Posted in Life

I Shall Be Telling This with a Sigh

In 1995, I left my home in Richardson, Texas, to go to college at UT in Austin. I studied English there for four years and got my teaching certificate, and when I graduated in 1999, I decided to stay. Austin was a cool town: liberal, young, easy to navigate, and full of green spaces and swimming holes and bats and music. There was a lot to love.

Littlefield Fountain and UT Tower

The longer I stayed, the more I found to love. Over the past twenty-seven years, I made life-long friends, taught more than 1500 seventh graders, married my husband, and found myself. I lived all over Austin—north, central, east, southwest—with roommates and alone and with pets I’ll never forget. I swam in Barton Springs, went to concerts at Stubbs and La Zona Rosa and The Continental Club, took countless strolls through the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Violet Crown Trails, and tried every coffee shop I could find. I let Austin become a part of me, and I’d like to think I, in turn, became a part of the city I loved.

Austin has changed a lot over the past couple of decades. Apparently, you only have to be an Austinite a couple of weeks before you get to start complaining about other people moving in and ruining things, but I definitely put in the time to earn my opinions about outsiders. Despite the growth, though, I still love Austin, still think it has a lot to offer, still think there are plenty of people keeping things weird.

That’s why it was so hard to leave.

At the start of June, I packed up my house and life and moved back to Richardson with the hubby and pets.

There were many reasons for the move. Mostly, I wanted to be closer to my family, a feeling I’ve had for a while but which was deepened by the pandemic. I was also ready to walk away from teaching again. (Permanently this time? Maybe. Probably. But all that is for a different post.) So, it seemed natural to combine one big move with another.

Part of the decision can probably be chalked up to a mini mid-life crisis on my part. After the past two years, I found myself wanting CHANGE. Covid shrunk our worlds. When the pandemic forced us inside our homes, I obediently folded myself up into a tiny package, got comfy, and stayed there. My isolation was safe and cozy, and I was grateful that the tiny world that became my cocoon was such a happy one. But when society opened up again, I found myself wanting more than just out of my house. I wanted something new.

Not too new, obviously, since I chose to move back to my hometown. Living in Richardson as a woman in my forties isn’t the same as living here as a kid. The town’s changed, and I’ve changed, but our roots are still the same.

We’ve been here two weeks now, and I already miss the people and places I loved in Austin. But there’s a lot to love here, too. New scenery, new walking trails, new coffee shops, and new opportunities to jump back into some dusty writing projects. Plus, a lot of familiar faces I love seeing every day.

What does this mean for future blog posts? Not much. I’m still writing from my same little desk, just with a new view out the window. And I still have my same writing companions, just with new spots to fall asleep to the sound of my typing. I’m looking forward to my new life here, and looking forward to sharing it with you.

Note: This piece is being posted from my favorite new coffee shop, Staycation, because after two weeks of living here, we still don’t have internet. We’ve had two cables buried in our yard, two installers who came to the house, two installers who didn’t come to the house, and we’ve racked up roughly eight hours of phone time/ hold time/ trying-to-keep-our-blood-pressure-down time with Spectrum*, but we still can’t watch Stranger Things. (So don’t you dare talk to us about it!) Based on the empathy we’ve received from family and friends over this, I know we’re not alone. I’m thinking of forming a support group for people whose lives have been negatively affected by Spectrum, but we’d have to meet in person because… no internet.

* Before you suggest we go with someone else, we have very few options where we are, and I refuse to start over with someone new after going through all this. But, if you have a choice, I recommend you don’t choose Spectrum.

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.