Sunday, June 26, 2011

Austin, Texas...Y'all.

If you listened to radio station KLBJ in Austin in the mid-90s, you might recall one of the station's promotional ads.  Pure simple brilliance: call letters and numeric location on the dial, followed by "Austin...Texas...Y'all."  Whether you are a native Texan or a longtime resident-graduated-to-transplant, these simple words can evoke stirring sentiments.  An identity that only a Texan (even a "naturalized" species like myself) can fully understand and that nobody can really explain.  I mean, most natives I know consider themselves Texans first, Americans second.  Adding the "y'all" suffix seems to say, "Yep, we invented that word.  And are DAMN PROUD OF IT, y'all."  You Texans know what I'm talking about.  You who know Texans probably also know what I'm talking about.  And if you do not fall within either category...then I'm fixin' to feel sorry for y'all.

And PS, no self-respecting Texan would use the term "coined".  The right way to say it in Texas is "invented", especially when you're talking to "Yankees" (aka anyone from north of the Red River.)  Amongst ourselves we speak properly, sometimes even with a British accent.  But when conversing with, I mean, Y'ALL...we definitely play into every single stereotype you believe about us.  That's just part of our charm.

Yes I am on a pro-Texas campaign after spending a few days in our state's capitol (which, FYI, is taller than our nation's capitol.)  Finally we paid a long-overdue visit to our friends Dusty and Melanie.  Initially they were clients and eventually became friends with whom we could muse about native plants and restoring Texas and all that sustainable landscaping stuff we blah-blah-blah about.  This visit, we were also able to share with them our vision for living in a more sustainable manner.  We also had the pleasure of getting to know some of their neighbors in one of the finest examples of New Urbanism in Texas.  (Something we know a little about, having lived and worked in the Seaside, Florida, area, the showpiece of the New Urbanism movement.)  Several of their fellow Mueller residents stopped by for one of two informal discussions about our business, mission, services, etc.  Love the place, and we are so grateful for meeting new friends.

The original event that brought us to Austin last week was the Keep Texas Beautiful conference.  One of our other clients-now-friends, Aimee Bissett of Keep Denton Beautiful, invited me to co-present with her about using native plants in community beautification efforts.  This was a perfect partnership, because Aimee speaks from a programming and coordinating perspective -- very useful for affiliates in attendance since most of them serve in these roles.  My part of the presentation addresses the importance of the community projects in our overall mission to restore Texas.  I revealed the processes within the designers' minds -- where we find inspiration, why we select specific plant species and elements, and what motivates us to do what we do.  While Aimee explained step-by-step how to implement and maintain these types of projects, I layed out in some detail why -- the ecological and economical justification -- using native plants instead of traditional landscape plants is always preferred.  I won't get into that here but our mission is guided by a deeply held philosophy that embodies our beliefs regarding Nature, human resources and behaviors, and of course identity.  Other topics, too, but all of this is too heavy for this post.

Anyway, Aimee and I have very different speaking styles but share much in terms of environmental convictions, recreational activities, even superb taste in music.  (hee hee.)  Based on the responses from our audience, I'd say we did a pretty darn good job rousing the troops.  And we really had a tough task, because we followed Chet Garner of PBS' The Daytripper.  He presented his travel exploits in a humorous way while capturing the essence of being a Texan.  As he said, each episode addresses the culture, nature and food of various places around Texas.  Every city or town is toured within a single day trip.  He is entertaining, no doubt, but Chet is also doing a lot for restoring pride in Texas' sometimes overlooked or forgotten gems.  It's a big state with a lot of interesting places and people to see...come for a visit.  Y'all.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Giving More than Thanks

For six weeks after The Crash, we squatted with family in their new home.  Unless you have experienced an event that completely wipes out your home, vehicle, office and most of your personal belongings, you probably cannot comprehend all that we dealt with those first six weeks.  Most of the damaged items were just stuff to me -- things to which I had no real emotional ties.  In fact, I only lamented the loss of Sage's BOB stroller and the trailer.  Fortunately we were able to salvage the trailer, at least.  Sentimental piece.

But the rest of the stuff didn't bother me.  Losing the truck and El Valor were not that stressful, really, except that we found ourselves without a vehicle and home and no time to replace them.  Most of the time we maintained a positive attitude and counted our blessings that nobody was hurt nor was our livelihood destroyed.  Still, there were days when we were uncertain about our future.  Not just as a mobile family and business, but a family in general.  There were times we considered ending our odyssey and renting a place temporarily while we reconfigured our life.  We shopped online for truck and camper combos, then motorhomes, then vans.  Nothing within our budget seemed to improve upon our previous rig.  Eventually we decided to take our old beach truck out of storage and rebuild the tattered trailer.  These would hold us over until summer.  Well, summer is here, and still we have no time to upgrade our rig.  Upgrade is now officially tabled until fall, or winter.  Or perhaps indefinitely!  At the moment it doesn't seem as important.

When the trailer was finally ready to roll we moved it to Cedar Hill State Park.  After six weeks there, we feel part of the park family.  New friends.  Duck Pond hiking tour.  Full moon tour of the Penn family farm.  Hiking to the remnant prairie to shoot perennials and grasses dancing in the setting sun.  Innumerable sightings of Eastern Bluebird, Painted Bunting and an array of butterfly species.  Treacherous storms.  Rain, rain; mud everywhere and inside everything.  Sunsets that remind us we are alive!  Nature reminding us why we do what we do.  Yes, our six-week camping trip healed our hearts after our catastrophic moment.

Looking back over the past three months, I feel proud.  Despite losing nearly everything, despite scary moments worrying about my dad's health, my computer crashing, more truck problems, changes to business, and downsizing our home, again; we managed to survive.  Maybe not at first, but with each setback we found opportunities to streamline or otherwise improve our lifestyle or livelihood.  To be sure, these three months took an emotional toll on all of us.  Sage ramped up the tantrums (because she is three AND picking up on our soaring stress levels.)  David and I couldn't be in the same room without erupting into an argument.  I called my mom on more than one occasion just to cry and have somebody reassure me that everything would be just fine.  Oh, and these are just the highlights.  Ha ha ha.  While in the throes of this life-changing event, I could not speak or write about my feelings.  Too heavy.  Now, though, I am able to put the pain in its proper the past.  I've moved on...we all have.

So, moving on...we left Cedar Hill to stay with family again.  This time, to express our gratitude, to give more than thanks.  This time, we are working hard to landscape their backyard that was a gigantic blank slate.  Bermuda turf has been eliminated and replaced with sweeping, curvaceous beds brimming with perennials, such as Beebalm, Four Nerve Daisy, Blackfoot Daisy, Purple Skullcap, Snake Herb, and Mealy Cup Sage; Gamagrass, Indiangrass and Buffalograss turf; and trees, such as Cedar Elm, Possumhaw, Mexican Plum, and Roughleaf Dogwood.  And more.  No matter the heat, and the fact that I haven't installed a landscape in many years: this project is fun and truly rewarding.  When it is finished, we will leave once again.  Time to continue our journey...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Real Mutha

Let me start with an apology to anybody who might have read my post written some time ago about becoming a better mother because of this mobile odyssey.  In that gem, I muse about the importance of patience with our children, of not raising our voices or spanking them except as a last-result.  I wave my self-congratulatory flag to celebrate my super-parental ability to rationalize with my daughter's young, irrational mind.  Puffed up with my own achievements, I might have come off a bit preachy.

Well, if I made you feel that way, I apologize.  And here is your moment to feel OK as a parent again.

I have screamed not just yelled at my daughter in the months following our lovely accident.

I have sent her to time out.

I have spanked her.

I have nearly pulled out all my hair in total frustration over these TEMPER TANTRUMS.

I have fantasized about ear plugs and cocktails to drown out the noise.

And today...I had to carry my kicking-punching-screaming darling daughter away from a neighbor's house, the entire family staring at me in horror.  The neighbors had come over to invite us to come tomorrow for a playdate and their little girl led Sage inside to see some of her toys.  A preview of the goods, if you will.  The parents and I followed the girls inside.  They were just about to start dinner so I asked her to come with me now and we would see them tomorrow.  NO, she screamed.  I pleaded with her, I asked politely.  NO NO NO, I told you, I will come IN A MINUTE.  Embarrassed glances at the other Mommy, then the Daddy.  A nervous smile.  Sage, come on, honey.  Let's go home now so WE can have dinner and then go to that surprise fun place we were talking about earlier.  NOOOOOOOO.  OK, then.  I will count to 3 and THEN we need to go.  One, two, three...NOOOOOOO.  A lot of screaming ensued.  A lot of kicking-punching-screaming...and humiliation.  The other little girl even looked at me like, "Awesome job, lady!"

The truth is, she's 3.  Three-year-olds throw temper-tantrums.  Heavy on the TEMPER, apparently.  She needs to be allowed to express her a healthy and appropriate way.  She can't know HOW to do that, at 3.  But she's going to learn.  Today.

At the moment, she is sitting in the guest room in Time Out and I'm trying to figure out the best way to deal with this.  I want to go up and hug her and tell her I love her.  Or scream and yell that THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN, IS THAT CLEAR!!!!  Maybe I leave her up there for the rest of the night.  I don't know!  I do NOT want to be too hard on her but I absolutely do NOT want her to grow up to be a mess of a person.  I want her to behave properly, be respectful of others (including me!)  Feel good about herself but not at the expense of others.  To be sweet, smart, silly and strong, like I've always taught her.  I'm not perfect, I'm a parent (just like the Parents Connect commercials on Nick Jr.!)  I guess I'm a real mother: simultaneously loving and screwing up my child every day.  One second, so sure I know what I'm doing, the next feeling like a gigantic failure.  Laughing through tears...and beers, perhaps?

What's in a name?

I started this blog to document our adventures along this mobile odyssey.  I named it "4x4elvalor" because a) it rhymes and might be easy to remember and b) our vehicle-of-choice could take us to remote places (hence the "4x4" part) and with bravery (umm, yes.  That's where "el valor" comes in.)  Sadly, neither the 4-wheel-drive diesel truck we thought was (almost) invincible nor the slide-in truck camper, aka El Valor, survived our frightening crash in Austin this past March.  Our trailer -- that rolled and looked the worst post-accident -- actually was salvageable and has become our tiny-home-on-wheels.  Digressing here...surprising, eh?  (Insert sounds of dripping sarcasm.)

Our blog no longer represents our current means of living.working.traveling together.  It is now a tribute to our fallen friends, Daisy the Diesel 4x4 and El Valor the camper.  Our odyssey will continue, and our story will remain here, under 4x4elvalor, despite losing this blog's namesake.

Besides, where's the sexiness in a blog dubbed "truckwagon" or, simply, "trailer"?  Or any of the other names we have attempted to bestow on our beloved tiny home?  A rose is a rose is a rose...