The Thing About Notebooks

Is they’re ordinary
basic
inexpensive 
collectors of
dreams
disappointments
mileage
scribbles
doodles
facts and figures
A crayon mark 
or two
Sometimes they’re blank 
like a mind can feel
or like a sadness
or a fresh start, 
a new beginning 
with the possibility of an end
or eternity
Sometimes they're a continuation of ideas

The thing about notebooks
the containers of one's soul, 
potential, 
possibility,
is people dismiss them as mere notebooks
without appreciating the fact
that anyone who bothers with a blank page
may never be the same

The thing about notebooks
is the infinite variety in which they’re bound, 
that people want to read them
the ones that are filled fat with words, 
oozing with thought,
seeping with taped in mementos
receipts,
tickets,
love letters
to do lists
notes
a thumbprint
coffee stains
and the magnificence 
of what’s contained in the creator’s mind
somehow finds its way
into the world 
leaving an indelible mark
on those lucky enough to read them
Tuesday, November 30th, 2021

Thanksgiving: Past, Present, and Future

Thanksgiving has always been one of those holidays I look forward to, but I’ve learned to be wary of. I hate disappointment, so I’ve learned not to be too dependent on it. Keep your expectations low and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Thoughts of Thanksgivings Past

First Grade Thanksgiving

Elementary school, first grade, our annual Thanksgiving gathering. Some of us were pilgrims, the other half represented Native Americans. Looking back, this would event would be different today. However, even as a six year old, I didn’t fit in. We weren’t of Native American heritage and we certainly weren’t white. But in first grade, I was a pilgrim. Hmmm…didn’t know much about what to make of that, I just ate the lunch like everyone else.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was part of every Thanksgiving Day early on. We lived in rural Texas. Looking at those kids wrapped up in fur coats watching, or better yet, performing in the parade gave us a little taste of what life was like living in New York City. At the time, we had no idea you probably needed a ton of money to be on the front row, but wow, those floats. And Santa waving at the end. I don’t remember the last time I watched the parade. It’s on one sister’s bucket list and we plan to make it happen. You’re never too old for a parade.

My parents worked hard. When I was in high school, Macy’s parade in the background while I helped make mashed potatoes in the kitchen, I started to see it differently. I’m making the mashed potatoes, but Papa won’t be there for the meal because it’s cotton gin season. If we’re lucky, he’ll show up for leftovers at 9:00 in the evening. Dad is working. Mom is working. We’re going to Nana’s for lunch; those of us who are old enough to help and relatives who aren’t working. Eventually, we set our own date either the weekend before or after to accommodate everyone’s schedules. Some years, it was Shake n’ Bake chicken, mashed potatoes, a can of corn, refrigerated biscuits, and pumpkin pie for lunch. We’ll save Mom a plate when she gets home from her twelve hour shift. Macy’s parade? Maybe for the younger kids. We’ll have turkey at Christmas. Or is this the year we have tamales?

My junior year of undergrad, I transferred to The University of Texas, a good seven hour drive from home. There was no sense in flying home for Thanksgiving only to have to go back a few weeks later. There wasn’t money for it either. With food service down that week, I planned for pizza dinners and trips to convenience stores for sustenance. I made the best of that first friendsgiving with girls from central and south America who studied English at the international school.

One year, a roommate invited me to Thanksgiving dinner with her parents. This was the first time I had the infamous green bean casserole. It was delicious. To me, it seemed like the perfect Normal Rockwell Thanksgiving. We ate off matching china, not styrofoam plates. We sat in a dining room with linens, not Nana’s living room couch. Matching cutlery, no plastic forks. Fancy glasses, not the red Solo cups for our drinks. A buffet table was adorned with desserts so pretty I didn’t want to touch them. Pies, they were full of pies. But I did miss the desserts in the mismatched rectangular Pyrex dishes that cluttered the kitchen.

When we headed back, my roommate thanked me profusely for accompanying her. There was something going on and she didn’t want it to come out on this occasion, thus the invitation. I thanked her profusely for the invitation. I would’ve wound up on the phone for a bit, choking back my words, pretending everything was fine, eating a frozen chicken pot pie and watching TV alone into the wee hours of the night.

I learned to do Thanksgiving on my own for a while, and now, on our own with my family of four. Sometimes we travel to my parents’, sometimes they visit us. There have been Thanksgivings at a Dallas Cowboys game, with friends, with newborns, accompanied with grad school assignments, kicked off with a turkey trot five miler and now with a teen straddling adulthood and tween straddling the teens. Still not quite fitting in, but doing the best we can to be grateful more often than just once day a year.

Thoughts of Thanksgiving Present

I’m grateful for a break. I’ve given up on advocating for a restaurant meal. Not that I don’t enjoy Thanksgiving, but we have so much food. And guess who winds up eating most of the leftovers? This year, I decided to keep quiet and let my husband cook all of the things. It’s his love language. I voted for going out to eat, but he wouldn’t have it. I call our family The Carbdashians. Instead of arguing over which dessert we would bake (I prefer pumpkin pie) I handed the menu over to him, including dessert. I might make Martha Stewart’s pumpkin whoopie pies if the mood strikes. And usually, it doesn’t. I might sign up, last minute for a Turkey Trot, although the hubster warns of rain in the forecast, but that hasn’t stopped me. I’ll stay out of the way and sip on coffee or mimosas. He wants no help in the kitchen, so I’ll do the dishes. All of the dishes because he uses everything we have.

Thoughts of Thanksgiving Future

Who knows how our Thanksgivings will evolve. Maybe the kids will start cooking something. Maybe heating up a can of canned corn. Or following the directions on a box of Shake n’ Bake chicken. Mac ‘n cheese. Maybe they’ll invite friends whose families are hundreds of miles away. Friends will pop in here and there. Maybe no one will need to work, and if they do, we’ll make arrangements to celebrate another time. And maybe some day, we’ll be in New York, bundled up in our winter gear, waving to Santa watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in person.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

A Plan for Spontaneity

My Nana could never keep a surprise. She managed to accidentally slip regarding surprise parties, gifts, events, pretty much anything she was asked to save for later. Most of us inherited her trait, which is why I decided not to say anything to anyone. Then I kept second-guessing myself. Responsible me, who sometimes over-worries, tried to keep it a pure, untainted surprise. Tried being the operative word.

Nosotros

I knew a few weeks ago, Uncle Danny would be visiting Texas. I looked at flights and compared availability with my work schedule. Nothing worked, a given in education. I could get there, but I couldn’t get back home if I flew, the best option compared to an eight hour drive plus pit stops. Three summers have come and gone since we were all together. He’d been back to Texas, but living so far from my hometown, I usually miss out on non-summer visits.

All day Friday, between classes, I mulled around the idea. If I leave right after school-impossible since I had nothing packed-and drive four hours, I can get a hotel and leave early for the second half of the trip. If I go to bed by 9:00-impossible since I decided to make homemade pizza for dinner-I can leave at 4:00 a.m. and still be there at noon-ish. Or maybe I won’t go. I’m accustomed to missing out. This is what I get for choosing to live so far away from family. I’ll catch up with pictures. There’s always Face Time. No big deal.

But it is a big deal. With everything the past year and a half has dumped on us, why not? I decided to go to bed early, despite the tedious dinner I planned on cooking. I wasn’t in bed by 9:00, but I instructed my youngest to pack a bag and get ready for bed. We were on the road by 5:30 the next morning. I turned on my tracking app and kissed the hubster goodbye.

My niece, first place winner in her mountain bike race under 18 age division. 18 miles in the heat!

No one back home knew we were on our way. I got a feel for the family gathering on Saturday after I called my mom. Driving too fast without getting caught and skipping our regular pit stops made the drive seem quicker. Until I was about an hour and a half away, I was doing well with the surprise. However, I wanted to be certain to catch everyone. We have a way of changing plans on whim and I didn’t want to wind up missing them in case they decided to leave early or go visit someone.

One sister, who is always late to everything, (I’m the other one) called me while she was on the road as well. I let her know what we were up to in case anything changed. I tapped into my inner-Nana and “ruined” the surprise. Sensible me said it was for safety purposes. What if something happened on the road?

We arrived at noon-ish, 12:14, actually. I messaged the Keeper of the Secret. The plan was to call, then get on Face Time to say hello to everyone.

I called my mom and without skipping a beat, she said “Where are you? Don’t tell me you’re parked out front.”

What in the world? Did the Keeper of the Secret leak it out?

“Yeah, I wish!” I make small talk and walk towards the entrance to the outdoor patio where everyone has gathered for lunch. Mom shrieks when she sees us and this is the start to one of the most joyful, low-key, family focused weekends since summer. Road trips are standard for summer break, but unplanned weekend road trips are a little extra—everything.

I went outside my comfort zone only to find myself in another one.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

I’ve Got (Too Much) Mail

September 28,2021

I’m working on decluttering my personal inbox. I gave up on my work email. I try not to look at the number of unread or unopened emails. I unsubscribe, but for some reason, it doesn’t work. There are tips and tricks to manage the beast, but that takes more time than I have. I sign up for different kinds of groups (mostly writing), hoping to get inspired. And I do…when I read an entire email. Last week I read through one newsletter and I decided to only choose one of the embedded links. It was about journaling, something I’ve been doing most of my life. There was good information. I saved it. It’s hard not to dig through my digital trash looking for other valuable bits of knowledge I tossed haphazardly. But my brain can only take so much. If that information needs to find me, it will come around. Probably into my inbox.

Spanish à la (Apple) Mode

This afternoon I officially passed on my elementary library Twitter account and set up a new one for my middle school library. It took most of the day to compose my farewell tweet-it’s book fair week and we’ve been busy. I wanted to end my post with “adios amigos” and wound up with “Adoos ambiguities!” I had to save my draft and that’s what welcomed me when I returned. It prompted me to compose short Spanish phrases and let autocorrect fix everything for me.

Here are a few samples:

EnglishSpanishApple Autocorrect
I enjoy going to the movies.Me gusta ir al cine.Me enchants it’s al cone.
You are my friend.Tu eres mi amiga.Ruthie weeks mi amiga.
I need a cup of coffeeNecesito una taza de cafe.Necessity una Taz a de cafe.
Hello, how are you?¿Hola, como estas?Hola, ComicCon estos?
I’m very hungry.Tengo mucha hambre.Tengo muncha ham Bre.
I have a headache.Tengo un dolor de cabeza.Tengo un dolor de caveman.
When will we eat dinner?¿Cuándo cenamos?Chandigarh cenamos?
Happy birthday.Feliz cumpleaños.Felix cumpleaños.
I like to eat pizza.Me gusta comer pizza.Me gusts comer pizza.
Learn Spanish à la Apple Mode!

The things I do to entertain myself. ¡Adoos, ambiguities!

Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021

Which Story Do I Tell?

Of all the tiny stories that make up a day
a week, a month?

Do I tell the one about being unable
to make it to my cousin's funeral,
the one who was like a sister when we were kids
but somehow we grew up and drifted
our separate ways like a dandelion seed
puffed out of someone's wish?

Do I tell the one about how I missed 
first day of school pictures?
The one my husband took that wasn't full
of smiles and eager tween bubbles giddy to meet
friends in person once again?
The one with one less in the picture because
that one is enrolled in the University of Life?

Of all the tiny stories, which one do I tell?

Do I tell the one about the caterpillar in its
terrarium?
The one I caught wriggling and undulating,
pumping its whole body,
hard,
to shake itself loose 
of its old skin for good,
embracing its metamorphosis
instead of fighting it?

Do I tell the one of all the ordinary things
that add up to a melting pot 
of emotions
and reflection 
and trudging along,
embracing changes but dreading them 
at the same time?

Of all the tiny stories, which one gets to fly?

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Road Trip 2020-Corona Style

“Best friends don’t necessarily have to talk every day. They don’t even need to talk for weeks. But when they do, it’s like they never stopped talking.”

Unknown

Last summer, less than a week after visiting family in the Texas Panhandle, my former college roommate called for a chat. We have the sort of friendship where we go long stretches of time without calling each other only to wind up on hours long phone calls to catch up. With social media, we keep up here and there, but it isn’t the same as an actual conversation with periodic interruptions from spouses, kids, or barking dogs.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“Michele!” my giddy self shouts.

Laughter follows and we catch up. This is how we always start. On a whim, she needs a break and wants to visit her sister who happens to live in the same town as my parents. With my husband working from home and the kids old enough to need supervision, but independent enough to keep themselves busy, I accept. A birthday gift from me to me, myself, and I. I’d hang out with my parents again, get more time with my sisters, and have much needed bff time.

It’s a good seven to eight hour drive for me. Coming in from the Houston area, it’s a longer drive for her. We agreed she’d make a pit stop here, we’d have a sleepover, and we’d be on our way in the morning. And off we went, in the 111 degree Texas summer heat, perfect for road tripping. Queen blasting on the radio, we reverted back to our college selves.

It’s so hot!

We were finally taking a proper road trip. We had money, actual real money! Our summers in college meant we went back home and worked a fast food stint so our families wouldn’t drive us crazy. Plus, you know, tuition and books. The summer after our freshman year, we both got jobs on campus working the summer camps for the high school kids. We didn’t have a proper summer vacation because we were broke. We didn’t even own cars. So this is how it feels to go on a summer road trip with a bestie.

We only stopped for bathroom breaks and poked around in a Wal-Mart stocking up on hand sanitizer and snacks. No one ever outgrows road trip snacks. We talked non-stop all the way to our destination. Non. Stop. We laughed so hard we cried and re-lived hilarious memories and stopped cold when we understood things we thought we knew but didn’t know at the time, especially the part about understanding how broke we really were. And here we are.

My sisters have adopted her as a sister as well. We learned more about each other on that trip, things we thought we already knew. Deeper insights, but with more maturity. On our way back home, we stopped by our campus. I only spent two years there before transferring to The University of Texas. It looked the same, but different. We pulled into a parking spot in front of Stafford Hall, minus the Stafford Hall. It’s gone now, and in its place is a parking lot. The fine arts building grew. The cafeteria still stands and we reminisced about all those Belgian waffles we ate for dinner, long Saturdays of sleeping in, but setting the alarm so we wouldn’t miss lunch that day.

Life was easier then, but it wasn’t. It’s easier now, but it isn’t. We could’ve gone anywhere, but our time in the car was what counted most. What we needed most. What we still need.

Tuesday, July 19, 2021

The Summer of Who Knows What

Years ago I started naming my summers as a declaration of my goals. I didn’t write them out in a fancy planner and vision boards weren’t a thing back then. Or maybe they were, but I didn’t know about them. Too busy with a toddler at the time.

The first one I remember was The Summer of Learning. I bought a guitar with the determination to continue plucking away at it throughout the summer. I hung out with kids at an after school enrichment class for students wanting to learn guitar. The choir teacher led it and welcomed me. Instead of signing up to teach an enrichment class, I joined one. I like to think I was modeling the love of learning something new. And hard. Summer break started and the guitar moved into my closet. It’s still there, awaiting new strings that haven’t been replaced. In years. I think it wants to play.

In the mornings, I sponsored kids who wanted to learn to knit and crochet. I knew how to make a basic chain, single, and double crochet stitches from my childhood. My mom taught me how to make these swirly worm bookmarks, complete with googly eyes. I made a few and abandoned the fiber arts, or rather, crafts. Knitting intrigued me. I found an old book from our library that had not made it to the weeding cart. I checked it out and taught myself the basics. Other kids were interested, so the group was born. I took it into summer break and learned to make cute little baby hats. Those were my projects that summer. Along with scarves I gifted people. Some wore them, some didn’t, but I made them and people gladly accepted them.

I read eight books that summer, too. This was back in the day when my kid was still young enough to nap once or twice a week. Yes, once or twice a week. My kids didn’t nap much. Ever. But I’d get my down time in the evenings and I’d stay up late only to groggily wake up early the next morning. I picked my books up in between toddler TV shows or play sessions over a makeshift cardboard box kitchen and Play-Doh. It was worth the mess.

One summer I named The Summer of Getting Stuff Done. The stuff to get done was fresh coats of interior wall paint, trying-unsuccessfully-to tend a bountiful garden, decluttering (always decluttering), freezer meal prep, exercising every morning at 5:30 a.m. Seriously? The early morning exercise sessions didn’t make it to the next summer. How did I do that though? And the freezer meal prep to toss into the Crock-Pot? They all hated the meals.

I don’t remember what I named other summers. I might have written them in a journal somewhere. Eventually I stopped because they flat out stopped working. Or I got tired. Or they stopped working and I got tired. I know one was The Summer of Baby #2 (who will soon be 12). I lost track after that. However, I started marking them with vacations.

My 40th Birthday BBF Bash to Las Vegas was one of my favorite summers. And the one to Mexico sans kids. And the one to Mexico with kids and Grandma the following summer. The less expensive one to New Mexico for Alien Fest on Fourth of July Weekend right before grad school. And the horrid one to Colorado after I finished grad school. Colorado was fine. The kids, not so much. They were at the age where their bickering was next level annoying. At least some of the pictures were good. And that’s been it.

I suppose last summer would be The Summer of…I’m over it. We all know how that summer went. Here we are…here I am, trying to figure it out. Maybe this time I’ll name my summer after I experience it. Find a name to fit after I get to know it. Let it play out and follow it where it wants to go. Our family has experienced many milestones this year. One kid composing a piece of music and graduating high school. Another starting middle school and experiencing all that comes with it. My husband’s semi-retirement. My move back to middle school in August. Planning a road trip; nothing fancy, but at least something.

Rather than take control, I’ll let this one take the lead. I’ll putter around my summer and do what I can without fretting. Get that guitar restrung and either learn to play it or give it to someone who will love it. Climb out of my comfort zone and join a writing group. Learn to play pickle ball because sports are not my thing. You know, push myself to do something hard. And read. Always reading. Hang out with my kids who no longer want to hang out. Maybe I’ll nap. Once or twice a week.

Shh…Listen Already!

I’m not a great listener. I’m worse at it with family than with strangers. Worse still, listening to my Self. This weekend, I tried a technique Julia Cameron suggests in her newest book, The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Attention. Similar to The Artist’s Way, Cameron includes exercises to practice the skill as a way to tap into creativity. Being silent. Listening to everything, rather than hearing.

One way to listen to that inner voice is to write to one’s Self, or inner child. I did that on Saturday, asking some big questions I’ve been trying to figure out. I wrote in script form and gave my Self the name of Little Cat, using pink ink with responses in purple.

What am I doing? This is wonky. But, it’s my notebook, I can do whatever I want. I wound up with five pages of questions and answers, dialogue. Some I thought I knew and others I didn’t realize were options. Skeptical during my writing, I had to tell Little Cat to shut up already. Let it flow. Stop and listen. Respectfully. Attentively. Fully.

Sounds easy.

Today, I continued thinking about my questions. I haven’t returned (yet) to my notebook to re-read answers, but I have the gist. After a conversation, in the silence of my being, they shouted at me. They were whispers on Saturday, but I wouldn’t listen.

Okay, Self, I get it. I’m listening now. Forgive me for dismissing you.