And the Winner Is…

Drumroll please.

Me!

Back in April when I rose to the challenge of blogging twenty-six posts from A to Z, I received a couple of awards from bloggers who showed up almost daily to read my work. I’m sure that Bridget and Eliza have more to do than read my blog every day, but there they were, tapping that little blue star and leaving me nice little notes. However, not only did they support me by reading, they passed my name and website along to others. One thing I’ve noticed about this blogging world is the kindness of others. I’ve met so many people who stop to straighten my crown and leave sunshine in their wakes.

Bridget A. Thomas is a Christian author who turns her dreams over to God, lets him work it out, and inspires others to do the same. She nominated me for the Fix Her Crown Award. It’s an award for women who lend a helping hand to other women whose crowns seem too heavy, who appreciate the sister who dares to be her own glorious self, who raise strong young women, who smile at the sister journeying alone and walk beside her for a time, who stand with the sister whose crown has been knocked off her head time after time, and who shine as their own beautifully unique selves. Thank you, Bridget! I’m completely humbled by that description!!

Eliza is a twenty-something blogger-friend who reminds me of my daughter and most often writes about gratitude and mental health. Her posts spread glitter, love, and light, and I always appreciate her perspective. She nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award and grouped me with others she called inspirational, calming, and gorgeous for taking time to read and respond to her posts. Eliza, you’re a doll! How could I not rise to the challenge of paying it forward?

As for me, I’m going on three years of catapulting my ideas into the blogosphere, but I still remember what it was like in the beginning to have like three followers and no idea how to find other good blogs. [Stage left. Enter the awards.] The awards, no matter which one, are all about promoting other bloggers’ blogs and helping them be part of the community. In no way would I want to add pressure for someone to respond, so I’m not posting any rules to follow or questions to answer, just non-gender-specific blogs that I love and haven’t had the opportunity to mention until now. By the way, it’s so hard to narrow down my list, and because I received two nominations for two awards, I’m combining the love into two brand-new awards. Drumroll please. And now for the moment you’ve been waiting for—the winners of the Somebody Loves Your Blog Award:

  • All Things Thriller indulges Pamela Lowe Saldana’s love of film, music, and literature. A DJ by profession, she draws inspiration from her west Texas roots and true crimes.
  • ALTAIR 5G Theatre: During this quarantine time when I’ve overextended my capacity for television and even reading, I look to my French friend’s site for virtual culture: orchestra, opera, tango, street dancing, just to name a few.
  • The Art of Becoming a Wildflower: Jerry Snider has a gift for telling the simplest of stories that make me laugh out loud and think for a while. His children’s book Buddy Bloom Wildflower follows the life of a lost seed who only wants to become a flower.
  • Fear-and-Hope.com is the newbiest (is that a word?) blog on my list. Meet my cousin. She is a 42-year veteran teacher who dedicates her life to students with social, emotional, behavioral, and academic weaknesses. God bless her, and please give her a follow!
  • Cheryl Oreglia at Living in the Gap cracks me up every time. She blogs on the joys of being a Grammie and the bliss of marriage. One of my favorite recent posts is Grow Dammit.
  • KA (Allan) Gould at PhotoblographyToo is a retired Canadian just living his best life, through photography, gardening, cycling, skiing, and traveling. Just this year, I’ve traveled with him to Banff National Park, Vancouver, and Ireland.
  • London Life with Liz, as the site title suggests, covers all-things-London from literature to pop culture, history to politics, and so much more. I don’t know if Liz has ever taught school, but I always walk away from her posts having learned something fascinating.
  • Priscilla Bettis has led the life of an engineering physicist and a swim team coach, and she aspires to be a horror novelist. One of my favorite posts is her beautiful tribute R.I.P. Daddy.
  • The Thought Badger hails from the UK, marries photography with the written word and shows how our experiences with animals have the power to make thoughts happen.

Blog Award

Geez, it seems my list could go on and on, but it wouldn’t be a true award without thanking a few more authors who have been so kind to support me here on WordPress as well as on Twitter (even though my Twitter game lacks). And now for the Outstanding Supporter Awards: Jean Lee (young adult fantasy, fierce heroines, and storytelling strategy), Melissa Henderson (children’s books and Christian themes), Mark Bierman (action and adventure, fiction and non),  Alaedin Fazel, (psychology, philosophy, family, and culture) and Freya Pickard (poetry, epic fantasies, and tales of passion). Thank you all, sincerely.

Outstanding Supporter

What have I learned in three years about growing a blog? Well, just like a garden, growth requires nurturing. Back in April I saw that if I build it, they will come, and if I build relationships (reading other blogs and interacting), they will stay. Interesting how relationships work that way. This April I had more traffic to my site than in my entire first full year of blogging, and that’s because I posted 26 times in April 2020 and 29 times in all of 2018. Now for me, posting almost every day is like a no-income job. I need more balance between my everyday and online lives. But can I post more than twice a month? Yes. Twice a month was my personal commitment back in the beginning, September of 2017 when I taught full-time, lived in a hotel for ten months, and oversaw a home re-build. In the month of May 2020, I posted six times, and that felt pretty natural and doable. Have I grown as a writer? I think so. And guess what? May was my second most successful blogging month ever.

120 posts later, I’ve been practicing, and I feel like a winner today. The blogging rewards are rich, and the awards are awesome, too. Thank you, Bridget! Thank you, Eliza! Thank you, dear reader, for visiting my blog, supporting me, and checking out a few of my friends!

Happy Anniversary #59!

Happy 59th Anniversary to my parents! They were high school sweethearts. On May 29, 1961, they exchanged vows at 21, just a couple of kids.

May 29, 1961, Oklahoma City
Headed toward their honeymoon
Looks like the late 70s or early 80s, probably Mexico.
Newport Beach, California, May 2011, 50 Years Strong
Venice, Italy, June 2011, The Holy Land Tour
Walk for Alzheimer’s, OKC, September 2017
Mom’s Birthday Celebration, February 2019
Dad’s new van complete with wheelchair lift.
Celebrating Mom’s big 8-0, February 2020.
My mother kept a book of writing prompts. It includes questions that her kids might have, but never thought to ask, and my sister Xeroxed a copy for me. Today I’m turning the blog over to my mom for a guest post.

How old were you when you met Dad and what attracted you to him?

We really met at the end of my eighth grade [1954]. But I was attracted to him earlier that year. The Rainbow Girls were having a dance and everyone was going. I didn’t have anyone to ask. Betty Sue suggested that I invite David Petty. He was so cute. After dragging my feet for several days I finally got up the nerve to call him. He told me that he already had plans that night. I didn’t ask anyone else and so I went to the movie at the Ritz that night. There was David with his friends. He didn’t even know who I was.

At the end of that school year, I won the election for Student Council President and your Dad was the outgoing President and he swore me in. I still think he didn’t know I was the one who had invited him to the dance.

We really met the end of the 10th grade. He played baseball on the vacant lot on Mary’s street, but we didn’t meet until a Slumber Party at Donna Moreland’s home.

Anyway, I’m dying to know what happened at Donna Moreland’s home, but knowing my mom, it was the most innocent of meet-ups. And I’m thankful for Betty Sue, who encouraged my mom to ask my dad to the Rainbow Girls’ dance. And I’m thankful for that vacant lot on Mary’s street. And I’m thankful for this little book of prompts. And of course, I’m thankful that my parents still have each other after fifty-nine years. Here’s one more:

Did you ever go to a dance? Tell me about it.

My most memorable dance was the Junior/Senior Prom when I was a Senior. I had not even thought about what I would wear. Carol, my sweet sister, brought me a beautiful dress without telling me ahead. It was white, sheer organza with a design flocked in white. It had large scallops around the bottom and across the strapless top. It was the most beautiful dress I had ever seen. My date was your Dad and it was a very wonderful night.

 

Ode to Gatsby

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’”

That’s Nick Carraway in the first sentence of The Great Gatsby. Last spring break I lounged on the beach with a beverage in one hand and Gatsby in the other. “All the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had,” I read. People judge, I thought. Nick refrains because his father said so, or he tries. I remember my mother trying, too. She would stop herself mid-criticism and say, “I’m not going to say that. It wasn’t very nice.” And Philippians 4:8 comes to mind about thinking on excellent, praiseworthy things.

sand
Sands to Remember

Speaking of excellence and praise, what about this one for its sheer lyricism? “It was dawn now on Long Island and we went about opening the rest of the windows downstairs, filling the house with grey turning, gold turning light. The shadow of a tree fell abruptly across the dew and ghostly birds began to sing among the blue leaves. There was a slow pleasant movement in the air, scarcely a wind, promising a cool lovely day.” I want to write like that—grey turning, gold turning light. How poetic! Fitzgerald makes writing seem effortless. Writers know better.

That March day, I soaked up the Florida sun, snapped a few photos, and tapped a few phrases into my phone. In three sentences, I attempted to be Fitzgerald. It was spring break now on the Emerald Coast and we went about lounging on Crystal Beach, filling the day with a wave of sparkling sunlight, turning glittering foam. Tides of translucent sea rolled rhythmically on the sand and the gulls floated on wings and Sunday prayers. There was a peaceful simple luxury in the pause, scarcely a word, promising more of the same.

crystal-beach
Destin, FL, USA

Back in the classroom, I picked another passage for my students to try. I’ve used this one before. “That’s my middle-west—not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns but the thrilling, returning trains of my youth and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family’s name. I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all—Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.”

Thomas Miller was one of my juniors in AP Language and Composition last year. His mother is Vietnamese, and his given name is Thien. He was a funny kid, tardy almost every day, but he knew I had a soft spot for him. Kids like Thomas inspire me, and he graduated last week. In response to the Gatsby passage, he wrote, “That’s my Vietnam—not the jungles or the fields or the cramped southern cities but the soothingly tranquil rains of my youth and the cold dawns and quiet afternoons in the murky light and the gathering of family members drawn by enticing banquets on clean floors. I am part of that, a little energetic with the feel of those wet summers, a little slovenly from the year I spent in a towering townhome in Saigon where townhomes rule the cityscape. I see now that Aunt Suzy, Mimi, Bambi, Vivi, Titi—they all represent a period of equilibrium and peace in my life. That’s my Vietnam.”

The Great Gatsby

Rain and More Rain

Raindrops fell and lightening thundered. Water gushed from the rooftop of our home without gutters, and my dog Rain hid beneath the couch where I sat. Thirteen years ago, someone found her, just a puppy, walking in the rain. She may have some post-traumatic stress. Then three years ago, I found her swimming in the rising hurricane waters of our home. I’m sure that didn’t help.

Rain crawled out from under the couch and looked up at me. Her whole body shook. I patted the throw pillow beside me, and she jumped up on it. I covered her up with a blanket, held her with extra pressure, and breathed into the top of her Chihuahua head. She whimpered so very softly. Her shaking subsided. Sometimes the world is noisy and scary and overwhelming, I thought. Sometimes a tight hug and the closeness of someone’s breath is all you need.

macro shot photography of water drops
Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

Jesse James and Billy the Kid

“I wanna watch my birthday movie,” Kody said. It was Friday, May 8th. He turned 51.

I gave him a quizzical squint of my eyes and cock of my head. You would think after thirty years of marriage, I would know he had a birthday movie. Anyway, there was no time for birthday movies. Our daughter Lauren and I had planned him a surprise party at her apartment. My job was to get him there.

Restaurants are re-opening here in Houston with precautions in place at 25% capacity. Kody and I had made dinner reservations for later that evening for the first time since the quarantine, but Lauren planned enough fun to make him change his mind. I thought, what’s the difference between going out to eat or having friends who have stayed well over for a party?

“You’re not the only one who has a birthday movie,” he said.

I laughed. How many of my birthdays have I watched—wait, this is his birthday. Of course, he knows my birthday movie, but that’s a story for another day. “What’s your birthday movie?” I said.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” he said. The title rolled off his tongue.

He has watched it over and over, but somehow, I had never given the whole thing a chance. All two hours and 39 minutes.

The surprise party was a success. With a bang, we broke the rules of social distancing, cancelled our dinner reservations, turned up the music, and ordered pizza. We were modern-day outlaws. Without masks or guns.

When Saturday morning arrived, the time had come for the much anticipated The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. This time I gave the 2007 movie a chance.

The narrative prose is exquisite, the cinematography stunning, and the cast star-studded. Brad Pitt is Jesse James. So there is that.

Apparently, I’ve always missed the beginning. The narrator captivated me with his lines as the images played out:

“He was growing into middle age and was living in a bungalow on Woodland Avenue. He installed himself in a rocking chair and smoked a cigar down in the evenings as his wife wiped her pink hands on an apron and reported happily on their two children. His children knew his legs, the sting of his mustache against their cheeks. They didn’t know how their father made his living, or why they so often moved. They didn’t know their father’s name. He was listed in the city directory as Thomas Howard. And he went everywhere unrecognized and lunched with Kansas City shopkeepers and merchants, calling himself a cattleman or a commodities investor, someone rich and leisured who had the common touch. He had two incompletely healed bullet holes in his chest and another in his thigh. He was missing the nub of his left middle finger and was cautious, lest that mutilation be seen. He also had a condition that was referred to as “granulated eyelids” and it caused him to blink more than usual as if he found creation slightly more than he could accept. Rooms seemed hotter when he was in them. Rains fell straighter. Clocks slowed. Sounds were amplified. He considered himself a Southern loyalist and guerrilla in a Civil War that never ended. He regretted neither his robberies nor the seventeen murders that he laid claim to. He had seen another summer under in Kansas City, Missouri and on September 5th in the year 1881, he was thirty-four-years-old.”

And that’s the movie. The last seven months of the life of American outlaw Jesse James with slow somber themes. Brad Pitt portrays him as mentally unstable, alternating between genteel and manic. No surprise. I recognize the look in his eyes.

Jesse James

The stage was set for my next literary endeavor of my grad school Maymester, Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. Another American outlaw. Same time period. In the afterword about his writing process, Ondaatje says that he started writing with a vague idea of Billy. “Twenty-one killed. Dead at twenty-one…I invented every gesture and choreographed every gunfight. I stole jokes from my friends and woes from people I knew less well.”

“What I discovered I had at the end of two years of writing poems and prose and imaginary interviews and songs and fragments was a manuscript somewhat like a valise containing the collected raw material for a collage. And so there followed another year of rewriting, refocusing, restructuring, and compressing all that material into some newly invented organic form that would contain the story…I learned everything about editing a haphazard structure in the time I spent choreographing and rebuilding The Collected Works of Billy the Kid…After the strict editing of the individual pieces I became obsessed with the arcing of the story, its larger architecture, as opposed to the clash of juxtapositions or plot development.”

An excerpt from The Collected Works of Billy the Kid:

After shooting Gregory
this is what happened
 
I’d shot him well and careful
made it explode under his heart
so it wouldn’t last long and was about to walk away when this chicken paddles out to him and as he was falling hops on his neck digs the beak into his throat straightens legs and heaves a red and blue vein out   Meanwhile he fell and the chicken walked away   still tugging at the vein till it was 12 yards long as if it held that body like a kite Gregory’s last words being   get away from me yer stupid chicken

Billy the Kid

That Time I Quit Drinking Coffee

It was May 1, 2020. I had returned from my morning walk. I took off my sweaty clothes, turned on the shower, and stepped naked on to the scale. I was down five pounds to my pre-Covid-19 weight. You might think I would be thrilled. The problem was I had been tracking my steps on my phone during April and came across my weight from August of 2019. Ten months ago, after seven months of consistent boxing and kickboxing, I weighed thirteen pounds lighter. In August, I gave up the boxing gym.

In May, I decided to give up coffee.

Here’s the thing. I normally do not drink coffee every morning, but Kody does. He drinks his coffee in the office, but—since he’s working from home, coffee has become part of our morning routine. He drinks his black. I drink mine blonde. You know—with cream. And honey. It’s decadent.

After my shower last Friday, I made myself a large glass of iced tea. Unsweetened. I was parched. The tea quenched. This is good, I thought. I can do this.

Saturday rolled around. I rolled out of bed and went for my walk. On arrival home and through my front door, I smelled the aroma of good coffee, medium roast Texas pecan, 100% Arabica from our local HEB. I thought, Maybe I can make an exception, just on the weekends. This time, we were out of cream. I opted for vanilla almond milk. Even lighter, I thought. And then that little devil on my shoulder whispered, “What the heck—it’s the weekend. Indulge.” I added a shot of bourbon.

Sunday was similar. Except no walk and no almond milk. Instead I Googled Chase Oaks Church on my phone, connected my device to the television for the April 26th sermon “When Life Seems Out of Control,” and sipped my coffee. Black. With Bourbon. Dear Lord, please don’t judge. We are amid a pandemic.

Monday rolled around. I walked again. I re-entered my home. Damn that coffee. After a weekend expedition for groceries, I had cream once more. I give up. I’m keeping up my walks—thirty minutes a day is my minimum. If it’s cool enough, forty-five minutes to an hour. Fewer carbs. More self-control. That’s my plan.

And so I quit drinking coffee—for a day. A pandemic calls for comforts, I decided. I’m okay with changing my mind.

I look forward to A 2nd Cup, 1111 E. 11th Street, Houston, Texas.

Courage, Honesty, and My Grandmother’s Pearls

Recently I told wrote a story and later realized—There’s no way that’s true. Honestly, I believe my Grandma convicted me from on high.

My mother has Alzheimer’s, and do you know how often I wish I could ask her a question? Do you remember a time, let’s say, in your twenties, when you were all consumed and your mother told you something, maybe even something important, and you have no recollection of it at all? The older I become, the more I need help filling my own memory gaps, and my mom can’t help me anymore. I just have to trust myself.

It’s about my grandmother’s pearls. At some point in the 90s, I can’t pinpoint when, my mother gave me a box of costume jewelry including a strand of real pearls. Did it come from her mother, my Grandma? Or did it come from my dad’s mom, my Granny? Or was it some sort of combination? I don’t remember, and I don’t think anyone else knows. At some point, I started wearing the pearls and calling them my grandmother’s. It would’ve been true either way, but without knowing for sure, I attached the pearls to Grandma. I don’t know why.

After I told wrote the story, I started thinking.

I’m not so sure that Grandma had pearls, AND she had seven granddaughters. How would I have been selected from my older sister and all my cousins for Grandma’s pearls? I believe my Grandma planted that thought. I don’t know why.

Granny had three granddaughters and a jewelry stash. Suddenly, I realized my pearls belonged to Granny.

But I picture my grandmothers together and smiling down on me. I picture them sharing whatever they have with each other, and so my pearls now represent them both. My Grandma’s dignity and kindness. My Granny’s wisdom and sass.

For the last few years, I’ve picked a word to guide me. In 2018, the word was hope. My house had flooded in a major way, I lived in a hotel for ten months, and I hoped for the best. In 2019, the word was believe. Home again, I believed in better for my son who battles illness and for my entire family. In 2020, I picked two words—honesty and courage. This year I’m writing a memoir, but not without honesty and courage. And I felt convicted to tell you the truth of my grandmothers’ pearls.

Honesty at work. This photo filtered courtesy of Snapchat.