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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
I try not to think too hard about my blog statistics, but sometimes they amaze the heck out of me. Today the blog passed 5000 views for the year, more than 1000 over my entire 2018. I just wanted to say thank you to anyone who has stopped by to give me a chance and to those of you who continue to return and for the writing support and for the friendships made. All of this means much more than the stats and much more than you know.
A List of Praises
by Anne Porter
Give praise with the psalms that tell the trees to sing, Give praise with the Gospel choirs in the storefront churches, Mad with the joy of the Sabbath, Give praise with the babble of infants, who wake with the sun, Give praise with children chanting their skip-rope rhymes, A poetry not in books, a vagrant mischievous poetry living wild on the Streets through generations of children.
Give praise with the sound of the milk-train far away With its mutter of wheels and long-drawn-out sweet whistle As it speeds through the fields of sleep at three in the morning, Give praise with the immense and peaceful sigh Of the wind in the pinewoods, At night give praise with starry silences.
Give praise with the skirling of seagulls And the rattle and flap of sails And gongs of buoys rocked by the sea-swell Out in the shipping-lanes beyond the harbor. Give praise with the humpback whales, Huge in the ocean they sing to one another.
Give praise with the rasp and sizzle of crickets, katydids and cicadas, Give praise with hum of bees, Give praise with the little peepers who live near water. When they fill the marsh with a shimmer of bell-like cries We know that the winter is over.
Give praise with mockingbirds, day’s nightingales. Hour by hour they sing in the crepe myrtle And glossy tulip trees On quiet side streets in southern towns.
Give praise with the rippling speech Of the eider-duck and her ducklings As they paddle their way downstream In the red-gold morning On Restiguche, their cold river, Salmon river, Wilderness river.
Give praise with the whitethroat sparrow. Far, far from the cities, Far even from the towns, With piercing innocence He sings in the spruce-tree tops, Always four notes and four notes only.
Give praise with water, With storms of rain and thunder And the small rains that sparkle as the dry, And the faint floating ocean roar That fills the seaside villages, And the clear brooks that travel down the mountains
And with this poem, a leaf of the vast flood, And with the angels in that other country.
It was July 14, 1975. Up the street, a vacant lot and three houses away lived my friend Jennifer. I was five in 1975, and Jennifer turned five that day, so I walked to her house with a gift in hand to celebrate her birthday. Jennifer’s social calendar was packed for a five-year-old. After her party, she would head across town to another birthday party for a girl I didn’t know. Although the details are fuzzy, I remember crashing that party with Jennifer and meeting the tiny, precious, blonde-haired, hazel-eyed Denise. We would grow up together, sharing classrooms and friends and happenings of the Oklahoma panhandle. Little did I know that one day in the distant future, Denise would forever change my life.
Flash forward to Memorial Day weekend 2008 and our twenty-year high school reunion. When I caught up with Denise for the first time in at least nineteen years, we discovered that we lived within twenty minutes of each other. And guess what? We both needed a friend. One dinner at a time, one text message at a time, over months and months, then years and years, Denise learned all my deep-dark secrets, and I learned hers. We shared our imperfections and struggles, our wins and celebrations, and that’s how the girl I’ve known since age five became my bestie. And OMG, everyone needs a Denise.
Speaking of wins, her 20-year-old son Ryan, a junior on the Baylor Men’s Golf team, won the Texas Amateur golf tournament back in June with Denise caddying and coaching him toward the victory. She coaches kids’ golf, by the way, and teaches private lessons, too. In case you don’t have an extra two minutes to watch this news clip and see AWESOME in motion, my favorite part is when Ryan says, “If I got down on myself, no matter what happened, she would be the one to say, ‘All right, we got this. Let’s just keep on moving forward.'” So many times, Denise has kept me moving forward with a little positivity and a little “we got this.”
In that same news clip, Denise says, “You don’t see very many mothers [caddying], but if anything, I hope I’m encouraging more mothers to get out there.” That’s my Denise, the ultimate encourager. Life’s too short for anyone who brings you down, and I’m so very grateful for my forever friends who lift me up.
It is July 14, 2019, and I’m hopping in the car, driving the four plus hours from Houston to Dallas to crash her party again today. Forty-four years later. I wish Jennifer could crash it, too.
When I stepped into the blue rubber raft from the safety of the river bank, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and surviving (with faith and gratitude, peace and hope). Before the bus ride to our launching site, I had skimmed the release of liability and waiver of legal rights and acknowledged that whitewater rafting can be HAZARDOUS AND INVOLVES THE RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY/DEATH. Then I signed on the line and proceeded to pick up my wetsuit, spray jacket, helmet, and life-preserver.
Colorado’s abundant snowfall last winter through May translates to deeper, faster water and what may have been the best white water rafting season in decades.
Shout out to my brother Scott and his beautiful, adventurous wife Gerri for having a 30th wedding anniversary and a reason to celebrate with friends and family, to Rapid Image Photography for the complimentary photos, and to Zach, Ivan, and Kerrie of Clear Creek Rafting Company for the safety debrief and an adrenaline-fueled float through he Rocky Mountains. No one fell off of the raft. No one died. And the river of life keeps flowing, sometimes with faster, deeper waters and cold splashes in the face, sometimes with the possibility of tipping, relying on your life vest, and swimming to safety.
When I stepped back into my ordinary life from the perfection of vacation, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and surviving (with faith and gratitude, peace and hope).
Happy Independence Day to my American friends! And Happy 4th of July wherever you are!
Even After All this time The Sun never says to the Earth,
“You owe me.”
Look What happens With a love like that, It lights the whole sky.
This post brought to you with gratitude to JoAnn of Midnight Harmony for my second Sunshine Blogger Award nomination. JoAnn is a fellow mental health advocate who blogs about all-things-Florida and reminds me to stop and enjoy the flowers. JoAnn, I’m humbled. Many, many thanks to you for the blogger love and support for my rule-breaking.
In keeping with the theme, enjoy my sun shots and the 14th century wisdom of Hafiz. Ironically it’s raining here as I tap out this post, but I carry the sun with me. I carry it in my heart. “Look what happens with a love like that.”