The Enigma of Chaos

Christmas 1989, Austin, a southern city that does not handle cold well, had an extended hard freeze. Pipes froze and burst, rooms were flooded, water was turned off. I was living in a two-bedroom apartment with my younger daughter, then a teen. Pipes in the next apartment burst, flooding my daughter’s walk-in closet. We moved everything into the living room, hauled water in buckets from neighboring buildings that still had water, and made the best of it during the holiday break.

After a few days of living in the mess, I got my paints out. I had graduated from St. Ed’s the previous spring with my art degree, but I was working a full-time administrative job and sharing space with the daughter, not an arrangement conducive to making art. But I set up an easel on the dining table and painted away.

This move has again proven what I learned then: I’m an obsessive control freak who feels a constant need for order, yet when everything falls apart I tend to fall into the flow and let creativity take over. It seems like a paradox, but it really isn’t: when control becomes simply impossible, I relinquish the need for control.


Living room shot for the real estate listing (credit AustinRealPros).


Our living room yesterday (that is not an assault rifle; it’s a water blaster used in one of Gary’s plays, and it’s on its way to Goodwill now).

Last week I had some panic: “There is no way we’ll ever get all this stuff cleared out and packed.” But  things got moving, a friend offered to help me pack art, and now, just over two weeks before Moving Day, I’m relaxed enough to sit here blogging. This afternoon I’m having a massage and acupuncture.

Tomorrow is my birthday and we’re having our traditional lunch at Chez Zee with an old friend, with whom I share a birthday, and her husband.

Three weeks before the end of school I decided to knit washcloths for my granddaughter’s teachers; they make nice gifts wrapped around a bar of fancy soap.

And still I knit.

As I turn 72, I am so grateful for good health, family, friends, and our new adventure.


Shredding Memories, Saving Dreams

Several months before we decided to move, I told my therapist I wanted to destroy my old journals. “Burn ’em,” was her response. I burned a few outside in the grill, and quite a few more in the fireplace during the winter, but shredding was more efficient and environmentally friendly. I’m finally done shredding about 20 years’ worth of spiral binders.

Some were writing journals and many had dreams, so I tried to salvage poems, writing ideas and dreams for future use, especially for a long-planned (but sidelined) book of dream poems, titled either “Nightly Visits to Other Worlds” or “Skating Under the Aurora.”

Watercolor sketch for the book of dream poems I will finish someday.

I couldn’t take time to read everything so I skimmed randomly. One thing that struck me was how much pain I was in during the late ’90s and early 2000s: back pain, stomach pain, severe Irritable Bowel Syndrome, headaches, vertigo and ear problems.

Like many people I journaled to rant and unload pain and unhappiness, but this was real suffering, and I’d almost forgotten about the dizzy spells, about the time I visited my brother shortly before he died, and I was afraid I’d miss my plane because I couldn’t get out of bed. I underwent treatment for allergies and ear problems, including years of allergy shots.

The stomach pain turned out to be a huge mass on my pancreas. Thanks to good medical care, I’m alive and pain-free. Good chiropractic care has made my back more stable and less likely to give out without warning. Retirement has helped with the IBS–one thing I noticed was that I had bad episodes on days the Medical Board met. I loved my job and it wasn’t always stressful, but board days were hard work and very busy, and it was no coincidence my body responded. I also manage my diet better and have learned the array of irritating foods to avoid, including apples, oranges, pears, lettuce, seeds–I just can’t digest a lot of fiber.

The biggest differences, though, I attribute three or four factors:

First, getting on Prozac in 2012. I’ve covered this in several blog posts, but I can’t say enough about how it changed my life.

Second, acupuncture has helped reduce allergy symptoms and has virtually eliminated my headaches. It’s also just made me feel better all over; I sleep better and generally feel better. Along with chiropractic care, my body feels strong and balanced.

Third, self care. Since my granddaughter moved in with us and I’ve moved into my 70s, I need to be more careful with my body, my diet, my sleep habits and how I spend my time. An afternoon nap isn’t just a treat; it’s essential.

Fourth, spiritual awareness, or wisdom of age. I’m more patient, open-hearted, generous and joyful. Two years ago, when we were trying to decided whether to ask the granddaughter to come and live with us, I was anxious that it would make my life so stressful and difficult that I would mourn the loss of my free and easy retirement. And I did. It’s been hard.

But when I take the dog out before dawn on these soft spring mornings, I actually enjoy being awake. I’m grateful for the sweet dog (which we wouldn’t have if we didn’t have the child), for good legs, a strong heart and all the other parts that still work pretty well. When I take Chloe to school (on time or early, not late every day like last year) I enjoy greeting friends and walking on the greenbelt during doggie morning happy hour.

My sweet nap buddy.

I’m excited about the upcoming changes in our lives and the opportunities to keep making art and to create a beautiful new home for our family.

Poppies, just because they’re so pretty.



And Move ’em Out

Part 2: Where We’re Going and Why

As I explained in my last post, we’ve thought about leaving Austin for quite a long time, as traffic worsens and housing becomes less affordable.

Our criteria for our new home were these:

  • Smaller city; not a small town and not a large urban area
  • Within a few hours’ drive of my daughter (Chloe’s mom), and fairly close to other family in the Austin area
  • Good medical care
  • Good schools
  • Art, theater and music
  • Geographically attractive
  • A Unitarian-Universalist congregation

We believe we’ll meet all those needs in Kerrville. It’s two hours southwest of Austin, two hours south of Chloe’s mom, less than an hour from San Antonio if we need a big city. Of course there are concerns, primarily that it will be more conservative than Austin, but there are liberals everywhere, especially in arts communities, and I’m teaching Chloe to revel in her quirkiness so she can stand up to people who might tease or bully her.

Here are the highlights:

  • Small size and little traffic make it easy to get around
  • Beautiful setting on the Guadalupe River, much of which is fronted with parkland
  • Good schools
  • In addition to the river, there are beautiful parks, a great recreation center and other recreational attractions
  • A UU congregation where we’ve already made friends, and it’s a short drive to the UbarU retreat center
  • Other new friends, because everyone we know knows someone in Kerrville
  • A fairly large regional medical center (and we can go to San Antonio or Austin if we need specialty care)
  • Good restaurants
  • Beautifully restored and vibrant downtown area with a great used book store
  • Art center, performing arts center, theater companies, music, even the Hill Country Chorale when I’m ready to get back to singing
  • Near beautiful Hill Country state parks: Enchanted Rock, Lost Maples, Garner
  • Near Fredericksburg, Boerne, Comfort, Bandera, many wineries and other tourist attractions
  • Chloe’s other grandparents used to live there so it’s familiar to her
  • There are not one but two HEBs. (There is a J.C. Penney, but no Target or Michael’s. The nearest are about 30 minutes on I-10 on the outskirts of San Antonio.)
  • And the biggie: more affordable housing

For what we expect to get for the Austin condo (nice complex, near downtown), we’ll get the house below, plus we should cover all our relocation expenses.

It’s a little less than 2,000 sf, in a settled neighborhood .6 mile from an excellent elementary school. There are two nearby parks, one at the end of the street and one around the corner. When we were there last week I walked the dog so I could try to meet some neighbors, and I talked to one nice fellow who told me there are lots of kids on the street. Our new house has a pool,which will be great for entertaining.

Here’s the house that will be our new home after we close at the end of April:

An inner courtyard with a welcoming red door.

The pool and patio (photo by Chloe, which is why it’s a little tippy). I’d like to add a hot tub eventually. And a garden. And a meditation corner on the opposite side of the back yard from the pool.


A strange bit of yard art, with wrought-iron hangers for plants. There’s wrought-iron stuff all over the property. My dad was a blacksmith, so I love it.


My dream kitchen


Bright living room with clerestory windows (photos from web site MLS listing, with former owners’ furniture)


Spacious dining room and open floor plan


My dream master bath


Second bath

(Not showing the three bedrooms because of previous owners’ possessions.) There is also, adjacent to the laundry area and between the garage entry and the kitchen, a bedroom-size space, well-lit and with large double-doors to the front courtyard, that will be my studio. The third bedroom will be Gary’s office and the guest room, so we’ll want our old friends to visit.

Of course we have hurdles between now and then: getting the condo ready to sell, going through both closings, having a place to stay until school is out if it sells quickly, making some trips during May to paint Chloe’s room (she wants it purple; the rest of the house is fine), taking some carloads and keeping an eye on the pool. Then the big move after school gets out.

I haven’t moved in 18 years, and haven’t moved inter-city for 35. I think I’m still pretty good at it, but it’s going to be challenging with a kid, a dog and a four-hour round trip.

I want this to be our forever home. I hope Kerrville will be as welcoming as it’s been so far. Our ReMax agent, Brian McCarty, has been my therapist and hand-holder these past few weeks, as is our Austin agent, Bill Evans, as we proceed with selling our home of 18 years.




Round ’em Up

Part 1: Why We’re Moving

We’re heading west. After 35 years (me) and 26 years (Gary) in Austin, we’re ready for a change. We have loved living here, but now that we have the granddaughter living with us, we’re feeling a little crowded. The Austin real estate market is so hot that we couldn’t buy a bigger place for what we’ll get for the condo. Chloe will be going into fifth grade, the last opportunity for her to develop a cohort before hitting dreaded middle school. After talking about it for several years, considering other locations–for a while we were set on Fayetteville, Arkansas–and a few trips, we recently decided to sell the condo and look for a new home in the Hill Country.

There are many things I’ll miss, but first here’s what I won’t miss:

  • Traffic
  • SXSW (see above)
  • ACL Festival (ditto)
  • Republic of Texas Biker Rally (ditto)
  • So many interesting things to do: probably sold out, where to park, too crowded. (We used to love going to the Kite Festival, but haven’t gone for years because it got too hard to get there and back.)
  • Did I mention traffic? The two main north-south arteries, MoPac and I-35, are parking lots much of the day.

Just a typical day on I-35 through downtown Austin

Some of the many things I will miss:

Beautiful artwork of a Thunderbird, all cut paper, made by Kelly Guerra.

  • Stacy Parks (Little and Big) and the Blunn Creek Greenbelt, where Junior and I walk every morning after dropping Chloe off, and all the friends I’ve made (human and furry) while walking Junior

    Junior enjoying the creek.


  • Our beautiful condo community–good neighbors, quiet surroundings, pool, hot tub, our fabulous handyman Chris
  • Our First UU Church of Austin community–but we will be back to visit often
  • Friends–but we’ll stay in touch and welcome visitors when we’re settled
  • Great restaurants, but they have them where we’re going
  • Blanton Art Museum
  • Zilker Park and Barton Springs (but we’ll have the Guadalupe River!)
  • South Austin Community Acupuncture–I can’t say enough about how much acupuncture has helped me. It’s been for my body what Prozac is for my psyche. But I can’t make the trip every week.
  • Dentist, doctor, chiropractor–but we may come back, at least at first. Especially Dr. Jerel Wottrich at First Chiropractic.
  • My fabulous computer guy, Tom Adams
  • Doug at Massage Harmony Westgate. I still have three or four in my series and hope to use them all up! (If not, some lucky person may get a gift.)
  • KMFA and KUT radio, but I can still listen online
  • Not my hair stylist, the amazing Cesar Perez, because I plan to keep him. He told me he has other clients in the Hill Country. I’ll make a day of it, have lunch, do some shopping, see friends and get a trim.

Next, Part 2: Where We’re Going and Why


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.



Talking to Trees

Does anyone else talk to trees?

On the trail where I walk the dog every morning after I take the grandchild to school, there’s a tree I like. I always say hello and ask how she’s doing. Her name is Sarah, and I find comfort in knowing she will be there each day.

The other day Junior was playing with his ball on a little rise above the trail. A parent and PTA colleague, walking home with her pre-schooler in a stroller, stopped in front of Sarah. After a moment her little boy got out and stood near the tree, then hugged it.

I went over to her and said, “This is so weird. Do you talk to this tree as well?” She said she was teaching her son about appreciating the Earth and nature, and they always visited with the tree, which she referred to as “him.” I told her I talked to “Sarah.”

Junior dropped his ball into the creek below us. He carefully made his way down the rocks and into the water, retrieving the ball and then retracing his steps all the way up the bank. Then he dropped it again. I could see it would be easier to reach it from the other side, so we walked along to a bridge and doubled back to a little “beach,” where I could almost get the ball without going into the water. I tried a branch, but it wasn’t long enough. One of my dog-walking friends on the other side tossed me a perfect stick, with a claw-like structure on the end. I got the ball, thanked T., and put the ball away so Junior couldn’t lose it again.

When Chloe started third grade a year-and-a-half ago, I felt very out of place at school–a grandma among mostly parents, a new dog-owner in a park where everyone knew all the other dogs’ names and I didn’t even know the protocols for when Junior could be off-leash (it’s not an off-leash park). At pickup time I’d sit in the courtyard with Junior, using the school’s wi-fi to check email or Facebook on my phone.

Now, every morning after Chloe goes in I’m saying hello to K. and her dog Patches, who loves Junior; R., the former PTA president; E., the current president; various teachers, principals and other staff; and random parents. Then at the park Junior romps with Tucker, Dixon, Izzie, Marley, Reya, Etta, Brodie, Ace, and especially Pierre, whose mom, L., I’ve become quite good friends with, and V. and her sweet little chiweenie, Coco, who also adores Junior.

My husband has had three rounds of surgery recently (he should be fine). We scheduled the first one during winter break so I could ship the kid and the dog off to family. The other two were unavoidable; the second I managed with trips between hospital, school, and home, and it was exhausting, especially in Austin’s perennial rush-hour traffic. So for the latest procedure I asked a friend (also Sarah), who has a child at our school. She not only picked Chloe up but they went to our house for Junior. We were at the hospital from noon till nearly 7, so it was such a relief having them with someone I could trust, and Chloe had a blast.

You’re probably wondering why this piece started with thoughts about talking to trees. I think that tree represents the wonderful community I have become a part of–parents, other grandparents, teachers, the principal and assistant principal, extended family, dog-owners, other walkers, swimmers at Stacy Pool. It happened so gradually I didn’t notice it, until one day I found myself having so many conversations in the courtyard while waiting for school to let out I didn’t even look at my phone, and that’s how it is every day now.

This is Sarah. The picture was taking in afternoon light so her "face" is less visible than when I see her in the morning.

This is Sarah (left). The picture was taken in afternoon light so her “face” is less visible than when I see her in the morning.

Winter, discontent

We thought 2016 was bad.

I try not to whine and complain. I’m a grownup and I do what needs to be done. But this is ridiculous. The state of the world and the country is absolutely terrifying, and I feel obligated to call my representatives daily, and if asked what issue I’m calling about I’m like Marlon Brando in “The Wild Bunch”: “Wadda you got?” Today it’s the crazy immigration policy, last week it was the inauguration of the most unqualified, certifiably insane substitute-for-human ever to occupy the White House. Tomorrow it will be the Supreme Court nominee, and every day it’s women’s issues, education, the environment and climate change–and on and on.

But to add to the misery, I am stretched to the limit. Not to share too much, my husband and granddaughter both need a lot of care and attention right now. My therapist said I sound like a harried mom. I told her I am, except it didn’t seem this hard 40 years ago. Of course I was 40 years younger!

Hubby has been sleeping in the zero-gravity chair

Hubby has been sleeping in the zero-gravity chair for his back. This is the living room.


This is also the living room.

This is also the living room. Doesn’t everyone want an aqua llama named Francis as part of the decor?

Everywhere I turn there is something that needs doing. Appointments to be made, prescriptions to refill, a messy yard, laundry, clutter, meals, errands. The garage door opener quit and needs replacing. I wanted a haircut two weeks ago, couldn’t get in so let it go, and now I kind of like it longer, except for the bangs. (I usually trim them myself but I keep thinking I’ll get an appointment soon.)

Need a trim

Need a trim

I consider a long pee to be a break. Meditation is when I walk the dog, except when I’m trying to call my Congresspeople. I have “Art Day” popups on my phone calendar on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they mock me. My to-read pile beckons, as do all my unfinished knitting projects. I made a pink hat for the march, but didn’t quite finish in time to wear it. But I did march!

Pink hats and ugly effigy

Pink hats and ugly effigy

I can thank the drump for making me an activist! I’m more engaged than I was during the Viet Nam protests.

However, I will close with gratitude:

  • clear starry skies when I walk the dog at 5:45 a.m., sunny afternoons and beautiful parks
  • my relatively good health, and abatement of sinus headaches (partly, I believe, thanks to a month of acupuncture treatments)
  • despite many challenges, granddaughter is mostly doing well in school
  • my sweet soft dog curling up against me when I nap
My sweet baby boy

My sweet baby boy

  • enough: we are not rich, but we have a comfortable home, enough to eat and a nice life
  • health insurance and good medical care
  • my being able to take care of those who need it right now
  • pedicures: I took my husband along yesterday because his back prevents him from cutting his toenails. He’s a convert!
  • friends and family to back me up if I need help, and a loving church community
  • living in a city with liberal values that cares about immigrants and minorities (to quote former governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry, Austin is the “blueberry in the tomato soup.”)

I realize that I live a life of middle-class privilege. But I’m still exhausted.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to pee, walk the dog and try to call my senators and congressman.


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