equipped with a toilet. (The less hobbling around, the better.)
Just a few notes for future reference, though hopefully there won’t be a next time.

Monday, April 29, 2013

International Dance Day


A haiku about dance: 

Ballerina girl
Subjects her heart to the world
When she takes the stage.


So . . . apparently April 29 is International Dance Day, a very cool fact I did not know until today. I find myself thinking back to all the hours I spent in the dance studio, including the first years of my college life—something I wouldn’t trade, no matter how many pairs of jazz and ballet shoes I went through.

Dance is like writing for me. It’ll always be a part of who I am. Some of my favorite memories are from that part of my life. I remember this one swing routine we were learning in college for a University alumni banquet performance. The choreographer we brought in from New York was, well, a real ball-buster.

It was getting down to the wire, and I was having an off night and getting yelled at, a lot. There was one tense moment when I was singled out. It was like the scene in Meet the Fockers when Robert De Niro lets Ben Stiller know he’s watching him. It was all I could do to get through the week without the choreographer driving me to a breaking point. Through it all, my friends were a huge comfort.

When the week ended we kept rehearsing as a group, getting better, encouraging each other. And when I got on that stage for the performance, I didn’t even have to think about the steps. They just came.

Dance helped me grow. It taught me to persevere under pressure, and thank god because the performing arts world and the writing world aren’t much different in that respect.

So, in honor of International Dance Day, I’m sharing some old photos of some of the most supportive people I ever met—my fellow dancers. You can celebrate too. Just turn on some music and dance today.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

In the Stillness


This past Sunday was clear and breezy, a perfect day for the bluebonnet trails in Ennis, Texas. My husband and I made the drive, winding through dirt roads at slow speeds just to take in the miles of indigo fields.

There’s something peaceful about stepping out of the car and actually hearing the wind as it rustles branches and carries birdsongs from one tree to the next, a luxury I don’t always have living in the Metroplex. No honking or sirens assaulting my senses—just the sweet scent of spring and the warm sun kissing my shoulders. It was like being wrapped in a clean blanket fresh out of the dryer.

At every turn I experienced something different: the giant carpenter bees buzzing around a dilapidated barn that lay fallen in the middle of a dense section of woods, cows settling down for an afternoon nap in the shade, butterflies drifting across hilltops looking for the perfect flower—everything doing what it was created to do. It was beautiful.

Today I look back on that wonderful afternoon and remember how vast the sky is and how small I am in comparison. I have hope that there is good and beauty and grace in this world, though, at times, it is hard to see it. I remember it best in the stillness. Other times I have to still myself.

My thoughts and prayers are with Boston. From what I’ve read in various posts, there are ways to help those affected by what happened at the Boston Marathon Monday, April 15. One Fund Boston is one of them. For those interested: http://onefundboston.com.