Monday, October 11, 2021

Writing Retreat on Sleepy Hollow Lake

I have technically been a writer since I was around 8 years old, when I first tried to submit something to Highlights Magazine and I was rejected. 

I Still Have My First Rejection Letter

If I remember correctly I was rejected with a form letter, so I replied with a follow up letter and the editor in chief wrote me this personalized letter thanking me for being so understanding. Apparently I was into persuasion and selling at a very early age!

So I have been a writer and a salesperson for roughly 43 years, but life has always gotten in the way and I've done a myriad of other things including, getting a couple of degrees, getting married, having a career, having a couple of kids, still having a career, getting divorced, co-parenting, being a lacrosse mom, etc... 

Now at 51 years old I am finally ready to get some serious writing done. Like serious writing.

I have been talking about going on a solitary writing retreat for literally five years or more. Well I finally did it! Last month I went to Goodrich, a little town north of Houston, right off 59 North and I stayed in an adorable cabin among a group of other lovely cabins owned by a lady named Sandy.



I found the Yellow Rose Cabin Bed and Breakfast when looking for a place to go, close to Houston. I thought at first that I was staying on Lake Livingston and only found out later that I was actually going to be southeast of Lake Livingston on another small lake called Sleepy Hollow. How fitting is that for a writing retreat setting? Especially when you are a woman, in a cabin, alone, near woods and a lake...

My Cabin- The Blue Bird


The Dining Room Where All the Writing Happened

I absolutely LOVED my little shot-gun cabin! It was just right for me. I slept in one bedroom and used the other bedroom as my dressing room. (Seriously, the front door opened and there was a straight path to the back door.)  I had a full sized kitchen and I ate all my meals there. I didn't want to leave at all, so I could concentrate on just writing, so it was perfect. I had a great porch in front and in the back, for drinking my morning coffee, meditating and journaling. 

The host was also amazing! Sandy runs a great bed and breakfast and is only a phone call away. She lives in the big house on the property, on the lake, and her very first cabin, the Yellow Rose is right next to her house. It has its own set of stairs that lead down to a small dock on the lake. She has a variety of sizes of cabins, with her biggest one being the Lake House that, true to its name, sits right on the lake. That one is perfect for a big party, like an extended family. You can see almost all of her cabins on her website.

I almost stayed in the Texas Rose and I'm so glad that Sandy called me the week I was scheduled to go, to ask me did I mind switching with someone who wanted to rent it for three weeks. Although the Texas Rose is very cute, it would have been a tiny cabin, the size of an efficiency apartment or smaller! That's why I'm glad I got to stay in the Blue Bird Cottage.

I loved the solitude and being near the lake. I liked the location so much that I want to go back with the kids to enjoy a boat ride on the lake and I want to stay in the Hen Den. It's not on her website yet, but you can see it on her Facebook page. The Hen Den is right next door to the Blue Bird and is a pretty red house.

Back to the writing retreat part! I wrote Friday night, all day Saturday, with a few breaks, and Sunday morning. All in all, I ended up writing 3,200+ words, plus I got some research done. It was definitely SO worth getting away from the distractions of my house and concentrating on writing my novel. I needed this kick start so much and I am now halfway through my first draft. 

Best of all, I found a great, affordable place I loved and that I'll be going back to again. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a quick weekend getaway, not too far from home. It's not fancy or luxurious. 

In fact, I encountered a big outside roach one night in the restroom! If you stay there you have to be open-minded and realize you are staying out in the country, near a lake and everything that comes with that. 😀

Saturday, August 28, 2021

My Aunt Lola

One of my earliest memories of my aunt Lola involves baby powder on our socks and skating all over her wooden floor. I knew she was very strict with my cousins Riza and Carlitos, but when it came to her visiting with my mom, we got into all kinds of adventures that included “ice skating” across her living room in socks with baby powder. I never asked my cousins if they got in trouble after we left their hardwoods filled with powder! 

We would do “science experiments” with Selsun Blue shampoo in their restroom, we played “Happy Days,” with my cousin Carlitos playing the part of the Fonz and using the arm of the living room armchair as his motorcycle. We played in their backyard on their swing set, which I coveted, “house” in our outside washroom, even in the winter, and danced “ballet” and  pretended we owned a “fur company” at our other uncle’s house over his bakery.

Lola (Dolores) was married to my Uncle Carlos, my mother’s little brother, whom she loved dearly. My mother was thirteen years older than her brother and he was just a little boy when she married my father. She was very close to him and he called my mom “Madamita,” a nickname their whole family called her.

My mother and Lola were best friends. All those times that the kids and I were playing for hours, my mom, aunt and uncle were lost in conversation over coffee, pan dulce or Pecan Sandies. They never seemed to run out of things to talk about. We saw them every single week, because either we stopped at their house after our JW meeting or because they stopped by our house. Lola and Carlos are a part of almost every childhood memory I have.

The day that our Uncle Ismael died my mom and I were visiting with him at his bakery. He walked us outside to my sister Sarah’s car. She had taken us there to show my uncle her new Chevette. The pay phone in the bakery rang and it was my other sister telling us that Carlos and Lola were at our house. My mom, sister and I said goodbye to my Uncle Ismael, not knowing that it was the last time we would see him alive.

I don’t remember how long after we got home we got the call that something had happened at the bakery, but I remember my mom, dad, sister Hilda, Carlos and Lola all ran out the door and left us kids with the baby Susana and my older sister Becky and her boyfriend Raul, with hardly a word.

Lola and Carlos were there that fateful night that my uncle was killed in a robbery and my mother held her brother for the last time. My sister Hilda, who was a nurse, tried to administer CPR without success. They shared that loss and tragedy with my mother.

As I grew up and became an adult, Carlos and Lola were still constants in my home visiting my mom, always drinking coffee together and laughing at memories from over the years.

Lola would ask my mom, “Tell me again that story about the time Nico went to work in Arizona and you took the bus all by yourself to go meet him there.”

And my mother, the talented story-teller in her own right, would go into detail about the bus ride and the characters she met along the way.

It’s almost fitting that the night my mother died, Lola was with her. She and my cousin Nere, and their daughters, had gone to visit my mom and seeing how sick she was feeling decided to stay up with her after my father went to bed. Little did anyone know that it was the day my mother would die and Lola was with her when she took her last breath. For that I will always be grateful and I thanked her later. She was her best friend until the very end.

Sadly, over the last twenty-one years since my mother died I grew even further from my aunt and uncle. Differences in religion, or lack thereof on my part, probably played a role. I can’t say for sure, but never-the-less we drifted apart.

This weekend there will be a memorial service on Zoom for Lola. She passed away a week ago from meningitis. She was one month shy of her 76th birthday, too young in my book.

The last time I saw her and my uncle was at my father’s funeral three years ago. I had happened to see her a few months prior to that, at a cousin’s funeral. I sat next to her and my uncle in their pew at the funeral home and caught up with them. It was probably the last full conversation I had with them, the winter of 2017.

Although we didn’t speak these last few years, she holds a dear place in my heart. How couldn’t she? She is in every memory I have as a little girl. She and my uncle spent hours with my mother and loved her dearly.  I will always refer to Lola as my mother’s best friend. I love her and my Uncle Carlos because they loved my mother, and I wish I had remained close to them for that reason. Goodbye dear Lola, until we meet again.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Successful People in the Last Third of Their Life

I'm going through a mid-life crisis moment in my life, even though I'm way past the mid-point and more on the last leg. I'm on a growth path right now. 



Friday, June 11, 2021

Blog Therapy

Sometimes when I'm getting down and into that place, when I'm not doing the things I need to be doing, I should open this blog and read my own words. Why can't I always stay this positive? Because I'm human that's why. It's hard to keep going non-stop and sometimes all we can do is our best. 

#9 Typewriter Key Tattoo on My Wrist

I got a tattoo last month. I was supposed to get it for my 50th birthday, but we all know what a "show" that was between toegate, picc line and allergic reaction. So it never happened until now at almost 51 and a half. 

It’s a typewriter key with the number 9.  Number nine to symbolize the nine weeks that I had the picc line in my arm. It’s a constant reminder that I have to take care of my health and my body. If that means reading this blog every day, so be it. 

The parentheses, above the nine on the keyboard, is a funny coincidence, but also appropriate because it reminds me that there is always more to the story. (Anyone who has ever heard me tell a story knows there’s always a side note inside a parentheses) The typewriter key is my reminder to write.

Two important reminders: My health and my writing. The two things I'm concentrating on right now.

Old typewriter I wish I'd bought from my sister.

Newest news is that I'm working on a novel. This is only my second novel since the one I was writing when I started this blog in 2004. I've written years and years of blog posts, articles, and a few short stories over the years. But I never published that first novel and I never did more. 

I always remember that woman who called me from Las Vegas because she was writing a paper on a Hispanic author for her English class. Her teacher gave the class a list of authors and somehow I ended up on the list. Yes, I was confused too. The woman told me she had chosen me because she wanted to write about a living author. I was flattered, but I felt like such a poser when there are so many Hispanic authors, who I personally know, who would have been way more appropriate.  

I want to write this novel for me, but I also want to write it for that woman. 

This is it. This is THE novel. This is the one. Get ready.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Either Focus on One Thing or Get Zero Done

The story of my life is that I have to focus on one thing at a time or I will get nothing done. As much as I wish I could juggle several things at once, I've come to accept that I can't. When I was younger, and when the children were little, I could do so much more than I can now. 

My First 5K Run

I did my first 5K Run in my life on May 9 on Mother's Day with my kids, their dad and his girlfriend, my friend Leisa. It was a great American family event and we all went to dinner afterwards. 

Can we take a moment to celebrate me doing a run for the first time EVER in my life? It was the Houston Rodeo Virtual Run. I am so proud of myself and I can't wait to do more and to build myself up to a 10K run. I'll never be a marathon runner, but I'll be happy if I can complete a 10K. Baby steps!

I had been running for the past couple of months with my Peloton app because I wanted to take advantage of the great weather while I could. I know it will be really hot in Houston soon enough and it will be harder to run in the humidity. So when my daughter told me about this virtual 5K run I thought it was great timing. 

After the run, my left ankle, that has given me some problems when clipping in and out of the bike, and when wearing certain high heels, started hurting me a lot. The irony was that it's never hurt me when I walk or run. I decided to give it a break for a few days after the run.

Coincidentally I found out that I was having a home inspection/appraisal the following Saturday, the 15th. Once I knew I had this looming deadline that's all I could think about and focus on. I made a schedule of what I needed to do each day to clean the house. I know... I know... it's not about how clean or dirty my house is. However, I was not going to have the appraiser think to herself, "Not only did she not remodel this house, she is dirty on top of that." 

So did I continue walking and running this past week? No. Two things that make me get off schedule from working out. An injury or illness and having to do something big, like cleaning the house to prepare for this appraisal. 

The good news is I did pace myself with the house project and I completed a few tasks each day. With the help of my daughter Miranda we got everything done in time for the appraisal. The trick with me mentally is to make a list and to set daily goals so I don't get overwhelmed and shut down. That's what I did and I was able to complete the over-all big task. 

Now with that behind me, and with my ankle feeling better, I can start running again. It's always a challenge, but I always do it. I always recommit. That's what I have to keep telling myself in order to continue. This time I'm going to do it sooner than later. 

Another thing that always helps me to focus on my goals, and to take them in baby steps, so that I can complete them, is making lists and using day planner. Some friends can't believe that I still use an old-school paper planner, a FranklinCovey one to be exact, but writing things down is an essential part of my life. When I write things down and I can see my plans down on paper it calms me. 

I have a dashboard page in my planner where I have four different short lists of things I want to get done. At the top of the page are my five main life goals. 

It's hard for me to do all of these at the exact same time and one always falls behind at some point, however this is what I work on balancing. I have come to accept that sometimes I need to take a whole week off from one, like running for example, to get my house in order for something important like an appraisal. And I won't beat myself up when I need to do that.

All of them are equally important to me and here recently I have really been feeling like this novel that I'm working on is going to be very significant in my life. I wish I could be put in a room alone for a weekend with just my Peloton, my weights, my yoga mat and my lap top. I would write, work out, eat, nap and then write some more. 

I've been looking at writing retreats where I can at least have the solitude and I'm really thinking about doing one. I know it's an expense, but it could be an investment that would be worth it it in the end.  I want to isolate myself for an entire weekend to write. I also love the idea of taking an Amtrak trip somewhere, with a sleeper cart, over a weekend to write.

Plans, plans and more plans. So much is hanging on this appraisal that was done yesterday. If I can refinance my house at a lower interest rate then I can do so many other things. For example, I'm so excited about going on vacation in June with the kids and hopefully doing a writing retreat in July. These are my summer goals!

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Little Libraries and Cemeteries Are Keeping Me Busy

I’m really excited about the projects I’m working on right now. I’ve decided to make Little Libraries in Laundromats an actual non-profit organization. I want to make early education its mission.
I want to speak to parents at under-served HISD elementary schools about the School Choice program to encourage them to identify if their children are gifted in some way. I feel like there are so many gifted children in HISD who fall through the cracks because nobody takes an interest in them or because their parents don’t know how to navigate the system. Those of us that take advantage of the magnet program are parents who know about it and it can even be challenging for us. Imagine how challenging it can be for a parent with very little education or who only speaks Spanish?

I’m passionate about this cause because I attended an under-served elementary school and I was introduced to the magnet programs when I was in middle school when I attended Hamilton Middle School. After that I was in the IB program at Waltrip High School. My kids are also graduates of the Vanguard program and attended DeBakey High School, one of the top magnet schools in the city and the state.

I’m going to expand my library locations soon and I’m going to move into the Eastex/Jensen area. This is the area where I grew up and I want to collaborate with an artist in that neighborhood. There are other projects I want to work on in the community.

I’m also excited with the momentum that we’ve gained with the Historic McDaniel Street Cemetery and I’m so proud to sit on the board of the Westcott Cemetery Association as secretary. (I’ve blogged about it as the Westcott Cemetery) The Westcott Cemetery Association has made so much progress with this initiative. We had a very successful event at the cemetery on Saturday, April 10 and we announced that the Fondren Foundation has awarded us a $45,000 challenge grant. If you would like to donate to this cause there are ways to donate on our website.

I have plenty to keep me busy this next year and a half until Seth graduates. I feel like I’m building a foundation now for where I want to go in the future and this brings me satisfaction.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

On the Cusp of Something Amazing

I’ve had an epiphany of sorts. I know I'm always writing about my weight, my health, working out, etc... I've also written about how I'm at this important point in my life. I’m only a few years from being an empty nester.
Once Seth is 18 and in college, the fall of 2022 I will be in a very different place in my life. I feel like once he’s an adult I can open myself up to more opportunities. 

So back to the epiphany. It was this. You know how we all say, “Oh if I could only go back to this certain age knowing what I know now?” For me it would be the age of 23, right after I graduated from college and starting my career. I may not be 23 years old, with that youthful look and good health, but I am about to be in a very similar situation when the kids are both adults. Except this time I have 51 years of life experience under my belt. 

Along with the experience, I’m also going in with a much more realistic expectation than I would have had at 23. At 23 I thought I had all the time in the world. I know now that time is fleeting.  

I’m excited to see what comes next because I feel like I am on the cusp of something amazing.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Universe is Shouting at Me

After my last birthday post the Universe showed me once again that it has a great sense of humor and that I am never in control. Or in the words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

I spent a year working from home, wearing a mask, hand washing and sanitizing all the time. I did leave the house. I went to the neighborhood stores, got a pedicure twice in one year, and I went out to eat occasionally, always with a mask. I saw a few friends and not always with a mask. In the end I didn’t get Covid19 from any public place. I got it in the most common way that people get it, from someone I know.

Me, at the tail-end of my illness.

Not to be dramatic, but you all know that I am. I realized something today. This is my 5th lease on life. I really better do something freaking amazing now!

First there was the lump in my breast that was benign – July, 2015. I’m ashamed to say that after that scare I promised that I would start running and eating healthy. I wasn’t true to my promise. So the Universe had to give me another nudge.

In November, 2018 I had a heart misdiagnosis. The doctors thought I had WPW and they weren’t sure what the second thing was that they were seeing. One doctor thought that it was possibly a sick sinus node. Thank goodness it ended up being an ectopic atrial rhythm that’s not hurting anything. I don’t have WPW either. This ectopic thing mimics WPW.

February, 2020. While taking vancomycin, an antibiotic, for a bone infection, intravenously, I developed a severe allergic reaction that put me in the hospital for five days. Thank goodness I didn’t die of anaphylaxis.

That same month, February, 2020, because of the bone infection, I had to have the tip of my toe bone amputated and I felt very fortunate that it was just the tip. I didn’t lose the whole toe! Which would have been terrible for my high heels and open toe sandals.

Now I can add, “Survived Covid19” to the list, March, 2021. Although it’s still early, and I don’t know what damage it may have caused, I am still extremely grateful that I didn’t end up in the hospital on a ventilator.  I was extremely exhausted for three weeks, nauseous a lot of the time and just feeling all-over sick, but I kept saying that if that was it, I was grateful.

Those of you who know me know where I’m going with this. That’s FIVE times that I have had a very close call with either death or a serious illness. I’m taken back to that original scare, the breast lump that was smooth and round. I was told that because of its appearance in the ultrasound it was benign. They’ve never found another lump since then.

Right after that happened I promised that I would start running (this was pre-Peloton bike) and that I was going to change my ways. Although I’ve made a lot of progress since then I’m not where I should be. If I’m being honest with myself I’m at least sixty pound over-weight and I need to seriously work on that. I'm going to change up my routine and I'm going to start running while the weather is nice on the days I'm not on the bike. 

In addition to getting healthier, I also keep starting and stopping on my writing journey. Yes, I write here, yes I’ve been published recently in a magazine, but I always allow myself to be side-tracked. I get distracted from the bigger goal, which is to write regularly, to sharpen my skills, and to publish a book. I used to say a novel, but now I’m thinking a non-fiction book will be my first book.

I have a new lease on life. I have another chance. The Universe is getting tired of sending me these nudges and pushes and now it's shouting at me. I need to listen now.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Happy 51st Birthday Eve to Me

Here I am on the eve of my 51st birthday waiting for the clock to tick to 12 midnight. Well, technically I won't be 51 until 7:09 a.m. tomorrow. This photo is of me a week ago, so basically already at 51 years old.

I wanted to give a true and honest view of myself at this age, so I'm not wearing any make-up in this picture. The lighting is probably just right because you can't see the heavy bags under my eyes that you can usually see.  It's just the honest truth. I'm getting older and there is nothing I can do about that except take care of myself. 

I recently did a Vision Board for the next 14 years. Why 14 years you may ask?  Because that's when I plan to retire from working. I'm actually really excited about the prospect. Can you imagine a life of doing whatever the hell I want 24/7? Bliss! However, I don't want to be one of those people who retires and then immediately dies. 

So my vision board points out that first and foremost I need to eat right and exercise. Although, who are we kidding, that's not necessarily a guarantee that I'll live until 90. However, it will increase my chances. EVERYTHING starts and ends with my health. 

If I can stay healthy then I can pursue other opportunities and maybe even move to another city for work, when the kids are both independent. If I stay healthy and strong then I don't have to worry when I retire and I can pursue all the things on my bucket list, ala Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicolson. That is the most exciting prospect of all!

I'm going to be like Grandma Moses pursuing my artistic passions late in life. Maybe I'll join Sisters on the Fly, a group of women traveling around in their vintage trailers. The possibilities are endless. 

When you are staring at a soon-to-be 17 year old boy in your house and your daughter is a sophomore away at college, you realize how insignificant 14 years can be. It's nothing and it will fly by. 

That's why it all comes back to my health. I completed my 200th Peloton ride as promised by Halloween 2020 and when I got back from my nephew's wedding I had another minor toenail surgery. (YES, on that same toe.)  I got back on the bike in earnest in January and I haven't looked back since. On February 4, I completed my 200th strength workout! I'm not the best, and I don't have the most rides, but I am happy and proud of my achievements. Like our Peloton coaches tell us consistently, we are doing way more than the person on the couch! 

Recently I decided to level up. I've never been a morning person, but recently, in January, I also started waking up earlier to work out in the morning. This has been a HUGE game changer in a couple of different ways. For one, I'm waking up earlier and starting the day earlier and on a positive note. Second, I'm not only working out on Tuesdays and Thursday during the week as usual, I've added Mondays and Wednesdays into my week, with floor exercises, like Core, Pilates and Barre. It's been my goal to add in more core workouts  

The other way that it's been a game changer is that it's shifted the whole energy of my day and has given me back so much time and I need to appreciate that more. By this I mean that, when I work out in the morning, in the evenings I feel like I have so much time to do so many other things. This is what I need to appreciate more and I need to do something with that time, like writing or learning a new language. 

I only have a very short period of years left in this life. I want to make the best of those years and I want to have the time of my life. I can just see myself traveling around the country with the "sisters" in my little vintage trailer and visiting museums in every major city. My job from now until 2035 is to make sure I'm healthy, to stay alive, and to be ready for this last leg.