Thursday, January 01, 2015

Holiday Resolutions...Results are In!

Above: the sum total of our Christmas decorations with the tiny tree dwarfed by our presents to each other. (If you don't count our display of holiday cards.)

Before Holidailies began I made some Holiday Resolutions in this space. So it's time to review them now that the holidays are drawing to a close. See? Another great thing about holiday resolutions (as opposed to New Year's ones) is that the results are in soon enough. A year is too long a time to give yourself. I can sit here today (a rainy New Year's Day with temperatures in the 40's at best) and review them and be done and dusted of resolutions.

So here's my assessment based on the promises made in the above link:
  • I have steered clear of the malls, the big box stores, etc. I probably need a trip to Costco some time after January 10 or so to stock up on cheese and some paper goods. And maybe even pick up a new gadget or two. (Or not.) In all honesty I don't really usually shop malls and big box stores. Make resolutions you can keep I say.
  • We shopped independent stores. FFP bought me a couple of great books at Book People, the large independent book store that is a short walk from us. (They are in the package above before the Christmas Eve unwrapping.) I have started to dip into both of them: "Invictus" by John Carlin and "When Paris Went Dark" by Ronald Rosbottom. Both going to be great reads.I bought him a tie. I know, trite. However. I bought it at an independent clothing store downtown. I walked over there. AND I bought it off a mannequin in the window. FFP admired it one day when we were walking by. And I remembered. It was the only one they had exactly like that. He liked it and spent a bunch of time matching it to shirts and jackets. He loves clothes. We also shopped at his favorite store, an independent clothing store not far but not walkable, where he got a new suit, a new leather jacket and we both got new belts. He bought some sweaters at a chain store but at least it was one he could walk to! He bought a new hat (the kind golfers and hip musicians wear) at Goorin Brothers and while it's a national brand they are a very old (100+ years plus) hat maker. They have a single Texas store on South Congress. And yes, we walked there. We bought more books at South Congress Books as gifts to ourselves. This is a regular stop on one of our walks. I got two catalogs form Lance Letsher shows at a French gallery for myself. While I sort of gave in on the decorations (see below and above) we did shop for the tiny tree and its 'ornaments' at Toy Joy, a short walk over on Second Street from our apartment. So yeah we were jolly elves to ourselves but shopped pretty much independent and in the 'hood. We also bought libations for friends at Austin Wine Merchant, a great wine and liquor store in our neighborhood. (We can, in fact, walk to five or six liquor stores and several more places where wine and beer is available.)
  • I forgave myself for the crass gift of money to relatives. In point of fact I ended up purchasing some actual gifts as well and sending to my great nephews. However, my niece gave me quite specific directions. (Next year I'm going to buy a Lego toy for myself and put it together over the holidays. Maybe.)
  • I refrained from anything resembling a Santa or Elf Costume. I did wear my ancient red blazer to several parties. As festive as I got. How old is it? Well, I'm not sure, but it's probably twenty years old. When people complimented me on it, I said it was vintage but that I bought it when it was new! 
  • I did not cook a turkey or a ham. I graciously ate the (pre-cooked) one our Thanksgiving hosts provided. I did cook up some sausages and bacon in the microwave, (something I almost never do) as special holiday breakfast treats.
  • I spent not one iota of interest on the arguments over religion during the holiday. I noticed, with some amusement, that a nativity scene was place at the Capitol briefly and some believers in separation of church and state were offended. I was offended by nothing anyone did and enjoyed all the jolly trees and people's celebrations of Christmas and Hanukkah on facebook. We were not invited to the Winter Solstice party. We used to get invited but I guess we were not good enough guests. Or pagan enough. In any case, it was one more night that we had to ourselves to enjoy our calm holiday.
  • I didn't decorate too much. FFP wanted a tree so we bought the one above and added tiny bats, flamingos, etc to decorate it. Got it at ToyJoy as mentioned above. I didn't drag out my bendable, posable holiday collection and other decorations from the depths of my storage cage. The one Santa above got left out after the last Christmas the bendable guys were up here. The several ornaments around him are ones we received over the holidays.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed the decorations of others. There are several examples on our Austin Daily Photo blog. People go to so much trouble and I enjoy it. We didn't go driving around to look at lights, however.
  • We ate at several great restaurants and enjoyed parties. We even gave a dinner party for an (early) New Year's Eve dinner. We tried out a new restaurant and went to some tried and true ones, too. Didn't do Threadgill's (or any other place) on actual Christmas Day. Stayed in and had whatever we pleased from a stocked frig. 
  • We did see some movies. Well, one at the theater around the corner (Violet Crown) which was "Foxcatcher." Good but disturbing movie. We watched a DVD of "Gone with the Wind" and one of "Jezebel" and also watched the Christmas scene and a few others from "Giant."
  • We enjoyed the parties. Even though we didn't give a party we treated a couple of people to dinners and hosted a small party in a restaurant early on NYE as mentioned above. Maybe next year I'll give a party but probably not. The ones we attended were outstanding. Our dinner party was flawless with great conversation from very interesting guests.
Now that was simple wasn't it? Holiday or New Year's...I think the secret to resolutions is making ones you can certainly keep!

Lastly, for this holiday wrap-up, I bring you my assessment of the ritual holiday cards. As mentioned here I did not send cards this year but rather replied to the ones I received. But only the ones that were from individuals (not businesses or Realtors or brokers or charities). In the end I received two from people I could not remember knowing including two copies of one of them. FFP remembered being asked a favor by one of them. Didn't reply to those either. How could you write a personal note to someone you can't remember anything about? I also did not reply to one from one half of a couple who divorced. Didn't have it in me to write a note.

So...we received 22 cards from businesses, charities, brokers, etc. I got 56 from individuals who made the cut to reply to although two were from relatives that I had actually sent cards to before Thanksgiving with Christmas money in them. A lot of them were simple matte or glossy cards with family pictures. Some included those letters summing up the year in some fashion. One was only said letter but it was illustrated. Some were simply seasonal art or photos. There were snow scenes, snowmen, a Matisse chapel cut out card, the three wise men, doves, dogs, cats, ornaments, owls, Santas, wreaths, penguins, snowflakes, trees, birds, A few wrote a substantial personal note in actual handwriting expressing more or less heartfelt desires to see us in person or wish us well. I sent 57 cards including the three preemptive ones to relatives. (Two later sent me one and one had a form letter describing the year and another had a picture of the kid and a hand-written thanks for the money. One just sent a thank you, I think.) So I have a stack of paper and cardboard with glitter drifting from some of them. I'll keep them for a bit and then they will hit the trash or recycling bin. I'll save a few pictures. All in all, I enjoyed them and I've given the Matisse one a place of honor on my shelf.

Endings. And this ends Holidailies, too. Hope you enjoyed it. I have. But now I have one less duty of a morning and can do some other tasks around here. Or, you know, sit in my chair and stare dreamily out the window.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Most Surprising Year

My husband squatting down to open a present the first Christmas we were married (1976). My brother-in-law's parents are in the background. This is the same Christmas pictured here in one of my earlier Holidailies entries.

Looking back at was so predictable. We planned trips, we took them and they pretty much went as planned. Amazingly so. The world was a mess. Wars and terror and accidents and protests and politics. We continued our retirement occupations, FFP writing for a neighborhood newspaper, me playing tennis. We socialized. FFP gave up a couple of obligations to non-profits. We took our walks, went to the gym but not often enough, maintained our Austin daily photo blog. We socialized, we met some new people and caught up with old friends. People died that we knew, People we knew had children. Time marched on but our lives stayed inside the lines. Not a bad thing. But not so interesting.

Now in 1976, 38 years ago, my life was full of change. I'd moved to Austin in late 1975 to take a job. I was single and ready for adventure. I interviewed for a job in Wisconsin I think. It had been three years since I'd returned from my 'tramping around Europe' adventure and I was ready for something new. I'd taken the job in Austin and met FFP shortly after arriving around Thanksgiving 1975. We started seeing the town as I prepared for a job that involved a lot of travel. I rented a P.O. drawer to hold mail while I was gone. I had a small apartment. I started the traveling. We impulsively decided to get married and squeezed in a JP wedding in the living room of his little house between our work obligations. So in 1976 I turned 28 and found myself married. Between my work travels we went to work together (he worked at the same company) and socialized with his vast network of friends. I sadly don't remember much about Christmas 1976 but since my mom shot these pictures I'm thinking that we went to my parents' house (in Mesquite, near Dallas) and had Christmas. FFP had the long hair of the day. It was not at all gray. He could still squat down AND get back up. The year had been full of changes. Life seemed to be going by at a dizzying speed. And it would just continue. FFP would start a business in 1977 and I would change jobs. Then we would buy a bigger house.

Now the years are less packed with changes since we made the move downtown and lost all our parental units. And, honestly, that's not so bad!

Holidailies is drawing to a close. I'll post tomorrow with a wrap-up on how I did on my holiday resolutions and also with a wrap up of the holiday cards I've received. (Of course, there are always some late entries.) Then I will doubtless start disappearing from this space again if form holds. It has been sort of fun through December to impose this duty on myself to at least sit down and type during the day some time. I also allowed myself to read other blogs, particularly Bev Syke's "Funny the World" and that's been a pleasure. I've dipped into her blog over the years and feel like I sort of know her although we have never met.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Looking Back

This is a photo taken in Spring 1949. That's my aunt in the shorts and saddle oxfords. She is 17. That's me on her lap, not yet one. The swing was on our farm in a very large Pecan tree.The field behind us belonged to us (or, actually, my granddad as did the whole farm and house). I think I see some cattle out there. Looking back over sixty-five years. I worshiped this aunt, but I'm so small here that I don't think I'm very sure of her as yet. I have that dark hair like my mother. It is weird but I can almost recognize this baby in this blurry picture as me. I remember the swing from later when it was still there and I could swing on it myself. My aunt looks young but the face is definitely hers. She is the only one of my dad and his siblings still alive. She's recovering from a shoulder replacement and the fall that precipitated it. She sounded good on the phone a couple of days ago.

The end of the year is a time for looking back, isn't it? I've been fumbling through old pictures and scanning them. I got this one out of a decaying photo album of my mother's a few years ago and put it and the other pictures in these non-reactive sleeves.I'd never noticed the saddle oxfords until I was processing this scan.

Taking stock of 2014 I'm thinking that I failed to accomplish much. But I did scan this picture and discover those shoes. And that's something.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Looking Forward to a New Year

Holidailies prompts us to write today on the subject
What are you looking forward to the most in 2015? (alternately, what are you dreading the most in 2015?)
I will be glad to reach 2015, I suppose, in as much as it is a milestone. Gosh, once 2000 seemed impossibly far away and now we are fifteen years in. Wow.

For a couple of years, FFP and I have been saying 'we should go to France next year.' We went in 2006 for our anniversary. Life handed us lots of challenges for the next few years. Most of that is past us. So to make sure we did this we booked air fares and guaranteed hotels in Paris and in the South near Cannes. We are committed to going this summer. I'm looking forward to it although I dread the packing. I hope I read all the guides and refresh my French knowledge before then. (I won't do these things. Sigh.) We haven't planned any other trips. I hope we can go to the Northwest US in August as we have for quite a few years. It is always my favorite, least stressful trip.

Mostly this time of year fills me with dread. Beyond the usual financial things I have to handle, taxes loom. A folder sits in my inbox awaiting attention to the January 15 quarterly payment. FFP has been organizing the receipts for tax-deductible donations. Our little business, mostly dormant but still operating as a sub-chapter S to process payments from a mortgage and FFP's writing assignments, has to have a return done in short order. In fact, since we pay FFP, we have to produce an annual Federal Unemployment return, the usual quarterly payroll stuff. We have to produce forms to the government with copies to people whose mortgages we own. I have to file a sales tax return although we don't sell taxable goods any longer. There is the usual quarterly report to Texas Unemployment. All of that doesn't include the inexorable process of getting all the moving parts together for the 1040. Partnerships are fine until you are waiting for the K1's which apparently they don't have to prepare until ten minutes before the deadline for 1040. I don't mind paying taxes. I hate filing all the returns. Even with the CPA's help the whole process is fraught for me.

So yeah. I'm glad I'm still alive (or hopefully will be) to see in 2015. And I hate taxes. And...Viva La France!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

There's a First Time for Everything

I'm leaning on the Holidailies prompt today. When I first got up I thought I'd just get under a throw blanket in my chair and watch CBS Sunday Morning. (Which is already on but recording on the DVR.) I'm up later than usual because it's cold and rainy out and we don't have any obligations today. Then I remembered that I'm trying to write something in this space every day for Holidailies so I decided to get that done.

Anyway. The prompt is:
What did you do this year that you've never done before?
Whoa! That's sort of depressing. I read that and started sorting through my year and, exciting as it was, it didn't hold many first times. Maybe none.

My travels? New Orleans, New York, Denver, Boulder, Aspen (aha! first time there), Maine, Oregon and Washington and Oregon Portland area, New York (again). Mostly visiting places I'd been before. I think we stayed in a different hotel in Portland, OR. I stayed in a motel in Augusta, ME I'd never stayed in but Comfort Inn? OK. The Aspen jaunt was all new to me. Independence Pass (we drove from Denver), the wonderful St. Regis condo where we stayed with friends, the night at the music festival, the walks and meals with friends.All new if predictable adventures.

Hardly ground-breaking in the travel department, though. The road trip to get to Colorado was not unlike ones we've taken together before and was very much like ones I'd taken with Mom and Dad. We did take our friends from the west coast to New Orleans with us so that made it sort of different although we visited some of the same restaurants (with a few new ones) and stayed in the same hotel as the visit the year before.

Well, we must have shaken things up in the living arena, though, right? We must have redecorated or gotten things organized in a different way or developed a new household habit? Well, in a word: no. We haven't made many changes since we painted and put in tons of built-ins and furnished this little apartment. We replenished linens a couple of times but not this last year. I'm still trying (with mixed success) to clean it myself in a timely fashion.

Our recreation has continued along the same lines. I play tennis (doubles) with women who are either older than I or not too much younger. I play on the schedule of a friend who will turn 84 next week. Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. Mornings. Usually 9 in the winter, 8:30 in the summer. I didn't shake this up by scheduling to play in workouts or tournaments. I didn't play singles with anyone. Rinse. Repeat.

I work out a little. Usually just cardio on a recumbent bike. While (choose one or more) listening to music, watching TV, reading newspapers. Same as last year. I do some weights or machines occasionally.

We walk. For the six plus years we have lived downtown we have made many walks. This year a new boardwalk opened on the south side of Lady Bird Lake so we had some new paths. But really there is lots of repetition. The city changed around us, of course. Buildings are going up we can see from our apartment and balcony and a bunch we only see on walks. I usually walk once a month with my friend Allan. He's a gay playwright. We eat lunch, maybe see a museum show.

FFP and I see almost every special event at the Blanton and Harry Ransom Center. (To shake things up I guess we should go to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Musuem.) When the two of us are in New York, we almost always go to MOMA. We saw the Matisse cutout show in October. If there is a show of interest while we are there, we do that. We'll also see something on Broadway and a jazz show or two. We'll eat at old favorites and try new restaurants and we almost always invite people who live in NYC or are there at the same moment to a little dinner or lunch party.

We eat out. We tried a few new restaurants this year. Trying new ones, of course, is part of our routine. We gave dinner parties in some of them. Again: routine.

We go to the ballet. Everything Ballet Austin does, we see. We go to their gala event, too. We also go to plays or other live events. We see almost every show put on by Austin Cabaret Theatre. No shake ups there.

A fun routine but a routine all the same.

I read. We get three newspapers everyday. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and our local rag, The Austin American-Statesman. I try to work the puzzles. I get behind on the papers and they stack up. I read a book before bed. I never get through all the books I buy. It's the usual.

I think I bought a new gadget this year. An iPad Air. FFP got a new phone. (I have to get a new one myself soon!) While he was getting the phone, I decided to get an iPad with a cellular connection. But I'd had a WiFi iPad original so big deal. All year I kept telling myself I'd switch to Windows 8. I already had a laptop running it and had purchased the Office 365 to run on it. I also told myself that I'd learn the Creative Cloud software instead of limping along with my old knowledge using only a fraction of the programs and a tiny fraction of their features. But. I really didn't.

I did learn new things. Hardly a day goes by that I don't learn a new word or some new Internet thing. For example, see the picture above? I took it at the Austin Rocks store in our neighborhood. But when I took it I didn't know what the hashtag #OOTD meant. It means, the Internet instantly told me, "Outfit of the Day." I take reflection pictures all the time. I love it when there's a mirror or reflective thing in the window. Layers. Nothing new there, been doing it for years. Also, the outfit? I wear that Polartec jacket all the time. Nothing new there. My clothing choices have not broken new ground indeed I'm mostly wearing the same clothes as last year.

Wow. I really, really need to shake things up, huh?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Mystery Card

Yesterday we received a portion of a Christmas card in a plastic bag with apologies from the P.O. for mangling it. The return address was apparently in the upper left hand corner of the envelope which was completely missing! Inside part of a personal note was visible: "...hope to see you soon." The cards were pre-printed apparently with first names. It had the last two letters of a name and a woman's name: Mary Ann.

FFP and I discussed it. We decided it was most likely from a couple who always sent a card printed with their names. He even thought the hand-writing looked like hers. I commented that they had sent a religious card every year we had exchanged them. This one with the puppy was, sort of inexplicably, from National Geographic. I decided it must be from this couple, was confident that they hadn't moved and so I wrote them a note as I have been for all the cards I receive. We had a laugh about it.

Later in the day we went to a Boxing Day party. The guys giving it had sent us a card early on and gotten one in return that I made by hand using cancelled Christmas stamps. They had commented later when we bumped into them that they had received it and liked my note (which mentioned their elderly little dog prominently featured on their card). At their house they were displaying the cards they received (yes, I saw my handmade one) and I mentioned almost being thwarted in answering the ones I received by the post office fail. I said I was just sure it was this couple, but that the card not being religious threw me off. One of the guys retrieved their card from the same couple. The printed signature was the same as the part on mine and the card wasn't the same but did say National Geographic on the back and had a pet picture. There was no personal jotting. We had a laugh about that. Maybe we 'rate' with this couple in a way they don't? Or maybe it's just that I always jot something on the cards even if it's just 'Happy Holidays...LB & FFP' so they responded to that habit of mine in years past. The guys had cards on several surfaces around the house. They'd gotten well over a hundred. They told me they send 350 and it was their time of the year to reach out to people. ("It's our one touch of the year with some," one said.) Yikes. I could do that but even when I send to people preemptively I have gotten to the place where I send about 125-150, knowing that only about a third or a half will send me a card. But this is the first year that I've actually gotten about 1/2 a card! After the New Year I'll take a survey of the ones we receive perhaps and publish it (see this one from two years ago).

Friday, December 26, 2014

Boxing Day?

Today in Holidailies they suggest talking about cultural traditions in honor of the first day of Kwanzaa. My cultural traditions are mainstream Protestant Texas family traditions and they totally jive with the ones being pounded on television. So. Ho. Hum.

Today is Boxing Day? This one I never heard of until probably a few years ago. It is a Commonwealth thing apparently. Think English Lords and their minions. Think "Downton Abbey" which starts up in the U.S. again soon. It's a day to give goodies (in a box of same apparently) to servants and tradespeople. In the U.S. we give Christmas bonuses well before the day to the concierges and staff, the employees of one of our clubs (I don't think the other one does this) and to the person who delivers our newspaper. For the concierges it is achieved not with the discreet passing of an envelope of cash to insure service in the year to come but rather by appeals to everyone to give management checks which they redistribute as bonuses. From the begging and pleading in emails and on the elevator notices I'd say few people gave as early or as well as we did. Of course, the employees will not know this. At the club they assess you on the monthly bill and you have to object to remove it. A better system but still not one that allows you to tip the employees most useful to you. The newspaper person, who I confess I have never laid eyes on, includes a card with his address on it well before Christmas. We send a check right away (just as we respond to the plea for money for the concierges and staff right away) because otherwise we will forget. None of these activities wait for the day after Christmas. If we actually had servants (ha) or tradesmen who weren't well compensated for every repair or delivery, I assume we would reward them well before the holiday.

Now we are invited to a Boxing Day open house. I think it's just a convenient day to have a party. It will insure that I get a shower today and get out of a T-Shirt and sweat pants. I don't think the hosts consider the spread and alcohol as a compensation to underlings although the couple is well off. I think it is a convenient day to have a party when others weren't doing it. And, like New Years Day receptions a good time for a 'recovery' or 'get away from family' thing.

No real cultural traditions of much interest here. Now we did have a family tradition of doing jigsaw puzzles or playing board games at Christmas time. Or Thanksgiving or, really, any time we gathered with family and friends. (Except for funerals. The only tradition in our family vis-a-vis funerals is that after the service and after nibbling on ham and casseroles and such donated by friends we would start wanting something spicy and nachos would get made.)

Jigsaws, though? Yeah. A tradition. Since we moved into a small apartment I have assumed there was no room for a jigsaw puzzle to sit around on a table until we finished it. This year my niece gave us this puzzle that had a 1700's Manhattan with an overlay of modern streets and little plastic buildings to punch into that. See detail above. I decided to pop out the leaf on our dining table which expands it from a four person to a six. It is a little tight with the liquor cabinet near by but it worked. We were still able to eat and work on the puzzle for several days. Soon it will be disassembled and go back in the box. So yeah, maybe that's my 'Boxing Day' tradition!

We loved this puzzle, by the way, although getting the 100+ buildings in place was a challenge. Notice we added the new buildings (including ones not yet finished) in WTC area but left the twin towers, too. It was fun seeing the streets and roads and farms of old Manhattan and then seeing the overlay (including the land fill!) and then the buildings and bridges. We love New York and try to go twice a year. We went in June and in October this year. We usually go in December but we attended an October wedding. I think not going to NYC in December made our holiday long and quiet.

Anyway, I say if you don't have cultural traditions to latch onto then make some of your own. Yesterday we had a Christmas breakfast of bacon and banana 'pancakes' (really just egg and banana cooked like pancakes). Today we've decided to have migas for breakfast. Migas are definitely a tradition so why not for Boxing Day?  A lot of our Hispanic friends have a tamale tradition for Christmas Eve I believe it is. (Many non-Hispanic Texans have adopted this tradition, too.) Yep. Migas for Boxing Day. That's the ticket.