Ghosts of Christmas Past (and a bunch of pictures, too!)

As in, just recently past. As expected, Christmas came and went in a whirl of activity. Remember how I posted about dreading our trip to Texas? I dragged my feet like the sulkiest toddler in the park. I dithered over getting things ready for our neighbor to take care of the pups. I dawdled over packing. I complained (to myself, silently — thank goodness!) all the way to the airport. I grumped through security. I pouted at the gate.

And guess what?

It was all for nothing! I was so silly about the entire thing, and it turned out to be a great and fun trip. We saw old friends. We laughed. We made memories. I had a really nice, albeit quick, visit with my parents. Even my mom seemed more upbeat than she has in quite a while. The only downer was that my husband got food poisoning on the last day we were in Austin, so we had to delay our trip to Kerrville for a half day. As bad as that was, he bounced back quickly. I was thankful for that! By the time we were preparing to come back home, he was feeling much better.

So, this is just a short post to give the universe a shout-out and say, “Okay, Universe! You were right! It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. And thanks for the memories.”

It was a good Christmas. And even a good New Year’s Day, too. I hope the same is true for all of you guys. I want to close out the post by showing a few of the pictures I grabbed of our tree and other things over the holiday — here and there.

SOME SCENES FROM HOME:

I thought our tree was particularly lovely this year. This is the second or third year we have used colored lights, and I love their soft and gentle glow. I can’t take any credit for the tree, as my daughter and her friend decorated the whole thing for us. I think this made it even more beautiful and special!

I’ve been trying to get in some extra “play time” with my macro lens. And the tree ornaments were willing subjects. My husband and I just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in October, but we have been together for around 28 years. And we have had some of these ornaments almost that long!

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THE TRIP!!

Of course, I had to grab at least one “on the plane” picture. Unfortunately, I had stashed my camera under the seat in front of me. I didn’t want to dig it out, so I had to make do with my phone camera. Still, I think it turned out okay. We left so early that we got to watch the sun rise as we flew across the sky. Pretty special!

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SOME AUSTIN SIGHTS:

We got to visit some of our old haunts in Austin. Weirdly enough, it happened to be raining during most of our visit. We checked the weather before leaving, and the forecast was for temperatures in the mid to upper 60s and sunny weather. That is not what happened AT ALL! We definitely packed all the wrong clothes. But it worked out okay, in the end.

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AND KERRVILLE, TOO!

I think I have mentioned before that my parents live in a small town in the Hill Country. Kerrville has a population somewhere around 23,000 people. I was really proud of myself that I managed to keep up with exercising on this trip. Of course, I ate a lot of terrible things that I would never eat at home. But that’s okay! It was the holidays! And vacation!!

I love to walk all around Kerrville when I visit. In the Summer, my daughter and I stay with my parents for around a month or month and a half. I generally walk every day, either in the early morning or the evening. It was fun to walk my same route on this trip, in the chilly dampness of a winter morning.

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And, really, that’s all I have for this post! I mostly wanted to touch base about our trip and share some pictures. I have thoughts on the New Year, which I hope to share in a post soon. I would like to get back on a more regular posting schedule with this blog in 2019. So I hope to see you guys again soon!

 

The End of Summer

Today is the last day of Summer. Not officially, according to the calendar. And I’m sure the hot weather is going to hang around for a while yet. But, according to the powers-that-be in my daughter’s school system, Summer is kaput. Tomorrow, she starts band camp, and, from there, it’s a quick downhill slide into the school year. It feels like Summer was over before it even began. I am sitting in my parents’ sunny kitchen, frantically typing out this post when I should be doing some last minute packing. In a few hours, my daughter and I will head to the airport, and then, we will wing our way home.

It’s been a good Summer. Busy and full of travel, but also good. I haven’t blogged at all about Maui yet, as I only had a week of downtime in between trips. That week was taken up with appointments and other miscellaneous things that have to happen when one is forced to “adult” for a living. But the Maui trip was a good trip. We reconnected with family we seldom see. We laughed and met new family members, in the form of our new little niece and nephew. We saw spectacular things. We made memories to last a lifetime.

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Kerrville, Texas isn’t nearly as exciting as Maui. I can admit this. There’s not much to see. There’s not much to do. Life is quiet here, and a little bit slow-moving. I don’t think it qualifies as a tourist destination in the least. And yet … There is something about this place that I love. I’m sure it’s not the town, in particular, that captures my heart. It is because my parents live here. But it’s also because I miss my beloved Texas so much. It’s the place where I am from. I don’t know how to explain it any better than that.

It’s not necessarily an easy trip in terms of the personalities involved. My daughter is sometimes snarky, as are most teenagers. She also has a tendency toward sarcasm, which I think she inherited from her father … and, possibly, me. My parents are getting on in years, and they are kind of cranky and grumpy. I honestly don’t know if all elderly people are like this. But my elderly people are. They have aches and pains. And they complain a lot about things they can’t control. News Flash: None of us has control over anything. But I wonder if, maybe, you get to a certain age and you feel like you should have control over at least one little thing in your life. I don’t know. My mom also takes things a little too much to heart at times. She gets offended easily and takes joking as being serious. She has always been this way, but it sometimes makes for a touchy situation at the casa.

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Even so, life is relaxing here. It is calm and peaceful. It is the perfect place to sometimes listen to one’s thoughts and to reconnect with a daughter who is becoming an adult right in front of my eyes. In three years, my daughter will be done with high school. I say the words out loud, and I can’t believe they are true. She will leave me in three years. Guys … that’s not a lot of time. It’s really not.

The weather was overly hot this time, so we didn’t get to walk every evening. But we managed it when we could. And that was okay. My daughter and I laughed and told inside jokes. We hunted Pokemon together. We sat quietly at times, each of us reading at different ends of the kitchen table. We talked about hopes and dreams and fears — you know, the BIG conversations. But we had lots of small conversations, too. We went to the movies together. We played a favorite board game with my mom almost every evening. And we all laughed and teased and got loud and rowdy. In short, we had fun. We made memories.

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I feel bittersweet and nostalgic about the ending of Summer this year. Usually, I am already looking forward in terms of planning the upcoming school year and figuring out how to get everyone into their normal routines and schedules. This year, there hasn’t been any of that. I haven’t looked at school supplies or tried to figure out what my daughter might need to start the new school year. I feel much more chill about that whole aspect. Last year, she didn’t have supply lists until the end of the first week of school. Or, maybe it’s more that I’m in no hurry for any of it to happen. In my heart, I feel like I am hanging on with my last shred of strength and dignity to this beautifully sweet and bitter Summer. My parents are getting older. My dad is 87. My mom is 81. My aunts are both gone. My uncles are both in bad health, and so is my brother. Part of me wonders how many summers I will have left to come here and walk the sidewalks of Kerrville in the evenings and look at the deer and tell jokes with my parents and play Pokemon Go with my daughter. Even though there has been a lot of bitter in with the sweet, today I am looking at the sweet parts of it all and thinking, “Yeah. This is all right.”

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I am heading back to a dirty house and a near future that feels uncertain and a little bit scary because of my husband’s work situation. School is coming. Busy schedules and family drama are coming. Feeling rushed and panicked and like there is too much to do is coming. I hope snow is coming, too. I love snow. And winter. But through it all, I will have my memories from this Texas trip. And the sound of laughter ringing through my imagination. And you know what? I think that is pretty good.

Gone To Texas

I spent the past month or so in my beloved Texas. Overall, I hate traveling. Being an introvert, I especially hate flying; there’s no way you can go through the airport without having to make very close contact with multiple strangers — often while standing around barefoot. There’s something dehumanizing about having to stand around without your shoes, particularly when you haven’t made the conscious decision to do so. Perhaps that’s just my own brand of weirdness. At any rate, I dread traveling, so much so that I tend to have sleepless nights and unsettling dreams for several days before I depart on a trip. For my Texas, though, it’s all worth it.

I live in a huge metropolitan area in the northeastern United States. Everything moves at light speed or faster here. There are almost too many choices around you, and they are shoved in your face all the time. People are not nice. Or, maybe it’s more that people are incredibly self-involved. Everyone is in too much of a hurry, consumed by the act of getting from point A to point B. Life is complicated here. And, sometimes, it’s hard. I know life is hard everywhere. But to me, it feels hard on a different level here, like hard on an emotional or spiritual level. I don’t feel like I have the words to explain it fully, but our life here, as good as it is, can leave me feeling uneasy and dissatisfied. It almost feels like things aren’t real here. Or like I’m not real.

My trip came at just the right time this year. I was at the end of my rope, hanging off the proverbial cliff of life by the very tips of my fingernails. Dealing with a grumpy pre-teen child and a grumpy, stressed-out husband had left me feeling useless and more than a little bit lost. I couldn’t make things better for my husband. I couldn’t make things better for my daughter. I couldn’t manage to write or even sit down and think. I felt like the most useless failure ever; it was as if life itself was closing in around me. I needed things to be quiet and calm. I needed space. I needed my life to shut up for a bit. I even needed the doubts in my own head to take a chill pill and be quiet for a change. I don’t know … Sometimes, you just need to run away.

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I won’t say that my trip was perfect or without its stresses. Because that would be a lie. We spent the first four or five days in San Antonio with my husband’s family for his  younger brother’s wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony, but a bit stressful, as weddings usually are. Even though I’ve known them for a long time, I’ve never been completely at ease with my in-laws. My mother-in-law and I historically have not had the best relationship. She actively hated me for several years and did everything in her power to cause my relationship to fail horribly. In the end, I outlasted her, I guess. She is much kinder to me now, and she loves our daughter so much. I try to look past it, but I’m definitely no saint. I have a hard time with it. I think I’m getting better, though. During this trip, I was able to take a whole day toward the end of the trip to hang out just with my mother-in-law, my mom, and my daughter. It ended up being a really nice day, and I’m glad we did it. Two years ago — or even a year ago — I’m not certain I could have said that or felt that way. It’s nice to realize I’m not the same person I was even a year ago. That, maybe, I’m still growing up a bit.

I went into the trip feeling all kinds of positive about getting a lot of writing done. I felt upbeat and extra creative, and I just knew I was going to be able to break this mental stalemate I’ve had going on for longer than I would like to admit. (Seriously — months and months. It’s so frustrating.) Of course, that didn’t happen. My parents live in a fairly small town, but there is a cafe / book store not too far from their house. I had halfway planned on going there for a bit of writing time every day. Unfortunately, that store is going out of business; it was in the process of being liquidated during my visit, so there was no writing space to be had there. I’m sure I could have gone somewhere else in town — the library or some other restaurant / coffee spot. But I just … didn’t. I’m honestly not sure why. Maybe a mix of things. I doubt I could have gone alone, and having company would have made writing impossible. I felt overwhelmed and shy with the idea of trying to find a new place to go. And I guess I just wasn’t committed enough. I don’t feel like that was the case; I feel like there was a complex mixture of anxiety and avoidance and emotional crap going on. But my husband has told me it all boils down to a lack of commitment; that I just don’t want it badly enough. I don’t know. He knows me pretty well … Maybe he’s right.

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Whatever the case, I decided to try writing at my parents’ house. In retrospect, I don’t know why the heck I did this to myself. I knew, going into it, that it wouldn’t work. Neither of my parents take my writing seriously. They don’t like the type of fiction I write; they aren’t interested in hearing about it or reading it. Overall, I feel my creative aspirations are a bit of a joke to both of them, and always have been. Not that they would admit this out loud, but actions speak volumes. I was a very closeted writer as a kid. I learned, early on, to take the thoughts and ideas that were important to me and hold them close.

My parents — and, in particular, my mom — are pretty high maintenance. My mom talks All The Time. She will talk to me no matter what I’m doing. She talks to me if she sees me with my headphones on, listening to music or watching a movie. She expects me to talk back or answer her questions, which means I constantly have to stop what I’m doing. If she sees me sitting down to work on my computer, she takes that as her cue to get out her own computer so that I can give her lessons. I basically teach her the same five things over and over, which is frustrating. At the same time, I am really proud of her that she is trying to learn something new and that she is actually getting out there onto the internet. I know she is pushing herself way beyond her comfort zone, and that is both a wonderful and a terrifying thing.

I managed to string together a few sentences. It’s not enough to make me feel particularly good about my efforts or to feel that I have managed to break through my hellishly persistent writer’s block. But it’s definitely better than nothing. I did a lot of thinking about my writing — about plots and ideas and characters and where I would like things to go, story-wise. In looking at the positives, I feel this is also important work, even if it doesn’t immediately make me feel as if I have made any progress.

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So, yeah … There are a lot of things I didn’t get done during my trip. But here’s what I did manage to accomplish:

I watched life go by and savored the syrupy slowness of it all. I stood on a bridge and watched the river. I listened to the laughter and joy of the families playing in the shallows. I felt the heat and the sweat of summer, and the simplicity of it made me happy. I watched sunsets. I looked at the clouds and imagined what it would be like to live up there, just build a house in amongst all that solid-looking fluff.  I saw deer meandering through my parents’ neighborhood, so close and so unafraid that I could almost walk right up to them before they decided to dart away. I watched westerns and read books. I played Polly Anna with my mom and daughter. I slept late. I shared old memories with my mom and my daughter, and we made new ones, too. I watched the hummingbirds buzz around my parents’ yard and listened to the cicadas during the heat of the day. I reveled in the feeling of having nothing to do and no particular place where I had to be. I breathed the air and gave myself space for thinking. I laughed every day. I enjoyed my parents. I saw my brother, my aunt and uncles, and my cousins. I hugged and loved them all. I loved how very real the world around me suddenly felt, as if all the cares and worries of my “normal life” had melted away — or, at the very least, faded into the background.

And, my very favorite thing of all … Every evening, in the hour before sunset when the air turned a little cooler, I walked. My daughter came with me, and we walked all around my parents’ town. Down to the river, over by the Catholic Church where we attended Mass every weekend, by the Catholic school, down the main street past restaurants and stores to the library, back through the public square, across to the courthouse, and then home to my parents’ house. We hunted Pokemon every night. We visited our normal PokeStops and fought to take over gyms. My daughter tried to explain the fine points of the game to me, but she ended up deciding I am a bit hopeless at it. I did manage to catch about ten pokemon, though. Mostly, we talked and laughed. And, in the quietest moments, I felt my breath catch in my throat and my heart beat a little bit faster. Because life was good.

The Place That I Come From

When someone mentions “Texas”, there are things that spring to mind. The stuff that “everyone” probably pictures. You know, those things that have become so ingrained with “Texas” in our cultural consciousness that they have, over time, turned into something of a joke.

  • The Big Hair, deserving of capital letters because, really, The Big Hair is an entity in its own right. And something that I, sadly, never managed to master — no matter how hard my mom tried.
  • People who talk too much and laugh too loudly.
  • Cowboy boots, country music, and kicker dancing.
  • Dance halls and bars that are decorated with rusty tin and old license plates. And that smell like old beer and the sawdust that crunches underfoot as you slide across the floor.
  • Impromptu get-togethers around a bonfire or a BBQ grill, with everyone clutching beer-filled red Solo Cups and telling their best tall tales. Getting rowdy and laughing too much.

And, I’m sure, there are many more. Too many to list. Because Texas is like that. It’s bigger than life, twice as loud, and brazenly unashamed of all of this. Basically, the thing that Texas is best at is, simply, being “Texas”.

But, for me, there’s so much more. So many memories and emotions connected with the Texas that lives in my mind and heart.

Like playing under a big sky so blue that it makes your eyes hurt just to look at it. Twisting and turning in a tire swing — an old car tire or, maybe, a tractor tire that some good-hearted adult had hauled up into a tree with a chain. And I would lean back and back and back, listening to the chain creak and watching those spreading branches whirling above me, laughing and hollering with my face turned up to that blue sky, until I didn’t know which way was was up and which was down. It’s like living in another world.

Windmill against a blue sky.

Old cars standing guard over green fields. Maybe they don’t run anymore, but, once, they did. And those memories — the joyful feeling of racing down a dirt road, the wind slapping your face and tangling your hair — remain. It’s what freedom feels like: sweet and pure. And that, alone, is reason enough to keep them.

An old truck, rusting in a field.

The scent of the earth and life around you: fresh, new, and delicately beautiful. I’ll always, always think that this is how the color green must smell.

Field and fence.

The colors of winter: the soft brown-gray of dirt roads, golden grass, and tender blue skies set against the impossibly dark greens of the live oak trees.

Field and tree in winter.

Watching the hills roll out before me. Harsh and unforgiving, with their scrubby brush and spiky yucca plants. And yet, so beautiful in their stark cruelty that it’s hard to look away.

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The creek where I swam as a kid. Jumping into that waiting pool of coolness on a hot summer day was magical. The feeling of the water against my skin, surrounding me like a hug.

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Dogs in trucks: covered in hay and full of happy, slobbery smiles and wagging tails.

My cousin's dog, Dulcie

The peace of ending the day on the front porch, watching the sun set and listening to the crickets while sipping iced tea.

Barbed wire fence at sunset

No matter where I go in my life, no matter where I might lay my head, the Texas of my childhood memories will always be with me. It lives in my heart … the place that I come from.