Reflections on finding peace and magic in the middle of…


Divine Localities

House Beautiful?


When I was around ten, I discovered the absolute joy of home decorating magazines. While my friends were poring over Shawn Cassidy and Leif Garrett in Tiger Beat, I was busy dissecting the composition of furniture and color palettes in Country Living and Good Housekeeping. Seriously. I would go to the grocery store with my dad, and those were the magazines I asked for at the check out stand. I knew what wicker and rattan were, I understood the power of a monochromatic color scheme, and I knew a chintz from a toile.

I rearranged my room at least as often as most girls went up a cup size, and commandeered a brown wood veneer bed from the garage when I was ready to make the shift from youthful color to the trendy and sophisticated neutrals of the late seventies (a short-lived experiment, I quickly tired of earth tones and reverted to my true passions- yellow and green).

While my peers hung cut out pictures of super models, Kiss posters, and kittens frolicking on fuzzy pink and purple backgrounds, my room was adorned with antique china cups, handpainted folk art created by my grandmother, and primitive shadow boxes with ceramic figurines and a lovely brass heart pendant that my Aunt Jan gave me for Christmas (I still have that pendant). My bed was covered with a patchwork quilt my grandmother passed down, and at the foot of my bed rested the cedar chest my mother had in her own room when she was young (that chest has housed my wedding gown and veil since April of 1987 and sits in Libby’s room now.)

I blame my grandmother June for this. She had the most exquisite eye for decorating. By exquisite, I do not mean that she had champagne taste. If anything, she had coffee taste: warm, welcoming, and just the right blend of bitter and sweet. When I was little she took me around the perfect home they owned on Axtel Drive in Clovis, New Mexico and taught me about composition (this is where I learned the rule of three and the triangle that master theatre director Francis Hodge espouses). What grandmother does that? A grandmother who has observed enough to realize that her eight year old granddaughter has touched and memorized the placement of every knick knack, has realigned every sofa pillow, and caressed every textile in the house.

I always dreamt of having my house photographed for a magazine. I’ll let you in on a little secret: I still do. Not one of the fancy magazines like Architectural Digest or Town and Country. I am too lowly for that! But to that end, I walk around with an ever-critical eye, nudging a picture just a hair to the left, relocating a wooden spool bought at an antique shop in Connecticut in 1999 for the umpteenth time, or running out to the garage to spray paint something right quick ( I keep a stock of basics like flat and satin black, matte nickel, and whatever trendy colors I am currently into). I fantasize about opening the front door to discover a team of photographers who tell me they heard that I had made the most lovely house on a budget and they just have to have pictures of it for a magazine feature in Poor But Pretty!

Here is what I have learned about decorating a home:

1. Learn what colors you truly love. I love yellow and green, always have. (I also love pink, but I didn’t discover it until I had little girls, as my mother wouldn’t allow it in the house). If you base your decorating choices on the colors that get to your heart, you’ll be surrounded by joy (or peace, or energy, or whatever your home needs to provide for you). I have some of the same things in my home that have been here since I was a kid. (My turquoise kitchen cabinets, which I loved, turned out to be an expensive color splurge. Not sure I would do it again. I miss those cabinets, though!)

2. Throw in trendy but inexpensive pieces. If you spend $30 on a print that is very now, you don’t feel guilty when you tire of it (example: the black mosquito netting from Pier One I hung over our bed when we were newlyweds. I was going for an upscale romantic French boudoir feeling. WTH?)

3. Clear the clutter. Only keep what is aesthetically pleasing or has real, deep emotional meaning. You are not obligated to keep or display ugly gifts (like the silver-plated-sugar-and-creamer-set-with-the-broken-handles that a well-meaning relative bought at a garage sale for me.)

4. Play with texture. In my den I have a chenille couch, velveteen pillows sit on the window seat, a hand cross-stitched quilt hangs on the wall on a curtain rod behind an antique oak church pew salvaged from a central Texas church with satin patchwork and glass beaded pillows made by me, and colored glass pieces scattered throughout the room. Almost every time I walk into that room I stop to just inhale it with all of my senses (At the same time I seem to be inhaling the dander and hair of three dogs. How in the world did I end up with all these dogs?)

5. Dare to be unique. I am pretty sure my house doesn’t look like anyone else’s, and there are probably people who come in and wonder what in the world I am thinking. I love my salmon pink bedroom, the framed painting of the agave (it’s where tequila comes from-hello!), and the East India folk art that Travis Austin patiently helped me to embellish with crystals. I adore the pastel drawings that we have, one of each of our mothers at about age fourteen, both wearing simple white cotton shirts, turned to the left profile, shaded with blue in the back. I can tell the story of every single thing in my house. I know where it came from, who gave it to us, the origin of the fabrics, the trip where I bought it.

5. Keep it clean.

6. Fill it with love. Ultimately, that’s the greatest decorating ingredient of all.

Tickets, please!


I love to travel. Okay, let me rephrase that. If I could, I would love to travel. Right now, I manage a trip to HEB on my yellow bicycle. That’s about as exciting as it gets. But in my fantasy life, the one where I am the Queen of the World (yes, that’s a real title, my daughter Libby thinks she holds it), I regularly board planes, trains, automobiles, and ships (especially ships) to see the world’s best destinations. Here are my top five list of places in the world to visit, based on nothing but sheer fantasy:


1. Middle Earth. Who wouldn’t want to go there, now that Sauron has been defeated? The grass is ridiculously green, lovely music seems to follow one everywhere, and Rivendell has the most beautiful furniture ever beheld by man (because it’s made by elves). Granted, one must watch for huge spiders and scary fire monsters, but if one travels expeditiously, with a wise and beautiful elf 9preferably Legolas) as guide, one can behold many wonders such as walking,talking trees all whilst enjoying a pint (they’re really big!)


2. Bora Bora- do I need to even explain? Look at the picture. The entire culture is built around water leisure. They even build hotel rooms right on the water! There are fish of many colors, sharks, rays, and coconuts. Where there are coconuts, I imagine there is rum. And pretty Polynesian men to bring you the rum. Apparently, when WWII ended, some American military folks lucky enough to be stationed there just didn’t come home. Of course they didn’t. I am pretty sure if I ever get there, I won’t come home either. I will float on the turquoise water and play with dolphins and sing “Bali Hai.”


3. I know I am a grown woman, but I have never been to Disney World. I want to go so badly it almost hurts. I want to ride the tea cups and find Mickey and wear ears on my head. I will stand in line to do Magic Mountain and pay whatever exorbitant fee they charge for a hamburger. I will wave at the parade and marvel at the fireworks and palace light show and listen to jazz on Main Street. I will behold the wonder of Epcot and snorkel in Shark Reef! I was never much of a Disney kid. Raising my kids, I discovered the magic of Walt Disney. I want to take my family there!


4. New Orleans, but not for Mardi Gras. I have no desire to catch cheap plastic beads or be trampled by sweaty drunks. No, what I want is to see vampires and witches! Everyone knows that this is where the vamps live. Louis and Lestat, Bill and Eric and Pam, the Mayfair family- all in the Big Easy. Now, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the Haitian voodoo, maybe it’s the gorgeous architecture. I want to walk the Garden District and smell the magnolia blossoms and eat beignets. I want to find ghosts and visit old Catholic churches and dress like a southern belle to go to the jazz clubs. I don’t want to see a single structure that predates 1920. Most of all, I want to meet the glorious people of New Orleans. I hear they are truly hospitable.


5. Okay, okay. I know that technically, I have been to London. But it almost doesn’t count. I was there to study, and spent 80 % of my waking hours in classes (which were fantastic, but that is not the point). I am an Anglophile. I love England. I love its long history. I love its queen. I do not love its food, but I do think the best hard cider I have ever had was in a little boat bar on the Thames. I got about two hours in the Tower of London, I didn’t get to go inside St. Paul’s or Westminster or Kensington Palace or Herrod’s. Or Baker Street. Worst of all, I didn’t have Travis. So I want another London trip, where we can see every bloody castle and museum, have groundling spots at the Globe, and take a day trip to see Stonehenge. I want to ride the Eye and explore Chelsea. And I want to see if I can maintain my standard British accent all day without getting caught! And most of all, I want to see the queen, even if it’s from her balcony. And she will see me in the crowd and she will realize my love for England and she will adopt me as her ward and make me her heir.

I told you in the beginning I want to be Queen of the World, but really, I’d settle for the United Kingdom!

The Hobo who saved my marriage (really)

When I was younger, I did not readily trust people. Having been pretty battered by my parents’ marriage and in need of police protection from my mother more than once, simply being told that I was loved didn’t quite cut it. I developed very high walls and very dense shields. Very few of my peers had the patience or wisdom to scale those walls.

Then I met Travis. Now, I have recounted how lightning struck in my Aunt Molly’s kitchen when we saw each other for the first time, and that we knew we were meant to marry about a week after we met, and that I got scared and made us separate for a while.

In January of 1986, we sang together in a wedding in the Broadway Church of Christ wedding chapel, and I looked over at him and realized I was just being stupid. The man who loved me better than anyone ever had was patiently waiting for me to decide that he was what I wanted. So I did, that night.

Once we- no, I- decided to make a romance out of a friendship, no holds were barred. This was it! We talked marriage from that point on. We took our classes together when we could (as voice majors, that was pretty easy) and he walked me to class when we had different schedules. After classes he sat with me when I worked in the SUB or called me when he could from his job at Jent’s House of Music. We started looking at rings, and I found a wedding dress on a trip to Brownwood, before there was even a proposal.

Halt!!!! My still-fragile heart finally realized what was happening. It called to mind all the ugly of my parents’ union. With no warning to Travis and no rational decision on my part, I stopped speaking. Not only to him, but to everyone. I went through days of silence, walking to classes and to my dorm room, where I lived alone. Recently I found the letter he wrote me during this time, it was delivered to my campus mailbox. He pleaded with me to break my silence, if not to him, then to anyone I trusted. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.

One afternoon after class, he grabbed my hand and took me to his car. We drove to Maxey Park, where he spent hours trying to break through to me. He walked away, very angry, and I sat in stony silence, really not sure why I could not speak, I just knew I couldn’t.

Then a man was there on the bench across from me. I had not seen or heard him approach, but I heard him ask me if I was okay, if I needed help, if I needed an ear. He spoke to me of trust, he spoke to me of letting go, he spoke to me of the killing power of fear and keeping love walled out (I am not making this up). He spoke until I was able to uncross my arms from the front of my chest, release my shoulders from around my ears, and relax my jaw. I never said anything to him, at least I do not remember doing so, but when Travis approached, this man simply walked away. Travis sat down and held me while I cried and finally surrendered to his unconditional love of me.

See, sometimes I wonder what the heck God is thinking, and if He has forgotten me. Then I remember that He sent an angel, a real one, who encouraged me to let go and let Travis love me. On the occasions when I have doubted God’s love, I remember the man He gave me to demonstrate His love for me here on this earth.

And I remember the angel who saved me from myself on a bench in Maxey Park in the spring of 1986. If you see a slightly disheveled man hanging around the benches, keep an ear out for the flutter of angel’s wings.

Lake Brownwood

I am revisiting this entry because I am in rehearsals right now for “On Golden Pond.” In the play, my character, Chelsea, visits her parents’ lake house, where she begins the excruciating work of mending her relationship with her father. Chelsea says “Hello” to the lake, it’s “always [her] first order of business” when she arrives at Golden Pond. I always hugged family, then headed to the dock to say hello to the water. When leaving, I always loaded the car, went to the dock for a quiet goodbye, then kissed the family before getting in the car. Chelsea and Golden Pond are renewing my longing for the lake. hr-1183-556-589--1183556589005

I have a very favorite place in the world: my grandparents’ lake house in Brownwood, Texas, a cedar shake cabin surrounded by live oaks and marked by a mailbox set in an antique milk can. My love affair with this place began when I visited it for the first time as an awkward twelve year old, lost in the morass of junior high hell, losing bids for cheerleader and having my bra strap popped by idiot boys. Mornings began on the porch swing, my grandmother June drinking coffee while I had orange juice. She loved to watch for birds. My brothers and I caught tiny frogs and kept them in plastic margarine bowls provided by my  grandmother and spent the afternoons taking running leaps off the top of the boat dock. One time, my brother Lance grabbed my hand for a pellmell vault into the brown water, and my foot caught on a nail. The nail embedded itself in the fleshy ball of my foot and I just sort of rooted myself to the spot. Lance kept pulling me, exhorting me not to be a chicken, until he realized my silent misery. Seeing my wound, he helped me to the house for first aid and loved on me the rest of the day. He had a sweet heart. I slept on bunk beds, a marvelous invention, covered by quilts that my ancestors had stitched. When my grandfather came home, my grandmother greeted him at the door, face uplifted for an open mouthed kiss often followed by a fox trot in the kitchen.


As I matured, I began to see the paneled walls, blue kitchen cabinets, colored striped carpets and brightly hued quilts and glass as the very safest and most love filled place on earth. After my grandmother died of breast cancer in 1982, this cabin became the living embodiment of her compassion and joy, and of the love she and my grandfather shared. My grandparents spent the first months of their marriage living in a tent near the dam on lake Brownwood, while my Pop recuperated from TB. That lake was a place of love and romance for them. To honor that, I wanted to get married there, but the logistics of planning a wedding somewhere far away from where I was in school were so daunting, I changed my mind. I have always regretted that. I believe now that we must acknowledge and pursue the deepest desires of our hearts, no matter how seemingly impossible.


I took my kids there every summer. We have many, many pictures of them jumping on the trampoline or riding the innertubes. Their childhoods can be traced at the lake, like growth marks on a doorway. We had Hilary’s seventh birthday there, and Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations that revolved not around the water, but around the card table. Brownwood is where I spent time with my dear cousins, aunts, and uncles.

I dream of the house often. Always surrounded by water, sometimes Pop is there, sometimes my uncles, sometimes Rebecca. I scattered my brother Lance’s ashes right there in the water where he and I jumped so often as children, teens, and even young adults. The new owners have replaced the old dock and blue kitchen cabinets, much to my dismay, but the spirit of my grandparents lives on.

Today, my home is filled with little lake touches. My grandmother’s glass collection is on a shelf in my kitchen, the quilt that was on my grandparents’ bed hangs on a rod in my living room, and I painted my kitchen cabinets blue. I keep geraniums because my Pop did, though much to my dismay I can’t seem to get house plants to flourish like Grandma did (nor can I seem to cook like her).


But the spirit of the lake, of family and constancy amid change, that I cherish. I hope that if Heaven exists, there is a slate blue boat dock with a swing and an eight foot roof from which I can take endless joyful flights into the refreshing water.

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