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Life as Participatory Performance Art

I am not a card player. As a team-building exercise at work some years ago, I had to play a card game in which I was given a sheet of rules and told to play with the others at my table. Each table’s loser was moved to the next table. Already anxious because I seldom play cards, my anxiety level rose as the game became more chaotic and confusing. I told the facilitator I was having an anxiety attack and had to quit.

Afterwards I learned that everyone had been given different rules. Essentially nobody was playing the same game–thus the chaos.

In a recent dream, I entered a sort of amusement park made up of different people doing performance art. As I proceeded from group to group with the expectation of interacting, I realized there seemed to be no standards or rules. I quickly played along, just enjoying the interactions, moving on when I was ready. One tall, rather imposing man (British–as was everyone else) was having trouble with his sleeves and his cuffs. I sorted it out for him, fixed his cuff-links and helped him on with his jacket. He then kissed me gently on the lips. It was neither sexy nor romantic, just very sweet. He looked like Michael Caine.

In other scenes there were babies and little children. Everyone was having a good time, and I just flowed with it.

What an empowering dream! Unlike the card game, either because of maturity (or Prozac) I was at ease with not knowing the rules or expectations.

As I awoke I thought about applying this to my waking life. I realized that everybody is operating on a slightly different set of standards and rules, and we have no idea exactly what they are.

As long as I act with a good heart, humor and integrity, it will be all right.

We are getting ready to move, and the process is overwhelming after 18 years in this house. This dream was so freeing because I contemplate the zillion tasks that need to be done–getting this house ready to sell, finding a new home, making the actual move–and it seems impossible.

So I remind myself to follow my own rules with a good heart, integrity and (this is hard) humor. Our agent tells us to do certain things to make the house sell quickly, and I’ll do my best with the resources I have.

In the meantime, we took a spring break trip to Jefferson, in East Texas, a historic Victorian town near Caddo Lake. Everything was blooming: azaleas, wisteria, dogwood, wildflowers, and we stayed at a beautiful B&B, the Azalea Inn, along with a couple of dear friends, so I’ll leave you with a few shots from the trip.

Our B&B, with its namesake azaleas in full bloom.


Wisteria in the Azalea Inn side yard.


Us in a park with the wisteria, which grows crazy wild in East Texas. It was actually cool enough for jackets!


A quilt in the Jefferson historical museum.

Watch for an upcoming post with details of our moving plans.




Best of everything

Break I did: Four days in a little blue beach cottage on Aransas Bay, doing as little as possible, and it rained. This would normally go on my jillybeans site, since it’s a post card, but it sums up the week.

Poem, "Idling in Neutral," and photo of rain through the kitchen window

Poem, “Idling in Neutral,” and photo of rain through the kitchen window

For a complete change of pace, we hosted a birthday party for the eight-year-old granddaughter the day after we got home. It was more fun than I expected, with all of her cousins and grandparents and a few friends and neighbors. Gary wrangled the kids in a treasure hunt and some other games.

They left the 8th off and spelled Chloe "Choe," so they squeezed in the fixes. It tasted good, anyway.

H.E.B. bakery left the “8th” off and spelled Chloe “Choe,” so they squeezed in the fixes. It tasted good, anyway.

Gary herding the kids on a perfect November Saturday

Gary herding the kids on a perfect November Saturday

Chloe stayed overnight. The last thing she said before she fell asleep: “Today was really fun. Thank you.”

Chloe shares a moment with friend Laci.

Chloe shares a moment with friend Laci.

Best birthday ever, especially for Grandma.

Life’s a B—

How you fill in the blank may depend on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, or maybe whether you love or hate the beach.

Last week I swung between the two views. The grand-kids, 11 and seven, are cousins, and are as different from each other a their mothers (my daughters) are. Grandson is smart (and sometimes smart-mouthed), bookish and pretty self-sufficient. Granddaughter is a little sprite,  flitting around wanting to play and be entertained. Fortunately they both love the water.

Bryan reading in the car

Bryan reading in the car

The actual beach time, at Port Aransas, was as much fun as ever. The water was a nice temperature, not sea-weedy, and the beach was clean and fairly uncrowded. The surf was perfect–fun but not scary. I’m grateful my grandchildren love playing in the surf as much as I do. I even taught my granddaughter how to body surf, and the kids bickered over shared a boogie board.

Gary and Bryan

Gary and Bryan

Chloe and me

Chloe and me












Bryan was less camera-shy than Chloe this time

Bryan was less camera-shy than Chloe 



A rare moment of repose for me (photo by Bryan)

A rare moment of repose for me (photo by Bryan)











But because the July Texas sun is brutal, beach time was limited to three or four hours max, with frequent shade, snack, re-sunscreening and water breaks. That left many other hours to fill. Early morning and evening were good for walks, especially on the fishing pier at the house in Rockport where we stay. The poison hours were late afternoon, after the ferry ride back from Port A and a little quiet time. I admit I caved and let Chloe watch more TV than I would have liked, thereby exposing Bryan to more screen time than his parents would approve, but Nick and Cartoon Network provided a relatively harmless reprieve, along with a kid-friendly movie an evening or two. (“Up” was so much funnier this time, watching it with the kids, who loved the crazy dogs and the huge [female] bird, “Kevin.”

Chloe and Gary fishing (unsuccessfully)

Chloe and Gary fishing (unsuccessfully)


The kids were fascinated by a dead fish being eaten by a blue crab. (I took pictures of it but I'll spare you the gore.)

The kids were fascinated by a dead fish being eaten by a blue crab. (I took closeups of it but I’ll spare you the gore.)









I swear every time we go that it’s the last time I’ll take those two together, especially in the teeth of summer, but it’s kind of like childbirth–you forget the pain and appreciate the results. On the last day, the kids, who had spatted and bickered like siblings, got along beautifully. Bryan commented that they’re either at each other’s throats or, “What’s the opposite of that?” “Playing nicely,” I replied.

One of the days in Port A we took a long break for lunch at the ultimate beach bar/restaurant, Moby Dick’s, and mooched around the souvenir shops. I gave them each $5. Chloe bought some sand dollars and a necklace for her mom; Bryan bought only a $1 sea bean and kept the rest.

Befriending a shark Moby Dick's

Taking on a shark Moby Dick’s

Gary and his pirate bud.

Gary and his pirate bud.

Chloe actually not hiding from the camera

Chloe modeling the necklace she bought for mommy

My new friend

My new friend

The whole family braving the shark.

Into the belly of the beast, where at least it’s shady.


Pass Paradise to get to Utopia

I’ve never missed frozen toes after nearly half a lifetime of winters, but living in Central Texas I do miss spectacular autumn color.

Tree color, sky

There is one area where Texas does get fall: Lost Maples State Natural Area. Gary attended a weekend retreat near Kerrville, and on Sunday I picked him up to drive farther into the Hill Country, where we spent a couple of days getting an autumn fix.

Welcoming entry to our B&B

Welcoming entry to our B&B

We stayed at the Bend o’ the River Bed and Breakfast just outside Utopia–and we did pass Paradise on the way. Old time Texans were optimistic in their naming practices. The Duvalls, Peggy and Ron, were gracious and personable hosts, and we enjoyed their beautiful home (which Ron, a woodworker and carpenter, built as a B&B) and the peaceful setting on the Sabinal River. (Sadly, the river was a dry ditch.)

Sad, dry Sabinal

Sad, dry Sabinal

We burned off some of Ron and Peggy’s hearty breakfast (creamy, herb-seasoned scrambled eggs, bacon, buttermilk biscuits) with a four-hour hike up and out of the canyon at Lost Maples for eyefuls of gorgeous color.

The Maple Trail at Lost Maples

The Maple Trail at Lost Maples

Gary and the pond

Gary and the Maple Trail pond

It was warmer than we expected (mid-80s F) and I came close to heat exhaustion. Gary said later he thought I was going to turn back on the ascent. Just as I reached the bottom of the descent (rocky, loose scree, which I hate) with the last few drops of water, face red and head throbbing, a couple of angels (I was hallucinating–it was just a nice young couple) filled my water bottle, after which we reached a beautiful pond and cooled our feet.

Oasis for hot feet after a hard hike

Oasis for hot feet after a hard hike

After an excellent Mexican lunch in Leakey,

I keep reading this as "Mama Chloe's." If you're every in Leakey, Texas, try it.

If you’re ever in Leakey, try it, but skip the chips.

we made it to Garner State Park an hour before sunset, giving us time for a walk along the Frio River. It rained lightly, making lovely patterns on the water, and then the setting sun gave us a show.

Turkey buzzards roosting as sunset approaches

Turkey buzzards roosting as sunset approaches


Rain on the Frio River

Rain on the Frio River

A still image from a video of the rain

A still image from a video of the rain


Garner river view silhouettes

Frio River views

Frio River views

Rain, then a flaming end to the day

Rain, then a flaming end to the day

That evening, as we had a glass of wine and chatted with the other b&b guests on the patio, we were chased indoors by  heavy rains, so the Sabinal had a  few puddles next morning as we left for home. (Like Camelot, apparently it only rains at night in Utopia.)

We took a detour through the pleasant Hill Country town of Boerne,

A nice walk around Boerne

A nice walk around Boerne

LMSNA color 3

Lost Maples color

browsing in shops. After burgers at Lost Maples Cafe in Utopia, Mexican in Leakey, a BLT (and ice cream!) in Boerne, and those fabulous B&B breakfasts, we’re back to wiser eating before Thanksgiving.

Hobbit-y tree in Garner

Hobbit-y tree in Garner

Gorgeous Texas sky

Gorgeous Texas sky

Color in Garner State Park

Color in Garner State Park


Seventh Summer: “If anybody would just listen to me once in a while!”

We took a break from food and painted yesterday, but while I ate lunch Chloe asked me to get out all the flowers, vases and marbles, and she opened her flower shop:

Chloe the florist

Chloe’s florist shop, with animal customers

For the art session I spread a large sheet of newsprint on the trusty (new) oilcloth. Chloe divided the sheet into color blocks and indicated some for me to fill in, saying I was her assistant. “Every great artist has a manager,” she said. Having just read a New Yorker article about contemporary artist Ed Ruscha, I knew she was right. So we created a collaborative color field painting.

Color field painting

Color field painting

Later she said nobody had ever painted anything like that. I just said “Let me tell you about Mark Rothko some time.”

We had nearly too much fun in the pool–lots of friends and neighbors, which is unusual, and we stayed too long. When she came in she sat, naked and miserable, on the bedroom floor. I asked her to pick up her bathing suit and went to fix dinner. Soon a mystery figure appeared, draped in the same pinks and greens as last week’s dress-up, declaring herself “Princess Joy,” but Gary dubbed her the Krause Springs Fireworks Princess because that’s where we’re going for the Fourth. (I later found the wet suit on the bed, but at least she did pick it up.)

Once her blood sugar was restored, she happily went out to the courtyard and made sand sculptures:

Summer-Halloween mashup: sand jack-o-lantern

Summer-Halloween mashup: sand jack-o-lantern

Winking sand sun

Winking sand sun



I wanted to comb out her tangled (green-blond) hair before taking her home, but she clung to Gary’s leg, asking him to “walk.” I implored him to just disengage so I could get her hair done, but he succumbed one more time, and they skidded onto her painting drying on the floor, tearing it. Thus the title of this piece. A little tape on the back fixed it up, but I gave up on combing her hair.

The last battle was buying her water shoes for the Krause Springs outing. She insisted she didn’t need them, even though she’s never swum in natural springs. I texted her mom and said we were stopping at Academy, “if I can get Miss Brat to cooperate,” and her mom texted back, “Please  make her do it–I’m trying not to let her get her way by being a brat.” I told Chloe, “sometimes grownups know better, and you’ll be glad you have the shoes. You’ll also need them for Schlitterbahn when we go next month.” We found an adorable pair of  Nike sandals, and she was tickled as pink as the shoes. Her mom was happy too.

Happy feet for the Fourth

Happy feet for the Fourth (from Nike’s web site)

Next: Chloe’s first visit to Krause Springs for the Fourth of July, with fireworks!

Coast Insights, Part 1

We took the grandchildren to the Texas coast the very first day of summer vacation. Friends have let us use their cottage on Aransas Bay for many years, and now we’ve introduced a new generation to peaceful Rockport.

One reason I love travel is because it is nearly always transformative. I come home changed, sometimes in trivial ways and sometimes profoundly. This trip had both. Part 1 is the ups and downs of a beach vacation with kids; Part 2 is about more serious issues that coalesced for me on this trip.

So, for the trivial bits:

  • What were we thinking? A 10-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl, cousins, with personalities like oil and water. Let’s see: bicker, taunt, slap, pinch, bite, tease—am I leaving anything out? There is no culprit; each is equally complicit. Gary is amazing—he mostly laughs and calls them silly names, but I have to be the bad cop, wearing out the word “STOP!” And Gary did begin losing it in the final hours of the trip home, yelling at them like I had been for five days.
  • The Texas coast in June has lost its charm. It’s unbearably hot, humid, usually windy and buggy. And swimming isn’t particularly refreshing; the water at Rockport beach had to be 90 degrees. And full of jellyfish. Chloe was stung in the first five minutes in the water. Fortunately the pain abated quickly, and other people were very kind in offering tips, like rubbing sand on it, rinsing with salt water, not fresh; someone even gave us hand sanitizer to soothe the pain. Both kids were soon picking up jellyfish with their sand toys and tossing them into the water.
Rockport beach, after the jellyfish stings

Rockport beach, after the jellyfish stings

  • A beach vacation is more fun for everyone who doesn’t have to plan and prepare all the meals, especially in an unfamiliar kitchen. That was everyone but me. I was determined to eat simply, and given different people’s fussiness it got a little weird—one night Bryan had shrimp and watermelon and Chloe had three bunless hot dogs and watermelon. But nobody starved.
  • Why, oh, why can’t they build a bridge from Aransas Pass to Port Aransas? We didn’t have any unbearable ferry waits because we timed our arrivals and departures well, but on our first return trip we learned about the quirks of federal regulation. The vehicle in front of us died, and instead of pushing it off the ferry on the AP side, federal policy is to let all the vehicles off the ferry except the dead one and all those behind it (and of course it was at the very front), go back to PA, push the dead car off there, then turn around with just those five or six cars that are left and take them back to AP. On a Friday afternoon, when the ferry lines in both directions were endless, taking one ferry out of service (and making those few cars make the extra trip) was just stupid.
  • Even the beach—the BEACH—has lost much of its appeal. Sand. Wind. Too much sun. Despite arriving and leaving early and diligently applying, and repeatedly reapplying, 50 sunscreen, we all still got mild burns and had to skip the beach on day two, instead spending a day (and $100) at the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi.
Touching stingrays at the Aquarium (they're kind of slimy)

Touching stingrays at the Aquarium (they’re kind of slimy)

But for all my griping I’m glad we went. I’m incredibly grateful for the time I spent with those two beautiful, amazing and utterly aggravating children. Swimming in salt surf, playing alien sea-zombie with the kids, and teaching Chloe to bodysurf made it worthwhile. I hope the kids have good memories of going to the coast with Grandma and Gary.

A highlight was one evening when we all went out onto the fishing pier. Gary was helping the kids fish, but the water was choppy and they had no luck. Chloe was being Chloe, dancing and playing on the platform, and Bryan was off by himself with a fishing pole. I decided to go sit down with him and see what was on his mind. He gave me a tutorial on fishing, and I sat and listened to him. He is so bright and curious, but he’s quieter than Chloe, more cerebral, and she’s such an attention magnet I think he sometimes feels left out. When he was done fishing we joined Chloe and Gary on the platform and had a talent show. Chloe performed a Taylor Swift song, then Bryan announced he was going to give a lecture on bass fishing. We all listened respectfully and I asked questions because I know squat about bass fishing, and I learned some things. The finale was Gary singing “New York, New York” with Chloe and me doing backup.

One afternoon while Gary napped the kids and I shot commercials, with Bryan directing and Chloe touting spicy corn chips and water with club soda. I got to try out the video function on my new camera, and we have some hilarious videos. Those moments are the ones I’ll treasure long after the memory of the torment of two kids on a road trip has subsided.

I just don’t know how long it’ll be before I could do it again.

Bryan the builder at Port Aransas

Bryan the builder at Port Aransas

Jill and kids on Port A beach

The kids and me on the beach

Next: what I really learned at the Coast.

The Paradox of Living in a Cool Place

Events in Austin often remind me of one of Yogi Berra’s famous quotes (about a restaurant that had become very popular): “Nobody goes there any more because it’s too crowded.” Although I’ve never heard urban planners refer to this phenomenon, it is my theory that the very qualities that make a place attractive to creative types eventually becomes overrun and/or too expensive for the same artsy-boho folks, who move on to find new lofts to rehab.

Austin is without doubt one of the coolest cities in the country (though of course not literally, especially from May through October). There are so many fun, family friendly events that there is usually more to do than there is time and money to partake. Austin is known nationally for the SXSW music and film festivals and the Austin City Limits Festival.  Last year international auto racing was added, with an F1 race track. There are the entertainment areas of Sixth Street and the Warehouse District, the hip SoCo shopping area, and thousands of interesting places to eat, from taco trucks to fine dining.

After living here for 30 years I have become spoiled, jaded and a bit skeptical. The annual spring kite festival used to be one of my favorite Austin events, especially with the grandkids, but last year the waits for shuttles and porta-potties were so long I vowed never to return. When I took my granddaughter to a new event at the University of Texas’ Brackenridge Field Labs, called “Insecta Fiesta,” last spring, I could not imagine we’d have to park a mile away and wait 45 minutes for a shuttle. Traffic is so bad during SXSW and the Republic of Texas Biker Rally (not to mention the NOISE) that we prefer to be away.

This year, for the second time, Austin received a visit from Architects of Air’s luminarium, called Exxopolis. When I read about it and saw a piece on TV, I decided to take my granddaughter to see it, but I was concerned about it being so well publicized. How to avoid crowds and long waits? My older daughter took my grandson yesterday, and they had a two-hour wait.

Since today was a school holiday I decided to take Chloe, and we got there 15 minutes before opening. There was a line of at least 100 people ahead of us, but it was a nice day and there were lots of families with young children, so the wait wasn’t too bad up to the ticket stand. But they let in only a certain number of people at once, and the wait after we got tickets seemed longer.

Chloe loved it. She danced and lay down and fully enjoyed the experience. I found it a little dizzying. The intensity of the colors and light was almost unbearable. I am glad we went, and it was worth the wait for Chloe, but it still leaves the mystery of how to live in a place with such cool stuff to do without wishing you had a private VIP pass.


Exxo out 2

Exterior views of the inflatable space

Exxo outside


"Between a cathedral and a womb."

“Between a cathedral and a womb.”

Chloe dancing in blue.

… in blue.

in red

Chloe dancing in red….


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