Sunday, December 31, 2006

Chip? Jette? Personally I'm a Little Worried

I guess I could e-mail. Or call. Or drive over there. Their house is between here and my Dad's.

But this is the Internet age so I'll just put this blog entry up and then post it to the Holidailies page which seems to be running on auto-pilot without them except (1) the portal cut didn't happen; and (2) they haven't updated their blogs. Sure the reader's panel has added some entries, the writing prompt has changed (automatically? probably...this is Chip we are talking about) and our posts are, of course, getting recorded. But where are our leaders?

One and two could be related, of course. Hard to cut yourself back to Holidailies at Home.

But I was wondering if they went off to see Jette's parents and aren't back or (horrors!) lost Internet connectivity.

Seriously, though, is anyone else a little concerned?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Resolutions Past--Measuring Up

I reviewed some of my public Resolutions Past. I went through some of my public declarations of resolutions in my journal and I have to say that creating new lists is hardly necessary. Some items from the old ones will do fine. Life is funny in that accomplishments can be pushed aside by failures. Achievements can be minimized by a 'what have you done lately' mentality. As always, The Visible Woman has these thoughts about measuring up out in public. In case you don't want to slog through a search of my old journals, here is a representative list that I'll examine over the next few days.
  • Lose five pounds. [This is a easy goal, it would seem. The spam says '32 pounds in three weeks' or '12.5 pounds in three days' but, no, my goal is to lose five more pounds and stay there.]
  • Drink more water.
  • Eat more healthy food. Fruit! Vegetables! Every day.
  • Write! Not just this journal. All the short stories I've outlined. All the essays. Start on the novels and non-fiction books.
  • Find an appropriate volunteer activity.
  • Travel and, when I do, take the time to prepare by reading books.
  • Pay more attention to investments and our budget. Save money.
  • Continue my workouts and start playing tennis and maybe racquetball.
  • Take Bridge lessons and learn more about Bridge.
  • Cook more. Start making crêpes again.
  • Get the closets, garage, drawers, shed, yard, storage room clean and keep them that way.
  • Learn to make a movie.
  • Learn more about photography.
  • Geez, this list is too long...make shorter lists.
  • Ride the bus and write about it.
  • Get my mother's things sold or given away or packed and sent to my relatives.
  • Read more books.
  • Do some Windows programming and JavaScript and learn Linux.
  •'s the same every year, isn't it? Why don't I make one list for all time (work harder, read, write, exercise, eat better, learn stuff, save money, lose weight, be a better person).
What's sad is that this list was made four years ago. And what have I done about all that? Not much. I think I lost five pounds that following year. In fact and think I lost twenty and gained ten back. These resolutions came a few months after my mother's death and a few months after I retired. So it was time to make some changes.

The thing about weight is that it is not, in and of itself, an indicator of health. But I do think that, compared to my 2002 self that I not only weigh less (about fifteen pounds less than when that was written) but am in better aerobic health, more flexible and have more muscle. Still, I think the pundits would say I am overweight if not obese. I should probably lose 15 or 20 pounds. However, I think I'm going to just make a resolution for 2007 to lose five pounds again. And I will do this by eating one less piece of cheese each day!

So we have the first resolution for 2007. Lose Five Pounds. In the coming days we will examine the rest of the list above and construct a new set of bullet points for the coming year.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Recycling Resolutions

Here you see a picture from last year as I was gathering up my Christmas bendies to put away. I stuff them in a box and recycle that amusing collection every year.

And that's just what I'm thinking about doing for New Year's Resolutions, too. I'm going to go through the computer and come up with all the lists of resolutions from the past. And just recycle them. It would be a long list, with a lot of variations on the usual themes: lose weight, exercise, eat right, organize, communicate, simplify.

And, you know, don't collect any more cheap rubber toys with wires inside.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Recycling Christmas

Today's title is the Holidailies Writing Prompt. OK, what does this writing prompt actually mean?

As anyone who reads this probably knows this is my 28th day of Holidailies. The portal, so expertly run by Jette and Chip, provides access to lots of journals (blogs, online diaries, whatever) whose owners are trying to write every day from December 1 to January 1. They recruited a panel to read and nominate 'best of' entries. You can check out the sites as they are updated or from a listing that provides access to all the registered entries in a variety of ways. It's been a great bunch of reading for me. I even drifted away from my trusty old reads (Bunt Sign, MyBeloved Monster, Not Calm dot Com and Journal of a Writing Man) for a while although I did come back and catch up. (I found the Writing Man posting video, too.)

Anyway, back to the writing prompt. The aforementioned portal has another feature this year. Writing prompts. In case you really want to write but just can't get started. Contributors were encouraged to submit them. I did submit some. And now, here is one I submitted and I have no idea what to do with it.

Should I write about regifting? About reusing wrapping materials? About trotting out antique decorations that have a sentimental value? About making Christmas decorations out of old AOL CDs? About sending the live tree off to be mulched for Armadillo Dirt? (I don't have a live tree but the city picks up my yard waste for this.)

What I decided was to talk about a Christmas long ago. I'm going to say three decades ago. I can place it in time because my nieces were young, around six and eight. And yes they are 36 and 38 today. The whole immediate family (including my sister's family and my parents) came to Austin for Christmas which was a rare thing indeed. A bunch of us decided that it was going to be a 'secondhand' Christmas for exchanging gifts. Even some of the extended family got in on this. We were allowed to make a gift or give something we already owned or bought pre-owned (at a garage sale or secondhand place). It was a memorable Christmas. My old maid aunts sent me the Aluminum glasses they'd used for iced tea for decades and which I loved. I gave my nieces each a suede purse. The purses were given to my sister and I when we were small by one of our aunts. For some reason I'd kept both of them all those years. I bought secondhand books for my brother-in-law and Dad and wrapped them in maps I bought at the secondhand book store for a quarter. My in-laws got in on the spirit of the thing and gave my nieces some sparklers they bought at a garage sale for a nickel. The kids had the best time playing with those in the driveway with their father, safety Bill we called him, supervising.

The family has threatened for years to reinstate the secondhand Christmas where you make regifting an art. But we've never pulled it off. I still have the aluminum glasses, though. They remind me of that Christmas and of sitting in the back yard at my aunts' house (which was my favorite place as a kid) with a cool drink that was making beads of sweat on the metal glass. I never use them. But I haven't been able to get rid of them. The color is mostly worn away. But they are fraught with memory.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Holiday Card Count

Sure they are still arriving. Some came yesterday and some will probably come today (kind of unfair that Christmas Eve was a Sunday, huh?) and those professing to acknowledge only the new year, well, they have until well into January. Still, I thought a wrap-up was in order.

I didn't count the 'e-mail only' missives. I counted everything else I didn't lose track of around the house. There was only one that kind of puzzled me with that 'hmmm...what is this signature, who sent this?" now that the card and envelope were separated.

For the record, I counted an even 100. About twenty were from businesses or charities seeking out continued support. Ten consisted of or included those famous mass mailing family letters. (Love 'em. You folks are so busy and interesting. Sorry about the car wrecks and dead aunts and stuff. Cheers to the kids graduating and doing eight sports and all. Wow! Lots of exotic trips. Do all you people ski?!!) Twenty-nine included a hand-written note of some substance (not just a signature or a 'happy holidays' but you know something that indicated the card was to us). Thirty consisted of or included a family photo...sometimes just the kids, sometimes the adults, too. Pets appeared on a few (I didn't put a column in the database for that). I counted only nine that were really overtly religious. "Merry Christmas" didn't qualify. I was pretty strict on that. I counted a manger scenes and bible verses or repeated references to God. Only nine. I received no cards that acknowledged Hannukah although a few were from Jews who wished everyone some generic seasonal greeting as did most of those with Christian beliefs or (perhaps) none at all.

Only two cards were handmade and those were produced on the computer. I didn't count store-printed custom cards as handmade or the ones you sent off to Snapfish or whatever. Yeah, I did that. Not hand made unless you at least printed them on your own inkjet, cursing when a cartridge ran dry at the last minute.

On five cards the a primary message was Peace although this message was subtly conveyed in others.

As to the decoration (apart from or in addition to the thirty family photos) we had abstract trees, an African elephant (that one was from Cape Town so...fair enough), four principally involved angels (and, no, I didn't count them as overtly religious...go figure), one had a NY-looking apartment building and bare tree in the snow (from a Jew who lives Upper East Side so, yeah), one featured a basketball team in orange Santa-style hats, one featured primarily bells.

I received two (only) that were completely identical. They featured a blooming cactus drawing by a young cancer patient. Produced by M.D. Anderson. One of the senders is there now and we've just received a most hopeful call about the bone marrow transplant success. Yeah. Weird that we got two of those. We also got another kid's drawing from that series.

Two cards featured cowboy boots as I mentioned earlier in this boring blog. One card had a cat with a candy cane tail. You'd have to see it. We got four that were predominately Christmas trees (besides the abstract mentioned above). One was drawn by the cancer patient, as mentioned. One tree was decorated from green sequins.

Snow and snowmen were on a lot of the cards in some form. And most of the snow cards were from places that haven't seen a flake this year as opposed to, say, from my relatives and friends in Colorado where multiple feet have fallen. Have you heard of snowmen angels? One card had a snow scene painted by Claude Monet. There was a church in one of the snow scenes but, no, I didn't count it as religious. Quote the bible or trot out baby Jesus or a star of David. I'm strict. One was a picture of a house in a Houston suburb. With snow. We always snap pictures of our houses down here if it ever snows.

One card featured a dog and a nutcracker and dirt. Dirt where a young couple hopes to build their first home.

Five featured mostly doves. Doves for peace, you know. Lots of peaceful thoughts.

Simple greenery or holly was featured on six cards. One featured a Japanese panel. Six or so relied just on the family photo for decor.

One from a downtown high rise builder featured their logo with a tree on top and language alluding to the tradition of topping out a high rise. They have a few dozen stories to go. Hope they make it in 2007.

Naturally there were longhorns. This is Texas and Austin, home of the UT Longhorns.

One card, only one, featured a manger scene with the baby Jesus.

One card featured ornaments. One a paintbrush carrying paint in the image of the Texas flag.

One had the word peace with calligraphy and trees.

One had Peanuts characters doing Christmas.

One had a photo of a bear among trees.

One had a photo with cactus in the background.

Four had poinsettias necessitating me looking up the spelling.

One card featured a quilt. Not a holiday theme quilt either.

A rabbit was the main character on one and a reindeer on another.

Santa appeared on eight...with Artic animals, on the beach, with a cat who was stealing his milk and cookies, etc.

One card had a tree with birds, dogs around it, tennis balls and rackets and PEACE imbossed into the paper. I didn't really get that one exactly.

One had a tree background with a vintage photo of old folks imbibing.

There were three wreaths. One was decorated with birds which were identified. That one was from some serious bird watchers.

My favorite card was unique in featuring a flame and fireplace. Yule log? Whatever. On a small card there was a white layer on the front revealing yellow and orange behind it in a flame (but vaguely dove-like in one case) shapes and inside a pop-up of a yule log on andirons. It's just clever and different. I may keep it.

Because, yes, I'll probably have to throw away most of these. I used to save Christmas cards, at least for a year or two and then sort through them and weed them down. I hate tossing all your letters, hand-written notes (!), photos of your children. But really after a few years it would be several cubic feet of stuff. To keep. So I'll sift through them again in a week or two and have to let a lot of them go. I'm keeping the pop-up fireplace in my decoration box, though. And I think I'll save that one of blooming cactus with my friend's silly poem inside about her recovery.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Christmas is over. It's time for lists.

Reading List. A lot of of people keep a tally on their blogs about what they are reading. This would be too embarrassing for me, generally. I'd have to admit that I only recently finished Gilbert's study of James Joyce's Ulysess which I purchased on June 16, 2004 or thereabouts in the Paris English language bookstore Village Voice. I read this book in the bathroom. OK, another embarrassing admission. I read whole books in the bathroom even if it did take over two years. This book was particularly difficult since it was written in the 30's about a difficult book (which I haven't actually read...I'm working up to that one) and assumed a knowledge of Greek and French and, I think, maybe a little German. Not to mention the history of myths in multiple cultures. I'm now reading A.M. Home's The Safety of Objects in that bathroom. In the other there is a choice of old copies of The New Yorker or a book called Objects of Desire: The Lives of Antiques and Those Who Pursue Them. It's a pure coincidence that these books share a word. I'm obssesive about some things. But that would be a bit much even for me. The former is a small book of short stories. Even at one paragraph at a time, it should be dispatched in short order. When I use the third bathroom, I am the prisoner of whatever FFP left there.

On the obsessive side I do want to announce that I have sent to recycling virtually all the old newspapers around here. Without some serious searching (perhaps in the aforementioned bathroom) I would have to read today's paper if I wanted to read the paper. My gym reading today will be Prisoner of Trebekistan: a decade in Jeopardy! which was my Christmas present from FFP. We don't really buy each other things but given my penchant for recording Jeopardy and shouting the answers out (when I know them) I think he saw this and couldn't resist.

To Do List: There are things to do for my dad. I think he has waited out Christmas and now expects his doctors to turn their attention to his problems. Sadly, I think they are on vacation. He wants me to call them. He also has some shopping for me to do. So there is his list. And then mine. The month and year are winding down. That means taxes. And bookkeeping. And then there is the long list of things to do around here. Like cleaning up offices and files and storage. And, of course, putting up all those silly decorations.

Sigh. Well, I could make some lists. That's a place to start. Off to work on Dad's list first. He would like sliced cheese, some Milk of Magnesia and a doctor to explain his back pain.

Naturally today's picture has nothing much to do with anything. Except maybe that to do list item: "organize digital pictures so you can easily find one that is relevant and not just post another shop window."

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Other Side of the Pillow

When I want to sleep just a bit more, when I want to go back to a dream and try to understand it, when I want to put off what the day holds for a few more minutes, I flip over my pillow and bury my face in the cool side. I love the way the material feels cool where it's been away from your body. Higher thread count the better. No flannel for this kid. Linens need a cool, contrasty place you can seek out. Oddly, the contrast is not like a slap-in-the-face-wake-you-up in this case. No, it takes me to another level of sleeping and, possibly as I said, not just back to dreaming but to the very dream I was just having.

This morning I sought the other side of the pillow. My dreams had already fluttered away. There were no threads left to weave back those pictures. (These days I rarely dream the intense lost your clothes-luggage-money-friends dreams anyway. I rarely teeter on a high wall I've somehow climbed or glide brake-less in a car. Now I seem to have boring bureaucratic dreams, dreams you just have to get through like a day at work or a boring board meeting.)

It was not to be, however. The dog, having been fed by FFP (as is usual since he gets up earlier almost every day) wanted to be taken to the back yard for her duties by me. While he exhorted her to go outside she stood by the bed, near me, expectantly. Nevermind that I frequently just leave her out there and go back a few minutes later to find her peering into the glass door desperately and her human father usually waits for her to finish. Nothing would do but that I would take her out. I threw on a robe and took her.

It just didn't seem right to go back to bed, to search around for the coolest other side on one of the pillows and visit my dreams again. I dressed and made the bed and got coffee. I put away some of the dishes from last night's Christmas Eve dinner and washed the wine glasses. Our little celebration didn't make much of a mess. There were just the four of us, FFP and his parents and me. Dad didn't feel like getting out. I didn't really cook much of anything. A spinach casserole. Otherwise I heated up a fully-cooked turkey breast, store-made dressing and gravy, brown and serve rolls. My mother-in-law made her ambrosia, Waldorf and potato salads. She has so much trouble seeing, but still makes several meals a day. She removed her water glass from her place setting. "I don't know if Forrest told you, but I spilled my water at Thanksgiving, " she said. He fed them by himself at Thanksgiving while I took my dad on a trip.

Naturally he hadn't told me she spilled her water. I repeated her statement this morning. "She didn't just spill it. She broke the glass. She couldn't see it sitting there."

So this morning I've washed up the china I used. The tablecloth and napkins are in the hamper. It is only eight o'clock on Christmas. There are no Santa Claus surprises for children in this house, just the worry about all the parents. I have spoken to my dad. He doesn't sound like he feels too good although he got his bath and breakfast.

"I want you to clean up my kitchen when you get over here. I cooked my dinner, but it was too much. Well, I got it done. And I cooked my breakfast. I guess I should have waited for the pain pill to kick in."

So, it's Christmas. I'm going to get a 'heat and eat' plate of turkey and trimmings together for his lunch. And take him his presents. And get his paper in and clean up his kitchen.

The other side of the pillow will have to wait until another day. As will putting away the oddments of Christmas cheer mixed in with our normal decor.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Random Thoughts on an Austin Christmas Eve

Nothing here but random thoughts today. Nothing in the profound Christmas Eve vein. And no dreams of being elsewhere as suggested into today's Holidailies writing prompt.

So, randomly...and in no particular order.

First. I got two cards featuring cowboy boots this year. The cards are partly shown in the picture here. The first card came from a PR outfit that always sends a clever card. Last year it was a cutout of a reindeer pulling an airstream and it was so cute I saved it with the decorations for this year. The second (right in picture) is a photo of giant mall cowboy boots from San Antonio (I think) all lighted up for the holidays. The photo card came from Bob and Lisa Wade. Bob is also known as Bob "Big Daddy" Wade and is famous for outsized creations and paintings that are giant vintage cowpoke pictures hand-colored. The boots are his creation. If I'm not mistaken, he is also responsible for the frogs that once (still?) graced Carl's Corners. If you don't live in Texas and drive IH35, then that is meaningless to you.

Anyway, yeah, two cards with boots. Soon I will recap all the holiday cards and letters I received. I know you are waiting for that excitement.

Second. It is raining and raining in Austin. We got over two inches. It is supposed to stop but hasn't yet. It may sleet over night. It makes me more gloomy if that is possible. The sun is supposed to shine tomorrow. It might be sixty degrees.

Third. My dad loves his newspaper. He is still ailing. He doesn't feel like coming over here for a Christmas Eve dinner. When I told him I'd be over this morning to bring some groceries, and get his mail and paper he said: "I'd miss seeing you, but I'd miss my newspaper more." There you go. It's good the newspaper entertains. I'm not that exciting.

Fourth. The gym at the club was unexpectedly crowded today. It's Christmas Eve. Shouldn't these people be rushing around buying last minute gifts, or basting turkeys or something? I've never seen the place so crowded on a Sunday morning. Was it the rain? The promised closing at three o'clock? Whatever. As I left someone was coming in. "Lots of people at the club today," I said. "They are escaping their families," she offered. Maybe.

Fifth. While I was visiting with my dad, some pundits were on CNN talking about whether blogging was important and whether a 'meritocracy' of blogging would emerge. (In such a state of 'the best wins out' as, say, broadcast journalism!) It made me think that they really don't get it. That in cyberland people are listening to each other talk about mundane things. Just like in real life. But that sometimes important ideas are broached. Just like in real life. That people may flash together for a month on a portal like Holidailies and read each other, forge some new one-to-one and one-to-many relationships and simply listen to a lot of voices. Without CNN deciding what is worthy.

Sixth random thought: I hope Santa is on his way to your place.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

I Sit Here Alone

It's a weird day and a weird holiday. I'm sort of just sitting here, waiting for the mailman. Or waiting for it to be later when I have things I must do. The mailman may bring more cards. All the ones we've gotten so far I scattered around among our regular everyday tchotchkes in the living room. And, of course, I already scattered Christmas toys in the same spots. (That's Jack Skellington is from Nightmare Before Christmas so that counts, right?) I hope the mailman doesn't bring any cards that require that head-slapping "I shoulda sent them one" feeling because it's too late now, I think.

I went to my dad's today to get (yesterday's) mail in and today's newspaper. He had three Christmas cards but they were all from businesses. He also wanted me to empty the dishwasher. He had gotten it very full before using it. Good thing he has loads of dishes and flatware my mother left behind. My dad is ailing. We aren't sure why but he's in pain. The pain killers help but he doesn't feel like getting around much. He is making his own meals, though. But he's using a walker and that gives me pause.

Dad said he didn't need his shopping done for a 'day or two' but tomorrow is Christmas Eve so I peeked at his list. I went to a Randall's in his neighborhood and got a few things from the list (honey, bananas, dishwasher soap, eggs) concluding that I could provide other things from my larder (we buy giant things of raisins and cases of V8 juice at Costco and those were the other items). I bought him some new sponges, too.

I am going to make a Christmas Eve dinner early tomorrow evening. I doubt that my dad will feel like coming over but I'll deliver to him. I wanted dressing but didn't want to make it. I couldn't find any pre-made anywhere at Randall's but I ask and a guy went in the back of the deli and came out with some frozen. Fine. The store wasn't too crowded at this time, before ten on the eve of Christmas Eve, but I hope to avoid shopping from now until after Christmas. I bought a few staple things for us: ketchup, Worchestershire Sauce and cocktail sauce. I should have gotten lettuce and tomato and green onions. But FFP went by the store later himself and got these things. He got bananas, too. He thought we'd have too many when he saw I got some but said he'd give his parents some. I said that I had to take some to Dad. It seems we spend a lot of time grocery shopping now that we are doing it for five people in three households.

I did a short workout after dropping off the groceries. I talked to FFP on cells as he was leaving the club for his own trip to a different Randall's.

By the time our guests came, we were both cleaned up and I had set a time to go to some friends' house to get the final housesitting instructions. I've always wanted to take a trip on the holidays...not to have Christmas elsewhere but some 'real vacation' cruising through the Panama Canal. That's what our friends are doing. I don't think that will happen for a few years. It seems heartless to leave the old folks on Christmas. As it is, we are going to have to find some extra help for them when we do leave town.

So I'm waiting to go see about the house to sit. We gave our guests some impromptu sandwiches, coffee, soda and fruit and FFP took them to see "The Nutcracker." After I've taken care of the friends, I will see if Dad needs anything else. Later I will meet our guests and FFP for dinner at Fonda San Miguel which is all done up in holiday finery.

But right now I sit here all alone. The house is cool and the weather outside turning cloudy. I'm wearing a bright red wool sweater a friend gave me quite a few Christmases ago. I'm worrying about my dad. And I'm feeling decidedly unfestive. Which seems to have been my theme for Christmas 2006 and Holidailies.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Sky is Blue

FFP takes pictures every Friday for a construction blog on the Butler Dance Education Center in downtown Austin. We are on the capital campaign committee for this project which will house Ballet Austin and its large school of dance and professional dance company.

Today's picture shows the startling blue sky above the girders in what will be the Austin Ventures Studio Theater.

It is really a very beautiful day.

However, I feel a little low. I'm not sure what's wrong with my dad but he wanted me to do things like change a light bulb, get the mail and newspaper in, put a new registration sticker on his van, put his shower seat in the shower. He is getting his meals together and he is taking care of himself but he is using his walker and he says his side hurts although he slept well with the help of a pain killer. It's hard to feel exuberant when someone you love and for whom you are responsible is ailing.

I feel like I should get outside and take a walk and take advantage of the beautiful day. But I suspect I won't do it. Sigh.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Running Low on Spirit

This morning I was out playing tennis with my 'friends of a certain age.' I noticed one of them was wearing tennis socks with a little Santa embroidered on them.

"I miss my mom at Christmas," I said. "She would have had something like that. And a Santa shirt and earrings."

"My mother always used to cook all this stuff," she said. "She baked and cooked just everything. Of course, she didn't play tennis and Bridge."

My dad isn't feeling too good. Rather than call me yesterday, he contacted the doctor himself and even drove to the pharmacy drive-through to get prescriptions for an antibiotic and a pain killer. I asked why he didn't call me but he didn't have much of an explanation. He asked if I'd come over after tennis and get in his paper and mail. Which I did. He wouldn't let me do anything else for him, though. "I need to get up and do things for myself."

My spirits are waning.

Although I did have a nice meal out with some girlfriends last night. It's kind of a holiday tradition. We always pretend we won't exchange gifts either but we had some to exchange. I felt festive for a few minutes but maybe it was only the Zinfandel. And, at the time, I didn't know my dad wasn't feeling so hot.

My Colorado relatives are in the middle of a blizzard. Not as bad as 2003, they said. But my niece with the three boys said no one could get around unless they had a high clearance vehicle. Her six-year-old and four-year-old kids were building a snow 'mountain' in the front yard. They had twenty-four inches before drifting.

I am officially not hoping for snow to raise my spirits. A couple of days ago they were holding out the possibility of freezing precipitation for Austin around Christmas. That made my mother-in-law say they might not want to come over. I told FFP I was making a Christmas Eve dinner even if I had to deliver it to everyone. Now, with my dad feeling poorly I may have to do just that. And to think I put Christmas joy all over the house (see photo) mostly in the form of bendables.

There was a time not too long ago when I would have been happy and festive just to have some time off. Time to savor a cup of coffee and something to read. Time to play a game or put together a puzzle. I miss my mom. She'd make me do that. "Let's get out a puzzle," she'd say. "Get me a cup of coffee," she'd say. "And get out the Scrabble."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

This is (not) a Toy!

A few days ago, I found this in our backyard, lying in the grass. It wasn't too far from the fence separating us from a neighbor whose teenager and his friends bang on drums and play guitars and have loud goings on in the backyard. I'm not saying some kid who was over there ditched it over the fence with the idea of coming back for it later. But I really don't know how it came to be in our yard. Just lying there in the grass. But it was mysterious. I was showing some people the backyard with the weird muscian junk sculpture and I saw it and said "Oh, what's this?" My guests were surprised, too, and wide-eyed at its gunness, even though it was clear plastic.

Now, I have read that 'toy' guns have a red or orange plug in the barrel so cops won't shoot children who are playing. Note orange plug. They didn't have that in my day.'s a toy?

It has however, a safety switch. That sounds 'not toy.'

It has this printed on a label on the side: "WARNING: MISUSE OR UNSAFE USE MAY CAUSE SEVERE INJURIES OR DEATH FOR USE ONLY BY AN ADULT(18 or 21 years depending on state) READ THE INSTRUCTION MANUAL CAREFULLY BEFORE USE." And, yes, the punctuation and capitalization are just like that..."DEATH FOR USE ONLY BY AN ADULT."

This 'toy' gun had a WEB address printed on it, too. From the looks of it, there are much more serious-looking toys out there and conventions and everything.

This was, as I said not far from the fence of one neighbor. It wasn't really close, however. If it had been, it would have been in a bed of Asian jasmine and maybe never seen.

I have this real visceral reaction to guns. Even 'toys.' Imagine if I'd found a REAL gun in my yard instead of one that only through misuse or unsafe use may cause death. (Which is, in itself, kind of amusing in a horrible way. I mean real guns are safe enough if you don't shoot someone!) It's funny, too, because as a kid I lived in a house with a loaded shotgun and 22 rifle near the back door. Let's just say that one stray dog could be devastation for a sheep raiser. I remember being allowed to shoot at a target with the 22. It almost knocked me flat. I was a scrwany five- or six-year-old. I was being allowed to feel the power, understand the rules. I was never to touch the guns without my dad. And I begged for and was allowed to have a Daisy air rifle. I obeyed the Daisy Rules of Safety, though. I would have killed small animals, but I wasn't a good stalker or shot. I wasn't allowed to point plastic toy guns that did not propel missles at all at other people. Not when my dad was looking, anyway.

I'm not really a gun control freak. I am sort of a believer in personal responsibility and see nothing wrong with hunting (or protecting baby lambs from predators) or target shooting. If you point a gun at someone, though, I'm sort of like my dad...instant punishment. I think people should take responsibility for guns they have, however. And their children and dogs. (That's just an aside in case the neighbor is reading.) This (toy) gun in my yard didn't have any toy ammo (I don't think). But, yes, it gave me pause.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Why Am I in Blogland?

This image is from one of my earliest surviving online journal pages. (Note that the links on this page do not work. But Mighty Kymm is still around here.) But my seduction into Blogland came earlier.

It was around 1993. A friend of mine had given me a free copy of Prodigy and I have a really fast modem. You know, like 1200 baud. Prior to this I had posted on Usenet groups. But it was there on Prodigy where I got hooked to really plugging into everyday lives without a real topic. For some reason some people who could write did it, in front of each other. Maybe in the form of a journal of their day, maybe with flights into fantasy. Prodigy had these different bulletin boards. One was 'Arts.' Someone (was it me? I have no idea) skipped down through the topics (I'm sure they were things like movies, theater, visual arts??) and discovered 'Other.' We posted a subject 'Austin Arts' and then posted notes and replies and discussed everything and anything. There was no place on the boards to have this kind of free-wheeling 'off topic' discussion. The kind that is not uncommon between journal writers with their comments or different bulletin boards today. Occasionally, I think, we were cited for being off-topic or had to move around.

It seemed to me that writing online like this and having other people see your words, hear about your mundane life, comment on it, use new words around it, relate their experiences to yours was a dream fulfilled. In the end, this corner (cul-de-sac, cave?) of cyberspace attracted a young man who was orginally from Baton Rouge and living in Austin and working as a hospital or doctor's admin assistant, another young man who was working part-time at the IRS, a woman who lived in Baton Rouge, a woman who lived in Hawaii but who was moving to Austin with her Japanese-American husband to retire, a woman living in Wimberley, a man living in California who grew up in Austin and others, including, at one point, a thirteen-year-old firl living in Colorado. I loved hearing about lives and I loved seeing my own words in pixels, commented on by others. We built a considerable common community, sharing other's fantasies and stories. There was less to do online then, but it was easy to see that the community-building potential was there. I met all the people mentioned above in real life, too, except for the thirteen-year-old kid in Colorado. If I'm not mistaken, even then, her parents were suspicious of her talking to adults! We developed our own sense of community through shared writing with a vague connection to Austin. And Arts. The connection was vague indeed. There was a nebulous spiritual aspect to some of it and a pilgrimage to a street memorial to a cat. [I explain some of this whole cyber connection on that linked WEB page.]

When the Prodigy connection evaporated and I saw personal WEB pages, I had to have one. Our first ISP gave us some space, I think, and I used the composer in Netscape and started writing about my life. I did it because I loved to read other people's descriptions of their seemingly mundane realities. I found it fascinating that someone could talk about the contents of their drawers, their shopping trips or a book they were reading and engage other people, all over the world. I wanted to have that dialogue. And I have. I still don't understand it, however. Why do people want to expose part of themselves this way? Why do I? FFP only tried it for a short time. He participated in the Prodigy thing and he wrote maybe five entries in an online journal. He puts his energy into things that are published in the traditional way. But I have written hundreds and hundreds of rambling diary entries (I use that word diary intentionally) and essays and free verse. I have posted hundreds of pictures of everything from the ridiculous to the sublime.

I can't say why I do it. It puzzles me even as I write this sentence and prepare to send it to the Holidailies portal.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Bendable, Posable, Cheap and Funny

These guys are the cheapest of bendable posable figures. Probably bought them at some place like Oriental Trading for a few dollars a dozen. As labor costs soar even in the third world, cheap rubber toys with wires inside (for the bendable possibilities) have less and less detail. Some of my Santas have painted faces and boots...these have copped out with just the black belt and the white eyebrows, beard and fur. Nevertheless, even they amuse me. I grouped all these really cheap ones on a bookshelf which is newly bare due to downsizing.

Yes, I collect these figures. I have a lot of Christmas ones. I don't have the bears or candy canes offered on Oriental Trading this year. I'm trying to quit collecting. Really. But even in my downsizing frenzy, I haven't been able to face giving up this collection. Although they do pack away easily (they aren't very fragile and you just cram them in a box) I have about eight or ten cubic feet of bendable figures! Really. Still. This collection and my globe collection I think I'll keep. But I've got to keep these collections from growing. Put that down for one of my New Year's Resolutions. I am incredibly lame. The world is a mess and I'm worried about a collection of rubber things with wires inside. But it could be worse. I could collect expensive Christmas decor like elaborate nutcrackers or put out a light display that sucked thousands of dollars worth of electricity.

I think my decorations are humorous. In a way, they make me happy. So...why don't I feel festive?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

What to Write About?

Today's duty to blog was a little frustrating. I thought about writing about how the mayor of Austin brought a friend along to his Mother Ginger performance who was the daughter of someone I went to high school with. I wasn't at the performance of "The Nutcracker" this afternoon, but FFP was there. He snapped this picture of the mayor ready to climb up in the giant skirt and perform. He called me from backstage and ask me if I remembered this gal from high school. I remembered her. As one of the people much cooler than I was in high school. (Of course, those numbers were legion.) But that topic didn't seem to go anywhere.

I thought about taking the writing prompt from Holidailies: "Tell us your best road-trip story." Three road trips popped into my head. The 1966 adventure to California and back in a VW bug with no AC accompanied by my sister (who was five years older and married and, in fact, organized the trip so she could visit her husband who was at a California Air Force base). The early seventies trip to the Texas coast without money or the good sense to start home in time to get back to work. And the 2005 road trip that FFP and I far the longest trip in time and car miles of our marriage.That last one is pretty well-documented here.

But no, road trips didn't do it.

I thought about a mundane focus. Like the way the peppermint soap that John Paul DeJoria gave us made the whole master suite smell like peppermint. The soap was part of a thank you gift for "getting" to be Mother Ginger last Sunday. But that seemed to be all there was to that story. Room smells like peppermint (and presumably we are enjoying the soap and we smell like peppermint, too). Not much more to it.

I thought about writing about how I do NOT collect Santas. You might think I do. I distributed around the living areas of our house all my Christmas decorations. The preponderance of them are bendable, posable Christmas figures. Most of them are Santa Claus although there are reindeer, elves, snowmen, penquins and a couple of Christmas trees. But I don't collect Santas. Or even Christmas stuff. I collect bendable, posable, collectible figures. It happens that many of the figures represent holidays. Although they are not, by far, the preponderance of my collection. Maybe twenty percent. But, no, this topic didn't seem to have enough staying power to make an entire entry either.

OK. I considered talking about my rare trip to the grocery store. You see, FFP does almost all the grocery shopping. He always has, but even more lately since he's taken over shopping for his mother and that means he is at the store anyway. My dad usually does his own shopping but he is staying home just now recovering from a medical procedure and wanted me to shop. I had an abnormally hard time executing this short list: bananas, milk, bacon, egg nog, V8, cookies. The Randall's near his place was having a grand 'reopening.' I was hungry and I ended up having samples of steak, brisket (with Oaxacan barbeque sauce), a spicy cheese spread on a cracker and a hot three-cheese sandwich. However, I stuck to Dad's list except for getting a box of Clementines I split with him. But, yeah, grocery shopping...not a whole entry.

I thought about writing about my frustration trying to shop for a new laptop. I thought about writing about what I've been reading. But I just couldn't get into it.

In the end...I threw everything in here because I really couldn't think of anything to say. I couldn't come up with a coherent reason for this entry to exist. But here it is.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Perfect Gift

Last year, Mercury, a gift shop on Second Street with an ever-changing array of wares sported this shop window at Christmas.

Let's face it...everyone wants to get it or give it: a perfect gift, beautifully wrapped. A suprise and yet 'just what I/you wanted.' Ninety-nine percent of the time, I think, gifts fall even flatter than our own purchases (which have a sad history of satisfaction themselves).

I love gift-giving. I'm not so keen on receiving things now. Which seems callous and selfish in a way. I was, as a child, quite caught up on the receiving end. I have wrestled with the issue over the years and recently in these pages.

My family's religious tradition is Christianity and we always heard about the gifts of the wise men. Gold, frankincense and myrrh. Who knew about the last two? Gold, pretty clear concept even to a kid. Turns out you can buy the gifts of the Magi online if you like. I guess that would be the 'perfect' gift.

I don't buy too many gifts these days and I secretly hope I don't receive too many. But I like any presents I do buy to have that enigmatic quality of surprise and yet perfection. How did you know? How could you not have known?

Needless to say, I rarely succeed. And I've rarely ripped off the paper and thought, "Wow. I wasn't expecting that, but it is so me!"

I wrote a monologue for a salon once, about getting gifts that you really, really want. I couldn't control the topic. It wanted to be a piece about possessions, being possessed by possessions, religion, holidays, gender-specific toys, gender-bias, the creative mind. It wanted to be a novel, a triology even, a memoir of a hundred-year-old person, a series of fables set to music like Wagner's ring. I had only a five to seven minute monologue, though, with a script I didn't follow printed on two sheets of paper, not quite full, and two props. A toy, an Erector set over forty years old and a Polaroid Land Camera 100 that I received over thirty years ago. The Erector Set had a picture on the front of a boy in a plaid shirt launching a plastic rocket from his metal girder creation. It still has it as a matter of fact. The very set is in the spare room, collecting dust, with a motor that no longer works. Truth is, I have the camera, too, stuck in a closet somewhere. These things were so important to me that I haven't been able to give them up. Soon I will, though. I hope.

I have been posting every day in Holidailies and hoping to receive a 'best of' nod from the reader's panel. I started this entry because the writing prompt of the day is "A gift that didn't disappoint. "I was just sitting here, reviewing my notes for that monologue and looking at my pictures of childhood things and thinking what I could write. Too many things are flooding my brain. Boy...that writing prompt really did it for me if the hope was to get words to spill out. Then I realized (what is it we always say 'to my chagrin?') that I suggested the writing prompt. That took the wind out of my sails somehow. And brought me back to my first thought when I saw the prompt (and failed to look at the link under 'suggested by').

The fish umbrella. It wasn't Christmas. It was my birthday. Which is the same day as a friend of mine's birthday, only I'm a year older. It was 2001 (the last year my mother was alive and not in the hospital on my birthday). We were celebrating at Mom and Dad's house here in Austin. I must have given my friend a present. But I don't remember what it was. But she gave me the fish umbrella. A fine Italian umbrella with a handle with a fish motif. I love that umbrella. I've made sure not to lose it so far.

Well, I'm weary of the topic now. Is there Holidailies recognition for writing the most writing prompts? Because I'm winning. Unless you count Jette and I don't because she's making the selections.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Naughty or Nice?

Walking through our neighborhood last year, I encounted this rather, um, unconventional Santa and snapped a picture.

I've been thinking about the whole 'naughty or nice' conundrum since my niece related the following story:

"The boys and I were driving to [my sister's house] last weekend and we saw a huge train, parked, and full of coal. I pointed it out to the boys and [the four-year-old boy] said, there must be lots of naughty kids where that train is going!

I had to laugh that the kid was paying attention to the songs and stories. He is hoping for a Game Boy Advance SP and no coal and switches.

There is lots of naughty loose in the world these days. Everything from the little bit naughty in an ironic way (the contractor indicted for using illegal workers who worked on building border fences) to the over the top naughty genocide killers.

I think there is lots of nice going around, too. Personally I think I fall in between somewhere. I spent most of the day seeing after my dad who had an outpatient surgery. Nice. But I complained about having to get up early and drive in the fog. Naughty.

There isn't much I want from Santa anyway. But being nice is more fun.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Scallop Boat with Caviar Passengers

I've eaten beans and rice, of course, to get by, and got through college on tuna casseroles and such. But I've eaten my share of gourmet treats, too. And I've never been hungry.

Today's photo shows some lobsters we were buying not long after they were brought in from traps. Not much longer after that we were eating them...they were cooked right there at the dock restaurant. This was in the summer of 2005 on the rocky coast of Maine.

But what about the scallop boat with the caviar passengers of the title? Yes, that was just last night at Jeffrey's. We were sitting at the bar and had ordered some appetizers. I'd ordered a cauliflower bisque with a scallop and caviar. Before it arrived I heard Abby, who was sitting next to me, describe the soup as having a 'scallop boat with caviar passengers.' I knew her name was Abby because FFP was with me so, of course, he'd introduced himself to the strangers to my right...Abby and Leo. Anyway, I thought this description of the soup was hilarious. I said something to FFP about what a contrast our evening's nourishment was to the story of the Indian orphans. He'd already told me about his interview that day, but he proceeded to tell Abby and Leo.

"I interviewed this woman today. In 1999, she was selling TV. [Ed. TV advertising he means, surely one of the most soul-draining occupations.] She and a girlfriend who also sold TV were out for drinks. She asked her friend, 'Aren't you tired of doing this. I am.'" So they sold stock they'd accumulated (before the bubble burst) and traveled around the world kind of randomly. They went first to Maui. Then South Africa and Egypt. Anyway, they ended up in India and on a whim they went to this village looking for this kid who was one of those kids you 'adopt' and send money and letters and gifts to through agencies. Her friend had been sending stuff to this kid and they figured he really didn't exist. But they found him. And he had every card, letter and little gift she'd sent him! They were invited to dinner at an orphanage. There were 150 kids or so there. They were being fed rice only, but the women were visitors and got chicken. When this woman went to put a little boy to bed, he was so thin he almost fell through the slats on the sleeping platform (they had no mattresses). She tried to adopt him, but the adoption system is corrupt and impossible at every level. So she decided to try to build orphanages and save the kids. She started The Miracle Foundation. She has a simple three level approach: shelter, protein, medical care."

And then the soup came. It was delicious. But I couldn't stop thinking about those Indian orphans who if they are lucky enough to be in an orphanage may only have rice to eat.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Say Cheese!

People are told to say 'cheese' because that word is supposed to get us to show our teeth if not smile when it's pronounced.

Frankly, I stare shamelessly into shop windows, not saying anything to myself, when I take my self protraits. Mostly you can only see a bit of an outline of the head (with hair spiking uncontrollably) in these pictures but I detect a frown in this recycled (2005) self protrait.

Over at Holidailies, the writing prompt of the day is "What's the one food it simply wouldn't be [your winter holiday of choice] without?"

Nothing about Christmas (my upbringing was all birth of Christ and Santa) causes me to bust a gut to get some certain food. As a kid growing up I loved my grandmother's homemade rolls and cinnamon rolls. Also her dressing and gravy. The gravy was giblet gravy with bits of boiled egg and, well, giblets...the chopped up liver, gizzard, heart etc. that used to come with your turkey. I wish I could have gravy like that, but I don't think it would make the holiday. I'd need my grandmother or mother around making the gravy and the homemade rolls to really kick me into a holiday mood, I guess. I think about them making that stuff all the time, too, not just this time of year. My grandmother baked chicken and made dressing and gravy year round. She always had the giblets because she had taken the chicken's life that day and had all its edible parts.

I can live without giblet gravy and cornbread dressing. I can live without homemade bread or rolls.

The food I can't live without? The food that I gotta have every day? Cheese. Yeah, cheese makes me smile because I love it. I live on it. I have the extra twenty-five permanent pounds to show for it.

But if you are making that giblet gravy...let me know. I might drop by.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Love My Neighborhood

For a neighborhood to resonate with other people, it needs a name. In Austin if you say 'SoCo' everyone knows you mean a fast-gentrifying, once funky section of Congress Avenue south of the river. I don't live there.

We say, when asked, that we live 'North Central.' But I don't think there is a catchy designation other people would instantly recognize that gives people an idea of where we live.

When it's your own neighborhood, it is defined, in my opinion, by what you can get to by walking. This is why your neighborhood shrinks as you get older. My in-laws can't really make it to Burnet Road anymore and they are several blocks closer than I am. I can walk from here to Central Market or deep into Hyde Park if I wish. I have even walked to my club which is three miles away and on the other side of Mopac. That's reaching, however.

I'll stick to easy walks to show you around. Ones where I could take along the fifteen-year-old dog and she would only get a little tired. We won't actually take her along on this virtual walk, however, because then we will be able to go inside some of the business establishments. Virtually, that is.

The closest businesses to my house are Fonda San Miguel Restaurant, a high-end interior Mexican place with a beautiful bar and dining room; the Around the Corner Store grocery, a gas station convenience store which is quite literally named for its proximity to us; and the Austin Greek Deli which I've never tried but I think sells breakfast tacos along with gyros although maybe there was a taco place there before; and a hair salon, INNU. All these places are about three blocks from here. I don't patronize the latter two, but I buy a lot of gas at Around the Corner and I've been to Fonda about a hundred times, no exageration! For all the folks who live in gated communities far from a six pack of beer, gas or a quality margarita...envy me!

Hancock Drive and North Loop fork off at the Around the Corner. Hancock veers south. There is an odd little business tucked into a house there called Cindy's Games or something. Don't know. Don't want to know. But if you keep walking, there are other conveniences: a branch library; a Tex-Mex restaurant (Jorge's); the fire station (you can drop off unwanted kids there but I think they have to be newborn); and Billy's Burgers (home of fine burgers, delectable vegetarian fast food and a huge number of draft beers...along with pool, video games, darts, TV sports and Wi-Fi). There are other professional offices along the way and if the kidneys are deteriorating after years of sampling beer...there is a dialysis center.

At Billy's you reach Burnet Road. Billy's has a deck 'overlooking' this busy urban artery in fact. It's popular, though, because you can light up out there. This stretch of Burnet is thick with antiques and junk. There is a pretty good-sized antique mall. There are thrift stores operated by the Lutherans and Project Transitions and others. There are 'for profit' junk and vintage and antique shops. There is a joint where you can buy old pinball machines. There are a couple of dollar stores. There is a Mexican bakery. A Mexican take-out place. A liquor store. There is a place to sharpen knives, a barbeque stand, a South American restaurant (Sampaio's), a high-toned home cooking place (Blue Star Cafeteria, which is not a cafeteria), a sushi restaurant. There is Phoenecia Bakery, Upper Crust Bakery and Pacha (a South American coffee shop with delicious food). There is a place selling old vinyl (as in LPs). A CVS drugstore. There is a Thundercloud and a shoe store. If you strap on your hiking boots, you can get to my barber shop (Jane's A Barber Shoppe) and Amy's Ice Cream and Phil's Ice House (which I understand has good burgers but I never get past Billy's). Indeed, you will also find a big old HEB store, another liquor store, a truly weird place selling new and used geegaws called Cats 'N Kids and the Frisco Shop, the last vestige of the Night Hawk chain which is a local legend.

And, as they say, there is much more. If you are stout at walking, you can get your clothes dry cleaned. There is a laundromat near the Fonda. There are several doctors. There is a pet store and a 'good old boy' bar.

It's a nice neighborhood...colorful and pleasant with lots of independent businesses and all the services you'll need. The new sidewalks on Shoal Creek Boulevard are an amazing addition...we used to drive to Fonda at night not because of the distance but because walking wasn't very safe. I'm sure you could walk to Burnet or Bull Creek and catch a bus downtown. But I'll confess I've never done it.

Today's picture was taken of the window of Top Drawer Thrift Store (benefiting Project Transitions) around New Year's Day 2005. I'm thinking of using it for my holiday card next year.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Nothing Festive About It

Yesterday I was beginning to feel caught up in a non-stop festive sugar plum fairy and birth of the Savior and season of light and Santa fest. Yesterday I wore my red blazer. I went to a reception prior to the matinee performance of Ballet Austin's "Nutcracker" (I'll actually attend the performance Friday night.) The green room was done up with silvery decorations and oversized candy decor from the traveling show. They served hot cider. Nothing more seasonal than that.

I picked up my father and he was wearing a garish Christmas tie. We went to a friend's house where there was wine and a groaning table of food and people singing and playing piano. There was a Hannukah song, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and such and even a sing-a-long of carols.

Today is shaping up as much more ordinary. Maybe I'll forget the season, the reason, the whole bit for a day. I went to water aerobics at the club pool because my dad was up for it. (That's the class equipment on the pool deck.) This is something we do year-round, weather-permitting, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I exercised a little in the gym afterwards. Our club is really decorated for the holidays, but not in the gym. I didn't go upstairs where there are trees and garlands and candy houses. Dining is closed on Monday anyway.

I'm going to venture out to Costco and I suppose that will be a reminder of the holiday. They are selling giant inflatable yard decorations for one thing. I'm after pretty mundane stuff, though. Shampoo and Cheerios and Ensure. The latter for my in-laws. I may try to score a calendar or something for my mother-in-law as a present. And I'm buying some bubbly for gifts.

But this evening I think I'll watch videos and read about wars and disease and generally put the season aside. Although I might, just might, decide to decorate the inside of the house a little. Or not.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

When Left Alone

When left alone I don't dress up like Mother Ginger and join the ballet doing "The Nutcracker." won't find me 'riding the skirt' with little bon-bon dancers emerging from it. No...that's Barbara Carson,Founder of Ballet Austin. FFP took the picture backstage last night. He recruits and organizes VIPS for the eleven regular performances of Ballet Austin's annual "The Nutcracker" performances. [More next year when the ballet is between Bass and the new Long Center and will perform in the smaller Paramount.]

FFP also had a reading to attend today for another charity (Badgerdog Publishing) he donates time to as a board member and newsletter writer. So I was left to my own devices most of the day. Not only to go about my errands and such alone (not all that unusual) but also to go to a party without FFP.

When I shop and do errands without FFP, I tend to take a little longer. Today I went to the ATM machine at our bank and I was going to put some more holiday cards in the mailbox next to it but they had already had the one pickup of the weekend. I decided to go across the street to The Menagerie (which is a locally-owned gift shop...owned by a friend of mine I might add). I had a couple of people on my list who didn't really need anything but people I might see and who might drop by with a gift for me. I wandered the shop for thirty minutes while husbands bought expensive jewelry for wives and people picked out wedding china that cost hundreds of dollars a place setting. I got a couple of ideas and when a sales person was suddenly free I asked a couple of questions, picked out some stuff and wandered off to Anderson Coffee Company for ten minutes while they wrapped the stuff. I got four things. I'm pretty sure I know who is getting what, but in any case, these are neat little presents and were not all that expensive. I thought I might shop some more. Maybe see what shops were at Twenty-Six Doors which is nearby. But that was about my shopping limit for one day.

I drove to the Lamar Post Office. At the drive-up boxes the 'stamped mail' box, due to be picked up soon, was so full I couldn't get my twenty-five or so cards in it. In fact, other people's mail threatened to fall out when I tried. I went inside and poked my cards through the slot.

Now, the question was...should I shop some more? No. I'd reached my limit. I went home and talked to FFP between his events. He wanted to buy a new sports coat for his Christmas present. (He is easy...he will buy himself something. I just have to nod and smile and listen to him call his favorite clothing store, Capra and Cavelli, and negotiate on something he wants.)

Now the big deal. Should I go alone to a friend's party? Stuart has a thing about decoration and his little house is a showplace of cool decorating ideas. At Christmas, he manages to cram in two trees and lots of decoration into the space and then invite friends in to partake of goodies. Should I go all alone however? FFP is so good at parties, remembering who everyone is and all. I finally went alone. I talked to a friend who is fighting cancer and ate from the buffet and admired the decorations. Someone told me that the way we had added our room on in the back had inspired them to do something similar. Sadly, I didn't remember them being in our house! I am lame. Finally, I left around eight.

When I got home, I had a couple of hours before FFP would be home. I looked at my 'to do' list. One item 'clean up fireplace' had been looming for over a week. We had some marble placed on the hearth to cover some chipped limestone. Since then we'd needed to clean up inside the unused fireplace. There was no significant fire residue. We hadn't had a fire in years and I'd cleaned that up. There was just dust and dirt and stuff. With my week long allergy attack I hadn't wanted to attack it. I changed my clothes, took out the fire grate, cleaned it off, wiped off the old andirons. Then I studied the situation and wondered if some gas logs might be the answer. I got a long match and gingerly lit the gas element. Works. Hmmm. Add to 'to do' list: shop for gas logs. That's the trouble with 'to do' lists. They grow at the bottom while you check things off at the top.

Then I decided to wrap some presents. I'd gotten a few toys for my dad to pass out to kids, a book for my dad, a small gift for my mother-in-law, some silly things for a friend. FFP had gotten audio tapes for his dad (who is nearly blind and listens to tapes several hours a day). I copped out with recycled gift bags where possible, but I actually put paper around a few things. Dad hasn't mentioned gifts for these kids he knows yet, but I'm prepared if he does. Wrapping presents is a ritual that makes you feel like it's a holiday, too, right? Also on my 'to do' list: 'christmas decor.' I need to go out to the storage room and dig around and find something to make the house look like Christmas for when my parental units come over.

But FFP came home. So much for being left to my own devices. I sat down to read and watch TV.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Embracing the Season

We all do Christmas (or Hanukkah or the 'season') in our own way.

Three years ago, one of the vendors at Uncommon Objects reenvisioned a green formal as Christmas tree. It still makes me laugh.

I never do a tree any more. But I've been know to decorate with hundreds of bendable, posable Santas and reindeer and snowmen and such.

You will currently find lights outside our house. Including a large wreath on the chimney with a pink flamingo and wire flamingo 'reindeer' pulling a sleigh. It isn't opulent, but it has a certain esprit!

We've been making the rounds of homes where they do things right, however. A historic house made bright with the traditional tree and such, a modern home with clever mini-trees, hearths done up, large glass bowls of lighted ornaments.

Last night was what was billed as a casual shindig in an opulent nouveau riche castle of sorts, made more magnificent by decorating every available space for the holiday.

I observed to FFP that I would just soak in their decorations and avoid putting up any of my own.

While I was standing in line for some of the host's whiskey, someone from the top of Austin's social ladder, commented on my holiday card. [Ed. It has odd pictures from Paris on it.] "We usually leave after Thanksgiving for London and Paris, but this year we had something to do and couldn't do that."

I was wearing my red sweater that I only trot out for the holiday and a black leather coat. One woman said she hadn't read the invitation about it being Christmas Casual until she was leaving the house. She had on amazing red shoes and a nice dress. I heard one woman comment that the hostess was pretty dressed up. "I wonder what she'd wear for 'formal'," someone observed. I think her outfit involved fur somehow. I don't notice these things so much. Yeah, I think her top had a fur collar. I did see someone show up in a floor length fur, too.

Margaret Wright (she's locally well-known) played Christmas music on an opulent piano with carvings and inlays while people were mostly engrossed in their own conversations. Jeffrey's catered. (Ditto on the locally well-known.) They were passing around bites of seared tuna this, venision that, mushroom thing and their famous oysters on yucca chips. There was a display of iced cookies that were too beautiful to eat. (Although I did eat two perfect candy cane shapes with perfect red and white stripes. Sugar cookies and Jack Daniels. Yeah.)

There was a basket when you came in for people to drop in checks for the Helping Hand Home for Children. I hope the kids got some money for a toy to make their Christmas bright. I'm sure the hosts will make sure of that. Several people wondered where they stored all the stuff when it wasn't Christmas. I bet they have a holiday storage room somewhere. You never see anything but the entertainment areas of these homes. Not that more room was needed for the crowd since that area had five fireplaces, room for two trees, etc.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Thanks Santa!

Dear. Mr. Claus,

Don't bother stopping by with anything the night of the 24th. I have the things I really wanted. I thank you for the coffee machine (I've already made over 200 cups) and FFP is happy with his new car especially the sound system. Since he drives me around a lot we will both enjoy it. I am pleased that my new great niece and great nephew are healthy. They won't know what's up this year, but put them on the list for next. If you could swing by and give my older great nephews some Game Boy stuff that would be fine.

And do stop by and give my good friend DL something to cheer her on. You'll find her at M.D. Anderson over in Houston most days.

It seems my list gets shorter and shorter every year. Except my 'to do' list, of course. You could help me by fixing it so that when I check something off at the top something doesn't add itself at the bottom. Then I could get some free time to snuggle under a lap robe and read a book on a cold day like today. Yeah, if you have free time to give out, send that my way.

Best, LB

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Perfect Day

Like many journal (diary, blog, whatever) writers, I use the medium for a little self-analysis. Back when I worked and during the years when I was seeking the life that suited me (instead of settling for the pretty darn good life I had), I would write down what would constitute a 'perfect day.'

This day almost always involved exercising and eating and drinking with friends and something creative. You know like taking a picture of yourself reflected in a shop window. I'm easily entertained really. A little reading, a little writing, a glass of wine.

Right after I retired I wrote about a day that was a good imitation of my fantasy. And then another one came along that was pretty well up there.

Today was not like that. I did get to play tennis. I went shopping briefly. But FFP was having a little problem with his ten-year-old car and so I had to go pick him up to try to get that fixed. Which they did. Meanwhile, however, we'd convinced ourselves that buying a new Accord was reasonable and the new car people had found one that met our specs. There is something I really hate about buying cars. This couldn't have been easier. We discovered an old and dear friend working in sales at our dealer and we let them make a lot of money so there wasn't a lot of haggling and the hardest part was cleaning out all the change, flashlights, books, magazines and other detritus that had collected in the old car. I just hate cars and car buying really. So today wasn't ideal, but it was far from bad. And those other days...they were great and I even wrote about them so I can remember why.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Holiday Cards

Well...I tried to blog here earlier about holiday cards. This picture is a part of my card for this year. Blogger Beta was coughing up at swallowing a picture, though, so I actually created a post in my own space.

This is a portrait of us from Paris. It is a reflection of an art gallery window in Paris. I included it on my holiday card precisely because it's so esoteric. We look better the vaguer and fuzzier our images are. I included another photo that shows FFP more clearly in the holiday card.

The Holidailies writing prompt centers around St. Nicholas' Day. I thought I'd leave belief systems (even one we drop after childhood) to other writers. I thought I'd just write about the tradition of exchanging snail mail every year and how I really like that idea. But, like I said, read more in my own WEB space if you like.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Guide to Avoiding the Mall

Surely that person on your list needs a cowboy hat, a bowling pin or a secondhand thermos. can skip the mall and go to the flea market to finish off your list. (This one is held on Burnet Road some Sundays.)

Seriously, malls scare me. The big retailers organize so that once you get inside you can't find a path that leads either out of the mall or into the mall's interior. Once FFP and I were shopping (for linens if you must know) and we ask another couple how to get out of the store and they said they'd been trying for ten minutes to do it. An employee, when asked, looked like we had ask how to sign up to fly to the moon. We did escape, of course, because I'm here today blogging. But I'm not sure how.

I will finish this Christmas season, I hope, with no trips to the mall. Unless you count when we went to the AMC Barton Creek to see The Departed. The movies are right inside a door to the mall. Still we parked a long way off and even though I took note of the aisle marker when we were going in, there seemed to be no such sign when we came out. There was probably a hiked-up pickup or an SUV parked in front of it. We found our car, however. I had a companion. I never go to the mall without a companion to help lose the car. It helps to have someone to bitch about it with.

Nope...I stuck to shopping at places like Costco, Sam's, Container Store, World Market, Crate and Barrel, Target. You gotta remember where you park but you can find your way out. Actually, you can do a lot of shopping in smaller places. I shopped this year at independent toy stores and at a gift shop on South Congress called Monkey See/Monkey Do (I think). Also at Tesoros Trading, famous because they may lose their iconic location to a hotel. You might pay a little more, but there is some satisfaction in buying toys at Toy Joy or Over the Rainbow. While I scored my rubber chicken and egg at Terra Toys (no longer on SoCo but on Anderson Lane), that joint has gotten a little too chaotic for me. You can always shop on South Congress where, if you don't find what you want among the gift shops available on the dominant (west) side of the street, you can brave the crossing and go to Ten Thousand Villages where they sell things people make in areas where selling you some geegaws can be an important business. And when you are tired of looking, you can go to Guero's or El Sol y Luna or sit at the bar in South Congress Cafe or Vespaio or Enoteca and eat snacks and start the inveitable drinking.

I did shop online, too. For Game Boy Advance SP boxes and games for them. Shopping in a store for this wouldn't be an option. Because I was confused online and had to get the parents of the recepients to put the stuff in a wish list and let me pluck it out of there!

The mall? I don't think so. Unless, you know, to see another movie.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

In 2004, I decided to give a Christmas party. It was going to be 'have a few friends in for a drink' but it grew. And grew. About fifty people came. I always try to anticipate everything when entertaining. If I'm not mistaken I had a DVD of a fireplace on the TV. I had wine, beer, soft drinks, water, coffee with whipped cream, liqueur. Lots of food.

FFP has a good selection of Christmas music but I got a wild hair and went on Rhapsody and bought a CD entirely of different artists singing "Have Yourself a Merry Christmas." From country to blues to jazz to rock. Covering the ground from Travis Tritt to Chicago to Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Ella. I slipped this in the player with FFP's selections. During the party it seemed to shuffle over to this CD improbably frequently. And every time it did, in spite of the wildly different styles and interpretations, it drove FFP crazy. We finally popped it out and put another disk in.

Imagine my surprise then to climb into his car in July and hear this CD on rotation in his car.

"I like it," he said. Maybe it made him feel cooler in the sweltering July in Austin. Maybe he'd come to appreciate listening to the style differences. He loves to cut CDs with a lot of artists doing the same song.

Now he thinks we should make a disk of "Christmas Song." You know the one that begins "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...." I don't believe we have chestnut trees in Texas so that was always pretty nonsensical to me until 1972 when I was on my hippie tramp around Europe and discovered chestnuts being sold on the street by vendors with charcoal braziers. I love them, by the way. did I get off on that? Well, the writing prompt at Holidailies was "Holiday music: essential part of the season, or 'no way, it makes my ears bleed'?" I think my conclustion is that I like the music part. It has a certain purity. But I prefer something beyond the straight up interpretations. But NO CHIPMUNKS! And every fifty tracks or so throw in Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas from the Family." Just to remind us of the basic insanity we've introduced into the holiday.

About today's Christmas photo: This shop window is from a new boutique in Rosedale Village on Burnet Road. I haven't been inside because I suspect they specialize in sizes 0-4.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

LB's Christmas Shopping Guide

Gift-buying and gift-getting are as ethereal as this picture, a reflection of the Top Drawer thrift store window on Burnet Road.

Christmas. When I was a kid I was all about shaking packages and sneaking looks. I was excited and I wanted to know what I was going to get. Gifts have always disappointed me a little when the wrapping was off, however. But at least there were lots of things I wanted back then.

Now that I'm at a place where I really want almost nothing, however, things are easier. I express my thanks and move on. I can barely come up with a list of what I might want for Christmas, but it would go something like this: (1) new tennis shoes; (2) a bathing suit; (3) a black cashmere V-neck sweater; (4) money to put my 8MM/Super 8 movies on DVD. No one could get me these things. I'd need to get them myself. Now I could go online and shop for all of this right now, but the reason I haven't done so is simply that shopping is such a pain. So, but for that, I'd have everything I want or need, I think. Oh, sure, I have my eye on computing gear and a new digital camera. But I'm just not ready to buy.

Buying things for other people is fun and I hate to give up doing it but I wish I could avoid the agony of trying to buy things that will thrill people. After all, most people I'd be buying for have everything they need and most of what they want. And, yes, there are charities out there and yes we contribute but that's different. There are people who need clothes and furniture and food. There are homes where the kids don't have every conceivable toy. For that you don't need LB's Christmas Shopping Guide because those people usually give a pretty detailed shopping list. It's just a matter of locating what they need or want.

So I take the low road and send money a lot of the time.

But there are a few family members and a couple of friends that I feel should get a real present. For the extended family I print a simple no frills month-by-month calendar with the holidays plus family birthdays and anniversaries. My aunts appreciate this, the cousins perhaps less so (I offer the info online,too). I don't know how many realize it is their 'gift' and not just something they get every year.

For my sister and her clan in Colorado I feel they should get something tangible. I provide money occasionally, but I feel I should buy things, too. A few years ago I decided that I'd just buy small, fun, sometimes silly things and mail them in a little santa sack for each person. Sort of like stocking stuffers. My oldest niece mailed the sacks back with their handmade tags intact. So they've gone back and forth a couple of years now. I felt I should fill them again. I can't remember all the things I sent before. So that was a problem. But I filled them. That's done. I entrusted them to UPS to deliver to my oldest niece to distribute.

My favorite little things that I sent this year? Little 512MB USB flash drives with password software. A small rubber chicken and egg. (When you squeeze it, a translucent egg with yolk pops out.) A stretchy rubber ape. For the kids (yeah, I gave those last two things to adults), I liked the combo whistle, compass, thermometer, magnifying glass things I got at REI. Also the medium-sized (three AAA batteries) LED flashlights. (I'm big on giving flashlights. Last year it was those wind-up no battery ones that I gave a few people.) The kids got Pez and Pez dispensers, of course. And little pull back school buses and rubber frogs and stuff. Classics. Like the Swiss Army Knives with corkscrews that I included for my nephews-in-law. (You know the guys who married my nieces.)

Other ideas for stocking stuffers: refrigerator magnets (I found some that had a calculator), note pads (some are magnetic for the frig or have a clip for the visor), pens, luggage tags, LED light keychains, keychains with pill fobs, luggage locks approved for TSA opening, mini bottles of favorite spirits, accessories for eyeglass wearers (I found a no fog glasses wipe and repair kits are handy, too). And you can find funny post-it notes for everyone. Little bars of fancy soap are nice.

Now all I have to do to finish my Christmas shopping is buy something for the old folks. They are 86, 90 and 96 and it's not easy to find stuff although our dads can usually be taken care of with books. On tape only for FFP's Dad because he can't see to read. My mother-in-law is more difficult. Hate to resort to a calendar again. Or pictures of us. Or fancy soap. Gadgets are risky. Although I have considered one of those electronic 'picture frames.' Nah.

There are three friends who should probably get a gift from me. But I'm not going to get something just to be getting. I'm going to try to find something they will really like. Yeah, I say that every year.

Yeah, well maybe the title was misleading. Maybe I'm the last person who should write a shopping guide.