Seven Beliefs for Seven Decades

On an icy Oklahoma day fifty Decembers ago, I surprised my parents with my missing malehood. No one had seemed to consider that I might be a girl, and I would be named David like my dad with no contingency for a daughter. Following my birth and my mother’s subsequent emergency hysterectomy, the hospital window—obscured with crystals of glistening snow and a valance of shimmering icicles—captivated and inspired my parents. I would be the Crystal that melted their hearts.

I suppose I’ve been more reflective as I wind down my forty-ninth year. I was born December 30, 1969. Hard to believe that my time on this spinning blue ball spans seven different decades—the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, ‘00s, ‘10s, now into the ‘20s. Fifty years later, I ponder how many more? I consider my friends who have leveled up to the big five-oh before me with varying levels of acceptance. I remember my friends and their significant others who have passed on too young and too soon.

As for me, I still feel the same as that little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. Do you know her? When she was good, she was very, very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid. The baby of my family AKA the baby princess. Spoiled. Pouty. Ornery—disguised as sweet and shy.

I still feel like that teenager I once was and the twenty-, the thirty-, the forty-something, just with more experience, more compassion, and a little more fat.

What’s not to like about another year of life? A new decade? A brand new era? So many bucket list items, so many things to do, people to see, places to go, and the blue ball spins on.

At fifty years, nothing surprises me anymore. Truth is stranger than fiction. I’ve learned you can’t predict the future or plan for everything, not without disappointments anyway. Life delivers cruel and unexpected blows, mistakes and heartbreaks and devastating losses with love and joy in the midst. Life delivers inevitable bad and sad—illness, death, and natural disasters with something good in every day. There might be someone living with you and unable to care for himself, someone who hears voices in his head and screams at them, someone who slams doors in your house and causes your dogs to run and hide. There will always be people who don’t meet your expectations, people who don’t do things the same way you would, and so many situations outside of your control. Necessary changes don’t come quick or easy. Some need professional help.

At fifty years, I’ve learned to focus on the good, on the love, on the joy. This focus doesn’t make the bad and sad go away, it just makes the bad and sad tolerable. I notice my sad and frustrated, hateful and angry thoughts spawn more of the same. And I notice that happy thoughts do, too. Beside me now, I have two little black dogs with waggity tails and so much love in their deep brown eyes. These are a few of my favorite things. *Cue Julie Andrews. You know what else I love? Deep thoughts…

Seven Beliefs for Seven Decades:

The ‘60s: “And though she be but little, she is fierce” (William Shakespeare).

The ‘70s: “Do the best you can. Then when you know better, do better” (Maya Angelou).

The ‘80s: “Crystal, you can choose your attitude” (Dad).

The ‘90s: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget the way you made them feel” (Maya Angelou).

The ‘00s: “Above all, love each other deeply because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

The ‘10s: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind”  (2 Timothy 1:7).

The ‘20s: “Stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it” (Frank McCourt).

Numbers are just numbers, and who knows when your number is up? And so I try—to live life with an abundance of love and adventure and joy. Carpe Diem, as they say, and Happy Birthday to me! I feel privileged and blessed, thankful and hopeful, and just really happy to be here.

iCANFLY

When I stepped into the wind tunnel from the safety of the doorway, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and survival.* I said a little prayer with faith and gratitude for peace and hope. At home on my laptop, I had skimmed a release of liability and waiver of legal rights and acknowledged that indoor skydiving can be HAZARDOUS AND INVOLVES THE RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY/DEATH and signed the electronic copy. Then I hopped in my car and drove to Austin for some girl time and a sleepover with two of my elementary school besties.

Pamela, Denise, and I arrived at the iFly in leggings, t-shirts, and tennis shoes before receiving our flight suits, ear plugs, and helmets. During the safety debrief with our instructor Drew, we learned the basics of maintaining a stable flight position, sort of like assuming the airport security position, hands above your head, elbows bent, except with fingers spread strong, feet further than shoulder width, and pelvis forward with a slight arch to the back and a bend in the knee. Drew said, “Tilt your hands to the right to fly right,” while demonstrating with his hands. “Left to fly left.” He tilted his head back, “Chin up to fly up,” and then dropped his head toward his chest, “chin down to fly down.” He straightened his arms to Superman position and said, “Extend your arms to fly forward.” I forget what he said about flying backward, but it didn’t really matter. I was ready.

Denise, my friend since age 5, Pamela, my friend since 5th grade, and me.

I stepped up to the doorway and gently leaned into the wind. There was no jumping or falling. Just a sense of peace, floating in the air with an instructor by my side and a second instructor observing, coaching, and manning the camera from outside the wind tunnel. I never once feared for my life. None of us crashed into the wall or fell to our doom. Once back on solid ground, Drew gave me a high five and an enthusiastic, “You’ve never done this before? You were amazing!”

And I felt amazing. Little kids were suited up and waiting to fly after the three of us, and I thought to myself, Sometimes you need childlike faith.

Even before iFly, Pamela and Denise concocted a 50th birthday plan to actually jump out of an airplane with a parachute. Skydiving wasn’t exactly on my bucket list…

Until now…

Now I might just join them, and maybe one day I’ll finish this one…

When I stepped into the clear blue sky from the safety of the airplane, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and survival…*

*This post inspired by S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, “When I stepped into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”

It Is Well with My Soul

Thanksgiving Episode I

I’m on a two-week church streak. Since moving to Houston in 2016 and leaving behind my seemingly irreplaceable Chase Oaks in Dallas, well, let’s just say I sort of slipped off the church wagon. I visited here and there, and in a city the size of Houston, it’s weird that I couldn’t find a place that felt like home. Eventually, I gave up and just lived in sin.

(Ha Ha! I kid. We’re all sinners and by that I mean imperfect. But I keep trying to be a better human anyway.)

Two Sundays ago, I found myself at the Methodist church in my Oklahoma panhandle hometown. Olivia, my five-year-old great niece, was singing in the children’s choir, and well, I couldn’t miss that. Their song went something like this, “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings for what the Lord has done.” And I did. While the kids sang, I counted my blessings.

  1. Seeing my sweet mother again.
  2. Hearing my mom say, “I love you,” to me one more time.
  3. Seeing and hearing Olivia’s performance and gleaning a jewel of wisdom.
  4. The opportunity for some time off of work to spend time with my family.
  5. A safe solo trip to the panhandle.
  6. My three-year-old niece Allyson, playing hide and seek with me in the next pew.
  7. My last class of my 12-week, long-term sub job, where we had a round of Show and Tell, and Jennissa and Neicko brought down the house with their own rendition of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s duet “Shallow” from A Star Is Born.

I could’ve continued counting, but I zoned back into the service in time for the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul,” which led into the sermon and the backstory of the song writer Horatio Spafford. A lawyer from Chicago, in 1871 Spafford’s four-year-old son died of Scarlet fever and the Great Fire destroyed his real estate investment and ruined him financially. Two years later his wife and four daughters headed to Europe on vacation, where he planned to later join them, and their ship the S.S. Ville du Havre sank in the Atlantic Ocean. His wife’s telegram read, “Saved alone.” Their four daughters had drowned. He wrote “It Is Well With My Soul” on his journey to England to meet his wife while passing near the spot where the ship went down. In the face of more tragedy than the average person could bear, Spafford’s soul was well. Mid-blessing count, my soul is well, too.

Click here for Episode 2.

How’s Your Day?

It’s Monday again, and this past week I just couldn’t shake last Monday’s lunch conversation. As I sat down with my leftovers, a young and adorable first-year teacher asked me and another twenty-something in his fifth year, “How’s your day?”

“Good,” I said, nodding my head up and down, no details to offer.

“Great!” said our other co-worker at the table. “Monday’s my jam. It’s my second favorite day of the week.”

Young and adorable laughed out loud, and so did I. “Why?” she asked.

“Well, Friday is my favorite obviously, and the weekends don’t count. Monday is a brand new beginning.”

“I love that. I’ve never thought of it that way before,” she said.

“Right? So many people hate Mondays,” I chimed in.

“Thursday is the pre-Friday,” he continued justifying the goodness of the other days. “And Wednesday, you’re halfway there. The only one I have a beef with is Tuesday.”

“My dad always said, ‘You can choose your attitude.’ I believe you’re onto something, Mr. B. I’m going to spread the word.”

Anyway, that’s it—I’m spreading the word. Monday, any day, life. It’s all a matter of perspective, and I’m thankful for my co-workers and their good energy. How’s your day?

The First Time I Fell in Love

The first time I fell in love, I was five—and I fell in love with a monster. The Monster at the End of This Book starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover. The illustrated Grover would read the title page, and when I turned the page, he would freak out in all caps:

“WHAT DID THAT SAY? On the first page what did that say? Did that say there will be a Monster at the end of this book??? IT DID? Oh, I am so scared of Monsters!!!”

Overcome with fear, Grover would muster the strength to politely ask me not to turn the page, which of course, I did. I knew Grover’s words by heart, and in my five-year-old mind, my impersonation of his Sesame Street voice was spot-on. I flipped pages as he tied them together with rope, nailed one page to the next, built a brick wall, and BEGGED me to stop turning pages. In the end Grover finds himself at the end of the book. He. Is. The Monster. And this Little Golden Book taught me some important life lessons.

Lessons from Grover: Labels lead to misunderstandings, and even monsters can be furry and lovable. Fear can be crippling, and more often than not, outcomes don’t turn out as bad as the build-up in your head.

Photo courtesy of listal.com, The Monster at the End of This Book was written by Jon Stone and illustrated by Michael Smollin.

I suppose my love of a good story started here with Grover, and I suppose that same love compelled me back to school to become an English teacher. I suppose this love is why I’ve spent the last twenty years in the classroom, and I suppose it compels me now to write stories of my own. And most of all, I suppose I owe the lovable, furry old Grover a huge debt of gratitude for forever changing my life.

Where I’m From

For so many years, my students have studied and discussed George Ella Lyons poem, “Where I’m From” and then written their own.

So many years later, I wrote mine.

Where I’m From

I am from wide open spaces,
from endless horizons and Oklahoma skies.
I am from dancing lessons on Main Street.
(Pirouettes and plies
and a shuffle ball change,
it felt like Broadway.)
I am from faith and gratitude, peace and hope.

I’m from banana bread and books,
from Sharon and David.
I’m from “Treat people how you want to be treated”
and “Participate.”
I’m from “I can do all things
through Christ who strengthens me” and
“When you know better,
you do better.”

I’m from Ada and George, Catherine and Ed,
many more books and second-hand shopping.
From lifelong friendships
and hometown happenings,
hard work and hellos.
From mistakes and heartaches
and forgiveness.

Turned pages of my history
bookmarked to guide me
through the next chapters of
my unwritten future.

Welcome to Houston!

The morning of August 27 began with two feet of water inside and out of my house. That was two years ago, but the memory is unforgettable. (You can read my first ever blog post about our Hurricane Harvey evacuation by clicking here.)

When I meet Houston locals and reveal my fairly recent relocation, the conversation usually goes something like, “How do you like Houston?”

“Well, we made it here just in time to flood and lived in a La Quinta for ten months.”

“Oh, Man! I’m sorry to hear that. Welcome to Houston!”

I always exhale that monosyllabic Ha! “I know, right? Thank you. It’s okay. Other than that, I really like Houston, except I do miss my friends. We were in Dallas for over twenty years.”

Anyway, if I’ve ever given Houston a bad rap, today I count my blessings. Welcome to Houston!

Silence by Moriah Alise

While living in the La Quinta, Kody and I dined out for almost every meal, often eating at restaurant bars, making friends, and changing up the conversation. In this way we met Moriah Alise, an up-and-coming, young local artist/former high school art teacher with the drive and determination to open her own District Art Gallery. Moriah invited us to her gallery opening, and her artwork Silence spoke to us. I needed the calm, and I feel blessed to know Moriah and share this piece of her [he]art. Did I say we brought it home? (Well, technically many months later when we finally moved home again).

While returning to District Art Gallery, we’ve enjoyed getting to know another top nationally-known emerging artist, Shawn Artis. All of his pieces have stories, he’s a storyteller, and the one above spoke to me.

Elevation 80 ft., Houston is the most populous city in the state of Texas and the fourth largest in the United States. We have a large and growing international population, a Chinatown, a Mahatma Gandhi district, and an estimated 1.1 million residents born outside of the USA. Houston is a cosmopolitan destination with world-class shopping and award-winning dining at every turn, and there’s always something to do, even for free (Wikipedia and me).

This is the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. I probably stumbled across a photo on Instagram one day and then Googled with intrigue. For followers of Hinduism, the Mandir is a place of worship and prayer and a house of God. No matter your views, you will feel His LOVE and ACCEPTANCE, PEACE and HOPE in this place.

McGovern Centennial Gardens, Hermann Park, Photo Cred Texas Monthly

Welcome to Hermann Park Conservancy, Houston’s 445-acre urban park, situated at the end of the Museum District. This past spring, I chaperoned around 400 high school students here for a day of freedom and a break from school at the park. You might think that would be a problem, but everyone made it back to the busses on time and unscathed. Our kids explored the Houston Zoo, Miller Outdoor Theatre, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The Hermann Park Golf Course is right there, too. Then there’s a reflection pool and a recreational lake with pedal boat rentals and a train and picnic areas and statues and walkways and gardens galore. You can kill a whole day here, no problem (Wikipedia and me).

Then there was that time when my Alma Mater’s symphony came to Houston. I’m a sucker for the symphony, a blessing indeed.

And there was that time when the Indigo Girls came to town and the Houston Symphony accompanied. Um, WOW, and I may or may not have almost been kicked out for not-so-covert, banned recordings.

And speaking of concerts, we attended a couple of more this year. Matt Heckler is a banjo/fiddle-playing genius, who opened for the Lost Dog Street Band in an intimate, standing room only venue upstairs at White Oak Music Hall on Mother’s Day. We returned to the White Oak lawn for Texas songwriter Shakey Graves just a few nights ago, and what a performance! If you don’t know these guys, give them a Google or click here for Matt and here for Shakey.

Then there’s the theatre: high school, college, or professional musical theatre. So many performances, so little time.

So I love the arts. One of my all time favorite outings here in H-town includes feeding my soul at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. ProTip: Thursdays are free. (Oh, and photo cred to Wikipedia for museum façade below).

My friend Misti accompanied me to Van Gogh earlier this summer, and it was amazing, but crowded as the exhibition was grinding to a halt. Now I know. Don’t wait. Go early. Besides Misti and I had a mini-road trip planned to Galveston, just an hour from Houston for beaches, relaxation, more feeding of the soul, and Mexican food for our stomachs.

Then there are professional sports, which I don’t really do, but we have the Astros and Texans and Rockets and Dynamo. And there’s the rodeo, which is sort of a big deal with big name concerts every night for the month of March. Tickets are already on sale for 2020. And there’s NASA, maybe I’ll check that out one day.

It’s the morning of August 27, and today I’m thankful for so much. Welcome to Houston!