Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fish on Friday

I am reminded of my Catholic upbringing by a charming blog entry from Mary of Egypt (http://soluscumsolo.blogspot.com), writing yesterday about Fish Fridays. Mary is a poet who has left her husband (very temporarily and with his approval, apparently and amazingly) to spend a year at St. Andrews University in Scotland.

Inspired by her husband's solo dinners back in the states, she goes out to find something delectable to cook for herself. And here is the good part: she lives, not in a college town, or dorm room, or grubby student digs with hotplates--but rather in a fishing village on a peninsula of an island. Appropriately, she searches for lobster...one of her grandfather's favorite foods, I happen to know. She finds it not.

MOE is a Catholic convert, lively and celebratory soul, High Romantic and when she sweeps into a room, you know that Someone Special has arrived. Her relationship to the church is infused with all the intensity and yearning associated with it throughoug English literature. I see her as entering a room trailing colored silks that bear with them the music of the great Catholic poets of the long ago past. (It does not hurt that she is beautiful.)

Hers is a wonderful way of embracing religion and I find myself applauding her, even though my own relationship with the Church is considerably more problematic. (So much so that I no longer have a relationship with it. As with politics, the labels that carried the convictions of my forebears have drifted away from me.)

My Catholicism, in contrast, was dishearteningly plebian--fish on Friday meant I couldn't spend the night with a friend without either sinning or skipping dinner. At home, of course, it was a different matter: shrimp creole, crab mornay--both favorites--and only occasionally trout almondine (imperfectly boned, sad to say). I always got the bone that was missed while my parents were scarfing down the delicate morsels. But choking on a bone was OK, because the Church has a celebration for that. A celebration rife with anecdotes of dead children, a specialty of our church at the time, it seems.

So with images of little kids who choked in my mind, we at St. Anne's School trooped into the church for St. Blaise's Day, where the priests blessed our throats. I remember two candles, tied into the shape of an X, hovering at my neck--very briefly, I might add. Did I mention that this terrified me? That this was only one of the many Catholic Mysteries that still make my skin crawl?

Take the Revelation of Bernadette--the third mystery about which in those apocalyptic times much speculation clustered. If mankind did not mend its ways, disaster would come--within my lifetime! We were still being required to huddle periodically under our desks in class to practice for the day when the Bomb would Drop. It did not take genius to associate the third mystery with the dropping bomb.

We were required to attend Mass every morning, which I found boring past the point of pain. This was the plain, everyday mass in Latin (its sole glory); not the wonderful High Mass with the music that I loved--ancient music, not some kid on the altar with a guitar.

I had a solution for the boredom, though. I would read the stories of the martyrs in the back of the Missal. There is no atrocity of today's Middle East that exceeds the litany of tortures to be found in these exceedingly morbid stories. But they were stories and stories are not boring.

In class we were given a little magazine that featured stories about children--Saintly Children of our Time--who died. To this day I can't lie in a bed with my arms on each side of me so that they pin down the sheet because that is how the little boy was lying in the picture of his mute suffering prior to death.

Thus, the glorious mysteries of Catholicism that seem to inspire so many great writers have been swamped for me by the procession of relics (body parts of long dead Saints), the grisly stories of flayed and dismembered martyrs, the constant promise of lurking disaster for the living world and the superiority, really, of just getting it all over with so we could go on to eternal life with God.

But while still trapped in the misery of worldly life, we were not to date a member of another religion--a sin. We were not to so much as think "unclean" thoughts while in the presence of the opposite sex. If you had thought something unclean (unspecified, too, so it could be interpreted broadly) and be killed, you would go straight to hell.

Every one of these concepts that rail against life and celebrate death and sterility fell like hot embers upon my sensitive psyche, leaving many scars.

When I attained the exalted age of 22 and discovered that my mother's long and happy marriage to my father, a divorced man, had prevented her from taking the sacraments for all that time--a significant penalty for her--I decided that the Catholic Church as it functions in America was not for me.

I am hoping that the Church embraced by Mary of Egypt and her Thomas More has changed--or that its effect upon sensitive children has become less devastating.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

October heat

Ah, yes. October. The month I met my husband. The month I got married. (Not the same year.) Once October was beautiful in Texas, our best month: cool air, blue sky, warm sunshine, lots of lovely grasses.

Today we're told the heat index will reach 109 in Houston. Now I ask you: where do I lodge my protest?

In September, we had all the rain we didn't have in the summer. Now we have gardens! Blooms like spring. And weeds...oh, my, do we have weeds! Our poor confused pear tree is even blooming.

Actually, that's kind of interesting. She has bloomed before in the wrong season, misinterpreting drought as winter (obviously not registering the temperature). But now, it's just one limb, the limb that has sat throughout the summer leafless, looking for all the world as though it had died. Nope. Just waiting, I suppose.

Well, I'm waiting, too. For Autumn. Fall. For 78 degree days instead of 78 degree nights.

For October light. Last year we got it in mid-November. What's on the docket for this year? December? Autumn for Christmas?

Here's a contest: Pick a temperature for Christmas Day, and go on record for it. (I will say that 75 degrees fahrenheit is not unusual for us, even "normally.") I'll pick 81. I'll send the person closest to the right temp a cactus.

If I'm right, I'll hide somewhere and weep.

Friday, September 25, 2009

One Golden Raintree

Waking up slowly this morning...zzzz...gray sky, little streaks of color variation but they're all gray...a nubbly carpet of treetops, deep green, dense again a year after Ike...I can barely see the flicker of car headlights heading east on San Felipe, broken by the dark green canopy.

And in the middle, there is one Golden Raintree in full bloom, like a dappled sun pushing its way upward between the shadowy foliage around it.

I am hypnotized by its light...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Smoky Josephine

Actually there's no Josephine. At least that's not her name. But there is smoke. Where? In our Houston condo unit. Coming through the air vents in the living room.

No, folks. We do not smoke. Hale did thirty or forty years ago, but I didn't ever take up the habit. I was a very obediant girl back in my basketball playing days. The coach said she'd bench any girl who smoked and I darned well didn't intend to be benched. So I resisted the languourous long-fingered sophistication of smoking friends. (My fingers are short, anyway.)

But now we reside in a condo when we're in Houston, a high-rise condo, and the smoke from the rental unit down the hall infiltrates our living room, where I often perch to work when I don't need to be in the office below. (That is a separate matter.)

Is this fair? The law apparently allows a condo unit owner to do whatever he/she likes inside his unit. But if he decided to have a nice bonfire in the middle of the living room floor, would that be OK?

Isn't there any legal precedent for saying, fine, smoke in your unit but you cannot allow any smoke to leave your unit to mix with the common air, and you cannot allow your smoke to seep into the units of other residences.

Don't the non-smoking people who breathe have rights that supersede those of the addicted smokers whose exhalations have been proven to increase the incidence of heart attacks and other health disasters?

For that matter, what about protecting smokers against themselves? The common highways have speed limits, restrict cell phone use, etc.

Any ideas, folks?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lion on the Road

Amarillo by morning...and it's a beautiful one! To anyone travelling by car from New Mexico to Texas, I highly recommend the route following I-25 from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, then a left turn along I-40 to Amarillo. For scenery. Especially with the sun at your back.

We had amazing cloud structures above dreamy landscapes of ever diminishing mountains and it truly made the time pass quickly. So did the wonderful NM speed limits, a sensible 75 mph. (This is ignoring the construction we encountered, but surely someday they'll complete construction along that stretch of I-40!)

Actually, though, we're not in Amarillo. It's really Canyon, a few miles to the west, I think.

We spent hours with our dear friends Donna and Walt in Santa Fe; then a nice dinner last night with my cousin Soeurette and her husband Bob overlooking the sliver of the Palo Duro Canyon that is visible from her cabin at the Palo Duro Club. She is the CFO of our corporation, so we mixed a bit of business with the delicious meal.(Boeuf bourgignonne, salad, Monkey Bread, apple dumplings with ice cream. All prepared without salt and excellent! I have two teachers, now.)

Soeurette's recent excitement includes the mountain lion she encountered recently at the gate to the property, and LH was hoping for a glimpse. Apparently the lion is a mother with two cubs.

The first time she saw the lion, she'd been returning from Amarillo, and as she approached the gate she saw something large run across the road. She stopped; and it stopped; and they looked at one another. And looked. "She had such a sweet face..." Then the cat started to walk along parallel to Soeurette's car, so Soeurette began to roll along with her. Then the lion stopped and they looked at one another again. Then the animal bounded off.

This is a club of rustic cabins, mind you, tucked away in rugged terrain around a lake. Dogs and children run free; there are horses. So you might imagine that the reaction of the members is mixed. Some carry guns and are frightened; others celebrate this emergence of the wild into our over-citified lives. Presumably she is drawn by water, and food

What would you do if a mountain lion chose to live quietly in your neighborhood?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hello, again

Hello again to any of you who are still remembering this blog exists. I'm so sorry that I've been unable to post for so long. We had an encounter with the medical profession that took a lot of my energy--LH had a small cancer discovered in his bladder--and until it was removed and we received the good reports, I had no energy for anything else.

To celebrate the positive outcome, we undertook a driving trip to Santa Fe, to see old friends and renew acquaintance with the city where so many of our happy times took place.

So far, we haven't been very actively engaged in all that touching of bases since we both came down with altitude sickness.

Altitude sickness is a puzzling phenomenon. It doesn't care whether one is fit (I am not) or young (ditto). Some people have trouble at 7000 feet and some do not. No one knows exactly what determines this, apparently.

But oxygen helps; and acetominophen for the headache. And time appears to be the best help. We're feeling better now, on our fourth evening here. And so tomorrow, perhaps, we will venture forth as we originally planned.

Today, we were treated to a cozy, chilly day with clouds nestling in among the Sangre de Christo mountains--in particular one pale gray cloud shaped like an eel.

We should have lighted the fire in the fireplace...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Where Have All the Oak Trees Gone?

The thing that surprises most first-time visitors I meet is how leafy Houston is, even inside the Loop, near downtown. When we moved into this 6th floor condo unit in 2002, I compared our view to the prized one from Fifth Avenue in New York, looking out over the canopy of trees in Central Park.

The amazing thing to us, even then, was that what looked like the treescape of a park from above, was actually a neighborhood of homes where people lived in harmony with the shade around them.

The ensuing seven years have seen tropical disturbances, construction, economic melt-down, a recession. The first of these would have been expected to damage our trees to some degree, and it did. It is the second, though, that has been responsible for the vastly greater damage, despite financial problems that should at least have brought it to a temporary halt.

MacMansions are on the march down Piping Rock west of Maconda, near River Oaks.

When we stand on our balcony looking to the southwest, the green canopy that once stretched toward the Loop has been replaced by gray expanses of roof in such close proximity that no oak tree can survive. Which is probably moot since whatever might have been there was removed for construction. If one or two remain out near the street, they present the sad aspect of patients with a terminal disease, their canopies thinning, their limbs serially amputated, a pitiful sight.

Higher density building is happening all over the neartown suburbs of Houston, and in many areas it is welcomed for the demand it will create for mass transit. Loss of trees is generally compensated for by decreased pollution damage from automobiles.

The MacMansions, though, do not contribute to beneficial urban population densities. They’re single-family houses and we’ve seen no sign of the large families one might expect to occupy them. You might call them “underoccupied” from the point of view of how much electricity they consume for cooling and other basic activities.

In the areas where this is happening, therefore, we are seeing the negatives of density with none of the potential positives. We’re losing our trees, and with them the oxygen they produce to help in our battle for clean air; we’re losing one of the few sources of natural beauty in our city—the one most likely to be noticed by visitors and tourists. And we’re getting nothing for it.

I should point out than when these oversized houses are planned for River Oaks, at least, a sign is posted noting that a variance has been requested. The variance, when granted, allows a house to be built that exceeds the neighborhood’s size restrictions. And they are always granted. I would like to know why. And I would like that answer to be public and specific.

Monday, July 20, 2009

JetBlue Misery

Tonight I have a short rant. Been flying back and forth to New York on JetBlue four times, now. Three flights were great, but they were normal-sized airplanes--A380s I think. Today, coming back from New York, we were on an Embraer 190, narrow, cigar-shaped airplane, and we were back of the middle. Bad, bad, bad.

Forget the fact that my reading light had burned out. I was probably one of only three people on the flight who wanted to read...but like I said, never mind that.

The main difficulty was the temperature. I always carry a light jacket in expectation of cooler temperatures aloft. The plane flies at 30,000 plus feet, so one might expect cool air, don't you think? But no. Not only was it hot, but there was no air circulation without using those nasty little individual air jets which blow germs from all over the airplane right into your face.

I asked the female attendant, Dodi, if it were normal for the plane to be so warm. (I was not the only uncomfortable person by any means.) She said rather curtly: "I'll adjust it."

But no adjustment was forthcoming. I thought I might ask her about it again, but by then the attendants had erected their barrier against terrorists, or whatever, sealing off the front facilities and their service area from the rest of the cabin. I think it's so the captain can come out and use the restroom. At any rate, I decided to wait and hope for improvement.

So, an hour and a half later--after the barrier had been removed--I went up front to the restroom and, since I was feeling like I was being slowly deprived of sufficient oxygen, I asked her a couple more questions about how the AC worked. She said the AC system is supposed to balance the flow of air between the front of the plane and the back. She tried, she said, to increase the air flow to the back (which obviously meant reducing it to the front where she was sitting--and to be fair where the pilot and co-pilot were, as well--) but the control was very temperamental and any bump could dislodge it.

I am inclined to accept explanations from staff on airplanes. I want you to know that. I have my doubts about this, but we don't want the people flying the plane to have insufficient air and fall asleep, do we?

In the end, after considerable turbulence, we landed safely. The pilot and co-pilot did a great job. But the sense of insufficient air didn't go away until we walked out into the terminal where, fortunately, there was no problem with air or airconditioning, at all.

I'm not sure whether JetBlue is trying to save money by raising the temp on its planes and restricting the ingress of oxygen to the absolute limit. Or whether the Embraer 190 is just a crummy aircraft. Or whether we would have noticed a problem if we'd been sitting up front, where we usually sit.

It has made me thoughtful, though, about flying that airline again.

Today I would give JetBlue a big thumbs down.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

New Pix


The intersection near Cooper-Union in the East Village. The man near the right edge didn't appreciate having his picture taken. He screamed at me when he got close, clearly mistaking me for someone who was near his garbage can yesterday, perhaps competing for cans.



A few blocks away, near 4th Avenue and East Seventh St.



Striking graffitti in the Bowery



This leafy greeness is adjacent to a fine juice bar on 11th Street and 2nd Avenue named Liquiteria.



The rose-bedecked concrete playground on Thompson Street in SoHo.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Younger and faster

I love New York but it's getting too young for me.

Last night we ate on East 4th St and 2nd avenue, surrounded by the future, age 22. Hordes of it, in every permutation of race and nationality, all looking fabulous and having a splendid time at the top of their lungs.

Everything about Manhattan changes as you go south. Buildings get smaller, the population on the street gets younger, the prices drop. Bicycles become pedestrian hazards as they disregard red lights. We almost got mowed down at Union Square by a motorized wheel chair whose occupant was in a hurry to cross the street before the light changed. He was aiming for the ramp at the curb into which we were about to step. Whoops! Lesson learned. Avoid those ramps, they have preferential users.

This kind of immersion experience is excellent for the circuits of the brain, I think. Every part of one's thinking apparatus has to keep functioning at all times--a little like driving Houston's freeways, except it really is ALL THE TIME. At night we drop into bed like stones.

I'm posting pictures of the trip on the blog: see below for one bunch.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New York Photos

The commentary in this post is by Leon Hale. The photos are mine.


When I'm at home and think of New York City, this is the picture I visualize most often. It was shot in the lower end of Central Park, through the trees to the high-rises on the street called Central Park South.


Construction workers on the Upper East Side in Manhattan gather around a street vendor for their lunch. Taco and fajita time.


Vehicular traffic is no longer allowed in Times Square and on weekends the street is invaded by hordes of visitors. We heard half a dozen different languages spoken in this crowd.


They celebrated Bastille Day on Sunday with a street fair and three blocks of French food.


A little touch of the country in New York -- a tomato plant growing on the sidewalk on East 13th St.

Monday, July 13, 2009

It's cooler here

Cooler in more than one sense, actually, although having weather less hot than Texas isn't all that difficult.

But we're presently in the haven of hip, in search of adventure. Not too much adventure, either. Just the right amount.

What I'm talking about is downtown Manhattan. New York City. The East Village, to be precise. We're in a condo I found on the internet. Not bad, either, if you overlook the motor on the AC in the bedroom, which sounds like a car engine that won't turn over.

We're going to find out if we can sleep with the noise. Or maybe it will be cool enough tonight that we can turn it off. Ah, yes. There is a nice thought.

We've been near here before during summertime, in my son's flat while he and his wife were on vacation elsewhere. That was a couple of years ago. A nice sunny flat like this one, except the airconditioner was a window unit about ten inches wide that sighed cool air. The only way we could be sure it was actually emitting anything was to put a hand on top of a vent. We enjoyed a very hot week. (But not like home, now. Oh, no.)

Today's high here wss a steaming 81, with high seventies promised for tomorrow. Every time we congratulate a New Yorker on the great weather, they remind us that they just came out of a solid month of rain. Every day. Isn't that just sickening?

Anyway, all we've done this afternoon after moving in is try to get the AC fixed (unsuccessfully). So we will experience the hipness tomorrow. It's pretty funny to imagine it: LH and me, who together are about a century and a quarter older than the oldest person around here. (There's a sobering thought!) Heck, we're older than most of the buildings. We will be invisible as we walk around.

We did see one hip sight, today, though. We were careering around a corner in the taxi that brought us here. A guy on a motorcycle wearing a black tank and black pants, both well strewn with shiny silver chains, was pivoting his steed in the middle of the intersection. Well, actually, you can see that some weekends right in front of Royers...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Where to?

Do you know that Houston is actually less hot and more comfortable than central Texas? That's been true recently. Yesterday it was a balmy 86 in Houston and the temp for CT is promised to be 103 for today. Yikes! And both places are humid, except Houston actually had a nice rain yesterday. We were here for it, and so we know first hand that rain is still possible. We'd celebrate more noisily if it happened at Winedale, but we don't know if it did.

We're travelling in a moment back there, but just now, thinking about it, I've got New York City on my mind. Did you know that the average high for July there is 84? Doesn't that sound, well, sort of civilized?

We've had to abandon our retirement plan of winters in Texas and summers in NM on account of problems with altitude. We've been looking for alternatives. Surely summer in Manhattan wouldn't qualify as an alternative...would it? All the people who live there and can afford to leave in the summer, do--so how pleasant could it be?

Living in NYC isn't easy in the best circumstances. I mean, even the really nice co-op buildings have window AC units. Remember those?

And one has to walk. WALK! Do I remember how to do that?

Will keep you posted if we decide to look for answers to these questions. Meanwhile, I'm scoping out Oregon on the internet.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Incongruities

Unexpected connections between people continue to pop up out of nowhere. Well, nowhere isn't quite the right word. Last night, it was at a Festival Hill concert.

Festival Hill is our unimaginably lavish classical music venue here in Round Top (pop. 77), the lifework of concert pianist James Dick. The architecture is a blend of real nineteenth century Europe (or earlier) blended with a fantasy version of the same, all done in hand cut stone by our local craftsman, Jack Finke. The acoustically live surface of the hall's interior is constructed from hand made diamond-shaped overlays in wood. Wonderful gardens and restored Victorian buildings complete the campus. Every summer advanced music students from all over the world come for the Institute, which gives master classes and many opportunities for performance, both chamber and full orchestra.

In the Hall, there is a room devoted to the life and work of David Guion, an American composer who had great success arranging, in particular, cowboy tunes such as Home on the Range. He is given the dubious distinction of having kicked off the "singing cowboy" craze in the mid-20th century with a Broadway show he wrote and performed in.

Before all that he was a boy in Ballinger, Texas, south of Abilene and about fifty miles away from where my father was born, a year later than Davey. I knew my father knew him, but I had never known why until last night.

So, I'm in the Guion Room at the Hall, waiting for the concert to start and the docent comes up. I'm looking at a picture of young DG in elegant winter clothes. "Oh, that's when he was in Vienna, in 1910," says Mr. Elsig, the docent.

"Vienna?" I turn to look at him.

"Yes," he says, "he went there to study piano with Leopold Godowsky."

I tell you, the room moved. "I'll be goddamned," I say, brilliantly in archaic Texan . "My father was studying with Leopold Godowsky in Vienna at the same time." Which is true. But two boys from obscure and tiny Texas towns, both taking classes with Godowsky? How likely is that?

I think also what shocked me was the re-emergence of my father into my conscious world. I've been thinking of him lately, as I begin the research part of my next story. The incongruities of his life seem compelling to me, in particular the period he spent in Vienna, from the age of 14-18, during the time of Freud and numerous musical masters, most of whom were friends of Godowsky. He travelled with Godowsky, as did a number of his fellow students, and when Godowsky went back to New York, Daddy did, too, for a while. Guion was there, as well.

Discovering the Guion connection gave me some dates to hang all Daddy's stories from. My father would never admit to his age, as he was a good deal older than my mother, and the age of a grandfather when I was born. So his stories tended to be a little blurry about dates.

Now, however, I know. It is a strange feeling.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Making the Rounds

Back in hot Houston this AM, set off early to do errands. I was a little surprised at the neighborly connections that transpired, but maybe it's an inside the Loop thing...or maybe not.

First, take the shirts to the laundry--nice visit with the people there, one of whom reads the LH column.

Then, right after ten, to the bookstore. Nice visit with their fiction buyer and the manager. A drop-dead gorgeous young man walks in and starts to browse. There are a number of browsers, but who notices them? The manager and I start to talk about the architecture section and we fall into conversation with the handsome young man who turns out to be a recent architecture graduate from Austin. Says ours is the best bookstore for architecture in the state. Lovely to hear, even if it doesn't sell well...We ask him for advice and get some, gently given with much prodding.

A woman with a bike helmet comes in, on her way to work (moped, not bicycle). Really nice, likes the same kind of fiction I do (what I call lowbrow literary). Nice bookish visit.

I buy several books and then head over to pick up lunch at the coffee shop near St. Luke's Methodist. Run into the husband of a friend and we talk for about an hour. Mostly medical, but nice to hear what he and his wife have been up to.

And so, home. What does this say about the anonymous city life? Could this happen in New York? (Yes, of course it could...I know that.) But it felt like a small town experience.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Well Done

Reading a post by Sizzie a few minutes ago, reminded me how I learned to cook. When I was a child in our southern household, my favorite place was the kitchen. I loved to stand and watch my grand'mere make orange marmalade in a big kettle, and I would have spent all day in there when the cook prepared Sunday dinner. Usually, however, I was shooed out. "Don't bother Victoria," my mother would say.

When we finally hired a cook for our house, Mother remained good to her word. I wasn't allowed to watch. I am still not sure why.

The result, however, was that I went away to grad school in London unable to cook anything other than scrambled eggs. I learned a few things from my flatmates, though. Bangers and mash, for instance. Pork sausages browned in a skillet with left over mashed potatoes and cabbage. Surprisingly good, actually. I could boil the potatoes, too, and mash them. And once I went over to Fortnum and Mason, the specialty store, and bought canned Mexican food items--Spanish rice, canned tamales, canned chili con carne. And I prepared a "Mexican" meal for my flatmates. They ate it and said it was good, but really!

So when I was on my own in DC a couple of years later, I was desperate. Fortunately someone had given me the first Julia Child cookbook. This was a brilliant idea. She broke the ingredients and process down into small increments that even a novice could understand. Moreover, she taught technique--how to chop, etc. Eventually I became a fairly competent cook, especially in the days when one could use butter and cream.

Using her cookbook, in fact, I made only one odd meal and that was garlic soup, which I prepared for my mother and my fiance about two years after that. The mistake I didn't catch involved the liquid that should be used. (Sizzie, please note: not the amount of liquid, but the kind.) The recipe said that one could use broth or water. I had no broth, but I did have water. And the result tasted exactly like that: garlic boiled in water. Not a success.

PS: A moment ago I looked up the recipe on the internet (its link is posted above) and they call it aigo buido, and lo! water is correct. However, I promise I followed the recipe to the letter and it was not good. Maybe I didn't use enough garlic!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Key

I think I need to provide a key to the last blog.

The noodles are people I work with whom I needed to approve or reject a proposal with a tight deadline. They turned out to be more like overstarched shirt collars than noodles, but they still didn't do what I was hoping for. If I'd slowed down I might have avoided this outcome.

The cheese was an investment in the project I wanted to make privately. I am not supposed to do this because of appearances, even though we turned the project down. I do conduct other business with the project people, and perception is everything. Everything you can't eat, that is. (I do agree with them on this, though.)

The simmering water had two references: the first was to an episode of heat exhaustion I had early this week that affected my handling of the noodles; the second was a reminder to keep calm in the middle of highly emotional meetings.

In the last one, indigestion is a frequent side effect of business meetings and chilling out is the thing those of us who live in central Texas this summer most long to do.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Week's End

It's been a rough week, folks, but a number of lessons have been learned.

Principal lesson is: do not try to push noodles uphill--and especially do not try to do so if you have a deadline staring you in the face.

Second lesson is: slow down. In general an advisable course of action. Or in this case, non-action. If you slow down, you may see that the noodles are in fact another type of starch altogether.

Third lesson is: never try to eat the cheese yourself.

Fourth lesson is, be careful not to climb into the water right before it boils. That's deadly for frogs and people.

Fifth, when the meal is over, no matter who's got or given indigestion, chill out.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The 100th post that was

Oh my gosh, my last post was my 100th! How did that happen? How did I not notice it?

Ah, well. There's been a lot going on, not the least of which is the process of dragging the body around in this heat.

Even the pool is hot. I discovered that when I use the hose and automatic fill device to keep the pool level from dropping too far from evaporation, it adds HOT water. Hmmm.

No mystery, really. The hose remains full of water, and bakes in the sun, and--voila!--instant hot water for your pool!

Moreover, when I exercise in a pool with the water temp at 97 degrees, and the air temp at 96 it doesn't make me feel very good.

On top of that, today I think I had fifty or sixty emails from business associates about a meeting we'd scheduled. All but two of them were replies to some email of mine or another, even if the subject was slightly different. Hard to sort through that later.

But thank heaven I did reschedule and so tomorrow I should be able to breathe and fan and blot my face with cool cloths and read material for the meeting (all this is with the AC going). And maybe there will not be one contentious email message all day long.

One can hope.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Following Up

Today I finished a draft of my novel, although I have to go back to make sure all the times of day in the last couple of chapters link up. It doesn't really relate as much to the story of the amnesiac woman whose family doubts her, as it might. My character has been amnesiac and lies about the duration, and is thought to lie about other things, but it's not quite the same. Her form is that of dissociative amnesia, or fugue--where the person runs away after an emotional trauma of some kind, and is unaware for a period of time who they are.

About the stalker, I referred to in the last post. He's a person who found me through my business. There is a romance to the history of where our company's main business is located--romance, that is, if the early oil industry interests a person. The alleged stalker seems to be a young man who takes the environmental necessity of green energy very seriously (as do I, for that matter). I feel he wishes to make a symbolic statement in the place where our business is located, and I am unsure whether that would cause physical harm to something or someone. His tone in the missives he sends in the wee hours of the morning indicate that he views himself as some kind of a savior. The grandiosity is what concerns me. Also the persistence.

We've had a stalker before, and we knew him and he seemed well meaning--but very persistent and needful of attention.

What do you all think? Have you ever had this kind of unwanted attention?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Art before News

This is just a short entry on an odd coincidence. I received an email from Shirley, a member of my writing workshop, referring to the amnesiac woman whose family has doubted her story in public (front page Houston Chronicle today). She remarked that the story offers surprising parallels to the novel I'm writing--begun more than two years ago.

Then tonight I received a similar notice from Andrea White, who also spent time in the workshop with me--and whose books for young adults have received nice attention.

It's a little spooky to see something one imagined receive a realistic parallel like that and I'm not sure how it will affect the story, if at all. The woman's face, as it was shown in the paper a few weeks ago, is haunting.

On another matter, I feel as though I'm being stalked a bit. What does one do? I'll blog further about this later perhaps. Maybe you readers can help me figure out whether I should be worried.

But now, bonne nuit!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My News, Your News

Last evening we were treated to a commercial for KPRC-TV news where the anchors explained with charming body language that the news they delivered was a "conversation", that what interested them was what interested us, that they were focused on giving us the news we want...

Let me think. What interests me are things like literary fiction, how to seed a pasture, when to plant haricots verts, how to prune a climbing rose. I don't really think that's going to get much air time on Channel 2 somehow. And I don't want it to.

I don't think it's healthy for a culture's news to be passed through the filter of what the listener wants to hear. For crying out loud, people! The news I want to hear doesn't exist yet. It doesn't even have the probability of existing without a sea-change in human nature. (Examples: peace and civility among all people; lives free from pain and deprivation; and a screeching halt to global warming.)

News should be news. Stuff happens that affects all of us: let's hear about it. A fire in an apartment house affects the people in the immediate neighborhood--strictly speaking, I'd let it pass. A man gets drunk and stabs someone--a terrible thing for the person stabbed, and for the drunk man, too, and for all their loved ones--but it's not affecting all of us, is it? And we certainly don't need to see the bereaved weeping for the camera's pleasure.

I want to know what laws get passed that affect us, what taxpayer funded projects hit complicating snags, how much pollution got spewed out into the air we all breathed last month, or more recently if those figures are available.

If the excellent residents of New Mexico march on Texas, or vice-versa, that would be news. If a refinery blows up, you bet: news. Drug murders along the border, crime sprees, those would qualify. How our sports teams fare, that would be news for a local station.

The defining filter would be the effect on the common good, upon the interets of a majority of people within the geographical radius served by the station.

It's the news we need to hear. Our love of trivia, our desperate need for entertainment have nothing to do with it. And if providing that news cuts ratings in half, then precede it with a half hour of amusing nonsense--oh, wait. They already do that.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Howdy

I am thinking about handshakes. Three men we knew walked into the restaurant last night where we were having dinner, JW's in Carmine. One, the oldest, shook hands properly, man to man, the way I find so many do in business. I know how to shake the hand of that kind of man, with my own arthritic knobby one, but I go deep and squeeze enough to flex the protective muscle. He didn't try to win a pumping contest, either. Just nice and clean.

His son in law came next and it was limp and slightly moist. The question always rises: was it limp because I am a weak and womanish sort? Is there confusion at how one shakes such hands? Is he unaccustomed to shaking women's hands except as his mother taught him among her social friends? Is it a matter of limp character? (Negating this image is the reason for the first kind of handshake, compensatory or not, it makes an excellent impression.)

And the third, from a man who appears strong enough to hold a full bore motorcycle aloft with one hand while shaking yours with the other, and it is a curiously gentle shake, but that makes sense in the context. No doubt he has learned that a pressure normal from his perspective sends men and women alike to their knees. Men like that often have a gentle touch.

So: three men, three hands, too much revealed? Or perhaps nothing at all?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Home on the Range

Our dog, Charlotte Bronte, lies on the back porch in the late afternoon and looks through the ballusters at the yard and pasture beyond, leading down to the creek. Birds chirp. Rabbits move among the grasses and scout the perimeter of the vegetable garden, which is thankfully well fenced.

I, sitting in the rocking chair, whisper: Rabbit, Bronte!

No response.

Look, B--(pointing)--Rabbit!

Oblivious.

After thirty seconds of this, escalating in volume, she lopes off the porch in the wrong direction.

Nothing has ever been as safe on our premises as those rabbits.

Oops. Maybe not.

After dinner, I stroll out the front door toward the gate to finish carving an entrance arch through the Lady Banks, so visitors won't have an eye poked out. The sun has just disappeared behind the trees and it's still light. Something moves in my peripheral vision. I stop. It moves again and I think: deer.

But no. Not deer.

A large grey and russet furred creature just outside our yard fence stops. He looks at me. I look at him.

Coyote. As big as Bronte, which is large for the local variety. Never seen one here in daylight.

We exchange looks for about ten seconds and then he trots off behind a clump of trees.

And where is the B dog? In the front yard, nose to the ground. Smelling the passage of rabbits, no doubt.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mothers

I've been thinking about motherhood today. Not so much individual mothers, as the experience itself. Women are waiting so much longer now to have children and I know something about the side effects of that, myself. My mother was 37 when I was born, which was nearly unheard of in the 1940s and 50s. I was called an "elderly primipara" myself when I was pregnant with my son, and I was 29.

The temptations and demands of career seem to be the reason for women having children later. We have control, now, to an extent unimaginable even fifty years ago. And so the bright young women fan out into their careers, with few distractions from the challenges of their jobs.

These young women are focused achievers, just like their male counterparts. Neither they or the young men have been required to place the needs of someone dependent ahead of their own. Or if they have done so, it hasn't been for long. It hasn't been for twenty years at a clip.

No wonder they regard parenthood as a fearful prospect. Also, an expensive one. Schools, clothes, food, doctoring--all become the main locus of expenditures. Personal indulgences shrink in number and kind. The idea of deferring personal gratification seems as disagreeable as it is novel.

I was afraid of having children, too, and as an only child, ignorant of everything involved. Married couples had children, though, and so we did. When my son was born, I felt stunned for the first few months, pulled by his daily needs to exist only in the present. How to interpret his cries? Would I ever again rest, sleep, think? And enveloping it all, breaking over every fear and worry, the most overwhelming surges of love, surely the great love of the human race, the one that keeps it all going.

This is the part of having children that the hesitant young women and men of today don't know. They don't feel this for even the closest sibling. They don't feel it for their pets. They don't even feel it for each other. It's simply more, greater, than everything else.

So, looking back on it now from the perspective of my sixties, I can see that the products of the ego, however lavish or glamorous, mean nothing in comparison to the experience of rearing/raising my child. If I had been able to do it, and refused for whatever reason, I would have missed out on the central experience of life.

A few additional words about elderly mothers. Once you manage to get pregnant, it's not your age when your child is born that matters so much, although it has an effect. Toddlers in particular take a lot of maternal energy. It's your age after that: To be nearly sixty when your oldest child graduates from college; to be seventy for the first grandchild; to absent yourselves from your grandchildren's lives by dying before they can really know you. We may live a lot longer now than people did in earlier generations, but not all of us enjoy that opportunity.

It's worth thinking about, if you have a choice.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cop Shows

I confess to the guilty habit of watching TV cop/FBI shows, but I'm about to quit. I stopped CSI years ago because of all the dead bodies. If I wanted to look at dead bodies I would be, right now, an M.D.

The Mentalist is OK; Law and Order is still generally OK, with the puzzle the main thing, and I can usually figure it out in the first ten minutes or less, so the fun is in being right about something for once (or twice), except when I'm wrong.

But the rest of these things are disgusting. Especially Medium which has been getting more grisly with every season. It's like CSI spawned a virus that's infected all of them. I watched Medium last night with my eyes closed every time there was a tight camera angle on someone or on a door about to be opened.

Down with decomposition, I say, and up with people. Stories about living people who are not murderers or child molesters.

Brothers and Sisters, anyone?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Am I in her head?

Either I'm obsessing or I've discovered a major failing in my writing. At this juncture, darn it. Why not twenty years ago?

My problem has been, I think, that I am fluent, especially on a computer word processor. Refining the fluency has been my focus for a long time. Getting the sentence to say exactly what I intend and to do so in a fresh manner.

Unfortunately the result is often boring. Sort of pretty but dull.

I was lolloping along today, feeling like I've been spiralling ever closer complete stasis, when two words popped in my head: Narrative Distance.

When I succeed in being in the character's head, the writing is more interesting. Light bulb flashing on! That's being in their head, not describing what it's like in their head. Not spending fifteen years looking for the right words to describe what they're feeling.

Am I on to something? Is this an oh-oh moment? Or is it an oh s--t moment, if you'll pardon the Anglo-Saxon reference?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Catching Up

I've been scarce lately on this blog. The main reason is that I've been working hard to complete a draft of my novel. That draws on some of the same energy as blogging. (Other reasons, too, but they're boring.)

Nevertheless, blogging has people on the other end while novel revision is just me and the screen and all those characters I have immobilized there until I decide things like the order of chapters, etc.

So: hello.

Developments around our place include three green tomatoes, first of the season; petunias in place of cactus in our window boxes--the cactus were not happy;
the first vines coiling up our pergola (thanks to Richard for removing the poison ivy flooring beneath it--even though he got poison oak for his trouble--maybe not from my poison oak, I can only hope).

We found a small copperhead snake in the pool skimmer. Everyone knows what that means. I'll make a careful search from now on before doing my water therapy.

Dog ate a small nest of baby rabbits, I think. I know she was eating where one of our many rabbits spends the night. I've actually watched a dog do that before (gulp, gulp, gulp and gulp) and it isn't pretty. This time, I didn't investigate, frankly.

Yes, I know that a swimming pool sounds extravagant. It probably is extravagant. But this is a narrow exercise pool to keep me ambulatory. I am hopeful that the result will prove the expense entirely worthwhile.

The twenty-five year old climbing rose that was devouring the side of our porch was brutally cut back in the winter with a saw. It is now reborn, sending up the most prolifigate number of shoots, most of which have new growth that is curled back upon itself. I can't tell for sure what's doing it. So I have no idea what to do to fix it.

The cardinals are everywhere, and in the mornings, we are treated to a splendid refrain of at least seven different bird species, possibly more, with no volume control.

I do love it here.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

They're on the Move

For the past couple of days, I've been managing my husband's blog while he's out of town.

Yesterday I posted a short one on the numerous turtles I've been seeing on the roads around here. I wanted to know whether you're supposed to stop and help one across. And if you are (without causing a wreck), is it good luck? Or is it bad luck to just straddle the turtle and go on your way?

Some of the responses we've had are quite interesting. Check it out.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Before the Storm

For a piece of fiction I'm writing, I've been trying to re-enter the frame of mind within which one functions as a hurricane hovers out in the Gulf, targeting us. In the story, it is hurricane Ike, an uncomfortable week during which one haunted the television and computer screen, looking for a change of direction from the track that took a bead on Galveston. Now it's obvious that the track was remarkably dead on.

My character is afraid of storms, though. Every gust of wind buffets her as well as the leaves above her. How to convey this? How many days in advance did one feel the advance belts of rain, gusts of wind?

The information available on the internet has been digested, with most of the juices extracted.

My memory of the event has been similarly dessicated. The third threatening storm in quick succession--it seemed almost unreal that this could happen. A Cat 2, how-bad-could-it-be, mentality seemed to govern, so a great many people did not evacuate.

The winds and belts of rain in the days that lead up to a storm rachet up the tension of the communities to be affected, but never until the last minute are some people sure enough to leave their homes, their things, and head for higher ground.

Any suggestions of blog posts about this would be most welcome.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Rejoice

In central Texas this Easter morning, it is raining. Slowly, in fits and starts, but with luxurious quantity.

After the drought of the past few years, we open to rain in the way a resurrection plant from West Texas does.

We lie dormant, brown, dessicated--and then the slow rain falls and we fill with moisture; we swell, become plump again with greenness. We ready ourselves to receive sunlight once more and grow.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Slow Words

How many of us are familiar with the Slow Food Movement? That's slow food, as contrasted with fast food--Burger King, MacDonald's,the Colonel, et al. The idea is that by taking care with the preparation of food, and giving ourselves time to eat it in the company of family and friends, we enrich our lives--and improve our digestion, BTW.

I think that communication has undergone a similar transformation--to fast words: These are words that move from our transient whim to the cyber-verse in a split second. Think Facebook status update, or Twitter: Bam! You've spoken. You blink and your blink is seen by people you really don't know very well, if at all. How tasty and satisfying is that, after you've gotten over the initial intoxication?

(I grant that a blog might seem like a strange place to be commenting on this, but most bloggers take time to reflect before posting.)

I think that the current obsession with speed speaks to a fundamental emptiness in our culture. I think we have a greed for ease in every area of our lives. It has driven the rise of convenience stores, fast food restaurants, and much of the cell phone universe, as well as providing all the wonderful machines that have made women's lives in particular less burdensome.

But it's like we've responded by being always in a hurry, and the more mod-cons (modern conveniences) we get, the faster we whirl. Why? Why do we need an eight minute lunch? What awaits us that's so urgent? It can't be work, since so many people spend so much office time on Twitter and FB, fighting boredom.

Why do we need constantly updated news? Why do we need instantaneous books? What are we afraid that we're missing?

So I'm advocating a change. Try Slow Words for a start. Don't buy a book on Amazon if there's a bookstore within reach as you follow your daily routine. Call the store and order the book you want; pick it up next week. Savor it under a tree, in the bath, at the swimming pool, in your living room (with the TV turned off). A book is the longest lasting, least expensive form of escape and entertainment there is.

Instead of momentary diversion with fast words, followed by emptiness, take time for Slow Words. They taste good and leave you feeling full of fine feelings accompanied by deep and satisfying thought.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Brrrr

Oh, darn,darn. All day we've been watching as the weather site forecasts 37 degrees overnight which is close to a frost, but barely misses it for us. And then, just before bedtime, we check again and suddently they've surrounded us with promises of 31 to 33 degrees--as in a freeze.

It's nice and still outside right now, moonlit, crisp and dry, lots of stars--beautiful and the worst possible weather for plants in a freeze. All I can think of is our heirloom tomato plants, lined up so green and healthy and waiting for the nice warm growing weather they'll have tomorrow afternoon. If they're still alive by then.

I hate freezes in April. It's plumb unnatural.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Calming Down

That big wind that's blowing today across central Texas is the result of area shop and restaurant owners letting out a long breath of relief. Antique fortnight is over. That is, the spring version is over; the whole thing happens again in October.

It was a busy final Saturday, though.

The Winedale Historical Center had its spring symposium, focusing this year on Early Texas Furniture. (For the disbelieving non-Texans who might be reading this, the furniture in question is not made of rustic logs.)

Central Texas enjoyed a large influx of German immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century, and they included a surprising number of accomplished cabinetmakers. The seminal book on this subject by Lonn Taylor and David Warren came out in 1975, and now sells for a surprising amount of money in rare book stores. (I did 1/3 of the photos in that book with a 2 1/4 Rolleiflex, a fascinating experience as we had to shoot the furniture, often quite large, in the owners' houses or front yards.)

The authors are currently in the process of updating it with many new discoveries, hence the content of their presentation yesterday. (The photo below of the mockingbird was taken on the grounds of the center.)

Also, the DYD Club of Round Top concluded its "fair on the square". DYD stands for Do Your Duty. (The pix of the sparkling whatevers and of the girl in her new cowboy boots were taken within a few feet of each other in the midst of that event.)

On the way home the back way via Hackemack Road we spotted a blue barn with bluebonnets that epitomized for me the serenity that will return to our neighborhood tomorrow. The bluebonnets are at their peak, and joined now in fields and verges with stands of Indian Paintbrush (red), pale Pink Evening Primrose, magenta verbena, and vivid yellow daisy-like flowers, too small to be rudbeckia. With any rain at all, the flower show, at least, should last a while longer.




Sunday, March 29, 2009

Springtime in Texas, II

This is the continuation of the previous post:





Springtime in Texas, I

Despite a "Jack Frost" (local term for a frost) the past two nights, we have the following springtime scenes. The antique show here is at Warrenton, part of the Antique Fortnight along Highway 237 and nearby roads that ends around April 4. The first image is a typical back road before the antiquing began.








Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Slow and Easy

I’ve been thinking about the slow food movement and wishing that we could extend its main precepts to other realms of human activity. It’s a cliché that older people find the world moving too fast for them. I am certainly aware of the many reasons for that sensation. Interestingly, however, it appears that the world is moving too fast for everyone, at present.

Some examples:

• The effect of the 24/7 news cycle on the news media;
• The effect of the internet on the well-being of newspapers;
• The effect of the 24/7, digitally enhanced, world financial market on almost every nation’s financial well-being;
• The way an accelerated speed of communication allowed hasty judgments to multiply in a geometric progression as investment bankers and hedge fund operators raced to keep up with the creation of new money-making instruments;
• The way the accelerated speed of communication allows for hysterical responses to each new piece of economic or political news;

The seduction of the “breaking news report” in general, and “news” in one’s specific area of expertise on a smaller scale, distracts both the writer and reader. We are hard-wired as a species, in fact, to prefer breaking news. It gave us an edge on survival. The saber-toothed tiger is eating people, village by village. Run!

What is being lost is the opportunity for reflection, not just by the purveyors of information, but by its consumers, and all of us suffer as a result. The writers of the news stumble over themselves trying to keep their breaking stories updated. There’s no time for fact-checking or digging a bit deeper. There’s no lag time between the arrival of information onto the writer’s desk and its launch into the public arena, where the public panics and inundates Congress with email.

One really good example involves the AIG bonus debacle. It ought not to have become public knowledge within minutes of the moment the Obama Administration heard about it. Instead of hysterical headlines, leading to panicky and angry action by Congress, there ought to have been judicious jaw-boning on the part of the Obama administration, resulting in the voluntary refusal of the controversial bonuses by their recipients.

Even a few years ago the scenario for this mess would have gone down like this: Treasury Secretary Geithner would have been informed by staff of a rumor that AIG was about to hand out huge bonuses to the bozos that created the risky instruments that caused the world-wide financial melt-down. He and the President and other economic advisers would have had a few hours before the news hit the first newspaper editions during which time they could explain to AIG that this would be a disaster of monumental proportions and must not happen (jaw-boning). And it would not have happened. Honestly, this has been the way a number of near-disasters have been averted in years gone by. It’s a technique of governance that we no longer have at our disposal in this 24-7 news hungry world.

And it’s not going to get better, I’m afraid. Newspapers, which are the originators of most in-depth news coverage, are down-sizing with dizzying speed, in size of the paper format, in complexity and amount of material covered, in accuracy of the speeded up coverage, and most importantly (since this affects the quality of coverage) in size of staff.

You have to look carefully to ascertain the degree to which the diversity of print media is vanishing across the country, since the individual papers affected often carry only vaguely worded stories. Daily papers decrease to 3 days a week; some go out of print altogether; no major daily has the same staff they had 6 months ago. Floods of talented, experienced journalists—people who had perspective on what they were covering—are out of work, or working in fields where their valuable understanding can no longer be used for the public’s benefit. Instead, we have young reporters learning the ropes on internet editions. We have many, many blogs, some by people with a broad and deep knowledge of their subject area, some just with bloated opinions. We have lost the middle-man, the filter, who could help us see the larger picture.

What we are experiencing as a result is the rise of democracy in place of the representative system of government our forefathers created. They gave us representatives for a reason: reflection; distance from the whim of the masses. Now the passions and fears of the masses have become the governors of us all and our representatives in Washington have become their prisoners instead of their leaders.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Falling Sky



Every year about this time, the sky falls into pools of blue all across Texas--this was the way a writer described our annual bluebonnet season. Some years, the blues are mixed with scarlet Indian Paintbrush and/or Pink Evening Primrose. This year, however, the blues pretty much have the fields to themselves, so far at least.

The highway department seeds bluebonnets, a form of lupine, so that highway verges throughout central Texas and parts of the Hill Country seem carpeted in blue flowers for several weeks. They seed other wildflowers, too, part of Lady Bird Johnson's wonderful bequest to all of us.

I love those flowers, of course, but what really pleases me are the old fields where the bluebonnets are nature's way to nourish poor, farmed out soil.

But don't think of that. Just enjoy the show. And yes, the blue is really that intense.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Black and White

We just returned from a retrospective at the Copper Shade Tree and Gallery at Round Top of photographs made by Alfred Black. (A benefit for the Round Top Library.) Most of them are black and white, made with a 70mm Hasselblad (sp)large format camera. This is the type of box camera where you get under a hood and compose the photograph on ground glass, upside down. The result in the hands of a competent photographer--and Black was much more than competent--is gorgeous. Blacks like silk, whites burning with intensity. I was searching the internet for examples of his work, but I couldn't find any. Black worked as a petroleum landman for much of his career, making photographs in the places where his work would take him. Seeing those beautiful, hand-developed pictures just makes me ache again for the skill, the patience, the equipment, necessary to render light so seductively.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Show Biz

Yesterday was my son's birthday, and I treated his mother (me) to a Broadway play while he was at work. Inexplicably to some people, my idea of a Broadway play does not normally involve music. (Although now that I think of it, I might have liked to see South Pacific, if it's still on.)

The play I saw, in matinee, did feature music, however, in the form of a piano playing snips from Beethoven's 33 Variations, also the name of the play. It was sold out, but the reason has less to do with Beethoven than with the star, Jane Fonda.

The story was about a mother and daughter, really. The mother is an academic working on her last paper, tracking down the mystery of why Beethoven composed his 33 variations. Sut she's dying of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). The daughter who has never quite measured up to her mother's high expectations opposes the European trip her mother wants to make for her research. And there you go. Tom Hanks's son plays the mother's nurse and the daughter's boyfriend. I thought it was quite good and very affecting.

I had cause later to think about the theatrical dynasties I'd been watching at work, namely, Fonda and Hanks, when I learned of the tragic death of Natasha Richardson, a member of the distinguished Redgrave family. When someone so lovely dies in such a freak accident, we all feel sadness, I think. This death was particularly upsetting because its cause seemed so trivial. Everyone falls when they're learning to ski, and quite often thereafter. To sustain a mortal injury and not know it or show any signs for an hour is a concept quite shattering to consider.

One thing I gleaned from the coverage of this sorrowful event is that guarding against this eventuality is the reason why medical personnel choose to keep people with head injuries "under observation" for a time after the event. I had never thought of that.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

NYSPD

Ach and begorrah! I'm in New York on Saint Paddy's Day. But I missed the parade. At least the official parade. I did get to see the folks winding their way home when it concluded. A gaggle of Korean-looking people on Park and 60th, in full Irish regalia, a gaggle of people in from the boroughs, decked out similarly, lots of walkers with bits of green here and there--and a beat cop in full uniform crossing Lexington carrying a long plastic trumpet.

Son Will's birthday is tomorrow so I bought him a wee present (is wee Scots, or is it Celtic enough for SPD?) I bought a sandwich at Starbucks (I was desperate and there wasn't any line); I bought water at Duane and Reade (if I got the name right; I bought a pair of shoes with wee heels so I could wear the warmish pants I brought which are too long for flats. (I had left the proper shoes back in Houston.)

Had dinner tonight at Union Street Cafe, which is a great restaurant I'd never been to before, and it lived up to the kudos.

And so to beddy-bye.

What I missed in Winedale was the slate mantel falling off the wall in the living room during some repairs further up the wall. Fortunately no one was hurt. Poor Hale is having to deal with getting this repaired, and I bless him.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Green City Pause


I'm back in Houston for a couple of days and we have had rain (here and back at Winedale, thank heaven), together with a formidable cold snap. The sky from my gray apartment is fluffy shades of gray, and every other living thing that's visible shines brilliant green. I have all the shades up as dusk gathers. (The photo was taken yesterday not long after dawn. Too dark, now.)

This visit has re-inforced a lesson I've learned before but always forget immediately. And that's the importance of pacing. My tendency is to cram my days in Houston with activities. At the same time, on a given week, I press to minimize the days away from the country place and LH. Result: overload. I had scheduled events yesterday practically to the minute, not concluding until I drove into the garage at 9:30PM, exhausted. More for today. There were a number of results, none salutary.

The best of them, however, is my decision to wait until tomorrow to return to the country. Meanwhile, to rest. I wonder whether many of us in our wired, electronically connected world have figured out the right time to stop. Temporarily. Is there a reminder string we can mentally tie around our schedules to sound an alarm before we plunge into overload? Unfortunately, I always receive the reminder one day too late, as I recover.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Up Early

It's the neither fish nor fowl season, if you ask me. The countryside here in central Texas looks half asleep, much of it still in the wintry mode of leafless trees, stark against the sky; some of it flowering into spring. Our lop-sided pear tree is one of the latter, as is the red-bud up by the gate, its fog of magenta bloom a welcome respite among the desert-y expanse of former pasture. The pasture remains a casualty of the drought, which continues. We are in the worst-hit part, as rain clouds drift upward often from the south, only to part as they near us to rain somewhere else.

Daylight savings time began again today. So I awoke at 3:15 AM instead of 2:15 AM with a recurrence of my headache. I think the culprit is switching from coffee to tea, although both have caffeine. I had been drinking about four shots a day of espresso, so maybe 2 large cups of black tea can't compete. I succumbed at 4AM to a single shot of espresso with milk and am feeling much better, although I should be asleep. I'm saying that just to show my inner self that I know what it needs, even if I can't supply it.

When I'm up in the middle of the night I always wake up one of the computers, too, and read in an undisciplined fashion, like a car careering across an empty parking lot. (It's a heady feeling to ignore all the lines telling you where to go.)

This morning I read Frank Rich who was talking about Thorton Wilder's Our Town, a play we did in summer camp that is enjoying a revival on Broadway now. My twelve year old self, playing a bit part, found it an upsetting play, with its great compaction of the joys and tragedies of life, precisely at a time my life when was starting out. An odd choice for girls 8-16 I thought then, but it has become a high school staple.

Then I went back to looking at maps of France. For some absurd reason that makes me happy. I love the place names, which sound familiar to me either from multiple visits over the years or from innumerable map porings like the one a few moments ago. I saw the website for the 4 Seasons Resort in the Var, east of Marseille(s) and north of the Riviera. Nothing about it but the view says "this is France." There is another place and time, I guess, called Four Seasons where you can feel as though you've never left the States, although the view around you changes like slides on a surrounding screen. Not why I go to France, at least. (More about that another time.)

Bon jour, mes amis.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Lovely Blue World

Last night for the first time I resisted the nightly news. What a relief! Then this morning I read Thomas Friedman and now I'm going to ignore the unhappy weight of that by focusing on the box I wrote about several posts ago.

The bluebirds are back, both of them this time--just as PJ predicted!

All day yesterday, the female evaluated, as the male went in and out. She's got the same russet breast and bright blue tail, but her back and wings are grayish.

Finally, she decided to check it out, too. She'd no more than got her shoulders partway in than a large male Cardinal, red as flame, landed on the roof of the box inches away from her head. Instantly she flew at him and he swooped into the nearest tree, where he stayed. (The male Cardinals are newly aggressive this week, in preparation for mating season, I believe. All the birds were exceptionally active yesterday.)

And this morning the blue duo are at work, flying back and forth. It remains to be seen whether they will stick and build their nest, but if they do it will be wonderful to watch from my attic workspace. In the hopes of decreasing bird and squirrel traffic, Hale thinks he should stop putting seed on the adjacent fence posts, where we have been putting it for many years. But I'm wondering whether the bluebirds might actually like the activity, somehow. It was active when the male selected it, after all.

Anyway, I took all this as a good sign, and in late afternoon I received an all clear on the first of my medical tests. Whew! One to go...

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cordon Noir

I'm off in a minute on the trek, albeit quite short, back to Winedale. Yesterday was the last test and I feel like midterms are over. Remember?

Anyway, I got the filthy car washed afterward. (Brilliant material, here, no?) Then I went to a shop where a friend said I could find dust ruffles (for beds) that don't require lifting the mattress. The shop was Indulge on Saint Street. (Isn't that a lovely juxtaposition of names? Doesn't a shop called "Indulge" just flick your wicket in our current economic situation?) Now, if it sold chocolate instead of bedding...

But I digress. (I do have a point in here somewhere...)

In the entry of the shop, there is a large antique wicker birdcage with two birds in it. Cordon Bleu Finches. I looked them up on the internet, but the picture in no way does justice to the beauty of these little birds. They have red bills like jewels, and for the most part their plumage is bright blue. Naturally I spoke to them, and they seemed to respond (anthropomorphic of me, I know).

One started elevating himself to the top of the cage before returning to the perch beside his companion. (The people in the store think they're sisters, but I think they're both males.) When he returned to the perch he turned his head so his bill pointed straight up. Then he elevated himself, helicopter-style, once more. And repeated the bill-point. Never before have I seen a bird do that, but then I rarely see caged birds, right?

I awoke in the middle of the night and the thought came to me: those little birds never see the sky.

That upset me considerably for quite a while.They're natives of Africa, which I imagine they've never seen either.

What kind of life is it for a bird, to live in a cage with a companion of the same sex, never to fly in freedom? Just thinking of it makes me both angry and sad. What do you all think?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tests

I never liked the word "tests" in school. And I don't like it any better now. We're back in Houston for me to have a couple of the medical variety, and I'm not regarding the prospect with equanimity. This is by way of apology for no posts for a couple of days.

For the past half hour we have been treated here on the 6th floor of our condominium to a beautiful mockingbird solo. We appear to have a pair at Winedale for the first time, but so far we haven't heard any song. We keep hoping.

And I hope to return to discover that and many other things--are the redbuds finally blooming?--this weekend.

May your day be a happy one.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Seasonal Change

We revolve and spring is out there, somewhere, waiting. Or perhaps it approaches, teasing, like the children's game we used to play--one giant step forward, a little one back. The past two days, it has been warmish in daytime, with a spring freshness in the air, quite cold at night. In Texas we watch the limbs of certain untrickable trees to decide when the last frost is past. Post oaks, on our little acreage. Mesquites in south Texas. The post oaks still look dead, and a light frost nipped Hale's optimistic tomato plants.

Yesterday we found the kind of beetle we call a "June" bug, walking along our kitchen counter. He or she or it looked newly hatched, and none too healthy. We put it out on the porch. In a month or two (I always thought these bugs were wrongly named), there will be hundreds, clamoring for entry.

This morning the bluebird was back, just as commenters to my previous post foretold. He was exploring another box out closer to the big yard gate eighty feet from the porch. We try never to use that gate, in the hopes that the construction damage to the ground around it can repair itself. I was so thrilled that I whispered to Hale to look and something in my voice attracted Bronte, instead. She came bustling up to the screen door, ears forward, and barked. Out of hope, really, that there was something worth barking at. Naturally the bird flew off. And has not returned. I fussed at her, I'm ashamed to say.

To compensate, I hope, I directed her attention to the omnipresent squirrels on the back bird feeder whom she loves to chase. This feeder is a tray that PJ's Richard has constructed and attached to our porch railing. The squirrels, being squirrels, are very cheeky in appropriating the sunflower seed, and they spook the little birds. We know chasing them back to the tree is a losing battle, of course. What is needed is something squirrels love to eat that birds dislike...Personally, I have no idea what that would be.

The native grass across the bare front pasture is renewing itself in a green flush, perceptible now from our porch. This amazes the husband, because there's been so little rain. Apparently hope springs eternal in the veins of vegetation, too, along with a stubborn determination to live.

We all feel hopeful this morning--despite the deplorable news blaring at us from every media venue--and I attribute it to the stirrings of plants and birds, the faintest hint of infant vegetation in the air. Who can think of spring and not feel hope of some kind?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Blue is the color of spring, I.

I was at my desk this morning when a flash of blue caught my eye. It was flying directly between me and the corner post depicted in the blurry photo below. We have a number of blue jays around here, so I thought—okay. Then I thought: Wait, it’s a different, more intense, blue, isn't it?

The bird landed on the wire between posts, revealing its rosy breast.

OMG! My first bluebird! I’ve heard their shy burble for years, mostly when my husband points it out underneath the calls of more assertive birds. But I’ve never actually seen one before.

The bird, a male Western Bluebird, in fact, moved over to the bluebird box attached to the post. It’s been fastened there for more than twenty-years and no bluebird has ever deigned to notice it before.

He stuck his head into the box for awhile. Then removed it and flew back over to the wire. I thought he might have something in his beak, but I couldn’t be sure.

He returned to the box and repeated the procedure. Then after a few moments reflection, he flew away.

As the photo indicates, it’s far too popular a spot for any bluebird nest, of course. Too many birds, too much activity. But we have other bluebird boxes in more secluded locations around the place, so—one can always hope.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Necking

Lately my mirror has been showing me too much neck. I try to check my hair, but neck is all I see. I begin to put on lipstick, but my neck rises up before me and obliterates the view.

In desperation, I turn to my closet. Take out a turtleneck sweater, slip it on. Now it looks as though I’ve been doing those exercises schoolboys do to strengthen their, yes, necks for football and wrestling. Even a black turtleneck has this effect. All that’s missing are shoulder pads.

I take off the sweater, pull down a long scarf and start winding. And winding. When I finish enveloping the neck, I keep going, wrap it around my head, like Audrey Hepburn in that movie with Albert Finney.

I do not look like Audrey Hepburn, though. (See wrestling effect above.)

I unwind the scarf.

I reach up and grip my neck with one hand from behind, pulling gently, Miraculous! The real me is restored, but my arm quickly cramps. I remember reading that Jacqueline de Ribes used to go to parties with a special theatre tape, anchoring her chin in its girlhood location.

Where do I find theatre tape? Even though my hair is too short for that solution, perhaps I would rather people see tape than my…I hate even to say the word…neck.

Am I the only one who admires a woman in the public eye for the condition of her neck every bit as much as her intellect?

Nora Ephron has written a funny book about getting older in which she says the following: “You have to cut down a redwood tree to see how old it is, but you wouldn’t have to if it had a neck.” For some reason I find the thought of a tree with a neck hilarious.

Or clams…except that ugly thing that sticks out is called a foot, isn’t it?

The truth of the matter is that I really don’t have a neck any more. What I have is my mother’s neck…

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Thorns



My hands at this moment are showing the effects of several days’ dealing with prickly things. The most recent is the cactus in our new window boxes. Having read here that one box fell, their creator came over yesterday (on his day off) and fixed them with screws. They will now be there as long as the wall they’re attached to.

So today I planted the little cacti, most of which survived with their thorns intact. Some will grow to 15 inches, some to six. I have no idea whether they will like their boxes and grow at all, but we will see.

On Thursday, a young man came to help us cut back the roses and perennials that sprawl among our flower beds. I helped him, of course. Yanked up dead verbena (didn’t know those have invisible prickles, but discovered it when I tried to grip something else afterwards); cut back several large cramoisi superieurs; disentangled a great quantity of dead climbing rose where it had grown around the fretwork, on the back porch, in its effort to pull the porch down.

We cut back the rose itself a couple of weeks ago, and have been waiting for the long canes to dry out, so they’d be easier to remove. They are intertwined with long canes from what we call our “fried egg” rose, Mermaid. The only way to tell them apart was to let the severed ones dry out a bit.

Problem is, I don’t wear gloves. I know that’s strange. I tell people that the reason is, if I do wear gloves, I can’t feel what I’m doing. I know that they think I mean that I can’t feel what I’m gripping, or cutting, which is true. But that’s not quite it.

Wading into a rose bush with a pair of clippers in mid February in our part of Texas means you will be lopping off healthy foliage, bursting with life. I hate that. Yet, if I don’t do it, the rose becomes so spindly that it is vulnerable to a variety of unhappy things come summer. So I take my cutters and begin. And when I am snagged—as I will be inevitably more than once—I feel that it’s only fair. I should share the pain. It keeps me mindful of what I am really doing, and reminds me to take no more than is absolutely necessary. To prune the rose with care.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

25 Ways to Not-Write

Yesterday our internet was intermittent--oh, frustration--but this morning it's back (so far) and I want to post this list of 25 ways to avoid writing fiction:

1. Check Facebook
2. Read blogs—good for hours and hours of not-writing
3. Prune roses
4. Eat chocolate covered almonds
5. Fix piece of toast, with marmalade
6. Check email
7. Walk down to the pond to see if it caught any water last night
8. Unload the dishwasher
9. Fill window boxes with gravel, sand, growing mix for cactus
10. Plant cactus, carefully and slowly
11. Eat a banana
12. Think about what to make for dinner
13. Drive to the grocery store
14. Check Facebook again
15. Eat another handful of chocolate covered almonds
16. Sit at your desk and look out the window
17. Look up that new bird on the feeder
18. Take a picture of new bird, if it will just hold still
19. Check for blog comments
20. Sweep seed shells off back porch
21. Put out fresh seed
22. Check that noise—whomp!—outside
23. Pick up cacti where they got buried in dirt when window box fell apart
24. Wedge big stick under second window box so it won’t fall
25. Start a list like this

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Morning Light


A rainstorm and mild cool front passed through with bluster in the night, leaving crystalline skies and brilliant sun this morning.

Immediately the spirit lifts, climbing the light, drawn to its source.

The sky still wears a wintry pallor. Only in summer on especially clear dry days does it deepen.

Even so, the contrast with shadow is complete, as the white light pours itself over fence posts, flickers on shiny live oak leaves.

Hope bubbles up and with it the question: is this the other half of low spirits under dark and gray skies? Does the very intensity of one's response to the light measure the parallel response we have to the shadows?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Face Time

We have been exploring Facebook for the past few weeks and I can feel a mild addiction taking hold. As if blogging weren’t enough…

What are you doing right now? That’s what they ask. And people respond. Really. I thought that was a little solipsistic, you know? (A lot solipsistic, actually.) And then I wrote one in for Hale. Then later another one for Hale (with his permission, of course). That broke the ice.

Now I find myself having to resist answering the question. What would my answer be, anyway? Avoiding work; wasting time; preparing to work; not working…duh. But how interesting is the truth: Taking a break from researching geothermal energy? Or procrastinating the cooking of a meal?

Then there’s the really addictive part: logging onto your page to see what your friends are posting. This business of “friends” is a chastening experience. My grandniece has 917. Her brother has about the same number. Amazing. We won’t speak about mine, but I just started.

Actually, it’s amazing I have any. I wouldn’t if, the moment you sign on, the app didn’t pop up all your email associates who are on Facebook already. Then, if you agree, it sends out requests for them to be your “friends”. You can choose, of course. No reason for your business contacts to be able to read your most meaningless trivia.

My son’s response was: why? Why would you want to do this? But I noticed he has 150 friends, so there you go.

Of course, you can search for friends. I turned up a very old friend I’d lost contact with. Very nice. And you can troll your high school class, or college classmates. There are a lot of networking groups. Hale got a number of friends from the Chronicle and Texas Institute of Letters networks.

Then what? Well, not much. Friends will post photos, or weird things happening to them, or funny things. For instance, Justin Cronin sent out a link to William Shakespeare’s “25 things.” Pretty funny in the boy-humor department. And people comment on that. The way you find out is that there’s a feed where anything that your “friends” post on their personal page pops up on yours, so you can just stay in touch. It’s really kind of nice. (I took a series of workshops with Justin, hence the contact.)

I’m in the process of setting up a professional page for Hale, which gives his book purchasing information and links to his blog, etc. I don’t know how that works, yet, but it’s a way to bring your “brand” and its details to the attention of the giant Facebook community. More to come about whether it works.

Photos today are random ones, taken recently before the clouds and rain began: