Resigning my commission

newer_sleeker_wonder_woman_tiara_by_zigorc-d61rsdg.jpgToday. I am respectfully resigning my commission. Turning in the tiara.  I  have finally come  the realization that I don’t have to try to be Wonder Woman anymore.

As is customary with strong southern women, firstborn children, and peasant stock, I was raised to think that I was The Fixer.  My goal in life – my predestined profession – was to be Wonder Woman. And I guess I was pretty good at fixing things and making it work– from dead car batteries to broken spirits.  Mine was the generation of self-improvement books. Entire sections of bookstores (remember those?) were devoted to empowering us to be all things to all people. Maybe I skimmed over the self part of self-help.

My generation was one of New Pioneers. We came of age on the cusp of the second generation of women with (almost) equal rights — we knew we could Have It All if we worked hard enough. We learned about getting a seat at the table and breaking glass ceilings. We cracked the pantyhose Legg and laughed at our mothers’ girdles. And believed that we all we needed to do was keep climbing – and climbing – and continue to prove our competency at all things for all people.

It didn’t stop in the workplace. My generation of mothers raised our children with stacks of books next to our chairs. We championed Benjamin Spock, and fought for legislation for car seats and bicycle helmets. My generation proudly created hyper-parenting and helicopter moms. And some of us couldn’t let go. I believed that parenting came with a lifelong contract.

It has occurred to me in recent months that my adult childen have morphed into these fairly competent hybrid adult friends.   And they don’t really need me to  hover and offer advice and tell them how they ought to do things. In fact, they will be better for it if I let them fly and make a few mistakes and learn from them — like our generation did. And I have permission to let go. We can land that helicopter now.

Community. It has always been important to me to be a community organizer, activist, volunteer and, when necessary, leader.  But I started looking around tables as i sat on   advisory boards or planning committees and I saw a room full of people my age  or older – somewhere between 48 and death.   Where are the 20s and the 30s… and even the early 40s.  Who is giving them a chance to become community leaders?

And so today, after much consideration, I am resigning my commission as Wonder Woman. I am proud of the accomplishments of my generation – and I am grateful for the opportunities to serve my children and my community. The glass ceiling has cracked if not completely broken – and I am comfortable with my professional life.

And now it is our turn. The way I see it, my generation  has a new challenge. Letting go without guilt. I am going to try to pioneer that movement  – at least for me – starting today.

I am proud of our children and believe that they have and continue to learn to make good choices. I cannot deny them the privilege of learning life’s lessons for themselves. And deciding what they want to do to make a living and how they are going to work toward their own dreams. And I will be respectful of their decisions.  Our children’s generation has a new battle to fight. Who is going to write the self-improvement books about that?   Someone needs to write Overcoming Hyperparenting  or Letting Go Without Guilt.

It’s  been a good job  but I believe my work is done. I am looking forward to a  new  chapter in life, one  of relaxation, love, respect and friendship with those great human beings that we have raised and come to know. They have earned their independence.

My well-worn and slightly tarnished tiara is going up on a shelf. My track shoes are going in the trash,  and I have landed the helicopter.  It is their turn.

I am still dragging a little guilt around – but am learning that it is time to let go. It’s my turn to focus on happily ever after with the great love of my life and those dreams I have put off for so long.  What are your dreams? What is your happily ever after?

It’s  our turn. We can fly. But we have to give ourselves some quality time.

Listening to  I Can’t Be Your Hero Today by Jimmy Buffett




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Time Wrangling: A daydreamer’s guide to time management


But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.  – Robert Frost

Bobby Frost and his snowy evening poem have crossed my mind a lot lately, with so much to do and so little time. But wait. What is important? What is urgent? And what are we  committing to simply because it’s easier to do it than to teach someone how to do it? And what are we doing because it is simply too hard to say no.

Whatever the reasons, I know that my  must-do list has grown to a level that is causing that constant low hum of stress in my brain. And that is going to stop. I am backing up and de-committing. I want more time for quality things. And for being completely lazy, truth be told.

I listened to a time management consultant this month – who talked about budgeting time like it was money (okay – so I am not very good at that either…) . Look at the “fixed costs” and the priorities, and then determine how you want to spend the rest of your time. He said to make a one month plan – and see how that works. See if you can discover the time thief – And to go from there. So here goes.

So what is all of this obligation anyway? What do we want to quit? What do we want to do? How do we separate the wheat from the chaff?  Freelance writers, dreamers and creative people in general tend to struggle with time management. Most of our time  is divided into four  work categories —

The work that pays most of the bills;

The work that fulfills the dream;

The work that makes a difference;

The work to which we cannot say no.

Sometimes I  find that the “work” to which we cannot say no tends to cause the most stress and take the most time is the least appreciated and is generally the least rewarding.  And so —

Beginning on March 1, (the day after tomorrow thanks to Leap Day) let’s turn over a new leaf. I am going to  work on some time management strategies and see if for one month, I  can change some of our patterns and get a few things accomplished.

I am fortunate that my “work that pays most of the bills” is a very rewarding career. I am afforded a level of freedom and creativity that makes it fun and allows me time to think while on the job. It takes about 40 hours a week. So there is my first 40 hours. (btw, that includes 2.5 hours of exercise — which I can start using on March 1 — to get some steps in. What the heck – in for a penny, in for a pound.

Next comes the work that fulfills the dream – right now  that is the Delbert book. I need to focus more time on that.  For the month of  March, I plan to commit ten solid hours per week to the book.  That’s right – On the clock.  That will amount to 40 hours of effort on the book for the month of March. This will work. I am committing to time efficient hours of actual work. Not falling down rabbit holes and wandering down roads less traveled. I will spend the first 10 hours this week, plotting the schedule, working with the publishers, and creating the final structure.  By the end of March. I should have another 10.000 words ready to go.  This week:  2 hours outline; 2 hours publisher, 2 hours setting up interviews; 2 hours transcribing, 2 hours research.

The work that makes a difference – I can count the day job as that – because it does – and I can probably include a little bit of gratis work for organizations i believe in – like HOME for musicians and the Center for Texas Music History. I will give that sort of work 1 hour a week. This week: 1 hour Austin Artist Development.

The work to which I cannot say no -that includes odds and ends that I get sucked into by the nature of my spirit. My fault completely — I feel flattered that people ask me to help them with things -and then I am stuck working on projects that do not fit into my schedule -and take away from what I really need to be doing. Ah-ha! That is a time thief! That is what takes much of my time and keeps me from focusing on what really matters.   I have two projects that I have obligated to – and I will complete them – and stop. And learn to say. I wold love to but my schedule won’t permit that now. Difficult words. I can spend  2 hours a week on that work and get it all done during March.

Somewhere along the line, I would actually like to have some quality time with family and friends. Let’s carve out about 20 hours of that as well.  That does not count sitting on the sofa watching tv or playing computer games. That is real, enjoy-ourself, complete focus on one another time. That is about two hours a day.

So let’s do the math. 40  + 10 + 1 + 2 + 20 = 73 hours.  So there are 168 hour in a week.  Let’s subtract those 73 hours — and now let’s rest for 55 of those hours (8 hours a night) – and we are down to 40. Let’s cook and eat for three hours a day (21)and now we have 19 hours left for incidentals.  Let’s take 2 hours a day for personal time — so that leaves us with 5 hours of  bonus time. Wonder if I could make that work.  It doesn’t have to work like a machine, the time management guy said — but can serve as a guide to try to kick start a more rewarding and productive life – with ultimately more time for what I want to do. I told myself I would write this down – and remember it- so here goes.  The math may be a little off – but if it is, I will take the time away from sleep. Who needs to sleep for 8 hours a night anyway? 🙂

If I do this for one month to prove that I can, then perhaps I will be able to find a nice balance between the two. Let’s see how it works. Thankfully, today is Leap Day and I am considering this a 24 hour bonus to kick off the test.

PS. Maybe these are lofty goals. I think I will try it for one week – starting on Tuesday, March 1. And let you know how it goes. 🙂

Listening to: “Turn, Turn, Turn” by The Byrds.







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We open the mailbox most days to a pile of circulars and bills. The closest we get to personal  letters are invitations to fundraising events and an occasional wedding announcement. Sometimes I am tricked. The envelope looks hand-written. A real stamp is affixed to the top corner, a little crooked.  But it’s just a sales pitch from a car salesman or a financial planner who wants to buy us din11741225_10103148670196777_7941987607073222440_o.jpgner at the local steakhouse.

I’m guilty. I don’t hand-write, stamp and mail letters either. I guess  I should lower my expectations. But I do have two very special letter writing pen pals.

My good friend, Janice Williams recognizes the value of archiving our lives through correspondence. She is a geneaologist  (why does that word insist on autocorrecting to gynocologist?) and has connected with family members all over the country and collected their stories. She has even written a book about the Cunningham Family that is so good, people outside of the family want to read their story.  She had names and vital statistics, but she dug deeper. Found pictures and letters, and learned  the stories of her ancestors. How would she have done this without old letters bundled and tied with string. How will our generation be remembered?

The internet seems to be the answer to everything. So the information superhighway will probably take care of  our birth and death stats, marriage licenses and other legal documents. Most likely, handwritten letters will go the way of the quill and ink well. Are we really hearing arguments about whether or not to teach cursive to school children? Who needs it?

A sidebar here: No Cursive? How our grandchildren to read such great works as the Declaration of Independence? How will they read signatures? How will they understand the phrase, “Put your John Hancock right here…” How will they…. Oh.  Not to worry. There will be a New Way.  It will be better.

Back to Letters.

Janice and I write email letters back and forth with fair regularity. She is one

of my best friends. We live 30 miles apart and make a point of seeing one another at least three or four times a year.  And we always

say we are going to do this more often.Time and life get in the way of those plans, but we stay connected. We don’t depend on those visits to keep us up to date. We know what is going on in our day-to-day lives by way of letters. Janice is a great writer. We push one another to write more – not just letters, but blogs and magazine articles and just everyday stories waiting to be told. We know our current prescriptions and latest diet plan and favorite new wine,  and share the ordinary days in our lives. While the letters are not necessarily filled with earth-shattering news, they touch us. Connect us. And bring us joy. Sometimes, one of us or the other will j

ust send a quick note: I owe you a letter! so that we know to expect something soon.  It’s better than The check is in the mail.



My other pen pal is my son, Sterling. He lives about ten miles from me, in the same town. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I have traveled a good deal in Concord.” Like David,  Sterling has traveled much in Central Texas. He has a good eye for seeing things the rest of us might miss. He has a wonderful knack for storytelling, and a beautiful way with words. We don’t write to one another about the weather or the latest headlines. Mostly, lately, we write about the great people, stories, writers, teachers, moments in our lives – and one another.  We might throw in an occasional dream or goal.  A theme to our writing? It might be No Regrets.

One of our favorite songs is Kilkelly, Ireland. Written by Steven and Peter Jones, it is the true story of John Hunt,  an Irish emigrant to America. The song is based on a box of old letters written between their great-great-grandfather, Brian Hunt, and his son John, their great-grandfather.  The father,Brian was illiterate, so the letters were actually written by dictation to the local schoolmaster, Patrick McNamara, a family friend, who mailed them to America.  Steven and Peter found the forgotten box of letters in their grandfather’s attic.

I am grateful for boxes of old letters.  And for cursive. And for people who like to receive and send letters.  And for Janice and for Sterling. My pen pals.

Listening to Kilkelly, Ireland performed by Robbie O’Connell. . 



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The Great Book of Unfairness


A friend of a friend decided that there really should be a Great Book Of Unfairness. And that people should write down everything that is unfair in this Great Book and let it go. So she set forth to do that. She passed the book along to some of her friends to pass along and send back. It wound up with my friend. And in the fullness of time, my friend passed it along to me and told me that I had a week or so – and one page.

The Great Book of Unfairness came to me in a big black briefcase. Like the kind someone’s dad used to carry to The Office in the 1960s. The book is the size of a Houston telephone directory, it was bound, black, hardcover, with bright endpages with quotes. You could say the book was heavy with the burden of unfairness.

About 60 people had written in it. Some wrote one word. Some filled their page.  Someone just doodled around their paragraphs and daydreamed about what they wanted to say. Someone almost tore a hole in his page trying to erase something that maybe wasn’t that unfair after all.

Day One: What a great idea, and I am glad I get a chance to write in it. I have a lot to say. I need to gather my thoughts. Only one page? Will I have room?

Day Two: Granted, it’s a big page but where do I begin.  I should write in small print so it will all fit. I probably should write with a pencil with a very sharp point in good handwriting. I can use that good box of Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencils. My handwriting used to be good but I’ve gotten out of practice since I rarely write words with a pen anymore, unless you count the occasional signature on one of those screens at the grocery store when they say credit or debit, or doodles on the side of an agenda as my mind wanders in stifling meeting.

Day Three: Organize, I think. Don’t waste this opportunity.

My head spins as I think about how to put the unfairnesses in order.


By level of importance- or greatness?

Alphabetically? I am sort of blocked. I cannot think of an “A” unfairness that is worthy of this list. Wait, I just thought of one.

Day Four: I know – How about if I start with the self-created rule of promising to let go of the personal unfairnesses that I write on My Page. Will I be able to do that? Do I want to make such a commitment?

Day Five: Should I begin with those unfairnesses that have fallen on me personally, or those of a more global magnitude? I’m thinking it would be a little unfair to have to give up my page to those big picture things. But then again, it is sort of a big page.

Day Six: Maybe I should divide the list into columns: Personal unfairnesses | General unfairnesses | Global unfainesses | Historic unfairnesses | Friends and Family Unfairnesses …

Day Seven: Has it been a week? Where has the time gone? I am starting to feel panicked and a little guilty for not doing this already. Maybe I should just write one sentence and draw some stars and circles around it and let it go. Things will slow down tomorrow. I will do it then.

Day Eight: No. I cannot just scrawl out a sentence and send this book on its way. This is My Chance. Not just for me, but for my friends who don’t get to write in this. I am going to sit down and start that list tonight.

Day Nine: Maybe I should not have started a “draft” list on a legal pad with a pencil. Lessons learned: Unfairnesses are hard to categorize. It is hard to come up with equal numbers for the Personal list and the Global list and the Historic list. And when my personal list starts to get long, I feel obligated to add those poor children with cleft palates in the ads in the Reader’s Digest, and people who don’t get Morton’s Iodized Salt so they get big ol’ swollen goiters on their necks, and wildabeasts that get run down by lions and die painful deaths. And while those are huge unfairnesses, they seem sort of generic and general, and they seem to diminish some of my personal unfairnesses… and then all of a sudden my pencil is getting dull again.

Day Ten: Maybe I ought to just use a nice roller ball pen and just push on through with a few random thoughts and scratch out and make edit marks when I mess up and when I get to the end of the page, I should just close the book and let it go. I am starting to think that I am overthinking this opportunity.

I have to start somewhere. It’s my turn. It’s my page. So don’t judge me. That would be unfair. *I really do have a strong social conscience, and I am sorry for all those things in the world that are unfair that are too many to list here.

I am going to start at the beginning of my life and use this whole page and let go of the things I write about.

… to be the firstborn child of an 18 year old girl who deserved much more. And before she knows it, that mom is raising three kids by herself, and then she is 34, and has a 16 year old daughter who is getting to do things she never got the chance to do. But it’s not fair. She’s only 34 – or 36 or 40… .   No matter how successful the mother’s life may become, she can not get past the youth she sacrificed.  It’s not her daughter’s fault. And to be fair, it’s not her fault either. From a distance it’s easy to see the problem and to rationalize how to heal and improve relationships, and believe it is not too late. But up close, things blur out of focus and lots of lines are crossed. Someone owes someone something. Or maybe no one owes anything at all. And no one quite knows how to let it go – or hold on. Unfair.

… to try to not make mistakes with my kids. To read all the books on parenting and relationships , and debate whether to use cloth or disposables, or schedule feedings or feed on demand, or piano lessons or t-ball, or television or books, and believe with all my heart that I am doing the best job I can do – and then to suddenly have grown children and see as clear as day, all the mistakes I made, and feel sick about it, and wish with all my heart for a do-over. My greatest fear is that my children will resent me for not being the parent they deserved. I know now that I could have done better. I read somewhere that a parent only gets 936 Sundays between the time a child is born and he or she reaches the age of 18, to spend quality time doing something worthwhile. Boy, I wasted a lot of those days. And I didn’t do that great of a job some of the time. But there are no do-overs. Unfair.

…to finally find the great love of my life and truly know that if I get to spend fifty years with him, it won’t be long enough. To know that his was my last first kiss and that THIS really is happily ever after. And know that we won’t get fifty years. That we might not get twenty years, and we have already had almost eight years of this. And to wake up sometimes and wonder what life was like before US. And if I will be able to accept the inevitable with grace, thanksgiving, and Winnie-the-Pooh and Dr. Seuss-esque platitudes like “Don’t be sad because it’s over. Be happy because it happened.” Is this an unfairness? Maybe not. But it is a useless worry that is far beyond my realm of control. So I am going to put it here and try to let it go. Unfair.

…to have let myself go. To carry an extra 40 pounds and to not have the willpower to make a life change. To know rationally that all things would be better if I invested more time in self-improvement and less time in self-destruction or laziness, but not having the core drive, motivation and self direction or whatever it is that some people have – to make that change. Unfair? Maybe that is not the word I am looking for.  

When it comes to tying knots in a length of ribbon to let go of my worries, or writing words on a page to let go of unfairness, maybe my list is not as long as I thought it would be, after all. Maybe I don’t need a whole page in this book after all. In the big picture, my unfairnesses are couched in good fortune. I have a mother who wanted to fight for me almost as much as she fought with me. I have children who, if you asked them, probably think I did okay by them, at least today. I have a husband who loves me, and we both recognize and cherish our good fortune to have found one another. We know our time together is precious and try to make every minute count. And I am going to see what I can do about that self-improvement thing. Writing those words in this book  is a giant step forward.

While I am not an overly evangelical person, I have been, for the most part,  what can be deemed a “good Episcopalian.” And for anyone has read this far into my trivial list of unfairnesses, I want to share this benediction that my friend and priest, Ben Nelson offers: “Friends, our time here is short. We do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those around us. So be quick to love. Make haste to be kind, and be assured that God is infinitely more concerned with our future than our past.”

And I think that’s fair.

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I wrote most of this essay in 2012 – after my week with The Book. A young friend is going through a rough patch right now and I told her a little about it. I went back to find this essay and update it. And today – three years later, I have learned that it helped to make that list, to  write all of that unfairness down. And let it go. Glue the page together. Burn it in a fire pit. Tear it into tiny pieces and scatter them to the wind.   Or just save a file in the bowels of your computer.   Did the unfairness go away? Did everything get better? Well, yes and no. Butterflies are not circling my head. But since the day I closed that book, I feel stronger and happier and – I guess “at peace” with unfairness. It’s out there. In a book. In a briefcase. Somewhere. Just one page of many contributed by people who have had much bigger and somewhat smaller and louder and quieter unfairnesses in their lives. And three years later, I am glad I saved this essay and dusted it off to read again.

I told my young friend to get a journal and write her list of unfair things in it. And then glue the pages shut. And to keep writing – and doodling – and dreaming. And in the midst of her to do lists and dreams and plans and wishes and wants, to start writing one good thing every day.

And for those good things, she can have all the pages she wants.

Listening to: I Had A Real Good Time by Delbert McClinton.

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One of those annual letters…

One month into the new year – Happy Amost February!

Sorry I have been out of the loop. While I hate this excuse. I have been burning the candle at both ends. And since a few of you had asked where I’ve been and what is going on, I  just decided to pour a cup of coffee and write to you this morning to fill 155916237you in…   So this is sort of the email I was planning to send to you during the holidays and kept putting on the back burner… well. Today is the day to write it and press send!

In no particular order:
We got a new executive director at ALERRT, and he is wonderful. I received a major promotion and am juggling two jobs, but beginning in April, I will be exclusively handling marketing, media and governmental relations, which is the dream job. We moved into fabulous new offices near the hospital, and I have huge windows and can look out and see the Texas Hill Country – and Alkek Library and Old Main!   I am getting here at dawn and leaving at dusk most days, but suffice to say that I feel like I have a new job and absolutely love it.

I have been asked to write Delbert McClinton’s bio  – he is a legendary Texas musician, who wrote “Two More Bottles of Wine,” among other country hits – and now – in his 75th year, he is moving into more of a crooning style. I am looking forward to working with him and getting this project done and developing it into a multifaceted definitive profile of Delbert.

I have cut back on other freelance projects and carefully considered taking this on, but it is truly what I love to do – and no one has written a major piece about him to date, and hey, he taught John Lennon to play the harmonica, for goodness sakes, and most of all, I think he has a very good story to tell in Texas music history.

The collaborative Texas songwriter book project for Texas A&M Press was hung up in legal for a little while as they got permissions to use some song lyrics in other chapters – but looks like it is going to press soon.

Speaking of Texas music, in March, I am representing the Center for Texas Music History and presenting a paper at the Texas State Historical Association Annual Conference in Corpus Christi: “Texas Music: From Frontiers to Footlights.” I am looking forward to that conference and getting to soak up a lot of great presentations – not to mention the book fair that happens along with the conference.

On a sad note, my children are struggling with their father’s mortality — as his heart grows weaker. My former husband, Kent Finlay  has been in Methodist Hospital in SA for about 9 days and they were hoping to move him to a rehab facility but have been unable to stabilize him enough to make that move.  HalleyAnna and I drove over to see him this week – and it is very sad. Each of my children is handling this differently, and while I am not in a place to facilitate this, I can only sit back and pray for grace and peace for them in their own ways. As you know, these sorts of things can tear at the fiber of the best of family relationships, but I can only hope for comfort and good memories for each of them.

Jenni, who took the lead on taking care of him last spring while he had the bone marrow transplant and cancer treatments, has a book of poetry coming out this week Here is what the blurb says:

Jenni Finlay will soon release her first chapbook of poetry, entitled Table For One (Mezcalita Press). Acclaimed author Brian T. Atkinson recently submitted the book’s foreword. “Turn the page,” he writes. “You’ll learn life lessons in care and compassion and calling your own heart into action.” Illustrations by the amazing Marc Harkness complement the poems, written during the months when Jenni was her father’s caretaker during his cancer treatment and bone marrow transplant.  The bittersweet vignettes are as humorous as they are heartwrenching.    Stay tuned for more details of Jenni’s poetry debut set for release in early March 2015!  CLICK HERE to pre-order today!

Her book about her dad, coauthored with Brian T. Atkinson, Kent Finlay: Dreamer is slated for fall release through the Texas State University’s  Center for Texas Music History  John and Robin Dixon Series – also through Texas A&M Press.

Mark and I are still taking care of – and spending as much time as possible  with – his dear mother, who at 90, is still the beautiful woman his father fell in love with. She has a wry sense of humor and enjoy driving Mark crazy in a way only mothers can!  My mother has settled in comfortably in Savannah, Georgia near my brother and his family and has found a truly happy place to be.  Mark and I have determined that 2015 is the year that we focus on quality time doing things that are important to us.  I got on a walking kick last fall and when my knee started to give me trouble, I researched and then talked my best buddy Kim Porterfield into getting Really Great Bicycles and we love them.  We started a regular riding regime but my knee was not getting better.

The knee was not further harmed by the bicycling (in fact, I am told that is good for it) but it appears that the meniscus (sp) has been compromised in my left knee and it hurts like the devil when I move it in certain ways. So — as my brilliant non-doctor husband says, “Don’t move it in those ways.” But I finally went to my dr and after dealing with some insurance fal-de-ral am finally seeing a sports medicine orthopedist who specializes in knees next week. I throw in the sports medicine part just to point out that it is not a “old peoples” knee doctor! lol!  I might just need to go see Jenice’s Dr. Jim, since Mark always insists that vets are much  better doctors than human doctors – because they have to learn about every kind of body – from birds to horses! — though, wait–  thinking of horses,  he may have to shoot me if my knee is unfixable!   So for now, Kim is riding solo and I am waiting till i go to the knee guy before I get back on the bike.

Sterling gave me a wooden sign a while ago that says, “Enjoy life. It is not a dress rehearsal.” and this year, we are taking that to heart. We are determining what is important vs what is urgent.. and finding that last year, we let much important time pass while addressing squeaky wheels and the loudest squalkers. We are finally both at a place where we feel we are doing our best — and we are very lucky.

Yes. This may sound like one of Those Emails that people laugh about  that attempts to catch people up with everything great that is going on,  so for the record, life is not a bowl of cherries. We have to jiggle the handle on the toilet in our bathroom to make the water stop running, and you have to walk single file through our garage because of all the junk, and our outside Christmas lights are still up BUT THEY ARE UNPLUGGED — but Mark and I have decided that taking deep breaths and enjoying quality of life — and that spending time celebrating real friendship are much more certain keys to happiness than chasing our tails and trying to keep up with a full calendar of meetings and committees and to-do lists.

And as we approach Barkley’s first anniversary with us on February 4,  we are grateful for PAWS animal shelter for saving him for us – (he had been turned over  to the shelter three times  and had been there since October when we got him last February)  and for the great adventures we have been on together. He is the best traveling dog and truly adds another dimension to our family.

As I mentioned, the first quarter of this year is a bit of a challenge but we are getting things organized and squared away personally and professionally, and will be living in a new kind of normal beginning in April.  Let’s make it memorable. I hope to spend more quality time with good friends in this new year. And look forward to sitting and visiting and catching up soon. So here we are almost 1/12th of the way through 2015. Here’s to all of us. Quality life.


Listening to: Green Leaves of Summer by Asleep At The Wheel

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Where I’m From…

I really am going to put away the rest of the Christmas decorations today – but I have been busy. Reading a yearbook. From a private boy’s school in Dallas. No. I guess you would say I don’t have any connection there – beyond my first journalism teacher. But when I look back at my career of writing, I remember the cinderblock walls of his classroom in the “new” English building that has since been torn down. And I know that group of St. Mark’s journalism students and I have a lot in common. Ray Westbrook’s classroom: It’s “Where I’m From.” 


Ray Westbrook came to San Marcos High School right out of Southwest Texas State University as our first “real” journalism teacher. Before he stepped into the role, journalism teachers had generally been English teachers who were saddled with the newspaper and yearbook staff, or coaches who had to also teach something else during their off periods.

The year before he came to us, Ray had edited The SWT Pedagog, an innovative and journalistic yearbook. In high school we looked at that as the definitive yearbook. I managed to wrangle a copy a few years ago.  It read like a time capsule. In recent years,  that yearbook has set on my desk at the office, raising my iMac two inches to the perfect height. And yes, occasionally, I  pick it up and look through  it. More than group pictures and class favorites, that college yearbook chronicled our world at that time. Folk singers and war veterans, streakers and sorority girls, and current events and trends –   a new movie theatre opens – a Hollywood movie being filmed in San Marcos with Big Stars – protests continue as America’s youth finds its voice.  At the time it was published, I was still in high school and this was a college yearbook, but it spoke with eloquence of the times of our lives, and the weight of the world our generation was soon to inherit.

When Mr. Westbrook came to SMHS, he was not much older than we were. At the time, I don’t think we realized that. There was a line between Teachers and Students and when one crossed that line, they aged quickly, and began to wear sweater vests and ties. But he was different. Behind the sweater vests and ties, he understood us. And he knew, better than we, what we could be. He brought that new way of thinking to The Rattler yearbook. We were allowed to sit ON the desks and hang out in the journalism room when we had free time. We began to tell our stories – and we learned elements of design and life lessons along the way.

It wasn’t until several decades later, when the magic of Facebook brought us all back together in our 50s, that we realized that Mr. Westbrook was Our Age. In that way that the years blur as we get further away from seventeen.

So what is Ray — yes, now we call him Ray — doing now? He has The Dream Job. He teaches journalism and publications at the famed St Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas. He went from teaching at SMHS to working for Taylor Publishing Company (a major player in yearbook publishing) for nearly two decades.  Along the way, he served as director of academics for the University Interscholastic League and the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals – and in 2001, landed in The Dream Job.

For the last 14 years, he has taught at St. Mark’s Of Texas, a private boys school on Preston Road in Dallas, with about 850 students between first and 12th grades. In 2011, he earned –  and continues to hold –  the Gene and Alice Oltrogge Master Teaching Chair. He explained, “In private schools, some teachers are honored with a Master Teaching Chair. The Oltrogge Chair is funded by H Ross Perot Jr.  When it was founded, I was honored to be given this chair. It is basically an “elevation” in rank for good work – and it came with a $20,000 pay raise – no small potatoes!”  He teaches journalism and design, and is the advisor for the student newspaper, The ReMarker, and The Marksmen yearbook.

Student newspaper? Hardly the stuff we would expect. The quality is outstanding. Check it out.

As we swapped text messages during the holidays, Ray told me he was going to send me their latest yearbooks. I looked forward to receiving them and seeing what my old friend and mentor was doing these days. And, it’s been more than a decade since I have looked through a current high school yearbook. I wondered what they look like now.

Wow! This is a dream job. His multitalented stuIMG_4378dent staff handles all phases of the publication, from theme to content, to layout and design, and operations.  The 2013 yearbook theme is “Where I’m From,” and after I poured over the pages and read every word, and wrote back and raved about this coffee table book, he casually mentioned that it did happen to sweep the three most prestigious national and state awards for yearbooks last year.

The three national awards are the Gold Crown from Columbia Scholastic Press Association (NY), the Pacemaker Award, given by the Natl. Scholastic Press Assn., and the Gold Star, given by the Interscholastic League Press Conference (the state journalism group housed at UT Austin).

Where I’m From offers well written feature stories, such as “20 Years of Arnie,” a story about the longest serving headmaster of the school preparing for retirement; a definitive “Class Tree” that lists a year by year roster of the Class of 2013 graduating students beginning with their first grade year — (second grade out – second grade in… third grade out – third grade in, etc.);class pictures of each group from first graders to seniors; a feature about a physics teacher who plays a little blues music on his guitar and harmonica when there is time at the end of class; and  each senior gets his own page – including a personal essay about his experience at St. Mark’IMG_4380s, and includes his activities in school, a favorite quote and other details.

Yes, I guess it seems odd for a 50-something woman to spend a couple of nights curled up by the fireplace reading, cover to cover,  a high school yearbook from a boys school in Dallas. I only know one soul in the book, and he is a greying master teacher now.  But I do feel the spirit of the place.

When I read the notes from the editor, I see, “Ray, I can’t thank you any more articulately than past editors, but suffice it to say I am the man that I am because of you. Even when we disagree, there’s no one I respect more. Thank you.”

And the last words on the last page: “It’s where I became who I am – and where I will come back to for the rest of my life. 10600 Preston Road. It’s where I’m from.”

Where I’m From speaks volumes. Not just for these Dallas prep school seniors, or former students withIMG_4381 old yearbooks and faded memories.  It is the one thing that we all have in common. We wear that like a class ring or a letter jacket wherever we go in life.  It is the tie that binds.

And it’s heartwarming on this freezing January Saturday,  as I look into the faces of these bright young strangers, and wonder about all  they will see in the next 40 years.

I think of my earliest friends, Kate and Gregg and Shelly and Lloydean and Debbie and am grateful. They are a part of who I am today.

And Mr. Westbrook. And his classroom.

It’s Where I’m From.

Listening to: “You’re Always Seventeen In Your Hometown”  – Cross Canadian Ragweed  

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Hello, Twenty-15. Happy. New. Year.

I love new years. No. Not New Year’s Eve, but the new calendar, new year, new start. As a confident traveler on the road to hell, my new years are traditionally paved with good intentions, and with a nod to my favorite seasonal holiday songwriter, Robbie Burns, my plans often go astray (or a-gley, if you are a purist).

But Twenty-15  has started out in a different way. The last two weeks have been the best holiday break in my memory.  Many good things have set the stage for a truly Happy New Year and as a career list-maker, I cannot help but make a to-do list and doodle around the edges, daydreaming about what 2015 will bring.

Part of the fun of the new calendar is looking back at what happened in the old year. How are we different – how are we the same? How are we better – and worse?  What makes us happy – or sad? A little Monday morning quarterbacking comes into play. What would I have done differently last year?  Can I make those changes this year?

Is it too late to change? Old dog adages notwithstanding, I don’t think so.  Two of my friends (Susan and Kim) and I have gotten bicycles. And we are riding them. I got my bike a week ago tomorrow and have ridden just shy of 30 miles. My goal is 100 miles a month. I set it high – and if I cannot do that in January, I will readjust. It’s not mixed martial arts or Cross Fit boot camp, but it is a start. And I have already moved my body further in a week than I did in all of 2014. We are using to record our efforts.

In 1942, Woody Guthrie wrote a list of his goals in his Moleskine. You have probably seen his list. Good goals.  I think I will borrow several of them for my To Do list.


A good list for anyone — in any year, and if it was good enough for Woody, I think I can live (better) with some of these goals. Someone on Facebook shared this “action item” list, and I sort of liked it too. Not too ambitious… I think it bears consideration.


And finally, I am going to write more. And submit more projects for publishing. This blog is simply an exercise… a place to start.  Before real life gets in the way, I am going to sign up for this WP Blogging 101. I have shared it with my writing buddy, Janice. Maybe we will get things rolling with this.

I have committed to 280 Daily for a while. That is 280 characters per day – a  private online journal- memory jogger.  Good thing 280 daily is not public – sometimes it is just cryptic notes.  No one else would be too interested in those.

Dang. This is starting to sound suspiciously like a list of resolutions. But the difference is that I am not committing to major changes. I am just going to try to do a few things that I meant to do in 2014 and never got around to.  Baby steps. I do well with deadlines  and lists and if I give myself some deadlines, I just might complete some of these things.

I have heard that if you do something for 28 days, it starts to become a habit. So tomorrow- January 5, I am going to try some new habits and routines. I will shoot for one week. And then one more week. And then one more week – and I will see how it goes. I may write these ideas down later. Because if I do, I feel more accountable!

Strategic planning.  Mission Statement. We have all come to loathe those phrases. But I get it on a basic level. What is my mission? What is my plan?

Maybe my plan is to define my mission.  That is a lofty goal…

Here goes…

Wish me luck.

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