Friday, July 28, 2006

Then and Now

I was talking to Beth on the phone last night about her upcoming trip to OKC next month around her birthday. Her 39th birthday. I’ve already had the distinct pleasure of turning 39. That led to a long conversation about next year being our dreaded 40th birthdays. We laughed a little bit and we cried a little bit about where we are in our lives on the eve of our big 4-0s.

I told her about the moments I experienced last week when I was with my nieces and, more than once, would suddenly and unexpectedly be overcome with waves of sadness and emotion as I reflected on my life and the fact that I will never have my own children. How I feel like I’m missing out on one of life’s biggest - yet really most basic - of human experiences.

Beth expressed how badly she wants a loving, committed husband to walk through life with. How it isn’t natural to spend your life alone. How we are supposed to find our partners.

At one point we began to laugh hysterically through our tears at how maudlin we were being over turning 40. To bring ourselves back up, we started talking about all of the things that we can do more easily as single women than we could as married women with families.

We can manage our money and our time how we want. Our energy can be spent on endeavors that do not involve the constant churn of changing diapers, blowing noses and doing endless laundry. We can work without worry of daycare and absence from work. We can be totally spontaneous or completely lazy.

And we can travel.

At exactly the same time we both experienced a moment of clarity. After talking about it for over five years, at long last we decided that we really are going to take a trip to Italy in 2007 in celebration of our 40th birthdays. No more wishing for it or wondering about it or giving it lip service – we’re going to do it. Probably in November 2007 when there are fewer tourists, prices are lower and there are fewer stressors at work. One splendid week. Maybe even ten days. In Rome. Celebrating our fourth decade.

This started me thinking about Europe and my time in France and the travel excursions I experienced and I realized that it is time to write some of these stories for the Dotopotamus.

I’m starting with a soft, breezy memory. Today’s simple story is not a European highlight, nor one of the brightest memories of my time in France, and certainly not one of the funniest, but it is one of the sweetest and it came to mind because it reminded me of a time when I was young and certainly not worried about turning 40.

I was paired with two other American girls on a project that involved us walking through the Latin Quarter in Paris making observations along the way. These were Mean Girls. The ultimate bitches. The type of snotty, arrogant women who are convinced that they are the prettiest, the funniest and the most desirable women at the ball. The rub is, they really are the prettiest and most desirable at the ball, but they are ugly on the inside and they do everything they can to put you down so they can feel superior.

There I was having to be with them. Feeling too tall and too heavy and too insecure knowing that they would have rather died than be with me, either. We started off on our project assignment making our way through the Latin Quarter and I was so self conscious I just wanted to implode.

And then the most magical of things started happening.

Somehow, and for some reason, I just started getting noticed.

As we were walking by a quaint little market store this darling, tall, young Greek man came running up behind us trying to get our attention in some unknown language. As we turned to him, you could just see these two girls I was with light up with anticipation. But it was to ME that he gave the 2 small tangerines he was holding as he said sweet things in broken English. The look of confusion on the girls’ face was nothing compared to the look of confusion on my face.

As we continued on, a handsome older man in a tailored suit standing at a newsstand on the corner handed me a long red rose and kissed my hand.

Further down, we heard a violin coming from inside a restaurant. As we stopped by the gate and watched, the violinist approached us and he pulled me from the group, sat me down on this chair in the middle of the restaurant and started playing the most beautiful song, after which the entire place erupted in applause as he kissed me on the cheek. The Mean Girls tried to get him to play a song for them and he wouldn’t do it. Instead, he handed me his phone number written on a book of matches from that restaurant.

It was at this point that the Mean Girls stopped talking to me altogether.

Leaving that place we continued heading towards Notre Dame through the Latin Quarter and this group of incredibly cute guys walked past us and flirted with me as they passed. One of them took off the scarf he was wearing and put it around my neck saying “For you, Bella” as they moved on.

And then, like it was written into the script of a really bad I Love Lucy episode, a man riding on his bike rode by us and as he passed me he looked back and said “bonjour” as he hit the curb and went flying off of his bike. As I bent down to help him up he said I was an angel and asked if I would stay with him for some tea and cookies. I did. I sat there at a lovely little side walk café in Paris with Edith Piaff music coming from inside and drank tea and ate dainty cookies with this totally handsome French stranger who called me “Loreee” and told me I was “beau-tee-fool”.

It was like one corny, romantic, unexpected thing, after another, and the Mean Girls were beside themselves with anger because, for what was probably the first time in their entire lives, they were invisible and it was the tall, gawky girl who got all of the attention.

It. Was. Awesome.

I don’t write any of this to be egotistical or braggadocios in any way because Lord knows this is not a common occurrence for me. I made myself remember this story last night when I was feeling so down about getting older and feeling permanently “single”, because it reminds me that one time I was young and naïve and hopeful.

So my goal is to find inspiration there and try and find a way to bring some of those feelings back to the surface as I approach 40. There is nothing I can do about the passage of time, but I can do something about the way I cope with it, so I hope to find a way to accept -- and dare I say embrace -- turning 40 with grace. In Italy.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

My Life as a Hippie

Living in Austin meant I could release my inner hippie from time to time in fun and harmless ways. As the state’s liberal blueberry in the sea of strawberry red, Austin’s left leanings allowed for a smorgasbord of holistic alternatives just waiting to be sampled.

Remember, up until this point the most “alternative” lifestyle choice I’d ever made was bathing with Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap! I guess I did go to CU in Boulder which, in and of itself, could be considered an “alternative” lifestyle choice, but I really didn’t embrace the New Age Boulder scene as much as I did the football games, business school and studying in France. I happily lived in the smack dab center of the Mainstream bell curve.

But after going through some unique experiences, I became a little more open to the POSSIBILITY that something beyond the physical world was at play in the universe.

I became a seeker and I was looking for answers.

But where to begin?

At the Whole Life Expo, of course!

Three days of organic woo-woo dedicated to natural health, alternative medicine and green living. It was fantastic, first and foremost because it was tremendously funny but also because it was interesting. Taking care of body, mind and soul was front and center and it was a blast. Beth and I went together via some VIP passes I had been given at work so we had access to all of the lectures, book signings, foods, books, potions, jewelry, “readers” (palm, tarot cards, mind, etc.), specialty products, demonstrations and pan flute concerts you can imagine. We stared, gawked, participated, pointed, laughed until we snorted, questioned, scoffed, touched, read, listened, pondered, and learned for three straight days. I’m not sure what we came away with at the end of the weekend other than tired feet and some special lotion that was supposed to ward off negative energy, but I do have some great memories of that time. As an aside, we later heard that the owner and organizer of that event, who we had met thanks to our special VIP passes, had skipped the country after being charged with tax evasion and was tooling around Thailand on a bike. Nice.

So, over the course of a few years, in fits and spurts, my inner hippie and I attended the Unity church, drank wheatgrass juice, meditated, used prayer beads when praying, had my palm read, wore a hematite ankle bracelet for grounding, collected crystals with various healing properties, lit candles, build little alters, chanted “Om” for long periods of time, had my tarot cards read, visited Kramer the astrologist, took a class on finding my guardian angel, went to hippie hollow, read books by Deepok Chopra, Wayne Dyer and Mariannae Williamson, took yoga, ate oat straw to cure my addiction to food, learned about Zen Buddhism, had my runes read, cleansed my chakras, read The Messenger and Chariots of the Gods, bought carrot juice and other organic delicacies at stores like Whole Foods and Central Market and held down my job at PBS.

I was really just throwing things against the wall and seeing what stuck, and over time my interests and curiosity subsided and I moved on. While I do believe what my dear friend Keb Mo says when he sings “There’s More Than One Way Home”, I just wasn’t finding all of the answers to the questions I was asking from these sources.

But what I believe I will always keep with me from the journey through that time in my life are my love of the Unity church, the lessons I learned about “choices”, my appreciation of Yoga, and a taste for fresh carrot juice. And, lest we should forget, my addiction to Dr. Bronner’s Magical Soaps.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Gaze Into My Crystal Ball

I like to say that I have a little closeted hippie living somewhere deep inside of my lipstick loving, hair bleaching, underarm and leg shaving, toenail painting, meat eating, Republican voting, materialistic wanting self. “Hippie” really isn’t the right word, but it’s the one I use because it personifies the alternative, peace, love, save the world, spiritually open minded kind of person that I like to think I can identify with on an infinitesimally small level.

Now don’t get me wrong – this is strictly learned behavior on my part. It certainly isn’t natural to my being like singing gospel music and eating pork ribs. It all kind of started with Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, which I wrote about yesterday, and my friend Beth.

Beth has one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever heard. Ever. Best of all, it’s ALL TRUE. Some people might think she’s made some of it up, but if there is one thing I trust in this big, cosmic ball of confusion it’s that Beth won’t (ultimately) lie to me. She might try to bend the truth, or omit a less-than-flattering detail, or embellish here and there for the sake of a good story, but in the end I know that our friendship is such that the truth, in all of its gory, ugly detail, will eventually come out.

So Beth’s story is true and it made me a believer. A believer in what? I’ll get to that a little later.

When she was one month old, Mary Margaret Fagan was adopted from the Methodist Missionaries Orphanage in New Orleans by a nice couple who later named their new baby Elizabeth and set into motion her whole rather odd life. I’m sure like most adopted children, Beth always had a burning curiosity about her birth parents but the nice couple honestly couldn’t tell her anything other than her birth name because that was back in the days when adoption records were sealed and orphanages didn’t release any background information to the adopting parents about the birth situation. The only reason they knew her birth name was because they were given her birth certificate – but no parents’ names were listed.

When she was 22 and already beginning to feel unsettled in her new marriage Beth reached her breaking point and decided that it was time to confront her worst fears of abandonment and instability. She knew the first step to dealing with this demon was finding her birth parents and learning their story and reasons for giving her up. At the time, Beth was a television news reporter and had finely honed her instinctually super sleuthing skills through years of rummaging through public records, court documents and asking questions. Knowing that her birth name was Fagan, coupled with the fact that she knew her exact birth date and that she was adopted in New Orleans, Beth figured she had enough information to ultimately lead to the answer she was seeking.

But her searching continued to lead to dead ends – the orphanage had been closed for over 20 years and no one could seem to locate where the files had been transfered, the Methodist Church was no help citing the lost records, and she couldn’t find a single lead at any of the hospitals in Louisiana. She said that she collected phone books from the different state parishes and called every Fagan she could find, but nothing registered. After a year of intense research she finally decided to give up the search and fell into a depression.

One day she was driving to work listening to the radio, and the DJs had a guy named Ron Williams (I think that was his name) on the show who professed to be a psychic. As you can imagine, they were engaged in all of the expected morning show shtick – having people call in with their questions about their love lives, jobs, and friends and getting answers from the psychic. Apparently his callers were really “ooing” and “ahhing” over his responses being so accurate. On a whim that to this day she can’t explain, Beth wrote down the psychic’s name. Later that day, acting on this same unexplained compulsion (which she later credited to Divine intervention) she called the radio station and asked for Ron Williams’ phone number. Somehow she managed to coerce it out of them, telling them that the television station she worked for wanted to interview him for a news segment that night.

Acting on impulse, Beth called this guy. After introducing herself and exchanging a few pleasantries, she got right to the point telling Mr. Williams that she heard him on the radio that morning and she had a very serious question to ask him – could she make an appointment? She says he was a little bit reserved but basically friendly and said there was no need for an appointment, just ask the question. He said that physical proximity had nothing to do with the way his “third-eye” worked – it had something to do with sound vibrations or energy levels in her voice or some such thing. While my skepticism would have sent me into the dry heaves at that point, Beth proceeded. Ron Williams didn’t ask from where she had been adopted, her birth date, her Zodiac sign, nothing. He just tells her to ask the question.

“Where are my birth parents?”

She said there were a few moments of silence and he said “Jackson, Mississippi.” She was kind of floored and didn’t really know how to respond but he went on to say that he couldn’t tell her anything about them but he knew they were in Jackson, Mississippi. “Good luck and good by” and he hung up.

Beth had never considered that she might have been born outside of Louisiana. Driven by this unexplained force that seemed to be making her do these irrational things, she decided that it wouldn’t hurt to investigate Ron Williams’ claim a little bit so she mustered up the courage and called all of the Fagans in Jackson, Mississippi. Nothing. No one confessed to know anything. Now the average person would probably give up at this point, but not Beth. She decided to try one last, desperate thing – she placed a classified ad in the main Jackson newspaper that was to run for seven days. It read, “Born Mary Margaret Fagan, August 30, 1967. Seeking information about birth parents. Please call [her phone number].”

Four days later a woman called her! Saying she wanted to remain anonymous she identified herself as a retired nurse from the XYZ Hospital in Jackson and told Beth that she had been there during her delivery, which she clearly remembered because she personally knew both the teenage girl and boy who were Beth’s parents. She told Beth both of their first names, then she said, “Here is Mary and Joe Fagan’s [unlisted] phone number” and she hung up. That was before caller ID was widely used so Beth had no way to get back in touch with the mystery lady.

Feeling dazed and confused and giddy and terrified it took awhile for the woman’s words to sink in… “Here is Mary and Joe Fagan’s phone number”. They were married. Her birth parents were married. To each other. Beth had always sort of figured that she was given up for adoption because her Irish Catholic teenage mother was young, scared and unwed.

It turns out the young and scared part was right. But they were married and actually had two other children. Beth has a full-blood brother and sister and parents who have been married for 39 years.

The rest of the story is really personal and it’s Beth’s to tell, so I’m going to end it here but my reason for this long retelling is because hers is an amazing story where something beyond the physical realm was at work. Was it God? Yes, I think so. But did He use someone with the ability to process information differently than you and me – a psychic – to deliver the message? Yes, I think so. This is what I believe. And this belief sort of opened my mind to the POSSIBILITY that there are true miracles and unexplained phenomenon that are just as real as what we can physically see, touch, hear, smell and taste.

Just thinking about this awesome possibility stirred to life a little bitty part of my soul that identified with this “alternative” way of thinking. My inner hippie awoke.

As a post script to this bizaar story, Beth has never been able to find Ron Williams again. It’s like he disappeared. She’s wanted to thank him, and heck, get a few more answers to some difficult life questions, but he moved on to points unknown.

Stay tuned for the final installment of My Life as a Hippie when the Dotopotamus returns!

Monday, July 17, 2006

I Love This Guy

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps is one of my absolute favorite products in the whole wide world. It is a truly great soap, it’s completely entertaining and, secretly, it is expression manifest for my closeted inner hippie.

I was first turned on to this bubbly goodness 20 years ago, or so, when dad floated the Grand Canyon and was packing his stuff for the trip. Across the yard was strewn the raft, paddles, life jackets and what looked like dozens of waterproof boxes full of repellents, sun screens, food stuffs, sleeping gear, clothing items, toiletries, air pumps and a huge assortment of other things. The lawn looked like the third floor of Gart Brothers. That’s when I saw my first bottle of Dr. Bronner’s laying there between the pile of carabineers and the guitar Dad bought for $5 at a garage sale for singing around the campfire (you gotta love it.)

While first intrigued by its liquidy amberness, I snapped open the lid and was suddenly intoxicated by its stimulating peppermint aroma, then was quickly distracted and captivated by the blue label with tons of little bitty white print on the bottle. What was this? A manifesto? Is this guy a satan worshiper? Since this was happening at about the same time that Aunt Peggy had emphatically told me that Proctor and Gamble was a communist, God-hating company with a secret agenda to topple our Democratic society, (so we shouldn’t buy or use Zest, Scope, Pepto-Bismal or about 100 other items that represented 99% of what we had in our medicine cabinet), I was on heightened alert for the sly marketing tactics of other pinko corporations who wanted to destroy my rights and freedoms with the money they earned from selling me Tampex and Crest toothpaste.

But after reading a few lines of the doctrine on the label I decided Dr. Bronner’s wasn’t so much of an evil communist as he was the Mayor of Weirdsville, or its sister city Boulder. In addition to his incomprehensive ramblings, I was mighty impressed with his liberal use of exclamation marks and capital letters.

“Absolute cleanliness is Godliness. Teach the moral ABC that unites all mankind, free, instantly 6 billion strong and we’re All One. The Whole World is our country, our Fatherland, because all mankind are born its Citizens! We’re all Brothers and Sisters because One, ever-loving Eternal Father is our only God and All-One God-Faith reunites God’s legion! LISTEN CHILDREN ETERNAL FATHER ETERNAL ONE!”


Come again?

These first five sentences totally lost me and they were only the first few words of (what I found out later to be) over 30,000 words on this little bitty bottle of pepperminty stuff! Pure crazy.

Since I knew there was absolutely no way that Dad was supporting the tree-hugger agenda I quizzed him about why he had this soap and found out it was because it is biodegradable and river-friendly. Made sense.

While Dad was on his float trip I investigated this Dr. Bronner oddity and found out all sorts of interesting things. Emanuel Bronner (1908-1997) was a third generation master soap maker from an orthodox Jewish family in Germany. He rebelled against his family’s soap business for some reason that I’ve since forgotten and he came to the United States in the 1920s. Later, his parents and most of his family died in the Holocaust. Dr. Bronner initially worked for various U.S. soap companies but was greatly disturbed by the trend toward using un-natural, synthetic ingredients, so he struck out on his own in the 1940s with his all-natural formula. His ecologically friendly soaps and message of peace resonated with the counter-culture of the ‘60s and he became an icon of the time. He was a hippie long before there were such things.

It was never very clear to me where he developed his manifesto thinking but because writing this entry has stirred up this old curiosity, I checked out their website. There it said that Dr. Bronner’s “essential vision and philosophy were born out of the fate of his family and the Holocaust, and are emphatic that we are all children of the same divine source: people must realize that we are “All-One” and that the prophets and spiritual giants of the world’s various faith traditions all realized and said this.” I did laugh out loud when I read a little bit further down on the web site, “While we disagree with Dr. Bronner on some idiosyncrasies in his philosophy, we revere him for his efforts to unite humanity…” Read, “We can’t sign off on the crazy talk.”

When Dad returned from the Grand Canyon he let me use some of the Dr. Bronner’s he had left and I was HOOKED. It must be the all-natural hemp oils, or something, but I’ve been addicted to Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps since that day. I love the way it invigorates and tingles, smells so fresh, and rinses so perfectly squeaky clean. Oh, I’ve tried other soaps and for a long time I was swayed by Safeguard (red alert – pun intended – Safeguard is another product of the evil Proctor and Gamble empire) but ultimately it was too harsh. I’ve tried moisturized soaps, soaps that smell like fruit or flowers or spring breezes, expensive French-milled soaps, shower gels, exotic oils soaps – and I eventually give them up every time.

Because really there is nothing better than being Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps clean. Brain washed? Maybe? Body washed? Absolutely.

If you make it through the first 27,000 words on the label, you'll read that the soap is recommended not only for body washing but for a host of other things too -- you can use it for shampoo, laundry detergent, insect repellent, to clear congestion and as toothpaste. Ummm.... no.

Perhaps most importantly, my experience with Dr. Bronner’s soap, low those many years ago, was the spark that ignited a small but brightly burning curiosity within me about the mystical, cultish, completely scary ideologies of the free spirits, hippies and other "enlightend" beings that made up the "New Age". More about my life as a hippie will be covered in the next Dotopotamus entry.

Until then, I’m signing off in the words of Dr. E. H. Bronner: “We are all Brothers and Sisters and we should take care of each other and spaceship Earth!” Peace, man.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Road Trip

I took the Dotopotamus to Wichita Falls this afternoon where we met mom who took Dot on to the Last Stop for a couple of weeks while I'm in Colorado. You can see that Dot got a short hair cut for the occasion -- to thwart the stickers as much as possible! I'm going to miss that little bugger, but I feel better knowing she's having a good time with mom and the cows.

On the way back from Wichita Falls I was thinking about all of the bazillion miles we've driven over the years. I come from hearty driving stock. Mom and dad have covered some serious pavement over the years, primarily between Someplace North and Texas, and I guess their road trip fortitude has rubbed off on me.
I got to thinking about my own car trips and I've had some doozies. Each of these could be a story all by itself.

As a kid we drove from Montana to Texas and then Colorado to Texas MANY, MANY times. I primarily remember just looooooong stretches of land with little bitty towns breaking up the monotony every now and then. It was always a big deal to get to the big city of Denver (where I usually freaked out and covered my face because there was so much traffic). Then it was pretty much small towns again all the way to Eastland. I do remember that we would get pretty excited when we hit the Texas border, only to realize we had another eight hours to go. Lordy.

My damnedest road trip experience ever was one of these long drives -- Texas to Colorado -- when it was just dad and me. Blizzard conditions between Clayton and Raton were absolutely treacherous even though you could see where the sun was just above the low ceiling of the storm. I'm pretty surprised that we made it through that one unscathed. Zero visibility at some points. But dad just slowly motored through and we got to Raton okay. It was, however, incredibly scarring when I was going to the bathroom at the Texaco in Raton after this harrowing journey and my brand new diamond cocktail ring fell off my finger in to the bottom of the toilet. Let's just say that it took some serious nerves of steal to work up the guts to get that baby out.

Was it the same trip, or a different one, when dad and I hit the snow storm just outside of Colorado Springs? I fretted, twitched, shrieked, and basically panicked through most of that drive as we had to hold our hands outside the window and "snap" the iced over windshield wipers every time they came to our side, in an effort to knock some of the snow off. Hollidays never stop.

I have fun memories of mom and I making that Texas drive by ourselves, and specifically I remember BELTING out some gospel songs as we were tooling through Lubbock. It was just miles and miles of pure nothing and we were singing like we had an audience of thousands. (For the record -- the funniest road trip story EVER will always be mom and the West Texas Incident. God bless her, but that one can bring me to tears...)

One of my very favorite trips from Texas to Someplace North was a fairly recent one -- Dot and I drove to Silverthorne, and then on to Meeker, for Christmas in 2004. From northern Texas onward, it was cold. Very, very cold. I got a flat tire in Tulia, Texas in the middle of the blizzard and to this day I'm grateful to that old no-English-speaking Mexican man who fixed my tire for $5. I spent the night just over the New Mexico border and it was gorgeous, spectacularly gorgeous the next morning. Anyone who's lived in mountains and snow country will know what I'm talking about -- one of those crystal clear, sun beaming brightly, way below zero mornings when everything is covered in white and the snow is pristine and untouched and the mountains in the distance are as blue as azure. It was incredible, and the best way I can describe it is that I was very much "in the moment" and "engaged in the present". I wasn't daydreaming or sleepy. I was just very aware of the beauty and crispness and cold all around me. It was Christmas Eve day so all of the radio stations were playing Christmas carols and it was awesome. The trip back to Austin was also great because that's when I listened to Stephen King's "Dreamcatcher". That is one amazing shitweasel of a story.

The road trips from Texas to Places North, and vice versa, took other interesting twists. I have some warm memories of driving from Helena to Throckmorton with Mammaw and Pappaw and Tim one summer. Tim and I had such a good time. We saw a moose in Yellowstone Park that was right off of a picture post card. Pappaw let me drive -- that took some serious guts given that I didn't even have a learner's permit. And Mammaw tried to get Tim and me to pee in a mason jar rather than stopping -- we refused.

Then there was the infamous 60-hour Greyhound bus trip from Eastland to Helena when I was 14. What were mom and dad thinking? For the most part it was a grand adventure but the worst agony of all was having to sit next to this GIANT, sweaty Indian man who was deaf but who wanted to talk, NON-STOP. And I mean NON-STOP, too. Whether it was writing notes on his chalk board or me trying to respond to his full-blown sign language with my pitiful one-handed responses where I had to spell out each letter of each word in the sentence I was trying to say. A simple answer like, "I live in Helena" tood about 2 minutes to communicate. I L I V E I N H E L E N A. Or me having to look right at him (totally awkward) and talk slowly, using really exaggerated mouth movements after he would yell at the top of his lungs, "I WAN OO REE YUR LEEPS!" I thought I would die. That was back in the days when I was actually nice to people and never wanted to hurt anyone's feelings so I talked to that guy, who told me to call him "Chief", from Denver to some little wide spot in the road in northern Wyoming. He gave me his name and address and told me to write him letters because I was (yell) "BOOTEEFUL" and he thought I could be his (yell) "GERLFREN". Oh (yell) DEAR GOD IT WAS SO EMBARRASSING. But it was also an adventure and the first "big thing" I'd ever really done on my own. I have to laugh out loud when I think of poor Matt who, a few years later, made the same bus trip from Eastland to Helena but he had to go with Mom Jo. I love Mom Jo more than almost anyone, but I bet that trip was pure h-e-l-l.

Speaking of Matt, he and I took a road trip, driving from Denver to Helena and then to Templed Hills and back in 1984. That wasn't a very pleasant trip. Unfortunately, Matt and I didn't really get along during those years. He was always angry and belligerent and I was always knitpicking and trying to "fix" him so we were oil and water, to say the least. I was 17 and Matt was 14 so it was pretty cool that Mom and Dad let us go but often times I wistfully think about how much fun that trip could have been had we had a more loving relationship. Oh well -- there were still stories, none better than Matt showing up to Templed Hills with his face swollen to the size of a watermelon after being in a fight that I'm sure Jesse somehow started.

The summer we drove from Helena, Montana to Washington, DC to Eastland, Texas to Helena, Montana was a pretty big deal. I'm going to write about that some day so I won't say too much here other than that was one heck of a road trip complete with travel logs, a Corn Palace, scenes straight out of Chevy Chase's "Vacation", prostitutes, national treasures, a Grand Ole Opry group named Riders in the Sky, and a big southern woman shouting "Pass the bee-skeets and greye-vee daddy". Mom and Dad should win the Purple Heart of Parenting, for sure, after that road trip.

I've had so many other great road trips...

Steve and I driving to Los Angeles in 1987. If you looked in the dictionary under "tourist" you would see Steve and my picture with us grinning broadly holding a map to the stars homes in one hand and a Hollywood bumper sticker in the other. Seriously. Funny. I might write about that one some day.

My solo trip to Los Angels when I was "moving" out there was not very pleasant. I was so disengaged from reality and my mind was so "staticy" with the stress and anxiety of that HORRIBLE decision that I really don't remember too much about that long road trip, there or back. Not one of my better life choices. Live and learn.

Then there were my beloved New Orleans road trips. First with mom, then with Beth Doughty and her friends and then twice with Beth Bryant. Each of these trips were incredibly fun and I carry so many funny memories of each of those drives.

We've always been fairly lucky on our drives and I can only hope that will continue into the future because you know the Hollidays will be taking road trips for many, many years to come.

Now be quiet, we're going through Post...

Friday, July 14, 2006

Mad Hot

Lindsey Hodges on KGOU: "It's 7:00, 108 degrees and fair in the metro."

Lori Holliday: "No, Lindsey, it's not fair at all. It's 7:00 at night and freaking hot!"

A few years ago I decided my new philosophy was to embrace the heat of summer. After all, there really isn't much I can do about it. And, for the most part, since then I've lived in relative peace with hot days realizing that the price we pay (and everything comes with price, right?) for nine months of relatively pleasant weather is three months of living in the fires of hell. So, bring on the upper 80's, the lower 90's, heck, even the upper 90's. I understand it's all part of living in the places I've decided to live.

But my veneer does begin to crack during the extremes. And 108 degrees is extreme. So far we've had five straight days of 100+ degree weather, and it's anticipated that we could have 20-30 more days of the same. No rain. Just hot. It's close to midnight and I took the Dotopotamus out for her final tinkle of the night. As I opened the door it felt like we were walking into the steam bath at the YMCA - you could see Dot wince just a little bit. I bet it is still 99 degrees outside right now.

I spend so much of my day in the comfort of refrigerated air that I'm really not exposed to the extreme heat that much, yet it still has its affect. Our walks both in the morning and at night are too hot and short. My petunias have given up the ghost. Getting in the parked car is a risky venture. I always feel a little too sweaty and I fight the desire to give up my business clothes for shorts and a tank top.

But I'm pleasantly surprised to find that my empathy increases as the mercury in the thermometer heads skyward. I don't get maniacal and mean, I get sympathetic. My heart goes out to the highway construction workers as I pass them raking out hot tar on the street in the middle of the day. I can't imagine working on the oil field like my friend Sam. And I completely take my hat off and bow down to the strength of those who lived in these hot climates before air conditioning. Good grief -- there was no relief anywhere for those people. As my dad would say, they were tough sons of bitches! Heck, my dad WAS one of those touch sons of bitches living in the hot of West Texas with no AC.

There are two distinct times that stand out in my mind as being so hot I thought I might not make it. The summer of '98 when I was living in Beth's backyard shed was brutal. There was no getting cool that year. And, only three years ago, when we were setting up for the first-ever outdoor Austin City Limits Gala at Zilker Park on a SEPTEMBER day, of all things. Two people went down with sun stroke, one guy had a heart attack, and I believe I got a little sun poisoning myself that day, but I will always be proud of my little team for their perseverance that day and night. Truly, a physical beating would not have whipped us anymore than that day did.

There is nothing -- and I mean nothing -- better than the perfect summer day and night in the mountains. Just hot enough during the day, but then the PERFECT comfort of the nights is awesome. That's why Texans love Colorado so much - I believe it's because they get relief from the heat for a little while. I miss that great mountain weather but, talk about extremes. The price one pays for living in beautiful summer weather is generally the blistering cold of a January morning when you get to dig your way out of a 3' snow drift during a blizzard. Life is a series of trade offs, I guess.

So, I'm hunkering down and fanning off here in OKC and me and the Dotopotamus are drinking plenty of water and feeling pretty good about the fact that the death star has gone down and we have a good 7 more hours of darkness!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Small Town, U.S.A.

What is it about small towns that intrigue me so much?

If you really survey the people around you, very few have actually been exposed to life in a small town for any real period of time. I mean a really small town. 5,000 residents. 3,500 residents. 700 residents. Most of us have lived in cities of some size. Me? Helena, Montana certainly wasn’t a metropolis, but it was large enough to support two large high schools, three movie theatres, an arts scene, a mall, and a host of other organizations and enterprises that you would find in any capitol city. Living in Denver exposed me to the wonderful variety and offerings of the Big City. Cities do not come any more vibrant or energetic than Austin. And, in terms of land mass, Oklahoma City is the second largest city in America, for goodness sake.

As a nation it makes sense – we go to the cities for jobs, education, opportunity, options and entertainment. Historically, we’ve become less and less an agrarian country so the small rural towns have tended to dry up and close down. It’s like they’ve lost their relevance in our rush for the industrialized and the modern.

But thanks to mom and dad’s roots, I’ve spent lots of time in small Texas towns with grand parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and now the Last Stop. Cisco. Throckmorton. Woodson. Walnut Springs. And the best Small Town of them all, Eastland.

I have been intrigued with these places from as far back as I can remember. It was equal parts curiosity, envy, and disdain, all rolled up into the overriding feeling that we were very different – me and these Small Town People. It’s almost like I viewed my interactions in these Small Towns like one might experience the discoveries they make during a safari….

“Look! Over there! It’s the old-fashioned drug store on the corner complete with authentic soda fountain and pharmacist who delivers bottles of pills right to your front door!”.

“Let’s join the Small Town tribes people as they partake of their local delicacies called Ken’s fish and puffs, and yellow meat watermelon.”

“On your right, you’ll see the hallowed ground where little Small Town boys with “ie” names like Ronnie and Freddie shot Japs and ate Moon Pies, and on your left you’ll see that most famous of swimming holes where fearless little native girls called Tom Boy Taylors jumped in from high in the sky with no fear of the certain death-by-water-moccasin waiting for them in the murky depths below.”

“If you look closely, you’ll see that right there is a teeny tiny hospital, and over there is a teeny tiny courthouse and now we’re approaching a teeny tiny school house…”

My point being, I had all of these unique experiences and good times in these Small Towns, but it always felt like some sort of an adventure. A vacation. It was like visiting an exhibition similar to a zoo or a living museum. It certainly wasn’t “real life” because these places were just so different. The people were different. The mindset was different. The pace was different. The offerings were different. No one could REALLY live there, could they?

It’s only as I’ve become an adult that some of these small towns – okay, really only one of them - has started to feel more and more real to me. Like it could be a genuine, viable alternative to city life. I’m certain my change of mind has come about because the Last Stop is now home, but it might also be because I’ve gotten to know, and like, a few of the natives, I’ve realized that bigger is not always better, and I really enjoy the cottage industries that have built up, namely antique stores, flea markets and restored historical sites like the Majestic Theater! Then again, it could be because I spent time in the Eastland County penitentiary and now suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome where the hostage begins to identify with their captor. But whatever has changed, I now feel less like an “observer” of Small Town life, and more like a “participant”. In reality, I doubt I’ll ever be able to act as a full-time “native”, but I’m becoming comfortable being a “seasonal resident”, if that makes any sense at all.

There are still some issues and attitudes in these Small Towns that I don’t understand, or agree with, but I’ve become a little bit less judgmental about them and a whole lot more open minded to the good.

It’s been so interesting watching the evolution and de-evolution of these Small Towns in my life. Eastland is an example of a thriving community that has built itself up over the years – it’s a real credit to their civic leaders that they have been able to adapt well to change and encourage investment in their town. It hasn’t hurt to be the county seat, a home to Wal-Mart, and near a major interstate, either. Eastland seems to be restoring, reinvigorating, and reinventing itself right and left – and, SO FAR, they have retained their Small Town charm. However, for the record, I am convinced that it is a sign of the apocalypse that a Starbucks has come to town. But, for now, I’m going to think of that as a good thing because I do like my café lattes and chi tea.

On the other hand, some Small Towns I know are truly depressing. They breed dysfunction and gloom and I can’t imagine living there. Examples of de-evolution at its finest. Get out. Run fast. Move to Eastland.

I’ve been wanting to read a new book I heard about written by John Schultz called “Boomtown USA: The 7 ½ Keys to Big Success in Small Towns”. He really examines the root differences between those little towns that are finding their uniqueness, attracting new residents and visitors and are thriving, and those that are dieing. It seems to me that as more and more baby boomers retire, they’ll do just exactly what mom and dad did and move back to the small towns of their youth, so it will be interesting to watch the changes (and growing pains?) that some of these towns will experience in the coming years.

My fondness for Small Town Eastland was really solidified last Saturday evening when Mom, Aunt Betty and I enjoyed the Fourth of July program held on the steps of the court house in the town square. It was charming and heart warming without being hokey. You could tell that some individuals really put a lot of planning, thought and labor into making that event happen – a historic fashion show where the models were dropped off in vintage cars, a really good brass quintet playing John Phillips Sousa and Glen Miller, and a patriotic musical/dramatic reading performance put on by the community choir led by an energetic, talented director. You could also buy homemade ice cream from the Red Hat ladies or lemon aid from the Methodist Youth Group. Soldiers were honored and God took center stage during the entire performance. Combined with the perfect (not hot!) weather, it made for a most enjoyable celebration.

It felt American. It felt Small Town. It felt great.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Bound For The Kingdom

Mom and me...we're singers...