Friday, October 23, 2009
I thought that I would write during my two remarkable weeks in Italy in early September. My second day in Lucca, I wrote about trying to figure out which hotel bathroom buttons flushed, which washed, and which turned on the lights. And then I wrote some post cards.
After seeing Robert Mapplethorpe’s photos in Florence, along side Michelangelo’s David, I thought I would write. What exactly could I say, however, about the unexpected infusion of good luck into my life where two sacred art forms converged in the same place? I was too wiped out to write down anything except directions back to my hotel.
When I saw Saint Catherine’s finger in a jar in Siena’s Church of San Domenico, I was moved to write, but I didn’t. I simply reveled in the memory of my mother’s account of seeing Jesus’ grandmother’s elbow in Canada. Saint Catherine may not have been as well known as Jesus’ grandmother, but she was surely popular in Siena.
I thought I would write after walking around Rome for three days with only a city map and my newly acquired Italian phrase, “Ci è un'automobile.” Indeed there were many automobiles, and I became a pro at dodging them as I walked to the Vatican and other historic landmarks.
Other writers might have carved out time to write while they traveled. I thought I would, but I spent all of my time feeling, listening, eating, drinking and soaking up everything; writing seemed a long lost art. Because I quickly tired of Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, I left the book in the nun-run hotel where I stayed in Siena. I realized that nobody’s commentary, including my own, enhances my travel experiences.
Cool temperatures welcomed me when I got back to Austin, and I thought I’d begin writing immediately. Instead I took lots of naps, stared at my blooming crepe myrtles, ate Austin-purchased Italian foods and wines, and reread the Italian guide books.
Something has happened, however, that has led me to the keyboard—a miracle of sorts. Maybe my taking the forbidden picture of St. Catherine’s finger has brought me good luck.
I had accidentally left my lawnmower in the backyard while I was on vacation. And then I accidentally left it outside for several weeks after I returned; I had given it up for dead. Just for kicks, several days ago, I primed the neglected hunk of metal and turned the key. After fiddling with it for a few minutes, this Sears Craftsman, self-starting, self-propelled lawnmower kicked into gear, and within 30 minutes, it had pulled me across my backyard where I took down weeds and grasses that had grown higher than an elephant’s eye.
I called the president of Sears with this stunning news, and I’m including a picture of my lawnmower among the ones I took of the Leaning Tower, kegs of wine, and the Pantheon.
Lots of magic and miracles everywhere—how can I not write?
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I then moved over to meet with a friendly banker to open up a savings account. Patricia, the personal-banker-in training greeted me politely. “Hello, Mary.” I told her that my first name was Mary Gordon.
“How was your weekend?” my new personal banker asked me as she looked at my accounts online. “Weekend?” I repeated in disbelief. “Today is Wednesday; I don’t much remember the weekend.” That’s when Patricia giggled and told me that today was her first day back from the weekend. “It’s so great to have time off,” she told me with a smile. “You know, you can get so many things done. Oh, and I don’t have to work this Saturday—that will be great.” I didn’t reply.
“What are your plans for the rest of your day?” Patricia asked me with a smile as she was retrieving some forms for my new account, “and your plans for the coming weekend?” I looked at her and told her I didn’t know. “Maybe you’ll get to go home and relax,” she said. “How has your day been so far today?”
I ignored that and wished that she would take care of business instead of continuing this idle chitchat. She busied herself for a few minutes, and then asked me, “So, are you from Austin?” Trying to be polite and hold up my end of the conversation I told her I had been here a long time. Then, Patricia, my new way-too-personal banker asked me about the weather. “It’s really cloudy outside, isn’t it? Do you know what the weather’s going to be for the rest of the day and for the weekend?”
Maybe it was because I was sad about my daddy’s dying and maybe it was because I had come to my bank to talk about my money, and maybe because I was feeling way too grown up and yet at the same time like a child—for whatever reason, I acted like an adult instead of like Patricia the child was acting. “Look, Patricia, this money transaction is a very big deal to me, and that’s what I’m focused on.”
I didn’t say another word, and neither did she. Within seconds, Patricia was transformed into a professional banker who seemed to take her work and my situation seriously. Soon, she had done everything to complete my banking transactions. I thanked her, stood up and shook her hand. That’s when she told me to have a good weekend.
I sat back down. “Patricia,” I said in my most serious voice. “I imagine that you’ll make a really good banker, but there’s one thing you need to be aware of. People talk to you because they need your help—your professional help. We don’t come to talk about the weather or the weekend, and we don’t want to hear about how you would rather be away from work rather than helping us. So my advice to you is that you focus on the professional needs of your clients.”
I was as shocked as she was that I had said those things. But I meant it, and I could tell that she got it. She thanked me for my advice. I could hear her talking to the next customer; she sounded all grown up and professional.
Still, I’m wondering what she’s been doing the rest of her day, and what her plans are for the weekend. Growing up is hard for all of us.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
“Ci è un'automobile.”
That was the only complete Italian sentence I knew when I headed to
The most memorable ride was in a taxi from
We gasped in awe as we got our first view of the little town nestled among the cliffs on the
The stop in
But I wanted to get back to
So much for “Ci è un'automobile.” I’m going to write about WINE soon!
Monday, August 3, 2009
I sheepishly pulled up my britches as the gastroenterologist beckoned me to lie down on the table. She had a different set of manners for getting her work done.
That reminded me of the time I went to another doctor—an internal medicine guy. The nurse handed me a paper top, and I put it on.
When the doctor walked in, he took one look at me and said sternly, “This isn’t a gynecologist’s office.” You were supposed to put that top on with the opening down the back.”
He walked out of the room, and I turned the stylish top around.
Guess I’ve been to way too many gynecological appointments; for the simple act of walking into an examination room causes me to take off my clothes.
I wish I knew the clothing etiquette for nudists in doctors’ exam rooms.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
A young man pulled up next to my car at a stop light yesterday afternoon and motioned for me to lower my window. “Your left back brake light is out,” he informed me. I waved my thanks to him, and then he was gone.
Still basking in the glow of fixing my bathroom sink I decided I could replace the brake light as well. That’s when I pulled into an O’Reilly Auto Parts store. I got way more than I bargained for when I went in. First the clerk found the right bulb (two to a pack). Next he walked outside with me to show me where to unscrew the back light cover. As I was paying for the bulbs I mentioned that I wanted to take a car repair course (which I do). “You don’t have to be a mechanic to work here,” he said.
And then he handed me an application. “That’s the store manager over there,” he continued. “Talk to him, and then you can work here with me.”
I left the shop in a giddy mood, knowing that my future was definitely going to get brighter. I pondered my new life as a part time employee of an auto parts shop. I liked the way it felt.
Early this morning I set out to replace the defunct light bulb. When I saw my neighbor Sandra pull into her driveway, I ran down to get her. (Without a second person, how do you know if your brake light is working?) First, Sandra confirmed that the old light was burned out. Then she waited for me to replace the bulb so she could confirm that the new one worked.
Sandra waited. And she waited while I tried to remove the old bulb. I twisted, turned and pulled. The bulb wouldn’t budge. I asked Sandra to come back after I had finished so she wouldn’t have to stand in the hot July sun. That’s when she uttered the magic words: “Why don’t you check the owner’s manual?”
I got so excited by this novel concept that I jumped up and down. “What a brilliant woman you are,” I exclaimed to Sandra. “Brilliant.” It didn’t seem like such a brilliant thing to Sandra. I imagine that it didn’t seem that brilliant to 98.9 % of the rest of the people I know. But it was a grand epiphany to me.
Within seconds I had replaced the bulb, according to the directions in the owner’s manual. That’s when I asked my neighborhood genius to pose for this picture. O.J. the neighborhood cat got in on the action as well. We tried out the new light, and it worked like a charm. I quickly replaced the light cover with everything working.
Now I’m taking a second look at that job application. I think I would make a very good clerk in an auto parts store. I have empathy, sympathy and great customer service. And I can change a brake light!
Thursday, July 2, 2009
My bathroom sink has been draining very slowly for 4-5 months; last weekend all draining stopped. For a few hours I used my kitchen sink to brush my teeth, wash my hands, believing that the stopped up bathroom sink would be ok in a few hours.
(Wait—does ANYONE CARE ABOUT MY PLUMBING ISSUES? If this is too boring for you readers, you are excused. I must admit it’s titillating to me!)
As I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, the plumbing fairy godmother was doing her best to dissolve the clogged up pipes, I’m sure, but the water remained in the sink over night. That’s when I decided to take care of the plumbing issue my very own self.
I borrowed a plumbing snake, removed the standing water in the sink, cup by cup, and smartly placed a huge pan underneath the sink. After unscrewing the curvy pipe (so glad for the big pan), I rammed that metal snake back and forth in the straight pipe until something happened. I don’t know exactly what except that some black goop started rolling out of the pipe, into the carefully placed pan.
Thinking I had fixed the problem, I turned on the water. Since I had not plugged up the hole for the stopper, the water poured into the pan. After putting the stopper doohickey back into the pipe and tightening the screw, I tried once again. Lo and behold the water ran right down the pipe—just as the god of plumbing intended.
So far, the drain is able to handle all the hand-washing, teeth-brushing water, and this makes me very proud. It’s the mess I left behind that’s the bigger issue.
Cleaning up a mess is so less satisfying than fixing a problem. In this case, however, I quickly put everything in the bathroom back together and I'm now giving tours of my bathroom!
Thursday, June 18, 2009
My new toaster is way too complicated for me. Why? I can’t figure out how to perform the simple task of toasting bread.
My last toaster had only two buttons, and it always made perfect toast. This new one is far more modern with multiple buttons and multiple choices to make for toasting a couple of pieces of bread. I have yet to get perfect toast from this modern machine.
Toasting some bread for a BLT sandwich at noon took me back 50 years or so. That’s because I used the same procedure for making toast today that my mother did in the 1950s: burn the bread; scrape the toast; eat the toast.
Toast in my childhood home was always scraped, and there were always burned fragments that still clung to the toast; the fragments always stuck to the butter knife. That meant our butter always had little black spots on it.
I didn’t realize until I took home economics in the 9th grade that there was another way to prepare toast: toast the bread; eat the bread. I asked my teacher why she didn’t scrape the toast before we ate it. She had no idea what I was talking about.
I haven’t had a piece of burned/scraped toast in a long, long time. Like my mother used to do, today I scraped my burned toast into the sink. And like my mother did, I think I’ll leave it there until supper.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
My backyard is big enough to hold a small circus. It’s wooded and beautiful and backs down to Little Williamson Creek. When I bought my house in 1996, I thought I’d live in the backyard. And I did for a few years.
Gradually, however, I’ve moved my outside living to my front yard. My swing was the first sign of front yard living. For several years, I’ve sat outside, just a swinging, and greeting my neighbors who saunter by. Several years ago, I started planting my tomatoes in the front yard; several of my reverse-chic neighbors have joined me in front yard gardening. It gives the neighbors lots to talk about when we walk around the hood.
Now my front yard is equipped with a swimming pool—or a South Austin Cold Tub as I call it. Why would I want my precious grandchildren to be hidden in the backyard when all the action is in the front? Along with the pool, there is a kiddie swing for them, too.
This week I reached a new high (or low?) in South Austin Living. While the children were playing in the pool and enjoying the shade of my huge oak tree, I rolled the barbecue pit around from the back yard and cooked some mighty fine pork chops while keeping an eye on the family and greeting the neighbors and their dogs—all in the front yard.
I still have visions of making the backyard a playground for William and Caroline and growing lots of tomatoes and other veggies. But until then, you can find me in the front yard—just a swinging, swimming and barbecuing. Everything they say about South Austin living is true.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Post Cereals has recently launched a new nation-wide television ad campaign: “Progress plays no role in Post Shredded Wheat,” says the actor who is supposed to be the company’s CEO. Then he proudly states, “We put the NO in Innovation!”
Most other advertisements boast that their product is the newest incarnation and will make us better citizens in this fast-spinning world. Post says shredded wheat is fine, just the way it’s been for decades
If shredded wheat were an appliance or an electronic device instead of a cereal, the company could never have taken such an approach. Imagine an ad for an 80-year old paper shredder. “Progress plays no role in our paper shredders,” the announcer would boast. That means we’d still be using something that resembles a hand-cranked pasta maker to destroy our old IRS records and love letters.
And what about an ad that claims, “There’s been no progress in microwave ovens?” There’s certainly no room in my small kitchen for the earliest microwave oven — the one that was 5 ½ feet tall and weighed almost 800 pounds. That 1947 microwave would leave no space for even mini shredded wheat.
Smarter cars and phones, the newest digital recorder, tweeting, and measuring time in nanoseconds—these advancements can put us in a tailspin and leave no time to stop to smell the roses.
Then one morning we wake up and want to check out. That’s when we take a break, sit on the deck at Deep Eddy or trek to the beach. That’s when we head to
And then we start to fret because some of those places don’t have Wi-Fi; internet connections are slow in rural areas; and there are miles and miles of
We can have it all — we just have to be clear about what all is, and when we want it. I think it boils down to paying attention and making choices. For even in the most tranquil life and in the most tumultuous one, we can choose what we do and what we pay attention to. Nobody makes up pick up our smart phone the minute our plane touches down; nobody makes us sit and stare at a lake. We’ve always had those choices, and we still do.
Maybe Post is reassuring consumers through their shredded wheat ads that we still have a handle on our cereal even if we can’t decide between the latest PC or Apple or which phone meets our needs. Post Cereals, I’m certain, is giving us an opportunity to philosophize about lots of issues and to reexamine our values. And I bet all they intended to do was to sell some shredded wheat.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Susan, Mary Gordon & Royito
It was like old home week! Except this time I wasn't in the company of my brother Roy and my sister Susan. I was in the company of brother and sister Roy and Susan Blount.
People ask Roy why he hasn't dumped that Georgia accent. Roy says that even though some mighty stupid things have been said with a Southern accent, there is nothing wrong with the accent itself. I couldn't agree more!
Sunday, May 24, 2009
It's not just the skies that have been cloudy; my mind has been a little cloudy, too. Saturday I got inspired to wash the window over my kitchen sink. My, my, what a crystal clear view of my backyard I got. Now even though the skies are overcast, I'm seeing things with great clarity!
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Now I’ve had lots of friends bring me a little something from time to time, but I can’t remember anyone ever bringing me a carton of eggs. What made this gift so special was that Molly and her husband Jon grew these eggs. OK. I’m not sure if you say people grow eggs or not. What I am sure about is that these eggs came from the 12 beautiful chickens that live in the finest chicken coop you’ve ever seen—and that the eggs and the coop belong to Molly and Jon. I got to see the chickens only a few days after they had come to live in this fine coop—before they were laying or doing much of anything else.
Six weeks later, these chickens are doing their thing, and each one usually lays an egg every day—in a variety of colors. And I get to be on the receiving end of the chickens, and Molly’s, bounty.
I’m fixing to rewrite Guy Clark’s song to include eggs: “There are only 3 things that money can’t buy—that’s true love, homegrown tomatoes and homegrown eggs.”
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Three-year-old William Spence Newby and I got down to work on Friday, March 20. Maybe I should say, we got down to play, for we both had a wonderful time planting our 2009 tomatoes. I had prepared the soil in the flowerbed before William arrived. His job was to put the plants into the ground.
At first William was hesitant to step in the dirt. I told him it was like playing in the sand at the beach, and that did the trick. When William found a few rocks in the freshly turned soil, I suggested that he toss them out of the bed. This became the highlight of the planting ceremony: plant a little; toss a little; plant a little; toss a little. We managed to get 9 plants inside the bed; then we went to work on the soil in the rest of our garden. William used his whole body to mix some revitalizing compounds in with the
After planting all our tomatoes, it was time to water. This is what William loves to do best. So he watered. And watered.
When it seemed that all our work might just float down the street, we “shut her off.” Then we admired our work and William headed for the bath tub.
There are only two things that money can’t buy…and that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes. With my precious grandson, William, I have it all!
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
I heard their voices last week as clearly as if they were standing right beside me. From my daddy: “Don’t bother people; don’t impose.” From my mother, “Don’t brag.”
Don’t bother; don’t brag. Yikes! These mantras have kept me tethered to the past. And I can say with great clarity that they have not served me well as I’ve struggled to build my speaking business.
No wonder I’ve gotten diarrhea at the mere thought of calling someone to discuss the possibility of my delivering a keynote address for their conference. What if they’re busy? What if they receive my call as a nuisance call?
No wonder when I’m asked what I speak about I downplay the power that my well-crafted, engaging and highly entertaining presentations have to turn an average day into a fabulous one for audience members.
Don’t bother; don’t brag. Turn off the tape recorder; destroy the tapes. I’m desperately searching for a new tape—one that will bring music to my soul and propel me to sell myself effectively and gracefully.
Monday, March 2, 2009
With finances and investment practices on everyone’s mind these days, I need to report on some smart investments I’ve made in the last few weeks. Three stupendous bargains come to mind, and I’m sharing them with the world.
1) Two glue sticks for 22¢! I was so excited to find this bargain that I jumped for joy. When I got to the checkout stand, the cashier feigned a slight interest in my hunter/gatherer skills. This special glue is washable, disappearing purple school glue! What I want to know is this: how do you know that it disappears when it’s between two items that you’ve glued together. Not only did I get a bargain product, I got something deep and profound to contemplate.
2) A 10-pack of strike-anywhere-matches, 32 matches per box. That’s 320 matches for $1.29. For a mere 129¢ I can set the world on fire. I mean that figuratively, of course, thinking of the devastating fires in
3) A short-sleeved, black, premium combed cotton, shrink and fade resistant, V-neck T-Shirt marked down to $2.24. I am most proud of this bargain for this shirt looks very similar to a $65 shirt in an upscale women’s clothing store. I also bought a long-sleeved black shirt the same day. Alas, I had to pay $4.00 for it. This means, however that in the winter or summer, I can show up at any function looking chic and cool—for a grand total of $6.24.
Yes, Virginia, there are bargains out there, and the three that I found have increased my sense of well being beyond measure. There’s magic everywhere!
Friday, February 27, 2009
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Late Friday night, in preparation for a luncheon I was hosting on Saturday, I pulled out my mother’s silver chest from under a bed. I opened it, and I was almost blinded by the dazzle of a century’s worth of sterling silver flatware.
When my mother married my daddy in 1941, she did what every self-respecting bride-to-be did: she chose a sterling silver pattern to go along with the china and crystal she had selected. My mother chose the same one that her mother had chosen years back. Between the two of them, they could feed lots of people. Following their footsteps, I chose the exact same pattern when I got married: Prelude by International.
Although I’ve used my sterling silver flatware over the years, I could never be considered a regular silver user. It took a lot more effort to unwrap the silvercloth bundles and pull out the utensils, piece by piece, than to open a drawer and pick up my everyday flatware. After using the sterling silver, I’d have to hand wash it and return each piece to its individual slot in the protective slivercloth.
This recent commingling has had a magical effect on me. While holding some of my grandmother’s special spoons that I hadn’t seen in 35 years, I recalled perfectly how Mary S would scoop up sugar cubes with them, or stir coffee in her Havilland china with other little silver spoons. The serving pieces I laid out on my table were the same ones that my grandmother had used to serve homemade coconut cake every year on my granddaddy’s Christmas birthday; I reveled in that after-Christmas-dinner tradition after my own luncheon guests had long gone.
The greatest joy for me, however, came from commingling my way-too-guarded silver pieces with those of two other lifetimes. The circle of life now seems sturdier and far richer than it did only a few days ago. Let the commingling of many other treasures begin!
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Of course I said yes when a friend called today to ask if I wanted to check out the new
The parking lot was full so we had to park in a nearby neighborhood. On the short trek to the new store, I imagined all the free samples of food and drink that would be offered to us. I wasn’t disappointed when I saw booths and tents lined up around the store. Alas, the offerings were very limited.
“There must be more freebies inside,” I muttered to myself. Wrong again. Oh, a slice of orange here, a chocolate-covered pretzel there. What self-respecting grocery store wouldn’t provide a feast for customers on opening day?
The pound of strawberries I bought for 88 cents was certainly worth the trip. I went ahead and bought a pineapple for 88 cents as well, even though it was more like the size of an artichoke instead of a respectable pineapple.
As a grocery store junkie, I’ve rarely met a grocery store I didn’t like. The verdict, however, on Newflower Farmers Market—which really isn’t a farmers market at all—is out. Way out.
Friday, January 30, 2009
The last day of the first month of 2009 is here, and I haven’t made my usual preparations for the New Year. So, I’ve decided to adjust my calendar just a tad.
I’ve included January as part of 2008; and I’ve deemed that February 1st is the first month of 2009. That means this year will have only 11 months instead of the usual 12.
People borrow all kinds of things including money, sugar and electric drills; then it’s pay- back time. I borrowed a month. Makes sense to me.
I’ve got to get busy and make those resolutions and clean out my files. I also need to take down the remaining Christmas lights in my front yard. The cedar pollen has been so bad that every time I spend more than 10 minutes outside I sneeze for the next 10 minutes.
I bet 2009 will go by even faster than 2008. But by 2010, everything will have evened out.
2008 take away 9…carry the one…I’m so glad I learned to borrow and subtract in the second grade!