Tuesday, October 31, 2006


The city-hired construction workers digging...now that's scary. The mess may keep the Trick or Treaters away, too. We have mini-Tootsie roll pops. That was FFP's choice of fare for the ghouls. Actually Cap Metro is supposedly paying for this project (building sidewalks on Shoal Creek), but the City is doing the supervision. We are looking forward to the sidewalk but it always gives us pause when the city goes after our yard. It was sad to see all that good dirt and grass and irrigation pipe get dumped into a truck. I was too lazy to dig up sod and salvage it. We paid our irrigation guy to cut and cap the system back (hopefully) out of the way of the digging. The city claims they will fix the irrigation system, but we didn't believe they'd do a good job because of our experience when the water main made a mess of the yard.

But it's Halloween. I'm no longer into costumes and celebrations. We will open our door to any kids that get through the mess. But we won't decorate. Until a decade or so ago, Halloween wasn't big in the UK. The New York Times reports that it is quite a business now. Commercial interests encourage it, of course. In 1991 I was in London and went to Hamley's Toy Store. There was a display of Halloween stuff there...an about four-by-four table with a few plastic pumpkins and such. The display seemed to be a nod to having every kind of exotic plaything from all over the world. (Including made in China for the U.S. plastic Halloween paraphernalia.) There was a little wind-up chattering skull. A little girl picked it up, looked at her mother and said, "Look, Mum, Hamlet!" Cultural differences? I guess. Today, I'm betting there is a huge display of Halloween toys and costumes in Hamley's. And the kids know all about it. I checked on the Internet to see if Hamley's still existed. Seems so.

Soon one will be able to peramulate on Shoal Creek and, taking the new sidewalk down 45th, cross the creek and make a nice walk without risking life and limb to cars and bicycles. Cool. It will make going to Fonda San Miguel on foot less scary. It will make Trick or Treaters a lot safer eventually. And since our targeted condo project downtown has started to disappoint us, maybe we will be walking those sidewalks for a long time.

Monday, October 30, 2006

eXtreme dog walking and urban adventuring

I used to do a lot of eXtreme dog walking and urban adventuring. These are sports my friend SuRu and I invented. eXtreme dw involves two people, two dogs, those long (fifteen feet or so) reel leashes and the occasional cat or squirrel. Urban adventuring is the same setup with another person added to garner 'take ones' from houses for sale and hold things while pictures are taken.

Weather (too much heat and some serious rain) and circumstances have reduced the sport to the point that you'd be more likely to catch curling on TV. But yesterday was cool and sunny and the entire team set off when SuRu and Zoey, the black standard poodle, arrived from her new rental across the creek. This makes the third abode in our neighborhood that she's occupied. When she was on Woodview, we'd walk over to her place before the trek; when she lived on Ramsey we'd meet in the middle (somewhere near the now somewhat bland scary house); now it makes sense for her to walk here because in her direction the coffee shop choice is Russell's. And Russell's requires climbing the 'big hill' across Mopac and Russell's has no outside seating for dog owners.

Oh, did I mention coffee and snacks? Definitely a part of the eX dw and ua culture. We chose Upper Crust today. Outside tables? Check. Good snacks? Yes, a Petit Pan au Chocolat bigger than your head (well, maybe a little dog's head). Don't ever eat a cinnamon roll there, however. Gut bombs. Same cinnamon rolls show up at coffee shops around town that aren't also bakeries. Danger. Danger. Eat cinnamon rolls at Sweetish Hill. (Yes, sometimes the eX dw team drives to other neighborhoods and thus has other coffee shop choices.) However, almost everything else at UC is great. SuRu had a not too sweet cookie and FFP a scone. I filled my coffee mug before we left home and again at Upper Crust. Coffee is eX dw fuel.

So it isn't much of a walk from the house to Upper Crust. We went to Ramsey Park after and even south of there. We came back up Ramsey to see if the rental where SuRu lived was rented. No. Good enough for them. It's overpriced.

Along the way, on 40th St. I think, we saw a bush we couldn't identify with bees and butterflies all over it. It was fragrant. Because we had the extra hands for holding a squirmy dog, I took a picture. That is an advantage of urban adventuring, adding that extra person. True the two dogs and two people connected by the long reels of leash make most of the possible 'moves' of eX dw a reality. But there are extra points for capturing pictures like this.

I'm glad the weather has cooperated with my sports. Tennis is nice on a cool, sunny day, too. And I've been getting out there for a bit of that. Tennis is a bit more well-known, too. But I expect eX dw and ua to come into their own. Right now we are the premier team, however.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Hot Stuff

The Texas Book Festival is this weekend. FFP volunteered with Badgerdog Publications yesterday but all I did was go with him to an evening event on South Congress (at a little room above the Continental Club) where Mark Binelli did a reading from Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die! and then they had a panel discussion with Mark Z. Danielewski, Heidi Julavits and Cristina Henriquez. I hadn't heard any of these authors but they'd all written about teens so they hung them on a Lolita theme but really the discussion was all over the place. Mark has written some very difficult books which apparently have a cultish following (I never noticed that difficult contains 'cult' before but there you go). It was all a lot of fun. The only author I'd heard of was one who didn't show up (Marisha Pessl who wrote Special Topics in Calamity Physics). I really enjoyed the discussion even though it was really crowded and I had to sit on the floor. I took the photo of the window at Blackmail on the way back to our car. The reading and the discussion made me want to read all these people's books, but of course I'm still behind on my newspapers and busy sorting the rather large collection of books we already have.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Let Others Blog!

I'm not taking pictures . I randomly selected a picture of a stranger taken in Berlin a few years back to illustrate this entry. The woman looks lost. I feel lost, too.

The downsizing is going slowly. It is fraught with emotions.

We are cooling on the condo project we were considering for a couple of reasons.

I injured my left foot slightly in a bizarre accident. I can walk and even (I hope) play tennis, but it hurts if I roll it over to the outside.

Life is full of reminders that things don't always work out. People I know are struggling with illnesses, big and small.

I'll get better emotionally. Or worse. These things aren't static. Some days the things that make you think "life is full and wonderful" when your brain chemistry is different make you think "life is a mess and fraught with confusion and chaos and pain leading to the inevitable."

But for now, I'm letting others blog. Except for this entry. Consider it a response to a ping...yes, I'm still here.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

There's More Where That Came From

In the great downsizing of 2006, I keep telling myself that it's OK to let go. There is more stuff where this stuff came from. Maybe even better stuff.

Our spare room has been a staging area for the current wave of downsizing. It's been employed for stuff sorting for more time than it's been used for guests for sure. We have a table divided in half. I put books on one side that I am willing to get rid of. FFP puts books he feels similarly about on the other side. We come by and consign books from the other person's half to a box on the floor and from there they are sacked up for disposal. I think he has, of late, become lazy about filling his side. Instead he's just approved ones I'd identified. Oh, I think he returned a few to the groaning shelves. But many are now in sacks and boxes ready for the thrift store nearby, Top Drawer. He's already taken quite a few before, too.

The picture was taken a couple of years ago in the spare room during my cleaning out of other areas and of my mother's things. Four years after her death we are still disposing of her things. She had a lot of stuff from her hobbies and collecting. If she hadn't been poor for many years, I guess she'd have had more. I'm hoping not to leave a legacy of stuff. But it's hard. "A little bit every day," says himself. That's it.

Wandering through the books has been fun, though. It's like digging through a secondhand bookstore that is a treasure trove of books we would like. A goodly pile has accumulated in my office to become part of the 'Magnificent 1000.' Yes, we plan to own at least 1000 books when we die. So there. Where we will put them in a small condo is another matter. And whether we will ever read (or read again) any significant part of them is questionable. Consider them decoration, I guess. I love to see books in a home. Homes without them seem sad and naked.

Monday, October 09, 2006

I Don't Read Enough

I have probably read seventy books since I retired. But it's been four years. I don't feel like I read enough.

Going through our books in order to downsize from about 3000 tomes to 1000 or less has made me realize that there are scores of books I want to read or reread that I already own. There are quite a few I would never care to read or have read and wouldn't revisit. These would only be useful in some situation (unimaginable in any home of mine) where there was a shortage of words.

Yeah, I just don't feel like I read enough.

I struggle to get through some of the three dailies and two weekly newpapers we receive. My piles of aging papers are legendary. I walked into my club the other day empty-handed and someone ask why I wasn't carrying a pile of New York Times. Yesterday I had a pile of sections of old copies of The Wall Street Journal, The Times and the local rag, The Austin-American Statesman at the gym. I had only managed to get through part of a front page section of The Times on the bike and I put the unruly pile down next to a leg extension machine and tried to do some leg extensions. I have a sort of strained knee and the exercise hurt so I moved about four feet away to do some pulldowns for the triceps. A man I didn't know walked up to my pile of newspapers. In spite of me staring at him as he spent several minutes staring down at them and then got on one knee and riffled through them, he never turned around and ask if they belonged to me. He seemed intent, almost prayerful, over the papers so I moved over to a bench and got a barbell and did some skull crushers. (Also for the triceps.) I figured he'd go on his way and I wouldn' t have to claim ownership of the mass of old papers. Amid my reps on the bench, I saw him head to the locker room...clutching two or three sections of papers he'd apparently carefully chosen. I finished my set. I gathered up the remainder of the pile and was headed out the door when I saw my fellow reader return to the workout room sans newspapers. Not that I wanted them back! But those are some sections of newsprint unread by me.

I admit that everything I don't manage to read, or at least glance through taunts me. The weekly arrival of The New Yorker, while welcome with its clever cover and promise of wonderful articles inside, mocks me because I may not, most likely will not, get it read. I'm now in possession of DVDs of all issues of The New Yorker through last February. Yes, all issues since 1925. This comforts me and allows me to finally throw out some issues that have escaped recycling for over a decade but still there is little comfort in knowing that I have access to the material.

This feeling of despair at what's left unread is not satisfied by reading things online either. I'll sometimes read an entire article from The New York Times WEB page and my subscription to the paper gives me a 'free' Times Select membership and access to lots of back issue stories, but this doesn't make my failure to absorb the papers any easier to bear.

As I've sorted out books to give away, I've tried to tell myself that if I decide one day to read the book I'm tossing that I can always get a copy from Powell's or the library. And maybe I'll obtain a better copy to read than some of the grimy, yellowing paperbacks that I'm putting into the thrift store sacks. At some point I have to seriously examine why I need to own all these books.

I took two sacks of Bridge books to a friend who plays a lot of Bridge and enjoys reading about it. She promised to loan them back to me if I got interested in Bridge again. And I am sort of interested in Bridge. It's just that I never got interested enough. To play or to read all the books. But it used to be that the first thing I'd do if I got the least bit interested in something would be to buy a book about it. Or maybe more than one book! Maybe piles of books. That's what happened with Bridge.

I'm starting to understand that owning all these books is not improving my track record at getting my reading done. I've got to choose the books I keep with care. This may be my hardest downsizing task and not just because there are 3000 objects to deal with. Each unread tome is an admission of failure.

Daily Photo

I've been reading Paris Daily Photo for a while and while this site isn't daily and isn't always Austin so it can't be Austin Daily Photo, I appreciate the idea.

Eric of PDP published this entry and I immediately thought of a picture I had FFP shoot at MOMA in New York City in the summer of 2005. So here it is. I think it's pretty clear who is real and who is not in this one. Maybe.

I had in mind to blog today on two other topics. I fully intend to write one entitled "I Don't Read Enough" and another under the rubric "This Aquisitive Life." Instead I've published this (over a year old) photo.

And so it goes.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

In the Shadow of the Creatives

I fancy myself a creative person.

In fact, when I took these pictures (over a year ago) I thought I was showing on the one hand the most blighted view of downtown Austin and on the other a bright thing about Austin (the Art Fest held in Republic Square and the surrounding area) against the blighted shell of the abandoned INTEL building.

Who knew that in October, 2006 I would (1) be planning to live about where the Moonlight Tower appears in the blight picture. (The Tower has been relocated to make way for the 360 Condomiums. It was the only unblighted part of the picture.) (2) The ugly Post Office block would be getting a redevelopment plan as a mixed use space; and (3) That on October 6 I would see a fantastic work of dance performed by Blue Lapis Light in and on that blighted shell?

I had lunch yesterday with a smart, energetic, starving artist. Only 22, he is wise beyond his years, creative to the max, introspective and perceptive. He's not really starving either thanks to a friend of mine who is his mom.

Last night I saw the most amazing work of dance and rappeling to music in the most unusal setting of that Intel shell. Almost more amazing than the work was that someone let the performers and us on the site. We drank and talked to Cliff Redd (executive director of the Long Center) and Stephen Moser (fashion editor of The Austin Chronicle and the designer of several of the blue-themed dressed on display) and other folks. Then we saw the performance that blew us away.

I felt overshadowed by the energy and creativity exhibited around me today. I am amazed at Austin's transformation downtown. I feel old against this backdrop of energy.

I came home to listen to our gubanatorial debate. I gleaned from this that Chris Bell would raise money by having businesses 'pay their fair share' whatever that means and that Kinky would do it with gambling and that Strayhorn and Perry wouldn't raise taxes but they would do good things for schools without the money. I also learned that Strayhorn didn't answer a single question directly and didn't know the president of Mexico. Kinky was most creative. Asked if he would continue to smoke cigars if he were governor and a 'role model he said he would and said Sam Houston was an opium addict and, he guessed, not a good role model for kids. (A little Internet search also hinted that he had venereal disease. Not Kinky. Sam Houston.) It was a creative day and the creative candidate won my vote, I think. It is a sad lot. They didn't let the Libertarian participate. Sad. I would have liked to hear what he had say. He is suing Belo Corp, I think, because his exclusion constitutes promoting the other four candidates. Well, maybe. They all came out looking sort of bad to me. Except, you know, Kinky when he was being funny which is almost all the time.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Growing Old

These guys were caught by a street photographer. It's probably sometime in the 30's. On the left is my father-in-law and on the right is his 'baby' brother. The baby brother would become one of the 'Greatest Generation,' cheerfully fighting in Italy, France and Germany with the 36th Infantry Division, called into active service from the Texas National Guard. He would return unharmed and live a long life.

We took my husband's Dad (the smaller 'big' brother here) to his brother's funeral today in Temple. My father-in-law is 95. His baby brother was 91.

As my mother-in-law recounted the births, deaths and marriages of the clan she entered sixty-eight years ago, she said at one point: "And, well, she died. And he died."

Yeah, that's how it always ends.

The trip was exhausting. My in-laws have grown old and a longish ceremony that started late (after we arrived way early) and another ceremony at the cemetery and finding food and bathrooms on the way home was a production. But once my father-in-law and his brother sauntered jauntily down Congress Avenue before the big war, before they married and had kids. Maybe the depression was oppressive but they still found the funds for some good-looking threads. And my husband's uncle smiled just like that from his bed at the nursing home when last I saw him, correctly identifying me as belonging to the right branch of the clan in spite of the fact that he must have a dozen nephews with wives and girlfriends. In fact, at the service they recruited six nephews on the spot for pallbearers and another nephew conducted the service and another gave the eulogy. Several other nephews sat in the crowd.

I have read that about a thousand WWII vets die each day. I lost my own 92-year-old uncle recently. He lived in the same nursing home (for Texas Vets) as my husband's uncle. Outside many rooms there handsome young hopeful faces in military uniforms stare out of frames below the names in the corridor while, inside the rooms, old men (and women) grow older and weaker.

And, well, that's how it ends.