Archives for August 2012

The Artist Dates: Solar Nails

This is part three in the saga of Dang Julia July.

As anyone who reads my columns in the Wacoan magazine knows, I’ve only had two pedicures in my life: before I got married and before my mom’s funeral. When I decided to get a pedicure for my artist date, I knew it would be the first one I paid for myself.

I let my daughter go first because that’s what a mom does. While I waited, I was fought tears. This is stupid. It’s too expensive. It’ll wash off in the pool tomorrow morning. 

But the couple running Solar Nails, Tony and Kathy, was just too nice. They didn’t like seeing me sitting alone, obviously sad. So Tony motioned me over and prepped me while he finished my daughter’s pedicure. I had forgotten that those chairs have a massage function. It’s supposed to be relaxing, but it freaks me out.

I kept remembering my last pedicure, arranged by my sister-in-law, Amy, who very thoughtfully brought along white wine in red Solo cups, and how those Vietnamese women in the other salon had giggled when she showed them.

Tony and Kathy at Solar Nails were also Vietnamese. I knew this because the calendar was from Vietnam, there was a Vietnamese travel show on the TV, there were knick-knacks from Vietnam all around the shop, and then, there were their real names (not Tony and Kathy) posted where you write the checks. The whole time I was thinking, My son has a Vietnamese friend whose parents own a nail salon.

Tony finished my daughter’s pedicure finished, and everyone in the shop began talking: the woman in the chair next to me, the woman paying, the woman waiting her turn, Tony and Kathy. I love mindless chitchat. It takes the pressure away from having to say something intelligent or meaningful. I love that everyone, no matter where you’re from, can discuss weather.

Kathy asked how old my daughter was and then wanted to know if I had any other kids.

“Yes, a son.”

“Oh, what grade?”


“Oh, does he know Dat?”

I said, “You’re Dat’s parents?”


I said, “My son spent the night at your house on the last night of school.”

“Oh, yes!”

Welcome to my small town.

“Is he taking a class at ACC [Austin Community College]?” Kathy asked.

“Yes. Government. Dat?”

“U.S. History,” Kathy said. “Are you going away this summer?”

“No. Not with the kids’ schedules.”

Kathy nodded. “Last year we went to Vietnam, but not this year.”

Then she and Tony started talking about Vietnam. I tried to listen, but between their accents and the surgeon’s masks they wore, it was hard to follow. But I did hear this sentence as clear as the hot summer sky outside: “Your son should come with us next time.”

When Kathy finished with me, she called my daughter back over. “Would you like a flower?”

My daughter looked at me, telegraphing silently, “Is it OK?”

“Oh, it’s free,” Kathy said, reading our glances.

She painted intricate and adorable white flowers on my daughter’s big toenails.

It was time to pay. I had brought a checkbook, just in case they didn’t take credit cards, but they did. I wrote a check anyway. I almost never write them anymore.

“Who do I make it out to?” I asked Tony.

“To my wife. Her name is there,” and he pointed to a sign over the counter. He motioned to leave it by the phone.

As we left, my daughter said, “Mom, I haven’t seen you so happy in so long!”

“I’m happy with my friends,” I said. “You just don’t see me with them. You only see me at home.”

“Yeah.” she said. “Isn’t Vietnam dangerous?”

“No. Mexico’s dangerous.”

“Yeah,” she said. “My friends have told me.”

Then I started to wonder—was I supposed to tip? Was a pedicure like a haircut?

“Hey, hon,” I said to my daughter. “Did Grandma tip when she got you a pedicure up in Estes last year?”

“I don’t know.”

I texted Amy, Wonder Woman & Sister-In-Law. “Help! Are you supposed to tip for a pedicure?”

She texted back immediately. “Yes,” and told me what she tipped.

Oh, no.

By this time I was in my writer’s group. I didn’t mind looking like a fool; I minded looking like a cheapskate. When the meeting was over, I drove home to retrieve the box of leftover quarters from our recent garage sale. (Believe me, it was a LOT of quarters.) I grabbed the box, drove to the bank, traded the quarters for cash, and the total came to exactly what I wanted to give: what Amy recommended, times two, plus $5 extra for being tardy. Because I am a cheapskate, but I do the right thing.

I drove back to Solar Nails. Kathy was busy with a customer, so I set the money by the phone. Just then, Tony saw me and looked concerned.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I forgot to tip. And you worked us in without an appointment and did the flowers for free. Here.”

Tony hugged me and laughed.

I promised my daughter that we’ll come back when marching season is over and get manicures. Just in time for the holidays, when we can show Amy.

Mama Bear

(a poem about Mama Bears, because school starts tomorrow)


Lie down, Mama Bear.

Go back in your cave.

Your cubs, they are fine.

The other animals in the forest—

the stag, the doe, the mountain lion

even the rabbits

the sad fish in the streams—

All have a role in their raising.

Your cubs, they are almost grown.

Stop marking your territory

Clawing the breaking bark

Go jump in a lake

Take a stroll under a half-full moon


Time to hibernate, Mama Bear

Redecorate your cave if you must.

Your offspring are in good hands.

The Artist Dates: Moonrise Kingdom

Part two of what I’m now calling my Dang Julia July.

My second artist date was to take myself to a matinee of “Moonrise Kingdom,” which I loved. It’s not for everyone. It’s quirky and apocalyptic and innocent and sexual and supernatural, and I loved the soundtrack. So I bought it.

I quickly added it to my “Writing” playlist. This is what I like to work to. It began as an all-instrumental conglomeration, then morphed into “music that makes me smile.” Here are a few reasons why I like the songs from “Moonrise Kingdom”:

* I love the “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34, Themes A-F” by Benjamin Britten. Don’t you love the themes, indexed to grades? Plus, I can’t tell you how often I listened to my “Peter and the Wolf” record as a girl.

* I love the “Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe” (parts 1-7) by Alexandre Desplant. Great title! I love that we cannot control the weather and must often rise to the occasion to meet its destructive conditions.

* I love the “Camp Ivanhoe Cadence Medley” because it’s percussion, and it’s just a tad off. Also, my daughter is a percussionist, getting ready for marching season, also known as football season.

* I love the French music, although I don’t speak French. My parents used to listen to Mexican and Chilean music that I didn’t have to understand to enjoy.

* I love the Hank Williams songs because my parents also played those albums, and shame on me for not owning any Hank until now.

* And I love the “Noye’s Fludde” by Benjamin Britten because it was written for amateur church productions, it uses music to tell the story, and it feels other-worldly.

P.S. My current writing playlist includes two George Winston albums, the “When Harry Met Sally” soundtrack, the “Dan In Real Life” soundtrack, the “Oceans 11” soundtrack, lots of Vince Guaraldi, Mango Moon’s “Cafe Carnivale,” and “Two Men with the Blues” featuring Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson.

The Picnic Table



Painted three times: midnight blue,

John Deere green,

Splattered with birthday party colors.

The smile of pride on the boy’s face that he had

Helped build it.

The girl, pleased, skipped away.

She expected people who love her to bring gifts.

The table moved from backyard to backyard

Absorbed drought and hail. Some snow.

Never complained when the puppies used it as a perch

to survey the alley.

But I

I stepped on the seat and felt the joint give

way, pushed one pound too far.

I step back to survey the damage done.

The top is warped. There is a crack that foretells doom.

The whole creation seems ready to bow

to become kindling.

The Artist Dates: Beckendorf Gallery

Over the next four weeks, I’m writing about the artist dates I did in July for that dang Julia Cameron.

Aren’t artist dates supposed to be two hours? Well, my visit to the Charles Beckendorf Gallery lasted 15 minutes.

It wasn’t a large gallery, so I looked at everything. Beckendorf paints a lot of animals, and I liked the ones that seemed to look you in the eye. I really liked one watercolor, laying haphazardly on a table, of a cotton field. I thought about buying it for my dad, who grew up on a cotton farm in West Texas.

There was a woman minding the store, and she was chatty. We talked about the recent rain. Neither of us could get over the fact that it was raining in July in Texas. We talked about the drought, which isn’t over, despite the fact that we’ve had 15 more inches of rain than we had this time last year. But the aquifers still haven’t recharged.

The woman used the word “drouth,” which I was only recently reminded of in John Burnett’s NPR piece on the Texas drought of the 1950s. In fact, when I wrote about the drought last year, I had to use a dictionary because I thought the proper spelling was actually “drouth.” That’s how all my West Texas relatives pronounce it.

The rain in July? I can’t stop thinking about it. While the woman and I visited, the sky turned dark gray, and there was lightning. A few minutes later, it “commenced to raining pretty good,” as she said.

When I got home, my dad emailed me and said that his father only managed to get six good cotton crops in 68 years. And I wondered something: If I had looked closer at Beckendorf’s watercolor of a cotton farm, would I have known what kind of a year that farmer was having?

A poem for Julia Cameron


Dear dang Julia,

When Sandy first called you that, I thought “dang”

was too weak a word.

Now I think it’s perfect

because I do sort of love this misery you put me through,

morning pages and artist dates

those infernal lists

the stupid affirmations, which I never did. Not once.

And I didn’t do it the way you said to.

I have my own morning ritual of self-care

and you, dang Julia, are not in it. I get to you

when I get to you.

It might be 8 a.m. It might be 7:38 p.m. Deal with it.

And I didn’t take 12 weeks to do your course.

I only had four to give, but I gave them to you.

You should thank me.

I also have things—people—you don’t seem to have:

a husband, teenagers.

They take precedence. You say my artist is a child,

dang Julia.

Well, so are my children.

And you were right about quite a lot.

There is such a thing as synchronicity, dang Julia.

I received unimaginable gifts from unexpected sources,

like homemade granola and origami butterflies.

I learned I have blockages, but they’re in capillaries—

not arteries. I’m not about to keel over.

I learned I have it better than lots of folks

in ways I had not considered. And I learned that even you,

dang Julia,

will be not be remembered for your films or your plays,

only for this slim 222-page book.

You shook the apple tree, and the universe

delivered oranges,

just as you wrote in Chapter 5.

The Garage Sale

I swore I would never have a garage sale, and I have been faithful to my promise—until now. I never anticipated that my daughter would have a garage sale. Of course, I had to be there to supervise as she and her 13-year-old best friend sold their junk.

Because that’s all it is, folks—junk.

The sparkly dress she wore in the Christmas play. The butterfly pillow she received at her 2-year-old birthday party. The ceramic dogs she bought from the dollar store. The camp fan. Eventually it all ends up neatly arranged on white plastic tables in a driveway.

My daughter is young enough that she is embarrassed by people looking through her stuff. She’ll get over it. She’ll become callous like me.

But last weekend we were at my parents’ house. (It’s still my parents’ house, even though my mom is gone.) My daughter walked from room to room, touching my mom’s things—her clothes, her shoes, her 4th of July decorations.

And I thought of that line from Wendell Berry’s excellent novel, “Hannah Coulter,” when Nancy Beechum’s things are passed down at the wedding shower: “They were handled around the room as if they were living things.”

Book quote

“If we can’t be open, Maureen thought, if we can’t accept what we don’t know, there really is no hope.”

from The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Finished this book yesterday. Starting it over again today.

Not On Vacation #4

The last post in my photo essay about not taking a vacation. Can you stand two more pictures of  the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado?

Two views of my favorite bridge. It’s most used by the horse rides out of Jackson Stables, but if you’re willing to step carefully, it’s a back way into Rocky Mountain National Park. You come out at Tuxedo Junction, where you can catch a shuttle.

I kind of have a thing for bridges.

You never know where they’ll lead.