All posts by Rebecca Nolen

I blog about many things.

Welcome to Utopia

English: City Hall of Pearland, Texas Español:...
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This book Welcome To Utopia: Notes From A Small Town is a good read. The perspective surprised me, a native Texan, because I grew up in that small town atmosphere. This account comes from a New York City girl, Karen Valby, who moves to Utopia, Texas for the purpose of writing this book. She follows some regulars at the Utopia General Store “The coffee drinkers” branching out to all the people who intersect them in life.

It wasn’t an earth-shattering, life-changing book, just a good read for someone who has been there. I’m not one of the “Coffee Drinkers” in life but my father was so I guess I’m one of those whose life was impacted by that little Texas ritual. My father always found time to sit and drink coffee and chat about anything and everything. Wherever he was or whoever he met, it was the next question after his greeting…”Do you have time for a cup of coffee?”

The dictionary says that Utopia is an imaginary place described as perfect or ideal in all aspects. Karen Valby points out that Utopia is definitely not perfect. Most of its young folk want to leave but many find themselves pulled back into what they know to be familiar and then learning to like it.

I remember going to school in Pearland and how I couldn’t wait to leave. I didn’t want to grow old with the Texas twang snarling my speech, and a dead-end job at the local insurance agency. I didn’t want to have a husband and two point five children.

I did, too. I went to Chicago almost immediately after high school. It was an exhilarating experience. After a few years and dozens of people falling asleep listening for the END of a story I was telling, I learned to speak faster with more clipped non-accented words. Now I’m hard pressed to come up with Texan words, though I do “dish up” folks from the stove, and I usually am “fixin’ to” do something, most of my “Texian” has disappeared from my vocab-bank. I completely lost the “R” in the word ‘wash’, as in “I’m doing the warshing up.” It’s gone. I don’t say it anymore and I blame Chicago for that. While living there I was once asked to please spell ‘wash’. Then that person asked “where is the ‘r’ then?”

I’ve run into people I went to high school with who still live in Pearland. I had good friends I’ve reconnected with. I’m glad for that but just as glad I’ve had the experiences I’ve had, too.

And I’ve come full circle – in Houston with a husband and two point five children (I count the dog as the point five).

Still not Utopia. But it’s all good.

The Curious Case

Upon reflection of the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” I think the story is brilliant.

Here’s why: I oversee the care of my 86-year-old mother and the care of my nine week old grand child. The two are similar in that they don’t have a lot of choices about life. So I can see where the storyline comes from. The writer asked “what if?” and there it was.

My mother sees life closing in on her. Her movements are more tentative, frailer, smaller every day. She is less and less sure of walking across the room. She can’t make the television change away from one channel. I’ve explained it a dozen times and written it down. But no, she’s decided the television doesn’t work.  Her values, beliefs, and determination remain strong but the world she maneuvers within has become tighter, tougher. It must be scary for her. She refuses to admit defeat, which is good for her but quite worrisome for those who care about her.

On the other hand, my grand child’s life unfolds within a growing world every day. She can see better. At birth her eyesight was only as well-defined as her mother’s face. Every week her distance vision grows sharper. She’s now sitting up and watching the football game with her grandfather. Her bright smile and obvious excitement at every turn has me believing that she’s a bundle of possibilities and not just a little bundle of flesh and bone with arms and legs that seem to sneak up and surprise her with their wild movements.

The baby’s movements are changing and growing more precise every day as her muscles grow stronger. My mother has lost most of her muscle mass. She holds up her arm and I can see each bone with the flesh sagging around it. She struggles to get out of a chair. She has never cared much for any physical activity and forget exercise, though she did go through a Jack LaLanne phase.  At this point, she is a poster child for “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” If I remind her that she needs to walk to gain strength, she gives me that thin-lipped look, with an ever so slight shrug. No, she doesn’t want to, so it isn’t going to happen. She tells her helper that I make her tired.

So the writer for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” must have experienced or seen the connection of opposites with the very old and very young and asked “what if a person was born old, grew younger, and died a baby?” What kind of difficulties would this present? What kind of difficulties would this present for everyone else? Especially those who loved that person?

While my grand child increases joy in our home, worry over my mother grows. I try not to think about it but then if I don’t think about it, here comes the guilt. Worry-guilt all for love. It’s a curious case of not really knowing what to do, nor how to do it.

 

For the Love of Rocks

My parents took my three brothers and me to just about every state or national park from Texas up to Minnesota and across the entire eastern map of the U.S. As I recall forty three  state stickers were plastered to the back of the old pop-up camper. Purchasing the stickers at Stuckey’s became integral to the race to compile more stickers than any other camper. This was before “Survivor” type reality TV. No one was going to vote us off the campsite if we didn’t reach yet another far-off place during our usual two-week summer vacation. But my parents were fiercely competitive in their camping mode. Some states we visited multiple times, of course, because we had to get from here to there, and we usually took a different route from there to here.

This isn’t a travel blog.

Every other year our destination was Iowa, to visit the relatives, and every OTHER year it was North Carolina. Cherokee, North Carolina to be specific. We all loved the Smoky Mountains National Park. Something for everyone there. Fishing, hiking, swimming, wading across slimy rocks in swift, freezing water, drinking same water and coming down with the terrible heebie-jeebies, and watching Native American dances in town.

From each park I took, okay,  I stole a rock or two. Once I stole a frog. It was a huge green bull frog. The only reason I got that frog from Tennessee to Texas was because my mother never knew I had it in the car’s backseat until we arrived home. I was not allowed to keep him in my bedroom.

The frog got away.

The rocks from all over the US, I kept. I rearrange nature.

Weirdly, I was born loving rocks. Or dirt. Maybe mud. Definitely bugs. And usually snakes. Perhaps from watching my older brother. He was a digger. I am a digger. He went into landscape architecture. I am a master gardener. At least that is a good cover.  The truth is I believe in hidden treasure. So I keep digging.

Anyways, I grew up watching him, and wanting to be like him and have his stuff. He had a chemistry set. I wasn’t to touch it. Did you know chemistry sets have gum arabic? Did you know that gum arabic doesn’t have any flavor? He had a rock collection. One that he carefully compiled over years of saving to buy the bits glued to cardboard squares with their proper names in stiff typeset. I wasn’t to touch it. I especially liked the fool’s gold. I think I still have that one.

My personal assemblage of stone amounted to some weight as we visited a lot of parks and this collection process spanned many years. I kept them at my parents home hidden-in-plain-sight in the “rock” garden until I had a house and room for them. Much to my husbands despair I carted them around move after move. I used the rocks as decoration or as garden borders. About seven years ago we sold our house so quickly – it was such a shock because houses weren’t selling then either – that I wasn’t prepared. I forgot the rocks. The majority of them are still there in Sugar Land, Texas.

So this is much ablog about nothing.

But as an aside. I still have a large beach pebble from Maine (a gift from a friend), a lightening-glass chunk in turquoise (see movie: Sweet Home Alabama), an illegal stalactite (no, really, I took it before the laws), slate pebbles from the beaches of West Cornwall, England, some sandstone from West Texas, and I even took a stone from the mountain top where Ronald Reagan’s Presidential library sits. I’m really surprised that I got away with that. I did do a little surreptitious thing with my jacket and bending to “tie” my shoe. You see I had already been caught sitting on RR’s saddle and wearing his hat. (Wow. Stop! Within seconds we men in dark coats surrounded us. “The sign says ‘don’t touch’.”) I really had not seen the sign. I just wanted to pose for the pictures my mortified husband was taking. Unfortunately the camera was broken. Who knew? We took a lot of pictures we didn’t know we weren’t taking. I would never be able to show the pictures of me wearing the gipper’s hat and sitting on the worn-out saddle draped on the saw-horse? I do not lie. It happened.

This is the beginning of my new collection.

So for all of those who LOVE rocks as I do – rock on!

Thought for Food

Dunkin1
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Restaurants appear and disappear all around my neighborhood. What is it that attracts people to open up a restaurant in such a terrible economy?

I can think of several reasons why 0pening a restaurant might be like writing a novel. I’ve written a novel. I wonder if I could open a restaurant…

It takes a dream. I make lovely lasagna- people will flock. My book will sell and I will make millions.

It takes an idea – a menu or a story line.

It takes a lot of perseverance. The bank will love my proposal and give me a loan for this restaurant straight away. I will finish my novel even though I have no editor on the sidelines urging me forward.

It takes more perseverance. Okay, so the bank thinks I’m just one of millions with a lasagna recipe, I’ll go to another bank, or I’ll create more and even greater recipes. (You can see the analogy).

My husband and I try to visit the new restaurants at least once, and depend upon our daughter to try out the ones we can’t get to in time, before they close, I mean.

Why do they close? There are two reasons I believe restaurants are so quick to open and just as quick to close and only one of them has to do with the food. First, because the food was less than exceptional. In a world full of restaurants and people who eat at restaurants, the food must be beyond good.  Secondly, a restaurant fails because of lack of business acuity. For instance, one recently closed restaurant handed out menus that had no English subtitles. I need to know what I’m ordering. Another is close to failing (despite wonderful food) because they added no sound-proofing along the walls and their patrons can not carry on a conversation below shouting level.

In the world of book writing a novel doesn’t get published for two reasons (And I’m being simplistic, I know.) First, because it isn’t well written. Secondly and more importantly, because the writer doesn’t push forward and persevere with publication.

But there are restaurant that are extremely successful that serve mediocre and even BAD food. (You can see the analogy I’m making. I hope.)

At Baby Barnaby’s people line up for hours on weekend mornings to get in and get a bad breakfast. On my visit I ordered a simple dish and after a few bites, could not eat it. I didn’t say anything to the waiter because I don’t want my plate whisked away and redone with spit added. Nor did I mention this to others who planned to try the restaurant. Everyone is entitled to eat bad food. But the others I had in mind have stood in line and then reported the same experience. Yet, people line up. And now I’m warning you – don’t do it! Save your money! Stand in line at the Breakfast Club instead.

There are soooo many restaurant around us. You would think I’m fortunate. I live blocks from Midtown, which is the epicenter of Thai/Vietnamese restaurants in Houston. Every one that we’ve tried isn’t worth a second visit. There is an excellent Chinese restaurant on Buffalo Speedway and I-59 called Q’uin Dynasty (five stars from me, consistently good, too). There are four Greek/Mediterranean restaurants in walking distance from my home. Not a one of them serves anything decent except the gyros. That gets boring. There are four Mexican or Tex/Mex restaurants within a few square blocks. I can’t get excited about any of them. The neighbors gather every Friday night at the pink Mexican restaurant. I will point out that of all the Mexican restaurants the pink one is the best. I think the name is La Palisado – or something else that I can’t pronounce, so it remains “the pink one.”

We went to a cafe around the corner last week and I ordered the chicken salad stuffed avocado. How could I go wrong? I received a plate sprinkled with dry iceberg lettuce with brown edges, a halved avocado with skin intact. I would describe the chicken salad as boiled chicken mashed with mayonnaise. It had been squished into the center of the avocado. I would at least grind down that cooked chicken so it wasn’t stringy, and then I would add some flavor.

Even the doughnut shop on the corner, (how can you mess up a doughnut?) can’t compare to Dunkin’ Donuts. But their parking lot is crowded with cars.

It isn’t all bad. There are incredible restaurants nearby. Marks, Davino’s, The Chocolate Bar, Little Bigs, Indika’s, and that hole-in-the wall Cajun place behind the gas station to name only a few. There are others yet to be tried and I will report.

I could make a restaurant work. I am married to a man with a good head for numbers, I DO have some great recipes and my business plan is simple – if you feed people enough tasty food, they will be back.

No, I don’t think I will start that restaurant business any time soon (though that may change as the really great restaurants are becoming fewer and farther between. And I am hungry.)

For now, I will stick to writing more tasty novels.

How opening a restaurant is NOT like writing a novel:

If at first you don’t succeed it is much too expensive to open another restaurant.

Here is a recipe:

My Mom’s Shrimp Dip

1 8 oz. block of cream cheese (room temp)

1 cup mayonnaise (gotta be the real stuff)

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 lemon, juiced

1 and 1/2 cup fresh shrimp* (cooked, peeled, chopped)

Combine.

Best eaten the next day.

*the secret to good boiled shrimp is this. Put the raw, unpeeled shrimp in rapidly boiling, seasoned water. Wait two minutes. Turn fire off. Let shrimp sit in seasoned water for fifteen minutes. My favorite seasoning is two tablespoons of liquid Zatarain’s Crab and Shrimp boil, and two tablespoons salt.

Passages

pen and ink on paper
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This week my mother fell for the fifth time since January. I couldn’t be reached by phone to rush across town to open her door,  so emergency personnel broker her door down. She was fine after the firemen picked her up off the floor and sat her in her chair. Her blood sugar was very high and she had been dizzy.

I didn’t find any of this out until the next day when I checked my phone messages. I called her and she sounded a million miles away, very weak. She said she didn’t know why she fell. She felt fine now. I talked to her care-giver who told me that mom hadn’t been taking her medications in a timely manner. A doctor’s appointment was arranged.

Thank heavens for Facebook.

I messaged the doctor before the appointment to explain what had been going on. The doctor asked my mother during the visit what she wanted to do to feel safer? My mother and I had been discussing a nursing home where there is 24-hour care. She has cried and worried and resisted the idea before now. She hasn’t set foot in a nursing home since the 1970’s. Most nursing home facilities are very much improved from the 1970’s. The doctor asked her what would happen if she fell and broke a bone? After all, she does have severe osteoporosis. My mother shrugged. The doctor said, “I would feel more at peace if you were being taken care of all the time.”

No tears this time except from me.

My mother nodded, “Well I can’t cook anymore anyway. Can’t lift the pots!”

She can’t cook any longer. The one thing that she has always loved to do. She can’t do it. Never mind she can’t make it to the toilet, or can’t dress herself, or is falling when there is no one to pick her up, no – she can’t cook!

I knew she would find the marker that tipped the scales somewhere.

You see, I didn’t want to rush her this time. When my father passed away. I rushed her. I packed her up before he was in the grave and took her body (but not soul) out of her home and into mine. If she had been capable she would have kicked and screamed the entire trip. She was almost ready for the home at that moment, but I wanted to help her get strong, to have that last fling. So I -oh-so-politely encouraged her to do her own laundry, take out her own trash, do her own dishes, things my sainted father had been doing for her for twenty years and the reason for her condition.

She DID get stronger. She made her own bed, picked up after herself, called for pizza delivery. But she grizzled about my abruptly moving her out of her home and worse – taking her five bedroom ranch home and reducing everything to a garage full of boxes – within four months of my father’s passing. She was actively mourning losing her mate of sixty years AND her things. And I was responsible.

Eight months later, I found an independent living facility for seniors where there was security. Unlike her home out in the country where there had been several armed robberies and doors being kicked in. This time we moved her, she was more willing.  She was ready to get away from me.

Within months of being there, she was truly happy. She blossomed in the camaraderie of fellow seniors, especially the ice-cream socials. She gained weight. She walked the halls. Her blood pressure was good. Her anger at me waned. She even told me one day that she was thankful for me. “If I hadn’t lived with you I wouldn’t love this place so much.”

I think she meant she was thankful.

So today I called her social worker. I called a nursing home my brother and I had chosen. There is a bed available. All systems go. This is tough though. I keep telling myself that she will love to get involved in all the activities and having her hair done at the on-site beauty salon.

My daughter is due to have her baby this week. We are thrilled. Baby CoraBelle will soon be here. Finally.

I know my mother wants to see the baby, especially precious as her birthday is this week. She’ll be 86.

My cup is full. I grab my schedule as I can. Isn’t it that our life’s portion is meted out by hours, minutes, seconds. These portions add up to become passages. We didn’t witness the beginning, we don’t know the end. Life is in the journey.

Writing Time

Writing
Random hairy arm

Bottom line. Nothing thrills the writer’s soul like writing – marking up a blank sheet with anything resembling words, or better – sentences, or best of all – whole thoughts that might, just, make sense. That act of committing feels priceless.

Elizabeth George in her book Write Away says that she tells her students on the first day of her creative writing courses:

“You will be published if you possess three qualities – talent, passion, and discipline. You will probably be published if you possess two of the three qualities in either combination – either talent and discipline, or passion and discipline. You will likely be published if you possess neither talent nor passion but still have discipline … but if all you possess is talent or passion, you will not be published. And if by some miracle you are published it will probably never happen again.”

A bold statement. And I believe it. No matter what is happening in my life I try to set time apart to write. And at present those are at ODD times. The jury is out on whether a writer commits those little dashes and dots to paper every day, twice a week, every possible moment, whatever. Part of the “art” of writing is the “art” part. Art, unlike craft, is not a disciplined endeavor. It is the inspiration, the beating heart, the passion part. Because I must write. That’s what writers do. And when I’m not writing I think about what I’m going to write next.

But a writer will get no where thinking about writing. I know a lot of people who have a wonderful novel they have thought about. Until the words are committed to the page, I’m sorry, it isn’t a novel. That is the reason writers must MUST write. Butt on chair. Do it.

Some writers claim to spill out countless words all the time – be it on tissue, the napkin, or ink on the arm – when no paper is available. Others say they write a certain number of hours every day. This is a nice business-like attitude. I believe most of those who write in this way are men. (sexist) In fact, one of my favorite suspense writers, Dean Koontz, said in a recent interview that he got up every morning and shut himself away in his study to write. I think he mentioned the word business in the interview.

Some writers claim the morning is best for writing. I do. Although with my crazy life it happens that I use what moments I can grab. But mornings seem to be the most popular by a non-scientific three-to-one count on my part. Non-scientific because I haven’t kept score on paper and am at present trusting memory.

Again, to say with any conviction that this time or that time is best denies the artistic part of writing.

Jane Yolen author of Take Joy and one of the most beloved and prolific writers of children’s novels, picture books, and essays said, “Before I got a house in Scotland I thought I was a morning writer. Then we started spending summers in Scotland where the day lasts until 11 o’clock at night. That’s when I realized I was a Light writer.”

I love that. She’s so witty. It isn’t the time or day, it is the writing.

Writing with results must be a dichotomy, a disciplined art. Remember what Elizabeth George said – for publication the discipline is more important than the passion or the talent.

So put down the phone, put down the TV remote, and take the time to write, no matter what.

The Before and Afters of Our House

I promised I would show before and after photos of our house. Here are photos from when the house was almost a shell. We saw through the ugly to what it could be. Now we are proud to live here. It is a grand old house of a period in Houston’s history when most homes being built were victorian in characteristic. But some neighborhoods were building in a new form called “arts and crafts“. Our house’s original owner liked the “arts and crafts” details that he had built into this house – the square decorative windows, the square columns on the bottom porch. These are identical to others surrounding us. However, what makes this house stand out in it’s uniqueness is the Victorian porch on the top floor with its round columns. Also the “arts and crafts” homes never had a rounded or “wrap-around” porch. Ours does. In fact when speaking to the ninety-year-old neighbor down the street whose grandfather was the second owner of our house in 1914, she said the porches have always been the way they look now.

This back porch was added in 1978. It doesn’t match anything.

The before picture of back of house shows how the bottom portion of the porch fell off during the raising and leveling of the foundation. Frankly I was surprised this was the only thing that fell off. On the inside a lot of the upstairs ceilings crashed to the floor, and great craters appeared in the walls. Here you can see the huge plant that had grown into the ground and COULDN’T be moved. It was taking over the back porch area so I had to hire someone with a chain saw to cut it out. Upstairs you can see the boards that are framing what will be the bathroom window. That had been a another door.

Now in the after picture you can see that the upstairs porch no longer has the lattice board, you can see the bathroom window of glass brick, and you can see the downstairs porch (now piled with the stuff that needs to go in a shed), the new steps, and the outside of the new mud room.

One of the most dramatic changes happened to the lowly downstairs bath/laundry room. It was located under the double stairs.

You can see the hole in the floor where the toilet had been. This is just next to the kitchen. So I decided this would make a better pantry than utility/bathroom. So here is the “after” picture of the pantry.

The original Victorian front door was re-purposed for this room. But we still had to put in a bathroom. Behind the original bathroom wall was an empty hallway. Here are the before and after pics of the downstairs bath.

First the hall is gutted. You can see the original wall.

Now everyone who sees this thinks it is an original bath room. It is tiny and I used the period details to make it seem very old.

And then the laundry had to go somewhere. My husband had the brilliant idea to put it upstairs next to our bedroom. We aren’t getting any younger and there is always laundry to do, right? So we took a huge, wide hall that led to the upstairs front porch and divided it into three sections. Hall to stairs, our room, the guest bathroom, next section became part for the laundry, and the next section part “sitting area” library in the master bedroom.

So first the laundry – This shot shows the laundry being framed out within that hall area. Two bedroom doors had to be moved in the process. You can see the one doorway being framed in now. Also to the left are the stairs down and the huge window over the stairs.

Laundry AFTER. This is a shot  taken in the same direction.

And this was taken with the laundry doors closed. 

Now behind this laundry room is the master bedroom library. There is a door to the right of the desk that leads to the upstairs front porch.

When you walk in the front door and look to the left there is the nice sized living room. We filled in a door and that gave us a wall there. (I will show you that view from the outside.) What struck us about the living room and dining room were the ceilings. There are nice beams there. They were always meant to be painted wood (low quality boards were used instead of lumber) but we painted them as to seem like wood. Here are the before and afters.

Here is the BEFORE

Of course books and furniture make a difference.

Here in the AFTER you will note that behind the chair is a pocket door. When we first entered, I knew the doorway to the left was much too wide. It made the entry room and the living room into a big odd-shaped area. I knew I wanted the entryway to be private and able to be cut off from the noise in the living room if possible so I said “pocket doors”. The great thing about pocket doors is they take up no wall space. When the frame from the super-sized doorway was removed some original tracks for a pocket door were revealed. I knew that was what was meant to be there!

Now to the master bath. The master bath in this house used to be a bedroom. We took one bedroom and divided it into a master bath and master closet. The closet can never be too big in my opinion!

The before picture of the bath from the inside. Here you can see out and across the porch to the neighbor’s yard behind us.

Now the after picture: You can see on the right the glass block window that is reflected in the glass rain shower.

Here is a picture of the outside side view of the house. That is the living room wall that used to be a door.The porch hasn’t been leveled yet and all the railing replaced, and the iron fence hasn’t been welded together where it had fallen apart.

The after picture.

Now I’m getting to the part everyone wants to see – the kitchen! When I showed pictures earlier in the year of the gutted kitchen with the holes in the floor, people were commenting that nothing good could come of this. I like to think that the kitchen redo reflects my style of creating any art piece. I have had people comment that my art looks like a mess before it becomes anything identifiable. When I work with gauche, I know this to be true. Everything must be broken down to its ugliest most prehistoric form before becoming what it is meant to be. With gauche you have to see the negative in whites before the positives can be applied in darker paint to create the picture.  It is the way with any reconstruction project or any creative attempt. Sometimes you just have to work backward to get forward.

Sidebar: this philosophy works when cleaning out a closet.

Here is the kitchen pre-gut:

Kinda depressing, huh?

Then the gut:Feeling worse?

But wait! Add cabinets, new floors, appliances, fun light fixtures, an amazing faucet and voila!

This is from the same angle as the gut picture. Note the mason jar lights. Cute, huh?

Let me share a few more angles.

Where the brick column is was sheet rock. We wanted to expose the column. This is an original 100-year-old chimney flue. There is a hole in the brick near the ceiling where the original kitchen’s wood-burning stove’s pipe took the heat and smoke up and out. This brick goes from the dirt, through the roof.

Here is a picture when they were taking out the sheet rock and ugly cabinet. This is a perfect spot for a Wine bar. Don’t you see it, too?

Not completely finished (this was one of those projects the builder decided he didn’t need to do.) but we will be adding the cabinet before long. Meanwhile it functions well in its capacity.

So how did we make all the porches seem like they belong on the same house? I mean after all the front porches are in two different styles and the back porches were added in 1978. Welllllll. We made all the porch railing match all the way around and up and down.

Thank you for viewing my pictures and the year-long effort of re-making a 100-year-old mess into the beauty it was always supposed to be.

News and Billboards

Some of you may have seen this billboard around town.

You might not have recognized my mother with her hat and the goofy sun drawn around her face. How did this happen? My neighbor, a photographer,  saw my mother one day and exclaimed to me later that my mother looked like the perfect old lady. She asked me if I thought she would like to be on a billboard.

I had heard once that there are only three reasons a “lady” would ever be in the paper – When she’s born, when she marries, and when she dies. However, my mother was astounded and credulous upon hearing that the neighbor wanted to take her picture for a billboard advertisement for the Houston Food Bank.

“The Food Bank? I’m not starving! Why me?”

I told her that she looked like a nice old lady and they needed a nice old lady.

I don’t know if that was the right thing to say or not.

She was all for it.

Then a few weeks later and completely unrelated, my daughter was eating in her university cafeteria when she was approached by a woman toting a camera who asked if my daughter wanted to be on a billboard that would be going up all around Houston advertising the university. My daughter couldn’t believe it but she posed and snap!

Here is the result –

They even added a little along her sides because she looked too skinny next to the young man sharing the billboard picture with her.

A few weeks later, I kid you not. I was walking Big Boy and a reporter with CBS asked me what I thought of all the political signs in front yards. Of course when you ask me anything I will have an opinion, even if I make it up on the spot. It just seemed surreal for our family to be all over the place.

I didn’t watch the news to see if I was on or not. But a year later when we were renovating the home we now live in, a reporter asked me if I wanted to be in the paper.

Why not?

Here is the result –

And then the second picture with the article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost my phone but not my camera

Last night while at my brother’s house in the country I lost my phone. But managed to get home with my camera.

Here are some pictures of the livestock.

The bull is gigantic. Up close you can see the muscles rippling. Apparently he is not such a gentle giant but he is on his best behavior in anticipation of the slices of apples my brother has. Brother is standing behind me here. I love the colors of the bull. I have a few close up shots in hopes of doing some artwork later on.

Then there is Miss Chick-Chick.  She comes when called and follows anyone with food. Here, she is scarfing up an overripe fig. One of these days I’ll get the hang of getting the pictures to work right with the text wrapped around them. I took a lot of pictures of chickens. When the weather cools down I want to get more. The barn was broiling. Outside under the sun it was worse. Brother has three kinds of chickens, turkeys, and wild ducks that he feeds. He enjoys a plethora of delicious free-range eggs.

The sheep don’t have names yet. The male has become friendly and enjoys human interaction but the females are still too skittish having been raised in a feed lot with a hundred other sheep.

BeeBlack is the goat. Followed us around like a dog waiting for a pat on the head.

We’ve decided that my brother will become the favorite uncle with his “petting zoo”.

The Real Rebecca Nolen Will Now Stand Up

Mercedes-Benz F400 "Carving" Prototype
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Have you googled yourself lately? I have. Curiosity compelled me to go to “Google”, type in my name, and press “search”. There it is – my website, which I keep meaning to figure out how to link to this blog, or manipulate into this blog and do away with the extra site altogether. If I ever get someone to come put back the closet shelf that fell with a resounding explosion on July 4th, and get the electric inspection to pass, I might have some time on my hands. Then I’m signing up to attend the workshop with the Houston-SCBWI group to figure out how to add my site to my blog.

But there is even more to see in that “search”. There is a website for “The Real Rebecca Nolen”.

Wait a minute! What am I? And yet. And yet. Am I really Rebecca Nolen? When I was in my flippant 20’s I changed my name. Not legally because my legal name is Rebecca Nolen. But I changed it because my first husband, a Frenchman, liked Rebecca better than Becky. “Becky is so choppy” (say it with a French accent). So the more formal name stuck. The Frenchman did not. He ran off to join the French army with hardly an O-Ree-Voir.

I grew up under my nickname – Becky. And it is life changing to change a name from what one is called growing up to a new name as an adult. But I’ve been Rebecca longer than I was ever Becky. So it feels part of me. We grapple with these things when naming a child, and now the naming of a grandchild. It all comes down to – what will she/he be CALLED? The calling of a name is an intimate gesture from one person to another. So what happens when that gesture is interrupted by a change?

Now, here is my scientific analysis: changing your name with all your new acquaintances isn’t difficult, most of the time.

One assumes when introducing oneself under a certain name that the other person accepts that is your real and “called” name. This is not always so with the name Rebecca, as I’m sure those with the name Robert (Bob? Robby? Rob?) understand, and the name Elizabeth (Betty? Liz? Elspeth? Lizzie?) and there are many other names out there that chopped to bits and remade – I get called Becky anyway. I had a lady I worked for for about ten years call me Becky, although everyone else at the workplace called me Rebecca. It was a school setting so it wasn’t as if my name was not used in general assemblies, etc. I don’t know what it was that this lady had against the name Rebecca. Or was she trying to put me in place because she was the boss? It is a mystery.

It is acceptable and understandable when friends from my youth, and when my family call me Becky. They have always called me Becky. And so by the right invested by me – they can call me Becky.

I am still Rebecca Nolen.

There have been three instances where my identity has been compromised. At one point I owed money to the Ebony magazine group for the books they sent me as part of their book club membership. I never received the  books. After getting a couple of nasty notices, I called the magazine’s accounting department. Once the person on the other end of the phone realized this particular Rebecca Nolen was unlikely to have ordered a book called something like “Hot Black Mamas in the Office!” he took me off the “creditors have been summoned to evict you” list.

Over the last few months I have taken several calls on my cell about the cars I had shown interest in. The people calling me were from Volvo, Mercedes, and Cadillac dealerships. Yeah, roight! If I were looking at all I would more likely to be looking a little lower on the car scale. No, it wasn’t me looking at cars on the internet and typing in one of my OLD addresses but then typing in my current cell number.

How do these crooks do that?

When I first purchased my .com name to keep it in reserve, I put up a small website with my email address. No sooner than that I had an email from an eleven year old Rebecca Nolen in Australia. She told me she had wanted to get the .com of our name but she was too late in doing so. I don’t know how I was supposed to respond to that email. I told her I was glad to hear from her, but yep, I got the name.

Now I see the REAL Rebecca Nolen has a website. So even if I wanted to give up my .com I wouldn’t want someone like that to have it. I would want the other totally real Rebecca Nolen in Australia to have it. The real-ish Rebecca Nolen of all has spoken, the one with the actual and real .com. So there!