Sunday, September 30, 2007

Reuse, Recycle, Reduce

I haven't said a peep in this space in a week. Not that anyone has complained. We remain faithful over at Austin Daily Photo but that venue doesn't seem as demanding. The downsizing is getting weird. I'm trying to find homes for strange oddments. I believe we are tossing more stuff than we acquire. But it isn't going fast enough. One challenge is not to be wasteful and find good homes for some things. Today I saw a bike rack in front of Shoal Creek Saloon that had been made from old bike frames welded together. Oh so clever. Of course that joint has the ceiling decorated with old water skis.

Right now I have several cubic feet of knick knacks, collectibles and, let's face it, junk in my car that I hope to pass off to the Settlement Home Garage Sale. I have two cubic feet (the approximate volume of a paper box) of stuff that I'm going to store for my sister and her kids and grandkids to have.

Yesterday I was thinking what I might do with a set of twelve dinner and salad plates that I bought just for a certain party. (They were pretty cheap.) Then I opened a cabinet and realized I had another set I'd also gotten for a party. Also a dozen plates each. Also cheap. I'd just wanted something that looked right with the 'theme.' I'm sure I can find a home for both sets. Can't believe I'd forgotten even having one of them. Comes from having too much storage. In the condo we won't be able to seat twelve for dinner. I'm keeping an assortment of small salad/dessert/cocktail plates for entertaining.

I spent a bunch of time organizing old newspapers and other artifacts FFP and his parents have saved. The stuff that we want to keep I'm trying to preserve and store and catalog in a computer file saying what box they are in. It is all very tedious but I feel sure that I am making progress. Aren't I? Or will I be scrambling to do a bunch of this at the last minute?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fashion Emergency Redux

This picture was taken in 2003. Where I'm not sure. I offer it to illustrate fashion emergency, part 2, of the nascent season. We have been invited to a party where the dress code is given as "white tie and ball gowns." Uh. OK. FFP has consulted with his sartorial gurus, spent less than a hundred bucks on the tie, has everything else to make it work. I told him that for a woman my age, I will do the best I can: long black skirt and top. People keep suggesting expensive stores and fashion gurus or the rack of (can there be anything bigger than six 6?) shop worn ball gowns at Last Call (the Neiman Marcus outlet store). I am, indeed, getting much too old to care. FFP is excited about the whole white tie thing, though. I'll get his picture. Maybe on his way out the door while I feign sniffles!

Letting Go of Stuff and People and Creatures

One thing I'm letting go of is always having a picture on these blog entries. It's enough that my Austin Daily Photo blog requires one. Go there is you just gotta get visual.

I've been cleaning out drawers in my office. Tossing things in the trash. Also, decided to organize all those little thing I do keep into a compartmentalized tackle box I had thought of trashing. Keychains, clips, pencil lead and erasers, velcro ties. Somehow this seems like an excellent idea because when we move to the condo rather than have those things you might need will be all organized in something instead of lurking in the ten drawers we will no longer have.

I'm letting go of Chalow, too. Every time we come home from being away we automatically start looking for her to let her out. When we get up each day, we once again notice that she isn't there.Today I was talking to a woman at the gym about moving to the condo and she asked if we had pets. I told her we put Chalow down and she started crying. I didn't mention my friend's death or that another friend had lost a son and another a husband. I had her in tears at the dog.

I'm letting go of my departed friend, Margaret, too. In writing her tribute I dug out a file labeled "Messages and Mid-Nineties Correspondence’." I've been reading that and I feel like my life is kind of unraveling backwards at the moment. I've also been shredding decades old carbons of checks. Memory lane.

I'm normally a forward-looking person. So I can normally let stuff go and look to tomorrow. I've got lots to let go of at the moment, I guess. So I'm a bit mired.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Goodbye, Friend

There weren't as many social opportunities online in 1995. But there were some. Like-minded people had been getting together in Usenet Groups for over a decade, bonding over similar technical and non-technical interests. I would scan a group called The name meant it was a 'fun' or 'recreational' topic and not a technical one about the Internet itself or Usenet and such and about travel and, more specifically, in Europe. In July of 1995 I was giving advice on Berlin, where I'd just been, on the thread. Thanks to Google collecting archives I can still find the message I read in the summer of '95. The message was from a woman who'd traveled alone in Europe, something I'd done a bit of and something I might do again. FFP didn't travel too far then, because more than four or five days away from his one-man business didn't work well. I went places without him, for business and pleasure, or maybe had female traveling companions. So I thought it would be interesting to talk to someone else who traveled alone and was close to my age.

So I wrote a reply. Not to the thread but to the author: I didn't realize when I did that she wasn't living in the states. Just didn't notice the e-mail address, I guess. But she wrote back and said she lived in the Cape Province of South Africa and was a Scot who had emigrated to Canada in her teens, met a South African, moved there, raised two boys and divorced after over thirty years of marriage. And we began to exchange long e-mails about our travels. I had just made a trip to Berlin where Christo and Jeanne-Claude had wrapped the Reichstag. I probably sent her a journal from the trip. She managed to send me a journal from her '92 trip that inspired her Usenet posting. In November '95 she was off to Kuala Lumpar and gave me a detailed account of the trip. We began exchanging mundane details of our lives: friends, neighbors, outings, charities, work, family. She told me all about the Fish Hoek Surf Lifesaving Club where she volunteered training kids to become beach lifeguards and about her work with a handicapped workshop.

Margaret began to mail me postcards of the Cape with brief notes designed to entice me to come for a visit. At some point we decided that I would visit, in January/February 1997.

I went to Toronto on business in June '96. At some point Margaret had mentioned that her twin sister lived there. She insisted I contact her and meet her. And I did. After a meal and sharing some wine and a tour around where she worked, she said, "Margaret and I are nothing alike; but you two will get along well, too." Indeed, the non-identical twin sisters were very different, in appearance and personality, but both lovely, fun, warm women.

So, I traveled thousands of miles in January 1997 to arrive at the Cape Town airport and meet a woman I'd never met face-to-face. Three weeks later I had met so many of her friends that it just seemed right to have a 'going away' party to say goodbye. The above picture was taken at that party. (This trip deserves being blogged some day.)

In the spring/summer of 1997, Mags was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery and treatment. But she mustered her strength and came to the U.S. in 1998, visiting Austin and other places with us and with other friends. (This elaborate travel itinerary deserves a blog of its own as well and maybe, one day, will get it.)

In 1999, a couple of my girlfriends and I went to London and Scotland. We met up with Mags and a friend of hers from the Cape in Edinburgh (they were attending the rugby world cup and visiting with Mags' relatives and friends in her hometown) and we met her younger brother and many friends of hers.

Mags would suffer a relapse of the cancer again in 2001, but would still manage a visit to her sister (now living in New York State) for the holidays. A friend and I flew to New York City on New Year's Day, 2002, to meet up with her and visit a few days with her on her way home.

In 2004, Mags' son was living in Dublin and she was planning a trip to Edinburgh with a side trip to visit him. She suggested I meet her there so we could be tourists while he was at work. Then he decided to move to Namibia. Undaunted, she rented an apartment at Trinity College and we still met there for a visit. One morning she woke with a swollen eye. We wouldn't know it for over a year but this was another tumor announcing itself.

In 2005, I once again flew to the Cape and visited Mags and other folks who felt like old and dear friends after meeting them in '97 and hearing about them for years in e-mail. Mags didn't feel well and when her eye became swollen again she asked me to take a picture of it and print it on her computer so she could take it to the doctor in case it had gone down when she visited him for an appointment that was scheduled after I would leave.

Finally the doctors decided a tumor was causing the eye swelling and gradually Mags became unsteady and had trouble seeing. She moved to a retirement home from her apartment but had her computer there and through March of this year was writing me with some of her usual wit and vigor. Then I had to rely on her son typing for her or reports from others. In one of the last messages she typed from the retirement home, in March, she said:

Yesterday afternoon I went with the singing group to Frail Care and then to the Alzheimer’s unit. They sing all the old songs like Hokey-Pokey. Some actually know the words while others clap their hands to the music, while others manage to sleep right through it. Fun though and I am sure they all enjoy it. I met up with an old friend, Joey Swanson, in the Alzheimer’s unit and she said “oh are you down here now?” Sometimes feel maybe I should be. Occasionally, I don’t know whether I am Arthur or Martha

You were neither Arthur nor Martha, my friend. You were a special one. Margaret, Maggie, Mags, whatever we called you, you were one of a kind. And you brought so many people together all over the world. Margaret's son, in reporting her death through her e-mail account said it best: "I miss her so much already." I will also miss all the friends I made through her because she stitched us together, communicating with us all and telling my tales to them and vice versa. I fear that I'll lose track of Babs, Gary, Jim, David, Rusty, Don, Dorothy, Dawn, Colleen, Sue, Brian, Buntu, two Andrews, Beatrice, Bryan, Patricia, Francois, Nick, Penny, Vaughn, Ralph, June, Ann, Paul, another Ann, Tom and many others. It was fun meeting all those folks and more. But Mags brought them to life with her e-mailed stories, too. And no one could do it like she did it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tennis and Stuff

I took up tennis after I got out of college. Before that my entire experience with the sport was a tennis racket my sister used in a college PE course and some discarded balls and a garage door. I'd wanted to take it as a PE course in college myself, but I never managed to get in and dispensed with college PE by taking gymnastics, field hockey, folk dancing and badminton. (PE was required back then. Do they still do that?) I hadn't every played any organized sport save a season of softball when I was eight or nine.

But after college, I was commuting to my job in Dallas with a co-worker from my old college town, Denton. I was taking a graduate course at night or on Saturday or something and living in a ramshackle apartment I'd shared with college friends but was now renting more or less by myself. My friend and co-worker was a good tennis player and showed me how to hit a forehand and a backhand. Using the practice wall at the college and that old racquet, I started playing.

Without ever having a lesson, I built up some simple skill and started hitting for fun with friends. When I moved to Dallas, I got serious playing with co-workers and with a retired guy I met in a bar. I bought another racquet, but it was a discount wooden model (wood was it then) and cost about five bucks. When I moved to Austin, I found a few people to play with and, at some point, organized a USTA team. I was so into tennis! I played, I bought clothes and equipment. People gave me tennis-themed knick-knacks. I coveted all things tennis. I bought my first color TV in 1977 because I noticed in a store that the ball in a tennis match showed up so much better in color.

I finally realized having a team was a lot of work to give other people an opportunity to play tennis. I just played in parks with friends. I had several long-term games where I'd meet a friend in the park at 6:30 or 7, play an hour or an hour and a half and go home, shower and go to work. Or I'd meet a friend early on a Sunday morning and play at the park and then maybe go to a joint for Mexican breakfast. I watched TV coverage intensely. When we got our first VCR, my big focus was recording tennis matches. (That's why I have all these as-yet-undiscarded VHS tapes of twenty-year-old McEnroe matches and such. Yes, they are deteriorated. But I'm still having trouble tossing them.) I used to have an elaborate Breakfast at Wimbledon party, complete with multiple TVs, pastry, coffee, champagne, strawberries and cream and tennis and Wimby-themed door prizes.

I finally decided that tennis was too complicated and made me buy too much stuff. Not to mention inspiring others to give me tennis-themed pens, posters, bookmarks, etc. I still buy new shoes now and then and have my tennis racket restrung or regripped. I have an oversize Wilson Hammer of composite something and it is about ten years old. I bought a backpack tennis bag I intend to keep for a long time. I have to buy balls, of course. If I find a case at Costco, I'll buy them and use them for a year since other people pop cans all the time in my games. I have three pairs of shorts I like to play tennis in and some polo shirts. I have to get a new cap now and then due to profuse sweating. My current favorite is grimy and rusting from a metal button in the crown. I bought some wonderful new socks the other day but only after I had discovered severe wear in the ones that were used over and over, for tennis and gym. These new high tech ones are reserved for tennis now.

In 2000, we joined a tennis club. I didn't immediately find a lot of games at the club and they restrict guests to two visits a month. But gradually I became a substitute for regular fun doubles games that had been going on for years and for teams organized by others. Now I play two or three times a week. I'd like to play more singles but so it goes. There is a singles championship coming up and maybe I'll sign up for that in the duffer division. (Actually they are ranked by USTA levels.)

I've greatly reduced the 'stuff' and bother surrounding my tennis passion, though. There are some towels, head bands and wrist bands in my bag and my spare glasses with the clip on sun glasses and a spare hat in case I forget one. I try to have a new can of balls at ready in case it's my turn. I give away the used balls mostly although I have some in the trunk in a ball hopper in case I'm inspired to practice my serve. Which I rarely am.

In going through my stuff I've found some tennis 'souvenirs' (other than those old tapes) and think maybe I'll offer them to the kids who run my club's tennis programs. Somewhere around here I have a Wilson T2000.

And the picture? (You still reading?) Well, it's a bendable posable figure of a tennis player. But, I think, maybe not one I own. Maybe it is one someone was selling on ebay. Then again, who knows? Because the boxes of bendable posable figures are still lurking under the stairs.

Tennis is still my passion. But I'm not so into the stuff of tennis anymore. Nor likely to organize a tennis event or give a tennis-themed party. Still, after I escape from the year of real estate heck, carefully timed for the year of world real estate crisis, I plan to try to make trips to each of the grand slam tennis tournaments (in London, Paris, Melbourne and New York). And, OK, maybe I'll bring back a little souvenir!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Complicating VS. Simplifying

Simplifying is what I'm all about just now. It's taken a sad turn, though, with the death of our 'last pet.' We knew we wouldn't get another pet when we lost her and we knew it was coming. In the past, we had 'overlap pets.' We initially got another dog for company for our first pound pup, Lucky. Lucky came to us in 1981, fully grown, probably a year or year-and-a-half old. That second dog was an Old English Sheep Dog. His name was Oscar. Some of our friends called him 'Damn Lucky.' Because he was adopted from the pound even though he was a pure bred dog. He wasn't 'show quality.' Anyway, Oscar just got eleven years of life and after his passing the younger Chalow was adopted from another family (they got her from the pound) and we found out she was born around the time of Oscar's death. Lucky got seventeen years (he always was Lucky!) and gave it up in 1997. Chalow carried the canine role around here admirably until last Monday. In this picture she basks in the morning sun while waiting for someone to come along at the front door. In the last few weeks, she was too deaf or weak to muster much response to the mailman and we were forced to listen for him or check on his arrival ourselves.

It will be simpler not owning a pet. But one spends the first five or six decades of one's life complicating things before we realize that simplifying is the order of the day. By then entropy is chasing us relentlessly. And we will never win. A full life, in some ways, is a complicated one, with other creatures to look after and trip over, with drawers and cabinets and closets full of things we've acquired, art we love on the walls, a place stamped with our personality. But after a while things press down on us and we have to look to more lightness.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Chalow Preece-Ball April 29, 1991 (est) -- September 10, 2007

Life is simple for dogs. Food, pats, elimination. Mommy and Daddy will decide when you need a bath, a dip, a visit to the vet. Have a nasty tumor? No insurance? Mom and Dad will pay for surgery and have it sent to A&M for evaluation. Liver failing? No matter. Special diet and expensive pills available. M&D will get for you. Sadly, we have to make a lot of decisions for our little furry creatures. We made the hardest one for Chalow yesterday. Her pendulous tumors weighed so much that her weight was unchanged in spite of a lack of muscle tissue around her bones. She was having trouble standing and walking and was incontinent more and more. She finally seemed miserable after putting on a brave face through many illnesses and troubles.

I'll miss walking her and taking pictures of her cute little face (before the gray nose and cloudy eyes) in different settings. We've had one or two dogs in the house for twenty-six years. People would ask about the dog going to the condo. I knew that she wouldn't last that long and it made me sad. But that's life. Chalow was sixteen years and four months old. She was born approximately the same time that we lost our Old English Sheepdog, Oscar. We always said she had his soul. It was a good, cuddly, loving soul. Hopefully, it's inhabiting a fluffy puppy at this moment.

Friday, September 07, 2007

So...How Did That Go?

I'm feeling less anxious about everything. And, in spite of the Wall Street Journal's assertions, Austin is still not so full of itself about designer dresses as you might think. The swells in this picture are having a fine time, though. That's us in the middle. My outfit is thrift store and hand-me-downs but some found it clever. (Most expensive item by far was the Cole Haan tuxedo pumps.) FFP consulted his fashion gurus and they said in sultry Austin a white dinner jacket on September 6th was fine. And the good news about not owning a bunch of designer dresses? I won't have to figure out what to do with them when I move to the condo. My dozen pairs of Levis are another matter.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Twinge of Regret

In late 2003 and early 2004, we put up with a remodeling contractor to build the perfect master bedroom suite. I took this picture shortly after we'd finished furnishing. I'm not sure it came out perfect (what ever does?) but I really love the room with its bed, sitting area, furnishings and the closet and bathroom. Am I getting a little twinge of regret at having to leave all this space and storage for a smaller place? Yeah. I think I'll get over it, though. We are going to buy a lot of new furnishings for the condo so it will both fit (space-wise) and fit in. One of my regrets is all the 'perfectly good' furniture we will give up along with, of course, some junky stuff left over from ages ago.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Fashion Emergency

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had a front page story about high-end stores and brands infiltrating (for want of a better word) smaller markets. Date line? Austin, Texas. This has certainly happened in the Domain center. (See fancy shop window here.) Anyway, in this article they quoted some women I know about how they had all these new designer gowns for the upcoming black tie season. Um. OK. They say the season will start tomorrow night at a gala for Ballet Austin. Um. Yeah. I was just planning on flipping through my various excuses for finery, none from designers of note. And going to that event.

I really envy men. A couple of tuxes, some suspenders, ties, cummerbunds, tasteful black pumps, maybe a white dinner jacket. The tuxedo look for women pops up now and then. I embraced the simplicity. I got a real tux tailored for me. Paired it with tuxedo shirts or a silver shiny turtle neck. I even have a white dinner jacket. I think I got it at a secondhand store for twenty bucks. This party is so early in the season, that FFP plans to wear his dinner jacket.

I have worn gowns. But designer gowns. Nope. I got married in a dress I bought for $35.

So tomorrow night, among the designer gowns, I'm be the one in some dowdy black velvet pants and some top I find in the back of the closet. It said in this column that the reporters ask women now what they are wearing. In other words, who designed it. Something tells me, though, that they won't be asking me!

By the way, the photo was taken Monday of the window of the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store on South Congress. I love the way the mannequin has tossed aside those uncomfortable-looking red high heels and adopted a bored sprawl more suited to a pair of old jeans. You can see yours truly (in a polo and jeans) snapping the picture. Oh, and speaking of those heels. Did I mention that I have a pair of flat tuxedo pumps and, whatever outfit I have, that's what I'll be wearing to festively inaugurate Ballet Austin's new home tomorrow night?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Where's My Hat? Where's My Head?

This is a shot of some junk on offer a couple of years ago at, I believe, Uncommon Objects on South Congress.

Here are some thoughts I've been having lately: (1) Do I need all these hats? (2) How many copies of James Joyce's Ulysses do I need? (3) How many flashlights do we need in the condo?

We have about four dozen caps, I'll bet. And hats, too. Some are mine. I never wear hats any more. A cap on the tennis court until it gets too grubby and I switch to a newer one. Or buy one at the pro shop when I've forgotten one.

I'm reading a copy of Ulysses I bought in Dublin. But I think there are two more copies of it in the house.

The other night the power went out. I know we have a bunch of flashlights around here but it took me a few minutes to find the first one, then to find two more for FFP and the house guest. (Finding the second and third was made easier by the first! Isn't it frustrating how you try to flip on lights when the power is out?) We'll have a lot fewer rooms and spots to put things in the condo. That'll be a good thing, I think. Bet I'll still forget where I put the flashlights. Of course, with the house you always have the ace in the hole of stumbling out to the car and getting one. I've stocked the cars with the wind-up type which dispels the disappointment of finding one with dead batteries. In the condo, the car will be in the garage a couple of floors down.

Yeah. I'm sure it would be better to ponder world peace, the war in Iraq or why the Texas Longhorns could barely win over powerhouse Arkansas State. Still. Hats, books and flashlights. Much more tractable.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Yeah, I'm Here

Before the rain we walked to the coffee shop (Pacha) today and I took this picture of one of the Rosedale denizens idea of yart art. Our own junk left by the SUV load today. I would have snapped a picture but a lady representing the venerable Settlement Home garage sale came by and we loaded her up with what was, to be honest, a bunch of so-so stuff. It was stuff however. And it's gone. Oh, some of it was interesting. But still. Gone.

If you miss me when I fail to come over here, by the way, I've been pretty assiduous at Austin Daily Photo. Not as interesting, of course, as downsizing. Or is it?

Pretty slow day at the ranch today. Watching tennis from New York. (Nice weather there.) Watching it rain. Managed a trip to the gym for sweatification.