One of those annual letters…

One month into the new year – Happy Amost February!

Sorry I have been out of the loop. While I hate this excuse. I have been burning the candle at both ends. And since a few of you had asked where I’ve been and what is going on, I  just decided to pour a cup of coffee and write to you this morning to fill 155916237you in…   So this is sort of the email I was planning to send to you during the holidays and kept putting on the back burner… well. Today is the day to write it and press send!

In no particular order:
We got a new executive director at ALERRT, and he is wonderful. I received a major promotion and am juggling two jobs, but beginning in April, I will be exclusively handling marketing, media and governmental relations, which is the dream job. We moved into fabulous new offices near the hospital, and I have huge windows and can look out and see the Texas Hill Country – and Alkek Library and Old Main!   I am getting here at dawn and leaving at dusk most days, but suffice to say that I feel like I have a new job and absolutely love it.

I have been asked to write Delbert McClinton’s bio  – he is a legendary Texas musician, who wrote “Two More Bottles of Wine,” among other country hits – and now – in his 75th year, he is moving into more of a crooning style. I am looking forward to working with him and getting this project done and developing it into a multifaceted definitive profile of Delbert.

I have cut back on other freelance projects and carefully considered taking this on, but it is truly what I love to do – and no one has written a major piece about him to date, and hey, he taught John Lennon to play the harmonica, for goodness sakes, and most of all, I think he has a very good story to tell in Texas music history.

The collaborative Texas songwriter book project for Texas A&M Press was hung up in legal for a little while as they got permissions to use some song lyrics in other chapters – but looks like it is going to press soon.

Speaking of Texas music, in March, I am representing the Center for Texas Music History and presenting a paper at the Texas State Historical Association Annual Conference in Corpus Christi: “Texas Music: From Frontiers to Footlights.” I am looking forward to that conference and getting to soak up a lot of great presentations – not to mention the book fair that happens along with the conference.

On a sad note, my children are struggling with their father’s mortality — as his heart grows weaker. My former husband, Kent Finlay  has been in Methodist Hospital in SA for about 9 days and they were hoping to move him to a rehab facility but have been unable to stabilize him enough to make that move.  HalleyAnna and I drove over to see him this week – and it is very sad. Each of my children is handling this differently, and while I am not in a place to facilitate this, I can only sit back and pray for grace and peace for them in their own ways. As you know, these sorts of things can tear at the fiber of the best of family relationships, but I can only hope for comfort and good memories for each of them.

Jenni, who took the lead on taking care of him last spring while he had the bone marrow transplant and cancer treatments, has a book of poetry coming out this week Here is what the blurb says:

Jenni Finlay will soon release her first chapbook of poetry, entitled Table For One (Mezcalita Press). Acclaimed author Brian T. Atkinson recently submitted the book’s foreword. “Turn the page,” he writes. “You’ll learn life lessons in care and compassion and calling your own heart into action.” Illustrations by the amazing Marc Harkness complement the poems, written during the months when Jenni was her father’s caretaker during his cancer treatment and bone marrow transplant.  The bittersweet vignettes are as humorous as they are heartwrenching.    Stay tuned for more details of Jenni’s poetry debut set for release in early March 2015!  CLICK HERE to pre-order today!

Her book about her dad, coauthored with Brian T. Atkinson, Kent Finlay: Dreamer is slated for fall release through the Texas State University’s  Center for Texas Music History  John and Robin Dixon Series – also through Texas A&M Press.

Mark and I are still taking care of – and spending as much time as possible  with – his dear mother, who at 90, is still the beautiful woman his father fell in love with. She has a wry sense of humor and enjoy driving Mark crazy in a way only mothers can!  My mother has settled in comfortably in Savannah, Georgia near my brother and his family and has found a truly happy place to be.  Mark and I have determined that 2015 is the year that we focus on quality time doing things that are important to us.  I got on a walking kick last fall and when my knee started to give me trouble, I researched and then talked my best buddy Kim Porterfield into getting Really Great Bicycles and we love them.  We started a regular riding regime but my knee was not getting better.

The knee was not further harmed by the bicycling (in fact, I am told that is good for it) but it appears that the meniscus (sp) has been compromised in my left knee and it hurts like the devil when I move it in certain ways. So — as my brilliant non-doctor husband says, “Don’t move it in those ways.” But I finally went to my dr and after dealing with some insurance fal-de-ral am finally seeing a sports medicine orthopedist who specializes in knees next week. I throw in the sports medicine part just to point out that it is not a “old peoples” knee doctor! lol!  I might just need to go see Jenice’s Dr. Jim, since Mark always insists that vets are much  better doctors than human doctors – because they have to learn about every kind of body – from birds to horses! — though, wait–  thinking of horses,  he may have to shoot me if my knee is unfixable!   So for now, Kim is riding solo and I am waiting till i go to the knee guy before I get back on the bike.

Sterling gave me a wooden sign a while ago that says, “Enjoy life. It is not a dress rehearsal.” and this year, we are taking that to heart. We are determining what is important vs what is urgent.. and finding that last year, we let much important time pass while addressing squeaky wheels and the loudest squalkers. We are finally both at a place where we feel we are doing our best — and we are very lucky.

Yes. This may sound like one of Those Emails that people laugh about  that attempts to catch people up with everything great that is going on,  so for the record, life is not a bowl of cherries. We have to jiggle the handle on the toilet in our bathroom to make the water stop running, and you have to walk single file through our garage because of all the junk, and our outside Christmas lights are still up BUT THEY ARE UNPLUGGED — but Mark and I have decided that taking deep breaths and enjoying quality of life — and that spending time celebrating real friendship are much more certain keys to happiness than chasing our tails and trying to keep up with a full calendar of meetings and committees and to-do lists.

And as we approach Barkley’s first anniversary with us on February 4,  we are grateful for PAWS animal shelter for saving him for us – (he had been turned over  to the shelter three times  and had been there since October when we got him last February)  and for the great adventures we have been on together. He is the best traveling dog and truly adds another dimension to our family.

As I mentioned, the first quarter of this year is a bit of a challenge but we are getting things organized and squared away personally and professionally, and will be living in a new kind of normal beginning in April.  Let’s make it memorable. I hope to spend more quality time with good friends in this new year. And look forward to sitting and visiting and catching up soon. So here we are almost 1/12th of the way through 2015. Here’s to all of us. Quality life.


Listening to: Green Leaves of Summer by Asleep At The Wheel

Where I’m From…

I really am going to put away the rest of the Christmas decorations today – but I have been busy. Reading a yearbook. From a private boy’s school in Dallas. No. I guess you would say I don’t have any connection there – beyond my first journalism teacher. But when I look back at my career of writing, I remember the cinderblock walls of his classroom in the “new” English building that has since been torn down. And I know that group of St. Mark’s journalism students and I have a lot in common. Ray Westbrook’s classroom: It’s “Where I’m From.” 


Ray Westbrook came to San Marcos High School right out of Southwest Texas State University as our first “real” journalism teacher. Before he stepped into the role, journalism teachers had generally been English teachers who were saddled with the newspaper and yearbook staff, or coaches who had to also teach something else during their off periods.

The year before he came to us, Ray had edited The SWT Pedagog, an innovative and journalistic yearbook. In high school we looked at that as the definitive yearbook. I managed to wrangle a copy a few years ago.  It read like a time capsule. In recent years,  that yearbook has set on my desk at the office, raising my iMac two inches to the perfect height. And yes, occasionally, I  pick it up and look through  it. More than group pictures and class favorites, that college yearbook chronicled our world at that time. Folk singers and war veterans, streakers and sorority girls, and current events and trends –   a new movie theatre opens – a Hollywood movie being filmed in San Marcos with Big Stars – protests continue as America’s youth finds its voice.  At the time it was published, I was still in high school and this was a college yearbook, but it spoke with eloquence of the times of our lives, and the weight of the world our generation was soon to inherit.

When Mr. Westbrook came to SMHS, he was not much older than we were. At the time, I don’t think we realized that. There was a line between Teachers and Students and when one crossed that line, they aged quickly, and began to wear sweater vests and ties. But he was different. Behind the sweater vests and ties, he understood us. And he knew, better than we, what we could be. He brought that new way of thinking to The Rattler yearbook. We were allowed to sit ON the desks and hang out in the journalism room when we had free time. We began to tell our stories – and we learned elements of design and life lessons along the way.

It wasn’t until several decades later, when the magic of Facebook brought us all back together in our 50s, that we realized that Mr. Westbrook was Our Age. In that way that the years blur as we get further away from seventeen.

So what is Ray — yes, now we call him Ray — doing now? He has The Dream Job. He teaches journalism and publications at the famed St Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas. He went from teaching at SMHS to working for Taylor Publishing Company (a major player in yearbook publishing) for nearly two decades.  Along the way, he served as director of academics for the University Interscholastic League and the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals – and in 2001, landed in The Dream Job.

For the last 14 years, he has taught at St. Mark’s Of Texas, a private boys school on Preston Road in Dallas, with about 850 students between first and 12th grades. In 2011, he earned –  and continues to hold –  the Gene and Alice Oltrogge Master Teaching Chair. He explained, “In private schools, some teachers are honored with a Master Teaching Chair. The Oltrogge Chair is funded by H Ross Perot Jr.  When it was founded, I was honored to be given this chair. It is basically an “elevation” in rank for good work – and it came with a $20,000 pay raise – no small potatoes!”  He teaches journalism and design, and is the advisor for the student newspaper, The ReMarker, and The Marksmen yearbook.

Student newspaper? Hardly the stuff we would expect. The quality is outstanding. Check it out.

As we swapped text messages during the holidays, Ray told me he was going to send me their latest yearbooks. I looked forward to receiving them and seeing what my old friend and mentor was doing these days. And, it’s been more than a decade since I have looked through a current high school yearbook. I wondered what they look like now.

Wow! This is a dream job. His multitalented stuIMG_4378dent staff handles all phases of the publication, from theme to content, to layout and design, and operations.  The 2013 yearbook theme is “Where I’m From,” and after I poured over the pages and read every word, and wrote back and raved about this coffee table book, he casually mentioned that it did happen to sweep the three most prestigious national and state awards for yearbooks last year.

The three national awards are the Gold Crown from Columbia Scholastic Press Association (NY), the Pacemaker Award, given by the Natl. Scholastic Press Assn., and the Gold Star, given by the Interscholastic League Press Conference (the state journalism group housed at UT Austin).

Where I’m From offers well written feature stories, such as “20 Years of Arnie,” a story about the longest serving headmaster of the school preparing for retirement; a definitive “Class Tree” that lists a year by year roster of the Class of 2013 graduating students beginning with their first grade year — (second grade out – second grade in… third grade out – third grade in, etc.);class pictures of each group from first graders to seniors; a feature about a physics teacher who plays a little blues music on his guitar and harmonica when there is time at the end of class; and  each senior gets his own page – including a personal essay about his experience at St. Mark’IMG_4380s, and includes his activities in school, a favorite quote and other details.

Yes, I guess it seems odd for a 50-something woman to spend a couple of nights curled up by the fireplace reading, cover to cover,  a high school yearbook from a boys school in Dallas. I only know one soul in the book, and he is a greying master teacher now.  But I do feel the spirit of the place.

When I read the notes from the editor, I see, “Ray, I can’t thank you any more articulately than past editors, but suffice it to say I am the man that I am because of you. Even when we disagree, there’s no one I respect more. Thank you.”

And the last words on the last page: “It’s where I became who I am – and where I will come back to for the rest of my life. 10600 Preston Road. It’s where I’m from.”

Where I’m From speaks volumes. Not just for these Dallas prep school seniors, or former students withIMG_4381 old yearbooks and faded memories.  It is the one thing that we all have in common. We wear that like a class ring or a letter jacket wherever we go in life.  It is the tie that binds.

And it’s heartwarming on this freezing January Saturday,  as I look into the faces of these bright young strangers, and wonder about all  they will see in the next 40 years.

I think of my earliest friends, Kate and Gregg and Shelly and Lloydean and Debbie and am grateful. They are a part of who I am today.

And Mr. Westbrook. And his classroom.

It’s Where I’m From.

Listening to: “You’re Always Seventeen In Your Hometown”  – Cross Canadian Ragweed  

Hello, Twenty-15. Happy. New. Year.

I love new years. No. Not New Year’s Eve, but the new calendar, new year, new start. As a confident traveler on the road to hell, my new years are traditionally paved with good intentions, and with a nod to my favorite seasonal holiday songwriter, Robbie Burns, my plans often go astray (or a-gley, if you are a purist).

But Twenty-15  has started out in a different way. The last two weeks have been the best holiday break in my memory.  Many good things have set the stage for a truly Happy New Year and as a career list-maker, I cannot help but make a to-do list and doodle around the edges, daydreaming about what 2015 will bring.

Part of the fun of the new calendar is looking back at what happened in the old year. How are we different – how are we the same? How are we better – and worse?  What makes us happy – or sad? A little Monday morning quarterbacking comes into play. What would I have done differently last year?  Can I make those changes this year?

Is it too late to change? Old dog adages notwithstanding, I don’t think so.  Two of my friends (Susan and Kim) and I have gotten bicycles. And we are riding them. I got my bike a week ago tomorrow and have ridden just shy of 30 miles. My goal is 100 miles a month. I set it high – and if I cannot do that in January, I will readjust. It’s not mixed martial arts or Cross Fit boot camp, but it is a start. And I have already moved my body further in a week than I did in all of 2014. We are using to record our efforts.

In 1942, Woody Guthrie wrote a list of his goals in his Moleskine. You have probably seen his list. Good goals.  I think I will borrow several of them for my To Do list.


A good list for anyone — in any year, and if it was good enough for Woody, I think I can live (better) with some of these goals. Someone on Facebook shared this “action item” list, and I sort of liked it too. Not too ambitious… I think it bears consideration.


And finally, I am going to write more. And submit more projects for publishing. This blog is simply an exercise… a place to start.  Before real life gets in the way, I am going to sign up for this WP Blogging 101. I have shared it with my writing buddy, Janice. Maybe we will get things rolling with this.

I have committed to 280 Daily for a while. That is 280 characters per day – a  private online journal- memory jogger.  Good thing 280 daily is not public – sometimes it is just cryptic notes.  No one else would be too interested in those.

Dang. This is starting to sound suspiciously like a list of resolutions. But the difference is that I am not committing to major changes. I am just going to try to do a few things that I meant to do in 2014 and never got around to.  Baby steps. I do well with deadlines  and lists and if I give myself some deadlines, I just might complete some of these things.

I have heard that if you do something for 28 days, it starts to become a habit. So tomorrow- January 5, I am going to try some new habits and routines. I will shoot for one week. And then one more week. And then one more week – and I will see how it goes. I may write these ideas down later. Because if I do, I feel more accountable!

Strategic planning.  Mission Statement. We have all come to loathe those phrases. But I get it on a basic level. What is my mission? What is my plan?

Maybe my plan is to define my mission.  That is a lofty goal…

Here goes…

Wish me luck.