Monday, December 31, 2007

No Resolutions! None!

Today's photo was taken yesterday on Second Street. It's really a portrait of a friend of mine. You can see her back in the striped shirt if you blow the picture up by clicking. This is as close to getting a picture taken as she likes to get.

This is the penultimate day of Holidailies. Which I like. Because of the opportunity to use the word penultimate if for no other reason. That's one reason I write. I love words. Today's writing prompt is "For 2008, I resolve ..." but we all know I need no prompts to write. Er type. (I used to have a feature on my online journal in days of yore called 'Just Typing!')

No. Resolutions. For 2008. None will be necessary, you see. It is going to be a year that pulls me along through already promised actions and firmly-made commitments. We are buying a different, very much smaller place to live. We have to fix up our current place and sell it. We are committed to caring for our parents and they will hopefully celebrate their 88th, 92nd and 98th birthdays. They need us to look into things. The IRS and other taxing authorities have commitments lined out for us. I will follow my commitments from day to day, dutifully doing my best to fulfill them with ample reminders from real estate entities, the governments and my dad and in-laws.

Oh, I've made resolutions in the past. And even relentlessly tracked my so-called progress against those goals.

Last year, I decided to just recycle some resolutions. That itself says something. I then proceeded to examine the ones I thought I should try to give attention to. There was exercise. There was the save money thing. The old 'write more' illusion. Lots of talk and little doing.

This year I have to do more and talk (write) less. I'm afraid I'll be forced to. to the gym before they close early for the holiday.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


Here I am yesterday at a friend's house for an old school party where people sang, accompanied by a piano. My young friend Kevin Ahart is posing with me. He does tunes like Frank Sinatra would do if he were in his twenties and not gone from this mortal coil for almost a decade. I thought I should choose this picture today because it took FFP three times to keep me from closing my eyes! Kevin is ready for the paparazzi and looked perfect in every shot.

This is the thirtieth day of Holidailies and I have only two more posts to go for a perfect record, posting every day. Which is no great feat for me because I am after all retired and often displacing from other things that I should be doing.

The writing prompt for the day is to write about your favorite Holidailies post (yours or someone else's). That's pretty daunting because of course I would choose someone else's but I barely scratched the surface reading other people's posts. I did read the ones chosen by the panel as 'best of' the portal. And I looked at the portal and wandered by random places. I found one contributor, Melanie, who was especially funny and made good use of the medium by showing a bunch of funny reject Christmas card designs. I like her sentiment when showing the world her real card, though: "Merry Christmas, Internet. I love you like a sister, or maybe a really pervy uncle."

I also found this gal funny, especially this entry which was admittedly, one of only a few I actually read.

Yeah, because it's hard to write and read on the Internet when you have new Christmas books, a pile of newspapers and, you know, other duties. Like holiday drinking and taking your dad on banking excursions and visiting with people who are only here this time of year and all. Also I had to put all the Christmas cards I received in a data base so I would know that I got 110 cards and 39 had family photos. Because I know what is important, right?

Hmmm...I never had trouble making an entry every day because I apparently don't need writing prompts or anything. I will just type and say nothing. I'm signing off and going to the gym and then I'm eating a huge brunch with friends without apology. Well...I know I'll eat the brunch. We'll see about the gym.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Time and Space

I was feeling an extra dollop of my usual end-of-year not exactly depression but, well, a sadness. It has nothing to do with the holidays, really. It's just that a year-end and a quarter-end means all kinds of taxes and stuff that just aren't fun. Plus it's only a few months until I want to get my stuffed pared down to condo-size and close on another home so we will temporarily have too many homes.

Today's picture shows a little miniature store full of miniature things. It belonged to my mother After she died, I gave almost all the miniatures away. She had a lot of them. I gave most of them to my sister in Colorado but a few to other people to remember her. I photographed a lot of them before I packed them to give away. How funny is this? A miniature pile of 'stuff' in a miniature junk store.

Anyway, so yeah, I was feeling sad. I'm always a little overwhelmed by W2/W3/1040/Texas Workforce/Sales Tax/Property Tax/Franchise Tax/941 and such and with the added stress of closing another residence and getting rid of all this stuff, it just was sort of taking the joy out of life.

And really there is nothing sadder in a way than going through a box of souvenirs from trips and wondering about the person you were and the person you wanted to become and never did. We have gotten rid of a bunch of stuff, though. Besides all the stuff I mentioned the other day, the garbage can got stuffed with a bunch of old business diaries of FFP's. And one of his old clients will send someone over to get press clippings and stuff he uncovered from the mid-eighties. I was pondering what to get rid of and what to keep out of some kitchen stuff that we had. Then I dropped and broke a ceramic oven/microwave pan. And, well, there you go. That's one the mover definitely won't have to deal with.

I'm cheering up somewhat now, caught in the space between the holidays when it's still too early to really deal with any of the tax forms and it's easy to take a small break from downsizing and go to a few parties and watch movies. And drink a little. Besides...I'm cautiously optimistic that my dental problems are getting better in some kind of maybe permanent way now that I've recovered from the root canal. Here's hoping.

So, really, no worries, right? I am pretty healthy, not hurting much of anywhere, can probably get all the taxes filed and paid (with a little professional help), can probably pull off buying the condo and when push comes to shove, get rid of all the junk in this house. And what, after all, can I do about any of it on a Saturday night in the holiday gulch between Christmas and New Year's Day? I think I'll just have a drink and do a little reading.

Friday, December 28, 2007

From Too Little to Too Much

I had written about it before but I spent twenty minutes searching for the words. Amazingly, although I wrote the words over ten years ago for WEB posting, I did find them. One day, way back then, I was feeling pressure to enjoy all the books, magazines, newspapers, movies, TV and such that was readily available to me. Not unlike, um, now.

Today some Holidailies participants are donating to First Book, an organization that gets books into the hands of children who would not otherwise have them. As I teeter (on a stack of books) at the other end of the scale, it isn't that I don't remember being on the other end of that spectrum. I do. I never want to be without words, pictures and tunes. Without input. I especially don't want to be without books.

But I still wonder when it went from too little to too much.

Here's what I wrote in 1997:


It's a media-rich world. There's never been more to read, to see, to hear. Or is it an assault, a river that is roaring by with no time for us to grab something and understand how to stay afloat?

I keep trying to decide when the input went from not enough to too much. I still remember when I was a kid, hungry for input. We never had enough books to suit me and I even 'played school' with some ancient school books that had the scribbles left there by my own mother and aunt. When we went to the State Fair in Dallas, we'd collect a sack full of automobile, agricultural and kitchen appliance brochures. We'd carefully review the bright pictures and fill our dreams with them. Once the Sears catalog had been put to use by my mother, I made paper dolls out of the clothing ads and gave my cutout kids the latest toys. (One of those thirty- or forty-year-old catalogs or a sack of those brochures would be an interesting view of my world at the time.) In those days, my mother bought a few magazine subscriptions with our meager budget. It was usually LIFE or LOOK, but once she tried to order Harper's but got, instead, Harper's Bazaar and our lower middle class household (where we mostly wore clothes made from Simplicity patterns) suddenly had a monthly view of the fashion world. A handsome high school boy delivered the 'Sherman Democrat' on foot. It was a skinny paper, but it was the only one we usually saw. I remember sitting on the porch waiting for his arrival. I can't remember, however, if I wanted to read the paper or was interested in how to get a paper route when I got old enough. (I don't think they ever let girls do it in my time, though.)

The TV signed off at midnight or so, I think. We did have all the major networks, but that's it. No remotes and how much fun is surfing three channels anyway? When we got our first TV we still lived on the farm. Mother bought it with bingo winnings at the American Legion hall. My favorite show was 'Sky King.' Hit Parade or something like that had settings and singers do the top songs each week and had to try to keep 'Davy, Davy Crockett' fresh for most of a year. (I got the girl's version of the coonskin hat which was a more feminine rabbit fur and happily the decidedly unfeminine pocket knife.)

In college (North Texas State, now U of NT), I worked in the campus bookstore. Suddenly there were plenty of books and magazines around, the huge library was close by on campus. I was pretty broke, but money wasn't necessary to get input. We had some lulls in the textbook department where I worked. When there was no one to wait on for long periods of time, we could read books and magazines and then put them back on the shelf. It was during this time that I became addicted to 'The New Yorker'--an addiction that I haven't been able to shake to this day. Often, I had to actually pay the quarter of fifty cents (I know it was less than a dollar then) so I could take the magazine home and finish it. Doesn't sound like much, but I think I only got seventy cents an hour. Fortunately, they let us run up a bill and charge everything until payday.

A little over twenty years ago, I was still watching a few channels on a black and white TV, and still couldn't really afford as many books as I would have liked to have around, if unread. At this time computing wasn't exploding and changing so fast either and I thought I might one day feel masterful in my work. I could only dream of having my own computer. An independent San Antonio station picked up a nightly soap opera about this time called 'All That Glitters.' Norman Lear had followed his 'All in The Family' success with 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.' Less successful and very edge, this was followed by 'All That Glitters.' It never even got aired by a network, I don't think. I bring it up because we watched it every night, enthralled at its radical concept: women were powerful in society and men were weak. From this premise, it was easy to put episodes together, the most everyday thing becoming twisted. I bring it up because we had so little to choose from compared to the late '90s, but here was this gem, too radical for its time. Actress Linda Gray was there, pre-Dallas, playing a woman who used to be a man in an upside down world. Sometimes we think we dreamed this TV show since so few people saw it. In fact, I recently spent a half hour or so on the WEB looking for something else on this show. Found a wonderful story about the making of 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.' But 'All That Glitters' seems to have vanished from consciousness. In contrast, I have seen one 'X Files' from beginning to end and no complete 'Ellen' shows. But I saw many episodes of a TV show that seems to have never existed.

One day in 1977 we bought a color TV. It was small, but had a good picture. Tennis was starting to be televised more widely (i.e. not just on public television) and Wimbledon was on. I could actually almost see the ball on this TV. I carefully planned to be in front of the TV for tennis events then. In 1997, I did not manage to see more than a couple of shots of the French Open. This in spite of having a color TV in almost every room. As I write this, a tiny Sony with a two-inch screen is showing a crisp picture of this year's Wimbledon. I imagine I'll soon be distracted from watching rain delays and tapes of the week's matches, I'm sure, by some other activity like this WEB page, or doing my real work---my work machine is sitting nearby as an affront. In fact, we have several dozen channels of cable, mostly unwatched and mostly deserving it, I guess. When we surf, we end up on 'The Simpsons,' an old black and white movie or the history channel; sometimes the sound track is a selection of jazz and classical CDs. Late at night, we might be taking in British sit-coms or old episodes of 'Perry Mason.' We are, however, usually asleep in our chairs as they play. We've recently discovered the Mike Judge cartoon, 'King of the Hill' but funny as it is, it's hard to get in front of the TV at the appointed hour.

Today I own unlistened to CDs, unread books and the unread papers and magazines are piling up. Meanwhile there is information on the WEB that I'm dying to read and study. I simply don't know where to start. I think people who aren't readers, who aren't naturally curious, are happier today than I am because they aren't torn about what information to consume next. Sure maybe surfing channels is getting more confusing, but as an input hungry person, I'm truly overwhelmed. It reminds me of a robot in some movie without, for me, a name (because I've watched it in randomly ordered fifteen minute increments from cable and missed the title). 'Input!' says Johnny Five in a pleading voice. Then he consumes every book in the house and sits up all night consuming TV. I want to do that, but I keep falling asleep or daydreaming. I don't have the robot's stamina.

Well, off to read a book or a magazine or surf the WEB or look at that great shot Venus just made!

Is that funny? I still feel this way, overwhelmed by books and magazines and media. Things once precious to me, still precious to me that I have so much of that I literally can't consume them. Books still call out to me and, when I listen, satisfy something deep inside me. I feel for people who don't desire books and information. And I feel for kids who don't have enough books! Once I was that kid. Somewhere along the line, I reached a tipping point. I'm not sorry either. My worst fear is to be trapped somewhere without words. Even without Internet access or TV, I could be happy if there were enough books and magazines. Better too many than too few.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why I 'Diblog'

I just coined this word, 'diblog', as a combination of 'diary' and 'blog.' (I'm sure someone else already coined a word for this or thinks blog is sufficient or thinks, as I once did, that you should just call it a journal and journaling.)

You see, I want to write. I do. But all I do is write journals, diaries, scribbles, blogs, online journals, whatever. As it says in the blurb to the right: "Pretending to write but really just blogging."

But what I do isn't exactly blogging. Depending on what you mean by blogging. Sure I provide links and take the occasional stand on the issues of the day or write what would pass for an essay now and then. But mostly this venue is really personal. Sometimes it is very much in the spirit of 'what I did today.' Like a diary. My writing outside this venue, offline, in notebooks and Word documents on my computer is very much in that diary vein. I do have what I consider a real blog (The Journal Of Unintended Consequences) but it doesn't get updated nearly as often as this space. I have a picture blog, too, that gets updated every day (Austin, Texas Daily Photo) but the writing is secondary if often voluminous. It's about the pictures or is supposed to be.

Visible Woman and my writing offline has always been diary-like for the most part. Or it's a journal if you will. I cannot seem to complete a book, article, essay. I have completed a few (unpublished) short stories. And yet this year I have written thousands of words of 'diblog' here and over two hundred pages in offline Word documents.

Why do I do whatever you call this? Well, I think I know.

One of the main reasons is that everything is more easily dealt with once it's translated into words and put down on paper or in pixels.

Another reason is because I want to have my say and not really be edited by anyone. I get comments, but I can moderate them. I can accept edits sent in although they rarely are. FFP will point out typos and mistakes and I can edit them if I wish. No editor is trying to keep me on point, trying to puff things up or slim them down.

And yet I love to edit myself. With my online musings and my Word docs I can edit anything at any time. I was just pondering writing this and I went back and looked at an almost eight-year-old entry on my old WEB site and I wanted to remove a single period. So I did. What power! Once you write a book it's nice to see the permanence of it...but wouldn't you be itching to edit it?

And finally I 'diblog' because I want to remember what I did today and yesterday and I seriously will completely forget if I don't write or type it down somewhere. See those old paper journals above? I was glancing through one of them and I was writing about having our Old English Sheepdog put down. In 1991. Of course, this is something I remember doing and even the approximate time. But the other things going on at the same time, forgotten. Except I wrote in that book.

So yeah that's why I'm here (or over there or inside my own computer) writing what I do. Because I want to deal with my demons, be heard, avoid editors but always be able to edit and, years from now, remember where I was and what I was thinking. I'm not here trying to influence anyone else or become famous. I'm not seeking readers. So, no I'm not sure why I join things like Holidailies because I'm not really seeking readers which is one purpose of portals. Fact is, for a long time I purposely did NOT join portals. I even went to a conference for online journal writers (JournalCon they called it) one year before the word was 'blog' and listed my name in the program without a WEB site!

By the way...I spent my morning at my club playing tennis and then working out a little. I drank an espresso smoothie at the club. This afternoon I ate a chicken sandwich. I changed the filter on my coffee machine. We considered going to a movie but decided to stay home and watch the bowl game with the Texas Longhorns playing. I plan to read, do some things on my 'to do' list and maybe watch a DVD. Just in case I forget later what was up with me on December 27, 2007.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Reading List

Those following along at home know that we have been downsizing. We don't know how many books we have given away but it is measured in hundreds, I think. There are still lots of books living here and a few more after Christmas presents. FFP bought me the Woody Allen one. (We caught part of "Hannah and Her Sisters" for the umpteenth time last night while I was starting to read that one.) On the bottom of the stack is Ulysses. I've been reading it for a while in fits and starts. I'm more than halfway through it. I dug up the The Namesake (as I mentioned a few days ago) after watching the movie and started reading it. The Anthony Bourdain book was an unexpected gift from a friend. She doesn't know we owned Kitchen Confidential (although where it is I haven't a clue) and have been to Les Halles in New York (his restaurant). She just thought it sounded neat. Yeah, I started reading it, too. The other books in this stack came from my sister and they were straight from my wish list, I must admit. I started one yesterday. My dad said he'd be interested to read Krakatoa when I finished so must get on that one. I think I'm in the process of reading at least six books at the moment. And my newspaper pile is a sight to behold.

So I guess it's no surprise that last night, after the parents grew weary of celebrating, I enjoyed sitting in my easy chair and reading a few sections of newspaper, working a puzzle or two and then picking up a book and reading a bit of it. Then repeating that process. We also watched a DVD of "Junebug." And bits of other random television. Can you say ADD?

It's really my favorite part of Christmas when it's over but everything is closed and you can't go out and you have to sit home and read. As the night drew to a close, though, I grew a little sad. Because we were in this house for perhaps our last Christmas. Because our parents were growing so old. Because it was the end of the year with lots of tax and bookkeeping stuff looming. Because we have so much downsizing left to do. But the reading comforted me. The feel of a new book, the nice paper, the letters, the words, the connections to things that interest me.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Hoiday Cards 2007

No, this didn't appear on a card that I received. Although the bendie guys might appear on a card I send one day. Here some of them enjoy the offerings of the liquor cart.

I sent about 200 cards, I think. Only a couple were returned with bad addresses. I keep a pretty tight data base. I received, as of Christmas Eve, according to my data base, 98 holiday greetings. Twenty-one were (primarily) from businesses or charities. Seven included those mass mailing letters. Cleverest awards for those go to a guy I used to work with and to my niece who wrote from the POV of her one-year-old child. I like the letters. Keep 'em coming. Twenty-nine people wrote a personal note beyond the usual signature and 'happy holidays' or something. Thirty-five had photos of children, the whole family or some subset. I didn't count how many included pets but I think there were four or more dogs. Ten asserted religious themes enough to get that box ticked in the data base. And two were well into the 'peace' message. I think you see the trend. There are more people who send you pictures of themselves (or children or pets) than there are who assert religion or write a personal note or even a mass-mailing letter.

The dominant decorations seemed to be snow, holly, poinsettias. Innocuous and unoffensive. (Which is not to say that I'm offended by religious imagery or Santa Claus myths or any of the rest. I'm not. Bring on the manger, the elves. Fine with me.) My favorite card came from a business (but one run by a dear friend). It was a little fold-out three-dimensional wagon decorated with a wreath and the greeting to insert in it.

Not one card qualified as handmade. (We don't give handmade points for printing a letter on the computer or getting a photo card made.)

I enjoyed the ritual this year as much as in years past. It's better than gifts, lights, decorations and maybe even parties. Just a brief, once-a-year, howdy. A wave of the hand but still a connection.

Have Your Self A Merry Little Christmas

We went to a tamale feed (actually they had all kinds of Tex-Mex including chili and inexplicably, coconut shrimp) and drinks party some folks gave at Santa Rita Cantina since they are sort of between houses. This is a peek in a tiny home furnishing store in the same shopping center, 26 Doors. After Christmas, life-size Santas and elaborate nutcrackers can be yours to store for next year---at a discount.

My title today is a song. Of course, you say. But what movie is it from and who sang it? That's my trivia question for today in honor of Jette, one of our hosts for Holidailies. Jette is, of course, a movie expert and published critic.

We plan to take our parents quite early to Threadgill's for a feed. Then back here to open gifts. Which reminds me: must turn the heat up a bit in the 'opening gifts' room.

From the song mentioned, a song twinged with sadness because of the circumstances of the movie, "Through the years we will all be together, if the fates allow." We don't know what 2008 will bring, but celebrate with your loved ones who are close by today and "make the yuletide gay."

Monday, December 24, 2007

No Nightmares, Maybe Just a Bad Dream or Two

I have been downsizing while not saying too much about it. And that brought me to a dilemma mentioned here. I decided that I could keep the Christmas-themed bendable figures. The others, unless they were very old or special, had to be gotten rid of somehow. FFP had decided to let go of a box of National Lampoons and a couple of boxes of research material for something he was interested in at one time. This necessitated getting into the under the stairs storage area and going through stuff. I needed to do something to acknowledge Christmas since a friend was coming by to honor the jigsaw puzzle tradition and our parents would hopefully visit for the opening of gifts. I pulled almost everything out from the under the stairs storage. Including the Christmas stuff which includes these three Jack Skellington figures shown in the pictue. (Reminder to self: I need to rent that movie. "Nightmare Before Christmas" that is.) I put out most of the Christmas decor I have in our media room. It does look oddly festive although there are no lights nor candles.

I actually sent FFP to the thrift store with sacks and sacks of bendables. Including some MOC (mint on card). They took his Lampoons, too. (A friend took the research material.) He made two trips and, on the second, said that there were Toy Story bendies out for sale from the first trip. I also pulled out a few figures for my nephews in Colorado and a bunch for the toy box at my dad's. A lot of them were new with tags and all. I have already used those to create a stocking for my dad's little neighbor (who is four) when he wanted to give him something. I understand that my dad gave it to him just before he was off with his parents on a trip to Grandma's. I got a stocking out of the heavily marked-down goods at the grocery, added some candy and put in bendies of dogs and other animals.

The result was many cubic feet of 'stuff' that are no longer in the house. Yes, I still have a couple of cubic feet of Christmas decorations that I plan to store in the condo storage unit. I have another box of my favorites and some really old figures that I haven't given up. But a lot of stuff is gone. Or at my dad's and queued up to be gone. I also found a few boxes of what we call 'parts is parts.' Old wires, cables, computer accessories (mice, speakers) and such. I Freecycled (through a local Yahoo group) a couple of cubic feet of stuff.

So I've shed a few things and I've decorated this house. Maybe for the last time since we are hoping to sell next year. I don't really have any nightmares before Christmas but I had a few disturbing dreams last night about India (as a result of watching "The Namesake" on DVD last night). (Reminder to self: read the book after you find it. Oh, there it is on top of the filing cabinet waiting to be cataloged. Just as I thought.) In the bright light of day, I'm having a few bad feelings, too. I spoke to my dad this morning and he was breathless from retrieving his newspaper. He said that his amaryllis plant had to be propped up because the blossoms made it top-heavy and he made this sound like a big effort. When I offered to pick him up for our Christmas outing tomorrow, he said that he would come over here "if he felt like doing it at all." Dad is putting off going to some doctors until after the holiday. I'm letting him because I think that there is little they can do. He's already been to the doctor about one problem and this confirmed my feelings. He has been repeatedly treated for the other problem, always with mixed results and interim suffering. Ah, well, 2008 might be a year of sitting in waiting rooms or waiting on my dad if things like trips to the curb for the paper get too overwhelming. I don't expect nightmares, I'm an optimist. But I'm having a bad day dream or two.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

That Was Then

The year is 1962. My sister was graduating from High School. My mom was receiving her Master's Degree in Education from Austin College in Sherman. She is holding two bound copies of her thesis about the effect of ability grouping on elementary children's test scores. We were kids. (I was fourteen or fifteen.) Still we helped type drafts of that tome. Because, after all, this was a couple of decades before personal computers.

Mom was proud to get that degree. It allowed her to keep teaching in her school system. Yes, teachers with five years experience had to have an advanced degree for those low-paying jobs! I have never understood the sacrifices teachers made then. Or now.

Notice that the wall is pretty bare. It was in my sister's room. She had that lamp and a little shelf with some tiny things on it. It looks like she has quite a few books, but I think that shelf had a lot of the books the family owned. My sister did have a little record player and some '45s and albums. Our life was simple. That record player, a black and white TV in another room and the simple camera that took this picture was the extent of our technology. I think my mother was driving a 1958 Oldsmobile then. It was pink and black and something to see.

Before I get lost in nostalgia...I promise to come back to Christmas 2007 tomorrow.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A New Tradition

This is my mom. The picture was taken, according to a date written on the back by, I'm guessing, my sister in December 1978. My mom is obviously finishing off a homemade Christmas decoration. Hmmm. Well, I have put out my collection of (mostly) bendable posable Christmas toys and a few things like that in one room of our house and put all the cards sent in another. But handmade stuff? Not me.

Last night FFP and I decided to make a new tradition for the Friday before Christmas. We decided while others were doing last minute shopping or going to parties that we would first have some house-smoked salmon and a glass of wine at Houston's and then go to the Alamo Village and eat and drink even more while watching a just-released movie.

OK, maybe it's just this one year but it seems like a good idea, movies being released on Friday and all.

The movie? "Charlie Wilson's War." I had some jalapeño poppers and a Guinness and some French Fries FFP left on something he ordered. The movie was a delight, I thought. Ignoring the political implications it was just a bunch o' fun. At the expense of Texans? Yeah, maybe, but I thought Julia and Tom (and others in the cast) represented a certain type of Texan in a somewhat accurate way without either elevating their flaws to good qualities or making complete caricatures of them. If that makes sense. It's entertaining folks. Go home later and wonder about Afghanistan and Iraq and the fall of Communism and who to blame for what later. The movie should pique your curiosity anyway.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Nothing Taboo Today

I'm going to talk about whatever I want to today, particularly the briefly banished subjects of holiday spirit and downsizing. Because I make the rules after all. I also have a rule that the picture doesn't have to have too much to do with the words! But I'll reach for a tie-in.

I went through an album of pictures, mostly ones rescued from aging cheap albums my mother had kept, that I have in those inert plastic sheets in a sturdy storage case. Eventually I hope to sort through all the photos, getting some scanned in, some discarded (hmmm...what landscape is this?) and consolidating them as much as possible. This is tedious at best, but is an ongoing thing that I have worked on at least. This is the type of downsizing that is most tedious. Really personal things are hard to deal with. In other downsizing news, we have gotten pickups of several loads of 'stuff' and taken two car loads to the thrift store.

This particular picture was actually taken on a holiday. Thanksgiving 1967. And yes I have on shorts. Because we are in Florida. That is my aunt, Dad's youngest sister next to me. She was still in the Navy then, stationed in Pensacola. I am not yet twenty which means she is in her late thirties. My dad and mom are there. Mom is writing a letter to my sister. I know this because I wrote on the back of the picture. Dad looks tired. Maybe he did most of the driving to get us to Pensacola.

I loved holidays at this age. And I adored this aunt who was in the Navy and had adventures (or so I thought) when I was a kid. She was married at this point, but for less than two years, to a Marine.

What is so odd to me about this trip is that I remember almost nothing about it and have had to be reminded that I was ever there. I know I would have been excited to spend Thanksgiving with my aunt. I think two of my dad's other sisters went along. Those two aunts (one younger than my dad, one older) never married and I adored them because they doted on me and all the other nieces and nephews. I loved being with them. This picture was taken with my Polaroid camera. But I don't know who took it.

This trip is in a mist for some reason. A trip I took to Pensacola in the summer of '66 is vivid. I got to fly for the first time. My friend and I drove my aunt's car around while she was at work on the base.

I wish I remembered more about this time. I guess we had a turkey dinner. Why can't I find more pictures? [Ed. Note: You might find more pictures from this trip if you weren't blogging all the time.]

What about those other banished topics? I'm reserving the right to talk about teeth at a later time. But my holiday spirit has probably been raised as far as it's going to get. I opened a few boxes of decor and put them around our big room. I found the video fireplace with the Christmas music. And a good friend is going to come over for coffee or tea tomorrow and we are going to work for a little while on a jigsaw puzzle. My friend wants to capture that sort of Christmas feeling. It reminds me of my mother. Sadly, my friend has the same cancer my mother did. Happily she's in remission but she has many health problems from the treatment. My mother loved to stare at jigsaw pieces and sip a cup of black coffee. While wearing a Christmas sweater or something, of course. (And hey...look at the blouse in this picture. I told you she liked bright colors!)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Reaching for the Past

I was looking through some old pictures, looking for things to inspire writing this blog for my daily Holidailies experience. I'm looking for something that doesn't touch on the current forbidden topics.

Pictures from my childhood are strange to me. I don't really seem to fathom the child I was. There are only children in this one, but when there are adults in the picture I can't get over how young they are. I'll say "My aunt is over twenty years younger than I am now when this picture was taken." Or "My Dad and Mom are younger in this picture than I am now." I also sometimes linger on one person, thinking "they are dead."

The settings for all these old pictures are generally familiar yet strange especially those before college because when I graduated from high school we pretty much abandoned all the old spots for a set of new ones. (With a few exceptions I may talk about one day.)

The setting of today's picture is strange, too, but in a different way. My sister and I are with my mom and dad's good friends' boys, standing on a picnic table on Mt. Bonnell. I swear the table is still there. There would be more tall buildings poking up behind us than there were in 1955, but I could go to this spot when driving from my club to my house. It's very disconcerting to see my tiny self there. I don't remember much about the trip to Austin. There are pictures of us on Mt. Bonnell and at the Capitol. At the Capitol I have an even more stupid-looking dress if that is possible. One thing I do know: I would have preferred the jeans and T-Shirt look on the boys. (I remember pining to wear jeans my whole life.) And I remember being jealous of the boys' toys. Maybe it wasn't this trip but on one trip I was so jealous because the younger boy had a fort that had this plastic log wall and all these toy frontier soldiers and it took up an entire card table.

And, yes, I know who the boys are and they both still live in Austin I think.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Get Your Cheer Gear On!

I was blown away that this entry about my mom was given a 'best of' by the Holidailies Reader's Panel. This picture was taken in 2000 around Christmas, obviously. Mom had her hair done and was wearing some seasonal earrings (click on the pic...those are snowmen, people!) and a sweatshirt with a cool Santa and some holiday socks you can't see. In a year she would look wan and drawn and, before the Christmas of 2002, she would be dead from compications of Multiple Myeloma. I have no doubt that the cancer was at work here but she was still holding up. Cheerful. Delighted with Christmas. My parents had moved the spring before to Austin. She's in my kitchen but we didn't cook there that holiday. (I only know this by looking back almost seven years in some ill-kempt archives.) Mom had made some food at her house the night before and we'd opened presents. On Christmas Day, when this was taken, we'd gone to the in-laws. I e-mailed this picture to relatives elsewhere as a Christmas greeting from Austin. Christmases fly by, with me motherless. I was a kid that needed mothering, I think. And I got a heavy dose from a beloved grandmother, my mom, my older sister and some aunts. My own life is racing to the end and if I still had my mother she'd probably be frailer than my dad. This morning he has added to his back pain a complaint about leg cramps. And yet he was cooking himself breakfast when I called.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I'll Never Be

Today's writing prompt from Holidailies is "Things I once thought I'd do that I now know I'll never ever do." I offered the prompt back when the portal kicked off so I thought I'd tackle this topic today. I've talked in this space about the delusions I had about retirement, but today I'm going to reach back to the kid you see above, washing dishes on one of our camping trips when I was in my teens. (And no we weren't having TV dinners. We were probably using and reusing those aluminum pans the TV dinners came in pre-microwave.)

So what did that kid dream about? What things never came true? What other dreams did she develop in her twenties that had no real chance of being realized?

I thought I would run my own business empire. I thought I'd become so rich that I'd have a retirement home for all my aging relatives. (I would, of course, not get old.) I'd also be so rich that I'd be a philanthropist of major dimensions and change lives on a daily basis. House the homeless. Feed, clothe and rehab them, too. Support the arts in major ways. I thought I would invent great things. And write novels, self-help books, screenplays and short stories. Most of my dreams were like that. Creating works of art and creating amazing businesses and being wildly successful and then using the money as a force for good that could only be conceived by my brilliant mind. I would have multiple houses. I would have my own gym (stocked with fluffy towels and brand new gym wear for guests in the locker rooms). I would have my own tennis court at this huge house and multiple 'suites' for friends. I'd have lots of help so I didn't cook, clean or worry about the garden or the maintenance. I'd have condos in other cities like New York and Paris. (Although dreaming of Paris was a little beyond the kid in this picture. As was, even, a tennis court!) I'd take trips with entourages of friends, though, that's what I thought. The kid in the picture took trips to campgrounds, sometimes with entourages of cousins and aunts and uncles as well as the parents. (That's my dad in the background.) We looked like we were homeless Okies during the depression, probably. Truly we probably couldn't afford to vacation anywhere else.

Did I really dream about stuff like that while doing chores at a campsite because we couldn't afford a hotel room? Yes. I did. And I continued to dream like that well past the point that I should have known better. As I wind up my sixth decade, though, I know better. Yeah, I do.

I often dreamed of businesses that I'd run. The closest I got to a business of my own was helping FFP with his ad agency which he ran for years. I labored working for the man while he created something of his own. I was too shy, too dreamy, too many things to start my own business. I dreamed, too, of businesses that were unlikely to bring those riches! Bookstores, concierge services, bars.

I dreamed of travel, but it took me until the early seventies to refine the dream to include anything as exotic as Europe. Before that when I studied history and languages and such it seemed impossibly removed. But once I'd quit my first job after college and taken off (at twenty-four) to tramp around Europe with a Eurail Pass I pretty much dreamed of going everywhere and seeing every single important thing. I now know that I'll never go on difficult journeys---no climbing big mountains or going to really dangerous places or to any country where women are chattel.

I could just see me writing all these published works when I was a kid. I thought I was such a talent. Of course, presented with a blank page things evaporated quickly. I actually finished a few short stories, essays and letters to the editor. I never could stay with a project that promised to be the size of a book. I now realize that I'm just blogging. I'm over it.

I pretty much know the extent of my realized and potential riches. They will never cover the major largess and philanthropy I dreamed about. Oddly, even though I sometimes thought I'd find the wherewithal somehow to do those big things I was, at the same time, shocked at what I did manage by working many years and getting a bit lucky, too. I no longer want large sprawling homes with guest quarters and entertainment or multiple homes. Because I know that I can't afford the staff and don't want to be bothered even supervising maintenance. I don't have a cook but, honestly, between eating out and prepared foods from the likes of Whole Foods and Central Market, don't I sort of have my cooking done? I don't have a tennis court, but I can afford a club that has many, some hard and some clay, and I can play and someone else can take care of the property. I didn't build a retirement home for my aging relatives but I did get a house for my dad and my mom to live in here and while Dad is paying his expenses and doesn't have all the help I dreamed about, he has enough for now especially when I pitch in.

You will never see me going off to Iran or climbing Mt. Everest or buying a giant home so you can visit me. I'm pretty sure I won't invent the next big thing or see a pile of books I wrote at Book People. But, I have seen some of France, Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands, Russia, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Israel, South Africa and Australia. I've managed to give some money to help some groups in ways that were meaningful, to me at least.

Maybe that kid's big imagination helped in some way to realize some smaller dreams. Some dreams that are, after all, just enough.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Remembering Mom

You know the topics I'm avoiding? Yeah, those. Well, it's hard to stay true to that because those things have really been occupying my bandwidth and my thoughts. It will even be hard to write about my mother without touching on those topics. But I'll try by going back to a time when everyone was younger, we had lots less stuff and plenty of excitement about Christmas.

I found this picture on my computer. I scanned it at least four years ago because it was in files I transported from desktop computer minus one. I'm guessing 1960's, early. Definitely in the back yard of the house in Sherman. The house we all left in the summer of 1966. By 1966, my sister was already married and I was off to college and this place we'd called home since '58 or so was sold and my parents moved to Mesquite where they would stay until 2000 when they moved to Austin.

Observations: (1) It doesn't usually snow this much in Texas, not even near the Oklahoma border, but we have assembled a credible snow man; (2) my mother looks young and beautiful to me (she was only early forties if not still thirties); (3) she is warmly dressed and the coat might be a few years old but she has an eye to fashion; (4) I have no idea where we got that scarf and hat for the snow man. I don't remember anything about the making of the snow man or the day but the picture makes me think about Mom.

In her later years, we tagged Mom as a hypochondriac. But you know that sad joke? Just because you are a hypochondriac doesn't mean you can't get sick? I'm not all that sure now that she inflated her troubles. She just had the bad luck to have confounding and frustrating illnesses that dealt her big blows without getting the solid diagnoses that garner sympathy from doctors and family and friends.

Actually, Mom soldiered on when she was young and healthy, largely ignoring how hard physically and emotionally her life really was. She cooked for us, got an education and taught school to help support us, labored around the house, drove us places, nursed us, made clothes for us, cleaned those clothes. And she made sure that we had fun times. She let us give parties. She decorated for holidays and found money for Santa and then surprises from her as we got older. We didn't have a lot of stuff. I have pictures from this era that amaze me because the walls of the house are so bare. We didn't have a lot of paintings or things to hang on the wall. Mom had grown up poor and started her marriage in a house with no electricity and a propane heater. She treasured things she managed to get and she loved that house which we bought new in the late fifties in a little subdivision in a small town. The small town was big to us because we came from a smaller town and we lived on a farm outside town at that.

My mother always made my young life better although she also made me do chores and enforced her rules. She cherished us. She loved having us at home and she would tolerate our friends much more than other parents.

Mom loved the holidays and there was never a question of decorating. We had ornaments collected over her life time. We put up an artificial or real tree, carefully got everything out of boxes and scattered those aluminum icicles around. We fought with lights that ran in series and whose cords were tangled from our inexpert packing the year before. When the tree was up, it collected brightly-wrapped surprises and we could hardly wait to see what was inside. As we got older we tried to have surprises for others, too. One year I bought my mom a punch bowl and cups. I'm sure I had the idea that it would serve my purposes, too, for the little parties she let me give. We loved to give each other obtuse clues about gifts. I told her that her gift was a fire extinguisher. I thought I was hilarious. The thing is, she always went along and laughed at my jokes.

Mom and her mother made homemade rolls and cinnamon rolls at holidays. They made this giblet gravy for the turkey that I crave to this day. As Mom grew older she sometimes simplified the recipes but she still tried to make great family meals. The house in Mesquite sometimes had several dozen people at Thanksgiving or Christmas. She juggled huge turkeys and vats of food and multiple pies, no problem.

Mom loved dressing for the holidays, as she got older, in silly Santa socks, Christmas-themed clothing and Santa jewelry. She loved bright clothes, all the more as she got older.

As Mom's health faded I became the one trying to take her places, buy her things, nurse her. It's easy to forget how vibrant and unflappable she was when this picture was taken and, also, before that on the farm. I remember sitting on the stairs to the basement watching my mother lift two gallon buckets of milk from the high window to her work table where she strained some for bottles and churned some for butter. She would give me a little half pint bottle, the milk still warm from the cow my dad had just milked. I'd sip it and watch her strong arms squeezing the water out of butter and making it into a neat block. My parents were all-powerful then. And they played their roles well. It's easy to forget that when they grow old and infirm. I need to remember my strong Dad, too, outside that basement window handling the farm chores before he went to his job as a hospital attendant. Life was such a struggle, but we were so protected. And Mom especially so embraced the things that excited us like holidays and birthdays and trips somewhere off that dirt road into the world.

Thanks, Mom. And great snow man!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My Bellwethers

Bellwether is such an interesting word. I think I always thought, hearing it, that it had something to do with weather. Maybe the bell part was the bell on a buoy or something else that rang wildly when the weather was changing. But no. Wether is a castrated male sheep. Such an animal might lead the flock. With a bell around its neck. Hence the secondary usage we have come to know: "a person or thing that shows the existence or direction of a trend."

The picture above is a reflection in the window of Lambert's touting Barbecue and Cold Beer and reflecting the new downtown AMLI construction. Lambert's shows a trend toward adaptive reuse among the new construction, one also reflected in the Ballet Austin building and the Long Center. My bellwether on the whether high rises will win over little two-story former stores with historic limestone walls will be whether, in fact, that strip of stores housing Las Manitas and such becomes a Marriott. My bellwether for when the boom in building skyscrapers was over in Austin (and in spite of those under construction I think it is over for this cycle) was the announcement of the Four Seasons project. The bellmen are still parking cars on the ground where it might be one day. Note that the W hotel complex has a fancy sales center but no sign of construction. (I do think it will get built in the nearer term but perhaps that is wishful thinking because I want a fancy hotel/condo complex near my new home, the 360 condos, with the Austin City Limits studio instead of a vacant lot.)

My bellwether for whether I will like movies, plays, music and lots of other things is whether FFP likes them. (Apologies for implying that there is anything like the original meaning for this word here!)

There are many people in my life who are reverse bellwethers. I have one friend who I know if she likes a piece of music then I will hate it. This is in spite of our very complementary feelings about food and wine. I have several friends who, if they would wear a piece of clothing, then you can be sure I would not. There are in fact lots of people that serve as reverse bellwethers for me. If they are buying, I should sell. If they are riding a trend, I should get off. This is very handy. One should be careful not to ignore people and media sources than can be uncanny guides if only reversed.

Well, that's me today, signing out, carefully avoiding the topics mentioned yesterday.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

No More Until The Jury is In!

I was thinking that I'd quit blogging about certain topics until I had something more definitive to say. What are they? Downsizing, my Christmas spirit or lack thereof and my dental problems. Doesn't leave me much wiggle room does it? I'm involved in Holidailies and so I have to post every day. Or so I've pledged.

There were bright lights on Congress Avenue last night and I went to "The Nutcracker." Jury is still out on the effect on the Christmas spirit front.

Downsizing. Hrumph.

The less said about dental work the better. The jury is out and deliberating. There are jurors firmly in the various camps. (Guilty, innocent or hung jury.)

So, yeah, more tomorrow. But possibly not on these topics. I have in mind a few different topics. Like:
  • My Bellwethers. (A chance to also talk about that interesting word.)
  • Remembering Mom.
  • Dead People's Money.
  • Culture and Conversation
  • Drugs, Diet and Denial
Don't those sound interesting? Well, maybe not. But still. No teeth, no holiday depression and no endless recounting of possessions.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Future is Bright but Fuzzy

I couldn't hold the camera steady enough to improve the view from the third floor veranda at the old Austin house where the Heritage Society Christmas party was held last night. The fuzzy yet bright picture of some of the downtown skyline captures my mood about the future just now. And, yes, I was drinking. And taking 600Mg of Advil every 6-10 hours.

I don't know what's going to happen with my toothache and mouth burning. Right now I'm getting over the root canal. It hasn't been too bad. I go long minutes, hours even, without thinking about it. I finish up the root canal treatment next Wednesday. I'm not sure how much of my symptoms it will alleviate but the sore knot on the gum isn't as bad and the tooth's nerve was dying according to the endodontist. A bottle of heavy-duty painkiller sits in my drawer, bought cheap at the MedSavers but likely unneeded. Ditto a round of antibiotics. Both scripts were given 'just in case.' Just in case the Advil doesn't alleviate the post procedure 'discomfort'. Just in case the gum swells up. I haven't had any extreme pain or swelling. I had some discomfort and it is sore to actually chew on the temp over the root canal so I've avoided it as much as possible. (As instructed.) My symptoms (a cycle of mouth burning and a little refractory pain) have sort of returned but the achy feeling deep in that tooth is gone with the nerve. It isn't horrible and between the times it hurts it feels pretty good. And when it hurts it is irritating but not debiliatating. Maybe when the trauma of the procedure is over ("This discomfort is normal and usually subsides in a few days, but may take as long as 1-2 weeks.") everything will return to my normal happy mouth before the procedure in August. I remember never having to think about my mouth being comfortable but the memory is getting vague.

But enough of my complaining.

Things could be so much WORSE. My health otherwise seems fine. I attribute this more to avoiding doctors than seeing them. I should have done the same with the dentist perhaps and just opted for cleaning and X-rays and not removing old dental work and putting in new crowns.

While I am hopelessly 'behind' on the downsizing effort I did get some done this week. Stuff has been removed. And FFP is sending an e-mail to a friend in an effort to divest himself of a collection of Kennedy assassination books and periodicals. I must make a similar nod to the great ejection of stuff.

I still haven't decorated the house AT ALL, but I have a little table of gifts I've wrapped or received. I'm going to take pictures of other peoples' houses at parties and post those on Austin Daily Photo and thereby co-opt the spirit of others. I'm going to see Ballet Austin's "The Nutcracker" tonight and see if the snow on the stage can exorcise the dreary rain outside.

In other good news, some social events got canceled and we can spend more time to ourselves over the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

No soundtrack, no moving pictures, just accessories

In the eighties, for a very short time, I had a cassette WalkMan and a few tapes and I thought "I'm making a soundtrack for my life!" Then the thing started bugging me wanting its batteries replaced all the time. I have listened to CDs and cassettes in my car, of course, but I am more likely to listen to the books or language tapes. Or hit the scan button on the radio and listen to rap/classical/talk/some Spanish talk/some static/some country/some rock never stopping so long as to tax my attention deficit disorder. I rarely listen to tunes while sitting at the computer or whatever. I don't have an iPod or an MP3 player. So, no, my life doesn't have a soundtrack.

But just for the sake of argument I fired up Rhapsody (we have an account because FFP likes to shuffle through music looking for stuff) while I wrote this. I had to install new software it had been so long since I started it. Of course, we only have one account so I don't usually use it since only one can sign on at a time. (And he hasn't really forgiven me for cutting a CD with a dozen versions of 'Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas' for a party. He hated it and then later became addicted to playing it in the car in the middle of the summer.)

So I wrote this with first "Turtle Blues" playing (sang by Janis Joplin on the "Cheap Thrills" album) and then various artists doing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." And I did come out of the Alamo the other night singing "Piece of my Heart" (same Janis album) after seeing "Romance and Cigarettes." life has no soundtrack and no moving pictures. I can't remember songs and lyrics very well. Although sometimes when I hear a song, it does take me back to another time. (Usually the '60's!) My life has accessories like bendy Santas and still pictures of those, mostly. This year, though, the bendy Santas are still under the stairs.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Think Globally, Eat, Um, From Everywhere

Last night I did NOT eat this. The picture captures an impromptu 'surf and turf' of lobster and lamb that a friend got at Jezebel one night in August. I didn't take my camera last night but we went to 34th Street. I thought of going downtown but 34th Street is closer and, this time of year, people crowd up going to what I call the Trial of Lights. It's actually the 'Trail of Lights.' Maybe they got rained on last night. Serves 'em right. Bad traffic-making is the trial.

Anyway, 34th Street is lovely and closer to the house. I did not have lobster, nor lamb. No. I had the most politically confusing meal ever. A half dozen raw oysters. Blue Points from Canada. And foie gras. It was either from California or New York, I think, the only current sources in the U.S. Actually I shared these two dishes with FFP. My entrée? A dish designed around a program called 'edible Austin.' It was bison stew with root vegetables. The meat and vegies came from within miles of the restaurant. The idea is for chefs to put on dishes that, you know, don't burn a lot of fossil fuel getting to the table.

Oh...and I had two glasses of wine. I think one was from California. And one from Italy.

And, hey, my yogurt comes from Austin, too. And I'm about to go have some before I go, gulp, get a root canal. So if you don't hear from me for a while, just think 'ouch!'

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Diet and Exercise

No I didn't eat the Migas in the foreground. Nope. I ate the Eggs Chorizo in the background! That was Sunday at Aranda's Taqueria #3, near our house. We had this day that was deliciously free of anything on the calendar although we had noted that Top Drawer Thrift store, also in our neighborhood, was having a tent sale with bands. But why go see them reselling all the junk we hauled out of this house? Would that be sad- or glad-making? So, really, no obligations.

As sometimes happens we took the 'no obligations' to heart and went off to eat a totally unhealthy, cheap breakfast answering 'yes' a couple of times when the waitress said 'mas café?' Yeah, big white endless mugs of black coffee. And reading some part of the Sunday papers. FFP was reading an article in the Statesman about Earl Campbell and I was reading the New York Times magazine which had its 'Year in Ideas' article.

It's so fun to do something like that, but then, belly full of that, can you really do anything? Can you really stay awake even with all that caffeine? Especially with really good football games to watch? (How about them Cowboys?) I'm not a football fan, really, but it can be entertaining while reading and dozing.

But I just checked in on the game now and then on a little 30-year-old TV in our kitchen. I wrapped the few presents that I'd purchased for the parental units and friends. In the process, I decided I'd clean out a closet that used to hold (before we owned the house) the hot water heater. We'd installed some metal shelves and for years called it the 'sports closet.' We kept bowling balls, tennis rackets, softball stuff and the like in there. The family is down to one sport (me playing tennis) and all my gear is in the tennis bag in the car. Gradually the closet became the 'gift closet.' We put things we might give as gifts, wrapping paper, gift sacks, bows, empty boxes, bubble wrap, party decor, empty sacks and costume things in there and I usually clean it out when I wrap the few Christmas presents we wrap ourselves.

So I wrapped the presents. I sat aside a few Christmas gift bags, tags, a little wrapping paper, some other occasion sacks and wrap and the bubble wrap and sorted out most everything else to give away. I actually found two gift-wrapped gifts (with cheaper tags on the bottom) that I had left over from last year and forgot. Some rubber chickens went in the thrift store pile, old calendars to the pile for the neighbor to give to kids in art class, empty boxes ditto. Books, picture frames and other things we'd saved for emergency gifts to the thrift store. I think I queued up nine or ten cubic feet of stuff to be outta here. I cleaned the shelves, swept the floor and put the few surviving things back in there. Not bad after a Mexican Breakfast!

The Cowboys won (I got the final score on that little TV in the kitchen while washing up some dishes) and I talked to a friend about her health issues and plans for the holidays and our plan to get together for a meal when another friend came to town.

At that point, it would have been easy to say: "You accomplished something!" and just settle in front of the TV and snooze. FFP had steamed squash and onions with dill and I had some with a little grated cheese along the way. You know, to round out eggs, chorizo, potatoes, beans and guacamole. I have a balanced diet!

But I didn't slide into my stylish red chair in the bedroom with the Times and another cuppa. No. I went to the gym. I read newspapers while peddling to nowhere on a recumbent bike for fifty minutes and then doing some weight work on my arms, chest, shoulders and back. I would have once considered this a stellar workout. But now it's an ordinary one for me. That's the vicious thing about exercise. The more you do, the more your body demands to offset the same unhealthy breakfast.

I went home and, of course, I finally slid into that chair. I ate something more. Maybe a couple of Clementines (the fruit component of the diet). Maybe some tofu dip and pita chips and a glass of Guinness. Maybe a little bit of cheese. Yeah, probably all of that.

Because that's the secret to life, eh? Diet and exercise.

Monday, December 10, 2007

What Makes a Holiday?

The soldier Nutcrackers wear iPods. The association of Nutcrackers with epaulets and Christmas is strong but how many people see the ballet ("The Nutcracker") or just see decorations like these (at the Austin Apple Store hence the iPods) and think 'Christmas.'

For a lot of years now, over a decade probably, we have mostly spent the Christmas holiday in Austin. Usually in the company of our parents who have been aging apace. My mom didn't make Christmas 2002 and so this six Christmases with just Dad and the in-laws. And I've got to say my mom loved Christmas. She'd wear Christmas socks, sweatshirt and earrings. All at once. She loved big family meals. The last Christmas she was alive she was pretty festive about it even though she was in the hospital, I think, right before Christmas Day. There are no little kids around here. The little kids in our immediate family are up in Colorado.

I usually decorate a little inside the house even if we aren't having a party. (It's a good thing we didn't plan a party. Our front yard and driveway is a war zone from the water works.)

This year I can't bring myself to decorate. The outside decorations are sold and the yard wouldn't accommodate at the moment. We never had a tree really but I would put out decor, light up a glass table, put presents on it. I have spread the cards that have arrived around in the front room but they don't really look much like Christmas. Most of them are pictures of families.

When I was a kid Christmas was about Baby Jesus, sure, but also about getting something you wanted and some surprises. We buy what we want these days and our wants are mostly unfulfilled by shopping anyway. When I was a kid, we loved decorating the tree with all these ornaments we used every year and then wrapping stuff for others to surprise them and examining and shaking the packages addressed to us. We can't surprise anyone any more. My dad gives money and FFP's parents, too. We do all their shopping of that sort anyway.

No amount of money or electronic gear can make my dad's back feel better or make me feel better about him staying in today and asking me to bring him stamps, money and his shirts from the laundry. We have parties to attend but they feel a little like burdens. Maybe that's my toothache talking (I mean all this festive ditch digging in my front yard and a possible root canal, too?), but I'm just saying.

We will pass the holiday without noticing much festivity, I guess. No one will get an iPod in this family. There will be a few bright greetings in the mail and we are going to a party at a neighbor's house that will be decorated to beat the band. They have a little miniature village that takes up most of a room, a Nutcracker collection although none wear iPods. Maybe along the way I'll don my gay apparel (my one red sweater or red blazer) and I'll feel all cheery and bright and it won't all seem as stupid as a nutcracker with an iPod. Maybe my annual pilgrimage to see "The Nutcracker" will actually spark a holiday feeling. Even if the weather outside is still unconvincingly winter I can watch the Snow Queen and think, yeah, Christmas!

Sunday, December 09, 2007


They are sturdy, colorful, cute and fascinating. They pop together, interlocking with a satisfying snap. Since I'm in a twelve (or more) step program for recovering collectors, I will admit that I was tempted to collect LEGO Toys. When I realized I had money to waste, somehow I acquired LEGO sets and bricks. Oh, I had my excuses. I bought sets on sale at Target to 'give as gifts.' And mostly I gave them away. But some, no. I bought bulk bricks online to do a project for a Christmas party at work where we let the kids make ornaments from them. Someone gave me a pile that had belonged to her son. He had 'outgrown' them. I bought some trains and LEGO Christmas sets to decorate a tree at work. A few people started giving me gifts of interesting sets. Some I opened and put together. Others sat in their boxes in a closet, under the stairs in storage.

In 2005, I realized that a number of sets and piles of loose pieces were taking up lots of cubic feet of space and that I had no reason to hold them hostage. I'm not even very good at assembling LEGO stuff. Three-dimensional things are not my forté sadly. Meanwhile, my niece in Colorado was raising a house of boys. So I found as many of the sets and pieces as I could and sorted them into types or piled them up by age group. Before Christmas I shipped a bunch of them to her. Santa brought the boys special bags of LEGO that Christmas. Some sets were put aside for later gifts. I still had some sets that were too advanced for the kids so I stored those awaiting a trip to Colorado where they could wait for the boys to grow up.

I felt good about giving them away. My niece talked about all the joy they brought and she said that one night when she and her husband were searching this trove of LEGO to pick gifts and decide what to save for later that he said: "You aunt is so cool!" You don't get that much from the young people. Even if he was a thirty-something Dad.

In June my Dad and I were able to drive his van up to see the Colorado relatives. I piled in stuff to give them and included the remaining LEGO sets. There was an electric train, mint in box. With the oldest great nephew only seven, it was still too advanced for them. I'd hoped to get the sets to my niece to hide away. But we were weary when we arrived and wanted to unload the van and the boys needed entertaining so we let them help unload. The oldest convinced his mom that he could put together a small set on the spot with her help and then he talked to his dad on the cell and told him that he got it together and "it was for eight year olds!" He eyed the train wistfully. We told him it was for much later or needed assistance from his dad.

The next day we planned a dinner to celebrate a birthday and anniversary. Eight adults, two feisty boys and two infants. So we went to a noisy Buca di Beppo. We met there and my seven-year-old great nephew insisted on sitting by me. He said he had something to tell me. He had convinced his dad to put together the train and they'd spent most of the afternoon on it. He was so excited about it and drew a picture of it on the kid's menu with some stick figures beside it.

"Is that you and your dad?" I asked.

"No. It's me and you!" He said.

Of course, he's a kid and he couldn't stop talking also about running things over with the train, like mini-figs and other toys.

Now I guess I can't show up without a LEGO in hand. I don't get to see these kids this Christmas but there will be a LEGO under the tree for that boy. It would seem that once you have 10,000 bricks you could make anything and wouldn't need more sets. But the sets fascinate the kids because inside are all the parts you need and these great visual plans for making something shown on the box.

I love the idea of LEGO. But the reality of owning bricks is now limited to a couple of Christmas ornaments stuffed away with the other Christmas stuff I haven't gotten out this year. Little elves and Santas made from a few bricks. And I can always go to Colorado and visit the collection and know that when those little boys see me they think of interlocking bricks. There could be worse things.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Less Said the Better

It's that time of year when we recap, review, reconsider and, most of all, write a holiday letter that sums up our year. Actually, we very rarely do that without tongue firmly inserted in cheek (something I've been doing a lot the last four months with some dental problems). Actually, we already sent our holiday cards and they have a decided lack of information...just a picture that might puzzle some people and a simple greeting.

For the sake of Holidailies and Jette's excellent writing prompt of the day ("Write your own version of those holiday newsletters that people send to friends and relatives at this time of year.") I'm going to pixel out here what we could have printed and sent.

We spent 2007 firmly entrenched in our role as the grown children of very elderly parents (three, average age 91.6) who miraculously live on their own but not without a bit of help. LB's dad sputtered along at the beginning of the year with an infection and complications from a surgical procedure but miraculously recovered, got back into the pool for water aerobics and back to driving himself and doing things for himself with minimal assistance. His back began bothering him again recently and compromising his mobility toward the end of the year, but he still manages a lot of his own errands. At 91, not bad. LB took him to West Texas and Colorado to visit relatives in his van. FFP's parents settled into a system whereby FFP shops for them and drives them to any appointments. With one good eye between the two of them, that good eye needed a cataract surgery this year. LB likes that she almost never has to shop unless her dad doesn't feel like it. As long as FFP is shopping for his parents....he might as well shop for this house, too.

Friends died. The dog died. Well, we 'put her down.' We never had a dog that just died. We are now, for the first time in twenty-some years, dogless.

We took a trip together, too. We just sort of randomly decided to go to Santa Fe and Scottsdale. Mostly to break in a new car and smugly listen to XM radio in the middle of nowhere.

Books. We got rid of hundreds, acquired an exceptionally small number (for us) and didn't get nearly as many read as we'd like. LB did attack James Joyce's Ulysses which never fails to elicit rolled eyes when she tells someone. She has read 550/933 of it as of this writing.

Weather. As I write this it is warm and humid outside. We had a 'big ice storm' (it's all relative in Austin) in January and all our households survived fine but the reflecting ball in the garden was destroyed by falling ice during the melt.

People asked us all year the same old question: "What do you do now that you are retired." We answered that we are now dilettantes. But, really, FFP wrote a weekly column and worked hard on the boards of two non-profits and on special projects for a couple more. LB rocked along avoiding much beyond tennis, workouts and Dad duty except for a few volunteer things at the country club.

We tried to downsize. We gave away furniture, books, knickknacks, clothes, kitchen things. We gave away fine wine. We tossed worn out clothes and shoes. We recycled magazines and papers we'd kept too long and shredded things that needed shredding long ago. We tossed VCR tapes, cassette tapes. I gave away old cameras, toys, stuff I'd saved to make found-object collages, literary journals. I transcribed paper journals to the computer to save them without taking up space.

LB rode a couple of Austin's Capital Metro's buses to meet friends. This had been a goal of hers. She has no idea why she set that goal. She also signed up to post a blog entry every day in November through NaBloPoMo and throughout the holidays in Holidailies. She probably sets these goals because they aren't too challenging and allow her to displace from, say, downsizing.

Everything in our front yard leaked this year. The water main, the sprinkler system and the water service to our house. Short of christening it Lake Preece-Ball we couldn't think of anything to do but badger the city and pay workmen hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

We went to many charity affairs or parties precipitating multiple fashion emergencies for LB. We gave a dinner for charity and had a reading of a play at our house. We did a 'white tie and ball gowns' party for the first time ever. People treated us. We treated them. We drank some fine wine from our own cellar and happily helped people winnow down their collections.

LB admitted she will never be a cook and we ate out more than ever.

We got serious about moving downtown by signing a contract on a condo in a downtown high rise that should be finished by the middle of next year. We saw a building open to house the Ballet Austin Butler Dance Education Center after working on the capital campaign for several years. This building is next to our condo.

We watched downtown Austin change in other ways. The Intel shell got more or less imploded. The 44-story building that will one day shelter our (tenth floor) condo rose and rose and topped. Other buildings changed the skyline and the Long Center neared completion.

LB continued to live up to the notation on her personal blog (The Visible Woman): "Pretending to write but really just blogging." She helped a friend start a screenplay project and she started two more blogs(The Journal of Unintended Consequences and Austin, Texas Daily Photo), but there are no manuscripts of novels or the self-help books she intends to write.

We didn't see a lot of movies in the regular theater runs this year but we saw a lot on DVD through Netflix and also saw a pile in Austin Film Festival and SXSW Film. We were volunteer screeners for AFF, too, and we watched 192 films. Most of them shorts, of course. Two involved men with relationships with dolls and were not pornographic. Neither film was Lars and the Real Girl. But the coincidence so freaked out LB that she refuses to see that one.

In general, we spent a lot of the year wearily answering questions about our future home in the condo, how we like retirement (and how we spend our time...see above), when we are going to sell the house (and what happens to the found object band in the backyard) and how we are doing at downsizing. Occasionally people would ask if we 'had any big trips planned.' And we'd have to say, no, not really. Now that our desire to sell a house after buying a condo has been made known and caused something called the subprime credit crisis and housing downturn, we are tired of being asked why we didn't sell earlier and how we plan to deal with that. It makes me sigh. It makes me boring. Let's just talk about something else.

Happy Holidays to You and Yours. Catch you next year for another boring recap. And I'm glad that your kids did well in (1) school; (2) scouts; (3) soccer and/or (4) whatever and that you had all those family vacations!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Shopping for Charity

No, I didn't buy a puffy jacket for a dog for charity. And this entry is not about the Holidailies Charity Project. That was yesterday. We don't have a dog anymore anyway. I shot this picture last night at The Domain (an upscale Austin shopping/eating/residential street plunked down beside Mopac). And I don't even exactly get why this was in the Victoria's Secret window.

We had been at the Ralph Lauren store. They gave us a lot of free food and booze and they gave 15% of the cash register receipts to the Long Center for the Performing Arts. FFP bought me a sweater that is the lightest cashmere I have ever seen. It was wildly expensive (to me) even though it was marked down and marked down again at the register for some reason, but, well, you know one of our favorite charities got a few bucks. And I needed a new black cashmere sweater. Very versatile. It's amazing how many meals, parties, hotel stays and how much stuff that we purchased over the years because someone had kicked it in for a charity auction. You feel a little less beneficent when some store is kicking in just a percentage or a restaurant is giving a percentage of the gate because, after all, they are still making a profit probably. Your expenditure is not equivalent with donation. With auctions, businesses and individuals give stuff to the charity and then you buy it and voilà the charity has cash. Still you could just turn the coin over to the charity.

I never feel bad about these exchanges for charity, really. The charity gets some money. I get stuff or meals or whatever and have some fun. I look around our house and see a handmade chair, a Christofle vase, another beautiful vase, a handmade coffee table, a modern round table and a number of other things that we bought at charity auctions. In my front yard there is an oak tree that has grown to be over twenty feet tall since we bought it in a twenty-gallon container from a charity auction and planted it. A charity tree.

Last Saturday we were invited to go to an event for free because a friend bought a fancy pants sponsor table. We felt compelled to bid on some massages, a couple of hotel stays and some restaurant coupons in the auction. We couldn't bid on stuff because we are downsizing.

It's a silly way to get money for charities in a way but the fêtes, galas, store parties, 'percentage goes to charity' restaurant days and silent and live auctions continue. Everyone knows it would probably be better to separate commerce and charity, that somehow more good might be done. But it is better than nothing, I suppose. Better than expecting people to open their wallets and get nothing in return. Caterers, liquor companies, businesses promote themselves and some charities scrape off a marketing dollar or two. No harm done? Probably not much.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Book Signing

Charity is something that my husband (known as FFP here) and I consider carefully, giving our time and coin to things that we think can make the world a better place. Since today's writing prompt is "What are your ideas for the Holidailies Charity Project, and which organization would you choose?" I thought I'd talk about a group that has amazed me. Whether this group receives the benefit of the collective capability of the Holidailies group or not, I love talking about it.

And since writing prompts have received some ink (or pixels) in the Holidailies space, I'd like to talk about kids and writing and what for one girl was the 'mother of all prompts.'

The group I'm writing about is an Austin-based group whose purpose is to "teach children the language skills necessary to become the authors of their own lives." Wow, that sounds like something an inveterate blogger could get behind, huh?

Yes, if you have the time go to the Badgerdog Literary Publishing site and see what they do in detail. Basically, they take accredited writing instructors to at-risk kids in after school programs. The kids learn to write and to publish, creating a literary journal that has readings and signings. (They sell their first North American publishing rights to the group for copies of the journal.) I've got to say that going to a reading and seeing a little boy's family snapping pictures of him reading poetry that he wrote does my heart good. Seeing kids signing their pieces in Youth Voices in Ink (while having some cookies and lemonade like the little girl shown above) is an amazing thing.

But back to writing prompts. FFP (who is on the board of directors for this group) likes to tell a story he heard about a young lady who was having lots of difficulties in school. She wasn't succeeding at anything in the system. Placed in a Badgerdog after-school program she was given a writing prompt one day and she put pen to paper and didn't look up for a long, long time. That writing prompt was quite simple. It was: "My mother...." Writing is healing. Sometimes all we need is that prompt. We touch ourselves and we touch others.

I'm totally behind getting some of the scores of Holidailies contributors to contribute a small amount to do something for the community. I have contributed to groups who enhance their visible giving power by assembling a group of people to give one larger gift. I'm proud to have contributed to the Long Center for the Performing Arts here in Austin through such a group. It's a lot of fun to be a part of something that is bigger than what you could do alone. Chip mentioned literacy as a possible area of interest for a charity to choose. Reading is a great skill. Life-changing even. Writing? Definitely life-transforming. As many of us who 'only blog' know well.