Posted in Life, Random

“Winter” “Woes”

[Why are both words of the title in quotation marks? Because it’s not really winter, and these aren’t really woes. I mean, technically, it is winter, according to the calendar, but it’s a woefully weak one so far. And these are woefully weak woes to be experiencing during a woefully weak winter. But let’s get on with it.]

Today, at 11:00AM, I slathered myself in sunscreen, put on a lightweight t-shirt and shorts, packed a bottle of water, and went for a walk at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, one of my favorite places. Nothing about this excursion sounds unusual until I remind you that this was TODAY: December 30th.

It’s a balmy 78 degrees in Austin, Texas, today. I’ve experienced warm winter breaks before, but this one takes the cake. Austin is currently wrapping up its hottest December on record and, as an added bonus, the city is topping off the record heat with a more than generous sprinkling of cedar pollen. The cedar count here yesterday was 24,875 grains per cubic meter. Not sure what that means? Let me put it in perspective for you. Cedar is considered in the HIGH range at 500.

Cedar

“So…” you may be asking yourself, “…WHY did you go for a walk in nature if the cedar pollen is in a range best described as ‘MURDEROUS’?”

Good question. The answer is because I listen to fortune-telling objects more than people.

Yesterday, I asked my Magic 8 Ball, “If I take a walk at the Wildflower Center tomorrow, will I die of cedar allergies?” And Magic 8 Ball replied, “My sources say no.”

Who (or what) the Magic 8 Ball’s sources may be is a mystery for another time. I was satisfied with my answer. Although, when I shared my plans with friends, they passionately tried to talk me out of my mission, overusing shocked-face emojis and lamenting my imminent and impending doom.

I mostly ignored them. However, on their advice, I did wear a face mask to filter out at least some of the vile allergens.

The mask– along with my t-shirt, shorts, and whole self– was drenched in sweat within just a few minutes. Austin knows how to do humid. Plus, there’s just something about warm weather in winter that makes it seem stickier than usual. It’s like the temperature is mixed with a layer of betrayal.

I ran across this sign on my sweaty walk and had to laugh.

Despite the heat, I felt pretty smug about my decision to take a hike until I came face to face with one of the offending trees and, letting curiosity get the best of me, poked it.

This is when I realized I may have made a mistake.

WARNING: This video may cause sneezing in sensitive viewers.

Thankfully, I am not as allergic to cedar as most of my friends (sorry, friends) so I did not actually die from my excursion through cedar country. I did, however, see this hearse on my way home.

If you gotta go…

I’m glad to know that if someone did succumb to the cedar, they had a sweet ride waiting for them.

After I got home, showered, used my neti pot, and took some medicine, I was totally and completely fine except for a little sneezing and some brain fog and a general sense of remorse. And a headache. And one itchy eye.

So, in conclusion, the Magic 8 Ball is always right, cedar pollen is the devil, and warm winters are just weird.

Posted in Halloween, Writing

The Ghostly Tales of Austin

In October 2015, I went on an Austin ghost tour with some fellow members of the local chapter of SCBWI. We met at the Omni Hotel, then strolled around downtown, visiting the Driskill and the Texas State Capitol and other buildings with haunted histories while our guide, Monica Ballard, regaled us with stories of sinister secrets, ghastly murders, and eerie experiences.

Austin Ghost Tour, October 28, 2015

I love the night and especially love walking around my favorite places at night, seeing them by moonlight and learning their shadows. I would’ve had a good time exploring Austin in the dark regardless of what the topic was. But add ghost stories to a late-night stroll, and I’m in my happy place. I enjoyed myself so much that, when the tour ended, I bought a copy of Haunted Austin: History and Hauntings in the Capitol City by Jeanine Plumer to read more about Austin’s ghosts. I took the book home and gobbled up all the good stories inside.

I had no idea on that night back in 2015 that six years later I would be adapting Plumer’s book for middle grade readers.

In 2020, I wrote my first book in the Spooky America series from Arcadia Publishing: The Ghostly Tales of New England. I was excited about the chance to adapt one of the Haunted America books for young readers and loved learning more about New England, an area of the country I’ve visited a few times and whose history and scenery I love. But I really wished I could write about some ghosts closer to home, so when the opportunity came along to write the haunted history of my own town, I was thrilled. The Ghostly Tales of Austin comes out on Monday, and I can’t wait to share the spooky side of my city with young readers.

I put a lot of heart into this book and learned a lot about Austin along the way. Did you know that Austin suffered a devastating flood in 1900? Or that a ghost wagon haunts Westlake? Some of the stories in this book are not for the faint of heart. For instance, I suggest you don’t read Chapter 2 about Josiah Wilbarger while you’re eating. But if you’re going to the Capitol anytime soon, you should definitely read Chapter 9 before you arrive, so can be on the lookout for the ghost of Colonel Love. And I highly recommend visiting Mount Bonnell while in Austin, but you might want to leave before sunset if you don’t want to experience anything unsettling.

I have fond memories of that ghost tour back in 2015, and I’m proud to now have a part to play in passing down the spooky history of a city that I love. Austin’s ghosts await. If you’re willing to meet them, pick up a copy of The Ghostly Tales of Austin!

If you want an unsigned copy of the book, you can order it from Amazon or, better yet, from BookPeople, Austin’s own one-of-a-kind local bookstore. But if you would like a signed copy, you can order directly from me for $12. Send me a message via my contact page with your name, address, and what you want written in the book (either just a signature or a dedication). I’ll let you know how to send payment, then I’ll get to the post office ASAP, and you’ll have a personalized copy of The Ghostly Tales of Austin before you can say poltergeist three times*!

*Just to be on the safe side, I do not actually recommend saying poltergeist three times.

Posted in Life

“Sometimes” / A Holiday Memory

This year, like most people, I did the bulk of my holiday shopping online (and am still waiting for a few gifts to arrive from wherever they are currently lost under a pile of packages at the post office). But usually, I prefer to do my shopping in person. I like wandering the aisles with a list but also allowing for things to jump off the shelves and grab my attention—that perfect something for someone that I never would have thought of if I hadn’t seen it. One year (I think it was around 2007) I set a goal for my holiday shopping: only buy local. I had such fun running around the city, shopping at Kerbey Lane and BookPeople and Waterloo Records and the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar.

One Saturday just before Christmas, I had a few things left on my list, and I set out to get them. I was on a timeline (I can’t remember why—it’s hard to remember the days when I had places to go and people to see) and doing my errands fast. I zipped into Uppercrust Bakery for some unique holiday treats and scurried into Trudy’s for a gift card. I was making good time.

My last stop was Spiderhouse, one of my favorite coffee shops in Austin. All I needed there was a t-shirt. I had a tradition of buying my cousin t-shirts from cool Austin places, and this year I’d decided he’d get one from Spiderhouse. This sprawling indoor-outdoor, old-house-turned-into-an-all-night-coffee-shop was often hopping. No empty spots in the parking lot, long line at the counter. But on this day, I lucked out. I got a premier parking spot and stepped inside to see only one customer ahead of me. What luck! I would make it to my (whatever I was going to) on time.

The barista behind the counter was a twenty-something guy in a poncho with long blond dreadlocks, a friendly smile, and big stoned eyes. (That’s cool. You be you. I don’t judge.) He finished the transaction with the girl ordering coffee, then turned his large pupils on me. “Hey,” he said.

“Hey!” I said. “Do you sell t-shirts?”

Barista Dude stared deep into my eyes and said, “Sometimes.”

I nodded.

He nodded.

I realized this errand was not going to be as quick as I had hoped.

“Cool, cool,” I said slowly, placing my palms on the counter. “Do you have any t-shirts right now?”

Barista Dude crinkled his brow in thought, then said, “Yeah, I think we have some in the basement.”

He smiled.

I smiled.

He nodded.

I nodded.

“Awesome,” I said, choosing my next words carefully. “Do you think I might be able to see one?” I raised my eyebrows and shrugged at him as if we were co-conspirators in some great game.

“Yeah!” Barista Dude said. And then realizing that the ball was still in his court, he pointed a thumb over his shoulder and said, “I’ll go get one.”

I nodded encouragingly, and as he trotted off, I yelled, “Extra large if you have it!”

Barista Dude emerged a couple of minutes later with a single t-shirt, size extra large, and it was perfect. Black with a motorcycle on it and the Spiderhouse logo. I sighed in relief and said, “I’ll take it.”

It ended up being more than I’d wanted to pay for a t-shirt, but I didn’t argue. I honestly didn’t have time for that conversation, but also, I knew at this point that I wasn’t just buying a t-shirt anymore; I was buying a story. I paid for my prize and hurried off to (wherever I was going).

When I gave my cousin his t-shirt at Christmas, I told him about my experience buying it. Everyone laughed, and some of my Dallas relatives said, “That’s so Austin,” which I guess it is. It’s become a running joke between my hubby and I to answer a direct question with, “Sometimes…”

This year, I ordered all my gifts, and I’m glad I did. But I don’t want online shopping to become a habit. I look forward to going back out into the world, interacting with people, discovering unexpected surprises, and getting the bonus of a good story along with my gifts.

***

Happy Holidays!
May your packages arrive on time or with a good story to tell.