Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Most Surprising Year

My husband squatting down to open a present the first Christmas we were married (1976). My brother-in-law's parents are in the background. This is the same Christmas pictured here in one of my earlier Holidailies entries.

Looking back at was so predictable. We planned trips, we took them and they pretty much went as planned. Amazingly so. The world was a mess. Wars and terror and accidents and protests and politics. We continued our retirement occupations, FFP writing for a neighborhood newspaper, me playing tennis. We socialized. FFP gave up a couple of obligations to non-profits. We took our walks, went to the gym but not often enough, maintained our Austin daily photo blog. We socialized, we met some new people and caught up with old friends. People died that we knew, People we knew had children. Time marched on but our lives stayed inside the lines. Not a bad thing. But not so interesting.

Now in 1976, 38 years ago, my life was full of change. I'd moved to Austin in late 1975 to take a job. I was single and ready for adventure. I interviewed for a job in Wisconsin I think. It had been three years since I'd returned from my 'tramping around Europe' adventure and I was ready for something new. I'd taken the job in Austin and met FFP shortly after arriving around Thanksgiving 1975. We started seeing the town as I prepared for a job that involved a lot of travel. I rented a P.O. drawer to hold mail while I was gone. I had a small apartment. I started the traveling. We impulsively decided to get married and squeezed in a JP wedding in the living room of his little house between our work obligations. So in 1976 I turned 28 and found myself married. Between my work travels we went to work together (he worked at the same company) and socialized with his vast network of friends. I sadly don't remember much about Christmas 1976 but since my mom shot these pictures I'm thinking that we went to my parents' house (in Mesquite, near Dallas) and had Christmas. FFP had the long hair of the day. It was not at all gray. He could still squat down AND get back up. The year had been full of changes. Life seemed to be going by at a dizzying speed. And it would just continue. FFP would start a business in 1977 and I would change jobs. Then we would buy a bigger house.

Now the years are less packed with changes since we made the move downtown and lost all our parental units. And, honestly, that's not so bad!

Holidailies is drawing to a close. I'll post tomorrow with a wrap-up on how I did on my holiday resolutions and also with a wrap up of the holiday cards I've received. (Of course, there are always some late entries.) Then I will doubtless start disappearing from this space again if form holds. It has been sort of fun through December to impose this duty on myself to at least sit down and type during the day some time. I also allowed myself to read other blogs, particularly Bev Syke's "Funny the World" and that's been a pleasure. I've dipped into her blog over the years and feel like I sort of know her although we have never met.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Looking Back

This is a photo taken in Spring 1949. That's my aunt in the shorts and saddle oxfords. She is 17. That's me on her lap, not yet one. The swing was on our farm in a very large Pecan tree.The field behind us belonged to us (or, actually, my granddad as did the whole farm and house). I think I see some cattle out there. Looking back over sixty-five years. I worshiped this aunt, but I'm so small here that I don't think I'm very sure of her as yet. I have that dark hair like my mother. It is weird but I can almost recognize this baby in this blurry picture as me. I remember the swing from later when it was still there and I could swing on it myself. My aunt looks young but the face is definitely hers. She is the only one of my dad and his siblings still alive. She's recovering from a shoulder replacement and the fall that precipitated it. She sounded good on the phone a couple of days ago.

The end of the year is a time for looking back, isn't it? I've been fumbling through old pictures and scanning them. I got this one out of a decaying photo album of my mother's a few years ago and put it and the other pictures in these non-reactive sleeves.I'd never noticed the saddle oxfords until I was processing this scan.

Taking stock of 2014 I'm thinking that I failed to accomplish much. But I did scan this picture and discover those shoes. And that's something.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Looking Forward to a New Year

Holidailies prompts us to write today on the subject
What are you looking forward to the most in 2015? (alternately, what are you dreading the most in 2015?)
I will be glad to reach 2015, I suppose, in as much as it is a milestone. Gosh, once 2000 seemed impossibly far away and now we are fifteen years in. Wow.

For a couple of years, FFP and I have been saying 'we should go to France next year.' We went in 2006 for our anniversary. Life handed us lots of challenges for the next few years. Most of that is past us. So to make sure we did this we booked air fares and guaranteed hotels in Paris and in the South near Cannes. We are committed to going this summer. I'm looking forward to it although I dread the packing. I hope I read all the guides and refresh my French knowledge before then. (I won't do these things. Sigh.) We haven't planned any other trips. I hope we can go to the Northwest US in August as we have for quite a few years. It is always my favorite, least stressful trip.

Mostly this time of year fills me with dread. Beyond the usual financial things I have to handle, taxes loom. A folder sits in my inbox awaiting attention to the January 15 quarterly payment. FFP has been organizing the receipts for tax-deductible donations. Our little business, mostly dormant but still operating as a sub-chapter S to process payments from a mortgage and FFP's writing assignments, has to have a return done in short order. In fact, since we pay FFP, we have to produce an annual Federal Unemployment return, the usual quarterly payroll stuff. We have to produce forms to the government with copies to people whose mortgages we own. I have to file a sales tax return although we don't sell taxable goods any longer. There is the usual quarterly report to Texas Unemployment. All of that doesn't include the inexorable process of getting all the moving parts together for the 1040. Partnerships are fine until you are waiting for the K1's which apparently they don't have to prepare until ten minutes before the deadline for 1040. I don't mind paying taxes. I hate filing all the returns. Even with the CPA's help the whole process is fraught for me.

So yeah. I'm glad I'm still alive (or hopefully will be) to see in 2015. And I hate taxes. And...Viva La France!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

There's a First Time for Everything

I'm leaning on the Holidailies prompt today. When I first got up I thought I'd just get under a throw blanket in my chair and watch CBS Sunday Morning. (Which is already on but recording on the DVR.) I'm up later than usual because it's cold and rainy out and we don't have any obligations today. Then I remembered that I'm trying to write something in this space every day for Holidailies so I decided to get that done.

Anyway. The prompt is:
What did you do this year that you've never done before?
Whoa! That's sort of depressing. I read that and started sorting through my year and, exciting as it was, it didn't hold many first times. Maybe none.

My travels? New Orleans, New York, Denver, Boulder, Aspen (aha! first time there), Maine, Oregon and Washington and Oregon Portland area, New York (again). Mostly visiting places I'd been before. I think we stayed in a different hotel in Portland, OR. I stayed in a motel in Augusta, ME I'd never stayed in but Comfort Inn? OK. The Aspen jaunt was all new to me. Independence Pass (we drove from Denver), the wonderful St. Regis condo where we stayed with friends, the night at the music festival, the walks and meals with friends.All new if predictable adventures.

Hardly ground-breaking in the travel department, though. The road trip to get to Colorado was not unlike ones we've taken together before and was very much like ones I'd taken with Mom and Dad. We did take our friends from the west coast to New Orleans with us so that made it sort of different although we visited some of the same restaurants (with a few new ones) and stayed in the same hotel as the visit the year before.

Well, we must have shaken things up in the living arena, though, right? We must have redecorated or gotten things organized in a different way or developed a new household habit? Well, in a word: no. We haven't made many changes since we painted and put in tons of built-ins and furnished this little apartment. We replenished linens a couple of times but not this last year. I'm still trying (with mixed success) to clean it myself in a timely fashion.

Our recreation has continued along the same lines. I play tennis (doubles) with women who are either older than I or not too much younger. I play on the schedule of a friend who will turn 84 next week. Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. Mornings. Usually 9 in the winter, 8:30 in the summer. I didn't shake this up by scheduling to play in workouts or tournaments. I didn't play singles with anyone. Rinse. Repeat.

I work out a little. Usually just cardio on a recumbent bike. While (choose one or more) listening to music, watching TV, reading newspapers. Same as last year. I do some weights or machines occasionally.

We walk. For the six plus years we have lived downtown we have made many walks. This year a new boardwalk opened on the south side of Lady Bird Lake so we had some new paths. But really there is lots of repetition. The city changed around us, of course. Buildings are going up we can see from our apartment and balcony and a bunch we only see on walks. I usually walk once a month with my friend Allan. He's a gay playwright. We eat lunch, maybe see a museum show.

FFP and I see almost every special event at the Blanton and Harry Ransom Center. (To shake things up I guess we should go to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Musuem.) When the two of us are in New York, we almost always go to MOMA. We saw the Matisse cutout show in October. If there is a show of interest while we are there, we do that. We'll also see something on Broadway and a jazz show or two. We'll eat at old favorites and try new restaurants and we almost always invite people who live in NYC or are there at the same moment to a little dinner or lunch party.

We eat out. We tried a few new restaurants this year. Trying new ones, of course, is part of our routine. We gave dinner parties in some of them. Again: routine.

We go to the ballet. Everything Ballet Austin does, we see. We go to their gala event, too. We also go to plays or other live events. We see almost every show put on by Austin Cabaret Theatre. No shake ups there.

A fun routine but a routine all the same.

I read. We get three newspapers everyday. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and our local rag, The Austin American-Statesman. I try to work the puzzles. I get behind on the papers and they stack up. I read a book before bed. I never get through all the books I buy. It's the usual.

I think I bought a new gadget this year. An iPad Air. FFP got a new phone. (I have to get a new one myself soon!) While he was getting the phone, I decided to get an iPad with a cellular connection. But I'd had a WiFi iPad original so big deal. All year I kept telling myself I'd switch to Windows 8. I already had a laptop running it and had purchased the Office 365 to run on it. I also told myself that I'd learn the Creative Cloud software instead of limping along with my old knowledge using only a fraction of the programs and a tiny fraction of their features. But. I really didn't.

I did learn new things. Hardly a day goes by that I don't learn a new word or some new Internet thing. For example, see the picture above? I took it at the Austin Rocks store in our neighborhood. But when I took it I didn't know what the hashtag #OOTD meant. It means, the Internet instantly told me, "Outfit of the Day." I take reflection pictures all the time. I love it when there's a mirror or reflective thing in the window. Layers. Nothing new there, been doing it for years. Also, the outfit? I wear that Polartec jacket all the time. Nothing new there. My clothing choices have not broken new ground indeed I'm mostly wearing the same clothes as last year.

Wow. I really, really need to shake things up, huh?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Mystery Card

Yesterday we received a portion of a Christmas card in a plastic bag with apologies from the P.O. for mangling it. The return address was apparently in the upper left hand corner of the envelope which was completely missing! Inside part of a personal note was visible: "...hope to see you soon." The cards were pre-printed apparently with first names. It had the last two letters of a name and a woman's name: Mary Ann.

FFP and I discussed it. We decided it was most likely from a couple who always sent a card printed with their names. He even thought the hand-writing looked like hers. I commented that they had sent a religious card every year we had exchanged them. This one with the puppy was, sort of inexplicably, from National Geographic. I decided it must be from this couple, was confident that they hadn't moved and so I wrote them a note as I have been for all the cards I receive. We had a laugh about it.

Later in the day we went to a Boxing Day party. The guys giving it had sent us a card early on and gotten one in return that I made by hand using cancelled Christmas stamps. They had commented later when we bumped into them that they had received it and liked my note (which mentioned their elderly little dog prominently featured on their card). At their house they were displaying the cards they received (yes, I saw my handmade one) and I mentioned almost being thwarted in answering the ones I received by the post office fail. I said I was just sure it was this couple, but that the card not being religious threw me off. One of the guys retrieved their card from the same couple. The printed signature was the same as the part on mine and the card wasn't the same but did say National Geographic on the back and had a pet picture. There was no personal jotting. We had a laugh about that. Maybe we 'rate' with this couple in a way they don't? Or maybe it's just that I always jot something on the cards even if it's just 'Happy Holidays...LB & FFP' so they responded to that habit of mine in years past. The guys had cards on several surfaces around the house. They'd gotten well over a hundred. They told me they send 350 and it was their time of the year to reach out to people. ("It's our one touch of the year with some," one said.) Yikes. I could do that but even when I send to people preemptively I have gotten to the place where I send about 125-150, knowing that only about a third or a half will send me a card. But this is the first year that I've actually gotten about 1/2 a card! After the New Year I'll take a survey of the ones we receive perhaps and publish it (see this one from two years ago).

Friday, December 26, 2014

Boxing Day?

Today in Holidailies they suggest talking about cultural traditions in honor of the first day of Kwanzaa. My cultural traditions are mainstream Protestant Texas family traditions and they totally jive with the ones being pounded on television. So. Ho. Hum.

Today is Boxing Day? This one I never heard of until probably a few years ago. It is a Commonwealth thing apparently. Think English Lords and their minions. Think "Downton Abbey" which starts up in the U.S. again soon. It's a day to give goodies (in a box of same apparently) to servants and tradespeople. In the U.S. we give Christmas bonuses well before the day to the concierges and staff, the employees of one of our clubs (I don't think the other one does this) and to the person who delivers our newspaper. For the concierges it is achieved not with the discreet passing of an envelope of cash to insure service in the year to come but rather by appeals to everyone to give management checks which they redistribute as bonuses. From the begging and pleading in emails and on the elevator notices I'd say few people gave as early or as well as we did. Of course, the employees will not know this. At the club they assess you on the monthly bill and you have to object to remove it. A better system but still not one that allows you to tip the employees most useful to you. The newspaper person, who I confess I have never laid eyes on, includes a card with his address on it well before Christmas. We send a check right away (just as we respond to the plea for money for the concierges and staff right away) because otherwise we will forget. None of these activities wait for the day after Christmas. If we actually had servants (ha) or tradesmen who weren't well compensated for every repair or delivery, I assume we would reward them well before the holiday.

Now we are invited to a Boxing Day open house. I think it's just a convenient day to have a party. It will insure that I get a shower today and get out of a T-Shirt and sweat pants. I don't think the hosts consider the spread and alcohol as a compensation to underlings although the couple is well off. I think it is a convenient day to have a party when others weren't doing it. And, like New Years Day receptions a good time for a 'recovery' or 'get away from family' thing.

No real cultural traditions of much interest here. Now we did have a family tradition of doing jigsaw puzzles or playing board games at Christmas time. Or Thanksgiving or, really, any time we gathered with family and friends. (Except for funerals. The only tradition in our family vis-a-vis funerals is that after the service and after nibbling on ham and casseroles and such donated by friends we would start wanting something spicy and nachos would get made.)

Jigsaws, though? Yeah. A tradition. Since we moved into a small apartment I have assumed there was no room for a jigsaw puzzle to sit around on a table until we finished it. This year my niece gave us this puzzle that had a 1700's Manhattan with an overlay of modern streets and little plastic buildings to punch into that. See detail above. I decided to pop out the leaf on our dining table which expands it from a four person to a six. It is a little tight with the liquor cabinet near by but it worked. We were still able to eat and work on the puzzle for several days. Soon it will be disassembled and go back in the box. So yeah, maybe that's my 'Boxing Day' tradition!

We loved this puzzle, by the way, although getting the 100+ buildings in place was a challenge. Notice we added the new buildings (including ones not yet finished) in WTC area but left the twin towers, too. It was fun seeing the streets and roads and farms of old Manhattan and then seeing the overlay (including the land fill!) and then the buildings and bridges. We love New York and try to go twice a year. We went in June and in October this year. We usually go in December but we attended an October wedding. I think not going to NYC in December made our holiday long and quiet.

Anyway, I say if you don't have cultural traditions to latch onto then make some of your own. Yesterday we had a Christmas breakfast of bacon and banana 'pancakes' (really just egg and banana cooked like pancakes). Today we've decided to have migas for breakfast. Migas are definitely a tradition so why not for Boxing Day?  A lot of our Hispanic friends have a tamale tradition for Christmas Eve I believe it is. (Many non-Hispanic Texans have adopted this tradition, too.) Yep. Migas for Boxing Day. That's the ticket.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Forever

So my 'it seemed clever at the time' idea for this year's holiday card (a habit I can't seem to give up) was this: I wouldn't send cards. I wouldn't think of a clever idea possibly involving a picture of us or reference to our 2014 and then print it on scores of cards and go through the address data base sending out cards into the ether. Instead I had a different idea which I described a earlier this month.

The image above is a scan of the front of a card I actually sent. Inside it said that friends were forever (is that really true?) and maybe that weird shoes were, too, given the recipient. I have sent a few commercial cards and have made cards like this with similar lame collages of stamps. In one case I sent the person last year's card because we didn't exchange cards last year.

It's Christmas Day and I don't have much to do. We opened our gifts to each other last night. We don't have any plans. I only have two cards to reply to...the ones I got yesterday. So, I've kept up with this activity so far.

A few people have remarked that they received the cards and they seemed to like them. I think it forestalled that disconnect of having the cards pass in the mail. Of course, if everyone did this then there would be no cards. We'd all be waiting for someone to send one to get things started. Next year I'm sure I'll print up something I think is clever and mail it to a hundred or so families and then receive and admire the forty or fifty that arrive in our mailbox. Maybe. This year has been pretty fun. It's sort of broken up the feeling that Christmas and its rituals are just this endless unbroken cycle of habit devoid of meaning.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

To Nog or Not

Photograph on left by Maja Nipper (all rights reserved). Painting on right by Shanny Lott (all rights reserved). So don't use the composite of my shelf either. I don't ask for forbearance often.

As the days of Holidailies have rolled along I've become more and more dependent on Holidailies for an inspiring prompt. Today they offer:
Eggnog - yes or no? Do you have a favorite recipe? Alternatively, what is your favorite holiday drink?
Here's my take on eggnog:
  1. If you make some, I'll have a taste. (FFP can't have the milk and cream.)
  2. But please use Bourbon.
  3. I love that scene in 'Giant' where Bob asks Bick if he makes 'it'  himself. Turns out Bob is talking about the liquor not the eggnog recipe.

My favorite any time drink is a Manhattan. Preferably with Rye Whiskey but a Bourbon will do. At Christmas you should be drinking dark liquor for cold weather (in the Northern Hemisphere anyway). Not that I'm preaching about what you should drink. On Facebook I'm famous among my buddies for taking pictures of my drinks especially the Manhattans. I am somewhat of a connoisseur of them although I can't really consume enough alcohol to become an 'expert'. The painting above on my shelf was done by my friend Shanny Lott in honor of my obsession. Next to it is a picture of my dad, taken the last week of his life, sipping a little whiskey.

My mom used to like to buy the prepackaged eggnog at Christmas and Dad would spike it up. Haven't touched it lately. 

Now every Christmas I manage to have some Bloody Marys, too. It's a tradition at the noon time day before Christmas Eve party at our downtown club. And FFP likes to have one occasionally at home especially this time of year. The vitamin C in the tomato juice helps with all the other drinking!

As for 'Giant' I just found the DVDs and queued up the Christmas scene on side B. Watching that long movie is sort of a Christmas tradition around here, too. And so I say...Cheers!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


So it's Festivus, huh? A holiday invented on a sitcom that I never watched until it was in reruns? (Disclosure: I never watched one complete "The Colbert Report." It's not that I wouldn't have found them humorous or thought-provoking. I just never got in the habit.) According to the holidailies prompt:
Today is Festivus, which is marked by Feats of Strength and the Airing of Grievances. What do you consider your strengths? Alternatively, air your grievances in today's blog post.
What are my strengths? Well, it isn't a long list.
  •  I don't always follow the herd. If everyone is watching a particular sitcom or comedy show, I don't feel the need to watch it as well. (See above.) If everyone is wearing green this season, I'll still wear my black and gray until it's threadbare. If everyone is drinking Cosmopolitans or Moscow Mules, I'll still order a Manhattan. If everyone wants to serve Manhattans up, I'll still usually insist on ice. If everyone gets all their news on their computer or gadget, I'll still insist on seeing and touching a newspaper even though I may go find the same article online and pass it on to someone. When my friends are sure that I should vote a 'straight party line' or take a certain view, you can be sure that I'll think the issue through myself.
  • I do what I say I'm going to do. My best friends do this, too. This means we RSVP and we go to the event or don't go as we said. We do this unless serious events intervene. If I say that I'll take care of something I do it. Now this means that I don't make promises lightly, but you can trust me to do what I say. I said I was going to post something in this space every day from December 1 to January 1. And I will. Even though, really, Holidailies isn't a pledge of allegiance to online gods or anything.
  • I'm able to see the humor in things. If a stock goes down after I buy it, I'm able to joke about what we call the 'P-B Effect' after our combined last names. If it rains when I don't take my umbrella and doesn't when I do, I'm able to laugh and take credit for the weather.
  • I'm able to see that most things don't matter and will barely be remembered. If I lose my phone or forget my credit card somewhere, if plans go awry, if I have a little illness then I'm quick to say "this isn't cosmic." Even when serious illness and death comes to those around me, I grieve but I understand that it is their fate and will one day be mine. 
  • I do the mundane things even though (see above). Does it matter if you pay your bills on time or try to accurately calculate and pay your taxes? Does it matter if you write a note to someone to thank them for a kindness? Does it matter if you get your inspection sticker and put your registration on your car in a timely manner? Does it matter if you ever clean out the refrigerator? Yes. Because these little things are all there is that keeps civilization sort of ticking. None of them matter. But neglecting all of them is a tsunami. 
Grievances? Well, I have a few. But I try to file them away. To all the twitter feeds that say "STFU" to my sort I (silently) say "I already did so I can't defend myself." I am very lucky to live out my life (which will end, heroically or ignominiously, in pain or in joy) from a pretty high point that I've arrived at: relatively healthy, somewhat wealthy and not too wise for my own good. I'm not complaining. You can't make me.

Monday, December 22, 2014

My Favorite Christmas

Holidailies prompt today is:
What is your best (or worst) holiday memory?
The picture? Yeah...that's not it. That one was right in the middle despite my pensive look. Holidays are so busy and chaotic that's it's hard to appreciate anything. Growing up I couldn't wait to see what Santa brought and then what was under the tree. But the denouement, the room full of discarded wrapping paper, with a bit of 'why did I get this?' and 'why did I NOT get that?' running underneath the conversation always left me a little sad. I would consolidate my gifts and put them in a corner or another room and try to move on.

Really I enjoyed a lot about Christmas. Getting surprises but more than that the occasional feeling of having gotten someone else exactly what they wanted. I loved it when we agreed to tone down the chaos by opening presents one at a time in order of age or something. I can't imagine what the procedure was here. My husband is hidden behind me, reading a book. He must have just gotten it as a present, right? My brother-in-law and his parents are pictured, too. (My mother probably took the picture and it's in her house.) My sister and her kids must be there. Maybe a kid is bundled up in the quilt on the left?

My favorite Christmas, though, was the Christmas of 1973. I believe that was the year. I'd taken off in the fall of 1972 to ramble aimlessly around Europe with a Eurail pass and a modicum of gumption. By Christmas 1973 I had a job again and couldn't leave it for an out of town holiday. I believe my parents went to visit my sister and her family. My aunts who lived nearby (I was in Dallas then) went to West Texas to be with other relatives. I'd never spent a Chirstmas alone.

My parents and sister had given me gifts which I saved to open on Christmas Day. I got a newspaper. I made coffee. I carefully opened each present. I was in a (relatively) new apartment and had bought a modular set of cubes with drawers and such and a desktop. They gave me desk accessories and, I'm sure, other things like amusing socks or knick-knacks. I liked the desk accessories a lot. One was a pencil sharpener with a lever to attach it to the desk with a suction cup. I coded on coding pads with a pencil back then. Yep. I sat there the rest of the day and read the paper from Page 1 to the classifieds and drank coffee. I was calm and alone and felt very much at peace. I won't say I felt independent at that moment because either I never did or that happened in 1972 when I was tramping around Europe. (I am going with never, however.)

It was so peaceful and simple. I could hear the chaos over the phone when I called my relatives to thank them for the gifts. I enjoyed that thing that we wish each other and get little of: peace. This Christmas promises much of the same. We have nothing planned between noon on the 23rd and Boxing Day. We have a one foot high tree with tiny rubber critters like flamingos, frogs, pigs and bats decorating it. There is one wrapped present. It is for me and it is from the bookstore. (FFP didn't give me the receipt but I keep up with charges online.) I was going to get him something but he kept buying the things for himself when I went out shopping with him. I still might find something, you never know.

Maybe this year will be my favorite holiday ever. I get emails from my niece about the chaos in Colorado that comes from having little kids. I view it fondly. From afar.

Peace on Earth. Goodwill to Men.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lost in the Longest Night

Holidailies prompts us to write about winter solstice.
Today is the Winter Solstice - the shortest day and the longest night of the year - a day which has been celebrated throughout human history as a time of rebirth and new beginnings. Do you celebrate this day? What has happened during the past year that has felt like a new beginning for you?
Celebrate? Honestly I celebrate with people. I celebrate Christmas in as much as others do and as a muscle memory of what I did and saw growing up. A couple we know used to throw a delightful winter solstice party so we would celebrate it. For all I know they still do but we haven't been invited of late. Only problem is that it was way out in the burbs and wow it was dark coming home. (Not joking. But it is funny.)

New beginnings? I don't seem to get those any longer. My life seems to be largely consumed with avoiding an ignominious end. Running out of money, falling and not getting up, losing my mental grasp of holidays and everything else. It is just the age that I am, I think. Nothing to be done about it.

As far as it being the longest night and that having some significance to us? I found this article in The New York Times. This fellow is writing about our sleep (or the lack thereof) in a world of artificial lights. It really hits home. Living downtown in an apartment with night lights inside (to avoid those falls) and night lights outside, too, it is never really dark. Unless of course we get invited to a party out in the areas with no streetlights. And still there are high beams bouncing off the trees and prowling for deer and other animals who prefer the dark. This solstice thing has surely lost its meaning for us and not just because humans have moved on to different religious celebrations.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Winter in Texas

This is a picture of my dad and sister in the winter of 1948. We'd had a lot of snow on the farm and someone snapped this picture. My dad appears to be on the road which was unpaved and most likely impassable until this stuff melted.  I was a baby, probably three months old. The farm was north of McKinney which is about 30 miles north of Dallas. The house belonged to the neighbors across the road. Ours was a bit smaller and didn't have the decorative greenery.

Snow in North Texas is something you snap pictures of because it isn't that common. Snow in Austin? Doubly so.

Forrest's parents snapped a picture of their house, likely in the winter of 1939/1940. The snow was unusual so they took a picture of the little one bedroom house surrounded by snow (and not much else) that FFP's dad had built with his own and his family's labor. (And lumber from the company on the sign.) That's his mom posing. [For locals who know the area, this is in Rosedale.]

In 2004 it snowed a tiny bit in Austin. We took a picture of the backyard where we lived on Shoal Creek. 

Holidailies has this prompt today:
Winter is coming!
Tomorrow is the first day of winter. What do you consider the perfect winter day?

We snap pictures when it snows because it's a rare occurrence. In Austin it doesn't even snow every year. Fortunately the requirements for a perfect winter day for me don't involve snow. No.  I prefer a crisp blue sky. No wind. But cold enough that the sun is welcome but doesn't really warm you up when you exercise and you need to leave on a jacket and maybe a dashing scarf to stay warm.. My perfect winter day might just be next Tuesday when the forecast here is a low of 37, a high of 62, mostly clear with no chance of precipitation. I'll be playing tennis for a couple of hours in the cool morning, bundled up in sweats, a hat and sunglasses defending against the winter sun. Then I'll rush through a shower, dress up a bit, and go to a noon time party where I'll drink a Bloody Mary and have some party food while looking out over a snowless and bright Austin with construction cranes relentlessly changing our skyline on a day that hardly seems like winter. When we walk back to our apartment the cool air will refresh my face, flush from drinking alcohol in the middle of the day.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Acts of Kindness

Today's Holidailies prompt is about random acts of kindness. I don't know that I do many of those. My mom did, though. As I mentioned a few days ago in this post my mom was a very kind and thoughtful person, always doing for others and celebrating family and friends. The Christmas that she entertained not only her grand kids but my cousin's little kids and made stockings (and doubtless found little gifts for them) was but one example. This is my cousin's son. I snapped a Polaroid of him carefully unpacking his stocking that Christmas. I found the original Polaroid the other day. On the back my mom had noted that she was ordering two copies. (You could send your instant prints off to the company to be copied.) So she probably ordered a print for herself and one for her nephew who is this little guy's father. Indeed, she had purchased that Polaroid camera for me when I was in high school. I will never know how she found enough money to do it. (See this entry.)

Thanks, Mom, for showing me how to care about others. Maybe I will do some random acts of kindness in the coming days.I have lots more resources than my mom ever did if only I had her heart.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Holidailies has this prompt today:
Let's talk about games (console games, board games, role-playing games, live action, any sort). Do you play any? Do you have any family favorites? Are there any you just can't stand?
Now, there's a prompt a day late. (Since I talked about tennis just yesterday.) However, games, yeah I have plenty to say on that subject. The winter holidays make a lot of people think about football, but it makes me think about board games and jigsaw puzzles. It's a family tradition in my extended family especially on my dad's side to play a board game or card game or domino game while recovering from eating too much or while having an after dinner piece of pie and coffee.

My favorite game is Scrabble. I love words so this isn't that surprising. I remember Scrabble first from playing at my aunts' house. These two aunts never married and they lived together in this little bungalow in Oak Cliff in Dallas. I spent time with them sometimes in the summer, just me visiting them. They had an original Scrabble game and for years it came out and my Aunt Wynnie would play with me (and others if there were other visitors for a Christmas get-together or something). My Aunt Mary, my dad's oldest sibling, would sit in her chair and offer advice and mediation over words. We did resort to the dictionary for conflicts as well.

My mom loved nothing so much as getting out a game or a jigsaw puzzle and whiling away hours on a holiday after the dishes were done. She liked a steaming cup of black coffee by her side, too.

My sister still clings to the memory of those times and insists on getting the Scrabble set out when I visit with her. In fact, the picture above might have been taken after playing with her. I made 'singe' out of sing and (with the help of two blanks) used seven letters for 'culture' thus getting an extra 50 points. I always win when we play. (Well, usually. There are bad draws.) It doesn't matter to my sister. She's back to reliving our childhood. When there were no electronic games or iThis or iThat. When, as we got older, there weren't really toys. But we always had games. We evolved into playing a domino game called Spinners and some other games (one was called Sequence). But just this last summer I visited with my sister at her daughter's house. She brought along her Scrabble set and a Scrabble dictionary. And insisted we play.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

It's a Racket

No, it hasn't snowed in Austin this winter. But a few years ago, it did. 2011 I think. We had some light accumulations and it was still pretty cold. My friend (who was only 80 in this picture) and I got another gal to take our picture with a phone. This clay court had a patch of shade and the snow hadn't melted. We actually played on the one next to it or maybe a hard court. I know we actually played although I don't think there was a fourth victim. This isn't the coldest day we played mufflers or gloves.

We don't get a lot of snow in Austin. (Understatement.) Unfortunately for the last few years we haven't gotten enough rain either. The temperatures occasionally get chilly, more rarely actually cold (below freezing) and the wind can bite a bit.

Suffice to say: it's hard for me to give up my tennis game.

The nice lady on the right above organizes a social game every Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday. She's done this a long time with different casts of characters. Most her age have quit the game (of tennis or, you know, the entire game). However, the other Saturday regulars are both older than I as well. I have participated for about 10 years. We try to play three sets of doubles with each partnership. If I'm there I start with this kind lady. We play for two hours or so. We hit a lot of balls. Most points are won when someone makes a mistake rather than by clear winners.

When I'm on the court, a lot of the rest of my life falls away. I concentrate on the balls, my racket, the wind, a leave scurrying across the court, the sky, the trees, the sounds of other games on other courts. It's a microcosm of life with pretty simple rules and yet with infinite possibilities. Yes, I'm moving around a little and that's nice. But, more importantly, it's almost like two hours of meditation. Sure we talk on changeovers of family and errands and all the things outside this space. But during the game one confines oneself to calling the score, apologizing for a bad shot and complimenting someone else's efforts.

Tennis is a comfortable time for me. A special place impervious to what else is going on. When we have a rain out or can't play due to a holiday or because we can't get a foursome, I'm not that disappointed. A break in routine is nice. But once I'm on the court I'm very present in those moments and it feels fantastic.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Today is Enough

I confess. I've been dragging through this holiday season, collecting a few shop window reflections to cheer me up (spiky tree, spiky hair, I love it) but still feeling depressed.

I know the why. It's the root cause of any and all depressions I have. (I don't think my depression is clinical by the way. And not just because I'm a medical nihilist. So I probably should call it sadness or being down or blah.) When I slip into a mode of worrying about accomplishments and things and when I last dusted those things I find that I fall out of true appreciation of life and being centered in it. The more I revel in the taste of my food, the minutiae around me, the conversations I hear then the better I feel. The more I notice my steps and wonder that they are still strong for someone who is over 65 then the more the black cloak yields. The more I notice the bright crisp beautiful day then it seems less heinous that people are rushing about for piles of mindless presents. If I stop to read a paragraph in my books while I dust them and don't rush through other household things but stop and revel in my wonderful possessions in my little apartment and my ability to still climb the ladder and reach the high shelves, then chores seem to fall into their place not as awful duties but as wonderful privileges. Not everyone can climb that ladder.

To this point I read an article in The New York Times: "Abundance Without Attachment." I love two quotes in this article and I'll share them here in case you hate following links.
CHRISTMAS is at our throats again. - Noël Coward
Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. - Calvin Coolidge
The article asserts that we should be happy about abundance if we have it and share it but should also avoid attachment. It is the attachment to money and things that is our downfall. In case you still hate following links I'll outline the three-pronged approach to achieving this.
  • First, collect experiences, not things.
  • Second, steer clear of excessive usefulness.
  • And finally, get to the center of the wheel.

First point is pretty obvious, I think. 

The second means doing things for their own sake rather than as a means to a reward. So we clean for the pleasure of the task. We drive to enjoy the road even though, yes, we are headed somewhere. We read and converse not to get information and use it for success but because reading and conversing are pleasure.

The third means moving from the ups and downs of life to the core thing that you think life is about. Many think this is religious faith. According to this article some churches have a 'wheel of life' decoration in a window with a king at the top, a pauper at the bottom and Jesus in the center. Have to look for that. My center is inhabiting the world in full acknowledgment the chaos and hate but with thankfulness that my basic needs are taken care of and that I have means beyond those needs to help others.  Living with the understanding that everything that swirls around me and irritates me (diseases, politics, bad drivers, heedless bikers, active shooters, terrorists, prejudice, psychosis) is just noise until the day comes that it is my day. If I merely try not to be the instrument of pain for someone else, I will be centered.  If I simply enjoy being in this moment, able to type if not 'write' something, then I have all the peace I want or expect.

That active shooter thing? One block away the morning after Thanksgiving was the closest I've come. There have been close calls while walking and driving. In my 20's a medical condition that could have killed me instead infected my appendix and led to surgery that short stopped it. I have stumbled where a fall would have been horrendous if not fatal. This is where we all exist. On a precipice between life and death, relative health and serious decline. The only way we can live happily is to find the center. 

My center is acknowledgment. Of the tightrope we are on and the fact that one day we all fall and we cannot build the kind of net that will protect us. Which means being cautious but resigned. And enjoying every little moment for itself.

Today is enough. And is, in fact, tremendous. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's Too Complicated!

Today's photo is a recent reflection at the Uncommon Objects Store on South Congress.

Today's Holidailies prompt is: "Today is Cat Herder's Day, a day to celebrate the times when things are overwhelming, and you feel as if you are trying to 'herd cats'. What in your life feels like herding cats, and how do you handle it?"

For the first sixty years of my life I sought to complicate things. I wanted more stuff. I wanted more experiences. I wanted to know more people. I embraced buying a home, landscaping, buying furniture and art and computer after computer, camera after camera (to capture those people and experiences). I threw parties and introduced the people I'd met to one another. I met other minds online and met some of those people in person. I mailed hundreds (well, at least more than a hundred) holiday cards, each year printing something complicated and, in my mind, clever. At work I got to know people and products and ideas.

Along the way we lost track of friends and even family. People died. Belongings began to lose their luster and were given away, discarded or sold. We downsized from about 3000 square feet and a garage with storage to a 1225 square foot apartment and a forty square foot storage cage. By the end of 2011 all our parents were gone and early in 2012 we had disposed of their belongings. (We still have the last home my parents lived in but we rent it out.)

But. Now I have this desire to simplify things.

I still want to meet people but I'm honestly circumspect about getting too involved with more people or their causes. I have trouble keeping up with the ones I know. A data base of people on my computer contains 655 individuals or families. Of course, I don't really remember who some of them are. (I have, I think, eliminated those who have left this world.) My facebook profile claims I have 864 friends at least one of whom is not still alive. I have friends who are not in the data base and not friends on facebook.

I have so many possessions albeit in a small space that I thought I would get organized in retirement (I've been retired twelve years) or after downsizing (I moved to the smaller place over six years ago) or for sure after handling the affairs and possessions of the parents (completed almost four years ago).

But. Life is still too complex. I need to make it even more straightforward. I need to concentrate my attention. How to do that?

Don't buy so many things. I now look askance at buying things. I may even occasionally discourage FFP from buying something although this is less frequent. When I was younger I would occasionally eliminate magazine subscriptions to simplify things. For me only The New Yorker has survived this cut but FFP subscribes to others off and on. I never get The New Yorker read. Ditto the three newspapers I still take. Sigh.

Get rid of stuff.  I do less well at this. I think too much about whether I should keep things and even if I'm convinced I shouldn't have it I fret over proper disposal.

Say No to Events and Causes. I have a tendency to accept invitations whether personal ones or for events associated with causes. We have eliminated season tickets for everything but the ballet, picking and choosing other performances. We have decided to stop buying badges for film festivals. (Well, for sure we won't for SXSW.) And yet we have something every night and two lunches between now and Sunday!

My life should be simple. I have downsized. I have retired from the working world where herding cats is putting it mildly especially in the computer business. And yet I'm often overwhelmed with things I want to be doing. And here I sit, trying to write a blog entry. Why did I decide to dally with Holidailies?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Lego is the Topic

I am writing about Legos today. They Holidailies writing prompt has to do with Candle Lighting Day and losses for the year. Last year I could have done something with that prompt. It wasn't working this year. But I saw this entry on another blog in the Holidailies family and decided to write about Legos.

Seems like only yesterday (because it was) that I was talking about construction toys I wanted as a child. Legos didn't make it to the U.S. in time for my childhood passions but later, far after I should have outgrown toys, I became fascinated with them. I often his this passion in the guise of playing with or buying for children. When I downsized, I had many pounds of Lego and I sent almost all of them off to my great nephews. I can't say I regretted it.

But occasionally I really want to play with Legos. I often visit the Lego store when we are in NYC and I bought this 39 piece Statue of Liberty there. (She comes with a spare flame.) They have massive models of Rockefeller Center sights there and I've been to the Times Square Toys 'R Us to see giant Lego models there, too.

I buy Legos for my great nephews and try to just let my coveting of Legos stop at admiring stuff on the Lego site. I almost succumbed to the Simpsons house! I recently rented "The Lego Movie" and I loved it.

What cool toys, right? Of course, I'm not a parent who has to step on little pieces of plastic and try to store all these pieces.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


I'm having trouble writing today. The Holidailies Writing Prompt is about gifts (material or otherwise) and what you'd wish to get or give. So let's start there and see if something gets written.

My first thoughts on getting is that there are very few material things I can imagine wanting. Certain nothing beyond having with a swipe of the credit card (which, yes, I can also probably pay off). I could use some new shoes: tennis shoes, the higher hiking boots (I got new country walkers recently), some dressy loafers (unfortunately I find it increasingly difficult to find ones that I like that fit well). I could use new clothes but I keep thinking I'll lose weight first. I guess it would be nice to have a new car but, honestly, as long as my 2001 Civic keeps running I think I'm happier without a new one.  I need to get a new phone but really it's just a matter of going to the store and getting it. There is a package for me from FFP and I'm sure it's books and sure I'll like them but I also have scores of books around I haven't read and want to read. I'm pretty happy with the gadgets I have: the cameras and computers and such except for that old iPhone 3GS and like I said...just go shopping. The whole idea of getting presents this year seems depressing and obsessive. What a far cry from the child who pored over pages like the ones below from the Sears Christmas with the desire to own these toys.

 I would have loved all these construction toys. Indeed, I did finally acquire an Erector set around this time (late 50's) after much haggling with parents and Santa and society. (The makers of these toys didn't help my cause by putting pictures of boys on the packages and in the catalog.)

Ditto all these games and shooting galleries. Never did get electric football. I did get a BB gun, though, so yeah there was that.

Yep, pored over these catalogs for hours on end. I was full of wishing (and the Sears Catalog was nicknamed the wish book). Full of wanting. But even then I noticed how little satisfaction came with the getting.

So what gifts would I like now? Nothing really in the material realm. And I dare not hope for world peace and understanding. I would love to snap my fingers and stop wars and hate. But I know it won't happen.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Tough Subject

What's this? A self-portrait scribbled on my iPhone for my phone's 'wallpaper'. I think it looks just like me. In fact, when I drink my face gets red enough that people ask if I've 'gotten a lot of sun.' I'll say, "No. It's the wine." or whatever.

Other people don't think it looks like me. Go figure.

So here's my actual picture. Not the pinup at the bottom but that reflection...the one to the right of the camera.

I snapped this in a junk shop when I first got my iPhone. And, yes, I'm sure I intentionally included myself.
And this one? Maybe that's a reflection of my feet and legs.

What do we see when we see ourselves? In pictures? In the mirror? In the reflection in a shop window when we are passing by. I'm often a little shocked a what I see. ("Stand up straight!" I say to the passing image in that window.) In the mirror or photo I see the extra chin, the wrinkles, the imperfections, the hair going everywhere and going a little gray. (I'm inordinately proud that it's not ALL gray. After all a lot of my friends are completely gray. And truth be told, I like when it is going in multiple directions.)

Here's what I really look like. Well, not really. The picture is a couple of years old. I look older. I have more gray. The photo was taken (and retouched perhaps) by a professional.

Well, I am now. Last week.

My right eye looks a little wonky. My hair is suitably weird. See the gray? I keep it short because that de-emphasizes the gray. I'd had a drink, maybe two. Red cheeks. This is just a snapshot FFP took and I cropped it out to show my face.

So who are we really? How do we perceive ourselves and, of course, others? Do we make instant judgments based on age and skin color?  Sex? Dress? Do we hear someone speak (articulately or not, accented or bland) and make judgments about origin and education?

These perceptions are much in the news. People are protesting deaths of blacks in police shootings. A young girl shot in the head for being in favor of education for girls is receiving a Nobel prize. There are ancient wars between and among religious sects and ethnic groups outsiders would find difficult to define. The world is full of this hate. Stereotyping. Prejudice. There's no doubt about it.

Amid the protests over police shootings of blacks and, let's face it, before that, there has been a call for whites to confess to their privilege if not their prejudice. I'm not sure what one is supposed to do once this privilege (and perhaps prejudice) is acknowledged. Perhaps the hope is that one will become less apt to make an instant assumption about someone. Or maybe become less opposed (assuming one was opposed) to affirmative action.

From the pictures above (well maybe not the drawing!) one can see that my skin is the 'white' associated with Northern Europeans. I confess that the rhetoric which demands that I admit my privilege is a little off-putting for me. I am a woman (the short hair sometimes confuses people on this point but I am) and I grew up in the lower middle class. My privilege is hard-worn assuming I have it. I could go on and on about male privilege in college and the work place in my era. I will not.

In any case, I'm white. I check the Caucasian box when asked. (What does that even mean?) I haven't done 23andMe although I'm considering it. I think it might find some ancestry that would be surprising. But the fact is that other people see white skin.

Which brings me to a thought experiment that I began about two months ago. I decided that when I interacted with others or just saw them on the street that, in addition to noting how they were dressed and making assumptions about who they were and what they were doing, I would note their race, the color of their skin, the distinguishing facial features of race, first and foremost.

Wait, you say...that's what you always do! No, I found, it really was not. I had to force this fact to the head of the line in making assumptions. A guy with a backpack and earphones? I'd internally say a person of Asian origin who is probably a student or a high tech worker. Before I would not have added the racial aspect although certainly I would have probably remembered it later. A group of people speaking another language taking up the entire sidewalk looking back and forth at phones? A group of Asian foreign visitors. A male runner with no shirt on and a great body? A black athlete. The scary homeless man we see a lot who stands straight up and makes threatening gestures? A white man who obviously has psychological problems. The homeless guy we see a lot lounging on a particular park bench never asking for anything or speaking? The black homeless guy with dreads.

I could go on and on. I learned a lot of things from this exercise. I learned that I wasn't always sure about race. Hispanic? Or black? Mixed race? I learned that in Austin many construction workers appear Hispanic but blacks are few and far between. (Our Hispanic population is four times that of blacks here, however.) I learned that though our black population is less than ten percent that I see lots of blacks in many contexts. (We'll talk about the elitism of the blacks who are my friends and the economic, education, cultural implications of that another day.) I saw blacks headed to work, homeless, shopping, having meetings in coffee shops, running the trail, dressed like bankers, performing musicians, street musicians. For some reason I didn't see many black families on the walking trails but mixed race families seemed to abound. This isn't a statistical study, of course, but a personal one. What assumptions was I making? And the number of people in Austin identifying as two or more races is fifty percent of the number identifying as black.

I love watching people. Sorting them into types and ilks. Skin color and facial features denoting origins is one way. And I found that making myself identify it at the forefront when encountering strangers rather than emphasizing my own prejudice probably adjusted it. These strangers covered the spectrum in all the other ways we have of distinguishing people: dress, seeming economic status, age, sex, fitness, way of speaking (if they spoke), what they carried, etc. Race identification didn't really tell one much else. Which may be why I didn't put it first in my people-watching before. Which is not to say I didn't notice racial characteristics.

For those who aren't on the front lines of the battle against hate of the 'other' I recommend a thought experiment like this as you encounter strangers. If you make assumptions based on race or age or sex alone then you might ask why. I certainly make assumptions. Particularly when I see drivers of a certain age or race. I think it's worth taking these out and examining them honestly. I don't know if this constitutes a contribution to the conversation we are told we are supposed to be having about race. But it's always good to take a good look at oneself. Outside (OK, I'm not that red and I'm getting old and a bit fat) and inside (what are you really thinking and from where does that thinking arise).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Throw Back Thursday...The Christmas Spirit

My mom loved Christmas and if you had known her, you would have to smile when she came to your house with holiday decorations hanging from her ears and this sweatshirt on and, as I remember, socks with Santas on them as well. This is in our old house in Austin in 2000. It is the last Christmas that my mom really felt good, I think. By Christmas 2001 she would be on her way to death by Multiple Myeloma but we wouldn't know it or have a name to put with her problems. We would even have an extremely frustrating hospital visit right before Christmas in 2001. But she was pretty chipper in 2000.

She put up the tree when we were kids and put surprise wrapped packages under it when I'm pretty sure money was very tight. Santa came and he didn't disappoint.

She made turkeys and homemade dressing and gravy and rolls and might invite scads of people to partake. She made pies.

I remember one Christmas when I was still living in Dallas. My sister was visiting Mom with her kids, I think. My cousin and his wife and their three kids were there. Mom decided everyone needed a stocking. She got out the sewing machine and started whipping up these personalized stockings. Her sewing machine needle broke and I had to go to a mall (I swear it was Christmas Eve) and go to Sears or some place like that and get one. I believe my mom decided kids needed bikes and trikes and wagons, too,. It seemed my mom was whipping up holiday spirit out of thin air, that we all had some good reason not to feel that great that particular holiday and I can't put my finger on why. But we had a great time as I remember. And it was all her.

I've said it many times but I'll say it again: the Christmas spirit left me when this woman left us. And it will never really return. Not in that way. Not even if I get out a jigsaw puzzle or a board game and sit down to that recreation with a cup of black coffee and some leftover pie. That would remind me of Mom but I don't think it would give me the same feeling of holiday cheer.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Joy of the Season

This picture was taken of the window of a shop near us decorated with a 'joy to the world' theme. I like it. I used to collect old globes. Gave them all to charity when I downsized.

A few days ago I talked about letter writing and how I was writing personal notes to people who sent me cards rather than printing up a bunch of cards and mass mailing them perhaps with just a scribbled sentiment. As of yesterday I've already fallen a tiny bit behind. (I have five unanswered cards.) But I'm hopeful that I can keep this up. It is nice to stop and reflect on the folks that have taken the trouble to buy or design and print something, address it, stamp it and entrust it to snail mail.

I hope this activity is making me stop and appreciate the season a little bit. Because it's really about those human connections. Here's a picture of a young couple and their four kids, almost visibly growing as they are photographed. Here's these two guys in front of the Capitol with their dog, here's a Santa card with a nice personal paragraph inside. And so forth. We are making a connection with one another in all our sameness and differences. It's a reason to be happy, isn't it?

Tuesday, December 09, 2014


At Holidailies the writing prompt is "Holiday parties - do you throw one? Do you attend them? What would the very best holiday party be?"  Well, parties. My first thought goes guessed it...the libations.

When we lived in our house we had a large kitchen and a 500 square foot room attached for entertaining and a living room/dining room and small room next to the kitchen for setting up a bar or food, too. We had a lot of parties. Not too many Christmas ones, but a few. We haven't had anything elaborate in our little apartment and as it becomes more and more overcome with books and other things I wonder if I ever will have many people over. In our old house we could shut off a room or even two, lock the dog(s) and all the unread papers, stray books and messes in there and have fifty or more people in for snacks and drinks.

We held some New Year's Day recovery parties where we served up black-eyed peas and sausage and Bloody Marys and such. We served taco buffets, giant slabs of smoked salmon, etc. It all runs together. But no more.

We still go to parties. Big ones held at clubs and little dinner parties and big ones held at large luxurious homes decorated to the nines. And we drink. Both of us if we are not driving. FFP drives if we go out at night so....

I don't think the holidays influence my drinking, though. Year in and year out I'm pretty much a five or six drink a week person. (I hear people always underestimate their drinking. So do what you will with that.) I often don't drink if we stay home. If we do go out to dinner, I usually drink. If we go to a party I usually drink. If I drink a Manhattan I often take a picture of it and post it on facebook. I don't usually post pictures of glasses of wine, other cocktails I might try or the very occasional after dinner drink.

If I live to be 100 (or for my boomer generation whatever the appropriate old age is to amaze people) then I'm going to say, when asked to what I attribute my longevity:
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Staying away from the doctors
  • Walking
  • Drinking almost every day
  • Not doing the same thing every day
Yep, holiday parties mean drinking to me whether it's your party or mine. A club we belong to even throws a party at noon on December 23. The Bloody Marys are free. I break my 'no alcohol before five' rule to drink a couple. But in general, I don't drink any more during the holiday time than usual. Now whether that's good or bad is hard to say. I'll try to decide while you set me up again.

Note on the picture: this liquor store is three blocks from us. We don't usually shop there because there are three other liquor stores within walking distance. Maybe more. This one has the simple stuff, though, that you might need. A couple of others have fancy brands and good wines. The deli downstairs has wine and beer. The Whole Foods has a huge wine selection and 'beer alley.' We don't buy all that much in these places because we do a lot of our drinking out at parties or bars or restaurants.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Where's The Spirit?

The picture is from 2007. The Capitol tree is lit for this year I'm sure. I haven't been to see it. Maybe tonight. It's less than a mile away.

I'm not feeling it. Christmas, that is. FFP keeps bugging me to give him a hint for a gift. He's picked out for himself a new suit, leather jacket, three sweaters and a belt. I did buy a new belt. He even said he went to Toy Joy (a very silly and fun store that moved to our neighborhood a while ago) looking for something silly to buy me. He didn't find anything. He's picked so much himself that I'm not even inclined to try to surprise him. The last few years I've given him a nice scarf, a link and stud set and a very nice compact umbrella. I have a couple of things I think I could buy him, but I don't know if I will. He's hard to buy for but perhaps not as hard as I am. I keep thinking I'll lose some weight and get fit before I buy new clothes. I have a pile of books I want to read. (I'm currently reading one I bought long ago but never read. It's been adapted into the movie "The Imitation Game" which we saw in the Austin Film Festival.)

But Christmas isn't about presents for oneself, right? One is supposed to want to help others. But my helping others is usually by giving money. And we do that throughout the year. Our causes have pretty well tapped the well by the time the holiday comes. (And yet every day's mail brings several appeals and 'Giving Tuesday' filled my inbox.) I know I could go out and volunteer to physically help someone. Maybe I'm a bad person, but I reserve that kind of activity for friends and family. Perhaps because strangers frighten me. Perhaps because I'm just selfish. It might give me the spirit but it's too hard for me to do.

If the season is supposed to be a religious celebration then I'm also sort of out of luck. My Christian background makes the songs celebrating 'Christ is Born' resonate with the season but my beliefs don't really bring a sense of wonder at god man being born and all that means to many folks. And it seems that few Christians even view the season that way but rather as one of football, food, drink and presents. Which doesn't sound bad to me, of course. Especially the food and drink. But, no. I'm not feeling it.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

It's Beginning to Look

Yep. There I am by the Christmas tree. Not our tree, but, um, the tree at the Driskill hotel in the beautiful lobby. We were walking around Thursday night and went into several places with trees and got pictures. It got dull quickly and we went for food and drink. The season isn't really so bright for me.

I am still intent on answering all the holiday cards I receive with a little personal note. However, we are only a few days in and I have two pending ones so I may not get that done.  I guess I fail at Christmas. Or Happy Holidays or whatever others are celebrating. (Christmas is the one celebrated in my childhood before I new other traditions existed.)

And that's about all I've got today.

Saturday, December 06, 2014


Today's writing prompt on Holidailies concerns "World Letter Writing Day" which is tomorrow. The prompt is: "When is the last time you sent (or received) a letter? Write a letter (to anyone or anything you want) and share it with us."

That had me thinking about the early days of ebay, my sister who had a catastrophic health problem around that time and my efforts to entertain her with letters.

Today is my sister's 71st birthday. Shortly after her her 55th birthday she collapsed at her home in Denver from a ruptured aneurysm in her brain, a hemorrhagic stroke. For weeks, she struggled to survive. They repaired the aneurysm and attempted to stop several subsequent ischemic strokes caused by swelling. She survived and learned to walk again although she never regained all the strength and mobility on her right side.

My sister was in rehab hospitals for many months and then home struggling to come back for many more. I was far away. She lived in Denver. I forbade my parents from going to Colorado in the winter so I didn't go either. In March I finally took them to see her.

As my sister progressed I sent lots of get well messages and then, at some point, wanted her to have mail from me that would distract her from her struggles and encourage her to come back to things she loved.

I had discovered the wonders of ebay. I sold a few things, I bought a few things but mostly I was utterly fascinated with the stuff on offer. I would snip out pictures of things for sale. I began in 1999 using these stolen pictures to write letters to my sister illustrated with ebay items (and a few collectibles I owned) and talking about our childhoods or certain categories of collectibles.

My sister loved these letters. She'd always been a fan of junk stores and garage sale and she had a lot of collections, especially of miniatures but of other things, too.

One letter was about Christmas collectibles. The German card above was one of the illustrations.   I loved the way it was written on all around the illustration. Here is another snippet from that letter

I would also close by asking her to write to me. (She was struggling to write again because of the weakness on her right side.) I would tell her that if she wrote to me, I'd construct another one of these letters that was essentially a looking glass into ebay. I think she collected all the letters in a notebook. She may still have them as a matter of fact. I found the word doc for this one among computer files I'd transferred over and over from machine to machine.

Which brings me to my current letter writing. They are more notes than letters, but this year, instead of printing up a bunch of holiday cards and mailing them to a hundred or so people, I am making a card or getting a card and replying to each card I receive with a short personal note. I'll respond to what the person wrote on their card or mention how lovely the children are in the picture. One person sent a MOMA card of a Matisse stained glass window. I mentioned that we saw the recent Matisse show at MOMA. On some of these cards I'm using Forever Stamps (or scans of them) to decorate them. For example,
In some cases, I've used the stamp on the envelope that my correspondent sent me to decorate the one I send. I'm thinking that these cards may surprise the recipients who realize we are suddenly having a correspondence instead of exchanging cards. It's made the holiday card thing fun again for me but as the cards flow in I may not have the stamina for it! Still I do love hand-written letters. Or notes. And remember tomorrow isn't just Pearl Harbor Day but World Letter Writing day.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Texas Christmas

As we muddle through the holiday season here in Central Texas, usually without snow, having a few bitterly cold days, some just right and some, let's face it, too warm, one sees people resort to odd decorations like putting Christmas balls on the sharp spines of the agave (aka century plant).

I'm not much for decorating and this year I will not have a tree or tinsel. No wreathes (hallway decorations not allowed in our building) or centerpieces. I will put some holiday cards we receive out on a shelf so I can enjoy them for a while. I won't be digging in the storage cage downstairs for bendable posable Christmas figures to strew around the apartment. (Yes, when I *do* decorate, it's unconventional at best.)

What I will do, however, is co-op others' efforts to be seasonably festive. I'll go to the hotels around here and snap pictures of their trees and other decor. Ditto the efforts in my condo building. I think there's a tree up on the 9th floor. I'll pose FFP in front of giant presents or Christmas characters. Maybe catch some clever shop windows with the camera. (We usually go to NYC to see those magnificent displays but not this year.) Restaurant decorated? Grab a picture. Someone made a real effort on their yard this year and we happen by on one of our rambles? Grab some pictures for this blog or our daily photo effort.

I consider this tactic making the best use of the efforts of others. One of these years I'll throw a little cocktail party like I used to do when we lived in the house and I will decorate. I may even have to clean the house for that. Not this year though. All the festive stuff you'll see here is either someone else's work or from the annals of time. But I will try to have somewhat festive pictures to dress up for Holidailies.