Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wrapping Things Up

It's the last day of the year. I need to take care of the resolution thing. I need to talk about the movies I've seen. That way, tomorrow, I can start fresh. Maybe I'll write another paragraph of the novel tomorrow. I just reread the first three paragraphs (buried in those entries) and see clumsy writing that needs some tuning. I have decided what time of year it is, though. It is October. It is October because, in my head, another character appeared and he needed to have a certain kind of jacket. In Austin, in October, there's a good chance you wouldn't need one but in New York or Germany maybe so. I don't know what this character is doing. Maybe just satisfying my need to articulate my perception of the way certain people dress in Europe.

The Resolution Thing
What are resolutions, after all, except a commitment to concentrate some of your precious time on something that you care about? We do that every day (spend our time) whether it's by taking care of domestic chores for our family, going out to exercise, shooting pictures, preparing a healthy meal, reading, writing, etc. What I seem to do is (1) fritter away time without knowing where it goes; and (2) leave some things hanging that I care about, never spending time on them. So a couple of days ago I thought "I'm going to resolve to spend thirty minutes a day on things around here that I want to work on and two hours a week on stuff at Dad's to help him and straighten out things around his house." I'm not counting the things that have to be done. Taxes, accounting tasks, making the bed, general everyday tidying up (as opposed to, you know, actually cleaning the bathroom or something). Although I'm swithering about whether to include cleaning (as opposed to cleaning out as in "I cleaned out the closet.")

Anyway, I'm thinking that I'll keep some Stickie notes (probably virtual ones on my computer) and I'll put things I want to do on there, things I want to spend time on. I might have a ten minute list, a thirty minute list, an hour list. (See my 'system' always goes from simple to very complicated in a heartbeat. I hate that.)

After I thought this up I was flipping through an advertising magazine Costco sends which has some trumped up content to go with the selling. The title of an article was "Instant Resolutions Improve your life, in 1o minutes or less." Yeah, ahem. The idea is that it doesn't take that much time to move toward your goals. The ideas center around things that you can do that take ten minutes or less and help you with resolutions like save money (take ten minutes to make a lunch), go green (if it takes less than ten minutes on foot, walk) and get organized (leave everything a little better than you find it...straighten a drawer when you open it).

Yeah, well just thinking about the resolution thing has made me tired and harried and saying to myself "you (me) can't tell me what to do!"

Anyway, we'll see. I'll probably create the Stickie notes and then lose track of them. They will have dull-sounding tasks.

The Movies
I'm not much of a movie critic. Sometimes I don't even know if I like a movie until later. Sometimes I have to see a movie a couple of times to appreciate aspects of it. Maybe I should resolve to become a better movie critic. I know, I know, I volunteer to screen films for a festival but, really, at the level where I work it is really "sucks majorly," "interesting," and "wow, this one really, really doesn't suck." And not many fall into the third pile. I mean I'm just a 'screener' which means lay eyes on it, rate it in some categories, see if the disk works, etc.

Anyway, we saw "Milk." Now here's what those of us who remember Harvey Milk at all who aren't gay activists of a certain age and locale probably remember: He was a gay supervisor (sort of like a councilman in other cities, I think) and another supervisor, Dan White, shot and killed him and the mayor. Oh, and Dan was high on Twinkies according to his brilliant lawyer who mitigated his charges with that defense. That was me anyway. So how to tell the story? Acknowledge that straightaway. Then give us the story of Harvey and those around him and show us why it is more important than the Twinkie defense. Show how he got to that point and what it means. Oh, and get Sean Penn to channel the guy completely and convincingly. (I also thought that the other characters really looked like their real-life counterparts although whether they were portraying them as accurately as Sean seemed to be doing for Milk is hard to say. There are more images of Milk. And, really, maybe I digress, but maybe Sean wasn't really that much like the real Harvey Milk, but he convinced us that he was. And digressing further, don't you think that Sean and Philip Seymour Hoffman should just flip for the Oscar every year for a while?)

So, yes, they wound the story back to Harvey deciding, influenced by a young lover, to come to California. And they show him opening a camera store, trying to be a good neighbor, an activist. Then they show him losing like a dozen elections. Well, maybe three or four or something. Losing, losing, losing. They spend a lot of time on Prop 6. Think Prop 8, but instead of not being allowed to marry, you will be ferreted out and your job will be taken away. Only they can't explain what the 'test' for homosexuality will be. Think we haven't come a long way? (And, yes, there's a long way to go.) That fight is won, however. There are some new district lines. (Gerrymandering? Accident?) Maybe some new rules. (Austin elects council members at large with a 'Gentlemen's' (and ladies) agreement to put only Hispanics up for one and only black for another. I'm totally serious. It's bizarre. But I digress.) Anyway, Milk finally wins office. He's trying to be political, court Dan White but not sell his vote on stupid things. Dan White resigns. (I didn't know that. He resigned. He wanted to rescind it. Moscone wasn't going to let him.) So, he shoots Moscone and Milk. Dan White was a psycho. He's was played perfectly by Josh Brolin who did, in my humble opinion, a so-so job of George W. in "W," Oliver Stone's ridiculous biopic reviewed earlier in this space.

I haven't captured how good this movie is, really. It carefully peoples Milk's world with his lovers (who help show both his strengths and weakness) and co-activists and ordinary other folkds and articulates his influence in a convincing and careful way. It captures an era as well as a man. Go see it.

We also saw "Slumdog Millionaire." This movie is about the joy of overcoming adversity and the embarrassingly random things in life that surround our sordid world. You all have probably heard that the protagonist is on this Indian version of "Who Wants to be A Millionaire." That is the hook to tell his story. The questions and answers relate to his life in that way that makes things seem ordained. But you aren't meant to really buy into the game, particularly. You are meant to see the slums of India, roaming orphans, terrible gangsters, the power of love. When it ends, you are meant to wink a little, shed a tear and dance like a Bollywooder. It was fun although tragic. Not everything will be lovely in life and few slumdogs will win a quiz show, let alone get on one in the first place. Never mind. Love and the indefatigable human spirit triumph.

See both the above movies. Regardless of my weird reviews. (Hope their weren't any spoilers in that last one. It's impossible to spoiler a biopic, isn't it?)

Last night we saw "The Wizard of Oz" at the Alamo only the sound track was Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon. " Dark Side of the Rainbow, they call it. Supposedly the music makes a good sound track for the movie with a lot of synchronicity. (Like "Listen son, said the man with gun..." Scarecrow has a gun.) I didn't drink or drug while watching. It was a trip, though.

I still want to see "Gran Torino" and "Doubt." Maybe "Benjamin Button." Probably "Frost/Nixon." Don't know when I'll get around to all that. We have tix to see a documentary Sunday called "Trinidad" about the town in Colorado that became a major center for transgender surgery.

It is time, however, to do something with my day besides blog. To do something besides think about what I've done and what I'm going to do.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Resolution Revolution

This time of year (meaning the time between Christmas and New Year's Day) my mind turns to resolutions. I'm often energized by this, thinking how resolving and then keeping the resolutions faithfully can make positive changes for me. Other times I think about resolutions past, kept briefly and flung aside. The truth is that I prefer to do things when I'm good and ready or not at all.

So I wrote the paragraph above and then drifted off into old journals looking at old resolution lists and comments about same. I'm none the wiser on the matter, but I have wasted an hour. Well, maybe I stopped to read some other people's journals. Anyway.

I've made lots of resolutions in the past although last year I bailed and said that the year was going to make its own demands for downsizing, organizing, moving. And it did. The year before I recycled resolutions past. Just like stars sometimes coincidentally line up, sometimes you make a resolution and voilĂ  success is thine. I point to the last day of 2002. I weighed 177 pounds. (I recorded my weight at the bottom of my journal then so as not to attract notice but make a record for myself.) I was off of my peak weight by about five pounds since I'd retired a few months before. Topping a long list of resolutions was this: "Lose five pounds. [This is an easy goal, it would seem. The spam says '32 pounds in three weeks' or '12.5 pounds in three days' but, no, my goal is to lose five more pounds and stay there.]" On May 21 of 2003, I reported "I'm at about 165. So I continue to hear lower weights from the scale. Ever so slowly. Maybe I can at least keep off these fifteen pounds I've lost over the last eight months. More importantly I'm feeling better and my joints are feeling much better." After I wrote that, I continued to lose weight then bounced up some and settled in to a weight just below 165 where I remain today. But it was a miracle. I'd resolved to lose five pounds, exercise and eat more healthily time and again. The resolving didn't have anything to do with it. Rather it was a confluence of a real desire to exercise and the time to do it.

Yes, I've made many resolutions. From drinking more water to standbys like writing, organizing, cleaning. From the puzzling (learn to play Bridge, ride the bus and write about it) to the altruistic (find an appropriate volunteer activity) to the boring (learn more about photography, read more books, learn Windows programming). But what good have they done me? Not much.

So, I think I'll take a different approach this year. I'm still formulating it, but it's going to take the form of a general commitment and a protean list. More tomorrow.

[I'll not be making a resolution about doing more shop window pictures nor doing more to make them an 'art.' They take care of themselves, don't they? Today's was taken in the shopping center with Alamo South at a place called, I think, Let's Dish. They have great windows. We walked down there to see a movie. "Slumdog Millionaire" to be exact. I'll do a movie review entry before Holidailies is over. Really.]

Monday, December 29, 2008

Vaguely Understood

Today we attacked a couple of issues around the house. Just little things. We accomplished nothing, made things worse and pissed ourselves and others off. We only vaguely understand how mechanical things and such work, sadly. Customer service is dead in America. Billing is all that people understand. Other than that I think we are going to have a great day. We are going to see a movie. We are walking to the movies. I think I'm going to work out first. Just a short bit of the bike and weights. But only if I hurry and do this entry and do that and get a shower. So...that's all folks!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Looking for Dad

This is my mom and dad. They are looking out over Grand Canyon, I think. (Only they are looking back at the camera.) I don't think I was with them. I think my sister and I saw the Grand Canyon, alone, perhaps this same summer. Not really sure, however. I think my dad is around fifty here, maybe.

This morning I got up a little late, around eight. I made my morning call to him. No answer. Tried again a few times. No answer.

My dad has a Lifeline button. I shouldn't worry. Maybe someone took him to early church service. He doesn't have a car because, if you are a close reader, his was totaled a couple of weeks ago.

One can't help worrying even though one knows it's nothing. One knows there is a 99.9% chance someone drove him to church. Still.

FFP says we should go out there and check. We do. We don't rush but we get dressed and drive out there. He isn't home, of course. His Sunday paper is arrayed around his chair. He hadn't written today's date on his drug list in the bathroom, but, yes, obviously he has gotten a ride and gone to church. In fact, maybe he has the date wrong and did write in there.

We went to Waterloo Ice House on Burnet and had breakfast. In order to make use of having gotten the car out, we called FFP's mom and got a grocery list and went to the store and got here some stuff and bought bananas, coffee, yogurt and laundry soap for ourselves.

I knew I could have ignored not getting to talk to him this morning, but we are a little paranoid about that after the 2006 death of one of our friends after she lay alone in her house for days after a massive stroke. We take our charge to check up on people seriously now.

I think the picture is funny with Dad barely captured by whoever took the picture. Dad was always disappearing. He worked weird hours and then, when he retired, piddled with a flea market stand and helping some guy who bought and sold cars. My whole life as a youngster, my mom was wondering where Dad was. He'd go off with friends on some errand after work. Maybe he was off drinking or just helping fix a car. Often he was doing a favor for a friend. But he never felt obligated to let folks know where he was, particularly, and it made my mother crazy. And it bugged us if we were hoping he'd come home for some reason. (He always seemed to take a shift at the hospital where he was an attendant on Christmas Day and we'd have to wait until he came home to open presents.) Now I have to worry about him, but he can't get far away. I have to be more responsible than he sometimes was and remember his appointments and see that he gets what he needs. He still wants to be the independent, capable middle-aged man in this picture. But he is not. Indeed, I'm about fifteen years older than my mother was in this picture if I'm not mistaken. In ways he is more responsible than when he was younger perhaps because he has to be.

Just before posting this I looked to see what the Holidailies writing prompt was. "Never mind your chronological age: how old do you feel?" Ah, yes. Am I sixty? Am I sixteen? Am I drug up (or it that down) to the parental I really feel like ninety? Hard to say. Maybe I should make a New Year's Resolution to feel younger.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Every Day Brings Its Surprise

On the day before Christmas Eve, I went to bed late and didn't sleep well. So Christmas Eve morning at seven I was still slugging the bed (a family term around here for doing pillow time when it's light and other people are up) and FFP said I should look at the sky. It did look a bit strange. I got up and FFP shot some pictures of it with me directing him to some settings on the point and shoot that might help. It was a strange sky indeed. And that day's little surprise. Right now, as I type this sentence the wind whips up and the sky darkens as a new front moves through. The pundits (the weathermen that is) thought it would be here a bit earlier. I wasn't confident I'd get to play tennis but I did as the sky was covered and uncovered with clouds and the wind whipped through then lay back. I enjoyed playing. No suprise there. Although I was playing with a sore toe. Stubbed it last night on something. It's not swollen though, but it's tender. It surprised me when I stubbed it and I almost feel down landing instead in my chair. Yes, I'd had a few drinks. Shut up.

On Christmas Eve, it didn't feel festive. The annual Christmas party at the Headliners Club (our first one), almost picked me up the day before. I wore my decades-old red blazer and red socks. I posed FFP with Christmas decor in the building. I drank two Bloody Marys (the drinks are free at their annual party, no wonder it's so popular). I was going to go out by myself in the evening, but I ended up driving FFP to the Long Center for Mother Ginger wrangling and then I thought I shouldn't drink so I could go pick him up if needed. (He walked home, though.) And I started doing laundry and watching TV and just stayed home. But staying home in my undecorated house was not festive.

We went out with our friends on Christmas Eve. It was a long, fun evening. I met some new people including a young lady about to graduate and go to medical school and a teacher who was trying to teach her dog to skateboard. We had a New Zealand dinner, complete with wines. Someone bought champagne and cheese plates to kick it off. We had crackers (those popping novelties with toys inside that British people like) and tried to play with the toys inside and wore the paper hats, too. Then we all went to a large apartment near our building and had a White Elephant (Yankee Exchange/Chinese Exchange) of wrapped Christmas ornaments. And drank champagne and had more desserts. The place was decorated, but at the end of the evening my festive quotient still was a little low.

Our Christmas was very slow. We took FFP's parents to Threadgill's which was beyond packed. We got there early enough to get a table and got them fed, though, and went back and unwrapped presents with them. They had money in cards for us but had temporarily forgotten where they put them. Finally FFP said "Did you put them in a drawer?" His mother went to the bedroom and found where she'd stashed them. Because my dad didn't feel like getting out we took him his presents and visited with him a short time. I called in a prescription for him to the automated renewal thing. He was feeling better but we didn't stick around long. The outing with FFP's parents wore us out. We went back to the condo and I don't think we left except maybe to go across the hall to the gym. We washed towels and we watched a DVD from Netflix and sports on TV. I liked the movie ("Heights" with Glenn Close but written and directed by this guy Chris Terrio whom I never heard of). I enjoyed sitting around reading the papers and drinking coffee. I worked some crosswords since FFP gave me some puzzle books for Christmas.

We spent a good part of the day after Christmas doing stuff for my dad. He wanted to be driven to church to play games and to a friend's house for leftovers. We picked up his prescription and we took him to do the paperwork and turn in stuff to get a check from his insurance company for his van that got totaled. I wasn't going to burden FFP with it, but he went along with it. We got his car washed and wandered Barnes and Noble and such while Dad was playing games at church. In the evening we had a dinner date but it got canceled, so we went to Taste and had snacks and drinks and then went to the Alamo Ritz and saw "Milk." (Wow. Good movie.) It's been so long since we found time and actually got ourselves off to see a movie that it kind of surprised me that we were doing it. But the canceled dinner date pushed me and I bought the tickets online so as to push myself a bit more. We don't even get that many Netflix watched.

So, here I am, rambling to say something so I'll have another Holidailies entry. I'm cool so far with the count. Why is it that I can resolve to do something like blog every day and actually do it, but when it comes to more important things, no? I am going to make two and only two resolutions for 2009. (More on that later in another entry.)

Friday, December 26, 2008

You've Got Mail!

So one thing I do like about the Exchanging cards. Even if it's just a note in a e-mail (no e-cards, please, and not a 2M file in my in box either) that you donated to the Heifer fund and verifying your contact info, I think the annual 'ping' to say "We're here, how 'bout you?" is an excellent thing.

In the past I've done extensive 'research' into the cards we received. (That's ours for this year above even though I showed it in a prior entry. There aren't many rules here in Visible Woman land.)

This year, though, I've just made three stacks on my desk after pickiing up today's mail. (Which did include a few late entries. I'm sure a few more will straggle in and some will claim New Year's Day or even Chinese New Year.)

Anyway. Pile 1. Photos of the family. Twenty-seven. Kids, grandkids, dogs, vacation shots, sports shots. Babies looking cute. And two prize fish and a cow. (The latter because the lady of the house got a bovine pericardial valve.) One of our brokers sent his annual picture of him on the phone at various locales. Which is funny, because that guy is hard to get off the phone. Enjoyed them.

Pile 2. Cards. Forty-nine. Animals, snowmen, trees, ornaments, doves, other birds, earth upon which peace is wished; Santa, holly, flamingo with Santa hat; cats, dogs; wreaths, a martini glass full of cherries or is it holly berries?; an Ansel Adams tree in the snow. No dups this year. Lots of fun variety. Top five honors to (5) Jody Conradt silhouetted with a Texas Tower and fireworks (although since I recognized the back of her head...maybe this should have been in the photos pile); (4) Santa golfing, but really a winner because inside was an actual almost letter in long hand, remember longhand? from a friend in South Africa and the two pretty fish and the elephant on the stamps...that's the only envelope I saved after database update; (3) Santa holding a string of lights that you can push a button and light up x times (it's still working...I've been judicious pushing though); (2) the martini glass with the...maybe they are holly berries, a winner because it's such a cheery card emphasizing drinking and it made good use of silver embossing to make it look like a glass with liquid and because it was from new friends who really know how to throw a party; and the number one card (1) , winning because of the total audacity of it....the Last Supper with a bubble with Jesus saying 'You're All Fired.' I'm so thrilled I know someone who would send that to me!

Pile 3. A letter to all reprising your year. Ten. My favorite is always from an old work buddy who has some pretty cool kids and a wonderful, interesting wife and a way of making this annual wrap-up amusing, but he was given a run for his money by friends in Vancouver, WA. Yeah, I usually read all these to the end. Noticed that there were invitations to visit Hawaii and Omaha. Do people drop these invites figuring no one is still reading at the end?

Anyway, there you have it. I enjoyed sending cards and all the cards, letters and photos received. Sure, they are going to have to get tossed shortly (no room to save them for years like I sometimes did in the house). But it was fun and the best part of the holiday for me. So if you sent something or wrote an e-mail for an update, thanks a bunch. If you didn't, that's fine, too. If I sent you a card, you're welcome. If I didn't, sorry you aren't in the database.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Enough With the Holidays

OK, it's Christmas. I'm resurrecting an entry I started last Friday (the 19th) and abandoned because it was too down. When I was writing the paragraphs below Christmas was less than a week away.

So here we go. This is what I wrote last Friday. I'll quote it and then continue.

A lot of the writing prompts at Holidailies have been about, well, the Holidays. Understandable, I suppose given its seasonal nature.

Enough with the holidays, though. Christmas is less than a week away. Yes, next Thursday is Christmas. And then there is New Year's Eve. We don't have a plan yet for New Year's Eve. We may watch the downtown festivities from our tenth floor balcony.

Today's reflection, showing me still in sweats from a tennis game in the cold and holding a bundle (Texas pecans bought at the Farmer's market) makes me look like a homeless person. The reflection is in a design shop called Kirk (only one or more letters is reversed or something) and the white things are rubber trinkets on a tree. The peace symbol. Yeah. The guns and bombs? (I'm assuming, the bomb like thing could also be something else.) Those aren't so festive.

I'm not homeless. Far, far from it. It must be pretty horrible to face the holidays without necessities like a roof, let alone money for festivity. And here I sit, with two Action packers full of decoration (one entirely filled with bendable, posable figures of Santas and such) locked away in the storage cage. I'm not feeling it, I have to tell you.

Today I'm going to buy a few presents. Perhaps. I'm going to exercise, read the paper, get outside and walk. I have a pretty free day and I'm retired and we may survive the financial crisis. The old folks are snug at home. My dad had a great adventure with a friend who was visiting yesterday and may have to 'rest up.' FFP stocked his parents' pantry yesterday. All should be right with them for a day. I can spend the day however I like.

Why don't I feel more excited about it? What is dragging me down?

Well, it's nothing I can put my finger on so I'm going to just blast on through it and embrace the day. The fog is burning off outside and maybe it will burn off in my brain soon enough.
And here are some more paragraphs I ditched yesterday (and started a completely new entry):
It's Christmas Eve. It doesn't feel like it to me. I have a few presents piled on the desk in the living room, no other decorations. I've been taking FFP's picture in front of decorations at other places. Yesterday we went to the annual party at the Headliners Club. I posed him in front of one of their trees and in front of the tree in the lobby of the Chase building. I haven't co-oped any Christmas spirit, however.

A few things are bothering me. I could articulate them in this space, but I'd rather not. Because by the time I did then the things bothering me would morph, I think. It's those sorts of things.

We are going out tonight with friends and spending tomorrow with our parents. The friends are going to be festive, I think. Most of them. It's a large group. Our parents will not make me feel more festive. Entertaining them isn't too bad, but it makes me feel old. I have been telling people that when we get together with them the average age is 80. It's true, too. The total age among us is 400 exactly at this moment.

When people ask us what we are going to do for Christmas, I say we are taking our parents to Threadgill's for a meal. Some are shocked. Some think it's a great idea. I mention what a production it is to get them all in and out of cars and into the restaurant and get the food ordered. Often they say, "But you are so lucky to still have them."

Perhaps these people are missing their own parents. If they saw their parents suffer old age, time has softened that. I have one friend, fifteen years older than I am, whose mother is still alive. She is 106. She is in a nursing home. I think she is officially on hospice care. Perhaps has been for years. My friend is still in good health (plays tennis amazingly well) although she has some complaints. Occasionally the doctors think her mother is at the end of her life. Then she rallies. Perhaps, after all, living well isn't the best revenge. Perhaps living long is the best revenge. But you have to have some children (preferably daughters or daughters-in-law statistically) to exact the revenge from!
Yeah, so. I haven't been feeling the holidays. My old relatives filter it for me and, while they (or us as people would have it) are lucky to be doing as well as they are, life with them is covered with a constant layer of infirmity. Their minds are sharp, but they still repeat themselves. My dad can't quite deliver the punch lines of his many jokes like he once could. The things they are interested in and capable of doing are boring for us. This morning my dad informed me that his blood pressure took a drop and it took him a while before he was able to go to the curb for his paper. (He takes medicine to lower the blood pressure and sometimes it works too well.) He doesn't want to go on an outing today to lunch. He recently had a car accident and the insurance company has decided to total the car. He wants me to help with the paperwork. He also wants to buy another car. But he has already restricted his driving to day time and certain places. I think cabs and/or paying someone to drive him is more reasonable. I will be driving him more places, at least in the short term.

When people say how lucky we are to still have parents, I think of how I miss my mother sometimes and agree. But sometimes I think, "Well, you can take a turn doing their errands and explaining things in our modern world to them and worrying about their future. No problem. We'll spread the luck around." I think I know how people with children feel. How our own parents were feeling when we were young, needed help. But they had the hope that we would grow up. The only thing we can hope for is that we stay healthy enough to help them and that they stay reasonably happy and pain-free until the end.

Yeah, it's hard to be festive and that's why stuff like the above accumulates in my unpublished blog entries. But I must shower. Because I think that FFP's parents still want to go out to lunch. And I don't think we've gotten them out of the house since Thanksgiving. And I need to take my dad his presents. And see about the paperwork on his car wreck. And see whether his episode this morning is anything to worry about.

I'll leave it to you, dear readers, especially those who still have kids who are visited by Mr. Claus and those who have sincere religious feelings for the day, to feel festive.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

In Case of Christmas Emergency-Break Glass

I'm not in the spirit of the season. Today's Holidailies prompt is "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."

Yeah, so how do you fight it off? I've started another entry with a photo of the morning sky and devolved into such a funk that I ditched it, picture and all. (I'll get back to that.) I took this picture on the Capitol Metro train the other day. It's one of those escape tools, behind glass.

So, what's bothering me?

And how to break out of it?

Some would say I should go help others. But I know that I don't do well in direct contact with those in need. It's hard enough for me to help the parental units and friends in person. My money will have to suffice.

Some would say I just need to be thankful for what I have. A nice place to live; plenty of money for the lifestyle we lead (moderate to profligate); parental units still (somewhat) able to go it alone and cognizant of what is going on. I have my health, a good Internet connection and plenty to read. Yeah, I'm thankful. So?

Some would say I need to embrace (their) religion. Easier said than done.

Some would say I need to 'get professional help.'

My experience, however, is that one just keeps on getting up, doing stuff and pretending to be festive and the mood will change. Maybe I won't feel festive for the actual holidays. Maybe my mood will improve for...President's Day and the tax season. That could be useful.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Seeking the Cinnamon Roll

These cinnamon rolls were at the Farmer's Market on Saturday. They looked close enough to my grandmother's that I bought one. The guy helping me at the empanada stall that sold them ask if I wanted frosting. "No, I thought, we never had frosting." "No," I said. I heated the thing up in my microwave and ate it. It was good. It was closer to Deedy's (that was our nickname for my maternal grandmother) than, say, store-bought one or the ones that Upper Crust (I love them, but not for this) purvey around town that somehow contain so much butter or something that we call them 'gut bombs.'

But this one, enjoyable though it was, was not like my grandmother's offerings. Maybe it was all in the dough recipe. She made these transcendental homemade rolls for holidays. She made a traditional yeast rising dough. (Left to warm and rise on the part of the stove where the pilot light was, remember those? With a dish towel over the bowl.) And she made dozens and dozens of rolls from the dough. They tasted sweet themselves as yeast rolls will. (Come to think of it, no one comes close to her recipe on those either, not even Threadgill's whose giant yeast rolls have to be seen to be believed and taste sweet in that yeasty way.)

I think my grandmother made rolls often, eschewing the 'brown and serve' ones at the store that my busy mother resorted to serving. (Not that Deedy wasn't busy. She had her elderly husband to care for, her chickens, babysitting us, babysitting other peoples' kids, making clothes for half the town, all that scratch cooking to do for all of us.)

But at holidays? She set aside some dough. Put butter, sugar and cinnamon between layers and rolled out cinnamon rolls that came out as big flat wheels of delight, just cooked enough, just doughy enough, especially in the center. We ate so many (and the rolls, too, sopping the homemade turkey giblet gravy off our plates) that I don't know how we arrived at adulthood as fairly skinny kids. (Yeah, later I gained weight easily. I'm wearing one of the rolls above now!)

I remember one Christmas when my cousins and I were watching her make the cinnamon rolls and clamoring for more of the butter, sugar and cinnamon. But she just smiled and ignored us.

One year I decided I would learn to make these rolls from the master. I never did, of course. Baking is the worst of cooking for me because of the accuracy required. I don't have the patience and concentration. From this session when I tried to learn, I remember only one thing. When she added the yeast to the warm water she 'hid' it. She almost filled a measuring cup with some flour and then put the yeast there and put a bit more flour in. This she added to the warm water.

"Why do you hide the yeast in the flour?" I asked.

"My mother always did," she said.

Of course, yeast is delicate. If the water was too warm, it would kill it before it could do its work. The flour coat meant that there was more margin for error in the warm water, I think. The science of baking is interesting. But like I said, I didn't and don't have the patience.

My mom and my sister both actually made rolls and cinnamon rolls and used the time-honored recipe from Deedy for a while. Then I think they switched to something easier. And they stopped making the cinnamon rolls. And then Mom died and my sister became disabled and I doubt she attempts it now. And, really, it was good but never quite the same.

During holidays of old, the presents sometimes were a disappointment and sometimes Dad wasn't there because he was working, but Deedy usually cooked the perfect meal that was everything I wanted. Turkey (I was a white meat kid, then), homemade cornbread dressing, homemade giblet gravy, those rolls, those cinnamon rolls. I'm sure there was an array of things I avoided like green beans or cranberry sauce or salads, too. (I was a picky eater as a child.)

Oh, those cinnamon rolls. Never to be duplicated. Even if the same recipe was scrupulously followed by someone, it would, of course, never be the same.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life

Did I mention that I saw this radio play of "It's a Wonderful Life" over at the theater at Penn Field (Austin Playhouse King Stage) Saturday night? It is the story of George Bailey but done as if six actors were performing it as a radio play in the 1940's. They took on multiple characters (Mr. Potter is also one of George Bailey's kids, not to mention the head Angel, helping Clarence!) The cast did the sound effects like on old radio. Its run is finished now so this isn't a review. (In fact, it wasn't on my radar until one of the gals I was going out with on Saturday suggested it and found that they did have a few tickets for that performance.)

Anyway, I like that story because I'm rather fascinated by the way chance and actions conspire to make life what it is. The premise of "It's a Wonderful Life" is not that George Bailey has a great life. He really doesn't. His dreams were thwarted. (Oh, you might count the wife and kids in the drafty house as a great life, but that's you.) No, to me, the fascinating premise is that George gets to see the world with him erased, as if nothing changed except that one little thing never happened: the accident of his father's particular sperm and his mother's particular egg getting joined. He doesn't see the aftermath if he succeeds in jumping off the bridge and drowning. No. He gets to see the world truly without him.

Just as an aside, before I continue, there was an article in The New York Times this week about the movie and one man's experience with it. There is a funny bit in there theorizing that maybe life would have been more wonderful without George.

So. Have you ever thought about that? What if you hadn't been conceived? You weren't an aborted fetus or a baby or child killed in a tragic accident. You just were not there, never thought of, literally never conceived.

It does change things, doesn't it? Maybe my parents wouldn't have had a second child. If my sister was their only child, things would have been different all along the way. Maybe my mother would have gone back to school four or five years earlier when my sister started school instead of when I did. They could have given my sister more things and avoiding sending a second kid to college, gotten financially solvent sooner.

When my parents grew old, however, and their support system in North Texas was disappearing, they wouldn't have moved to Austin to be near the baby child and get some help from her. They might have moved to be near my sister in Colorado, but I doubt it. My sister had a cerebral aneurysm rupture in 1998. At that point I bet they would still have hoped that my brother-in-law would retire and he and my sister would move to Texas. My sister had a long recovery and many set-backs. She can do many things but she is handicapped by the hemorrhagic stroke and the other strokes that followed. The first time my parents visited her, in March 1999 in rehab in Denver, I took them there, worried about them being in the snow and ice. They might have tried to move there all the same. My sister had children and, starting in 2000, grandchildren there. My mother would still have had Multiple Myeloma, I suppose, and I suppose it would have been eventually diagnosed. Certainly she would probably still have died in 2002. Although one never knows.

So I see my Dad. Alone in that house in the Dallas suburb? Moved to Colorado where the thin air bothered his breathing after a few weeks? But, who knows, maybe better off. Maybe without the burden of another kid, my parents would be strong and vigorous and both still alive. Who's to say?

The other close to home thing is wondering what my husband of thirty-plus years would be doing. He says if he hadn't found me he would have never married. But I wonder. He might not have started his business less than a year after we married if he hadn't had a partner to pay bills. He might not have been there to take a call from a young man at UT selling gray market IBM PCs and do advertising for him as his business morphed into a build-to-order and sell direct PC firm. I'm betting that he wouldn't have bought a bigger house that same year he started the business. He might not have purchased a building to run his agency during the Dell era. The doctor who now owns that building and the house we bought that year would probably have put his practice some other place.

I wonder if the man who never met me because I didn't exist would have ended up in a condo downtown. My bet is that he would have married someone else who was smart and driven but wanted children and ended up in Tarrytown with some way too intelligent smart ass kids that he nevertheless loved unmercifully. Or maybe he would have left the company where we met, but not started an ad agency in Austin and, instead, moved to some other city. As an only child he would be looking back to Austin at his very elderly parents and trying to see that they were all right from a distance.

Then there are the jobs I had. I wouldn't have been there to write certain lines of code, to create certain bugs and avoid or fix others. I wouldn't have been there to think up software ideas or squash others' visions. It would have been different. Better? Worse? Barely noticeable? Hard to say.

I don't really think the world would be that different without me especially once you move out of a pretty tight circle around me. But little things would be different. There would be one less site on Holidailies. (Or more spookily someone else doing a site called Visible Woman! But that would be an entirely different site anyway.)

Well, um, that was an instructive line of thought. But since I do exist I have to clean the condo and go have lunch and dinner with friends who would be doing something else today. In fact, one of them would probably not live in Austin if we hadn't met forty years ago or so. So they'd be doing something someplace else. We are having lunch with Dad who wouldn't live in Austin. Whoa, it's just too weird.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Do You See What I See?

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Of course not. Beyond the obvious religious implications (only a certain number of people acknowledge the star of Bethlehem, the Christ child and such), we don't see or hear (or for that matter know, as in the third verse of that carol) what others do. We are in a different spot with different sensory tools. Our brains are wired to interpret things in certain ways.

This shop window reflection looks almost bucolic because some growing thing (I'm not sure if it was a tree inside or on the sidewalk) imposes its random pattern. But it was taken on the decidedly industrial turned bar Fourth Street in the Warehouse District. The Christmas Balls (and the sign which says 'Please Present ID on Entry') are at Oil Can Harry's bar, one of the most venerable gay bars around.

I see me, hiding behind a camera and a pink cap. Has it occurred to anyone else that these images of me, reflected in reverse and often obscured remind one of identifying bank robbers in disguises. (I almost said in 'costumes.' Isn't it interesting that costumes and disguises can be the same thing, with different intention?)

Anyway. I digress. This isn't about crimes or even me and my reflection. Except to say that not everyone is seeing, hearing and knowing the same thing.

Living downtown has reminded me over and over of the mathematical reality that a very large building can completely disappear behind a shorter, closer building. This phenomena of disappearing and reappearing makes walking and driving around a city so interesting and, let's face it, a bit disorienting. I can be very close to a forty story building but not be able to see it because of my distance and position from a much shorter building. Yeah, every fifth grader knows this. Still, the fact of it is shocking sometimes.

Another interesting perspective is how two people can sit in the same room and experience completely different things. Of course, if they are reading a book or newspaper, there is that. Worse, if they are both reading and writing on the vast plain of cyberspace, they can be in a different world. FFP reads the Drudge Report and sends pictures of Mother Ginger VIPs to people while I write to you, dear readers, and look up the mathematics of perspective and prowl Holidailies for new thoughts. I've been over here trying to fix little problems in my Windows XP under VMware. I'm surfing a different wave.

We think we have a shared experience. But, depending on where we are standing, it can be very different. It's amazing that media assault can inform a large number of us on Madoff, Caylee and Caroline Kennedy, given that we are all looking in different directions with different obstacles between us and the tall buildings (or the big stories). It's also fairly amazing that so many people, after two thousand years, think they see a 'child shivering in the cold.' Who's to say they are wrong? And it is a nice song.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Is It Ever Enough?

[The W Hotel which is under construction near us is due to have condos in it in addition to hotel rooms, bars and restaurants and the Austin City Limits Music Hall. There has been a sales center on site for a while but now they are completely redoing the sales center. Or so they say. We wonder if the condos are being ditched for hotel rooms. So, naturally, I co-oped their sign and shot my reflection in it.]

Did you ever wonder what would happen if you really, finally got everything you wanted? Would there be a point where, really, it was enough?

The Pleasure of Wearing Things Out
Except for things that are consumable and things that wear out, I have everything I need. And most of what I want. It's a pleasure getting a new pair of tennis shoes, new underwear (thanks, big Sis, for that Christmas present) and a new Polartec hoodie. I was thinking the other day that the towels and bathmats we are using are now about four years old. They are holding up pretty well, but it will be fun to replace them.

Naturally, I love buying food, booze, meals out, experiences (tickets to things and travel). But one is limited in the amount of this that one can consume. I guess I could crave more caviar and champagne, but, honestly, I get enough of that to suit me. I would love more trips to Europe and I suppose I could get used to limos and private jets, but really just having the money for a few trips on commercial airliners, a few taxi rides and a few car service trips, moderate to expensive (to me) hotels and museums and restaurants is fine.

I like things that you spend money on and then they are just pleasant memories.

Second Home Not Required
Guys like Madoff (and the people whose millions he invested) needed multiple homes. And yachts with more square feet than my condo. I am not pleased that I own another home besides this condo. Dad lives there and that's great, but I fear that one day I'll have to dispose of it. The prospect doesn't interest me. My in-laws own a little cottage, too. Ditto on not looking forward to disposing of it for them. (Or even owning it if we outlive them which I think most days we will not do.) I wouldn't want to have multiple homes to manage. Let alone boats and planes. Oh, sure, you hire people to manage it. But I have trouble managing help. No thanks. I once said that, left to my own devices, I might live in hotels.

Gear, Gadgets and Autos
I'm pretty happy with my computers and cameras. I know that my seven-year-old (more?) cell phone will have to be replaced at some point. Not today though. Battery still takes a charge, sound crystal clear. I bought an iPod. I got some new computer gear for the condo and flat screen TVs and a Blu-Ray player and surround sound. We're fixed for a while. I do have in mind some new digital cameras and a GPS gadget, but I've put this on hold while I do some research. And, of course, I have the money to buy them if I want them. I'm going to get one of those small computers for travel, too, I think. Maybe. One day. Still researching.

My Hondo Civic is eight years old. It has some dents and dings. It runs fine and gets 30mpg in town. I made my commitment to it by doing some semi-major fixes last time I had it serviced. I don't drive that much anymore. FFP's Accord is only a couple of years old. Seems like brand new. Has an XM radio. Cool.

So, gear and wheels: very satisfied, no desire for a Mercedes or an iPhone (not just now anyway).

And, if I want something I could buy it.

Art, Artifacts, Collections, Furnishings
We can't accumulate too much more art or artifact or furniture without throwing something out. Which, along the way, I'm sure we will do. Not now, though. Of all the things I've dabbled at collecting, that's all pretty much at an end. Not that we don't acquire the occasional thing, but I really am amazed at some of the wholesale accumulation I did in the past. I must say, too, that much of that 'stuff' has moved along the pipeline to, hopefully, be reused somewhere.

What Are These Guys Thinking?
So what goes through the millionaire (billionaire?) mind as they build homes with tens of thousands of square feet, buy yachts, accumulate collections of paintings and sculpture with pieces worth more than my condo? Oh, I understand throwing a big party and having a bunch of people eating and drinking. I understand wanting a nice car. Really. (Although I'd much rather have someone to drive me around in my Hondos. Oh, wait, I have FFP.)

Do these really, really rich folks ever think about reaching a point where it is enough, pretty much, and consumables and maintenance and refreshing is all that's needed? If I can get there, is it possible for anyone? I know that my mom never really got enough stuff. She always wanted a bit more. Just for the thrill of having what she once did not or having something new and interesting. Even when she was dying I could see this. I don't think I'm so different from her. I just think I reached a normal human saturation point we all have. I think Mr. Madoff and his ilk may have damaged saturation meters, though. And that may be part of the problem. Part of what drives people to steal.

Also, I belong to a country club, too, but not one like the Madoff crowd. (Nor would I want to belong.) Which, in any case, was in Florida, a state that doesn't call out to me.

Having Enough Feels Good
Having enough food, clothing and shelter. Having health needs met. Having some fun! Tennis this morning at the country club. (Roddick worked out on the court below us. Does he have enough? Or would being number one for a while be enough?)

Anyway, I had a great time with my three friends playing tennis. A walk over to the Farmer's Market to buy some Texas Pecans for my dad for Christmas. Some pastries from the empanada stand. I'll have a meal and maybe a movie or performance with some friends tonight.

I have enough. It feels good. If I get depressed it's not something cars or electronics (or even travel and meals) will cure.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Secret Pleasures

I started dutifully working on an entry for this blog this morning. It was a whine about "I'm not in the mood for it" entitled "Enough with the Holidays." Really. And maybe I'll work on that one and post it eventually. (Holidailies will suck out all the available words like Austin Daily Photo does images.)

But I decided to start over and write a different one. One with the provocative title of "Secret Pleasures." No not that kind of secret thing. Nope. But instead things like this:

  • The secret pleasure of just typing away on a nice keyboard. Just leaning back in my Liberty Chair (we got new chairs for our new office in our new condo) and typing on my Blue Tooth iMac keyboard. I usually use the USB one that has a numeric keypad but, just typing like this, I put the little wire-free Bluetooth number in my lap. I type, touch typing as I learned when I was a kid. (Amazingly I found myself in a career where, eventually, there was a keyboard under my hands, more often than not.) I still love to see words appear in the white space, all neat and punctuated. The time to just play around on the computer, reading stuff and following links is fantastic, too, but those of you who know me probably know I'm happiest saying something myself. And just typing.
  • Playing with kids toys or, at least, admiring them. I collected toys for a while. I even collected a pile of Legos (one of the most wonderful toys around) which I eventually gave away to my great nephews. I actually put together a few Lego toys here and there. And we all know about the infatuation with bendable, posable figures. I'm over it and only kept a few toys for decoration in the condo as a nod to where I've been. I don't know where my admiration for toys came from...maybe those many years of unrequited longing while looking at the annual Sears toy catalog followed by an era when I had more money than sense. Over it now, I still get a secret pleasure from looking at toys. Like the (disarmed) Buzz Lightyear Room Guard presiding over my side of the office. Sometimes I think I'll go get a Lego toy and put it together or find a compatriot willing to play a board game or put toegher a jigsaw. But I usually satisfy myself more than that would with something from the following list:
  • Taking digital shop window reflection pictures (or really any pic involving a reflection).
  • Blogging.
  • Reading other people's blogs even, no especially, those that are full of simple mundane details of their everyday lives.
  • Reading. Especially the newspapers. Even the obits. And filling in the squares of the crossword in the Times and smiling to myself if I detect a theme. Even if it's a punny theme and even if I profess to hate puns.
So...what's the problem anyway? How can I be depressed when I can step into the other room, pick up three papers and settle in to read them with a cup of good coffee. Where's the problem, huh? Tired of the papers? There's a jillion books. And when you tire of reading and want to write (or want to cheat on the puzzle by looking something up on the Internet), step in here and access the always on Internet connection and connect and type away or read other people's endlessly fascinating blogs.

So OK, maybe these pleasures aren't so secret. But I do have them in reserve, ready to trot out when I'd otherwise be whining.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sense Deprivation

The seemingly strange decor on this tree in which I'm reflected? Hands doing American Sign Language. The tree is in the Scarborough building windows, decorated by deaf students.

I was depressed yesterday. Not clinically. People always talk about clinical depression and I don't think I have that. I get up in the morning. I get over it. I think it has a cause. You know it's OK to feel bad if there is a reason, right?

In most things I'm lucky, but I can't stop the march of time. And it occasionally gets me down. Not so much from my own point of view. Being sixty is odd because you feel some age-related syndromes but you still amaze yourself being able to walk a few miles, do exercises, play tennis, climb a ladder, lift things. That's me anyway. Your hearing is going and you have to wear glasses, but you can remember what stories you've told sometimes and have an interesting non-repetitive conversation with friends.

What depresses me? The parental units. When I'm in my condo I revel in the fact that I was able to simplify things a little, get rid of some stuff, get things like I want them. When I'm in their houses and see all the stuff collecting dust, when I'm trying to do something to bring them into the late twentieth century if not the current one, it is depressing. Because I know that at some point we quit changing and things sort of close in around us and can't be budged. While we may have avoided that for a few years by busting out of that too-big house and its baggage, I know it will come for us, too. We'll forget who we have told our few sad stories, we won't be able to walk and drive around and expand our field of view. FFP's folks were always a bit closed in but the inability to drive and walk very far finished off any trace of adventure. My dad is happy to sit in his house, changing nothing, maybe giving away a few things. He likes to get out more than the in-laws but increasingly it takes a toll for him to do it and he resists and isn't that sorry to not do one thing then another.

I love the folks and while I roll my eyes at their repeated stories and misunderstandings of the workings of the modern world, I enjoy being able to have them around and their connection to our past.

But I don't want to be them. Oh, sure, I know people ten, fifteen, even twenty years older who still seem much younger, physically and mentally. I wish I thought I could be one of those people. And I'm going to try to be. But. I worry. Not about death but about infirmity. And a narrowing of the world. (Although all the parents stay well in touch with the world according to CNN, it's not the same.)

We took an overnight trip to San Antonio this week and that made me happy, to get away and see something different. Maybe I'm feeling closed in because that was the first time we got away from Austin (unless you count those two days at the spa in the northern reaches of Lake Austin) since February.

I shouldn't be depressed. I should be happy. I have the lifestyle I want, things are simpler in our household so that we can do and see new things without too much baggage. Sure the world is falling apart financially and otherwise, but luckily I doubt Madoff would have given us the time of day so we have some of our money left. We can continue to live our profligate lifestyle as we like to say.

Where is all this coming from? Yesterday I was trying to install the phone with the Phillips Lifeline capability for my in-laws. The buttons and the phone that was just a phone until you pushed the button around your neck was overwhelming to them. A major mystery. My mother-in-law seemed mesmerized after the beep test when we had her push the button and the voice came over it and identified her by name. She gawked as the call center asked if she needed help and had to be prompted to say that she was testing it. I hope we can succeed in this great technological leap where we failed with VCRs and answering machines and such. The house has no clothes dryer or microwave and FFP, Sr. listens to cassette tapes on a machine sent to him by the Blind Commission. We have offered a CD player or even an MP3 so he could catch up to audio books now so widely available in those formats, but we know it's futile. Innovation time has stopped. But the scary part is I feel it happening to me, too. I don't want a new piece of software to replace some ancient one I use or I resist the iPod. (Although I finally got an iPod and was pleased.)

What is it that makes us, sometime before we die, just refuse to go further in some ways? It seems that we say "I'm stopping here, go on without me." It isn't just infirmity that makes it happen. No. Sometimes it happens to people who are healthy, mentally and physically. We seem to shut ourselves off from new experiences or ideas as if we are blind and deaf to them or unable to grasp them mentally. Or maybe, just maybe, this resistance to embrace where the world is going is a sign of decline itself. Maybe there is a seventh sense of adventure and openness to change that we lose.

My depression lifted slightly last night. We went to a basement jazz club and heard some twenties and thirties influenced jazz with the Jazz Pharaohs and Liz Morphis. Enjoying old stuff isn't a sign of decline. Shut up. Who could like rap? We had a friend along who helped us have a lively conversation. We went to the Ruth's Chris bar, bumped into other friends, had some good food and driink. Yes, we drank. Then we returned to our place with our friend and had some 1995 Pinot Noir from our cache that was still tasting good while watching "Friday Night Lights." Yeah, we were engaged with a changing world, we were out and about, even if we were sort of doing our 'usual' things. And, yes, OK, we were drinking. Maybe that is propelling me all the faster toward decline.

I think I'll go exercise now. And read the papers about all the big boys falling from grace in Ponzi schemes. That will cheer me. No doubt.

[Note: My tendency towards being down in the dumps is not helped by a fog outside that is so thick we can't see past one block. When we got up, we could see the buildings on Guadalupe and no further. Now we can't see even the AMLI one block away. I hate it when my brain is fogged and so is the world. Or maybe it's better this way. Maybe a bright sunny day would be offensive.]

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Loyalty and Patriotism...and Peace

Today's Holidailies theme is "Let There Be Peace on Earth." Although a little notebook sits in front of me with a few writing ideas, this one sounded like a good one.

Today's picture was shot on Fourth Street. I'll leave the symbolism of the flags to the readers with this one tip: the OCH is the bar's initials where the flags fly.

There has never been peace on earth, evidently. I'm no historian, but war, killing and conflict seems to propel history. It almost seems, dare I say it, necessary? If you are Christian and believe that capital G God (yours) "so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth on him should not perish" then you still have to admit that you might die in a war promoted by religion and enjoy that endless life in a metaphysical way after a not so peaceful existence on earth.

The thing is: we promote loyalty to (fill in the blank) and patriotism which is loyalty to a loose amalgamation of people with artificially drawn boundaries. Be true to your school. Fight for your rights. Respect the flag. Flags representing ideas that draw us together and apart from others.

Don't get me wrong. I understand fighting. If someone votes to make you a second class citizen because of (fill in the blank), then you fight. If you compete in athletics or business, you show up to play and win and defeat others.

Where does the peace come in? And would we even recognize it when we saw it?

I feel that the first step to peace on earth is understanding what propels the opposite state which is conflict and war and competition and, dare I say it, differences of religion. When you say that it sounds so silly. Just as silly as in 1963 when John Lennon wrote words that still sound, well, like a wish for a world completely different from the earth of our history.

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

John Lennon, 1963

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Change of Scene

Sometimes it's good to have a change of scene. No, the picture doesn't reflect that. I was so cold yesterday in San Antonio that I didn't want to get out the camera and take a picture. But we got a change of scene by going to San Antonio, staying in a drafty attic 'penthouse' of a Bed and Breakfast downtown, eating in a fancy restaurant with some old friends on the Riverwalk and yeah walking around in San Antonio in the cold. Which is odd. Although we used to traditionally visit San Antonio in late May back in the era of rain and it always, always rained on us.

The picture is a reflection of an odd design shop in the 'new' AMLI building near us downtown. I haven't much else to say today although I have a couple of essays (if you want to call them that) in mind for the remaining Holidailies entries. We shall see. Anyway, go out there and get yourself a change of scene. We arranged this because we bought the stay (and a discount at the restaurant) in a charity auction. It made us act on seeing some old friends and that was good. The riverwalk looked beautiful (if chilly) with all the lights.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Consumer Price Index

I read a post on Holidailies, guided there because it was a Best of Holidailies selection. A detailed tale of managing a severe cash shortage. I need these things to remind me that we are lucky to usually have the cash to pay the bills and to send to relatives at this time so their holiday can be less stressed than this person. In fact, my niece who was designated to be Santa for stockings and kids' gifts with my money said in an e-mail: "We have presents for ALL! HO HO HO. Ok we have little presents for the big people and big presents for the little people. Ain't that just the way of the world?" They don't have a lot of money but they do have food, shelter and some gifts for the holidays. I worry that one of my nieces' husbands will lose their job. Or that my other niece, who has been waiting tables on the weekend while her husband looks after the kids to make ends meet, won't be able to make enough because of the downturn.

In this house we are thankful that we are in a position to not worry how to pay for gas in the car. We can go out and eat, have drinks, give money to our charities. Heck, in this condo we haven't even had to turn on the heat so far this winter let alone worry about how to pay our electric bill to pay for heating.

But. Sometimes the price of things just stops me in my tracks.

We went to a UT Women's Basketball game yesterday. (The women won, beating Tennesee who was ranked just below them in the polls.) Years ago (really a long, long time ago) we gave a small endowed scholarship to UT for a woman athlete studying journalism or communication. Really, we gave this so long ago that I think it was our first major donation to anything. Anyway, they send us tickets to Women's Basketball and we attend and, if we ask, they give us admission to the booster 'club' before the games. Yesterday we went in there. I thought I'd have a beer (which you cannot buy in the stands). After the bartender pulled a Shiner Bock, I was readying a dollar for a tip when she said the price. Seven dollars. Seven dollars? This beer is made in Central Texas. No one, anywhere, not even at the Four Seasons had ever charged me seven dollars. I don't think anyway. (I'll have to check the Four Seasons although I usually drink wine there. Haven't been there in a while.) Anyway, plastic cup, belly up to the bar service. Seven dollars. I had the money. It just shocked me. I didn't have an extra dollar, though, and the quarters in my pocket were to ride the 'Dillo bus back to downtown. So if that bartender was counting on me tipping, well I was too flabbergasted to do it.

I am glad I have money for a beer here and there, out in some public place where they can gouge you. I paid $4.50, plus left the half dollar for the bartender, for a Fat Tire, poured from a bottle into a plastic cup, at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar Saturday. Expensive but not gouging so much. There was admission to the place, but there was live music.

Anyway, I'm just saying. Just because I have the money doesn't mean I won't balk at a certain price level. I'll never buy a drink at a game again. And, by the way, that 'Dillo bus used to be free. (Unless you consider that the Capitol Metro gets a cut of our sales taxes.) The transportation guys were trying to promote less driving of cars in downtown. Now it costs fifty cents. But, sadly, yesterday the two buses we rode were empty except for us. We missed one bus, which we saw pass us, empty, as we walked to the stop. So the transit folks are paying for empty buses going around and around downtown and UT. With my tax money. It's sad. I wonder how many people would ride if it were free. It does matter what you charge. Especially now when people literally don't have it in their pockets (or in a failing bank).

I noticed it said in the newspaper that miles driven in the U.S. dropped before the run up in gas prices and kept dropping when the price came down. Yeah, people. Some people don't have jobs to drive to, money to spend at the mall and they certainly aren't hankering for an out-of-town excursion with maybe a hotel stay if things are tight. So price makes a difference but some people won't be able to buy, no matter the price.

When I went to the convention center Saturday to the Christmas Bazaar, I noticed there was a sale of National Geographic products in another area of the center. Giant piles of discounted books, maps, toys, some backpacks and the like. Maybe National Geo had a mail-order biz or mall stores and were closing out the stuff. It was interesting because people had their carts piled with stuff. Maybe they were getting a toy or book for everyone on their list for ten dollars or less, thinking what a bargain it was. There were guide books to New York City and the like. Maybe it's good reading even if you can't afford the trip. The lines to check out purchases were longer than the ones at Costco the other day. And there, as I mentioned the other day, the carts were full of food.

Times are hard out there for our neighbors. Businesses will fail, people will suffer. And I don't think it will be over soon. And more and more people will be looking at prices and wondering 'is it worth it?' I just wish the politicians would do the same. What price for each job saved and for how long? It all seems like fodder for my Journal of Unintended Consequences which I just can't seem to write for these days. Perhaps because there is just too much to say.

[Reflection is in the Spaghetti Warehouse glass, a venerable family place on West Fourth in an old train shed. We never go there and I imagine it is seeing less business these days. But who knows?]

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Get Serious

Yeah, I won't be buying the little red dress in the shop window of Estilo on Second Street. Get serious. (And yes photographer LB does seem to be positioned, camera in face, to make a shot that I won't call by name for fear of attracting the wrong WEB searches.)

Yeah, I'll continue to wear blazers and slacks (pants suits they are quaintly called for women) and dressier tops and slacks and sweats and shorts and jeans.

I need to get serious, really, about something which is why I gave this title today. Picking the photo was just a matter of randomly picking one I took yesterday and had edited. But I need to get serious about my photography if I'm going to do it. If it's going to be shop windows with my reflection, then fine, but I need to stop using years-old point and shoots and old software (which I haven't learned that well anyway) and get fancy equipment and wait for the right lighting and I need to call it art and make an artist's statement and make quality prints and frame them in shadow boxes surrounded by found objects and mirrors and reflective things and put high price tags on them. I need to nod indulgently when people are attracted to them but repulsed by the prices. Because really, just snapping these eccentric pictures isn't a worthy endeavor without all that.

I need to get serious about organizing my space and my files and my finances. It isn't good enough to shrug my shoulders and act like I don't know WTF to do about investing my retirement funds. I need to be confident like the guys on TV who just know what stocks are beaten down to a low from which they will ascend without setback or scandal or obsolescence of their product. I need to be a serious investor who reads prospectuses and studies financial sheets. Have you ever seen a prospectus that wasn't a yawner from the get-go? And you know all those pretty people pimping the investments aren't capable of interpreting them either. This new Madoff scandal is amazing. I don't believe any of my investments are affected, but it gives you pause, huh? Yeah, I must get more serious about investment.

I need to get serious about exercise, too. There have been times when I actually kept exercise logs. Online. When I seriously thought about how much I was doing and when. Similarly, with diet. I have been known to at least write down all the junk I ate in a vain (but serious) attempt to reform.

I need to get serious about writing, too. It is not good enough to make up jokey business cards that say "Pretending to Write but Really Just Blogging." Either take it seriously or don't do it, right?

But retirement for me just doesn't seem seroius. It is this frivolous 'becoming something soon' time like childhood. All the serious decisions are somewhere in the future when you will be smarter and more in tune with your body, feelings and talents. Maybe it is a second childhood after all. And what could be serious about that?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Worlds We Build

[Photo was taken last year of some of my eclectic Christmas decor.]

I was playing tennis this morning with some ladies. They are three of the Saturday regulars for a round robin doubles group. (We play one set with each partner.) One of the ladies told me one time that her granddaughter had called her 'random.' I found this hilarious. Because this woman has built a tight little world for herself that is anything but random. She tries to schedule tennis every Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday. She will concede to play California or Australian doubles if she gets to stay on the doubles side. If it's a particularly fine day, she will play a set of singles with me. On Wednesday and Friday or days when tennis doesn't work out, she exercises in the gym, maybe walks back to the house. She plays Bridge at particular times in there somewhere, too. At home, she meticulously records shows on her VCR and watches them in chronological order with the result that she's watching stuff that is years old. She has a little 'nest' set up where she watches shows. She goes to bed before nine every night. Eleven months a year she works in the warehouse for the Settlement Home Garage Sale on Mondays. She and her husband go out with their children a few times a month. Anyway, her life is programmed and West Austin and some towns surrounding Austin are her unrandom world most of the time. She and her husband used to take lots of exotic vacations and they did recently take the grown up grandchildren on a cruise in the Mediterranean. But there is just nothing unpredictable or disruptive about her life. Which made me laugh when she told me what her grandchild had called her.

But, of course, we are all pretty predictable and mostly try to build our worlds so there aren't surprises, at least no unhappy ones. We know what activities we enjoy and schedule them. I certainly find a lot of joy in my little world, predictable though it is.

Every once in a while, though, you want to venture into someone else's realm. Or just introduce some surprise and chance into yours. Moving downtown has changed our focus, shaken us up a bit. There is something different about going to a Christmas party we usually attend at a law office at 8th and Congress but walking there from home. And then walking to the Long Center for the "Nutcracker." (Which we also always attend but this is the first time at that venue.) And then, while people wait for valet parkers, we walk back across the lake to Taste for a late night meal and drink, visiting with people who also live in the neighborhood.

Our new world isn't so different from the old, but we are inventing some new rituals. However, I think that today I will maybe, just maybe, go look for those bendable posable Christmas guys like in the picture and make this condo look a little like my old world.

Friday, December 12, 2008

In The Pink

I dug around in old pictures and this one from last March gave me the title of this post. Now. What words am I going to put with it? The Holidailies prompt today is another about Holiday celebration. ("Tell us about your unique/beloved holiday traditions in your part of the world"). Yesterday, while trying to 'celebrate' my in-laws 70th wedding anniversary, I suggested where we might go for lunch on Christmas. It seemed to overwhelm them a bit, but they were game. Anyway, no more entries about holidays for a few days.

I guess I am "in the pink." I don't have much pain or discomfort. Little aches and pains and afflictions I suffer from...I have learned to put up with them. Best not mention them or they will get worse. When I see the old folks, when I see them complaining about their back and knee pain, I feel young and strong. That fades when I leave them and I am around my young friends while I ponder what will happen to me in my seventh decade.

I'm behind with things I should be doing and I should have lots of time for things now, really. I got through the move. I got this place fixed up so that workmen are no longer having to be called, cajoled and accommodated. But the paperwork, tidying, organization, etc. I promised myself I'd do "when there was time" is languishing. Oh, I'm getting to the things that have to be done. One does that. And I'm spending a bit of time reflecting over coffee and editing pictures and typing into blogs.

But where is the organized and manageable existence I promised myself when I owned one less house and this one was the way I wanted it? Where is the time to tidy cabinets, get the files organized, catalog the books (let alone read those four I'm in the middle of), get control of the piles of newspapers and get a proper amount of exercise?

I don't know. But this minute I'm going to get up, dress in some sweats and go with FFP to the club. I should work out here because the trip to the club will waste thirty minutes, he will be done exercising before I am ready and, if I didn't go, he'd make the emergency trip by the Randall's to get yogurt and coffee by himself. Leaving me some time what? To get my stuff organized? Write? Read? Yeah, right.

One wonders how when I worked I managed to get anything done except for showing up there and doing that. But I did. Sometimes it seems like I got more accomplished outside work. But. I was younger.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Depression and Christmas

How is Christmas in the Depression? Yeah, the economic kind. Although that other depression crops up, too, doesn't it? This time of year. Even catches up with people who didn't get laid off or have mutual funds or whatever.

My mom, pictured above in 1978 working on a homemade Christmas decoration, loved Christmas. She trotted out her brightest red clothes, decorated everything, made a lot of food and invited everyone over. Today's Holidailies writing prompt is to share a recipe. Besides the peals of laughter from those who know me at me giving cooking advice, I just couldn't even get into sharing a cheesy spinach casserole my mom and I used to both enjoy preparing. But I digress, this is about Christmas and that other kind of depression. But, come to think of it, times were never very flush for my mother, back in the day when she made such a fuss over holidays.

Yesterday I had to go to my dad's neighborhood and do a couple of things for him. I decided to check out Costco if the parking lot didn't look too horrible. Dad needed paper towels and I thought I'd get one of those giant packs for all the families we shop for to share and pick up some cheese. But not if the store was overrun with people buying electronics and toys and, you know, Christmas presents. I got a pretty good parking place (it was a weekday, but two weeks before Christmas??) As I went around the store getting cheese, yogurt dip, paper towels, toilet paper, Ibuprofen, chips and crackers (stocking up for the holidays), I looked in the other people's carts. This is something I frequently do, finding what other people buy sort of fascinating.

What struck me about the shopping carts yesterday at Costco? I didn't see any toys. Two people had some Christmas wrap or tags and one lady had some gift-packaged candy. Most carts had basic foods, paper goods, snack trays or foods and wine. Lots of wine. I didn't see anyone buying cameras, computers, iPods, luggage, toys or other gift items. Mine was a small sample, of course. I did see several people taking an interest in a gingerbread house kit and one guy buying those fake log things for the fireplace. (It was cold and windy out.)

It was just one moment at Costco, but I had the feeling everyone was getting ready to hunker down, to cocoon with their loved ones and eat.

In the evening a friend and I wandered out of our building to get a bite and a drink and encountered several Christmas parties...two occupying all or part of a restaurant we couldn't therefore get into and a third occupying a big table and part of the public area of the place we finally settled on to enjoy our bites and libations. I'm sure these events had been planned for a while, of course.

I'm thinking that people are eating. And drinking. And thinking of staying home and sharing fewer gifts but maybe more conviviality. The depression may have forced our hand in the matter. And that other kind of depression? Well, it always sneaks around me this time of year, but this year is no worse than any other.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Long Way from There to Here

I'm leaning on a Holidailies writing prompt today. Three loaded questions (two in the second sentence) stare at me from the Holidailies portal today.

Do you still live in the place where you grew up? How far away are you now, and why?
I was born in Texas. I live in Texas. I'm a few hundred miles from the farm where I spent the first ten years of my life. I'm so, so far away. And whoa! That pesky "Why?"

My parents spent a couple of years in a house near my grandparents (his parents) on a different farm. The war came. My sister came. My dad had a brief stint in the army. Somehow my parents ended up on a little black land farm north of Dallas that her parents owned in a little house built, I think, by my maternal grandfather. I remember the house; my makeshift bedroom in a tiny enclosed screen porch when I got older; the livestock (milk cows, pigs, sheep and lambs, the occasional goat or horse); my dad milking and my mother making butter while I drank warm cow's milk from a half pint bottle; crops of cotton and corn. My dad had a job besides the farm as a hospital attendant at the Veteran's Hospital. There were a few other farms with houses on the dirt road to our farm. One belonged to a family with one daughter, between my sister and I. One belonged to that little girl's grandmother.

The picture is from 1954. I had begged for the toy tractor you see, but I remember that it wasn't as satisfying to ride on the gravel (there was no pavement anywhere on that farm save a tiny porch) as it was in the appliance store where it was sold. (I don't know why the appliance store had ride-on toys, but they did. It was a place where we bought refrigerators and washing machines and the owner was a friend of my parents.) The older girl near me is my sister. Yeah, matching dresses. The other child is, I think, a cousin of mine. The auto was one of several Oldsmobiles that my parents owned at various times. (My dad was friends with everyone at the Olds dealership, too.) We are in the driveway of the farmhouse. I remember the toy pith helmet. Don't know where we got it, but it was one of my playthings for a long time. One of not too many. There was a BB gun. An Erector Set. They would come when I was a little older. We had a dollhouse built by the granddad who built the house and some dime store furnishings for it. We imagined toothpaste caps were glasses and made toys out of other detritus. I'm not sure if we'd gotten a TV at this point. We had a few books, not many. Soon, my mother would go back to school to get her college degree and teaching certificate. In about four years, we'd leave the farm for a small town where she would teach.

The house of my childhood is gone (burned down) and the land is disected by a major highway.

I don't feel like the child who lived there really. I'm in a high rise condo where I could barely discern the storm last night (although we raced through the rain and sleet to get home from the restaurant). On that farm, in my tiny room with windows on three sides and a huge pecan tree swaying ten yards or so from it, the weather was immediate even when you were inside.

I don't feel like the child who longed for that ride on toy tractor or treasured the few toys. I don't feel like the child who drank that warm from the cow milk on the basement steps, watching my mother make butter. I don't feel like the child who invented worlds from sticks and stones or made a fence with a broad top and a discarded key into a motorcycle taking her on dream adventures.

I don't feel like the child who would dream of owning books and toys and all sorts of things that she would one day find she could afford. I don't feel like the child who made dream rocket gadgets from a cardboard box and discarded lids and such and then would one day find that amazing things that she could barely dream of (computers, cell phones, music players) were real and easy to obtain.

I don't feel like the child who believed in Santa and also shook every gift under the tree she'd help decorate with foil icicles and a collection of long-held decorations.

On the other hand, I don't relate so well to the adult who dined on steak tartare and other gourmet dishes and shared expensive wines with friends last night.

I am miles and miles from the farm. The why is tangled with the desires of the modern world, first of my parents then my own. I am nowhere near the farm. But am I home? The path from there to here feels pre-ordained. But surely many choices were made. I even vaguely remember making some of them, fueled by lists of 'pros' and 'cons' that were soon discarded and replaced with a gut decision.