Posted in Halloween, Life

Tomorrow is Halloween

The haunted birdhouse my dad gave me for my birthday. He made it himself.
The haunted birdhouse my dad gave me for my birthday. He made it himself.

I recently became a member of Uncommon, a young online community that calls itself “a front porch for the internet.” In creating my Uncommon profile, I was asked to write about some of my favorite things. The first one that came to mind was Halloween. This is what I wrote:

I was born on Halloween. Long before I arrived, my family celebrated this holiday with gusto—costumes, pumpkins, and scares for all ages. As a kid, my birthday parties were always held at home, at our house with its acre-sized backyard full of old sheds and forts and other good places to haunt. When night fell, the costumed party guests had to follow the trail of jack-o-lanterns through the backyard, reading creepy notes and encountering masked ghouls and terrifying traps at every turn. This was my favorite time of the year. After a hiatus when there were no appropriately-aged children in the family, we started the Halloween parties up again, though now I am on the other side of the horror. I set the traps. I wear the masks. I write the notes that lead the new generation of victims down the trail of jack-o-lanterns. I haunt my childhood home with pride. It’s still my favorite time of year.

The witch's laundry
The witch’s laundry

Despite the fact that I’ve eaten way too much sugar this week, Halloween for me as never been about the candy. And although I like horror movies and ghost stories, it’s not really about those either. What makes this holiday special is the way my family celebrates it.

For me, Halloween is opening up cobwebby crates and breathing in the musty smell of ghosts that haven’t seen the light of day in a year. It’s watching my dad pose a dummy with careful precision, adjusting the gloves and boots just so. It’s listening to my brother brainstorm outlandish schemes for scaring his children. (Don’t worry, they’re fine.) It’s watching my mom hang “the witch’s laundry” on the clothesline and hearing my three-year-old niece quote Bram Stoker. “Beware! The dead travel fast!” (Yes, she really does this.) Halloween is running around the backyard at night with my cousin, wondering why it still creeps us out even though we know who the monsters are. It’s seeing my aunt’s costume for the first time. She never tells us what she’s going to be and it’s always something awesome. Halloween means smiling at my husband as he shakes his head at the rest of us. Sometimes I think he must feel like he married into the Addams Family.

It’s looking out into the dark and seeing the glow of a jack-o-lantern face. It’s pointing my flashlight at a homemade tombstone and saying, “Uh-oh… this one’s for you.” It’s removing our masks at the end of the party and all talking at once, each and every monster and victim sharing his or her story and battle scars.

Halloween, to me, means screams and laughter in equal measure.

October is drawing to a close. My family celebrated early this year, and the party was another one for the record books. Everyone survived despite what their tombstones said. Tomorrow is Halloween, and I’ll be at home, handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, scaring them with my fake spiders and bubble wrap, and hoping that they’re having at least a fraction of the fun I had when I was their age.


Happy Halloween, everyone! And thanks for celebrating with me all month. If you missed any of my October posts, you can catch up here:

Next month I’ll be taking a bit of a break from blogging. I’m sure I won’t be completely silent, but it’s time I buckle down and get some serious work done. When it comes to real fear, ghosts and goblins have got nothing on deadlines and word counts. I’ll miss you though! And I promise to be back soon.

Posted in Life, Random

1,237 Miles in 42 Hours OR The Story of the Little Green Rock


Road Trips

My dad loves to take road trips. For him the phrase is literal. He simply likes to traverse the roads of Texas. There are destinations, but the path to get there is the real fun, full of photo opportunities and yellow and black diamond signs* and miles and miles of Texas scenery. There’s a lot of Texas, and my dad has seen most of it. Last year he completed his goal of visiting all 256 counties. Now, he’s trying to hit as many border towns as he can, outlining the state that he’s already pretty well filled in. But honestly, even if he’d traveled every highway and farm-to-market there is, seen all the cities and every ghost town in between, I still don’t think anything could keep him off the roads. He likes the drive, he likes the company, and he likes taking pictures of it all.

SignPicMonkey Collage
*About fifteen years ago, my dad and brother started “collecting” all the different yellow and black diamond road signs. They now have photos of over 2,000 of them. Any difference counts. For instance, none of the three signs above are the same. Image from

Happy Trails

This weekend, my husband and I accompanied my dad on one of his “quick trips.” The destination was Presidio, Texas, a border town of about 4,000 people, but there were plenty of stops and tangents to take along the way, both there and back.

On Thursday, my dad drove down to Austin with my mom from their home in Richardson. On Friday morning, Mom stayed at our house to pet sit for us while my dad, my hubby, and I hit the road at 7:00 A.M.

The route
The route

1,200 miles is a lot of road to cover, and we covered them fast in my husband’s Jetta (a.k.a. “the Jitney”). It would be impossible, or at least quite time-consuming, for me to share every sign and windmill and roadrunner that we encountered (there were many), but here are a few highlights from the trip:



  • A café called The Mercantile Garden on Main Street in Sonora—They have a sandwich called The Hobbit that hit the spot.
  • The Balmorhea State Park Pool—It wasn’t the right weather for trying out this spring-fed swimming hole, but it is definitely on my to do list now!
  • Buying some Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans in Fort Davis—Mark got black pepper, I got sausage and cinnamon, Dad got booger and vomit. Poor Dad.
  • The sunrise in Presidio—Beauty in every direction that Saturday morning.
  • Driving out to Ruidosa, TX to see what was there—The answer? Nothing really, except the Chinati Hot Springs, an unexpected oasis very much off the beaten path. I may have to take a writing retreat there someday.
  • Taking my first trip (via rowboat and burro) into Mexico—The hubby and I spent a couple of hours in Boquillas, just across the Rio Grande from Big Bend National Park. Dad, who doesn’t have a passport, waited for us on the Texas side. He and my brother took that rowboat journey in the mid-nineties when things at the border were less complicated.
Donkey Cam
Donkey Cam

The Story of the Little Green Rock

Traveling with my dad is fun. Having said that, it can also be a little painful. One common injury suffered on long road trips with him is a strained cornea due to all the eye-rolling you end up doing throughout the trip. The term “captive audience” is never more true than when you’re in a car, in the middle-of-nowhere-Texas, with no radio, no cell phone service, and no traffic in sight. Dad knows this. Dad uses these opportunities to tell stories.

Some of the stories are great—he tells old family tales and army anecdotes and talks about how the landscape has changed since he was a kid. Some of the stories are obvious jokes or outlandish lies, and those can be okay too. But some of the stories begin in one category before subtly sliding over into the other, and before you know it, you’ve been got. Trapped in the car on a lonely stretch of country road with not even a cow to commiserate with, you sigh and roll your eyes and push the accelerator a little closer to the floor.

This weekend, my dad told the story of the little green rock.


When my dad was a little kid, his family drove out to the Panhandle to visit his grandparents, Pap and Grandma. It was winter, and it had been a hard one in West Texas. The temperature was in the upper twenties and had been for days. The ground was frozen solid and icicles hung from the roof of the farmhouse.

Dad’s father and grandfather walked out into the pasture to check on the cattle, and my dad went with them. He was dressed in his warmest clothes, but it didn’t matter. That cold wind blew straight across those flat plains and right through him. He was shivering and wanted to go back to the house, but he wanted to stay with the men more, so he did.

While they were out walking that frozen ground, my dad looked down and saw a little green rock. It was shaped kind of a like an egg, but smaller, and very smooth. He picked it up and put it in his pocket. Finally, the men turned to head back to the warmth of the house. My dad was more than ready to follow them.

When they got inside, they shrugged off their coats and their extra layers. My dad emptied his pockets, putting his little green rock on the table. They stoked the fire and got it going good, and everyone sat around thawing out and warming up.

After a few minutes, when the feeling had come back to my dad’s hands and feet and he was starting to feel alive again, he heard PHHFFFTT! He looked at the table and saw that his little green rock was gone.

It turns out, it wasn’t a rock at all. It was a frozen fart.

(I warned you. Be grateful you got the short version.)



The End

We left at 7:00 A.M. on Friday, spent the night in Presidio, and arrived back in Austin at 1:00 A.M. on Sunday morning. In the 42 hours that we were gone, we put 1,237 miles on the Jitney. Dad slept for a few hours and then he and Mom hit the road again, heading back up to Richardson before the bad weather arrived.

The whole thing was a whirlwind. Honestly, I probably won’t even remember it all until I see Dad’s pictures. (I didn’t take very many, but he did.) Some people probably can’t understand the point of a trip like that—so much driving (all done by my husband), so many hours in the car and so little time spent in any one location. But we covered a lot of ground and had some good conversations and kicked up a lot of dust behind the Jitney. We drank some coffee and collected some more yellow and black signs and learned a lesson about picking up little green rocks in winter.

To us, the trip was a success.