Writing Time

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possess neither talent nor passion but still have discipline … but if all you possess is talent or passion, you will not be published.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
Image via Wikipedia

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!

Sampson is Found!

My son went hunting this past weekend with some college friends and his best bud, a pooch named Sampson. He had adopted him during his first year of college over seven years ago, my first grand-dog.

The boys arrived at their friends ranch land and unloaded their gear to the air-conditioned cabin. Samson was out of sight but my son didn’t worry. Sampson liked to explore. But after unpacking he went to look for him. His friends had already started practice shooting. Sampson didn’t come when called. His friends joined him in the search. They spent the day searching. Sampson had disappeared.

He was something like a cross between a long-haired dachshund and a Chinese crested, long and low to the ground with not much hair except on the top of his head and on his chin. He ran with his jaw held crooked and his tongue hanging out and he could not hold his licker when anyone visited. He was just about the cutest ugly dog in the world.

It seemed that Saturday was one of those days when the bad news just kept coming. First the call about my husband’s aunt death. Then the emergency techs at the other end of my mother’s “life-alert” system called. My mother had fallen and couldn’t get up, could I go to her? Yes, we got to her and let the firemen into her apartment. She was alert but unable to move from a kneeling position, that’s as far as she could get from flat on her back. She fell when she thought she was grabbing the door jamb but missed and kept going. She was fine and we helped her get supper and settle for the night. Then when I texted my son about the happenings he texted me that Sampson was lost.

Texas is experiencing the worst drought in recorded history. I don’t hold out much hope that Sampson survived for long in the heat. Of all the day’s bad news and events, I think the little puppy getting lost forever in the Texas heat hit me the hardest. I guess the not knowing what happened is the worst part.

When my son was tiny and he lost his cherished teddy bear I told him Teddy went to Australia for a long vacation. It helped. It hurts that I can’t make up even the simplest solution to where Sampson is.

Today, being two days after Samspon was lost, is a red-letter day! Sampson has been found in Ledbetter, TX!

A Hundred Days to Health – the update

Weight Loss (The Office)
Image via Wikipedia

A hundred days have come and gone. I started this crazy attempt at improving my health at the end of January and so much has happened in that short period of time.  Here are the highlights – major house renovation and move, and found out I’m to be a grandmother – but not in that order. In fact, life hasn’t been orderly.

So many things have tried to side-track the health effort. As written I started out a 5’3″ female at 143 pounds and meds included those for thyroid, cholesterol, and diabetes – in other words, a round, middle-aged lady with thinning hair.

I am now at 126 pounds. I’m down one size. My cholesterol meds have been cut in half. Thyroid is fixing to be a thing of the past. Diabetes meds are up (drat!). I’m still 5’3″.

The down side: At this age as you lose weight the wrinkles begin to show. It’s true. However, I don’t think neck waddles are the bane of the middle-aged woman’s existence. No, I believe the worst part of growing older as a woman is the baggy knees. I no longer look hot in shorts. The book  Raggedy Ann and the Camel with the Baggy Knees has more meaning.

I’m thrilled to report that at least two of my friends have set their own health goals by also joining the YMCA and committing to a work-out schedule. Whoo Hoo!!




The Ferocity of Predators

A strange story about a hawk and a turkey.

It begins with the hawk I spotted soaring over our back yard. From the upper back porch I could watch the hawk fly between two huge pecan trees. Having lived near a hawk’s permanent nest in Sugar Land, I had the feeling the hawk for establishing territory for a nest. It may be there is already a nest in one of the trees. Even with the worst drought in recorded history in Houston, those pecan trees are thick with leaves.

Here it is, practically in the flat middle of the big city and that hawk was happy. Lots of prey – rats, pigeons makes it a good living space for a hawk.

I can tell you – watching the hawk that week after we moved brought such joy bubbling up. My sadness at leaving Sugar Land was finally in the past. I could mark the moment.

A week later my husband and I were walking to a little Mexican restaurant in the neighborhood. As we were fixing to turn the corner I saw something that ground me to a hot, dry halt. Fury, rage, frustration, all those things shot through me.

The hawk’s wings had been severed and were now hanging on a dumpster behind the flower shop.

It is illegal to shoot any bird of prey. But this was MY hawk. My hawk was dead. I knew I had missed something. I hadn’t seen the hawk flying lately. Throughout the evening whenever I thought of it, my stomach ached to DO something.

I called the Texas Parks and Wildlife as soon as I could. I was given the names and phone numbers of the warden. I called, left messages. Finally I called the TPW again and was given the number for the dispatch. I called that number and got through to a human. However I had the feeling that the lady at the other end of the line thought I was crazy.

“I’m reporting that a man shot a hawk,” I said.

“Did you see it happen?”

“No. But the wings are displayed on a dumpster. Like they’re pinned butterfly wings or something.”

“How do you know it is a hawk?”

“It’s either a hawk or an owl.”

“You say they are pinned? To a dumpster?”

“Well, he has them splayed out and held down with something.”

“I’ll have a warden call you.”

I gave her my name and number. I waited to hear. All day. Nothing. The next day. Nothing. I snuck down the street and took a picture. I didn’t want anyone to see me looking too interested. The owner of the flower business uses that lot behind him to practice his archery. That’s why I know it was him. He shoots at an archery target next to a fence that people are walking past. That’s crazy.

I called the Texas Parks and Wildlife again. Explained what I was calling about and asked why no one had called.

The dispatch lady on the other end said that it was the first time she was hearing about it.

“Well, the wings are still there,” I said.

“You say they are hawk wings?”

“Yes, the neighborhood hawk. It’s missing.”

“And where do you live?”

“In Houston, near downtown.”

“I’ll have a warden call you.”

Did she think I was crazy, too?  No one called. Ever. Now I’m mad.

What to do? What to do? In the cool of the evening the neighbors sit outside. I asked them if they’d seen the wings?

No, but they weren’t surprised. That guy at the flower shop, they told me, once hung a bunch of dead fish on his fence to chase away customers of a breakfast shop across the street from him. They said they would tell the neighborhood lady who is involved in wildlife rehabilitation. She would know what to do.

She told the neighbor to call the Texas Wildlife rehabilitation. He did. He came over this morning to tell me. He said the Texas Wildlife rehabilitation department called the Texas Parks and Wildlife and sure enough – a warden called my neighbor. Yes. He had seen the wings and yes, the owner of the flower shop would be getting a visit from him.

Ahhh. Justice.

The neighbor said that he has been assured that our names won’t come up. The flower shop guy is reputed to be nuts. He looks threatening with that bow and arrow. He could DO something.

This is the dumpster. What kind of bird did these come from? With the hawk missing what would you think?

And here’s a follow up. The neighbor told me this afternoon that the warden called him and told him that those are wild turkey wings and that the guy had a permit to kill a wild turkey. Opinion time. Do those look like wild turkey wings? AND where is my hawk? Overcome by the drought? The display remains macabre.

If Life Hands You a Lemon, Suck It Up

We moved into the new old house. It has double wrap around porches, a new kitchen and laundry, and a large master closet.

One can never have too much closet.

We’d been here a week, when the builder showed up and told us that if we wanted the inspections to go through on the electric, the plumbing, and the mechanical (A/C), we’d have to give him more money. He said if we didn’t he’d have to put a lien on the house. Let’s call this what it is – extortion.

This is a sour note to start our life in this house with.

Where is Holmes on Homes when you need him?

But not to fear, we are in the house! Possession is 9/10ths of the law. We’ve paid the builder almost double of what the original estimate of costs would be. If he doesn’t pass city inspections on what he was responsible for it falls back on him, not us. I told him I would file a complaint before the permits board. He said he didn’t care, that he would never do a remodel for anyone again anyway.

He said it wasn’t fair that he made a nice place for us to live and he doesn’t get anything for it. According to him he didn’t make any money. He complained that because I was at the job site almost every day, that I messed everything up. I kept pestering his people. He had a long list of complaints.

Actually, I was amazed at the sloppiness of the job until I learned that he was pushing them on quantity not quality. So often, I would double back and encourage the workers to do what hadn’t been done. I was on the job site because I wanted to see where our hard-earned cash was going.

On this night we couldn’t get him to leave our house. How ironic since I spent a lot of time while he was working on it chasing him down.

At this point I wondered if my kickboxing-body combat would have to come into play. I look like the innocuous grandma I am about to become, but I do pack a pretty mean punch.

We just let him natter.

What he didn’t get was that there are times that no matter how hard you work, you don’t get what you expect. It is tantamount to farting in the wind. Of course, when you are in business it helps to keep orderly books and records, which is what we didn’t see from him after he started the work.

Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers labor in vain. (Psalms)

In some of his budget cutting moves he cut his costs by hiring unskilled labor. We have tiles that aren’t laid flat, we have a tub that has deep scars and scratches because no one was supervising, we have paint all over windows and floors, counters that aren’t caulked, paper on electric lines, piles of trash in the back yard. What are we supposed to do?

After the other night, I’m pretty sure I don’t want him around. So I will make everything right with a little elbow grease and a ladder. I feel like that old geezer (Pappy) in the Real McCoys who would hitch up his britches, look toward the setting sun and say “We’ll climb that mountain.”

And so we will.

I Have Lived With Houses

Houses home our best or worst memories.

For those who watch the home improvement shows. I’m running circles around Suzie’s House. Ha!

This past weekend was one which will not be soon forgotten, or repeated. I went to a writing conference at the same time the moving van pulled up to our sweet Victorian cottage to load everything up and move us to the Arts and Crafts home that we’ve been renovating since January. I’d been packing for weeks, and getting material ready for editor and agent review for weeks. And biting my nails. There’s nothing like piling stress on stress. Does wonders for the neck muscles.

Like the characters in my novels, every house renovation jets me into some kind of trouble which seems impossible to get out of. The deeper one digs, the more trouble one unearths.

Foundation work took over a week because the 1910 house was that settled. Plus, the double porches on three sides of the house had to be raised separately. When they raised the back porch, the bottom one fell apart. So it had to be rebuilt to support the top porch. In rebuilding it I had them enclose part of it to create a mud room. Success! Then it rained. Whoops, forgot to waterproof above the sheet rock.

When exposing the chimney flue on the inside (at the kitchen) the builder found that there was NO support beam for the upper floor where it was needed. No wonder the toilet leaked. The upstairs bathroom was caving into the kitchen. I went to flush the toilet the day I didn’t know the sewer line was frozen and the black water shot out, splattered past me and into the tub. Yuck!

Now all toilets flush.

That is huge.

The only thing left is having the air conditioning, the electric and the plumbing pass inspection. Oh, and adding knobs to a few doors.

When we bought the Victorian cottage there was a pot-holed drive way and several street people sleeping under the house or in the shed. We paved the drive, tore up the none-existent sidewalks, and added a fence around the property. The house itself was not livable as the air-conditioning had irreparably broken, which we didn’t know until after we purchased the property. It had limped along until somewhere between signing on the dotted line and getting home warranty insurance.

The Victorian is perfect now. Ready for some fortunate person to purchase it and move in.

The house I grew up in was asbestos shingled, with a white rock roof. No one knew about asbestos then, just knew asbestos made it fire-proof. The shingles were painted daffodil yellow. I remember feeling proud that my house could be seen from a great distance.

Ha. Ha. A huge distance. That house was day-glow before day-glow existed.

There was a crack in the foundation. It was so wide you could see daylight. My brother and I would sit and wait for lizards to crawl in and capture them. To this day I’m crazed if a Palmetto bug skitters too near my feet. This is because for a period of time, after my parents built their bedroom and gave me their old room, I would go to my bed and flip the covers back. There was a Palmetto bug sitting there, waiting for me. It happened again and again. Go in, flip covers, Palmetto bug, scream. Palmetto bugs look like giant cockroaches. I am still afraid.

My grandmother’s house I remember with fondness. I spent a great deal of childhood with my grandmother. There was a painted wood staircase that led to an apartment upstairs. Instead of closet doors there were heavy velvet curtains. My cousins and I would put on plays. I discovered an easy-bake oven one day and burned my fingers.

That house was built in 1889. It didn’t survive Hurricane Carla in 1961. Termites had undermined the beams beneath it and the wind blew it sideways and it crumbled.

My husband and I bought our first house in 1987. It was one of thirty homes out in the middle of a field and across the highway from one of Texas’s finest prison farms. Unwittingly the phone wiring wasn’t sophisticated enough for the phones and so we all shared a party line. This neighborhood wasn’t Mayberry. You could pick up the phone any time day or night and someone would be carrying on a conversation. These people would get abusive when asked to give up some phone time. The first day my oldest went to Kindergarten, the police were searching cars as we left the subdivision. I thought it was a drug raid. As I pulled up the policeman shone his flashlight in my face, like they do on TV. I asked him what was going on. A prisoner had escaped and was seen crossing the highway and slipping over a fence. Shaken I took my son on to school and rushed home to make sure all the doors and windows were locked.

Turned out the prisoner had broken an ankle slipping over the fence and that yard was surrounded by big dogs so he had no where to go. That was two blocks from my house.

Time passed. We raised two kids. The area sprouted five thousand houses.

The p-farm sold to a developer.

We moved farther into the country, where we lived on the edge of a creek. And dealt with banana spiders the size of your hand, water moccasins, and gorgeous sunsets. I miss that house.

We moved downtown beneath the big city skyline to an ultra modern townhouse with a chef-designed kitchen. TOO many stairs in that place. Two weeks after we moved in, Hurricane Ike swept past not a mile from us. The big trees in the neighborhood were uprooted and left higglety-pigglety in the streets.

Felt like renovating a hundred year old house, found one, fixed it and moved in. In this house I learned that street people are important to get to know. There are good ones and bad ones. I got to know Reggie, The Razor, Robinson (former boxer), Cash (a former pimp), Bear (he always wears a clean white shirt, a tie, and a smile, and Reno (don’t trust Reno). I learned that if you pay attention, these are the people who either make your neighborhood safe or make it horrible. Street people know what is going on. They keep watch. They know when a car should or shouldn’t be where it is, etc.

Two years later, meaning now, my husband and I found another hundred-year-old house that needed love. We fixed it (mostly) and moved in.

What have I learned?

First, I don’t think I’ll ever move house on the same day as a conference again. That was silly.

Secondly, making alleys through the boxes isn’t such a terrible thing.

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