The Soul of a New Venture

live edge table

Our world has been made more lovely by the work of creative people and the entrepreneurs who have introduced their innovations to us. Humans are always looking for better ways of doing and presenting things. Someone is surely considering ideas that may one day revolutionize our comfort or aesthetics even as we go about our daily routines. Philosophy, mathematics, art, medicine, technology have all been driven by those gifted and dedicated enough to produce things that we have never even thought about. A secretary came up with the concept of the Post-It note and became a wealthy woman. A failed artist conceived of a cast of characters and an animated world that became the foundation of an entertainment giant known as Disney. A couple of geeky students created a computer whose brand identified with a type of fruit would one day be synonymous with elegance of form and function. A guy frustrated by the stray plant life in his yard used some fishing line and a little motor to develop a weed eating monster. Every great success story began with an interesting idea and a determination to demonstrate that notion to the world.

We all know someone who stepped out of the box of corporate America or the grind of working for a big organization. It’s a frightening prospect to go it alone with no assurances that things will work out as planned. It takes courage and patience and the willingness to believe enough to go the distance. Small businesses come and go with the vagaries of the seasons. Only the best survive, so it takes a special kind of person to put forth the needed time, effort and resources to jumpstart and maintain the soul of a new enterprise. It is not for the weak of heart and I admire anyone who attempts to make things happen.

My brother spent decades working for the Houston Fire Department. Upon retiring he and his wife made a leap of faith and invested in a property near the Strand in Galveston, Texas where they decided to build a venture that would provide tourists to the area with an alternative to the usual beach centered activities. Escape The Island is their fun way of telling a bit of the area’s history while teams compete with the clock to unlock the clues that will allow them to exit a series of bolted rooms. They cleverly created puzzles and designed sets. They spent time publicizing their party and team building business. The work was as hard as their former day jobs had always been, but they believed that they had developed a form of entertainment that people would like. They never gave up even when the going was initially slow. They kept spreading the word and improving on their product until they began to see increased interest in what they had to offer. Today Escape the Island is a destination for families, businesses and college students. Located at 910 21st Street in Galveston, Texas they are ready to schedule fun at 409-443-5092 or http://www.escapetheisland, com

A former student of mine, Eric Guerra, went from high school to the University of Houston where he earned a degree that helped him land a job in the world of business. He was doing exceptionally well, but he felt that something was missing. He somehow knew that he had more to offer than adhering to a nine to five grind, but had little idea what that might be until he met an interesting fellow named Sebastian Martinez had quit is job to concentrate on creating furniture. He had made a table out of an old tree stump and a welded metal base and when Eric saw it his business acumen told him that the table was unique enough that it and items like it would be desired by those who want more than everyday design for their homes. The added bonus was that the furniture was made from recycled and repurposed wood that might otherwise have been burned or turned to sawdust. He envisioned a company much bigger than just a weekend way to earn some extra money, and he had the idea of forming a partnership to produce one of a kind furnishings on a grander scale.

Eric sought out advice from local businessmen who had once been in his situation and had turned small time ventures into mega successes. He convinced captains of local industries to provide him with guidance and some of them even made deals to feature his products in their stores. He set about building a business that has grown from sharing a garage with a lawn care company to purchasing a bigger warehouse near the Amazon fulfillment center west of Houston. He learned the techniques for creating the furniture so that he would be totally immersed in the process from the moment of finding the trees and the reclaimed lumber to creating the final product and then selling and distributing it. He has moved the company forward in a fairly short amount of time and its future looks promising as word of the lovely decorating ideas spreads from one satisfied customer to another.

Republic Creations pays homage to its Texas roots and the native materials that are used for the many products. The artistic builders and designers make live edge tables as small as a side accent and as large as a fifteen foot conference table. No wood is ever wasted as some of it enhances a wall or even becomes the planking for a floor. One of the most requested products is the wooden, live edge vanity for kitchens and bathrooms that provides a warmth and richness not possible with stone. Wooden kennels for pets become stunning pieces of furniture that blend in with the loveliest of environment and provide highly livable homes for pets at night or when the family is gone for the day. Everything is original and organic and environmentally friendly. Thanks to Eric Guerra and his acumen the business is quickly becoming a very popular and profitable venture. More photos and information are available on Facebook at Republic Creations and Designs or with a visit to the design center at 902 East Ave, Katy, TX 77493, 832-541-1840. Below are a few images of the designs that include the tables like the one featured at the top of this blog.




306905_442044865814895_926353302_nBoth my mother and mother-in-law found the time each day to call friends and members of their families to find out how everyone was doing. They were historians and counselors, keepers of current information about the people for whom they cared. They spread cheer and hopefulness in a regular routine guided by carefully crafted calendars that included birthdates and reminders of anniversaries and other special occasions. They shared information with the rest of us who depended on them to keep us informed of the happenings and concerns. I came to think of them as the glue that kept the disparate individuals who were parts of their lives firmly connected and aware that someone truly cared. Theirs was a kind of duty that each assumed with grace and loving concern, a task that the rest of us often took for granted until it was no longer there. When they died the beautiful network of compassion, celebrations, and unity slowly fell apart, never again to be quite the same even as others attempted to undertake their roles.


There are people who seem to be organically attuned to the needs of the people around them. While the rest of us struggle and juggle the demands of daily living they somehow manage to not only get their personal agendas fulfilled, but also find time to keep the web of their connections operating with vitality and joy. They write texts, make quick phone calls, send cards, visit hospitals and nursing homes, attend showers, weddings and funerals without seeming to ever miss a beat. They make their ability to encircle us with love and fun and sincere compassion seem easy, and yet we know that it is not. We have the best of intentions to emulate their actions, but they actually regularly follow through on promises that keep the fires of family and friendship burning.

My dear friend Pat was glue, and sometimes she wondered aloud why so few of the people that she nurtured were apt to return the favor. We tended to take for granted that she would plan the dinners or the evenings at the movies. It was almost always Pat who would decide that it had been too long since we had enjoyed one another’s company and she would make something happen to rectify that. She had active friendships stretching all the way back to her childhood. There were people far away with whom she regularly kept in touch, and when she traveled she often scheduled time to stop by their homes, usually bearing gifts and her radiant smile. Sadly those of us lucky enough to be recipients of her largesse felt lost after her death because nobody was ever able to replicate her willingness to keep us all together. Our contacts became mostly limited to yearly Christmas cards and posts on Facebook as we drifted off into our seemingly too busy lives.

Pat always fretted that being the glue wasn’t actually that difficult with just a smidgeon of planning. She confessed that she always kept a supply of desserts or easy to prepare dinner items in her freezer to be ready for last minute guests. She taught me her secrets of house cleaning in the event of a quickly planned party. It included quickly swishing out the guest bathroom and cleaning the kitchen countertops. A room that nobody ever entered became a quick and easy depository of items strewn around the living area. Dusting was optional. The most important thing to her was letting people know that her home was an open and welcoming haven no matter the time of day. Every one of us understood that at the very least we would be treated to a warm cup of coffee and a plate of cookies as we sat around her kitchen table enjoying a short break from our cares and woes.

I’ve tried Pat’s hints but somehow I find myself getting misdirected again and again. I don’t know why it all seems to be more difficult than it should be, but I suppose that some people are born to be the glue, and the rest of us have to work very hard to develop that talent. Maybe it really is a bit more like rocket science than it appears to be, because I haven’t found too many people who are incredibly skilled at being the glue, so I treasure them when I encounter them.

When I graduated from high school I had imagined that my classmates would be my lifelong friends, and a few of them did indeed continue with me on my journey through the decades. Mostly though I lost touch with people who had been so important to me during my development. I just lived my life and rarely looked back until Carol appeared on the scene ready and eager to bring the fractured memories of our high school years to life. It began as a promise to her twin sister that she would be certain to plan a stunning fiftieth reunion for our Class of 1966. In the process it became a kind of family project in which Carol became the glue that would cement our relationships in the most profound ways. Even though we had seemingly become strangers spread out all over the country, Carol found us and reminded us of who we had been and the lessons we had shared. Our gathering was exceptionally heartwarming, but it was not to end there because  those who are the glue never go halfway.

Carol has become our spokesperson, alerting us to the important information that we need about each other. She is a constant presence at funerals and calls to wish us well on our birthdays. She closely follows our posts in social media and inquires about our well being. She has become more like family than some of our actual family members, and we sense that her concern for our health and happiness is genuine. Her goal is to keep the flames of our renewed friendships burning with warmth. To that end she and another classmate, Terry, plan lunch dates at restaurants around town where we gather to share stories and learn more and more about each other. Mostly those events help us to realize that our families are more than just those with whom we are genetically linked. We are a group who share a unique bond forged at a time when we had little idea where our dreams would take us. What we have found is that our school motto of growing in wisdom and age and grace before God and man became the foundation of our goals, and despite the cliques and angst of our youth we really are uniquely one team, one family.

People like my mom, my mother-in-law, Pat and Carol are quite special. They are the glue that binds us and assures us that we are loved. Somehow they bring out the best in all of us by pulling our individual strengths together into one very colorful and exciting group. They create stunning mosaics that we sometimes can’t see until we stand back just a enough to witness their masterpieces. That is when their artistry becomes a breathtaking moment of unsurpassed beauty, for they are true healers of the soul. 


omar-jen-wheelchair-woodsShe is incredibly bright and beautiful, a graduate of Harvard who was about to complete her doctorate at Princeton. She was in love with a brilliant man and the two of them travelled the world together. They made plans to marry, have a family, build their stunning careers together, and then she caught the flu. It was a particularly harsh case with fevers of one hundred four degrees. When she was well once again she felt debilitated, but thought little of the residual effects. She had after all been very ill. She told herself that it would simply take time to regain her energy, but something was very wrong because instead of growing stronger she began to feel more and more weak. There were even times when her mind did not seem to work properly. She was unable to find the proper words to express herself. It was all so frightening.

Eventually her symptoms became so concerning that she sought the expertise of a medical doctor. He insinuated that it was all in her head, diagnosing her with what used to be known as hysteria. He suggested that she was reacting to some deep seated trauma that she most likely was unable to remember. He sent her home with no real explanation for what was happening, and she began to wonder if she was indeed going crazy. That’s when she got an idea.

The next time her symptoms became so severe that she literally collapsed in pain, unable to move or express herself, she asked her husband to film the incident. She took the video to a neurologist who was stunned by what he saw. He eventually told her that she had ME. Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, a strange disease that is thought to afflict ten to fifteen million people worldwide. There is no definitive test for the illness and no cure. The diagnosis is made based on symptoms alone which include excessive fatigue after mental or physical activity, intolerance to exercise, joint and/or muscle pain, memory problems, difficulty walking, sore throats, headaches, flu-like symptoms, sleep disturbance, bowel problems and mood swings.

The disease is also known as chronic fatigue syndrome and affects those who have it along a spectrum from individuals who endure a mild attack and then recover fully, to those who become completely homebound and bed ridden. There is no known cause but the disease appears to follow otherwise fairly typical and minor illnesses like the flu. Some believe that the roots of the problems lie in hormonal or allergy issues, but none of the research has proven any of the theories. It is a greatly misunderstood disease that sometimes results in psychiatric diagnoses rather than physical ones.

The woman whose life was so impacted by ME is Jennifer Brea, and she has a debilitating case of the disease that has radically altered the trajectory of her life. In a fashion keeping with her personality she decided to film her journey along with that of four other victims so that she might shed light on a mostly misunderstood illness. In conjunction with Sundance Films she created the documentary. Unrest, that chronicles her experiences as well those of the four others whose lives have been so radically changed after contracting ME. The film debuted on the PBS program Independent Lens this January and its power to visually explain what happens to those who have ME is emotionally visceral.

Jennifer Brea holds back nothing in her depiction of what ME has done to her and the relationship that she shares with her husband. She honestly expresses the fears and disappointments that plague her as much as the symptoms. She presents a compelling argument for more research by noting that those who are stricken often become like missing persons as they are forced to be hostages to their illness. She tells a compelling story of families broken apart and individuals losing their identities all while the rest of the world remains mostly ignorant of the horrors of this strange condition.

Her own story is one of the love that she and her husband share in spite of the problems that have so changed the way that they once thought they might live. She wants to be able to give him the kind of relationship that she had thought they would have, but instead is continually thwarted by recurrences of the most trying symptoms. Her husband has nobly stood by her, but even his patience is often tried by the confusing nature of his wife’s illness.

Ms. Brea shows a family in Sweden whose child was institutionalized in a psychiatric facility because doctors there were unwilling to accept a diagnosis of ME for her. Brea also introduces us to a woman who had been a happy wife and mother, one who had no idea that she would eventually be confined to bed with her own husband believing that she was just insane rather than physically ill. Her marriage deteriorated and she struggled to survive. When one of her daughters came down with the same disease her world unraveled even more.

The film is so personal, so real that those of us viewing the stories become involved with the characters, particularly Jennifer Brea herself. We watch her gaining strength and find ourselves hoping as much as she and her husband do that she will somehow miraculously improve. We cry with empathy as we become all too familiar with the struggles associated with ME.

Unrest is a touching and important documentary and quite worthy of the accolades that it has received. Hopefully it will also become the impetus for more research into the mysterious illness that it depicts with so much unflinching insight and compassion. At the present time very little is being done to learn how and why this illness affects certain people. There is only a smattering of interest in finding something that will cure those afflicted with its devastating symptoms. It is a grand mystery that shows no signs of being solved while real people suffer from the misunderstandings and lack of knowledge surrounding it. Hopefully Jennifer Brea has opened a door of awareness that will ultimately lead to the studies that will eradicate it or at least lead to more hopeful treatments. Perhaps just by spreading information about ME Unrest will at the very least bring more compassion to those who deal with its tragic effects.


The Builder


There was a hardware store near our home that my father visited each Saturday with an almost religious fervor. It was a sacred place in which I ultimately felt the full extent of my father’s happiness. Happily he regularly took me on his weekly excursions and I always felt special as we wandered together through the aisles of tools and gadgets and fasteners while my dad explained the purposes of the different items. He was in his element inside that store and his face willingly gave away the happiness that being there provided him. Whenever I think of him I recall the bins of nails of every size and remember his lessons on why there were so many different kinds. I can still see him carefully weighing the proper variety for his latest project on the metal scales that hung from chains connected to the ceiling. I can smell the aromas of oil, wood, and metal that permiatted the concrete floors and the wooden studs of the walls. This was a cathedral dedicated to the carpenters, plumbers and electricians of this world. In Daddy’s case it was a shrine for all who love to build the edifices and implements that we use to bring us comfort.

My father never treated me as though I was too young to understand what he was doing. It didn’t seem to occur to him that as a girl I might not have been interested in the things that he so loved. He spoke to me about his passion for construction and explained the hows and whys of his work. Thus it was that he allowed me to sit at his side as he created a miniature replica of our first home. He carefully drafted a blueprint and showed me how to shrink the proportions of the rooms into a drawing that fit on a single sheet of paper. I could not have been more than four years old when he demonstrated the techniques of scale to me, for I had not yet started school when he first told me of his idea. Somehow Daddy assumed that I possessed enough intellect to understand his calculations in spite of my youthfulness, and he was so right. I was mesmerized by the process and willing to sit quietly on a stool while he demonstrated his skill at his drafting table.

The next phase of his work was to build a tiny house that would resemble our home in every imaginable detail. I was fascinated as he measured and cut pieces of balsa wood to create a frame for the structure. Even before he had inserted the walls and other features I was able to see the rooms unfolding just as I knew them to be. It took many weeks and many visits to the hardware store to finish the lovely reproduction. Sometimes weeks would pass before he had time to return to the task of making the tiny house that almost appeared to be the work of fairies rather than a man. I was astounded when it was finally complete because the details were so exact. He had somehow managed to create an illusion of cedar shakes and bricks and shingles that was a perfect copy of the house where we lived. He had designed the roof so that it could be lifted to reveal the interior rooms with their gleaming wooden floors and brightly painted walls. It was a masterpiece in my eyes and I felt a quiet joy in having observed the entire process. Sadly I have no idea what eventually happened to that wonderful creation. I would give anything just to see it once again and to explain to my children and grandchildren how wonderful it was to have been a witness to my father’s painstaking work.

My daddy was just as likely to educate me regarding other things that he built as well. When I was about seven we had moved to a new home and he was annoyed that we had to walk on the grass to get to the front door from the driveway. He muttered that the builder should have thought to create a sidewalk leading to the entrance. Before long he had decided to rectify the omission himself and once again he used the project as an opportunity to teach me about the proper methods for installing a concrete pathway.

He began by carefully digging out the grass in a pattern that resembled the desired design of what would be the final product. After seeming to take forever to level the ground and straighten the lines he next built a form with wood and and string, taking care to survey his measurements accurately. He allowed the structure to cure for a time to be certain that the ground was not going to shift. He also watched the drainage pattern and made adjustments to insure that there were not low points that would hold water. Then he began filling the bottom of the wooden platform with metal rebar and even bits of nails and other metal shavings left from other things that he had built. He told me that the metal was the secret ingredient for insuring that the sidewalk would last for years without cracks or erosion. Finally came the day when he mixed and poured the concrete spreading it until it was smooth and as perfect as he insisted that it should be.

Nobody was allowed to walk on his creation for days until he was certain that it was set exactly as he had hoped. He was quite proud of the outcome and so was I. Our neighbors commented on how nice it was and joked that they were going to hire him to build one for their houses as well. Daddy boasted that it was a fine structure that would last for a very long time. In fact it has endured even longer than he did. I recently drove past our old home and saw that the sidewalk was as strong as ever. It was not leaning nor did it have any cracks. It had withstood decades of use, sixty two years to be exact. As I saw how well it had performed I swelled with pride in knowing that my father had built it with his ingenuity and engineering skills. More importantly he had believed enough in me to share his knowledge with me, something that made me feel capable and appreciated.

To this very day I find great pleasure in sauntering through hardware stores. I especially enjoy the ones that are more in line with those of old. I prefer the bins of nails and bolts over the plastic packages that are the modern day norm. I consider an outing to Harbor Freight or Ace Hardware with my husband to be a delightful activity. Repairing things or building something is as much fun for me as taking a vacation trip.

I suppose that a psychologist would attribute my love of constructing to the tragic loss of my father when I was only eight years old. My childhood memories of him revolve around books and building and Texas A&M University football. I only truly know him through the brief amount of time that we shared, and yet it was so revealing of who he was that recalling the feelings that I felt provides me with comfort. He demonstrated his love for me by teaching me about the things that mattered so much to him. He was a great father if only for a very short time. 

While I will never truly understand some of the mysteries surrounding Daddy’s death nor the void that he left when he was gone, I treasure the recollections that he left me. The emotions that I associate with the simple act of wandering through a hardware store are visceral and as real as if he were standing next to me with his boyish grin of anticipation about the next thing that he was going to build. When I remember I am filled with pleasure and a sense of security because I know for certain how much he loved me, and for that I will always be grateful. He was a builder not just of things, but of beautiful relationships and dreams. 


Finding Inspiration


I  was having a difficult time finding inspiration for writing my blog today. I’ve been enjoying doing this task five days a week for almost five years now, and there really are very few days when I search desperately for a topic. When that happens I usually serf the Internet hoping to find something that sends a sudden burst of ideas to my brain. Today was one of those times when nothing was coming to mind, so I spent some time reading posts on my Facebook wall hoping desperately that something would jump from the page to tickle my fancy.

I read about a friend who had run a half marathon and ended up exhausted and hurting. I was intrigued by what she had done, but since it would never even cross my mind to think of doing such a thing I didn’t exactly come up with fertile ideas for writing when I read about her adventure. How far would I get reiterating the idea that my knees no longer allow me to run, and that I have little or no desire to push myself into a state of pain doing anything. It became obvious to me that I would have to keep reading if I was to find any kind of material for creating an essay. That’s when I saw  a post from a high school friend that sent me into gales of laughter.

He was asking if anyone had an extra set of feet for an artificial Christmas tree because he was unable to locate his. He had searched closets and attics and all sort of places all to no avail. Friends in his age group razzed him about getting old and the inevitability of becoming forgetful. I identified completely because I had decided on a great blog topic only an hour or so before, but couldn’t recall what it had been for the life of me. Lately I’ve had to learn to write things down as soon as they come to mind or the slightest interruption may erase them forever. My husband had asked me a question and in the short space of time that it took me to respond I literally forgot what I had intended to write about for today. So there I was wondering what to put on a page.

That’s when I saw yet another post from a former teacher friend who was asking for advice on what to do to find inspiration when it eludes us. There were some great ideas like gazing up at the sky, but it was very dark and rainy where I was, so that didn’t seem to be an option. I’d already tried looking for interesting quotes and perusing the news, none of which jostled even an iota of creativity. That’s when I thought of the many times when I had a deadline for an essay, and I drew a blank regarding what to compose.

Writer’s block is the stuff of legend. After creating the masterpiece The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald struggled to regain his footing. Somehow he was not able to repeat his performance as a writer and it lead to depression and alcoholism, so I know I shouldn’t feel too bad if I find myself without ideas now and again. Still it is so frustrating, and I remember one occasion in particular when I stared at a page with the same painful realization that I was as stumped as Jack in The Shining. I didn’t even have the wherewithal to write the same sentence over and over again. I was unable to even string together a nonsensical group of words, and it threw me into a panic because I was taking a class at the time, and my assignment was due the following day.

I was willing to admit that procrastination had created my dilemma, but that was little comfort as the clock ticked away. It seemed that the harder I tried, the more locked up my brain seemed to be. Taking a walk did little to help. Lying down and attempting to quiet my mind did not work. Screaming my frustration only felt worse, because I knew that I must have sounded ridiculous. I was on the verge of panic and tears when my husband brought me a cold beer.

I looked at him as though he had two heads. I argued that drinking a brew might only make me sleepy and then I would really be in a pickle. I thought of poor Fitzgerald and how not even a prolonged bender alleviated his problems. I failed to see how pausing for a sip of suds was going to change the situation, but I had almost reached a breaking point, so I surrendered to the idea.

I relaxed a bit while enjoying the amber liquid, and as I did I became quite mellow, so much so that I wondered if I would just drift off into slumber and end up having to attend class without completing the assignment. I was certain that I was totally in trouble, when I slowly found myself considering a number of out of the box ideas. The more gulps I took of the beer, the more fertile my thoughts became, and before long I was banging out a paper that in that moment made me feel as though I was writing the next great educational document. My fingers were barely able to keep up with the flood of ideas that filled the once blank paper with a sea of characters forming words, sentences, paragraphs and entire pages. Not more than an hour later I was proof reading my manuscript and creating the final copy for submission.

I went to bed that night feeling relaxed and accomplished. My alcohol soothed brain was bristling with greatness, or at least it felt that way. Sadly by morning I wasn’t as sure of myself, but I had to work all day and understood that I was stuck with the essay that I had written with a muddled mind and no time to change it in any way. Rather than torture myself I decided not to even read it again, and I began to feel a dark sense of foreboding. Somehow I believed that any chance of getting a decent grade was doomed. I chastised myself for allowing such a situation to exist in the first place, but it was too late.

As it happened, I had somehow unlocked the creative juices of my brain with my drinking binge and my paper proved to be more than satisfactory. When I saw the grade I was amused that I had pulled off my smoke and mirrors magic trick. The professor wrote dazzling comments about my brilliance, but I could only laugh at the fact that I was unable to remember what I had written. (Bear in mind that it takes very little for me to become the victim of a drunken state, so that beer had rendered me rather incoherent, but apparently still somehow in control of my faculties. I now fully understood why so many writers turn to drink as a muse.)

My latest episode of writer’s block and the search for inspiration lead me into a discussion of over imbibing with a group of relatives. My brother who is almost a tee totaler spoke of a time when he enjoyed himself a bit too much and engaged in a match of chess with a graduate of MIT after running a foot race with his buddies. Surprisingly he recalls the incident as the best game that he has ever played, and he was so relaxed that he won handily in both the race and the chess game. Others told of amazing feats like being able to do pushups on a countertop, or dancing like Fred Astaire. It seems that rather than inspiration, what we all found was a way to eliminate our inhibitions.

I certainly would never recommend my inebriated writing method as a regular means of expressing my thoughts. It might have ended quite badly, but for a bit of luck. I suspect that the secret was that I was able to relax, and I might have accomplished the same thing with a brisk walk or a few minutes of meditation. It may well have been my brother’s exercise before the chess match that was the source of his winning ways, and not the vodka. It didn’t seem to work for F. Scott Fitzgerald, so it may be a mistake to think that it worked for us.

Anyway, I’ve somehow managed to fill a blog with a bit of nostalgia and nonsense and maybe even some hidden ideas for finding inspiration. In the future, however it is no doubt best to write down the ideas that I have before I lose those thoughts. It is a lot less frustrating than tackling an empty page.