I Have Questions

I don’t wake up everyday with undying faith and a steadfast belief that everything the bible says is true. I don’t even wake up everyday believing 100% of the story of Christ. I have questions I don’t have the answers to.

Last night we had a huge rainstorm and in true Texas style, got 7 inches in a few hours. I sell new homes in a community under construction. First thing this morning, I got a message from an elderly neighbor that her trash can had floated off into one of the retention ponds. She sent me the photo below. What you don’t see, is that it’s at the bottom of a steep, slippery incline and you have to climb over a 7ft pile of sand, a waist high guardrail then scale a makeshift stone wall surrounded by poison ivy and all sorts of undesirables to get down there. It’s amazing the trashcan made it. She had no idea how to retrieve it and neither did I.

On top of that, I was supposed to be getting ready for a contract appointment and I didn’t even know which retention pond it was in- didn’t have the buyers address- and I wondered whether I was even strong enough to lift it out by myself- Not to mention whether I could lift it without actually wadding into the muck myself! Not that I mind getting dirty. I’m not prissy; Just practical. There was 8 hours left in my work day. And another thought-Will there be snakes? Having almost stepped on numerous vipers in my career, let me say, I’m not a fan. The problems were multiple.

So naturally I told her- No problem! I’ll go get it. Not a single ounce of hesitation. I didn’t have a plan. I just knew based on experience that things like this tend to work themselves out. I would answer questions one step at a time on my way down to the water.

Maybe I’ve got this- maybe I don’t. As we say in Texas- I was fixin’ to find out! So I went up the sand, over the fence and down the slippery slope. It really wasn’t that bad. Then I wobble/balanced my way across the stone wall that seemed remarkably stable considering it was held together by nothing but chain link. I concentrated on not tripping on the chain.

On my way across the wall, I imagined falling. Imagined the rocks breaking loose from their binding and us all tumbling down together. I calculated potential physical damage. I made up headlines: “She died face down in a retention pond, while trying to retrieve a trash can.” Topped the list, but I wasn’t concerned; not really. One. Step. At. A. Time.

Finally I was standing before the trash can when I saw the one thing that could have made a difference to my perspective, the thing I was too far away to see before. The thing I hadn’t looked close enough to observe in the photo. The ONE THING that would have boosted my faith in this WHOLE endeavor: A ledge! A foot hold down in the pond just above waters height. It was a perfect step to get down in there and lift the can out without getting in the muck- a miracle! After that it was all down…er.. uphill, across the rocks (that just happened to be the perfect width for her can). Until I was standing at the wall and I pushed her can that fit magically (to the inch) under. It was all good. I put it back in the yard and walked back up the hill to my office to prepare for the rest of my day, thinking about how much simpler that was than I thought it would be.

I know I don’t have all the answers. I know I’m either too close, or too far away to see the ledge. I KNOW- I don’t know! But I’m not worried. It’s all just one step at a time. And I’ll walk down to the waters edge.

Rainbow leaves.

You texted me photos of the “rainbow leaves,” on your campus this morning and suddenly I was there walking with you in your shoes.  With this one photo I realized we achieved for you my own dreams for myself at your age. You walk the leaves for us both sweet girl and every step you take, I will walk with you.

Continue reading “Rainbow leaves.”

Blue or Red

There’s a strange closet in my new house.  It was probably originally meant to be your typical under the stairs closet, but somewhere in 50 years and 9 owners it morphed.  Someone put a phone jack in there and changed the door to a divided light glass door, not unlike what you see in an old phone booth.  Then in the back, there’s  wood paneling and an extra half door where the closet wraps around; At first glance looks like a fancy child’s lemonade stand.

Being fond of quirky details myself, I decided to go with it.  I bought an old fashioned rotary style pay phone, and agonized over whether to paint the door Superman red or Doctor Who blue. I couldn’t decide, so I enlisted my facebook friends in the great debate and a search for enlightenment.  That didn’t help at all.  It was a pretty even split. Half wanted red, half blue.  The folks who wanted red said there wasn’t enough blue in my living room (there is actually tons of it) and the folks who wanted blue, felt the red was too strong a statement. There were all manners of opinions.  Interest in what color I chose peaked to a level usually reserved for a birth announcements, chronic illness, or a death in the family.

At the same time, world news was bleak; particularly in my home state of Texas. News outlets featured the growing migrant crisis and spotlighted parents and children being separated at the border, possibly to never be reunited again, or only after long anguishing waits and lots of trauma.  The reunification plan seemed sketchy. So while I was trying to decide whether to paint my closet red or blue, my Republican and Democrat friends yelled at each other back and forth across facebook.  I dredged through articles trying to find as much information on a unification plan as possible and found nothing.  As usual the feds are scratching their heads,  and the yelling escalated.

I had two cans of paint. Red and Blue.

Sometimes there just is no right answer.  Should it be red or blue? Am I red or blue?  Do I have to choose? Is it possible they could both be right, or both wrong in different ways and if we choose just one, we miss something vital the other could provide.  A bit of light perhaps, a different perspective only one could bring.

So I was silent while I thought about this choice.  Friends I saw kept asking me what color I chose and I hesitated to respond because the debate in my heart had turned from a simple choice of color, to something more meaningful. The cheerful unveiling and detailed photos I thought I would do ended up being half hearted and unenthusiastic.  I sometimes have a hard time sharing things close to my heart. The decision fell flat to my own ears, not because there wasn’t enough to say about it, but because there was too much.

So apologies for my long awaited explanation. Here it is.

I painted my door both colors.

I would have never been comfortable with just red or just blue. Friends, this is isn’t team sports.  It isn’t boys against girls, or gays against Christians.  It isn’t team red, against team blue. Black or white. Those of you who have chosen the polarization of your perspectives standing 100% behind an extreme party (and that’s all you’ll get as red, or blue) sound completely insane.  I won’t choose one.

No sane person believes in abortion up to 8.5 months. No sane person thinks ANYONE should be able to own a AR15, or that healthcare should be completely privatized, OR subsidized. No sane person accuses a racist, while spouting racist remarks.  Yet pick a party, then raise your hand because you are guilty. You are either guilty of hate, or hopelessness and apathy. You’re allowing this to happen.

So while the world was fighting, I quietly slid one coat of paint after another over my door and thought about this.  Today the inside is red and the outside is blue. I love it.  Both colors bring value to my home in different ways.  I hope you like it too.



The Brussel Sprout Debacle

Once when I was a kid my mom tried to cook vegetables.  Suddenly pots full of brussel sprouts, broccoli and other foul greens appeared in our kitchen on the regular.  Thus began my earliest lessons in tragedy, ingenuity, manipulation and the importance of giving to the poor.  I was the middle child of three sisters.  Before the brussel sprout debacle (as it came to be known), we were just three kids at the dinner table, alone in our individual battle to survive and earn the right through struggle and triumph to leave the table before either poisoning ourselves, or growing old.   Things hadn’t reached a point so intolerable that we were forced to conceive of revolt yet.  But like many significant battles in history, when the misery of a province reaches climactic levels, rebellion is born.  That’s what happened at our home.

In hindsight, I think it started when grandmother was diagnosed with cancer.  All the sudden mom became aware of the importance of green leafy vegetables in our diet.  Items none of us had ever considered edible suddenly appeared on our dinner table and the battle of wills came into play, pitting parent against child.  Mom was never the best cook to begin with, so the first time she forced brussel sprouts on us is etched in my psyche vividly and with detail, as are other tragic memories like 9/11, or when we had to put our first cat Jenny to sleep.

The horror began one night as I was waiting at the table impatiently for dinner to be served. I recall swinging my short legs back and forth in mid air to distract myself from my growling stomach, but everything after that is blurry and trauma ridden.   What I do remember, is that we were completely shocked when mother put brussel sprouts in front of us and actually insisted we eat them.   At first we didn’t believe she could possibly be serious.  Then after we had eaten everything else on our plate and she still refused to let us leave the table without finishing them, we thought, “She might be serious right now, but if we sit here long enough, she will eventually see how unreasonable this is”.  We were wrong.  That first night after hours and hours of sitting there not eating, I semi-vomited trying to choke one of the nasty beasts down. Not wanting to clean up vomit, this seemed to do the trick and were excused from the table.  We had escaped!

The next day was worse though. My dad, a military man and a fine example of all that entailed commanded a level of respect from us that stopped just short of terror. If he said we had to eat nasty stinkin vegetables, or a pile of steaming poop, the correct response was, “Yes sir”.   But what he didn’t understand was, by this point, the only thing we were more afraid of than him, were brussel sprouts.  We weren’t going to eat that crap under any circumstance. No amount of threatening us would work this time.  So he yelled and threatened to no avail and in the end, the folks decided to wait us out.  Once again, we were told under no circumstances would we be leaving the table EVER, until we finished our vegetables.  Puking was not an option this time; But since dinner was at 6:00 and my mom liked to go to bed early, we still believed we could win.  The three of us got comfortable and prepared to wait them out and hours ticket by.  Long after they had left the table we were still there, trying in vain to entertain ourselves until the ordeal was over.   Finally when we couldn’t take it anymore, we begged for mercy.  They ignored us.  They threatened us, we ignored them.  Then night fell.    Bed time came and went and finally, angry and emotionally spent, our battle weary parents called a temporary truce.   “Don’t think this means you won!” we were told.  “Dinner will be wrapped and put into the refrigerator with your names on it for dinner tomorrow night! Blah blah (insert various grumbles all ending in “wasting perfectly good food!”)

On the third day, as promised, the brussel sprouts were reheated and shoved in front of us.  By this time, they no longer resembled anything eatable.  In addition to our original leftovers, our dinner now included creative attempts at disguising their horrendous taste.  My big sister Julie tried grape Jelly.  Mine had been drown in ketchup and now resembled rotting intestines. My entire plate looked like a miniature murder scene.  There was no way I was going to eat it.   I was pretty sure I would die.

Out of desperation, mom tried another tactic.  Calculating, she turned to my 4 year old little sister Carrie and went in for the kill.  Mother passionately explained that in a country far away called Ethiopia children were starving to death every day.  Those children would love to get just one bite of our dinner; It would save their lives.   In fact if we didn’t eat it right this second, she might just pack it up and send it to them.  How would we feel then?  Then we would be the poor unfortunate starving children, with distended belly’s and flies on our faces, who likely wouldn’t live to see their eighth birthday’s; We would be that hungry.  How would we like that then?   My sister Carrie was notoriously trusting.  She once traded Julie 10 penny’s for a silver dollar, because 5 was more than 1.  Julie told her so.  Moms story horrified her.  She didn’t want the starving Ethiopians to get her dinner.  The impact of this situation sent my brain reeling.  There were too many angles and the ramifications of what mother was saying were huge.  Do you want me to send your dinner to the Ethiopians Carrie?  “Noooooooo!”  My sister wailed panic stricken.   “Then you better eat it now,” mom said,  “Or I’m going to send it off!”

It was a lose, lose situation.   By now Carrie was crying so hard she had the hiccups, (something she got so frequently).   Julie and I looked back and forth between mom and our hiccuping sister like shock victims.   Carrie didn’t want to be the poor starving Ethiopian kid.  She wanted to live.   Slowly, Carrie began moving a fork half full of nastiness to her mouth.  Her dread was so palpable that her chubby little fist shook with fear.   She barely managed to get half a bite onto the tip of her tongue before she started gagging.  By this time snot had mixed with the tears of desperation on her face and doom was closing in on all sides.    I was so frozen in horror that for a second my wits had completely escaped me.  But Carrie’s gagging sent me into a flurry of quick thinking, analyzing the situation desperately for an escape route.

Finally, it dawned on me, nothing could possibly be worse than this;  and besides, exactly how bad WAS their proposal?  My parents wouldn’t really let us starve.  Doesn’t the bible have some sort of insurance policy against that?  So this arrangement with Ethiopia could be a good thing.  If we sent our food to them we would be rid of it and on top of that, we would save a kid who would be incredibly grateful, for just one taste of this nastyness.  So it was a win, win situation for everyone involved!  Hope surged in my heart.  “Stop Carrie!” I yelled, “You don’t have to eat it!”  I knew I had to explain quickly before it was too late.  “Don’t you get it?!” I pleaded.  Beseeching God, my parents and the universe, I told my sisters,  “If they send our food to Ethiopia, we won’t have to eat it and some kid there won’t have to starve!  This isn’t a bad thing at all!”   Julie’s face still registered shock.  Slowly understanding dawned.  Carrie looked back from me to mom, not quite daring to believe it yet.   Julie nodded her head encouragingly.  My mother, just seconds away from victory moments before, had suddenly become a blank slate.  I was so excited by the prospect that I was halfway to the garage to select a box for shipping before my mom yelled ” Ursula, STOP IT!”

I froze in my tracks confused.  Silence loomed.  In one exasperated syllable mother yelled at the top of her lungs in utter exasperation,  “Everyone go get in bed!  SCAT!!  All three of you!  If you aren’t going to eat, you can all go to bed hungry!   We were confused at the sudden change in our plight, but freedom had just presented itself to us and we weren’t going to question it.  The Ethiopians would just have to wait for our next nasty meal.  We scrambled like cockroaches when the light turns on.

At that time, the three of us shared two twin beds that were pushed together and that night we cuddled close to each other.   We were no longer alone.  The brussel sprout debacle had united us as allies fighting the same cause.  From then on, we were the little girl version of the Three Musketeers.  All for one and one for all.

Brussels sprouts never returned to our dinner table, but their memory lingered.  Other vegetables that were previously major taste offenders, now seemed weak in comparison and Julie soon devised a sneaky solution to their quick disposal and became my instant hero with a plan to hide all sorts of nasty foods in the bottom of a glass of milk, or in a wadded up napkin.  The devious survival instinct Julie displayed on a daily basis had Carrie and I blinded by her brilliance.   She became the smartest person I knew.  I wanted to be just like her.


Love Story

Two statues at the Villa dei Papiri, in Herculaneum have fallen in love. While Hermes may look like he is at rest it is all a façade, as he’s really just staring at the floor in an effort to look less obvious of just how aware of her presence he is. The “her” plaguing his stream of consciousness is the bronze “Woman With Water Jug” who is balancing her burden on her shoulder with the oh so sexy, aloof expression proper of such an expensive hunk of feminine metal. At night when the clip clop of the museum curator’s high heel pumps have gone home to her empty apartment and a can of cold beans, the air between the two becomes so quiet, it is loud.

In fact if it wasn’t for the uninhibited revelry of the drunken satyr (sculpted wearing only a lion skin) the tension between the two icons might have brought the decades old figures to a breaking point years ago. As it is, the rate of decomposition imposed by the lovers maddening inability to move from their current positions upon the dais, toward consummation, has created a whole new category of metal disease baffling the resident scientists who study such occurrences. This new and unspecified deterioration, recently captured the attention of world famous scientist Otto Droselemier, who himself admits to being baffled. The corruption witnessed within the two statues and has done more damage in 10 years, than the ravaging fires of Pompei and centuries of atmospheric degradation combined and all within the seemingly safe walls of Villa dei Papiri.

Other unusual events have occurred around the statues as well. It has been speculated that those who come within close proximity to the statues have sometimes been found to exhibit strange behavior. Cleaning lady Esperanza Morales happened to be mopping near the statues one night when she glanced up at “Woman With Water Jug”. Morales reported she was instantly filled with intense longing for head maintenance supervisor and widower Edgar Gonzalez, whom Esperanza had worked with for 15 years and barely spoken a word to. The two recently announced plans to marry in late October and have requested the right to hold the ceremony at the Villa dei Papiri at the feet of Lady With Water Jug to whom they credit their love.

Others have come forward with similar stories regarding the two statues.

New Girl Remembers

They are all just standing there separate, but together. No one is talking or smiling, nor do they make eye contact with each other. It reminds me of people in an elevator. Only this is a bus stop. And it is almost January. And these same boys have been standing together 5 months now trying not to make eye contact each morning before school.

I walk slowly hoping to look casual. I am the new girl. It wouldn’t do for me to start laughing out loud to myself so early in the game. But the ridiculousness of the situation, the phobic shyness of the group seemed comic, so that by the time I got there a smirk was twisting the corners of my mouth.

There was about 8 of them. All boys, all kind of nerdy in that scrawny, pimply face, adolescent kind of way. They were not expecting me of course.

“So,” I ask the group as if they are one, “Why does everyone look like they are going to a funeral?” The looks on their faces tell me I have broached a code of ethics; the unspoken silent rule. But I will start laughing for sure if I think of that. So I plop myself down on the curb, breathe an exasperated sigh and continue, “Anyone have a light?” of course they don’t, but at least everyone looks awake now. I am a bug under a microscope. I shuffle through my backpack, pull out a book of matches and start working on getting my cigarette lighted.

Finally, victory is mine, I take a long drag, inhaling the situation, then stand up, turn around, straighten my jacket and face the group. “It really isn’t that hard ya know. I am Ursula and you are undoubtedly starving for some entertainment. Which I will gladly provide myself by making fun of each one of you in turn, unless you at least introduce yourselves to me and each other, starting now.” I turn toward the bravest looking one of the bunch and start there.

Three months later they are talking to each other and laughing as I drive by the bus stop, a passenger in my moms car, on my way to yet another new high school hell.  For a second I feel gladness in my heart, a sense of victory knowing that they are no longer standing there pretending not to see each other. They will be friends now, even though I’m gone. And I’ll once again be the new girl, only this time, somewhere else.

In order to take our writing to the next level we must embrace our strange, unique, and often embarrassing selves and write about the things that really matter to us. We need to be willing to peel our own layers back until we reach that tender, raw, voiceless place—the place where our crunchiest stories come from. We need to get some skin in the game. It should cost us something emotionally to tell our stories. But many of us who come to writing do so because they were voiceless at some point in their lives, so doing that can be the most terrifying risk of all.- Robin Lafever


Bread Pudding Frustration

The dogs got out again today and everything I did seemed to go wrong. The last words I said to my middle child before she fell asleep were angry.

So here I am, staring at the computer screen. All the incessant noise, meaningless activity, pointless stress, and the hum of my brain on overdrive have me running at the first available opportunity to solitude and a place where I can siphon the nonsense. If I review the day, one event at a time, perhaps I can find where things went wrong a devise the secret recipe for life.  Maybe I’ll find the shiny coin in the bread pudding; that piece of meaning that somehow makes all this seem worth it.

Only now all I can think of is how many times I went through bowl after bowl of that crap and never found anything. Or if I did I held it up to the light only to find that the prize was really only some cheap estimation of something cool and really wasn’t worth all crap I had to swallow to find it.

Mary vs Russia

When she was a child my daughter Maryrose wanted to go to Russia more than anything. When asked why, she said, “Because there are castles with spires and Anastasia was born there. Also, there’s a couple perfectly preserved dead guys in glass cases. Very cool.” So Russia went from being #5 on the list of places I wanted to visit, to #1. Funny how we feel our children’s desires more acutely than our own.  At the time I didn’t know if I would ever be able to afford to take her there, but I made it a secret goal. That Christmas I bought her a music box just like the one Anastasia had in the cartoon. It was a gift for her yes, but it also served as a visual reminder of my goal. 

Years passed and she grew up, and in a few short years,  Anastasia wasn’t the princess who lived after all. The fairy tale was just that. By the time I could afford to take my children anywhere, Russia had taken second place to Ireland in her dreams. Ireland, the land of our ancestors and where her red hair originated. So to Ireland we went. A fulfillment of a long ago promise to show my children the world.

When I was a child Africa was the place I dreamed of. I fantasized about giraffes, riding elephants and dancing with the Swahili. None of that is tempting today.  There are too many other places to go first; Places on their lists. Looking back now, I understand, being a mom is a sort of melting process. I flowed out into my children. I melted into them, so that I can no longer tell where they end and I begin. They are me and I am them. If they weren’t a part of my life, as hard as that is to imagine, would Africa, still be my #1, or has time, as much as children changed me also?

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